Friday, August 18, 2017

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time - Six through Ten

Welcome back!

I know, I know... I said I was going to put these things up once a day. Well... I got ahead of myself, and Trump is terrible, right, so shit happens. Or didn't happen. Whichever point of view you prefer. Anyway, the point is... this is my Top Twenty Favorite Films of all time list.

I like lists. They appeal to me, lists like my Staff Picks list. Remember that? That was fun. Anyway, this list in particular has been a long time coming. Mostly because it wasn't a very easy thing to put together. It started out at over a hundred titles. Getting it down to fifty was pretty difficult. Getting it down to twenty-five was even harder. Then, right at the cusp of completion, my laptop died. This was sometime around the New Year. As a result, my hair's breath away from being nearly-done Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time list was lost. And when I started it up again, it was even harder to reconstruct the thing. Although, I did start out with only sixty titles the second time...

tldr...? It's done. Finally.

For those of you who weren't here for the first installment, (that's kind of weird) but just fyi, when making this list, I decided to follow these (admittedly arbitrary) rules:

1. The list is twenty films long.
2. This is a list of "Favorites," not "Best"
3. There's no Repeat Directors.

I've also broken the list up into four groups of five titles, and while I still intend to post one section a day, I wouldn't advise you holding your breath over that one. Also, a couple of quick reminders: These are films I love, films that I think are great, and films that I would re-watch anytime. Your mileage may vary. Also, there is no order to this list, not even alphabetical.

Let's do this...

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time
Numbers Six through Ten

The Wizard of Oz is almost 80 years old.

It doesn't feel like, does it? I mean, it's obviously an older movie, but as you sit down nearly every single year to watch it on TV, does it seem dated? Do the seams show around the special effects? Are the songs any less catchy? Compare that with a movie like Sixteen Candles? That thing is barely watchable. What about the TV show Friends? That things a cringe-fest? How does the CGI look in films made fifteen years ago? I'll tell you how it looks... it looks like shit.

The Wizard of Oz, on the other hand, still looks amazing.

Dorothy Gale is swept away from Kansas by a tornado to the magical Land of Oz, and while trying to get back home, she makes a few friends, kills a few witches, and dances the shit out of those ruby slippers. It might be one of the most perfect films ever made. Everyone knows the story. Everyone has seen the film (and probably a half dozen different versions and spin-offs of it too). Simply put, there is no other example of such a well-loved film that has stood the test of time for so long. The moment when she opens that black and white door onto the riotous blast of colors that is Oz, it is pure movie magic. It dazzles you every time.

And in 1940, at the 12th Academy Awards, it only won two Oscars. One for Best Original Music Score, and one for Best Original Song, of course. Guess which one. It lost Best Picture to Gone With The Wind, just in case you've ever wondered if the Oscars were always racist and shitty...

Some people really hate Attack the Block.

I am shocked by this. As near as I can figure, the reason is because the kids are unrepentant criminals at the start of the movie. When the film opens, they mug one of the other main characters, and they don't feel bad about it. Then they discover an alien, and they stomp it to death.

People get really mad about this.

Now, let's just be honest here, most of the reason for this anger is rooted in racism. Plain and simple. And that's... whatever. Fuck those assholes. But there are definitely other people who hate the film, due to the characters' casual criminality, because they just can't stand the idea of having main characters/heroes that aren't 100% pure noble and good, so they push back angrily against any story that veers away from this. If you won't allow characters to be flawed, to make mistakes, to learn and grow, then what are you even looking for in stories? The flaws are what defines them. It's rooted in the whole "I have to like a character in order to enjoy a story" idea, which is just ludicrous to me. I don't understand these people. Especially because the kids in this film are super likable. One of them is John Boyega, for god's sake! People love him!

I don't get it.

This is a film about redemption, and taking responsibility for your actions. In big fucking capital letters, too. That's why they mug one of the other characters. That's why they stomp the alien to death. The entire story is about standing up and dealing with the fall out of those choices. This is what I love about the film. There's no apology for their actions, there's only the accepting of responsibility, and ultimately, a Hero's Redemption. That's fantastic.

Plus, how awesome does this look?

I'll answer for you: It looks super awesome.

This is my Spielberg film. Lucas only counts as the writer. I don't care if you think that's a loophole to my one film per Director rule, because it's my list, and like I said: The Rules are Arbitrary.

