‘Ford v Ferrari’

It’s been a while since a movie has grabbed me from the opening scene, pulled me in, and not let me go for more than two hours. That’s exactly what happened, though, when I watched the sports drama Ford v Ferrari, which lasts for an enthralling 152 minutes.

Here’s the setup, based on a true story: In the early 1960s, Ford Motor Company is stuck in a sales and image slump. Henry Ford II, the grandson of the company’s founder, charges vice president Lee Iacocca (played by Jon Bernthal) with bringing home a victory for the Ford racing team in the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France.

Iacocca initially approaches Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari about a Ford-Ferrari partnership. (Ferrari was the reigning corporate champion of auto racing in Europe.) But after a humiliating refusal from the Italian CEO, Iacocca must build an American team that can bring Ford’s new GT40 race car up to the task. Oh, and he also needs the right driver for the Le Mans.

This leads him to California, where he enlists the talents of performance car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon). Shelby is a brilliant designer, but his company is struggling financially, so the contract with Ford is a godsend.

And Shelby knows just the right driver for the race: Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a decorated World War II British bomber pilot turned racer. Miles has an instinctive understanding of every nut and bolt in a race car. He’s difficult to work with, though. In an early scene, Miles hurls a wrench at Shelby. In another scene, he sucker-punches him. And Shelby is his chief benefactor. Continue reading “‘Ford v Ferrari’”

Ouija: Origin of Evil

I’ve written multiple horror novels, and I have an interest in things that go bump in the night.

Nevertheless, most horror movies don’t scare me. 

This is because at the end of the day, a horror movie is the product of someone’s imagination. As a writer myself, I can’t completely set that aside. I can only suspend my disbelief so far. I might find a horror movie interesting, or suspenseful. But rare is the horror film that makes me look over the edge of my bed at night, wondering if something might be there.

But I found Ouija: Origin of Evil to be genuinely creepy. Continue reading “Ouija: Origin of Evil”

Cincinnati in TV and the movies

My hometown of Cincinnati isn’t exactly Paris or New York. It is therefore somewhat understandable, I suppose, that our local news media is making a big deal of the episode of The Brady Bunch that was filmed here nearly a half-century ago:

47 years ago, The Brady Bunch visited Kings Island

While I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, going to Kings Island—Cincinnati’s only real amusement park—was a “big deal”. Much of the scenery in the above clip from The Brady Bunch therefore looks familiar. 

Kings Island is still there, by the way. But it’s changed a lot since 1973.

***

A few feature-length films were shot in Cincinnati in the 1980s. Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, comes immediately to mind. This movie was filmed in various locations in and around Cincinnati.

I’ve had lunch in the Italian restaurant Pompilio’s, in Northern Kentucky, where Rain Man‘s iconic “toothpick scene” takes place. Continue reading “Cincinnati in TV and the movies”

‘Blazing Saddles’ is a politically incorrect classic

Watch the Mel Brooks satirical Western comedy, Blazing Saddles, if you haven’t seen it before.

There is one memorable scene in Blazing Saddles in which the African American Sheriff Bart  (played by Cleavon Little) distracts a pair of Klansmen, so that his sidekick, Jim (played by Gene Wilder) can carry out a necessary mission of reconnaissance.

Jim pretends to catch Bart for the Klansmen. He grabs Bart by the collar and calls out to the Klansman, “Hey boys, look what I’ve got!”

Bart then says, in a Southern black dialect, “Hey, where the white women at?” Continue reading “‘Blazing Saddles’ is a politically incorrect classic”

‘The Stand’ (1994) now available in blu-ray/DVD

It was the late spring of 1994. Bill Clinton was in the White House. Seinfeld was the country’s most popular sitcom. (Friends wouldn’t debut until the autumn of 1994.)

I was living in Wilmington, Ohio. I had a job I liked, and I lived in a cheap apartment with wood panel walls and worn shag carpet from the 1970s. I was 25 years old. Those were good times, all the way around.

For five days, from May 8 to May 12, 1994, ABC aired a miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s 1978 post-apocalyptic novel, The Stand.

In case you’re not aware, The Stand is one of King’s most popular books. The Stand is a good-versus-evil epic about a supernatural battle between good and evil.

Oh, but before that happens, 99% of the world’s population is wiped out by the Superflu, or ‘Captain Trips’. That was years before COVID, of course. But the end of the world is always a good place to start a story. Right? Continue reading “‘The Stand’ (1994) now available in blu-ray/DVD”

Remembering ‘Red Dawn’

80sThen80s now is one of the few accounts I follow on Twitter, because, well…I’m nostalgic for the 1980s.

Today the account tweeted this post about the movie Red Dawn (1984). In response to the poll, I gave the movie a 9. 

Red Dawn wouldn’t necessarily be a 9 if it were released today, mind you. But you have to evaluate a movie by the filmmaking standards of its era. A lot of movies in the early 1980s were pretty rough, compared to the slick, CGI-enhanced productions of today. And so it is with Red Dawn. Continue reading “Remembering ‘Red Dawn’”

‘Midway’ (2019): mini-review

I watched Midway (the 2019 version) tonight.

