This List is Not All-Inclusive!

Remember that you’re getting movie & TV advice from regular guys with regular lives.  The fact that we’re not sitting in front of our computers and TVs all day also means that we don’t have time to review every movie ever made.  While this list will continue to grow as fast as we can continue to watch and review movies & TV, we apologize in advance for those we did not get to yet.  Rather than relying on it as an exhaustive encyclopedia of movies & TV, though, we hope that you will simply use this list as a source for good suggestions of what to watch or stay away from.

LOOKING FOR A PARTICULAR MOVIE/SHOW?

Reviews are organized in reverse chronological order by the date the review was created.  However, you can also check out reviews for particular genres by using the “Categories” drop-down box at the bottom of the page.  Also, you can use the “Search” box (also at the bottom of the page) to find a particular movie/show.

House of Cards (2013-Present)

(TV-MA)

(TV-MA)

Plot Summary: A Congressman works with his equally conniving wife to exact revenge on the people who betrayed him.

Stars: Kevin Spacey, Michael Gill, Robin Wright

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching This superb cast really brings out the essence of cutthroat DC politics, both in government and in private-sector.  The series is basically a modern-day version of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince.  While some may not like Spacey’s breaking of the fourth wall, I think it adds to the Poe-like tone that this show obviously seeks to convey.  The series also pulls back the “government-conspiracy” curtain, looking at such conspiracies from the point of view of the conspirators and the cleaners.  Unfortunately, the show becomes a bit too far-fetched for my tastes in some respects, reaching for soap-opera scandals to pacify those viewers who will not be content with political coups and corporate maneuvering.  Also, I deeply despise Spacey’s and Wright’s characters for their ethical and moral depravity, and for their lack of a code, so I have some trouble separating my hostility towards them from the series as a whole.

City of God (2002)

(R) 129 mins

(R) 129 mins

Plot Summary: Growing up in a Rio de Janeiro slum, Rocket is able to avoid being drawn into a life of drugs and crime by having a passion for photography.

Director: Fernando Meirelles, Katia Lund

Cast: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Jonathan Haagensen, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Daniel Zettel

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must Own)  I kept hearing that this movie was good, but I never got around to watching it.  Having glanced at its cover before, I was expecting something different…more of a sappy romantic tale.  Instead, I discovered one of most poignant, suspenseful, exciting, and action-packed tales of a place that I’ve only heard stories about.  It catapulted me through a wide range of emotions.  Watch this and then try to complain about your “first-world problems.”  The City of God is shockingly poor and frighteningly dangerous, yet culturally rich and unexpectedly beautiful.

Meirelles and Lund manage to convey a stark realism through a cast made up largely of actors from Rio favelas who had never acted before, but who stepped up to the task in an amazing way with some intense coaching.  The film even features some takes which were not scripted, as well as real coverage from true events.  The music masterfully complemented the mood of each scene, while staying true to the beauty of Brazil.  The camera work was top-notch (especially for 2002), both in César Charlone‘s skillful employment of the equipment and in the scenery that he captured.  Daniel Rezende, the film editor, presented Charlone’s vision at a wonderful intersection of deliberate and thrilling, ensuring that the viewer’s attention stayed captive throughout.

This flick is so good, I wanted to watch it again immediately after the credits rolled the first time around.  You will be hooked from the moment the chicken starts running for its life.  Make this film the next one you watch.

Funny Games (1997)

(NR) 104 mins

(NR) 104 mins

Plot Summary: While vacationing at their secluded summer home, an affluent family is terrorized by a pair of sadistic creeps in this disturbing thriller.

Director: Michael Haneke

Cast: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski, Doris Kunstmann

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)  (Must See)  This film is like a very dark version of Scream.  While I enjoy horror movies, haunted houses, etc, not many of them raise my heart rate anymore.  A good thriller, however, may still get my blood pumping.  Enter this unique take on the serial-killer thriller.  Haneke uses a calculating and methodical tempo, a Hitchcock-style method of making your brain fill in the gore, and an expert contrast of peaceful music with obnoxious music to keep the viewer’s eyes glued to the screen.  The movie is like a soccer match: stretches of anticipation, with exciting moments happening very quickly and with little warning.  I had the good fortune to watch the film without knowing what it was about, so those payoffs were even more exciting for me.

