Friday, February 28, 2014

02/28: The Battle of Algiers

Well, unfortunately, I didn't stick to what I was going to do this month, which was review movies that dealt with 'civil rights' and 'black history' themes. But I did get around to a few. This movie I'm about to review next does have a bit to do with civil rights.

I first watched this movie as an extra credit assignment years ago when I took a World History class at SIUE. I've never heard of it at the time but I was glad that I watched it. The Battle of Algiers was based on a true story, and it was brilliantly done with re-created scenes. In other words, it is a historical film in its own right. It tried to tell both sides of the story: one side with the French Algerians, and the other with the French.

A little history lesson for those that don't know much about it: After World War II, several countries which were occupied by mostly European nations sought independence, better known as 'the anti-colonialism period'. Most of us know the story about Gandhi and India, which took place in 1947 after several years of struggle to gain their independence from the British. In the 1950s, Algeria (occupied by France) was one of the next nations to fight against colonialism. However, unlike India which chose the non-violent route, the people of the capital city Algiers decided violence was the answer. There were violent battles between the French soldiers/people and the citizens of Algeria. The film shows multiple bombings by women as well as young men murdering white policemen.

Of course, the film was very controversial as this was not shown in France the first few years. It was released in 1966 during peacetime between the two sides. As we all know, Algeria became independent even though it was not an overnight success. The French did have better fighting power until it took more strides for the other side to gain. One of the reasons it got the controversy label was because many felt it portrayed the French as bad as well as racist.

For all history buffs, this movie is for you. Especially for those who are into the 20th century historical part. This was not ever talked about much when I was in grade or high school. So for those who do not know much about the 'anti-colonialism period' in Africa, I highly recommend it.
However, this film is not for children as it contains several realistic re-enactments of violence that took place during the battles. Also, a copy is very hard to come by, even though it was issued as part of the Criterion Collection.

My rating: 8 out of 10

Thursday, February 27, 2014

02/27: Just Friends

Who can handle the truth? Apparently not Ryan Reynolds' character Chris who is told by his crush/best friend Jamie that she doesn't want to be more than his friend. He writes it in her yearbook. But even worse, it gets read aloud at a party in front of all his classmates....enough to humiliate him nearly for life!

Just look at the have Ryan Reynolds (who has seen his hits and mostly misses in his career, while I do respect him as an actor...the critics don't seem to like his films!), Anna Faris (same way I feel about Mr. Reynolds), Chris Klein and Amy Smart. This is kind-of like a teen comedy, yet it is set years after they part their ways in their late teens. They are now in their 30s, and geared up for a reunion. Only this time, Chris goes from a cheerleader/outcast/way overweight guy to a suave and rich ladies man who seems too good for anything. He even flies in a private jet only to accidentally get stranded in his hometown in New Jersey. Tagging along is the latest pop-star sensation (played by Anna Faris) who is also his ex-girlfriend back in Hollywood. For some people, success is the greatest 'bitch' and payback, or at least, the best way to gain respect for those who you thought didn't look at you highly. Chris goes to find his past love, who is now a waitress/bartender at a local bar.

By looking at the cast mentioned above, you really don't know whether to take this movie seriously or not. Maybe so. Or take it like a romantic comedy. Ryan Reynolds' fat-suit looks like fairly obvious fake, like cheap makeup was applied. Of course, I can't do better, but its safe to assume this was low budget. Reynolds was not yet a star, and Faris had only been successful with the 'Scary Movie' films. Come to think of it, that's all I remember her for. Oh, and for Movie 43. Both of them were in Waiting the year before.

So, what do I think? The movie is very predictable, but for some, that's a good thing. Most people like a romantic comedy as long its a decent story. I can't really speak for other people. Some may even view it as a great revenge fantasy, too, as referenced two paragraphs ago. But, I'm gonna have to deduct some numbers off this one for various reasons.

My rating: 4 out of 10

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

02/26: Billy Elliot

With the Olympics in Sochi, Russia over, maybe its time to explore one of Russian's pasttimes: ballet. I was just watching an episode of The Waltons just now, and there was ballet in it. Sometimes I wonder how people get a kick out of that kind of dancing, but doing is way better than watching. I guess it can be fascinating.

Take an 11-year old boy named Billy Elliot, obviously the film's title character. A boy with a messed up home life in England, whose widowed father is having large problems with his employer and union. The last thing his pop wants to hear is his boy is taking ballet lessons instead of typical male activities. He originally wanted Billy to take boxing lessons, but sneaks away eventually to the nearby room full of girls in the ballet class. It would take a lot to convince his father that he is talented in the field, especially if he's set to audition for a special dance school.

If you would like to watch an inspirational story that deals with un-encouraging parents, this is for you. This is also for those who like to watch stories that can beat the odds against anything. With the movie seeming harmless, it is rated R for mostly the language and profanity.

My rating: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

02/25: Chilly Scenes Of Winter

This movie was supposed to be like, a romantic comedy. Sure, it was. I believe it turned out to be a boring, depressing film. Sure, it's a film thats to inspire hope and love. And it did. But I won't give away most of it.

John Heard (later to play Kevin McAllister's dad in Home Alone 1 & 2) plays Charles, a miserable thirty-something who's got a good job at the office but the people around him constantly all are 'debbie downers' until he meets a woman who works in the same building, Laura (Mary Beth Hart). At their first date together, he tries to persuade her to move in with him after he finds out Laura just left her husband. Many things happen between the two of them, on and off, but Charles pretty much creeps on her, which of course turns her away. No doubt Charles is in love with her.

The first part of the movie grabbed me for a moment, but most of it was just plain boring...until it got to the end. Some people would think this was a brilliantly written movie, and it probably was. At least for those who want an honest look at reality of love. I'd skip this one, unless you're really up for it.

