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9/10
The Film Is Nothing But Magic!
2 May 2019
1982's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is a movie for the ages and an instant classic. Watching this movie again gave me the feels of nostalgia. This film was an important part of my childhood and now as an adult, this movie is still nothing but exceptional filmmaking. This is a movie that is perfect for the entire family and it is a story that both adults and children can relate to. The central theme is about a lonely child finding a new friend. By the time the credits roll on your screen, there will not be a dry eye in the house. This is the kind of enchanting and magical film we have here.

E.T was directed by the great Steven Spielberg whom we know as the director of famed films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark. He ventured into more family-friendly territory with this movie. He made the movie a parallel to his own childhood. As a child in 1960, Spielberg's parents divorced thus leaving him quite lonely as well as a tormentor turned protector toward his younger siblings-things that we see clearly in the characters portrayed on screen. Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison were able to take these childhood elements and effectively show how painful/wonderful growing up can be.

The movie begins with a bunch of alien botanists on Earth, but they rush to leave when discovered by a human task force. Unfortunately, one little alien is left behind. The alien is now left alone to fend for himself on a very strange planet. He soon meets 10-year-old Elliot (Henry Thomas), whose parents just separated. They soon become friends. E.T dearly misses his home and tries to send a message to his folks back home while becoming acquaintances with Elliot's mother, Mary (Dee Wallace), brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton), and sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore). Soon, E.T becomes seriously ill.....and so does Elliot thanks to their special bond. When the task force finally intrudes, it may be hard for E.T to join his people again.

I remember when first seeing the movie, I was not impressed with Henry Thomas's performance. Now years later, I come to appreciate his performance. As far as child actors go, Thomas is one of the better ones. Speaking of child actors, Barrymore is very adorable here. She became a big movie star, but this is the role I know her by. If E.T was played by a human, I would say this performance was excellent. The alien was voiced by Pat Welsh, who apparently smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, thus creating the perfect voice for E.T.

I loved the look of E.T. The little alien looks perfectly grotesque but he also looks very cuddly. His eyes are a standout and I like the way he can raise his neck. The way the alien uses sound is also memorable. The catlike purring, those child-like squeals of surprise, etc. Speaking of the looks, the visuals of the film are fantastic! The one scene that stays with me in the bicycle chase/flying scene. Set to the sweeping, magical music of John Williams, you feel the magic as we watch E.T help the children avoid the cops chasing after them.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is the reason why we go to the movies. To escape from our realities and join a world that is filled with magic and emotion. Steven Spielberg created a narrative achievement unlike ever seen before. A family film designed to make you feel, think, and get lost in this world. Every time I finish the movie, there are tears running down my face. Sorry Gandhi, but this film should have won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Solid performances, great visuals, an alien you will never forget, one of John Williams's best scores are just few of the many great things this movie has to offer. Also fun fact! Reeses Pieces became my favorite candy thanks to this movie! Thank you, Elliot for leaving trail of this delicious candy to use as bait for our favorite alien!

My Grade: A
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8/10
Bigger, Meaner, and Fun!
1 May 2019
Mad Max 2 or The Road Warrior known in the United States, is a bigger and more exhilarating action film that expands on the lore set with 1980's Mad Max. After watching the movie, I was left deafened by the louder, crazier action sequences. And I mean that in a good way. This movie would be the kind of movie that modern-day director Michael Bay would have made if he did not insist on dumbing down his action movies, but I guess he never took good notes. The movie sets aside any rapid characterization or plot to focus on the impressive action sequences that we see in the last half of the movie. Through this relentless action, I can definitely see why people find this to be one of the best action films of all time.

I am not the biggest Mad Max fan. I do appreciate the action and the apocalyptic themes, but the original trilogy does not appeal to me as it does to others, and that is quite okay! The first film in the series was not a success in the United States due to its studio going through major changes. The first taste of this series to Americans was this movie, released by Warner Brothers. It was a risky move for them considering it is the second movie in the series, but it did prove to be a box office success. People became aware of the first movie when they showed some flashbacks during this movie's prologue.

After the international success of the first movie, George Miller is back in the director's chair. He was stressed during the production of the first film because there was constant pressure of making a sequel. With a larger budget, Miller was able to make a more ambitious film this time around. He really knows his way around action, and he directed the action scenes very well. Essentially, the last half is Max versus all the bad guys in their vehicles. I can say this chase scene ranks up near the top with the likes of The French Connection.

Unfortunately, there is not much a plot to speak of. Max (once again played by Mel Gibson) is a drifter roaming the Australian wasteland after finding revenge on those who killed the people he loved. He is searching for fuel when he stumbles on an oil refinery guarded by a group of struggling survivors. A band of motorcyclists led by "The Hummangus" and his best warrior "Wez" want the gasoline for themselves. The community of survivors hire Max to help them fight this gang.

Mel Gibson, once again, gives a worthy performance. His role here reminds me of a cowboy in the older Western movies. He also does not have much dialogue. I think he speaks maybe 200 words total if that. But his performance shines through his action, not his words. The rest of the cast is played mostly by Australian unknowns. The one performance I must commend is that of Bruce Spence. He is known as the Gyro Captain and his performance is a parody of a World War 1 serial ace.

Overall, Mad Max 2 is a solid action film that gave most Americans their first look at this character made famous by Mel Gibson. It did take me awhile to get invested in the movie, but I was on for the ride once I did. I wish there could have been some character development or plot advancement, but you cannot win them all! Perhaps it is a bit snobbish of me expecting that in a movie designed to blow you away with crazy action scenes. The last half of the movie is a must-see for all action lovers. The set design, the action choreography, and George Miller's direction is what made this movie work in the first place. I do not think it is the greatest action film ever as some people claim, but it is a fun escape worthy of your time.

My Grade: B
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9/10
Story-Telling and History-Learning!
30 April 2019
This fourth episode is another worthy episode in the early goings of Game of Thrones. It is an episode mainly filled with exposition and stories, and that is what intrigued me. Many episodes that has nothing but stories tend to get crushed under such weight, but not here. Each actor is capable of telling these history-based stories in their own way. The history is fiction of course, but I couldn't have been more enthralled listening about how past events shaped the current world of Westeros. I am sure some people may be bored, but I can promise that learning about dragons or hearing stories about cannibalism is far from boring. Such stories have a poetic feel to them. For example, let's talk about Visery's dialogue. He was telling his lady friend, Doreah about how his father made him memorize the names of the old dragons and would give him sweets if he memorized them.

If anything, the plot is advanced forward even more regarding the Starks. Ned continues his research, amongst a bunch of old books and genealogies, into what may have caused Jon Arryn's death. Despite that, he is still pressured with the politics of Westeros. When he could be doing his research, King Robert has him figuring out security for a pointless jousting match. Ned has to know that everyone has eyes on him tracking his every move. In a lovely conversation with Littlefinger, he tells Ned that he should trust no one and he points out the spies from the likes of himself, Varys (known as the Spider), and Cersei.

The scenes with Arya are becoming more impressive by the episode. Maisie Williams is an incredibly gifted actress. She has a scene with Ned where she asks if Bran will be okay and he responds that he will be a lord one day and so will she. She tells him that is not her life. This series resembles the Middle Ages and women don't have much say about who they are. Either you can be a whore or a lady, not much in between. So I love how Arya know what she wants. She continues her sword training and these scenes are still delightful. Apparently, she will be chasing cats because they are nimble creatures! As for Sansa, she is still angry with Ned because of the direwolf incident. She does have an interesting conversation with Baelish when he tells her a story about Sandor 'The Hound" Clegane and how he received his atrocious scars as a child from the hands of his older brother.

Let's go to the North and check in with Jon Snow. He is partnered with the fat, bumbling Samwell Tarly (played by John Bradley). The stories atop the Wall are strong. Tarly has not fought a day in his life and he is only here because his father forced him to dress in black or he would be killed. Then of course while conversing, Ser Allister comes to them and mentions a story about how cold it is in the North during Winter and what they had to do to survive. Frightening stuff to hear, although Allister told his story out of spite. I love how Jon takes the mantle of doing the right thing and how he uses his direwolf to threaten anyone who makes fun of Sam.

Finally, we go across the Narrow Sea. We see better what drives Viserys although his villain portrayal is still "mustache-twirling" to coin a phrase. But now he and the audience see that Daenarys is in charge and she knows it. I loved her threat about if he touches her again, he will have no hands. You go, Daenarys!

Overall, this is an episode mainly filled with exposition. The series prides itself on its history so we learn new history stuff all the time, which is fine by me although it can be quite the dangerous game to play. Aiden Gillen is fantastic and quite funny. And of course Peter Dinklage. His character takes somewhat of a backseat, but he has some good lines regarding a saddle for Bran and insulting Theon Greyjoy. He is also involved in the cliffhanger, so be prepared! This episode is quite fun and thrilling!

