Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

2016 sequel prequel sequel

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Rebels try to steal plans for the Empire's planet-smashing weapon.

1) No opening crawl. I really don't care.

2) No John Williams. I do care. There were musical motifs or allusions or whatever that recalled pieces of memorable Star Wars moments, but for the most part this was new. I didn't really care for the score much. It just seemed off to me. I'm not sure if that's a lack of familiarity or if it's really not very good.

3) I thought I was caught up writing about movies and had somehow forgotten that I watched this.

4) I like how this leans almost entirely on brand new characters and settings, but it's still very attached to the other movies. And that's where these Disney Star Wars movies will be for the foreseeable future. That's fine. I'll see them and more than likely really like them, but I want to see what happens when the franchise ventures far far away from what's comfortable and into the unknown.

5) Those new characters are introduced pretty effortlessly. And I liked the new additions. Donnie Yen is probably my favorite as this Zatoichi-type character, but I liked the Alan Tudyk-voiced robot a lot, too.

6) That space action stuff looks so good.

7) Vader gets a moment that is as terrifying as anything seen in a Star Wars movie, and it makes you realize exactly why everybody wets their pants when they see him in the original trilogy. Of course, he also delivers a pun that is about as embarrassing as his "Noooooo!" in Episode Three. And I know there's no expression on his face exactly, but you can almost see this regret there. Like, he says the line and then thinks, "Ah, shit. That was kind of stupid."

8) There are other cameos, some by CGI versions of original trilogy characters. Peter Cushing is brought back to life, and Carrie Fisher is transformed into that cute-as-a-button younger version of herself. I'm not sure how I feel about that exactly, and I don't even know if I thought they looked any good at all. C3PO and R2D2 make an awkward appearance and basically say (or beep), "Hello, audience. Remember us? We're in the other Star Wars movies."

9) [Spoiler?] There's another cameo by the two guys Luke and Obi-Wan have a run-in with in the Mos Eisley cantina. They get in an argument after bumping into a character in a busy street and then manage to escape that particular city before it's Death-Starred into oblivion. Then, they whisk off to Tatooine where one of them gets his arm chopped off. It's a bad day for those two fellows, I guess. I'd like to imagine that the one who kept both arms told his friend, "Hey, I know a great doctor on Alderaan. Let's go there." They'd probably bump into somebody there, too, right before being blown to pieces.

10) Some of the landscapes are breathtaking here. When I eventually watch this back-to-back with A New Hope, probably the beauty of a lot of the shots in this will be what clashes with the original movie the most.

11) Vader lives on some sort of lava planet. You'd think he'd want to stay as far away from lava as possible.

12) Of the performances, I think Forest Whitaker and Ben Mendelsohn's are the best. The former is the character whose backstory I'd like to get to know more. He was an interesting character, and I'd like to know what happened to his feet. Mendelsohn plays an Empire stooge trying to work his way up the ranks.

13) I was completely satisfied with how things ended for all of the characters involved.

14) I really liked how Disney and director Gareth Edwards and the various screenwriters played around with antiheroes and heroines in this. There's a moral ambiguity to a lot of what's going on, and it gives the whole thing another layer to consider.

15) This has less light saber action than Episode Four. I'm not saying it has any at all, but if it has any, it's definitely less. To make up for it, there's a killer scene with Yen where he takes out a bunch of storm troopers with a stick of some kind. He's not a Jedi, but he probably moves better than every other force-using character we've seen with the possible exception of Darth Maul. He's kind of a bad ass.

16) Like the cantina scene in the original, this has fun with throwing a lot of strange characters to look at in some scenes. To me, that's one of the things that will give this some rewatchability. Large chunks of the movie are direct and straightforward, but there are other scenes I'd like to see again to pay better attention to all the little details I might have missed.

17) I think this movie stumbled out of the gates a little bit. In fact, I was a little worried. It took a bit for this to get its footing. When it did, however, I thought it was paced very well and maintained a consistent and nearly perfect tone for the duration.

18) Rogue One is at least even with Force Awakens on any list I'd make of Star Wars movies, and it probably gets the edge because it's more original. Or is it? Objectively, it's likely better than any of the prequels although there are still a lot of things I really like about those three movies. And this is better than Return of the Jedi. So in my mind, that puts this movie--at least right now after seeing it only the one time--in the top half of Star Wars movies.

19) God, these movies make me feel like a little kid again. I get goosebumps, I tear up a little, and want to cheer from my theater seat. There's just something magical about the whole thing.

20) [Spoiler] Back to that Darth Vader scene. You see the rebels scared of the guy in A New Hope when he struts in after his storm trooper pals. But it's hearing them scream "Help!" in this that really sells it. The lighting in that scene, the glimpse of a light saber (the only time you see one in this movie), the furious burst of action. It's just so beautiful violent, and I'm telling you, genuinely frightening.

21) Now another countdown begins for Episode VIII.

Cafe Society

2016 bittersweet romantic comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A kid moves out to Hollywood to find work with his movie bigwig uncle and instead falls in love with his secretary. Unfortunately, that secretary only has one facial expression. It's a nice facial expression, but after a while, you just wish she had another one. Of course, to confound the situation further, his uncle is also having an affair with the secretary and even plans on leaving his wife to marry her.

This movie has a great look, especially with the contrasts in looks between the grit or sophistication of the New York scenes and the gloss or dreaminess of the Hollywood ones. The cinematography is excellent here, and Woody's camerawork feels effortless. This is a very pretty movie.

Unfortunately, the story is a little waterlogged with two bad lead performances and writing that just seems a little tired to me. Jesse Eisenberg, who apparently is going to be in every Woody Allen movie from now on, sort of acts like a young Woody Allen if you replace the neurosis with something closer to assholery. He does that throaty chuckle thing that grates on my nerves a little too much here, and he seems to think that he can out-act any other leading man in Hollywood with nothing more than his eyebrows. Kristin Stewart is easy on the eyes and probably better here than she is in most of the other things I've seen her in. Still, that's not really good. With two performances that I just couldn't buy, a relationship that should have been profoundly sad was just kind of there.

The best performances are from people you don't really know. Allen paints Jewish life in New York during this time period with broad strokes, but the characters add color and must of the humor.

But it's really the visuals that steal the show. Along with the music, he captures this particular time that he's obviously passionate about. If the story doesn't fully work, at least this is a nice homage to this period of time. Woody probably could have handled it without all the name dropping though.

I also liked the music. It's indistinguishable from anything I've heard in any of Woody Allen's more recent movies though.

That Thing You Do!

1996 musical dramedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: When a new drummer fills in and plays a song too fast after the band's regular drummer breaks his arm, their song becomes a minor hit and and a major hit. But can the Oneders (later the Wonders) survive being slid through the gears of the music business machine and remain non-corrupted by fame?

Well, you'd better like the song because it's in this movie about 32,300 times.

How do you feel about Tom Hanks playing characters who are kind of bad? I'm not sure I like it.

I did like a lot of the period details in this, and I couldn't take my eyes off Liv Tyler. There are a lot of individual moments where I felt this worked, but as a whole, it just didn't work. Simultaneously slight and fluffy, it passes by harmlessly enough unless you feel perfectly assaulted by the infectiously catchy "That Thing You Do" song.