My rating: 4 out of 10

Monday, February 24, 2014

02/24: National Lampoon's Animal House

Today we lost an important comedic icon who has held their place in making people laugh at the movies the last 40 years. Harold Ramis passed away at age 69 in Chicago today, which shocked just about everyone who didn't know about his life-threatening condition. What's more sad is that most people know him just as 'that guy from Ghostbusters'. Well, he was more than he co-wrote several films such as Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and the one I'm about to review.

I am from the St. Louis area, and it is very cool to share the same city as some famous people who have resided here at some point. Mr. Ramis attended Washington University outside St. Louis. While he was there, he was in a fraternity. Today I drove on Forsyth Blvd in Clayton (a St. L suburb), and according to legend, Ramis was inspired to write Animal House after being part of a fraternity house located on that road. While he made Chicago mostly his home, Ramis was recognized for his short efforts in St. Louis and was awarded a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame (located on Delmar Blvd, also known as the Delmar Loop).

Alright....on with the review! Most of you know this has become an American classic. Set in the innocent-era 60s, this movie made college fraternities more popular than ever. Plus, it made stars of Stephen Furst, Kevin Bacon, and perhaps the most important, John Belushi. And of course, let's not forget Ramis. The whole movie is revolved around the Faber College's most hated, underachieving Greek group, Delta Tau Chi. We do see typical pranks among the other fraternities, but it turns into a brutal war becoming Delta vs. Faber. And of course, we see the girls! Basically, its what every college kid that goes away from home, a life that he dreams of.

Some of my favorite moments in the film: John Belushi ('Bluto') singing 'Louie, Louie'; the horse and the gunshot; the food fight along with 'I'm a zit!', and the 'speech' Bluto gives to his hopeless frat brothers before the parade.

My most favorite types of movies are 'coming-of-age' films, and this definitely belongs in that category. I always find the movie fun and worth watching over and over. However, I have never taken interest in joining a Greek fraternity, as I always had weird thoughts about those groups. This movie, without doubt, earned its share of criticism for being one of those college movies which showed the stereotypes among frat boys. I'd still watch it, no matter how old you are. Or at least until your senior year of high school.

R.I.P. Harold Ramis (1944-2014)

My rating: 8 out of 10

Sunday, February 23, 2014

02/23: Thank God It's Friday

I admit that before I watched this for the first time last night (on Crackle) I thought this was going to be a Saturday Night Fever ripoff. I knew it was about disco and I knew Donna Summer and Jeff Goldblum were in it. I was wrong, of course. It turned out to be an American Graffiti version of the days of disco.

TGIF features several characters and their stories intertwine with each other. Where do I start? 95% of the film is set at a fictional L.A. disco The Zoo, owned by Tony (Goldblum), who is a playboy and wealthy and happy guy who's all about his car and meeting the 'right girl'. You have two teenagers (one of them, the blonde, played by future Berlin singer Terri Nunn) desparately trying to sneak in and participate in a dance contest. You have a mismatched couple that met from a computer-dating service (those existed back then?), between a grumpy, insult-mouthing overweight guy and a taller, college-educated woman. Also you got a married couple who end up cheating on each other that night, with the husband being given several drugs by a free-spirited new wave/disco chick who ends up making a fool of himself. And, the one that crowns them all - the late Donna Summer plays an aspiring singer named Nicole Sims who tries to con her way of getting her voice/music heard to a wide audience, mostly by harassing the disc jockey. There's also the special appearance by the Commodores, who help the d.j. get to higher levels, but first retrieve their equipment which is missing in action by their driver, who continuously gets lost and pulled over on the way there.

The title has to do with something most Americans say after a hard week's work. Friday night is usually where its at, at a popular hangout. But in this movie we see everyone struggle and have problems at their home away from home - the disco! The disco, at least back in the late 70s, was the place to forget about your troubles and reality and just dance. That wasn't necessarily the case for all of the characters.

When looking at the first thing you see, the Columbia Pictures logo, with the iconic torch-holding woman, you know right away this is supposed to be a fun movie, and not to be taken seriously most of the time. Most so-called professional critics called TGIF a 'bomb', but to me, this was a true blast from the past. I cut some of those movies some slack, especially for those movies that gave us a glimpse of what it was like during the height of some time. I was born right at the time disco died an overnight death. So, to me, this was a fun watch.

My rating: 7 out of 10

Saturday, February 22, 2014

02/22: Super 8

Super 8 sorta confused me, even though it shouldn't have. After all, Steven Spielberg and the 'promising' future Lucas/Spielberg all-in-one man JJ Abrams had a lot to do with this movie, so it should be great, right? Yeah it was, but it took me a while to catch on, as I had to watch it again.

This is not a horror movie, but a straight-up sci-fi flick. A town is invaded by an alien which is attracted to magnetism and cubes (?). That was the part I'm confused about. But, this is Abrams' own fictional story, so I shouldn't knock it that much. Maybe its because the first third of the movie focuses on the young people's drive to be filmmakers. It shows how they all team up to help their friend win a film competition. And it also shows a blooming flirtation between 14-year old Joe and his crush, Alice. Their fathers don't get along as Joe's doesn't think very highly of Alice's dad, who he blames for Joe's mothers death.

But the climax which seemingly happens very early suddenly focuses on a train derailment which is caused by a local science teacher who intentionally tries to block a train, and not to give it away, survives. He knew this was coming. But I'm gonna stop right there. Yes, the movie does go into sudden parts where strange things happen around town, which would typically happen in a horror movie. Except it was not to be this way in Super 8. To each their own, I guess.

If there is one thing to praise, its the time setting. 1982, baby! I was only a baby at that time. They did make everything look so...1982. Except I'm not sure of all songs during that era they had to pick ELO's 'Don't Bring Me Down'?!

