Cloak & Dagger Season One

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Cloak and Dagger: Season One (2018)
Rating: 3 of 5 stars.
Platform: Freeform, Hulu.
Starring: Olivia Holt, Aubrey Joseph, Emma Lahana.

Cloak and Dagger is solid, but doesn’t live up to the established MCU. The show excels in cinematography with beautiful scenes, choreography, lighting, set design, and a solid contemporary hip hop and alternative pop soundtrack. However, its attempts to pander to young adult Shadowhunter-esque viewers leaves it bloated with unnaturally heavy emotional sequences.

The show takes itself too seriously and loses credibility in the process. Zero comedic relief and poor dialogue result in wasted efforts by talented young actors, and a campy soap-opera feel. Episodes steadily improve as the season progresses.

Episode One: First Light – 3 stars

The first episode of Cloak and Dagger introduces us to our protagonists as children, on the day their lives essentially switched places. Tyrone is raised in the ghetto, influenced by grand theft and doing whatever it takes to get by. Tandy is a middle class ballerina. Each endures a fateful trauma that robs Tandy’s family of their status, and sets Tyrone on a path of toeing the line to escape his upbringing.

Eight years later Tandy is a poor grifter, using her good looks to take advantage of privileged sleazebags, and Tyrone is a respectable young man on a successful prep school basketball team. The two cross paths at a party to discover they have an unusual connection.

A lot of the scripting feels like the writers should have spent more time observing actual teenagers and their lingo. Both protagonists feel a little too dramatic, a little too serious. With zero comedic relief or traditional teenage problems, the show is unrecognizable from the rest of the MCU. Even the gritty Netflix series are less soapy and more personal.

The first episode is intriguing enough to make you want to tune back in for another, but it’s far from an edge-of-your-seat thriller. I wasn’t sucked in. I didn’t fall in love with the characters. I didn’t feel a burning need to see what happens next. It’s interesting at most.

The plot jumps between the present, the past, and the Darkhold dimension (first introduced in Agents of SHIELD) where Cloak and Dagger’s powers blend the two together, giving them insight into who they are and how they became what they are. It’s easy enough to follow along with, but it creates a meandering plot that doesn’t really feel as if it’s advancing, even when it is.

Episode Two: Suicide Sprints – 2.5 stars

Little happens to advance the overall plot. Most of the episode focuses on the primary characters’ personal struggles with no external protagonist working against them. Tandy works a con to try and steal startup money for a new life outside of New Orleans, while Tyrone deals with basketball team drama and briefly contends with the man who killed his brother.   

Episode Three: Stained Glass – 1 star

Tyrone and Tandy’s mysterious connection draws them together once again. Poor film editors felt the need to show us the same scene twice (supposedly from both perspectives, though the camera angles and content are all identical?).

The two have a bizarre Darkforce dimension scene that’s supposed to be this profound revelatory experience, but it’s completely self-sabotaged by overacting and absurdly written lines like “You can’t keep doing the same thing. The end will always be the same!” and “Can’t you see what’s right in front of your face? Stop running, you have to try something else!” It’s got to be one of the dumbest scenes I’ve ever seen in a serious show.

Episode Four: Call/Response – 1.5 stars

The season finally begins to advance its narrative as Tandy helps her mother’s boyfriend decipher old Roxxon records and Tyrone investigates the cop who shot his brother. We also finally get to see someone actively working against them for the first time.

Unfortunately we’re stuck with more atrocious dialogue like “When we touch, shit goes boom.” We also get a great pissing contest over who has it harder. Race relations, suicide, drug use, poverty, depression, entitlement and more all crammed into a thirty-second montage like they needed to check off their list of “teen issues” but couldn’t come up with enough plot to do it properly.

Episode Five: Princeton Offense – 2.5 stars

It took half a season for a tiny moment of comedic relief, but we finally got it. The kind of goofy teen-discovering-his-powers incident that comic book fans have loved for decades, and we only got it halfway through the season.

The show is continually written in the soapy overly dramatic style of Twilight Saga and Shadowhunters, though even those shows have more lighthearted moments than Cloak and Dagger.

Further proof the writers haven’t researched anything at all. A high school basketball game where the final ten seconds are actually ten seconds has never happened in the history of forever. Neither team tries to foul and stop the clock? That’s a bigger fantasy than their powers. Not to mention they let the sixth-man shoot the buzzer-beater.

On the bright side, we finally get some decent character development outside of the titular duo, and delve deeper into the shady backdealings of the NOPD and Roxxon.

Episode Six: Funhouse Mirrors – 3 stars

Not a whole lot to say, except that it was a notable improvement on the prior episodes. Little melodrama with real human scenes that allow the viewer to feel emotion rather than having emotion thrust upon them.

Episode Seven: Lotus Eaters – 5 stars

Finally our first deep dive into the horrors of the Darkforce dimension. Tim Kang gives a phenomenal performance as a catatonic Ivan Hess, trapped in an eternal repeat of the five minutes preceding the explosion that started their whole story.

