Keyser Corleone's Movie Memoirs

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Sphere (1998) - Directed by Barry Levinson

"Whatever it is, it was inside the Sphere. Now it's out, free to act."



Michael Crichton is easily one of the more imaginative authors the world has ever seen. He's got a real knack for sci-fi and has a tendency to get down to the molecular structure of what makes the genre tick. Quit literally. The submarine film Sphere is one of his twistier efforts, and despite occasional rip-offs of other sci-fi movies, as a thriller it's damn legit.

Sphere is about the secret discovery of a 300-year-old spacecraft that landed in the middle of the ocean. The government hires a research team is entirely based on the research of Dr. Normnan Goodman, who was hired to write a report on the potential psychological effects of encountering alien life. However, he only threw it together because he was payed to. Now working with a team of people he knows personally but has their own potential fears, they discover something inside the ship: an alien sphere that has an entity inside it. And when one of the team members goes inside it, the entity breaks loose and starts manifesting terrors from under the ocean.

I expected something cool to look at but dull to follow. The funny thing is that it takes from other sci-fi movies occasionally. Example: a spaceship going through a wormhole and through time itself? PLANET OF THE APES. Very obviously PLANET OF THE APES. Psychology manifesting in real life? That's one of my favorite movies: Solaris (1972). However, the problem that we really face is that while it's derivative for a sci-fi movie, these plot-points are largely unfamiliar to the typical submarine horror movie. That's what makes this thriller work: the plot points, as long as you're aware of the power of the psycho-thriller, makes more sense than the unbalanced plot points let on. In fact, the confusion is PART of it. This thriller is hellbent in the classical definition of "occult:" mystery, unknown, etc. The movie is as crazy as the mind itself, allowing this movie to operate similarly to Solaris but with as strong of an effect, shifting the focus from romance to suspense.

The characters have a decent level of development. Maybe they need more considering what was done with the Jurassic Park movie. However, the novelized version of Jurassic Park taught me something about Crichton himself: he'll let some character growth go to make a message and go on a science ramble. So this makes the movie true to the Crichton spirit. And while the expense wasn't entirely justified, it work to help make the thrills what they were. It's not right for us to know everything about the plot points of a movie with a sense of terror deeply rooted in uncertainty.

Sphere is a bit underrated if you ask me. The elements it takes from other movies help the thrills a lot. The aura that the film tried to create was successfully done even if quite a bit was sacrificed for that effect. Submarine horror is both an underdone and overdone genre because there's only so much you can do with it, but Sphere does a lot.




Sphere (1998) - Directed by Barry Levinson

Sphere is a bit underrated if you ask me. The elements it takes from other movies help the thrills a lot. The aura that the film tried to create was successfully done even if quite a bit was sacrificed for that effect. Submarine horror is both an underdone and overdone genre because there's only so much you can do with it, but Sphere does a lot.


Sphere was one of the DVDs that I got for free as a bonus when I bought my first DVD player. I haven't seen it since then, but I remember liking it, and being surprised that it didn't seem to be a popular movie. I still have the DVD. Maybe I'll find time to watch it again soon.
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The Pagemaster (1994) - Directed by Joe Johnston and Maurice Hunt

"Look to the books."



When I was a kid, I had this VHS of two Flintstones episodes, and it had two commercials at the beginning. One was for the series of Flintstones VHS's, and the other was a teaser for The Pagemaster. That trailer is actually one of my earliest childhood memories. When I was seven, it was the Feast of Tabernacles (I'm not Jewish but Dad kept those holidays), and Dad got me that VHS. I first watched it that Feast, and it redefined my life. It really did get me into adventure, fantasy and horror.

Macaulay Culkin and Christopher Lloyd star in this understated kids movie about a shy ten-year-old who buries himself in statistics to avoid harm. Mocked by the neighborhood kids and worried about by his parents, he's told to run an errand but ends up caught in a violent storm. Taking shelter in a large library, he soon ends up travelling into the world of literature itself, as a walking talking illustration! When he meets the ruler of that world, the Pagemaster, he's told that to find his way home, he needs to travel to different worlds and books in order to find the Exit. Guided by three talking books, he faces several villains from different novels to gain the courage he needs to stand up for himself and others.

The power of nostalgia has stopped affecting my ratings of films. There are SOME films I'll defend from my childhood, but not a lot. But in my early years I had felt the magical touch of The Pagemaster and as a result I have a lot of interest in being a writer myself. If not for The Pagemaster, I probably wouldn't have even watched art movies or finished the 1,200-page novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Even now I'm trying to work through Journey to the West. I've sped-read through Jurassic Park in three days as well. I'd say The Pagemaster did it's job.

First, let me point out that the A-Grade cast was not wasted. Unfortunately, Culkin was a young boy who had to stand with the giants of acting, and his live-action scenes didn't have the dedication he displayed in Home Alone. However, his voice-over work was perfectly fine and he flowed well with the obnoxiousness of the three talking books. Leave it to the brilliant Frank Welker (both Fred and Scooby) to voice the oddball Quasimoto-ripoff Horror in all his nervous glory. To start with the several Star Trek actors, Patrick Stewart puts on a brilliant performance as the pirate-themed Adventure, who's book-related gags actually work for the movie instead of relying on cheap Schwarzenegger puns (I will never forgive Joel Schumacher for Batman and Robin). Whoopi Goldberg plays Fantasy, the nice and loving but sassy and strong fairy book who's magic wand doesn't always work, and she brings a lot of charisma to the film. Then we have guest appearances by Leonard Nimoy, Ed Begley Jr. and Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck and Winnie-thePooh).

The story is one big and quick ride through several literary works. We have some good animation and excellent cinematography that keep things exciting, and James Horner's soundtrack keeps things well and alive with beautiful music. However, the stories are all packed Ben-and-Jerry style into a 75-minute movie, so we don't always get to see the best parts of the books. The movie's really quick to get through and spends a decent amount of time boasting landscapes that look like stacked books (there's a Sonic zone in that somewhere). In the end, we hve a true jounrey of growth from Culkin's lead and little bits and pieces from the book sidekicks, but as a coherent story, it suffers from the many subplots that were not necessarily "stolen" from other stories considering the basis of the plot, but were just fudged in because of the basis.