My rating: 6 out of 10

Friday, February 21, 2014

02/21: Hot Tub Time Machine

A part satire/comedy/serious movie came out in 2010. And of course, another time-travel fantasy film. Something I wished actually existed in real life, whether it be a nuclear reaction to take us back to where we went wrong in life or in a situation. There are several time-travel movies, and most are worth watching, including HTTM.

This one starts at the present day with 3 men in their 40s (Adam, Nick and Lou), who are living deeply in regret over different things, be it careers, marriage, etc. Tagging along with them is Adam's nephew Jacob. When Lou is hospitalized, the men decide to go back to an old ski resort (now run-down) that was a popular vacation hangout spot for them in the 80s during their teens. They try to relive their memories when suddenly they discover they are back in time. 1986, to be exact. They of course take advantage of the moment by re-living everything that should have happened. Basically, they're all doing something we all wish to do. It only happens in the movies, haha. But in the midst of all this, some cold hard truths arise.

Definitely a fun movie with several pop-culture references, including Back To The Future ("Hey McFly..."). Great group of people in the movie, and yes, even Chevy Chase was a bit funny. On the flip side, I find it unnecessary that this movie is getting a sequel, which will come out on Christmas of this year. John Cusack won't even be in it this time around, with Adam Scott replacing him. But like I always say, I hope they prove me wrong.

My rating: 8 out of 10

Thursday, February 20, 2014

02/20: The Bodyguard

It's been more than two years since Whitney Houston's passing, and all the extensive media coverage around it. Then you also have the 'speech' that Kevin Costner gave at her memorial service. The Bodyguard was one of its rare kind, a romantic thriller. It pretty much was predictable, but audiences were ready to see Whitney show off her acting skills. By that time she was an international superstar, breaking Billboard chart records (including most consecutive #1 Hot 100 singles, a record that still stands today). Also at the time, Kevin Costner was on fire, having starred in great roles the last few years much as I hate to say it, his career was nowhere to go but down.

Superstar Rachel Marron (Houston) is an untouchable diva who is being stalked (as well as threatened), which leads to her manager's decision in hiring Frank Farmer (Costner), a former Secret Service worker who served under previous U.S. Presidents. Rachel doesn't think it is necessary since she already has one, but the death threats grow more serious. Many things happen as he tries to protect her and her family.

Commentary (Warning: Spoilers!): I must say the cheesiest, un-realistic part was at the end, during the Academy Awards. Really, diving right in front of Rachel while protecting her from a bullet? It kind of reminds me of Fonzie jumping over the shark, or something more weird.

My rating: 6 out of 10

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

02/19: The Incredibles

Pixar scored itself another great hit during the year of 2004 with The Incredibles. A box office success, it won the hearts of both so-called professional critics and audiences alike. With a family shown on most of the posters this would look like a perfect family fun movie. That is 90% true. What about the 10%, you ask? Pretty much a lesson in violence, holding grudges, and just plain evil.

But its still a fun and respectable movie. You can tell its all about superheroes. I haven't seen this until a few months ago (obviously overdue!) and I originally thought the whole family acted as the group of superheroes throughout the whole movie. Not necessarily so! I won't give that much away, but here's a bit of the plot: A group of superheroes called the 'Supers' that were once great and powerful until the government shuts them down.

Several years later, Bob and Helen Farr (voiced by Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter) have outgrown their past lives as superheroes and live the typical American dream. Bob has a great job, even though its boring for him, but he knows he has to support his family of five. Bob, formerly Mr. Incredible, is tapped by a woman named Mirage to test out things as well as go back to his old superhero character. Little does he know (as well as the family) that there is a former fan (voiced by Jason Lee; earlier shunned by Bob) who is still holding a grudge all these years. He becomes 'Syndrome'.

All the Incredibles have super powers, like Helen can stretch her body like rubber, and the oldest son can run like the wind blows (or something fast like that...). It takes a family to get their senses together and join forces to stop Syndrome and his crew on an island. The fighting techniques are fun as well as the super powers. Kind of like a cartoonish X-Men.

As said, this is a great family movie. It can also be considered an introductory action movie for kids, too. Of course, I hope this teaches a kid a lesson or two in dealing with people who trespass against them. It's no wonder this film is now becoming a 'classic' already, just nearly 10 years after its release. Yes, there have been talks of a sequel, but nothing set in stone just yet.....

My rating: 8 out of 10

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

02/18: Wild Things

So...did you do it?
Then you got nothing to worry about....

That's one of my favorite conversational quotes. It was between Bill Murray's lawyer character and Matt Dillon's character Sam. Sam is a high school guidance counselor who is accused of rape by two female students, Suzie (Neve Campbell) and Kelly (Denise Richards), after they go to his house. It is later revealed that the whole thing is a set-up and numerous accusations and suits come up and the three of them hope to split the dough, which is 8 million.

There are several plot twists throughout the movie, as well as several backstabbing events, with not to GIVE IT AWAY (SPOILER), but until there is one person left standing. Of course, I'm not going to give it away who, but as you watch the movie, you'll pretty much get an idea. Greed and manipulation play important parts of the movie. The film is also described as trashy yet likeable.

I remember during the late 90s during the prime of the film's stars. Neve Campbell was 'the girl next door' and she seemed unstoppable with her endless string of hit films. But it all came to an end. (Reminds me of Alicia Silverstone) Same goes for Denise Richards and Matt Dillon. But you also have Hollywood veterans who play minor roles (Murray, Robert Wagner and Kevin Bacon) so I guess you can say this had an all-star cast.

This film is not for children, but for teens who are used to watching sexual situations, then hey, go ahead. The film is notorious for its overly usage of sex scenes, as well as the lesbian kiss, etc. If you would like to watch it for a late-90s trip in time, this would be great too. This was not much of a hit at the box office at the time (Spring of '98) but it became more popular post-theatrical run.

