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Some of it's geeky but some of it's nerdy too
Body of Evidence (1992)
Uli Edel's entry in the erotic thriller subgenre of the 1990s is one of the worst of its kind. First off, there's Madonna's unfortunate performance, which is both wooden and lifeless, which makes the central conflict rather uninteresting. Then again, given Brad Mirman's atrocious screenplay, no one can really blame her because not even Meryl Streep could make her stiff lines sound natural. Then, there's Willem Dafoe in the lead role: Dafoe is a strong character actor but he's not exactly anyone's idea of a studly leading man, so the sex scenes end up more awkward than enticing. While we're on the topic of sex scenes, it's astounding that Mirman treats the subject of sex with feverish intensity but seems to have done no research regarding BDSM practices, so the "kinky" sex here is mostly just boring and off-putting. Add in a plot that manages to throw in misogyny and homophobia, not to mention Edel's somnambulant directorial style and Doug Milsome's ugly cinematography, and you're left with a worthless erotic thriller that's neither erotic nor thrilling.
Wanda Sykes: Not Normal (2019)
Being unfamiliar with Wanda Sykes as a comedian (beyond some talk show appearances here and there), I ventured into this comedy special with no expectations, and walked away thinking it was perfectly fine, with a number of stand-out lines and jokes. Sykes herself is a likable screen personality and her material is strong and prescient, but at the same time this hour-long special never fully comes alive. There's something rather reductive about focusing so much of her comedy on one target, namely American President Donald Trump, because so much about the current administration is low-hanging fruit, although judging by the rapturous response Sykes receives from her audience it's obvious that there's an element of catharsis for all involved. However, as much as I found a lot of it very funny, I also grew tired of the topic long before other topics come up.
This direct sequel to 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger" is just about as good as its predecessor: Fans of the original will find more of the same to enjoy, while non-fans won't be won over any more than they were the first time around. Me, I'm somewhere in between: I appreciated the original but found that, without Chris Evans in the title role, the movie would be rather long-winded and, well, kind of boring. Luckily he's still on hand to deliver some good-natured one-liners and kick some ass along the way, and he's surrounded by an able cast of newcomers and veterans that provide plenty of well-acted drama to keep the story moving along. Robert Redford is rather wasted in a prominent role, but luckily Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo and returning star Sebastian Stan provide robust support in meaty supporting parts. The special effects are strong of course, as are the visual design and sound mixing, although at well over two hours the movie unfortunately overstays its welcome, but getting there are a number of cool segments (in particular the glass elevator scene).
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
One of the weakest of the Marvel movies, "Thor: The Dark World" is blessed with its performers' charisma, who manage to make the most out of an otherwise forgettable plot. Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman are reunited here, but their chemistry is rather lacking this time around - luckily, Tom Hiddleston is around, doing the majority of the dramatic heavy lifting and he's fantastic as usual, while everyone else has a number of moments to shine as well. But unfortunately, the story is a dud: With unmemorable villains and too much going on at once, it's hard to develop much interest in the proceedings, but at least the A-listers seem to be enjoying themselves, which goes a long way towards selling the otherwise underwhelming narrative. Even an inferior Marvel movie has a number of selling points - namely, special effects and a crowd-pleasing formula that's nicely tweaked here and there - so it's not a complete waste of time, but it's not exactly a gem either.
