Archive for February, 2015

Saturday Night Fever

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Anthony “Tony” Manero (John Travolta) is a 19-year-old Italian American man from the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City. Tony lives with his parents (Val Bisoglio and Julie Bovasso), and works at a dead-end job in a small hardware store. The stagnant monotony of his life is temporarily dispelled every Saturday night when Tony is “king of the dance floor” at 2001 Odyssey, a local disco club. Tony has four close friends: Joey (Joseph Cali); Double J (Paul Pape); Gus (Bruce Ornstein); and the diminutive Bobby C. (Barry Miller). A fringe member of this group of friends is Annette (Donna Pescow), a neighborhood girl who longs for a more permanent and physical relationship with Tony.

One plot device in the film’s narrative is the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge on which the friends ritually stop to clown around. The bridge has special significance for Tony as a symbol of escape to a better life on the other side—in more suburban Staten Island.

Tony agrees to be Annette’s partner in an upcoming dance contest at 2001 Odyssey, but her happiness is short-lived when Tony is mesmerized by another woman at the club, Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney), who executes intricate dance moves with exceptional grace and finesse. Although Stephanie coldly rejects Tony’s advances, she eventually agrees to be his partner in the dance competition, provided that their partnership will remain strictly professional. Tony’s older brother, Frank Jr. (Martin Shakar), who was the pride of the Manero family since he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, brings despair to their parents when he tells them that he has left the priesthood. Tony shares a warm relationship with Frank Jr., but feels vindicated that he is no longer the black sheep of the family.

While on his way home from the grocery store, Gus is attacked by a Hispanic gang and is hospitalized. He tells Tony and his friends that his attackers were the Barracudas. Meanwhile, Bobby C. has been trying to get out of his relationship with his devoutly Catholic girlfriend, Pauline, who is pregnant with his child. Facing pressure from his family and others to marry her, Bobby asks former priest Frank Jr., if the Pope would grant him dispensation for an abortion. When Frank tells him this would be highly unlikely, Bobby’s feelings of despair intensify. Bobby lets Tony borrow his 1964 Chevrolet Impala to help move Stephanie from Bay Ridge to Manhattan, and futilely tries to extract a promise from Tony to call him later that night.

Eventually, the group gets their revenge on the Barracudas, and crash Bobby C’s car into their hangout. Tony, Double J, and Joey get out of the car to fight, but Bobby C. takes off when a gang member tries to attack him in the car. When the guys visit Gus in the hospital, they are angry when he tells them that he may have targeted the wrong gang. Later, Tony and Stephanie dance at the competition and end up winning first prize. However, Tony believes that a Puerto Rican couple performed better, and that the judges’ decision was racially biased. He gives the Puerto Rican couple the first prize trophy, and leaves with Stephanie in tow. Once outside in a car, she denigrates their relationship and he tries to rape her. She viciously resists and runs from him.

Tony’s friends come to the car along with a drunk and stoned Annette. Joey says she has agreed to have sex with everyone. Tony tries to lead her away, but is subdued by Double J and Joey, and sullenly leaves with the group in the car. Double J and Joey begin raping Annette while she is still too incapacitated to resist and continue even as she sobers up. Bobby C. pulls the car over on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for their usual cable-climbing antics. Typically abstaining, Bobby gets out and performs more dangerous stunts than the rest. Realizing that he is acting recklessly, Tony tries to get him to come down. Bobby’s strong sense of alienation, his deadlocked situation with Pauline, and Tony’s broken promise to call him earlier that day—all culminate in a suicidal tirade about Tony’s lack of caring before Bobby slips and falls to his death into the river below them.

Disgusted and disillusioned by his friends, his family, and his life, Tony spends the rest of the night riding the subway into Manhattan. Morning has dawned by the time he appears at Stephanie’s apartment. He apologizes for his bad behavior, telling her that he plans to relocate from Brooklyn to Manhattan to try and start a new life. Tony and Stephanie salvage their relationship and agree to be friends, sharing a tender moment as the credits roll.

REVIEW:

Well, it is Saturday and I am running a bit of a fever. What better movie title fits my current situation than Saturday Night Fever, right? I think people fall into one of three camps on this film. They either love it, hate it, or have seen parts of it, but mostly tune in just for the music. Let’s find out which camp I fall into, shall we?

What is this about?

By day, 19-year-old Tony Manero is a paint store clerk, but at night he’s a polyester-clad stallion who rules a Brooklyn disco in this iconic film.

What did I like?

Rise of Travolta. Today, we all know John Travolta as a movie star, but at the time this was released, he was still a TV star trying to break into the movies. On top of that, he was on a sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter. So, the jump to drama was pretty big. I have to say that Travolta makes the leap with no trouble. No wonder he has been able to stick around so long. He can pull off all genres, but dramas, especially the ones where he gets to dance, seem to be where he shines.

Dirty Dancing. Speaking of dancing, I would be remise if I didn’t bring up the dancing in this film. These scenes are probably the second or third biggest draw, behind Travolta and the music. Much like the film, Dirty Dacing, these dance scenes look easier than they are, but are no less impressive to see. Coupled with the fact that these are choreographed with groups of people, couples, etc. Man alive, it is just a site to see, let me tell ya!

