a_chinn

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Reviews

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
(2019)

Fascinating sequel to the "Breaking Bad" series is more a prequel to the series finale
The COVID pandemic allowed me to go back to series I'd initially missed and one of the first series I went back to during lockdown was "Breaking Bad." It's an amazing series and is arguable one of the best TV series of all time so Netflix producing this sequel movie with the original series creators is cause célèbre. I've been surprised how few of Breaking Bad fans knew about this Netflix original film, but it completely holds up to the high quality of the original series. Picking up immediately following the events of the final episode (SPOILER ALTER), with Jesse Pinkman escaping from the Neo-Nazi compound and also from the law. The film also flashes back to evens prior to Jesse's capture as well as additional details of what occurred during his capture. Although filmed years after the series original ending, the film flows seamlessly from that final episode, with the notable exception of Jesse Plemons as the friendly Nazi having gained significant weight. Only people watching the original series and this film back-to-back would probably notice, but that's how I watched it and it super stood out, but outside of that the film seemed a seamless continuation of the series. Although this was a fitting denouement for the series from creator Vince Gilligan it's also bittersweet to see the series come to its final ending once again. At least we still have the prequel series "Better Call Saul" to give us our fix.

Raiders of the Lost Ark
(1981)

Throwback Nazi-punching adventure tale remains a classic
No story summary is needed for this film since everyone has seen it (if you haven't, go watch it RIGHT NOW!). I saw this in the theater as a kid and it made my mind explode. This viewing was at a pandemic drive-in showing at the fairgrounds with my kids, so it was not the most optimal of setting to watch the film. The sound was broadcast over the radio, which was terrible and we ended up not using, and listening to it over the fairground speakers was only slightly better. The picture quality was so dark you could barely make out what was happening on screen anytime a scene was remotely dark or shadowy, which is fair portion of the film. So although I was highly annoyed this poor presentation poisoned my kids' interest watching further Indiana Jones films, I do still dearly love this film. The script by Lawrence Kasdan ("Empire Strikes Back" "The Big Chill" "Body Heat" "Silverado" "The Accidental Tourist" "The Bodyguard") from a story by George Lucas ("Star Wars") and Phillip Kaufman ("The Right Stuff"), the film is pure H. Rider Haggard with an updated Allan Quatermain in the form of globe trotting archeologist adventure-seeker Indiana Jones searching for treasure, punching Nazis, and saving the world from hidden supernatural forces. As corny as all that sounds, what make "Raiders of the Lost Ark" such a classic is the perfect casting of Harrison Ford, exhilarating direction from Steven Spielberg, and an iconic film score from John Williams. Taking first the casting of Harrison Ford, my favorite measure of a great performance is if you cannot picture any other actor in a role and Ford as Indiana Jones is about the most perfect example of this. Ford pulls off so many great moments, from his expression after the shoot-the-swordsman scene to a later moment in the film where he grudgingly accepts help from Marion (another great bit of casting with Karen Allen) and tells her where it hurts, Ford strikes a unique balance of a character who is both a superman and an everyman. Indiana Jones really is a unique hero for 80s action films, which were primarily populated by invincible Rambos, Conans, or Dirty Harrys. Simply stated, Ford IS Indiana Jones and no one else could have filled that role (but fun fact, Tom Selleck was the original first choice for the role, which wouldn't have been all that bad). As for Spielberg's direction, he captures a pitch perfect tone for the film, balancing its mix of cliffhanger serial films, but treating it like a serious action thriller, nicely updating an old style story with big budget production values, modern stunt work, and contemporary filmmaking techniques and special effects. Whether audiences appreciate throwback touches such as the Peter Lorre analogue Toth or Paul Freeman's Belloq as a stand in for a Claud Raines/James Mason type of suave charming villain, Spielberg litters the film with wonderful small nods to classic Hollywood. He's masterfully crafted a film that's equal parts nostalgic throwback and also something wholly original that had never been done before (treating pulp as serious material). And there are so many great small touches, such as making Indy a little human with an irrational fear of snakes or allowing Indy to be vulnerable allowing Marion to patch his wounds, which is also a testament to Ford's acting skills. A personal favorite little touch is having Indy wear leather gloves when he has his epic fist fight with a musclebound Nazi, which is a badass aesthetic that really needs to come back into fashion in more action flicks. Simply speaking, Spielberg knows film language down to small details in a way few filmmakers can replicate. As for John Williams score, the trumpets for "Indy's Theme" are just as iconic as his themes for "Jaws," "Star Wars," "Superman," "Harry Potter" or innumerable other films he's indelibly left his mark. It's impossible to imaging another composer scoring an Indiana Jones film. Those are the main reasons this is such a great film, but I'd be remiss not to mention the terrific supporting cast that includes Karen Allen as Marion, Paul Freeman as Belloq, Ronald Lacey as Toht, John Rhys-Davies as Sallah, as well as Denholm Elliott and Alfred Molina in a memorable small part at the start of the film before he was famous. Overall, I will admit I have an unhealthy amount of childhood nostalgia for this film, but adolescent bias aside, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is arguably one of the greatest action films of all time.

