Tag Archives: Independent Film

5 Films About Thanksgiving: Day 1 – The Ice Storm

Turkey, candied yams, family, and football all usher in the beginning of my favorite time of the year. Thanksgiving, that jovial holiday for giving thanks for the blessings we’ve gotten over the prior year, is usually overlooked by Hollywood in favor of the much more commercial holiday that follows only a month away. However, there are a handful of films that take place on this festive day, and I’ve decided to give a few of them a look and present the results here in this blog I’ve titled…

A Week of Thanks

5 Films about Thanksgiving

Day 1

Film #1

~ The Ice Storm ~

Director: Ang Lee
Year: 1997
Cast: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 112 mins. / Color / OAR 1.37:1 / MPAA Rating: R

Ben (Kline) and Elena (Allen) Hood are in a miserable marriage, and have two children (Ricci and Maguire) who are negatively affected by the marital situation. All are involved in extramarital affairs or drug use of some sort, and find that those they are involved with are equally as troubled as they, to disastrous results.

It’s tough to get behind a film where none of the characters have any redeeming qualities. In such a situation, I find it hard to like any of them, thus find myself numb to any “hardships” they may suffer throughout the film. This, sadly, is the situation with “The Ice Storm”.

The film is shot well, features a beautifully somber musical score, and is stocked with an excellent cast that any director would welcome. Unfortunately, the story just wasn’t engrossing enough for even this caliber of talent to rescue. The film, for starters, could have been set during any time of the year. There is nothing in the film that makes it a Thanksgiving film, other than the mentions a few times here and there. Furthermore, the ending that was supposed to be a heart wrenching finale, was seen from a mile away (actually about the halfway point of the movie, to be precise). Lastly, other than that unfortunate incident, there is nothing else as far as consequences left in the film, with one nagging question regarding Maguires character left unresolved.

The most interesting thing about the film was the constant reference to “The Fantastic Four” with Maguires character (who himself was Marvel’s other comic book star, “Spider-man”.) Of course, director Ang Lee would later direct that other Marvel film “Hulk” a few years later.

Not a horrible film, but not a memorable one either. I can understand why this was a bomb at the box office upon its initial release. Nobody wants to commit suicide during Thanksgiving week, or see a movie that is akin to that.

Aye, I need a drink. Wait a minute, then I’d be like every character in the film. On second thought…

My Rating: *** / C-

Available from Amazon: The Ice Storm – (The Criterion Collection)


Amazon Video On Demand: The Ice Storm

Stay tuned…

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Posted by on November 23, 2010 in Movies


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31 Days of Howl-oween: Day 26 – Waxwork

I have so many fond memories of films my brother and I would watch together.  We both had very similar tastes back then in movies and would spend hours going to the local mom and pop video stores to find the zaniest of films to watch.  Odyssey Video, Starburst Video, and Mammoth Video were our favorite stops, although Meijer would also stock a very cheap section with many hard to find films.

Today’s film, along with a few of the others that I’ve re-watched for this blog, was one of those films that we loved.  Anytime werewolves, vampires, and mummy’s were in a film together, I particularly would sit down in my favorite seat and watch it repeatedly.

As I’ve said before, I must never return to films that I loved as a child, because I usually see how horribly produced those films actually were.  Was today’s film the exception to the norm?

31 Days of Howl-oween

A Review of Films Filled with Frights

Day 26

Film #26

~ Waxwork ~

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Posted by on October 26, 2010 in Movies


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31 Days of Howl-oween: Day 21 – The Terror

Today’s film had the benefit of my never having heard of it before.  I came across the film, and seeing Boris Karloff was in it made sure to watch it for this 31 Days of Horror movies for Halloween series.  I went in to the film without any knowledge of the storyline, the history of the film, or it’s creators.

Sometimes that is a good thing.  It gives the viewer an unbiased beginning for the film.  Then there are times like these…

31 Days of Howl-oween

A Review of Films Filled with Frights

Day 21

Film #21

~ The Terror ~

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Posted by on October 21, 2010 in Movies


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31 Days of Howl-oween: Day 15 – Bad Channels

I’d watched today’s film because I’d heard that it was in the same universe as yesterday’s film.  I’d never heard of this straight-to-video feature before my research for films to watch as a part of 31 days of horror movies, much to my surprise.  Perhaps I didn’t watch enough late night cable on those cold Friday nights?  After the viewing, I did find some other sites with interesting takes on the film (here) and (here), as well as its own Facebook page (here).

In any case, I’m not so sure any film should feature the word “BAD” in its title?  Does that word serve as a premonition for my review of this film?  Read on to find out…

31 Days of Howl-oween

A Review of Films Filled with Frights

Day 15

Film #15

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Posted by on October 15, 2010 in Movies


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31 Days of Howl-oween: Day 10 – This House Possessed

I remember seeing today’s entry as a little boy growing up in the midwest.  I was terrified by one scene in particular, which stayed with me all these years later.  The scene?  A breathing wall!

I could never place the film, and searched for years to try to find that scene, watching every theatrical haunted house picture of the 70s and 80s I could find.  Thankfully, cable television, in particular, Ted Turner, came to the rescue.  They ran the film as part of their Halloween programming, and I just happened to catch it.  As luck would have it, I was, and am, in the midst of a series focusing on films that are considered “horror” films.

