Tuesday, January 17, 2017


While I was writing a post about STRIPES, I remembered another comedy from 1981. Not that it really matters but I think maybe now NEIGHBORS was in fact the first R rated movie I ever saw? Not as good as STRIPES but I remember liking it. What can a 5 year old like about an R rated comedy? Obviously I was too young for the adult humor, so I probably just laughed because my dad did. Too young for the jokes, I think it was just how crazy and bizarre the humor got that kept my attention.

Growing up I always wanted to watch NEIGHBORS again. This was due to me becoming a big fan of The Blues Brothers. It bothered my parents so much that the VHS tape finally got tapped over. Having rewatched the movie since then I think it was because the movie just wasn't that great, not because of adult humor.

Earl's (Belushi) peaceful suburban life is about to get turned upside down when the new neighbors move in next door. The new neighbors, Vic and Ramona impose themselves on Earl and his family. Doing weird things like offering to get take-out but asking Earl to pay for it. But Earl notices that the Vic just goes back to his house and cooks the meal? There is a prank gone terribly wrong involving a truck rolling into a swamp. Not to mention endless flirtatious advances from the clearly oversexed Ramona.

The list of weirdness and rudeness goes on. But is all of this happening or is Earl making a big deal out of nothing? Or could Vic and Ramona actually be saving Earl from his everyday day to day life?

Knowing a bit about the films production history I can see why NEIGHBORS is kinda forgotten. I don't know if the reason is explained in detail somewhere, but it's a known fact that the film's starts did not get along with the movie's director. Problems began at the very beginning.

Typically known for always playing the loud and obnoxious type, Belushi was going to play the straight man this time around. And Aykroyd was going to play crazy for a change. This switch was made by the actors themselves just prior to filming. In my opinion the "experiment" worked out just fine. But ultimately I feel this was just the first attempt to sabotage a production they no longer wanted part of.

Things got so bad that Belushi reached out to his buddy John Landis and asked him to direct the film. When that didn't work, the two stars tried to convince the studio to let them direct the picture. In the end like the movie or not the production was a nightmare. The lead actors displeased and bad test screenings lead to re-edits and re-shoots. In the end as the films tagline suggests, "A Comedic Nightmare".

It's a shame NEIGHBORS would become John Belushi's final movie, he died less than four months after the films release. According to his friend and colleague Aykroyd, John was doing good kicking his drug habit but the crew on NEIGHBORS didn't do him any favors. Tragic.

So with watching it again just recently it's sad to say that NEIGHBORS isn't some hidden gem. But despite it's flaws I still find it an interesting and sometimes funny film to watch. Also this time around I noticed a few weird subplots that went no where. Probably due to the re-edits I'd imagine?

Despite their disdain for their director, Belushi and Aykroyd keep it professional and they do a good job with the characters. I love how crazy and flamboyant Vic (Aykroyd) is throughout the film, especially the first half. And Belushi does fine work playing Earl, the man too serious to have any fun.

NEIGHBORS is one of those movies that I'd show friends at a movie night. One of those "I betcha never heard of this movie", and pair it with a double feature along side THE BURBS.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Sometimes I wonder what was the very first movie I remember watching? I don't think I'll ever remember, but it was probably something Disney. I do however remember my first R rated movie! It was the 1981 comedy classic STRIPES! I had to have be at least five years old, and it was either on HBO or my my dad rented it on VHS. The exact timeline is going to be hazey, but one thing was for sure and that was Bill Murray was a staple in the Cox household.

Besides STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK I loved comedies as a kid. The big three for me were CADDYSHACK, NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION, and of course STRIPES. if you couldn't tell, SNL was a family favorite!

Like I was saying, I remember my first R rated movie. I think my dad's logic was that a five year old wouldn't remember the bad language or nudity. If it ever got really bad I always just had to cover my eyes. But being the good parents my mom and dad were, it was once in a blue moon that I ever got to watch STRIPES. I remember now, it was taped off of HBO.

I think my dad was a huge Bill Murray fan because of the comedians anarchist approach, like with all the SNL alum. And he was also a fan probably because of Murray's rising popularity!

