Film Review: Contact (1997)

Release Date: July 11th, 1997
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: James V. Hart, Michael Golden
Based on: Contact by Carl Sagan
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Angela Bassett, David Morse, Jena Malone, William Fichtner, Jake Busey, Rob Lowe, Geoffrey Blake, Max Martini, Steven Ford, Tucker Smallwood

South Side Amusement Company, Warner Bros., 150 Minutes

Review:

“I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that’s an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.” – David Drumlin, “Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.” – Ellie Arroway

Man, since the first time that I saw this movie, I just loved the hell out of it. I really should’ve seen it in the theater but it came out just after I graduated high school and that summer was insane, as I was in an alcohol, weed and/or opium induced state for months while also trying to conquer Final Fantasy VII between parties and festivals.

Throughout high school, I was a big fan Carl Sagan’s work. As a kid, I had seen his original version of the Cosmos television series but it wasn’t until high school when a good science teacher handed me the Cosmos book that my mind delved deep into the man’s written work. I’ve since gone back and read most of his books multiple times.

The story of Contact‘s genesis is an interesting one, as Carl Sagan and his future wife, Ann Druyan, wrote an outline for the film’s story way back in 1979. There were issues trying to get the picture off of the ground, so Sagan instead reworked it into a novel that was published in 1985. After that, buzz picked up around the idea of making it into a film, once again. However, after a few directors came and went, it didn’t get rolling until Robert Zemeckis took the helm in 1996.

The movie, on its surface, had everything going for it. It had Zemeckis as its director, Jodie Foster in the lead role, as well as James Woods, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Angela Bassett and David Morse. It also had Matthew McConaughey and William Fichtner in prominent roles, as both men were just really starting to carve out their long, great careers. In fact, I’d say that it was this movie and A Time to Kill, which came out just before it, that brought McConaughey into the mainstream and really launched him to new heights.

The story is also wonderful and it makes me wish that there were still movies like this that pushed wonder and the pursuit of real truth. It’s films like this that inspire and create the next generation of dreamers but I feel like that is something that’s been lost and I honestly can’t think of a movie since this one that had that sort of aura about it. But this was written by Carl Sagan and that man knew how to inspire and how to create genuine wonder in the hearts and minds of those he spoke to.

I love this story, I love these characters and I love the journey Jodie Foster’s Ellie goes on throughout the entire picture, from childhood-to-adulthood and then into uncharted territory through the cosmos itself.

The film is also just beautiful to look at and it came out in a time when digital effects were really starting to come together. Seeing this now, the special effects have aged well and this is still a great looking picture.

What’s most interesting about the digital effects is that they were created in a collaborative effort between Sony Pictures’ Imageworks, Peter Jackson’s Weta, George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, Effects Associates and Pixar. That being said, this combined effort came together beautifully.

Now I know that this film gets criticized for its ending and it’s considered a disappointment and anticlimactic by some but I think the film’s ending is absolute perfection. It’s beautiful, meaningful and true to the spirit of Carl Sagan’s message.

Contact is truly an experience, a very human one. It connects to its audience in a way that’s becoming much rarer in today’s Hollywood output. I want motion pictures to make me feel like this again. But I guess I can still revisit films like Contact whenever I want. It’s just sad that this is nearly a quarter of a century old and it’s one of the last films to really capture my imagination in such a deep, heartfelt and sincere way.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Austin Powers In Goldmember (2002)

Also known as: Austin Powers 3, Austinpussy, Austin Powers: Never Say Member Again, The Next Installment of Austin Powers, The Third Installment of Austin Powers (working titles)
Release Date: July 26th, 2002
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: Mike Myers, Michael McCullers
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Mike Myers, Beyonce Knowles, Michael Caine, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, Verne Troyer, Clint Howard, Rob Lowe, Fred Savage, Masi Oka, Michael McDonald, Donna D’Errico, Greg Grunberg, Kinga Philipps, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Kristen Johnston, Tom Cruise, Danny DeVito, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, John Travolta, Britney Spears, Ozzy Osbourne, Sharon Osbourne, Kelly Osbourne, Jack Osbourne, Willie Nelson, Burt Bacharach, Nathan Lane, Katie Couric

Team Todd, Gratitude, New Line Cinema, 94 Minutes

Review:

“There are only two things I can’t stand in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch.” – Nigel Powers

The third and unfortunately final film of the Austin Powers series may be the worst of the three but it’s still damn enjoyable and pretty good. Besides, all the films are fairly close in overall quality; this one just happened to be the odd one out.

That being said, this one is the most ambitious of the three pictures.

