Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead [2014] Movie Review

Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead [2014]

Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead [2014]
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Writers: Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel, Tommy Wirkola
Genre: Action/Comedy/Horror
Starring: Vegar Hoel, Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, Ingrid Haas
Running Time: 100 minutes

Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead is the type of movie that will rip your arm off, pull your intestines out and then run you over with a tank — just because it can. Set immediately after the original film’s ending (there is a quick primer first just in case you need a refresher on what happened), it’s clear right away just what this much-anticipated sequel has in store. The budget is much bigger, the cast is larger, and the special effects are significantly improved. This is Dead Snow cranked to 11.

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Movie Project #14: A Prophet [2009]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

A Prophet [2009]

A Prophet [2007]
Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit
Country: France/Italy
Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif
Running Time: 155 minutes

In Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, prison is an intimidating and often brutal venue that is dominated by two groups: the Corsicans and the Muslims. If you aren’t affiliated with one of these groups (and thereby “protected”), you are entirely on your own, and this is not a desirable option.

The film’s main character, a 19-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent named Malik (Tahar Rahim), learns this firsthand. Sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly attacking a police officer, Malik enters as a naive young man — a kid, really. He is quickly singled out by the Corsican mafia as someone they can take control of. Led by the old, gruff Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), the Corsicans force a proposition on the new prisoner. They want him to kill a Muslim witness named Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi) who is passing through on his way to testify against them. If Malik doesn’t assassinate their target, he will be killed himself. If he does go through with it, he will be protected by the Corsicans through the remainder of his sentence. Truth be told, there is no decision to be made; Malik has to kill this man.

A Prophet [2009]

So it goes in A Prophet, a dog eat dog world. This is just the first test. Malik does a lot of growing in the film, eventually rising through the ranks in absolutely astonishing fashion. As the film goes on, we learn bits of his background. He dropped out of school at age 11, basically raised himself on the streets, and he never learned how to read. Knowing this background makes his ascension even more impressive. Despite his shortcomings, Malik is incredibly street smart, and he quickly adapts to the prison’s hierarchy system.

Malik’s Arab descent allows him to walk the line between both the Muslims and the Corsicans, and he takes full advantage of this. He becomes good friends with a Muslim, Ryad (Adel Bencherif), who teaches him how to read and write. As Malik’s role within the Corsicans continues to grow, he also branches out into a separate business for himself with Ryad. Eventually, thanks to his good behavior he is granted occasional day leaves, allowing him to conduct business on the outside. It is clear that when/if he leaves prison, he is not going to be the same man.

A Prophet [2009]

Tahar Rahim doesn’t look the type who could succeed in prison, but his performance is entirely believable. We never really know quite what he’s thinking, and the film is stronger because of this. Even better is Niels Arestrup as Cesar, basically the epitome of a godfather-type mafioso. He often appears calm, but it’s clear from one look at him that he is not someone to mess with. The performances and setting are as authentic as it gets — Audiard even made it a point to hire former convicts as advisors and extras in the film.

A Prophet‘s tale is a complicated one, but its surprisingly non-violent payoff is immensely satisfying. The extended running time — all 2 1/2 hours of it — is certainly lengthy and even drags at times, but it’s worth it in the long haul. This is an ambitious drama that manages to combine both gangster epics and coming of age stories into one powerful and intelligent film. With its 13 Cesar nominations — and nine wins — it’s clear that many others feel the same way.

8/10

Movie Project #11: Road House [1989]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Road House [1989]

Road House [1989]
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Writers: Hilary Henkin, David Lee Henry
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Thriller
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara
Running Time: 114 minutes

Pain don’t hurt.

Even though this year’s project is stacked with acclaimed films, I don’t know if there was anything I was looking forward to more than the incomparable Road House. Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while now should know how much I love bad (or so bad they’re good) movies. There’s something to be said about shutting off your brain and just going with the flow, embracing cheesy acting and terrible dialogue as the delectable pieces of junk food they are. I’m happy to report that Road House is every bit as awesome (and awful) as I had heard.

