Con Air (1997)

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Newly paroled ex-con and former U.S. Ranger Cameron Poe finds himself trapped in a prisoner transport plane when the passengers seize control. (IMDb)
A solid action-thriller with some excellent hair, I mean flair, like a sweaty, golden-maned Nic Cage in a southern drawl delivering lines like “Don’t treat women like that” and “I’m going to show you God does exist”, plus weirdly sappy bookending scenes. Not without flaws (the final chase was overkill) or truly WTF-moments though (the horrible treatment of the Indigenous prisoner, the baffling redemption arc for an inconsequential mass murderer side character, the TV sitcom-esque end credits).
6.5/10 (Alright)

 

Ghost World (2001)

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With only the plan of moving in together after high school, two unusually devious friends seek direction in life. As a mere gag, they respond to a man’s newspaper ad for a date, only to find it will greatly complicate their lives. (IMDb)
The plot is loose and meandering but it’s no matter as the performances are strong (Buscemi as sad sack Seymour really shines), the indie quirkiness on point (see convenience store guy, art teacher), and the thematic threads thoroughly thought-provoking, as nostalgia, niche-dom, and the search for identity do battle with the uncertain future, capitalist suburbia, and loneliness in the post-high school void (“Just think, we’ll never see Dennis again… It’s actually totally depressing”).
8/10 (Great)

 

JWM SPOOKATHON 2018: Monster House (2006)

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Three teens discover that their neighbor’s house is really a living, breathing, scary monster. (IMDb)
Love the spooky fun premise and the classic Stand By Me-esque kids-solving-mystery trope but the execution underwhelms: cop duo aside, the humour is lacking (a lot to do with the often awkwardly stilted dialogue and animation I think) and the payoff for the haunted house intrigue is a bit of a downer that clashes with the film’s comedy-horror tone. The first two acts are still decent enough though due to the strength of its concept and a few good elements (Buscemi’s voice is on point).
6/10 (Mediocre)
CREEPY QUOTE: Bones: “Everybody knows what he did to his wife.” Zee: “Why? What? What did he do to her?” Bones: “He ate her!”
SPOOKY STILL:
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Reservoir Dogs (1992)

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After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant. (IMDb)
Showing only the before and after of the heist job is a unique conceit that could easily flop without a strong script; fortunately, Tarantino fully delivers with car trunk loads of sizzling mono/dialogues (the strong cast never wavers in numerous lengthy scenes) and a compelling back-and-forth-in-time narrative that perfectly develops the characters (see the Mr. Orange twist; wanted an official Mr. Pink intro though). Deliberate, artistic camerawork (see the final close-up) brings it all home.
8/10 (Great)

 

The Death of Stalin (2017)

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Follows the Soviet dictator’s last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death. (IMDb)
Quite an entertaining script: Takes the prim and proper genre of historical drama and the dark subject matter of dictators and deathly politics and injects it with some Monty Python-esque flair, as a charmingly accuracy-apathetic hodgepodge of accents and expletives craft one hilarious skit after another (see the Council’s bickering at board meetings, their game of telephone at the funeral, figuring out Stalin’s last gesture) which are all tied together in a solid political power games-plot.
8/10 (Great)

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

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A veteran Vegas magician tries to revive his career after his longtime partner quits, he gets fired from his casino act, and an edgy new “street magician” steals his thunder. (IMDb)
Burt’s journey from innocent kid to arrogant/tragic adult and back (figuratively) is a little choppy and unfounded, but compelling, and offers decent comedy (see his hot-box antics, solo two-man trick) to go with a few sweet moments (see his magic show with Rance at the care home) and fun tricks (see the crazy climax). Buscemi’s oft-neglected Anton (see his third-wheel moment at the motel), Carrey’s hardcore rival magician, and Gandolfini’s self-absorbed hotel owner are fun secondary characters.
6.5/10 (Alright)

The Big Lebowski (1998)

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“The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it. (IMDb)
A fun madcap crime plot with hilarious mishaps galore (see Walter’s car smash, the Germans’ failed extortion in the parking lot) is decorated by hilarious characters and memorable dialogue, most notably the three main buds (the bowling motif is nerdy excellence, BTW): The ultra-relaxed Dude (“That’s just like, your opinion, man”), the short-tempered Walter (“This is what happens, Larry!”), and the absent-minded Donny (“That’s your name, Dude!”). The dream sequence felt unnecessary though.
8/10 (Great)

Fargo (1996)

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Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson. (IMDb)
The bleak snowy setting is perfect for this tightly spun tale of cold-blooded murder (see the red on white in the chilling wood-chipper scene). The three well-acted main players each add their own engaging element to the mix: The anxious Jerry a compelling character deterioration; the volatile Carl and his silent thug both odd-couple comedy and brutal violence; the down-to-earth cop Marge both slick smarts and small-town sweetness (“There’s more to life than a little money, you know”).
8.5/10 (Amazing)