Warrior (2011)

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I actually avoided this movie for quite awhile.  I have never been a fan of the UFC and this just seemed like nothing more than an overblown ad for them.

However, there was much more to Warrior than that.

I heard lots of people online whose opinions I respect say that Warrior was one of their favorite movies and so I decided to give it a chance and rent it off of Vudu.  Yet, I rented it and it sat in my queue for almost a month.  In fact, I almost forgot that I had it available.  The rental period was almost over when I finally decided to watch the movie.

By the end, I had tears in my eyes and goosebumps all over my body.

Warrior is the story of two estranged brothers who both wind up in a huge UFC tournament called Sparta.  One brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) was a science teacher who needed to do something drastic because he needed money.  He had been a fighter early in his life and gave it up for his wife (Jennifer Morrison).  The second brother Tommy (Tom Hardy) was a Marine who deserted his unit, but came across another unit where he saved someone by ripping the door off a jeep.  Changing his name, Tommy had to deal with his own inner anger from the life he had lived.

Their recovering alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) was estranged from both and wanted to reconnect with his boys.

There was so much emotion in this movie.  You could feel the anger of Tommy and the desperation and determination of Brendan.  It was pretty obvious that these two brothers were on a collision course with one another, but once you get to that point, anything could have happened.

The film was filled with awesome performances from everyone involved.

Of course, Warrior is to the UFC as the Rocky series is to boxing.  The matches in this movie are way more exciting to watch than the ones that are actually presented in the real UFC just as boxing was never as exciting as when Rocky was punching one of his foes.  There may be moments within a match that elevates to this level, but these are thrilling from the start.

I am glad that I was able to make time to watch this movie before my rental period ended.  It is a wonderful film worth the watch.


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Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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You can check another box off the list of movies I need to see.  Just got a big one done.

Yes, it took me the whole afternoon, but it was well worth it to finally see the epic of epics, Lawrence of Arabia, on the big screen thanks to Fathom Events.

Four hours later (after 3 hours 42 minutes of film time and a 15 minute intermission) I saw what one of my favorite online reviewer/personality Dan Murrell claimed was his favorite movie of all time and I could certainly understand why.

While it is not my personal favorite movie of all time, this is a special film that takes a historical figure and immortalizes him to the nth degree in a brilliant manner.  Director David Lean gives us everything we could ask for and more in this film.

British officer T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) becomes involved with the tribes of Arabia during World War I against the Turks, leading these people in an almost mythical manner.

There are some wonderful performances in this movie, starting with Peter O’Toole’s brilliantly soulful lead role.  He was an unexpected choice for the role, but he turned out to be perfect as the British officer.  Obi-Wan himself, Alec Guinness is here too as Prince Faisal.  Honestly, I was trying to find Guinness through most of the movie and I did not see him until late in the run time.  Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif were amazing as heads of individual tribes working tentatively together thanks to the glue of Lawrence.  Fascinatingly, there is not one speaking part for a female in Lawrence of Arabia, a feat that probably would not go over well in today’s society.

I was surprised with how much humor was in this film.  There were some clearly funny lines and moments inside this dramatic masterpiece.

Peter O’Toole’s face sold every scene he was in.  The facial expression and his blue eyes were so on point that it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role, but apparently the producers wanted Marlon Brando for the role and actually offered it to Albert Finney.  Cary Grant’s name was mentioned as well.  In the end, the proper choice was made.

There is no doubt that this is an investment of time, but I discovered that it is time well spent.  There is a reason why this is one of those films studied in film schools.  Lawrence of Arabia is a master stroke of filmmaking.


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The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

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The next movie I chose for the Back-to-School Binge was a personal favorite of mine form my childhood.  I remember going to the theater to see Disney’s The Apple Dumpling Gang.

I was a fan of Don Knotts and Tim Conway from other projects that they were involved in and seeing them together made a great comedic pair.  Theodore and Amos were bumbling bank robbers who were just trying to get by in life, but were not having much success.  Together, Knotts and Conway showed remarkable skill in slapstick and physical comedy.

