1960s Oldies

Mr. Topaze (I Like Money) 2020 Restoration

Mr. Topaze is a gray and bland comedy I will more than likely forget. I don’t know if it was due to the restoration or maybe it always looked so muted, but the overall look was visually uninteresting. It reminded me of watching ungraded footage that was shot flat, which is unpleasant to look at.

The film is shot like a play, which makes sense considering it’s based on Marcel Pagnol’s Topaze, but I felt the cinematography hurt the film more than it complemented its stage roots. The blocking was simplistic and the performances felt underplayed to a fault. Mr. Topaze needed way more energy than Sellers and the majority of his actors provided. The film also needed to embrace its absurdity more than it did.

Director Peter Sellers’s film has a boring plot and he didn’t present any of it in an interesting way. Everything is portrayed in such a nonchalant manner that I found myself caring about nothing that was happening in the movie. Topaze is an uncharismatic and non-sympathetic stooge and the other characters are conniving or just as goofy his Topaze. I felt Leo McKern was the only actor to provide satisfying laughs as his character Muche.

I don’t think Sellers ever had a chance at making Mr. Topaze a great movie due to its dull source material, but he definitely could have done more as a director and performer to lift it to higher heights.


2020 Reviews 2020s

Scoob! is a Total Misfire

I am not sure if me not writing on Scoob! until now is due to my busy schedule or my apprehension towards diving back into the giant misfire. I watched Scoob! the night it had its “Home Premiere” and haven’t written anything about it until now. Of course, I could have just rated the movie and tried to forget about it, but I felt I needed to air out – or maybe rather rant about – some of my frustrations with it.

I admit, I didn’t have high hopes. Scoob! can be filed under “Movies That Looked Worse and Worse From Trailers.” When I was growing up, I loved Scooby-Doo Where Are You! and would rewatch episodes all the time. If I were to rank my favorite animated shows from my childhood it would probably be in my Top 5. 

Nostalgia is a powerful thing and many major companies are trying to prey on it, especially Disney. I like to refrain from being cynical and believe that when these reboots come out and don’t live up to what we knew growing up, we are still able to fondly remember what came before. Although, in Scoob!‘s case you can’t exactly call it a reboot because new episodes still air on Cartoon Network with Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?. Unfortunately, whenever I remember Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! I can almost guarantee I will remember how disappointing Scoob! was.

Scoob! comes across as a giant cash grab, but any animated movie that tries to appeal beyond kids to Gen-X, millenials AND older zoomers through nostalgia definitely is. I imagine the board meeting at Warner Bros. going something along the lines of them trying to come up with a new animated movie, tossing away “risky” original screenplays, and going with an already established property with no real heart or love behind it. The fact that Scooby-Doo is currently making new episodes on Cartoon Network makes it even more obvious they wanted to appeal beyond children to capitalize on profits.

I have no idea what the thought process was behind Scoob!‘s screenplay. I remember Scooby-Doo as a group of teenagers or young adults solving mysteries. What I don’t remember is Scooby-Doo being an adventure show that featured Greek mythology. I have no idea why Scoob! functions like a Despicable Me movie with the characters from Scooby-Doo and whatever other Hanna-Barbera characters Warner Animation Group could cram into it. I would say Scoob! is about as bad as it gets when it comes to “nostalgia-baiting.” 

Oh, did you like Scooby-Doo, Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, AND Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels growing up? Well don’t worry, we’ll find a way to shove them all into one movie to appease you and try to set up spin-offs.

What makes me most mad about Scoob! is it’s not a Scooby-Doo movie, it’s an animated movie that features characters from Scooby-Doo. Where was the mystery? I think the reason there isn’t a mystery is because the writers at Warner Bros. didn’t want to have to come up with one. But they certainly found a way to feature lame jokes that reference Netflix and IKEA. 

For a movie that tries to appeal to not just children, it feels very much like something that will only appeal to children. It’s generic and uninspired. Almost all of the jokes are for kids. The only part I truly enjoyed was the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! opening homage. The rest of the movie I’m just trying to forget.


2020 Reviews 2020s

She’s In Portland (2020)

What would happen if the guys from American Pie and EuroTrip never grew up?

I think the most surprising thing about She’s In Portland is that it didn’t come out between 2000 and 2010. With a screenplay packed with a good dose of misogyny, I was shocked that Marc Carlini was comfortable shooting and releasing this in 2020. It attempts to be a more adult version of films like EuroTrip and Sex DriveShe’s In Portland lacks the maturity, self-reflection, and social commentary it desperately needs. Unfortunately, writers Marc Carlini and Patrick Alexander were in love with their lead characters too much. 