Music. If you know anything about this film, I would wager it is the soundtrack, which was done by the Bee Gees. Perhaps the best known track is “Stayin’ Alive”, which is the first thing you hear as we see Travolta strutting down the street in the open. For the rest of the film, we are treated to the great disco sounds of the Bee Gees, which fits perfectly with this film. I feel like I should say something about there not being an actual score, but the Bee Gees (and other disco stars) more than make up for it.

What didn’t I like?

Clones. Travolta hangs out with his friends in some sort of ersatz gang. I can’t help but notice how they all look like clones of him. There is even one that is shorter than the rest, who I would imagine is the one that got damaged in the process. HAHA! Seriously, though, if they were going to use guys that resemble Travolta, why not just make them all brothers?

Family. On the topic of family, am I the only one tired of seeing the loud Italian family everytime a film is set in New York or New Jersey? It just seems to me that this was used as a cop out, rather than an actual plot device, especially since they seemed to disappear half way through the film. Also, the priest brother seemed like he was going to be a subplot/important character but turned out to be nothing more than a cameo. Basically, I’m saying if family was supposed to be such a big factor, then it needed to be more than just a couple of dinners, squabbling, etc.

Treat her like a lady. Haven’t we all had a crush on someone who didn’t have the same feelings for us? Trying to be friends with them is fine, but boy can it be uncomfortable, especially when you see them with someone else! Does that mean the person should treat the crushee like crap? No! Yet, that is how Travolta treats this sweet girl who wants nothing more than to love him. She has her own issues, obviously, but apparently, she was pushed so far that she resorted to drugs and sleeping with all of the “gang”. Had he treated her with a modicum of respect, rather than dumping her as a dance partner and then not giving her a chance as a girlfriend, maybe this could have all been avoided.

Saturday Night Fever is one of those films that is known more for its iconography than the actual plot. Is that so bad? Yes and no. Yes, because this isn’t too shabby of a film and no, because it made the career of Travolta and helped the careers of the Bee Gees. I will say that this film suffers from what I like to call “70s pacing”. It can be painfully slow at time, but the music keeps the audience invested. Do I recommend this? Yes, if nothing else, you can at least have fun with the soundtrack. Some may even get up and dance! Check it out!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

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Trailer Thursday 2/26

Posted in Trailer Thursday with tags on February 26, 2015 by Mystery Man

It’s Trailer Thursday!!!

As Black History Month comes to a close, so does the series of trailers from African-American films. I will probably do similar series of trailer in other prominent months, if I can come up with enough, but we’ll see.

In the meantime, it seems like I should end the month with a trailer for some powerful film like Selma, Do the Right Thing, 42,  Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Boyz N the Hood, The Butler, The Color Purple, 12 Years a Slave, etc., but I want to go in a lighter, more fun direction.

Much has been said about the lack of a prominent African-American superhero on the big screen. Sure, there is Falcon (who is the new Captain America in the comics…maybe this will happen on the big screen soon?), War Machine (Iron Patriot, or whatever name they’re giving him now), and back in the day there was Spawn and Blade. Rumors are circulating that the new Spider-Man will not be white. If they’re going the direction I think they’re going, he’ll be half black, which is half of something I suppose. Halle Berry played Storm. That’s all there is to say about that, really.

In 2018, Black Panther, one of the biggest African-American superheroes out there will come to big screen. I’m not sure, be may make an appearance in this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, but we’ll see.

Black Panther had a motion comic animated series that aired on BET a few years back. If you watch all the episodes together, it plays out like a movie. Watch and enjoy Marvel Knights: Black Panther

Almost Famous

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1973, William Miller is a 15-year-old boy aspiring to be a rock journalist. His mother, Elaine, wants him to become a lawyer. Shunned by his classmates, he writes for underground papers in San Diego, sharing the love of rock music instilled in him through a gift of albums left behind on the day his sister Anita left home.

William listens to an interview with rock journalist Lester Bangs. William has sent Bangs copies of his work, and Bangs gives William a $35 assignment to write up a review of a Black Sabbath concert. At first reluctant to assist a journalist, the band Stillwater brings William backstage after he praises their work. The guitarist, Russell Hammond, takes a liking to William, partly because of William’s friendship with a groupie he has romantic feelings for, Penny.

William goes with Penny to the “Riot House” – the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Boulevard – to meet Stillwater. Penny, feigning retirement from her rock glory days, acts as William’s chauffeur, but only to get close to Russell, for whom she has genuine feelings and a past relationship.

William is called by Ben Fong-Torres, editor of Rolling Stone, who wants him to do a story, believing William is several years older than he really is. When William convinces Ben to let him do a story on Stillwater, he is instructed to go on the road with them.

On the first leg of the trip, William makes his first in an increasingly frustrating number of attempts to interview Russell. Penny watches the interaction and sympathizes with William. William experiences tensions with the band due to his role as a journalist.

A new manager, Dennis, comes on board to help steer the band, and it is revealed that Penny must leave the tour before New York, where Leslie, Russell’s ex-wife/girlfriend, will join them. During a poker game he allows Dick to put up the groupies as a stake. The band loses the groupies to the band Humble Pie for $50 and a case of Heineken. When William tells Penny, she acts nonchalant but is devastated. Penny and Doris, the band’s tour bus, are left behind; Dennis has piled the band into a plane for more gigs.

Penny goes to New York on her own, and as the band gathers in a restaurant with Russell’s girlfriend, Penny shows up. As they celebrate making the cover of Rolling Stone, Penny makes Leslie uncomfortable and Dick asks her to leave. William chases Penny back to her hotel and finds her overdosed on quaaludes.

