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. . . Maybe not modern day.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Just a mean, green mother from outer space!
For context, I've never been a musical guy. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, necessarily, and there are always exceptions. There's just a little too much cringe in actors bursting into song. Just not my thing.
"Little Shop of Horrors" subverts all of this.
Now don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic comedy -- a film that wields Steve Martin, Rick Moranis and John Candy simply can't disappoint in that regard -- and benefits from a director that knows what he wants in a backlot stage show. But I had to go and buy the soundtrack, which should speak volumes. The Audrey II numbers, especially, I absolutely love the MoTown influence. But the Greek Chorus grabbed me from minute one and I just enjoyed the hell out of this movie!
Ten bucks says even the harshest critics love the Bill Murray scene.
The Rescuers (1977)
Charming film in a miserable setting
I love Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor in this; they seem to embody the decent-yet-tiny heroes facing the enormity of the world. They bring light to a story that's somewhat heavy for this studio.
Memory's a funny thing As a kid, "The Rescuers" was a fun adventure; but through grown-up eyes, this shockingly dark. I found myself with a bleeding heart for Penny, this poor kid who's surrounded by withering neglect and abuse (I swear to god, I wanted to hit Medusa so bad). It's not often (ever?) I have such a strong reaction to a Disney villain.
There's a potency to this movie I did not expect as a cynical adult.
A thriller . . . I guess?
Hitchcock by way of Polanski. You've gotta love that sales pitch, and I find it hard to believe the director had trouble getting funding for "Frantic". But I really struggled with this film, and it comes down to pacing. Harrison Ford's rather stiff here, and the story's somewhat re-energized very once in a while with a new breadcrumb on the trail of his missing wife. This is essentially what concerns the movie's first half. Personally, I found a lot to like about Emmanuelle Seigner, and she really seemed to elevate her scenes with the star . . . but she also comes in rather late in the game for such a key component.
I did like the ending, which is where the movie's really tense and it's got some emotional weight. But that also means the good stuff was kicked all the way to the last few minutes. It does make the journey worth it ultimately, but I don't see much replay value in it.
Weird Science (1985)
"Why can't we simulate a girl?"
This is one of my favorite John Hughes movies. It happily marries the Frankenstein legend with the ubiquitous teen sex comedy and some of the dialogue is pure joy. It's odd that I almost always think of this movie as Anthony Michael Show's spotlight (he's usually the scene stealer), but Kelly LeBrock manages to hold her own; far more than just eye candy, she flexes her own comedic chops.
Part of what makes this enjoyable for me is that my spouse can recite drunk scene from heart, which means that I'm still laughing even when the movie's not on. To me, it's the best scene of the movie because everyone involved is hilarious. This could've been your average horny distraction, but there's decency and lessons of self-confidence contained herein, and Ms. LeBrock is just the right teacher.
The Getaway (1994)
The big letdown
If memory serves, Peckinpah's original enjoyed plenty of mileage out of its movie-star couple and plenty of violent edge. The remake tries, I guess, but falls tragically short.
Sweet Jesus, what a snoozer. Alec Baldwin can be a great actor in the right role, but not this one; he lacks the vital McQueen cool. Kim Basinger actually gave it a real shot, so give her credit (and the camera pays her undivided attention in the shower), but everyone else seems aware this is a complete phone-in. It doesn't even have the good sense to keep James Woods around beyond the first act.
Half-hearted is putting it nicely.
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)
The spirit is willing, but . . .
My wife looked over at me during the end credit outtakes and said, "Why couldn't the rest of the movie be this funny?"
We fully agree on that one.
Context helps a lot in this case. I can't remember where I'd read this (Facebook, probably), but someone argued that Kevin Smith, having just survived a brush with death, wanted to make a movie with all of his friends. And that's precisely what Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is because everyone shows up (including every last View Askewniverse reference). And given their years-long separation, it's honestly sweet to see Affleck make an appearance and bury the hatchet. The good faith in an undertaking like this is admirable.
I just wish one of the jokes landed.
Hanks and his nourishing chicken soup
In chaotic times, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" is like a desperately needed warm hug; a film that wisely eschews the biopic in favor of a father/son drama. More than that, it's a drama couched in a Mister Rogers episode.
