New month, new reviews!
Bob, Cody, Tony, and Kim all watch far too many movies and TV shows, read too many books, meddle with the time-space continuum just too many times to be safe any longer, and conduct just one too many mad science experiments just for funzies.
Welcome to Short Takes! Allowing us to post shorter reviews to media we consume without having to make a video or write a lengthy take. As short and sweet as “No.” to whatever we feel like putting down. New or old, good or bad, this is the space to jot down on anything we watch. Thus, these are more like immediate thoughts rather than longer more thought into it pieces.
This should be updated just about daily as best we can, possibly multiple times a day, so keep it bookmarked and see what we’re up to.
Bob’s Oscar Nominated Short Animated Review
Emma; Comedy, 1996, Written and directed by Douglas McGrath from the Jane Austen novel; Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Toni Collette, Alan Cumming; 122 Minutes; PG; First time watch; Review by Bob.
Despite what you might expect, I watched this version of Clueless merely because it’s on my shelf rather than from some list as the non-genre work I’ve written about below. Yes, I can watch movies like this just because I want to. And you know, I liked it. Based on the Jane Austen novel that also brought Clueless in the same period, Emma is about an upperclass young woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) in 1815 who attempts to play matchmaker for her friend Harriett (Toni Collette); setting her up with Reverend Elton (Alan Cumming). I’m not generally a fan of Austen – my apologizes to my sister-in-law – but a well done movie adaptation can win me for a few hours. Emma mostly does so. It’s often funny with a solid character dynamics and back-and-forths. When it is short and snappy it’s fine. But Emma often slides into stodgy costume drama/comedy for the moments where it settles into a handful of people talking in a room. It can’t sustain in these scenes. It seems the parts that work are those that give the actor something to do- archery, painting, etc. When forced to just stop and talk, drag. The pacing is a little slow, although matches the book, does wear out welcome. After about 90 minutes, I found my attention draining.
Still, mostly solid work. PS – Although period acurrate – the costuming does no one any favors. Should have stylized that part.
Bob’s Oscar Nominated Short Live-Action Review
Cody’s Alita: Battle Angel review
Elizabethtown; Comedy/Drama; 2005; Written and directed by Cameron Crowe. Starring Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon; PG-13; 122 Minute; First time watch; Review by Bob
I thought this would be worse. Truly, I’ve heard awful awful things about Elizabethtown for 14 years, I came in expecting some major cringe. Instead, it’s just… okay. Not particularly bad. But, not a good movie by any means. It’s like Garden State, but not as annoyingly twee. But strangely, not as good as that film – despite the negative adjectives I just attached to Garden State. Elizabethtown is notable for the film that brought us the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” via the AV Club Article and book My Year of Flops (the book on my “next!” shelf is why I watched this… and a bunch of upcoming flops). But don’t expect Natalie Portman in Garden State. Dunst’s version is much more low key. Yes, she does exist to help out bland-white-guy and his crisis and we know like nothing about her but at least she isn’t over the top like Portman’s take.
That generic white dude with money but problems going through his dad’s death is Orlando Bloom. Bloom is a shoe designer who’s awful shoe (should have been laughed out of the boardroom) has somehow lost his company a BILLION dollars (seriously, how. can someone explain this to me?). So he goes to find himself through his dad’s funeral. Speaking of ideas that shouldn’t have made it off the drawing board – suicide knife stationary bike? WTF. Someone should have told Crowe no.
People should have told Crowe no a bunch of times. There are many ideas that don’t quite work. Just a little off, a little too under or overdone. But Crowe is always an honest and sincere filmmaker and that keeps the film from decending into awful. Elizabethtown is miguided, sure, but Crowe’s talents and heart keep from sinking into the mire of straight fiasco over failure. In that last line, I’m referencing the opening line of the film where Bloom talks about the difference. Let’s not start off your movie with “failure”, sets the wrong tone and makes the audience think “fail/fiasco”. I think that opening paragraph may have made an easy in to rant on the movie. Perhaps.
I give Elizabethtown a C-.