A League of Their Own (1992)
Penny Marshall's tribute to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is one of the most entertaining crowd-pleasers of the 1990s. Geena Davis and Lori Petty are perfectly cast as sisters who join the league and discover a life outside of the limited possibilities afforded to them by 1940s society, and they're surrounded by an extraordinarily talented all-star cast that make the most out of every scene. Among many stand-outs, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell make a great pair, with lived-in chemistry that allows both performers to relax and play off each other with ease. Additionally, the first-class editing by Adam Bernardi and George Bowers manages to establish an overall pace and mood that are well complimented by the first-rate score and use of music, in particular Madonna's "This Used to Be My Playground" and Carole King's "Now and Forever." It runs out of steam a bit in the last twenty minutes or so, but getting there is a delight.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013)
PopCultureThoughtsDotCom (Season 6)
The long-running sitcom's move from Fox to NBC happens extremely smoothly in this sixth season, with the long-established characters and dynamics arriving intact. If you didn't know about the network shift you wouldn't be able to tell based on what's on screen - it's one of the most remarkable things about the show's success at existing on its own terms that no off-screen drama or personas have impacted the show's extremely pleasant lightness, and the show has always managed to maintain its internal consistency (even when it shakes up its own formula, as it has a number of times over the course of its run). The ensemble cast is still as great as ever, with each having a number of stand-out lines, and it's great to see increased screentime for hilarious duo Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller as Scully and Hitchcock.
Iron Man Three (2013)
I'm not sure what it is, but there's something missing from "Iron Man 3." Maybe it's that Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark barely seems like himself here, with his aggressive charms muted for the most part to make room for the overstuffed-yet-underwhelming plot. There's also the perpetual problem of Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts, who doesn't seem like the same character here, with Paltrow's performance changing gears from scene to scene with no cohesion or narrative arc. But the biggest problem seems to be the weak villainous threat, with Guy Peace making a negligible villain and a wasted Ben Kingsley left to wander aimlessly in a sitcom-grade secondary plot that's poorly deployed. The special effects are surprisingly underwhelming for the most part, which is especially glaring in the never-ending climax. It's not bad per se, it's just not that great, and is missing the formulaic-but-effective Marvel charm that's propelled a number of weak storylines past the finish line so far.
Further Tales of the City (2001)
This miniseries adaptation of Armistead Maupin's third "28 Babary Lane" book series entry is much stronger than its predecessor, 1998's underwhelming "More Tales of the City." This time, the show's filming location of Montreal (substituting for San Francisco, which plays an integral part of the book series) isn't as distracting thanks to the narrative's location-hopping, and it also helps that the plot is stronger. The "Jonestown" angle initially seems peculiar but over the course of three hours the show manages to sell it rather well, highlighting its baffling, absurd horror by integrating it as an absurd, "soap opera"-level development. The ensemble acting is strong as usual, with Sandra Oh making a great addition and a returning Jackie Burroughs stealing scenes left and right as the colorful Mother Mucca. The ending - which directly alludes to the approaching holocaust of AIDS circa 1981 - is powerfully bittersweet, which brings the series full circle from the thrill of 1970s liberation to the encroaching terror and never-ending grief of the modern plague of the 1980s.
History of Horror (2018)
PopCultureThoughts.Com (Season 1)
AMC's seven-episode docu-series about, well, the history of horror hits just about all the right notes. Divided into six categories over seven episodes, the show covers ghosts, demons, slashers, vampires, creatures and zombies with clarity and succinctly articulated ideas, thanks to a generous amount of footage from the movies themselves augmented by an intriguing array of talking head interviews. While many of the participating interviews are some of the usual suspects (including Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephen King and Mick Garris, among others), it's interesting that producer-creator-host Eli Roth has chosen a diversity of unique voices, and it gives the series compelling, wide-ranging perspectives on all things horror. It's a good place for non-fans to get acquainted with the various themes running through the genre over the decades, while genre fans will find plenty to appreciate.
Basic Instinct (1992)
It's very hard to figure out whether "Basic Instinct" is a big-budget B-movie with retrograde attitudes towards women's sexuality, or a quasi-meta parody of one. Either way, Paul Verhoeven's famously sleazy blockbuster is unlike anything else, and for that reason alone it's worth a watch for cinema fans. Sharon Stone's star-making performance is just as captivating today as it was upon original release: It's like Stone is playing Catherine Tramell as Madonna, and it's hard to ever take her character seriously because she only exists as a manifestation of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas' insecurities about women. Speaking of the screenplay, it's one of the laziest around, treating the titillation of sexuality with all the maturity of a giggly teenager, but Verhoeven makes the whole thing interesting by going doubling down on the screenplay's trashy excess, and the finished product is an often-shockingly graphic, charismatically acted potboiler that proudly wears its artifice on its sleeve.
