Category: movie reviews

Revisiting Back to the Future

I mentioned yesterday that the movie I chose to watch on the private big screen was Back to the Future. It took me a long time to come to that decision. Part of me wanted to watch something recent, so I could really see what the theater’s sound system could pull off. (I’m not making this up: it had 60 speakers. Two of them are the size of refrigerators and don’t actually make any audible sounds. They’re there just to shake the room.) But at the same time, I’ve seen most of those movies in the theater already.

So another part of me wanted to watch something that I’ve never had the chance to see in that environment. For a while I was going to go with The Legend of Drunken Master, Jackie Chan’s sequel to Drunken Master. It’s widely held as the best Jackie Chan movie, and I never saw it in theaters. On the flip side, it’s not available in 4k resolution (come on!), and I thought I’d really like to see something that looked sharp. After a lot more debating, I ended up at Back to the Future, since it’s recently been remastered in 4k, with corresponding Atmos sound. I thought that would give me a good way to compare the theater with other experiences I’ve had. Plus, who doesn’t like Michael J. Fox?

As I said yesterday, it was so much better than I had even hoped it would be. Why? For one thing, the audio was completely immersive. In the opening clock scene, it really felt like there were clocks all around me in the theater. I caught small details that I’d never picked out before: the fact that you could still hear Huey Lewis on Marty’s headphones when he took them off and was talking to his girlfriend, for example. Small things that (I felt) made the movie that much more real.

The picture quality was fantastic, sometimes admittedly to the detriment of the movie. It was much easier to see the makeup that had been put on Christopher Lloyd to age him. Nothing that really threw me out, but still noticeable. The colors really popped.

And it really helps that Back to the Future is, in my opinion a perfect movie. It works so well on so many different levels. It involves time travel and paradoxes in a way that everyone can easily understand. Its plot weaves layer upon layer of conflicts, until they all pay off in a tremendous climax. Things look like they’re all going to fall apart: Marty’s locked in a trunk, Biff is having his way with Lorraine, and the only person who can do anything about it is George, a guy who seems totally unequipped to handle it. But then George surprises us all and saves the day! Except the band isn’t able to play the song where George and Lorraine have their first kiss, so Marty’s still in trouble. But then Marty fills in, bringing his plot line of wanting to perform in front of a big crowd to a climax. The kiss happens, and Marty’s saved! Except he isn’t, because he still has to get back to the time machine and get back to the future. Which is going fine, until a branch knocks down the power cable. It keeps going like that, and I loved every second of it.

On top of all of that, you’ve got action, humor, pop culture references, and a sound track that can’t be beat. I’m trying to think of things that are wrong with the movie, and all I can come up with is the issue where Marty plays a Chuck Berry classic and then it’s implied that Chuck Berry got the inspiration from Marty. So you could say it was kind of culturally appropriating, but even that was more for humor than anything else, riffing on the time travel plot.

On the rewatch, I gave the movie a perfect 10/10. It does everything it sets out to do, and it does it all so well. Is it High Cinema? No. It’s pure fun, but in my book a piece of art doesn’t have to be deep to score a 10. It doesn’t have to have a theme or message. This movie wants to entertain, and it hits a grand slam.

Now if only I could watch the Lord of the Rings extended edition in that theater . . .

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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 this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It 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 Fugitive

The Fugitive would be another one of those movies that I watched growing up and assume everyone’s already seen, only to watch it now and realize that it’s almost thirty years old, and there’s a good chance that most people younger than that not only haven’t seen it, they haven’t even heard of it. Which is a shame, because it’s a fantastic movie (as I’m sure anyone who saw it back in the day can attest to).

For those of you who don’t have it on your radar, it’s an adaptation of the television show by the same name. The movie stars Harrison Ford as a man who’s falsely accused of murdering his wife. Not just accused, but found guilty and sentenced to death. He manages to escape from custody and go on the run. Tommy Lee Jones plays the part of the US Marshall tasked with hunting him down and recapturing him.

The film is great mainly for its simplicity and how well it all works together. Ford is a good man. Smart and able to think well on his feet. Jones is a fantastic marshall, able to spot false leads and tenacious. Both of them are good people, though Jones is definitely not a forgiving man. He represents justice, and he intends to see it carried out. But I love that, while they’re both working against each other, neither is a villain. They can both be good at the same time, and you don’t always get that in a movie.

The soundtrack by James Howard helps as well, of course, and Andrew Davis (who also directed Holes and Under Siege) creates a compelling, fast moving plot that twists and turns, developing the mystery of who really killed Ford’s wife while also moving forward the action of the chase. There are some great stunts (particularly the train wreck scene, which is supposedly still set up and a tourist attraction in North Carolina) and you definitely get more than the price of admission for watching it.

