Archive for December, 2014

The Sons of Katie Elder

Posted in Classics, Movie Reviews, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The four adult sons of Katie Elder – John (John Wayne), who is a famous (or infamous) professional gunman; Tom (Dean Martin), a professional gambler; Bud (Michael Anderson, Jr.), the youngest brother, still in school; and Matt (Earl Holliman), an unsuccessful hardware dealer – reunite in their hometown of Clearwater, Texas, in 1898 for their mother’s funeral, sharing regret that none of them has lived up to her high expectations of them.

The townspeople are unfriendly, to John and Tom in particular. Katie Elder was extremely well liked by everyone in the community, who were all aware of her honesty, her poverty and her undying love for the sons who neglected her. The brothers want to do something for Katie’s sake, and their plan is to send youngest son Bud to college, raising money through a sale of another man’s herd of horses, even though Bud wants to emulate his eldest brother.

Morgan Hastings (James Gregory), a gunsmith and rising entrepreneur, claims ownership of the Elders’ ranch, saying he won it from their father in a game of cards; Bass Elder afterwards was shot in the back, and the killer is still unknown. Hastings hides a hostile attitude towards the brothers and brings in a hired gun, Curley (George Kennedy), just in case. The Elders suspect foul play. Hastings claims Bass lost the ranch in a game of Blackjack, so John, in a ruse, states their father wouldn’t have been caught dead playing Blackjack.

When Hastings learns about the brothers’ investigations, he frames them for murder of the sheriff (Paul Fix). Then, not content with seeing them go to prison, Hastings arranges an ambush in which Matt is killed and Bud seriously injured. John and Tom take it upon themselves to avenge the family.

Tom manages to kidnap Hasting’s weak-willed son Dave (Dennis Hopper), although he is seriously injured in the process. Hastings shoots his own boy in an attempt to prevent him from testifying. In the presence of John Elder and the local judge, a wounded Dave manages to relate the tale of his father’s crimes before he dies. John takes up arms and sends Hastings to meet his maker inside his own gun store

REVIEW:

Well, it is the last day of the year 2014. Guess I should end with something that should theoretically be a good watch, right? Since Netflix is forcing my hand and telling my that The Sons of Katie Elder will be leaving instant streaming tomorrow, I guess I don’t have much choice in the matter and need to get this film watched. What will the verdict on it be, though?

What is this about?

John Wayne stars as the eldest of four Elder brothers who reunite in Texas to bury their mother and investigate the death of their father. But a meddling sheriff and a rival gang have other plans for the brothers, and soon the air is thick with lead.

What did I like?

Brotherly love. Four brothers come together for their mother’s funeral. Given the circumstances in which the two oldest and the youngest left, it is no wonder that they are at each other’s throats. There is hurt there from feelings of abandonment, or maybe it is just sibling rivalry. At any case, the film does a great job of making these guys feel as if they really are brothers but, let’s face it, that is some age gap between John Wayne and the youngest. Not to mention who in the world would believe that Wayne and Dean Martin are brothers?

No shades of gray. It has been said that westerns, especially the spaghetti westerns, cloud the moral code to the point that you can’t tell who is the good and who is bad (or ugly, too?) It is pretty clear who is good and bad with this film. I would go so far as to say the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys wear black, but the sheriff is wearing a black hat. Still, the moral ambiguity that has become commonplace today is not on display. Instead we get characters that clearly portray to the audience whether they are right or wrong.

Scenic Clearwater. Westerns are underrated when it comes to scenery. I say this because most assume that all that can be seen is tumbleweed, dirty towns, and maybe a farm or two. With that said, there isn’t much in the way of a town to be seen in this film, but when they go out into the frontier, well, it is beautiful open space. The kind of land that we just don’t see anymore because America is so “developed”. One has to just take in the beauty of nature, if only for a few seconds.

What didn’t I like?

Just the facts. While this is loosely based on a true story, that is not my issue with the film, but rather the way no one would give our heroes any answers. They all seemed to either clam up or dance around the questions. Why is that? I cannot tell you, but it made for a good mystery. Thing is, this isn’t a mystery film, nor did it try to go down that route. However, going that way may have helped it, as it would have given us something new and different, rather than the same old stuff we typically get from films of this nature.

Little brother. Myself and many of my ilk seem to have a real issue with kids and teenager in today’s film, and society for that matter. They are annoying and disrespectful. I don’t know about you, but had I talked back and cussed out my parents, I’d have been slapped into the next millennium! Today’s kids can do that and if the parents do anything about it, they’re quick to yell child abuse. Ugh! What has our society devolved into? The youngest Elder son, while not that level of disrespectful, does seem to have a hint of it in him. I think this was done to give him some character, but he needs to respect his Elders more (see what I did there), as well as stop complaining about college and go.

Single white female. Aside from the red herring that is the deceased Katie Elder, the only female that is seen or heard from is Mary Gordon. Miss Mary is someone who had a close relationship with Katie and appears to have caught the eye of her eldest son. Thing is, though, she doesn’t serve any real purpose in the film other than to just be a female presence and cause some uncomfortable flirting from Wayne. Does she contribute to the plot in any way? No. Is she eye candy? Well, she’s not an eye sore, but I wouldn’t exactly call her eye candy, at least in this role. Like I said, she’s exists to exist.

The Sons of Katie Elder was quite entertaining and well-made, though I am starting to wonder if John Wayne can do anything other than play the tough guy in thee westerns. On the flip side, Elmer Bernstein provided a great score for this flick, very similar to his work in The Magnificent Seven. While there are better westerns out there, this is still a very good, quality film. For those that want to introduce the family to the genre, but are too scared of the violence, maybe this is one you should consider. Yes, there are fights, drinking, and gunfights, but compared to many of the other westerns, it is quite tame. So, do I recommend it? Yes, very highly!

