Film Review: Boiler Room (2000)

Release Date: January 30th, 2000 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ben Younger
Written by: Ben Younger
Music by: The Angel
Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Nicky Katt, Scott Caan, Ben Affleck, Ron Rifkin, Jamie Kennedy, Taylor Nichols, Bill Sage, Tom Everett Scott, Anson Mount, Kirk Acevado, Desmond Harrington (uncredited)

Team Todd, New Line Cinema, 120 Minutes

Review:

“[to the new recruits] And there is no such thing as a no sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way a sale is made, the only question is who is gonna close? You or him? Now be relentless, that’s it, I’m done.” – Jim Young

For years, until there was actually a second Wall Street movie, I saw this as that film’s spiritual successor. Which is also sort of fitting as the characters in this movie worship the Gordon Gekko character from Wall Street.

I actually still view this as a spiritual sequel, however, as it’s very apparent that it was strongly influenced by Wall Street and also because it is a motion picture of quality. While it might not live up to Wall Street or Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, it’s still damn good and at least in the same orbit as those movies.

The plot of the film is intriguing and it sucks you in from the get go. It’s about a smart, savvy college dropout who goes from running an illegal casino in his house to being one of the top brokers at a really young, lucrative and questionable brokerage firm.

Over the course of the movie, we see Giovanni Ribisi’s Seth Davis go from being a slightly timid rookie to a confident and smart salesman to being swarmed with immense guilt when he realizes that he has completely fucking people out of their life savings to reluctant antihero that tried to fix some of the damage he caused while taking the firm down.

I can’t quite call Seth Davis a hero, as it took his father disowning him and the FBI pinching him to get him to actually change his tune. It’s hard to tell if he would’ve arrived to a better place on his own but, at least he tried to undo some of his wreckage.

Beyond Ribisi, this is a film that is loaded with a lot of the up and coming male talent of the day. Vin Diesel and Nicky Katt really stick out and Ben Affleck’s performance is great, even if his scenes are few and his role feels more like a beefed up cameo.

I really loved the music in this film, as it’s full of east coast hip-hop of the early to mid-’90s, which has always been my favorite kind of hip-hop. It may be slightly dated for this 2000 film but it worked for me, as I started to ignore more mainstream rap music around 1998.

Anyway, this is a superb finance thriller. It has stood up to the test of time in the same way that Wall Street has. If you like these sort of movies but have slept on Boiler Room the last two decades, you should check it out.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other finance industry thrillers like Wall Street, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, The Big Short, Rogue Trader, etc.

Documentary Review: Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain (2018)

Also known as: Decentralized: The Story of Blockchain (working title)
Release Date: October 26th, 2018 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Alex Winter
Written by: Alex Winter
Music by: Bill Laswell
Cast: Rosario Dawson (narrator), Alex Winter (interviewer), various

SingularDTV, Futurism Studios, Breaker, 84 Minutes

Review:

After watching Alex Winter’s documentary Deep Web, I was left wanting more. He followed that one up a few years later with this, which covers similar topics but with the majority of its focus on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.

What I liked most about this film is that it describes these complex things and ideas really damn well. It makes this somewhat palatable for the layman.

Also, this interviews several people who know what they’re talking about while also featuring comments from many of blockchain and crypto’s detractors along with some great rebuttals.

A big part of the documentary follows the story of Lauri Love, a British hacker and activist that was wanted by the United States for alleged activities as a member of the hacker collective Anonymous. His story is really damn interesting and the film does a solid job of telling it.

If you have an interest in this stuff and haven’t seen this documentary, you should probably check it out. Alex Winter does great work and presents these subjects well.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about cypherpunk stuff like blockchain, cryptocurrency, hacking, etc. Especially, those by Alex Winter.

Film Review: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

Release Date: May 4th, 1982 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Written by: Carl Reiner, George Gipe, Steve Martin
Music by: Miklos Rozsa, Steve Goodman
Cast: Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, Reni Santoni, Carl Reiner, George Gaynes

Aspen Film Society, Universal Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I hadn’t seen a body put together like that since I’d solved the case of the Murdered Girl with the Big Tits.” – Rigby Reardon

How is it that this film has existed for nearly forty years but I hadn’t even known of its existence until more recently. Maybe I saw it in video stores, as a kid, and it just didn’t jump out at me. However, being a lover of Steve Martin and classic film-noir, this felt like it could be something that was right up my alley.

