Monday, November 17, 2014

The Crow Revisited

     Nerds Like Us has just showed the 20th anniversary screening of The Crow. Being an avid fan ever since the original comic was released, I've always had a sense of awe with it. Not strictly because of the story, but of the underlying mystery behind it. When the film came out, there were two big questions everyone wanted answered and no one was given any plausible explanations. One was the reason why James O'Barr created The Crow in the first place. We only knew it was because of something tragic that happened to someone he loved which motivated him to place all the pain and angst into this dark, violent revenge tale. The second surrounded the sudden death of its main star, Brandon Lee.  The creator obviously guarding his emotions by not giving straight answers to why he created The Crow in the first place, and although we knew how Brandon Lee died, the theme of the story no doubt brought an erie sense of mysticism to it, causing people to form their own supernatural theories as to why it happened and how it tied to the fate of his father Bruce Lee.  No doubt, these fueled the hype of the film.  But watching the movie twenty years later, a majority of these questions have been answered and the hype behind the mysteries have subsided. 
     Viewing it on the big screen again at the Vista theater was a welcomed visit of nostalgia. In my youth, I was enamored with the fact that it was a vengeance story wrapped around the motivation of romantic love.  However, I was able to approach the film with a new perspective. Today, I now see it as a cautionary tall tale that taps into the inner dwellings of personal paranoia.  The home invasion scene this time was particularly harder to watch and the thought of losing someone we love in a similar fashion is enough to mess with anyone’s mind. But, like all tall tales, we suspend disbelief and take everything at face value, accepting half formed explanations that move the story along.  Elements like Myca figuring out of nowhere that the crow is the overall source of power and Eric 's grave magically able to put itself back together when all was said and done.  In lieu of all this, the story is told with bold sentiment and true sincerity, moving our attention through the film’s linear progression to discover the underlying message which happens to be an overall positive one.  That good always prevails over evil and no matter how bad everything is, things will always get better. Creatively ingrained in our brains by the the movie’s constant reminder that it can't rain all the time. 

Nerds Like Us is a monthly series of nostalgic films showcased by founder Bernie Bregman at the Hollywood Vista Theater.  Check them out on their Facebook at

Their next screening will be the comedy murder mystery Clue on December 5 2014. Tickets are available on

For a fun and informative commentary on The Crow’s 20th Anniversary featuring Thom Bowers, Bernie Bregman and myself along with other amazing entertainment observations, check out  An awesome pop culture podcast created by Thom Bowers and Travis J Coleman.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Room 237 Review by Dio Rochino

      Anyone who appreciates film knows that it’s impossible not to equate Stanley Kubrick as one of the masters of the art form.  Even to the point where the previous sentence probably already sparked a mental conversation in your mind over the validity of that statement.  He was one of the foremost directors who created think films that cinephiles like to dissect simply because of the puzzling poly-semantic material he chose to display.  Fans know how Kubrick can be very meticulous about his vision and the imagery he creates is the result of extensive research and planning.  Therefore, The Shining continues to be a great mystery.  A long time in the making, adapted from a Stephen King book whose premise he chose not to follow and filled with a morass of continuity errors, awkward set pieces and unusual prop placement.  Was it intentional?  Depends on which school of thought you’d like to follow in which there are many.  What Room 237 does is gives us a chance to see some of the more popular theories surrounding the mysteries of the film and while none of them are based on anything substantial, they are fun to know nonetheless.
      The five interviewees that this film focuses on offer their own theories into what the hidden meanings and symbolism represents.  All of which are entertaining.  They range from Kubrick attempting to teach a lesson on the history of genocide to the movie actually being a confession to one of the government’s greatest conspiracies.  By showcasing these theories, each interviewee perpetuates their own ideas as the film displays the hidden symbolism in specific scenes to support it.
      The symbolism can appear in many forms.  It could be set pieces disappearing or moving from one scene to the next.  Also, It could be certain unusual props that Kubrick decided to use such as posters and portraits that seem out of place.  Or my personal favorite, certain selections of canned goods he decided to position on a shelf inside the pantry during the kitchen scenes.  One chilling theory surrounds the type of typewriter that Jack Nicholson uses and equates it with the the fact that the number 42 keeps appearing in the film.  In fact, this uses the main title by showing that if you take the number 237 and multiply it out individually, 2x3x7 equals to 42.  One interviewee even went as far as to create a map of the Overlook Hotel and realized that the way the architecture was set up didn’t make sense.  That if someone were to build the actual hotel as it was portrayed in the film, there would be doors that open to nowhere and windows opening to walls.
      So the question one has to ask when watching Room 237 is this.  Was the bizarre prop placement, confusing set design and continuity errors a way for Kubrick to send us an unspoken narrative?  Did he simply do it for the sake of doing it?  Or was it evidence of another popular notion.  That he simply had beef with Stephen King and wanted to show that he could destroy his work. The problem proposed by these theories is that many of them individually claim they are about one thing.  They can’t all be right because the conclusions overlap each other.  Of course, If it showed without a shadow of a doubt that any of them are correct, the film would placate Kubrick’s genius but without any concrete proof to back up these theories, the movie simply points out two things.  You can find symbolism in anything if you look hard enough and anyone can add their own agenda to anything to create an assumption based on random imagery.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful Review by Dio Rochino

