American Movie 20 Year Later

American Movie 20 Year Later

Off the bat I’d like to apologize for not posting last week. After the 1999 article I was a tad burnt out. But on that subject we can now segue over to today’s topic. American Movie was a documentary released in 1999. It chronicles Wisconsin filmmaker Mark Borchardt’s attempt to finish his short horror film Coven. I had initially planned on doing an article discussing the audio commentary, but as I listened to Chris Smith, Sarah Price, Mark Borchardt, and Mike Schank talk I realized this film and these people deserved more. So in this article I intend to discuss the documentary, Mark Borchardt, and the reasons American Movie resonates with me.

-The Documentary-

Shot over the course of nearly two years from September of ’95 to August of ’97 Smith and Price follow Mark as he intends to begin production on his feature film Northwestern. We see that while Mark is a passionate and fairly knowledgeable filmmaker he often lacks focus and deals with the uphill battle of being attempting to make films in the Midwest. While pre-production of Northwestern falls apart due to financial problems Mark decides to finish Coven and sell copies in hopes to raise funds for Northwestern.

While I’m sure this sounds like a rather ridiculous concept it’s a great story. Watching Mark and his cohorts attempt to film on a budget of nothing with mixed results is both funny and inspiring. When we begin to dig into the regular life of Mark we see a harder more dramatic part of the doc. Mark is the every man looking to be a full time filmmaker, but has to pay the bills. Working while raising kids and dealing with mounting debt all feels familiar. But this is what makes Mark so likable. To me it’s his desire to capture a part of the world on film rarely seen in the big screen that it fantastic. There’s a scene in Coven where they’re filming at a drive-in theatre. In the audio commentary Mark states in the proceeding years the drive-in was torn down and relishes the fact that he committed the location to film. These are the words of someone who (for better or worse) will always be a filmmaker. There’s no second career choice even if it means not always having money in the bank.

One of the criticisms I’ve often heard about the film is Price was exploiting Mark, Mike, and other people to show a stereotypical dumb Midwesterners trying to “make it big”. On the surface I can see where that might come from, but I beg to differ. One of the main things is that while it shows Mark at low moments it’s not like they handed him a bottle of booze. He’s doing what he can at times to deal with the monotony of Midwest life. Winters are tough and it means filming can be next to impossible. It hurts knowing sometimes you have to bide your time as the season changes and the snow melts. There’s even a deleted scene showing Mark at Toronto during the Toronto International Film Festival looking for potential investors for Northwestern. While it didn’t pan out it shows that Mark has some savvy to the film industry and is going to play the game.

I appreciate hearing Mike Schank candidly speak about his former mistakes and how he’s trying to keep himself on the straight and narrow. And of course people often talk about how Mark is underhandedly trying to swindle his uncle Bill for money. Except throughout the film we see Mark taking care of Bill. Bathing him, doing his laundry, and just spending time with a man who’s been pretty much ignored by the rest of the family. Mark states on the commentary that he enjoyed spending time with Bill as he was a laid back and genuinely nice and caring guy.

-Coven-

Coven is in Mark’s own words, “A 35 minute direct market thriller film shot on 16 millimeter black and white reversal.” The story revolves around Mike (played by Borchardt) a writer who is suffering from writer’s block. In the meantime he begins to abuse pills and alcohol until a friend convinces him to join a support group. Little does he know this group has sinister means to keep it’s members sober.

I’ve seen Coven multiple times and while it may not be original or groundbreaking it is fun to watch. The look of the film with the black and white grainy footage gives it an unsettling flavor especially with the scenes shot in the woods. While most of the acting is somewhat stilted actor Robert Richard Jorge gives a great performance as one of the leaders of the support group/cult. Luckily the DVD of American Movie has Coven available in the special features, but if you’re interested the film can be found on YouTube.

-My Feelings-

Like many people I found out about this film thanks to James Rolfe (aka The Angry Video Game Nerd) often dropping references in AVGN episodes and listing it amongst his all time favorites. The moment I saw it there was a kinship I felt with Mark. Living in South Dakota and spending my teenage years making short films I was confident were spectacular back then, now look back and recognize two things. 1. All the stupid mistakes my friends and I made. 2. All the fun memories of shooting on the fly with MiniDV cameras. We didn’t properly light scenes or record sound, but we learned lessons along the way.

Mark’s approach to filmmaking seems a little haphazard at times and that can be an asset. I have to sincerely commend him for shooting on film all those years ago. I know growing up in an age where you can see playback immediately and are able to edit digitally that I was spoiled. It takes patience of iron to go through all the meticulous steps of shooting film and doing that on no budget is never an easy feat. I guarantee had I been shooting on 16 mm I wouldn’t have had the tenacity to pursue film and probably would’ve given up on being a writer.

Growing up and telling people that you’re goal in life is to be a filmmaker they’ll look at you like you’re daft. In the Midwest they look at you like you’re totally insane. I was told by many people (including family) that what I want to do is a pipe dream. We need to remember that giving up is not a great option. No matter what we are comrades in dreams. I look to Mark and see characteristics I must emulate if I want to keep the fire in my belly stoked. In a long roundabout way this is my thank you letter to Mark. I anxiously await his film Scare Me and would love to see the script for Northwestern get published.

These are my thoughts, but as usual what are yours? Have you seen American Movie or Coven? If not now is the best time to rectify the situation. Are there any other documentaries about film you enjoy? Would you like to see Mark and Mike make another film? Let me know. Remember you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sdfilmthoughts. If you’re on Facebook I’m also a contributing author at https://www.facebook.com/midwestmovietalk. Give us a like! And if you want to stay up to date on Mark’s work you can follow him on Twitter @morethescarier. As always, thanks for reading.

P.S.: Never forget, “It’s alright, it’s okay. There’s something to live for. Jesus told me so!”

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1999: An Amazing & Goofy Year For Film

1999: An Amazing & Goofy Year For Film

I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray. Yep, I made that reference and I stand by it. But in all honesty 1999 was a phenomenal year for films. Whether they were films I got to see when they first came out or caught them in proceeding years. I was eleven at the time so my access to theaters and video rentals was a tad limited. On the plus side I had an older brother who often rented some interesting (i.e. R rated) titles and let me watch. So with 20 years of wisdom and the ability see many of these films let’s take a stroll down memory lane and discuss some of the big budget tentpoles, minor indie fare, and a lot in between. Dust off the VCR and adjust the tracking we’re going back to the 90’s!

Varsity Blues (Released January 15th)

As someone who grew up in a small town where sports reigned supreme in the school halls this film ringed pretty accurate. Sure, the football coach wasn’t shooting anesthetic shots into players, but he was a huge douche in the locker room and on the field. Plus will we ever for such iconic moments as James Van Der Beek declaring, “I don’t want your life!” or seeing Ali Larter in her whip cream bikini? I don’t think so. It is a touch sad knowing Paul Walker (Lance) and Ron Lester (Billy Bob) have both passed away.

She’s All That (Released January 29th)

Another teen film already? Yep, we can not deny the pop cultural significance of this genre. Freddie Prinze Jr. and Racheal Leigh Cook got the door to Hollywood opened to them in a sappy film I remember more for it’s overuse of Sixpence None the Richer. Not going to lie, I caught most of this on TV and it’s still amusing.