The episode reminds me of the conclusion to Doctor Strange, while also waxing philosophic with the time loop as a metaphor for getting stuck in the past and the need to move on.

The show also earned its first laugh of the season.

Episode Eight: Ghost Stories – 5 stars

Another excellent episode, rendered imperfect only due to the rest of the season’s failure to properly build. The apparent resolution of a major plot point and the death of a minor character is unfortunately less than tragic simply because of the prior episodes’ lack of investment.

Episode Nine: Back Breaker – 3 stars

Viewers who haven’t read the comics will be unaware that much of the personal dynamics of Tandy and Tyrone are switched from their source. Tyrone was from the ghetto, Tandy was a spoiled little rich girl. That switchery continues in this episode as Tandy begins to explore a darker side of her powers that’s more reminiscent of the comic book version of Cloak.

She’s not the only one to go off the deep end as both suddenly become total assholes for no apparent reason in order to fit the hero archetype that Tyrone’s teacher narrates throughout the episode. What they attempt to present as artsy just feels forced and unnecessary.

Forced and unnecessary also describes the “Divine Pairing” narrative that would have been fine had it been utilized properly. For three or four episodes they try to build suspense for an epic showdown that will supposedly change everything. But three or four episodes isn’t long enough to build that kind of suspense. I’m not saying to go full Game of Thrones and spend four or five seasons building, but at least give it to us a little bit longer.

Episode Ten: Colony Collapse – 4 stars

The Darkhold spilleth over. The season culminates in a solid, if unoriginal, finale reminiscent of Batman Begins. The city descends into chaos, though not quite as chaotic as an action-lover might hope, and the Divine Pairing narrative continues to detract from the story rather than add to it. The writers’ attempts to ground Cloak and Dagger in the history of New Orleans causes them to lose their own story along the way.

A major flaw in the narrative is the writers’ expectation for us to cheer our heroes on as they recklessly hack, slash, and shoot their way through crowds of infected innocent bystanders who aren’t responsible for their own actions. Very heroic. We do get a bit more hokey dialogue, but the ultimate cheese comes when they hold hands to save the day.

The Deep End of the Ocean spends too much time in the shallows

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The Deep End of the Ocean (1999)
Rating: 2.5 of 5.
Directed by Ulu Grosbard.
Written by Stephen Schiff.
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Treat Williams, Jonathan Jackson, Ryan Merriman, John Kapelos.
Budget: $38 million.
Gross: $28 million.

Michelle Pfeiffer stars at Beth Cappadora, a grieving mother of three who struggles with spiraling depression following the disappearance of her three-year old son. Nine years after the incident the family moves to Chicago and encounters a neighborhood boy who bears a striking resemblance to her long lost son.

The movie is a bit campy at times and never really feels authentic. The actors do well to inhabit their roles, but the music rarely matches the scene and the plot simply unfolds rather than the characters actually driving it.

Whoopi Goldberg’s character could have been cut completely, and more time should have been devoted to fleshing out the relationship between John Kapelos and the Cappadoras.  With a runtime of only 108 minutes, it could have easily been extended by half an hour to add a few more scenes with some real drama. Stephen Schiff’s dialogue also needed some serious work.

Deep End works, but only barely. It’s worth catching on television, but won’t make anyone’s list of favorites.

Border Brigands is brutally boring

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Border Brigands (1935).
Rating: 1 of 5 stars.
Directed by Nick Grinde.
Written by Stuart Anthony.
Starring Buck Jones, Lona Andre, Fred Kohler, Frank Rice.

Painfully dull western tale of a Canadian Mountie who crosses the southern border to pursue his brother’s killer. Buck Jones takes vengeance on Captain Conyda’s gang by going undercover in their ranks and tricking them into crossing the border where his unit lies in wait.

This movie is filled to the brim with awkward characters and uncomfortable dialogue. Fred Kohler gives a bizarre performance as the self-appointed Captain with an obscure accent and an obsession with the third person. Lona Andre is uncomfortable in her role. Frank Rice comes off as dim witted and completely unnecessary to the plot.

Bad writing, bad acting, weird camera angles, no music. Nothing about this movie is enjoyable, save for a solid performance from Jones.

Johnny Mack Brown can't save Bad Man From Red Butte

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Bad Man From Red Butte (1940)
Rating: 2 of 5.
Directed by Ray Taylor.
Written by Sam Robins.
Starring: Johnny Mack Brown, Bob Baker, Fuzzy Knight

The lawless town that needs a sheriff is one of the most overdone concepts in western cinema, but Bad Man has a unique twist. One of Jonny Mack Brown’s more interesting roles, he portrays both the murderous bandit who shoots up a small town, as well as the bandit’s twin brother who does his best to clean things up.