4 1/3 out of 5 stars

Advertisements

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The governor of an unnamed western state, Hubert “Happy” Hopper (Guy Kibbee), has to pick a replacement for recently deceased U.S. Senator Sam Foley. His corrupt political boss, Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold), pressures Hopper to choose his handpicked stooge, while popular committees want a reformer, Henry Hill. The governor’s children want him to select Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), the head of the Boy Rangers. Unable to make up his mind between Taylor’s stooge and the reformer, Hopper decides to flip a coin. When it lands on edge – and next to a newspaper story on one of Smith’s accomplishments – he chooses Smith, calculating that his wholesome image will please the people while his naïveté will make him easy to manipulate.

Junior Senator Smith is taken under the wing of the publicly esteemed, but secretly crooked, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), who was Smith’s late father’s friend. Smith develops an immediate attraction to the senator’s daughter, Susan (Astrid Allwyn). At Senator Paine’s home, Smith has a conversation with Susan, fidgeting and bumbling, entranced by the young socialite. Smith’s naïve and honest nature allows the unforgiving Washington press to take advantage of him, quickly tarnishing Smith’s reputation with ridiculous front page pictures and headlines branding him a bumpkin.

To keep Smith busy, Paine suggests he propose a bill. With the help of his secretary, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), who was the aide to Smith’s predecessor and had been around Washington and politics for years, Smith comes up with a bill to authorize a federal government loan to buy some land in his home state for a national boys’ camp, to be paid back by youngsters across America. Donations pour in immediately. However, the proposed campsite is already part of a dam-building graft scheme included in an appropriations bill framed by the Taylor “political machine” and supported by Senator Paine.

Unwilling to crucify the worshipful Smith so that their graft plan will go through, Paine tells Taylor he wants out, but Taylor reminds him that Paine is in power primarily through Taylor’s influence. Through Paine, the machine in his state accuses Smith of trying to profit from his bill by producing fraudulent evidence that Smith already owns the land in question. Smith is too shocked by Paine’s betrayal to defend himself, and runs away.

Saunders, who looked down on Smith at first, but has come to believe in him, talks him into launching a filibuster to postpone the appropriations bill and prove his innocence on the Senate floor just before the vote to expel him. In his last chance to prove his innocence, he talks non-stop for about 24 hours, reaffirming the American ideals of freedom and disclosing the true motives of the dam scheme. Yet none of the Senators are convinced.

The constituents try to rally around him, but the entrenched opposition is too powerful, and all attempts are crushed. Owing to the influence of Taylor’s machine, newspapers and radio stations in Smith’s home state, on Taylor’s orders, refuse to report what Smith has to say and even distort the facts against the senator. An effort by the Boy Rangers to spread the news in support of Smith results in vicious attacks on the children by Taylor’s minions.

Although all hope seems lost, the senators begin to pay attention as Smith approaches utter exhaustion. Paine has one last card up his sleeve: he brings in bins of letters and telegrams from Smith’s home state, purportedly from average people demanding his expulsion. Nearly broken by the news, Smith finds a small ray of hope in a friendly smile from the President of the Senate (Harry Carey). Smith vows to press on until people believe him, but immediately collapses in a faint. Overcome with guilt, Paine leaves the Senate chamber and attempts to commit suicide, but is stopped by other senators. When he is stopped, he bursts back into the Senate chamber, loudly confessing to the whole scheme; that he should be expelled from Senate, and affirms Smith’s innocence.

REVIEW:

Politics has never been my cup of tea. I tend to avoid it whenever and however I can, which is rather hard considering the fact that my boss was a one time Democratic campaign manager up in Connecticut and gets his jollies off of any and all things politics. That being said, I have heard so many things about Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, none of them bad, that the chance to watch this film and determine its greatness could not be passes up.

What is this about?

In Frank Capra’s classic, junior senator Jefferson Smith remains idealistic despite widespread corruption among his cynical colleagues in Washington.

What did I like?

Kid in a candy store. Think about something you want but never think would ever happen to you. For me, it would be meeting my idol, Louis Armstrong. The shock and awe from that moment would leave me speechless and probably a bit bewildered, to say the least. Jimmy Stewart’s character, Jefferson Smith, has a very similar position as he has been chosen to fill a Senate seat. The wide-eyed look he has is akin to taking a country kid, who never gets out, to the big city. That innocence is also what drives his character and makes the audience appreciate him that much more.

Scatter like rats. I found humor watching the press scatter with every sentence that was uttered in the Senate chamber. Taking into account that this is only a film, I can’t help but wonder how much is rooted in actual fact. I can just see the press of today going out to make a call on their phones. Actually, they probably wouldn’t even have to go out, just type it up on their laptops or send a text, but back in these days they had to scatter like rats and roaches, which is basically all the press is anyway.

Powerful. Back when I first got cable, I would just randomly flip through channels, not necessarily looking for anything, but because I could. Occasionally, I’d come across C-Span and would see the people standing there prattling on about something or other. Little did I know that they were filibustering. What does this have to do with anything? Well, the most powerful and penultimate scene in this film is where Jefferson Smith, who has been framed, begins talking to the Senate in an attempt to clear his name. After some squabbling amongst the Senators, he pulls out what appears to be a speech, some fruit, and a thermos and goes on to talk for nearly 24 hours. It takes a driven man to do this, and a great actor to portray him. Watching him give everything he had in an effort to defend himself will show you why this film is held in such high regard.

What didn’t I like?

Corruption. Government is corrupt. Today’s society knows that probably more than at any other time in history, save for the gangster era. However, I think the problem we have today is between the parties. Back then, though, it seemed as if one man was able to control the entire system. How is this possible? Can a governor wield this much power? I know that I wouldn’t want my governor doing such. Hell, he already has tried to shut down colleges, bankrupt poor college kids, and end public schools. I’m sure he has something else up his sleeve before his term is over. Back to the Governor in the film, though. This guy is almost like a crime boss with the amount of power he has. He’s even able to control things in Washington. Again, this is a Governor controlling all of this!!!

