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Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion Visit Jean-Paul Sartre
20 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The Matrix Reloaded 4 out of 10: This is it the sequel to the Matrix. Man, this is going to be good.

The cracks begin to show early, some missteps here and there. The highs are higher (The Matrix Reloaded has the best action scene of the three films) the lows are lower (The Matrix Reloaded has the worst talking villain / this is what the movie is about scenes in almost any film I have seen). It comes up with some great ideas (The Merovingian and Persephone) and some awful ones (Zion, The Architect). It is more interesting than the third film but also more frustrating as one can see the potential only to see it squandered.

The Good: There is plenty of good in the film lets start with The Merovingian played by Lambert Wilson and his wife Persephone, played by Monica Bellucci. What delicious characters.

The Merovingian is hinted as being a previous version of Neo in a previous Matrix that was filled with vampires and werewolves and ghosts. His wife Persephone is his Trinity. He speaks French cause the swear words are more fun, serves a woman cake that forces her to orgasm, has bathroom sex behind his wife's back, and employs albino ghost twins and werewolves as bodyguards. (Some people think that the guards are vampires, but silver bullets kill them and if Richard Benjamin's disastrous assault on George Hamilton in Love at First Bite taught me anything it is that silver bullets are for werewolves.) Oh and he could not be more wonderfully dismissive of our heroes.

His wife Persephone is ever his match as she kills one of his werewolf bodyguards because she is upset with his restroom tryst, forces Neo to kiss her properly to get a hostage released, and wears an outfit that makes more than the characters in the film question reality. (In the sequel she wears an even more revealing outfit that must have been made from unobtanium.)

These two are exactly what The Matrix Reloaded needed, proper villains for Neo and company. We can see that the machines and Agent Smith even in higher numbers are no match for our Superman/Jesus but perhaps a former Neo surrounded by supernatural creatures, and even more dangerous a seductive wife, could provide an actual test.

The fight and car chase scene that follows Neo's engagement with The Merovingian and Persephone is wonderfully staged. Neo is taken out of the picture which allows real stakes as the rest of his crew fights agents and the supernatural on a high-speed highway chase. A special shout out to the albino ghost twins who really should have been in both this movie and the sequel more.

Hugo Weaving doesn't get as much credit for his performance in this film as I think he ought to. The script often has him go three places at once, and yet he is always unmistakably Agent Smith. It is an example of an actor holding the ship steady as the character goes off the rails. (Great now I mixing metaphors like The Architect.)

The Bad: I would love to tell you that the car chase scene above is the most memorable scene in the movie, but two others stand out even more. One I will cover under The Ugly. The other is the Zion rave.

There have been a surprisingly large number of films released with Smell-O-Vision, AromaRama, and Scratch and Sniff cards. (The latest being 2011's Spy Kids: All the Time in the World advertised as being in 4d with AromaScope). The Matrix Reloaded isn't listed on the Wikipedia page of films with this special effect. It should be. I could smell that rave in Zion. It was a scent that would have been regarded as too foul for John Water's Polyester's Scratch and Sniff cards.

If the Wachowski siblings were going for a specific effect, say that one toilet in Trainspotting, I would praise them for brilliant filmmaking. They clearly are not as this scene is interspersed with a PG-13 sex scene of Neo and Trinty all of this set to techno music. This cacophony of sex and sweat goes on for about ten minutes. By the end of that ten minutes, I was ready to root for the machines.

One Jason Voorhees is scary. A hundred Jason Voorhees would be honestly comical. Despite Hugo Weaving's best efforts, Agent Smith isn't frightening in large numbers. In fact, what happened to all the Agents in this film? They are not the threat that they were In the first Matrix. Before we were told if you see one you should run. Now they seem to be standard mooks.

I understand that Neo has turned into Superman/Jesus, but everyone else on the Nebuchadnezzar has also gotten into the act. Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus aided by a samurai sword and some questionable blue screen effects defeat the agents while riding on top of a truck, and Carrie-Anne Moss's Trinity is now kicking them here and there. ( Trinity has also developed the habit of backflipping even when there is no discernible reason. In one scene the gang is leaving a subway station and Trinity backflips over the turnstiles, which are unlocked in that direction... because you don't have to pay to leave. )

The upgrade of Neo matched with the severe downgrade of the agents leaves a power imbalance that makes his action scenes dull. Neo looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting off toddlers in Kindergarten Cop when he battles the fifty Agent Smiths (It is no surprise that the best action scene is the one where Neo is not there. Come to think of it this was also true for The Matrix Revolutions). Compare this to the original film where Neo was front and enter in all the great fight scenes. They made him too powerful and invulnerable for us to care anymore.

The Ugly: I swear if Monty Python made the Matrix that whole scene with The Architect would be precisely the kind of thing they would end the film with. A pretentious blowhard is explaining everything you had seen before.

"Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion Visit Jean-Paul Sartre," is a close match to the scene but there is a bit of their International Philosophy soccer game as well.

Yup, The Architect scene is, in a nutshell, an unironic Monty Python sketch to end the movie. Much like the Zion rave scene, they were not going for that, but that is what we got.

In Conclusion: Not since "Man it's been sixteen years since the last Star Wars film The Phantom Menace is going to be great?" was uttered has a sequel so disappointed.
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Having your main character be a Superman is kryptonite for tension and excitement.
20 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The Matrix Revolutions: 4 out of 10: The Matrix Revolutions concludes the Matrix trilogy with an ending no-one remembers due to years of intensive therapy. Despite the ending, it is slightly less irritating than The Matrix Reloaded. Partially because that previous film had lowered the bar so much and crushed our dreams so thoroughly that we were mere empty husks by the time this film hit theaters.

The Good: Look, it could have been worse. Neo might have found out he got his powers through the scientific miracle of Midi-chlorians, Neo could have spun the earth backward to reverse time and bring Lois Lane back to life, or Alex Winter could have shown up in a time-traveling phone booth and whisked Neo back to San Dimas, California to give a report to his Philosophy class about Determinism, choice, and the works of Jean Baudrillard before heading to the club for a radical Wyld Stallyns concert which plays over the closing credits. Okay, that would be the best ending ever.

The Bad: Alas There is no Wyld Stallyns concert at the end of The Matrix Revolutions. To no one's surprise, there is a fight with Agent Smith as predictable as Rocky vs. Drago in Rocky IV. I am half surprised the cloned Smith crowd didn't start chanting Neo Neo as the fight came to its conclusion.

There is a lot of talking in The Matrix Revolutions so let me see if I can break down the plot. Everything is predetermined; there is no choice; Neo is Jesus with Superman powers, and in a running time of over two hours there is one decent action scene with none of the main characters involved in it.

The decent action scene is the machines attack on Zion. All Zion has is those walkers like in Aliens but with machine guns attached and a couple of scrappy lesbians with a missile launcher. It does not go well for them.

Zion also has a ton of new characters that I don't care about. They all seem to have the personality of wet toast. The two exceptions are the irritatingly scrappy child soldier who almost saves the day and Commander Lock played by Harry Lennix who hates everyone and everything and is missing his calling to be the Lieutenant in the new Die Hard who thinks John McClane is working with the terrorists. You are supposed to hate Commander Lock, but at least he had a personality. (In Reloaded my favorite character by far was The Merovingian another person you are supposed to hate.)

At a critical part of the battle, one of the hovercrafts is rushing back to set off an EMP to destroy the machines. Which brings me to the first question? Why doesn't Zion have EMPs? Like lots of them? EMPs only affect machines with a live current running through them so you could power down, kill the evil machines, and power up again. There is no explanation given for any of this.

There are a lot of questions generated by The Matrix Revolutions. Why are people surprised that Agent Smith can replicate himself? He is a computer program. Its what they do.

If your actress playing the Oracle dies, why hire a new actress that almost looks like her? Why not have the Oracle played by someone completely different to emphasize the fact she is just a computer program as well. I would have had Joe Pantoliano take up the role. That would have woken up both the audience and the crew of Nebuchadnezzar.

If someone gets stabbed by four large pieces of rebar, would they really be up for a four-minute speech?

Ian Bliss does a great job as a crewmember possessed by Agent Smith. He does such a good job he might as well wear a T-shirt that says I am Agent Smith ask me how. The reaction of Neo and company to this obviously enthralled crewmate breaks all sorts of reality. (When Neo finds out he can use his powers outside the Matrix one of his first thought should have been could his opponents do so as well?)

I could go on ( computer programs that believe in love, Zion has a city council that is larger than its army, machines turning into either the Baby Face mask from Brazil or the final boss from Mass Effect 2 so they can speak to Neo.) but the biggest issue is one spends the movie thinking about these things instead of enjoying the spectacle on screen. Partially because for so much of its running time The Matrix Revolutions says rather than shows.

The Ugly: The Merovingian played by Lambert Wilson and his wife Persephone played by Monica Bellucci are by far the most exciting things in The Matrix Reloaded, and while that movie dropped the ball a bit, they promised great things in the sequel. Instead, we get one scene in a bondage dance club called Hel (Another Mass Effect 2 reference? Could the Wachowski siblings be secret Commander Shephard fans?), and Monica Bellucci only gets one line for the love of all that is holy. (On the plus side costume designer Kym Barrett brought her A game.)

Speaking of the club Hel according to IMDb Craig Walker played Hel Club Pony Girl Trainer but was uncredited. Can you imagine the embarrassment for Craig as he is sitting in the theater as the credits roll and his nan is asking him why his name isn't on the screen?

I said a lot in my reviews of The Matrix and particularly Matrix Reloaded about how having your main character be a Superman is kryptonite for tension and excitement. Matrix Revolutions does not solve this problem, and if anything, it is worse. Also, the religious allegories are more than a bit on the nose, and this is from a movie series where the main love interest is named Trinity.

In Conclusion: Matrix Revolutions is less frustrating than the Matrix Reloaded simply because it doesn't have as much goodwill to squander. Fans of some long-running TV shows certainly know the feeling where you think "How are they going to pull this off?", and they don't. The Matrix was a great stand-alone film, and the two sequels managed to destroy a perfectly fine story. If you see them, that is. The best thing to do is to pretend they do not exist. It is like watching Game of Thrones but stopping at the end of season six.
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Quiz Show (1994)
No Whammies.
17 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Quiz Show: 9 out of 10: Quiz Show is about the scandals involving various Quiz Shows in the late fifties focusing primarily on the NBC show Twenty-One. It was directed and produced by Robert Redford and is based on the memoir of the congressional investigator of the scandals played by Rob Morrow. Upon release, it got a smattering of Academy Award nominations and excellent reviews. Here we are twenty-five years later, and not just does the movie hold up, but it may be more insightful now than it was in the early nineties.

The Quiz Show scandal was that the winners of the surprisingly hard quiz shows were actually faking it. They were given the answers beforehand and told when to take a dive all to create drama and tension on the show. This type of revelation may be more familiar to viewers in 2019 than viewers in 1994.

