Apex Predator's Reviews

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22. Back to Bosnia (2005) B

A solid documentary about a family of Bosnian Muslims (including the filmmaker) return from their Florida home to where they grew up. There's some chilling sequences as we visit morticians who are trying to sort out the corpses of those killed in the ethnic cleansing. And there's some touching moments as their family meets the family who have chosen to squat at their home.

Was a bit harsh on this on first review, but after going over things with others who've seen it, I'm giving it the new and improved grade you see in front of you.
I'm glad you mention this. To be honest, I think I had a similar reaction at first, only for it to sink in towards the last act. It's not perfect, but there's some stuff to unpack there.
Check out my podcast: The Movie Loot!

2. Sweet Smell of Success (1957) A-

This has all the bite of an arsenic cookie.

Small time publicist Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is desperate to get his clients the attention from big time newspaper columnist JJ Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). To get his approval, Sidney will have to break up Hunsecker's sister Susan (Susan Harrison) with jazz musician Steve (Martin Milner) through any means necessary.

Lancaster oozes menace as Hunsecker who can make or break many people in New York City and is more than willing to do so. As Sidney, Curtis comes across as an opportunistic snake willing to do what it takes to move up the ladder. It's clear that they see something in each other, but Sidney appears to have something that JJ does not.

Film is well written and directed and it feels like a bad car accident that you can't look away from but you feel compelled to watch. But thanks to the run time and the wonderful way they shot New York City, Sweet Smell of Success does end up being quite successful indeed.

1. M (1931) A

Berlin cops desperately search for a man who murders children. As it turns out, this also draws the attention of the criminal element who wants him brought to justice due to the police putting pressure on them during their search.

Fritz Lang draws a compelling yarn of the underbelly of Berlin as he uses tracking shots to amp up the tension. Peter Lorre makes a memorable turn as Hans who is a big fan of In the Hall of the Mountain King. The whistling of the tune proves to be chilling. Hans goes on a roller coaster ride throughout M's running time, moving from menacing to pathetic. The film raises questions with no easy answers about who is ultimately responsible for the children of society.

To correct an earlier review of mine, this is now my fourth Lang film (Metropolis, Destiny, The Big Heat, M) and three of them have been very good to excellent. This joins Metropolis as a masterpiece.
This 1-2 punch is excellent. I'm pretty sure you know Sweet Smell of Success was my #1 first-time watch of 2020, but M (which I saw the year before, I think) is excellent as well.

Glad you enjoyed those films, Thief. I've come around some on Back to Bosnia which I found underwhelming at first, but thought about it and it did go up.

Why bring this up now? Because I got a new film to dive into!

Make a Wish (1937)

Chip Winters (Bobby Breen) is an ordinary kid with a big singing voice who ends up in this camp in Maine. Along the way, he meets British composer Johnny Selden (Basil Rathbone) who's struggling to write a musical for Broadway due in the fall. But he finds inspiration in the letters that Chip's single mom (Marion Claire) sends him. And it appears that they click once they meet during family weekend (where she shows her abilities as a singer as well). But a problem develops that she's with Walter (Ralph Forbes) who wants her to give up music in exchange for a family life. Will there be a happy ending to this story or will Chip and his mom settle for what's in front of them?

Because it's a musical and it's practically a B-picture, it's predictable what happens with both this plot and a subplot involving Selden's butler and two wanna be composers. Not helping is the film insisting on turning to one composer's vague grasp of the English language for laughs.

But the music turns out fine here. Breen has a nice soprano voice that comes through loud and clear here. Claire's voice is strong as well. And Rathbone ably pulls off comedy and drama with aplomb.

It may only be a B-picture, but there's enough entertainment value here and the film doesn't wear out its welcome at a brisk 82 minutes. Thumbs marginally up on my end.

Back tomorrow with not one, but two films to add to my list for this year.

Both made the 2021 challenge, but only one of them is good.

She Goes to War (1929)

I can appreciate the sentiments of this film that try to prove that women can handle combat just as well as men. The story of a spoiled woman who comes to take the place of her drunk, cowardly lover on the combat fields of WW1 might have worked in better hands.