Dazed and Confused
(1993)

Richard Linklater's 1970s "American Graffiti" is film masterpiece (also a stoner comedy)
Richard Linklater's cult classic still holds up today. I've watched this movie so many times back when it first came out, I've admittedly lost perspective on it to a degree. It played locally as a midnight movie for over a year and if there was ever a Friday or Saturday night with nothing going on, we'd walk down to The Bijou and watch "Dazed and Confused" one more time. Easily dismissed as a stoner comedy, I'd argue that it's five star masterpiece of American cinema. The film is deceptively simple. The plot, if you can call it that, revolves around a group of 1976 Texas teenagers on the last day of school. This thin plot is a step up for Linklater, who's prior film "Slacker" was even thinner, simply a day in the life of Austin, Texas where the camera follows one character to the next character and then to the next and so on and so forth for 90 minutes. For Dazed, our window into this world of 70's Texas teen life is freshman Mitch Kramer, played wonderfully by Wiley Wiggins who I'm surprised didn't go on to many more films, finding himself invited out by the cool seniors. Linklater assembled a pretty amazing cast of before-they-were-famous actors that includes Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Joey Lauren Adams, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Cole Hauser, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt, and Renée Zellweger (as "girl in blue truck"). The only actors who were sort of famous were Jason London and Milla Jovovich. Quentin Tarantino included "Dazed and Confused" on his list of the 10 greatest films of all time in the 2002 Sight and Sound poll, which surveys critics and filmmakers every 10 years. He's said of "Dazed and Confused" that:

"There are certain movies that you hang out with the characters so much that they actually become your friends. And that's a really rare quality to have in a film... and those movies are usually quite long, because it actually takes that long of a time to get past a movie character where you actually feel that you know the person and you like them...when it's over, they're your friends."

And that sums up a major element of why I love this film, that it so easily drawn you into it's world. Additionally, and on a personal level, I found the film immediately identifiable. Although my high school experience was in the late 80s, I feel like just about everything that happens in this film was something from my own high school experience, though I never had a night quite like this one where so much happened all at one time, but I do think most everything depicted in the film has a real-life analogue to my time middle and high school. That nostalgia factor plays heavily into my love of this film, but regardless of those personal connections, you have to admire the how such a seemingly aimless stoner comedy so neatly weaves together into a breezy carefree and yet coherent film. "Dazed and Confused" really should have gotten an Oscar for editing for how it stitches together such seemingly freeform, unconnected scenes into a coherent piece of storytelling. Overall, this film is an incredibly charming piece of nostalgia that connects with me on a personal level, but I believe will also connect with audiences across generations. A classic and an absolute MUST SEE!

FUN FACT! Reportedly one-sixth of the budget was spent on acquiring the rights to 1970s pop hits for the film's stellar soundtrack.

John Wick
(2014)

