What the heck is this movie? The Last American Virgin is about teenagers in high school, but it’s not a straightforward comedy. It does begin as a comedy, though. The 1982 movie follows three horny buddies – Gary, Rick, and David – on a constant quest for girls and booze. It’s all fairly lighthearted until pizza delivery boy Gary catches a glimpse of Karen and instantly falls in love. Gary manufactures a meet-cute and gives Karen a ride to school while “Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon plays (a great bit of foreshadowing). A different movie would wallow in Gary and Karen’s teenage romance. Instead, Gary’s suave buddy Rick swoops in and sweeps Karen off her feet. Then Rick impregnates her.
Heavy, eh? I won’t ruin the ending, but The Last American Virgin is the sort of movie you need to talk about after the credits roll. It’s more true-to-life than most movies, specifically teen movies. Nudity, debauchery, prostitution, abortion, infatuation, manipulation – this is teenage life. The Last American Virgin isn’t as twisted as Kids, but it lacks the rosy glow of most teen flicks. And I appreciate that. I also appreciate the excellent soundtrack. I wouldn’t place The Last American Virgin on the list of all-time best teen movies, but it might be a must-see experience. That ending hits like a sledgehammer. I wish I’d watched this movie back in high school. It would have crushed me.
I could have sworn I’d written a review for Warrior on a previous blog, but I couldn’t find any evidence of it. No big deal. I rewatched the movie recently, and it’s still fantastic. The plot can be shaky, with two amateur fighters somehow managing to find themselves in an MMA tournament alongside the best fighters in the world. Regardless, the characters and beatdowns make Warrior one of the great sports movies of the past few decades.
Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and his little brother Tommy (Tom Hardy) are estranged and couldn’t be more different. Brendan is a school teacher who can take a beating and surprises his opponents with submissions. Tommy is a stoic Marine who brutalizes anyone and everyone he fights. They’ve both made mistakes in life, and their alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) knows plenty about regret. I appreciate that the boys’ history isn’t told in flashbacks; it reveals itself naturally through conversation. It’s easy to understand and empathize with the characters, and most of the conflict is based on years of physical and emotional pain.
I should point out I don’t care much about MMA or the UFC. I’ll happily watch a good fight while sitting at a bar, but I couldn’t tell you much about the sport or its stars. On the other hand, I love the battles of Warrior. Watching Tommy beat down Mad Dog doesn’t get old. Then we have the unbeatable Koba, played by one of my favorite WWF wrestlers, Kurt Angle. The first time I watched Warrior, I eagerly anticipated the fight between Tommy and Koba. It would have been like watching a classic Godzilla vs. King Kong flick. Instead it’s Brendan who must survive a match against Koba. And Brendan’s tenacity, inventiveness, and unwillingness to break a vulnerable Koba make him someone to stand up and cheer for.
Without its emotional core and family tension, this movie would be forgettable. And without the well choreographed and exciting fights, it would be a failure as a sports movie. Warrior uses its strengths to tell a moving story about family and forgiveness. Sure it carries its share of sports movies cliches, but there are few movies that can match the catharsis of watching two brothers mend their relationship by beating the hell out of each other.
Eternals is fascinating. It it feels like a religious epic, it explores philosophical themes of morality, and it’s been been savaged by professional critics (it’s the worst reviewed MCU movie). The critics are wrong. Eternals has enough issues to keep it out of the MCU top tier, but it is far from the worst Marvel movie.
Perhaps the most impressive feat of the movie is it introduces a plus-sized superhero team and turns most of them into rounded characters, all without the benefit of tie-in media. It’s also beautifully shot, and I’m glad I watched it in theaters. Witnessing a massive celestial holding a tiny eternal within its palm took me back to the wonder of gargantuan statue Talos chasing humans in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Jack Kirby’s cosmic imagery mixes so well with Chloé Zhao directorial eye.
Eternals is a story of demigods, and all of them are imperfect beings. The movie is at its best when it lives in the gray area, when team members argue and fight about the best course for humanity. The razing of Tenochtitlan splinters the group, and the classic Marvel formula is complicated by characters who question their purpose. The deviants – ancient enemies of the eternals – almost achieve a level of complexity as well; sadly in the end they simply become something to punch.