In short, it most certainly was and I liked this movie a lot. However, it’s far from perfect and I think that its constant reliance on old film footage that features old film stars was really overused, even if that was the creative direction of the picture.

I loved seeing Steve Martin interact with the greatest stars of the silver screen and I certainly love that Humphrey Bogart’s version of Philip Marlowe was a big part of the story. However, some scenes came off a bit clunky and unnatural. But I guess it’s hard trying to make this feel more organic when Martin rarely has another actor to actually banter with. It’s hard reading a scene as it plays out and nailing that comedic timing.

Still, a lot of the jokes and one-liners in this movie were hilarious and Martin was the real high point of the film, making this much greater than it would’ve otherwise been.

The film looked stupendous, though, and Carl Reiner did a hell of a job behind the camera and managing the overall aesthetic of the picture. It matched with the classic film-noir clips quite well and in modern HD, this really looks crisp and pristine.

All in all, this was a weird but entertaining experiment. I can see why it might not have connected with mainstream audiences in 1982 and fell down most people’s memory holes but it still features a fantastic, memorable performance by Steve Martin in his prime.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Paranoiac (1963)

Release Date: May 1st, 1963 (Italy)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Josephine Tey, Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Janette Scott, Oliver Reed, Sheila Burrell, Alexander Davion, Maurice Denham

Hammer Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

“Now I need to drink some more.” – Simon Ashby

Last week, I watched Nightmare, another rare black and white movie from Hammer and also directed by Freddie Francis and written by Jimmy Sangster. While I enjoyed it and felt like it slightly missed the mark, I feel like this picture, which came out a year earlier, is a better film.

Granted, a lot of that credit could go to Oliver Reed, as his performance here is intense and enchanting. And honestly, this is one of many movies I can now point too and say, “That guy is an underappreciated and underutilized actor and here’s why!”

Something else that helps this movie is that it is horror but it also has a film-noir type plot about family inheritance, a once dead sibling returning, a psychotic narcissist trying to turn his sister insane, an incestuous subplot and more twists and turns than that silly road in San Francisco.

Even though this doesn’t feel like a typical Hammer Films movie, it’s kind of cool and does a lot with very little.

The end sequence is really well executed and in both noir and horror fashion, the asshole gets some good comeuppance.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this, as it’s one of the few Hammer films I haven’t seen but I was pleasantly surprised. Especially, when I just thought it’d be a lot like Nightmare. It definitely exceeded that decent movie and also provided a memorable performance by Reed.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the ’60s.

Film Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Release Date: December 14th, 1988
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Based on: Bedtime Story by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Music by: Miles Goodman
Cast: Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly, Anton Rodgers, Barbara Harris, Ian McDiarmid, Dana Ivey, Meagen Fay, Frances Conroy, Louis Zorich

Orion Pictures, 110 Minutes, 104 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“His name is – James. No. His name is – James Josephson. Oh, no, no! James Lawrence. Lawrence! Lawrence! Lawrence. Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Fings. Forest Lawrenceton. La – Lars. Lars! Lawrence. Lawrence Lacko. Lawrence. His name is James Jessenden. Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Jesterton. Lawrence Jesterton.” – Freddy Benson, “Lawrence Jamieson?” – Inspector Andre, “Yes! Yes! Yes! We’re like this!” – Freddy Benson

I remember my mother taking me to see this when I was ten. While it was a bit more adult than what I would’ve been normally interested in, I liked it quite a bit and it only helped solidify Steve Martin as one of my all-time favorite comedic actors. It also introduced me to the greatness of Michael Caine and birthed a fondness and appreciation for the mostly underutilized Glenne Headly.

It’s been years since I’ve revisited this but it’s been in my queue for so long that I felt like a bastard having ignored it.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels holds up incredibly well and even if you know the big plot twist, it’s still worth rewatching, as you can kind of pick up on some clues, here and there.

Martin and Caine have impeccable chemistry and once Headly shows up, things magnify quite a bit. They’re all so good, in fact, that I can’t believe that they never followed this up with a sequel. Maybe it didn’t perform well at the box office, as it came out during the holidays, but it definitely is a movie that developed a pretty solid following from its fans.

It’s also a beautiful looking picture and that’s not just because it is shot in opulent places. The cinematography is wonderful and being that this is only Frank Oz’s second film as a director without Jim Henson at his side, is a really impressive accomplishment. The guy has a great eye and understanding of visual composition.

