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The 40 Year-Old-Critic: Attack of the Clones (2002)

star_wars_episode_two_attack_of_the_clones_ver2In The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

A week ago, while attending Wizard World Chicago, I had a debate with a Now Playing Podcast listener who claimed Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was the worst movie in the Star Wars saga. I strongly disagreed.

Not to say I think any of the Star Wars films are bad, per se. I have three tattoos taken from the series. I host Star Wars Action News, a biweekly podcast about Star Wars collecting. I am a devoted Star Wars fan — but I’m also a discerning Star Wars fan that can recognize that those Ewok TV movies are horrible and also distinguish differences in quality among the six films in the saga.

To me, Attack of the Clones was a much needed course correction for the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

To say Episode I: The Phantom Menace left me cold would be a literal truth, as I sat out one night in the freezing rain to get tickets. But it’s also metaphorically true. Perhaps it was how I binged on that first prequel film, seeing it seven times in three days. More, though, I think it was the movie itself. While it boasted the most exciting lightsaber fight in the series, the overall story was somewhat incomprehensible — I had to read various “expanded universe” novels to understand what the Trade Federation was trying to do, and I still think it was stretching. More, the film was completely devoid of humor. The first three Star Wars films had all been fun, with the cocky attitude of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) a centerpiece. Here that sardonic fun was replaced with a walking CGI fish creature stepping in crap.

This was the Star Wars prequel I'd dreamt of as a child.  Phantom Menace did not deliver.

This was the Star Wars prequel I’d dreamt of as a child. Phantom Menace did not deliver.

After The Phantom Menace I slowly found myself drifting away from Star Wars — a major lifestyle change. I had been reading Star Wars novels since 1993, played the video games constantly on my PC, and collected the toys obsessively since 1995. That all peaked with Phantom Menace’s release, when the Toys ‘R’ Us employees informed me that I’d spent the most money of anyone during their midnight toy release, and when I traveled 60 miles every Thursday to get the latest Kentucky Fried Chicken basket topper.

But in the summer of 1999 the glut of Episode I toys clogged shelves. With no new figures found, just the same ones that had been available for months, the thrill of collecting waned and I stopped bothering to look for the next wave of toys. More, I was let down by The Phantom Menace and didn’t wish to dwell on it. I pursued other interests, and stopped buying Star Wars books, toys, and games altogether. It was not a conscious break; when Phantom Menace was re-released in theaters in November of that same year — this time with proceeds going to charity — I saw it again. But that viewing solidified my feeling that my childhood was dead, it was time to move past Star Wars.

Reservoir Jedi

Reservoir Jedi

That stance lasted for a couple years. I even tried to sell my Star Wars collection, only to find that I wasn’t alone. A toy store in Chicago offered me 5 cents for brand new, mint figures — 1 percent of the retail price. He told me no one wanted Star Wars toys, new or old, and that he had a warehouse full of them that he couldn’t sell.

Also during that time my life changed a lot. I met Marjorie, we dated, and eventually moved in together. I also quit my low-paying job and returned to school full-time. We were living off her income and what savings I had put together. Times were tough, bills went unpaid, and there was no extra income to spend on toys. What movies we saw were mostly from the $1 rental bin, not full price theatrical fare.

Despite all this, when the first teaser trailer for Attack of the Clones was released I started to get excited. The trailer was attached to Harry Potter, and so Marjorie and I bought tickets just to see it in the theater. When it played… I was not thrilled. It looked like more of the same that we got in 1999 with Phantom Menace. We were so disappointed we actually left the theater without staying for Potter.

McGregor showed us Star Wars could be fun again.

McGregor showed us Star Wars could be fun again.

For me, Star Wars was in a nosedive. But it did pull out, and I remember the moment perfectly. A secret trailer for Attack of the Clones named “Mystery” was released online. A friend came over and he, Marjorie, and I all gathered around my laptop to watch. Another tease, this one focused on an assassin out to get Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). It showed action, it showed suspense, but best of all it showed humor! It seemed Lucas had realized how dull every character in Phantom Menace had been, and now the sarcastic wit was back courtesy of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor).

I watched that trailer repeatedly. By the time the third trailer came, my break from Star Wars was over.

But there’s more than that — this film changed my entire life forever.

As mentioned, Marjorie and I were engaged. We knew we were going to get married, but I was hesitating because I was an unemployed graduate student. I had no money, and neither of our parents’ would pay for a wedding. As such, the engagement had no end date, and I hadn’t even scraped the money together for a proper ring. Instead I gave her a placeholder ring that took the last of my cash: $25.

Our excitement for Attack of the Clones grew together; she was as excited for the film as I (and she was nowhere near as hard on Phantom Menace). As such, Marjorie suggested, “What if we have a Star Wars wedding?”

Marjorie, Arnie, and their minister pose for a photo at the wedding.

Marjorie, Arnie, and their minister pose for a photo at the wedding.

The thought had occurred to me; I’m not very traditional to begin with, and I considered all weddings to be pomp and circumstance. A tuxedo means nothing to me, nor does a wedding dress to Marjorie. All wedding garb is a costume, so why not make it a Star Wars costume? Plus there was no better time to do it than surrounding the release of a new movie, so a date was set and the Carvalho Star Wars wedding was on.

Her parents were excited. My parents were mortified. We kept certain things traditional — we were married in a church and there were no full-on costumes (I had never heard of the 501st costuming club, if I had I surely would have invited them). As I was the unemployed one I did much of the planning, and I did borrow some money — since repaid — from my godparents to get Marjorie a proper diamond engagement ring; smaller than she deserved but what I could give.

But she had another crazy idea.