That alone nurtures inventive direction, but Tom Hanks ably embodies the role of an icon. His performance is measured, genial and seemingly effortless while acting as a sort of Yoda to Matthew Rhys' injured soul (for lack of a better comparison).
Not once did I feel manipulated during such a tearjerker, but even at its heaviest, it's still relatively benign.
An enormously affective movie.
There's something about the character design in "Onward" that suggests "Zootopia" rather than a PIXAR movie; I think that's the reason for my indifference toward the marketing. But I'm as surprised as anyone because this is a fun one.
Two words: Chris Pratt, putting his back into a character that's all-too-eager to dive right into the next adventure. He's earnest, unassuming and nothing short of a pleasure. Case in point, the entire gas station sequence. Something as simple as speeding up the voice to a high pitch turns out to be hysterical. I haven't laughed this hard at a PIXAR movie in a long time; and the bottom line is that this is a quest I thoroughly enjoyed.
Toy Story 4 (2019)
A sequel no one needed, and yet . . .
"Toy Story 3" wrapped things up so nicely that this movie can't quite shake the outlier feel; but even I have to admit to getting wrapped up while watching this. It looks fantastic, the cast is uniformly excellent (consistent with the franchise) and the story beats hit home when the need to. I appreciate the maturity in Woody's and Bo Peep's arcs and absolutely loved the addition of Keanu Reeves and Key & Peele.
"Toy Story 4" may not be a game-changer, but it's a worthy addition.
3 Men and a Little Lady (1990)
Adult love story yields mediocre results
Fairly unnecessary sequel that backseats Danson and Guttenberg for Selleck's story and loses some of the appeal in the process. It's not bad and I'd probably see it again, but as good as Robin Weisman is as the Little Lady, the heart-melting appeal of the first movie isn't quite there.
3 Men and a Baby (1987)
This kid's alright
Not at all surprised that this was the hit of '87. Such star power isn't dismissed easily and neither is the target audience of women that love single dads. I can't imagine this was a hard sell.
And I'm a softie, so I fall right in with that audience. I loved seeing that baby wrap three freewheeling bachelors around her tiny finger and I think it was done well from a writing standpoint. This felt entirely relatable to me (kids tend to do that).
Put it this way: this is a lighthearted romcom that swayed a violent movie devotee. I figure that speaks volumes.
Urban Cowboy (1980)
He's left the mirrorball for the honkeytonk
There's a part of me that wishes I was cognizant in 1980 when the "Urban Cowboy" craze hit; just to experience the hype if nothing else (I saw it in utero, but that doesn't count). As it stands, this is best viewed as a cultural curiosity; a snapshot both of Travolta in his prime and the Western craze. It's that star power that helps the film retain its potency for decades after the fact. The camera belabors that point with the shot of its lead actor posing against the bar, beer in hand, intensity smoldering (they even used that on the poster to sell tickets).
If we're talking substance, hell there's not much. The allure of bull-riding is lost on me and the men in this movie are absolute pigs. Watching Debra Winger go from one loveless abuser to another is a real drag, and she tends to be the film's sympathetic core.
I can't blame anyone for not being able to relate to this movie if their first watch is in 2020, but I can appreciate the mark it made in its time.
Made in America, for better or worse
If by some freak occurrence you're reading this before watching "Veep", then you're in for a genuine treat. This is a gleefully biting series with a superb ensemble cast and blistering dialogue (my god, the tongue-lashings on this show). Selina Meyer, the line-toeing party candidate and her catastrophic campaign for the White House make the ideal vehicle to satirize every last aspect of the D.C. swamp - and proves (as if we needed anymore evidence) that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is an American treasure.
This series is ideal for binging and I have nothing but love for every fiber of it. It's an absurd take on modern politics that has only become closer to reality in recent years.
To the bitter end . . .
This whole season has had a go-for-broke vibe with every supporting and background character making a last-minute appearance. I've nothing wrong with that because it makes this feel like the final sendoff that if it. Truth be told, I was desperately hoping for more Peter MacNicol and I was not disappointed.
