ReelReviews #134: Captain Marvel (2019)


MARCH 7, 2019: Captain Marvel



It’s kind of sad that the anti-sjw’s have gotten as triggerable as the sjw’s.

– Internet reviewer ‘Paradox’ on the reaction to the film


The above quote summarizes the problem with the toxic atmosphere behind the release of this film. No critic can give an honest review without their exterior motives being questioned. No audience member who has read ANY internet discussion of this movie at all can put it aside and look at the movie objectively at face value. Congratulations guys, you’ve broke the internet! What have you gained with that?


I wish it hadn’t been this way. Captain Marvel is yet another film is the long running Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, the penultimate film before “Avengers: Infinity War” concludes its much discussed cliffhanger and moves on to another phase of that universe. What should have been a cute, breezy side-film filled with 90s nostalgia has instead become an online battleground over whether the movie is “third wave feminism propaganda”  that exists to demean and attack males, an accusation that certainly hasn’t been helped by the attitude of its lead star, Brie Larson.  This toxic atmosphere resulted in me being viciously attacked and bashed just for having pre-ordered tickets to the opening weekend premiere and refusing to cancel my premiere night after it was “discovered” how “anti-male” the film is.  How could I financially support such an insidious film that slanders my OWN gender? TRAITOR! The idea that SOMEONE might want to just see the film on its own merits and draw my OWN conclusions from what’s actually ON SCREEN was simply not an option, apparently.  In any case, for the sake my audience, I did go ahead and bravely press ahead to see exactly how “bad” this film would be.


Well, now that four days have passed, here are my honest thoughts: Captain Marvel is NOT bad – it’s good. Furthermore, it is NOT – let me repeat that – NOT “anti-male feminist propaganda”. The naysayers can scream otherwise until they are blue in the face, but what we saw on screen simply wasn’t there to bash the male gender. I am reminded of all the hysteria from 2013 claiming Frozen was secretly gay propaganda ‘used to indoctrinate children into the homosexual lifestyle’, which simply wasn’t there.  I am also reminded of a quote from Dee Snider of the rock band Twister Sister made when he was accused of promoting “Sadomasochism” in his music by Tipper Gore (wife of Al Gore) during the 1985 U.S. Senate hearings on the music industry: “I can categorically say that the only sadomasochism, bondage, and rape in this song is in the mind of Mrs. Gore.  Mrs. Gore was looking for sadomasochism and bondage, and she found it.”


All that being said… I can’t give this film a glowing review.  It’s decent, fun, and has a number of positives to recommend the film, but it’s not the kind of the movie that is particularly memorable or worthy of seeing on the big screen.  As far as Marvel movies go, I would rank it as average. It’s better than disappointing “meh” movies like Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron, but it’s not in the same league as really fresh and creative movies like Captain America: Winter Solider or the original Iron Man that kicked off the entire cinematic universe to begin with.


What really works well in Captain Marvel is that it’s a prequel that neatly ties into the original material for a change, and it HEAVILY evokes  1990s nostalgia with a soundtrack and setting that is sure to bring back memories for audience members that grew up in that era. Nostalgia sells in Hollywood, and just as the Disney Star Wars brought in people who said the original 70s film was “part of my childhood”, and just as American Graffiti wowed over audiences who went to High School  in the late 50s and early 60s,  Captain Marvel is bound to appeal to people who came of age during the era of AOL dial-up, pagers, and No Doubt concerts. The film also has some amazing de-aging CGI that makes actors Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg look exactly like their 1995 counterparts.


Without giving away any specific “spoilers”, two other elements that worked well was a wonderful Stan Lee tribute in the opening credits, and a really well done twist halfway thru the film that I never saw coming until it slammed me right in the face.  In fact, some of the criticism that I imagine could be thrown at the movie – that the first 20 minutes is rather erratic, scattershot, and hard to follow – and that the already established characters of Nick Fury and Agent Coulson seem a bit overwhelmed and unsure of themselves – work perfectly well in the context of the movie, as the erratic flashbacks turn out to be an important plot point later on, and the film presents an c. 1995 time frame where it literally is the previously established characters “first time at the rodeo” and they are caught in a bizarre situation they could have never dreamed of.   Indeed, most of Nick Fury’s missteps in this movie can be chalked up to the fact it’s the first time he’s ever encountered extraterrestrial beings with superpowers — NOT because he’s a toxic masculinity character who needs a strong ‘womyn’ figure to save the day.


