Category: movie reviews

Quarantine Movie Review: Moonstruck

I know. Watching a Cher movie from the 80s doesn’t sound like something that would be high up on my “things I want to do in quarantine” list. I’ve seen it once before, and I remembered liking it quite a bit, but that was it. I don’t even remember who I watched it with. I could have sworn it was Denisa, but she’s convinced she wasn’t involved. I also thought I reviewed it on the blog, but I can’t find a record of that either. Maybe I’m losing it.

In any case, it’s on Daniela’s list, and two nights ago its number came up. (It’s on Prime Video.) I was a bit hesitant about the rewatch (I had been hoping for Magnificent Seven. Life’s full of disappointments), but after seeing it again, I’m really glad I did. I had forgotten just how good a movie it is. There’s a reason it was won 3 Oscars (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay) and was nominated for 3 more (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor). Cher does a genuinely great job in the movie, and Nic Cage is . . . Nic Cage.

The movie feels like a high brow predecessor to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It fits into this fairly unique space where it’s a comedy, drama, and art movie all at once. Cher plays an Italian woman engaged to be married to a man she doesn’t love, but “likes” a lot. Then she falls for his younger brother. That sounds like a terrible set up for a plot. Way too overdone, and really hackneyed, but in practice . . . it all just comes together so well. Not in the typical romantic-comedy trope filled way, but somehow in a much truer-to-real-life vein.

There were multiple parts of the movie that just struck me as very authentic. Case in point: Cher agrees to see Nic Cage one more time after falling for him. He tells her that if she would just go to the opera with him one time, that would be all he’d need for the rest of his life. (I know. It sounds stupid. But it works in the dream-like state the movie somehow manages to occupy successfully.) Cher wants to keep her engagement to his brother, but she can’t resist one night at the opera, so she says yes.

But instead of just getting dressed in whatever she has on hand, she gets herself a complete makeover. Dyes her hair, buys a nice dress and shoes, has a manicure. The works. All for this date that just isn’t supposed to matter that much, because it’s the last time she’s going to see this guy. Nic Cage, when she first met him, was a mess. Unshaven and unkempt. He looks like a tortured slob. She gets completely dressed up to the nines, and then goes to the Met to meet him outside. He turns around, and it’s clear he’s done the same thing she has: he’s dressed in a tux, he shaved, and he looks 1000% better.

It struck me out of the blue: the memory of doing the same thing for Denisa on our first date. I’d asked her out when my original date for the weekend fell through. I didn’t even know Denisa that well, but I had the tickets and I didn’t want them to go to waste. She showed up at the library where I was working a few hours before the date, to get some research done. She looked great. Somehow I suddenly saw her in a light I’d never really paid attention to before. As soon as I was off work, I had a few hours before the date. I spent them cleaning my car and trying to make myself look as good as I could. Trust me: I didn’t clean my car for anybody, but there I was, cleaning it for her. When I picked her up, she’d changed again, and she looked even better than she had in the afternoon. I was very glad I’d vacuumed the seats.

So all of that memory came from out of the blue to hit me between the eyes when Cher and Nic Cage see each other for the first time for that date at the opera. It wasn’t heavy handed. It didn’t involve this big scene that telegraphed LOOK HOW THEY’RE DOING THE SAME THING. In fact, we didn’t even see Cage getting ready.

It all just worked. It’s hard to get something like that to go off without a hitch.

I gave the movie a 9/10. Is it perfect? Not quite. There were a few scenes that dragged a bit for me, and the plot got a bit muddled from time to time, but overall, it was a movie that made me think about what love meant and how different people express it. The finale of the film is great stuff.

Bottom line? If you’ve never watched this movie (or watched it only once a long time ago), it deserves your attention. Daniela didn’t particularly care for it. It’s not a kid movie, but if you’re up for some real entertainment that isn’t handed to you with a bowl of popcorn, give this one a shot.

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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.