The Star Wars Celebration II convention was the weekend before our wedding. As planning had left us stressed, we decided to max out our last credit card and go. I was hesitant; I had gone to a couple conventions in the past but didn’t see the appeal. That said, I had gone only for a couple hours, never an entire weekend. This was a totally new experience, and when we arrived we were immersed in Star Wars. Men in realistic-looking Stormtrooper armor worked security, triggering a latent fear of the men in white. On top of that, celebrities were everywhere; we even had Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) and other stars sign our wedding invitation!

Plus, there was new Attack of the Clones footage screened exclusively for convention attendees. We got to see a trailer that parodied Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, ending with Yoda, lightsaber lit, jumping around like a crazy frog.

I had been excited for Episode II, but now I was practically vibrating with anticipation. I wanted to see Yoda kick ass!

Marjorie and Arnie's wedding invitation, signed by Star Wars celebrities.

Marjorie and Arnie’s wedding invitation, signed by Star Wars celebrities.

Star Wars Celebration II was a magical weekend bested only by the next one, when Marjorie and I were married. Because of the Star Wars connection local media showed up, and once it hit the AP wire we were known around the country. Our honeymoon in New Orleans felt like a press tour as we woke up every morning at 5 a.m. to talk about our wedding on radio shows, and we were even taken to the local NBC affiliate to appear on MSNBC.

On that honeymoon we went to a midnight screening of Attack of the Clones, which turned out to be one of the worst theatrical experiences in my life. As it was told to me, the theater was showing the film on 16 screens, but had only 4 prints. They were trying to daisy chain the prints from projector to projector, and it didn’t work; the film simply ripped. They had to show the prints to 4 theaters, and the other 12 waited. Finally at 2:30 a.m. the movie started.

I was nervous, what if it was terrible? We were booked to go on MSNBC the next morning, and Marjorie and I had already rehearsed saying, “Loved it!” in unison — lest we look like fools, going on national television about a wedding to tie into a sucky film. The trailers looked good, but after The Phantom Menace I knew there was a risk.

I needn’t have worried. That next morning, when asked by Natalie Morales what we thought of the film, we were honest in expressing excitement. It truly was a return to the Star Wars I’d loved as a child.

The sheer enormity of the clone army excited me.

The sheer enormity of the clone army excited me.

I’ve seen the movie dozens of times since 2002. Removed from the excitement of the release and the sentiment of our wedding I can clearly see it’s not a perfect film. If ranking the 6 live-action theatrical releases it would be second to last, Phantom Menace at the bottom. I felt the inclusion of Boba Fett as a child was unnecessary to the plot and some of the mysteries never made sense (though at the time I trusted, falsely, that Episode III would answer these questions). Still, the acting was far improved — Portman decided to use her skill this time, and McGregor was a joy throughout. The CGI effects were also better, with the huge battle at the end truly impressing and enthralling me. The lightsaber fight was exciting, and Yoda lived up to my expectations. It has flaws, but was certainly a step in the right direction.

Best of all, it ended with a wedding. Marjorie and I had both gone in spoiler-free and had no idea that we would be married only four days before Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Padme would also tie the knot. To have a Star Wars wedding tying into a new Star Wars film release was one thing, but to be that close to one that also involved a wedding seemed like kismet.

The wedding in Star Wars seemed perfectly timed for our Star Wars wedding.

The wedding in Star Wars seemed perfectly timed for our Star Wars wedding.

Though I couldn’t buy Marjorie the ring she deserved, and though the wedding had to be done on a very tight budget, marrying her was the best decision in my life. We have not only shared a life, but we share Star Wars, both through our wedding and now through our podcasts. It would have happened anyway but, to quote Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Thanks to this movie, it started earlier and has given me more great days than I’d have had otherwise.

More, Attack of the Clones brought me back into the Star Wars fold. I saw it multiple times in theaters, including a trip to Chicago to see it on IMAX — my first IMAX viewing experience. It righted much of what The Phantom Menace wronged.

It brought me back into collecting, as well. New figures were on shelves, but I couldn’t afford them. I finally gave up looking for a dream job and, to pay the bills (and buy a few figures), I took another low-paying temp job. In another unexpected twist, that temp job grew quickly into the career I have today.

And, yes, for our 10th anniversary I finally gave her the ring I wish I could have given her in 2002.

My wife, my work, and my continued love of Star Wars can all be traced back to Attack of the Clones. For that I can forgive its few cinematic flaws and appreciate it for the fun space fantasy that it is.

Tomorrow — 2003!

Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec    

September 1, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Conventions, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews, Star Wars, Star Wars Action News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The 40 Year-Old-Critic: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Make the ‘Corn Connection’ with ‘Now Playing Podcast’

Let’s be honest. None of us really expect to see row after row of green arrows once the Now Playing Podcast hosts emerge from their nine-part Children of the Corn Retrospective Series.

If it weren’t for their commitment to reviewing every movie spawned by the works of Stephen King, we wouldn’t, for example, be circling Sept. 23 on the calendar for the release of Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Revenge.

But Arnie, Stuart and Jakob are taking the plunge, and so we will join them on this epic binge of bad sequels. Only this time, we’re going to have some fun with it.

With our hosts seated in front of their microphones, those of us behind the scenes will be playing Six Degrees of Now Playing.

It’s The Corn Connection.

Every week we’ll run down the list of players from each of the nine Corn films, and direct an arrow toward their place in the Now Playing Podcast archives.

When you IMDB the casts of Hollywood horror franchises, you’ll often see familiar faces. Some are names that will soon become household (see Hellraiser: Hellworld), and some once were (Isaac’s Revenge).