Selina completes her arc from cursed also-ran to somewhat of a supervillain in her quest for the oval office. I didn't think this show could actually get anymore acidic in its final season, but I was proven wrong many times over. And yet, there's an optimistic note that the writers choose to end on.
This is one hell of a finish.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Life lessons through cosmic intervention
A sweet romantic comedy, an inventive premise, and a pitch-perfect roe for Bill Murray. All of this is true of "Groundhog Day", a move that seems to roof for its egotistical main character even as it punished hum relentlessly. Murray's droll wit is superbly cast as the big-city lout forced to relive the same day over and over, surrounded by unassuming simplicity and good-natured folk. His misery is played to exceptional comedic effect, and on some level this just *had* to have been written for him specifically (like Chevy Chase in "Fletch"). The roe just seems to fit itself around the actor like a glove.
Beyond its irresistible hook, this proves to be a thoughtful, warm and fruitful venture on all fronts. A well-executed entry from the great Harold Ramis.
Malcolm X (1992)
An unbelievable life story
Right to the point: I've got nothing but love for "Malcolm X".
Less a biopic than a sweeping American epic, it details the man's staggering journey from guttersnipe to cultural firebrand. It's absorbing on that aspect alone, but Denzel Washington in the lead role is another matter entirely. This is an actor who manages to embody the character, nearly disappearing into the role and making it come alive. Washington's skills at the pulpit highlight the ferocity of this character who inspires rebellion among his congregation. This is a resplendent film, well-mounted and carried out with conviction. It's easy to get wrapped up in and hard to forget once the credits role.
Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)
Good reason to level up
"Jumanji: The Next Level" deserves praise for for not only reminding use why the first one was good, but also for its adept handling of sequel chores. It's back to the jungle but with more characters, good story and loads of charm. The slight bank towards zany is welcome here and makes for an easygoing and entertaining diversion after the holidays. To me, Jack Black is the standout for shouldering much of the humor, and I'm pleased to see a franchise being built on solid and heartfelt foundations.
The Ladykillers (2004)
A bit of Coen Bros. fun that borders on devilish
A mundane robbery undone by greed, malice and delightfully divine crackdown; populate the crew with offbeat malcontents and a scenery-gobbling Tom Hanks, and yo've got "The LadyKillers". Now, I've not been privy to the original version, but I enjoy the hell out of this movie, chiefly because of Hanks; that accent is a trip, and it's a comically villainous turn that's hard to gorget. Any number of his lines are memorable as a result, some of them even indelible. His imperative demand for waffles is case-in-point:
"Madam, we must have waffles! We must all have waffles forthwith! We must all think, and we must all have waffles, and think each and every one of us to the very best of his ability..."
I'm tellin' ya, Hanks is a scream.
Frozen II (2019)
Looks and sounds great
Preface: nah, I'm not the target audience. If I didn't have a ten year-old daughter, I definitely wouldn't be seeing this. On that basis . . .
It's a decent movie, offering first-rate CGI and more of Idina Menzel's golden power voice. I'm not sure we needed an Elsa origin story, but it's done with high production values and more of what made the original a hit in the e fist place. I have nothing bad to say about this and my wife and kid really enjoyed it. That's probably what really matters.
Welp, this is how it ends . . .
Not a bad movie, considering the negative word-of-mouth as of late. I've heard it said over the years that the right audience can make or break a movie, and I had just the right people. My wife and daughter really seemed to enjoy this movie, and I let that color my impressions unabashedly. Babu Frik, Lando, Kylo Ren's opening rampage; there were moments I got into because of the people sitting with me. On that basis, it falls in line with J.J. Abrams' usual passable blockbuster, and on this particular Sunday morning, it wasn't bad.
But Sweet Jesus, this movie has problems.
Right out of the gate, it's apparent that Disney did not have a roadmap for this sequel trilogy (and desperately needed one). Now we have have J.J. Abrams feverishly trying to repudiate The Last Jedi with every move. Then again, we also have his manic plotting and fetch quests running at full tilt. Not to mention his overt fascination with "moments" and callbacks to the Original Trilogy. We had plenty of that in The Force Awakens, now's your chance to slow down and let things breathe as we close this saga out.