The film is more interested in making excuses for its lead characters than having them take responsibility for their actions. These moments of clarity for the two leads don’t really come until the end of the film, which is too late. She’s In Portland‘s two lead characters don’t always seem to make sense as friends and conflict throughout the film in disastrous ways. Wes’s personality overpowers Luke’s, which makes it hard to separate the two. Even though Luke is his own person, it’s hard to defend him sometimes considering he’s friends with Wes in the first place.

Wes (Tommy Dewey) is the main lead of the film and the late-thirties version of the guy you knew in college who only cared about partying and having sex. He’s basically Steve Stifler from the American Pie films. There’s a reason why Stifler isn’t the lead of those movies. He works in the American Pie movies because the other characters are there to condemn and call him out on most of his actions. In She’s In Portland the only person to call Wes out is his friend Luke (François Arnaud), the other lead. He does his best, but it’s hard when Carlini tries to often defend Wes, which isn’t a hill I would want to die on. 

Wes is a douchey womanizer who drags Luke on a road trip to get his “one that got away.” Wes claims the road trip is for Luke, when really he just wants to find a way to get away from his wife, whose crimes are that she’s pregnant and expects him to be responsible. Wes is one of the most unlikable characters I’ve watched this year. He is the film’s disease that spreads and ruins any chance the film had at being good. As a director, Carlini is incredibly committed to his lead. He could have had Wes’s behavior change in order to make some moments less difficult to stomach, but he stays truthful to him and the story he’s telling. 

I think a film like She’s In Portland is only successful if it’s trying to make a point, commenting on the behavior of womanizing men that never grew up, condemning them, and trying to educate the audience. If any of those intentions are there, they’re lost in the misguided sympathy that Carlini spreads. Luke (François Arnaud) is the only male character worth feeling sorry for at times. The film’s worst moment comes in its third act, when it very plainly tries to conjure up sympathy for Wes after every terrible thing he has done has been revealed. I just don’t understand why a writer/director would have a character like Wes as a lead if they’re not going to make a strong statement on his behavior. It comes across as out of touch, which might be the best way to explain She’s In Portland overall.


2020 Reviews 2020s

The Willoughbys (2020)

The Willoughbys is a soulless animation hiding behind bright colors and a cotton candy aesthetic. While watching, I was reminded of watching Storks, but The Willoughbys lacks any strong comedic moments. It tries hard to evoke the warmness found in a Pixar film, but by forcing it the film becomes an empty shell.

Tonally, The Willoughbys is all over the place. I don’t think it ever fully works. The plot is dark and the film never showcases its self-awareness. The Willoughby children try to get their parents killed, but the mere act of it is presented in such an oddly playful way. The film might have felt less jarring if it embraced its dark themes and gave us something like Coraline.

Trying to do a lot, but never successfully compiling all of its intentions together, The Willoughbys is a disappointing animation from Netflix. The film may have pretty visuals, but it lacks a heart.


2020 Reviews 2020s

Porno (2020)

I got so much joy out of watching this movie. It reminded me of the 80s horror films I discovered in my teen years. If you’re a fan of those kind of movies you’ll probably have great fun with Porno. A simplistic way to look at Porno is that it’s The Evil Dead if it took place in a movie theater with Christian teens.

Porno is funny and has a nice dash of spookiness. One of its greatest strengths is the performances. The actors do a great job in their charming roles. They are far better than the actors you particularly see in these kind of films. The performers bring out more from their characters than you’d traditionally see, avoiding tired archetypes.

The screenplay from Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli is particularly strong as well. This film is more than a violent and sexy horror film. They’re also interested in commenting on the hypocrisy within religious communities and the effect God-fearing ideals have on teenagers who aspire to be good. Director Keola Racela, the writers, and actors are very respectful of the characters and Christian communities. They could have gone for cheap shots, but they never go for them. 

I think Porno’s only heavy flaw is its third act. Porno goes a little off the rails near the end. The plot becomes overly silly and the resolution comes too easily. Porno would have been a much stronger film if it wrapped up more nicely.


