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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Movie Review: FOXY BROWN

FOXY BROWN
1974
R



Foxy Brown is a 1974 blaxploitation film directed by Jack Hill. It follows a street-smart African-American woman named Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) who's waiting for her boyfriend Mike (Terry Carter), a former undercover agent who tipped the police about drug trafficking, to be released from a hospital after having facial reconstruction surgery. Foxy's brother Link (Antonio Fargas) happens to be on the run from the very people that Foxy's boyfriend was trying to put in prison, so when Link realizes that he's the same man, he calls Katherine Wall (Kathryn Loder), who runs the trafficking with her man Steve Elias (Peter Brown), to inform them that Mike is still alive in the hopes that it will help him settle his debt. Kathryn and Steve send two goons to kill Mike, which they do successfully. This forces Foxy to go on a rampage and vow vengeance against the people who had him killed.

Oh, they just don't make them like the used to. They just did things a little bit differently back in the '70s, you know? In the past few years, we've seen a few throwbacks to the ridiculous films from that decade (see: 2007's Grindhouse; 2009's Black Dynamite; and 2010's Machete), but Foxy Brown is a taste of the type of film that spurred movies like the ones I just mentioned.

That being said, it's not really that great of a movie, but that's part of the appeal of exploitation films. They're very upfront about what they're selling. In the case of Foxy Brown, we're getting two things: sex and action. (To be fair, that's what most of these films are selling, but that's neither here nor there). From the opening credits, which simply feature Pam Grier dancing in a number of scantily-clad outfits, we can see the sexuality they're selling. It's really all a showcase for Grier and her body because there's really not much acting going on anywhere in the film.

I mean, it's not that the acting is absolutely terrible, but it's not good by any means. Grier really just gets through the film by kicking ass and showing a little skin, and every once in a while, throwing out a sassy little quip. But that's about as far as it goes for her. The rest of the cast fills out rather blandly as no one really gives a performance worth memory. However, bad acting is a staple in exploitation films, so it's forgivable in such an instance.

The same goes for the screenplay. There's a tiny bit of a story going on here, but it's really all about the revenge plot from the get-go. However, the dialogue is relatively terrible, and the actors don't try to make the best of it. But as I said before, bad scripts and dialogue are both staples of this type of film, so you should probably know that going into the flick.

Overall, Foxy Brown delivers exactly what it attempts to deliver: sex, action and a little bit of gore. Oh, and it also gives you an absolutely brilliant final scene - it makes the entire film worthwhile. I won't give you Foxy's last little quip as she claims victory, but it's perfect in every way. Foxy Brown is definitely worth watching if you're interested in returning to the 1970s, or even if you're just a sex-crazed action junkie looking for a fix.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: D
1.5 Thumbs Up

Movie Review: SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW
2004
PG



Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a stylized sci-fi action film directed by Kerry Conran. The film takes place in an alternate reality in 1939, which in true history would have placed the setting just before the onset of the second World War. When an army of metallic machines invades and attacks a section of downtown New York, a mysterious man referred to as "Sky Captain" (Jude Law) is summoned to protect the masses. He manages to scare the machines away but takes on another nuisance in their stead: plucky newspaper reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), a former lover who knows Sky Captain's true identity (his name's Joe, for those wondering). After Joe explains that he and his army-for-hire had encountered such menaces before, his secret base is attacked and his friend and resident weapons expert Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) is kidnapped. In an attempt to save his friend - as well as save the rest of the world - Joe takes Polly on a worldwide quest to find Dex and the source of these mysterious machines.

I guess I had some expectations going into this film - it currently holds a 72% approval rating on the online review aggregate ar.com - but maybe I should've read the fine print a little bit. Let's start with screenplay. There's really not much in terms of a great plot here, but I suppose it does enough to be serviceable. It should be noted that it's very easy to follow, but for this particular film, that facet works against it. This is the epitome of a "multitasking" movie, in that you can be working on any number of other things while you watch it, not giving it your full attention, and you'll still know exactly what's going on. Some people would find that rather appealing, but I personally don't like it when a movie can't hook me. In fact, that plays into my grading process, and I can tell you now that Sky Captain did not fare well in that particular regard.

The acting is also serviceable, but there's really nothing to stand and applaud. Law and Paltrow are good as our leads, and they play off each other well, but they're definitely not reaching either of their respective potential. Ribisi is good for a laugh here and there, but he's given much too little screen-time - I wanted more of his character, but I never got it. We do have some small appearances that should be worth mentioning: Angelina Jolie comes into to play Franky, another of Sky Captain's former flings; Michael Gambon appears as Polly's editor-in-chief; and the great Sir Laurence Olivier was resurrected through computer-generation and archive audio to create the film's central villain.

A tip of the hat should go to Edward Shearmur, who provided a rousing orchestral score for the film. Although it feels a little bloated at times, it works well for this film's particular purposes.