This is also Oz’s first film where he didn’t work with puppets and animatronics and just filmed living, breathing, human actors.

It doesn’t hurt that the story and the script were very good. Also, having a solid cast that clicks really helped take this to another level. It probably made Oz’s job a lot easier but at the same time, this was his film and he put in the work and got the best out of his talent in front of and behind the camera. With Dirty Rotten Scoundrels he has a lot to be proud of.

Ultimately, this is a movie that I’d say deserves more recognition that it has. While everyone that I know who’s seen it, loves it, it seems to be somewhat forgotten due to Steve Martin movies that performed better and because it came out a long time ago.

Also, comedy just isn’t like this anymore. In fact, for the most part, comedy sucks now. This is a smart, quirky film that is lightyears ahead of the norm in the 2020s but may also be too smart and quirky for modern audiences to enjoy.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Ricochet (1991)

Release Date: October 4th, 1991
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Fred Dekker, Menno Meyjes
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Ice-T, Kevin Pollak, Lindsay Wagner, Sherman Howard, Mary Ellen Trainor, John Amos, Miguel Sandoval, Jesse Ventura

Indigo Productions, Cinema Plus, HBO Pictures, Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 102 Minutes

Review:

“I guess a Beretta in the butt beats a butterfly in a boot, huh?” – Nick Styles

Man, this may be the most Fred Dekker movie ever put to celluloid. It’s got his fingerprints all over the story and Steven E. de Souza’s script really encapsulates the spirit of Dekker’s style. Beyond that, the director, Russell Mulcahy, then turns everything up passed eleven! I’d say he turned it to about seventeen!

I haven’t seen this since it was a new movie on VHS but I’ve got to say that even though I remember enjoying it, I didn’t realize how over the top and crazy it was. I guess that’s because this was fairly normal for an early ’90s edgy boi action flick.

Seeing greats like Denzel Washington and John Lithgow clash in this was fucking incredible, though! These guys brought their a-game, their balls and then, I’m assuming, shot a bunch of steroids and extra testosterone into their man bits. That’s the only way I can really explain their intensity in this movie.

This is a high octane action thriller from the very beginning. It follows a young cop that takes down an extremely violent criminal in the first few minutes. The cop becomes a hero and a bit of a celebrity and eventually starts working for the district attorney’s office. He ends up getting married and has two daughters. All the while, Lithgow rots in prison, fighting and murdering other prisoners, waiting for his chance to escape and get vengeance on the cop that put him there.

Once out of prison, the criminal creates an elaborate plot to break the cop down, destroy his personal life, his career, pump him full of heroin and have him get raped by a hooker with an STD. This story goes to some dark, bonkers places.

In the end, Denzel sets his own trap by utilizing the gangsters he grew up with. The big, legitimately awesome finale takes place on the famous Watts Towers. The finale is fucking great! Especially, for those who loved these type of over-the-top, bar pushing action flicks of this era.

All in all, this is far from a perfect film and it has its flaws but it is perfect escapism, chock full of that “toxic” masculinity that modern Hollywood loathes.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other cop thrillers of the ’80s and ’90s.

Book Review: ‘Ghost In the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker’ by Kevin Mitnick

This was suggested by Amazon when I bought This Machine Kills Secrets, so I bought it as well, as I figured it’d also be a pretty intriguing read.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed.

Kevin Mitnick is now a computer security consultant but before that, he was the most wanted hacker in the world, who was arrested in 1995 and spent five years in prison.

Luckily for us, he’s also a good writer and had one hell of a story to tell.

The crimes he was charged with were 14 counts of wire fraud, 8 counts of possession of unauthorized access devices, interception of wire or electronic communications, unauthorized access to a federal computer and causing damage to a computer.

His story is pretty exciting even before all that though and this autobiography had me from the get-go, as Mitnick went all the way back to his childhood and explained how he got into hacking and all the shenanigans he did while trying to perfect his craft.

The stuff about his early years was pretty exciting and this was immediately better than most autobiographies, which just summarize fairly mundane or normal childhoods.

Once you go beyond that and into adulthood, things pick up even more and Mitnick wrote a compelling tale about a high-tech skill but told in a way that any layman could understand.

I don’t want to ruin all the details and spoil the book for those who may have an interest in it. All I can really say is that it’s damn good, one of the best on its subject and that almost anyone will probably enjoy it.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other books about cypherpunk culture and hacking.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 10

Published: May 18th, 2017
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr.

