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My All-Time Favorite Movies: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070122364/
- No genre is beyond redemption or above contempt.
- Just because a movie's good doesn't mean you'll like it; just because you like it doesn't mean it's good.
- Italians have been making the worst movies for a hundred years.
- Howard Hawks supplied the simplest definition of a good movie: "Three great scenes. No bad scenes."
- Nine out of ten times when there's a bar in a movie there's a fight.
- Every great auteur/actor has a bad or dubious film; but, remember, even God created the cockroach.
- People who go overboard with criticism -- e.g. "This is the worst film ever!" or "I'd give this 0/10 if I could!" -- lose credibility as reviewers. The same goes with overrating a movie.
- Honest reviewers must resist the influence of mass hype when a popular film debuts. Separating it from the initial epidemic fervor is mandatory in determining it's true worth. (Remember when Roger Ebert gave Peter Jackson's "King Kong" a perfect rating of 4/4 Stars? Why sure!).
- Movies are life with the boring bits taken out.
- A movie can be technically well-made, but void of depth. The reverse is also true: A movie can be technically deficient (usually due to low-budget), but thematically wealthy. Whereas the ideal is to have both, sometimes a movie's budget doesn't allow for top-notch filmmaking, but it can still soar in the realm of worthy mindfood. Some excellent examples from my reviews include "From Within," "Billy Jack" and "Tribes." Many episodes of the original Star Trek TV series are great examples as well, such as "Space Seed," "The Naked Time" or "The City on the Edge of Forever."
- Movies must be critiqued and graded according to what they are and aspire to achieve. For instance, 1998's "Godzilla" is a colossal-creature movie and should therefore be reviewed on that level. Compared to the original "Apocalypse Now" it's dreck, but how does it stack-up to other gigantic-monster movies?
- Reviewers who intentionally say false things about a film reveal a personal vendetta against it and lose all credibility as reviewers. Don't even give these types of "reviewers" and their "reviews" the time of day.
- Movies are the modern-day campfire tales of centuries past. They entertain, amuse, inspire and mentor. Generally speaking, they provide the mythology that helps the modern world cope with reality.
- I see a lot of reviewers giving movies 10/10 Stars or 1/10 Stars when, the reality is, most movies fall between 5/10 Stars and 7/10 Stars.
- Disregarding profits, the main purpose of a movie is to entertain; the secondary purpose is to convey a message. The better the entertainment and message, the better the movie. The reverse is also true.
- In 99 out of 100 movies, if something doesn't happen by the end of the first reel, nothing's gonna happen (at least nothing compelling, effective, original or inspiring).
- Popularity at the box office is very important for people who's opinion of an artistic work needs validated by others (rolling my eyes).
- A movie that doesn't do well at the box office isn't always an indicator that it's bad; it could mean something interesting is going on that's too far out of the norm for mass consumption. "Watchmen" and (believe it or not) "The Wizard of Oz" are good examples ("Wizard" bombed when it debuted in 1939).
- Watching a movie is like seeing someone else's hallucination. You have to be willing to enter into the film's 'world' to appreciate it. If you can't, you won't.
- The rating of a movie is irrelevant (G, PG, PG-13, R). Does more gore, more nudity, more cussing, more overt sexual situations determine the worthiness of a film? Maybe for 13 year-olds. Is "The Wizard of OZ" a lousy film because it's rated G? How about the original "Planet of the Apes"?
- While good movies can be made with big budgets, big names, big stunts and incredible F/X, they can also be made with small budgets, creative writers & directors and no-name-but-quality actors.
- No one sets out to make a bad movie.
- It's always preferable to watch an entertaining mess over a competent bore-fest.
10/10 Stars: A+ (Top-of-the-line)
9/10 Stars: A (Excellent)
8/10 Stars: A- (Breaks the threshold of greatness)
7/10 Stars: B+ or B (Very good or, at least, good)
6/10 Stars: B or B- (Marginal "thumbs up")
5/10 Stars: C+ or C (Too flawed to recommend, but some worthwhile aspects)
4/10 Stars: C or C- (Severely mediocre or flawed)
3/10 Stars: D+ or D (Cinematic flotsam)
2/10 Stars: D or D- ("Brain and brain, what is brain?")
1/10 Star: F (Worthless garbage for one important reason or another)
Note: Like everyone else, I tend to watch movies I think I might like, which explains my numerous positive ratings.
Favorite Film of All Time:
Apocalypse Now (original version only, not Redux)
- Every ten years or so a TV show comes along that doesn't suck.
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Write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This list includes movies from all production levels -- major release, independent, straight-to-video and TV.
There's no certain order except that the first half of the list features stronger favorites than the second half.
For questions, comments or rebukes, write me at: email@example.com
Since this list contains movies from all production levels, film snobs who only favor flicks with blockbuster-level budgets are encouraged to skip it.
For questions, comments or rebukes, write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The list does not include non-superhero comic films, like "Jonah Hex" (a comic book Western and another favorite).
Some heralded Westerns aren't on the list because either 1. I'm not a fan (e.g. "The Searchers") or 2. I generally like them, but not enough to make my favorites list (e.g. "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" & "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"). In some cases, I might have yet to see the film (e.g. "The Great Silence").
There are other Westerns that I remember liking and they may make my list in the future, but I have to give 'em a fresh viewing because I haven't seen them for so long, e.g. "Purgatory," "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," "Seraphim Falls" and "Django."
For questions, comments or rebukes, write me at: email@example.com
FYI: I'm not a fan of 1993's soporific "Gettysburg," although it has some worthwhile parts. And I'm not including 1962's "How the West was Won" because it's an over 3-hour movie and John Ford's Civil War vignette is only about 12 minutes long and thoroughly disappointing.
