Ben’s Pocket Movie Reviews

***As of 5/28/2020, I’ve started a new pocket movie reviews list, which you can find here.***

All rankings are personal and combine own enjoyment, and my opinions on the quality of acting, story, effects, visuals, dialogue, etc.

Movies are rated on 1–99 scale.

RT = Rotten Tomatoes, a shorthand I frequently use. The critic/audience score is displayed as (75/65) (for example), and is the score at the time I am writing the rating.

To put the scale into the “stars system,” think 90–99 = 5 stars. 80–89 = 4.5 stars. 70–79 = 4 stars. 60–69 = 3.5 stars. Et cetera. Above a (60) = fresh. Anything below a (60) = rotten.

I’m a huge fan of the podcast Lights, Camera, Barstool and somewhat emulate their system, except that my rankings are a combination of “best” and “favorites,” so please don’t freak out. I will have an overall higher average than LCB because I’m not wasting my time on movies that don’t interest me (can’t pay me enough to watch Emoji Movie, for example) as this is a hobby and not my job. Also, when it came time to remember movies to rate, the good ones stand out more than the bad. I select movies to watch based on interesting plot/topic, actors and directors I like, word of mouth, etc.

**After the original post at 2/24/2019, all “Additions” are movies I watched within the time frame of the next post.

Each review may have spoilers.

Each review may have spoilers.

Each review may have spoilers.

Comment! Debate! Yell at me! I love talking movies. Just remember, I don’t get a vote at the Oscars.

Smash that “command+f” and search to see if I’ve covered any of your favorites or just see what I’ve rated most recently.

Ben D’Alessio is the author of the novels Binge Until Tragedy, Lunchmeat, and The Neon God. Visit his website to learn more. 20% of royalties are donated to The Covenant House in Atlantic City. Follow him on facebook, twitter, and Instagram.

Additions: 5/19/2020

American Animals (2018)→ (86) I don’t rate documentaries, so after the first few seconds, I had to pause the film and check what exactly I was getting into. Turns out, American Animals is this super-cool hybrid that I’d put at 80% drama, 20% real-life subjects reflecting, clarifying, casting doubt, on what the actors were portraying — sometimes even the actors and subjects interacted as universes collided. Like real life, four different people can have four different perspectives and memories of the same occurrence. I know, you may be a little heisted-out, but this one is different, trust me. First off, the target isn’t jewels or money or artwork (okay, kind of artwork), but extremely rare and valuable books… of birds… Specifically, John Audubon’s book, Birds of America, along with something by Charles Darwin and some other stuff they never really specify. Like most heist movies, gathering the squad and planning the job itself takes up the first two acts, which is usually as entertaining as the heist itself. Our two main protags are Spencer (Barry Keoghan) and Warren (Evan Peters), who come from different backgrounds but have remained friends despite the former going to the tiny, elite liberal arts school, Transylvania University (where the books are located) and the latter attending the University of Kentucky; Chas (Blake Jenner) and Eric (Jared Abrahamson) round out the team. What starts out as a “what if?” quickly becomes a “could be” and the next thing you know we’re meeting with Dutch art smugglers and librarians are getting shocked with tasers. Distorted recollections, excellent acting (Keoghan is becoming one of my favorites after this and The Killing of a Sacred Deer), fun cinematography, and some asshole-clenching tense scenes make American Animals a really-should watch. Also, right away they tell you “This is based on a true story”. However, whose “truth” is fact is not something you’ll get by the end.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)→ (84) Usually, shit hits the fan in the third act of a heist movie, not here. In Dog Day Afternoon, the bank robber trio becomes a bank robber duo within the first 10 minutes, leaving Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) to carry-out the tissue-paper-thin plan. We know these aren’t professionals, as they call each other by their real names, burn papers in a trash can, thereby bringing attention to the building, and conduct their heist so late in the day that the armored truck had already come for the afternoon’s pick-up — typically, robbers are so jazzed to score that they arrive too early before any transactions have taken place. It’s tough to dislike Sonny and Sal, and they even strike up something of a friendship with some of their female captives, they let the security guard (John Marriot) leave when he starts showing signs of a heart attack, humorously let the women take turns using the restroom, and make sure everyone gets some pizza. When it’s revealed that the whole heist, at least Sonny’s cut, was to pay for the sex-change operation of his trans girlfriend, Leon, a sort of humanity takes hold and you hope at least he makes it out alive. And for a second there I really thought they were going to get away with their minuscule score — even though I knew this was based on an actual event. Didn’t want to see Sal go out that way, but damn that FBI agent (Lance Henriksen) set him up good. It’s considered one of Pacino’s best performances, if not one of his least recognizable, and it’s true, he’s electric and gives a full range. You ever hear some college asshole yelling “Attica! Attica!” at campus safety? (Okay, that was me.) Well, this is the film the famous line comes from. I often write about how I love films that take place in an NYC I never experienced and Dog Day Afternoon falls perfectly in that category — it’s the 70s, it’s hot, it’s violent, there’s John Cazale.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)→ (83) “Friends are the family you choose” is the takeaway quote from Peanut Butter Falcon; start printing it on throw pillows. The North Carolina Outer Banks — or “OBX” as the bumper stickers say — serve as the setting for this retelling of the Huckleberry Finn story. Our piecemeal gang is comprised of Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), the thief and fisherman/crabber/whatever he can get into his old boat, Zak (Zach Gottsagen), a living-facility escapee with downs syndrome who plans to train as a WWE wrestler, and Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), who gets bent over the “spanking-bench” and… wait, wrong movie, who has at least a master’s degree, maybe a Ph.D., I can’t remember, and works/volunteers at the same living-facility. It’s a wholesome movie with a collection of characters ranging from convenience store clerk offering an unmarked bottle of hooch, the blind preacher who must save your soul and performs a baptism, the pair of rednecks (John Hawkes and Yelawolf) whomst you hath slighted and are tailing you to settle the score, and the idolized, washed-up wrestler (Thomas Haden Church) now living in a trailer — I just want to add that I love Thomas Haden Church and really wish he was in more shit. Yeah, it’s a tug-on-your-heartstrings film, pure indie-bait, but I think we need these movies and I don’t mean that in a condescending way. It’s a sweet film that doesn’t become saccharine. It has gorgeous shots of a (surprisingly) not often shot location and puts a disabled actor at the front and center without using him as a punching bag for laughs. The only time you laugh at Zak is when he flies ten feet in the air after firing a shotgun — something that would certainly happen to this gun noob. I also loved that they played on the “Down’s people have super-strength” myth, both at the beginning with the jailbreak and at the wrestling match climax. And who doesn’t enjoy a full-circle ending, with the new “family” leaving OBX and moving to Florida… for some reason.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)→ (84) I probably watched this four years in a row for four years of high school Italian class, this is the first viewing since 2009. Movie lovers love movies about the miracle of movie-making — Cinema Paradiso focuses on the evolution of literally showing the film (and the dangers that used to exist) and how movie theaters themselves impacted their audiences and communities. Moreover, it is a film about the mentor-mentee relationship between Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin, depending on age) and Alfredo (Philipe Noriet), no matter how much the latter wants the former to do anything else with his life. I loved that this film didn’t pursue the love-story between Salvatore and Elena (Agnese Nano), which is where it logically felt like it would go. Notable scenes are when a Neapolitan wins the lottery in the Sicilian town and a bystander shouts “It’s always the Northerners who have all the luck!” demonstrating that location is always relative, when Alfredo plays The Firemen of Viggiù on the side of a building across the piazza (especially when a resident comes out onto his balcony), and when Salvatore is walking down the narrow street on New Year’s Eve, after countless, fruitless hours waiting outside of Elena’s home, and glass is thrown from the windows and the fireworks are exploding in the background. Memory is a funny thing, as I could’ve sworn that when Salvatore returns to his hometown of Giancaldo, a famous film director, he purchases the decrepit cinema and restores it… oh well. That might have made a good ending, even a Hollywood ending but reflecting on what we did get, I don’t think it could’ve been better. Getting to see all of those obscene clips (it’s mostly just kissing) that the church ordered be literally cut out of the films along with Salvatore, one final screening from Alfredo, was the perfect ending. Bravo.

Die Hard (1988)→ (72) This was somehow my first viewing of Die Hard, and it will probably be my last. If the “action” you seek is comprised of orangey explosions, machine-gun blasts with a 0.00001 hit rate, and pretty poor choreographed fight scenes, then this one is for you. What merits the overall good score of a (72) are a handful of 80s one-liners, an underrated cinematic bromance, and Alan Rickman. John McClane (Bruce Willis) is the NYC cop who is so tough for pansy-ass California that he couldn’t dress up for his (separated) wife’s (Bonnie Bedelia) Christmas party at the swanky Nakatomi Tower — I love that period of the 80s when we believed the Japanese were going to literally take us over via commercial real estate purchases. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t sure if he was going to come if her company sent him the limo? When he arrived, it wasn’t some big surprise or reveal. Whatever. Another gripe I had was with the terrorists. An assortment of vaguely European accents, mixed in with distinctive American ones, create this super-cell of terrorist-heisters whose ideology I never fully understood. However, we learn that their leader, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), is so badass that his old group disowned him in West Germany. When we first meet Gruber, he makes some type of muddled speech, which I thought was going to take a Marxist turn, but never really resurfaces. And up through this part of the film, it was very enjoyable. Gruber didn’t fuck around, and neither did McClane. I was hunkered down in my couch to watch this no-nonsense NYC cop kick some European ass, rescue his wife (and marriage on the fritz), and make some Christmassy one-liner to remind us that this is a Christmas movie. (Oh, did you know Die Hard is a Christmas movie? You knew that, right? Wait, you didn’t know that this is a Christmas movie? So, you’ve never been on the internet?) And then the LAPD arrived, followed by the FBI, and the movie took a turn for the worse. The Deputy Chief of Police (Paul Gleason) was just a horse turd of a character. I’m blaming the writing here, not the actor. It was comical how ridiculous the police response was — the media were standing right behind the targets of machine guns and FUCKING BAZOOKAS! Also, why couldn’t McClane give his real name to Sgt. Powell (Reginald VelJohnson)? Even if the terrorists heard it over the radio waves, the plot made this whole to-do about Holly reverting to her maiden name, therefore she wouldn’t be singled out as a hostage. Then they could’ve verified McClane’s status as an NYPD officer and gotten him some Goddamn help in there! I did enjoy the gun-taped-to-back — which has since been parodied to death — how Holly’s watch comes full-circle, and the “I was in junior high, dickhead” line, which came out of absolutely nowhere and was hilarious. You’ve probably already seen this one and have a strong opinion about it, but this pillar of the action genre should be replaced — I heard they’re making a 4th John Wick?

Additions: 5/11/2020

Zodiac (2007)→ (90) I had first viewed Zodiac a few years back and had I rated it then, it probably would’ve been in the high-90s — this may be unfair compared to, say, Prisoners (also Fincher) which I first viewed after starting this blog. But hey, sometimes there is magic that comes with first experiencing a film that’s absent on all subsequent viewings. This time around, I watched with a more critical eye (and a couple of aquavelvas) and still give the film a (90), a 5-star score. There’s a style to a Fincher movie and I felt some of the scene cuts and the color palate were identical to Gone Girl. It also has to be one of the fastest 157 minutes you’ll ever watch, switching storylines between Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), Insp. Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), and the Zodiac murders themselves. As the most recognizable unsolved murder outside of Jack the Ripper, probably, the movie wasn’t going to draw its own conclusions (at least nothing that isn’t in the real Robert Graysmith’s book) or create a Tarantino-like alternate history ending, and still keeps you hooked throughout. Gyllenhaal as Graysmith is the cartoonist who slowly pulls at the strings of the killer until he is enveloped in evidence and research, leaving his family broken. John Carroll Lynch as Arthur Leigh Allen, or the Zodiac Killer! (prove me wrong) is calculating and imposing, a perfect fit. Also, need to give credit to Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery who rounds out my favorite scene in the bar with Graysmith, empty aquavelva glasses covering the table and snorting cocaine in the booth. Lastly, need to discuss the “basement scene,” which during the first viewing is probably the most anxiety-inducing of the film, but after mulling it over (and after listening to the discussion on the LCB podcast), it doesn’t really make much sense and is included to put our protag in “real” danger. Oh well. Zodiac is not just a must-watch for true crime fans but for pretty much anyone.

Risky Business (1983)→ (81) An 80s coming-of-age that has aged much better than a few others (Sixteen Candles, St. Elmo’s Fire) I’ve viewed recently. It’s also not just 80s, but very 80s, and I think that’s because it’s a satire — “Does anyone want to accomplish anything or just make money?” “Make money.” In fact, there were times I thought they were going to pull an “it’s all a dream” move, as some moments felt straight out of an 80s-male teenager’s fantasy. The film’s best moments are the iconic lip-sync sans pants (which surprisingly occurs about 10 minutes in), many of Joel’s (Tom Cruise) moments sharing the screen with Miles (Curtis Armstrong), when Joel’s father’s Porsche starts falling down the hill into the lake — the fear in his voice is phenomenal — the “Looks like University of Illinois!” line, smile, and sunglasses, any scene with Guido (Joe Pantoliano) and, of course, the impromptu bordello in his parents’ house. I’ve never been to Chicago, but I can’t imagine that the “L” is some sort of bucket-list location to have sex and I figured that had been part of the scheme to get Joel out of the house so Guido could burglarize it — let’s not get into how a home in a wealthy neighborhood could be the venue of both a raucous brothel and completely emptied in one night without the police being called, it’s not the point. But Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) denies her role in the conspiracy. Oh! And she like, becomes his girlfriend? Oh! And he gets into Princeton (with a 3.0 GPA…) after it’s insinuated the interviewer bangs a prostitute? If we’ve learned anything by 2020, it’s that people have done crazier shit to get into elite American universities.

Shoplifters (2018)→ (87) It’s easy, and understandable, to make the Parasite comparison right off the bat — a visibly poor family cramped in an apartment in a wealthy East Asian country; here, it’s Japan. Also like Parasite, it shows what this family must resort to in order to survive. And while there is a little bit of scheming — mainly concerning grandma’s (Kirin Kiki) pension checks and a strange relationship she has with her late husband’s son from an affair — the Shibata family operates a much more working-class and petty crime hustle. As the title says, shoplifting is the main source of material goods, which Shota (Kairi Jō) and Osamu (Lily Franky) carry out with a signal system — Osamu also works in construction until he is injured on the job (and doesn’t receive unemployment). Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) works in an industrial laundry service and Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works in a “hostess club” — think prostitution-lite. Early on, this multi-generational family adopts (not legally, of course, it’s basically kidnapping) Juri (Miyu Sasaki), a little girl whose parents criminally neglect her. What makes Shoplifters so enjoyable is the dynamic of the members, the little victories they score, their bond, and, precisely peeled back, layer by layer, that everything on the surface isn’t quite what it seems. Grandma is a gem and it kinda sucks what ultimately happens to her, although, I couldn’t help but think it’s exactly what she would’ve done in their situation. The scene of Shota falling from the bridge and the orange spillage thereafter was just beautiful filmmaking. The film also offers probably the most tender moment in sex work I’ve ever seen on-screen. The conclusions for each character were logical and touching, however, Juri’s ending will not make you feel good.

Evil Dead (2013)→ (74) A “soft reboot” of the low-budget, cult classic Evil Dead, the 2013 iteration gets the job done as a one-location, all-young-people-must-die movie. It has been considered a personification (demonification?) of drug addiction, which adds a real-world issue to the film. Loved to see the nods to the original: the Michigan State sweatshirt, the “spirit cam,” Sam Raimi’s Oldsmobile that apparently appears in all of his films (thank you, wiki), the chains across the basement door that leaves visible that creepy, eye-level gap, the (multiple) hand severing — although none of the hands take on a mind of their own, unfortunately — and the quick-cut montage of getting supplies together in the shed, which produces a defibrillator instead of a chainsaw arm… I really did want a chainsaw arm. There were a few inconsistencies or oddities I didn’t care for, such as why David (Shiloh Fernandez) could bury Mia (Jany Levy), but not set her on fire as Harold (Jim McLarty) did in the beginning to “the teenager” (Phoenix Connolly)? That also may have been the quickest exorcism in the history of exorcisms. Found the self-conscious nurse (Jessica Lucas) to be sort of a strange character, but I suppose it keeps them in the cabin a little longer? Why did they go with the Naturom Demonto for the book of the dead name instead of the significantly more metal Necronomicon Ex-Mortis?! The abomination (Randal Wilson) was a disappointment. Was that supposed to be Mia? A personification of her addiction that she shoves in the face with a chainsaw? (Segue to chainsaw comment) I said above about my disappointment with the lack of chainsaw and I meant that it wasn’t an extension of anyone’s arm; we get a severed hand, we get a chainsaw, but they do NOT connect. Wish there was more of a connection to that immolation in the beginning, too, but whatever, Mia delivers a great final line while it’s raining blood (cue the Slayer).

On the Waterfront (1954)→ (83) Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, gives the film the significance it deserves. It’s always tough reviewing older films, and I take the practicalities and strides in cinematography into consideration, but I also review as a moviegoer in the time I’m viewing the film, and therefore can’t possibly give it the (99) it has on RT — this is not to say a film from 1954 (or 1904, for that matter) can’t receive a (99). Anyway, the script is also excellent, which gives us Terry Malloy, our Hoboken-bred ex-boxer, current longshoreman (who strolls down easy street for being a Mob informant), a badass priest (Karl Malden) who confronts the Mob and all its misdeeds, Malloy’s crooked brother, Charley (Rod Steiger), a lawyer for the Mob, and Lee J. Cobb — an actor born to appear in black & white films — as “Johnny Friendly,” the Mob’s crooked union boss… did I mention this took place in New Jersey? Malloy finds himself as a (somewhat) inadvertent accessory to the murder of a colleague. That’s fine, cool, good, but then he dates the dead man’s sister (Eva Marie Saint), who suspects Malloy of knowing more about the death than he puts-off? This was strange and seemed like a way to throw an unnecessary love story sub-plot into a film that didn’t need it. The relationship between Malloy and Johnny, and between Malloy and his brother, Charley, was more than enough to drive the story. I mean, that cab ride with Malloy and Charley (of course, had to rewind the “I coulda been a contender” line a few times) is heartbreaking. That, along with the way Malloy is ostracized for doing the right thing, despite how difficult it would be. My couple of criticisms would be how easily Malloy just walked in and out of places with a gun while searching for Johnny, as if his goons wouldn’t’ve drawn their own and how Johnny kinda beat Malloy in fisticuffs. Yeah, Johnny got some help there, but come on, Malloy is an ex-prize-fighter at least 10–15 years his junior. On the Waterfront is American cinema canon and definitely merits a view from aficionados and casual viewers alike.

Additions: 4/27/2020

Booksmart (2019)→ (93) I’ve realized comedy is the toughest genre to review, but if you take anything away from this snapshot, it’s to go watch Booksmart because this movie delivers. I think an easy — and totally understandable — comparison is to Superbad: inseparable high school best friends in Southern California on the eve of graduation get caught-up in over-the-top hijinks that turn a simple plan into an adventure. Moreover, our protags Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have very different plans for after graduation, which creates a tense undercurrent which, of course, climaxes at the worst possible time. From the first scene, we can tell that these two have chemistry, and it permeates throughout the entire film — I don’t think it would’ve worked if they didn’t. I also went to a public school where many of the students attended top-level colleges, so it was weird to see they actually had a rule to keep students from discussing their colleges — my school printed our colleges out in pamphlets and handed them out at graduation, Go Millers! — but I suppose that’s a difference between 2009 and 2019. I said it’s difficult to properly review comedies because writing the lines or scenes doesn’t do it justice, but a few I noted are: the “electric toothbrush” convo., “it’s like ayahuasca, but Asian,” the panda gag, the “pizza delivery driver” — a great character that makes another “appearance,” “did you fuck Ms. Fine?” and pretty much any scene with George (Noah Galvin). Even the telegraphed “porn on the Lyft speakers” moment was way funnier than I expected (thought it’d be a few sexy moans… nope!). Only few criticisms would be the dance scene — at least it was short, the bathroom scene with Amy and, like, some bully that we hadn’t even seen before, I think, and that Amy pukes on her while getting it on after drinking, what appears to be dip spit or an ashed cigarette — this just felt lazy, and that during the climactic (and inevitable) argument, the piano score overtakes what they are actually saying. The ending was probably perfect, which goes a long way in my book. Sometimes these things just happen, but I had been singing “Unchained Melody” around the house all week and had almost put on Ghost mainly to watch that scene, but here we get a cool (female, of course) cover to a song that countless HS sweethearts had made-out to in their cars from 1955-on. To end the movie with this cover, in Amy’s car, with these two (platonic) HS sweethearts was spot-on. Booksmart never lulls and is funny from start to finish.

Non-Fiction (2019)→ (78) Somehow, a movie that contains several scenes of French artists, actors, writers, and publishers, sitting around a room eating and drinking wine, discussing the future of the literary world did NOT come off as pretentious. The title is a misnomer, as Léonard’s (Vincent Macaigne) books are clearly autobiographical, as much as he tries to deny it — he refers to his work as “autofiction,” a term I will be stealing. These Parisians, as the stereotypes go, can’t seem to keep it in their pants, and are all cheating on their significant others (sometimes with each other’s significant others), except for Valérie (Nora Hamzawi), who is cold and unlikeable at first, but by the end is the most endearing character. Valérie also has the chillest reaction to being told she has been cheated on that has ever made its way on screen. This definitely is not the film for everyone, and some of the business conversations concerning hard copies and e-books and the future of publishing seemed a bit dated, like they were having a conversation for 2015 in 2019. I’d like to see a sequel if only to see whether Selena (Juliette Binoche) actually kills Léonard, who is back on his bullshit.

Villains (2019)→ (77) Cocaine has received so much bad press that it’s nice to see a film where the white lady’s magic saves the day. Villains falls somewhere between horror and comedy and had it leaned a little harder in one direction, it may have been a better film. Nevertheless, it is a fun ride with a couple of really cool shots (the “car wash” and the “laundry shoot” were two of my favorites) and solid performances, most notably, by Jeffrey Donovan as George, a psychopath with southern charm. I think the story would’ve benefited by letting the viewer know that George and wife, Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick), were going to kill the little girl (Blake Baumgartner) chained in their basement earlier than when they did. I had found it asinine that Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) went back for her instead of just sending an anonymous tip to the police. Also, it would’ve been nice to see Mickey maybe… like… hide behind the steering wheel when driving out of the garage to avoid getting shot in the chest? This seemed lazy to me. Lastly, the ending is kinda stupid, even though I understand the sentiment. Perhaps this child who had been chained up in a basement for who knows how long would like to see her family before going to Florida to partake in the very lucrative “shell selling” business on the beach…? Funny, this is the second film I’ve viewed recently (Midnight Cowboy being the other) where a couple is searching for a new beginning in Florida, which means neither of them has ever used the internet.