Overall, Sky Captain is all about style while lacking any real substance. A lot of money was thrown into the visual portion of the film, and I just wish they would've put a little more thought into the storyline and the characters. There's no real character arc for anyone in the film - okay, maybe a tiny bit for Sky Captain and Polly - and the story just wasn't compelling enough to capture my interest. A film without a decent hook is not going to fare well.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: D+
1 Thumb Down
Addition to Awards

Movie Review: KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE
1988
PG-13



Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a 1988 horror comedy directed by Stephen Chiodo. When a shooting star rushes past them in the sky and crashes in the nearby woods, Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) leave their place on make-out hill to investigate. What they find is anything but a fallen meteor; instead, the two stumble upon a bizarre type of circus situated in the middle of the woods. As is the standard in any bumbling horror film, the two walk into the circus and find themselves in a world unlike anything they had ever seen. For fear of being caught by the circus's inhabitants, Mike and Debbie move deeper into the building, realizing that it's anything but. They find a room filled with cotton candy cocoons and soon learn that they all hold the remains of a human. The two narrowly escape after they're caught by one of the aforementioned inhabitants, and they're soon on the run from - you guessed it - killer clowns from outer space. The young lovers rush to the nearest police station where Debbie's ex-boyfriend Dave (John Allen Nelson) works with Curtis Mooney (John Vernon), an officer who hates anyone younger than himself. With Dave's help, Mike sets out to stop the alien menace before they can take over the town!

Alright people, let's be honest: if you're watching a movie called Killer Klowns from Outer Space, then you're really not looking for anything in terms of substance or intelligence. You really don't have to look farther than the opening sequences which basically set the tone for the film in it's entirety. We have a terribly-written screenplay that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I mean, there's really not a lot to it - aliens invade, townspeople try to stop them - but there's something about this colossal failure of a script that sets it well apart from other bad films. And there's really not enough I can say about the level of acting. I mean, there's absolutely nothing redeemable about any of the performances in the film. You'd think that Vernon, who was so bitingly funny in 1978's Animal House and so good in 1971's Dirty Harry, would at least offer a legitimate laugh or two. Unfortunately, you'll be laughing AT the characters rather than laughing WITH them. There's a very distinct difference.

The clowns - or is it "klowns" with a "k"? - themselves are rather atrocious to behold. And I don't mean they're just nasty-looking for their human counterparts on-screen. They're really just disgusting, but they're so goofy-looking that you have to wonder how anyone ever found them even remotely horrifying? I understand that the fear of clowns is a major phobia for a lot of people - I've never personally had a problem with them - but if a scary clown is supposed to look like this, then there should be no fear of clowns whatsoever. Unfortunately for the filmmakers and makeup artists, Stephen King's It was still two years away. Had they waited to see that film, they might've been able to make a clown that would rival that film's Pennywise (who made my list of favorite villains).

If anything works exceptionally well within this movie, it's the soundtrack. John Massari composed a near-perfect score that's ridiculous enough to fit this film's tone perfectly, but the real icing on the cake is the film's theme song which was performed by The Dickies. I'm embedding the theme song below for your listening pleasure:



Overall, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is an absolutely terrible film, but that doesn't make it also entirely entertaining. This movie easily falls into the category of "so bad, it's good," so if you're in for some brilliantly terrible filmmaking, this might be the way to go. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: F
Current All-Time Rank: Worst - #98
2 Thumbs Up

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Movie Review: GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM

GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM
1987
R



Good Morning, Vietnam is a dramatic comedy directed by Barry Levinson that centers around an armed forces radio DJ during the Vietnam War. The film opens on the arrival of Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) upon his transfer from Greece to the conflict in Vietnam. He immediately starts his job as one of the new disc jockeys for the armed forces radio network, but his alternative approach to broadcasting, which deviates extremely from the status quo that the network had previously offered, meets immediate resistance from his superiors, Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh). However, the men stationed around the country quickly take a liking to Cronauer's broadcasts, making the decision to remove him from his seat all the more difficult for Dickerson and Hauk. Soon after his arrival, Cronauer meets and falls for a young Vietnamese woman named Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana) and befriends her brother Tuan (Tung Thanh Tran) in order to get into the family's good graces. He tries to balance his newfound friendships with the stress of his job, where he's quickly being censored from telling the troops the truth of what's really happening around Vietnam. Cronauer ultimately has to decide whether to act against his superiors' wishes or fall into step with them.

The first thing you're going to notice about this film is Robin Williams. He's one of the first people you see once the movie starts, and he's in almost every scene from that point on. I think it should be mentioned that Williams scored his first Academy Award nomination - for Best Actor - for this role (he ultimately lost to Michael Douglas for Wall Street), so even the Academy took a little bit of notice despite the comedic nature of the performance. Although I don't think it's his best performance, it definitely ranks near the top of Williams fare. When he has to draw it back and be dramatic, he does so with a fire and a power that truly resonates. And what can I say about his comedy? You should know that he ad-libs all of his radio broadcasts in the film - he's probably one of the only people who'd be as capable of doing so - and they prove to be brutally hilarious. Overall, Williams makes this film, which is good because I did have an issue with some other stuff. But more on that in a moment.

The rest of the cast fills out quite nicely, to be honest. There isn't a weak link anywhere in the film, and although there's no one else that quite reaches Williams' level of insanity, everyone plays their part as best they can. Kirby and Walsh are very good as our two main antagonists, and they easily make you want to hate them very quickly. Forest Whitaker also plays a very strong supporting role as Cronauer's best American friend, Edward Garlick. The two have a lot of over-the-top funny scenes - there's a good contrast between Cronauer's comedy and Garlick's dorkiness - but they also share some sentimental moments as well. I'd also like to give a shout out Cu Ba Nguyen, who plays openly gay bar owner Jimmy Wah. He doesn't have a huge role in the film, but whenever he's on-screen, it's almost impossible not to laugh.

