Tag Archives: Movies

Classic Movie Review – The Jerk (1979)

Always remember these three important rules of life, 3.5 readers:

#1 – Don’t trust Whitey.

#2 – The Lord loves a working man.

#3 – See a doctor and get rid of it.

BQB here with a review of this classic comedy of Steve Martin’s most hilarious film.

NOTE: This is a review for people who have seen the movie. Ergo, if you want no SPOILERS, look away. Go watch then come back.

I saw this movie on a list of films that couldn’t be remade today. I instantly remembered how much it made me laugh back in the day and had to rewatch it again. I’m not sure what that list was talking about because I would argue this is a rare comedy that has stood the test of time, 43 years in fact.

The premise? Steve Martin, in his first major film role, plays Navin Johnson, the white son of African American sharecroppers in Mississippi. He loves his family and they love him, but on one fateful birthday, he, to his shock, discovers that he is white (yes, even though he is well into his thirties.)

Navin’s mother explains that the family adopted him when he was left on their doorstep as a baby and raised him as one of their own. Realizing that he isn’t getting younger, Navin decides he must venture forth from the family homestead and out into the world, seeking to find fame and fortune of his very own.

From there, the flick is a string of skits and gags, all surrounding Navin’s adventure into the great unknown, with cameos by various stars of the day helping or hindering him as the case may be.

Back in the day, Roger Ebert gave this film 2 stars. You can read that review here:

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-jerk-1979

Now, here’s the thing. I admire Ebert because he built a great career doing what I love, namely, watching and picking apart movies. He’s the Mike Tyson of movie critics. So far be it from me to criticize him, but I think he got this one wrong.

As Ebert argues, comedy is subjective (so if he didn’t find it funny then I suppose in his view he wasn’t wrong). He goes on to explain there is funny for the sake of funny and situational funny. He goes on to say sometimes a character wears a funny hat and that’s the joke and sometimes there’s a silly situation that requires the character to wear a funny hat. The latter, according to Ebert, is way funnier.

Thus, to our veteran critic, Martin is all hat and no cattle, just a doofus doing doofusy things. Truly, he did and one might say he’s a pioneer of screwball comedy, making silly faces long before Jim Carrey.

However, what I believe Ebert missed is this film is one great big allegory for the fallout that occurs when youthful (or even not so youthful), naive optimism crashes into cold, hard reality. Forget Dr. Seus’s “Oh, the Places You Will Go!” Every high school graduate should get a copy of The Jerk.

Think about it. The high school grad thinks they’ve got the world by the horns when they head off to college. They think they know everything. Then they encounter the lousy roommate, the demanding professor, the first boss who dresses them down over a mistake. The student loan payments are due and the job interviews are going nowhere. I did all this studying to be a barista? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Compare this with Navin’s mistake filled journey. Navin is full of uninformed assumptions that blow up in his face due to his lack of experience. Navin thinks he’ll easily hitchhike across the USA, only to stand in front of his family’s home all day, well into the night. Navin gets a job at a gas station and thinks he’s hoodwinked a crook by tying said fraudster’s car to a church, only for the ne’er-do-well to take off down the drown dragging half the church, guests at a wedding still inside, behind him.

Navin is overjoyed when he is listed in the phone book, only for a homicidal maniac to pick his name at random and go on a murderous rampage against him. Navin joins a carnival, meets Patty the slovenly, over-sexed motorbiked stuntwoman and assumes he has found a ticket to free, no strings attached sex, only to discover that Patty is so attached she’s willing to commit violence to keep him.

The Navester comes on too strong with love interest Marie and she bolts. He invents the opti-grab grip eyeglass attachment that makes him a billionaire, only to be bankrupted by a lawsuit from irate customers when the product makes them go cross-eyed.

Bottomline – In life, mistakes are guaranteed. You think you won’t make them, but it’s not a matter of if you’ll make them but when. You’ll make assumptions. You’ll make decisions. Your actions will blow up in your face. You can fall apart and give up, or you can learn from your mistakes, vow not to repeat them and do better.

Had Navin not been such a dum-dum, he might have seen many lessons in his mistakes. He should have walked out to a main road to hitchhike, or heck, earned some money to buy a bus ticket. He should have left to crook to the cops. Not all publicity is good. Don’t have sex with someone you don’t want to commit to lest you hurt their feelings. If you sell a product, make sure you test it first.

Yes, wide-eyed, unbridled optism will surely always crash against the hard wall of reality, but all you can do is pick yourself up, dust yourself off, figure out what you did wrong and not do it again.

In the end, the only lesson Navin learned is home is where the heart is. Sometimes, the greatness we seek is right in our own backyard, coming to us in the form of the people who love us the most, that we love in return. When Navin hits Skid Row, it’s his sharecropper family who find him, clean him up, and bring him back to the place he thrived the most, and an ending credit scene where he dances while his family sings shows us he couldn’t be happier.

Two cringeworthy things that don’t fit today’s modern wokeness. 1 Is when a group of mafiosos use the N word, Navin defends his family’s honor in perhaps the funniest bit of the film when he says, “Sir, you are talking to an n-word!” then magically channels the spirit of a kung-fu warrior as he kicks the asses of all the racist single handed (with the exception of Iron Balls McGinty.)