1970s Oldies

What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

I’ve found myself going through screwball comedies in the midst of the Coronavirus and What’s Up, Doc? is one of the best I’ve watched recently. I’ve found the best way to measure them is how consistently funny they can be through hilarious and sometimes improbable situations. All of the screwball comedies I’ve watched have one or a few of these moments. Some of the funny situations land, others don’t, and the inconsistency of them can make the film feel uneven.

The car chase and hotel room fire scenes are the highlights for me, but What’s Up, Doc? doesn’t rely on these bigger moments. Throughout its duration, the film is funny through character reactions, physical comedy, its dialogue, and overall plot. The film is certainly a homage to the many screwball comedies that have come before it, but What’s Up, Doc? feels very much like its own, not an imitator of the classics. 

Streisand found the perfect balance of charm and annoyance. Ryan O’Neal’s character could be interpreted as unrealistically aloof, but O’Neal’s performance breathes so much life into a no-nonsense character that could have become an eye-rolling, cardboard cut-out. 

Peter Bogdanovich pulled off something special here. I’ve rarely found a screwball comedy to feel somewhat rooted in reality, laugh-out-loud funny, consistently engaging, and have it stick the landing. What’s Up, Doc? is definitely a must-see.

1950s Oldies

Le Plaisir (1952)

I have to be honest, I had never heard of Max Ophüls until February during TCM’s 30 Days of Oscar. I watched La Ronde as part of my March Around the World this year and was not a fan. From now watching Le Plaisir, they’re very clearly made by the same filmmaker, but the ideas and views expressed in Le Plaisir are less shallow. There is still plenty of cynicism to go around, but there is a touch of optimism in Le Plaisir. Regardless of how I felt about La Ronde, one thing I can say is the two films I’ve watched had me thinking about his ideas.

Ophüls clearly has an obsession with infidelity and I’m unsure if it’s related to French culture around the time of the stories or just his perception of the world and/or monogamy. Just like La Ronde, cheating on your wife or significant other is presented in such a casual manner you would think it was an every day occurrence outside of his films. There’s a comedic undertone Ophüls expresses as well particularly during the second vignette that is rather interesting because of its joyous nature.

Films made up of vignettes can be a recipe for disaster because some may be good and others may be bad. As a result, a film can come off disjointed. All of the stories need to be engaging enough to keep the story going along smoothly. Story One and Three are interesting enough, but Le Plaisir‘s second, “La Maison Tellier,” is where the film truly shines.

Before the second vignette begins, the narrator describes it as a fairy tale and it’s absolutely true. The way the camera shoots the brothel is the way you might shoot a castle. Even though the camera is voyeuristic, it never feels obtrusive and the audience never sees anything private that the parties involved wouldn’t want you to see (except their wives). The countryside is absolutely beautiful. The countryside scenes have a classical Hollywood feel and look.

I have to admit, I wouldn’t normally say this, but I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful the second vignette would have been in color. The whole vignette, particularly the scenes in the countryside, feel like they’re begging to be colorized. The “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White” Oscar nomination the film received was very well-deserved.

I love the way “La Maison Tellier” is constructed. When I was watching it I was unsure what the story was going to be and who it was going to focus on. Once the film centers on the main characters, it really hits its stride. The story flows so well and is fascinating enough that it doesn’t matter how free the story feels. The story could have gone anywhere and I would have followed it without hesitation.

“La Maison Tellier” is where Le Plaisir truly shines.

1970s Oldies

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1976)

I have a strong dislike for movies where a woman is dating or married to a man who is awful to her and she stands by him. Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands would actually be a perfect example of this kind of movie. From ones I’ve seen, I would put this film at the bottom of my list. I found Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands to not have any redeeming qualities. 

The characters are so one-dimensional that the actors aren’t given the room to have good performances. The cinematography is standard, so there isn’t anything impressive about it. When Dona and Her Two Husbands tries to implement humor it doesn’t work. I didn’t find the situation of Dona Flor’s husband groping two women with her right next to them funny or the rest of his behavior for that matter. It makes perfect sense that when he comes back as a ghost he’s completely nude.

Dona Flor’s first husband was a womanizing jerk. I found it difficult to watch him gamble and fool around with other women for the first hour of the movie. This behavior made the film become repetitive. He was so devoid of any depth that we knew what he was going to do for the first thirty minutes and nothing changed. 

I think one of the film’s biggest problems is its structure. It begins with the death of Dona Flor’s bumbling idiot husband, but then proceeds to give us a summary of his marriage to her, which was simply uninteresting. Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands might have worked better if the film had flashbacks during the time after his death and while she was married to her second husband.

