December 21, 2014

A Night in Old Mexico

A Night in Old Mexico stars Robert Duvall as a widowed man who is about to lose his family ranch to the bank and he's on the verge of suicide. When his grandson shows up out of the blue, the two decide to head down into Mexico for a night of "singing, dancing, and women" as a way of casting off their problems.

Meanwhile, a drug deal in town goes bad and two drifters wind up hitchhiking along with Duvall and grandson. Some things get more complicated when a Mexican hitman stars tailing them around town, and before long the two cowboys don't realize how much trouble they are in.

Throw in a beautiful singer they picked up from a bar, a mysterious drug cartel guy who wants his loot back, plus lots of cold cervezas, and you get a recipe for one wild night.

It's hard to believe Robert Duvall is 80+ years old because he sure doesn't act like it in this movie. I enjoyed this one. It's from the same screenwriter as Legends of the Fall and The Perfect Storm.

December 17, 2014

Short Term 12

Short Term 12 is a drama about some twenty-somethings working at a shelter for teenage foster children. It focuses on a few of the kids and the problems they are trying to work around while the employees do their best to help them out. I found it to be a really well crafted story.

The story begins with a new guy getting oriented to the facility. During an introduction to the group, he makes the mistake of referring to the kids as "underprivileged" and they get very upset at him about that. To me, the new guy was there to represent the outsider's point of view like someone who really doesn't get the reality of the situation faced by the kids.

Multiple running plot lines help keep this going as we see that everybody has something they are coping with or trying to avoid. One worker is trying to hide her unwanted pregnancy. One kid is about to turn 18 and dreading what life may be like on the outside. A new girl is having trouble admitting whether or not her father abuses her.

While this all may sound like a bunch of sappy junk, it's actually an enjoyable movie. The characters are all presented realistically and with lots of little details to bring them to life. The subject matter is pretty rough but these things happen all the time. This one is worth seeing.

December 15, 2014

The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing is a documentary about some Indonesian death squad leaders who are asked to recreate their previous deeds under the guise of making a movie. It has been nominated for numerous awards, including an Oscar for Best Documentary.

Anwar Congo was a death squad leader who is responsible for killing hundreds, if not well over a thousand, suspect communists in Indonesia back in the 1960's. He revisits places where people were tortured and killed and describes it like an athlete might describe a memorable touchdown or home run. Congo's preferred method of killing was to wrap a wire around the victim's next and pull it tight.

This movie does little to explain the political/social situation from back then so it's not very useful for a history lesson. Instead, this is all about how people justify torture and murder. There's one part where a government official comes in to help them do a crowd scene (for the movie they are supposed to be making) where the death squad is rounding up communists from a village, including women and children. It's incredibly chaotic and scary, and the kids are crying real tears by the end of it. Even the government guy warns them that they need to be careful not to appear too harsh. It's nuts.

I can't say that I enjoyed this movie because that would be like saying I enjoy watching people get into car accidents. It's still a very interesting portrayal of officially sanctioned madness and the toll it takes not only on the victims but the perpetrators.

November 18, 2014


Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie starring Chris Evans and Ed Harris. It’s set in the future where an attack has frozen the planet and a small group of survivors are stuck on a train that has been traveling in a large loop for the past 17 years.

A caste system exists on the train where the people in the back live like prisoners of war while those toward the front live in veritable luxury. Evans lives in the rear of the train and raises up a resistance movement to fight their way to the front and take over. As you might imagine, the people in power take measures to stop them.

There’s a good bit of action in this one since the group has to punch, kick, and shoot their way from train car to car. Each one is decorated differently and serves a different purpose, since the whole train is one ecosystem designed to sustain life for a prolonged period.

This is the kind of movie that you can take at face value and enjoy the weirdness of it, or you can look at all the symbolism and underlying themes to really get something more from watching. I liked this one quite a lot.

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin is a slow burn kind of thriller about a young man who takes it upon himself to avenge his murdered family after the killers get out of prison. The title of the movie comes from the old blue car that the guy lives in.

What I liked most about this story is that the main character is just an average guy. He’s not some ex special forces, retired cop/hitman, trained killer. Instead, he’s just some poor kid whose life was ruined by crime who then is forced to take up arms in order to protect the rest of his family.

