Tuesday, April 29, 2014

City Slickers (Ron Underwood, 1991) Review

I said that City Slickers is next up...so here it is. Does that mean I'm looking at the sequel afterwards? No...of course not. We're keeping this a solo review for no other reason than I haven't seen the sequel...because it's probably terrible (only one way to find out). Billy Crystal has always been an actor a recognise but never actually seen in a live action film. Let's take a look at one of his most popular films (Oscar winning too), City Slickers

Mitch (Billy Crystal) is a middle aged New Yorker who winds up having a mid-life crisis along with his best friends Phil (Daniel Stern) and Ed (Bruno Kirby). Ed and Phil decide to give Mitch a two week holiday driving cattle. The three meet a cowboy named Curly (Jack Palance) who teaches them not only how to make good cattle drivers but also important life lessons.

I was pleasantly surprised with City Slickers. I will admit that my only real experience of Billy Crystal is Monsters Inc. and Howl's Moving Castle (excluding the Oscars) so this was a good film to see him at his best. City Slicker's sense of humour is very witty and relies on deadpan remarks that Billy Crystal naturally delivers perfectly. It's his movie and steals the scene. The co-stars also do a great job. Jack Palance won himself an Oscar for his performance and, while I can't say he was amazingly deserving of it, he still delivers a strong performance coupled with strong writing. Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby also deliver great performances.

What surprised me most was actually how it's more than just a silly comedy. It gets surprisingly suspenseful at times and gets pretty deep too. Considering that part of the plot dabbles in the secret of life, that's to be expected. The writing helps pull this through and proves that comedy films are allowed to get meaningful and sentimental. The rest of the characters seem kind of irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. The main characters are Mitch, Phil, Ed and Curly so no-one else really matters to the plot.

City Slickers is a satisfying feel good comedy. Billy Crystal nails the deadpan comedy that the script provides. The co-stars also do a good job even if Jack Palance's performance isn't exactly Oscar worthy. It mean, it's good but...Tommy Lee Jones or Ben Kingsley didn't do as good that year? It's more the writing that holds the film up, not necessarily the actors. Join me next time where I take a look a film that is often dubbed one of the best films ever...I doubt it...

A well-written, feel good comedy which is brought to life by it's strong cast.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Top 10 Episodes Of 'The Simpsons'

What's that? Opinionated Movie-Goer talking about television? Yeah, this may be a bit..perplexing but bare with me. With an unimaginative film industry, my attention was been drawn to how good television is nowadays. After the loss of the game changing Breaking Bad, we still have Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead but let's look at comedy. Comedy is on track for greatness with many, many comedy shows being on the air, both animated (Rick and Morty is currently the best) and live action (take your pick). Let's take a look at one of the longest running shows of all time that needs no introduction: The Simpsons.

10. Duffless
Starting off the list is a case of me cheating a bit as this one makes the list for the reason that it's the very first episode I saw of The Simpsons. It's still a great episode though and not just nostalgia blindness. This episode is built on the idea of Homer giving up one of his true passions...BEER! This no doubt leads to some hilarious moments in addition to the B Plot about Bart's intelligence being compared to a hamster. Most episodes on this list have some kind of strong element behind them but this is just the writers screwing about and having fun and it definitely shines through.

9. Homer at the Bat
Now here's an example of an episode with a topic I don't care for but, as a result, I would want to. I know that the guest stars used don't actually have these personalities in real life but the way they are 'Simpson-ised' leads to some truly hilarious moments (and one of my favourite moments ever..."LORD PALMERSTON!"). The hilarious circumstances that befell the star players are actually kind of inventive and you look forward to see what happens to each one (the image above might give some indication). It's a great episode even if you're not a fan of baseball.

8. Homer's Enemy
Yes, this may seem like a very sadistic and mean spirited episode but that's part of why it's so enjoyable. This is the episode in which we are introduced to the infamous Frank Grimes who becomes the eponymous enemy of Homer after being disgusted at his antics at work. We therefore see a good confronation with Homer and addressing his biggest flaws with not just him but society as well. The real reason that this episode works is because of the premise. We are effectively seeing what happens when a normal person is thrown into the world of 'The Simpsons'. This is a  So what does happen? SPOILER ALERT He dies.

7. Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk
This is the episode that brought us the Land of Chocolate. What else do I need to say? Well, I can say that this is just a very likable and feel good episode. It's jolly, it's silly and filled with laughs (in fact, all of the episodes on this list are). The episode sees Mr. Burns selling out to German businessmen who wish to buy the power plant. You may gather from this list that I love episodes focusing on the power plant and this is an episode that shows it at its best...at least until Number 1.

6. Homer The Great
What would you rather have in an episode of The Simpsons? A strong message or just hilarity throughout. Well, with 'Homer The Great', it's just laughs all the way through. From the 'We Do' song to the hilarious twists later, this is an episode where every scene is packed with a joke that lands. Trust me, you'll be relishing this when you look at more recent episodes (yeah, should've mentioned how bad the show is now). Patrick Stewart steps in to guest star as a role that fits him perfectly as he plays off many of Springfield's regulars who are part of a secret organisation.