I would argue this joke gets a pass due to context. Navin loves his family so much. His love for them is the sweetest part of the movie and perhaps the most redeeming quality of an otherwise dimwitted dullard. The n word is only used to pave the way for a bit in which a man who loves his family kung-fus a bunch of racists into thinking twice about saying such nasty slurs. But ok, context is a dead concept when it comes to humor now, so this joke doesn’t hold up.

Second, the family at the end sings “Pick a Bale of Cotton,” a song that references slavery days. All are so happy as the family sings and plays instruments while Navin dances joyously to celebrate his return home for good. In context, one might remember that in slavery times, slaves sang such songs to keep their spirits up when forced against their will to do punishing labor. In 1979, there were no slaves alive but it is possible that Navin’s father, given the time period, might have, as a child, known an old person or two who lived with slavery times or even was a slave. I assume the point of the film was the family is singing a song that was passed down through the generations of their family though yeah, it surely would have been better if the family had sung a happier, less racially charged song.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. When I was a kid, I just thought Steve Martin was a doofus doing doofy things in this film. As an adult, I see it as a silly growing up tale, teaching young as well as old that whenever they take on a new encounter, they will inevitably make mistakes, fall on their face, have to pick themselves up and try, try again. In the end, the only real losers are those who keep making the same mistake over and over.

I do think this is a rare old comedy that holds up in modern times, save for two scenes that don’t keep with modern woke standards. I’m not saying “give it a pass” but if you consider context and intent, the scenes were meant to show a white man who loves his black family so much, more than anything in the world, and ultimately it is this love that is the best part of him.

Bonus points for a cameo by Jackie Mason who plays Navin’s first boss, the gas station owner. As a kid, I was a fan of all kinds of comedy and wonder if I was the only kid who would repeat Mason’s Yiddishisms. I dare say the man did more to popularize the use of words like oy vey, fakakta, and schmuck than anyone.

Double bonus points for Steve Martin. So many comedians rise up the ladder as anyone does in any profession. They get a small part here or there, many a medium sized role that leads to a big break. Martin had already been a popular SNL host and a comedian who sold out shows in major venues. He also wrote for Smothers Brothers. So by the time this, his first movie, came around, he was a veritable PHD in funny holder. Even though Martin was a Great Bambino level comic by the time this film came along, it is still rare for a comedian to knock their first movie out of the park.

Tagged , , ,

Movie Review – Beast (2022)

Roar, 3.5 readers. Very roar, indeed.

BQB here with a review of this stinkburger.

I think we have a contender for the Razzie Award for Worst Film of 2022. When I first saw the trailer, I wanted to like it. The premise is pretty simple yet scary. A father takes his young daughters on a photo safari of remote African wilderness. Alas, various problems ensue and the family ends up stuck in an immobile car, about to become lion chow if they venture too far outside for too long. In other words, it’s Cujo but with a lion instead of a rabid dog.

The film has a lot when it comes to special effects. Flicks are using CGI animals more and more, the good news being that real animals no longer have to be treated like furry, feathery clowns for our amusement. (They never did but that’s a longer convo.) The downside is that filmmakers need to learn to use restraint when it comes to having CGI animals do ridiculous things a real animal would never do. While I understand that every film requires a certain suspension of disbelief, an early scene where two CGI enormous adult lions hug and romp with Sharlto Copley, embracing him like friendly housecats rather than rip him to shreds is absurd.

The problem is there is very little plot to back the film up. What little plot there is, is very contrived and not enough to flesh out the film’s short run time of 90 minutes. Essentially, Idris Elba plays Dr. Nate Samuels, a medical doctor whose wife Amahle recently died after a period of estrangement between the couple.

Nate brings his daughters Meredith and Norah (Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries) on a trip to their mother’s homeland, hoping to find, I don’t know. Spiritual enlightenment. Reconnection with their lost matriarch. A chance to get away from it all. Typical movie brat Meredith treats her old man like garbage, blaming her father for quote unquote “not being there” in typical fashion of a young person who hasn’t been knocked around by the world enough times to realize that expectations never quite match up to reality and bottomline, if Mom didn’t want Dad to be there, then he couldn’t have been there. The reason for the separation is never given other than a vague idea that the couple wasn’t getting along.

The Samuels family’s tour guide of Africa is Martin Battles, played by none other than white South African actor Sharlto Copley. There’s a bit of irony in this casting choice. Given today’s uber woke world, one can’t help but scratch their head at the idea of a white man acting as the protector of a black family during their trip to Africa. However, Copley has been an actor and filmmaker for years, much of his work devoted to a love of the land he grew up in and ultimately, putting issues of race aside, the Samuels family are a bunch of city slickers from New York while Battles is an expert when it comes to African wildlife, having put in years of helping to conserve native species.

In other words, one might look at the premise through a different type of woke lens, that being race doesn’t automatically make one an expert in one subject or another. The Samuels are New Yorkers who know little of the Savannah, but Dr. Samuels is a practiced medicine man called upon to save lives at various parts in the film. Battles is white, but grew up in the area and through experience, learned all about fighting poachers, speaking native languages, keeping one step ahead of hungry lions.

But yeah, I get why viewers of African descent might roll their eyes at that early scene where the lions hug and romp with Sharlto as if he’s a modern-day White Lion King, Tamer and Friend to all African Wildlife he surveys.

