Documentary Review: Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal (2003)

Release Date: March 16th, 2003
Directed by: James P. Taylor Jr.
Written by: J.V. Martin
Music by: Mark Leggett
Cast: Peter Tomarken (presenter), various

Termite Art Productions, FremantleMedia, Game Show Network, 83 Minutes

Review:

“On May 19, 1984, a dubious kind of history was made. An unemployed ice cream truck driver took a major television network on a ride no one watching would ever forget.” – Peter Tomarken

I’ve known about this story for years but I didn’t know that a documentary was ever made about it. Apparently, the Game Show Network did just that in 2003 and it was also hosted by former Press Your Luck host, Peter Tomarken.

This also brought back the other two contestants from the famous duo of episodes that saw Michael Larson take the game show to the cleaners after memorizing the patterns on the board and using that knowledge and great timing to go on a legendary run unlike anything anyone had seen before it.

This documentary uses a mix of old game show footage, talking head interviews and dramatizations to tell the story of Michael Larson. It shows the viewer what was behind his motivation, how his obsession ruined personal relationships and how his life became a driven by greed.

Over the course of this documentary, we get to see both of the episodes in their entirety with unaired footage added back in. With that, it shows us, step-by-step, how Larson decoded the board and outwitted the show’s producers and ran away with the network’s money.

This was really damn intriguing for something made for television by a gimmick cable network. In fact, it was so well done and presented, I want to see if the Game Show Network has made other similar films based off of other scandals.

Still, no game show scandal was quite like this one. 

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Red Dragon (2002)

Release Date: September 30th, 2002 (premiere)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frankie Faison, Anthony Heald, Bill Duke, Ken Leung, Lalo Schifrin, Frank Langella (deleted scene), Ellen Burstyn (voice, uncredited), Frank Whaley (uncredited)

Dino De Laurentiis Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Think to yourself that every day is your last. The hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise. As for me, when you want a good laugh, you will find me in fine state, fat and sleek, a true hog of Epicurus’s herd.” – Hannibal Lecter

In my quest to revisit and review all of the Hannibal Lecter movies, I’ve finally reached Red Dragon, the last film with Anthony Hopkins in it as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. It’s also interesting in that it is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs and a remake of 1986’s Manhunter, which was the first Hannibal Lecter movie that saw the famous character portrayed by Brian Cox in a chilling performance.

Having seen this again for the first time since theaters, I was pleasantly surprised by it. Especially, since it came out a year after the pretty mundane Hannibal.

Still, I think that Manhunter is the better film due to the visual style and pacing of its director, Michael Mann, as well as the performances of its cast. I thought that Tom Noonan’s version of the serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, was a lot more intense and scary than Ralph Fiennes version in this movie. That’s not to take anything away from Fiennes, though, as he’s pretty damn good too.

As much as I like Edward Norton in everything, I also prefer William Peterson’s version of Will Graham.

Where Red Dragon does take the cake, though, is in the chemistry between Norton’s Graham and Hopkin’s Lecter. The scenes they shared together were really great. While it’s not on par with the exchanges between Jodie Foster’s Clarice and Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, it still propels the film and it’s the primary factor in this film redeeming the series after it’s severely underwhelming predecessor.

Also, this is just a good story, all around. I’m not sure which is the more accurate film to the source material between this and Manhunter but the plots are very much the same with a few details being different.

I’d also consider this Brett Ratner’s best movie. In recent years, his career has been derailed by sexual harassment allegations and with that, this will probably remain his best film, as he most likely will never work in Hollywood again.

All in all, this is pretty good and it didn’t let the Anthony Hopkins trio of movies end on a sour note.