5. Round Springfield
There had to be at least one emotional episode on this list and I had a hard time juggling which one to pick. From episodes such as 'Mother Simpson' and 'And Maggie Makes Three', I went with 'Round Simpson' because it's good to see The Simpsons tie together multiple episodes as this is a sequel to the Season 1 episode 'Moaning Lisa'. Seeing Bleeding Gums Murphy return is a welcome return and showing off the relationship between Bart and Lisa in a positive light is always a good thing to cherish. We also get some great music too and a well done way of bringing the two stories together at the end...something that is rarely done too well.

4. You Only Move Twice
This is one of the strongest examples of The Simpsons working out of their comfort zone with a small percentage of the episode taking place in Springfield. What makes this episode work is the introduction of Hank Scorpio and the idea of Homer working for what is essentially a Bond villain. Also seeing the Simpson family thrown into the deep end with Homer being the only one enjoying himself. Hank Scorpio is too great of a character to use once and Albert Brooks clearly had fun providing his voice. Just the very idea of Homer being oblivious to his new boss's hobbies (just look at that image) highlights Homer's simple nature and is a great Homer focused episode.

3. A Star is Burns
The Simpsons is a great show, no doubt about that, but another show that I love almost as much as it (if not more) is The CriticThe Critic is made some of the writers of The Simpsons in it's prime and with Season 2 on the way, they decided to do a crossover between The Simpsons and The Critic. Crossovers are normally cheap tie-ins (even this episode highlights that) but the crossover is done so flawlessly that, if you had never heard of The Critic, you'd barely know its a crossover. This gave us some unforgettable Simpsons moments such as 'Man Getting Hit By Football', the interactions between Homer and Jay Sherman and giving accidental depth to Barney. Plus an episode about movie making is always welcome!

2. Cape Feare
Now, this one was dangerously close to reaching number one because this is just a fantastic episode. This is the episode that highlights Sideshow Bob's character and hits all the jokes out of the park. Whether it's Homer's obliviousness to "Mr Thompson" or Sideshow Bob singing the entire "HMS Pinafore", you'll be laughing all the way. It's a good example of The Simpsons constructing a strong episode that isn't ALL based on jokes as the the jokes are coupled with some surprisingly tense scenes that actual heighten the stakes. It actually feels like Bart is in serious danger as opposed to how silly modern Sideshow Bob episodes have become. Cape Feare is an example of the show running with one idea perfectly.

1. Last Exit To Springfield
No doubt this is a very predictable answer seeing as this is often the episode that tops most best Simpsons episode list and for good reason. While it takes on an idea for the narrative that sounds very boring (labour disputes and the such), every single scene is brilliant (which is VERY hard to pull off) in addition to developing Mr Burns by displaying both his miser-esque greed and his comedic charm. Every joke in the episode lands. From the monkeys on type writers to punching Lenny in the back of the head, the "me" guy and, of course, the infamous "DENTAL PLAN!"/"LISA NEEDS BRACES!" scene. There are too many brilliant jokes to quote for this one but take my word on it, this is The Simpsons hitting perfection.

Honourable Mentions:
Homer the Smithers
Deep Space Homer
Radioactive Man
Burns, Baby Burns
Brother From Another Series

Thank you for reading this as I was debating whether or not to start doing Top 10 Episodes of shows...I may need to with movie droughts that occur throughout the year or when I just can't think of any films to review (City Slickers and O' Brother, Where Art Thou are on the horizon).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb, 2014) Review

Yeah, I was supposed to do a review shortly after The Matrix. However, I was planning in reviewing City Slickers but there was promise of watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 so I postponed it...until my trip to the cinema was delayed and...well, here we are. Upon rewatching the first film, I will admit that my opinion was lowered a tad bit but hopefully this won't damage my perception of this long awaited sequel, right?...right?

Now seen as a hero to New York under the guise of Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) finds himself brought back into the mystery surrounding his father and his work with Oscorp. Harry Osborne (Dane DeHann) steps into take over Oscorp and begins to bond with Peter while Peter's relationship with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) begins to get rocky. As Harry descends into darkness over a horrifying discovery, an Oscorp scientist named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) gets caught in a catastrophe leaving as the electrified villain Electro. Now Spider-Man has new villains to face while juggling his quest for discovery.

First things first, my issues with The Amazing Spider-Man are resolved. The world was been expanded with the addition of new characters despite still revolving around Oscorp. Electro is a great new addition and leads to some brilliant action scenes. Heck, this is just a great year for action. First we have the flawless combat from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and now we have the spectacular special effects and explosive action of this film. I also have to congratulate the cast on some good acting. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone show signs of some excellent chemistry on screen and they become the centre of the film. I also love the tone that the film has settled on. This is the first time in any Spider-Man film that I felt like I was watching the real comic book Spider-Man on the big screen. Mixing a lot more humour into the mix brought the character to life and helped develop the world of the film.