There is a scene in that wonderful sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest where Sigourney Weaver tries to explain TV shows are not real to the gullible aliens.

Gwen DeMarco: They're not ALL "historical documents." Surely, you don't think Gilligan's Island is a... All the Thermians moan in despair Mathesar: Those poor people.

I have never met someone who legitimately felt that Gilligan's Island was a true story. I have met people that thought The Kardashians was. Both Gilligan's Island and The Kardashians are sitcoms. They both have writers and plot points and horrible slapstick. It should be evident to anyone watching either that these are scripted shows. But one is a sitcom, and the other is labeled Reality Television.

The modern game show has been surpassed by the reality TV competition shows such as Project Runway or Masterchef. Of course, if you stay through the end credits, you will see a variation of Project Runways "The Judges considered both their scores and input from the Producers and Bravo in reaching their elimination decisions." Yet Tim Gunn will hold onto the fiction that the competition is real as strongly as a 1980's wrestling fan.

So the arguments from Quiz Show that we are just making exciting television have a new life in the early twenty-first century. The people on House Hunters have already bought their home, all that beautiful furniture put in the newly Shiplaped house will be returned once the 'camera's leave (And 'don't mention that the freshly refurbished house is next to one of 'Waco's many meth labs.), and there are professional chefs in the background just out of camera range helping that single mother of five who was a line cook at a Tennessee diner two weeks ago make that shrimp and cuttlefish paella.

The Good: The acting is top notch across the board here - special shout out three excellent performances. John Turturro threads the needle with his portrayal of Herbie Stempel. Herbie is a very unlikable character bordering on an offensive Jewish stereotype. Yet, he seems real. Turturro sells his self-destructive nature and his bizarre fixation to bring down the man who replaced him, Charles Van Doren.

Which Brings us to Ralph Fiennes as Charles Van Doren, Ralph also threads a needle making us believe that Charles Van Doren did all these underhanded things but also making him so likable that it is understandable that even the investigators didn't want him to get in trouble. It also makes us understand he never had it hard in his life as he grew up with great privilege, and everyone genuinely liked him.

My last acting call out is Director Barry Levinson who nails the role of Today host Dave Garroway. It is a small role, but unlike Martin Scorsese's more flashy turn as a fictional Geritol executive Levinson doesn't feel like stunt casting. If you told me they just used stock footage like Forrest Gump did I honestly would have believed you.

Robert Redford does an excellent directing job in this. There are some great shots here, and the movie is packed with content never losing its momentum. There is also a very handsome production that seems true to the late fifties.

The Bad: There is no Quiz Show 2. In particular, outside of text flashed during the ending credits, there is no follow-up on these characters. Honestly, their story after the scandal is more interesting than the scandal itself. The main bad guy and or fall guy Dan Enright (Played by David Paymer) hid out in Canada for a few years and eventually came back to run some very successful game shows in the seventies such as The 'Joker's Wild (With original Twenty-One host Jack Barry) and produced movies such as that Sylvia Kristel sex comedy Private Lessons. Enright's story alone would make a compelling film.

The Ugly: You know a lot of Americans are very over educated. We are filled with useless trivia with few outlets to impress. With the internet, Wikipedia, and smartphones, the art of knowing everything could not be less valued. Of course, there can be a vast difference between knowing a lot of things and being smart.

Quiz Show is filled with stupid characters that project being smart. The game show producers never had to rig anything. They just had to make the questions easier and recruit more appealing contestants. Wheel of Fortune has been on the air forever, and those contestants are often box of rocks stupid.

Herbie Stemple never realized that by exposing those he thought wronged him he was exposing himself and Charles van Doren never realized that there are worse things than being in your father's shadow. Quiz Show is a collection of flawed characters that could do Shakespeare proud.

In Conclusion: Quiz Show gets overlooked when we talk about great films from the nineties but it really shouldn't. It has aged exceptionally well and is in many ways more relevant today than during its initial run. Good job by all involved well worth the look.
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Poor Ted Levine
12 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The Silence of the Lambs: 10 out of 10: An FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is assigned by her boss (Scott Glenn) to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a serial killer, whose insight might prove useful in the pursuit of another serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine).

In the history of the Oscars Silence of the Lambs is one of the most exceptional outliers. It went into wide release on Valentine's Day 1991 and yet swept all five major Academy Awards fourteen months later. (Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role Anthony Hopkins, Best Actress in a Leading Role Jodie Foster, Best Director Jonathan Demme, Best adapted Screenplay Ted Tally).

Only two other films had accomplished this before; It Happened One Night (1934) One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and no film has achieved this since. The Silence of the Lambs was a film that kind of opened slow and gathered steam by word of mouth far away from the Oscar bait crowd. Also, The Silence of the Lambs was an R rated horror film a genre severely underrepresented by the Oscars. There is not anything else like it in Oscar history.

The Good: Let us start with the acting. Anthony Hopkins runs away with the movie despite powerful performances from the other three leads. He avoids the undeniable urge to overact and chew scenery. After all, he is playing a cannibal serial killer, and a lesser actor's inclination would be more Heath Ledgers Joker than Masterpiece Theater. By not making any sudden movements and using only his voice and eyes in the opening scenes it sets the character up to be effective when he is tied to a hand truck with a Jason hockey mask covering everything but his eyes.

When Hopkins finally lets loose, he has lulled us into such a state of admiration that it truly is shocking. They told us he was a vicious killer and a cannibal. They tell us of what Hopkins did to that nurse just a little while ago biting out her tongue (Director Demme lets the characters see the photo of the incident but wisely hides it from the audience) Hopkins himself told us about eating the census taker's liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. He is still a live wire so to speak, but we are so charmed we let our guard down as an audience which makes it that more believable when the characters on screen make the same error.

Jodie Foster's Oscar win was also well deserved. The script and director do her a dozen favors. The way Demme shoots his scenes reminds us just how small and vulnerable Jodie Foster is. The script has every character in the movie subtly (or not so subtly) hit on Jodie Foster's character. Even (or especially) her mentor Scott Glenn. Foster's relationship with Glenn has an undercurrent of tension whether he will risk approaching her outside of the professional bounds and honestly whether she, with her father issues, would be receptive to the same. This vulnerability makes the character work on a level rarely since in this genre. Foster's mastery of both the accent and the physical space add incredible dimension to an already fascinating character.

The Ted Tally's script based on a book by Thomas Harris cheats a bit in at least one memorable scene, and it is a testament to the strength of the story that instead of being annoyed by it I applaud it. The story is complicated enough to be interesting but told in a straight forward manner that avoids talking killers (Well except for Hannibal but that is after all his thing) and those last minute reveals. The entire production has that subtle, realistic midwestern sheen and color palate that reminded me of The Fugitive movie. The movie feels almost a documentary at times as its sense of time and place are so well grounded.

The Bad: Poor Ted Levine. He is the big bad in the best horror movie of the year, and no one remembers him. He was overlooked for an Oscar nomination in a year that wasn't exactly very strong (The best supporting actor category had two nominees from Warren Beatty's Bugsy and the winner was Jack Palance from City Slickers.). His flamboyant wild take on Buffalo Bill would have been the talk of the town in any other movie, but Anthony Hopkins took all the serial killer oxygen out of the room, and bluntly people forget there was another serial killer in the film.

The ugly. To make matters worse for Ted Levine his character was the target of some quite serious protests. To quote Screenhub "Gumb has a white poodle named precious, dances around wearing women's clothes and a scalp, and has had a homosexual relationship with at least one male in his past. On the surface, it seems pretty obvious that the character is a negative stereotype of the LGBT community." As the Los Angeles Times reported in their Oscar coverage "Threats by gay groups to disrupt the proceedings to protest the treatment of homosexuals in such films as "The Silence of the Lambs" did not materialize. But outside the Music Center, at least ten people were arrested during a noisy protest by hundreds of demonstrators."

Hollywood has a rich history of the gay or transvestite killer in movies from Psycho, to (1983 spoiler alert) Sleepaway Camp, to my personal favorite Gene Simmons in Never Too Young to Die. It turns out Silence of the Lambs seemed to be a breaking point for the LGBT community. There is even a story that Jonathan Demme purposely made Philidelphia after Silence of the Lambs as an apology to the LGBT community as if he was D. W. Griffith making Intolerance as an apology for Birth of a Nation.

There is only one person from the original production of Silence of the Lambs who still gets asked about such things in these enlightened times. Poor Ted Levine. Here he is playing a character that everyone forgot except those that were protesting it. That Screenhub quote above isn't contemporaneous. It's from a 2018 interview with Ted, and they treat him a bit as if he was Hanoi Jane or something. (Ted's attempt to explain how his character wasn't gay digs the hole a little deeper in all fairness but seriously leave poor Ted Levine alone.)

In Conclusion: The Silence of the Lambs is one of the best out and out horror films made. I know since it won a bunch of Oscars people like to call it a thriller but one character eats people, and another skins them alive and wears their skin as an outfit. I am going to go with a horror film for this one.
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Justice League: War (2014 Video)
Justice League War... What is it good for?
9 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Justice League: War: 6 out of 10: DC Comics rebooted their entire universe (Yes again. Why do you ask?) in what is called The New 52. So you know what that means, more origin stories. Yup, if there is one thing a comic book fan can't get enough of it is more origin stories. I know I know shoot me now.

So this is the origin story of The Justice League which consists off Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, a black guy who shoots lighting, an Indian who can grow large, a couple of alien twins and their pet monkey... hold on I am getting a notification here. Apparently, we have some roster changes.

Well, we at least have Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman still on board. The addition of Green Lantern and Flash are also welcome and make perfect sense.

I do see the pushing of Cyborg continues, however. Yup, Cyborg is in the roster. Heck, he even gets an origin story. (Shock; Surprise; Fainting Couches). Is it the same origin story as before or since? No of course not. Does it make any sense? Not a lick.

Robin, of course, is sent to the curb. Has Robin even been seen since 1997's Batman and Robin? Man, that movie destroyed both real and fictional careers. It's like Showgirls for the comic book crowd. Aquaman is also a no show as well this time around. Instead, we get Shazam of all people. Our bad guy is Darkseid of whom I am not a fan. Oh, and he brought his mother boxes and his faceless mooks... yay.

The Good: It is better than Justice League (2017). Sure they both have mother boxes and CGI mooks but at least Justice League: War has the excuse that everyone else is CGI as well. Plus Darkseid shows up himself. As I have said above and in other reviews, I am not a Darkseid fan, but he is leagues better than Foghat or The Iron Butterfly or whatever the name of that lame villain in Justice League was.

Speaking of Darkseid, without giving to much away, he is in for a rough time of it in this film. These superheroes did not come to play. He won't be watching Un Chien Andalou for a while without wincing. Come to think of it I don't see much cinema in his future at all.

Batman is good in this film. They do his origin in a sentence or two instead of a flashback to Crime Alley, so let us all be thankful for small favors.

There is a decent amount of action in this film. Wonder Woman, in particular, is good in her fight scenes though she does fly without her invisible jet at least once which I don't remember as one of her powers.