Office Space (Released February 19th)

Mike Judge made his live action directorial debut with a film that bombed at the box office. Thankfully through video rental stores (remember those?) and positive word of mouth this film became the hit it deserved to be from the get go. Ron Livingston is the perfect everyman dealing with the horrible work life and boss (played with expert precision by Gary Cole) that plague so many of us. But it was the beautiful performance of Stephen Root as Milton Waddams that no one can forget. We’ve all known a Milton in our lives. Whether we worked with them, were neighbors, or just spoke with occasionally. That is character writing at it’s best.

Cruel Intentions (Released March 5th)

What is it about this film that has made it endure? The story it pretty vapid, the conclusion is sort of dumb, and it is by no means a proper adaptation of it’s source material. I guess it all hinged on the fact that the entire cast is entertaining and seemed to be having fun in their roles. And will we ever forget how this film was the catalyst to getting Bittersweet Symphony onto many burned CDs from this era?

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Released March 5th)

Guy Ritchie’s directorial debut gave us a taste of what was to come from the man. Everything that has become signature in his work can be found right here. It is funny to hear people debate which is the better film: this or Snatch. Snatch may be the more polished of the pair, but you have to appreciate the roughness of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Who would’ve thought 20 years later Ritchie would be helming the live action adaptation of Aladdin?

10 Things I Hate About You (Released March 31st)

Can anyone deny that this film is pretty great? Heck, I still have a copy of it on DVD. In spite of weeding films out of my collection this one has stayed, why? Honestly, it all boils down to the cast. Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Krumholtz, Larisa Oleynik, Larry Miller, Allison Janney, and of course the heartthrob making performance of Heath Ledger. They took a fun script and made a film that was better than it had any right to be.

The Matrix (Released March 31st)

Oh how The Wachowskis’ career has been an interesting one. In spite of their recent films being a tad underwhelming we can never forget what they did with The Matrix. This was the sci-fi film of a generation. To quote filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, “The Wachowskis took all the great sci-fi ideas of the 20th century and rolled them into a delicious pop culture sandwich that everyone on the planet devoured.” It’s true, not all the ideas of The Matrix were original, but in execution they caught lightning in a bottle. Plus, this was the DVD every home theater enthusiast bought to show off their system. There have been rumors of WB revitalizing the franchise. I kind of hope they do as I miss this universe. (Yes, even the convoluted sequels).

Go (Released April 9th)

It’s funny how once Quentin Tarantino made back to back crime films with pop culture references with dark humor anyone who made something similar was called an imitator or ‘Tarantino Lite’. I personally think Go finds it’s own style thanks to John August’s fun script, Doug Liman’s competent direction, and an amazing cast. While Sarah Polley’s career has been pretty impressive it’s a shame she never opted to take on more high profile roles. She turned in performance that anyone who’s at that age in that kind of rut can relate to.

Election (Released April 23rd)

This was the film that introduced me (and I assumed numerous others) to Alexander Payne and I am amazingly grateful. While a lot of the previous teen films on this list were pretty fluffy this one has a bite. What makes this film fantastic is how no one in the story holds the moral high ground throughout. It also achieved the rare feat of getting good performances from Matthew Broderick and Chris Klein. Sorry, but look at the filmography of either actor and you’ll see they aren’t exactly known for quality. In truth, this is one of my all time favorite films. Thank you Mr. Payne for being a filmmaker who tells interesting stories set in Midwestern America.

Idle Hands (Released April 30th)

I know this isn’t a film that holds any pop cultural merit, but I love it. Idle Hands was the film that introduced me to the horror/comedy genre and I am extremely thankful for that. I still remember watching the film as a kid and being confused. Is this funny or scary? It is a shame the film was a box office bomb (earning a little over $4 million against of $25 million budget), but at least it gained a cult following and launched the career of Jessica Alba.

The Mummy (Released May 7th)

Stephen Summers has made some genuinely fun films. I would have to say that The Mummy might be one of my favorite 90’s blockbusters. In an age where we only had three Indiana Jones films I was starving for more swashbuckling archaeological action films. Sure, Fraser’s Rick O’Connell never reached the popularity of Ford’s Indiana Jones, but it’s still a damn fun film to watch. Too bad we were subjected to the Tom Cruise Dark Universe fiasco.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (Released May 19th)

Of course we had to address the film that kicked off Lucas’ prequel trilogy and started the schism in Star Wars fandom. I had already become a fan of Star Wars years before Episode I and I was excited to see these new films. Of course there was one major problem, I had no idea what was going on half the time. Is an 11 year old suppose to understand why the Trade Federation was blockading Naboo? But seeing the podrace and Duel of Fates made it all worth it. The prequels continue to be the source of many heated debates amongst Star Wars fans. I personally know all three films have their problems, but they are still a part of my childhood and I enjoy them for what they are.

The Thirteenth Floor (Released May 28th)

Never heard of this one? Well that’s understandable since it came out in the shadow of The Matrix and had a fairly similar idea of a virtual world. Produced by Roland Emmerich and starring a cast of arguably underrated actors (Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Armin Meuller-Stahl, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Dennis Haysbert) it’s a fun stylish sci-fi that got lost in the shuffle. If you haven’t seen it I recommend checking it out.

South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (Released June 30th)

Riding high off the success of it’s first two seasons it didn’t take long for Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s animated elementary school miscreants to hit the big screen. Find me a teenager who didn’t  spout off “Respect my Authoritah!” or cry out “Oh my God, they killed Kenny!”. It was everywhere! And in an era when you couldn’t stream uncensored episodes it was quite a treat to hear these characters drop the f-bomb. I’m sure some of the novelty of this film has worn off, but it’s still a fun watch.

American Pie (Released July 9th)

The film that made slapping unrated on the cover of a home video release to increase sales a trend. But it’s still a great teen film. Much like 10 Things this launched the careers of it’s entire cast. Will we ever forget that one douchey friend we had who tried to be the Stifler of the group? Unfortunately probably not, but hopefully they’ve grown out of it by now. This is the film that brought Milf into popular lexicon and might’ve been the reason some teens burnt their genitals on hot pie filling. To this day it’s still a fun film to pop on and enjoy the memories.

The Blair Witch Project (Released July 14th)

Love it or hate it this film changed the horror genre. Nowadays it’s easy to dismiss the impact The Blair Witch Project had, but I still remember logging onto the film’s website before it’s release trying to decipher whether or not it was real. It was the film made for $60,000 and had a box office return of $248.6 million! That kind of profit was unheard of at the time. It also was one of the first films to harness the power of the Internet for marketing purposes. Even if the series has had some missteps (but Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is a fun guilty pleasure) the original is iconic and stands as a horror classic.

Eyes Wide Shut (Released July 16th)

Director Stanley Kubrick passed away four months prior to Eyes Wide Shut’s release leaving numerous questions looming over the film. It became notorious before it’s release. Filming broke the record for longest consecutive days of shooting at 400 days. Rumors spread about his feelings on the final cut. According to R. Lee Ermey Kubrick told him the film was a piece of shit. (Who knows if that’s true) Then of course there was the censorship. CGI robe characters were inserted into scenes in order to obscure some of the more risque sex scenes and avoid an NC-17 rating. To this day the film is largely contentious amongst Kubrick fans. I personally enjoy the film and even if (big if) the film wasn’t completed to Kubrick’s specifications you can feel his style in every frame. It’s not exactly a film that I will throw on and enjoy, but with certain frame of mind I will watch and appreciate it.

