Horror Film Review: Anaconda (dir by Luis Llosa)


In many ways, the 1997 monster film Anaconda is an incredibly dumb movie but let’s give credit where credit is for.  Whoever was in charge of casting this movie managed to assemble the most unlikely group of co-stars that you would ever expect to see in a movie about a documentary crew who run into a giant snake while sailing down the Amazon River.

I mean, let’s just consider the most familiar names in the cast.  Jennifer Lopez.  Ice Cube.  Jon Voight.  Owen freakin Wilson.  I mean, it’s not just that you wouldn’t expect to come across these four people all in the same movie.  It’s that they all seem to come from a totally different cinematic universe.  They’ve all got their own unique style of acting and seeing them all on the same small boat together is just bizarre.  You’ve got Jennifer Lopez, delivering her lines with a lot of conviction but not much sincerity.  And then you’ve got Ice Cube coolly looking over the Amazon and basically daring the giant snake to even think about trying to swallow him.  Owen Wilson is his usual quirky self, delivering his lines in his trademark Texas stoner drawl.  And then you’ve got Jon Voight.

Oh my God, Jon Voight.

Voight plays Paul Serone, a Paraguayan who says that he can help the documentary crew find an isolated Amazon tribe but who, once he gets on the boat, basically takes over and announces that he’s actually a snake hunter and he’s planning on capturing the biggest anaconda in existence.  It takes a while for the snake to show up.  When it finally does, it’s actually a pretty impressive throw-back to the type of cheesy by entertaining monsters that used to show up in drive-in movies back in the 50s and the 60s.  But really, the biggest special effect in the movie is Jon Voight.  Wisely, Voight doesn’t waste any time trying to be subtle or in anyway believable in the role of Serone.  Instead, Voight gives a performance that seems to be channeling the spirit of the infamous Klaus Kinski.  Voight growls, snarls, and glares as if the fate of the world depended upon it and he rips into his Paraguayan accent with all the ferocity of a character actor who understands the importance of being memorable in an otherwise forgettable movie.  It’s as if Voight showed up on set and looked at what was going and then said to himself, “Well, Jon, it’s all up to you.”  Serone is really a pretty vicious character.  I mean, he literally strangles a character to death with his legs!  But, thanks to Voight’s crazed energy he’s still the most compelling character in the movie.  It’s really scary to think about what the film would have been like without Voight shaking things up.  Along amongst the cast, Voight seems to understand just how silly Anaconda truly is.  Voight takes a rather middling monster movie and, through sheer force of will, manages to make it at least somewhat entertaining.

Personally, I’d like to see a remake of Anaconda, one that would feature the same cast but would be directed by Werner Herzog.  Just imagine if Herzog had told the story of that trip down the Amazon.  Gone would be the bland dialogue and rudimentary character motivations.  Instead, we’d have Jennifer Lopez slowly going insane while hundreds of monkey lay siege to the boat and Ice Cube musing on the never ending conflict between man and nature.  Herzog’s Anaconda would probably be just crazy enough to keep up with Jon Voight’s performance.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Fist Fight (dir by Richie Keen)


While I wouldn’t begin to argue that it’s been a great year for movies, there were still some really good movies released in 2017.

Unfortunately, there were also some really bad ones.

Which do you think Fist Fight was?

If you answered really bad, congratulations!

Actually, I don’t think anyone was expecting Fist Fight to be a classic or anything like that.  Basically, the film is about a conflict between two teachers, a conflict that seems destined to end with the event promised by the title.  The two teachers are played by Ice Cube and Charlie Day.  Of course, in the movie, they have different name but it doesn’t matter.  Neither character has an identity outside of the actor who plays him.  Charlie Day is nerdy and quick to yell.  Ice Cube is tough and intimidating and not the type to back down from a fight.

Now, at the risk of losing all credibility, I’m going to be honest about something.  When I first saw the trailer for Fist Fight, I thought it might not be as bad as it turned out to be.  Charlie Day is hilarious on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  One of the more appealing things about Ice Cube is his willingness to poke fun at his tough guy image.  More often than not, I tend to like movies about teachers acting like children because, when I was in school, I always suspected that was the way teachers actually behaved when they were safely in the teacher’s lounge.  Charlie Day desperately running around the school, hyperventilating while Ice Cube pops up to remind him that they have a fist fight scheduled?  Seriously, it sounded like it could be funny in a dumb way.