If I was forced to make a list right now of my all time favorite comedies, STRIPES would probably be number one on that list. I know it's my second most watched Bill Murray comedy. The most watched obviously being GHOSTBUSTERS. There was another Bill Murray comedy that I wore out the VHS tape watching, and that was MEATBALLS. Now, I love MEATBALLS but it is no where near good as STRIPES. I bring this up to point out the fact that I think it's the writing that makes the difference.

Both MEATBALLS and STRIPES were directed by Ivan Reitman. Bill and Ivan had something good going with MEATBALLS but whatever they did next had to be better. Enter Harold Ramis, a talented writer who helped make STRIPES the classic it still is today. And just a few years later this talented group along with Dan Aykroyd made GHOSTBUSTERS. Amazing!

For those who don't know, STRIPES is a slob of a movie about two down and outers, Tripp and Rusty, who join the Army just for the hell of it. It is this first half of the film that is the strongest and funniest. During basic training Tripp (Murray) gives Sargent Hulka hell. I still love the montage of basic training duties where Tripp is always slacking off resulting in him doing push-ups.

But my absolute favorite is still the impromptu marching formation the platoon performed at graduation.

It's still funny but once basic training is over the film's second half isn't as strong. Tripp and Rusty take two lovely MP officers for a joy ride to the Swiss Alps in a new state of the art Army secret weapon vehicle disguised as an RV. Come to find out the rest of their platoon is held hostage behind the Iron Curtain. It's a crazy climax in vein of ANIMAL HOUSE and BLUES BROTHERS. What was the deal with crazy endings to comedies in the late Seventies and early Eighties?

In conclusion, I still think STRIPES holds up well for a Bill Murray comedy. If you're a fan but haven't seen this one, I highly recommend you give it a watch.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Who would have thought that Ben Affleck would become one of the greatest American directors working today? Not me. But it's true, after three consecutive good if not great films and Oscar for Best Director, Ben is a force to be reckoned with. I for one like his style, after his second film THE TOWN, I told myself I'll give all his future films a chance.

When it was announced that Afleck's new film was going to be a gangster movie, I couldn't wait! Within about a month of the films wide release a fair share of bad reviews began trickling in. That's disappointing! I'm still going to see it reguardless of reviews or a low RT score. Why? Because he's earned it.

Well, the critics were right about this one. LIVE BY NIGHT is sort of a stinker. I'd really like to know the history of this film getting made. In the credits I noticed Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the producers of the movie. After thinking about it I could totally see him in the role of Joe, the main character. So it made me wonder if over time the project finally fell on Affleck's lap?

I also began to wonder if LIVE BY NIGHT was meant to be Ben Affleck's masterpiece? With lots of awkwardly placed voice-over narration, this first thing I thought was there must have been some studio pressure to cut the films run time down. LIVE BY NIGHT really feels to me like a 180 minute movie cut down to about 128 minutes. Because of this the 2 hour and 8 minute run time feels like 4 hours. I cannot speak for the source material the film was adapted from, but a film like LIVE BY NIGHT needs to breathe.

Joe Coughlin (Affleck) is a "outlaw" who likes it just fine being a petty thief robbing banks from time to time. After an affair with a boss man's girl, Joe is double crossed and left for dead. Out of prison he plots his revenge. In order to do this he partners up with his former boss's competition Maso Pescatore. Mr. Pescatore sets Joe up nicely in Tampa, Florida to run illegal booze and open a casino.

Joe quickly does great for awhile but runs into some problems with the KKK. The KKK become a problem because of Joe's Italian crime boss roots and also his new Cuban girlfriend. Another problem is that of a police chief and his born again Christian daughter.

You can already see how epic this story is getting. It's not long before you can tell what everything is leading up to in LIVE BY NIGHT. It's just that when it does happen it gets there too quickly. Or not fast enough! The pacing of the film felt very jarring at times. I've seen enough of these type of movies where I was loving the choices Affleck was making when telling this story, but too many times things fell flat.

I knew beforehand that it took awhile for the ball to get rolling with LIVE BY NIGHT. GONE GIRL delayed production and I'm sure the same could be said about BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. Maybe too much on Ben's plate is a reason LIVE BY NIGHT comes across as a little bit tired?

In conclusion, I recommend LIVE BY NIGHT. As I've begun writing this post I've grown to like the film a little bit more. It's got issues, but if a Director's Cut ever came out, I'd purchase it day one.


