One of the funniest films of the 1990s, director Richard Linklater’s “Dazed And Confused” premiered 25 years ago today on September 24th, 1993. The movie starred Jason London, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Rory Cochrane, Adam Shapiro, Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey among many others depicting the last day of high school in 1976. The interactions of various classmates and underclassmen as they prepare for one big summer night’s fling is the focus of the feature. Featuring an incredible classic rock soundtrack, memorable one-liners and a variety of funny hijinks. Highly recommended if you are one of the few who have never seen it – still holds up very well today!
The action film “Striking Distance” starring Bruce Willis and Sarah Jessica Parker was released 25 years ago today on September 17, 1993. Willis plays a Pittsburgh homicide detective who is re-assigned to the River Rescue Squad after his father is murdered by a serial killer following a high speed chase. The killer escaped justice and the detective now patrols Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers while drinking heavily. Soon a new crime pattern emerges with bodies being dumped into the river with what appears to be the same mark as the original serial killer.
Of course, the best part of a movie that takes place mostly on the water is the opening car chase sequence! Nothing beats a good car chase and Striking Distance has a good one. Here it is for your viewing pleasure:
The Predator – Ridiculous fun, but by saying that, I don’t want to sell this film short. My first instinct was to write that this was a check your brain at the door and go for the ride kind of movie. However, on closer inspection, there are some smarts behind what is presented to the audience. That determination is made by seeing that the writer and director of The Predator is Shane Black. Black is more of a screenwriter than a director who has always had quirky, humorous takes on his subject matter. He has given us classic screenplays such as Lethal Weapon, The Monster Squad and The Last Boy Scout. When he has stepped behind the camera as director, he has given us features like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. All of these projects are action-centered with doses of humor. So knowing this, you realize when watching The Predator that nothing going on is truly serious and most is tongue-in-cheek. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is a veiled spoof of the Predator franchise. If you are looking for a straight forward action film, this is not it, although there are plenty of great action sequences. Instead you get a lot of play on 80’s sci-fi adventure cliches and the genre in general. A large, self important music score. Un-PC humor. Over the top action sequences. Plot points that are never explained or preposterous. Cheesy one-liners, etc. etc. The basic story of this film is that a renegade predator crash lands on Earth fleeing a more monstrous hybrid of his species. Actor Boyd Holbrook (of Narcos fame) plays Quinn McKenna, a covert military sniper who witnesses the crash landing of the space pod while attempting to free some hostages in South America. The government has been tracking the spacecraft and bring in McKenna for questioning. When he mentions that he saw an alien being leave the ship, he is sent to military prison with a bunch of misfit, borderline insane outcast soldiers. And I mean over the top bonkers. Keegan-Michael Kay tells inappropriate jokes at inappropriate times, Thomas Jane has Tourette Syndrome, actor Augusto Aguilera takes everything in a literal biblical context and so on. Meanwhile, the head of the government team Traeger (played by Sterling K. Brown of This Is Us and Black Panther) and his team have captured the predator and are searching for his spacecraft and its military grade alien hardware. Little does he know, but McKenna has mailed the predator’s helmet and tracking device to his autistic son (Jacob Tremblay from the films Room and Wonder), who, being a genius, unlocks the alien code. Throw in a female scientist (Olivia Munn) who somehow knows everything about alien culture (which is conveniently never explained) and you have quite the motley cast of characters. Eventually the prisoners break free to fight what they think is the Predator, but there is actually a hybrid Predator chasing the first predator which has acquired super-DNA from warrior creatures around the universe that is even deadlier. He’s even got monstrous, predator dogs with him. As mentioned, everything is over the top here, with blood and limbs flying everywhere, coincidental plot twists and hammy acting. And it’s all the more fun for it. In the spirit of films like The Ice Pirates, The Delta Force, and D.A.R.Y.L., along with nods to classics like E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this is nothing like the original Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but is the most entertaining sequel yet in the series.
A Simple Favor – A strange hybrid of different genres that I really liked, but didn’t love. Now don’t get me wrong, this movie has a lot going for it: style in spades, humorous moments, an intelligent twisty screenplay and a quality performance by Blake Lively as a conniving, cosmopolitan b!tch. The primary issue? Just not a fan at all of actress Anna Kendrick. Let’s face it, outside of an adequate performance in 2009’s “Up In The Air” alongside George Clooney, she’s really not a very good actor. She’s been typecast as this perky nerd who comes across as naive when in fact she’s really smarter than she’s letting on. Kendrick is supporting actress or ensemble material; not the stuff of lead actress quality. And unfortunately, she’s more grating and annoying than ever in this feature, which is a shame as this movie has a lot going for it. Of course, if you like Kendrick, you may love this movie. She plays Stephanie Smothers, a single, widowed mom who is that school mother that the community loves to hate. One day, her son befriends another boy and they ask to have a play date together. When this boy’s mother Emily Nelson (Lively) shows up, she reluctantly agrees to have Stephanie and her son come over to her house. Stephanie is enamored with the wealthy, vogue lifestyle Emily is living as a Director of Public Relations at a high profile fashion firm, but soon learns that Emily and her husband Sean are having financial difficulties and everything is not as it seems. When Emily gets caught at work, she asks Stephanie to watch her son, but then never shows to pick him up. Days pass and Stephanie reaches out to Sean and people at the fashion firm trying to figure out what’s going on with the disappearance. Let’s just say things get a lot more convoluted from there. A Simple Favor is a mix of black comedy, Hitchcock suspense thriller, society drama and con artist feature which has some very clever moments but also some cliche moments along the way. Most plot points work, but some don’t. In the end though, it is eminently watchable, but that may be tempered by how you feel about the two lead actresses who take up just about all of the screen time.