When making a list like this, Steven Spielberg is the type of name who has stacks and stacks of genre-defining, pop culture-defining, films to choose from. Stacks of them. And I picked this one. I picked this film, and I'll be honest... It was easy. Super easy. In fact, this was one of the first films I wrote down. Because of this film, I wore a fedora as a kid... while wearing shorts. Because of this film, I owned a bullwhip as a kid... which is just hands-down dangerous. Because of this film, I majored in Anthropology... for awhile anyway. The fact that I didn't want to be an Anthropologist (not enough Nazi fighting) has got to say something.

What I'm saying is, I think it's fair to say the film had an impact on me.

Anthropologist, pulp adventure, and, how should we say it... obtainer of rare antiquities, Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones is hired by the U.S. Government to find the the fabled Ark of the Covenant before evil French Anthropologist, Dr. Rene Belloq, and the Nazis manage to locate it. It's a thrilling throw-back to the days of globe-trotting daring-do and sudden escapes. It's a two-fisted adventure with one of the best heroic scores of all time.

I honestly don't quite know how to quantify my love for this film...

How about this: Not even Crystal Skull could lessen my love of Raiders.

Now, some people claim the major flaw in the film is that if Indiana Jones had done nothing, if he had not gotten involved at all, the film would've ended up the same way: with the Nazis opening the Ark and melting. To that I say: Nuh-uh. Because afterwards the Nazis would still have the Ark, because Dr. Jones wouldn't have been there to box it up and ship to America, so in your face, jerks.

The Cornetto Trilogy includes three of my all time favorite movies. 

I love each one. Unfortunately, this list only allows one entry from a Director. It's maybe the worst thing a person could do to another person making a list... But here we are, and we just have to play with the hand we're dealt, so even though only one film is listed, know that it actually includes all three. That's just fyi. Is this me kind of breaking my own rules yet again, all before the halfway point?

Shut up.

Okay, so even if this slot unofficially includes all three films, deciding on which one to feature was a pretty difficult decision. I eventually settled on The World's End. This choice might surprise some people who know me. If asked, of the three films in the Cornetto Trilogy: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End, which one would Jon pick, I think most people would go with the one with the zombies. That's a fair guess too. It is a great zombie film...

But I choose The World's End. I choose it because it's about who you are, and who you used to be. It's about growing up, and it's about how you can never go home again. It's this last bit that has really resonated with me lately. It's no secret that I think Trump is a festering boil on the shit-splattered ass of humanity, but he's kind of an expected awful. We knew he'd be shit, and he is shit. It's like he's keeping the worst campaign promise. Either way, the point is, you can deal, because it was kind of expected. What ended up being worse is the betrayal. Friends you used to know. People you thought you knew. Folks you respected. They all voted for him, and upon doing so, they turned their backs on me and mine. The fact that they might not have been aware they were doing this only makes it worse. It's a feeling like being cast adrift. And so, much like the movie, you realize you can never truly go home again, both literally and figuratively, because the place is overrun with aliens who want to take over the world, and you are no longer the person you used to be, and that's not a bad thing. 

That's not the only reason I love this film, of course, but right now, it's definitely a big one, especially considering where the film ends...

Like all of the Cornetto films, the script is incredibly tight and the wit is razor sharp. It's surprisingly complex, and it's surprisingly funny in both loud and quiet ways. The action is fantastic. The scifi ideas are on point. It's just a good time all around film that isn't afraid to turn suddenly and punch you in the guts. If you're not already aware, Edgar Wright is a fantastic film-maker. He's someone you should definitely pay attention to.

This seems like too easy a pick, right?

A token classic. The go-to name when it comes to famous old movies. "Here's looking at you, kid." It's so "known," right? It's the type of easy to name choice that dilettantes and smug old film-heads both like to trot out, thinking they're showing off. It's a Turner Movie Classic. 

In a word: No thanks, Grandpa.

As World War 2 envelops Europe, Rick runs a nightclub in Casablanca, and generally tries to stay out of the world's way. Ilsa, an old flame, shows up one day and asks Rick for help. Her husband, Victor Laszlo, is wanted by the Nazis, and she needs Rick’s help to escape the country. Rick finds that the world always finds you eventually, and a man has to make a choice where he stands.

It is classic, right? The kind of romantic setting that has launched a thousand stories. 

But when I was a younger man, I wasn't interested. Not because of the setting or the subject necessarily, but because of the age. It was made in 1942. That is ancient when you're in your early 20s. Also, it was black and white, and like I pointed out above, it was so "known", the type of film both dilettantes and smug old film-heads name-check. I assumed it would be grainy and tinny, that it would be hard to see and hear, and even harder to watch, because it was probably out-dated and naive to a fault. I assumed it was sound-stage sterile, y'know? That's what I assumed. So, it was a long time before I sat down to actually watch it.

