Sunday, July 5, 2015

Jurassic World (2015)


JohnnyTwoToes from Movie Slackers loves this mildly cheesy but entertaining reboot

Before making Jurassic World, Colin Trevorrow had only directed just one film - an indie flick titled “Safety Not Guaranteed” that released in 2012 and was screened at the Sundance Film festival. Other than that he has one TV film, one documentary and one short. So for him to take on a mammoth sized franchise and to do it well must have been a major undertaking. Jurassic World opened to a record breaking weekend raking in over five hundred million dollars worldwide making it the biggest box office opening for any film ever made. But is it any good? 

I went with my movie chums on a Thursday evening screening and the theater was about half full and there were a number of smaller children there. When the film ended, nobody to my knowledge had walked out and, for the first time this year, people applauded. The general consensus was the this outing was pretty darn good. Unfortunately, these films have lost their “awe factor” and become more of a creature feature, than anything. 

This outing though, is undeniably fun, if nothing else. The film opens with the new park open to the public. It apparently treats 20,000 visitors to petting the docile dinosaurs, safari to see more dinosaurs, and an aquatic beast that would give Shamu a run for its money. All is well and good, until the Indominus Rex (A genetic creation of all kinds of dinosaurs) gets loose and goes on a tear through the park. Other less than hospitable creatures are cut loose, as well, so you can only imagine the kind of mayhem that ensues. 

Chris Pratt is a young man named Owen who is ex Navy. He has been brought in to train the Velociraptors not to be so mean. Call Owen the Doctor Doolittle of Cretaceous Period. Complete with a clicker you might use to train a dog, he has been able to train all four of them to not eat everyone they come across. Well, almost. The scenes with Owen and the clicker made me chuckle. Velociraptors have the brain the size of a walnut, if I am not mistaken, and, shall we say, don’t have the mental capacity to be trained to do much of anything. When the Indominus Rex gets loose you have your movie.

Some of the concepts of Jurassic World are completely silly. I mean, how many times are they going to keep trying to get the park open without someone getting gobbled up. What insurance company would underwrite this park, knowing its track record? Who would want to go to a park where you might be eaten by the amusements, themselves? Director Trevorrow and fellow writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly touch on this but it is brief. There is still the ‘military’ concept of using the dinosaurs as the new weapons argued by Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio). There is the new financier, Simon Masrani (well played with humor and class by Irrfan Khan) who is also a new helicopter pilot. There is the bean counter, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the nerd, Lowery (Jake Johnson) and the two kids that get lost at the worst possible time, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson). The two boys just happen to be the cousins of Claire who have come to visit while the parents work out their divorce. Let us not forget Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) who is the creator of the dinosaurs, as he is the lead geneticist. 

All of the staples of the Jurassic franchise are here. The big dinosaurs that prey on the smaller ones, the visitors and destroy everything in their paths. The film is sprinkled with humor and loaded with action. The acting is good and the characters are at least interesting, even though we have seen this all before. The script (written by two of the writers for the new Planet of The Apes films) does a nice job of balancing the science with the human elements of the story. I invested in these people and cared what happened to them and Michael Giacchino’s rousing score (with John Williams Jurassic Theme music) is a pleasant treat. Pratt and Howard have chemistry and I could see them as a couple, since it is referenced their characters did go on a date with one another. “What kind of a girl brings a printed itinerary for a date?” Owen asks. “What kind of man wears shorts on a first date?” is Claire’s response. “Hey, it’s hot down here,” Owen shoots back. It has a number of scenes like this and they work. There are also number of references to the original park and some of their equipment, as well as John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough RIP) which are all welcome. 

Jurassic World is not as good as its predecessors and there is a lot to pick apart in this film. But, I had fun. It was exciting and I have to say entertaining. I did not care about the gaping holes in the dinosaurs authenticity or the cheese of some of the material in this film. Jurassic World is a solid thriller and it delivers the goods. 

Please check out the Movie Slackers video review of Jurassic World on YouTube @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqfKdnHzdvE 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Vanilla Ice - Hard to Swallow (1998)


A colossal misfire from the rasputin of Rap

Listening to his third studio album, you start to wonder if the american rapper Vanilla Ice aka Robert Van Winkle should have stayed an obscurity after his initial super duper reign of success. His long absence from the music scene was hardly noticed, until this ill conceived mishmash of an album with rap core and nu-metal elements reminds us of why rap and hiphop fans are glad he's been gone. 

