Monday, June 24, 2024

Spaceballs Sequel?


If you get it, you get it! 🤣

    In 1987, comedic filmmaker Mel Brooks released one of his many classics, Spaceballs, a spoof/parody of the beloved Star Wars franchise, complete with massive Starships, prissy androids, and energy-based phallic symbols...uh, I mean...Lightsabers! Like the rest of Mr. Brooks' films, Spaceballs delivers a loving over-the-top comedic romp poking fun at Star Wars while simultaneously praising what made the franchise so memorable. Apparently, Mel Brooks secured the blessing of George Lucas himself, under the condition that he does not produce any merchandise from the movie. This is a shame because I have longed for Yogurt's plush doll to add to my collection. 

    Not too long ago, it was announced that an official sequel, starring Josh Gad and produced by Mr. Brooks himself, was in production over at Amazon/MGM studios. As of this writing, this project is only in the earliest phases of development. As such, there isn't much to say about it other than it's not a good idea. Not only is there no justification for making a sequel to Spaceballs (other than as a blatant nostalgic cash-grab), but also because no one in Hollywood or anywhere else knows how to make this particular style of comedy anymore! 

    Mel Brooks's style is best defined as over-the-top silliness fused with clever innuendo and a dash of spontaneous creativity and humor the cast encourages. This style has been well demonstrated and perfected by classic comedic talents such as Rowan Atkinson, Monty Python, and Laurel & Hardy. A style that encourages letting go of convention and embracing the absurd. Mr. Brooks also remains one of the few comedic talents who genuinely understands the nature of comedy and has never been afraid to venture into the dreaded questionable realm of "Isn't that offensive?" 

    In my opinion, the comedy genius of Mel Brookes has never gone out of fashion, despite its unfortunate lack of a presence in the modern comedic landscape, which seems to favor adolescent potty jokes and what I refer to as "Awkward Moment Humor," neither of which have rarely (if ever) been actually funny! And before you point out my possible inadvertent hypocrisy with the most fantastic fart joke scene in cinema history from Mr. Brooks himself, please allow me to elaborate! 

    Yes, Mel Brooks has made jokes in his movies that could be categorized as offensive or inappropriate by modern standards, but here's the thing: At least some people perceive EVERYTHING that way in this modern world! 

    Consider this quote from another comedic icon, Steve Martin: "Comedy is not pretty." While there are many ways to potentially interpret that quote, the most essential and relevant to this blog entry is that comedy is subjective and harsh, for want of a better word! By its very nature, comedy stems from observing and singling out the absurd and impracticality in every aspect of our existence. This includes but is not limited to government idiocracy, subpar human behavior, and little unusual interactions in our day-to-day lives. These are but a handful of the strange yet familiar things found in our world that can be difficult to process and challenging to comprehend, so we turn to comedy to not only make us feel a bit better about it all but also for a little reassurance that we're not alone in our frustrations. 

    Consider another Mel Brooks classic from 1974, Blazing Saddles. For those who have not yet seen it (and why haven't you already?), Blazing Saddles is a loving spoof of the cowboy western genre. It follows the exploits of a young man, who happens to be black, named Bart, who is chosen as the new Sheriff of a small, troubled town known as Rock Ridge. Despite confrontations from heavy racism, Bart is determined to win over the people and optimistically takes on the role of Sheriff. One day, while walking through the town, Bart stops to say hello to one of the locals, wishing her a good morning and commenting on how nice of a day it is, to which the local responds, "Up yours, n!**er," leaving Bart somewhat confused and frustrated. 

    As I'm sure you've noticed, that scene contained a racial slur. It works in this scene because Mel Brooks isn't using it to be mean; he uses it to make a point! Mel Brooks points out the ridiculousness of racism in the form of a clever joke, complete with a proper set-up, build, and punchline. It's openly mocking racism without being racist itself! 

    This joke would not work without using that awful word in English, commonly known as the "N" word. Had this movie been released just a few years ago, no one would have been talking about how clever the joke was; they would have been raging over using the "N" word and completely ignoring or misunderstanding the intended use! 

