Film Review: Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (1990)

Also known as: Roxy (Sweden, France)
Release Date: October 12th, 1990
Directed by: Jim Abrahams
Written by: Karen Leigh Hopkins
Music by: Melissa Etheridge, Thomas Newman
Cast: Winona Ryder, Jeff Daniels, Laila Robins, Dinah Manoff, Thomas Wilson Brown, Frances Fisher, Graham Beckel, Stephen Tobolowsky, Carla Gugino, Beth Grant

Incorporated Television Company, Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Starting tomorrow there will be hourly tours of Roxy Carmichael’s birthplace. You’ll see where Roxy slept and where she ate during her wonder years. You’ll also see pictures of her beloved dog, Bonkers.” – Louise, “She loved that dog. She used to ride it. It was a big dog.” – Town Person

I remember seeing the VHS box for this at the video store, constantly. However, I never knew anything about the film and therefore, never rented it. Since I came across it streaming on HBO, I figured I could kill an hour and a half and check it out. Besides, I typically enjoy old school Winona Ryder.

Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael is a film with a lot of problems but none of them are really that bad. Also, none of these problems come from Winona Ryder, who is front and center in most of the movie’s scenes.

The film showcases how great of an actress Ryder is, even though she’s surrounded by a movie that really seems to miss its mark in nearly every other regard. For fans of Ryder, this is definitely worth watching just to see her performance, as an awkward kid that can’t seem to find her place in the world. And while that’s hardly an original concept, Ryder does wonders with the weak and derivative material. You can’t help not liking her and actually caring about her journey through this story and that’s most certainly due to her skill and not the humdrum script.

This feels like a picture that should have been better and needed to be but it’s far from terrible and I wouldn’t call it forgettable. We’ve just all seen this story a dozen times over. But at least the plot was fairly interesting in that revolves around a small town preparing for the return of a local girl that grew into a massive music star. In the case of Winona Ryder’s Dinky, she believes that this celebrity is her biological mother.

Adding more layers to the plot, we’re given Jeff Daniels’ character, who was the former lover of the star and the father of the baby she left behind when she bolted from town to live out her rock star dreams.

Additionally, we get to see the lives of other townsfolk and how this star’s return effects them on their own personal levels.

There’s a bit of a twist to the ending but it’s nothing shocking and frankly, it’s fairly predictable. 

In the end, we’re left with a pretty mediocre movie that was lucky enough to get a great performance out of its lead.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other coming of age teen movies from the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Child’s Play 2 (1990)

Also known as: Chucky 2: El Muñeco Diabólico (Mexico), Chucky 2 – Die Mörderpuppe ist zurück (Germany), Brinquedo Assassino 2 (Brazil)
Release Date: November 9th, 1990
Directed by: John Lafia
Written by: Don Mancini
Based on: characters by Don Mancini
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Christine Elise, Jenny Agutter, Gerrit Graham, Grace Zabriskie, Beth Grant, Catherine Hicks (archive footage)

Universal Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Surprise! Did you miss me, Andy? I sure missed you. I told you. We were gonna be friends to the end. And now, it’s time to play… I’ve got a new game, sport: It’s called “Hide the Soul”. And guess what? You’re it!” – Chucky

Child’s Play 2 is my favorite film in the Chucky franchise. While the first is probably considered the superior film in quality, this is the one that I think is the perfect Chucky movie and back in the day, this chapter resonated with me the most. So let me get into why.

To start, we know who and what Chucky is. In this film, he comes back to life and just goes for it. No waiting, no building of suspense for 45 minutes, just pure unadulterated Chucky, ready to kill anyone standing between him and his “best friend” Andy (Alex Vincent). And why? Because he needs young Andy’s body before his soul is permanently trapped in his doll form.

The true highlight of this film though, is the big grand finale in the Good Guy Doll toy factory. We get to see our surviving heroes run through mazes of dolls that look like Chucky. We get to see the heroes crawl through industrial machinery and try to outwit the pint-sized plastic killer. We also get to see Chucky get run through the ringer like never before and really, he’s never got his ass kicked quite like this again. Andy and his older foster sister Kyle (Christine Elise) make a formidable duo. I’m actually really glad that they are now both back in the franchise, two and a half decades later.

As a guy that has seen a shit ton of horror movies, the finale in Child’s Play 2 is one of the best final battles I’ve ever seen in the horror genre. Although, the county fair showdown in Child’s Play 3 is also pretty damn good.