My Grade: A
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Game of Thrones: Lord Snow (2011)
Season 1, Episode 3
9/10
Yet Another Solid Episode!
30 April 2019
"Lord Snow" is the Game of Thrones episode where most people agree that it finally came into its own. The characters we met in the first two episodes are further fleshed out and we meet some new characters who will play major roles throughout the series. We also visit King's Landing for the first time as we take our first look at the sunny capital of Westeros. What interests me, from the first three episodes, is how character-driven these episodes are. One would expect lots of action or sword-fighting from such a grand fantasy epic, but there has been limited action so far. The characters drive the plot and that is a relief because now we get to know who these characters are. The main theme here is political intrigue and I really like how the politics shape the events of Westeros and what is to come.

Jon Snow takes the honor of the titular character. As we know from the first few episodes, he will be travelling to join the Night's Watch at the Wall, which separates the kingdom of Westeros and the cold, wintry North where the wildings live. Snow begins his training, but he is in for a rude awakening. He is being trained by Ser Allister, who makes Snow's life miserable. I guess that is what happens when a character is being trained to move from an arrogant rookie to a fearless leader. There is insight about how cruel life can be at the Wall. Luckily, we get another week of Tyrion at the wall. The name "Lannister" alone is enough to command respect of others. We see his scheming and we are left to wonder, what is his motivations? Is he in the league with Cersei and Jaime or does he have his own agenda? Peter Dinklage has been the standout of all the cast members so far and this episode is further proof. I really love his sarcastic demeanor, and I also liked how he subtly trains Snow. I also dig his bathroom off the wall routine.

Let's go back to King's Landing. Ned Stark and his daughters arrive and Ned is put to work right away trying to figure out the murder of the previous Hand of the King. There are excellent character moments between Ned and Arya, played beautifully by Maisie Williams. Arya wants to be a warrior and she begins here with her sword master, Syrio Forel. The swordfighting display is a thing of beauty. I do love the interactions that Arya had with her father in this episode. The look in Ned Stark's eyes when he realizes that eventually his daughter will be a true warrior, not learning these techniques for the fun of it. Catelyn Stark also makes an appearance here. She travels to Kings Landing in secret to solve the attempt on Bran's life. There is where she runs into one of the king's advisors, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (played wonderfully by Aidan Gillen). Cat was Baelish's crush before she got married. They end up reuniting and Baelish tells her that the knife from the attempt was his.....until it was won off him in a game of cards by a certain a Lannister. Because of this event, things will start developing as we move forward with the season. We also meet Lord Varys, an eunuch played by Conleth Hill and Grand Master Pycelle played by Julian Glover.

Speaking of Lannisters, they certainly got good lines here. Cersei is grooming her petulant son of hers to be the next king and she drives the point home in such an odd way. She gives an odd, though rather indulgent way of telling her son he is going to be king. Jaime Lannister is given more to do and is developed more here. We learn that he killed the Mad King and also has some rather chewy lines. I loved his bantering with Ned Stark as we see The Iron Throne for the first time.

Finally, we head across the Narrow Sea to follow the arc of Daenary's. Daenary finally shows some qualities about why she should not be messed with. Let's just say this. Her stupid, controlling brother, Visery is going to get what he deserves. His character I completely loathe. It is nice for a change that we do not get to focus on nudity this episode. She is given nuance and she began to show why she could be a capable leader. I also like that we learn more about the Dothraki people as a whole.

Overall, this is a great episode that features lots of intrigue. There may be limited action, but the tension remains on high alert. If you like political stuff, this episode will be right up your alley!

My Grade: A-
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Game of Thrones: Winter Is Coming (2011)
Season 1, Episode 1
9/10
Yes, Winter Is Coming!
30 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Oh my! What an incredible beginning to what will become my favorite television series to date. Based on the insanely popular Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series by George Martin, David Benioff and D.B Weiss undertook a massive mission to bring this series to the small screen. It could have been an epic failure, but instead this was a big win for HBO and all the audiences worldwide. This series has so much to dissect, so much meaning it brings to the screen. Every episode in this series tells an individual story while focusing on a main arc and that is ripe for quality characterization.



One thing I noticed right away is the look of the series. I never watched the series in HD, but I can still see how immense the production value is. The producers really care for their new baby and that includes giving the series the best look possible. I loved the cinematic presentation with the lavish production design, fantastic costumes, and a rousing orchestral score by composer Ramin Djwadi. The opening title sequence is a thing of beauty that illustrates the setting and characters of the season and it's a really genius idea, honestly.



This episode is designed to introduce us to the main characters we will come to associate with over the course of the series. Eddard 'Ned" Stark (Sean Bean) rules the northern part of the kingdom called Westeros. He lives in Winterfell with his wife, Cat (Michelle Fairley) and his five children; the eldest son Robb (Richard Madden), the princess-in-training Sansa (Sophie Turner), the tomboyish Arya (Maisie Williams), the peeping Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), and the young Rickon. Ned's illegitimate child, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) lives with the family and he is about to fulfill his vows with the Night Watch, an organization bent on keeping the peace of Westeros by guarding the wall that borders the northern part of the kingdom with the icelands of the North. Everyone's life will change after two events. The first event is when a deserter from the Night Watch claims the White Walkers (which are zombies, more or less) returned. The second event is when King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) pays a visit to Ned at Winterfell. King Robert brings his wife Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), his son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), and the two Lannister siblings; the warrior Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and the small, sarcastic Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Robert wants Ned to go to the kingdom's capital-King's Landing where he will be Robert's new Hand (or chief advisor) and investigate the death of his prior Hand, Jon Arryn. Meanwhile, we are introduced to more characters across the Narrow Sea. Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) is a descendant of the Mad King whom King Robert overthrew. Viserys wants to take the kingdom back for himself, but he needs to make an alliance with the Dothraki horde-a group of nomad warrior people led by Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). In order to form this alliance, he wants to use his sister Danys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) as a bargaining chip.



Wow, that was a lot of plot to sum up! It's funny because this plot summary only describes the first 15-20 minutes of this dense episode. While the action scenes are mighty impressive, this show makes use of fantastic monologue. I found surprising at first how talkative the show is. Fortunately, the dialogue is interesting and the actors generally carry them well. It allows these actors to chew some scenery.



Speaking of actors, the show has a zillion brand names that delivered very strong, effective performances. The big veterans are Bean, Dinklage, and Addy. All bring depth to their roles. I really liked Dinklage's performance. His sarcasm is through-the-roof hilarious. Addy delivers his dialogue like no one else does. Maisie Williams is a real find as Arya Stark. Child actors are hit-or-miss for me, but sometimes I don't even see her as a child actress with this role. There were more characters that are important that I wasn't able to describe here such as Iain Glen as Jorah Mormont, a veteran soldier allied with the Targaryens, and Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy, a steward for the Starks.



Overall, "A Winter Is Coming" is a very good introductory episode to the immensely popular Game of Thrones. Within fifteen minutes, there are two beheadings. That tells you right off the bat what is in store for you. The ending is a dandy of a cliffhanger. It really shows how despicable the Lannisters are and it gets worst (or better from a viewer's standpoint) from there. This show possesses cinematic quality due to its lavish production design, great makeup/costumes, the broad scope of the show, the fantastic acting from the all-star cast. I had some issues with the plot regarding Viserys. His character often annoyed me and made my unsympathetic to his cause, although Emilia Clarke does an amazing job. Favorite scenes of mine include: the Stark clan rescuing the direwolves, Ned making Bran watch a beheading, anything with Peter Dinklage, and the interaction between Jon Snow and King Robert. It gets better from here, so be ready!



My Grade: A-
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9/10
A Truly Motivational, Inspirational Film!
12 April 2019
When the opening notes of Vangelis's iconic theme appeared in the very first scene of 1981's Chariots of Fire, I knew we were in for something special when I felt chills going down my spine. I put this movie in the echelon of great films because this movie meant so much and by the end, I had tears rolling down my cheek as I sat in stunned silence mesmerized by what I saw. People view the movie as a sports film, but it is way more than that. The movie is set with running in the 1924 Olympics, but it takes it on in a more spiritual, inspirational way. It is about the drive and determination of what it takes to be the very best. The two main runners portrayed-Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams want to win for different, inspirational reasons and not because they want to be the best runners in the world (although they were).

Director Hugh Hudson and producer David Puttnam when through painstaking research and casting to make this movie the way it is. Puttnam wanted to create an inspirational story in the veins of 1966's The Man of All Seasons and thought something in the world of sports would allow him to do so. He randomly stumbled upon the story of Eric Liddell (yes, this a true authentic story) and immediately knew this was the story he wanted to tell.

The movie begins after the end of the first World War. It focuses on two very fast runners-Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross). Harold is a Lithuanian Jew and he leads a decent life at Cambridge. But he lives in a society that is rather anti-Semitic. He uses his speed to show the world his worth and to prove Jewish people are not the people the world makes them out to be. Eric, son of Christian missionaries, was born in China. He is a devout member of the Church of Scotland and wants to use his gift of speed as a way to spread the word of God. Their lives will intersect at the 1924 Olympics where they will be faced with the ultimate test with the Americans Jackson Scholz (Brad Davis) and Charles Paddock (Dennis Christopher), each other, and themselves.

