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. . . Maybe not modern day.
The Americans: START (2018)
An exhilarating finish
With how this final season's been going, I'd expected something more confrontational and violent to cap off "The Americans". But 'START' had other ideas in mind, and it's a finale that runs low on flying bullets and heavy on life-altering decisions. This is an amazing episode that sees the entire Jennings family dealing head-on with the dying days of the Cold War, and all three of the main actors (Rhys, Russell and Emmerich) deserve Emmys.
I'm trying not to sidetrack into spoilerville, but what happens to these people is nothing short of incredible; it's sad, but even more importantly, it feels organic -- even in a story that features a household in ruins.
Jesus, what an ending!
A sensory assault that leaves a bitter, horrible taste
If you make it through "Irréversible", then hats off, because you've just passed an endurance test. But what's the point?
Nihilistic to its core, Gaspar Noé presents the story of a young woman who leaves a party only to be brutally raped and beaten in an underpass. Her boyfriend sets off on a vengeance trip with equally tragic results (furthermore, this is all laid out in reverse order). Noé's using both characters to comment on the randomness and cruelty of our world as well as the calamitous nature of revenge. But this is also a movie that bends over backwards to make sure the audience is disoriented, nauseated, and out-of-sorts to even ingest this kind of subject matter -- and that's what I don't get. The ten-minute sexual assault isn't enough, Noé tells this story with a clear hostility towards his viewers. "Irréversible" is a tale told in a sewer; a gutting, homophobic ninety minutes of utter misery.
That said, I think Monica Bellucci deserves massive praise for her fearless performance during the actual assault. It is agonizing, vicious and unbelievably haunting and it took serious conviction to pull this off.
I've sated my curiosity about this movie, but the chances of revisiting this are nil. Life is already too painful to put up with something like this.
The stuff of legend
A '70s revenge flick with Pam Grier. You walk into one of these with certain expectations, probably some nudity, and various pimps, sex workers and bad cops.
But "Coffy" is working on a whole 'nother level.
Within minutes after the opening credits, she's killing off drug pushers with shotgun facials. It's made abundantly clear that she's a one-woman hit squad with deeply personal motivations and zero misgivings.
But there's a humanity to this character, for which Grier is 100% attributable. She is a force in this movie, lending an emotional core to this character and bringing a sense of fun to most of the violence; Given the budget, the production side of things gets pretty rough, but if you ever wonder why Pam Grier is hailed as the queen of blaxploitation, "Coffy" is all you need.
I love this movie.
Bad Boys II (2003)
The magic is gone
Back in '95, Michael Bay still had checks and balances in place. It's why I enjoyed Bad Boys. His "Bayisms" were kept to a minimum, and the movie ran on the Smith/Lawrence chemistry, macho gun battles and slick polish. The Mark Mancina score added loads to the film, and it was pretty funny.
Bad Boys II tosses out all of that. Everything is ramped to 11, including the camerawork, hateful dialogue and coked-fueled editing. This is a testament to a director whose id is fully in charge, and this saps all of the humor, fun and entertainment value.
It is exhausting.
A story so nuts, it had to be true . . .
. . . but you don't expect to be so captivated, all the same. At least, I didn't.
I can't say just how many liberties were taken with this movie's story -- or just how "Hollywood" it is -- but that's why I loved it so much. Affleck approached this film with the '70s movie grain and aesthetics that are right up my alley (even kicking things off with the old Warner Bros logo). And even with such a top-shelf cast, Alan Arkin was the standout for me. His cynical producer made the film's first act in Hollywood so damn enjoyable, and he's just the movie's bright spot.
But even so, Affleck's bona fides are on full display here; it's an exceptionally underplayed performance in an exhilarating suspense flick. He's never wowed me as an actor before now, but I can no longer question in front or behind the camera.
This is a great movie!
Exceptional overview of one of my favorite actors
Portrait of an artist driven by immense hunger and passion, "The World's A Stage" is Raúl Juliá's life under a reverential magnifying glass. The people gathered to offer up commentary and anecdotes do so out of love and admiration, clearly happy to be there.
I've been beating the drum for years; that he's often the shining star in an otherwise great cast. Charisma for days. I hope this marks a newfound recognition of his legacy, even if it's taken twenty-five years to happen.
Put simply, if you only know the man as Gomez Addams, do yourself a favor and give this a watch. It traces his arc from birth to tragic death, and I guarantee you'll walk away with a newfound appreciation for his art. Also, keep a tissue handy.