Clerks – comedy – 1994; written and directed by Kevin Smith; starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Lisa Spoonhauer, Kevin Smith; zillion and one watches; 92 minutes.
Snootch to the mutherfuckin’ nootch. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched nerd demi-god Kevin Smith’s debut feature in the least 20 something years. Like most film nerds born in the early 80s, Smith’s films are seminal works (pun intended). Of them, I’ve probably seen Clerks more than any other. Why is it so revered by me and many others? As most of us have been clerks or servers, it’s relatable as hell – the mundane workday and the filling-the-time pop-culture-laden conversations with coworkers, the inanity of customers, and even the existential “what am I doing with my life” questions. I worked at Blockbuster in the early 2000s; I’ve lived Randal’s job but an absolutely more of a Dante.
Writing a sharp, fictional version of stories you’ve lived and those above conversations is a hard thing to do. People can say the dialog is awkward, crude, and too wanna be clever. But trust me. I’ve seen too many shorts of people who think they are clever, who are obviously giving scripted versions of their own pop-culture laden conversations; no doubt influenced by Smith and his films. They fall flat on their face. Smith is able to take those chats you and your friends laugh through with in jokes, references, and hypotheticals, and make them snappy, memorable, and fun. True, O’Halloran and Anderson are not incredibly strong actors; at times you can hear them and the rest of the cast push through their dialog, remembering as they go (listen for the slightly too long pauses). It’s essentially good community theater work.
Sure, many of the situations and script is wish-fulfillment and venting. But don’t we all wish we can get it out to someone who isn’t the clerk standing next to you? Clerks is cathartic. Not just in those releases, but for anyone lost in their early 20s, Dante is a voice we’ve had in our head. Maybe not as sadsack but in an important distillation of that feeling. Smith is also given shit for camera work, or the lack thereof. Say what you will about other films, but it works for Clerks. Hell, it’s essentially a stage play in the actual locations.
Clerks, above all, indicates a new voice for film in the 90s, as independent home-spun work began to gain notice and enter prominence. At this point, I’ll admit it’s hard to subjectively look at Clerks, I’m sure I have about 85 percent memorized. I still laugh and connect to the material, but how much is familiarity? Who knows. I don’t. But still love it and look forward to the next time I put it in.
15th – Happy Death Day 2U – full review.
Life of the Party – comedy, 2018, written by Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone; directed by Ben Falcone. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs, Maya Rudolph; PG-13, 105 minutes, first time watch, Review by Bob. Disc from library.
Awful reviews caused me to skip this in theaters. I wasn’t surprised; I didn’t like Ben Falcone’s previous times writing for and directing his wife McCarthy in The Boss and Tammy. That’s the reason. I’m not a McCarthy hater at all. I love the woman and find her hilarious and charming. Plus, she’s Sookie on Gilmore Girls and I’ll love her forever for that. Yes, I like Gilmore Girls. Bah to you! Ahem.
I really liked Life of the Party. Far more than I expected it to. It’s true, Falcone isn’t all that good of a director, camera work is lifeless and bland. But the humour behind it is solid and well-done due to a fantastic set of performers. The story of a parent going back to school with the kid is ripped from Back to School, and it’s an easy comparison but a much better movie. (I rewatched Back to School last year, and it didn’t hold up). It would have been easy to make a zillion bad jokes about McCarthy’s homemaker being out of touch and a larger woman. But they really don’t go there, instead it’s a positive film of finding oneself later in life. McCarthy’s character’s endless optimism really charms the film without being annoying. She also has several very funny women surrounding her – Maya Rudolph is having a great time essentially commenting on the plot itself and Gillian Jacobs steals every frame she’s in, as she often does.
It’s true it follows the beats you expect – the plot is very obvious set up to each part but I didn’t really mind as I was laughing and had a good time. Give it a chance, I was glad I did.
14th – Alita: Battle Angel full review.
