Movie Review – The Jewel of the Nile

The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
Written by Mark Rosenthal & Lawrence Konner
Directed by Lewis Teague

You don’t hear too many people talk about the 1984 comedy-action film Romancing the Stone. It was the film that set director Robert Zemeckis on his path to helming the Back to the Future series. It was expected to flop and got Zemeckis fired as director of Cocoon, but as we can see, it all turned out in his favor. Romancing the Stone was a box office success, and he proved the studio doubters wrong. Studios want to exploit movies that do well and will always push for a sequel. Romancing the Stone is the type of film that could be a franchise, so on the surface, the idea isn’t bad. However, when all the director has moved on to a more significant project, and the writer dies tragically in a car accident after her career has just begun, it becomes murkier waters.

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Movie Review – The Grudge (2020)

The Grudge (2020)
Written & Directed by Nicolas Pesce

In the late 1990s/early 2000s, Japanese horror was a pretty hot item in movies. It started with imports to the West of movies like Ringu and Kairo. This type of fear offered a more modern take on tropes with monsters that didn’t find archetypes we were used to. Technology was a crucial piece in these stories, but not in all of them. The most common element was the city, an urban landscape full of ancient evils and a cloud of darkness hanging over it all. This is where The Grudge series comes from. The enemy doesn’t come from cell phones or computers or even a haunted video. It’s classical horror, a simple haunted house. In 2020, the second American Grudge film was released, which is where this review comes in.

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Movie Review – Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049
Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green
Directed by Denis Villeneuve


In the wake of the first film’s events, the Tyrell line of replicants have been discarded, and a new company run by Niander Wallace has rolled out a “better” model of replicant, one that is more compliant to their human superiors. A Blade Runner named K is one of these and regularly dispatches the older models who have managed to hide on the fringes of society. That is until one case reveals one of the most significant discoveries in humanity’s history, an event that could change the very fabric of society if it got out. K is told to make sure this secret never gets out and goes on a journey to search out the story behind the mystery. This leads him beyond Los Angeles and across the scarred futuristic landscape, ultimately to a truth about himself.

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Newbie Wednesdays – Toy Story 3

Toy Story (2010, dir. Lee Unkrich)
Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Jodi Benson, Estelle Harris

In 1970, Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori coined the term “The Uncanny Valley”. Basically, it refers to the point when a robot or human facsimile (CG animated character) resemble real humans so closely it evokes a sense of revulsion in the viewer. CG animation walks that very fine line, and in the case of Robert Zemeckis’ animated works (The Polar Express, Beowulf) it reaches the revolting atmosphere. This is where Pixar gets it right, in that it never tries to make its humans look like exact copies of humans. Instead, the real humanity in the film is infused in the inanimate who have a larger ability to express emotion than ever before. For me, Toy Story 3 marks a clear point in history where, in the right hands, CG animation is a clear challenger to live action cinema.

Andy is eighteen and about to head off to college. The time to cast out his toys, which have been long ignored anyway, has come. All but Woody end up in a trash bag destined for the attic, while the cowboy ends up in Andy college-bound boxes. With the fear of being separated from his pals, Woody makes a daring escape and goes to save Buzz and company who have accidentally been put out for the trash. They all avoid the landfill but end up in Sunnyside Daycare, which is ruled over by Losto Hugs Bear, a 80s relic. They also meet a host of other toys, more generic than specific products and engage in what is essential a prison break movie, with some very strong themes about aging and obsolescence threaded throughout.