In his heyday, he tried to pull the wool over our eyes and have us think he was a gangsta rapper from Miami, and legit. This image go-around finds him hoeing a row different than before this time, but it's just as pointless. Hard to Swallow is just that. 

The eleven proper songs are indicative of his prior style stealing. This time the victim is the metal-esque rap metal done by bands like Rage Against the Machine, Korn, etc which Ice calls "Skate Rock". The songs are all way too long and wear quickly. Ice raps in a lower register as he attempts to growl / rap in a poor de la Rocha imitation. All in all, the whole idea is way too contrived. 

The raps themselves are ridiculous. "Fuck Me" is a long rant through all the finest of foul language. He spouts off obscenity at every turn for no real reason. Did he think we would find him cool because he can swear? Then we have the needless "Zig Zag Stories." In another attempt of trying to convince us he's cool, Ice spouts off a story of smoking blunts and every other pot cliché and nickname you can think of. In addition to this beauty, "Prozac" finds Ice chanting "We gets crazy like Prozac." Isn't that backwards? you're crazy so you need Prozac? To top off this banality is the utterly idiotic "Stompin Through the Bayou" with its faux metal swamp guitar and Ice's mundane refrain. 

All through the record Ice refers back to lines from the first piece of schmaltz: "Ice, Ice, baby" gets many repeatings in many different contexts. An album like this is hard to review as it's so contrived. From it's style copping music and raps, to the bare breasts on the cover it is one piece of material that reeks of corporate composition in an attempt to cash in and revive a dead stars career. It is an abhorrent waste of money, time and plastic and nobody would have missed it's existence.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Any Given Sunday (1999)


Your typical big budget 90s sports movie, Oliver Stone Style

Seeing this ensemble casted, sports drama makes you wonder if the egomaniac tendencies of Oliver Stone are clearly evident here as he pulls a few tricks in providing an intriguing story set around the American football scene, and with an excessive running time. He gives us a dose of slow-motion sequences, black and white fading, quick cuts, and other gimmicks. It does take a while before the viewer is able to settle down to living the plot.

"Any Given Sunday" tells of the working conditions both on and off the football field. The film is a typical sports movie and has to take in many plotlines. Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) is coach of the fictional Miami Sharks team. They are in a losing streak and he feels his team coming apart. D’Amato also needs to contend with his disruptive family life, as a divorcee who never seems to have time to see his kids. His passion for football is very evident, yet he feels frustrated with the intrusions of the female owner of the team, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz). In a man’s world, she is a new breed. Making a profit is more important than the traditions. She also fights with the esteemed position that her late father held in society. She wants to succeed in her own right. 

The season turns bleak when ageing player Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) is hurt with a potentially career-ending injury. D’Amato has to rely on the brash, unproven talent of Willie ‘Steaming’ Beamen (Jamie Foxx) to lead his team out of trouble. Willie has trouble as a leader. His maturity is not yet developed, and his selfishness causes the team to unravel. D’Amato has a real dilemma on his hands. Oliver Stone shows us the ugly side of the sport – the temptation of fame, money, affluent lifestyles, and the exploitation of players. His use of dramatic and photographic overkill is frustrating, though. 

The script is slightly complicated and the ideas for the Jamie Foxx character are mysterious. He is the flashy new football star, yet Foxx’s acting didn’t generate much interest for me. Al Pacino is his usual dynamic self, turning up the volume as Stone would want. Cameron Diaz does another unusual turn and continues to build herself up into a fine character actress. James Woods, as the team doctor, turns in another fine performance. It is recommended that the soundtrack be given a good listen. Featuring Fatboy Slim and Moby, it is great value. 

Stone has been plagued, in as many years, with big budget overkill within his films. Perhaps he should be asked to have a set budget of a smaller scale to force his hand in great filmmaking techniques again. Above all, however, the fact remains that this is an American sports movie with a familiar story and cameos by many former American football greats including Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, Johnny Unitas, Pat Toomay, Warren Moon, Y. A. Tittle, Terrell Owens,  Ricky Watters, Emmitt Smith & Barry Switzer besides good actors like Charlton Heston, James Woods, LL Cool J, Matthew Modine,  Lauren Holly, Aaron Eckhart, John C. McGinley and more

Certainly, this flick would be recommended for such fans because there is good material to grasp Stone’s out-of-control motives. It may not be that accommodating to the other side. Dung Le

Sunday, June 7, 2015

In the Light of the Moon (2000)


A fairly okay movie on Ed Gein, the famed Serial Killer of the 50s

Before serial killing became a fashionable hobby, Ed Gein was doing terrible things to women in Wisconsin in the Fifties. Usually they were dead and he stole their bodies from the grave, but occasionally, when his mother told him, "It's time for you to do the Lord's work," they were alive. By then, his mother was also dead, which made it doubly weird.