The icing on the cake is the ending. Dona Flor ends up with both of her husbands. The irony is she becomes exactly what she despised about her first husband. She gets the husband who will give her all of the crazy sex she desires and another husband who is loyal and nice to her. I’m honestly not even sure what to make of this ending. Is it to show no one is perfect? Everyone is a hypocrite? Or is it some sort of revenge for how she was treated before? I’m honestly not sure.

I didn’t like anything about Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, but I have to give it a 2/10 because it was still competently made.


2020 Reviews

Daniel Radcliffe Can’t Save Guns Akimbo

The latest shoot-em-up movie stars Daniel Radcliffe, and yes, you heard that right. He’s easily the best part of the film. I got so much enjoyment out of watching Daniel Radcliffe run around in a bathrobe with guns bolted to his hands. Radcliffe has done really interesting work since completing the Harry Potter franchise. I really respect him being game for pretty much anything.

Guns Akimbo focuses on Miles (Radcliffe), a computer programmer, who makes a poor decision and trolls an underground fight club organization’s stream. The organization, Skizm, doesn’t enjoy the trolling too much and wants to to make Miles pay. They end up bolting firearms to his hands and forcing him to fight in their next competition, against the baddest killer: Nix (Samara Weaving). 

I so badly wanted to like this movie more than I did. The concept is comical and cool. I’m a sucker for great posters with nice color schemes and Guns Akimbo has one of those. Initially, it checked all of the boxes, but in the end it didn’t deliver for me.

If you take away the initial set-up of having a character get guns bolted to his hands and having to participate in a fight to the death, the rest of the screenplay is pretty generic. It doesn’t bring anything new besides its tagline. While watching Guns Akimbo, you may find yourself thinking of other movies it reminds you of. I made a shortlist of ones I could think of right off the bay. Those movies are: the John Wick franchise, GamerNerveCrankHardcore HenryReady Player One, and The Running Man.

Usually when a film combines this many different films it will create a more interesting movie because it has so much to pick and choose from. However, Guns Akimbo feels pretty derivative. One could see Guns Akimbo as an algorithmic movie created from other daring action movies that have come out over the last two decades. I say that because there seems to be no passion or strong voice behind it shining through. The film has a lot of fun in the beginning, with its sleek editing and really interesting compositions, but it takes a step back and doesn’t take any risks. Guns Akimbo then came off as lazy, borrowing shots and successful artistic choices from other films. To top it off, the villain, Riktor (Ned Dennehy) is cartoonishly goofy. Ned Dennehy gives a 80s-esque performance in a movie with a modern feel.

Daniel Radcliffe does everything he can to save the movie and he’s supported greatly by Samara Weaving, who has made a habit herself of making the movies she’s in much better than they’d be without her. Nevertheless, uninspired direction and a common action screenplay prevent this from breaking through the mold of the action genre.



Ichi the Killer (2001)

One of the most violent and gruesome movies I have ever seen, Ichi the Killer seems to exist solely to be just that. Director Takashi Miike seems to make the film brutally violent just for the sake of being brutally violent, which is fine, but I don’t always enjoy movies of that nature. I’m definitely not going to enjoy it when it’s done in such a sadistic and confrontational nature. Miike might have been able to get away with it if he was commenting on the brutality of man or violence in general, but he seems to enjoy it too much to go anywhere near that territory.

I might have found it easier to get through Ichi the Killer if it wasn’t plagued by misogyny and sickening violence towards women. With the exception of the scene with Suzuki hanging from hooks, the women get tortured and beaten way worse than the men. The women in the film are merely sexual objects meant to be used and deposed as the men wish.

Despite its gratuitous violence, rampant misogyny, and unlikable characters, there are positives with Ichi the Killer.

The practical effects are incredibly well-done, which makes the torture scenes harder to watch than other movies you may watch. Considering Ichi the Killer was made in 2001, I think it’s a good argument for the effectiveness of SFX vs. VFX considering the CGI in the film looks very cheap by today’s standards, but the SFX still holds up nicely.

Takashi Miike still manages to make the film watchable through his visuals and editing. Ichi the Killer is both easily digestible and arresting to one’s eyes. He gets committed performances from the cast, especially from Tadanobu Asano, who plays Kakihara. Also, fortunately for him, he had interesting source material to help combat particular choices he made.

This film is definitely not for everyone. I’d look heavily into Ichi the Killer before considering watching it.