The Dark Horse

2014 real-life drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A troubled former chess genius works with a club of troubled children to prepare for a tournament.

This is based on a true story, but at times, it's as predictable as your typical Hollywood troubled-guy-mentoring-a-kid-or-kids-leading-to-a-sappy-underdog-victory story. As with any chess movie, I really pay attention to what happens on the board. There's not much chess to see until the big tournament, but what is there looks good to me. That is until a final game where it appears as if a guy drops a pair of pieces early on, enough to cripple a guy playing another opponent who has made it to a final game. Actually, I've never seen a chess tournament work with this knock-out structure anyway. It's usually round robin.

That's all probably nitpicking that most people watching this aren't going to care about. It is a nice story, though I really wish there would have been more background on some of the kids. They just kind of seemed like less-comical Bad News Bears or something, so their losses and victories in the tournament didn't really resonate. Instead, this focuses on the protagonist, his brother, and his nephew.

I really liked the performances from top to bottom, but the performance of Cliff Curtis as that protagonist Genesis is nearly special. It's the kind of performance where he's able to say a whole lot without saying anything at times. He's perfect at creating this guy who's fighting to be strong when everything around him is pressuring him to be weak. There's a determination that I don't always buy, but that's more to do with the story than Curtis. I liked the guy who played his brother and the kid playing the nephew, too.

Regardless of whether or not this is derivative, this is the kind of stuff that usually gets to me.

I had to watch this with captions even though it's in English. The version of English they speak in New Zealand is different than mine, and it's really hard for me to pick up a lot of what they say.

Lights Out

2016 horror movie

Rating: 12/20 (Emma: 11/20; Abbey: 10/20)

Plot: Rebecca and Martin's mother's imaginary friend comes for a visit.

With an interesting gimmick that I'm surprised hasn't been used before, this movie works in chunks. Viscerally, it's a good old-fashioned horror flick that will have you jumping a couple times. The "light" gimmick lends opportunity for some horrifying sequences. Unfortunately, there's a story you have to pay attention to, and there was nothing about the story's structure or the characters that really made me want to figure out anything that was going on. I'm not real sure the story even makes much sense at all.

This isn't something I'd tell horror movie fans to stay far away from, but it's nothing that I'd go out of my way to recommend either. I probably won't even remember watching it in a year or so.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

2016 Tim Burton movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Following his grandfather's instructions after lured in by his unusual stories of where he grew up, young Chester or whatever the hell his name is winds up in the titular place and befriends some peculiar children who are doing something rather while Samuel L. Jackson is up to no good and these weird-looking monster things are looking menacing.

See how I called this a "Tim Burton movie" up there? That's not a good thing in the 21st Century. Before, Burton created this worlds-the worlds of Batman, Pee Wee, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice--and you just had to figure out the rules of this particular world and then roll with the characters and whatever else was going on. Now, it's almost like Burton is winking at us repeatedly and screaming, "Look at this world that I created! Look at how weird that is! Look at how weird that is now! Don't you wish Vincent Price was still alive so that I could put him in this weirdness?" Instead of a focus on good storytelling or something that means something, it's just sketches of weirdness.

There are some intriguing visuals and some fun time-loop stuff, but the novelty of the whole thing wears off pretty quickly. By the time Jackson comes along to sorta earn his paycheck, you really don't care about any conflict that might be developing. And that's about the point when the movie just falls to pieces completely anyway.

Didn't Tim Burton have two movies come out last year? How did that happen? The guy must not sleep which I guess explains why his hair looks the way it does.

Johnny Depp should have played Miss Peregrine.

Central Intelligence

2016 action comedy

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A guy who was popular in high school reunites with a guy who was bullied all the time, the latter who has become some super-spy. They have themselves an adventure!

Poor, predictable storytelling sinks this one. The Hart/Rock chemistry isn't terrible although Dwayne Johnson has a tendency to overwhelm things. And then Jason Bateman, playing a bully in yet another 2016 movie, comes along.

The movie starts out mean-spirited and hard to watch although I suspect it's the kind of things that would get laughs from a certain demographic. The movie is really exactly what you think it is before you pop it in, and I'm not sure why I watched it other than a hope that The Rock would have himself a "Daddy's got to go to work moment."

The Jungle Book

2016 live-action remake

Rating: 13/20 (Jen: 17/20; Buster: 1/20)

Plot: Same as the The Jungle Book, Disney's animated movie from 1967.

I can't figure out a reason why this isn't completely superfluous. It's often very pretty to look at, and the computer-animated animals look terrific for the most part. CGI really has come a long way. I also liked the kid who played Mowgli--Neel Sethi.

Other than that, I just didn't enjoy this at all. I looked forward to hearing Bill Murray voice Beloo, Christopher Walken as King Louie, and Scarlett Johansson as a phallic symbol. There wasn't anything wrong with the voice work, but the voices just didn't mesh with the animals. Somehow, the voices just seemed flat and alien coming from these fake animals' mouths. The story's episodic with too many action sequences, so many action sequences that it's really hard not to be bored after a while. And once the novelty of the look of the characters and the settings is gone, there's nothing about the story--one we already know--to keep us interested.

I have to say--I actually prefer the original voices used than the ones in this new version. There's just something about hearing a snake speak in the voice of Winnie the Pooh.

Movies-A-Go-Go: Trapped in Paradise

1994 Christmas crime comedy

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Three brothers, two who just got out of jail, wind up in a tiny town with a bank that seems easy to rob. It turns out to be an opportunity that they just can't pass up. However, getting out of the town isn't nearly as easy.

Another Nicolas Cage movie that Josh let me borrow so that I could get closer to my goal of having every single Nicolas Cage movie on the blog. Maybe that's when I'll stop doing this blog actually. I've been looking for an appropriate time to just stop this nonsense. The moment when I finish working my way through Cage's impressive filmography just might be it.

Anyway, all Nicolas Cage films should probably be A-Go-Go'd, and this one is. Here it goes:

In some cultures, Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carvey could be considered a Holy Trinity.

That transition from a halcyon horse-and-sleigh decor shot to the busy streets was nice. Suddenly, my hopes for this movie are high.

This wallet being kicked around. I want to see an entire movie from the wallet’s perspective, sort of like a Pixar thing. In fact, maybe this will be one of the ideas I pitch to Pixar if they ever agree to meet with me.

It didn’t take too much movie to get to a scene where Jon Lovitz is squawking like a pterodactyl.

I’m glad Dana Carvey’s character is here to laugh at the movie’s jokes. Somebody has to!

“So quiet down, my little one, and call me daaaaaaaad.” Ahh, Nic. I’m buckling in because I think this is going to be quite the ride.

I would have guessed that the character’s brothers would have gradually caused him to lose it, but Cage’s character is becoming pretty unglued early. This mini-freakout about ring dings is pretty solid.

“Stop jackin’ off!” I’m going to have to get that snippet in a file to use in anti-masturbation hypnosis videos to sell to churches.