The Spiral Staircase; horror; 1946; Written by Mel Dinelli from the novel “Some Must Watch” by Ethel Lina White; directed by Robert Siodmak; starring Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore, Elsa Lanchester; 85 minutes. First watch; reviewed by Bob
First off, I thank Jennifer Lovely from the podcast “Don’t Read the Latin” for recommending this film multiple times over many episodes. (Subscribe on iTunes or go here–> http://www.dontreadthelatin.com). I really don’t know why I haven’t seen this before. It’s sad The Spiral Staircase has essentially been forgotten to film history, for it’s such a proto-slasher, finding many of the tropes we would find as slashers would take hold decades later. Psycho and Peeping Tom are often tossed out as the grandparents of the sub-genre, before Italy would further with giallos before Black Christmas and Halloween set the immediate stage.
Look at this – we have a serial killer loose in a small town who has given his focus on the mute Helen, played by Dorothy McGuire make full use of a very expressive face. We see his point of view as he gets closer to her and watches to strike. Of course, he wears black gloves (cue Argento). There’s even a lights go out and “who’s there?.. oh it’s you!”…stab stab scene.
Outside of the mystery tropes to set up to almost slasher (it’s a solid mystery if not a little to easy to finger the killer), to talk about The Spiral Staircase, one cannot avoid talking the production and lighting design of the film. Use of noir lighting, bright whites and deep blacks, given a deep emotion from mere shots and add a dreamlike experience. Angled shots, dolly zooms, directed lighting, and other methods are used to create a strong feeling of unease and mystery.
McGuire, as noted above, is fantastic, as is the rest of the cast. Ethel Barrymore received an earned Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress. And the Bride of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester, in a scene-stealing maid performance (I’ll headcanon to Katy Nana in Mary Poppins… or not, whatever).
Seek out this forgotten slice of horror history, you’ll be brought in by a fantastic look, strong performances, and a surprise to find familiar tropes decades before they became familiar.
The Shape of Water, drama/sci-fi/horor-adjacent, 2017, written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro; starring Doug Jones, Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Olivia Spenser. 2nd watch; 122 minutes
I still can’t believe a movie featuring a woman having sex with a fish-man won Best Picture. That’s not a dig, I love this movie. There is so much to love, I’m not sure where to start my rave – this review is a rave more than anything else I’ll admit. Let’s go with production design and cinematography. The Shape of Water is a beautiful, beautiful movie. It’s Del Toro – one of my top filmmakers of all time – using his love of monsters through a Jean-Pierra Jeunet lens. Fuckin’ gorgeous. Doug Jones as Deus Bronchia (as he’s called in the Daniel Kraus’s novel (not a novelization, written at the same time with Del Toro), finally getting cross-culture love for his performance. Sally Hawkins is another great performer to be put in the spotlight after a long career in indies and as a supporting character. Speaking of supporting actors – Richard Jenkins is one of the best in the business.
Everything is perfection. I’m sorry I’m not being more detailed and deeper but really, just see it if you haven’t already.
Logan’s Run, sci-fi, written by David Zelag Goodman, from the book by William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson; directed by Michael Anderson. Starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Farrah Fawcett. 119 minutes. First time watch. Review by Bob. from DVD, although started streaming on Netflix recently.
Filling in a hole in pop-culture/geek knowledge. Glad to finally get it in, for I had a great time. It’s the future, some catastrophe forced the remaining humanity to live in domes, with breeding and death controlled by computer; including the mandatory death at age 30 (which leads to questions as much of the cast is and looks like they are approaching 40). There is rumour of a sanctuary where “runners” (those avoiding the mandatory death) may be hiding. Computer tells York’s Logan, whose job is to kill runners to go find it. He enlists rebellious Jenny Agutter to help him find it as she may know the way out. Poor Jenny Agutter; forced to wear a tiny green dress with nothing underneath for most of the running time. On that, there are a ton of boobs for a PG movie. And ass of both sexes. Lots of nekkid people. 1976 got a lot more out of PG.
Think THX-1138 in plot, but Barbarella in tone. I loved this movie. It’s crazy 70s sci-fi, tossing so much oddness at the wall to see what sticks. From the overly designed The City – looking like a repurpossed shopping mall or office park (ala the The Apple‘s empty airport) to the pointless but hilarious over-the-top scene with a robot that loves to freeze people.