The Bad: Let me quote the fantastic Tv Tropes for a moment as they say it better than I can. "the film isn't just dark, it's incredibly mean-spirited to the point of being petty, and the majority of its heroes are completely unsympathetic egotistical jerks."

Let us go down the roster. Batman and The Flash are entirely off the hook. Green Lantern is a bit cocky but honestly, that can work for the character, and it isn't Cyborgs fault his origin and powers wouldn't work in a story told by a five-year-old with an overactive imagination. (He is crushed inside a glorified soda machine, but three minutes after coming back to life he has these little mini-rockets and a targeting system?)

Then we have Wonder Woman and Shazam. Wonder Woman is all over the map. One minute she is using her rope of truth to expose a crossdresser (this is in no way an exaggeration nor a misprint) and not a second later she is marveling at ice cream and threatening people with her sword for more...well ice cream. Is she a five-thousand-year-old diplomat or is she a boy crazy idiot with no ability to talk to other people. Pick a bloody lane movie.

Shazam's problem is two-fold. For those unfamiliar Shazam is a kid who can become a superhero by saying the word Shazam. In this iteration, the kid is an ungrateful thief with a personality that makes one wish an unfortunate accident. As an adult-sized hero, Shazam is fine but having him on the same team as Superman tends to water down his effect as they share many of the same powers, but Superman is... well Superman.

The Ugly: Superman. Man, this is rough. A combination of Alan Tudyk's voice work and a script that doesn't seem to go where it may have wanted to go. Was the script going for Superman as a powerful, angry alien that hates humanity? Because they nailed that. I have a feeling they were trying to go for an edgier Superman, but they missed it by a country mile. If you want to have Superian from The Tick or Ozymandias from the Watchman then put them in the show, don't turn Superman into that because that is not Superman. Also, yes I know there are entire websites, nay careers, dedicated to Superman being a jerk in the comics, but often it was inadvertent. Here they purposely went for darker and edgier in for the one character in the pantheon who doesn't wear it that well.

In Conclusion: I would say a missed opportunity, but the deck was stacked against them from the get-go. The action scenes are well done, and there are some nice bits here and there. Justice League: War may not have been the Justice League movie you wanted, but it could have been a lot worse. I mean watch Justice League again if you don't believe me.
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Frontier(s) (2007)
What's French for borrows from other movies?
3 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Frontier(s) 4 out of 10: French take on that old Hills Have Eyes chestnut with the cannibal incest family hunting the wayward travelers. But here the wayward travelers are Muslim cop killing rioters fighting the man and the cannibal incest family are also rapist Nazis. So does that make it better? Let's find out.

The Good: The film seems well filmed, and the acting is decent. If you like torture porn, there is some of that here. The guy getting boiled to death in the steam room was well done. That's about it.

The Bad: Where do I begin. I have a theory that if you make a film in French with subtitles, your brain automatically thinks this is a good movie. Throw in some obvious political metaphors and an NC-17 rating, and this is a hardcore stick it to the man film.

It isn't. It is Wrong Turn 8 or perhaps, in this case, Mauvais Tour Huit. Frontier is so derivative of other films I fear that a drinking game attached to such observations will lead to a death swifter and more horrible than any shown on screen.

I have been around pigs on a farm. Their excrement is a combination of toxic waste and the acid blood from Alien. Nobody is holding each other or kissing each other while covered in this stuff.

If you are going to rip off the second half of Hostel, do your self a favor and rip off the first half as well. If that criticism is too subtle you are making an exploitation movie with an NC-17 rating why is the nazi lesbian incest seduction scene fading to black while still at the panties and bra stage. For a minute there I thought my stream had skipped a chapter. For God's sake, your French filmmakers show some pride.

The Ugly: I am not one who tends to root for the cannibalistic incestuous Nazis. Though with these protagonists it is a tie.

The movies "heroes" are at best a bunch of cop killing bank robbers like in Reservoir Dogs. At worse, they are Muslim extremists who hate France and liberty. Which would explain the obsessions with pigs and the woman all mysteriously clothed, but I digress. There is no-one to root for in Frontier(s).

Now I understand that one of the bank robbers in Reservoir Dogs didn't tip and another cut off a cop's ear and doused him in gasoline while listening to Stealers Wheel, but there were one or two guys in that crew you could admire. There is no-one here to admire. Both sides are doing society a favor by killing the other. Both groups are equally violent, nihilistic, misogynist and overall unpleasant.

To put a cherry on our pig excrement sundae, our final girl makes a decision so wholly out of character and so distatseful you want to throw her on the pyre with the rest of them.

In Conclusion: Unpleasant film about unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other in French while covered in pig excrement and fully clothed. Enjoy.
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Blonde on Blonde
2 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997): 6 out of 10: Good natured comedy starring Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow as two outcasts in High School who decide to go to their ten-year reunion and pretend they were successful women who invented Post-it Notes. This prevarication does not go as planned.

The Good: There are some excellent lessons in this film. Stop worrying about what other people think and just enjoy yourself is the best one. The film itself takes the high road more often than not and while Kudrow and Sorvino's characters are hardly earth-shaking representations that will change your view of life they are pleasant enough to spend an hour or two with.

The movie also gets bonus points for having a High School prom that looks like a High School prom. I don't know why this is such a pet peeve of mine, but it is.

The Bad: Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is a comedy. It is more a fun comedy than a funny comedy. There are some chuckles here and there, and the characters are well drawn, but the actual laugh quotient was for me at least a little on the light side.

See kids filmmakers were beating that dead horse that was 80's nostalgia all the way back in 1997. I think a viewing today of Romy and Michele's High School Reunion suffers a smidge from the sheer volume of Strangers Things and Ready Player Ones we have nowadays celebrating that decade.

The Ugly: You know what dawned on me while watching this. High School reunions are dead. They are a vestigial tradition in this internet age. You don't have to wait ten years to see if the head cheerleader got fat just stalk her Facebook. Did the class loser end up doing prison time or your secret crush get married? That is also a quick search away.

While Romy and Michele's scheme would not work in the age of Google neither would anyone else facade, we are all open books with a long photographic history. While we aim to only show what we want on social media the truth often peeks around the corner.

Things I should have mentioned in my review but didn't: There was a small kerfuffle when Romy and Michele's High School Reunion was released because it unfairly got an R rating. Outside of a few F words, there is nothing in this movie that reads R rated material. Well, at least nothing in 1997. If it were released today, it would get an NC-17 for the excessive cigarette smoking.

Opinions I should have mentioned in my review but didn't: #$@#$^ Harvey Weinstein. Mira Sorvino is excellent in this movie but after the filming wrapped Harvey got her blackballed in the business for being difficult.

In conclusion: Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is somewhere between the horrible eighties nostalgia of 13 Going on 30 and the superior eighties nostalgia of Grosse Point Blank.

Come to think of it Romy and Michele's High School Reunion's Cyndi Lauper filled soundtrack also is somewhere between the horrible kitsch of Michael Jackon's Thriller in 13 going on 30 and the perfection of the Pixies and the Cure and okay Motorhead in the Grosse Point Blank soundtrack.

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is a sweet and occasionally funny film with excellent performances and massive cell phones.
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A beautiful and well-told tale
2 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The Proposition (2005) 8 out of 10: An Australian western taking place in the Outback in the 1880s. The Proposition mixes your standard bushranger action film with social commentary on the civilizing of the Outback (Particularly by the Victorian British) and the treatment and slaughter of rebellious Aborigines.

The tale starts with the rape, murder, and immolation of the Hopkins family who was good friends of the local sheriff (Ray Winstone) and his delicate wife (Emily Watson). The sheriff captures two of the suspected gang members (a ridiculously skinny Guy Pearce and his half-wit brother Richard Wilson) and makes Pearce a proposition. If he goes out and kills his older brother the ringleader of the gang before Christmas (Danny Huston) both he and his younger brother will get a pardon. If he fails, the younger brother will hang.

The Good: Honestly I would recommend this film on the cinematography and soundtrack alone. In a way, I am recommending the movie based on both those attributes.

The cinematography by Benoît Delhomme is spot on gorgeous. Never have I seen full moons or sunsets work so well on film. Kudos to the location scout for getting some of the most beautiful vistas in the outback in one movie. Unlike say 2017's Hostiles, it doesn't ever feel forced or unnatural.

Soundtracks are a hard thing to praise in print so just let me say Nick Cave (Who also wrote the film) has the perfect sense never to overwhelm the movie with sound but to allow it to be a disturbing undercurrent throughout the proceedings. Like the cinematography, it sets the table without ever feeling forced.

As someone who has sat through a couple of westerns in the last month, I also appreciate the pace of the film. It never seems to drag which can be an all too common malady with even the best of films of this type.

The Bad: Ray Winstone doing his best middle-aged Russell Crowe impersonation is very good as the lead character the Sherrif Captain Stanley. It isn't his fault that Captain Stanley is an idiot.

Captain Stanley either makes, or he comes from money (or perhaps his wife does which would make sense). He has a house filled with treasures from Victorian England and if The Piano taught me anything that is an arduous task. He has a beautiful younger wife who seems ill-suited for Australia let alone the outback. He has a boss that could care less about his opinion as well as a bunch of deputies that neither admire nor respect him. Captain Stanley is not someone who should be taking a flyer.

Which brings us to the fly in the Didgeridoo, what on earth made Winstone's character think that letting one of the two culprits go hunting the third was a good idea. He should have been hiring contractors for the scaffolding for a double Christmas hanging.

The movie gives the impression that it is based on a true story. It starts with black and white crime scene photos. The murder and rape of homesteaders sounds like a very Australian crime for the period. The main reason I was convinced it was a true story was that in fiction you rarely have your protagonist be so foolish. Being an idiot is something people in real life do all the time. Fictional protagonists need to be crafted with a bit more care. Winstone's Captain had no motivation to offer such a deal and as we learn throughout the film plenty of motivation not to.

The Ugly: There is a scene where the Aborigines are being questioned if they saw our fugitive Danny Huston up in the hills. They describe his secret cave camp and then explain how he can turn himself into a werewolf. I was so excited finally a desert werewolf movie to go along with that 1995 cinematic masterpiece Werewolf. Alas, the aborigines were just pulling legs; and the rest of the film was lycanthrope free.

In conclusion: Besides the obvious lesson of The Proposition which is don't let the Irish into your country, I do think the film has some things to say about the taming of the wilds and the cruelty of those tamers towards both the land and its people. The lessons are a bit muddled in a story that is less a tragedy simply because it was so avoidable in the first place. It is a beautiful and well-told tale and well worth the visit out west.
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Blowing the doors off.
30 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The Italian Job (1969): 7 out of 10: Michael Caine plays recently released prisoner Charlie Croker who comes across a plan to steal Four million dollars in Chinese gold from the Italians. Charlie gets a mob boss (Noël Coward) to fund the expedition to Turin Italy to steal the gold. With his crew of thieves and drivers and one computer expert (Benny Hill of all people), they plan to create a traffic jam, steal the gold and escape in three mini coopers.

