My Favorite Blockbuster “Discoveries” Of 2017

Happy New Year everyone. I decided to celebrate by compiling a series of lists celebrating my favorite films and shows of 2017. Sounds like pretty standard stuff, right? Yup, totally. However, these lists will include not just new films from last year, but new-to-me ones that I enjoyed. This one celebrates the glory of big screen blockbusters, most of which I saw on the small screen because, you know, kids.

First off, I’d just like to reiterate how much I enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) and San Andreas (2015) from director Gary Peyton.  I had a great time watching both of those movies earlier this year and highly recommend checking them out if you’re looking for big budget disaster fare. I also had a silly amount of fun watching Vin Diesel in 2015’s The Last Witch Hunter helmed by Breck Eisner. I think this will make a great weekend movie tune-in type of movie.

Continue reading My Favorite Blockbuster “Discoveries” Of 2017

We Want Action: Hit & Run (2012)

hit-and-run-poster Sometimes it can take a while for my wife and I to decide on a Netflix offering to watch on a Friday or Saturday night. The main problem is the huge number of offerings and a less than clear idea of what kind of film we want to watch. Last weekend I was flipping around and finally just hit play on Hit & Run. We both watched Dax Shepard (who co-wrote and co-directed the film with David Palmer) on Parenthood and went through Veronica Mars together a few years ago. So, it seemed like a good choice and I’m glad to say my instincts were correct.

The film finds real life couple Shepard and Bell playing a couple in a small California town. Everything’s going smoothly for them until Bell’s character gets an interview opportunity for her dream job in LA. The problem? Dax is part of the witness protection program and isn’t supposed to leave the town. He decides to throw caution to the wind and take her on the trip which reveals more of his past than he intended after Bell’s ex informs Dax’s former partner in crime that his pal is heading back to the City of Angels. Things get progressively crazy from there.

A solid mix of car-based action and comedy, Hit & Run felt like a unique film. There’s just as much relationship talk between Bell and Shepard as there are cool car chases, which puts it in a fairly sparse group of films. In other words, Vanishing Point this aint. After reading a bit about the movie, I started liking it even more because it basically came about because Shepard and Palmer had a cool idea for a movie, got together with their friends and got to work. Shepard even used his own car collection in the film and did a lot of his own stunt driving. In that regard, it reminded me of RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists because it’s just a person taking what they love and putting it on film and that’s always aces in my book.

Quick Movie Review: The Hangover Part II (2011) & Bridesmaids (2011)

It’s weird to say this because I am a big Todd Phillips fan going back to Road Trip,   Old School and Starsky & Hutch, but I don’t remember much about The Hangover. I gave it a glowing review, but, honestly, I couldn’t tell you much about the plot aside from the basics and the reveal of where Justin Bartha’s character wound up really being. As such, I wasn’t super excited about seeing the movie when it wound up being on a double bill with Bridesmaids at our local drive-in. I was however excited about the latter movie and the idea of actually seeing a new movie with our baby in tow (the whole thing worked out quite well, actually).

Anyway, I had a good time with The Hangover Part II. My initial impression from the trailers was that it was basically the same movie in a different setting and it kind of is for the most part, even down to the reveal of where the missing person is. But, you know what? Sometimes it’s just fun to watch characters (archetypes even) doing the things you expect of them in increasingly hilarious–and even action packed–ways. Also, the scenes with the drug dealing monkey made me lose my shit.

My only complaint was that I wish Bartha had gotten in on the action some more. The sequel didn’t have to be exactly set up like the original. I think he’s a lot of fun to watch on screen, but still hasn’t really gotten the chance to shine through. Maybe in the third one they’re talking about.

Side note, I think I could watch Bradley Cooper in just about anything. Dude’s CRAZY charming.

