Monthly Archives: July 2013

What does two men playing cards, $100,000,000 and a lot of clicking noises equal? The South African film The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980).

I had forgotten about this film until someone recently mentioned it to me.  When I heard the title I knew I had to review it because to this day it is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen.  It is a light-hearted film about who has the better life the “uncivilized” bushman of the Kalahari Desert or the people living in a “civilized” world with all the modern problems and stresses of everyday life.  Apparently the film generated much controversy and the government of Trinidad and Tobago even went so far as to ban it.  You’ve got to be kidding me—banning the Gods Must Be Crazy!  What film are they watching?


It is a simple film with three plot lines that starts with a Coke bottle falling out of the sky (tossed from a passing airplane) and is found by a tribe of Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert.  The bottle, being unique and beautiful, leads to the new feelings of jealousy and conflicts within the tribe.  So the leader of the tribe, Xi, decides to travel to “the end of the Earth” to return this gift to the Gods who, Xi believes dropped it.  As he travels to the end of the Earth, he encounters civilization, and civilization is shown to be ugly, cruel and insane compared to the simple, Eden like life of Xi’s blessed, relaxed people.  The second plotline has Mr. Stayn, a scientist working in the game reserve, meeting Miss Thompson, a school teacher, to whom he‘s attracted, but Stayn cannot do anything right around women.  The third has Sam Boga lead an unsuccessful military junta and becomes a fugitive running from the law in neighboring country.  Boga takes Miss Thompson and her class hostage during his flight.  Mr. Stayn and Xi, who temporarily works as a guide, help free the hostages, capture Boga and his men, and Stayn finally is able to relate his feelings to Miss Thompson.

The film has many slapstick moments that actually work in the picture.  One scene has Sam Boga’s gang burst into the President’s cabinet room only to have the doors slam back on them as they try to shoot the President and his subordinates.  Two of Boga’s men (that are constantly playing cards) are trying to shoot down a helicopter that is chasing them with a bazooka only to first shoot a bunch of bananas and have the shells keep falling out of the weapon before finally blowing up their pursuers.  The two go back to playing cards and try to every chance they get.  It may sound corny but it actually works.  Xi eventually saves the day by tranquilizing Boga and his men and eventually finds himself at the top of a cliff with a solid layer of low-lying clouds obscuring the landscape below. This convinces Xi that he has reached the edge of the world, and he throws the bottle off the cliff; this scene was filmed in South Africa (now Mpumalanga)), at the edge of the escarpment between the Highveld and of South Africa.  Xi then returns to his tribe and a warm welcome from his family.

Frankly people who call the film racist or anything along those lines just needs to calm down.  The fact of the matter is that the film grossed $100,000,000 worldwide shattering box office records in many countries.  The film also spawned two authorized sequels and three unauthorized films made in Hong Kong.  It is a great lighthearted film that equally funny for adults and children alike.  I suggest you watch this grainy classic and take it for what it is—a movie.

The Start of all the trouble is a simple Coke bottle.

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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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That is it; I’ve had it with Hollywood. Why? Simple their re-make of the 47 Ronin has already pushed me over the edge.

Recently I was informed that a remake of the legendary Japanese tale of the 47 Ronin was set to be released around Christmas 2013. However, I was also warned not to watch any of the trailers. Like a fool, I did not listen and took it upon myself to search out the “official” trailers on You Tube. To my horror I saw them. Not only is Hollywood stealing one of the greatest legends of Japan but, based on the trailers I’ve seen, desecrating it. It looks like there is some huge fantasy angle to it because you see some dragons and other strange creatures. Even though they are just the trailers, every line I heard out the Keanu Reeve’s mouth was from the planet cornball and predictability. I don’t particularly care if Hollywood wants to make some fantasy quasi-samurai movie but for all our sakes don’t call it the 47 Ronin!

I happen to believe that Japan should lodge an official protest with the United States government and/or sue the makers of this film for making excrement out of a legend based on a true story. Is Hollywood really as creatively bankrupt as Detroit is financially? I think so.

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Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Movie Reviews



Gangster Squad (2013) starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte and Emma Stone. You’d think with this cast one could not make a bad movie, but you would be wrong this one really sucks.