At any rate, once the crappy plot is out of the way, the Samuels must survive the attack of a lion on the prowl for revenge after his pride is shot by poachers. An even earlier scene tells us this is no ordinary lion as it slashes through a pack of poachers with a vengeance. There’s one strange part where one poacher gets caught in a snag wire only to become lion food and I can only assume the idea is that he was hoisted on his own petard, i.e. he forgot where his pals laid the wire. Yeah, not gonna lie for a minute I had to pause it, scratch my head and think, “Did that lion lay that trip wire?”

If you can suspend, and I mean really suspend disbelief, then this flick is a nice brief diversion. I wouldn’t bother renting it. Wait for streaming. Though there are some scary scenes, there are also eyerolling scenes where Idris Elba somehow magically uses, I don’t know, father’s love strength to kick the ass of this killer cat rather than become lion food, as we all would, because it is a damn lion.

STATUS: Not shelf-worthy. With a little more flushing out of the plot, this might have been better. I’m not sure if Elba had to be in this movie or if it was just a payday, but he’s too good for such drek. Frankly, Copley is too good for this drek. Even the young actresses playing the daughters were too good for this drek. Dang it, even the CGI lion was too good for this drek.

SIDENOTE: I think the nuclear proliferation of streaming services is turning films into drek. When I saw this trailer, I immediately predicted it would be drek because I had a hunch the filmmakers wouldn’t take it seriously but rather, would throw together a haphazard plot then make the movie largely dependent on some scares courtesy of a CGI lion. One of the girls wears a Jurassic Park shirt, perhaps a tribute to another film where kids ran and hid from CGI beasts, but at least there was some substance, some intrigue to the madness. In other words, give us more. Maybe the family gets tricked into entering the lion reserve or something. I don’t know. Ultimately, streaming media = Hollywood feels the need to churn out the schlock at a rapid pace and the substance is lost. There were good actors and actresses here. There were good special effects here. It just needed a better script, and perhaps more time and money to back that script up.

Tagged , , , ,

Classic Movie Review – North by Northwest (1959)

Intrigue! Espionage! A killer crop duster! BQB here with a review of this classic Hitchcock film.

I’ll admit I’m no expert when it comes to classic cinema. However, from what I have seen, I have to assume that this film must have been a stunner when it came out. It seems way ahead of its time and likely inspired a whole generation of baby boomer action film directors. Without it, you would have never had flicks like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, etc.

The plot? A case of mistaken identity leads to the cross-country trip from hell for Madison Avenue publicist (Mad Man) Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant.) When poor Roger, twice divorced from wives who found his lifestyle rather dull, raises hand to flag down a bellhop while lunching at a ritzy hotel with work associates, henchmen in the employ of dastardly Cold War info broker Phillip Vandamme (James Mason) mistakenly believe Roger answered to a page for the elusive “Mr. Kaplan,” a CIA spy they believe is hot on Vandamme’s trail, ready to undo his villainy at any moment.

From there on, it’s a whirlwind ride that takes Roger to Long Island, the United Nations and aboard a train bound for Chicago, all culminating in an epic battle on the face of Mount Rushmore with Thornhill fighting evildoers atop the stoney faces of the ex-presidents themselves.

Along the way, he befriends Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint, who I believe may very well be the last star of this film to still be alive), a fellow traveler with some intrigue of her own.

All the while, goons lead by head goon Leonard (Martin Landau in one of his creepier roles) are always in hot pursuit.

For a 1950s film, there are scenes that are broad, epic and sweeping. Well-choreographed extras moving to and fro in the background make you really believe you are in Manhattan, or a train station, or at the UN and so on. The fight scene on Mount Rushmore must have made a few 1950s film techs think that Hitchock was out of his mind.

Don’t even get me started on the iconic crop-duster scene. Look away if you don’t want a SPOILER, but in one scene, Roger is lured to an open field, wide swathes of farmland everywhere. As he waits for promised help that never arrives, a seemingly harmless biplane sprays crops off in the distance. Slowly it gets closer and closer until it opens fire on our heroic adman, making several passes until it crashes into a conveniently located fuel truck in a magnificent fiery explosion. Was this one of the first of its kind on film? Better film historians than I can tell you but it has to rank high on the list of early spectacular film wrecks.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Psycho and The Birds are often thought of as Hitchcock’s most memorable works, but an argument might be made that this is his best picture. There are some bits that don’t quite stand the test of time, namely that a 26-year-old hottie swoons for a 50-something man though I suppose we have to remember that in that time, young women were taught that marrying a rich old dude was the path to success. To my surprise, there is a lot of out and open sexual talk in this film, which likely scandalized moviegoers of the day. I suppose later films that actually showed sex wouldn’t have happened without films like this talking about it.

SIDENOTE: Yes, I suppose there is plenty of room for debate as to whether films laden with sex and violence are a good thing. This one is tame by modern standards, though films like it arguably began to wedge the door open. Whether or not Hitchcock would approve of modern flicks is anyone’s guess.

DOUBLE SIDENOTE: There is a classic goof in the Mount Rushmore visitor center scene. A little kid at a table, apparently aware that a blank gunshot fired by Saint’s character, was about to go off, plugs his ears way ahead of time. Apparently, no one who cutting the final film noticed or cared or they didn’t want to go to the trouble of reshooting the scene.