The casting is ingenious. Hudson and Puttnam wanted to have a cast with unknown actors in the leading roles surrounded by a well-known supporting cast, and does it ever work! Ian Charleson was discovered in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Piaf. Cross was seen in the play Chicago and they really loved his musical talent. Surrounding these two leads, noticeable standouts are Ian Holm as Abraham's running coach, Sam Mussabini, Sir John Gielgud in a more glorified cameo as a master of Cambridge college, and Nigel Havers as Lord Andrew Lindsay. Ian Holm gave the more emotional performance and he dominated every scene he was in. The one scene where he celebrates a victory after 30 years in the business and not being allowed in the Olympic Stadium because he was a Jew swallowed me up with emotion.

I really liked how the movie is not preachy. Yes, the movie is enveloped in spiritual themes, but it doesn't whack you on the head consistently with these themes and that made the movie more accessible for the mainstream audience. That said, faith and inspiration play major roles in the movie because they are the basic foundations of why these men choose to run. The movie is also a British film, and it does have some sharp messages against the British class system. There is also a very strong message against anti-Semitism. If you are expecting a historical accurate film, you may need to look elsewhere. Hudson took some liberties creating this movie. He wanted to give the main characters more time together despite their paths briefly intersecting with each other in reality.

Chariots of Fire is a tour-de-force movie that you will not forget. From the moment the film began with the iconic scene of the runners on the beach running to Vangelis's masterful, haunting score, you know this is something special, something inspirational. Vangelis really created one of the most well-known musical scores of all time and it successfully establishes the tone of the movie. Running is not my favorite sport, but I came to care for these characters. I came to share in their emotions of joy, stress, defeat, inspiration, and glory. Instead of a paint-by-numbers about running, we get a movie that shows the best of human nature. The winner of 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, this movie is bound to give you inspiration if you need some! I certainly did!

My Grade: A
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Arthur (1981)
7/10
Wasn't As Funny As I Hoped!
4 April 2019
I may be in the minority, but I did not think too highly of the 1981 comedy Arthur. Those who know me well knows that I had mixed feelings on screwball comedies. Some are great, but the majority don't do it for me. This movie plays out as a 1930's screwball comedy but set in the 1980's. The movie is energetic and has a fast pace to it, but it did not work well for me. To me, a good movie is all about have likeable characters that you can relate to. The main character in Arthur is not who I aspire to be and it was not fun watching his drunken personality travel all over New York City trying to be the rich womanizer that he is.

Arthur (Dudley Moore) is a permanently-drunk bachelor worth over $750 million dollars. He is always drunk, has no ambition, and is always on an endless quest for love. His daily routine has him waking up every morning, his butler Hobson (John Gielgud) drawing him a bath, drinking a martini, and then travelling around Manhattan in his limousine trying to pick up girls. His controlling father has him set to marry the boring Susan, but that plan is about to change when he meets Linda (Liza Minnelli). He catches her stealing a tie in a Queens store and he helps her escape trouble. They fall in love with each other. The problem is, Arthur's fortune will be taken away if he doesn't follow the plan to marry Susan.

For the most part, the performances were decent. Dudley Moore is merely okay as Arthur, mainly because his drunk act was rather cringe-worthy. When he was sober, he does admittedly deliver an effective performance. I was never a big Liza Minnelli fan, but I think she does very well here. That said, the romance between Moore and Minnelli was not believable. The real acting standout goes to John Gielgud as the butler, Hobson. He was not like other English butlers. His dialogue was razor-sharp and he delivers them that way. Despite not liking Arthur's attitude, Gielgud's Hobson wanted to see Arthur succeed against his power-hungry father and grandmother. He won an Oscar for his performance and I agree with that assessment. Gielgud is by far the best part of the movie.

The film was written and directed by Steve Gordon. This was his first feature film and sadly his last as he passed away not long after this film's release. That was a shame because he showed some ability with this film. Before the casting of Moore, he actually had a good list of actors he wanted to portray Arthur such as Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson. Now that is something I would love to see. I also did like the music. The film music was created by Burt Bacharach and he added a NYC musical feeling to the movie.

Overall, I came away disappointed with the movie. It received critical notice and won a few accolades, but I came in the minority. Maybe I have a heart of stone (I don't think I do), but the laughs were too few. I think John Gielgud single-handedly saved the movie from complete failure. Maybe I wasn't attracted to the story of a drunk playboy (albeit happy drunk playboy) cruising around the city. That said, this film is gold compared to the sequel and the remake that occurred 30 years later.

My Grade: C
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Game of Thrones: The Kingsroad (2011)
Season 1, Episode 2
9/10
An Emotional Episode with a Character Focus!
3 April 2019
After the rather tragic ending of Game of Thrones series premiere, we are right back at it with "The Kingsroad." In terms of character development, this episode does a better job showing us the dimensions of these characters and getting us to care about them. We learn more about the relationship between Ned Stark and his wife, Cat and their history together. We learn just how manipulative and evil the Lannisters can be. The back half of this episode will drive that point home. One of my chief complaints about the first episode was that Daenarys Targaryen was not developed enough. The show does start to develop her character here and her dragon eggs that were given to her as a wedding gift is going to be of some significance. The atmosphere of this episode is tense, and that might be too kind of a word. The characters are brooding and in general, a sad bunch. Considering the events of the first episode, you can hardly blame them. This is an episode that is heavy-handed on character development, but it is a necessity. I was very eager to learn more about these characters.

"A Winter is Coming" ended with the tragic fall of Bran Stark after witnessing unpleasantry between the Jaime and Cersei Lannister. Bran now lies unconscious in his Winterfell home. Catelyn stays at his bedside day and night despite little hope for his recovery. Despite his son's injury, duty calls for Ned as he must leave Winterfell to travel to King's Landing with King Robert. The king and Ned agree that Sansa and the repulsive Joffrey must marry, which would unite their families. Ned brought his daughters with him and trouble happens with Arya is playing with a butcher's boy. Joffrey challenges the boy and that ends with the prince attacked by Arya's direwolf. King Robert passes fair punishment, although Cersei does not agree with his judgement. Meanwhile, Jon Snow travels to the Wall with his Uncle Benjen and Tyrion Lannister. Finally, we head across to the Narrow Sea where Daenarys is having trouble adjusting to married life. She recruits the help of a slave to learn how she could please her husband.

This episode is great to watch and is also emotional at times. The scene with Arya's direwolf attacking Joffrey and the aftermath is hard to watch. This scene also shows how villainous Cersei can be. After the attack, Arya runs to the woods with her wolf and sets him free. In retaliation, Cersei demands that Sansa's direwolf to be punished instead. That was an emotional scene. Sansa's personality enables all of this to happen, but wow Cersei is quite the b...h. In defense of his daughters, Ned gives a rousing speech about how the direwolves are a symbol of the North but to no avail. And it is up to Ned to perform this nasty deed and as he does so, he realizes how his daughter was involved in a death of an innocent. Of course, we all blame Joffrey too.

Overall, this episode is fantastic and full of character developments. We learn more about the history whether it's from Ned and Robert talking about why they waged war against the Mad King Targaryen or Tyrion describing how the Lannisters came into power. The acting is fantastic! Peter Dinklage delivers his dialogue in such an amazing way. Jack Gleeson, Lena Headey, Kit Harington, and Maisie Williams are all standouts in this episode. Plus, the episode ends with another cliffhanger regarding Bran. After these two great episodes, consider me hooked!

My Grade: A-
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Stripes (1981)
8/10
Bill Murray Steals the Show!
13 March 2019
Stripes is everything I want from a movie involving the director/actor tandem of Ivan Reitman and Bill Murray. The movie is raucous, irreverent, and just a silly movie in general. Towards the end, the movie loses some steam, but I cannot deny how involved I was for the first hour or so. As a movie that pokes fun of the military and basic training, I was reminded of 1980's Private Benjamin which I was lukewarm on. That particular movie featured some fine comedic moments but Goldie Hawn's romance sidetracked the film. This film, however, stays true to the military from start to finish as it antes up the comedy level. It's not every movie that features explosive weapons where we can find hilarious, albeit questionable uses of kitchen utensils!

If you went into this movie blind, you would be forgiven if you thought this was a National Lampoon movie. The same kind of raucousness you might have seen in Animal House is seen here. The writer behind that film, Harold Ramis happens to be one of the writers for Stripes. He took his experience from Animal House and Caddyshack and made it work here. When the film is at its best, the jokes are a hoot! The tandem of Ivan Reitman and Bill Murray return after the success of Meatballs (which I still need to see given the talent involved). A bigger budget allowed them to do bigger things here. Maybe the money could have been spent more wisely considering the third act of the movie.