It took a few years but I have now finally blogged about all 8 films in the Friday The 13th franchise released by Paramount Pictures. And no I didn't save the best for last with FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II, It just ended up being the one I haven't talked about yet.

There was a time when FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II was my least favorite entry in the series. Over time I've grown to appreciate it. So much so that I now actually think it is a better movie than the original. Heavily edited gore and Hillbilly Jason being the only things going against the film. Other than that, the sequel has better characters, more production value, and it's a better directed film.

When comparing the two films FRIDAY THE 13TH will always beat PART II in the kills and gore department, hands down. But in terms of direction and camera work the sequel wins. While FRIDAY THE 13TH has it's moments of good tension building and inventive kills, the rest of the movie is flat and kinda boring.

Even though I think the sequel is a better film it too has it's fair share of problems. The main one being censored gore, a issue that will continue to haunt the series (except part 4). Like the original, there are moments where FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 is down right boring. The film begins with a overlong recap dream sequence. I'm sure in 1981 this was fine with fans, getting everyone pumped. But it's long and drawn out, plus Jason going outside of Camp Crystal Lake territory to kill someone feels odd and out of place. The final issue I have is Jason himself. Hillbilly Jason just doesn't work for me, and it never will.

Speaking of Jason, time to point out the elephant in the room, Jason Voorhees. After FRIDAY THE 13TH became a huge hit Paramount Pictures wanted a sequel. Director Sean S. Cunningham liked the idea and presented a anthology concept. Paramount said no, we want Jason. Due to artistic differences Cunningham left the project.

While I like Jason as the killer, his being alive is kind of a plot hole. If Jason is alive, why then did his mother go on a murderous rampage to avenge her son's drowning? A huge plot hole for sure, but it makes for a great campfire story.

Now that the problems are out of the way it's time to talk about what I like. While all these films can be summed up as “Teenagers in Peril” movies with the characters only motivation is to be killed off by Jason, I do like the counselors in PART 2. Yes they are paper thin but likable, a trait long gone in horror, especially in slashers.

Before Tommy Jarvis became the closest thing to a “protagonist” in the series, there was hope for Ginny. Breaking the mold of the traditional Scream Queen, actor Amy Steel in my opinion set a new gold standard for strong willed “Final Girl” characters. The producers had a really good character with Ginny, it's a shame Amy never came back.

I mentioned earlier that FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 is a better made film than the original, and it's true. Hands down Steve Miner is a better director than Sean S. Cunningham. It just boils down to that Miner is a better filmmaker. There is a little more substance in Miner's film, and it's got a few darkly comical moments too. There is a scene with a cute dog roaming the woods who runs into Jason, the very next shot is hot dogs cooking on a grill. It's hilarious!

It seems to me that the first four films in the series add something iconic to the franchise as a whole. In the original movie it's the twist ending, PART 2 is Jason's shrine to his dead mother, Part 3 is the first appearance of the classic hockey mask, and THE FINAL CHAPTER introduces the most popular protagonist of the series, Tommy Jarvis. In conclusion, I highly recommend FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2. It's Jason's first legit appearance, the cast of camp counselors are better, and like I've said a few times already it's a better looking film than the original. You can tell the studio put a little extra money into the production.

So when the next Friday the 13th rolls around gather some friends put on a pot of coffee and marathon the first four movies!

Happy belated Friday the 13th!

Saturday, January 7, 2017


If you were to search this blog's archive or browse my movie collection you'd think I don't like musicals. Which reminds me, I really should review THE WIZARD OF OZ sometime! But yeah, I like musicals. The high school musical was probably my first foray into being a “critic” (for the record I do not consider myself a critic).

Deep down I think I always wanted to be a director. But there was a time that I wanted to be an actor. In grade school my grandma and her friend had season passes to Springfield Little Theater. I was always happy when I got to go! The most memorable ones were 'Little Shop of Horrors' and 'Wizard of Oz'. Because of my love for plays my parents enrolled me a summer school course for acting/performing arts. I didn't much care for it.

As a pre-teen and young teenager one of my favorite things to do was go see high school plays. 'Grease' was my favorite*. Back in Seventh grade I remember going to a high school production. It was a blast! I had fun comparing it to the film version and a Springfield Little Theater production (I think).