Turncoat. If ever there was a sympathetic villain, I think it would be Senator Paine. This is the guy from the same state  as Jefferson Smith, was best friends with his dad, and took the guy under his wing. Then this business of Willett Creek came up and we found out his true colors…or did we? Paine, who was a lawyer before becoming a Senator, goes on the attack, drumming up phony documents that frame Smith for owning the land where he wants to build his camp, and this is just the beginning. From that point on, Paine twists the knife deeper and deeper into Smith’s back, but complains to the Governor how he can’t take it and wants out. Finally, he caves and confesses, but it leaves the audience to question his motives. If he liked the kid so much, why didn’t he confess earlier, rather than constant attacks? Did it really require a near-death experience to get to this revelation?

Sheep. I hear, well see, people talking on Facebook all the time about how “the masses are sheep following a blind leader into destruction that will ultimately end this country” or something like that. Whenever I see something like this, I have to think to myself. Everyone has a brain and they can make up their own mind. No one is being brainwashed. Watching the Senators reaction to Jefferson Smith after the accusations makes me wonder, though. I don’t think there was a man in there that believed Smith, except maybe the Senate President, who had to remain neutral. I find it hard to believe that every single one of these men believed that cock and bull story that was presented to them by the corrupted Senator Paine and the Governor’s payroll (did I mention how his boys threatened and beat up kids to make sure Smith’s name stayed in the mud?). I guess if there were, the film decided not to show any supporters for Smith, except for Saunders, for dramatic effect, but still, that was a bit much. It was like the guy was disliked by all before and then they all just started to hate on him!

Jefferson Smith is the kind of man we need today in Washington. He is proud, idealistic, innocent, and won’t stand for corruption. Unfortunately for us, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is just a movie. Well, not just a movie, a damn great film! I really don’t have much else to say about this flick other than it is something I feel as if I should have watched in high school Civics class as a way to demonstrate filibusters, and to a lesser extent, the Senate in action. Do I recommend this film? Yes, very much so! This is without a doubt one of those film you need to see before you die!

5 out of 5 stars

Battle Beyond the Stars

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The farmers of the peaceful planet Akir are threatened by the space tyrant Sador (John Saxon) and his army of mutants, the Malmori. Sador’s huge ship carries a weapon called a “Stellar Converter”, which turns planets into small stars. He threatens to use the Converter unless the planet submits to him when he returns in several days. Zed (Jeff Corey), the last Akira warrior, is old and nearly blind. He suggests they hire mercenaries to protect the planet. Lacking valuable resources, they can only offer food and shelter in payment. Unable to go himself, Zed offers his ship, which has an artificial intelligence navigation and tactical computer named Nell, for the job if they can find a pilot. The ship is fast and well-armed but cannot defeat Sador alone. Shad (Richard Thomas), a young man who has piloted the ship and is well known to Nell, volunteers for the recruiting mission.

Shad’s first stop is the Hephaestus space station, which repairs androids. Expecting to find weapons, Shad instead finds only two humans among the androids: Doctor Hephaestus (Sam Jaffe), kept on life support, and his beautiful daughter Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel). The doctor attempts to force Shad to mate with his daughter. Shad doesn’t want to abandon his people, and escapes, with Nanelia following in her own ship. Although she has no weapons, her highly advanced computer systems might be useful. The two split up to look for more mercenaries.

Shad comes across Space Cowboy (George Peppard), a spacegoing truck driver from Earth. Shad learns that Cowboy is late delivering a shipment of laser guns to a planet which, as they watch, Sador destroys with his weapon. Lacking the fuel to carry the weapons home, Cowboy offers to deliver them to Akir. Shad talks him into teaching the Akira to use the guns. Later, Shad meets a set of five alien clones who share a group consciousness named Nestor. They admit their life is incredibly dull, since their whole race shares one mind. In order to be entertained, they have sent five members to join Shad’s cause. Nestor does not require payment, saying they are completely self-sufficient. Next, Shad recruits Gelt (Robert Vaughn), a wealthy assassin who is so well known he can’t show his face on any civilized planet. Gelt offers his services in trade for the ability to live peacefully hiding among the Akira. Gelt’s spaceship is highly maneuverable and well armed. On his way back to Akir, Shad is approached by Saint Exmin (Sybil Danning), of the Valkyrie warriors. She is a headstrong woman looking to prove herself in battle. She pilots a small, barely armed, but extremely fast spaceship. Shad finds her annoying and wishes she would go away, but she tags along.

While waiting for Shad’s return, Nanelia is captured by a reptilian slaver named Cayman. Cayman possesses a powerful old ship with an eclectic crew of aliens. She quickly recruits Cayman to their cause when he learns that they are looking for mercenaries to fight Sador. The only payment Cayman wants is Sador’s head, since Sador’s forces had destroyed Cayman’s homeworld.

The fleet of seven ships return to Akir. Shad takes the mercenaries down to the surface, but they are greeted with caution by the natives, who are not used to violent species. Eventually, Sador returns, but his fleet of fighters is intercepted by Shad and his new friends. In the opening battle, Gelt skillfully destroys several of Sador’s ships but is mortally wounded when his ship crashes. Meanwhile, Cowboy and the Akiran natives, armed with his laser guns, fight off Sador’s invading ground forces.

Sador survives an assassination attempt by one of the captured Nestors and launches all of his ships in retaliation against the planet. The Akira ground troops, lead by Cowboy, defeat Sador’s army, but Zed is killed in the fighting. There is another huge space battle and the mercenaries’ ships are destroyed one by one. However, the mercenaries are successful in destroying all of Sador’s star fighters and the Stellar Converter, leaving only Sador’s flagship. Shad and Nanelia, piloting Nell, are captured by the flagship in a tractor beam. The pair escape in a lifepod after Shad orders Nell to activate the ship’s self-destruct program. Sador’s ship is destroyed in the explosion. As Shad and Nanelia return to Akir, Nanelia despairs over the deaths of their friends. Shad tells her that the Akira believe that no one is truly dead when they are remembered and beloved by the living. The Akira will remember the sacrifices made by the mercenaries and honor them forever.

