Showing posts from 2019

Hannibal (2001) ***1/2

The last time I watched Hannibal (2001), four years ago (that review here), I was fresh off of re-reading Thomas Harris1999 novel (my review here). I wrote that I hadn't seen the film in over 10 years and that I didn't find it as good as I had remembered. On this viewing, detached from a recent reading of the novel and enjoying the film on its own merits, I enjoyed it more, but I still can't bring myself to award it a higher star rating.

I do think that the film is great, it's just that certain elements and omissions leave it shy of true greatness, like its predecessor The Silence Of The Lambs(1991) (my review here). Gary Oldman is, as always, a scene stealer, but Mason Verger's demise is much more interesting in the novel. Margot Verger being left out was a poor choice. The climax of the film is but a shadow of the novel. In general, everything just feels truncated. Julianne Moore isn't as good as Jodi Foster but she does a commendable job of inhabiting…

Top Films Of 2019

1.   The Irishman****1/2 (Review)
2.   Uncut Gems ****1/2 (Review)
3.   Deadwood: The Movie ****1/2 (Review)
4.   Marriage Story ****1/2 (Review)
5.   The Nightingale(2018) **** (Review)
6.   The Lighthouse**** (Review)
7.   Knives Out **** (Review)
8.   Once Upon A Time In Hollywood***1/2 (Review)
9.   Midsommar ***1/2 (Review)
10. The Dead Don't Die ***1/2 (Review)
11. Joker***1/2 (Review)
12. Doctor Sleep ***1/2 (Review)
13. Dragged Against Concrete (2018) ***1/2 (Review)
14. Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker*** (Review)
15. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie*** (Review)
16. High Flying Bird *** (Review)
17. Ready Or Not *** (Review)
18. Us *** (Review)
19. The Standoff At Sparrow Creek (2018) *** (Review)
20. Richard Jewell *** (Review)

Biggest Disappointments
Pet Sematary**1/2 (Review)
It Chapter Two**1/2 (Review)
The Laundromat **1/2 (Review)
Velvet Buzzsaw**1/2 (Review)

Worse Film
Rambo: Last Blood ** (Review)

(Click image above for Letterboxd link)

Top Albums Of 2019


Tucker: The Man And His Dream (1988) ***1/2

Tucker: The Man And His Dream(1988) is the second Francis Ford Coppola film that I watched for the first time this month (the other being The Cotton Club(1984), my review here).

The genesis of the film began in the mid 70s, when Coppola envisioned Tucker as a musical with Marlon Brando in the lead with music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. That version of the film never materialized. Instead the project was revived when George Lucas hopped on board as producer. Coppola's original vision undoubtedly would have been interesting to see, but the innovative and non-traditional biopic (with liberties taken) that he did create is a very good film with a lot to appreciate.

Tucker features one of Jeff Bridges' best performances as the titular character and strong supporting roles by Martin Landau and Elias Koteas. It also has stunning photography by that master cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, extravagant production design by Dean Tavoularis, and a pepp…

The Wizard Of Oz (1939) *****

I hadn't watched The Wizard Of Oz (1939) for over 10 years, when the film was first released on Blu-ray for its 70th anniversary. Maybe that's why it seemed to tug at the heartstrings a little extra on this viewing. Or perhaps it's because of all the reasons that I love the film, and why it's deservedly beloved.

Let's see—there's the perfect casting and memorable performances (with special mention for Bert Lahr's Brooklyn accent), the timeless songs and dialogue, the beautiful score. There's the stunning Technicolor cinematography, the gorgeous costumes and makeup, the immersive production design, the impressive special f/x. And there is, of course, the weirdness and wonder of it all.

One of my Top 100 Films and simply a perfect film, 80 years on The Wizard Of Oz never fails to enchant, delight and move me, and it looks the best it ever has in true 4K (from an 8K scan) on the recently released UHD disc.

Uncut Gems (2019) ****1/2

Uncut Gems(2019) is a relentlessly tense gem of a film with rapid editing and an unconventional score. It features a career best performance by Adam Sandler in a dramatic yet hilarious role to rival his parts in Punch-Drunk Love (2002) and The Meyerowitz Stories(2017) (my review here). Sandler, here channeling an Al Pacino-like energy, plays Howard Ratner, a Jewish NYC jeweler. Howard is one sad sack character, continuously making incredibly poor life decisions, yet you can't help but root for the guy because of his charisma. The whole film barely gives you room to breathe, and yet it keeps you glued to the screen. I'm very much looking forward to a rewatch and I need to bump directors Benny and Josh Safdie's previous film Good Time(2017) way up on my watch list.

