Ghostbusters (1984)

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1984

Columbia Pictures

Directed and Produced by Ivan Reitman

Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Music by Elmer Bernstein

“Ghostbusters” written and performed by Ray Parker, Jr.

Parapsychologist Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting important ESP research at Columbia University (which involves tricking one of his students into believing she has psychic powers so he can get into her pants) when he’s called to the New York Public Library to investigate a genuine ghost sighting. Despite his best efforts to avoid going, he’s dragged to the library by his colleagues, Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) They encounter the spirit of a dead librarian and are thrilled that all their theories about the existence of the paranormal is validated. They dream of unlimited funding and academic success.

Unfortunately, Columbia University doesn’t see it that way as the trio are considered to be nuts. Well, Ray and Egon are. Peter is considered to be little more than a hustler and cheap con man. They’re fired from the university but that doesn’t phase Peter. In record time he’s persuaded Ray to mortgage his house (“Don’t worry about it! Everybody has three mortgages nowadays.”) in order to get the funds to develop and build equipment capable of capturing ghosts, buy a dilapidated firehouse one inspection away from being condemned and establish a ghost elimination service known as GHOSTBUSTERS. Their secretary, the sarcastic Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), mans the office. Ray buys a broken down ambulance he works on and refurbishes to transport their equipment they name “Ecto-1.” Although they’re initially looked upon as bunkum artists, the increase of paranormal activity in New York soon proves that they are legitimate and have to hire help, Winston Zeddmore who becomes the fourth Ghostbuster.

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Turns out that they really need the extra help. Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) seeks help from the Ghostbusters because a demonic spirit has possessed her refrigerator. And not long afterwards, possesses her as well. It’s Zuul, the servant of Gozer the Gozerian (Slavitza Jovan) the Sumerian god of destruction. Being The Gatekeeper, Zuul must join with The Keymaster, which has possessed the body of her next door neighbor, nebbishy accountant Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). In the meantime, the Ghostbusters have learned that Ivo Shandor, a mad scientist designed the building Dana and Louis live in as a gateway to bridge our world with that of the dimension Gozer inhabits, granting it access to Earth and thereby causing the end of the world.

Time to strap on the proton packs, heat ‘em up, make ‘em hard and show that prehistoric bitch how things are done downtown.

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What can possibly be said about GHOSTBUSTERS that you haven’t heard or read before? Well, how about this; if Neil Simon and Don Coscarelli had ever decided to get together and make a movie, it might have turned out something like this. It’s a uniquely New York movie in attitude and tone that reminded me of Simon what with that unique New York way of looking at things and how New Yorkers talk while the blend of the supernatural with science fiction reminded me of Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” movies. The unique blending of comedy, science fiction and the supernatural shouldn’t have worked but due to the talent behind and in front of the camera and the exceptionally strong story, it does so in magnificently successful fashion.

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And that is the key to GHOSTBUSTERS; the story. Writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis didn’t think up a bunch of gags and then write a story around the gags. They wrote a story first and let the gags grow out of the situation and the characters. And make no mistake about it; the movie has terrific characters, all of them. I especially like how the Ghostbusters themselves are portrayed as blue-collar scientists. Just because they have Ph.D.’s and IQs off the charts doesn’t mean that they’re not regular guys. They smoke cigarettes. They drink beer. They like working on cars and machinery and getting their hands dirty. They eat a lot of junk food (this love of eating junk food carries over into 2016’s “Ghostbusters” where we see the all-girl team share that trait with these guys). They investigate the case of Dana’s hauntings using their particular skill sets; Ray researches the history and construction of the building, Egon consults Tobin’s Spirit Guide to find out who Zuul is while Peter…well, Peter is being Peter. And if you’ve seen GHOSTBUSTERS (and I can’t imagine anybody who hasn’t) you know what that means.

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As good as the entire cast is, it’s Bill Murray that puts the movie in his hip pocket and walks out the door with it. He gets the majority of the funniest lines in the movie. But let me say that Harold Ramis can get just as much of a laugh out of me with his facial expressions. And Dan Aykroyd is a master of technobabble that is bewilderingly comical. All four of the Ghostbusters have distinct personalities and Dana Barrett is right on the money when she says that Peter Venkman acts more like a game show host than a scientist. He’s a hustler, always on the make for a quick buck or a even quicker lay but when the chips are down, he’s the first one to make a deal with The Mayor of New York to give the Ghostbusters a chance to save the city and the world. And everybody plays the material straight. If anybody had broken character or winked at the camera it would have spoiled the movie. But the don’t and because they treat what’s happening as real, we do as well.

