Category Archives: Movies

Tag (2018) a (moderately) belated review

What a strange, strange movie this is.

Released in 2018, Tag is a generally (I’ll explain in a moment) lighthearted comedy involving a group of grown up childhood friends who engage in a silly game of tag each year. The last one that’s “it” when the game officially ends is, not the loser (as one character notes), but not the winner either. Here’s the trailer:

The movie’s very large, intriguing cast includes Ed Helms as Hogan Malloy, the man who instigates this year’s game. Jon Hamm is Bob Callahan, a successful businessman who is the first to get “tagged” while in a meeting with Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis) who works for the Wall Street Journal and takes an interest in this yearly event.

In quick succession we meet Malloy’s wacky wife Anna (Isla Fisher, a hilarious standout in this crowded field), his stoner friend Randy (Jake Johnson), and their African American friend Reggie (Lil Rel Howery).

Unlike other years, this year’s game of tag is focused on finally tagging Jerry (Jeremy Renner) the final member of their gang and the most elusive of the friends. He has not been tagged in some 30 years (if I remember correctly) and is a virtual escape artist when it comes to the game.

Despite years of futility, Hogan is convinced this year they can finally tag Jerry because this year, their prey is locked down: He is about to be married and his location is restricted due to this.

After a first futile attempt to tag their friend, ground rules are laid out: The friends can tag Jerry but not during the wedding or formal rehearsal.

Let the games begin!

As I said, Tag is, for the most part, a goofy and at times very funny comedy. However, there is a darker edge to it and I can’t help but wonder if maybe the script was originally much, much darker than what we see on screen.

Based on some of the happenings which occur later in the film, I can’t help but wonder if the original script started very light-hearted and then gradually took a deeper, darker turn until reaching its finale, which was heart-felt and nice, given some of the revelations.

I’ll spoil no more!

In the end, Tag was a pleasant, if not terribly memorable, film. There wasn’t anything to totally turn me off about the film or anything so stupid that it made me want to get up and leave. Having said that, neither was there anything that screamed “classic” to me. Tag is a good, if not “great” comedy and I suspect anyone who takes the time to watch it won’t feel they have wasted their time, if not much more than that.

I know, I know, a very mild recommendation coming from me but there you have it.

Tag is what it is and you could do much worse than check it out on a rainy day.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) a (Mildly) belated review

When I was flying back home a few weeks ago there were two films that I wanted to see in flight. One of them was Ad Astra, which in the end I managed to see (you can read the review here) and the other was John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (let’s refer to it as JW3 from here on, OK?).

The reason I chose Ad Astra over JW3 was because I was down on the whole John Wick franchise. While I mostly enjoyed the first film (read my review of it here) I didn’t care for John Wick 2 at all (here’s the review for that film).

In fact, despite the near constant action and fighting and gunplay, I found John Wick 2 a complete bore, a film with precious little plot spread out into far too many repetitious action sequences.

However, the fact of the matter was that audiences and critics really seemed to like the film. Based on the aggregate reviews over on rottentomatoes.com, the film scored in the high 80% range for both, a very good score, and the film was a success.

Inevitably, JW3 was on its way and released.

With great trepidation, I watched the film this evening (imagine that, seeing not one but two films in one afternoon!) and, despite my worry that I’d not like the film, I found JW3 a BIG improvement over the second film.

Don’t get me wrong: JW3 is guilty of some of the same problems found in JW2. There is perhaps too little actual plot spread out over the film’s 2 plus hour runtime. This is again made up for with plenty of action sequences which, thankfully, are a little more interesting this time around versus in the second film.

JW3 opens seconds after the end of JW2. In that film, (MILD SPOILERS!) Wick find himself hunted by all the assassins for a very high price, and he schemes to get out of New York and see someone high enough on the assassin board (so to speak) food chain to offer remorse and hopefully forgiveness for the transgressions that got him in trouble in the first place.

Meanwhile, the people who helped him out in JW2 are in hot water themselves for helping him out.

So we effectively have parallel plots going on here, the doings in New York and afterwards with Wick and the trouble his allies get into and the blood payment they are forced to make to set things right.

