Movie Review – “The Blob” (1958)

 

 

Meet the definition of cheese and camp for science fiction in the 1950s – “The Blob.”

Looking beyond the laughable yet effective special effects, mostly consisting of running slime down a slope, and the story being made up of adults playing rebellious teenagers while trying to stop an alien amoeba creature, I feel the main reason people still talk about “The Blob” is because of the lead actor – Steve McQueen in his film debut.

Despite the fact that he does not look like a teenager in his Mister Rogers sweater, all the elements of what made McQueen so likable are here – cool, suave, rebellious, but with a heart of gold. Even if this is just a B-movie with a cult following, McQueen gives an A-list performance and sells that this is a teen that feels like he has the world against him. Effectively, he’s playing the boy who cried wolf, as the whole town doesn’t believe there is a gelatinous monster and every time he spots the jelly, it vanishes. He spends the rest of the movie proving that he’s not insane and trying to save the town from being consumed by the blob, and McQueen lives in the agony and pain of his character.

 

 

Beyond this, “The Blob” feels like a beach party movie that turned into a low-budget monster film, with it’s overplayed rebel teens versus the police plot and how the adults just don’t understand the kids these days. This plot takes up far more of the film than the story about the monster terrorizing the whole town. Then there’s the 1950s groovy theme for the Blob that feels like something out of “Scooby-Doo.” The whole film is campy fun like this, but it never takes itself too seriously so that the mood becomes disturbing, despite the fact that citizens are being dissolved by an alien jam.

Overall, “The Blob” has certainly earned its cult status, even if it belongs on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” It’s a strange mix of a rebel teen tale and a B-horror movie and works as both for the most part. The effects are minimal and dated, but still get the job done, especially during the climax. And of course, Steve McQueen turns in a captivating and heartfelt performance that he would become known for long after this film. Watch this one with some friends and some alcohol, and you’ll have a blast.

Final Grade: C+

 

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Movie Review – “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018)

 

 

2018 for Marvel will certainly be remembered for the release of “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” which have quickly become the two highest grossing superhero films of all time, while “Black Panther” gave us a stylized look at a diverse culture and “Infinity War” showed the epic potential of the superhero genre at its most extreme. In the scheme of things, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels small and rather unnoticeable compared to everything else Marvel has done this year, much like its heroes powers. Though honestly, I believe that was the intention of “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”

This is a palette cleanser after the intense and convoluted “Infinity War” blew everyone away. It doesn’t try to match that ambitious style and instead goes for a low-stakes yet funny and character-driven action piece. It matches the style and tone of the previous “Ant-Man” while upping the charm of its cast and their relationships. While “Ant-Man” was strictly a heist film, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” plays out unlike any other film Marvel has produced, due to the love-hate relationship of its two leads, and it is a welcomed addition.

 

 

This makes “Ant-Man and the Wasp” an improvement over “Ant-Man,” while never trying to be anything more than fun summer blockbuster that often feels like a buddy cop film.

Set two years after the events of “Civil War,” Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has been under house arrest for fighting the Avengers and is nearing the end of his imprisonment. But after he has a strange dream about going back to the Quantum Realm, he tells Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) about it, and is subsequently kidnapped. Pym believes that Lang is the key to finding his long lost wife, Janet, who has been trapped in the Quantum Realm for 30 years and set out on a mission to rescue her, along with Pym’s daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). But when a new villain that can phase through solid matter surfaces, Lang is forced to become Ant-Man again and finds that Hope has her own suit with shrinking abilities.

 

 

The main thing I took away from “Ant-Man and the Wasp” was how charming and likable the entire cast is while remaining flawed and broken characters. The lengths Scott and Hope go to for other people had me smiling all throughout the film, especially in the early scenes. The way Scott is reintroduced to us as a passionate, loving father with a lot of free time on his hands, thanks to his house arrest, is one of the most touching and heartfelt scenes in any Marvel film. While Hope is determined and focused, yet seems to really love being a super heroine, taking every opportunity she can to show off her skills. I fell in love with these characters again from their first scenes, while appreciating the filmmakers downplay the romantic interest to focus on character development.

In fact, many elements from the first film are downplayed. Luis (Michael Pena) and Scott’s group of ex-cons have only a handful of scenes and one really great scene involving a group of black market dealers. Instead, the film uses this time to show the conflict between its leads, namely Scott’s lack of commitment to the mission and Hope’s inability to care for anything besides the mission. This creates tension that feels honest without saying too much about it, lending well to Rudd and Lilly’s acting abilities and their on-screen chemistry.