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Over the years, GHOSTBUSTERS has come to be hailed as a classic. It’s rightly considered one of the funniest movies ever made and the United States Library of Congress has preserved it in the National Film Registry. Like I said earlier, I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t seen GHOSTBUSTERS. And I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. It’s rare that a movie is a perfect blend of genres married with a terrific story and solid acting. GHOSTBUSTERS is that perfect blend.

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Ernie Hudson, left, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in a scene from the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters.” CREDIT: Sony Pictures [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Rated PG

105 Minutes

Breakin’

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1984

Canon Films/MGM/UA Entertainment Company

Directed by Joel Silberg

Produced by Allen DeBevoise/David Zito

Screenplay by Charles Parker/Allen DeBevoise/Gerald Scaife

Music by Michael Boyd/Gary Remal

Those of you who have listened to episodes of Better In the Dark where Tom Deja and I talk about 1980s movies already know how I feel about BREAKIN’. I’ve called it the “Gone With The Wind” and the “Citizen Kane” of breakdance movies. Not that there’s a whole lotta breakdancing movies as a genre to compare it to. But there’s many reasons why we still remember and love BREAKIN’ for what it does. Because what it does it does extraordinarily well and does it with no pretension whatsoever.

Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) is struggling to make it as a dancer in L.A. Along with her friend Adam (Phineas Newborn III) she studies jazz dancer under the tutelage of Franco (Ben Lokey) who believes in strict discipline and classicism when it comes to dance. He also has the hots for Kelly. Kelly wants to be a success and become a professional dancer but there are lines she will not cross. But she does cross one line when she becomes friends with street dancers Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones) and Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers). They may not be classically trained dancers but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the best. And they most certainly are. Except when it comes to battling their dance rivals Electro Rock.1428808894_4.pngOzone and Turbo could more than handle Electro Rock when it was just Poppin’ Pete (Timothy Solomon) and Pop N’ Taco (Bruno Falcon). But then they add a chick, Lil’ Coco (Vidal Rodriguez) and that changes the whole game. It changes it even more when Kelly offers to team up with Ozone and Turbo, forming a group called TKO that incorporates her jazz dance/classic moves with their street dance/breakdance. The results are a whole lot of fun to watch.

And make no mistake; there a solid reason why BREAKIN’ has lasted this long and is so highly regarded as a dance film. Well, by me at least. It’s just downright Fun to watch. And a large part of that is because I was there when all this was going on and it’s a way for me to revisit my past. My friends and I must have gone to see BREAKIN’ at least half a dozen times in the theaters (remember this is 1984. You could see a triple feature on Manhattan’s 42end St. for three bucks) breakin mar %2811%29

I will admit a large part of the reason why we went back to see it repeatedly was Lucinda Dickey. No great actress, she. But damn, she was smokin’ hot. In fact, none of the leads in BREAKIN’ were great actors. But they were authentic and honest and they had charisma and chemistry. Adolfo Quinones and Michael Chambers are like the Green Hornet and Kato of breakdancing. I love the fact that they unabashedly dress like superheroes. Because in their minds, that’s exactly what they are. And they made me believe they were. The relationship between the three characters is what drives a lot of the movie and they sell it. Not through their acting but through their personalities. That gives BREAKIN’ an almost documentary feel at times.

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But then there are other scenes such as Boogaloo Shrimp’s dance with a broom that is a homage to a similar scene Fred Astaire did in one of his movies. Boogaloo Shrimp’s breakdance homage to that scene is just as exhilarating and vital as the original. It’s the very definition of how one piece of art can influence another.

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This is the movie that infamously has Jean-Claude Van Damme as an uncredited dancer. And Christopher McDonald wins the “Who The Hell let HIM In This Movie?” award for this one.