Well, I was wrong.  Fist Fight is one of the most painfully unfunny films that I’ve ever seen.  This is a movie that should have been focused on one thing: the fist fight at the end of the day.  The entire movie should have been Charlie Day preparing for a fight that he knows he can’t possibly win.  Instead, the movie kept getting distracted with unnecessary subplots.  For instance, because it’s the last day before summer, all of the students are pulling pranks on their teachers.  In fact, the entire student body is out-of-control.  But who cares?  We’re here to see Charlie Day try to throw a punch at Ice Cube.  We don’t care about a bunch of obnoxious students pulling pranks that seem like they were directly lifted from a Crown International high school movie.  If we want to see that, we can rewatch The Pom Pom Girls or Joy of Sex.  And if we want to watch a teacher stand up to his students, we can watch Class of 1984.

The film is full of funny people but it never really takes advantage of them.  Actors like Tracy Morgan, Kumail Nanjiani, and Christina Hendricks pop up but just as quickly disappear.  Charlie Day does his best but the level of writing never rises to the level of It’s Sunny In Philadelphia.  (I personally would love to see “The Gang Gets In A Fist Fight With Ice Cube.”)  Compared to Fist Fight, even something like Horrible Bosses looks like nuanced and subversive humor.  There’s a lot of screeching in Fist Fight but very little of it is funny.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #22: Ride Along 2 (dir by Tim Story)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Sunday, December 4th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook: “Name your vagina by using the last movie you watched!”  While everyone else was able to answer with “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Christmas Vacation,” and “Zombeavers,” I was forced to answer “Ride Along 2,” because I watched it last night.  If only I had held off on watching Ride Along 2, I could have answered Moana.

Oh well…

ANYWAY — I recorded Ride Along 2 off of HBO on November 11th.  The main reason that I recorded it was because, at the time, I was panicking over the fact that the year is nearly over and there’s still a lot of 2016 releases that I haven’t seen.  You know me.  I’m a cinema completist and I like to see everything.  As a result, I’ve been recording every single 2016 movie that I come across on cable, even if the film in question is one that I really didn’t have much interest in actually watching.

Like this one for instance…

Ride Along 2 is the latest entry in the ever-growing Ken Jeong Gets Kidnapped genre of action comedies.  At some point in the future, film historians will wonder why Ken Jeong was always either getting abducted or arrested in violent comedies.  I imagine that they’ll devote most of their time to studying The Hangover films and Community but they’ll still find some time to consider Ride Along 2.

In Ride Along 2, Ken Jeong is abducted by two Atlanta detectives who have come to Miami to investigate his boss, murderous drug lord Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt).  The two detectives are James Payton (Ice Cube) and his future brother-in-law, Ben Barber (Kevin Hart).  Of course, it’s really not important that one of them is named Payton or that the other one is named Ben.  Ultimately, they are Ice Cube and Kevin Hart.  Payton is tough and no-nonsense.  Ben is short and outspoken and given to histrionics.  Needless to say, the plot is mostly just an excuse for Kevin Hart to get on Ice Cube’s nerves.

And it’s all pretty predictable.  There’s really nothing in Ride Along 2 that you haven’t already seen in a hundred other action comedies, including the first Ride Along.  So, how much you enjoy this film is going to depend on how much you like Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, and Ken Jeong.  (And I guess it might help if you’re a Benjamin Bratt fan as well.  Are there Benjamin Bratt fans?)  And, I will say this.  Nobody glowers with quite the skill of Ice Cube.  Ken Jeong may play the same role a hundred times but he knows what he’s doing.  And Kevin Hart is actually a good actor, even if his films rarely give him a chance to show the full depth of his ability.

Ride Along 2 is predictable and kinda forgettable.  It didn’t do much for me.  But, at the same time, it’s thoroughly nonpretentious and totally inoffensive.

I still think Moana is a better name, though…

Playing Catch-Up: Straight Outta Compton (dir by F. Gary Gray)


Straight_Outta_Compton_poster

Let’s just start with the obvious.