Wick eventually seeks the help of Sofia (Halle Berry) and I thought bringing in a tough as nails female killer was another good step but I have to admit, her role turned out to be pretty small and ended rather abruptly. Of course, she will likely return in the next one, so at least there’s that.

I also liked the way the film ended. It managed to conclude the main story line yet also offer audiences something of a cliffhanger.

What I didn’t like was that in each film John Wick is becoming more and more of a Superman, and the very ending of JW3, unless I’m missing something, shows him surviving something no human being could.

Still, I repeat what I said: I liked JW3 more than JW2. Hell, I think its almost on the level with the original film, which is still the best of the lot, and that’s saying quite a bit.

Recommended!

Dragnet (1987) a Very (Just the Fact, Ma’am) Belated Review

Wow. 1987, eh?

That’s when the Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks starring parody remake of Dragnet, the famous no-nonsense police procedural which started as a radio show before becoming very famous as a TV show was released.

Thirty three years ago?!?

Yikes!

That, my friends, was the first, and only, time I ever saw the film. It was a date, you see, well before I met my future wife, and it went no-where. The date, that is.

But at least I remembered having fun with the film!

I hadn’t seen it since then and, frankly, hadn’t given it all that much thought.

Today, the movie was on one of the various cable channels and I caught it from almost the very beginning (I might have missed the first two or three minutes, nothing terribly big) and without the pressure of a date (which, I repeat, went absolutely nowhere), I was able to sit back and enjoy the film for what it was.

And it was a freaking hoot.

Here’s the trailer:

Dragnet was one of, if not THE first “parody” remake of a TV show. In more recent years we’ve seen parody remakes of Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels (the version with Barrymore/Diaz/Lui was pretty much parody… don’t know about the more recent one), and, for a while, there was talk about a Jim Carrey comedic version of The Six Million Dollar Man (obviously, it never came to be).

Dragnet originally featured the deadpan acting and narration of Jack Webb. Here’s a sampling of that…

Yeah, it could be a little… much.

But considering Dragnet first appeared in the 1950’s and continued through to the early 1970’s, I suppose one can excuse its super starched collar presentation.

By the time the film version was being made, it was ripe for parody and getting Dan Aykroyd to mimic Jack Webb’s ultra-seriousness (he also co-wrote the movie’s script) as “Joe Friday”, the grandson (or was it son?) of the original Joe Friday was a stroke of genius.

So too was getting Tom Hanks to play his much more loosey goosey new partner, Pep Streebeck. For almost the entire film we witness their interaction and, I have to say, it was almost always very funny.

Back in 1987 Tom Hanks was known primarily for his comedic talents, and he plunged headlong into the role along with Aykroyd to deliver a wonderful send-up on the whole bickering partners cliche.

The plot is delightfully silly, involving Pagan worshipers, a mayoral race, a porn publisher (Dabney Coleman in a humorous send up of Hugh Hefner), and a religious moral majority type (Christopher Plummer, positively oozing serpentine cool).

These various characters have plenty of story between them, double dealings and betrayals, while Friday and Streebeck try to bring the various wrong-doers in.

The movie at times reminded me of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther films and, while not quite as good as the best of them, Dragnet nonetheless managed to keep my attention and make me laugh many times throughout.

It’s always curious how some films are well remembered while others fade from the public consciousness. I suppose Dragnet isn’t one of the best remembered Dan Aykroyd or Tom Hanks films. One could even say it is mostly forgotten today. It’s quite a shame because the film is delightfully daffy and well worth checking out.

And remember kids: Thank God it’s Friday!

Recommended.

Workaholics and Charles Bronson…

Does the term “workaholic” apply to you?

Sometimes I think it applies to me. Other times, I feel I don’t do enough work and waste too much time.

Perhaps I’m too hard on myself.

The other day, over on Reddit, the topic of Charles Bronson’s 1974 film Mr. Majestyk came up. Adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel (many of his novels were adapted to the screen, including Hombre, 52 Pick Up, Jackie Brown, etc. etc.), the movie’s story is intriguing: Bronson is Vince Majestyk, a melon farmer (!) who runs up against the mob and a fierce hitman, all while trying to keep his crop going.

It’s an oddball yet very fun film, and the topic of 1970’s era Bronson films perked my interest. He’s one of those actors that was around a very, very long time but didn’t achieve true leading man stardom until he was at least a decade after beginning his career.