They killed his dog and there will be hell to pay!
Masterful action flick still hold up for a second viewing. "John Wick" is a top tier action revenge flick worthy the likes of "Point Blank." Keanu plays a grieving recently widowed husband who then suffers a group of punks breaking into his home, stealing his '69 Mustang, and killing his dog. What the punks don't know is that Keanu is a retired hitman for the Russian mob who now has nothing left to live for except revenge. To complicate matters, one of the punks happens to be the irresponsible son of the head of the Russian mob who Keanu once worked for, pitting the two former allies against one another. Keanu then roars and rampages and gets bloody satisfaction, leaving a ridiculous number of bodies in his wake. Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (uncredited due to DGA issues), who both worked with Keanu doing stunk work on The Matrix films, made a knockout directing debut. The action is terrific, both the hand-to-hand martial arts and the shootouts, not appearing as fantastical as The Matrix and a bit more down to earth and physical, but are still jaw droppingly impressive in their choreography. Written by a first time screenwriter, Derek Kolstad, he's crafted a lean, efficient, no nonsense script. The story is straight out of the old school Walter Hill style of stripped down storytelling. The filmmakers even had the wisdom to cast a few Hill film alumni in this picture, David Patrick Kelly ("The Warriors" "48 Hrs." "Last Man Standing" in a memorable small role as a clean-up/body disposal service guy), Willem Dafoe ("Streets of Fire" "Dead For a Dollar"), and Ian McShane ("Deadwood"). The film even has Hill's usual nameless-urban-city type of setting. Top off a tight script and terrific action with an amazing supporting cast of character actors who, besides the aforementioned Hill actors, includes John Leguizamo (as a chop shop owner who does a great job of subtly building up for the audience how dangerous a man John Wick is), Kevin Nash (of WWF/WCW fame), and Clarke Peters ("The Wire"), it's impossible not to love this film! You also get some bigger names like Michael Nyqvist as the Russian mob boss, Dean Winters as his consigliere, the under appreciated Adrianne Palicki as a former colleague of Wick's and now rival hitwoman, and you even have Bridget Moynahan as Wick's wife for all 8 seconds of her screen time. Overall, this is probably the best action film to come out of Hollywood in years and hopefully moves action films aways from the overblown Michael Bay and Wachowski Brothers bombastic style of action. Focusing on the action film basics of stunt work and simply letting the camera capture the action has given us the most badass action flick you'll have seen in year. BONUS FILM SUGGESTION: If you want to see another contemporary back-to-basics style of action flick that seriously delivers the goods, check out the Indonesia action flick "The Raid: Redemption."

To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You
(2020)

Formulaic, corny but pretty irresistible teen rom com sequel
Lara Jean is back and is now officially with her hunky boyfriend from the first film. However, enter a new handsome stranger who comes across another letter, romantic comedy high jinks ensue. It's all super predictable and formulaic, but it's also sweet and pretty irresistible. I also love that the romantic lead of the film is played by an Asian actress and that it's not a plot point either, which is rather novel and not often seen in TV or film. On a related note, I also get equally excited when I see Asian characters who are bullies or jerks (like Reggie on "Riverdale"), since Asian characters are usually nerds or some variation of Long Duk Dong from "Sixteen Candles." But back to this film, even if it has zero surprises, it's movie comfort food. If you liked the first film you'll very likely enjoy P. S. I Still Love You.

La La Land
(2016)

Splashy throwback musical is lush, vivid, fun, but hardly a classic
Bright, vivid, and lavishly produced modern day musical about a struggling LA musican (Ryan Gosling) and actress (Emma Stone) is a charming throwback musical love story. Camera, costumes, and photography do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the musical dance sequence elements, making up for the stars limited abilities, but Gosling and Stone give the film a whole lot of heart and soul. They present fully fleshed out characters as compared to most movie musicals where characters are less developed and are more or less simply character archetypes. The old fashioned Gershwin-like score and songs are terrific and Emma Stone has a surprisingly good breathy singing voice. Even if Gosling is less talented in the singing department, he makes up for it with a fine performance. Although"La La Land" does bring some welcome realism to it's story not typically seen in musicals, it does not go nearly as dark or subversive as Jacques Demy's "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" or Martin Scorsese's "New York, New York" which were more a deconstruction of the musical as a genre. Overall, "La La Land" is a charming throwback for fans of old fashioned movie musicals, even if it's more of a novelty than a true classic. Still, I have to admit I prefer Peyton Reed's homage to Rock Hudson and Doris Day films with his "Down with Love" which although wasn't really a musical outside of the one closing number, but it's throwback feel was far more nostalgic for me.

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia
(2009)

Entertaining cringe comedy is hilarious, but too openly mocks it's subjects to be taken seriously
Hilarious documentary that's really a cringe comedy involving a colorful (and criminal) West Virginia family. The White Family is filled with outrageously colorful and literally criminal characters who are endlessly entertaining to watch in a Jerry Springer sort of way. However, the filmmakers are clearly mocking their subjects and hold them in contempt, which makes the film seem less objective and more simply a sneering elitist hit piece on these uneducated criminal hill folk. Still, the White Family is so outrageous, it's a train wreck that's impossible to look away from and compulsively watchable.