I am probably the last person who would be expected to appreciate Straight Outta Compton.   In the months leading up to the film’s release last year, I doubt anyone expected me to be a part of the audience.  After all, I’m a Caucasian girl from Texas.  I may have been born in Oak Cliff but, for the most part, I’ve lived in suburbs, small towns, and a few farming communities.  When it comes to music, my taste runs that gamut from EDM to more EDM.  I was less than a year old when NWA formed and I hadn’t even heard Straight Outta Compton or Fuck tha Police until I first heard about this movie.  Going into the movie, I knew who both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were but, otherwise, I knew nothing about NWA.

And yet, with all that in mind, I was in tears by the end of Straight Outta Compton.  That’s proof of how strong a film Straight Outta Compton truly is.  I went into the film with next to zero knowledge of what I was about to see but from the very first minute, it captured my attention and my emotions. From the minute I saw Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) fleeing from a police raid at a crack house, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) dreaming of becoming a success, and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) being threatened by both gang members and police, I was totally invested in their stories.

Straight Outta Compton is a big film and director F. Gary Gray is obviously interested in a lot more than just telling a conventional musical biopic.  Instead, he uses Straight Outta Compton to explore what it’s like to grow up and live in the shadows of America.  That pre-credits raid on that crack house sets the tone for much of Straight Outta Compton, revealing a world where the only escape comes from money and where the police are essentially an invading army.

The film also deserves a lot of credit for capturing the excitement of creation.  The scene where NWA records their first album is pure exhilaration and even better are the concert scenes, all of which capture chaos in the best possible way.  Perhaps the best sequence comes when a defiant NWA performs Fuck tha Police while a similarly defiant swarm of policeman make their way through the crowd, all holding their badges in the air.  In that scene, Straight Outta Compton captures the feel of a society at war with itself.

Straight Outta Compton is an ensemble film in the best sense of the word, with Hawkins, Jackson, and Mitchell all giving excellent and charismatic performances.  Somewhat inevitably, Paul Giamatti shows up as their manipulative manager, Jerry Heller.  It’s a role that feels as if it was tailor-made for Giamatti and, needless to say, he performs the Hell out of it.

I’ve read that Straight Outta Compton takes some liberties with the historical facts and it’s true that the other two members of NWA — MC Ren and DJ Yella — are both largely portrayed as being bystanders.  (That said, Neil Brown did have some funny lines as DJ Yella.)  Towards the end of the film, whenever Eazy-E said, “I should have listened to Dre and Cube!,” I was reminded of the fact that Straight Outta Compton was produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube and not Jerry Heller.

But, historical liberties or not, Straight Outta Compton is an exhilarating and important film and one of the best of the year.

 

The PGA Gives New Life To Sicario and Straight Outta Compton!


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The Producers Guild of America announced their nominees today and guess what?  Ex MachinaSicario and Straight Outta Compton made the cut!  In general, the PGA is a good precursor for the actual Oscar nominations so that’s good news for both of those films.  (Among the films snubbed: Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Carol!)

Here are the nominees:

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures:

Ø  The Big Short

Producers: Brad Pitt & Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner

Ø  Bridge of Spies

Producers: Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt, Kristie Macosko Krieger

Ø  Brooklyn

Producers: Finola Dwyer & Amanda Posey

Ø  Ex Machina

This film is in the process of being vetted for producer eligibility

Ø  Mad Max: Fury Road

Producers: Doug Mitchell & George Miller

Ø  The Martian

Producers: Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, Mark Huffam

Ø  The Revenant

Producers: Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon

Ø  Sicario

Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Edward L. McDonnell, Molly Smith

Ø  Spotlight

Producers: Michael Sugar & Steve Golin,

Straight Outta Compton

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures:

Ø  Anomalisa

Producers: Rosa Tran, Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman

Ø  The Good Dinosaur

Producer: Denise Ream

Ø  Inside Out

Producer: Jonas Rivera

Ø  Minions

Producers: Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy

Ø  The Peanuts Movie

Producers: Craig Schulz, Michael J. Travers

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Awards Season Update: The Black Film Critics Circle Name Creed The Best of 2015!


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Hi!  First off, I must apologize for the Black Film Critics Circle.  They announced their picks for the best way back on the 22nd of December but, with the business of the holidays and all, I’ve only now had the opportunity to post them.

Here’s what the BFCC picked for the best of 2015!