And like Scream, while the director showcases his ability to make a proper killer thriller, he also sends a message to the viewer in a creative and artistic fashion.  According to IMDB, Haneke told producer ‘Veit Heiduschka’ during the production that if the film was a success, it would be because audiences had misunderstood the meaning behind it.  It could potentially get frustrating to watch a well-executed thriller color outside of the lines all of a sudden, but if you keep an open mind, you might realize that such creative license actually adds to the thrill.

It would be wrong to end this review without mentioning the actors, who all performed very convincingly.  A great game plan is of no use if the players don’t execute it well.

In closing, I would also be remiss not to mention what I saw as the most important lesson of all to take from this film: a man should have the physical ability and disposition to protect his family.  Just ask Muhe’s character.  Moreover, when presented with a threat, passive compliance is not always the best answer.  Act decisively and before your situation has worsened, and you might just catch the enemy in the OO of his OODA loop.  Sometimes you just have to fight with a busted knee.

Anytown, USA (2005)

(NR) 93 mins

(NR) 93 mins

Plot Summary: This documentary follows the 2004 mayoral race in Bogota, NJ, detailing the foibles and petty grudges that can make small-town politics contentious.

Director: Kristian Fraga

Stars: Steve Lonegan, Fred Pesce, Dave Musikant

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  This flick has the video quality of a 1990s health class film, and features a town that looks like it is the product of generations of inbreeding.  At first, the residents’ rally against the incumbent mayor is comical in a campy way, but then the documentary drags a little bit.  Specifically, I started thinking of how depressing it would be to live in Bogota.  About halfway through, however, one of the campaigns gets a game-changing injection, and so does the film.  I grew up in New Jersey and currently live close to Bogota, so, all in all, this flick was worth watching for me because it’s like one of your neighbors appearing on The Jerry Springer Show.  Plus, it’s got a real human aspect to it…both good and bad.

The Wire (2002-2008)

(TV-MA)

(TV-MA)

Plot Summary: Baltimore drug scene, seen through the eyes of drug dealers, and law enforcement.

Creator: David Simon

Stars: Dominic West, John Doman, Deirdre Lovejoy

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must Own)  This is, quite simply, one of the best television shows ever done.  It dramatizes real Baltimore issues, using characters based on real Baltimore people, but the topics are universal.  Each season has its own spin, and you can trace the rise of technology throughout this critical period in world history.

From afar, the series appears depressing: drug dealers and users, overworked and underfunded police officers, politicians (doesn’t even need an adjective), underequipped educators, and newspapers on the brink of becoming obsolete.  But it’s much more than just a bleeding-heart expose on how bleak our Nation’s urban centers are; there are very entertaining stories here, with great multiple plotlines.

The actors skillfully bring out a superb script, which is extremely impressive given that, according to IMDB, many of the minor characters are played by real-life police officers, politicians and former criminals. In fact, many of the former criminals who act on the show were previously arrested by the real-life cops who act on the show!  There are too many great performances to list every one, but my favorites are (in no particular order): Jamie Hector as Marlo Stanfield, a real Machavellian motherf*cker; West as James ‘Jimmy’ McNulty, an anti-hero who drinks and whores like a pirate; Michael K. Williams as Omar Little, basically a gay Robin Hood who robs drug dealers; Idris Elba as Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell, thug businessman; Chad L. Coleman as Dennis ‘Cutty’ Wise, an unlikely people’s champion; Gbenga Akinnagbe as Chris Partlow and Felicia Pearson as Felicia ‘Snoop’ Pearson, the hood-assassin versions of Batman and Robin; and Aidan Gillen as Thomas ‘Tommy’ Carcetti, an aggressive politician who desperately tries to toe the line between his ideals and his ambitions.