That’s not to say that I can’t find any fault with the movie. Lucinda Dickey and Adolfo Quinones can’t sell the heavy emotional scenes between their characters. And I chalk it up to their simply not having enough experience to do so. But there is one scene where they do sell the emotion. Ozone takes Kelly to watch some street dancers. One of them is a kid on crutches. Despite the fact he does not have the use of his legs, he dances. Ozone points to him and says; “THAT is what dancing is all about. Look at his face.” A face that expresses nothing but pure joy. And that is exactly what BREAKIN’ is about. It’s about the pure joy of dancing. You want to honor what BREAKIN’ represents? Then get up and dance while you’re watching it. When the sound track plays a piece of music like Al Jarreau’s“Boogie Down” or Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”? get up and dance your ass off.

Rated PG 
1 hr. 30 minutes

 

 

A Million Ways To Die In The West

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2014

Universal Pictures

Directed by Seth MacFarlane

Produced by Seth MacFarlane, Scott Stuber and Jason Clark

Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild

I’ll give Seth MacFarlane credit for his ambition in making a western comedy. Mel Brooks pretty much had the last word in that genre with his side-splitting “Blazing Saddles” a film that to this day I still consider the funniest movie ever made. And Mel Brooks is safe as A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST comes nowhere near the level of hilarity that “Blazing Saddles” does. Oh, it tries hard and there are some touches here and there that are homages to “Blazing Saddles”: the overblown theme music that sounds as if it were scored for a straight-up Western Saga. The townspeople who act as a Greek chorus commenting on the antics of the main characters. The gleeful politically incorrect jokes.

But where Seth MacFarlane goes off course that there are long stretches of the movie where I think he forgot he was supposed to be making a comedy. I appreciate his efforts to give us an honest love story in there but he had no idea how to smoothly integrate the two. So we get a comedy that stops dead in its tracks for the love story which in turn has to be put on hold when MacFarlane realizes he hasn’t given us a joke in the last five minutes.

It’s Arizona, 1882 and as failing sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) puts it; “Out here everything that isn’t you is trying to kill you.” People in the town of Old Stump die in horrible, sudden ways and Albert is miserable. The only light in his life is his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) who dumps him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) a foppish dandy with a wicked mustache.

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During a bar brawl, Albert saves the life of Amanda (Charlize Theron) who has come to Old Stump with her brother. The two of them work on a friendship and Amanda encourages Albert to challenge Foy to a duel for Amanda’s hand in a week. Unfortunately, Albert is the worst shot in the West but luckily, Amanda just happens to be a markswoman of near supernatural skill who assures Albert she can teach him to shoot by then. Albert will need to be able to shoot but not for the reason he thinks. Amanda is the wife of Clinch Leatherwood, the most notorious gunfighter in the territory and when word gets back to him via Amanda’s brother (who really isn’t her brother but a member of Clinch’s gang assigned to keep an eye on her) that Amanda and Albert are getting way too close for comfort, Clinch comes to town intending to kill him.

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This actually is a pretty good Western story and if you took the comedy out of the movie entirely you still would have a solid Western, especially when the situation gets complicated with Albert and Amanda actually falling in love and Albert having to sort out exactly which woman and which life he wants. But where the problem comes in is that first of all the movie is simply too long to support such a slim story. Clocking in at 116 minutes there just aren’t enough jokes to justify that running time and as a result we have long stretches devoted to the love story which is actually kinda sweet and charming.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Seth MacFarlane’s performance but I myself didn’t have a problem with it. No, he’s no great actor but he has a sincerity and unpretentiousness about him that I like. He knows he’s no Marlon Brando and doesn’t try to be. He does the best with what he’s capable of doing and for me that was good enough. Liam Neeson is terrific as always but I think somebody must have slipped him an alternate version of the screenplay as he acts as if he’s in a serious Western. It’s Charlize Theron who walks away with the acting honors in this one. She looks like she’s having a ton of fun being in a Western and glides back and forth between the comedic and the dramatic without a hitch or a bump.

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Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman provided a lot of the laughs for me as a Christian couple who have a truly unique relationship. She’s the town’s favorite whore who insists that she and her fiancé (Ribisi) wait until they’re married to have sex. The highlight of the movie is the many cameos sprinkled here and there. Some of them you’ll get right away. Some you won’t. I had no idea Ryan Reynolds and Ewan McGregor were in the movie until I read the credits at the end and there’s one cameo that had the audience we saw the movie with cheering and applauding.