Sean Penn has long been a favorite actor of mine.  His career includes such classics as Bad Boys, Fast Times at Ridgmont High, 21 Grams and U Turn but to add Gangster Squad to his list has got to be killing him and he should kill his agent for getting him into it.

I’ve never been a Josh Brolin fan and now I remember why.  His is a poor man’s Tommy Lee Jones at best and it is especially true in this movie.  Moreover, the writing in this film is akin to something a freshman in high school could do.  The film is just that train wreck you can’t take your eyes off of.  Gangster Squad is a film that really should be watched by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang.

Sean Penn play Mickey Cohen, a 1940-50’s gangster in Los Angeles who also happens to be a good boxer.  Penn I think is wearing face putty as part of his make-up and has a positively awful—almost comical accent.  And as the ruthless gangster that he is terrorizes both his henchmen and innocent civilians alike.  Our poor man’s Tommy Lee Jones is a former OSS officer from WWII that police chief Nick Nolte thinks can take down Cohen and his criminal empire.  However, according to the chief, this has to be done off the books otherwise someone else will just step in to take Cohen’s place.  “I want to talk to you about the war for the soul of Los Angeles.” That’s the exact line Nick Nolte’s police chief uses to give Brolin his assignment, and the dialogue only gets more ridiculous from there, with moronic screenwriter Will Beall aping the hard-boiled detective films of the past with no understanding of what made that old school purple dialogue work. The story doesn’t help anything either, starting with two scenes of grotesque violence and then idling forever before putting together the actual squad you’ve come to the theater to see.  With the help of his angelic, pregnant wife (of course she’s pregnant) O’Mara assembles the customary blend of outlaws and roughnecks; the only one with any actual personality is Ryan Gosling’s Jerry, a smooth-talking cop with a gangster for a best friend and a dangerous eye for Grace (Emma Stone), Mickey Cohen’s kept woman.

An early scene between Gosling and Stone– who were so fantastic together in Crazy Stupid Love– falls flat under the weight of the old-fashioned patter, and it’s a dismal preview of the many flat scenes to come, even among squad members played by greats like Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie and Michael Pena. Everyone is acting furiously, Gosling with an odd high voice, Brolin with his locked grimace– and nobody is getting anywhere, as the gangster squad embarks on a few half-baked schemes for catching Cohen with no sense of strategy or rising tension. We’re told that Los Angeles is crumbling under Cohen’s corruption, but we’re never shown it, and the stakes behind all these bloodbaths start to feel further away, until Fleischer’s stylized and slowed-down violence becomes dull, then repulsive.

Combining the worst of modern action sensibilities with a Disney World recreation of the past, while also wasting some of the most interesting screen talents out there, Gangster Squad is an incredibly frustrating film.

Furthermore, the movie is 2 hours long making it viewing even more tortious.



Posted by on July 21, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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The Gruesome Death of Angel Fernandez (no relation) or Scarface (1982) Starring Al Pacino, (a very young) Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio making her feature debut and written by Oliver Stone.

When I hear Brian De Palma’s name strangely not much comes to mind.  I am not sure why because he directed Scarface, Carlito’s Way, The Untouchables and Bonfire of the Vanities but for some reason his name seems to stay under the radar.  Be that as it may, Scarface came up in conversation over the Mariel Boatlift, Castro’s announcement that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. were free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana the first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the very next day.  What the person I was discussing this event with didn’t know was that Castro used this opportunity to empty out some prisons and insane asylums.  Enter Tony Montana a/k/a “Scarface” the one time Cuban peasant turned Miami drug lord.

I was very young when I saw this film and I think because of its hardcore nature I thought it was great.  To my surprise, the film during its run was apparently shunned by many and earned Brian De Palma’s a Worst Director Razzie.  Apparently this movie is like a fine wine has acquired a large enough following during the 25-plus years since its release to push it into “cult classic” category.  When viewed today, Scarface seems less shocking than it did during its initial theatrical run and there is limited entertainment value for those who savor over-the-top, gratuitous exploitation, but the level of quality is I believe is such that Scarface deserves a full re-evaluation by the critical community.  It has become a benchmark for other films within its genre.