This is a compelling historical film that blends history with action. Although Midway is focused on the great battle that took place in June 1942, the first half of the movie covers events that led up to it—including Pearl Harbor. 

The film is well cast. For once Woody Harrelson appears in a role in which he is not personally annoying. (That hasn’t happened since Cheers.) Dennis Quaid is a convincing William “Bull” Halsey.

But the star of the movie, by far and away, is Dick Best (1910~2001), the US Navy pilot who sank two Japanese aircraft carriers in a single day. I enjoyed Ed Skrein’s interpretation of the role. Continue reading “‘Midway’ (2019): mini-review”

‘The Kids Are All Right’ (quick movie review)

Here’s the setup: Two married lesbians are raising two teenagers that they acquired from a single sperm donor. (They each gave birth to one child.) 

Then the kids (one of whom has just turned 18) decide to contact their sperm donor/biological father.

Hijinks ensue. Unexpected clashes of familial roles (and attraction) throw this perfect little lesbian-headed family out of balance. 

I found this to be an interesting look at the ambiguities of “nontraditional families”. I’m a Roman Catholic guy from the 1980s, and well…I guess I just never thought much about some of this stuff. Continue reading “‘The Kids Are All Right’ (quick movie review)”

‘Greyhound’: Tom Hanks’s next WWII movie

I grew up on stories of World War II–real ones. My maternal grandfather served in the US Navy, mostly in the North Atlantic. He made numerous runs between the US and the United Kingdom. And he told me many tales of dodging Messerschmidts and “wolf pack” U-boats. 

There was never really a modern movie done about his war, though. There have been lots of movies about combat in the South Pacific and in the Middle East. There have been many, many films about D-Day. Not so many about the perilous North Atlantic runs between the United States and England.

That’s why I’m especially looking forward to seeing the next World War II movie from Tom Hanks, Greyhound, which is all about my grandfather’s war—naval combat in the North Atlantic. Continue reading “‘Greyhound’: Tom Hanks’s next WWII movie”

‘The Empire Strikes Back’ +40

The Empire Strikes Back debuted in theaters on May 21, 1980.

I might not have been there on 5/21/80, but I was certainly there no later than mid-June of 1980.

I was part of the original Star Wars generation. I also recall seeing the first one with my dad in the summer of ’77.

In May 1980 I was a little shy of 12 years old. I was starting to become an adolescent, with preteen interests (playing sports, girls). But I was nevertheless captivated for two full hours by The Empire Strikes Back. Continue reading “‘The Empire Strikes Back’ +40”

Will drive-in movies make a comeback?

Drive-in movie theaters hope to usher in comeback for entertainment sector

I have only childhood memories of the drive-in. Back in the early 1970s, I would occasionally attend with my parents. 

I was very young then, no more than about five years old. I usually fell asleep in the back seat of my dad’s Ford Torino long before the movie concluded. At that age, I was seldom interested in the movies my parents were watching, anyway. Continue reading “Will drive-in movies make a comeback?”

‘A Quiet Place’: quick review

View it on Amazon

The world has ended.  And no—not because of a virus from Wuhan, China. Actually, the planet has been invaded by a horde of insectile, carnivorous creatures; and they’ve gobbled everyone up. Or almost everyone. 

If you think you’ve seen this movie before, guess again. The insectile, carnivorous monsters in this movie are blind; they hunt by sound. That’s the hook of the movie.

***

A Quiet Place opens as a rural-dwelling family in upstate New York are walking home from scavenging in a deserted town, maintaining absolute silence. They communicate through sign language. The two parents (played by Emily Blunt and John Krasinski) maintain their vigilance over the children as the family passes through the eerie wooded landscape.

The parents insist on absolute silence. And before they reach home, we find out why.

***

When the family finally does make it home (spoiler alert!), possibly one member short, we’re given a few hints as to what happened to the world.

In recent times, the creatures invaded the earth. This is conveyed through newspaper headlines plastered to one wall in the basement of the farmhouse where the family is hunkering down—presumably their home from happier times.

The newspaper headlines reveal a few details about the creatures, and that they have destroyed most of the human population. One headline warns, “Go underground!” Another headline (which will seem eerily familiar to anyone watching this film during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic) announces, “New York on Lockdown!” Art imitating life…sort of. 

This movie has lacunas and plot holes galore. We’re never told exactly where the creatures came from. Outer space? Another dimension? We just don’t know. The entire story is told through the narrow perspective of a single family. 

Also: how did the two adults and three children in the movie all become fluent in sign language? 

And as is common in horror movies, the characters in A Quiet Place sometimes indulge in reckless acts that real people would almost never do under similar circumstances. The child characters are simultaneously wise beyond their years and annoyingly, conveniently (for the plot) foolish.