Now there’s also the prequel film that came out after this but I’ve never seen it and it actually isn’t currently streaming anywhere. I want to watch it and review it as well but I’ll have to wait for it to pop up on a streaming service I already have, as I don’t think it’s worth buying based off of the things I’ve heard about it over the years.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: Hot Fuzz (2007)

Also known as: Raging Fuzz, Blue Fury (working titles), Bubblin’ Fuzz, Dead Right, Feelin’ Fuzzier (fake working titles)
Release Date: February 13th, 2007 (London premiere)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, Edward Woodward, Bill Bailey, Olivia Colman, Julia Deakin, Kevin Eldon, Martin Freeman, Paul Freeman, Rafe Spall, Stephen Merchant, Steve Coogan (uncredited), Peter Jackson (uncredited), Cate Blanchett (uncredited), Edgar Wright (uncredited), Garth Jennings (uncredited)

Working Title Films, StudioCanal, Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I may not be a man of God, Reverend, but I know right and I know wrong and I have the good grace to know which is which.” – Nicholas Angel, “Oh, fuck off, grasshopper. [Reverend Shooter pulls out a pair of derringers from his cassock]” – Reverend Philip Shooter

The moment this movie finished in the theater, I had a massive smile on my face and it stuck with me for days. Once it was gone, I went back to the theater to go see this picture again.

This is still my favorite Edgar Wright movie and revisiting it now just solidified that. For what it is, it is pretty close to perfect.

It features Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at their absolute best, as a duo. After two seasons of the television show Spaced and 2004’s cult classic Shaun of the Dead, these two guys had evolved into a perfect pair, where each half compliments the other and together they make a much better whole.

That being said, if there was ever a film from Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy that deserved a sequel, it’s this one. I doubt it will get a sequel but it perfectly represents the buddy cop genre and those films are perfect for sequelization. Just look at Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, Rush Hour, etc.

Anyway, this is just great from top-to-bottom. It has a stacked cast featuring several of my favorite British people, it has a solid, surprising story, superb action sequences and the sort of buddy cop camaraderie that you and your primary school homies used to try and emulate while playing cops on the playground.

Despite all the other great things Pegg and Frost have done, this feels like the roles they were born to play. And honestly, I almost feel the same way about Timothy Dalton in this, as he’s so damn good that he’s perfect.

Hot Fuzz is just a hilarious, balls out action flick. Once you get to the action packed finale, things escalate in ways you’d never expect and at the same time, this never jumps the shark. It just has the perfect balance of comedy, action and ridiculousness.

Not only is this my favorite of Wright’s films, it is also one of my favorite movies of its decade.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Edgar Wright comedies, as well as his television show Spaced.

Film Review: Hannibal (2001)

Also known as: The Silence of the Lambs 2 (working title)
Release Date: February 9th, 2001
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: David Mamet, Steven Zaillian
Based on: Hannibal by Thomas Harris
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Frankie R. Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Gary Oldman, Željko Ivanek, Mark Margolis, Ajay Naidu

Dino De Laurentiis Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“People don’t always tell you what they are thinking. They just see to it that you don’t advance in life.” – Hannibal Lecter

As much as I just came off of loving Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs in their reviews, a part of me was dreading having to sit through Hannibal again, as my original assessment of it was pretty poor. Granted, that assessment came in 2001, the last time I saw the film, which was on the big screen, opening night.

I have never had much urge to go back and revisit this and honestly, it kind of soured me on the franchise, including the masterpiece that is this movie’s direct predecessor, The Silence of the Lambs.

Watching this, almost exactly twenty years later, didn’t help the film.

Sometimes, I don’t like a movie but when I give it another shot, years later, I find things in it worth appreciating. This especially happens nowadays when modern movies are mostly just corporate, unartistic shit. Hannibal still failed and the only real positive is the performances from the core cast members.

Julianne Moore was fine but it’s still odd watching this and seeing someone else as Clarice when Anthony Hopkins is still playing Hannibal Lecter. Frankie Faison even returns in his smaller role but Jodie Foster wanted nothing to do with this. I know that she hated how this story ended but they changed the ending in the script and the final film to appease her. Still, she couldn’t be lured back. If she actually read the script, I can understand why.

Reason being, the script is terrible but then, so is the story. Granted, I haven’t read the book, so I’m not sure if that was bad too or if the script was just a really poor adaptation of it. Either way, this was predictable as hell for the most part and it was also incredibly dull.

I just didn’t care about the story, the people in it and the big changes to the ending felt off. Honestly, though, I know how the novel ends and I’ve always thought of its ending as really uncharacteristic of the Clarice character. But then who am I to argue with the author that created the characters in the first place.

Anyway, this also had some intense gross out moments. There’s one where a character uses a piece of a broken mirror to skin his own face. There’s another scene where Hannibal is cutting morsels out of the exposed brain of a human man and then feeding it to him.

