Saturday, December 2, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, November 2023

I've spent more time watching television lately, catching up on things that I've missed. This has gotten me about halfway through season 8 of The Blacklist, most of the way through season 5 of 30 Rock, and through most of Lovecraft Country. A few of the reviews I posted this month--Evil Dead Rise, Asteroid City, The Blackening, and Talk to Me are from the big list along with the ones below. Of these, Stargate and Super Size Me were rewatches, but films I hadn't seen in a bit.

What I’ve Caught Up With, November 2023:
Film: Gatlopp: Hell of a Game (2022)

Paul (Jim Mahoney) is going through a nasty divorce. His friend Cliff (John Bass) calls in friends Samantha (Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Dominic (Sarunas J. Jackson) to help cheer him up. They start playing a strange drinking game called Gatlopp that turns out to be a game that requires them to honest and follow all of the rules or face actual punishment…and if no one wins, they are cursed to play eternally. Comparisons to Jumanji are obvious, but it’s closer to Stay Tuned. Hard to say it’s a great film, but the concept is a fun one, handled well enough.

Film: Lightyear (2022)

There was a lot of stink from the political right about Lightyear when it came out. Part of that was that the title character was voiced by Chris Evans rather than noted ultra-conservative Tim Allen. Most of it, though, was for a same-sex kiss in the first 10 minutes of the movie. The truth is that there are real problems with Lightyear, and it’s not a girl-on-girl smooch or the voice actors. The problem is that this plays out like a video game. While there’s a long-term plot, there’s no real rising action. It’s obstacle, solution, new obstacle, solution. Buzz Lightyear deserved better, and so did the fanbase.

Film: How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Younger generations don’t remember what it was like to live through the AIDS years. We lost an entire generation of homosexual men because of AIDS and because of the lack of interest from the U.S. government under Reagan—a lack of interest that was duplicated in other countries. There are any number of films and documentaries about the AIDS crisis that are worth seeing. How to Survive a Plague is specifically about the organizations ACT UP and the Treatment Action Group. An entire generation is owed an apology from anyone who supported Reagan, and this film makes a good case for that. Seriously, if you look at any social problem in the U.S., you can trace it getting worse or starting in the Reagan years.

Film: Monkey Business (1931)

Essentially plotless, this film puts the four Marx Brothers as stowaways on a cross-Atlantic ship. There are rival gangsters on the ships who have wives and daughters to be romanced, and captains and ship officials to be bamboozled along the way. Like many of the Marx Brothers movies, this is really about the different gags that can be dropped into the film, which include Groucho and Chico fast talking, Harpo mugging for the camera, a few musical numbers, and Zeppo Marx playing the handsome romantic. Everything comes out all right in the end, because of course it does; it’s a Marx Brothers comedy.

Film: Cop Land (1997)

With all of the garbage he put out in his career, it’s easy to forget that Sylvester Stallone has some real talent in front of the camera when he’s given good material. Cop Land, where Stallone plays a small-town sheriff of a town where a number of New York cops live, is good material. Sheriff Freddy Heflin is unable to be a cop himself because of an injury and he idolizes the men who wear the uniform in New York. When it starts to come to light that a lot of the cops are on the take, Freddy finds himself in a dangerous position. In addition to a solid story, this has a hell of a cast, including Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta, Edie Falco, Michael Rapaport, Harvey Keitel, Cathy Moriarty, Robert Patrick, and a ton of other notable names.

Film: The Strange One (1957)

If Tennessee Williams had decided to write a psychodrama set in a military school, he would have written The Strange One. Cadet Jocko (Ben Gazzara) rules the school through fear and intimidation with the assistance of his friend Harold (Pat Hingle). He enlists a couple of freshmen (George Peppard and Arthur Storch) to help scam a fellow classmate, but when caught by the son of the school’s headmaster, they arrange to have him expelled. Like any conspiracy, it spirals out of control from there. This is dark and devious and is all about exposing the darkness of the human heart. Good performances all around—the biggest distraction is that all of the actors look about 10 years older than their characters…because they were. It’s the screenplay that makes it.

Film: Super Size Me (2004)

Morgan Spurlock’s documentary got a great deal of attention, and did so by scaring people with just how unhealthy the American fast food business really is. Essentially, he spent 30 days eating nothing but McDonald’s food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There were specific rules he had to follow—super-sizing when asked, eating everything on the menu at least once, and only eating food from McDonald’s. The results are disturbing. Spurlock’s film has sadly faded over the past few years, in large part because Spurlock himself was “Me-too’d,” something that has significantly affected his credibility. Still, in the context of when it was made, this was industry changing. Sounds like he was just filled with bad decisions.

Film: Stargate (1994)

To be honest, Stargate is probably not good enough to have spawned a television show let alone three shows, an animated series, and more, but the idea is a fun one. Down-and-out Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (James Spader) helps translate an ancient Egyptian device that is actually a doorway to another world. A military team headed by Colonel Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell) investigate and find a world of slaves based on what we would think of as ancient Egypt and headed by Ra, or an alien creature calling itself Ra. This is ridiculous science fiction that hearkens back to the crazy days of Science! from the 1950s movies, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It's also one of the rare films that includes a performance from Jaye Davidson.