 

 

The comedy in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is effective, but more so in the cute way it plays with the characters powers. Some of the funniest scenes involve objects or people growing or shrinking, especially Luis during the climax or Scott getting shrunk to the size of a kid while in an elementary school. The dialogue is sharp and witty without coming off as over the top or begging for jokes, letting most conversations play out as naturally as you’d expect for heroes who can control ants. It’s not the funniest Marvel film, and some jokes aren’t as effective as others, but it has several hilarious scenes that add to the cute charm of this film.

Overall, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the exact opposite of “Infinity War” – small, low-stacks, while focusing on just a handful of characters that go on a journey that should be simple and gets more complicated over time. And that’s exactly what Marvel needed right now. After such a big epic that felt like a bit too much at times, it’s pleasant to watch a superhero film that focuses so much on family relationships. Rather than winning the audience over with effects, action sequences or even comedy, this one does it with little moments of heroes becoming human, highlighted by superb acting all around. This is one of the more fun, laid-back Marvel films, and it certainly one worth seeing.

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964)

 

 

“Cheyenne Autumn” is another case where the story of how the film was made is far more interesting than the film itself, much like “Spartacus.” This is the last western that John Ford ever made and was based on the true events of Northern Cheyenne Exodus of 1878, as group of nearly 200 Cheyenne Native Americans marched from their designated land in Oklahoma, given to them by the American government, back to their homeland in Wyoming.

Ford chose to make this his last western as a way to apologize to the Native American community after decades of portraying them as the heartless villains in his other westerns, such as “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers.” Instead of the rugged cowboy risking his life to save a town or a girl from the clutches of the evil Indians, the roles are reversed – The Native Americans are the heroes for fighting for what they believe in, and the cowboys are the villains for trying to stop them.

That being said, “Cheyenne Autumn” takes a lot of artistic liberties with history, namely the path the Native Americans take to get back home being vastly different and the many side plots of other forces trying to stop them outside of the U.S. cavalry. And although Ford made this film as a way to show his love and passion for the Native American people, it is not without the Hollywood touch that tends to be a bit racist. Namely, several of the lead roles for the Native Americans are played by non-native actors, with the biggest one being Ricardo Montalban played Chief Little Wolf and Gilbert Roland as Chief Dull Knife.

 

 

So the whole idea of racial equality is muddy and unclear with this film – it’s hard to promote a message about the power of Native Americans when you don’t cast native actors in the lead roles.

Beyond this, “Cheyenne Autumn” has no sense of direction or plot. Large chunks of the film are dedicated solely to side plots that never connect to the main plot. This includes a nearly 20-minute sequence involving an elderly Wyatt Earp (played by Jimmy Stewart) hanging out in a saloon and playing poker. Earp never meets up with the Cheyenne, nor does anybody in the town he’s in – it’s all just comedic filler. Even the presence of Jimmy Stewart in this role doesn’t help the meandering plot and dull pacing. But the biggest offender of this huge scene is that it isn’t funny, thus wasting everyone’s time in a film that’s nearly three hours long.

As the final western made by John Ford, it is admirable to make this film as an apology to those who didn’t need to be portrayed as the villains. Ford was the one to start the trend of Native Americans being the antagonists in most westerns, which would lead to so many things about cowboys and Indians. So to see the same man that started this trend come forward and say it was wrong of him to do gets my respect.

However, beyond this, there is nothing special about “Cheyenne Autumn.” It is dull, without emotion or passion, and is a sign that the western genre was dying as the energy and flare for the dramatic is missing. If you’re curious about this film, it’s better just to read up on the behind-the-scenes than it is to actually watch this film.

Final Grade: D+

 

Movie Review – “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1963)

 

 

There’s an innocent yet touching charm to “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” that really made it infectious and fun from start to finish, mostly powered by the relationship between its likable yet traumatized father and son (Glenn Ford and little Ron Howard). The joy they go through feels honest, while their conversations about life and dealing with death feel down to earth, all while they both deal with the lose of the person they cared about the most in the world. It never comes off as preachy or heavy-handed, finding the right balance between drama and comedy to make it heartfelt.

Glenn Ford plays Tom Corbett, who recently lost his wife, leaving him to raise their son Eddie (Ron Howard) alone in New York City. After the two take some time to adjust to their new lives without a wife and mother, Eddie decides that the only way they’ll both be happy again is if they find another woman who can be both. Thus, Eddie decides to play matchmaker and find his father a new wife, whether he’s ready for another relationship or not.

