June 8, 2023

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Quick Hits Movie Reviews 5: The Dawn Of Justice

It's time for some more quick hits.

So, here we are again with some Quick Hit Reviews.

Jimmy, were any of these worthy of the Cultwatch! feature?

Well, maybe one or two.

Carrie (1976)

I was a big Stephen King fan once upon a time.  I did read the novel Carrie, King’s first big hit, back then.  The format was a little strange, but it worked.

As for the movie, I saw it the day after I saw Joker and did pick up some similarities in a movie where an outsider gets pushed around until said outsider won’t be pushed around anymore.  Really, bullies should stop picking on psychos, the superpowered, or superpowered psychos.

Then again, Joker doesn’t open with a shot of a high school girls locker room.  Said girls were in various stages of undress.  It’s a good thing these actresses are probably not high schoolers.  You stay classy, Brian DePalma.

Actually, in all seriousness, this was a highly effective horror movie.  King has a knack for murderous bullies.  Why are King bullies so quick to want to murder their targets?  I don’t know, but it happens.  It is nice seeing Carrie White (the great Sissy Spacek) emerge from her cocoon.  It’s even nicer seeing her demented mother Margaret (the even greater Piper Laurie) get what she had coming.

But two things stood out:  the middle of the movie, and Carrie’s rampage.  The middle is actually a rather pleasant story when it isn’t following John Travolta and Nancy Allen.  Carrie comes out of her shell, only for the pig blood to send her right back into it.  As for her rampage, Spacek looks like a space alien or a preying mantis or something, head cocked and silent as she walks around, covered in blood, taking out anything that moves.

OK, there was one other thing that stood out:  70s fashion.  My good, William Katt’s hair and the tuxedos in that prom scene…

Grade:  A-

F for Fake (1973)

I got the Criteria DVD for this “documentary” a while back, so why not finally see it?  I purchased it because, well, I heard how it ended.  And you know what?  It is as awesome as they say.

Orson Welles directed, wrote, and appears in this movie that is, ostensibly, about the art forger Elmyr de Hory, and to a lesser extent “hoax biographer” Clifford Irving.  Welles asks a lot of questions about authenticity.  Basically, he asks, “Does it matter?  Isn’t a painting by a forger still a painting? Can’t it still be art?’

But along the way, Welles goes off in all kinds of different directions, discussing his own career, Howard Hughes, and a host of other things.  He also trots out his much younger girlfriend, the Croatian actress Oja Kodar.  Watching Welles’ camera linger on Kodar, well, he clearly was an ass man because we see hers, covered and otherwise, quite a bit.

Really, though, F for Fake from the very beginning is about questioning whether what you are seeing is the truth or not.  Welles tosses enough doubt out there to make it look like nothing in the movie is real.  It is a movie, after all.  Welles is just pointing that out, even highlighting his own War of the Worlds stunt as proof even he shouldn’t be trusted.  Why else would so many shots be Welles watching the action on a smaller screen in what looks like an editing room?

Grade:  A

The Evil Dead (1981)

Well, I finally finished the original trilogy.  Funny how I watched them in reverse order.  And yes, I do know many fans consider the second a remake of this one.  I like that theory.

Then again, this was the one Jenny liked best when she finally saw the whole trilogy last year.

But really, this was fun.  Given the low budget, director Sam Raimi and his cast and crew did a great job with what they could.  The make-up effects worked for what they were.  The storytelling was effective.  The scares were good.

If anything, the real revelation here is Bruce Campbell’s Ash.  Normally, Ash has a swagger that goes well with his more comedic characteristics.  Here, he’s actually quiet, and if I didn’t know who he was, it might be easy to think one of the other characters might be the ultimate survivor.  Instead, it’s the guy who the camera clearly favors but whose personality doesn’t quite mark him as anything special.  In a way, it makes for an interesting horror movie, having one of the least obtrusive people be the last man standing.  Not that any of the characters are all that distinctive, but Ash’s friend Scotty seems more noteworthy.

Anyway, I liked this one, though I preferred the other two more.  You know, the opposite of Jenny.

Grade:  B+

Scarface (1932)

When I was in college, it seemed like the movies to see if you wanted to look like a movie guy (maybe not if you were a woman) were either Taxi Driver or Scarface.  I saw Taxi Driver.  I still haven’t seen Scarface.