Macon Blair gives a great performance as the hapless lead character. He pulls off revenge killings with the awkwardness of a teenager boy’s first time with a girl, and his obvious vulnerability works on many levels. You feel bad for the guy and want him to succeed.

As an added bonus, one of the villains is played by Eve Plumb. You’ll recognize her face and then realize it’s the same actress who played the original Jan Brady on The Brady Bunch.

September 23, 2014

All is Lost - What is this movie really about?

Spoiler Alert: This is not a movie review, but rather an analysis of the symbolism exhibited in the movie All is Lost. If you haven’t yet seen the movie, this analysis will detail many major aspects of the plot as well as give away the ending.

All is Lost is a movie starring Robert Redford as a man alone on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean, and through a series of disasters we watch as he struggles to survive on the open water. If taken at face value, it might be compared to a movie like Castaway where one person must be creative with resources in order to make it out of a deadly situation. If you wish to look a little deeper, you might say that it’s an allegory about a man preparing for the inevitability of death. Either way, it works.

My take on this movie is that it’s all meant to symbolize the way small businesses are constantly being overrun by large corporations. I’ll explain the many reasons why I reached this conclusion in the list below:
  • Robert Redford's character represents the small business owner and the sailboat symbolizes his business.
  • While he was sleeping, his sailboat gets struck by a Chinese shipping container. Given the difference in times on the other side of the world, China does business while we in America are sleeping.
  • The shipping container also represents the way in which cheap foreign imports often make things even more difficult for small business.
  • Redford's character is resourceful and he has the means and know-how to fix the hole in his boat. However, he spends so much time trying to patch that one problem that a storm catches up to him.
  • The storm represents the current state of the economy, or even the business world in general.
  • Once the storm hits, the sailboat (business) holds up for a little while, but ultimately takes on too much water and starts to sink.
  • Redford's character is forced to downsize by transferring to the life raft. He scrounges what he can from the sailboat to take along with him, including a sextant.
  • The sextant represents Redford's character relying on old school tried and true methods. It works for a little while.
  • After getting into the raft, we start seeing a lot of underwater shots and at first a school of small fish can be seen following underneath.
  • A short time later, some barracuda show up to eat the smaller fish. This is an obvious ploy on the adage about how "there's always a bigger fish" and is somewhat foreboding.
  • A few large ships pass by Redford but he's so small on the water that they don't even notice him. This is meant to show how large corporations view small companies - or rather how they give them no notice at all.
  • Sharks eventually show up to circle the life raft. These are meant to represent the banks and financial institutions, as demonstrated by how Redford's character is fishing and has the catch taken by a shark right before he can pull it in the boat.
  • When Redford sets the raft on fire to signal the other boat, this could possibly be interpreted as a fire sale. The way that it burns in a large ring like a big zero also plays into this.
  • At the very end, when Redford is rescued by the other boater, pay attention to the size of the craft. It's a very small boat, meaning that it was another small business owner that reached out to him. Businesses supporting other businesses is how small businesses survive. That's how I saw the ending.
What do you think? Am I onto something here or completely off base? The movie is available on Netflix and I highly recommend it, whether you enjoy it for the adventure on the water or choose to look deeper for other meanings behind the action on screen.

August 13, 2014

Halt and Catch Fire - Season 1

Halt and Catch Fire isn't on Netflix yet, but it probably will be since most of AMC's shows are on there. This debut season just finished up and I was quite enthused by it since the story is based on a computer company in the early 1980's.

Lee Pace stars as a Steve Jobs type who may or may not be a total psychopath. He's manipulative as hell but manages to force greatness from people even if it nearly destroys them. In some scenes, he has a chest full of scars and offers multiple explanations for how they got there while we still don't know the real truth. He's also willing to sleep with men or women to get what he wants. This guy is a mess, and he's leading up a group of techies to build what he considers to be not just the next big thing in computing, but the thing that gets us to the next big thing. He's trying to project that far ahead.

Scoot McNairy plays the Steve Wozniak here who is still trying to get over a previous failure while being coaxed into this wild project by Pace's character. He and his wife dive headfirst into things and it causes problems between them. Meanwhile, a hotshot young programmer (Mackenzie Davis) is adding a little punk rock to the mix with her unique way of doing most everything, including the coding of a brand new operating systems. It both helps and hurts that she's sleeping with the boss. This first season ends with them all at a Comdex computer convention where they get to show off their work alongside everyone from IBM to Apple, then we find out what they've really accomplished.