After they escape the robot, York and Agutter come across The Outside and a burnt out landscape and see the Sun for the first time. I couldn’t help but reference Fallout 3 to no one but my cat. Had a big laugh a few minutes later, when over a ridge, they find the remains of Washington DC. There they find Peter Ustinov as the scene-stealing Old Man; a lone human among dozens of cats living in the US Capitol. Man loves quoting T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Add in a weird ass design to the world, a few scenes playing off a sewage plant as exotic locations, and obvious model work ( yes!), and we have a great time.
It’s pure 70s high-concept Sci-fi cheese. It seems everyone had fun making this (maybe except the likely very cold Jenny Agutter). I’m tempted to complain the world brings up more questions than answered but over-explaining would be a detriment; plus there is a book I can read if I want answers. For what we have, we have a blast.
Legally Blonde, comedy, 2001; written by Karen McCullah & Kirsten Smith from the novel by Amanda Brown (based on her own experiences); Directed by Robert Luketic; starring Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair. 96 minutes. Second viewing, Review by Bob; Watched from his own DVD.
What the hell is this doing here, you ask, shoved between Logan’s Run and Happy Death Day? I watched it with my wife last night (one of her favorites she knows it back to front) for the second time, and I like it, so why not. I’m not kidding, I like Legally Blonde. It’s funny, charming, and features a great performance by Reese Witherspoon as Elle Wood. Plus, it has Jennifer Coolidge – and I’ll watch her in anything (bring up Emoji and will murder you, and get away with it until Elle Woods comes in). Speaking of actors – Dorky David is none other than Oz Perkins, the writer/director of I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and The Blackcoat’s Daughter; two films you should check out, especially the latter. He’s the son of Anthony and there are times you can see his dad in his face.
I don’t have much to say except to write this little entry to set up to be made fun of for enjoying it. It has a solid script which turns many stereotypes around and so much charm. Heck, I want to see Elle Wood and Cher from Clueless meet up in their own mash up.
I’ve not seen either of the sequels. I will likely one day before the next entry comes out next year.
Happy Death Day – horror-comedy, 2017, written by Scott Lobdell; Directed by Christopher Landon; Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard; 96 minutes. Second Watch; review by Bob.
It’s a great feeling to be incredibly surprised by how much I loved a movie. Happy Death Day is far better than it ever had a right to be, and I love it for it. Yes, it’s Groundhog Day but with a horror bend. Don’t worry, they name check it at one point. It’s self-aware in that way, realizing it’s a silly premise many people will scoff at; and that allows Happy Death Day to lean into it and have fun. It might not have worked without a fantastic performance by Jessica Rothe. Rothe is obviously having a blast, making us care for Tree, who starts out as an awful person but forced to self-examine her life when she is killed many many times. Her timing and facial expressions are perfect. Her other roles so far seem to be more dramas, but she has solid comic chops here; let’s hope she’s able to use those. You personally may scoff at the PG-13 rating for a slasher flick. While we don’t have much blood, Landon is still able to draw out tension and has solid set ups.
I was worried in rewatching the film. I hadn’t seen it since the theatrical release and wanted to check it out again before the new movie next week. But fears were pushed off as it held up, I had just as much fun the second time around. More than Tree did with her multiple deaths.
The Video Dead, horror, written and directed by Robert Scott; starring Michael St. Michaels from The Greasy Stranger and no one else you’d know. First time watch. From a VHS rip on YouTube (thought it was fitting); 90 minutes; Review by Bob
On the flip side, here’s one I expected to love it, but was let down. Cheesy, cheapo 80s shot-on-shiteo zombie flick? I’m there. But it just didn’t hit for me. I should have liked it more than I did. The pretty solid for budget zombies. The semi-intelligent nature of the zombies was different and led to some good gags. The sheer cheese of zombies coming from the TV. There are things that did work – zombie bride being the best of them with her wig obsession and chainsaw use. But the energy just isn’t there. Compare to movies like Demon Wind or Dead Next Door; similiar but it’s there. You don’t watch this for plot but I should mention it – idiot delivery men somehow send a cursedTV to a residence rather than an Occult museum. The zombies inside come out and kill him. The man’s family moves in and the zombies come out again to the neighborhood. Stupidity prevails. Dammit Video Dead why can’t you be good-bad and not just bad-bad.
