Box o’ Random: The Ref (1994)

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Rating: 7.5/10

Lloyd (Kevin Spacey) and Caroline (Judy Davis) are a dysfunctional married couple who are kidnapped coming home from a couples therapy session by Gus (Denis Leary) who’s on the run from the police. It quickly involves more people from Lloyd’s and Caroline’s family into a romp through just how messed up one family can be.

This movie stands out as one that is both original and hilarious, but seems to have been released and then immediately faded from the minds of the public. It’s too bad as this feels like it could have been something of a staple for the R-rated Christmas movie, something there should definitely be a few more of.

There isn’t a whole lot to complain about, I mean, this movie isn’t perfect by any means. But I can’t find a lot of fault in it. The story is paced fine and moves well, the acting isn’t anything to turn your head but it’s nothing to scoff at either. The only thing I can really say that’s negative is that some of the jokes didn’t fly, or felt they were better on paper, but it ends up being a truly hilarious movie.

Random Thoughts: I knew if I kept watching movies randomly I’d eventually get to a good one. Too bad it has Kevin Spacey in it…

SCORING:

+7.5: Pretty darn good all around

My List: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Rating: 10+/10

This movie is the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black, American police officer who decided after making detective in Colorado, that he should infiltrate the KKK and does so successfully in the 1970s.

This movie is great, directed by Spike Lee and produced by Jordan Peele, I think it’s going to stand out as both a great movie of this year, but one of the best movies of all time. Actually, I think I’ve already decided this is one of my perfect movies so I’m just going to tell you the only thing that made me go “I don’t know if I like this…” throughout the whole film. That’s something they do at the very end. They use actual news footage of modern day events to show that things are essentially the same as they were in this movie (and they’re right…). It does make a point, and I decided afterwards that I do like this section. But, at the time, I thought it was just a bit tacky. It makes a good point though, so I forgive it for its tackiness.

Outside of that one, minor thing, I thought this movie did an amazingly good job of conveying its message along with making this an amazing experience all around. It uses humor, drama, music, and setting, to recreate real events. All the film’s elements come together to make a movie that puts the story first and foremost, and doesn’t mind using a little comedy to tell a story that, though true, is just a tad ridiculous. Still, I hope this isn’t the only time that Spike Lee and Jordan Peele work together. They’re already great filmmakers on their own, but here, they have shown that, as a team, they can do truly amazing things.

Why you should watch it before you die: Recommended for anyone who’s mature enough to watch a movie with a lot of racism. This movie should be watched by all at one point in their life.

SCORING:

10+: Totally perfect, not a single mistake, and totally unapologetic about telling a good, true story

The Wife (2017)

Rating: 9/10

Joe and Joan Castleman (Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close, respectively) play a husband and wife. Joe has been writing for several years and informs everyone that “his wife doesn’t write.” Then he’s informed that he’s won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and takes Joan and their son David (Max Irons) to Stockholm, Sweden to accept the award.

This film had more twists than one might expect for a drama, or a movie about this subject matter, so for that I am very impressed that they could make this an emotional, character-driven piece that also has a compelling plot told in an interesting way. Take note Oscar contenders, this is how Oscar movies should be made.

Aside from the compelling story, I also have to applaud the acting. Pryce, Close, and Irons are all great, but so is young Joe and Joan (Harry Lloyd and Annie Starke, respectively) that we see in the flashbacks, taking up more than a quarter of the film, but they do it so well I hardly noticed that we were watching different actors than the principal cast. Also, Christian Slater plays a biographer who wants to make Joe the subject of his next book. Though he’s not a huge part in the film, he plays the character beautifully.

One last complement, that’s the music throughout the film is particularly good. Jocelyn Pook is a terrific composer and she shows it here just as much as all the films she’s scored.

I don’t have much to complain about, though there’s something about the ending that didn’t really jive with me, though I can’t talk about it without spoiling something.

