My Favorite Film Experiences Of 2018

I haven’t done a lot of blogging this year, but, don’t worry, I’ve still been watching a ton of movies! I’ve even been keeping track of everything I’ve watched or read in a pair of Composition Note Books that I’ve (not so) cleverly dubbed Pop Notes. Thanks to them, I’m pretty confident looking back at the year and piecing together thoughts on some of my fave film-watching experiences (minus horror, which will get a list or two of their own). This one’s pretty long, so hit that jump and get into it!

Continue reading My Favorite Film Experiences Of 2018

UnCaged: Stolen (2012)

Stolen If you’re like me, you love a good Nic Cage movie. The guy just has such a great track record in my head of making ridiculous, over-the-top movies in which he goes crazy to varying degrees. I have an actual spectrum in my mind with things like Season of the Witch and the craziest scenes from Wicker Man at the extreme end and, well, I don’t really have a “nice, normal” section, but he’s less crazy in other things. For me, the really solid midpoint for all this is the National Treasure movies which utilize his inherent bonkers nature while still keeping things this side of the asylum. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Stolen when it recently popped up on Netflix Instant, but I was feeling game and gave it a shot.

As it happens, this movie can be described almost completely in the context of Cage’s previous films. Much like Gone In 60 Seconds, he’s a master criminal, this time a thief/bank robber. Unlike Memphis Raines, though, he gets caught and thrown in jail which makes him akin to Cameron Poe in Con Air. However, he serves his time and gets out to meet his daughter, now a teenager who happens to get kidnapped by a wonderfully crazy Josh Lucas, Cage’s former partner in crime who wants the money Cage supposedly hid before getting busted post-heist. As he says throughout the movie, though, Cage burned the money and doesn’t have it. A far from reasonable man, Lucas still wants his cash, so Cage has to pull another heist with the help of Malin Ackerman, who does a good job in the movie, but couldn’t look more out of place in an early scene where she’s dressed like a longshoreman and doing her best to look like a hardened criminal.

It takes longer than you might expect for them to get to the actual heist, but once it comes it’s actually pretty darn clever and leads right into a meeting between Cage and Lucas at an abandoned amusement park. It doesn’t utilize the location nearly as much as say Shakedown or Zombieland, but it’s still a pretty good scene.

For the most part, I enjoyed the movie. It does force you to buy the fact that Cage is not only a criminal mastermind, but also capable of taking out highly trained FBI agents in an elevator. If you can get on board with that, hopefully you can also get behind the fact that the entire setting of this movie is tailor made to give Cage the most difficult time. The movie’s set in New Orleans…during parades…which are loud and offer the kidnapper all kinds of cover and traffic blockages. It doesn’t necessarily feel like an organic story, but instead one built to offer the maximum amount of trouble. I want to say there’s nothing wrong with that, but when it feels so stage-y it does feel a little wrong, or at least a little obvious.

Still, I’d recommend this movie fro Cage fans. I mean, if you’re a fan of his, you’ve probably already scoped this one out. If you like man against time stories this one should be up your alley too. If you’re more a fan of Cage’s “normal” work, I don’t think you’ll be too put off here. He plays a dad trying to get his kid, so there’s not much weirdness there aside from demanding his crew listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s catalog before committing unlawful acts.

I Watch A Lot Of TV & Movies: Nic Cage, Downton Abbey, Stand-Up & More

I’m trying out a new format for these I Watch A Lot Of ____  posts. The problem with using the posters is that I feel like I need to fill in all the space on the right hand side, but I don’t always have that much to say. So, I’m going to go with showing a trailer and then giving my thoughts. Hope it works out. Let me know if one format works better than another for you.

Snake Eyes (1998)

On the Nic Cage scale of craziness, Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes lands in a nice sweet spot. He’s playing an eccentric cop who’s trying to figure out who shot a government official while attending a boxing match in Atlantic City. He’s also trying to help his pal Gary Sinese and the bodacious looking Carla Gugino, but this is the type of movie where no one is what they seem and everyone has ulterior motives. The story itself is the kind of thing you wouldn’t be surprised to see as an episode of your favorite procedural show, but De Palma does some fun stuff, putting his own spin on it by playing with perspective, showing scenes from different angles and even doing some nice camera work like showing an entire scene from a boxer’s perspective and then moving out of it to reveal him in a mirror. Where’d the camera go?! Those tricks plus the performances make it worth a watch.