What doesn’t work so well in Captain Marvel is honestly Captain Marvel herself.  She’s not a “bad” character – and she has a pretty amazing superpower and is definitely a kick-butt-and-take-names kind of badass figure, but it’s easy to see why Wonder Woman has been an iconic female superhero while Captain Marvel is one of the Marvel comics’ also-rans.  The much polarizing Brie Larson does a decent job on screen with the material she’s given, and I look forward to seeing Captain Marvel in the MCU again, but she is simply no Iron Man or Captain America.  The naysayers blasting this movie will taunt “Wonder Woman was better!”, and there may honestly be something to say for that (I haven’t seen the film adaptation of Wonder Woman so I can’t comment), but if you were compare the whole “female empowerment!” marketing campaign in this film compared to how it was played up in Wonder Woman, it was about 10X as prominent in the latter movie (remember the endless gushing over Patty Jenkins being a female director?), which makes the people screaming “Feminist propaganda!!” at this film to be just a tad hypocritical.   The same is also true of Brie Larson herself. Yes, she has used her “fame” in this movie as a soap box to promote her very “progressive” beliefs.  But for those screaming “BOYCOTT!” at the film over that, I suggest they read up on the actor who replaced Edward Norton as The Incredible Hulk.  As a “social justice activist”, he is much worse than Brie Larson EVER was (Mark Ruffalo was the only white actor I recall boycotting the Oscars because they were “too white”), but did anyone call for a boycott of the Avengers due to Mark Ruffalo’s off screen actions? I think not.


What I think is unfortunate is the “Captain Marvel is SJW propaganda!!” naysayers had so much invested in “proving” this film was the “Worst Marvel Movie Ever” and hoping it would fail that they will never admit they were wrong, regardless of the actual content we got on screen. A friend of mine noted that sometimes a person’s perspective of a film can change after you reflect on the movie a few days after seeing it. That’s very true. What reflecting on this film made me realize, however, is that the naysayers honestly don’t care about what is presented at face value. I have little doubt that they will spend months after the film was released taking random snippets of dialogue out of context and analyzing characters actions in random scenes to “prove” there’s some insidious SJW current under neither to slander and embarrass white males. Thus, I return to the original premise of my review:  it’s a sad day when the anti-SJWs have become as triggable as the SJWs.  Just as the SJWs had little interest in what Chick-Fil-A actually does and just wanted to go on a crusade “proving” its owner and CEO was “homophobic and hates gay people” based on one comment he said, so do the anti-SJWs are on a crusade to destroy Captain Marvel because Brie Larson made one snide remark that they don’t like.


Since Captain Marvel is just a “yeah, it was fun” film and not a great one, I don’t see it as a hill to die on.  In fact, the best character in this movie is a pet cat. While that alone was worth the price of admission, it certainly wasn’t the best thing to come out of Marvel. Anyone who wants to “boycott” the movie is free to do so, though the only thing they’re hurting is themselves since they’re going to have a hard time following the MCU from now on if they don’t know what happened during this film.  Trolls screaming “ZOMG WURST MARVEL M0VIE EVAR!!” aside, mildly positive word of mouth is what this film is getting, what it deserves, and will probably result in it making a decent profit.  I just wish those of us who were curious about this film were given the same courtesy as we had before this hysteria began.  There is no one more anti-SJW than me, and IF this film were two hours of putting down the male gender, I’d be the first to say so. It’s not when the film is viewed on its own merits.  The same crowd who bashes this movie rightfully bashes the direction that Star Trek and Star Wars has taken in recent years, but the difference we were ALLOWED to view those projects ON THEIR OWN MERITS FIRST. Yes, I “thought” The Vulcan Hello would be bad, but I tried to be as open minded as I could and go into the pilot WILLING to give the show a chance to demonstrate otherwise.  What I got was an incoherent garbled mess and thus I KNEW my qualms about the show were legitimate.   Why aren’t the naysayers of Captain Marvel willing to give it the same benefit of the doubt?


The biggest problem with SJWs is that their side tends to engage in groupthink and a hive mind of blindly drawing conclusions about something. Stooping to their level isn’t going to do the anti-SJWs any good. Love Captain Marvel, Hate Captain Marvel, be Indifferent about Captain Marvel, but just ALLOW people to judge the film on its own, mmmmkay?


