Joel's Reviews

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You know what? You're probably absolutely right. And that explains the PG-13 rating and the cut I have is the more recent shout factory blu ray release. I guess pg13 is still safe through time.

A Simple Plan (1998)
Dir: Sam Raimi

This is by far one of the best american thrillers I have ever seen. On the surface it seems that the characters are completely void of any intelligence or common sense, but soon into the picture the origami script starts unfolding into so many different dramatic human directions, I couldn't help but be totally immersed into this nightmare about greed and desperation for greener grass.

Set in a rural small town stacked with snow, two brothers and a friend accidentally uncover a small plane buried under ice in the woods carrying no less that four million, four hundred thousand dollars. Once their plan gets set into motion things start going terribly wrong.

The performance from every single character in the film is deft and solid, even reaching grand heights with Bill Paxton as the sheperd who strays from his righteous path.

The music score isn't the typical style that composer Danny Elfman produces. This time he seems to be using detuned piano keys and nylon stringed instruments to an extremely haunting and nauseating effect.

Raimi's direction has never been better in any film he's done. He knows exactly how to build clammy handed suspense as good or better than any other director I've seen doing this style of cinema. The script is superb, the photography is beautiful but never distracting, only completely serviceable.

I can watch this film once every year and still be blown away by its power. It's a tale of caution and a reaffirmation that the grass is not always greener.

Everyone's different. For me it was easy enough to settle into a story about roundabout small towners as I grew up with that simplicity and atmosphere. I don;t know much else aside from my journey out, which has proven to be just a lot of noise and chest beating with words. Maybe another beer is in order.

Director: Stan Winston

Director Stan Winston had been responsible for The Terminator's look as well as serving as James Cameron's right hand man for several films - utilizing make-up and prop effects.
In his directorial debut he shows a firm hand at pacing as well as choosing the perfect script for a halloween morality tale.

Teenagers on dirt bikes accidentally cause havoc to a rugged country store owner and his fuse it lit to the point of seeking hell-bound revenge. He visits an old witch and she tells him how to unleash vengeance (the most venomous of man's sin). Once the curse is in place bad things happen.

I liked this movie not only because it was spooky and atmospheric, but also because it deals (very well) with the characters and how they change throughout the film. I was just reading some discussion on character arcs not necessarily making a film great, but in this case the changes in attitude of people are what sets this movie apart from a standard, run of the mill horror film.

The effects and creature design is second to none because, well, it's Stan Winston making it. Everything has an organic and deliciously fiendish air about it - including the graveyard, which looks beautiful and classically stagy. I love things like this.

I also enjoyed how it ended. Again, this is where the editing was elegant. The scenes during the film kind of layer themselves to not only show an event happening, but rather to build some tension with a simultaneous scene and then a revisit to see what will happen. At the end, the film just kind of nods on to credits, and the slight but almost poetic way the white letters crawl against darkness basically told me that whoever pieced this together had a golden touch. This all felt like a real story. Not real as in "realistic", but real as in - it's a scary tale to tell around the camp fire, and no goofy things got in the way. Winston did good work here, and I'd go so far as to say, considering the teenage cast and typical cliches present, his first effort as a director did not at all seem shaky or unsure of itself.

I Think We're Alone Now (2018)
Director: Reed Morano

Peter Dinklage stars as a loner of few words (sound familiar?), cleaning up his town after something wipes out the human race. He goes into houses, windexes counter tops, drags the bodies out, buries them, and then goes to the immaculate library where he used to work and logs everyone into files to keep some order.

When he finds out there is a 20 year old girl causing a reckless noise fest close-by - tensions mount.

Right off the bat I compared the meditative cinematography and mood to The Quiet Earth (one of my favorites of this kind), but soon enough that notion was broken apart by the introduction to a famous canadian rock band. And then again..and then again..and then...again.

That was OK after a while, but I have to admit that one scene had me cringing.

The plot twist is super weird and not well explained but the more I thought about it the more I felt that it didn't really need to be explained any more than it already was.