Return To Horror High (1987)

To be completely honest, I was doing some work while watching Return To Horror High, so I missed a lot of details. At first I thought it was a legit sequel to a movie called Horror High thanks to the title and the premise that posits a film crew is making a movie at the exact location that an actual slasher struck. But that’s all in the fiction of the movie. By the way, I thought of this while watching Scream 3, I’m actually surprised the Hollywood version of Hollywood is more callous than actual Hollywood when it comes to these kinds of things. I mean, it’s not like there’s been a fictional Columbine movie shot in the school. Anyway, the film is super confusing because it bounced between the movie we’re watching and the movie they’re making. And then there’s an ending that I missed the set up to but completely bewildered me. SPOILER Was the whole thing a setup? Why? You might have heard of this movie for being an early appearance of George Clooney who plays an actor wanting to go off and get super famous (but everyone laughs at him, which is funny) as well as an appearance by Maureen McCormick of Brady Bunch fame. She’s way over the top, but is still cute and adorable.

Janeane Garofalo: If You Will (2010)

Janeane Garofalo is one of those stand-ups that I feel like I’ve known about as long as I’ve known about stand-up comedy. She was very popular in the early days of Comedy Central and I’ve fallowed her career to some extent since then, though I wouldn’t say I’m a super fan because I don’t necessarily actively seek out her stuff. A week or two back I listened to an episode of WTF with her and then noticed that this stand-up special was on the NetBox (lots of good stand-up on Instant) and gave it a watch. I assumed it was going to be much more political than it actually was because of how passionate she was on certain issues when talking to Marc Maron. She definitely gets into some of that stuff, but she makes sure to keep it funny and joke based, which made this a really enjoyable hour of stand-up. Even if you don’t think you like her comedy, give this one a look.

Norm MacDonald: Me Doing Stand-Up (2011)

I loved Norm MacDonald on Saturday Night Live and that love easily transferred over to his movie Dirty Work, but not much past that. So, I was excited to watch this stand-up and it was another solid hour. It starts off pretty dark with his thoughts on death, but they’re both honest and funny, so you can’t go wrong there in book. Gets a little filthy (okay, a lot filthy) at the end, but it made for great background while I was working. This is a great way of listening to stand-up without having to buy records.

Skyline (2010)

I added Skyline to my NetBox queue when I first saw it on there, but I moved it to the top after listening to the How Did This Get Made? episode focusing on it. I actually expected it to be a lot worse than it turned out to be. Yeah, there are problems with the script and editing, but I didn’t find it nearly as ridiculous as those guys did, though maybe I was primed for a lot more than anything could have lived up to. I actually give the filmmakers a lot of credit for putting together such a good looking movie by basically shooting in one guy’s apartment and doing a few set pieces. All that being said, I don’t think it’s a great movie by any means. A good effort with great effects, but it certainly has its problems.

Downton Abbey Season One (2010)

There is no reason on paper that I should like Downton Abbey. It’s based in an era and place (1920s England) that I’m not super duper interested in. It’s based on a class structure that enrages the part of me still susceptible to rage. And, it’s packed with the kind of scheming you only usually find in soap operas (I assume). However, this show is so amazingly well written and the characters are so well put together that I can’t help but get absorbed. The key, I think, is that, the writers give almost every main character an interesting bit of business, but without shoehorning them in. Plus, how can you not love Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess? By the way, I still have no idea what it means to be a count or an earl and yet it has not impeded me whatsoever. All you need to know is that it’s very important to Robert Crawley who might be the best, most awesome dude in the history of television. How long until the second season hits NetBox?