I do hope that AMC renews Halt and Catch Fire for at least one more season because I would like to see what direction it takes after what all they've done with this first season. I believe the writers get the subject matter well and it's not technically inept at any level while still being understandable to those who weren't around back in those days.

Update: Halt and Catch Fire Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix. The new season starts this summer on AMC!

August 9, 2014

Authors Anonymous

Authors Anonymous (2014) is a mock documentary about a group of writers who find themselves insanely jealous when one of their writing club members lands both a publishing deal and a movie deal. It pokes fun at the publishing industry as well as wannabe authors, and I enjoyed it though some of the jokes hit a little close to home.

What makes this movie watchable is the talent on screen, since the story isn't particularly memorable and it really goes for long stretches without enough funny parts. Kaley Cuoco (of Big Bang Theory) is the lead here and she's who gets the publishing/movie deal even though she's kind of a ditz. Chris Klein plays a fellow writer who may have waited too long to tell her how he really feels. The late Dennis Farina plays a Viet Nam vet who thinks he should be the next Tom Clancy, and he steals every scene he is in. Other actors include Dylan Walsh and Teri Polo, plus a cameo from Jonathan Banks, who is better known as Mike from Breaking Bad. Tricia Hefler (the blonde bombshell from Battlestar Galactica) also has a small role.

I liked this movie because I am a self published author and know exactly how these characters feel. I have also met some people somewhat like the characters here - the ones who want so badly to get published and be famous but would rather talk about it than really put in the work. In some ways, this was kind of a sad film given how the characters acted plus seeing Dennis Farina's last role was bittersweet because he was the liveliest of the bunch. I see this one as having a somewhat limited appeal due to the subject matter, but it's still worth checking out.

July 10, 2014

The Ledge

The Ledge (2011) stars Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Liv Tyler as a doomed couple whose lives are threatened by an overbearing Christian played by Patrick Wilson. It was meant to be a mainstream atheist movie but fell flat due to poor characterization and a plot where the hero is as much of an antagonist as the villain.

The story involves a young couple (Wilson and Tyler) who live in the same building as two men - one straight and one gay - who are roommates. Charlie Hunnam plays the straight guy, and he immediately takes a liking to Tyler. One night the four of them get together for dinner and Wilson's character prays for their sinful lifestyle, which infuriates Hunnam since he's not even gay. He then romantically pursues Tyler as a way of rescuing her from her "bigoted" husband and when Wilson finds out, he begins to exact a horrific revenge plan on Hunnam.

What hurt this movie more than anything else is that it presents a ridiculous situation with a forced conclusion that I think was supposed to be preachy but came across as dumb. There was some shock value but that didn't save the movie. The story paints the characters as extreme forms of whatever they're meant to represent - the christian, the atheist, the homosexual, the former addict - and does so with such heavy handedness that they might as well be wearing t-shirts with the word "Allegory" printed on them. They could not have been more one dimensional.

In the end, I didn't care for The Ledge. It would have been a much better and more effective story if the characters had all been a little more reasonable in their behaviors. The same setup still could have played out but then it would have been more believable.

July 5, 2014


Sightseers (2012) is a dark comedy from the UK where a seemingly normal couple takes a vacation and leaves a bunch of murder victims behind them. It's like a lighthearted version of Natural Born Killers, minus all the overt symbolism.

The movie opens to the sound of an elderly woman distraught and moaning in pain because of the loss of her beloved pet dog. We later find out that the dog was accidentally killed by her daughter. That same daughter and her bearded boyfriend decide it's time to get away for a while, so they rent a small RV and head out on a cross country trip.

While on a tour bus at one of their first stops, another passenger deliberately litters and then flips off the boyfriend when he asks the litterbug to pick it up. After the tour is over, the young couple accidentally run over the same littering guy in the parking lot. He dies covered in blood beneath the RV tires. The girlfriend starts screaming, but her boyfriend looks on with a bit of a smirk, then they just drive off. Thus begins the killing spree.

For the rest of the movie, these two go from town to town looking for victims to take out for next to no reason. One guy gets his head bashed in at a national park, and in another scene a bride-to-be gets thrown off a bridge during her bachelorette party. It's even worse when they befriend a fellow traveler with a unique tent/camper of his own.

