Thursday, August 10, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Summer Blockbusters

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join our motley crew each week by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Let's face it: Summer blockbusters are now just mostly recycled crap, franchise films that are at best enjoyable but almost never exciting. In the 1990s, though, they were something else entirely - visual effects-driven dramas with surprising casts that were more often than not completely original stories. There was no need to create a "cinematic universe" or set up a potential sequel, because the movie itself was enough, and next year audiences would move on to the next thing.

To my mind, these three movies are the Holy Trinity of Summer Blockbusterse: well-made, entertaining films that actually engage you in their fantastical situations with grounded characters.

Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996) You simply could not escape this movie when it came out on July 4, 1996 - or for that entire year, really. This is the movie that blew up the white House, killed an alien horde with a computer virus, and made Will Smith the King of Summer Movies. the special effects are fantastic, but the thing most people remember this movie for (other than Will Smith, that is) is President Bill Pullman's climactic speech to the troops. Has there been a summer blockbuster recently where the writing has been this memorable?

Twister (Jan de Bont, 1996) Released a mere month and a half before ID4, Twister isn't as fondly remembered today, but if you ask me it's the better movie. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton are ideal leads as a pair of exes and rival storm chasers, and the title storms are still awe-inspiring, as they should be. Again, this is a popcorn movie where SCIENCE is placed on a pedestal. But it still has enough of a sense of humor to send a few cows flying towards the screen.

Armageddon (Michael Bay, 1998) Easily the worst of these three, Armageddon is still a great time, mostly because of the absolutely absurd premise, wherein Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck lead a team of oil drillers into space to break up a massive asteroid hurtling towards Earth. It's ridiculous, but it has its moments. No one who's seen it has been able to look at animal crackers the same way since, I guarantee that. Also includes Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing", one of the greatest movie songs ever.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Crime Family

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Come join our lovely little TMP family by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling everyone a bit about them!

So, I know there's one crime family that rules them all, but.... I haven't seen those movies. I KNOW I KNOW BAD DANIEL! But, I mean... there ARE other cinematic crime families, right?

...right?

Let's find out!

Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, 2010) J's mother just died from a drug overdose. So he calls the only family he has left, his aunt Janine. In staying with her and her brood of boys, he comes to learn there was a reason for his mother's estrangement from them: They're criminals, and Janine is the Don. Jacki Weaver got a WELL-deserved Oscar nomination for her sublimely pitched performance, but the entire cast (which includes Sullivan Stapleton, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, and Guy Pearce) is fantastic. Director Michôd takes the tension up past the breaking point nearly the whole way through, making for one intense, thrilling movie. Recently adapted into a TV show with Ellen Barkin as Janine.

Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007) Anna, a British-Russian nurse delivers a baby from a 14 year-old girl who then dies, leaving behind only a diary written in Russian. Through translating the diary, Anna comes to learn that the young woman was part of a sex-trafficking ring organized by a Russian mafia family. Unfortunately for her, said Russian mafia family knows that she knows, and is now threatening her life in the form of Nikolai (smokin' hot and Oscar-nominated Viggo Mortensen), the family's "cleaner" and pseudo-babysitter for the don's unstable son. Cronenberg takes to the mafia genre shockingly well, orchestrating some terrifically tense stand-offs between characters and winding a slightly sprawling story tight around his finger.

Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990) Based on the real-life story of Henry Hill, Martin Scorsese's magnum opus tracks Hill's life from his youth under the wing of local mafia don Paulie Cicero to his cocaine-fueled descent to the witness protection program three decades later. There's not a single false note in the whole thing, not one bad beat or wonky line reading. Every single scene sings. It's a classic - and one of my All-Time Favorites - for good reason.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review - Atomic Blonde


Lorraine Broughton is in pain. A man she was close with was killed, so that explains the inner pain, but we don't know how she got all those cuts and bruises. We'll find out soon enough, though, that she got them in quite fantastic fashion.

So begins Atomic Blonde, the most ass-kinkingest movie of the year. Charlize Theron stars as the top secret agent in MI6, a modern feminist James Bond with a killer bod and a particular set of skills. After a colleague (and probable lover, the film never makes it clear and is better for it) is shot while retrieving a MacGuffin in Berlin, Lorraine was shipped in to find the MacGuffin and bring it back home, or else the enemy Russians would know the identity of every British and American agent. But Berlin during the time of the Wall is a dangerous place, and Lorraine runs into trouble before she even gets to meet her contact, Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy). And that's just the beginning.