I did have a tiny bit of issue with the screenplay, if only that it's a tad bit predictable. There's really only one major twist in the storyline, but I figured it out the moment they telegraphed it early in the film. It takes the rest of the film for everyone else to figure it out, and I thought that was a little bit lame. I just thought it was so blatant that it took me out of the movie for a little while. I eventually found my way back into the storyline, but for a while, I was just waiting for everyone to come to the ultimate realization I had already assumed. Aside from that, the screenplay is relatively strong. The story isn't anything brilliant, but it works well considering the brand of fare. The dialogue also works to the film's advantage, even if much of Williams' was ad-libbed on the spot. Ultimately, I look to that one little goof in predictability that keeps Good Morning, Vietnam from being a fantastic film. Fantastic films don't ever let you think outside of their immediate universe, but that little tidbit threw me out for a little while. Fortunately, it did enough to draw me back in.

I do want to make mention of the brilliant soundtrack used within the film. The orchestral score is good, but it's used rather sparingly. However, when you have a musical compilation that includes Them, The Grass Roots, The Beach Boys, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Louis Armstrong and the Supremes (and many more!), you know you're in for an auditory treat. I don't know what it is about movies about Vietnam, but they all tend to have fantastic soundtracks. Maybe it's just the time period. Yeah, that's probably it. But Good Morning, Vietnam definitely knocks that pitch outta the park.

Overall, I don't know whether Good Morning, Vietnam is really going to be a movie that'll stick with me forever. Yeah, Robin Williams is great, but I could easily forget about this movie within the coming weeks. That being said, it's definitely worth a watch if you're in the mood. Just because you might forget it in the future doesn't mean it's not going to entertain you in the present. So give it a go and see how you feel. I'd bet you'd rather enjoy it.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B+
2 Thumbs Up

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Favorites: VILLAINS

So yes, I'm bringing you my favorite movie villains. In all honesty, this post should have come a while ago, but I've finally taken the time to put it all on paper, so to speak. As per usual, I only went with films that I've actually seen. I also only included characters who were established as the villain and the person to root against. Ergo, there won't be any "anti-heros" (i.e., Christian Bale in 2000's American Psycho or Daniel Day-Lewis in 2007's There Will Be Blood) on this list. Just straight villains. The bad guys. I'm sure there are some you won't agree with, but it's just my opinion. There may be spoilers on this list, so if you're not into those, then perhaps you shouldn't keep reading. However, if you do read the list, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did in making it!


25. The JokerBatman (1989)
Played by: Jack Nicholson
I know that a lot of people reading this blog will automatically assume that any reference to the Joker will be to Heath Ledger's take as the character; however, we cannot forget the manic brilliance that Jack Nicholson brought to the screen back in 1989 when he was doing battle against Michael Keaton's Batman. It's a little bit comical, but what's not to like about a little bit of laughter?
Memorable Quote: "Haven't you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?"

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24. Harlen Maguire
Road to Perdition (2002)
Played by: Jude Law
I only recently saw Road to Perdition, and although there's a couple of different villains, Jude Law's psychopathic hitman definitely stole the show. There was something so innately creepy about Harlen Maguire that it caused me to be deeply disturbed. I guess that happens when you've got a deeply disturbing character.
Memorable Quote: "I shoot the dead. Dead bodies, that is. I don't kill them."

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23. Jigsaw
Saw (2004)
Played by: Tobin Bell
I know that the Jigsaw character gets a little bit more face-time in the six subsequent sequels, but it all starts with the original 2004 film. Technically, he's on-screen for most of the film; the audience just doesn't really know it. It takes the sequels to understand fully his devilish schemes, but every journey has to have a beginning.
Memorable Quote: "Game over."

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22. Anton Chigurgh
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Played by: Javier Bardem
Aside from being constantly mocked for his dashingly terrible haircut, Chigurgh proved to be one of the creepiest characters to ever grace the silver screen. The subtle and emotionless performance nabbed an Oscar statuette for Javier Bardem, just going to prove the brilliance he brought to the role. I certainly wouldn't want to meet Chigurgh and his cattle gun walking down the street.
Memorable Quote: "What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?"

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21. Pennywise
It (1990)
Played by: Tim Curry
There's only two reasons to watch It: first, for the terrible acting of the terrible acting of the main ensemble, and second, for the brilliance that is Tim Curry. Although the intention was never to have the audience laughing at the rest of the cast and the so-so screenplay, Pennywise the clown is supposed to be laughed at. That's why he's a clown, right? Curry is downright brilliant in the role, being both hilarious and creepy all at once.
Memorable Quote: "Want a balloon?"

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20. Azrael
Dogma (1999)
Played by: Jason Lee
In a film stuffed with an impressive comedic cast, it would have to take quite a bit for anyone in particular to stand out among the rest. Thankfully, Jason Lee does just that as one of our central villains in the film. He's world-savvy (despite not being of this world...) and knows how to work the system. His plan for the extermination of existence is brutally cruel and fueled by his own pain, but Azrael never lets that get into the way of being bitingly sarcastic and brutally hilarious.
Memorable Quote: "I'm a fuckin' demon."

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19. Hayley Stark
Hard Candy (2005)
Played by: Ellen Page
Of all the films featured on this list, Hard Candy is most likely the one of which you've never heard. It's a small-time flick with all of five actors, and only two are featured for more than a minute or so. One of them is a pre-Juno Ellen Page who proves to be absolutely, bat-s*** crazy, but it's a wonder to watch. You'll probably never see her in a role like this again, so I suggest you give this one a watch if you have the time. Just be forewarned: it's not the easiest watch.
Memorable Quote: "Well, four out of five doctors agree that I am actually insane."