I know I sound like an Abrams hater -- but I'm not, I know what I'm in for with every one of his movies. I just think he was the wrong choice for this job. As much as I love the middle chapter in this latest series, the handling of the trilogy as a whole was haphazard from the beginning. I'm as susceptible to nostalgia bait as anyone (that trailer for the new Ghostbusters was incredible), but this is like weaponized member berries.
The Americans: START (2018)
An exhilarating finish
With how this final season's been going, I'd expected something more confrontational and violent to cap off "The Americans". But 'START' had other ideas in mind, and it's a finale that runs low on flying bullets and heavy on life-altering decisions. This is an amazing episode that sees the entire Jennings family dealing head-on with the dying days of the Cold War, and all three of the main actors (Rhys, Russell and Emmerich) deserve Emmys.
I'm trying not to sidetrack into spoilerville, but what happens to these people is nothing short of incredible; it's sad, but even more importantly, it feels organic -- even in a story that features a household in ruins.
Jesus, what an ending!
A sensory assault that leaves a bitter, horrible taste
If you make it through "Irréversible", then hats off, because you've just passed an endurance test. But what's the point?
Nihilistic to its core, Gaspar Noé presents the story of a young woman who leaves a party only to be brutally raped and beaten in an underpass. Her boyfriend sets off on a vengeance trip with equally tragic results (furthermore, this is all laid out in reverse order). Noé's using both characters to comment on the randomness and cruelty of our world as well as the calamitous nature of revenge. But this is also a movie that bends over backwards to make sure the audience is disoriented, nauseated, and out-of-sorts to even ingest this kind of subject matter -- and that's what I don't get. The ten-minute sexual assault isn't enough, Noé tells this story with a clear hostility towards his viewers. "Irréversible" is a tale told in a sewer; a gutting, homophobic ninety minutes of utter misery.
That said, I think Monica Bellucci deserves massive praise for her fearless performance during the actual assault. It is agonizing, vicious and unbelievably haunting and it took serious conviction to pull this off.
I've sated my curiosity about this movie, but the chances of revisiting this are nil. Life is already too painful to put up with something like this.
The stuff of legend
A '70s revenge flick with Pam Grier. You walk into one of these with certain expectations, probably some nudity, and various pimps, sex workers and bad cops.
But "Coffy" is working on a whole 'nother level.
Within minutes after the opening credits, she's killing off drug pushers with shotgun facials. It's made abundantly clear that she's a one-woman hit squad with deeply personal motivations and zero misgivings.
But there's a humanity to this character, for which Grier is 100% attributable. She is a force in this movie, lending an emotional core to this character and bringing a sense of fun to most of the violence; Given the budget, the production side of things gets pretty rough, but if you ever wonder why Pam Grier is hailed as the queen of blaxploitation, "Coffy" is all you need.
I love this movie.
Bad Boys II (2003)
The magic is gone
Back in '95, Michael Bay still had checks and balances in place. It's why I enjoyed Bad Boys. His "Bayisms" were kept to a minimum, and the movie ran on the Smith/Lawrence chemistry, macho gun battles and slick polish. The Mark Mancina score added loads to the film, and it was pretty funny.
Bad Boys II tosses out all of that. Everything is ramped to 11, including the camerawork, hateful dialogue and coked-fueled editing. This is a testament to a director whose id is fully in charge, and this saps all of the humor, fun and entertainment value.
It is exhausting.
A story so nuts, it had to be true . . .
. . . but you don't expect to be so captivated, all the same. At least, I didn't.
I can't say just how many liberties were taken with this movie's story -- or just how "Hollywood" it is -- but that's why I loved it so much. Affleck approached this film with the '70s movie grain and aesthetics that are right up my alley (even kicking things off with the old Warner Bros logo). And even with such a top-shelf cast, Alan Arkin was the standout for me. His cynical producer made the film's first act in Hollywood so damn enjoyable, and he's just the movie's bright spot.
But even so, Affleck's bona fides are on full display here; it's an exceptionally underplayed performance in an exhilarating suspense flick. He's never wowed me as an actor before now, but I can no longer question in front or behind the camera.
This is a great movie!