His very first role was in a 1949 TV show and he bounced between TV and movies for a while, mostly in relatively smaller roles. In 1960 he joined the all-star cast of The Magnificent Seven and that may well have been his first breakout role. He would go on to star with another all-star cast in The Great Escape in 1963. Between that time he was in plenty more TV roles.

It wasn’t until the very late 1960’s that Charles Bronson became a legitimate leading man in theatrical movies and left co-starring TV show roles behind (he would appear in a few TV movies, though), and from that point and through the 1970’s he was on a tear, appearing in an incredible amount of movies.

Anyway, for the hell of it, I wrote the following (I have made some minor edits/additions) in response to the Mr. Majestyk recommendation:

******

While going down the Charles Bronson 1970’s movie era rabbit hole, I recommend you check out these films as well. I’m not giving you all the films Bronson was in in the 70’s, and arguably the most famous is Death Wish, but I chose not to include it as I wanted to recommend films that might not be so well known:

Red Sun (1971) Bronson stars with Ursula Andress, Alain Delon, Capuccine, and (reads notes) Toshiro Mifune?! in an oddball western involving a samurai sword.

Chato’s Land (1972) Bronson stars as Chato, a half-Indian who in the movie’s opening minutes is goaded by a racist Sheriff into drawing and killing the man, which sets off a long manhunt to capture him. Bronson barely speaks in what is mostly a symbolic role, but the film wonderfully presents the whole “a few rotten apples” concept regarding the posse sent after him and, despite the film’s age, can be viewed as interesting symbolism with today’s politics. (I recently reviewed the film here)

The Mechanic (1972) Most may remember the remake and sequel with Jason Statham. Terrible films, IMHO, compared to the original which features Bronson as a experienced hitman who takes on a hotshot newcomer, played by Jan Michael Vincent, and plenty of games are soon afoot. Features a spectacular (IMHO!) ending. (I wrote about that film here, in the entry regarding the passing of Jan Michael Vincent)

Hard Times (1975) Bronson and James Coburn are illegal boxer and his “promoter”. Wonderful early script/direction by the great Walter Hill (The Warriors48 Hours, etc.).

Breakheart Pass (1975) a favorite of mine and based on a novel by Alistair Maclean. Bronson gets involved in a train ride with various shady characters and murder. In some respects, it plays out sorta/kinda like Murder on the Orient Express in the Wild West!

The White Buffalo (1977) Perhaps the most bizarre film on this list features Bronson as Wild Bill Hickok who meets up with Crazy Horse and they go hunting for the mythical beast. Part Jaws in the Wild West (!!!) part head trip, I nonetheless find the film a fascinating and unique work. (I reviewed that film here)

Telefon (1977) I conclude this list with this Don (Dirty Harry, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers) Siegel directed film. Bronson plays a Russian agent tasked to stop a rogue Russian scientist who intends to awaken sleeper agents within our country. The sleeper agents, once awoken, will carry out murders and cause considerable destruction. A great thriller, IMHO!

*******

Charles Bronson starred in an incredible 24 films between 1970 and 1979. If you do the math, it meant each year you could expect to see a whopping 2.4 new Charles Bronson films!

Think about that!

Compare that to some of the bigger stars today. Regardless of what you think of him, Tom Cruise is an incredibly prolific actor and regularly appears/stars in films (very rarely -such as his appearance in Tropic Thunder– is he in a more minor role in any film).

Here’s his stats:

From 1981 (his first role) to 1989 Tom Cruise was in 12 movies. The early ones were co-starring/more minor roles.

From 1990 to 1999 Tom Cruise was in 10 movies, one a year.

From 2000 to 2009, he was in 11 movies.

From 2010 to the present, add another 11 movies.

Currently, he has 5 projects in various stages of production.

Regardless, one of the more prolific modern actors has managed less than half the number of films Mr. Bronson did in the 1970’s.

I know an argument can be made that many of Mr. Bronson’s films of that time were relatively low budget affairs that didn’t require the huge effects of modern films. They were likely made and released very quickly.

And yet…

You have to give it to Mr. Bronson. I grant you the last decade or so of his work following the 1970’s involved many, many cheesy and/or poorly written material.

