Reality Bites is all about navigating life from the cynical perspective of Generation X. Writer Helen Childress based it on her own personal life experiences and friends. Although the title isn’t supposed to mean “life sucks,” it does capture all the problems that they were facing at the time. Reality Bites is the 90’s equivalent of St. Elmo’s Fire with four twenty-something friends and roommates dealing with life after college. There’s an awesome soundtrack that includes grunge music, reality TV style filmmaking, and fear of the AIDS epidemic.
Reality Bites wasn’t an immediate success, but it did become a cult favorite that launched many careers. Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke increased their appeal while Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn had their first major film roles. Lelaina is an aspiring filmmaker who videotapes her friends being themselves. She has a bickering love/hate relationship with her philosophical slacker friend Troy who has a grunge band. Their promiscuous friend Vickie is worried she has AIDS and their celibate friend Sammy comes out as gay.
Several celebrities make appearances since this was the first movie directed by Ben Stiller. He also plays Lelaina’s older yuppie love interest Michael who comes between her and Troy. I can’t personally relate to Generation X or the constant smoking, but being unable to find a job, trying to please your parents, and feeling like your life isn’t progressing like everyone else is pretty universal. Reality Bites has a great understanding of how young adults think.
Lelaina hangs with Troy
The Blob (1988) is a B movie with a big budget. The remake is another 80’s version of a 50’s monster movie. Much like The Thing (1982) or The Fly (1986), The Blob (1988) shows just how gory the concept can get. The remake retains the small town, teenage protagonists, non-believing police, and an unlucky old man finding the Blob falling to Earth in a meteor. Except this version has an 80’s appropriate cynical tone. The Blob is pinker, faster, more sentient, and able to grab people with tendrils. Deaths are horrifying with the dissolving process shown in graphic detail.
Its weakness to cold is the same, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few unexpected surprises. The stereotypical jock is made to seem like the hero until he dies almost immediately. Instead 80’s delinquent Brian is the unlikely hero. A young Kevin Dillon plays Brian and first time “scream queen” Shawnee Smith plays cheerleader Meg who starts to warm up to him. The Blob’s rampage racks up a high body count in familiar places like the movie theater and unfamiliar places like the sewer.
The biggest difference between the original and remake is the origin of the Blob. 50’s audiences accept an alien from outer space, but 80’s audiences need a conspiracy theory (or a reverend professising the end of the world). So the Blob is now a bioweapon gone wrong that the Government is trying to cover up. Men in hazmat suits are just as bad as the creature they created. The Blob (1988) may be in it for the kills, but there is a brain hidden under all that mayhem.
The Blob eats
Remake of: The Blob (1958)
Beware! The Blob is a B movie’s B movie. Even though The Blob ended with a question mark, it took 14 years to get a sequel. I knew about the 1958 original for years, but the 1972 Beware! The Blob is practically lost. The cast isn’t entirely unknown, but the director is probably the most notable aspect. Beware! The Blob is shot by J.R. himself Larry Hagman. Although the budget was increased, somehow the quality feels worse.
The acting is even more bizarre with characters who are only around to get eaten. The plot is a much more 70’s version of the original with hippies running around. The Blob returns when a dimwitted engineer brings a sample back from the arctic. It’s clearly a sequel, even though characters can be seen watching The Blob on TV. The rampage starts up again with the Blob eating flies and cats before consuming half the town.
The Blob itself is bright red and resembles jelly more than it did before. Roles are reversed with teenager Lisa having to convince her boyfriend Bobby of the attacks. Of course no one believes them until it’s too late. This time the final rampage is at a bowling alley and the source of cold that defeats it is an ice rink. The sequel ends with another question mark, but nothing ever materialized. Beware! The Blob is a product of the 70’s.