The dual roles confuses the hell out of the townspeople, who have years of familiarity with bad boy Gills Brady and don’t quite trust the good brother, Buck Halliday. Unfortunately, Brown’s unique characterization isn’t enough to carry a film that’s fairly devoid of plot and wholly uninteresting.

Fuzzy Knight is reeled in drastically from the over-the-top buffoonery he’s often known for, relying on clever quips and one-liners rather than his typical slapstick style.

Arizona Cyclone is better left on the dusty shelves of yesteryear

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Arizona Cyclone (1941)
Rating: 2 of 5.
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis.
Written by Sherman L. Lowe.
Starring: Johnny Mack Brown, Fuzzy Knight, Nell O’Day.

This is the third film I’ve seen from Sherman Lowe, and it is best thus far – substantially better than Pony Post and Bury Me Not on the Open Prairie, though it is still flawed to the brim.

Tom Baxter (Johnny Mack Brown) runs a freight wagon for P-BL, owned by George and Claire Randolph (Nell O’Day), and gets caught up in a rivalry with Quirt Crenshaw (Dick Curtis) who rides for a competing company. Crenshaw undertakes a sabotage campaign to try and bankrupt the P-BL by any means necessary.

Charles Van Enger’s cinematography is solid for its day, though modern viewers will be turned off by the black and white shooting. Music by Milton Rosen and Hans J. Salter is one of the strong points of the film. Sound mixing and film editing are both choppy and inconsistent.

Fuzzy Knight gives the same performance he gives in every film - over the top slapstick comedy. His character is magnetically drawn to the horse trough and can’t seem to walk a straight line without tumbling all over himself.

O’Day is her typical emotionless self, incapable of demonstrating even the slightest hint of sorrow after great personal loss. Johnny Mack Brown is unremarkable.

For no particular reason the film features a few scenes of cowboys giving the kind of flawless vocal performance that would never ever happen in real life.

As is my verdict with the vast majority of the Universal Studios mass-produced early 20th century westerns, Arizona Cyclone is better left on the dusty shelves of yesteryear.

Hitch is the perfect rom-com

Hitch (2005)
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars.
Directed by Andy Tennant.
Written by Kevin Bisch.
Starring: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James.
Budget: $70 million.
Gross: $368.1 million

Hitch is a flawless romantic comedy with a unique concept, rich characterization, and strong performances from its three leads.

The intoxicating personality of Will Smith inhabits Alex Hitchens, a professional date doctor who helps nice guys get the attention of girls who typically wouldn’t notice them. His latest client (Kevin James) is his most ambitious project yet, desperately in love with the super model whose financial accounts he manages.

Eva Mendes plays Sara Melas, a gossip columnist, and the personification of the type of romantic cynic who wouldn’t enjoy this movie.

“Because,” asks Hitchens, “who’s gonna believe that there’s a man out there that can sit down beside a woman he doesn’t know and genuinely be interested in who she is, what she does, without his own agenda?”

“I wouldn’t even know what that would look like,” responds Melas.

Indeed, most women have encountered more than their fair share of self-professed “nice guys” who introduce themselves like Hitchens but ultimately end up behaving like Vance Munson. Jeffrey Donovan portrays your typical misogynist. “Power suit, power tie, power steering.” A confident pig with all the right words, but whose end-goal is just to get laid.

Unfortunately for both genders, the Munsons of the world tend to spoil dating for everybody, turning good girls off to good guys and leaving both sides in a self-propagating whirlpool of cynicism.

Thus is the premise of Melas’s inner conflict. To accept Hitch’s advances as genuine, or write him off as one the asshats she has had enough of. And, just like real life, even when both halves of the couple are good people with good intentions, a breakdown in communication can still come close to ruining things.

Every moment of the movie is enjoyable. The romance never feels forced or hokey. The duty of comedic relief is evenly shared by every character, with no single one of them laying it on too thick. The morals of the story are numerous and well conveyed.

I have probably seen this classic north of thirty or forty times, and it truly never grows old.

Gunfight at Black Horse Canyon isn't worth your time

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Gunfight at Black Horse Canyon (1961)
Rating: 1 of 5 stars.
Directed by R. G. Springsteen.
Written by Anthony Lawrence, Jack Turley, and Frank Gruber.
Starring: Dale Robertson, Patricia Owens.

Gunfight awkwardly splices together two episodes from NBC’s Tales of Wells Fargo (1957-1962) and the result is some of the worst film editing I’ve ever seen.

After finishing the movie I was able to reconnect the tapestry of plot in a manner that could have made it decent, but it’s not worth the mental legwork.

Katherine (Patricia Owens) is sent west via train as a biased journalist with a bleak opinion of her rural destination. On her journey she meets a mysterious stranger who takes a liking to her, and his gang takes her hostage after she witnesses them robbing and shooting two men.