If you want to see one of the great popcorn movies of the early nineties (that still stands up to today’s standards very well), then this should definitely be on your list. It was nominated for 7 Oscars (including Best Picture) and won Tommy Lee Jones the award for supporting actor. 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 this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It 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: Gaslight

It’s not every day that you have a film that came out in 1944 that ends up defining a whole segment of abusive behavior, but when you watch Gaslight, you completely understand how it could fill that role. I assume you know, but gaslighting someone is when you manipulate someone so that they begin to question their own sanity, and George Cukor (director of My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story, Born Yesterday, and many other films) takes that technique to the extreme in this movie.

Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for Best Actress (and the movie was nominated for Best Picture) for her turn as Paula, the woman in question. Despondent when her aunt, who raised her, dies, Paula flees as a teenager to Italy, where she tries to escape her past and does so successfully for 10 years. Then she meets a man who falls instantly in love with her. They marry in a matter of weeks, and he convinces her to return to her childhood home in London. There he quickly begins to pick her apart bit by bit, and Cukor does an excellent job of illustrating the technique.

For example, Gregory (the husband, played by Charles Boyer, mentions to Paula that “she’s always losing things,” despite the fact that she’s never lost things. He says “she’s always forgetting things,” and again, this flies in the face of what she recalls. But when other people are making these observations, it plays into our own insecurities, and we begin to believe other people must be right, since we’re all too ready to believe the worst about ourselves.

I don’t want to give away too much of the movie, since it really is a fantastic film, and if you haven’t seen it you should, but into all of this background is layered the murder mystery of Paula’s aunt. It all plays together wonderfully (and dreadfully). You can’t help but feel so sorry for Bergman as she’s manipulated time and time again. It would be very easy to begin to be frustrated with a main character who is taken advantage of so seemingly easily, but Cukor does a good job establishing why that would be the case. The murder of her aunt really affected her as a child, she’s a woman in London at the turn of the century (so she’s already viewed by society as subservient to her husband), and the abuse doesn’t start all at once. It comes layer on layer in a steady stream. Gregory mixes it up as well, sometimes behaving beastly, and then suddenly switching to being effusively nice, all while telling his wife that he’s always nice.

The movie isn’t available for streaming on any of the platforms, but you can buy it digitally for all of $5. I had mentioned it to Daniela a few weeks ago, and she remembered it enough that she asked to watch it, and she really enjoyed it. It’s another excellent example of just how good old movies can be, and why dismissing something just because it’s in black and white is a huge mistake. (Especially when you consider this was done in 1944, well after colorized movies were a thing. I would love to see some more black and white films done today. The way the shadows and lights work on the screen is just different than color. Black and white photography is still a big thing. Why not the same for films?)

In any case, I give it a 9/10, even after having seen it three or four times. I do think it’s a bit slow paced in a couple of areas, but that’s simply a factor of thriller/suspense movies having come a long way since 1944. This was one of the movies my family had up at our cabin in Utah. My grandmother curated the collection, and it’s because of those VHS tapes that I ended up being introduced to many fantastic movies. I’m glad I can do the same for Daniela now.

If you haven’t seen this movie, you should really check it out. And if you haven’t seen it for a while, you should watch it again.

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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 this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It 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: An Inspector Calls

Last night Daniela wanted to watch a murder mystery, so we began going through the various platforms we have, looking for something that seemed good to both of us. It actually really reminded me of those halcyon days of making a trip to Blockbuster with your friends to pick something to watch that evening. Picking up various movie cases, looking at the back to see what it’s about, and then debating endlessly to try to find something just right. Except harder, because now there’s IMDB, which means I feel compelled to check the reviews on everything before I give it a shot. (If it gets below a 6 on IMDB, the odds of me watching it are very, very slim. Typically I’m looking for higher than a 6.5, and if we can get into the 7 territory and it’s a movie that sounds interesting to me at the moment, then sign me up.)

Amazon Prime has been pushing An Inspector Calls on me for the last long while. It’s always been there, popping up in the “Movies We Think You’ll Like” category again and again. And each time, I’d just skip over it without even looking to see what it’s about. (Fight the power, people! Don’t just watch whatever Amazon or Netflix tell you to.) But this time, it seemed like it would definitely qualify as “murder mystery,” so I checked out the IMDB score. 7.7? And it’s under an hour and a half long?

Sold!

