Film Review: Thoroughbreds (2017)

Also known as: Thoroughbred (festival title)
Release Date: January 21st, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Cory Finley
Written by: Cory Finley
Music by: Erik Friedlander
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift

June Pictures, B Story, Big Indie Pictures, Focus Features, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“You cannot hesitate. The only thing worse than being incompetent, or being unkind, or being evil, is being indecisive.” – Amanda

I’ve been wanting to see this for about two years, after reading about it following its premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It was said to be “smart”, “quirky”, “unpredictable” and a mashup between American Psycho and Heathers.

It really isn’t any of those things, unfortunately. Okay, maybe it has a small dose of Heathers mixed in but it certainly doesn’t come close to the darkness one experiences in watching American Psycho.

I also didn’t find it to be “smart”, “quirky” or “unpredictable”.

I don’t want to take a big shit on this film, as I did moderately enjoy it and bits were amusing. Plus, I thought Anya Taylor-Joy and Anton Yelchin’s performances were terrific.

I just couldn’t buy into Olivia Cooke’s Amanda with her emotionless, dead pan delivery. I get that this is what her character is supposed to be but she doesn’t truly commit to the bit. You see, even though she isn’t supposed to care about anything, she is still conveniently driven by things in a way that seems to betray her own character.

Cooke’s Amanda was the apathetic angsty teen that acts overly depressed and always talks about it, probably for attention at first but somewhere along the line has bought into her own bullshit. I’ve dealt with major depression my entire life and people who act like her are typically attention seekers, even if they are legitimately broken. But I don’t think she was intended to be portrayed that way, I feel as if the director/writer actually bought into her bullshit too. But I guess that really just makes it his own bullshit.

Amanda is not quirky. She also isn’t smart. And as far as the plot goes, it isn’t unpredictable, it is actually very predictable. From the get-go, you know there is going to be a dark twist of some sort by the end and you also know that the stepfather will die somehow. But when that twist comes, it’s not all that shocking or surprising, it just limps its way into the narrative and all the ultraviolence that should come with something that’s compared to American Psycho, happens off screen.

I’m not saying that gore was necessary for this film to work but this was tame when compared to the things that modern critics have associated it with.

The big scene where the shit hits the fan is comprised of a still longshot that lasts a few minutes, as Amanda is passed out on the couch and you hear a loud, violent commotion upstairs. It’s a trope that’s been overused by indie filmmaking darlings for decades and its mostly lost its effectiveness. Or maybe I’ve just watched too many movies over the years.

But the point is that there is nothing new here and the promised shocks and surprises limp into the plot like a rat stuck to a glue trap.

Thoroughbreds isn’t a terrible motion picture but it is an underwhelming and disappointing one. It’s only real saving grace was the performances by two of its top three stars.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Heathers and Jawbreaker.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part III (1990)

Also known as: Three (fake working title)
Release Date: May 25th, 1990
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Weissman, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, Donovan Scott

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Listen up, Eastwood! I aim to shoot somebody today and I’d prefer it’d be you. But if you’re just too damn yella, I guess it’ll just have to be your blacksmith friend.” – Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen

The Back to the Future trilogy is one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic history. It’s damn near perfect and the films are still just as enjoyable now, as they were thirty years ago.

Each one is a tad bit weaker than the previous but since the first one is an absolute masterpiece, the sequels are still better than 95 percent of all the movies ever made.

Part III is my least favorite chapter in the trilogy but it is still one of the best popcorn movies a film fan could ask for.

This takes the Back to the Future formula and throws it into the Old West. I like that they did this and it opens up the series for some fresh takes on some of its tropes but I also feel like the western twist maybe wasn’t strong enough on its own to carry the whole film. What I liked most about the second film, the one I find to be the most entertaining, is that it jumped around and showed us a variety of different times and alternate timelines.

Also, I feel like going further back in time to the Old West might have worked better in the second film. Like maybe they could have flip-flopped the second and third pictures. Which also could have given us the wonderful Mary Steenburgen in two movies instead of just this one where she was actually a bit underutilized. Sure, you’d have to rework some narrative details.