Most cult movie lists curiously contain utterly horrid flicks, like "Pink Flamingos" (Seriously?) and "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (get real) or fruity wannabe hip crapola like "Rocky Horror" (Why sure!), which explains the title of my list. While numerous of the films on this list are loathed by the masses they're actually worthwhile movies for various significant reasons. My commentaries provide evidence.
I'm not including widely-known movies that you'll often see on cult movie lists, like "The Wizard of Oz," "King Kong," "Apocalypse Now" and "Pulp Fiction," because -- although I wholly agree that they deserve their devotees -- they're just so popular that they're not really cult films.
Some definitive cult flicks, like "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" and "Mad Max," aren't on this list simply because -- while certainly worth seeing -- they're just not entertaining enough to make my list; and entertainment (one way or another) is the name of the game.
Lastly, any cult movie list that includes every Tarantino flick -- or practically all of them -- should be rejected out of hand. (Pick one or two that best represent his repertoire and be done with it).
For questions, comments or rebukes, write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dust Factory (2004)
Beating death in a hockey match and... a youthful Hayden Panettiere
RELEASED IN 2004 and directed by Eric Small, "The Dust Factory" is a drama/family/fantasy about two young teens (Ryan Kelley and Hayden Panettiere) and the boy's grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who enter into a strange dimension parallel to the real world. Will they live or will they die?
Imagine mixing "Carnival of Souls" (1962) and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (1983) with DC Comic's Strange Sports Stories and you'd have a could idea of this movie. Being a family-friendly film, it lacks horror, but there are enough strange things going on and it arguably borders on horror.
The relationship between Melanie (Panettiere) and Ryan (Kelley) is the heart of the story, with Gramps offering sage counsel. While it's neither great nor bad, seeing Panettiere when she was so young (14 during shooting) is a treat. She's just a joy to watch. Moreover, there are some imaginative visuals, like the teens in the field with the circus tent in the background, and the story certainly reaches for depth in its reflections on the nature of death and bereavement.
THE FILM RUNS 1 hours & 20 minutes and was shot in Oregon (Portland, Hillsboro & Mount Hood).
Aballay, el hombre sin miedo (2010)
Revenge Western about gauchos in Argentina with top-of-the-line production quality
RELEASED IN 2010 (and on DVD in the USA in 2013) and directed by Fernando Spiner, "Six Shooters" chronicles events in Argentina when a gang of six outlaw gauchos murder a boy's father and ten years later the young man (Nazareno Casero) sets out to kill 'em all. Claudio Rissi plays the main heavy while Mariana Anghileri appears as the requisite babe. Pablo Cedrón is on hand as a mysterious horse-riding "saint" in the mountains.
The film is in Spanish with English subtitles. Surprisingly, the production quality is top-of-the-line on every level, on par with 2011's "Blackthorn," another modern South American Western. There are some elements of "One Eyed Jacks" (1961) and Spaghetti Westerns, but without the goofiness of the latter. This is a thoroughly austere Western that's a little too artsy for its own good, which might make it play better on repeat viewings. There are themes of vengeance, repentance and forgiveness, but some people just CAN'T be saints. Maybe someday though.
THE MOVIE RUNS 1 hour & 43 minutes and was shot in Amaicha del Valle, Tucumán, Argentina. WRITERS: Antonio Di Benedetto (story) and Valentín Javier Diment, Santiago Hadida & Spiner (script).
GRADE: B/B- (6.5/10)
Gay Purr-ee (1962)
Three country cats visit Paris in the 1890s
RELEASED IN 1962 and directed by Abe Levitow, "Gay Pur-ee" is an animated film about a beautiful feline, Mewsette (voiced by Judy Garland), whose romantic fantasies about life in Paris become the awful truth when she stows away to travel there, but her dreams are shattered by a shady cat (Paul Frees) and his "sister" (Hermione Gingold). Meanwhile, a tomcat named Juane-Tom (Robert Goulet) goes to Paris to save Mewsette along with his lil' pal, Robespierre (Red Buttons).
I suppose it helps if you're a cat-lover, but I always liked this cartoon flick. Sure, there are too many songs and only enough story to make up for half the runtime, but "Gay Purr-ee" has its charm. The climatic confrontation is particularly entertaining. Juane-Tom and Robespierre are the best characters. To be expected, several of the story elements reflect real-life, including a drunken binge (lol), but also money-loving smooth-talkers who take advantage of the naïve and ignorant.
THE FILM RUNS 85 minutes. WRITERS: Dorothy Jones & Chuck Jones with additional dialogue by Ralph Wright & Levitow.
Wagons East (1994)
Solid comedy Western; John Candy's final movie
RELEASED IN 1994 and directed by Peter Markle, "Wagons East" details events when a dozen settlers in the remote Southwest town of Prosperity give up on the West and hire a drunken wagon master (John Candy) to lead them back East. Later, some Sioux tribespeople decide to assist them, hoping it will become a trend. Meanwhile, a dastardly villain (Edward Matthew Lauter) is hired by a railroad mogul to stop the small wagon train à la Wile E. Coyote in The Road Runner.
If you like comedy Westerns like "Texas Across the River" (1966) and "The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox" (1976), you should like this one as well. It mixes laugh-out-loud scenes with quietly amusing ones. I think it's superior to the overrated "Cat Ballou" (1965) and even better than the heralded "Blazing Saddles" (1974). It's not intentionally offensive like the latter, although there's a little black humor. In some ways it's kinda cute and heartwarming (e.g. the relationship between the big guy and the former prostitute). The locations are spectacular.
There are several familiar faces in the cast who were popular around that time, e.g. Richard Lewis, John C. McGinley, Robert Picardo, Ellen Greene, Melinda Culea, William Sanderson, Rodney A. Grant and Russell Means.
