Joel's Reviews

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Director: Duncan Gibbons

I love Gregory Hines so I thought I'd check this flick out. I remember the tv spot for it way back and thought it looked unique. Well, it is and it isn't. It's unique because Hines is in it, doing his usual flawless dramatic work when he decides to let it fly with fits of anger that have him be the most sensible guy in the room.

The film has dated very poorly, mostly due to a simply atrocious score that sounds like rejected music from Columbo. When it tries for a sci fi electronic, it fumbles over itself with more orchestral, like a slow 70's sizzle and obnoxious percussion that sounds like someone literally used pick up sticks and recorded them too loud. Terrible. As far as humor - we get some. Sadly, comedy doesn't show up enough to bail this film out of it's trouble. It's too serious to work.

There are moments where we get comic relief in the form of a 5 year old boy blatantly discussing human anatomy with his mom. I was expecting it to come back and tie together somehow as a relief joke. Never happened. Pointless stuff like that.

The action is decent even though it's hard to ignore or feel a little something for an uzi mowing down 5 people at a time. The story isn't exactly fresh but this was back in '91 so I'm sure it must've worked at least a little better.

All in all this movie basically sucks and wastes Hines. He at least delivers one responsibly written line about how the monsterous female robot killed a bunch of cops and now there are 5 widows and fatherless children out there. Unfortunately it doesn't feel weighty enough because the rest of the movie is so shoddily made and staged.

Witchboard 2 (1993)
Director: Kevin S. Tenney

Okay, so this one wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I actually enjoyed it. Yes, it sucks if you compare it to an A film, or even a great B film, but, there are merits. First off - the main chick is smoking cute. She gets sexier as the film goes on. Progressive entrapment, it's a real PITA, ya know?

Second - the camera work and effects are balls to the wall awesome. Kevin S. Tenney did great work with the original Witchboard and Night of the Demons, but his guidance for the DP here is superb. Great tricks and inventive effects.

Third - it actually has a nifty little story with twists,'s effectively done.

True that the limitations of the acting and other B movie factors that are normal tend to put a fog over this working as a top notch nail biter. It isn't that by a mile but...I was still intrigued enough to finish this movie. I can't believe I'm going to say this...I'd watch it again.

RENT-A-COP (1987)
Director: Jerry London

This movie got slammed when it came out and I think I know why. Liza Minelli's hair and her physique, which had seen better days. Not sure of the exact timeline but she had admittedly checked herself in quite often to the Betty Ford Clinic for drugs and alcohol and she doesn't exactly have the best dancers body here. She covers a lot up with garter belts and fur coats/black mini-skirts. And that's OK. It's just something I noticed. She doesn't play the most flattering hooker (if playing a hooker can be considered flattering at all), but she's always been the "cool Aunt" on-screen so, I have affection for her.

I will say this: there is absolutely nothing wrong with the chemistry and performances of Liza and Burt. Reynolds does his usual charismatic jerk off aloof act while Minelli does her usual desperate, on edge and homely yet wise comedy shtick. It just works. There's no denying it. It's still classic acting and an unlikely yet effective team up. I enjoyed them together even if the story was routine and the movie itself was less than impressive.

BTW, WTF is up with the crappy fonts??

The movie built around Burt and Liza cannot decide what it is and makes that old mistake of not blending correctly, much like a movie of the same era Stakeout. One minute you have some natural banter that's light and endearing between the 2 leads, and the next minute you're neck deep in graphic violence and sinister music, which, by the way, is helmed by none other than Jerry Goldsmith, who seems to "get" the joke of supplying high roller brass themed orchestral instead of his usual over sympathetic/sentimental score. That's not to say we don't get at least a couple of nice cues from the maestro. We do.

I would say that at the end of the day, Rent-a-Cop is something I can live with having seen. It's not nearly as bad as it's made out to be. I think, if anything, people and critics were disappointed that 2 stars like this couldn't be in a better movie. Well, what the hell did they think Burt was doing all of the years leading up to this? I mean come on! Give me a break here. Oh, before I forget...James Remar (The Warriors, 48 Hrs, Quiet Cool) plays the bad guy here and check this out...he's a corny dancer named "Dancer". Be glad I'm not dropping a GIF of this on you..

It only lasts for a few seconds in the film, don't worry. Even Richard Masur is having a problem with it

This movie is fine. It's not great and it's not "good" but, it's OK, and is watchable if you like Burt and Liza. Give it a shot for a before bed elixir if you can stomach the era it came out in. I had trouble at first because I felt damn old but, I figure I've already outgrown Radiohead years ago so I'm not doing that bad yet. I got over it and took it down the hatch.