REVIEW:

Cult movies seem to be the theme for the upcoming year for me. We’ll have to see if this becomes something more than a fluke. In the meantime, I bring you Battle Beyond the Stars. Chances are you have no idea what this is, right? Well, let’s find out what’s going on with this, shall we?

What is this about?

With the peaceful planet of Akir in peril, seven mercenaries join forces to protect it from the plottings of an intergalactic megalomaniac.

What did I like?

Referendum. For those that aren’t familiar with the source material, this is another remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. You may be more familiar with the western remake, The Magnificent Seven. With such a well-known property such as this, it doesn’t hurt to throw some fan service in there, if it does right. For instance, the planet under siege is called Akir, obviously after Akira. Little touches like that offer a pleasant nod to the true creator of this plot.

Familiar. Speaking of The Magnificent Seven, Robert Vaughn appears in a role that is very similar to the one he played in that classic western. Once again he is someone who is above his compatriots, at least he appears that way, and is a very talented and skilled assassin. When I heard that this was the case, I thought I would not be a fan, but as it turns out, it would be hard to picture anyone else in this role, without comparing them to Vaughn. So, why not get the man himself and let him do his thing, right?

In space. Here is something that I’ve noticed, many films that are “set in space” end up spending way more time on planets than they need to. Most of these films are modern, but back in the late 70s and 80s, they knew how to make a sci-fi flick that stays in space for most of the flick. Yes, they do go on a couple of planets, but they aren’t there very long, and I appreciate that.

What didn’t I like?

Lean back. The final member of our seven is a buxom Valkyrie named Saint-Exmin who, when in her Valkyrie gear, seems to be the inspiration for Sif in the Thor comics. Is that what I have against her? No, it is the way she sits in her ship. For some weird reason, she is leaning back as if she is Barbarella on that pleasure/torture machine she had. I don’t really get what the reason for this was, and I may just be grasping at something complain about, but I didn’t like it.

Cowboys and aliens. This wouldn’t be a space flick complete with mercenaries without a Han Solo-type character. This iteration of our favorite scruffy-looking nerf herder is known as Cowboy and is played by George Peppard. I have nothing against Peppard’s character, except that is does seem strange that an Earthling is out there in the middle of space. Do I think that he should have been an alien? Not necessarily, but it was just strange to have him from Earth.

Remake. There are very few things that I detest, despise, and just flat-out hate more than remakes. Like I always say, those things are nothing but lazy filmmaking and show how Hollywood doesn’t have any creativity left, since all they do is recycle old ideas and spit on their legacy. Before I go off into an epic rant, let me say that while I love the western version of this and appreciate that this version takes the original and puts it in space, they are both remakes, again proving the lack of originality coming out of Hollywood.

The year is 1980. Earlier in the year, the second part of George Lucas’ opus was released. Perhaps you’ve heard of that small film, The Empire Strikes Back? Yes, this film was made to combat the space craze that was going in films at the time. Another small fact that you may not know is that a couple of young up and comers worked on this film, composer James Horner and future director James Cameron who was then working as a special effects artist. Aside from those little trivia bit, we must appreciate the different alien races and ships. As fun as this film is, I have to say that it really isn’t that good. The acting is very rudimentary, at best, there is a lack of humor that would have served this film much better, though Peppard tries, and the motivation behind the antagonist doesn’t seem to exist. With all that said, do I recommend this? Yes, this is a very fun film in the vein of Star Wars, but not quite the authentic. Mixing two of my favorite films together in Star Wars and The Magnificent Seven, of course I’m going to like this, and I hope other will enjoy, as well.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Wolf of Wall Street

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

After losing his job at a Wall Street firm, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) takes a job at a boiler room trading company that specializes in penny stocks. Thanks to his aggressive pitching style and the high commissions, he makes a small fortune. He befriends a man named Donnie Azoff, and the two decide to go into business together. They recruit Belfort’s accountant parents as well as several of Jordan’s friends, whom Jordan trains in the art of the hard sell. The basic method of the firm is a pump and dump scam. To cloak this, Belfort gives the firm the respectable name of “Stratton Oakmont”. After an exposé in Forbes, hundreds of ambitious young financiers flock to his company.

Jordan becomes immensely successful and slides into a decadent lifestyle of prostitutes and drugs. Jordan has an affair with a woman named Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) at one of his parties. He divorces his wife and marries Naomi, and soon they have a daughter, Skylar. Meanwhile, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI begin investigating Stratton Oakmont.

Jordan instantly makes $22 million on his securing the IPO of Steve Madden, Ltd. To hide his money, Jordan opens a Swiss bank account with the corrupt banker Jean-Jacques Saurel (Jean Dujardin) in the name of Naomi’s aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley), who is a British citizen and outside the reach of American authorities. He uses friends with European passports to smuggle cash to Switzerland.

Donnie gets into a public fight with Brad Bodnick (Jon Bernthal), one of their money couriers, and Brad is arrested. Jordan also learns from his private investigator that the FBI is wiretapping his phones. Fearing for his son, Jordan’s father pressures him to leave Stratton Oakmont and lay low. Jordan, however, cannot bear to quit.

Jordan, Donnie and their wives are on a yacht trip to Italy when they learn that Emma has died of a heart attack. Over the objections of his grieving wife and his yacht captain, Jordan decides to sail to Monaco so they can drive to Switzerland without getting their passports stamped at the border and settle the bank account, but a violent storm capsizes their yacht. After their rescue, the plane sent to take them to Geneva is destroyed by a seagull flying into the engine. Jordan considers this a sign from God and decides to sober up.

Two years later, the FBI arrests Jordan during the filming of an infomercial. Saurel, arrested in Florida over an unrelated charge, has told the FBI everything. Since the evidence against him is overwhelming, Jordan agrees to gather evidence on his colleagues in exchange for leniency.