John Wick (2014)→ (88) The film that kicked off the Keanussance, probably, John Wick is the shoot-‘em-up revenge movie that is easy to get behind. A man pushed to the brink after he is assaulted, his beloved car is stolen, and his puppy — the connection he had to his recently deceased wife — is murdered. KILL EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. I think cards read by the bereaved, but you hear the deceased’s voice, is a trigger for me, because I was welling up only a few minutes in. You want to root for this guy. Sure, he has a dark past, but its revelation only gets you excited for the Old-Testament ass-kicking he is going to deliver for the next hour and a half. The fight scenes, and there are plenty, are a mixture of martial arts, pistols, automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and car chases, and it’s all good. I was surprised to find Keanu Reeves as the titular character was nearing fifty during filming, although, it’s basically accepted Keanu doesn’t age. This is action done right, and I’m not just talking about the plethora of excellent fight scenes. There is no love interest because the love interest died within the first 2 minutes: good. So many scripts feel the need to include a love interest when it doesn’t do anything to move the plot. The one hint at a love interest, Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Pelicki) double-crosses him, tries to kill him, and gets shot in the head: good. The bartender (Bridget Regan) tries to get some but nope! Denied. John Wick is a man on a mission and ain’t got time for side quests. Yes, of course, he has a bunch of super-dope religious back tattoos. Yes, his nemesis tied him to a chair and John answered his questions sarcastically. And yes, said nemesis devised an intricate plan to kill him instead of just shooting him in the head. Action usually doesn’t do it for me (it took me 6 years to watch this), but when it works it’s one of the most enjoyable genres. Yay that Willem Dafoe was a good-guy — need an ace sniper. John Wick is the action movie for both the action-lover and the action-once-in-a-whiler.

Face/Off (1997)→ (56) If watching typical action movies are described as a “rollercoaster ride,” then Face/Off strapped me on a bell-curve. When a (as in one, singular) car chase scene is not enough, we get car-plane chase scenes, helicopter-car-boat chase scenes, and marksmanship that would make a Stormtrooper look like dead-eye. As much as I enjoy late 90s ridiculousness — a time period near and dear to my heart — the beginning felt so over-the-top I thought it had to be satire. Nicolas Cage as terrorist, Castor Troy, may have been at his Cagiest here — it’s right up there with Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Troy is a terrorist without an ideology — money, I guess(?) — which is either the scariest or stupidest type of character. For some reason, he wants to kill everyone in Los Angeles with a virus-bomb…thing. Sean Archer (John Travolta) is the same cop/detective character you’ve seen a thousand times (before 1997) and falls somewhere between milquetoast and buzzkill. Ah ha! But wait! It’s all a set-up (we’re ascending that bell-curve) and Cage and Travolta are foils of each other, which makes the face-switching — you heard me right, the title is literal — that much more interesting. Let’s talk about face-switching. First off, love the idea and it gets points for originality. We could achieve anything in the 90s after all. But the way they landed at the idea was comical: Castor’s incarcerated brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), won’t talk with authorities, an undercover agent could be outed in the prison, so… we’ll just take your face off and put his face on your face so you can impersonate him in Sci-Fi Guantanamo Bay. Cool cool cool. Then the surgeon who is about to perform this state-of-the-art surgery, a miracle in modern medicine, just fuckin’ eyeballs-it around the forehead and jawline with a marker. But the film hadn’t lost me yet, even though Archer somehow knows how to hack the supermax's security system and escape altogether — yes, during the shoot-out, we get a Wilhelm Scream. It was during the back half of the film that I started to feel like the whole thing was a “Peter Griffin v. Ernie the Chicken” fight gag, and the novelty of Cage as Travolta and Travolta as Cage began to wear off (dropping down the bell-curve now). A few thoughts: Pollux’s voice stinks. Overacting that is supposed to come off as creepy and cool is just annoying. Also, did every little white kid in the 90s have the same prairie dog, bowl-cut haircut? The seven-way Mexican standoff at the end, again, felt like something from a Mel Brooks movie and I couldn’t tell if it was serious or satire. (92/82) on RT? Get outta here. The novelty of it is fun and there are some good practical effects, but Face/Off is just bad in too many other areas to merit anything in the recommends.

Additions: 4/19/2020

Midnight Cowboy (1969)→ (94) The Best Picture winner of the 42nd Academy Awards is an absolute must-see, especially if you have this weird appreciation for a degraded New York City that you never even experienced — even if you never want it to come back. While Midnight Cowboy teases a film full of Jon Voight — whom I never realized had been that good-looking — jouncing about the Big Apple, sweeping lonely 40 and 50 somethings off their feet and into their penthouse suites, raking in the doe throughout, it quickly disturbs that sentiment into something much, much darker. While it is the only X-Rated film to ever win Best Picture (it began R-rated and switched back after only 2 years), the real obscenity here is the urban porn of city blight. I mean seriously, was New York the most disgusting place in the world pre-1990? The director, John Schlesinger, shot the film in a remarkable style, filled with intense cuts and colors, overlapping sound, and many times surreal — and the Academy agreed, as Schlesinger won Best Director for his efforts. Let’s get to the two co-stars (both of whom were nominated for Best Actor, truly making them co-stars): Jon Voight as Texas “Cowboy,” Joe Buck, and Dustin Hoffman as Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo, were possibly the original gruesome twosome. Joe Buck aims to fuck his way through Manhattan and Ratso is going to make that happen. Well, turns out each of our protags thinks a little higher of themselves than what their talents will permit, and eventually become Odd Couple-like roommates in a condemned building. And I cannot stress enough how disgusting this place is. Their abode makes the dwellings in Requiem for a Dream look like suites in the Carlyle. My one criticism of the film is how really disgusting Ratso turns in the blink of an eye. When they meet, sure, he’s sleazy but pretty normal. Then, after only a few days, maybe a week or so, off-screen, Joe finds him in a greasy spoon absolutely repulsive. Anyway, we get the classic shot of an out-of-towner sticking out of the sea of busy New Yorkers (it’s been parodied to death, but this was 1969), a fantastic themed score and soundtrack — especially enjoyed the harmonica at the end — and just a basic plot that lets the acting and filmmaking take over. Of course, we want to see this duo take their “talents” to South Beach, but we know we’re not gonna get it.

Monster (2003)→ (85) Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos was considered the greatest “transformation” when Monster was released in 2003; it still holds true in 2020. Multiple times I caught myself saying “Wait, that’s Charlize Theron?” and I had already seen the film way back when. I’d like to discuss the script and then the facts: The script is excellent, portraying Aileen as the prostitute turn serial killer in a logical progression. You feel for her when she undergoes an absolutely brutal attack and cheer (or maybe that’s just me) when she manages to pump round after round into her assailant’s chest. It’s also the first time you get to see her infamous “black shark eyes”. She then wears her first kill’s hat that, very noticeable at first, is totally normalized by the 3rd, 4th scene. But then the sympathy wanes and you realize that she, like so many serial killers before and after her, merely have found pretext for them to exercise violence on innocent victims. After she kills the retired police officer and especially after she kills the kind man who gave her a ride in the pouring rain, you really hate her. Had it ended there, had she merely become a Monster through circumstance I would’ve rated this movie higher, probably the high 80s, but that isn’t what happens. We are meant to feel for Aileen when Selby (Christina Ricci) turns state’s witness. But what most bothered was her final line, being sent off to electric guitar and shining white light: “Where there is life, there is hope.” At first, I thought, “Did they seriously just have Aileen Wournos quote Anne Frank?” Well, not exactly, as Ann’s quote was the reverse, “Where there is hope, there is life.” Aileen’s, therefore, was the Bible, but shit, the same difference. Why does it bother me? I watched Monster after listening to Last Podcast On The Left’s (Hail Yourself!) deep-dive into Aileen Wuornos, which is ultra-detailed and, while she had a horrendous, disturbing childhood, there is little to no evidence that she was ever assaulted, abused, or had any reason to kill except for that it was easy money. Even Aileen’s final “fuck you” to the judge in the film is the PG version of the actual transcript, where she told him something along the lines of “I hope you and your family get raped, burn in hell, etc. etc.” Aileen truly was a monster who fabricated a feminist crusade to excuse her killings. I take issue with sending off these assholes with anything but scorn and degradation. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t make movies about them. Quite the opposite, their lives and actions are interesting enough as… ya know what, I’m going off here. Monster is a great movie go enjoy it.

Lords of Chaos (2018)→ (79) When the deadliest sin is proving you’re not a poser, the message behind the make-up becomes a true threat to society. Norwegian Black Metal, which undoubtedly influenced much of the 2000s screamo, thrash, speed, and numerous other insufferable styles of heavy metal, has the most insane origin story out there, probably. And that is what this film is about. Don’t get me wrong, Euronymous (Rory Culkin (Macauly and Kieran’s younger brother)), Dead (Jack Kilmer (Val’s son)), Faust (Valter Skarsgard (Yes, of the famous thespian Swedish ilk), Varg (Emory Cohen), and the rest of these assholes are, bar none, some of the biggest pieces of shit I’ve ever seen. Rich kids whose parents pay for their businesses, studio time, and instruments, that need to prove their allegiance (or whatever) to Satan by mutilating animals, murdering homosexuals, and burning down centuries-old churches; “The churches are oppressing us with their goodness and kindness… we should burn them down,” is an actual quote. They’re part Satanist, part Pagan, part Nazi, full nihilist, all of which a journalist comically points out when he is invited into Varg’s apartment. That being said, the unpredictability of the characters keeps you engaged, even if, you’re like me, you’re kinda just hoping they one-by-one take a page out of Dead’s playbook and shoot themselves in the face. Culkin’s Euronymous is the closest we get to a lead, and he really is fantastic. He’s the character with the best arc and smidge of sympathy. He talks a big game, and as much as he wants to be authentic, hesitates and mitigates as much as possible without being condemned as a poser. Varg (né Kristian, an unacceptable name for this Neo-Satanist-Pagan-Nazi), calls out Euronymous’s lack of badassery and takes their shit to the next level. Varg, who meekly approaches the band as a fan, only for Euronymous to dismiss him, becomes a tornado of misogyny, vengeance, and hate, and you can’t look away. “World famous all over Oslo,” Euronymous says when the band is still practicing in his parents’ basement. I really liked that line.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)→ (78) Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight didn’t have the staying-power of his Oscar winner. That being said, If Beale Street Could Talk concerns a story that takes place in early 1970s Harlem, but can be plucked out of the city and moved to Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, L.A., and it would still work, and that’s the point. I’m not familiar with James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, but I had figured that the film was set in Memphis, as it has the most famous Beale Street in the country. The film started off so strong too, as that early scene with Clementine “Tish” Rivers’ (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt’s respective families meeting at the Rivers Household was excellent. I mean, give me more of that! It had the tension of black-box theater. I also think the film suffered from a lack of Regina King. Good news is, Regina King very much is a character in the movie as Tish’s mother, Sharon Rivers, but was only allowed to shine when she solo’s it to Puerto Rico. Non-linear timelines can work, depending on where the pieces fall into place, and here it just felt… unsatisfying. While most of what occurs in the film is still very relevant today, I don’t know how I feel about the legal aspect of it. The rape victim flees the country and she’s the only witness? No DNA gathered. Timelines and geography all off. Eh, it’s definitely the part that felt the most dated. I think many were expecting Moonlight 2.0 and while that’s not what we get, If Beale Street Could Talk is still definitely worth the watch.

Say Anything… (1989)→ (81) What I appreciate about Say Anything… is that there never came that 80s-teen eye-roll moment and trust me, I was expecting it, as I had some (surprisingly) bad experiences with the genre as of late. It was refreshing that everything about the film felt real. Of course, it featured a house party, car sex, and the guy-gets-girl, guy-loses-girl, guy-gets-girl back, plot structure, but it had plenty of nuances too. For instance, for much of the movie, it very much felt like each character should go their own way, for their own sake. You’re not necessarily rooting for them to get back together. And I did despise the line “My future [career] is to be with your daughter.” Ugh. But besides that, this is the movie that gave us sex in the Malibu to Peter Gabriel — it created that stereotype, probably. Which gave us the line (partly delivered by a very young Jeremy Piven) “Ditched in the Malibu?” “That’s your castle, man.” The most recognizable scenes from the film — and one of the most recognizable scenes is cinematic history — is Lloyd (John Cusack) standing outside Diane’s (Ione Skye) bedroom window, in front of the Malibu, stereo raised over his head to Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes. However, this scene did not take place when I had thought, as I had expected Diane to rush from the bed, jump into Lloyd’s arms, and roll credits. John Mahoney as Diane’s father, Jim, also plays a much larger role as “the girl’s” father in an 80s teen movie, which may have taken a little bit away from the rest of the plot. Corey’s (Lili Taylor) story was also neglected after the first handful of scenes, which is a shame, as every time she was on-screen she was a delight. Her “over 60” songs she wrote about her ex was one of the funniest, if not most brutal, scenes of the movie. The “new beginning” ending was nice, even if they’re stupid kids. Say Anything… is fun where it could be corny, and sincere where it could be maudlin.

Additions: 4/8/2020

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)→ (91) Even though it had been touted as the “feel shitty movie of the year,” The Killing of a Sacred Deer takes you on an unexplainable, metaphysical, horror show — and yeah, it’s really good. While “based on” Iphigenia is a stretch, there is no doubt that Yorgos Lanthimos’ film (if you couldn’t tell by the name, he’s Greek…) was inspired by the famous Euripides play, with the decision to sacrifice a child for some greater good/larger issue is at stake. At least here, the sacrifice is much more understandable than in the Greek tragedy. One of the first things you notice is how formal everyone speaks to each other, even in the privacy of their own home, the Murphy family talk crisply and cleanly; American Robotic. While there isn’t a weak performance throughout — and hey, we get a little Alicia Silverstone, which is always nice — Barry Keoghan as Martin is the awkward, menacing, conniving, telekinetic(?) star of the show. I mean, he’s fantastic and holds a scene with facial expressions alone. We don’t need to know how his powers work, whatever they are, because he’s using them on this family. It’s happening and there’s only one way to stop it, and it’s not tying him to a chair and punching him in the face… The Killing of a Sacred Deer felt like what Funny Games, a movie I despised (read about it somewhere down below), was trying to pull off. Lastly, if you thought the Russian Roulette scenes in Deer Hunter were intense, wait ‘till you get a look at these.

From Hell (2001)→ (72) A film that has all the makings to be a horror-thriller smash with the most first, and most infamous, serial-killer of all time comes off… dull. My experience with the source material, Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name, includes thumbing through the graphic novel a few times in the library. While far, far from being historically accurate (I don’t just mean who the killer is, as we still don’t know that, but aspects of the characters and surroundings), the movie proceeds predictably until the very end. Detective Abberline (Johnny Depp) has some sort of psychic power, but doesn’t really use it? Or are they hallucinations from his intense opium and absinthe use? We never really find out, but I could’ve done without the angle altogether, as they don’t offer the plot anything. Far from the first novel/film to blame the Free Masons, this one has them front and center, doing Queen Victoria’s dirty work — with a little too much brio, she comes to admit — as her incorrigible grandson has gone off and gotten himself married to a Catholic; a most serious offense. I suppose, the modern parlance would say that Jack the Ripper was “extra” with his killings, which only ended after he was given a swift lobotomy and locked up behind bars. The “twist,” if we’re gonna call it that, hit like a down pillow, even though I thought the actor, Sir William Gull, gave a solid performance during his transformation — how he transformed his voice, however, is never explained. And, of course, we get a romantic angle we never really needed between Abberline and Mary Kelly (Heather Graham). My favorite parts about the film were the East End London surroundings, characters and streets, the penny sit-up, that emerald green that I had remembered from when I first saw the film years ago, and the conspiracy itself. Even if they could’ve just arrested the five prostitutes and disposed of them like they did with Anne (Joanna Page), this was the 19th century, after all, having the Royal Family’s tentacles slither their way into White Chapel makes for an interesting, though ludicrous, story. The ending was fine for what we got, and even offered somewhat of a happy ending — except for that poor Belgian girl… Basically, I put on From Hell to have fun and it offered that, if not missing the mark on a few too many points.

Army of Darkness (1992)→ (61) The third installment of The Evil Dead franchise, Army of Darkness lacks both the horror and comedy that made the first two so enjoyable. While Evil Dead was truly frightening and impressive given the budget, and Evil Dead II added to the scares with legitimate comedy, Army of Darkness felt far too self-aware that fell beyond the charming campiness of the series. Once again, we begin the movie not exactly how the one before it left off. Fine, not a big deal, but this one seems to take so long to get where we want to go — it’s the third installment, show us the grotesque, disgusting, repulsive, soldiers in this army of darkness already. I hated that they recycled the “Groovy,” line from EDII, as I wrote in my rating for that film, it is one of the near-perfect lines of cinema. Here, not only is it recycled, it falls flat, somehow. That being said, Army of Darkness does offer a couple of excellent one-liners, including the famous “This is my BOOMSTICK!” and the immensely quotable, “Hail to the King, Baby,” a line I’ve been reciting to my fiancée ad nauseam. But what the shit was the deal with them using the “Klaatu barada nikto”? We’re not even in the same genre here. Anyway, the “spirit cam,” for lack of a better term, which was so inventive in ED and used so well in EDII, was barely used here, relying on the more overt skeleton soldiers — which didn’t look much better than those in Jason and the Argonauts (1963…) — and a handful of Deadites. It has its moments and even a couple of laughs, but Army of Darkness just becomes too silly to merit anything higher than low (60)s. It can be enjoyed, but only with the most managed of expectations. It does make one hell of a movie poster, however.

Mystic River (2003)→ (82) Maybe it’s because I’ve watched a couple of incredible murder thrillers recently (Prisoners, Gone Girl) and that I had such high expectations for Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, that it left me a little disappointed. That’s not to say it isn’t an enjoyable film — it features fantastic acting all around, but most notably from Sean Penn as Jimmy Markum. The beginning is frightening — with sex abuse from, what I believe to be, the clergy — but that really just seems to lay a superficial foundation for Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) to be reserved, skittish, and then become a suspect in Katie Markum’s (Emmy Rossum) murder. I take issue with Dave’s character from a logical perspective and believe if his storyline was cleaned up, the film would’ve benefited as a whole. He lies about a potential murder and/or violent encounter, dials that back, admits to a different murder (of a pedophile), retracts that and admits to Katie’s murder, which didn’t make sense to me at all. Even if Jimmy Markum is telling you he’s “not going to kill you” as long as you admit to killing his daughter, every viewer knows he’s going to kill you once you admit to killing his daughter — his childhood friend should’ve known that. Robbins also won an Oscar for his role as Dave, and the acting is great, his decisions just didn’t make sense to me. Also, it felt foolish for Jimmy to shoot him after he’d already stabbed him and still had a knife — people can hear gunshots. Mystic River at times feels very 2003 — I’m not sure exactly what that means — but it gets better as it builds, even if the reveal of Katie’s real killer was unsatisfying.

Throne of Blood (1957)→ (76) It’s the middle part of Throne of Blood that drops the film into the mid (70)s. The many scenes on horseback — especially riding through the tangling forest — are breathtaking and the practical effects of the castles and soldiers are commendable, but there is just a lull that doesn’t appear in the Scottish Play that does in this one. A Kurosawa regular, Toshiro Mifune, is the central character of Washizu Taketok, our Macbeth. And boy, are his facial expressions a masterclass in acting, which makes his anticipated descent into madness that much more enjoyable. Isuzu Yamada as Washizu Asaji, or Lady Macbeth, is also a haunting character, pulling at her husband’s strings until he has ascended to power — Feudal Japan’s Cersei Lannister. Except, given the time period, Asaji is deferential to her husband even while “providing” directions; always looking to the floor, always on bended knees. Isuzu’s interpretation of the “guilt spot” from the play is her incessant washing of hands to remove the phantom blood, which she does phenomenally. Another change from the play is that instead of three witches, we get one creepy-ass spirit (Chieko Naniwa), who is wholly entertaining, especially when we first meet her. If you’re going to watch one scene, it has to be when Taketok’s own men turn on him in a seemingly never-ending fury of arrows — it’s a delightful spectacle.

Additions: 3/30/2020

A Ghost Story (2017)→ (82) A film with strange staying power, A Ghost Story hooks you late and takes several unexpected turns. This is not a “turn TV on, turn brain off” kind of movie. In fact, if you can catch a few of the threads that weave the (admittedly confusing) timeline together, it makes the film much more enjoyable. However, I did not connect all of these pieces during my viewing and must rate based on my observations, not after I’ve consulted the internet. For style, I loved the rounded-edges of the shot, which provided an old-school, intimate feel to the movie. There were a handful of long shots — some excruciatingly so — which were not dissimilar to another Casey Affleck film I viewed recently, Light of My Life. Although Affleck did not direct A Ghost Story, the similarities were too close to ignore. It may be asking too much, especially for a film that verbally explained pretty much nothing and is about ghosts, but I would’ve appreciated more about how the physics worked. Why could he leave the hospital, but not the house? He didn’t die in the house, so I didn’t understand why he, and his neighbor ghosts, needed to stay there. Was it a choice to leave the Earth — as Affleck, who is simply called “C,” chooses not to follow the light in the hospital and the doors literally shut — or once you stop believing your loved ones are returning, you automatically vanish? My last gripe is the “starring” Kesha notation (it is on Wikipedia, but that is where everyone goes to get the basics for a movie), as she maybe had one line in one scene? Boo. Hiss. The score is beautiful and I truly appreciate when films try to do something original. If you plan to watch this one, a piece of advice would be to focus on the music (in all its forms) within the film. Had I done that, my rating would definitely have been higher. Also, definitely not the movie to watch after having a bad day.

Iphigenia (1977)→ (81) One of the lesser-known Greek tragedies, Iphigenia holds up to its genre with cheek-smacking confusion and what-the-fuckness. The Greek army is ready, has been ready, for a very long time now, to sail to Troy to kick some Trojan ass. But alas, there is no wind to fuel the ships — I suppose there wasn’t the foresight of having oarsmen for the occasion. The oracle, as oracle’s always do on the eves of battle, had a message from the gods that Agamemnon (Kostas Kozakos) must sacrifice his eldest daughter for the winds to blow. With the pressure from his brother, Menelaus (Costas Carras), whose sister, Helen, is the cause of all this to begin with, and the army growing impatient and more zealous as each day passes, Agamemnon must make the hardest decision any father could possibly be asked to make — for a Greek tragedy, that is, any sane father would take the non-sacrificial path. What I love about a film shot in 1977 are the practical effects: those are real boats lining the beautiful beach on the Aegean Sea, those are hundreds of real naked, bronzing Greek men lining the beautiful beach on the Aegean Sea. It is a film with a cast of recognizable characters — Agamemnon, Achilles (Panos Mihalopoulos, although black haired instead of the blond associated with Brad Pitt’s iteration, is still incredibly handsome), Odysseus (Christos Tsagas), Paris and Helen, who we never actually see — they are not in their typical roles. There is not a single swordfight in the entire film, even at the end, where Achilles looks like he is about to take on the entire Greek army on his own. Irene Papas as Clytemnestra, Queen of Mycenae, who if you asked me to craft a dramatic Greek actress from clay, it would be Irene Papas, is fantastic from start to finish. Of course, can’t forget about the titular Iphigenia (Tatiana Papamoschou), who didn’t look a day over twelve and is ostensibly summoned to the coast to marry Achilles; Papamoschou was thirteen during filming. She was also delightful in her range of joy, fear, denial, and ultimate acceptance and control of her fate. Although the story is approximately 2,400 years old, I still won’t spoil it, but remind you that a Greek tragedy is a Greek tragedy.

Repo Man (1984)→ (50) Probably not a film you even need to see once, Repo Man was the biggest letdown I’ve experienced in a while. This comes entirely from its absurdly high RT critics’ score of (98). (98)?! While there are bits and pieces of excellent satire — all the food and “drink” with the same labeling, which definitely influenced 1988’s They Live, the same liquor store getting robbed, the side-convo taking place when the car is rising in the air — so much of it was beyond camp and cheesy that it took away from the larger message. Otto’s (Emilio Estevez) old gang who has nosedived into committing armed robbery, is so cringe-worthy that it bypasses parody and lands around something teenagers in the 1980s would record on a camcorder. “Fuck this, let’s do some crimes.” Is an actual line, for example. I don’t know enough about the history of repo-ing in this country, but it couldn’t ever have been even close to this, right? Shimmying door, hot wiring car? I was waiting for and received when finally, someone was going to confuse them for carjackers and start shooting. Then we have the car itself, the McGuffin, a Chevy Malibu that has a trunk so hot, that when someone is suckered into opening it they are immediately vaporized — how this heat doesn’t melt the car itself does not need to be explored. We learn that alien corpses are in the trunk and it’s their radiation that is giving off the heat. Of course, identical, suit and sunglasses-wearing government types are after the car, Mexican drug runners are after the car, the repo team is after the car, the punks are after the car. But we never get a good reveal of the aliens or anything besides an admittedly pretty cool car-flying scene. Meh. Repo Man is borderline shitty and borderline funny, but not something I’d ever watch again and can’t recommend.