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I have to say that the cinematography is absolutely fantastic. MacFarlane shot most of this movie in Monument Valley where so many classic Westerns were filmed and MacFarlane takes full advantage of the location. There are many scenes that are simply beautiful and it goes a long way to making A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST look and feel like a grown-up motion picture instead of like a TV pilot on steroids like “Ted”

So should you see A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST? I say yes, but if you haven’t seen it yet, try and catch a matinee instead of paying full price or even wait to rent. It’s a funny movie but nowhere near as funny as it could have been. The too-long running time and thinness of the story means that there’s no way to justify the long lag time between the jokes. Still, the cast is fun to watch and what the hell, it’s the summertime. You won’t hear me say this very often but I will in this case; go see A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST and be sure that when you turn off your cell phone before the movie starts, turn off your brain as well.

 

Rated R

116 Minutes

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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2014

American Empirical Pictures/Fox Searchlight Studios

Directed by and Screenplay by Wes Anderson

Produced by Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steve M. Rales and Scott Rudin

Story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness

One of the main characters in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL works in Mendl’s, a bakery that is renowned throughout the fictional European alpine country of Zubrowka. The confections that come out of Mendl’s are famous for not only tasting as if the angels themselves had baked them but they are also glorious works of art for the eye as well as for the tongue that one can spend hours just looking at, debating whether or not it’s too beautiful to be eaten.

That’s kind of an apt metaphor for this movie as well. Because THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is like a very rich cake or dessert that looks absolutely amazing and goes down very sweetly. Like other Wes Anderson movies, this one is an ornate visual treat.  A Wes Anderson movie doesn’t look like anybody else’s movies and I am thankful for that. He uses practical effects in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL such as miniatures, rear projection and matte painting. Right now some of you reading this are scratching your head and saying, “Why go through all that trouble? Why not just use CGI?” if so, then THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL in particular and Wes Anderson movies in general are not for you.

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The story of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is told in a flashback of a flashback and while that might sound confusing, it isn’t, trust me. We meet a Young Writer (Jude Law) in 1968 staying at the almost empty Grand Budapest Hotel. This once elegant establishment is slowly and stubbornly decaying beautifully. The Young Writer makes the acquaintance the hotel’s owner, Mr. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who takes a liking to the Young Writer and over a long dinner tells him the story of how Mr. Moustafa came to own The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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We now go to the 1930’s where Mr. Moustafa worked as a lobby boy at the hotel. Zero (Tony Revolori) is taken under the wing of the hotel’s concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) who acts like a benevolent monarch to the staff and an extraordinarily capable servant to the guests. Especially the ladies. And most especially the ones who are old and rich. M. Gustave reserves very special services for them (and a few men as well, it’s implied)

The plot (such as it is) gets going when one of M. Gustave’s conquests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies under mysterious circumstances. In her will she has left M. Gustave a priceless Renaissance Painting. Gustave’s claim on the painting is put in jeopardy by accusations from Madame D.’s son Dmitri (Adrian Brody) that Gustave himself murdered Madame D. Gustave takes the painting and goes on the run with the faithful Zero by his side, determined to clear himself and restore his good name.

And that’s really all you need to know about the plot because Wes Anderson doesn’t seem very interested in it himself. As usual, the strength of a Wes Anderson movie is the visuals and the characters. And Ralph Fiennes is indeed quite the character. Ralph Fiennes without a doubt delivers the best performance in the movie. On one level the character is totally ridiculous, delighting in his own pomposity, given to reciting or making up poetry on the spot. But on the other he’s supremely devoted to his position and his respect for the tradition of The Grand Budapest Hotel that is both endearing and in its own way, quite noble.

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His chemistry with Toney Revolori is delightful and one of the pleasures of the movie is to watch the wonderful friendship that develops between Gustave and Zero. The movie is chock full of interesting, quirky characters played by many familiar faces from Wes Anderson’s usual repertory of actors who appear in his movies such as Willem Dafoe, who is blackly hilarious as a hit man, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. But there’s a whole host of other actors who pop up in cameos that will give you a nice thrill when you see them.