Gambler Mr. Russel Donovan (Bill Bixby) got conned into picking up a “package” for an acquaintance, which turned out to be three kids:  Bobby (Clay O’Brien), Clovis (Brad Savage) and Celia (Stacy Manning).  Though he tried to pawn the kids off onto everybody in the town, Donovan started to grow closer to them.  When the kids found a giant gold nugget, the town changed their minds and all started trying to gain custody of the kids.  In order to provide the kids a good home, Donovan made a deal with Dusty (Susan Clark) to get married.

Sure there is quite a convoluted plot and the twists are rather predictable, but The Apple Dumpling Gang has its own charm and provides the audience with several moments of silliness and sight gags and sometimes that is good enough.

Harry Morgan (Col. Potter from MASH) and Slim Pickens have roles in the movie as well.

Clearly it is not a classic movie, but there is no doubt that the film has a lot of fun in it.


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Pleasantville (1998)

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Moving along in the Back-to-School Binge, we come to a film starring Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Jeff Daniels, Don Knotts, and Joan Allen.  The film called Pleasantville.

Tobey Maguire is David, a huge fan of the TV show Pleasantville, a show filmed in black and white where everything moves along in the same, typical style of the old 1950s sitcoms.  When he was preparing to watch a marathon of the show, a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts) arrived at his house and, suddenly, David, along with his slutty sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) found themselves in the TV show itself.  They embodied the characters of Bud and Mary Sue.  David was, at first, excited about the possibilities, but Jennifer found the world very black and white and she wanted shades of grey…along with other colors.

Pleasantville begins to awaken as people experience things that the TV show never had them address, such as teenage sex, rain, a world outside of the city, etc.  They are shown with their awakening by turning color.

It is such a clever idea that, visually, it is stunning.  It is also quite cool that, some of the first people to experience color, looked as if they had been colorized by the movie studios.  The colors were slightly off or looked to be colors that really did not exist in the real world. As things became deeper, the colors became brighter and more real.

Nothing is ever explained about how this happened or why this was happening, but those answers were unnecessary.  The film just was and it was good enough that way.

Obviously, there are all kinds of metaphors in the story.  There are painfully apparent ones such as the discrimination of the “colored” people by those black and white people.  Segregation was dealt with as was the rights of women to be more than just a housewife.  Another theme included is how important it is for life to continue to change or else you become stagnant.  The film may actually have more themes than what it should have.  None of them are subtle and can hit like a hammer.

The performances are strong and you can see the charm of Tobey Maguire here.  I enjoyed his gradual discovery of the world and what he should be doing.  He had a neat relationship in the movie with Jeff Daniels, one of the highlights.

Not sure how the ending worked or why Pleasantville did not stone him as a witch, but the movie is certainly fun and filled with many messages.


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Auto Focus (2002)

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The next film in the Back-to-School-Binge is the biopic featuring the life of Col. Hogan from CBS’s Hogan’s Heroes, Bob Crane.

Bob Crane was the lead star of the sitcom that ran six years, set inside a WWII German prisoner of war camp.  Crane had a secret life beyond the show.  He was a sex addict and would photograph and videotape all the women that he had sex with over the years.  In the end, Bob Crane wound up murdered in his hotel room in Scottsdale, Arizona, a crime that has never been solved.

Greg Kinnear played Bob Crane in this movie, showcasing the dark side of Crane’s life.  His initial meeting and befriending of John Henry Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), a home video salesman and technician, who hooked Crane up with the equipment and was right by his side through Crane’s addiction.

Many people believed that Carpenter was the man who murdered Crane, bludgeoning him with a camera stand before wrapping a cord around his neck, but he was never convicted.  In fact, Carpenter was found not guilty years later in a Scottsdale court.  Those who believe that Carpenter was the killer claimed that the Scottsdale police had botched the case and had lost much of the evidence.