Black Christmas (1974) ****1/2

Black Christmas(1974) is my favorite slasher and might just be my favorite Christmas feature film. The performances are uniformly excellent, its female-centric cast populated by actors that bring a realism and diversity of character that in the hands of a lesser director could have resulted in a basic stalk and slash exercise. Speaking of, Bob Clark's direction is both economic and stylish—never flashy per se, but every shot feels necessary.

Despite a good deal of humor—which I still find funny every time I watch the film (and I've seen it a lot)—there is a feeling of unease that is absent from so many films in the horror genre. This can be attributed to a few sources—Carl Zittrer's jarring and dissonant score for one, which falls more into the realm of sound design than music much of the time. Another is the juxtaposition of that score with long stretches of silence, punctuated by subtle, sometimes singular sounds. There are, of course, the truly unnerving phone calls, fe…

Die Hard (1988) *****

After 31 years, Die Hard(1988) is still one of the best action films ever made, a film firmly engrained into my movie venacular and one that I can't ever see myself changing my opinion about. There's many reasons for that and those include an incredible cast of 80s character actors, a charismatic but ruthless villain played to perfection by Alan Rickman, eminently quotable dialogue—featuring razor humor and some of the best one liners going—thanks to Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza's screenplay. There's also the incredible stunts, an excellent, memorable score by Michael Kamen, and the slick, stylish cinematography by Jan de Bont.

Along with director John McTiernan's previous film, Predator (1987) (my review here), Die Hard unfortunately got snubbed for consideration on my Top 100 Films list (also in the 2014 Edition), due to my not owning it at the time. I actually still don't own it at the moment because I'm waiting for a box set of at least the first …

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) ***1/2

The Nightmare Before Christmas(1993) has always been a weird film for me. While I do own it, and while I do enjoy it quite a lot, I've never been crazy about the songs, and being that it's a musical, that prevents me from ever fully embracing it. I adore stop-motion and the animation in TNBC is undoubtedly gorgeous. I always greatly appreciate all the painstaking care and craft that goes into making a film of this sort. But when it comes to stop-motion Tim Burton properties, I know I am in the minority when I say that I prefer Corpse Bride (2005). And when it comes to stop-motion films by Henry Selick (who directed TNBC, not Burton as I think a lot of people still believe), I prefer Coraline(2009).

It's A Wonderful Life (1946) ****1/2

Although Frank Capra could be accused of sentimentality in his films, particularly in It's A Wonderful Life(1946), there's many good reasons that this film is so beloved and basically beyond reproach. There aren't too many films that can choke me up and move me to tears (or close to) in the way that this one can.

But even beyond James Stewart's perfect performance, the beautiful cinematography, the high production values, and the obvious message of the rich man being the one that has friends and a loving family—there is an additional, important point made against corporatism. Throughout IAWL George Bailey is constantly battling the rich greedy grump Potter (Lionel Barrymore) from effectively taking complete control of his hometown of Bedford Falls.

While the denouement unfortunately feels a bit far fetched, especially by today's cynical standards, It's A Wonderful Life presents an ideal fantasy of community which many of us human beings could aspire a bit more…

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (2019) ***

Well, here we have it—the end of the "Skywalker saga", nine films of varying quality released over 42 years. I like Star Wars films—they're entertaining and fun, sci-fi action-adventure space opera blockbusters—but I don't hold them in the same reverence that a lot of fans do. So my expectations are properly set when I go to see a new SW film in the theater. That is to say, I'm willing to let certain things slide when I consume these products, but I also desire a certain "feeling" that isn't always delivered. I don't get outraged when my expectations have not been met though.

In the case of the latest installment, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker(2019) (kind of an odd title for a film that ends their saga…), it's a mixed bag. After Disney let Rian Johnson experiment in The Last Jedi(2017) (my review here; I like Johnson, but I still think he should have just been given his upcoming SW trilogy and a different director should have made the mi…

Richard Jewell (2019) ***

Richard Jewell (2019) is one of those films where, depending on the political affiliations of the viewer/reviewer, and given Clint Eastwood's leanings, there are wildly different takes to be had. Some people think it's a conservative film about the plight and "persecution of the white male", others think it's Eastwood's attempt at a more nuanced approach to a real life story. Some think it's more than a little about Trump, which, outside of the theme of media and FBI investigation, seems like a stretch to me.