Patrick Swayze, still riding the wave of success from Dirty Dancing, stars as a professional cooler (aka bouncer) named Dalton. He has built up a reputation as being the best in the business, and he is hired by businessman Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) to clean up his bar called the Double Deuce. It’s an absolute pigsty of a nightclub, and it is home to many of the bottomfeeders of society. Its patrons are loud and short-tempered, and every other minute a huge bar fight breaks out. The poor house band even has to play behind a cage to avoid being hit with thrown beer bottles. The current wave of bouncers (including pro wrestler Terry Funk!) will throw out those who get particularly unruly, but they’re generally content with the unstable atmosphere.

Road House [1989]

Enter: Dalton. He immediately clears out the staff members that refuse to play by his rules (one of which is simply to be nice) and begins overhauling the business. Problems arise when Dalton fires a bartender who has ties to the local business mogul, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). Wesley has his finger in seemingly every business in town, and he wants to keep things the way they are. He does his best to make Dalton’s life miserable, though Swayze plays him like he doesn’t have a care in the world.

Along the way, Dalton gets a love interest, Dr. Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch), and some backup support from his longtime buddy and veteran cooler, Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott). When Garrett shows up, the film gets more and more violent, lending itself to some wildly entertaining barfights. Naturally, there’s a huge showdown at the end that becomes the centerpiece of the entire movie. It is here where Wesley’s top henchman, Jimmy (Marshall Teague), makes one of the most awkward threats imaginable (“I used to fuck guys like you in prison!”) before succumbing to Dalton’s wicked throat punch (it has to be seen to be believed). At this point, the film has its foot on the gas and culminates with an epic finale at Wesley’s personal mansion. To give you an idea of just how utterly ridiculous this becomes, take note that the last words mentioned in the film are “A polar bear fell on me.”

Road House [1989]

But this imbecility is what makes Road House so much fun. Swayze kicks a bunch of ass, Gazzara hams it up as the main villain, buildings get destroyed, characters find excuses to fight over anything, and Sam Elliott gets to show off his pubic hair. Wait… scratch that last part, that’s something I wish I did not see. Ditto for Patrick Swayze’s belly button (some things just cannot be unseen).

Is Road House great cinema? Not in the slightest. But it’s a damn fun film, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

8/10

Movie Review: Cheap Thrills [2013]

Cheap Thrills [2013]

Cheap Thrills [2013]
Director: E.L. Katz
Writers: David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga
Genre: Comedy/Thriller
Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, David Koechner
Running Time: 88 minutes

Craig (Pat Healy) is having a really bad day. In a matter of just a few hours, he receives an eviction notice and loses his job as an auto mechanic. Now unemployed and staring at the very real possiblity of his family (a wife and infant child) being homeless, Craig attempts to find solace at a nearby dive bar. While drinking alone, he is approached by Vince (Ethan Embry), an old buddy he hasn’t seen in five years. Right away it’s clear the two have little in common anymore. Craig is a family man, no longer the skater and partier he once was, whereas Vince still has the same low ambitions he has had since high school.

Their awkward small talk is interrupted by a loud and boisterous man at a nearby table. This is their introduction to Colin (David Koechner) and his trophy wife Violet (Sara Paxton), a rich couple who are spending an absurd amount of money without a care in the world. Seemingly bored and looking for action, Colin starts proposing a series of dares to his new acquaintances in return for increasing amounts of money. The propositions start off innocently enough — $50 for whoever does a shot of tequila first, $200 for the first person to get slapped by a woman at the bar — but as the night progresses, the stakes get higher.

Cheap Thrills [2014]

Though darkly comedic to the end, the film really kicks into gear when the group of four go back to Violet’s house. The dares get increasingly vulgar (think bodily fluids) and violent (think blood, lots and lots of it). To get into specifics would be a great disservice to the film — seriously, do not even watch the trailer — as half the fun is seeing just how far these two men will go to make some quick cash.