This is a decent little film. I'm not a huge fan of Ellie Fanning, and her expression bothers me for some reason, but I came around finally to almost warming up to her in the film.

This isn't a great film but it is a good one. I was actually surprised I liked it as much as I did even though I really wish it had been handled better. There are some silly things happening that seem kind of forced and unnecessary.

I checked some reviews and many people were disappointed with the pacing and the ending. I can sympathize considering that really the only strong element is Peter Dinklage but..there are enough little moments that it made it worthwhile for me despite its shortfalls.

So when I say "Great ending - and a great tune from a great band. But I'm not telling you who it is", what I really mean is that it worked for me but may very well not work for you at all.


Aliens (1986)
Director: James Cameron

What can I say new about this much reviewed film? It's great. Without comparing it to the original, I'll just say that it does a fabulous job at continuing the story of Ripley. The Marine segments are hilarious and scary once things start going south. Bill Paxton makes this movie in a lot of ways. He's so ridiculously over the top "quit s-screwin' around!"

I love the atmospheres created. Cameron, being the effects and set genius he is, really puts the amp up to 11 with the outside planet world and the heavy metal machines navigating through the terrain. This is a blue and silver looking movie.

Lance Henriksen as Bishop adds a nice Disney touch that's probably enough even though the Newt character does add some incentive to really kick the alien's ass.

Paul Reiser oozes scumbag perfectly.

I prefer the theatrical cut to the extended DC. I feel the off world colony didn't really need to be seen as the aftermath still puts across the despair in spades considering a little girl is living in an AC duct.

Plenty of comic moments peppered over terrifying moments of the aliens getting closer. And that reveal of the giant cockroach-like gang of warrior aliens in the overhead grated ceiling was beyond freaked out.


I've never been a fan of Aliens or James Cameron. Aliens is too much of an action movie with not enough horror and way too many generic expendable characters with really boring dialogue that only exist to get killed off. I always felt the acting and script were extremely weak. A lot of the lines are very wooden, and many more are just filler with no significant purpose or depth. I think people just like it because the marines are cool and there are lots of aliens and action.

It's been a looooong time since I watched Pumpkinhead. I don't normally like modern horror films but that film really had this melancholy, Achilles heel theme to it, much like a tragic Greek play. And for that reason the movie stayed with me.

Aliens, I've only seen this once and liked it. The scene with Ridley and the little girl as the alien comes around the corner, is the stuff of movie legend...I've said this many times, the theatrical release of a film is almost always better than the extended director's cut. The later is like including the bits of film that were discarded in the first place. Good to see ya back writing some reviews, Joel.

Nah, Zotis. No way, bro. Totally disagree with what you say about Aliens. The marines were played perfectly cartoonish as intended and their delivery was classic and animated. There is plenty of horror. Did we see the same film? haha

Trapped in the locked lab with a face hugger and no ammo. Being cornered by the mother alien in her nest with the minions close by.

The gang of roach-like aliens stampeding through the ceiling grates...that scene alone builds so much suspense because we're wondering why the motion sensors are reading that the aliens are beyond the sealed entry points.

The only thing about the script that didn't hold water with me was the notion that these marines seemed oblivious to xenomorphs and needed Ripley to explain their nature to them, but a few sentences later Hudson comments on the mission being a "bug hunt". That always bothered me. I think something was flaky there. But I just don't care because I think the movie is tremendous for what it is. I also think that, for 1986, was a different time and something like Aliens was very cutting edge and effective.

Still love the first film and do like it better than the sequel but....

Sorry, I think we saw a different movie, in a different universe.

It's been a looooong time since I watched Pumpkinhead. I don't normally like modern horror films but that film really had this melancholy, Achilles heel theme to it, much like a tragic Greek play. And for that reason the movie stayed with me.

You just described what I couldn't. Something special about Pumpkinhead despite its obvious mid to late 80's trappings.

Aliens is my second favorite action movie after Die Hard, and it was one of the best times I've ever had at the cinema. Also a fan of Cold in July, A Simple Plan, and Pumpkinhead. I was a little disappointed in A History of Violence but want to see it again.