      There’s a disturbing trend lately where filmmakers purposely make a movie as a provocation to an impending series.  They create incomplete chapters to sucker the audience into another sequel and the film ends abruptly without giving any answers to the story it presents.  It offers no finality but forces us to stay tuned in and shell out money for another movie which may or may not give the conclusions it promised.  To me, it’s a sense of laziness.  By barely moving the story along, they make the film a feature length tease that answers no questions therefore providing the audience with very little information.  I’m shaking my fist at Prometheus which is a recent example of this.  When the film is finished, there are no actual story arcs.  Just a portion of a tale that leaves audiences feeling unfulfilled.  This is why I was a little weary to see Oz the Great and Powerful.  Before it even got released they were talking about sequels which quite frankly, made me uneasy.  It felt like they were going to take a concept and try to draw it out through multiple pictures.  However, upon viewing the film I am glad to say that I was wrong.
      Disney has definitely been doing their homework.  Oz the Great and Powerful can definitely be viewed as a worthy precursor to The Wizard of Oz.  While the story itself is original and is not an adaptation of any Oz material that has come before it, they definitely payed great respect to it’s source material.  Both to the books written by Frank L. Baum and the classic 1939 film.  Sam Raimi has crafted a worthy companion piece that is actually great for children to watch and sends a solid moral message in the form of it’s main character Oscar Diggs.  A man who strives to be great but has to face aspects of the people he wronged in life, personified by the characters he encounters in the magical land of Oz.
      The film has definitely been crafted with a lot of heart whose rich design not only gives a painterly beauty but invokes a wonder that’s seldom seen in today’s fantasy pictures. It was a nostalgic touch to have the film begin in black and white while maintaining a square 4:3 aspect ratio only to switch to colorful widescreen upon arriving to Oz.  The movie was picturesque and beautiful, picking a palette that looked like technicolor on crack and while some critics slandered the acting as not being up to par, I totally disagree.  The performances felt like an extension of the Judy Garland classic which I’m sure is what they were going for.
      Everything was cleverly well structured.  With aspects from multiple portions all coming together in the end.  It felt like we were watching something complete. What Oz the Great and Powerful reminded me of is what today's filmmakers seem to forget.  That even the best series contain individual films that can be seen as absolute narratives.  It has a beginning, middle and an end.  Even though they may hint that a sequel is yet to come, it does a good job of tying up character arcs within the movie to make the audience feel like they saw something finished.  That’s why people can argue whether Raiders or The Last Crusade had a better story.  Or which Lord of the Rings film had a better conclusion.  Even though these movies are portions of something bigger, we felt that those individual chapters began and ended.  Not only does Oz the Great and Powerful pay tribute to the classic 1939 film but it can also be seen as a stand alone.  Although, should they want to continue the series, the setup can definitely go on well into other stories before the arrival of Dorothy Gale.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen Review by Dio Rochino

       I've said it before.  If a movie does a good job of explaining a poorly contrived story, I'll accept it.  I just need a reason to invest in the concept.  As unashamed of being a brainless action flick this movie is, it actually has plot.  Albeit ridiculous and predictable, it does drive the film which is more than ample.
      The concept of Olympus might be hard to take seriously.  The story involves a Korean terrorist organization that seizes control of the White House taking the President and his staff hostage.  Their purpose is to eliminate all U.S military presence on the border between North and South Korea, allowing the North to invade thus attempting to fulfill their plan to unify Korea.  But a well placed script and balls to the wall action make this an extremely fun flick to watch.  Even with laughable plot devices such as a three part code that can detonate every nuclear missile in America possibly turning the country into a wasteland.  Believe me, disclosing this information isn't ruining anything.  However, it seems we're willing to accept silly explanations like this to give everyone what they really want.  Chances to see Gerard Butler systematically bash terrorists' brains in and annihilate them in the most brutal ways.
      Butler's portrayal of Mike Banning makes the film.  Being the sole survivor of an all out attack on the White House, people can't help but cheer when he assassinates bad guys with contentment.  With the convictions of his character relayed with a strong and hearty screw you, Banning's the type who would tell villains that he's going to mess them up and holds true to that promise.  He even has the smug look to support it and does it all to the tune of a patriotic score blazing in the background.
      Make no mistake, this movie is a poor Die Hard clone with a one track notion whose only point is to see Banning kick ass in the name of the U.S.A.  It's evident upon viewing the film that the plot is a bit clumsy but let's be realistic.  People who are watching this aren't expecting anything complicated.  It's an absurd action film which pulls out every patriotic cliche to put America on the foreground and supplies the audience with an insatiable need for cinematic blood lust.  Sure the filmmakers would've been just as successful if they had Gerard Butler standing on a mountain of dead evildoers in front of the American flag, holding an assault rifle and waving the middle finger around for two hours, but it honestly wouldn't be as much fun.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer Review by Dio Rochino

       It’s an old Hollywood motto.  If something is successful, you repeat the formula over and over again.  Therefore, after the success of Snow White and the Huntsmen and Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, tinseltown has decided to release the latest cracked out retelling of a fairy tale.  Much to my dismay, my initial exposure to this fad never worked for me.  I spent the whole duration of Snow White bored and picking apart scenes which were blatant rip offs from other fantasy films while snickering at it’s forceful melodramatic dialog.  This horrendous experience turned me off to the point where I never gave Hansel and Gretel a try.  So when Jack the Giant Slayer arrived, I was reluctant to go see it.  But after having my arm twisted I can honestly tell you that I was pleasantly surprised.
      Jack the Giant Slayer is a great piece of escapist film making.  The movie clocks in at two hours which go by extremely fast since the film doesn’t waste time getting to the point.  Within the first few minutes, it doesn’t take long to be enraptured with the world the story presents.  The beginning which chronicles the humans first encounter with the giants, cleverly gives enough information for the audience to go on while the movie progresses and as the rest takes place several years after this tale has fallen into myth, the twists that drive the plot amusingly reference back to the film’s primary history fable.
      Unlike Snow White and the Huntsmen, it doesn’t attempt to create complicated personalities through sluggish, drawn out narratives.  In fact, the story is adequately simple with just enough dialog given to care about the motives of each character.  Sure, some of the lines were a little hokey but that was to be expected.  But it didn’t detract from the film’s solitary premise which is to give the audience a great time.  There is no complexity here, just the visual equivalent of relaxing and having a tall tale read to you.  It’s a fun, awesome piece of popcorn entertainment that looks gorgeous and it doesn't pretend to be anything else other than that.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard Review by Dio Rochino


       Have you ever wanted to like a film so desperately that you attempted to make excuses to rectify it’s problems?  Only to come to the actualization that it truly was that bad?  For some movies, realizing this can take a while.  When The Phantom Menace was released, reasons were provided for an entire year as I half heartedly quoted The Power of Myth to defend George Lucas’ vision before finally recognizing that there was barely any direction in that film at all.  Also, I spent time trying to figure out how Indiana Jones survived an atomic blast by hiding in a refrigerator and tried to logically assess the half assed explanation of aliens being the keepers of knowledge in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  This was one of those films I wanted to admire so greatly that I attempted to clarify all the problems it displayed.  But it just got too much and three quarters of the way through, I couldn’t take it anymore.  A Good Day to Die Hard was one of the most lifeless spectacles I’ve ever seen.
      This time, McClane travels to Russia after learning that his estranged son Jack has been imprisoned for performing an assassination.  Jack then bargains with the authorities by explaining that he has knowledge that can convict a prisoner named Komarov.  A political whistleblower who possesses information that can bring down a powerful corrupt politician named Chagarin.  Upon arriving at the courthouse where Jack is testifying against Komarov, McClane is surprised to see the place get leveled in an explosion with Chagarin’s henchmen storming the place trying to kill Komarov.  He then catches up with Jack and Komarov attempting to escape and is surprised to learn that his son is actually a well trained CIA agent assigned to transport Komarov to the United States.  This silly, lazy set up occurs within the first fifteen minutes.  After this, It turns into an extremely loud, explosive bore fest.
      I can’t comment on the plot because there hardly isn’t any.  The dialogue however small, was delivered with no effort in a script packed with pointless one liners.  In fact, they have McClane say the same damn line over and over and over again.  It was marginally funny at first but then it became awkward.  Don't get me wrong. In between the barrage of gunfights the director tried to put in tender moments between McClane and his son to show family dynamic, but it seemed really forced.  Also, with no prior mention of their relationship it seems they were trying to build up a narrative that never existed in the first place.  Couple this with a villian who has no personality and you have the most senseless performances ever created.
      Clocking in at 97 minutes it is the shortest movie in the franchise which doesn't lend much to any type of development.  Especially for McClane's son who the audience is supposed to care about. Instead were treated to a fantastic fireworks show whose sole purpose evidently is to sell Mercedes Benzes.  A lot of films are product endorsed but directors find ways to cleverly blend them into the scene.  But I guess everyone in Russia drives a Mercedes. Here, It was the most blatant approach to commercialism I've ever seen. McClane gets dropped off at the airport by his daughter who happens to be driving a Mercedes.  All the bad guys have a Mercedes. When they rig cars on the street for an explosion, the only ones that blow up are Mercedes and when the McClanes need a getaway car they happen to steal a Mercedes.  The Mercedes symbol share most of the shots in the film. Even the military vehicles proudly sport the Mercedes logo on the front grill and the camera has no problem providing close-ups of it.
      Its official. The Die Hard franchise has gone the way of the Crystal Skull.  The R rating is back in, but all the profanity and violence couldn’t make this movie better.  With minimal feeble dialogue and one liners that don’t make a lick of sense, this made the previous movie look like a masterpiece.  The fourth entry strayed a lot but at least the story was comprehensively well put together which is the only thing I ask for when viewing a film.  I don’t expect a lot.  I just want it to make sense.  Even if a movie does a good job of explaining the most poorly contrived story, I’ll accept it. I just need a reason to invest in the concept and with a franchise like Die Hard that had so much developed previously, it’s heartbreaking to see that they couldn’t create something worthwhile.  It would be a shame if this is the last film in the series, because it deserves to go out on a better note.  But I might have to accept that it’s another fond memory that has been ruined along with Indiana Jones and Star Wars.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Five Unconventional Romance Films by Dio Rochino

      It’s after Valentine’s Day and while sauntering to the couch and reveling in post chocolate hangovers, I quickly glance at the collection for a series of perfect romantic movie chasers.  Amidst all the titles, I’ve noticed that a majority of them are formulaic, puppy dog, overdone love films and while these are entertaining, there’s only so many times I can watch Love Actually or a clone of it featuring a holiday for a title.  So I scrounged around bypassing pictures like Titanic and My Best Friends Wedding to pull out five unconventional romantic movies for a post Valentine’s Day marathon.  

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

      One of the few romance movies in my opinion that gets it right, it’s a far cry from the mushy, sentimental, honey moon phase pictures that dominate the genre.  Instead, we get to see a love story in reverse as artist Joel Barrish, fresh out of a tumultuous relationship with free spirited Clementine, decides to get the memories of her erased with a procedure.  With most of the movie taking place in his mind as he relives each recollection, we get to see how the relationship ended badly connecting with his choice for the extraction process.  This adds a bit of bittersweet irony as he begins to remember the great memories.  The movie then takes a drastic turn as he psychologically battles against the procedure to try to hold on to at least one of those moments, witnessing the agony he goes through as each of them is deleted one at a time.

High Fidelity

      A rare romantic movie that’s narrated from the male perspective, it’s an adaptation of the equally informative novel from Nick Hornby.  Rob, the owner of a barely in business record store reflects on both his present and past courtships using pop music as an allegory.  His perspective on romance which is both truthful and unflinching have caused upon multiple viewings, my male friends to agree and my female friends to be curious.  It’s commentary on amorous affections is altogether sweet, crude and often times insensitive but it’s honest and is a good example of the logic that can drive the male’s mentality during various stages of relationship maturity.

When Harry Met Sally

      A film that hilariously attempts to answer the age old question. Can men and women truly ever be friends or do feelings get in the way?  One of the best screenplays from the late Nora Ephron, the story revolves around Sally Albright and Harry Burns.  Two people who can’t stand each other when they first meet but over the years, end up creating a wonderful friendship.  Although they have completely different personalities, they’ve learned to appreciate each other and as their loyalty to one another strengthens, so do their individual perspectives on everything.  Among these include assessments on Casablanca and whether men really know if women are faking orgasms.  Over time, their adoration for one another grows as they support each other through bad relationships, divorces, blind dates and work.  But when affectionate feelings slowly come into play, the film definitely brings a roundabout answer to whether or not it’s right to be romantically involved with your best friend.

L.A. Story

      Silly, crazy, heartfelt and undeniably written by Steve Martin comes a love story set in the magical land of L.A.  Martin stars as wacky weatherman Harry Telemacher who unbeknownst to him, is on the road to happiness thanks to the advice of a wise old electronic freeway condition sign.  Confusing?  Believe me, it all comes together.  An endearing romantic film that explores love among the subcultures and unique happenings of Los Angeles, there are definitely a lot of inside jokes that will make the people who live here relate and the ones that don’t laugh in disbelief.  Among them include earthquakes, ordering coffee, springtime shootings on the freeway, the San Fernando Valley and the importance of celebrity status when dining at a restaurant.

Before Sunrise / Before Sunset

      A film series that redefines the term epic romance, it’s very much philosophical as it is affectionate.  Both films center on one love story as we follow a couple through two different times in their lives.  The first film begins as they both meet unexpectedly on a train in Europe.  Deciding to step off together on a whim, Jesse, an American tourist and Celine, a Parisian student traveling home, share a wonderful romantic night together in Vienna before they have to go their own separate ways in the morning.  The second movie occurs as they fortuitously meet again in Paris nine years later.  They spend a day reminiscing about their quick time together as they determine whether it would’ve been the right thing to continue or let the one night remain as a perfect memory.
      The great thing about these films is that they were shot in actual time and genuinely reflect how love is viewed through the comprehension of the character’s ages.  The first examining how romance is seen through the eyes of two young people in their early twenties as they have their future to look forward to.  A little bit innocent and a little bit naive, it is perfectly complimented by the following picture which was actually filmed nine years later focusing on the characters in their thirties.  By this time, they’ve lived a little, they’ve been hurt and they’re a little more cautious.  It’s a great series to dive into, especially before the third installment gets released later this year.  This time reflecting on Jesse and Celine as they’re in their forties, Before Midnight again opens exactly nine years since the release of the last film.

      There are a lot of films in my collection that I wanted to add to the marathon.  Serendipity and Somewhere in Time are amongst them.  But I definitely didn’t have time to watch more so I will have to save them for a later date.  However, If anybody has any recommendations they want to share or would like to remark on the list above, please leave some in the comments below.  I would love to hear your opinions. Also, I’m always looking for new films to watch and reminders for one’s that I haven’t seen in a while.