Hold onto your butts. This is gonna be one helluva bumpy ride.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - The Chosen One

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join our merry band of pickers by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Today is the hottest day of the summer so far in NYC, and I've been working like a dog all week (but I have tomorrow off to have a long weekend! YAY!), and The Chosen One is just about the oldest trope in all fantasy/sci-fi, so I'm just gonna do this Quick And Dirty Style. Hold onto your butts!

The Matrix (Wachowskis, 1999) In which the world you know is all a lie, you are forced to choose the red pill or the blue pill, and Keanu Reeves says what we were all thinking the first time we saw "bullet time": WOAH.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Jon Turteltaub, 2010) In which Disney actually manages to make an entertaining full-length movie out of a short from Fantasia, a physics nerd becomes a hero, and Jon Turteltaub (of all people) proves himself to be the Nicolas Cage Whisperer.

Moana (Ron Clements & John Musker, 2016) In which empathy is treated as the most heroic quality, The Rock attempts to sing, and Auli'i Cravalho becomes a star.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Amusement Parks

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're open 52 weeks a year, so join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Well, this is what happens when I don't plan ahead.

You see, last week's theme was Summer Vacation, and I picked a lovely little movie called The Way Way Back, which involves a boy and his mother going on vacation to the mom's new boyfriend's beach house, and the boy finding a job and family of misfits at the local water park.

And then I see that this week's theme is Amusement Parks.

Clearly, I should have thought about this a bit more.

Anyway, now I have to stretch the definition of Amusement Parks a bit in order to get three, but I don't think there will be too many complaints...

Westworld (Michael Crichton, 1973) Long before the TV series took over pop culture, novelist Michael Crichton directed his original screenplay about a "resort" with three different theme parks: Medieval World, Roman World, and the titular Westworld, all populated by androids programmed to act according to their historical period and role. For $1,000 per day, guests can participate in an adventure with the android population of any of the three worlds... and anything goes. ANYTHING. But then, the androids start breaking down and doing things like killing guests, and the staff can't figure out what's going on. And soon enough, Yul Brynner's gunslinger starts hunting one of the Westworld guests, with only murder on his mind. It's pretty thrilling stuff, even though the '70s vision of 1983 will make you laugh.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Jack Clayton, 1983) From that brief period of time where Disney made it their mission to make movies that scared the pants off young children, and actually did it pretty effectively, comes this adaptation of Ray Bradbury's fantasy novel (which itself was originally a screenplay intended for Gene Kelly to direct). A carnival (an amusement park of sorts) comes to the small town of Green Town, IL, and two young boys realize that the proprietor, one Mr. Dark (the fantastically menacing Jonathan Pryce), may have something, er, darker, than amusement on his mind. Considering the film's troubled backstory, it's amazing it holds together as well as it does, but then again, with Pryce's perfect performance at the center, how could it not?

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) It's the oldest story in the world: Man finds ancient mosquito trapped in amber, man harvests DNA from said mosquito to genetically engineer dinosaurs, man creates amusement park for dinosaurs to roam free while paying patrons gawk at them from afar, dinosaurs end up breaking free and terrorizing the area during the soft opening. Spielberg's film is terrifically entertaining, even though on the surface it seems like a surefire flop - after all, what early-mid '90s action film would cast Laura Dern, Sam Niell, and Jeff Goldblum and then have them talk about things like evolution and chaos theory? But, then again, DINOSAURS.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Summer Vacation

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us on our adventures through the world of cinema - all you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's theme and write a bit about them!

Happy Summer, everyone!

I don't know about where you are, but here in NYC, Mother Nature has definitely made it clear that we are in Summer - it's been hot and sticky and altogether uncomfortable most days recently. Remind me again why so many people LOVE Summer?

Oh right. Summer means Summer Vacation. Even for those of us who are no longer in school and don't have kids in school (or work in a school ourselves), vacation really is synonymous with the Summer season. Me, I stopped taking a vacation in Summer as soon as I graduated from college - partly because I couldn't really afford it and partly to avoid all the crowds (seriously, wait until a couple of weeks into September and it's SO much nicer). Thankfully, this week we're just picking movies with a Summer Vacation theme, not actually fighting the hordes of people also on their vacation. Staycation, anyone? These will keep you very good company.