I couldn’t think of how this series could have been better until I read on IMDB: “The writers/producers briefly considered doing a sixth season about the influx of Latinos into Baltimore.  But none of them knew enough about Baltimore’s Latino population to write about it so the idea was dropped.”  Damn, that would have been great.

Oz (1997-2003)

(TV-MA)

(TV-MA)

Plot Summary: A series chronicling the daily activities of an unusual prison facility and its criminal inhabitants.

Stars: Ernie Hudson, J.K. Simmons, Lee Tergesen

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must See) When this show debuted, my friends and I would make sure our schedule was clear to catch each new episode live. I have heard it accurately described as a male soap opera. Every week, something crazy happened. Network television wasn’t playing anything like this. The character development available in a mutiple-season series was impossible to achieve in a two- or three-hour film.

This show constantly made me wonder how I’d fare in a maximum-security prison. It convinced me to prioritize a spot in my budget for Home Box Office (HBO). With one of the Ghostbusters at the helm, a plethora of cameo appearances by hip-hop stars and professional athletes, and an unforgettable theme song, the first hour-long drama that HBO ever produced also put Harold Perrineau, Simmons, Dean Winters, Eamonn Walker, and BD Wong, among others, on the world map.

Over time, especially in comparison to HBO’s later projects, some of the scenes seem a bit hokey. Also, shotgunning episodes can be a little depressing, given the subject matter. Still, this series is a pop-culture requirement.

Louis C.K.: Chewed Up (2008)

(NR) 60 mins
(NR) 60 mins

Synopsis: Louis C.K.‘s second one-hour special filmed at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, MA.

Directors: Louis C.K., Shannon Hartman

Writer/Star: Louis C.K.

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  Louis C.K. is one of my favorite comedians.  As usual, he charismatically delivers brutally honest material that leaves you simultaneously uncomfortable and laughing.  Some of the material in this special, though, especially the stuff in the beginning involving offensive words, I just don’t relate to.  Before you get all “that’s what’s wrong with ‘Murica” on me, I’m not saying he was wrong for going there, but I just didn’t find that material very funny…just like I’m not much into toilet humor.  If you love that stuff, go for it…if you’re offended by my lack of enthusiasm for it, though, I cordially invite you to pound sand and kick rocks.

Blue Valentine (2010)

(R) 112 mins

(R) 112 mins

Plot Summary: As Cindy and Dean muddle through their languishing marriage, they hearken back to the golden days when life was filled with possibility and romance.

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  After the meet cutes, after the romantic courtship, and after the weddings that their viewers rooted for, the couples in our romantic dramas actually have to live with each other…and it’s not always happily ever after.  This film is about that later scenario.  It is uncompromisingly real.  The actors managed to channel raw emotions that make it very difficult for the viewer to stay detached.  And to really drive the point home in an artistic and interesting way, the film is split with flashbacks to that amazingly cute romance that no one would ever think would fail.  Overall, this is a very good movie, and it deserved every award and nomination that it received.

I guess I’ve just seen and experienced too much heartbreak in my life to want to spend another 2 hours living in someone else’s broken dreams, though.  I found this flick difficult to watch for that reason.  I found myself strongly disliking Williams’s character.  I found myself wanting to cite this film as an example of the crappy things that (some) women do.  For some people, this movie is a Must See.  For me, it is a very real and moving film that brings up feelings I do not really care for.  That being said, I respect it as a great movie, and would not say you’re wasting your time watching it.  Be careful who you watch it with, though, as it could lead to an argument.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

(UR) 96 mins

(UR) 96 mins

Plot Summary: A group of people hide from bloodthirsty zombies in a farmhouse.

Director: George A. Romero

Writers: John A. Russo (screenplay), Romero (screenplay)

Stars: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must See)  It’s black and white, and the special effects are primitive, but this is THE seminal zombie film.  Like all good horror flicks of its era, it stays compelling through suspenseful storytelling and making its viewers think they saw more gore than they actually did…although some of the cannibalism scenes were more gory than I would have expected for a film of its time.

