Film Review: Gremlins Recall (2017)

Release Date: December 5th, 2017
Directed by: Ryan Patrick
Written by: Ryan Patrick
Based on: the Gremlins films series by Chris Columbus
Music by: Russ Howard, Grand Soleil
Cast: Katherine Rodriguez, Randy Irwin, Sarah Lilly, Robert Wood

10 Minutes

Review:

I don’t often times talk about fan films here. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed one, actually. However, I like to give recognition to fan films that are really well done. And this one is pretty friggin’ cool. Mainly, because I love the Gremlins films and we haven’t had one in nearly three decades.

This little ten minute short was written and directed by a guy named Ryan Patrick, who did a superb job with this and really captured the tone of holiday dread like the original film did.

The story picks up thirty or so years after the events of the original 1984 film and sees Mogwai being sold as domesticated pets. How is that safe? Well, Mogwai need to be given an injection that keeps them from having the negative effects that turn them into terrors. With the injection, the rules for owning a Mogwai no longer apply. However, there is obviously a curveball waiting to be thrown.

The film is well shot, decently acted and the Mogwai and Gremlin puppets are really well constructed. They were made by Eric Fox, who was, at one point, a competitor on the special effects Syfy reality show Face Off. The film was also shot in just three days and all of it takes place at a diner, which works well for this just being a ten minute picture. But, it does leave things open for a sequel.

And like the original film, this takes place around Christmas, which was a nice added bonus. I have also always loved Gremlins 2: The New Batch but I wished that it took place around the holidays like its predecessor.

For a fan film, this is stupendously done. Kudos to Patrick, Fox and everyone else that put this together.

Film Review: Executioners From Shaolin (1977)

Also known as: Hong Xi Guan (original Mandarin title), The Executioners of Death (original US dubbed version), Shaolin Executioners (worldwide English video title)
Release Date: February 16th, 1977 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Lau Kar-leung
Written by: Kuang Ni
Music by: Yung-yu Chen
Cast: Chen Kuan-tai, Li-Li Li, Wong Yue, Lo Lieh, Gordon Liu

Shaw Brothers Studio, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Tiger style!” – Pai Mei

For fans of the Kill Bill films, this is a picture that has some relevance to those movies. First of all, it features Pai Mei as the story’s main villain. He was the old Chinese kung fu master that trained the Bride in Kill Bill: Volume 2. Also, Quentin Tarantino used one of the main actors from this film in his Kill Bill films: Gordon Liu. Liu actually plays Pai Mei in Kill Bill: Volume 2 and he also played Johnny Mo in Kill Bill: Volume 1.

This film was also very influential on the rap group Wu-Tang Clan, as they sampled Pai Mei’s line “Tiger style!” on their records and used a lot of the concepts and ideas from this film in their lyrics and their style.

Apart from the film’s pop culture influence, it is a pretty stellar kung fu epic. It is a historical drama with comedy elements sprinkled in to keep things mostly pretty light, even if we do get to witness some serious violence from time to time.

Directed by Lau Kar-leung, a guy who made several great pictures, Executioners From Shaolin has a great look with solid performances and enjoyable fight choreography. Pai Mei’s killer combo move is pretty cool and terrifying, after seeing what it can do in the incredibly stylized intro to the film during the credits sequence.

Kar-leung had a unique style that set him apart from other Hong Kong action directors. His intro scene was done in a style that became a signature of the director. I’ve actually posted that below, as opposed to a trailer like I usually do.

This film also stars Lo Lieh in one of my favorite roles he’s played. He was one of Hong Kong’s busiest actors and anything with him in it always makes a picture feel more legitimate than something similar that he’s not a part of.

A lot of kung fu movies all sort of just blend together but this is one that really has its own identity and stands tall. I love this movie and always have. When I rented it as a kid, it became one of those films I’d have to rent again and again, almost monthly.

The copies of this film that exist now are really good too. It is streaming for free for Prime members on Amazon Video and I have never seen this movie look so clean, clear and pristine.

Executioners From Shaolin is a hell of a lot of fun. If you are a fan of old school kung fu cinema, you really need to check this one out if you haven’t yet. It is one of many Pai Mei movies but I love the iconic character in this, probably above the other films.

