King Kong [1933] (1/15/12 & 12/18/12)

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The original King Kong is one of my favorite movies ever. It literally has everything you could possibly want out of a movie. For a movie that is nearly 80 years old it has held up incredibly well and the Blu-Ray treatment is superb.

When Peter Jackson remade King Kong a few years back I was very excited. When the movie released I was kind of let down. While Jackson’s take modernizes the effects and fleshes out some of the characters and story, for me most of the magic was lost. Watching the 1933 iteration is guaranteed to put a smile on my face and keep me on the edge of my seat, even after a dozen or so viewings.

I won’t bother with the details of the movie because if you haven’t seen some sort of version of King Kong you have likely been under a rock for 80 years. However, if you’ve only seen the 2005 version or, god help us, the 1976 version, then please consider watching the original.

I realize some people have a hard time watching old movies, or even black and white movies. I can understand that sometimes, but I firmly believe King Kong is an exception. It still delivers thrills and wonder, even by today’s CGI-laden standards.

[Update 12/27/12] I got around to watching King Kong again on and thought I would repost one of my very first reviews from the first week I started the site. Enjoy!

I give it 5 screaming Fay Wrays out of 5.

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In the Realm of the Senses (1/27/12)

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Two things I did not know about In the Realm of the Senses going into it:

  1. How graphic it is
  2. That it is based on true events

When I say the movie is graphic, I mean it. This is easily the most graphic thing I have ever watched but everything shown feels very clinical, not sexual. It’s also not gratuitous, everything shown serves a purpose, though not necessarily a clear purpose at first.

As the movie finished and I learned the movie was based on true events I immediately went to Wikipedia to learn more. The true story is even more awe inspiring than the movie and not knowing the outcome was a bit of a shock.

There isn’t much to the movie, a woman meets a married man and they are instantly addicted to each other. Things start to get weird as they spend more and more time together and eventually things snap. It’s almost like Sid and Nancy where two people are just hopelessly involved and can’t get out of the hole they are digging.

In the Realm of the Senses is a movie that I enjoyed watching but I would struggle to watch it again. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I did, and I was thinking about the events for days. Some films just wouldn’t feel the same on a second viewing, I guess.

I give it 3 sake bombs out of 5.

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Fascination (1/27/12)

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Fascination is one of the strangest movies I own. Not only because of the plot, but because the director fluctuated between directing these vampire movies and hardcore pornography. In fact, the star of this movie was originally an adult film actress. Turns out, she acts circles around everyone else in this movie.

There were several related works by Jean Rollin in the vampire genre and they are all actually fairly original considering how derivative some of the movies can be. In Fascination, there is a group of women that are in a blood cult of sorts and they lure a thief to stay the night to kill him.

Okay, so maybe it’s not SUPER original but it’s feels fresh enough while watching it. The pacing of the film is a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from intense situations to watching paint dry. Still, the droughts are never too long and things move along better near the end.

I had never heard of this movie until it was recommended by and I gave it a shot. I’m pleased that I did since it is different and it reminds me of Dario Argento’s work. I guess you could say I was fascinated by Fascination *groan*.

I give it 3 scythe wielding vampires out of 5.

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Godzilla [1954] (1/25/12)

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When Criterion announced they were releasing Godzilla I laughed out loud. My next step was preordering it instantly. The Godzilla movies were some of my favorites growing up but unlike Gamera, Godzilla movies are still pretty awesome.

I hadn’t watched the original Godzilla (aka Gojira) since I was younger so I was curious to see if there was a lot of anti-nuclear propaganda but there really wasn’t much. Even though the premise of a giant nuclear dinosaur thing is kind of silly, the Japanese movie is serious without being too serious for its own good.

The American counterpart, titled Godzilla: King of Monsters! is essentially the same movie but with American actors. It has a lighter tone but is essentially the same film. While I watched the Japanese version, if I wasn’t in the mood to watch a subtitled movie but still wanted to watch Godzilla I would watch the American version without thinking twice.

One extra cool bonus for this Criterion release is a pop-up case with Godzilla’s head. Something I was not expecting but went “awww sweet!” when I opened it up. Godzilla as a Criterion release still makes me flinch a little bit, but they treated it with the same respect they do for all their releases.

I give it 4 guys in rubber monster suits out of 5.

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Malibu’s Most Wanted (1/22/12)

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Yes, I watched Malibu’s Most Wanted and it was not even the first time I have seen it. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. During a long boring winter during college, a friend of mine and I would rent movies we expected to be terrible in the hopes of getting to laugh AT them. Malibu’s Most Wanted ended up being a movie we actually laughed WITH instead, although it is an incredibly stupid movie.

Jamie Kennedy plays a wannabe gangsta-type from the rich beach community of Malibu whose father is running for some elected office. Dad (played by Ryan O’Neal) is ashamed and worried his son’s antics will cost him the election. His campaign manager decides to hire two actors (Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson) to trick him into thinking he’s been kidnapped and make sure he’s out of the spotlight until the election is over.

Things get even wackier from there and the plan unravels. I know, I know…It sounds idiotic and awful. You’re right, it IS idiotic but it’s actually kind of funny. Malibu’s Most Wanted is not something that I could recommend, but if you’re in the mood for a dumb comedy and find white guys acting black funny then by all means watch it.

I give it 2 white kongs out of 5.

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The Fountain (1/21/12)

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The Fountain is a difficult movie to write about. The plot centers on Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz but over the span of three separate, but intertwined, stories. The plot makes sense, it’s not too terribly confusing, but because of this it takes your full attention and then some to fully comprehend things.