So come back to the Venganza Media Gazette each week and take a trip around the Now Playing Podcast archives. And if you spot an actor or actress that’s made an appearance in another film reviewed by Now Playing, leave a comment and help a fellow listener discover what they might be missing.

We’ll start Tuesday following the release of 1984’s Children of the Corn over at the Now Playing Podcast website.


How many connections can you make?



August 19, 2014 Posted by | News, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Make the ‘Corn Connection’ with ‘Now Playing Podcast’

‘Turtles’ Power Now Playing on iTunes, ‘Children’ lurking


Now Playing Podcast is leaving the sewers and venturing into the cornfields.

Venganza Media’s flagship podcast capped its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Retrospective Series this week with its review of the Michael Bay-produced franchise reboot. The film marked the Turtles’ return to the big screen after a 7-year layoff and captured the box office crown on opening weekend.

Now Playing Podcast marked its own triumph on Thursday, when its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) episode debuted at No. 5 on iTunes’ TV & Film audio podcast rankings.

The achievement extends Now Playing’s summer winning streak, highlighted by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II episode, which peaked at No. 2 on iTunes in late July.

Throughout the TMNT series, hosts Arnie Carvalho, Stuart Atkinson and Jakob Brewster have guided listeners through the highs and lows of Ninja Turtles lore, and ventured outside of the feature films to discuss long-forgotten turns in the franchise’s history, including the infamous Coming Out Of Their Shells concert tour.

“Turtle Power is a real thing, it cannot be underestimated,” Atkinson joked. “I give all the credit to those green guys. They’ve been through hell at the movies and they deserve a little Top 10 love.”

With theNP_SKSeries-ChildrenCornArt_1400 Turtles franchise now in their rear view, the hosts are set to begin the next chapter in Now Playing’s massive Stephen King retrospective. The series, which began last fall, picks up again Aug. 19 with Children of the Corn, a nine-episode arc that will complete Now Playing’s coverage of King’s Night Shift collection.

The first Corn adaptation hit theaters in 1984 and was followed by seven poorly-received sequels, as well as a television remake. Fans of Now Playing’s earliest horror retrospective series’ can look forward to the hosts continuing their discussion of Hollywood’s sequel addiction as they try their best to remain composed in the face of mediocre filmmaking.

“Reviewing Night Shift has been a long haul, and I say that as the King fan!” Carvalho said. “I haven’t watched most of these Corn films, but they made nine of them — there has to be something there, right?”

“Nine films? Most direct-to-video?” Brewster added. “I just hope I can come up with enough corn puns to bring a kernel of humor to our listeners’ ears. Sigh.”

The Children of the Corn series will carry Now Playing Podcast into early October, before the hosts embark on a journey through the films of director Christopher Nolan, leading up to the release of November’s Interstellar.

August 14, 2014 Posted by | News, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ‘Turtles’ Power Now Playing on iTunes, ‘Children’ lurking

40 Year-Old-Critic: Return of the Jedi (1983)

return_of_the_jedi_ver1In The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

Anticipation for a film can be like great sex.

The foreplay starts when the film is announced, giving fans a hint that something great is to come. The slow build of anticipation can be excitingly agonizing. News bits are teased like a nibble on your earlobe, pictures are released from the set — the brief flashes making moviegoers anxious for the full reveal — and quotes tease the mind with plot threads as vague as an erect nipple through a cotton blouse. Finally, it all climaxes on the opening weekend; and that first viewing can sometimes be even better than the build up, or it can be a frustrating experience as the film exposes itself as something lesser than the fantasy built up in your mind.

To properly hype a film is a delicate dance. Studio marketing teams must be careful not to show too much too quickly, while still ensuring the filmgoer remains not only interested, but almost intoxicated by the perfume of previews.

I learned all of this as an 8-year-old. The film that taught me this lesson was Return of the Jedi.

Arnie's childhood soccer team was The Force to be reckoned with.

Arnie’s childhood soccer team was The Force to be reckoned with.

Up until the spring of 1983 moviegoing was always spurred by an adult in my life.  Even when I picked the film we attended I chose by simply looking at the newspaper listings, with no knowledge of release dates or whether the film was leaving theaters soon.

I usually became aware of a film upon its release. As mentioned in yesterday’s E.T. article, I watched Siskel & Ebert At The Movies weekly to learn about new films, but until their review aired I knew nothing about new movies being made. I may have seen an ad or two on television or trailers before other movies started, but I was too young for any of that to grab my attention.

I was too young to plan.

But that started to change after The Empire Strikes Back, with its unresolved cliffhanger of an ending. Being only 5 years old when I first saw Empire, I couldn’t fathom waiting three years for a conclusion to a story. After all, that was more than half my lifetime!

Primarily due to the toys, Star Wars was a constant topic of playground conversation, and throughout first, second, and third grade rumors about the next Star Wars film spread through the grapevine like urban legend.

“George Lucas was going to make Return of the Jedi three years after Empire, just as Empire was three years after Star Wars!”

"Are you done yet???"  Arnie's sister builds his AT-AT on Christmas day, 1982.

“Are you done yet???” Arnie’s sister builds his AT-AT on Christmas day, 1982.

“Then he’s planning to take a break for a few years, and release the next movie — Episode I — in 1989!”

To this day I don’t know how much of the “news” I heard about future Star Wars films was made up, how much came from news and magazines — passed down from parent to child — or how much I’ve learned since that has retroactively mingled in my imaginings.

What I do remember is the anticipation — for years — of that next Star Wars film.

I was not a child who dealt well with suspense. Commercial breaks were often agonizing torture, and season-finale cliffhangers would cause me physical pain — the need to know. But for three years I battled, wanting so badly to see what happened in the final Star Wars film.