Film Review: Trainspotting (1996)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1996 (UK)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: John Hodge
Based on: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Music by: various
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald

Channel Four Films, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Miramax Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We took morphine, diamorphine, cyclizine, codeine, temazepam, nitrazepam, phenobarbitone, sodium amytal, dextropropoxyphene, methadone, nalbuphine, pethidine, pentazocine, buprenorphine, dextromoramide, chlormethiazole. The streets are awash with drugs you can have for unhappiness and pain, and we took them all. Fuck it, we would have injected vitamin C if only they’d made it illegal.” – Mark “Rent-boy” Renton

I haven’t watched this film in quite awhile but with its sequel finally coming out, 21 years later, I had to revisit this before seeing the long awaited followup.

Trainspotting, as much as I enjoyed it in my teens and twenties, is a better film than I remembered, seeing it now in my thirties. Or maybe, I just have a bigger appreciation for what’s good in film now that I’m older.

Out of everything that I’ve seen from director Danny Boyle, this is still my favorite of all his films. How does something so stylized feel so real? His use of music and the cinematography he employed create a hip yet gritty world that is very much a product of the 90s while tapping into the vibe of the 80s.

This is also a film that is perfectly cast. Ewan McGregor shines as Rent-boy and his crew are like chaotic satellites crashing into each other and everything else in his orbit.

The film is a perfectly orchestrated mess populated with characters who are tragic, insane, sad and wild but still relatable even in a highly exaggerated state. If you have ever been around real drug addicts, you have experienced these types of characters. Hell, if you went to good parties in high school or college, people like this were everywhere, at least in the 90s when I experienced my youth.

The camerawork in this picture is fantastic and a lot of the shots are mesmerizing, even if they exist in an uncanny level of filth and squalor. The toilet scene is one of the most disgusting things in cinema history but it is so well captured that you can’t look away from it and you have to appreciate the artistry behind it.

Boyle was a guy slightly ahead of the curve. Other directors employed similar techniques in countless attempts to mimic this film but Boyle brought something to the table that set him apart and to this day, still keeps his work, in this picture, far above the imitators.

This is a rough picture to get through if you’re not prepared to truly experience this lifestyle at its lowest. It is rough even if you are prepared but it is a film with a pretty stark message about addiction and how it can literally possess people in the worst ways. It is also about trying to overcome that chemical possession and truly finding a way to live again.

Between the narration, the despicable crew of screwed up youths and the overall style of the film, there are a lot of parallels between this and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. It is easy to see that this film was inspired by that 1971 masterpiece but it is still very much its own thing. There is even a scene in a bar that looks very much like the bar from Clockwork and it almost gives you a sense that maybe this does exist in that world, decades later.

Film Review: The Babysitter (2017)

Release Date: October 13th, 2017
Directed by: McG
Written by: Brian Duffield
Music by: Douglas Pipes
Cast: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Hana Mae Lee, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino

Boies / Schiller Film Group Production, Wonderland Sound and Vision, Netflix, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Three out of four people got an STD; I got two people’s blood on me! You do the math! I got AIDS! I know I got AIDS!” – John

McG has never made a film that I have liked. Still, a lot of time has passed since I watched a McG movie and I like comedy horror films, so I gave this a fair shot. However, just as McG is a stupid douchebaggy name, The Babysitter is kind of a stupid douchebaggy movie.

The problem however isn’t the actors or even the script, it is solely the director and his creative decisions. With McG pictures in the past, it was the same thing. All the things he ultimately controls, are shit.

The quick music video style editing is annoying and sloppy. While he started as a music video director, there is a big difference in trying to convey a story over four minutes than there is when it’s a feature length film. McG seems to embrace the style that got him his earliest work, even though it isn’t beneficial to the medium he works in now. Nobody wants a ninety minute music video with fast cuts, overly stylized camera movement and funky graphics sprouting up on the screen. Well, some people do I guess, like those who gave this a “thumbs up” on Netflix.

I can’t fault the cast, though. In fact, most of the actors were really good.

I especially liked Samara Weaving, who has impressed me between her performance here and her small but sweet role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. She was likable and hot and even when you realized that she was a psycho Satan worshiping serial killer, it only makes her presence in this film, that much cooler. And really, I mostly liked the story. It was the execution of it that was the problem.