THE MOVIE RUNS 1 hour & 47 minutes and was shot in Condado De Chavez & Sierra de Organos, Mexico. WRITERS: Matthew Carlson (screenplay) & Jerry Abrahamson (story).
Billy the Kid (2013)
Only watch if you can handle micro-budget independent movies
RELEASED TO VIDEO IN 2013 and directed by Christopher Forbes, "Billy the Kid" covers events when a bounty hunter (Cody McCarver) rides into the Southwestern town of Dogma intent on taking down a gang of outlaws called "The Four of the Apocalypse." Meanwhile, he meets a woman he knew years before (Kimberly Campbell) and her son, Billy (Christopher Bowman). Jerry Chesser emerges as the formidable main heavy.
This movie only cost $500,000 so you have to be able to stomach micro-budget independent flicks and the limitations thereof in order to appreciate any attributes. I like watching spare-change films now and then and sorta root for them like you would a severely underdog team in sports. While there are some highlights in this film, like the soundtrack/score, some picturesque scenes and a few of the main cast members (noted above), the script needed more work because the story bogs down after the opening act.
For instance, there's a lousy side plot about a goofy red-haired outlaw camping out in the town jailhouse and having a shootout with two old men. Most of the peripheral cast members aren't very good and the action scenes are okay at best, but neither would've been much of a hindrance if the story was strong and compelling. In short, without an engaging story everything else is worthless. Don't get me wrong, the plot had potential, but the script needed a lot more work.
Interestingly, while the events are supposed to take place in New Mexico, the movie was shot mainly in South Carolina with a couple sequences done in Georgia and Kentucky. How could the creators possibly pull this off and make it look like the story takes place in the Southwest? Answer: They utilized several establishing shots from Lincoln County, New Mexico (with some featuring the loner protagonist). But everything else, like the lame "town" set, was shot in the East.
THE FILM RUNS 1 hours & 20 minutes. WRITER: Graye Bumgardner.
Class of '61 (1993)
Impending WAR that won't be quick or glorious
RELEASED TO TV IN 1993 and directed by Gregory Hoblit, "The Class of '61" details what happens when three West Point graduates & their friends opt for opposite sides when the The Civil War breaks out and the impending Battle of Bull Run destroys any delusions of a quick, glorious victory for the Union.
Despite the limitations of a TV budget, this is a well-done Civil War drama that leads up to the Battle of Bull Run. While there aren't any sweeping shots of this initial battle (because the budget wouldn't allow for it), I liked the way the movie focuses on the individual's experience during battle with those in the immediate vicinity.
Dan Futterman stands out as the main protagonist, but there are some future stars as well, like Clive Owen and Josh Lucas, the latter playing Armstrong Custer. The movie scores well on the female front with the jaw-dropping Sue-Ann Leeds, as well as Sophie Ward and a young Laura Linney. It's also interesting seeing Robert Newman again.
Besides the closing battle sequence, a couple of scenes are dramatically exceptional: The compelling train sequence and, especially, the quiet fishing boat scene where the protagonist has an honest talk with his black friend, who also happens to be a family slave (Andre Braugher).
FYI: This was originally intended as the first of a 13-episode miniseries.
THE MOVIE RUNS 95 minutes. WRITER: Jonas McCord.
The Unforgiven (1960)
Tries to be weighty, but it's too dull and ruined by absurd premise
RELEASED IN 1960and directed by John Huston, "The Unforgiven" is a Western starring Burt Lancaster, Audie Murphy and Doug McClure as brothers of a fatherless ranch family near the Texas panhandle. Their younger sister was adopted into the family when she was an infant (Audrey Hepburn). Lilian Gish plays the matriarch. The themes involve racism and (to be expected) un-forgiveness.
What ruins this movie is the premise that a certain character is a full-blooded Native and everyone has been fooled into believing she's Caucasian for 18-20 years. Why Sure! I get the point that an Indian baby raised in a settler's community would talk & act like European settlers, but that wouldn't change her race and facial features. So how could anyone even THINK she was Caucasian? If the filmmakers would've made her a half-breed it would've worked.
The reason old Westerns like "Apache" (1954) got away with having a white guy (Lancaster) play a full-blooded Native is because everyone in the cast knew he was an Indian and treated him accordingly. As such, the viewer could suspend disbelief and pretend that he looked more Native than he appeared. But you can't do this with "Unforgiven" because the entire cast is fooled into believing that a full-blooded Indian girl looks exactly like a woman of decidedly European descent.
Unfortunately, I found the movie relatively dull beyond the ludicrous premise. Don't get me wrong, there are some bright spots, like the cast and flashes of artistic merit, but this doesn't change the fact that "Unforgiven" is a pretentious movie that's just dull, although the climatic standoff at the Zachary ranch is well-done and pretty compelling.
THE FILM RUNS 125 (or 121) minutes and was shot in Durango, Mexico. WRITERS: Ben Maddow (screenplay) & Alan Le May (novel).
An Apache goes Rambo
RELEASED IN 1954 and directed by Robert Aldrich, "Apache" is based on the real-life story of Massai (Burt Lancaster), a Chiricahua Apache who was exiled with other Apaches to a reservation in Florida to be held with Geronimo and Chihuahua, but he escapes the train somewhere near St. Louis and travels 1200 miles back to the Mescalero Apache tribal area, conducting one-man raids near what is now the Arizona-New Mexican border. John McIntire plays the chief of scouts commissioned to capture Massai while Charles Bronson (Buchinsky) is on hand as an Apache scout. Jean Peters plays an Apache babe who, in real life, was Zanagoliche.
Massai actually escaped the prison train with a Tonkawa Native named Gray Lizard and they traveled the long journey back by foot together, eventually parting company in Southeastern Arizona. Gray Lizard is, unfortunately, completely omitted in the film.
