Saturday, January 20, 2018

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Justin Theroux

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark
Gwenyth Paltrow as Pepper Potts
Don Cheadle as James 'Rhodey' Rhodes
Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff
Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer
Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson
John Slattery as Howard Stark

I remember getting pretty excited for this film back in 2010. The first film had become one of my favorite movies and due to its massive success, a sequel was pretty much a guarantee. With a lot of the main cast returning and Jon Favreau coming back as director, the fans were pretty hyped. Carl and I saw it opening night in Madison's IMAX theater, which wasn't really that special, because it wasn't in 3D, nor was it formatted to fit the entire screen for certain sequences, but sometimes you got to take advantage of having one just 15 minutes away from you. Our initial reaction was that we had a good time with it, but it just wasn't as good as the first film. I have felt that way with each viewing of the film. I do enjoy Iron Man 2. I don't think it's in any way a bad film, but it is a bit underwhelming after what an experience the first film was.

One of my biggest criticisms with the film is that it tries to balance too much in its two hour run time. None of the individual plots are bad, but putting them all together can feel a bit bloated at times. Tony dealing with his revealed identity while simultaneously having the palladium in the arc reactor slowly killing him would be enough to carry a film, but we then get a lot of other side plots including Pepper taking over as CEO, both Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer having a personal vendetta against Tony and then teaming up, introducing Natasha Romanoff and more involvement with SHIELD, Rhodey getting to wear the suit that will eventually become the War Machine armor, it's all in this movie and it can get a little crowded at times.

Another criticism I have is that the action isn't anywhere near as exciting as the first film. My favorite action scene in the entire film is Natasha taking on an entire hallway of goons with such ease. That sequence alone proved that Scarlett Johansson was capable of playing Black Widow. More on her later, though. The third act is fun, mainly to see Tony and Rhodey team up and fight together, but Hammer drones never feel threatening and they are easily expendable. I actually like the Grand Prix sequence earlier in the film quite a bit more. Seeing Tony outside of the suit, still trying to fight Vanko, is exciting.

There is still a lot to like though. Robert Downey Jr. is once again perfect as Tony. He's inhabited the role pretty flawlessly at this point. Like the first movie, he's the best part of this one. I like that we get see him out of the suit through the majority of the film, because it wisely decides to focus on further development with his character and I like that he doesn't get to automatically be an Avenger by the end. A lot of his rash decisions are dangerous for him and to an extent those close to him. He makes a lot of these choices due to him thinking his fate is sealed, but scenes such as him choosing to race in the Grand Prix or drunkenly stumbling around at his birthday party in what is essentially a highly dangerous weapon show that he is a flawed character. He can build and use his mind in any way he wants, but he's still only human. It's great characterization and definitely the high point of the film.

Gwenyth Paltrow is still a wonderful Pepper Potts and I love her dynamic with both Tony and Natasha in this film. She isn't given a ton to do, but she shines in the role anytime she is onscreen. She even makes sure Justin Hammer is arrested. I like the occurring theme of her taking out a villain in each of these films. She pushes the button that overreacts the arc reactor to kill Obidiah Stane while Tony is completely helpless in the first film, she has Justin Hammer arrested in this one and she defeats one of the villains herself in the third film.

Don Cheadle is the second actor to play James Rhodes and he's also the better of the two. I think he does a solid job stepping right into the role. He and Tony have a great friendship and both actors sell it well.

Mickey Rourke is pretty good as Ivan Vanko, but he really gets sidelined to Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer. After a solid sequence at the race track, he's basically sitting around working for Hammer until his last scene in the film. I like that he's pretty smart and not just a muscle to Hammer's brains. While Hammer does run his own company, he doesn't have the brains of Tony Stark, so he's forced to work with Ivan and it turns out Ivan is just hellbent on revenge and he does not give a shit what Justin wants. He's a good character, but I just wish he was given more to do, especially in the final confrontation with Tony and Rhodey. Their entire fight is less than two minutes long. It feels way too rushed.

Sam Rockwell is a national treasure and one of the best actors working today. He's someone that I always am happy to see in anything and he plays such a good asshole in this movie as Justin Hammer. He gives one of my favorite performances in the film. He's the anti Tony Stark, and he wants the fame that Tony has, but he's constantly failing because he doesn't have the resources, intelligence or charisma that Tony does. I think his rivalry with Tony is more interesting than Ivan's is, because they choose to develop him as a character more, which is wise, because he is a more interesting character.

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff has a great introduction to the MCU in this film. She doesn't feel like a character who is just here to make fanboys get excited because it's another Marvel character showing up. She is integral to the plot and I'm glad that she's put to good use. Physically, Johansson is perfect for the role, but she's also great in her dialogue scenes. I like her relationship with Pepper and the scenes she shares with Tony are entertaining. She is fully capable of handling this role and I'm glad she wasn't wasted.