The Pagemaster is one of the wildest magical rides a kid can ask for. Its all-star cast doesn't disappoint at all, and the visausl and character growth make from a pleasant experience. The darker and more mature fantasy aspects also add real atmosphere to the movie, as well as Horner's brilliant score. But the story doesn't feel so much like a story despite being all about literature, so take what you will from it.




The Conjuring 2 (2016) - DIrected by James Wan

"Your name gives me dominion over you, demon, and I do know your name!"



When I originally reviewed James Wan's haunted house classic The Conjuring, I had given it a 9/10 for certain issues pertaining to the focus of the film and character development. The scare factor, however, has overtaken some of that and I now give it the minimum on a 0-100 scale needed for a 5-star rating. That lead me to further explore the horror director himself, which lead to a re-evaluation of Saw and a venture towards The Conjuring 2. Checking the reviews, I was hoping to love it. While it was certainly fun, I didn't love it.

Having been scarred by visions seen while in the infamous Amityville house, clairvoyant Lorraine Warren feels that demons are warning her to stay away from exorcisms for a while. Unfortunately, the Amityville cased has skyrocketed Lorraine and her husband Ed to international fame, and they're needed again in a demonic case that looks more like a hoax than a haunting. Will the truth be discovered?

The tension and the character development of Ed and Lorraine are there at full force. The little hints given to the audience as to what's going on drive the movie when necessary and when build-up isn't happening. And the ending of the film was spot on. I'd give the third act a whole star over the first two acts just for it's exciting way of putting all the plot points together in a satisfying ending as well as any horror movie should. And the religious theme that helped me re-evaluate The Conjuring as a better movie than The Exorcist continues with a whole new look at how fame can affect the church in positive and negative ways.

On top of that, it was a much more typical haunted house movie. The scares and build-up were very familiar, so the edge lost its edge. The family seems to be just another family of victims with little to no character development, which annoyed me about the first movie. And the nun needed to show up more. Honestly, this really disappointed me considering how creative the original film was.

Well, The Conjuring 2 is certainly not a benchmark for how a franchise can turn bad too quickly (we'll leave that to Annabelle), but it's significantly worse than the first film. Having said that, as a story it's a properly-written and properly exciting continuation of a classic haunted house movie that I think did it's job well enough for the horror fan to check out.




Freddy Vs. Jason (2003) - Directed by Ronny Yu

“The only thing to fear, is fear himself!”



Freddy Krueger, notorious ghostly murderer, is unable to reach people's dreams because no one in his hometown of Springwood fears him anymore. In order to bring his legend back, he resurrects the body of psychotic Jason Voorhees, and uses him to rampage throughout the town on another killing spree, reviving the fear and restoring his power. Meanwhile, a group of visitors discover a conspiracy involving a large group of institutionalized teenagers being tested on with a drug that suppresses their dreams. However, that won't stop Freddy for long. He'll find out about the drug, and he'll eventually anger Jason to the point of no return. Place your bets.

OK, first off, lemme say that I am NOT a big fan of the Friday the 13th series. The stories are rarely original, the killings aren't typically scary and the build-up is overdone. And the Nightmare on Elm Street series was getting REALLY BAD at that time. The sixth installment was horrifyingly bad. Freddy had just become a cartoon character by that point.

Having said that, this is my favorite Friday the 13th film. Not only did it give Jason a purpose, but it made Freddy cool again! Their duels were actually very cool, and the direction for the fight scenes and the killing scenes was actually clever. Freddy was a serious character again because Robert Englund mastered the balance between his cartoon self and the murderer we all know him as.

The movie also had a STORY. The plot twists were actually pretty interesting and the characters all felt like they were dealing with both real world threats and the threats of the horror world. As a result, the deaths meant more to me on a personal level. My only real concern with the movie is that it still builds itself on some of the tropes left behind by A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and I don't really think we need ANOTHER way to reincarnate Jason.

Overall, the movie was very cool. If you like slasher movies then this is essential. Freddy Vs. Jason is better than the whole Friday the 13th series, and it's not just because of Freddy. It's because this is a serious movie.




Satantango (1994) - Directed by Bela Tarr

“Get it into your thick head that jokes are just like life. Things that begin badly, end badly. Everything's fine in the middle, it's the end you need to worry about.”



(Note: this is a REALLY old review from Letterboxd, revised for Movieforums).

One of the greatest challenges a film buff carries with him is the full understanding of filmmaking, and the incalculable techniques in which various films are made. And the greatest of these challenges may be the one classification that has a more vague description than most, if not all genres. That would be the art film, or the arthouse film. Art films are built upon being unique and unconventional. Yet, like any group of films in a genre, art films share certain qualities. Ever since I first saw Andrey Tarkovsky movies such as Stalker and Solaris, I have strove to understand the strangeness of the art film. I knew I would get a better idea the more I watched artsy films, but the term was so broad that I did not know where to look. Thankfully, I had one lead which I could not watch until recently: Hungarian director Bela Tarr's seven hour art epic, Satantango.

I finally realized the difference between the psychological drama and the art/experimental film: what people need to think about. Both rely on thought, which comes to no surprise seeing how psychological movies are a leading influence on art films. Another good example of thoughtful kinds of films is German Expressionalism, a German movement of cinema (and other art forms) that was hard to define save the expressionalist title that clearly defines that the art form is meant to have a very specific point, being somewhat distorted to give it a "surrealist" tone. In the end, it is a distorted but accurate depiction of the artist' opinion which the artist himself distorted. This idea of the distortion was to act as a visual parable/parody that would lead people to use their heads.

Using people's heads seems to be the definition of an arthouse film. In fact, that's what the novel, Satantango by László Krasznahorkai, based itself in: humanity. And humanity is a mindset in some ways. It's all about what you think about, logically or (the immature side) emotionally. Satantango has enough symbolism, logic, and distortion of the author's opinion to be seen as an arthouse novel (from what I've read about the novel). And as a result, the film is a perfect example of an art film. In fact, its sense of art is so overpowering that any and all flaws can not possibly stand a chance.

