Quick Movie Reviews: Head, Coffee and Cigarettes, The Machinist, American Grindhouse, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Warrior

It’s time for another batch of quick reviews of movies I have seen recently.

Head [1968]
Head [1968, Bob Rafelson]
This is part of the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set that I purchased during Criterion’s latest 50% off sale. After growing tired of their family-friendly TV show, The Monkees were cast in this 1968 psychedelic romp, a complete turnaround from their past reputation. Head is all over the place, and is basically a variety show in movie form. There isn’t much of a plot; in fact, the movie is mainly a collection of seemingly random and patched together sequences. It has been said that the idea for the movie was developed during an acid trip, and it certainly shows. If you can handle the unorthodox style, Head is an amusing ride, though it starts to wear out its welcome by the end. Still, a fascinating portrait of this counterculture time period. 7/10

Coffee and Cigarettes [2003]
Coffee and Cigarettes [2003, Jim Jarmusch]
I finally sat down to watch this entire movie in one sitting, and I loved it. Nothing more than a series of vignettes of random celebrities conversing over coffee and cigarettes, the real value of the concept lies in its offbeat pairings. Highlights include Iggy Pop and Tom Waits awkwardly deciding to have a cigarette despite not smoking for years, RZA, GZA and Bill Murray discussing the negative effects of caffeine, and Alfred Molina amusingly trying to pitch a movie project to a very conceited Steve Coogan. An interesting experiment, and one that’s worth seeing. 8/10

The Machinist [2004]
The Machinist [2004, Brad Anderson]
Christian Bale is absolutely sickening in this role where he dropped 60+ pounds in order to play a man plagued by insomnia. Seriously, the dude is nothing but skin and bones here! Bale’s commitment to the role is phenomenal, and thankfully the movie is of high enough quality to back this up. The Machinist is a disturbing psychological thriller with an intriguing plot twist at the end. I saw the twist coming, but I was pleased with how it presented itself. This is a very dark and bleak movie, but it is also a memorable one. 8/10

American Grindhouse [2010]
American Grindhouse [2010, Elijah Drenner]
This documentary focuses on the history of exploitation flicks, going all the way back to 1932’s Freaks, a film that used real circus sideshow performers to play the roles of the freaks. American Grindhouse shows clips from many of these movies throughout the years and also includes interviews with some of their directors, as well as film buffs like Kim Morgan and Eric Schaefer. The always great Robert Forster does the narration. For anyone interested in the subject, this is a great primer, and it discusses all sorts of exploitation genres. Be warned: this isn’t for the faint of heart, as it shows all sorts of nudity, violence and gore (as should be expected, given the subject matter). 8/10

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark [2011]
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark [2011, Troy Nixey]
A prime example of a horror film that shows too much. The movie is decent enough while the little girl (Bailee Madison) explores the mysterious mansion, but there is a massive drop in quality when the Gremlin-esque monsters show up. They are tiny and not intimidating at all, and the characters act like complete buffoons when threatened by their presence. This film could have been so much more effective if we DIDN’T know what was hiding in the dark. It doesn’t help that Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes sleepwalk through their performances. Just a mess of a horror film. 4/10

Warrior [2011]
Warrior [2011, Gavin O’Connor]
Predictable drama about two distant brothers who end up fighting in the same MMA tournament. While superbly-crafted, Warrior doesn’t present anything new and instead relies heavily on tired sports cliches. There were two things that I enjoyed quite a bit about the movie, however. 1) The cast. Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte were all fantastic in their roles, especially Nolte as the reformed alcoholic father of the two fighters. His Oscar nomination was well-deserved. 2) The use of music from The National. The final scene really hit home with me, and I believe a large part of that was the effective use of the song “About Today.” Warrior is a good film, yes, but I don’t understand how it is currently ranked as #145 on IMDB’s Top 250. 7/10

Have you guys seen any of these? What are your thoughts about them?

UPDATE: I was sad to see, just minutes after I posted this, that Davy Jones of the Monkees had passed away. Very sad news. R.I.P. Davy. Here is a clip of him singing in Head:

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