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18. Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting
Gangs of New York (2002)
Played by: Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis is just an amazing actor. He's very selective with his roles, but when he does find one he likes, he knocks it outta the park. He nabbed a nomination for Best Actor for this particular role, and there's no doubt in my mind why he did as such. He's the epitome of a villain as Bill the Butcher, playing antagonist to Leonardo DiCaprio's character. I don't really know what else to say. He's just amazing.
Memorable Quote: "I took the father, now I'll take the son."

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17. Oogie Boogie
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Voiced by: Ken Page
As the only animated character to make this list, Oogie Boogie has some rather large shoes to fill. I mean, there's been some maniacal animated villains in the past, but something about this charismatic, chronic gambler made me love him instantly. Nevermind that he sounds a a little bit like a racial stereotype or that he's ultimately just a bunch of bugs covered by something like a burlap sack, but his one-liners and his energy are too much to deny.
Memorable Quote: "Are you a gambling man, Santa?"

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16. Frank Costello
The Departed (2006)
Played by: Jack Nicolson
This marks Nicholson's second appearance on this list, making him the only actor to crash it more than once. I'd have to say that's quite impressive. What makes Frank Costello so entertaining is the fact that, while he is ultimately a very bad man, he's so charismatic and funny that you almost want to be his friend. But then you realize how crazy he can get when things don't go his way, and you start to wonder whether your original thoughts on him were right. He keeps you guessing, is basically what I'm saying. And I loved that about him.
Memorable Quote: "When I was your age, they would say we can become cops or criminals. Today, what I'm saying to you is this: when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"

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15. Vincent
Collateral (2004)
Played by: Tom Cruise
You can say what you want about Tom Cruise and his overall philosophy on life, and you demean even talk about his acting ability, but I will always point you to a couple of films that prove he's a brilliant actor. This is one of them. I'd never seen Cruise in a role so vile before, and I was totally blown away by his performance. It's stuck with me since I saw the film in 2004, and I'm sure it'll stick with me for a long, long time. Kudos, Mr. Cruise. You may be crazy, but you sure can act.
Memorable Quote: "I shot him. Bullets and the fall killed him."

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14. John Doe
Se7en (1995)
Played by: Unknown
Part of the magic of John Doe's brilliance in Se7en was that absolutely no one knew who he was until he showed up on-screen. Therefore, I won't be putting the actor's name on this blog, just to continue with that train of thought. The actor had it written into his contract that no mention of his name was to be used in the lead-up to the film, including in the opening credits. And I can see why. The man delivers a tour-de-force performance that should easily go down as one of the greatest of all time. When you're dealing with a killer that murders based on the seven deadly sins, you know you're in for quite a ride, and Se7en does not disappoint.
Memorable Quote: "It's more comfortable for you to label me as insane."

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13. Judge Doom
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Played by: Christopher Lloyd
One of my favorite childhood films - and still one of my favorite adulthood films - used to give me nightmares because of our central villain, Judge Doom. He's quite creepy through most of the film, but the level of creepiness skyrockets in the film's climactic moments. Christopher Lloyd is simply great in those final moments, delivering a series of scenes that have stuck with me for most of my life.
Memorable Quote: "I'll catch the rabbit, Mr. Valiant. And I'll try him, convict him and execute him."

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12. Freddy Krueger
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Played by: Robert Englund
I'm going to be honest and tell you I've only seen the original Nightmare on Elm Street film and the 2010 remake, but I've never seen any of the sequels to that original flick. Still, Krueger stamped his place onto this list with a goofy but brutal showing as our deranged killer. While I thought Jackie Earle Haley was decent as our remake's Krueger, Robert Englund created the role and made him into the lasting icon he has become over the years.
Memorable Quote: "I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy."

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11. T-1000
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Played by: Robert Patrick
I struggled with whether I wanted to put Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 from the original Terminator film rather than his T-1000 counterpart from the sequel, but then I realized that the T-1000 is just a little bit cooler. Whereas the T-800 is a creation of brute force, the T-1000 is more sleek and innovative, giving it an edge that should have driven it to victory. Robert Patrick burst onto the scene as this villain, and he's been playing off that success ever since. And for good reason. He brings a stoic presence to the character that makes him all the more alarming.
Memorable Quote: "Get out."

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10. Frank
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Played by: Henry Fonda
Part of the reason Frank is such an iconic character is because he was played by Henry Fonda, who had previously portrayed such good-guy types as Tom Joad (in 1940's The Grapes of Wrath) and Abraham Lincoln (in 1939's Young Mr. Lincoln). So seeing him come on-screen in the film's early going and stamp himself as the villain must have been brutally shocking for audiences back in the late-1960s. He still brings that subtle characterization to the screen, but when employed as a villain, Fonda is so entirely effective that it's downright scary.
Memorable Quote: "People scare better when they're dying."

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9. Dr. Evil
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
Played by: Mike Myers
I know some of you are thinking, "How did Dr. Evil possibly make it this high onto the list? Every other character has been truly maniacal and bad!" And while I tend to agree, the basic tenet of being a villain is to be evil, and when the word "evil" is in your name, you've gotta have something going for you. Sure, he's a bumbling fool who's plans never truly pan out, but he tries as best he can. And he survived three films without being killed by his nemesis, Austin Powers. You've definitely gotta give him credit for that. Oh, and how many people were putting their pinkies to the corner of their lips after this movie came out? Enough said.
Memorable Quote: "Why must I be surrounded by frickin' idiots?"

