• Recent movie review round-up (first half of 2023)

    Sometimes it’s difficult to say if there’s a theme to the movies that came out recently versus if there’s a theme to the movies you chose to watch. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Looking back at the past six months of movies I’ve watched, it’s been a blend of nostalgia, oddball comedy, and horror.

    Now as always I’m focusing on movies that came out in the past few months. But this time I’m also including a bonus feature: an older movie that I recently saw in theaters for a second time. Read on to the end to find out what it is.


    The Menu

    The chef (Ralph Fiennes) of a pretentious fine dining establishment has invited a dozen guests to participate in his new menu. The secret ingredient? Everyone has to die.

    This horror comedy mocks the gap between the wealth of customers who can afford to waste money on courses such as a nearly empty plate of “breadless bread” vs. the working class wage slaves making this stuff in the kitchen. But it goes deeper than that.

    No matter what type of art, there’s a relationship between creators and consumers that can get tenuous or even resentful at times. The Menu takes that fractured dynamic and brings it to its logical (and bloody) conclusion.

    The frantic pacing of the movie makes it fun to watch, though I’ll admit I missed a couple of key points on my first viewing. I thought the humor worked for the most part, with the caveat that some of the restaurant’s dishes aren’t ridiculous enough. 

    Best moment: The desert, of course.

    Rating: 8/10


    Strange World

    The power plants (they are literally plants) are losing power and nobody can figure out why. It’s up to Searcher Clade to get to the bottom of this, along with his son Ethan. On the journey they run into Searcher’s father/Ethan’s grandfather Jaeger, an adventurer who left town to explore the mountains and never returned.

    The story is strongest when it sticks to the relationships between these three generations of characters. Unfortunately like so many of these movies, the story devolved into a generic environmental cautionary tale that’s been done better a thousand times before.

    What is interesting about this movie is that by making Ethan the main character, it’s skewing more towards a tween audience than your typical Disney fare. I suspect some scenes might be too scary for younger kids.

    Overall I feel frustrated by this movie. It starts strong and I like the characters, but the story kind of crumbles when it should be reaching its zenith. Maybe another draft or two could have elevated this from a pretty good movie to a really good movie.

    Best moment: The self-referential jab at the lack of villains in a board game, which is a little wink at those who have lamented the lack of traditional villains in modern Disney movies. 

    Rating: 7/10


    Cocaine Bear

    There’s a bear, and that bear is on cocaine. Turns out to be a problem for people who don’t want to be mauled by a drug-crazed bear.

    This is the type of campy movie that is very upfront with its silly concept. Unfortunately the writers seemingly kept coming up short and threw ideas at the wall to see what sticks, but none of them do.

    Basically we have some drug dealers, police, park rangers, and kids skipping school all wandering through the woods, and all encountering one another — as well as the cocaine bear.

    These story threads don’t have much holding them together. I think it would have been much, much funnier if the story was more focused. As it is, it feels almost like Snakes on a Plane but without Samuel L. Jackson’s character to save the day from the “motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane.”

    Best moment: Whenever the “bear” is on the screen it’s hard not to laugh at how fake it looks. Perhaps that’s the real comedy here.

    Rating: 3/10



    Sports movies are not my thing. They typically all follow the same formula where someone or some team has to overcome an obstacle, they succeed, and then there’s a feel-good ending. This movie kind of follows that formula except with one key difference: it’s about the business of sports rather than the game.

    Sonny (Matt Damon) is a middle aged talent scout at Nike in 1984, attempting to recruit talented young basketball players to promote a company that — at the time — was only known for running shoes. His colleagues don’t think they have a chance of beating Converse and Additas, and Nike CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) is considering scrapping their basketball division.

    Feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place, Sonny decides to gamble it all on a promising young basketball player and even design a new line of shoes around him. The player? Michael Jordan.

    The movie is a fairly well written lighthearted dramedy. Although not all the jokes landed for me, most of the heavy lifting in the comedy department came from Chris Tucker, Jason Bateman, and Ben Affleck’s bad wig. I didn’t even know Ben Affleck had a sense of humor but he directed this movie. Maybe he should wear bad wigs more often.

    Best moment: I’m going to cheat here say the art direction — everything captures the looks and sounds of the 80’s perfectly.

    Rating: 7/10


    Smoking Causes Coughing

    This French dark comedy opens with a family on a road trip listening to a song on the radio about God smoking Cuban cigars. They pull over so the boy in the family can pee, but as soon as he steps out of the car he witnesses an epic battle: the Tobacco Force fighting a guy in a cheap rubber monster costume.

    The Tobacco Force is basically like the Power Rangers if they were all a little too old and had the power of tobacco smoke, whatever that means. The group’s chief is an ugly rat puppet that is somehow constantly drooling green slime.

    After the opening fight, the chief sends the Tobacco Force on a team building retreat in the woods. At the retreat they exchange violent scary stories with one another and a few random visitors.

    Now it’s completely fair to say this movie has no plot whatsoever, and that nothing really happens. But it commits so *hard* to not making any sense with one ridiculous twist after another that I couldn’t help but to giggle

    My only criticism is the scary story segments, which were too predictable and didn’t match the wild tone of the rest of the movie. I would have liked those to be a little shorter so we could spend more time with the Tobacco Force.

    Best moment: When the team is spooked by a noise in the dark, one of them suggests it could be “a pervert spying on us, jerking off.”

    Rating: 8/10



    You already know the story of Dracula, right? Well good because this movie pretty much jumps right in, with Dracula’s tireless servant Renfield moving the vampire to New Orleans before enrolling himself in an support group for people in toxic relationships.

    This is one of the funniest “B movies” I’ve seen in a while. The casting is a big part of it. Renfield is played by Nicholas Hoult, he makes friends with a cop played by Akwafina, they fight a gangster played by the nerdy and ineffectual Ben Schwartz, and Count Dracula is played by (who else?) Nicholas Cage.

    The movie breezes by so quickly you might not even notice the homage to Bella Lagosi or the throne surrounded by medical blood bags. But it’s all there — this is a clever, fun movie made by people who are clearly having a good time with the monster movie material they’re working with.

    Normally, Nicholas Cage has too much of a screen presence to work as part of an ensemble cast but in this case everyone seems to be aware of the fact that they’re in a movie where Nicholas Cage is Dracula and behave accordingly. 

    My only criticism of the movie would be the fight scenes, which are fun enough to watch but look much lower budget than the rest of the movie. 

    Best moment: “Did I just watch you chop off a guy’s arms with a decorative serving platter?”

    Rating: 9/10



    Hollywood often lets the words “based on” do a lot of heavy lifting in the phrase “based on a true story.” This is one of those movies.

    Before I rag on it too much I should point out that it gets one thing right: what makes the backstory behind Tetris interesting is how it was developed in the Soviet Union and escaped the iron curtain through confusing licensing agreements. 

    What doesn’t work is all the soap opera drama, the over-the-top Soviet stereotypes, and… a car chase? If it had ended with the Berlin Wall turning into Tetris blocks and crashing down I wouldn’t have rolled my eyes any harder.

    It’s one thing to not let the facts get in the way of a good story, but the story behind Tetris is interesting on its own and doesn’t need embellishment. Go watch a documentary about it or something instead of this.

    Best moment: The scenes early on at Nintendo.

    Rating: 2/10


    Beau is Afraid

    Let me trade in all my hipster points right off the bat as I admit I’ve never seen a film from Ari Aster before. Perhaps as a result, I have no idea what to make of this movie, let alone how to review it.

    Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) is a guy with some psychological problems and is prescribed a new drug. What he’s suffering from is not clearly defined, but given that the movie is presented from his perspective and the hilariously balls-to-the-walls level of violent crime happening both inside and outside of his home, I think it’s pretty safe to assume he’s suffering from paranoid delusions.

    There’s no way I could describe the plot of this movie, if there even is one, so I’ll sum it up by saying that Beau tries to visit his mom but fails to do so because she winds up dead. Maybe.