Well, not that Scarface.  Instead, I filled my Scarface gap with the 1932 original, subtitled The Shame of the Nation.  No, not Watson.  This Scarface is a thinly disguised Al Capone story where Paul Muni, one of the biggest stars of the 30s, makes his mark as mobster Tony Camonte.  Tony rises from gunman to #2 guy to boss only to fall and die in a literal gutter, and all over a little over 90 minutes.

The movie shows the corrupting power of men like Tony.  His kid sister just wants to have fun and ends up dying with him during the climactic shootout at the end of the movie.

This Scarface was actually one of if not the first gangster movies to portray a completely unsympathetic protagonist.  Tony is the kind of guy to light a cigarette off a cop’s badge and kill a competing mob boss (Boris Karloff) just as the man is throwing a bowling ball for a strike.  He’ll steal his boss’s girl and kill his sister’s boyfriend (also his own best friend).  If he dies in a gutter, he had it coming.

Oh, and the movie opens with some text imploring the audience to bug the government to do something about these characters’ real world equivalents.  Isn’t 1930s censorship needs wonderful?

On a final note, I learned my Hulu Live includes Turner Classic Movies, and aside from an intro and end note from a TCM host, I got to watch this movie commercial free from there.

Grade:  B

Up in Smoke (1978)

Comedy is subjective.  Either something makes you laugh or it doesn’t.  And, for the record, I do like good stoner comedy.  Emphasis on “good” and I’ve never touched the stuff myself.  For example, Dave Chapelle’s Half-Baked is a genuinely funny movie.

So, why did it take me this long to get to Cheech and Chong?  Heck, one of them is in Half-Baked!

Regardless, I watched Up in Smoke.  And…it’s good stoner comedy.  Should I be surprised?  Not really.  Cheech and Chong basically designed what the modern good stoner comedy should look like.  Arguably, the only good stoner comedy before them was the unintentional comedy in Reefer Madness.

Anyway, Up in Smoke has Pedro (Cheech) and a guy mostly called “Man” even in the closing credits (Chong) going out to find a good buzz.  And…that’s about it.  What passes for a plot doesn’t appear until about a third or so into the movie.  Early plot points, such as they are, are forgotten, like how Man seems to have wealthy parents.  Instead, Pedro and Man go to Mexico, get a van they don’t know is made of cannabis, and drive north looking for drugs.  A group of cops led by Stacy Keach keeps trying to find and arrest them.  And that’s it.

True, I like a bit more structure to my movies, but Cheech and Chong are a likable pair of heroes with some well-practiced comic timing.  Sometimes that’s all you really need.

Grade:  B

Machete (2010)

So, here we have a movie that started life as a fake trailer smack dab in the middle of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse double-feature.  I remember a few bits from it, so imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch the movie when I realized it fit that trailer.

Yes, Rodriguez took the various scenes from that fake trailer, recast most of the roles with name actors, and then made a movie that included all those scenes.

Of course, the one role that carried over from that trailer (and, apparently, Spy Kids) is character actor Danny Trejo as Machete, the former Mexican Federale with a knack for killing people with blades.  Out for revenge against a doughy former partner I didn’t realize right away was Steven Seagal, he’ll hack his way through as many people as he can to bring justice to repressed Mexican immigrants.  This is a movie where a crooked Texas State Senator (Robert De Niro) wants to build an electric fence along the border, the one goofy thing about the movie that seems a lot less goofy in 2019.

This is the sort of movie where Machete will hack off a man’s hand and then use the gun the man was holding to shoot other men without removing the severed hand.  It’s the sort of movie where Jessica Alba battles a Luchadore-masked killer with a pair of stiletto heals.  It’s a movie where Lindsay Lohan’s costumes include a good chunk of time in her birthday suit and another chunk dressed like a nun.

This is just a ridiculous movie.  I liked it, but didn’t love it.

Grade:  B-

Heathers (1988)

Heathers is one of those movies my ex-wife really loved, such that if it came on, she’d stop to watch it to the end.  The net result was I never really saw all of it.  The end?  I saw that a lot.  Other parts?  Here and there.  But the whole movie?  Nah.