** 1/2  out of ****


ReelReviews #133: Hamilton (2015 Broadway Musical)


NOV 1, 2018: Hamilton (The Broadway Musical)



Live, on stage, it’s founding father Alexander Hamilton, now a Puerto Rican rapper!


“Hamilton” is the first blog review I’ve done of a non-film. Due to the fact that it’s a musical stage show, I ended up getting myself a recorded copy of the show, and watching it at home on DVD.  I almost never see live musical theatrical shows on stage (I remember I had to see several for a college assignment, was looking forward to seeing A Chorus Line, then came away disappointed and thought it sucked), but Hamilton has “near universal acclaim” from both critics and audiences alike, despite the premise sounding god-awful. It’s an example of the old “You gotta SEE it yourself to understand how awesome it is” mentality, and so I decided to “give it a chance”.  So fine, let’s take a look at this “sensation” and give it an honest review.


For starters, “Hamilton” IS a lot of fun.  That being said, I can’t say I “loved” it, and I’d have to disagree with people who say it’s great to take your kids to so they can “learn history”.   The show is an attempt to take real life historic events and make them fun and sexy and “relevant” to “modern audiences” by having song and dance numbers done in a “hip” contemporary musical style, and “updating” the dialogue so there are some f-bombs and so on.  Before seeing the show, I asked myself how Lin-Manuel Miranda could convincingly play Alexander Hamilton. The answer is that he really doesn’t. Rather, he plays Lin-Manuel Miranda experiencing the events of Hamilton’s life.  This means we get his character saying lines like “Aw, shit!” and “Are you outta yo’ goddam mind?”


To be fair, the show does contain a lot of accurate details about historic events, and I give it credit for providing audiences with some very good information about an overlooked founding father. I will also admit a lot of the show is genuinely moving – the dire circumstances the American colonists were facing during American Revolution is conveyed quite well in a moving number called “The World Turned Upside Down”, and the fact Hamilton didn’t live to an old age like the rest of the founding fathers and had his life tragically cut short after being murdered by Aaron Burr in a duel really hits home in the show’s final monologue.  Still, much of the show was simply annoying to me and felt like an insult to make colonial era figures “cool” to “modern” audiences, such as one particularly cringe-worthy moment at the start of Act II where Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson (played by a black guy with an afro) have a rap battle over policy differences.


The truly “fun” parts come from a lot of the clever dialogue and over the top characters. I couldn’t suppress a laugh when “George III” first came on stage, and the actor really made him a ridiculous caricature of the stereotypical image of George III as an elitist, smug, out-of-touch, aristocratic ruler.  When snootily he refers to America as a so-called “country” after their independence, it’s very amusing, although the real George III probably wasn’t nearly as bad as the play’s interpretation of him.  In many ways, I found it reminiscent of musical plays I enjoy like “Jesus Christ Superstar” (which also attempted to make it “relevant” for then contemporary early 1970s audiences by making Jesus out to be a hippie like figure, making it a “rock-opera” with disco numbers, and having some color blind casting). George III’s ridiculous image in this play is very much in the vein of the King Herod scenes in Jesus Christ Superstar (where Herod is portrayed as a goofy, fat, filthy rich, flaming gay Hollywood type figure, and has a very singable number testing Jesus that was condemned by the BBC as ‘sacrilege’). They are effective and memorial scenes, though very much nothing like the real life figure, and invented for the benefit of amusing a live audience.


Still, “Hamilton” never reaches the levels of Jesus Christ Superstar – partly because it doesn’t’ have any type of genuinely emotional and heartfelt moments like Jesus’s sincere “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” number, where you can really feel his anguish and torment at knowing he will die in a few hours (Ted Neeley very effectively sang this in the movie adaptation). “Hamilton” is more along the lines of the 1996 “Romeo + Juliet”, where the classic Shakespearean characters were re-imagined as contemporary figures fighting in present-day southern California “Verona Beach”, whipping out machine guns while saying classic Shakespearean dialogue about “drawing my long-sword at thee”. It’s fun, but ultimately feels shallow.