American Pastoral (2016)→ (63) Threw on the movie the night I finished the book, and while Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is something special, the movie is not nearly as dreadful as those RT ratings have it: (22/29). A few aspects of the plot needed to be cut for the film, as they always do, and besides the ending, nothing major was changed. Merry, (Ocean James, Hannah Nordberg, and Dakota Fanning) transforms from a cute, precocious, stuttering little girl into a repugnant, hyper-political, domestic terrorist by the age of sixteen. And I don’t say that lightly. Merry is truly one of my favorite characters to hate in all of literature. While her main cause is noble, protesting the Vietnam War, she directs her antipathy toward her parents’/society’s way of life and ultimately kills four innocent people. Perhaps she would’ve been slightly more sympathetic, had her parents been pro-war, racist, greedy capitalists, but they are far from it, both coming from humble backgrounds and overtly stating their objections to the war. Seymour “Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor) was a star high school athlete (Side note: As a native of Essex County, NJ, I would’ve appreciated if they’d googled Weequahic’s colors to see they are Orange and Brown, not Red and Black, but at least they got the mascot correct) who took up his father’s glove-making business, one of the last functional businesses in Newark, remaining long after the 1967 riots, much longer than they should have. Swede is the American Dream incarnate, even more so in the film as his affair is cut from the novel, if anything coming off as too forgiving, too understanding, too gullible, too slow to take action. Eventually, Swede’s own words come back to haunt him, as he tells Merry to “be productive and protest the war at home,” which she does… by blowing up a little post office in her bucolic hometown. Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), a former Miss New Jersey, born and raised in Elizabeth, a city similar to Newark, but with even less industry these days, has done everything possible to escape her pageant past, even compensating by working with farm animals, reminding everyone that she was only in it for the scholarship. The film leaves Rita Cohen (Valorie Curry) as much of a mystery as she is in the novel, which was one of the parts I most disliked in both, but Fanning and Curry pull-off the white, dense, spoiled, smug, nauseatingly uber-liberal “revolutionaries” perfectly. Where the film could’ve really improved was when Swede confronts Merry, hiding from the FBI — in Newark of all places — fully converted to the Jain religion. These scenes are pivotal to the novel and lacked the emotion I was expecting and looking forward to in the film. While they included her mouth — her vile, disgusting mouth hidden behind her veil — the description in the book is so vivid and McGregor didn’t seem to flinch at the stench; a stench the readers all experienced during that chapter. The ending was the biggest difference, with the intent, I suppose, to make a friendlier, more cathartic ending for the viewer, but… ehh. Should’ve had her arrested then if wanted to go that route. Roth’s novel is dark through and through and I think had the film followed suit, it would’ve been more respected. I still put it in the recommends, it’s a fantastic story, but if you want to experience it completely, read the book, you won’t be disappointed.

Twelve Monkeys (1995)→ (80) When you watch a Gilliam movie you know you’re watching a Gilliam movie, and I can appreciate that. Mix one part Kafkaesque, one part suffocating futurism, and combine those with American versions of British dialogue and you get pure Gilliam. Better than The Fisher King, but can’t even touch Brazil, Twelve Monkeys grips you at parts and drops you at others. I swear, I had no idea it was about a virus that wipes out almost all of humanity, so I kinda freaked myself out there. Bruce Willis as James Cole and Madeleine Stowe as Dr. Kathryn Railly had great chemistry with a nice arch but didn’t need them to fall in love. Dr. Railly is a smart, cunning character throughout, but she’s upset that Cole kills the man who is literally undoing his belt to rape her? Come on. All that being said, Brad Pitt as the mentally-ill, enviro-terrorist, Jeffrey Goines, steals the show every time he’s on-screen, we just needed more of it. I especially enjoyed the recurring circus-like music for the Army of the 12 Monkeys. The story is interesting, even if at times it’s difficult to keep up — which isn’t the viewer’s fault — but I object to that ending. That guy? Really? That guy? I don’t mind at all that it’s bleak. Don’t mind at all that, when you think about it, all Cole’s efforts were, from the start, for naught. But that guy?!? What were his motives? Who even is he? He looks familiar, I guess. In a few scenes. No. Change the ending and it’s in the mid-high (80)s.

Additions: 3/23/2020

Four Lions (2010)→ (87) The premise of four bumbling jihadists in Central England trying to plan an attack on whatever it would be they could agree to attack interested me, but Four Lions delivered so much more than I had expected. From the start, the gang can’t even agree on the basics for their quintessential jihadi video — ya know, grainy, faces and mouths covered, a flag with Arabic inscription and a sword — being filmed in Barry’s (Nigel Lindsay) crappy apartment. Waj (Kavan Novak) and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) are both dimwitted and gullible, Waj being outspoken (to his detriment) and Faisal being introverted — the latter killing himself while tripping over a fence with a bag full of explosives, taking a sheep with him. Like the best British comedies, the dialogue, here more of banter, is what really pulls me in, and Four Lions is full of it, mainly between Omar (Riz Ahmed) and Barry. Omar is our protagonist, as we follow him the most and gain insights into so much of his life. What’s terrifying is how secular he appears on the outside — his brother on the other hand, not a terrorist, but a devout Muslim, dresses, grows his beard, and is much more outwardly religious. Barry, the White-British convert, is acerbic, self-contradictory, and quick to blame his misfortunes on the Jews: “The parts are Jewish!” he laments when his car breaks down. Barry is also clearly a psychopath, making Waj urinate into his own mouth to prove his devotion to Allah. Lastly, we have Hassan (Arsher Ali), a college student who seems more interested in hip-hop music and pulling (horrifying) stunts that play off people’s fears of Muslims — confetti suicide bomber, funny because I wasn’t actually there. The film has several laugh-out-loud moments and also keeps the viewer engaged with who is going to go through with the plan (which eventually becomes bombing the London Marathon), who is going to drop out, and who is going to kill accidentally themselves in the process. I also had to re-check the date of the film, as Omar inadvertently kills Osama bin Laden with an RPG during a terrorist training camp in Pakistan — foreshadowing a way an ISIS jihadist kills himself on camera 5 or so years later. It’s nice to see the ridiculous side of these people and to be reminded that many, if not the vast majority of them, are not diabolical geniuses, but misguided assholes who gravitate towards an excuse to commit violence, and it’s nice to see them portrayed that way. Thus, to sum up the film in one line, “I may ask you to blow yourself up, but never to wiz in ya mouth.”

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)→ (65) Three things tantalized me into watching this movie: Nicolas Cage, the RT discrepancy between critics and audience (85/57), and that I’ll watch pretty much anything set in New Orleans. I mean, less than 30 seconds in and Cage is telling someone to fuck off, love it. There are some head-scratching moments, when Cage, as titular Bad Lieutenant Terence McDonagh, is snorting or smoking hard drugs right in the street, is shaving with an electric razor while hidden behind a closed door, the Iguana-cam, which I suppose some people loved, and most disturbingly when he holds a revolver to the heads of two geriatrics saying he wishes he could kill them both. But that’s the charm of Nic Cage, and while the film also stars Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, X-to-the-Z Xzibit, Jennifer Coolidge, Fairuza Balk, and Michael Shannon, this is unquestionably Cage’s movie. I did love the three so over-the-top, deus ex machinas in a row — especially after the famous line in another one of Cage’s movies, Adaptation: “Find an ending, but don’t cheat, and don’t you dare bring in a deus ex machina,” which added a cheeky ending to a bizarre movie. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is strange, but entertaining, as you honestly never know what Cage is going to do next, and that’s the fun.

Moonstruck (1987)→ (77) My only experiences with Moonstruck had been repeating the famous “snap out of it” line in a nasally Cher impression and my dad making the Moonstruck eggs — the sunny-side-up egg inside the carved-out piece of toast — which received a close-up. But it was a film I felt familiar with from the very beginning, with the mannerisms and hand-gestures, the Itanglish, the red wine in jelly glasses, and the “wife-beater”? “guinea tee”? (There really is no good term for it) tucked into pants. Cher, as Loretta, is the centerpiece of the film — she did win the Oscar for Best Actress — even if, at times, she appears to be more of a vessel to watch everything going on around her. There is one scene after her hair’s been did in pooftacular late-80s glory, when she’s kicking a can down a quiet Brooklyn street, the Manhattan skyline at her back, opera blasting and a smirk on her face that should be played for anyone on command when they’re having a bad day. Then we have Nic Cage, as Ronny, with his H.I. McDunnough hair (Raising Arizona came out the same year) shoveling dough into subterranean ovens like coal on the Titanic. Sweaty, angry, maimed, and sexy, within a few moments he’s already losing his shit concerning familial injustice — and somewhere in those few moments, he enraptures Loretta, never letting her go again. And you can’t really blame her, compared to his brother, Johnny (Danny Aiello), who is a good-hearted man who loves his mother, Ronny is the kind of guy who can — and does — accompany you to the opera after fucking you on the floor like an animal. Although there’s not too much “comedy” for this romantic-comedy, I still definitely recommend it for the acting, the scenery, the story, and great big moons.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)→ (84) Hadn’t realized that at the time of its release, The Princess and the Frog was the first “traditionally animated” Disney film in 5 years, which was a pleasure to see even in 2020. I loved seeing New Orleans “Disneyfied” and the animation of Tiana’s (Anika Noni Rose) “Almost There,” which reminded me of an art deco “Zero to Hero” from Hercules. In general, I thought the voice acting was fantastic, especially for Southern Belle, Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), Dr. Facilier aka The Shadow Man (Keith David), Cajun firefly, Raymond (Jim Cummings), and the racially ambiguous, Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos). That being said, my favorite character had to be the jolly, obese, trumpet-playing alligator, Louis (Michael Leon-Wooley). Set in New Orleans, it was no surprise that Tiana’s dream was to open up a restaurant and even thought that they were going to forgo the princess-finds-prince trope and have her focus on being a restaurateur, but lo and behold, she gets both — there also came a time I said to myself: “Holy shit, they’re actually going to stay as frogs.” Glad that notion was quickly dashed. While the purple-clad, top-hatted, skull-and-crossbones affixed, voodoo witch doctor was an obvious choice for a villain, his motives seemed a little… bland. While his introduction song “Friends on the Other Side” was like a dark “Never Had a Friend Like Me,” the motive to “rule New Orleans” didn’t have enough substance to it compared to, say, a Scar, a Jafar, or a Hades. But with an excellent final song, many tied-together happy endings — even though it was tough to see Ray go like that — and a magical setting, The Princess and the Frog is a great addition to the Disney canon and a welcome return to the traditional animation my generation fell in love with.

The Two Popes (2019)→ (85) Two titans flex their acting muscles in a behind-the-scenes look at an unexpected friendship and the ascendancy to one of the most influential positions in the world. I thought the casting on Anthony Hopkins as Joseph Aloisious Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as Jorge Mario Bergoglio/Pope Francis, couldn’t have been more spot-on. I especially enjoyed how they used their respective languages (German, Spanish, Italian, even Latin) where appropriate, instead of just defaulting to the consumer-friendly English, even though English is lingua franca for their personal conversations — in real life, I’d’ve guessed they used Italian, but no matter. This is a film about which direction the Catholic Church should and will take. While Benedict XVI represents the conservative end of the church — his selection was a backlash against the liberal reforms of John Paul II — while Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, represents a liberal pluralism foreign to much of the Church’s focus at the time. And while their relationship is icy during the 2005 conclave — wherein, Bergoglio was the runner-up — it blossoms into genuine friendliness by 2013, which we get to see develop during the film. The conundrum is as such: Benedict XVI, the sitting Pope, wants to resign (which hasn’t happened since 1294) so Bergoglio can be voted into the chair of St. Peter, as he knows this is the best direction for the church. However, Bergoglio, who has booked his own flight to Rome before receiving Benedict’s letter summoning him there, plans to resign as a cardinal and take up a modest position as a priest in Argentina — something the sitting Pope must sign-off for. The second storyline is one of redemption. As is hinted at in the film, there were rumors concerning Benedict’s past and the Nazi party — which has since been unsubstantiated — which I figured would be the focus of any subplot. Instead, it is Bergoglio’s past and his role as the head of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Argentina during the fascist dictatorship of the 1970s and 80s. While it definitely was interesting and added an aspect of redemption — whether he really needed to be redeemed is in the eye of the beholder — for the man who would eventually become the leader of the Catholic faith, I caught myself wanting to get back to Hopkins and Pryce. The ending of the two of them watching the 2014 World Cup final (Argentina v. Germany) couldn’t have been more fitting.

Additions: 3/18/2020

Les Misérables (2012)→ (94) In terms of story, Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, might be the greatest of all time. A tome of drama spanning three separate periods (1815, 1823, and 1832, none of which are the French Revolution and stop saying it because it drives me crazy), has got it all: Redemption, Revolution, Forbidden Love, Tests of Faith, Betrayal, Rags to Riches, Bondage to Freedom. The third form of this incredible story (novel and stage-play, being the others), I believe Les Mis got a bad rap here. Remember, in the movie they are acting while singing, and that’s pretty much every single line, not just bursting out into musical numbers between dramatic performances. For that reason, it caught flak for casting actors first instead of singers. Which, with the exception of Russel Crowe as Javert, I think worked really well. For example, Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) “I Dreamed a Dream” was always my favorite number and had felt let down when I saw this back in 2012. But upon this viewing, you get to enjoy the progression of Hathaway’s acting — numbness, a glint of hope, anger morphing into an anxiety attack, to acceptance — all while she is delivering a solid rendition of the song. Samantha Barks as Eponine crushes “On My Own” and Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) was great throughout — “Who Am I” has been my flavor of the week. Could the casting have been any better for the Thénardiers than Helen Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen? The wet Parisian streets, the blue tint of the air, the whole film is just a joy to watch. And if “Do You Hear the People Sing?” doesn’t get a little something going inside your gut, then I’m not sure we can be friends. That final shot of the gigantic barricade, the dead back to life, the waving flags, always brings a tear to my eye. Vive La France!

Bloodsport (1988)→ (66) Bloodsport pulled me in completely opposite directions: on one hand, you have a classic late-80s martial arts movie that showcases the Western obsession with Japanese culture at the time (which sometimes turned into paranoia and racism), which heavily influenced the 90s, and on the other, you have some cringe-worthy, unbearably bad acting, especially the children in the beginning — blink and the little Japanese boy is dead. Moreover, the storyline itself is pretty poor, which contains a pair of doofus FBI detectives and your requisite collateral love story. I had given these elements more credence given the “based on a true story” disclosure, however, even the most basic research will tell you that pretty much nothing about this story is true. To ballpark it, I’d put the “true story” angle of Bloodsport on par with The Amityville Horror. Lastly, there is an African fighter who hops around the ring like a monkey… no comment necessary. So why the decent score in the recommends? Because Bloodsport exhibits the one-on-one fighter, by secret invitation only as gambling Asian men in suits, gong-banging in the background, blood-soaked UN, hidden in a labyrinth of steaming back alleys, bare-knuckle combat trope that has been used time and again since. The creators of the Mortal Kombat franchise originally wanted to create a Bloodsport videogame, but created the more fantastical game after the licensing fell through. The film also provides us with iconic imagery of Jean-Claude Van Damme meditating in ass-splitting stretches while overlooking Hong Kong. Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) as the closest thing the film has to a villain, makes terrifying fighting faces as if he’s transformed into an animal in the ring. And the Kumite (the name of the tournament) song is absolute fire. Had the film kept to the basic “outsider trains very hard under insider’s tutelage and wins tournament against all odds,” this would’ve been a more enjoyable film. Shit, I still might get a Bloodsport poster for my TV room.

The Spectacular Now (2013)→ (73) Given the RT (91) from critics, I had higher expectations for this one than what delivered on screen. Sutter (Miles Teller) felt like a bit of a cliché at times and vacillated between kind of charming and kind of a dick. He strings along Aimee (Shailene Woodley), who is just a pure-goodness character, while he tries to win back his ex, Cassidy (Brie Larson). It doesn’t become a matter of “if” but “when” will Aimee get her heart broken. That being said, the last 35 minutes change the tone of the movie into something much more than a typical high school love-triangle drama. A happy ending? Perhaps, but it wasn’t really satisfying. I wish there were more scenes with Mr. Aster (Andre Royo), the teacher who cared about Sutter’s future, and Dan (Bob Odenkirk) Sutter’s boss and all-around good father figure.

Contagion (2011)→ (83) Fiancée and I kicked off Social Distancing with Contagion (I know, real original). While the virus in the film is significantly worse in terms of effects — basically everyone and anyone die, regardless of age, immune-deficiencies, etc. — it was shockingly similar in how it spreads and where it originated. Thirty seconds in and you never want to touch anything ever again. I thought I remembered this being advertised as a “Matt Damon Movie,” and didn’t realize it’s much more of an ensemble story. I thought each storyline was well-done and added to the plot, except for Dr. Leonara Orantes’ (Marion Cotillard), which felt like a side-quest included to add conventional action to the movie, which it didn’t need. The full-circle epilogue was also a necessary, satisfying touch. Can’t find a more topical movie for the time.

Manhattan (1979)→ (78) A love letter to the city in the first few minutes, then the movie itself, Manhattan had many of the subtle one-liners we associate with Woody (“You’re so beautiful I can barely keep my eyes on the [taxi] meter.” was probably my favorite) but was just missing something more for me to push it into the 80s. Isaac (Woody Allen), forty-two and dating a seventeen-year-old definitely didn’t age well, even if she (Mariel Hemingway) is the most mature character in the movie. And that might be the biggest issue I had with Manhattan, is that the main cast of characters are largely unlikable in a generally likeable movie. I suppose it’s a microcosm of a piece of NYC that still exists today; successful, egotistical, neurotic people making problems for themselves, spending too much on rent, and looking at art. I also could’ve moved it into the 80s with a better ending. It was so shitty how Isaac treated Tracy, only for the film to want us to want them together in the end. It did give us that gorgeous shot of the Queensboro Bridge, however, even if the bench was never really there.

Additions: 3/9/2020

Prisoners (2013)→ (95) Prisoners, Villeneuve’s first English-language film, owned me its 154-minute run time and had me hooked from the opening Lord’s Prayer. I can’t believe it (1) isn’t more popular and (2) that it only has an (80) RT critics’ score. Gyllenhaal as the live-and-die-by-his-job detective — he literally doesn’t have an interaction that doesn’t have to do with the case — is tortured from falling short lead after lead. We are told that Detective Loki has never let a case go cold. What is cold, however, is the ice-water in his veins, as he didn’t even flinch finding a moldering body in a priest’s dank basement/secret compartment. I’ve always said that Joaquin Phoenix is the most underrated actor in Hollywood (a statement I’ll need to amend now that he’s won an Oscar for Best Actor), but in terms of thrillers, Gyllenhaal is right up there with performances in Zodiac (a film I love but have not watched since starting this blog), and Nightcrawler, where I know he gives a fantastic performance and is on my list. Gyllenhaal’s counterpart is Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover, the grieving father of his missing child. While Jackman’s accent might slip here and there, his character teeters from sympathetic to terrifying from one scene to the next. I must say, his wood shower torture device was showcased both his will to find his daughter and his craftsmanship as a carpenter. The misdirections are effective at keeping the viewer engaged and, of course, there is a plausible twist that was satisfying. I was afraid maybe the ending was going to ruin the movie, but really loved how they brought a prop from the beginning full-circle.

Funny Girl (1968)→ (73) The musical that gave us Barbara Streisand, Funny Girl is well worth the watch for its handful of bangers and turn-of-the-century banter. “Hello, Gorgeous” is still one of the best opening lines to present us with a character, especially when Streisand is not the typical Hollywood beauty — a point that her friends and family state throughout the film (even though, given the time, the focus was on Broadway, not Hollywood). Fanny (Streisand) as the titular funny girl, shocks and delights audiences with a surprise pregnancy (by stuffing a pillow inside of her wedding dress) and other antics that lampooned the theater-going crowd for the times — of course, Streisand is perfect for this. Omar Sharif (who my mom always considered to be the most handsome man in Hollywood) as Nicky Arnstein with an unidentifiable accent, but “foreign” nevertheless, is the perfect suave and sophisticated counterpart to Fanny. “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “My Man” are the two best tracks from the film, the latter of which Streisand absolutely crushes to send us out clapping.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)→ (84) There’s just something I love about the practical effects of the late 70s and early 80s, which are showcased here with the titular “close encounters”. Not gonna lie, the first half of this movie is a bit of a slog with disjointed storylines. However, the second half pieces those threads together nicely, creating a much more enjoyable experience. Like any good alien movie, I kept asking myself “why are they here?” And the answer was… to teach us things… I think? They didn’t come to destroy us, apparently, which remained in the back of my mind throughout. The aliens themselves had a little variety — with one gangly creature that looked like something out of The Thing — but most were of the little-bald-grey ilk. I didn’t like how Roy (Richard Dreyfuss) and Jillian (Melinda Dillon, the mom from A Christmas Story) were being chased by the US military one second, only to stumble upon the “welcome base” or whatever the next. I loved that Roy just totally ditched his wife and children — without so much as a moment’s reflection — to get his ass on that ship when given the opportunity.

Gozu (2003)→(73) Gozu is, ya know, your typical Yakuza psycosexual, surreal fantasy film: gangster loses gangster he’s supposed to kill; gangster tries to get gangster back; gangster gets gangster back after sexy woman gives birth to adult truant gangster. Just strange enough to keep you interested, with a ridiculous last 20 minutes — unfortunately, I mean this negatively, as I had Gozu closer to an (80) before this. The film takes place in a rundown suburb of Nagoya, which might as well be another dimension from yakuza-footman Minami’s (Hideki Sonne, an actor who doesn’t have a wiki page, IMDB page, or any other film credits…) Tokyo. Minami is constantly asked, “You’re not from here, are you?” and at times seems to be speaking another language. Director Takashi Miike has some notable camerawork here — driving on the highway back to Tokyo, Minami frightened in the B&B. Again, those last 20 mins were just a lot. I’ll just give you my notes so you get the picture: “WTF?! Ending. WHAT THE FUCK EVEN MORE?!?!” Also, there’s a big milk theme here. It’s unsettling. You’ve been warned.

Rocketman (2019)→ (85) A biopic musical that seems like something coming straight from the mind of Sir Elton John himself. Difficult not to compare it to Bohemian Rhapsody, which has similarities — a budding English star who hides his sexuality until completely embracing it while trying to gain his father’s approval under the spell of many, many drugs. It even has the sexual partner-cum-deceptive manager who alienates the star from the rest of his family and friends. I even feel like they used the same scenes: Mercury/John flamboyant and wasted in his gigantic, opulent house while party-goers and social climbers eat, drink, snort, pop, anything they can get their hands on. However, the notable differences being Taryn Edgerton actually singing the tracks and the surreal elements set Rocketman apart from the Freddie Mercury biopic. Rocketman also lacked the saccharine aspects of Bohemian Rhapsody, while still including a platonic love story between a gay star and a straight friend.