The movie only touches on the murder and the after effect of the case.  Most of the film is the years from Hogan’s Heroes up to just prior to the murder.  Kinnear is extremely likable and you get the impression that Crane was a beloved individual who just could not control the excesses of his life.  There was an almost Jekyll-Hyde feel to the performance and Kinnear played it beautifully.

The film is very dark and disturbing.  It is an intimate portrait of a man whose own proclivities lead to his downfall, both professionally and physically.


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Treasure Planet (2002)

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We start today the Back-to-School-Binge, as teachers need to return to school starting early next week, I figured to do one more binge over the weekend (mostly today) before the grind gets going.

I started the Back-to-School-Binge with one of Disney’s most underappreciated and overlooked animated films, Treasure Planet.  Based on the classic pirate novel from Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island, this film finds much of the Disney magic and artistry as the more well known films that preceded it.

Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a troublemaker with a heart of gold, working for his mother Sarah (Laurie Metcalf).  When a half dead pirate, Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan), arrived, Bones, before he died, was able to pass along a map to the legendary Treasure Island to Jim.  He warned Jim to be wary of the Cyborg.

Of course, in the actual book, Billy Bones warned Jim Hawkins about the man with one leg.  Of course, that character turns out to be Long John Silver (Brian Murray), the chef about the ship that was chartered by Doctor Dopper (David Hyde Pierce), and captained by Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson).  With the ship’s unruly crew, they sailed off into space in search of the hidden treasure planet.

The story is reasonably faithful to Stevenson’s all time classic, with the obvious exceptions of the science fiction elements.  For example, in the novel, the character of Ben Gunn was one of Captain Flint’s crew he stranded on the island. In the movie, B.E.N. (Martin Short) basically serves the same function, but is a robot.

The animation is the typical quality work done by Disney in the late 90s early 2000s.  There are some lovely artistic scenes throughout the film.  Interestingly enough, B.E.N. is the only fully CGI character in the movie.

The voice work picked up dramatically as the film progressed.  Gordon-Levitt worked beautifully as Jim.  Early in the movie, though, Laurie Metcalf’s voice just did not seem to fit with the character of Sarah.  I also thought Martin Short was overly loud in his voicing of B.E.N.  However, among the well known voices, David Hyde Pierce did a wonderful job of not being David Hyde Pierce the whole time.  Pierce had done other voice over work, including A Bug’s Life, so his experience may have played a part.  The voice work from Brian Murray as Long John was spot on.

The beginning part of the film was a little slow, but it picked up into a wonderfully thrilling finale that came directly out of the characters that had been set up along the way.  This is a great way to introduce the world of Robert Louis Stevenson to a young person (or the Muppet Treasure Island, one of my own favs).

This would also be a great live action adaptation for Disney today.  Instead of doing the same old thing in Lion King and Aladdin, try something like this.


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Top Gun (1986)

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A couple of weeks ago, I created a bit of a stir among people who know me when I admitted that I had not ever seen Top Gun.  So I put it on my list to watch.

I am about to create more of a stir.

I hated it.

I thought this movie was just terrible.  I found it dull.  The characters were all just cutouts.  Tom Cruise’s Maverick had almost zero substance to him.  There was some indication of some daddy issues with him.  Heck, he seemed like a less developed version of Daniel Kaffee from A Few Good Men.  Only difference is Maverick plays beach volleyball and Kaffee plays softball. I guess A Few Good Men came out in 1992 so Cruise had the chance to perfect the archetype because that character and movie are 100 times better than this mess.

The relationship with Maverick and Kelly McGillis was lackluster and unbelievable.  They had zero chemistry.  I felt more chemistry between Maverick and Goose (Anthony Edwards).

They started the film off with a flight mission involving a character named Cougar (John Stockwell) and I thought he would be an important piece moving forward.  Nope.  Never mentioned again.

All of the jet flights were the same.  Nothing appeared different about any of them.  Each shot from the outside of the jets looked identical and had no distinguishing characteristics.  We depended on commentary from the pilots to let us know if something bad was happening.

The other pilots such as Ice (Val Kilmer) were nothings.  No character traits, no personality.  No reason to be in the movie.