There are definitely demonizations of certain characters in RJ, one "troubling" portrayal, some heavy sentimentality, a few unconvincing turns, "movie stakes", and other aspects that can be picked apart. Take the subject matter and the presentation as you will, but in the end, Richard Jewell is an entertaining and well-made drama with a humorous streak and strong performances by Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, and Kathy Bates.

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984) **

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984) is a tropey schizophrenic slasher with atrocious acting, poor cinematography, haphazard editing, and weak kills, featuring surprisingly little gore.

Director Edmund Purdom, who also stars, must have thought he could recreate the absolute mayhem and crazy energy of  Pieces, which he starred in two years earlier, but he doesn't have the chutzpah to pull off such a feat. Still, there are laughs to be had at the film's expense—the killer with "smiling eyes", many drunken Santas, a stolen Bond villain gimmick. And, speaking of Bond, Caroline Munro shows up in a totally out-of-left-field glorified cameo, performing her Euro disco song "Warrior Of Love", which I genuinely enjoy.

A pale comparison to Silent Night, Deadly Night(my review here)—the true Christmas trash classic of '84—Don't Open Till Christmas is a package that I never feel the need to open again.

Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) (1980) ***1/2

Christmas Evil(aka You Better Watch Out) (1980), the Taxi Driver(1976) of Christmas films, is one of my favorite holiday movies, riding the line between trash and genuinely well-made cinema. It's a bit too long, it falters here and there, and the budget shows at times, but it also features a one-a-kind, all-in central performance by Brandon Maggart as a mentally disturbed Santa-obsessed man, a unique score with a great sense of unease, and vibe that balances creepiness, humor and shock factor very well. Plus that bonkers ending!

Babes In Toyland (1960) ***1/2

Though my love of Babes In Toyland(1961) basically stems from nostalgia (I watched the film practically every day at the daycare I attended when I was young), though Tom & Mary's relationship dynamic is incredibly antiquated, and though I freely admit that the film has plenty of flaws (it drags at times, not all of the "songs" work), I can't help but revisit it around Christmastime every few years or so.

Despite the flaws, there is still much to appreciate—Ray Bolger's weird but sinisterly archetypical villain Barnaby, Ed Wynn's wonderfully whacky and oddly cruel Toymaker, the beautiful costumes and sets, and the impressive stop motion toy soldier sequence—all bought to life in Technicolor. Disney's first live action musical may not be its best, but it continues to bring me great joy.

Silent Night, Deadly Night - Unrated Version (1984) ***1/2

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) is a holiday sleaze classic with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I think that's why I enjoy it so much and watch it almost ever year. Everyone and everything in it is so absurdly cynical, it's so incredibly, unrealistically exploitative, and the score is so manipulatively abrasive that I can't believe anyone could ever actually take offense to it. It's just bloody, low budget fun and never tries to be anything else. I'm glad movies like this exist. The 80s were a special time for trash cinema. And remember, even though Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year, it's always Christmas on the "Warm Side Of The Door".

"Two ball in the corner pocket."

Dragged Across Concrete (2018) ***1/2

S. Craig Zahler's third feature, Dragged Across Concrete (2018), is a super slow-burn deconstructionist crime film that remains politically neutral when it comes to good, bad and race relations.

DAC is perhaps Zahler's best film yet—similar in tone to his previous Brawl In Cell Block 99(2017) (my review here), but without the exploitation present in both that film and his debut Bone Tomahawk(2016) (though there is still some shocking violence), and more serious overall (though there is still a good deal of humor—I'd say 30%). As with Brawl, he tapped actors Vince Vaughn (who has a great chemistry with appropriately cast lead Mel Gibson—here playing a kind of older variation of his character Porter from Payback(1999)), Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, and Udo Kier, and the same musical artists (The O'Jays, Butch Tavares, Adi Armour) to contribute to the soundtrack.

Zahler perhaps intentionally or perhaps unconsciously channels Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino—regarding…

Dead Snow: Red Vs. Dead (2014) **1/2

I wavered back and forth while deciding which star rating to award Dead Snow: Red Vs. Dead (2014), Tommy Wirkola's sequel to his 2009 film Dead Snow(my review here). In some ways, the sequel is superior to its predecessor. Wirkola takes the same approach that Sam Raimi did with Evil Dead II (1987) (my review here), upping the comedy and gore from The Evil Dead (1981) (my review here).