Craig and Vince are the perfect targets for such shenanigans. Craig is, of course, looking to gain some income to keep his family afloat for the next several months, while Vince sees this as a way to make his life even easier. Though the two of them had been friends long ago, their relationship is now flimsy enough that neither is afraid to take drastic measures to make sure they get the cash.

Cheap Thrills [2013]

Pat Healy, the great indie character actor, and Ethan Embry both do so well in this. Healy, in particular, is frightening in his progression from everyman to a testosterone-fueled competitor. Sara Paxton excels as an emotionally vacant wife, but it is David Koechner who steals the show. Best known for his work in comedies like Anchorman, Koechner is much different here with his nice guy persona. There is a certain tension every time he is on the screen simply because he is so unpredictable. The fact that he is so generally friendly at first makes it so jarring — and fearsome — when he pushes his contestants further and further into increasingly volatile dares.

Although it may sound like a simple thriller, there’s more to Cheap Thrills than meets the eye. The film can be looked at as a commentary on the YouTube generation, a group that watches other people get hurt for their own amusement (it seems every day there’s a new fight video that goes viral). In fact, Violet is documenting the entire evening by taking pictures every time the guys do something senseless. There’s also an allegory of the rich controlling the poor (i.e. the 1% versus the 99%). But regardless of how you want to look at the film, it’s not something you will be forgetting anytime soon. Don’t be surprised if this is considered a cult classic in the next several years.

8/10

Movie Project #4: Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]
Director: Amy Heckerling
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates
Running Time: 90 minutes

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a fun movie. It’s a bit strange saying that about a film involving statutory rape and an abortion, but there’s something to be said about its assortment of entertaining characters and future movie stars.

Based on Cameron Crowe’s novel in which he went undercover at a California high school, Fast Times covers the whole spectrum of student types. Jocks, stoners, nerds, middle-class kids and sexual deviants all have an equal amount of time to show us a glimpse into their worlds.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

There’s Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold), a fast food manager who hates wearing their awful uniforms. Nevertheless, he is a strong older brother to Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a 15-year-old virgin who becomes obsessed with sex thanks to her best friend Linda’s (Phoebe Cates) constant praise of it. Stacy has a budding relationship with nice guy Mark Ratner (Brian Backner), though he may be too shy for his own good. Mark’s buddy, Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), a ticket-scalping slacker, tries to help him with the ladies.

At the center of it all is Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), a surfer dude who has been “stoned since the third grade.” He is the best character in the film, hands down, mostly due to Penn’s hilarious performance. Spicoli is the kind of guy who just goes with the flow, getting high with his buds while showing up to class whenever he gets around to it. His constant truancy is the cause of a feud between him and his history teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), leading to some of the film’s most amusing moments.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and many of the random subplots are left unresolved, but the film never fails to be engaging. Much of this can be attributed to the screenplay, as well as its impressive cast of young actors. Fast Times served as a bit of a launching pad for so many careers. Aside from those listed earlier, others with memorable parts include the likes of Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz and James Russo. There’s even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role from Nicolas Cage (then Nicolas Coppola).

Although Cameron Crowe did not direct the film, his musical fingerprints are all over it. The music — which includes the likes of Jackson Browne, Don Henley and Billy Squier — is spot-on for its time period. There is a satisfactory amount of raunchiness, a seemingly obligatory part of any good teen film, with the highlight being one of the most paused scenes in movie history: Phoebe Cates emerging from the water and deciding her bikini top was no longer necessary. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is very much an 80s film and very much a teen film, but it earns high marks as both.

8/10

Fun fact: three actors in this film would go on to win an Oscar for Best Actor: Nicolas Cage, Forest Whitaker and Sean Penn.

Movie Project #2: Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]
Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/History
Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella, Ray Wise
Running Time: 93 minutes

Good Night, and Good Luck takes us back to darker times in the United States, specifically the 1950s when the fear of Communism was running wild. The notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy only added to the hysteria by claiming that large numbers of Soviet spies had infiltrated the U.S. Government. This led to anyone with any connection to Communism, no matter how minute (or even non-existant), getting shunned by those in charge. Who knows what would have happened if CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow didn’t call him out on his bullshit?