The producers are eager to point out that Gein was the inspiration for Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence Of The Lambs. It's true that Ed adored his mother and she filled his young mind with images of Old Testament damnation and after she died, when he was 39, he became increasingly reclusive and strange. He would flay the flesh of unresurrected corpses and use the skin to make lampshades and chair covers and clothes.

He lived alone in a farmhouse, reading books on the female anatomy, Nazi war crimes and Polynesian head-shrinkers. The place was filled with macabre momentoes and junk. He ate tinned pork-and-beans and human body parts. He would go to the bar in the little town of Plainfield, where the locals made fun of him, and occasionally to a neighbour's house to watch TV and play draughts. His shyness with women was acute.

Given such real-life material, writer Stephen Johnston and director Chuck Parello (Henry II: Portrait of a Serial Killer) go against the trend for explicit gore. They recreate the atmosphere of a rural community during the Eisenhower era, when life was slow and easy, with infinite care. Steve Railsback plays Ed as a man tormented by visions, caught between the need to bring the dead back to life and do his mother's bidding. He is neither vicious, nor intimidating, rather sad and gentle. The madness that drives him belongs in another place.

Carrie Snodgrass gives herself more room. Ed's mother controlled her children with an iron will. Religious mania clouded her judgement. She would save her boys from the wickedness of the world and destroy sin through the instrument of her second son, as Jehovah did at Sodom and Gomorrah. After her death, when she appears to Ed, she has become a figure of nightmares. 

Ed Gein, the movie, is a fine example of horror as an extension of private delusion, rather than the expansion of something beyond human experience.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bangkok Rain


White man, Thai woman and a wet afternoon

As I sit in this nondescript cafe here in downtown Bangkok a typical scene is occurring, let me describe it to you. A middle aged, bald-headed, Western business man. Black designer shirt. White jeans. Cell phone in baby-blue case. Black and grey tennis shoes. He is standing in the street with his Thai sex-toy next to him. Her face is sharply chiseled with a wide nose erupting like a bull's across her nut brown skin. Shoulder-length hair bleached earth brown. She is in black today - black patent leather pumps, black silk pants, black T-shirt with a bone-white vest - and oh, yes, a small black purse too dainty to even hold money. The black of her clothes almost matches the color of the scabs over her syphilis shankers. Two of them, big as nickels, erupt like volcanoes on her left arm while one more, somewhat healed over, is puckered over her right eyebrow like a craggy moon. Her face is silent, dead as stone. 

He glances up at the brooding sky - foreboding with rain - and says something to her. She doesn't say a word. With quick, nervous jerks, like a humming bird darting from flower to flower, his long white hand points to a table in the restaurant I am sitting in and back. She still stares like a stone. He runs his left hand over his head to wipe the sweat away and frowns at us patrons within the shadowed interior. He makes his decision. Quick as thought he scrapes a metal chair in a jarring screech over the pitted tile and throws himself down. For a minute she stands not saying anything, then not for any apparent reason she sits down and crosses her legs. Her whole position is folded into itself and is cold as a suicide's razor. 

The waiter approaches, shaggy green menus in hand. The man grabs his and roughly shoves it under his nose. She doesn't even consent to glance at the one the waiter holds out at her but stares somewhere just behind my table at one unknown dot on the wall. The man places his order and the waiter shuffles, away, his over-sized blue jeans rubbing a counterpoint to the flap flap of his sandals. 

Such a charming couple. Her with her dead face already laid beneath the sod, him with his constant twitchings. His face, like the face of all bald men, seems absurdly long. In the humidity it is slick with sweat. He flips out his cell phone, punches in a few numbers and speaks sideways into the mouth piece. He snaps the lid back down and reholsters his phone. Such self-importance. It is obvious in his stance, the way he straddles the chair, the way he looks at the other patrons then frowns, that he thinks he is something -after all look what his money bought him -his fuck sitting opposite. 