The protagonist in DS:RvD, Martin (Vegar Hoel, returning from the first film), even takes the same trajectory as Ash Williams in the ED films—in the first film he's unprepared for the onslaught of undead violence perpetrated toward him and his friends and by around the midpoint of the second film, he's confident and ready to kick ass. So much so are Wirkola's Nazi zombie films modeled after Raimi's signature series that it just feels a bit like old hat. There's no denying that there are funny moments and some amusing kills with impressive f/x, but I feel like I've seen it bef…

The Cotton Club - Encore (1984) ***1/2

The Cotton Club (1984) is one of those films that, perhaps intentionally, doesn't have a whole lot going on narratively, instead favoring imagery and set pieces. It's one of those glorious messes of a movie—over budget, a box office failure, and doesn't quite work overall, and yet a fascinating film that captures a time, a place, and a mood (late 1920s–early 1930s/NYC/jazz and swing + gangsters). This was the first time I'd seen the film and I watched the "Encore" cut (which adds 11 minutes of restored footage), so I can't speak to how greatly it differs from the theatrical release.

The Encore version on Blu-ray is a feast for the eyes and there's a lot to appreciate—incredible song and dance numbers (in particular the Hines brothers' tap routines), gorgeous costumes, sumptuous cinematography, and an impressive cast (though some actors are severely underutilized). The characters are never fully fleshed out, the issue of racism never gets satisfyin…

Scarface (1932) ****

With a brisk pace, biting humor, and plenty of bullets spat, Scarface(1932) remains a landmark gangster flick. Despite an amusing studio mandated prologue denouncing its protagonist (played with force by Paul Muni and loosely based on Al Capone), Howard Hawks' classic features a taut script by legend Ben Hecht and is filled with iconic imagery.

I rewatched Brian De Palma's 1983 remake about two months ago when it was released on UHD and I always seem to forget just how much from the original was kept in for that version—lots of major plot points and some key dialogue. Yet the two films are so different, but equally excellent.

While the lack of a score can be a bit jarring, the underutilization of George Raft (who makes the perfect mainly-mute coin-tossing sidekick) is a shame, and Michelle Pfeiffer made a much more memorable impression as the main character's love interest in the 1983 version than Karen Morley does in the 1932 one, there is still much to appreciate—Muni&#…

RoboCop - Director's Cut (1987) *****

RoboCop(1987)is a perfect film and one of my Top 100 Films. While there is certainly a cursory level of nostalgia involved in that assessment, RoboCop holds up, not just as a top notch genre film—along with that other perfect sci-fi actioner of 1987, Predator (my review here)—but also as a commentary on 80s excess: capitalism, corrupt corporatism and consumerism.
Peter Weller as Murphy/RoboCop brings an emotional weight absent from most other macho 80s action movies. He does an exceptional job of conveying gravitas while in heavy makeup and primarily obscured by his costume for the majority of the film. Nancy Allen as Lewis provides a uniquely androgynous and tough charm but also heart—which is pivotal to her relationship with Murphy. 
In addition, the film is populated by all-star cast of supporting character actors—Dan O'Herlihy, Ronny Cox, and Miguel Ferrer as smarmy one percenters, Kurtwood Smith and Ray Wise as despicable yet charismatic gangsters, and Robert DoQui as a hard-a…

Marriage Story (2019) ****1/2

I'm not sure why, but I didn't expect to like Marriage Story(2019) as much as I did. Well, correction—I loved it. Maybe it's because while I greatly enjoy director Noah Baumbach's films, I've only flat-out loved one of his other films, The Squid And The Whale (2005) (another film about a couple with children going through a divorce). I guess I just have a thing for Baumbach's divorce films. But while Squid is much shorter and funnier, Marriage Story is a more somber and sobering affair.