John Slattery briefly appears as Howard Stark through old film reels and he's great as Slattery always is. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Tony is watching outtakes of Howard doing videos for the Stark Expo. It's shown that Tony never had the best relationship with his father, so when Howard says on film that Tony was his greatest creation, it's a moment that Tony finds out about almost 20 years after Howard's death. He earlier says in the film that Howard never said he loved him, nor even liked him, so when Tony gets to hear Howard say those words, it's pretty bittersweet, because he'd gone so long having that difficult relationship with him and it doesn't really change a whole lot since Howard has been gone a long time.

The characters are this film's strong point and that's something that Marvel has gotten right in their films since the first Iron Man. While the plot may get a bit overloaded, the relationships that these characters have is the most vital part of the film.

Iron Man 2 is a good, not great sequel. I don't think it deserves all the hate it's gotten over the years. Just because it doesn't quite measure up to the first film, doesn't mean it isn't still good. A lot of people rank it lower or on the bottom of their MCU rankings, but there are far weaker films in the MCU than this one and we'll get to them soon enough.

Next week: The god of thunder makes his MCU debut in Thor!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Directed by Louis Leterrier
Written by Zak Penn

Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/Hulk
Liv Tyler as Betty Ross
William Hurt as General 'Thunderbolt' Ross
Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky 

The Hulk has been one of my favorite Marvel characters for many years. Bruce Banner is one of the coolest nerds in all of fiction. His fascination with science and hoping to do good with it makes him easy to root for. He was probably the third Marvel character that I got really into. First there was Wolverine, then Spider-Man and then Hulk. I first got into the character around the time the Ang Lee film was coming out. I remember looking up his origin and trying to learn as much as I could about the character before the movie came out. I did enjoy Ang Lee's Hulk when I was younger. I've had no desire to revisit it as an adult, because I know it's not very good. But Ben Affleck's Daredevil opened just months before it, so it at least looks better in comparison. The film does have plenty of silly moments, but it was all I had for a Hulk movie at the time.

Soon after the film was released, I got the DK book about Hulk and I read it cover to cover as soon as I could. I absorbed so much information about the character and his world. I'd say my knowledge of the Hulk is up there with how much I know about Spider-Man. My local library even had a few graphic novels of the character, including one of the Marvel Essential books that collected some of the classic comics. Those were a blast to read. That Christmas, I got the video game based on the movie. I remember being constantly frustrated with it because it got pretty hard and the Hulk could die. I eventually found the cheat codes online and was finally able to play through the entire game. It was a lot of fun and I loved being able to smash the crap out of a bunch of stuff. Even the Bruce Banner levels were kind of fun. You had to sneak around a lot and solve puzzles. It was a nice contrast to the smash-them-up levels with the Hulk.

I also got into The Incredible Hulk television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. I always had such an enjoyable time with the show. Bixby was a great Bruce Banner and even though Ferrigno was just a guy in green body paint, he still made a good Hulk. I remember getting DVDs of the series from the library as well as seeing it on TV. It remains one of my favorite superhero shows. It isn't exactly on the level of shows like Daredevil or Jessica Jones, but it's still quite good.

I also kind of relate to Bruce Banner. I'm for the most part a calm and quiet person, however I have Asperger's. Before I got onto some medications, I would have really angry outbursts over small things. I always felt that was my Hulk side. It made things harder for the people around me, but once I got onto some meds, things did improve. I rarely have those outbursts anymore and I'm very grateful for that. Usually, I just sit in my car and yell before I drive to work or home. I try to make sure it's never in front of other people.

When Marvel announced a new film with Edward Norton starring as Bruce Banner, I was excited. My excitement for it didn't quite match what I had for Iron Man, but I was looking forward to it nevertheless. I saw it opening night on the Ultrascreen in Madison and I had a pretty good time. It was a neat experience seeing where Marvel was going with this cinematic universe and I loved the mid credits scene with Tony Stark and Thunderbolt Ross.

I've rewatched this film a few times over the years and it only seems to get better with each viewing for me. It's not quite on the level of films like Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy, but it's certainly better than the first two Thor films or Iron Man 2.

The cast is pretty good. Edward Norton, like Terrance Howard in Iron Man, is well cast, but not quite as good as the actor to come after him. Someone in one of the film's reviews criticized that Bruce Banner was boring to watch, unlike Tony Stark and I disagree. Banner doesn't have the charisma or charm of Stark, but he's still a really interesting character and Norton plays him right. I easily buy him as the character.

Liv Tyler is a good Betty Ross, but she's limited in what she gets to do with her character. I like her dynamic with both Bruce and Ross. One of my favorite moments is when she's calming Bruce down after he Hulks out in front of Mr. Blue. I wish they'd gotten to do more with her in future MCU films, but I assume Bruce just wants her to be safe and that's why we haven't seen her since.

William Hurt is a great General Ross. He's very stern and easy to root against. Tim Roth is a fine choice for Emil Blonsky. He's the actor who gets to have a lot of fun playing the villain role. I like seeing his transformation throughout the film after he takes the super soldier serum. When he finally becomes the Abomination, he's pretty threatening and scary.