Director: Sidney Lumet

Lumet directed one of my all time favorite films The Verdict, and once again shows how much of a professional film maker he is with this toned and nasty tale of desperation and values gone bad.

Everything from the presence of Ethan Hawke, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Albert Finney - to the Grusinesque tension filled jazz score by long time Coen Bros composer Carter Burwell, makes this movie not to be missed. The only thing I can say as a warning is that this is a very ugly film. There's not a thing happy about it. From the opening shot of Hoffman's character drilling his wife (played by Marisa Tomei) doggystyle, to the last scene of a father who's just acted on years of disappointment, this is not a ride you take if you're in the mood for something light and cheery.

Hoffman shines as usual with his meditative and breathy laughter, giving way to a protruding vascularity on his forehead, growing with veins, that show how intensely invested he is into the craft. His laugh is uneasy yet confident, that of a man possessed by desperate will and mindlessly foolish evil. Ethan Hawke brings a more delicate savant to his role that acts as the audience, getting more and more immersed into the world of perverse dark area, knowing you can't swim back, and struggling to keep your head above the water.

Marisa Tomei, even after winning an academy award more than a decade prior, still has no problem bearing her naked chest three times, and one can only appreciate her generosity and beautiful boobs. Albert Finney has the longest fuse in the film, and let's his mouth acting take full reign as he works up to a demonic climax.

Everything fits nicely together in this picture. From the Easy Rider styled frame switch up editing technique creating a segue to another timeline, to the wonderfully realized digital photography which is both gritty and highly contrasted. This is the definition of non-linear storytelling, and works quite well, if not always perfectly balanced in regard to how often it's used for maximum effectiveness. There were at least one or two moments where it probably didn't need to re-spool the yarn like it did. That's OK, though. This isn't on the same level as another American-tale-Pulp Fiction, and because it is so tonally different, this style of unfolding the story works on an even dirtier level.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is part family drama and part crime suspense. It's noted as being a melodrama, and I suppose I can see that, too. But as a whole, it just plays out like a dark way to spend a couple of hours, as it even has a bit of humor, it still can't make this play like a Goodfellas type of experience, where the dark subject matter is offset by memorable comedy bits. There is a dark humor element built in, but it's not looking to win any popularity contests, that's for sure.

I'd usually rate a film like this higher but, because the story itself is so draining and horribly sad, I cannot see myself ranking this a staple of cinema to revisit very often. I am glad I watched it a 2nd time after not seeing it for a decade. Now I think I am finished.

Director: Harmony Korine

Where do I start?

The first time I watched this movie, I got into an argument with someone over it. I didn't like it, and he would not let up on me after I informed him of this, as politely as I possibly could. I thought the film would just do more damage to society because there's a lot of very stupid people who would think this film champions the attitude and lifestyle portrayed. My friend tells me "you just need to lighten up. It's not that serious."

OK, Spring Breakers is not that serious then. Now let's talk about it without being too serious. Harmony Korine, a NYC art hipster film maker decides to make a technically well crafted film with a loose narrative involving sex, drugs, gang violence, and combine it with an overshadowed morality that deals with faith, love and friendship. Ah hell, I guess I can't lighten up. Not if I'm going to barf back up what is so obvious the intention of this movie.

What's happened is that we get a director who isn't even in touch with the world he's making fun of. As soon as the drama starts to tighten its grip by the 2nd act of the film, with dark synth pads acting as a sort of drapery companion for the endless montage of telephone calls home, we know this movie is not only silly and worthless, but it's also predictable and boring, and that's bad news for any movie.

I don't care how many different colored gels you put in front of your lights, or how many diffusion and star filters you use to shoot driving street scenes at night, when you fail to engage a viewer past some questionable crotch shots of girls who look younger than 17, you're only really making soft core porn. So why bother with the dramatics? If I wanted style, I could turn on a dog food commercial. Nothing is safe. Stylish isn't even a real term anymore so...whatever to that.

Why is this movie acclaimed, like, at all?

It's true that James Franco gives a pretty goofy performance and manages to really inhabit the role of a platinum toothed G, but that can only provide a few seconds of laughter. Had this film been condensed to five minutes and peppered evenly throughout a more superior film with some real substance, it may've been an amusing and "stylish" glimpse at this sort of cultural phenomena. But it wasn't and it's not.

Spring Breakers is a dull film as I finish watching it for a second time, hoping to "lighten up" and be in on the joke. The problem is that the joke isn't very funny and anything that aims for drama in this picture just comes off ultra hokey. We see a slow motion scene of bikini clad bimbos firing off uzi's with neon pink ski masks on, while we hear an innocent sounding voicemail being left for their parents: "This place is great, we're meeting so many new people" blah, blah, blah. It's here that movie is begging us to say to ourselves "HOW IRONIC! HOW BRILLIANT! SUCH CONTRAST!"

