Some historical fiction films keep your interest based on the cast, writing, and vision of the director. Then there are the actual “based on true story” films. They need less of that magic because their factual connection is so huge for an audience. I can’t remember a “based on a true story” film that didn’t do well. I guess when you consider that, this film has a lot going for it before you even start analyzing it.

Now that we’ve established the strength of “based on true story” films, let’s real quick look at the power of a great director: Spike Lee. Just after high school, I watched his masterpiece on racial tensions in the big city: “Do the Right Thing.” With all the recent films coming out on these tensions, “The First Purge,” “Detroit,” “Get Out,” I still find Spike Lee’s “Do the Right THing” to be the most astute and wise of all. Spike Lee is the director here but I don’t feel that influence as strongly as some of his previous films.

The previews are a good indicator of this movie’s pace. They look really slow and in truth, the film is just as slow as the preview. It has its moments but the humor is understated and it takes a long time for the plot to advance. Ultimately, the based on a true story “story” is what kept this one afloat for me. But even that after a while sort of went dull. Adam Driver has very little comic script to work with. It gives no history of the Klan which will leave younger viewers a bit confused I fear.

I think at this day in age when some blacks don’t feel understood and the landscape basically sees whites as murderers with no conscience we need more movies that show global human racism as a disease we can recover from. I learned from Spike Lee years ago that racism is a temptation for all colors to be wary of. To quote James Baldwin, “If we don’t see the problem, I fear for the future of our country.” This film isn’t bad it’s just mediocre. I hate when reviewers promote films that just aren’t good because I am one who reads, I am one who listens. I give it a 6/10. Spike: Where is the next “Do the Right Thing?”


It’s a story of suicide but more importantly, suicide’s effects on three other people. At time of writing this: 9/14/18 this film was streaming on Prime Video.

Black history and culture has been an interest of mine since I studied black history in graduate school. you won’t find this movie in a history book but its story is probably all too common in an inner city or rural town with impoverished people of all races.

This film is a slow burn but it’s very deliberate and moving in its realism. The acting is great too. I recommend this one. Sparse dialog could have been penned better but only that complaint comes from me. 9/10.

Searching (incl audio)

This film reminds me of any cutting edge upgrade that truly wows consumers. It’s also a great story told in a highly effective, suspenseful way. All this with the screen never shifting from a laptop display.

Searching (2018)
PG-13 | 1h 42min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller | 31 August 2018 (USA)

After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Writers: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
Stars: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee

It’s being compared to Hitchcock in its Thriller presentation. It’s the type of Maverick “laptop screen genre” we saw in the “Unfriended” franchise, “The Den,” “Open Windows,” and “Friend Request.” Of those, I only like “Unfriended” and “Open Windows.”

This film is something powerful. I like it best of any in this genre. I should note, director Aneesh Chaganty has not made a horror film here. It is a PG-13 narrative about a father who breaks into his daughter’s laptop once she goes missing. He finds clues to begin a search for his daughter who has gone missing irl.

Jon Chow as Dad and Debra Messing as police detective are stellar. Once again, everything is seen through the view of a laptop computer screen. This is the best film of its genre to date.

To avoid spoilers, I will leave my review at that. and with the invitation to listen to my podcast episode of “Searching.” I will say it is possibly my best film pick of 2018!

Below is a player and Link to my podcast episode where I review this film.

Below is a transcript excerpt from the show. I hope you listen and enjoy!

Here is an excerpt from the episode:

I’m gonna talk about 3 films in this episode but mostly just 1, “Searching.” Well, I just saw this and it’s a drama/mystery/thriller. So when I first looked at this and some of the ads and trailers I didn’t know what to think. I saw a solid choice of casting with John Cho and Debra Messing. The Director is Aneesh Chaganty. He is a first time director. He really took on a lot with this film. I can’t imagine all the little technical notes and screens that needed to be used in the direction of this film. The actors were good so that likely it helped his to do list but still, I think directing this required a lot of extra skills and talents.


If you want to say something spoilerish in the comments, go for it and I always respond to comments as well.

We see John Cho’s character go from a loving but somewhat distant dad to a highly dedicated Dad searching for his daughter. His daughter’s name is Margot and she is played by several “as she grows up” actresses. The final Margot is played by Michelle La, she is very beautiful and does an excellent job.


The Lodgers

A love story where you have to battle supernatural realities to get back to absolute normalcy is my kind of love story. Okay, maybe it’s a little hard to comprehend but so is “The Lodgers.” I can attest there is the attempt at a love story and that weighs in hugely with me.

Brian O’Malley is the director. I see he’s just done one other major film: “Let us Prey.” I have not seen it so have nothing to compare it to. He’s doing gigs with the Irish humanities funds so I give him kudos there. This one is a real dodgy piece. It seems to not know where it wants to go. Still, it’s very moody and the emotions come through strongly. The Irish are a sentimental lot so that may work for him as he continues on his path.