The story was written in 1985, four years before Hungary's communist rule went bust. And the novel itself can be seen as a hidden slap in the face at the many issues the author had with communism. The novel, and the film, take place in a post-apocalyptic version of Hungary where a small village is waiting for a yearly payment that will keep them alive. The various characters and their many scars are explored here: the antisocial Doctor, the demented little girl, the greedy brother, and (most importantly) the manipulative Irimias, who returns from a long journey to surprise the villagers who once believed he was dead. In the movie, the manipulative Irimias strikes a deal with a police captain that (as the novel explains) is an attempt to reconstruct a devil's hold on villagers by falsely gaining the trust of the villagers and turn them into a spy service without their knowledge, as he will keep tabs on them by scattering them around the country and starting from there.

In this hidden plot line, the film goer has plenty of time within the longshots to be drawn into the black-and-white bleakness that is a post-apocalyptic realm where the sun never shines. This time (created by the various longshots in the film) can be used to examine the scenarios, scenery, and especially the facial expressions of the characters and contemplate what is in their heads, which acts as a good part of the fun of this mysterious movie. As events unfold, the audience is helped in their journey to understand how the devil (symbolized in this movie as the once-communist police force) can take a grip on the people through blending truth with lies. Give people what they want to hear, and slowly change it. That's the devil's game.

I noticed a similarity between the spy service Irimias was setting up secretly and the strange acts of the Doctor: spying on people from his home and writing down what he sees. I'm still wondering if there really is a connection between the two, but it's an interesting to think about. In fact, Satantango offers many things to think about.

I think I can explain the fun one gets out of Satantango, as most cannot begin to put the sensation into words. I've once written a detailed description of alternative rock as a genre, something most see no point in doing. I state this to make my point here: I take the inability to explain a common phenomenon as a challenge. So here is my explanation. There are many deep emotions laying within Satantango, but the film is paced slowly so that one does not get too emotional at once. This pacing also helps to give the audience time to think about the more philosophical side of Satantango. The bleak atmosphere/human emotion combo and the slow pace act as a yin and yang that creates a catharsis, taking the human stress and relieving the audience of it so they can focus on the more philosophical side while still thinking slightly with the emotion which is constantly flaunted in the movie. All of these paint a perfect picture of a post-apocalyptic village and the human mind that resides in it, focusing on the distresses and forgetting about the good things in life (which most seem to have forgotten). That is the beauty of Satantango.

The film is constructed from the many influences of German expressionalism, foreign art films, and melodramas. And these work together to create what could essentially be the essential art film. That's what art films are. They get you to THINK. It's not the same thing as a psychological drama. You must think about the filmmaking itself as a message as opposed to a fancy way of looking at a story with a messager. The inner machinations of the characters' minds are the enigma. You must take time to think about EVERYTHING inside and outside of the film itself. This beauty makes the seven hour film so unique and complex that any flaws (such as the re-filming of the scene with the little girl and the Doctor clearly being different) are overpowered by this uniqueness. I see Satantango for being a unique and cathartic expression of human emotion.




Brokeback Mountain (2005) - Directed by Ang Lee

"I wish I knew how to quit you."



Chinese director Ang Lee has a way of changing people lives with his movies. I remember when I was a kid seeing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the first time. It was the first subtitled movie I had ever seen, and I enjoyed every minute of it. My father was very much into Asian cinema, and he also showed me House of Flying Daggers. Since then, I wanted more. Later on in life I would see Life of Pi, and that changed the whole way I looked at special effects and storytelling. I wanted MORE MORE MORE.

Ang Lee had already changed my life twice, so later on (a couple days prior to writing this) I decided to go on an Ang Lee binge. Now I actually have a reason to watch Gemini Man. I watched two specific movies of his in a period of two days, and twice over because I had already seen Crouching Tiger and Hulk twice, and I was already planning on checking out Life of Pi again. These two movies are Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain, one of the most controversial movies of all time.

Brokeback Mountain is the forbidden love story about two ranchers who end up drunk one night and have sex. Although they both seem to be straight, they end up forming a relationship throughout their entire stay at Brokeback Mountain. Despite this, one of them, Ennis, was already engaged. So as they go their separate ways and raise their families, they occasionally get back to Brokeback Mountain for a while. But soon they find that they can't maintain their relationships with each other and with their wives.

First off, lemma say that I am NOT a homophobe, I don't think adult sex with another adult should be something to complain about unless it gets "out of hand" in some way, and I didn't have a problem watching this. I'm aware of much of the controversy surrounding this movie, notably its loss of the best picture award at the Academy Awards to Paul Haggis' Crash. Even Haggis admits that he didn't think Crash was the best of the year, but he's glad that people still come to him telling him how the movie changed their lives. Despite this, the decision at the Oscars, as expected, was criticized as potential homophobia.

But the most interesting thing about Ang Lee movies is which is the best and which is not. With most directors, they'll have a certain "magnum opus." For Coppola, most agree that it's The Godfather. Most places will tell you that 2001 is Kubrick's baby, and let's not get into Goodfellas. But deciding the best Ang Lee movie on a consistent basis is like trying to pick out the best Beatles album. I'm gonna throw in my two cents.

First, let me say that Ang Lee always had either a keen sense of realism or a keen sense of magical realism, such as the difference between Brokeback and Pi. After having watched Pather Panchali more than a week ago, I'm more in-tune with realism in cinema. Brokeback Mountain is one of the most realistic movies I've ever seen, so much so that it blows most romance movies out of the water just on this merit. The struggles that the two leads go through in maintaining their relationships are perfectly exposed by the expressions and performances of Gyllenhall and Ledger to the point where you almost feel like one of them, gay or not. I just invision a woman in my significant other's position, even though I won't be able to meet the same type of struggle because I'm straight. It's a very feely movie, if I may avoid any sex puns. For it's realism, I'll call it a definite classic of the genre.

But the movie isn't without its flaws. When watching Sense and Sensibility, I noticed pretty early on how all the minor characters flaunt their personalities, giving them a decent sense of development. This brought a lot of life to the movie. Even Life of Pi gives development to Pi's father, which makes him a great character overall. But...

The first act was too damn slow! It felt almost like watching a ranching documentary with no narrator. The story didn't pick up until the second half and the we had an almost perfect third act which tied it all together. But the fact is that the lacking character development for the wives and families is disappointing. I wanted to feel with everyone going through a struggle, but I couldn't because the point of every paper-cutout character was simply to say something about wither Jake or Ennis, which is a shame because so many of the characters were very well-cast to the point that I wanted to see more of how they affect Jake and Ennis' lives. They don't "come back" like the characters of Sense and Sensibility did. I understand that they are there forJake and Ennis' sakes, but the connections between them and the two leads were not thoroughly explored. As a result, I was less interested in the family scenes (although my favorite scene is when Jake tells his father-in-law off). If the first act were sped up, that extra time could be used to strenghten the relationships between the two families. If not for the great realism unlike most things I've seen in cinema or television, I'd have given this movie a 7.