Revisiting Indiana Jones

As we’re working through the list of 150 movies I constructed for Daniela, we hit the Indiana Jones section. So the past few days, we’ve watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade. These are all movies that I’ve loved for a long time, but I haven’t watched them in probably . . . 19 years? (Which leads one to ask, “Just how much did you love them?”) Denisa hadn’t seen them, and I don’t think I would have watched them without her, so it’s at least 19 years. Probably longer. But it felt like I’d seen them since then, if only because they’re referenced so much throughout pop culture. (Especially Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

So, with a fairly fresh eye and new perspective, how did they stand up?

In my head, the movies were ranked Raiders, Crusade, Temple. (We’ll be watching Crystal Skull next, but I don’t count it as part of the real trilogy, just because of the tremendous gap between them.) As I watched them, however, I found myself swapping Crusade and Raiders, and I was surprised by just how much I still enjoyed Temple. Some of that might be because in my head, Temple was so much worse.

Don’t get me wrong. Temple of Doom has some serious issues. When one of my kids observed that Short Round sounds an awful lot like Elmo most of the time . . . things got a lot more amusing, in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of a way. The movie has some very problematic issues with racism, and the violence in it is really over the top. (Did they really need a single scene where a man is bound to a cage, has his still beating heart ripped from his chest, stays alive, gets dunked in lava, and then show his heart burst into flames while everybody cheers? Gather ’round, kids! There’s a reason Temple of Doom forced the creation of the PG-13 rating.)

But at its heart, it’s got a lot of the same tropes that make Indiana Jones movies tick. Rollicking adventure, a mixture of horror and comedy, and a great soundtrack. There’s a lot of modern Marvel movies in Indiana Jones. And when you look at how well-refined the series was by the time Crusader appeared, it’s hard to say Temple wasn’t a part of it. An evolutionary step along the way toward modern action/adventure movies.

Raiders is huge in that field. It laid the groundwork for so much to follow, and it has to be respected for that. But for a modern audience, with modern tastes? It just doesn’t have the same zing it once did. There are some serious pacing issues that my kids noticed. Places where the adventure sagged more than others. Those aren’t present in Crusade, which goes along full throttle and doesn’t look back. If I were to only pick one Indiana Jones movie to show my kids, I would have thought it would have been Raiders going into the trilogy. Coming out, it’s definitely Crusade.

Temple of Doom will scar some kids for life. (But I’d really like to see an Elmo cut . . .)

Anyway. Those are my thoughts on the trilogy for now. I’m interested to see how Crystal Skull compares, now that I’ll have watched them all so close together. I know the popular consensus is it was a money grab, but sometimes the popular consensus is wrong.

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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.

Quarantine Movie Review: Hello, Dolly!

Hello, Dolly! is a movie I’ve watched many many times before, so it might seem a bit strange to be reviewing it now. But I came across it on Disney+ of all places, and I was waiting for Denisa to come up to watch something, so I thought I’d watch the first few minutes. Two and a half hours later, and I’d blown right past my bedtime to finish it. I realize that having grown up with it, I might not be able to give a truly unbiased take on it, but there are plenty of movies I watched when I was little that I rewatched and didn’t enjoy.

Hello, Dolly! is not one of them.

One of the reasons is perhaps because this is the first time I’ve watched it on anything other than VHS. The movie was the most expensive musical when it was filmed, costing around $175 million in today’s dollars. You can completely see it when you watch it in high definition on a large screen. There are so many details in all the shots. The dance numbers are incredible. If you haven’t seen the film for a while, or are used to watching a cruddy copy, you should definitely give it another go.

Is the musical flawless? Well, no. I mean, it’s got many of the same problems classic musicals have with sexism and other PC issues. (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, anyone?) It also has the common problem of casting a young woman as the love interest of an older man. (Streisand was 27 when she filmed the movie. Matthau was 49. They famously didn’t get along at all during the filming, either.) As a side note, more and more I’m finding when I rewatch movies that I watched a ton as a kid how disturbing it can be to find out how old the actors were in the film. Matthau was only 49? Sheesh. Doc Brown in Back to the Future? 47.)