Disgusted with Jordan’s lifestyle, Naomi tells Jordan she will divorce him and wants full custody of their children. Jordan throws a violent tantrum, gets high, and ends up crashing his car in his driveway during an attempt to abscond with their daughter.

The next morning, Jordan wears a wire to work. Jordan silently slips Donnie a note warning him about the wire. The note finds its way to the FBI, and Jordan is arrested for breaching his cooperation deal. The FBI raids and shuts down Stratton Oakmont.

Despite this one breach, Jordan receives a reduced sentence for his testimony and is sentenced to 36 months in a minimum security prison in Nevada. After his release, Jordan makes a living hosting seminars on sales technique.

REVIEW:

Given the events of today, which I will keep to myself, if you don’t mind, I wasn’t really in the mood to watch a film, to be honest with you, let alone sit here and write a review. However, an outing with the little woman and a big fat burger have lifted my spirits and I am now able to bring you The Wolf of Wall Street.

What is this about?

Martin Scorcese’s high-rolling Wall Street drama is based on the memoirs of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, whose giddy career ended in federal prison.

What did I like?

Go for it. There are certain subjects that films tend to avoid or just skim over. Money laundering isn’t necessarily one of them, as can be proven by watching just about any drug trafficking flick, but when you throw in the face that this actually happened and director Martin Scorsese is taking the chance to bring this to light, then you know it has to have been something big. I don’t know much about the goings on up there on Wall Street, other than the whole place is corrupt and money hungry. This film demonstrates that in one chance scene with Leonardo DiCaprio’s character and Mathew McConaughey, who has this cool chest beating song that I’m sure will be stuck in my head for days.

Frantic. The first half of this film is very quick. There are cutscenes to random clips from mostly the 70s and, just like the reaction from the cocaine that is being ingested, the whole first half or so moves along at a level that is far above what it should be doing. Now, I did notice that as the drug use lessened, the pace slowed. If that correlation was done on purpose then it was a stroke of genius!

New girl. Amy Adams. Jessica Biel. Jennifer Lawrence. Scarlett Johansson. Jennifer Aniston. Sandra Bullock. These are just a few names of the “hot” actresses (use whichever definition for that term that you wish) at the time. Truth be told, some of them are getting a bit long in the tooth, others just don’t have the draw they one had, while some are just coming into their prime. Enter Margot Robbie, she has a somewhat small role in this film as DiCaprio’s second wife, but, damn, what she does with those scenes shows that this is someone that is more than a pretty face and a hot body. There is a real talent there. I mean, she is able to go toe to toe with DiCaprio, a man some consider on the list of the greatest actors currently working.

What didn’t I like?

Pacing. I want to come back to the pacing of this film, but this time I will focus on the second half of the film. This the part of the film where we are taken down a darker path than what was shown to us in the first half, also the comedy seems to be less in this half and, as I mentioned before, the frantic pace has drastically slowed. In short, the film has become a serious drama. Given that this is the part of the film that deals with the criminal activities, it is understood, but I have to wonder if there would have been a way to do this without slowing things down and making one remember than this is a 3 hour film!

Leo. Nothing against DiCaprio, but what does he have on Scorsese, or vice versa? It seems like he has been in every one of his films since he made the jump from TV to film, maybe even before. I will say, though, that it is not out of the ordinary for a director to have a go-to guy. Quentin Tarantino has Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Howard has Tom Hanks, Alfred Hitchcock has Cary Grant, and Tim Burton has Johnny Depp (remains to be seen if he keep Helena Bonham Carter after their split). DiCaprio does a great job in this role, but I can’t help but feel as if it would have worked better with someone else and Scorsese just cast his golden boy for the sake of casting him.

Glorification. Have you noticed that some of the most popular “heroes” in culture are actually deplorable human beings? Think about it, pirates weren’t exactly moral, upstanding citizens, knights did more raping and pillaging than saving villages and such, and most of the names from the Old West that we look up to are the villains. For some reason, we celebrate the villains. Take a look in the comic book world. As popular as Batman is, it is the Joker that more people want to be (I know I did). There is a fascinating documentary about this very subject that I recommend, Necessary Evil: Villains of DC Comics. What does this all have to do with this film? Well, our “hero”, if you will, in this flick is DiCaprio, obviously, but he and his lackeys are actually taking money from their clients. It really isn’t shown in the film, so that his character, Jordan Belfort, can come out smelling like roses, but that is what really happened. Why are we celebrating this villainy? I can’t tell you, but I’m sure the people who got ripped off by the real Belfort were none too pleased about this.

Final verdict on The Wolf of Wall Street? Well, first off all, it is way too long for what it is. Scorsese has done much better work. There is a lack of depth to this film that seems as if this was either rushed into production, theaters, or there was just a lack of care. On the positive side though, we get great performances from DiCaprio, introduced to Margot Robbie, and continue to see Jonah Hill prove his acting mettle. Who would’ve thought the Seth Rogen clone from Superbad would turn out to be a competent actor? So, do I recommend this? In terms of cinematic works, yes. While flawed, this is still a fine piece of cinema. However, if you’re just looking for a film to kick back and enjoy, then this isn’t for you. If not for all the hookers and blow, this would be more artsy-fartsy version of Wall Street in some respects. It is what it is, though, and only your personal proclivities can determine whether you’ll like this or not.

4 out of 5 stars

Trailer Thursday 12/25

Posted in Trailer Thursday with tags on December 25, 2014 by Mystery Man

Merry Xmas, everyone!

I’m sure that by now you (or your kids, siblings, etc.) have opened all the presents and are winding down for the day. I hope it was blessed and merry one, but I almost for that….

It’s Trailer Thursday!!!

So, I’ve been debating whether or not to go with a holiday flick for this week’s edition. I mean, we have all been bombarded with them for since Halloween, after all. One network, Hallmark, even shows nothing but Christmas movies since October. Watch, next year, it’ll be July when they start that!