John Winger (Bill Murray) is having a horrible day. Within a few hours, he lost his girlfriend, job, car, and home. Having enough with his miserable life, he enlists in the army. He convinces his best friend, Russell (Harold Ramis) to do the same. They are clearly going to be the misfits of the military. When they begin basic training, they are paired with other misfits. The class is led by the hard-headed Sgt. Hulka (Warren Oates). As basic training moves forward, Winger and Russell keep finding themselves bailed out of sticky situations by Stella (P.J Soles) and Louise (Sean Young). After training ends, the men find themselves in Italy to test a new urban assault vehicle. When they take a test drive with the vehicle to visit the women, who were stationed in Germany, the rest of the platoon and Sgt. Hulka finds themselves in communist territory.

Bill Murray excels at comedy to say the least. He was funny in Caddyshack, but he was even better here. My favorite scene with him is when he goes on a rant about "Old Yeller." Prior to this film, Harold Ramis was known only as a comedy writer and not as an actor because of his unconventional looks. Murray and Reitman made Columbia allow him to act on the project, as the studio did not like his audition video. It was an excellent idea to bring a veteran like Warren Oates to the cast. He traditionally acted in many Westerns and Reitman wanted to bring those strong sensitivities to the movie. There was a fine dramatic scene between him and Murray that worked well because of that and it allowed Murray to get his feet in the realm of drama. PJ Soles from Halloween and Sean Young have great chemistry. The supporting cast is loaded with talent. John Candy, John Larroquete, Judge Reinhold. A great list of household names!

The movie does not completely derail in the end, but it is a small disappointment what happens. The movie has a very strong first half with the basic training and character moments. By some golden rule, every movie must have an extravagant third act. There is nothing wrong with that, but not every movie needs it. Stripes is a prime example of that. While the production was well-made, I did not think the whole communist part of the story worked well with the rest. I just wanted my basic training farce, which thankfully the movie spent a good hour plus on. Speaking of character moment, the one scene I loved took place in the beginning. This dude named Psycho is telling everyone that they would die if they touched his belongings. Sgt. Hulka's response? "Lighten up."

Overall, Stripes is a good comedy that could have been better if the third act was changed. Bill Murray and his merry gang definitely had a great time making the movie as they know how to be funny! I loved the basic training material and although I was lukewarm on Private Benjamin, these two would make a good double feature. The movie was a great success for Ivan Reitman, Murray, and Ramis. The trio would reunite three years later to create one of the most successful movies of all time, Ghostbusters.

My Grade: B
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Superman II (1980)
8/10
A Worthy Superman Sequel!
9 March 2019
Superman II is the only one of the three original sequels produced that could live up to the classic 1978 Superman. That is a surprise because the drama behind the movie is more famous than the movie itself. There are two cuts of the movie. The Richard Donner version and the Salkind version in which they brought in comedy director Richard Lester to direct the movie or what little remained to be shot. That said, I thought this movie was enjoyable! Compared to the first film, it had a lighter tone and comedy was used more here. I will say the film does come close to overstaying with its comedy. I also liked the introduction of three villains-the three Kryptons led by General Zod.

Before we discuss the film, it is important to talk about the behind-the-scenes drama. Richard Donner, who directed the 1978 original film, was filming the sequel back-to-back. The producers-the Salkinds, decided to shut down production so they can focus on promoting the first film. Donner already shot 75% of the film. Later on, Donner was having issues with producer Pierre Spengler and refused to return to complete the film as long as Spengler was onset. So the Salkinds moved on and brought in Richard Lester to complete the reshoots. The cast was furious at this decision, so much that Gene Hackman wouldn't return to complete his scenes as Lex Luthor. Also, Marlon Brando had to be cut out of the film because he sued the producers because he claimed he was not given the portion of the box office of the first film. Plus, cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth passed away and composer John Williams left the project after fighting with Lester. Yes, the production was quite a mess. The final product was essentially the combination of the work of two directors thus resulting in a movie with alternating tones. Even the looks of the actors did not match from scene to scene. Which is why I am surprised to see how well the film did critically and financially.

There are these terrorists who take over the Eiffel Tower and they threaten to blow up Paris with a hydrogen bomb unless the French government meets their demands. Clark Kent aka Superman (Christopher Reeve) heads to France where he hurdles the bomb into outer space. Unknowingly to Clark, the bomb opens up the Phantom Zone where three Krypontian criminals escape. These criminals, General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O'Halloran), were imprisoned by Jor-El years prior. These villains head to Earth where they plan to take over, and of course Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) wants to join them, Clark Kent just wants to live in peace and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) figures out his secret. Clark goes to the Fortress of Solitude to rid himself of his powers so he can live with Lois, but those missing powers might be needed soon enough.

I have read elsewhere with people saying that Gene Hackman's performance as Lex Luthor marks the worst performance of his career. Personally, that might be going too far. He is clearly having a lot of fun with the schemes of Lex Luthor. I guess that it's the fact he has been in too many high-caliber films. Terence Stamp really gives General Zod a villainous edge as someone you do not want to cross. Christopher Reeve continues his success in his dual roles of Clark Kent and Superman. The movie focuses more on the character relationships between him and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. Both were fantastic and have a certain chemistry with each other. There were some funny moments between the two, especially where Lois Lane is trying to prove that Clark is indeed Superman. That Niagara Falls scene comes to mind and is probably the best sequence of the movie.

This movie could have and should have been a complete failure. The mess behind the scenes would have given most movies their premature deaths. Alas, this is Superman so he cannot be conquered so easily. Superman II is not as good as the first film, but it's nowhere near as bad as the sequels that would follow. The film develops more characterization between Superman and Lois and the villains, led by General Zod are fleshed out. The direction is noticeably off as two different directors worked on the same movie. Any scene with Hackman was directed by Donner, as a heads up! The action sequences are well-done, but the special effects are clearly outdated. However, this is a worthy Superman sequel.

My Grade: B+
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Bates Motel: Midnight (2013)
Season 1, Episode 10
9/10
Norman Bates Shows His True Self!
7 March 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Ladies and gentlemen, it has finally happened! In the vein of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Freddie Highmore aka Norman Bates made his first onscreen kill. If the show really wanted to be Psycho, it would have done away with the last shot of the dead body of poor Miss Watson. The audience knows she is dead, but the show maybe did not realize its audience knew. I'm glad this episode ended with a bang. The last few episodes were solid in their own right, but they were slow episodes meant to build towards this finale. From start to finish, this episode had me from the edge of my seat. Norma finally broke down and I guess you can say that Norman did as well.

In this episode, "Midnight," Norma does not believe she will be able to meet Abernathy with the $150,000 she promised him. She fills in Sheriff Romero with the details and he tells her he will take care of everything. Romero visits Sommers's sister to find Jake Abernathy's real name. Norma finally visits a psychiatrist, but she leaves after falling ill to his questions. Norma also doesn't trust Romero will take care of things, so she enlists Dylan to teach her how to use a gun. Dylan initially refuses. Norman is jealous with Bradley starts to hang with Dylan, although Dylan insists nothing is going on between them. Norman also overhears Miss Watson in a spat with somebody close to her. Finally, Norman takes Emma to the school dance, but it does not go well with Norman fixated on Bradley.

As you can see, this makes for an exciting finale. Norma finally broke down resulting in her trip to the psychiatrist. But she also has a moment here which makes her deserving of an Emmy. The moment where she confesses her sexual abuse at the hands of her older brother is an extremely powerful moment. Of course, all of this disturbs Norman. Norma is a very complex character, but this confession allows us to see where she is coming from and what inner demons she has. This is another reason why she protects and cleans up after Norman. Although, she will have another problem on her hands when the next season rolls around.

For a prequel series to one of the most beloved movies of all time, the first season of the show really held its own. The creepy relationship between mother and son drove the show forward despite some relatively weaker moments (Bradley relationship with Norman, sex ring subplot.) Olivia Cooke as Emma and Max Theriot as Dylan were welcome, perfectly-casted actors to play these characters. This series delivered campy, comedic fun and a complex character study. I expect better things for next season!

My Grade: A
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Bates Motel: Underwater (2013)
Season 1, Episode 9
9/10
Episode Has Lots of Funny Moments!
7 March 2019
We are one more episode away from the season finale and oddly enough, this episode doesn't seem like it. "Underwater" obviously pushes the season towards the end, but the episode has a calm aura, an aura that allow the episode to build towards the end at its own pace. I was taken aback at first since I wasn't used to these kinds of penultimate episodes. That said, I enjoyed this episode very much so. It's funny, horrifying, and it's entertaining to see Norma lose her cool.

At the end of "A Boy and His Dog," a mysterious stranger dug up and left the deceased body of Zach Shelby in Norma's bed. Sheriff Romero removes the body and doesn't believe that Norma is in any danger. Abernathy wants Norma to really understand who he is and what he is looking for. Norma wants to move away from White Pine Bay because of the veiled Abernathy threat and the building of the bypass. Meanwhile, Norman writes a short story and Miss Watson shows belief in him. Emma now has a job working for Norma at the motel. Finally, Bradley recruits Dylan to break into her father's office and she doesn't like the results.