The Blob attacks
Preceded by: The Blob
The Blob is a B movie that devours the competition. Originally released as a double feature with I Married a Monster from Outer Space, The Blob took on a life of its own. I’ve known about the iconic monster for years, but I never watched the 1958 movie. Mostly because I always thought it was colorized from a black & white version. Turns out the The Blob is just very colorful. It’s a cheesy B movie with a campy theme song, questionable acting, and a seemingly laughable threat.
Yet the Blob is actually more terrifying than it looks. It’s surprisingly based on a true story involving star jelly discovered in 1950 Pennsylvania. The Blob is a red gelatinous mass that falls from a meteor and quickly consumes everything in its path. Nothing can stop it! The more it eats, the bigger it becomes! The Blob is an early horror film centered around teenagers, because it was made for the drive-in generation. Even though newcomer Steve McQueen clearly isn’t a teenager, he does manage to show off his driving skills.
Together with co-star Aneta Corsaut as his sweetheart Jane and a group of friends, Steve attempts to warn the town. The police don’t believe them until things get worse. The Blob first consumes a poor old man, doctors, and random townspeople until it reaches a movie theater. Engulfing an entire diner with the main characters in it is surprisingly tense. The Blob genuinely feels unstoppable until it gets cold. Ending its reign of terror (or does it?). The Blob grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.
Followed by: Beware! The Blob
The Bad Guys is a family friendly twist on a classic caper. At this point I can never guess what DreamWorks Animation will do next. They’ve cancelled so many projects that I wondered why they greenlit something like The Bad Guys. It looked so childish and cartoony, but looks are deceiving. The Bad Guys is actually based on an even more stylized book series. The story follows stereotypically bad anthropomorphic animals who attempt to be good guys. The Bad Guys include Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Mr. Shark, Mr. Piranha, and Mr. Tarantula. It’s simple, but the movie is a clever parody of heist flicks. Even though kids probably won’t understand the references to the Ocean’s trilogy or Pulp Fiction.
As soon as I saw the trailer, I knew the art style was trying to emulate Into the Spider-Verse. The mix of hand drawn and computer animation is unique and the lighting does have the heist feel. Anime was also referenced, but the characters look as kid friendly as possible. The cast includes Sam Rockwell as the sly leader of the Bad Guys, Mr. Wolf. Marc Maron is the grumpy second-in-command Mr. Snake. Craig Robinson is the goofy master of disguise Mr. Shark. Anthony Ramos is the short-tempered muscle Mr. Piranha. Though male in the book, Awkwafina joins another heist crew as the obnoxious Ms. Tarantula, affectionately nicknamed Webs. Their banter can be funny, but excessive fart jokes hold them back.
Only the main characters are animals. Lois Griffin herself Alex Borstein voices the human police chief obsessed with taking the Bad Guys down and YouTuber Lilly Singh voices a clueless news reporter. Meanwhile, Zazie Beetz voices the fox governor Diane Foxington who denounces the Bad Guys, but has more in common with them than she lets on. Richard Ayoade voices the British guinea pig Professor Marmalade who represents the stereotypical good guy. When a plot to steal the Golden Dolphin award goes wrong, Marmalade suggests turning them good. Mr. Wolf starts to like being good, but Mr. Snake is the biggest hold out. There is a twist that’s easy to figure out and a climax that includes a meteor and mind control. Luckily The Bad Guys is good enough to pull it off.
The bad guys
Ocean’s 8 is another gender-swapped version of an all-male franchise. Since I was never attached to the Ocean’s trilogy, an all-female reboot didn’t bother me. Unlike Ghostbusters, which is too much of a classic to mess with. Ocean’s Fourteen was never gonna happen considering Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney wanted to end on a strong note. Gary Ross directs a new cast of only 8 well-known actresses. Sandra Bullock is Danny Ocean’s never before mentioned sister Debbie Ocean who also happens to be an ex-con master thief. It’s kind of lazy, but there needs to be an Ocean hiring a team for a heist.
Bullock and Clooney both starred in Gravity, but they don’t interact since Danny is inexplicably dead. Most of Debbie’s team are just female versions of past members. Cate Blanchett is Debbie’s blunt second-in-command Lou similar to Rusty. Together they plan to steal a priceless necklace from the Met Gala. Which seems a bit stereotypical for an all-female heist crew. Helena Bonham Carter is her usual cooky self as fashion designer Rose. Mindy Kaling handles the jewels as Amita. Sarah Paulson is stay-at-home mom and illegal goods transporter Tammy. Rihanna makes one of her rare acting appearances as hacker Nine Ball. Awkwafina is just as obnoxious, but Constance has valuable pickpocketing skills.
Anne Hathaway is the third biggest name in the cast who literally plays a famous actress named Daphne. She is the 8th member even though it seems like she’s only there for them to obtain her necklace. The sort of villain is Debbie’s ex Claude Becker who got her incarcerated. James Corden shows up near the end to investigate the crime along with a bunch of celebrities at the Met Gala. Elliott Gould’s Reuben and Shaobo Qin’s Amazing Yen are the only returning cast members. I have no major complaints since I already like most of the female cast. Ocean’s 8 is undemanding and inoffensive.
Spin-Off of: Ocean’s Thirteen
Ocean’s Thirteen is a back to the basics grand finale. Unlike Ocean’s Twelve, the third installment is a lot easier to follow. Like Ocean’s Eleven, all the action is kept at a Las Vegas casino. The entire male cast along with director Steven Soderbergh remained committed. Including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, and Shaobo Qin. The titular Ocean’s Thirteen refers to Eddie Izzard’s Roman Nagel becoming a consultant and Andy Garcia’s Terry Benedict being brought in as a last resort.
You’d think Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones would be the remaining two, but neither of them return since they were unsatisfied with their limited screen time. Instead Sea of Love co-stars Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin round out the star-studded cast. Pacino is the new villain Willy Bank who swindles Reuben out of a casino. Reuben’s significance is increased when he suffers a heart attack and Danny Ocean takes revenge. He plans to ruin Bank’s hotel by affecting its 5 star rating and rigging the machines in the casino. Together with Rusty at his side, the entire team gets a chance to shine.
Linus has the idea to bring in Benedict and attempts to seduce Barkin who plays Willy’s personal assistant. Saul plays the hotel reviewer while the real guy suffers many misfortunes. Frank sticks to the blackjack table, Livingston rigs the machines, and Yen contorts himself through an elevator shaft. Virgil & Turk work alongside Mexican laborers in order to create rigging devices. Basher is given several important roles to create an Earthquake and distract Bank from discovering who they are. Vincent Cassel is also back as the Night Fox, but he gets duped once again. Ocean’s Thirteen plays to the strengths of the original film.
Preceded by: Ocean’s Twelve & Followed by: Ocean’s 8
Ocean’s Twelve is complicated even by heist standards. Ocean’s Eleven was fast-paced and entertaining, but the sequel is too slow and more concerned with star-power. Steven Soderbergh returns to direct alongside the entire cast from the first movie. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, and Shaobo Qin all return as Ocean’s Eleven plus one. Ocean’s Twelve refers to Julia Roberts temporarily joining the team. After the casino heists, Danny Ocean and his team were tracked down by Andy Garcia returning as rival Terry Benedict.
He forces them to pay back the money they stole with interest. Leading to a series of difficult to follow heists in Europe. Some of which involve a mysterious master thief known as the Night Fox. Vincent Cassel plays French Baron François Toulour who steals priceless objects using gymnastics. Eddie Izzard plays another thief who helps them steal a fabergé egg. Ocean avoids arrest, makes a deal with Toulour, and attempts to pay back Benedict with a time limit. Lack of focus may be caused by how much screen time they give each character. Rusty has an increased role that includes a romance with Catherine Zeta-Jones as Isabel, a Europol detective trying to arrest the thieves.
Linus tries to take on a leadership role, Reuben works closely with the team, Frank is mostly in jail, Livingston is a failed stand-up, Basher is still very British, Yen continues contorting himself, Saul leaves since he’s too old, and Virgil & Turk continue to bicker. Danny is in a stable relationship with Tess, but Roberts has a reduced role since she was pregnant. There “so ridiculous it’s kind of clever” idea is to have Tess literally disguise herself as Julia Roberts. It only gets weirder when Bruce Willis shows up as himself. Ocean’s Twelve has too many ideas for a straight-forward heist.
Preceded by: Ocean’s Eleven & Followed by: Ocean’s Thirteen
Ocean’s Eleven made heist films cool again. 2001 was filled with first installments in successful franchises. I never watched the Ocean’s trilogy, because I’ve never been a big fan of heists. Luckily Ocean’s Eleven has more entertainment value than the 1960 original. A remake was considered for decades until Academy Award winning director Steven Soderbergh gave it a fresh spin. The Rat Pack has its familiar faces, but I knew the modern cast of Hollywood A-listers a lot better. You’ve got George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould, and Carl Reiner all in one movie. Along with cameos from original cast members and TV actors.
The only character who keeps their name from the original movie is Danny Ocean. Clooney is effortlessly charismatic as the ex-con gentleman thief who plans a scaled down heist of three Las Vegas casinos. The job is personal since Danny plans on winning back his ex-wife Tess who’s dating rival casino owner Terry Benedict. Roberts has believable chemistry with Clooney and Garcia makes a good villain. Ocean’s Eleven consists of criminal specialists and trusted colleagues. Pitt is the perfect foil for Clooney as his constantly snacking right-hand man Rusty Ryan. The heist itself requires meticulous planning, surveillance, and deception. Damon is lowly pickpocket Linus Caldwell who gets close to the mark.
Mac acts as con man card dealer Frank Cotton. Reiner is another much older con man Saul Bloom who commits to his role. Gould is the wealthy casino informant Reuben Tishkoff. Casey Affleck and Scott Caan are mechanic brothers Virgil and Turk Malloy. Eddie Jemison is the all important electronics expert Livingston Dell. Cheadle is explosives expert with an exaggerated English accent Basher Tarr. Shaobo Qin is a real life acrobat who plays a crucial role in the heist as “The Amazing” Yen. The heist itself is tense and full of clever twists. It’s satisfying to see Ocean’s team actually get to keep the money. Ocean’s Eleven makes every second count.
Remake of: Ocean’s 11 & Followed by: Ocean’s Twelve
Ocean’s 11 is the original heist. Although I grew up knowing about the Ocean’s trilogy, most people forget the idea dates back to 1960. The Rat Pack was an entertainment group consisting of famous Las Vegas entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. The movie is mostly an excuse to bring everyone together to make some money, sing some songs, and wear well-tailored suits. It was also the second to last film for prolific director Lewis Milestone. I didn’t live through the 60’s, so I only knew so much about the ensemble cast.
Sinatra plays World War II paratrooper Danny Ocean who plans a major heist with his fellow comrades. Together they rob 5 casinos on New Year’s Eve. I tried as hard as I could to follow all 11 members. Martin gets a chance to sing “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head” as Sam Harmon. Davis Jr. entertains and has an important role in transporting the money as Josh Howard. Lawford is rich mama’s boy Jimmy Foster. Richard Conte has a heart condition as Tony Berdorf.
Bishop plays Mushy, Henry Silva plays Roger, Buddy Lester plays Vince, Richard Benedict plays Curly, Norman Fell plays Peter, and Clem Harvey plays Louis. Not to mention Angie Dickinson as Ocean’s wife or Akim Tamiroff as an unofficial racketeer for the team. George Raft, Red Skelton, and Shirley MacLaine all have fun cameos, but everything feels aimless. It was a good opportunity to see Caesar Romero without Joker makeup as the undoer of the team’s heist. It’s obviously wrong what they’re doing, but their comeuppance feels like a ripoff. Ocean’s 11 is only worth it for the Rat Pack.