    Something is a bit lost in the execution of this movie; while it excels at dark humor, it’s far too long at nearly three hours. Without spoiling anything the last quarter or so of the movie feels like it could have cut down significantly.  Aster himself describes the film as a “nightmare comedy” which feels about right. Although nightmares in real life are mercifully not this long.

    Maybe this is a strange thing to say, but I like this movie conceptually a lot more than I enjoyed viewing it. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing? It does make it tricky to recommend.

    Best moment: “Am I dead?”

    Rating: 5 to 7/10 (this one needs a sliding scale)



    Ah, the mid 90’s, a time when technology was changing so rapidly it was tough to keep up. 3D graphics, the internet, and of course cell phones all became available to home users at a reasonable price point.

    Although I’m not quite sure what qualifies as the first smartphone, this movie follows a tiny Canadian startup called Research In Motion as it unveils their first early smartphone: the BlackBerry. 

    That’s where this movie is at its strongest: presenting the rise of the BlackBerry through a relatively straightforward dramedy as a group of hapless nerds is forced to get serious when they bring on an abrasive new CEO who’s desperate to prove his worth and make the company profitable.

    The problem is that the movie doesn’t end with the rise of RIM/BlackBerry. Instead it continues on to show us the fall, which is a story that’s already been told countless times. Worse yet it’s not even an interesting story, but rather the old tale of the “innovator’s dilemma” where a company rests on their laurels instead of trying to get ahead, and ultimately winds up far behind. And we all know where this story heads with Steve Jobs coming out on stage and introducing the iPhone.

    Ultimately this movie banks heavily on nostalgia for a certain era of technology, and as a member of the audience you either relate to that nostalgia or you don’t. But let’s be honest: all those early smartphones were slow and buggy as hell. If you miss that era, you probably don’t remember it very well.

    Best moment: For me it was the nostalgia of the video games they’re playing (Command & Conquer: Red Alert in particular) as well as the subtle nods to id Software throughout the movie.

    Rating: 5/10



    Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

    To celebrate the day we humans made/will make contact with aliens for the first time on April 5th, 2063 I watched this movie in a theater on April 5th, 2023. That’s 27 years since I saw this movie when it was new in theaters, or to put it another way it’s a mere 40 years until we develop warp drive and the Vulcans show up!

    Trekkies love debating over which is the best Star Trek movie, but I think most would agree that First Contact is easily the best of the movies based on The Next Generation television series. 

    Although the time travel storyline is largely played for laughs, the enemy is what makes this movie work: the Borg. The Borg are humanoids like you and I who have been forcibly modified with cybernetic implants that make them part of a hive mind. 

    From the moment humans first created tools, I suspect we’ve had nightmares that our creations might turn on us. The Borg is a terrifying manifestation of this nightmare with cybernetic implants turning any and all of us into meat puppets. With all the worries about AI these days, the Borg are perhaps more terrifying now than ever.

    Now there seem to be two main criticisms of this movie: first, Captain Picard becomes too much of an action hero; and second, the Borg Queen doesn’t make much sense. I think both of these criticisms are valid but also flawed.

    Picard does not try to become some action hero out of nowhere. We know he was partially affected by Borg implants in the past and this greatly colors his view of them in the present, with his uncharacteristic win-at-all-costs attitude. We also see him slowly break down, becoming more of a tragic figure by the end; he’s become captain Ahab and the Borg are his white whale.

    The Borg Queen is obviously a plot device to give a face to a collective. Although her character was invented for this movie, the concept of her character does line up with the Borg’s ant-like or perhaps bee-like behavior we’ve seen in the past. She’s also such a great foil for Commander Data that it’s difficult to complain much.

    There are only a handful of Star Trek movies that I think even non-fans would enjoy and this is one of them; the story is largely self-contained and some well timed flashbacks and quick expository dialog fill in the rest.

    Best moment: “And you people, you’re all astronauts on some kind of star trek?”

    Rating: 9/10

  • Tunnel Tops Park

    Presidio Tunnel Tops Park
    Presidio Tunnel Tops Park
    Presidio Tunnel Tops Park
    Presidio Tunnel Tops Park
    Presidio Tunnel Tops Park

    About a year ago San Francisco opened its most interesting park in decades: Tunnel Tops Park in the Presidio.

    It’s a small park that could be easily overlooked as yet another spot with a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge (weather permitting, of course.) But that would be underselling this park. Despite its small size, Tunnel Tops Park heals two disconnected parts of the Presidio National Park.

    Going back a few decades, the land that’s now Tunnel Tops Park was an elevated highway section called Doyle Drive. This was deemed unsound after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and was eventually replaced a new series of tunnels known as Presidio Parkway.

    With the highway underground, the new park on top of it connects the upper level of the Presidio which includes the Walt Disney Museum and the Presidio gift shop to Crissy Field at the edge of the bay below.

    The park has a rotating series of food trucks with a plan to eventually add a permanent restaurant to a legacy building nearby.

    You can visit Tunnel Tops Park by taking Muni’s 43 Masonic or via the free Presidio GO Shuttle to the Presidio Transit Center. It’s completely free but expect crowds when the weather is nice.

  • I took my first ever ride in a self-driving car. Here’s how it went

    Note: All shots through the windshield were filmed through the scratched-up plastic divider.
    Riding in a Cruise AV
    Riding in a Cruise AV

    Although I’ve had access to Cruise’s self-driving cars (or “autonomous vehicles” in tech lingo) for some time now, I hadn’t actually gone for a ride in one until Thursday evening. That’s because Cruise had only rolled out a few select neighborhoods in San Francisco for me up until that point.

    Now with access to most of the city — albeit only at night — I decided I had to try out these new driverless cars for myself. After a ride in a car nicknamed “Banana,” here are my initial thoughts.


    The app and arrival

    Requesting a ride in the Cruise app will be familiar to anyone who’s used Uber or Lyft. Cruise only has one type of vehicle and there’s no option to pay extra to skip the line, so there’s not a lot to it. Additionally it’s currently free so there’s no payment options at all.

    The app asked me to walk a few paces away from the street corner I was standing on. This is typical of the other apps, but unfortunately it had me walk to an area with a weak cell signal. It did work, though the app complained about it a couple times.

    My first thought for a destination was Union Square although it turns out Cruise doesn’t go there at all for now. So I picked the Ferry Building. The closest dropoff point was near Embarcadero Center.

    To get in the car, you have to press a button on the app to unlock the doors. I found this unintuitive but it worked fine.


    Inside the car

    Only the back seats of the car are available for passengers. The front doors remain locked and there’s a transparent plastic partition to keep anyone from climbing into the front. This feels a little claustrophobic, like being transported in the back of a police car.

    Two large touchscreens on the backs of the front seats display information about the ride, and offer a trivia game and radio options for entertainment.

    The inside of the car was clean enough, although the air was very stale. Not sure why they couldn’t have had the vents blowing a little, or at least an option for that.


    Driving performance

    For the most part the ride was uneventful. However it did make a few mistakes, which I’ll list here from bad to worse:

    • After getting “boxed in” to the left lane by a double parked car in the right lane, instead of changing lanes back it decided to continue in the left lane even when it became a left turn lane, incorporating the left turn into a new route.
    • While executing a left turn, it failed to yield to a car in the opposite direction turning right on to the same street.
    • Attempted to pull over when it heard a siren, but aborted the lane change and briefly stopped in the middle of the street.
    • Instead of waiting for a bus to pull out of the bus stop, it tried to make a semi-blind right turn around the bus — only to encounter an obstacle and both serve and slam on the brakes to avoid it.

    While my experience wasn’t a perfect ride, we don’t live in a perfect world. I think it would be more fair to compare it to a human driver. On that metric it seems okay as its worst decisions were performed at low speeds.

    At the same time many of its mistakes could be chalked up to behaving differently than a human driver, which is potentially a problem as it may confuse human-driven cars.


    Who is this for?

    As the Cruise vehicle drove around avoiding buses, other cars, motor scooters, skateboarders, etc. I had to wonder if we really need yet another type of vehicle on the streets. Aren’t there enough ways to get around already?