Tom Skerret was good.  I have liked him since Picket Fences, but his character was nothing new either.

I have not missed anything by skipping over Top Gun.  I can check that box off my watch list now and that is the only benefit I can see.


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Karate Kid Part II (1986)

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I love this movie.  It is probably my favorite of the Karate Kid movies.  At the very least, it is even with the original.  I saw a low Rotten Tomatoes score of this and I was shocked.  I love the film.

Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) received bad news from his home in Okinawa about his father.  So he and Daniel (Ralph Macchio) took off for the Orient.  Unfortunately, trouble always follows them and an old rival of Miyagi was still present and waiting to regain his honor, by fighting Miyagi.  However, fights in Okinawa are not three point and you win.  Fights in Okinawa are to the death.

The film tapped into the past of Mr. Miyagi effectively, creating a reason for the man to leave his life in Japan and head to America.  The love triangle between Miyagi, Sato (Danny Kamekona) and Yukie (Nobu McCarthy) was basically background information to bring everything into the current day.  However, Daniel was not out of trouble either as Sato’s nephew Chozen (Yuji Okimoto) turned out to be a psychotic jerk and caused Daniel problems at every turn.

Watching this movie, I realize why I love it so much.  I love a hero, especially one that is willing to fight the right way and sacrifice for others.  I have always loved Peter Parker because Spider-Man was always out to save people.  He would even save the lives of the villains trying to kill him.  I found that to be admirable and heroic as can be.

Daniel falls into the same category as Peter.  Daniel goes out of his way to help people.  The scene with the hurricane when Daniel climbs up the ladder to save the little girl ringing the warning bell just reeks of heroism.  Daniel’s huge fight at the end with Chozen highlights how much of a hero this young character is.  He is willing to step across the bridge and fight this crazed man who wants to kill him just to save the life of Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita).  He would have done it for anyone.

The song from Karate Kid Part II, Glory of Love by Peter Cetera, says “like a knight in shining armor from along time ago” and that could not describe the heroism of Daniel Larusso better.

Add to that the fact that I saw this in high school and the tension was tight for me.  I remember watching that final scene for the first time and really being scared for Daniel.  I know now that he was never going to die, but I was younger then and I did not know what was going to happen.

This was the peak of the franchise for me (though Cobra Kai is great too) and I enjoyed it on rewatch every bit as much.


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The War of the Roses (1989)

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One of the great dark comedies of the late 1980s, The War of the Roses saw the combo of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner team up once more in a brutal battle of the sexes.  Directed by Danny DeVito, The War of the Roses split the public down gender.

Oliver Rose (Douglas) met and fell in love with Barbara (Turner), marrying her impulsively.  There early years were spent with Oliver trying to get ahead in his law firm and Barbara trying to perfect the house that they bought.  All the while, the couple was growing apart.  So when the house was completed, Barbara found the chasm wider than she thought.

She tried to fill the emptiness with a catering business, but she could not cook away the pain.  When she finally asked for a divorce, Oliver could not believe it.  Barbara wanted no alimony… all she wanted was the house.  Oliver would not give it to her.

And the War of the Roses was underway.

It was amazing how this movie split the sexes.  Males thought that Barbara was mostly at fault in the interaction between the couple while females thought that the fault laid at the feet of Oliver.  Plenty of couples drew lines in opposition much like the Roses did.  The fact that everybody could legitimately back one or the other by gender meant that people identified with them.  It speaks to how well written the movie was.

Of course, there was great chemistry with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.  They had made several movies together by now and they were able to show the dark side of love as well.  Both actors turned crazy and they clearly had a blast doing it.

Danny DeVito’s character, one of Oliver’s friends and fellow attorneys, Gavin, was used as the narrator of the story.  He told the tragic tale of the Roses to another client looking to divorce his wife.  Gavin’s narration worked brilliantly as the foreshadowing told us something horrible was going to happen.  The story built to a amazing showdown and a stunning ending.  I remember when I first saw it, I was totally shocked at what happened in the end.