Additions: 2/27/2020

Gone Girl (2014)→ (95) It has been 3–4 years since last viewing this non-linear thriller, but with even knowing every move, Gone Girl never disappoints. It might be the quickest 2 ½ hour movie I’ve ever seen. The RT ratings are surprisingly tied (and surprisingly low) at 87/87 as I write this. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross always give a chilling and perfect score. The whole storyline of “X Day Gone” builds suspense, which is compounded with unreliable narrators. Rosamund Pike delivers an exceptional performance as the manipulative, conniving, and downright evil Amy Dunne. The cut to her, very much alive, over an hour into the film was stunning on first viewing and still makes me smile. There was something so unique about watching her eyes flutter by, reveling in her Welcome Home reception while sitting in the back of the police car. I also think this is one of Ben Affleck’s best performances as Nick Dunne, a character we question with every scene and who is ultimately the sympathetic hero. I suppose the scores weren’t higher — although 87s are nothing to shake a stick at — because of the ending? At a minimum, Amy ruined one man’s life with a false rape allegation and ended another’s, and she was never brought to justice. In fact, she was given the gift of a child, something she yearned for from the beginning of the movie. The supporting cast of Tyler Perry, NPH, Carrie Coon, et al., were also excellent. Of course, 100/100 for Cheeto (Bleecker), the cat. I have seen too many movies lately where horrible things happen to cats, and it was nice to see Bleecker make it until the very end.

May (2003)→ (74) I wish someone had just sat me down and put May on in front of me without any knowledge of what it was about. Considered a horror cult-classic, the film is unsettling and cringe-worthy, for the horror, yes, but also for Angela Bettis’ portrayal of the titular character. The doll with whom May speaks, asks for advice, and punishes, is one of the creepiest dolls I’ve ever seen on screen. I also loved the augmenting crackling glass noise that serenades the viewer throughout as if it’s part of the score. This takes us to the doll’s climactic scene of breaking in front of a classroom full of blind children who, spending their lives touching what is in front of them, proceed to crawl through the broken glass, thus creating a nauseating few seconds. Ana Faris as the lesbian seductress, Polly, and Jeremy Sisto (“Oh, that’s the guy from Clueless), as May’s mechanic grease-covered heartthrob, Adam, round out the cast nicely. “I need more parts” was the best line of the film. **Trigger Warning** I could NOT watch the final 5 minutes of this film and kept the blanket in front of my eyes, for eyes were the victim here and it’s just a thing for me. Lastly, 100/100 for Lupe the cat, who was done dirty.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)→ (82) What do you get when you cross a degenerate gambling father with a bipolar son in Delaware County, PA? Oscar nominations, apparently. This was actually my first viewing of Silver Linings Playbook, and while it was definitely an enjoyable and entertaining movie, it didn’t have the staying power I had anticipated from all of the hype. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and Pat’s (Bradley Cooper) meet-cute was hilarious. Is that really the etymology of “OK”? (Wikipedia says: Maybe?) And I loved Chris Tucker’s recurring character, Danny, somehow always finding ways, both practical and legal, to escape the mental health institution. Why isn’t Chris Tucker in more things? He was such a breath of fresh air. This was his first film since Rush Hour 3 (2007) and has only done one movie since?! Of course, it wouldn’t be a Philly movie without a bunch of Eagles fans fighting, however, I did expect them to fight the other team’s fans and not each other — who are they, the Oakland Raiders?? I loved that Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) was there for Pat Sr.’s (Robert De Niro) breakdown, as all he would likely have to do professionally is say: “It’s that.” Kher also delivers one of the best lines, “DeSean Jackson is the man.” Which is a fact. I liked that they explained the concept of a “parlay,” even though I’ve since learned by listening to the podcast, Pardon My Take. The confession of loveologue (a term I coined rating When Harry Met Sally…, check it) was short and sweet.

Dogtooth (2009)→ (88) An original, disturbing film that has a monumental climax and fantastic ending — more on that later. A family of mother, father, older daughter, young daughter, and son — these are how they are addressed, we don’t get names — live in a fenced-off compound somewhere in Greece. The father is a factory manager and the only one who leaves the compound, using his liberty to further brainwash his children. For instance, when the adult children encounter a stray cat, whom the son kills with a pair of garden shears…(so fucking tired of violence to cats in movies, but fine), the father covers himself in fake blood and tells his children that their other brother, the one who somehow lives outside of the compound, had fallen victim to the cat and that cats are the most dangerous creatures on Earth. Angeliki Papoulia as older daughter, becomes the star of the film, as the rebel who grows bored of endurance games (who can hold finger longest under hot water, who can stay awake longest with chloroform to face) and craves for the outside world, even if she has been indoctrinated into believing it will kill her. This, of course, will only occur if she leaves before her dogtooth falls out. Not going to spoil anything here, but taking her destiny into her own hands, Dogtooth has an ending that reminded me of Inception’s final totem.

St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)→ (72) One of the “Brat Pack” movies smack-dab in the middle of the 80s, St. Elmo’s Fire, if anything, has shown how much times of changed for college graduates from 1985 to 2020. All of these recent grads live in spacious, sometimes opulent, apartments with maybe one other roommate in Washington D.C., a city not known for its affordability. Moreover, with the exception of Billy Hicks (Rob Lowe), who neglects every job Alec (Judd Nelson, who plays the polar-opposite of his role in The Breakfast Club) gets him, the whole gang is immediately employed after college and succumb more to their own vices — greed, lust, the usual culprits — instead of crippling student loan debt and unpaid internships. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alec’s job in 1985 was an unpaid internship for a recent grad putting off going to law school in 2020. Sticking with this theme, Alec admonishes Billy for “still acting like life is a frat party after graduating four months ago.” (paraphrasing) and “This is life: college, career, marriage.” They’re 22 for Chrissake! But St. Elmo’s Fire still has plenty to enjoy: Rob Lowe absolutely crushing it on the sax (he looks like he’s aged maybe into his early 30s from then ’til today), the love triangle with Wendy, Billy, and every other girl in D.C., and Jules’ (Demi Moore) arch, which was probably the best overall. It’d been at least 5 years since last viewing this film, but Kirby’s (Emilio Estevez) storyline was creepy and desperate, a theme I’m seeing pop up in these “young people” movies coming out of the 1980s, which I’m sure played as charming, at best, pitiful at worst, back then. Honestly, the best line comes from the lady-of-the-night Naomi (Anna Maria Horsford), whom Kevin (Andrew McCarthey) frequently seeks wisdom, “For fifty bucks, I’ll show you the meaning of life.”

Additions: 2/18/2020

Parasite (2019)→ (97) My highest rated film coming out of 2019, Parasite toes the line between thriller, horror, and suspense while offering social commentary that is just enough in your face to not come off as pedantic. I was going to wait to watch the film, but after realizing how many Academy Awards it was up for, I decided to give it a watch the Saturday night before the Oscars: it was the best cinematic decision I made all year. The Kim family is a sinister bunch who you root for even when you shouldn’t. I could list off each character/actor, but I’ll save time and just say there wasn’t a weak performance among them: each played a role, each nailed the role. Symbolism abounds, as the Kims survive (I choose this word deliberately) in a subterranean lair where they have to contend with neighborhood fumigation, micturating drunkards, and typhoon floodwaters, which eventually turn their lives into a literal world of shit. The Park family, on the other hand, lives in a modern oasis that feels like it was dropped into Seoul from outer space — with plenty of lawn and garage space, I should add. The symbolism is most apparent when the help — old and new — are battling to the death in the mansion’s soundproof basement while the Park family lives in ignorant bliss upstairs. The only part of the movie I wanted more clarification on was how Kim Ki-Jeong (Park So-dam) was able to control Park Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun) from being a tornado of energy. They never really show any techniques or power (abuse) she uses to keep the child in line. You’re reading this after the Oscars, so you don’t need a reason to root for Bong (go watch his acceptance speeches if you haven’t already), but Parasite is a must-watch that could’ve easily kept me engaged for another hour or two.

The Big Chill (1983)→ (71) An incestuous group of college friends reunite 15 years or so later under the worst of circumstances — one of their own had taken his own life — and spend the weekend together in a gorgeous South Carolina mansion. How much they have all stayed in touch isn’t always clear while others never lost touch and married one another. Like many ensemble-cast films, the characters typically represent archetypes or stereotypes of the culture. In this case, these baby boomers have jettisoned their lives as anti-establishment revolutionaries in the late 60s (a decade they still don’t shut up about) into a wide range of very much establishment professions. The gigantic, Southern (possibly one-time plantation) summer home where 90% of the film takes place is a symbol of that turn, probably. In fact, Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah (Glenn Close), the owners of the home, had let Alex (was supposed to be Kevin Costner in flashbacks, but those were cut, so I’ve learned), the only one of the gang who had stuck with their morals by working a sundry assortment of social work jobs, stay in the house and was the location where the suicide took place. Jeff Goldblum as Michael has many excellent Jeff Goldblumisms. Nick (William Hurt) had the best overall performance as the sardonic, once radio host and forever Vietnam War veteran. To sum up Nick’s sense of humor in one line, when Meg (Mary Kay Place) said she had yelled at Alex the final time they spoke, Nick responded: “That’s probably why he killed himself.” While we know that Nick is obviously troubled by his time in the war, we get no details about his motives, until Harold insinuates that he signed up “for a new experience”. This bugged the crap outta me, as these were supposed to be late-60s college students who were vehemently anti-war. To say one of them signed up for this boondoggle for a “new experience” just didn’t feel realistic. And that ending. W…T…F?? While Meg considers, to varying degrees, each male as a potential father to her unborn child like early 80s Bumble, she eventually sleeps with (the very happily married) Harold because Harold’s wife, Sarah, feels for Meg’s aging uterus and sees that her friend and husband have a good connection — they did smash in college after all. The lack of foresight amongst this group of otherwise very practical, highly educated and successful, trio was shocking and knocked the score from, like, a (78) to a (71). But if you can just forget that last part, it’s a much more enjoyable film with a great soundtrack.

Light of My Life (2019)→ (79) A life that has become any father’s worst nightmare, Casey Affleck, referred to as a universal “Dad,” must hide his daughter, one of the few remaining females on Earth, from a world of men. Feeling like a combination of Children of Men and The Road, the film is for the patient viewer who is in it for psychological horror more than shootouts and roving cannibals. However, there is a brutal, teeth-gritting fight scene that kept me on the edge of my seat. The opening long-take of a remixed Bible story grew on me as time passed, and I enjoyed how it returned later in the movie. So many instances where Dad couldn’t tell Rag (Anna Pniowsky) why she had to dress like a boy, act like a boy, use a boy’s name, etc. even though she deduced the reason as she became more self-educated on the female body. Light of My Life wrapped up nicely, offering a full shot of Rag’s face in the sunlight (it felt like we never really got to fully see her face) consoling her father as she looked out into a brighter future. Watch this one for long, tense scenes, solid acting all around, and to learn a thing or two about survival — especially how to turn an ordinary house into an escape-route labyrinth.

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)→(78) As a lawyer-movie connoisseur, I was surprised with myself for letting this one slip through the cracks. Although choppy at times, The Lincoln Lawyer has a solid cast — McConaughey, Tomei, Ryan Philippe (Cruel Intentions), Leguizamo, Cranston, William H. Macy — and enough oh shit! twists to keep me engaged. Moreover, the concept of attorney-client privilege played the main role in this one that put McConaughey in, what I can only imagine, as the absolute worst position an attorney could ever be when doing his job. The film also showcases excellent courtroom maneuvering to absolve a man spending life in prison. I didn’t like how Roulet (Philippe) just showed up, broad daylight, in his well-known Maserati, directly in front of the Haller’s (McConaughey) ex-wife’s (Tomei) house to kill/threaten her and their daughter… Nevertheless, definitely worth the watch and enjoyable throughout.

Frances Ha (2013)→ (87) A “mumblecore” film (a genre I discovered while writing this rating) I was afraid Frances Ha would simply be a black and white version of Girls. Fortunately, the film is subdued and delightful, creating a character that you want to root for. Frances (Greta Gerwig) is the struggling Brooklynite (a transplant from California) who refuses to give up her dream of living a life as a dancer. There’s a cadence to how the characters speak to each other, which drives the plot through dialogue and social interaction instead of dramatic happenings. We also get Adam Driver as Lev Shapiro, even though he makes an earlyish exit, he was a more subdued — using the word again, he’s not as Brooklyn as he is in Girls — a version that I could’ve used more of. Getting back to Frances, she never seems defeated even though we feel pity for her. This is most apparent when, after returning from an impromptu (and credit destroying) weekend trip to Paris to meet an old friend, she receives a voicemail from the truant in the can ride home and still cracks an oh well? smile. I didn’t like Sophie (Mickey Sumner) as much as I think we were supposed to. She is needy of Frances, only to leave her behind when greener pastures are on the horizon. She also plays with Frances’ emotions during her totally coincidental visit to their alma mater, which they don’t state explicitly, but pretty sure is Vassar. She also lost points with me when she said she hates Tokyo. My favorite lines were “I know, I watch documentaries.” And “I’m so embarrassed, I’m not a real person yet.” The latter being Frances only having a debit card in a restaurant that only takes cash or credit; not sure how realistic this is, but know that Brooklyn is weird so wouldn’t put it past them. I also loved the final message: Get a day job to support your art. Starving artists don’t have much energy. Lastly, I couldn’t help but smile during the final scene: Proud of you, Frances.

Additions: 2/4/2020

Schindler’s List (1993)→ (93) Where to begin with Spielberg’s gut-wrenching masterpiece? I’d like to see it remastered in color, but then again, I don’t think it would hit the same — especially the “Girl in Red” symbolism. About that girl, of course, I was expecting to see her again, but as a sign of triumph, of hope, not stuffed into a wheelbarrow en route to an unmarked, mass grave. Schindler’s List is a film I wanted to stop watching, but for the right reasons. The young girl screaming “Goodbye Jews!” as the Jewish inhabitants of Kraków are removed from their homes and funneled into the ghetto, the Nazi playing piano while his fellow soldiers rounded up the children, the unloading of the suitcases and the piles of watches, eyeglass, shoes, religious effects, and Amon Göth’s (Ralph Fiennes) breathtaking return to evilness (a hiatus that lasted all of about 30 seconds) were the scenes that stuck with me the most. “I realize you’re not a person in the strictest sense of the word.” — Göth, might be the greatest pick-up line I’ve ever heard. When the children were being bused away from their parents — sporting smiles and enthusiastic waves — made my heart beat out of my chest. I could go on, but it’s a film about the horrors of the holocaust, which should probably be mandatory viewing throughout America’s high schools (from what I’m reading in the news…) so you can imagine what to expect. Children hiding in latrines, a city covered in ash from burnt bodies, seriously, I have to stop. But the ending, thank God, does give us that hope to keep us from jumping into a well: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”

The Strangers (2008)→ (48) When I first added this to my watch list, I thought there must be a mistake with Rotten Tomatoes, for as I write this, The Strangers sports a 48/48, and I had just heard such positive things about it. Well, RT nailed it, a (48) is perfect for this movie. It’s mechanical and bland with meh to sub-meh acting. Couldn’t keep track of how many times one of the killers was on Kristen’s (Liv Tyler) or James’s (Scott Speedman) heels only to vanish the very next moment, not to be seen again for another 15 minutes. Okay, Glenn Howerton/Dennis Reynolds does make an appearance, which was lovely, but gets shot in the head and is a non-factor thereafter. The “Because you were home” line is terrifying and preys on our fears of falling victim to random violence (even if we’re much more likely to be murdered by a family member or friend), but was a strong moment in an otherwise weak film. I wouldn’t put it in the pretentious trash category of Funny Games, but it’s still not worth the watch. Find a better slasher and skip this one.

The Big Sick (2017)→ (89) Of course, this rating is based on my most recent viewing, but I first watched The Big Sick back in 2017 or 2018, and basically knew Kumail Nanjiani from his tiny — but hilarious — role in The Kings of Summer — no, I’ve never seen Silicon Valley. So, I wasn’t sure what to expect with him as the protag in a romantic comedy, but as you can tell from the score, he doesn’t disappoint. More than that, actually, he’s charming and witty, keeping me on my toes in every scene. I loved the recurring family dinner table scenes, which portray a dynamic I found hilarious and also horrific — I couldn’t imagine coming from a culture with parents like that. His mom’s actions — or lack thereof, at the end, were a gut-punch on the first viewing and hit the same on this one. Holly Hunter is one of my favorite actresses, and I loved her relationship with Ray Romano and how they even had a subplot for the two. Romano steals a few scenes and has some of the best lines, mainly revolving around sandwiches, Chicago water (and its underratedness compared to NYC), and 9/11. Kumail delivers the amazing 9/11 line, but Romano posts the set-up. A few more things I enjoyed: “Pakistan’s next top model,” the X-files ringtone, and Bo Burnham. I could’ve used more Bo Burnham. A happy ending is usually a must for a rom-com, and I’m glad that’s what we got.

At Eternity’s Gate (2018)→ (68) I was always bothered by the concept of artists’ work selling after their deaths (watch my novels get real popular in 50 years) and At Eternity’s Gate knocks you over the head with it as customers buy Van Gogh’s (Willem Defoe) work as it leans against his casket. Not to rush to the end, but it was the best part of the film. Unfortunately, it was a little slow and while I loved some of the themes summed up in the quote “life is for sowing, the harvest is not here,” I can only recommend this film for the art lover. Even Oscar Isaac (one of my favorite actors) playing Paul Gauguin (one of my favorite artists) couldn’t push it into the (70)s. It does try and clear up that whole ear cutting fiasco, which was fun.

All About Eve (1950)→(93) The eternal story of stopping time is portrayed spectacularly in this Golden Age of Hollywood film. The aging Broadway star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), is an absolute force on the screen. Her self-consciousness, over time, morphs into paranoia as Eve Harrington’s (Ann Baxter) wholesomeness starts to grab the attention of Margo’s younger boyfriend, Bill (Gary Merrill) and dear friends, Karen (Celeste Holm) and Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe). But is Margo’s paranoia unfounded? I don’t want to spoil that, even though this film has existed for 70 years… All About Eve features the famous line, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” A few of my other favorites are “Barroom Benzedrine megalomaniac.” And “All playwrights should be dead for 300 years!” The full-circle ending is satisfying and the final shot is beautiful. If you like exceptional acted, black and white, smoke-filled, martini-drenched, wit-slinging, Bette Davis-eyed, movies, this one is not to be missed.

Shazam! (2019)→ (76) A mix of camp and strangeness, Shazam! Had its moments tied together with a feel-good ending. I really did not enjoy the beginning of this movie. I understand it (likely) is being faithful to the source material, but the super-hero orphan (with a first and last name that begins with the same letter) and Seven Deadly Sins tropes have been done to death. A villain can make or break a movie — or it can just be average — and that’s what we have here, a very average, mild villain in Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). I would’ve rather just had him be Frank D’Amico again from Kick-Ass. Also, I didn’t really understand how Billy Batson (Asher Angel) became Shazam. He didn’t seem to get tested as Sivana had. Was he just next up in line? The scene with Billy’s mom is ice-cold. Blowing up William Penn must be the Philly equivalent of destroying the Statue of Liberty or Big Ben. I enjoyed the family hero-turn and the very Philly Santa (somehow, not getting pelted with snowballs). Oh! And jacked Adam Brody, so there’s that.

Additions: 1/22/2020

Midsommar (2019)→ (95) Ari Aster’s only feature films are this and Hereditary? I will be watching everything this guy makes from now on. Midsommar had me shaken (shook, if you will), not just from the horror elements, but from the cinematography, plot, and acting. An obvious note is the color palette of the film, a “daylight horror” set during a pagan-like festival in bucolic Sweden, juxtaposed the extreme violence that unfolds little by little. The “upside-down car” scene, the “shaking plane,” the “bathroom-to-bathroom,” the “scanning tapestry” (which sets up much that follows), and the hallucinations were all so well-done I caught myself smiling. It portrayed tripping on mushrooms more realistically than I’ve ever seen in a film. It features a comically large mallet, and let’s just say Aster followed the Chekov’s Gun rule and made sure to use the thing… over… and over… and over. Florence Pugh’s lead as Dani and her ultimate devolution was hauntingly beautiful, especially in full flower-dress armor. There came a point where I just wanted them to kill Christian (Jack Reynor) already, but the cultists make the wait worth it. My only couple of issues are with how simple it appeared for Dani to become the May Queen, especially after seeing how ridiculously much power she is afforded, and the entire subplot with her parents and sister. I had assumed that their deaths would be tied into the larger plot and not just a reason for Christian to pity Dani and invite on their guy’s trip to Europe. Nevertheless, Midsommar instantly became one of my favorite movies and needs to be viewed by horror fans and cinephiles alike. Also, I’ll be doing the “Midsommar breath” after every shot from here on out.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)→ (70) Falling under the “TV cart” movie category for me, I hadn’t viewed Fried Green Tomatoes in over a decade. I’ll watch anything with Kathy Bates (I even gave that marijuana showed on Netflix a shot) and while she is lovely as the frustrated southern housewife, the star of the film is Mary Stuart Masterson as flashback Imogene “Idgie” Threadgoode. Idgie’s relationship with Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker), which was criticized for being too lesbian and not lesbian enough, blossoms from contempt into love. I actually really enjoyed how the relationship was ambiguous and subtle — where their love manifests in the form of a food fight in the café’s kitchen. I consider myself an aficionado, a connoisseur, if you will, of terrible courtroom scenes and this one is up there — add to it the setting of a southern, small-town, and it becomes finger-lickin’ good. The second(!)(emphasis mine) train accident felt kind of stupid and unnecessary. It’s a feel-gooder that avoids sappiness and is worth the watch.

Little Pink House (2017)→ (78) Eminent domain is one of the most fascinating parts of the Constitution, and Little Pink House showcases the abuse of government power at its worst. The ultimate Supreme Court decision has gone down in history as one of the most controversial, and, refreshingly, bipartisan — somehow the five “liberal” Justices of the 2005 Court sided with the government to permit the demolition and forcible removal of lower-middle-class citizens to make way for a pharmaceutical company… Yes, you read that right. I was happy to find that the organization I work for — South Jersey Legal Services — had filed an amicus brief on behalf of Ms. Kelo (Catherine Keener). If you’re still interested in the legal issues, check out this Youtube vid. (ADD Mr. Beat clip). The film itself does a nice job of addressing the human aspect of the case(s) and the frustrations of the Fort Trumbull community continuously being threatened to sell their homes. While there were some not so subtle “these are the bad guys” moments — “Pfizer is in the pharmaceutical business, not the savior business” was eye-rollingly bad — the film presents the “dark side” of social justice. With a short run-time, Little Pink House is enjoyable and educational. Thanks to Ms. Kelo, almost every state changed its eminent domain laws to make it more difficult for the government to take private property. For that alone, her story deserves to be heard.

The Big Easy (1986)→ (51) The first thing you notice about this film is Dennis Quaid’s accent. I can’t tell if it was a spot-on Cajun or if it was dreadful. Nevertheless, the whole character felt like a misfire, as you rarely hear Cajun accents in New Orleans, a city that has its own unique accent. Should’ve just set the film in Lafayette if you wanted so many characters to be Cajun. The nice thing about movies that take place in NOLA is that they’re always filmed there, and I’ll always give them a shot. The plot was bland and ill-structured — would’ve made more sense to have Remy (Quaid) and Ann (Ellen Barkin) begin to fall in love, but not go out or have sex until after the trial in which she was prosecuting him for corruption. She even noted the conflict of interest in her pros/cons list for pursuing a relationship with him! Some pretty corny action scenes (although I did enjoy the very 80s “jumpsplosion” (just coined that)) and not much else to offer. Maybe come for Quaid’s shredded abs and a small John Goodman role, which is expected in anything that takes place in New Orleans. Although, Goodman’s “Next stop, Fiji!” line as he was absconding with the money was particularly atrocious. Feel free to skip this one.