Let’s go with a film that is set around the holidays, but isn’t a Christmas film. Rumor has it that this was initially meant to be a horror flick, but I think the sci-fi route (or whatever genre it is) worked better for Gremlins.

Ernest Saves Christmas

Posted in Comedy, Family, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

A man who claims to be Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) arrives at the Orlando International Airport on December 23.

Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney) is working as a taxi driver. He takes a passenger to the airport, but speeds and the passenger falls out of the taxi. Ernest later picks up Santa Claus, who tells Ernest that he is on his way to inform a local celebrity named Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark) that he has been chosen to be the new Santa Claus. Joe had previously hosted a children’s TV program named “Uncle Joey’s Treehouse” in the Orlando area similar to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with emphasis on manners and integrity with the catchphrase “They never get old. They always stay new. Those three little words, Please and Thank You.” It got cancelled three weeks before and Joe must settle for a new job reading stories to children.

While they are driving, a runaway teenage girl (Noelle Parker) calling herself Harmony Starr joins Ernest and Santa in the cab. When they get to their destination, Santa possesses no legal currency (only play money), so in his giving Christmas spirit, Ernest lets him ride for free. The decision ultimately gets Ernest fired. As a dejected Ernest leaves the taxi garage, his former boss throws out Santa’s sack, which it turns out Santa had left behind.

Santa arrives at the Orlando Children’s Museum to talk to Joe, but is interrupted and rebuffed by Joe’s agent Marty Brock. Marty misunderstands Santa’s name, thinking he said “Mr. Santos,” and continues to call him by that name, even when he tells him his real name. He begins to worry as he then discovers that he had left his sack in the cab, and becomes more discouraged as he realizes he is becoming forgetful in his old age (he’s 151 years old, as his passport shows he was born in 1837). Joe does not believe Santa’s story and Marty has him arrested. Meanwhile, Ernest goes over to his friend Vern’s house to put up a Christmas tree, much to Vern’s distress (as with the original commercials that first introduced Ernest, the audience never sees Vern’s face and only his point of view). Ernest discovers the magic power of the sack, and realizes that the owner really is Santa Claus. He and Harmony immediately set off to find Santa and return it.

On Christmas Eve, having learned of Santa’s imprisonment, Ernest poses as Astor Clementh, an employee of the governor and Harmony as the governor’s niece Mindy, and they help Santa escape from jail by convincing the police chief that Santa believing that he is Santa Claus is “infectious insanity” and he must be taken to solitary confinement. Ernest disguises himself as an Apopka snake rancher (Lloyd Worrell from Knowhutimean? Hey Vern, It’s My Family Album) who sneaks Santa into a movie studio and speaks to a security guard about delivering the snakes to people who direct horror films. Meanwhile, Marty presses Joe to move on from his children’s show career, shave his beard, and instead land a part in a movie as a father and family man, since he is good at working with kids; however, it turns out to be a horror film titled Christmas Slay about an alien which terrorizes a bunch of children on Christmas Eve; this offends Santa so deeply that he punches the director in the eye. Joe accepts the part but feels uncomfortable swearing in front of the kids on set.

Harmony is fascinated by the power of the sack, and hopes to find gifts of monetary value inside. She steals it, replacing it with one filled with feathers, and attempts to run away yet again to Miami. Santa tracks down Joe at his home, but has nothing to show except the fake sack. Joe politely but firmly declines the job.

Ernest heads to the airport to pick up the sleigh, reindeer, and two of Santa’s elves before they hit rush hour traffic. But their truck is disabled and Ernest decides to drive the sleigh to the Children’s Museum. His inexperience, though, leads him and the elves on a wild, out-of-control ride through Orlando. Meanwhile, Joe is overcome by conscience when the director refuses to tone down any of the profanity and violence in the film. He sees the haphazardly-flying sleigh from a distance, and realizing that Santa was telling the truth all along, is overcome with joy and runs off to find him.

Joe finds Santa at the Children’s Museum and accepts the job. Harmony returns with the real sack, apologizing to Santa (who reveals that her real name is Pamela Trenton.) The sleigh arrives just in time and Joe asks Ernest (saddened that the adventure is over) to drive for the first night, while Pamela (who decided to go home) hitches a ride as an honorary elf.

The film ends with the words, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!,” followed by a sleigh dash that spells, KnoWhutImean?, one of Ernest’s catchphrases. Meanwhile, Chuck and Bobby were looking at the letter “E” for what it means. Suddenly, you see the Easter Bunny’s ears when they come out of the cargo box, and Chuck rolls his eyes and squeals like he is screaming for help.

REVIEW:

Growing up, there were two flavors of man-child that graced Saturday morning TV, Pee Wee Herman and Ernest P. Worrell. Technically, there was a third and fourth in Ed Grimley and Weird Al Yankovic, but Ed Grimley’s show only lasted one season and Weird Al isn’t a character, so to speak. Ernest went on to star in a somewhat successful string of films. Since tomorrow is Christmas and I haven’t done a true Christmas film this year, unless you count Holiday Inn, I figured this would be a great opportunity to enjoy Ernest Saves Christmas.

What is this about?

When Santa Claus decides to retire and pass on his magic bag of Christmas surprises to a new St. Nick, A perky teen runaway and hapless taxi driver Ernest P. Worrell must convince a skeptical kids-show host to take over the post of Father Christmas.

What did I like?

Characters. Here we are nearly 15 years after Jim Varney’s death and I still don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. Other than Ernest and the voice of Slinky Dog in the Toy Story franchise, I can’t really name a major role he was in, save for maybe Jed Clampett in that awful Beverly Hillbillies remake. That being said, I believe he was just so good at what he did, no one would take him seriously as anything else. Ironic, since the guy that is in line to be Santa in this film has that exact same problem. Varney is a true chameleon, transforming from Ernest, to an elderly woman, to some greasy lawyer-type, and also to a snake rustler. All character with their own distinct personalities, quirks, and what have you. I believe some of Varney’s characters were so good that they got their own special/direct-to-video film, but don’t quote me on that one.