    Please understand this is not me ranting about oversensitive people, cancel culture, and trigger warnings. Living in an age where people try to be more thoughtful about their past and present actions is fantastic. This quality is long overdue in our society and culture, and I greatly appreciate the efforts made to make ourselves more aware and understanding. But there is a line, and attacking comedic efforts to point out our faults and hypocrisies absolutely crosses it! 

    Comedy is not pretty because, by its nature, it delves into the uglier aspects of our humanity and tries to encourage us to do better through laughter and overwhelming emotional resonance. In the modern age of knee-jerk reactions to seemingly politically incorrect, insensitive, or inappropriate things, comedy is losing its ability to have any meaningful impact on our perception and progress as a culture and especially as a species! 

    Mel Brooks isn't a comedic genius because he used the "N" word; he's a comedic genius because he knew how to use it and why! So, unless the folks over at Amazon/MGM studios are prepared to genuinely allow comedy to return to its roots, as it were, I have no faith in anyone's ability to deliver a proper sequel to any of Mel Brooks' works, even with his direct or indirect involvement! Not only is there no justifiable reason outside of naked nostalgic cash grabs, but no one in modern Hollywood (or anywhere else, for that matter) has the courage, wisdom, or appropriate amount of legal insanity to deliver the kind of cleverness people like Mel Brooks specialized in. 

    Since the movie has not been filmed yet, I am happy to reserve my judgment for when it is released. In the meantime, I'm not holding my breath. 

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and comb the desert for something I can't find. 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Birthday Special

My beautiful readers, 

Allow me to first apologize for my extended absence. While I have seen many recent movies worth discussing, I haven't given myself the time or energy to sit down and write a review about them. Life appears to have stepped in the way of my mojo, as it were. Don't worry; all is well. I just let myself fall into a funk of sorts. 

To try and get myself out of this block, I thought it would be fun to do something a little different. 

I have many loved ones who have birthdays in July. So, in honor of them, here's what we're going to do: 

Send me a birthday, any birthday (yours, someone you know, your favorite actor or director, whatever), and I will find the movie released on or around that date, watch it (assuming I haven't already), and review it. 

July is going to be Birthday Month Special! 

You can send me birthdays to work with until July 14th. 

I look forward to seeing what I end up seeing & reviewing, and I hope you are also. 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Friday, May 31, 2024

Knox Goes Away - See This Film


Playing in Theaters 
Rent on Apple TV, Google Play, Amazon, and YouTube 

    Knox Goes Away is a movie that more people should be talking about! It's a well-crafted thriller with the right balance of familiarity & refreshing ideas brought together by one of Hollywood's most underrated royalty members, Michael Keaton, and a sharp script. It is also a surprising showcase of the man's ability as a director, which, while still not necessarily profound, is enough to excite you for what may come next. 

    The story follows a retiring hitman named John Knox (Michael Keaton) coming to terms with a recent diagnosis of an aggressive form of dementia and only has a few weeks before his cognitive abilities become dangerously diminished. As Knox prepares to get his affairs in order, his only son, Miles (James Marsden), approaches his estranged father with a problem that requires his help. Turns out Miles killed someone who wronged his daughter and now needs someone to help him deal with it. Knox takes it upon himself to handle the situation, all the while struggling with his own uncertainties. Could this be the path to redemption he's been waiting for, or will it become his ultimate downfall? 

    The film does a fantastic job of keeping you guessing what Knox's big plan is for his efforts to help his son. Michael Keaton delivers his expected charismatic performance, which feels genuine and is delivered with a little wink at the audience. It's the kind of performance only he can deliver, and he makes the movie work because of it. 

    His ability behind the camera proves to be just as fascinating as in front. While he seems to be taking it easy with his first outing as director, signs of profound talent are waiting to be unleashed. From his ability to handle his fellow actors to his formatting choices to convey sparks of mental instability, Keaton shows enough ability to make me question why he didn't try his hand at the director's chair sooner. 