My rating: 6 out of 10

Monday, February 17, 2014

02/17(b): A Trusted Man

This is the first TV movie, let alone a Lifetime movie, that I'm reviewing on here. A Trusted Man was on this morning, and I thought I'd give it a watch. Most of those movies usually grab me within the first 20 minutes, as you know whose the bad guy.

Sonya is a 30-something lady (it appears) whose living in New York City with a boyfriend who just might be moving in with her. She accepts a promotion with several benefits and perks, but she must move to Boston and hope her boyfriend Tom accepts. Sonya ends up moving in the suburbs of Boston in a nice house, and settles in and eventually meets a man named Sebastian who runs an art gallery. Meanwhile, Tom has not let it sink in that she moved away and started a new life so he ends up stalking her and uses his police officer hookups and knowledge to separate Sebastian and Sonya. It's all creeper crazy from there.

I often say this about Lifetime movies: they are all the SAME! Not so, I know, but most of them all have something in common: the woman is usually the victim and the male is the bad guy always, and he is portrayed as a killer, creeper, and the like. But to be fair, I've seen women as the victim and the villain. This movie is very predictable as well, like many of them Lifetime movies, which end pretty much the same too.

My rating: 5 out of 10

02/17(a): Crash

My apologies for yesterday, as it was the first time I broke my streak for not writing to this blog everyday like I had hoped. For me, Sundays are the busiest days for me, so unfortunately I didn't fit this in. However, today I got two new reviews for you.

One of the most unlikely Best Picture Oscar winners has an enormous cast of characters and side characters that all have one thing in common. Racial and ethnic stereotypes is usually what first comes to mind after watching this movie. Or rather, the first 20 minutes! One would also have to wonder why such a movie would be named Crash. It is well-explained by Don Cheadle's character at the beginning of the movie. Think of Los Angeles' diverse culture. If you've ever been out there, you'll know there are many different ethnic and racial neighborhoods and such. In this movie, they 'crash' into each other.

Here's a little sampling of some of the characters:
-Matt Dillon (Best Supporting Actor nominee) plays a bigoted cop whose father is suffering from urinary tract infection
-Shaun Toub plays an Iranian-American shop owner whose paranoid personality and character gets his shop vandalized
-Michael Pena plays a Hispanic locksmith who is a devoted hard-worker and family man, but is often judged on the outside

You'll hear slurs, you'll hear the stereotypical views as you've probably witnessed in real life. Anger plays a role bigtime in this movie, as well as ignorance. Rapper Ludacris Bridges even plays it well as 'one of the few African-Americans that is found in downtown L.A.' I never even heard of the term 'prison tattoo' until I heard it come from Sandra Bullock's mouth.

Despite of the positive messages (or lack thereof), I believe this film should be looked at for its storytelling ways. In just under 30 minutes we instantly get to know the characters as their scenes intertwine with each other. Of course, this is not recommended for children or as a 'family film', as it does contain several parts filled with violence, language, etc. For a film that beat out Brokeback Mountain and Capote, this would make a great movie to watch and learn about cultures.

My rating: 7 out of 10

Saturday, February 15, 2014

02/15: Metropolis (1927)

Perhaps the first science-fiction full film of that genre, Metropolis still stands out as one of the greatest silent classics of all-time. It is innovative in all sorts, including special effects, sexism, sexual activity, or any little detail one can observe. I've probably said it on here many times as I have reviewed silent films, but most of them are hard to follow once you take your eyes off the screen for a little bit.

It is set in the future (time and place ungiven) but in a futuristic city where there seems to be two classes: the working class and the small ruling class. The big boss man Joh Fredersen presided over several men who work way underground. His son, Freder, watches yet he sympathizes with the men, especially after an explosion. He eventually falls in love with a woman who brings children to the property. He follows her around, until she is captured by the people close to her father. She gets 'resurrected' into a robot, which is brought to human life form, purposely to ruin her reputation.

The movie was filmed in Germany during its 'Weimar period'. Creepily it was put out six years before Hitler came to power as Germany descended into Nazi Germany. Putting that kind of history aside, Fritz Lang put out a masterpiece as he took chances on something new cinemas had to offer. If you dig silent films, and if you want to watch a historical film classic, jump right in.

My rating: 7 out of 10

Friday, February 14, 2014

02/14: Not Another Teen Movie

I just couldn't think of a perfect love-story movie review to write in honor of this holiday that's going on today. So why not just write about a satire? I got down on it.

Not Another Teen Movie, just judging by the title alone, is a parody movie that pretty much parodies mostly all the teen movies from the late 90s to 2000, such as American Pie, American Beauty, etc etc. The story may be taken a bit seriously, since it is sort of a budding high school romance but what stands in the way or the jokes, whether they be gross or just simply a take-off from what is being parodied. And there is a lot of pop culture references, plus a special appearance by the 'teen queen', Molly Ringwald!

The story, as should be half-taken seriously, is about a nerdy, outcast girl Janey (whose father even thinks she's gay) who is actually pretty (without the glasses). The jock's (Chris Evans) friends make a bet with him that they can turn Janey into the prom queen, so he tries to hook up with her. At first, Janey doesn't fall for it, but eventually things do change. You'll just have to see. There are also many small subplots.

All through the movie you'll see as all the teen-movie stereotypes are identified, like the prom queen, the virgin, the stupid fat guy, etc. You'll also see some famous scenes redone, and like mentioned above, celebrity cameos like Mr. T and Melissa Joan Hart. It's hard to believe that the 'jock' and years later, Captain America, are the same person.

If you're looking for a great laugh-a-thon, check this one out. It can be a touching love story if you want it to be, but don't take it toooooo seriously.

