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Frozen (I) (2013)
6/10
Bearable
21 January 2020
I'm just the parent that has to accompany the minor. In this case I was just the parent that had to humor the minor because we're trying to get the full value out of the Disney+ subscription.

If it it's all the same I wouldn't watch Frozen or any other Disney princess movie. I am not, nor have I ever been, the target audience. So, to me, Frozen is like every other Disney princess movie with different characters and a slightly different plot. It's bearable and nothing more.
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Beer (1985)
7/10
The Unscrupulousness of Ad Agencies
20 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
The title is simple enough, so what's the plot?

"Beer" is a comedy that I appreciated, not so much for the laughs, but more for the content. It is a satirical look at advertising with a laser focus on beer commercials.

Norbecker beer is struggling with sales, lagging woefully behind behemoths such as Budweiser and Michelob. The company owner, Adolph Norbecker (Kenneth Mars), is spending $50M a year on ads and he's questioning his current relationship with The Feemer Agency, the main ad company he deals with. The Feemer Agency, and by extension Norbecker beer, get a significant break when a savvy, ruthless, corporate woman named BD Tucker (Loretta Swit) has a great idea. She wants to use the average man as the face of Norbecker Beer. It's a great idea but where will she find this man, or men?

She has a serendipitous encounter with three men who are liberally labeled as heroes when a robber is apprehended. Elliot (David Alan Grier), Merle (William Russ), and Frankie (Saul Stein) simply piled on top of the robber after he was hilariously knocked out. For that act they were called heroes and they would be the new faces of Norbecker Beer.

Even if we were to generously call them "heroes" for piling on top of an unconscious armed robber, what Tucker made them into was almost divinity. She took their feeble act of "bravery" and with the help of camera magic and misleading advertisement made it into a selfless act of heroism.

This movie was so enjoyable because of the accurate depiction of beer companies and beer commercials. It's laughable that a guy could be transformed into a strong, brave, desirable man with a flock of beautiful women by simply drinking X brand of beer. The Feemer Agency, wanting to one-up the competition, became more unprincipled as sales ballooned for Norbecker. They were shameless in their exploitation of women and duplicitous depiction of average men who drank Norbecker beer. There was no moral floor for The Feemer Agency and Norbecker as they were governed only by the book of sales.

As The Feemer Agency became more degenerate you wondered how it was going to end. The three men were becoming more "woke" which would bring them in direct conflict with BD Tucker who was completely without conscience. It did, and everything fell apart when the three men were caught having a fight in a gay bar. It was not the best ending, but it showed just how unprincipled Norbecker beer was. From that situation they pivoted off of the "are you tough enough" slogan to the "are you sensitive enough" slogan. Just showing that people will come and go but the wheels of the commercial machine will keep turning.
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1/10
Insufferable
19 January 2020
This movie hinges upon two main characters I didn't give to shakes about. And they were surrounded by a supporting cast who were even less endearing--if that's at all possible.

The main character, Mike Harlan, was better known as "Monkey Wrench" Mike. He was a gearhead through and through. His idea of a romantic date was perusing a junkyard. His steady girlfriend dumped because of his autophilia, yet she was made to look like the bad guy... ahem... girl. His best bud, Latello, was a shallow wise guy wannabe. He acted like a Guido reject from every Italian mafia movie. He was full of terrible puns, awful one-liners, and silly slangs. If he were actually funny then he would've been the comic relief. But considering he wasn't worth even a chuckle he was just a caricature of all things stereotypical and blameworthy with Italians.

Then there was the plot. It was thin and full of holes. It was holier than the pope. When we weren't peering through the canyon sized holes we had to suffer through the most unbelievable action. I get that it was a sci-fi and the plot was about an alien device that could bend the space-time continuum, so does that mean everything had to be outside the realm of possibility? Ugh... insufferable.
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Godzilla 1985 (1985)
7/10
I Love Godzilla
19 January 2020
Cinematically and visual effects-wise "Godzilla 1985" can't compare to "Godzilla" 2014, but I don't care. "Godzilla 1985" is the Godzilla that I grew up with and I'm not even watching Godzilla in 2014 without 1985.

It's clear that the Japanese don't truly hate Godzilla though they fear him. They see him as a natural phenomenon that isn't inherently evil even if he does destroy Tokyo every chance he gets. So you sense this love/hate relationship between them.

As for me, I love Godzilla. As the late Stuart Scott used to say, "He's cooler than the other side of the pillow." A 240 foot tall energy ray blasting dinosaur--you don't see one of those everyday. And how did they create his patented bellow? It is thoroughly unique to the point I've never heard anything similar in nature or otherwise. It is one of a kind and when you hear it, you know who's lurking.
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Underwater (2020)
7/10
Don't Arrive Late to the Theater
18 January 2020
"Underwater" almost immediately thrust the audience into a panic situation. Not even a word had been uttered before the underwater rig was imploding. After the major damage was done 70% of the underwater station was compromised and presumably over 300 crew members were dead. We were left following six.