But the man worked.

And how.

I suppose in conclusion, one could say that compared to Charles Bronson during the 1970’s, we’re all slackers!

Oscar Nominations…

I’ll just come right out and say it: It’s incredible that Joker received the amount of nominations -11!- that it did.

In fact, everything about the film has been a shock and/or surprise, from first hearing it would get made, to the casting of Joaquin Phoenix, to the rumors Martin Scorsese would produce it (he didn’t, in the end), to the early release and positive words, to the formal release and the blockbuster take, and now the film is the most nominated feature of this year’s Oscars!

Who would believe Todd Phillips, the director of Hangover II and III, the two Hangover films I saw and absolutely hated (never caught the first, which my wife swears was hilarious), could turn around and be behind what is arguably the most talked about film released… and this in a year where other fantasy type films included Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker…!

I have yet to see Joker, though my eldest daughter has and says it was good. Others haven’t liked it quite as much and I suspect I’ll eventually get to it.

Still, an amazing thing!

The one film I figured would get some Oscar love was The Lighthouse. Alas, it seems the only nomination it got was for cinematography, which nonetheless is very much deserved.

A more complete rundown of the Oscar nominations can be found here, in this article found on io9.com and written by Beth Elderkin:

Joker sweeps Oscar nods

Ad Astra (2019) a (mildly) belated review

Having finally reached our destination and spent nearly a week with family, it was time to fly back home. The flight to our destination was marked with a five hour delay in what amounted to a 2 and 1/2 hour flight and afforded me the opportunity to catch up on a couple of films (Starcrash and The Lighthouse).

As we usually do when flying, we arrived at the airport early and made it through security relatively quickly and got to our gate. Soon enough, the airplane was there, visible in its position awaiting our boarding. We still had a little time and had a light meal before returning to the terminal and wait for boarding.

…and wait…

and wait

The hour of departure was coming very close and while we saw the luggage placed within the aircraft, it didn’t seem like there was any movement toward letting passengers in.

Then we received the message: The Captain wanted to check something out with the engines and passengers weren’t allowed on the craft during the wait and yadda yadda. The ground crew moved away from the aircraft, the plane was left alone on the tarmac, and then the Captain revved up the engines a few times before shutting them down.

Then all was quiet.

…and we waited some more…

Finally, the bad news came, some hour after we were supposed to already be in the air: There was some mechanical problem so we were going to be using another aircraft that was en route to our location and we wouldn’t be boarding for another couple of hours until then.

We were, to say the least, livid.

We had so much free time that we decided to have an early supper (as I stated before, the previous food we had was more of a light snack).

We got back to the boarding area to see our airplane look like this…

Yeah, the airport fun this time around, eh?

Another few hours pass and then we get the news that they fixed whatever was wrong with the engine and we’d be boarding soon.

Yeah, another five hour delay on a 2 and 1/2 hour flight.

The fun never stops, right?

Anyway, once on board the flight, we found that unlike the flight over, this one had a robust entertainment system and after checking out the various films available to be seen, I decided to see Ad Astra (you knew I’d get here eventually, no?).

Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Featuring Brad Pitt in the role of Roy McBride, an astronaut who is the son of a very famous astronaut (played by Tommy Lee Jones) who went missing following an important mission some twenty years before.

McBride, we find, is a very unemotional man. This makes him a good astronaut as even in the most extreme emergencies he keeps his head and follows through on the mission. However, this unemotional facade hides deep cracks. His marriage is on the rocks and he doesn’t know how to deal with its break up. Part of his emotional vacuum is related to the loss of his father coupled with the complicated feelings he has for the man. He views him as a hero, yet the loss stings even to his adult age.

Odd electrical arcs descend upon Earth, causing considerable destruction and McBride is brought in for a top secret meeting. Turns out the electrical arcs are coming from further out in the Solar System, and the government fears their source is the scientific mission McBride’s father was on when he disappeared.

Then, the shocker: They think McBride’s father is still alive and, worse yet, is responsible for these electric attacks.

The news that his father might still be alive is a terrific blow to the stoic McBride. He is asked to fly to Mars and send a message to his father in the attempt to get some kind of response.