Trespass (2011)

Trespass is not only another Nic Cage movie, but also one that I watched because it was going to be covered on How Did This Get Made? so it’s double related! This is the first HDTGM? movie that I actually watched in preparation for the podcast and it worked out a lot better than my experience with Skyline. It helped that the movie starts off as one thing and keeps changing with every lie and nearly everything that every character says is a lie. It’s ridiculous on so many levels that it’s almost hard to keep track. Cage looks bonkers with his hair and glasses, the pace keeps changing (first they have 20 minutes to get in and out then they spend hours there) and nearly all of the robbers are idiotic drug addicts or psychos making them one of the worst possible crews around to pull of a diamond heist. Even with how bad the movie is, I’m shocked it wasn’t in theaters. Between the big stars and director Joel Schumacher who must have some cred left, right? Maybe not. That’s a lot of supposed star power with very little faith from the studio. In fact, this movie holds the record for least amount of time between it’s opening release (on only 10 screens) and coming out on DVD. Also, it only made $16,816 in its short time in theaters. Wow.

Quick Movie Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)

Nic Cage is one of those actors that I like only in certain roles, basically ones that embrace his craziness and don’t try to bury it under subtext. The two National Treasure movies are big favorites of the missus and I because Cage gets to be just crazy enough and the stories are a lot of fun. Sure, they’re sometimes over the top and might not make logical sense, but who cares? Not every movie needs to change the way you see the world, some just need to entertain. It just so happens that Jon Turtletaub directed both NT movies as well as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the movie based on the segment of Disney’s Fantasia of the same name with all the mops and brooms and water. Like most, I was skeptical at first, but once I realized who was directing, I figured it would be a good watch. Plus, I dig Jay Baruchel and his nebbishy shtick.

The missus got sent home from work today because of yet another snow storm that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon and we happened to get this flick from Netflix yesterday, so the timing was perfect. And, thankfully, the movie was a lot of fun. Neither of us liked it quite as much as the National Treasure movies, but it was a fun watch about a 20-something kid discovering he’s got a magical destiny to help Cage (a sorcerer) keep Morgan La Fey entrapped even with Alfred Molina and his Criss Angel-like sidekick trying to help her. Of course, there’s also a girl who Baruchel is trying to impress which gets in the way of his training and there’s a moment where it seems like one of the good guys is going to die, but SPOILER everything works out pretty well in the end.

An aspect of the movie that I found really interesting that has the potnetial to get explored in a sequel if one is in the works is the idea that sorcerers can do magic because they can use 100% of their brains. This allows them to control atoms. As it turns out Baruchel’s character is a physicist, so it would stand to reason, now that he’s not a novice anymore, he might have a different take on magic that could be revolutionary. If there is a sequel, I’d like to see that explored, plus a much bigger final battle. The one in this movie would have actually made for a pretty interesting beginning to a movie with all these dead sorcerers rising from the dead and our heroes having to fight them, but that’s not what this story was about. Maybe next time! Theme-wise it’s not the most original movie in the world, but a solid combination of great special effects and fun actors doing their thing made this a pretty enjoyable watch.

Time Travel Shenanigans

This Sunday was kind of an unusual night now that I think about it. As a complete coincidence I ended up watching three movies that night dealing with time travel in in form or another: Terminator (1984), Primer (2004) and Next (2007). And oddly enough, I watched them in chronological order. Weird.

I actually didn’t watch Terminator alone as I usually do with rad movies from the 80s. Thanks to the sick looking trailers for the upcoming Terminator Salvation, Em wanted to check out the Terminator flicks. I had recently added the movie to our Netflix Instant Queue, so we finally checked it out.

The first Terminator movie I ever saw was T2 on TV with my parents. I remember them letting me stay up late and watching the end of the movie in their bedroom. Later, when I got my Family Video membership, I checked out the original and wasn’t too impressed. Stupid kid. Even though some of the Arnold masks don’t look that great, first off he’s a robot and second off it was ’84. And damn those exoskeletons and robots look real, even if the stop motion gets a little shaky. Plus, I like to think that Linda Hamilton’s crazy hair is a special effect all its own.