This episode has many good things to digest. One thing that stood out to me is the comedy. I laughed a whole lot, especially when it came to the actions/words of Norma. The highlight scene is the scene where Norma yells at Dylan's co-workers for smoking pot at the motel. I loved when she said the phrase, "smokin' a doobie." When the show focused on Norma's crisis with the bypass. When she goes into the office, comedy ensues with people running away from her! I also liked the pleasurable attitude of Emma eating a pot brownie. She was just so adorable! I am also interested in the whole love triangle between Bradley, Norman, and Dylan. Honestly, that was unforeseen. Also, Norman's teacher definitely has a thing for him! Finally, we continue watching Norman sink into the deep end with a terrifying dream involving Bradley's drowning. I definitely had a good time watching this episode!

My Grade: A-
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10/10
One of My All Time Favorites!
2 March 2019
Steven Spielberg is back, better than ever! After the dismal failure that was 1941, the acclaimed director teamed up with George Lucas, coming off his Star Wars fame to create one of the most memorable heroes of all time. Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite movie from 1981 and is in my top 20 films of all time. This movie gives everything you could ask for. Strong, memorable characters, witty dialogue, fantastic set pieces, exotic locations, great action, and a John Williams musical theme you could never forget. Indiana Jones is my favorite fictional hero and this movie is the example why I believe that.

This movie has fascinating origins. George Lucas was writing this movie the same time he came up with the idea for Star Wars. He decided to pursue his space adventure instead to great success. In 1978, while on vacation in Hawaii, he ran into Steven Spielberg, who was coming off Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg expressed his idea of creating a James Bond movie. Lucas showed him his character, which was named Indiana Smith at first, thus creating a collaboration which would lead to this movie and two sequels and a prequel. The film also takes influence from the works of Edgar Burroughs Rice, 1930's serials, and a 1950's comic about a globe-trotting duck named Scrooge McDuck.

This movie really has it all. With Spielberg and Lucas at the head, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan joined the project to help polish the script. Together they created memorable heroes in Indiana Jones, an archaeology professor who travels the world to protect or find ancient artifacts and his former girlfriend Marion who is strong female character who is able to protect herself. For villains, we have the horrible Nazis, drunken Sherpas, Frenchmen making alliances with the Nazis, and Jones's favorite animal, snakes! He hates snakes! For locations: we have the sands of Egypt, abandoned submarine bases, the jungles of Peru, the mountains of Tibet, and so forth. If you want a travelling experience from your own living room, look no further than this movie.

I was impressed with the plot. The plot is simple and really is a framework for all the impressive action scenes and stunts there are. But in the end, everything is coherent and makes plenty sense. It is the year 1936. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) learns from his good friend, Brody (Denholm Elliot) that the Nazis are searching for the Ark of the Covenant, a golden casket that was used to house the Ten Commandments. It has also been known that this arc is able to give power to those who wield it. Jones's mission? To reach the Ark before the Nazis do. He goes to Tibet to pick up Marion (Karen Allen) who has a medallion that has a secret to the location of the Ark. Together, they head to that location where they will try to beat the Nazis-and scheming Frenchmen at their own game.

The performances are all excellent. What is funny that when Spielberg/Lucas did the casting, Spielberg wanted Harrison Ford from the get-go, but Lucas was against his casting because he did not want Ford to be is "Bobby De Niro" which is in reference to Martin Scorsese always casting Robert De Niro in his films. In retrospect, I do not think anyone could have pulled this role off like Harrison Ford did. Ford was brilliant and created a memorable character with his iconic performance. He is kind and intelligent character, but he can be ruthless at times. However, he is charming. Charm may be the one word that can describe Indiana Jones. I really dug Karen Allen's performance. A strong-willed character with the ability to protect herself. I liked the villainous performances from the slimy Nazis. Paul Freeman as Dr. Rene Belloq as the scheming Frenchman who happens to be Jones's rival, and Ronald Lacey as the incredibly slimy Nazi, Toht.

Even in today's cinematic world, the visual effects and the action sequences stand out. I honestly cannot say what I liked the most since everything was so well-done! The opening sequence set forth what to expect in this movie. That boulder chasing Jones is an amazing sequence. That chase scene is great as well, and it makes good use of an old, classic joke! Another sequence that stood out to me is when Jones and Marion are holding on to dear life in the pit of snakes. That was a scene that let you feel real horror. And don't get me started on the face-melting sequences! I am still in awe what the special effects team did with this film.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a true classic that spawned a franchise that is still going strong today. Adventure stories with some history mixed in are my kind of stories. I like travelling to these exotic locations through these characters. This film has a unique balance of comedy, action, stunts, and adventure. When Nazis are your villains, this is how they should be used. As slimy creatures that can get their butts handed to them by Indiana Jones.

My Grade: A+
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The Fan (1981)
7/10
Great Idea, Mediocre Execution!
1 March 2019
I am definitely not a fan of 1981's The Fan. The movie has a nice premise and some interesting characterization. The film received lots of media attention because it came out only mere weeks after John Lennon was shot to death by a crazed former fan. Talk about wrong timing! The movie started out well as the movie explores the actions and the ideas of fandom and how intense it can be, as well as a middle-aged actress stuck in her own thoughts about divorce and middle-age. But halfway through, the film becomes your standard, cliched thriller that relies upon unnecessary violence. The producers were impressed with the Friday the 13th box office, so they unwisely changed the ending to make the film appeal to those who went to see that movie. Well.....they failed as this movie ended up being one of the biggest box office bombs of the year.

According to reports, the movie set was not a fun one. Everyone apparently disliked each other and no one was happy with the end result. Considering the central theme that seemed like a good idea at the time (and still prevalent today in the world of toxic fandom), it's certainly disappointing. The main star of the film-Lauren Bacall refused to promote and acknowledge the film because she was shocked at the level of gore and violence added to the film. Michael Biehn, who played the stalker Douglas, did not act for another two years because this film drained so much out of him. The director, Ed Bianchi was essentially shunted into directing television episodes-which may have been good because he directed great episodes of many TV series.

Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) is a lonesome record store employee. He considers himself a true fan of middle-aged actress Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall). He sends her letters of love that are downright creepy. But they are intercepted by Sally's publicist, Belle Goldman (Maureen Stapleton) and she sends formal letters in return. That angers Douglas and his love turns into hate. Douglas now has to act on his hatred with one target in mind.

The performances are may have what saved this film from a complete trainwreck. Lauren Bacall was fantastic (except for the ending) and she really explores the idea of what it's like to be an aging actress in the film industry. Michael Biehn does give us a sense of worst-case scenario of what a toxic fan could be like. He does allude an atmosphere of menace. Maureen Stapleton may have given the best performance of the film. She does well as the no-nonsense publicist. I liked James Garner, but I thought he was wasted here.

Overall, The Fan was a big disappointment for me. It had an interesting premise, but the film was not executed properly. The producers had the wrong idea of turning this movie into an overly-violent slasher film in the second half. The film is really not memorable which is a shame given the cast. The cast tried what was given to them, but in the end all we get is a disappointing movie. I knew this film would be a disappointment when I first saw the film's poster. A terrible ripoff of The Godfather movies. Sigh....

My Grade: C-
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Bates Motel: A Boy and His Dog (2013)
Season 1, Episode 8
9/10
A Subtle Episode That Explores Relationships!
1 March 2019
As we move towards the finale (two episodes away), I was really surprised how subdued this episode was. The episode was designed for character-building and I'll take that any day of the week. Some fans were disappointed because there are really no big horror shocks or intense action scenes, although there is a satisfying cliffhanger. As I said, this episode is all about relationships. Norma vs. Norman, Norman vs. Emma, Norman vs. Emma's father, and Dylan vs. his new partner Remo. Each relationship I mentioned moves the story dynamic in one way or another. I really liked the Norman vs. Will Decody relationship. Last episode, Norman's dog was killed in an abrupt and manipulative way. So the taxidermy scenes should not have worked well as they did. But Norman has great chemistry with Will Decody, played by Ian Hart. Will teaches Norman the art of taxidermy while also giving him some insight on love. It was quite beautiful to see.

In "A Boy and a Dog," Norman beings a friendship with Will Decody who teaches him the trade of taxidermy. Meanwhile at school, Emma let slip to the school that Norman had sex with Bradley. The fallout had Norman screaming at his teacher Ms. Watson and running out of class. The school suspends Norman for 3 days and advises Norma to get him psychological help. Norma pleads with Sheriff Romero regarding the town's planned bypass which would keep customers away. She also begins to stalk Jake Abernathy, who apparently has something to do with the sex slave ring (they are really beating this story into the ground, huh?). Abernathy begins to slowly threaten her. Finally, Dylan and Remo are sent to California where they have to pick up drugs for their boss. However, they don't seem to like each other.