And, I was shocked, shocked to find that there's a reason we still love this movie after 75 years.

I discovered that some things really do deserve their reputation, and that common doesn't automatically mean bad. I discovered that films can be sweet and simple and straight forward, all while also being surprisingly complex and sophisticated. I realized there are moments in a 75 year old film that can still hit as powerfully today, as it did then. I mean, try not to tear up as the French out-sing those smug Nazi bastards. In such an easy and earnest way, Casablanca showed me a truth so simple, it's hard to believe now that I ever needed to be taught it. Casablanca taught me about the power of cinema. Plus, this exchange between Rick and Nazi Officer is particularly great, especially after recent events:

Yeah, screw you, Nazi.

And there we go, people. That's six through ten. What do you think? Swing back early next week, as I intend to be more prepared to post the last couple a little more quickly.

Until then,

Monday, August 14, 2017

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time - One through Five

Awhile back, it was probably over a year or so ago now, Edgar Wright posted a list of his Favorite 1000 Movies. It was a good list, and insightful as to the origins of his style and interests, but it was also a 1000 movies long. Now, Edgar Wright can put up any kind of Favorite Movies list that he wants to. It's a list of his favorite movies, it can be as long or as short as he wants, and as inclusive or exclusive as he wants. Really, it's kind of cool that he can even list a 1000 movies in the first place. But for me, if I'm being honest, at 1000 movies long, it's really seems like less of a list of favorite movies, and more of just a list of movies.

So, this all made me wonder... What are my favorite movies?

So I decided to do my own list. Why? Because I like to do stuff like my old Staff Picks list.

But this is a little different. This isn't the easiest type of list to decide, y'know. It's a big project. There's a lot of considerations. Is this a "Best" artistically list? "Best" technically? Or is it more of a "Favorite" as in just pure personal enjoyment? Is it a combination of the two? How many should go on this list? The smaller the list, the harder it is to decide, but the smaller the list is, the less fully representative of my personal taste it becomes. Is it fair to have one or two Directors or Writers hog multiple spots, or is it just me being honest about my choices?

In the end, I decided on these (personal, but admittedly arbitrary) rules:

1. The list is twenty films long.
2. This is a list of "Favorites," not "Best"
3. There's no Repeat Directors.

It wasn't easy. I've been working on this list for awhile now. Getting the list down to 50 was difficult. Getting it down to 25 was even harder. Then, my laptop died sometime around the New Year, and as a result, the hairs' breath away nearly-done list was lost. It was even harder to reconstruct it. However, this turned out to be a good thing in the end, I think, because the new version of the list is better, much more accurate. It's amazing the films you can forget about, when you're trying to put something like this together.

Long story short? The list is finally done.

I've broken this up into four groups of five, and I'll try to post one a day, maybe concurrently, maybe not. We shall see. Before we begin... a few quick reminders: This is a list of "favorites," not "best." These are films I love, films that I think are great, and would re-watch anytime, but not ones that I'm going to bother qualifying as the best in all categories, or anything like that. Your mileage may vary. But for me, this list is it. The End. The Final Word.

For now...

This list is always open to change, of course. You never know when something astounding will drop out of nowhere. That kind of thing is always welcome. However, I honestly don't expect that to happen too often, too much, or too quickly. How often does one of your favorite films ever appear? Also, anything you think was left off the list is probably just you being mistaken. And finally, there is no order to this list, not even alphabetical.

Let's do this...

Top 20 Favorite Films of All Time
Numbers One through Five

First up is my favorite Coen Brothers film. This wasn't an easy choice. They make a lot of great films that I love, but the deciding factor was that this film is also adapted from my favorite Cormac McCarthy novel, so... there you go. No Country for Old Men is the story of a man in over his head, trying to survive with a bag of stolen drug money, the monstrous hitman dogging his heels, and the aging sheriff who is desperately trying to save him, but may not be equal to the task. 

This is just an all-around great film. 

It grabs you from the start. It's funny. It's sad. It's scary. It's shocking. It's a believable world populated believable characters, even at their most crazy. Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin are fantastic. It is a violent film, a super tense film, and frankly riveting. It's an astoundingly good adaptation. It's beautifully shot. But best of all, it's a jarring film. That's what I love most about it. People are often unprepared for the ending, and I love that the film purposely fucks with its audience, that it purposely subverts expectations and doesn't allow the closure people crave. That's ballsy and fantastic. A lot of people don't understand this at all, revealing that they don't even really understand what the movie is actually about, and that's another thing I love. The film makes you work to understand what it's about, and yet, at the same time, it's also hiding the key to understanding the film in the film's title. Another ballsy move.