Much like H2, Bridesmaids exceeded my expectations, which is impressive because I was really excited about the flick. I mean, how can you not be intrigued by this poster? There’s a lot of hot funniness bubbling below the surface there. The thing that surprised me about this movie, though, is how misrepresnted it was by its own ad campaign and even the many talk show appearances I saw of various cast members (the missus has a jones for watching Good Morning America, The Rachel Ray Show and The View so I’m seeing all kinds of stuff I never saw before). Even when Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph straight up said it wasn’t like The Hangover-but-with-women they didn’t really seem to nail what the movie is about. See, here’s the plot, contains some plot SPOILERS. Wiig and Rudolph are best friends and have been forever. Rudolph gets engaged to a guy who’s got a great job. She’s been palling around with Rose Byrne’s character because she’s married to the hubby’s boss. So, basically, Rudolph’s gaining access to this more afluent life style and it’s creating a rift between her and Wiig. At the same time, Wiig’s life is in the crapper because her bakery failed, she lives with British freaks and she’s hooking up with Jon Hamm in a role so outwardly skeezy that he might actually be a descendant of Don Draper. Rudolph makes Wiig her maid of honor, but there’s immediately static between her and Byrne.

The trailers made it seem like the story then focused on that rivalry as well as the exploits of the other ‘maids (Melissa McCarthy as the sister-in-law, The Office‘s Ellie Kemper as the co-worker and Reno 911‘s Wendi McLendon-Covey as the cousin) but most of what you see in the ads came from the movie’s first half hour or so as the rest of the flick revolves around Wiig’s slow descent towards rock bottom and madness as tensions rise with Byrne, Rudolph and her ill-fated relationship Chris O’Dowd’s police officer (love that dude’s voice).

So, while it’s not this raucous lady Hangover, Bridesmaids still packs in the laughs–including some amazing gross-out stuff that I had heard about, but didn’t expect to be quite so funny or graphic–but more importantly really gets into the difficulties of friendship and keeping them strong as things in life change. It reminded me of some dude-based movies I’ve seen, but I can’t quite put my finger on which ones. I’m hoping that it’s success will lead to more funny lady comedies that aren’t afraid to have some balls.

Cancelled TV Cavalcade: Kitchen Confidential (2005)

Back in 2005, I had no idea who Anthony Bourdain was, so he wasn’t the draw for me when it came to watching Fox’s Kitchen Confidential. It was all about the cast for me. I had seen Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers, one of my all time favorite movies. Sure he played a heel, but you could tell there was a ton of charisma under that douchey role. In addition to Cooper, the show also featured Nicholas Brendon, better known as Xander from Buffy (another favorite series) and John Frances Daley who I first dug in the amazing Freaks & Geeks and later in Waiting… where he played pretty much the same part (kitchen newbie). The cast also included John Cho who I probably wasn’t familiar with yet, Frank Langella (yeah, Skeletor), the lovely Jamie King and Sam Pancake who played Barry Zuckerkorn’s assistant on Arrested Development (another favorite). That’s a lot of goodness all in one package.

After getting really into Bourdain’s show No Reservations and remembering liking the few episodes I saw, I suggested to the missus that we watch the show. It was only two discs through traditional Netflix, but we still burned through them pretty quickly. The title of the show is based on Bourdain’s 2000 memoir and Cooper’s character share’s the famous chef’s name. The plot of the show revolves around Cooper’s washed up rock star chef getting another shot at running a restaurant thanks to Langella’s good faith. Cooper then puts together a team that includes Brendon, Cho and a few others. The key, though, is that Cooper needs to do everything on the up and up because he sees this as his last chance at this kind of opportunity. Another aspect of the show I really enjoyed aside from the performances and comedy, of which there’s a great deal, was it’s various philosophical points about food and cooking. Cooper’s voiceover often reminded me of those scenes in Ratatouille where Remy describes how two different foods taste together. There’s lots of insight from the point of view of cook which I find really interesting. I’m not sure if these things are taken straight from the book (I’ve got my eye out for a copy) or if they were written for the show, but I liked the insight. As my role in our kitchen has gotten more prominent, I find myself drawn towards the world of cooking and restaurants a lot more than ever before, so a kind of insider look at the biz was a lot of fun for me.

We really enjoyed watching the series’ 13 episodes and I highly recommend checking it out. By combining a few well worn elements like a workplace drama and a guy looking to make up for past indiscretions, Kitchen Confidential wound up being something unique and fun. I’m pretty surprised the show didn’t do well, but considering Fox’s past with shows like Firefly and Arrested Development, it should come as no surprise that something with so much potential got the axe so early.