If it hasn’t been made clear, I love Greek mythology and human myths in general, so Eternals lines up well with my interests. That being said, the movie is overly long, and the multiple flashbacks bog down the forward momentum of the narrative. And as cool as it is to have a deaf superhero, Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) is much too invisible before the climactic battle.
I wish this movie leapt to the top of the MCU rankings. No other Marvel movie has captured the heartbreak of humanity so beautifully and tragically (I’m thinking of both the Tenochtitlan and Hiroshima scenes). And watching demigods/angels choose the fate of humanity is a tale that’s ages old. But there’s always the sequel. The real test for Eternals will be whether or not there will be significant repercussions for the heroes’ decisions and disobedience. Now we have the perfect setup for a galactic threat like Annihilus to come forth and confront those who dared to deprive billions of lives to save one species. That’ll be a fight worth watching.
John McTiernan has to be my favorite action movie director, for two reasons alone: Die Hard with a Vengeance and Predator. The combination of guns and adventure just doesn’t get better than those two movies. Let’s focus on Predator today, though.
Predator begins like a cliché action romp with the beefy American commandos killing nameless, hapless opponents in a Central American jungle base. But everything changes when an invisible hunter begins picking off the Americans one by one, instilling a new kind of fear within them – the fear of prey. It’s a fantastic premise, with the straightforward action genre taking on elements of science fiction, thriller, and horror. The cast is unforgettable, and it’s always a bummer to lose the larger-than-life characters as they’re impaled and pulled apart. Still, the individual deaths are all classic moments (Billy – the death we don’t see – might be the best one).
Then there’s the Predator himself. He’s a monster similar to the shark in Jaws, an unstoppable and unknowable force of nature. His full reveal in his final battle against Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a jaw dropping moment in cinema. And that final battle just makes the movie even better. There’s Dutch’s primal scream to begin the fight, his ingenuity in creating death traps (expanding the guerilla warfare vs. superior force theme), the Predator learning how to throw a punch, and the creature’s final maniacal laughter. It’s all brilliant.
If there’s one thing I’d cut from the movie, it’s the opening scene showing a spaceship traveling to Earth. I haven’t seen it much, because you never catch the beginning of a movie when you’re watching it on cable or HBO, but I’d much prefer the viewer to be in the dark regarding the Predator’s origins, piecing things together as the characters do. That’s a slight critique though.
It’s a testament to the quality of the original that no sequel has ever come close to matching its exceptional cast, its cryptic antagonist, or its timeless one-liners. So, when is it a good time to watch Predator? “Anytime.” Good answer, Mac.
I’m convinced that not nearly enough people have watched Everybody Wants Some!! Maybe it didn’t get much attention because it’s not a direct sequel to Dazed and Confused – it’s a spiritual successor – but it stands right alongside Linklater’s high school haze cloud of nostalgia.
Whereas Dazed and Confused threw together every social group to see them mix and mingle, Everybody Wants Some!! is focused on college baseball players in Texas as they galivant around town the weekend before classes officially begin. Freshman pitcher Jake leads us into athlete dorm life, but he’s a main character similar to Randall “Pink” Floyd. He’s a decent guy, but his buddies are all more interesting. There’s Jay, the antagonistic pitcher who believes he’s bound for the big show. McReynolds is captivating as the natural athlete who’s overly competitive, a natural leader, and a complete asshole when he chooses to be. And we can’t forget Finnegan who fills in the Mathew McConaughey role of resident ladies’ man who combines laid back confidence with intellectual repartee.
Most of the movie is spent watching the guys bond, argue, debate, compete, and chase women. I hesitate to call this a sports movie, but the one practice we get to watch is a definite highlight. Anyone who played baseball in high school or college will recognize the power struggles and silly fun of practicing without supervision. Everybody Wants Some!! is a good, rewatchable movie, but watching it makes me wish it were expanded to a TV series. It could make a perfect transition from big screen to small.
One minor complaint is the romance subplot between Jake and Beverly is a bit of a drag at the tail end of the movie. Not to say it’s bad, but the movie is at its best when it’s an expanded cast party. Everybody Wants Some!! works as a college movie, sports flick, nostalgia trip, early 80’s mixtape, and bong rip. C’mon, it’s Linklater. Of course weed is involved. Now go watch it.