The reality is that Mission Control on Earth wants to get a location where the elderly McBride is so that they can take him, and the ship he’s in which is sending out the deadly electrical bursts, out.

When Ad Astra was making its way to theaters, there was talk this movie was a sci-fi version of the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, which itself was the basis for the movie Apocalypse Now.

The idea of a person going out to check on someone who has gone rogue/native is the heart (pardon the pun) of Ad Astra and Apocalypse Now so the similarity is not unmerited.

When the film was finally released, critics seemed to love it, giving the film a robust 84% positive on rottentomatoes.com. However, if you check out the reviews from audiences, they had a far more dim view of the film, giving it a pretty weak 40% positive score.

In fact, many of the commentary boards I frequent had people ripping the film, saying its terrifically boring or silly, that the whole “father issue” is played out too thickly and that the film simply was terrible.

Still, I was interested in seeing it and decided to do so during the very delayed flight.

Unfortunately, the viewed wasn’t optimal. The screen would freeze now and again for a few seconds which the movie played and there were interruptions from the Captain when we hit some turbulence (yeah, flight from hell, eh?) and later when multiple announcements were made that we were going to land.

Ad Astra is a long film, just over 2 hours in length, and as we were coming in for a landing I feared I’d miss the very ending. As it turned out, I just got to the credits when the wheels touched ground.

Lucky me!

Given all the irritants dealt with between the delay in the flight to the interruptions to the at times marred film presentation, what did I think of Ad Astra?

I liked it. Quite a bit, in fact!

Was the film perfect? No. At times they did lay the emotions -and lack thereof- on rather thick. There were several action sequences in the film which, while exciting on their own, were obviously put in place to keep the film’s forward momentum going. If you step back and think about it, several of those sequences could have been cut from the film itself without taking away from the central and main plot of the film.

Further, the whole electrical attacks on Earth (and later, Mars) were never explained to my satisfaction. How exactly does a scientific vessel create these electric waves and shoots them out at Earth?

For that matter, why would the elderly McBride do this exactly? I mean, like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, he’s lost his mind and engaged in some very horrific actions. However, the scientific vessel he was commanding didn’t seem to be engaged in experimenting with electrical waves… so how come he’s using them now? Why is he firing them off toward Earth and Mars?

Those are the film’s negatives.

If you can look past them, however, you have a hypnotic film that puts you in the younger McBride’s shoes. You long for the lost contact with McBride’s father. You feel the frustration of his inability to express his emotions and the (paradoxical) fear of what he will find when he eventually goes in search of his father.

Ad Astra isn’t a shallow space opera with laser beams and fighting ships. It isn’t Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers and it most certainly isn’t Star Wars and I think that was in part why so many reacted negatively to the film.

What Ad Astra is is a more cerebral, introspective film with a few action sequences which carry things along. It wants the audience to sit back and admire the wonder of space and the hurt of isolation and loss.

In that, it succeeds, and for that reason I recommend it.

The Lighthouse (2019) a (mildly) belated review

Continuing on with the films I saw while flying (part 1, Starcrash, is here), after a 4-5 hour delay in getting into our airplane for a 2 and 1/2 hour trip, once we settled in I pulled out my trusty iPad and considered the next film to see. I decided on The Lighthouse, the critically loved 2019 film directed by Robert Eggers and co-written with his brother Max. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

This is Robert Eggers’ second film following the also critically loved 2015 film The Witch, which (no pun intended) I haven’t seen yet.

How did I like The Lighthouse? So much so that I immediately purchased a digital copy of The Witch and, as time allows, I fully intend to watch it as well. It isn’t often I’m so blown away by a film that I wind up seeking out the director’s previous work to check it out as well!

The Lighthouse is a relatively “small” film. There are two actors/characters who take central stage: Robert Pattinson’s Thomas Howard and Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake. A third actor, Valeriia Karaman, also appears in the film but I won’t spoil her role for those who haven’t seen the film.

The plot is simplicity itself: Howard and Wake arrive at a wind-strewn island to take over the lighthouse on it for a few weeks. Thomas Wake is a crusty man whose life is the lighthouse while Thomas Howard is a novice. This is his first shift at the lighthouse and, over time he, as well as the more experienced Wake, appear to lose their grip on reality.

Or do they?