How does this stack up with the other Wes Anderson movies I’ve seen? I wouldn’t put it on the same shelf as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” “Moonrise Kingdom” or “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” all of which are my favorite Wes Anderson movies. But I do rate it way higher than pretentious pap like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited”

It’s a luxurious and downright opulent movie that presents us with an entire world that has weight and depth and texture. I truly appreciate movies that don’t look like other movies and present stories a little bit skewed and makes me cock my head a bit to the side while watching it. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is well worth your time if you’re the type who likes your desserts just a little bit richer than is good for you. Enjoy.

Rated R

100 Minutes

The Wolf Of Wall Street

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2013

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Produced by Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Screenplay by Terence Winter

Based on “The Wolf of Wall Street” by Jordan Belfort

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. With THE WOLF OF WALL STREET this now makes five movies Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have collaborated on and I’ve enjoyed all of them (yes, even “Shutter Island. So there.) up to now. It’s not that THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a bad movie. At this point I don’t think that Scorsese or DiCaprio are capable of making a bad movie. But for me this wasn’t a very enjoyable or even satisfying movie.

It’s the story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) who in 1987 becomes a stockbroker at a well-established Wall Street firm. He’s as green as a Christmas tree until he’s mentored by his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in a totally hilarious extended cameo) who introduces Belfort to cocaine and encourages him to adopt a lifestyle totally dedicated to making money and then spending it in as lavish a lifestyle as that money will buy.

To achieve this, Belfort decides to open his own firm, going into partnership with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and hiring his friends, most of them petty drug dealers who Belfort trains to become as ruthless as he is in selling penny stocks. What are penny stocks you ask? Don’t worry if you don’t know. In one of the many breaking the fourth wall scenes in the movie, Belfort looks right at us in the audience and explains what they are and how he is able to manipulate them to grow his firm from working out of a dilapidated garage into a billion dollar company.

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And as the company grows, so does the excess. Belfort throws lavish parties in his home and in the office. Parties with plenty of drugs, hookers and booze. Belfort quickly becomes hooked on coke, Quaaludes and prostitutes but his real addiction remains making and spending money. Money that comes in so quickly and in such quantity that he soon is being investigated by FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) With the help of Brad Bodnick (Jon Bernthal) another one of his drug dealing friends, Belfort begins transferring money out of the country and into a Swiss bank. Belfort is starting to hear words from friends and family he doesn’t like. Words like “securities fraud” and “stock manipulation” which can earn you a twenty-five year government sponsored vacation, if you know what I mean. With the threat of the FBI breathing down his neck and his home life in shambles, what’s a multi-millionaire drug addict to do?

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 THE WOLF OF WALL STREET isn’t a story with a lot of surprises or twists and turns in the plot. We’ve seen it all before in other movies. In fact, if you’ve seen 2000’s “Boiler Room” starring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel and Ben Affleck then you have seen it as that earlier movie was also based on Jordan Belfort’s story. But for me it really isn’t a movie with much of a story at all. And even though I enjoy scenes of debauchery as much as the next guy, after the ninth or tenth scene of DiCaprio and his cohorts banging hookers while snorting blow offa their boobs I was tired of it already. You don’t have to keep hitting me over over the head with it. I get it, these guys like getting high and screwing prostitutes. Okay, fine. Let’s move on and tell the story.

I will say that when the movie goes into comedy mode it is very funny. There’s a scene where Belfort overdoses on Quaaludes that is absolutely hysterical and had not only myself but the entire audience Patricia and I saw the movie with crying with laughter. Yes, it’s that funny. As I mentioned earlier, Matthew McConaughey is also very funny in his brief but pivotal scenes. Jonah Hill continues to amaze me as I don’t find him funny at all in his comedies but he always makes me laugh when he’s being funny in a drama. Rob Reiner and Kyle Chandler also provide more than able backup in supporting roles as does Margot Robbie as Naomi Belfort. She’s a triple threat in that she’s unbelieveably gorgeous, wonderfully talented as an actress and gloriously uninhibited. I was pleasantly and delightfully surprised to see Jon Favreau and Joanna Lumley also show up doing their usual excellent work.