Bob's Burgers (2011)
PopCultureThoughts.Com (Season 7)
Another terrific season in the hilarious, long-running sitcom, Season 7 continues the show's streak of consistently strong, impeccably written episodes and first-rate voice work. As per usual, there are no weak episodes to be found throughout, and instead we're blessed with a number of highlights, like "Sea Me Now" (which manages to develop Teddy's character without sacrificing his random aloofness), "The Last Gingerbread House on the Left," and my personal favorite, "Ex Mach Tina." Towards the end of the season, we're treated to "Paraders of the Lost Float," which is not just hilariously written but also pushes the characterization for Bob even further, and reveals new depths to an already-strongly established character. There are very few shows that are as funny and entertaining as "Bob's Burgers," let alone manage to do so across seven seasons (so far), and that alone is a distinction that demarcates the show among its peers.
More Tales of the City (1998)
Released almost five years after the groundbreaking 1993 miniseries, this adaptation of Armistead Maupin's second entry in the "28 Barbary Lane" book series is not nearly as addictive and charming as its predecessor. It's clear that, despite being set in San Francisco, this was actually shot in Montreal, which is a strange choice for a series that's as much about the city as it is about its characters. To add to the tonal disconnect, some of the actors from the first series are back but others have been re-cast, and it's completely distracting - in particular, Nina Siemaszko replaces Chloe Webb as Mona, and seems to be playing a different character altogether, and the final result is perplexing and inconsistent. Additionally, Marcus D'Amico, who originally played Michael in the 1993 series, is replaced by Paul Hopkins, who imbues the character with far too much confidence, flying in the face of how the character is actually written. Add to this a series of strange plot developments that aren't as fun or clever as we're expected to believe, and the final result is so-so at best.
Addams Family Values (1993)
This sequel to the famous 1991 adaptation is even better than its predecessor. The first one was fine, but here, everything is tighter: The performances are more confident, the editing is judicious, the one-liners are sharper, and it feels like there's a lot less plot, which lets the audience comfortably enjoy the show. Among the returning cast members, Christina Ricci emerges as the MVP, bringing a stinging humanity to Wednesday that is routinely - and hilariously - undercut by her darker-than-dark countenance. Joan Cusack makes for a wonderful addition as Debbie Jellinsky, cast against type as a bombshell and delivering the kind of manic comedic performance that stands out even among the more seasoned cast. The summer camp Thanksgiving pageant and the tango scene between Gomez and Morticia are sure to light up anyone's face.
From beginning to end, "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" is the type of sequel that hits the ground running from the beginning, and never stops to catch its breath for the entirety of its running time. Although 2014's "Godzilla" was deliberately paced and character-oriented, it was held back from greatness by its lack of interesting characters, which is course-corrected here, thanks to the presence of a veritable cornucopia of dependable character actors. Additionally, the movie is much more interested in showing off its internal universe and the expensive-looking CGI that make it come alive than its predecessor, and it's truly awe-inspiring in many shots. The battle scenes between the monsters are absolutely riveting, with director Michael Dougherty gleefully throwing everything at the audience except the kitchen sink, and some of the movie's shots are so well staged that they could be paintings (Mothra's first ascension and Ghidorah's electrical take-over in particular). In many ways the movie feels like a response to the criticisms surrounding its predecessor, and while I enjoy the original, I can see how Dougherty's cranked up sequel is much more of a crowd-pleaser.
It's particularly relevant that this mid-level indie is set in the 1990s, because it's exactly the type of the New York-based independent movie that could easily have starred Parker Posey or Christina Ricci during the era. Luckily, director Gillian Robespierre is blessed with an extraordinarily talented cast that brings the rather thin story to life, in particular lead Jenny Slate. Slate, reuniting with Robespierre after 2014's excellent "Obvious Child" delivers a natural, charming and emotionally resonant performance, walking a tight balance between flippancy and insight without betraying her character, and she's a delight to watch every step of the way. Edie Falco and John Turturro also deliver strong performances as her distracted parents, while Abby Quinn and Jay Duplass each have a number of standout moments. Overall it's an extremely well-acted little slice of life that has a lot to say about the nature of relationships, either parental or romantic, and it's a pleasure to see so many talented performers together in one project.