My rating: 5 out of 10

Thursday, February 13, 2014

02/13: The Color Purple

In continuation with my black history/civil rights theme for this month, I give you my review and outlook of The Color Purple. This was a story (adapted from a novel written by Alice Walker) that mainly focused on Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) and her abusive husband Albert, or 'Mister' (Danny Glover). It was set in the early 20th century in the South. The movie has been criticized and praised in numerous ways, due to the way the movie depicted African-Americans during a time in American history. The Color Purple is also known to be Steven Spielberg's first 'serious' directorial turn, as well as being one of two movies (the other being The Turning Point) to be nominated 11 Oscars, but not winning any.

It is said by several viewers and critics that is a 'disturbing, honest and truthful look at the way things were for African-Americans'. Little was said when I was in school about what African-Americans faced during the post-Civil War to the pre-Civil Rights era (1880-1950), but apparently this movie gives quite a perspective on what African-American women faced. Celie, as mentioned above, was abused by her husband, and before that she had 2 children from whom she believed was her father. It pretty much gave me the feeling that African-American women were looked down upon during those times. Most of them were in poverty (as well as the men), but even if they were to marry rich (as did Celie), life wouldn't be so grand. Another character is Sofia (played by Oprah Winfrey before she was famous for her talk show) who gets abused but at the same time refuses to tolerate it.

Besides the whole observation on how times were, of course there's the story. The movie is nearly 3 hours long as it goes into detail about not just how times were but themes like homosexuality, hope and inspiration. Albert's old flame, the famous singer Shug Avery lives with them for a bit as she befriends Celie and helps to raise her self-confidence. Over a long course of time, Celie deals with physical and verbal abuse from Mister. Sadly, his son Harpo becomes the same person he is, while opening a 'juke joint'.

I first watched this movie several years ago as part of a Film Analysis class, as we had to answer several questions about the movie. Not just about the story, but about camera angles and certain small views in the movie, like the mailbox on a windy day. What can we learn about that? Needless to say, there is some suspensefulness in the movie. Some love the country views in the film, including several portraits of the old South. They say it adds 'character' to it.

I usually say this movie is depressing but inspirational, and I still do. But people can learn from it. Let's face it, life is better for most people than they were 100 years ago. For African-American women, times have definitely changed as many have been famous and inspirational (such as Oprah in real life). Speaking of Oprah, I do praise her great performance in this movie. Keep in mind, I don't like her as a talk-show personality or media mogul, since I do view that image of her fake. She's very good on the big screen though. Whoopi Goldberg, while a famous comedian in real life, definitely took a chance as someone the opposite. She was a petrified person who was trapped in a hellish home. Danny Glover, too, took a chance as in most of his movie roles he is the 'good guy' or 'nice guy'. Like Whoopi, he plays the total direct opposite of what he usually does.

I say devote three hours to this, as you will learn a lot about life, history and a great uplifting story.

My rating: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

02/12: The Lego Movie

This is the first time I review something on here while its still 'hot'. In fact, it came out almost a week ago and it was #1 on the box office charts the previous weekend. I got to see it last night, in 2D (not 3-D as it is available in that format).

I'll be frank: when I first heard about this movie about a month ago, I'm like, 'Why?!'. The reason for that was because in Hollywood today, we live in a world of not just prequels, sequels and remakes, but there are so many things people enjoyed as kids that are being made into movies. Hey, it's all about the almighty profits, right? And Legos are the latest thing being offered on the big screen. It is quite easy to forget that this is not a new thing, as there are animated Lego movies that were direct to DVD.

The story follows construction worker Emmitt (voiced by Chris Pratt), who seems to be the everyday average worker, but his characteristics are being naive, accident-prone and just doing things at the wrong place, wrong time. All he wants is to be very likeable and to have more out of life. As he's leaving the hard hat zone, he notices an attractive woman (who calls herself Wildstyle) trespassing and follows her. But Emmitt ends up getting deeper (literally) into trouble as he obtains something that 'The Man Upstairs' is after: the Piece of Resistance. Emmitt is also mistaken as 'the Special' and he lives up to it, trying to impress Wildstyle...who has a boyfriend, Batman! With his geekiness and somewhat new allies, 'the Special' is destined to save the world from the evil Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell, who also appears in a live-action part in the movie).

It's not just the nostalgic-ness that makes the movie fun. Several celebrities and pop culture references make the movie what it is. You have a mixed bag of DC comic-book characters meeting with Star Wars, and even the NBA. (And yes, that really is Shaquille O'Neal voicing himself) This is a film that is kid and adult-friendly. While its still in theaters, now is a great time to take the whole family out and enjoy it. And get a good laugh.

My rating: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

02/11: The Little Princess

It was announced today that Shirley Temple Black passed away at age 85. Even though she lived a long life, the world still mourned the loss of arguably the world's greatest child actor. After all, when you hear about past child stars, its usually something negative. Not in the case of Shirley Temple, who starred in numerous movies in the 1930s. After her run on fame, she later lived a quiet life, but she pursued other opportunites, including serving her country as a U.S. Ambassador. She had rarely made public appearances, occasionally at awards shows.

The Little Princess was arguably the last movie that was successful for Temple. But it still was a hit and for those who were able to watch it on the small screen some years later, it was no different than her previous efforts as they retained the cuteness factor. The story was about a little girl's father who marched off to war and left Sara (Temple) at an all-girls school. She adjusts to the school but she gets aggravated from her duties. In addition, Sara gets news that her father has died, but she is unconvinced as she sneaks off to military/veterans hospitals.

It has been several years since I've watched plenty of Temple's filmography. We used to rent her movies in the late 80s/early 90s as my mother tried to re-live her childhood. I watched this one nearly a few years ago, as this one is still fresh in my memory. I'm sure Turner Classic Movies will have an all-day tribute to her pretty soon. I definitely recommend putting this one on, as it is one of her classics. To some, it is about the message of hope.