SCORING:

+8: Great drama with an excellent story

+1: Terrific acting

+1: Great score

-1: Just minor complaints I have about the ending and conveniences

My List: Scrooged (1988)

Rating: 9/10

Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a TV exec who cares more about viewers and making money than he does about his employees or morality in general. Then, a dead friend of his tells him he’s going to be visited by three ghosts on Christmas Day, around noon. I mean, the title says it all: This Christmas, Bill Murray is getting Scrooged.

This movie pulls off a feet that’s probably harder to do than you think, it makes a Christmas film not feel like a Christmas film. Here we have a lot of laughs and it’s going through a familiar formula of redoing A Christmas Carol that plasters it right on the cover and then hang a lampshade on it by also doing it as a live performance for the made up IBC, the television station that Frank works for. They take the beats of the original story and throw the rest away as we travel through this fun journey of a film with Frank’s three ghosts guiding us. Though it’s a rehash of an old tale, it feels wholly original.

The ghosts themselves are great, even the ghost of Christmas Future, who we all know is a very silent person so not much to rate their “performance,” but the art design is amazing. Especially when Frank opens his cloak to see what’s underneath. Along with the performances/design of the ghosts, all the side characters are especially well acted as well. I have to applaud Bobcat Goldthwait as well for his performance. He’s a side character for most of the film, but he really comes back and almost steals the end of the film. You can really tell the director, Richard Donner, went through this project with a lot of heart, first and foremost.

My only real complaint is the first act is just a tad long and parts are a bit too serious, though maybe that helps build the hilarity later on. It’s all great after the ghost visits him in his office.

Why you should watch it before you die: It’s a great Christmas film and a great 80s flick. I think if you’re looking for something that’s not your typical Christmas movie, there’s not much better than this entry into the sub-genre.

SCORING:

+7: Pretty darn good all around

-1: First act is a bit too serious

+1: Great comedy

+1: Great overall performances

+1: Bonus point due to Christmas Magic

My List: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Rating: 10+/10

Take one of the best stories ever written and telling it with muppets. Not a bad idea. The story we all know and love has never been more timeless than it is here. Bittersweet as it was, coming out only two years after the death of Jim Henson and directed by his son Brian Henson comes one of the best renditions of the classic tale told in one of the most delightful ways possible: With a bunch of muppets.

Michael Caine gives a terrific performance as the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge. Truly, I never thought Caine could be so mean, considering how passive most of his characters seem to be. He does his job so well here that you won’t even mind that most muppets are basically side characters in this one. Combined with this is some of the best music in any muppet movie and it’s probably one of my favorite christmas movies of all time.

Why you should watch it before you die: Simply because it’s the most delightful rendition of this classic tale. The muppets capture the magic of christmas better than anyone has quite since then.

SCORING:

10+: The most perfect christmas movie. I’m not sure any in this sub-genre of film has even come close.

0089: It Happened One Night (1934)

Rating: 10+/10

Ellie (Claudette Colbert) is trying to get back to her fiance when she runs into Peter (Clark Gable) as a reporter who’d just recently been fired and is trying to find a good story to get him back into the business. When he discovers she’s an heiress on the run he weasels himself into letting him help her.

I was really surprised by this movie. Only because I knew it was the first movie to win the top five categories of the Oscars (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay) I was expecting something over dramatic and emotional. Instead I got a very lighthearted romantic comedy with some really relatable characters and situations, along with some great laughs. This movie was really fun the whole way through.

Why you should watch it before you die: I don’t have anything to complain about. It has a great script, characters, acting, editing, etc. I think it qualifies as a perfect movie. Being above and beyond that of other movies simply because all the parts come together flawlessly. Everyone who had a part on the picture performed it well.

SCORING:

10+: I could berate this movie for having a couple cliches I noticed in romantic comedies from the nineties, but there was only one or two of them, and this movie didn’t know they’d be doing the same things it was 60 years later.