The film is filled with references galore for fans, maybe even more than Iron Man. The way Banner becomes the Hulk is exactly like how he did on the original TV series. Lou Ferrigno not only voices the Hulk, but he also cameos as a security guard. There's also a moment in the score that sounds like the famous theme from the TV series, as well as a humorous version of the "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry," quote. The film even uses the Hulk's thunder clap at just the right moment.

I think this is an excellent Hulk film. It really understands Bruce Banner and shows how sympathetic of a character he is. It also shows just how mighty the Hulk can be. He is a beast in this film and it's thrilling to watch him in action. For as long as I can remember, I've loved monsters and monster films. I think that's why the Hulk appeals to me; not Bruce Banner, but the Hulk. I like how this film introduces him; bathed in darkness with only glimpses of parts of his body. It pays homage to the older monster movies where the monster isn't fully revealed until later. We do get a full face shot of the Hulk after the first action beat, but we don't see him fully until later in the film. It's very well done.

The tone is appropriate, too. It's a bit more serious, which works well. Something that I really appreciate the film doing is that it gets the origin story out of the way right in the opening credits. It'd been only five years since Ang Lee's film, so it definitely wasn't necessary to do another origin, unlike The Amazing Spider-Man, which probably still would have sucked even if they hadn't done one.

The action beats are truly impressive. I love the way that they combine practical effects with CGI. Most of the destruction and sets are almost all real. I really appreciate the film makers choosing to go that route, where these days, blockbusters are filled with green screens and CGI. The fight between Hulk and Abomination is epic. Watching those two clash is pretty awesome and it's everything you could possibly want for your big third act. I also really like the Culver University sequence. Seeing Hulk go up against those sonic cannons is a pretty bad ass moment. I wish people would understand that no matter how much you shoot the Hulk, it only pisses him off even more.

The Incredible Hulk is probably the most underrated film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We might not get another MCU solo Hulk film due to Universal owning the character rights, so I'm pretty satisfied to have this one as the big fan of the character I am. It captures the struggle between Banner and Hulk pretty accurately. I would definitely recommend giving it another look. I think you'll find it a lot better than you remember.

Next week: The armored Avenger returns in Iron Man 2!

Monday, January 8, 2018

A List of My Favorite Films

I love movies and I love making lists, so I decided that this post would just be dedicated to making a list of my favorite movies. Ten films chosen for each genre, while trying not to overlap with other lists. I hope to review some of these films on here someday, but for now I just thought people may want to know what my favorites are. I hope that people find some new films to add to their watch lists with these films. None of these films are ranked, just in alphabetical order.

Top Ten Favorite Films

City Lights
Ed Wood
Hot Fuzz
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Mad Max: Fury Road
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Thing
Thor: Ragnarok


Back to the Future
Blade Runner
Blade Runner 2049
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Escape From New York
Flash Gordon
Planet of the Apes
They Live


Blazing Saddles
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb
Duck Soup
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
Shaun of the Dead
This Is Spinal Tap
The World's End
Young Frankenstein


The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Evil Dead 2
The Fly (1986)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 
The Witch


Big Trouble In Little China
Casino Royale
Die Hard
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Raid
The Raid 2
The Road Warrior


12 Angry Men
Anatomy of a Murder
Blast of Silence
Cool Hand Luke
The Hustler
The Kid
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
On the Waterfront
The Shawshank Redemption


3:10 To Yuma (1957)
Bone Tomahawk
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Django Unchained
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Once Upon a Time in the West
The Searchers
True Grit (2010)


Double Indemnity
The Driver
Jackie Brown
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
The Nice Guys
The Sting


No Country For Old Men
North by Northwest
Rear Window
Shadow of a Doubt
Strangers on a Train


Apocalypse Now
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Great Escape
Inglourious Basterds
Lawrence of Arabia
Paths of Glory
The Pianist
Saving Private Ryan
The Train


Almost Famous
Baby Driver
The Blues Brothers
A Hard Day's Night
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Sing Street
Singin' in the Rain


The Incredibles
The Iron Giant
Kubo and the Two Strings
The Lego Movie
The Lion King
Toy Story
Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit


The Apartment
The Big Sick
Crimson Peak
The Handmaiden
Let the Right One In
The Princess Bride
The Shape of Water


Cinema Paradiso 
The Devil's Backbone
Ip Man
Pan's Labyrinth
Seven Samurai
The Wages of Fear


The Gamera Trilogy
Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster
Godzilla vs. Gigan
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster
King Kong (1933)
Pacific Rim
Shin Godzilla

Comic Book/Superhero

The Avengers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Iron Man
Spider-Man: Homecoming


Microwave Massacre
Miami Connection
Plan 9 From Outer Space
Robo Vampire
The Room
Samurai Cop
Spider Baby
The Super Infra-Man
The Tingler

Ten Random Films I Love

American Movie
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Creature from the Black Lagoon
The Gold Rush
The Great Dictator
Modern Times
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
What We Do In the Shadows

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Favorite Movies: Iron Man (2008)

Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man
Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts
Terrance Howard as James "Rhodey" Rhodes
Jeff Bridges as Obidiah Stane
Lesile Bibb as Christine Everhart
Shaun Toub as Yinsen
Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson

Patton Oswalt has a bit where he discusses how there are people who have their nerd realm; their thing that they get so obsessed with that they know the world so well that they feel like they could live in it. The Marvel Universe has been my nerd realm since I was eight years old. The first X-Men film was released in 2000 and it was what launched my love for superheroes, specifically those of the Marvel Universe. I recently saw a post on Facebook that said if you watch one Marvel Cinematic Universe a week starting at the beginning of January, you'll have just enough time to watch every film leading up to Avengers: Infinity War. My wife and I have started doing that this week and I decided that I want to write about every movie from Iron Man to Thor: Ragnarok. I will eventually write reviews for each of the 2018 MCU films, but I want to wait awhile for them to process. I never want to write a review for a just released film. I like giving each film a lot of thought. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is my favorite film franchise of all time. Each film has become an event for me. So let's start with the film that started it all ten years ago.

In 2007, I had seen just about every comic book film released in theaters from the last several years. My favorites were the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films and Hellboy. I did like the first two X-Men films, but they weren't on repeat viewings for me as often as the former three mentioned. At the time, Marvel had released dud after dud. Both X-Men: The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3 were both disappointing conclusions to their respective trilogies. I don't have the raging hate for them like a lot of people do, but they do pale in comparison. Ghost Rider and Elektra were flat out awful and The Punisher was just alright. Then came the announcement that Marvel was launching their own film studio and their first film would feature one of their B-characters: Iron Man.

I first became familiar with Iron Man most likely around 2005, when I got a Marvel fighting game that included him as one of the playable characters. I didn't learn too much about him until I got the game Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which was an RPG where you could have a team of four heroes. You could constantly change your roster, but I always kept Iron Man on my team and he became one of my favorite super heroes. I remember reading up on him quite a bit. I found his origin story to be one of the most fascinating that Marvel had. 

Fans were concerned that the film wouldn't get the character right and that the casting of Robert Downey Jr. was questionable, considering his past mistakes. Then the summer of 2007 came along and Marvel debuted their first footage of the film at San Diego Comic Con.

The fans no longer had those worries after this footage debuted. The internet blew up with hype and I remember reading the description of the footage eagerly. A few months later, Marvel released the first official teaser for the film.

This was movie was going to be huge, I could feel it. I had not been this hyped for a comic book film since Spider-Man 2. Every day for the next several weeks, I would watch this teaser at school in the computer lab. The next school year had me obsessed with all of the news of the film, counting down the days until it was released.

On May 2nd, 2008, I went to see it with Carl. He wasn't much into comic book films, but I'd shown him a few and I'd wanted to go to a movie with him. As we sat in that auditorium for the next two hours, I had one of the best opening night experiences of my life. The film was phenomenal. It lived up to the hype and turned out to be even better. The crowd was great too, responding appropriately to all of the right moments. I'd read online that there would be an after credits scene, something that was pretty rare at the time. We waited along with the few other people who actually stayed. Tony returns home after his huge identity revealing press conference and finds someone waiting for him. It's revealed to be Nick Fury and with these words, comic book films were changed forever: "I'm here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative." The people who had stuck around went nuts. I left the theater incredibly excited. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind before entering the theater that these films were going to interconnect with one another. The film had multiple Easter eggs and references, but I didn't even think about the possibility of the Avengers coming together onscreen. Iron Man was a huge hit and it got the MCU off to a fantastic start.  

I have watched this film probably at least ten times. When I was watching it again the other night, I noticed just how re-watchable this film is. It's like The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy, where it doesn't matter how many times I've seen it, I will never tire of it. This was one of those lightning in a bottle films. Many have tried to replicate it, but none have surpassed it.

First off, the cast is fantastic. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark just may be the all time greatest comic book role casting of all time. There is only one other actor who might be on par with him for me, but we'll get to that person in a few weeks. While Stark is a narcissistic asshole in the film's first act, you can't help but like him, thanks majorly to Downey's performance. His mannerisms and character traits are flawless. Whenever I see Downey as Stark, I see the character from the comics leaping off of the page full of charisma and charm. He goes through an excellent arc and by the end, he truly becomes a hero. The scenes between him and Yinsen, played excellently by Shaun Toub, are some of the film's strongest. Tony is at his most vulnerable in the captivity scenes and it allows the film to really humanize him by giving him a solid relationship with Yinsen. Tony and Yinsen's final exchange still gets me emotionally every time. The film also shows how much of a genius Tony is and I'm happy that we get a lot of time devoted to him building and testing the suits. He's one of the smartest characters in the Marvel universe and I'm glad we get to see that.

Gwyneth Paltrow is an awesome Pepper Potts. Her and Tony's relationship is my favorite of the romantic ones in all of the MCU. They have wonderful chemistry. Downey has spoken fondly of working with Paltrow many times off-screen and their dynamic onscreen clearly shows that they enjoy working with each other. 

