Thursday, December 31, 2015

1982 Capsule Reviews

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
rating: ****
review: A lot of Star Trek fans adhere to this one as the high-water mark in franchise film history, incapable of being surpassed and the source of a lot of later franchise-own rip-offs.  Needless to say I don't completely agree with that assessment.  Memorable, certainly, and worthy of a lot of praise.  But it continues to age, and timeless cinema...doesn't do that.

Blade Runner
rating: ****
review: This is perhaps the exact opposite of the above, a film that seemed forgettable at first, but just keeps aging better and better.  With Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott as the headlining talent, that's really no surprise.

rating: ****
review: When they talk about Oscar-bait, this is exactly the kind of movie they're talking about.  But it's probably a better way to discover Ben Kingsley than Lawrence of Arabia is Peter O'Toole.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
rating: ****
review: E.T. himself is timeless.  The rest of the movie?  That's more debatable.

Rocky III
rating: ****
review: This third entry in the franchise proves that the formula is incredibly durable, even as its reputation remains as much of an underdog as Rocky himself.  The clever thing these films do is keep the narrative going rather than discard it each new one.

The Road Warrior
rating: ***
review: Everyone realized how big Mad Max could be, so this one ramps everything up, but the jury's still out as to whether he's yet worth the hype.

First Blood
rating: ***
review: The incredible irony of the Rambo movies is that they start incredibly low-key.

rating: ***
review: The surprisingly durable fable of the little orphan is always watchable.

Trail of the Pink Panther
rating: ***
review: If you had no idea that Peter Sellers was in fact dead before this production began, you probably wouldn't obsess over that fact while watching this final Sellers appearance in the series.

The Secret of NIMH
rating: **
review: A beloved children's book becomes an animated film.  I don't really remember this one, and have never felt particularly compelled to watch it again.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

1981 Capsule Reviews

Superman II
rating: *****
review: How to improve on Christopher Reeve's original appearance?  Dip into the mythology and create an iconic version of a villain who until then had meant little, certainly as compared to Lex Luthor.  Terrence Stamp's Zod has inspired not only further comics appearances of the character, but other movie villains as well, including Marvel's Avengers' Loki  Even better?  The reconstructed Richard Donner cut from 2006.

rating: ****
review: Warren Beatty inexplicably lost most of his significance over the years, despite appearing in this sensational look at communism in America and how ideals usually become corrupted when carried out in less than ideal ways (in spite of Beatty's efforts, mind you).

History of the World, Part I
rating: ****
review: Mel Brooks suffered the same fate as Beatty, being taken less and less seriously over the years.  This was his madcap tour of history, with one of film's first teasers tacked on at the end (a fake one, mind you).  It's a wicked sendup of the historical epics that had been popular in Hollywood.  Maybe not as clever as Monty Python's similar efforts, but better than their movies that weren't.

Time Bandits
rating: ****
review: Not as memorable as his later efforts, but this is Terry Gilliam beginning to realize his potential post-Python. 

rating: ***
review: Ponderous historic epic of the new order, part of the vanguard that sought to match the Star Wars effect in different ways.  More interesting these days in spotting future stars (Liam Neeson! Patrick Stewart!) before anyone really knew who they were.

Clash of the Titans
rating: ***
review: Entertaining, to be sure, and the last great mark of a master (Ray Harryhausen), but there are inexplicably those who thought it couldn't be done better in 2010.

The Great Muppet Caper
rating: ***
review: It's no surprise that years later the Muppets had to stage a comeback when their early movies were more or less wacky Muppet adventures loosely strung together.  I'm sure I saw this when I was younger, but damned if I could remember any of it.

Raiders of the Lost Ark
rating: ***
review: This is one of those movie heresies I subscribe to, that...later Indiana Jones adventures were better.  This is his classic debut, of course.  I didn't grow up with it.  I suspect that's one of the reasons it's otherwise beloved.