George Clooney’s second directorial effort tells the story of this very public feud between Murrow (David Strathairn) and McCarthy. Murrow first targets the senator’s unlawful attack against Milo Radulovich, a Michigan man who was forced to resign from the US Air Force merely because his father subscribed to a Serbian newspaper. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as the trial of Annie Lee Moss, an alleged spy inside the Pentagon, makes the news. Soon McCarthy is attacking Murrow directly, making false accusations about the newscaster being a past member of a communist organization.

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

To Murrow’s credit, he is able to remain calm and level-headed even as he is knee-deep in McCarthy’s pile of lies. He is especially impressive in how he is able to convince his superiors — those who risk damaging certain professional relationships — to stick with him as he fights back against the delusional anti-Communism parade. His rational and sensible demeanor is expertly portrayed by David Strathairn, who got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his performance.

While much of the focus is on Murrow and McCarthy (the latter of whom is only seen in archival footage), there are two other subplots involving those within CBS. Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson play a married couple who are forced to keep their relationship secret due to laws within the company. Also, Ray Wise plays Don Hollenbeck, the host of the CBS News show that follows Murrow, as he struggles to deal with an often slanderous press. The latter storyline fits in perfectly with the overarching theme of the film, but the RDJ/Clarkson subplot received perhaps a bit too much attention. The film is relatively short — just 93 minutes — and it almost feels like their story arc was included to pad things out a bit. The rest of the newsroom is fleshed out with small, but crucial performances from the likes of Clooney himself, Frank Langella and Jeff Daniels.

Good Night, and Good Luck. [2005]

The film is authentic in its approach, with gorgeous black-and-white cinematography interspersed with actual news footage from the era. This provides an almost documentary-like feel to the proceedings, adding even more to the immersion into that era. You can almost smell the smoke-tinged air as everyone puffs away at their Kent-branded cigarettes. For the realism alone, the film succeeds.

It’s said that history repeats itself. Perhaps in 40-50 years, we’ll get another film of a similar nature, this time documenting the frenzy caused by the National Security Agency’s breach of privacy that is happening today. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need an Edward R. Murrow.

8/10

Video Game Review: Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

Stick It to The Man!
System: PS Vita/PS3
Genre: Adventure/Platformer
Developer: Zoink Games
Publisher: Ripstone
Price: $12.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: December 3, 2013

It seems like every Tuesday there is a fun, new indie title that hits the Playstation Vita. Last week was especially fruitful, as it brought about the strategy RPG, Rainbow Moon, and Stick It to The Man!, a bizarre and oftentimes hilarious adventure from Ripstone.

In the aptly titled Stick It to The Man!, you play as Ray Doewood, a hard hat tester who gets knocked into a coma thanks to a freak accident. His world is turned upside down when he awakens to find a large, 16-foot pink spaghetti arm sticking out of his head. To make matters even stranger, his newfound appendage allows Ray to read people’s minds. This new talent becomes especially useful when Ray finds himself on the run from a mysterious chain-smoking figure known only as The Man. It’s your job to “stick it” to The Man while also saving your girlfriend from his evil clutches.

With dialogue penned by Adventure Time writer, Ryan North, the game’s wacky storyline never ceases to amuse. During my playthrough, I ran across all sorts of people — a pregnant man, a zombie jazz band, a woman with a white teeth fetish, and even Santa Claus himself. Best of all, every single one of these characters can have their minds read. In the creative world of Stick It to The Man!, anything seems possible.

Stick It to The Man! [2013, PS Vita]

The gameplay is a mix of platforming and point-and-click adventure. The platforming parts aren’t all that difficult, although there are a few tricky bits where Ray has to swing past enemies (usually The Man’s henchmen) in order to get to the next area. The adventure elements come into play when Ray needs to use his pink spaghetti arm. The Vita version takes advantage of the system’s touch controls by allowing you to physically touch the areas where you want to use this arm. This is much easier than using the right analog stick, especially since you will be using Ray’s spaghetti arm quite a bit.