The waiter arrives with a cup of coffee and sets it before the man. Then shuffles back into the shadow of the restaurant to wait the next customer. It won't be long. Soon many people will be running from the rain. 

As usual, everything the man does will be in his jerky, abrupt style, he shakes out a cigarette from its cellophaned red and white case, snaps his lighter and puffs away like a two cylinder engine chugging on one. He plops his right hand on the table and snaps up the coffee cup with his left. He too is silent now, itching back and forth in his chair. 

Any second now the rain is going to break. The clouds hanging over the soot-grey roofs are edging towards black. The air is heavy, taunt. 

The woman takes no notice. Her back is to the scene and she is still starring at the same point. It is most disconcerting the way she does not blink, the way her eyes do not move, the expressionless face. There is also something morbidly attractive to those crusted black scabs -maybe it their nickel size, maybe it is the way they erupt out of her smooth earth skin. Don't get me wrong there is nothing sexually appealing about it -it is the fascination of watching something die. 

What's this? She is moving? Her right hand inches up to her face -thumb extended. She plunges it full into her left nostril and begins to pick. Her nostril bulges to the side and her mouth, that expressionless cast clenched in steel across the prison of her lips, is covered by her hand. But not her eyes. Even now they still stare at the same point, still do not flicker. 

It has finally arrived. The rain begins to hiss upon the oily asphalt. It gathers momentum. The tin roof starts to tap in syncopation building to a pounding of bullets. Rain splatters everywhere. Quick as thought the first black wave of water pushes cigarette butts, dog shit, pieces of paper, unidentifiable bits of plastic in an oily crest along the lip of the gutter. A single stream slips through a rent in the tin awning and manages to fall full upon her left shoulder. It disappears behind her back. 

The man says something while his hands flutter. 

She does not reply, does not change her gaze but merely lowers her hand from her nose and reclenches it with the other across her knee. She does not even shift but lets the water continue down. 

I must admit that I cannot figure it out -what is desirable about having a woman who doesn't say one word to you? Is it like necrophillia? Does she just lie there, let him do what he wants, and all the while stare up at the ceiling, at that one point only she, if she can see anything, can see? Is this what he likes? 

Even as I write this the man looks around and stares full at me. We make eye contact. It is as if he immediately understand I've been writing about him. He cocks a bushy eyebrow almost as it were out of curiosity as to what I've been scribbling so intently while staring at them. I give nothing away but continue to write. With a customary frown he reaches a decision. He motions with his left hand, a flutter of the fingers, and without turning around to see if the waiter notices, he waits. 

Fate confirms his self importance. The waiter shuffles back up to his side. A faded green twenty Baht note slips out of the man's baby-blue wallet into the waiter's hand. The waiter slumps away. The man turns back to survey the rain, or maybe it is the woman still sitting motionless in front of him. 

Rain has beaded in silver pearls upon the cheap canary-colored Formica table -a minuscule world of lakes and rivers there at the edge of the corner. Her right elbow is also poised in the wet. Behind cars and tuk-tuks splash a grimy sludge that one upon a time would have been clean. The top of the crests are silver as if they can almost remember what they should be. 

There. The rain is slowing, tapering off to a few hesitant drops still uncertain in their continuance. The air is still just as heavy, just as sooty as before. 

The man jerks to his feet and without a word to his silent companion struts up to the entrance, where, hands on each hip, he stands the way Caesar no doubt stood when his ships first landed in England. With neither glance to left or right he steps down to the street and with short, quick strides begins to march across the road and down. 

All this while she has not moved. Now finally her right hand comes up and a curious finger lightly touches the tip of the scab above her eyebrow as if to remind herself of its existence. She smiles to herself, a small thing like a broken wing. Then standing up follows the man, quite carefully keeping half a block away. 

The table is empty now except for the coffee cup with its umber lip mark and the cigarette butt ground out in a fire-engine-red ash tray. But if you look very carefully you will see her smile like a ghost poised in the air. 

The waiter comes with a greasy rag and wipes the scene away. Allan. E.P

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ginger Snaps (2000)


Raging Hormones, Werewolves and everything brutally beautiful

Wes Craven's Scream started with the premise that every kid in high school knew the teenage slasher flick genre by heart and, therefore, why pretend? This low-budget but immensely popular Canadian film (it spawned 2 sequels) follows the same route, but from a different perspective. 