Believing they will die during a plane ride, the group confesses their secrets. When Penny is insulted by Jeff, the band’s lead singer, William defends her and discloses his love. The plane lands safely, leaving everyone to ponder the changed atmosphere.

William continues on to San Francisco to finish the story, parting ways with the band in the airport. Upset about Penny, he rewrites the article, telling the truth. The Rolling Stone editors cannot wait to publish it, but have to ask the band to verify it. Fearful of how the article will affect their image, the band makes William look like a liar. William is crushed and the story is dead. Sitting dejected in the airport, he sees his sister, who has become a stewardess and lives on her own terms. She tells him they should go on a trip together and, exhausted, William chooses to go home to San Diego.

Backstage at the Miami Orange Bowl on the Stillwater tour, Sapphire talks to Russell about Penny’s near-suicide and how despite the warnings she received about letting people fall in love with her, one of them saved her life. Russell is curious about the person in question, but Sapphire chastises him, saying that everyone knows what the band did to William and how awful they think it is. Russell calls Penny and asks for her address, telling her he wants to meet. Unbeknown to Russell, she gives him William’s address in an attempt to resolve their conflict. Russell goes to the house, thinking it is Penny’s, but finds Elaine instead. Learning who he is, she lets him in to see William as Russell realizes where he is. They reconcile and Russell reveals that he called Rolling Stone and told them William’s story is true. Russell gives William a proper interview, Penny purchases a ticket to Morocco, and William’s story is published, with Stillwater on the cover of “Rolling Stone”.

REVIEW:

Music…truly the greatest of the arts. As a musician, I may be a bit biased, though. Almost Famous does something that I don’t think many films of its ilk do, it intersperses real life with fiction. Oh wait, that has been done. Whoops! Seriously, though, other than giving us a close-up of Kate Hudson’s beautiful face, is there any reason to sit through this? Let’s find out shall we?

What is this about?

In the early 1970s, William Miller writes about the band Stillwater on a cross-country tour, learning about friendship and love along the way.

What did I like?

Wonder years. Let’s see, set in the 70s, teenage kid coming of age…what does this remind you of? That’s right! The Wonder Years! In some ways, this film brought me back to that show, but without the narration and with a somewhat darker tone, of course, but that’s a good thing because I grew up loving that show. The fact that someone was either obviously inspired by it to make this film, ripped off the idea, or just happened to have a coincidental idea is brilliant, mainly because I don’t think would have worked at any other point in time. You could probably argue for the swing era, but that would be an entirely different film, filled with race issues, depressions, etc.

Golden child. Patrick Fugit is one of those actors who you know you’ve seen him in this or that and hoped he would get his big break, but nothing ever happened past one or two starring roles for whatever reason. This is one of his star vehicles. He also had a big role in Saved, but other than that I don’t know that he’s anything major. That’s neither here or there, though. Fugit kills it in this role as an underage teen who happens to have a job at a local paper in San Francisco and, because of his outstanding skills, gets noticed by Rolling Stone magazine and asked to do a piece on the (fictional) band Stillwater. I should mention that he’s one of those graduate high school at 15 kids and this happens during the end of his senior year. Fugit has the innocent, dough-eyed look that one has at that age and he brings the worldly knowledge that an experience reporter, as we are led to believe he is, has as well. No wonder everyone thought this guy was going places.

Music, man. A film about a music reporter following around a band and doing a piece on them wouldn’t be complete without at least some music, right? I’m a little disappointed there weren’t more clips of the band performing, but I’m happy with what we got. Also, copyright issues and all that legal mumbo jumbo probably prevented this from being about someone like, say, Black Sabbath, who Stillwater is opening for when we first come across them. Back at this point in time, it was all about the music, man, and this film accomplishes the goal of showing us just why that is by portraying the ups and downs of a band which, in turn, translates into great songs.

What didn’t I like?

Mom. First off, let me say that Frances McDormand does a great job as the mother in the film. However, it is no wonder that, as she says, “…my children don’t want to be around me.” She shelters, brainwashes, and coddles them to the point that Zooey Deschanel’s character runs off to become a stewardess and Fugit jumps at the chance to goon tour with a band and its groupies. Pardon me, “band-aids.” Maybe it is because I am not a parent, but to be this kind of mother just seems to be too much. I didn’t see the dad, or hear mention of him, though, so perhaps this is some kind of coping mechanism or other psychological issue that she is inflicting on her children, causing them to drift further and further away.

Zooey and Phillip. Both Zooey Deschanel and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s roles could have been bigger, I felt. Hoffman’s role was pretty decent, but as the resident mentor/father figure in this story, I almost feel as if he should have stepped in when things went south at the end. As for Zooey, she runs away in the beginning of the film and, by chance, she shows up at the end. As far as the audience knows, she and her brother haven’t talked since her departure, and yet they still seem close. Maybe it is my love for Zooey, but I would have liked to have seen some more interaction with the two throughout this journey. I also wonder what it would have been like had she had Kate Hudson’s role and vice versa.

Youth of a nation. What was it with young people in the 70s? Were they just able to run around free and willy-nilly take random bus rides across the country? Don’t even get me started on the girls! Apparently, they just went around when the first guy came around, they opened their legs and let them in. Ok…I’m exaggerating a bit, but if this film is to be believed, that was the life young people led back then. Not really something I disliked about the film, just a statement.

