Film Review: The Tao of Steve (2000)

Release Date: January 26th, 2000 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jenniphr Goodman
Written by: Duncan North, Greer Goodman, Jenniphr Goodman
Music by: Joe Delia
Cast: Donal Logue, Greer Goodman, James Kimo Wills, David Aaron Baker

Good Machine, Sony Pictures Classics, 87 Minutes

Review:

I never saw the Tao of Steve until now. However, throughout the years since it came out, I heard many people talk about it with enthusiasm. Leonard Maltin even devotes a chapter to it in his book 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen. Plus, I have always been a fan of Donal Logue.

Unfortunately, this movie didn’t resonate with me like it did with other people. Maybe it’s because I watched it now, seventeen years after its release. So it doesn’t tap into nostalgia but instead feels like a film full of some of the worst 1990s romantic comedy cliches.

It is enjoyable in the fact that Logue is as charismatic as ever but even then his presence is bogged down by less talented actors and a script that feels like it was written by philosophy majors that were only one semester deep but thought they had reached some sort of twenty-something enlightenment.

Additionally, the music is dated in a bad way. Yes, there are great tunes from the late 90s but The Tao of Steve uses some lowest common denominator safe pop rock dreck that needs to just stay in the 90s and not venture out into the year 2000 (or beyond), when this film was released.

I don’t know if it’s a Santa Fe thing but the fashion in the film feels incredibly dated, even for 2000. In fact, the guys all look slobbish and the girls all look like tomboys at a Smash Mouth concert.

The Tao of Steve is not as interesting as you would think. His zen philosophy on picking up women has more holes in it than Swiss cheese but then again, that is part of the plot. Still, you can see the holes from a mile away but this film tries to play it up a lot more than it should.

It feels like this film tried to use Donal Logue in a way to create their own version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. However, despite Logue’s strong performance, the script isn’t even a tenth as brilliant as the Coen’s Lebowski script.

I don’t want to hate on this film, I went into it expecting to like it. For me, it just failed in all the parts that aren’t Donal Logue.

Film Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Also known as: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (after the release of sequels)
Release Date: June 12th, 1981
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Alfred Molina

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest films ever made. It was kind of cool seeing it on the big screen for the first time, which leaves Temple of Doom as the only Indy film I haven’t seen in the theater now. Indiana Jones is also my favorite film series of all-time. Yes, I even loved that Crystal Skull one that everyone feels the need to bitch about.

While Temple of Doom is my personal favorite (and an unpopular opinion), I can admit that Raiders is actually a better film. Everything about it is just right.

The casting was perfect and I can’t imagine how the film would have turned out had George Lucas had his first pick, Tom Selleck. Indiana Jones is Harrison Ford’s role and unlike James Bond, no one would probably ever accept someone else as the character. Granted, several actors played a young Indy but both River Phoenix and Sean Patrick Flanery did a fine job as the character outside of his normal form. Harrison Ford will always be the adult Indiana Jones but I am sure that Disney will somehow milk the franchise into oblivion at some point and then forever.

The chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen is wonderful and out of all the Indy ladies, she was the only one to eventually come back and marry America’s favorite adventurer. Rightfully so, by the way, as the relationship between Indy and Marion is, by far, the greatest romance in the series and a natural fit for both characters and both actors. While Karen Allen has been in several great films, she will always be Marion to me and probably to everyone.

Paul Freeman is perfection as Indy’s adventuring archaeologist nemesis René Belloq. It is unfortunate that Belloq dies, as he would have been a great villain to carry on in the series. In fact, there was a planned origin story for Belloq in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the 90s TV series, but the show was cancelled before those stories were filmed.

Ronald Lacey was another villain and possibly the most frightening in the entire series as the reptilian-like Toht. He was a Gestapo interrogator dressed in black and always ready to torture Marion in vicious ways. Luckily, she is spared from anything that the evil Toht had planned.

Raiders also introduces us to John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah and Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody, two characters that would return and get more screen time in The Last Crusade.