It's no joke, for one thing. Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) are sisters. They live in a suburban home with a groomed dad and hands-on mom (Mimi Rogers) who talks to them like china dolls. Ginger is 16, Brigitte 15. For fun, they fake murders and suicides and have a death pact, which means if one dies the other kills herself. 

Menstruation becomes a big issue because it hasn't happened yet and the grown-ups can't wait to give advice and be patronizing. The girls are in rebellion against life. They want freedom from the safety of their uneventful existence and refuse to be told what to do. They consider prettier girls bitches and boys unmentionable. They are called freaks. 

Outside the narrow confines of their sulky patch, odd things have been reported, such as the brutal killing of household pets. Have the sisters lost control, or is there a wild creature abroad? When Ginger is attacked in the woods and barely escapes alive, Brigitte knows instinctively what nameless horror awaits. Except, it is not nameless. Does their pact include the living dead? 

The success of Ginger Snaps lies in the commitment of the director (John Fawcett), the actors, most notably the two sisters, the writer (Karen Walton) and a great soundtrack too. They don't go for the it's-behind-you pantomime approach that modern teenage horror movies enjoy. They take it seriously, which makes all the difference between empathy and objectivity. When the most responsible member of the school body turns out to be the in-house dope dealer, you know you cannot trust stereotypes. 

The performances appear forced at first, as if these girls are only pretending to be off-the-wall, which is the point. They grow through fear. Perkins captures the confusion of role play, torn between loss and loyalty, discovering an inane ability to make rapid decisions, while Isabelle thrives on her new identity, decreasingly dependent on the blood of the innocent. If you are the rare soul who has still not seen it yet, the time in now! The Wolf

This review first appeared in the British online magaizne Inside Out way back in early 2000.



Monday, April 27, 2015

Life Itself (2014)


A deeply enthralling documentary on Roger Ebert that's essential watching for every Ebert fan!

Having finally been able to watch this  universally acclaimed and documentary Life Itself created by master craftsman Steve James (Stevie/Hoop Dreams), I now seem to have developed a new renewed appreciation for the Pulitzer prize winning film critic & commentator Roger Ebert, one of the very best film critics the world has ever seen. 

Throughout most of his life (and his former colleague Gene Siskel's life, as well) Roger and his famous thumb scrutinized much more than the films they reviewed. There was a time where their simple 'Thumbs up or thumbs down' could be a blessing or a curse to any given film on any given week. Roger and Gene became international celebrities and became their own business first on PBS in the mid 70's, all the way into the 90's with Siskel and Ebert and The Movies. Tragedy befell them both but not before their contribution to film and film criticism became monumental. It is true everyone is a critic in their own way. These two perfected it. 


Life Itself is a poignant look at Roger's life as a child growing up in Chicago, writing his own paper as a child all the way to his tenure at the Chicago Sun Times. He battled alcohol, fast women and his own ego for most of his adult life, but James shows that Roger, although flawed like all of us, was at his heart passionate about what he loved and hated - Cinema and he let the whole world know it, too. His famous feuds with Gene are the stuff of legends, for me. 

Its evident Roger was very smart, educated not only in books but in life. To him there were no limitations on anything and Life Itself touches on just how larger than life Roger became. Love him or hate him he was his own man; take it or leave it. I also appreciated just how smitten he was with his wife Chaz, who reciprocated equally. They were in love and made a wonderfully cute couple. Married one time at age, 50 Roger had found his soul mate in Chaz. She was with him when he passed playing Dave Brubeck as he gently into the light. 

Life Itself is a fascinating look into Roger's life and it was one filled with happiness, sadness, loneliness and triumph. He created film festivals in his own name for the films he loved. He was the only film critic to have ever won the Pulitzer Prize. Roger was an artist, writer of books about film,and some just about travel which he loved to do. 

Life Itself was shot mostly as Roger battled Cancer in the latter part of his life and it had tried its best to beat him down. He refused to go quietly and continued to write up until the last week or so of his life, when he became too weak. 

Steve James has created a masterpiece of one man's life. Filled with insight about a man battling his own demons to rise up and become a legend. So influential were Roger and Gene, they gave Martin Scorsese a fresh start by giving him their own award which led to the director getting studio backing for some of his biggest films. I was awestruck at just how influential they both were and they both loved every minute of it. This is a film they both would have been proud of and loved, just like Life Itself. Life Itself-**** out of 4 ! JohnnyTwoToes

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