    Of course, autonomous vehicles are not for you. They’re for companies like Uber who don’t want to have to pay for human drivers. After a decade of commercial development these will have to replace a lot of human drivers to be worth the cost.



    After the ride I got to thinking about how I would describe “Banana” if they were a human driver. My first thought was that it seemed like a student driver based on its timidness when it came to changing lanes. Maybe it’s just me but when I was learning to drive I struggled with changing lanes for a while.

    Another observation is that when the AI couldn’t figure out what to do, it often stopped the car briefly and then jolted back into action. This reminds me of the way some people train their dogs with those shock collars.

    While I don’t want to understate what Cruise has achieved from a technical perspective — and it is a massive achievement — I’m not sure I’m comfortable with 3,000 pound metal boxes being driven around my neighborhood by the AI equivalent of a student driver wearing a shock collar.

  • Six most outrageous moments in the 2023 On Cinema Oscar Special

    Now in its tenth year, On Cinema at the Cinema finished its previous season 13 with Tim Heidecker completely defeated. But now he’s back for the 10th Annual On Cinema Oscar Special, along with co-host(!) Gregg Turkington!

    Sometimes people ask me to describe On Cinema, and the best I can do is this: what if Siskel & Ebert clearly never watched the movies they reviewed, and Ebert kept using the show to promote quack medicine? But at this point that’s barely scratching the surface.

    Point is, this isn’t meant for beginners to the series so if you aren’t familiar read on at your own peril.

    Spoilers follow!

    In season 13 Tim not only nearly killed his bandmates in a car crash, but also got hooked on another medical scam that nearly killed him as well. We also got a special called Deck of Cards which is sort of a return to their Decker spinoff series, and also a way for Gregg to attempt to demonstrate his expertise regarding the movie The Wizard of Oz.

    As the season ended, everyone abandoned Tim and he had no one else to turn to but his co-host/frequent guest Gregg and the two left for Gregg’s apartment to sit around and watch VHS tapes.

    With that background in mind, here are the six most outrageous moments in the 10th Annual On Cinema Oscar Special.



    6. Tim’s opening tap dance number

    The special opens with Tim singing and dancing about Gregg, who he now hails as “The King of Movies.” We’ve never seen Tim quite this enthusiastic about anything before — yet alone his semi-nemesis Gregg — but we all know Tim’s highs will soon be followed by crushing lows. 

    There aren’t many tap dance numbers that seem this ominous. It’s only worse when you notice that Tim is wearing Gregg’s James Bond costume from season 12. What else could he have stolen from Gregg? Hmm…



    5. Forgotten But Not Gone

    The real life Gregg Turkington is particularly well known for telling morbid jokes about celebrities as his alter ego Neil Hamburger. These types of jokes are far more disturbing when spoken by his clueless On Cinema character with a smug smile on his face.

    This segment somehow takes an even darker turn than before as Gregg tells us about elderly former movie stars that have disappeared from the public eye but are actually still alive… as he films himself walking around a Los Angeles cemetery. 

    As Gregg cheerfully notes, these are celebrities “you won’t find here.”



    4. “Pinocchio Through The Years tribute

    This inexplicably trippy montage of various Pinocchio movies includes the three that came out last year (I still can’t believe that happened) as well as low quality home movies and some 3D animated monstrosity called Pinocchio 3000.

    In real life this baffling yet hilarious montage has the handiwork of comedy editor Vic Berger written all over it, so it wasn’t a surprise to see his name in the credits.

    Update: This segment is now free to watch.



    3. Whatever is going on with G. Amato

    Tim promised to ask Mr. G. Amato — the shady financier behind his HEI Points crypto scam and the ranch he was trying to build — the tough questions behind what’s going on with these projects.

    Mr. Amato largely deflects and instead tries to reassure Tim by claiming that he loves him and views him as a son. Just like his other adult adopted son Chris… who died in an unsolved murder. All very reassuring, right?



    2. The damning dashcam footage

    To extend an olive branch in their relationship, Gregg hands Tim the only copy of the dashcam footage that captured the car crash where Tim nearly killed his two bandmates, Axiom and Manuel.

    During the special Gregg launches his new streaming platform, the Victorville Film Network, which is just a bunch of public domain movies in a Dropbox folder. Or is it?

    Turns out there’s a secret hidden in the trash folder: a copy of that dashcam footage. Once this is revealed Tim decides to air it and wouldn’t you know it, the video shows him going nuts and trying to roll the car on purpose. As soon as this is shown Axiom and Manuel storm off the set.

    In one of those you-had-to-be-there moments, the Dropbox folder did appear online when they said it would and a number of viewers found the video and leaked it all over social media before it was mentioned in the livestream.



    1. Pick-Your-Pinocchio

    This attempt at creating two dueling live Pinocchio tributes is yet another failure… and a massive one. Gregg dresses up Mark Proksch as Pinocchio, only for Mark to somehow get tangled up in an ill-fated flying scene as Gregg and Joe Estevez try to figure out how to get him down from the ceiling.

    Tim’s attempt goes even worse as it winds up overlapping with the aforementioned dashcam segment, only for Tim to unsuccessfully try to lie his way out of the situation while still wearing a long rubber Pinocchio nose.

    The special ends as Tim has a mental breakdown, once again exposed as a crazed potential murderer and abandoned by every person in his life.


    Honorable mentions:

    • The lottery contest which in theory was kind of real, except the odds were basically impossible and the only prize was more HEI Points. Also they repeatedly break the lotto machine.
    • In honor of the new Elvis movie, Gregg tries to have Mark impersonate Elvis as though he were still alive today and had taken roles that actors like Harrison Ford are known for. Mark is completely confused by this concept.
    • Mr. Amato offers checks to both Tim and Gregg to make two separate movies with ridiculously lowball offers. Gregg now owes him a fictional movie about the Pep Boys car parts chain, and Tim owes him a movie featuring Mark wearing a baboon costume. 
    • Much to Gregg’s chagrin, Tim has once again stolen many of his beloved VHS tapes and destroyed them. This time Tim had made a “carpet” out of them by gluing them to the studio floor. Worse yet he had people dancing on top of the tapes before spilling a cake all over them.

    This year’s livestream seemed like the most stable one I can remember. No lag or stuttering issues at all.

    I think the most enjoyable thing about the Oscar Specials is that it’s live, which means you get to watch the main performers crack each other up as the video feed desperately tries to find something else to point at. It’s fun to see that after all these years, this is still a passion project for a small group of people who can make each other laugh — and perhaps you as well.

  • Recent movie review round-up (second half of 2022)

    With a chilly and surprisingly rainy fall and winter here on the west coast, I had so much time to watch movies recently that I had to remind myself to slow down.

    On these lists I only cover recent releases, even though I do watch older movies all the time. While I could review those here, I feel like I wouldn’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said better by someone else. Still, if the weather doesn’t improve or they don’t come out with enough new movies I might have little choice but to write about some classics here as well.

    On with my movie reviews from the latter half of 2022.


    Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

    Marcel is a seashell with one googly eye, a mouth, and short legs with shoes at the end. He spends his time with his grandmother at a human-sized home that’s recently become an Airbnb. Dean, the current human guest at the home, happens to be a documentary filmmaker who decides to record parts of Marcel’s life and upload them to YouTube. These videos quickly become a hit as people want to find out more about Marcel.

    Based on a web series of the same name — which you don’t need to see before watching this — the movie is a seamless mix of live action and stop motion animation. 

    Missing the community of his fellow seashells and other living inanimate objects that used to be a part of his life, Marcel lands an interview with his favorite news anchor, Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes.

    In the hands of lesser filmmakers this could have been an annoying or obnoxious movie. Instead it comes across as a silly but heartwarming little movie, if a nonsensical one.

    Best moment: Finding out why Marcel needs honey.

    Rating: 9/10


    Crimes of the Future

    David Cronenberg is back doing creepy body horror sci-fi films again (think Videodrome, Naked Lunch, Existenz, etc.) In this movie we’re shown a world where people voluntarily undergo unnecessary surgery to have experimental organs grown in their bodies. This leads to a form of synthetic evolution in which people take on strange new abilities, such as eating and digesting plastic.

