Pitch Perfect (2012)

pitchperfect_7Starring Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson, Alexis Knapp, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Kelley Jakle, Wanetah Walmsley, Shelley Regner, Caroline Fourmy, Nicole Lovince, Adam DeVine, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, John Benjamin Hickey

Directed by Jason Moore

Expectations: Low.

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Pitch Perfect is a film that I have a hard time knowing if I actually liked it or not. I definitely didn’t think it was ultra-awful, and to be honest I don’t even know if I thought it was kinda bad. It is kinda bad, but I enjoyed it for what it was: a piece of dumb, mainstream fluff with a lot of singing. To say that I liked it would technically be right, but it also feels so wrong.

This would be a good time for someone to tell me that I felt guilty about liking it, and all that nonsense above is really just smoke and mirrors around the fact that I liked it, but I don’t want to come right out and say it because I’m embarrassed. I assure you that this is not the case, I actively liked and disliked it at the same time. It’s like a B-Movie in that way; I liked it despite the numerous reasons and negative aspects that should have made me dislike it.

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The Wild Bunch (1969)

wildbunch_2Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sánchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernández, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Albert Dekker, Alfonso Arau

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Expectations: High. It’s The Wild Bunch.

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When I was a teenager I loved The Wild Bunch because it was bloody and violent in ways that I had never seen in a classic western. This violence — and the way it was edited — would forever change the course of American cinema. Re-watching the film in my 30s, I am struck by how the violence is never presented as entertainment. It is instead meant to affect the viewer, and while 45 years of violent, bloody filmmaking have definitely softened its impact a bit, it’s still incredibly brutal and hard to watch at times. The violence also makes the film feel a lot more modern than its contemporaries, which I’m sure is a huge reason why this film has continued to resonate with audiences over the years.

On the surface, The Wild Bunch is about a gang of bandits who are looking to make one last score before getting out of the game. On their tail is the calm, mild-mannered Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), who was once a trusted member of the outlaw group. It’s a rather simple and often-used story, but The Wild Bunch never feels simple or clichéd. One of the first images on-screen shows a group of children huddled around a colony of red ants attacking a small group of scorpions. This image is not only striking, but it is representative of the rest of the film and the struggles of the main character Pike (not to mention our own fascination with watching violent struggles).

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Cocktail (1988)

cocktail_4Starring Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown, Elisabeth Shue, Lisa Banes, Laurence Luckinbill, Kelly Lynch, Gina Gershon, Ron Dean, Robert Donley, Ellen Foley

Directed by Roger Donaldson

Expectations: Very low.

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When you hear someone talking about ’80s movies that haven’t aged well, Cocktail is exactly the type of movie they’re talking about. Everything about the film is so drenched in 1980s wealth-seeking immorality that it’s no surprise the film was a huge success in its day. But in 2013, Cocktail stands easily identifiable as a dated and overlong mess of a film. I love ’80s movies more than most people, but Cocktail is ’80s in all the wrong ways.

But for some reason Cocktail isn’t all that hard to watch. Sure, it’s well-shot and features some great locations in New York City and Jamaica, but that’s beside the point. The real reason is Tom Cruise. I’ve never been much of a fan, but I can’t deny him his ability to fill a screen and own it with his charisma. He’s on full display throughout the film and he does a great job playing a sexist, idealistic douche. The supporting cast is also easy on the eyes, with Bryan Brown perfectly playing the cocky bartender mentor and Elisabeth Shue looking beautiful as she facilitates romantic plot points for Cruise to work his way through.

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White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

whitemencantjump_4Starring Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Rosie Perez, Tyra Ferrell, Cylk Cozart, Kadeem Hardison, Ernest Harden Jr., John Marshall Jones, Marques Johnson, David Roberson

Directed by Ron Shelton

Expectations: High. I love basketball.

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It’s going to be hard for me to justify my high rating of White Men Can’t Jump, as I can definitely identify some aspects that you could call flaws. But the greatness of the film comes in just how entertaining it is in spite of these issues. This is a movie that will definitely not win everyone over, as its success hinges pretty heavily on your enjoyment of the leads, the ’90s, trash talking and the game of basketball. I happen to be a fan of them all so White Men Can’t Jump was basically preaching to the choir with me.

Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) is a man in search of a future, floating along the best he can by making money with his basketball skills. He meets Sydney (Wesley Snipes) on the court, and when Billy bests him with ease, Sydney thinks the two of them might have a shot at running hustles around town to make some quick cash. So that’s what they do, and that’s the bulk of White Men Can’t Jump. Outside of the relationships that Billy and Sydney have with the women in their lives, there’s not much else to the movie.

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Demolition Man (1993)

demolitionman_3Starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Gunton, Glenn Shadix, Denis Leary, Bill Cobbs, Grand L. Bush, Pat Skipper, Steve Kahan, Paul Bollen

Directed by Marco Brambilla

Expectations: Very high. I used to love this one.

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Demolition Man is a movie without much middle ground. You’ll either come down on the side of the supporters or you’ll be left scratchin’ your head as to why anyone would enjoy it. In many ways, this is exactly the type of movie that should never be reviewed. It’s not one that stands up to harsh criticism, nor is it one that you could really sway anyone’s opinion on by pointing out specific scenes or intricacies the other person may have missed. This isn’t Bergman, it’s simply an action movie you either enjoy or you don’t.

The film opens in the war-torn streets of the future Los Angeles of 1996. Shit has most definitely gotten real, and mastermind sadistic criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) has kidnapped a bus full of civilians and hidden them somewhere in the city. That’s exactly the kind of stuff that will not stand in an action movie, so in drops John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) from a helicopter overhead. He’s a no-nonsense cop nicknamed the Demolition Man, and he’s ready to kick some serious ass. But when Phoenix outsmarts him, they both wind up in cryo prison while the world moves on from violence and abhorrent behavior.

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Double Indemnity (1944)

doubleindemnity_6Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, Fortunio Bonanova, John Philliber

Directed by Billy Wilder

Expectations: Very high. I love this one.

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Double Indemnity is the film noir genre at the top of its game. Fred MacMurray stars as Walter Neff, an insurance salesman, and the film opens as he staggers into his office in the middle of the night. He sits down at his desk, grabs the Dictaphone mic and begins to record his tale for the benefit of his boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). This “opening at the ending” trick is always a good one, and the framing bits in Double Indemnity are among the best that cinema has to offer. As Neff’s story begins, he’s out on a routine policy renewal for the auto insurance of a Mr. Dietrichson. But he’s not home, so Neff deals with Dietrichson’s wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck). After some quick banter and a ton of sexual energy centered around Phyllis’s anklet, the film is off to a juicy start, unfolding its engaging plot at a flawless, even pace that never dulls.

Adapted from a James M. Cain novel, Double Indemnity‘s script is a thing of beauty. Written by Billy Wilder and detective novelist Raymond Chandler, the dialogue zings off the page at a 100 mph. This isn’t quite the rapid-fire of His Girl Friday, but the sleazy, double-crossing characters knock witty lines back and forth as effortlessly as a couple of tennis pros. There are moments when the dialogue does feel a bit overwritten, but when the acting is as superb as it is here, little things like that just fall by the wayside.

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Bully (2001)

bully_1Starring Brad Renfro, Bijou Phillips, Rachel Miner, Nick Stahl, Michael Pitt, Leo Fitzpatrick, Kelli Garner, Daniel Franzese, Nathalie Paulding, Ed Amatrudo, Jessica Sutta

Directed by Larry Clark

Expectations: Low.

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I can neither say that I liked or disliked Larry Clark’s Bully. It definitely has moments of pure honesty and tension that sear themselves into your psyche like a bullet to the brain, but it’s more often than not boring and meandering. In this way, it reflects its character well, a bunch of kids who are just along for the ride. They don’t particularly care who they’re with or where they’re going, just as long as they’re going somewhere, and experiencing something. But this is no way to live a life, and Bully fully explores this as the film moves closer to its finale.

Bully tells the story of Marty (Brad Renfro) and his friend Bobby (Nick Stahl). They’ve been friends since they were little kids, but that friendship isn’t built on trust and loyalty, it’s built on fear. Bobby bullies Marty incessantly, treating him like a slave and hitting him for messing up, even when others are around. Marty, of course, just takes it and tries to contain his anger. Clark never explores where Marty releases this anger, but based on his love of surfing, I think it’s safe to assume that riding the waves is more about a sense of freedom and cleansing than simply soaking up some rays.

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