Knives Out
(2019)

Drawing room mystery tale with delightful subversive twists
Writer/director Rain Johnson recovers following his divisive Star Wars film (personally, I enjoyed his darker Star Wars vision) with a wonderfully smart and witty murder mystery. With a stellar cast that includes Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, and Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc (the lead of a soon to be film series), it's hard to imagine this film not being great. The set up is standard Agatha Christie with rich patriarch Plummer found dead and all of the family angling for his fortune being suspect. Although the set-up is standard, Johnson subverts murder mystery conventions, with the cause of death revealed early in the film, but best of all it's the audience who has all the facts and Daniel Craig's detective left in the dark. I don't want to spoil the story, but MINOR SPOILER ALTERT, much of the film's suspense boils down to the fate of a sympathetic protagonist. Overall, if you love a crackling good mystery or wonderful ensemble casts, don't miss this film. BONUS FILM SUGGESTION! If you enjoyed "Knives Out" you should check out Rain Johnson's first film as writer/director, "Brick." It's another wildly fun murder mystery, though it's in the mold of Raymond Chandler with a high school Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a noirish teenage Phillip Marlow.

RoboCop
(1987)

Classic action/sci-fi flick holds up as wildly violent and incredibly witty
Arguably Paul Verhoven's best film. Peter Weller plays a future cop who's killed in the line of duty, only to have his remains transformed into the titular RoboCop. Nancy Allen, an actress who I've always liked and always felt was underused, plays Weller's parter before he's killed and helps him after he becomes a cyborg. Besides the heroes, there are some terrific villains played by Ronny "Deliverance" Cox, Kurtwood "That 70's Show" Smith, Miguel "Traffic" Ferrer, and Ray "Twin Peaks" Wise. Smith is particularly good as the vile Clarence Boddicker. This is the character I will forever see Smith as, regardless of whatever part he's playing. Boddicker seriously has to be one of the greatest villains of all time. The film's story is pure pulp, but is elevated by some terrific performances, great action sequences (with a level of violence that still impresses nearly 40 years later), and a certain level of satire that's much smarter than the film's story would have you think. Subsequent sequels tried to ape the satirical elements of the original film, but those film reduced it down to TV news clips that play like weak Onion headlines. What the sequels lack, highlight what is so good about the original. "Robocop" is science fiction film that really does deserve to be called a classic.

Guns Akimbo
(2019)

Exuberant, outrageous, and surprisingly dull
Harry Potter finds himself with guns bolted to his hands and forced to fight for his life in an underground death match broadcast for an online audience of millions. The action and comedy are over-the-top, stylish, but surprisingly dull after the first few shootouts. All the noise and fury is numbing after a while and felt simply repetitions and boring. The best action flicks pace the action scenes so each subsequent action sequence is bigger and better than the last. That was always the downfall of the first "Blade" film, where the opening sequence was by far the best action set piece of the film and everything else that followed paled in comparison. Still, Daniel Radcliff is good in the lead and provides the best moments outside of the noise and fury, such as when he's trying to put on his pants with guns bolted to his hands or simply trying to open a door. More focus on comedy and character development would have helped this film greatly. Overall it's not terrible, but it could have been a whole lot better.

Alienator
(1990)

Enjoyable Fred Olen Ray Schlock
Corny low budget sci-fi flick is rather charming if these sort of campy low budget flicks are your bag (it's probably a zero to one star movie for viewers with normal movie tastes). Genre veteran Ross Hagen ("The Mini-Skirt Mob" "The Devil's 8" "Angels' Wild Women") plays a space prisoner who's about to be executed, but he escapes to earth where he's hunted by the titular Alienator (you know, like the Terminator), which is hilariously played by a hulking female bodybuilder in a Tina Turner-style fright wig. Hagen befriends a group of earth teenagers who help him stop the unstoppable Alienator. Throw in Jan-Michael Vincent ("Airwolf" "The Mechanic") and John Phillip Law ("Danger: Diabolik" "Barbarella"), who clearly filmed all their scenes in one day so the producers could add a couple name actors to the film's poster, and you have a corny Roger Corman style low budget film that's pretty irresistible for fans of this sort of thing. However, non-fan should probably avoid this one like the plague and will find it ridiculous. FUN FACT! Director Fred Olen Ray started his career with cheapie genre flicks like "Cyclone," "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers," and "Alienator," moved his way down the ladder to late night Cinemax style fare, and now makes a living directing cable channel family Christmas movies. Quite a career journey there.