The Iron Giant (Released August 6th)

One of the perks of living near an Alamo Drafthouse last year was getting the chance to see The Iron Giant in theaters. After growing up on the VHS it was unbelievably beautiful to see it on the big screen. While Brad Bird went on to have a box office success with The Incredibles franchise and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol it stings knowing this film was a box office disappointment. The story is heartwarming, the animation is breathtaking, and the voice acting is nearly perfect. If you haven’t seen The Iron Giant in high definition now is a great time to pick up the Blu-ray.

The Sixth Sense (Released August 6th)

Confession time, I personally find The Sixth Sense to be a decent film, but not the highly regarded piece of psychological horror many have dubbed it. I understand it’s appeal and merits, but when it comes to the filmography of M. Night Shyamalan I prefer Unbreakable. That said, the film does deserve the praise it gets. Before it became cliche for M. Night’s films to offer up a twist at the end of their story this film’s ending hit people like a hammer. It’s also nice to look back at an age when Bruce Willis put effort into his performances instead of just turning up on-set. And I will admit for child actor Haley Joel Osment gave a great performance. Critics hailed M. Night ‘the next Spielberg’ after this film. While he didn’t live up to that promise he has had a decent career with some good films.

Bowfinger (Released August 13th)

A Hollywood satire written/starring Steve Martin and directed by Frank Oz. If this description alone doesn’t get you intrigued I think you’ve got a problem. In truth this is probably one of the funniest and accurate critiques of no budget filmmaking and Hollywood culture. Martin’s Bobby Bowfinger is the perfect combination of optimistic and sleazy (Pretty much the only two speeds for a producer). And this may in fact be the last time Eddie Murphy put effort into a comedic role before he began cashing Shrek checks and making some painfully bad films. I love this film and think it’s one of the best comedies of it’s era.

American Beauty (Released September 15th)

Divorcing it from the baggage that now comes from being associated with Kevin Spacey American Beauty still stands as a great film. I know after the box office success and multiple Academy Award wins there came the backlash. I personally still think it’s one of the year’s best films and am thankful it launched the film career of Sam Mendes. It does make me sad knowing Thora Birch’s father tanked her reputation and got her temporarily blacklisted (While her recent films haven’t been great it is nice seeing her return to acting). Just discussing this film makes me want to pull it off the shelf and give it a re-watch.

Three Kings (Released October 1st)

There’s always been heavy debate about David O. Russell and his work. He has been known for being notoriously difficult with some actors including George Clooney who he had no interest in casting in this film. On the whole this film turned out to be a darkly funny film and one of the first the successfully satirize the Gulf War.

Fight Club (Released October 15th)

Here it is, the film that pissed off numerous people and in the end became a modern classic. I’ve spoken about this film multiple times and for good reason. It was one of the first films I saw that made me appreciate what I was watching on more than a superficial level. I began to understand how so many facets had to come together to craft an interesting film. The story was something I shouldn’t have seen at the age of eleven (Thanks big brother). But I still remember sitting in our living room watching and not understanding many of the jokes. When the two disc special edition DVD came out I bought it and began to learn from all the special features. Listening to Fincher’s commentary opened my eyes to the world of film and pushed me to study more behind the scenes tools of the trade. I do laugh/find it irritating that Rosie O’Donnell hated this film so much she spoiled the film’s ending on her talk show. Damn, that’s not cool.

Boys Don’t Cry (Released October 22nd)

Growing up in the Midwest during this time was tough. I began to see how much hatred was in the world. Matthew Shepard’s death had me asking questions I’m assuming a lot of grown ups weren’t comfortable answering. I saw Boys Don’t Cry a few years later and while I still didn’t understand it I got a look at a thought process tainted by bigotry. To this day there are moments from this film that are burned into my memory. Hilary Swank gave a powerhouse performance and deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Being John Malkovich (Released October 29th)

The film that introduced to wonderful imaginations of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, do I have to say anything else to sing this film’s praise? No, but I will anyway. I can not do the film justice with a few sentences, so I will say the script is brilliant, the acting phenomenal, and again it’s one of my personal favorites. With the Criterion Collection recently releasing a special edition Blu-ray I may have to upgrade when I have some disposable income.

Dogma (Released November 12th)

Kevin Smith took “28 years of religious and spiritual meditation” and crafted one of his best films. People tend to overlook/mock Smith as a filmmaker not giving him just credit as one of the 90’s indie movement filmmakers. He was the guy critics dismissed as the guy who made “that black and white dirty comedy”. Dogma is a great blend of his typical humor infused with more serious moments. I have a very personal connection with this film that I will not disclose here, but if we ever meet up in person I’ll tell you the story.

Toy Story 2 (Released November 24th)

Pixar’s third film had a rocky go of it. From initially beginning as a cheap direct to video sequel in the vein of most Disney sequels at the time the film showed promise and got upgraded to a theatrical release. Once that happened the original story was tossed out and a new plot was conceived over a weekend. Throw in the fact that the film changed directors, at one point had all of it’s files deleted, and was forced to finish production in the span of nine months it wasn’t an easy production. Out of all that chaos came one of Pixar’s best films and proof that they could craft a sequel on par with it’s predecessor. In fact this is one of five films on Rotten Tomatoes to have over 100 reviews and maintain 100% fresh status. Not bad for a film with such a rough history!

The Green Mile (Released December 10th)

Frank Darabont’s second adaptation of a work of Stephen King and it’s close to being on par with The Shawshank Redemption. We tend to forget how fantastic this film is as it does tend to get overlooked. Of course Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan (Rest in Peace good sir) gave phenomenal performances, but again people tend to forget about the supporting cast. Sam Rockwell and Doug Hutchinson are both perfectly scummy in their own ways. But even Graham Greene and Michael Jeter (Rest in Peace good sir) take their limited screen time and make the most of it. The end of this film is still heartbreaking to this day. The biggest compliment to this film is that despite clocking in at over three hours you never feel the run time.

Man on the Moon (Released December 22nd)

Jim Carrey had proven the year before with The Truman Show that he had the chops to be a dramatic actor, but Man on the Moon that cemented him as a rare talent. Andy Kaufman was a comedian who had some people laughing while others scratched their heads. This type of timing is not easy to achieve let alone attempting to recapture such a legend’s work. For better or worse this will probably stand as Carrey’s greatest performance and it’s a shame he was snubbed by the Academy. If you want to truly understand how much dedication Carrey put into this watch the Netflix documentary Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond.

Galaxy Quest (Released December 25th)

It’s a rare thing for me to compliment Tim Allen. The man has never had a wide range in his acting repertoire, but his douchebag alpha male mentality was perfect for a parody of William Shatner’s notorious personality. Add in the always amazing talents of Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, Enrico Colantoni, and Justin Long you get one hilarious film. I am disappointed Daryl Mitchell pretty much got relegated to predominantly television after this film.

