The Movie Weekend That Was


After a few busy weekends and not much time to watch movies, I finally found a chance to catch up a little bit. Like a certain character in The ABCs of Death (X is for XXL), I gorged myself. The weekend featured a chilling documentary about a mafia hit man, an Oscar Best Picture nominee, a couple of musicals, two films from a critically acclaimed director, and a much-anticipated horror. This is the movie weekend that was.

Election (1999)
Alexander Payne’s 90s cult comedy classic did not disappoint. It works much in the same way that Hot Fuzz (2007) works. The first 80 minutes of the film builds and builds to an uproarious crescendo in the final 20 minutes, with very little wasted energy in creating the humor. The finale features one impressive comic payoff after another. That it subverted Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller role is just icing on the cake.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Basically a real-life Tony Soprano, Richard Kuklinski had a normal family life… and was one of the most dangerous men in the mob.

The Iceman Interviews (2003)
HBO captured the horrific reality of the life of mob hit man Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski via three separate specials- The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer, The Iceman: Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man, and the The Iceman and the Psychiatrist. They’ve all been compiled into one selection, available on Netflix, called The Iceman Interviews. The first special- Conversations with a Killer– provides the most bang for the buck. It’s not for the faint of heart, as Kuklinski describes his murders and body disposal in great detail. The assumption when you hear “mafia hit man” is that most of the work was done with a gun, but Kuklinski also used cyanide, pool cues, and other implements of death and destruction. The second segment- Secrets of a Mafia Hit Man- was very solid, but covered little new ground following the first segment. The third segment, The Iceman and the Psychiatrist, plays out like the worst parts of The Sopranos, with a psychiatrist analyzing Kuklinski and his behavior.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars, dragged down by the third segment

All About My Mother (1999)
This is my third look at the work of Pedro Almodovar, and I continue to be blown away by the quality. All About My Mother is ripe with human drama and emotion. Almodovar’s use of color is impressive, the film has just the right pinch of homage to classic cinema, and his approach to writing for his female characters is evocative of Bergman. Most importantly, it was a deeply personal film, and it shows.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

zero dark thirty lead

You don’t have to see the prequels, Zero Dark 1 through 29, to understand Zero Dark Thirty.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
In many ways, this type of movie just isn’t my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when I walked away impressed. Much has been made of the torture scenes, with many people claiming that the film glorifies torture. But I didn’t see it that way at all. First and foremost, the film’s most protracted torture sequence only produces faulty information, with the captive muttering gibberish as his coffin-bed closes around him. More importantly, it strikes me that the idea behind showing it was to illustrate the brutality and inhumanity of torture. If it’s seen as glorifying the act, then people are reacting differently to those scenes than I did, because I found it repulsive (the act; not that it was in the movie).

I also applaud director Kathryn Bigelow’s commitment to reality in the raid sequence at the end. As heroic as the team was, there were flaws in the raid- the downed helicopter, the fact that the guy who shot Bin Laden didn’t even know he’d done it at first- and Bigelow opted to depict it that way rather than glossing it up. It’s ironic, then, that my only gripe is that the film apparently strays quite a bit from the true story. Obviously, many more people were involved in the total operation than Maya, the Jennifer character has apparently offended the people who actually knew her, and the distance to the compound in the finale was actually much further away. Still, on the whole, it’s a very good film, worthy of its Best Picture nomination.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

42nd Street (1933)
My wild admiration of Busby Berkeley’s Dames (1934) earlier this week emboldened me to check out another film he helped make, 42nd Street. It’s important to note that Berkeley did not direct this film, whereas he had directed Dames. That fact is apparent in my reaction to 42nd Street, which did not resonate with me in the same way. The final dance sequence was certainly impressive, featuring much of the same kaleidoscopic features that had made me love Dames. But the story wrapped around the dance sequences left me a little cold, with humor that didn’t always hit. The kaleidoscopic visuals make the film notable, but I can’t be too particularly enthusiastic about the rest.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Volver (2006)
Since Volver was free on my OnDemand service, I decided to double down on Almodovar for the weekend. It was a rewarding choice. Volver was a spectacular tale of buried secrets, familial bonds, and redemption.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The ABCs of Death (2013)
Ant Timpson and Tim League came together to produce a truly unique concept- an anthology horror where all 26 segments carry a theme from a different letter of the alphabet. You may recognize League as the founder of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. With any anthology horror, there are bound to be some hits and misses. That’s amplified further when you create 26 separate shorts. I graded each individual short and they averaged out to 2.94 stars, just under 3 stars. But it’s not really fair to grade it that way.

The overarching point, and the reason I’d recommend this anthology to any horror fan, is that it covers so much ground in the genre. France, Spain, the UK, and Japan are all very well-represented, as is the US. Thailand is represented, and even eastern Europe gets into the game with Srdjan Spasojevic (A Serbian Film) directing R is for Removed. The range of styles is impressive. It includes animation, claymation, French New Extremity, Japanese extreme, meta horror, horror-comedy, a short that gives off a distinct Hammer Horror vibe (U is for Unearthed), a live-action version of a Tex Avery cartoon that includes furries, and… whatever the F and Z segments are classified as in the Japanese canon. Most surprising was the comedy, with several segments eliciting hearty belly laughs. My favorite segments: D, E, F, H, N, T, U, and X. The ones I really disliked: L, M, P, W, and Z.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars, but highly recommended (and it hits theaters very soon)

Cabaret (1972)
I keep trying to prove that I can find musicals I’ll like, and I keep coming up short. Cabaret wasn’t much different, though I did appreciate how much it subverts classic musicals. And there was a certain charm to the master of ceremonies and his band of misfit performers.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
(that score should be seen as my level of enjoyment, and less so the quality of the film; besides, I’m the last person that should be trusted with a grade on a musical)

Bazaar Bizarre (2004)
Had I known that this true crime documentary about Kansas City serial killer Bob Berdella was a Troma release, I likely would have avoided it. I did not know that and paid dearly for it. I can handle a LOT of things in movies, but I draw the line somewhere around a kidnapping/rape/murder re-enactment that includes a serial killer shoving a carrot or a cucumber into someone’s ass. It’s a horrible film, not recommended for anyone.
Rating: 1 star out of 5


Filed under Movies

31 responses to “The Movie Weekend That Was

  1. movableteacher

    Reblogged this on Madrid Journal.

  2. Aleksa

    Thank you; I hadn’t heard of “The ABC’s of Death”, but it sounds pretty interesting.

    • If you want a taste of it just to be sure you’ll like it, google “T is for Toilet”. It’s a great representative of the really best parts of the movie.

  3. I was going to ask if you had seen ZD30. It seems that every review I’ve read, to include Roger Ebert’s is itself flawed in its’ assertions. Going in to the movie, I knew that many people in government had come out saying that the info about bin Laden’s courier was not found out through extreme torture. So I expected that I would have to look past that. This film DOES NOT say that waterboarding or stress positions or heavy metal gave us that info. Even Alex Gibney came out against the film, saying that it glorified torture. I just didn’t see it. It’s like saying that the rape in ‘Irreversible’ paid homage to the wonders of rape. It didn’t. If you read Peter Bergen’s, ‘Manhunt’, you will note that the film got a lot of stuff right.

  4. Zero Dark Thirty is a good film. I just don’t think it’s THAT good to be worthy of the hype and recognitions. Sorry, my opinion. I think they could have focus more on the actual raid. It felt like it wasn’t about the mission, which is supposed to be what the movie is. It felt like the writer built so much character on the main role that it overshadows everything. I guessed it was what the movie all about in the first place, which I think doesn’t suit what it was intended for. Hurt Locker was a deserving movie.

    • Bah, no worries. No need to ever apologize for your opinion here.

      In a weird way, even though I griped about the lack of realism with Maya serving as the sole engine behind UBL’s capture/death, I understand why they did it. I think it was more compelling and probably resonated with more people that way.

  5. Dan

    John, I watched Cabaret last fall, and I liked it only slightly more than you did. I enjoyed the parts in the actual club and with Joel Grey’s host, but the love story and drama outside of it were not very engaging. I’m right with you on All About My Mother. That’s such a great movie.

    • You nailed it. And it’s so ironic, but I liked the musical stuff much more than the actual movie that wrapped around it. It’s almost always the other way around.

  6. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    Okay LaRue….I know I said there was no way I was going to see every Best Picture nominee this year. Right now, I’ve seen seven out of nine. I’m still debating if I should see Amour and Life of Pi. Zero Dark Thirty is inspiring my next year’s Halloween outfit. Most surprising movie I enjoyed was Silver Linings Playbook. I thought it would suck and it was surprisingly good.

    • Are you going to wear a burka for Halloween?

      I genuinely want to see Amour. You’ve seen more than me. I’m missing Silver Linings, Amour, Life of Pi, and The Miserables.

      • The Guy Who Met Kevin Meaney

        I was thinking walking around with no pants and a dog collar. I still think Argo should win. Beasts of the Southern Wild had its merits but I’ve seen 8mm snuff films with a bigger budget. Les Miserables is about as good as a musical can get. I think my biggest problem with musicals is when characters go back and forth between speaking and breaking out into song. In Les Miserables, it was all singing which is surprisingly better. SIlver Linings Playbook had an indie feel to it but it happened to have a bunch of big names in it. I would recommend it.

        • Silver Linings Playbook would be the next one I see, if I get a chance. It’s been in theaters forever and I get the feeling it’s about to go away.

  7. The ABCs of Death seems like a really interesting movie — it does sound original.

  8. Nice mini reviews John! Glad you’re impressed w/ ZDT too, it’s also not my cup of tea but I think it was better than The Hurt Locker.
    I still need to see Election, interesting that you compared it to Hot Fuzz which I love!

    • I agree about Zero Dark Thirty vs. The Hurt Locker. I feel like it had more to say.

      I should clarify- the only reason I compared Election to Hot Fuzz is that the 20 minutes are a huge comic payoff for the first 80. Beyond that, it’s a very different movie.

  9. Phil

    I hear that Argo is the favorite to win Best Picture and I don”t think it comes close to ZDT. I enjoyed it and I think the first 2/3rds was great, but the ending of Argo is a tacked on Hollywood ending which ruined the film for me.
    I think in 10 years, people will have forgotten this torture controversy and ZDT will be remembered as the best film.
    And yes, see SLP, it’s another great dysfunctional family film from David O. Russell. Although I’m surprised Jennifer Lawrence is the favorite for best actress. She’ll have even better roles in the future.

    • I’m probably always going to have a soft spot for Lawrence just because she played a Missouri gal in Winter’s Bone.

      My deal with Argo is that I thought it was great… except for that 10 minute sequence. And it’s funny because Argo and ZDT have similar themes on the surface- true history political thrillers, directors taking liberties, terrorism, etc… One thing Argo has going for it (with the Academy) is that it’s a moviemaker making a movie about making movies, which always plays well.

  10. goregirl

    That is an interesting array of flicks. I must admit…I had to be dragged to Election kicking and screaming but Reese is an awful lot of fun when she is playing coo-coo…enjoyed her in Freeway too. Still don’t care for Broderick though. I can not wait to see ABCs of Death…been following that sucker for a year. Kind of a meh rating you gave it, but I would expect some duds in a collection of 26 shorts. Bazaar Bizarre…ha! Awful. I’ve watched a helluva lot of Troma flicks for my 90s thing. Sure, many of them are pretty bloody awful, however there is the occasional gem. So pleased you are enjoying the wonderful world of Pedro Almodovar…man oh man how I love that man!

    • ABCs of Death is right up your alley. My mediocre rating has more to do with the few duds amongst the shorts. The ones that were bad were REALLY bad (or at least, in my opinion). But the good stuff made it more than worth it.

      What’s the best Troma you’ve seen?

      Almodovar is amazing. I only said that I’d watch three of his movies this year for the resolutions but I guarantee I’ll be watching many, many more.

  11. That’s a nice batch of movies to see in one weekend. Election is one of my favorites — glad you got to catch up with that one. I’ll have to check out Volver, too. Really enjoyed All About My Mother when I saw it last year.

    • Of the movies I saw last weekend, Election is the one that’s sticking with me the most. And that’s saying something because I had a weekend full of very good stuff.

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