    Oh, and some characters find this surgery sexually arousing.

    Perhaps the biggest question looming over this film is this: Do we really want a movie about medical horrors in the age of COVID-19? I strongly suspect the answer is no.

    In many ways this feels like an older, wiser director trying to recapture the magic of his earlier works. Aside from the aforementioned films, Cronenberg adapted J.G. Ballard’s novel Crash to the big screen in the 90’s — if you want a movie about incomprehensible erotic desires I’d go with that one instead.

    Best moment: The line “Surgery is the new sex.”

    Rating: 5/10



    Jordan Peele is back with his third horror/dark comedy film. Without going into spoilers, the owner of a small ranch that trains horses for Hollywood is killed in a mysterious accident. Or is it an accident? His adult children, the quiet O.J. and his outgoing sister Emerald, take over the business and quickly discover a string of strange occurrences at and around the ranch.

    To get to the bottom of it the two get the assistance of a slightly offbeat Fry’s Electronics employee to install outdoor cameras. It’s not exactly clear when this film takes place but apparently Fry’s Electronics is still around in the world of this movie.

    Compared to Peele’s previous two films, Get Out and Us, Nope is a bit longer, leans a lot more on CGI, and jumps between comedy and horror more easily. The only part of the movie that didn’t work for me is a subplot involving an accident on the set of a sitcom. Despite fitting in with the theme and adding to the horror horror, it’s only tangentially related to the main story and felt like it was almost out of a different and more terrifying movie. 

    Best moment: I could come up with so many best moments, but for me personally just seeing Fry’s Electronics again made me giggle.

    Rating: 8/10


    Funny Pages

    High school teenager Robert is an aspiring comic book artist who’s encouraged by his art teacher to make his work more “subversive.” The teacher shares some comics he drew, which look like a cross between Robert Crumb and something from the early years of Mad Magazine.

    The movie seems to take the teacher’s advice to heart as it repeatedly subverts Robert’s wishes and desires at every turn. He quits high school, moves out of his parent’s house and into the most disgusting basement apartment in New Jersey. He meets the unstable and temperamental Wallace, who he immediately idolizes due to Wallace’s past employment at Image Comics. To say much more would be heading into spoiler territory as this is a fairly short film at under 90 minutes.

    One aspect of this movie that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere is the overall look. Most of the actors are very average or even a little weird looking — which is typical for indie movies, but here the characters almost look like Robert Crumb’s caricature drawings. The color palette of the film is very neutral which gives it the feel of a late 60’s/early 70’s movie (think Harold and Maude.) Despite this it’s clearly set in the modern era with mobile phones and laptops.

    First time filmmaker Owen Kline wrote and directed this movie, and was produced by the Safdie Brothers. While it doesn’t have the same big screen theatrical presence as the Sadfie’s own movies the sense of tragic comedy fits well with theirs. 

    Although I think it’s a solid effort for an indie film for a first timer, I have to criticize the uneven tone. It’s one thing to flip between drama and dark comedy but there are a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments scattered in that didn’t fit for me. Maybe the movie needs more of those, maybe it needs fewer? 

    Best moment: Everything that happens in the dilapidated “Right Aid” pharmacy (not to be confused with national chain Rite Aid, of course.)

    Rating: 4/10


    Day Shift

    In the sunny suburbs of Southern California, Bud (Jamie Foxx) is a recently divorced vampire hunter who desperately needs money to provide for his daughter. To make ends meet he begs his way back into the vampire hunter union. Bud is allowed in on the condition that he’s partnered with their timid office drone Seth (Dave Franco.) Oh, and of course Snoop Dogg shows up as an old school vampire hunter in a cowboy outfit.

    This movie is a real mixed bag of highs and lows. Aside from the great cast, the fight scenes are completely over the top fun, and most of the comedy works.

    Unfortunately there’s a shocking amount of expository dialog about vampires that belongs in a different movie. The audience just wants some vampire fights and hijinks, not some appendix describing vampire taxonomy. While I don’t think the movie deserves a stake through the heart, it could have used more time in the editing room.

    Best moment: “I didn’t pee myself this time.”

    Rating: 5/10


    Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

    When I first heard about this movie the idea of a fictional take on the life of Weird Al didn’t do much for me. First of all I love his cult classic movie UHF, what more could this one have to offer? Second, how could a fictional autobiography be funny?

    Well, I was wrong on both counts.

    Of course for those who aren’t a fan of Weird Al already, I doubt this movie will do anything to change that. This is one of those movies that’s self-selecting from the title alone.

    While the movie starts out feeling like a parody of one of those “Behind the Music” documentaries it gets sillier as it gradually and then entirely derails from that premise.

    The casting is surprisingly good with Daniel Radcliffe impersonating Weird Al and hamming it up. Various comedians appear throughout the movie, including Weird Al himself as a sarcastic record executive.

    The one thing that would have much been funnier — and I can’t put my finger exactly on why — would be to have Radcliffe sing throughout the movie instead of lip syncing to Weird Al’s vocals.

    Best moment: “You’ll find out what we make at the factory when you WORK at the factory!”

    Rating: 8/10


    Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

    Writer/director Rian Johnson followed up to his previous film Knives Out (which I previously reviewed here) with this new mystery featuring detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig.) Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the previous film, they’re both self-contained stories.

    Billionaire tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites his quirky but influential friends to his private island in Greece for a weekend with a murder mystery game, and Blanc comes along for the ride. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan and a real murder takes place, leaving Blanc scrambling to find answers before the police can make it to the island.

    I thought Glass Onion compared favorably to Knives Out in terms of humor and pacing. The final act pulls off that rare perfect murder mystery ending, which I won’t spoil here.

    Best moment: Personally, I laughed way too hard when the camera zoomed out to reveal Blanc was eavesdropping on a conversation by hiding behind a giant sculpture of an ass.

    Rating: 9/10


    Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm

    Back in 2001 when Adult Swim debuted late at night their first batch of original cartoons included Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The series of 15 minute episodes is about the adventures of three anthropomorphic food characters, the various aliens and robots that show up, and of course their neighbor Carl.

    Aqua Teen isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve somehow read this far you might as well spend a few minutes watching an episode or two to see if you find it funny or not.

    In the time since we last caught up with our “heroes” they have broken up; Frylock got a job in IT, Meatwad is volunteering at a dog shelter, and Master Shake is at a homeless shelter telling tall tales about his past. When an evil corporation called Amazin threatens the world, the gang has to get back together and fight for their own lives.

    For those who remember the first and previous film, 2007’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, you’d be right to be skeptical of this one. My two cents is that Platasm has a story coherent enough that I could laugh at the jokes instead of trying to figure out what was going on — even if Aqua Teen is well past its prime.

    This time around, the movie is more focused with a clever framing device. I also appreciated that they jump right back into the action without directly acknowledging that the show has been off the air for several years.

    What I would have liked to see more of though is the dynamic between the three main characters. Their ridiculous living room conversations were often the funniest part of the show, but here Frylock spends most of the movie separated from Meatwad and Master Shake.

    Best moment: “Screw you, environment!”

    Rating: 6/10


    Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio

    Fans of the classic tale Pinocchio had not one but three movies to choose from in 2022, from Disney’s remake of their own classic movie adaptation to the straight to the dollar store bargain bin Pinocchio: A True Story.

    And then there’s Guillermo Del Toro’s version: a unique stop motion adaptation set during the Italian fascist era. 

    What works are the visuals: the character designs, the stop motion animation, and the computer graphics give this movie a completely unique look. What falls flat is when the movie halfheartedly remembers that it’s billed as a musical and a character goes off to sing for a couple minutes.

    My guess is that even though this movie is clearly aimed at kids, it’s also a reprieve for even the most jaded parents who are sick of the usual Disney and DreamWorks kids movies — Del Toro’s artistic sensibilities at the very least make this movie stand out from the rest. At the end of the day though it’s still a retread of a story you already know.

    Best moment: “You may have no strings, but I control you.”