The thing is, these moments were pretty gratuitous for cheap shock value. While The Silence of the Lambs was dark as fuck and had some gross out parts, it wasn’t done for shock and it wasn’t over the top schlock like it was in this film. The brains scene actually wrecks this movie more than it already was by that point. I don’t know why a well-versed director like Ridley Scott thought to go that route, creatively, but it felt cheap and made me roll my eyes so hard I pulled a muscle in my face.

Sure, the scene could’ve been in the film and worked but the problem was with how it was shot. Sometimes it’s better to imply something horrific without showing it in frame. This would’ve worked much better if they let the viewer’s mind fill-in the blanks.

The cinematography was good and I thought the music in the film worked. But other than that and the actors making the absolute best out of a shit script, this is just a really, really meh movie.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Also known as: Tea-Time of the Dead (working title), Zombies Party – Uma Noite… de Morte (Portugal), Zombies Party – Una Noche… de Muerte (Spain)
Release Date: March 29th, 2004 (London premiere)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Music by: Pete Woodhead, Daniel Mudford
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Jessica Stevenson, Peter Serafinowicz, Rafe Spall, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Matt Lucas, Julia Deakin, Michael Smiley (uncredited)

Working Title Films, StudioCanal, Rogue Pictures, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in pie. And there’s an “I” in meat pie. Anagram of meat is team… I don’t know what he’s talking about.” – Shaun

The first time that I watched Shaun of the Dead, I knew that it would not only be a cult classic, right out of the gate, but I knew it would go down as a comedy classic and one of the best of its era. I wasn’t wrong and it helped Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost carve out really nice careers for themselves.

It also kicked off the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, which included 2007’s Hot Fuzz and 2013’s The World’s End.

Out of those three films, this one sits in the middle for me, as I like Hot Fuzz more and thought that The World’s End was fairly underwhelming.

This movie is pretty simple and straightforward, though. It also came out before zombie movies and television shows really blew up and became oversaturated in entertainment. So when I saw this for the first time in 2004, it was pretty unique and immediately became one of my favorite horror comedies.

There have been a lot of horror comedies since, especially in the zombie subgenre. But this and the original Return of the Living Dead are the only two I’d consider true classics.

The cast in this had great chemistry but most of them are good friends and had worked together previously in the TV shows Spaced and Black Books.

Shaun of the Dead also feels like a natural extension of Spaced, even though it features familiar actors in different roles. The style of the comedy, the two main characters’ camaraderie and the film’s general tone match up with Spaced, though. That also probably has to do with Edgar Wright helming both.

The story sees a lovable and well-meaning loser have to step up to the plate when the zombie apocalypse kicks off in London. He needs to win back his girlfriend, save his mum and his friends and try to survive the undead outbreak with a pint in his hand.

This doesn’t need a complicated story and it’s better that it’s simple and allows the characters the time to develop and win you over. It’s funny though, as this was the first time I saw Dylan Moran and by the end, I thought he was the biggest prick in the world. And he was, in this film, but he’d actually become one of my favorite comedians and comedic actors after seeing a lot of his standup, as well as his roles in Black Books and a slew of other appearances over the years.

Shaun of the Dead was my introduction to a lot of actors I’ve grown to love over the years. Kate Ashfield, the female lead, is actually the only person in this who I haven’t seen in anything else. Still, she’s really enjoyable in this and added a lot to this group’s dynamic.

I’m glad that I revisited this again, as it’s been so long since I’ve watched any of the movies in this trilogy or Spaced. But after seeing this, I’m going to work through them all again for future reviews.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Edgar Wright comedies, as well as his television show Spaced.

Documentary Review: The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006)

Release Date: July 21st, 2006 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Maysles, Albert Maysles
Cast: Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale 

Maysles Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“[on Republicans] Who’s the party of special interest that always grinds down the little people? Who’s the party that doesn’t give a damn as long as they make millions to put in their bank? Who’s the party that scrounges around to find all the dirt they can and use it against their opponent to destroy the two party system that made America what it is today? Who’s the party that delivered a crooked president?” – Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale

I liked the original Grey Gardens documentary enough to check out this sequel, which came out roughly thirty years later.