Brokeback Mountain is slow to start, but it leads up to a satisfying and touching conclusion which leaves you hurt for a while. So would I say this is Ang Lee's best? Not with that slow first act. But if you're a film buff who doesn't mind homosexuality, this is a story worth watching. Because it's not just about homosexuality, it's about struggles in general. It's just so real of a movie. I've heard plenty of stories about real-life broken relationships throughout my life, and this movie is one of the closest to the sense of pain I get when hearing those kinds of stories. I'd say this is in my top 5 Ang Lee movies, but Sense and Sensibility was slightly better because the three acts did a better job of balancing out story, character development and overall consistency.




Initial D (2005) - Directed by Andrew Lau Wai-keung and Alan Mak

"It all depends... on the last consecutive hairpins."



My love of racing doesn't go back to Hot Wheels like most kids. It goes back to two things: R.C. Pro-Am on NES, and an anime called F-Zero: GP Legend, which was inspired by another Nintendo game. Overtime I would stumble upon Initial D during an anime binge, but before I checked it out, I tried the movie. I got bored with it and quit about 40 minutes in. I liked the anime, but years later I finally finished the movie.

A pair of new street racers in town want to set unbeatable records all across Japan, and they've got the skills to do it. But when the younger one is beaten by a cheap tofu-selling AE86 out of nowhere on Mt. Akina, he wants a rematch. Turns out, that car's been delivering tofu there for five years. The defending team asks the owner of the car, the owner of the local tofu shop and ex-street racing legend, to defend their turf. But instead, it's his son, Takumi, who reveals he's actually been delivering tofu for five years despite just getting his license a couple weeks ago. And so the street racing legend begins.

I like the show enough. It captures real character development and the street racing attitude. But this movie? Not so much. I love Chinese cinema and I have faith in them to do good adaptations, but this was not one of them.

The whole movie showed the camera pausing shots while the audio went on for no reason other than "cool cinematography," and it was so utterly random that it got older than a Shyamalan movie. The only thing the cinematographer did right was capture the spirit of the street race during the racing scenes. But everything else was directed like a 100-minute 2000's music video. It was way too much.

Technically, the movie is incredibly faithful to the show, but the story of the manga is so rushed (no racing pun intended) that the character development falls incredibly flat. Where's Kiesuke's brash attitude? How come Iketani barely gets any screen time, even though he's the leader of the Akina Speedstars who are defending their turf? As a result, all we get is a bunch of racing and typical teen drama between Takumi, his dumbass best friend who's overplayed, and Natsuki who just feels like a random flat girl character.

The movie's watchable and decently acted, but directed like a twelve-year-old's fever dream and flat on character. I don't think you need to watch the Initial D movie unless you're a huge fan of the anime or the manga.




Trancers (1984) - Directed by Charles Band

"I'm from another time, another world. I don't even know what you people eat for lunch."



While on Tubi, I found that my suggested section was loaded with crappy horror movies all because I watched Day of the Dead and started Night of the Living Dead in color. Not the kind of thing I want to see every time I turned on Tubi, so I directed myself to the sci-fi and fantasy section, stumbling upon that name I've heard on occasion, Trancers. Aware that it had many sequels, I decided I'd get it out of the way.

Trancers is a movie about a cop from the post-apocalyptic future. His name is Jack Death. He's hard-boiled, doesn't play by the rules, and typical in every way (Warren Beatty did it better). Some time after he quits, he found that the police force has located his arch nemesis, Whistler, who developed a drug to turn people into zombie-like attackers who follow whistler's every whim. Not only that, but he travelled through time to hide in the past and use his drug to rewrite history. Now bent on revenge for his late wife's murder, Jack follow him into the past, occupying the body of his ancestor, and accidentally brings a mall-worker with him on a mission to protect the ancestors of the leaders of the future!

What a mouthful, right? At least it pays closer attention to thorough plotting than most cheesy sci-fi movies. But did it stand out? Not really. The plot is too similar to The Terminator, which was released a few weeks before this movie (so I'm not gonna call it a rip-off considering that the two movies were in development at the same time). And the zombie thing didn't really do much for the movie. These "trancers" needed more exploration than just "a drug turns people into zombies."

But there was some cool action to it, and the cast of characters, while not amazing, certainly got into their roles. The story took different twists and turns occasionally to keep the movie more interesting than usual. That gag with Jack Deth's boss and who he ended up occupying when he travelled through time... was just so damn good and it made the movie much better just by being there for the two minutes that it lasted. And the sci-fi world that it tried to build got the vibe it went for down consistently throughout the movie.

Not super story-based, but pretty world-based, and twisty enough to work, Trancers is a decent sci=fi movie that got tooi many sequels but deserves a reboot. Aware of its 75-minute runtime, it's worth watching this short movie if you like cyberpunk or time travel.




Takers (2010) - Directed by John Luessenhop

"We're takers, gents. That's what we do for a living. We take."




I remember seeing the TV spots for Takers when I was 16. I took interest in one reason alone for it: my dad, who had taken me to see Revenge of the Sith a few years before, said that it looked like Hayden Christensen was actually acting this time. So I was eager to see a fair share of good Christensen acting after being disappointed that he didn't give his role of Anakin Skywalker the talent he and Anakin deserved.

Takers centers around a professional robber who was accidentally left behind by his workmates and did time. Recently released, he gets the group back together for another job, but many of the members are weary of him. Meanwhile, the same two police detectives who brought him in are eyeballing him as well.

And that's pretty much it. When I see a heist movie, I'd like to see personality take its course like it did with George Clooney and his various reasons for the heist in Ocean's Eleven. Instead, the personal and professional lives of both the cops and robbers are just jumbled up and hard to get interested in. The movie is incredibly cliched and hard to get invested in. I admit that I watched this movie over the course of three days, often pausing to go do something else (or even watch another movie).