This is the perfect adventure film. While it is obviously inspired by the serials of old, it brings that formula into the modern era and reinvigorates what was a dead genre, at the time. This, alongside the original Star Wars trilogy, tapped into the great storytelling style of those seemingly ancient serials. It would have been cool to see what other films from the old school serial style that Lucas and Spielberg could have done in addition to Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Maybe something along the lines of a superhero series like the Phantom or the Shadow could have worked well before their not-so-great 90s versions came out.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is what going to the movies is all about. At least in the summer blockbuster sense. They don’t make movies like this anymore and even though this was a massive film in 1981, it is much smaller than the grandiose CGI spectacles of today. The practical special effects keep the film grounded in reality and make it feel much more authentic and genuine than say, the Transformers film series, the Marvel stuff, a Zack Snyder flick or a Roland Emmerich “destroy the world” type of picture. The most recent version of The Mummy, which is close in subject matter, pales in comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A lot of the film’s magic isn’t just the work of Spielberg, Lucas and the wonderful cast, a lot of credit goes to the score that was composed by the movie music maestro John Williams. Say what you will but movies today just don’t have soundtracks and iconic themes like those composed by Williams. Can anyone even remember the theme from Iron Man? At least Wonder Woman had a pretty unique theme that stands out but it is just one film in a sea of modern movie making mediocrity.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a motion picture that did everything right. It should always be held up, above the vast majority of tent pole movies, as an example of what films like this should be. It shouldn’t be copied but it should be cherished and looked at for inspiration. Everyone from my generation knows it but as new generations are born and as movies are becoming nonsensical extinction level event CGI festivals, the greats like Raiders aren’t as appealing to younger generations that want bigger, louder, faster, more, more, more!

TV Review: Game of Thrones (2011- )

Original Run: April 17th, 2011 – present
Created by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Iain Glen, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Conleth Hill, Aiden Gillen, Gwendoline Christie, Issac Hempstead Wright, Jerome Flynn, Julian Glover, Liam Cunningham, Rory McCann, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ben Crompton, Daniel Portman, Charles Dance, Carice van Houten, Natalie Dormer, Jack Gleeson, Michaelle Fairley, Kristofer Hivju, Ian McElhinney, Jacob Anderson, Stephen Dillane, Kristian Nairn, Hannah Murray, Mark Stanley, Richard Madden, Finn Jones, Iwan Rheon, Diana Rigg, Jonathan Pryce, Jason Momoa, Sean Bean, Mark Addy

Television 360, Grok! Television, Generator Entertainment, Startling Television, Bighead Littlehead, HBO Entertainment, 60 Episodes (so far), 50-69 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Since I was a kid, I have always been a big fan of fantasy fiction. I never got into George R.R. Martin’s massive Game of Thrones books when they started coming out though. They were abnormally massive, had way too many characters with difficult names and although I like reading and I read pretty quickly, it is hard for me to give something so massive and seemingly tedious, that much of my attention.

I did not watch this show in the beginning. In fact, I figured that I’d put it off until after it was over and then just binge the whole thing. Years and seasons have gone by, however, and everyone and their mother and their mother’s mother has talked this show up like it is the second coming of Jesus. The hype and admiration for this show has been absolutely ridiculous. So when I got injured and was trapped in my house for several days with nothing to do, I finally fired up Game of Thrones.

Well, I am definitely in the extreme minority because I think the show is absolute shit.

In fact, I got a little over midway through the third season when I had to stop. I couldn’t suffer through anymore episodes, I had had enough and I didn’t care about a single person or situation on this show. Well, except for Maisie Williams’ Arya Stark. Really, she is the only interesting character out of the 817 that I was introduced to in two and a half seasons. Peter Dinklage, while a great actor and enjoyable on screen, just ran his course quickly. But he was the only other character I was even remotely engaged in. Fuck the Khaleesi and her stupid dragons, I’d rather have Shadowcat and Lockheed from the X-Men comics of the 80s.

The problem with this show is it is just talking and plotting and talking about plotting and then betrayal and more plotting and nothing really happens except a whole bunch of nothing. The fan boys who hated The Phantom Menace for all its long winded talkie bullshit should hate this show even more.

I mean, once in awhile a battle happens but it is always underwhelming and just leads to more talking and plotting and talking about plotting and betrayal and more plotting.

Game of Thrones is a fantasy epic for people who don’t like fantasy epics. It is one of the most boring shows I have ever seen. Occasionally you get a titty or two but the big stars stopped getting naked after season one. And all the fanboy love for Khaleesi is baffling to me. But maybe its because these nerds like girls who look twelve.

I hated Game of Thrones to the point where watching it felt like torture but I kept sticking with it because people kept saying, “Dude, stick with it, it’s the best show of all-time!” No it isn’t. If you even think this is even in the same ballpark as Breaking Bad, probably the actual greatest show of all-time, you’re fucking retarded.