I love that.

My favorite George Miller was also not an easy choice.

Fury Road is amazing, it's true, but I ultimately decided to go with the classic. I just can't deny the Road Warrior's place in my life. It's imprinted on my brain. It's fundamental to what I like. George Miller is one of the Three Georges (Lucas, Miller, and Romero), a trio of visionary creators who shaped my interests at a very early age, and that influence still affects me to this day.

And the Road Warrior is the reason why George Miller is one of the Three Georges.

So, I choose the story of a lone drifter in a post-apocalyptic world who happens upon a small community besieged by wasteland marauders, and decides to help. It's a classic, easily understandable story straight out of Joseph Campbell. He could be a lone gunslinger, or a lone knight, any era, any setting. It's a timeless story, and that's a big part of why I love it. Another reason is the visuals, that pale yellow desert with a single string of gray asphalt bisecting it has been on my mind my whole life, as has the man in black standing in the middle of it.

It's pure iconic cinema.

Another reason I love this film is that it's so aggressively made. The star doesn't say a word for the first 20-some minutes. Who would ever allow that today? Obviously this film was before CGI, but that aside, there's such a balls out, charging forward, fuck you let's shoot this fucking thing attitude to it. You used to be able to see crew members crouched down among the mayhem. Stuntmen were seriously hurt in moments that are still on film. The back-end of the movie is one huge chase with actual cars actually smashing into each other. It has a gyro-copter zooming around over ahead. The coordination alone makes it's a masterpiece of big set-pieces. It's DIY, get your hands dirty film-making the likes of which you'll probably never truly see again.

All by itself, the Road Warrior created an entire genre. George Miller rules, people.

And here we have my favorite film of the second George of my previously mentioned Three George's, the least surprising George, George Lucas. You all know him, I'm sure. The man, the myth, the legend. We love him, and hate him, right?

Such is the life of an aging Star wars fan, I guess.

My feelings toward George now are a bit more complicated then they used to be, and my love for the Star Wars franchise in general has definitely cooled over the past decade or two, but there's just no denying that at one time in my life, he blew my fucking mind wide open.

I know some people like to make the argument that Empire couldn't exist without Star Wars, so therefore Star Wars is the better film, but I don't hold to that. The middle chapter in the story of a far, far away galaxy, and it's struggle between good and evil, and father and son, a long time ago, was an easy pick for this list for me, honestly.

First of all, let's just be honest here, all these years later, it's plain to see that Empire is simply a better film, let's just get that out of the way from the start, but mostly I picked this film because the ending wrecked me. As a kid, it was the first time I had ever seen anything like it. The good guys didn't just lose, they were beaten terribly. The Rebellion was scattered. Luke got his hand cut off. We didn't even know what happened to Han at the time. Lando was wearing Han's clothes! Shit was crazy, people... shit was crazy! As a kid, I couldn't believe it. I was dead shocked. Completely dumbfounded. It was the first film to completely yank the rug out from under me. And that's after experiencing one of the most surprising, shocking, and iconic moments in cinema.

The whole film was a punch to the gut.

And yet... it was also amazing. For a film that is basically just the heroes getting kicked back and forth across the galaxy, it was wall to wall excitement and adventure. Empire taught me that not only can the heroes lose, but it can be an amazing experience at the same time.

It was a movie experience I have never fully replicated, and probably never will.

4. Children of Men

I wasn't prepared for Children of Men.

I didn't know anything about it. I didn't know it was on the way. I'd somehow missed all of the trailers, so all the sudden, I'm reading these rave reviews about a film that sounded right up my alley (mostly thanks to Road Warrior's intro to the idea of a Post-Apocalypse), and I look... It's already in theatres?

I went that night.

Children of Men is very loosely based off the P.D. James story of the same name. It's about a plausible-future with no more babies, no more pregnancies, and we're all tearing ourselves apart as the world slowly dies out. And then out of nowhere, one young woman is pregnant, and one man has to help smuggle her to safety.

Everyone who went with me thought it was too depressing, too dark. My wife didn't like it at all. She thought it was too sad. I was astounded. It was sad and grim and dark, yes, but I loved every frame. And in the end, I found it to be incredibly hopeful. It's a movie all about how one person can make a difference. It's about sacrifice for what matters.

I loved it.

