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. . . Maybe not modern day.
The bright side of fandom
"Ghostheads" came at just the right time to show that not all "Ghostbusters" fans are mean Internet ragebeasts. Personally, I'd walked into this movie expecting little more than a few interviews from the original creative minds (Aykroyd, Reitman, etc.) and some images of cosplayers. And there is that, but this movie isn't set out to poke fun at those who strap on proton packs in public. This is all about how a supernatural comedy from 30 years ago can have a positive impact on people's lives - and more than that, how they can use it to promote goodness in their community. I recognized a few faces from Ghostbusters messageboards and YouTube channels, and their stories are . . . is life-affirming too strong a word? Either way, prepare to be moved. This one's got surprising depth.
The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
The story's thin, but the cast is pretty great
"What do our pets do when the humans are at work all day?" That's a really good hook - something you'd expect from PIXAR, at that - and it has wide-reaching appeal. That there are gags centered on animals other than just cats and dogs means that a lot of this is accessible to just about everyone. And when "The Secret Life of Pets" is about that premise, it's gold. There's a wealth of stand-up talent in the cast, and the animators find plenty of behavioral humor to mine in the pets (cats, especially). But then the main characters are taken out of their home and onto an epic adventure - and this is where the movie goes straight into "Flushed Away" area. I was much more interested in the goings-on in the apartments than I was in the sewer.
But, aside from that narrative indulgence and some ill-advised song choices (there are much better odes to the Big Apple than "Welcome to New York"), this is a decent children's movie. It's not as tight as the Despicable Me movies, or even "Minions", but of all the movies you can be dragged to by a kid ("Smurfs" anyone?), it's a harmless Summer diversion.
An unlikely gem
Halfway through "Bloodsport", I had to be reminded that this is a Cannon movie. Yeah, the movie's got their cheap fingerprints all over it, but very (very) few of their films are this entertaining. The story has the requisite themes of honor, dedication and friendship, but this is just an excuse to watch a wide array of different fighters beat the living hell out of hear other in the ring.
You can throw in all of the gratuitous butt shots and Van Damme splits you want, but there is something about that score (Stan Bush for the win)that keeps things chugging along past the ridiculous one-liners and cut-rate acting. But I wouldn't even call this a "bad" movie; it's compulsively entertaining.
Dip huet seung hung (1989)
The trail is well-beaten, but there's no denying who blazed it
Sadly, pop culture has dulled the image of Chow Yun-Fat wielding two-fisted death, but I can absolutely see how that would've been a revelation back in '89. To some extent, that is the case with most of "The Killer" (we've seen these killer moves in Western culture a hundred times over) but that doesn't mean it lacks entertainment value. Yun-Fat is a bona fide action star in this movie, and what he does with a Beretta is just artistry. Nevermind that he never reloads - what's important is that he effortlessly unleashes a hail of bullets. The same can be said for the editing, sound design and even the story; they're all in support of the action, which this surely delivers.
The Hard Way (1991)
Ahead of its time
There's something different about "The Hard Way", something in its approach to a well-worn genre. Buddy cop movies were all over the place back then, and here's another one to throw on the pile. But having a pampered actor hang around a disgruntled cop offers an opportunity for Hollywood satire, which freshens up the mismatched partners angle. James Woods tends to be hit-or-miss for me, but he's ideal in such a hothead role. And wired Michael J. Fox provides a great foil. The whole thing works; the script's focused, the action's energetic and it always has that meta feel to it.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Well, at least it's not found footage
I've never seen the original "Cloverfield", but it was the cover image of John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead that sold me on the sequel. At the time, that seemed like a can't-lose. Ehhhh . . .
I will say, first and foremost, that the movie suffers from having to tie in to the original. That last 15 minutes or so does its best to wreck this movie and any suspense that's preceded it. Awful ending.
As for the rest of the movie, yeah, it's a thriller, but only if you accept that subtlety has no place here. It's a young woman being held captive in an underground bunker (either by fallout overhead or her imbalanced captor), and I did want her to escape and gain closure in the end. But it's the journey thereto that wasn't very fun. I really wanted to like this because I really do like the two leads - and, credit where it's due, Goodman's casting was a stroke of genius here - but you can start to see the twists coming before they actually do, and that does get old. It's not a good script. I would recommend this if you like claustrophobic movie-making and eye candy (this does well on both counts) but it'll leave a sour aftertaste.
Not bad, but probably because the bar was so low.
I'm as surprised as anyone by this. First off, we can probably all agree that Sony completely botched the marketing for this movie; three awful trailers, an egregious tie-in song, and one interview after another with the cast fomenting the man-hating furor on social media. Just, bravo. It felt like an agenda movie from day one, so who wouldn't walk into this with reservations?