Yet, despite all the anguish and all the talk about that third film it never felt real until late 1982 — six months before Return of the Jedi‘s release. When the trailers and magazine articles started, when toys started to hit shelves bearing the new, red Return of the Jedi logo, when bookstores had entire displays of Star Wars books promoting the upcoming film… that was when 8-year-old Arnie went insane.

It's finally done!

It’s finally done!

Toys, books, and magazines were all purchased in anticipation of this film — surrogates I used to try and satiate my desires until the Jedi’s release. My godparents would placate me with a deal: If I did good in school that week, then on Saturday they would take me to buy one action figure.

ONE!?!?!  But there were dozens on the store shelves, and so many more to come! I would watch Saturday morning cartoons and make lists of all the figures being released. I took a cardback and would X off each figure I owned as a way of marking time until I could have them all.

My parents, however, were not as indulgent regarding toys. They did however encourage me to read, and so I remember one Sunday going to the (now closed) local bookshop, The Book Emporium. There I saw a massive display of Star Wars novels, and a poster promoting the upcoming release of a Return of the Jedi novelization! That image of two hands clasping the blue lightsaber was burned into my brain, and to this day it is my iconic image of that film. I couldn’t bear it so I badgered my father to buy me all the Star Wars books, and I took my pleasures where I could — reading the novelizations of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back to fully re-experience those stories before seeing Return of the Jedi.

Arnie - Star Wars Pics 1980 through 1983 6

Arnie’s 1983 Birthday Cake

Finally, two weeks before the film was out, the novelization by James Kahn was in stores. I bought it the Saturday after it was released and tore into it. I couldn’t wait any longer for Return of the Jedi — the thirteen days until the film would be in theaters was agonizing.  I had to have it now. I read like I’d never read before, page after page, excited for every new reveal.

It was a feeling like I was doing something naughty. There was forbidden knowledge in this book! I knew things no one else on the playground knew!

So excited was I about my insight into this upcoming movie that I would regale my sister Susan with anecdotes from the novel. Perhaps wanting me to have a pure movie experience (perhaps just wanting to shut me up), she introduced me to the concept of what we now call a “spoiler.”

She asked me if I was ruining the movie by knowing all about it before I saw it. Now, I wanted to see this movie more than I wanted air to breathe, so I promised her I would not read the last 50 pages. The film’s ending I would save for the screen.

But the waiting was killing me. Never before had I paid careful attention to a film’s opening date, but that year I knew Return of the Jedi would open on May 25. I had never been to an evening movie before — my parents always saved money by taking me to matinees — but Susan promised to take me opening night. My childhood best friend Stuart, now my co-host on Now Playing Podcast, also joined us.

We went early; Susan knowing that her brother wasn’t the only one anxious for Jedi. Still, the line was long at the Fox Theater in Springfield. It ran the full length of the strip mall, and for a half-hour we stood right outside the toy store where I practically drooled over the giant Star Wars toy display in the window.

ROTJ Vader

Vader walked the line at our Return of the Jedi screening.

Walking down the line, working the crowd, was Darth Vader. I’d seen costumed characters before on stage shows, and sometimes superheroes would appear at that very same toy store. But those were scheduled appearances. I had no concept of cosplay, and I was somewhat frightened by this tall man carrying the Kenner lightsaber. Part of me knew he wasn’t the real Darth Vader, and part of me hoped he was indeed the Sith Lord come to terrorize my town.

When we got to the box office we were told there were only 3 tickets left for the film — all of us could get in, but we couldn’t sit together. My sister was flummoxed by this, as we were two children in her care for the night.

But I didn’t care who I sat by, or didn’t sit by, just get me in that theater! Sorry Stuart. Sorry Susan. I cared more about seeing Return of the Jedi than spending time with either of you!

That was another radical shift. Up until that point in my life, movies were always a social event. I couldn’t imagine watching a movie alone, and going to a cinema was always as much about time with friends and family as it was the film itself.

Not this time. This time Return of the Jedi and I had to be together. Now.

So in we went. I had an end-of-the-aisle seat next to a stranger. Before the lights dimmed I tried to look around and see where Stuart and Susan were seated, but the theater was large and soon I ceased to care. They never once entered my thoughts as I was transported at 0.5-past-lightspeed to a galaxy far, far away.

In 1983 there was no better birthday gift for Arnie than an Ewok village.

In 1983 there was no better birthday gift for Arnie than an Ewok village.

The film moved so fast and had so many vivid creature designs that I instantly forgot everything I had read in the book. On the page I had only my own imaginings, and a few photos in the middle of the novel, to aid in the visualization of the story. Now, with dancing Twi’leks, organ-playing muppets, and slithering Hutts the film consumed me whole — as the Rancor would to the Gamorrean guard. The Emperor, the red-robed Royal Guards, the speeder bikes, they enthralled me. But my favorite were the Ewoks. Some have claimed the fierce teddy bears were Lucas’ crass marketing attempt to appeal to children. It worked. I was hooked by these furry, man-eating creatures, and immediately every Ewok figure was at the top of my toy-buying list.

When the Death Star exploded, I didn’t care that it was a retread of the same climax Lucas had done six years earlier, the one I’d watched on VHS nearly every day after school. Evil was defeated. That was what mattered.

This film lived up to what I wanted at that age. It was love-at-first-viewing, and like any new romance the euphoria made me proclaim it the best movie I’d ever seen. I knew I had seen E.T. 12 times in theaters the year before, so I would not be satisfied until I’d seen Jedi 13 times and it could claim my record.

(At 17 viewings, counting the ‘97 rerelease and a convention screening, Jedi is to this day the movie I’ve seen most often theatrically.)