I enjoyed this episode for what it was. A subtle, more laidback episode. There were some great, hard-hitting moments. Some examples that come to mind are when Emma confesses her love for Norman thus strengthening their relationship. Honestly, I would have personally gone after Emma instead of Bradley, even if she has that disease. Come on, Norman! Also, I love when the school calls out Norma for being too controlling. We all know she is the way she is to protect Norman, but that doesn't stop her from being possessive, needy, and sometimes incompetent. This is an episode that explores relationships and the ending sets up the last two episodes in an effective manner.

My Grade: A-
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Bates Motel: The Man in Number 9 (2013)
Season 1, Episode 7
9/10
Who Is The Man from Number 9?
1 March 2019
Warning: Spoilers
After the explosive events of the previous episode, Bates Motel switches gears with "The Man in Number 9." There is a lot of good stuff here, even if the episode is somewhat subdued. There are also some perplexing events that make it seems like the show is rushing towards the end. This episode continues the trend of making Norman even more unstable. This time, Bradley is important in that regard. Yes, she is back after missing the last few episodes. The acting remains consistent and the addition of Jere Burns as the titular character with unknown motives made me wonder what the show has in store for us next.

After the last episode ends with the murder of Deputy Shelby, Norma calls for Sheriff Romero and explains everything that happened since episode one. Romero calls it "water under the bridge" and said he has been suspecting Shelby. A strange man named Jake Abernathy (played by Jere Burns) comes to the hotel surprised it was not being ran by Keith Summers. Abernathy wants to continue his deal he had where he rented out the entire hotel with advanced cash payment. Both Dylan and Norma are wary of this new character. Dylan still has plans to move out. Finally, Bradley is back. But Norman realizes that Bradley may not have any feelings towards him at all.

I really liked the series up to this point and that includes this episode. It's campy, fun, and the stories are told just right. While I liked this episode a lot, there was one thing that perplexed me. Norman found a dog underneath the porch and it became his new best friend. By the end, the dog is killed by a car. I get why that happened. It explains Norman's new affinity for taxidermy. But this dog device was forced fed to us and it basically told us how to feel. Now if that dog was with Norman from the start, we would feel legitimate emotion. But the way the dog was used here bothered me. It felt like a rushed sequence. On that note, I can't wait to see how the season will end. Also, Olivia Cooke is not featured much here but she and Vera Farmiga share a juicy scene together where Norma finds out that Norman had sex with Bradley. The two of them bond and it was uproariously funny! I also liked the creepy vibe The Man from Number 9 brought to the episode.

My Grade: A-
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Excalibur (1981)
8/10
A Fun Re-telling of the King Arthur Mythology!
27 February 2019
I remember the first time I laid my eyes on Excalibur. It was my high school freshman year English class. I thought the movie was incredibly boring. Flash forward a decade later, I took the opportunity to revisit the movie. Thankfully, my opinion changed. This film is a solid take on the King Arthur mythology with hammy (although enjoyable) acting, great special effects and costume designs, a rather violent screenplay, and character development/dialogue that could have been better. Based on that last sentence, you can see that I thought of this film as a mixed bag. In the end, it is a fun fantasy adventure.

Ever since learning about the legend of Arthur in grade school, I was always fascinated by this legend. Is this story real? The only thing anthropologists have discovered regarding this legend is some Celtic texts. It is apparent that Arthur was a real person, but I do love all the fantasy stuff added to the story. The Knights of the Round Table, the evil Morgana, the sword in the stone, etc. This particular adaptation is based upon Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur which was one of the original versions of the tale as it was released in 1485 and is considered a great piece of literature. By the 20th century, American audiences were enthralled with this legend as well considering the popularity of films like 1953's Knights of the Round Table and the 1963 Disney flick The Sword in the Stone. With this 1981 feature, people say this is the best adaptation to date. A more spirited, operatic, and philosophical take on the famous tale.

The film is directed by John Boorman and was adapted to the screen by Boorman and and Rospo Pallenberg. Prior to this film, Boorman wanted to adapt the Lord of the Rings as his big fantasy movie, but that never came to be. However, his big fantastical ideas live on in this movie with great visuals, lavish costumes, and striking imagery. Boorman also added his own take to the Merlin/Arthur story. When the world was still young, the sword Excalibur was forged and it was given to Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) by the all-powerful wizard, Merlin (Nicol Williamson). When the violent Uther dies, the sword is cast into stone where the next man who pulls it out would be named the new king of England. Many years later, a squire named Arthur (Nigel Terry) happens to be the one. He also happens to be the illegitimate son of Uther. Arthur is the one to bring peace and prosperity to the kingdom, but his lustful and evil half-sister Morgana (Helen Mirren may have other plans for the kingdom.

This movie gives the chance for English thespians to have fun and bring their own style into a legend of old. Sure the acting can be hammy at times, but its clear the cast is having fun. Of course, I would expect Merlin to be an old, wise man with a flowing white beard ala Dumbledore or Gandalf, but this Merlin is different. There is hardly any beard if at all, and Nicol Williamson plays him as a witty wizard that you do not want to get on the wrong side of. Nigel Terry made a great King Arthur, although he portrayed Arthur from young to old as a 35-year-old and the age difference is noticeable. The cast is filled with upcoming stars who would have long careers including Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Helen Mirren, and Patrick Stewart.

Director John Boorman made this film with a philosophical edge. He explores ideas on love, leadership, heritage, among other things. Purists may scoff at this movie, but Boorman has some very close to making the "perfect" Arthur movie. The battle scenes are well-staged and visually impressive, the set design is actually rather realistic. Looking at these castles and knights made me think about the actual history of medieval England. I liked the music and the use of Richard Wagner. I wondered why Wagner's music was used, but I understood how well it blended in with the story. The movie is not perfect, but those who do not mind campy action films will have a blast with this King Arthur itineration.

My Grade: B-
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Atlantic City (1980)
8/10
A Small, Thoughtful Film!
26 February 2019
1981's Atlantic City is a tender, subtle film about two people accustomed to the traditions of old and trying to adjust to a newer, more complicated world. That statement is envisioned throughout the movie with those exterior shots of decaying buildings of old and the sky cranes building grander, newer palaces to attract the crowds. I was expecting a flashy picture based on the title of the movie, but it's a smaller, more subtle film that boasts very fine leading performances from the great Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon. This is a Canadian-French production, so we are introduced to Canadian actors such as Kate Reid.

Through my eyes, this film acted like a mini history lesson. I grew up in New Jersey, and I have been to Atlantic City several times. I remember the casinos, the boardwalk, and the food. From what the old-timers say and based on this movie, times were different not even forty years ago. By 1975, the city was in decay. Buildings were crumbling left and right, and people were leaving. By the late 1970's, the state of New Jersey enacted a plan to get the city back to its feet-by building grand and stylish casinos. When this film was being shot in 1979, only two casinos were built, and Caesar's was one of them. As a New Jersey native, I was very intrigued to see a movie that speaks to the history of the city.

Even though this film was shot on location in Atlantic City and in areas nearby, this film did not use any Americans with the exception of the two lead actors and some extras. The director was Louis Malle, known for his work in the French Wave film movement. Malle is well-known, and this is his first work I have seen. I guess I need to see all his films based on his lovely, subtle direction here. Anyhow, I love how the American dream is given an international perspective. Up to this point, we have seen movies about the American dream through the eyes of Americans, so this was a refreshing take to see this new point-of-view.

Written by playwright John Guare, this intimate, character-driven drama focuses on mainly two characters. The first character is Sally Matthews (Susan Sarandon) who works as a waitress at hotel's oyster bar. She dreams of working at the Monte Carlo so she tries to culture herself by learning French. Then there is Lou (Burt Lancaster), an old-timer numbers runner who claims he was a cellmate and confidant of mobster Bugsy Siegel. His dream died long ago as he now works a widow named Grace (Kate Reid) who came to Atlantic City herself for a Betty Grable look-a-like contest. These three characters reside in a broken-down apartment residence that is about to be demolished. It so happens that Sally and Lou are next door neighbors, and Lou has taken a habit of spying on Sally. When Sally's ex-fiance comes to town with a stash of drugs, the dreams of these characters may be dashed or even re-awoken!

The acting is tremendous and these performances are what drives this quiet, little film. Burt Lancaster delivers a capable, melancholy performance of a man who thinks he is a big shot. Even so, his character promotes wisdom and good character. His character arc is also sad. Even though the movie plays out as a romance, it becomes clear that he knows he has no place in the life of Sally. Speaking of which, Susan Sarandon puts her name on the map with this role. Her character is nuanced, subtle, and a dreamer who wants to do the right things that helps her get by. So she turns to the old-timer Lou for all the wisdom he can give her. These two actors have such strong chemistry, and I am glad they did not turn this film into a straight romance drama.

Atlantic City is a smaller film that deserves attention. It's quiet and the pace can be trying, but those are only small concerns when compared to the overall picture. The acting is fantastic thanks to Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster. The messages about the old and new come across from the very first shot where a casino is being blown up to make way for better casinos and hotels. Louis Malle was a very beloved director worldwide and he makes himself known to American audiences with this picture. Nominated for five Oscars, this film should be on your radar!

