Category: movie reviews

Quarantine Movie Review: Titanic

True story: up until last night, I had never seen Titanic. Obviously I had picked up a lot about the movie over the years, but it came out when I was on my mission. It was all over the place then. Even in the small city where I was serving in Germany, I heard Celine Dion belting out from practically every store front. Often enough that I had “My Heart Will Go On” memorized, despite the fact missionaries weren’t allowed to listen to pop music.

Titanic was everywhere.

When I got back from my mission, I never really got around to watching the movie, simply because I figured I already knew what happened in it, and it was really long. (By that logic, I should never have watched any of the LOTR movies, though. Right?) It just became one of those holes in my pop culture knowledge, and I was at peace with that, for the most part. Then, about two years ago, I bought the movie in 3D, thinking that would be a fun way to watch it. Then I forgot I bought it on disc until I found it for the next Christmas, and then I wrapped it and forgot we owned it at all, because I never unwrapped it.

Clearly it wasn’t high on my to do list.

However, there’s no time like a current disaster to watch a classic disaster movie, right? Right. So Denisa and I popped on our 3D glasses and went back to 1912 over the past few nights. Now that I’ve watched it, I’m very glad I did. For one thing, it was eerie to see the connections between the way they recognized a disaster was coming in the movie, and the way we’ve recognized a disaster is here in the present day. All the same reactions are played out on the screen. (I’m just hoping we haven’t passed the “the ship is going to sink no matter what” stage of the virus.)

It was also great to watch how Cameron used the historical facts of the event as an asset to his movie instead of a liability. He leads out right in the beginning with the shipwreck. He even gives a general overview of how it sank. Then we go back in time and meet some of the characters and get to like them, so that when the disaster happens, it means something. And because we know what happens and the order it happens, all that scientific description at the beginning becomes much more ominous when you see it played out in real life. Superb.

I know some people had said the movie was overrated. 11 Oscars, tons of money, and it wasn’t worth the hype. I disagree. I thought the effects were incredible (especially in 3D), the story engaging, the acting well done (though not as strong as the rest of the movie), but the way it made history come alive was fantastic. Really, my one complaint about it was the way they threw in nudity for no particularly good reason. It’s not a movie I feel like I can watch with my family because of that, and I don’t think it made it a stronger movie with its inclusion. (I had somehow thought it was just a brief flash of nudity in the movie. I was wrong. Not that it’s there for a ton of time, but still.)

Interestingly, my one real interaction with the film previous to this was on my mission, when a young woman in the branch asked me to draw her a picture of Leonardo and Kate. I happily complied, not having any idea the role drawing played in the movie. I don’t think I would have done that if I’d seen the movie. Not that there was anything salacious about it, but it definitely would have felt much more awkward had I known. (Yay for ignorance!)

Anyway. The country isn’t sinking at least, and we don’t have to worry about hypothermia any time soon, so if you’re looking for an “at least it isn’t that bad” sort of an escape, go ahead and give Titanic another shot. 9/10

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Cult Classic Movie Review: Strange Brew

Look, people. We’re stuck at home for the next who knows how long. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so over the weekend, I hit the emergency button. I’d had it with all the doom and gloom, and I wanted to introduce my family to what has to be the most absurd Hamlet adaptation ever filmed.

I’m speaking, of course, of Strange Brew.

In a perfect world, this review would not be necessary, because everyone would already be aware of Strange Brew. In fact, I feel a little sheepish even writing this, because a big part of me wonders if the majority of you aren’t just rolling your eyes. “Strange Brew,” you’re saying. “What does he think we’ve done with our lives? Lived in a cave?” But considering the movie is something like 37 years old at this point, I’m thinking a significant number of you might not have just not seen Strange Brew. You don’t even know it exists.

Let me set the stage: two Canadian brothers decide to get free beer by taking a bottle of beer with a mouse in it to the Elsinore beer factory, claiming they bought it that way in the store. There, they discover something fishy’s afoot: the owner of the beer company died, and his wife married his brother soon after. Hilarity ensues.

There’s not really a way to encapsulate the true majesty of a movie about two brothers who just want to drink beer, and lots of it. It sounds inane, and it is. But it’s inanity raised to an art form. Rick Moranis(!) and Dave Thomas are perfection. They don’t just star in the movie. They wrote the movie. They didn’t just write the movie. They directed the movie. Talk about true auteurs. They even got Max von Sydow to play the villain.

If you haven’t heard of this movie before, don’t feel too bad. My first experience with it was going to a midnight movie showing of it at BYU my freshman year. My friends swore it was hilarious. I went along for the ride. They attended in full Bob & Doug costume: huge overcoats, knit hats, and t-shirts. It was a blast.

I was extremely pleased to see just how well the movie’s held up since then. It’s been a while since I watched it, and my expectations weren’t incredibly high. They were blown away, however. Zany fun throughout, with great one liners, and a plot that you keep thinking can’t get any more insane, until it does.