It's a beautifully shot film. That is just undeniable. This film has multiple sequences that are simply incredible. Simply incredible. The attack on the car? The escape from the farm? Entering the Refugee Camp? The Riot at the Refugee Camp? Again and again, this film is incredibly shot, incredibly choreographed, incredibly complex, incredibly acted. On top of that, there's a scathing, unflinching social commentary, one that, while set in England, is still undeniably focused straight at America at the same time, and is unfortunately now more and more relevant with every passing day.

For me, the true triumph is the emotional reaction the film ignites within you. The horror, the terror, the anger, the sense of hopelessness is all so keenly felt throughout, it's no wonder people feel depressed afterward, but honestly, there are few moments in cinema more richly earned, more powerful, then Clive Owen and Clare-Hope Ashitey walking that baby out of the middle of a pitched gun battle in the refugee camp.

It will make you weep.

5. The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford

The title tells you what the film is about, right?

Robert Ford loves and idolizes Jesse James, always has, and he wants nothing more to be part of the James gang, but that love slowly poisons him, and turns to simmering resentment. This film is about that famous murder, how it determined his legacy, and how it ultimately sealed his fate. It's slow and methodical and brilliant, brimming with incredible performances. It's touching and sad and beautiful, and at nearly three hours, it has my highest possible recommendation.

Really, it's worth the effort.

Some people call this film "The film lover's film," and it very well could be. I've long thought of this film as a kind of "secret password" movie, because the movie takes patience, so when you meet someone who loves it, it's like you're both in the same club. There's been a lot of really good articles written about this film, Here are two of my favorites, one by Film Crit Hulk and one by Siddhant Adlakha, back when Birth.Movies.Death was called Badass Digest.

I mentioned the emotions that Children of Men sparks in you, well, with The Assassination of Jesse James, it's all about the emotion rolling off the actors. Brad Pitt is a charming, but menacing Jesse James, the magnetic center of attention in every scene, seemingly pulsing with a barely restrained danger. He's like a stalking wolf, it's an electric performance, but he takes a back seat to Casey Affleck and Sam Rockwell. As the brothers Robert and Charley Ford, their descent in despair is incredible to watch. The Roadshow sequence, as they re-enact the murder of Jesse for audiences around the country, as Charley becomes consumed with alcohol and self-loathing will peg you to your seat. We all know Same Rockwell is great, but here... he's incredible. And as despicable as Robert Ford is, nothing will make you feel a more sudden well of pity for him than the moment in the bar toward the end of the film when he sadly and angrily corrects the details of a popular song about his cowardly deed. He is a man who got what he wanted, and destroyed it as it destroyed him. You almost feel relief for the guy when he's finally gunned down. In the end, it's a sad story about wasted lives that ultimately shows us the end of an era of myth in a young america.

Andrew Dominik is the real deal.

And that's the first five of my Twenty Favorite Movies of all Time. Hopefully, I'll finish the next installment in enough time to post it tomorrow...

Wish me luck,

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ingrid Goes West

Today's film is called INGRID GOES WEST.

I love it. It looks so dark and funny and mean, but in an enjoyable way, not in the kill-all-poor-people-and-people-of-color-GOP way, and sometimes a nice dark comedy can really hit the spot. Plus, it's being distributed by NEON, which is connected to Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse, which is who brought us all the fantastic film Colossal, so I'm definitely in.

Speaking of fantastic, Aubrey Plaza was always fantastic in Parks and Rec, which was filled with fantastic people, but after that was done, she kind of floundered a bit. Dirty Grandpa? Barf. Mike and Dave Needs Wedding Dates? More barf. Granted, she was also in Legend of Korra, which was fucking awesome, but still... The To Do List? That's a real low low, people. Her career was definitely in danger of skidding out.

But then she was in Legion...

She was phenomenal.

She was mercurial and unhinged, just a constant powerhouse presence on screen. She was an incredibly believable monster, brimming with mirth and menace. It was a great performance. It was the type of performance that buys my interest for future projects.So, here she is in Ingrid Goes West, and I am paying attention.

You should too. 

Here's the synopsis: Following the death of her mother and a series of self-inflicted setbacks, young Ingrid Thorburn escapes a humdrum existence by moving out West to befriend her Instagram obsession, a Los Angeles socialite named Taylor Sloane. After a quick bond is forged between these unlikeliest of buddies, the facade begins to crack in both women's lives -- with comically malicious results.

Comically malicious? Sounds great. Let's watch!

First the teaser trailer. It's Red Band as Fuck, so heads up...

The teaser is fantastic, but the full trailer gives a better idea of the plot...