Well it's different, that's for sure
I was looking forward to this, if nothing else than just context for that "Silver Shamrock" ad that popped up on YouTube. How the hell does that fit into a "Halloween" film?
"Season of the Witch" is a bizarre exercise in creepiness that eschews Michael Myers in favor of . . . jeez, where do we start: lasers, humanoid drones, witchcraft, the Old Man from "RoboCop" as the villain. And then there's the protagonist, a sex-hungry physician (Tom Atkins) who gets caught up in this conspiracy because of . . . I think the writer forgot to add in a reason.
On the one hand, this was enjoyable because I wanted to see how it ended; and the good thing here is that they really went for the John Carpenter mood and ambiguous ending. But the script takes way too long in revealing the evil plot, and that's characteristic of larger pacing issues.
I tend to fall somewhere in the middle on this; it doesn't deserve the hate it received in '82, but it doesn't hold the rewatchable allure for me that would put me in the cult following crowd.
The Osterman Weekend (1983)
A weekend to forget
Early '80s Cold War suspense yarn from Sam Peckinpah (his swan song, no less), and my interest in such marketing was piqued as soon as I happened upon this movie. The actual product is . . . hoo boy . . .
It'a lifeless affair that feels slapped together in almost every way; incoherent script, cheap production values, even the score feels out of place. Rutger Hauer leads a cast of solid performers, all of whom are working with weak material.
I don't know what else to say about this; it did nothing for me.
RUSH: Cinema Strangiato 2019 (2019)
Loved the hell out of this
This particular Fathom Event was a no-brainer, particularly for those few of us that missed the band's last tour. Thankfully, "Cinema Strangiato" is the next best thing. The film came exactly as advertised: concert film with backstage footage mixed-in. The surprise here being a smattering of talking heads singing Rush's praises as personal influences. It's a nice touch, even if the sound levels weren't even.
As for the concert itself, it's pure gold. The camerawork was excellent, and the sound was cranked to eleven. I was genuinely surprised (ecstatic) to see them perform "Losing It", and that remains a highlight for me.
On a purely experiential basis, this deserves high marks. But I will say that most of the theater was abuzz regarding the "See you next year!" postscript. I wasn't expecting an annual thing from this, but count me in.
HIstorical revisionism isn't usually this entertaining
Didn't really know what to expect besides the (unbelievable) cast and the obvious love for the time period, but "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" turned out to be higher-end QT for me. This is much more in line with "Jackie Brown" than his other plot-driven films, and that breezy feeling suits the film to a T.
Case in point: an unusual amount of screentime is devoted to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) slipping into a theater and watching herself on the big screen in "The Wrecking Crew", beaming at the audience's laughter. This is nothing less than a celebration of Tate's legacy (and loss); the camera loves Robbie and so do we. The sweetness in this scene is refreshing.
It's also one of Tarantino's funniest, with much of the humor derived from the characters' disdain for hippies. Yes, Sharon Tate a character in this and yes, the third act goes down on that fateful night . . . but history plays out differently, with brutal and hysterical results.
I loved this movie. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are superb, the period is a engaging sandbox, and this is a highlight of Summer 2019.
Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
"Spider-Man: Far from Home", that pleasing bit of Summer escapism that promised pretty much everything the first movie did. And it delivers; Holland still shines in the lead role, the villain is handled pretty damn effectively and the web-slinging is a lot of fun. There's a particular post-credit appearance that's a genuine delight (loved seeing this character again) and the humor provides just the MCU palate cleanser needed after the world-domination that was "Endgame". I enjoyed myself quite a bit.
One aspect that surprised me is that, just as in the first movie, Tony Stark is once again leaned-on fairly heavily here; and it wasn't a sore spot for me this time. I think it was handled rather well.
The Last Samurai (2003)
A last stand for the ages
Tom Cruise is your haunted veteran who finds himself fighting a whole new civil war in the Far East; and if you want a crash course in what makes the samurai so damn cool, then this will slake that thirst. It also promises at least one epic battle scene, and surely delivers on that note as well.
But I appreciated this movie far more during the quiet moments, when Cruise is held captive by his enemies and forced to learn about the samurai ways. It's his scenes with Ken Watanabe that are really worth the price of admission. They're heartfelt as the two warriors learn to appreciate the simple act of conversation.
It's brutal, it's violent, but also just as beautiful as the scenery.