The Good: I can watch Michael Caine in anything. Yes, even Jaws 4 the Revenge. He is simply one of the most watchable actors that have ever come down the pike. He is in full Michael Caine mode here, and this is indeed his movie.

Lovers of old cars are in for quite a treat here. I won't start to list all the great vehicles featured in the film, but it is a lot more than just mini coopers. Okay, I will mention two, there are an absolutely gorgeous Lamborghini Miura and an Aston Martin DB4 convertible, I think the cars in the film are worth more than the gold they steal.

Lovers of cars and Italian scenery are in for a treat as well since, as you can imagine, there is a bit of car chasing going down in beautiful Italian locations.

The Bad: Michael Caine is excellent everyone else is... well there. Benny Hill is wasted, and I am much less of a fan of Noël Coward imprisoned mob boss than most. I am in general, not a chap who likes men in prison movies (Women in prison movies tend to be an entirely different genre) and Coward's character's arc seems to contain some of the worse tropes and silliness of the genre. Every time in a film there is a scene where all of the prisoners are cheering the one guy like it's some Adam Sandler sports comedy my eyes threaten to leave my head they roll so hard.

The Italian Job is a very patriotic film bordering on nationalistic. The movie, of course, took place during a bit of a panic in Britain as it was considering joining the European Union, and had had a bit of economic malaise. Such feeling of Britain first became nostalgic as the years went by since the release of the film. With renewed interest in leaving Europe (To say the least), the nationalistic undertone of the film seems somewhat more in the forefront to the modern viewer,

The Ugly: Speaking of nationalistic stereotypes, I am unsure if the Mafia in this film are hilarious or some sort of Italian blackface. I also have mixed feelings about the ending of the movie. Though kudos to taking the term cliffhanger to it's literal extreme.

In Conclusion: This is fun. The scenery is excellent, The fashions are Austin powers O.G., The cars are fantastic, and it has Michael Caine. The rest of it well... did I mention the gorgeous Lamborghini Miura?
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Joe (I) (2013)
A very good slow drama with bursts of violence and cruelty.
29 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Joe (2013): 8 out of 10: I can imagine the following conversation on a Saturday night. What the hell was that Leroy? I am so sorry honey. I said I wanted to relax with a fun movie not cry and feel awful. I am so sorry honey. I mean if I wanted to see poverty and misery I'd visit my damn sister. I am so sorry honey. All you had to do was go to the Redbox and get a mindless action film. How hard is that? I am so sorry honey. I thought this was a mindless action film we could laugh at. What made you think that Leroy. What made you think that? It said Nicholas Cage right there on the cover.

There are more than a couple of Nicholas Cage fans who will pick this up on a lark and wonder what the hell have they gotten themselves into. Add on the fact the movie was directed by David Gordon Green who directed such films as Pineapple Express and Your Highness and the confusion may be complete.

But Cage and Green have a secret. A long time ago before a horrible Gypsy curse caused their respective careers to become laughing stocks they used to make good movies, very good movies. Joe is one of those movies.

It is a simple, quiet, slow tale with a long-simmering burn underneath. Nicholas Cage plays an ex-con who runs a day labor crew that is poisoning trees so the lumber company can legally cut them down and plant a non-native money crop. A kid (Tye Sheridan) stuck in a horrible home life comes looking for work, and Cage takes the kid under his wing and eventually into his life.

The Good: I looked up a bunch of Best Movie Villains of 2013, and I admitted to being both disappointed and bit surprised not to see the name Gary Poulter on the list. Gary is an actual homeless alcoholic that director David Gordon Green recruited for the pivotal role of the kid's father. He gives the best performance in the film. Honestly, Poulter gives one of the best performances you will ever see. He is a genuinely terrific actor. Or that just the way he was in real life and he can't act a lick. We, unfortunately, will never know as he was found dead soon after filming wrapped up drowned in a shallow puddle.

There are a lot of details about time and place that this movie nails to an almost disturbing degree. You forget you are watching a movie and you forget that it stars Nicholas Cage. It almost seems more like a documentary than a fictional piece at times. David Gordon Green's use of real people and locals instead of actors makes a difference.

This movie reminded me more than a bit of that Matthew McConaughey film Mud to the point that I looked Mud up and realized that Tye Sheridan played a similar role in that film as well only a year earlier. That is some tight typecasting.

The Bad: I like my Heroes flawed, but occasionally Joe takes those flaws beyond an event horizon or two. It is hardly a deal breaker, but the frustrating protagonist and the slow pace can make parts of the film feel a bit more of a slog than perhaps they should have. Part of me wishes the whole enterprise was a touch tighter but then it wouldn't be what it is and I like what it is just fine.

The Ugly: I know I joke about it at the beginning of the review, but some of Cage's newer fans are in no way prepared for a slow drama with bursts of violence and cruelty.

In Conclusion: Joe is a slightly better film than Mud due to almost entirely the performance of Gary Poulter. I cannot emphasize enough how refreshing it is to see such a great villain on the screen. Poutler's performance along with the authenticity of the overall production differentiates Joe from a lot of the usual southern gothic poverty porn actors showcases and elevates it to a thriller worth watching again.
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Lend me your ear
29 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Loving Vincent (2017): 7 out of 10: An art film in more ways than one, Loving Vincent is the tale of a postmaster's son asked by his father to deliver a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo.

Soon this simple task becomes a journey into finding out why Vincent van Gogh committed suicide or even if he did. What we end up with is a Rashomon style story where everyone in the small provincial village where Vincent died has a different and often conflicting story.

The Good: Let's start with the six hundred pound oil painting in the room. Loving Vincent has a gimmick, and it is a doozy. Each frame (all 65,000 of them) are handpainted by a group of 120 painters. The actors are then animated and rotoscoped onto the oil paintings.

Now I know rotoscoped is a scary word. We all remember Ralph Bakshi use of rotoscoping for his animated features Wizards (1977) and The Lord of the Rings (1978). Scary times indeed. Loving Vincent's technique, guided by a bigger budget and forty years of technology improvements, is spot on.

The settings and many of the characters are right out of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, and scenes often start with a classic Van Gogh painting and then has the action seamlessly move on from there. Whether in movies or even video games such gimmicks often lose their effect after viewing for a while. While I certainly got used to the technique in Loving Vincent, it never became unnoticeable.

The Bad: Loving Vincent is a quiet tale that fails a task one can give biography. Would this story be interesting if it happened to someone not famous? The answer here is a solid no. The movie's story reminds one of a walking simulator video game rather than a film with our protagonist walking around chatting people up and then going into flashback cutscenes (Done in a different black and white sketch style like that Take on Me a-ha video). We get a decent picture of Vincent in his last days and the people around him, but the central mystery of whether he killed himself or whether someone else shot him doesn't seem pressing to the characters on the screen let alone the audience watching the film.

As good as the painting technique is I think it is a smidge of a shame that the film is shot in 4:3 full screen. I understand this is an artistic decision that matches the paintings, but I do wish there wasn't so much empty real estate on my television for such a beautiful film.

The Ugly: Look if you don't want to spend the coin getting the Don McLean rendition of Starry Starry Night, you should be able to find a better cover than the one that Lianne La Havas warbles at the end of this film. It isn't quite the Bahama Men 's version of Crocodile Rock from Crocodile Hunter Collision Course but still.

In Conclusion: The fascinating part of Loving Vincent for me were the photos at the end of the real people in the movie. Not the actors mind you but the actual subjects. Marguerite Gachet, the young nineteen-year-old girl at the center of the mystery, didn't die till 1949. We think of Vincent Van Gogh as being so long ago, but in reality, it wasn't. Like the old west in America, it is a time that is in the distant past but still within reach. Or to use the standard measurement. Vincent Van Gogh is to Back to the Future's Enchantment Under the Sea dance as the Enchantment Under the Sea dance is to us today.
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I enjoyed the movie and was surprised where it took me.
29 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The Sisters Brothers (2018): 7 out of 10: Two brothers (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) with the surname Sister work for a gentleman called The Commodore (the always good to see Rutger Hauer in a brief role), their job is to protect and expand the Commodore's business empire in the mid-nineteenth century American west through the methods of murder, torture, and intimidation.

It's a western. Yay. It's a revisionist western - much less yay. The Sisters Brothers is, on the surface, an excellent film. As God as my witness however if I have to see one more revisionist western that seems not to realize that revisionist westerns have been a thing for the last eighty years; I am going to be forced to make ironic comments about the future while using a newfangled technology that is now part of our modern daily lives. You want to do something interesting make a regular straightforward western. That would be refreshing.

The Good. There are large swaths of this film that work. The entire section in a town called Mayfield works so well one wants to cry out more of this, please.

Tonally the movie does not go where you expect it to go. It is quite refreshing in that way. The Brothers Sisters is not a comedy despite some sharp one-liners here and there. The brothers' relationships, despite some carping about the characters below, really holds the movie together and elevates it over some of its contemporaries.

The Brothers Sisters is also a very handsome production with an excellent cast and incredible set design. I was almost under the impression that they had wandered onto multiple sets of much more expensive movies. They recreate at least three frontier towns in The Sisters Brothers including an excellent and expansive San Fransico. You could have filmed a movie version of Red Dead Redemption 2 at the same time, and only the only thing you would be missing is the alligator swamp.

The Bad: Joaquin Phoenix is the hot-headed impulsive brother that continually gets into fights and gets drunk to the point of passing out. John C Reily is the brother who wants to settle down and quit the life. As a whole their performances are excellent but through script contrivances each of them to have their moments. Reily gets it the worst by far.

Here is the scene that still sticks in my craw. Now keep in mind this whole set-up is a one-off. Nothing that happens here has anything to do with the plot, doesn't reveal anything about the characters that had not yet been revealed and doesn't provide any entertainment on its own.

The Brothers are in a saloon with prostitutes. Drunk wild brother Joaquin Phoenix has two hotties one on each arm and is getting blotto while quiet brother with a girl back home John C. Reilly drinks at the bar away from the ladies of the evening. But a girl catches Reilly's eye. She is uglier than the other prostitutes, a little chubby, and she seems shy hiding in the corner. He takes her upstairs, and they have a very awkward conversation which ends in the prostitute leaving in tears because Reilly is too gentle and kind to earn money from in exchange for sex.

It feels like some Mary Sue self-insert fan fiction the middle of my revisionist western. I would love to say I have seen this done better before, but I haven't. Every time I have seen this scenario play out in film or other media it is always awful. The ye olde our hero too sensitive and wonderful to do any prostituting with.

This is not how hookers work. This is not how they work now, this is not how they worked in the olde west, and this is not how they worked in biblical times. It simply is ridiculous on its face.

The Ugly: If you love horses stay far away from this film. You have been dutifully advised.