I also feel “Hamilton” is flawed in that it’s pretty much in the vein of Robert Benigni’s “Pinocchio” from 2002 (which, unlike “Hamilton”, got awful reviews). In that respect, it’s because while the creator DOES truly want to “honor” the original story, he has no interest in being FAITHFUL to the original figures – rather he wants to make it a vehicle for showcasing himself and his OWN message, and something gets lost in the translation because he doesn’t fit the role at all (In Benigni’s case, he was a 50-something balding comedy actor playing a little wooden puppet child who longed to be a real little boy). I simply disagree with Lin-Manuel’s assertion that he cast the characters to “look like America today”.  Rather than to “color blind” casting, Manuel seemed to deliberately cast as many minorities as possible to basically thumb his nose as what he perceives to be the status quo. There are a handful of white actors, mainly cast as authoritative figures like George III.  “America is the 21st century” is still majority white, whether Lin-Manuel likes that fact or not. As a result, his casting decisions give us a portrait that looks more like “Brazil today” than the United States. I think his ideology hurts the play’s overall effectiveness.  While I can say the show overall had some good musical numbers, great chorography, and solid history lessons, I can’t say I really drawn into the show or that I would want to see it again.  It seems to me critics and audiences fawn over this show simply because they want to be perceived as being “cool” for having “liked” such a trendy thing.  I did read one more down to earth review that gave Hamilton a more subdued 7 out of 10 score, and that sounds fairly accurate to me.


On a final note, I will note one very interesting side effect of “Hamilton”. There was a movement a couple years back to replace the figure of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with a woman or minority figure from American history, as it was thought we needed more “diversity” on our money since it was all white men, and Hamilton, being a non-President and lesser known figure, was an ideal target to go.  Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway show had the odd timing of showing up right in the middle of that debate, reigniting interest in the historic figure of Alexander Hamilton, and swelling public interest in keeping Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. In many ways, then, the Broadway musical “Hamilton” seems to have the exact OPPOSITE effect on present day society that Lin-Manuel Miranda would prefer.  That makes me smile, in much the same way that the increasingly downgraded budgets and cast and box office numbers of the three “Atlas Shrugged” movies taught Americans about the free market and supply-and-demand economics – just in the opposite way that Ayn Rand cultists hoped they would.


** 1/2 out of ****


ReelReviews #112: Woo-oo! Ducktales (2017 reboot)


MARCH 16, 2017 SCREENING: DuckTales (2017 pilot)


Woo-oo!  Having grown up on the original 80s Ducktales cartoon (which makes me feel freakin’ old, seeing as it was 30 years ago), I’m one of the many adults who couldn’t resist tuning into the August sneak-peek of the NEW Ducktales, thanks to the 24 hour marathon of “Woo-oo!”, (its appropriately named pilot episode) on the Disney XD channel.


Although the regular episodes of the series won’t start until September 23rd, the pilot premiered a month earlier and it’s only now that I’m blogging this much belated review. So what can be said about Ducktales that hasn’t been said already? Well, I’ll throw my 2 cents into Scrooge’s vault.


Most of the reviews I’ve seen online have nothing but glowing praise for the new Ducktales. I really liked it too, but I have to hesitate before lavishing unqualified accolades for the new incarnation of Ducktales. Compared to its iconic 1987 predecessor, Ducktales 2017 has yet to earn its place as a part of television history, nor has it stood the test of time like its previous version.  Ducktales 2017 had numerous examples of both positives and negatives, so on the whole I have to say it was a mixed bag.


For me, the weakest element of the new series is the completely new (aside from Donald Duck himself) voice cast.  It actually pains me to say that, since I fell in love with the new cast singing the “Ducktales” theme on YouTube and I thought it was really inspired casting to have people like David Tennant as the new Scrooge McDuck. Simply put, the new cast sounds almost nothing like the original cast, and often, they don’t even attempt to do so. It’s not just a matter of “getting used to” the new voices – in many cases, they seem wholly inappropriate for the characters, even if you welcome the idea of a new take on those characters.  Scoorge’s nephews, for example, now sound like middle-aged comedians, which is not surprising, since that’s who’s voicing them. And while I didn’t expect Tennant to try and slavishly mimic Alan Young’s Scrooge, I expected him to at least get the “crusty old miser with a heart of gold” essence of the character down.  The most I can say is that Scrooge still sounds Scottish, but that’s not surprising since David Tennant IS Scottish. Tennant’s enthusiasm for the role is clearly present, but I’m just not hearing Scrooge McDuck. Even Kate Micucci, who on paper seemed like she’d be the “most like” the original character, bears virtually no resemblance to the 1987 Webby. Strangely, the only voiceover actor who mildly invokes the style of his 1987 counterpart is Beck Bennett as Launchpad McQuack.