This team-up mqy sound crazy, but it's a lot of fun!
A satisfying surprise all around, "Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" features an upgrade in character models from the source comic, and actually manages to get the characters right. I loved every one of the turtles (Mikey being the standout) and both Batgirl and Damian work rather well here. Batman, for his part, can be cookie-cutter from one outing to the next, but Troy Baker is a solid Dark Knight regardless.
Great action, vivid animation and fun references throughout.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
The Internet may have broken Ralph on this one
"Ralph Breaks the Internet" seems like the poster child for "what could've been". I like the concept, and there are a couple of good laughs, but the execution is atrocious. I was really into the opening 30 minutes or so (everything inside the arcade is fun) but as soon as they actually make it onto the Internet, it's a downward tumble.
Not gonna lie, I'm disappointed on almost every level. What was heartwarming about the original "Wreck-It Ralph" is lost here. Yeah, it may be ambitious, but it's a waste of the Ralph/Vanellope relationship, the inherent humor of the arcade culture is gone and Disney hijacked the movie for their own (horrifying) studio marketing. Seriously, the Rodent's footprint is massive in this movie.
The Keanu revolution rolls on!
It's probably safe to say that Keanu Reeves has found his Mission: Impossible, that series of action movies that consistently delivers the goods. The next movie had already been greenlit before I'd gotten to the theater for Parabellum, and that is some of the best news I've heard in a great while. Because hot diggity damn, this movie is a lot of fun!
This is nothing short of an adrenaline rush, where every action scene seems to outdo the last. It's solidly-paced, funny, brutal and the fight choreography is unbelievable (what John Wick does with that library book is a thing of violent beauty). It's a sequel that's comfortable in the already-established world and just proceeds to roll out the action.
And I am a willing supporter.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)
A winning improvement!
This is a sequel that seemed to really pay off on the concept more effectively than the first movie. As funny as the exploits of a domesticated cat are (and Chloe continues to be my favorite character), the movie doesn't suffer when the pets leave their apartments and go on an adventure. Even the addition of Harrison Ford, playing to his curmudgeonly strengths, fits right in.
Where I was lukewarm on the original, this is much more charming, and I can see this becoming another Despicable Me-esque franchise. I'm ready for more.
Let me offer no notions of pretense here, I didn't get "Enemy"; not even close. I had no idea what was going on with the spider, which made the ending cut-to-black all the more upsetting. All of this changed after some time to process (and with much-needed help from Chris Stuckmann's video on the matter). It's a movie that demands active participation and further consideration, and if you're up to the challenge, it's a worthwhile endeavor.
But even while watching this, I appreciated the movie on its technical merits. It's beautifully shot (especially if yellow's your color), and Jake Gyllenhaal is fascinating in a dual-role. It can't be easy playing your own doppelgänger, all the while making it an existential crisis.
This is the third movie I've seen from Denis Villeneuve, and even though I have no interest in another "Dune", I'd sit through it for his name alone.
Dragged Across Concrete (2018)
Anything but a drag
The synopsis for "Dragged Across Concrete" promised a tale of suspended policemen who turn to criminality to maintain income. And yeah, that's what the movie's about, but sort of in the abstract. You're in for something else entirely. This film seems to play by its own rules, with everything about it being underplayed and unexpected. Mel Gibson isn't the violent sociopath with a badge that I would expect to see in this type of thing, but more of an obsolete lawman that can't get with the times; and there are violent scenes, but this is in no way a thriller. To top it off, characters that are completely plot-tangential are given space to develop; and the tragedies that befall them knock you right in the solar plexus.
Nothing about this movie can be neatly placed into a box, and that's almost a defining character trait. It's engaging -- no doubt -- but the long stretches of quiet will surprise you. I'd recommend this solely on the basis that you'll have no idea how it will end.
A cesspool of slackers
Easily one of the lightest and hijink-filled Kevin Smith movies, "Mallrats" is the unlikely love story buried in a tale of consumerist tomfoolery. There are all sorts of little things happening in this movie that make me laugh, but you've gotta hand it to Jason Lee for really shouldering this thing. The man's working in shades of irate and I don't think he fails to pull off a single line. This is proof he was born to play Banky Edwards in Chasing Amy, and his rage never fails to delight. Doesn't matter what kind of day I'm having, simply hearing him yell "That kid is on the escalator again!" is always a mood-brightener.