I truly don’t want to get into too many SPOILERS because the film is incredibly surprising as it plays out. While on the surface it appears to be a “horror” film, it really is not. There are some uncomfortable scenes and eerie happenings, but the film’s primary goal isn’t to scare you.

Indeed, if anything there are more laugh out loud scenes in the film than those that will make you squirm in your seat as the two Thomases face off against each other. At times their relationship gives off homoerotic vibes, but they’re not overt. At other times they are fierce rivals, the young one who wants to supplant the older one, the older one who envies the young one’s energy. At times, there are hints of Lovecraftian horror, of weird things happening just outside our view and deep within the shadows.

As their time together extends, the two Thomases share -perhaps overshare- who exactly they are and what they’re up to. Wake is possessive of the lighthouse itself and will not allow Howard inside, while Howard longs to see what exactly lies up there… and whether he can take over.

Did I mention the film has several laugh out loud scenes?

Truly this is what amazes me even now about the film: It is incredibly funny at times. I read someone mention the film was like a homosexual rom-com and while I don’t think that’s totally true, the humor in the film is there and it is quite robust.

I’ve already noted that I loved the film so much I picked up the director’s first work and very much intend to watch it as soon as possible, so its obvious I highly recommend this film.

But going into it, I would urge anyone who does to check up on the mythology of both Proteus and Prometheus. The later’s myth, in particular, makes The Lighthouse’s ending make complete sense.

What are you waiting for? Go see The Lighthouse!

Starcrash (1978) a (wildly) belated review…

Part of my vacation involved flying and, as my incredible good luck would have it (extreme sarcasm…off!) I had plenty of time what with delayed flights to watch movies.

I had a few films I downloaded to my iPad (legitimately bought digital copies of films, by the way!) and chose as my first film to see the 1978 cheesy “classic” Starcrash. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Right off the bat let me say: I seriously doubt many modern viewers are going to watch this film and give a crap about it. Those who do will likely hoot and holler and make fun of what they see.

The film, to be very clear, was made to cash in on the sci-fi craze that started with the release of the original Star Wars in 1977. Starcrash was clearly meant to evoke (or, if you’re less forgiving, completely rip off) Star Wars along with Barbarella, Jason and the Argonauts, and the general vibe of cliffhanger serials such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

Only… the film had a super low budget, subsequent cheesy effects, and questionable acting.

The cast of the film is incredibly robust. You have Marjoe Gortner, who was a semi-big star in the 1970’s, smiling like a maniac throughout most of the film (He seems so genuinely happy throughout his time in the film that it feels wrong to accuse him of being stoned or worse). You have Christopher Plummer, yes, that Christopher Plummer, in what amounts to a semi-extended cameo role delivering his cheesy lines as if they were heavy Shakespearean drama. You also have David Hasselhoff (yes, that David Hasselhoff) in one of his earliest roles acting -believe it or not- the most naturally of everyone.

And then you have Caroline Munro as the movie’s protagonist.

Related image

Caroline Munro, for the uninitiated, was a popular star through the 1970’s and into the 1980’s. Perhaps her best known role was that of the deadly helicopter pilot in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.

She was, in my humble opinion, incredibly beautiful and the movie wisely choose to show off her… uh… assets in bikini wear like this. Note, though, Ms. Munro, for her entire movie career to date, refused to do any nudity so despite the cheesiness and the cheesecake, the film is strictly a “PG” affair and clearly the movie’s makers spent a lot of time figuring out the proper attire for interplanetary travel…!

The movie’s plot goes something like this: The son of the Galactic Emperor goes off with his ship to explore some planet, said ship is destroyed but not before several lifeboats are released. Meanwhile intergalactic criminal Stella Star (the lovely Ms. Munro) and her assistant Akton (Marjoe Gortner, natch) are captured for some smuggling they were up to but are subsequently released to help find the Emperor’s lost son… and face off against a meglomaniac who intends to destroy the Empire.

The movie makes little sense but if you’re willing to ride with it and have fun, you will find it, though again I caution everyone who is more used to modern fare that this film isn’t terribly quick moving and the effects are, even for their era, hardly revelatory.

Still, Starcrash is innocuous fun, a film not meant to be taken seriously and made by people who clearly were trying hard to evoke another era.