In conclusion: This is a good film. It's a hell of a lot better than some of its revisionist western contemporaries such as the Zellner Brothers 2018's Damsel. I enjoyed the movie and was surprised where it took me. I do wish the titular characters were less black and white and I also thought the entire enterprise had an air of pretension that did it no favors. Overall a good film.
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Santa Sangre (1989)
And now for something completely different
28 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Santa Sangre (1989) 8 out of 10: Many reviews in 1989 gave Santa Sangre top marks. It was something fresh and new. Roger Ebert probably explains it best in his four-star review.

"When I go to the movies, one of my strongest desires is to be shown something new. I want to go to new places, meet new people, have new experiences. When I see Hollywood formulas mindlessly repeated, a little something dies inside of me: I have lost two hours to boors who insist on telling me stories I have heard before. Jodorowsky is not boring. The privilege of making a film is too precious to him for him to want to make a conventional one. It has been 18 years since his last work, and all of that time the frustration and inspiration must have been building. Now comes this release, in a rush of energy and creative joy."

Santa Sangre is not dull. You will see things you have never seen before and will never see again. It is as if Dali and Fellini got together and remade Psycho. (It is a much better Psycho remake than the tone-deaf Gus Van Sant 1998 disaster. I was going to call it that Vince Vaughn disaster as I usually do, but on second thought perhaps the director needs to be called out as well)

The Good: The acting in this film is often very broad using lots of mime and clown techniques. It is also at times hypnotic. Sabrina Dennison as the adult version of the lead character's childhood love is particularly hypnotic though she is a deaf-mute and doesn't say a word in the film. I am amazed and saddened; that this is her only film.

The other acting is good in a very stylized way. This movie asks a lot from its players, and they deliver like an R rated Mexican soap opera where someone dosed the commissary with LSD.

For a film that jumps back and forth in time and is so well out there, it does have a plot that one can follow. I have seen much more straight forward films that forgot to tell a tale.

The Bad: As I get older and less concerned about what people may think of my tastes and opinions I grow closer to admitting I am not a Fellini fan. This lack of appreciation for Fellini is problematic since Santa Sangre is basically Fellini fan fiction filmed. One's tolerance for clowns and circuses will be tested quite quickly by the happenings on screen.

While the story is apparent with all the symbolism swirling around it, it is also quite simple - a fable. If you are looking for original characters and twists that are not obvious or even internal logic prepare to be disappointed, Santa Sangre is about the journey, not the tale held within.

The Ugly: The film has a few prominent scenes with Down Syndrome actors. They seem to be enjoying themselves, and the cast could not be kinder to them. I do find it unsettling as I am unsure that they had agency in their participation in the proceedings. It's a tough subject and unlike the facepalm when you see the clown in minstrel blackface, not one that has gotten easier to read in the subsequent decades.

In Conclusion: I enjoyed myself, and I doubt I will forget Santa Sangre anytime soon. It is bizarre upon reflection that it was the performance of a mime that probably tipped this one to a see again recommend score. Recommend I do alas with more reservations than a more burned out reviewer may have.
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In Bizarro World this is considered entertaining
25 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League (2015) 3 out of 10: Direct to video Lego Justice League feature (we are using that word loosely here) Involving Superman's relationship with Bizarro who is his clone created by Lex Luthor that is the opposite of Superman but in a terrible and idiotic way.

Shenanigans happen, and soon we have Bizzaro clones of all the Justice League headed to the Bizarro planet along with the regular non-Bizarro Justice League members. Then Darkside shows up to steal magic crystals and, even though he is a God, he apparently needs magic crystals for something.

The Good. Though I have some serious concerns with the production and art design the actual CGI isn't that bad with beautiful texture work on the fabrics and costumes.

The whole Batman secretly doesn't trust Superman cause he is an alien gag is getting old, but Troy Baker as Batman sells it well in this one. John DiMaggio also does an excellent job as Lex Luthor in a glorified cameo. Lex's running for president set piece is the funniest thing in the film.

The Bad: Remeber how Lego Batman would occasionally intersperse the funny meta jokes with jokes for the six-year-olds in the audience. Now imagine that but without the funny meta jokes. I know I am complaining that a children's cartoon is juvenile, but there is nothing here for the poor suffering parent or completionist fanboy.

Speaking of juvenile. I have never been a fan of the Bizarro characters and this film certainly has reinforced my prejudice against them.

Darkseid makes no sense in the movie. He shows up to steal crystals to power a bizarre ray to turn Earth into a cube? He shows up in the middle of the film as if they realised they had twenty minutes left and hey let's call Darkseid. He suffers from the Star Trek V conundrum. "What does God need with a starship?." I mean why would he need some magic crystals he is Darkseid

The Ugly: There are two entire locations in this entire film, and neither would pass muster as a level in any one of the hundred or so Lego video games. We have a Metropolis that seems small and underpopulated, and we have a cube planet that consists only of a flat, dull surface and irregular geometric shapes. That's it. Disappointing

In conclusion: Cheap looking with inferior art design Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League suffers most from a weak story that is only 45 minutes long and still feels unnecessarily padded.
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Best Pink Panther film since 1964's A Shot in the Dark.
24 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The Pink Panther 2 (2009): 6 out of 10: Steve Martin reprises his take on that classic Peter Sellers role as Inspector Clouseau. To the surprise of no one in the viewing audience, the Pink Panther diamond is stolen along with other artifacts from around the world (Shroud of Turin, Popes ring, Emperor's sword from Japan) A master thief named The Tornado claims responsibility and a Dream Team of Detectives are sent in to solve the case.

The Good: The Pink Panther 2 sports an all-star cast and it certainly has some stand-outs that carry more than their weight. Jean Reno, in particular, is excellent as Clouseau's French partner. He is the perfect foil for Steve Martin's character even though he does seem to possess a haircut that is more appropriate for an eight-year-old on school picture day. A shirtless Jeremy Irons hams it up as the suspected villain Tornado. He is only in the film for a few minutes, but he makes them count.

Pink Panther 2 also skips the part in every Pink Panther film where we see the thief steal the Pink Panther diamond. Good for them I say. That was always ten minutes or so that while interesting didn't fit with the rest of the film. It is actually kind of refreshing not to have to sit through it again.

The Pink Panther 2 is beautifully shot with gorgeous location shots throughout Paris. Almost worth a viewing for the travelogue.

While slapstick is not for everyone, there are some genuine laughs in this film. Steve Martin puts his own spin on the Inspector Clouseau character which is refreshing. Martin's Clouseau has more agency and is more physically coordinated than the traditional reading but often still as dim. Steve Martin mind you is no Peter Sellers in the role, but at least he is no Ted Wass either.

The Bad: There are some genuine laughs. Some. Not a lot. There are stretches of this movie where a gag is not working, and yet it seems to go on forever. In all fairness, this is a bit of a Pink Panther tradition as well.

The Ugly. John Cleese plays the old Herbert Lom role of Clouseau's boss Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus and "As Time Goes By" alumni Geoffrey Palmer plays his boss Joubert. You could not find two more British people to play the French roles, and neither even take a stab at an accent. I almost expected to see Michael Caine show up as the French President.

In Conclusion: This is a light, breezy comedy with magnificent scenery and lots of fun cameos. Slapstick isn't my thing admittedly, but there are some pretty good laughs contained within. I also recently saw 1975's The Return of the Pink Panther and this is a better film. It has a much better story and has a broader well of humor to draw from. It is possible that this is the best Pink Panther film since 1964's A Shot in the Dark. which isn't as shocking as it sounds if you look at the state of Pink Panther films from the '70s, '80s, and '90s
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Death Wish (2018)
Restrained for a Death wish or Eli Roth film.
23 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Death Wish (2018): 6 out of 10: Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a surgeon with a lovely wife (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter (Camila Morrone). This being a movie called Death Wish after about twenty minutes the wife is dead, and the daughter is in a coma from a botched robbery. Next thing you know Bruce Willis is both hunting down the perpetrators of the home invasion and giving other scum a taste of their own medicine in the bloody streets of Chicago.

Death Wish is a bit of a strange bird. It is nowhere near as awful as critics made it out to be, but it is undoubtedly a disappointment from what you would expect with the phrase Death Wish directed by Eli Roth.

The Good: There are a lot of little touches that add up in this film. The way the criminals target Willis for the house robbery is very well done. The whole relationship between Willis and his brother (Vincent D'Onofrio) belongs in a better movie. Also, Death Wish is a well-directed movie from a pure keeping the camera on the action and in focus kind of way.

There is also some subtle humor peeking around the corner. Willis visits a gun shop that almost seems a cheerful parody of such things and one of the kill scenes is more Loony Tunes with a Rube Goldberg bowling ball than a straightforward action scene.

Where does this rank among Death Wish films?: I am not sure if this belongs under The Bad or a different category, so I am sticking it here. The Death Wish remake is remarkably restrained. Very restrained for an Eli Roth movie and extremely restrained for a Death Wish movie. Nether Kersey's wife or daughter are raped, (A mainstay for the Death Wish series which some critics have hilariously taken to calling a tradition. As if it was your aunt's candied yams with raisins at Thanksgiving ) and the killings are, with one exception, nothing you wouldn't see on an episode of The Shield.

Now I am not sure this is a bad thing. I highly doubt that the box office was inundated with people demanding their money back because there was no Elizabeth Shue rape scene. On the other hand, it really makes it more of a generic revenge movie than the bonkers exploitation that defines the first three Death Wish movies. I just can't see myself watching this again. I will watch Death Wish 3 every time I stumble across it. The original Death Wish has Jeff Goldblum as a murdering rapist dressed as if he was trying out for an audition for The Warriors. Death Wish 2 is a wildcard as some days I think it is the greatest exploitation film ever. Other days I think it is a stain on our society (The I Spit on Your Grave conundrum).

The Bad: Bruce Willis is okay in the movie. I think he was miscast. I know he has spent the last few years hanging out with Nicholas Cage and John Cusack in some sort of DTV hell traveling from Mobile Alabama, to Pittsburg PA, and then to Slovenia to put in his ten-minute cameo as bank president, evil bank president, and neighbor with the gun collection. So it's good to see him in a film where his costar isn't from Felicity.

I think that the filmmakers missed an opportunity to cast against type for the role. Now, of course, your dream casting would be Tom Hanks dressed in a Mister Rogers sweater. Jeff Goldblum from the original Death Wish would have been another brilliant piece of stunt casting. If you want to go younger, Harry Styles would be an inspired choice. We have seen Bruce Willis do this a thousand times (The film initially had Liam Neeson connected to it which would have been even worse) A reboot like this needs a fresh take.

Few things get my goat faster in a film then when the characters actions are debated on local media. It's the kind of thing you expect in an Adam Sandler movie or a Romantic Comedy (The whole city is talking about the wedding proposal that was a bust but first genocide in Rwanda). The endless talk radio bits with Mancow and some others are over the top. If Chicago is such a crime-ridden city why would the shooting of two criminals by a white guy in a hoodie even get traction? It wasn't like he was dressed as the Easter bunny.