It was a remarkable set design, you can tell a lot of money and time went into it. The six crew members had to navigate a mass of twisted metal, hanging wires, busted concrete, and everything else that is reminiscent of a demolition site. And that was when they were inside.

I can say that every character was one that you could pull for. There wasn't the jerk, the coward, or the double-crosser. They were all characteristically unique, yet all good teammates. There were four men and two women and you know not everyone is surviving. If all six did survive it would take a miracle considering that they were contending with being nearly seven miles underwater, they were cut off from topside, hardly anything worked, they had to abandon the rig they were in for another rig, and oh yeah... there were some deep sea creatures to avoid as well.

I don't think I've seen an underwater movie this claustrophobic and desperate since "Deep Blue Sea," and "The Abyss" before that. This movie didn't rely on script so much as it relied on atmosphere. It was all about the desperateness of the place and the situation. I honestly didn't think I'd like it judging from the trailers, but I was willing to give it a try. Glad I did.
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3/10
Europe was no good
18 January 2020
I don't know what to say except bleh. It just wasn't funny or entertaining.

The Griswald's won a European vacation from a game show. In Europe Clark was a stumbling bumbling idiot. His daughter, Audrey (Dana Hill), who looks like a female version of Sam Astin, spent the whole time pining for her boyfriend Jack. His son, Dusty (Jason Lively), was almost as annoying as his sister. Ellen Griswald (Beverly D'Angelo) was the only halfway normal and bearable family member.
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The Quest (1985)
4/10
Reckless in Australia
18 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
It sounds like a tagline for a dating site like "Sleepless in Seattle." It could be. There was an adolescent romance to contend with between main character, Cody (Henry Thomas), and Wendy (Rachel Friend). That puppy love saved Cody's life.

Cody was an extremely reckless kid that finally did a stunt that should have spelled the death of him, but you know... writers. In his search for a "dungajin" (I'm sure I'm not spelling that right) he got himself trapped underwater. Notice how I said, "trapped underwater" and not drowned. That's because he miraculously found a pocket of air beneath some old mining equipment underwater. To complete the miracle his girlfriend/deus ex machina used some nebulous clues to come to the conclusion that he was still alive underwater though just moments earlier she was screaming how he was dead.

Henry Thomas I liked you better as Elliott.
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Piranha (1978)
7/10
Aquatic Chaos
17 January 2020
A military experiment goes wrong? You don't say!?! And when do government experiments ever go wrong? Try always!

The experiment this time was dubbed "Operation Razor Teeth." The government was attempting to develop a fish that would ruin the waterways of Vietnam. When the program was scrapped, they poisoned the fish, but some were resistant to the poison. Those remaining were adaptable to fresh water and saltwater, thereby making them super killers.

I saw "Piranha" 2010 and didn't realize that it was a remake. I actually liked it, especially the scene when Ving Rhames grabbed the outboard motor and started chopping up piranhas. The original isn't bad either. It's no "Jaws" and nor could it be, but "Piranha" gave us what "Jaws" did and some things that "Jaws" didn't.

Like "Jaws," "Piranha" gives us pause about entering the water. Unlike "Jaws," there is no dorsal fin warning and they can lurk in fresh water which makes them even more dangerous in a sense. When the piranhas were released from their containment and allowed to spread throughout the local river they caused a massive panic as they ate people while they swam and drifted in their innertubes. There was screaming, yelling, thrashing, and selfish flight from everyone. And the piranhas didn't do the ethical thing like kill adults only while sparing children. No, they feasted on any and everyone in the water. It was aquatic chaos.

Sharks will always have a certain mystique and luster that other water creatures will never have. They're the biggest, baddest, toothiest predators in the sea, so they deserve their rep. How many shark movies are there? Too many to count. Plus, there's a Shark Week on Discovery channel. Despite all that, I think "Piranha" could've been "Jaws" if it came first and had the same awesome soundtrack.
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Silverado (1985)
8/10
I didn't want a fight, but I'll give you one
17 January 2020
"Silverado" is nice throwback. The 80's wasn't a decade of many westerns so this was a welcomed sight. It was simple, straight forward, and good. You knew the good guys, you knew the bad guys, and you knew there'd be a shootout.

Silverado is the name of the town where everything took place. It all boiled down to the bad guys: the McKendrick gang plus the bought sheriff, Cobb (Brian Dennehy), and the good guys: Emmett (Scott Glenn), Paden (Kevin Kline), Jake (Kevin Costner), and Mal (Danny Glover). Naturally, the good guys were outnumbered but that's OK because the good guys have ways of evening the odds.