The Savages (2007)→ (71) Somber with splashes of laugh-out-loud moments, The Savages is a solid film about taking care of someone who probably doesn’t deserve it. “Sun City” looks like it was dropped out of a brochure (think Edward Scissorhands), but we don’t stay there long and instead shift to blistery Buffalo. The subtlety of the “cookie” scene at the support group was the best moment. The “blackface” scene was cringe-worthy but funny. I had thought it would be a more split story between Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wendy (Laura Linney), but the focus remains on Wendy as the main protag. Wish more PSH. Could always go for more PSH. Of course, 100/100 for Genghis.

The Kings of Summer (2013)→ (88) One of those films that sneaks up on you, The Kings of Summer was just as much a delight on this latest viewing as when I first saw it a few years ago. I think it’s fair to say most boys concoct some sort of plan — no matter how calculated — to build some sort of refuge with their friends free of parents, homework, and whatever other responsibilities they may have. For Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and Biaggio (Moises Arias), that plan came to fruition in the dense Ohio woods. What, and how quickly, they constructed their bucolic getaway is unrealistic, but it doesn’t matter — the reveal of their labor is shown beautifully in a blue-tinted scene as if they had found El Dorado in the Amazon. With their newly manufactured freedom, the trio engages in slicing random objects with machetes, smoking cigars, playing cards, swimming in the river, and punching each other in the arms — you know, guy shit. There are also many laugh-out-loud scenes, and interaction between Joe’s father, Frank (Nick Offerman) and Gary (Kumail Nanjiani) is comedic gold — I have Youtube’d this scene alone many times. Patrick’s parents (Megan Mullally & Marc Evan Jackson) have great chemistry and are just annoying and overbearing enough to feel sympathy for Patrick, whom, keep in mind, is approximately fifteen. Biaggio is kind of annoying at first, but by the end of the film, he becomes one of my favorite characters. The scene between him (speaking in Spanish) and his father (speaking in English) is also fantastic. The recurrent topics of monopoly and snakes also lend to foreshadowing and a great pay-off. The most gorgeous scene of the film is when Joe, hungry and desperate, slays a rabbit with a fuck-off, William Wallace sword. The Kings of Summer is a film with staying power and one of the more underrated movies of the 2010s.

Additions: 1/14/2020

Sicario (2015)→ (88) Non-stop tension — I needed a massage after the tunnel scene — and a menacing score, Sicario is a must-watch thriller. Unlike so many action movies that involve ridiculous car chases, world-ending explosions, and other manufactured badassery, this film centers on the very real, very horrifying threat in the Mexican cartels. The corpses hanging in Juarez were disturbing — even more so when you see civilians playing soccer underneath the decapitated bodies, showing this is nothing out of the ordinary. Emily Blount’s character became less tolerable as the film proceeded, as she seemed to make stupid decision after stupid decision. I can appreciate her sticking to her morals/values, but there came a point when I didn’t think any person, after seeing what she had seen, after knowing what she had discovered, would continue to stick to those same values. Perhaps she’s a better person than I am, in that regard. Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) performed in his best role since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And God was that dinner-table scene good. Not sure why it took me so long to watch this, but I’ve already added Sicario: Day of the Soldado to my list.

Green Book (2018)→ (82) The 2018 Oscar winner for “Best Picture” was far from special, but was an enjoyable story with excellent acting. Dr. Shirley (Mahershala Ali) probably has the coolest bachelor pad ever — filled with items from faraway lands, on top of Carnegie Hall. The concept of the “Green Book,” which was new to me, is fascinating. Viggo Mortensen as Tony “Lip” seemed a little too stereotypical of an Italian-American at first (think the first season of The Sopranos), but I thought he transitioned more smoothly as the film went on and really appreciated his performance by the end. That gigantic house that’s supposed to be in Pittsburgh or Ohio somewhere (can’t remember) is actually in New Orleans — went to law school with the girl who lives there. I liked that they didn’t make the North/South divide a good/bad divide, as the first racist encounter was in Indiana — albeit, not directed to Dr. Shirley himself. One moment I found unrealistic was Dr. Shirley’s arrest at the YMCA in Georgia. If this was factually true, so be it, but I found it unbelievable that a man of Dr. Shirley’s intelligence would do something as foolish as engage in public, homosexual sex, in the Deep South at this time.

Ordet (1955)→ (76) Considered a masterpiece in its time and today, Ordet merits a watch for the patient, appreciative cinephile. Films adapted from the stage always have some obstacles to manage, but Ordet seamlessly flows onto the screen with a handful of gorgeous shots (in black and white, mind you, which adds to the beauty for this viewer). This didn’t surprise me, as Carl Theodor Dryer also directed The Passion of Joan of Arc, which revolutionized the “close-up,” creating arguably the most purely emotional moment I’ve ever seen in a movie. Seriously, watch it for yourself here. Patriarch of the Borgen family, Morten (Henrik Malberg), struggles with each of his three children for very different reasons, all centered around his Christian faith: Anders (Cay Kristiansen), who has fallen for the daughter of the leader of a conservative, rival sect, Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen), who has no faith, and Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye), who believes he is Jesus Christ. Morten also smokes from a pipe that puts Hans Landa’s to shame. Rye gives the most notable performance of the film, speaking in Biblical passages in an absolutely haunting tone, and is involved in many of the best shots. Why Ordet isn’t rated higher is because the first hour is a slog. However, the pay-off in the final hour — and an ending scene that had me on the edge of my seat — more than makes up for it.

Magnolia (1999)→ (69) Is as entertaining as it is confusing, Magnolia teases throughout that there is more substance than actually exists. The opening narration is wonderful and really pulls you in, but by the midway point, I was afraid I was watching nothing more than a somewhat more cohesive Babel. Some of the vignettes are more entertaining than others — I understood how they were related, no matter how tenuous — but they pay-off, if there was one, didn’t do enough for me. What saved this movie was the phenomenal acting from (basically Paul Thomas Anderson’s usual group) PSH, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall, and, perhaps my favorite performance, Melora Walters. I hated the singing sequence and loved the frogs falling from the sky, which sent me to the internet to see if this has ever happened — somehow, it has.

Logan Lucky (2017)→ (79) A love story to West Virginia, Logan Lucky has hints of Ocean’s Eleven (also directed by Soderbergh, also referenced in the film) and The Town. Performances throughout were solid, but I especially enjoyed Tatum’s transformation — his incredible looks were not part of the story whatsoever — Adam Driver (as Clyde Logan), and Farrah Mackenzie (as Sadie Logan). “You sucked my arm off” was a hilarious line. The single funniest scene, however, was the exchange between the inmates and the warden concerning the A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) novels. Every heist movie needs a quick-cut, probably voice-over, near end of film montage explaining how they “did it,” and Logan Lucky’s doesn’t disappoint. The British driver (Seth MacFarlane) seemed like an unnecessary character that was given undue importance — along with his whole side story with some driver (Sebastian Stan) concerning their energy drink-like beverage. Lastly, the ending to any film is and should be given great weight, and this is where Logan Lucky screws up. It seemed like they got to the end of the movie and didn’t know what to do with the FBI subplot, so they gave us… a cliffhanger? A hint at a sequel? I don’t even know what to call it, but it stunk and pulled the score down on an otherwise entertaining movie.

Additions: 1/4/2020

Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)→ (83) The “final” installment of the Skywalker Saga is well-worth the watch, so long as expectations are managed. Unfortunately, the Rise of Skywalker suffers from being attached to a weak link in The Last Jedi — a movie I recently re-watched and enjoyed much more than on my first viewing, but still hurts the overall plot of the final installments to the ennead. An example would be even hinting at Palpatine’s ascendance earlier in the series than merely standing alone in the final episode. The long-run time doesn’t flow as smoothly as expected and was choppy throughout. Some quality dialogue (and funny) and others were cringe-worthy — I know difficult with Carrie Fisher passing away, so not taking off for that. Finn and Rose (who apparently is still alive and well?) are not still a thing? And Finn gets potentially his third love interest in three movies? Finn’s arc was always my least favorite and hurt the most from The Last Jedi. I know I’m going to sound like a hypocrite here because I had asked for more light-saber battles in the earlier movies, but… did we get too much light-sabering here? I thought Rey’s arc was the most complete and entertaining, even if the writers botched her final line (which, I understand, would require changing the title). I hated what they did with Chewie — either kill-off a beloved character or let him escape, but don’t do both, it’s offensive to the audience. And although a tear came to my eye when the full resistance fleet appeared I couldn’t help but wonder: Where were these motherfuckers during the past two movies?! All that being said, The Rise of Skywalker was an enjoyable experience — it’s a space adventure, after all — and definitely worth seeing in theaters. I think it fits nicely enough as the center pillar between The Force Awakens (90) and The Last Jedi (78).

Elf (2003)→ (97) It’s probably the best Christmas movie ever. Elf checks all the requisite boxes of a Christmas movie while creating an original plot: NYC during Christmas time? Check. The corporate archetype uninterested in Christmas joy and cheer? Check. The belief in Santa and other Christmas traditions (caroling, nice/naughty list, reindeer) literally powering Santa’s sleigh? Check. Infinitely quotable, it’s still laugh-out-loud funny and I will argue Will Ferrell, as Buddy the Elf, is at his best (and amazingly, only one year removed from Old School, talk about range!). Just a few of the gems I quote sixteen years later: “I like to whisper too.” “Oh what’s a Christmas gram? I want one.” “Smiling’s my favorite.” “6 Inches!” “Francisco, that’s fun to say.” “The yellow ones don’t stop.” Buddy is pure goodness and just a delight to watch from start to finish. Loved the Peter Billingsley as Ming Ming (who plays “Ralphie” in A Christmas Story) cameo and Artie Lange as Fraudulent Santa. Every other character played an important role and there is little, if anything, I would want changed.

Marriage Story (2019)→ (90) First, kill all the lawyers. Next, I’ll discuss Marriage Story, a film that gripped me from start to finish with incredible acting and camerawork, which made the 136 minute run time fly-by. Nicole’s (Scarlett Johansson) monologue in her lawyer’s (Laura Dern) office was beautiful acting, only beaten out by the couple’s argument in Charlie’s (Adam Driver) apartment. I love that Charlie went back to his first attorney, Jay (Ray Liotta), when he decided to neglect Bert’s (Alan Alda’s) advice to his detriment. The courtroom scene showcases the hyper-combative nature of Family Court that too many experience in their lifetime. Lastly, the court-appointed evaluator (Martha Kelly) is electric (probably not the best adjective) with her awkwardness. Marriage Story is a film that doesn’t offer anything new in terms of plot, but is so well-acted and engaging that anything less than a (90) wouldn’t do it justice.

The Irishman (2019)→ (90) Despite a lengthy run-time (209 minutes), The Irishman keeps you engaged throughout and offers the viewer a clinic on storytelling and acting. The cast is a gangster-movie buff’s wet dream: De Niro, Pesci, Pacino, Keitel. The “Schuylkill River” shot and the “Gun Selection Reasoning” scene were two of my favorites. While I haven’t fact-checked the film, I loved how it weaved seminal moments in America’s history into the Mob storyline, whether or not it was based on fact or alternate history. I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending, but am thinking it might be the best option — no remorse, no forgiveness. Also, “I’ve heard you paint houses” might be the coolest way to talk about killing people. And on that note, did everyone get their houses painted in 1980 or what?

Sex Drive (2008)→ (76) A tried and true trope of a teenager attempting to jettison his virginity. Sex Drive surprised me the first time I saw it circa 2010, and was very enjoyable this time around. A few excellent one-liners: “I’ll hold my breath” (still use this to this day). “Post it on” “I might just be the coolest guy you know.” “Rumspringa!” It’s hard not to love that late-2000s, rudimentary, myspace-ish, old-Youtube, Google-maps, internet and tech — as I was in HS at this exact same time, I remember this age well. Dildo on the donut suit is pretty funny. Seth Green as an Amish mechanic and sardonic sense of humor was probably the best overall character. Yeah, there are a few stupid moments, especially at the end, but overall, it’s a fun movie with a good enough plot and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to warrant the (76).

Additions: 12/20/2019

Stars Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) → (78) (Re-watch/Re-rate 12/20/2019) (78) While I definitely enjoyed The Last Jedi more on my second viewing, a handful of truly awful moments overshadowed the rest of a beautiful, cohesive plot. Hated when Leia (Carrie Fisher) floated through the atmosphere just as much as the first time, the telepathy shtick seemed to come out of nowhere, and the lack of urgency between Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Finn (John Boyega) DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ENEMY LINES was painful. A head-scratching moment was how Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) and Leia spoke affectionately of Poe (Oscar Isaac) who, only moments earlier, committed an ultimately unsuccessful mutiny onboard the ship. Lastly, it would’ve made way more sense for Kylo to order the 100,000 laser barrage on Luke Skywalker AFTER engaging him in hand-to-hand combat. However, I still raised my ranking a solid 13 points because I appreciated the storyline as whole much more than on my first viewing, the visual beauty throughout — the lightspeed suicide, the showdown on Crait — and the handful of final scenes, which I think helped build anticipation for The Rise of Skywalker.(Ranking from original post: 2/24/2019) → (65) During blockbusters, I count my number of eye-rolls — this one might have set a record. Barely survived getting turned off (viewed at home) during Leia’s Mary Poppins impression. Some beautiful scenes, but too much head scratching and fist wrangling.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) → (90) Re-watch/Re-rate) First re-watch since my (bare-bones) original post in February to pregame Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and I must say, I enjoyed it even more than the first viewing. I thought Episode VII was a good blend of nostalgia-blasts and character development for the many new faces added to the franchise. We got more insight into the First Order, or the Neo-Empire, with Finn’s defection, and how the Resistance (the Neo-Rebels) has managed to stay cohesive, fully expecting the dark-side to rise once again. Of course, I wanted more light-saber battles, but I admittedly have an insatiable thirst for light-saber battles, so no points lost there. My biggest gripe this viewing was Rey’s constant questioning if they Jedi, and Luke Skywalker, were ever real. It didn’t make sense considering Kylo Ren trained to be a Jedi with Skywalker, a man who pretty much everyone assumes is alive, but hidden. I understand despotic regimes rewrite the past (I’ve read “1984”), but the Republic was very much in power during most of Rey’s life, not the First Order, and the Star Wars Universe extends for galaxies, therefore making it unrealistic such a well-known figure would merely be wiped from history within one/two generations. Nevertheless, The Force Awakens is a fantastic start to the final trilogy of a beloved franchise. (Ranking from original post: 2/24/2019) (88) The first new installment I watched since the infamous prequels (I’ll get back to you guys for a rating eventually…eventually). Pleasantly surprised. If only it lasted…

The Limey (1999) → (75) Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey is a film student’s film, and I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing. It is most notable for the way the film is cut, which creates a non-linear, unreliable (and sometimes unnecessarily disorienting) plotline. Sometimes this technique works very well, like when Wilson (Terence Stamp) is envisioning murdering Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda), while other times it’s confusing, for example, when Wilson is retelling the relationship with his daughter to Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren). The final showdown was entertaining and I especially enjoyed how the ending brought things full circle, which pushed my score into the mid-70s instead of the high-60s.

Sixteen Candles (1984)→ (69) There is a certain charm that comes with a John Hughes, mid-80s teen-comedy, but most of it was lost on me during this most recent viewing. A caricature of suburbia, Sixteen Candles had more air-sucking moments than laughs — it also didn’t feature Ringwald nearly as much as I had remembered. While I thought it started out great — even if I found Samantha (Molly Ringwald) talking openly to herself annoying — the film descended into something unsettling. “Farmer Ted” (Anthony Michael Hall) had his moments of charm and wit, but they were overshadowed by how creepy he was to Samantha and the film’s women. Unlike, say, a National Lampoon’s movie, where the eccentricities are tongue-in-cheek and wanton, the ridiculous characters of Sixteen Candles are supposed to be taken more seriously, even though they don’t deserve it. Jake (Michael Shoeffling), who had the startling line “[Caroline is in] the bedroom right now, passed out cold. I could violate her ten different ways if I wanted to,” also portrays the heartthrob who gives Samantha her titular sixteen candles and long-awaited kiss. I don’t think this is a case of a morally grey character, I just think the times were different — to a 2019 viewer’s detriment — and permitting a horny freshman to rape your girlfriend wasn’t all that bad in the 80s… somehow.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) →(90) A tender film that is difficult to watch at times, but for the right reasons. Leo as Arnie, the autistic boy on the cusp of his eighteenth birthday, gives such a stunning performance I remember not realizing it was him when I had first viewed the film back in high school. The rest of the Grape Family, headlined by Depp as the sensible patriarch, Gilbert, provides the viewer with a wonderful cast of characters — not to mention John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Juliette Lewis, and Mary Steenburgen in great supporting roles. But besides perhaps Arnie, the most recognizable character of the film is the morbidly obese Bonnie Grape (Darlene Cates), whose weight is often the topic of the small town’s legend and lore. It is Bonnie’s weight that leads us to the powerful ending, bringing so much of the plot full-circle. I’ve focused mainly on the characters because there really isn’t all that much of a plot here, which I actually love — the characters’ day-to-day lives drive the story through to the end, literally leaving us right where we started.

Additions: 12/8/2019

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)→ (95) The seminal film of the Sci-Fi genre. One of the best openings in cinematic history, which has been parodied to death (except for the “Overture,” which is far too long and super annoying). The Dawn of Man to 2001 A.D. is the greatest time lapse ever put on screen — I know there are a lot of bests, greatests, etc. here, but 2001: A Space Odyssey merits the praise. From the color patterns, the juice-box dinners, the walking upside-down, the long list of instructions for the zero-gravity toilet, et al. all help shape this movie into a must-watch for anyone, not just Sci-Fi aficionados. I love horror movies, but space movies scare me the most (I refuse to watch Gravity) and this one has some scenes that made my skin crawl. It’s also a film about the ascension of mankind as the dominant power on Earth and our obligation to the artificial intelligence we create. HAL’s devolution is absolutely gut wrenching: “I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it.” The ending always confused me, and although I likely hadn’t viewed this film in 15 years, I still didn’t understand it on this viewing either and was forced to consult Youtube. Nevertheless, it is almost unbelievable 2001: A Space Odyssey came out over 50 years ago. It’s simply timeless.

When Harry Met Sally… (1989)→ (87) The great chemistry movie? Probably. Billy Crystal is the King of Banter. The Katz’s Deli scene was still a delight even though I knew it was coming. Also, really appreciated Carrie Fischer’s rolodex of men and “You’ve made a woman meow?” was probably my single favorite line. Something about Meg Ryan that made me want to add a bunch of her other movies to my list — can’t remember the last time I watched Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail. The ending also has a great declaration of loveologue (just coined that). There’s just something about a romantic comedy set in New York City that warms my dirty black heart.

Soylent Green (1973)→ (80) Prescient with its themes and message, Soylent Green is a horrifying peak at the not-so-distant future. In NYC 2022, people literally sleep on top of one another in hallways, stairways, and in churches. Meat and vegetables are a luxury for the exceptionally rich while everyone else eats what I can only describe as colorful, plastic square chips provided by Soylent Industries. The film is well-acted, but some of the fight scenes are very 70s — think elongated, kablow! punches. The “scooping of the masses” scene is a classic (and looks incredibly dangerous for the actors). Unlike in Planet of the Apes, where Charlton Heston ends the film with the most over-acted line I’ve ever seen, here it’s perfect and I caught myself randomly yelling “Soylent Green is people!” on my commute to work.

Capernaum (2018)→ (95) “A child sues his parents for the life they’ve given him.” I’m already hooked. Capernaum shocked me with its plot, camerawork, and quality of the acting. I like to know ASAP where a movie takes place, so I had to google it to find out it’s Beirut, but Capernaum could’ve been shot in the slums of many Levantine, North African, or Middle Eastern cities. Unlike most movies that proudly display the landmarks of the city or country therein, we do not get any shots of ancient ruins or the modern skyline, gorgeous churches or mosques, (Beirut is considered the “Paris of the Middle East” after all). Instead we get the slums, jails, and the courtroom. Much of the camerawork were close ups and “shaky cam” that gave much of the movie a claustrophobic feel to it. Can we talk about Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), the litigious 12 year old who stole the show — not sure if accurate because he was the protagonist, but my point is that he was phenomenal. He might be the best child actor I’ve ever seen, I’m not exaggerating here. And I mean “actor” as in he appeared in a movie, because Zain Al Rafeea apparently has had 0 training and comes from a Syrian refugee family. Unlike most child actors, who seem to need an adult counterpart to carry the plot, Zain must’ve been in 95% of the scenes, oftentimes on his own. In a film that is so ugly in so many ways, the beauty comes from the characters themselves — the smile of a child, the tears streaming down the cheeks of a mother reunited with her infant son. You have to see this one. Turn on the subtitles. This was nicest surprise I’ve had in a while when picking a movie.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)→ (77) I don’t think this movie deserves the praise nor scorn it has received, and therefore believe my score is fair at a solid (77) — as I write this, it has an (61/85) on RT, so I’ve fallen a little closer to the audience than the critics. Rami Malek as the lightning-in-a-bottle talent of Freddie Mercury was much better than I had expected (even though he won the Oscar for his portrayal) and he largely carried this movie from start to finish. I suppose my expectations were low considering Bohemian Rhapsody also won Best Film Editing, an award that was famously eviscerated on the internet immediately thereafter. And let me tell you, the “pitch” scene that made its rounds on social media is as bad as it came off during the wave of criticism and almost gave me motion sickness. Moreover, why on Earth would Queen need to pitch themselves to Little Finger (Aidan Gillen)? It takes about 6 seconds to know that Mercury was a generational, if not centurational (?), talent. Sometimes the pacing was strange and the band didn’t seem to have the issues typically associated with rock bands. Maybe this was accurate, which is fine, but sometimes they almost seemed to finish each other’s sentences and it came off as corny. Lucy Boynton as Mary deserved an Oscar for having the world’s worst on-screen gaydar. The LiveAid ending was a lovely touch, even if it didn’t have the personal significance to Freddie in real life as it had in the film. Basically, this is a fun movie that had taken — like usual — plenty of liberties with historical accuracy to make an overall enjoyable film. Oh, and there were numerous cats that occupied Freddie’s home throughout and they all receive 100/100s, 10 gold stars, of course.

Additions: 11/23/2019

The Deer Hunter (1978) → (92) A classic war movie without any real battle scenes, The Deer Hunter is absolutely a must-watch. It portrays the trauma of war from various angles. With a run-time of over 180 minutes, scenes from before Vietnam could definitely have been cut/shortened and the film still would have been able to showcase the friends’ relationship from Western Pennsylvania to Southeast Asia. The iconic Russian roulette scene is the most sphincter clenching one I’ve watched since the “why you flanking me?” scene in Wind River and is the scene where Mike (De Niro) and Nick (Walken) take two very different paths after their time in the war. And don’t worry, there are plenty more roulette scenes than the one known by most. I thoroughly enjoyed the hunting scenes set to the opera mountain backdrop. What this movie also does is shows how far we’ve come concerning the stigma of vets spending time in clinics or institutions to recover from their experiences. I found it strange that Mike’s friends and Stevie’s wife couldn’t even tell him where Stevie (John Savage) was located — which was an institution-type place where he was recovering from the psychological trauma of his time in Vietnam and the surgery that removed his legs. I also didn’t understand why Mikey had to “pay to play” in the final roulette showdown. Wouldn’t the players, given the immense stakes, being getting paid to take those chances? Lastly, the ending was powerful, but would’ve preferred John (George Dzundza) continuing to hum/sing “God Bless America” without knowing all the words, without any of the others joining in.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) → (56) There are some fantastic graphics here, but overall Alita relies far too much on CGI and sacrifices pretty much everything else. With lots of terrible dialogue and typical blockbustery shlock — Alita (Rosa Salazar) literally pulls out her heart and hands it to Hugo (Keean Johnson) — I was expecting so much more after I viewed the first trailer. I didn’t understand some of the characters’ roles, like, what was Vector (Mahershala Ali) exactly? This also seemed well below Christoph Waltz (as Dr. Ido) who at least deserved a weapon for his body size.