Way to have a consistent accent here, Nic. I don't know if movies where Cage experiments with accents are the best things in the history of motion pictures or among the most embarrassing.

Lovitz and Carvey's characters. I’m happy to finally find out what happened to Beavis and Butthead when they grew up.

Oh, they’re watching The Alligator People. Nice choice, director!

Yes, that movie is on my blog

I don’t believe Jon Lovitz’s story about the wallet at all.

Or this phone call to his mother.

Nic’s voice almost slipped into that odd accent he uses in Vampire’s Kiss for a minute.

“Elaborate schemes...I know how your mind works. You know exactly what you’re doin’ and the whole time you stand there with this ‘Who, me?’ [dramatic pause] expression [dramatic pause] ON YOUR FACE!”
Director: “Cut! Nic, you’re changing accents again.”
Nic: “What? No, I’m not. My accent [dramatic pause] is CONSISTENT!”
Director: “It was three different accents in that same sentence actually.”

It’s convenient that they’re in a one-Sarah town.

“The sign says ‘take a pen,’ not ‘take all the pens.’” If I had a buck for every time I’ve heard that.

You’re allowed to use the word “retarded” if you say it in a really bad Jersey accent.

Captain Crunch product placement.

Sharp sunglasses, Nic!

Do you think that Dana Carvey’s career went downhill because he overdid things a little bit?

Oh, man. This robbery! “Alllllllllllright! This is a goddamn robbery!” complete with one of those classic Nic Cage moves where he punches the air for no reason. Cage is like a faucet that you can turn on any time and just watch the genius gush out.

I don’t think Cage repeating the word “key”--or in some cases, “kee-eeeeeeeeey”--was scripted. I think he’s so in the zone here that he’s just belted out what he feels is natural.

Holy crap, in this scene in the restaurant across the street, Cage is becoming unhinged. He’s going to pull something if he’s not careful. And it might be somebody's throat right out of their neck!

There are almost some good ideas in this movie, but the three off-the-wall performances and a tone that just isn’t quite right completely ruin things.

This prison inmate looks like a chubby Paul Reiser.


Nic Cage is singing! Now all I want to see is a Nicolas Cage musical.

“Ow! Oh, ow! Ew. That hurt.”

More singing!

Oh, man. We just moved into some sort of Inception multi-levels of bad acting. Cage’s character is pretending to be alarmed as he hears the news that the bank has been robbed. It’s a poorly-acted character pretending to be a bad actor. Amazing.

I had to rewind that and watch it again.

I’m not sure I’ve seen dramatic irony work this clumsily in a movie.

And here, Nic Cage shows more emotion in about 4 seconds than most actors show in their entire careers.

“Oh, my God, a gun!” Ladies and gentlemen, I might have a new favorite Nicolas Cage moment.

Ok, that was a hyperbole.

High-pitched “shit!”

“Alright, quit pressuring me plee-eee-eeease.” If Nic says the word with three syllables, dictionaries should really consider changing the pronunciation.

“Oh, Christ. He looks like he’s turning blue.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means he has water in his lungs.”
Me: What?

The music’s getting sappy, and Nic is asking about whether or not people can change. I know we had Christmas carols, Christmas trees, a big Christmas dinner, Christmas presents, and Christmas decorations, but it really just turned into a Christmas movie.

Some stuntman just earned his paycheck with an exaggerated dive out of the path of a stolen sleigh.

I can’t recall seeing a sleigh and car chase before, so that’s something.

I wonder if this is based on a true story. I forgot to look at the beginning.

I don’t understand law, but I assume Merlin the horse is now an accomplice after the fact?

Fun bit of trivia: Dana Carvey and Merlin the horse had a sexual fling during the filming of Trouble in Paradise. You can look that up.

“Oh, man. Oh, no no no.” I have no idea what emotions Cage is trying to convey here. I’m sure he’s troubled that Melin the horse is in a precarious situation, but he looks and sounds like he did when he was pretending to be upset earlier in the movie.

Lower your voice, Lovitz. The whole restaurant can hear you.

I think Carvey invented the whole ugly sweater Christmas party thing with this movie.

Parts of this movie are unpredictable because they don’t make any sense. Parts of so predictable that I think I could have written the thing.

“I realize tonight that I like people. Isn’t life great? I mean, LIFE IS GREAT!” This is no way to talk to strangers, Nic. Or probably people you know.

Comparing pictures of mothers? I can’t believe this is the way they decided to have these characters find out who Nic Cage’s character really was.

How’s the convict going to have a wallet anyway? He just escaped from jail.

Hey, let’s go into the bank to put the money back and then stand around talking for a long time.

Nic with an exaggerated point. Jon Lovitz imitates him. That’s the second Nicolas Cage movie I’ve seen in a row where a character has imitated him.

“Let me do the crackin’ [dramatic pause] and you do the jackin’.” I’m not even sure what that means!

Why do you even need to put the money back in the vault? Can't you just leave it by the vault door and leave safely?

Wait, they couldn’t leave the money outside of the vault in the bank but leaving it on a porch and playing ding-dong-ditch is ok?

Richard Jenkins should be in every movie.

Good, the New York accent is back. I kind of missed it.

“Liar, liar, pants on fire, nose is as long as a telephone wire.” Who the hell wrote this thing?

The worst thing about this is that it’s going to end up having a happy ending somehow.

This scene in the police station reminds me of the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. Only really, really stupid.

Every time Nicolas Cage has an on-screen freak-out, an angel gets an erection.

Boy, this love story sure was developed well.

Every Nicolas Cage movie should end with him gettin' some. Well, probably not the ones where his character dies. That would be a little too strange. 

The Beast

1975 avant-sleaze

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A rich lady travels to the mansion of the man to whom she is betrothed starts dreaming of a monster with an impressive penis.

The fact that harpsichord music plays during an almost-comical rape is just completely delightful. It's hard to know what to make about a movie like this. On the one hand, most of it is a very dry, the scenes that don't involve horse copulation, raping beasts, or women pleasuring themselves on bed frames just like any Victorian drama about aristocrats. There's a betrothal, and if you didn't already know a little about what this was about going in, you'd mistake it for a fairy tale with a little bit of sex. The actual story isn't really engaging at all, but the girls are pretty and the house is nice and every once in a while, there's a random drawing featuring bestiality for the characters and the viewers to enjoy.

Then, the beast shows up.

Yep, it's a guy in a shitty suit with an enormous and possibly comical perpetually-leaking phallus. It's either unclear or a little too obvious what this thing is supposed to represent. I think there's a part of me that is happy the titular creature is a little dopey looking. It's like director Borowczyk saw the costume; asked if that was the best they could do because after all, this is supposed to be an art film for Christ's sake; and then said, "Oh, fuck it. We'll just roll with that thing. At least the hooves look good." I mean, it's the penis that really matters anyway.

In the climactic dream sequences, the beast pursues actress Lisbeth Hummel who gradually, as she flees in the forest, loses pieces of her Victorian garb. It's kind of hot actually, and I'm sure there's some sort of beast-chasing-maidens-through-forests-while-they-gradually-get-naked fetish out there. Anyway, I probably enjoyed those. I also liked the ending even though I'm not exactly sure what message was there.