I'm not a fan of reality TV so I'm not 100% sure how "My Life on the D-List" stacks up against others of its ilk, but as a casual viewer it's surprisingly entertaining and often poignant. Kathy Griffin's brand of comedy is certainly not for everyone, but even non-fans can find plenty to enjoy here, as Griffin's inner circle (including, at various times, her husband, her parents, assistants and colleagues, among others) is filled with interesting, funny people, and that camaraderie makes all six seasons of this Bravo show entertaining. The first three seasons are the strongest, with Griffin's heavy workload bringing the show to various different events and cities, and while the show starts to run out of steam by the last few seasons, it's still a lot of fun to watch. Some of the show's highlights include Griffin performing for American troops in Iraq, auctioning off a weekend at her house to raise money for charity, and Griffin's various hosting duties on the Grammy and Academy Award red carpet shows.
The Addams Family (1991)
Barry Sonnenfeld's famous adaptation of the Charles Addams comic hasn't aged particularly well, although it's still a lot of fun. The sets and costume design are first-rate throughout, marking the movie with a distinct visual identity that's downright Tim Burtonesque. However, it's the casting that makes the movie work: Everyone is extraordinarily well-cast, in particular Raoul Julia and Anjelica Huston as Gomez and Morticia, and a star-making turn by a young Christina Ricci as Wednesday. The movie's a bit too plot-heavy to be consistently fun, and there are scenes here and there that never quite register as well as they should, but it's worth a shot thanks to the performances and art design, not to mention the legendary, effective music that'll have even a curmudgeon snapping their fingers along.
The infamous Lizzie Borden story, wherein the thirtysomething society woman brutally murdered her parents with an ax, gets the indie film treatment here, and it's an impressively layered thriller that registers a lot of suspense and pathos despite the familiarity of its story. Chloe Sevigny gives one of her most effective performances in the title role, bringing a severity and enigmatism to the role, and she's well supported by an excellent Kristen Stewart, who does some extraordinary work as the family maid who gets involved with Lizzie. There's a lot of chemistry between the two actresses, and they're surrounded by first-rate supporting performances by Jamey Sheridan and Denis O'Hare. More than half of the movie is set in the Borden house, and director Craig William Macneill makes tremendous use of the limited space, allowing the viewer to feel Lizzie's oppression and desperation, and the movie benefits from an effectively unnerving score.
Wine Country (2019)
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why "Wine Country" doesn't work nearly as well as it should. Maybe it's that the screenplay isn't all that interesting, and that most of the movie's best moments seem improvised. Maybe it's that there's a lot of forced melodrama that doesn't really add much, but forces you to think about how the movie isn't working as much as it wants to. Either way, despite a dream cast of hilarious performers, first-time director (and co-star) Amy Poehler seems lost here: There are many strange and distracting shots and frames, while plot points are introduced then dropped as though they didn't happen, and you're left wondering if some shots ended up on the cutting room floor. Poehler has palpable reverence for her cast but can't seem to get a firm grasp of narrative continuity, which makes the characters feel artificial and paper-thin, overly relying on each performer's personal charm and natural charisma. Paula Pell has a number of terrific moments, as does Maya Rudolph, but even the funniest laughs here are negligible. Overall it's not that great but it's not terrible, it's just sort of mediocre, which is terribly disappointing given the pedigree in front of the camera.
Isn't It Romantic (2019)
This meta romantic comedy manages to avoid becoming too cutesy or twee by putting its leading lady front and centre and letting her do most of the heavy lifting. In one of her first leads, Rebel Wilson manages to expand her persona beyond her lovable, offbeat sensibilities without straying too far from them, striking a delicate balance between more of the same and a taking a step forward as a performer. She's surrounded by first-rate comedic talent all around, from Liam Hemsworth to Betty Gilpin to an all-too-brief appearance by Jennifer Saunders, but it's Wilson's chemistry with co-star Adam Devine that gives the movie its emotional center. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and stand-out segments, including a jubilant and exuberant climactic re-enactment of Madonna's "Express Yourself" that would have even a curmudgeon taping their toes.