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8. Michael Myers
Halloween (1978)
Played by: Tony Moran
So we move from a Mike Myers character to a character named Michael Myers (I know, poetic, right?). Halloween is still the movie that scares me more than any other, solely because of the trudging behemoth carrying a massive knife. His silence only adds to his aura, and that William Shatner mask doesn't really help the situation at all. I can't tell you how many times I've woken up in the middle of the night and looked out my window expecting him to be standing right outside. Sure, subsequent films in the franchise proved to be downright terrible, but that doesn't take away the fact that Michael Myers is one scary son-of-a-gun.
Memorable Quote: N/A

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7. Tyler Durden
Fight Club (1999)
Played by: Brad Pitt
Holy manifested subconscious, Batman! Who didn't absolutely love Tyler Durden when he began gracing screens just before Y2K? The guys loved him for his anarchy and his "fuck the world" attitude, and the girls loved him for his abs (who are the shallow ones now, ladies?). Because I'm a guy, I fell for the mayhem he spewed on a constant basis, ultimately changing Edward Norton's character entirely from the beginning to the end. Brad Pitt gives arguably his best career performance as Durden, a character that will always live on in the collective consciousness of anyone who has seen Fight Club.
Memorable Quote: "Fuck damnation, man! Fuck redemption! We are God's unwanted children? So be it!"

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6. Darth Vader
Star Wars (1977)
Played by: David Prowse; Voiced by: James Earl Jones
My dad once told me that when he saw Star Wars in theaters back in 1977, the entire audience booed Darth Vader the moment he stepped on-screen. Nothing had yet said that he was the villain; instead, my dad said what clued the audience to his bad-ness was the all-black suit. Luckily, the audience guessed correctly, and the rest is history. Darth Vader is easily the most iconic villain on this list, and although he doesn't top it, there isn't a person in the world who hasn't heard his name, regardless of whether they've ever seen the movie.
Memorable Quote: "I find your lack of faith disturbing."

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5. Hector Barbossa
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Played by: Geoffrey Rush
While Johnny Depp was prancing around as our beloved Jack Sparrow, we actually got a taste of a brilliant pirate stereotype from Geoffrey Rush. When you watch him as Barbossa, you can't help but think that this is what a pirate should be like and act like. Sure, Depp steals the show, but Rush is right behind him, bringing a real legitimacy to the pirate name. Watching those two cross swords throughout the franchise has been fun, and it will continue upon the sequel's release in May.
Memorable Quote: "I'm disinclined to acquiesce to your request. Means 'no.'"

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4. Colonel Hans Landa
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Played by: Christoph Waltz
Christoph Waltz nabbed an Oscar statuette for his performance as Col. Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino's World War II re-imagining. Landa pulls a number of languages on-screen - off-hand, I remember English, German, Italian and French - and adds that to a truly evil character hell-bent on furthering himself by bringing everyone else down. But it's his charisma that truly makes him such an appealing villain. You like him almost as much as the rest of the characters even though you know you should rooting against him. That very well may be the epitome of evil, and it definitely applies to the final three villains on this list. Keep reading!
Memorable Quote: "Ooh, that's a bingo!"

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3. The Joker
The Dark Knight (2008)
Played by: Heath Ledger
You all knew that Ledger's Joker had to make this list somewhere, and let me tell you: it took a lot for me not to place him at the top immediately. In fact, the debate between the top three characters on this list was quite a long one, and Ledger's Joker had to take the bottom of the three. But he is the villain of my generation, proving to be so entirely psychotic that it ultimately led to Ledger's premature death. When a character can haunt the actor's dreams that much, you know that it's pure brilliance. As much as I miss Ledger and the brilliant career that he was only just beginning, I have to applaud him for completely losing himself in the role of the Joker. He brought the comedy and the horror of the character's past, creating the most tragically evil character in recent memory. His sense of anarchy completely trumps that of Tyler Durden's, if that goes to say anything about him. Pure brilliance, Mister Ledger. Rest in peace.
Memorable Quote: "This city deserves a better class of criminal And I'm gonna give it to them!"

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2. Dr. Hannibal Lecter
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Played by: Anthony Hopkins
If you want to talk about brilliance, then you need look no further than Anthony Hopkins's Oscar-winning turn as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Although he doesn't have a ton of screen-time, Lecter makes the most of what he gets, proving to be one of the most devilishly brilliant personas ever to grace the silver screen. It's hard not to watch this movie and not be completely intrigued by his bravado and his intelligence. Lecter hooks you in and never lets you go. Perhaps that's how he gets to his victims...
Memorable Quote: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."

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1. Norman Bates
Psycho (1960)
Played by: Anthony Perkins
And yes, the villain from the greatest film of all time (in my opinion) has to take the cake as the greatest villain of all time (in my opinion). I could go on for hours and hours about the too-good-for-his-own-good Anthony Perkins (who was somehow snubbed from an Oscar nomination), but if you read my recommendation for the film - which is linked above - you can get a full breakdown of my thoughts concerning his role. Absolutely astonishing, though. That's the best way to describe Norman Bates. Absolutely astonishing.
Memorable Quote: "We all go a little mad sometimes."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Happy Birthday, Leslie Mann!