Dirty Dancing (Emile Ardolino, 1987) It is the summer of 1963, and Baby (real name: Florence - you decide which is worse) cannot wait to get out of this luxurious Catskills resort her parents have brought her and her sister to, and instead be at Mount Holyoke College so she can prepare to join the Peace Corps. But all that changes when she gets snuck into one of the staff parties and meets Johnny Castle, the resort's dance instructor and resident hot piece. Many dance lessons (and "dance lessons") later, Baby becomes pretty good at it, but forces conspire against our age-inappropriate lovers - until the climactic moment, which is by now so ingrained in the cultural consciousness that you probably know it even if you haven't seen the movie. As for the movie itself? It's perfectly charming, and totally predictable... and it WORKS, thanks in no small part to the undeniable chemistry between Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze as the leads. It  may be cheese, but sometimes that's exactly what you need.

The Way Way Back (Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, 2013) 14 year-old Duncan is terminally shy, and not at all interested in spending a summer with his mom and her new boyfriend at his beach house. But one day, he ends up at the Water Wizz water park and meets the owner Owen, who sees a kid in desperate need of a confidence boost. So he hires him to do odd jobs around the park (and I do mean "odd"), where the staff love him like the kid brother some of them may never have had. And, slowly but surely, Duncan matures and gains confidence in himself. Another charmer, this one has a terrific supporting cast (Sam Rockwell is great as Owen, Toni Collette is still the best movie mom even if she deserves MUCH better parts, and Allison Janney steals the show as always as the drunk next door) that elevates the movie from cute nostalgia exercise to a funny, moving portrait of adolescence.

Les vacances de M. Hulot (Jacques Tati, 1953) I save the best for last, because this is just the best. Jacques Tati is the master of the sight gag, and all of his films are chock full of them. But this is his sweetest, a love letter to the seaside summer vacationers that flocked to the southern coast of France - and those who waited on them hand and foot. It's sometimes very subtle comedy, but always worthy of a chuckle, and more often worthy of guffaws. It is one of my first All-Time Favorites, and it still fills me with the same warm feeling every time I watch it.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - TV Edition: Medical Dramas

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme (which the last week of every month is TV shows) and writing a bit about them!

I'm really tired this week, so without further ado, here are my picks for Medical Drama TV Shows

Grey's Anatomy (2005-Present) While it's no longer making headlines the way it did in its first few seasons, the show that made Shonda Rhimes is indeed still on the air, and far better than a show in its thirteenth season should be. The story follows one Meredith Grey, daughter of a legendary surgeon, through her internship, surgical residency, and doctor-hood at the INCREDIBLY UNFORTUNATE Seattle Grace Hospital. I would say it's about Meredith and her group of fellow interns that we meet in the pilot episode, except that.... well, there are only two of them left now, and it was pretty much always Meredith's story, from the very first. Grey's has become highly influential for its patented indie music cues and over-the-top devastating emotional moments, so much so that sometimes the show can feel like a parody of itself if you just catch an episode in reruns. But watch it from the beginning and you'll be surprised at how quickly you get sucked in, because it's SUPER entertaining with a wide variety of characters performed by actors perfectly in sync with them... and each other. And then, watch through tears and splayed fingers as you reach the climaxes of episodes like "Into You Like a Train" and "Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response/Losing My Religion" (the second season finale). It's a soap opera through and through, but (mostly) a damn good one.

A Gifted Man (2011) Patrick Wilson plays a handsome, wealthy, cocky doctor with a handsome, expensive private practice in NYC. One day he randomly runs into his ex-wife, now working at a free clinic in the Bronx, and they share a wonderful evening together. Only when he goes to call her the next day, he finds out that she died two weeks prior. She is now appearing to him as a ghost - or a hallucination - and trying to get him to become a better person by giving of himself to the less fortunate. Filled to the brim with top-notch talent (Jennifer Ehle plays the dead wife, Margo Martindale the put-upon secretary, and ER vet Eriq LaSalle the medical partner; Oscar winner Jonathan Demme directed the pilot), A Gifted Man never quite rose above its premise and only lasted one season. But Wilson made the character's journey interesting to watch, and even though the plots at the free clinic were obviously manipulative, they worked more often than not.

The Knick (2014-2015) Ever wonder what hospitals were like before modern surgical techniques were invented? Turns out, it's probably not so far from what you might think, but also completely different. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Clive Owen, The Knick isn't quite like anything you've seen before, as we follow star surgeon Dr. Thackeray and the denizens of New York's Knickerbocker Hospital in the early 20th century. The attention to period detail is astounding, but it's Cliff Martinez's brilliant, anachronistic, completely electronic score that's the real stand-out.