Although there were a couple of mildly humorous moments, this movie has an obvious mean streak about it. The deaths are bloody and vicious, and often coupled with music best suited for a horror movie. The main character's indifference toward is all is a bit unnerving, but maybe that was the point. Stories like this tend to work better when there is some kind of underlying theme going on, but this one is just about a boring couple who go around killing people for no good reason. It's kind of pointless.

In the end, I sort of liked Sightseers because it was so bizarre, but at the same time it lacked that extra something-something that would have made it really stick in your head.

June 29, 2014

Jug Face

Jug Face (2013) is a very disturbing horror movie about a bunch of hillbilly cultists who worship a pit in the woods near where they live. They offer human sacrifices to it, and the way they decide the victims is how the movie got its name. You'll have to watch it to get the full explanation.

The movie starts out with a teenage boy and girl chasing each other through the woods and eventually going off together for some you-know-what. We later find out that the two are brother and sister. Not too long after that, the girl finds out she is to be the next sacrifice, but she manages to hide this news from the rest of the group. This causes some very bad things to happen, as if the place wasn't hellish enough already.

While I did think this story was heavily inspired by The Lottery, there were some weird supernatural elements that helped make it stand out. This is a low budget movie from a first time filmmaker who does an excellent job of creating tension. Nearly everything about this movie is preposterous to an almost comic level, but it all still manages to work.

In the end, I really enjoyed this one because it was so creepy and unlike most anything I've seen lately. You need to check this little indie gem out as soon as you get a chance. It's only about 80 minutes long.

June 25, 2014


Escape (2012) is a subtitled medieval thriller from Norway. It's a little over an hour long, including credits, so there's not a lot of content here but I still found it to be entertaining. Think of it as sort of like a D&D encounter without any monsters.

The movie opens with a family traveling through the mountains when suddenly mom gets hit with an arrow. Two kids hide inside a wagon while dad tries to fight off a gang of vicious Viking-like marauders, and he gets cut down as well. When little brother tries to run, they put him down with another arrow. The only surviving member is a pre-teen girl who they capture for the purposes of impregnating so another little girl with the group can have a younger sister. These are very bad people.

Some pretty horrible things happen here, especially at the beginning when the family is slain and the girl gets captured. She eventually escapes and the rest of the movie has her being chased by the group, which is led by a psychotic blonde (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) who loves shooting people with her crossbow. There's plenty of blood and gore, a couple of good stunts, and not many dull moments given how short the movie was.

In the end, I liked Escape for its costumes and props as well as great use of the scenery. There are no big castle or village scenes so the whole thing is just a handful of actors chasing each other around some rather beautiful landscapes while trying to do horrible things to each other. If you like medieval type action movies, you may want to check this one out.

June 24, 2014

Tiny: A Story About Living Small

Tiny: A Story About Living Small (2013) is an hour-long documentary about a growing movement in the United States where people choose to live in very small houses - some less than 200 square feet. It features interviews with people building them as well as those who are already living in them, and follows one man through the entire build process.

This is a fascinating subject where it forces you to ask just how much "stuff" do you really need? The economic benefits of this kind of living are pretty obvious: less electricity and water, less insurance, less overhead, and so on. Of course the trade-off is less space. Most of those interviewed were either single or married couples though it did briefly show one family with small children.

I suppose you could compare this type living to staying in a small camper or RV. Most of the houses shown here appear to be in environments where air conditioning is not as needed during the summer. The interior layouts of the homes are neat to see how they maximize space so well. All of the homeowners talk about how their low cost of living affords them more money to travel and buy other things, and I suppose with such a small space you'd want to get away quite often.

If you're interested in small living, you should definitely check this out. Don't bother if you're claustrophobic!

June 21, 2014

Devil's Knot

Devil's Knot (2013) stars Reese Witherspoon as the mother of a young boy who was tortured and murdered along with two other boys, and it follows the investigation leading to the arrest of three local teenagers. This movie is based on the true story of the West Memphis Three. Colin Firth has a supporting role as a lawyer who doesn't think the teens committed the crime.

Note: This review contains major spoilers so if you don't know about this case you probably need to stop reading here.