I think there's a gigantic horse penis within the first four seconds of this movie. I can't remember a giant penis making an appearance that quickly in something since my honeymoon.

This review might be poorly written, but I should probably win a Pulitzer with that last paragraph.

Bad Movie Club: Saving Christmas

2014 Christian propaganda

Bad Movie Rating: 3/5 (Josh: 3/5; Johnny: 3/5)

Rating: 4/20

Plot: Kirk Cameron's brother-in-law hates the commercialism of Christmas, so Kirk tells him how Santa Claus and Christmas trees actually have something to do with Jesus, saving Christmas and simultaneously ruining dancing.

When a movie is this freakin' magical, I have trouble organizing my thoughts. So here's a list of them:

1. Man, these Christians sure love their hot chocolate. Here's a drinking game for you. Every time a character in this mentions hot chocolate, take a shot. You'll be dead before Christmas is saved.

2. Darren Doane wrote and directed this and also plays Kirk Cameron's brother-in-law. He does them all poorly.

3. Kirk Cameron can't control his hands. They're out of control, and I think it probably has something to do with the Holy Spirit.

4. This opens with a lengthy monologue where Kirk Cameron is sitting in front of a fire and drinking--naturally--hot chocolate. There was a moment when I thought the entire movie was going to be Cameron in a chair talking about what he loves about Christmas.

5. But no, the majority of the movie takes place in the brother-in-law's car. It's kind of like My Dinner with Andre except with interposed reenactments of St. Nicholas beating the shit out of people and a rock with a towel on it. Oh, and a visit to a Christmas tree lot. I won't tell you what any of those really symbolize because I don't want to spoil the huge leaps of logic for you.

6. I'll say this: St. Nicholas was "bad. . .in a good way." He's played by Ben Kientz who I assume is a semi-pro wrestler. I'm guessing he's bit a lot of people. During his big scene, the score shifts from Christmas ska to very aggressive techno music. It's amazing.

7. There's a lengthy dance sequence near the end of this movie. And by "lengthy," I mean "so long that you start to wonder if you should just kill yourself so that you won't have to see any more of it" lengthy. But I'll say this--for the rest of my years, the holiday season won't truly arrive until I've seen Kirk Cameron do the worm.

That black kid in the background just got his Christmas wish. 

8. That opening scene where Kirk Cameron is talking about hot chocolate? There's clearly nothing in his mug. When your budget limitations force your star to mime the drinking of hot chocolate, your movie is in trouble. 

9. There's a character played by somebody named Raphi Henly, and that's not a name. Henly plays a conspiracy theorist who gets a scene where he talks to one of the black characters inexplicably at this Christmas party in a scene that does not fit in with the rest of the movie at all. It's a lengthy, largely-incoherent monologue that I'd love to mash-up with Linus's big moment in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. 

10. Kirk Cameron plays a character who moves his hands around a lot and a very creepy Santa Claus. 

11. Slow-motion is used liberally in this, and I'm pretty sure the New Testament says you're not supposed to do that. I think it was something Paul wrote. It's used with some of the dancing, but it's also used for Doane's triumphant return from his car after Kirk Cameron has saved Christmas. He dives into his house and slides on his belly until he's looking at the presents under the tree. And then he just lies there while Kirk Cameron's voiceover explains how the presents kind of look like a city skyline. None of it has to make sense to anybody at the party or his wife, but of course, the movie doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense either. 

12. Why, yes. There are bloopers during the credits. And if you stay to the very end (of the movie--not of time), then you'll be treated to some freestyle rap by Raphi Henly. M.C. Raphi. 

13. Thou shalt not steal. 

Yoga Hosers

2016 horror-comedy

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Two teens have to defend their convenience store and possibly the world from tiny Canadian Nazi guys made of bratwurst and sauerkraut.

I have bad news about Kevin Smith. The man has completely lost his mind.

In a way, I don't want to trash this movie. I want to applaud a filmmaker who has had some success and then spends his career making movies that he wants to make with no worry about whether or not the work will have commercial appeal. But here's the thing. I'm not sure if Kevin Smith knows that a movie like this won't have commercial appeal. I think he might be delusional, thinking that something as stupid as this has a chance to find him an audience similar to Clerks or Chasing Amy.

I'll start with the good. The rapport between Kevin Smith's daughter (Harley Quinn Smith, of course) and Johnny Depp's daughter (Lily-Rose Depp) is pretty good. Apparently, they're BFF's in real life, and their chemistry as BFF's in the movie works really well. That's evident from the get-go when they perform a little rap-rock song at the beginning, and the poor writing actually doesn't seem all that bad as they bounce lines off each other. Their vivaciousness is the best thing about Yoga Hosers, and although that's a backhanded compliment if I've ever typed one, I do think they both have a future in the business. I mean, of course they do. Look who their dads are.

I also kind of liked Justin Long who is about to be trapped in a career where he's doing nothing but computer commercials and Kevin Smith movies. He plays Yogi Bayer, and I know what you're thinking so I won't bother typing it.

I'm trying to think of something else good about this. There probably isn't anything. It's neither funny nor scary, and a horror-comedy should probably be one of those. The lines are completely unpredictable, but it's only because you can't believe you're hearing attempts at humor this bad from an established filmmaker. The characters revel in sounding Canadian, saying "aboot" more than characters in The Big Lebowski say variations of the f-word. And at one point, one of the girls says, "I'm not even supposed to be here today," and it just made me very, very sad.

Johnny Depp's character from Tusk returns. Guy Lapointe was obnoxious in Tusk. Here, either he's even worse or I'm just forgetting how annoying he was the first time. And whereas Tusk had a fun performance by Michael Parks as a juicy villain, this one has Haley Joel Osmont doing bad impressions of Schwarzenegger, Pacino, and Germans. Actually, they're probably not bad impressions at all, and I'm sorry I said that. They're probably ok impressions, but like the rest of the movie, the idea to have the "Canadian Fuhrer" doing impressions was stupid in the first place.

Stan Lee makes a cameo because somebody apparently convinced him that he made up these characters.

Kevin Smith himself also decides to have some fun, playing the diminutive Bratzis. They chirp things like "nein" and "wunderbar" either because he thought it was funny or was too lazy to look up any other German phrases. The special effects when these little villains bite it are as ridiculous as Birdemic.

It's all stupid enough to convince you that this is a parody. I'm not sure what it's a parody of exactly. It's the kind of thing I might have liked as a high schooler if it was on USA Up All Night. I just don't think Smith is making a movie for kids here though. It's probably even too dumb for them.

This is the second part of a trilogy, so we'll see these actors and probably Guy Lapointe again. I can't wait.

Movies-A-Go-Go: Santa Claws

2014 talking animal Christmas movie

Rating: 4/20 (Buster: 20/20)

Plot: After Santa's incapacitated at the home of a woman who refuses to believe he exists, her son Tommy, a trio of kittens, and a creepy neighbor have to save Christmas. And they probably fucking will!