If you’re in the right frame of mind, Starcrash is a hoot.

If you’re not, then you best stay away.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)… any good?

Yeah I know, I know… I just stated I’d likely not do any new posts until the New Year and here I am, only two days later (but I tried to scratch out some time yesterday!) to add a new post.

The topic is pretty clear but I just thought it was too fascinating to ignore: Is the latest Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker, any good?

Now, I haven’t seen it yet but I was somewhat shocked by the reviews that appeared yesterday/the day before that concerning the film. If you go over to rottentomatoes.com, the cumulative average of “professional” reviews is a rather anemic 58% positive while audience reaction is a far healthier 86%. Of course, this will likely change over time, particularly the audience reaction, as more and more people weigh in on their opinion.

I suspect the audience number will decrease -though who knows how much- in time, at least based on what I’m reading in various bulletin boards around the net.

Understand: I’m not saying a larger number of people hated the film, only that there does seem to be many people who, like The Last Jedi before it, aren’t fond of this new Star Wars offering.

Some of the more common reactions I’m find are that a) the film is too “rushed”, giving us a breakneck series of sequences that follow little -if any- logic, and b) the film seems to be going out of its way to eliminate The Last Jedi’s plot points.

There’s another underlying criticism that may be even more valid: That this “new” trilogy of films, starting with The Force Awakes, going through The Last Jedi and terminating with The Rise of Skywalker shows a fundamental error made by Disney/Lucasfilm, that they went into this new trilogy without a general story outline.

Thus, The Force Awakens has been (IMHO rightly) criticized as little more than a remake of the original Star Wars films (ie, A New Hope) but with new characters added to the old. That The Last Jedi attempted to subvert the “expected” Star Wars tropes but wound up being either too daring and/or dumb (there are many who have pointed to plot holes) and thus alienated too many fans. Now, Rise of Skywalker tries to clean up the whole thing by giving people more fan service and no controversial storylines/ideas.

Yeah, I’ve obviously read spoilers.

Regardless, I do believe this criticism is valid. I do believe the new trilogy began without any terribly strong ideas as to how the three films would play out.

This is NOT something new!

Those who are old enough -like me!- to recall going to see the original Star Wars (ie, A New Hope) in theaters remember that what got Luke Skywalker going on his mission was that he (avert your eyes, sensitive readers) totally fell in love with the holographic image of Princess Leia.

Yeah, it was about love/lust.

The whole movie -originally!- was about how this backwater boy was after this royal princess, someone far, far out of his league.

And then came the second movie, where we have Princess Leia passionately kiss Luke to instill jealousy in Han Solo. Then we get to Return of the Jedi where its revealed they’re brother and sister!

It’s no wonder the lust/love aspects were trampled down/cut out in the subsequent special editions because the storyline switched around and suddenly we couldn’t have brother lusting after his sister!

Ah well!

Still, if going into The Force Awakens the studio knew they were doing a third trilogy, perhaps they should have thought the overarching plot through a little more before committing to releasing them the way they were.

It is what it is and for those who are fans of Star Wars, I hope you find the movie to your liking!

Storytelling and Richard Jewell (2019)

I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood.

I suspect if I were to do a detailed count of the many movies I have in my collection, either physical copies or digital, movies either featuring Clint Eastwood and/or were directed by him likely makes up a larger count than another other actor out there.

I loved him in the “Dollars/Man With No Name” Trilogy. I loved him in the Dirty Harry films (though the first one is clearly the best, with the others varying in quality). I loved him in quirky films like Play Misty For Me (the first film he actually directed. He was also the movie’s star). I loved him in High Plains Drifter, The Gauntlet, The Eiger Sanction, Unforgiven, etc. etc. etc.

Sure, he’s had his clunkers (Pink Cadillac was an absolute chore to sit through), but by and large I like his movies, whether he acts in them or serves only as director.

Released this past week, Richard Jewell is the latest of Clint Eastwood’s films. He served solely as director and the film, alas, looks to be a box office bomb (no pun intended!).

It would appear people aren’t terribly interested in seeing this film, which chronicles the real life Richard Jewell, who was a security guard who discovered a bomb planted in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and likely saved the lives of hundreds of people with this discovery… only to become vilified when he it was revealed he was suspected of being the person who planted the bomb to begin with and remained a suspect until the true culprit was found.