Magnolia (Released December 25th)

Much like American Beauty this film has received a bit of backlash in the years since it’s release. At the time of it’s release Kevin Smith called it, “a constant reminder that a bloated sense of self-importance is the most unattractive quality in a person or their work.” and “a cinematic root canal”. Yikes, not exactly high praise. Anderson himself stated the film was, “for better or worse, the best movie I’ll ever make.” I myself still hold this film in high regard. It may be pretentious at times, but the cast keeps it grounded and much like The Green Mile never gets dragged down by it’s three hour runtime.

These are my thoughts, but as usual what are yours? I know I left some films off this list (Blast From the Past, October Sky, Analyze This, Existenz, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Summer of Sam, Mystery Alaska, Bringing Out the Dead, The Insider, Liberty Heights, The Cider House Rules, and many more) some of them I’ve not seen in over a decade or not seen at all, so I will not comment on them. What do you think of 1999’s crop of films? Did they shape you as much as they did me? What are your personal favorites from this year? Let me know. Remember you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sdfilmthoughts. If you’re on Facebook I’m also a contributing author at https://www.facebook.com/midwestmovietalk. Give us a like! As always, thanks for reading.

Horror in the Hills: Last One Out, Hit the Lights

Horror in the Hills: Last One Out, Hit the Lights

I recently started a new job since I moved back to South Dakota. My uncle and his team go out into the Black Hills cleaning up the forest building slash piles to be burned during the winter. On my latest excursion I stumbled across the remains of a makeshift campsite. Pieces of a tattered and sun faded tent were scattered around. I sifted through the ashes in the fire pit to find the remnants of a burnt soda bottle. But what was most fascinating was a half buried canvas messenger bag in shambles. The contents were pretty standard: lighter, Swiss Army Knife, a pair of wool socks, a map of the Black Hills detailing all the hiking trails, a red spine paperback mystery novel spoiled by moisture, and a few Clif Bars. But most importantly was a journal.

I assumed it was important as it was the only item the camper had taken precautions to protect. Triple sealed in the strongest Ziploc bags the book was impressively intact. A black Moleskine bigger than the styles I’d seen before. Three quarters of the book had been filled with entries from a man named Jonah. I searched for a last name through all the entries, but turned up nothing. The early entries were pretty typical stuff. I understood these writings as someone adrift in their early 20’s trying to figure out what to do. That was the boat I found myself in currently.

Around two thirds of way into the journal things changed. Beginning in the fall of 2016 Jonah decided to explore the area before the first snowfall. Hiking numerous trails and camping wherever he could. He stated after a mentally taxing summer he needed something to ease his mind. Taped on the back cover of the journal was a memory card filled with photos from his excursion. What follows are excerpts from Jonah’s journal and what photos I could salvage and pair with the entries.

October 15, 2016

Mom dropped me off in Edgemont this morning. She urged me to re-think this, “whole stupid hike”. Asking me to contemplate the erratic fall weather I could just do some smaller hikes during the day and she’d pick me up at night. I appreciated this, but needed some time to myself. I assured her that in spite of spotty cell service I would call her even if I had to find a landline in some of the towns. She gave me a hug, handed me $100, and told me to be safe. As she drove off I began my pilgrimage. I had walked sections of the trail previously, but I made it my mission to hike all 110 miles in one go. I hope to average around 10 miles a day and be done in less than two weeks. Here we go.

October 20, 2016

I made it to Custer yesterday. The first 40 miles out of the way I stopped by Jesse and Kyle’s to say hello and see if they’d let me use their shower. They invited me to have supper and spend the night. I could feel a chill in the air decided a home cooked meal would be nice. Over dinner Jesse and I reminisced about high school while Kyle laughed at some of the more embarrassing stories we told. After clearing the table and cleaning the kitchen Kyle rolled a joint. We got stoned and watched Netflix the rest of the night. While we talked Jesse convinced me to stay in Custer for a few days. Her plan was to take a in a few mini adventures before getting back on the Mickelson. Kyle mentioned checking out Poet’s Table. Considering I hadn’t been up there since high school I thought one day might not hurt. With a nice buzz washing around my head I passed out on the couch.

October 21, 2016

Waking up early Jesse, Kyle, and I drove up to Sylvan Lake. Heading to the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead we made our way. Jesse pointed out the hidden trail to Poet’s Table after I’d walked past it. We made our way up and found the table. The green cabinet was slightly ajar with a few papers spilling out. I ripped a page from the back of this journal and left note. A reminder of how much I love this place. The sheer beauty of this secret tucked away in our home was unmistakable. I was tempted to abandon the Mickelson and poke about The Needles, but I must stay focused. If the weather holds out in the coming weeks I might circle back. After we did a lap around Sylvan Lake we drove back to Custer. Grabbing a burger I mentioned it was probably time to head out. Kyle said before I left we needed to explore the old Flintstone Park. Shutting down a year ago I assumed everything had to be torn down. What we found blew me away all the sculptures of Fred, Barney and everyone else was gone, but the cement buildings were still standing. It was sad and oddly intriguing to see all these buildings. The theatre that once ran cartoons was now filled with dead leaves scattered around the aisles. What struck me as odd was there was no graffiti on any of the buildings. Jesse and Kyle dropped me at the trail after failing to convince me to stay another night. As tempting as it was I wanted to get moving. I promised once I was done I’d get in touch. I made it to the other side of Hill City. By the High Country Guest Ranch I set up the tent for the night. The managers were nice enough to stop by and ask if I would like to share supper with them. I took them up on the offer. It was a hearty buffalo stew with Texas toast. We talked around the fire pit as the sun went down. They turned in early, but I stayed a little longer. Watching the flames wane to glowing embers. Putting the fire out I hit the sack.

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October 22, 2016

I woke up to snow on the ground! Not a lot, but there was a bitter chill in the air. The managers offered me a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon. After breakfast I offered them $20, but they refused. I threw on a few extra layers and pushed forward. The wind bit at my cheeks and all I could do was keep my face down and keep moving. I made it to one of the tunnels on the trail and had to rest. Out of the cold I took a drink from my flask. The whiskey warmed me a bit, but I got a buzz fairly quickly. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I inhaled a bag of jerky and guzzled some water. Why didn’t I just stay in Hill City another day?

October 24, 2016

After some miserable nights I finally made it to Rochford. The weather has started to warm up, but I decided to stop by Lawrence’s house and see if he was home. He was at work, but thankfully his dad was in. I showered, threw my clothes in the laundry, and took a nap. Lawrence got back from Deadwood around four. Hard to believe we haven’t seen each other for nearly a year. I need to get up to Rochford more often. We chatted while his stepmom made pulled pork for supper. Lawrence seems to be happy at the casino and has been put in charge of entertainment for DeadWeird. The thought of spending Halloween in Deadwood mildly appealed to me, but I had 25 miles to go and Halloween was still a week away. We began to joke about all the “haunted” sites in the Hills. Oyster Bay, Hotel Alex Johnson, Keystone school house, and of course Mercer Mine. We laughed at such nonsense. I joked that I may even swing by as we continued to enjoy our meal and the sun went down. It was another chilly night and Lawrence lit the fireplace so I wouldn’t freeze in the living room. I spent over an hour staring at the fire. Watching the flames rise and dissipate as the embers glowed. Listening to the logs pop it was all relaxing.