    The cinematography is the only aspect of the film that has me conflicted. Photographed by Marshall Adams, who spent most of his career working in television (both as a cinematographer and camera operator), the lighting choices in the film, while primarily appropriate, feel too on the nose for me personally. Like many modern films, some moments make me question why the scene is as dark as it is. However, unlike other cinematographers, Marshall seems to remember the importance of contrast with darker images. So, while I wasn't entirely on board with the levels of darkness in the images, I could at least comprehend their content, thanks to proper contrast ratios. 

    Knox Goes Away deserves to be seen for its sharp writing, committed performances, and delightful showcasing of an actor's potential in the director's chair. The sooner you get this film in front of your eyeballs, the better. It may not be the most pleasant thing you'll see this year, but it is the most fascinating in its own right. 

    Totally worth a look. 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Riddle of Fire - Little Film With A Big Heart


Rent on Apple TV, Google Play, Amazon, and YouTube 

    Sometimes, a movie is so unexpected, heartfelt, and enjoyable that you can't help but wonder, " Where has this been hiding all this time?" Riddle of Fire is a coming-of-age Summer film that successfully fuses the fantastical with the natural, or "realistic" as some folks prefer. A film that is soaking in classical fantasy fair with magic and unusual quests while dealing with the madness of the modern world. Like the young protagonists, the film doesn't care how unrealistic its ideas are; they're having too much fun just going there!

    Set in modern-day Wyoming, the story follows a trio of young friends enjoying their summer vacation and getting into all kinds of mischief, including "borrowing" a brand new game console to play together. Things get a little complicated when they learn that the TV has become password-protected, and the only one who knows the password is the mother of one of the boys, who is down with a terrible cold. They try to wheedle the mother for the password and come to a special agreement: if they can help her feel better by providing her with her favorite Blueberry Pie, she will give them the password to the TV. The trio set out on their quest to find the means of acquiring the unique Blueberry Pie, leading them on a journey filled with danger and mystery, making some new friends (including a young girl escaping her terrible family), and having unexpected developments that will put their resolve (and possibly their friendship) to the test. 

    The real selling point of this film is the young cast. Charlie Stover, Phoeve Ferro, Lorelei Olivia Mote, and Skyler Peters possess amazing chemistry and deliver incredible performances. At no point in the film did I feel like the kids didn't want to be there, nor did they refuse to put anything other than 100% effort into their characters! They also played off well with the adult cast members and vice versa. While I do have my favorites of the little performers, their outstanding professionalism as a unit cannot be understated! 

    Another highlight of the film is its visual style & cinematography. Captured on Kodak 16mm film (prominently mentioned in the opening credits), the movie feels like a time capsule of classic fantasy films from the 1970s, such as Jabberwocky and Pete's Dragon. The visuals also lend themselves well to the classic gritty independent vibe of the same era, bringing to mind indy classics like The French Connection and The Harder They Come. I don't mean to say that Riddle of Fire shares similar narrative or tone styles with either of those classics. However, the visuals harken to another fascinating time in cinema history when there was an incredible feeling of change in the air. Riddle of Fire captures that beautiful and classical aesthetic thanks to the talented eye of cinematographer Jake Mitchell. 

    Writer and director Weston Razooli makes his feature film debut with this gem, and I am already excited to see what he has in store for us next. The performances from the young cast suggest and showcase a level of patience and leadership that is often hard to find in young directors. With his script, he blends all the strange and contrasting elements together playfully and coherently. This person is very much in touch with his inner child. 

    Riddle of Fire is a must-watch! It is a fantastic, promising start for the rest of the year and a strong contender for my favorite film of 2024. Please do not miss or overlook this delightful labor of love. 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Road House (2024) - Needs A Different Title


Streaming on Amazon Prime

    The original Road House from 1989, starring the late Patrick Swayze, is regarded by some, myself included, as a seminal classic in cheesy modern western action bags of cinematic candy. It's a film that only demanded a little from the audience and utilized the inherent talents of its star almost perfectly. Probably the most infamous aspect of the film is how some fans prefer to stop the film before the last 20 minutes for various reasons, not the least of which is the unfortunate departure of Sam Eliot's character, who has become a legend in his own right. Or that some people prefer to not watch the movie star rip out a guy's throat with his bare hands; that might also have something to do with it. 