The War of the Roses was a darkly funny movie with great performances throughout.  Whether you mostly blamed Oliver or mostly blamed Barbara probably depended on what sex you are, and that is really epic.


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The Legend of Zorro (2005)

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I thought I had seen this movie.  I really enjoyed The Mask of Zorro and I saw that one in the theater, so, in my head, I always believed that I had seen The Legend of Zorro.

Looking at the write up on Vudu, it did not sound familiar, but I just assumed that I had not remembered much about it.

As I started it, I realized… I have never seen this movie before.

It was odd since I liked the first one so much.  I have no idea why I did not see the sequel.  If not in the theater, then on video or cable.

But I had never seen this.

And it was just terrible.

What a flaming mess this thing was.

Zorro (Antonio Banderas) returned to try and help out against a plot to cause trouble when California was joining the Union.  Zorro’s wife, Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) wants her husband to give up the life as Zorro and just be Don Alejandro de la Vega (by the way… that was not his name.  That was the name of Elena’s father. Maybe I missed that, but I was confused about the use of the de la Vega name).  She claimed that Alejandro did not know anything about their son, the now ten-year old Joaquin (Adrian Alonso).

When two government agents (one of whom was LOST’s Ben, Michael Emerson) stumbled upon Zorro’s true identity, they used it to blackmail Elena into divorcing him and taking up with Armand (Rufus Sewell), someone involved in the plot against the U.S. government and who happened to be one of her old flames.

Convoluted?  Damn straight.

Honestly, the first two acts were just brutal.  Characters doing stupid things, acting out of character, comedy that was meant to be funny, but failing miserably, and action nowhere near equal to the previous film.  This was a film I considered several times shutting off.

I did like the story with Joaquin.  He happened to have a trouble streak, much like his daddy, and he was acting out quit a bit.  He also had some athletic ability and agility like the old man.  He did not know that his father was Zorro, so he was dealing with several issues of desertion.  Adrian Alonso was a likable kid, but I never understood how he could be as good as he was at so many things.  The best scenes of this wreck were most definitely with the kid.

The finale with a train was decent, but nothing here that we hadn’t seen before.  The third act definitely had the best action of the film.  The rest of it was totally a waste.

Perhaps I did not see this when it came out because I heard how bad it was and I chose to skip it.  I kind of wish I had done that here too.


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The Mask of Zorro (1998)

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The legendary masked hero known as Zorro returned to the big screen in a major action/adventure film in the year 1998.  Martin Campbell directed the film, which had Steven Spielberg attached as an executive producer.  The Mask of Zorro was filled with action and swashbuckling fun.

Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins) was drawn out of hiding to assume the visage of Zorro once more as Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) prepared to execute several innocent people, with the intent of capturing the illusive masked hero.  Zorro saved the day and escaped back to his home, only to find that Rafael was waiting for him.  With the death of his wife and the abduction of his daughter, de la Vega was taken to prison for years.

Twenty years later, Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas) and his brother were wanted thieves.  They were ambushed by Captain Harrison Love.  Alejandro escaped, but his brother was killed.  Alejandro wound up drunk and angry, preparing an ill-fated attack on Captain Love when de la Vega, a recent escapee,  stopped him and offered to train him as Zorro.

This is a great story of legacy and the passing of the torch, as well as righting wrongs of the past.  The Mask of Zorro takes some liberties with the history of the west, but that is fine.  The story was more than just a revenge tale.  It was about family, honor and dedication to the people of the land.

There are some exciting sword duels throughout the movie between all of the characters and the way Zorro works his way through the crowd trying to kill him is as effective as any super hero.  I will say that there may be one or two too many sword fights for my taste, as they all seemed to blend together.  The final fights at the mine are glorious though and fill the viewer with doubt and tension.

Antonio Banderas is fabulous here and he has amazing chemistry with Catherine Zeta-Jones, who plays Elena, de la Vega’s daughter who had been abducted and raised by Rafael as his own.  I may have wanted a little more conflict within Elena when she discovered the lie because, even though he had stolen her away as a child, Rafael still raised her as a father would and it was clear in the movie that he loved her.