To enjoy this movie you have to look past Lancaster in the lead role or, at least, imagine him to look more like a real Apache. But, keep this in mind: Since Massai is the sympathetic protagonist of the story the movie would've never been made in the early 50s without a known Hollywood star playing the role. Why? Simple: Producers needed to attract viewers in order for the film to make money. Actually, Lancaster isn't too unbelievable in the role, as long as you can disregard his blue eyes. Unfortunately babelicious Peters looks way too European to play an Apache squaw, even though they tried to hide it by darkening her skin. On the positive side, there are a lot of real Natives in peripheral roles.
The whole first act is great as Massai is a fish-out-of-water in the city of St. Louis. Unfortunately there are dull stretches in the second and third acts. Nevertheless, "Apache" was better than I thought it would be and inspired me to look up the real-life Massai. It was also a hit at the box office despite falling into relative obscurity since then. The score is surprisingly bearable for an old Western.
"Apache" made Native Americans (who aren't really 'native' since their ancestors emigrated from Asia) sympathetic characters in cinema, along with earlier Westerns, like "Buffalo Bill" (1944), "Fort Apache" (1948) and "Broken Arrow" (1950) and later Westerns, like "The Last Wagon" (1956), "A Man Called Horse" (1970) and "I Will Fight No More Forever" (1975).
THE FILM RUNS 1 hours & 31 minutes and was shot in California, Arizona and New Mexico. WRITERS: James R. Webb wrote the script based on Paul Wellman's novel.
Chupacabras in the Panamanian jungle
RELEASED IN 2014 and directed by Alastair Orr, "Indigenous" covers events in Panama when five college-age youths vacation there for some fun in the sun. Things go awry when they visit a beautiful waterfall in a forbidden area of the jungle.
This is a professionally made monster-in-the-forest flick with a competent no-name cast highlighted by gorgeous Panamanian locations and winsome Laura Penuela in a bikini. Precious Lindsey McKeon is another highlight on the female front.
My only problems are that (1.) the plot's hackneyed, particularly bringing to mind "The Last Tribe" (2009), which is marginally better in some ways. Other flicks come to mind, like "Touristas" (2007) and "The Ruins" (2008), which are superior to the other two. (2.) There's no depth in the plot: This is a monster movie focusing on partying youths getting chased in the forest by savage creatures and that's it. As such, the film's not very compelling despite the horror and thrills. On the bright side, the last act throws in an unexpected curve ball and shows that the movie wasn't micro-budget. Another positive is that this is arguably the best and most realistic chupacabra flick out there (keeping in mind that I've only seen four such movies).
Speaking of which, 'chupacabra' is a Spanish word, which literally means "goat-sucker" (from chupar "to suck" and cabra "goat"). There are two varieties of this cryptozoological beast: (1.) a reptile-like creature with leathery/scaly greenish-gray skin and sharp spines or quills running down its back; and (2.) a hairless form of canine with a pronounced spinal ridge and prominent eye sockets, fangs, and claws. "Indigenous" interestingly features neither of these, although the creatures come closer to the first description, I suppose.
THE MOVIE RUNS 1 hour 26 minutes was shot in Panama. WRITER: Max Roberts.
GRADE: B-/C+ (5.5/10)
The Drowning (2016)
What if Will Hunting wasn't, um, good?
RELEASED IN 2016 and directed by Bette Gordon, "The Drowning" focuses on a child psychologist (Josh Charles) whose life is disrupted by the release of a young man from reformatory (Avan Jogia). The doctor's analysis helped confine the kid a dozen years earlier and now the youth seems to show up everywhere and it's irritating; worse, his wife seems smitten with him (Julia Stiles). John C. McGinley plays the lawyer who prosecuted the kid while Robert Clohessy appears as the aloof, irate father.
This is a melancholy psychological drama with crime thriller elements. The focus is on the drama and the remorseful reflections thereof. All aspects of filmmaking are top-notch, including the convincing acting and well-scripted dialogues. The story's unpredictable: Just when you think something's going to happen, it doesn't (and vice versa). Some people refer to the unexpected climax as a "twist," but it's really more of a desperate solution.
The problem viewers have with this movie (besides the lack of thrills and explosions) is that not everything's spelled out; you have to read in between the lines. It's a study on the nature of good and evil within the context of human nature. Can a person be "evil" as a kid? If so, can he be reformed? Can a "good" therapist have elements of evil in his psyche? Did he have to deal with the same evil when he was a kid? What's the secret of overcoming it? The movie even throws in the enigmatic female attraction to "bad boys."
My title blurb reveals that there are similarities to "Good Will Hunting" (1997), but I'd watch this one over that overrated flick any day. Yet the script needed fine-tuned to drive home the movie's points. As it is, they're elusive; and this frustrates some viewers. But post-reflection reveals a lot.
THE FILM RUNS 95 minutes and was shot on the coast of Connecticut (New London, I'm guessing), as well as New York City. WRITER: Stephen Molton & Frank Pugliese wrote the screenplay based on Pat Barker's novel.
Quality horror-in-the-woods ruined by stoo-pid implausibilities
RELEASED IN 2014 and written & directed by Christopher Denham, "Preservation" chronicles events in the forests north of Los Angeles when two brothers & one of their wives embark on a camping trip in a closed preservation. Horror ensues when they are literally marked by some creepy pranksters... or is the culprit one of them? Pablo Schreiber & Aaron Staton play the brothers while Wrenn Schmidt plays the wife.
This is a competently made slasher-in-the-woods flick with a fairly engaging story, convincing actors, nice locations, a professional score and all-around effective filmmaking. It doesn't hurt that Wrenn is easy on the eyes. There are predictable aspects, like the red herring in the latter first act, not to mention obvious elements borrowed from similar films, like "Deliverance," "Eden Lake," "Rambo 2," "I Spit on Your Grave" and even "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2." Yet these things don't really harm the movie because they're pretty much par for the course in low-budget independent horror like this.