I've always had a little bit of a soft spot for Leslie Mann. She played a leading role in one of my favorite childhood films - there's a video below, and I'm sure you'll be able to tell which one it is - and ever since then, I've enjoyed seeing her show up in films here and there. She got her first big cinematic break with 1996's The Cable Guy (which also starred Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick), but what made it all the more endearing was that she met her eventual husband, big-time producer Judd Apatow, during the course of filming. In contrast with traditional Hollywood marriages, the two have stayed together for the past fourteen years and have two daughters who occasionally appear in Apatow fare. But back to Leslie: there's really no denying her comedic presence on-screen. She's predominantly specialized in comedic films - I couldn't find a non-comedy anywhere on her filmography. She's funny enough to generate laughter from her supporting roles, so she's definitely someone to watch as time goes by. Below are my five favorite Leslie Mann roles from over the years. I apologize for a couple of them - one barely features her, and another is clearly filmed from a handheld camera - but you'll still get a sense of her comic acting. Enjoy!


5. Robin Harris
The Cable Guy (1996)


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4. Laura
Funny People (2009)


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3. Nicky
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)


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2. Debbie
Knocked Up (2007)


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1. Ursula Stanhope
George of the Jungle (1997)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Favorites: FILM SCORES (NOT BY JOHN WILLIAMS)

If you were reading my blog back in the beginning of February, you'll have noticed my post for John Williams' birthday. In it, I chronicled my ten favorite film scores composed by Mr. Williams, and I think I made a rather fantastic list. That being said, John Williams is not the only fantastic composer scoring movies, so it's only fair to give some other composers their due credit. So, I've compiled a list of my twenty-five favorite film scores that were not scored by John Williams. There's twenty-one different composers included in this list, so hopefully I've given you a bit of an eclectic mix. I'm giving snippets of the scores for your listening pleasure, so I hope all the links work. Enjoy!


25. THE COVE
Composed by: J. Ralph
2009


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24. SPIDER-MAN
Composed by: Danny Elfman
2002


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23. FINDING NEVERLAND
Composed by: Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
2004


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22. BACKDRAFT
Composed by: Hans Zimmer
1991


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21. MYSTIC RIVER
Composed by: Kyle Eastwood
2003
(This was the best I could find - it has a tiny bit of the score.)


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20. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Composed by: Explosions in the Sky
2004


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19. THE DEPARTED
Composed by: Howard Shore
2006


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18. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
Composed by: John Morris
1974


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17. THE MUMMY
Composed by: Jerry Goldsmith
1999


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16. BATMAN BEGINS
Composed by: Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard
2005


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15. INCEPTION
Composed by: Hans Zimmer
2010


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14. WATERWORLD
Composed by: James Newton Howard
1995


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13. BATMAN
Composed by: Danny Elfman
1989


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12. INDEPENDENCE DAY
Composed by: David Arnold
1996


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11. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
Composed by: Howard Shore
2001


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10. HALLOWEEN
Composed by: John Carpenter
1978


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9. TITANIC
Composed by: James Horner
1997


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8. THE GODFATHER
Composed by: Carmine Coppola
1972


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7. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Composed by: Ennio Morricone
1967


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6. BACK TO THE FUTURE
Composed by: Alan Silvestri
1985


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5. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY
Composed by: Brad Fiedel
1991


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4. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL
Composed by: Klaus Badelt
2003


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3. PAN'S LABYRINTH
Composed by: Javier Navarrete
2006


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2. PSYCHO
Composed by: Bernard Herrmann
1960


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1. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
Composed by: Gustavo Santaolalla
2005

Movie Review: SUCKER PUNCH

SUCKER PUNCH
2011
PG-13



Sucker Punch is a 2011 action film directed by Zack Snyder. It follows a young woman known as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) who is institutionalized by her stepfather after she accidentally murders her younger sister in the wake of her mother's death. Baby Doll meets Blue (Oscar Isaac), the head of the institution that proves to be a twisted and conniving individual. During her tour of the facilities with another young woman called Rocket (Jena Malone), Baby Doll learns that the girls in the institution are basically glorified escorts who have to dance for paying customers. They are taught to dance by an older woman/therapist named Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) who takes a particular liking to Baby Doll's very raw approach to dancing. Because of her recent past, Baby Doll has been ordered to have a lobotomy within a matter of days in order to "erase" her memory; she therefore sets out to escape the institution. With the help of Rocket and her reluctant sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), as well as Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung), Baby Doll uses her dancing - as well as an imagined, alternate reality - to acquire the tools necessary to make her escape.

I'm still feeling a little bit torn about Sucker Punch, so this may not be the final will and testament I give it. I think I need to think about it a little bit more before being set on my final grade and rating, but for now, we'll run with what I'm currently feeling. As with most Zack Snyder fare, visual spectacle takes the forefront. If you've seen any of his previous work (i.e., 2007's 300 or 2009's Watchmen), you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Yes, there's stories and acting underneath all the computer-generated effects, but the visual nature of his films is so palpable that it could be cut with a knife. It's not like it's a terribly bad thing to have great visuals, but I think it might have been just a little too much this time around. In a lot of the special effects-laden scenes, I found myself becoming very annoyed with it all. It got a little too hectic, and it definitely felt like they were showing off their skills a little too much. I've never felt this strongly about a Snyder film's visuals, but this one might have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

Let's talk about acting because I know exactly what I want to say about it. Browning is decent as our lead, but I picked up very early on that she really doesn't have much in terms of actual dialogue. Most of her scenes consist of her either standing in one spot preparing to "dance" or fighting some CG creature, so there's really not a ton of room for her to work in any characterization. A couple of the girls give decent performances - for example, Malone and Cornish are good enough as sisters who constantly butt heads. I found Isaac to be rather good. I'd first seen him in last year's Robin Hood and was pleased with his performance there as well, so I went in with a little bit of hope that he might be able to do something. He's not amazing, but he doesn't disappoint, either. Scott Glenn makes a couple of appearances throughout the film and plays an integral role in the film's plot, but he just didn't seem to fit into the movie at all. I couldn't tell you why - he just stuck out a little too much to me. We've also got a slightly extended cameo for Jon Hamm, who does the best he can with the role.