But if you can look past the issues the film has, understanding they were a product of their time, then I think there’s a lot to enjoy here. It won three Oscars and was nominated for Best Picture. It was directed by Gene Kelly and has supporting actors in Michael Crawford and Tommy Tune (who’s 6’6″ and paired with a love interest who’s 4’10”. Maybe Hollywood just likes contrasts).

I realized once again that there were some numbers I would just fast forward through as a kid. Nothing like some selective “skim through the boring stuff.” I have no idea how the movie would have played for my kids. Like I said, it was such an impulse watch, I didn’t even consider waiting for the whole family. So we’ll have to wait for another time through it to decide whether it still has play for the youth of today, but speaking as someone who loved it when he was young, it’s still a lot of fun now. 8/10, and a lovely bonus to find on Disney+, making me look forward to seeing some more Fox gems come out on the service in the coming years.

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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.

Quarantine Movie Review: Contagion

Nothing says “stuck inside for the nth week of social distancing” like a good old fashioned pandemic movie, right? Right. So on Friday evening, Denisa and I sat down to watch 2011’s take on what 2020 might look like. The answer? Pretty scarily accurate in many ways.

If you haven’t already heard of the movie, it’s by Steven Soderbergh, the man who both won and lost the Oscar for Best Director in 2000 (by having Traffic beat Erin Brockovich, since he directed both). He also did the Oceans Eleven remakes. Contagion stars Matt Damon and a slew of others as they trace the global outbreak of a disease that starts in China and quickly spreads across the globe. Where people are mandated to stay at home, and immunity wristbands end up being issued, and there’s panic buying, and on and on.

Comfort fare for you quarantine date night? Not hardly, but eerie how much of it ends up feeling spot on.

Of course, the disease in Contagion is quite a bit deadlier, killing about 25% of the infected in spectacular, foaming-at-the-mouth-and-convulsing fashion. Then again, I think one of the things that’s so tricky about COVID-19 is the fact that it’s generally so subtle. Many people have it and don’t know they have it. When they do have it, they lose their sense of smell or taste. Their breathing becomes labored. It’s just in a (relatively) small portion of the populace that it becomes so deadly, and humans (being humans) are bad at assessing global impacts of something that doesn’t seem “that bad.”

In the film, the disease causes mass panic. Rioting. Looting. Fires. Daylight robbery and murder as people generally freak out about what’s coming. But there’s also the hydroxychloroquine-stand in (Forsythia) which some claim is the cure-all and others say does nothing. The leaders in Contagion’s America sit back and let the scientists do the speaking and the leading, as opposed to actively spreading disinformation and unrest. So in some ways the film was more pessimistic, but in other ways it was far too optimistic.

As I watched it, I reflected on how the goal is to avoid the mass panic of the movie. I really do believe that if we’d waited much longer for the lock down measures, we would have risked the disease really raging out of control. In Maine right now the big debate is how fast we should open up the economy. In my opinion, I’m happy we’re able to have this debate, as it seems easy to forget just a month ago we were worried our health care system would be overwhelmed and there’d be thousands of deaths.

Then again, because those thousands of deaths haven’t materialized, it’s easier for people to think they wouldn’t have materialized, even if we hadn’t locked things down as much as we did. In some ways, it feels like scientists are suddenly in the role dentists have traditionally played, warning the populace that cavities and gum disease don’t mess around, and that they really should brush and floss regularly. Meanwhile, the populace is saying “I didn’t have a cavity this check up, so I’m done with brushing and flossing for now, thanks very much.”

In any case, it was a very interesting “what if” experiment to watch. (My biggest critique was that the R value in the movie is just around 2, it seems, and I don’t think the disease would have spread that quickly with such a low R value. Funny how I’m informed enough now to at least have a mental debate with myself over something that 2011-me would have found super obscure.)

I gave the movie an 8.5/10. Probably higher than I would have outside a quarantine, but it’s got to get bonus points for showing how foreseeable so much of this was, and how avoidable a lot of it could have been. If only . . .

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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.