Look at the numbers.  Scarface was released on December 9, 1983, grossing $4.6 million in its opening weekend.  The film went on to make $45.4 million in North America and $20.5 million internationally for a worldwide total of $65.9 million (over $135 million, when adjusted for inflation, as of 2010).  Scarface also served as a stepping stone for Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio who would each go on to bigger and better things.

Scarface is also one of a very few remakes that Hollywood got right.  Scarface is a remake of a 1932 film of the same name, although only the structural skeleton remains.  The decision was made to shift the action from Depression-era Chicago to Miami around the time of the 1980 Mariel Harbor boat lift as a means to give the movie new relevance.  It’s interesting to note that De Palma apparently wanted to do a Chicago prohibition picture, since that’s what he did four years later with The Untouchables.  However, although Scarface is set in Miami, most of it was filmed in California due to opposition from the Miami tourist board.

As far as the story goes, in 1980, Cuban refugee Tony Montana arrives in Miami during the Mariel boatlift.  He, along with his best friend Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer), and their friends and associates Angel (Pepe Serna) and Chi-Chi (Ángel Salazar), are sent to “Freedom Town,” a refugee camp.  In exchange for killing a former Cuban government official at the request of cocaine trafficking player Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) in revenge for torturing his brother to death, the group is released from Freedom Town and given citizenship.  Once out of Freedom Town, the gang is offered a deal by Frank’s henchman Omar Suarez (F. Murray Abraham) to buy cocaine from some Colombian dealers.  The deal goes a little south and Angel Fernandez is dismembered with a chainsaw by the Colombians in the shower.  Some have compared what De Palma accomplishes in that scene to what the director’s hero, Alfred Hitchcock, did when Janet Leigh took her shower in Psycho.  It is impressive how the scene manages to suggest X-rated violence without showing explicit carnage the vivid sound of the saw, some splashes of blood, and a lot of frantic fast-cutting is all that’s needed to convince us we have seen something more horrific than what is before our eyes.

After checking out some women, but too late for angel, Manny and Chi-Chi finally storm the apartment before Tony get butchered, and the Colombians are killed.  Tony and Manny insist on personally giving Frank the money and drugs retrieved from the deal.  Impressed, Frank hires Tony and Manny. During their meeting, Tony meets, and is instantly attracted to, Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer), Frank’s girlfriend.

From there the film follows the rise of Montana to the dizzying height of drug kingpin to his spectacular fall in the final shootout when he famously says “Say hello to my little friend!” spoken by Montana of his M16A1’s M203-military grade grenade-launcher.  And it is a long rise and fall—the film is over three hours long, probably to long for many viewers.

I can’t tell you if you’ve got a spare three hours that you must watch this film.  Scarface is not for everyone—not even close.  But as I noted before, the movie has become a standard by which others within its genre are measured against.  That, combined with its cult classic status, make it worthy of watching for the more serious movie viewer.  So don’t say I didn’t warn you, but I will watch it again simply because I like it.

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Posted by on July 18, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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Our guest reviewer and ex-military man TV look at Lord of War (2005).

Lord of War (2005) is written, produced and directed by Andrew Niccol, co-produced by and starring Nicolas Cage.  It loosely follows the life and exploits of Viktor Bout (to see Bout’s personal website go to  Nicholas Cage plays a somewhat fictionalized Bout, by the name of Yuri Orlov.  Both men are of Ukrainian decent, though the movie does take poetic liberties and outright fictionalizes elements of the Viktor Bout Story (Merchant of Death).  The movie is an exceptional tour de force in revisiting the history of gun running in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The Movie is essentially broken down into five parts.

1. Young Yuri Orlov’s First Sale

2. Pre-Cold War Gun Running

3. Post-Cold War Running

4. Monrovia

5. Consequences—or lack thereof

Lord of War opens in Brighton Beach New York.  There our young immigrant Yuri Orlov works at the family restaurant.  He goes across to the Palace Restaurant, where Yuri strangely finds his calling as a gun runner while caught as a bystander during a Russian Mob hit.

Soon after Orlov near “hit” experience he begins supplying local hoods with run of the mill Uzi sub machine guns.  Dispirited that the profit margins are too low, he engages his younger brother Vitali as a partner, “Brothers in Arms” seems to be their motto.  Orlov begins selling small arms to Columbian Narco Guerillas, elements of the Druise Christian Militia in Lebanon and the Afghan Mujhahadeen (later known as the Taliban).  During these sales his brother Vitali develops an addiction to cocaine.  The addiction is so blatant that he finds Vitali making a map of the Ukraine with lines of cocaine that he soon snorts.  A new, yet controversial form of cartography.