    Rating: 7/10

  • Previewing Muni’s new Central Subway

    When I first moved to San Francisco there was a new surface-level light rail line under construction along the east side of the city: the T Third Street line. This would be the largest expansion on the Muni Metro transit network since it opened, serving a part of the city that was both underserved by transit and filled with former industrial areas ripe for future development.

    But the best part? This was only phase one of the plan. Phase two of what was then branded the “Central T Subway” was the city’s first new subway line in ages, connecting the new T Third line directly to downtown and Chinatown.

    The first phase of the line opened in 2007, and after several delays the subway portion opened for free weekend preview service this month — some 15 years later.

    Technically phase two involves four stations but one of them is above ground (yawn) so I’m only going to focus on the underground stations. We’ll go from south to north.

    Central Subway
    Central Subway

    Yerba Buena/Moscone

    Located about a block away from the entrances to the city’s Moscone Center buildings, this stop is aimed at catering to the convention goers in town. It’s not a particularly fancy station but it’s filled with giant rooms with large pieces of art.

    Notably the building features large format prints of photos taken by a local student during the construction of the first part of Moscone Center back in the early 1980’s.

    I’m not sure how many people would stop at this station to visit Yerba Buena Gardens, but it’s also close to SFMOMA and the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

    Central Subway
    Central Subway
    Central Subway

    Union Square/Market Street Station

    This station is almost entirely located under Stockton Street, with the exception of a small entrance on the southeast corner of Union Square. The concourse level also directly connects to the concourse level at the existing Powell Street Station.

    This station had to be built with limited space above ground and had to be deep enough to go underneath the existing subway under Market Street. Despite the public art in the station it still feels a little utilitarian.

    Makes you wonder what it would take to add some leaded blast doors and turn this into a nuclear fallout shelter if it comes to that.

    Central Subway
    Central Subway
    Central Subway

    Chinatown – Rose Pak Station

    The new station with the largest above ground footprint is right in the middle of Chinatown. It will eventually have a public plaza on the roof although that wasn’t open the two times I visited.

    The upper floors have a deep red and light emerald green color scheme that practically screams “Chinatown.” Unfortunately this design doesn’t fully make its way down to the platform level where it would be a good visual indicator for tourists and casual riders.

    Since this station is the last stop on the line, trains can pull in and out on either side of the platform. There’s also a position to position extra trains in the tunnel to the north of the station.


    The Central Subway’s most obvious problems

    Any critic of this project will stress that this subway cost about one billion dollars per mile to build. That’s a fair criticism, although the biggest contributor to the cost wasn’t boring the tunnels but rather unforeseen consequences of the design choices, such as building subway stations deep underground.

    The depth of the stations also presents some serious water leak issues. Yes, I was there on the opening weekend when Muni staff had tried to divert water seeping into Union Square Station using red plastic Solo cups. I’ll admit I didn’t believe what I was seeing at first; look, college was a long time ago and I probably haven’t seen one of those red Solo cups since then. I’d be a lot more worried about this if it were to ever flood again in San Francisco.

    In my above description of the stations you might have noticed I only ever mentioned a single track switch. There’s one lonely crossover (or “scissor”) switch in the entire subway for trains to switch direction. That also means there’s a single point of failure, just like Muni Metro’s original subway where trains were regularly delayed due to a similar design at the pre-1990’s version of Embarcadero Station.


    What could be easily improved

    The station names commit what I consider to be a cardinal sin in place names: they’re too long. In my mind any type of transit stop — subway, airport, etc. — should be named and only named for the area it serves. That’s why I’d drop Rose Pak’s name from Chinatown Station. It doesn’t aid in navigation to have her name attached to the station. Likewise, Yerba Buena/Moscone should be shortened to simply “Moscone” as Yerba Buena Gardens is a relatively modest affair in comparison to the convention center. It also doesn’t help that the station is nowhere near Yerba Buena Island.

    Union Square/Market Street Station is also way too long, but why does it need a name at all? Typically when a subway or train station adds a new platform, it’s absorbed into the existing station. Union Square/Market Street is clearly an extension of Powell Street Station — so why add to the confusion with a different name?


    What needs to happen

    Almost everyone agrees that it was a mistake to end the Central Subway in Chinatown. And you know what? The tunnel itself already extends to Washington Square in North Beach where the two boring machines were extracted at the site of the former Pagoda Palace movie theater.

    Now obviously it would be disruptive to dig out a station, but since the tunnel already ends right in the middle of North Beach it seems hard to justify not building a station there.

    The good news is there’s already plans in the works to build this as well as an extension to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s still in the early stages but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Unfortunately though with projects like these the longer you wait to build them, the more they will inevitably cost.


    One more thing

    A few years ago I wrote about how the Central Subway’s control screen became briefly visible on the web. While that particular page was quickly reverted, it’s back and better than ever — but not at the same location.

    Through some extremely advanced hacking (looking at the URL of a web browser displayed on a screen in one of the stations) I happened to come across this page which includes real-time snapshots of both subways.


    The Central Subway is open for weekend preview service until January, when it will require paid fare and will run the full length between Sunnydale and Chinatown.

    There is currently no cellular service in the Central Subway but the city’s free public wifi is available.

  • The return of Fairyland for Grownups

    Children's Fairyland
    Children's Fairyland
    Children's Fairyland
    Children's Fairyland
    Children's Fairyland

    It’s been a while since there was a 21 and over night at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, but Fairyland for Grownups returned on July 29th, 2022. Obviously I had to go. Aside from a vaccine check on the way in it felt very similar to the last such event three years ago.

    The big change this year was that it was a few weeks earlier which was fine, although in retrospect the weather is usually better in August. The upside to holding it in July is there’s a little more time before the sun goes down.

    Everything seemed to be in about the same condition as last time which is to say the paint was recently touched up and the gardens were in good shape, but not all of the story boxes were functioning when activated with a Magic Key.

    The line to enter the park was very long and took almost 30 minutes to get through. A number of guests showed up in costume, others in light-up outfits to dance until closing time in the old west area with the DJs.

    Not everything at Children’s Fairyland is open during these events, mostly the kiddie rides that wouldn’t fit adult-sized people anyway. One thing I wish they did operate during Fairyland for Grownups is the “zoo” section of the park. This is a very small section that apparently has tame animals like guinea pigs and goats during the day — so why can’t it be open for the adult’s only night? You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate seeing some small animals.

    That leads me to another unique aspect of these events: one might worry that a bunch adults with alcohol would be staggering around and causing problems, but that doesn’t really happen. First of all most people only stick to the two drinks included with admission, and second it only goes until 10 PM.

    On the subject of the early ending time, I’m surprised there aren’t any public afterparties. There’s already a crowd that’s in a partying mood, why not offer to chauffeur them to a nearby bar or dance venue? Seems like a missed opportunity.

    To stay up to date on Fairyland for Grownups events, follow the Oaklandish blog or sign up for their newsletter.

  • Recent movie review round-up (first half of 2022)

    I’ve never tried to come up with any sort of “theme” for the movies I review in these posts, I just watch whatever interests me and try my best to summarize my thoughts.

    But this time around — especially compared to my previous movie review round-up — all of these are relatively small-ish budget films. Best of all, none of them overstayed their welcome with lengthy runtimes.

    So let’s get started with my own reviews of the movies I got to see in the first six months (give or take) of 2022.


    Strawberry Mansion

    Tax auditor Mr. Preble has been sent to the home of an elderly woman named Bella to audit her dreams. In this near-future dystopia, all dreams are recorded and taxed.

    In reliving Bella’s dreams, Preble slowly falls in love with her younger self. Meanwhile in reality Bella introduces Preble to a homemade device that serves as an ad blocker, removing the product placement in his dreams. 

    This might be one of the better depictions of dreams in a movie, though the movie itself has such an ethereal soundtrack and unusual visuals that it’s often difficult to discern what’s supposed to be a dream vs. what’s “real.” This is a narrative choice of course, and it’s fun to think about it, but it’s also distracting when you’re trying to piece together the story threads. Perhaps this is one of those puzzle films that rewards multiple viewings.

    Between the film’s short runtime and the sheer oddity of it all, you won’t have time to worry too much about what’s real and what’s happening in Preble’s mind, or even exactly how he’s inserted himself into Bella’s previous dreams in the first place.