Jim Hardie (Dale Robertson) is a Wells Fargo agent tasked with the job of keeping Katherine safe on her visit. He lives under the threat of a $5000 bounty, placed on his head by a vengeance-minded ex-con who he helped put away ten years prior. This aspect of the film is introduced early on, abandoned for an hour, then suddenly resuscitated shortly before the resolution.

At no point does it feel like the film is building towards anything, and several subplots should have been left on the cutting room floor. Had this been an original shoot instead of a Frankenstein job of existing content, multiple characters could have been combined to simplify the story and give the viewer more time to connect with the individuals.

With hundreds of quality classic westerns to peruse, one need not waste time on Gunfight at Black Horse Canyon.

1408 is fully immersive horror at its finest

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1408 (2007)
Rating: 5 of 5 stars.
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom.
Written by Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski.
Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson.
Budget: $25 million.
Gross: $132 million.

Based on a short story by Master of Horror Stephen King, 1408 is the kind of supernatural thriller that succeeds through psychological torture rather than cheap jump scares or gore. Directed by Academy Award nominee Mikael Hafstrom, every inch of the movie is masterfully designed to suck you in, keep you on the edge of your seat, and terrify you with each turn.

John Cusack gives a riveting performance as Mike Enslin, an author and paranormal investigator who doesn’t actually believe in the paranormal. Though he himself has never seen a spectre, he does his due diligence in staying overnight at supposedly haunted houses, hotels, lighthouses and more to cultivate spooky dime store paperbacks for his small but loyal fanbase.

His career brings him to the Dolphin Hotel in New York City, where room 1408 has claimed 56 souls in its 95-year history. Despite being closed to patrons for decades under its current manager, the room still maims the occasional victim during its monthly cleanings.

What is 1408? It’s not a haunting. There’s no demon, ghost, killer, or poltergeist. The hotel manager, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, sums it up perfectly. “It’s an evil fucking room.”

Despite Jackson’s best efforts to dissuade him, Enslin insists on staying the night in the room which no one has ever lasted longer than an hour within. Over the course of his stay, Enslin is drawn further and further down the Kafkaesque rabbit hole of eerie happenings and close encounters with the otherworldly.

From phantom confrontations with the room’s previous occupants, to bizarre indoor weather phenomena, events don’t reach the peak of horror until they start to mirror his personal life and innermost demons.

There are only a handful of characters in the film, which gives us more time to develop a relationship with Enslin. As with all truly great horror films, the film succeeds in the human element, constructing a believable and relatable protagonist which Cusack perfectly encapsulates. He’s intelligent and has a quick wit about him, but he is also cynical and plagued by the baggage of his failed family unit.

An emotional encounter with his deceased daughter is one of the most horrific scenes I have ever witnessed, and the final minute of the film is chilling.

The Oscar-winning musical genius of Gabriel Yared puts together a hauntingly beautiful score that transcends the horror genre and entrances the viewer, pulling on all the right heartstrings at all the right moments. Yared’s work fuses with masterful cinematography from Benoit Delhomme and shamefully underappreciated production design by Andrew Laws to fully immerse the viewer in this instant horror classic.

13 Going on 30 is timeless and splendid

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13 Going on 30 (2004)
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars.
Directed by Gary Winick
Written by Josh Goldsmith, Cathy Yuspa.
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Andy Serkis.
Budget: $37 million.
Gross: $96.5 million.

13 Going on 30 is a timeless rom-com that is as enjoyable on its thirtieth viewing as it is on the first.

The film opens in 1987 on the fourteenth birthday of Jenna Rink - not a total social outcast like her best friend Matty, but definitely not a member of the in-crowd. Jenna longs to be a member of a preppy clique, the “Six Chicks,” and wishes she could be “thirty, flirty, and thriving” like the models in Poise Magazine.

After being on the receiving end of an embarrassing prank, Jenna wishes she could be 30, and wakes up fully grown in 2004 to discover that all of her dreams came true. She became the queen of the Six Chicks in high school, and is now the sexy bitchy editor of Poise. Along the way she lost her best friend, her relationship with her parents, and her entire personality.

Jenna, now portrayed by Jennifer Garner, has to navigate the complexities of adulthood, piece together the sixteen years she missed out on, and make some effort to get her life back on track.

The story concept works together with an excellent soundtrack to inspire nostalgia in most viewers. All of us can relate to growing up too quick and struggling with regret for mistakes made and time wasted.

Garner perfectly embodies the awkward and innocent teenage spirit, even going so far as to gush over a fourteen-year old boy in a restaurant. Her girlish charm is intoxicating, and she has an incredible chemistry with Mark Ruffalo as adult Matty.

Christa B. Allen, Sean Marquette, and Alexandra Kyle were perfect as the younger versions of the primary characters. Allen and Kyle were perfectly cast, so much so that Allen went on to portray a younger Garner in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Marquette did a fine job, though he doesn’t much resemble Ruffalo.

