Animal House (1978)

National Lampoon’s made several side-splittingly funny films in the 70’s and 80’s. The Vacation movies come to mind right away. They had an air of burlesque and debauchery that made mothers shield their young son’s eyes. Still, those same mothers got drunk and laughed at the same bits when they had a babysitter.

Animal House

“At a 1962 college, Dean Vernon Wormer is determined to expel the entire Delta Tau Chi Fraternity, but those trouble-makers have other plans for him.” -IMDB

Cast

John Belushi John Blutarsky
Karen Allen Katy
Tom Hulce (as Thomas Hulce) Larry Kroger
Stephen Furst Kent Dorfman

Directed by

John Landis

Written by

Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney

Other Info

Comedy
R
Fri 28 Jul 1978 UTC
109min
IMDB Rating: 7.6

Animal House is a legendary comedy with short jokes over and over inside a mediocre story. Then again, the story is good enough and certainly all you need to laugh your ass off watching this film. Director John Landis is a household word as a director. He did American Werewolf in London, one of my Great 100 Films, and Twilight Zone the Movie which is a hidden gem that must be seen. He also directed the amazing comedies: Trading Places and Three Amigos. All these films are masterpieces. Landis did a great job with this film once again bringing out the “worst” in his actors and in doing so producing their best together.

There is a cast of thousands here and among the top actors is the late John Belushi. He is an absolute buffoon but in an ingenious way. Every bit he does has the audience laughing and wanting more. Other now-big names Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen and there are many many other amazing comedic actors.

The premise is watching a shoestring frat house that parties constantly try and keep their charter. The escapades they engage in are hilarious. In the end you’ll have to watch to see whether they make it or are banished from the University.

FINAL THOUGHTS
There’s some nudity here which I never mind and just the right amount of raunchy comedy. The characters are very likable and you really want to see these underdogs make it. They certainly don’t study which I of course don’t recommend because you’ll never graduate. Still, I watch this film vicariously experiencing a “what if.” What if I was in Animal House? It’s not such a bad fantasy! To me, this is an example of a perfect comedy! That’s why I give it a perfect score!

10/10

Bambi

Bambi was released by Walt Disney Productions in 1942 as a full length animated movie. The supervising director was David Hand, known for Snow White. There were also 7 other directors of this early Disney film. The task of writing was shared by several as well. Among them was the supervising writer Perce Pearce, also known for Snow White. The voice talents, whose identities now are known on the internet and other sources, were uncredited in the movie. Bambi is 70 minutes long and was nominated for 3 Oscars.

It is the story of a baby deer who grows up alongside a cast of silly but speaking animal characters. The most memorable arguably is Thumper, a baby rabbit so-named for the way he stamps his feet. Bambi grows up learning from his friends and after a time, he loses his mother to a hunter’s bullet. This scene is done in a tasteful fashion so children will not be scared but it is meant to be sad. Bambi then meets his father and has to grow up without his mother. A series of events over time, including a horrendous forest fire and haunting thunderstorm, teach Bambi lessons of life and leave him with a measurable amount of maturity. His friends grow up with him and he finds love with Faline, a pretty young doe. The stages of life we experience with Bambi are delivered in a clear timeline that belies the dreamy style of the settings. It’s no wonder Bambi appealed to all ages and personality types at the ticket counter. Bambi clearly was made for a universal audience but it does hold some partisan and controversial messages. Around 70 years later, they hardly seem controversial but considering the time, they were.

Animation for the big screen was still in its infancy but Bambi help catapult it into a brave new world. It would signal an era where animated movies held moral messages. Watching Bambi now, it’s clear to see some moral and cultural trends of the times. It was a time of war and a time where men and women had clearly defined roles. It’s likely the Disney studio execs, especially Walt himself, had a hand in whether a scene or line made it in the final cut. Knowing that, I found a couple scenes surprising. For example, the hunting scenes. Birds and animals are being hunted and some are even shot in the movie. This was a movie aimed at kids. This may be indicative of the popularity of hunting at the time. The point of view of the camera demonstrates how inhumane the act of hunting is. This is an avant garde aspect of the film I think. During World War II, it was probably more popular to preach hunting than pacifism but this movie does. War might be considered a form of hunting. It was not a time like Vietnam where movies could open challenge war and the government. It had to be done subtly or a world that supported war and would not pay admission. All Disney movies have moral messages in them. This, being one of the first, is no exception. It’s interesting to identify the subtle moral signposts in Bambi.