Each of the game’s ten chapters are loaded with puzzles, most of which require some sly mind reading to solve. Occasionally, after hearing someone’s thoughts, a sticker will pop up in their thought bubble. Ray can then grab this sticker with his giant arm and apply it somewhere else that might make sense. Certain buildings and other parts of the screen can also be pulled back (again by using the touch screen), revealing more characters and objects that can be used to solve puzzles.

The solutions aren’t immediately obvious, especially since so much of the game’s demeanor is offbeat with seemingly random situations, but they do make sense in the end. There is also a helpful map that points out possible areas of interest, thereby lowering the chances of getting stuck. There were still a few areas where I was seriously scratching my head as to what to do, but a little bit of trial-and-error was usually enough to get me by.

Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

One area where Stick It to The Man! really excels is its overall presentation. The world is set in a beautiful 2D paper environment that has an almost Burton-esque aesthetic. On the audio side, a great deal of attention was put into the voice acting — every single one of the 100+ characters has their own dialogue, all of which is well done. The game’s snazzy jazz soundtrack is also a good fit for the overall style, as is the title screen’s inclusion of the 60s psychedelic jam, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)“.

Now, for all of its positives, there are a couple of minor issues worth noting. For one, on the Vita’s smaller screen it can be occasionally difficult to see the small white outline where a sticker can be placed. There were times where I would waltz right on past an object that I could have used to solve a puzzle, unbeknownst to me. I also noticed some sporadic drops in audio, where the dialogue would cut out for a split second, thereby creating a slight delay. Hardly anything game-breaking, but issues nonetheless.

Since Stick It to The Man! is a cross-buy title, one purchase nets both the Vita and PS3 versions. For fans of adventure titles or just quirky humor in general, this is well worth a look. The 5-6 hour campaign is the perfect length for a title of this nature, and it’s quite easy to pick up and play. There really isn’t anything like it on the Playstation Network.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Movie Project #39: Life is Beautiful [1997]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Life is Beautiful [1997]
Director: Roberto Benigni
Writers: Vincenzo Cerami (story), Roberto Benigni (story)
Country: Italy
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Running Time: 116 minutes

Life is Beautiful is a brave film in many ways. It starts off as a comedy about a man, Guido (Robert Benigni), who is so desperately trying to win the love of a beautiful school teacher, Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real-life wife). He drums up a series of “coincidences” that leads him to falling off his bike into her arms, and he even infiltrates her school just to see her by posing as an Italian fascist inspector. His big speech to the students praises the superiority of the Italian race and their perfect earlobes and navels, all in jest, of course.

To Guido, everything is a joke. His sense of humor and comedic timing are what gets him through an increasingly hostile Italy in 1939. See, Guido is a Jewish man, and he is becoming a more and more frequent target of hate by the locals. His uncle, Eliseo (Giustino Durano), is already dealing with the newfound animosity, as his storefront is wrecked by some fascist vandals.

Yet Guido perseveres, putting on a smiling front and taking it all in stride. Eventually, he gets his girl (in the most epic fashion, riding a white horse spray painted in racial epithets), and things seem to be looking up.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Fast forward five years later. Guido and Dora are now married with a young child, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). They own a book store, and despite a crude sign announcing the owner is a Jew, they make the best of it. That is until the Nazis come into town, rounding up every Jew in the area, Guido and young Joshua included. Dora, after learning of their seizure, runs to the local train station, demanding to be brought on board with them. After some deliberation, she is allowed to board the packed train, which has the most horrific destination imaginable: a concentration camp.

Guido, bless his heart, continues to try to make the best of the situation. He spins this trip into a game for his young son, telling him that he will get a tank if he wins the game. Surely Guido knows the chances of this ending well are slim, but his outgoing demeanor tries to cheer up the spirits of those around him, especially his son.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Now, this is where the film grows bold in its delivery, and it has received a great deal of criticism for its approach. Guido is constantly cracking jokes (“Buttons and soap out of people? That’ll be the day!”) about a very sensitive and very real atrocity. Sometimes his attempts to be funny are just flat out obnoxious and inconsiderate, such as when he pretends to speak German just so he can jokingly translate orders from a Nazi officer. I get that Guido (and Benigni himself) is just trying to make the best of a horrible situation, but he really should know his limits.