There were a couple of added wrinkles in the story. The main wrinkle was with Paden; would he stand idly by or would he get involved. Every other good guy had a vested interest in fighting the town terrorizers, but Paden only had a loose connection to the whole matter. He was a key figure that could tip the scales in the favor of the wronged party. The only problem was that he worked for Sheriff Cobb.

Decisions, decisions.

Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Cobb was a perfect fit. The only guy who could've been as good or better would've been Gene Hackman. Dennehy and Hackman were born to play bad guys. It's like it's in their DNA. I don't know if it's their look, their voice, their easy smugness, or all of the above, but they play such hateful and hateable guys. If there were a Hollywood hall of fame with a wing for bad guys they'd be in it.

Kevin Costner played a different role than I'm used to seeing from him. He's normally a calm, reserved, strong silent type. In "Silverado" he was an amped up cocky fellow and he played it well.

The whole movie played out like you'd hope. There was enough injustice from the antagonists to get you hot and bothered. The good guys were ostensibly on the ropes. When things seemed their direst the rallying music played, the posse was formed, and things got to jumpin'. Yeah, it was everything you wanted in a western.
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Lifeforce (1985)
6/10
Who Left This Beautiful Woman Out Here?
16 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Parasitic aliens seem to have an infinite number of methods of infiltrating and feasting on human beings. They're all effective in their own way. Their newest method consists of taking the form of beautiful people, with a beautiful woman being the leader, and being brought back to Earth to do their work. I'd say that's pretty sly--to take the form of a beautiful well-proportioned woman. What man is going to allow such a fine specimen to languish in outer space?

"Lifeforce" is about some vampire like aliens. They aren't like vampires in the traditional sense in that they suck a person's blood, but they are like vampires in that they drain a person of his/her life. Once a person's lifeforce is drained, he is infected and in two hours needs to drain the lifeforce of another victim. If he can't drain the lifeforce of another person after two hours he desiccates and dies. Should he be able to drain the lifeforce of another he gets an extension on life and his victim is now infected and so on geometrically. The situation caused is like that of any rapidly spreading killer disease--pandemonium.

"Lifeforce" really captured the breadth of the alien invasion/infection spread. There were seemingly thousands of infected beings and their prey running wild through the streets of London. The result of it all was the rather mystical and metaphysical aliens absorbing tremendous loads of power and energy. The energy of the multitude of souls collected took the form of a blue streaming light that swept through the streets and up to the alien mothership.

This movie was sci-fi, alien, and horror all rolled in one. It was all highly sexualized with the female alien (I think she was clothed a full minute), but there seemed to be an intent behind that other than an R rating and childish giggles. The merger between alien, vampire, and I'd even say zombie was a risky one but it worked.
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Re-Animator (1985)
6/10
Wait, Hans Gruber?
16 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a Swedish scientist who has arrived in America to continue his quest to re-animate the dead. He was a pupil of Dr. Hans Gruber--no, not the bad guy from Die Hard played by Alan Rickman--until Hans Gruber "died." I put "died" in quotes because there's really no way to know if perhaps Dr. West killed him to test his re-animation serum.

"Re-animator" is a light horror and moderately bloody movie about the fancies of a mad scientist named Herbert West. He is obsessed with trying to bring living organisms back to life and he's right on the precipice of being able to do so. I mean, he can do it, it's just that the organisms tend to be extremely violent once re-animated.

This movie isn't taking home any awards, though it is entertaining. But if there could be an award for smartest character in a scary movie then the security guard would get that award. In the penultimate scene when all of these naked, violent, re-animated bodies are wreaking havoc in the morgue the security guard does the single most intelligent thing: he runs away. He had a gun too. So, all you security guards out there take note; don't investigate, don't play hero, don't stick around out of fealty when you're earning minimum wage--get the heck out of there. That act alone made me appreciate the movie.
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Creature (1985)
2/10
The Juice Wasn't Worth the Squeeze
16 January 2020
This B movie, or worse, that liberally borrowed from "Alien" and others was a total farce. Not a single aspect of it could be appreciated. Four rail thin Vogue models aboard a ship with three men go to the Saturn moon, Titan. Don't even ask me why. I just wanted to see this "Creature."

Well, needless to say, the juice wasn't worth the squeeze. I waded through an hour and forty minutes of muck just to get a few glimpses of the creature. A lollipop after a root canal would've been more rewarding.

They threw in there a couple of boob shots and a sex scene almost as pacification. The sex scene was on the silliest of pretenses. "We're going to die. Make love to me."

That is a direct quote. There are porno flicks with better scripts.