Scarlett Johannson tends to be pretty hit or miss for me but she is quite good here—perfectly capturing a woman in her mid 30s desperately trying to take control of her life when it didn't head in the direction she intended it to. Adam Driver has become one of my favorite modern day actors—able to tackle comedy, introspective drama and fantasy blockbusters with ease. He's at his best yet here, deftly displaying the emotions that Baumbach's excellent script calls for—…

Penitentiary (1979) **

The main character's nickname is "Too Sweet", but, despite a few sobering scenes about prison life, Penitentiary(1979) is too long, too goofy, and too slapdash. There's some fun (and drama?) to be had with the film, but boxing has never interested me and there is far too much of it (and not filmed or choreographed well), as well as mostly poor performances.

Knives Out (2019) ****

“And yet...a donut.” Knives Out(2019) is an exceptionally good twisty turny whodunit that takes the best parts of Agatha Christie, subverts and modernizes them just enough, adds a political subtext that never feels heavy-handed, and, despite my initial concerns regarding the more than 2-hour running time, remains consistently engaging throughout.

In the tradition of this genre, an incredible ensemble cast has been assembled and, for the most part, very well utilized. In particular, Daniel Craig is a perfectly cast modern counterpoint to Hercule Poirot in the character of Benoit Blanc, a distinguished southern-fried private dick. I found Knives Out to be a much better take on the murder mystery than Brick (2005) (my review here) was on the noir. The attention to detail, the production design, costumes, and the excellent cinematography are all fully realized on screen.

Not that I actively seek to critique films, per se, but I find it difficult to do so with a film like this because the po…

The Psychic (Sette note in nero) (1977) ***

I've seen The Psychic(aka Seven Notes In Black) (1977) four times now, and as much as I appreciate the technical craft and as much as I like Lucio Fulci, I've always found this film a bit boring. It takes elements of Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now(1973) (my review here) and creates a solid murder mystery with a strong denouement that borrows from Edgar Allan Poe, but it takes too long to get there and a lot of what happens leading up to it isn't particularly engaging. Still, it's undoubtedly a very well-shot giallo (thanks to Sergio Salvati) with a haunting and memorable piano theme by Franco BixioFabio Frizzi and Vince Tempera (which Quentin Tarantino saw fit to reuse in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)) so I can't help but award it ***.
You can find my Lucio Fulci Feature Films Ranked list here.
You can find my Giallo Feature Films Ranked list here.

Watchmen (2009) ***1/2

About a month ago my friend John gave me his extra copy of Watchmen(2009) on Blu-ray. I told him that I couldn't watch it until I read the graphic novel (which I've been meaning to do for years) because I was dead set on reading it first. Luckily, my neighbor/friend Jon owned a copy of the GN so I was able to start reading it that same weekend. And, expectedly (largely because I'm not really a "superhero comic book" guy), I loved it (I bought a copy yesterday). It's unconventional, it subverted my expectations, I love the emotional resonance it conveys, and the art is pleasing and unique. It certainly deserves all the praise it gets and it's unquestionably a ***** book, in my opinion. The movie is another story…

Zack Snyder (a director I have no particular love for) and team did a commendable job of adapting the comics into a film (in the director's cut, which is how I viewed it). It's a daunting task and it didn't completely work (and I know …

Trading Places (1983) ***1/2

Up until this year I hadn't seen either Spies Like Us(1985) (my review here) or Trading Places (1983). There's still a few more John Landis films I haven't seen but I've got all the "classics" covered now (well, actually I still haven't seen ¡Three Amigos!(1986) in its entirety so maybe that's debatable?).

Trading Places is very good and very funny overall, thanks to two great comic performances (Aykroyd and Murphy) and strong supporting roles by the likes of Ralph Bellamy, Don AmecheDenholm Elliott, and, in particular, Jamie Lee Curtis. Some of the humor is dated, but a lot of the film still remains relevant, if a bit on the nose at times. It didn't strike me as particularly quotable, but then again I didn't grow up with it. I'm glad I finally saw the film and I'm sure I'll enjoy future viewings.

You can find my John Landis Feature Films Ranked list here.

Planes, Trains And Automobiles (1987) ***1/2


Suspiria (1977) ****1/2

Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977), the first and best film in his Three Mothers Trilogy, is best enjoyed if you let the gorgeous visuals and dreamlike quality wash over you and focus less on the absence of plot or dialogue. A blood-soaked nightmarish adult fairy tale with an all-time great score by Goblin, unmatched production design and cinematography, Suspiria is one of my Top 100 Films.

Check out my Dario Argento Feature Films Ranked list here.

Screenshots from Synapse Films' stunning 4K mastered Blu-ray *Note that I watched the UHD this time, which looks even better.