Archive for the 'movie releases' Category

14
Dec
16

#33. The Wild Bunch (1969)

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Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Robert Ryan, and Edmond O’Brien

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

The Short, Short Version:

Holden is Pike, an Old West gang leader living in a time coming to a close. After a small-town bank heist is found to be a setup him and his gang (Borgnine, Johnson, Oates among them) make their way to Mexico. On their trail is Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), a former gang member who worked with Pike before being captured. Now in the employ of the railroad Thornton has 30 days to capture Pike using a ragtag group of come-alongers interested in the money. Pike strikes a deal with a Mexican General named Mapache for a load of 16 guns. Pike must keep his own crew together while getting the guns and not getting caught by Thornton. However, the General has some plot twists of his own…

Why This Made the Top 40:

I remember first buying the DVD from a Wal-Mart rack in Carbondale, IL while being in school there. One of my friends, Jason H., was emphatic. “There are like 300 Mexicans that die in one scene alone! It’s the bloodiest movie ever made.” I took it back to my dorm room, threw the disc into my computer, and watched it from my computer screen. Loved it. The final showdown scene was everything he said it was.

It’s been a few years since I’ve watched the film and now I have a 4k TV. Plasma aside, Warner Bros. did a great job transferring the film to blu-ray. For the most part it looks amazing. Sure, sometimes the excessive clouds of dust and smoke seem a little flat but overall the deep focus of the film makes it feel vibrant. One could complain about this and the sound being a little flat but it was a product of its time. Maybe one day it’ll all be cleared up but until then this transfer is a good enough one.

As for the film itself it turned me onto more of Peckinpah’s work. I almost considered “Major Dundee” and “Straw Dogs” but in the end I came back to “The Wild Bunch.” I do also recommend “The Getaway.” “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” not so much.

14
Dec
16

#34. THX 1138 (1971)

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Starring Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, and Maggie McOmie

Directed by George Lucas

The Short, Short Version:

It’s some point in the future and everyone has a shaved head, wears white, and is on drugs for everything to avoid human emotion. THX 1138 (Duvall) repairs androids and lives with a female roommate LUH (McOmie), who switches some of his pills for hers. The result is a spiral from them having sex and being caught, to a “watcher” named SEN (Pleasence) trying to force THX to be his roommate, to LUH being pregnant, to THX being “taken away” to stay with other “undesirables.”

Why This Made the 40:

I have always wanted to watch this movie. While in film school at SIU-C I had viewed the original student-film version, “Electronic Boutique,” which I thought was interesting. This seems as if first-time director Lucas was taking jabs at California culture or maybe prophecizing Big Pharma. Either way it’s an interesting treatise on societal disconnection not unlike “Brave New World.”

I watched the “Director’s Cut” version and from what I can tell as compared to the original there are more effects that Lucas tried to “blend in” with what he shot at that time. It makes for a funky looking film, but not in a bad way. It’s not the greatest sci-fi movie you’ll watch but it’s not the worst either.

11
Dec
16

#35. Hero (2002)

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Starring Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung

Directed by Zhang Yimou

The Short, Short Version:

Set in the time before the Great Wall of China, Jet Li is the Nameless Man who’s not too different than Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name.” China is divided into seven warring factions and Nameless approaches the Emperor Qin claiming his victories over master fighters Broken Sword, Sky, and Flying Snow. Upon speaking with Qin he relays the stories of how he beat all three. What we’re then treated to is three stories about how it all went down. The real reason behind the assassinations and Qin’s fate unravel as the tales unfold.

Why This Made the 40:

I had never watched it before this week. I remember someone saying that I would like it, giving it to me, and I can’t remember who. Did I like it? Sure. I think I didn’t watch it when it came out due to thee fact that I’m just not a big person on fantasy stories; kinda pick-and-choose. I did go to a theatre and watch, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and wasn’t really all that impressed. It looked nice but too much “wire-fu” and the story wasn’t all that great. Again, my opinion.