Unfortunately, the film is ruined by constant "Yeah, right" moments, like a character turning his/her back on a wounded adversary, which I counted happening four times (!); and what occurred at the campsite is absurd. Another example is the way people constantly do noisy things in the quiet of the woods without the other person(s) hearing, like climbing on top of a porta potty. Why Sure!
The director is clearly a professional-class filmmaker, but he needs to learn to work out implausible kinks in his screenplays, which just cause any viewer over 12-13 to roll-their-eyes. Maybe he should hire a writer, at least for fine-tuning scripts. It's a matter of using more imagination. The reason "Deliverance" (1972) is still talked about today is precisely because everything in it was BELIEVABLE. Nevertheless, there's a lot of good in "Preservation" and I encourage fans of the horror-in-the-woods genre to check it out.
THE FILM RUNS 1 hours & 27 minutes and was shot in Santa Clarita & Los Angeles, California.
GRADE: C/C- (4.5/10)
Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)
Zany comedy/musical about three aliens visiting Geena Davis in Los Angeles
RELEASED IN 1988 and directed by Julien Temple, "Earth Girls are Easy" chronicles events when three aliens (Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans) befriend a woman in Los Angeles (Geena Davis) and go out on the town. Julie Brown plays the woman's friend at work while Charles Rocket plays her roaming-eye fiancé. Michael McKean is on hand as her stoner brother.
This movie's goofy, but often hilarious and always fun & entertaining. Don't expect the howling bad crapola of future duds "2001: A Space Travesty" and "What Planet Are You From?" (both from 2000). Unlike those flicks, the unsavory sleaze is kept in check; it's almost innocent by comparison. I've never seen Julie Brown before, but she's definitely a bright spot. The score is fun & energetic in a decidedly 80's way.
THE MOVIE RUNS 100 minutes and was shot in the Los Angeles area. WRITERS: Julie Brown, Charlie Coffey & Terrence E. McNally.
Slow rise to fame & success; and then...
RELEASED IN 2014 and directed by Andrew Horn, "We are Twisted F***ing Sister!" documents Twisted Sister's slow rise to fame from 1972-1983, focusing on their energetic club days in the New York City region, culminating with their first two albums UNDER THE BLADE (1982) and YOU CAN'T STOP ROCK AND ROLL (1983).
Twisted Sister were outrageous (or eye-rolling) with their make-up shtick, but they were one of the most dynamic live bands and, actually, had some great songs, like "Burn in Hell," "The Beast," "Horror-Teria" and "The Price," all from their best and most popular album STAY HUNGRY (1984).
The movie's edited excellently focusing on interviews with numerous band members, managers, agents, club owners, wives (i.e. Suzette Snider), fans, producers, etc. Guitarist Jay Jay French and front man Dee Snider are, to be expected, the focal point of the interviews. There's also a lot of raw footage from these years, the best being their 1982 debut in England opening for Motorhead with Lemmy's (much needed) blessing. Dee learned from years on the club circuit how to engage an audience and demand nothing but the best.
Personally, I'd be more interested in what happened WHEN they were famous for five years and quickly fell out of vogue circa 1983-1987, but that's another movie. This one is compelling and entertaining throughout, despite its length (2 hours 15 minutes). It goes without saying, skip it if you don't like the 'f' word, lol.
It Follows (2014)
Horror in the Detroit area, but maybe... love conquers all
RELEASED IN 2014 and written & directed by David Robert Mitchell, "It Follows" chronicles events in the Detroit area when a group of suburban youths have to contend with a strange curse spread through loose sex wherein the victim is followed by some THING, unless s/he passes the curse on to someone else.
This movie shows what a talented filmmaker can do with only $2 million, a competent no-name cast and a brilliant composer (Rich Vreeland). In tone & quality the movie's akin to 2008's "From Within," but more haunting and less talky, not to mention without the awkwardly overt commentary on Christian legalism vs. wicca. The film scores good marks in the female department with Bailey Spry ("Annie" in the prologue), Maika Monroe ("Jay") and Lili Sepe ("Kelly"); Olivia Luccardi too ("Yara").
COMMENTARY ON MAIN THEME (Don't read until you see the movie): The premise isn't juvenile at all, as some clueless critic suggested. In fact, it reflects real life as the potentially fatal curse for loose sex is akin to venereal disease, albeit spiritually rooted. It's the casual-sex-equals-death motif of slasher flicks but deeper. The "monster" in the movie represents the repercussions of meaningless sex, which may be physical, psychological or spiritual, but there is a price to pay. Two of the characters are childhood friends and their union is the antithesis of casual. Note the subtle yet potent climax.
In addition, there are interesting subthemes to be gleaned, like the safe suburbs vs. the danger of the rundown inner city.
THE FILM RUNS 1 hours & 40 minutes and was shot in Detroit and the surrounding region (Sterling Heights, Berkley, Northville, Troy and Clawson,).
Spy Hard (1996)
James Bond parody with Leslie Nielsen
RELEASED IN 1996 and directed by Rick Friedberg, "Spy Hard" is a spoof of James Bond flicks with Leslie Nielsen as Agent WD-40 and Nicollette Sheridan as Agent 3.14. Stephanie Romanov plays a dual role while Marcia Gay Harden is on hand as the agent's dubious secretary. Andy Griffith plays the main heavy.
The first 15 minutes are hilarious, but from there the movie settles down into quietly amusing. The tone is akin to The Naked Gun franchise with its silly humor. The movie coulda done better on the female front, but Sheridan is likable and Harden has a couple worthy scenes. Additional movies are spoofed, like "Pulp Fiction." Overall, it's a throwaway comedy, but it has its goofy charm.