As an adult I feel Return of the Jedi, while still very good, is by far the weakest of the three original Star Wars films. The pacing is downright odd, with too much time spent rescuing Han Solo in a subplot far removed from the main action of the saga. Lucas had painted himself into a corner and it took a long side-trip to the Pit of Carkoon to fix it. Yoda’s death was convenient, Luke and Leia’s sibling relationship was contrived, and Han Solo was neutered.

"Obi-Wan, invite the creepy guy to join us, did you?"

“Obi-Wan, invite the creepy guy to join us, did you?”

Jedi was also the first Star Wars film where I felt Lucas was too ambitious and the technology was not able to realize his vision. From Imperial Walkers to Tauntauns to Landspeeders to Yoda, the effects wizards in Lucas’ employ had made it all work in his previous films. But in Jedi the seams were showing — quite literally in the case of the puppets in Jabba’s palace. From the shoddy matting of the Rancor to the poor articulation in the Ewok faces, this is the Star Wars film that looks the most fake.


Lucas would try to fix some of these technical issues in myriad re-releases, starting with the Special Edition in 1997. Each time Jedi got a little worse, right down to the creepy insertion of Hayden Christensen at the end, and Darth Vader’s lame battle cry of “Noooooo.”

Still, despite these issues, the core storyline of Vader’s redemption, a son’s determination to save his father, and the final battle between good and evil makes this a worthy entry in the Star Wars franchise.

But this experience — anticipating a film so hotly that I was near-obsessed — was euphoric. To this day few experiences in my life are as pleasurable as the anticipation for a great, exciting movie.

Arnie - Star Wars Pics 1980 through 1983 1

More birthday gifts from 1983

It was this level of hype I had for the remake of Friday the 13th that launched Now Playing Podcast’s first retrospective series. That same hype for The Avengers, more than one year before its release, instigated Now Playing’s Marvel Movie Retrospective.

As for future hype, I look at Star Wars Episode VII. I believed for 30 years that the Star Wars story ended with Return of the Jedi, but Lucas’ decision to retire — combined with Disney shareholders’ lust for profit — mean the story will continue. Part of me feels like this is a spinoff, a story based on characters created by George Lucas. Episode VII is in completely unnecessary, save for the Disney folks who watch it with dollar signs in their eyes.

But… it could be good. The recent reveal of an X-Wing is pulling at my nostalgic love for the original trilogy. Certainly all the marketers at Disney will try to seduce me. The images revealed, the first trailers, will all be Episode VII courting me, teasing me, trying to gain my interest and make me excited. Time will tell if Star Wars can still get me hot and bothered 32 years later.

But I’ll never forget my first, and as such Return of the Jedi will always be special.

Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec

August 13, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Marvelicious Toys, Movies, Podcasts, Reviews, Star Wars, Star Wars Action News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

40 Year-Old-Critic: Love at First Bite (1979)

Love_at_first_biteIn The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

It’s not easy to choose a favorite film from 1979 — so many of that year’s films have influenced my life in one way or another, from The Muppet Movie, which solidified a love for the older-skewing Muppets, to Alien, which scared the pants off me (and Sigourney Weaver), to The Jerk (which may be Steve Martin’s finest ludicrous performance). And I cannot leave out Francis Ford Coppola’s mad masterpiece Apocalypse Now, which is certainly the most engaging and best-made film from 1979.

But while I always enjoy getting lost in the jungles of Coppola’s Vietnam, I didn’t see the film until adulthood, and it hasn’t shaped my life or my views.

The movie that did was a little George Hamilton horror spoof, Love At First Bite.  The story tells of Dracula (George Hamilton) coming to (then) modern-day New York City to find his true love Mina Harker, who has been reincarnated as supermodel Cindy (Susan Saint James).  His quest is thwarted by Cindy’s psychiatrist boyfriend Jeffrey Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin), who also just happens to be a descendant of Dracula’s nemesis van Helsing.

Barely in first grade, I was probably far too young to be watching Love At First Bite. I was too naieve to really understand all the references to the swinging seventies, and the meaning of the word “kinky.”  More, the social commentary about urban youth rehabilitation, psychiatry, and religion was all mostly lost on me.

Yet I was enraptured by this movie.  As I have mentioned in previous reviews, I have always been fascinated by horror. I was mesmerized by trailers on television for movies like Friday the 13th and Evil Dead. It was as if seeing them would be like reading from the Necronomicon itself, opening me to a world of demons and monsters. To an imaginative young boy that thought is rapturous, and terrifying.  I would watch horror films through slatted fingers; I could not bear to see the monsters but I also could not look away. The few times I would try to watch horror films — including Frank Langella’s Dracula from this same year — I needed an adult nearby to protect me from the “evil” radiating from the screen.

But in Love at First Bite — here was a Dracula I could handle. Hamilton was sharing the screen with familiar faces like George and Weezie Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford, respectively). He didn’t want to slaughter innocents, he wanted to be reunited with his centuries-old-love! He wasn’t turning people into ghastly, zombie-like minions, he was feeding on winos and getting drunk off their blood! I understood this Dracula to be silly.

Now, just because I thought he was funny didn’t mean I wasn’t also in awe of Dracula, his immortality and powers. His magical ability to transform into bats and dogs, and his thirst for blood, still held me in thrall. The movie didn’t intend it, but I must admit, I was slightly afraid of George Hamilton’s Dracula.

This was a movie that made horror accessible to a 6-year-old. It was the stepping stone for me between Sesame Street’s Count (always my favorite Muppet, as I secretly hoped one day he’d count the other Muppets on which he’d fed) and true horror killers like Freddy and Jason. I especially liked the crazy antics of Arte Johnson as Dracula’s servant Renfield, the actor throwing himself into the role with wild abandon.

