So I was writing about movies released during certain decades, but I’ve decided to change things up a bit and review movies from before the day I was born and after. I was born on 19 May 1971, so in this post I will write a little about movies released since that date. Strap on in!
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974). This is both a terrible movie and an extremely watchable one, which sounds confusing, I know, but I would bet a lot of our readers have seen it (it’s an early 1970s Hammer horror film, so it’s probably mandatory for a lot of people reading this!) and would agree. First of all, the acting is … not good. Horst Janson as Kronos is painful, while Caroline Munro is suuuuuuuuper easy on the eyes but isn’t all that good with the, you know, acting. The many female victims of the “youth vampire” – it sucks their youth, not their blood – are uniformly hot and bad at screaming and seeming scared. Shane Briant as the weird aristocrat whose father died of the plague and whose mother blames the doctor in town is pretty good, as is said doctor, played by John Carson. Kronos’s “Watson,” Dr. Grost (John Cater) is also okay, but nothing special. So watching them do their thing is occasionally cringe-inducing but often hilarious – when Munro blatantly comes onto Kronos by saying she’ll stay with him if he’ll have her, the camera cuts to Janson making a really creepy face and shouting almost gleefully, “Oh, I’ll have you!” as the music swells. It’s a bizarre moment, although they don’t bang until a bit later, because the vampire killing people keeps getting in the way! The story is also a mess, as girls are being killed, so the doctor calls his old buddy Kronos to come hunt the vampire that he knows is doing it. Kronos is menaced in town by three tough guys who are paid by some dude to stop him, but we never know who the dude is or why he wanted Kronos stopped. Kronos and Dr. Grost set a lot of traps, but they all fail, and body count really ratchets up, making us think that Kronos isn’t a terribly good vampire hunter. They set a trap using Munro as bait (she’s game for it), and she does nothing to help herself when she’s attacked. I mean, she knew what was going to happen, so prepare yourself, young lady! Kronos inexplicably has a samurai sword, and I want to know when and where he got it! So yeah, a lot of weird stuff going on.
However … it’s still a lot of fun. Not exactly campy, because director Brian Clemens and the cast take it seriously, but still not too oppressively gloomy. The direction is actually pretty great – the cinematography is really good, with some amazing shots, and Clemens doesn’t overdo the gore, so the splashes of blood are pretty effective. The story actually has some interesting nuances about it, ones I’m not getting into here, but it’s got a bit more depth than you might think. We also get a different kind of vampire, and it’s clear that Clemens (who also wrote it) wanted to do some different things with the idea of a vampire. There’s a nice – if a bit obvious – twist at the end, and there’s quite a nice sword fight in here, too. Plus, I joke, but Munro really is super-hot, which does go a long way. It was a box-office flop, so a planned series of Kronos movies was scrapped (and this helped bring down Hammer Films because it flopped so hard, so there you go), which is too bad, because maybe we would have found out how Kronos got his samurai sword! It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s more entertaining than you might think and it’s actually pretty technically keen.