It's not the worst movie ever, though. Believe it or not, I'm more interested in terrible movies than I am in dull ones. First of all, the action was fine. The camera was often shaky, but when there was something really going down, the camera did its job by doing what it's always been doing. And even though the characters themselves don't have a lot of depth, the acting was fine. I desperately wanted more Hayden Christensen because those small moments of his on-screen were great. He looked like he was enjoying it.

A couple of strengths barely help to save the movie from its jumbled plot and characters, so I wouldn't recommend this movie at all unless for whatever reason you're a Chris Brown fan and want to see him pull of some perfect acting. Otherwise, just don't worry about it. I wouldn't say, "don't bother," just don't worry about it.




Prince of Darkness (1987) - Directed by John Carpenter

"Well, every particle has an anti-particle, its mirror image, its negative side."



I'm a little bit of a John Carpenter fan. My dad was a fan of Kurt Russell's Big Trouble in Little China, and I ended up being a fan as well. The properly cheesy kung fu, the self-mockery, the Kurt Russell quotes, etc. etc. It's the kind of thing dad and I would watch together. He was also a fan of Escape from New York, but we never ended up watching that together. Having said that, he wasn't a horror guy. No way in hell would he have ever watched Halloween, Vampires, or especially a movie about Satan like Prince of Darkness. I've seen more Carpenter movies than my dad, but Carpenter or not, do I really think most people "need" to see Prince of Darkness? I checked it out just yesterday, and I gotta say, it's one of the most underexplored stories I've ever experienced.

In John Carpenter's second venture into Lovecraftian horror (following The Thing), this odd horror tale shows us a priest (played by Halloween fan-favorite Donald Pleasance) calling an old scientist friend to help him discover the secret between an ancient book, a hidden room and a large canister of green liquid. As a team of college students is called together to help discover it, they find a disturbing reality: the liquid is a manifestation of Satan, and the canister is his prison. As they discover the book's take on the origins of the universe, the liquid is slowly breaking free and possessing people, all for the purpose of releasing from another dimension a being more dangerous than the devil himself.

Did you understand any of that? I think I got more than half of it, but I'm not entirely sure I understood the full plot. Maybe that's a result of the fact that clever Lovecraftian ideas defined the movie... but didn't get the full exploration that they needed. I mean, Lovecraftian horror, also known as cosmic horror, is all about debating our role in the universe, and while there was some of it that was really clever, it was underdeveloped. The horror scares, while occasionally good and well-built with decent tension, didn't really do much to help the Lovecraftian aura, especially since the score felt a little too 80's to be scary. I expected better from Carpenter. And for whatever reason, there was a time-travel element that was a little cool to look at in a cinematographical perspective, but not really necessary in the long run.

On another note, I do not forgive leaving absolutely no dialogue for Alice Cooper. Yes, he's in the movie credited as "street schizo," and he does almost nothing in the movie. I understand that the movie needed more character development, but if you're gonna pay for Alice Cooper, make it worth while.



There were some definitely well-filmed scenes in the movie, though. When it came to the sets mingling with the atmosphere, it did it's job well. Having just rewatched Alien, I'm more focused on the atmosphere that movies build (of course, comparing Prince of Darkness to the scariest movie ever made is gonna fail miserably). But I loved the scenes that took place in another dimension, especially at the end when you had that bittersweet ending and a very dark and smoky atmosphere. I wished more scenes like that were in the movie.

Well, Prince of Darkness should satisfy Carpenter fans, not just completionists, as well as fans of cosmic horror and cult classic buyers. But its cool ideas don't build up any real horror, just a fairly complex and clunky story. But it's worth checking out at least once, and thanks to its weird atmosphere, if you say it's one of your favorite movies, I wouldn't blame you.




Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972) - Directed by R. Winer and Barry Mahon

"My predicament lacks its usual cheer."



Rifttrax, the sequel to MST3K, offers both good movies and bad movies. Just because they're now willing the riff The Lord of the Rings trilogy doesn't necessary mean they'll stay away from the worst movies ever made. Example: yet another Barry Mahon film (partly). That's right! It's a movie within a movie, and the inner movie is directed by the man who brought you the MST3K episode Rocket Attack USA. This wackjob was known for both nudie films and kiddy films. And if you want a movie that makes you say this:



Check out SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY!

Here we see that Santa's reindeer have abandoned him in Florida, and the big jolly sweaty guy wearing all-Winter clothing isn't doing so well. He magically calls the children over to help his reindeer-less chariot take off, but when all fails, he tells them the story of Thumbelina so that they can never give up! nd the only hope for him is an old friend of his...

Unless you're watching the Rifttrax version: AVOID THIS MOVIE LIKE THE PLAGUE. The way I see it, it just barely qualifies as a movie because it has a release date and a director. We have about a half-hour split apart from the movie within the movie that actually has anything to do with the title. Obviously, this R. Winer was too lazy to actually make a movie, so he stuck a movie by the worst director in the middle (including credits before the R. Winer scenes finish). Wow. The opening sequence was exceptionally horrendous, involving a just a few kids working in this tiny workshop (which apparently constitutes as a whole workshop for the world) in the North Pole (which apparently is green and full of cattle), and a terrible and boring opening sequence of Santa singing.

When we finally actually meet the ice cream bunny, HE IS THE SCARIEST MOTHER I'VE EVER SEEN IN A CHILDREN'S MOVIE OR TV SHOW. I'd honestly rather French kiss Barney than be within vision of the ice cream bunny because I'm afraid he'll try to hug me. And all he managed to do was end the plot set up in the first "half." The terrible Thumbelina movie didn't help because it had slightly higher production values than the actual POINT of the movie.

Dumb dumb dumb. Never watch it. Just don't. No recommendations sentence that's apparent in most of my reviews. Dumbest movie ever.




Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) - Directed by Chris Columbus

"You're a wizard, Harry."



Chris Columbus, famed children's movie director known for making the movie featuring Macaulay Culkin's finest performance, Home Alone. The guy knows how to produce a family-friendly atmosphere, even though his movies aren't always brilliant in the sense that they can't really hold a candle to the movie-making giants. And I'm not talking the experimental foreign directors here, I'm also including people like Brad Bird, John Lasseter and others who can make more than one incredible movie (No Brad Bird pun intended). However, Chris Columbus has imagination, which made him a great choice taking an overstuffed children's novel like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and bringing it to the big screen.