Marvel Comics, 289 Pages

Review:

Here we are, at the end of the legendary 100-plus issue run on Fantastic Four by the truly dynamic duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. And man, they really went out with a bang, as this final volume was packed full of many of the great characters that have been in the series since its beginning.

Now Kirby exited the series with one issue left in the final story arc that he worked on but John Romita Sr. slid right in and gave us some pretty stellar art as well. But other than the final issue, collected here, this is all Kirby and Kirby really at his best.

This is also Stan Lee at his best, as he finds a way to work in so many classic characters without this turning into a convoluted mess. The only noticeable omissions from this beefy volume were Silver Surfer, Galactus and Black Panther but just about every other character that debuted in Fantastic Four, up to this point, shows up, even if it’s just a quick cameo. Most of that happens in the 100th issue.

Beyond that, this is full of good stories and we even see the brief return of the Frightful Four, one of my favorite villain groups that gets no love in modern times.

Overall, I’m glad that I read this entire run and this was a nice cap off to a great series.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 14: Order From Chaos

Published: June 1st, 2016
Written by: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz
Art by: Michael Dialynas, Ken Garing
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird

IDW Publishing, 136 Pages

Review:

This volume of the long-running Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ IDW run looked a little bit different, as the artists changed. That’s not a bad thing, though, as the art in this collection of issues was still pretty good and fit well within the tone of the series.

The writing was still very good and honestly, more than anything else, that’s what’s kept me reading this series for well over a dozen volumes, at this point.

This story is the first one after the defeat of Shredder and the landscape of the TMNT-verse is now very different. There is a new threat and we also get to see how the core characters are adjusting to major changes in their lives.

Master Splinter now runs the Foot Clan and with that, there are new challenges and a new female student that I know will go on to have a pretty big impact on this series going forward.

All in all, this was another good, action packed volume and the series still hasn’t lost steam.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the rest of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles run.

Film Review: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Release Date: November 15th, 1992 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: John Hughes 
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, Devin Ratray, Gerry Bamman, Hillary Wolf, Kieran Culkin, Tim Curry, Brenda Fricker, Eddie Bracken, Dana Ivey, Rob Schneider, Ally Sheedy (cameo), Donald Trump (cameo), Bob Eubanks (cameo), Rip Taylor (cameo), Jaye P. Morgan (cameo), Jimmie Walker (cameo)

Hughes Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Hey. You guys give up? Have you had enough pain?” – Kevin McCallister

As I said in my review of the first Home Alone, I hadn’t seen that movie in-full in years. Well, I hadn’t seen this one since it came out. I’ve seen scenes on television over the years but I felt like a full watch was grossly overdue.

So while this isn’t as great as the original and while I don’t think that it was necessary, it’s still really endearing and a fun, holiday movie.

All the important cast members are back but if I’m being honest, it would’ve been nice just getting a cameo from Roberts Blossom after he saved Kevin and reunited with his estranged son in the first film.

That being said, it’s kind of unbelievable that Kevin would’ve been left behind by his family once again but you’ve got to kind of suspend disbelief and just go with it. I mean, it’s also unbelievable that this kid could live and survive in New York City on his own and that while there he’d run into the same burglars from the first film but I digress. This isn’t the type of story where you should be really thinking that hard.

My only real gripe about this film is that it’s too long. I don’t know why they had to go for a full two hours, as the just over ninety minute running time of the first movie was perfect. But I guess Kevin is in a much larger environment and that provided John Hughes the luxury of writing more gags.

Despite the new, grandiose setting, though, the film is really formulaic and just tries to repeat the main beats of the first movie. That doesn’t wreck it though, it just makes it a slightly inferior but still a pretty good copy of the masterpiece it’s trying to emulate.

I really liked the cast additions of Tim Curry and Rob Schneider in this one, though. They added a lot to the movie and their interactions with Kevin and then his parents were pretty good.

It was also great seeing Kevin put the burglars through the gauntlet once again and while this sequence isn’t as iconic as the original, it still provided some great slapstick comedic moments and I love seeing Culkin, Pesci and Stern play off of each other in these scenes.

All in all, the first film is perfect but this is a worthwhile sequel that doesn’t diminish the greatness of the original while giving you a few more hours to spend with these characters you love.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor and other John Hughes holiday movies.