There are some very funny bits in the movie as Alejandro is learning to become the legend, many dealing with his horse and his attempt to steal the horse from the town.

Anthony Hopkins brings a gravitas to the film as the original Zorro passing his knowledge along to his eventual predecessor.  Hopkins and Banderas work very well together and show the cracks of two men who have personal vendettas weighing down their agendas.

This does have that old-fashion feel to it and I believe that is a tone that director Campbell was going for.  Zorro has been around for decades, but this was the high level point for the swashbuckler.  It may be a little over long, but it is an enjoyable fun and filled with action and humor.


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Oldboy (2003)

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I have done another recommendation from the Top 10 Show for the End of July Binge-Watch.  Several times over the last few years, they have included the film Oldboy on a variety of lists.  Both John and Matt recommended that when watching Oldboy, to make sure to watch the Korean version.  Now, I have never been a fan of subtitles, having to read the movie, but I had a great time watching Train to Busan, which had subtitles, so I decided to try Oldboy as well.

Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min-Sik) was an obnoxious drunk who gets abducted from the street and held prisoner for 15 years in a small room.  The only human interaction he is given is through the television.  He is drugged whenever his captors required access to him.  During this time, Dae-Su is preparing himself for the time he can be free, training, digging a tunnel, anything else he could think of.

After 15 years, Dae-Su is simply released and invited to search out the identity of his captor.  Along the way, he falls in love with a young sushi chef named Mido (Kang Hye-jung).  The film turns into a violent revenge story as well as a mystery of why Dae-Su had been taken in the first place.

There were several shocking moments in this movie that made me squirm a bit.  The violence here is brutal and some times difficult to watch.

I will say that I had figured out the big twist earlier in the movie (or at least thought it could be the answer) so the reveal of that did not shock me as much as the film would have wanted, but the reveal was done very well and delivered a serious blow to the characters.

Once again, once I was engaged with the story and the brutality of the plot, the subtitles seemed to blend into the background.  I became less aware that I was reading them and everything just flowed with the story.  It is a weird circumstance that happened when I watched Train to Busan as well.

This is a tough watch.  Even though I had guessed the reveal at the end, the path getting there is hard and can be challenging to see.  There are scenes of torture and brutality that you do not see in a typical movie.  The film is shot beautifully as the use of these brutal images stick with you.  It is, most likely, a film that I will never revisit, but I am glad I got a chance to see it.


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A Very Brady Sequel (1996)

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This movie had no right to be good.

Okay, good might be stretching it.

However, I do believe that the second Brady Bunch big screen movie was entertaining and is actually quite a good satire, mainly of itself.

The Brady family returned with the ensemble cast led by Gary Cole as Mike Brady and Shelley Long as Carol Brady.  Then you have the cast of kids, some of which are creepily close to the look of the real Brady Bunch cast members.

In this movie, Carol Brady’s first husband, or so we think, has come back from being believed dead to rediscover his family…. and a $20 million dollar antique horse that was sent to Carol.  Tim Matheson played “Roy,” Carol’s first husband.

There are also multiple storylines going on for all of the other characters, most of which we have already seen in the TV series.  One of the funniest parts of the movie is that it takes these actual story beats from the TV show and uses them to poke fun at the Bradys or at Brady Bunch.

My favorite of the secondary storylines here is the feelings developing between Greg (Christopher Daniels Barnes) and Marcia (Christine Taylor) when they realize that they are not actually brother and sister.  This satirizes the rumors about the actual Brady actors, Greg Williams and Maureen McCormick, and the possible affair they had during the show.

I enjoyed as well the two times where the Brady kids just burst into song, including the classic “Time to Change” from the series.  The song on the airplane was extremely funny and just happened out of nowhere.

