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Paranoid Park (2007)
Cue the sad Elliott Smith Music
A teen angst movie by way of River's Edge - a teen skateboarder becomes aloof and removed after becoming responsible for an accidental death. The movie doesn't do anything new, but it does decently capture a feeling of lonely emptiness, (way better than River's Edge, the '80's equivalent that felt more like Dawson's Creek), mostly do to Gus Van Sant's inclination to connect and sympathize with outsiders, rejects, and dissociated youth, as we see in Mala Noche, Elephant, Last Days, Drugstore Cowboy, etc. A good watch for a rainy overcast day when there's all else to do.
The Art of Self-Defense (2019)
The Foot-Fist Way
While the ending was a pleasant surprise, and comes off as a brilliantly executed punchline that almost makes the entire movie worth it, and the script was tight and well-structured, especially for such a minimalist movie, it doesn't save it from being a crummy home-video knock-off of Fight Club. Jesse Eisenberg, as bland and expressionless and one-note as ever, gets a thrashing, then goes to a dojo for self-defense lessons, run by a demented Sensei who takes a real shine to him. This movie does not warrant being an hour and forty-five minutes - if they just talked a bit faster and moved a bit faster, this could've been shortened by 20 minutes, much to this movie's benefit. I read that this was originally envisioned to be a comedy remake of the Karate Kid - and the least I can say - at least it's better than that movie. At least The Art was a smart script squandered on a nothing movie, as opposed to a board room product based on '80's children's trends. This is one that, given the reactions I'm seeing here, will probably achieve minor cult status, but overall, it's a witty joke with a good punch delivered in a droning monotone that goes on longer than it should.
Hard Rain (1998)
Maybe one of the worst movies of the late '90's
Featuring the talents of Christian Slater, Betty White, the most typical "I'm just here for the paycheck" Morgan Freeman (who is as out of place as the villainous bank robber as Tom Hanks was as a gangster in Road to Perdition or Matthew Brodrick as the cavalry commander in Glory) and Minnie Driver as the typical love-interest/sidekick that every studio product like this can't possibly live without. This watch-with-your-brain-shut-off direct-to-video (it did so poorly in American theaters it went direct-to-video in most other countries, couple that with the fact that it had a $70 mil. Dollar budget but looks like an HBO or EPIX original movie) '90's disaster idiocy, I mean movie, centers around a heist during a storm that floods everything and the 'novelty' is they have to get around by boat and avoid drowning (there's even a scene where they're water-skiing down a school hallway). The movie may have been slightly more tolerable had they had the decency to cut it down by removing all of Betty White's annoyingly screechy scenes. There's countless movie nonsense that others have already pointed out - how is the electricity still on in all the buildings when everything is flooded, why are they moving the money during the storm, the water is oddly clear of debris, etc. As is, this is what it might've looked like if you gave a teenage Michael Bay, or Joe Dante, a multi-million dollar playground.
Night of the Demons (1988)
The only thing frightening is the thought that anyone would like this
Hormonally-charged stock teens go into a cartoonishly abandoned house on Halloween night and spooks ensue. Stop me if you've heard this one before. That's it. That's the set-up and there's no punchline. Nothing to bring to the table, let alone anything new. At least there's brief flashes of nudity for pre-teen boys. It fits into the dead plastic mold of a really lazy latter-season episode of Tales from the Crypt, or yet another even worse unwarranted sequel to Fright Night. And to top it off, after the final girl unavoidably scorches the zombie army, and drives away come morning light, this cheap lazy low-rent home-video, being unable to help itself and itself being a zombie that has to follow every bland predictable genre convention, ends on one final ultra-flat eye-rolling Halloween gag. It almost feels like a half-baked companion piece to the Meatloaf song "Bat out of Hell", but without the least amount of enjoyment or desire to amount to anything. 0 / 10 stars.
Bamboozled might be one of the most fascinating terrible movies I've seen. You're essentially seeing Spike progressively have a complete breakdown over the course of 2 hours; every time you think this movie can't possibly go off the rails any further, it does just that. A televised modern-day Minstrel Show (conceived by it's creator to tank the reputability of the station he works for) becomes a huge ratings success, and eventually you have audiences showing up in blackface and a group scheming against it, culminating in a kidnapping plot. The movie looks like absolute s**t, shot on early 2000's digital cameras. It's painfully boring for long stretches, with really terrible after-school special scenes peppered thru-out that you pretty much have to skip. But is it fascinating; I was literally saying WTF out loud every few minutes with a huge incredulous grin on my face.