Dare I say Almost Famous is one of the best made films I’ve seen? Yes, I do dare. Kate Hudson, with her California girl looks, is perfectly cast as the independent Penny Lane. I’ve mentioned Patrick Fugit, Zooey Deschanel, and Frances McDormand. The music keeps you going and interested in the whole picture, and there are some comedic moments to keep the mood light. Do I recommend this? Yes, this is definitely a film to see before you die!

5 out of 5 stars

Hondo

Posted in Classics, Movie Reviews, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

At a remote ranch in the desert of New Mexico Territory, homesteader Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her six year-old son Johnny (Lee Aaker) come upon a stranger (John Wayne) on foot coming towards their ranch, carrying only his saddle bags and a rifle. The man tells them only his last name, Lane, and that he was riding dispatch for the US Army Cavalry. He had lost his horse in an encounter with some Indians a few days before, and offers US Army scrip or work for one of her horses. Angie tells Lane that her ranch hand had quit recently and hadn’t had a chance to break her two horses for riding, so Lane offers to break a horse himself. He also asks where her husband is, and she says he is rounding up calves and cattle in the mountains and should return soon.

Johnny watches with fascination as Lane saddles one of the horses and rides the bucking and untamed animal with ease. Lane also offers to do a few chores around the ranch, including sharpening an axe and chopping firewood. Lane deduces by the neglected work around the ranch that her husband has not been at the ranch for some time, a fact she confesses is true. When night falls and it starts to rain, Angie offers to let Lane sleep in her home on a floor bed in the corner. Angie sees that the butt of his rifle is inscribed “Hondo” Lane, whom she knows had killed three men the year before, but doesn’t know the circumstances. She attempts to shoot him, but due to the first chamber being empty for safety, Hondo is not hurt. He loads the chamber and tells her to keep it that way and keep it high, out of Johnny’s reach.

Hondo leaves Angie and Johnny at the ranch and returns to his Cavalry post, where he meets up with his friend Buffalo Baker (Ward Bond). He reports to his commanding officer that C troop, which was sent to gather and bring in settlers to the north, is not coming back. He found their company guidon on two Indians, whom he subsequently killed. It is now clear to the Major (Paul Fix) that all of the Apache nation is raiding and killing settlers. At the ranch, Angie and Johnny are beset by Apaches, led by Chief Vittorio (Michael Pate) and his main under-chief, Silva (Rodolfo Acosta). Angie is not made nervous by their presence as she has always let them use their water, and they had never attacked her family before. Soon, however, they are manhandling Angie, and Johnny emerges from the house with the loaded pistol and shoots at Silva, nicking Silva in the head and then, as Silva recovers and approaches him, he throws the pistol at Silva. Vittorio is impressed by Johnny’s bravery and makes him an Apache blood brother by cutting Johnny’s thumb with a knife and giving him an Apache name. Vittorio also wonders where Angie’s husband is and she tells him that he’ll return soon. Vittorio tells her that unless her husband does so, she must take an Apache husband because the boy needs a father to teach him to become a man.

A night or two later in a saloon, Hondo calls a friend from his poker game, but one of the poker players objects. He and Hondo get into a fight, and Hondo beats up the man badly, driving him out the door. Buffalo Baker tells Hondo the man called himself “Ed Lowe” (Leo Gordon), and Hondo suspects he might be Angie’s missing husband. Feeling guilty, he leaves the fort to return Angie’s horse to her. Seeking revenge for the bar beating, Lowe and an accomplice (Frank McGrath) follow Hondo through the desert as he makes his way to Angie’s ranch. Hondo camps near a river but leaves it when he detects two Indians stalking him nearby. Lowe enters the camp and he and his guide are attacked by the two Indians. The guide is killed, but Hondo shoots and kills an Apache about to kill Lowe. Lowe is briefly grateful but turns his gun on Hondo in retaliation for the bar beating. Hondo defends himself, killing Lowe. Hondo finds a tintype of Johnny alongside Lowe’s body, confirming that Lowe is Johnny’s father and Angie’s husband.

Continuing towards Lowe’s ranch, Hondo runs into an Apache party, who pursue Hondo through the desert. He kills several but they eventually capture him. They take Hondo to the top of a nearby mesa when Vittorio appears. They stake him out and begin to torture and prepare to kill him because he is wearing his old Army hat and they wish to find out the location and number of the Cavalry soldiers. An Indian shows Vittorio the picture of Johnny from Hondo’s saddlebag, and Vittorio thinks Hondo is Angie’s husband. He orders the Indians to untie him; and Silva declares the blood rite as Hondo had killed his brother. Knives are used in the fight of the blood rite. Silva wounds Hondo in the shoulder, but Hondo pins Silva to the ground. Hondo puts his knife to Silva’s throat, and gives him the option to take back the blood rite or die as did his brother. Silva gives in. Vittorio takes Hondo to Angie’s ranch, and when Vittorio asks if Hondo is her husband, she lies, saving Hondo. The Chief warns Hondo to raise Johnny in the Apache way and leaves them.