BEST PICTURE Creed
BEST DIRECTING – George Miller, Mad Max Fury Road
BEST ACTOR – Michael B. Jordan, Creed
BEST ACTRESS – Brie Larson, Room
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Sylvester Stallone, Creed
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Tessa Thompson, Creed
BEST SCREENWRITING (Original Screenplay) – Straight Outta Compton
BEST SCREENWRITING (Adapted Screenplay) – The Martian
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – Mad Max Fury Road
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – Son of Saul
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – What Happened, Miss Simone?
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – Inside Out
BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE – Straight Outta Compton

Special Awards were given to Ice Cube, Abraham Attah, and Beasts of No Nation.

BLACK FILM CRITICS CIRCLE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2015
1.Creed
2.Mad Max Fury Road
3.Straight Outta Compton
4.Spotlight
5.The Martian
6.Room
7.Beasts of No Nation
8.The Hateful Eight
9.The Big Short
10.Ex Machina

h/t to Awards Circuit 

Here Are The Winners of The 2015 Hollywood Film Awards, Whatever The Hell Those Are.


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Oh my God, y’all — the Hollywood Film Awards were held on Sunday and a bunch of potential Oscar contenders were honored!  Which all leads to one very important question:

What the Hell are the Hollywood Film Awards?

As I pondered that question, I realized that I had vague memories of sitting through the Hollywood Film Awards last year.  The ceremony was broadcast on CBS and it was distinguished from other awards shows in that there were no nominees.  Instead, only the winners were announced.  It was so amazingly dull and I can remember watching it and thinking, “Awards season has finally jumped the shark.”

(And this was even before Sasha Stone and Jeff Wells had their annual breakdowns…)

Anyway, the Hollywood Film Awards for 2015 were given out on Sunday and I’m assuming they weren’t televised.  (I was busy watching A Student’s Obsession anyway…)  You can find the winners below.  For the most part, it’s a pretty boring list (and why give out awards in November?) but it does allow us an early glimpse into some of the films and performers that are contending for Oscar gold.

Here’s the list.  Along with a gif of a kitty showing just how excited he is over Awards Season…

YAY! AWARDS! I'M SO EXCITED..I'M SO EXCITING...I'M SO ... SCARED!"

“YAY! AWARDS! I’M SO EXCITED..I’M SO EXCITED… I’M SO … SCARED!”

Career Achievement Award presented to Robert De Niro by David O. Russell.

Producer Award presented to Ridley Scott (“The Martian) by Russell Crowe.

Director Award presented to Tom Hooper (“The Danish Girl”) by Amber Heard.

Actor Award presented to Will Smith (“Concussion”) by Jamie Foxx.

Actress Award presented to Carey Mulligan (“Suffragette”) by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Supporting Actor Award presented to Benicio Del Toro (“Sicario”) by Reese Witherspoon.

Supporting Actress Award presented to Jane Fonda (“Youth”) by Laura Dern.

Breakout Actor Award presented to Joel Edgerton (“Black Mass”) by Johnny Depp, Dakota Johnson.

Breakout Actress Award presented to Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) by Armie Hammer.

New Hollywood Award presented to Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) by Ryan Gosling.

Ensemble Award presented to “The Hateful Eight” by Quentin Tarantino.

Breakout Ensemble Award presented to “Straight Outta Compton” by Ice Cube.

Comedy Award presented to Amy Schumer (“Trainwreck”) by Selena Gomez.

Breakthrough Director Award presented to Adam McKay (“The Big Short”) by Steve Carell.

Screenwriter Award presented to Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) by Mark Ruffalo.

Blockbuster Award presented to “Furious 7” by Kurt Russell.

Song Award presented to “Furious 7” (“See You Again”) by Vin Diesel.

Animation Award presented to Pete Docter (“Inside Out”) by Amy Poehler.

Cinematography Award presented to Janusz Kaminski (“Bridge of Spies”).

Composer Award presented to Alexandre Desplat (“The Danish Girl,” “Suffragette”).

Documentary Award presented to Asif Kapadia (“Amy”).

Editor Award presented to David Rosenbloom (“Black Mass”).

Visual Effects Award presented to Tim Alexander (“Jurassic World”).

Sound Award presented to Gary Rydstrom (“Bridge of Spies”).

Costume Design Award presented to Sandy Powell (“Cinderella”).

Make-Up and Hair Styling Award presented to Lesley Vanderwalt (“Mad Max: Fury Road”).

Production Design Award presented to Colin Gibson (“Mad Max: Fury Road“).

"Yawn. These awards are boring..."

“Yawn. These awards are predictable and boring.  You disappoint me…”