My Grade: B+
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Bates Motel: The Truth (2013)
Season 1, Episode 6
9/10
The Truth Has Been Revealed!
26 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Let it be known that the truth has been revealed! In this aptly-titled episode of Bates Motel, "The Truth" is one adrenaline-laced episode. The Chinese sex slave story, which many viewers found to be a silly subplot, comes to an abrupt end here. I love the interplay between Norman, Norma, and Dylan. Norma manages to become even crazier and I love the new protective attitude that Dylan developed for his little brother (but I am not sure if that is going to last long). Those who stayed to the end got treated with a bombshell that will affect the relationships of these characters moving forward. I will discuss that further in my last paragraph. This episode is briskly-paced, features great character development, and has some great action pieces.

Dylan is forced to confront his boss, Gil to recount the story of what happened to his partner. Gil lauds Dylan for his actions and rewards him with a new partner, Remo (a very juicy performance by Ian Tracey). Norma is having a hard time facing reality that her boyfriend actually was involved in a sex ring involving the Chinese girl, Jiao. Emma wants to get the FBI involved, but Norma vehemently refuses. Officer Shelby stops by the motel and discovers Jiao in one of the rooms with possible consequences for all characters involved. Dylan wants Norman to move in with him on the account of Norma being crazy and now he doubts Norma's recollection of how their father died. That is when Norma finally tells Dylan the truth.

As you see, lots and lots of crazy stuff happens. Whether you like the whole subplot with Shelby and the sex slaves, it seemingly ends with this episode. The last fifteen minutes are bonkers because it really turns into a horrifying cat-and-mouse game with Dylan and Shelby, with Dylan emerging as the victor. RIP Shelby (or not). Shelby was a fine character, if a little underdeveloped. He was played well by Mike Vogel. The shocking reveal where Norman killed Sam Bates unknowingly after he beat Norma is a nice, unexpected surprise. Now we truly understand why Norma acts the way she does. She needs to protect Norman. If he was to black out again, who knows who could be next. The episode does not feature much of Emma or Bradley at all, but this is an important, family-centric episode.

My Grade: A
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Bates Motel: Ocean View (2013)
Season 1, Episode 5
9/10
Interesting Episode!
26 February 2019
I seem to be in the minority, but I liked this episode, "Ocean View." Granted, many plot developments are thrown at us but I was more interested in the character development in all of our characters. In this episode, Norma is even loonier than usual, Norman continues to fall out with his mother but furthers his relationship with Emma (and moves further away from Bradley?), and Dylan decides to act brotherly towards Norman. As we progress farther into Season 1, Freddie Highmore is becoming more and more like Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga continues to shine as Norma.

After an eventful night with Bradley, Norman returns home to see that Norma has been arrested for the murder of Keith Summers. The judge posted bail for one-hundred grand, so Norman decides to post the motel as collateral. Norma, still salty over Norman opening up to Dylan, tells them both to stay out of her business. Dylan mentions to Norman that he can live with him and his new friend/co-worker is shot, so he seeks revenge. Meanwhile, Dylan and Emma continue on their adventure for the Chinese sex slave and they discover her on Officer Shelby's boat. After a sexually-charged night, Bradley ignores Norman's texts.

This episode has a lot going on so it's best to pay attention or you may miss something. The tone is all over the place so I can see why it would be jarring. One moment it is a teen drama, next moment it's an adventure story, and the next moment a bumbling comedy. I think that worked well with me because this does not have to be entirely a psychological horror drama, but it can be about the growing pains of a teenager. The relationships between Norman and the girls affected me here. It is clear that Emma has a crush on Norman, but it is painful to see because her illness is getting in the way and Norman is still pining over Bradley despite her being a no-show. I also liked how the Norma is introduced to the Chinese sex slave drama, but she does not believe a single word of it mainly because she believes in Officer Shelby. That might be a big mistake, Norma.

My Grade: A-
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1941 (1979)
7/10
My Least Favorite Spielberg Film!
16 February 2019
Every filmmaker has their own flops or mediocre movies, no matter how great the directors are. Martin Scorsese has New York, New York, Francis Ford Coppola has Jack, and the list goes on. In this instance, the great Steven Spielberg has 1941. It was crushing for critics and audiences because Spielberg wowed them with Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so everyone was eagerly anticipating his next project. I liked the idea behind the movie, but I felt it to be a misfire. The movie, of course, satires World War Two and the military, but it was not funny at all and that is the biggest failure of all. Jokes are thrown at you at the speed of light, but everything feels so forced. I merely chuckled from time to time, but I wonder if I did that out of respect. In addition to poorly-written jokes, the movie is loud, obnoxious, and has way too many explosions for this type of movie.

Well, I had to get the bad stuff out of the way first. However, there were some redeemable qualities within the film. The film has a large cast filled to the brim with outstanding actors. Granted, many of them were not used to the best of their abilities, but the performances were still good enough. Spielberg did continue to prove himself as a capable director, as I thought his direction was good enough. Finally, the best part of the movie is the music by Spielberg's usual collaborator, John Williams. Spielberg always said that William's theme was his favorite out of all the movies they did together. High praise!

The film was written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale both of whom would gain fame in the mid 1980's with Back to the Future. Needless to say, the script they wrote was not their finest hour. The central idea they came up with is brilliant though. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just happened and the state of California is on their toes since they are supposedly the next victims. When a rogue Japanese submarine appears just off the coast, we must ask whether or not Hollywood is ready for war.

The cast has many great names and it was a pleasure to see these actors even if they did not live up to their full potential. Check out these names. Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Ned Beatty, Warren Oates, Robert Stack, and the list goes on. Plus, there are some rather intriguing cameos by James Caan and Penny Marshall. Plus, John Candy and Mickey Rourke have minor roles. Some have more screen time than others. If there were to be a central character, it would be the character of James Belsuhi. If you liked his Animal House performance, then you will like this performance.

I was quite disappointed with the movie especially with all the talent involved. This film was meant to be a slapstick satire, but I cannot help if this movie would have been received better if this was more dramatic. After all, Stanley Kubrick did suggest the same thing to Spielberg before it was released. Spielberg did later admit that after the enormous success of his previous two movies, he became a little arrogant and took this film as a lesson. That shows because his next two movies were Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial, two of the most popular movies of all time. Unfortunately, 1941 is an uneven movie with unfunny jokes. Everything is thrown at you for two hours, and it's hard to make out what is going on. The visual effects are cool and the score is amazing, but I wanted to truly like this movie as a Spielberg fan and a World War 2 buff. It's watchable, but only just.

My Grade: C-
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Halloween (1978)
9/10
The Horror Film That Started It All!
11 February 2019
1978's Halloween is the definitive horror film. Without this classic, there wouldn't be the 80's slasher flicks we come to know and love today (or do we?). There would be no Nightmare on Elm Street. Genre films are important in today's cinematic world, but would they be if John Carpenter decided not to direct this little tiny horror film? This film went on to spawn endless amounts of sequels and reboots and they practically all failed quality-wise when compared to this film (although the 2018 sequel that ignored the previous movies was very good).

Honestly, it amazes me how John Carpenter was able to create one of the scariest movies ever made. The movie was made on such a low budget, $300,000 to be exact. The movie ended up grossing 47 million dollars domestically and an additional 23 million worldwide thus making the movie the most successful independent movie of all time. The film was well-received when it first appeared onscreen. In fact, esteemed critic Roger Ebert placed the movie in this top ten films of 1978 and he is often a vocal critic of slasher films.

The movie itself is very scary and it works just as well as a psychological thriller as a slasher movie. There is very little gore and hardly any blood, which absolutely surprised me. The majority of the violence takes place offscreen. It is a testament to the uncanny craftmanship of director/screenwriter/composer Carpenter, lead actress Jamie Lee Curtis, screenwriter Debra Hill, and among others to create a franchise that made Michael Myers a forever legend.

I mentioned earlier that Halloween was a movie that popularized the genre, thus creating similar slasher films in the 1980's and beyond. Besides that, this movie made many horror movie tropes we see today popular. For example, this movie had the final girl trope, it made a daring movie killing off any characters with a hint of promiscuity or substance abuse, and also Carpenter had scenes showing murders from the killer's point of view. The whole opening sequence involving 6-year old Michael Myers killing his sexually active sister was shown through the little peephole eyes of Michael's costume. Perhaps the most important is the portrayal of women. Critics are vocal how later slasher films are misogynistic and they blame Halloween. Even so, women are given a more stronger stand in this movie and in later movies. Prior to this film, women were helpless people that were saved by the strong male character. Here, Jamie Lee Curtis was able to fend for herself mostly without the help of any male character.

It's a cold night in Haddonfield, Illinois in the year 1963. Michael Myers, a 6-year-old boy, murdered his sister in cold blood. He was taken away to the Warren County Sanitarium and placed under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance). Dr. Loomis was able to see the pure evilness of Michael Myer's soul when no one else could. 15 years later, Michael escapes and Dr. Loomis witnesses the escape. Loomis heads to Haddonfield to warn the town because he knows that is where the villain is heading. Teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and her friends may be the next victims of Michael Myers. Can they do anything to save themselves?