From left to right, Benjamin, Saint James, and Hamilton in Love at First Bite

 Benjamin, Saint James, and Hamilton share a Bite

I have since revisited Love at First Bite and can see its many flaws. The film is very much a product of its time.  It’s a desperate Mel Brooks wannabe, attempting to be a vampire version of Young Frankenstein, but, strangely, adds the racist humor of Blazing Saddles. The jokes are dated and most don’t hold up, the effects are shoddy and obvious, and while the score is amazing, the best song in the movie — Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Nightlife” — has been cut from home video releases due to rights issues.  Still, some of the Dracula jokes, such as “Creatures of the night….shut up!” still make me giggle.  Revisiting Love at First Bite in 2014 was not a rewarding experience and if this were a review for Now Playing Podcast, I’d struggle with giving it a recommend.

Yet this film helped me accept a dichotomy in my own mind that monsters could be frightening and alluring. Just as I was repulsed by — yet drawn to — horror films, Cindy was drawn to — yet frightened by — her undead on-screen lover. The fine line between terror and turn-on was revealed to me. It’s something I’d explore further in Hellraiser, but I recognize that I was first exposed to it by Love at First Bite.

In the 30-some years since I have read Bram Stoker’s original novel and watched countless versions of the quintessential vampire on screen, but when I think of Dracula, it’s George Hamilton that I picture in my mind. So for that long-lasting bite this film gave me, it is the film from 1979 that I remember most.

Next — 1980!

Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec

August 9, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

40 Year-Old-Critic: Superman (1978)

Superman-Movie-PosterIn The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

I look at 1978 as the middle-child of movie years. Moviegoers were still wowed by 1977’s Star Wars, which was continuing to play on many screens in’78.  Lucas’ masterpiece had just set Hollywood on its own space race, but it took a couple of years for Lucas imitators and other sci-fi directors to get their films produced.  As such, many of the sci-fi films I grew up with and celebrate as seminal were not released until 1979. But what about the year in-between? It had Dawn of the Dead, a smart mix of social commentary and horror, and Grease, which is a fun sing-a-long romp that I’ve watched more times than I can count. Still, neither changed my life nor my view of film. And please don’t bring up Jaws 2, Animal House, or Every Which Way But Loose. No, in 1978 there are only two films that resonated with me. The first was Halloween, an annual must-watch for me that iterated the Texas Chain Saw Massacre formula and is the father of the 80s slasher film. But its impact pales in comparison to the single 1978 movie that made me believe a man could fly — Superman: The Movie. I was 4 years old when this superhero film was released, but my parents took me to see this in theaters despite my young age. In one viewing my focus changed.

No, I don't know why Superman is carrying Jaws

No, I don’t know why Superman is carrying Jaws

I’ve gone back and looked at family photo albums. From September ‘74 through November ‘78 all my photos were full of the usual childhood accouterments: I had PlaySkool’s wooden Sesame Street figures, clown items, Cookie Monster designs on my 4th birthday cake. You can see the changes after December ‘78. My clothes were no longer Big Bird T-Shirts, now they were superhero Underoos. Away went the baby PlaySkool toys and, in their place, was a collection of Mego Superheroes. And on my bedroom wall were two new posters: Lou Ferrigno as CBS’s The Incredible Hulk, and Christopher Reeve, arm pointing to the sky, advertising Superman: The Movie. Obviously, many films captured my imagination (and my parents’ dollars) as a child. That alone is not enough to warrant the title of Most Important Film of 1978. However, when I look at my life, and when I look at the hit movies of today, it’s impossible not to see the legacy of star Christopher Reeve and director Richard Donner. In the mid-70s superheroes were seen as campy entertainment for children. Comic books had long been stigmatized as pulp trash, and that reputation was solidified by the 1960s Batman TV series. Early drafts of Superman reflected that attitude as well (you can hear all about that in the Now Playing Podcast Superman review). But with this Superman film Donner saw an opportunity to make a more serious superhero adventure. He gave A-list stars Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman top billing, brought in state-of-the-art special effects, and allowed John Williams to create that emotional, rousing anthem for his hero. The result was a film that lived up to the promise on its poster, and as a 4-year-old I believed a man could fly. Admittedly, Superman did not completely abandon some campy scenes and performances; Ned Beatty’s Otis could have been teleported right from that 60s Batman series. Still, by taking the material as seriously as it did Donner and company created the first modern superhero film.

The less said the better

The less said the better

Is that a spider on the ceiling?

Is that a spider on the ceiling?

You can see the lineage: Superman begat 1989’s Batman, which begat The Crow five years later, which begat Blade in ‘98, which begat 2000’s X-Men (also produced by Donner), which begat 2002’s Spider-Man, which led to the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with Iron Man in 2008, and The Avengers four years later. And those are just the game changers. More than 100 other big-budget, major motion pictures follow Superman’s example of treating the material with respect and casting big-name stars as iconic comic characters. To this very day, almost every single superhero film is still following the mold created by Donner. As the Now Playing Podcast reviews show, the Superman series went downhill very quickly.  Producers Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind fired Donner, and without his vision the series devolved into a Richard Pryor yuk-fest. It took Tim Burton’s Batman to remind Hollywood that audiences will turn out for a serious superhero film. Then, like Superman before it, the Batman series quickly collapsed when Burton moved on. It was finally Bryan Singer’s X-Men that ignited what has become the blockbuster movie genre of the 21st century. (Don’t get me started on what Singer did to Superman, you can hear my review of that travesty in the Now Playing Podcast archives.) As for me: seeing 1978’s Superman at such a young, impressionable age forever changed my world view. While I was never heavy into comic books, Superman turned me on to multimedia superheroes. My morning cartoons became filled with Batman and Spider-Man and Hulk, and every time there was a new comic-based television series or film I was in the audience.