Ten going on 25. Fifteen years have passed since I first saw this film, and I love it as much now as I did as a child. It’s great for all ages. In my youth I related to the younger Jenna and her longing to be grown already. Now I empathize with the adult Jenna, her desire to undo her mistakes, rekindle her lost friendships, and crawl into bed with her parents and feel like a kid again.

If you don’t like cheesy romantic comedies, 13 Going on 30 won’t win you to the genre. But anyone who likes to cry, laugh, and feel butterflies all in the same hour will likely name it among their favorites.

Marvel Cinematic Universe Film Series

Scott’s Rankings

5.0 The Avengers
5.0 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
5.0 Thor: Ragnarok
5.0 Iron Man
5.0 Captain America: Civil War
5.0 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
4.5 Avengers: Infinity War
4.5 Captain Marvel
4.5 Captain America: The First Avenger
4.0 Guardians of the Galaxy
4.0 Ant-Man
4.0 Doctor Strange
4.0 Avengers: Age of Ultron
4.0 Spider-Man: Homecoming
4.0 Black Panther
4.0 Ant-Man and the Wasp
4.0 Thor
3.5 Iron Man 3
3.5 The Incredible Hulk
3.5 Thor: The Dark World
3.0 Iron Man 2

Release Order

Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The Avengers (2012)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015)
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Black Panther (2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Captain Marvel (2019)
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

By Gross

$2,048,359,754 Avengers: Infinity War
$1,518,812,988 The Avengers
$1,405,403,694 Avengers: Age of Ultron
$1,346,913,161 Black Panther
$1,214,811,252 Iron Man 3
$1,153,304,495 Captain America: Civil War
$911,666,190 Captain Marvel
$880,166,924 Spider-Man: Homecoming
$863,756,051 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
$853,977,126 Thor: Ragnarok
$773,328,629 Guardians of the Galaxy
$714,264,268 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
$677,718,395 Doctor Strange
$644,571,402 Thor: The Dark World
$623,933,331 Iron Man 2
$622,674,139 Ant-Man and the Wasp
$585,174,222 Iron Man
$519,311,965 Ant-Man
$449,326,618 Thor
$370,569,774 Captain America: The First Avenger
$263,427,551 The Incredible Hulk

Watch Order

Captain Marvel
Captain America: The First Avenger
Iron Man
Iron Man 2
The Incredible Hulk
Thor
The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ant-Man
Captain America: Civil War
Black Panther
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Doctor Strange
Thor: Ragnarok
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Endgame

Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie

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Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie (1941)
Rating: 2 of 5 stars.
Directed by Ray Taylor.
Written by Sherman L. Lowe, Victor McLeod.
Starring Johnny Mack Brown, Fuzzy Knight, Nell O’Day.

Johnny Mack Brown stars as Joe Henderson, out to avenge the murder of his brother, who was gunned down by claim jumpers after striking gold.

Fuzzy Knight is riotous as usual with his signature brand of over-the-top buffoonery. After finding his own gold, he suffers a head injury and loses his grasp on reality, much to the dismay of the three murderous bandits. They find him and his saddlebag full of gold, but can’t extract any information on where he found it.

Bury Me Not is nearly identical to Pony Post, which came out a year prior. Ray Taylor and Sherman Lowe made notable improvements on their previous exploit, though the film is still heavily flawed. The fights are more real and less excessively choreographed, and Knight’s comedic routine is reigned in significantly. The sound mixing, cinematography, and dialogue all received much needed upgrades.

Still, the drama and human element are nonexistent. The whole film takes place immediately following the murder of the protagonist’s brother and his girlfriend’s father. And yet, not a single tear is shed. There is no sorrow, the tone is consistently upbeat, and the quest for vengeance is more of an obligation than anything.

The film is filled with the silly oddities of its day. A campsite full of singing cowboys is fine, but realistically, they probably shouldn’t have Grammy Award-quality vocals. There are traces of subtle racist stereotyping that you have to expect from that era. At one point the sheriff rounds up an entire posse just to deal with an Indian who “got a hold of some firewater and went plumb loco.”

Overall, the movie will play fine for fans of the era, but it won’t survive the annals of history, and your modern viewer will find little to enjoy.

Quantum of Solace falls short of expectations

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Quantum of Solace (2008)
Rating: 4 of 5 stars.
Directed by Marc Foster.
Written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Jude Dench.

“When you can’t tell your friends from your enemies it’s time to go.” Fortunately for film-goers, Bond disregards M’s advice, and we’re given several solid sequels. Though Quantum of Solace fails to live up to both its predecessor and its sequel, it’s still an enjoyable entry into the world’s best spy franchise.

Quantum opens in the immediate wake of Casino Royale, and a thrilling car chase through Italy, as MI6 investigates the shadowy organization behind the events that transpired in the conclusion of the first film. This film’s love for chase scenes transcends the roads and extends to the water and the air as well.