Buster was watching this, and once I saw it had talking cats, I knew I had to be in. So I made her start it over to give me the chance to get ready for some Movie A-Go-Go action. I swear she--at the age of 7--made fun of this thing just as much as I did. Her rating went from a 20/20 to a 0/20 after I told her my rating. Later, she said it was a 10/20. The next day, however, she was making her mother watch this, so I think she actually liked it. That or she's sadistic.

Anyway, I Movie-A-Go-Go'd this future Christmas classic:

The Asylum! God damn that studio, the idiots who brought us Sharknado, Atlantic Rim, Titanic 2, and The Age of the Hobbits. I've never actually enjoyed a bad movie made by these people. This is not promising.

A "nine lives" joke within seconds. I think Cat Wall could have written this movie. [Note: Cat Wall was a masterpiece created by some of my school colleagues and me. To the untrained eye, it was a wall in the hallway that was covered in pictures of cats. It's my greatest artistic achievement and the one thing I am proudest of.]

Santa comes down the chimney with some cheap special effects.

“Santa Claus? Where his claws?” Oh, they’re bringing the puns hard! Slow down, guys. You've got an hour and a half of movie to get all these puns out. What's your furry?

Santa brought somebody a 45.

Santa’s allergic to cats? Hmm, you learn something every day.

A cat just attacked Santa Claus which caused him to stumble backward into the tree and break the 45 he’d put on the tree. Thanks to Alanis Morissette, I don't even know if that's ironic.

And now a kid just took a picture of Santa with a Polaroid. When the hell is this supposed to take place?

Whoosh! A terrible CGI sleigh flies into the night and Polaroid boys says, “Dang it!”

Ahh, now it’s “30 years later," and the Polaroid camera and 45 were meant to give period detail.

Why is this family’s neighbor kissing a giant plastic Santa Claus repeatedly?

Oh, my God. I think he’s going to fuck that thing as soon as she goes inside with her kid.

This is only the foreplay, Santa. 

From those glasses, I think we’re supposed to assume the Santa lawn decoration fucker is the kid who took that Polaroid. That picture has to come into play later.

Mom: “Put the milk away or it will go bad.”
Tommy: “Ok, Mom.”
Kitten: “Did someone say milk?”
Me: Did Tennessee Wilson write this thing?
Buster: What?

This scene where cats are making a huge mess with paper towels might seem like a waste of ten minutes of film, but it does show off the kid playing Tommy’s versatility.

The animated cat mouths have ruined Christmas for me. They're a little better than the effect in A Talking Cat?!?

“I picked a heck of a week to quit coughing up hairballs. Cough cough cough.” Holy shit, this is making me angry.

Kitten: “I’m hungry.”
Other Kitten: “Did somebody say food?”
Me: What the hell?
Buster: What?

The kittens can’t get their own food because it’s a little high. And the people who wrote this shit were a lot high.

Wow, Mom is a total bitch. She keeps getting angry at Tommy every time the kittens do something wrong.

Tommy with a raspberry. Nice retaliation, buddy!

Dirt Devil product placement.

Ok, Tommy did leave the door open after being told twice to shut it. Maybe his mom isn't a bitch after all and is just at her wit's end.

Neighbor guy's Santa Clauses just domino'd over. I think he might have overreacted there. Or maybe he just overacted?

Neighbor Guy: “These Santas have been in my family for generations.”
Tommy: “Cree-py.”
Me: You don't know the half of it, Tommy.

And now for a 20 minute scene where Tommy tries to keep kittens on a chair.

“Hiiiiii, Tommy.” The neighbor guy (Mr. Bramble) is cree-py.

Jack fucking Frost! This music just won’t quit! This jaunty music is absolutely relentless! It's a good thing my Christmas tree isn't alive; otherwise, it would wilt.

If I’m understanding this sequence correctly, the kittens are now licking their own fecal matter off Mr. Bramble’s shoes.

Mom: “Tommy, we need to talk about the cats.”
Tommy: “Mom, they’re like family!”

Tommy’s sneaking a Christmas tree like some kids sneak Playboys or hide cigarettes under their mattress.

Mom: “What is this?” So not only does she not believe in Christmas, she doesn’t even seem to know what basic Christmas items like Christmas trees are.

The kid’s room is wonderfully decorated. A scarecrow’s hanging on one wall and a giant fish is right above his bed. Stick with a theme, kid!

Oh, just go to a random craft fair and find a scarecrow or something to hang on the kid's wall. Nobody will pay any attention to stuff like that. 

I can’t believe she took his Christmas tree away and put it in the basement. One, because there’s no way she can be that awful of a human being. Two, because I would have figured she would have burned it. Yes, I realize those statements are contradictory.

Uh oh, Tommy’s diving under the bed for more contraband. What is it? What is it, Tommy? Oh, snap! It’s fucking craft supplies!

Decorating a box montage!

What’s Tommy’s game here? He put the three kittens in a box he decorated so that Santa can take them? But does Santa even come to the houses of people who don't believe? And isn’t Santa allergic to cats?

Tommy spelled “keep” with an “a’ so he’s obviously got issues with spelling as well as decorating.

Back to Mr. Bramble, apparently masturbating while watching a Santa Tracker website.

A Sharknado reference as Bramble looks for a VHS to record Santa. It makes you wonder what else this creepy guy records since he’s apparently got cameras aimed at his neighbor’s roof.

Oh, wow. Those Santa-falling-from-the-roof effects were tremendous. “Guys, I think we broke Santa.”

The reindeer talk just like the turtles in Finding Nemo. Because that makes a lot of sense.

Hey, watch it, dude!

Santa Incapacitation would be a good name for a band, but they’d have to be like Mannheim Steamroller and just steamroller out during the holiday season.

Great. The reindeer give the writer another animal to say non-sequiturs. That was needed because three kittens just wasn’t enough.

And a cat just belched. Why aren't Christians boycotting this kind of stuff?

Tommy’s dragged Santa into the house and Mom just woke up. He seems worried, but isn’t this a golden opportunity to prove that she was wrong?

Actually, she was pissed about the tree. Just think how angry she’s going to be when she finds out Tommy has brought in a Santa Claus.

Meanwhile, the kittens (the Santa Claws, if I’m understanding all this right) have destroyed a Christmas tree and are more than likely behind schedule. The woman who looks a little like Flo from the insurance commercials warned them about that. I think they had six hours, and they've probably been at this one house for at least an hour.

This music! It’s just so painful!

Aha! Tommy’s mom was the one whose record got broken! So that’s why she hates Christmas. It doesn’t explain why she doesn’t believe in Santa though since she actually saw him and knew he brought her a broken record.

So apparently these two adult characters live in the same houses they did as kids. Am I to assume that they lived there as children without any parents or that both of their parents are dead and have passed the house on to them? And where's Tommy's dad? I want a prequel.

Terrified of a cat, Mr. Bramble, who was peeking into his neighbor’s window because he’s creepy, steps on a skateboard and falls into a swimming pool. I can’t even begin to make a list of what’s wrong with that scene.

Little Girl: “Hello!”
Kitten: horrifying yell
Me: And we’ve reached something close to poetic here.

Well, this little girl is managing to out-bad-act Tommy. It’s a Christmas miracle!