Sometimes Superman gets bored of flying.

Sometimes Superman gets bored of flying.

I am forever chasing the sense of wonder I felt in 1978 when Clark Kent ripped open his shirt and I saw the bright red and yellow S. Better still, this is a good movie. Unlike Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which I don’t enjoy but which fathered films I love, Superman: The Movie is always a joy to watch. While the pacing (especially in the director’s cut) may bore some people, I love the character exploration and world-building that Donner indulges. This love of superhero movies would be a direct catalyst for the creation of Now Playing Podcast, a show that’s been downloaded by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. The idea for what would become Now Playing came to me as I was leaving a screening of the Marvel Comics movie Ghost Rider, and our first review was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. The excitement for Marvel’s The Avengers kicked off Now Playing’s longest retrospective series, and turned the podcast into a weekly show as we revisited every Marvel movie, starting with George Lucas’ Howard the Duck.

It is also Marvel’s Iron Man 2 that made me a serious collector of comic book-related merchandise. That led to the creation of the podcast Marvelicious Toys and my sizable Marvel collection, full of movie-based Hot Toys figures, quarter-scale statues, and even some one-of-a-kind production materials from Howard the Duck. And while my collecting focus has been the Marvel films, I do own one single collectible from the DC universe: a Hot Toys figure of Christopher Reeve from 1978’s Superman. I own it not as a collector, but as a fan, and I display it in my home theater as a reminder that I still believe a man can fly.

No, I don't have the figure, let alone the figure on card

No, I don’t have the figure, let alone the figure on card

Next — 1979!


Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec

August 8, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Comic Books, Marvelicious Toys, Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

40 Year-Old-Critic: Star Wars (1977)

e948_classic_star_wars_movie_posters1In The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

For each year of this series I spent quite a bit of time deciding which film was the most influential on my life. I read lists of all films released, as it’s certainly possible a low-grossing cult hit could have impacted me more than any blockbuster or award-winner. I spent at least 30 minutes researching every year before making my decision.

Well, every year except 1977.

I only half-jokingly ask: Were any movies released in 1977 other than Star Wars? More accurately, do any other films matter when stacked up against Star Wars? Looking at the year’s biggest films, there was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which furthered Stephen Spielberg’s career and has legions of fans (I’m not one of them). The Woody Allen crowd will point to Oscar-winner Annie Hall. It’s an okay film but, to me, forgettable. Smokey and the Bandit and Oh, God! were products of their time, and neither aged well. Even that year’s James Bond release — The Spy who Loved Meis a letdown.

But then there is Star Wars (and note, I refuse to call it A New Hope; when it came out in 1977 it was simply Star Wars). The film is more than a cultural phenomenon, it is a global icon. Star Wars transcends nationality, race, gender, and age. Everywhere I go, from Illinois to California to Germany to Spain to Mexico, I find Star Wars fans and collectibles.

It is not hyperbole to say Star Wars forever changed cinema. On a meager budget George Lucas’ team developed entirely new ways to film special effects. John Dykstra’s computer-controlled Dykstraflex camera allowed for dynamic, active shots of ships in space without use of visible fishing lines. The rapid-fire, Academy Award-winning editing — courtesy of Paul Hirsch, Richard Chew, and (George’s ex-wife) Marcia Lucas — created an excitStar Wars X-Wing Fighting feel while trusting audiences to keep up with a story that starts in the middle of the action. Not only did Star Wars raise the bar for science-fiction and action spectacles, it quite literally and fundamentally changed the way movies were made.

I have heard and read the complaints that Star Wars forever ruined movies by relying on hackneyed character tropes, choosing action over acting, and making audiences care more about the spectacle than the story.

I dismiss those comments as rhetoric.  People love to lay blame, and there’s a hipster-coolness to attacking any cultural touchstone.

Yes, there are numerous Star Wars imitators that have taken these impulses to mind-numbing extremes, but that is the fault of each film’s creator. Star Wars simply showed moviegoers and movie-makers alike what could be done.

Personally, Star Wars was a film that would shape the way I view movies. As a child it made me believe in magic. In my late teens it introduced me to Campbellian mythological structure and archetypes. Honestly, it has — directly or indirectly — influenced every major decision of my life.

I’m told my parents took me to see Star Wars in 1977. I would have been 3, maybe 4 years old, and I have no memory of seeing it on the big screen.

Arnie Carvalho - 1978 and 1979  24 CAPTIONEDI do remember the toys. When I was still too young to read I saw a little green alien action figure (Greedo) in the toy aisle of our Kroger grocery store and I wanted him. My parents read this as me loving the film and started to buy me more figures in the toy line — which confused me at first. But over time I grew to understand not just the figures, but the movie which I watched in an endless loop for many years. Then I expanded to the video games (on the Atari 2600), Star Wars novels, role-playing games, and more.

As the Star Wars sequels were released I became even more enthralled with the universe, and it is a love that never waned. In the late 80s, when Star Wars was in a lull, I still watched the movies and reread the books. In 1993 my college dorm held Star Wars Sundays. HBO seemed to play the trilogy every week, and I formed a bond with my fellow students through this shared childhood love.

It was Star Wars that led me to online forums. It was Star Wars that motivated me in 1996 to build my first personal website about the Star Wars toys I collected and the role-playing game I was running. In 2005, it was Star Wars that motivated me to look up the definition of a podcast, and then to dig an old microphone out of the closet and start my first show, Star Wars Action News.

