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This week we review the John Carpenter directed They Live starring wrestler Roddy Piper. It’s always interesting to see what holds up in films from the 80s and what doesn’t. The story is the thing that holds up best in this film, some of the other elements, well…
The story revolves around the concept that us poor, dumb humans are constantly being manipulated through subliminal messages that are coming from advertising, TV and the media in general. All of this is being carried out by aliens who live among us and are using a secret broadcast signal that keeps the humans “asleep”. A group of rebels who have uncovered the plot are working to expose the aliens and bust the whole thing open. The script is pretty well written (with the exception of some really bad dialog here and there) and does offer a film that makes you want to sit and watch how everything plays out.
The film falls a bit shy in a few spots. The effects are looking pretty low-budget compared to how they looked back in ’88; the flying saucers and the effects make up look like something done on a college level now. Some of the action isn’t great either as it’s not as intensely and realistically choreographed as films are now. The one scene that still works here though is the fight scene between Piper and Keith David in the alley, that’s still a blast to watch and just when you think the fight is over, somebody throws another punch and it keeps escalating.
Then there’s the acting. Piper is the anchor here and has some decent moments. Like I said there, some decent moments which also means some not-so-decent moments as well. He’s often very wooden, forced and not so wide in terms of emotional range. He makes for a better wrestler than he does action movie hero. There are some moments that still ring true and are enjoyable such as when he walks into a bank ready to confront the alien scourge and declares: “I’ve come here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. I’m all out of bubble gum.” Classic.
While it’s not up there with The Thing or Escape from New York, They Live is worth a viewing if you can get past some of the cheesy acting and effects.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
This is one of those movies that you go to just for the fun of seeing a movie like this. Your expectations go down, which can be nice, and you just sit back and let the entertainment wash over you. It’s also the kind of fun film you can go to family with during the holidays…
The premise is formulaic as one would expect with competing siblings who inherit a company from their father bump heads as to how the family business should be run. TJ Miller runs a failing branch of the company and wants to set up an office Christmas party to both rally the disgruntled employees who might be losing their jobs as well as win over the salesman of a major company with which a major contract could be scored that would save the day. His sister, played by Jennifer Aniston, is the uptight president of the company that wants to trim the fat by eliminating jobs and closing branches.
As you can imagine, the main event is the party and once it gets going, it gets really, really going. Every time you think they can’t take it much further, well, then the jousting with shopping carts and flaming christmas trees happens. Suffice it to say, things get pretty outrageous, the main characters learn lessons and everything turns out mostly ok for everyone. Overall it’s a enjoyable throwaway kind of film you can enjoy but will probably think viewing it once is enough.
The actors all hit their marks well playing their roles effectively. Noone is redefining the wheel here but they fit the typical characters they portray well. The lineup consists of many familiar faces including some from SNL with Kate McKinnon, Rob Corddry, Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, Courtney Vance, and Vanessa Bayer.
If you go into this film with no expectations other than just having a good time without a ton of substance, you’ll probably enjoy Office Christmas Party.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
There aren’t a lot of films that effect me on deep emotional levels, the first Star Wars films did that for me when I saw them in the theaters and the countless times after. Episode VII had the opposite effect on me and I feared where things were going. Luckily Rogue One has restored my faith, and with my fear resolved I’m looking forward to what Episode VIII will offer.
By the way, I will not offer any spoilers here, there’s no way in hell I’m going to ruin this for you. You will have to see it for yourself to discover all the little nuances of it and there’s no possible way my words can do this film proper justice.
Rogue One is easily one of the best in the series, up there in terms of quality and depth as Empire. And while it’s a chapter in the greater story, it has an originality in it that’s unique as it feels more like a war film with a gritty, intense delivery you don’t normally see in the series. Among the many things great about this movie is what it’s about. The story revolves around one of the components in the Star Wars story in that it’s about how the rebels ended up with the plans to the Death Star. One of the discussions in the film when the plans are retrieved regards the sacrifice that was made to get the plans. This is the story of that sacrifice…
And it’s impactful with an expertly crafted, emotional story. I had to take some time to process it as I felt overwhelmed by it, in a really great way I might add. The visual quality of it had something to do with that. I saw it in IMAX 3D which was cool but is unnecessary, the film is amazing with or without the 3D. The effects keep getting better with some things that were so surprisingly realistic that it had me thinking about how they did it so the intensity of the suspension of disbelief knocked me out of the suspension of disbelief. Wow.
The acting is superb with all the actors completely going for it. Felicity Jones is the lead as Jyn Erso and played her role very well with a great balance of vulnerability, anger, determination, and passion while fitting into the physical demands of the film as well. Forest Whitaker was probably my second favorite in the cast as the unhinged rebel Saw Gerrera. Whitaker knows how to play a character that’s off-putting but still sharp. The rest of this amazing cast includes Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Alistair Petrie, and Alan Tudyk as the voice of K-2SO.