This wasn’t a traditional sequel, as in it didn’t check back in on these women after the events of the first movie. This was, instead, a new documentary made with unused footage, which apparently, there was a lot of.

This could’ve been released years ago or added into the original film, making it a three hour affair, but it’s kind of neat seeing it resurface decades later. Why they waited that long or even did it at all is a mystery but I still enjoyed this for the most part.

However, I can also see why most of this wasn’t used in the original film. Although, the scene with the fire in the house probably should’ve been in the original, as it explains why there’s a big burnt hole in the wall of this once great coastal mansion.

I probably wouldn’t watch this over Grey Gardens, if you haven’t seen either. However, if you liked Grey Gardens, this is a good companion piece to it and it gives you more insight and context into the lives of this mother and daughter.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor and the biographical drama film that is based on these women, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.

Film Review: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Release Date: June 9th, 2002 (CineVegas International Film Festival)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli 
Written by: Don Coscarelli 
Based on: Bubba Ho-Tep by Joe R. Lansdale
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce,  Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Reggie Bannister

Silver Sphere Corporation, Vitagraph Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“What do I really have left in life but this place? It ain’t much of a home, but it’s all I got. Well, goddamnit. I’ll be damned if I let some foreign, graffiti writin’, soul suckin’, son of a bitch in an oversized cowboy hat and boots take my friend’s souls and shit ’em down the visitors toilet!” – Elvis

I’ll always have a certain level of respect for Don Coscarelli, as he gave the world Phantasm and Beastmaster, two films that had pretty profound effects on me as a kid.

However, I saw this back when it was new and it didn’t really speak to me like I hoped it would have. I haven’t watched it since then but I do love Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis, so I thought that giving it another shot was long overdue. Plus, tastes change, I’m nearly twenty years older and I often times find myself enjoying movies that I previously hadn’t.

I’m glad to say that I enjoyed this much more than I originally did in 2002. But, at an older age, I think it’s also more relatable. Plus, I’m probably just able to enjoy the slow pace and the nuance of the picture much better.

The plot surrounds two guys that become best buds in a nursing home and discover that something strange is afoot when a reanimated mummy starts killing some of the residents. The odd thing is that Bruce Campbell believes he’s Elvis Presley and he might very well be. Ossie Davis believes he’s John F. Kennedy, after being reconstructed in a lab and dyed black. We never find out if they really are who they believe themselves to be but it doesn’t really matter and it’s part of the movie’s unique charm.

So basically, we have a story where an elderly Elvis and an elderly, black JFK team-up to fight a killer mummy. What’s not to like?

My first impression of the film, years ago, was that it was kind of cool but it moved way too slow and felt uneventful. Now, I like the pace and it isn’t slow, so much as it tries to really develop the characters, their personal bond and build up some suspense before the big final fight at the end.

It’s still far from Coscarelli’s best work but it’s definitely better than the later Phantasm sequels and the Beastmaster movies he didn’t direct.

As I get older in age, I feel like I can just relate to the movie and its characters much more than I did in my early twenties. It probably reflects where Coscarelli saw himself at the time that he made it, as well as the two stars. Davis died a few years later and even though Campbell is still going strong, today, by 2002, he had to be feeling age creep up on him.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Don Coscarelli movies, as well as other films starring Bruce Campbell.

Film Review: Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

Also known as: Dungeons & Dragons: The Movie (UK promotional title)
Release Date: December 8th, 2000
Directed by: Courtney Solomon
Written by: Carroll Cartwright, Topper Lilien
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR
Music by: Justin Caine Burnett
Cast: Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch, Zoe McLellan, Kristen Wilson, Lee Arenberg, Bruce Payne, Jeremy Irons, Tom Baker

Silver Pictures, Sweetpea Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 107 Minutes

Review:

“I got a new name for “dumb”: “Ridley”! This is the Ridleyest thing I’ve ever heard!” – Snails

I never wanted to see this. When I saw the trailer over twenty years ago, I knew for a fact that this would bomb, be an embarrassment and that we’d possibly never get another Dungeons & Dragons film because of its shittiness.

Let me be clear, I wasn’t cheering for its failure because I’d definitely love a good D&D movie that features some of the most famous monsters and better represents the game but I knew this movie wasn’t that.