Quarantine Movie Review: The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again

You know, things went so well showing my kids The Apple Dumpling Gang that everyone was on board for the sequel. Don Knotts! Tim Conway! What more of a reason do you need than that? I mean, the first movie was so straightforward. If there were even an alley oop moment in the history of family movies, making a sequel to Dumpling should have been it.

They didn’t just fail to slam dunk this movie. They failed on pretty much every level of “how to make a passable film.” I mean, there were a few parts in the 88 minutes that were diverting, but I’ve seen Mystery Science Theater movies that made more sense than this film. What in the world went wrong?

First up, they decided to jettison the three kids from the first movie completely, choosing (it seemed) to rely wholly on the talents of Knotts and Conway. Except instead of just having Knotts and Conway do stupid pratfalls for 88 minutes, they decided to embroil them in a plot that is more complex than most modern day Mission Impossible movies. Allow me to try to explain. (I’d warn you that these are spoilers, but really, if you end up watching the movie, you’ll thank me for giving you the general gist ahead of time, just so you can keep track.)

The film takes place on the frontier. A US fort has been having continual raids of their supplies by (they believe) Native Americans. The commander orders his second in command to get to the bottom of things. His second in command is also engaged to his daughter, who arrives in the same town Knotts and Conway come to in the beginning. She’s picked up by a Random Army Guy, who slinks around looking generally suspicious and fraternizes with equally suspicious characters.

Knotts and Conway manage to accidentally be the suspects of another bank robbery, but in the course of the robbery, they (also accidentally) disarm the famous lawman who tries to stop them. They become folk heroes instantly, but then try to give the money they accidentally stole back, in the process accidentally injuring the lawman again. They flee the town with the law in hot pursuit. In order to get away, they hide in the same wagon the Random Army Guy is picking up the commander’s daughter in. They accidentally drink a whole ton of champagne (long story) and end up falling asleep in the wagon. When it arrives at the fort, they’re discovered and . . . immediately enlisted in the army, because the army’s down on troops. (Native American raids, remember?)

Except the army quickly discovers there’s no greater destructive force in the world than Knotts and Conway, so they’re demoted to the kitchen, where they’re entrusted to get things ready for the engagement party that’s going to be thrown for the commander’s daughter. The Famous Lawman shows up in the middle of the party and (long story short), Knotts and Conway succeed in burning the entire fort to the ground. But not before Random Army Guy can flee the scene, abducting the Commander’s Daughter in the process.

Famous Lawman goes crazy and tries to start shooting Knotts and Conway, who naturally can’t be shot. They go to prison, where they discover another prisoner is actually using the prison as a hideout from which to stage raids on the army supply shipments. He decides Knotts and Conway (who accidentally came on him while he was monologuing about his plans) should come with, because they managed to get the drop on Famous Lawman.

Meanwhile, Random Army Guy takes the Commander’s Daughter to a random cabin the woods, where Random Matronly Figure reassures the daughter that Random Army Guy actually loves her. The daughter is disgusted, but intrigued. Because love.

Knotts and Conway run away from the Big Evil Dude, managing in the process to dress themselves first in drag and then as Native American women, because there was no stereotype they were afraid of using back in the 1979. They finally successfully run away and get on a train, which just so happens to have the Commander’s Daughter on it, as well as the latest batch of army supplies.

In a reveal that startles no one, the Second in Command Army Guy turns out to be bad, and the Random Army Guy is actually good, and they all fight on the train until the war party shows up and starts firing on the train. Except apparently the Native Americans are just there because they’re pissed off that Knotts and Conway swindled them out of some blankets. (Hyuk hyuk.)

Knotts and Conway manage to accidentally save the day, and . . . the end?

Did you follow that? I didn’t, and I’m the one who just tried to write it. I have to hand it to the movie, though. They did blow a fair number of things up, and they actually burned a fort down, which was pretty thrilling in a non-CGI way you typically don’t get these days. But other than that? The movie made absolutely no sense, and there were only one or two times that Knotts and Conway were actually able to do their slapstick humor.

Bottom line: avoid this movie. I gave it a 2/10, and only because there were a few genuine laughs in there. Even being stuck in quarantine can’t make this movie watchable.

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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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