Now onto the screenplay, which is what I'm most struggling with. Let's start with the positives. It's definitely an innovative story; you can't take that away from Snyder who co-wrote the screenplay. It also nearly comes full circle, which I'm generally a sucker for. If a movie can leave you without any massively pressing questions about the plot, then it's succeeded in some degree. I did, however, have a couple of questions with pieces of the plot, but I won't delve into them here considering you probably have yet to see the movie, and I wouldn't want to give anything away too soon. I wasn't entirely convinced with the dream-like alternate reality that the girls put themselves into to deal with their surroundings, and considering that's central to the storyline, I think it needed to be more convincing. I know I'm not really making a good argument either way for the screenplay, but I'm still mulling it all over at the moment.

Basically, the jury is still out for Sucker Punch. The latest critical consensus has been generally negative (it currently holds only a 20% approval rating on the online review aggregate RottenTomatoes.com), but I don't think it was absolutely terrible. It has its good moments - for example, the opening sequence (set to a cover of Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams Are Made of These") is damn near brilliant. In fact, the one truly great thing about this film is the soundtrack, which'll have you tapping your toes all the way through. But a soundtrack doesn't make a movie. Maybe once I get a set feeling about Sucker Punch, I'll come back and say some more, but for now, all I can say is that I'm up in the air.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C-
Thumbs Sideways

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Movie Awards: BEST OF 2004

Here's a look at my "Best of 2004" awards. Enjoy!

*****

Best Animation
Nominees:
The Incredibles
The Polar Express
Shark Tale
Shrek 2
Team America: World Police

Winner: The Incredibles

*****

Best Visual Effects
 Nominees:
The Day After Tomorrow
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
I, Robot
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Spider-man 2

Winner: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

*****

Best Original Song
Nominees:
Adam Sandler for "Forgetful Lucy," 50 First Dates
Counting Crows for "Accidentally in Love," Shrek 2
Josh Groban for "Believe," The Polar Express
Matt Stone & Trey Parker for "America, F--- Yeah," Team America: World Police
Minnie Driver for "Learn to Be Lonely," The Phantom of the Opera

Winner: Josh Groban

*****

Best Original Score
Nominees:
Explosions in the Sky, Friday Night Lights
Howard Shore, The Aviator
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Finding Neverland
Jon Brion, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Michael Giacchino, The Incredibles

Winner: Jan A.P. Kaczmarek

*****

Best Cameo or Brief Appearance
Nominees:
Anthony Anderson, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Jason Bateman, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Jessica Hynes, Shaun of the Dead
Luke Wilson, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Will Ferrell, Starsky & Hutch

Winner: Jason Bateman

*****

Best Young Star
Nominees:
C.J. Sanders, Ray
Freddie Highmore, Finding Neverland
Jeffrey Lorenzo, Starsky & Hutch
Khleo Thomas, Walking Tall
Makenzie Vega, Saw

Winner: Freddie Highmore

*****

Best Villain
Nominees:
Ben Stiller, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
John Turturro, Secret Window
Rosalinda Celentano, The Passion of the Christ
Tobin Bell, Saw
Tom Cruise, Collateral

Winner: Tom Cruise

*****

Best Vocal Performance

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Movie Recommendation: BLAZING SADDLES

BLAZING SADDLES
1974
R



Blazing Saddles is a 1974 comedy directed by Mel Brooks. The film parodies the Western genre as a whole. We open on a group of African-Americans working on a railroad in the middle of the desert. When a black man named Bart (Cleavon Little) hits his white boss Taggart (Slim Pickens) over the head with a shovel, he's immediately sent to jail. Taggart asks his boss, Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) to have Bart hanged, to which he readily agrees. Lamarr and Taggart are working on building a railroad through the countryside, but they are sidetracked when they realize they cannot claim the rights to a township called Rock Ridge as long as the citizens live there. To get them to move away, he has Governor Lepetomane (Brooks) authorize Bart to be the town's sheriff, making him the first black sheriff in the history of the United States. The townsfolk don't take kindly to Bart, whose only friend in the early going is a drunk named Jim (Gene Wilder) who used to be known as the Waco Kid. When the townsfolk do not leave after Bart's arrival, however, Lamarr has to go to drastic measures to kill the sheriff so that he and his henchmen can take over the town with brute force.

If you've been following my blog over the past couple months, you've probably noticed that I rank Blazing Saddles rather highly on my lists of the greatest films of all time. To explain, it currently rests as my 26th greatest movie of all time, and the fourth best comedy I've ever seen. So I kinda hyped this up a little bit before I even started this recommendation, but it's been hyped for a very good reason. I'm not the only person to think that it's a brilliant comedy - it currently holds a rating of 7.7/10 on the Internet Movie Database, and it currently holds an 89% approval rating on the review aggregate website, RottenTomatoes.com. It also nabbed three Oscar nominations, and although it didn't win in any of its nominated categories, it has definitely stood the test of time since its release thirty-seven years ago.