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NOTE: After reading this entry I had to do some research. Living near Keystone I went to the school house. It had been converted to a museum curated by a friendly old woman. While she knew the stories of the school house, Oyster Bay, and Alex Johnson Mercer Mine escaped her. She pointed me to the basement archive where they keep a cache of old books and a computer. The computer had digital copies of all the local newspapers dating back to the late 1800’s. Searching Mercer Mine I pulled up a handful of articles. Here’s a summary of the information I uncovered.

Randal Mercer, a tincture peddler settled south of Lead after purchasing parcel of land in 1877. During the winter he built a large cabin that would serve as a brothel. Over time he was able to turn a healthy profit from his business. He often tried to buy into multiple established businesses in hopes of going legit, but was always met with the same contempt. As luck would have it a mine became available and he bought the rights sight unseen as the previous owner was considered a man of high standing in the community. Mercer only found out after the man had skipped town that the mine was worthless. They’d hit an underground river and flooded a majority of the tunnels. With no money and a morality streak hitting the west his brothel began to take on a seedier reputation. Rumors swirled about Mercer. He became an opium addict who didn’t vet clients or ‘employees’. Worst was the rumor that if a woman got pregnant he’d take the child and throw it into the mine letting the water do the dirty work. This continued until 1882 when a patron died in the brothel. The deceased was the son of a casino owner. The details are murky, but Mercer must’ve been a scapegoat.

Corrupting this man’s son with sin of the flesh and vice despite claims of the gentleman’s reputation long before setting foot in Mercer’s brothel. It fell on deaf ears and a trial quickly found Mercer guilty. Before he was hung he uttered his final words, “Last one out, hit the lights.” There was no clear information on what happened to Mercer’s body. All I could find were a handful of theories in editorials. He was returned to his brothel where townsfolk torched the cabin. He was sold by the undertaker and his cadaver was part of a touring sideshow. As revenge for all the lives he took from those young women his corpse was tossed into the mine before throwing in a couple sticks of dynamite to collapse the tunnels. Most assumed he was buried in an unmarked grave. Conjecture at its worst.

October 26, 2016

Lawrence convinced me to stick around for his weekend. While there isn’t much to do in Rochford we had a blast. It’s sad how much you miss out on when you let friendships lapse. We swung down to the Sugar Shack and grabbed lunch. I forgot just how great their food truly is. To quotes Jules, “That is a tasty burger!” We drove around on the backroads like we were back in high school. He asked me what I was going to do once the weather started to turn. Honestly, I’m not sure anymore. What’s left in the Hills when it’s buried under feet and feet of snow? I lied and said I’m still weighing my options. We went up to Deadwood and got a little too drunk. Luckily Lawrence’s boss was kind enough to give us a hotel room on the house. We woke up a little hungover and got some breakfast even though it was already past one. Once we got back to Rochford I said my goodbyes and told Lawrence I’d see him on Halloween. Back on the trail I hiked until the sun began to disappear behind the pines. I could feel a chill, but it wasn’t bitter cold.

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October 28, 2016

Not much progress today. I moved ahead at a slow pace after waking up late.

October 29, 2016

I was still moving slow today, so I cracked open my emergency Red Bull. It was just the kick I needed to get moving. I covered ten miles and am getting closer to the end of the line.

October 30, 2016

After all the talk about Mercer’s Mine I decided to go a little off the beaten path. Following deer trails and whatever else was stomped down I dug deeper into the forest just outside of Lead. Following the vague instructions I could recall over all these years of discussion I kept going. Before I knew it I had found a dilapidated building. It was larger than you typical frontiersman cabin and was surprisingly stylish. I could barely make them out as the wood was a rotted mess, but I could see the distinct carving of hearts in the support beams outside. This had to have been Mercer’s whorehouse. Inside had not fared any better. The walls were covered with crude graffiti and the floor was littered with beer cans. Compliments of the Black Hills University students I assume. The stairs were rotted out, so I avoided going upstairs, but in the back of the cabin was another exit. Outside once again my eyes re-adjusted to what light was left in the sky. As I gazed into the distance I saw it! A dark spot on the side on the side of the mountain, the mine!

Climbing over the rusted barbwire fence and passed all the private property signs I found an overgrown dirt road leading the way. Moving closer the entry became more intimidating. A black void looking to swallow me whole. I have no idea if it came on so suddenly or if I was so engrossed with my environment, but it was already night. Grabbing my headlamp I entered the mine greeted by a blast of cold air. The shiver was involuntary, but it seemed appropriate for the setting. I shined my light ahead, but the darkness swallowed it up. Pointing the beam towards the floor gave me a short path to follow. Further in my footsteps began to echo off the walls and every noise was amplified twenty-fold. Suddenly, there it was the back of the cave. Nothing more than a large pile of rubble. I grabbed my camera and began to snap photos.

Looking closer I saw at the top of the rock pile a small spot that appeared to be dug out. It was then that I caught a look of it. I moved my headlamp to the left and there written on the wall in ash, “Last one out, Hit the lights.” Changing out the memory card in my camera I heard a noise coming from behind the rocks. It was a scream; it had to be a mountain lion. Louder, the noise began to fill the cave bouncing off the walls the scream was disorienting. Stumbling backwards my heel caught a loose rock and I hit the ground. Looking down my camera lens was destroyed. Louder the scream was so overwhelming it began to hurt my ears. Suddenly, silence! I scrambled to my feet and looked to the hole in the rocks. It appeared something was crawling out. White with bits of fabric I glanced closer to realize the stick was a skeletal arm! I saw the fingers traverse the rocks like the legs of a spider. The hand stopped when my light shone upon it. Then and there I heard it, I know I heard it. A low and scratchy voice, “Last one out, Hit the lights.” I sprung to my feet and ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction. I heard it again, “Last one out, Hit the lights.” The remnants of my camera swung at my side smacking into my chest with every step. I almost took a blow to my head going from something hanging from the ceiling, but it took my headlamp. I didn’t care, I just kept moving. Finally outside the moonlight greeted me along with a wave of warm air. Looking back I saw my headlamp and heard the voice one least time, “Last one out, Hit the lights.”

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This is the last legible entry in the journal. The rest of the pages were filled with scribbles and a handful of rants. Over and over on one page all that was written, “I left the lights on!” I tried to search for more information on Jonah, but aside from the missing persons bulletin I found nothing. His mother up and moved to the other side of the state. I did find Jesse and Kyle still living in Custer. When I initially spoke with them there was some hesitation and skepticism. But after I turned over the journal they were thankful. Somehow there was a little closure to be found in these pages. I told them where I found the camp remnants and offered to show them. After reading the journal they turned me down and asked that I forget everything, but how could I? Months have passed and I continue to think about this. As I go to bed, when I wake up, and as the sun goes down all I can think of are those six words, “Last one out, hit the lights”.

Digital Copies: Redeeming and Collecting

Digital Copies: Redeeming and Collecting

It’s become a far more common thing to receive a digital copy of any film you purchase. In fact, most people consider this an essential when they purchase their Blu-rays. And yet for the longest time I didn’t redeem mine. I left them in the case and just didn’t feel the need to use them. Why would I when I can grab the same film off the shelf and pop it into my Blu-ray player? That all changed when I spent a winter away from home. As many cinephiles know, lugging your DVDs and Blu-rays is a pain in the ass. So I figured the why not redeem these films and have them handy while I’m away? Long story short, in this article I’m going to discuss my personal opinion on digital copies, the best way to redeem them, and how to get a handful of titles on the cheap. So, without further ado lets dig into this and discuss what to do.