The Principal

James Belushi plays an angry alcoholic teacher desperate for a career change after being dumped by his girlfriend. When he gets a cosmic offer the very next day for a principal position at a violent high school, he reluctantly accepts the offer.

We are expected to believe that mullet dominated Belushi is a real bad ass fella. He rides a motorcycle, frequently knocks over bar stools, and chases people around with a baseball bat if they piss him off. He seems to be the perfect fit to clean up a school of criminals.

Suspension of disbelief. I think suspension of disbelief requires one to use brain and gut muscles that are paramount to utilizing other functions of the human condition such as forgiveness and the benefit of the doubt. Second chances, though often ill advised, are granted based on using this area of non prejudice. The question is, how can anyone grow as an individual without this active function?

This is the case when watching The Principal. No other way will allow much inspection of the solid script, which really spends time with the students and forms a bond between a teacher ready to give up on his life reaching out to others ready to do the same.

We have tropes here, more so now because this was from a period when things happening in this film weren't as worn out. There are laughable scenarios and forehead slapping moments seasoning the mix. But what stood out to me was not just the gritty location or the rugged look of the actual film stock and camera work/lighting, but the seriousness behind the actors in their roles. Because the writing was solid and the characters each had enough screen time to be able to tell their story, we get something to invest in, using of course our suspension of disbelief.

The Principal got slammed when it was initially released, and I haven't found anything much positive about it since it came out, whether on line or in the trade archives. However, I will say that this is the kind of film that can be very easily dismissed because it has the odds stacked against it.

It is silly, and it is cliche, and it isn't politically correct. But on the other hand it stands within the ranks of other films of that period like Stand and Deliver and Lean on Me. What it does not do is ooze any kind of sentiment that begs for oscars or other achievement awards. It gets right to the core as soon as it can, and getting there still doesn't feel rushed or contrived. This is not a film you stand up and cheer for at the end. It's essentially a routine picture that does end in some violence, but I still feel as if this picture is responsible in the sense that it doesn't just "waste kids" because they're bad. It is fully aware of James being the white guy. It is aware that a lot of the problems here aren't with race division as much as inter-race relations. People of the same skin are hurting each other. But this is not a loud shout for ghetto/poverty injustice as much as it is an action picture with some comic relief that usually misses its mark.

I didn't sit there and think about this picture as being an undiscovered gem. I understand why it got low ratings and continues to gather low ratings to this day. But I will say that The Principal is a solid effort, and it was fun to watch.


Three O'Clock High
Director: Phil Joanou

Long time Coen bros DP Barry Sonnenfeld helms the camera and lighting in this ultra stylish teenage comedy picture directed by a budding Phil Janou (State of Grace).

Music is by Tangerine Dream, and things definitely harken back to Risky Business not only with some very similar musical themes, but with some very overt stylistic movements on display.

Three O' Clock High is essentially an art action film set in the teen comedy universe. The insert shots and coverage are meticulously and frantically paced in editing providing a very rich sense of the self aware film making. The camera movements are fluid and dramatic, the framing and composition are among the top tier of anything coming out of this period of film. Sets, design, and wardrobe are all in check.

So taking all of this into account, now we have the luxury of being treated to a funny film. The scenes play out loomy and dramatic, but inside this dark comedy is a lot of very well placed comedic shticks that always hit their marks.

A high school nerd is assigned to write a welcome to campus piece on a reputed psychotic bully. When this nerd confronts the bully in the boy's room urinal, trying to break the ice, things accidentally go south and the bully challenges the nerd to a fight after school.

That's the basic premise. And what a world is created around that!

This is the kind of movie where it sets up the basis of the story very early on and then just continues to dazzle with its inventive story telling. As much as I doubt this is any kind of award winning film - it really doesn't aim for that. I'd say that a movie like this just does what it does - and does it extremely well.

It combines all of the elements of a teenage comedy and puts spins on it. The best thing about Three O'Clock High is that it delivers the goods. It doesn't take short cuts. I've read criticism that it mocks it's own morale by ultimately giving into a fight scene at the end, but I disagree. I believe the point of the film is that sometimes you have to fight, especially when you have no choice, which is exactly what our lead has in this film: he has absolutely zero choice.