The Avengers (2012)
Despite its oversized running time, "The Avengers" is populist entertainment at its finest. All the elements that make up a crowd-pleasing blockbuster are here: There are the lovable characters played by charming movie stars, the snappy rat-tat-tat dialogue, the truly breathtaking special effects, and the sheer size of the entire project. From beginning to end, this feels like an event unfolding, and its hard to accomplish that kind of exciting, bombastic tone and extend even to non-devotees like myself. Luckily Joss Whedon is in full command of the medium here, deploying a truly impressive array of all-around technical and filmmaking talents that are well-matched by a superstar cast blessed with both acting chops and movie star charisma. For most of its running time it's a lot of fun, but in the last half hour it becomes a downright floor-shaking spectacle that showcases extraordinary CGI and sound effects in every frame.
For the first half, this Marvel superhero movie feels like something a little different and fresh for its brethren. It's got the same snappy, fast-paced feel of the other Marvel entries but it's refreshingly distinguished by its 1940s setting. The more it goes on, however, it starts to feel like a generic entry no better or worse than 2008's good-but-not-great "The Incredible Hulk." Like "Hulk," it's got a weak villain - here it's Hugo Weaving, who spends half his time snivelling his lines while under largely underwhelming makeup design, and in the process robs the movie of any momentum. Luckily, Chris Evans is extraordinarily well-cast in the title role, bringing an all-American charm backed up by solid acting chops that make the movie go by a little faster. It's not that it's bad, it's that in just rather ho-hum, which is disappointing for a movie universe so grand.
Having never seen Beavis and Butt-Head's MTV show, I can't offer much insight on how the show translates to the big screen, but what I do know is that "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America" is a whole lot of undemanding fun. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and interactions throughout and the plot is absolutely bonkers in the best possible way, and the movie's short running time (clocking in at barely over 80 minutes) means the whole thing goes by fast. The voice work by Mike Judge as the two titular characters is extraordinary, managing to establish clear, distinct personalities rather quickly, and there are a number of celebrity voice cameos that stand out, in particular Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, who both sound like they're having fun. The movie's style of non-sequitur humor is hit-or-miss, but if you're looking for a funny, entertaining movie, you could do a lot worse.
The UFO Incident (1975)
Based on the true story of Barney and Betty Hill's alleged abduction in the 1960s, this made-for-television account benefits from the participation of leads James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons, even as the rest is forgettable pablum at best. The narrative is effectively propelled by the lurid, headline-grabbing nature of its story, but mostly it's a chance for Jones and Parsons to tear into their roles with dedication and gusto. But the movie itself is rather boring and often silly, in particular the flashback showing the events of the night in question, which seems like a subpar "Star Trek" episode that would have been childish and tame even in the 1960s. It's interesting that much of the dialogue is lifted directly from the Hills themselves and it gives the actors a chance to deploy some impressive chops, but ultimately the whole thing is a slow trek to nowhere.
Janeane Garofalo: If I May (2016)
To call Janeane Garofalo's hour-long special "comedy" would be a disservice to comedy itself. After all, even Garofalo herself refers to this as more of a lecture than a stand-up act, but even that's too lofty, given that it's little more than an hour-long rant about nothing in particular. Going from one topic to another with no discernible pattern or structure, not to mention any jokes or astute observations, Garofalo seems uncomfortable and disinterested throughout, which is a damn shame because she's usually a fascinating presence. Here however, there's nothing to go on: Her consistently disagreeable and caustic countenance precludes any rapport with the audience, and her material is not clever nor insightful despite her heightened vocabulary. It's all just a lot of self-righteous hot air not unlike latter-day Louis CK, and makes its 60ish-minute running time feel like an eternity.