The Ugly: You know some movie critics are going to have to explain what they were talking about. This film was greeted with the kind of vitriol one usually reserves for a Kurt Cameron movie called A Day without Jews.

It's a crime revenge film - a competent one. There has not exactly been a lack of these over the years. It is a form of urban western. Death Wish is remarkably toned down from the original source. (Can you imagine someone releasing Death Wish 2 in theaters today?). As for politics, I am not sure what Death Wish has to do with school shootings or police violence. No schools are shot, and no police shoot their firearms in this movie. Does the film glorify guns and vigilante violence? Yes, it does much as Godzilla films glorify giant monsters stomping cities. It is a fantasy movie. Most people can separate movies from real life.

Death Wish does have a flaw in that crime overall is pretty isolated in Chicago. The movie would have worked better in Seattle or San Francisco where crime is more spread out or perhaps a New Orleans or Baltimore where the urban decay more closely matches the 1974 original.

In reality, though Death Wish is an action film that is barely an exploitation film and indeed not the bloodstained act of violence individual members of the critic media strangely painted it as.

In Conclusion: For a Death Wish film from Eli Roth, it surprisingly has little of what makes either Death Wish Films or Eli Roth movies interesting.
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More memorable scenes than most Bond films
23 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) 9 out of 10: How does one even score James Bond films? Do you score them against each other or consider them against movies as a whole? Do you take into consideration the various filming and special effects restrictions on the earlier works? Do you take into account the aversion to sex and nudity in some of the later works? Is Peter Sellers considered a real Bond character? Is George Lazenby? Is Timothy Dalton?

What is the worst Bond film? It's Thunderball which I might add was remade in into a Never Say Never which honestly is also vying for a spot in the bottom five. That script is poison. The best Bond film, however, is a much tougher nut to crack.

The Spy Who Loved Me is undoubtedly in the top five. Or at least my top five. Which admittedly holds less weight after I declared Thunderball worse than Octopussy, the one with Denise Richards, and the one with the invisible car.

The Good: The Spy Who Loved Me is chock full of iconic bits. After a fairly long and somewhat relaxed, by Bond standards, opening sequence Bond skis of a cliff in a stunt so spectacular it is still remembered forty years later.

Also remembered forty years later is the white Lotus Esprit that turns into a submarine (The Spy Who Loved Me also had the first Jetski. Literally. Bond is riding the prototype.)

There is a surprisingly good battle on a vast soundstage near the conclusion of the film. The whole movie has a fantastic sense of scale to it.

Speaking of large, 7' 2" Richard Keil as Jaws steals the show. Utterly indestructible and a with a never quit attitude he is easily the most likable Bond henchman.

If you are making a list of Bond Girls Barabara Bach is going to be near the top. Even better her character is one of the better-written Bond girls. Also, Barabara doesn't like to wear clothing all that much even by Bond girl standards.

Nobody does it better is one of the best theme songs and for my money the discofied Bond theme by Marvin Hamlisch (Bond '77) really rocks. Both are regulars on my Spotify list.

Plus there is more. Our proto Bioshock villain feeding of the secretary to the shark (Okay its no Zombi 2 but still impressive), Great scenery particularly in Eygpt. Excellent overall direction and a decent plot with some actual conflict and nuance.

The Bad: There are some "dude really" moments in this film that make it show its age. The miniature effects overall are excellent (and there are a lot of them), but then there will be a scene where a submarine is leaving a burning tanker and someone put a gummy bear on a dock and hoped it looked like a dead body.

The bad guy plans to nuke the earth and to live under the sea (hold on I have a song stuck in my head.)

Under the sea Under the sea Darling it's better Down where it's wetter Take it from me

Dammit, that's going to be stuck in there all day. You know that is kind of a suggestive tune for a children's cartoon now I think about it.) Anyway he has this plan just like Hugo Drax in the follow-up Moonraker. Except Drax had all these Logan's Run style supermodel couples and Stromberg is down two female henchwomen out of well two (One he fed to a shark the other Bond killed with a missile from his underwater car. Seriously the movie has scenes like these to spare.) Point is Rapture needs women.

Remember when films used to use slide whistles or other sound effects during particularly dumb or slapsticky comedic moments? Yeah, this film does that too.

Last of the bad has Roger Moore ever not been too old to play James Bond. Forget doing stunts and beating up henchman I would worry if Roger has the balance and strength to clean the rain gutters.

The Ugly: I have a high tolerance for poor special effects from the old days. Yes, I complained about one miniature shot above, but that was due to sloppiness (It looked like a third graders diorama) rather than miniatures in general. And overall The Spy Who Loved Me has excellent miniature work. I have a high tolerance for less than perfect CGI, miniatures, guys in Godzilla outfits, squibs, car crashes, puppets, matte paintings, prosthetic makeup, stop motion, and obvious stuntmen. What I cannot stand are bad green screen effects. The Spy Who Loved Me has some doozies particularly in that opening sequence you are showing your friends to tell them how cool this film is. I hate bad green screen.

Now The Spy Who Loved Me is hardly alone in great films with terrible green screen effects. , and there are plenty of times you just got to ask why are they filming in a "moving" car if they know it is going to look that bad. There is even a film that is not just plagued with bad green screen, but they also speed up the green-screened film to give an additional sense of speed. That film's name... Thunderball.

In Conclusion: More memorable scenes than most Bond films with a great Bond Girl, soundtrack and henchman. One of my favorite Bond films.
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Even Patrick Wilson would be hard pressed to save this one.
23 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015): 4 out of 10: Insidious returns to the well for a third outing after a decent first showing and a considerably improved sequel. Can this ghost nonsense held up by an excellent performance by Patrick Willson make it without Patrick Wilson? No, but don't blame the actors even Patrick Wilson would be hard pressed to save this one.

Insidious: Chapter 3 is a prequel taking place a few years before the Lambert hauntings that were the focus of the first two movies. Psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) is retired and living in a hoarder home when a perky teenage girl Stefanie Scott comes by with one last job. She wants someone to reach out to her dead mother. Lin Shaye does a half-hearted seance, and it turns out Lin has a stalker (The big bad from the first two films). Unable to help the Stefanie Scott she recommends some other psychics that could help and shuffles her out the door. Various shenanigans happen, and the Stefanie Scott's father (Dermot Mulroney) pleads with Elsie to come to the aid of his daughter. And we all know what that means - a seance.

The Good: The best part of the Insidious: Chapter 3 is the performances. Two, in particular, stand out.

Dermot Mulroney is outstanding in the otherwise thankless role as the concerned father and grieving widower. He brings a subtle gravitas to what could have easily been a thankless role. He had the opportunity to be this films Patrick Wilson, but honestly, the script doesn't give him enough to do.

Stefanie Scott as the daughter seeking help is a real find. I haven't seen her in anything before that I can recall (According to IMDb I saw her in Small Town Crime. I honestly can't remember seeing Small Time Crime let alone Stefanie Scott.) She is so good in the role you fully expect the filmmakers to take advantage of this fact; as you will see below, that is not the case.

Oh, one last thing, when Lin Shaye is in the netherworld/ haunted house, she has this really cool lantern with a bent metal frame. I looked to see if I could buy one but had no luck finding it. Insidious: Chapter 3 is leaving some money on the table with its lack of product tie ins.

The Bad: Prequels to fictional works have the same issue that most movies based on well know history does. We often know who is going to die and definitely know who isn't. There is one scene during a later seance where more than half the characters in the scene had appeared in the first two films. As a result, we can tell that the demon isn't going to kill them or tear an arm off or something. Hard to have tension when we know how it ends up for the majority of the cast.

Another problem with prequels is that filmmakers seem to be unable to resist the urge of telling the origin of everything that worked in the earlier films. ( See the Star Wars prequels or even Solo: A Star Wars Story for a treasure trove of examples). Want to know how Lin Shaye hooked up with her comic relief internet ghostbusters (no not really) don't worry the movie is going to tell you. The problem with this is this kind of fan service takes away from the actual story of Insidious: Chapter 3. We spend so much time with Lin Shay defeating the demon from the first two films triumphantly (Complete with distinct applaud pauses for the audience.) that we don't have any clear idea of what is going on with the new characters in this actual story.

Which brings us to the biggest problem with Insidious: Chapter 3, why exactly was Stefanie Scott being haunted? Did we ever establish this in any way? For that matter why did she seek out Lin Shaye? Yes, she missed her mom and wanted to talk to her but that is such a thin premise, and she seems otherwise such a smart and well put together girl you keep waiting for some other motivation to drop. It never does.

Not that Lin Shaye helps her anyway. Almost none of her encounters in the other realm have anything to do with the dead mother task at hand.

Which brings me to another relatively large problem I had with Insidious: Chapter 3, this is a cheap looking film. I know these movies don't cost much to make what with character actors and newcomers performing the lead roles and special effects that are just people wearing make-up. The cost of this one has to be very low. But still, why is the production design so cheap. The sets for the Dark Place look like a high school haunted house. This criticism isn't some snarkiness. All we get is Lin Shaye and her cool lantern going down hallways constructed with plywood and a lick of paint while weirdly dressed extras do jump scares.

The Ugly: I know I am picking on this film a lot here but you know for a psychic warrior Lin Shaye is pretty dim and easily fooled. She is contstantly walking backwards, not looking behind her, assuming friendly looking ghosts in Hell are friendly, forgetting that demons can take the form of loved ones. Good lord, I would expect this from some neophyte, but the entire point of her character is that she knows what she is doing.

Also, that jump scare at the end of the film is the worst jump scare I have ever seen in any movie ever. I stand by this comment.

In Conclusion: I thought I was going to miss Patrick Wilson, but I didn't. Dermot Mulroney and Stefanie Scott gave fantastic performances. What I missed was everything else. Insidious: Chapter 3 looks cheap and tells a muddled story full of fan service but little else. Instead of creating a new legend it concentrated in celebrating an old one and was weaker for it.
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A litany of complaints about various things in this overstuffed two-hour long movie.
22 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The Legend of Zorro (2005) 4 out of 10: The sequel to the well-received The Mask of Zorro is a disappointment. One might argue it borders on the outright bad. Let's see if we can find out why. Or at the very least we can put on paper a litany of complaints about various things in this overstuffed two-hour long movie.

The Good: There are two great performances in this film - Julio Oscar Mechoso as the tough Padre Frey Felipe and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Zorro's wife. Catherine Zita-Jones doesn't look a day older than she did in the first film and still does excellent work with her fight choreography and acting. The late Julio Oscar Mechoso humanizes his character of the monk teacher who takes care of Zorro's son, and he has a gentle, quiet toughness to him.

The movie lights up whenever these two actors are on the screen.

There are also some great action scenes in the film. Not nearly enough however for a movie that is over two hours long and feels like four but welcomed still the same.

