Powell & Child

Julie & Julia brings together 2 of my favorite things; food and blogging. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Like everyone else on Earth, I absolutely love to eat. So I thought I’d dine into a movie all about food. Other than my knowledge of famed French cook Julia Child, I didn’t know much about Nora Ephron’s final film. Julie Powell is a blogger who cooked every recipe from Child’s cookbook. Making this the very first major movie about blogging. Both are true stories and both deserve equal attention.

Julia Child, 1950’s – Like every other role she tackles, Meryl Streep is Julia Child. She matches her great height and unusually high voice. Child is American, but she puts on a proper accent that I’ve always confused for French. Everything I know about Julia Child came from my mother who enjoys cooking shows. I’d say Streep is deserving of her Oscar nod. Child’s story chronicles her life in Paris with her loving husband Paul. Child was a true pioneer who professionally pursued cooking as a woman in the 50’s. From learning at Le Cordon Bleu to publishing her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cuisine. Streep is as fun to watch as Child was during her eventual TV show…

Julie and Julia

Julia Child cooks

Julie Powell, 2002 – What I thought would be the weak link of the movie, ended up being just as enjoyable. As a blogger, it’s fun to watch something with such a focus on blogging. Julie & Julia is technically the story of New York writer Julie Powell. She works at a call center post-9/11 and shares a tiny apartment with her cat and loving husband Eric. In order to find purpose in her life, Julie blogs about her love of cooking. She admires Julia Child and decides to take on the task of cooking all 524 recipes from her cookbook for an entire year. There are problems of course, but she cooks her way through it. It helps that Amy Adams is so endearing in the role.

In conclusion, Julie & Julia makes me hungry for fine French cuisine. As well as give me hope that blogging can lead to great opportunities. Nora Ephron was great with female friendly stories and this is two for the price of one. Stars like Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, Amy Adams, and Chris Messina make it work. With food, love, and aspiration to offer, Julie & Julia is worth the time to dine, Bon Appétit.

Julie and Julia

Julie Powell cooks

Tickle Me Elmo

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland is the second and final Sesame Street movie. Unlike Jim Henson’s Muppets, they’re more meant for TV. I was 4 years old in 1999, so my enjoyment of Sesame Street is linked to a certain 3 year old red monster named Elmo. Although I missed the mass hysteria of Tickle Me Elmo, I do have fond memories of Elmo’s World. Years later, I understand the frustration seasoned fans must of had for Elmo.

I’ll never forget the circumstances of how I saw The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. Since my older brother was in school, my mom decided to just take me to see it. Needless to say my brother wasn’t happy about that. Outside of a few fragments, I have next to no memories of the movie (until rewatching it). Elmo in Grouchland is done in the style of a “gone missing” story. An Elmo movie was inevitable, but your enjoyment of it depends on how much you like Elmo.

The short and simple story is Elmo searching for his beloved blanket after being a little possessive of it and yelling at Zoe. He learns a lesson about sharing by the end. As the title suggests, Oscar the Grouch is just as important. As Elmo falls into his trash can that magically takes him to a rotten world called Grouchland. Mandy Patinkin is the cartoonish villain, Vanessa Williams is the Queen of Trash, and Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Grover are there too. Meanwhile, Bert & Ernie talk directly to the kids. Songs are harmless, the tone is light, and Elmo in Grouchland is just fine for Elmo fans like I was.

11. The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

Elmo dances in Grouchland

Sunny Days

Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird is the first movie to star the beloved educational puppets. Sesame Street has been on for an impressive 50 years. So everyone, including myself, grew up watching it. The show taught us to read, count, and plenty of life lessons. The great Jim Henson helped create the Muppets and all our Sesame Street friends. So a movie was inevitable. Follow that Bird is brought to you by the letter ‘B’. For the innocent 6 year old star of the movie Big Bird.

I didn’t see Follow that Bird in 1985, but I was very young when I saw it in school. After rewatching it years later, I found myself smiling all over again. Much like The Muppet Movie, Follow that Bird is done in the style of a road movie. When a bird social worker is determined to place Big Bird with a bird family, Big Bird is sadly taken away from is real family. I forgot just how diverse Sesame Street was and not just for the monsters, grouches, and animals. Sesame Street is a bit bigger, but there’s a bigger world out there.