Robbie Amell and Bella Thorne are also pretty good but their screen time was limited to just a few good scenes, as Weaving and the young Judah Lewis were really at the forefront.

Also, despite Weaving giving a good performance, her “too cool” character was presented a bit over the top and it just didn’t feel believable. Something felt off about her being the hot and cool babysitter that was really into nerdy shit with her BFF, a twelve year-old boy. I attribute this to a combination of the direction, the editing, the dialogue and the overall writing.

All the comedy elements tried really hard to generate laughs but the vast majority of it missed the point, came off as forced, seemed overly hokey and was really just derivative schlock. The character of John had some funny lines but I’ve heard just about the same shit from a dozen other characters that did it better.

At least this wasn’t a boring movie and it was over pretty quickly.

So the question is, does The Babysitter need to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes it does! And the results read, “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear cut edges (passed easily).” Seems about right, as it was shitty but it did pass pretty easily.

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Also known as: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (stylized on screen)
Release Date: September 4th, 2017 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Željko Ivanek, Sandy Martin, Brendan Sexton III

Blueprint Pictures, Film4 Productions, Cutting Edge Group, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory, and ya can’t say, ‘Fuck’ ‘Piss’ or ‘Cunt’. That right?” – Mildred Hayes

I’ve been hitting the theater, trying to catch up on some of the indie films I’ve been missing. Luckily, I have a lot of days off to use between now and the end of the year, so playing catch up should be fairly easy now that Cinespiria has gotten through Darktober and Noirvember and there isn’t a theme for the month of December.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a really nice surprise. While I did expect to enjoy it, it wasn’t as straightforward and cookie cutter as I anticipated. But I probably should have known better with Martin McDonagh in the director’s chair, as In Bruges and Seven Psycopaths weren’t films that one could label predictable.

This picture has a magnificently solid cast but so did Seven Psychopaths and McDonagh has shown that he’s fully capable of managing an ensemble. Although, while this is an ensemble piece and everyone is well beyond satisfactory, Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is center stage in just about every scene and she really put the weight of this picture on her back and succeeded, giving us another masterful performance. She is a tough cookie and she never relents in her quest to find justice for her raped and murdered daughter.

Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell both do fine in this film, as well. Both men play cops and, at first, based off of how the story starts, you aren’t really a fan of either man. Harrelson’s Sheriff Willoughby wins you over fairly quickly, as you sympathize with his illness and the toughness of his job and a system that can’t always catch the bad guy. Rockwell’s Dixon is incredibly unlikable for two-thirds of the film but there is a real turning point where the angry boy with a badge becomes a man. Both cop characters, like all the characters can’t not be affected by the events of the story. People change and this is a film about character evolution and redemption, just as much as it is about justice or lack thereof.

This is the second film where I’ve seen Caleb Landry Jones play a nice and decent character, a departure from the psychos he played in Get Out and the revival of Twin Peaks. This guy has come along way since I first noticed him in X-Men: First Class and he’s really carving out a nice career for himself with a good amount of diversity in his roles. I hope to see a lot more from him in the future.

We also get to see character actors John Hawkes and Sandy Martin and both shine in their small but influential roles. Clarke Peters shows up and I always get excited when I see him, as he was one of my favorites in the underappreciated HBO show Treme. Another HBO alum, Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones, plays a nice and sweet character in this. Brendan Sexton III, probably most remembered as the young shoplifting shithead in Empire Records and as a bully in Welcome to the Dollhouse, plays a character not too dissimilar from his earliest roles.

Three Billboards is a film that carries a lot of emotional weight and unfortunately exists in our sad reality where sometimes the worst people get away with deplorable acts. The film ends with two of the characters having to make a grave choice but we do not get to see what they decide to do. Like these characters, you want justice for Mildred’s daughter but you also have to ask yourself where the line is drawn while understanding that nothing will bring her back.