The Dead Don’t Die (2019) → (57) I suppose enough time has passed since the zombie craze of the late 2000s/early 2010s for us to give it all another go, but The Dead Don’t Die isn’t a good start. While I enjoyed how many people seemed to jump right to zombies as a reasonable effect of the polar fracking, which I feel like would happen today, the zombies themselves are a total disappointment. I HATED that they spoke, especially because it was the one word “thing they liked most in the world while they were alive”. Ex: Coffee, beer, Bluetooth. Really, Bluetooth? If the message was “consumerism,” then this should’ve come out in the 1990s. And the alien spaceship? Groan. Had much higher expectations for this one because the cast is great. Can’t push it into the recommends; might be satisfactory for a quick zombie fix, but nothing more.

Captain Marvel (2018) → (79) Captain Marvel was an enjoyable watch that I learned has a significant spot in the MCU. I think her friend, Maria (Lashana Lynch) could’ve had a better reaction to seeing her friend who was supposedly dead for six years. I liked the twist, but it seemed like an odd way of getting there. I’m all for letting child actors flex their acting muscles, but sometimes precocious kids are more annoying than endearing. I loved the scene where Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) kicks some ass to No Doubt’s “Just a Girl”. Captain Marvel is definitely worth the watch, even if you’re not the biggest MCU/comic book movie fan. Oh, and Goose the cat gets 100/100 for his performance, of course.

The Pelican Brief (1993) → (53) A promising concept falls very flat in The Pelican Brief. Supreme Court Justices being picked off like mafia snitches? Sign me up. A young Stanley fucking Tucci?! I’m already hooked. And then we get to the protest scene outside the Supreme Court and my excitement begins to fade. This scene is absolutely hilarious and you can entertain yourself by playing the game: How many issues can you count? Guns, abortion, death penalty, they’re all there together… for some reason. I shit you not, there was a sign that just said “We ❤ Guns!” Amazing. Anyway, the film glosses over Darby’s (Julia Roberts) actual research for her titular brief, which I figured would’ve been the most fun part of the plot — seeing how the law student pieces together the biggest government conspiracy since Watergate. But nope, we get one scene where she asks for public records, cites the Freedom of Information Act like she’s studying for a final exam, and boom! It’s done. After this, we mainly get a thriller that was reminiscent of another Grisham-based film, The Firm. Sure, it gets a little interesting here and there, but still too bland for a recommend.

Lolita (1962)→ (85) A film that leaves the repulsions to the imagination so the story can unwind, Lolita is a delight. The 1955 novel of the same name is likely written with the most beautiful language I’ve ever read or ever will read, so I had high expectations for the film. It was a treat to get Peters Sellers (as Clare Quilty) right from the start and to revisit him — in classic Sellers impressions and impersonations — throughout the movie. Sue Lyon (as Dolores “Lolita” Haze) really holds her own at only 16 years old — a character they aged up from 12 to make more digestible on the screen. Shelly Winters is also fantastic as Charlotte Haze, Lolita’s mother, who is dramatic, annoying, and pathetic. Lastly, James Mason is sublime as Humbert Humbert, the British professor who has become infatuated with the titular character and who is the main protag of the story. One thing I didn’t like, however, is how everyone calls Dolores “Lolita,” when in the book it is Humbert’s private nickname for her.

Additions: 11/5/2019

The King (2019)→ (86) As an open Chalamaniac, I was beyond excited when I first saw the trailer for The King, with Timothée Chalamet in the titular role as King Henry V. “Hal,” as he is known to his friends, begrudgingly ascends to the English throne, which inevitably cuts into his time of drinking and womanizing. I loved the fight scenes because they were unlike what we usually get — blood-stained faces, appendages cleaved in half, lances impaling unsuspecting footmen in the chest. Instead, the fighting is far more brutal and blunt. From the one-v-one melee in the beginning to the infamous Battle of Agincourt (which was allegedly an inspiration for “Battle of the Bastards”), the combat is dirty: bludgeoning on helmets, stabbing between the armor with daggers, (literally) drowning in the mud, dirty. Joel Edgerton, Nick Harris (who I’m not sure I’ve seen appear in anything that takes place after the 16th century), Ben Mendelsohn, and Robert Pattinson (who does a good French accent, I think?), all give solid performances to round out the main cast. The dialogue is fun with its old-timeyness to fit the period, but is easy to follow and not overwhelming. I don’t believe two scenes where main characters are killed have any foothold in history, but I suppose that doesn’t matter, although, the battle just coming to a halt seemed a little too unrealistic to me. What pushes this movie in the mid-80s is Hal’s arc, from a peace-loving drunk prince to the fabled Warrior King of England.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)→ (89) The work of a salesman sometimes is so cringeworthy I need to look away — that’s what you get with Glengarry Glen Ross. Jack Lemmon as Shelley “The Machine” Levene is phenomenal from his fast talking wit to the tones of his voice to the look in his eye. Early, we get teased Alec Baldwin (who delivers the famous “Coffee is for closers only” line) who then leaves us forever. I wanted more Alec Baldwin. Pacino stands out, but Spacey, Ed Harris, and Alan Arkin, all round out a solid cast. However, I felt like some of the scenes didn’t transition well from the stage to the screen, especially some between Harris and Arkin. I won’t spoil who the thief is, but I would’ve liked a hint or clue that it was going to be him. (If there was, then I missed it.) I’m definitely not made out for the world of cutthroat sales, but I love to watch movies about it.

Donnie Brasco (1997) → (81) One of the more underrated, less discussed gangster movies, Donnie Brasco merits a viewing to be shuffled into the Mob Movie canon. Depp, as the titular Donnie Brasco, and Pacino, as Lefty, develop a delightful friendship, even if it is forged in blood and false pretenses. For the first few times he’s on the screen, I thought Lefty was a head-honcho, but learn he’s a low-rung on the ladder — in one scene he’s hammering out coins from a decapitated parking meter, I can’t think of a lower form of petty crime. “Feeding the lion hamburgers” is a great scene and the “Japanese restaurant” is a terrible one, for the right reasons. This film immortalized “Forget about it,” and I loved when Donnie explains its meaning (whatever the meaning is) to Paul Giamatti’s and Tim Blake Nelson’s characters. The ending was a little unsettling, but not sure why I wasn’t expecting a massacre in a mob movie. And what a final scene for Lefty — a “family” man until the very end.

The Outsider (2018)→ (39) If you didn’t watch The Outsider because you thought the premise of a white person joining the yakuza is somehow racist or culturally insensitive, then stop watching movies — it’s fiction, not based on a true story. If you didn’t watch The Outsider for pretty much any other reason, then you did yourself a favor, because it is not a good movie. The dialogue is terrible and although I’ve never been a part of any organized crime family, this couldn’t possibly be how they speak to each other. There’s lots of finger-cutting. Too much? Yes, there’s too much finger cutting. The characters did things that didn’t make sense and the entire movie was sloppy. Skip this one.

Additions: 10/27/2019

The Thing (1982) → (91) A masterclass in suspense and practical horror effects. The Thing begins sloppily, with a Norwegian helicopter and sniper firing at a fleeing dog. The entire situation is handled moronically, with an American being shot in the leg and one Norwegian accidentally killing himself with a grenade. Overlooking that very often members of the American team have their necks and faces exposed in the Antarctic winter, the movie becomes a one/two location horror thriller that grabs your attention throughout. Unsure of who was a “Thing” and who was still a human, I caught myself turning on members of the group and rooting for others with every scene. Again with the effects, they are divine and reason enough to merit a viewing. The film also has great movie making lore any cinephile can appreciate. I’m going to be honest about the ending — at first, I hated it and had the movie ranked in the mid-80s for this reason alone. Then, after a YouTube-clip viewing or two, I can admit it had gone over my head and appreciate it much more. Is it fair to change my rating based on that? I’m not sure, but viewers smarter than I am will likely not have the same problem. For this reason, I will not spoil the ending, even though the film came out 37 years ago. Simply put, The Thing is must-watch material for any horror fan, but definitely not for the squeamish.

Funny Games (2007) → (43) The opening scene — the juxtaposition of the wealthy family listening to classical music interrupted with screamo and red title letters — had me excited for this movie. But slowly Funny Games begins to unravel into a pseudo-intellectual, nihilistic heap of torture-porn dog crap. While the two country-club villains (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) give haunting performances as cool and collected psychopaths — whose relationship is, admittedly, pretty entertaining at times — the plot and “message” is so substantively lacking it makes said performances null and void. Those 4th wall breaks are eye-rollingly painful and the “remote” scene made me want to throw my own remote at the TV. Did Ann (Naomi Watts) really need to ask who she should call when her phone starts working again? And the ending… ya know what, I warn about spoilers so here it goes: Everyone is viciously tortured and murdered, even the child. If you’ve read my other ratings, you know I love dark films and do not need a happy ending by any means, but this one was just unsettling in the worst kind of way. Unless you want to be hit over the head with the fact that the world is sometimes (often?) a shitty place and we have no control over our futures, do something else with your 111 minutes.

Testament (1983) → (75) Testament is a slow-burn that tests your guts. It begins like an after school special, but descends into substance with the run-time. It’s a film about perseverance through a nightmare. The United States has suffered multiple nuclear attacks — we never learn which country is responsible or if it was domestic terrorism. The attack itself is portrayed by a blinding white light — there are no scenes of bodies being incinerated or buildings folding into dust. We are left with the survivors of an upper-middle class Bay Area suburb. Slowly, the “survivors” succumb to the illness of nuclear fallout and begin to fill, then overtake, the town’s graveyard. What haunts the viewer are the characters’ relationship with death and how matter-of-fact it has become. Carol (Jane Alexander) becomes our protagonist who keeps a stoic mien on the outside, but we know she’s internally deteriorating through her journal entries. She has to bury two of her three children, and in a scene that had my jaw on the floor, contemplates taking her third’s life along with her own. Was expecting a more hopeful ending, but that’s not what we got, and that’s okay. Testament is far from the type of film we get in 2019. Give it a watch.

The Lost Boys (1987) → (84) Boardwalk punk, bleach-blond haired, motorcycle-riding with a super cool subterranean lair vampires are my kind of vampires. The Lost Boys is a must for anyone who enjoys classic 80s horror ridiculousness — plus it has BOTH Coreys, Feldman and Haim. What’s great about this movie is sometimes what you don’t see. For practical and budgetary reasons, we don’t actually see the vampires flying until the end. Instead, we get POV shots over the Santa Carla (Santa Cruz) boardwalk, beaches, and swooping shots of vamps terrorizing unsuspecting victims. Moreover, we actually don’t get fangs and bloodsucking until over an hour into the film, but the reveal is worth it. One of the most notable features of the movie are the red-yellow “vampire eyes”. What would easily be CGI’d nowadays are instead made from glass lenses that were allegedly so painful and annoying that filming had to be frequently stopped to give the actors a break. And that David (Kiefer Sutherland) tear drop? That wasn’t amazing acting, but instead a perfectly timed legit tear from the pain of the lenses. The tub of holy water is gnarly and fantastic. The twist is sweet. Michael (Jason Patric) not knowing the difference between wine and blood is stupid, but whatever. Grandpa (Bernard Hughes) delivered a great final line. And holy shit, shirtless, glistening, gyrating hunkosaurus, Tim Cappello, absolutely crushes it on the saxophone — and hey, everything is better with a little sax.

The Shining (1980)→ (93) A staple of the horror canon. Jack’s (Jack Nicholson) descent into madness is one of the most well-known in pop culture. Does The Shining have the best opening music to a horror movie ever? Probably. Either that or The Exorcist. I love a historic hotel and if it’s haunted, bonus points. While there are scenes of extreme violence, this is way more of a psychological thriller that isn’t so much about if Jack is going to try and murder his family, but when and how bad will it be? While I didn’t really understand how he got the job — a teacher from Vermont to a winter-keeper for a historic hotel in Colorado — I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The chef who also shares the ability to shine (Scatman Crothers) is fantastic, especially when he’s listing all of the food. I also thought Shelly Duvall was excellent as Wendy, Jack’s wife, and find it nauseating she was nominated for a “razzie”. Her face, especially the eyes, when she discovers the typewriter is perfection. Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance was also great — was he the OG creepy kid that has been replicated so many times now? Really wasn’t sure what was going to happen to either Wendy or Danny, as killing either didn’t seem off-limits. It can’t go without stating Nicholson as Jack Torrance is, what I want to say, his most iconic role. I mean, could anyone else play that character? I think my biggest issue with The Shining is the last scene. It seemed unnecessary to include the photograph, but not sure if that’s from the source material.

Evil Dead II (1987)→ (85) An excellent mix of camp and gore, Evil Dead II is a cult classic for a reason. I was confused at first as to whether this was a remake or a sequel. The answer is it’s both. The possessed hand scene trope is a classic and loved when the house comes alive and Ash (Bruce Campbell) is dancing along with it. An excellent quick-cut montage preparing for battle scene where Ash finally gets his signature chainsaw. The “Groovy” line is so fucking good I rewatched it, twice. (It also makes one of my favorite and most used gifs.) Evil Dead II ups the effects, although a little too much at times, and is just a fun experience. I loved the ending and how it sets up Army of Darkness.

Additions: 10/14/2019

Scream (1996) → (88) Simply put, Scream never disappoints. One part horror, one part black comedy, full meta, this movie was a staple of my childhood and I was surprised with how much I enjoyed it after 10–15 years without a viewing. The classic opening scene defies convention when Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is ruthlessly murdered and left for display in her yard — even after knowing how the scene ended, part of me still expected Casey to escape and become the ever-on-the-run protagonist of film. Lines like “What were you doing with that cellular phone?” didn’t age well, but it just adds to the 90s magic. Meta before meta was cool: “But this isn’t a movie” and “Sure it is, Syd, it’s all a big movie. You just can’t pick your genre.” The best is when Randy (Jamie Kennedy) is reviewing the “rules” of horror movies while Sydney is simultaneously breaking them. The voice-changer reveal is always great, and I think I appreciated Matthew Lillard as Stu the most. Scream sealed Neve Campbell’s status as a 90s “it girl” and is enjoyable from start to finish.

Akira (1988)→ (91) I first watched this seminal movie in a Japanese Film class in college (I attended a small, liberal arts school). Coincidentally, I decided to view it again in 2019, not realizing it took place in Neo-Tokyo, 2019. Immediately, I remembered the fantastic panorama shots of the city rebuilt after “World War III” and had the same response I did back at college: “How was this made in 1988?!” Roving bands of biker gangs, anti-government protests, religious cults, a city in martial law, all grasp and keep the viewer’s attention through displays of extreme violence and chauvinism. But the last third of the movie, specifically when Tetsuo dons the makeshift red cape, is when the sci-fi animation really heats up — the final showdown between Tetsuo and Kaneda is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Akira is a film about ESP gifted (cursed?) children known as “Espers,” who basically can determine the fate of the entire world. The titular, omnipotent character is not revealed until the very end. My gripes with the movie are poor dialogue — which I’m not sure was a product of the dubbing (the only version of the movie I could view) or the writing itself — and the instances that caused Tetsuo to become an egomaniacal supervillain. Getting teased by your friends just didn’t seem believable enough for him to risk killing millions of people. Nevertheless, Akira is a must-watch regardless of whether you have an interest in anime.

Pet Semataray (2019)→ (54) Pet Sematary is missing something that I can’t quite put my finger on. The same message is there, but it doesn’t have the impact of the original from 1989. The creepiest part of the movie is a collateral issue solely concerning Rachel’s (Amy Seimetz) flashbacks with her ailing sister. Even where you’d think the 2019 remake would thrive with disgusting, moldered corpses rising from the magical graveyard, it falls short of what the 1989 film was able to accomplish. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough here to push it into the “fresh 60s”. Of course, the feline actors who played Church, especially Leo (R.I.P), were fantastic and get 100/100, 1,000 gold stars.

Lost in Translation (2003)→ (76) The beginning of Lost in Translation promises a movie that never materializes. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) was not nearly as endearing upon this viewing as I found him back when I first watched this movie in the late 2000s. Of course, his dry sense of humor has its moments, but oftentimes comes off as offensive — I guess it’s hard to find sympathy for someone who is being paid millions of dollars to travel to a new country and shoot a whiskey commercial. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) at least attempts to enjoy the new culture she is visiting — I refuse to use “immersed in,” as both characters spend most of their free time in their rooms or at the hotel bar. However, Charlotte also comes off as a recent Yale-graduate snob who is just too smart for the present landscape she inhabits. But if all I’m doing is complaining, why the relatively high score? Because some scenes are just fantastic — the scene when Harris is shooting the commercial itself, the “red” carpet squares FedEx’d all the way to Tokyo, the fax at 4:20 in the morning. The final scene of Lost in Translation is very much considered one of the film’s best, subject to study in film classes across the country, and I tend to agree — Misery Loves Company could’ve been an alternative title, I suppose.

Suspiria (1977)→ (83) The first thing you notice about Suspiria is everything.(?) The color and art deco style of the architecture, the truly incredible score by the Italian band, Goblin, and the camera angles, all pull you in immediately. Suspiria has garnered a cult following since its late 70s release and maybe because this was my first viewing I had high standards for a film I had heard so much about. Luckily, the film has these aforementioned elements, which make it a must-watch for any horror fan, but is not without its faults. Some of the dialogue is comically poor. Add to the fact that production used “additional dialogue recording” — all of the actors spoke in their native tongue, even the ones who spoke in English, which distracted me from the film’s plot. With Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973) both shot and released before Suspiria, I can’t give the film a pass solely based on its age, as the two former films are perfectly terrifying in completely different ways. The suspense is there, I just wish the horror was too.

Cape Fear (1991)→ (84) For its faults, Cape Fear kept me at the edge of my seat for the final third of the movie, which is enough to place it in the recommends — De Niro’s performance as Max Cady is what pushes it into the 80s. Cady is sinister and calculating, making me seriously question what he was going to do next and how far he would take his reign of terror on the Bowden family. Nolte gives a great performance as the primary target of Cady’s wrath. He’s a character who in one scene will make the right decision, and in the next make an impeccably stupid one. Juliette Lewis’s performance is a close second to De Niro’s, but there were a few moments you really wished she had just been shipped off to boarding school the moment Cady appeared. My biggest gripe with the movie is Cady’s motive — after discovering that his lawyer, Sam Bowden, buried exculpatory/mitigating evidence concerning the victim of Cady’s crimes, he stews for 14 years in prison plotting his revenge. However, even in 1977, when the trial took place, it is unlikely that the evidence (the victim’s “promiscuity,” past sexual partners, etc.) would’ve been admissible anyway under the Rape Shield Laws that were adopted by pretty much every jurisdiction at that time. Basically, the point Cady tries to make, over and over, is that Sam, too, is a criminal. But that parallel was just not there for me. Certainly, Sam violated an ethical obligation to his client (assuming the evidence was admissible) but, as Sam even discloses at the end of the movie, Cady had bragged about evading punishment for his crimes when he was Sam’s client, and had committed an equally horrific crime yet again, which Cady never denies. I haven’t seen the original Cape Fear (1962) starring the excellent Robert Mitchum (who appears in a handful of scenes in this version as a police lieutenant), but I have read that the Sam character in that version (played by Gregory Peck who also has a small role in this version again as a lawyer, not so coincidentally as Cady’s attorney against Sam this time (try to keep up)) had a much more proactive role in Cady’s incarceration, thereby making the villain a slightly more sympathetic character and his motive more understandable. Nevertheless, Cape Fear is thrilling and frustrating; stupid at times, but fun at others.

Additions 10/6/2019

Joker (2019) → (94) This one is dark, both substantively and visually — didn’t notice any sunshine until the final scene. Phoenix, unsurprisingly, is masterful as the titular character, from his gaunt figure to the delivery of his lines (and laugh). It is an entertaining challenge to determine what is real and what is solely in Joker’s head. The transformation is a slow burn with a huge payoff. Definitely an origin story for the Joker with the seeds planted for Bruce Wayne. Only real critiques are that he should’ve explained himself better on the night show, should change the song for the dancing steps scene, and end the movie one scene earlier. Joker is definitely a must-watch.

It Chapter 2 (2019) → (82) Pennywise, and all its iterations, is still the stuff of nightmares. It Chapter 2 last about 30–45 minutes too long and relies too much on comedy to get through the slog. It seemed like the film forgot the first one ever existed, making each character formulaically relive their trauma only to narrowly escape. To shorten the film, the Byer character can be removed completely — even his role in Eddie’s arch wasn’t as satisfying as it could’ve been. The interactions between the group of friends — most of whom have become wildly successful — is a delight on-screen and I especially liked Stanley’s role (or lack thereof? Hmm?) and believed it set the tone early for the film. I don’t mean to be too down on the movie (I am giving it an (82 )after all), but given how much I enjoyed It (96, one of my favorite horror movies of all time) and all of the hype, I was just expecting more. Lastly, I would’ve liked to see a more hysterical town of Derry. Besides some posted bills downtown, Derry moves along as if children aren’t going missing every day.

Blow Out (1981) → (83) From the recording on the bridge — which leads to capturing the pivotal moment and potential key to solving a politically motivated murder — to the actresses taking turns screaming for the low-budget slasher flick, sound itself is the protagonist of this movie. However, the cinematography is the reason to watch, along with a solid John Travolta performance. I added this movie to my watch-list because Tarantino had considered it a film that influenced his own work. Couldn’t help but compare the scene when the camera is on a dolly to the groundbreaking scene in Rocky that used the same technique — both movies take place in Philadelphia, too. Lithgow’s character is menacing and calculating. Sally (played by Nancy Allen) is a fucking idiot. Using her scream in the movie-within-the-movie is delectably dark.

Election (1999) → (87) Election is renowned for its style — narration, scene-melding, taboo material. It is the second film (that I know of) from 1999 concerning a middle-aged man fantasizing about a high school girl. (The other being American Beauty, of course.) Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is pathetic and likable. You want to help him, but you also kinda want to watch him continue to fuck his life up. He also produces one of the most uncomfortable sex-scenes I’ve seen. Tracy (Reese Witherspoon) is the most interesting character with the best arc, but not sure if I felt for her in the end — not sure if I’m supposed to? The four main storylines are fine, but could’ve done without Tammy Metzler (Jessica Campbell’s) character altogether. 1999 has often been considered the Best Year in Movies and Election provides strong support for that statement.

Atlantic City (1980) → (84) I have a soft spot for AC. We would spend a week each summer in a condo my great uncle owned in the Ocean Club. Even today, the cigarette smell caked into the carpets of the casinos brings me back to my childhood, where some of my earliest memories are on Atlantic City’s beaches and boardwalk. This film takes place when AC was making its transformation into a corporate casino destination. Lou Pascal (played by the wonderful Burt Lancaster) laments the evolution with quips like “Soon Howard Johnson will be opening up a casino.” (paraphrasing.) He yearns for a time when organized crime ran the city — we see a piece of this with the old-school, in-the-know, smoke-filled gambling that takes place behind closed doors. The relationship between Lou and Grace (Kate Reid), who is a poor man’s Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard) is a joy to watch, whether Grace is chastising him or they’re snuggling up in bed together. Susan Sarandon gives a great performance as Sally Matthews, one of the numerous workers that turn the cogs of Atlantic City’s burgeoning service industry. All shot in and around location, Atlantic City does a fantastic job of showing a city in transition and how its generations, old and new, are coping with the changes.