All in all, the story was just ok but hard to follow. The visuals were incredible and creepy which is something I like to see. Since the story was a bit convoluted, the director might have tightened up the setting or the dialog.As an example, most of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories take place in a simple setting and never leave. They are easily accessible and not complicated with unexplained items. I’d recommend this for the visuals and the creepy feelings you get from it. 6/10.

Ready Player One

A modern retro tale of computer games from the 80’s and 90’s. There’s a bit of reminiscing via logos of Pizza Hut and Deloreans too. Those things are all very fun. It’s very thin on story and I hated the avatar people being given 90% of the screen time. I would have liked to see what was going on outsde the Matrix (oops) I mean The Oasis. Overlong and self assuming at 2hr20min. Spielberg directs but it lacks his magic of Jaws, ET, etc.  6/10.

Christopher Robin

Pooh gives a reminder that nowhere us a great place to go to get somewhere.

You might think, as I did, the director here does mostly family films. Well, like me, be surprised. This cat did the uber violent/messed up “Monster’s Ball.” The guy has a range!

Ewan MacGregor plays Chris Robin, in adult form having fallen out of touch with nis imaginary friends. We have all the Pooh animals, especially Pooh who takes most the screen time.

There’s a key message about valuing family over work. Pretty unoriginal but can we hear that enough? I need regular reminders.

Basically Pooh helps Robin see this truth without trying. I lived the look of Pooh. It wasn’t the best film in the world but Pooh looked really cute and the voices of all of them have been imitated pristinely like the original. Now tell me where I can get a bear like that!

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

My Rating: 10/10 – I can’t think of anything wrong with this film, it’s one of the perfect ones in my book. Read my review or listen to it at the player below. Recording is an episode from my podcast.

About 25 years out of high school, everyone probably thinks a little about what they could have or should have done. This film throws a little sci fi “what-if” into a 25 year high school reunion.

“Peggy Sue faints at a high school reunion. When she wakes up, she finds herself in her own past, just before she finished school.” -IMDB


Kathleen Turner Peggy Sue
Nicolas Cage Charlie Bodell
Barry Miller Richard Norvik
Catherine Hicks Carol Heath

Directed by

Francis Ford Coppola

Written by

Jerry Leichtling, Arlene Sarner

Other Info

Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Fri 10 Oct 1986 UTC
IMDB Rating: 6.3

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather saga,  Apocalypse Now, …), is all I need to say to most movie students like myself. He has such an incredible way with people and movies and we see that come across well in this film. They don’t make films like this often and the universe doesn’t see one like Francis Ford Coppola come along often either.

The staff is similarly charmed. Kathleen Turner plays the lead actress role of Peggy Sue. Watching her is like watching a fine work of art or a ballet dance. She is a talented actress and simply beautiful. Part of her appeal in this film is her humility that belies her beauty. She is one of those beautiful women that can pull it off.

Nicholas Cage is simply hilarious in this film as Charlie Bodell, Peggy Sue’s boyfriend. He is, by way of trivia, the cousin of the famous director. Cage does a great job as the hate-able yet love-able testosterone filled boy with a dream.  His angst mixed with Peggy Sue’s regrets makes the film an amazing message to all of us. There are other notable performance in this film

Peggy Sue somehow transports back to high school after a long bout of regret about her choices. While in this dream state (or is it?) she tries to right every wrong she did in her life. She finds out that maybe isn’t possible but that’s what makes life wonderful. It’s imperfect yet beautiful. Humans are imperfect. My favorite line is when her dad buys an Edsel and she says (in her young self body) “Oh dad, you bought an Edsel, your were always dong stuff like that.” Of course the family thinks she crazy.

We need more movies like this with a female in the lead role who takes us on a fantastic journey. I am always reminded of an important life lesson every time I watch this film. If for no reason other than the fact that it was made by Francis Ford Coppola, you should see this because it’s about the choices we make and sometime regret. Maybe we shouldn’t regret them after all. See what this inspiring film has to say. I recommend it as a perfect film in its genre. It is quite similar to Back to the Future.


Raiders of the Lost Ark

Long live the adventure thriller! To date, no one has impressed me more in this genre space than Steven Spielberg. Specifically, I find his best work to date to be “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” So watch this movie, hop in a WWII plane, and light the line as you travel with Indiana Jones, the American archaeologist adventurer. As of writing this, it’s streaming on Prime Video. Listen to this episode below or at The Damien Riley Podcast.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
PG | 1h 55min | Action, Adventure | 12 June 1981 (USA)
Watch Now
With Prime Video
In 1936, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler’s Nazis can obtain its awesome powers.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay by), George Lucas (story by) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman

So many big names are on this film including George Lucas. It makes sense that a film this great would be a collaboration of giants.

There is a fine line between paying tribute to movie serials and making a movie that is effective with its audience, apart from its influences Speilberg manages to pull it off. If you’re lucky, when you watch it you’ll have no sidetrack thoughts. It’s a movie meant to take you in like a jacuzzi. It plays like a true comic from the WWII era. Strips are scenes and they carry you up then safely drop you back down like a roller coaster.