Terrence Howard was a solid choice for James Rhodes. I thought he did a good job with this smaller supporting role. I think Don Cheadle has proven to be the better choice, but I still enjoy Howard's performance.

Jeff Bridges as Obidiah Stane remains one of my top five favorite MCU villains. He's a perfect antagonist to start with for Iron Man. Bridges' performance isn't over the top or silly. He's very grounded and the only time he gets a little comic book-esque is towards the end when he's in the Iron Monger suit, but I'm ok with it at that point. Had he been like this earlier, it wouldn't have worked. Honestly, the only thing that makes it a little comic book-esque is the fact that his voice is a bit growly with the suit's voice projection. Otherwise, Bridges does an awesome job and I like his and Stark's friends-turned-rivals relationship. The reveal of him being a villain isn't too surprising for the viewer, but it makes for a great scene when he paralyzes Tony and steals his arc reactor.

Jon Favreau does a brilliant job directing this film. His credits before this had only been comedies, but this proved that he was capable of success in other genres. It probably helped that he is a big comic book fan. Even after seeing the film countless times, I still find the action sequences to be thrilling. The Mark I escape sequence is probably my favorite superhero debut scene to this day. 

Comic book film scores aren't quite as memorable in this modern age, but Ramin Djawadi's score is one of my all-time favorites. This was the soundtrack that I constantly listened to back in the summer of 2008. Djawadi's score is constantly exciting and filled with memorable and distinct tracks. 

Iron Man remains one of my top ten all-time favorite comic book films. The MCU has come a long way since its debut, but only four other films in the series have managed to surpass Iron Man, in my opinion. Robert Downey Jr. gives an amazing performance as Tony Stark and he only manages to get better in the role. This is a film that changed comic book movies forever, for better or worse and it jump started the cinematic universe of my favorite nerd realm.

Next week: Is he man or monster or is he both? It's The Incredible Hulk!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Favorite Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Lawrence Kasden
Story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood
Paul Freeman as Dr. RenĂ© Belloq
John Rhys-Davies as Sallah
Ronald Lacey as Major Arnold Toht
Denholm Elliot as Dr. Marcus Brody

Many film fans will be asked, "what is your favorite movie?" Some fans will be able to come up with the answer pretty quickly. Others will really have to dig deep and think on it. I get why. If you're a massive lover of movies like I am, it's hard to narrow it down to that one movie that you think stands above everything else. I have seen almost 2,000 films (according to my Letterboxed account) and for years my favorite film would vary. However, upon revisiting it many times, I finally narrowed it down to Raiders of the Lost Ark. I can confidently pick it as my favorite of all time. 

I first saw the film back in middle school. In band, we were playing a medley from the film's score. I'd never seen it and it happened to be showing on the Sci-Fi channel one night so I recorded it. I took the video over to my grandparents' house to watch with my grandmother whom I would watch movies with on the weekends.  It was one of those movie experiences that was life changing for me. I remember sitting on the bedroom floor in awe. From the greatest movie opening ever as Indy and Satipo go through the trap filled temple to Harrison Ford's endlessly charismatic performance to John Williams' iconic score, I was entranced. It also was helpful for practicing my bells part, because I now knew how the theme sounded. My grandma enjoyed the film as well and it's a memory I cherish to this day. I've watched many films with both grandparents and I'm always happy to watch one with them when I go home to Wisconsin to visit them. I even got to choose the film clip that accompanied our performance of the piece. I went with the truck chase scene. If it weren't for Mad Max: Fury Road, that would be my choice for the greatest action sequence ever.

After seeing the film, I quickly made sure to see the two sequels. I actually like the original three Indiana Jones films more than the original Star Wars trilogy. I prefer Raider of the Lost Ark to the original Star Wars. Temple of Doom isn't as great as The Empire Strikes Back, but it's one of my favorite sequels and Last Crusade is a much stronger part three than Return of the Jedi. A couple of years later, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out. I saw it opening night and I had to keep convincing myself that I liked it, but after a couple of more viewings, I knew it was inferior to the other three films. I don't have a seething hatred for it that many other people do, but it is a disappointment.

That summer, my family took our annual family vacation to Birchwood, WI and I had just gotten the trilogy on DVD and the Lego video game. Anytime I was by myself, I'd either be watching one of those films or playing that game. I'm pretty sure that video game is one I've put more hours into than any other. I really wanted a fedora as well and we found one close enough in a shop while we were there. Indy was the movie hero that I wanted to be. I would often daydream about going on adventures like him; finding precious artifacts of history while fighting Nazis. I was obsessed. He was the character I looked up to. Upon rewatching the films, I still get excited to go on these adventures with our heroes. I was even lucky enough to see it in its limited IMAX release and that was easily the coolest theatrical experience I've ever had.

Steven Spielberg invented the blockbuster with Jaws and he perfected it with Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Harrison Ford is iconic as Indy. What I love about him is that he's not an action hero who just brushes off a punch, nor is he flawless. The truck chase scene is thrilling to watch every time, because of how much he goes through, from getting shot and punched to being dragged from behind a truck. The in camera stunt work is astonishing. It's great to see films from a time when people couldn't rely on computers.