High on silliness
I've long held the belief that a little Jason Mewes goes a long way, which makes a starring role an absolute roll of the dice. But there's plenty of name cameos and View Askiewniverse goings-on to keep things animated. Not all of the gags land, but the light sense of humor makes this enjoyable throughout; and with so much happening, it's easy to move on from the occasional dud.
This is Kevin Smith having his Hollywood access and eating it too. He goes after Tinseltown with sharpened knives and a gleeful smirk, and it makes for a solid vehicle for his two mainstay stoners.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
What's this? A good video game adaptation!
When Pikachu opens his mouth, do you expect Ryan Reynolds' voice? Hell no! And while that was the point of the marketing campaign for "Detective Pikachu", a warm and engaging movie is the surprising result. Best of all, you don't have to know much about the source material -- it's a murder mystery with cute Japanese characters.
With a twisty screenplay and an aesthetic that's equal parts "Blade Runner" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", the movie deposits you in the thick of a who-dunnit, and you don't really have time to care about all the Pokémon goings-on. I certainly didn't walk into this movie as an expert (haven't touched the fandom in twenty years), but still managed to find plenty within to entertain. Reynolds is his usual self without going overboard, and the story is involving from the beginning; at times even touching. I liked these characters, I liked the environment and I'd do it all again.
The Firm (1993)
Functional adaptation of a page-turner
Not at all what I'd expected from Sydney Pollack, a somewhat listless film buoyed by an impressive cast and an experienced composer. Given the drawn-out running time and the protagonist's complicated plan for saving his bacon, "The Firm" is entertaining enough to keep you going, but you can tell that Dave Grusin is really trying to pep things up with his upbeat piano-playing.
All that being said, this is another shining example of Tom Cruise's star power in full effect.
A uniquely haunting nightmare
I was sold on "Mandy" on word-of-mouth alone, but still unprepared for what lay before me; a hellish trip into abject madness by way of a tender love story.
Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough live as one in the wilderness, evil visits upon them for senseless reasons, and devastating loss ensues. After that, it's all about revenge.
And it's here that the movie fires on all cylinders, putting Cage's overacting to refreshing use as a man who's lost it all and prepares for war. I'm trying not to spoil anything here, but there's a particular scene in Cage's bathroom that encapsulates the entire movie. And it's nothing but screaming. Jesus, what a scene.
That one-sheet image gives you an idea of what you're in for (especially when you see Cage's blood-caked face and know that there's a chainsaw fight involved). But the end result still threw me for a loop. The first 75 minutes are tranquil, meditative; that droning score is the only hint of coming violence. And then the movie shifts gears entirely and you're in for a nightmare. Kinda like Mad Max forges a mighty axe and wreaks vengeance as the ambient noise drones on. It's a torturous fever dream and I can't think of anything else like it.
One of the classics
"Aladdin" . . . not only the best movie in the exalted Renaissance period, but also -- along with "The Jungle Book" -- Disney's best musical. Seriously, this soundtrack is chock-full of earworms and none of them are filler.
Everyone knows what this movie's best feature is (and I'll get to that in a second), but the level of quality in its animation is staggering. The color saturation is purely eye-candy, and it makes Agrabah a memorable Disney kingdom. Even the characters (some of the whitest Arabs ever put to film) have personality in their movements that you just don't expect.
These assets by themselves make this a worthwhile movie, but it's Robin Williams who blasts it out of the park. His overstimulated execution leaves an indelible mark on this company's history, and the lion's share of laughs come directly from him. It's a gifted, delightful and energetic performance, and it's easy to lay the movie's vast appeal at his feet.
But honestly, the whole thing is wildly entertaining.
Ruthless People (1986)
Hapless, hilarious people
Another somewhat forgotten '80s comedy (at least in my circles), "Ruthless People" has its share of genuine laughs and plot twists, but doesn't feel anything like you'd expect from a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker joint. It takes a while for the movie to really get going, and the opening is carried entirely by Danny Devito. That said, it's a worthwhile comedy, and features excellent performances by its two leads.
But here's why I would highly recommend this to anyone and their mother: this is the kind of villainous turn that DeVito was seemingly born to play. He's got the face, mannerisms and voice to really epitomize the slimy cretin who's trying to get away with murder; almost the living embodiment of the wicked sneer. This is something akin to his role in "Romancing the Stone" but he is undoubtedly enjoying his time making this movie. It is pure delight.