Now, reading the above paragraph, I must say: That’s actually a pretty good hook for a based on true life film. A man who goes from hero to villain, only to be absolved when the real person behind the bomb was discovered and arrested.

However…

The film arrived under a cloud of its own controversy, specifically in the way it depicted one of the real-life people involved in this affair: Journalist Kathy Scruggs. From what I’ve read, Kathy Scruggs was a real life character, a hard charging journalist who worked for an Atlanta newspaper and was known to work hard to get her stories. At the time, she was supposedly dating a member of the Atlanta Police Department who tipped her off that the FBI was suspicious of Mr. Jewell. She made inquiries to the FBI and eventually verified this fact and wrote an article (she was co-writer) regarding the fact that Mr. Jewell was now a suspect in the aborted bombing. Her article was the first to finger Mr. Jewell as a suspect and, subsequently, the other news media latched onto the story and made his life a living hell.

In the movie director Clint Eastwood and writer Billy Ray make some curious -terrible- changes to Ms. Scruggs’ story. In the movie, she meets up with Tom Shaw, the FBI agent played by John Hamm, who is investigating/suspecting Jewell of being the bomber. In a now very controversial scene in the film, Scruggs essentially trades sex with Shaw for information regarding Jewell.

That change in the real life story is odious, IMHO. I mean, wasn’t the whole point of this film to show how the media tarred an innocent person? So in clearing him they decide to tar another person as a slut who gets information by trading for sex. Even worse: They tar a person who, if you step back and look at the facts of the case, was simply doing her job as a journalist.

Ms. Scruggs was not the one to suspect Mr. Jewell, it was the FBI. She reported on the fact. Ms. Scruggs, in real life, got a tip and followed up on it. She corroborated the information and then wrote an article about her findings. Editors in the newspaper, one would think, considered the story before approving and publishing it.

While the article certainly proved horrible for Mr. Jewell, did she not do what a journalist should do? Did she not pursue a lead and verify it before writing about it?

And consider this: Ms. Scruggs wasn’t the first person to hear that Mr. Jewell was a suspect. CNN supposedly heard the rumor as well. If Ms. Scruggs article hadn’t been published, how long do you think it would have taken before this information would have made its way to the public anyway?

I strongly suspect it wouldn’t have taken all that long.

I haven’t seen the film but many of the people who have -even those who very much like it- point out the portrayal of Ms. Scruggs and Mr. Hamm’s FBI agent are the film’s biggest liabilities, that they are portrayed as cliched bad guys who are only missing long mustaches they can twirl while they go about their bad guy business.

But, incredibly, it gets worse.

Not only does the film incorrectly depict Ms. Scruggs as trading sex for information, but Tom Shaw, the FBI agent played by Mr. Hamm whom she trades sex for information, is a fictitious construct.

Let that sink in!

There is NO Tom Shaw who worked in the FBI at the time of the Atlanta Bombing. There never was. So not only is the story of Ms. Scruggs trading sex for information bogus, the person she supposedly slept with to get the information doesn’t even exist!

The word comes back to me: Odious.

Yeah, what happened to Richard Jewell was absolutely terrible. He should not have gone through that scrutiny and the accusations.

But you know what? Making alternate -and also terrible- accusations about a real life person in Ms. Scruggs is, in my opinion, just as bad.

Ms. Scruggs passed away at the very young age of 42 in 2001, the result of an overdose of prescription pills. Was it an accidental overdose or suicide? The coroner could not determine. It was reported the Jewell article affected her deeply and she spent the rest of her years regretting what Mr. Jewell went through and her responsibility in the situation. Truly it seems like she cared deeply about her role in this affair.

The sad thing is that it seems to me there is a legitimately good story here which could -and should- have been presented without tarring this woman as some kind of bad guy involved in a fictional affair with a fictional character.

It reeks of Eastwood and company putting the thumbs on the scale, of kicking someone because you have to have villains in your story.

A shame.

If you want to read a good article concerning this controversy, check out Julie Miller’s article presented on VanityFair.com…

The Richard Jewell Controversy – and the complicated truth about Kathy Scruggs