I don’t usually get this frank and vulgar in reviews on Cinespiria but I feel like everyone I know fucking lied to me. Like Game of Thrones was just some big elaborate prank. If it was, you got me. You’re an asshole, but you got me.

Now HBO is planning like a half dozen spin-offs of this show. Why? I guess money talks but I’d rather have to sit through a nurse screwing up a dozen times trying to insert a catheter than to ever sit through another episode of this show.

Film Review: House Party (1990)

Release Date: March 9th, 1990
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Music by: Lenny White, Marcus Miller
Cast: Kid ‘n Play (Christopher “Kid” Reid, Christopher “Play” Martin), Full Force (“Paul Anthony” George, Lucien “Bowlegged Lou” George Jr., Brian “B-Fine” George), Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Groove B. Chill (Gene “Groove” Allen, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), Kelly Jo Minter, John Witherspoon, Clifton Powell, George Clinton

New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes

Review:

I loved this film the moment I saw it for the first time when it debuted on premium cable, a year after it hit theaters. I had already been a Kid ‘n Play fan at that point but this immortalized them as cool, as far as I was concerned at twelve years-old.

House Party benefits from having an all-star cast before these actors were really all-star players.

Robin Harris is probably the biggest name and he was well-known for his stand-up comedy but he really had some great moments in this that brought him to a higher level. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after this film came out and didn’t get to reap whatever benefits would have came from the success this film had.

House Party also features Martin Lawrence, just on the cusp of his superstardom, as well as John Witherspoon, Tisha Campbell, Clifton Powell, Kelly Jo Minter and musicians George Clinton, Full Force and Groove B. Chill.

The picture was originally intended to be a vehicle for DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (Jeff Townes and Will Smith) but Kid ‘n Play got the project. This could have been due to Smith’s big sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air creating a conflict.

With high school teen sex comedies being all the rage in the 1980s, House Party follows suit but gives us a film from the African-American perspective. Ultimately, there isn’t much of a difference other than the added hip-hop flair, which by 1990 was a welcome change following a decade of high school comedies scored to new wave pop music.

The film was critically acclaimed. Roger Ebert loved the film stating, “House Party is a light, entertaining teen comedy with an infectious energy.”

House Party is a great movie for its type. It gives something fresh to its genre and helped pave the way for a lot of up and coming talent. Additionally, it opened doors for black filmmakers, who would really make an impact on cinema throughout the 1990s. House Party was an African-American comedy that really went mainstream and helped in creating a shift in American entertainment, at the time.

Serial Review: Zorro Rides Again (1937)

Release Date: November 20th, 1937 (first chapter)
Directed by: William Witney, John English
Written by: Franklin Adreon, Morgan Cox, Ronald Davidson, John Rathmell, Barry Shipman
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: Alberto Colombo, Walter Hirsch, Eddie Maxwell, Lou Handman
Cast: John Carroll, Helen Christian, Reed Howes, Duncan Renaldo, Noah Beery Sr., Richard Alexander

Republic Pictures, 212 Minutes total (12 episodes), 68 Minutes (film), 26 Minutes (6 TV episodes)

Review:

Zorro Rides Again has a few notable things worth mentioning. It was the first film collaboration for directors William Whitney and John English. Also, it was the eighth of Republic Pictures’ 66 serials. It was also just the third western themed serial that Republic did. Additionally, this was the first of five Zorro serials produced by Republic Pictures.

This Zorro serial was influenced by the singing cowboy trend of the time, so there are some musical numbers. I’ve never been a fan of that particular genre so what could have been a great serial adventure for a great and iconic hero suffered from its musical hokiness.

The casting was mediocre and no one really stands out or has a strong presence. Zorro, as a character, always stands out but he just seemed stripped of his coolness. He just didn’t feel like the Old West Mexican Batman that he normally is.

This serial doesn’t have much to boast about, unfortunately. Being a Zorro fan, I wanted to love Zorro Rides Again but I was mostly bored throughout it. Visually, it is average. The direction is fine for a serial but Witney and English hadn’t yet found their rhythm.

In any event, it did spawn four sequels and I’m hoping that they improve upon this weak initial outing.

Film Review: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

Release Date: May 1st, 1987
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James Booth, Gary Conway
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Larry Poindexter, Gary Conway

Cannon Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

When I reviewed the first American Ninja I said that the films got worse and worse. I was wrong on one account, this film. Truth be told, while I watch the original every couple of years, I haven’t seen this one since I was a teenager. Back then, I didn’t like it as much as the first. Now, I think it is pretty equal, if not slightly better than the original. Things do go downhill after this one though.