If you watched the Brady Bunch, then you will see and understand all of the in jokes that were certainly over the head of younger viewers.  Still, I think there is enough self-deprecating satire here to make this a fun time to watch.  And there is a ton of sexual innuendo in the script for the adults to think about.


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Jumanji (1995)

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Next in the End of July Binge-Watch comes a film that I remember not being a big fan of, but upon second viewing, I liked more than I did.  The original Jumanji was directed by Joe Johnston and would eventually inspire a sequel called Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

I love Robin Williams, but it would not be a shock to realize that he made many movies that were not very good.  I had always included Jumanji in that category, but I did like this better than the first time.

The story is simple.  Robin Williams plays Alan Parrish, a young boy who has an overbearing father.  Alan was being pursued by bullies yet his father went to send him to face his fears which led to him being beaten up.  After the attack, Alan found a strange game in a construction site and took it home.  The game was called Jumanji and when he started playing the game, with Sarah, the girlfriend of the bully who beat him up, he realized that it was more than what it seemed.

The special effects were not bad for the time, and helped propel the action.  In this movie, the game would release jungle creatures into the real world after each player’s turn was up and there were some terrifying moments.  The spiders, the crocodiles, and the lion balanced out the more humorous monkeys and mosquitoes.

The plot itself was pretty simple and the conclusion was predictable.  I can see why I may not have been a huge fan of this when I was younger as Robin Williams was not very funny in the role, at least what I expected for him to be.  Still, looking at it today, he brings his charm and wit to the role even if it is not the fall down laughing performance.

I would definitely say that I prefer the sequel to the original, but I found that this was much better than I remembered.


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Cellular (2004)

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This is one of my favorite, underrated, unknown thrillers and, arguably, my favorite non-Captain America performance from Chris Evans.  Cellular was a small film from 2004, but it was filled with thrills and excitement.

Just as technology started to explode with cell phones, Cellular comes along and shows every little trouble with them and brings out the tension in the situation.  Everything from losing a signal in a tunnel or stairwell, low battery, and crossing lines, Cellular mines these little details into a life and death struggle.

Jessica (Kim Basinger), a high school science teacher is suddenly and unexpectedly kidnapped from her house and thrown into an attic.  Ethan (Jason Statham) and his crew want information from her about her husband, but Jessica is confused.  Ethan smashed the landline phone in the attic and leaves her locked up.

Ryan (Chris Evans) is a young, irresponsible man, out on the beach, trying to get his girlfriend to take him back.  When he picks up a call on his phone, he discovers that Jessica, who has been rubbing wires together on the smashed phone trying to contact anyone, is on the other side, begging him to take the phone to a police officer.  Ryan, despite thinking this was a joke, took the phone to the police station where he encountered Officer Mooney (William H. Macy), who because of sudden chaos breaking out at the station, sent Ryan to a different section.

It was at this time when Ryan hears Ethan arrive and threaten Jessica and he understands that this is no joke.

Then the film dives headlong into a chase film that is as tension-filled and suspenseful as you can get.  Yes, there are a lot of times when you have to suspend disbelief to accept what has happened, but you can say that about any action film.  The films that are successful give you other reasons to suspend that disbelief than just the action bit.  In Cellular, you immediately connect with the relationship between Jessica and Ryan.  Ryan is remarkably likable and Chris Evans shows why he was a great choice to play Steve Rogers in the MCU.

Kim Basinger is not anyone’s victim here either.  She is shown as a mamma lion, willing to do whatever she has to do to protect her family.  She is not a damsel-in-distress and her strength and cleverness is clearly on display.

William H. Macy has a great role as well, providing the audience with a character that is meant to be like us.  He is a disgruntled cop preparing to leave the department and open a day spa.  Everything that happened in the day just stuck with him and he found himself dropped into the middle of the action.

Jason Statham was great as a villain.  This was the time in his career where he played a lot of villains in individual movies, but you could see here that he was heading for more with what he was able to bring to this performance.

There is humor, suspense, thrills.  You may never have heard of Cellular, but this is one that, if you have a couple of hours, will entertain you fully.  I loved Cellular.


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