Another thing that irked me was I sincerely hoped the 2017 series would be a revival of the 1987 series – that is, even if it didn’t directly pick-up where the ’87 series left off, it would start off with Scrooge and his nephews relationship clearly established and presume that the adventures in the 80s show were canon and had already “happened”, so we’re seeing new adventures. Alas, this is a “reboot” in the true sense of the word, and that means the writers will be ignoring everything that happened in the classic 1987 series and starting over scratch. This was demonstrated from day one, as “Woo-oo!”, gives us another origin story where Donald’s nephews meet their great uncle scrooge for the “first time”, and the episode revolves around Scrooge learning to accept them. I strongly felt we didn’t need to see that.


Now, aside from the negatives, the rest of the pilot was superb television, IMO.  The simpler and sleeker animation style had me a little worried the new Ducktales might be aimed more for the kindergarten crowd than the original show. Nope. The new Ducktales pretty much remains an all encompassing family show like its predecessor, and shows the same mix of action, adventure, comedy, drama, fantasy, and sci-fi that made the original show so engaging. I think its rare to find that combo in kid’s shows these days.



I am reluctant to admit it, but some of the changes seem to give the show more gravitas than the original. For example, in the 1987 Ducktales, Scrooge’s archenemy Flintgold Glomheart might be mistaken for Scrooge’s brother – they look identical aside from Glomheart sporting a kilt and gray beard. Here, there is no question Glomheart looks and sounds completely different from Scrooge and they are totally different characters aside from both being Scottish billionaire Ducks.  Webby Vanderquack, pretty much a damsel-in-distress role in the original show, is much more proactive and has a lot more to do in the reboot.  Huey, Dewey, and Louis have distinctive personalities in the reboot, compared to pretty much being clones and interchangeable in the 1987 series. The revamping of these iconic characters make me look forward to what Ducktales will do with other classic characters like Magica de Spell, Duckworth, and Professor Ludwig Von Drake.


Aside from completely changing the voices, Ducktales 2017 has an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude and transplants much of the classic Ducktales universe over to the new show. The souped up version of theme song might be even better than the original, the humor is still sharp and will make adults as well as kids laugh, and Ducktales still has a tour-de-force, upbeat spirit of adventure and fun.


Finally, Ducktales 2017 ends its pilot episode with a surprise twist, and one that has yet to be explored in any previous incarnation of Ducktales, and will no doubt play an important role in the new show.


Overall, I’m upset that Ducktales 2017 has shown up to “override” the stories and beloved characters from its predecessor television show, but I’m excited what the future will hold for this new series once it establishes itself in its own right. Perhaps the only major problem is it seems the new Ducktales, while being wholly a “kids show” on paper, is generating far more excitement for 30 something adults these days.  Time will tell if the next generation of kids grow up loving Ducktales, too.




*** out of ****

ReelReviews #107: It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)



The good news: Unlike many other “third movies” in a trilogy, this movie isn’t a complete joke that ruins everything you liked about the first two movies. The bad news? It’s still a disappointment compared to the first two. It’s watchable, yes, but unsatisfying.

Ironically, the third film provided a great setup for building on the universe from the first two movies and giving the audience something much bigger and bolder. The most obvious question from the first two films is what would the killer mutant babies actually be like IF they grew up? Additionally, there is the question of how the evil mutant babies would interact with their own kind, what they would do if left their own devices, and there was very little in the way of actually SEEING the babies in full detail from the first films because of the makeup limitations of those movies. It’s Alive III addresses all those points – and in many cases, it provides a perfectly valid answer to those questions. But alas, something is still missing.

Compared to Basket Case 3 (which shifted the tone so much from the first movie, it was like they were intentionally trying to make a bad joke), Island of the Alive sticks to the style of the first two movies very well. The film opens in a courtroom where they argue over the fate of one of the mutant babies (finally seen in full detail thanks to stop-motion animation). Without going into too much detail, the killer mutant babies are eventually quarantined on an island that is restricted to the public, hence the title. Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a plot if they just stayed there forever and no one ever saw them again, so a few years later, they decide to send an expedition out to track down if the killer mutant babies are still alive on the island.
None of this (aside from perhaps the tense courtroom scene where the father has to “touch” the baby in the cage to “prove” it’s safe) plays out as horrifically and dark as it could from the way it sounds on paper. I think part of the problem is that that Island of the Alive was made a decade after the first two movies, and the late 80s setting simply gives the movie a different feel than its mid-1970s counterparts. (I have no idea why there was such a large gap in time between the filming of the second and third movies). Strangely, 70s cult horror star Karen Black shows up in this one as a disgruntled girlfriend of one of the characters, and I found her role unintentionally funny. Even Rob Zombie couldn’t seem to use Karen Black in a serious role. It’s Alive III just seems to lack the same quiet, creepy, dark vibe of the original movie, despite having the same writer/director.