The Black Dahlia (2006). It’s not surprising that James Ellroy’s novel is much better than this movie, mainly because they cut a lot of the interesting stuff that Josh Hartnett’s character goes through to give him a more redemptive ending. What is a bit surprising is that Brian De Palma really wanted to make this into L.A. Confidential (not surprising, given that it’s also an Ellroy novel and the movie was so good), but he doesn’t even come close. De Palma might have been able to do something like it, but he was hamstrung by his cast. Aaron Eckhart is pretty good, because he’s always good at playing a seemingly decent guy who might at any moment come undone. But Hilary Swank is miscast as a femme fatale – she tries, but she just doesn’t have “it” – and Scarlett Johansson is gorgeous but seems to be playing an idea of a 1940s gal Friday rather than a real person. Neither Swank nor Johansson has that icy charm that Kim Basinger deployed in L.A. Confidential or that dozens of women could ramp up easily in the 1940s. Mia Kirschner (a fairly underrated actor) is actually the best woman in the cast, playing Elizabeth Short with a innocence/creepiness that gets under your skin. But De Palma’s biggest problem is Hartnett, who’s never been a good actor and isn’t that attractive, so his brief ascendancy in the late 1990s/2000s remains a mystery to me. He’s lousy as Bucky, the honest cop to Eckhart’s more ethically challenged one, as he has no chemistry with Swank or Johansson (too bad, as he bangs both of them) and he doesn’t seem to have much invested in the murder of Elizabeth Short, either. Eckhart chews some scenery, sure, but you believe that he’s falling apart because he’s obsessed with finding Short’s killer. Hartnett doesn’t do much with that at all, and even his decision to leave Johansson to bang Swank late in the movie (which is ridiculously symbolic, as Johansson is platinum blonde and wears white or tan while Swank is dark-haired and wears dark clothing, so of course she’s the bad girl that Hartnett believes he deserves) doesn’t seem to weigh on his soul even a little bit. Hartnett became a slightly more interesting actor when he allowed himself to get “ugly,” growing a bad mustache and wearing scruff on his face (he’s not bad in 30 Days of Night and, later, Penny Dreadful), but here’s he at the tail end of his “teen idol” days, and it just doesn’t work. De Palma employs his usual interesting tricks with the camera, with mirrors playing a big part in the cinematography, and the film looks really nice, although it does feel a bit artificial – more of De Palma trying and failing to ape L.A. Confidential – but it’s still a missable film. Too bad – it seems like it should have been a lot better.
The Eagle (2011). This is an early Channing Tatum vehicle – it came out after G.I. Joe, but before he really became a big star for those few years he was a big star (I don’t think he counts as one anymore). It’s not bad – it takes place in 140 CE, and Tatum stars as a Roman dude whose father took a legion into Scotland, where it was annihilated and the standard – a golden eagle – was lost, which was dishonorable and means that Tatum is kind of disgraced, because the Romans were weird about those sorts of things. He gets a command in Britain, proves that he’s a good warrior, gets seriously wounded, is going to be honorably discharged but instead decides to go north of Hadrian’s Wall (which in the movie was built in response to the Ninth Legion’s destruction) to retrieve the eagle. He takes a British slave, played by Jamie Bell, with him, and they have a nice relationship, even though Bell has plenty of reasons to hate the Roman Tatum. It’s a weird movie – there’s a nice battle set piece in the beginning, and there’s some good violence sprinkled throughout, and it’s all about Roman honor, but there’s also quite a bit about why the Britons hate the Romans, and both Tatum and Bell learn how to rely on people from different cultures. The villains are a weird, quasi-Native American group (they’re supposedly a quasi-Pictish group, but they’re also modeled on American Indians) who stole the eagle, but they were just responding to an invasion into their lands, so they’re not really that villainous, even though it feels like the director (Kevin Macdonald, who directs a lot of documentaries but not a lot of features, although he did make The Last King of Scotland, which was pretty terrific) wanted to have a big battle at the end, so he needed to make them a bit more villainous. It’s a decent adventure, and Tatum and Bell do decent work – Tatum was criticized for his accent, I guess, but we have no idea how the Romans sounded, so why did he need to sound British, especially when Bell sounds British because he’s a Briton? Donald Sutherland and Mark Strong are both wasted in small roles, but Tahar Rahim is pretty good as the “prince” of the evil tribe. It was shot mostly in the Highlands (I guess the “urban” scenes were in Budapest), and the cinematography is spectacular – it’s a gorgeous movie to look at. I’m not sure why it isn’t more of a staple on TNT or TBS or FX – it seems like it would be a perfect Sunday-afternoon-nothing-to-do movie.
Midnight in Paris (2011). I had heard this was a pretty good latter-day Woody Allen movie, so I watched it recently, and it’s … pretty good. It’s a typical Allen movie except it stars Owen Wilson in the Woody Allen role (which is for the best; ever since John Cusack starred in the Woody Allen role in Bullets Over Broadway, it’s been clear that Allen shouldn’t star in his own movies), a neurotic writer engaged to a woman who doesn’t appreciate him (Rachel McAdams) and who fools around with someone more like her – an intellectual who’s incredibly shallow, unlike the deeper wisdom that the doofus star (which is usually Allen, of course) exhibits (that’s Michael Sheen, doing a really wonderful job as an insufferable stuffed shirt). Wilson weirdly travels back in time every midnight simply by getting in a 1920s car that pulls up at the curb, and he meets his idols during a 1920s that, for him, is a Golden Age. Allen cast the literary people wonderfully – Tom Hiddleston is charming but the slightest bit smarmy as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Allison Pill is manic as Zelda Fitzgerald, Kathy Bates is wise and nurturing as Gertrude Stein, Adrien Brody is brilliantly goofy in his few minutes as Salvador Dalí, but Corey Stoll steals the movie with his parodic interpretation of Hemingway, spouting manly maxims and never showing any emotion. It’s silly, but that’s part of Allen’s point (which he admits isn’t deep): everyone thinks an era before they lived was a Golden Age – Wilson falls in love with Marion Cotillard in the 1920s, even though she thinks Belle Époque Paris is the Golden Age. Wilson/Allen, of course, gets a happy ending with a young lady who’s far too young for him, although she’s only 17 years younger than Wilson, so it’s not as creepy as it would have been had Allen cast himself. It’s a funny movie, not too deep but still thoughtful, and there’s a lot of beautiful Paris stuff to see, which is never a bad thing.
The Magnificent Seven (2016). One day I’ll get around to watching the Yul Brynner version, but until then, there’s Antoine Fuqua’s ‘roided-up remake. It’s a goofy movie, full of dudes talking tough and shooting from the hip, and it’s as shallow as a kiddie pool but good popcorn entertainment. Denzel is terrific, as is Haley Bennett as the widder what hires the Seven, and Peter Skarsgard is always fun, and he enjoys playing the bad guy to the hilt. Chris Pratt is fine playing Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke tries his best with a thinly-written role, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier don’t have much to do as the three “ethnic” members of the group (yes, Denzel is black, but he’s such a big star that he almost doesn’t count), and Vincent D’Onofrio is just downright weird, with a bizarre high-pitched voice that sounds like it should have stayed in beta testing. The inherent tensions between a black man and two ex-Confederates (Pratt and Hawke), the racism toward Mexicans, the fact that Sensmeier is playing a Comanche when D’Onofrio has spent much of his life killing Comanches – it’s all pretty much ignored, but we do get a terrific set piece at the end, when the people you kind of expect to die actually die, and there’s lots of violence and ‘splosions. It’s not a great movie or even a very good movie, but it is a fun movie. Sometimes that’s enough!
The Death of Stalin (2017). I reviewed this comic a few years ago, and now I’ve seen the movie! It’s a fun movie from the creator of Veep, so you know it’s pretty danged caustic, and it’s pretty neat watching old white dudes plotting against each other. Steve Buscemi looks even older than he usually does as Kruschchev (Krushchev was only 59 when Stalin died, but maybe he had lived a hard life), but he’s always a treat, and Simon Russell Beale is terrific as Beria, because he’s kind of roly-poly but still a monster (as he apparently was in real life, too). Jeffrey Tambor is slightly goofy as Malenkov, while Michael Palin is apparently much nicer in the movie than Molotov was in real life. About halfway through, Jason Isaacs shows up as General Zhukov, and he’s superb as a force of nature among these quivering politicians. The movie highlights the insanity of succession in a dictatorship, because no one knows what to do and there’s all sorts of plotting to take over, but everyone is still scared because while they’re plotting, someone else might credibly denounce them and then they’d be dead. Armando Ianucci, who also wrote it, takes some liberties, naturally, condensing events into a few days rather than months, and while some events are overplayed – the doctors in Moscow hadn’t all been killed, just imprisoned, although Ianucci took that from the comic – it seems that he underplays some horrific events as well. The result is that Stalin and his ministers don’t quite come off as monsters, but more like idiots who happen to get people killed occasionally. That makes the movie less serious than others might be, but also a bit more terrifying, as it’s astonishing to think that such ill-suited people were in charge of an vast country with millions of people living and dying on their orders. I suppose that’s the point, innit?
Den of Thieves (2018). This movie wants to be Heat so badly, but it lacks a few things Heat has: the simple star power, not only of Pacino and DeNiro, but even of Kilmer and Judd and Voight, plus the raft of good actors filling in all the other roles, and the cachet of Michael Mann, who presumably was able to make a 3-hour heist movie without trimming too much. That’s not to say Den of Thieves is bad, but it wants to be more than it is, and it’s not quite long enough to get into all the ins and outs of what director Christian Gudegast (in his directorial debut) wants to do. Gerard Butler’s main character, for instance, goes through a divorce in this movie, but his home life is barely developed, so who cares if he’s getting divorced? In Heat, for instance, Mann spent a good amount of time (too much?) with Pacino and Diane Venora and Bobby D romancing Amy Brenneman and even Kilmer and Judd, so there was a sense that these people had stakes in more than the job. Gudegast makes moves toward that, but doesn’t have enough time, and Butler’s relationship with Dawn Olivieri is almost non-existent. The heist part of the movie is pretty good – Pablo Schreiber is magnetic as the leader of a crew, and Butler is slovenly enough that we believe he could easily be a slightly askew cop who still stays on this side of law even though he brushes up against the line occasionally. The big heist at the end is cleverly done, and the ending is fairly clever. O’Shea Jackson really needs to shave his beard, because with it he looks exactly like his dad, and it’s too weird for me, man. This is a fun heist movie that probably should have been about 15 minutes shorter or an hour longer, because Gudegast should have cut the “home life” stuff or expanded on it more, but the action stuff is quite good. Which ain’t too bad.
Black Panther (2018). Wait, this got nominated for Best Picture? Really? It’s about as middle-of-the-road in terms of the MCU and superhero movies in general, and certainly nowhere near deserving a Best Picture nomination. The third Thor movie, the first Doctor Strange movie, the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, the second (and probably third) Captain America movie are all better. According to the more conservative people at my comic book shoppe, political correctness got this nominated, which is a compelling case when the movie is as white-bread (if you’ll excuse the term) as this one. I mean, we get the dude becoming the superhero (sort of, but close enough), the dude trying to live up to a father’s legacy, the dude finding out his father’s legacy might not be all that great, the dude getting in a fight and not winning it but not exactly losing it, the gleeful bad guy who’s just waiting to be rescued and doesn’t bat an eye when it happens in an unexpected way (said bad guy does get killed soon after, though, which was a fun twist), the hero getting defeated and having to go through a crisis of faith, the hero coming back with the help of his buds and realizing that he has to be his own man, the hero winning back his status. It’s Superheroes 101, and I am a bit shocked that it persuaded enough people to get a nomination. Chadwick Boseman has the charisma of dry pasta, Michael B. Jordan is magnetic but is given almost nothing to do (Andy Serkis has way more fun than Jordan does), Lupita Nyong’o is pretty good but has zero chemistry with the dry pasta, Letitia Wright is fun as Shuri (but Desmond Llewelyn’s presence never snagged a nomination for a James Bond movie, so why should hers help this one?), Martin Freeman is … fine, I guess, Danai Gurira is fierce but also doesn’t have a lot to do, Sterling K. Brown makes the most of very limited screen time, and Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett don’t have much to do, either. The production design is superb – the Oscars the movie received for costumes and designs are well deserved – and the world-building is nicely done, but it’s just a regular, bog-standard superhero movie. Ryan Coogler injects race into it, but barely enough to be relevant, and it would have been far more subversive, I think, if instead of being passive about the plight of other black people in the world, Wakanda in the 16th to 19th centuries would have been actively enslaving other, weaker tribes – the movie makes the point that the tribes in the area were warlike at one time, and African tribes did sell other black Africans to Europeans, and it would have made T’Challa’s crisis of conscience even more powerful, possibly given Boseman something to do to make him better than dry pasta, and made Michael B. Jordan’s crusade even more compelling, because he would have been even more right than he is. That would have been too interesting for a Marvel Universe where good guys and bad guys are far too well defined (even in this movie, T’Chaka isn’t exactly a bad guy, even if he doesn’t live up to T’Challa’s ideal vision of a father), so we get this. It’s a perfectly fine movie, but man, it did not deserve an Oscar nomination. That’s just bizarre.
Skyscraper (2018). No, this isn’t the Anna Nicole Smith vehicle, but if that’s ever on television, I will watch it! This the more famous Dwayne Johnson movie, and while it’s totally a rip-off of Die Hard, who really cares, because so many movies are retreads anyway, so you might as well rip off one of the best action movies ever. The Rock is an ex-FBI agent whose left leg was blown off in a botched rescue operation ten years earlier, and now he’s a “safety assessor” married to the doctor who saved his life, played by Neve Campbell (hey, it’s a Neve Campbell sighting!), and the father of two adorable moppets, who are of course twins and are of course one boy and one girl. He’s assessing the safety of the world’s tallest building, but his buddy betrays him (man, that dude was shady from the beginning) and frames him for his bosses, who are trying to get something from the builder, whom they trap inside by setting the building on fire. Mr. The Rock needs to get back inside because his family is there, and then they all need to get out, while avoiding the cops (the frame-up doesn’t really amount to much, but it’s a minor annoyance early in the movie). This is a no-brainer actioner, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. See pretty good actors like Noah Taylor, Chin Han, and Byron Mann cash paychecks! See Neve Campbell kick almost as much ass as The Rock (she was a “combat surgeon,” so there!)! See two different hot Asian chicks (one good, one bad) chew some scenery! See The Rock do things that would make mere mortals poop their pants! So much fun stuff!
Aquaman (2018). I know this is considered one of the better DC movies, and while it’s fine, it’s not that good. For a movie with a big budget, the special effects aren’t great – as usual, it feels like filmmakers use some CGI because they can, not because it makes the movie look better. I’m thinking of the fact that either Nicole Kidman or a stunt double couldn’t be bothered to dive off of a dock, so instead we get an obvious CGI person that just looks cheap. Little things like that add up, and it’s annoying. However, this is still a decent movie. Jason Momoa has a lot of charm, and he makes Arthur’s nonchalance about Atlantis work pretty well. He doesn’t have a ton of chemistry with Amber Heard, but she does a decent job anyway, and they do try (the movie obviously wants to be like Romancing the Stone, which itself wants to be like plenty of movies from the 1940s, but Momoa and Heard aren’t as good as or have as much chemistry as Douglas and Turner, much less Hepburn and Stewart). Willem Dafoe is very oddly cast as Vulko, but he’s game, and while I don’t think of Patrick Wilson as a “supervillain” type (he’s the bad guy in The A-Team, for instance, but he’s much more of an officious evil), he does fine. And hey, more power to director James Wan for casting Dolph Motherfucking Lundgren as Mera’s dad. The movie is still kind of a mess, with Manta added in for no reason (Aquaman doesn’t have a lot of good villains, and they use the two best ones in the same movie) and Momoa’s epiphany not really landing too well, but it is gorgeously shot in some nice locations, and it’s exciting as it goes. It’s not a great movie, but it’s probably the second-best recent DCU movie, which says more about the quality of the rest of them, but whatever.
I will say that I get depressed whenever I see Temuera Morrison in a movie, because Morrison has never become a big star in the States despite a good career (he was in two different Star Wars movies as two different characters plus, you know, Barb Wire). Morrison gave one of the greatest acting performances you will ever see in Once Were Warriors, playing opposite Rena Owen, who herself gave one of the greatest acting performances you will ever see. It is a fierce and terrifying performance in a brutal movie, and Morrison and Owen deserve far more credit for that movie than they’re given. He’s fine in this movie, but you’d never believe he gave one of the greatest acting performances you will ever see. Anyway, carry on!
That’s it for now. I’ve been watching some movies recently, but not more than you’d expect given the circumstances. But I still have plenty to watch, so I’m sure I’ll get to them eventually!