THE FILM RUNS 81 minutes and was shot in Los Angeles and Burbank. WRITERS: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer, Dick Chudnow & Friedberg.
The Hatred (2017)
Meh ghostly tale with some highlights
RELEASED IN 2017 and written & directed by Michael Kehoe, "The Hatred" details events when four college-age women travel to their professor's new retreat home for a getaway, only to find out it has a wicked history.
The 22-minute prologue is quite good with its link to WWII Nazism. The middle act, however, meanders with the relatively dull activities and conversations of the female guests and their little girl host, Irene. Something needed to perk up this portion of the film. Thankfully, three of the four females are easy on the eyes (Bayley Corman, Gabrielle Bourne & Alisha Wainwright), not to mention the stunning Alice in the prologue (Darby Walker).
There is one effective scare, but the rest of the ghost shenanigans seem half-hearted and prosaic. In tone and quality it's akin to "Solstice" (2008), but a notch or two below and without the superb last act. The script needed more time to flesh out its potential.
THE MOVIE RUNS 90 minutes and looks like it was shot in S. Cal, but with establishing shots from the Northeast in light of the Fall colors (I'm just guessing).
The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975)
Lizzie Borden took an ax and...
RELEASED TO TV IN 1975 and directed by Paul Wendkos, "The Legend of Lizzie Borden" chronicles the infamous hatchet murders of Andrew & Abby Borden (Fritz Weaver and Helen Craig) that took place in Fall River, Massachusetts, on August 4, 1892, presumably by Andrew's suffocating daughter, Lizzie (Elizabeth Montgomery). Katherine Helmond plays Lizzie's sister, Emma, while Fionnula Flanagan is on hand as the maid.
I just watched this version and 2014's "Lizzie Borden took an Ax" with Christina Ricci back-to-back and I give that one the edge because it's a little more compelling and has an excellent edgy soundtrack, albeit anachronistic. But I recommend seeing both versions to compare the data and understand what was going on behind the scenes at the Borden abode.
While it's impossible to defend Lizzie's gruesome actions, both movies help you see why she felt she had to do what she did (with 99.9% certainty). Her father was rich, a struggling mortician turned businessman and property developer, but he refused to update their house (they still had a pit latrine instead of flush toilets), not to mention move to a more affluent neighborhood. Lizzie just turned 32 while Emma was 9 years older and marriage was less and less likely of a potential escape. The stepmother, Abby, was short & fat and pressuring Andrew to change his will for her benefit. The Borden house itself was curiously structured in that there were no hallways and thus one room linked to another, which hindered privacy. In short, the household was a ticking Victorian time bomb with mounting hostilities waiting to explode.
FYI: The real-life Lizzie Borden and Elizabeth Montgomery happened to be 6th cousins once removed, each descending form Massachusetts denizen John Luther from the 17th century.
THE FILM RUNS 96 minutes with the more explicit European theatrical version running another 4 minutes (showing Lizzie nude). It looks like it was shot on a town set in S. Cal, but I can't verify this. WRITER: William Bast.
Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (2014)
(Thin) Lizzie took an ax
RELEASED TO TV IN 2014 and directed by Nick Gomez, "Lizzie Borden Took an Ax" chronicles the infamous hatchet murders of Andrew & Abby Borden (Stephen McHattie & Sara Botsford) that took place in Fall River, Massachusetts, on August 4, 1892, presumably by Andrew's suffocating daughter, Lizzie (Christina Ricci). Clea DuVall plays Lizzie's sister, Emma, while Hannah Emily Anderson is on hand as the maid. Gregg Henry appears as the determined prosecutor.
I just watched this version and 1975's "The Legend of Lizzie Borden" with Elizabeth Montgomery back-to-back and I give this one the edge. It's a little more compelling and has an excellent edgy soundtrack, albeit anachronistic. People complain about the music, but it's not like it's anything new to apply rockin' soundtracks to historical movies; "Marie Antoinette" did it in 2006 and Spag Westerns did it decades prior in the early 70s. Besides, the soundtrack's not all rockin'; it's diverse, creative and thoroughly entertaining. In any case, I recommend seeing both versions to compare the data and understand what was going on behind the scenes at the Borden abode.
While it's impossible to defend Lizzie's gruesome actions, both movies help you see why she felt she had to do what she did (with 99.9% certainty). Her father was rich, a struggling mortician turned businessman and property developer, but he refused to update their house (they still had a pit latrine instead of flush toilets) or move to a more affluent neighborhood. Lizzie just turned 32 while Emma was 9 years older and marriage was less and less likely of a potential escape. The stepmother, Abby, was short & fat and pressuring Andrew to change his will for her benefit. The Borden house itself was curiously structured in that there were no hallways and thus one room linked to another, which hindered privacy. In short, the household was a ticking Victorian time bomb with mounting hostilities waiting to explode.
THE FILM RUNS 87 minutes and was shot in Nova Scotia (Windsor, Lunenburg & Halifax). WRITER: Stephen Kay.
The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
The sins of the father come home to roost in the Capital region of New York State
RELEASED IN 2012 and directed by Joe Derek Cianfrance, "The Place Beyond the Pines" chronicles events in 1997 in Schenectady, NY, when a bank-robber's confrontation with a rookie police officer (Ryan Gosling & Bradley Cooper) has ramifications on their progeny (Dane DeHaan & Emory Cohen). Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne play the women in their lives while Mahershala Ali and Ray Liotta are on hand as a stepdad and corrupt cop respectively.
The intriguing title stems from the Mohawk word 'Schenectady' for "beyond the pine plains" (the city where the events take place). The scheme Luke (Gosling) and Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) utilize to hold up banks was the method Carl Gugasian, the "Friday Night Robber," applied for over three decades.