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But this is a movie that has a story that we’ve all seen way too many times already. It’s the rags-to-riches story of a guy with no conscience who rises to the mountaintop of power and wealth and brought down low by his flaws and weaknesses. There are plenty of individual scenes I liked a lot and made me laugh but taken as a whole, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET disappointed me. Still, it is a Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration so that makes it worth one viewing at least. But if I were you, I’d wait to Netflix it. This isn’t a movie you have to rush to the theaters to see unless you’re a major Scorsese or DiCaprio fan.

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One word of advice: the movie is rated R but I honestly think that it earned and should have gotten the NC-17. There are many scenes with graphic language, drug use and explicit sex. This is a movie that pushes the R rating as far as it can go and I ain’t lying. In fact, I can’t remember the last movie I saw before this one that used the ‘F’ word and it’s variations so many times. So don’t go see it and then complain about the language, nudity, sex scenes and drug usage ‘cause I’m telling you. It’s there, there’s a lot of it and Martin Scorsese ain’t the least bit shy about showing it to you.

Rated R

179 Minutes

 

 

 

 

The Family

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2013

EuropaCorp/Relativity Media

Directed by Luc Besson

Executive Producer: Martin Scorsese

Produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla and Tucker Tooley

Written by Tonino Benacquista based on his novel “Malavita”

If you’ve seen the trailer for THE FAMILY then perhaps like me, you were expecting a mob/crime comedy with plenty of laughs and inside jokes at Robert DeNiro’s expense, poking fun at the numerous gangster roles he’s played with able backup from Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones who have made more than a few crime/mob movies themselves and know the genre.  And yes, there are some laughs in THE FAMILY at the beginning of the movie.  But the longer the movie goes on, the fewer the laughs and by the time it gets to the end there’s an appalling no holds barred bloodbath with a platoon of mob hitmen shooting it out with a pair of teenagers wielding automatic weapons like Rambo on his best day while Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer are locked in a hideously vicious fight to the death with a killer roughly the size of Richard Kiel.

Giovanni Maznoni (Robert DeNiro) was once one of the most powerful mob bosses in Brooklyn and as such became a threat to The Boss of Bosses, Don Luchese (Stan Carp) who orders a hit on Maznoni and his family that fails. Giovanni turns snitch and Don Luchese goes to jail.  The Maznoni family enters the Witness Protection Program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and relocated to Normandy, France.

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This assignment is far from being easy duty for Stansfield. In fact, the Maznoni family are a collectively big pain in his ass due to the fact that they simply cannot stop being what they are: a mob family.  Giovanni has…anger management issues, let’s say and he’s easily irritated by such things as his tap water coming out brown and nobody taking it seriously. Wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t take kindly to the stereotypical comments that she overhears by pretending she doesn’t speak or understand French. Her response to such is…explosive, shall we say. Daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) is a sweet, soft spoken girl who falls in love with a substitute teacher who tutors her in math. She also has a ferociously violent streak that a Klingon would envy. Son Warren (John D’Leo) is a grifter/forger/hustler who in no time at all has his own junior mafia in his new school.

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The situation is complicated by Giovanni writing a tell all book about his life in the mob. A book that both Maggie and Stansfield tell him can never be published. And through a really bizarre coincidence I just couldn’t buy, Don Luchese finds out where the Maznonis are hiding out and sends a hit team to whack ‘em out and that takes us to the blood-soaked final showdown between the mob and the Maznoni family.

Here’s what I liked about THE FAMILY: The performances are first rate but I wouldn’t expect anything less from old pros like DeNiro, Pfeiffer and Jones.  But the kids step up to the plate and hold their own with the seasoned pros.  Dianna Agron I know from “Glee” and I was surprised to see how well she inhabited this character. The movie was actually almost over before I finally remembered where I knew her from. Judging just by this movie I’d say she has a career in movies if she wants it.  John D’Leo is also a lot of fun to watch as he maneuvers his way towards running his school with the finesse and cold-bloodedness of a Michael Corleone.