Karen Allen as Marion is one of my favorite female leads in an action film. She was one of my first celebrity crushes. The fact that she could hold her own with all of the men onscreen just made her more attractive. John Rhys-Davies is a delight as Sallah. It was neat seeing him in this after I had seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Paul Freeman and Ronald Lacey are perfect villains as Belloq and Toht. I think Belloq is such an underrated villain. Many people mention Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter as two of the best villains and I think Belloq belongs among their ranks. He's not just a mustache twirling villain; he's humanized. The scene where Marion is trying to get him drunk is probably his best scene in the film. Then there's Toht, who is a villain you just love to hate. From his first scene in the tavern, you just want this guy dead. It helps that he's a Nazi, too. His death is my favorite movie death of all time. Watching this piece of shit Nazi's flesh searing and melting off of his face until he's nothing but a skeleton is one of the most brutal and awesome deaths ever put on screen. The effects make it even better. That entire sequence with the ark opening up and having it kill all of the Nazis is the most satisfying third act I've ever seen.

There are certain films that you have a life changing experience with when you first see them and Raiders of the Lost Ark came at that perfect time in my life. I was at an age where I could fully appreciate it and get a good experience out of it. I found a hero in film to look up to and it further fueled my love for Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and John Williams. There are few films that I call perfect. It's hard to watch a film without picking it apart in one way or another, but I think this movie really is flawless. I've seen it so many times and have analyzed it in behind the scenes features. It's a true masterpiece. With Jaws, Spielberg started out with a perfect movie already, but with Raiders of the Lost Ark, he brought us something even more unique and special. It's a movie that can be celebrated and watched by generations of people. When I look back on my favorite movies, this is the one that sticks out the most.  Anytime I put it on, I find myself absorbed into it every time. I think back to when I first watched it with my grandma, realizing that what I was seeing was something truly special. If you're bored with the modern blockbuster, I think this is a perfect alternative. As the poster's tagline read, it really is the return of the great adventure, indeed.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

B-Fest 2017: They Live, We Watch 24 Hours of Schlock

The vacation I always look forward to was a much needed relief this year, especially after the election and the overall shitty year that 2016 was, news wise.

On Thursday, Carl and I arrived in Morton Grove around 6:30. A nice surprise was that our room rate was cheaper than when I'd made the reservation, so the trip was off to a really good start. We didn't make it in time for the tiki bar meet up, but we knew we'd see our friends at the Fest. So we decided to get supper at The Palace. Carl and I both agree that it's the best Chinese restaurant we've ever been to. The service was wonderful, the food was delicious and you get plenty of it for your money's worth. I also appreciated how quiet it was. It was very calming. We went back to the hotel and hung out until we were tired enough for bed.

On Friday, we didn't have a whole lot planned. First, we went to Omega for breakfast. I had a delicious ham and cheese omelette with hash browns. The inauguration was playing on the TV above us and I tried my best to ignore it. I was on vacation. I needed to focus on having fun. After that we drove around town, trying to find places to visit. I browsed locations around us on the GPS and we found a cool music store called Raffe's Record Riot. Small businesses are a favorite of mine and this was such a neat little store. Carl found a lot of records and I picked up a few CDs, as well as a T-shirt from the shop. We headed back to the hotel to get our things for the Fest and then we headed for Northwestern University.

We arrived an hour and a half before the Fest began. We got our posters and shirts and waited for the doors to the auditorium to open. Dog House Drive-In gave out free pairs of sunglasses for the screening of They Live. Tim greeted us by giving us hugs and his latest mix CD. He welcomed us home and it really felt like it. I'm so glad we have our group of friends there. It just makes the trip that much more memorable. We got into the auditorium and got our usual seats.

Tim gave Carl his last full set of mixes that he'd made for the year and Carl was ecstatic to finally have all of them. It really meant a lot to him and that was awesome to see. I talked with Tim and some of our other friends for a bit. I went to my seat soon before the Fest began. The intro from one of the A and O students was really nice to hear. He said how much they all appreciated our enthusiasm for the Fest and that they're glad that they get to keep doing it. There were also two changes in the lineup. Both Yongary and Creature With The Atom Brain were repeats from 2015, so I was happy to hear that they were both being replaced with new films. The lights went down, the crowd cheered and we were transported back to the world of cheesy movies.

Hercules In New York (1969)-This was the second year in a row where a Hercules film kicked off the lineup and it's definitely the weaker of the two. While The Adventures of Hercules was consistently goofy and entertaining, Hercules In New York starts off strong and then slows down hard in the second act. The highlights of the film include the dubbing of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the scene where Hercules and his new friend argue with a cabby about paying for a two dollar fare in which Hercules throws the cabby across the street and then flips the cab over and of course, the infamous bear fight. But the second half of the film slows down and becomes very talky.

The Magic Sword (1962)-I really like this movie a lot. I first saw it on MST3K and watching it unriffed was still a ton of fun. I think it's one of Bert I. Gordon's best and I have a soft spot for old fantasy movies. This is one of the genre's best and most entertaining. And it has a happy ending, which is a bit silly, but it works for this movie.