Where to Redeem?

This is all a matter of personal taste. There are numerous sites that can act storage facilities. You’ve got Vudu, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, and Fandango to name a few. I personally choose Vudu as it links to other accounts like Movies Anywhere and UltraViolet (Which is going to shut down on July 31st). I’d go with MA, but they’re still having issues with Paramount and Lionsgate. Thankfully Vudu seems (for the time being) to be playing ball with everyone involved. It’s also nice that Vudu has a free to watch section. I’ve had the least amount of problems from Vudu to get my digital codes redeemed and my films stored on their site.

How to Redeem?

I assume most of you already know how to redeem. It’s gotten easier to pick a site, enter the code, and get your copy. I predominantly use Movies Anywhere to redeem, but like I said Paramount and Lionsgate are a bit of a pain in the neck. It takes a few extra steps, but they should be redeemed in no time. Now, what happens if you try to redeem a code that has expired? From what I’ve gathered quite a few of the studios don’t strictly enforce the expiration dates and you can enter the codes no problem. But, sometimes you will have to deal with the studio’s customer support. Everyone knows it’s not an easy task to correspond over email to get technical issues resolved, but I will go through a few studios I spoke with to get help. Who was the easiest and who were the most difficult?

SONY/COLUMBIA: Honestly, all of the expired codes I redeemed worked out just fine. So they seem to be the best to deal with when it comes to how long a code lasts.

UNIVERSAL: I have nothing but great things to say about Universal’s help line. I emailed them looking for help to redeem a handful of films. All they asked was for me to email them a photo of the insert from the blu-ray showing the digital code clearly and they issued me new ones. Super easy and hassle free!

WARNER BROTHERS: Warner Brothers required a little more. They issued me a ticket number and asked that I write the number on a piece of paper and send them a photo of the case, the insert, and the paper with the ticket number on it. Again, super easy and they were quick to reply.

PARAMOUNT: As you’ll see as we go along every studio requires different stuff. I asked for help on getting my Star Trek (’09) redeemed and here’s what they asked for: pictures of the every disc in the case, a picture of the insert in the case, and a picture of the bar code on the Blu-ray. I snapped photos of all of these except for the bar code (must’ve been on the shrink wrap) and they also issued me a replacement code. As above, super easy and helpful.

DISNEY: Okay, here’s where things get a bit trickier. Along with all the other photos (case, discs, insert) Disney also required a proof of purchase from a first party vendor. This required me to scroll back through my Best Buy and Amazon transaction history to screenshot that I had purchased them legitimately and not 2nd hand. While most of them worked out fine my Muppets Blu-ray had been purchased from a smaller vendor and sold on Amazon. Due to the fact that they couldn’t verify that it was factory sealed (which it was) when I’d purchased it from this retailer they wouldn’t give me a new code. A little irritating to say the least (Side note: When I redeemed Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and Iron Man 2 they gave me standard definition copies in spite of owning the Blu-rays. I don’t know if this has something to do with them being part of the Marvel catalog from when they were distributed by Paramount, but it was a tad annoying.)

LIONSGATE: Lionsgate is a bit of a mixed bag. While their current digital copies seem to live past their expiration dates the older ones not so much. I tried to redeem Gamer and sent them all the photos they required. They emailed me back stating the digital copy was expired and there was no way of getting it redeemed. Kind of shitty, but I understand.

20TH CENTURY FOX: Oof, talk about rough. I sent them a photo of the insert from my copy of (500) days of Summer and immediately got an email stating it was expired and that was it. I guess they really stick to their expiration dates.

Acquiring

This is where I’d like to impart my wisdom onto you as to getting digital copies on the cheap. If you’re looking you can find some great deals there are ways. My best advice is to search thrift stores/flea markets/garage sales for DVDs and Blu-rays. You can buy them on the cheap and typically the codes haven’t been redeemed. I bought Beetlejuice for $1 at a thrift store, redeemed the code and gave the disc back to the store. The lady seemed confused, but I explained that I technically had the be the ‘owner’ of the disc to redeem the code. She still didn’t get, but didn’t care either. I’ve done the same thing at multiple places and now the people understand and go with the flow. A local library I frequent also used them as prizes in raffles. Pawn shops use to be a great place, but I think the owners have started to wise up. I recently saw a sign at one pawn shop telling people that digital copies could be purchased at the register. I’m pretty sure I ruffled some feathers with the cashier when I asked two questions. 1. If the code is invalid can I get my money back? 2. Is it legal to sell the codes separate from the disc? The owner told me: How can I know you won’t redeem the code and say that it didn’t work? And: once he purchases the Blu-ray he’s free to do what he wants with the codes. Long story short, I won’t be going back to that pawn shop anytime soon. Another great option is friends. Even though I’ve tried to tell friends to redeem their codes many aren’t interested. Even if they’re not films I’m interested in (I’m now the proud owner of the first two Divergent films) it’s always handy to have them.

My Feelings

As everyone knows I love physical media. I wrote an article years ago discussing why I continue to buy DVDs and Blu-rays. (Shameless self-promotion: A link will be provided below) While I have found having digital copies come in handy I do still find drawbacks. Of course the lack of a proper Internet connection can be an issue where I live, so access to my library can be erratic at times. Also, while Vudu and Movies Anywhere continue to add special features to the films they’re not always keeping up with the physical copies. I love my audio commentaries too much to not have them.

https://sdfilmthoughts.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/why-i-refuse-to-give-up-on-physical-media/

These are my thoughts but as usual, what are yours? Do you have a preference as to where you redeem your digital copies? Are you going to start redeeming them now that you’ve read this article? Let me know. Remember you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sdfilmthoughts. As always, thanks for reading.

My Ten Favorite Films of 2018

My Ten Favorite Films of 2018

Ah yes, here we are once again. After seeing over 110 films in 365 days we begin to untangle all that happened. The disappointments, the honorable mentions, and now my top 10. It has been a beautiful year in the theatres and on the streaming platforms. We seem to be getting more and more films every year and that is both a blessing and a curse. As I write this there are still numerous films I’ve yet to see or re-watch and form full opinions of one way or another. But even if we watched one film every day there’d still not be enough time, so we must make due with what we have. So here it is, my ten favorite films of the past year. Let’s dig in!

10. HEARTS BEAT LOUD

While it may feel a bit fluffy at times Hearts Beat Loud is fantastic. Most of the credit is given to Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, and their fantastic chemistry. The music is great to listen to, the supporting cast is filled with talent, and it’s story is heartwarming. If you’re interested it’s currently available on Hulu.

9. FIRST REFORMED

Every year there is a film I see that I truly enjoy, but won’t re-watch for many years… if ever. First Reformed is a bitter film full of hard questions and to some unfulfilling answers. Paul Schrader has never been a warm and fuzzy filmmaker, but his script paired with a phenomenal performances from Ethan Hawke (I hope he gets more high profile film roles) and Amanda Seyfried make a for devastating watch. And I really hope more people start casting Cedric the Entertainer in dramatic roles.

8. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE

This is going to be the film everyone looks at on this list and dismiss my opinions, but I don’t care. Bad Times at the El Royale was a film I had been anticipating from the moment I first heard about it. Drew Goddard has a strong talent as both writer and director. While this is only his 2nd feature (The Cabin in the Woods was his amazing debut) he continues to improve. The cast is aces across the board with Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, and Dakota Johnson delivering top notch performances. The big surprise for me was Cynthia Erivo. Between this and Widows she has had one bang up year! I can not wait to see more from her. But in my opinion what makes this film great is that the story focuses on people typically ignored by society in 1969. The old convict, the young black woman, the junky veteran, and women who are victims of abuse. While some have called this Tarantino lite I think that’s an unfair criticism. Tarantino wasn’t the person who invented the crime genre and wasn’t the only one to stylize it. Give it a look and form your own opinion.

7. ANNIHILATION

Alex Garland has always been a screenwriter I’ve had a lot of respect for. 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd, and the underrated Never Let You Go. Then he stepped into the director’s chair with the low key and brilliant Ex Machina. With a $50 million dollar budget in hand he moved ahead adapting Jeff VanderMeer’s novel. What we got was another smartly told sci-fi story with a great cast. Which brings me to the point that this film was predominantly female driven and did not feel the need to make a big deal out of it. The characters were interesting and their actions were identifiable. Much like Hearts Beat Loud it’s currently streaming on Hulu.

6. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

While I could sum my love up for this with two characters (Miles Morales & Spider-Gwen) but there is so much more to it. The visual style is unbelievably beautiful and very unique. While I typically hate 3D screenings this one was worth seeing that way. The story is a perfect way to bring all these amazing characters together and at times does tug at the heartstrings. I’ll admit it, I got misty eyed at a few scenes. And of course, the voice cast is aces. My favorite had to be Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir. It was perfect casting! In a year that had some pretty great animated films this one was the best.

5. THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS

In a year where there are two documentary films I consider worthy of being the best (we’ll get to my other pick down below) films this one was a doozy. What started off as an amazing reuniting of siblings and their bonding takes a dark turn that I will not reveal here. I recommend watching this with as little knowledge beforehand. It goes to prove that there are times when the reality can be stranger than fiction.

4. THOROUGHBREDS

This one is a real bittersweet entry. I have been a fan of Anton Yelchin for years and was devastated by this death. Seeing this film on the big screen was a great, but also heartbreaking. Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke kill it in the lead roles and with some great direction, smart writing, and a killer score it’s a dark comedy gem that will sit beside Heathers in due time. But I can not finish this without saying how great Yelchin was in his final role. He was on the cusp of greater things and it’s a damn shame we’ll never see those performances. RIP Good Sir!

3. BLINDSPOTTING

2018 has been a great year for films about race relations in the US. Not to get political, but we’ve been dealing with a lot of heavy problems these past few years. While I enjoyed The Hate U Give, BlackKklansman, and Black Panther it was Blindspotting that really hit me. Diggs and Casal give true lived in performances that culminate in and ending that hits you hard. It’s not heavy handed or preachy, but it makes you understand many sides of life.

2. EIGHTH GRADE

It’s no surprise to anyone who reads my work that I loved Eighth Grade. I wrote an article on the highlights from the audio commentary (linked below) and have spoken my praises for Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham. It’s a rare feat to watch a film and not feel a fake or staged moment. As someone who was an awkward and weird kid I looked at Kayla with understanding. Some might find this a little too on the nose at times, but I honestly would love to see this film become required viewing in middle school.

https://sdfilmthoughts.wordpress.com/2018/12/05/fun-things-from-the-eighth-grade-commentary/

1. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

Oh my how I was disappointed when the Academy Award nominees were announced and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was snubbed in the Best Documentary category. I grew up with Fred Rogers/Mister Rogers Neighborhood thankful for the life lessons and philosophy he bestowed upon me. In a time where the world has become polarized and more cynical than ever we needed a reminder about the power of kindness. If there was a film that affected me this year it was this one. After leaving the theatre I had to sit in my car for a few minutes and collect myself. I ask everyone to do themselves a favor and check this one out.

And there you have it, another year in film done. These are my thoughts but as usual, what are yours? Did you enjoy any of the films I listed? Are you surprised by any of my selections? Feel free leave a comment and get some discussion going. I’ll also have links to my previous top ten lists from years past. Remember you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sdfilmthoughts. I’ve also begun contributing at Midwest Movie Talk on Facebook. Give the page a like for reviews from myself and other SD writers. I will also be making a guest appearance on Fat Dude Digs Flicks podcast talking a little more in-depth about these picks. Please give it a listen. As always, thanks for reading.

https://sdfilmthoughts.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/my-10-favorite-films-of-2015/

https://sdfilmthoughts.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/my-ten-favorite-films-of-2016/

https://sdfilmthoughts.wordpress.com/2018/03/05/my-ten-favorite-films-of-2017/

The Honorable Mentions of 2018

The Honorable Mentions of 2018

As we continue to build towards my 10 best 2018 we must take another pit stop. While there are always 10 great films every year I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to quickly speak out about some films that were entertaining, but just didn’t make the cutoff. So without further ado, here are my honorable mentions from the year of 2018.

– THE MCU TRIO (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man & The Wasp) –

Ten years ago I remember sitting in a theatre seeing Iron Man. I had read reviews online and stayed seated as people shuffled out as the credits rolled. Here we and Marvel continues to surprise and excite me. You can call me a mindless fanboy, but I got to see Thanos snap half of their universe out of existence. Honestly, I will continue to watch these films until they fizzle out or until I’m too old to remember them. Yay, we have three more this year!

– BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY –

I’m not going to delude myself, this wasn’t a perfect film. Aside from the behind the scenes controversy there were plot points that didn’t quite match up with reality. But with Rami Malek’s powerhouse performance, amazing production/costume design, and of course a soundtrack soaked with all of the amazing tunes crafted by Mercury and co. it was a blast. I can’t defend it, but I will fully admit that I will be adding it to my collection down the line.

– BUMBLEBEE –

I was hopeful for this film from the moment I heard Travis Knight had been hired to direct. When I saw the trailer I knew I’d have to see it in theatres. Walking out I was satisfied with a live action Transformers film. I never thought that would happen.

– CHRISTOPHER ROBIN –

People will likely call foul of, “How can you like this film and not like Mary Poppins Returns?! They’re the same!” For me it felt like there was more passion with this film. Robert Forster seemed to have a love for A.A. Milne’s world and wanted to by right by the author’s work. Throw in the fact that Ewan McGregor gave such a committed and earnest performance and I loved it.

– ISLE OF DOGS –

Wes Anderson crafts another stop-motion animated film and it’s beautiful. That’s pretty much all I have to say. Give it a look!

– LEAN ON PETE –

I saw the trailer for this film and thought, “Hmm, this looks like that Disney film Flash, but with Steve Buscemi.” I was surprised how heartfelt and dark this film went. Can we also admit that Steve Zahn got screwed over in his career? It was nice to see him get a role with some real sustenance to it.

– LEAVE NO TRACE –

It’s always tough tell stories of people who disconnect from society and have to re-assimilate down the line. Is there a believable reason for their  leaving the modern world? Thanks to Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster giving their characters a live in feel it works. I know Foster has a reputation for being a bit intense on set, but I’m always happy to see him get work.