    Strawberry Mansion doesn’t fall into any normal film genre. There are aspects of horror, romance, and even science fiction but I wouldn’t categorize it as any of those. If I had to put it on a shelf in a video store, I’d put it somewhere near wherever David Lynch films are displayed and call it a day.

    Best moment: Two words: “chicken shake.”

    Rating: 7/10



    Director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Starship Troopers, Showgirls) brings his over-the-top style to a story about a young nun in 17th century Italy named Benedetta. (Despite the setting, the dialog is entirely in French.) Benedetta seems to have mysterious powers and visions… or does she?

    Fast forward until Benedetta is an adult, a troubled young woman named Bartolomea joins the convent and the two immediately begin a complicated, guilt-filled lesbian affair.

    This movie made some Catholics angry, which I think says a lot more about them than this movie — have they never looked into the history of their own church? This movie isn’t even attempting to make a statement about the modern day Catholic church.

    The problem is there’s not much to the story; the main takeaway seems to be that religious fervor and blasphemy are two sides of the same coin. But that’s far too obvious to be a revelation.

    Best moment: Watching the bishop’s plans come tumbling down.

    Rating: 4/10


    Jackass Forever

    Opening with a lengthy dick joke, Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Wee Man, and the gang return for another round of pranks and self torture.

    There’s a clear passing of the torch as it’s acknowledged that it’s been twenty years after the Jackass TV show, introducing both new cast members with many of the original, now gray-haired ones.

    I’m not sure there’s any point reviewing this movie, either you think it’s funny to watch a guy get bee stings on his testicles or you don’t. But I will say that there’s not much new ground to cover here; if you’ve seen one Jackass movie, you’ve kind of seen them all. At the very least you know what to expect by now.

    Best moment: The rattlesnake fake out prank.

    Rating: 6/10


    Everything Everywhere All At Once

    Evelyn Wong (Michelle Yeoh) is the owner of a failing laundromat that’s in trouble with the IRS. Her domestic life is arguably in worse condition: she takes her husband for granted, is overbearing towards her daughter, and is hiding the fact that her daughter is a lesbian from her very traditional father (James Hong.)

    To make matters significantly more complicated, this isn’t the only Evelyn Wong. There’s an entire multiverse of different universes out there for all of us where we made different decisions and ended up very differently. The Evelyn we meet has to tap into and travel across the multiverse in order to stop the chaos of “Jobu Tupaki” (you’ll have to watch it yourself to see who this villain turns out to be.)

    As a comedy/action/drama there’s a lot of ground to cover, but the movie easily gets the most laughs and the most action from jumping to different universes, many of which are entirely ridiculous like a universe where humans evolved to have useless floppy hot dog fingers.

    Unfortunately while the multiverse concept ties the entire movie together, it’s not explained very well. At first to borrow the powers of other versions of herself Evelyn needs to wear two of those old fashioned Bluetooth earpieces (one in each ear) and then do weird things to activate them. After a while that no longer seems to apply; and for the characters who are recruited from other multiverses to become villains, where are they getting their special Bluetooth earpieces? 

    All of which is to say, this is a movie where you’re better off sitting back and enjoying the ride without thinking about it too much. I have heard the original cut was much longer and this is one of those rare cases where I wonder if maybe they cut it down a little too much. 

    What does work is Yeoh’s performance. There are very few actors able to convincingly switch between drama, comedy, and action — in one scene. She’s the glue that holds this entire messy movie together.

    Best moment: The universe where Pixar’s Ratatouille is real. Sort of.

    Rating: 8/10


    The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

    Part of the reason Nicholas Cage became such an iconic actor over the years are his seemingly wild acting choices. Some have criticized him for this, though I’d counter that if you look at his filmography his most ridiculous acting only happens in ridiculous movies. He’s perfectly capable of playing it straight when the role calls for it.

    In this oddball comedy Cage plays it both ways… as versions of himself. Those who wrote him off before ought to reevaluate Cage after watching this one: are you laughing at him, or are you laughing with him?

    Nick Cage (Nicholas Cage, but abbreviated Nick instead of Nic) is an actor who’s failing as an actor, a father, and also failing to pay the bills. Fortunately for the latter his agent has found him a quick fix: a Nick Cage superfan in Spain named Javi (Pedro Pascal) wants to fly him there for a party, with an appearance fee of one million dollars.

    Cage and Javi end up having a bromance of sorts before the party even begins, though Cage is quickly kidnapped by CIA agents who tell him that Javi is an extremely dangerous international arms dealer. The only person who can save the CIA operation at this point is Cage, who turns out to have little in common with the brave heroes and villains he plays in movies.

    Throughout the movie Cage hallucinates a younger and more successful version of himself that he calls “Nicky.” Nicky has his young manic energy and wears the exact same clothes from this real Nicholas Cage TV interview. The deaging visual effects are impressive for a low budget movie.

    This movie is absolutely littered with references to real Cage movies like Con Air, The Rock, Face/Off, Wicker Man, etc. and there may be a joke here or there that will go over your head. But that’s fine, the in-jokes aren’t the primary focus.

    Although hilarious, the sheer number of plot twists can make it a little hard to follow toward the end unless you’re paying close attention.

    Best moment: Nicky looking at his older self and screaming “You’re Nick! FUCKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING! Ah! Whew! Cage!” 

    Rating: 9/10


    Jerry & Marge Go Large

    Recently retired cereal production manager Jerry (Bryan Cranston) discovers a loophole in a state lottery that allows him to tilt the odds in his favor — if he gambles enough money on it. When his wife Marge (Annette Bening) finds out about the lottery winnings she surprises him by encouraging to continue.

    Soon the other neighborhood retirees are contributing and they’re all sharing in the wealth… only for some university students to notice the same loophole, pitting the two groups against each other.

    What works about this movie is the all-star cast which also includes Michael McKean, Larry Wilmore, and Rainn Wilson. What doesn’t work is taking a (mostly) true story and trying to shoehorn it into a dramedy format. I suspect this would have been more interesting if it stayed truer to the story and focused more on the central characters.

    The weakest part is when the drama hinges on a “generation war” between retirees and young university students competing over the same prize pot. The movie seems like it wants us to root for the retirees, but honestly the whole conflict is too contrived to make me care.

    Best moment: Larry Wilmore’s character always seems to say exactly what I’m thinking.

    Rating: 3/10


    CatVideoFest 2022

    After a two year pandemic hiatus, everyone’s favorite cat film festival is back in theaters with a new collection of short cat videos. These short videos go from videos people recorded of their cats behavior, to heartwarming videos about taking care of cats, to animated shorts. A little something for everyone.

    As always, the proceeds from this film are donated to local cat rescue charities.

    In case this isn’t the kind of thing for you, maybe you’d be more interested in the first ever DogVideoFest which will supposedly come out later this year.

    Best moment: After a cat tries and fails repeatedly to jump over a gate, it simply walks through the bars as though the gate wasn’t even there.

    Rating: Once again I’m unsure how to rate a collection of cat videos. I will say I’ve seen a couple of these before, but it’s always more fun to watch funny videos with an audience.

  • Six most outrageous moments in the 2022 On Cinema Oscar Special

    Airing live in its second year on HEI Network, the 9th Annual On Cinema Oscar Special was pared down in a number of ways… most notably they had to film it outside, according to Tim, because Joe Estevez had mismanaged Tim’s HEI Ranch development and no sound stage had been built.

    Things only go downhill from this rough introduction with Mark Proksch dressed as Spider-Man, accidentally tripping and falling down a hill.

    No longer wearing a fancy suit, Tim is now sunburned and wearing sunglasses, a vest, and blue jeans — your typical uniform for a conservative who’s trying to dress like a man of the people.

    This will include spoilers.

    If you haven’t caught up on season 12, the main things that happened since the last Oscar Special are that Mark Proksch reluctantly returned, LaRoux is in a wheelchair now, Wendy Kerby left after Tim made creepy remarks to her, and Toni filed for divorce from Tim after becoming sober.