Film Review: Billy Madison (1995)

Release Date: February 10th, 1995
Directed by: Tamra Davis
Written by: Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy
Music by: Randy Edelman
Cast: Adam Sandler, Bridgette Wilson, Bradley Whitford, Josh Mostel, Norm Macdonald, Darren McGavin, Chris Farley, Steve Buscemi, Robert Smigel

Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa whoa whoa, Miss Lippy. The part of the story I don’t like is that the little boy gave up looking for Happy after an hour. He didn’t put posters up or anything, he just sat on the porch like a goon and waited. That little boy’s gotta think ‘You got a pet. You got a responsibility.’ If your dog gets lost you don’t look for an hour then call it quits. You get your ass out there and you find that fucking dog.” – Billy Madison

I have never been much of an Adam Sandler fan. I don’t dislike him though and I have enjoyed his more serious stuff, which I think he has a gift for. Yet, time and time again, he gives us really dumb and bad movies. Billy Madison is a film that people love but even when I was a teenager and this was a current film, I just didn’t care for it.

There just isn’t very much in this movie that I find funny. It’s not because I don’t like goofy humor but the movie doesn’t have much of a point to make and it follows a completely unlikable character that we are supposed to be rooting for.

Billy Madison, the character, is just a childlike selfish asshole. No, he doesn’t deserve anything his rich father could leave him, even if he proves that he can go back to elementary school and pass. He has to get through high school too but the majority of the movie sees him in third grade, trying to win the heart of his teacher, who can’t stand him and then suddenly, has the hots for this billionaire buffoon. I’m just going to say that she swallowed her pride and wanted the money.

This is one of those comedy movies that is nothing more than a series of gags that only really work once and even then, they mostly don’t. For some reason, twenty-plus years later, I still hear assholes in bars yell out, “O’Doyle rules!” But this film isn’t too dissimilar from what was the norm in the 1990s and hell, the norm now. Adam Sandler was at the forefront of movie comedies becoming bad and bad comedy being accepted en masse.

Billy Madison is a film that exists and for some reason, had some success that gave us a comic that has the intelligence and wit to give us special movies but ultimately chooses to make stupid ones. And in modern times, Sandler has been relegated to making Netflix movies that get incredibly bad reviews but truthfully, Billy Madison isn’t any better than the schlock he’s hated for now.

 

Film Review: Lady Bird (2017)

Release Date: September 1st, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Written by: Greta Gerwig
Music by: Jon Brion
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith

Scott Rudin Productions, Management 360, IAC Films, A24, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I hate California, I want to go to the east coast. I want to go where culture is like, New York, or Connecticut or New Hampshire.” – Lady Bird

Coming of age dramedies aren’t too uncommon and frankly, most of them are incredibly predictable and derivative. While I can’t say that Lady Bird doesn’t follow suit, it is the characters and the talent that brings them to life that sets this apart from the average bear.

Having seen this film and getting to know the character of Lady Bird, I can’t think of a single actress that could have done what Saoirse Ronan did with the part. She brought her A-game to the table and delivered one of her best performances to date. She was natural and likable and it is hard to not feel an emotional attachment to her and her struggles, as she wanted more than what she had and felt trapped in her small world.

The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother felt real and that was due to a great script, Ronan’s abilities and the incredible performance by Laurie Metcalf, who I have loved ever since she was Aunt Jackie on Roseanne and because she is an actress that is far more deserving of bigger and better roles than what she typically gets. I mean, Metcalf has never been better and I hope that this leads to some sort of recognition for her contribution to the film and to the industry she’s worked in for decades. I really hope that this opens up some new doors for her, as well.

The movie also features Lucas Hedges, who has been busy with this film and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. He’s a good young actor that has been getting some good work. Here, he has the challenge of playing an Irish Catholic teen from a large, very religious family that has to hide the fact that he’s gay. He’s young, distraught and there’s a moment where he really shows how good of an actor he is and gives me hope that I’ll get to enjoy his work for years to come.

Ultimately, the premise and the story aren’t wholly original but the personal touch by Greta Gerwig’s script and direction add some authenticity to the picture. The film feels real and just because it treads territory that we’ve seen in other films doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real purpose or story to enjoy.

Besides, even if we’ve watched films like this before, everyone’s coming of age experience is different. I don’t know how Gerwig’s teenage years played out for her but this certainly feels like it comes from real experiences and is an homage to her past and the people who were there, at the time, that had some sort of strong affect on her.

I really liked Lady Bird and it is one of my favorite movies of the year. While I haven’t seen a whole lot of Gerwig in front of the camera, I do hope that we get to see more of her behind it.