Inception (2010) Review

Director: Christopher Nolan

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 148 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Inception is a wildly intricate and imaginative film, but, as entertaining as it is, I can’t help but dwell on its lost potential in some regards. The story follows a team of mercenaries, led by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who have the ability to infiltrate people’s dreams to steal or implant ideas. For what it is, I think this is an exceptionally engaging motion picture, but I think it could’ve been something more.

In Inception, dreams are easily interpreted or explained away, almost to the point that the characters in the movie find them somewhat predictable. The scenes in the subconscious aren’t particularly surreal and there’s a noticeable lack of dream logic. This runs in the face of the dreams (or nightmares) people have in the real world, which are bizarre, unpredictable, scary, and unnerving. Maybe I’m asking for too much by wishing this was Un Chien Andalou: The Action Movie, but I think the filmmakers should’ve gone for something weirder, darker, and more unexpected.

Despite that flaw, this is still classy movie-making. The special effects are a sight to see, and the cast is all-star. A flick like this could’ve easily become hard to follow, but I think the script did a good job of communicating the complexities of dream heists and whatnot (even though I don’t think I caught every last detail). The feature has enough human drama to keep the audience’s attention in between big set pieces. Speaking of that, there are several action sequences and they’re mostly okay. They feel a little low-impact at times, but that hallway fist fight is a real knockout.

Blending sci-fi actioner with psychological thriller, Inception isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun time at the movies. I do sort of wish it went off in a slightly different direction than what it did, but I try not to hold that against the picture too much. If you do choose to watch it, be prepared to pay close attention to its details, though.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Jaws (1975) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 124 minutes (standard version), 130 minutes (extended edition)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Director Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is one of those films that reminds you of why you fell in loves with movies in the first place. A trio of men – police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), seasoned shark-hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), and marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) – set out to hunt down a large shark that’s been terrorizing a coastal town. This summer blockbuster has held up beautifully over the years, still pleasing its audience.

This horror-thriller’s most iconic aspect is, of course, its vigorous musical score, which put its composer, John Williams, on the map. It should be mentioned that Jaws actually has a strong dramatic core to it, thanks to vividly-drawn characters that the viewer becomes attached to. Of course, the stuff with the shark is still cool, but this picture provides a reason to care about the man-versus-beast confrontation.

Jaws sometimes resembles a seaside slasher flick with a literal animal instead of a figurative one. While the special effects for the central fish are often derided as fake-looking, I think that they’re sublime. The filmmakers wisely kept the shark offscreen for as much of the runtime as possible, only really showing off the monster extensively during the grand finale. The feature also does an impressive job of capturing the atmosphere of a small town effectively under siege by a fiendish foe.

Likely to make anybody too frightened to go into the ocean, Jaws is superb entertainment. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that it became the highest grossing movie of all time upon its release (although it was soon outdone by Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope [1977]). Amazingly, Spielberg has managed to top the film several times so far during his career as a director.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Shazam! (2019) Review

Director: David F. Sandberg

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Fantasy

Runtime: 132 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Shazam! is more than just a highly competent action-comedy; it’s one of the better superhero origin story movies out there. The plot follows foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who achieves the power to transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) after saying the word “shazam.” As many a critic has pointed out, this film remembers that comic book flicks are all about wish-fulfillment fantasies.

One of the reasons Shazam! works so well is because it focuses on superheroes doing, well, superhero stuff like rescuing endangered civilians. Sure, sure, there’s plenty of punching monsters in the face here, but this feature, with its propulsive pacing, shows off the full range of what comic book good guys are capable of doing. In addition to the plentiful mayhem (the action climax goes on for quite a while), this picture provides lots of laughs, as a high schooler runs amok in an adult’s body. There’s also a durable emotional center to it that keeps the audience constantly engaged.

While Shazam! works remarkably well as a four-quadrant movie, at times I couldn’t help but wonder who the target audience of the film was. It could’ve been a swell family feature, but then there’s the scene with a ghoul (bloodlessly) biting a guy’s head off and the main character goes to a strip joint at one point (although the camera remains outside of said club). It’s sort of a shame this slightly-grown-up content had to be included, because little kids would’ve eaten this flick up. Oh, well, I guess it’s rated PG-13 for a reason.

Shazam! is a great superhero movie because it delivers all the humor, heart, heroics, and hair-raising action that you could ask for. I’m generally not the biggest fan of comic book films (well, at least of ones set outside of Gotham City), but this one really won me over. Shazam! is worth watching for more than just the pyrotechnics.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Dark of the Sun (1968) Review

Director: Jack Cardiff

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, War

Runtime: 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The Congolese Civil War of the 1960s (referred to as the “Congo Crisis” on Wikipedia) had just ended when this mercenary action-adventure picture was released. During that war, a team of soldiers-of-fortune led by Bruce Curry (Rod Taylor) and Ruffo (Jim Brown) are sent on a deadly mission to rescue a trapped town of civilians (and their diamonds) before Simba rebels can close in. It’s a fictional story, but this film has all the intensity of a chainsaw on full-blast.

Dark of the Sun showcases several very good action scenes, as the characters battle their way in and out of the heart of the Congo. Supposedly, a great deal of content was deleted from the movie before and after being sent to censors, but the sequences where stuff may have been removed don’t feel particularly choppy. Quentin Tarantino was apparently so pleased with this movie’s musical score, done by Jacques Loussier, that he included several snippets of it in his flick Inglourious Basterds (2009).