This time around being removed from the early aughts wire-fu movement I can say that I enjoyed the film. It pays homage to a few other films you may know. I mentioned earlier that Li’s character reminded me of the old Sergio Leone Clint Eastwood character. Aside from that there are a few references back to Kurasowa’s, “Rashomon,” in story structure and the fight with Broken Sword. At one point in the film (minor spoiler) a calligraphy teacher’s in a building being hit by multitudes of arrows. He commands his students to stay in their places as he is. Sitting cross-legged on the floor arrows fly around him much like the retired Emperor in, “Ran.” I’m sure there are several more references in this film.

Again, I’m not a huge fan of Asian cinema but every now and then there’s one I like. For it’s breathtaking scenery and mis en scene, “Hero,” is an incredibly beautiful movie. I actually went looking for it on Blu-ray as I only have the DVD version which is constantly grainy/pixelated. The one advantage to having the DVD version is that the original Mandarin Chinese 5.1 DTS sound mix is incredible while the video is, unfortunately, lackluster. Meanwhile the word is that the Blu-ray looks incredible while unfortunately the DTS 5.1 mix is the English dubbed version. Apparently, it’s one or the other…

08
Dec
16

#36. The Tragedy of MacBeth (1971)

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Starring Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, and Terence Bayler.

Directed by Roman Polanski

The Short, Short Version:

Finch is MacBeth, the Scottish Thane of Glam who happens upon three witches who tell him that he’ll be the new Thane of Cawdor as well as the King of Scotland. Next thing he knows he IS the Thane of Cawdor as well but once King Duncan’s son Malcolm is crowned Prince MacBeth is less about redemption and more about retribution as he kills Duncan and becomes King. Following the Despot’s Guide to Complete Rule he sets to murder anyone else who may be able to claim the throne from him. One last trip to the witches gives him the prophecy, “… till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane,” which boggles and infuriates him but faster than you can say, “Ides of March,” MacBeth is overturned and beheaded.

Why This Made the 40:

In what also feels a lifetime ago it was a pick by my high school senior English teacher, Mr. Gleaves. Usually Shakespeare’s stuff feels stilted (c’mon… how many times do you use “thane,” or “thee,” or thou sayest?” without some sense of mockery?) but watching it on a 13” TV suspended from the ceiling I was transfixed. This was what Shakespeare was at its core – dark, bloody, gritty, dirty, and violent. I would later happen upon the reason for that – Polanski directed the movie following the murder of his wife, model Sharon Tate. For those of you who don’t know Polanski was in a relationship with Tate who, on a certain fateful night, became a victim of slaying by the followers of Charles Manson. Manson sent his followers to a house that was initially owned by a certain record producer who Manson wanted dead but was since sold to another person. Manson’s followers didn’t know the difference and murdered everyone there. Polanski, grief-stricken, decided to plunge himself back into his work. Playboy owner and founder Hugh Hefner, feeling sorry for the death of Tate, assisted in bankrolling/producing the movie. Polanski’s hurt, anger, pain, and rage are reflected in the film and, knowing that, gives a context to the violence on screen. I recommend this film not as a celebration of a tragedy but as a darkly personal catharsis wrapped in a Shakespearean tragedy. It’s not the grass on the ground but the dirt and worms underneath. Forget any of the Hammer film sets or anything Kenneth Branagh put out – this is the must watch.

08
Dec
16

#37. Rio Bravo (1959)

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Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Ward Bond, and Angie Dickinson

Directed by Howard Hawks

The Short, Short Version:

John Wayne is John T. Chance, sheriff of an old West town who, with the help of his deputy and drunken friend “Dude” (Dean Martin) locks in jail local bad guy Pat Wheeler (Bond). Unfortunately Wheeler is part of the Burdette gang which all but runs the town. While they plot Pat’s escape it’s up to Chance and the Dude along with an older, crippled deputy named Stumpy (Walter Brennan) and a young gunslinger named Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson) to “hold the fort” at the jail until Federal Marshals can arrive.

Why This Made the 40:

In what feels like an eon ago I had a film class called Film as Literary Art which was taught by a British guy named Tony Hawk. I can still remember how distinct his voice was. That aside, our syllabus covered the films of Howard Hawks and this made the class (as well as Wayne’s, “Hitari!”). While I only became a moderate fan of Hawks’ work I did come away with movies I greatly appreciated such as “Rio Bravo.”