If his betrayal in the first film wasn’t enough to cause Bond all-due distrust, Quantum immediately makes it clear that he can’t even turn to his own organization for help as its ranks have been compromised. Despite his usual lone-wolf status, he does still have a few friends to call on.

Another money-motivated villain is fine, but unfortunately Dominic Greene was not intimidating, entertaining, nor memorable as the head of reforestation charity that secretly leverages third world dictators.

An immediate difference between Martin Campbell and Marc Forster is their shooting style. While Campbell utilized wide angles and let the action sequences speak for themselves, Forster often uses close quarters, rapidly moving cameras, and choppy cuts that often make it difficult to track what’s actually happening.

The film is substantially shorter than its predecessor. Despite being more than half an hour shorter than Casino, it still manages to run out of steam and feels rather devoid intrigue, despite overwhelming action.

Casino Royale is everything a spy movie aught to be

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Casino Royale (2006)
Rating: 5 of 5.
Directed by Martin Campbell.
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench.
Budget: $150 million.
Gross: $600 million.

A soft reboot of the franchise, Casino Royale opens with Bond notching his first two kills to earn double-zero status. His body count rapidly accelerates to an impressive number, considering most of the film revolves around a game of cards. Casino also earned an impressive number at the box office as the highest-grossing Bond film to that point.

The Daniel Craig movies bring Bond into the 21st century with a bang, leaning far more heavily on traditional gritty action and drama than on the hokey gadgets and superweapons that the franchise was known for. Instead of the Cold War crazies, the film’s baddie is motivated purely by money.

Mads Mikkelsen is tremendous as Le Chiffre, a banker for many of the world’s terrorist organizations. After gambling away his clients’ funds on a failed stock market manipulation plot, he arranges a high-stakes poker game to try and cover his tracks.

Royale is guilty of some of the insanely overly choreographed nonsense that befalls many modern movies. As if someone legitimately trying to get away would scale a crane and try to navigate their way through the steel beam skeleton of a skyscraper under construction, rather than simply disappearing into the street crowds. It’s hard to fault it, however, as that’s exactly the kind of over the top action that the Bond movies are famous for, and its fans have come to expect the fantastic.

The score is perfect throughout. It builds consistently throughout the airport scene. It’s wondrous, hopeful, and adventurous in the all the right moments. David Arnold deserved an Oscar nod for his work. The late Chris Cornell provided a quality title track.

Eva Green shares remarkable chemistry with Craig and gives a splendid performance as Vesper Lynd, the Treasury agent supervising Bond’s purse strings at the casino and one of the best-written Bond girls to date.

Craig is perfect as Bond, even if the script prevents him from being remarkable. The strong silent type is a hard character to earn any accolades for portraying, but the newest Bond does all he can be expected to do. He’s confident, suave, and ruggedly handsome. Easily the most badass of all the Bonds, his writers are unfortunately lacking in the humorous one-liner department.

The writing team of Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade lays the groundwork for an excellent saga to come and Campbell would make a welcome director in future installments. Overall, Casino is everything a spy movie aught to be.

Street Smart is solid but not quite smart enough

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Street Smart (1987)
Rating: 3.5 of 5.
Directed by Jerry Schatzberg.
Written by David Freeman.
Starring Christopher Reeve, Morgan Freeman.
Budget: $6 million.
Box Office: $1.1 million.

Christopher Reeve portrays a journalist whose fabricated tale of “24 hours in the life of a pimp” lands him in hot water with the courts after it closely resembles the story of a real-life pimp on trial for murder. The story is a tad unrealistic, but intriguing nonetheless.

Reeve and Morgan Freeman form an uneasy alliance to try and cover both of their asses, but their relationship quickly deteriorates and Reeves must try to salvage his relationship, his career, and his freedom.

Both co-stars excel in their roles, as does Kathy Baker as one of Freeman’s girls who gets involved with Reeve. Freeman received an Oscar nomination for his smooth-talking, sometimes likable, sometimes violent performance. He never crosses the line into illogical or psychotic, but can definitely terrorize when necessary.

A soundtrack from Robert Irving III and Miles Davis and cinematography by Adam Holender keeps the viewer hooked throughout, though the pacing is flawed at times.

The ending feels a tad anticlimactic, but I’ll admit I can’t come up with any better conclusion. The story is entertaining, the dialogue and characters are believable, and Reeve has good rapport with Baker.

GoldenEye is generic, but decent

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GoldenEye (1995)
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars.
Directed by Martin Campbell.
Written by Jeffrey Caine, Bruce Feirstein, Michael France, Kevin Wade.
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen.
Budget: $60 million.
Gross: $355 million.

GoldenEye resuscitates the 007 franchise following a six-year hiatus. Pierce Brosnan makes his Bond debut, as does Judi Dench in the role of M. It is the first Bond film following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Cold War.