Now that I’ve said roller coaster, you may know of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, Anaheim. It’s one of my favorites. Air shoots at you like poison darts and you almost get smashed by a rolling rock ball. It makes sense the happiest place on earth made a ride from it. The movie is inspired and it’s been taking folks on rides in their mind since it came out in the 1980’s.

The story revolves around finding the Ark of the Covenant, supposedly the container of the ten commandment tablets. By choosing this religious prop, the writers instantly invite the interest of those who read the Bible, the Koran, and the Old Testament. That comprises a hefty amount of moviegoers worldwide. On a rhetorical strategy basis, Speilberg had another trick up his sleeve to make this film work.

Some scenes to watch for:

  1. When Karen Allen’s character has to throw off the Nazis as they want the medallion. There is much here in the way of action, adventure, and even a little rushed romance.
  2. Anytime Indiana sees snakes.
  3. Something at the end, I wont do spoilers but yeah, something at the end!

Its easy to sink into this film. I have seen it many times and yet it still pulls me into my easy chair to make the jump to light speed, every time! If you enjoyed this review, please let me know in the comments or in the Apple Podcast reviews section. Thanks adventurers!

District 9: with audio

“District 9” is a sci-fi action drama where aliens are forced to live in the slums when all while the government gradually mistreats them as second class interlopers. We get to know these creatures and they become all but endearing in the course of the film. One government agent suffers an accident that could change the way both sides see the other.

District 9 (2009) R | 1h 52min | Sci-Fi, Thriller | 14 August 2009 (USA) An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly finds a kindred spirit in a government agent who is exposed to their biotechnology. Director: Neill Blomkamp Writers: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell Stars: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope

There are at least several themes in this amazing movie. I was drawn in by the way it presents the human fear of the “other,” the “different.”

Externals, aliens, illegals, are restricted to a specific district. Out of sight, out of mind. I feel the film presents a good model of how we protect our turf from outsiders. It certainly challenged my thought process about aliens and the way we treat them in movies.

The “Prawns'” appearance is quite agreeable considering they are modeled after shrimp. In this film we have excellent special effects in a practical setting. The children prawns look like real children, the warriors look like fighting people. Their eyes are very expressive, like a dog’s. When the child looks at the father, I was reminded of the way my dog looks at me when he is showing affection, and when he wants something.

The effects extend into structures in the sky that look very very real. I could recommend this film on effects alone but it also has a great script and suspenseful element that I can sell it on. It teeters on good guy/bad guy films like “Robocop” but maintains a lower action profile closer to “Independence Day.”

Director Neill Blomkamp was born on September 17, 1979 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a director and writer, known for District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013) and Chappie (2015). He is married to Terri Tatchell. They have one child. He’s a good director, there is no doubt. Looking at his list, I’d say this one is my favorite. It should be noted that the Producer was Peter Jackson known for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises.

The main actor that I think makes the film is Sharlto Copley who plays Wikus Van De Merwe. He is the government agent and there is SOMEthing happening to him we find out about a quarter of the way in. That is very crucial to the plot and message of the film. In the beginning he is almost as much of a jerk as any of the govt. agents. Maybe this thing that happens teaches him a lesson? Can we grow through adversity?

In so many movies, we are shown how we can love an ugly/disfigured character. “E.T.” stands out as an obvious one. Recently there was a film called “Wonder” where I believe they did it again. In this film “District 9,” the audience is presented with an alien species in many ways like our own but that are hideously ugly. They look like a cross between Transformers and Prawns. Their mouths are like squid tentacles and they gesture with them

Van De Merwe is a government worker who goes into their district trying to get them out. I can’t help but see a small comparison to what we do to illegal aliens now in 2018. In my mind’s eye, this movie plays with the idea of the “aliens” among us and how we view them. Are we xenophobic and fearful of the Other? Oh, BTW, David James gets a nod for his evil bald gunman work. I always side with the bald guys, my hands are held up high.

If you’ve seen it, please leave your thoughts in the comments. If you’re going to see it as a result of this review, let me know. Finally, once you see it, maybe you can come back and we can have a short (or long) dialog about the film. As I close, I wanted to ask my listeners to leave me reviews at the various listening places. Most specifically, Apple Podcasts. There’s a link on my site. If you could share a little about how you favor the podcast, that would help me get the word out. Thank you in advance. “District 9” is on my favorites list of all time, a true gem of a film. I give it a 10/10. Well, that’s the end of my review and I will see you next time.


Nacho Libre Quotes

“Nacho Libre” is a movie that may grow on you or not. In my case, after thinking it was “meh,” I came to really love watching it multiple times. It’s the story of a humble monk who has a nagging vision to be a wrestler in Mexico. There are many resources you can seek out to learn more about the film. Not the least of these is the movie itself. Even if you’ve already seen it, give it a second chance. Here are some quotes from IMDB that may win you over. I am always reciting these with family and friends. I had a nagging vision to record my “recitings” of these as an episode on my 5 min podcast “The Damien Riley Podcast.” You can hear it there and also on the player below.


PDF Doc: