Documentary Review: Banking On Bitcoin (2016)

Also known as: The Battle for Bitcoin, The Bitcoin Takeover (working titles)
Release Date: 2016
Directed by: Christopher Cannucciari
Written by: Christopher Cannucciari, Prichard Smith
Music by: Ben Prunty
Cast: Wences Casares, Nathaniel Popper, Gavin Andersen, Naomi Brockwell, Nancy Cannucciari, Michael Casey, David Chaum, Andy Greenberg, Benjamin Lawsky, Jaron Lukas, Blythe Masters, Rakesh Motwani, Rand Paul, Charlie Shrem, Barry Silbert, Nick Spanos, Chris Tarbell, David Thompson, Jeffrey A. Tucker, Paul Vigna, Erik Voorhees, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, Alex Winter 

Periscope Entertainment, Downtown Community Television Center, Dynamic Range, Gravitas Ventures, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’ve owned some Bitcoin for awhile and while I generally understand it, it was neat seeing a good, well-produced documentary about it.

This covers the short but very interesting history of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency while also explaining what it is and how it works. The biggest obstacle it faces is the public’s lack of understanding of it. I think that this did the best job it could in trying to speak to the layman.

The documentary also features a lot of people who known what they’re talking about and have been involved in Bitcoin for quite some time.

If the subject matter doesn’t interest you, why have you read this far? If it does, this is well worth a watch.

There’s really not a whole lot more to say other than pointing out that this is one of the best documentaries I’ve come across on the subject.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on crypto currencies and cypherpunk culture.

Film Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Also known as: Wall Street 2 (working title)
Release Date: May 14th, 2010
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Allan Loeb, Stephen Schiff
Based on: characters by Stanley Weiser, Oliver Stone
Music by: Craig Armstrong
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Eli Wallach, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Austin Pendleton, Sylvia Miles, Charlie Sheen, Vanessa Ferlito, Jason Clarke, Natalie Morales, Oliver Stone (cameo), Jim Cramer (cameo), Donald Trump (scene deleted)

Dune Entertainment, Edward R. Pressman Film, Twentieth Century Fox, 133 Minutes

Review:

“Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs? They get slaughtered.” – Gordon Gekko

Like Godfather, Part III, I feel like this movie gets unnecessarily shitted on.

I get it, though, it’s hard not to compare it to its predecessor and it’s certainly not as good but remove that from the equation and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is still a pretty good finance industry thriller with a lot of good twists and turns that keep your attention and leave you wondering where the story is going to end up.

Sure, there are some things I would’ve done differently but the movie’s main plot focuses on a new character and completely different situations. It just so happens that this character is engaged to Gordon Gekko’s estranged daughter and with him getting out of prison, he comes into their lives and that has a big effect on their relationship and their future.

The film is well shot and it has pretty alluring cinematography. But when you’ve got Oliver Stone behind the camera, you should expect competent and majestic visuals. Needless to say, he doesn’t disappoint.

I like that this film wasn’t just a rehash of the original and that the main character wasn’t just another Bud Fox. Shia LaBeouf’s Jacob was a better person and even if he was on the verge of doing some shady shit, his morale and goodness prevailed. Sure, he got burned a few times along the way, playing with fire, but he won out in the end because he was better than the schemers around him.

Additionally, this movie had so much talent that it’s hard not to enjoy the performances by Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach, Frank Langella and so many others.

Hell, we even get Charlie Sheen back for a single scene cameo. Although, it would’ve been much more interesting to see him involved in the story somewhat, even if just minutely. His appearance is cool to see, as he runs into Gordon all these years later, but it also felt forced and a bit out of place.

really liked Brolin in this, though. He was essentially this movie’s version of what Gekko was to the first but something about him was even more dastardly. Where I kind of see Gekko as a sometimes misguided anti-hero in the series, Brolin was certainly a villain.

Also, I liked that this picture focuses a lot on the collapse of Wall Street and involves the Federal Reserve. As someone who followed and wrote about this stuff circa 2008, it felt like the film represented that era well.

In the end, this isn’t as great as its predecessor but it’s still a fine follow-up and frankly, I’d welcome a Wall Street 3 in another decade or so.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as Boiler RoomThe Wolf of Wall Street and Rogue Trader.

Film Review: A Day’s Pleasure (1919)

Release Date: December 15th, 1919
Directed by: Charles Chaplin
Written by: Charles Chaplin
Music by: Charles Chaplin (in 1959 re-release as part of The Chaplin Revue)
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Marion Feducha, Bob Kelly, Jackie Coogan, Tom Wilson, Babe London, Henry Bergman, Loyal Underwood

Charles Chaplin Productions, First National Pictures, 25 Minutes

Review:

This wasn’t Charlie Chaplin’s greatest film and truth be told, critics were underwhelmed by it and thought of it as his least impressive.

Still, this was enjoyable if you’re a fan of Chaplin and the silent slapstick comedy style.

The story is about Chaplin, as his Tramp character, taking his family on an excursion. Most of the action takes place on a ferry but there are some other scenes like the beginning, which sees Chaplin having trouble starting his Ford and the finale that involves a traffic cop and some sticky, hot tar.

On the ferry we get gags that feature seasickness, as well as some physical comedy centered around the turbulent boat ride.

In the end, this is still amusing and lighthearted but it lacks that extra oomph that Chaplin’s films typically have. I think the setting detracted from the performance, however. But it’s still entertaining and a pretty quick watch at just twenty-five minutes.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Chaplin shorts, as well as the short films of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.

Film Review: The Dunwich Horror (1970)

Also known as: Scarlet Friday (working title), Voodoo Child (Germany)
Release Date: January 14th, 1970
Directed by: Daniel Haller
Written by: Curtis Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum, Ronald Silkosky
Based on: The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Sandra Dee, Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley, Talia Shire (as Talia Coppola)

Alta Vista Films, American International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Come back, Old Ones… Princes of Darkness… and repossess the earth.” – Wilbur Whateley

Over Halloween weekend, I wanted to watch some Lovecraftian horror. So I figured, why not watch an actual adaptation of Lovecraft’s work. An adaptation that I both love and haven’t seen in a really long time.

So that thought brought me to The Dunwich Horror, a film put out by American International Pictures, which feels very close to their Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of the ’60s.

While this sadly doesn’t feature Vincent Price, I love Dean Stockwell and he made a great villain in this. Plus, he’s so damn young that it’s just cool seeing him this youthful.

The film also stars Sandra Dee, Ed Begley Sr. in one of his last roles, as well as a very young Talia Shire when she was still going by Talia Coppola.

The film has a tremendous atmosphere that feels like those Poe films but even more evolved and refined. I’m nowhere near as versed in director Daniel Haller’s work, as I am in Roger Corman’s, but he borrowed from Corman’s style while at AIP and gave us something that looked a little more pristine and as if he really took his time and didn’t rush through the production as quickly as Corman typically did.

The sets and the town in this look lived-in and genuine and even the stuff made on sets just fit well within the total presentation and came across as authentic locations.

I loved the lighting and how it almost has a giallo type feel in the more fantastical moments.

While this is far from perfect, it’s pretty well acted for a low budget horror movie and it tells an enthralling story that at least feels consistent with the tone of Lovecraft’s literary work.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman for American International Pictures.

Film Review: The Night Strangler (1973)

Also known as: The Time Killer (working title), Kolchak: The Night Strangler (long title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1973
Directed by: Dan Curtis
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: Bob Cobert
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jo Ann Pflug, Richard Anderson, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Circle Films, ABC, 74 Minutes, 90 Minutes (extended syndication version)

Review:

“I just saw your “so-called killer” wipe up the street with your so-called police force!” – Carl Kolchak

In my last Kolchak related review, I talked about my love of the show but also mentioned that I had never seen the television movies that predated it. This is the second and final film and I’ve got to say that I liked it a hair bit better than the very entertaining and charming first one.

I guess the consensus is that they were pretty equal in quality but I felt like Darren McGavin and Simon Oakland were much more in-sync together, as well as more comfortable with their characters.

This story doesn’t see our crack reporter trying to take down a vampire, instead, he’s trying to stop an alchemist that is killing young women and using their blood to stay immortal. I guess the baddie is similar to a vampire, in a way, but he’s more like a Jack the Ripper type of killer with an extra twist.

The film also takes place in Seattle, after Kolchak was chased off from Las Vegas due to the events of the previous story. He’d also have to leave Seattle at the end of this where the heroes mention that they’re moving to New York City. The TV show that followed the next year put them in Chicago, however.

Anyway, this is solid, cool yet hokey ’70s fun and I like that it didn’t stay focused on vampires and allowed itself to be more open with weird monsters and phenomena. In fact, this franchise was a big inspiration on the creation and format of The X-Files, two decades later.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor The Night Stalker and the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

 

Film Review: Wall Street (1987)

Release Date: December 11th, 1987
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Oliver Stone, Stanley Weiser
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Daryl Hannah, Martin Sheen, Hal Holbrook, Terence Stamp, John C. McGinley, James Karen, Sean Young, James Spader, Saul Rubinek, Sylvia Miles

Amercent Films, American Entertainment Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.” – Lou Mannheim

I wrote pretty extensively on this film several years ago for a politics and economics site that I used to run. That article also made it into one of the books I published. That article was called Gordon Gekko, the Hero?

I won’t spend too much time rambling on about the morality, themes and messages within this film, as that lengthy article already does. This is a movie review, so I’ll focus on the things that make it great beyond just the story and my interpretation of its core characters and their real motivations.

To start, this is hands down one of my favorite Oliver Stone movies. It may, in fact, be my favorite but it’s been a really long time since I’ve seen Platoon and JFK.

This is also one of Charlie Sheen’s best performances and he held his own and wasn’t overshadowed by the stupendous cast around him, especially Michael Douglas, one of the greatest actors of his generation.

I did find Daryl Hannah to be kind of weak, though. I don’t necessarily blame her for that, as her character barely got time to develop or to allow you to care for her. I feel as if she was more than a predatory gold-digging shark but that’s pretty much all we got to see from her.

Additionally, I felt like Sean Young was really underutilized and honestly, the women just seemed like they were put on the backburner. Also, this wasn’t really their story but it felt like their efforts were a bit wasted for what they potentially could’ve brought to the film.

Anyway, the story is solid but the pacing can drag a bit, here and there, and I think that’s the main reason why I don’t see this as more of a masterpiece. That’s not to say it’s dull but a lot of scenes felt like padding, as if Stone wanted to hit a two hour mark on the running time.

The film is also full of so many great character actors in smaller roles and it’s sort of like a who’s who of cool ’80s dudes that were in everything. I especially liked James Karen and Hal Holbrook in this. John C. McGinley also stole the show in the scenes he was in.

Being an Oliver Stone picture, one should expect this to be technically sound and beautiful and it is. Wall Street doesn’t disappoint and it features some stellar cinematography and a few iconic shots that have been burned into my memory since I first watched this picture as a kid in the late ’80s.

Also, the music is perfect from the film’s score by Stewart Copeland and the pop music tracks sprinkled throughout. It’s been so long since I’ve last seen this that I forgot how much I loved that motorcycle sequence to Brian Eno’s “Mea Culpa”.

All in all, this is still a fantastic motion picture where just about everything goes right. There are those few minor flaws but they hardly detract from how great this movie is, as a whole.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as Boiler RoomThe Wolf of Wall Street and Rogue Trader.

Film Review: The Best Man (1964)

Also known as: Gore Vidal’s Best Man (complete title)
Release Date: April 5th, 1964 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Frank J. Schaffner
Written by: Gore Vidal
Music by: Mort Lindsey
Cast: Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Edie Adams, Margaret Leighton, Shelley Berman, Lee Tracy, Ann Sothern, Gore Vidal (cameo, uncredited)

Millar/Turman Productions, United Artists, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Y’know, it’s not that I object to your being a bastard, don’t get me wrong there. It’s your being such a stupid bastard that I object to.” – President Art Hockstader

Today is Election Day, so I wanted to watch a film about the subject. Yesterday, I reviewed 2011’s George Clooney directed The Ides of March and was fairly disappointed by it. This film, written by the legendary Gore Vidal, was at least a better experience.

One big selling point on me choosing this film to watch was due to it coming out in ’64, a year that featured one of the most interesting presidential races of all-time and because it starred two greats: Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. Plus, I’ve never seen this and have been meaning to check it out for years.

While I can’t call this an impressive film, as I did anticipate it to be really good, it’s still engaging and it explores morality at the highest level of American politics in the time that this was made. Frankly, things were nowhere near as bad as they have become nearly sixty years later. But that’s okay, we lived in a politically charged and changing world back then but something about it was more wholesome and honest.

The performances in this movie were top notch but honestly, I was more captivated by the political debates and candidates’ platforms. It’s funny because the core things behind their issues aren’t that different from what we’re dealing with today. Although, in modern times, people are a lot more extreme and there is a widening divide that feels like it could lead to institutional collapse. But let’s not dwell on that.

The Best Man is thought provoking and engaging and it makes me wish that politicians in 2020 were in the game for the right reasons. Obviously, there were opportunists and assholes in 1964 but at least it felt more pure, less divided and both sides appeared as if they wanted to work together in some regard.

If anything, this film just made me yearn for a simpler, more unified time where our differences didn’t tear us apart but instead opened up genuine debate in an effort to make the world better.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other films about presidential elections.

Film Review: The Ides of March (2011)

Also known as: Farragut North (working title)
Release Date: August 31st, 2011 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: George Clooney, Beau Willimon, Grant Heslov
Based on: Farragut North by Beau Willimon
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell

Exclusive Media Group, Cross Creek Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“If you want to be president, you can start a war, you can lie, you can cheat, you can bankrupt the country, but you can’t fuck the interns. They’ll get you for that.” – Stephen Meyers

Being the last few days before the 2020 Presidential Election, I figured I’d watch a few films that cover that very subject to some degree. I chose this one mainly due to the cast and because I hadn’t yet seen it.

While it was a decently acted film, it was also kind of boring and other than a few key plot points, nothing really seemed to happen, other than Ryan Gosling running around plotting and scheming to save his own skin and to suppress his own guilt. But I guess that’s politics.

This was directed by George Clooney and while I love the guy as an actor, his directorial efforts need a lot of work. It’s not that this is a bad movie, it’s just a severely dull one that sees an incredible cast just sort of sleep their way through the scenes.

Every performance seemed very understated and the only one that worked for me was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s. Everyone else just played what should’ve been very emotional scenes like they were devoid of emotion and feeling. While I also like Gosling, he does this quite a bit and sometimes it’s like someone needs to push him into expressing himself more passionately and less coldly.

Marisa Tomei was the best part of the film, as she exists in contrast to everyone else’s “cool as a cucumber” approach. However, she’s a fairly minor character and not maximized in a way that benefits the picture, overall. But when she’s onscreen, at least I felt something.

I guess Paul Giamatti also conveyed emotion but like Tomei, he’s used sparingly.

The story felt skeletal and I find it hard to believe that it was adapted to film if this movie is anything close to the source material. If so, it feels like a lot was left out or scrapped in favor of a more palatable running time.

Although, this movie could’ve definitely benefitted from more context, more story and a more energetic pace. You probably could’ve fit all that extra context and nuance into the picture had it moved with some actual life.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other films about presidential elections.

Film Review: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Release Date: December 19th, 1971 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick
Based on: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Music by: Wendy Carlos
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin, Michael Bates, Warren Clark, Clive Francis, Michael Gover, James Marcus, Aubrey Morris, Godfrey Quigley, Sheila Raynor, Philip Stone, Madge Ryan, Anthony Sharp, Michael Tarn, David Prowse, Steven Berkoff

Polaris Productions, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 136 Minutes

Review:

“It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.” – Alex

As of this review, Stanley Kubrick is the one director that I have awarded four 10 out of 10 ratings to. He is my favorite director of all-time, as he’s just able to captivate me like no one else. Granted, Orson Welles, Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa are pretty damn close too and I often times debate which director truly takes the cake but I always come back to Kubrick. But hey, at least I know who’s on my Mount Rushmore of film directors.

Similar to my mental debate over directors, I often times ponder which of Kubrick’s films between this one, 2001 and The Shining are my favorite. The answer is usually the most recent one that I’ve watched but it seems like A Clockwork Orange tends to rise to the top more often than the other two.

While all three films are masterpieces, as is Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, this one seems to resonate with me the most.

This may be the most perfectly cast film from top-to-bottom, as there isn’t a single person, regardless of the size of their role, that hinders this film in any way. Additionally, every actor feels exactly as they should and despite recognizing many faces, you still get lost in the film and aren’t necessarily distracted by who’s in it.