Disney financed the movie himself and it was a hefty project to support. He believed in his vision and its legacy lives on today. It uses old methods of achieving cinematic effects with much success. For example, the thunderstorm sound effects are not actual storm sounds. They are mimicked evocatively with an orchestra and a choir. With regards to effects, less “technology” is more in Bambi. It is a movie I have purchased and I will take it out when I want to relive what the early magic of Disney.

Hancock

This is a repost of Will Smith as Hancock: Lacking Human Moments published first on Yahoo Voices Jul 16, 2008.

Will Smith’s movie “Hancock” is a superhero flick that struck me as lackluster at best. There are a few moments toward the end that worked but overall it was just a movie trying to win an audience through special effects.

In the beginning we find John Hancock curled up on bench in Hollywood, California. He’s clutching a bottle of booze much to the chagrin of a little kid urging him to go get the bad guys. This scene is wholly confusing and I found myself guessing that he was a well known bum with amazing powers. Sounds stupid huh? Well, I was 100% correct. In the first 2/3 of the movie we see Hancock go through rehab and do jail time. I kept hoping we’d get something to hold onto in terms of a moral, but it never came. I suppose one could justify that big chunk of the movie by saying it shows people should be responsible and stay in jail even when they have the superhero ability to break any brick wall down (or thick steel for that matter). I’m sorry but the morals here, which are always there in great super hero movies, are cloudy if not non-existent. This superhero movie had no morals and therefore slipped and fell most of the way through. Now, in the last 1/3 of the movie it recovered somewhat, at least in the morals department. We find out he has a wife he didn’t know about and he does a few things to save her life. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will just say this moral of “selflessness” is presented in the most cryptic way it takes a movie reviewer to glean it, at least that is this movie reviewers opinion. If I were to ask one of my kids what the moral is of the scenes between Hancock and his wife I have a feeling I’d get a blank stare.

Should superhero movies be that complicated?

The second area the movie flopped in my opinion was the lack of human moments. Ironically, superhero movies are great because they reveal the humanity through the characters. Not only did these characters lack endearing human qualities, they seemed one dimensional, like a storyboard that was never fleshed out with human characteristics. I found the characters flat and built to serve only the grossly overdone violence that never stops from the first scene. This movie has tons of CGI effects that are neat to look at but unfortunately they don’t carry the weight needed to become a great superhero movie like “the Hulk” or “Spiderman.” I am a big Will Smith fan, but unfortunately, not even Will Smith can save this colossal train wreck.

Hancock will be a good rental for kids that want to see things get destroyed or by drunks that find identification in going to jail to sober up. For the rest of us working class heroes that need good movies to inspire and propel us to do great things, this movie will fall on empty ears and desperately-seeking-for-more than “Hancock,” human eyes. Those eyes, in case the makers of Hancock are interested, want morals and human moments in movies, it’s what keeps us coming back.

Man of Steel

This is an older review I’m reposting in light of DC’s Wonder Woman doing so well. I plan to review it soon. Man of Steel didnt impress me much.

Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel. He’s known for directing films like Sucker Punch, 300, and some others. Amy Adams was his choice for Lois Lane, Henry Cavill: Clark Kent, Diane Lane as Clark Kent’s mother, and Kevin Costner as his earthly father. It is a relatively star studded cast worth reading from a list if one has the time.

I will say that I think there are far too many movies out there depicting the White House being destroyed. It’s not that I am overly patriotic but I think the movie makers do it simply for shock value. This movie doesn’t attack the White House but there is that same unorthodox violence being done. I really felt at times I was experiencing the destruction of the twin towers at 911. Those were the violent times. When this film started out it was endearing. I leaned over to my wife and told her they were getting it right. There is one scene where Clark saves the school bus that has plowed off a bridge. That was awesome and made me want to learn more about this Clark Kent! Unfortunately the long segments of gratuitous destruction and violence (reminiscent of White House destruction) are so boring and off-putting I contemplated walking out. If it weren’t for my wife who never walks out, I would have.