But we're smarter than that. This film is nothing more than a director getting his rocks off.

Hey, I like chicks with uzi's in bikinis as much as the next guy, but I don't want to suffer through a film that clearly shows work of a director who can do so much better than this, if he just had half of a brain left.

If this film's intention was to torture, I suppose mission accomplished.

Dim witted perverts who want to feel relevant by debating that it's really a good movie underneath, and if you don't get it, you're dumb, I have news for you:

No, you are! (sticks tongue out and thumbs at nose)

Director: Harmony Korine

Where do I start?

Spring Breakers is a dull film
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

I think it plays out as an almost camp version of a melodrama. I wasn't impressed.
Really. I didn't see that, but maybe so. I was intrigued with it and thought the performances were pretty top notch. Also, some of the editing was awkwardly unconventional, which brought my overall rating up.

Released: 2014
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Birdman is a great film because the directing and acting are so respectful of each other. The awe inspiring long shots, seeming to never cut away, bring in so many timed performances brimming with primarily naturalistic dialog and inflection, that even in the lulls revolving around pointless subplot, we still are able to hang on, waiting for the next overture.

I won't lie. The first 20 minutes of the film left me a bit underwhelmed despite the obvious technical feat happening in front of my eyes. I didn't care much for what the characters had to say. The writing. It seemed like an art film made for fans of Adam Sandler type humor. A few of the jokes were obviously poised to reel in audience laughter, and frankly I didn't find them very funny. That is until Edward Norton asks his on the rocks fiancee to "play with his(my) balls". I don't know why I laughed so hard. It must've been the timing and set up of the joke. He took a good few beats of inching his face towards that of Naomi Watts before laying that line on her, and it just really caught me in an uproar.

Once the movie picks up with the introduction of Edward Norton's character, I sensed that things might be turning out better than expected...and they did. Much better.
In addition to the choreographed effect shots, camera movements and seamless editing techniques that must have been painstakingly disciplined in pre, during and post production, I got a story about a man who may or may not be suffering from some form of shizophrenic delusions of grandeur, who wants to make his mark and pay tribute to what he considers a childhood mentor, as well as land himself some self respect out of the realm of superhero blockbuster fame, into the world of dialog driven playwrights, who often survive off of fortune by the favorable pen of notoriously vicious critics.

I love how this movie rips apart the critic as being lazy and unimaginative, using only adjectives rather than actual comment about structure or performance specifics. There's a truly white knuckle scene between Michael Keaton and his critic nemesis that just made me smile and grit my teeth at the same time. Keaton's character goes on to berate this woman critic, explaining that she risks nothing with her pen, ripping a man's livelihood to shreds, while he risks everything with his play. He raises the money, kills himself with the work and is ultimately at the mercy of a pompous and self appointed elitist's review column that will determine whether or not his play runs or shuts down after opening night.

There's much more to experience. The soundtrack is mostly jazz/fusion drumming, which seems to be performed live, as we get interspersed cuts of tracking shots revealing a perfectly lined up drummer who sits out on the street and in the long hallways of the theater. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu also makes sure his title sequences reflect the nuances of this complex percussion. The age of digital editing allows what would at one time be next to impossible with the appearance of characters in font, coming into sight right with each accent and fill of drummer Antonio Sanchez.

There are a good number of surprises in Birdman. It weighs quite a bit and is plenty heady enough with its themes to keep the cerebral film goer satiated, but it also offers majestic effect work, blending blockbuster visual wizardry with that of an Andre Gregory and/or Bob Fosse/David Mamet sensibility.

I saw this once in the theaters and wasn't sure how much I liked it. On home video in the form of blu ray I was able to relax uninterrupted and fully soak it in. It's a damn good movie worthy of at least two viewings.

Now if only we could get this kind of care put into films 5 times out of ten instead of twice, we'd have a thriving 21st century American market to choose from instead of having to live in yesteday or always turn the subtitles on.


I love miserable movies, and I loved Before the Devil Knows You're Dead enough to nominate is for a HoF.

I hated Spring Breakers!
I agree. I remember it coming out in a foggy time, when home video and theatrical were blended into each other more than usual. I almost missed it, and even the 1st time I watched it, I was too exposed to the Tarantino copycats to pay it as much mind as I did the 2nd time around.

Joel, I just read your review of Birdman...nicely written review, with an intelligent dissection & analysis of the movie.