The three story arcs are, in a basic sense, past, present, and future. Past is Mayan times, present is close to actual present, and future is the way-far-away future. Perhaps what makes things confusing is having Jackman play characters in all the story lines but perhaps that makes them cohesive.

Regardless of time period, Jackman plays a man on a mission to save his love and there is symbolism everywhere. The titular fountain is the fountain of youth, which for some reason ends up not being a fountain, but a tree (don’t worry that isn’t really a spoiler). Had this movie been called The Tree of Life it would be more appropriate, but I’m fine that Terry Malick decided to use that title instead.

If you can wrap your head around the plot the pieces of the puzzle fall into place as The Fountain progresses. Had  a writer/director less talented than Darren Aronofsky helmed this movie then I can almost guarantee it would have been a confusing heap of nonsense. Luckily for us, it is a smart film.

I give it 3 tree hairs out of 5.

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Raising Arizona (1/20/12)

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I love Coen brother movies and Raising Arizona is no exception. One of my favorite films ever is The Big Lebowski (we even named our dog after him) and Raising Arizona is certainly a movie I could watch no matter what mood I am in.

The story centers around career criminal Nic Cage, who falls for a cop (Holly Hunter). The couple decide they want kids but can’t have any so they decide to kidnap one of the Arizona family quintuplets and raise it as their own. Like any good Coen brother film, stories twist and weave all over the place without feeling too hectic and all come back to one single place.

A few years ago, before Nic Cage became a caricature of himself, watching him in this movie he was in perfect form. Watching it now, knowing how ridiculous his career has become…Well, it’s refreshing to have the old Nic Cage back, even though he is still silly.

Even writing about Raising Arizona immediately got the theme song stuck in my head and I could probably watch the whole diaper theft scene right now.If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please do yourself a favor and watch Raising Arizona.

I give it 4 jars of hair grease out of 5.

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The Magician (1/20/12)

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Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician was a movie I desperately wanted to love. The movie itself does such a great job of keeping you guessing and Max von Sydow gives such a stellar performance. I loved the movie up until the last few minutes of it.

The movie follows a band of traveling performers/magicians that is being persecuted by local authorities who wish to debunk all of their “tricks”. We are left guessing if the magician really does have certain powers or if they really are all stage acts. Apparently, the movie is meant as an allegory of sorts to Bergman’s own film career and a big middle finger to critics that just didn’t understand. I didn’t find that out until after watching it, but it did make me rethink many scenes.

Unfortunately, as the film is wrapping up the tone changes dramatically and instead of being in awe of Sydow’s magician I was left scratching my head as to what the hell I just watched. My wife, who was watching with me but fell asleep about 1/2 way through, asked me how it ended and I said “I really have no idea what happened”. With a different ending I feel the film could have been something quite special. I still need to go back and watch more of the special features, perhaps that will give me more insight.

Still, I would recommend watching The Magician. There is quite a lot to like even if the ending changes the tone of the movie and left me confused.

I give it 3 magic potions out of 5.

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Cinema Verite (1/19/12)

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Cinema Verite is a movie based on events that really happened in the 70s. I think it’s safe to assume everything in the movie actually occurred but I would say it is still somewhat fictionalized.

In the movie, Cinema Verite, we have a pseudo behind-the-scenes look at the creation, filming, and general turmoil behind the 1973 PBS documentary series An American Family. The original show is largely credited as starting what we know as ‘reality television’. The cameras follow around a normal sort of family and all the regular drama that goes along with life.

I have never seen the original series and I still enjoyed watching Cinema Verite. After I was done watching I scoured the Internet to find out more and get information about who the family members and crew were. This is kind of the downside of the movie; If you go in knowing nothing there are still lots of gaps when the credits start rolling. If you go in knowing everything about the show I’m not sure if you would really get much out of it.

The performances are all solid and I especially like watching James Gandolfini on the screen. Since Cinema Verite is an HBO original movie, I would suggest trying to catch it on the air if you are an HBO subscriber. While I was watching it I was fully committed to it but I was left wanting more, and not in a good way.

I give it 3 bearded Gandolfinis out of 5.

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Black Hawk Down (1/18/12)

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I was in the mood for some action when I put in Black Hawk Down and on that front it did not disappoint. Based on a true story, Black Hawk Down is kind of a mixed bag of emotions. You are laughing with, fearing for, hurting, hoping, and sweating along with the soldiers.

My main problem with the film is the cast. I don’t mean I think they picked the wrong people for the roles, there are just too many people to keep track of. Some characters were getting shot and I was asking myself “who was that?”. This is further compounded by several of the guys looking alike once they are in full gear and have dirt all over their faces.

Since this is a true(ish) story, you really do feel for the characters since you know things aren’t going to end well for all of them. Oddly, there is a goofball character played by Ewan McGregor that I pegged as the obvious choice for the first to die and he is not. That is the problem with ensemble casts, unless all the characters are vastly different they don’t get their backstory revealed or their personality doesn’t come through fully.

Still, as far as war movies go it is a wild ride. You know bad things are going to happen and you hope that some good will happen to. We know at least one guy lives because he wrote about it later and had it turned into a book and then the movie we are watching. Coincidentally, I would also recommend the book, which shares the same name. While Black Hawk Down isn’t totally original it is a captivating tale.

I give it 4 Black Hawks down out of 5.

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