The Bad: Unfortunately, for The Legend of Zorro, Catherine Zeta-Jones not aging makes Antonio Banderas look even that much older. Antonio is too old to play Zorro in this film. He looks tired, puffy, a bit sick. Forget believing Antonio is backflipping off of buildings. Antonio seems as if a fifty-yard sprint would wind him. He reminds one of Roger Moore in (well any of the James Bond movies now I think about it) but unlike Bond, Zorro is a swashbuckler, and that is a fit man's game if not a young man's game.

Rufus Sewell as the bad guy in this film is all wrong. Weak, sniveling with a bad guy plan that looks as if it escaped from the Wild Wild West script. Sewell is a European aristocrat who is a member of a secret organization of well other European aristocrats who are afraid of America and as a result, want to prevent California from joining the Union.

We will get to the history in a minute but Sewell is the kind of villain who has a giant lair complete with a snake strangling the world statue and he is having a meeting with all his European counterparts (How they got to California is again a mystery we will get to), and Sewell gives them his diabolical plan, and one of the compatriots says this is madness I will have nothing to do with this. This is of course followed by the obligatory I told you my secret plan, and you announced you are against me, but you are free to leave. Sewell then throws a bottle of Nitroglycerin (Again we will get to the history stuff in a minute) at the man's feet killing him but not blowing up his secret lair or hurting anyone else. Yeah, he is that kind of villain.

Oh, and Sewell has Zorro tied up with a knife at this throat but decides not to kill him after all because Catherine Zeta-Jones asked him not to. This is understandable in a Catherine Zita-Jones could talk me into anything kind of way, but Sewell is still too stupid to live.

The Ugly: A history lesson: Yes once again I realize that its a movie, not a history lesson but the movement away for anything resembling the reality of the time did hurt my enjoyment of the film. Plus if I call out the history, it will prevent me from going down that rabbit hole where I speculate how the hell are we supposed to buy Adrian Alonso the biological kid of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I mean know I already went down that rabbit hole before with my review of Skyscraper, and I hardly want this to be my thing. But I don't know; maybe the kid was adopted by the nice white couple after a dinosaur ate his drunk dad as in The Beast of Hollow Mountain? Or perhaps the producers realising they were making a movie about Mexican American's fighting Confederates, (Confederates in California??? I know I know I am going to get to the history in a minute) and that it might be helpful to have a least one Mexican American among the main cast surprisingly stacked with Welsh people? (Catherine Zeta-Jones and our villain Rufus Sewell.)

Where was I? Oh yes, history. Okay here is the basic plot (or plots). Catherine Zeta-Jones is being blackmailed by the Pinkertons to divorce Zorro and take up with our villain Rufus Sewell who is trying to prevent the vote for California statehood as part of his diabolical plan to weaken the United States. He teems up with the Confederacy promising them nitroglycerin in exchange for allowing them to run native Mexican Americans off their farmland for the new railroad.

Okay, gold was found in California in January 1848. California stopped being Mexico about ten minutes later in February 1848, and the population exploded. The Compromise of 1850 is how California became a state. There was no vote in California and because of the gold rush America had no idea how many people there even were in the state. The Compromise of 1850 is something one learns in school with all the black and white sketches of Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas. It is one of the most famous pieces of legislation from the 19th century. So we can quickly establish that 1850 is when this movie takes place, and there was no actual vote for statehood. (California was under a Military Governorship and was an occupied territory.)

Here are the various things that did not exist in 1850. Confederate soldiers, railroads in California, a way to get to California that wasn't five months long or filled with peril, Pinkertons, and Abraham Lincoln; (Well Abraham Lincoln did exist as he was a legislator in Illinois at the time, I am referring to the Abraham Lincoln who was at a non-existent signing ceremony celebrating a non-existent vote while on a non-existent railroad and being threatened by a non-existent train filled with more nitroglycerin than probably existed in the world at that time.)

In Conclusion: All the complaints above really wouldn't matter if the movie didn't feel twice the length that it was and lead Zorro, Antonio Banderas didn't look like he was recovering from a particularly nasty bout of malaria. What a difference seven years makes.
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A Quiet Place (2018)
One of the best films of 2018 and one of the greatest horror movies ever made.
21 April 2019
A Quiet Place (2018): 9 out of 10: You know what the best films to review are. Terrible movies that are not just incompetent but fundamentally flawed. Bad movies are where the humor lives. This is where the passion comes out. Read Roger Ebert's review of The Life of David Gale. He doesn't dislike the movie. He actively hates it. There is a reason he released a book called Roger Ebert's I Hated Hated Hated This Movie, and it was such a runaway hit he published the second book of reviews of bad movies called Your Movie Sucks

Read the brilliant New York Times review of Guy Fieri's Times Square eatery American Kitchen and Bar. It is an excellent collection of questions to no one painting the establishment as Dante's Inferno and every course a new journey down an additional rung of Hell. Pretty creative for a critique of an establishment that sported both Chicken Fingers as well as Donkey Sauce.

Youtube creators will often tell of how their most popular videos are those that tear down a work of art or criticize a favorite thing. The same number of viewers rarely sees videos that praise work.

A Quiet Place is thematically very similar to Bird Box, and it is such a better movie. It didn't seem to grab the imagination like Bird Box did. There is no A Quiet Place challenge. It didn't have that watercooler moment.

A Quiet Place did place in the top twenty box office for 2018 with a considerably smaller budget than anyone else on that list in some cases by a factor of 10 or more. It is a minimalist piece with six actors in the entire film two of which are husband and wife (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt), and one of whom directed (John Krasinski). The whole affair was filmed at a farm in upstate New York. It is the classic low budget horror film.

A Quiet Place is also basically perfect. It has one of the greatest collection of tension scares I have ever seen in a film. A Quiet Place is not one of those cat jumps out of the closet affairs. A Quiet Place will keep you on the edge of your seat for ages.

A Quiet Place is one of the best films of 2018 and one of the greatest horror movies ever made, and that is why it is so hard to write a review about it.
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The Irish Pub (2013)
it made me want to go out and have a pint... Which I did.
21 April 2019
The Irish Pub (2013): 6 out of 10: The Irish Pub is a documentary about... wait for it... Irish Pubs.

What is in the documentary exactly? Director Alex Fegan went into a score or so of Irish pubs, spent the day enjoying a pint or two, and did interviews with the owners (if available) and the patrons.

And that is about it. I mean there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half than watching people drinking Guinness, but there isn't anything else to this film. It would be like if on Kitchen Nightmares Ramsey just visited the restaurants, ate the food without comment and then chatted up the waitress.

Look I was born in Ireland and spent a fair amount of time at Irish daycare in my youth. I like pubs, a lot. The Irish Pub is a pretty nice collection of pubs with happy Irish people in them. (Well drunk at least). There, unfortunately, seemed a lot of unanswered questions and missing information in the hagiography.

A couple of quick notes. Not updating your decor since 1972 does not make you traditional it makes you cheap.

Second note the declining business in pubs in rural areas is due partially to the strict drink driving laws. This claim is not idle speculation. Per The Guardian, a county council in south-west Ireland has voted to back a motion allowing for people living in isolated areas to drink and drive. The motion was passed by Kerry county council on Monday by five votes to three, with the remainder of the councilors either absent or abstaining. It supports the creation of a permit that will allow rural drinkers to drive after having "two or three drinks." It was tabled by the independent councilor Danny Healy-Rae, who has claimed it would help prevent depression and suicide in the county.

The sponsor of the bill was a pub owner himself who saw the devastating effect the drink driving (Drunk driving to our American cousins) laws have had on pubs.

Even though this law passed the same year this documentary came out nothing is mentioned, even as an aside regarding this issue. In reality, throughout the film, nothing at all is said about much of anything. People talk about how tough times can get, the meaning of some decor hanging on the wall, how they inherited the pub, and how it is a dying tradition. There is no analysis, outside commentary, or even information regarding pubs and their relation to rural Ireland.

On the plus side some beautiful pictures, some very nice stories. It is a peaceful film. And it made me want to go out and have a pint... Which I did.
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Vice (2015)
Vice is a muddled low effort mess.
20 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Vice (2015) 3 out of 10: I often like low budget science fiction films. They are not afraid to take chances with the plot and to show their work. Since they cannot rely on expensive sets or special effects, they often need to have the science and the dialog carry the water for them. There are plenty of excellent examples with the recent film The Endless (2017) being a particularly good one.

I also often like low budget exploitation films. They usually take more risks than their Hollywood brethren. They are not afraid to "go there," and they seem to realize that if a scene is getting slow, a big orange fireball or some gratuitous nudity is the perfect thing to move the plot forward. The Cheerleaders (1973) is an excellent example of an exploitation film done right.

Vice as a low budget reimagining of Westworld could have smoothly gone either route. Both the original movie and HBO's popular Westworld series have shown that exploitation and intelligent conversation, as well as high ideals, can stand side by side to create magnificent entertainment. Vice misses both smart sci-fi and good exploitation by a country mile.

The Good: Filmed in Mobile Alabama to give it that future dystopian sheen I have to credit the location scouts and set designers. They did an excellent job with what they had.

The Bad: Okay here we go. Let's start with our thespians.

Thomas Jane plays a cop on the edge. He has long hair, a bad attitude, and is one more incident from losing his badge. Oh, and he walks around with an unlit match in his mouth. I am not sure if he was supposed to be Tango or Cash in this movie.

Bruce Willis ups his sleepwalking game in Vice. Long considered the purveyor of some of the least exciting show up for the check roles in the business (At least Thomas Jane is channeling his inner Nicholas Cage) Willis seems particularly out of it in this movie. He does manage an irritated look from time to time, but that may have just been the realization he was stuck in Mobile, Alabama for another week.

Ambyr Childers plays the escaped robot girl and is, in essence, the lead of the film. IMDB has her listed as an actress. I am thinking of sending in a correction. Seriously why would the producer of Vice hire an actress that has one expression and spends her entire time in an exploitation film dressed like she was going to a PTA meeting? What? Oh her husband produced the movie. Well, that explains a lot.

Well, maybe the tight script and eye-opening story will save the day. I mean there are a lot of angles here. What makes a man? The exploitation of third world locations by first world tourists. Does committing violence in video games lead to more violence in real life? (The movie gives a solid yes to the third one by the way in a groaner soliloquy given by Thomas Jane.)

The script is brainless and lacks imagination. Almost criminally so. Let us start with the brainless part. There is a scene where our escaped lady robot (Ambyr Childers) hides out in a church. She is unknowingly wearing a tracking device in the form of a bracelet. She is programmed not to see the tracking bracelet. A particular scientist at the church (which she dreamed off BTW that is how she got here) takes off the tracking bracelet with a unique tool so the bad guys cannot track her. They then spend the rest of the night at the church until the bad guys show up.

Let us break that down. Why would you make a tracking bracelet and go to all the trouble of programming the robot not to see it? It's a robot you built. You could put the tracking device internally in the robot. Second, if you are going to remove the tracking device the next step is to have the tracking device lead your adversaries away from you (put in the back of moving vehicle, tie to a rats tail ext) or for you to move away from the tracking device. It is not to hang out in the last known location after removing said device. Removing a tracking device while on the run is a simple trope. I have never seen a film get it wrong until now.