I probably don't have to cover the basic plot like I usually do, since this is Harry freakin' Potter we're talking about, but I'll follow my old "tradition" anyway (Look at me chatting away like I'm Stephen bloody Fry). The first in this eight movie saga (not counting spin-offs) follows a young boy raised by an abusive extended family. Soon after turning eleven, he is visited by a kind half-giant who tells him that he's not only a wizard by blood, but that he's been accepted into a secret school for wizardry! Jumping at the chance to leave home, he discovers that he's famous! Why? Because as a baby he became the only one ever to survive an attack by a once terrible sorcerer named Voldemort, who was responsible for killing his parents. Now learning wizardry with his dorky but likable best friend, Ron Weasley, and the proud bookworm Hermoine Granger, the three discover that a conspiracy lies in the school, one to resurrect Voldemort with the power of a magic artifact that can even turn any metal into gold: The Sorcerer's Stone.

Maybe it's not as good of a philosopher's stone tale as Fullmetal Alchemist, but it's still very magical and a lot of fun for the whole family. The story is largely focues on developing the magical world the audience is entering for the first time (as opposed to telling a fleshed-out story, which is why I consider the worst of the Radcliffe movies). But the world itself is MARVELOUS! The movie relies on its magical atmosphere as opposed to an abundance of special effects which so many 2000's movies were guilty of doing. And it's not just the special effects, it's the lore. Maybe we have childish names running around like Hogwarts, but what's really important is how they roll off the tongue. So many of the names are fun to say. Severus Snape, Dumbledore, Hagrid, they work so well! And the beauty of it is that they still sound like real names as opposed to just fantasy trollop.

All of the actors felt so in line with the roles they were given. The three children, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson as Hermoine, felt like they were born specifically to play these roles. Their charisma as cute little kids in a magical world was a source of incredible charm throughout the movie. And come on, we had ALAN RICKMAN as SNAPE. I have rarely seen a finer role performed in cinema. His strict behavior and absolute aura of darkness were creepy in that respectable way.

Let's not forget the music! I'm listening the the soundtrack album by John Williams as I write this. Even though Williams made a bad habit of using the two themes present in "Hedwig's Theme" more often that necessary, it captures the dark fantasy edge and the family-friendly cuteness in perfect equilibrium, bringing out even more of the atmosphere.

As I said before, my only concern with the movie is that it focuses to heavily on introducing the world and developing it, rather than exploring the plot pertaining to the titular magical artifact. The Philosopher's / Sorcerer's Stone has so much real-life historical and mythological lore behind it that there is so much Rowling and Columbus could have done with it. But no, unfortunately there's practically no mention of it afterwards in the whole series. The story of Harry Potter doesn't become a real STORY until the next movie. Having said that, the atmosphere helped overcome the two-and-a-half-hour runtime. This movie helps prove something: never be afraid of making a kid's movie close to three hours (right, Shyamalan?) They'll watch it.

The first Harry Potter film is a satisfying adaptation book that is full of heart and spirit, and has an incredible cast that's worth the seven sequels it spawned as a film. The series only gets better from here, as I directly oppose the common (and easily confirmed) notion that the next film, The Chamber of Secrets, is the worst of the Daniel Radcliffe films. But just because this is the worst doesn't mean it's bad. The world is worth getting invested in if you like dark fantasy. Just be prepared. Rowling and the directors of the films took into account that the fans of the first book and / or film were growing up as the series was getting older, so this is the most kiddy. Be prepared for a wild ride unlike anything you've seen in cinema. Harry Potter 1 is just training wheels.




Hillbilly Elegy (2020) - Directed by Ron Howard

"Whatever better life my grandparents had chased up Route 23, they never caught it."



It's about time I got through more Ron Howard movies. My dad, who had a lot of strong opinions about movies and TV shows, considered The Andy Griffith Show to be one of the greatest shows ever. I agree. Little Ronnie Howard became a director after starring on Happy Days for its long run, and became a director. Common knowledge. But the real story is how diversified he is, not only in terms of genres and age-groups that he tackles, directing everything from true stories about real life struggles to sci-fi movies about alien contact to religious thrillers to Dr. Suess stories, but the quality overall. It feels a bit weird to call him one of the greatest ever when some of his movies just don't have that same effort. His most recent movie, Hillbilly Elegy, got pretty damn bad reviews. Ironically, it MAY not be for the reason you think.

Hillbilly Elegy is an adaptation of the biography of J.D. Vance, venture capitalist. But there's nothing capitalist about this movie. It's about the real-life struggles this guy has gone through with his family, notably his screw-up mother (Amy Adams) who makes excuses for everything she does. This college boy returns home to deal with the recent OD of his mother, and reminisces on the struggles he went through, and the eventual move into his grandmother's (Glenn Close) house.

Is it PLOTTED? No. It's a true story, so there's really no need to add a "plot." This movie is a look on not just the life of J.D. Vance, but the lives of a lot of people. It's hard to watch due to its realism, but it's a very truthful movie. So, are all the critics just angry that the movie's so realistic? Well, considering that the The Office UK is still considered one of the greatest TV shows ever due to its realism, no. So what is it?

Well, I noticed somebody on Imdb saying that a lot of critics were against J.D. Vance because he was a "venture capitalist" and a "Trump supporter." Now I didn't really want to believe that, so I looked up "Hillbilly Elegy Movie Review" and clicked the second result (the first result linked to the official Rotten Tomatoes page). After criticizing a Terminator-related line, as if that was actually important to the plot, the first thing the critic mentioned was TRUMP SUPPORT. Funny enough, if I had money to spare, I'd pay you to find one mention of Trump in this movie, especially one that mattered. Better yet, look for the word "captialist." Nothing. This is a FAMILY DRAMA, not a political statement.

Critics obviously have no interest in separating the art from the artist because they think they can fool the people. The first comment on this review came from a liberal who said that it was obvious that critics were just afraid of Trump support increasing and that the movie was actually OK. They're not even fooling their own kind. How relevant is Rotten Tomatoes in comparison to the much more honest Imdb? Because keep in mind, it's the people who keep paying for these movies. Some critics get in for free. To the studios, it's the common people who matter.