I think one of the reasons I like, “Rio Bravo,” so much is that I’m a sucker for tales of redemption. I was talking with a friend of mine recently whom I let borrow films and I didn’t realize that was an underlying theme – redemption. The characters have to all redeem themselves in some way – Dude goes from being an alcoholic to sober to clean himself out and up. Colorado Ryan and Stumpy want to prove their worth. John Chance gets another chance at love. Redemption.

Also, Hawks treated “Rio Bravo” not as a Western movie but a hybrid between the morally-conscious prior films such as “High Noon,” and TV Westerns such as “Maverick,” “Lawman,” etc. It’s entertainment with action, adventure, romance, suspense, and comedy – one of those rare blended-films of the genre which makes this movie actually fun to watch. It’s a half-popcorn, half-morality tale cinematic adventure.

And it’s got Dino (Martin). What’s not great about this movie?

21
Jul
16

Phone’s Ringin’: Ghostbusters Review

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I ain’t afraid of no Class Four apparitions…

Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth. Directed by Paul Feig

There are three tiers to remakes. Tier One consists of the ambivalent – remakes that someone at the studio green-lit because they were cheap to do. Very few people went to see the original movie and even fewer went to see the remake (or even KNEW it was a remake). Tier Two consists of the Endeared – those remakes that quite a few people saw Round One and who may or may not go to see the remake. Did “X” actor who starred in the original show up as the cabbie/old neighbor/guy at the bar/person espousing a quote? How much did it differ from the original? Do I like it better than the other(s)? These questions surround the production of the remake whether it’s “Gone In 60 Seconds,” “Sorcerer,” “Crimson Tide,” “Conan the Barbarian,” “Total Recall,” “Judge Dredd,” etc. These are give/take movies and some prefer the remakes to the original and vice-versa. Finally, Tier Three – the Sacred. These are films which are slated for remake that the viewing public has put on a pedestal or elevated to such a height that no matter what the act of remaking the story is heresy. While I have not (presently) heard of any proposed remakes of “Green Mile” or “Shawshank Redemption” the viewing public has such a reverence for them that the jury has already decided before the trial has begun. Such is/was the case with the new “Ghostbusters” film. A collected confabulation makes us forget “Ghostbusters 2.” Or the animated series. Or Dan Akyroyd showing up in “Casper.” Or the video game. Like being delivered a gift from the top of the mountain fanboys have set the original as not the bar, but the rule with no exceptions. I am here to tell you this:

It was a fun movie. Get over it.

If you already hate the movie without seeing it there’s no way you’re going to have your opinion swayed. Here’s the rundown (*Spoilers ahead*)

Erin (Kristen Wiig) is a college professor working on achieving her tenure when the owner of a historical house (Ed Begley, Jr.) confronts her about her past. Specifically, that Erin co-wrote a book about ghosts with her then-friend/college roomie Abby (Melissa McCarthy). Peeved that Abbie broke her promise to never release the book to the public Erin pays her a visit.

We find Abby as part McCarthy schtick/part-Akyroyd and Ramis. She knows the science and believes in what she’s doing. Her cohort in crime in Jillian (McKinnon) is equal parts Akyroyd, Ramis, and Jeff Goldblum; she’s the engineering geek counterpart. Erin mentions the haunted historic house and all three are well on their way to experiencing their first ghost. After Erin’s professional reputation is destroyed via YouTube the three decide to form a ghost-searching alliance making their office in the floor above a Chinese restaurant (they couldn’t afford the firehouse). Along the way they hire on secretary/clerk Kevin (Hemsworth) and MTA worker Patty (Jones) who “knows New York.” Meanwhile, a hotel deskhop named Rowan (Neil Casey) is using Abby and Erin’s research to create a vortex of malevolent spirits to enslave the Big Apple.