Tagged , , , ,

Movie Review – Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

More Thor, 3.5 readers. More Thor indeed.

BQB here with a review of Marvel’s latest.

I fear we might be in the Jump the Shark phase of the most expensive television show ever created, that being the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man is dead. Captain America is old and Hulk? Well, he could never sustain a movie on his own.

Like Paul McCartney, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is left to perform solo without the trio of mates who made up the fab four. However, if you’d like a brief Guardians of the Galaxy flyby followed by a team-up with a Lady Thor, Valkyrie and a rock man, then this movie might be up your alley.

Christian Bale stars as Gorr the God Butcher, and to Bale’s credit he really is one of few actors who can completely transform himself into a virtually unrecognizable new person. Gorr and his daughter, Love, the last of an ancient race, seek help from their God Rapu, only to be mocked. Angered when Rapu refuses to help his dying child, Gorr claims the necrosword, slays Rapu then goes on a killing spree across the otherworldly realms, slashing his way through many a god from ancient mythical folklore.

Meanwhile, Thor is hot off a streak of saving various worlds from villainy with the help of his new BFFs, the G of the G when Gorr attacks New Asgard a little refugee town on Earth, home to the children of many a god who perished in Old Asgard during Thor: Ragnarok.

When Gorr kidnaps the Asgardian kiddies in the hopes of drawing Thor into a trap, Thor teams up with other friends Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and Jane Foster, now Lady Thor, having sought out the power of the hammer of Thor in the hopes of curing a fatal illness only to become a Thor herself.

I’m not sure how the Thor movies turned into a joke every 5 seconds laugh fest but I suppose they were always semi-intended to be a parody of ancient religion. Screaming goats, a bloated Zeus played by Russell Crowe, Thor’s clothes getting blasted off only for women to feint at the sight of his studly bod are just some of the many goofy happenings.

It’s funny and fun. On the other hand, it feels stitched together at times. Gorr is the most interesting character and arguably, has a justifiable grievance, having lived a pious life only to be mocked by a God he worshipped in his time of need. We see very little of him until the end. The Guardians are fun but it feels like they as well as other MCU characters have cameos limited to whatever the actors could do in a very quick time frame to scoop up a quick payday.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy but like the recent Dr. Strange, I’m at the point where I don’t rush out to the theater anymore to watch these flicks. Rather, I just wait until they are on Disney Plus now.

OK I’ll give my rant. I’m not a huge fan of the trend where every male hero gets vaginized. I turn on a Hawkeye series only to see it’s mostly about Hawkeye training a lady apprentice to become a lady arrow shooter. Lame in theory but fun in practice.

Meanwhile, She-Hulk is more interesting than any stand alone male Hulk movie.

And though I balked at the previews, when I saw the movie I felt like, yeah, I can see how Jane would try to use her scientific mind to locate and harness the power of her ex’s hammer to gain newfound strength in a dark time.

So, to give props to Disney, it’s all done in interesting, watchable ways. And Marvel as well as DC always had a habit of just creating female versions of their superheroes when they ran out of ideas for their male heroes.

But I guess my complaint is that there seems to be a trend toward pushing women to become manly, as if being a woman is somehow a bad thing and women will never be whole unless they turn into dudes.

In other words, there’s a part where Jane corrects Gorr, telling him she’s not Lady Thor. She’s either Mighty Thor or Dr. Jane Foster and I just wonder, couldn’t she have just grabbed Mjolnir and become her own new hero? But then I guess anything but Natalie Portman in a Thor suit wouldn’t have sold tickets.

Tagged , , ,

Movie Review – Loving Adults (2022)

Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark, 3.5 readers.

BQB here with a review of Netflix’s Danish dubbed in English hit.

These are not great Danes. Ha! See what I did there?

Christian and Leonara seem to have an idyllic life. Sure, they have had their share of problems in life. They have spent the past several years as well as boatloads of money helping their son beat an illness. However, now that battle has been won and with the lad off to college soon, it’s time for these middle-aged folk to have some quality time.

But not so fast. Christian has fallen in love with the much younger Xenia, gratuitously schtupping her behind his wife’s back and apparently Danish cinema still allows boobies on screen because America sure as hell doesn’t. Violence, bloodshed and mayhem? Sure, but boobies? Never!

Anyway, hurt feelings lead to accusations which lead to threats which lead to murder, murder and more murder. One thing this movie does well is leaving you with a sense that there really is no one to root for here. At first, I found myself siding with Leonora, the faithful wife ousted after years of devotion for a younger model. But then her retaliations go above and beyond the punishment deserved by a pervy cheating husband. Mr. and Mrs. go back and forth, first at war, then as accomplices stuck with one another. A truly disastrous marriage that dredges up past sins and presents a terrible future.

All framed around a police commissioner narrator who tells his daughter about this case, what he describes as the most horrifying case he ever investigated in his time on the force. This isn’t really a story a daughter wants to hear on her wedding day, but alas the investigation led the old timer with such a blatant fear of love that he feels he must warn everyone of the dangers of falling for someone. Love, the good inspector advises us, can drive people mad and cause them to do terrible things.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. You’ll have to get used to the English dubbing and there are some words and phrases that I assume sound better in Danish that don’t translate to English. Otherwise, a scary story that will make you think twice about tying the knot. You don’t just have to worry about your partner’s sanity today, but for years and years to come.