Perhaps you’ve heard of or seen today’s film?…

31 Days of Howl-oween

A Review of Films Filled with Frights

Day 10

Film #10

~ This House Possessed ~

Director:  William Wiard
Year:  1981
Cast: Parker Stevenson, Lisa Eilbacher, Joan Bennett, Slim Pickens, David Paymer, K Callan
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  92 mins. / Color / OAR 1.33:1 / MPAA Rating: NR

When a rock star (Stevenson) suffers a nervous breakdown, he decides to get away to the scenic town of Rancho Santa Fe.  He purchases a furnished house and invites his nurse from the hospital to come along as a live-in nurse, which she happily accepts.  Soon the two begin to fall in love, just as a series of mysterious deaths begin to occur at the house.  They begin to suspect there may be more to the house than meets the eye, and set out to learn all they can about the house’s history, confirming a haunting truth.

Never have I seen a film deemed a horror film without a single scare in it.  In fact, I would garner this felt more like a Hardy Boys TV Movie of the Week than it did a Haunted House film.  There is so much nonsense in this film that even the actors must have knew what a turkey this was.

We get to see a house than can spy on people through it’s security camera system, no matter where in the state of California they are (and I thought the old Superfriends cartoons were bad!).  We get a 5 minute scene of Stevenson singing a “rock” song or two, whereupon he suddenly collapses from exhaustion.  We get a bubbling boiling swimming pool which nobody seems to notice!  We even get a breathing wall (for what reason again???)!

The acting, at least, isn’t horrible.  Some of the cameos, although horrendously stereotypical, are a welcome treat for fans of films of a different era (from “James Bond” to “Lois and Clark”!).

As I’ve said before, some things are better left to memory than revisiting.  In this case, I’m glad to free up that space for something far more memorable!

My Rating:  ** / D+

Stay tuned…

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Posted by on October 10, 2010 in Movies


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Road to Oscars – An Education & A Serious Man

Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson, Peter Sarsgaard
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13 For mature thematic material involving sexual content, and for smoking

I deliberately went into this film having avoided any and all reviews, trailers, or blog posts.  I usually am a sucker for romantic dramas.  My wife has no problem getting me into  the local cineplex to see wonderfully crafted films such as “Once”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Before Sunrise”, or “Remains of the Day”.  I’m even a fan of excellently produced May-December romance pics such as “An Affair to Remember”, “The Graduate”, “Crazy Heart”, and “Love in the Afternoon”.  I appreciate a story that begins with the appearance that the characters are destined for failure, but eventually overcome any hurdles by films end, proving the old adage that “Love Conquers All”.  “An Education” fits only part of that bill.

Newcomer Carey Mulligan is a fine actress, and is amazingly believable in her portrayal of a smitten young teen.  If nothing else, I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins the Best Actress Oscar, and goes on to a very fulfilling career in film.  Mulligan plays a credulous 16 year old who meets the guile older man, played by Peter Sarsgaard with perfection, and begins to fall head-over-heels for him and his sophisticated/avant-garde lifestyle.  All those around her seem to support her relationship with her new suitor, despite the fact that he is twice her age, and she is a minor.  The only exception being that of her instructor, played by Emma Thompson.  This was the only fault I had with this film.  I simply had a hard time believing that at least one of her parents wouldn’t have at least questioned the relationship, considering how “conservative” the father initially was portrayed.  The music and set designs of the film are excellently crafted together to further prove that Lone Scherfig is a very talented film-maker.  As entertaining as though the film may be, I found it a little predictable towards the end.  Thankfully, the film is rescued by the acting all around, and is worth a viewing for the performances alone.

= *** / 5

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Aaron Wolff, Richard Kind
Genre: Drama
Rated R For language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence

Let me preface this review by stating that I generally am a fan of the Coen brothers’ films.  “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski” are easily in my top 100 list.  The wry, often dark, humor that peppers the brothers’ films sets their body of work above the rest.  Which is why a film like “A Serious Man” disappoints.  I can’t quite place my finger on the reason this film didn’t resonate with me the way films like “Fargo”, “Hudsucker Proxy”, or “Barton Fink” had.  Perhaps it’s my lack of knowledge in the subject matter.  This is a work of love; a very passionate film deeply entwined with the customs and language of a Jewish family.

I can appreciate the film for it’s portrayal of a 1967 Jewish neighborhood that bears a strong resemblance to the neighborhood familiar to the Coen’s.  What I can’t get past is that there fails to be a character in the film to stand behind and root for.  There isn’t a character that is portrayed in an overall positive light.  Larry Gopnik, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, is a miserable man who doesn’t know what he wants in life.  Larry’s wife, Judith, is having an affair, and thus leaves him, for “friendly” neighbor Sy Ableman. Larry’s children are equally as contemptible.  His daughter is a materialistic thief, stealing money from her own father for her selfish ambitions.   His son is a loaf who gives more energy into watching TV and listening to the latest album than prepare for something as important as his bar mitzvah.  Larry’s lazy brother does nothing but lounge on his couch all day.  Even the somber “Fargo” had a positive, likable character in Marge Gunderson.  It’s hard to get behind a film, when you can’t get behind any of the characters.

= ** / 5

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Posted by on March 2, 2010 in Movies


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