The least I can say is that it was relatively well-shot. Everyone else praises Daveed Diggs, I didn't care for him, but Rafael Cassell really stole the show, he was the highlight of the whole thing, comedic relief done right. There's nothing here you haven't already seen a hundred times over the past couple years - It just blurs together with all the other black message movies - The Hate U give, Beale Street, and this year's The Last Black Man in San Francisco (which I preferred over Blindspotting) and there's a lot of eye-rolling moments (the movie pauses at one point to give you the definition of the title), cringe-worthy parts (the black dude holds the cop at gunpoint towards the end while simultaneously rapping about it). Daveed Diggs, while driving one night, sees a black man gunned down by a cop and deals with the shock of that for the rest of the movie, struggling with a rightful paranoia of the cops - but the problem is, this was at least the fourth movie of that year to tackle this everyday problem. We see this over and over again, and this movie offers no variation on that theme, and delivers it the same way as all the rest; after a while, the message gets blunted thru such re-hashed over-exposure.
Black Panther (2018)
The early '70's gave us the Blaxploitation genre, and while most of those movies were really bad, they made up for it with attitude; those movies knew how to carry themselves (see William Marshall taking a goofy idea like Blacula and really selling it and even bringing dignity to the character). Those movies, even at their worst, had an indelible swagger. This, this is just a neutered pandering. Disney is trying to compensate for a century of dumb cartoons (Song of the South) targeted at a race with a dumb cartoon targeted at a race. The movie tries too hard without taking any chances - King T'chala is a PC Shaft for 10 year olds who don't know who Shaft is. This movie feels more patronizing than empowering. Empowering is seeing Jim Kelly in Three The Hard Way, Kung-Fu kicking the s**t out of a squad of cops in slo-mo. Here we have Americans and Englishmen doing African accents (I don't even know if they're accurate) in an idealized fantastical version of Africa where they're the most advanced because they happened to get an all-purpose element. The CGI is horrid. The premise is the ages-old half-siblings struggle over a throne. The Blaxploitation movies at least had a black authenticity to them - this is just empty weightless pixels.
Margin Call (2011)
A Long Never-Ending Legal Drama Episode
Guys in suits, a lot of boardroom meetings, low harsh tones; Spacey plays the broker with a conscience, indignant speeches, Jeremy Irons dead-pans with "It's just money"... I'll just say it, this was flat-out boring. Another reviewer helpfully pointed out that this isn't about the technical details, this movie focuses on the panicked psychology behind these financial meltdowns, when everybody within these institutions tries to dump everything all at once. That's well and all, but it didn't work for me. I preferred the technical breakdown of The Big Short, where they explain the actual concepts, language, how it's all stacked up, etc. That was fascinating, bolstered by Short's wry sense of humor, cutaway gags, visual flare, and other techniques that elevate it as a movie, as opposed to this movie's perfectly standard boring nothing kind of delivery which makes it feel like a long never-ending legal drama episode, or stage play. As a movie, it's like any and every other piece of media you've ever seen. Maybe someone in that profession might relate to it more than me, but I was painfully bored.
First Reformed (2017)
Watch Winter Light, the original movie this rips off, instead
What's most ironic is that the only Oscar nomination this movie received was for original screenplay, even though it's a full-on weak American remake of Ingmar Bergman's "Winter Light" and Robert Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest", only in Winter Light the character who comes with his wife to vent his neurotic concern to the priest, and who will eventually be found dead outside from a self-inflicted gunshot wound (shamelessly replicated in First Reformed in its entirety), worries about the then-topical threat of nuclear annihilation has now been updated in this movie for the current concern of climate change. A small town priest's faith deteriorates in the face . There. And after all's said and done, and the time is wasted, this movie just abruptly peters out to a complete nothing ending that goes out of it's way to be as anti-climactic as possible.
A Cheap Dime-a-Dozen Scarface Clone
I had completely forgotten this movie existed until I saw it here. Johnny Depp stars as an unconvincing direct-to-video Tony Montana cosplayer, without the era-defining exuberance, energy or definitive style of the movie they're lazily aping. He traffics, he gets the power, he does the crime, he gets sentenced to do time, yaddayaddayadda, nothing here you haven't seen before. This comes at the tail-end of those maudlin Benny And Joon era Johnny Depp flicks, an insipid, bland, visually uninspired bargain-bin attempt at recapturing Donnie Brasco. A cheap entertainment, forgettable pusher-man routine going thru all the motions, and nothing more.