Tagged , ,

Movie Review – Bullet Train (2022)

Guns! Swords! Disco!

BQB here with a review of Bullet Train.

I had a fun time but I had absolutely no idea what was going on. That sums up a) this movie or b) my life, except that you’d have to take out the part where I said I had a fun time.

I’d explain the plot in full detail but I’m still figuring it out in my head and failing. The condensed version is that pretty much every passenger on board a high-speed train to Tokyo is an assassin who either wants to kill, is a target of or somehow otherwise connected to The White Death, a Russian who took control of a Japanese Yakuza syndicate.

Amidst the chaos, passive assassin Brad Pitt must snatch a suitcase full of money while escaping the clutches of a brother duo Lemon and Tangerine, a Mexican gangster, a professional poisoner, a schoolgirl with a penchant for explosives and you know honestly I eventually lost count.

The fight scenes are prolific, the plotting, conspiring, double-crosses, and jokes abound. It all has a very Tarantino-esque feel, though the heavy dependance on flashbacks can be annoying.

My main reason for applause is that in most films, Brad Pitt just seems like Brad Pitt, a super handsome man who just shows up and is super handsome. Here, he really convinces us he’s a nebbish type, a nerd riddled with anxiety armed not with guns but with calming techniques and self-help quotes. Yes, he does kill, but only when necessary, and he legit feels bad about it and tries his best to avoid it. In other words, Brad Pitt becomes someone else in this film.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. You’ll have to check your brain at the door and you may have to watch it twice to fully understand what happened, since it all moves very fast yet there are so many moving parts.

Tagged , ,

Movie Review – The Gray Man (2022)

Explosions! Espionage! Intrigue!

BQB here with a review of Netflix’s The Gray Man.

I’d been avoiding this one for a while too, largely because I assume most Netflix flicks are trash, but everyone’s favorite streaming service has been surprising lately. This one is a special effects laden, hardcore action, ridiculous amounts of destruction action scene and had it been released in a theater I would have been satisfied on the return on investment on my ticket price.

Many stars and Netflix doesn’t do the thing they often do where they just pack a movie full of stars and they have them do a passable job on a lackluster script.

Ryan Gosling plays Sierra 6, one of a numbered agent assassin program devised by Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton.) The sierras are ex-cons, released from prison in exchange for a lifetime of service taking out bad guys at the CIA’s command.

Alas, when Six is ordered to take out a fellow Sierra, said target provides our protagonist with evidence that his bosses are up to no good and now the hunter becomes the hunted. Yes, I know this literally the plot of most spy movies, but it is done in great globetrotting style here.

Chris Evans plays against type, here as uber douche Lloyd Hansen who is an ends justify the means type of guy, completely uncaring as to how many innocents have to die in the name of acquiring his target. He even brags about his villainy, so that’s different for the guy we’re used to seeing as squeaky clean Captain America.

Meanwhile, the ever lovely Ana de Armas, who I intend to propose to when my self-publishing millions come through, rounds out the cast as Miranda, a spy who sometimes is out to help Six, or catch Six, or help him again, depending on where we are in the movie.

It’s up to Six and Miranda to save the day, and Fitzroy’s niece Claire (Julia Butters), kidnapped by the vile Lloyd in the hopes of drawing Six out.

Amidst all of this mess, lots of people get shot like cannon fodder and there are lots of explosions and car chases and plane explosions and train explosions and at one point I was like, “Oh come on, I don’t think the CIA would kill that many people just to get one guy” but hey, it’s a movie, it’s fun, so stream it today.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Between this and Day Shift, Netflix is really winning me over lately.

Tagged , ,

Movie Review – Nope (2022)

Nope is a big nope for me.

BQB here with a review of Jordan Peele’s latest.

It’s hard not to root for Jordan Peele. Very few comedians make the transition to serious movie director. His first two films, Get Out and Us used the horror genre to discuss society’s racial problems that all too often leave black people feeling like they’re living in a real life horror film. Us was especially scary to me, so much so that I never wanted to watch it again, not because it was bad because it was that scary and I didn’t want to get scared again.

But while the first two flicks had clear messages (white people controlling and/or replacing the identity of black people in Get Out or how an underground world of our violent, angry doppelgangers who are just like us suffer while people above thrive serves as a lesson about class privilege in Us) the message here is not very clear, unless I am oblivious, which is possible and if so, feel free to explain it to me in the comments.

The plot? Daniel Kaluuya and Emerald Haywood are OJ and Emerald Haywood, the brother/sister team who, after the untimely death of their father Otis Sr (Keith David) are struggling to keep their family business afloat. The Haywards are the descendants of Alistair Haywood, the jockey who appeared in the very first movie ever, a short film showing a jockey ride a horse. Thus, a Haywood was Hollywood’s first actor, stunt man, and animal trainer. The Haywoods have run a ranch in Agua Dulce, California ever since, providing horses to Hollywood productions. Alas, as often happens in family businesses, the loss of their father leaves a big hole to fill, the kids feel like they don’t measure up to the old man’s years of experience. OJ knows how to handle horses but is painfully shy. Emerald has no interest in helping out at the range but is boisterously outgoing, thus the person who communicates to all the Hollywood folk. Ultimately, they need each other.