Bloodlust! (1961)-This was the first episode of MST3K that I showed Carl. Not because it's an essential episode of the series, but because I happened to have it at home from the library and I wanted to introduce him to my favorite show as soon as I could. As for the movie itself, it's a bore, but I got a good laugh out of the audience hate watching the movie. I enjoyed the sarcastic applause whenever a character would go into another room. For about half of the movie, Carl and I drew on our paper plates for Plan 9. I assume there was some time between movies, because they replayed the final five minutes after the movie had ended. The audience reacted as if we were watching something much worse. Its worst flaw is that it's boring.

Empire of the Ants (1977)-Another Bert I. Gordon film! This was a pretty fun sit. I thought the giant ant effects were solid and there were actually characters I gave a shit about. We all found it amusing that there are several scenes where the ants can be clearly seen crawling up the background. One thing that was really annoying was the screaming sounds the ants made, because the volume on the auditorium's speakers was quite loud. One moment that I really appreciated was when a woman knees a man, who's trying to assault her, in the crotch and the crowd burst into applause, while chanting USA. It's a great feeling to be in a room full of people who respect women, especially at this point in time.

The Wizard of Speed and Time-My legs were pretty sore after this year's screening. They no longer played the film version, but instead played the digital version, which meant they showed it forwards, backwards and upside down. So it was shown three times instead of the usual two. We later found out that Mike Jittlov had heard that the short was screened at the Fest every year and that he really appreciated how we have such a positive and enthusiastic reaction to it.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)-It's still one of my favorite B-movies of all time. I listened to an episode of Movie Sign With The Mads a few weeks back on Ed Wood and I agree with Frank Conniff that Wood's films are quite watchable and that he had the soul of an artist.

The Last Dragon (1985)-Out of the movies I hadn't seen before in this year's lineup, this was easily my favorite. What a blast of insanity this movie was. It's part martial arts, part romance, part musical and it made for one of the most fun theater experiences I've had in awhile. The crowd had an amazing time with this film. I'll be buying the Blu ray for sure. Watch this one with some friends and enjoy. Other than another movie later in the lineup, this was the biggest highlight of the Fest.

Battlefield Earth (2000)-With the massively bad reputation this movie has, I was excited to see it with a crowd for my first viewing. This movie was so boring, that I was asleep through most of it. I was awake for some of the infamous moments from John Travolta, but this was such a dull movie and it made for a good choice to nap through. It would have been my worst movie of the Fest, if not for a movie shown later.

Action Jackson (1988)-It's a 80s cop movie starring Carl Weathers and Craig T. Nelson plays the villain. Yes, it was awesome. The stunt work is one of the best parts of the movie. There's a pretty impressive car chase about halfway through the movie and Action Jackson drives a car through a mansion during the climax. It's an overall good time.

Coffee was served at this point and it was quite good. Last year, I had a Surge at this point in the morning and that really didn't help. Coffee is my go to drink in the morning and the cup I had perked me up.

Malibu Express (1985)-If I were to pick which movie from this year had the worst protagonist, it would be this film. Our hero spends the majority of the film on his boat and he's very uncharismatic. When he is trying to solve the plot's mystery, I did not care at all. Andy Sidaris is known for his excessive filmmaking and there is an absurd amount of breasts in this film. When the film reveals its third act twist, I was so checked out, that I just wanted the movie to end. Luckily, it did. That being said, I'd watch it again before ever sitting through Battlefield Earth, or the next movie listed,a second time. This movie at least has some fun moments. 

The Gong Show Movie (1980)-To me, there isn't a worse kind of movie than a bad comedy. I absolutely fucking hated this movie. I spent the majority of it pissed off. It's one of the worst comedies I have ever seen. I slept though part of it and was angry that it was still going when I woke up. I went to the bathroom towards the end of the movie, hoping it'd be over when I got back and it still went on for ten more minutes after that. The one good thing about it was that there was a comedian who performed with a bag on his head. He was pretty funny, but his two minutes of screentime didn't make up for what a flaming pile of shit this movie was. Obviously, this was my worst movie of the Fest.

Gorgo (1961)-Here we go. A genuinely good movie. Of course I'm a massive kaiju movie fan, but this is a pretty solid movie for being a Godzilla knock off. It felt good to watch Gorgo's mother cause mass destruction for a half an hour. It took my mind off of how shitty the previous movie was and that we now had a horrible president in the White House. I also appreciated that the audience was mostly quiet throughout the film's third act. It was nice to just watch the movie.

Future Hunters (1986)-This movie was sponsored by Wheel Tree Press, who sponsored the incredibly dull Kansas City Bomber last year and luckily, this movie was a step up from that. It has more endings than The Return of the King and it really could have used some editing. The final hour is just nothing but action scene after action scene and it gets pretty irritating by the third time you think that the movie's going to wrap up.