    Then, as if we needed further proof of Hollywood's story crisis and ongoing creative implosion, MGM Studios (owned by Amazon) released a shiny new remake of Road House starring Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by Doug Liman, late of The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow, and Locked Down. On the surface, it seems like another desperate attempt from the dying Hollywood system to cash in on a recognizable I.P. with little effort put into making a compelling experience (filmmaking by accountants, if you will). 

    And yet, the film is genuinely okay. Despite the film suffering an unnecessarily unfair disadvantage by being an in-name-only remake, not to mention yet another case of a creative boycotting their creation after getting screwed over a theatrical release, taken on its own merits, the film is pretty fun. It has a decent individual spirit that deserves to stand independently rather than be forced to mascarade as a remake. Make no mistake, it is technically a recreation of the same general plot as the classic, as mentioned earlier, and it's a plot that has served as the basis for many classic Westerns and Martial Arts movies made before (and the film makes multiple references to that notion throughout the runtime). However, it might have been received more favorably if it had not been for the copied/pasted title. 

    Much like the original, the story follows a modern vagabond named Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is hired by the owner of a bar called The Road House to serve as the new head bouncer. The place is regularly terrorized by a bunch of aggressive and entitled muscleheads who turn out to be part of a sinister scheme to drive away the business for some big bad guys' evil schemes. Dalton won't have any of it and just wants to do right by the little guys getting trampled on by the big evil meanies. That is, assuming he can also outrun his dark past. 

    One of the most significant differences between the two films is the protagonist, Dalton. In the original, he was primarily the strong & silent type who enjoyed making a decent living as a bouncer, having been professionally trained and treating it as an underrated, admirable profession. As portrayed by the late Patrick Swayze, Dalton has an air of Samurai-like calm & nobility that further contributes to the classic new sheriff-in-town motif the film emulates. It is a character synonymous with Swayze's screen presence and abilities as a performer that no one in their right mind would ever try to top. 

    In the remake, Dalton (as portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a down-on-his-luck former MMA fighter with a death wish trying to escape an unfortunate event from his past. Plus, Dalton in the remake is less of a stoic Samurai type and more of a witty, legally insane goofball type who behaves as cordially as possible while kicking your ass. A character type that is similar to the original but very much its own thing, which I mostly appreciated. 

    In all seriousness, Jake Gyllenhaal carries the entire movie! He successfully handles the action beats with as much commitment as he puts into line delivery and character embodiment. Gyllenhaal has landed himself as an enjoyable character actor who easily handles the needs of a leading man. It's not easy to play a role in such a way that makes you feel safe and slightly terrified at the same time. Furthermore, he delivers a performance that is clearly his own thing without attempting to recreate the iconic previous portrayal, which I greatly appreciate. 

    Overall, the film does a decent enough job of delivering a fun and cheesy piece of action schlock that would be expected of any given movie that utilizes the classic "stoic warrior comes to a troubled town" plot seen in nearly every other action movie that tried to capitalize on the Kung-Fu craze of the 1970s. Suppose you look past the in-name-only aspect of the title and distance this movie from the classic it pretends to remake. In that case, you'll be in for a fun ride with decent action scenes (albeit with occasionally questionable bits of execution), fun performances (including a scene-stealing villain performance by Conor McGregor, whom I hope gets more roles after this), and enough of its own charm to sway you into justified enjoyment. 

    Don't consider this a remake; it's an in-name-only homage! 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Friday, March 29, 2024

Lift - Money Plane Done Right

Streaming on Netflix 

    In 2020, I watched and reviewed (or somewhat eviscerated) the so-bad-it’s-funny action/heist film Money Plane. A low-budget work of incompetency so egregious not even Kelsey Grammer could save the movie, despite his best efforts. It is one of the lowest-ranking films I have reviewed and remains the No.1 spot on my Top 5 Worst Films of 2020. 