60 years ago today, September 12, 1958, the original film version of “The Blob” starring a young Steve McQueen premiered. It would spawn a terrible sequel (1972’s Beware! The Blob) and a quality remake in 1988. Still, the original is considered a classic of 1950’s sci-fi cinema.
Ahhh, the soul sucking feeling of going through current events and daily news on a continual basis. You feel just like…
The Nun – While adequately creepy and atmospheric, the Nun fails to generate the thrills, chills and suspense of previous entries in The Conjuring universe. Whereas previous movies like The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation (let’s face it; the first Annabelle was a lemon) effectively generated suspense that exploded into non-stop terror over the entire length of their run times, The Nun settles for cheap jump scares and an eerie environment. In this one, the setting is 1952 Romania where strange things are occurring at a cloistered abbey. The local village sees the location as cursed and one day a French-Canadian expatriate working in the village as support for the nun’s at the abbey discovers one of the sisters has hung herself outside the walls of the castle. Upon hearing of the incident, the Vatican calls upon a priest who is an expert in unexplained phenomena (Demian Bechir of A Better Life and The Hateful Eight fame) as well as a young sister about to make her vows as a nun who also has experience in visions (Taissa Farmiga – sister of actress Vera Farmiga in her first major starring role outside of the FX American Horror Story series). The expat, priest and sister walk into a bar (kidding)…they investigate the abbey and attempt to find out what lead to the death of the nun. Upon their investigation, various demonic forces attempt to thwart them from discovering the secrets of the abbey. In time, they discover that the abbey was originally a castle built by a Duke in the Dark Ages who was obsessed with witchcraft and demonology. He attempted to unleash hell on earth but Europe’s Christian Crusaders had stopped his plans and driven back the evil entities deep within the castle which they claimed as their own. Since that time, nuns have prayed in perpetual adoration to keep the evil spirits at bay while also housing a chalice with the Blood of Christ. Unfortunately, since WWII, bombings in the area began to break open the portal from which the demons were banished and they have been slowly been wrecking havoc on the nuns, killing them off one by one in the form of a sinister looking demonic nun (the same one introduced to us at the end of Annabelle Creation). The rest of the film has the various characters running through dark hallways and creepy antechambers looking for a way to stop the presence. The Nun isn’t terrible, but it feels like a step back in this series. Most of the other films have been very well made with fair amount of suspense and wow moments. Those don’t materialize here. The abbey itself is creepy, the sound effects intriguing and the acting decent, but in the end, it feels like a franchise going through the motions. Not the worst film in the Conjuring series, but far from the best…
There is a fair amount of controversy being generated by the upcoming film “First Man” starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong; the first man to step on the moon. Directed by Damien Chazelle, who made the films “Whiplash” and “La La Land”, gives us a most serious look at the Cold War race and risks to get a man to the moon first.
Apparently, in a creative decision, the filmmaker has decided not to show Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon or recreate the iconic photo of Armstrong saluting the U.S. flag on the moon. Chazelle and Gosling argue that the event was one that transcended nationality and was an achievement for humankind. Thus, the flag was purposely discarded. However, critics are responding that it was American ingenuity that got Armstrong to the moon, American taxpayers who funded the mission and, at the time, there was a grave fear that the Soviet Union could be well ahead of the United States in technological achievement. Erasing the flag lessens the sacrifices and tensions felt during that Cold War period.
These Terrible Times suggests a compromise:
Searching – Excellent mystery / suspense film about a widowed father desperately looking for his missing 16 year old daughter in the media and internet age. What could have easily been a gimmick movie is grounded by a sharp, clever script and a tightly constructed production. Actor John Cho (of Harold and Kumar fame) plays David Kim, a father who is trying to raise his daughter Margot the best he can while grieving for his recently widowed wife. One night, Margot never comes home after an after school study class. As the hours pass, David becomes more worried and more desperate. After calling everyone he knows in his frantic search, he finally calls the police and enlists the help of a detective played by actress Debra Messing. While the detective conducts the ground level investigation for the missing girl, David explores Margot’s social media world and begins to realize that he really doesn’t know his daughter. He begins to question every contact he can find leading him to various dead ends, potential motives and devious behavior. I’ll stop there because the twists that arrive at this point you will not see coming for a thousand miles, and they’re GOOD twists. Not the kind that makes you roll your eyes. The entire film is made to appear as if it is being viewed through various forms of modern technology (basically taking the idea from horror movie “Unfriended”) and expanding it to every format you can think of: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Venmo, etc. etc. If this film should be considered for any kind of award, look no further than best editing. It’s a marvel of a production. This is smart, sophisticated filmmaking where, even though I didn’t totally buy the final denouement, the journey presented is crafted so brilliantly, you end up admiring the production on the whole.
It’s a day of anniversaries. 70 years ago today, legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock released his take on the real life Leopold & Loeb murder case with his film “Rope” starring James Stewart. In real life, Leopold and Loeb were thrill killers who kidnapped a child off the street, killed him and tried to get away with it. Hitchcock’s film transports the killing to a Manhattan penthouse where two young men strangle to death a former classmate from Harvard University, then try to get away with it.
The settings are different but the themes are the same. Egotistical, self important “smart guys” who think they are intelligent enough to evade the system and get away with the “perfect murder”. In “Rope” the two young men go so far as to hide the corpse in an old antique wooden chest and then turn it into a banquet table as they host an evening social dinner. Ultimately, James Stewart’s character begins to realize something’s not quite right.
“Give ’em enough rope…” they say…”and they’ll hang themselves”.
How much are we seeing this scenario with the Trump administration? How much can they get away with? They live a delusional life telling everyone this is the perfect administration and yet we are continually seeing cracks in the seams. It’s only a matter of time before we all find the proverbial body in the chest.