Still, even with these potentially inappropriate moments, there is a great story underneath it all. This is a tale of the strength of a family, and the bond of love between father and son, and husband and wife. This is about a man who can find the beauty in life, even in the most dire situations. While Benigni can overstep the line past obnoxiousness, his Chaplin-esque antics are visually appealing. There is a certain type of charm to his character, and we could all learn something from his optimistic views.

8/10

Movie Project #32: The Blues Brothers [1980]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The Blues Brothers [1980]
Director: John Landis
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Music
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Carrie Fisher
Runtime: 133 minutes (extended: 147 minutes)

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

As a Chicago resident, it’s almost blasphemous that I just now saw The Blues Brothers for the first time. This much-loved 1980 musical/comedy/action/whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it is pretty much the quintessential Chicago movie, and it has a bit of a legendary status around here. Hell, last month Wrigley Field held a screening of the film (though the $20 bleacher and $40 lawn seats were too pricey for me). To say it was due time for me to familiarize myself with this is an understatement.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The eponymous brothers are, of course, “Joliet” Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd). The film begins with Jake being released from Joliet Prison, making sure to grab his retained items on the way out (including “one unused prophylactic” and “one soiled”). Elwood picks him up in what they call the Bluesmobile — a beat-up 1974 Dodge Monaco patrol car. Before being incarcarated, Jake had promised the nun at their childhood orphanage that she would be the first person he would visit after being released. Upon arriving, the brothers are hit with the news that the orphanage will be forced to close unless $5,000 in property taxes are collected. Some financial brainstorming, aided by a trip to a wildly entertaining gospel church service, leads Jake and Elwood to discover a way to help come up with the money. Their plan? Re-form the Blues Brothers rhythm & blues band.

In order to do so, the siblings drive around the Chicagoland suburbs, making stops to attempt to lure their old bandmates back for their fundraiser gig. This hilariously leads to random musical encounters in which they run into legit musicians, all playing minor characters. The aforementioned church service is led by James Brown, who may be the coolest reverend I have ever seen. Other noteworthy appearances include Aretha Franklin running a soul food restaurant, Ray Charles owning a music shop, and John Lee Hooker jamming on a South Side street. Not knowing much about the film, these musical interludes were a pleasant surprise, and many of them were absolute highlights.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

There are two extended scenes in the film that I loved the hell out of. One is when the band, in their first gig in years, masquerades as “The Good Ol’ Boys”, a country group in a divey hick bar way outside of the city. The bartender reassures the guys that they have “both kinds of music here, Country AND Western“. With little choice, the band hops on stage. Their opening blues jam doesn’t go over well with the local folk, so they improvise by playing — what else? — the “Rawhide” theme song. Throw in a cover of “Stand By Your Man” and slowly they start to win over the increasingly drunker patrons. And with this scene, I fell in love with the movie.

Later, the big Chicago moments arrive. Watching the brothers drive their Bluesmobile through all sorts of familiar locations — lower Wacker Drive, Lake Street and the Daley Center, to name a few — was a lot of fun. Even more entertaining was watching them destroy damn near everything in their path, Daley Center included. As the cop cars continued to pile up, I just couldn’t believe how much damage was being done. This would have been crazy as hell to see being filmed, that’s for sure.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

While the stars of the film are undoubtedly Aykroyd and Belushi, it was Aykroyd who nailed it with his famous remark, “Chicago is one of the stars of the movie. We wrote it as a tribute.

I’m not sure what the differences are between the theatrical cut and extended version, but I watched the latter. I feel there were probably two or three unnecessary scenes included, as the nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime was a little exhausting. Regardless, I can’t say I have seen another film like The Blues Brothers, a rambunctious ode to my favorite city.

8/10