My rating: 7 out of 10

Monday, February 10, 2014

02/10: Pirate Radio -or- The Boat That Rocked

It's been more than a week since Philip Seymour Hoffman died. Since then there have been several tributes by fans, his old co-workers, critics, etc. But then you also have those who questioned why a seemingly satisfied man was doing heroin and what should be done to prevent any more of those kinds of deaths. I first saw Hoffman in my all-time favorite movie, Almost Famous, when it came out and to this day I still love the way he portrayed the late Lester Bangs (who also died of a drug-related death).

Another rock and roll movie he was in came about 8 years later with the British movie The Boat That Rocked, or as released in the United States, Pirate Radio. Whatever you want to call it, it chronicled and showed us a side of young people having fun on the radio playing rock music in a sort-of legal way. Little is known today by the younger generations about Britain's strict views and laws against rock music from the 60s, despite of several big bands coming from there. America dove into the British Invasion, led by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and what happened there should have happened at home. Instead, British authorities did not want it played on the radio while on their soil. So, the rebellious disc jockeys took to the waters while the public listened in.

While all of the story is said to be true, you witness not just the British government trying to chime in, but the personal stories and drama of all the radio crew members aboard. But to me, what its all about is the love of music. Its simply people doing what they love by playing music over the airwaves, which is what I do in real life (besides this blog). Hoffman does another great performance, this time as 'The Count', arguably the most popular of them all. He even convinces the crew to rebel against the government by staying on the air, and challenging them (like Americans do). The Count was the only American on board while all the others were from the UK.

It's a crime that this is one of Hoffman's lesser-known movies, possibly due to the fact that this was mostly a British movie that was not meant to be exposed here in America. I borrowed this from my library last year, and now I want to watch it again. This time, paying more attention to Hoffman's presence and enjoying this great 60's rock soundtrack. You won't be let down by the music selection as long as you're a 60's fan.

My rating: 8 out of 10

Sunday, February 9, 2014

02/09: Coming To America

This is one of those comedy movies that keeps you wanting to watch it again and again. Eddie Murphy, during his prime, put out one of the greatest blockbusters of the late 80s (also one of the Top 5 box office hits of 1988). Eddie Murphy has been one of my all-time favorite comedians for the longest time, and this adds on to it. He co-stars with future talk show host Arsenio Hall as well as John Amos and Darth Vader, or James Earl Jones.

Its a simple comedy about love, but not a romantic comedy, if you will. Eddie Murphy plays Prince Akeem from a fictional African country, Zamunda, who rebels against an arranged marriage. Sure, he gets pampered to the fullest (including bathing!) at home. As he reaches certain age to meet and marry his future queen, he gets confused and questions everything as to why it became this way. Having never left Zamunda he sets out on a trek with his best friend Semmi (Hall) on a search for life outside Africa but more importantly, for a woman. Even better, a queen he himself can choose.

In a funny, sorta coincidental move, he chooses Queens, New York, and settles there temporarily. Soon the two take up work at a fast-food restaurant, McDowells, an obvious McDonald's ripoff, which is well-spoofed in the movie. He soon becomes infatuated with the McDowell's owner's daughter, Lisa, while she is going with a wealthy man whose father made his money from Jheri curl hair liquid. It becomes a challenge as Akeem tries to hide his royal lifestyle as he wants to come off as an ordinary guy. Semmi, on the other hand, can't adapt with the 'poor, peon' lifestyle but they do admire the American dream and environment.

It's a classic comedy with a happy ending. Of course, I'm not going to reveal anymore. What's unique besides the cast and comedic acting, is Murphy's first try as disguising himself as various characters, including barbershop men (along with Arsenio). This would later carry on in more of Murphy's movies. And, as expected, you may want to keep children away as you will hear a lot of profanity as well as offensive jokes...unless you're watching the television edited version.

My rating: 8 out of 10

Saturday, February 8, 2014

02/08: Lean On Me

Obviously this was inspired by the hit song by Bill Withers from the early 70s. The song has made such an enormous cultural impact since its release, mostly to help radiate positivity and inspire hope. Lean On Me is a great film (based on a true story), but of all titles in the world, I'm still questioning why they would name it Lean On Me. Yes, I know they sing it in the movie.

Morgan Freeman stars as Joe Louis Clark, who takes over New Jersey's worst school, Eastside High School. In 1987, Eastside is plagued with several things: teachers being beaten nearly to death, low test scores, dropout rates, drugs, gang violence, etc. It wasn't like 20 years earlier, as shown at the beginning of the movie where times were seemingly fine. Enter Clark, who is promoted to be principal of Eastside. But with a cost: keep the students together, turn everything around, and more importantly, raise the average test score. Or no job.

Freeman puts on a powerful performance of the strict and brutal Clark, whom the kids eventually look up to but he evidently alienates several staff and faculty as well as members of the community, even his own boss. Clark's disciplinary measures are put to the test all through the movie. He starts by putting a school group assembly, humiliating those who have put shame to the school on stage. Next comes the faculty, whom Clark reprimands. He even goes as far as to firing one of the most popular (seemingly harmless and inspirational) teachers. There is even a subplot about a boy who was expelled but begs Clark to take him back at the school, in which he agrees.

Of course, Clark's actions make the film very controversial, as these happened in real life. Some agree, though some may suggest he take the small touch route. But anyone who is up for a great story on how to make the impossible possible should definitely watch this. Freeman, as people who know me personally know, is one of my Top 5 favorite actors, and this is one of the reasons why.

This is a continuation of my Black History/Civil Rights series.

My rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, February 7, 2014

02/07: Moonstruck

Here is a movie that is labeled as a 'romantic comedy'. But to me, I didn't find that many comedic elements  in it. I believe it was more serious-toned and dark more than anything. Maybe it was the ethnicity of the majority of the characters that was supposed to add to the humor, not sure.

But, nonetheless, Moonstruck did win over all the so-called professional critics, and moviegoers alike. Maybe its because there are some odd traditional values of love and relationships in this movie. It mostly focuses on Loretta's (Cher) superstitious beliefs, in which she believes the reason her husband was fatally run over by a truck (and not with a man since beside her fiancee Johnny) was because she didn't have a 'real wedding'. She traces every little detail of what she believed went wrong. Loretta is even willing to accept anyone's hand in marriage as long as everything is 'done right'. While Johnny is away, she meets with his brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) and reluctantly falls in love with him.

I say if you do like anything with Cher, Nicolas Cage, or anything set with Italian-Americans (who add a lot of character), then this is recommended. I found this one to be more of a serious film more than a comedy, as mentioned above. There are great performances and great quotable lines. Though I'm still trying to figure out what made Cher's quote in the middle of the movie "Snap out of it!" a memorable one. It's not like that line wasn't used in our daily vocabulary before. A lot of people may have thought it was funny, who knows.

My rating: 6 out of 10

Thursday, February 6, 2014

02/06: Less Than Zero

This could be one of the last 'brat pack' films of the 80s era, but then again, it's not necessarily the case. If you consider Andrew McCarthy and Robert Downey, Jr. members, then sure. Released in 1987, this was a film about the ritzy upper teenage years life of sunny Southern California. It's a story of three best friends, Clay (McCarthy), Julian (Downey) and Blair (Jami Gertz), recently graduated from high school, jump to Christmas later that year only to find happy times turn to sour times.

Julian dreams of becoming an entrepreneur and attempts to with the help of his rich father, but things backfire instantly as he owes a number of people money. Clay goes to college far away only to return home to find his 2 friends have changed. Both Blair and Julian become drug addicts, and they hook up even though she was Clay's ex. Clay comes back to the Beverly Hills area to try to straighten things out and teach Julian a lesson while trying to save him from people. People as in the man who Julian owes money to, and perhaps the reason behind his drug addiction.

Two things I found interesting about the movie is 1) the 80s styles that lived on in 1987. Just look at all the clothes and clubwear people were wearing at that time. 2) The music. It had a successful soundtrack as well as four hit singles. If you are familiar with 80s music then you'll definitely recognize the Bangles cover of 'Hazy Shade of Winter' (played in the beginning credits) and LL Cool J's 'Going Back to Cali'. You'll even hear lost alternative favorites such as The Cult's 'Lil Devil' and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Fight Like a Brave' in the movie. (FUN FACT: RHCP bassist Flea appears as a band member in the film) One of the reasons why I probably love 80s movies so much is because I believe it was one of the golden eras of soundtracks. Just think since the dawn of the millennium, soundtracks have become increasingly scarce in movies.

Despite of the culture and music in the movie, I found Less Than Zero to be very depressing all through the movie. I do like realistic movies but this one was just a 'debbie downer'. Sure, it will teach people a drug-free lesson and one not to mingle with the 'wrong crowd'. Robert Downey, Jr., on the other hand, did a great performance. He has come along way since those 80s days as he is now the highest-paid actor in Hollywood at the moment. But, as we all hopefully know, his destiny wasn't always clear as art imitated life.

My rating: 6 out of 10

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

02/05: Beware

Arguably one of the forgotten films of the 1940s is one that was released in post-war America. This was, of course, during Hollywood's golden era, but something else was emerging too. Segregation was still happening, and Beware was a movie that was one of those with an all African-American cast. The most prominent star of the movie was Louis Jordan. Louis Jordan is one of the most influential, yet forgotten, figures in American music. He was one of the bandleaders that incorporated several elements of music in his songs, along with style, humor and personality. James Brown is one of his most famous followers.

Jordan plays himself (or a fictionalized version of himself, although I don't believe he was an actual grad of Ware), a man who comes back to his alma mater, Ware College, to help raise money and prevent it from shutting it down. He also 'hooks up' with his old sweetheart as well. Along the way Louis relives his memories as well as jams with the other alumni, but he also helps uncover a scheme which eventually involves the Dean. 

Although the film has a thin but alright plot, the musical numbers are definitely worth it. You will see Jordan sing and play throughout the movie. In my opinion, he is one of the people who laid out the groundwork in boogie music, which evolved into rock and roll.

My rating: 7 out of 10

Since the movie is in public domain, you can watch and/or download it for free here at

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

02/04: Hairspray (2007)

I have never seen the original one from the 80s, but by the time this movie was remade I figured, sure, I'll see the story newly updated. I'm glad I did, since it had a nice story and an all-star cast. This movie continues my theme this month for 'civil rights' movies.

This was supposed to be the film that would break Nikki Blonsky's career. Nikki who? Anyway, she tries to get on Dick Clark's American Bandstand in good ol' 1962. She does eventually get on because of her dance moves and sunny personality, but the completely opposite girl Amber (Brittany Snow) does as well. Her and her mother are not only rich, but arrogant too. They also despise de-segregating the show (while African-Americans were only allowed on 'Negro Day' once a month). Many events happen including love triangles and we do watch people fight for their rights.

As mentioned above, the film has a great diverse cast. Well, you have John Travolta, whose career at the time (and still is) in question, dressed up as a woman playing Blonsky's mother. Also, Amanda Bynes (before she went crazy), Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron and James Marsden.

Many great dance performances help fill in the cracks in this feelgood movie.