[Potential LOST SPOILER coming up if you haven’t been watching this season.] It’s actually kind of funny that the time travel mechanics are very similar between Terminator and Lost. You’ve got people heading back in time and affecting the future. Reese heads back and fathers John Connor. He always did that, he just didn’t know his role yet. It’s the “Whatever happened, happened” idea (which I have to toot my own horn and say I voiced a few weeks before the saying popped up on the show).

From there I went on to finish Primer, a low budget (supposedly made for $7,000) time travel movie that I heard about on both Horror Movie A Day and The Totally Rad Show. I won’t pretend like I understood the movie (I had to look it up on Wikipedia to get a better idea of the plot and mechanics), but it made me feel like I did when I was 16 working at Barry’s and Drew (whose last name I don’t know and haven’t seen in almost 10 years now) told me about Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects and then later when I saw Lost Highway and Clerks and some other flicks. Aside from feeling incredibly original and new, Primer showed me you can make an amazing movie that doesn’t talk down to its audience. Now, the above-mentioned movies don’t seem to have much in common on the surface, but the all showed me different ways of looking at movies, from a story standpoint and general presentation to how much you need to let your audience know.

Primer’s beautifully confusing (there’s so much jargon and science in there, it’d make my freshman year roommates jump for joy, what’s up Bryan and Hatem, you guys especially should check this one out). One piece of advice I’d give anyone trying to watch Primer (and understand it), is, don’t drink too many beers and try not to fall asleep halfway through. I fell asleep and then tried watching it a week or so later and had an even hard time remembering the whole story. I can’t wait to check it out again.

I will not, however, be watching Nic Cage’s Next again. As I’ve mentioned again and again I have a strange relationship with Nic Cage movies. Sure The Rock and Con Air are awesome, but somewhere along the lines, Cage seemingly went crazy and has been playing a kind of caricature of himself since then. Or has he? Maybe I’m the one that expects him to be crazy (there’s good crazy like in the National Treasure movies which I love and bad crazy like the amazing Whicker Man YouTube video).

Well, the last two Cage movies I’ve watched from the past few years (Next and Bangkok Dangerous) have just been boring. Even Cage’s craziness can’t save a fairly boring movie with some really bad CGI effects that breaks my cardinal sin of storytelling: don’t make everything I’ve just seen pointless, even if it is a tale of what could happen.

You might be wondering how this fits in with the time travel theme and it kind of doesn’t. But it kid of does, because, as Cage explains early in the movie, he can see a few minutes into his own future and just by seeing the future you’re changing it. Sure, it’s a tenuous connection at best, but it’s there.

Now I’ve just got to get Em to watch T2 which I have on DVD. But the last time I tried watching it, I wanted to rip Edward Furlong’s squeaky vocal chords out of his throat and feed them to the T-1000. Ah well, I’m sure I’m a lot more mature now (eh, not really, this was only a few months ago). Also, I might mine these flicks for a Live Blog post or two as I took copious notes.

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.

Uncaged: Con Air (1997) and The Rock (1996)

2008-12-05
5:05:25 am

I recently switched from Blockbuster to Netflix as it was taking way too freaking long for me to get my DVDs (five days at times, even when I turned them in at the store, ugh). As a result I sat here switching my queue over and moving things around. I gotta say, I like the Netflix site a lot more. It’s way more user friendly and I actually like a lot of their movie suggestions. All of which I’m telling you to let you in on how I inadvertently ended up with two crazy, Nic Cage action movies from the mid 90s. I had never seen Con Air before and it’s been about a decade since I saw The Rock, so it was practically like watching it again for the first time.

CON AIR (1997)

What a great and crazy movie. Like with The Rock, I don’t really buy into one of the initial plot points. In this case its the idea that a military man just home from a tour of duty (or something, I’m not always clear on the jargon) kills a dude in a fight, a dude with a knife near Cage’s pregnant girlfriend no less. According to the brief court scene, soldiers are held to a higher standard because they’re killing machines. Sorry folks, I don’t buy it. Isn’t that plain old self defense? Anyway, aside from that (and Cage’s ridiculous accent throughout the film), I bought in. You see, Cage is done with his five year sentence and just wants to get home to his girl and their kid, so they put him on a plane (why was he so far away from home anyway?) with a bunch of other cons to fly them someplace else. Once in the air, the prisoners take over the plane in a pretty ingenious multi-part plan and we go on from there.