Their competition is Jupiter’s Claim, a ranch run next door by former child actor Ricky Park (Steve Yeun). OJ and Ricky know that animals are unpredictable, and have seen devastating results that suggest animals really were never intended by nature to be sources of entertainment for man. As a child, Ricky was the only member of a sitcom (about a family that adopted a chimp) cast to avoid being either killed or horribly maimed by a chimpanzee’s on set freakout. OJ’s lack of communication skills (well, maybe rather a lack of ability to communicate authoritatively) lead to a crew member getting kicked in the face by a horse. Sadly, despite seeing what can go wrong when animals are controlled, OJ and Ray stay in the animal training business anyway.

Anyway, when strange doings in the sky transpire above Agua Dulce, OJ and Emerald see dollar signs. The family business has been losing customers and therefore money ever since their father passed. They hope if they can catch photographic evidence of UFO activity, they’ll get a payday, fame and maybe even an interview on Oprah. (When was this movie supposed to take place? Oprah has been off the air a long time.)

Meanwhile, Ray hopes to wow audiences by baiting the flying object into appearing for the viewing pleasure of his ranch guests.

Ultimately, I’m not exactly sure what the film’s message is. There’s an obvious ribbing of man’s desire for fame and fortune, as well as the stupid lengths we go to grab it. Ray clearly lives in the past with an entire room dedicated to his child sitcom star days, even though one would think the horror he experienced on set would have gotten him out of the acting alongside animals game for good. Emerald wants to be an actress herself, going to great lengths to promote herself during set visits while ignoring very real aspects of her family’s established business.

It all culminates in a final half where everyone’s running around trying to film whatever the heck this flying thing is rather than embracing the survival instinct and getting the heck out of there. It’s all about grabbing the footage to get the cash, no one ever thinking maybe they ought to call the government, get the area closed off to save lives, then protect themselves. People doing stupid things in the name of good footage to post online seems like a problem in the social media age.

I’ll share in other online criticism in that the previews made us think we were getting a pretty awesome UFO flick while the movie itself is very long and the first half is mostly dedicated to how shitty the Hollywood animal training business is and how perhaps it shouldn’t even exist because humans are stupid, treat living things like props and attempts to control living things inevitably explode in dangerous ways. All valid points and feel free to make an entire movie about that, but as a viewer, you just sit around, look at your watch, and wonder when the UFO is going to appear.

The last half featuring a showdown between the flying object, the Haywoods and their buddies Angel, an IT tech and documentarian Antlers Holst (Brandon Perea and Michael Wincott) who serve as the cameramen tasked with documenting the phenomenon while the Haywoods draw it out.

Perhaps Holst provides the movie’s message. “This dream you’re chasing, where you end up on the top of the mountain and everyone is cheering for you. It’s the one you never wake up from.”

In other words, we’re all fools and the lengths we go to in order to get noticed, to get rich, are all silly and ill-advised. Maybe the work-a-day stiffs have it right. Earn a living, keep your head down, stand by your family. Everyone else trying to be famous will never find what they’re looking for.

STATUS: Borderline shelf-worthy. I almost ranked it non-shelf worthy but it has fun moments. The movie’s running joke, where OJ sees danger, says “Nope” matter of factly, then hides from it, is funny and perhaps is the best strategy for life. When you sense something is wrong, usually it is, so don’t run toward it in hopes that you’ll achieve fame. OJ is the reluctant hero as he doesn’t really long for fame and fortune and is only participating in the alien photography project to save the business his father and family created and built. Ultimately, I think the film’s extra long run time makes it suffer and Peele needed to decide if he wanted to make a movie about UFOs or about how the Hollywood animal training industry sucks. You might not believe he eventually does tie the two together, but you do have to wait for it.

The stars are good. Kuulaya plays a quiet man so doesn’t get a lot of material, but uses what he gets well. Keke is funny as an attention grabber. Steve Yeun gets a chance to shine and this might be his most interesting role since playing The Walking Dead’s Glenn. Everyone does their part, I just think the movie wasn’t sure what it wanted to be.

Tagged , , ,

BQB Reviews Star Trek – Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979)

Woo hoo! Star Trek on the big screen! Good for you for following this blog. When you do, you get news like this over 40 years late.

BQB here with a review.

I saved the first Shatner-centric Star Trek movie review for last for a simple reason. I literally have never seen it before.

I know. Gasp! Gasps all around. A man who professes to be a nerd having never seen this movie before. What can I say? It came out before my time while I saw the others either in the theater as a little kid (The whole trio of Spock dies, is reborn and gets delivered home arc) or on VHS (the last two.)

At any rate, I’d seen bits and pieces of it but never the entire thing at once.

So let’s dive in.

At the outset, you can tell that this film was released at a time when Star Wars unleashed a wave of space flicks, all the studios thinking there is gold in them thar space movie hills. I don’t think any of these space flicks matched up to Star Wars, though the Star Trek films were at least profitable and memorable.

You can tell though that the producers, writers, special effects team, etc. are all trying to do things with the franchise that would have never been possible in the original 1960s TV show.