I decided to play my own game of "who will survive" to keep me entertained. Lord knows the movie didn't do the job.
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Just Mercy (2019)
10/10
A Test of Emotional Endurance
16 January 2020
"Just Mercy" is one of those rare movies for me where I actually read the book before seeing the movie. The book is absolutely incredible and my only hope was that the movie would do the book justice--and by extension of that, do Bryan Stevenson justice. The book "Just Mercy" is essentially a memoir from Bryan Stevenson about his life, post Harvard, aiding death row inmates in the South. He spends the bulk of the book on the specific case of Walter McMillian and his efforts to get him not only removed from death row, but to get him exonerated completely.

This movie will drag you down to the depths. It is not a movie that you plop down and watch, you have to mentally prepare yourself for the emotional toll that your psyche will take. "Just Mercy" mercilessly assaults your emotional cavity. It tests your emotional endurance. It will take you to the brink, and for some it will take them past the brink. At one point someone in the theater shouted, "---- you!" to the screen. I had no complaints because he only said what I was feeling.

After dragging its audience to the depths of anger, despair, and sadness it snaps them back with equal and opposite force. The pure unbridled elation that hits you is just as uncontainable as the anger and sadness moments before. I found myself in tears three times which for me has to be some kind of record.

This may all sound like a warning and it is to some degree. This is not a warning for you to avoid the movie, please go, it is a warning to bring your emotional shield, because should you go in there bare and uncovered it will rip your heart out before you finish the movie.
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Brazil (1985)
3/10
Where are the Whys and the Whats?
16 January 2020
Whereas I did watch this movie start to finish I did so half-heartedly. It's hard to be interested in something you don't fully understand.

In this Monty Python version of the future the country is run by a super-bureaucracy. There are infinite layers of government with infinite amounts of paperwork. Sam Lowry is one measly bureaucrat amongst a plethora of bureaucrats. He attempts to break free from the system when he meets the girl of his dreams. I mean his literal dreams. He quite literally met the girl he'd been dreaming about though he had no idea she existed.

"Brazil" was much like a dream which is a montage of random events and instantly jumps from one thing to another. This was a pain to watch because even if I knew what was going on I didn't know why. And if I knew why, I didn't know what. To add to the misery, there was an obnoxious soundtrack that set a satirical mood and was immensely overbearing. It rudely set the mood without consideration. This was yet another British film that I couldn't connect with.
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6/10
I can get that Pulitzer some other time
15 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Malcolm Anderson (Kurt Russell) and his girlfriend Christine (Mariel Hemingway) are small town folks at heart trapped in the big city of Miami. Malcolm works for the Miami Journal and his girlfriend is a grade school teacher. Christine is desperate for a split from Miami whereas Malcolm, who also wants to leave, can't seem to make a clean break. His attempts to leave are further exacerbated by a killer who calls him personally to take credit for a recent murder.

This mysterious killer has simply said that this is number one and has informed Malcolm that he will kill others. Malcolm dives head first into this new story as this could be the story of a lifetime.

The movie instantly picked up when the killer involved Malcolm in his plans. At that point the game was on. I was prepared for the fox chase and the moves and counter moves.

Everything was shaping up nicely then the movie was dragged down by the banal and contrived drama between Malcolm and his girlfriend. Once Malcolm became heavily involved in the "numbers killer" case and story his girlfriend felt more and more ignored. I can't imagine that the case took more than a few months, yet his girlfriend was ready to throw away whatever they had already built together due to his obsession with his work a.k.a. this killer. It was the classic case of a man being immersed in his work and not having time for his family and/or significant other. But it seemed so vapid and ham-fisted that it just completely distracted from the overall movie.

There was one particular scene in which Christine had this somber and cathartic moment when she tells her boyfriend Malcolm that leaving is more or less a formality now. Like she had just been completely kicked to the curb and so totally abandoned emotionally that there was no way this relationship could continue. She did not even considering or take it into account that this was just a story and all stories have an ending. Malcolm had been a journalist for eight years and this was a story that could make his career, so was he supposed to wholly discard this part of his nature and this part of his being because his girlfriend felt emotionally neglected?

The movie was clearly trying to paint him as a thrill seeking reporter and someone who is just so involved and so selfish that he would neglect any and all other duties in exclusion to his duty of journalist. But the way they painted this picture was sophomoric and clumsy to the point it made Christine come off as a whiny sniveling brat. Her complaints, tirades, and petulance was especially off-putting considering that there were no hints or signs of any kind of discord between them before Malcolm landed this story of a lifetime.

Had we witnessed some sort of discontent and disconnect between the two before the story came along and then the story was the straw to break the camels back-- then it would've all made sense. But that's not what happened. They literally went from the ideal lovey-dovey couple to the brink of total separation, and back to being reunited -- of course- - once he'd saved her life, the killer was dead, and the story was no more.