If you aren't familiar with the case of the West Memphis Three, you'll probably find this movie infuriating because it's so inconclusive. If you do already know about the case, you won't learn anything new here. It does do a decent job of showing how badly the local police botched the investigation, ignored key details, and basically went on a witch hunt. The movie does make some implications as to what may have really happened, but nobody really knows.

Witherspoon, Firth, and the rest of the cast all do wonderful jobs with the material. The southern accents weren't too mangled, either. I did like how director Atom Egoyan kept the obvious prejudices subtle and the actors playing the accused boys all did great jobs with showing how their own looks and personalities didn't do them any favors with the case.

The biggest problem I had with this movie was that it doesn't really serve a purpose being that it's based on a true story. To date, nobody knows for sure who really killed those boys. That means the audience is left hanging at the end and there have already been numerous documentaries about this case so that a dramatized movie wasn't necessary. Maybe one day the truth will finally be revealed and then this whole thing may be worth revisiting.

Devil's Knot @


Aftershock (2012) is about some tourists in Chile who endure a horrific earthquake and the human chaos that erupts in the aftermath. It's a very comical horror movie, and not all that good. Eli Roth (the "Jew bear" from Inglorious Bastards) stars alongside several European actors I've never seen before.

This movie runs about 90 minutes, and nothing really happens for the first half hour. All we see are these goofy guys trying to hook up with a bunch of gorgeous South American women at a series of clubs and parties. The dialogue sounds like something you'd overhear teenagers saying at their first party. After the first half hour is over, the earthquake hits, a bunch of people die, and this group goes off running for their lives.

What sort of makes this movie interesting is that the natural disaster isn't the real villain. Instead, it's the roving bands of looters and other miscreants that come out after the quake hits. While this group of people is just trying to get to higher ground and find a safe place, they end up being chased by a bunch of thugs who are taking advantage of the situation to rob and kill people. It doesn't make a lot of sense but results in quite a bit of gore.

In the end, I didn't much care for Aftershock. It tries to be a horror comedy but most of the jokes fall flat and the scary parts are too over the top. Don't waste your time on this obscure title - there's a reason why you've never heard of it.

Aftershock @

The Returned

The Returned (2013) is a Canadian horror movie that puts a new twist on the zombie genre while still sticking to the same themes about selfish human behavior during a crisis. It doesn't star anyone I recognized, so I didn't know what to expect from the characters.

This movie takes place in the aftermath of a zombie holocaust where a cure was actually found that can keep the zombie conversion at bay. The only problem is that cure is quickly running out and scientists are scrambling to create a synthetic version. For those infected, finding the medicine they need creates a cutthroat level of demand because once you go off them, there's no turning back. This story follows a man struggling to keep from turning into a zombie while his doctor wife tries to help him.

I liked the original setting of this story but it's not your typical zombie movie in that there isn't much action. In fact, it only shows a few zombies. There were some interesting plot elements like people protesting for and against the rights of the infected, the way people are ostracized like AIDS patients, and so on. I will give this extra credit for being original, though the story itself could have used a little more excitement.

If you like zombie movies and are tired of all the crappy cheap knock-offs, this one might be worth your time. It's very low key but still works on some level even though I didn't care for the way it ended.

The Returned @


Evidence (2013) stars Stephen Moyer (vampire Bill from True Blood) as a crime scene investigator who must go through a bunch of video footage in the aftermath of a mass murder. It's a new take on the "found footage" style of film making.

The story here involves a bunch of people on a bus trip who go off road to pick up a passenger and get into a wreck that flips their bus. They all have to hike out to this remote set of buildings that may have been some kind of garage at one time. As night falls, the group realizes they are not alone when a crazed killer with a welding mask and blow torch starts taking them out one at a time.

Moyer's character and some fellow detectives must then go through the footage found on individual cell phone videos as well as some handheld video camera to piece together what happened and try to determine if there were any survivors. He's not sure if the killer was a fellow passenger or someone else. Because there were multiple cameras, you get to see some of the same events from different perspectives so there are some twists that help keep things interesting.

Overall, I liked this movie even though it was a bit far fetched. It tries to mix genres in such a way that it's a mystery as well as a slasher flick. I thought some of the characters added an unnecessary amount of drama that, in hindsight, didn't make much sense. It still had enough originality to make it worth checking out, though I didn't find it to be all that scary.

Evidence @