When Big Bird’s family turns out to be a bunch of dodos, he hits the road back to Sesame Street. Meeting friendly countryside kids, truckers, and some sleazy carnival owners. Everyone on Sesame Street follow that bird in special cars just to get him back. Mr. Snuffleupagus misses his best friend, Oscar is grouchy, Super Grover suits up, Bert & Ernie take a biplane, and Cookie Monster eats anything he can. With light hearted songs, celebrity cameos, and even a Kermit cameo, Follow that Bird warms your heart.

10. Follow that Bird

Big Bird follows some kids

Statesman

Kingsman: The Golden Circle was a disappointment in an otherwise well established spy setting. Kingsman: The Secret Service became an instant favorite, so my entire family decided to see the sequel in theaters. Although my parents were on the opposite side of the theater since the R rating was still unpredictable. The Golden Circle is just as profane and bloody violent, but apart from a sexual innuendo, there’s no nudity. Since the original surpassed the Mark Millar comic it was based on, Matthew Vaughn came up with an original sequel. One that feels like a major betrayal. The Golden Circle begins exciting enough with a cool spy car chase. Taron Egerton brings a more gentleman quality to Eggsy, occasionally dressed in an orange suit. Unless you closely followed the betrayal of potential Kingsman recruit Charlie, now he’s an obvious substitute for Gazelle. Complete with villainous robotic slingshot arm.

Charlie serves as henchman for the next Bond villain type antagonist Poppy Adams. Julianne Moore does her best, but the 50’s obsessed, people cooking, drug lord feels a little too random. Poppy hides out in a 50’s town called Poppy Land where she plans to unleash paralyzing drugs on the world. Promising an antidote to the President in exchange for immunity. The commentary is obvious, but the drugs are alright message is too messy for an action comedy. The biggest mistake is that the entire Kingsman organization is destroyed in order to raise the stakes. The tailor shop, the Kingsman estate, Roxy, and even Eggsy’s pug are all destroyed like they meant nothing. Eggsy survived since he’s surprisingly in a relationship with the Swedish Princess Tilde from The Secret Service. Merlin survives too since Mark Strong is just as important and the next problem arises. While I commend the world building of revealing an American equivalent of Kingsman called Statesman, that’s not why people enjoyed the first film.

The Golden Circle is just too Americanized with its intense focus on the organization across the pond. The Kentucky based Statesman front as an alcohol distillery, so they’re each named after drinks. Channing Tatum is barely present as Tequila, Halle Berry handles tech as Ginger Ale, and a shaved Jeff Bridges runs things as Champagne. Pedro Pascal joins Eggsy & Merlin as expert lasso slinging Statesman Whiskey. They also discover Harry Hart is alive. Colin Firth was too good just to leave dead, so they came up with a way to magically cheat death. He has an eyepatch and amnesia, but he joins the fight too. Except for when they tarnish his “Manners maketh man” moment just to make a point. The stylish action is still plenty fun, especially in the duel Galahad shoot out. Some twists are unexpected, but the most unexpected edition is an ironic Elton John joke that may have been taken too far. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an overly long collection of ideas that occasionally workout.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Harry, Eggsy, and Merlin together again

Preceded by: The King’s Man & Kingsman: The Secret Service

Manners Maketh Man

Kingsman: The Secret Service is the deconstruction of spy movies I never knew I needed. I thought Kingsman was just another random secret agent flick. Little did I know it would end up being one of the most enjoyable, stylish, hilarious, and awesome spy films released in a long time. Upstaging James Bond himself with its respectable jabs and willingness to embrace Bond’s more outlandish motifs. Like most people, I’ll bet you didn’t know Kingsman was based on a comic. A very lesser known Mark Millar comic. Usually I stay away from his depraved graphic novels, but The Secret Service doesn’t seem too bad. Unlike Wanted or Kick-Ass, Kingsman really took on a life of its own as a movie. It brings back the dapper gentleman spy complete with cool gadgets like specialized glasses or a weaponized umbrella, spiffy suits, and the help of a secret organization.

Kingsman embraces its very British setting by following street tough Eggsy. Someone with the potential to follow in his deceased spy father’s footsteps. Kingsman agent Harry Hart takes him under his wing after teaching some hooligans that “Manners maketh man.” Kingsman is modeled after King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. So each agent is named after an Arthurian figure. There’s the head Arthur (played by British standby Michael Caine), gadgets expert Merlin (played by the usually villainous Mark Strong), and Hart is Galahad. When a new Lancelot is needed, Eggsy enters rigorous training alongside other potential candidates. Including Roxy, who proves to be a worthy ally and fierce competition. The unorthodox training is edge of your seat fun as they escape a flooding room, jump out a plane with a missing parachute, prove their loyalty with an oncoming train, and even care for a puppy. Eggsy is shown the sleek golden armory, but he fails to pass the final test.

Though the threat still looms in the background. Kingsman made stars out of mostly unknowns like Taron Egerton and Sofia Boutella, but also gave A-list stars like Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson a chance in an action packed spy setting. Firth should do way more action since he’s more than capable in the over-the-top fundamental church massacre. Jackson is essentially a Bond villain with a ridiculous lisp named Richmond Valentine. He’s an internet billionaire who plans to wipe out most of the population to save the climate. Using a sim card that makes people attack each other, but protecting some famous figures and the elite. Valentine is a mostly harmless hemophobe, so his awesomely gymnastic blade-legged henchwoman Gazelle does most of the fighting. The final fight is tense, profane, and just as bloody violent as the rest of the appropriately R rated hit. With some cheeky nudity added for good measure. Matthew Vaughn proves again that he’s a master of comic adaptations. Kingsman: The Secret Service ain’t that kind of spy movie indeed.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Harry Hart unlocks a path for Eggsy

Followed by: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

A Mystical, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Kung Fu, Monster, Ghost Story!

Big Trouble in Little China is like every genre mixed together in one weird package. If there’s any 80’s action movie that always left me puzzled it was this. Yet I never made the leap to watch it at any point when I was younger. Until its cult status grew. John Carpenter puts his signature stamp on Big Trouble in Little China with unpredictable action, creative music, and the always cool Kurt Russell. Influencing plenty of media in the process. Though its initial failure left Carpenter disillusioned.

Russell is chatty truck driving San Francisco outsider Jack Burton. The guy that seems like the lead, but he’s only in it for his truck. Yet Jack is still willing to help his friend Wang Chi through the increasingly weird underbelly of Chinatown. One that hides ancient Chinese mysticism, setting off a crazy action/adventure packed with absurd comedy, exciting kung fu battles, unexpectedly fearsome monsters, and one bizzare ghost story. Big Trouble in Little China is the kind of 80’s flick that asks you to accept the world you’re in no matter how strange it gets.

Jack and Wang search for Wang’s green eyed fiance Miao Yin when she’s kidnapped by a dangerous street gang. Then things get complicated when magic is introduced in the form of three lightning throwing warriors with giant straw hats. James Hong effectively plays Lo Pan, an evil Fu Manchu-like sorcerer with plans for using a green eyed girl to make himself mortal. Jack and Wang team up with equally green eyed Gracie Law played by Kim Cattrall. Together with friend Eddie, reporter Margo, and mystic bus driver Egg, they make a daring rescue. Monsters float around, people explode, and Jack bumbles his way to victory. Big Trouble in Little China is B movie fun that can last for generations.

Big Trouble in Little China

Jack and Wang rescue Gracie and Miao

Hold Me Closer Tiny Dancer

Almost Famous lures you into the 70’s world of music and mustaches. As 15 year old baby-faced rock journalist William Miller lives the dream by touring with a band. Although it seems far fetched, a lot of the story came from Cameron Crowe’s own life experience. As he himself toured with only the best 70’s rock stars. I’m not the biggest expert when in comes to the specifics of music, but I know enough to get by. Almost Famous is the perfect blend of musical period piece and coming-of-age drama. With a lighthearted approach that earned it an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

William became a rock fan thanks to his sister who wanted to escape their mother. Though Frances McDormand seems like your typical controlling mother, she gives her a lot more depth. Same with Kate Hudson who steals the show as Penny Lane. A groupie who prefers “band aid” and a modern icon thanks to her mysterious, relaxed 70’s style. Although the primary band Stillwater is fictional, real music people are still involved. With several familiar faces filling the cast. The likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Lee, and Jimmy Fallon play a part. Along with up and coming 2000’s starlets like Zooey Deschanel, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, and Bijou Phillips.

Stillwater go through the usual band difficulties mostly thanks to their party prone lead guitarist Russell Hammond played by Billy Crudup. He practically holds William hostage by denying him his Rolling Stones interview. Not to mention their love triangle with Penny Lane. Everything they go through is life changing, but it’s the iconic “Tiny Dancer” moment on the tour bus that really makes Almost Famous special. With great music and great personal connections, Almost Famous should be held closer.

Almost Famous

Penny Lane hypnotizes William

No Matter Where You Are

The Book of Life is set during Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) with a musician winding up in a colorful realm of the dead in desperate need of a way out. No this isn’t Coco, but to be fair, this was released 3 years prior. It just didn’t have the major animation studio to back it up. However, The Book of Life couldn’t be more different. Family is important, but this is much more of a love story with a Hollywood feel.

Complete with poppy songs and an all star cast consisting of Diego Luna, Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Ice Cube, Ron Perlman, and Christina Applegate. From the perspective of a tour guide reading from the titular Book of Life, the story is told with the odd use of wooden figurines. Manolo is a bullfighter more passionate about music, his friend Joaquín is a local hero, and both compete for the love of feisty general’s daughter María. Their love triangle is meddled with when Mexican deities La Muerte and Xibalba make a wager about who she’ll end up with.

Manola is killed and traverses the Land of the Remembered, the Cave of Souls ruled by the Candle Maker, and the Land of the Forgotten in order to return to his beloved. The unusual animation is thanks to the direction of Jorge Gutierrez. Creator of the Nickelodeon series El Tigre. I haven’t watched it, but you can see the influence in all the colors, patterns, and uniquely shaped characters. The love of hispanic culture is on full display. The Book of Life isn’t remembered by most, but it’s an inviting choice for Day of the Dead.

The Book of Life

Manolo reunites with his deceased mother

The Cannibal Club

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is the insane 12 year follow up to horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. You’d swear it was a parody if Tobe Hooper wasn’t the director. He wanted to make a black comedy since he claims it was present in the first movie. As if you couldn’t tell from The Breakfast Club inspired poster, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is completely different. As the only installment in the slasher dominated 80’s, Part 2 is over-the-top with fountains of blood.

The now named cannibalistic Sawyer family were never arrested. So a coat wearing Leatherface named Bubba continues to terrorize Texas with the the corpse of his hitchhiker brother Nubbins. Get used to the increased gore from here on out. The cook named Drayton gets uncomfortably close to society while winning a chilli contest. The final girl is sexy disc jockey Stretch. Without the traditional slasher set up, she’s the one who investigates the family along with unhinged police officer Lefty. Before Dennis Hopper rose in popularity he was Sally and her brother’s uncle who took revenge using dual chainsaws.

But it’s the family that really takes center stage. As Leatherface is a slasher who’ll constantly be shown up by his more demented family members. Like his weirdo hippie brother Chop Top. A bizarre scene stealer with a plate in his head. If that wasn’t strange enough, then Leatherface having an impotent chainsaw after falling for Stretch is. Everything else takes place at their lair under an amusement park. Where they do the dinner scene with Grandpa all over again. SPOILER ALERT! Except everyone but Stretch is killed. Leaving her as the one flailing the chainsaw in the air. Maybe it’s the random silliness or the hillbilly feel, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 just didn’t win me over with its drastic tonal shift.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

Leatherface pulls out the chainsaw

Preceded by: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre & Followed by: Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

They Tried Stoning Me My Dear

Dark Shadows suffers from an unclear audience. Since it’s based on a soap opera from the late 60’s to early 70’s. Despite its apparent popularity, I hadn’t heard of Dark Shadows before the 2012 movie came out. Turns out my mom was a big fan who used to rush home just to catch the latest exploits of charismatic vampire Barnabas Collins. The main reason the gothic soap opera lasted as long as it did. Really it was only a matter of time before Tim Burton did a vampire flick. Although it was actually Johnny Depp’s idea to make the film.

The problem is most older audiences probably won’t care to see a tongue in cheek retelling. While younger fans of Tim Burton like myself aren’t gonna appreciate the jokes. Not that Johnny Depp as pale vampire Barnabas Collins wasn’t plenty entertaining. Even if most of his material amounts to reacting to the modern 70’s. From what I understand about the show, all the major characters are represented. With Barnabas cursed to be a vampire by seductive witch Angelique. Then waking centuries later to reclaim his family fortune at Collinwood.

A cast of names like Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter in her final Burton role, and Christopher Lee in his 200th film role deserve credit too. Along with a 70’s appropriate Alice Cooper cameo. Occasionally it works, but the plot mostly meanders with Barnabas’ efforts to fix the dysfunctional family, restore their business, and face his lost love. While at the same time dealing with ghosts, witches, and werewolves. Dark Shadows is as pale, quirky, and stylish as the rest of Burton’s work, but I’m really not sure who its for.

Dark-Shadows

Barnabas Collins awakens