It's a fun movie and doesn't require a lot of brain work. All of the visual flair is like being catered to at an upscale restaurant. Also, this film doesn't rely on sex and drugs to be the "hook". It uses well timed physical comedy and some zany performances to sell itself. The villain of the film is perfect, and when moments of darkness hit on that visceral gut level - you feel them. I actually welled up with tears once or twice because the film making is so powerful.

But most people would just scoff at a movie like this because they would try to apply the same logic to reviewing a film like this to say - a Christopher Nolan movie or something, so ...I can't force anyone to think different, but I would highly recommend this film to anyone who "gets it", and wants to either check out a real gem passed over, or reinspect a film from their youth. You won't be disappointed.

I also highly suggest watching this on a clean source such as blu ray. This may be one of the best meat and potatoes high school films made that isn't trying to break new dramatic ground.

The Greasy Strangler

Tasteless, crude, filthy, X-rated, disgusting, repetitive, and usually not very funny, this nasty concoction of sex, violence and dim witted humor makes its way from the gutter in the spirit of John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray) and Frank Henenlotter(Basket Case, Brain Damage).

Do I have to give away the premise? It's so stupid.

A father and son team take idiots on fake tours around the city to spots they lie about being havens for yesteryear's disco sensations like - The Bee Gees. Incognito, the dad turns into a nasty beast that strangles people at night until they are dead!

Not much else to say. The music is so ridiculous - it lives off a bass heavy synth patch and some strange trimmings on top. The sex is usually with heavy set women with pretty faces. The violence is not only over the top but almost vomit inducing.

So, why am I giving this a rating of 3 popcorns?

I am not sure yet. Ask me in another few years, maybe a decade.

This picture has balls, and the good grace to bludgeon the viewer with humor so strange and thin that it literally takes repeated phrasing to hammer it home until it becomes a mantra. This was done a lot by Will Ferrell alumni at SNL, but here it's just certified crazy.

The narrative is almost non existent, in fact, near the end it completely abandons itself in favor of some meta commentary on alternate universe tribal babble. Fine by me.

It's effective cinema. Just the fact that I had a real chance to turn it off before bed and then started it up the next night is testament to it having put a spell on me.

I'm not ashamed, but I am curious. No closure in this review.

Paul Thomas Anderson

I hated this film when I saw it in theaters. I cannot watch films like this when I'm out. They require attention and replay capabilities I simply don't have when sitting in a public seat.

This is my third time trying 2012's The Master, and this time I made sure to have no distractions, no foul mood, and no expectations.

I've known all along that Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix are acting giants and served this film well, even though I thought the narrative was complete garbage and that the pacing was an insult to the public at large.

After about ten minutes into the film I decided to enable subtitles so I wouldn't miss a word of the script. I often have trouble hearing certain garbled dialog, and this film has plenty of that. This was a very smart move on my part because with that small adjustment, I was finally able to enjoy this movie exactly the way I should have all along.

PTA films post Boogie Nights and Magnolia have forced me to warm up to them. With PTA's first three films he practiced an accessible feast for general public with the bonus of sensibilities not usually found in commercial cinema. I should note that I've also hated There Will Be Blood, but reconciled a year or so back, and now consider it masterful film making.

With most of PTA's later output, I just needed time to digest it. I don't believe it's that I am slow or stupid, I think it's because I need to be in the mood to really take it on and play around with the inner text. There's a lot to see and hear in this picture, so trying to follow an obnoxiously slow pace was a chore the first two times, and I resented this film for it, even though I champion slowly paced films. I can't figure it out. What's wrong with me? Nothing. It's called changing tastes over time.

Now, I know damn well that this film was an experiment and that the narrative isn't, or wasn't meant to be as clever as some say it is. Essentially it's a lot of things. It's a story about a smooth talking intellect who takes a shine to a wild and bullish man because he is reminded of his own inner animal. It's about control and conceit. It's about the roots of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics. It's about sexuality and how it drives you mad. There is a lot going on. A lot.