But what went wrong? Try taking a silent film which took about 87 minutes or so and turning it into a talkie by taking out all the cards that explains what's going on. The first half of the film seems to have lost most of the story and character development as a result. I had to piece things together using articles from the Internet which is always a bad sign.

The second half is where the film does pick things up some where she's literally thrown into the fire of war. The fire effects are well done and there's a harrowing sequence featuring a tank in flames as it tries to dodge German explosives.

But even there, problems keep the film from fulfilling its potential. Lighting issues made the film difficult to tell what was going on at times. And more critically, her character tries to keep her identity under wraps but

WARNING: "" spoilers below
when one of her cohorts finds out that he's with a female soldier, he turns from joking around with her to trying to have his way with her. It doesn't help that this felt like this was being played for laughs.

Where the editing is killed is when it comes to the characters. Joan (Emily Boardman) is able to come up with daring feats of bravery one minute and faints the next because it's too much for her to handle. We get no explanation why Reggie (Edmund Burns) turns from being gung ho about the war to being a drunken coward. And as for the third person Tom (John Holland)

WARNING: "" spoilers below
He goes from being the other man that she's into to turning her down due to her being frivolous and spoiled to being her commanding officer during the war scenes.
Not that any of that would make sense without the intercards or the cut footage.

It works best as a curio, but it does not hold up.

Had some plans to start my YouTube channel...but I think I'm having some issues of nerves. I do have a logo now and everything's set...all I have to do is record.

List of films I'm going to get into in the next couple of weeks:

Short Term 12
Scandal in Sorrento
Enter the Dragon
On the Way to School (Finally!)
One Night in Miami
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Short Term 12 (2013)

It took me a while to see this due to some of the issues they covered. But it was worth it in the end.

Grace (Brie Larson) is the lead counselor at a group home for troubled teens. She's showing the newest counselor (Rami Malek) the ropes with the help of co-worker/boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). She learns that they're getting Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a teen with a history of self harm who doesn't plan to stay long as her father will pick her up. But the more Grace learns about her, the more she reminds her of Grace in her past.

The cast is solid, including LaKeith Stanfield as an aspiring rapper who is worried what will happen as he approaches his 18th birthday. The film blended humorous moments with the more serious subject matter...until maybe the last 15 minutes or so. Larson is the film's beating, flawed heart and I could see her deserving an Oscar nomination for her performance.

A few scenes felt a bit off towards the end, but this solid film is worth watching and telling others about.

And now for something completely different...

In part of the hype for the non-starter Sophia Loren Oscar wannabe The Life Ahead, Netflix decided to give us two films from her distant past. And considering I needed something light after Short Term 12 (and the fact it's set in Italy works just fine for the 2021 list, please don't ask me how many films I've seen so far, thanks!), Scandal in Sorrento felt like it'd be an easy win.

And from the opening notes, one can easily see what Sophia Loren can bring into a movie. She's equally enchanting getting into it with a rival fishmonger or sweet talk the new police chief in Sorrento to convince him not to kick her out on the street and move into her home.

Which leads into the plot. After retiring as a marshal, Carotenuto (Vittorio De Sica) settles into Sorrento to take over the police chief role. His brother Don Matteo (Mario Carotenuto) and his assistant Caramella (Tina Pica) warn him to focus on the job and not worry about love. But when he meets Sofia (Loren), it's easier said than done. Of course, she's got a boyfriend Nicolino (Antonio Cifariello) who is aspiring to make a better life for the two of them. But she's not above using Carotenuto to make him jealous...and to keep the roof over her head. But then again, Donna Violante (Lea Padovani) who is the new landlord for the chief of police might have fallen for him as well?

The plot is kinda slight and almost sitcommy at times. But still, the charms of the Italian countryside (and Loren) and some decent physical comedy as the two of them elude the mayor and some reporters as they end up on the same distant beach/cave as them means that it's not a waste of time.

This was a pleasant watch, but it was also a bit thin.

Next: MKS may be proud of me?

A reminder to myself that I need to do a year end summary of what I watched. Then reviews of the films that I watched in 2022 so far.

Also, a note that I might have done a thing for YouTube. Starting with some predictions for 2022's Oscar nominations. And who knows where that might lead.

My channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQn...6dW6Vn8ZLr613A

Victim of The Night
A reminder to myself that I need to do a year end summary of what I watched. Then reviews of the films that I watched in 2022 so far.

Also, a note that I might have done a thing for YouTube. Starting with some predictions for 2022's Oscar nominations. And who knows where that might lead.

My channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQn...6dW6Vn8ZLr613A
I'm here for it.

These are the worst films I've seen in 2021:

30. Don't Go in the Woods (D-)
Outside of a few moments of hilarity (the birdwatcher's reactions before he gets killed, the sheriff pulling his deputy off the pinball game), this would-be horror film is neither scary or good. Unless you like a high body count due to random idiots all choosing to camp at the same place a killer that looks like a cross between a homeless guy from New Orleans and Rupert Boneham, heed the advice and avoid.

29. She Goes to War (D+)
When her boyfriend cowardly decides he'd rather drink himself to sleep than fight in a war, his girlfriend goes in his place. The war scenes, particularly with the tanks, is suitably tense. But when the fighting slows, the film starts springing problems starting with a soldier who starts creating problems for her (who is dressed as a man, natch). The story behind this one being made is more interesting than the story on the screen.

28. And Now the Screaming Starts (C-)
The film improves a tick when Peter Cushing pops up on screen as a psychologist who tries to help the female protagonist (Stephanie Beachum) as she struggles to deal with some strange things in her husband's family mansion. The film itself is nothing special except for a brutal sequence in flashback and towards the beginning. Some tone issues and a general sedateness are the big issues here.

27. Final Exam (C-)
Much like #28, this film isn't bad per se. A sequence which features a "terrorist" attack is pretty bravura for a 1980s horror film. And a sequence where the nerd character gets into serial killers and how and why they do what they do reminds me of Randy from Scream. The big problems here are that too much of it is a thin clone of Halloween and just because they give the characters time to develop doesn't mean they're particularly interesting. Some nice commentary stuck in a below average film.

26. The Smiling Madame Beudet (C)
A couple of decent fantasy sequences aid an average silent film about a woman stuck in a marriage with a clod who likes to play with guns for laughs. Thanks to director Germaine Dumac, it does manage a feminist viewpoint throughout. But as the film proceeds, we get a sense the marriage is worse than we think which makes the ending not work in the way that was intended.

25. On the Way to School (C)
Average documentary about how several kids from around the world go through long, difficult treks to get to school. They talk about hopes and dreams and that's fine, I guess. The visuals of the locations are nicely filmed. But the dialogue feels staged at times and the lack of subtitles doesn't help matters any. It could have made for a solid 30 minute short, but at feature length, some of the appeal is lost.

24. Tanks a Million (C)
Middling war comedy about a by the book private who makes the life of a sergeant miserable. But it also allows him to climb ranks quickly and places him in some situations involving a motley crew of a platoon and a cranky colonel which places his career in jeopardy. Predictable, but a few decent laughs make it a passable film. PS: There's no tanks in the film itself.

23. Welcome to Pine Lake (C)
From CBS News, a documentary about a small Georgia town ran by women which has a problem with overaggressive policing and traffic stops that are pulling over African Americans. Some interesting moments particularly a disturbing account on how one resident was watched while on the beach is negated by a lack of solutions being floated by the government (and the one they do pick isn't shown on screen until towards the end). I wouldn't mind a spinoff documentary on the judge which combines tough love with genuine concern.

22. Mank (C)
Oscar nominee on the writer of Citizen Kane as he works on turning the script into shape while sobering up in a tight deadline. The film looks and sounds great (you get the sense of the old school Hollywood glamour such as the Hearst estate even as the film is trying to break it down). But a lack of drama, a flabby second half, and miscasting Gary Oldman as a man in his 30s and early 40s means that it feels more like Oscar-bait than a deserved Best Picture nominee. It's more like Meh-nk than it should have been.

21. Make a Wish (C+)
A talented boy singer helps his single mom who is a good singer in her own right with a romantic plot involving a British composer he's trying to help. In his way are a pair of fake composers and a man with his own eyes on his mother, but with plans of getting her to retire. It's predictable, but the music is fine and the film does hit the ending. Believe it or not, this was an Oscar nominee!