I like this movie, even if the story feels really overstuffed. There are some cool, big twists to the series’ mythos and I actually kind of loved what they did with it by the end of the film. It also ended in a way that opened up a fresh take on the franchise that would’ve been really neat to explore in another movie.

While a fourth film has been rumored since this one came out, I don’t see how you could even do it now in our overly sensitive, always offended modern world. Comedy is truly dead in the 2020s and anything they could make, would be an unfunny, mittens wearing, faded Xerox copy of the original three flicks. No thanks.

Anyway, I think what I liked most about this was the inclusion of Michael Caine as Austin’s father. He was so enjoyable in this that I wish they would’ve debuted his character earlier so that we could’ve got him in more than just one picture.

Mike Myers also ups the ante, as he now plays not just Austin, Dr. Evil and Fat Bastard but also a new villain, Goldmember.

Heather Graham is gone, unfortunately, but Beyonce was decent as the new female partner for Austin. They didn’t really seem to give the two a romantic plot, though, which kind of felt weird, as Austin, in spite of his ugliness, is a chick magnet of incalculable levels.

As I said, this is the worst movie of the three but it’s still a good send off for these characters and their story, assuming we never get a fourth film.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Austin Powers films and other ’60s styled spy spoofs like the Dean Martin Matt Helm movies and the original Casino Royale.

Film Review: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

Also known as: Austin Powers 2, It’s Shagging Time (working titles)
Release Date: June 11th, 1999
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: Michael McCullers, Mike Myers
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, Verne Troyer, Will Ferrell, Clint Howard, Burt Bacharach, Michael McDonald, Rob Lowe, Jeff Garlin, Elvis Costello, Jerry Springer, Rebecca Romijn, Woody Harrelson, Charles Napier, Tim Robbins, Willie Nelson, Fred Willard, David Koechner, Tony Jay (narrator)

Moving Pictures, Gratitude, New Line Cinema, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t believe Vanessa, my bride, my one true love, the woman who taught me the beauty of monogamy, was a fembot all along. Wait a tick, that means I’m single again! Oh behave!” – Austin Powers

Out of the three movies in the Austin Powers trilogy, this one is my favorite, even though all the films are really close in overall quality.

There are a few reasons why I like this one slightly better.

First, I like the plot better than the first movie. It’s more complex, more interesting and doesn’t simply try to rehash the beats of the first picture. There’s also a time travel element that works for me, even though it quickly breaks the fourth wall dismissing the paradoxes and narrative problems it creates. Because, honestly, this is a mindless, fun Austin Powers movie and you shouldn’t be thinking that hard anyway.

Second, I loved all the new characters from Mini-Me, Fat Bastard and especially Rob Lowe, as the younger version of Number 2.

Third, this has Heather Graham in it as the main “Powers Girl” and she’s always been a favorite of mine and certainly my favorite babe in a film series packed full of incredible, badass babes.

Apart from those three things, this film is just as fun and entertaining as the first movie. Additionally, the cast seems much more at-home in their roles and they’re even better than they were in the previous film.

I also like this chapter because it shows you which jokes sort of become reoccurring gags. Many of these bits became staples of the series while also becoming one of the more endearing things about this goofy, amusing franchise.

It’s also obvious that this movie had more money to play around with. There are bigger, better sets and more of them. Dr. Evil gets multiple lairs and each of them are much grander than the previous film’s underground bunker.

All in all, this is still solid, fun escapism and it made me smile in a young decade that hasn’t been very kind to most of us.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Austin Powers films and other ’60s styled spy spoofs like the Dean Martin Matt Helm movies and the original Casino Royale.

Film Review: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Also known as: Austin Powers (working title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1997 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: Mike Myers
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Mimi Rogers, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, Fabiana Udenio, Will Ferrell, Joe Son, Paul Dillon, Charles Napier, Elya Baskin, Clint Howard, Tom Arnold (uncredited), Carrie Fisher, Larry Thomas, Burt Bacharach, Michael McDonald, Cindy Margolis, Christian Slater (UK version only), Rob Lowe (scene deleted) 

Capella International, Gratitude, Juno Pix, New Line Cinema, 94 Minutes, 68 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my underground lair. I have gathered here before me the world’s deadliest assassins, and yet each of you has failed to kill Austin Powers. That makes me angry. And when Dr. Evil gets angry, Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset. And when Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset… people die!” – Dr. Evil

I, like most people, was a big fan of this film series when it was current. Weirdly, I hadn’t watched any of these since the third movie, Goldmember, came out in theaters. I had seen the first two at least a half dozen times, however, leading up to that third and final chapter.