This is a Grade A crime drama/thriller and I found all three acts absorbing, although the first act is arguably the most compelling. Gosling has that Brando-like swagger and charisma, as do DeHaan and Cohen to a lesser degree. Liotta stands out as the shady cop. Unfortunately, the movie's hindered by nonsensical plot elements, like the unjustified guilt of one character (no matter how you slice it, the guy deserved what he got) and the pic in the wallet so many years later. If you can look beyond these dubious components this is a nigh great crime drama.
THE FILM RUNS 2 hours & 20 minutes and was shot in Schenectady, New York, and surrounding region (Glenville, Latham, Niskayuna & Altamont). WRITERS: Derek Cianfrance & Ben Coccio along with three scriptwriters.
Most Likely to Die (2015)
A killer slashes classmates on the scenic Malibu coast
RELEASED IN 2015 and directed by Anthony DiBlasi, "Mostly likely to Die" chronicles events at a retreat home on the scenic coast of Southern Cal when several former high school classmates gather the day before their 10-year reunion. Unexpectedly, they are picked off one by one in a mode suitable to his/her yearbook superlative (i.e. "Most likely to...).
This is a low-budget independent slasher, but it's not micro-budget. The competent cast is generally no-name, except for Jake Busey, who was probably doing a favor for a friend (it's not a big part). The locations near Malibu are spectacular, particular the opening aerial shots. There are several good-looking women (e.g. Skyler Vallo & Heather Morris).
The filmmaking is professional, unlike no-budget slashers such as "Butchered" (2010) and "The Ridge" (2005), but due to kinks in the script "Mostly likely to Die" falls a notch below those two story-wise. For instance, would a woman mistake the reflection of the killer in a mirror and shoot the mirror, but then fail to turn around to shoot the actual killer and, instead, drop her gun for the killer to apprehend? True, she saw her friend dead on the floor, but how would that make anyone think the threat of the killer no longer exists?
Then there are eye-rolling conventions, like the token characters (you'll see what I mean). Moreover some of the soap operatics seem overly drummed up. Lastly, you'll figure out the identity of the killer around the 30-minute mark (or sooner). Still, if you like slashers this one is competently done and has several highlights. There are a couple of great cuts on the score/soundtrack.
THE MOVIE RUNS 90 minutes and was shot in Topanga, California. WRITER: Laura Brennan.
I Am Thor (2015)
Metal Avenger, whatever age Jon Mikl Thor might be
RELEASED IN 2015 and directed by Ryan Wise, "I Am Thor" is documentary on the life of flamboyant body-builder/metal front-man Jon Mikl Thor and his band, Thor, from its beginnings in the 70s-early 80s to more recent years.
I remember seeing albums by Thor (the band) at record stores back in the day and my response was always, "Um... no." I guess I dismissed them because I wasn't sure if I was to take them serious. The guy looked like the superhero Thor come to life, but as a rock god; and I wasn't sure how I was supposed to take it. I finally heard some of their music a few years ago on Youtube, like "Let the Blood Run Red" and "Triumphant," and I found it catchy, raw & passionate in the manner of early Anvil and Twisted Sister. There's also a little Venom, but without the goat-sucking buffoonery (but a LOT of other buffoonery), not to mention the occasional wannabe Norse epic-ness of Manowar (e.g. "Warriors of the Universe"). Meanwhile, their stage antics recalled KISS, Alice Cooper and (again) Twisted Sister. The music's simplistic, but kinetic & fun metal that gets your blood pumping.
I'm just trying to establish how little I knew about Thor, the man or his band, and yet I found this movie entertaining from beginning to end. I can't tell you how many times I busted out laughing. For comparison, "I Am Thor" is superior to 2008's "Anvil: The Story of Anvil" and 2004's "Some Kind of Monster," at least as far as being more compelling and amusing.
The last act is the best, covering the reunited band from their glory days 1983-87, albeit with a new, younger bass player. That was the era when the band had their biggest success in England before abruptly ending when Jon decided to try his hand at acting. A decade later Jon decided to "get the band back together" and that's when his ex-porn-star wife said "Buh bye." In 2009, with his reunited band, Thor landed three concerts at sizeable festivals in Scandinavia, where the band is generally hailed. Say what you will, but Jon & co. know how to put on a show and Jon loves what he does and loves the people, despite the many hassles and unforeseen setbacks. Speaking of which, there's a montage of statements by fans or people who've worked with Jon and they unanimously said he's one of the nicest guys to know and work with. That tells you everything you need to know.
Lastly, remember this: Before there was Manowar, there was Thor.
THE FILM RUNS 82 minutes, never overstaying its welcome.
Psychologically interesting behind-the-scenes look at a great band in grave crisis
RELEASED IN 2004 and directed by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky, "Some Kind of Monster" documents the band Metallica a few months after bassist Jason Newsted's departure wherein the band started the writing/recording sessions for the album that turned out to be ST. ANGER (2003). The movie covers the next couple of years centering on their time in the studio with producer Bob Rock, who fills-in for Newsted on bass, and psychotherapist Phil Towle, a successful "performance-enhancing coach," whom they hired for $40,000 a month throughout the recording process. Fragments of concert footage, etc. are mixed into these events, including bass try-outs to replace Newsted in the final act.
This is an interesting documentary from a psychological standpoint, but it's hard for fans of the band because it's such a brutally honest portrayal of the members as it removes any mystique that was there. The focus isn't on the members being masterful musicians and metal gods on stage (although there's some of that), but rather on them being regular dudes baring it all to the camera. The film was shot 18-20 years after the band began and shot to fame in the 80s, culminating with their ultra-successful self-titled "BLACK ALBUM" in 1991. Here they are a decade later in total crisis. I can't believe they allowed the footage to be released. What a risk!