The characters here are occasionally colorful, with those played Rod Taylor and Jim Brown being appropriately badass, but different enough to be distinguishable from each other. To complicate the expedition that our heroes (or anti-heroes) are on, the doctor, Wreid (Kenneth More), is an alcoholic and the man providing the local Congolese troops, Henlein (Peter Carsten), is a former member of the Nazi war machine. There is a fairly prominent female character, Claire (Yvette Mimieux), but there isn’t a substantial romantic subplot. This is a guy movie, through and through.

Dark of the Sun is up there with Walker (1987) and The Wild Geese (1978) as one of the best mercenary-oriented war flicks of all time. It’s not quite as bloody as those movies, possibly thanks to some cut footage (which I hope isn’t lost forever). It’s probably not the easiest action-adventure feature to hunt down, but it’s more-than-worth a watch if you can find it. It’s tough as nails.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Review

Director: Jonathan Demme

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Intense from the get-go, The Silence of the Lambs is an instant classic that won an Oscar for Best Picture, the only horror movie to win that award so far. The plot follows aspiring FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who must use the help of imprisoned cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to catch a woman-murdering serial killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine). Does it deserve its reputation as one of the finest psychological thrillers of all time? I’d say so.

It just might be the perfect performances that keep The Silence of the Lambs on track. Anthony Hopkins gives a masterclass acting job as cannibalistic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter, effortlessly getting under the skin of the viewers. The mind games he plays are enough to warrant giving the feature a thumbs-up. His role won him an Oscar and Dr. Lecter was named the number-one villain in American cinema history as part of the American Film Institute’s AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains retrospective in 2003. It would be a mistake to forget about Jodie Foster, who also won an Oscar for her part. Her character was named the sixth greatest American screen hero in the celebration mentioned above.

Dark, serious, and macabre, The Silence of the Lambs earns its R rating, but doesn’t go overboard with the gore, probably making it watchable for most adult audiences. It’s very fast-paced and efficient, making the minutes fly by when experiencing it. If I had to find a fault with it, it would be that the ending feels less conclusive and a bit more sequel-baity than desirable, but that’s a minor flaw.

This bone-chilling horror-thriller flick is nothing short of gripping. Even the critics generally loved it, even if they seem to avoid calling it a “horror movie,” favoring the term “thriller.” Perhaps they were too embarrassed to admit that they liked an entry into the horror genre? Also, just how big is “Buffal0 Bill’s” basement supposed to be anyway?

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Halloween (2018) Review

Director: David Gordon Green

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

2018’s Halloween doesn’t exactly have the freshest-sounding plot in cinema history. Exactly forty years after his murderous rampage through Haddonfield, Illinois, silent killer Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle) escapes from a mental hospital bus to resume his attacks on the local population. This entry into the series ignores all other installments in the franchise except for Halloween (1978). Even if it retcons the history of the Halloween films, this is still an excellent horror picture.

This, right here, is the real deal among slasher flicks. Okay, it’s not as terrific as the 1978 original, but it comes close enough to make it a worthy feature. Michael Myers is the pure-evil force of nature that he should be, delivering quite the body count. While there is gore and a “jump scare” or two, 2018’s Halloween does not overly rely on them to bring the scares. The filmmakers prove that they can make a scene intense with or without bloodshed.

The woman who faced off against Myers in the first movie, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), returns here, as a traumatized, gun-toting, agoraphobic paranoiac. It’s more sad than “badass,” but I think that’s the intention. Halloween also has a few bits of humor spread around in the mix, which is welcome, as it would’ve been difficult sitting on the edge of one’s chair the entire time.

With the exception of one contrived, yet forgivable, twist (if you’ve seen the film, you know the one I’m talking about), Halloween is an outstanding work of horror. It reworks the formula just enough for modern audiences, while retaining elements that made the 1978 movie soar. It may seem like a lot of work watching all the other members of the Halloween series to get to this one, but, since this one only considers the first movie canon, you don’t really have to.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Halloween II (1981) Review

Director: Rick Rosenthal

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Does 1981’s Halloween II recapture the terror of the 1978 original? I would say, for the most part, “yes.” It’s not quite as tightly wound as the first one, but it definitely packs in the scares. On the same night as the events in Halloween (1978), Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is taken to the hospital, as psycho killer Michael Myers (Dick Warlock), who somehow survived getting shot several times, continues his spree of seemingly random murders. Will Laurie be one of his victims this time?

This one has an identity of its own. The decision to set most of the action in a hospital at nighttime was a wise one, and, to keep up with competitors in the slasher subgenre, the violence is more graphic this time around. In terms of carnage, we’re not quite in hard-R territory yet, but this is a step in that direction. While the overall product is not quite as satisfying as the 1978 one, it does have some moments that rival that picture’s intensity.

The downsides of Halloween II include the aforementioned fact that it’s not as compact-feeling as the first member of the series. There are a lot of characters that simply exist to be fodder for Michael Myers. Also, Laurie’s role doesn’t feel as large here. She spends much of the movie in a hospital bed, just lying there. Perhaps a more active heroine would’ve improved the film a little.

Although not directed by John Carpenter (who did the original), this largely feels like a solid continuation of the story from Halloween. Although released three years later, we have several of the same characters, such as Laurie, Myers, and Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who’s more crazed here than in the first installment, and similar locations. Some will dismiss this one as just another slasher sequel, but I think that it’s a success.

My rating is 8 outta 10.