It all begins with now Admiral James T. Kirk arriving at the Enterprise, where it is being worked on in space dock. In an early scene, Scotty pilots a shuttle craft, bringing Kirk to the ship and the scene is dragged out, going out of its way to show the sheer size and magnitude of The Enterprise in all its glory, whereas the best they could do in the old TV show was show a teensy model that we were supposed to pretend was big.

The special effects are amateurish compared to today’s CGI, but at the time surely wowed audiences. Smaller craft fly by the Enterprise. There are dudes in astronaut gear flying around it, though they don’t seem to serve any purpose other than some technician wanted to prove he could put a little astronaut guy out there flying around the ship. If you can forgive the bad effects, you do get a sense of awe as you picture what it might be like for a person in the 2300s seeing an enormous spaceship.

And now to the story. A bizarre entity, some sort of large energy field is headed on a path to Earth. Dum-dum Klingons try to intercept it only to be instantly vaporized. Kirk arrives to take control of the Enterprise from Captain Decker (Stephen Collins who would join the actress who plays the lady whale scientist in ST5 to play the other half of a couple with a lot of kids in 7th Heaven.)

A pissing match between Decker and Kirk ensues. The old Enterprise is no more. This is an all new Enterprise, complete with computers and bells and whistles that Kirk has never trained on. Decker knows all the changes. Kirk doesn’t. Decker presumes Kirk is just using the crisis to take over the Enterprise because that’s what he really wants. There is truth to this as Kirk hates being behind a desk and wants to be out on the open space road, living a life of adventure, punching out alien d-bags and getting jiggy with fine ass green space hotties.

It’s the late 70s, so Kirk and the original cast aren’t as old but they are all in middle age range. Shatner is actually kinda buff and studly in this one, so they go out of their way to put him in a muscle shirt. The film’s overall tone is quite serious, perhaps a bit more serious than we are used to in ST films. In Khan and later films, we really see the storyline embrace equal parts humor and seriousness. Kirk, Bones and McCoy find their niche as a quasi-Marx brothers routine as space explorers who get on each others’ nerves but at the end of the day, love each other.

Here, the trio comes out of mothballs. Kirk has been riding a desk. Spock and Bones, to my shock, have quit Starfleet only to reenlist (be drafted?) for this flick. McCoy returns with a bushy beard, greatly offended to have been forced back into service. Spock was on Vulcan, learning a process that would truly rid him of the little emotion he had so he can be a full blown logical mofo and not have to deal with emotions from his human side when he senses the entity’s presence and leaves to help his old Starfleet homies. Alas, he’ll never be considered 100 hundred percent logical by Vulcan’s exacting logic standards, though his human friends will always consider him absurdly logical. Dude just can’t win.

Long story short, the crew investigates, even flying through the entity, unraveling the mystery of what this presence is. All that is revealed early is that it calls itself V’Ger. Sadly, and in a rather creepy move, it kills then takes control of the body of Ilia, a Deltan navigator played by the late, great Persis Khambatta. We never see Deltans before or after this movie and all we know is that Ilia is a bald lady who blurts out to Kirk that she has taken an oath of celibacy upon her arrival on deck. The line seems strangely timed and I can’t tell if it is just a fact the writers wanted us to know or if Kirk is such a notorious space-poon hound that she felt she had to launch a preeemptive strike to let him know her lady parts are closed for bidness.

The Ilia-bot scenes are scary indeed. The late 70s/early 80s saw a lot of movies where humans end up controlled by machines and this might be the most disturbing. Her computerized voice, the way she stares coldly at the crew as they realize she is recording info and sending it back to V-Ger, all strange indeed. Decker, who once had a romance with Ilyia, is crushed.

Sidenote: If you look her up online, Persis Khambatta’s story is inspiring yet sad. She was somewhat of a Cinderella story. Born and raised in India, her father abandoned the family at a young age but her mother and siblings scraped by. She gets model work in her teens, gains national Indian notoriety in soap commercials. Becomes a Bollywood star. Gets recognized by U.S. Hollywood. Lands this role. Gets steady work in US movies in the 1980s. Sadly, develops heart problems in the 90s and dies young at 49 in 1999. I always hate to see people die young but at least her star was able to burn bright in her youth.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. The colors are drab and it is definitely trying hard, perhaps too hard, to be very serious. One might argue that when a giant, strange entity is on approach to destroy earth, there is no time for humor, but then again, something is always trying to destroy earth in the other films yet the writers manage to strike a balance between humor and high stakes. There is a scene where the transporter malfunctions and you get to see the horrifying dark side of what happens to people when the transporter shits the bed, making you wonder why anyone would get into the transporter beam field at all. It is a bit of a plot hole that there are no safety protocols, i.e. no one calls and asks ahead like “Hey is your transporter working?” before they start beaming people aboard but oh well. It’s all part of the film’s attempt to say, “Hey, this is grown up adult Star Trek” before someone at the studio apparently advised to make things a little lighter, which I’m glad they did so little kids like me back in the day could have fun watching these flicks.

Tagged , ,

BQB Reviews Star Trek – Star Trek 6 – The Undiscovered Country (1991)

“The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”

BQB here with a review of the final Star Trek film featuring the OG Shatner and Friends Crew.

Star Trek 5 faced heavy criticism, ultimately with many wondering whether a philosophical sci-fi series where characters spend a lot of time debating and contemplating would survive in an era of blockbusters where moviegoers expected characters to kick ass first, second and third and maybe think about it later, four or more steps down the line.