    So here we go: the top six most outrageous moments in the 9th Annual On Cinema Oscar Special.

    6. Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock

    To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Hitchcock’s first film (which was never finished) they interview actress Lee Garlington from the 2nd and 3rd Psycho movies — which Hitchcock had nothing to do with.

    Mark was set to appear as Hitchcock but he has to do it via a video call from the hospital due to his previous injury falling down the hill. Another person dressed as Hitchcock held an iPad in front of their face to share the video call.

    5. Toni’s therapy tape

    Tim had LaRoux “up his dose” of painkillers so he could enter therapy to spy on Tim’s wife as she went through her recovery from alcoholism.

    Footage from Toni’s therapy session makes Tim look really bad. Most damningly, Toni reveals that everyone talks shit about Tim behind his back — including his loyal band mates. This doesn’t appear to be a surprise to anyone but Tim who refuses to believe it.

    4. Willy Wonka tribute

    Gregg’s Willy Wonka tributes are all over the place, from dressing up as Johnny Depp’s version of the character to staging his own version of the grandparent’s scene in the original movie.

    The latter segment is a huge disappointment for Tim, who doesn’t understand what any of this had to do with the upcoming prequel and just wants to see “chocolate and Oompa Loompas.”

    3. Oscar Doctor

    Years ago Gregg advocated for a fan favorite “popular film” category for the Oscars.

    Feeling irrationally vindicated now that this has actually happened, Gregg has an “Oscar Doctor” segment in which he offers solutions to bring audiences back to watch the Oscars. All of his ideas are simplistic new awards like “Best Ending” or “Best Robot.”

    2. Dekkar reunion

    Following up from the Wendy Kerby Valentine’s Day Special, Tim’s band Dekkar has reunited as a rock band with long term members Axiom and Manuel.

    This reunion happens through several segments throughout the special. In one segment it’s revealed that former member Nick passed away. In the hastily made homage video Tim repeatedly mixes up Vinny with Nick. In pre-taped segments we also learn that Tim only sees his band mates as hired hands for his solo project.

    The Dekkar reunion culminates in a show, which includes an new “Oscar Medley” jam-style song about movies nominated for Oscars this year. They finally finish on their one and only “hit” song, Empty Bottle, only for the power to go out. (For some reason the mics and cameras keep working.)

    1. The wild ending

    Throughout the special, troublemakers show up and drive an ATV behind the set and point laser pointers at Tim and others. It’s eventually revealed this same group is likely behind the power outage.

    After hearing some gunshots, everyone takes cover. Gregg heroically evacuates everyone he can on his VFA tour bus. Meanwhile Tim has a meltdown in front of the aggressors, begging them to kill him before the screen goes black and the credits roll.

    Honorable mentions

    • Axiom’s national anthem-style rendition of Tim’s “Oscar Fever.”
    • Longtime chili-based caterer Hank is back! Once again he’s getting a poor deal from Tim, despite being the proprietor of the upcoming HEI Noon Chili Saloon at HEI Ranch.
    • Tim hired contractor Joe Crane to drill a water well in HEI Ranch. Unfortunately, the liquid that comes out is brown and stinks, and Joe Crane admits he may have simply drilled into a septic tank.
    • Tim flubbing yet another actor’s name: “Benedict Pumpkinpatch.”
    • LaRoux getting his wheelchair stuck in the dirt while everyone watches and the theme song from his TV show “Xposed” plays in the background.
    • During “On Cinema’s Tribute To Director Cameos” we end on a segment from the movie Jack & Jill where Adam Sandler’s character has a conversation with sex offender and former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle.

    I got to see this Oscar Special on the big screen again, this time at the New Parkway Theater in Uptown Oakland. Unfortunately the video stream was super unstable again this year, so I had to go back and watch it again (especially the first 20 minutes or so) after they put up the final cut online.

    It’s sad that the stream had so many technical issues this year, because to be honest On Cinema’s absurd “coverage” of the Oscars is always going to be funnier and somehow more relevant than the real thing, no matter which actor slaps which comedian.

  • Recent movie review round-up (second half of 2021)

    It seems like it had been been ages since I set foot inside any type of live venue, but since my last movie review roundup I have started seeing movies in theaters again. Specifically at my local Alamo Drafthouse, which follows San Francisco’s strict vaccination requirements. I saw about half of these at that theater and the other half at home.

    So let’s get into it: my reviews of the movies I watched in the second half of 2021.


    Dune: Part One

    Just like Burning Man, almost everyone forgets that the novel Dune came out of San Francisco’s late 1960’s hippie ideology. And with both there’s politics, drugs, and some unusual ideas about religion/witchcraft all filtered through a psychedelic lens. Also, both involve a lot of sand.

    How do you take a long, almost impenetrably complex story and distill it into one movie? It turns out you quietly add “part one” to the title and end it abruptly. Sort of a bait and switch, though I’m not sure how anyone could squeeze an extremely dense 600 page novel into a two and a half hour film.

    I don’t feel the need to comment on the story because you’ve had what, like 50 years to read it? In that time it’s also already been adapted for film, television, video games, and comics.

    The short version of this part of the story is that House Atreides is selected to be the new operator of the most valuable planet in the universe, a harsh desert planet called Arrakis. Paul Atreides, son of the Duke, has been trained in various skills… including one he technically shouldn’t have been.

    What I will say is this is a film that captures the scope of the novel both in the story and in its physical universe. At the same time though between the real footage and the stunningly realistic visual effects, the most distracting thing to me is that the actors’ faces are never covered in sweat when they’re on a hot desert planet.

    The cliffhanger (or perhaps just “hanger”?) ending is a double edged sword here. On the one hand it more or less completes the journey of Paul Atreides to the midpoint of the story, but I have no idea if this will make audiences want to see the sequel or leave the theater scratching their heads.

    Best moment: The way The Voice is portrayed when the Reverend Mother uses it on Paul.

    Rating: 8/10 (Caveat: I’ve read the novel.)



    As a Child Of Deaf Adults (or CODA) Ruby is the only hearing person in her family. They don’t understand her love of music and they’re not well adapted into the hearing society around them. The father works on a fishing boat barely making ends meet with the help of his family.

    When Ruby joins her school choir it exacerbates the rifts between her and her family. In an unexpected twist on your typical coming of age drama, Ruby’s deaf family has to learn how to adapt to her.

    While I understand Ruby’s core struggle, I don’t really buy her family’s reluctance toward her interest in music. The drama feels like too much of a manufactured conflict to me. Yes, the family “translator” is growing up and leaving the nest with a talent her family will never be able to appreciate, but first of all it’s totally normal to appreciate a loved one’s interests even if you’re not a fan, and second they were clearly getting by before Ruby was born.

    The one thing this movie absolutely nails is the casting. Ruby’s older brother and parents are portrayed by deaf actors. Ruby is portrayed by Emilia Jones, a teenage actor. Every member of the cast is pretty much perfect for their role. 

    Best moment: Learning the heartbreaking reason Ruby was scared to audition.

    Rating: 5/10


    No Time to Die

    I guess the James Bond I technically “grew up with” was Pierce Brosnan. Thing is, after GoldenEye all those movies were such a letdown. 

    So when Daniel Craig showed up in Casino Royale with a new spin on Bond as a vulnerable character whose job was slowly taking its toll on him, I was ready to give the Bond movies another chance. For the most part I’ve enjoyed what I’ll call the “Craig-Bond” movies.

    No Time To Die opens with what’s arguably a prequel to the Craig-Bond movies before jumping to the modern day where Bond has finally retired and settled down with his new lover. If that sounds ominous, congratulations: you remember the end of Casino Royale.

    This movie tries to pack in a lot in order to conclude the Craig-Bond era. It has to do three things to succeed:

    1. Follow directly from the previous movie, Spectre.
    2. Tell a new Bond story with at least one new antagonist.
    3. Get the last word in on all the Craig-Bond characters and stories and go out with a bang.

    Normally if I had to categorize these I’d argue the first one is the biggest problem: the events of Spectre were too large to ignore, even though it was a critically panned movie (personally I loved Spectre despite its idiotic plot twist.) The third item is also a challenge since wrapping things up naturally while nodding back to the past can take on a clip show vibe too easily.