Although Phil Towle occasionally utters some stereotypical counselor verbiage (e.g. "How do you feel about that?"), the members later credited him with saving the band; and I believe it. The biggest problems were James Hetfield's control issues & alcoholism, stemming from a tough childhood/adolescence, as well as Lars Ulrich's ego. While these two started the band and are its nucleus, here they're openly at each other's throats, ready to scrap the band at any moment, even daring each other to quit. Meek & mild Kirk Hammett (lead guitarist) is pretty much stuck in the middle and tries to keep the peace and some sense of unity.
There are some entertaining bits or cameos with guests, like Metallica's original lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, which is thoroughly interesting but cringe-inducing (Mustaine later complained that the filmmakers edited his scenes down to a few whiny snippets, which portrayed him in the worst light possible). You get to meet the wives & kids of James and Lars. James' wife is precious. The last act chronicles the hiring of bassist Robert Trujillo, who's offered a $1 million to join the band right out of the gate (!).
Don't watch this film unless you want to see the awful truth behind a famous band's image and music, as well as a little bit of the awesome truth.
THE FILM RUNS 2 hours & 21 minutes.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
"Asgard is not a place, it's a people"
RELEASED IN 2017 and directed by Taika Waititi, "Thor: Ragnarok" covers events in Asgard & surrounding realms when Thor's older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), takes over Asgard while the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) is banished to a garbage planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Thor proceeds to put together a dubious team to (try to) take back his home world. Tom Hiddleston plays Loki, Mark Ruffalo Bruce Banner and Tessa Thompson Valkyrie. Anthony Hopkins and Benedict Cumberbatch are also on hand as Odin and Dr. Strange respectively.
I'm a fan of the first two Thor flicks, but this one is the best. It has the most compelling plot, the most interesting guest stars, and adds a little more humor to the proceedings while keeping a nice balance between the amusing parts and the serious ones. Some parts are even moving, like The Executioner's story arc (Karl Urban), whilst some are profound (e.g. Odin's revelation about Asgard). Much of the humor is laugh-out-loud funny.
Blanchett is utterly badaxx (even hot) as the villainess and, believe it or not, this is the best depiction of the Hulk yet on the screen. He has more dialogue here than in his four previous appearances on the big screen combined (i.e. "Hulk," "The Incredible Hulk," "Avengers" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron"). In addition, the guest appearance by Dr. Strange is exceptional.
Like "Captain America: Civil War" (2016), Marvel just knocked it out of the ballpark with this one.
THE FILM RUNS 2 hours, 10 minutes. WRITERS: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost.
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Luxurious, carefree life in the Palace of Versailles before the storm (the French Revolution)
RELEASED IN 2006 and written & directed by Sofia Coppola, "Marie Antoinette " chronicles France's iconic but doomed queen, Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst), from just prior to her betrothal & marriage to Louis XVI at 15 in 1770 to her reign as queen at 19, her eventual decline, and the close of her reign with the fall of the Palace of Versailles, located a few miles West of Paris.
This is an opulent and beautifully stylized interpretation of the historical events combining period tunes with anachronistic modern music (new wave, post-punk and electronica), which successfully humanizes the historical figures and their world for a contemporary audience. The first two acts effectively show what life in Versailles was like for royalty & nobles in the 18th century; but the last act subtly conveys the looming upheaval of the brutal French Revolution, which was the consequence of foolish spending and blithe, luxuriant living without concern for the common people.
THE FILM RUNS 2 hours 3 minutes and was shot in France with studio work done at Pinewood Studios, England. WRITER: Sofia based her script on Antonia Fraser's book Marie Antoinette: The Journey. BOX OFFICE: With a budget of $40 million, the film took in a little over $60 million worldwide.
Town-bound modern Western delivers the goods for Grade B fare
RELEASED IN 2017 and directed by Timothy Woodward Jr., "Hickok" stars Luke Hemsworth as the titular lawman and gunslinger, nicknamed Wild Bill, who is commissioned as Marshal to tame the wildest cow-town in the Old West, Abilene, Kansas. Kris Kristofferson plays the noble mayor and Bruce Dern the town doctor while Trace Adkins is on hand as the nefarious mogul of the town. Cameron Richardson plays the woman they vie for whereas Kaiwi Lyman appears as Hickok's gunfighter rival.
Except for the opening sequences, this is a town-bound Western similar in theme to those Wyatt Earp Westerns where Earp has to clean up a town (Dodge City, Tombstone, whatever). Since practically the entire story takes place in town it's irrelevant that California substitutes for Kansas. It's great to see old Western stars Kristofferson and Dern in fairly significant peripheral roles. Luke is stalwart as the protagonist and the movie really drives home the bold resolve it would take to tame a wild cow-town. Meanwhile the hulking Adkins is formidable as the heavy.
While this is a relatively low-budget adult Western (with a little bit of cussing, nudity, covert sex) and there are obvious mistakes here and there (e.g. the kid's bandage appearing on the wrong leg), not to mention the cast probably learned their lines the night before, as well as the predictableness concerning Mattie's kid, the script and main cast keep things compelling. There are several highlights and a few spectacular shots, like the train bridge in the opening act and, later, the moonlit sky.
In short, the movie's entertaining for a low budget Western that doesn't overstay its welcome. Western fans who don't demand Grade A quality should eat this up. Keep in mind that not every Western can have the mega-funds of blockbusters like "Dances With Wolves" and "Unforgiven." Just don't look to "Hickok" for accurate history. Nevertheless, I'd watch "Hickok" over the comparatively dull "Wild Bill" (1995) any day.
THE FILM RUNS 1 hour 28 minutes and was shot in Agoura (Paramount Ranch) & Santa Clarita, California. WRITER: Michael Lanahan.
GRADE: B/B- (6.5/10)