Film: No Way Out (1987)

The Kevin Costner rule is that his movies generally suck unless they are Westerns or sports movies, with The Untouchables and JFK as notable exceptions. Given that, we might want to include films where Costner plays a cop or equivalent in the rule. No Way Out puts Costner in the role of a Navy Lieutenant Commander turned assistant to the Secretary of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman). He starts an affair with a woman named Susan Atwill (Sean Young), who turns out to also be having an affair with Brice, who kills her in a fit of rage when he finds out she’s seeing another man. This plays a lot like a noir, and the cast is pretty solid, but the ending is a slap in the face to the entire audience.


  1. Apart from the original Rocky, Cop Land might be my favourite Stallone movie and performance.

    I recently watched and reviewed Stargate and found it quite disappointing and juvenile - the premise is supposed to impress but none of the details make any sense.

    I remember enjoying No Way Out back in 1987 - it's probably worth another look!

    1. Creed would rank for me for Stallone, as would Nighthawks, but Cop Land is really good, and a really surprising role for him.

      I don't disagree on Stargate. The effects are of the time, but the story line really feels like it's out of the 1950s, and not in any really good way.

      I liked No Way Out a lot until the end, and it takes a nosedive for me. End this 5 minutes earlier, and it probably bumps a full star in my estimation.

  2. Lightyear is a film that is my Disney+ watchlist though I'm not in a rush to see it unless I want to complete my Pixar filmography as it's the one film from Pixar that I haven't seen that I want to see the least. How to Survive a Plague is a film I did see in the theaters more than a decade ago as it was this chilling and startling film that showcased life during an epidemic that a lot of people don't want to remember. I was more shocked by its ending in those who were protesting for their lives and to see them not only to still be living but looking better than ever.

    Stargate was alright while I did like Super Size Me though it didn't stop me from eating fast food. Copland is an absolutely underrated film as Sly was in rare form as he really showed he can act as I really hope he stops doing shit like The Expendables and do something like this but also still do action films and comedies that play to his strengths. No Way Out is an amazing film despite its ending. Still, it was nice to Mrs. Bowie in the film in a solid supporting role. I still miss Gene Hackman and wished Welcome to Mooseport was not the last movie he did.

    1. The thing that stopped me from eating a lot of fast food was giving up red meat and pork. I still eat chicken and fish, but I haven't eaten beef or pork in about six years. For what it's worth, Taco Bell is the most vegetarian-friendly fast food restaurant going.

      Gene Hackman is missed, but No Way Out is not one I feel the need to watch again. This is also true of Lightyear, which you can skip unless you decide to complete all of Pixar.

      Stallone is more talented than he gets credit for, but he does seem to make decisions based on box office rather than art. Compare First Blood with what the Rambo series turned into.

  3. How to Survive a Plague is certainly not a film I would want to watch again but its story is an important sobering one. As with every story about AIDS and our government’s indifference and failure to deal with it in a timely manner I found my disgust with Reagan, that reptile he was married to and the loathsome cadre surrounding them to grow ever more resolute.

    When I saw the title Monkey Business, I thought you meant the super cute 50’s comedy of that name with Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe but unfortunately no. I’m not the biggest Marx Bros. fan though I recognize their talent. As for a favorite I’d lean towards A Night at the Opera or Duck Soup rather than this movie.

    I think Stallone made a choice early on in his career to go full ahead into forgettable actioners after a few of his more ambitious projects met with a cool reception and then ended up mired there. Cop Land was an attempt to return to a more serious vein while keeping his hand in the rough and tumble. I don’t know if it was as successful as he hoped but it’s one of his better performances.

    The Strange One is a good title for that odd picture. The actors are all a bit older than they should be, but I didn’t find it too distracting since they all were older. It wasn’t a situation where the star is glaringly a decade or more beyond the rest of the cast and we’re not supposed to notice. It isn’t one I return to, but Ben Gazzara is a disturbing standout.

    For a casual sci-fi guy like me I enjoyed Stargate for what it was-a big, overblown often ridiculous adventure. It helped that I saw it for the first time at the old Uptown Theatre in DC with its enormous 70x40 screen that made even middling films an experience.

    No Way Out is a solid reworking of the 1948 Ray Milland/Charles Laughton suspenser The Big Clock with a good cast (even the usually dreadful Sean Young isn’t too bad) but I agree the change to the ending lessens its impact. But up until then it utilizes Costner’s somewhat stolid neutrality wrapped up in an attractive package to some of the best advantage in his career while allowing both Gene Hackman and Will Patton to steal their scenes handily.

    1. Sorry you posted this twice. Any review older than 7 days needs to have comments approved--it's how I make sure I see them, and I've been away for a couple of weeks dealing with life stuff.

      There's a meme more or less that if you want to figure out what caused a problem in the U.S., you can either blame capitalism, Reagan, or both and you'll be right better than 90% of the time. How to Survive a Plague is a good example of that.

      I do like the Marx Brothers, but Duck Soup is their best. That's partially nostalgia--I used to watch it every New Year's Eve when I was a kid.

      I think you're right about Stallone, and it's a shame. He clearly has talent as Cop Land and a few others (Rocky, Creed, Nighthawks) show, but so much of his career is forgettable. It's a shame.

      Honestly, with No Way Out, I'm angered by the last few minutes. It's such a kick to the groin.