As fantastical as this film’s world may seem, you are still drawn into it’s gritty, harsh realness while also admiring its surreal and sometimes opulent environment. It’s a film with a lot of visual and narrative contrast but in both regards these things feel like perfect marriages and perfectly balanced.

Beyond that, this is, by far, one of the most mesmerizing and impressive films ever shot. Kubrick uses a lot of his stylistic tropes to great effect. 

Furthermore, out of all the novels and stories that Kubrick has adapted, this one is the closest to its source material. In fact, nothing has really changed and there are just a few things omitted, probably due to running time and also because Kubrick was given the American version of the novel, which, at the time, was missing the book’s epilogue.

Comparing the book to the movie, I like both just about equally. However, for the film, I feel that the ending is perfect and that the epilogue might have taken some of the cinematic magic away, as it would have made the film’s climax less open for interpretation. For fans of this picture, I would most definitely suggest that you read the original Anthony Burgess novel if you haven’t already.

A Clockwork Orange is a terrifying, emotional and amusing film. It’s also perfect, as far as I’m concerned. They don’t make movies like this anymore and they probably never will with how the film industry has evolved, especially as of late.

Stanley Kubrick was a fucking legend. This is just one of several motion pictures that cements that.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Stanley Kubrick’s other films and other great movies that feature a sort of dystopian, bleak future.

Film Review: House of Wax (1953)

Also known as: The Wax Works (working title)
Release Date: April 9th, 1953 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Andre DeToth
Written by: Crane Wilbur
Based on: The Wax Works by Charles S. Belden
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Charles Bronson (as Charles Buchinsky)

Bryan Foy Productions, Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“I’m afraid that the visit of a such distinguished critic may cause my children to become conceited. To you they are wax, but to me, their creator, they live and breathe.” – Prof. Henry Jarrod

House of Wax is hand down, one of my favorite Vincent Price films ever made. In fact, as much as I love the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he’s in, this was the movie that really sold me on the guy and opened up the Pandora’s box that sent me down the rabbit hole of classic horror.

While I had already loved the Universal Monsters films and older black and white stuff, House of Wax really introduced me to the generation of films that followed, many of which starred Vincent Price, Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee… and sometimes a combination of two of them or on rare occasions, all three.

At a very young age, this also introduced me to the original version of the 3D gimmick. While I didn’t see this in 3D, it gave me an understanding of it and how these films were shot. Plus, it’s cool seeing it on a normal screen, as in 1953, movies weren’t made to be digested at home on a television set.

This was directed by Andre DeToth, who had previously made some memorable classic film-noir pictures. He had an eye for cinematic composition and he would utilize that to great effect, here, while also applying it to the 3D effects shots.

What sets this apart from DeToth’s beautiful noir movies is the use of color, which is vibrant and vivid, even more so than the colorized pictures of the day. Even when the film takes place in darkness, the world is still alive with dynamic hues.

Additionally, DeToth’s mastery of a high chiaroscuro style comes into play in the great sequence that sees the film’s female lead running through the urban streets and alleyways with the grotesque killer in hot pursuit. While this wasn’t done in black and white, it used dark hues and a lot of contrast with bits of color accenting the composition, helping to boost texture.

Vincent Price is dynamite in this and it is one of his best roles. He was on his A-game and his performance in this film is what led to him having a career as America’s top horror star for decades.

I also loved seeing a young Charles Bronson in this, who would work with DeToth again in a noir movie titled Crime Wave.

As an Addams Family fan, I also like that Carolyn Jones is in this, a decade before her most famous role as Morticia Addams.

One thing that really stood out to me when seeing this, as a kid, was how messed up and dark the story was. It’s about a wax artist who lost everything and was only able to reestablish himself by killing people and using them as the base for his wax figure creations. In fact, the plot of this film inspired two different horror short stories I wrote around middle school age. I’d assume that it also inspired Roger Corman’s classic beatnik horror comedy Bucket of Blood.

Overall, this is not just one of my favorite Vincent Price films, it is one of my favorite films of all-time. It led me down a path that I have enjoyed immensely for thirtyish years and I still tend to feel the need to watch this every October.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price films from the ’50s through the ’70s.