The film does deserve kudos for an interesting script that eventually reveals that the mutant babies mature at age four and are able to reproduce, and communicate with each other through some type of sign language and/or telepathy. This results in some type of “Captain Phillips” type scenario where one of the characters is held hostage on a boat commanded by the mutant babies. The scene itself, however, was neither funny & campy nor terrifying and creepy, it was just sort of there, and make me shrug, “eh?”

The film provides a satisfying conclusion to its own events, but as part of a trilogy, it’s the weakest of the trio. Whether it’s worth watching is really up to you.

** out of ****

ReelReviews #106: It Lives Again (1978)



The film poster summarizes this entire two hour movie very easily: The killer mutant baby from “Its Alive” is back: only this time there are three of them.

Following the rule of sequels, the second film in the trilogy gives the audience what was best about the first movie, but ups the ante and delivers more action, thrills, and violence than its predecessor. In many cases, this type of lazy filmmaking (“give ‘em what they got before, multiplied 3X!) results in an inferior follow-up movie. Here, it actually works…although the film is still a step down from its immediate predecessor. Part of the reason “It Lives Again” works so well is that filmmaker Larry Cohen wisely got John P. Ryan back to reprise his role from the first film, but gave him something entirely different to do in the sequel. In “It Lives Again”, he’s there to warn the parents of other mutant babies what they are encountering in their life, and he’s changed course 180 degrees from the film movie, since now he is trying to PROTECT the mutant babies rather than destroy them.

The entire “hook” of the sequel having THREE killer mutant babies instead of just one little nasty monster is actually the most disappointing aspect of the film. This concept could have made for some very interesting scenarios, but it is not merely as fun as its sounds. For starters, evil mutant baby killer #1 and #2 get killed off about halfway through the movie, so the climax ends with a race-against-the-clock to stop just one killer baby, just like the first film. Secondly, the three evil mutant babies don’t even interact with each other or appear on screen in the same scenes, so what was the point of including them in the first place?

Aside from John P. Ryan (who – SPOILER ALERT—gets killed off in this movie, disappointing me since he was the best thing about the first two films) the only other character to return from the first film is the local police inspector, who looks strangely like a 1970s version of 1980s Donald Trump in both movies. The film eventually runs low on steam, but it has a solid “several months later” ending where the poor father in this film assumes John P. Ryan’s role from the start of the movie of visiting future parents pregnant with evil mutant babies, thus hinting that the cycle will continue…endlessly.

Overall, I liked the movie, but it falls slightly short of the first film. Still, given the fact that it’s a sequel to the type of movie that mainstream audiences and critics would immediately turn their noses up at, It Lives Again has something going for it. It’s worth checking out, especially if you liked the first one.

** 1/2 out of ****

ReelReviews #105: It’s Alive (1974)


MARCH 13, 2017 SCREENING: IT’S ALIVE! (1974)

In a strange twist of irony, I spent the month of March going from the most critically acclaimed Hollywood movies (namely, looking at past “Best Picture” Oscar winners) to the films LEAST likely to win prizes and critical acclaim: nasty B-grade horror films. The 1974 cult classic “It’s Alive” is actually much better than its reputation would suggestion. For an obscure low-budget Hollywood film, it has some A-list credentials. For example, famous Hitchcock composer Bernard Hermann did the score for this film – and the music is every bit as memorable as his more famous compositions. The makeup designer is Rick Baker, who would go on to do the makeup for An American Werewolf in London (1981), which launched him to fame as Hollywood’s go-to guy for top-notch special effects makeup. The lead male actor in the film, John P. Ryan (apparently “best known” for the 1985 movie Runaway Train, which I’ve never seen) puts in a terrific performance that requires an entire range of emotions and actions for his character, and writer/director/producer Larry Cohen’ story of a deformed mutant baby going a killing spree was unique and “creative” for the time, to say the least. But with all that, is the film actually good? Surprisingly, yes it is.