Revisiting these now was a lot of fun. Even though I remembered just about everything and knew all the jokes and gags, it still felt like I was seeing it fresh and frankly, it made me nostalgic for a time when you could make movies like these because the world wasn’t so f’n PC and sensitive. If they ever made a fourth film, it would be a neutered and unfunny bitch.

This first film is still a hell of a lot of fun and it’s great, solid escapism. Especially in the early 2020s, as the world is really turning into a big ball of shit. Not having much in the way of real entertainment has also taken its toll on people, so looking back at stuff like this is kind of comforting.

In spite of the adversity nearly everyone has gone through as of late, it’s still hard not being happy watching Mike Myers ham it up as an uglied up, horny, British spy that’s part playboy, part buffoon and somehow still a hero when the odds are against him.

Like the ’90s, as a whole, this movie is crass and low brow. But growing up in that time is why I love that shit and probably why I miss it. Then again, people still knew how to laugh back in 1997.

Anyway, Myers also plays Dr. Evil, the film’s villain and his greatest character. But Myers also had the benefit of playing off of so many other great actors in this film. It’s this series that really cemented Seth Green as a legitimate talent for me and it also helped me fall in love with the comedic greatness of Mindy Sterling. Plus, Robert Wagner has never been better and that guy is always f’n great!

Additionally, this movie is full of hot babes, most notably the angelic Elizabeth Hurley. We also get Mimi Rogers at her all-time hottest, as well as Fabiana Udenio, a long time favorite babe of mine, and the glorious and sultry Fembots.

Austin Powers wasn’t the first film to parody the James Bond franchise but honestly, it’s probably the best and I say that as someone that adores the Dean Martin Matt Helms quadrilogy. 

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Austin Powers films and other ’60s styled spy spoofs like the Dean Martin Matt Helm movies and the original Casino Royale.

TV Review: The Orville (2017- )

Original Run: September 10th, 2017 – current
Created by: Seth MacFarlane
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane, various
Written by: Seth MacFarlane, various
Music by: Bruce Broughton, Joel McNeely, John Debney, Andrew Cottee
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson, Jessica Szohr, Victor Garber, Chad Coleman, Norm Macdonald, Jason Alexander, Patrick Warburton, Rob Lowe, Robert Picardo, Larry Joe Campbell, Kelly Hu, Rachael MacFarlane (voice)

Fuzzy Door Productions, 20th Century Fox Television, Fox, 12 Episodes (so far), 44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Orville. I intended to watch it last year, after the first season wrapped up, but life throws curveballs and I didn’t get to it until the current, second season, started.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a show that looked to be a parody of Star Trek from the man behind Family Guy. I’m not a big fan of that show but I also don’t really dig animated comedies, at least since the earliest days of South Park.

This doesn’t reflect the same sort of humor style or tone of Family Guy, however. It’s just really f’n clever and beyond the comedy, this show is written in a way that makes it very clear that Seth MacFarlane truly is a fan of Star Trek and most notably, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It feels as if it most directly parodies TNG and some of Voyager. But I can’t really call it a parody, even if it seemed to start out that way.

Yes, there is a lot of humor but it is almost secondary and as the show progresses, it learns to balance itself better between comedy and real drama. In fact, the comedy is used perfectly in how it eases tension and emotions in the right moments.

As of now, having seen about 15 episodes of this show, I can say that it is the best version of Star Trek since Deep Space Nine left the air in 1999, twenty years ago. The Orville is more Star Trek than modern Star Trek. It understands the source material it borrows from better than any of the film or television writers that have tried to resurrect it over the last two decades.

Everything about The Orville just feels right. If it maintains its momentum, I’ll have to adjust the rating and make it higher. I’m skeptical that it can maintain this trajectory over the long haul but I also don’t think that it’ll ever devolve into something terrible.

Thus far, I love this show and I can’t thank Seth MacFarlane enough for plugging a large hole in my fanboy heart.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.

TV Review: Californication (2007-2014)

Original Run: August 13th, 2007 – June 29th, 2014
Created by: Tom Kapinos
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Tree Adams, Tyler Bates
Cast: David Duchovny, Natascha McElhone, Madeleine Martin, Evan Handler, Pamela Adlon, Madeline Zima, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jason Beghe, Bill Lewis, Judy Greer, Tim Minchin, Mädchen Amick, Ezra Miller, Justine Bateman, Peter Gallagher, Kathleen Turner, James Frain, Carla Gugino, Rob Lowe, Zoë Kravitz, Meagan Good, Rza, Maggie Grace, Michael Imperioli, Heather Graham

Totally Commercial Films, Aggressive Mediocrity, Twilight Time Films, And Then…, Showtime, 84 Episodes, 29 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I heard a lot of good things while Californication was on the air. I held off on checking it out until it was over, recently binge watching it on Netflix.