The performances are excellent. Jamie Lee Curtis was an unknown at the time, although she happened to be the daughter of Janet Leigh, the star of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Hitchcock was one of Carpenter's idols when it came to the making of this movie. Anyhow, Curtis was a revelation and ultimately gave a convincing portrayal of a quiet, small-town girl turning into a badass warrior in a way. Donald Pleasance added veteran poise to the movie as the male hero, and he had some fantastic scenes and memorable lines of dialogue. His quote, "I met him, 15 years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding in even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this... six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and... the blackest eyes - the Devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... evil," may be the best quote of the movie as he describes what we are dealing with.

Overall, Halloween is one of the best films of 1978 and it is the horror movie that set the ground for future horror/slasher films. The tropes we see in today's horror films were introduced in this film. The movie does not rely upon gore or blood as it more wants to play tricks with your brain. It's scary, visceral, and suspenseful. The acting, the direction, and music are what made this movie so good. The ever-famous score by Carpenter gave much suspense to the movie just like John Williams did with 1975's Jaws. Before Freddy Kreuger or Jason, we got Michael Myers. If you like horror films, this should be at the top of your list. If you do not like being scared, give this movie a pass.

My Grade: A-
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Bates Motel: Trust Me (2013)
Season 1, Episode 4
9/10
Should We Trust Anyone?
9 February 2019
The fourth episode of Bates Motel really has me pondering about how I truly think about this episode. On the surface, I think it's a great hour of television that is creepy, tense, and focuses on the unstableness of Norma. Regardless, Vera Farmiga is fantastic here and her line deliveries remain a thing of beauty. That said, I was perplexed about a few things. 1.) The cliffhanger from last episode was essentially swept under the rug. Norman being trapped in Deputy Shelby's house with the sex slave as Shelby arrived home was a great way to end the episode. But, Dylan (perhaps too coincidentally) happens to be in the area and saves Norman in time. All of this within the first five minutes. 2.) Bradley and Norman hook up and bond even further after Bradley's father died. The resulting action is a rather horrid sex scene. That sex scene was the worst thing about the episode, but it was also so memorable. That said, this episode is perfect when it comes to exploring characters relationships. Norman and Dylan grow closer, especially when Norman fills his brother in the details about Keith Summers. Norman and his mother grew further apart as she begins dating Deputy Shelby himself. Finally, there seems to be some satisfyingly odd sexual tension between Dylan and Norma. There is even one point where you would be rooting for them to kiss. That is part of what makes this show so weird.

In this episode, "Trust Me," Norman is able to escape Shelby's house after Dylan came to his rescue and created a diversion, but he was not able to rescue the Chinese sex slave. He tells Norma what happened, but she does not believe him. She did decide to check the basement herself but found nothing. Emma is sick with the flu, so she has to miss a week of school. Bradley's father died, which results in Bradley and Norman bonding with each other. Shelby tries to be a father figure towards Norman and he decides to take Norman fishing. A fisherman found Summer's hand, which makes Sheriff Romero believe that Norma is the one who killed Summer.

Overall, this is a solid hour of television. There were a few things that I highlighted in the first paragraph that appeared strange to me, but that did not diminish my overall thoughts of the episode. Great acting all around and complex character interactions are what made this episode so watchable. We continue to see Norman's slow but sure descent into craziness and we even wonder if Norman is actually seeing things. When Norma goes down in Shelby's basement and sees nothing, we wonder if Norman actually saw the sex slave. We also meet Emma's father, Will Decody (played by Ian Hart known as Professor Quirrell in the first Harry Potter movie). He is a delightfully weird character. This episode is at its best when exploring character's relationships and I definitely look forward to see what is in store next.

My Grade: A-
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Bates Motel: What's Wrong with Norman (2013)
Season 1, Episode 3
9/10
Something Is Wrong with Norman!
9 February 2019
What is wrong with Norman, indeed? A mighty fine question in an episode so aptly titled and one that features Freddie Highmore's Norman Bates showing his psycho tendencies even more. I enjoyed this episode very much, even if not everything makes a whole lot of sense. Freddie Highmore's portrayal as Norman Bates has been growing on me and I think he finally makes his break in this episode. The whole mystery of the Chinese sex slaves got an added twist here and it results in one heck of a cliffhanger. The show does well depicting the mental breakdown of Norman's, but the sexual overtones of the show continues. As you might remember, the premiere showed a very gruesome rape scene to Norma and here, we have Norman fantasizing his English teacher in various forms of bondage. Yeah, Norman is messed up. The relationship between Norma and Norman continues to get weirder and the relationship between Norman and Dylan actually gets a little tender when Norman tells Dylan that he cannot recall almost killing him with a meat cleaver.

In this episode, "What's Wrong with Norman," Norman is taken to the hospital after he faints during his English test after thinking about all these fantasies about his teacher. The tests come back negative, but Norma refuses to allow Norman to stay the night. Sheriff Romero and his deputies issues a warrant to search the premises, but apparently Norman kept Summer's belt. Dylan has a new job guarding a marijuana field, the same field that Norman and Emma discovered previously. Emma is obsessed with the marijuana field and Chinese sex slave mystery. She claims the sketch book they found showing what was going on is actually real thanks to a Chinese symbol they discovered in one of the rooms of the motel. Finally, we learn that Deputy Shelby may not be the person he seems as he may be holding on to a horrifying secret.

I really liked this episode. This episode is where we see for the first time that Norman is not in the right state of mind as we can clearly see the darkness that is within him. The one scene that pops into my mind is when he rages at Emma after she suggest they go to the police after they discover the sketch book and the symbol. It was really scary, and it all works thanks to Highmore's great performance. I did not buy his performance much at first, but this episode proves he might have the chops to pull this off. That cliffhanger the episode leaves us on is a dandy and it makes us wonder what will happen next.

My Grade: A-
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Shampoo (1975)
7/10
A Disappointment!
17 January 2019
Shampoo was a major disappointment for me. It had a fantastic cast headlined by Warren Beatty and Julie Christie whom both worked so well together previously in McCabe and Mrs. Miller. It had a great director in Hal Ashby who directed other critically well-received works such as Harold and Maude and Coming Home. The script was written by Robert Towne, who wrote what some critics call the best screenplay of all time with 1974's Chinatown. The movie was promised as a black comedy with political farce and it was quite the daring, edgy movie for a 1975 release. So if you add up these ingredients, this movie has to be good, right? Unfortunately, there were problems. Enough problems to make me wonder how on earth did this film get nominated for four Academy Awards. Well, let's talk about these issues more in-depth.

I did not think the movie was especially funny. There were some amusing moments for sure, but I never laughed or even chuckled the way I was meant to. Towne's script left something to be desired especially after what he did with Chinatown. I can admire what he was shooting for, but the film wasn't satirical enough. The setting of the movie was 1968 when Richard Nixon was just about to enter office, and the film was released shortly after Watergate and the resignation of Nixon. I know the whole thing was supposed to be a farce on that administration, but it was not sharp enough. I generally had no issues with the acting, but the characters are so unlikable. Warren Beatty just played a man using women for sex, including with a teenage girl and I was just thinking ugh to myself. The movie came out in a different time period, but man women are not portrayed well. They just want to be laid. Every.....single......woman it seems. That gives the movie an awfully dated look.

George (Warren Beatty) works as a hairdresser for a living. He is a mid-30's man who swoons over his customers in the shop and in bed. His girlfriend is Jill (Goldie Hawn), a wannabe actress and naïve to her man's sexual habits. Her best friend is Jackie (Julie Christie) who happened to have a previous relationship with George so of course she knows better. She currently is having an affair with an older businessman named Lester (Jack Warden) who happens to be the guy with connections when it comes to George starting his own salon and needing financial resources to do so. Lester's wife, Felicia (Lee Grant) happens to be a regular customer of George's and she wants sex with him because she has been deprived of sex. Then just because, George begins sexual interactions with Lorna, Lester's daughter. Of course, all of these sexual affairs will come to a collision for George.

The performances are fine, although I did particularly love any character. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie apparently love working together, and they do have great chemistry. Jack Warden is quite sinister as Lester. Lee Grant actually won an Oscar for her role here, and whether she deserves it or not is up in the air. However, I shall not deny that she gives the best performance of the film. Also, keep an eye out for Carrie Fisher as young Lorna. She delivers a very capable performance in this role before Star Wars rocketed her to fame.

I wish I could have liked Shampoo more than I did. There were some good intentions, but the movie did not deliver the promised goods. The ending was also weak and messy. Solid performances, a great soundtrack (that features The Beatles and Buffalo Springfield to name a few), and a few amusing moments are not enough to save this movie. It's not a complete, utter failure, but that line is in plain sight. How the movie was received well during awards season goes beyond me, but movies are subjective so that's that.

My Grade: C-
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