As I got older my interests changed a lot. I was big into comic books and drawing. Music became a big deal to me. Mainly the bands from the Northwest, the Seattle sound was what I was into. And movies really really started to become important to me. The films of Kevin Smith, Wes Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino. These guys made me want to become a filmmaker.

So Indie Comedies and stylized violence dominated my late teens and twenties. The Musical genre became a distant memory to me. A childish thing I outgrew. And a genre that only drama class alums and Academy Award members could appreciate.

Then something weird happened. I forget the year, but during awards season I made an effort to watch CHICAGO ironically (Yes, I long for the day that a super stylized action film wins Best Picture). Turns out, I loved the movie! The spectacle of it most of all! I loved the production value of the movie. My appreciation for CHICAGO taught me that the Musical is a genre to be reckoned with and by nature cinematic!

I only saw CHICAGO that one time which I hear is perfectly okay because the film is overrated anyways. What? That's fine because while CHICAGO reinforced the cinematic importance of the Musical, it was a Broadway musical and classic film that made me love the genre!

10 years ago I went to spend a few vacation days in New York City. One thing I wasn't looking forward to on the itinerary was seeing 'Wicked' on Broadway. The main reason was because of the price of the ticket. Ouch! Now I don't know if it was worth every penny (honestly it is), but seeing the show was an experience I'll never forget. I'm sure the material played a part but it was the performances and production that blew me away!

More recently I went to see the film SINGIN' IN THE RAIN on the big screen. The only thing that could top that experience would be a pristine 35mm film print presentation. As of now SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is my favorite musical film. Because of it I have sought out several other movies just like it. In doing so I've found myself liking very few of them.

The reason I don't talk much about the genre is because I'm very picky.

If the music is good I guess I'm not picky? Example; I was going to say I also don't like a musical if all the dialogue is sing-song, like REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA. But that's not true, because I loved SWEENEY TOOD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET. It just goes to show that there is no accounting for taste, and you like what you like because you just do.

This all brings me to why LA LA LAND is my favorite film of 2016. I didn't want to alter my list at first because I already had my choices picked and SING STREET would be tough to beat. Secondly, I didn't want to have my viewing experience of LA LA LAND be tarnished with me wondering if it'll be my favorite film of 2016 after all?

About halfway through the film I knew I loved it, but I was going to leave my list alone. Then it was during the drive home and listening to the soundtrack on Spotify when I got home that my mind began to change.

LA LA LAND is kinda a personal movie to me right now. It's a film about not giving up on your dreams. I'm at a point in my life where it's well past “Poop or get off the pot”. But lucky for me I have nothing to hold me back to pursue my passion, and failure wouldn't put me into debt.

In LA LA LAND, Hollywood is a magical place where dreams come true. The prologue sets up that dreamers movie to L.A to make it big. They all have a story (song) about trekking to California from their nothing hometown. It's here that we meet Mia (Emma Stone) who is an aspiring actress. At first you'd think she's terrible, but that's not it at all. The problem is that in her hometown she was probably one in a million, but here she's one million in a billion.

After a disappointing party and walking home because of a towed car she hears some amazing piano coming from a nightclub. It's here that we're introduced to Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a talented piano player/musician who loves jazz. He loves jazz so much that his dream is to open his own nightclub.

The two meet and fall in love becoming each others muse. Eventually they realize though that probably the best way to reach their dreams is to go separate ways.

That's the best synopsis I can give without ruining the movie. In many ways LA LA LAND is a throwback to the classic musicals. Every shot in the film is magic. Shot in CinemaScope, the dance numbers are big and immersive. All the musical numbers are great and the final sequence at the end of the film is worth the price of admission alone.

While probably corny and cliche without the musical numbers it was the films message that really got to me. Never give up on your dreams (whatever they may be) even if it costs you something. Stepping out of your comfort zone or leaving a relationship is probably what it's going to take to make those dreams happen. In other words, life is all about risk.

Not everybody's dream will come true, but the point LA LA LAND is trying to make (I think) is that every dream is worth fighting for.

LA LA LAND is highly recommended!

* 'Grease' is not my favorite musical of all time or anything like that. Just at the time I enjoyed seeing different high school productions of it.