A few months earlier, I screened the similarly “ugly cult classic” horror film series Basket Case, which I haven’t yet reviewed on my blog. To put it simply, the first one was really compelling, the second was watchable but stupid, and the third was a pile of dung that I shut off halfway through. I wondered if the It’s Alive trilogy (and its 2009 remake) would suffer a similar fate. They did not. It’s Alive, though certainly shunned by “mainstream” film critics and considered some cheap horror film, is a compelling and dark melodrama. Larry Cohen wisely stuck with the “leave much of the horror to the audience’s imagination” rule, and while this may be partly inspired by the difficulty of showing the killer mutant baby on a rampage using low budget 1974 special effects, it works.

The film has a high level of graphic violence, but between the grisly things that occur on screen, the real heart of the story is the mutant baby’s perfectly normal, middle-America parents, who already have a perfectly normal first child who is sixth grade during the film’s chain of events. The film manages the incredibly difficult task of A) Getting the audience to suspend disbelief that such an awful thing could actually happen to this couple, and B) Making it plausible how society at large would deal with the problem. In the movie, the problem with the “Davis baby” eventually becomes a nationwide panic. As the baby’s father struggles to come to grips with what’s happening, he has a moving segment where he compares his family’s nightmarish life to the story Frankenstein because the audience associates Frankenstein as the name of the monster — rather than the scientist who created him. By the end of the film, the father finally has to confront the fact the baby is still his biological child and identifies him as its father, no matter how inhuman and monsterious s the baby acts and looks. The film has a lot of subtle social commentary on the changing role of the American family in the 1970s, even though its first and foremost a violent “things that go bump in the night” kind of movie. The final line the movie was also an excellent punch-in-the-gut for audiences after the horrific events were seemingly over.

The film was very compelling and exciting, regardless of its low budget and amateur filmmaking origins. Highly recommended.

*** out of ****

ReelReviews #101: Oscar Party! (The French Connection, It Happened One Night, Slumdog Millionaire, On The Waterfront)




The last of my multiple-movies-in-one reviews (at least for a while) makes sense this time:  a day before the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony, my friends and I had an “Oscar Party” at my home where we screened “Best Picture” winners from past years. I narrowed the list down to one film from each decade, and we made it thru four films that night:  The French Connection (1971 Best Picture winner), It Happened One Night (1934 Best Picture winner), Slumdog Millionaire (2008 Best Picture winner) and On The Waterfront (1954 Best Picture winner).

Were those films truly the “ Best Picture” made that year, or were they even good movies? In four capsule reviews, I give my two cents on these movies.



This was a decent film, but one thing my friends and I noticed right away was that the sound mixing on this film was terrible! There was little excuse for this, since we were watching a pristine restoration of the film on Blu-Ray, on a big television, in my basement. The sound should have an immersive experience. Instead, much of the dialogue was difficult to make out over the music score, and the film constantly alternated between being WAY TOO LOUD and way too quiet.  To our shock, this film was actually nominated for “Best” Sound Mixing (which it thankfully DID NOT win that year!) when it actually deserved a Worst Sound Mixing award.  Aside from this huge glaring flaw that the made the movie difficult to watch, the rest of the film was pretty good. It took me a while to get into the story, but Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (a classic Gene Hackman role) is a compelling character and the eeeeeeeeeeeevil French drug smugglers in this movie are a worthy adversary.  The French Connection was also the first R rated movie to win Best Picture (little noticed at the time since the even more taboo X rating had resulted in a Best Picture win two years earlier for Midnight Cowboy) and The French Connection lives up to its R rating: it’s definitely aimed at adults, and one the opening scenes of a man graphically being shot point blank in the face gives you an idea what you’re in for. The film had a number of scenes that are likely considered “classic” now, like the Subway chase scene, and a scene near the end where they strip a car apart piece by piece trying to find where drugs are hidden inside it. The conclusion of the film was a bit blunt and shocking but very unexpected and gutsy, living up to the film’s promise that it was “Based on a True Story”.  One problem that no fault of the film itself is that it came out the same year as Dirty Harry.  The French Connection may be the Oscar winner of 1971, but it simply cannot compete with Dirty Harry in terms of social impact and popular appeal with audiences. On the flip side, the G-rated Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was another such iconic film released the same year, so there was no shortage of solid films in 1971.  The French Connection is definitely worth watching (and it grew on me as the film continued), but was it truly the “Best Picture” of 1971? That’s debatable.