Bad Milo! – Comedy/horror, 2014, written by Benjamin Hayes & Jacob Vaughn. Directed by Jacob Vaughn. Starring Ken Marino, Patrick Walberton, Gillian Jacobs, Stephen Root, Toby Huss, Peter Stormare, Patrick Walberton, Kumail Nanjiani. Reviewed by Bob. First time watch. 85 minutes; available on Hoopla.
Goddamn, look at that cast! So many great comedic actors! And so much blood! and poo! and animatronics! Yes, this movie is sophomoric as all hell, something I complain about all the damned time (like say the Polar review below). But done well, and it slays. Gotta get that right tone and just gross and stupid enough. It takes skill, luckily the group behind and in front of the camera has in spades.
Duncan has a stress issues. His asshole boss is forcing him to mass fire people and perform ethics violations; his mom and younger-new-husband are forcing a crude fertility doctor on him and his wife. His therapist is Peter Stormare. Oh, and he has a demon in his colon that comes out when stressed and eats people. It’s like Henenlotter’s Brain Damage with a bowel-demon instead. One that screams and rips rather than speaking with the voice of the Cool Ghoul Zacherley.
Bad Milo! is a grossly hilarious look at the effects of stress via a shitmonster, so many bodily fluids (normally blood) and gads of humour via talented comedians. Did I mention the awesome Peter Stormare? You see it for him, as you do anything else.
Blindspotting, drama/comedy, 2018, written and starring Daveed Diggs & Raphael Casal; directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada. Review by Bob. First time watch. 95 minutes. Rented on disc from Netflix.
Holy shit. This is one of the best films of 2018 and I’m mad at myself for missing it in theaters. And now I’m also mad at the Academy for not offering any nominations.
Blindspotting is a film about race, transition, and re-evaluation; set in modern Oakland, California. Diggs and Casal wrote and star int he film as Collin and Miles, respectively. Collin is a young black man, coming off two years of parole – just three days left as the film opens. Miles is white, and acts more of the stereotype thug than anyone else in the film – covered in tattoos, wearing a grill, speech heavy in slang. It’s not an act, as he has grown up on the streets as much as everyone else around him. That’s not to say he is a stereotype, but its important to the film that this is how he acts compared to the cool restraint of Collin. But as life continues to show, Collin is the one who gets aimed at by the police, not the loudmouth guy actually brandishing a gun. To society, it’s not Miles likely to cause trouble but the quiet black man in dreads walking down the street.
Diggs and Casal have a strong, natural chemistry that really drives the film. They feel like two guys who have known each other their whole lives. Their dialog flows and moves, both for their characters and all other around them. The film does hit the expected beats from the set up – with two emotional climaxes, but in no way feels forced into the structure. I noted earlier this is a film of transistion; Collins and Miles are both in new periods, and Oakland itself is a changing as a backdrop forcing a cultulural shift, and serves for great metaphor.
I could rave forever and end up spoiling the flick for you. Damn do I not want to do that. Seek it out, it’s easy now that it’s available for home watching. You won’t regret it.
The Shallows: Thriller/Horror 2016, written by Anthony Jaswinski, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, starring Blake Lively running 86 minutes. Second time watch since I saw it in theaters when it was released. Reviewed by Kim. Airing on FX.
When I first saw The Shallows, I had absolutely zero expectations. The movie doesn’t just star Blake Lively, save for a handful of other humans and a seagull, she’s the only character in the whole movie. That alone made me skeptical of the final product. That being said, The Shallows was a delightfully entertaining surprise.
Blake Lively stars as Nancy. Until recently, Nancy was a medical student, but her mother’s recent death from cancer has left her questioning everything. Determined to find the isolated Mexican beach her mother used to surf on, she ends up too close to a dead whale and a very territorial great white shark.