I also liked how the movie doesn’t have the kids or the wife BMWing about how they want to have a normal life and why can’t they just be a normal family.  This is a mob family who have accepted and embraced their lifestyle.  They’re criminals and they don’t make any excuses for it. For them this is their “normal” life

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The direction by Luc Besson is also first rate as I would expect from the writer/director/producer of some of my favorite action movies such as “Leon: The Professional” “The Fifth Element” the “Transporter” series “Taken” “Taken 2” and “District 13.”  And I think that’s the problem with THE FAMILY. Luc Besson is an action director and he seems uncomfortable with the comedy in this movie which puzzles me as I’ve seen “Angel-A” a couple of times and I know he can do comedy. Maybe what threw me off is the level of violence in THE FAMILY which is really bloody and brutal and really doesn’t mesh well with the comedy. Oh, there are are funny scenes and funny lines, don’t get me wrong. But right after that we’ll get a scene like the one with DeNiro and the plumber.  It’s a scene that would have been more at home in “Goodfellas” or “Casino” than in a movie that is billed as a comedy.

THE FAMILY

So should you see THE FAMILY? I say Yes. There’s really nothing wrong with THE FAMILY except for what I feel is an uneven tempo and off center mix of really violent violence with humor.  It’s as if Luc Besson really wanted to make this a full blown thriller but every once in a while an AD poked him with the script and reminded him he had to throw in a joke here and there.

112 minutes

Rated R

Jenny Ringo and The Cabaret From Hell

Jenny Ringo amended

 

2013

A Chris Regan Production

Directed by Chris Regan

Produced by Andrea Regan

Screenplay by Geraint D’Arcy

When we last left our heroine at the conclusion of “Jenny Ringo and The Monkey’s Paw” she was trapped in her own existential personal Hell, her reward/punishment for sacrificing herself to save her friend and flatmate Gavin (Lukas Habberton) from the curse of The Monkey’s Paw. When JENNY RINGO AND THE CABARET FROM HELL begins we see that Jenny Ringo (Rosie Duncan) is back in London, once again sharing a flat with her slacker/stoner BFF and none the worst for her harrowing experience. Which means of course that now I will have to unmercifully pester Chris Regan until he comes across with the story of how Jenny escaped from Hell as I’m sure it’ll be a doozy.

If you haven’t seen “Jenny Ringo and The Monkey’s Paw” yet, I strongly urge you to do so as it gives the background about Jenny’s magical powers (she’s a Wiccan) which she uses in this short film to switch bodies with Gavin. Not that she planned to, you see. But in order to get the money they need to pay their rent, Gavin (in Jenny’s body) has to get a job as a singer in a local cabaret. Naturally it turns out that the cabaret and it’s sinister MC (Andromeda Godfrey) are not what they seem and it’s up to Jenny and Gavin to sort things out.

Like the first Jenny Ringo adventure, this one is a goofy mix of horror and comedy with a pair of delightful leads. Rosie Duncan is again wonderful as Jenny. She’s not as sarcastic or as snarky in this one. Maybe’s Jenny’s sojourn in Hell has made her kinder and gentler. She’s still no less the take charge, no nonsense Jenny I fell in love with in the first film.

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Lukas Habberton is a bit off his game in the first half of the story when it seems to me that he’s trying too hard to “act” but he redeems himself in the second half when Gavin and Jenny have switched bodies. The both of them do some really fine work with their respective body languages that convinced me more than anything else that the characters had actually switched bodies. Andromeda Godfrey makes the most of the screen time she has to create a creepy and credible antagonist for our heroes.

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As in the first one, there’s a musical sequence and I liked this one better than the one in the previous film since it’s performed by Lukas Habberton and Rosie Duncan and it’s a musical sequence that isn’t dropped in just for the sake of having one but it’s tied into the story’s resolution. This film doesn’t look as polished as the production looks to have been done on a smaller budget than the first one but it’s just as much fun. The ending gives a hint of further adventures for Jenny and Gavin and I hope so. JENNY RINGO AND THE CABARET FROM HELL is a well-paced, fun and entertaining 30 minutes and while watching it I felt like I was catching up with a couple of friends. It’s well worth your time. Enjoy.

JENNY RINGO AND THE CABARET FROM HELL is available for viewing online at Vimeo for those who bounce on over to www.jennyringo.com and sign up on the mailing list.