Deep Throat (1972)
Johnny Wadd Rides Again!
Paradoxically for a pornographic film, this was entirely un-erotic. In fact, it was so un-erotic, It felt like watching a biology lesson without even the benefit of learning something. I'm not squeamish, but this is hauntingly disgusting; everything in this movie reeks of b.o. and soiled pubic hair. It may be the swingin' d**k daddy of porn chic, but there's nothing chic about it. Just more routine 'Devil in Miss Jones' s**t where no matter how hard you scrub, you can never bleach it from your mind. Oh well, you could do worse for a date movie.
Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)
Cotton Came to Harlem
The biggest compliment I can give this pretty nondescript entry in the Blaxploitation genre is that early on, around the ten, maybe fifteen minute mark, there's a pretty damn sweet car chase scene. Apart from that, there's nothing to really highlight. Your shamelessly standard ill-gotten-money-gets-ripped-off-now-let's-scramble-to-find-it racket, handled way better in the likes of 'Across 110th Street.'
Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
Catchy song, forgettable video
I always thought the song was fine, not my favorite Queen song, but I give it a listen now and then, but I'm focused more on the video here. The video was standard live concert footage mixed with a pretty mild theatrical intro, it does nothing to service the song. A great music video is where song and footage compliment each other and you want to both watch and listen. With this one, you can give it a listen, but you won't really get much from the common band footage you've seen a thousand times. If the video is well known, it's because the song made it well known, as opposed to something like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", where both music and video are iconic in their own right.
The Backwater Gospel (2011)
When the Man comes around
The local undertaker comes to a rusty, creaky backwater hamlet. What follows is fear and loathing culminating in a bloodbath, all efficiently packed into a 10 minute animation. There's an allegory there I'm sure, but regardless of what it is or whether you pick up on it, it's a fun little piece of entertainment that you can come back to fairly often. The characters are suitably garish, the animation is quite good, and the shadow of the undertaker looms large over the story and adds a cool, Gothic touch. A pretty damn good cartoon.
Tango & Cash (1989)
Magnum P.I. the Movie
By the numbers, disposable Buddy Cop romp. "Writing" ('I don't know about you, but I have an aversion to getting F.U.B.A.R.' 'What's fubar?' '-Up Beyond All Recognition.') that genuinely seems like it was written by ten year olds for ten year olds. Empty mindless explosions and a car derby scene with a van and two bulldozers while noisy and overblown bang-bangs go off around them. They get setup and have to clear their names while getting the baddie who done did it (the plot of nearly every spy movie). Stock flat no-dimensional cartoon villain who's bad just to be bad. Hey, let's discuss our evil plans in an Evil villain lair. Villain holds chick at gunpoint then they shoot him cliche. They run and dive out of a building just as it explodes behind them cliche. Then it has the gall to literally end on a high-five followed by a newspaper spinning into frame: "Guess what, they've been exonerated!". A one-note, one-dimensional, empty, flaccid all-in-all-it's-just-another-brick-in-the-wall 80's VHS tape. A meaningless distraction with nothing to tell you and nothing to take away from, literally formulated just to waste your time. Nothing like a cash-grab Lethal Weapon knock-off to make you appreciate Lethal Weapon.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
A Better Version of The Disaster Artist
Normally I'm not a fan of Eddie Murphy, but this might be his best role. Certainly the best I've seen of him. Less a hard biopic and more a loving homage to Rudy Ray Moore, star of Blaxploitation cinema, comedy, and other areas of entertainment, this is straight-up a much better version of The Disaster Artist and the biggest achievement, if this movie accomplishes anything, is making Dolemite seem semi-watchable (it's a bad movie, but it does have its brief moments here and there, though this movie greatly, greatly exaggerates it). You got Wesley Snipes, Keegan Michael-Key and Snoop Dogg in the cast as well, all fans of Moore and showing their love for the material, which is infectious. Is this movie going to have a long life? Probably not - it follows your typical 'inspiring' "dude goes out and does his thing" routine that you see at least once a year where he's ecstatic, then has doubts, then his friends cheer him on, and finally he makes it happen. Your typical crowd-pleaser, yes, but at least it's not cringe-worthy like the rest - eye-rolling at times, but for something of its type, pretty tolerable.