I also like the casting in this film. The foster parents were Jenny Agutter, who I adored in An American Werewolf In London and Logan’s Run, and Gerrit Graham, who always makes me smile, even when he’s sort of just a snarky douche. I loved him in TerrorVision and C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud, as well as his multiple appearances in the Star Trek franchise. Then you have Beth Grant, who is always perfect, in a small role as an elementary school teacher that gets in Chucky’s way.

Child’s Play 2 is the peak of the original trilogy of films for me, back before the franchise got a lot more comedic with 1998’s Bride of Chucky. It’s a perfect Child’s Play film and has Chucky at his brutal best where he still gets in some funny one-liners without the film being overtly funny and still having a good amount of actual terror in it. And there is just something about that Chucky-Andy relationship that almost makes the Andy films feel like the only ones that actually matter.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: No Country For Old Men (2007)

Release Date: May 19th, 2007 (Cannes)
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Based on: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Barry Corbin, Beth Grant, Stephen Root, Garret Dillahunt

Scott Rudin Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Miramax Films, Paramount Vantage, 122 Minutes

Review:

“I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come inta my life somehow. And he didn’t. I don’t blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does.” – Sheriff Ed Tom Bell

While the Coens have made some fantastic films over the last several decades, going back to 1984’s Blood Simple, this picture is in the upper echelon of their rich oeuvre. Yet, in a lot of ways, it calls back to Blood Simple in style and for blending together different genres in a unique way. It is also very similar to Fargo, as both films follow a small town cop dealing with a grisly crime from out-of-towners and it is accented by a lot of violence on screen.

Some have called No Country for Old Men a western, others have called it a film-noir. While it takes place in more modern times than the traditional settings of those genres, it does share elements of both. It is very much a neo-western and also a neo-noir in its narrative style. I think that is a big part of what makes this such an extraordinary picture though. It is a hybrid and reinvention of multiple styles but it all weaves together like a gritty, balls out tapestry of masculine intensity.

Other than being in the very capable hands of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, the film boasts an incredible cast, mostly of badass men.

First, you have Josh Brolin and this is the role that really put him on the map and sort of resurrected his career, as he isn’t remembered for much before this other than in his teen years when he played Brand in 1985’s The Goonies. He was perfectly cast here, as a hunter who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, takes a case of money and finds himself in way over his head. Essentially, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Then you have Javier Bardem as the evil hitman Anton Chigurh. Bardem’s Chigurh has become one of the greatest villains in movie history, mainly because of how unusual he is as a person and in how he executes his targets. Chigurh is scary as hell, period. His method of killing is to use a bolt pistol on his targets. A bolt pistol is a tool that uses compressed air to send a bolt through the heads of cattle before their slaughter. In a sense, Chigurh is a remorseless, cold blooded killer and his choice of weapon goes to show that he sees human beings as nothing more than cattle that need to be put down if they find themselves in his path. Although, the fates of some characters are decided by Chigurh flipping a coin, similar to Two-Face from the Batman franchise.

The film also gives us Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and Barry Corbin. Jones plays the sheriff that is trying to contain the violence that is running rampant in his county, Harrelson plays a bounty hunter and acquaintance/rival of Chigurh, while Corbin plays a sort of mentor to Jones’ sheriff character. With Jones, we see a sheriff that also finds himself in over his head and is admittedly “outmatched” by the evil in his world. Harrelson, while a bounty hunter, finds himself in the sights of another killer. Like Brolin, these other characters are also on the side of the coin that they aren’t familiar with.

No Country for Old Men is known for its level of violence. While there is a lot of it, I don’t think that it is as violent as the book. However, seeing it come alive on screen is effective. It isn’t done in a way that is gratuitous or to be celebrated or used as a cheap parlor trick to sell the movie, it is presented in a way that shows it in a negative light, something that the sane characters abhor. It exists as almost a commentary against itself but to also shed light on a very real level of violence that exists along the U.S.-Mexican border. While this takes place in 1980, not much has changed in that region.

Two things that really make the film as impactful as it is, on an emotional level, are the film’s score by Carter Burwell and the cinematography by the veteran Roger Deakins. For Deakins, this film was sandwiched between his work on In the Valley of Elah and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. There are some strong visual similarities between the three films and they are three of the best looking motion pictures of 2007.