I didn’t think I would write about A Star Is Born, but two factors inspired me: for some reason the Academy largely dismissed it, and Bradley Cooper’s direction and musical ability are both much more impressive than I expected them to be. Actually, both Cooper and Lady Gaga are surprising. Cooper legitimately sells his performance as a damaged, albeit talented musician, while Gaga’s acting chops are never in question. The two make a great pairing, and their chemistry is undeniable.
A Star Is Born hooked me as soon as the two leads started hanging out, with Jackson (Cooper) drunkenly hitting on Ally (Gaga). The high point of the movie comes soon after, when Ally joins Jackson onstage for an impromptu performance of their first song together, “Shallow.” I’ve re-watched the scene a few times since watching the movie, and I’m sure I’ll return to it again. The first half of the movie is excellent, and the only real weak point in the second half is the introduction of a music producer who seems less like a character and more like a cardboard cutout designed to introduce conflict. Also, Sam Elliot deserves special mention for his role as Jackson’s brother/manager; his conflicts and eventual resolution with Jackson are some of the most compelling moments of the movie.
A Star Is Born works as both a music picture and a romance. It may be a remake of a remake, but it feels fresh thanks to its two charismatic leads. I don’t know why or how Bohemian Rhapsody stole the spotlight that A Star Is Born should be occupying. No matter, because movie and music fans are both lucky that Cooper and Gaga jumped off the deep end and let us watch as they dove in.
Like most comic book fans, I’ve come to accept that DC creates the best animated content for its superheroes (see Batman: The Animated Series, JLA Unlimited, and Young Justice). Well, no one must have told the minds behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Simply put, Spider-Man has never been more fun to watch onscreen.
Into the Spider-Verse is a hero’s journey for new superhero Miles Morales, but he’s joined by a washed-up Peter Parker (played by Jake Johnson, a favorite of mine), Spider-Gwen, and a few other unique Spider-heroes ready to fight on the side of good. It’s easy to suffer from Marvel fatigue considering how many similar movies are churned out each year, but Into the Spider-Verse is creative and funny, with striking visuals, and there’s even a shocking moment at the start of the film that actually saddened me (another unexpected treat is the horror movie vibe that starts up when The Prowler hunts Miles). The animated film shows a clear reverence for the mythology of Spider-Man, and it contains more Easter eggs than my eyes had time to identify.
The only part of Into the Spider-Verse that I didn’t buy was Miles’ upgrade from blundering, awkward, wannabe hero to an amazingly skilled combatant capable of defeating a legendary villain. It’s not a gradual transition, but rather a “believe in yourself and you can do anything” sort of change. To say it’s not realistic is odd, considering the film features a talking pig, but it bothered me. Regardless, I love this film, and I’m hoping the sequel is even better. Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just a great Spidey movie, it’s probably the best Spider-Man movie ever made.
The Rocky franchise permeates my childhood memories. I remember Rocky chasing a chicken, participating in a macho street fight, and of course I remember the exasperated Russian robot swearing that little Rocky is not a man, but a piece of iron. That being said, nostalgia doesn’t overwhelm me when I think about Rocky. It’s not one of my beloved franchises.
Director/screenwriter Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan have made me more excited about the Rocky universe (is everything a “universe” nowadays?) than I ever have been. Coogler understands that the best sports movies are usually not about the sports involved. Similar to the impressive Warrior, Creed is about relationships. Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Jordan) struggles against a legacy he’s unsure he can live up to, that of his deceased father Apollo Creed. Johnson seeks out his father’s rival Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), but the elder champion doesn’t always fit Johnson’s expectations or ideals.
Coogler deserves most of the credit for the film as a whole, but Jordan and Stallone riff off of each other like real family members, with love and tension resting close to the surface. The reason Creed works so well is Coogler nails both the emotional and physical impacts of the story. The boxing choreography is excellent, and Coogler isn’t afraid to pull the camera back and allow the audience to witness the boxers circling each other and swinging away. Jordan performs his own stunts, and it pays off. If you’re not tensed up and cheering for the young Creed by the end of the film, you’re bad at watching sports films. I’m looking forward to watching more of Creed’s journey, and I hope Coogler returns to add more depth to the storied franchise.