"Look, Another Girl Fight Season Finale"

The above quote was straight from my lovely wife’s mouth as we watched the last episode of the third season of Alias. If you could somehow throw the word “crying” in there it would completely sum up my thoughts on this show. Season 3 really seemed to rehash a lot of previous ideas from the show (a man being betrayed by his spy wife, distrust in the organization, lying to loved ones, bad guys who just won’t die, incredibly sloppy spy stuff and crying. Lots of crying from our bad ass heroine.

The funny thing, though, is that I kind of liked these storylines better than those from the previous seasons. Maybe it’s that I knew what I was getting into when we started. Maybe it’s because the few people whose opinions I’ve heard said it was supposed to get so much worse this season, I’m not sure. I actually enjoyed this season more what with all the Rambaldi stuff taking center stage and twins and other family members coming to light. It’s not a great show, but the ticks seemed to be less (or at least less obvious) and you can see where shows like Lost and Fringe may have had their earliest seeds.

The most impressive element of this show, by far, has been the crazy amount of high quality guest stars they were able to pull in. Here’s a fairly completely list from Season 3: Scott Adsit, Djimon Hounsou, Bradley Cooper (he came back!), Richard Roundtree (seriously, Shaft is following me), David Cronenberg, Terry O’Quinn (he also came back!), Quentin Tarantino (also came back!), Isabella Rossellini (yeesh), Vivica A. Fox, Ricky Gervais (of original Office fame and general awesomeness), Raymond J. Barry, Peggy Lipton (Julie from The Mod Squad and Norma Jennings from Twin Peaks) and David Carradine (another returner). That’s a pretty impressive roster, especially when you consider that many of them made appearances in multiple episodes.

So, I’m curious to see how Season 4 and 5 go. I know there’s a twin or something. And a baby. But, since my expectations are pretty low, so I can’t really get TOO disappointed.

I Am So Psyched For The Hangover

For me, the current wave of awesome comedy flicks didn’t start with Judd Apatow (though much respect him as he’s done most of the heavy lifting). No, comedy started getting awesome for me again (like the previous golden age thanks to the National Lampoon/SNL/SCTV folks in the late 70s and early 80s that I grew up on) in 2003 with the release of Old School, which I’ve talked about before.

Well, Todd Phillips, the mastermind behind Old School, along with Road Trip (2000), Starsky & Hutch (2004) and School for Scoundrels (2006) which I didn’t love, has a new movie coming out soon called The Hangover about three dudes (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) who wake up Dude Where’s My Car-style in Vegas missing the their buddy the groom. You know what else it has? Mike Tyson and Phil Collins together! (kinda). I laughed so hard the very first time I saw the first trailer, I almost couldn’t stop. i then showed it to everyone int he office and laughed as much every time. It’s the one with Tyson punching a dude, amazing. Well, I’m so enthused about this flick I thought I’d provide you with every trailer I could find with a basic search on YouTube. Enjoy!

Haha, of course, I write this whole thing only to find that most of the trailers on YouTube have had embedding turned off. Well, here’s the one I could find, check for links below.

I

Can’t

Wait!

They Can’t All Be Winners

2009-02-25
2:06:36 am

I haven’t been having a ton of luck lately when it comes to watching movies. Aside from falling asleep about a half hour in exactly no matter how cool the movie, I’ve been picking some duds (though still a few good ones). I couldn’t even get into watching Repo: The Genetic Opera for some reason. I’m not going to pass judgment on that one now because I was really tired, but I wanted to keep our Netflix queue going so I sent it back.

I did not however like an action movie I tried watching last night called Kiltro (2006). I made it about a half hour into that one before I fell asleep. I was hoping for an awesome action movie (as advertised), but instead I got a story about a guy who likes to fight and has a crush on a girl who blah blah blah. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want my action movies (and my giant monster movies for that matter) to be less talking and more destruction, unless they happen to be actually funny like Police Story 1 and 2. Again, I don’t really consider this a review, because I didn’t watch the whole movie, just letting you action fans out there know not to waste your time.

