Gangster Squad

GangsterSquadGangster Squad is one of those films that seems to have had a rough go of things right as it was set to make its debut. Real-life concerns led the studio to delay the film, cutting a scene in which a theatre is shot up by gangsters. That scene had been in the trailer, so the trailer itself — which of course is the film’s main advertising — was pulled. A few new scenes were filmed, and a new trailer released, but the end result was that a film which had originally been slated for early September — the tail end of summer, still decent blockbuster season — ended up unceremoniously dumped in January, a month notorious for releases that studios have little faith in. Critics have come to have low expectations for January releases (creating a vicious circle if ever there was one), and audiences don’t attend as strongly; whether that’s due to lowered expectations or just the general unpleasantness of leaving the house in January is up for debate, but my money is on the latter.

Its pre-release troubles and delayed release resulted in a poor box office take. It only profited through the worldwide box office, and then not by a large amount. But while it would be easy to look at it and make assumptions on its quality, it’s not truly a bad film. Continue reading

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Crocodile Dundee

Crocodile Dundee PosterA few years ago I stumbled across a website comically depicting American stereotypes of other countries based on films. It would have a column saying “What Americans think people of Country X are like” with movie characters beneath it, and another column saying “What people from Country X think they’re like” with other movie characters beneath it. I don’t remember most of the comparisons, save that most of the American views were a bit silly and stereotyped, while the Country X self-views were a bit more serious or respectable. At the very bottom of the list was Australia. The picture for “What Americans think Australians are like” was Crocodile Dundee. The picture for “What Australians think Australians are like” was also Crocodile Dundee. I don’t know many Australians, so maybe it’s false, but it amused me — and, to my mind, it seemed to be saying that Australians didn’t take themselves too seriously. As Crocodile Dundee was written by its star, Paul Hogan, it’s apparently true for at least one of them.

Crocodile Dundee is one of those films that I saw as a child but didn’t remember much of, save for the famous knife scene. It’s probably just as well. Even if I had remembered it well, it’s likely I wouldn’t have understood much of the culture-clash gags; it would have just been “Guy with a funny accent acting funny” to grade-schooler me. Then again, that’s kind of what the film is…. Continue reading

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The Social Network

Social Network Poster2010 Best Picture Nominee

I have to admit that when I first heard about David Fincher’s film The Social Network, my opinion was one of extreme skepticism. A movie about the creation of Facebook? Could that actually be interesting? For goodness’ sake, I’m only slightly interested in Facebook itself; I sometimes go months without posting a “status update” on my personal page. I assume you might be interested in what I have to say, but that you’re probably not interested in what I ate for lunch. And as for the creation of Facebook, well, I’m a programmer myself. A web developer even, though not of anything on near that scale of popularity (somehow I always wind up working in the sections of the web that are kept under lock and key). Some people might think this would make me more interested in the story of a major site’s creation, but the truth is, it’s quite the opposite. I know the process fairly well, and though I enjoy development, there are few things on this earth that are less suited for being a spectator sport. There’s a reason why whenever Hollywood shows a programming or “hacking” scene they always show a lot of flashy things that don’t actually happen in reality; it’s because the reality is boring to watch. It’s just thinking and typing, and much more of the former than the latter. Maybe some occasional drawing if you’re the type to map things out. That doesn’t really make for good cinema.

That meant the story had to survive entirely on the human element, the drama of the developing business. Though it was nominated for an Oscar, I still had a few doubts. I checked it out anyway; after all, if The Private Life of Henry VIII could turn out to be funny, maybe the story of Facebook could turn out to be engaging. Continue reading

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The Condor

Condor PosterI was in the mood for some light fare, and what could be lighter than a direct-to-video cartoon superhero movie? Part of the Stan Lee Presents trio of films put out in 2007 — of which I’ve previously reviewed MosaicThe Condor is the story of a young man who would like nothing better than to spend his days skateboarding. Tony Valdez (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama) is a carefree spirit for whom the problems of the world just hold no interest, despite the best efforts of his parents and his friend Sammi (Kathleen Barr). Of course, a superhero movie won’t let a carefree spirit be, and so it’s not long until his parents’ business partner does some evil deeds that lead to Tony learning the value of doing good. Continue reading

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Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Halloween 4 PosterThe Halloween film franchise had a wildly successful opening, and a solid sequel that continued the story of Michael Myers stalking Laurie Strode. The third film, however, attempted to shift the series into being an anthology series, with a completely unrelated story. It was less than successful, partly because horror fans wanted more of Michael Myers and partly because it just wasn’t very good. So with the fourth film, the producers decided that if a character-based franchise was desired, that’s what would be delivered. They even made their intentions clear with the title, labeling it Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.

Though Tony Moran would be replaced with stuntman George P. Wilbur as the homicidal maniac, the character wasn’t all that was returning. He was once again being hunted by Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis, the psychiatrist who knew better than any other just how evil Myers was. And once again it was Halloween night, and once again Haddonfield, Illinois would be turned into a scene of horror. Continue reading

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Horror Express

Horror Express PosterIt just wouldn’t be Halloween without at least one campy horror film starring a master of the genre. In the case of Horror Express, a 1972 film by Eugenio Martín, we get two masters: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing plays a surgeon and Lee an archeologist; the two acquaintances are both traveling through Siberia on an express train on their way back to Europe. In a rarity, neither of the two are playing the villain. The horror in question is an old fossil that Lee is bringing back with him, a potential link between modern man and neanderthal. But it seems the fossil, though thousands of years old, still has some life kicking around in it. Death seems to follow the fossil wherever it goes, and once on the train, all hell breaks loose. Possibly literally. Continue reading

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Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls PosterThere’s an old folk tale about a man who spies the Grim Reaper in a crowded marketplace, and who is seen by the Reaper in return. Death looks surprised to see the man, and clearly recognizes him. The man, fearing for his life, buys the fastest horse he can find and rides to a far off town by nightfall. There he is killed, and Death greets him, explaining that the reason he was surprised to see him earlier is that he had an appointment to pick the man up in the faraway town that evening. The lesson of the fable is that one can’t cheat death. Of course, cheating death — and the consequences for doing so — is a moderately common theme in horror films. While the best known example nowadays is the Final Destination series of films, an earlier example is Carnival of Souls, starring Candace Hilligoss.

Hilligoss plays Mary, a young woman who is out drag racing with her friends when she accidentally drives through the rails of a wooden bridge. She is the sole survivor of the crash. Continue reading

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