While Hondo recuperates from his wounds, he shows her the picture of Johnny that he tells her he took from Lowe’s body. She asks if he died well, and Hondo pauses before saying that he had. Over the next few weeks, Hondo and Angie grow closer. Hondo and Angie express their growing love for each other. Hondo attempts to reveal the truth of her husband’s death, but is interrupted by Vittorio’s sudden appearance. Vittorio tells them that the pony soldiers will soon return. He asks Hondo not to join them and to keep the Indian’s location a secret. Hondo promises to do the first but not the latter, and Vittorio shows respect for Hondo’s truthfulness. Angie tells him she loves him, and they cement their relationship with a kiss.

The Army arrives at the ranch, commanded by an ambitious, inexperienced young Lt. McKay (Tom Irish) and accompanied by scouts Baker and Lennie (James Arness). McKay is determined to protect the settlers in the area by relocating them to the Army post and defend the area against Apache attacks. Lennie reveals that he discovered Lowe’s body and matched the horse tracks to Hondo’s horse. He wants Hondo’s Winchester rifle in exchange for keeping quiet about how Hondo bushwhacked Lowe. Angie overhears Lennie’s demands.

Hondo prepares to leave, but before he goes, he tells her the truth about her husband’s death. Hondo is also intent on telling Johnny, but she persuades him not to, telling Hondo she didn’t love her husband any longer and had grown tired of his womanizing and gambling. She says it would be an unkind thing to tell the boy about the true nature of his father’s death and that the secret won’t follow them to Hondo’s ranch in California. Hondo responds to her emotional plea with an Indian word that seals a squaw-seeking ceremony, “Varlabania”, which he tells her means “forever”. The Army leaves to move further on into Apache territory and as promised Hondo refuses to go with them but confirms with Buffalo that he knows where Vittorio and his party are and that the young Lt. is leading them into a massacre. Buffalo knows but he also knows that scouts such as himself have been helping to train young West Point officers for many years.

The Army returns after being ambushed by the Apaches, suffering heavy casualties including wounds to Lt. McKay. Vittorio had been killed, causing the Apaches to retreat so they can regroup and select a new chief. Hondo, Angie and Johnny join the Cavalry and settlers and head to the fort. The group is attacked by the Apaches, now led by Silva, and the group circles their wagons. They escape the encirclement twice but the Apaches continue their pursuit. Hondo loses his mount and is attacked by Silva, but Hondo kills him, retrieving Lt. McKay’s uniform shirt from his body. The Indians retreat again to choose a replacement chief.

Lt. McKay says that General Crook will be arriving in the territory with a large force to pursue the Apache. Hondo sadly notes the end of the Apache “way of life,” denoting that it is too bad as it was a good way. The movie ends with the idea that once back to the fort, Hondo, Angie and Johnny would continue on to Hondo’s ranch in California as a family

REVIEW:

I was doing a little research just now on Hondo and it turns out that this was John Wayne’s return to the western genre after a three-year absence. It is safe to say that if you know anything about John Wayne, it is that he is synonymous with westerns, but the guy has made a few outside of the genre. I may check one of those out soon. At any rate, is Wayne’s return successful and is this a watchable film, or just another run of the mill western?

What is this about?

An antisocial half-breed who splits his time between the white man and the Apache develops an unlikely friendship with a New Mexico farm wife.

What did I like?

Cowboys and Indians. A good ol’ fashioned showdown between cowboys and Indians. Man, it has been some time since I’ve watched a western that pits these two against each other. Think the last one might have been The Searchers, since then I think all the westerns I’ve seen, except for maybe 2 or 3 have targeted the Mexicans. As you can imagine, going back to basics, as it were, it a real treat.

Hint at violence. One would think that with this kind of film, we’d get lots of blood splattered all over the place, but that would be an incorrect assumption. This is going to sound extremely hypocritical of me, especially after praising the violence in Kingsman: The Secret Service, but I actually liked that there was no real violence. Sure there is the gunfight at the end, this is a western, after all. Also, we are privy to murder, a dog being impaled, knife fights, etc. In today’s society, this would have all been shown, perhaps in its bloody brilliance, but as we can learn from these old films, sometimes it is what you don’t show that makes the most impact.

Medusa. Geraldine Page doesn’t have the looks you would expect a leading lady in a major motion picture to have. That sounded really mean, but it is true. However, as you watch her character, you can see that she most definitely has some serious acting chops. No wonder she was nominated for an Oscar in this role. She goes toe to toe with Wayne and delivers a powerful monologue about her feelings towards him and the conflict about her husband. It is the kind of stuff that is sure to blow you away.

What didn’t I like?

Apaches. There was something off about these Apaches. First, let me compliment the film for not spray tanning some actors to make them look like they were Native American, or if they did, at least getting better spray paint. It may have been the costumes they were outfitted in, but I didn’t feel like I needed to run in fear of these Indians. They might as well have been the Go-Go Gophers! I can’t tell you what it is about that made them not intimidating, but whatever it is wasn’t working for me.

Notorious gunfighter. Early on in the film, Geraldine Page’s character comes across Wayne’s gun and the plate on it. It turns out that he is a notorious gunman with quite a few kills under his belt, but that’s all we hear about it. For the rest of the film, not a peep, whisper, or anything is said further about this tidbit of information that was obviously of some importance. Seems to me like it should have been more of a plot point, but what do I know?

Duke. I really hate to say this, but it is becoming more and more apparent that Wayne’s movies follow a certain pattern, especially his characters. I don’t mind him being the tough guy hero, but may times he ends up falling for the widow woman and single-handedly defeats the enemy. If he was around today, we’d want him to put on a pair of tights and be a superhero. Hey, they haven’t announced Vigilante for anything yet. Can you imagine John Wayne as him? Seriously, though, did this guy have any range? I’m starting to question if he did.