See this film in theaters while you can. And then see it again, I know I am.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Keanu is an action/comedy brought to you by the minds that created Key and Peele on Comedy Central. Jordan Peele plays Rell Williams whose life changes when, facing a breakup, he falls back in love with a kitten named Keanu that happens upon his doorstep. It turns out that he’s not the only one in love with the cat though; hence the problems that ensue when some gangsters break in to his home and make off with the popular feline…
Yes, it’s ridiculous, but that’s the point. After all, Key and Peele’s popular comedy sketch show was a celebration of the absurd to great effect. The story still has it’s message with both main characters each experiencing their own arcs and coming out a bit tougher on the other side with a bit of a surprise ending. Along the course of their journey they experience the life of a gangster / drug dealer while emerging from their easy, suburban backdrops. Their brand of humor is laced throughout the film but not in a way that overpowers it.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are in fine form playing the straight man kind of guy this time around while morphing into their bad-boy alter egos. Method Man plays Cheddar the main bad guy in an entertaining way that still seemed menacing. Tiffany Haddish plays the gang member Hi-C; her character takes a nice left turn that shines a different light on her when the film plays out. The talented lineup includes Nia Long, Will Forte, Jason Mitchell, Luis Guzman and Rob Huebel.
If you want something light hearted, fun, and entertaining, check out Keanu.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
I am trying my damnedest to avoid politics right now so I decided to watch something inspirational for myself as a filmmaker. And what a better way to do that then to go back to the classics and the masters who created them. In this case I decided to watch Hitchcock/Truffaut. This documentary focuses on an interview Francois Truffaut conducted with Alfred Hitchcock covering each film in Hitchcock’s career for a book. The interview took place over a week in 1963. There’s also a photo series included with the book and it’s fantastic.
Truffaut was from a different generation and had a lot of respect for Hitchcock who also felt much respect for Truffaut and his work. It was great to explore the results of this week long interview by two legendary directors who really admired each other. Truffaut did have some tough questions for Hitchcock too. One such example is when Truffaut addresses what the critics would complain about in reference to Hitchcock’s approach to plausibility. Hitchcock’s response was that plausibility for the sake of plausibility gets in the way of the storytelling. His controversy is explored as well such as when Hitchcock refers to actors as “cattle”.
The doc is largely about Hitchcock and his tremendous influence on directors of many generations. Interesting facts include Hitchcock directing the first British talkie which is quite a historic moment as well as being known for his innovation like creating a glass floor to shoot beneath a subject walking around a room. His mastery of emotion and suspense is delved into deeply; I remember seeing The Birds as a kid and feeling terrified, the sound was unnerving.
Backstory on Truffaut is also part of the doc’s substance examining some of the moments from his childhood that shaped his work and how he approached films with innovation of his own.
Various directors are featured discussing the influences of both Truffaut and Hitchcock. Included on this list of illustrious film directors is Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, James Gray and more.
If you’re a director or just a fan of the art of cinema, I highly encourage checking out this film.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Every great story has a dark side. Star Wars is no exception. In this case however, I’m not referring to the storyline of the movie but to the making of it. When I first started watching I Am Your Father, I had this feeling that the documentary would both break my heart knowing what happened while helping to satiate a fascination I’ve had with Star Wars since it was first released in ’77.
The subject of this story is David Prowse, the actor who embodied the legendary Darth Vader in Episodes IV, V, and VI. Prowse’s backstory is laid out from his humble beginnings in the UK working as an actor doing commercials, TV shows here and there along with some B movies. His movie credits include a lot of monster roles as the man stands at 6 foot 7 and was in amazing shape that gave him a naturally imposing presence. I only later in life came to appreciate how he well he was actually able to convey emotion through the legendary mask he wore through the series…
And this ultimately, is the source for the dark side of the production. Happening at the last moment, David was replaced with another actor for the scene that finally revealed Vader’s face to Luke. This is the scene that was both the climax for his character but also a moment that would have imprinted his face on everyone’s memory as the fallen jedi. A legendary moment in cinematic history denied to the man that brought that character right up to the threshold, all because he looked “too young”. Funny that they had no problem creating aliens out of thin air but they couldn’t make Prowse look older? Seems like a huge ripoff to me and a shitty detail that I can’t un-know now. Jedi was always the least popular of the first 3; I think moments like this lend to those feelings of the film not being great on multiple levels.
The documentary includes Interesting factoids like that David Prowse didn’t find out about Vader being Luke’s father until he saw Empire in the theater. That plot point was kept secret until after the scene was shot and they went back and picked up some additional scenes and recorded new voice over work. The doc points out that there’s some debate about the origin of this particular detail in the story in terms of the relationship between Vader and Luke.