Good guys. Sometimes it is good to get a film that doesn’t have a specific antagonist and is just about letting the story unfold as it may. In this case, while the agent guy seems as if he’s a giant douche of epic proportions, he isn’t anything more than an annoyance. There is no one interfering with Ernest as he helps Santa, no one stopping Joe from becoming the new Santa, and no one telling that runaway chick to do bad things. Sometimes less is more.

Christmas Spirit. Ernest is a simpleton, I think we can all agree on that. While he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, he does have a sunny outlook on life and that becomes quite infectious, especially in a Christmas movie. Now, this is not one of the more inspirational Christmas flicks, you would be hard pressed to not find yourself filled with some sort of spirit after watching and that is the sign of pretty good Christmas flick.

What didn’t I like?

Runaway. So, out of nowhere, Ernest is joined by some runaway that latches on to him for the rest of the film. Why? My guess is because the film needed someone young and also a female, so put the two together saved time. Why did she have to be a runaway? I don’t know. Why did she have to be borderline annoying, yet cute? No clue. Could the film have done without her? Yes, indeed!

Agent. In a film that is this good-natured, there was only one “bad guy” and he was the sleazy agent. Everything stereotypical that you can think of this guy was. For that, he was a good character, but the fact that he had Santa Claus arrested and really served no other purpose for the rest of the film kind of puts him on the naughty list for this flick. Had he become a better person by film’s end or something like that, this would be an entirely different conversation.

Santa Clause. Although I’ve never seen it all the way through, I can’t help but notice how the basic plot of The Santa Clause seems to have been “borrowed” from this film. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I guess that it’s ok. No…no, it’s not! Look, I realize Disney needed some kind of Christmas franchise and that’s fine and dandy, but with all those geniuses working over there, surely they could have come up with something original, rather than ripping off an idea from the Ernest P. Worrell catalogue!

Man, I have missed Ernest. It really is a shame that Netflix doesn’t have his films available. I just happened to have seen this one back in the fall and said that I’d probably get to it around the holidays and here are. Ernest Saves Christmas is arguably his best film, though I think Ernest Goes to Camp was better reviewed and received. Funny thing is, this is the one that is the least about Ernest. Vern only appears as a quick, and random, cameo because…well, it’s Ernest. The few flaws I have with this film are very minor things that are mostly nitpicking. This is a Christmas flick that the whole family can enjoy without fear of scenes being too violent, harsh language, gratuitous sex, etc. A truly holsum flick this is and I highly recommend it!

4 out of 5 stars

Good Burger

Posted in Comedy, Family, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

On the first day of summer, dim-witted but charming Ed (Kel Mitchell) experiences a nightmare featuring talking burgers. Troubled by it, he shows up late to work at Good Burger. On the same morning, Dexter (Kenan Thompson), a high school student, steals his mother’s car after she leaves for a business trip. He accidentally crashes into that of his teacher, Mr. Wheat (Sinbad). With no driver’s license or insurance, he is in danger of going to jail. Mr. Wheat agrees to allow him to pay for a total of $1,900 in car damage, which later becomes $2,500, instead of calling the police. He must find a summer job to pay for the expenses. He first finds employment at Mondo Burger, but after a clash with the strict manager, Kurt Bozwell (Jan Schweiterman), he is fired and has to find employment at another place, and manages to do so at Good Burger. There, he meets and reluctantly befriends Ed (who helps him find a job position) and a slew of colorful employees. Little does he know Ed inadvertently caused the car accident; he was rushing to make a delivery on rollerblades, and skated in front of Dexter, causing him to swerve and hit Mr. Wheat’s car.

Dexter finds much success at Good Burger, but his success takes a turn for the worse. Across the street, the Mondo Burger where he previously worked opens to the public. It produces oversized burgers, much bigger than the Good Burgers, and threatens to put them out of business. Fortunately, with the invention of Ed’s “secret sauce,” they are saved. After Dexter realizes that Ed caused his car accident, he takes part of Ed’s bonus paychecks earned from the sauce to pay off his debt to Mr. Wheat.

Good Burger continues to be popular because of Ed’s sauce, causing Kurt to attempt to steal it. First, he entices Ed with a higher hourly wage at Mondo Burger. Dedicated to Good Burger, he denies it. He buys Dexter a similar yo-yo that his dad bought him as a kid. It was at this moment that he not only begins to truly care about Ed, but he is also overcome with guilt for taking most of Ed’s bonus money. Kurt then sends in an attractive employee named Roxanne (Carmen Electra) who fails to seduce Ed into divulging his “secret sauce” recipe, ending up badly injured and resigning from her job.

Meanwhile, Dexter takes a shine to coworker Monique (Shar Jackson), and she eventually agrees to a double date with him along with Ed and Roxanne. The next day, however, she tells him off and breaks up with him after she discovers his attempts to cheat Ed out of most of his money.

Later on, Ed and Dexter encounter a dog on the street and attempt to feed him a Good Burger and a Mondo Burger. It eats the former, but refuses to even look at the latter, apparently sensing something wrong with the meat. Suspicious, Ed and Dexter disguise themselves as old women and enter Mondo Burger to find out what is wrong with their meat. They discover that they chemically induced their burgers with an illegal food additive called “Triampathol,” which makes them oversized. Kurt is not fooled by Ed and Dexter’s disguises and kidnaps them by sending them to Demented Hills Mental Hospital (run by his friend) to prevent the public from learning Mondo Burger’s secret.