I thought that entire saga struck a heavy blow to the overall movie. Should they have eschewed that side story/distraction, then The Mean Season could've been on the level of maybe "Seven" or "Silence of the Lambs" or other killer- hunt movies that are considered epics.
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Chernobyl (2019)
9/10
Is there anything more dangerous than arrogance and ineptitude?
15 January 2020
Chernobyl is one of the greatest man made disasters in history. It was so tremendous it properly frightened the world from nuclear power. But how much did the world really know? The Soviet state of Russia was so dictatorial about information and controlling information that it was hard to know what really happened.

"Chernobyl" is a tremendous miniseries that gives the world the pieces of the puzzle it has always been missing. The writer and producer, Craig Mazin, dives deep into the technical and scientific side of the story, yet dumbs it down for us viewers that aren't familiar with nuclear fission or the operations of a nuclear reactor. He finds clever ways to insert elementary explanations for us laymen to grasp the concept.

But the technical part of the show was simply one aspect. Larger than the physical disaster was the state created disaster. Is there anything more dangerous than arrogance and ineptitude? That's exactly what Chernobyl was and it is a most dangerous mixture.

"Chernobyl" is about a disaster, but it's also about a despotic regime, arrogant ministers, and misinformed subjects. But it was also about heroism, self-sacrifice, and speaking truth to power.

I've never seen a show or movie that has made me feel thoroughly sympathetic about Russia or Russians. "Chernobyl" does for Russians what "Das Boot" did for Germans and more so. "Chernobyl" is an incredible story that's told in an incredible manner about an incredible catastrophe.
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6/10
Call Me
15 January 2020
There is no mistake that I heard a slightly altered instrumental of Blondie's "Call Me." That wasn't germane to the plot but I just want Hong Kong to know that I know.

The plot was simple as most kung fu movie plots are. This was a more modern kung fu movie in that it took place in current times and even guns were used. While Muscles (Jackie Chan) and his partner were chasing some thieves his partner was captured. Muscles couldn't get the information needed to find where they were keeping his partner because his face was too well known. For that he needed his old orphanage buddies who weren't all on the right side of the law. Through some cunning and trickery he had his orphanage "brothers" assembled to help him out.

"My Lucky Stars" had some funny scenes and some perverted ones if you really think about it. No, there was no nudity. The perversion was in the attempts made by these guys to get close to one solitary woman. Five guys were lusting after one woman. That's perverted enough.

As I said, the plot was rather basic, nothing that clever, and the action was run of the mill as well. This wasn't one of Jackie Chan's finer movies, but then again he has a huge catalog.
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6/10
Give Me a Stronger Motive
14 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Recently I took an imdb poll titled: "Favorite 'The ___ and the __' Title?" Among movies to choose from were "The Serpent and the Rainbow," "The Princess and the Frog," "The Fox and the Hound," and others. Unfortunately, the only one of the list of about fifteen titles I had actually seen was "The Quick and the Dead." "The Falcon and the Snowman" was not one of the choices and I don't think I would have chosen it even if I'd already seen the movie when I did the poll.

"The Falcon and the Snowman" is an alright movie. You have two young men in the salad days of their adult lives trying to figure out what they're going to do. One of them, Daulton Lee (Sean Penn), is a hopeless drug dealer while the other, Christopher Boyce (Timothy Hutton), seems to be more focused and centered. Boyce lands a gig that puts him in direct contact with highly secretive U.S. documents and transmissions. He got a job at a company called RTX which is almost like a clearinghouse for all CIA, NSA, FBI transmissions of missions and whatever else.

Boyce gets the bright idea to sell some of these documents to the Russians using Lee as the courier. It's a dangerous game the two play and it's clear they aren't concerned about the consequences.

There didn't seem to be any real rhyme or reason to their actions. Lee clearly was in it for the money, even if he was a mess of a person. Boyce, on the other hand, didn't seem to have a real motivation for selling U.S. secrets other than his own disenchantment with the U.S. government. Ordinarily, that would seem like enough of a motivation, but in this case his disillusionment seemed to develop overnight.

What needs to be stated here is that the time frame is 1973/74 or thereabouts. Nixon has just been impeached and one can only imagine what the public's trust in the government was rated. With this as a backdrop there is a little more insight into Boyce's actions. It didn't seem like quite enough of a motive to make the quantum leap into selling top secret documents, but maybe that was all part of Boyce's character. Maybe none of his life choices required much of a motive.

I, as a viewer and someone of sound mind and body, was looking for more. Even though what the two did was significant I needed more for a motive. Without a strong enough motive the entire plot is equally weak. In all movies, whether it's a good guy or bad guy, we want a strong motive from the character. It allows us to get fully engaged with the movie. Otherwise, with a weak motive, we'll always be somewhat, if not fully, uninterested.
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1917 (2019)
8/10
What Spectacular Camera Work
13 January 2020
I have to come to terms with the fact that I enjoy war movies. I've denied this for years--decades even--because I detest war and I don't care to see a movie glorifying war. But, what I've come to realize is that most war movies do not glorify war. A lot of them are human interest stories--stories about one or a few characters that are involved in a war. They're not war mongers, they're not policy makers, they're just people doing a dirty job.