We have some very similar thoughts on the film, (I reviewed it too). We both questioned where the film was going in the first 20 minutes, and we both loved the critic scene. I rated it a bit lower than you as I had some problems with the final scene, but overall a very interesting movie.

Joel, I just read your review of Birdman...nicely written review, with an intelligent dissection & analysis of the movie.

We have some very similar thoughts on the film, (I reviewed it too). We both questioned where the film was going in the first 20 minutes, and we both loved the critic scene. I rated it a bit lower than you as I had some problems with the final scene, but overall a very interesting movie.
You know, I had trouble with the final scene, as well. In the theaters, when I first saw it, I wasn't sure what happened? I couldn't wrap my head around the intrusion of full blown fantasy. On the 2nd viewing I accepted that he could indeed fly, and his daughter got to see her father as a true hero, in a figurative and literal sense, being a champion of the theater and social media, as well as an actual flying super hero.

I'm not saying that's what your hang-up was, though. I'm going to read your review now....

@Citizen Rules

I just read your review and started to feel strange because we both commented on things closely, lol.

The only "movie magic" logic I can put to the end scene of Birdman is that he can fly.

Though, it's definitely an assorted mess.

In one scene, right after he lands, we see a cab driver chase him down for money. We assume he's daydreamed his flight, and actually took a cab to the theater. In the final scene, his daughter reacts to his ability up there in the sky flying.

Maybe that was his pre or post fantasy of her witnessing him fall to his death being substituted with his fantasy of flight again, or maybe he really can fly but only after he's been self accepted with achievement again, to his own personal standards.

OR....when he says goodbye to Birdman siting on the toilet, maybe his monkey on the back ball and chain, and letting it go, finally allowed him to fly for real???

I dunno. Now that you mention it, it is sloppy. If there is an explanation, I'd be very interested to hear it because all of this speculation is making me very tired.

Psycho II (1983)
Director: Richard Franklin

I enjoyed this much more than the original. It had more humor and more refreshing scenario, like when Norman starts his job at the diner, and when Norman brings Tilley's character home for supper. Watching Anthony Perkins steer the ship is a delight. He really made Norman Bates a character that was believable. In this film, he's almost normal. He doesn't want to live in the past. He's feeble and afraid, but he's also kind of cool. You can tell by his facial expressions and by the way he plays a few moments light and nonchalant.

I really liked the writing, even if it was a bit far fetched. This is the kind of horror film, or thriller film, that almost makes me feel good, if that makes any sense. It's the location of the diner proximity to the old house with the ghost of Mother. The viewer has to imagine that the diner is right down the street, no more than a few miles. Having daytime scenes in color with a character actor like Dennis Franz tearing up the fast boat made me enjoy the suspense all the more.

The kill scenes are brutal but carefully inserted and don't over load the picture with a fireworks show of graphic violence. The music is pleasing. Goldsmith's "cutting edge" (at the time) use of synthesizer really adds a nauseous dimension because he uses some sort of sound that reminisces one of those air sticks to tilt that makes that high to low flangey noise, and it is unsettling.

Vera Miles is serviceable but feels a bit out of time with her melodramatic acting. It pushed everything forward, but I would've liked to have seen a more believable interaction between her and Tilly as the daughter to really give this film the credibility it deserves.

I know I reviewed this a few weeks ago and was a bit dismissive about it but Psycho II remains one of the best horror films I have ever seen. Franklin does such good atmospheric work here, utilizing poetic crane shots and camera angles that throw back to the original. I can't help but appreciate this as a superior film to the original, if not the pioneering entity that Psycho was and is.


I just read your review and started to feel strange because we both commented on things closely, lol.
Ha, great minds do indeed think alike
The only "movie magic" logic I can put to the end scene of Birdman is that he can fly.
Yeah, that's the conclusion I came to as well, and that's why I didn't like the ending. It's a Deus ex machina ending, I don't like those.

I would have preferred his daughter looking at the hospital window without looking up, and without a sense of amusement on her face.

If I was the director I would have asked the actress for a reflective look, that was void of positive or negative reactions. That way the ending isn't spoon feed to us, but allows each person to experience the film as they see fit and come to their on conclusions.

But, I really do like the vast majority of Birdman. I tend to be harder on films when I love so much about them.

Cool, I see you just watched Psycho II and liked it. I haven't watched that in decades, but the one and only time I seen it, I thought it was very well done. I've been meaning to rewatch it, so thanks to your review I will!

I just now requested it from my library and so will review sometime in the near future. That way I can read your review and be able to discuss the film with you.


But, I really do like the vast majority of Birdman. I tend to be harder on films when I love so much about them.
Yup, me too. If you care enough about something, it really gets under your skin if it falls a bit short on what it's capable of. Totally agree.