    Being the creative type I am, shortly after witnessing that train wreck, I pondered what a good version of that movie would be like. Then, one night, as I scrolled through Netflix, I came across today's subject, Lift. It is a heist movie that is not only a prime example of Money Plane done right, it is a fun, lovingly crafted good time. Almost every aspect of the film oozes passion and enjoyment with a tight script, entertaining performances, and a sense of direction that knows how to convey depth and utilize the power of suggestion. It may hit all the beats of a standard heist movie, but at least Hit has a fun time doing so, and because of that, we get to have fun alongside it. 

    The story follows a master thief named Cyrus (Kevin Hart-yes, THAT Kevin Hart) and his team of successful thieves caught by Interpol after a successful heist. Rather than being taken straight to prison, they are offered an alternative. A ruthless crime lord named Jorgensen (Jean Reno) plans to purchase a dangerous tech weapon with the power to control virtually anything, granting him the power to manipulate the world however he sees fit. Interpol has it on good authority that Jorgensen plans to “legally” purchase the weapon with half a billion dollars worth of gold, which will be transported from London to Zurich via plane. Cyrus and his team have seventeen days to form a plan to make the gold disappear, allowing Interpol the opportunity to bring Jorgensen down in exchange for immunity. It would be the most fantastic and most dangerous lift of their lives, assuming they were up to the task. 

    Yes, the movie hits almost every beat you would expect from any given heist movie: planning montages, last-minute complications, etc. But the movie does a fantastic job of hitting those beats with a sense of fun. It is as if the movie knows how much these elements have been seen and played out before but still chooses to be cheerful and excited about it. Because the characters are having such a good time, the audience is invited to join the fun, resulting in an experience that feels familiar but fresh.

    Kevin Hart is the surprising stand out of the film. His comedic talents often land him goofball roles that, while entertaining in their way, don’t provide much opportunity to stretch and expand one’s abilities. Kevin showcases a level of performance I hadn’t seen from him before, and it’s delightful to watch. Yes, he still has his great sense of comedic timing, but he also gets to be more subtle and nuanced in this role. I can’t wait to see what Kevin Hart may have for us. 

    The script is the ultimate driving force of any movie, and the writing for Lift is proof of concept. Penned by Daniel Kunka, the script features sharp & witty dialogue, textured characters, and plot beats that hit their mark in delightful ways. In addition to offering a fun experience, it also takes the opportunity to mention some relevant and vital issues—namely, the ever-present problem of systemic racism. The film does a spectacular job of raising these issues subtly, leaving a lingering impression that doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the experience. While Daniel Kunka doesn’t yet have many more writing credits, I hope to see more of his work soon. 

    Lift may not change your life in any profound way, but it does deliver a solid premise with likable characters and incredible entertainment value. My only regret is not watching & reviewing this movie back in January when it was initially released. If you have Netflix, please add this to your watchlist. It is well worth the subscription. 

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading. 

Friday, March 8, 2024

I'm Still Here

 My Beautiful Readers, 

    I apologize for my incredible absence. I am still here, and, as I have said before, I intend to write on this blog for as long as I can. 

    The truth is, I haven't seen many movies lately, and I haven't found many movie-related topics to write about...yet. 

    I intend to break this hiatus with an upcoming retro review of one of my favorite movies by the great Steven Spielberg, Catch Me If You Can. I can't say when it will come, but rest assured, it is coming. You can also anticipate a review of a recent epic. I won't spoil what it is, but I will say walking without rhythm is best. 

    Rest assured, my beautiful readers, I will do my best to get back into a regular output schedule. Until then, please continue to be patient

Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for still reading. 

Spaceballs Sequel?

  If you get it, you get it! 🤣     In 1987, comedic filmmaker Mel Brooks released one of his many classics, Spaceballs , a spoof/parody of...