This film closes out the voyages of Capt. Kirk’s Enterprise well, providing a decent mix of action and ass kickery.

Everyone’s least favorite warmongering species the Klingons have suffered a terrible disaster. A mining explosion on Praxis destroys the Klingon moon as well as the ozone layer of their home world, Kronos. If you can cite these intricate details of the Klingon Empire as well as I can then fear not, for one day you can be like me and spend all of your time blogging about Star Trek and not tapping any pussy whatsoever.

Moving on.

Reeling from disaster, Klingon Emperor and total peace-nik Gorkon proposes to turn a crisis into an opportunity – namely, since the Klingon Empire can no longer afford to fund its warmongering expansionist ways throughout the galaxy, they must make peace with their dreaded enemy, The Federation of Planets, i.e. those who gave us Starfleet.

Kirk is not a fan. He is pretty vocal in his hatred of Klingons. Ever since they killed his son in The Search for Spock, Kirk becomes a rabid species-ist and if some sort of KKK-like organization existed in space for the purposes of shitting on, destroying and defiling Klingons, then Kirk would totally volunteer to be its grandmaster. OK, maybe he isn’t that bad but even so, the dude really despises Klingons.

Klingons feel the same way about humans and tensions are high when Kirk is voluntold by Starfleet to escort Gorkon and his contingent to a peace summit where negotiations with the Federation will ensue. A state dinner between the humans and the klingons is fraught with strife, though not without occasional moments of common ground and lots of Romulan ale, which according to the film is the quickest way to get mad drunk in space.

Alas, treachery ensues. The Enterprise fires upon Gorkon’s ship, taking out much of his crew, as well as the ship’s gravity. Left defenseless as they float around, two mysterious humans in unidentifiable helmets and magnetic boots beam aboard and bat cleanup, zapping the shit out Klingons in a bloody mess that a) seems a bit much for a Star Trek film and b) I can only assume this scene inspired a young Quentin Tarantino.

Kirk and Bones beam aboard the Klingon ship to offer assistance, but no good dead goes unpunished as they are quickly taken prisoner by the film’s villain, General Chang (Christopher Plummer.) Yeah, it was 1991 so some writer somewhere thought it would be cool to make an alien sound exotic by giving him a Chinese name but whatever. It was a different time, right? No, that’s not cool? OK fine. Build a time machine and travel back to 1991 and protest the movie then.

Fun sidenote: Shatner and Plummer are both Canadian Shakespearean actors. Shatner served as Plummer’s understudy in a production of Henry V in the 1950s. Flash forward to the 1990s and Plummer is decked out in heavy alien makeup, hamming it up and chewing on scenery as he convinces a Klingon judge to find Kirk and Bones guilty.

Blah, blah, blah. Kirk and Bones must escape the space prison work camp they have been transported to while Spock and crew, working with she-vulcan Lt. Valeris, scour the Enterprise for clues that will absolve their captain and doctor and point to the true traitors.

Another fun sidenote: Before she became a total Samantha on Sex in the City, Kim Cattrall was a staple in many of your fave 1980s flicks. Mahoney’s love interest in Police Academy. Kurt Russell’s love interest in Big Trouble in Little China. A hot lady vulcan in this film.

Overall, the film is a political thriller, one might call it a Tom Clancy-esque flick of espionage, sedition and intrigue but with dudes in alien makeup grabbing their knees when Kirk discovers that sometimes when you kick an alien in the knee, you are kicking an entirely different and sensitive body part altogether. Whoops!

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Shatner and Plummer’s love of Shakespeare shows in this film. Gorkon is a fan of the bard and quips to his human colleagues that they simply “must read Shakespeare in the original Klingon” one day. While Hamlet referred to “the undiscovered country” as the afterlife, the place humans go after they die, i.e. the last place to explore, this film sees it as a state of peace, i.e. a state long sought after yet never achieved…until now?

Bonus points to the movie for being woke in a time when woke wasn’t really a word, at least not one used in the sense that it is today. Gorkon and Shatner discuss how for peace to be achieved, their elder generation will have to be the ones who suffer the most, learning how to move on and work together while setting longstanding grudges and memories of the other side’s bad acts aside. Younger generations who never saw war and conflict will find it easier to embrace the other. This film came out in 1991, just after the Berlin Wall fell, so one wonders if there aren’t some undertones about America and Russia working together in the wake of the Cold War.

NOTE TO 1990s STAR TREK WRITERS: RUSSIA’S OLDER GENERATION BOSS CONTINUES TO BE AN A-HOLE.

Double Bonus Points – Kirk does grow in this film in that he eventually learns that holding a grudge against an entire species because one of its members killed his son is not cool. We also gain some insight into why Klingons aren’t fans of humans. Throughout the series, Klingons are treated as vile scum for Kirk to fight but we learn that Klingons see the Federation as an organization that is racist against all non-humans and that while the Federation claims to represent many different lifeforms, only humans seem to grab the highest ranks of the organization.

A fitting ending to the 6 film series featuring Shatner and the original crew. Kirk and his crew retire, having played their parts in negotiating what will hopefully be a longstanding peace between two feuding factions of the galaxy.

Even so, Scotty still can’t get the damn warp drive to work.

Tagged , , , ,