Quiz Show (1994)
Don't waste your time - you know exactly what this is
The producers of TV's most popular Quiz Show are brought to trial on a cheating scandal and nothing really comes of it in this predictable been-there-seen-that beat-by-beat biopic that surmounts to a paint-by-numbers courtroom drama. You got the character who investigates a suspected scandal, goes house to house, asking people what they know, a lot of doors slammed in his face, some reluctantly talk, sound at all familiar? Nothing new, nothing different, nothing you haven't gotten before - it even has the, you guessed it, impassioned Hollywood courtroom speech that has the build-up applause and dramatic score, followed by the witness leaving the courtroom, going outside, and just before he gets in a cab, shooting one last glance back at another pivotal character, followed by the final shot of the courthouse - cut to "where are they now" text - you know, the standard favorite procedural Hollywood ending they continue to fall back on with like half the movies they churn out. If you've seen one courtroom movie, you've seen them all - this offers no relief from that safe, predictable template.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
D.D.L. is notoriously selective about his projects...so why did he choose this one?
This is just Mel Gibson's "The Patriot" - the exact same movie; the sort of video you would put on for your class if you were a middle school history teacher. Coming on the heels of Dances with Wolves, it's no wonder this feels like a shameless capitalization (despite being based on a two-centuries old novel) on the prestige of that movie, much like what Tombstone is to Unforgiven. The notoriously selective Daniel Day-Lewis somehow bought into this project, playing the typical -adopted-by-natives, a discount New World Tarzan who becomes an Indian Braveheart. The Redcoats stomp around back country roads, Indians lead Guerilla hits against them, they still ceaselessly encroach, yaddayaddayadda, you know how it goes. Absolutely nothing new here. Basically you're just watching a taped history-enthusiasts re-enactment, a TV mini-series, or a Drunk History episode played dead straight. Lewis' character matches this movie - devoid of any personality.
A lame Glamorama spoof
As bad as this movie sucks, there's an interesting history behind it: the character of Derek Zoolannder was introduced in a 2-minute commercial for the 1996 VH1 fashion awards. Five years later, the movie was adapted from this premise. In the meantime, in 1998, Bret Easton Ellis (author of American Psycho) finally completed and published 'Glamorama', which he'd been working on since the early '90's. In 2001, after the release of the movie, Ellis sued the producers for (poorly) ripping-off the plot of his novel, and settled for an undisclosed amount. Point is, you're better off reading the novel this movie lamely spoofed. Ben Stiller is a shallow airhead fashion model competing against rival model and professional dumb blonde Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell is just there to ruin the movie, like everything he's in. Then it does like a whole bad Manchurian Candidate parody from what I remember. This is just empty noise for Comedy Central to fill its airwaves with, and more than likely you'll forget that you ever saw it - a home-video as shallow as the industry it's laughing at.
The Lighthouse (2019)
Bergman would be proud
This is Ingmar Bergman thru and thru - it starts as Through A Glass Darkly (isolated bottle setting, an island and the house on it, captured on stark, bleak, black and white) and then, through the course of the movie, as the characters booze, become perversely co-dependent and muddle together, it transforms into Persona. As a side note, following in that vein, this also heavily reminded me of the 1963 English movie The Servant. The movie itself is shot excellently, and the sound design, though at times overwhelming the picture, is used extremely efficiently, effectively enhancing the eerie tone. I wouldn't necessarily call the movie exactly boring, but I did frequently space out for seconds at a time, particularly during the very dialogue heavy scenes, so there's a good chance I may have missed crucial details, but all the more good reason to rewatch it. Also the ending, while I don't mind ambiguous endings at all, this one was a little too random - Pattinson finally reaches the lighthouse lamp, burns his hand, tumbles down the stairs, and then cut to him completely naked outside and being pecked by gulls... how'd he get there? He could've crawled out, but what happened to his clothes? Did Defoe live and do that to him? All that aside, the technical prowess far outweighs the lack of entertainment some viewers might have. The movie was refreshing to see in this era, and is both extremely unique, and a terrific throwback to European horror movies of the 50's & '60's.