The strange thing about it is that I found myself laughing a lot more than I'd expected. The material that didn't work at all in the trailers seemed to do pretty well in the context of the actual film. There's a nice chemistry between the leads, and that made up for quite a bit. Now don't get me wrong, it's uneven, at best. The script is chock-full of jokes - just one after another - and when they thud, it's painful. At some point (somewhere around the first suiting-up moment) the comedic magic dissipates, and it's pretty mediocre from there. Just when everything's clicking, cue Fall-Out Boy to mess that right up. I did enjoy the first half much better and, oddly enough, that's before all the cameos start pouring in. Here I was expecting to see old familiar faces, and they're shoved to the back half when the ha-has dry up.
Unfortunately, the movie is hyper-aware of the anti-feminism sentiment (more than a few "screw the naysayers!" lines), so you never really forget about it to settle in and have a good time. But it is better than the Internet gods (or trolls) would have you (anyone) believe.
But believe me, there is room for improvement.
(Updated 07/19/16): Ended up seeing it a second time with my wife, and it was a similar story for her: she couldn't believe how night-n-day this was compared to the advertising, and she really took to Kate McKinnon. For me, the jokes that originally worked didn't hold up as well the second time (they're just sort of overwrought). It's not bad enough to change the rating, but the "holes" were much more apparent this time. I do still think that McCarthy's Chinese food troubles were the best jokes, and that, oddly enough, Leslie Jones is actually the heart of this ghostbusting team.
True Romance (1993)
Solid writing, harsh style
If you compare this to another Tarantino flick (let's go with "Pulp Fiction"), "True Romance" offers a load of memorable bits; the Sicilians conversation; Brad Pitt's classic stoner; Bronson Pinchot; Gandolfini's merciless beating; the absurd shootout at the Ambassador. This movie's full of funny dialogue - and with that, some pretty gruesome violence. For me, it's not very cohesive, and once we leave Detroit for California sunshine (when it goes overboard with the cigarette smoke and filtered light) it loses something. The first act is where the sweetness between Slater and Arquette really shines; once they get the drug deal rolling, we lose Walken and that cute couple and it's a standard Tony Scott movie. We get back to the romance at the end, but by then, I really did miss Walken (and Gary Oldman - man, that guy's nuts).
It's the loud and in-your-face style that I wasn't really onboard with. Some Scott movies work pretty well. Some really don't. This was somewhere in the middle. And don't get me wrong, I'm not averse to violence; far from it. But here, it takes control.
Atmospheric, tangled thriller
A veteran detective with skeletons in his closet, whisked away to a foreign land (for whatever reason) - it's been done many times. Most of the time, the "is he dirty or isn't he?" routine is frustrating ("Black Rain", "Boom Town", "Rising Sun", etc.). BUt it's different with "Insomnia"; you pretty much know the main character is a dirty cop, so it's really about the walls closing in, which is actually refreshing. And it adds levels.
Other than that, it's the talent of the main cast that makes this fresh. Pacino, Swank and Williams are all terrific (although Williams is perfectly at home with quietly deranged; it's beyond creepy). And Pacino is well-suited for a guy who can't get any sleep. He makes run-down look easy.
Take Shelter (2011)
Unbelievable emotional power
"Take Shelter" was described to me as a character-driven indie movie with a twist ending, which immediately made me think of something like "Another Earth". And most of the time (for me, at least) a controversial ending is just something that torpedoes the rest of the movie; a "gotcha" that undermines a movie's defining qualities and retains notoriety based simply on that cheat. "Take Shelter" is the undeniable exception.
Everything here rests on the shoulders of Michael Shannon. He embodies some pretty universal fears (the economy, job security, protecting one's family) while staring down the barrel of a family history of mental illness. Is there really a storm coming or is it just in his head? And that sounds like a low-grade plot gimmick, but it's the treatment thereof that's anything but. And that's key, because this is driven by character and his tremendous talent. We're never really sure what the answer is, but his suffering and descent are slow and painful.
And that's another thing: given the leisurely pacing, you'd think this would be a complete snore. But one thing this movie does very well (among others) is ratchet the dread. There's only one violent altercation in this story, but you always fear a quiet moment between Shannon's family - a meal at the table, a conversation in the bedroom - as they struggle to deal with this endurance test. I have nothing but good things to say about this film; gripping, unusually sensitive and speaks to the love and support of family.
And as for the ending; it's deliberately ambiguous, but seems to work no matter what you take from this. That's impressive.