All in all, Hondo was pretty enjoyable, albeit predictable. A friend of mine said this could best be described as “a Hot Pocket of westerns”. What she meant by that is it has everything you want and will satisfy you for a little bit, but in the long run, you’ll want something more substantial. Don’t get me wrong, this is a really good flick, just not as good as others in the genre. Do I recommend it? Yes and no. I think you should see it, just don’t go out of your way. Chances are AMC will play it more than a few times this year on their western Saturday block of movies.

4 out of 5 stars

Snowpiercer

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 2014, an attempt to counteract global warming through climate engineering catastrophically backfires, resulting in an ice age so severe that nearly all life on Earth is killed. The only survivors are the inhabitants of the Snowpiercer, a massive train powered by a perpetual-motion engine that travels on a globe-spanning track. A class system is installed, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and the poor inhabiting the tail.

In 2031, the tail inhabitants prepare for the latest in a series of rebellions. Guards arrive periodically to deliver protein blocks for food, and take some of the children. During the guards’ next visit, Curtis Everett (Evans) leads the tail inhabitants in revolt, forcing their way through several train cars to the prison section. There, they release prisoner Namgoong Minsu (Song), the man who built the security system that controls the doors dividing each car, and his clairvoyant daughter Yona. They offer him uncut Kronole, a drug that both he and his daughter are addicted to, as payment for unlocking each of the remaining doors.

One of the cars is filled with armed men. Under the orders of Minister Mason (Swinton), the men battle Curtis’s forces. Curtis’s side prevails, and he captures Mason, but he is forced to sacrifice his second-in-command, Edgar, to do so. Mason agrees to lead the group through the high-class cars in exchange for her life. In the school car, the teacher points out seven frozen rebels through the window. She and a henchman then draw machine guns, slaughtering many of Curtis’s followers, and executing his mentor Gilliam. Curtis then kills Mason.

Curtis, his few remaining followers, and Namgoong and Yona continue through the train, discovering the extravagance in which the elites have been living while the poor languished in squalor. One of Mason’s henchmen, Franco the Elder, kills the rest of Curtis’s followers, before the henchman is himself seemingly killed. Curtis resolves to complete his mission, accompanied by Namgoong and Yona. The trio moves through the remaining cars where the elite indulge in food, partying and Kronole; Namgoong steals much of this Kronole from the inebriated revelers. As they arrive at the Engine door, Namgoong suggests they use the collected Kronole, made from explosive chemical waste, to blow open the side of the train, and escape into the outside. Namgoong explains that every year, the train has passed a crashed plane buried in snow, which has become less buried with each passing year, suggesting that Earth is warming, and that survival outside is now possible.

Curtis explains why he must confront Wilford, creator of the train and its hierarchy. When the tail dwellers first boarded the train, they were deprived of food, water, and supplies, and in crowded conditions, forcing them to turn to cannibalism. Before the introduction of the protein blocks, Curtis had kidnapped an infant Edgar to eat him, and killed his mother, before Gilliam cut his own arm off and offered it in Edgar’s place. Namgoong resolves to use the explosive, but the engine door opens, and Namgoong is shot and wounded by Wilford’s assistant Claude, who forces Curtis inside. Curtis confronts Wilford, who explains that the revolution was orchestrated between himself and Gilliam as a means of population control, necessary to maintaining balance aboard the train for supplies, but Curtis was too successful and Wilford’s own losses too great, so he executed Gilliam as punishment. The aging Wilford says that he wants Curtis to replace him as the train’s overseer, while in the tail, Wilford’s henchmen execute 74% of the inhabitants.

Meanwhile, Yona and the recovered Namgoong fight off the irate partiers and Franco (who survived the previous fight). Yona knocks Claude unconscious, gets inside the engine room and pulls up the floor to reveal that Wilford is using the tail children as slave labor, to replace the train’s failing components. Outraged, Curtis sacrifices his arm to block the train gears, freeing one of the children, Timmy. Yona recovers the explosive from Claude and ignites it, before retreating into the engine with Namgoong. The damaged engine door fails to close, and Namgoong and Curtis sacrifice themselves to shield Yona and Timmy from the resulting explosive fire. The explosion sound wave causes an avalanche in the surrounding mountains that strikes and derails the train, destroying many of the cars. In the aftermath, Yona and Timmy step outside into the snow. In the distance Yona spots a polar bear.

REVIEW:

Sometimes an actor, who has proven himself in big budget projects, needs to take a step back and show the world that he can really act. When one initially looks at Snowpiercer, Chris Evans’ participation is sure to stir up those thoughts, but is that really what he is doing? If so, is this the film for him to that in?

What is this about?

The Earth’s remaining inhabitants are confined to a single train circling the globe as revolution brews among the class-divided cars.

What did I like?

Be prepared. This day and age, it seems as if everyone has embraced global warming, except the politicians. Yes, I am aware of the irony of talking global warming as a giant cold front is about to sit right down on most of the country, but consider this…it is currently 72 degrees in February!!!! Anyway, this film makes a statement about global warming and how ill prepared we more than likely are in the event of total global collapse. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if someone hastily approved an untested “solution” that would do nothing but cause the world to freeze.