This movie, Romero’s feature debut, was made in the true spirit of an independent film.  The line between cast, crew, and producers was virtually non-existent, with actors serving as screenwriters, producers, stuntmen, makeup artists, electronic sound engineers, and still photographers.  Romero manned the camera himself for some scenes, as well.  According to IMDB, Romero borrowed the house in which most of the movie was filmed from an owner who was going to have it demolished anyway.  However, the house did not have a true basement, so the basement scenes were filmed in the editing studio’s cellar.  Romero also borrowed the car featured in the film.  To simulate blood, he used…Bosco chocolate syrup.

Romero was a Carnegie-Mellon Institute graduate, and, also according to IMDB, this was the first movie filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Pittburgh police even provided personnel and equipment.  The day that the final editing and voice-over dubbing was completed in Pittsburgh, Romero and Russo put the reels into the cans, threw them into the trunk of the car, and drove straight to New York City that night in hopes of having it screen at any willing theater. However, the film’s world premiere ended up taking place at the Fulton Theatre in Pittsburgh on October 1, 1968 (At 8PM, admission by invitation only). The movie was met with a standing ovation.

Per IMDB, this film became one of the most successful independent films ever made, one of the last big hits of the drive-in era, and one of the first movies added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.  Nonetheless, Romero saw very little profit from the film since, thanks to his lack of knowledge regarding distribution deals, the distributors walked away with practically all of the profits.  Since the film makers forgot to include a then-required copyright notice in the movie, it slipped into the public domain.

This flick is also a great example for discussions concerning African Americans in film.  Film historian Donald Bogle believes that most black people in 20th-century American films can be classified into one of five categories: Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks.  However, according to IMDB, the character of Ben was originally supposed to be a crude-but-resourceful truck driver, with no specification to race.  After Jones, in real-life a self-serious, erudite academic, auditioned for the part, Romero re-wrote the part to fit his performance.

Furthermore, the character of Ben was originally written as an angry person, and, upon receiving the role, Jones expressed concern that the character be rewritten to remove some of the anger – such as the scene where Ben hits Barbara – afraid of how it would be widely perceived in the United States at the time to see a black man acting in this way.  The nation was plagued with high racial tensions during the late sixties, and the film was released to theaters shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Nonetheless, Romero and most of the rest of the predominantly white crew decided against it, thinking they were being “hip” by not changing it.  Years later, Romero lamented that he had not taken Jones’ concerns more into consideration, and thought that he was probably correct.  Romero expressed that he wishes he could speak with the late Jones again, asking him how he felt about the film’s legendary status, and believes Jones would just say “Who knew?” and laugh.

For my part, it was pretty cool to see a black man in a 1960s film play such a confident leadership role amongst a white cast.  It seemed to me that the part of Ben could have been played by an actor of any race, as long as he was good, and Jones performed very well.

Kill List (2012)

(NR) 96 mins

(NR) 96 mins

Plot Summary: When a scarred ex-soldier turned contract killer is pressured into taking a new job, his world begins to unravel until fear and paranoia sending him reeling towards a horrifying point of no return.

Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  This movie is suspenseful, well-acted, and interesting in a wide range of ways, including an insightful look at the aftermath of the sacrifices that soldiers make in war.  It has a realistic feel, even with the injection of the occult.  I thoroughly enjoyed this flick…until the end.

The ending may leave you needing more of an explanation…in my case, it did.  I had a better understanding after reading the explanation on Holy Moly, and additional reflection yielded my own interpretation.  Still, I felt that the jump to the final “twist” needed much more development to get there.  Ironically, so many of the characters and relationships in this film were extremely well developed, but this ending left me with theatrical blueballs.

After further reflection, however, I drew my own conclusions as to the meaning of the movie, based on my military background.  Maybe a deeper understanding of the occult and its symbolism would have allowed me to better catch the intended meaning of the film, but, all in all, this film was worth watching for me because it inspired deeper thought hours after watching it.  I’d be glad to discuss any reader’s take on the meaning in the comments, but please remember to adequately mark SPOILERS.