While no one is going to compare The Shallows to Steven Spielberg’s iconic, Jaws, it is still a highly entertaining movie. Blake Lively, not necessarily known for her strong charisma, does a surprisingly good job holding the movie together. Is it oftentimes silly? Yes. Is it a great addition to the killer shark genre? Definitely. Special shout out to Steven Seagull, who was easily my favorite part of the movie. If you’re in the mood for a little bit of mindless fun, The Shallows will not disappoint.
Eat some popcorn and don’t let yourself think too much. B
February 4th – Yeah, coming in late but such is life
Stan & Ollie; Biopic; 2018; written by Jeff Pope; directed by Jon S. Baird; starring Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson. First time watch. Reviewed by Bob; 98 minutes. Currently in theaters
Let’s just lead with the biggest talking point in many conversations about Stan & Ollie – the make-up. The prosthetics used, particularly for Reilly as Oliver Hardy, is top-notch and makes Reilly disappear fully into Hardy. Often, not matter how solid the make-up job, something will take one out and remind of the actor underneath. As great as the Cheney make up was for Christian Bale for Vice, I’d look at his eyes and I’d see Bale. For Reilly/Hardy, not even his eyes gave him away. Reilly WAS Hardy. Reilly does have a distinctive voice, but even that was transferred to Oliver Hardy as well, with only a few tells here and there. Less was needed to transform Steve Coogan into Stan Laurel (chin and ears, mainly) but Coogan, like Reilly, made me forget Coogan and see only Laurel. (If there is one thing negative to say for the make up, it could look too clean – lacking in marks and lines but it’s really more of a nitpick).
Make-up aside, Stan & Ollie is an excellent film. Mainly looking at the duo on a tour of England in 1954, long past the hey-day for the pair. The pair have gone through their ups and downs, and their history is felt in moments, pauses, looks, and references. I appreciate we didn’t have everything spelled out. I honestly don’t know a great deal about the pair, I’m more of an Abbot & Costello, Marx Brothers sort of guy, but I gleaned enough from their past through the solid writing. This method is well-done in all their aspects. Stan’s drinking problems, and Ollie’s over-all health issues, are presented with care, allowing the audience to fill in the details and feel the men. I appreciated these weren’t given very direct lines or focus as other films may have done. This is more of how the men move together after thirty years together (even with breaks). There is a sadness to these comedians (as comedians often have under the surface), of faded glory and the chance for that one last shot of notices.
Stan & Ollie is an excellent film with amazing performances (including Shirley Henderson – best known as Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter), incredibly impressive make-up, and a well-told tale of loss and memory. Fully recommended.
PS. Weird to start this month out with another NAME & NAME feature with John C Reilly and Steve Coogan as Holmes & Watson led January’s Short Takes. Thank Bowie this was infinitely better.
POLAR – action, 2019, written by Jayson Rothwell from the graphic novel by Victor Santos, directed by Jonas Akerlund; starring Mads Mikkelson, Vanessa Hudgens, Katheryn Winock, Matt Lucas. 118 minutes. First time watch. Reviewed by Bob. Streaming on Netflix.
Goddamn this movie is ugly. And just plain awful. How the hell did Mads get wrapped up in this? (funny enough coming out the same weekend as the Mads-led Arctic. Similar title. Different movie.)
What’s wrong with Polar – currently the worst reviewed movie of 2019, sharing a “19” on metacritic with the more enjoyable Replicas? Polar is like a 12 year old watched a bunch of Tarantino knock offs, Smoking Aces, and John Wick and tried to write a movie. What’s it about? About two hours too long! ba-da-cha! Mads is a retiring hitman, and to save paying him, Matt Lucas sends other assassins after him, killing their way down the path to his hiding spot. At said spot, a cabin in a polar region, he connects with Vanessa Hudgens in the next cabin over.
The movie is garish, with needless over-saturation of color, leering close-ups, and annoying hitpeople, each having their shtick. It’s the type of movie that thinks squishy noises for blood, food, and sex is funny. The creative team thinking they are funnier and cleverer than they are, just coming of like trying way too hard.
Skip this and watch John Wick again. F