– OVERLORD –

Bad Robot has had a mixed bag of a year. While The Cloverfield Paradox was dumped onto Netflix as a way to hedge their bets to make it a success and not pay for prints and advertisements. Thankfully Overlord was a fun bloody romp homaging grindhouse films better than well… Grindhouse. I can’t wait to watch it again.

– PADDINGTON 2 –

It makes me so happy that Paddington got a sequel that was (arguably) better than the original film. Paul King has done a fantastic job crafting this beautiful world. I am a little disappointed he won’t be returning to direct the 3rd film, but I hope he has a hand in keep the series on track.

– ROBIN WILLIAMS: COME INSIDE MY MIND –

As a kid of the 90’s I’ve always been a fan of Robin Williams. He was in many of my favorite films (Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji) and as I grew up I watched him take on some darker films (Insomnia, One Hour Photo). It’s always tough when you find out someone who spread so much laughter and happiness had their own inner demons. It’s sad to think of what might’ve happened had Williams been diagnosed properly and sooner.

– SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO –

Benicio del Toro returns with another great script from Taylor Sheridan. While Denis Villeneuve was busy with Blade Runner 2049 Stefano Sollima stepped into the director’s spot. Sollima did a competent job taking over and thankfully had del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Jeffrey Donovan returning. Hopefully Sheridan is busy on the script for Sicario 3 as we speak.

– UPGRADE –

Leigh Whannell (along with friend and cohort James Wan) have been filmmakers I’ve admired ever since I watched Saw back in 2004. While Insidious: Chapter 3 was Whannell’s directorial debut this feels like the film he wanted to make. Much like Overlord it’s a campy bonkers film that has fun with it’s goofy concept. While it made money it’s a shame it wasn’t a bigger hit. Odds are you missed it, so rectify that mistake ASAP.

So yes, another group of films that were fun to watch, but just couldn’t crack the top 10. These are my thoughts, but as usual what are yours? Did you like any of the films listed? Are you upset one of them didn’t make the top 10? If you’re interested links to my previous honorable mention lists can be found below. Remember you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sdfilmthoughts. I’ve also begun contributing to Midwest Movie Talk on Facebook. Click on the link and give us a like. As always, thanks for reading.

https://www.facebook.com/midwestmovietalk/

https://sdfilmthoughts.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/the-honorable-mentions-of-2015/

https://sdfilmthoughts.wordpress.com/2017/04/10/the-honorable-mentions-of-2016/

https://sdfilmthoughts.wordpress.com/2018/02/25/the-honorable-mentions-of-2017/

2018 Films That Were a Disappointment (To Me)

2018 Films That Were a Disappointment (To Me)

Once again another year is gone and we’re left to look back and assess what came and went from the multiplexes (and all VOD platforms). For over a decade I’ve made Ten Best and Worst film lists, but this year I wanted to do something different. Instead of mocking and ripping the piss from a bunch of films most online critics have already verbally bludgeoned I’m taking a new approach. The following will be a list of films that for one reason or another I had some interest in seeing and what I was left with was an hour and 1/2 to two hours of let down. Since odds are there are going to be a few films on this list that I know people are going to disagree with I am going to preface the rest of this with this being a list of personal taste. It does not necessarily reflect the film’s true merits. And with that let’s look back and unpack these films.

ACTION POINT

Having been intrigued with the history of theme parks when I heard there was a film being made about the infamous Action Park I was excited. For any unfamiliar with Action Park it was a theme park opened in Vernon New Jersey. Not to delve to deep into the story, but the place was notorious for rides that weren’t properly tested and lead to multiple injuries and a few deaths. A film based on the events could’ve been fascinating. In the end it was a starring vehicle for Johnny Knoxville with some fun stunts, but left a lot to be desired. If you’re interested in learning the real story of Action Park check out the Defunctland video below. Kevin Perjurer does a great job going over the history of the infamous water park.

DARK CRIMES

It has been a rough few years for Jim Carrey. I hate to say it, but the last good film he starred in was the underrated I Love You Phillip Morris… which was released in 2009. Carrey has proven he can deliver great non-comedic performances. Based on a true crime article the film premiered at the Warsaw Film Festival it took two years to get released. What could’ve been a fantastic crime thriller in the vein of Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a editorial mess. Thankfully Carrey’s new TV series debuted this year and (from the episodes I’ve seen) is new chapter for the comedian.

FAHRENHEIT 451

Ray Bradbury’s seminal work has been a must read in the science fiction literary genre. While the 1966 film is cheesy by today’s standards it’s a fine film for it’s age. In an era of social media stardom and slanted journalism a new adaptation seemed topical. Throw in a stellar cast including Michael B. Jordan, Michael Shannon, and Sofia Boutella and it could’ve been a slam dunk. With questionable alterations to it’s source material  (Like an ending that has books encoded into animal DNA. Yeah, you read that correctly.) it just didn’t measure up to what might’ve been.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS

This is the one that is going to draw ire from most readers. As a child Mary Poppins was one of those films that I loved. It introduced me to Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke both of whom I became a fan of and the respective works. In spite of author P.L. Travers’ distaste for the original film, Walt and the Sherman Brothers crafted a whimsical film that captured the imaginations of children for over 50 years. When news broke of a follow-up with Emily Blunt in the titular role I was excited. Bringing back the whimsy of the original film would have made for an amazing film going experience. Alas, when I left the theatre I felt like I’d seen was a film crafted with such calculation that it was a product made to wring dollars out of fans based on nostalgia.  Plus, it hit a lot of the same narrative points of another Disney film that I personally enjoyed more. That’d be Christopher Robin, if you were interested. I intend on revisiting Mary Poppins Returns in the future to see if my opinion will change with more viewings, but as of now I’m left in the minority on this one.

THE PREDATOR

Aside from the AVP films the Predator series in my opinion has always been pretty solid. The original is a classic action film, number 2 is an underrated gem, and Predators added an interesting new piece to the legacy of these creatures. With Shane Black and Fred Dekker as the creative driving force I was ready for another great chapter in this story. I don’t know if this film had a messy script from the get go, but some choppy editing, odd comedy beats, and questionable story choices made for a film that just didn’t measure up to it’s predecessors. Maybe next time.

SUMMER OF 84

After reading the synopsis and seeing the trailer I had high hopes for Summer of 84. There was talent behind and in front of the camera and the Rear Window premise was intriguing. It personally wasn’t my cup of tea. Maybe I’m burnt out on 80’s nostalgia.

A WRINKLE IN TIME

Ava DuVernay is a director who has style and has previously tackled subjects of substance. Madeleine L’Engle’s novel had already been attempted by Disney on a television budget which was nowhere enough to make the stories visuals pop. So with $130 million dollar budget, a killer cast, and a promising trailer it looked like this was going to be the adaption the source material deserved. Did removing the more pointed theological aspects of the story hurt the story? It’s debatable, but it definitely didn’t help make the story less murky.

So there you have it. While there are a few other films I could talk about these are the main picks. I don’t know if time will soften my opinions, but odds are I will try giving all of them a second look down the line. These are my thoughts, but as usual what are yours? What films disappointed you in 2018? Is there anything on my list you think deserves to be there or something you’d like yo defend? Let me know. Remember you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @sdfilmthoughts. As always, thanks for reading.