The Favourite (2018) → (90) The word “cunt” is used much more than I had expected for a film that takes place in 1704. Nevertheless, The Favourite is a fantastic black dramedy (?) that hits its mark with the acting and casting, plot, wit, and scenery. Olivia Colman won an Oscar for her portrayal of the lovable and malleable idiot, Queen Ann of England. However, we soon learn that her disaffection with governing comes from a lifetime of trauma and suffering in the loss of 17 children: “For each one that dies, a little bit of you goes with them.” The love triangle with the aforementioned Queen, her council, confidant, and lover, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and kitchen-wench/Lady Sarah’s cousin (Emma Stone), whose ascendance is literally transformative, is what propels the movie forward. All of their performances are excellent, but for me, Nicholas Hoult as Harley was the most fun character per second of screen time. Constantly in powdered make-up with powdered wigs in powder blue outfits, Hoult adds a more comedic and political element. “A man must look pretty” is such a perfect line to sum up his political party, which are dressed more like women than the women. The single best line comes from a minor character who says the “This is heaven” and “That’s God, you’ll meet him later” nodding to the thrusting, naked butt in the corner. Not sure how I felt about the “chapters” or about the ending, with which I was initially disappointed. But even after only a few moments of deliberation I reconsidered and found it fitting.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) → (92) A movie that revolves around literary forgery is bound to repel some potential viewers, but it will be to their detriment. I loved this film and am excited to see Melissa McCarthy, who plays protagonist Lee Israel, take up more dramatic roles — however, McCarthy still delivers with a dry, dark sense of humor in this one. Although there are definitely thrilling moments concerning her crimes, the real joy of the film is the relationship between Israel and Jack Hock, portrayed exquisitely by Richard E. Grant. I haven’t seen Green Book yet, but Mahershala Ali must’ve been fantastic to win Best Supporting Actor over Grant. I can best describe Can You Ever Forgive Me? as “New York City in the Winter,” it’s part depressing, part beautiful.

Additions 9/9/2019

Do the Right Thing (1989) → (90) The opening of Rosie Perez dancing to “fight the power” is a great way to kick it off. First thing I noticed is the vibrancy of the colors — I associate them with the 90s, but ’89 is close enough. Buggin’ Out is the most divisive character (ironically, the actor who plays him, Giancarlo Esposito, is more Italian than Richard Edson (Vito), probably) and has some of my least favorite and favorite scenes — the “Italians on the wall” and “scuffed kicks,” respectively — I still catch myself saying “$108 with tax”. The Mayor is one of the most endearing characters I’ve seen on-screen in a while; Sal is one of the most interesting, along with Mookie. Sal defends the neighborhood that eventually ruins his business to his shit-head son (Pino, played by the fantastic John Turturro). Couldn’t stand Radio Raheem, however, the “right-hand, left-hand” scene is iconic — even if it’s taken right from The Night of the Hunter. After the opener thought I’d be getting more Rosie Perez — I wanted more Rosie Perez.

Marie Antoinette (2006) → (85) Immediately, you realize this is not a typical biopic. From the start, the young princess is poked and prodded to make sure she is adequate to serve as the future Queen of France; a standard that requires her to forgo her beloved Austrian dog for a French one. She lives in an incredible bubble where all eyes are on her — from the comically bureaucratic morning dressing procedures through every meal. This is until the once captivating Queen loses faith with the people after her true and false life of hedonism is published throughout the country. I liked the modern touches to this film, most notably the music, and think Kirsten Dunst deftly portrays a girl who is taken from her home and delivered into a life of unparalleled extravagance to abject horror — a horror we don’t get nor need to see. The (surprising) equal RT score of 56/56 doesn’t sit well with me on this one.

Escape from New York (1981) → (61) The entire island of Manhattan is a prison? Brilliant. Domestic terrorists hijack Air Force One and crash it into said prison? Incredible. I was hooked early, but poor acting and dialogue from ancillary characters ranged from bad to atrocious. I enjoyed what they did with the girl in the bar, as I immediately assumed she as going to be a movie-long love interest. Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken is an iconic 80s character, which I suppose is just enough to get this movie into the recommends. However, I’d love to see this one remade in the near future.

Macbeth (2015) → (90) Probably my favorite Shakespeare play became my favorite Shakespeare movie. From the opening slow motion battle scene to the final fire-engulfed battle scene (and the many non-battle scenes) this film is visually stunning in a natural way. The monologues are powerful and the story itself can’t be beat. I was re-reading the “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” monologue late into the week. Fassbender is a fantastic Macbeth and worth the price of admission alone. But the supporting cast round it out wonderfully. Also the accents, love those accents. It is a menacing movie that even with the dialogue in verse is easy enough to follow. Was I crying for Macbeth? No, but almost.

The House of Tomorrow (2017) → (79) While I didn’t love the book, I was still intrigued enough to see it play out on the screen (casting Nick Offerman didn’t hurt). Thought the same guy from Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns played Jared — turns out it’s his brother, Alex Wolff. Solid acting saved this movie, especially Asa Butterfield in the lead, which made it a delightful watch.

Taking Lives (2004) → (43) Probably saw this movie for the first time when I was 14 or 15 and the beginning always stuck with me — Paul Dano was creepy. How Dano becomes Ethan Hawke was… interesting. Almost immediately after those first few scenes this one goes downhill. Jolie’s character comes off as weird for weirdness’s sake — lying in the grave, eating with horrific pictures of murder victims taped to the chair in front of her — as if being odd should be equated with brilliance. Unfaithful heartthrob, Olivier Martinez, is an unbearable dick who insults Jolie in French whom — surprise, surprise — also speaks French; didn’t see that one coming. I especially enjoyed his line “You learn your theories from books?” Yes Detective, they’re a common tool for education. The “chase” scene stunk; one detective backpedaled instead of pursuing the killer? The big reveal was more confusing than shocking. The end? Ehh, still haven’t fully mulled it over and probably won’t give it much more thought. Probably pushed this one into the (40s) instead of (30s). It’s a shame because when I read the synopsis, it’s a wonderful story (and likely a solid book) but it just didn’t deliver on screen.

Man from Reno (2014) → (76) A pretty color pallet and solid cinematography helped this slow-burn of a thriller move into the mid-(70s). Pepe Serna as Sheriff Paul Del Moral became more likeable as the movie progressed. Ayako Fujitani was a little bland at first, but eventually came into her own. Many reveals throughout, some more satisfying than others. A pleasantly shocking twist. Oh, and there are turtles.

Broadcast News (1987) → (87) Enjoyed how they introduced the three main characters as children, but the early beginning is choppy. Holly Hunter in her groove is just a joy to watch. Quite the interesting love-triangle. Aaron (Albert Brooks) goes from charming to unbecoming to charming from sentence to sentence. But as the film proceeds, I really found myself liking him less and less — and in the “7 Years Later” scene, he is still an unbecoming, bitter person despite having what he wanted (child, wife, anchor). I feel like the film wants us to feel for the character — he was viciously bullied even as a high-schooler, and although he is talented at the job he has, he doesn’t perform when given the shot for the job he wants — but I just couldn’t muster up any sympathy for him. The climax shows how vastly different the standards for media have become from the 80s — for the worse.

Additions 8/11/2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) → (88) Definitely a movie by Tarantino, for Tarantino. Leo was exceptional and Pitt was fantastic. I could re-watch Leo yelling at hippies in his robe, blender of frozen margarita in hand, on repeat. The casting looks-wise was spot-on and there was not a single weak link in the acting. Many lovely cameos too (Pacino, Damian Lewis, Kurt Russel, Lena Dunham, etc.). A story of “old” Hollywood meeting the new on the days leading up to the literal and figurative end of the 1960s and what it stood for. Surprisingly, only a handful of violent scenes — but they dialed up the gore to make up for quality what they lacked in quantity. The alternate history ending was cathartic for what is was, and depressing because it had not been. Oh, and don’t overlook the flamethrower…

A Star Is Born (2018) → Re-watch/Re-rate 8/11/2019 → (90) Upon a 2nd viewing, I appreciated the pacing of the film. It’s just long enough to capture the trajectories of Ally and Jackson, albeit, in completely different directions. Nothing to make me change my original score in either direction. This time, left the couch when Jackson relieved himself on stage — more uncomfortable than most of the horror movies I watch. (90) Gonna catch flak from the gf for not giving it a 99, but still loved it. If Gaga and Coop get married in real life, I’ll raise the score.

Us (2019) → (80) Wilson Duke was my favorite part about this movie. It was creepy and engaging. Much bigger “picture” than expected. Love the “close up” over the shoulder shot. A compelling twist, but needed to go to the internet for some answers. Horror aspects are excellent, but too much unexplained — except for when there was an information dump at the end. Why holding hands? I get the Hands Across America shirt, but why???

The Lion King (2019) → (91) critics are haters. 53% RT? Fuck off. “Be Prepared” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” missed a little of the magic, but the other numbers were great. Eichner and Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa are hilarious and have amazing chemistry. Much more scene by scene than Aladdin with maybe one new character? I don’t get how you can love the original and hate this movie, it just doesn’t make sense. The CGI is perfect and didn’t seem weird at all to have the animals’ mouths moving with the dialogue.

Raising Arizona (1987) → (84) So much before the title credits; love it. Dialogue is, of course, fantastic, being a Coen Brothers’ film. Short run time. Could’ve had more of the bounty hunter from hell. Love the closing monologue.

Inherit the Wind (1960) → (87) Remembered this from high school and wanted to give it a second watch. Old Time Religion reverberates throughout the film. This is an excellent “southern, small town, fans waving in the courthouse with a LOT of gavel” movie. Darker than I remember concerning Brady’s downfall. The trial is wildly unrealistic, but extremely entertaining. Loved the final scene and remembered why I enjoyed it so much to begin with: Henry Drummond (based-on the very real attorney, Clarence Darrow).

A Vigilante (2019) → (59) Holy crap there are at least 10 opening credit companies — get to the movie already! Terrible fight scene outside bar. A few scenes could’ve been a little clearer. Timeline was annoying. Not the usual teaser then flashback. I’m annoyed because the early scene when she’s just waiting patiently in her client’s living room was so well done. I wanted more of that and instead the film went in a different direction.

The Running Man (1987) → (52) Terrible rolling script of what the world has become — show me more throughout the movie, don’t just dump it on me. Ridiculous 80s one-liners, some of which Arnie recycled from movies that came out only a few years earlier. A lot of acting is bad. Alonso’s character is super annoying. The concept is fantastic — and a very loose adaptation of King’s novel — but the execution comes off as childish. Prescient in some respects — even more so than the novel — but just too ridiculous in other areas to get the 60+ for a recommendation.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) → (62) The boss is unrealistically unsympathetic about Ted’s situation — and becomes downright evil later. 52 mins in and still don’t understand what he actually does. Not the legal drama I expected. Barely over half-way through and just mentioning anything legal. Loved his job hustle and the simultaneous Christmas party going on. One of the more ridiculous cross-examinations I’ve seen in film→ no objection for not allowing the witness to finish a single sentence? (Sorry, my lawyer is showing.) After not working for years, she suddenly makes more than he does? Friendship between Ted and Margaret is the best part of movie. That ending? THAT ending? Fuck that ending. This movie sneaks into the recommends because the acting is great.

Super (2010) → (77) Somehow a movie I didn’t hear of until 2019. Opening credits animation is cool, but went on too long. Gets dark (and stays dark) quick. Ellen Page vacillates between endearing to annoying every other scene. Probably not the best message, but definitely entertaining and worth the watch. Thought there was going to be a police presence after the detective gets killed. The Kick-Ass similarities cannot be ignored, even more so considering this film came out the year after. Not sure how I feel about the ending, but definitely didn’t dislike it.

Additions: 7/16/2019

Taxi Driver (1976) → (92) Made me nostalgic for a New York City I never knew until about halfway through the movie. It’s a sick vigilante fantasy we’ve all had. I have to admit, this was my first ever viewing of Taxi Driver. This film is controversial, beautiful, disturbing, iconic. The Mohawk, green jacket, and aviators look is unmistakable. Young Harvey Keitel, young Peter Boyle, young Jodi Foster (*See controversial) and of course, young De Niro make it even more enjoyable in 2019. My only issue with the movie is why did Travis want to assassinate Palantine? It didn’t make any sense to me and seemed antithetical to Travis’s mission during the rest of the film. Maybe I missed something.

Pineapple Express (2008) → (88) I saw Pineapple Express the summer before my senior year in high school and remember leaving largely let down, given the hype. Franco was being marketed as my generation’s “Spicoli”. It was way more violent than I had imagined going in. However, rewatching this in 2019, I think it’s definitely Rogan’s best acting performance and I find Franco to be a much more tolerable character. Bill Hader’s opening is fantastic and can be enjoyed on its own. Like any good comedy, you quote it without realizing it. Quotes regularly used with friends are: “I thought hurricane season was over.” “I seent it.” “Lingerers.” And “You are high as a fucking kite!” Enjoyed this much more at 28 than I did at 18 — not sure what to make of that.

Murder Mystery (2019) → (78) Adam Sandler’s new movie (somewhat) lived up to the Netflix hype, although I’m not sure how high the standards of Netflix original movies are these days. It provided unexpected laugh-out-loud moments and good chemistry between Sandler and Aniston. Had it not been for the superfluous and unrealistic car-chase scene at the end, I would’ve been comfortable pushing this to an (80).

Salvador (1986) → (89) We do not learn about this period in time — the Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1991) — enough in school. This film permits the viewer to see both the FLM (Left-Wing) and Right-Wing sides of the conflict in grisly fashion. The mass grave scene is nauseating. The cavalry charge is beautifully done. James Woods and Jim Belushi have an entertaining friendship whose banter alone is worth the viewing. I’d say this is a must-watch, but not for the faint of heart.

Always Be My Maybe (2019) → (85) Randall Park is in my single favorite scene from The Office (“Asian Jim”), so when I realized it was the same actor in Always Be My Maybe, I was already excited. The movie made me invested in their fate and not just to enjoy the ride — it was a lovely ending. Also really enjoyed the relationship between Amy Tan and Michelle Buteau. Keanu was hilarious, as his character for himself cuts against his image for comedic effect (*See Michael Cera in This Is The End).

Buffalo ’66 (1998) → (88) For 95% of this movie, Billy Brown is the biggest asshole in cinematic history. The cinematography — from the opening credits to the scene cuts — is fantastically arthouse. It’s weird. It’s cringe-worthy. I catch myself saying “spanning time” randomly and still think about the photo-booth scene. For football fans, Billy Brown’s motive is all too real. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it makes putting up with Billy’s shit well worth it.

The Rainmaker (1997) → (87) I’ve loved lawyer movies (and jokes) since I was in high school — I enjoy them even more now that I’m a lawyer myself. The Rainmaker, along with A Civil Action, were the two I looked back on most fondly from that time. While I didn’t enjoy A Civil Action as much as I anticipated during my most recent viewing, The Rainmaker exceeded my expectations. A shark tank in the office (bottom-feeding sharks, I want to note), Jon Voight, whose image I’ve always conjured up when I imagined the expensive, corporate southern attorney, and Dani Glover as the badass judge, all make this movie a delight. Throw in a stumbling recent law graduate in Matt Damon and the unscrupulous, but effective, Danny DeVito as his paralegal, and The Rainmaker has to be at the top of any “lawyer movie” list.

Reservoir Dogs (1992) → (90) Hits the Tarantino hallmarks: non-linear timeline, pop-culture references, extreme violence. Given the extremely low budget, Reservoir Dogs is mostly about what you don’t see — of course, until you see it (and by “it,” I mainly mean a severed ear). The diner scene and group strutting scene back to back push you nicely into this movie. You already start picking who you want to make it to the end — of course, you know it won’t be the whole gang. Naturally, there is a Mexican stand-off. Watching Reservoir Dogs now is watching a nascent Tarantino film.

30 Days of Night (2007) → (84) This is my kind of vampire movie. In an already naturally terrifying setting — the northernmost community in the US where for a month there is no sunlight — vampires act more as superbeast killing machines than the imaginings of Bram Stoker or Stephenie Meyer. The overhead shot of the massacre is grotesquely beautiful. The “No God” line has always been one of my favorites. However, you definitely have to suspend disbelief for the passage of time. Evan’s final decision seemed unnecessary and not the best option given the circumstances, but it leant for a powerful final scene. Really don’t understand the RT (51/56) ratings.

Captain America: Civil War (2016) → (89) I’ve been talked into trying more Marvel, DC, etc. movies and was told from a loyal Marvel fan to start with this one — besides Black Panther (rating appears earlier in this list), I haven’t watched a Marvel movie since The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). However, it looks like I’ll be watching more of these movies from now on. Civil War lacked the “eye-roll” moments I loathe in blockbustery movies (OK, there was one from a Jeremy Renner one-liner, but I’ll let it slide). The action scenes were entertaining, the banter was fun, and the plot made more sense to me — and was more satisfying — as I realized the villain’s motive. Although he wasn’t a major character, Paul Rudd was peak Paul Rudd. Biggest criticism was Elizabeth Olson’s Eastern European (I think?) accent.

Additions: 6/20/2019

Swiss Army Man (2016) →(93) This movie made me happy, don’t know how else to put it. Macabrely (is that a word?) beautiful opening shot. Took an early turn for the better that I was not expecting, which made the plot more macro. Not biologically sound, but just go with it. The score is lovely and reminiscent of childlike frolicking through the woods — reminded me of Where the Wild Things Are. Dark, hilarious, and deep. This is what low-budget, indie movies are about. Dano and Radcliffe are both fantastic and definitely create the greatest friend story between a deranged maniac and a flatulent corpse ever put on screen.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018) → (78) This one gets better as it goes on. Audibly shouted “Holy shit! That’s Jonah Hill?!” Wanted more of the illustrations. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a solid performance in a film that addresses disabilities and addiction without becoming schmaltzy.

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) → (73) Physics defying fun. A French inspector gadget-type mixed with 007. The ending confused me with Lupin and Clarisse, but it is worth viewing this lesser-known work from Miyazaki.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) → (75) First half had me hooked. It was well acted and had a cool soundtrack, but the turn it took with the cult scaled down the film from being something much larger — what about the FBI? What about “management”? Just felt like something overarching was missing. Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Ervio’s surprising friendship was the highlight of the film. Also not to be missed: Jon Hamm’s accent, Dakota Johnson’s jeans, and Chris Hemsworth’s hips.

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)→ (47) Huge RT discrepancy. I liked the cast and the “The Phantom of the Opera” banger, but outside of this song the soundtrack was flat. Too much singing to follow the story itself. Pleasantly surprised that Emmy Rossum could sing (my sole experience with her is from Shameless). Can’t give it the recommend unless you appreciate dramatic cape work.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)→ (88) As I write this, the RT critics and audience scores are the exact same at 86 each. The title sequence produced by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, throw you right into this movie with a solid cover of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O. In fact, the entire soundtrack is fantastic and throughout college it was one of my regular “study” playlists. Speaking of college, I had a huge crush on Lisbeth Salander when I first saw this movie, and although that magic may be gone, Mara still provides a wonderful performance I don’t think she gets enough credit for. Mara is at her best when she’s getting revenge — horrifying scenes you can’t help but smile. Even though this movie keeps going well after most others would roll credits, it does so in a good way. While I rarely require a happy ending, I would’ve liked to see Lisbeth and Mikael end up together, continuing that unusual relationship. One issue I had with the movie was when Lisbeth asks Mikael if she can kill the villain — the Lisbeth we’ve grown to love at that point would just do it without hesitation.

Fullmetal Alchemist (2017)→ (41) Having no experience with the anime, I was at first confused, then delighted, with the all Japanese cast in a culturally European setting. Like Bleach, this movie had some fantastic CGI, but the positives really end there. Poorly acted fight scenes, a deep moment ruined with an unnecessary monologue, and difficult to follow, all pulled the score down on this one. I wish there were more fight scenes like the opening in the city of Roule. I did appreciate the dark turn with the scientist — especially when it came to his daughter and dog…

Additions: 6/2/2019

Aladdin (2019)(85) Very much exceeded my expectations. Will Smith and Naomi Scott were fantastic — damn can she sing. I actually really liked Mena Massoud as the titular character. The songs, which are tough to top, still did it for me. But a movie like Aladdin needs a good villain and this is where it fell short. Jafar wasn’t nearly as menacing or imposing as he was in the original — which may have been impossible given the movie is live-action. Overall, a very fun movie worth experiencing in theaters.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) → (91) The 0.00001% vs. the 1%. Wow was that scene on the stairs powerful. And the wedding would shut down instagram. One of my criticisms is that I liked Astrid, but she didn’t get enough screen time for me to care about her conclusion. Definitely check this one out.

Sunshine (2007) → (61) Claustrophobic and reminiscent of Alien — loved the line about “getting picked off one by one”. Sunshine showcases some horrendous ways to die (extremes of both heat and cold). It definitely had me hooked in the first half with a fun crew and gorgeous shots of the sun, but a truly awful plot turn, confusing mission details, and questionable camerawork really dropped this one down. Still lands itself in the “recommended” zone of >60, but just barely.

Adaptation (2002) → (93) Layers of meta like dreams in Inception. Could go tit-for-tat in a meta-off with Synecdoche, New York. Okay enough of that. I love this movie and think it might be Nic Cage’s best. The opening monologue is ASMR for the self-loathing. It hits all the senses and everyone is good in it. A must-watch.

The Evil Dead (1981) → (80) A low-budget, highly regarded cult classic. The single-location horror (literally a cabin in the woods) wastes no time getting into the paranormal. The camera work and score are fantastic. A complaint is that the gang comes off a little too calm. Freaky at times, gnarly at others. Ash (Bruce Campbell) is like a different actor in the 3rd act. The animation at the end is like the classic hallucination scene come to life from Beavis and Butt-head Do America.

The Craft (1996) → (57) Too cheesy and poorly acted at times to land in the recommends, and I love a 90s teen movie. I didn’t even understand who it was they were conjuring? Not the devil? It’s a shame because Fairuza Balk was born to play this role (and probably gives the best performance). Laughed out loud when the entire football team was practicing without helmets. It may have a cult following, but I’m not drinking the kool-aid on this one.

The Fisher King (1991) → (65) Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, and Terry Gilliam behind the camera, I really had high hopes for The Fisher King, but was completely let down. Robin Williams, of course, has his moments, but I couldn’t stay engaged. Amanda Plummer’s character was so unlikeable it made me stop caring. I also gave an audible “what?!” to the screen when Jack breaks up with Anne (who is played by Mercedes Ruehl and steals the show). Caught some of the nods Gilliam gave to himself (the Brazil poster), and wish a little more had been done with the hallucinatory Knight — also a similar character to the samurai in Brazil. I know many rate this film much higher, so still give it a shot. Also, Jeff Bridges was very good looking in the early 90s.

Wine Country (2019) → (55) I wanted to like this movie, but it recycled comedic tropes and worn out stereotypes — the workaholic always on her phone, the friend with the shitty husband, the over-planner (Amy Poehler basically plays Leslie Knope), etc. It was a group of friends I didn’t really care about and didn’t seem to be all that close. The single funniest line of the movie was delivered by a character I couldn’t even find DEEP in an IMDB search. However, I thought Paula Pell was the shining take-away from this movie and wouldn’t be surprised if she’s featured in more prominent roles soon. Jason Schwartzman gives a solid performance and it’s absolute bullshit they never ate that fucking paella!

Additions: 5/9/2019

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) → (73) Not at all what expected. While I think Zac Efron and Lily Collins excelled in their roles, the script was poor and the title is a complete misnomer. Was waiting for the extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile moments to happen and they never appeared. The big reveal was supposed to be a decapitated body? That scratches the surface to what Bundy actually did. The most vile part of the movie were the groupies.