    Alas, I was wrong: the part that doesn’t work here is the typical Bond saves the day story. The villain’s goal is sort of a challenge to pinpoint and worse yet it involves something the writers obviously didn’t see coming: the plan involves a large scale bio weapon attack. Suddenly it’s obvious why this was one of the first movies delayed by COVID-19.

    The other problem is its length. At nearly three hours it feels like a long goodbye at times. If I were to edit it down I think I’d cut down several of the action sequences, especially the long gun fight sequence near the end.

    As an overall fan of the Craig-Bond era I appreciated the thoughtful approaches to concluding the main character arcs. While I won’t defend every narrative choice in these films, the overall themes of betrayal and death that have permeated the era get a satisfying end.

    Best moment: M reading a classic Jack London quote at the end. Weird choice but it totally fits, particularly given their seemingly shared views on eugenics.

    Rating: 8/10


    The French Dispatch

    It’s impossible to describe a Wes Anderson movie without acknowledging that it’s a Wes Anderson movie. You kind of know what you’re going to expect: lots of scenes that spring to life like an automaton, a distinct color palette, and a cast of quirky actors like Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, and Bill Murray. But this movie has a specific visual trick up its sleeve: with its setting in France, it leans heavily into the look of French New Wave cinema — and French animation.

    The movie covers three stories, each from a writer at a New Yorker-style magazine written by Americans living in France. Briefly, the first concerns an incarcerated painter, the second about a student revolution, and the third covers an extremely unlikely kidnapping. Each story is presented by the fictional writer behind the piece, and bookended by the events in the editor’s room at the offices of The French Dispatch. 

    Though it’s kind of challenging to review an anthology movie like this, I’d say anyone who enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel or Anderson’s other recent films should check this one out. Personally I thought this was much funnier than Grand Budapest.

    For some reason this movie only opened at 55 theaters nationwide, and the one I went to was sold out four nights in a row, if not more.

    Best moment: The whole kidnapping sequence.

    Rating: 8/10


    Ghostbusters: Afterlife

    Estranged daughter and grandchildren of deceased Ghostbuster Egon Spengler (RIP Harold Ramis) are forced to move out of their NYC apartment and into Egon’s old farm in the middle of nowhere. Soon, they find themselves restoring his crazy technology and capturing ghosts.

    Although Egon’s granddaughter Phoebe is the heart of the movie, her smart but ridiculous summer school teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd, perfectly cast in this role) somehow serves as both the only living person who remembers the events from the original two movies and serves as the main source of comedy. 

    How do you make a sequel to a movie like 1984’s Ghostbusters? It’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer. Ghostbusters II was largely panned when it came out, partly for being too similar to the original. The 2016 reboot, well… not great. Afterlife takes a unique approach, although it does bank too heavily on nostalgia at times. 

    I think there’s basically one problem with making a sequel to Ghostbusters, and it’s a big one: nobody knows why the first movie works as well as it does, it’s a classic “lightning in a bottle” situation.

    Oh and to add to the confusion, a whole generation of us grew up with a cartoon show called The Real Ghostbusters. That show was made for a significantly younger audience in mind, muddying the waters about the target audience for a movie with sex jokes and tobacco use.

    All of which is to say, I think it was wise for Afterlife to take a sharp turn and focus on a new set of characters in a very different environment to start with a clean-ish slate. This seems to be the general template for new follow ups to old movies, aka the “legacy sequel.”

    The big problem with this movie is it just isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. Most of the attempts at humor land with a thud. I’m not sure if it’s the script’s fault or if some of the parts are simply miscast. Certainly none of the main characters here match Bill Murray or Dan Akroyd at the height of their comedy careers.

    Best moment: Anytime Paul Rudd is on screen. 

    Rating: 6/10


    Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

    I’m not a big fan of comic book movies, and I’ll admit I watched this one entirely because it’s partially set in San Francisco.

    Shaun/Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and his friend Katy (comedian Awkwafina) are perfectly cast as coworkers at the valet stand at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill.

    The “set in San Francisco” side of the movie is a mixed bag. On the one hand the establishing shots are pretty generic, but on the other the Chinese characters in the movie live in the Richmond District instead of the obvious choice of Chinatown. And that’s totally accurate — there are cultural enclaves all over the city and in the Richmond in particular where you might walk across the street from a Russian neighborhood and find yourself in a Chinese neighborhood. So thumbs up to the location scouting there.

    On the other hand, what sort of kills the local theme is a fight on a “San Francisco Transit” bus (I guess Muni is a trademark?) which takes an unexpectedly fast route from Noe Valley to the Stockton Tunnel to Ghirardelli Square. This would be unforgivable if it weren’t such a memorable and well choreographed fight sequence.

    That’s the main problem with Shang-Chi: it’s pretty fun when it’s a Kung Fu movie, but by the end it’s yet another big, poorly done CGI battle where you can’t really tell what the stakes are, let alone what’s happening on the screen. I get the distinct feeling they ran over budget on this one and just had to throw an ending together quickly.

    Best moment: All the hand-to-hand combat scenes are incredibly well done. Too bad there aren’t more of them.

    Rating: 3/10


    Last Night In Soho

    Fashion design student Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) moves from rural England to London to continue her education. She clearly doesn’t fit in with the big city crowd, and her supernatural visions are beginning to interfere in her new friendships.

    Everything seems (relatively) normal until Ellie moves out of the dorms and into her own apartment. That’s when her visions really become troubling.

    Suddenly, everything skips back to the 1960’s (or does it?) and Ellie meets a woman named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) who’s nearly her doppelganger, albeit a much more confident one. Sandie is somehow involved with a creepy man named Jack (Doctor Who’s Matt Smith.) These “time jumps” become increasingly blurred, terrifying, and chaotic.

    Pretty much everything here works, especially the music and visuals — the psychedelic visuals against the streets of London look like something from a Hitchcock-meets-Argento thriller. Without spoiling anything the big reveals at the end were shocking and absolutely not what I expected.

    Unlike most of today’s movies where the pacing lulls in the middle, Last Night In Soho is more of a slow burn. Personally I like that better, but I can also see how some people might check out after the first 30 minutes if they don’t feel invested right away.

    I have to praise Matt Smith for this one. Despite being a friendly familiar face, he’s absolutely terrifying here. Really got under my skin.

    Best moment: When Ellie breaks through to Sandie.

    Rating: 8/10


    The Matrix Resurrections

    Of all the “legacy sequel” films (see also: Ghostbusters: Afterlife) not many interrogate what that legacy even means… except for this one. 

    Our hero Thomas Anderson/Neo is back, and is now under the belief that his previous memories came from a video game series he created called “The Matrix Trilogy.” Suddenly their parent company is going to make a new Matrix game, with or without them. Hey, meta commentary on why this movie was made! And if that wasn’t enough, a returning character even threatens to make a spinoff.

    The problem with this movie is basically everything else.

    First, there are so many scenes from the original Matrix movie that it seems like a rehash. It’s arguably worse than Star Wars: The Force Awakens because at times it straight up splices footage from the first film in instead of coming up with an excuse to recreate those scenes.

    Second, the original Matrix trilogy started exploring pitfalls with the concept of simulation theory but that all seems to have been swept aside here in favor of further exploring the side characters. It’s just not compelling storytelling when the core of the story is largely ignored.

    My biggest issue though are some of the fight sequences. Even at its worst the original trilogy had absolutely immaculate fight sequences. In this movie they’re very hit or miss, with the massive miss of the train fight. That entire sequence looks like something from a straight-to-video movie staring Steven Seagal. Yes, it’s that bad.

    The strangest thing about this movie is that it was released at all when it’s clearly a middle finger to the studio and intended to slam the door shut on the franchise. But oddly that’s the most satisfying thing about the movie — it’s completely confident in its lack of ambition in extending a story that’s already been done to death.

    Best moment: “Are memories turned into fiction any less real? Is reality based in memory nothing but fiction?”

    Rating: 4/10