Kitten: “Kill me.” He took the words right out of my mouth!

The kittens open their mouths to talk (most of the time) but not to laugh. The special effects are very inconsistent.

I believe I’m watching the worst montage in the history of film.

Or when they scream. They don’t open their mouths all the time when they do that either.

Uh oh, Mom’s about to mace Santa. Actually, this movie is sort of the cinematic equivalent to mace.

If I had to pick between watching this again and being maced, I’d think long and hard about it.

I don’t even think that’s mace. I think it’s a generic brand Fabreeze. I suppose you could still do damage to Santa eyes with it though.

Tommy got his tree back. It looks a little more pathetic in the living room.

But Santa’s dropping fucking miracles! In a soupy special effect, he just Merry Christmased the fuck out of their house!

Mr. Bramble--a pussy grabber. I knew it! [He trapped a cat in a wicker basket in this scene. Trust me--this is hilarious.]

I just paused to get ice cream for Buster and me. And there’s somehow 29 minutes left in this movie.

I have become profoundly depressed at how much more time I have to see this.

Oh, I love when bad movies have flashbacks that show a montage of a whole bunch of other scenes in the movie. I already hated these scenes the first time, Santa Claws director! [It's Glenn Miller, by the way. No, not that Glenn Miller. The Glenn Miller who directed Zoombies, The Bell Witch Haunting, and The Coed and the Zombie Stoner.]

Predictably, she believes Santa is real now. But it wasn’t until he referenced that broken 45. Not when he magically grew a Christmas tree or decorated her house with a wave of his hand.

Santa waves his arms around and makes a "catastrophe" pun, and  Mom looks absolutely repulsed, likely because of the acting. I believe this is the worst Santa Claus I’ve ever seen on film.

Does Santa Claus live on cookies? This is a serious question.

Bramble had a monologue that was about as intense as a speech can be. And now I believe. I don't know what I believe in, but I definitely believe.

The “snow” the lost kittens are walking on. I believe it’s asbestos on a tarp. The ground wobbles as the kittens walk on it.

Bramble to his friend: “If you help me, I’ll owe you big time.”
Friend (with a very annoying voice--I’m guessing it’s the director): “Ok, but you owe me big time.”

“Mom never lets me have cookies at night.” I think it’s around 5 in the morning actually.

Santa’s allergic reaction to peanut butter cookies. We have reached a new acting pinnacle. And oh holy night! Look at his hand!

“Grab the EpiPen” Tommy’s mom is going to have to jab it in his heart like he’s Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction!

Tommy: “Thanks for saving Santa.”
Santa: “Now that’s Christmas magic.”
Me: Why don’t you have another cookie, Santa?
Buster: Dad!

I love how the “It’s almost sunrise” line was punctuated with a stock footage shot of the sunrise.

And now there’s a snow globe, and Santa says, “When the last snowflake falls, it’s over” or something. I swear they’re making this shit up as they go.

Hacking into Santa’s sleigh. It’s so 21st Century!

No presents for Bramble? Maybe because he’s the creepiest human being who’s ever lived!

High hoof? I’m really glad the reindeer weren’t in this movie more.

I love these multiple references to these two seeing Santa as little kids and other kids making fun of them for it.

Tommy’s mom is his present! I was totally going to call that but got distracted typing something else. Bramble’s going to get him some tonight, courtesy of Santa Claus!

The hat’s magic returns without any explanation. The reindeer come back. This movie’s inconsistent internal logic is causing the movie to implode!

“This is for you, Tommy.” I hope this present is something to hang on his wall with that scarecrow and fish.

Even Santa’s “ho ho ho’s” are bad.

It’s not Christmas until you’ve taken a selfie with a Polaroid camera.

Buster: “What’s your rating?”

The cats, obviously not the same ones pictured on the poster. 

Dick Tracy

1990 action movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A detective deals with mobsters, an orphan, and a sultry lounge singer as he tries to keep his yellow hat clean.

I always imagined Dick Tracy and Curious George's pal in the yellow hat--who I believe was named The Man in the Yellow Hat--shop for clothing at the same store. Can somebody verify that for me?

I like this stupid movie. And I'm calling it stupid in the most respectful way possible. I'm not all that familiar with the comic, but knowing the time period during which it enjoyed its popularity and knowing what I do know about it, the tone this movie strikes and then sticks with consistently is about perfect. There's a darkness here--shadows, grotesque gangsters, whores, terrifying violence--but it's all as colorful and as safe as a comic book. I mean, when your protagonist's yellow clashes so much with everything around him, it's impossible to have any other tone than the one this movie has.

Honestly, this movie does a lot that the Sin City movies have done, only Warren Beatty was able to put it all on screen 25 years earlier. Sure, it doesn't have the ultraviolence of the much-darker Sin City, nor does it have the kinkiness, the language, the greasy filth. But it does have striking visuals and gorgeously creative settings. It's all a lot more colorful although it seems this rarely extends beyond the primary colors. But I really do love how this movie looks--the painted backdrops, the urban lines, the fun camera angles. There are some times when the action kind of gets a little hectic, but for the most part, there's not a lot of shots in this movie that I don't enjoy looking at.

And that includes Madonna who I think does a great job in this. She's playing a singer who seduces Warren Beatty which isn't much of a stretch, and her character is a walking and singing film noir cliche. Still, she nails everything she's given to do. I mean, she seduces you right through the screen, so it's easy to see what poor Dick Tracy is up against. There's just something about Madonna in this movie that draws your eyes to her, and that's pretty remarkable considering I can search on the Internet and find a picture of her hitchhiking naked any time I want. Not that I've ever done that. But I could if I wanted to.

Maybe Breathless Mahoney is so easy on the eyes because most of the other characters are difficult to look at. Actors are caked in make-up and prosthetics to give them that inhuman form of humanity that you can only find in a comic book. It gives the story another color and weirdness that's attractive and unique. Actors like William Forsythe and Dustin Hoffman are nearly unrecognizable. Al Pacino might have been unrecognizable, too, but it's impossible to not know it's him because no other human being acts like that. He's on fire here, a performance that is undeniably (and appropriately) campy but nevertheless completely genius. Still, I was surprised that he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. I'm not saying it's not deserved, and I really do love the performance. But would anybody not named Pacino get the nomination for something like this?

I wonder what the pornographic parody of this was titled.

This isn't the most creative storytelling, and there are times I wish one of the subplots would have been cut to better focus on the other aspects. But when a movie looks this good, has this much color, and has these kinds of memorable performances, who cares about a little thing like story?

To Rome with Love

2012 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Residents and tourists in Rome have various mini-adventures.

I always mean to catch up on all these newer Woody Allen things and then never do. There's something about a movie like this by a director like this where it just seems like he exhales and these movies come out. There's nothing particularly revolutionary about anything that's going on here, but the movie has a certain charm that is easy to get lost in. I like when Woody Allen throws in some magical realism into his storylines, and you get that with a pair of these stories.