The plot is a little wacky but the action and the setting are much better than the first picture. The story sees our heroes Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (Steve James) arrive on a Caribbean island (actually filmed in South Africa) to investigate why some Marines have gone missing. As the film progresses and ninjas keep trying to capture Armstrong and Jackson, we learn that some villain is making mindless super soldier ninjas out of the elite soldiers he captures. The end goal is to sell super ninja armies to other villains with large bank accounts. So we get a big finale of Armstrong and Jackson against an army of super ninjas.

Compared to the first film, Dudikoff is much better on screen in the action sequences. James also puts down the big machine gun and fights ninjas with a couple machetes. The film has a lot more hand-to-hand combat and the skills of the actors and the stunt work is just more refined and fluid in this movie. The main evil ninja isn’t as cool as the Black Star Ninja from the first movie but he’s still a solid baddie.

Unfortunately, Dudikoff left this series after this film except for a fairly brief appearance in the fourth film. This was also the last time we got to see the duo of Dudikoff and James on screen together, following the original American Ninja and Avenging Force, which came out between the two Ninja movies.

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation is a good sequel to the original. The series tanks after this installment but at least we got two good chapters before the breakup of Dudikoff and James and the introduction to David Bradley, who took over the series in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt.

Film Review: Solaris (1972) & Solaris (2002)

*written in 2014 when I did these as a double feature.

I spend every November coming down from my month long horror marathon that is October. How do I come down? By having a month long science fiction marathon.

With that, I wanted to rewatch the original Russian Solaris from 1972. I figured that I’d also watch the 2002 American version, as I had never seen it and am a pretty big fan of the original.

So let me get right into each film.

Solaris (1972):

Release Date: May 13th, 1972 (Cannes)
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by: Fridrikh Gorenshtein, Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Eduard Artemyev
Cast: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Nikolai Grinko, Anatoly Solonitsyn

Creative Unit of Writers & Cinema Workers, Mosfilm, Unit Four, 166 Minutes

Review:

Solaris follows a man who goes to investigate strange happenings at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. People have claimed to have been seeing weird things. The main character, Kris Kelvin (played by one-time actor V. Statsinskiy) arrives at the station and pretty quickly starts experiencing strange phenomena. Mainly, his wife, who committed suicide years earlier, appears on the ship with no recollection of what happened to her. More weirdness ensues and I can’t say anything else without spoiling too much of the plot.

This version of the film generally follows the novel it was based on but takes some of liberties and comes off as more of a Russian art house film in a science fiction setting than a straight adaptation. The result of that is that this is one of the greatest Russian films of all-time. In fact, it is the best Russian sci-fi film I have ever seen.

It isn’t as epic and grandiose as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which obviously influenced this picture in style, but for its limited budget and coming from a communist country at the height of its power, it is more than interesting and pretty damned impressive.

The acting isn’t what I would call fantastic but it isn’t a distraction. For the time and for employing a one-time actor, there really aren’t any complaints about performance.

This is a beautiful film. It does run a bit slow at times but the story keeps you locked in and the relationship between Kelvin and his resurrected wife gets pretty intense and feels truly authentic.

Solaris (2002):

Release Date: November 29th, 2002
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Steven Soderbergh
Based on: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone

Lightstorm Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, a director I am not a big fan of, this version of Solaris is quite different.

This film doesn’t attempt to remake the Russian classic. Instead, it tries to make a more faithful adaptation of the book. I can only compare this to being like the remake of The Shining, which was made at the insistence of Stephen King, who thought Kubrick’s version strayed too far away from his source material. Point being, just because this is a better adaptation of the source material, it doesn’t make it a better film.

I like George Clooney and here he plays Chris Kelvin. The name’s spelling was changed by Soderbergh because apparently Americans can’t understand the cooler looking Russian spelling of the name. Anyway, Clooney, who is pretty much always a pimp, is an emasculated version of himself in this movie, as he mopes around over his dead wife and never really shows off that famous Clooney chutzpah.

The sets in this film were done in a pretty cookie cutter early 2000s sci-fi style. Everything was sterile and nothing was inspiring. This film was far from the visual masterpiece of its Russian predecessor. In fact, there was nothing about this film that seemed unique or displayed any sort of real creativity in the design process.

This was a piss poor attempt by Soderbergh, I was basically bored shitless and I fought really hard not to hit “STOP” on the BluRay remote.

So the real question is: does this deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes it does! Let’s see here… the results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”