Tomorrow, I reveal films 20-11.

26. The Smiling Madame Beudet (C)
A couple of decent fantasy sequences aid an average silent film about a woman stuck in a marriage with a clod who likes to play with guns for laughs. Thanks to director Germaine Dumac, it does manage a feminist viewpoint throughout. But as the film proceeds, we get a sense the marriage is worse than we think which makes the ending not work in the way that was intended.
I liked this one, and appreciated that it was pretty short. I also liked the structure of the different fantasy sequences.

I totally agree with you that the ending is a flop given what we see in the middle.

Part 2 is now:

20. Scandal in Sorrento (C+)
Pleasant but slight comedy about a fish seller and widow trying to do what she can to keep her house and make her current beau jealous. It's kind of sitcommy at times particularly with the handwringing from the supporting characters, but the Italian scenery is gorgeous and Sophia Loren is a revelation. And there's one nice scene as Loren and the chief of police elude being spotted at a rendezvous while the mayor decides to hold an impromptu press conference.

19. Boomika (C+)
An architect, his wife and a couple of friends find themselves at a abandoned resort when some weird things start to happen. The film has a nice look and the director manages to keep this watchable as the film dives into some heady topics. But it's a bit too complex and the big twist wasn't quite as good as it could have been.

18. Boxcar Bertha (C+)
The romance of a woman with not a lot to lose and an union organizer helps carry a film that struggles at times between Roger Corman's cheap budget and Martin Scorsese's vision. Hershey and David Carradine offer an energy that keep this film from being derailed. Also helping is Bernie Casey and a gutsy climax.

17. John Henry (B-)
Disney animated short takes on the legend of John Henry whose big hammer from the chains that once enslaved him is used by the railroads to clear land. The Sounds of Blackness's music carry a solid story, but the animation at times feels unfinished particularly when you see the faces.

16. Sound of Metal (B-)
Riz Ahmed is strong as a drummer for a small time rock band who finds out he's losing his hearing and has to adjust his life. Paul Raci is a strong presence and the film benefits from the authenticity from casting deaf people as students and members of the place where Ruben stays. And the sound design deservedly won an Oscar. But the story takes a turn south in the final third particularly when it switches locales.

15. The Little Matchgirl (B-)
Animated short from Disney makes the most of its St. Petersburg setting as a little girl tries and fails to sell matches in a chilly winter. The use of color and black and white is well done as the snowflakes shine in the night and the dreams she feels are brought to vivid life. A bit unclear at places, but the story does get told faithfully.

14. How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (B)
Animated Disney short showcases how much technology has grown from the days of console TVs as well as the increasing complexity of putting it all together. Some big belly laughs as Goofy tries to figure all this out in time for the big game. The way the narrator described all the speakers and what they do was funny as well. I feel seen.

13. My Octopus Teacher (B)
Touching documentary about the friendship between a diver/photographer and an octopus. It does better when the octopus is the focus as you can see the two of them gaining trust in each other. It does less well when focusing on the diver's seeking his purpose and renewing his drive for photography. Is it the best documentary? Dunno, but I do get why it won the Oscar.

12. Tangerines (B)
Don't confuse this with the similarly titled transgender drama from Sean Baker. This is a drama about two Georgians working on harvesting a tangerine crop as war is brewing between their country and Russia. One of them tries to heal a Chechen mercenary and a Georgian soldier without having them kill each other. It does dive into familiar territory at times, but thanks to some good acting and solid direction, it manages to be gripping until the final shot.

11. Short Term 12 (B)
Tough but worthy watch about a woman who leads a group of workers at a foster home for troubled teens and how the newest teen reminds her a lot of herself. A strong supporting cast (John Gallagher Jr., Rami Malek, LaKeith Stanfield) and a great performance from Brie Larson as Grace help carry the solid story through a couple of scenes that rang false.

Will wrap up with the top 10 films I've seen soon-ish.

I need to check out Sound of Metal soon.
You should. It was the least of the three nominees I've seen last year. But it's a solid film.

Now the best films I've seen in 2021:

10. Phantom of the Opera (B)
Solid old school horror silent film about the Phantom's quest to take an opera singer to the top. Lon Chaney is able to work magic finding the humanity in a character that's not the most likable. Film finds a nice use of color at a masquerade ball, a strong score and even does well with intertitles. That overcomes a middle section with a few lulls and some overacting.

9. One Night in Miami (B)
A boxer, a football player, a singer and a minister walk into a hotel room in this Oscar nominated film. Following Cassius Clay's victory over Sonny Liston, he meets with Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown. Although it occasionally is a bit too blunt with its "With power comes responsibility" message, sharp dialogue and good performances help you overcome the fact it's a filmed play. The standout to me was Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X as you can see a full range of emotions in his performance here. Regina King shows great confidence for this being her debut as a film director.

8. Enter the Dragon (B)
This film works better as a martial arts picture than as an undercooked spy film. Bruce Lee not only is able to kick serious tail here, but he also shows up with a charisma and it factor that's undeniable. John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Bolo Yeung and Bob Wall all do well in support. Some nice fight scenes as well, particularly one that takes place in a hall of mirrors. It manages to be entertaining.

7. Rocky Horror Picture Show (B/RW)
The re-watch wasn't unusual (I've seen it once a year every year while in school). But the method was. Was using this to test out the idea of watching a movie on a Discord server. The result wasn't promising, but the film itself is still fine. Made a night of it with a little Tim Curry music and a preview of the musical preceding the film.

6. King Kong (B)
The first half is a bit ponderous as Fay Wray finds herself torn between a skeptical adventurer who doesn't consider her a woman (!) and a giant gorilla whose idea of flirting is to play with her dress. But the second half more than makes up for it with a thrilling series of action scenes that make you wonder why modern action films with much bigger budgets can't pull off something like this. Kong manages to be sympathetic even as he has the habit of eating and stomping on the occasional person.

5. How to Train Your Dragon (B+)
A young Viking warrior is trained to kill a dragon so he can be taken seriously as an adult, but he befriends a night fury dragon he injured with one of his inventions. Film has a nice mix of message and gripping story even if it gets a bit intense for the younger viewers out there. What I can appreciate is how they tackle conversations with the audience like a friend instead of a parent. It avoids most of the trappings of modern animation (pop culture references, classic music) to stand head and shoulders above the fray.

4. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (B+)
Much like One Night in Miami, this is based on a stage play. But when you have great actors like Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman in the center, a solid supporting cast and some great dialogue, the time just zips by. The film explores how several people deal with white people of power in a non-judgmental way as their characters make different decisions. Both Viola and Chadwick were worthy choices to win their acting categories at the Oscars.

3. The Intouchables (A-)
Potent chemistry between the charismatic Omar Sy and the charming Francois Cluzet carry this tale of two unlikely people who become good friends as a man from the Paris projects becomes the unorthodox caretaker for a wealthy paraplegic. The film avoids mawkish sentimentality as the directors deftly blend the dramatic moments with the comedic ones. Film's got charm to spare and you'll want to dance when Boogie Wonderland comes on the screen.

2. Lorenzo (A-)
Disney animated short about an arrogant cat whose tendency to poke fun at the misfortune of others comes back to bite him when one of his victims places a curse and the snobby cat's luxurious tail comes to life. The tango music and the inventive animation blend together in harmony. There's a spirit of excitement that flows throughout the five minutes up until the final shot.

1. 12 Angry Men (A)
At the beginning of the film, the 12 jurors are instructed that if they find the defendant, a young Latino man, guilty of murder that he'll receive the death penalty. So they go and deliberate where they learn one of them thinks he's innocent. Yet another stage play turned film, this benefits from being mostly in one room. Since it's apparently the hottest day of the year, we get plenty of intense closeups as the characters's masks start to slip and we get a view of what they really think. Throw in some crackling dialogue and great performances everywhere (starting with Jack Lemmon as the holdout) and you have some crackling entertainment about the justice system and how it's supposed to work.

And I begin my look at 2022 with a film that continues a trend I've been trying to go for for a while with starting a year off with a classic. But the last time I tried that, we had a pandemic begin that March. Maybe this will reverse it?