The story follows novelist Hank Moody (David Duchovny) as he tries to win back his long time baby mama Karen (Natascha McElhone) and balance a life of sex addiction, drugs, booze and his daughter (Madeleine Martin). Also, early in the series, he gets caught up in having sex with the underage daughter (Madeline Zima) of his baby mama’s new fiance. The show is accented by Hank’s manager and best friend, Charlie (Evan Handler) and his wife, Marcy (Pamela Adlon).

The show starts out really strong and each season is actually pretty good before it runs off the rails in the final season of its seven season run.

Duchovny is lovable as the childish and womanizing novelist but ultimately, he constantly does questionable things and always finds himself in trouble or making situations much worse. Sometimes, it is just the result of unforeseen circumstances but typically it is the result of a myriad of bad or careless decisions.

The constant back and forth between Hank and Karen is enjoyable for the first few seasons but it eventually grows tiresome about midway through the series’ run. Maybe that is because I binge watched it and didn’t see their relationship grow, evolve and fall apart over the course of several years time.

Hank’s daughter started out as a decent enough character but after a season or two, she becomes completely unlikable and doesn’t recognize that her father isn’t really all that bad and that despite his pitfalls has genuinely tried to put her first.

The best overall story during the run of the show was the up and down relationship of secondary characters Charlie and Marcy. They go through more real world problems and drama than Hank and Karen do and in the end, they reconnect and find each other, ending off better than they ever were throughout their tumultuous relationship. And Stu, who becomes Marcy’s husband over a season or two, was hysterical. The love triangle between Charlie, Marcy and Stu was the highlight of this entire show. And honestly, this relationship makes Hank and Karen’s look like bullshit high school level drama.

By the time I got to the end, I really didn’t care about where Hank and Karen ended up because based off of their track record, I knew it had the possibility to go in the opposite direction five minutes after the final credits rolled.

The show was pretty solid for most of its run but the final goodbye was long overdue by the time I got to the end.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Shameless, Weeds, Entourage and Aquarius.

Film Review: The Outsiders (1983)

Release Date: March 25th, 1983
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Kathleen Rowell
Based on: The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Leif Garrett, Tom Waits, S. E. Hinton (cameo)

Zoetrope Studios, Warner Bros., 91 Minutes (original theatrical), 114 Minutes (2005 extended edition)

Review:

Francis Ford Coppola was once an amazing director. Some of his work, later in life, just doesn’t compare to his earlier films. At the height of his quality run, he directed The Outsiders.

This film is a classic but it seems to have faded away in recent years. When I was growing up, this movie was on television all the time and it was something that just about everyone had seen and loved. I’ve never met anyone who has seen the film and not had a favorable opinion about it.

Part of its greatness, is that it boasts some serious talent. The Outsiders is packed full of 1980s male icons and this was just before they all broke out and became huge stars. Coppola had a real eye for talent, as almost every single young man in this movie went on to have pretty big careers.

The movie is based off of a stellar novel. The story follows a few young men in 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma. The main characters are from the wrong side of the tracks and are a part of a gang referred to as the Greasers. Their rivals are the rich kids who live across town. They are called the Socs (pronounced “so-shiz”, as it is short for “socials”). There is a violent confrontation and the youngest kid in the Greasers stabs and kills a Soc in an effort to prevent his best friend from being drowned in a park fountain. The kids go on the run and hide out but while away, they save a bunch of children from a burning schoolhouse and are branded heroes. All the while, Johnny, the youngest Greaser, is hospitalized due to burns and smoke inhalation. Everything leads to a big rumble, two huge tragedies for the group and the boys learning that they have to be each other’s family in a world that rejects them.

The Outsiders is a beautiful motion picture backed by a beautiful score. It also features a fantastic title track by Stevie Wonder. Unfortunately, the score is replaced by popular 1960s tunes in the 2005 extended edition of the film. Now the extended edition is great for all the deleted scenes that were put back into the movie, making it almost a half hour longer, but it loses the emotional weight of the original version due to trading out the perfect score for 60s rock and roll. While the music is fitting to the historical time of the movie, it is distracting if you’ve seen The Outsiders in its original form. I hope that there is eventually an extended edition with the original music restored.

The Outsiders is in the upper echelon of Francis Ford Coppola’s oeuvre. While it is not a pillar of perfection like The Godfather I and II, it is better than the best movies of many other accomplished directors.

Rating: 9.75/10