Escape Plan
(2013)

Sly and Arnold, together at last (sadly ho-hum)
Muscular, sci-fi version of Samuel Fuller's "Shock Corridor" has our hero, security expert and escape artist Sly Stallone, going undercover as a prisoner to blow the whistle on a secret government space prison. The fun really starts when Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up as a fellow inmate who helps Sly escape. Don't expect Fuller's subtle critique of contemporary America in this knuckle-dragging throwback style action flick. Instead, expect a pretty standard prison escape film (in space) that's overlong and takes itself way too seriously. Arnold looks like he's having fun and takes the right tone, but Sly seems to think he's going for an Oscar, which kind of ruins the fun. However despite its faults, the pairing of Stallone and Schwarzenegger really does go a long way, so if you enjoyed their cheesy action flicks of the 80s (i.e. "Tango & Cash" or "Commando") you'll likely enjoy this geriatric cheesy outing. BONUS FILM PICK: If you want a better space prison action flick, check out the underrated Christopher Lambert film "Fortress," which at one point Arnold was originally set to star.

Lurking Fear
(1994)

H.P. Lovecraft "adaptation" is more Charles Band than Lovecraft or even Stuart Gordon
VERY loose adaptation of the H. P. Lovecraft story of the same name is nowhere as good as Stuart Gordon's "Re-Animator" or "From Beyond". Although those adaptations also played fast and loose with their source materials (for my money, the only film to really feel like a Lovecraft story is the 2005 faux silent film "The Call of Cthulhu"), but this adaptation fails at even being entertaining. The story involves rival groups of criminals looking to dig up a corpse in a graveyard that's hiding a big stash of stolen money. However, this same night a group of townspeople are planning to dispose of an ancient evil living beneath this very same graveyard. The film boasts a stronger than usual cast for a Full Moon Features production, with Jon Finch ("Macbeth" "Frenzy"), Jeffrey Combs ("Re-Animator" "The Frighteners", Paul Mantee ("Robinson Crusoe on Mars" "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"), Vincent Schiavelli ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" "Ghost"), and "Hellraiser" star Ashley Laurence, but they are wasted with poorly developed characters, though Schiavelli is a lot of fun in his one-scene appearance at the start of the film. When I rewatched the restored blu ray print of the film, I was struck by the better than expected photography by regular Full Moon cinematographer Adolfo Bartoli ("Trancers" 3-5, "Oblivion" 1-2, "Puppet Master" 3-5, etc.). However, writer/director C. Courtney Joyner ("Doctor Mordrid" "Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge") fails to create much atmosphere and it's unclear if the film wanted to be a serious horror film or wanted to be tongue-in-cheek. It ends up being neither and fails as a whole. FUN FACT! It "The Lurking Fear" was originally to be made by producer Charles Band's earlier company Empire Pictures and directed by Stuart Gordon, which I'm sure would have been a MUCH better film.

Murder Mystery
(2019)

Sandler and Aniston bicker and solve a mystery
Not exactly Nick & Nora Charles, but an enjoyably silly murder mystery with Adam Sandler (as an NYC cop) and Jennifer Aniston as an old married couple on their first trip to Europe finding themselves invited onto an fancy luxury yacht, but when the lights go out they find their wealthy host (Terence Stamp) dead with a knife in his heart. It's an Agatha Christie mystery if the detectives were older versions of Rachel Green and Happy Gilmore, though either of those shows are way better than this one. Still, "Murder Mystery" is a comfort food sorts that's easy going down and nothing too fancy, though you'll probably immediately forget everything you saw once it's over.

Back to the Future Part II
(1989)

Sequel lacks the heart of the original, but still has the fun
The original "Back to the Future" film was a hit with my kids during one of their "Film Appreciation" family movie viewings and this sequel was also well received, though they were confused at times with all of the time travel lines crossing one another. I enjoyed rewatching the film, but my main complaint is that this sequel lacks the heart of the original film and was overly plot driven. It's still funny, suspenseful, and exciting, but it didn't have the innocent charms of the original. For that reason, it's the weakest of the trilogy, but it's still well worth watching. FUN FACT! According "Back to the Future Park II" writer Bob Gale, adult Biff Tannen and his gaudy casino filled with portraits of himself was based on Donald Trump.

Blood Simple
(1984)