The four storylines weave in and out of each other; otherwise, this is an anthologized romantic comedy. I might have predicted that I'd like some more than the others, but I never really got disappointed when things would shift to any of them. Things only ever get mildly amusing, but as I said, there's something kind of refreshing about the way these stories kind of float along. And each story comes with just the right sprinkling of curmudgeonly pessimism which gives the proceedings a cutesy edge that I also liked.

The Baldwin/Eisenberg is nearly derailed because they're playing the same character and Baldwin is acting just like Alec Baldwin usually acts and Eisenberg is acting just like Jesse Eisenberg usually acts. And that's really nothing like each other. I like what the story has to say about how we're sort of doomed to make the choices we make. Even when conventional wisdom--or Alec Baldwin--is trying to warn us, we're still doomed. Of course, Ellen Page just might be cute enough to make those sorts of mistakes.

The characters I cared the least about were two newlyweds, a farcical affair of affairs that seemed at home in Italy. Or maybe it was more French, definitely European though. The story had twists and turns that weren't really helped by the fractured way it was mixed in with the other three, but I don't think I would have wanted to spend an hour and a half with these characters.

It was good to see Roberto Benigni again. I'm not sure if I've ever seen him in anything Italian except for that version of Pinocchio that he nearly ruined his career with. He's subdued here in a fun little one-joke story about a completely mundane guy who suddenly has the paparazzi following him around like he's some sort of celebrity. It was a little like a more-comic Kafka in a way.

Finally, the story that Woody Allen himself appears in. Now Woody Allen really was never really an actor, but what he does here might be the worst acting he's done. His character tries to cajole the father of his daughter's fiance into venturing into a career as an opera singer after hearing him in the shower. The result is like the punchline of a joke, but it's an almost-funny one and the visual of it might make this the most memorable of the four vignettes.

These humorous little snippets might seem a little half-baked, but I think they almost work better because of that. They're four moments in time that don't have a lot to say about Rome or live or even love, but they're breezy and kind of fun and worth watching if you like Woody Allen's stuff.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

2016 dramedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A New York reporter spinning her wheels decides a change of scenery is needed and heads to Afghanistan to cover the war despite not having any experience.

I was a little surprised that this ended up being such a superficial look at both the character and some of the issues it scrapes against. As a biopic, there's nothing profound. Tina Fey kind of plays the only character not named Sarah Palin that she is capable of playing, and there's really no depth to that character. Fey is fine, but the character herself feels like somebody just going through the motions. When the screenplay does have chances to say things about America's various wars in the Middle East, life for people in war-torn nations, the role of females in media, or anything else, it just doesn't do it with any authority. A recurring street kid character seems to be there only because the movie wants to wink at us and say, "See? This isn't all comedy! We've got a little heart with our humor, too!"

Is it my imagination, or have there been a whole lot of comedies that take place in the Middle East lately? Keep throwing that dart, Hollywood, because eventually it's going to hit.

I'm glad to see that Martin Freeman has gone through a growth spurt.

War Dogs

2016 drama

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: No rating. She was in the room for the entire movie but didn't watch it. She says she didn't like it and doesn't like Jonah Hill.)

Plot: Childhood friends get involved in the arms dealing business, but it puts strains on the relationships of that kid who wanted to play drums in Whiplash.

If that poster above reminds you of the one for the 70's Scarface, it's not a coincidence.

If you saw previews for this movie and thought, "Wait a second! There's already a movie about arms dealing, and since it has Nicolas Cage in it, it's automatically superior to any other movie that could be made about the subject," then you're right.

If you don't like Miles Teller, there's a lot of him here. He might be in every single scene in this movie, and since he narrates the movie as well--because if there's anything we need more of in movies, it's narration--you get a ton of the guy. I didn't like him and then did like him and now just can't be sure how I feel. My feelings about Jonah Hill were similar, so when I saw previews for this and saw that both of these guys were in this movie, I was suspicious. "What are these two fellas trying to do?" I thought to myself. "What's their game here?" Turns out, they're both just fine. Hill has this recurring chuckle, a strange little quirk, and it feels a little forced by the fourth time you hear it. Neither guy plays a likable character, and since I don't find either actor all that likable, I guess that makes it work. I do like their chemistry. They bounce off each other well, and the dialogue is quick and stuffed with all these humorous asides. Most of the funniest bits in the movie are tiny lines exchanged by these two.

I will say this. The "dudes" and "bros" coming from Jonah Hill sound a little more natural than the ones coming from Teller.

The story is a little predictable with some obvious foreshadowing dropped a couple times. I guess part of the reason a twist still works is that you end up believing in the relationship in the story. And there's a point in the story where you know the characters aren't going to die, but the suspense is still very real regardless. And it's still a little funny at the same time, too.

The main issue, I suppose, is that these characters are really difficult to root for. In fact, you don't want to root for anybody in this movie with the exception of a baby and maybe a camel I thought I saw in the background of one scene. Oh, and the driver. I liked that guy. But the U.S. government? They're not something you want to root for here. The leads? No, they're despicable people. Bradley Cooper? You always want to root for his characters, right? Not here exactly, mostly because of his facial hair.

This might have gotten a rating boost from me if it did for government military spending what The Big Short did for the housing bubble collapse. Or maybe it did do that. Anyway, we definitely spend a lot of money on things that kill in this country, don't we?

American Buffalo

1996 adaptation of a play

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A pair of guys who, with their presence, actually make a junk store seem junkier scheme to get back a buffalo nickel that they suspect ripped them off.

I'd never heard of this movie but saw it on the shelf at that same library where I grabbed the pornographic Thundercrack! . Hoffman and Franz, a play by Mamet. I figured it was worth checking out. When I looked it up, it didn't appear as if people liked it. I'm guessing that's because nothing really happens. The character start in one place, spin their wheels for a bit, and then end up in the exact same place. They're losers, and this is a movie about losers. They're enterprising losers, but they're still losers. And if this is the kind of thing that would have a thousand sequels like those Fast and the Furious movies, they would remain losers in those, too.

This is a unique heist movie because it's a heist movie without a heist. And it's a movie about a pair of friends who don't have anything that friends should have. They don't respect each other, they don't even seem to like each other, and they don't trust each other. You get a sense that the characters are together because they feel shackled to each other for some reason, like they've been thrown into this dilapidated, desolate inner-city purgatory where nobody exists except for the occasional passing cop and are forced to play poker together and spend their non-napping hours together. It's like a Waiting for Godot of heist movies, but the Godot is a lucky break or an avenue that might lead them out of the nowhere in which they reside. Hoffman's character says they're living like caveman, but they're characters resigned to that fate. They're comfortably cavemen even as they hate their existence.

I really liked these characters.

Franz is really natural as Don. The performance is the kind where it seems like you just wandered into this junk shop and woke the guy up and had him live his life. Hoffman's performance is a little more bombastic, the actor relishing in getting to say so many curse words. His character is always agitated. I like Hoffman's performance even if he is probably overdoing things a little bit. He's good at delivering these jumbled lines as if his brain is trying to keep up with his tongue though, and I like that.

I don't think think this is anything mind-blowing, but I did like it a lot more than I thought I would after reading about it a bit.