The first thing that struck me about Con Air is the cast. Aside from Cage, you’ve got John Cusak as a cop of some kind, John Malkovich as the mastermind behind the hijack, Dave Chapelle, Danny Trejo (the best interview I’ve ever had) and Ving Rhames as cons and Steve Buscemi as a sociopath serial killer. The characters aren’t all that well rounded, but the actors really sell their parts, offering up some of the creepiest cons in recent memory. Even Cusak, who I love in High Fidelity, Grosse Point Blanke and even 1401, is believable in the roll as an action-faring blockbuster cop, who would have thought?

There are all kind of groan worthy aspects to this flick, but I’ll take all of them in exchange for a crazy balls-out action flick that pays off in big names, big explosions and big plots. The final scene takes place in the middle of Las Vegas, first as a plane crash, then as a chase between a fire truck and two motorcycles. One aspect of the movie that was too much, though, was Colm Meaney’s “disbelieving tough guy cop.” In a movie filled with otherwise compelling (if not likeable) characters, Colm’s character just comes off as a boring, one note pain in the butt whose role should have either been rewritten or toned WAY down. It is cool to see his car come to its end, though.

One last thing, I just looked director Simon West up on IMDb and was horrifying to discover he’s the man responsible for subjecting me to the When A Stranger Calls remake. Well, to be fair, I’m responsible for subjecting Ben, Rickey and myself to a pretty awful movie, but who’s counting? It was by birthday after all!

THE ROCK (1996)

Like I said, I’d seen The Rock before, but had very little memory of it, which is great because this movie turned out to be a great surprise. I had a ton of fun watching The Rock, even though I was a little worried about it’s long running time (I have gotten pretty lazy, going so far as to sending Armageddon back without watching it because of its 2 and a half hour running time). Regardless, I am officially a huge Michael Bay fan, so of me what you will, even given what I think was a fairly weak plot point. My biggest problem with the story is that I don’t really buy that Ed Harris’ character would at any point believe his plan would work. If he’s not willing to actually kill a bunch of civilians, why would the government do anything by completely annihilate the island? Oh well.

The island in question is of course Alcatraz, the famous island prison which has fascinated me since I first saw it on some long forgotten show when I was a kid. There’s always been a great sense of history and mystery surrounding that place so I’m pretty much down with any movie or comic being set there (I’m also a big fan the Mythbusters where they test to see if prisoners could have really escaped from The Rock). I am also a big Sean Connery fan, though who isn’t? Seeing how great he is in this movie makes me wish he’d come back and do a role or two. In the flick he plays the only man to have ever escaped from Alcatraz. he gets teamed with chemical weapons expert Nic Cage to stop Harris and his hired soldiers (one of whom is Candyman) from firing off a series of missles with highly toxic bioweapons inside, which means they’ve got to break back into Alcatraz.

If there’s one thing Bay knows, it’s how to make an awesome movie. This one’s got everything from chase scenes to bad ass lines to bigger than life characters and cushion clenching suspense. It really makes me wonder what happened to Cage, though. If nothing else, these two movies reminded me of how much fun he used to be to watch on screen. Maybe it’s that I used to feel like we were both on the same page (these are goofy fun movies and he’s having a goofy fun time doing it), but somewhere along the line he turned into the guy who would star in Ghost Rider. Yeesh. I’ve also heard some pretty terrible things about Wicker Man and really want to watch it after seeing this Best Scenes from The Wicker Man YouTube video:

Crazy right? Well, I can always go back and watch Con Air and The Rock, both of which looked super awesome on the new TV (I really love this thing). But, hey, maybe John Carpetner’s upcoming Cage starrer Riot will bring him back to action movie prominence (I sure hope so).