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Shiver Me Timbers! by Mark Matich

24 May

For this fifth outing, even fans of Disney’s venerable Pirates franchise may be sympathetic to the tongue-in-cheek boredom of the flamboyant swashbuckler Jack Sparrow as he introduces himself to the uninitiated characters in the film, a plucky pair of youthful protags.  Despite the generally underwhelming response to two most recent films in the series (2007’s At World’s End and 2011’s On Stranger Tides), there is no doubt that, with his portrayal of the lovably wily Sparrow, Johnny Depp has created one of the more enduring cinematic characters of the twentieth-first century.  It would be easy enough to fashion another film around his antics, but thankfully a fresh directing duo, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, working from veteran adventure film screenwriter Jeff Nathanson’s (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) script, manage to add some enjoyable new dimensions, at least aesthetically, to the proceedings.

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The Finest, by Bob Connally

21 May

“We want the finest wines available to humanity! We want them here and we want them now!” I had that put on a t-shirt at a specialty store once. It’s a quote that only a relatively small number of people will recognize (certainly in the United States). But I had to get it because it’s the definitive quote from one of the most quotable movies of all-time, Bruce Robinson’s cult comedy classic Withnail & I. It now comes in at number 7 on my list but at that time Robinson’s essentially autobiographical look back at 1969 Britain was my favorite movie. So why would a film about two out of work actors living in squalor and living to get drunk and high in late ‘60s London resonate with me so much? I don’t drink much- and not at all when I first saw it at age 20- I don’t take drugs, I’ve never been an out of work actor, and I’ve never been British in the ‘60s. Or in any other decade now that I think of it. But from the first time I saw it, Withnail & I spoke to me in a way few films ever have. I came for the quotes but I came away with so much more.

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In Space, No One Can Hear You Shrug, by Bob Connally

20 May

In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to the world of Alien 33 years after directing the original film. Prometheus was a fairly entertaining but decidedly incoherent movie most notable for an outstanding supporting performance by Michael Fassbender as an android named David. Wisely, Scott and the rest of the creative team behind Alien: Covenant decided to bring Fassbender back but in terms of storytelling, we’re given a largely derivative mess. What’s maddening is not that the audience won’t be able to figure out what’s happening in the film. It’s that this is a movie that presents things in a needlessly complicated way in an attempt to make it appear deeper and more complex than it really is. After taking a slight step back and piecing it together, it’s very simple. There is nothing wrong with simplicity. But don’t try to trick us into thinking there’s more to it when there isn’t.

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It’s the End of the World as We Know It, by Tim Acheson

19 May

Have you ever wanted to watch Mad Max  without the madness? Then Revelation Road: The Beginning of the End is for you.

When it comes to Christians movies, I know the hearts of the filmmakers are in the right place. And, perhaps this is envy speaking, but I wish I could do what they do: Have the talent and equipment to put their story on the big screen. My point is, Christian filmmakers, keep doing what you love.

Unfortunately, good intentions can only carry one so far. And as is the case with many movies made by Christians, Revelation Road is another example of this truth.

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Heartbreak Hotel, by Reed Lackey

5 May

This is the story of a boy and his mother. Perhaps you’ve heard it before, but never like this.

I must confess that when I checked out the first episode of Bates Motel, it was with more suspicion than excitement. Psycho has been a top-five, all-time favorite film of mine for nearly as long as I can remember watching movies. I had been burned pretty badly by the misfire of Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake in 1998 and although I’m a rather big fan of Psycho II, the prospect of taking things back to the beginning for Norman Bates and his mother seemed more born of hubris than of inspiration.

Thankfully, I was mistaken. Bates Motel aired its final episode last night, checking out after a mere 50 chapters in what proved to be a riveting, emotional, and immensely rewarding reimagining of the story first conceived in Robert Bloch’s best-selling novel and immortalized in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece.

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Awesome Remix, by Tyler Smith

2 May

I was not a big fan of the first Guardians of the Galaxy. While many people praised its offbeat tone and crazy characters, the whole thing seemed surprisingly conventional to me, especially when one considers director James Gunn’s previous work. The film certainly had the distinction of changing the way superhero movies would be marketed, using classic rock and witty banter to show that these films could have a sense of humor about themselves, but that hardly redeems it (in fact, it might actually condemn it all the more). So, as I walked into Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, I was trepidatious. It seemed to me that Marvel would have a hard time not doubling down on the successful elements of the first film and simply serving up more of the same. Thankfully, the studio seemed to see the success of the first film as license to allow James Gunn to cut loose and tell a truly unique story, realized with some genuinely gorgeous visuals and several exciting action (and comedy) sequences.

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Don’t Call It Stupid, by Bob Connally

1 May

I’ve usually found that, when it comes to the kind of comedies I enjoy, most fall into one of two categories. Some are well-constructed with strong characters and give me some solid chuckles throughout. Others make laughs their biggest priority and are only concerned with things like characters and story to a minimal extent. Just enough to have something to hang those laughs on. A Fish Called Wanda is that rare and wonderful movie that is the best of both worlds. It is brilliantly constructed, filled with richly drawn characters, and it is also laugh out loud funny the whole way through.

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Coming of Age, by Bob Connally

26 Apr

Wes Anderson’s films are often most memorable for the little moments. He can find the humor and the sadness in the smallest gestures and inflections. His detractors feel that his films tend to be too crafted and controlled. That he gets too caught up in set and costume design and loses focus on characters. While I feel that some of his films (this one, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel) are more effective than others (The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom), all eight of his features have ranged from pretty good to exceptional. A lot of little things add up in all of them. Still, 17 years after I first saw it (just weeks after I graduated high school), Rushmore stands as my favorite.

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The Shadow of a Bat, by Reed Lackey

25 Apr

Horror films of the 30s and 40s are so iconically branded by the films of Universal Studios that it can be easy to forget other studios were also capitalizing on surge of box office interest in horror features. 

One such potentially-forgotten classic – distributed by the lower-ranking Majestic Pictures – is The Vampire Bat from 1933, directed by Frank Strayer and starring Lionel Atwill, Melvyn Douglas, Fay Wray and the legendary Dwight Frye. The film is, by all possible standards, a cash grab, having been rushed from concept to production in little more than a month. Leasing sets from the Universal backlot, The Vampire Bat looks and feels almost as good as any Universal picture, even if doesn’t quite measure up to those standards of narrative quality.

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WORTH WATCHING

25 Apr

Tyler has published a book of selected movie reviews and essays, which is now available!
Books can only be shipped to United States addresses. Please allow 2 weeks for shipping.