On the bright side – Prowse is being acknowledged at comic cons and sci-fi conventions with standing ovations and lines of fans waiting for an autograph. As an offer perhaps of catharsis, the director of the documentary offers David Prowse the chance to re-shoot the scene he was denied in Return. With regard to the outcome of the offer, like any great story, I won’t reveal the results of said offer here, you’ll have to watch the film on that one. He continues to be recognized at sci-fi conventions but as of yet has not been invited to any official Star Wars conventions; something this writer finds wildly un-fair and as it turns out, looks unfounded too.
Come on George! Step up and acknowledge this actor before the day comes when the opportunity passes. Life’s too short for this shit!
reviewed by Sean McKnight
I have yet to see a bad movie come out of Marvel Studios. They deliver consistently strong films with Dr. Strange being no exception. The latest installment from Marvel comes from one of their less prominent heroes but a compelling hero nonetheless which is one of the things that makes Dr. Strange very entertaining. This was among the comics I collected when I was a kid but I have to confess that I was surprised yet very excited when I heard they were taking this book to the big screen.
The story revolves around Dr. Stephen Strange who has to face the reality that due to an unfortunate car accident, he can no longer use his magic hands for surgery and instead has to find a different kind of magic to heal them. The path he takes on his quest leads him to a multi-dimensional world he never saw coming or even had a clue existed. Once he enters this world, he decides to embrace it completely and forego his ambitions of the past. Along his journey he discovers the potential of manipulating matter to reconstruct it as he wishes; he also discovers that there are dark forces at work trying to use that power for nefarious purposes…
I thought everything was great about this film. Really. I really felt that way when I saw it. I can usually pick out one or two kinks in the chain of a production, or the way a script is written, or in the minutiae of an actor’s performance. But this time, nada. The story was solid and compelling with the right dash of hubris at times and humor at others while maintaining the drama but without it being exhausting. The actors are at the top of their games as well with Benedict Cumberbatch leading the way playing the title role. I have to say his casting was perfect. He has very strong support as well with Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, and Chiwetel Ejiofor providing an excellent backbone through professional and passionate deliveries alongside the rest of the cast.
The effects is one of the best things about the movie for me. Sometimes effects can hinder a film if they’re used as a crutch (i.e. almost every film from Michael Bay). In Dr. Strange they were crucial as these characters live in a place of supernatural dimensions and abilities. Fortunately, much effort went into the design and machinations of the effects and it paid off with a stunning display that is a must see on the big screen.
And yes, the film does drop some references to other branches of the Marvel universe including The Avengers tying the family all together neatly as usual. Sorry, no spoilers here but as always with a Marvel movie you’ll want to hang out all the way through the credits.
I would strongly recommend catching this one in theaters while you still can.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
If you’re a fan of Christopher Guest films like A Might Wind, Spinal Tap, and Best in Show, you’ll be happy to know of his latest offering through Netflix. That’s one of the great things about streaming outlets like Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc., they’ve all provided an outlet for filmmakers that may not be able to get their work into the corporate controlled theater chains reserved for the major studios that own them.
Luckily for us, Guest is still making movies and he’s always funny. Mascots is another in the mockumentary style of Guest’s work this time focusing on the world of sports mascots and the plights of the modern mascot performer. His formula for this film is the same as his earlier work in that there’s an introduction to each main character which includes a bit of a profile study along with what’s going on with them currently as they prepare for the big mascot competition. Many walks of life are represented including the son carrying on his father’s proud tradition of mascot performing to the failed actress who is trying to pay her bills with her “art”. There’s also plenty of background tension as each of the mascots brings their own specific dramatic twist to the story.
The writing and character development are fun as always, one of my favorites being former mascot now author Gabby Monkhouse (played by the amazing Jane Lynch). Monkhouse is snooty and full of her own success clashing humorously with her judge colleague portrayed by Ed Begley Jr. who lands more in the “has-been” category. Guest’s scripts for these films typically include many moments of improve in addition to a somewhat structured story. I found myself wondering how much was scripted and how much was invented on the spot as the actors drift seamlessly in and out of both states with great precision and effect.
Speaking of which, the cast includes some familiar actors with Parker Posey, Fred Willard, and Jennifer Coolige, alongside fresh faces like Chris O’Dowd, Zach Woods and Sarah Baker. It was great to see a mixture of both new and familiar as they all played off each other well while exposing some talent that perhaps wasn’t as well known across the board. The film itself is not only fun and light-hearted to watch but it seemed like when they were making it, it looks like they had a blast. That kind of vibe usually translates to a fun viewing experience and who couldn’t use that right now?
If you’ve got Netflix and dig the genius of a Christopher Guest film, then be sure to give a cheer for Mascots!
reviewed by Sean McKnight