Although I aspire to be a legitimate critics, I'd still like to act like a spokesperson for the people. So I'm gonna be fully honest about this movie. Lots of people can relate to being raised in a broken family, and believe me, this movie fits all the bills, which also means it runs the risk of using tropes. So what's left for the movie to rely on once the risk of this realism cancelling itself out is realized? The actors. I watched this movie for two reasons: Ron Howard and Glenn Close, who I finally fell in love with (as an actress) after watching Fatal Attraction. She's an acting genius, and her role as Mamaw is one of the best acting jobs I've ever seen. She nailed it so much that I wonder if she had family like that. Her prep included talking with the real J.D. and watching home movies of her. And her Polish joke is... not really a racist joke but more of a crack... it's one of the best lines she ever spoke because the attitude with which she said it was just so spot on.

The movie relies on the acting and the real life struggles, and the struggles only get worse and worse until we reach a fairly satisfying conclusion which shows that the mother is finally learning her lesson. I can't stand parents who make excuses for everything they do. And it's nice to see that Vance's career became much more successful after so many struggles, even though some won't agree with his career choice or ideals.

Hillbilly Elegy did nothing to support capitalism, and I don't find myself rooting for Trump (or criticizing him) anymore than I already did. I took a family story from it. And even though it's a familiar story which doesn't make the most of Howard's directing skills, it's an honest one. I'd recommend it for anyone who knows what it feels like to grow up in a broken family, or has a broken family member. Critics are too scared these days (not that I believe this, but I wouldn't be surprised if that explained all the high critical reviews for recent horror movies).




Noah (2014) - Directed by Darren Aronofsky

"The waters of the heavens will meet the waters of earth."



I grew up with The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt, both of which are pretty high-bar in quality for religious films. As a result I have pretty high standards set for them. This is also true for Darren Aronofsky, the guy behind the psychological dramas Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. So when I heard that he was directing a Biblical movie, specifically one based on the story of Noah, I had VERY mixed feelings. And I still do after watching it.

This rare Biblical epic is, well, we all knowa the story (not apologizinf gor that one). Noah is a man who's family is the last family that even knows anything about God. The rest of the world has become so wicked that there's no good reason to let them live, and God tells Noah to build an ark in the form of a giant boat to carry his family and residents of the entire animal kingdom to safety while the whole world is flooded!



Tubal-Cain is the central villain! And he wants the ark and the world for himself to survive the flood and rebuild his world, but Noah believes God wanted them to die alone as humanity has proven itself to be a horrible and sinful species. But is that what God really wants? Or will Noah's family fight him when his guesses become dangerous?

OK, first of all, lemme say that if Darren Aronofsky is directing a movie about a guy who was left in a boat for 40 days of a storm and 180 days afterwards (check your local bible and call 1800-I-LOVE-GOD for more information), I expect something revolving around the isolation and the effect on Noah's mind. I would have loved to see Aronofsky do something along those lines. Instead, we get Noah in his uncertainly becoming a little dangerous. Good, but not good enough.

Having said that... WHAT IN THE ACTUAL HELL? What is with the ROCK TRANSFORMERS? I knew Aronofsky was out of his elements switching from psycho-dramas to Bible movies, but the first half of the movie was essentially a CGI-fanfare fantasy flick. The whole subplot pertaining to the origins of the Watchers (rock transformers) was a decent rewriting of the Watchers legend, but Noah was NOT the kind of movie for that sort of thing. Noah is one of the least "fantasy" rooted stories in the Old Testament if you ask me. Moses calls on plagues, Elijah parts seas, Samson's a literal superhero... but with Noah we simply have a worldwide flood. Not the place for the fantasy-style direction, especially considering that every second of the movie had to be more dramatic-feeling than actually dramatic.

The second half was better. There was a real drama approach to the story and the direction, and Noah's eventual despair was an interesting subplot. The flood effects were phenomenal, as expected, and the terror one gets from that kind of storm is at full force. But the jarring inconsistency from the fantasy-to-drama switch only brings out another reason why the rock transformers shouldn't have been there.

I will say this, I'm pretty glad Aronofsky cast Jennifer Connelly as Nameeh, Noah's wife. I didn't like her acting in Labyrinth, but she's been getting better, and Requiem for a Dream convinced me that she's able to act. And in Noah, her acting is just as good as Russell Crowe's if not better.

Noah's a bit too long, inconsistent, and overly epic to really stand out. It seems obvious to me that the only reason this was made was to put out an adaptation of a Bible story that has rarely been adapted by Hollywood. Better yet, instead of being a NOAH movie, it was a Noah MOVIE. It's fun to look at and has great acting, but it needs work.




Army of the Dead (2021) - Directed by Zack Snyder


"You all keep talking about the city like it's their prison. It's not. It's their kingdom."



Haven't seen Sucker Punch, haven't seen Justice League, haven't seen the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Fully aware of what Zack Snyder's style is, fully aware of what to expect from Army of the Dead, fully willing to watch his movies and not blame Snyder for sticking with his style. I'll bet a lot of Snyder fans wanted him to do another zombie movie after he managed to do (what I hear is) a great remake of a great zombie movie, so with one big "what the hell" and a couple taps on a phone, I found myself in the ruins of Las Vegas.

Army of the Dead is a testosterone-ridden bloodbath of fancy direction and lots of atmosphere, lead by my personal favorite professional wrestler, Dave Bautista, as he's hired to go to the ruins of the city where the zombie apocalypse started: Las Vegas. As Vegas is contained in the hopes of preserving humanity, he and his team of badasses, including his estranged daughter, have to get to a casino vault in the 96 hours before Vegas and its zombie populace get bombed from the sky! But there are a couple minor situations along the way. One, the zombies have alphas who are smarter, stronger, faster. Talk about six billion dollars. Two: one of their own teammates is planning on killing them off.

First, lemme get this clear. About the plot... it's Aliens. This action-horror movie is zombie Aliens. A bunch of tough-ass misfits have to go into hell and back to do a job and kick ass before a big kaboom. And if that's not enough for you, there's the total Vasquez ripoff with the red bandana and the tough-bitch attitude, there's the shady guy who goes behind people's backs, there's the vain guy who screams like a girl (with the only difference being he's a locksmith instead of Bill Paxton), and the parent-child subplot. And if that ain't enough for you, the helicopter pilot is almost literally the same pilot from Aliens.