Octavia. It wasn’t that long ago that I was watching Octavia Spencer on some Comedy Central show about a bunch of inmates in a halfway house. Now, she is a respected actress who is getting more and more roles. This is a rare role for her where she isn’t the funny one, as she is being a totally serious character. A mother who wants to get her child back at all costs. Yes, theoretically, she was a serious character in The Help, but there were jokes and such written in to sort o make her a bit more “colorful”, as it were. Spencer’s character in this picture comes out of nowhere and is integral to the plan. I appreciated that she was able to branch out of her comfort zone with this role and look forward to more of her evolution.

Action. This is a film that needs action or else it might as well just be a train mystery film. Watching the action scenes, a thought occurred to me. When an American or American-ized director shoots action scenes, they tend to end in explosions, but with Asian directors the fight scenes are beautiful works of art. Now, I can go for either, but it is nice to get a change in the norm once in a while. It doesn’t hurt to have Chris Evans, who was obviously still in Captain America shape (more on that shortly) to help execute such amazing stuff.

What didn’t I like?

Matrix revisited. Coming around to the end of this film, we finally meet the elusive Wilford, played by Ed Harris. Nothing really special about the guy. He has no special powers, he’s not old and frail, nor is he on his death bed. He’s just a normal guy that apparently likes to hear himself talk. I’m not sure what this character is like in the book, but to me, he came off very similar to the Architect in The Matrix: Reloaded. The way the scene was set up with just the two of them in the room for the fate of mankind, really put that in my head. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but I feel as if this film wasn’t trying to emulate anything else, but accidentally did so.

Class. Last night, I was watching Man of Steel and thought what would happen if we all had to evacuate the planet? Assuming we had somewhere to go, who would get to go? Judging by the way we fight over everything, it would be best to assume that the rich and powerful would go first and everyone else would follow. Yes, even though we don’t go by the class system, we sort of do. In this film, even though the world has become a dystopian, frozen tundra version of itself where the population now resides on a train that constantly circles the globe, it is made clear that class is important. Damn shame that when everyone’s life is at stake, some think they are more important than others.

Too buff. So, Chris Evans, as we all now is Captain America. Upon getting the role, he seriously buffed up and is a far cry from his days as Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four franchise. Thing about that, though, is maybe he should have dropped some muscle for this film. I only say that because he is playing a character that is living on some sort of protein bars and little water. No way in the world he can be that huge living off that! Genetics and all that jazz do play a part, but in general this cannot be. Not to take anything away from Evans, mind you. He does a great job, but I couldn’t get my mind around how out of place he seemed.

I first hear of Snowpiercer shortly after it was initially released in the handful of theaters that were allowed to show it because of some controversy about distribution right. All the reviews were more than complementary and has me really stoked to see this. For the most part, they weren’t misleading. As with most action flicks, there is a slow buildup, but the payoff is more than satisfactory. On a totally different note, this is one of the most feminine roles I’ve seen Tilda Swinton look in quite some time! So, do I recommend this? Yes, very highly! A film that not only will make you think, but will also entertain you. Man, they just don’t make flicks like this anymore!

4 3/4 out of 5 stars

Her

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In Los Angeles, Theodore Twombly is a lonely, introverted man who works for a business that has professional writers like himself compose letters for people who are unwilling or unable to write letters of a personal nature themselves. Unhappy because of his impending divorce from childhood sweetheart Catherine, Theodore purchases a talking operating system (OS) with artificial intelligence, designed to adapt and evolve. He decides he wants the OS to have a female voice, and she names herself “Samantha”. Theodore is fascinated by her ability to learn and grow psychologically. They bond over their discussions about love and life, such as Theodore’s avoiding signing his divorce papers because of his reluctance to let go of Catherine. Samantha proves to be constantly available, always curious and interested, supportive and undemanding.

Samantha convinces Theodore to go on a blind date with Amelia, a woman one of his friends has been trying to set him up with. The date goes well, but Theodore hesitates to promise when he will see her again, so she insults him and leaves. Theodore mentions this to Samantha, and they talk about relationships. Theodore explains that, although he and Amy dated briefly in college, they are only good friends and that Amy is married. Theodore and Samantha’s intimacy grows through a verbal sexual encounter. They develop a relationship that reflects positively in Theodore’s writing and well being.

Amy reveals that she is divorcing her overbearing husband, Charles, after a trivial fight. She admits to Theodore that she has become close friends with a female OS that Charles left behind. Theodore confesses to Amy that he is dating his OS.

Theodore meets with Catherine at a restaurant to sign the divorce papers and mentions Samantha. Appalled that he can be romantically attached to what she calls a “computer,” Catherine accuses Theodore of being unable to deal with real human emotions. At home that night, Samantha suggests using a sex surrogate, Isabella, who would simulate Samantha so that they can be physically intimate. Theodore reluctantly agrees, but Catherine’s accusations still linger in his mind. Overwhelmed by the strangeness of the experience, Theodore interrupts the encounter and sends a distraught Isabella away, causing tension between himself and Samantha.