Mid90s (2018)→ (77) They played about 4 seconds of one of my favorite songs (Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments”) which is a plus. Remember when we used to call anything “gay”?

The Weather Man (2005) → (84) Very surprised how much I enjoyed this movie. Weird, but fun and even hilarious at times. Never sure where it was going. Worst part is Michael Caine trying to pull off an American accent — sometimes it even sounded Scottish? Half the Caine fun is the accent; play the hits.

Hail, Caesar! (2016) → (75) Huge RT discrepancy (86/44 as I write this). The clergy scene was excellent. A movie with a bunch of great moments, but not a cohesive story.

Snowpiercer (2013) → (81) Suspend disbelief and it gets better (where do the bugs come from? where does anything come from?) A few fantastic moments. A few out of place and strange moments. Gets super dark and I’m saying that about a movie I knew concerned the end of the world. Big RT discrepancy here too (95/72). Tilda Swinton is great. Chris Evans is solid. Seemed like a waste of John Hurt.

The Firm (1993) → (58) A lawyer movie without any courtroom scenes is rough. Tom Cruise gives a solid performance. Didn’t love Hackman. A cool concept and the book may be worth the read (Grisham, obviously), but can only bump this one into the “fresh” zone if they cut 30–45 minutes from it.

Coco (2017) → (92) Visually gorgeous and possibly the best animation I’ve ever seen. Music was good, but expected better tracks considering how prominent the theme was. Alanna Ubach had the best song.

The Kite Runner (2007) → (72) Like most people, I loved the book. My ultimate issues with the movie were that the couple of absolutely horrific, nauseating scenes were toned down too much. The final showdown lacked any of the tension of the novel and seemed more like a blip to get to the ending.

Additions: 4/22/2019

Eighth Grade (2018) → (90) Awkwardness to perfection. It’s uncomfortable and an excellent movie. The pacing around the room and the lack of eye contact during the ultimate confrontation stood out.

Blue Valentine (2010) → (82) The scenes felt close, borderline claustrophobic, which made the relationship feel that much more suffocating. With a delightful soundtrack and beautiful falling-in-love scenes, this film is definitely recommended.

Native Son (2019) → (72) Coolest jacket ever. Ashton Sanders was my favorite “3rd” of Moonlight. But the film had a completely different tone from the book (which I discuss here) because of the deviation from the book’s setting — modern day vs. 1930s — especially during the final act. The film’s Bigger is more likable, which is the problem.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010) → (76) Has some great interactions between Galifianakis and Gilchrest. Some cool animation and the “beavers” line is one of my favorites. Also has a great message in its final monologue, even though it’s basically a 2010s version of Trainspotting.

Tag (2015) → (34) Surreal and gruesome. I know there is a message here, a commentary on… something (the men arrived in the last 20 minutes), but this one just missed the mark. Journey was nonsensical. Some of it was just gross. Do not recommend.

Veronica (2017) → (91) I will watch pretty much any exorcism movie — set it in Spain and it’s moving to the top of my list. Kept me engaged and had the blanket above my nose for 3–4 scenes. While I didn’t understand why so many people couldn’t finish it (or that was just a marketing ploy), it was an excellent scare.

BlacKkKlansman (2018) → (88) Great story and some beautiful scenes — enraptured audience at student union, burning cross in klansman’s eye. Thought Washington, Driver, Harrier and Grace all had excellent performances. I’m uncertain about the “coming current” ending, but I think I liked it.

Additions: 4/8/2019

A Quiet Place (2018) → (91) Loved how the tone was set early. Kept me engaged. Wish a little more explanation for where the monsters came from, why, etc., but I know how that can slow down the thrills. One critique, do you need to teach kids long division at this point?

Bird Box (2018) → (81) I know it might be lazy to compare to A Quiet Place^, but I watched them on subsequent nights, so I’m going to anyway. Bird Box was an entertaining “pick-off” film that was more obscure than A Quiet Place. Great cast (I’ll give John Malkovich a shot in anything). I think I know what the climax was, and if so, it fell pretty flat. Still worth the watch.

Bleach (2018) → (74) Fun action/sci-fi with solid sword scenes. The “hollows”, or soul-eating monsters, were terrifying and lovely — I just wish there were more of them, but understand probably expensive to make. Standard plot that reminded me of Ink, one of my favorite indie films I plan to review soon.

The Hunger Games (2012) → (83) R-rated content for a PG-13 audience. Have not read the books, but I HATE that outside sources (the dogs, the fire-balls) can just be thrown into the arena — again, not sure if this is from the source or for the film. Definitely worth the watch at least once, but if you want a darker, less hollywoodified version, check out Battle Royale (will re-watch and rate soon).

Choke (2008) → (75) Based on Palahniuk’s novel of the same name, Choke definitely has its moments, but at other times, it feels piecemeal. Sam Rockwell delivers a solid performance. I’m a fan of Kelly Macdonald, but I’m not sure if we’re supposed to hear her accent or not.

The Night of the Hunter (1955) → (84) This one is tough. While it has many of the issues that come with 1955 film-making (my goodness have child actors come a long way), there are some absolutely stunning scenes in this movie. When the reverend is on his horse out on the horizon it is simply breathtaking (a pic from that scene is my desktop background as I write this). The duet is stunning and the little girl actually makes up for her acting with a beautiful singing voice while drifting down the river. The fist tattoos are classics (Spike Lee uses a version of the speech in Do The Right Thing) and even more badass when you realize the film takes place in the 1930s. “The world is a hard place for little things.” What a quote!

Annie Hall (1977) → (92) Can’t say I’ve seen all of Woody’s films like some, but I’m just gonna assume this is Allen at his most Allen; neurotic, 4th wall breaks, self-deprecating Jewish jokes, split-screens, non-linear timelines. Fantastic.

Pirate Radio (2009) → (88) The music is fantastic, obviously, taking place in 1967. Very rewatchable. PSH is always a delight. Rhys Ifans pulling his zipper up and down on the air is hilarious. And “Twatt,” so on-the-nose and still so funny.

Additions: 3/24/2019

You Were Never Really Here (2017) → **(95) (Re-watch/Re-rate)** As I stated in my first rating, the “singing on the floor” scene stuck with me all week. Also wanted to note the “lake burial” scene as one of the most beautiful I’ve viewed in recent memory. The score and soundtrack are fantastic. Much more enjoyable on the second viewing. I had also watched the entire Madeleine McCann documentary the two days prior, might’ve possibly impacted my score. Really can’t recommend this movie enough. (90) Joaquin Phoenix is the most underrated actor in Hollywood. Powerful role. “Singing on the floor” scene sticks with me still.

The Stanford Experiment (2015) → (90) A docudrama based on the all-too-real 1971 experiment at Stanford University, this film keeps you hooked throughout the entire two-hour runtime. A horrifying dive into human nature and the effects the status of power plays in prison society.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) → (91) Chock-full of Coen Brothers dark humor, Inside Llewyn Davis makes me want to experience the Village in the 60s. Great cameos, but wish there was more screen time for so many fantastic actors. Of course, the music is excellent. Possibly my favorite Oscar Isaac role. Extra points for recurring orange cat.

Trainspotting (1996) → (92) Lovely accents. A dark, hilarious, cautionary tale set to the beat of mid-90s music. For several days after viewing, I was reciting the opening and closing monologues.

Léon: The Professional (1994) → (82) In an NYC where the police are virtually non-existent (until the end), Léon is a fun shoot ’em up with the addition of a young apprentice (Natalie Portman). Gary Oldman, as always, is a delight.

Atomic Blonde (2017) → (85) While at first, just visually appealing with cool effects and an excellent soundtrack, this movie picks up and surprised me with its fight scenes — one being particularly brutal. An interesting twist (and re-twist?), Atomic Blonde surprised me and definitely worth the watch.

Synecdoche, New York (2008) → (88) Holy God this film is dense. It’s dark, hilarious, depressing. It is likely the most detail-oriented movie I have ever seen. Admittedly, I didn’t (and I argue no mere mortal could’ve) catch every minute easter egg and connection Charlie Kaufman’s film presents. I got sucked into a 5-part Youtube review that broke down the film in extreme detail. Love Philip Seymour Hoffman in it and everyone should watch this film at least twice, but it becomes so meta that the details get lost in its layers.

Paper Towns (2015) → (49) Couldn’t find a connection with this one. Not very exciting and didn’t care enough about the characters. Only can recommend to compare to the book.

American Beauty (1999) → (87) The three-headed suburban story kept me engaged the entire film. At times a bit on-the-nose. Although many of its parts appear cliche in 2019, this film is 20 years old and is a cornerstone of the suburban-collapse genre.

Additions: 3/10/2019

First Reformed (2017) → (94) Not sure what the Academy has against Ethan Hawke, but to not even be nominated for best actor (and no best pic nom either) is ridiculous. Beautiful and terrifying, it proffers to the Christian world whether it will adopt a role of complacency or activism in the impending environmental disaster of the 21st century.

Quiz Show (1994) → (85) Crime was easier in the 50s, and better dressed.

1922 (2017) → (76) Standard King adaptation. Dirt, knives, and rats.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) → (81) Much better than expected. Gave it the green light because Emile Hirsch. Solid confined-location horror.

Inherent Vice (2014) → (80) Joaquin Phoenix, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, et al. gave me high expectations for this one. Definitely had fantastic moments and a solid film, but too choppy at times and a long run time.

City of God (2002) → (98) All-time favorite. Visually stunning, incredible story. An absolute must watch.

Additions: 3/3/2019

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) → (91) Surprised with how much I enjoyed this one. Didn’t love the look of the graphic novels, but the movie incorporates a fantastic blend of live-action and effects. Brie Larson’s cover of Metric’s “Black Sheep” is perfect.

The Goonies (1985) → (95) Childhood staple. Tell my brother that I’m going to steal his “Goonies Never Say Die” shirt every time he wears it.

The Terminator (1984) → (86) Effects for the time were stellar. Back when Hollywood actually created original material.

The Many Faces of Ito (2018) → (72) A movie based on the Netflix series. Was excited for the concept of a novelist mining for content from women she would “advise”, but in the end didn’t deliver.

Hell or High Water (2016) → (87) An interesting take on bank robberies. Fantastic soundtrack. Always a bonus for Jeff Bridges.

The Graduate (1967) → (91) A staple of 60s cinema. Another film with an incredible soundtrack. Forever quotable. Katharine Ross’s screeching ability is unparalleled.

Original Post: 2/24/2019

American Psycho (2000) → (92) “Huey Lewis and the News” scene = one of my favorites of all time.

It (2017) → (96) First movie to really scare me in a long time. No, not because of the clown, but because of everything else.

The Master (2012) → (86) Two of my favorite actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. A little too slow to push into the 90s.

Aladdin (1992) → (97) Possibly my favorite Disney film. Close with Lion King

The Lion King (1994) → (97) See above ^

The Big Lebowski (1998) → (99) I’d try and quote this movie at least once in every paper I wrote my freshman year of college. Has had a huge impact on my life. Arguably my favorite film of all time.

Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) → (81) 6 vignettes. Most were good to great. One was painfully boring.

Fargo (1996) → (96)

3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) → (80) A couple scenes lowered my score. Also hated the ending.

Blade Runner (1982) → (87) “Tears in Rain” soliloquy tugs at the hear-strings.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) → (81) Sans anything that can touch “Tears in Rain”. Also, too long.

Fright Night (1985) → (93) Perfect balance of 80s horror cheesiness and actual scariness. Was a lovely surprise when I saw it for the first time October 2017.

Fright Night (2015) → (72) Didn’t have the same magic as 1985. Still worth the watch.

Roma (2018) → (91) Two gorgeous scenes alone make this worth the watch.

Children of Men (2006) → (99)* I don’t give 100s, but this would be my first contender if I did. If I HAD to pick one movie to be my favorite, this is it. In my opinion, it’s as close to perfect as you get.

Jurassic Park (1993) → (95) As a dinosaur fanatic and one-time wanna-be paleontologist, this movie was BIG. Also, as a dinosaur fanatic and one-time wanna-be paleontologist, the title drove me crazy due to the fact Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, and many of the other dinos actually lived during the Cretaceous period…

Baby Driver (2017) → (78) Car chase scenes were sweet. Jon Hamm was solid. “Michael Myers” gag was hilarious.

Dunkirk (2017) → (86)

Lady Bird (2017) → (81)

The Disaster Artist (2017) → (87) James Franco nails this role. Football scene is amazing. Movie and movie-within-the-movie is cringe-worthy at times.

Get Out (2017) → (77) Hype monster.

Call Me By Your Name (2017) → (90) Great movie. Might’ve ruined peaches for me.

Phantom Thread (2017) → (77) The GOAT saves this one from sinking any lower. Still worth the watch.

Fight Club (1999) → (96) Raise your hand if you were part of own fight club as a kid. *Raises hand.

Starship Troopers (1997) → (99) Very personal score here. Maybe behind only Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I’ve watched this more than any other movie. Gargantuan impact on my childhood. My fantasy football team is annually named“The Roughnecks”. “Johnny Rico” was my facebook name throughout high school. Side note* My dad acquired a version that scrambled out the scenes with butts and boobs. The ones with humans being cut in half and getting their brains sucked out of their skulls? Those remained. *Commentary on sex vs. violence in American culture reserved for a different forum.

Malcolm X (1992) → (91) Read the book this past fall. A polarizing figure I go back and forth on. Solid film.

The Big Short (2015) → (94) A clinic in storytelling. One of the angriest I’ve ever been after watching a movie.

La La Land (2016) → (62) Love Gosling. Love Stone. Love Musicals. Couldn’t get into it. Can’t explain why.

Les Miserables (2012) → (87) Probably one of my favorite stories of all time. An epic that gets my revolutionary juices going. Can’t wait for the Masterpiece Classic. Am I the only one who thinks all of the best numbers are sung by ancillary characters?

Fahrenheit 451 (2018) → (75) Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon are fantastic actors. Amazing book. Culturally poignant. But missed the mark for me to warrant a higher score.

Step Brothers (2008) → (93) All I’m going to say is that the Rotten Tomatoes score for this one is criminal. For shame.

Erin Brockovich (2000) → (82) I’m a sucker for legal dramas. Would watch them at night after studying for the bar to increase motivation. This was also a big “TV wheeled in on cart” movie for me in school, which likely affects my score. The more I recite the “They’re called ‘boobs’, Ed” line, the more my voice becomes “turn of the century-y”. Can’t explain it.

The Rainmaker (1997) → (81) Matt Damon plays a superhero who can represent clients while studying for the bar exam.

Deadpool (2016) → (65) Didn’t find him all that funny or all that charming. Honestly don’t understand all the love for this one.

Tropic Thunder (2008) → (97) Very personal score. Quoted regularly with friends. Would Downey Jr.’s character fly in 2019? I sure hope so.

Rising Sun (1993) → (52) Michael Crichton teases me with plots that sound incredible and then doesn’t deliver on the page. Had same issues with movie as I did with book: Stop telling me about the Japanese and just f’ing show me. (P.S. I have Eaters of the Dead on my read and watch lists, thus, the cycle continues.)

Speed (1994) → (83) This one definitely scored nostalgia points with me, as it was the first R-rated movie I was ever allowed to watch.

Manchester by the Sea (2016) → **(90)** Rewatch/Rerate. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to rerate this one negatively because I already knew the punch-to-the-gut it offers beforehand. On second viewing I still love Manchester by the Sea. I noticed how so many of the shots are intentionally cut short. I also noticed there seemed to be some random shots that didn’t need to be in the film. Still teared up during the same scene. (92) Surprises all around — the acting, the plot. Gut-wrenching. Loved it.

Capote (2005) → (96) PSH’s most transformative role.

The Greatest Showman (2017) → (70) Better than I had anticipated, but lacked the banger(s) a musical really needs to hook me. Worth the watch, but not the re-watch.

The Great Gatsby (2013) → (91) Used contemporary elements for a period piece, and it totally worked. Don’t understand the hate for this movie. (48% Rotten Tomatoes?!). Fantastic and re-watchable.

Ready Player One (2018) → (74) References are fun, but got a little tedious. Takes place 2045 but Every. Single. Reference. Was from the 80s? Had culture ceased for the last 25 years? Haven’t read book yet. It had great moments, but got a little carried away. Maybe it’s his voice, but couldn’t buy Ben Mendelsohn as a villain. Apparently, he’s good as a villain in an upcoming movie? Perhaps opinion will change.

The Godfather (1972) → (95) Has been described as “The Perfect Movie”. Re-watched it last year for the first time in a while and it totally held up. Michael Corleone’s transformation is poetry.

Goodfellas (1990) → (95) More re-watchable than The Godfather and arguably more quotable.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) → (83) Great Depp performance. A much deeper movie than the average viewer believes. Look into the history of it and it’s about more than just doing drugs (although that’s a big part of it).

Sideways (2004) → (98) Watch this movie about once a year. It just hits me in a certain place every time. The book is also fantastic, making this one of my favorite book-film combos.

No Country for Old Men (2007) → (95) Cormac McCarthy’s writing shakes me to the core. This film is no different. Anton Chigurh is a monster in human flesh. And the “Coin Flip” scene is a masterpiece in acting — Chigurh’s feigned concern in the outcome, as if he has skin in the game. This is how I like my westerns: No good guys. No riding off into the sunset.

Arrival (2016) → (91) An alien movie that replaces the laser-beams with language? Loved it. Although, I wish Amy Adams had finished her lecture on why Portuguese sounds so distinct from Spanish before the arrival.

Division III: Football’s Finest (2011) → (85) Honestly, Andy Dick at his best (which is really good, seriously). Not gonna hit with every audience, but when it does it sticks. “She’s wearin’ jeans!”

Moonlight (2016) → (90) Scene: Middle-chapter: Chiron gets bullied outside. Bullies leave screen. It’s quiet. Chiron steps up to no-one. His fomenting anger bubbling to the surface. This, of all scenes, stuck with me the most.

Her (2013) → (98) The greatest love story of all time. Better than Casablanca. Better than Gone with the Wind. Better than The Notebook. (Certainly better than Twilight). Extremely skeptical, which is why it took me 5 years to watch for first time. But my God, please go watch if haven’t already.

Hereditary (2018) → (87) Couple scenes watched through the blanket. Solid Horror. Don’t want to give anything away.

Star Wars: Rogue One (2016) → (89) I’m a lemming who will eventually see anything with “Star Wars” attached to it. And maybe it’s because my expectations were so low for Rogue One, but man did I love this movie. It answered one of the biggest questions in the Star Wars universe. And that ending? Let’s just say I was saluting Rogue One along with Admiral Raddus.

Black Panther (2018) → (78) My lack of super-hero movies on this list should be evidence I really gave this one a shot. While I loved the “villain switch” (which apparently is common-practice in these kind of movies now?) and the one-on-one melee scenes, there were too many eye-roll moments for me: “What are those?!” groan. “You can do it!” nothing more original there? Perhaps I’m spoiled from Game of Thrones, where my heroes are in real danger when they’re in danger, but when I know T’Challa is going to be just fine in the end, I’m less invested. All heroes must die.

Wind River (2017) → (84) The “Why you flanking me?” scene took years off my life.

CBGB (2013) → (73) Initial ((55)) upon second viewing. This was a “guilty pleasure” movie for me at first. Upon second viewing, I could probably just YouTube the music scenes. If interested in punk, worth one viewing. If not, skip it.

The Death of Stalin (2017) → (92) Dark and lovely. Having the actors just use their regular accents was perfect — See Khrushchev with a Brooklyn accent.

Waiting (2005) → (91) This score likely gets a bump from anyone who’s worked in a chain restaurant. Re-watched recently and it totally holds up. Much higher than the average reviewer, but this is my list, so shut it. Side rant: I’m wholly in support of conscription (6–9 months) into the hospitality industry. We’d be a better country for it.

The Dark Knight (2008) → (97) I’m of the belief that a movie can only be as good as its villain. Heath Ledger gives one of my favorite performances of all time. An exception to my lack of superhero movies. Dark, gritty. More my style.

Suicide Squad (2016) → (20) 10 points because Jared Leto did a solid take on The Joker and 10 because Margot Robbie inspired excellent Halloween costumes. Besides that, this movie was garbage. I don’t like trashing other people’s art unless that art is trash itself… which this is. Trash.

There Will Be Blood (2007) → (91) Daniel Day Lewis at his best. I often drink too much bourbon and reenact the “I drink your milkshake” scene. I’m very good at it now.

Gangs of New York (2002) → (95) I lied. This is DD Lewis at his best. Immensely re-watchable. Visually gorgeous. A priest with a sword? I’m hooked.

A Civil Action (1998) → (76) Another legal “TV on cart” movie. Had I rated this in 2006 it’d probably be higher. Re-watched recently, good, but didn’t have that in-school movie watching magic.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) → (94) Probably my favorite “war movie” of all time. The Parris Island chapter is cinematic gold.

Brazil (1985) → (92) Hits my soft-spot for Britain-set dystopias. Has grown on me with age. The visuals alone make this worth the watch.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) → (99) Likely the movie I’ve watched the most amount of times in my life. Could quote since age 11. Taught me my first offensive French accent.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) → (97) Contender for my favorite Pixar of all time. Life is better with more John Goodman, Billy Crystal, and Steve Buscemi.

Finding Nemo (2003) → (96) Right below Monsters for Pixar king. The blue of the ocean was mesmerizing in 2003, and still is today.

Inglorious Basterds (2009) → (97) Two (2!) scenes that perfected suspense. Introduced the world to Christoph Waltz. Brutalizing Nazis is always a plus.

Django Unchained (2012) → (92) My favorite Jamie Foxx role. Christoph Waltz fantastic as a good guy. Brutalizing slave-owners is always a plus.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) → (98) This, not Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, or Jackie Brown, made me fall in love with Tarantino.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) → (93) Ah, ha, ha, ha, buried alive, buried alive.

Jackie Brown (1997) → (86) Introduced me to Bobby Womack.

A Clockwork Orange (1971) → (98) An all-time favorite. Fantastic movie and book combo. Burgess created a new (slang) language without it being annoying or tedious, and Malcolm McDowell perfected it on the screen.

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) → (90) Shut up. I love this movie. Still waiting for Under the Tuscan Sun 2, where Frances’ villa is an Airbnb.

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) → (90) Beautiful filmmaking. Introduced me to Léa Seydoux.

Midnight in Paris (2011) → (95) Owen’s best role outside of Wedding Crashers. A personal favorite. I believe a much darker movie than presented, which I wrote about here. I suppose this was my first introduction to Léa Seydoux.

The Lobster (2015) → (79) Underrated movie. Colin Farrell is excellent. Also, Léa Seydoux.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) → (92) Javier Bardem wins “Luckiest Man Alive” award for relationship with Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz (as in, at the same time). Extra points for anything set in Spain.

Birdman (2014) → (93) Lesson I learned from this movie: Always use real gin.

Wedding Crashers (2005) → (94) Forever quotable and a staple of mid-2000s comedy.

L’Auberge Espagnole (2002)(90) Required viewing for anyone between 18–22 with a passport.

The Crow (1994) → (84) Oozing with 90s grunge. A dark twist on the “happy ending”. The story of making this film is tragic. R.I.P. Brandon Lee.

Ben D’Alessio is the author of the novels Binge Until Tragedy, Lunchmeat, and The Neon God. For a free e-book of The Neon God, subscribe to his mailing list on his website. 15% of book sale royalties are donated to the The Kitty Krusade. Follow him on facebook, twitter, and instagram.

Author of the novels: Binge Until Tragedy, Lunchmeat, The Neon God, & 6 Harlots: Rebirth of a Nation | Linwood, NJ

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