The Fox and the Hound
rating: **
review: Disney started making endless streams of interchangeable animated flicks before the end-of-the-millennium renaissance.  This is another movie I'm sure I saw as a kid, but damned if I can remember anything.

rating: **
review: Bill Murray would have plenty of other chances to discover movies he could be proud to make.  This one isn't bad, but his choices got better.  Basically part of the whole wacky team genre that culminated in the Police Academy franchise.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Ten Favorites from 2015

The latest from Cameron Crowe was a victim of a lot of things, from the fake racism critics cooked up (hey, Emma Stone's character is not 100% native Hawaiian, it's completely written into the script) to further efforts to sabotage would-be new movie stars (Bradley Cooper, especially after the unexpected huge success of last year's American Sniper), and the belief that Crowe himself is no longer relevant.  Put all that aside.  Recognize that you've also got Bill Murray.  And a perfectly excellent movie.

Furious 7
Paul Walker's understated goodbye helps elevate this whole experience, which otherwise pumps the franchise up to superhero proportions.

Jim Parsons had unexpectedly found a second act (concurrent with his first one, The Big Bang Theory) as a breakout voice talent.  He easily carries this fun animated flick.

Jupiter Ascending
The Wachowskis deliver again with another mind-bending alternate view of reality.  I think the fact that so few people care anymore (see: Cameron Crowe) makes it all the more interesting for those who still do.  Hence, a cult film in the making.

The Martian
Matt Damon in what might amount to his career-best performance, one that captures his full potential.  He may have just become the new Tom Hanks.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
This series keeps finding new life.  I enjoyed Jeremy Renner much more this time than in his debut, although it's still weird how everyone seems to have so much trouble figuring him out after his breakthrough in The Hurt Locker.

Tarsem joins the ranks of great filmmakers getting the critical snub this year as most reviews glossed over this one so much it was downright criminal.  But the joke's on them.

As it looked in the trailer, this was a fine showcase for Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and of course Benicio del Toro.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Nearly everyone seems to love this.  With good reason! 

The Visit
M. Night Shyamalan did something people actually liked?  Stop the presses!  I look forward to eventually catching up on Wayward Pines, too.

Still waiting to see others, like Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, Hateful Eight, and The Revenant...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

1980 Capsule Reviews

The Empire Strikes Back
rating: *****
review: This affirmed Star Wars geek finds everything to love about the iconic Episode V in the saga, from the introductions of Yoda and Lando Calrissian to the epic duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, including its revelatory climax. 

Raging Bull
rating: *****
review: Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro in their definitive collaboration, the most artful boxing movie ever, and one of the defining cinematic portraits of a scumbag.

The Blues Brothers
rating: ****
review: Arguably the best movie to come out of Saturday Night Live, filled with great music and a few hilarious episodes (the country and western incident in particular).

The Stunt Man
rating: ****
review: Peter O'Toole in a kaleidoscope of a movie, tossing the main character and the viewer into a wild and surreal ride.  Still waiting to be rediscovered.

The Formula
rating: ****
review: George C. Scott and Marlon Brando in the role that charts the course of his late career as someone more interesting in commentating on the state of humanity than his own stardom.

rating: ****
review: With all due apologies to everyone else in it, Bill Murray dominates in his breakout role as the nutcase matching wits with a gopher.

The Shining
rating: ****
review: Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, and Jack Nicholson combine for the creepiest hotel experience ever.

Mad Max
rating: ***
review: Mel Gibson is so shockingly subdued in this he's hardly recognizable, in the debut of an ever-expanding franchise that keeps getting weirder.

rating: ***
review: Leslie Nielsen completely revamped his career with this movie, which otherwise tends to date much poorer.

Flash Gordon
rating: **
review: Goofy sci-fi fun in exactly the tradition that Star Wars obliterated three years earlier.

Herbie Goes Bananas
rating: **
review: The Love Bug franchise reaches the final installment of its original run in about as inspired fashion as the later in the Pink Panther originals.

Altered States
rating: **
review: Recommended to me as a predecessor to the TV series Fringe, but more reminiscent of gonzo movie experimentation.

Smokey and the Bandit II
rating: *
review: A somewhat desperate attempt to contextualize the Bandit as a folk hero.