The storyline is generic. A disgruntled Cossack seeks to avenge his people by infiltrating MI6, betraying the British, and destroying the country’s finances through the use of a Soviet superweapon.

Unfortunately for everyone, the writers had a uniquely horrendous talent for squandering great casting. Sean Bean, a personal favorite, is relegated to an utterly uninteresting villain, while Famke Janssen, one of the hottest women alive, is written so absurdly over the top that she is robbed of all sex appeal. The protagonist is hollow and as inanimate as the weapons he uses.

The effects are average for the era and haven’t aged well at all. Eric Serra’s score subtracts from the plot at every opportunity. The title sequence is unremarkable, and Tina Turner’s performance of the theme song is quite forgettable.

The film has its humorous moments, most notably Bond’s interaction with Agent Q. The one bit of dialogue the writers are decent at is one-liners.

The gadgets of the movie are both fun and believable. However, most of the action sequences are so filled with absurdities that Bond tearing up the streets of St. Petersburg in a stolen tank is actually one of the more enjoyable scenes in the film.

Not even the best action flick of its year, your time would be better spent on Die Hard With a Vengeance. While GoldenEye has its moments, it’s ultimately a one-and-done stereotype that should be watched once and shelved permanently.

The World Needs More Movies like "Reds"

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Reds (1981)
Rating: Four 1/2 of Five Stars.
Directed by Warren Beatty.
Written by Warren Beatty and Trevor Griffiths.
Starring Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Maureen Stapleton.

That Warren Beatty could sell a communist protagonist to the American public in 1981 speaks volumes as to the quality of this movie and the masterful skill of its director/writer/star.

The movie follows the true story of Jack Reed and Louise Bryant, a pair of American journalists whose experiences covering the Russian Revolution inspire them to join the socialist movement in their homeland.

Beatty is exceptional in his portrayal of Reed, bringing an undeniable charisma to the role. His real-life relationship with Diane Keaton lends tremendous chemistry to their on-screen relationship, and Keaton is wonderful in her own right, despite playing a character I personally found less than likable.

Jack Nicholson brings his usual intensity to the role of playwright Eugene O’Neill, a love interest of Bryant’s. I know nothing of O’Neill’s real life personality, but the Nicholson character feels like he could snap at any moment.

The film frequently transitions from dramatic reenactment to documentary-style interviews, which I personally found awkward. Though many of the interviews provide quality information, they break up the natural flow of the film and drag it out to an insane 3 hours and 15 minutes.  

This type of period piece is what Hollywood needs more of. I, like most people these days, lean more towards fantasy, science fiction, and epic mythological productions in the wheelhouse of Marvel, DC, Harry Potter, etc. However, quality directors and writers like Beatty, James Cameron, Ron Howard, etc. have a unique power and opportunity to educate the modern film-goer on these crucial time periods in the guise of entertainment.

Overall the movie will undoubtedly live on as a classic in the epic genre, but should have left a lot more on the cutting room floor.

Oscar Wins
Best Supporting Actress: Maureen Stapleton
Best Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro
Best Director: Warren Beatty
Oscar Nominations
Best Picture
Best Actor: Warren Beatty
Best Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson
Best Actress: Diane Keaton
Best Art Direction: Richard Sylbert, Michael Seirton
Best Costume Design: Shirley Ann Russell
Best Film Editing: Dede Allen, Craig McKay
Best Sound: Dick Vorisek, Tom Fleischman, Simon Kaye
Best Original Screenplay: Warren Beatty, Trevor Griffiths

Rebel in Town Is an All-Time Great in the Western Genre

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Rebel in Town (1956)
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars.
Directed by: Alfred Werker.
Written by: Danny Arnold.
Starring: John Payne, Ruth Roman, J. Carrol Naish, Ben Cooper, James Griffith.

One of the best westerns I have ever seen, and no I’m not talking about the hotel.

A family of Confederate rebels, still on the lamb after the Civil War, visits a small town for water. The son of a Union soldier approaches the troop from behind, fires his cap guns, and is shot down by a startled rebel. The family flees at first, but Gray Mason (Ben Cooper) decides to return and face the music for his brother’s crime.

Nora Willoughby (Ruth Roman) is sick of the violence that is all her husband (John Payne) has ever known. John Willoughby must choose between vengeance for his son and the threat of losing his wife’s love and respect.

So many tremendous performances in this surprisingly deep drama. Payne, Roman, and Cooper are all exceptional, and J. Carrol Naish also gives a solid performance as the confederate patriarch. James Griffith has an unfortunately small role as Marshal Adam Russell, but brings the minor character to life.

The film is perfectly paced from start to finish. Les Baxter’s score sets all the right tones, and the denouement is the one of the most suspenseful scenes in the entire western genre. Gordon Avil’s cinematography brings the scenes and set to life.

Pony Post Fails To Outlive Its Era

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Pony Post (1940)
Rating: (One of Five Stars)
Director: Ray Taylor
Writer: Sherman L. Lowe.
Starring: Johnny Mack Brown, Fuzzy Knight, Nell O’Day.