At this point, No Country for Old Men is considered to be a classic and for good reason. It won four Oscars, the most important being Best Picture. It also won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. It shared the most nominations with There Will Be Blood but it beat it out in awards won. As to which is better, that’s open for debate.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: Lucky (2017)

Release Date: March 11th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: John Carroll Lynch
Written by: Logan Sparks, Drago Sumonja
Music by: Elvis Kuehn
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, Barry Shabaka Henley, Yvonne Huff

Superlative Films, Divide / Conquer, Lagralane Group, Magnolia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“There are some things in this world that are bigger than all of us… and a tortoise is one of ’em! ” – Howie

I was glad that I got to catch this in the theater during it’s very scant run in my town. It was only playing at 10 a.m. for a few days, actually. Luckily, I had a day off with nothing to do.

With Harry Dean Stanton passing away, a few months back, this film is his swan song. Honestly, there really wouldn’t have been a better film for this legendary actor to say “goodbye” with than this one and it felt tailor made for Stanton, as if he knew this was it and wanted to give his two cents on mortality.

The picture is directed by John Carroll Lynch, who you may know as the nicer one of the two McDonald’s brothers in The Founder or as the guy that saved Morgan in The Walking Dead or as that serial killer clown in American Horror Story. The guy is an accomplished actor but with Lucky, he proved he has some talent behind the camera, as well.

Stanton is very relaxed but has no problems displaying his fear of death and entering into the unknown. He has a pretty atheistic stance about the universe but late in life, he still wonders and is apprehensive about the inevitable. He talks of nothingness and none of this mattering in the big scheme of the universe but he is a man that fears not having left his mark.

He is surrounded by a great cast and I absolutely adored David Lynch in this, as Lucky’s friend Howie. He is a man that had a hundred year-old tortoise but it escaped. The tortoise is really a symbol about mortality in the film and its escape parallels the end of Lucky’s life.

Lucky isn’t a perfect movie or even a great movie. However, it’s pretty damn good at what it sets out to do, which is to create a platform for Stanton to say goodbye to those of us who have loved the man’s work for decades.

This is a sweet and subtle film that allows Stanton to showcase his wide array of talents in a delightful and respectable way. It probably won’t mean as much to those who aren’t familiar with Stanton but it does feel like a true representation of the man for those of us who have enjoyed him over the years.

There really isn’t a sweeter way to go out than what Stanton got to accomplish with Lucky. Kudos to the man and to those behind this film, which feels more like an artistic and cinematic homage to the man, than just a movie about death.

Rating: 7.75/10

TV Review: American Gods (2017- )

Original Run: April 30th, 2017 – current
Created by: Bryan Fuller, Michael Green
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Music by: Brian Reitzell
Cast: Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Crispin Glover, Bruce Langley, Yetide Badaki, Pablo Schreiber, Gillian Anderson, Cloris Leachman, Peter Stormare, Orlando Jones, Dane Cook, Kristin Chenoweth, Corbin Bernsen, Beth Grant

Living Dead Guy, J.A. Green Construction Corp., The Blank Corporation, FremantleMedia North America, Starz, 8 Episodes (so far), 52-63 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve been a subscriber of Starz for a bit now but I didn’t watch this as it was on. I’m a bigger fan of waiting for something to be over and then binging out on it for a few days.

But how could I not like this show? It has Ian McShane, a guy I have absolutely loved since Deadwood. It also features Crispin Glover, a man who has mesmerized me since I first discovered him in Back to the Future and then further enchanted me as I followed his career as it evolved well beyond the iconic George McFly. Plus, throw in Emily Browning and Gillian Anderson and you’ve certainly got my attention.

This show is also based on a novel by Neil Gaiman, who from a creative standpoint, never really disappoints.

It takes awhile to figure out what this show is and where it is going. I went into with no knowledge of the book, other than it being about gods. Essentially, Ian McShane plays an Old God and he is being challenged by the New Gods, who are trying to take over the world. McShane’s character hires Ricky Whittle’s character to be his driver and bodyguard. You don’t actually find out who McShane is until the end of the final episode of season one.

There are other characters and gods sprinkled into the show and they all have really interesting stories and plot threads. It is obvious that everything is connected but we don’t get to see how it all comes together by the end of the first season. Being only eight episodes, the first season is more of a setup than anything else. Luckily, there is a second season already in production.

It is hard to review the show, as it is very short and kind of just exists as a door into a much larger universe. So far, I really like what I see and this has a lot of potential to grow into something extraordinary.

The acting, directing, cinematography, music and tone are all great. The way the stories weave together is also well handled. If the quality maintains, as the universe broadens, those of us who watch this show are in for a real treat.

Plus, Crispin Glover and Gillian Anderson, as far as we know, are the villains.

I eagerly anticipate what’s to come when the show returns.

Rating: 7.75/10