My rating: 6 out of 10

Monday, February 3, 2014

02/03: La Bamba

If you are a rock and roll legend and popular music historian, then you already know today is the anniversary of one of the most important dates in music. 55 years ago today, as Don McLean put it, it was 'the day the music died'. Rock stars who were popular at the time: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. 'The Big Bopper' Richardson were on board of a small plane that crashed in Northern Iowa. They were traveling as part of a 'Winter Dance Party' tour. One of my favorite rock legends is how and why they boarded a plane, and how it was determined who got to go. There are different sides looking at it, shown in film and through survivors' personal accounts. But what is known is: Dion di Mucci, who then was a rising star, did not want to charter the plane because it was too expensive. This was personally told by him on his Facebook page two weeks ago. It is true that Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to one of the guys and it is also true that he said, 'I hope your plane crashes'. I'm sure he didn't mean anything serious, but nonetheless it reportedly haunted him the rest of his life. There was also speculation that Big Bopper was shot as the plane was descending down, and his son (now deceased) actually had his father's body recovered to see if it was true. (It wasn't)

La Bamba is a story about Valens' life. Lou Diamond Philips portrays the young blooming star, as he does a great performance. Not very much was known about Valens up until this movie came out. A lot of people knew he was only 17 when he died and he had at least 3 hit songs. Very little was known about his personal and family life. Valens, whose real surname was Valenzuela, knew he had enough talent to get him signed to a label. We see the inspiration of his two biggest hits, 'Donna' (who was his girlfriend) and 'La Bamba'. Even though the song 'La Bamba' wasn't a Top 20 hit it arguably became his signature song. Because of the film's success, the song became a #1 cover smash on the Hot 100 for the Hispanic rock band Los Lobos.

Five and a half decades later, the men's music still lives on (despite the shrinking number of oldies stations nationwide) through many projects as well as bands still citing them as an influence. In 2001, Ritchie Valens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (by Ricky Martin). Some have criticized it, perhaps because of the brevity of his career. But nonetheless he did help open a door for Hispanic-Americans into the entertainment business. It's too bad Valens never lived to see it. He did encounter prejudice through his girlfriend Donna's father. Probably the saddest part is not just the ending (besides the plane crash), but its the sad truth that Valens didn't live a full life and he didn't have enough time to exhibit his talent. It's probably safe to say he died in the middle of doing something he was growing to love.

If you're really into music and history like I am, then this movie is for you. You will see a side that a lot of us never got to see about the late Mr. Valens. It's not only life teaching, but entertaining as well.

My rating: 8 out of 10

Sunday, February 2, 2014

02/02: Groundhog Day

Yes, it was intended to be that way. Groundhog Day is one of the worst times of the year for people who live in winter-suffered areas such as the Midwest (where I live). Most cases it is predictable if the groundhog has seen its shadow. This time around though, yeah I think we will be seeing 6 more weeks of winter weather. It's gonna be a long trip.....

Getting to the movie, this was brilliantly well acted by Bill Murray and well written by Harold Ramis. Where do I start? Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman Phil Connors who is arrogant, self-centered and grumpy (sometimes on-camera!) who seems to have the worst day of his life....on Groundhog Day! Him and his technical crew head to the weather capital of the world, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual celebration of the groundhog. Just about everything that goes wrong that day does. Whether it be running into people he dislikes or arguing with his crew, the ultimate icing on the cake is being trapped in that town (which Phil despises) by a fast-moving blizzard. He goes to bed in anger.

The next day, he wakes up and it is February 2 again. He suddenly realizes he is re-living his day as the same events happen as they did previously. And the next day, and so on, he re-lives February 2. Phil doesn't have a clue why this is happening, but he does catch on that he has the opportunity to take advantage of the situation. Suicide attempts? Done. Overeating? Done. Stealing money? Done. But no matter what, he wakes up to Sonny and Cher every morning. But Phil eventually realizes this is probably happening for a reason. Wake-up call! Its his time to re-think his life situation.

This was named one of the Top 10 movies in the 'Fantasy' category by AFI, and for good reason. No matter what day it is, wouldn't you want to re-live it? You would at least know you'd be living forever if you did. Until its time for you to go to the next day, I guess. I have read some of the behind-the-scenes drama for this movie and apparently Ramis and Murray would never want to work again after this production. They never did.

I totally recommend this movie. As pointed out above, only Ramis would write such a great story like this and put together a movie so brilliantly.

My rating: 9 out of 10

Saturday, February 1, 2014

02/01: Remember The Titans

February is Black History Month, and for this month I'm gonna review some African American/black-related/civil rights movies for that reason. I'll also include some that have to do with February (you'll find a definitely true themed one tomorrow).

Remember The Titans has always stood out as one of my favorites, going way back to when I first saw it at the show (2000? 01?). It was a story that always stuck with me, and I always like to watch it over and over. There are a lot of 'fighting for civil rights' movies out there, and some may say they are all the same, just because they stick with the same theme. Not so, although I see where they are coming from. Titans is a true story set in Alexandria, VA about a high school whose football team becomes racially integrated. Denzel Washington puts on a powerful performance as Herman Boone, the guy who takes on head coach at T.C. Williams High School, which angers several local white residents.

Bill Patton plays Bill Yoast, who was demoted to Assistant Coach. He slowly adjusts in the beginning, but he bears with it and and Boone form a long-standing partnership and friendship. Most of the movie takes place at training camp, where both the black and white boys try to learn to work with each other and get to know one another. You'll hear a history lesson here and there, but to me what stood out was Boone being able to unite one another and attempt to help boost the community and high school to the state championship. We do see some anger as he speaks out about his critics and hate crimes. But we also see how the town reacts at first. We also see Hayden Panettiere in one of her early performances, as Yoast's daughter.

I believe this movie is very character driven, as we get to know several of the players and, of course, Boone and Yoast, who as said at the end of the movie, they become lifelong friends. Very recommended. Has an excellent soundtrack which features songs from the early 1970s as well as Motown.

My rating: 8 out of 10