"1917" is about people as well. More specifically it's about two British soldiers that have to get to a certain battlefront to deliver a message: "Do not attack, it's a trap." One of the soldiers, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), has a brother in the targeted battalion so he has added incentive to get there.

One of the more spectacular aspects of this movie was the camera work. Somehow, they made the entire movie look like one continuous camera shot with no cuts. Through trenches, barbed wire, around men, in and out of buildings, etc., and the camera was continuously rolling.

This is something I tend to pay attention to and something I really appreciated in the movie "Children of Men" when there were a few extended scenes with no cuts. In this movie it is an entirely different level. I know that there had to be cuts and my assumption is that they were expertly done when panning from one point to another, but that's just my guess. In any case it was a marvel.

Expert camera shots and editing alone aren't enough to make a movie worthwhile. The story and the characters are ultimately going to be the draw. Like many war stories, this was a story of self-sacrifice. The true strength of the movie comes in the form of its authenticity. The more authentic the more gripping, the more personal, the deeper the emotional connection to the overall story and its characters. "1917" offers that along with some awesome cinematography.
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7/10
Hyams Makes 'Em, I Watch 'Em
13 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Dusty Baker, Steve Sax, and Pedro Guerrero were great in this movie. What a good Dodgers team they were. No, they weren't the Star Chamber but they were in the movie. File footage I'm sure.

The Star Chamber was a clandestine group of nine fed up judges who deliberate about certain defendants that have seemingly escaped justice. After one of the nine judges presents his or her case the rest of the judges rule guilty or not guilty. If guilty, that person who dodged the penal system gets executed.

I don't even have to mention all the questions this raises; ethical, moral, and legal questions. What I want to do is play devil's advocate for a minute because that's what we were being primed to be. The movie was painting the perfect scenario for us as viewers to go along with the very idea of a Star Chamber.

The main character, Judge Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas), had back-to-back doozy cases. The first case he was forced to throw out key evidence due to the absurd notion that a person's trash is their private property until it is picked up and dumped in with everyone else's trash. The second case he was forced to throw out key evidence because the impetus for the search of a vehicle had to do with unpaid warrants that were in fact paid. In the first case a murdering thief gets off on a technicality and the second case two child murderers get off on a technicality--or so it seems.

Writer and director, Peter Hyams, does a wonderful job bringing the viewers to the same point of frustration Judge Hardin reached. To see three criminals escape justice due to some small loopholes in the law was adding insult to injury. So, like Judge Hardin, I was ready for some extra-legal intervention. Well... kinda.

As clear cut as the two cases seemed they were almost too perfect as examples of misjustice. Though there were nuances of the law that the defense had to argue, it was almost like stopping a nuclear meltdown by simply pulling the plug. It was hard to believe that two vicious crimes were going to go unpunished due to the smallest of technicalities. So, whereas I was behind the idea of someone doing something to stop these criminals I had my reservations.

The Star Chamber was that someone doing something. They get the guy that the law helped get away. These were nine judges that had to sit idly by while cases were tossed out, overturned, or otherwise due to clerical errors, ineptitude, and whatever else, when they knew the defendant was guilty. So, they took it upon themselves to be judge, jury, and executioner.

The misgivings I had to start were only exacerbated when Judge Hardin was recruited to The Star Chamber. It was when Judge Benjamin Caulfield (Hal Holbrook), the judge making the pitch, said, "What's happened to the law?" as if the law and the justice system was once infallible. To me it sounded like a MAGA cry. As if, until recently, justice was always meted out to those who deserved it and no one ever got other than what he/she deserved. That statement alone made me think twice about the Star Chamber because the law was far from perfect before and it is equally far from perfect today.

People like Judge Caulfield have a reverent memory of the law because there was a time he had more power. There was a time before "probable cause," "Miranda rights," and the various other laws now on the books to offset the incredible power of the "justice system." I just saw it as hypocritical or myopic for the judge to complain about the law today (1983) as though killers and rapists never got away with killing and raping before.

The police, the attorneys, the judges, the law, and the entire judicial system will never be perfect. It's designed by humans after all. And in a less than perfect system criminals get off sometimes and innocent people get convicted sometimes. The idea of a Star Chamber as a safety net to catch the criminals who slipped through the cracks is a novel concept, but it is also bad. Because if you have a Star Chamber for the ones that got away, you also need a Star Chamber for the ones that should've gotten away.
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7/10
One Man's Freedom Fighter is Another Man's Terrorist
12 January 2020
There's an old saying that goes: The b*stard you know is better than the b*stard you don't know.* "Dogs of War" dives into the muddy waters of forcibly changing rulers. How good of an idea is that anyway? What are you really getting?