Once Vitali is in rehab, Orlov recognizes he is not entirely free of the grip of addiction himself as he gazes upon a larger than life ad of his longtime dream girl Ava Fontaine.  Initially, despite her suspicions, Orlov successfully manipulates Ava into believing he is in the global air freight business (not really a lie he just does not mention what the freight is).  Unfortunately, the plot could have been made far better by the addition of the few delete scenes depicting Ava as a U.N. Human Rights model, strictly opposed to the spread of firearms.  Naturally after the consummation of the marriage the Soviet Union collapses opening a torrent of arms sales, unprecedented absent global world war.

Starting with the fall of the USSR, the movie begins to match the real exploits of the Viktor Bout.  Bout, previous to his trial and conviction at the United States District Court Southern District of New York in 2011, had not resided in New York or the U.S.  However, both men did expand the bulk of their operations into Africa selling weapons.  Viktor Bout began selling weapons in Angola then in Sierra Leone.  The movie focuses on Yuri Orlov’s sales to a fictitious “Monrovia” (probably a country like Sierra Leone or the Sudan) led by Andre Baptiste Sr. and his son Andre Baptiste Jr., both are cannibals who believe that eating the heart of their enemies will somehow empower them.

The movie reaches its long climax when the President of Monrovia visits The Lord of War (Orlov) at this New York apartment, because Orlov is unable to run guns due to a pending Interpol investigation and troubles with the wife.  By then Yuri Orlov had been persuaded to eliminate the same competition.

Not being able to say no to significantly increased profit margins our The Lord of War reengages his former client and returns to his station as his main weapons supplier.  The move would prove costly as it was profitable.  In the long run, Orlov’s brother is killed in a (stupidly) failed attempt to thwart a massacre with the very arms Orlov is selling.  Thereafter his own wife rats him out to the authorities, then leaves him for good.  His family disowns him.  The trade, however, must go on.

The movie works for a number of different reasons.  It is well written and well edited.  Nicholas Cage, who does take just about any work throw his way, is tailor made for the role as an amoral antihero with a good mind for business, but no moral compass to guide him.  The supporting cast does a superb job.

Ethan Hawke as Jack Valentine, the incorruptible Interpol agent is the very opposite of Orlov and gives the movie depth and balance.

Jared Leto as Vitaly Orlov, the hapless party animal with a moral compass, but with a more compelling addiction to drugs, alcohol and high end call girls

Bridget Moynahan as Ava Fontaine, the trophy wife and U.N. model is a good contrasting role as well.

Eamonn Walker as André Baptiste Sr. who plays the perfect third world dictator and Sammi Rotibi as André Baptiste, Jr. both are as genuine a portrayal of the Charles Taylor type of dictators who continue to wage wars of completely indiscriminate violence to the day.

Ian Holm as Simeon Weisz, who cautions Yuri Orlov to seek order and balance and to pick sides and is ultimately murdered in the chaos that the Old Guard feared.

Donald Sutherland (voice only) as Colonel Oliver Southern- is a great bit actor, playing the black-bag military operator who lurks in the shadows funding secret wars. And who pays Yuri for the “inconvenience” of being detained by our Interpol agent.

The final scene where I have never seen someone so burned before in my life does carry an interesting message though.  As Yuri is paging through the New York Times he begins pointing to various not so nice groups of armed men.  He then points out that the President of the United States, the largest arms dealer in the world, needs people like him because the President wants/needs to arm certain groups that he can’t be seen doing business with.  Thus Yuri intimates to his Interpol captor that they are both working on the same side just different arms (no pun intended) of the government.  Then the knock at the door . . .

All in all I give Lord of War an A- .  I would advise the viewer to watch it twice.  First to watch it, then watch the deleted scenes regarding Ava Fontaine before the second viewing.  The inclusion of this sub plot would have mate Lord of War a Straight A.  My guess is that the powers that be already though they had enough film as it was already running over two hours in length.


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Posted by on July 2, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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