If you’ve never seen the movie before, and you’re up for some mindless fun that will really take your mind off the present blah, this is definitely worth the time. If you have seen it before, but it’s been a while, I encourage you to watch it again. My whole family loved it, except for MC, who thought it was too scary. So maybe . . . 10 and up? Assuming you’re okay with a movie that shows two people drinking beer almost constantly. 9/10

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: Parasite

Parasite is a movie I’d been looking forward to seeing for quite a while. I’d heard so much about it, although in hindsight, it might have raised a red flag that while I’d heard a lot about the movie, I’d heard next to nothing as to what it was about, if that makes sense.

Denisa and I finished it yesterday. There were definitely things to like about the film, but overall I found it . . .overrated. Seriously overrated. I don’t think this movie would be making a splash at all if it weren’t for the fact that it’s foreign and somehow the snowball effect has taken over, so that people are talking about it as a phenomenon, and not as an actual film. (Though full disclaimer, I also really disliked Snowpiercer, the director’s earlier flash in the pan film, so perhaps I just don’t like his style.)

The film focuses on the story of a family of con men who turn their focus to a rich family across town, slowly taking over various servant positions in their household without letting on that they’re all related. And then things take a big zig to the left, but I won’t get into that right now. It’s definitely funny in parts, tense in others, and bewildering in more.

Why didn’t I really like it? It meandered, for one thing. It had no real central “oomph” to the story. I had a hard time relating to any of the characters, which (again) might be due to a lack of cultural understanding on my part. Perhaps if I were more familiar with South Korean norms and social structure, more of this would have made sense. But a movie shouldn’t have to rely on those to really zing. (Similarly, I’m sure I would have liked Once Upon a Time in Hollywood even more if I were more up to speed on all the references Tarantino kept throwing in, but the movie still worked well without that knowledge. That’s not the case here.)

I found the plot haphazard, the acting so-so, the ultimate conflicts contrived. It’s the #26 movie on IMDB right now? How? Why? I found nothing in it to warrant it getting such rave reviews. It’s a glorified art house movie, and I feel like this one’s a real case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Was it bad? I’m still kind of on the fence on that one. There were pieces of good things in it. It certainly wasn’t predictable, but neither is a rabid pit bull. Lack of predictability doesn’t make something good. In the end, I think I’d give it a 3/10. (Remember, a 5/10 for me is neutral. It’s a movie I sat through and just sort of . . . experienced. Didn’t hate it. Didn’t love it. Lukewarm.) Parasite had things that I liked. Parts that I was really engaged in, and for that, it doesn’t get a lower rating. But taken as a whole, I didn’t really enjoy it. I have no desire to watch it again. No desire to recommend it to anyone.

And I’ll be really disappointed if it lurches its way out of the Oscars with any awards in hand.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: Joker

I’ve been putting off watching this movie for quite some time, mainly concerned it was just going to be a disturbing downer of a film. I’m already skittish about the way violence is glorified in media, and I’d read a number of articles critiquing this film for encouraging more violence. But it’s one thing to read an article about a movie, and it’s another to actually watch it. So I decided to skip the State of the Union and watch a different Joker, instead.

It’s an impactful film. One that manages to both make a statement and entertain at the same time, though I use the term “entertain” loosely. It’s definitely disturbing, and I actually found it interesting that I chose to watch it instead of Trump, because in many ways, the message of the movie applies just as much to Trump as it does to violence, mass shootings, and many of today’s societal problems. But more on that in a bit.

The movie traces the downward arc of a man’s descent into madness. A Joker origin story that matches up well with all the superhero origin stories we’ve been inundated with over the years. While it might not have been as fun to watch as seeing Spiderman rise to the challenge and become a real hero, in many ways it is perhaps a more “important” arc to study. How do people become monsters?

It’s comforting to just pass it off as something that happens on its own. That people are born horrific, and so they deserve to be locked up once they reveal how terrible they really are. And it’s the route almost always used in superhero movies. The villain is the villain. They’ll get a few scenes to try and justify their behavior loosely, but the main focus is on what the hero does to win.

The thing is, it’s easy to pass off people we don’t know as villainous. As soon as it’s someone we’re acquainted with, who we know well, then dismissing them lightly becomes much more difficult. This applies to entire peoples as much as it does to individuals. It’s much easier to vilify “the gays” or “the illegals” (or, for that matter, “the Republicans”) when they’re held at arms’ length. When you don’t actually know any of them, and instead can stereotype to your heart’s content.

Joker in this movie is not a sane man, but he’s a man who’s at least been trying to do the right thing. Going to therapy. Taking his medication. Trying to live his dreams. And he’s a man who’s been let down by society time and time again. Can we understand why he snaps in the end and embraces the arch-villain he becomes? Perhaps, at least to an extent. But the more important takeaway for me is just how much Gotham is responsible for the creation of the Joker.