I am going off on some tangents and most people will probably disagree with my take but in the end, this was still a superb motion picture and one of the best from its era.

While it is still exciting it is a bit bogged down by the scenery and is the slowest of the three films, which also adds to my thoughts on it not being the best choice for the final chapter. This feels more like a second act and when it ends, it ends quite abruptly.

But I love the tone of the film and it still captures the amazing Back to the Future spirit. It also probably would have played better, at least for me, if they kept making these and just didn’t cap it off at three films like every other movie franchise of its time. They could’ve given us two more of these pictures, had they made them shortly after this one and frankly, I’m pretty sure they would have maintained the same quality had they utilized the same creative team.

Back to the Future, Part III is the weakest of the three but the bronze medal winner in the strongman championships is still stronger than just about everyone else in the world.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part II (1989)

Also known as: Paradox (fake working title)
Release Date: November 20th, 1989 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jeffrey Weissman, Charles Fleischer, Jason Scott Lee, Elijah Wood, Joe Flaherty, Marc McClure (uncredited), Crispin Glover (archive footage)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“The almanac. Son of a bitch stole my idea! He must have been listening when I… it’s my fault! The whole thing is my fault. If I hadn’t bought that damn book, none of this would have ever happened.” – Marty McFly

Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect film. Back to the Future, Part II isn’t perfect but it’s so damn good, it’s hard to see the flaws unless you really look for them and then, they’re mostly narrative issues that can be dismissed if you look at this with a Doctor Who “timey wimey” sentiment.

This chapter in the classic and awesome film series sees our heroes go to the future, return to an alternate present and then take a trip back to the past where we saw them in the first film. Part II takes you to more places than the other two films combined but it works really well for the middle act of this three act trilogy. It also does the best job of showing the consequences that can arise from disrupting the timeline.

I think that this has the most layered plot and with that, tells a more complicated story. I remember some people back in 1989 saying it was kind of hard to follow but these were also people significantly older than me. As a ten year-old, I thought it all made sense and I still do. Granted, there are some other paradoxes that this would have created and the film just conveniently ignores them but if it were to follow science to a T it would have broke the movie.

The cast is still solid in this film but Crispin Glover is sorely missed. I really wish he had returned to this just because I think it would have made the story better. While he appears in archive footage and another actor stands in for him and wears a mask of his face, this all lead to a major lawsuit that forced Hollywood to change how they use the likeness of non-contracted actors.

While I can’t say that this is better than the first movie, it is my favorite to revisit just for all the things it throws at you. It’s certainly the most entertaining overall and it sort of embraces the absurdity of its subject matter without overdoing it. It’s mostly a comedy but it is balanced well with its more dramatic moments. There is an underlying darkness in this chapter that the other two movies don’t have and I think it gives it a bit of an edginess lacking in the other two. Not that they needed to be edgy but that element works well here.

Back to the Future, Part II is how you do a sequel. It upped the ante, was more creative than its predecessor and enriched its universe, giving it more depth while developing its characters further.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Back to the Future (1985)

Release Date: July 3rd, 1985
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, George DiCenzo, Frances Lee McCain, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jason Hervey, Maia Brewton, Courtney Gains, Huey Lewis (cameo)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” – Dr. Emmett Brown

Back to the Future is a classic, which makes it kind of hard to review. It’s a film I’ve put off reviewing for awhile because I can’t really come up with anything other than paragraphs of praise. It’s perfect.

Do I need to run through all the regular tidbits about it having a great story, script, director, cast, composer, cinematographer, special effects department and everything else under the sun?

I’m reviewing this right after I reviewed RoboCop, which I also gave a 10 out of 10. But don’t take that score lightly, it is really hard for me to give out 10s but this film certainly deserves it and maybe even a score slightly beyond that. The only other movie from my childhood that can really compete for this as the best film from that era is Raiders of the Lost Ark.