Ford plays the role of single father with dignity, strength and compassion, all while trying to keep up with Eddie’s shenanigans. He is selfless in his pursuit to give Eddie the best life he can without his mother, despite both of them still being in a lot of pain over her lose. Little Ron Howard, yes the same Ron Howard that would directed “Apollo 13” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” has far more class and charm than you would ever expect from a child actor, even out-acting Glenn Ford in some scenes about handling his mother’s death. Together, they create a touching and inquisitive relationship that serves as the backbone of this movie, helping to keep everything in perspective.

 

 

Yet the film is as funny as it is charming, as Eddie over does it on the matchmaking and ends up finding multiple women who would all desire to be with his father. Eddie’s innocence plays a key factor into all of this, taking a lot of what his father says to heart and dumping it onto these women in the classic child manner. Roberta Sherwood plays their live-in maid, who serves as the voice of reason as their lives get more and more chaotic and filled with women, all while she learns Spanish over a record. The standout amongst the many women is Stella Stevens as a would-be Miss America contestant afraid of socializing and embarrassing herself, who is surprisingly intelligent and sophisticated while taking everything in stride.

Overall, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” perfectly balances the tragedy of losing a family member and the comedy of trying to find a quick replacement. It’s built upon the relationship between it’s two leads and how much they really care for one another, without sacrificing anything for laughs. Every performance is stellar, especially from the leads, and the film always feels honest and heartfelt. It’ll have you smiling throughout, just like it did with me.

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (2018)

 

 

The problem with films where you’re supposed to “turn your brain off” is that movies, even at their dumbest, are an emotional state. Cinema is meant to make you think and feel about these larger than life stories. If it fails to do that, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about the movie, but that we shouldn’t be wasting our time on films that failed to connect with us on an emotional and intellectual level.

I went into “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” with the intent of turning my brain off and seeing how well the film experience turned out. You’d think a movie about rescuing dinosaurs from an exploding island would be the perfect film to just sit back and watch a bunch of cool action sequences, interjected with scenes of Chris Pratt being his goofy self and scientists being morons, but the “Fallen Kingdom” tries to make you think about if the dinosaurs deserve to die or be preserved. Did scientists go too far by bringing back these dinos in the first place and this is nature’s way of correcting that mistake? Or is this God’s punishment for our attempt to gain his power? How much power should we have in this situation and did we have too much power?

This is what I mean – You can’t turn your brain off when the film keeps asking all these philosophical questions about how much power man should have over nature. It was created, in a way, as a cautionary tale about taking the power of genetics too far. That, and to make a ton of money and the box office by putting dinosaurs and Chris Pratt back together again.

Granted, the “Jurassic Park” did the same thing, by making a smart, thrilling, epic tale that was essentially “Frankenstein” but with dinosaurs. The difference now is that “Jurassic Park” had a clear vision, playing out as more than just an action set-piece, but as a film that dared to challenge our ideas of control and power.

 

 

“Fallen Kingdom” on the other hand, has no idea what it wants to say, while also losing all the whimsy and awe of its predecessors. There is no character or charm to this entry, where everything feels manufactured and insincere. Even for a film that bragged about its use of practical effects over CGI, the whole movie feels fake.

Set three years after the events of “Jurassic World,” the former tourist destination has now turned into a land where dinosaurs roam freely and governments of the world debate over what to do with it. This decision is made more difficult when the volcano on the island becomes active and threatens to destroy the remaining dinosaurs. It is up to a covert operation, led by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), to save as many species of dinos before the volcano erupts, but even they’re not sure where all of these creatures will be taken afterwards.

The problem with “Fallen Kingdom” comes down to its less than engaging cast of characters, both human and dinosaur. They do not improve upon the characters or their motivations from “Jurassic World,” which were already weak and shallow, especially its two leads. They make this even worse by giving them annoying sidekicks, one who refuses to smile and another that shows the writers seem to hate Millennials.

 

 

But the characters that really suffer are the dinosaurs. In the previous films, it felt like each majestic creature had their own personality or traits, from the dominant and assertive T-Rex to the calm Brontosaurus to the cunning Velociraptor. But here, none of the dinos get a chance to do anything other than run away from the exploding island or try to eat people, some even doing both at the same time even though they have no reason to. We’re not given a reason to care about these ancient animals losing their home or going extinct again, because it’s all treated as one big action sequence.