While they ironed out the flaws with the original, it does bring some new ones into light. The major one I found was that, looking at the runtime of 2 and a half hours, the film comprises of 2 hours of set up for half an hour of amazing...ness. What I find ironic is that, with the trailers showing off Electro, The Green Goblin and Rhino, everyone though this film would be cluttered...because it's the opposite. Towards the second half, the film begins to lack something. An element seems to fade in the second act however the film picks up significantly for a spectaular climax that had my heart racing.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, while having a few glaring flaws, still lives up to the Spider-Man name. The cast deliver improved performances with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone sharing strong chemistry and Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHann bringing strong performances along with them. Yes, it does take a while to set up the climax but it's a climax worth waiting for. The action alone is worth seeing. It's a spectacle to watch, especially on the big screen.

Topped with some amazing action scenes and great acting, this sequel delivers an enjoyable superhero flick.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Matrix (Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, 1999) Review

Well, that hiatus came out of nowhere. I am aware it's been more than 10 days sine my review of Taken and, quite frankly, there is only so many excuses I can come up with (although, they are valid). But now I'm back to deliver some more reviews on the run up to my 300th review...which I promise will be a terrible, terrible film. Until then, let's take a look at a film widely considered to be one of the greats, The Matrix.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a computer programmer currently living under the hacking pseudonym of 'Neo'. Neo finds himself targeted by a man named Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) after being in contact with another hacker named Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne). Morpheus offers Neo the chance to see the real world after learning that 'reality' isn't what he thinks it is. Neo joins Morpheus in a resistance against Agent Smith while developing skills from within a false reality.

I finally decided to watch The Matrix after all the massive hype considering that it's often considered one of the best film ever, or at least one of the most innovative films ever. At first I wasn't certain because maybe it was just throwing special effect at us and running with the generic 'chosen one' story line. However, once it hit the last act...I realised I was completely wrong. The last act of The Matrix is phenomenal! The action, the music, the cinematography, the special effects, the suspense! All of it is done amazingly well. From the moment Neo steps into that lobby, the film was on track to perfection.

While I wouldn't consider the best film ever (it was one or two flaws), I can definitely see it being one of the most innovative films. The special effects alone make the film worth watching (it's no wonder it won that Oscar for best visual effects). I must also congratulate Keanu Reeves for providing a solid performance, especially since he hadn't branched out as a credible actor at his point. I also loved Lawrence Fishburne and especially Hugo Weaving (he's good in just about everything he's in). Honestly, the only real flaw is that it does take a bit too long to get any traction but when it does, it gets good.

I'm honestly a bit ashamed that I hadn't seen The Matrix earlier. It mostly lives up the hype (I say mostly because no-one warned me about the slow start) and delivers amazing special effects, good acting, great suspense and memorable and iconic characters. I will remember this film for as long as everyone else did when it first came out. Don't hold your breath about the sequels though. Haven't seen them and probably won't for a long time.

Ground-breaking special effects hold up this memorable action flick.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Taken (Pierre Morel, 2008) Review

I have a break on the horizon so if they're no new reviews of this month then I'm just lazy. But in the meantime, here's a review of a film I only managed to see since being at Uni. The intereting thing that got my attention was reception. This film is incredibly split. One minute it's getting 4 stars, the next only 1. One person recommends it, another hates it. It was almost baffling so I decided to check it out (and they're also making a third Taken film...haven't even seen the second yet!). This is Taken.

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a retired CIA agent who makes the effort to care for his daughter (Maggie Grace), having been forced to be distant from her as a result of a divorce with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). When his daughter travels to France with her friend, she winds up kidnapped while on the phone to Bryan. He pulls all of his resources to travel to France with one objective, find Kim and make it back alive.

I mentioned the split reception but I can confirm that, after watching Taken, I am on the positive side. Taken is an example of a film conveying a very strong sense of catharsis. Almost every scene in the latter half of the film is unbelievably satisfying. Maybe because there is a sense of connection between the audience and Bryan since I legitimately cared about his predicament and wanted to see a good outcome. Over the course of the film, I was willing to suspend my level of disbelief (how does he kill that many people at be allowed out of France?) and that let me enjoy the film.

Liam Neeson provides a fulfilling lead action role (at the time, this was surprising...probably) and the moment that he owns the role begins from that amazing monologue (you know the one). The action scenes also are fun to watch but you definitely have to suspend your level of disbelief. It's probably this element that caused the film to fall down for many people. I can see why people didn't like this film but, personally, I definitely consider this film a success...don't look forward to watching Taken 2, though.

I am glad that I decided to watch Taken. It's a film that runs on catharsis therefore I came away with a good feel of satisfaction based on the events of the film. It isn't perfect as you REALLY need to suspend your level of disbelief and this could lead to some questionable action but, following this, there is some strong action and memorable acting led by Liam Neeson. I will try to get more reviews out but...don't hold your breath.

If you suspend your level of disbelief, you'll find a satisying action film helmed by a memorable Liam Neeson performance.

Is it weird that I once had a nightmare based on Taken...before I even saw Taken?