Peaky Blinders (2013)
So I watched the first episode. While the show isn't bad, I could quickly tell within the first five minutes that this was simply the BBC's dry attempt to cash in on the popularity of Boardwalk Empire. It's the same show - same premise (set after WWI, Thompson Gun wielding gangsters vie for control), same characters with the same story function (Thomas Shelby/Nucky Thompson (the kingpin) - his weaker brother - Chester Campbell/Neslon Van Alden (the doggged fed hot on his ass) - a stand-in for Kelly McDonald's character, etc.) - same beats and patterns, developments, structure, unfolds the same way; you get the point. Boardwalk Empire is the better of the two, but this one isn't a bad follow-up if you finished with that show and still want more - hell, it seems like they could be in the same universe.
This installment jacks the GTA: San Andreas ambiance and imports it to Liberty City, with new features & mini-games (top-down golf, sky-diving, dancing, club bouncing) some of which get tiresome semi-quickly and are only worth pursuing for the odd achievement. All that out of the way, there's a reason why this is one of the most celebrated entries in the franchise - essentially coming off as a quasi take on Bret Easton Ellis' 'Glamorama', this lights-flashing, dance, dance, raining-confetti-but-the-confetti-are-bullets, the-party-never-stops, glitz'n'glamour high-life after-hours side of L.C. pumps up the volume on the over-caffeinated city that never sleeps (or quits coughing up blood). Missions include rampaging thru town in a S.W.A.T. tank, hijacking a train car, an assault on a yacht via attack chopper, and for the finale, catching a flight that ends up going down in flames while you parachute to safety. It's a rave you won't want to quit anytime soon.
Peace and Prosperity be damned
This time around, you get put in the driver's seat as the Vice President (and eventual President) of Liberty City's hardest-riding Chopper gang, The Lost, as Johnny "The Jew" Klebitz, a commander trying to keep his M.C. chapter together as it splinters into factions. This entry feels more toned-down than the main game, and probably the weakest of the GTA IV trilogy, but it's still a solid ride; the controls (especially the driving) are solid, the motorcycles handle smoothly, the action is fun, you've probably heard this whole rundown before. Point is, these characters thunder down the streets of Liberty, full-throttle, this be-damned-to-you attitude where you're part of Liberty City's alpha pack, and it's a fun ride-along to go on when you have a few hours to kill. Not their best, but still another fine example of why Rockstar are among gaming's best.
A Double-Shot of Awesome
I'll review each game individually in more detail, so I'll just provide an overview here: this double-pack (two games, one disc) contains two GTA IV spin-offs (the stories are set concurrently with the events of the main game and now and then intertwine with Niko's, which I really dig when same events are shown from other character's perspectives, and where they ran off to when s**t went down) that carve out their own distinct identity via their perspective and niche in Liberty City society (Lost and Damned centers on a biker war and Gay Tony shows off L.C.'s night life). Gay Tony is the better of the two, but both are among gaming's finest.
The Man from Earth (2007)
Shot in 8 days on a $200,000 dollar budget - that's all you need to know
There is no excuse for a movie made in 2007 that looks like a TV movie made circa 1990. If this had to be made at all, why not as a short story or stage play? Movies are supposed to be a visual presentation, that's the whole point of the invention; why squander it on a 1 1/2 hour flat, plain, vapidly taped stage play? A group of bad actors sit in a shoddy living room listening to a 14,000 year old caveman explain how he's really Jesus. Did I blow your mind yet? For real, such a game-changer. There is of course intense loud-whispering, and a literal last-minute contrived Soap-Opera "twist". The people who find this "deep" are essentially Wes Bentley in American Beauty: "There's...so much beauty in the world. This plastic bag fluttering in the wind just...blows my mind..." That's the demographic this appeals to; college freshmen who are either literary majors or drama geeks. "Screw you buddy, you-you just don't "get it" - It's like, hey man, it's like...what if history went down different from what we thought..." Wow. Such an education. I totally needed to waste that hour and twenty minutes to be told that. This movie is, no joke, the Twilight Zone episode "Long Live Walter Jameson" (which did the same exact thing in a much more efficient 20 minutes) shuffled with Highlander shuffled with every play where people hangout in a room and, you know, act dramatic, 'The Iceman Cometh', 'The Sunset Limited', Long Day's Journey into Night' etc., all gloriously shot with the full cinematic capability of a potato.