I'm so in. Like I said above, there's tons of elements I like that are involved. The cast is fantastic. I love a good dark comedy. And as an added bonus, it looks like it's going to be a scathing social critique, so... yeah... Love it.

INGRID GOES WEST opens August 27th.

Your Internet BFF,

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lucky Logan

Today's film is called Logan Lucky.

That's Logan Lucky, got it? Logan. Lucky. It's not Lucky Logan, like how I keep calling it, no matter how hard I try, even though I'm actually interested in the movie and really want to see it.

Say it with me... Logan Lucky.

Even though it was written by suspected fictitious person, Rebecca Blunt, which is most likely a pseudonym for who knows who (Psst...Steven Soderbergh), Logan Lucky is a Steven Soderbergh film through and through. This is apparent the moment you watch the trailer. Quickly paced with fast cuts, lots of wit and style, and packed wall to wall with names like Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank, and Daniel Craig, plus more, it's a really appealing film to me.

It's even more appealing for Soderbergh, I'm sure, who came out of a self-proclaimed "retirement" not just to make this film, but to give a big old middle finger to the Studio System by keeping the marketing and distribution of the movie in-house. It's a daunting prospect, one the Studios are most likely hoping fails miserably, but if it succeeds, it could open up entire new worlds of possibilities to independent filmmakers. 

The Studios are probably shitting their pants right now. 

This type of stuff is, of course, a secondary concern to whether or not the film is actually good, but it's something to be aware of, I guess. We shall see...

Here's the synopsis: The Logans are a hardscrabble family from the hills of West Virginia, and their clan has been famous for its bad luck for nearly 90 years. But the conniving Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) decides its time to turn the family's luck around, and with a little help from his friends, the Redneck Robbers, he plans to steal $14 million from the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Oh, boy, it's a heist film.

I love a good heist film. Done right, they're one of my favorite genres. I love the sequence of getting the band back together. I love the style and the cool. I love the tension. I love the twists and turns and the inevitable sudden double-crosses. I love when it all goes bad, and the guns come out. And I really love when it turns out that that was the plan all along. In many ways, heist films hit the same buttons for me as Men on a Mission films do. The disparate team of hard-case individuals that have all been brought together for a dangerous job always brings with them a nice amount of inter-personal conflict and good old fashioned spiky-edged personality clashes, and all of this just adds to the tension as they are pushed toward a single all-or-nothing goal. It's a great formula for drama.

I'm always down for a good heist film.

By the way, if you haven't seen of the films in this little collage I posted here, you should rectify that immediately. These are all great films.

Anyway, let's check out the trailer...

I like it. I like it a lot.

It looks like the backwoods cousin of Ocean's 11. Plus, ripping off those dirty sons of bitches at NASCAR is always good, if you ask me. No offense. Daniel Craig was a surprising hoot too, and I'm all in any time for Channing Tatum and Adam Driver. Those guys are great. Hands down, this looks like a plain old good time at the movies. I can't wait.

LOGAN LUCKY opens August 18th.

Feeling lucky,

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Firebase - Oats Studio - Volume One

Today's short film is called FIREBASE.

FIREBASE is the second short film in a new series, all of which are written and directed by Neil Blomkamp, in conjunction with Oats Studio, which is Blomkamp's attempt at an independent production house. You know who Neil Blomkamp, I'm sure. I know I've talked about him before. He's not one of my favorites. Every film he has made so far has been a step down in quality from the previous one, with each successive one having the cumulative effect of making his much-lauded debut, DISTRICT 9, seem like more and more of a fluke, the farther we get away from it.

But... I'm going to do this with an open mind...

This new series--which, as far as I can tell, doesn't have an official name beyond "Oats Studio"--is Blomkamp's attempt to subvert the studio system. After his terrible idea to reboot the ALIENS franchise with a new third film thankfully crashed, and the deservedly reviled CHAPPIE was shit on by everyone with taste, the luster is finally gone from this formerly Oscar nominated Director. As a result, he has decided strike out on his own, rather than labor to reclaim his name in gun-for-hire studio film hell, and besides, he didn't want all those kids at his birthday anyway. In fact, he doesn't even like birthday parties! He's not crying, YOU'RE crying!

A big part of this new plan is to make all of these films available on Steam. This seems like a dead-end idea to me, much in the same way Playstation's attempt at original TV shows was, but what do I know, I'm a bear, I bite the heads off fish. From what I can gather, the general distribution model they're exploring is somewhat akin to street dealing: The first couple of these short films are intended to be free, to get you hooked, and then they'll start charging.