*** out of ****




Ah, the comedy film, it don’t get no respect from the Academy Awards. Only about a dozen purely “comedic” movies have won Best Picture, and this is a rare example of one. In this case, it’s a romantic comedy/road trip movie.  Given the age of this film, we pretty much selected it because it was the only “comedy” option available in my pile of Blu-Ray movies, and we were worried the film’s humor would be very dated or corny and that the quality of the film would probably be muddy and difficult to watch. Boy, we were wrong.  It Happened One Night had all of us in stitches from start to finish, and holds up incredibly well for a film that is over 80 years old.  While Clark Gable and  Paulette Goddard definitely look the part of 1930s movie stars with the hairstyle and clothing, the witty rapport they have with each other holds up beautifully and the ensemble cast in this movie was great as well. More than any other Best Picture winner (especially when this film is unfairly compared to more recent winners),  It Happened One Night was certainly deserving of the honor of sweeping the Oscars in 1934, and making the history books as the first film to win all five major categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay), a feat that only two films have accomplished since then.  Other aspects of the film, like cinematography, art direction, and music, were also top notch and looked beautiful given the age of the film. When an all male audience is entertained from start to finish by a cheesy “romantic comedy”, you know you’ve struck gold. I highly recommend this film to anyone.

**** out of ****




Well, here’s one that got a mixed response: in a small crowd of three, two of us had a hard time trying to connect with this film, and the third person through it was really clever and engaging.  Unfortunately, I was not the third person who liked it. I can appreciate Slumdog Millionaire for numerous positive things it had: a creative format, a unique premise, a great music score, and a compelling story.  Sadly, I couldn’t appreciate it for anything else. The film seemingly give us a series of random disjointed scenes for much of the movie, until about an hour into the movie when we realized that all the flashbacks were relevant to whatever question the character was facing at the time.  Slumdog Millionaire, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding a few years before it, benefited from good word of mouth and being the “feel good movie of the year”. As for me, I found the overall film was waaaaaaaay too ugly, bleak, and depressing to be the “feel good movie of the year”, even though it had an “overcoming incredible odds” premise of a poor uneducated man from the slums of India winning everything on Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, and a “happy” ending.  Compared to the previous film, it also seems to have aged incredibly poorly for a “recent” movie, given that its less than a decade old but its hip and trendy game show that the movie is centered around is no longer in the public spotlight.  Slumdog Millionaire gets a good review from me because I truly appreciate all the work that went into it and what they were trying to do, but I can safely say I did not enjoy it and it is unlikely I will watch it again.  I do not believe it deserved “Best Picture” of 2008, but I’m at a loss to say what movie “should have” won the year, especially since the other four films nominated in 2008 were also seemingly undeserving of the top prize (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was my personal favorite from the “Best Picture” nominees that year, but I doubt it warranted a “Best Picture” Oscar). Slumdog Millionaire showed the slums, but it didn’t strike any gold for me.

** ½  out of ****



Meh. I was really looking forward to this movie, having never seen one of Marlon Brando’s “early” roles when he was a young Hollywood heartthrob in the 50s.  I really wanted to like it. I couldn’t.  As the film continued on longer and longer, I just found myself looking at my watch waiting for it to end.  It has some good moments and a lot of landmark stuff to see, like Eve Marie Saint’s debut acting role opposite Marlon Brando (she’s cute in this movie and they have some chemistry, but you can tell it’s her first film).  Instead of focusing on the story, I found much of the time I was distracted by Marlon Brando’s eyes.  (He appears to have part of an eyebrow missing, and looks like he’s wearing mascara or eyeliner and appears strangely like a modern female drag queen “pretending” to be a macho male figure)  One character, a Catholic priest that is supposed to be the voice of “moral clarity” in the film, just conveniently pops up whenever he is needed to move the story along, and I thought he actor was miscast and not convincing as a Catholic priest. The very dark and serious story of a dock worker covering up for his boss’s ties to the mafia was problematic for me because the cold blooded mafia figures are given hammy 50s dialogue and sanitized to meet 1950s guidelines. This story would have more impact if someone like Martin Scorsese or Brian DePalma had made it in the late 70s or early 80s. About the darkest it gets is a scene where Brando bluntly tells another character “Go to hell!”and when he is brutally beaten towards the end of the film (the shot of him lying in a ditch seems to imply he’s dead, but he survived, and I thought that lessened the impact) It may have the iconic line of Brando saying he “coulda been a contender”, but this film is not an Oscar contender to me.

** out of ****



As for the “Best Picture” winners from other decades? I managed to screen all of those as well, just on different nights, so each will get its  own review. Stay tuned!