The situation the toys are placed in is one that speaks across generations. The children, whom most assume the film is squarely marketed at, will see their own feelings of powerlessness reflected in the plight of the toys. When faced with the circumstances of simply moving to a new town all the way to dealing with the divorce of parents, children are without any say in where they go. The same theme is applied to children transitioning into adulthood, like Andy, who are pressured by society to abandon toys and play. The issues Andy is grappling with reflect a lot of those who were children when the first Toy Story came out. Bumping up another generation, the themes of a child leaving home are very palpable and those wistful feelings as days when your child was little and playful. Laurie Metcalf and the animators behind her character deliver a very short, but beautiful performance in the moment where she enters Andy’s now empty bedroom. Finally, through Lotso we have the resentment of elderly and those who are left behind. Lotso has taken the moment he realized he was no longer wanted by his owner, and has allowed those feelings to become anger and rage, which is merely a form of hurt.

Pixar is a company that makes perfect films (I refuse to acknowledge Cars). They are writing scripts that are light years (no pun intended) richer and more complex than the majority of those shopped around Hollywood. The production staff also has a strong sense of creating rich worlds, they fill their universes with so many details that we want to inhabit them just a little bit longer. The Toy Story trilogy now stands a perfect trilogy, with themes that develop and mature just like Andy. The technical side of the animation has also evolved in a similar fashion. While buzz of Toy Story 4 has recently hit after the current release’s box office success, but I hope the Pixar crew treads carefully in adding on to an already complete masterpiece.

Newbie Wednesdays Bonus! – Get Him to the Greek

Get Him to the Greek (2010, dir. Nicholas Stoller)
Starring Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Sean Combs, Elizabeth Moss, Rose Byrne, Colm Meany

There is the way Apatow films are perceived by those that haven’t seen them, and then the what the films actually are. Most people who don’t see these movies discount them as gross out frat boy movies, and that’s sad because they will be missing a rather poignant film about relationships. That’s what the Apatow circle has done an amazing job of, making movies about very real relationships. The women in this film are not harpies or shrews, they are not holding these men back. Instead, they are equal partners in the mistakes and travails of our main characters.

Aaron (Hill) is a young music executive tasked with the job of getting washed up rocker Aldous Snow (Brand) from London to L.A. for an anniversary concert at the Greek. Aaron is also dealing with his live-in girlfriend Daphne (Moss) who is in the midst of med school and has just got a transfer to Seattle. Aaron leaves LA on a sour note with her, but quickly gets involved in the insanity that surrounds the hard drinking, drugged out Snow. Aaron is constantly impeded by Snow in getting the man first to an appearance on the Today, and then to the Greek theater. They are sidetracked by Snow’s proclivities for sex and drugs and Aaron usually ends up on the losing end of this. He drinks absinthe unaware of what it is and ends up a buffoon in a nightclub. He is forced to store Aldous’ heroin on his person in a rather uncomfortable place. He is injected with a needle full of adrenaline and goes on a rampage in a strip club.

The character of Aldous Snow first appeared in 2007’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, there he was  put together, Zen-like sage. Here his career has seen a downturn, he’s lost the woman he loves, and his career seems to be over. This version of Snow has much more in common with Brand’s own life. If you have read his autobiography Booky Wook, then you know that Brand suffered from a drug and sex addiction. He also has some major emotional issues when it comes to his father. Snow’s father also plays a significant role in the film, as a figure responsible for much of his son’s current state. Snow also has a more successful ex (Byrne) who is at first presented as an absurd character, but when we meet her later, comes across as someone who has moved past the gutter Snow seems to be stuck in.

Every performance here feels very unforced and natural, and I think that’s why Apatow’s productions are so enjoyable. Every one feels like they are these characters, the lines roll effortlessly from them and never feel like actors acting. The friendship between Aaron and Snow feels genuine, and this comes from the fact that in real life Brand is a very open and friendly person, as glimpsed in his many British television series. Director Stoller is also not afraid to end Snow in a place that doesn’t wrap everything up perfectly. Snow doesn’t get the girl, he ends up going on stage right after receiving a horribly painful injury, and tells Aaron in a heartbreaking scene that this is the only thing he has left that makes him feel like a good person. In an odd sort of way Snow is a comedic version of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. They are both playing characters based more on themselves than any fictional creation.