Unfortunately for Blomkamp, so far, his cinematic crack is wanting...

The first short film in this series was called RAKKA. It was complete nonsense, despite having Sigourney Weaver in it, who is awesome. More of an overly-extended trailer for a film that's never going to happen than an actual narrative--not to mention one that most of us have seen already--I found it to be less than impressive. Fanboys, on the other hand, with their predictably low standards, seemed to love it.

And now here we are with the next short film in the series, one that might be connected to the last one, but maybe not. They're both referred to as "Volume 1", so at the very least they're different branches, but are they rooted in the same story? I don't know. The monster designs look like they could have some similarities, but that could also be because, when it comes to story and design, Blomkamp only has a few cards in his hand, and he returns to them over and over.

Here's the synopsis for FIREBASE: While fighting the Vietnam war, both sides face a new kind of threat that neither of them were prepared for.

Well, that's completely vague and uninformative. That's a big red flag, folks. If I've said it once, I've said it a dozen time, when it comes to genre short films, a short and really vague synopsis like this often means there's no real plot to be summarized. That's not a rule that's always true, of course, just one I've found to usually be true.

Only one way to find out, I guess...

Okay, since the official synopsis was so bad, here's how I think it should've read...

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, some butthole American troops have Batman-ed the fuck out of a Vietnamese farmer, which turns him into Apocalypse from the X-Men (the bad movie version, not the somewhat less bad comic book one). This man is now called the RiverGod, possibly because he sticks close to the river, but no one really says for sure. Meanwhile, LoneWolf McStubble is a man on the edge, a lone American soldier hunting monsters in the deep bush with nothing but a sharp stick and a steely-eyed grimace. A CIA guy recruits him to... hang out and glare? I think. Then a somewhat burnt soldier tells them about a time vortex where he experiences a Russian Robot attack in a past that never happened? Or will happen? That also wasn't clear. Finally, Lone Wolf McStubble gets a brand-new outfit. Roll credits.

What we have here is another incomplete film, more of a bloated prologue to a larger story than an actual stand-alone one. This is an all too common issue in the genre short film world.

Granted, this film is part of a series, a possibly inter-connected series too, but what's the point of separate pieces, if they aren't separate stories? The question of "What's this about?" shouldn't be a vague rehash of story moments, there should be a small arc within each short film, and that small arc should then be used to help create whatever stupid larger arc they're chasing. Shit... at the very least, there should be characters, but there's none of that here. This film spins in circles for a while, throwing out overly-familiar Vietnam-era cliches, and then ends right before the good part, which retroactively makes this whole thing a frustrating waste of time.

Not only that, but FIREBASE looks cheap, doesn't it? If I saw this one blind, I would be surprised to discover it was Blomkamp. His usual flair for cool shots was noticeably missing here. The whole thing seemed like a sloppy fanfilm of a crappy show.  I mean, at one point, they call the burnt soldier "Sergeant" and then two lines later, they called him "Corporal". I want to hope that slip has meaning, like it's the result of a change in reality that it will pay off somehow later, but... I sincerely doubt it.

Plus, honestly, I kind of hate the LoneWolf McStubble character, him and his nebulous superpower. He's a complete cartoon cliche. That mother fucker is so grim, I bet he growls while brushing his teeth. And he's not just an annoying cliche, he's also a favorite well that Blomkamp likes to dip into. This film, and RAKKA, both feature an "infected" human becoming a disfigured, super-powered god/savior, just like in DISTRICT 9, just like in ELYSIUM, and even in CHAPPIE too, kind of. Over and over again. The same tricks. The same beats. Every time. It isn't just that Blomkamp's work lacks cohesive characters and narratives, it's that it's the same terrible and worn-out things each time.

And then there's the whole RiverGod back story...

Grief gave him superpowers?

Really? That's what they're going with? Do you think that's the real-deal, face-value story? Because I'm not sure. I mean, it's so dumb, who would go with that, right? But on the other hand... It's Blomkamp, so it could be true. OR... is this the first hint that the FIREBASE story, in fact this whole series, is actually part of a computer simulation story? Is something like the MATRIX going on? Is the RiverGod going to turn out to be a broken program? Who knows, but I hope so, because otherwise that shit is dumb.

But hey, at least the RiverGod looked cool, right? I liked the way he gathered flesh to himself, and how he would turn invisible. That looked cool. I also liked the timeslip idea, the whole alternate past bleeding into the present type of thing. That's a kind of interesting idea, even though nothing was really done with it here, except for the fact that it exists.