While the Roger Eberts, Gene Siskels and Pauline Kaels have their Citizen KaneVertigo and Seven Samurai, I have Raiders of the Lost ArkEmpire Strikes Back and Back to the Future. These are my generation’s classics and even though they are much more modern, their greatness can’t be denied. Well, unless you’re completely devoid of taste.

This film was a perfect storm, even if it had some major production issues early on. But those issues led to this and it’s hard to imagine that a film with a slightly different cast would have been as good as this ended up being.

If you haven’t seen this film already, I don’t understand what you’ve been doing with all of your time on this planet. If you have seen it and don’t like it, we probably won’t be friends.

This is, hands down, one of the absolute best films of the 1980s, regardless of genre or style. There are other movies that one can refer to as “perfect” but how many are actually this fun?

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Christine (1983)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Christine (complete title)
Release Date: December 9th, 1983
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Phillips
Based on: Christine by Stephen King
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, William Ostrander

Delphi Premier Productions, Polar Film, Columbia Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa, whoa. You better watch what you say about my car. She’s real sensitive.” – Arnie Cunningham

I gew up in a time when John Carpenter was king. I was a big fan but somehow I always forget that this is in his oeuvre because I associate it more with the slew of Stephen King adaptations from the time.

That being said, it is still very Carpenter but it is also very much King. I guess it’s a pretty good marriage between two of the top horror icons of that era. And frankly, I still love this film even though I hadn’t seen it in quite awhile and forgot how much I enjoy it.

This still plays very well and is a great film in regards to how it builds up suspense.

I was also really impressed with the special effects, especially in regards to the scene where the car repairs itself in front of Keith Gordon’s Arnie. Man, that sequence is spectacular and considering that it was all done with practical effects in a time when CGI was still very primitive, makes me respect how perfectly they pulled it off behind the scenes.

Keith Gordon carries the film with his performance and he does a fantastic job transitioning from the weakling nerd that he is in the beginning to a kid driven by his obsession for his car and finally, as a character that is completely possessed by evil.

The performances by the other two leads, John Stockwell and Alexandra Paul, were also good. It’s the famous character actors that give this film a bit more seasoning though, as both Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky deliver some really good scenes in the film.

I really liked John Carpenter’s score but his music always had a certain presence that accented the frights in his films. This score is no different and his use of audible effects seemed more refined than what he did in Halloween. Not to take anything away from his audio trickery in Halloween but I think that he really found his groove with it here. And while it may go unnoticed by most people who watch this film, it’s these little flourishes that sets Carpenter apart from the pack and gives his films more of an edge.

This is a good coming of age story that doesn’t have a happy ending for everyone. It’s creepy but it’s effective. And I’ve always loved that there really isn’t an explanation in regards to the car being possessed by evil. It’s a machine that just has to kill.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King films of the ’70s and ’80s: Maximum OverdriveSalem’s LotCarrieSilver Bullet, etc.

Film Review: Trick or Treat (1986)

Also known as: Heavy Metal do Horror (Brazil), Muerte a 33 R.P.M. (Spain), Ragman (Germany)
Release Date: October 24th, 1986
Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Written by: Joel Soisson, Michael S. Murphey, Rhet Topham, Glen Morgan (uncredited), James Wong (uncredited)
Music by: Fastway, Christopher Young
Cast: Marc Price, Doug Savant, Lisa Orgolini, Tony Fields, Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Demonic beasts. Whatever happened to the good old simple love song? “I love you.” Nowadays they have to write some sickness. It’s just absolutely sick and bizarre and I’m going to do my upmost best to try and stop it now.” – Rev. Aaron Gilstom

I used to own this on DVD but somehow in the last decade or two, it got lost. I’ve never seen it streaming anywhere and I didn’t like it enough to want to buy it again, unless I found it in a dollar bin somewhere. But, as of right now, it is streaming on YouTube. It’ll probably get pulled down but it’s there, at the moment.

Trick or Treat was a fun film to revisit all these years later and I’ve only seen it twice before this: once when I bought it around 2001 and then way before that in the late ’80s when I rented it from my local video store while friends and I had one of our many horror marathons.