Anyway, Winona Ryder is the one girl in the most popular cliche in her school who isn’t named Heather.  She’s Veronica, and she hates where she is.  The Heathers are, collectively, cruel and condescending.  Veronica might want out, but not enough to actually quit the group.  However, when she meets charming rebel J.D. (Christian Slater), well, there may be a way to fix her problems.  Granted, those solutions involve murder with fake suicide notes.  Veronica has a gift for writing and matching other people’s handwriting.  She also has a conscience that J.D. lacks.  He sees suicide as a potential political statement.

I know the cliche is to say high school is terrible and all, but I lived through it and it wasn’t that bad.  But this high school?  It’s awful in ways wholly appropriate for a comedy this dark.  Clever dialogue, half-assed teenage politics, and superficial adults make this one a unique thing that, given the stars, could have only come from the 80s.

Grade:  A-

Happy Death Day (2017)

I know these days I go to the movies once or twice just about every week, but that wasn’t always true.  And there are still movies I skip for one reason or another even now that I do.  One such movie I skipped was Happy Death Day.  A horror movie slasher flick written by Scott Lobdell, a comic book writer whose work I generally don’t like?  Pass.

But then I heard it was pretty good, it’s on that big poster, and here we are.

Teresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is an all around awful person, but does that mean she deserves to die?  Some psycho wearing the mascot mask for her college thinks so.  But then after Babyface kills her, Tree wakes up again with a chance to start the whole day over.  And this keeps happening…

So, really, simply premise, and it namedrops Groundhog Day, so it isn’t really hiding what it is.  It’s fine enough on its own, but it helps that Rothe gives a pretty good performance throughout the movie.  She starts off as a character that could be a villain in a snobs vs slobs college comedy, but over time, as the audience gets to know Tree and why she is the way she is, she becomes a lot more likable.  That’s no small feat considering how terrible a human being she is when we first meet her.  This is a fun little horror movie that works its central premise well around a good lead performance.  It was worth the look I gave it.

Grade:  B+

The Legend of the Drunken Master (1994)

You know, I found this on Netflix and thought, “Aw cool!”  Then when I went to do some cursory research, mostly to find out what year it came out, I learned that in Hong Kong, this is a sequel to movie Jackie Chan made back in 1978.

But never mind that.  This movie rocks.

Chan stars as Wong Fei-hung, son to a village physician and martial arts master.  Fei’s father doesn’t want his son fighting, especially since Fei’s fighting technique is “drunken boxing” which does involve getting drunk.  There’s an actual explanation for how it works at one point that actually makes sense.  Anyway, Fei finds himself involved in a plot that Killmonger would certainly approve of, namely preventing the British from taking Chinese national treasures back to Britain.

But the plot may just be an excuse to show off Jackie Chan’s incredible comedic fight choreography.  If so, I am absolutely fine with that.  Chan’s general agility and fascinating movements make this movie what it is.  It’s funny and thrilling at the same time, as Fei will fight off a few dozen guys armed with axes using anything he can get his hands on–and somehow, he still gets away.  I’d recommend this one just for the fight scenes.

Fortunately, the movie has quite a few of them.

Grade:  A

Bad Boys (1995)

Wait, Bad Boys?  That’s on my big poster and I’ve somehow never seen it before?  Well, yes and no.  I’ve seen parts of it.  I just don’t think I ever watched it from start to finish.

Besides, I remember when this one came out.  It seemed really weird someone made an action movie with two guys I knew primarily as sitcom stars.  True, Will Smith’s career took off big time not long after this came out, but I didn’t know the Fresh Prince would be that big then.

Heck, I’m not sure the movie did either.  Martin Lawrence gets top billing and probably more screentime as near as I can make out.

Anyway, Michael Bay made his first theatrical movie with this one.  And it shows a bit.  Middle class, married cop Marcus (Lawrence) and well-off bachelor cop Mike (Smith) work narcotics out of Miami.  Someone broke in and stole drugs from the evidence locker, and that leads to all kinds of trouble.when a woman (Tea Leoni) sees the top guy kill a friend of hers.

While many of Bay’s signature style moves (slow motion, fast cuts, constantly moving camera, objectification of women) are there, aside from the action scenes, it isn’t that distinctive as a Bay movie.  If anything, the main plot forces Mike and Marcus to switch places, a move that sounds like a lame sitcom plot.  And it basically is a lame sitcom plot.  So, aside from some generic action movie stuff, there’s some generic TV comedy stuff.  Almost hard to believe Bay went on to more from here.  It’s all so…average.

So, you know, it gets an average grade.

Grade:  C

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