Granted, it does form a team of heroes that are all different with unique skills. So it at least tried to create a good party of diverse character types. However, other than that, it failed in just about every other way. Also, the party didn’t really get used in the story correctly or all that effectively.

The worst thing about this movie is the special effects. The CGI is some of the worst I’ve ever seen from this era. It’s worse than Sci-Fi Channel TV movies and considering that New Line Cinema, the same studio, released the first Lord of the Rings movie just a year later, makes this picture a complete embarrassment.

Even if smaller indie studios made this and New Line just distributed it, it’s still baffling to me. If their thought was to use this to whet the public’s palate for the upcoming Lord of the Rings trilogy, that was an awful decision.

Beyond the atrocious CGI, the acting in this is also terrible. There are fairly talented people in the movie but none of them really tried except for Jeremy Irons, who was the best thing in this movie, as far as acting goes.

Some of the sets were actually cool. I liked the labyrinth that Justin Whalin’s character had to try and survive. It was about the only enjoyable sequence in the entire film, though.

Dungeons & Dragons was just a fucking mess. It had annoying, unlikable characters. As well as, an overabundance of unnecessary silliness that helped make it miss its mark completely.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: really bad video game film adaptations.

Documentary Review: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

Also known as: Black Magic (Australian TV title)
Release Date: April 22nd, 2005 (limited)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Peter Elkind, Alex Gibney, Bethany McLean
Music by: Matthew Hauser
Cast: Andrew Fastow, Jeffrey Skilling, Kenneth Lay, Gray Davis, Bethany McLean, Peter Coyote (narrator)

Jigsaw Productions, 2929 Productions, HDNet Films, Magnolia Pictures, PBS, 110 Minutes

Review:

Watching this documentary, I couldn’t believe that the Enron shit was over a decade and a half ago. Man, time flies but it was a hell of a story and I’m glad that this was so well presented and thorough, allowing me to revisit the story with even more insight than what was known when the news of this first started breaking.

For those that don’t know about the Enron scandal, how old are you? I kid, geez. Everyone is so sensitive now.

Anyway, this goes through the history of the company, how it was formed, all the big players that helped to turn it into a cabal of vampiric bastards, the relationships of well-known political figures to the company, as well as the fallout of the scandal itself.

A lot of the people interviewed in this documentary were either directly involved in the company or were the people that worked to uncover their shady practices over the years.

Seriously, if you don’t know the story it’s certainly worth learning about. If you do know it, however, there’s still a lot of information to sink your teeth into and there were connections and reveals that either I had forgotten about over the years or I just didn’t know about back in the early ’00s.

Solid, through and through, this is well produced and a pretty enthralling film for those into financial and political scandals.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other business crime documentaries.

Film Review: Outlander (2008)

Release Date: July 11th, 2008 (Latvia)
Directed by: Howard McCain
Written by: Dirk Blackman, Howard McCain
Music by: Geoff Zanelli
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Aidan Devine

Ascendant Pictures, Rising Star Productions, VIP Medienfonds 4 GmbH & Co. KG, The Weinstein Company, Virtual Studios, 115 Minutes

Review:

“If you truly believe that you write the tale of your life, then the end is up to you.” – Freya

This movie came and went and I didn’t know about its existence until recently. But when I saw that this film was about an alien humanoid crashing into the Viking era with a very deadly alien cargo, I had to give it a watch.

This movie is like Predator meets Skyrim where the monster that must be hunted down is an insanely deadly beast.

The cast in this is also really damn good from its star Jim Caviezel to Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, Ron Perlman and the legendary John Hurt, who plays the Viking king in this film’s old world community.

This was a manly fucking movie that was just pure badass and a lot of fun. It’s action packed, deals with a pair of alpha males having to bro up and unite and the special effects are pretty damn decent. Also, the monster is strange but absolutely terrifying and seemingly unbeatable with the limitations of Viking technology.

What’s cool about this is the level of danger, the insane odds and how the heroes have to outwit and outlast the pissed off monster.

Outlander isn’t great but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and just a cool fucking movie that offers up real escapism and thrills.

The only real negative is that it should’ve probably been trimmed down to 90-95 minutes.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Pathfinder, Solomon Kane, The 13th Warrior and The Eagle.