The action sequences are serviceable, merely getting the point across before moving on to the next big sequence filled with CGI dinosaurs. There’s no big moment in this movie that quite compares the final climactic fight in “Jurassic World,” which given its setting and scenario is disappointing to say the least. Honestly, the most thrilling scene here takes place in the back of a truck and features just one dinosaur as Owen and Claire try to work with it. Outside of that though, the action scenes in “Fallen Kingdom” are nothing to write home about.

 

 

Overall, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” isn’t sure if it wants to be an action-packed adventure or an intellectual film about man’s power over nature, so it ends up doing neither very well. The script doesn’t make any sense, the acting is bland and forgettable and the dinosaurs are not given any time to shine. The effects range from impressive to laughable, especially near the end, and the film leaves a lot more to be desired with its unique premise.

Final Grade: C-

 

Movie Review – “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018)

 

 

While I did not grow up watching “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” there was always a part of me that was fascinated by the show. The only time I ever caught it on television was in elementary school, and I recall finding the experience pleasant and relaxing. This was due entirely to Fred Rogers caring, welcoming demeanor that made me feel like I was his neighbor. As a kid, Fred Rogers felt like someone who would always be there for you and cared very deeply about what I had to say. As an adult, he’s a role model on how to treat everyone with respect, kindness and empathy. But one thing he’s always been is a constant reminder of the good within all of us.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a documentary that reminds of all these factors, as it covers the life and career of Fred Rogers, from his decision to not be a minister and instead try a career in television to his death and the impact that had on the entire world. All while showing us a path towards human decency that Fred Rogers embodied at every point in his life. Even as someone who didn’t watch much of his show, this documentary immediately made me look up to him as a man who treated every person like a significant and important individual.

The documentary is as charming and sweet as Fred Rogers was, even taking the time to get to know the many interviewees and the impact Mr. Rogers had on their lives. Every aspect of his life is covered, including his home life and if he was as kind and welcoming to his family as he was on camera, while always remaining honest to who he was and his principals of everyone being special. Yet the film remains patient throughout, taking it’s time to show just how methodical and calculated Mr. Rogers was with children and their intelligence.

 

 

But the biggest thing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” does is remind us of the loving life philosophy of Fred Rogers. How he treated every child, every adult, no matter what they looked or sounded like, as if they’re the most important person in the world. Because in the end, we all want to be loved for who we are. We want to be seen and recognized for our individuality, whether we earn it or simply wish to know that someone out there cares. Mr. Rogers embodied that ideal at every moment of his life and never once stopped believing that every single person is special and should be loved for that reason.

Even if you’ve never seen “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” like me or never got into the show, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” will win you over with its charm, patience, honesty and philosophy. It reminds us just how amazing Fred Rogers was in his simplicity and personality, without shying away from the darker times of his career. I had a constant grin on my face during this documentary and even cried a few times when the impact of Mr. Rogers was made clear, and I know that I will forever honor his legacy and his ideology.

Final Grade: A

 

Movie Review – “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” (1960)

 

 

Fun fact – this is the first time I’ve watched a Doris Day movie. And from watching this one film, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” I can see why she was such a beloved and charming actress. She is strong-willed, determined and passionate while remaining focused on her goals of raising a family and making a difference in her community. Day’s performance is the highlight of the film, as she remains witty and calm throughout the chaos of her busy life, raising four small boys in a tiny New York City apartment while her husband (David Niven) gets roasted as the newest Broadway critic.

To be honest, this wasn’t a film I took too seriously with any other characters, aside from Doris Day as she works through all these hardships, including moving into a new home out in the country, with a smile and a witty comment. David Niven is in the middle of all this chaos and loses his mind a couple times, but Day’s character is right there to be his moral compass and guide him to be better than he is. As a result, their on-screen relationship is hot-headed and chaotic, but caring and rewarding at the same time.

 

 

Day plays the role as the kind of mother you would want to have help you through your most difficult times. She puts her own wants and desires aside to help her family without any resentment or animosity. Yet when she needs to get angry or upset, she’ll strike back as hard as she can to stand up for herself. To her, being a mother is the greatest job in the world, but it isn’t the only thing she can be.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.” It’s not an overly complex movie, but it filled with laughs and clever set pieces, especially as Niven’s character tries to make everyone happy only to make no one happy. Doris Day excels as the star of the show and leaves a great impression on the audience with little more than her charm and wit. A great little comedy with a stellar cast.

Final Grade: B+