I'm going to start with the film's acting, giving a little breakdown of each of the four main characters:

Bart (Cleavon Little): As I previously mentioned, Bart is the African-American man who's sent to the township of Rock Ridge as their newly appointed sheriff. He meets immediate resistance in this 19th-century, all-white town that has yet to offer an acceptance of minorities. Bart is highly-educated and an "urbanite," as Jim calls him; this gives him quite an advantage over the "morons" that populate the West. This role was Cleavon Little's big break, pushing him into the Hollywood limelight. Sadly, it was his only lasting memorable role, especially considering he nabbed a BAFTA nomination for Best Newcomer - it just never panned out. What's really sad about that is that he's absolutely brilliant as our lead in Blazing Saddles, bringing the charm, the bravado and the comedic presence that's absolute necessary for a Mel Brooks lead character.

Jim aka Waco Kid (Gene Wilder): We first meet Jim as he's hanging upside-down in one of the Rock Ridge sheriff station's holding cells. He's a little confused when he meets Bart - because he's black - but he never once judges him for being so. We learn that Jim used to be known as the Waco Kid, the man with the fastest hands in the world. After a series of events, Jim has fallen out of his renown and become a passive drunk, spiraling ever further into self-destruction. But Bart helps bring him out of the grave and gets him sober, making the two a formidable team. Gene Wilder - who also starred in Brooks's other 1974 venture, Young Frankenstein - gives a much more subdued performance than we had ever seen before. Whereas his performances in films like the aforementioned Frankenstein flick and 1970's Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory are very manic and over-the-top, Wilder's Jim is a very passive and laid-back guy, making him instantly likable. The change of character definitely doesn't take away his comedic presence, either.

Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman): Hedley Lamarr is our principal villain in the film, and his want for money and power is his main motivation in everything he does. He's the man who starts this entire situation by placing Bart into the Rock Ridge township, and he suffers consistently as a result. Hedley is actually a very intelligent man, but he tends to associate himself with imbeciles, causing his plans ultimately to backfire. He also has to field the consistent botching of his name - everyone always mistakes him for actress Hedy Lamarr. Harvey Korman is absolutely brilliant as Hedley - in my opinion, he gives the best performance in the film. He's manic, he's over-the-top and he's utterly amazing. There's a scene in the film where Hedley says, "Now you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor." He didn't get a nomination, but he definitely should have.

Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn): Lili, a burlesque dancer and part-time whore, comes into the story after Hedley asks her to seduce the sheriff and get him out of town. She agrees to the plan despite her dislike for Hedley and his awkward sexual advances. Lili asks Bart to come see her after her stage show in the hopes that she can seduce him, but the tables quickly turn and it is she who is seduced by him. Lili becomes enamored with Bart and his massive...gift, vowing her undying love for him as he leaves her in the morning. There's a story that Madeline Kahn, who nabbed an Oscar nomination for her supporting role, got this part after a very strange audition: when she went into the audition, Mel Brooks simply asked her to show him her leg. She did so, and he instantly knew he had found his Lili Von Shtupp. She went on to star in other big-time comedies like Young Frankenstein and 1985's Clue.

We've also got some fantastic performances from supporting actors like Slim Pickens and Mel Brooks himself, who makes his standard appearances. Also be on the lookout for Alex Karras's performance as Mongo and a great cameo from Dom DeLuise.

The screenplay is also rather incredible, considering all of the childish humor that's strewn about. Don't get me wrong - there's a lot of fantastic jokes to be found inside Blazing Saddles, many of which are still socially relevant to today's society. Yeah, a lot of the references probably fit more back in the 1970s, but there's no reason that you shouldn't be rolling with laughter throughout this film's entirety. If you get the references, then that's fantastic, but even the distasteful humor - such as a prolonged sequence of men eating beans then engaging in the subsequent bodily functions - proves to be so hilarious. I think the reason these scenes of potty and slapstick humor work so well is because Blazing Saddles never tries to be something its not. It never has delusions of grandeur; rather, it knows that it's a silly, goofy movie that's simply meant to be laughed at. I don't know about him as a person, but Mel Brooks's movies are never full of themselves, so to speak.

Just so you know: Blazing Saddles is a little bit openly racist, but it does so for comedic effect. Basically, you never actually think that the filmmakers, the cast or the crew are actually this explicitly racist; rather, it really does feels like they're doing it to that extent just to forward the comedy. It might seen a little unnerving at first, hearing so many drops of the n-word and and other racial slurs, but you get used to it after a while and chalk it up to the fact that Blazing Saddles is really just trying to make fun of extremely racist people. So just kick back and go with it.

I'd also like to take a moment to mention the film's music, which is stellar to say the least. The musical score is very good, but it's definitely upstaged by some of the original numbers written for the film. Madeline Kahn has a rather funny number called "I'm Tired," and the theme song for the town of Rock Ridge is pretty hilarious if you can keep up with the lyrics. But the real cake has to go to the film's theme song, which comes in as my eleventh favorite movie song of all time. Frankie Laine provided the vocals, and it just fits the film so perfectly that it's hard to forget. Here's the song, in case you're interested:



Overall, Blazing Saddles is truly a fantastic comedy and it's definitely worth your time. It's one of the greatest comedies ever to grace the silver screen, and it's made its stamp in cinematic history for a reason. Do yourself a favor and give it a watch. You won't be disappointed.