But none of that spoils the movie. If you’re willing to accept the film’s central premise, then you’re okay with a few plot holes. A Quiet Place does what it is supposed to do: It takes you away to a parallel universe, introduces you to characters you can sympathize with, and lets the scares begin. A Quiet Place showcases a few genuinely nail-biting scenes, as everything gets worse all at once. Plenty of tension in this one.

If you’re looking for a fun, escapist horror movie that moves quickly and doesn’t overdo the gore, you can’t go wrong with A Quiet Place.

(Note: You can get A Quiet Place on Blu-Ray, DVD, or 4K; but I watched it for free with my Amazon Prime membership.)

Looking for some horror stories to read???

***Check out my short story horror collection, Hay Moon & Other Stories on Amazon***

‘Them that Follow’: mini-review

A charismatic, fanatical preacher; a snake-handling cult in Appalachia…and a romantic triangle that involves an unplanned pregnancy.

Them that Follow might have been a good movie. It was certainly well-acted. Olivia Colman, Walton Goggins (of Justified fame) and Australian actress Alice Englert certainly did their best to breathe life into a turkey of a script. 

In the end, though, they couldn’t pull it off. The characters in Them that Follow consistently behaved in ways that few human beings actually would.

(Spoiler alert): Here’s an example: After one of the main characters is bitten by a rattlesnake, there is a kitchen-table amputation scene that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. (There are hospitals in West Virginia, too.)

The premise of the film seemed to be: People in Appalachian America are unremittingly ignorant, gullible, and prone to religious fanaticism. 

I’ve spent a lot of time in Appalachia: in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This area of the country certainly has its problems. For at least a century now, Appalachia has suffered from a dearth of economic opportunities and depopulation. Ambitious young people tend to leave and haul stakes for the city—just like my grandfather left Adams County, Ohio for Cincinnati in 1939. The rural drug epidemic of recent years has only made things worse.

But the people of Appalachia, in my experience (and again, I do have actual experience in Appalachia), are not the irrational simpletons depicted in Them that Follow

The biggest problem with Them that Follow, however, was that it was…boring. The plot meandered; and it was difficult to discern who you were supposed to root for, what was actually going on.

On the plus side, the film did consistently project a dark, bleak atmosphere, which seems to have been the whole point of the thing, anyway.

I would give this one 2.5 out of three stars. Not awful, but not very good, either. 

Cincinnati in film

Professors on their favorite Cincinnati films

From The Northerner, the student newspaper of NKU. (I attended NKU as an undergrad from 1986~7, then as a grad student from 2002~4, by the way.)

I have an opinion on this matter, of course. The best Cincinnati films to date are Traffic (2000), and Fresh Horses (1988).

Rain Man (1988), which tends to get the most attention, left me cold, even though I’ve liked most movies with Tom Cruise or Dustin Hoffman.

Traffic, though, is a multilayered, engrossing story about the narcotics underworld. I recently saw it for the second time, and it’s held up well over the past two decades.

Fresh Horses is a coming-of-age movie starring Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy. This movie is a little dated, and a bit uneven in places; but it isn’t bad for 30-year-old teen movie from the late Reagan era.

Also, one scene in Fresh Horses features the University of Cincinnati lecture hall where I took organic chemistry in 1987, after I transferred to UC from NKU.

‘Jobs’ (2013) brief movie review

A quick movie review for you today.  I recently watched Jobs (2013), starring Ashton Kutcher. I liked this movie much better than the subsequent Steve Jobs (2015), which starred Michael Fassbender. 

Say what you will about him, but Ashton Kutcher is a skilled actor. In this movie, Kutcher pulled off one of the most difficult acting feats: He believably stepped into the shoes of a recently deceased figure who is still very much a part of our collective, living memory. 

Jobs covers Steve Jobs’s long up-and-down journey from college dropout in the mid-1970s, to personal computing wunderkind of the early 1980s, to corporate exile of the early 1990s. And, of course, his triumphant return to Apple later in that decade.

I’m something of a Steve Jobs fanboy, and I’ve read Walter Isaacson’s biography of the man, published shortly after Jobs’s death. The movie is largely accurate, based on my reading of the Isaacson biography. 

Steve Jobs died at the relatively young age of 56, but he packed a lot—and I mean, a lot—into that short life. You’ll probably get more out of the movie if you can manage to read the Isaacson biography first.

Jobs is over two hours long. Despite that length, the film necessarily truncates a large portion of its subject’s life—namely, the years Jobs spent in relative obscurity at NeXT. 

The abridgment of the NeXt years is understandable. I would, however, have liked to have seen a bit more detail about how Jobs rescued his old company from near bankruptcy in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The new iMac, the iPhone, the iPod….There is a lot to cover there.

The movie does touch on these events. Jony Ives (played by Giles Matthey) makes a brief appearance. But viewers who haven’t read the Isaacson biography will likely miss a lot of this.

I acknowledge the counterargument, though: A full coverage of this final stage of Steve Jobs’s career—and life– would have added another full hour to the movie. The creators of Jobs probably determined (and probably correctly) that this would have been simply too long for the attention spans of twenty-first century moviegoers, no matter how fascinating the subject matter.