*I had to asterisk the word because imdb flagged it.

The tumultuous and fictitious African country of Zangoro has a ruthless dictator named Kimba as her ruler. He acquired the seat of power through elections then immediately dispatched his opponents. He proceeded to suppress any and everyone who challenged or questioned his authority.

Shannon (Christopher Walken) was tapped on the shoulder to lead a coup to uproot Kimba. That is Shannon's specialty, but he is not unscrupulous.

This was a movie that had me teetering the whole time. They established that Kimba was a wicked despot, but he's the guy they elected. Furthermore, the options for a suitable ruler were limited. It's always a sensitive topic when you're talking about foreigners openly or furtively infiltrating a country to take out its ruler.

But the dogs of war are just that--they're the dogs. They don't make the assignments they just execute them. Shannon and his men were the right dogs for the job.
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Straw Dogs (1971)
2/10
If But For The Writer's Pen
11 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Straw Dogs (1971), Bone (1972), Once Upon a Time in America (1984); what do they all have in common? R*pe scenes that are wholly ambiguous.* It is one of the most disturbing, most sickening, and biggest disservices to both women and men. I makes women seem as though some part of them enjoys being r*ped and it makes men believe that not all r*pes are bad. ALL R*PES ARE BAD.

What do I mean by ambiguous? In each of these movies a sexual assault occurred (in Bone the man didn't go through with it yet the woman, feeling sorry for him, thrust herself upon him). In each movie the woman either enjoyed it or came to enjoy it. In either case it was repulsive and a sick perverted representation of how sex can still happen even if he's rebuffed. Because even though her mouth may say, "No," her body will say, "Yes."

Limiting this review specifically to "Straw Dogs," David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (Susan George) moved to her hometown in England. It's apparent that his wife had an affair at one time with one of the men in the town named Charlie (Del Henney). From the beginning, Charlie violated all kinds of personal space with her with no resistance. It was clear he was probing to see if there still existed anything between them. She didn't invite his closeness, but she didn't reject it either. Arrogant sexist interpretation: "She wants me."

Charlie, along with his friends, also happened to be working on the Sumners' home which brought Charlie in close proximity with Amy. If Charlie was a decent human being, or if he respected Amy, or if he respected David he would have left Amy alone unmolested. Charlie wasn't a decent human being, he didn't respect Amy, and he sure as hell didn't respect David.

Without going into all the details it's clear that David was a coward of a man. To use a street term, he was "b*tch made." He dreaded or maybe even feared confrontation. He was a moralistic intellectual that valued ideals over action and it was clear he didn't know how to handle situations that ran afoul of his ideals.

His wife, besides being childish, was an accidental temptress. She didn't wear a bra, her skirt rode up in front of the guys, and she passed by her open window topless for all the workers to see when she knew they were right outside. In other words, she was sending all the signals.

I know, this is where the debates open up:

Side A: "She can dress and behave how she wants, that isn't a signal for a man to violate her."

Side B: "A woman that dresses and behaves provocatively is inviting sexual advances or worse."

And on and on.

I don't care about the debates right now because I want to narrow the focus to just the r*pe. When Charlie began kissing Amy it was clear that there was a push-pull going on inside her. She didn't want it yet a small part of her did. This is not a misinterpretation, she was quite literally doing a push pull. As Charlie got more aggressive she began to push only, which was a clear signal of, "No. I don't want to do this." Charlie, by this time, was already revved up and was not going to be thwarted. So he proceeded to r*pe her. What started off as moderate resistance from Amy turned into an active participation. No, not a resignation, an active participation that was punctuated by the two remaining in an embrace after the deed was done.

It was the wet dream of many a lonely sex starved and perverted man. I'm sure that hearts and other body parts were all aflutter to see how wonderfully that forced sexual encounter went. You see, women don't really know what they want until you force it in them.

Because the movie didn't stop there, and I didn't stop it, there was more absurdity to deal with.

Beyond being a milksop, David (Amy's husband in case you forgot) was a hypocrite. When the town yokels came to collect Henry Niles aka Lenny from "Of Mice and Men" David was adamant about keeping them away from Niles because "he wouldn't allow violence in his home." When his wife decided she would much rather hand over Niles than allow their home to be destroyed to protect him, David proceeded to slap his wife and threaten to break her neck if she opened the door. So much for non-violence. David then takes this Alamo stance at his home to protect a total stranger. He was willing to allow his house to be destroyed, to beat his own wife, and to eventually kill the intruders to protect one mentally deficient stranger.