As for the imagination part, the Westworld in this film is just a dance club, a sex club, and a fern bar. In other worlds an overpriced brothel with robot woman. That is it? Who would go to this for more than an hour or two? The movie promotes that because the robots are well robots, you can kill and rape them. I think that there is, in reality, a thankfully limited clientele for this sort of thing. Like the movie A.I., it comes down to the fact the robots are still robots. At some point, you are going to Konmari them or trade them in for a newer model. Anyway, the so-called dream vacation place looks like the kind of club you nope out of after a few drinks, sex robots or no sex robots.

The Ugly: Well a robot sex club still sounds like a reasonable basis for a fun exploitation movie right? It does, and it should be. Vice despite its name lacks well vice. There is one bit of toplessness in the entire film from a woman whose breast implants are so bad it makes me realize the futility of an artificial woman as a concept. Most of the gunfights are from the Stormtrooper school of marksmanship. The advertised debauchery barely exists and when it does it looks like a take back the night video done by the HR department.

In Conclusion: Vice is a muddled low effort mess. It fails as a science fiction film, and it fails as a sexploitation film but most of all it fails as an enjoyable film.
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What is your current threshold for slapstick?
18 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) 5 out of 10: After an eleven-year absence (or a seven-year absence if you are one of those weirdos that consider Alan Arkin's Inspector Clouseau a proper Pink Panther film) Inspector Clouseau is back on the case. Someone has stolen the Pink Panther diamond. They have left the calling card of Inspector Clouseau's old nemesis the notorious Phantom.

The Good: Herbert Lum as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus is for my money the best thing in the movie. His gag with the cigarette lighter that looks identical to his service pistol never fails to get a laugh and is easily the funniest thing in the film.

The opening credits by Who Framed Roger Rabbit animation director Richard Williams are incredible. The Return of the Pink Panther sports some of the best opening credits of any film in the seventies and yes I include James Bond films in that statement.

There is some lovely scenery in the film with location shooting in Gstaad and Morocco among others.

The Bad: Do you like slapstick? What is your current threshold for slapstick? The Return of the Pink Panther is going to test those thresholds. Part of the problem is that slapstick has both fallen out of favor since 1975 and gotten a bit more creative and sophisticated. Jackie Chan falling off ladders one after another is a world apart from Peter Sellers with a bad false nose accidentally vacuuming a bird.

The Return of the Pink Panther isn't just Slapstick mind you there is also a diamond heist that honestly is right out of a Mission Impossible movie. It is very well done but has nothing to do with the rest of the film tonally or otherwise outside of getting the Mcguffin in play.

Speaking of not fitting the tone of the rest of the film... Look I love to see Christopher Plummer tan, blonde, and happy but good Lord is he wrong for this role. Replacing David Niven as Sir Charles Litton, alias "the notorious Phantom," Plummer has a different feel to him. Plummer looks like he can kill someone with a karate chop... possible because in real life he can.

Then there is the plot with which The Return of the Pink Panther saddles poor Christopher Plummer. It is one straight action scene after another with Plummer in a white dinner jacket as if he was rehearsing for a Bond film or a Saint reboot. The straightforward homage to Casablanca in these scenes was so over the top that Overdrawn at the Memory Bank was embarrassed.

The Ugly: Burt Kwouk as Kato. What was a fan favorite in 1964's A Shot in the Dark simply doesn't work here. It isn't just Peter Seller's continually saying things such as "Cato is in hospital. They nearly blew his little yellow skin off!" that sounds a bit rough to my delicate modern sensibilities. The more significant issue is that Kwouk is too old to play a houseboy, looks awful in drag and doesn't seem as fun as he did in A Shot in the Dark. Maybe it is because the surprise is gone and the gag had run its course.

Not in conclusion. I don't know where to put the former Bond girl and Space 1999 alumni Catherine Schell on this list. She plays Christopher Plummer's wife and bluntly has a more prominent role than he does. On the one hand, she is easy on the eyes with an adorable smirk that reminds one of Priscilla Barnes or Cameron Diaz.

On the other hand, she keeps laughing uncontrollably during her scenes with Peter Sellers. She is like a female Jimmy Fallon. I can only imagine how bad were the takes they didn't use.

In conclusion: I don't think this was ever a great film, but I can't help think it was once an entertaining film. It has aged fairly badly but make no mistake this is hardly the worst Pink Panther movie ever made. There is some stiff competition in that category.
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Patrick Wilson classes the place up.
16 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) 7 out of 10: A horror ghost movie sequel what could be scarier. Those still terrified after Poltergeist 2 and 3 and Blair Witch 2 I have some good news. Insidious bucks that trend and provides a sequel at the same level or even better than the original movie.

The Good: Patrick Wilson is the key here. Without an actor of his caliber, I am not sure the film would work at all. He is asked to do some hefty lifting, and his George Lutz style characterization would make James Brolin proud.

The film also avoids the inadvertent hilarity that has plagued some of its contemporaries. No-one is naked wearing a goats head in this one.

As an aside, my wife liked this movie. My wife at best tolerates horror movies and often falls asleep in what I suspect is a defense mechanism. But she was engaged and now wants to see Insidious 3.

The Bad: I am not afraid of no ghosts. Why are any the characters scared half the time? There is a lot made of how a children's toy (An obnoxious baby walker that is festooned with lights and noisemakers and was a gift from something evil.) justs makes noises on its own. Well, anyone with kids will tell you those toys will go off on their own on a fairly regular schedule.

Which brings me to the following query, how can ghosts work in a house with cats? I mean I live in a decent sized house. But I also have five cats. If I hear a crashing sound in another room, my first thought is not visitors from another realm it's a feline that is unhappy with the beef mix Friskies offering. If objects are moved around apparently on their own, I assure you I am looking for telltale paw prints not ectoplasm.

While I do like the way, the movie doesn't hand hold I admit I was a bit lost when threads were seeming dropped and new characters appeared out of nowhere. For example, there is a whole plot point about Patrick Wilson being a suspect in Lin Shaye's murder at the end of the last film. A plot point complete with police interrogation and stern police detectives that seems like it is going to play a significant role at the beginning of the movie, only to be quickly dropped and never brought up again. I mean it is a murder charge, not a traffic ticket. They are not going to drop the charges because you claim the voices have left your house.

The Ugly: Oh goody comic relief. The comic relief is so broad I half expected the ghost of Jim Varney to show up and start a routine, hey Vern check this out I am going to vacuum one of these Poultry Goosts. Oh no, there are two of them, and they are both trying to pee on me. Oh no Vern they have crossed the streams.

In Conclusion: I liked this movie. It is a proper horror movie, yet it is one that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Patrick Wilson classes the place up, but there was good acting all the way around. Plus this one avoided the sappiness of the first film for the most part and for that I thankful.
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Destroyer (2018)
I wouldn't see it again, but I am glad I saw it once.
16 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Destroyer (2018): 7 out of 10 Destroyer is an interesting beast. Part Oscar Bait for Nicole Kidman (they didn't bite, though she did manage a Golden Globe nomination), part artistic tour de force by Girlfight (2000) and Æon Flux (2005) director Karyn Kusama and actual part movie about things that happen. Director Kusuma seems to be going for the gritty, tough girl realism of Close (2019) as well as the avant-garde dreaminess of (2017)'s Gemini but without the latter's visual flair.

The basic plot is that Nicole Kidman plays a very burnt out LA Detective who is searching for a man who killed her partner many years ago. She has a self-destructive focus, and the rest of her life comes tumbling down. Yes, you have seen this movie before.

The Good: Oscar bait or not Nicole Kidman is fantastic in this film. She makes it work both through her acting and physical presence. Her performance is on the level of Charlize Theron's in Monster.

The rest of the cast is also quite good with a shoutout to Bradley Whitford's slimy lawyer. I have grown to appreciate Mr. Whitford in movies as the years have gone by and he hits it out of the park here as what turns out to be an audience surrogate trying to talk sense into both the protagonist and the plot.

Praise as well to whoever did Nicole Kidman's make-up; it is flawless for the role. Dramatic aging or addict makeup is so easy to get very wrong as anyone who has seen Amy Smart as a crack addict in the Butterfly Effect will attest. It isn't just Kidman's either as co-star Tatiana Maslany undergoes a similar transformation that is just as impressive.

Also, the actual story is quite good. It has a lovely twist with about ten minutes to go that makes the entire film even better in retrospect. This movie was very close to being great.

The Bad: In Peter Benchley's summertime classic novel Jaws there is a surprisingly large number of pages devoted to the affair between Chief Brody's wife and Matt Hooper. Spielberg wisely excised this nonsense from a movie about a shark eating people.

If only Spielberg had taken a similar once over to the Destroyer script.

Destroyer is a movie about an undercover job gone wrong through a series of terrible decisions by Nicole Kidman and her partner. And it is also about Nicole Kidman's attempt at closure through singleminded revenge.

Destroyer has plenty of plot for a ninety-minute film, but for some reason, there is a substantial subplot involving Nicole Kidman's daughter (played by Jade Pettyjohn who is fine mind you) that eats up too much of the film and honestly distracts both the character and the audience from the story proper.

The film grinds to a halt when the daughter's storyline pops in. If the film had spent this time in flashback with Nicole bonding with her partner or the gang more, it certainly would have been a more compelling watch and would have gone a long way to explain a seventeen-year-old grudge. As it is the films tepid description of both the gang and Nicole's feelings towards her partner makes Bradley Whitford's advice early in the film "You know what successful people do, Detective Bell? They get over sh#t. They move on, and they build things." ring more accurate than perhaps the filmmaker intended.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the daughter. So instead we get a bratty sixteen-year-old with an age-inappropriate punchable boyfriend and various dramas that have zero payoffs concerning the rest of the film and are not entertaining on their own.

The Ugly: There is a unique twist at the end of this film. Had it ended there I probably would have given it an 8 out of 10. Here it was the coup de gras, and all the cinematic sins fade away. Here is a tough girl making things right through street smarts and tenacity. Fin.

And then the film decides to beat that same drum for another ten minutes while what I am assuming is the Kronos Quartet screeches more and more high-pitched violin noises in an ever-rising key. Honestly, I am surprised we didn't get a shot of a plastic bag floating in the wind.

These last ten minutes of nothingness broke me. Destroyer is overlong, and it has a very languid pace. A lot less would be more. Over the entire film, we have about half an hour of artistic shots that seem to pile one upon another like some Indie film parody reel.

Not In Conclusion: Hey is it me or is the bank they rob the same one that you rob during The Paleto Score in Grand Theft Auto V? I had to mention this but where to put such brilliant insights within a review?

In Conclusion: For those looking for excitement or adventure this might not be your bag. It is too earnest by half, the protagonist's motivation doesn't hold water, and everything is depressing. It is worth watching or Nicole Kidman's performance, however. I wouldn't see it again, but I am glad I saw it once.
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