Hell or High Water

2016 crime drama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Two brothers resort to robbing a bunch of branches of the same bank in order to collect money to save the family ranch. Jeffrey Lebowski finds himself involved.

How lucky are we to get two Coen brother movies in the same calendar year? A witty comedy and then one of their grittier, more philosophical and deeply American things. Wait, this isn't a Coen brothers' movie? Are you sure? It's got Jeff Bridges in it, and he's playing the same sort of character that Tommy Lee Jones played in No Country for Old Men. It's got dialogue that seems like it's straight out of a Coen brothers' movie. It's got surprising violence. It's got an ending that a lot of people won't like. It's even got a freakin' Townes Van Zandt song in it! How can you have a movie with Jeff Bridges and a Townes Van Zandt song that isn't a Coen brothers' movie?

Nope, this is David Mackenzie directing a screenplay by Taylor Sheridan. Looking up Mackenzie, I'm noticing that he's from England which doesn't seem right since this is such a distinctly American movie. Maybe that's easy to do though. Just set it in West Texas and have Bridges grumble all his lines and have characters shooting each other, and you've got something that looks American. The setting for a good American movie like this is usually as important as the characters. I'm thinking movies like Paris, Texas or any of those New York Scorsese movies or something like that. Here, it's all about dust, good old American dust. That's what Americans do best, after all. We sit around and let our skin flake off into the air and become dust. It's a circle of life sort of thing. Hell or High Water starts with a great continuous circular shot of Small Town, America, completely uninhabited except for a woman walking into her work. We see a blue car pass by, ominous only because there's more than likely a character driving it and it would be the only other living person in the vicinity. It's a great shot, and I was hooked immediately.

The very best thing about the movie is the color though, and that color comes mostly from the fringe characters. Bridges is really great. He wears curmudgeon well, and he does so much with his body language here that it shows an understanding of the character that extends decades before the movie takes place. I like his rapport with his partner Alberto, played by Gil Birmingham. And the Howard brothers are good anti-heroes or whatever you might be tempted to call them. Chris Pine, because he's quiet, is more difficult to figure out. You don't know exactly where his head is at. Ben Foster's brother, the more manic of the two, is easier to understand because of his contradictions. Those characters are all great, but it's the fringe characters--the sassy waitresses of this world--that add all the color.

This is the second Nick Cave and Warren Ellis scored movie I've written about in the last two days. What they do is about perfect for this neo-Western genre, timeless plucks of scarred guitars and notes from tired pianos. It works because it blends.

Only the Coens, and apparently the writing/directing team of Sheridan/Mackenzie, can create something that seems so very real while at the same time feels like it's the sort of thing that can only happen in a movie. It's the kind of story that you know isn't going to wind up happy for every single character, and it's also the kind where you just can't take your eyes off it. The terrific dialogue, the bleak West Texas landscape, the rapport of the performers, and the tense situations peppered throughout just totally grip you and refuse to let go until the end, one that leaves you pondering what the whole thing was really about and what is likely to happen next. My guess: Everybody's way too tired for any more shenanigans.

Special TV Show Entry: Ash vs. the Evil Dead (Season One)

2015 television sequel

Rating: No rating for television shows! This isn't 'Nam. There are rules.

Plot: Aged Ash, now with a wooden hand, stupidly summons his titular foes while trying to impress a girl with some poetry. He and a couple new pals team up to try to figure out a way to stop them and save the world.

I know this isn't a movie, but it's so closely tied to one that I feel I have to write something about it. First, I'll say that there are things that really bug me about the whole thing. It's not Evil Dead 2, but I didn't really expect it to be.

Here's what I like and dislike about it:

1. The humor's there, sometimes a very very dark sort of humor, and there's a lot more gore than I think I've ever seen with something coming from television, just buckets of blood as you'd probably expect from anything related to the Raimi franchise.

2. Bruce Campbell knows how to ham it up as this character. Put a chainsaw on the guy's hand, and he knows what to do with that chin of his. I haven't liked much of Campbell's post-AoD career. His Elvis in Bubba Ho-Tep? They Call Me Bruce? It's not been pretty. He should have been like Shintaro Katsu who played Zatoichi over and over and over again and just been Ash for twenty or so movies.

3. Man, there's a lot of blood. And the writers of this series seem to relish in finding new ways to kill people. I mean, antlers? Twice?

4. Then again, maybe there is such thing as too much Ash. The forced one-liners, the questionable decision making, the misogynist attitude, the countless reminders of just how stupid the man is. One of my favorite exchanges in the first season though was when a character partially threatened him with "If you say one more dumb thing" and he replied, with perfect timing and delivery, "I'm gonna say a lot of dumb things."

5. Putting Ash and company on the road was probably a good idea. It gave them a chance to mix things up with different locales--Pablo's uncle's creepy place, a restaurant, etc. And it kept things from getting scale even when most of the episodes kind of had the same structure.

6. That said, at episode 8 when Ash returns to the cabin? Oh, the little girl in me just couldn't stop giggling. A trip to the tool shed. A trip to the basement. So, so good to revisit that setting.

7. I appreciate the whooshing demon cam perspective. I'm sure fans would have revolted if it didn't happen, but that doesn't make it any less awesome.

8. A lot of what made Evil Dead 2 so much fun for me is the creative camera work. There are some moments in Ash vs. the Evil Dead that are reminiscent.

9. I don't care to see Ash leaping through the air with an extended arm stump and catch a chainsaw thrown to him by Pablo ever again.

10. I'm not sure if Lucy Lawless adds anything. I really like Ray Santiago, the guy who plays Pablo. That's a fun character. He's also a sympathetic character. Dana DeLorenzo, who plays Kelly, is fine, too. But if Bruce Campbell decides to jump off this ship eventually, I'd have no interest in continuing to follow the adventures of these other people. Of course, a show called Ash vs. the Evil Dead that doesn't have Ash in it wouldn't make much sense anyway.

11. Ash's hand! That was fantastic, and I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be a plot point in The Force Awakens. Well, not with Ash's hand. That wouldn't have made any sense at all.

12. The lead-in to the title screen is always really cool. It usually involves a copious amount of blood.

The Purge

2013 thriller

Rating: 8/20

Plot: In a mild dystopia, Americans are given one 12-hour period to let out all of their frustrations as laws are suspended for a 12-hour period. One family tries to survive the night inside their home.

Well, here's nothing but a wasted opportunity. I had an interest in this franchise after seeing previews for the newest one, figuring that there was room for some political or philosophical statements. What does The Purge have to say about America, our violent past and more-than-likely-violent future, the human soul? It turns out that it has nothing at all to say. And that's unfortunate.

The best part of the movie turned out to be a security camera violence montage at the very beginning. From there, it devolved into a family drama and then a violent thriller. And a cliched one at that. The first time a main character is about to be axed or stabbed or shot only to have another off-screen character shoot the person trying to ax, stab, or shoot him or her made me roll my eyes. My eyes really got their exercise when that happened three times though.

There's something about Ethan Hawke that annoys me. I could ignore him though because of the performance of some kid named Rhys Wakefield who played the leader of the bad guys trying to get into the family's house. This kid was so sure of himself that it was laughable.