I also watched most of a movie called Hickey and Boggs (1972) which has a lot going for it in that The Warriors writer Walter Hill wrote it and Bill Cosby stars as a tough guy private detective along with Robert Culp who also directs. I didn’t have any problem with this movie, though it is a bit slow, I just haven’t finished it yet because it’s kind of long and it expires from Netflix on March 1. It’s in the same vein as Dirty Harry and is pretty cool, so I might finish it up today. Oh, and if you were wondering, yes it’s kind of weird seeing Bill Cosby as a tough guy, but he also pulls it off really well. It’s fun to watch. Again, not a real review, but just some thoughts.

That being said, I do have four ACTUAL reviews:

POPCORN (1991)

Man, the 90s were a weird time for horror movies. You’re looking at a time after the slasher glut greatly hindered the genre, but before Scream made them cool again. Popcorn is kind of a weird movie. The basic premise is that a college film club decides to hold a movie marathon to raise some money. But this isn’t any movie marathon, they’re showing movies with a gimmick like smell-o-vision or shock-o-rama. As such, they need an old movie theater to show their flicks in and a crazy old guy to help out (and then completely disappear) in the form of Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian). If you really liked the beginning of Scream 2 where there’s all kinds of craziness happening in a movie theater, then this is right up your alley as it seems as though a counterculture guy from back in the day wants his weirdo movie to be seen so much he’s willing to kill people for it (that’s not exactly the plot, but I don’t want to give too much away). There was enough quirky charm to keep me watching even though the movie isn’t awesome by any means. So, if that sounds interesting (oh and the fact that someone gets killed via giant fake mosquito), check it out.

THE ROCKER (2008)

I was really surprised with how much I liked this Rainn Wilson flick. I was also surprised with the huge number of cast members I not only recognized, but knew by name (for the most part). Wilson stars as a drummer who got kicked out of what became the biggest band of the 80s right before they blew up. Now, in modern times, Rainn’s down on his luck, but ends up joining his nephew’s band, which garners its own huge levels of success. Aside from the cast that includes Christina Applegate, Emma Stone, Jeff Garland, Jane Lynch (from 40 Year Old Virgin and a hundred other things), Jason Sudekis, Will Arnett, Fred Armisen, Jane Krakowski, Bradley Cooper, Lonny Ross (30 Rock), Demetri Martin and Aziz Ansari, I was really impressed with how well they pull off some moments that could have come off as cheesy. There’s also one part where Rainn offers up the emo lead singer some songwriting advice (paraphrase “let’s speed it up and switch it to I’m NOT bitter) and he actually takes it without flinching. Sure it’s kind of similar to a scene in That Thing You Do, but in this case the lead singer just decided to go for it instead of being a d-bag. The Rocker is one of those flicks that seems like it either went up against some huge other movie or their producers didn’t have the juice to put much/any advertising cash behind it, because there’s no reason that this shouldn’t have done way better (though I said the same thing after seeing Speed Racer, which I still really enjoyed, so what do I know).

I also watched a couple movies all the way through that I wasn’t really into and those were Bangkok Dangerous (2008) and The Crazies (1973). I’ll be honest, the only reason I wanted to watch BD is because I’ve laughed a million times at the Best of The Wicker Man video on YouTube starring BD’s Nic Cage. Man that’s a funny video. You can get to it here after reading an AWESOME article I wrote about horror movie remakes for ToyFare. Unfortunately, BD was no where near as ridiculous as I was hoping it would be (I mean, COME ON, it’s Nic Cage as an assassin!). Instead, it’s a pretty run-of-the mill story about an assassin who has all kinds of rules, but is starting to not want to be an assassin anymore. You’ve seen it a million times and this doesn’t really offer up anything new, unlike Grosse Pointe Blank which is completely awesome.

The Crazies (1973) is the first non-zombie George Romero movie I’ve ever seen. It was okay, but not all that interesting. Instead of focusing on characters and how they react to these crazy situations, it seemed like Romero was more focused on showing a lot of dudes in white hazmat-type suits rounding people up after a virus that makes people go bat-poop nutso, gets released in a small town. There’s nothing all that wrong, really, it just didn’t grab my attention like my favorite Romero (and horror) flick Dawn of the Dead does.