Tarantula (1955)-B-movies from the 50s make for some of the best of the genre and this was one of the better movies of the Fest. It's a trim 80 minutes, the plot moves along nicely and the effects are solid. Check this one out if you're looking for a solid monster movie.

They Live (1988)-It was kind of odd seeing one of my personal favorite movies at B-Fest. I don't consider this to be a B-movie and instead think of it as one of the best sci-fi movies ever made. I did feel a little depressed at how much more relevant the movie is now than when it was made, but it was still great to see it on a big screen. Roddy Piper makes for an awesome lead and Keith David's a great supporting character. I'd say this is my second favorite John Carpenter film after The Thing. What made this such a memorable experience was that the audience was quiet for almost the entire film. It was just us watching the movie and that made me really happy. I found more to appreciate about the film as well. If you haven't seen this movie already, definitely check it out. It's amazing.

We went back to the hotel to shower off the 24 hours of funk and we then all met at Portillo's for the B-Fest family reunion supper. We talked for an hour and a half and it was so nice to discuss B-movies and other topics with people who appreciate them as much as Carl and I do. We said our farewells and went back to the hotel and passed out.

I just want to give a special thanks to my B-fest family, especially Carl and Tim. And Bryan, while you weren't here this year, you were very much missed. All of you mean a lot to me and you all make the trip that much more special by just having you all there. Until next year, lovers of schlock, I have come here to write about B-movies and express my appreciation for my friends and I'm all out of B-movies.

Monday, January 9, 2017

My Favorite Movies: Jaws (1975)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
Based on the novel by Peter Benchley

Roy Schider as Brody
Robert Shaw as Quint
Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper

I don't think there is a more influential or referenced blockbuster in film history than Steven Spielberg's first masterpiece. It's hard to think of what else to say about it that hasn't already been said, so instead of a standard review, I'll just be sharing my story of seeing the film and how it influenced me. 

When I was a kid, even before I saw it, I knew what Jaws was. I remember seeing the poster with that oblivious swimmer about to meet her doom. I was familiar with John Williams' iconic theme. So one day, I was at a friend's house and we found the movie playing on TV. It was maybe about halfway through the movie. The three leads had already set out on their hunt for the shark. Even though this was quite some time ago, I remember how tense it was not seeing the shark and being on the edge of my seat and when Quint met his grisly fate, I was horrified and in complete awe. I had never seen something so gruesome in a movie before and that scene burned itself into my brain. Hearing the sound of his bones crunching and seeing him coughing up blood in agony is still haunting to watch. This was most likely the moment that started my love for the horror genre. I later saw the full movie on TV and would occasionally watch it if it was on. While I didn't own it on DVD, I knew that I loved the film and that it was one of Spielberg's best. We even played selections from the score in band class.

It wasn't until 2012 that I finally bought the movie when it was released on Blu-ray. It had been a few years since I'd last seen, so it was like seeing it fresh again. It wasn't until then that I realized Robert Shaw as Quint is truly one of cinema's all time greatest performances. His USS Indianapolis speech is incredible and I get chills every time. As a kid, I enjoyed that shark scenes, but as an adult, it's our three lead characters that have become my favorite part. I watched all of the special features and learned a lot more about the nightmarish production this film had. It's one of the best success stories in film history, considering how perfect the final film turned out. The more I watched the movie, the more it became one of my all time favorites. My favorite movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark, but Jaws is a very close second.

In the summer of 2015, I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen and it made for one of the most memorable times I've had in a theater. It was Liz's first time seeing the movie, so that was quite the way for her to see it and we saw it with Bryan and his kids. It's Bryan's favorite movie and he was probably even more thrilled to see it in the theater than I was. I've noticed that whenever I see a classic on the big screen, there's a lot more that I notice that I wouldn't on my TV at home. Seeing something like Jaws in the theater is the definitive way to see it. It's the original blockbuster and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Even though I've seen the film countless times, the climax still had my heart pounding and it was only more intense with a theater screen and surround sound.

It's odd to think that this was the first movie to be truly considered a blockbuster. These days, we're so used to seeing them all year round as they dominate the box office. But Jaws was one of those lightning in a bottle films. While so many movies have tried to replicate it, they've all failed. And there have been countless rip offs, too. The amount of shark movies made since it, has to be in the hundreds. The best Jaws rip off is Razorback, which is about a killer pig instead. It's actually fairly intense and it's pretty well acted. There are many blockbusters that I admire, but my favorites will always be Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and the original Star Wars trilogy. To me, those are the essentials.

Jaws is one of the most influential films ever made and for good reason. It takes a simple premise and makes something fresh and exciting about it. It's still just as tense of a movie 42 years later. The fact that the shark didn't work a majority of the time made for a blessing in disguise, because the movie is all the more terrifying for it. Once we finally see the shark in full view, it's a sight to behold. The practical effects hold up beautifully and they are something that CGI could never make look half as good. This is one of the best movies ever made and if you haven't seen it yet, get your hands on a copy or get to a screening. You're in for quite the experience.

Join the rest of the Celluloid Zeroes in our roundtable on the rest of the franchise and other films.