After sending Ed and Dexter to Demented Hills, Kurt and his employees break into Good Burger after closing hours and spike Ed’s “secret sauce” with shark poison. When Ed and Dexter’s coworker, Otis (Abe Vigoda), attempts to call the police on them, Kurt takes him captive and sends him to Demented Hills as well. There, he tells Ed and Dexter about Kurt’s scheme to poison the “secret sauce.” They devise a plan to escape. Ed begins to dance and sing, encouraging the other patients to join in. After the entire mental hospital breaks out in dance, the trio escapes. They steal an ice cream truck to leave, but are pursued by a Demented Hills van; cleverly, Ed and Dexter throw ice cream treats at it, causing it to crash. Upon arriving at Good Burger, Ed stops a lady from eating a Good Burger with the poison-laced sauce just in time. Dexter then informs the staff that the sauce has been poisoned by Kurt and convinces them not to let anyone consume it. Ed and Dexter then break into Mondo Burger so they could expose the chemically induced burgers to the police. While Dexter provides a distraction, Ed tries to take a can of Triampathol, but accidentally knocks one into the meat grinder. Ed then decides to pours the rest of it into there. On the roof, Kurt catches Ed and Dexter and confiscates the empty can that Ed is holding. Just then, the building begins to blow up, caused by the Triampathol-overdosed burgers exploding. After it destructs and the patrons flee, the police arrest Kurt for illegal substance use. Ed then explains to Dexter that he did that on purpose to prevent Kurt from manipulating the legal system and escaping conviction, ironically responding to Dexter’s questions by saying, “I’m not stupid.” With the destruction of Mondo Burger, Mr. Wheat’s car is destroyed once again (much to Dexter’s amusement as he hands him the first half of the money owed for the damage).

Dexter apologizes to Ed for taking advantage of the latter’s salary from the sauce and both end up on friendly terms. They then walk back to Good Burger, where the employees praise them, especially Ed, as Good Burger heroes. The film ends as Ed proudly says “Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger. Can I take your order?”

REVIEW:

It may be hard to tell or remember, but there was a time when Nickelodeon was fun network aimed at kids, not tween girls. Kenan & Kel was one of the shows that aired at the end of that era and perhaps may be best be known for introducing us to Kenan Thompson who starred in Fat Albert and is now the longest running cast member currently on Saturday Night Live, I believe. Also, it brought us this film that everyone has insisted I watch, Good Burger. Let’s see what all the hullabaloo is about, shall we?

What is this about?

Two L.A. teens with summer jobs at Good Burger try to save their small restaurant when a corporate giant burger franchise moves in across the street.

What did I like?

Burger time. To quote Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction, “I love a tasty burger!” At the same time, I would never work in a burger joint, for a myriad of reasons. However, I do like that these filmmakers made the job and atmosphere look fun and welcoming and the burgers were so tasty looking, but that might have had something more to do with my hunger.

Shar. A few years ago, Shar Jackson was all in the news for being Kevin Federline’s baby mama and all that reality TV drama. After his 10 minutes of fame were up, so were hers apparently, but I don’t see why. The girl is gorgeous and, has at least some acting talent. I think she also had a song or two released, but so does Paris Hilton, so that means nothing. What I like most about Shar’s character, though, is that she doesn’t fall into the typical “ghetto” trappings that I feel had this not been a kids’ flick, she would have. Instead, she comes off as well-spoken and educated, who just happened to have a job in the fast food industry.

SpongeBob? Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants. Ok, for those of you not familiar with the extremely popular, long running Nickelodeon animated series, it is about a dimwitted fry cook who works at a restaurant and the rival place across the street want the secret formula to their “Krabby Patties.” Being that this is a Nickelodeon property, as well, I can’t help but wonder if this is where the basic plot for SpongeBob came from. The similarities are hard to miss!

What didn’t I like?

Kel, dude. With Kenan enjoying immense success over on SNL, a long running joke has been “where is Kel?” I honestly have no idea. He may just be one of those guys that preferred to not stay in the spotlight. At any rate, this is not his best performance. This lovable, empty-headed, nimrod, for lack of a better term, sounds like a weird hybrid of Crush from Finding Nemo, Ted from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and pretty much every other surfer/skater dude. Thing is, I don’t really understand why he talks like that. Sure, they’re in L.A., but he roller blades to work, shows no sign of going to the beach and hanging 10, as it were, and no one else comes even close to speaking in such a way. Shaquille O’Neal makes a quick cameo and upon meeting Kel’s character asks him, “you’re not like everyone else, are you?”, or something to that effect. I guess the big mystery surrounding this guy is that he just isn’t like the rest of us.

Afro circus. I remember watching Sinbad on A Different World and then on his own show. The guy has a love for the 60s and 70s, that’s for sure. Does that excuse him dressing like a live-action Disco Stu, no. Seriously, there are two sides to my opinion on this. On the one hand this was probably done for comedic effect, which is totally fine, as it works to some degree and doesn’t make him seem like the antagonist that he sort of is. On the other hand, though, this is a teacher dressing! Initially, I thought maybe it was a Halloween thing, or something about the last day of school, but in subsequent scenes, we see him still sporting retro styles, though not as gaudy as in our initial introduction to him. Ay Caramba! This guy was just a mess, but at least the loud clothing distracts the audience from the giant plot hole that was thrown out with him wanting to help Kenan’s character, but instead keeps charging him money to fix his car.

Big or small screen? Taking into account that this was released when times were different, I still can’t shake the feeling that this just seems as if it were initially meant for TV audiences or direct-to-video (DVD). There is nothing screaming big screen that I can tell and it mostly just rehashes jokes, characters, and cast members from various Nickelodeon shows. Aside from the brief cameo by the always gorgeous Carmen Electra, we’ve seen everyone in this at some point on Nick, I believe. Perhaps the film should have stayed there, as well.

Watching Good Burger I was taken back to a simpler time and age, when the only worry I had was what to wear to school and which girl was going to ignore me. There is a definite nostalgia feeling that this film brings and that may be its best-selling point because, honestly, this is one of those film that isn’t that good, but because of fond memories people have of watching it when they were younger, it has persevered longer than it has any right. That being said, I wouldn’t go out and say this is horrible. As a matter of fact, it is a good choice for a family film. Do I recommend this? Yes, go get some burgers, plop down on the couch and have a blast!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars