Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)

Movie – A self-described scaredy-cat, I’m definitely not one for horror flicks.  Unfortunately, I have many a times been forced against my will to endure hours of Halloween (all 10 films, remakes included), Freddy (Nightmare on Elm Street), Jason (Friday the 13th), Cabin in the Woods, The Conjuring…the list goes on and on.

For those, like me, who experience severe paranoia following the late-night viewing of these  films, remember, that’s why man invented creature features!  Creature films are my guilty pleasure, from giant spiders, deep sea creatures, Godzilla and the like; I love them.  Sure, a good many of them still manage to make me jump, but who cares when you get to see wonderfully CGI monsters!

But, one film tops my list, my love: Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid.  Picture this, a team of scientists headed to the dense jungles of Borneo, searching for a flower that could hold the key to immortality. The Blood Orchid is only in bloom for a limited time, so there’s not a second to lose, even when the adventurers become shipwrecked in the jungle.  They soon discover that they are not alone… And that’s where the incredibly awful CGI anacondas come in!  The film only gets better once the travelers encounter the hunting serpents, and as they are slowly picked off, one..by..one.

With a collection of funny, yet foolish characters (some better than others), that darn bad guy who’s got a gun, and a surprise romance (snakes AND humans alike), I absolutely adore watching this film over and over, again and again.

 

Ex Machina (2015)

ex-machina-dvdMovie – Caleb works for Bluebook, the world’s largest search engine, and he’s just won a contest whose prize is to spend a week living with the company’s founder, Nathan. When he arrives at Nathan’s isolated, ultra-modern estate, though, Caleb signs a nondisclosure agreement and learns that he’s been hand-picked to test Nathan’s most audacious new project: an artificial intelligence. Her name is Ava.

Ex Machina starts off as a beautifully realized science fiction story – one of the rare ones that make it all the way to film with all their complex ideas intact underneath the special effects. This is a small movie, resting on the shoulders of the actors and the characters rather than the effects (although the special effects on Ava’s transparent android body are so good you forget they’re special effects). Nathan embodies the modern brogrammer, and Oscar Isaac is note-perfect throughout. Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson (son of award-winning actor Brendan Gleeson), is the more stereotypical computer nerd. But neither of them are as compelling as Alicia Vikander’s Ava. Caleb is supposed to be testing whether or not Ava is really conscious, but as an audience who’s already seen plenty of movies where Robots Are People, Too, we’re waiting to see what he’ll do when he decides that she is.

And that’s where Ex Machina turns into a horror movie – a quiet one, nearly bloodless, but no less bloodcurdling for that. Why, after all, did Nathan put his AI into a female body?

And what are they all going to do with it?

Nothing Like the Holidays (2009)

Movie – I would like to start by confessing: I have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle of 34th Street, or White Christmas. I know many are wondering how this is possible. Sure I’ve caught bits a pieces here and there throughout my life, but I have never sat down to watch any of these three Christmas movies. That being said, I still feel there are great holiday movies other than these three classics. Some of my more recent holiday classic staples include: Elf, Love Actually, The Family Stone, and Nothing Like the Holidays. The first three are more known than the latter.

Nothing Like the Holidays is set in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood and tells the story of a normal dysfunctional family going through tough times all around. There are the parents, Anna and Edy who seem to be drifting apart; one son, Jesse who just finished a tour of military service and does not want to take over the family business; a daughter, Roxanna scared to tell her family she is not a Hollywood star; and a another son, Mauricio who is having marital issues. All of them are coming together for the holidays and bringing their problems with them to share.

As I mentioned before, the movie was filmed in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. It does a good job of showcasing some of the neighborhood and some of Chicago’s landmarks. The story is a little cheesy and at times tries too hard to convey emotion. It does a good job of keeping you entertained with the supporting characters and small family issues like the removing of a tree after drinking. Don’t try using power tools while intoxicated kids! Nothing Like the Holidays is a great movie for those looking to change up their holiday movie experience and see another side of Christmas in Chicago.

Unfinished Business (2015)

Movie – The best way to describe Unfinished Business is as a raunchy comedy with family life lessons. Vaughn is a businessman that has just quit his job and ventured out to start his own business to rival his old company. The only way to do that is by landing a big client and beating out his former company.

Throughout the adventure he is joined by the fresh out of water Mike Pancake (Dave Franco) and an old school businessman Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson). Both characters, along with other well-known actors (mainly Nick Frost), lend some laughs and make the movie enjoyable. There is family drama back at home Vaughn is dealing with in his character’s way, which gives the movie that family life lesson feel. This is intermixed with some over the top raunchy comedic scenes not suitable for all ages.

I feel I was taken in two very different directions. On the one hand I found the raunchiness funny. Franco and Wilkinson characters were well played and made the movie funny. But then the family drama put the lead character into perspective and displays him as a family man trying to provide for his family by any means needed. This movie is not for everyone. Fans of Vaughn from Swingers and Made will not enjoy this. However someone looking for those “guy humor” laughs mixed with a warm your heart feeling may want to see this.

Groundhog Day (1993)

groundhogMovie – After last year’s extended winter freeze I’m skeptical that the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, will have mercy and cast no shadow on February 2nd. Regardless of prognostications I can make the most of inclement weather by enjoying an old favorite, Groundhog Day, which was filmed not so far away in Woodstock, Illinois.

Woodstock annually celebrates the holiday and their brush with movie-making fame. Past festivities have included the director/writer Harold Ramis as well as other cast and crew. (Ramis is featured in And here’s the kicker : conversations with 21 top humor writers on their craft by Mike Sacks. Punxsutawney Pennsylvania celebrations, which the film depicts, have also garnered participation from the film’s celebrities and boast crowds of 20,000+.

This film about a self-centered news announcer stranded in small-town limbo appears to be an ordinary comedy, filled with Ramis and Murray’s witty brand of humor; but like other classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life, it contains deeper themes that resonate with many people. For example, the importance of community and connecting with others, especially during bleak days, appears in both classics. How one uses the time one is given is also a shared theme. So is the idea of receiving a second chance to learn life lessons.This film resonates with so many filmgoers that it has made numerous top movie lists and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. Despite the weather outside being dreadful, this film has inspired folks around Woodstock to emerge from their homes and celebrate.

Hemingway and Gellhorn (2012)

Movie Hemingway and Gellhorn is HBO’s prestige movie featuring the tempestuous relationship between the two great writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha (“Marty”) Gellhorn.  Hemingway wrote 25 books and won the Nobel Prize, as well as a Pulitzer Prize. Marty Gellhorn is known as America’s greatest war correspondent, male or female. The movie is really about her and her amazing career. She liked to say “I do not see myself as a footnote to someone else’s life.”  In the late 1930s, she met Hemingway and the two of them traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, and the movie uses black and while film to depict war scenes from that time. She and Hemingway lived together for four years (they were married in 1940; she was Ernest’s 3rd wife). Nicole Kidman is absolutely brilliant as Martha Gellhorn, but to me Clive Owen was not very convincing as Hemingway. The movie features a lot of sex, drinking and violence, but does not delve very deeply into the writing. However, Hemingway’s most famous book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, was inspired by Gellhorn. Hemingway and Gellhorn is set against a backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, and homes in Key West, Florida, the Finca Vigia in Cuba, and Ketchum, Idaho.

Stoker (2013)

StokerMovie – It may not have anything supernatural about it, but Stoker is definitely a monster movie. It’s also a coming-of-age story, following eighteen-year-old India, played exquisitely by Mia Wasikowska. In the wake of her father’s death, India’s home is invaded by her father’s brother, Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who is determined to make his new place in their home permanent, no matter what.

If you’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, this might sound a little familiar, and with good reason. The similarities extend beyond the plot as well. Director Park Chan-wook, an acclaimed Korean director who makes his English-language debut with Stoker, is a master at creating tension out of tiny things, and the whole film is made up of tiny things that slowly piece together to become one big, horrifying thing. This is a disturbing movie, definitely not for everyone, but fans of dark psychological horror should love it.

A Late Quartet

Late quartetMovie – A Late Quartet features no special effects, criminal kingpins, drug abuse or physical violence; instead, it offers a thoughtful, character-driven, cerebral psychodrama. The movie focuses on a string quartet – called The Fugue – that has played together for 25 years, but is shaken when the cellist and oldest member decides he must retire when he learns that he has Parkinson’s Disease. Hidden resentments, affairs and multiple conflicts begin to surface. The plot shines light on the relationship between life and art. Life is the thing from which art comes: bloody, incoherent, embarrassing, arbitrary and cruel. Art is an idealized vision of life, with the power to bestow order on chaos. Plays and novels have explored this, but A Late Quartet does it effortlessly. Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir deliver great performances as the musicans who choose playing in quartet over solo careers. The movie uses Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, opus 131, as a metaphor for playing on through all of life’s ambiguity, pain and irony. I also appreciated the movie’s message about not being overly concerned with mistakes in playing the music, but rather to convey strong lyrical phrases.