There are three parts to this film: escape from Krypton, Clark growing up, and the longest part: when the Krypton people arrive and destroy earth (almost). When the destruction segments begin, the movie is nothing more than GI Joe. I have noticed the movie public is paying to see these sorts of military films so I won’t slam them too hard. As for me, I am really not into the Army commercial type movies. I know some of my friends are so I won’t get judgmental here. I would hate to alienate friends and the movie going audience. This opening weekend it is doing way better than expected. I could be wrong but I sensed a right wing, religious agenda as well. There were many places I saw this but one example was when Faora, one of the Kryptons, said something to effect of they will win because they represent the strongest of evolution and “evolution always wins.” After that Superman is able to destroy her mask and kill her. There are other places I could use as support: for example Clark Kent says he’s just a guy from Kansas and yet he is not human and ready to lay down his life for all humans. Just a thought, feel free to dismiss it.

One thing that is sure about this movie is the destruction. It lacks the love story, humor, and humanity of previous Supermans. I thought I was going to love it and they explained the origin of baby Superman well. Unfortunately, when the destroyers come in, it’s just another overly patriotic (sappy) Independence Day/GI Joe formula. I wanted a modern telling of Superman but it was a bait and switch.

Out of the Furnace (2013)

Out of the Furnace is a working class struggle film that shows how a man can descend into lower moral places when all hope is taken away.

Plot
“When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement doesn’t follow through fast enough, his older brother, Russell, takes matters into his own hands to find justice.” -IMDB
This is a good description but there are some other elements at play. One being a brother’s keeper, even into adulthood is clearly there. How long should one protect and shelter a sibling? Beyond that, can you blame a person for gambling and street boxing (which is very bloody) when there are not rational solutions to a working class existence. Has the man failed society or has society failed the man? These are interesting topics presented in the plot.

Actors
Christian Bale Russell Baze
Casey Affleck Rodney Baze Jr.
Zoe Saldana (as Zoë Saldana) Lena Taylor
Woody Harrelson Harlan DeGroat
Bale does a great job in this role. He is suffering. H etries his best with the bad hand he has been dealt but you feel his frustration in never getting ahead. Affleck also does an amazing job. It was a pleasure watching these two brothers in the script playing off each other.

Director/Writer
Scott Cooper
Brad Ingelsby (written by) and, Scott Cooper (written by)

Other Info
Crime, Drama, Thriller
R
Fri 06 Dec 2013 UTC
116min
IMDB Rating: 6.8

My Final Thoughts
Great film. A little gritty and violent so not for everyone. Not a feel good film but vengeance fans may enjoy it.

8/10

Downton Abbey (TV Series)

With Downton Abbey, you get more than just a Masterpiece Theater type show. You get all the features of a melodrama, romance, mystery, and soap opera wrapped in one. I’m here to tell you, it’s enjoyable!

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Cast

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As with most tv series, it has multiple directors for different seasons. Probably the most famous are Andy Goddard and James Strong (Law and Order UK, Dr. Who). There are also a lot of actors with a core few comprising the main cast. They are mostly British actors.

I really like watching the dynamics of a wealthy house in England in the 1920’s. There is a clear regiment of duties from the Butler down to the footman and even below that. Every worker knows her/his place and that is interesting to watch. Why are they so obedient to position and decorum? Basically, they value their jobs. You get to see the inner workings of the leadership and the choices they have to make to keep things working.

Another thing that makes it interesting is the way they mention news of the day such as the Titanic sinking. They keep a historical context that way and it’s a lot of fun.

FINAL THOUGHTS
There are love affairs and resentments and even vengeance plays. It wouldn’t seem possible but you have all the enjoyment and excitement of a movie set in modern times. It’s not what they say and do that keeps you interested, rather it’s why they hold back. It’s a little slow at times and not for everyone. Kids will be bored but for those day 18 and up, I highly recommend you give it a chance and see if you get sucked in like I did as you binge watch.

9/10

Alien (1979)

The concept of an unknown creature (the xenomorph) being inside you and feeding off your insides is a bone shivering one indeed. That was the concept that catapulted this first of the Alien movies into orbit.

Director Ridley Scott had a vision to get this done and he did it with real props, costumes, and a lot of goo! You won’t find any cgi in this film, just well sculpted and shiny creature heads and protruding sharp teeth.

There are so many amazing actors in this first film but Sigourney Weaver will always stand out to me as strong first impression. She is the one who takes on the creature. It’s as if she is attached to it, like its mother. But this mother/child relationship is only host/parasite. The creature wants to kill her and use her to make more offspring.

Like Blade Runner, there is the theme of androids in this film that makes it very interesting. When the android is destroyed for telling the crew they are doomed, it’s his head alone that does the talking. In 1979, special effects were like parlor tricks, they had to use what they had to get the point across. Sometimes, this makes for better effects.

Alien is a space story about a ship sent to retrieve colonists on a far off planet and return them to Earth. They discover a vicious alien lifeform on board that is engineered to wipe out the human race and only they can stop it.

After multiple watchings through the years, I have to say this film is still scary to me and I marvel at how well done the analog effects are. The story is excellent and I hope every horror or sci-fi fan gets a chance to see it once in their lifetime. The acting and the story are top notch and it’s a career high for Ridley Scott as director.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Black outer space is scary. So is being alone. Add to that the fear of an unknown, “Alien,” creature and you have the potential for a terrifying film. Ridley Scott managed to create that. It’s probably one of the most scary films out there in this genre. The idea that nature is cold and uncaring is always a fascinating concept in a movie. Whether it’s a white whale or a 1,000 pound Grizzly Bear, nature needs to feed and it will at any cost in order to survive. In this film, we are held before scenes of nature in its rawest form, uncaring, feeding. It’s a mind-blowing film, I give it my highest recommendation possible to everyone, except young kids say under 8 years old.

10/10

The Vow

Article first published as The Vow on Blogcritics.

The Vow is a movie directed by Michael Sucsy, known for Deep Impact. It stars Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channng Tatum) as its main characters. It has been advertised as a romance flick. It nonetheless presents the difficult, unromantic topic of a brain injury. After a serious car accident where she goes through the windshield, Paige winds up in a coma. After some time, she wakes up unable to remember her husband Leo or any part of their relationship. Leo goes to great lengths to remind her of their life together with no success. His efforts leave her cold and she moves out to live with her parents. Much of the romance of this film is shown in flashbacks. We see what Paige and Leo were like before the accident. We don’t see Leo and Paige happy together throughout the movie as the promos suggest.

Sorry to disappoint the romance seekers but this is not a “feel good” movie. Still, it has some value on a date. Watching Paige leave Leo is uncomfortable. I kept wondering why she wouldn’t give him more time to try and win her back. After all, he did nothing wrong to deserve losing her. The question then becomes: should one keep the vow out of duty when feelings are gone? Watching poor Leo try to win Paige back may be a painful journey but it does raise interesting conversation.

Dating and marriage are popular subjects for movies. When a movie seems to have romance, some call it a “chick flick.” In this movie’s case however, the romance is rare so it doesn’t qualify. I’d call it a decent drama though because good dramas make you think. It reminded me of when someone broke up with me in real life. Others reading this may recall that same “punch in the stomach” feeling. The actual woman the movie is based on, Krickitt Carpenter, who said in a New York Post interview, “You make a promise before God with your wedding vows.” She seems to have a different view of The Vow than the director.  With respect to her and what she has been through, that isn’t a very romantic concept for a chick flick. This film has ads that look more like the Notebook than a brain injury study or otherwise religious film. To summarize my view, the Vow fails as a romance but is ok as a drama. If you watch it on a date, it can serve as an interesting conversation starter.

Everything Must Go

Article first published as Everything Must Go on Blogcritics.
Everything Must Go
was directed by Dan Rush. This is his debut as a director. Will Ferrell (Nick Halsey) lends an everyman face to suburban failure and renewal in this dark comedy. Alcoholism and depression are addressed in this movie, hefty topics for an independent film but they are handled deftly and respectfully.

It begins with Nick Halsey losing his job. If you think it can’t get worse than that for a suburban married man in a mortgage, it does. When he gets home, he finds all his possessions, including clothes, strewn across the front lawn. Can’t get worse? Yes it can. Soon after he arrives home he finds he cannot get into the house as his wife has changed the locks. This is when we begin to see he is an alcoholic. He plops down on the easy chair in the yard and decides to have a yard sale. The course of events that follow involve a young kid who visits him on the lawn (Kenny Loftus played by C.J. Wallace who is the son of Notorious B.I.G. in real life). Their interplay is marvelous because it is tender and human.

Kenny doesn’t judge Nick for his misgivings. Instead, they find a common ground where they share a love of baseball and a common theme of loneliness. For me, this relationship was the most significant. There are other ones in the movie though. Samantha (Rebecca Hall), Nick ex-wife, is adamantly against him. Though we don’t know the details it can be boiled down to the well-known failings of an alcoholic in a marriage. Details show us that Nick was not just a casual alcoholic but a raving black-out type. He’s quite lucid and sensible in the movie though. The cop that drives by and has befriended Nick, Frank Garcia (Michael Peña), seems to have Nick’s best interest at heart but that remains to be seen. Needless to say, Nick’s days on the lawn must come to an end. When they do, we see a transformation. While a bit predictable, it is the journey that held my attention. What would you do if you lost everything in a day? This movie let’s that “what-if” play out to a clear conclusion.

I enjoyed this movie immensely, it was an image of our humanity. Who has never been afraid of living out in the street? At a time in history when so many people are being forced out of their homes, it can be cathartic to watch this. Will Ferrell shows us in this film that he can act. Sure, he is funny but his acting makes it easy to believe he is homeless.

Watching Nick and Kenny together is touching. With all the bad going on in Nick’s life, he takes the time to get to know Kenny. I know from personal experience as a teacher kids require patience. The other relationships are a little flat and I thought could have been developed more. Still, this movie was valuable in the way it portrayed Nick’s relationship with Kenny. There is a lot to take away from that and it makes Everything Must Go highly entertaining.

A Christmas Story (1983)

I think most Americans, happy with their upbringing, are delighted to tell stories about their childhood. If we tell them, they become immortal. Such is apparently the case with humorist Jean Shepherd. His semi-fictional memoir In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash is the basis for this lovely, wonderful film.

Looking at this film on face value alone may cause it to appear like a Hallmark channel move or a strictly family film. The truth is it’s more than that. A humorist lends his life supply of experiences growing up to produce family-friendly comedy, with a slightly twisted bent. I know I wouldn’t have liked it if it was simple a family Christmas film.

It takes place in the 1940’s when American life was a lot simpler. Even still, you see the father come home from work getting mad at the broken furnace, cussing at it. You see that daily dilemma of Ralphie and his little brother trying to get to school in sub zero temperatures. And then of course, there are the bullies to and from school to worry about.

Why the hell do we tell our kids to believe in Santa Claus? This question is indirectly raised but never answered. In fact, it raises gender role issues, peer pressure, and American traditions. It reminds us of our traditions, even ones we’ve taken for granted all our lives. As we laugh at Ralphie and this family, we are really laughing at ourselves.

Bob Clark directed this amazing piece. He will be remembered by some as directing the coming-of-age film from 1982, Porky’s. While not as racy as that film, this one deals with boys growing up and poking fun at our human situation.

Some of the cast should be mentioned: Peter Billingsley played Ralphie. Before that, in America he was recognized as the Nestle Quick chocolate Milk kid. Darren McGavin plays “The Old Man,” Ralphie’s father. His role is superlative. He plays the somewhat detached aging father so well. When he cusses at the furnace, you swear you’ve heard that somewhere before! The whole cast is amazing and it’s an excellent script they use to deliver the jokes and message in the film.

When seen for the sarcastic, dry, deadpan humor it offers, this film is a winner! Some may be put off by its seemingly traditional appearance but please remember it is poking fun at tradition as much as reminding us of it. Give this incredible memoir film a chance, you won’t regret it.

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