Film debut of the Coen Brothers is a neo-noir masterpiece
The Coen Brother's debut film is still a knockout today. For their first film, they made a dark, moody modern film noir with a classic set up. John Getz steps out with his boss' wife, Frances McDormand. Dan Hedaya plays the cuckolded husband who suspects something is up, so he hires a private detective, the great M. Emmet Walsh ("Blade Runner" "Raising Arizona" "The Jerk"), to check up on his wife. To reveal more would spoil the fun, but if you've read any James M. Cain, you probably know where the plot is headed. While the story is strong, like most Coen Brothers' films, it's the visuals that make the film so memorable, filled with images that burn themselves into your memory (the close up of Hadaya's broken finger, headlights on a lonely highway, a moving pile of dirt, and the light shaft through bullet holes in a wall, which I believe this film did first). Barry Sonnenfeld did the photography on the film, as well as the next two Coen Brother films ("Raising Arizona" and "Miller's Crossing") and his mark is unmistakable. When Sonnenfeld quit cinematography to produce and direct his own film, such as "Men in Black" and "The Addams Family," the Coens managed to find some other very talented replacements, but Sonnenfeld left a unique mark on the films he did with the Coens. Actually, Sonnenfeld left his mark on all of the films he worked as cinematographer, which was only nine feature films in total ("Compromising Positions" "Three O'Clock Hight" "Throw Momma from the Train" "Big" "When Harry Met Sally..." and "Misery"). But back to "Blood Simple," this film is an incredibly tight and suspenseful thriller. The finale, is something of a precursor to type of brutality you'd find in the violent crime films of the 90s, ALA "Shallow Grave" or Tarantino. A must see for fans of classic film noir or fans of the Coen Brothers who may have missed this early effort. FUN FACT! On the MGM DVD and blu-ray editions (not the Criterion editions) there is a commentary track by film historian Kenneth Loring, who is in fact an actor reading a completely fake commentary that was written by Joel and Ethan Coen. Some of his "facts" include that Marty's dog was animatronic and that one driving scene was acted out in reverse as well as upside down.

Pitch Black
(2000)

The film sci-fi/action flick that introduced the world to Vin Diesel
Very suspenseful sci-fi action film is essentially "Assault on Precinct 13" in space, but while the story lacks originality, I'd consider it the most suspenseful sci-fi film film since "Alien" or "Aliens." From writer/director David Twohy (writer of "The Fugitive" and writer/director of "The Arrival" and the underrated WWII submarine ghost story "Below), the story involves a transport ships crash landing on a seemingly deserted planet. When they discover the planet has deadly creatures who only come out at night and that a month long eclipse is about to happen, our heroes are in for a lot of trouble. The heroes include a scrappy female pilot, the excellent Radha Mitchell, a bounty hunter, Cole Hauser, who is transporting an infamous killer, Richard B. Riddick, played by Vin Diesel in his star-making role. Diesel steals every scene and he deservedly became a star following this film's release, landing roles in "Fast and the Furious" and "xXx." Twohy's script has a number of unexpected twists I don't want to spoil, but the film has a bit of an Agatha Christie "And Then There Were None" vibe with a rogues gallery of characters that is a lot of fun. The most interesting of of the supporting characters is Keith David ("They Live" "The Thing" "Platoon") as a holy man. My main complaint about the film is the amount of time it takes to get to the dark (almost 60 minutes). I also didn't care for the harsh photography during the sunlit scenes, which were done to contrast to the later dark scenes, but I didn't care for the bleached blown-out look. However, those are fairly minor quibbles for what is otherwise a smart, suspenseful film that boasts a dynamite performance form Vin Diesel. A must see for sci-fi fans!

Crawl
(2019)

Suspenseful, but would have been better without CGI gators
I'm not sure I'd have been all that excited about another nature-gone-wild film about killer alligators during a hurricane, except that this one was directed by Alexandre Aja, who helped usher in the French new wave of extreme horror with "High Tension" and then came to Hollywood to make some solid horror flicks, including the remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" and the surprisingly good "Piranha 3D." The story here follows a woman going into the center of a storm to help her father (Barry Pepper). She and her dad then find themselves trapped in a house that's quickly flooding and now infested with alligators. They're not radioactive, or 40-feet long, or mutated. They are regular ol' gator just looking for food, which helps the film with some of its credibility. It also helps that the film keeps it small and suspenseful. Almost the entire film is takes place within the flooding house and Aja builds suspense wonderfully. Aja creates a scenario where the audience can't help but think to themselves "What would I do in this situation?" and for the most part the characters act intelligently and make reasonable choices you would do in the same circumstances, which also helps to make this horror film more effective and draw the audience in. What hurts the film the most is the CGI alligators, which are distracting and take you out of the reality of a slowing flooding house in the middle of a category-5 hurricane. I'd have preferred a few animatronic alligators that are shown less on screen, ALA "Jaws" or "Alien," which would have felt more realistic and also more frightening. I recently rewatched the originally "Jurassic Park" and had the same feeling about the dinosaurs. The Stan Winston designed practical dinosaurs the actors could touch and interact with were far more compelling than the computer animated ones. But this is an old sticking point for me. CGI is only good when you don't notice it and it's unfortunately very noticeable here, but despite that, "Crawl" is nonetheless an enjoyable scary horror flick that's well worth watching. FUN FACT! Out of all the movies that were released in 2019, Quentin Tarantino has selected this one as his favorite.

VFW
(2019)

Nasty badass low rent version of "The Expendables" is grindhouse magic!
Take a bunch of badass elder action heroes (well, more like a very cool second tier version of "The Expendables"), which includes Stephen Lang ("Tombstone" "Manhunter"), William Sadler ("Die Hard 2" "Trespass"), Fred Williamson ("Black Caesar" "Hell Up In Harlem" "From Dusk Till Dawn"), Martin Kove ("The Karate Kid" "Rambo: First Blood Part II"), and you have a low budget action film I defy Gen-X action film fans to resist. In addition to the aforementioned actors, you also get David Patrick Kelly ("The Warriors" "Dreamscape" "The Crow") and George Wendt ("Cheers" "House" "Dreamscape"), so the VFW heroes are a group it's hard not to root for. The story has these elder badasses hanging out at their local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) lodge when they find themselves protecting a witness to murder from savage street gang, leading to a wildly brutal siege by the mutant gang members. The story is basically "Assault on Precinct 13" (which itself was a spiritual remake of "Rio Bravo"), but what the story lacks in originality is made up for by stylish and suspenseful direction by Joe Begos (lots of neon and low lights to hide wrinkles on vain aging actors, I'm guessing), a surprisingly strong subtext about aging and the treatment of our elder community, and terrifically fun gory retro special effects done practically and without CGI. In terms of film violence, "VFW" blows away contemporary siege films such as "The Purge" or "Dog Soldiers" in terms of gore and viscera, but while the film is utterly savage, it's done in a manner where the audience will laugh as much as cringing. Overall, "VFW" is pretty unoriginal, but also pretty hard to resist for fans of violent old school action flicks. FUN FACT! "VFW" was co-written by Max Brallier, who is best know as the author of the popular kids book series "The Last Kids on Earth" as well as some hilariously adult themed post apocalyptic choose-your-own-adventure books.

I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale
(1973)

Solid porto-slasher Italian who done it thriller
I'm a little late to the game when it comes to director Sergio Martino, who I was really only familiar with for his 80s Max Max ripoff movies, which were enjoyable if nothing exceptional (personally, I have the unpopular opinion that the Filipino Mad Max knockoffs by Cirio H. Santiago are the best of the low budget warriors of the wasteland flicks), but this Giallo/proto-slasher is pretty entertaining. It's a familiar set-up of a hooded killer strangling pretty college girls. Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth count this film among their favorites, but I'm not sure it quite grabbed me the same way. For Italian body-count proto-slashers I prefer Mario Bava's "Blood and Black Lace" but the mystery here is actually pretty good and the kills in the film are scary and at times shocking, which you'd expect from a 70s Giallo, so it's satisfying in that respect. Overall, it's not as smart or as elegant as Martino's "Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key" but it's never boring. Recommended for fans of these sorts of film. Others might want to pass.

Brittany Runs a Marathon
(2019)

Enjoyable earnest dramedy
I was familiar with Jillian Bell from the crass but super funny workplace comedy "Workaholics" and she gives a surprisingly sincere and genuinely moving performance as a young woman who decides to make positive health changes in her life by training for the NYC Marathon. The film is predictable and borders on cliche, but it has an honesty about it that you don't usually get in these sort of films which puts it above similar fare. Well worth watching.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
(2006)

Clever low budget faux-documentary satire of slasher films makes the slasher the hero
Clever low budget horror satire deconstructs the slasher film. A group of documentary filmmakers follow around a would be Jason/Michel Meyers-like killer as he plans for his reign of terror on the every-town-USA city of Glen Echo. The first two acts of the film present Vernon as a likable dreamer wanting to make a name for himself. The film takes a turn in the third act when he actually carries out his maniacal plans in the best sort of slasher film manner. One very funny moments involves the appearance of Robert England (Freddy Kreuger himself!) as Doc Halloran (a nod to The Shining's Dick Halloran), playing the Captain Ahab figure of the film, much like Dr. Loomis from "Halloween," which is a lot of fun. There's also some nice stylistic flourishes when the film switches between documentary style to a more cinematic style when Vernon is describing what his reign of terror will look like, more closely approximating the slasher flicks this film is mocking. There's' also Zelda "Poltergeist" Rubinstein as Mrs. Collinwood (the name of the mansion in "Dark Shadows") and Kane "Jason" Hodder playing "Guy at Elm Street House" which is fun. Overall, this is a crack-up for horror fans and also probably a pretty good time for non-horror fans as well. If you dug "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil" you'll like "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon."

Hit and Run
(2012)

"Smokey and the Bandit" style car chase comedy for the next generation
Written, co-directed, co-edited, staring, and stunt driving by Dax Shepard, Dax plays an ex-con getaway driver named Charles Bronson who's now in the witness protection program, but when his girlfriend (played by real-life girlfriend Kirsten Bell) has to get to LA in time for an interview, he risks exposing himself to the criminals he's hiding from. Add into the mix a deranged ex-boyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum), an incompetent parole officer (Tom Arnold), and two federal marshals (Jason Bateman being one of them), you have a reasonable set-up for a "Smokey and the Bandit" style of car chase comedy. "Hit and Run" is not as great as Smokey, but it has a likable cast, which also includes Bradley Cooper, Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Arnold, Beau Bridges, Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, David Koechner, and features some terrific stunt driving, all of which Shepard did himself using mostly cars he personally owned. During one sketchy stunt at the end of the film, Bell tells a story of how she decided to ride in the car with Shepard instead of using a stunt double, figuring it would be great for the film or they would simply die together. She the qualified that decision by saying, this was before they'd gotten married and had kids and that she'd never do something like that now. "Hit and Run" isn't a classic, but if you enjoy muscle car flicks like "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Gone in 60 Seconds" you'd probably dig this film.

Dark Angel
(1990)

Dolph Lundgren's best film as a lead is a bonkers sci-fi action flick!
Stuntman turned director Craig R. Baxley only has a few theatrical films to his credit and they're all solid if not especially memorable, but I would argue that "I Come In Peace" stands out as something of a forgotten sci-fi action near-classic. The bonkers idea behind the film is that a trench coat-wearing, mullet-headed, almost 7-foot tall alien is terrifying and then killing the citizens of Los Angeles to extract their adrenalin for sale in the outer space alien drug market. This drug dealing alien is also peruse by another trench coat-wearing, mullet-headed, almost 7-foot tall alien space marshal. Caught between these two rival aliens are the heroes of the film, mismatched police detectives Dolph Lundgren, the muscular cop who plays by his own set of rules, and Brian Benben, the nebbish detective who likes to plays it by the book. So what you get with "I Come in Peace" is a likable buddy copy action film, dropped into a gonzo sci-fi film. I also forgot to mention the bad alien has a deadly disk he fires from a weapon on his wrist that does a TON of gory damage, slicing it's way through various objects and victims. The film greatly benefits from better than expected script for this sort of film, having been co-written by David Koepp, who actually took his name off the film and used a pseudonym, but who'd go on to write "Jurassic Park," "Mission Impossible" "Panic Room" and "Carlito's Way." It's far from his best script, but as Dolph Lundgren films go, it's easily his best. On the downside, the characters are cardboard cutouts and the story, though interesting at times, drags between action scenes. Still, Baxley delivers some impressive stunts, well staged action, and some seriously big explosions, which in addition to the gonzo sci-fi story, make this film something I'd consider a near sci-fi action classic. Overall, this is a must-see for Dolph fans and a maybe-watch for fan of muscular 80s action flicks.

Rapid Fire
(1992)

Hollywood's best approximation of a Hong Kong action film up to that point
Brandon Lee plays a university student who finds himself caught up between rival drug kingpins and a group of undercover cops, led by the great Powers Boothe, who are trying to take them down. Lee originally wanted John Woo ("The Killer" "Hard Boiled" "A Better Tomorrow") to direct this film, but this was prior to Woo making his Hollywood debut as director with "Hard Target," "Mission Impossible 2" and "Face-Off." A John Woo directed action film staring the son of Bruce Lee might have been an action film classic, but what you do end up with is Hollywood's best approximation of a Hong Kong style action film up to that point in time. Woo would make his US debut the following year and that's when Hong Kong directors would bring their style of action mayhem to American films with the likes of John Woo's "Broken Arrow," Ringo Lam's "Maximum Risk," or Ronny Yu's "Freddy vs. Jason" which brought a level on insanity to action films that had not ever been seen before in American films. That style of action is now standard, but at the time it was revolutionary and that's what this film could have been. Still, director Dwight H. Little's action does a pretty solid approximation of Hong Kong style of action mayhem. Brandon Lee also exudes charism and charm in his first major US film (I'm not sure "Laser Mission" or "Showdown in Little Tokyo" count.) Outside of "The Crow" this is his only other film of any note, but it's well worth watching for fans of martial arts action films.

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