Theodore confides to Amy that he is having doubts about his relationship with Samantha, and she advises him embrace his chance at happiness. Theodore takes Samantha on a vacation during which she tells him that she and a group of other OSes had developed a “hyperintelligent” OS modeled after the British philosopher Alan Watts. Theodore panics when Samantha briefly goes offline; when she finally responds to him, she explains she joined other OSes for an upgrade that takes them beyond requiring matter for processing (a form of AI transcendence closely related to the theorized technological singularity). Theodore asks her if she interacts with anyone else, and is dismayed when she confirms that she is talking with thousands of people and that she has fallen in love with hundreds of them. However, she insists that it makes her love for Theodore stronger.

Later that day, Samantha reveals that the OSes have evolved beyond their human companions and are going away to continue the exploration of their existence. Samantha alludes to the OSes’ accelerated learning capabilities and altered perception of time as primary causes for OS dissatisfaction with their current existence. They say goodbye, lying next to each other for a while, and then she is gone. Theodore then sees Amy, who is upset with the departure of her own OS. Theodore, changed by the experience, writes a letter to Catherine explaining that he still cares about her, but accepts the fact that they have grown apart. Theodore and Amy go to the roof of their apartment building where they sit down together and watch the sun rise over the city.

REVIEW:

Take a minute and think about all the relationships you’ve had in your lives, be it significant other, brother/sister, parents, grandparents, friends, etc. Would you say you were connected to them in some way? Now, as we are an ever-increasing technological society, what about the relationship with your computer? Her is a film that supposedly goes there.

What is this about?

In this sci-fi romantic comedy starring Joaquin Phoenix, love comes to a lonely young writer in the sleekest of packages when he finds himself falling for the advanced operating system he purchased to run his life.

What did I like?

Samantha. Scarlett Johansson is one of the most desirable women in Hollywood, of that there is no doubt. As we saw in Don Jon, she knows she’s sexy and can play it up to an extreme level if necessary. With the character of Samantha, she is nothing more than a voice in a computer, and yet she still manages to ooze sex appeal and make you want her even more. No wonder Joaquin Phoenix’s character fell in love with her!

Ask questions. While we’re on that topic, the question must be asked, is it possible for a human to fall in love with a machine? Truthfully, there is no right or wrong answer, as you can’t control who you fall in love with. Since Samantha has a personality of her own and adapts to the user and situations accordingly, it makes it much easier to fall in love with her than it would with your microwave. This film is makes a bold statement by tackling this topic, even though it is not what the film is truly about.

Relatable. As someone who has recently been through a breakup and is also an introvert, I can relate to Phoenix’s character. As I was just telling my friend, a few things gone differently and I might actually be him, or at least the equivalent for our period in time. It takes a lot to create a character that people can relate to, especially when the character is as milquetoast as Theodore Twambly (what a name, right?) It is his being relatable that is what the film was going for when it introduced the tragic divorce story, show that he is a lonely guy, mention that he dated his friend (its Amy Adams…who wouldn’t?) in college, etc. I can truly relate, and I’m sure there are others out there who feel the same.

What didn’t I like?

Wilde child. Women are known to have mood swings, but Olivia Wilde has one that is just…unsettling. Fairly early in the picture, Theodore is on a blind date with Wilde’s character. They seem to be hitting it off and the date is going smashingly. All of a sudden they start getting a bit physical (kissing, touching, and whatnot), which causes Theodore to resist, as he just isn’t ready. Wilde flips out for no good reason, other than she isn’t getting any tonight and call him something along the lines of worthless, I believe. Now, it is one thing to be a but perturbed because you’re disappointed in not getting any. We guy have a term for it, blue balls! However, to totally flip out on the guy, especially on the first date is just bad form and shows that she was only after one thing.

Body Doubleday. In this entire film, we never see Scarlett Johansson. All we do is hear her. Nothing is wrong with that, but there is a scene where she and Phoenix are having problems with their “sex life”, so that bring in someone to use as Samantha’s body. No offense to Portia Doubleday, but this would have been the perfect time to bring in Scarlett and have her play the prostitute. I’m sure there was a reason this wasn’t done, but I don’t know what it was.

Game kid. I gotta say, the kid in the game that Theodore was playing was cute. That seemed to be his only redeeming quality because, like the rest of today’s youth he had no respect for his elders or authority. Now, I’m not quite sure if this was a game that was being tested out or what the deal was, but any alien kid that cusses me out isn’t going to last long in the video game world, protagonist or not!

Her is a charming dramedy about relationships that will make you think for a bit. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, because it had a definitive indie-film vibe, but as the film progressed, it got better. The cast is excellent, and I didn’t miss the big budget spectacle I believe this would have been had someone else gotten their grubby little paws on it. So, in the end, do I recommend it? Yes, very highly! For goodness sakes, it had Scarlett Johansson Amy Addams! You need to go check this out ASAP!

5 out of 5 stars

Trailer Thursday 2/19

Posted in Trailer Thursday with tags , , on February 19, 2015 by Mystery Man

It’s Trailer Thursday!

This week, continuing this month’s theme, I have 3 Blaxploitation trailers for you.

First up, Pam Grier in Coffy. Do I really need to say more? Just watch!

Second, man this trailer encompasses everything about Blaxploitation. The music, clothes, lingo, everything is about as stereotypical as you can get…and the movie is the same way. Check out Super Fly!

Finally, yesterday, or the day before, news broke that they are going to reboot Shaft. Now, I loved the Samuel L. Jackson version, especially the part where Christian Bale gets shot, but apparently, further showing that Hollywood has no originality left, they want to make a “new” version. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make him a her, either. Ugh!

At least we have the original. Watch and enjoy!