Horse thieves and a two-minute quest for vengeance comprise a plot that is supposedly about the pony express. None of the film actually deals with the mail, however.

More of a western spoof than a true frontier drama. The fights are laughably choreographed, the effects are absurd, the villains are thinly written, there’s inconsistent sound mixing. Action sequences are noticeably sped up, the plot is a loosely jumbled mess, and the few lines that aren’t poorly written are often poorly delivered.

There are some humorous moments, particularly from Fuzzy Knight as Shorty, but there are even more utterly humorless stunts that the characters guffaw over. Overall this film utterly fails to outlive its era.

"Life Stinks" and so does this movie

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Life Stinks (1991)
Rating: (1.5 of 5)
Director: Mel Brooks.
Writer: Mel Brooks, Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca, Steve Haberman.
Starring: Mel Brooks, Lesly Ann Warren, Jeffrey Tambor, Stuart Pankin, Howard Morris, Rudy De Luca.

No money, no credit cards, and no revealing his identity for thirty days. Con - he can’t afford food. Pro - he can’t afford a ticket to this movie.

Billionaire real estate developer Mel Brooks takes on a daring bet to try and win his rival’s half of a Los Angeles slum. After a month of living on the streets he predictably denounces his plans for a lavish development and embraces the homeless and destitute.

Lesley Ann Warren provides the only character with real depth, while Rudy De Luca brings the film’s best comedic relief. It has its moments of mild humor, but at no point will your stomach burn with laughter. It is, however, mostly clean humor. So if the crass style of modern comedians is a turnoff, it may be worth tuning in to.

Best quotes:

“What? My father left me $5 million, that’s nothing.”  

“I know they’re only moments, but that’s all life is…most of them are lousy, but once in a while you steal a good one.”

Captain Marvel's chemistry with Nick Fury is only upstaged by Fury's chemistry with Goose

Rating: (4.5 of 5)
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Clark Gregg, Ben Mendelsohn, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch.

While it’s neither the most thrilling nor the most original installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel is a near-flawless prequel guaranteed to enthrall the casual fan.

Academy Award winner Brie Larson stars as Vers, an elite warrior of Star Command whose past is a mystery even to herself. Vers is a human in the midst of Kree, an alien species on the planet of Hala. She has no memory of her life before the Kree discovered her, and she is endowed with extraordinary powers with no knowledge of where they came from. The Kree war with the shape-shifting Skrulls leads Vers to Earth, where she meets SHIELD Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and rediscovers her human past.

Larson fits seamlessly into the MCU, having instant chemistry with everyone she interacts with. Her relationship with Fury makes for one of the best duos in the saga, only upstaged by Fury’s relationship with Goose, the seemingly normal earthling cat, who is actually a dangerous alien. Jackson gives Fury his best performance since Winter Soldier, and the film is as much about him as it is about the titular Captain.

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is severely underutilized in the film and is unfortunately relegated to an Easter-egg teaser of a performance. Coulson is a staple of the MCU and deserves better. Goose is another character who will leave you wanting more. The Flerken feline is the most lovable nonverbal minor character I've ever seen outside of Star Wars droids R2D2 and BB8.

The film suffers ever-so-slightly from the pacing problems of Thor, but not nearly to that degree. There are dull moments in the middle of the film with most of the action coming as bookends. The humor is distributed evenly throughout, however, and the 90s nostalgia is utilized perfectly. As always, Marvel excels in visual effects and cinematography, and the score is solid if unremarkable.

Captain Marvel is by no means a ground-breaking contribution to the genre, and won’t measure up to modern classics like Iron Man, Winter Soldier, or Infinity War. But it’s a fun ride comparable to Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s worth noting that Marvel is currently suffering from the same anti-feminist review sabotage that plagued The Last Jedi, though the couch critics won’t admit it. They disguise themselves as comic-book purists, while ignoring that very little of their beloved MCU is true to its source material. They began criticizing Larson’s acting based on the trailer alone, and ignore the fact that she’s a Golden Globe and Academy Award winning star.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s superhero debut has held the No. 1 spot in the box office for two weeks running, and set the record for largest global debut for a woman-fronted film. At press time the film’s worldwide gross is sitting at $760.2 million, making it the highest-grossing film of 2019 and the eleventh-highest grossing film of the MCU.

Captain Marvel will have the quickest non-cameo return to the screen of any Marvel star to date when she joins the Avenger’s ensemble in Endgame on April 26, 2019. As always, don’t forget to stick around for both mid and post-credit scenes.

How does it stack up?
Scott’s Top-Ten MCU rankings:

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

  2. The Avengers (2012)

  3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

  4. Iron Man (2008)

  5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

  6. Guardians of Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

  7. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

  8. Captain Marvel (2019)

  9. Black Panther (2018)

  10. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)