Halloween Scene: Turkey Day Round Up Part 1

2008-12-02
10:10:24 pm

Hey gang, hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving break. My apologies again for my lack of updates these past few weeks. Whatever staying-up-late stamina I had must have been completely spent in October. But, over the Thanksgiving break, Rickey, Em and I went to visit her parents in New Hampshire where they have FearNet and movies on demand so Rickey and I spent every evening watching as many horror movies as we could. Hopefully this long post with reviews will make up for some of my lack of posting.

WAXWORK (1988)

So, after working most of the day, waiting for Rickey to come up (traffic was pretty bad between him and us) and the four hour drive from our place to Em’s parent’s house, we were understandably tired. But that didn’t stop Rickey and I from attempting to watch our first horror movie of the weekend and boy did we choose a doozy. Waxwork is about a bunch of kids who decide it’s a good idea to go to a wax museum that pops up in their neighborhood one day. Actually, there’s a pretty funny scene where two of their group decide it’s a bad idea and bounce. I loved that scene. It reminded me of what I would do in that situation. “You want to go into a stranger’s wax museum even though we have no idea who he is or whether the wax figures will come to life and kill us? No thanks, I’m good.”

In actuality the movie is a bit more creative than that as the kids get sucked into whatever kind of scene the wax figures represent. So, when the girl approaches the vampire set, she’s transported to a creepy castle where she’s forced to eat what looks like cranberry surprise. And then…

Okay, we didn’t get any further than this scene. We were both tired and bored by this point and I’m pretty sure we both fell asleep while watching it. The only other interesting piece of info is that Zach Galligan, of Gremlins fame, stars as a spoiled rich kid. The funny thing is is that Rickey and I are both avid readers of Horror Movie a Day and it turns out that he watched the movie too, though he actually finished it. Sounds like it actually got kind of cool towards the end. Oh well, the on demand stuff saves your progress in the film for 24 hours, but by then we were watching…

CHRISTMAS EVIL (a.k.a. You Better Watch Out, a.k.a. Terror in Toyland) (1980)

And boy, what a stinker. After a long day of being terrorized, uh, I mean spending Thanksgiving with Em’s family, we came back and everyone eventually went to bed so we decided to get ready for Christmas by watching a movie about a dude dressed as Santa killing people. According to my beloved Creature Features, this is the first incident of such a film and it is not a good one. The whole plot revolves around this dude who saw his parents not really doing anything sexual (they were barely touching and fully clothed while pops was dressed as Santa) who now sleeps in Santa PJs, works in a toy factory and keeps tabs on the neighborhood kids to see who’s naughty and nice. That’s a big chunk of the movie.

I think we both fell asleep at about the same time Thursday night. The next evening we figured we didn’t have too much time left and put the boring flick back on. It’s actually kind of interesting in the last 15 minutes. If you feel compelled to watch this movie, do so from that point on and you’ll get the gist of it. Once the killings finally start happening (on the steps of a church with the jerkiest, most apathetic clergy I’ve ever seen), the movie doesn’t really pick up as our killer finds himself back at his company Christmas party celebrating with the people who were earlier making fun of him. It really doesn’t make any sense. Oh, there’s also a scene where Santa scares a kid by hiding in the bushes in his bright red suit. In true horror movie fashion, the kid’s mom doesn’t investigate her son’s accusations of a man in the bushes and just gives them a quizzical look before driving off.

But the best part of the movie is the very end where Santa runs into some kids who he then uses as human shields once the parents get a look at him. By this point, we’ve already seen some Santas in a line-up, so you know the police are on the case. The problem is, how do these people know this Santa is the killer? One dude is so convinced that he pulls a switchblade on Santa. Santa gets away which leads to a Frankenstein-like mob with torches and everything chasing Santa through the street. He just barely escapes into his chimo van with a sleigh and reindeer painted on it (how the cops weren’t able to track this down after the church murders while it was just sitting outside the office party, I’ll never know). He heads over to his brothers house, where his brother almost chokes him to death, but he gets up and hops back into the chimo van just in time for the torch-carrying mob to catch up, causing him to swerve off of a bridge and…fly off into the sky Grease-style. I guess there’s some discussion about whether he survives or not, seeing as how you can hear a car crash sound at the same time as the van flies away. I don’t really care either way because this movie’s not good, but the image of that van flying away is just great. Rickey took a picture with his iPhone and it’s awesome. So, after finishing Christmas Evil on Thursday we watched an actual good movie called…

MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008)

Which I had thought was a Clive Barker movie ever since I first heard about it, but it turns out it’s based on one of his stories. Anyway, some of you who are more into the goings on of the horror industry know that Lionsgate kind of buried this movie by giving it a limited release in cheap theaters only, which I’ve never actually heard of before. I was really surprised when I first heard this and still thought it was a Clive Barker movie, but I was still surprised after watching it because the cast is fairly well known, though less in the star power vein and more in the “hey, it’s that guy from that thing” way. You’ve got Bradley Cooper who will always hold a special place in my heart for his involvement in Wedding Crashes, Vinnie Jones who’s just awesome, Brooke Shields (?!), Ted Raimi and Leslie Bibb who played the reported who tried to corner Tony Stark in Iron Man (and then slept with him). With the right advertising and one of those annoying “from the creator of Hellraiser/Nightbreed/Lord of Illusion/half my nightmares” things, I don’t see why MMT couldn’t have had a fairly successful run in theaters. I understand the whole concept of studios wanting to make money on valid properties, but how the heck did Saw become a valid property? Someone needs to give another new franchise a chance. Gimme Trick r Treat already!

Anyway, I didn’t fall in love with MMT, but I did really like it. Cooper plays a photographer who’s trying to capture the real, raw underbelly of late night New York. While doing this he comes across a man (Jones) who he thinks killed a model he photographed the night before. As he slips further and further into obsession (following Jones at all hours of the night and showing up at his job as a butcher), Cooper’s girlfriend, Bibb, gets more and more concerned for him. From here on out, I’ll be in SPOILER territory.

So, as you can imagine this being a work based on Clive Barker, this movie doesn’t just lie in the real world, though there are plenty of real world scares. Jones is pretty terrifying as the killer. He’s already a huge dude, but by making him a huge silent guy in a crisp suit with a meat hook and a huge metal meat mallet, man, he’s just creepy. As Rickey pointed out, he doesn’t even need a mask like your typical slasher. And Cooper as the obsessed photographer really kills it, especially because it turns out that he’s right, but no one will listen to him. That’s one of my big fears in life, to know what’s really going on but not having anyone listen to you. Plus, there’s some real nail biters with Cooper getting way too close to Jones.

Like I said, the ending comes with some unearthly elements as it turns out that Jones isn’t exactly what he seems to be (even though he does murder people, remove their clothes and leave them hanging naked in a car of the subway. I don’t want to ruin it all, but it’s definitely worth checking out for fans of any of the above actors (though Shields only appears as a photo critic), Barker or horror.

Uncharacteristically, Rickey and I weren’t done with horror movies so we moved on to…

PUMPKINHEAD (1988)

I’d actually watched Pumpkinhead before at Em’s parents’ place so I wasn’t really paying attention. Lance Henriksen stars in this Stan Winston-directed flick in which SPOILER WARNING Henriksen’s son gets killed by a dude on a dirt bike (it’s okay to laugh, it’s kind of silly) and then finds a witch who brings a vengeance monster called Pumpkinhead to life so it can kill the killer and his friends. That brief summary doesn’t really do the movie, which is actually pretty interesting, justice. There’s a lot more to this whole thing than just a revenge plot, as Henriksen grows to regret his decision and tries to actually stop Pumpkinhead. There’s really a lot going on and Winston did a great job with the movie, it’s too bad he didn’t direct more movies. And, of course, you can’t talk about a Stan Winston movie without talking about the creature effects. Pumpkinhead does look an awful lot like an alien, but it’s a really cool design, though I’m not really sure why they bother calling him Pumpkinhead (he looks nothing like a Pumpkin, though his grave is surrounded by pumpkins. Like I said I wasn’t paying a lot of attention, but the movie doesn’t really end like you might expect and is definitely a fun one to check out.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Check back tomorrow for the second and final part!