In this way, America is also responsible for its greatest problems. For its bigotry. Mass shootings. Inequality. For Donald Trump. He didn’t come out of nowhere. He ascended to where he is now because we let him. Encouraged him, even. Some of us did it (and continue to do it) actively, whether by voting for him (for whatever reason), campaigning for him, sharing his speeches, wearing his hats, etc. Some of us did it indirectly. Watching his television show back when it was on. Thinking he’d be a good candidate to go against Clinton, because he’d be an “easy win.” Ignoring him and hoping he’ll go away.

It’s important to remember that all of the troubles Trump represents for so many aren’t exclusive to the man. Voting him out of office (or back into office) won’t make those problems go away. He’s the symptom, not the cause, just as Joker is the result of the garbage Gotham wasn’t willing to handle. The problems that were easier to just gloss over than actually deal with. The garbage strike in the movie just brings this fact up to the surface. You can ignore the trash, but it all ends up somewhere. When the system shuts down, it just makes it harder to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Does the movie glorify violence? I don’t think so. Quite the contrary, though of course that won’t be the case for some of its viewers. Just as Arthur Fleck can sit through a stand up routine and laugh at all the wrong times, there are people out there who will view this movie and walk away thinking Joker is a hero. That’s troubling, but it’s all the more reason for the movie to be seen and understood, because those are the people we need to figure out how to help, or at least how to contain, so that they remain at the Arthur Fleck level and never reach Joker status.

I could go on and on about this movie, and that’s a sign of how strong it is. How, then, do I rate it? There, I’m torn. It’s in the 9-10/10 range. Is it perfect? I’m not sure. It leaves a terrible aftertaste, and it feels slimy to give a movie like that a 10, but that’s the point, isn’t it? As I think over the various aspects of the movie, I have a hard time finding faults. The acting is tremendous. Joaquin Phoenix does a superb job inhabiting that role. The direction and production are all spot on. If there is a flaw, it’s that it’s predictable in many ways. Some of that is to be expected, but some of it just didn’t quite line up. (Specifically, I’m thinking of the way the film handled Fleck’s girlfriend, though I won’t say more than that.)

So in the end, I think I’ll give it a 9.5, but it’s awfully close. Should you watch it? I’d argue yes, though you should be aware it’s R for scattered language, some very violent scenes, and its disturbing nature throughout. Will it win Oscars? It might. I could see Best Actor, Best Costume Design, and Best Makeup as being the likeliest categories, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pick up a few more. I doubt it will be a sweep.

I’m running out of days to watch the rest, but I’m going to keep trying. Up next is Parasite. Not sure when I’ll be able to catch it, though . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: The Irishman

You’d think that with all the movie watching I’ve been doing over the last bit, I’d have watched the bulk of the nominees for the Oscars. You’d be wrong. Of the 124 different nominations, I’ve now seen 49 of them. Clearly I’m not going to reach my goal. (Not with Groundhog Day and the Super Bowl coming up, eating into my viewing time.) But that’s okay. I’ll have seen way more than I would have seen without the goal, and that’s something.

Up today is The Irishman, which really ought to count for like 3 movies all on its own. This is a looooooooooooong movie. How long? Three and a half hours long. We’re talking “eight minutes longer than Return of the King” long. Is it all warranted? Read on.

If you don’t know, it’s a Martin Scorsese piece, featuring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci (who came out of retirement just to play the role). It follows the supposed real life story of Frank Sheeran, a hitman for the mafia back in the 70s. Through the use of digital wizardry, all the characters play themselves at various times in their lives. They make them (much) younger for some scenes and (a fair bit) older for others. It’s not seamless, though. There were a number of times the tricks they were using to de-age the characters got in the way of the storytelling for me, and that’s a problem.

Another problem? I didn’t really feel like there was anything significantly new in this movie. It’s a gangster movie. Another one. It’s longer than Goodfellas or The Departed, but it’s not nearly as good. The length did nothing to justifiably improve the experience for me, though granted I watched it over several days (due to me, you know, having a life). And yes, it’s Scorsese returning to gangster movies, and yes, it’s Pacino and De Niro and Pesci, but . . . I don’t think I’ll remember anything noteworthy from it other than how long it was. It was interesting to see a take on what happened to Jimmy Hoffa (played by Pacino in the movie), but still, nothing to warrant me sticking with it.

Don’t get me wrong. it’s not bad by any stretch. In fact, it’s quite good. I gave it an 7/10. The acting, writing, and directing are all top notch, but it’s like going on a ride you’ve been on a bunch of times before. There wasn’t anything new for me to dig into. I can understand why it’s nominated a bunch, but I’ll be honestly surprised if it wins anything. It didn’t excel head and shoulders in any one category. It was just very good in all of them.

Should a movie be penalized for simply being excellent? If it’s a retelling of a familiar trope, maybe. For me, it needs to stand out more for me to want to recommend it to others. Even if you like gangster movies, I think you’d be better served watching Goodfellas (2.5 hours) and then the pilot for Boardwalk Empire (1 hour), both of which were directed by Scorsese, rather than watching this behemoth.

In other words, unless you really feel the need, this is an Oscar nominated movie you can feel free to skip.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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