0149: Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

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Rating: 7.5/10

2 chorus dancers, Bubbles (Lucille Ball) and Judy (Maureen O’Hara) after the club they work at is shut down for illegal gambling, they are desperate for work. While Bubbles gets lucky and finds a job as a burlesque dancer, Judy is less fortunate as she struggles through the death of her ballet teacher and is forced into a life of poverty. That is until Bubbles gets her a job dancing as her “stooge” or the woman who dances ballet in between Bubbles sexier acts. Judy discovers immediately that this is met with jeers from the almost all male audience trying to get the main act back on stage.

This movie was a critical and commercial failure when it was released in 1940. However, this movie got a resurgence in the 70s, over thirty years later, in the feminist movement as being what was described at the time as a “rare example of a movie that empowers women.” And it does that, and I’m glad I watched it, even if I didn’t think it was a great movie.

So, let’s get into that. First I think that the dancing itself was really top notch. However, it spends too much time on some of the burlesque scenes, especially later in the movie. The music that’s sung is also very good during these parts, even if they are a bit long.

The story itself is lacking. The screenwriter probably just wanted something simple so they could spend more time on the singing and dancing aspect. Even so, I still felt that the character of Judy had a very believable character arc and Maureen O’Hara does a terrific job playing a shy dancer. So, even though the story doesn’t have a lot going for it, what is there it succeeds with implementing it.

My last complaint is the comedy. I feel like maybe they were trying to market this as a comedy, and maybe that’s why it didn’t sell so well. I’m not actually sure about that but it just feels that way. It has a few moments throughout the film of levity, but none of it really succeeds because it always undercuts serious moments of character drama and creates comic relief at points that just feel wrong. If they wanted comedy, they should have started scenes with some levity before things got serious rather than the other way around.

Why you should watch it before you die: This is a pretty darn entertaining musical-Drama. Though I feel it’s probably not the most memorable movie, there’s a lot of entertainment to be had for this 90-minute flick.

SCORING:

+5.5: Pretty good musical-Drama

+1: Well done songs

+1: Great choreography

-1: Terrible comedic timing

-1: Somewhat lacking story

+1: Great performance by Maureen O’Hara

+1: Bonus undead point, since this movie did “rise from the grave” after 30+ years of being dead and buried

0460: Vinyl (1965)

Rating: 0/10

Andy Warhol, one of the most famous American artists of the 20th century, at one point read the book “A Clockwork Orange” and then decided to make this film. In it, a man named Victor is betrayed by his best friend, Scum Baby, who turns him into the police for…ripping up some guy’s book…I think? Then he’s tied to a chair and forced to watch videos….for reasons. This movie is almost, but not quite, completely different from Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, and it’s only slightly closer to the book.

Okay, this movie fails for pretty much every reason. First, it’s filmed in a single location and the camera never moves. It’s also black and white, which isn’t really a problem, except it’s so low-quality everything is so grainy it’s literally hard to watch. Secondly, the way it’s set up and presented makes me think this whole thing is a recording of a high school play that somebody’s dad threw on because he’s just that proud of his son. Third, for a “short” 75 minute runtime the whole movie feels like the filmmaker was doing his best to just drag out the film as much as possible. Every scene is somehow 10 or even 20 times longer than it should be. This whole film could have been about five minutes, each bit shortened to it’s bare essentials, and we would have gotten, well, actually a much better YouTube video (essentially) which does the exact same thing as this film. And that YouTube video wouldn’t be any good either! Lastly and most importantly, this movie has no plot, no arcs, only the least amount of character development possible, and just a bunch of scenes that hardly have anything to do with the others. 

Why you should watch it before you die: I get that this movie is “artistic” and I get that Andy Warhol probably had some kind of point in mind when he made this movie, but whatever it is, it’s not clear to me. I would recommend it only to people who need something to throw on in the background of the orgy they’re having.

SCORING:

0: It’s so hard to make something so solidly mediocre. It’s not good enough to be good, it’s not bad enough to be enjoyable for it’s mistakes. It’s just right in the middle, and somehow keeps it up throughout the whole movie, never causing the audience to feel a single emotion aside from general confusion and a distant feeling in the back of one’s brain of “why am I still watching this?” I guess, if that was the artist’s intent, then well done Mr. Warhol, well done.