Having said that, I had a good amount of fun. Despite the fact that it's a little too long for a zombie movie, clocking in at 2:28, the bombast is just fine. Some people criticized the level of build-up before we get to the action. Me, I say, "so what? You call Aliens an action movie and there's no action until the second half!" I'd say Army of the Dead was better about handling that. The action is well worth the two-and-a-half hours. There's realistic direction, great moves, lots of guns, scenes that make you excited, scenes that make you hurt, and scenes that make you go "WHOA!"

The cast members all know what they're doing. Dave Bautista might be the only serious big name in the movie, but everyone else was just fine as well. Normally I don't like the "screams like a little girl" character, but Matthias Schweighöfer's performance as Dieter, the locksmith who never killed a zombie in his life, was surprisingly realistic, even the parts where he screamed like a little girl. I really liked Nora Arnezeder's performance as Lilly the smuggler was too perfect. Every time she spoke, she felt born for the part.

And I'll hand it to Snyder, he knows how to treat cheesy scenes in a serious manner. I'm willing to bet that throughout his catalogue, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. But it typically worked for this movie, especially when it came to the extra plot points pertaining to "zombie culture" that we almost never see in zombie movies, such as the Alphas and the romance between the king and queen of them (hey, animals know romance, too). I would've found myself disappointed if any other director had done it, but Zack's sense of atmosphere helped make the cheesy scenes succeed.

Well, I'd say for another piece of Zack Snyder style-over-substance, Army of the Dead succeeded on its focus to entertain. It's a very busy movie despite its absence of depth, and I'd recommend it for anyone who wants some good action or a "different" zombie movie. It's not Train to Busan, but I'd recommend it.




Vampyros Lesbos (1971) - Directed by Jesus Franco

"This has to be the end."



Just a couple days ago after watching yet another MST3K episode: The Castle of Fu Manchu, I found my new choice for the worst movie I had ever seen, a dishonor previously held by a movie I reviewed earlier: Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. Because of this, I decided to check out other movies by this same director: Jesus Franco, a.k.a. Jess Franco. And every time I look up a new director, I check out the best, the worst, and the most popular. In the eyes of some fans, the best and most popular seem to be the same movie: Vampyros Lesbos.

This movie gives you exactly what the title advertises. A woman and her boyfriend are checking out a nightclub act, and the woman, Linda, is hypnotised by one of the women, who turns out to be a vampire seducing her in order to feast on her blood. A relationship sparks between the two, if not a forbidden hypnotic one. But this goes far beyond a simple cheesy romance. Another woman has been seduced by her, and now she's under the care of a psychiatrist who wants to enter the world of the supernatural and contact this mysterious vampire lady for that purpose! And if that doesn't make things bad enough, the patient's husband has gone mad, too!

I feel that to best review this movie, I'll have to dig right into the four questions I ask myself with every movie. However, I need to admit this. I'm also writing this review to prove a point. About a half-an-hour in, I got invested in a conversation and paused every five to ten minutes to reply (I don't like keeping people waiting for replies). Of course, the revalation stemmed a pointless argument which ended in me being belittled for my decision. I'm gonna prove that it's possible to watch a movie in parts and get the full experience.

Now for the four questions:

1: What is the goal of the movie?

Well, it's a pretty simple movie by a simple director who makes B-movies, indie movies, nudie movies, you know, the guy who doesn't put that much effort into his movies because he feels like he doesn't need them. In the case of this movie, it's a combo of all three. It's a horror-infused LGBT romance movie with Gothic style to it, and it's supposed to get you a little horny now and then, even though this aspect is largely forgotten by the last twenty minutes. So I'd say the goal is basically to be a cashgrab for the sellouts who don't like big-budget sellouts. Indie fans, B-Movie fans, nudie fans, etc.

2: Does it meet its goal?

Ummmmm by technicality it did based on the fact that any cashgrab or simple movie could meet its goal by default. But I felt like the movie could have been so much more, and done more with its combination of genres. It's a fairly unique premise which could have done something big for a movie coming out at a time when homosexuality was becoming much more mainstream. I mean, for combining three scenes at once, it shouldn't be so easy to make, should it? So I'd say it partly succeeded based on merit, but not based on the art of cinema itself. I know that sounds pretentious, but even really simple movies can succeed, like the plotless Halloween which I found to be an effortless success in less effort. I can't say that effect was apparent in Vampyros Lesbos.

3: What did it neglect or sacrifice to meet its goal?

Well, considering that Franco made like three movies a year (not kidding, he has roughly 180 movies in a 54-year career), I'd say the big sacrifice is that he didn't put in enough effort. Most of the scenes in the first half are acted in a half-assed manner. The nightclub scenes are supposed to be really sexy, right? This does have nudie scenes, after all. But the acting was so underperformed that I didn't really feel anything. I mean, I'm straight, and I really do prefer the boobs on a sexual level. But this didn't to anything with that. For a "sexy" movie, ithad decent scenes and meh scenes. Not to mention, this so-called "horror" movie wasn't scary. I'll always take that into account. Sexy scary can be a really effective thing, much like Bram Stoker's Dracula, but Franco didn't even try...

I will say this in its defense. Most of the Jess Franco movies I've seen have a garbage plot with terrible editing and no consistency, if that constitutes as a plot. But this time, there were some attempts to bring out a decent plot, and although it failed in some ways, I was really engrossed in the last half-hour of the movie. Mad psychiatrists reigning a looney-bin, kidnappings, murders, and it all felt right in tune. So even though the plot wasn't great, it was PERFECTLY CONSISTENT with the mood and the atmosphere set, and this has a stronger atmosphere than some Franco films. So I respect it for that.

4. Were the sacrifices and neglected aspects made up for by other aspects of the movie.

No. This was a really simple movie that didn't even try to be a five-star movie, so I'm not even gonna consider that it's "proper cinema" or that it's trying to be. It's a sellout for hipsters, and that's all I'm gonna judge it as.

Well, Vampyros Lesbos isn't my favorite of the select few Jesus Franco movies I've seen (although the number will increse), but I understand if you like it. It's a dumb fun movie for people who want something really simple, like somebody who looks for an obscure pop album on Bandcamp.com (which I've done so I can understand the appeal). But I'm not gonna neglect that every aspect of the movie felt beaten by some of my favorite romance and horror movies, including Bram Stoker's Dracula and Blue Velvet.

Well, I think I was very thorough for a guy who had to pause every ten minutes.




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