Love it or hate it is the simplicity of the story. There are no real sub-stories; no love interests, no ulterior motives. What I enjoyed about the movie was that, as one reviewer put it, “it’s everything a blockbuster movie should be,” and that is completely true. Nevermind the seemingly thin plot; it’s about having fun at the movies and this movie, above others I have seen this year (with the exception of “Deadpool”) was the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a while. The scene where the “Ghostbusters” go full action-movie slaying of ghosts is well warranted and worth it. In fact, McKinnon’s comically ambiguous character (and trust me, she’s pretty damn ambiguous) nearly steals the show. Nearly. Props go to Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor, Captain Kirk’s dad, etc.) who takes the stereotypical “dumb guy” seen in every-other female led film and plays it to the hilt; his interview scene alone is one of the funniest comedic interchanges I’ve ever watched. Doing this may allow more roles to open for him pending downtime from the Marvel movies. Wiig does a good enough job, McCarthy has toned-down her McCarthyism, and Leslie Jones doesn’t do too bad.

The main issue that plagues this movie, aside from the vitriol of purist fanboys, is the stigma “Ghostbusters” has attached to it. Had this been labeled anything else it would be the go-to movie of the summer. Sure, they do a few nods to the original but treat it with respect. Other than that the movie is cut-and-dried and as lean as possible which isn’t necessarily bad. Do I feel that this movie will have cinematic gravitas; ergo, that future generations will look at this film and raise it to the same pedestal as the original? No, but the sequel never hit that level either. And what of the fact that it may lead to more female-led remakes of other properties? Well, “Dracula” eventually had a black/African-American version called “Blacula.” “Barb Wire” was basically a remake of “Casablanca.” The Wayans Brothers even did their full-length remake of a Warner Brothers cartoon. Get over it; get a life.

Lastly, I will mention the spoiler of spoilers – yes, most of the cast from the original (sans Rick Moranis) make cameos ranging from a bust in a hallway to a noted parapsychologist trying to debunk their work, a cab driver, a hotel desk clerk, a funeral home owner and a mentoring scientist. I’ll let you figure out who is who.

My grade: C+/B-. It’s fun for the whole family.

30
Nov
15

Terminator: Genisys Is More Than a Land of Confusion

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Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emelia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, and J.K. Simmons. Directed by Alan Taylor

Gotta go back in time…

Having spent years growing up watching science fiction TV shows and movies I know most of the tropes and sub-genres: time-travel, aliens, special “powers,” body swapping, shrinking/supersizing people/animals, and the Fear of the Computer Overlords (among others). Time-travel and fear of technology have been the cornerstone of the “Terminator” franchise since the release of the first film in 1985. Everyone in my generation knows the story by heart: a restaurant waitress is unmercifully tracked down in (then) modern-day Los Angeles by a cyborg sent from the future to kill her, thus ceasing the human resistance. Her savior is a soldier by the name Kyle Reese sent from the future to protect and save her from the killing machine so she can give birth to the leader of the Resistance, one John Connor.

Before I go into detail about how this movie leaves the original two without a kiss, “thank you,” or Vaseline, let’s talk about time-travel. It’s difficult to get it right, even in the movies. The best example anyone can give would be the foreshadowed, “Back to the Future.” What if you went back in time, met your parents, and bungled them getting together? Also, how does one return to their present time in a DeLorean? “BTTF” looked at time as a singular string that you could remove yourself from and return to. “Back to the Future II” expanded on time-travel but changed aspects of time-travel to include alternate timelines (which is a subject for another day). Essentially, most movies of this type or trope bank on time itself being a single ribbon that only gets changed, not sprouting multiple other ribbons. Peppered down through the list are such films as “Millennium,” “TimeCop,” “Time Lapse,” “The Time Machine,” “Somewhere in Time,” “Predestination,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home,” “Galaxy Quest,” “Time After Time…” I literally could go on about them. In each case there is at least one question that, if asked, would unravel the logic of the movie in one fell swoop. For instance: in “Back to the Future” Marty’s parents abstaining from being together nearly wipes out him, his brother and sister. However in “Back to the Future II” Biff steals the DeLorean and goes back to 1955 to give his younger self Gray’s Sports Almanac, which leads to 1985 being ruled by Biff, but the 2015 Biff left from does not change around Marty, Jennifer, or Doc. Heavy. “Terminator: Genisys” is no exception.

Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

Okay, I’ve only watched the movie once so if it sounds confusing to you it’s even moreso when you watch the film. It’s the future and Resistance is fighting back against the SkyNet computer-controlled landscape. Humans are kept in pens like animals as the machines rule. Upon finding out plans for a new threat the Resistance is able to send back one soldier, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), to protect Sarah Connor from being terminated.

Got it? This is where the stories diverge.

After SkyNet sends back a T-100 resistance soldier Kyle Reese (Jason Clarke) jumps in to follow it back to 1984. Before leaving John Connor is compromised by a new type of Terminator. Upon arriving in 1984 Reese finds that his mission has now been changed: SkyNet sent back a Terminator to kill Sarah (Emelia Clarke) when she was 9 years old in 1973 and was saved by a reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger, reprising his role). Note: no mention of this occurs elsewhere in the movie. It’s now been 11 years since that has happened and she knows of the storyline and is waiting for Reese to show, which he does. Unbeknownst to them ANOTHER Terminator, a T-1000, was sent to kill Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor, and any other person or thing that would help the original storyline come true. Meanwhile, the T-100 Ah-nuld is walking around the Griffith Observatory naked and is confronted by T-800 Ah-nuld. A fight ensues and the T-100 is killed. One down…

Reese is saved by Sarah and the T-800. She quickly relays to him that the timeline has now been changed. She’s closer to the “T2” Linda Hamilton Sarah Connor than original waitress-turned- commando Hamilton. I guess training from the age of 9-forward to be a Resistance fighter IS a certain kind of Boot Camp… Sarah doesn’t want to tell Kyle they have to “get it on” in order for John Connor to be the leader of the Resistance and holds out most of the movie from letting him know. But that’s not important right now – they have to get to 2017. Reese has been having dreams that run on an alternate timeline and he’s being sent a message: destroy Genisys. Realizing it was a giant, time-sucking, all-encompassing software package across multiple platforms and used by desktops, tablets, and smartphones that would become sentient (sound familiar to anything?) they must know follow Reese’s pieces of dreams and be sent to 2017 San Francisco.

Arriving naked on a highway overpass in the middle of the night they are taken to the hospital and into custody where Detective O’Brien (Simmons) regales about meeting them in 1984. The T-800 is hunting them down only to be preceded by John Connor who went back to 2014. Why? Right as Reese was leaving a “new” Terminator grabbed Connor before wiping out the rest of the Resistance. The Machines were able to change John on a molecular level making him as much human as machine, but to do their bidding and what better way to do this than sending him back in time to a point where the technology was developing enough to create new Machines, etc. Now T-800 (“Pops”), Sarah, and Reese must not only save 2017, but the rest of the world.

Make sense? Maybe on paper but not really. “Genisys” is 1/3 nostalgia and 2/3 confusion. This “re-purposing” of the “Terminator” franchise is an exercise in futility. My “Bullshit!” meter went off so constantly that I just gave up trying to enjoy the film and waited for the ending to be played out. And what did we (as an audience) learn? Yes, you can save the day and tomorrow may be brighter but eventually the machines will kill us all. Hasn’t that been the moral of every one of the films?

Praise for Emilia Clarke in wanting to channel her inner “T2” Hamilton. She had a tough job to “reconstruct” and the only other person I see who could’ve came close would be an actress like Michelle Rodriguez. Jason Clarke as Kyle Reese is less intense and more stupefied and has little chemistry with Emilia. Jai Courtney is great as a more fully-realized John Connor and is the fifth actor to portray him. And Ah-nuld is… Arnold. He was having fun and cashing a check.

If you were reading into what I said above then here’s that point where “Terminator: Genisys” can be unraveled: if the machines had just sent the T-100 back for the first time, which was then followed by Kyle Reese being sent back (both to 1984), AND the new Terminator just took control of John Connor as Reese was out the door… when was the T-1000 sent to 1984? Or the Terminator sent to kill Sarah Connor in 1973? Or when did the Resistance get a T-800 reprogrammed to kill the T-100 sent back to 1973? Or when did… I’ll stop. You get the point.

My grade: a head-scratching WTF. Or, D. Recommendation: not really but if you want, Redbox/Netflix/cable watch it.