That last sentence is this film in a nutshell, basically.

The next short film in this series is reportedly going to be called ZYGOTE, and it is supposedly going to be released in the next couple of weeks. Additionally, it's said they're going to try charging for the next one, to test out the model, which is another way of saying "I won't be watching that film."


Monday, August 7, 2017


It's a rainy Sunday here in Eastern Minnesota, the wife is out, and the cats haven't decided that it's dinner time yet, so I've decided to open up a Spotted Cow beer (In your face, Wisconsin) and sit down to do some Updates on me and my Writing. 

This has felt like a tough year for me as far as my writing has gone. Looking back, I realize I've actually made some good progress, but still... it feels like I've gotten almost nothing done this year. Time is always an issue. The job takes up too much time, and I often feel like I've just gotten home and it's nearly midnight already, and I haven't even had a chance to sit down and type some stuff up yet... but that's a problem every writer has, right? Mostly, I blame Trump. The shitty part of the country took a big old dump all over the rest of us last November and ever since it's been a rough time creatively. It's hard to write about monsters and apocalyptic worlds when it feels like we're living in one right now.

However, despite this feeling, I have gotten some stuff done.

So, let's get to it...


This is the same book I started last November back during NaNoWriMo, which was then quickly derailed in the wake of Trump cracking open the Seventh Seal. That was pretty shitty all around, but the good news is, I only failed at NaNoWriMo, I've been working on the book ever since. It doesn't have a title yet. Not really. It had some Working Titles, but they're not really right anymore. And it's still a little early to have a formal back cover summary put together yet, but it's getting closer.

There's progress, slow progress, but progress all the same...

Right now, the book has to do with an Internet Dare involving an Elevator and a Portal to another World. There's monsters and magic, and an endless war in the dead lands between Heaven and Hell, and demigods and heroes of legend, robots fighting trolls, magic weapons, that kind of stuff. I'm pretty sure Hercules is going to show up. It's mostly about a young woman, maybe two, one hunting for a young man she barely knows who has disappeared into the gray world, while the other just wants to destroy everything.

Maybe. It's still fluid.

I got the first part down, at least...

Writing-wise, I'm somewhere in the middle of the book right now, the soggy middle to be honest, and that's slowing me down. It happens. It happened during my first and second book. It probably would've happened in my third one, but that book is just a bunch of disparate parts that won't come together nicely, like a box of puzzle pieces from a bunch of incomplete puzzles. In those cases, I just had to keep gong, sink or swim. That's where I am right now, the luster is off my precious new bauble, and I have found myself in the middle of a giant swamp that I can't see the end of it. But... trudge on. That's all I can do. It's the only choice. Finish the draft, then try to fix it, then try to... drain the swamp, if you will, because this one could work. Maybe.

Thanks, Joe. I hope to have a draft done by the end of the year.


I know what my next project is going to be. It's not fleshed out yet, it's just a good idea, a little spark in the back of my mind, but it's a strong spark. I was listening to a podcast not too long ago--I listen to a lot of podcasts at work now--and there was this one sentence in the last episode of one of them. Just one sentence, but it was so good. That one sentence bloomed into a whole idea, a scary and mean and magical and wonderful idea. It just lit up in my head. I try not to think about it too much, because I'm busy on other stuff, and it's so good, it's like a coiled spring, so I know if I poke at it too much, it'll unleash and blow up all over the place, and then I won't be able to ignore it, and then it'll just get in the way of my current project, and once that happens, everything gets tangled up and ends up crashing and burning, and I don't want that.

I want to finish my other thing first, and I want this idea to slow-cook for awhile.

It's a really good idea, people.


I've got about a half dozen or so ready to first draft, and maybe that same number ready to be rewritten and fixed and second drafted, but I'm not sure when I'll get to any of them. Most likely in the down time between my current WIP's first and second draft. Maybe. Short Stories seem to have a tendency to pile up, and poke at you. They're kind of annoying in that way. But there's no rush on any of that stuff at the moment, so as far as I'm concerned, they can wait.

Although, I may try to get something together and sent off for this...


Other than that, there's a long queue of new posts waiting in the wings here at the ol' blog. More Movies I'm looking forward to. More Short Films to watch and review. Plus, next week--Hopefully. Finally--I'll finally start posting my Top 20 All Time Favorite Films list. It almost didn't survive my last computer's death, and it took some time to re-assemble, but I've managed to pull it off. So, at least there's that for you to look forward to.

I got a whole stack of things to work on.

Hopefully I'll find the time,