Freddy is a mean spirited child. He bullies his old flame's mother on her own doorstep. He bullies and humiliates a portly man getting a portrait taken for his wife. His knack for evading responsibility is illustrated at one point when his hooch kills an old man working in the fields at an odd job Freddy briefly holds down. He's a wicked gypsy man child with volcanic rage.

Dodd on the other hand is a charming, energetic and very composed picture of a father. He shows Freddy a way out of his torment, even though Freddy admits no such thing exists. Eventually, their relationship becomes an enabling joint venture. Freddy is Dodd's muse and bodyguard, and Dodd is Freddy's father figure, as well as his financial ticket. Freddy constantly sizes up net worth in Dodd, his writings, and his fine porcelain. As much as a friend as Dodd is to Freddy, Dodd will not be shut down by anyone. He has two episodes where he is called out by onlookers or devotees and his temper flares.

There are several well placed comedy moments in Anderson's script, and the actors are up for the fun. This is very much, like TWBB, a comedy with tones of drama and thriller. Some of this movie plays it so over the top you feel as if you're getting the piss taken. You are. There's no question that PTA is pulling the viewer's leg at several key moments. Fat Matt Damon introduces himself as Dodd's son. Quell remarks "Yeah, I see the resemblance". I suspected a lot of the time, all of the drama was somehow a private joke, and I later confirmed it with viewing the outtakes to the film, not the bloopers, but the deleted scenes. These guys were having a laugh.

I'll say, as an experience in cinema, especially american cinema, you can't get much more rich than The Master. It looks beautiful, sounds regal with Jonny Greenwood's symphonic score always gnawing at dissonance, and time spent with the two leads is a real treat because they are so into their characters, it just comes off like a big shlt eating grin joke. It's so intense.

Also, Amy Adams shouldn't go unnoticed in this review. Her portrayal of the co-brain of the entire Dodd operation is nicely played, if not overwhelmingly camp like that of Quell and Dodd.

So on this viewing I was right at home with the pacing, even during the most dreaded scene for me; when Quell walks back and forth between a window and a wooden wall panel, eventually explaining his experiences that illuminate some of his well shrouded plight. On this viewing that scene was rewarding. I noticed inserts of Dodd eating on his patio, watching Quell, demanding he go again while he is perfectly framed between the fine white picture window drapes.

The final note of the film left me feeling miserable. Quell makes love to a woman he meets at the pub, and he starts riffing on Dodd's teachings - badly. We're left with this as a pathetic end to their relationship, and the promise of them being at odds with each other in the next life.

R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman
There is no greater actor at this time

Liked your review of this film...Beatty is one of the industry's most underrated talents and I love Liev Schreiber too...will be adding this one to my watchlist.
Hey, did you ever end up watching this?

Spring Forward?

The Outing (1987)
Director: Who Cares?

Horrible film. Nothing interesting except maybe a few shots of opticals and amuseum at night atmosphere. I wished I liked it better, but I didn't. As poor as this review is, and as short as it will be, the movie went on forever, and this review is better than the film're lucky!

The Princess Bride
Director: Rob Reiner

Here's one of the best movies ever made, and so easy to watch. Nothing is really disagreeable when you just want to get involved in a film but not be overwhelmed with carnage or suspenseful mind games.

The Princess Bride dishes up so much humor in just about every scene that you almost forget it's also a fairy tale. This isn't just cute comedy for the family. This is the kind of comedy that represents what comedy was and should still be. It's not all cynical, in fact, a lot of it is just intelligent and light. Between the performances and impeccable timing of the cast, to the lush and lavish set design and costuming, it's really going to be an exercise in futility to find something inherently wrong with Rob Reiner's best film.

The writing is a shining star in Reiner's adaption of the book, and the screenplay is written by the original author in Goldman. His sense for humor decorates every pitfall and narrative post, and it's a thing to behold because I really cannot remember this film being as good as it is. I've seen it several times since its debut on Nelson Home Entertainment VHS back in 1988.