I had no idea going into it (due to sheer ignorance), but it turns out it’s a made-for-TV production of a quite famous stage play of the same name by J.B. Priestly. It actually premiered in Moscow in 1945, and it’s had numerous adaptations of it over the years, on the stage, screen, and radio. More than 25 total, which is an awful lot, in terms of adaptations. A 32 year old Alec Guinness starred in the first British production. The one I watched is the most recent television version, starring David Thewlis (Lupin from Harry Potter), Ken Stott (Balin from the Hobbit franchise), and Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter, if we want to stay in the fantasy genre, though she’s been in tons of other films and that’s far from her most significant role), as well as some lesser know actors.

I knew very little of the movie going into it, and I think it would be best if you do the same. The only thing I think it would be helpful to be aware of is that this isn’t a popcorn mystery, but rather more of an art film. Not in some sort of zany “I don’t understand what’s going on” way, but Daniela, Denisa, and I ended up talking about the movie for a while after it was over, discussing plot points and character arcs. Which makes sense now, since it’s a production of a play that’s one of the standards in British education.

Just know the basic premise: a family has gathered for a celebratory dinner. In inspector shows up just as it ends, with news that a young woman has committed suicide. He needs to ask some questions to get to the bottom of the matter.

This production is very well done. Short and snappy, with excellent performances across the board. Very well produced, and it doesn’t feel like a shoddy TV production in any sense. I gave it 8.5/10, and I highly recommend it. (So now you can watch it because I told you it was good, not just Amazon. That makes everything better.)

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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 this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It 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 Roundup: Tag, Mississippi Burning, Brubaker, Changeling, No Sudden Move

I just got back from Utah last night, and you know what that means: lots of time sitting on a plane or a bus with nothing much to do other than watch movies. (Well, technically I suppose I could write, but my headspace is nowhere near capable of writing when I’m flying.) I watched five movies in total, and I’m here to tell you all about them. (More or less.)

First up, we have Tag, a movie loosely based on a real-life game of tag that went on for years and years, as the group of friends grew up and got jobs and just kept playing. It starred Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, and Jon Hamm, and it was diverting but ultimately nothing more than a bit of fluff. Fine for distracting a librarian as he trekked across the country, but not much more than that. It felt like it was trying really hard to be raunchier than it needed to be. I think there could have been something really fun there if they had leaned into being more of a family movie than an adult comedy. Instead, they threw in lots of drug references and language. 5/10.

From there, I decided to try something a little more weighty. I’d heard good things about Mississippi Burning, and I was in no way disappointed. The film (from 1988) loosely depicts the true story of three missing civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964. Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman play FBI agents assigned to investigate the case, which quickly uncovers deep-seated racism in the town. The director (Alan Parker) uses the movies as a vehicle to explore that tension. I found it compelling. It won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, and it was nominated for six others, including Picture, Director, Lead Actor, and Supporting Actress. 9.5/10, though be aware that there are some very disturbing depictions of racial violence. (I was also discouraged to see how much of the language and ideologies expressed in the movie back in 1988 are still thriving 33 years later.)

Next up was Robert Redford in Brubaker. The 1980 movie is again based loosely on history, this time the career of Tom Murton, who unveiled a huge prison scandal in Arkansas in 1967. Redford plays the part of the new prison warden (based on Murton), who comes find out what’s wrong with the prison and try his best to fix it. The actual depictions of prison life were vivid, but I felt like the movie was quite heavy-handed in its Message. Characters seem to be either Good or Evil, and that fell flat for me. That said, it was still a solid movie in most other respects. 7/10

On the way home, I started with Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, because apparently after Tag, all I wanted to do was watch historical movies. This one stars Angelina Jolie as a mother whose son goes missing in Los Angeles in 1926. After weeks of searching, the police find him, but when they present him back to Jolie, she immediately sees he’s not her son. Unwilling to admit their error, the police insist she’s mistaken. It’s the sort of thing you’d think has to be made up, and it only gets away with it because we know it isn’t. I very much enjoyed it. 8/10

And finally, I watched Steven Soderbergh’s new No Sudden Move, starring Benicio Del Toro and Don Cheadle. This one follows the tangled mess that’s left over when an underworld robbery goes south. The movie was definitely twisty turny, actually to the point that it felt too convoluted. In an ideal world, reveals in films like this feel obvious in hindsight, but there were several steps where I was just confused by a twist, not enlightened. (Also, it has Brendan Fraser in a supporting role. It felt like forever since I’d seen him in a movie. He put on a ton of weight, whether for the part or not, I don’t know.) I thought I’d finally watched a non-historical movie, only to discover at the end of the film that actually this one had some roots in real world events as well. Go figure. 7/10

And that’s that! Movies: the one thing that get me through airplane travel.

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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 this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It 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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