Blade Runner: The Final Cut begins as former police officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is brought in and basically threatened to the point he reluctantly agrees to kill four replicants that have made their way to Earth illegally. The first place he goes is to Tyrell's plant where he is asked to interview Rachael (Sean Young) doing a test that can tell the difference between a human and a replicant based on emotional responses. Along with skeptical assistant Gaff (Edward James Olmos), Deckard starts to search for Roy (Rutger Hauer), Leon (Brion James), Pris (Daryl Hannah) and Zhora (Joanna Cassidy). The replicants are searching for someone that might allow them a longer lifespan. But along the way, Rick starts to have feelings for Rachael even knowing that she's a replicant.

This mix between film noir and science fiction does make for a riveting two hours. The visual woo is impressive as billboard take up the skyline and spinner cars take to the skies. But with its examination on what makes a human, it could serve as a nice double bill with Ghost in the Shell (the anime, not the needless live-action remake). The dialogue, particularly a good monologue given close to the end, is well done.

As much time as it spent on making the film look cool and bringing different personalities to the replicants, director Ridley Scott could have spent more time on the humans that inhabit the world. By the end, you don't know a lot more about Deckard than you did at the beginning. The only other notable thing I remember about the humans is Gaff's penchant for doing origami.

It's not quite the classic I wanted to start the year with. But it's a solid film.

Next: A film I planned on watching last year...and I should have kept putting it off.

I should preface this review by saying what this is not. This is not the Sin City everyone has heard of. I saw that one years ago and although I admired the look of it, the film itself didn't do a lot for me.

This Sin City (2019) is a film from Ghana. Was disappointed because I thought it came from Nigeria. Nope. It's a story of a busy attorney and his wife who decide to take some alone time in a nice hotel. They get offered the Sin City package to have a wild night of partying, drinking and sex with another woman. But when they get back home, he finds his likely promotion to partner and peaceful existence threatened by a blackmailer who knows everything.

The dialogue is just bad. The acting careens between some decent moments and moments where you're watching a BAD soap opera. The big twist felt mainly predictable for the most part, if a bit confusing.

But there's a little potential here and there for this to eventually be Ghana's answer to The Room. A couple of big laugh out moments for a serious drama that turned into melodrama at times. Plus at one point, it starts to threaten to turn into War Room or a Tyler Perry film without Madea.

It's not a good film by any stretch, but maybe with the help of a Rifftrax or a VJ Emmie, it could be embraced by a cult following as the comedy it should have been.

Next: War, huh. What is it good for?

Original plan was to watch an Aussie film called Canopy for the battlefield category. But wasn't feeling it and found someone else had watched The Red Badge of Courage (1951) so I decided to take the plunge.

Courage stars Audie Murphy as Henry, a young man who is marching and working alongside other soldiers in the Civil War (yes, he's fighting for the Union). But despite those around him getting amped up for battle against the Rebs, Henry himself is showing signs he's not ready. Whether it's talking to a Rebel soldier (in essence, offering not to attack each other) or that uneasy feeling of knowing what he'd be in for, Henry is having second thoughts. In the heat of battle, Henry runs away from his duties worried about himself and his safety. But something starts creeping in his thoughts: if he had a red badge of courage (war wound), it would make up for his act of cowardice.

The war battles as directed by John Huston are fine. The climactic battle is intense and the score reflects on that. There's even a few moments of humor such as the captain who agrees to eat dinner with half of his soldiers after the upcoming battle and the saga of the soldier who insists on putting on his glasses before passing on.

But a lot of the majesty and thoughtfulness of the book is left on the cutting room floor. What's left is narrator James Whitmore using narrative passages from the book to fill in the gaps of the story. At times, it almost heads into B-movie territory with some of the dialogue when the film goes between the fighting scenes. Plus, the main dilemma that Henry faces seems like it's resolved too quickly. Maybe with its original runtime of 2 hours, it could have dealt with it in more detail and thought. Instead, it feels like it doesn't want to deal with it.

At the end, this feels like a missed opportunity more than anything else. It was OK, but it could have been better.

Next: Leonard Maltin might be right?