Bravo. You've redefined nobility and courage. We should all be as brave and honorable as you. We should all go to such lengths to protect the disadvantaged. My hero.

Hogwash.

Do I think the clannish mob was correct? No, but I'm not risking my home, my life, and the life of my family for someone I don't know. Especially in a foreign country. This guy was a total enigma. He won't address the men about his wife's dead cat, but will beat her to protect a potential criminal. I didn't understand David one bit and nor did I care to. I think he only survived by accident. I didn't appreciate his character at all. He was weak to the point of revulsion and only defeated his antagonizers by the pen of the writer. And when it was all said and done, he was still none the wiser about his wife's r*pe, nor do I think he would have done anything if he'd known.

*I have to put a star in the word r*pe because however it's mentioned IMDb rejects the entire post, even if you're denouncing the action.
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Marathon Man (1976)
7/10
Don't Expect Too Much Running
11 January 2020
You'll be happy to know that this movie is not about marathons. Or maybe you won't.

This is a movie that requires patience as it comes into focus. What start out as some seemingly random and disconnected events eventually coalesce to form a complete picture. A car crash in New York, a history student at Columbia University, a well dressed man in France, an ex-Nazi, and a gorgeous foreign woman being elusive about her origins--they are all connected, but how?

"Marathon Man" takes you on a marathon journey to tie it all together. As the fuzzy picture comes more into focus you're still not sure if you're getting the whole story.

The writing by William Goldman is clever though presumptuous. He presupposes that the audience will be patient with the plot. There is plenty going on to keep the viewer engaged, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't chomping at the bit a little. With so many characters and so much input to filter I was looking for a bit more direct information to keep me going. LIke a hungry diner I kept asking the waiter if the food was done. And like an expert chef William Goldman wouldn't be rushed.
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9/10
The Fourth Estate Heavy at Work
10 January 2020
A little less than a couple of years ago Bob Woodward wrote the book "Fear: Trump in the White House." That's the first time I'd ever heard of him (or remember hearing of him). The book, as well as the author, were being highly touted. Woodward was called one of the best most integritous investigative journalists in the business. I bought the book on that endorsement alone.

I loved it.

Even then I had no idea he was one of the main reporters to help crack the Watergate scandal.

When I was perusing movies that I would possibly like and saw this movie about Watergate I nearly passed on it. Watergate happened before my time and it isn't something that interests me all that much. When I read the synopsis further and saw that it was based upon Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein I was all in.

"All the President's Men" is a chance to see professional journalists working hard at their profession and doing an excellent job. It's also a chance to observe what's known as "the fourth estate" aka the media. If the executive, legislative, and judicial are the three branches of government then the media or the press is a de facto fourth branch.

The purpose of this fourth element is to act as a counterbalance, a systemically opposite force that is to report, verify and question matters of governance and public matters, as well as commercial ones, conducted by the powers we the people have entrusted it with and bestowed upon it.

Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) were wards of the fourth estate that worked tirelessly to be that counterbalance to a government out of control. "All the President's Men" never takes a breath. I kept waiting and waiting for the theatrical pause when we get exposition and backstory. That never happened. ATPM was work, work, work. From beginning to end we saw "Woodstein," as they were called by their boss, pressing, noting, checking, typing, and pressing some more.

There are no explosions, no shootouts, no chases, no murders, just honest hard reporting. Maybe that doesn't interest most people, but I think the behind the scenes look at how a major newspaper operates added to the significance of the event makes for an incredible movie.
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7/10
This is no Place for a Conscience
10 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
The movie rested upon the shoulders of a character named Harry Caul (Gene Hackman). Harry was a professional eavesdropper or surveillance expert. He was the best in the country at recording people while they were unaware, no matter where they were. He recorded a conversation that he had reservations about handing over to his client. Although that was the main plot the movie focused more on Harry and his internal conflict.

His job is an ethically ambiguous one. He secretly records people for profit. Not that the U.S. government is so virtuous, but at least they record on the pretense of crime prevention. Harry records for a fee. Period. What's done with the recordings or the people in the recordings thereafter is not supposed to be any of his concern, but it seems that Harry has a conscience--which doesn't help in his line of work.

Harry was not exciting to watch. He was precisely what you think of when you think pocket protector wearing nerd. He was anti-social and most times he was a mute. There is no fun in that type of character, which means the movie is also no fun... up until the end. The twist at the end was a nice reward for my patience.

Francis Ford Coppola wrote, produced, and directed which puts all the onus on him. If it succeeds, if it fails, he was the owner, general manager, and head coach. He was everything but the quarterback. As an owner and GM I think he spent the money necessary and got the right players to put a winning team on the field. As a head coach calling the plays, he called a vanilla offense for three quarters before letting it fly.
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