The film stars Skippy from Family Ties as basically a heavy metal version of Skippy. His real name is Marc Price and he’s done some other movies too but he will always be Skippy to me. It also stars Doug Savant as the high school bully. He’s probably most known for being Matt, the gay dude on the original Melrose Place and for having a long stint on Desperate Housewives. He also played a serial killer in a fairly bad film called Paint It Black, where he murdered people, covered them in clay and turned them into art like Dick Miller in A Bucket of Blood.

The film also has two very notable cameos, so notable that the cameos were used to sell the movie to audiences. The cameos are by Gene Simmons of KISS, who plays a radio DJ, and Ozzy Osbourne, who plays a reverend wanting to destroy the evil that is rock and roll.

The plot follows Heavy Metal Skippy, a fairly normal kid apart from listening to devil worship music. He is bullied by the jocks like every other loser from an ’80s teen movie. When he comes across the last and only copy of a vinyl record recorded by his dead hero, he plays it backwards. It doesn’t open up a gate to Hell in his backyard but it does resurrect his rock and roll hero, who is basically a lightning powered rock star fueled by Satanic evil and pretty much down to kill everyone and everything. The way Skippy finally defeats him is absolutely ridiculous but at least the demon Satan rocker murdered the crap out of that douchey bully Doug Savant.

Trick or Treat isn’t a film that boasts good writing, good acting or even good special effects. It’s passable though, simply because it is so insane that it just works and is an entertaining watch.

It probably doesn’t deserve to be as good as it is, as its technical merit leaves a lot to be desired and it is littered with questionable editing choices but it is something I would probably watch more often than I have, if I still had my DVD copy of it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Rocktober Blood, Black Roses, Brainscan and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.

Film Review: Empire Records (1995)

Also known as: Rock & Fun, Empire (working titles)
Release Date: September 22nd, 1995 (limited)
Directed by: Allan Moyle
Written by: Carol Heikkinen
Music by: various artists
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Maxwell Caulfield, Debi Mazar, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Renée Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry, Coyote Shivers, James ‘Kimo’ Willis, Brendan Sexton III, Ben Bode

Regency Enterprises, Warner Bros., 90 Minutes, 107 Minutes (Special Extended Edition)

Review:

“We mustn’t dwell… no, not today. We can’t. Not on Rex Manning Day.” – Mark

Empire Records was not a hit when it came out in theaters but it had a pretty limited release and when it did expand into more theaters, it still didn’t get into a lot of them. In fact, I never even heard of the movie until it came out on VHS in 1996 while I was working at a video store. I checked it out and liked it but I never imagined that it was something that many people would see or that would gain a pretty good cult following.

I think that it resonated with me because I was the same age as the characters, I worked in a video store and a music store and it felt a bit more like an ’80s teen comedy, which were movies I grew up on and had an impact on me as a kid.

Sure, the film is pretty hokey and very goofy but with that it has a lot of charm and an innocence about it, even if it delves into some more serious subject matter. At it’s core, it just follows a day in the life of an indie record store but it is a well crafted coming of age movie.

It is almost fantasy in how it is presented and in that way, it kind of reminds me of Clerks. They’re not even close from a tonal sense but both movies cram a bunch of crazy stuff into a single work day in a way that isn’t realistic but works for these type of films because all of these things could actually happen, just not on a single day.

The acting isn’t great but this does feature some people that would go on to have pretty good careers. It also stars Anthony LaPaglia as the only real adult in the film and the glue that keeps things together and a bit more grounded than the film would be without him.

I can’t say that this has aged well and maybe I still like it because of the power of nostalgia but it’s just a great film to throw on, once in awhile, when you need to be taken back to a simpler time and a simpler life before being buried in adult problems and worries.

I also love how musical it is and how fun it is. You actually do care about these characters and you want a happy ending for all of them. Because they’re all just kids and most of us have been where they are.

Plus, without this film, we never would’ve had Rex Manning Day.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other teen comedies of the ’90s.