Throughout the past nine years I have traveled across this country — and to Germany — taking part and speaking at several conventions. I have hosted sold-out Star Wars fan events and even presented on the Kotobukiya stage at San Diego Comic-Con.

I was honored to have claim my Star Wars collection was one of the largest in the world. I have had the honor of touring Lucasfilm, and even briefly met George Lucas himself. Since starting Star Wars Action News I’ve gone to new places, had new experiences, interviewed actors, producers and writers, and made dozens of new friends.

All of that goes back to this one film from 1977.

The truth is, without Star Wars you would not be reading this article. My love of Star Wars grew into a love of film, and my Star Wars podcasting grew into a network of podcasts that includes the movie review show Now Playing Podcast, which has become our most-downloaded show and a staple in the iTunes top TV & Film audio podcasts category.

As a film critic, Star Wars is the film by which I measure all other blockbusters. Transformers may have modern effects and louder explosions, but does it create the same sense of wonder in its audience? Is Sam Witwicky a suitable audience avatar — a hero in the vein of Luke Skywalker?

(Answer: he’s not. Listen to our Transformers Movie Review Retrospective to hear why.)

Now, I do realize every Star Wars film has its flaws, from wooden acting to redundant plot points to convenient character revelations. But I don’t care. I may be turning 40, but when I watch Star Wars I’m 6 years old again, and I love it.

Star Wars has shaped my life, and there is no other film from 1977 that can compete.

Tomorrow — 1978!

Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec 

August 7, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews, Star Wars Action News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

40 Year-Old-Critic: Carrie (1976)

carrie movie posterIn The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

Last October, prompted by the release of the remake, Jakob, Stuart, and I reviewed 1976’s Carrie for Now Playing Podcast. It was the first film in our ongoing (with no end in sight) Stephen King Movie Retrospective. I came to that series a Stephen King fan, as I’ve followed his work since the mid 1980s. While researching Carrie for that review I realized I am likely only a Stephen King fan thanks to Brian DePalma’s film adaptation.

It’s not that I believe DePalma’s Carrie to be the best adaptation of a King novel, for proof you can listen to my thoughts in our Now Playing review. I think it’s a well-crafted and enjoyable film, but some poor characterizations and pacing issues prevent me from heralding it as the best King film to date.

I think Carrie’s greatest achievements took place off-screen.

King’s debut novel was published in April 1974, five months before I was born. Carrie sold well — especially in paperback — and secured the author a multi-book deal, but its overall performance was not exceptional. Even a year later, with the release of his second novel, Salem’s Lot, King was still not a household name. All of that changed in ‘76 when Carrie hit theaters. DePalma took that story, added his visual style and a Hitchcockian score, and the result was an Academy Award-nominated film.

I have no doubt that the success of Carrie in theaters gave King the boost he needed to achieve critical mass and have his first hardcover bestseller in 1977 with The Shining.

Carrie 1st Edition CoverIt helps that King is a prolific storyteller, and I’ve always believed his appeal comes from engaging stories filled with relatable characters. No cinematic success can turn a poor writer into one of the bestselling authors of all time. But with Carrie, a spotlight was shone on King.  He was exposed to a broader audience than the bookstore shelves could ever provide. De Palma opened the door and King had the talent to walk through it.

The result is publishing history. I grew up going to schools where it seemed every third student was reading a Stephen King novel. Not only were my friends engrossed in the pages, but the parents of my friends were also reading King. I was enthralled. As a child drawn to horror — and simultaneously terrified of it — I couldn’t not read these books.

The first book I read was Carrie, suggested to me by lifelong friend and fellow Now Playing host Stuart. A few weeks after finishing the novel I saw De Palma’s film for the first time, and I became a Stephen King fan. He was the first author whose name would make me immediately interested in a book.

King has published 64 novels — most of them bestsellers — as well as countless short stories, and I have read most of them. I continue to read King as I enter my 40th year, and will continue through my 41st, 42nd, and so on, until one of us dies. I’m also reviewing every widely-published Stephen King story on our Books & Nachos podcast. As I write this I’m also working on a review of his ‘78 masterpiece, The Stand.

And it all goes back to DePalma’s Carrie. Without that film, it’s possible King would have been one of 1,000 authors who publish countless books for their niche audience, but never gain widespread attention. That film was a cultural phenomenon that shaped me as a person.

Tomorrow — 1977!

Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec 


August 6, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

40 Year-Old-Critic: Jaws (1975)

Jaws PosterIn The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

My childhood was defined by the summer blockbuster. Each year I can think of one, and only one, major movie that held me — and the entire country it seemed — in its thrall. E.T. (1982), Return of the Jedi (1983), Jurassic Park (1993), Independence Day (1996), the list goes on. Each year there seemed to be one film that unified audiences, and I could discuss this film with everyone I met. I never thought about why this was the case, it simply was a fact.

What I didn’t realize for more than thirty years was that the summer blockbuster phenomenon had not always been, but rather started just before my first birthday with the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.

The director’s breakthrough film didn’t have an immediate impact on me. Jaws had become part of our cultural lexicon by the time I was able to speak. John Williams’ theme music was omnipresent in films and television, the film’s dialogue was quoted regularly, and the ride was a staple at Universal Studios theme park. As such, I never felt the need to watch Jaws — I figured pop culture had exposed me to all I needed to know. I even saw Jaws 3D before viewing the Spielberg original, the red-and-blue gimmick glasses drawing me in 1983.

Finally, in 2011, as part of Now Playing Podcast’s Spring Donation Drive (an exclusive series for donors) I watched the original Jaws and realized I only thought I knew that movie.

Jaws is not just Spielberg’s breakthrough picture, it’s the original blueprint for the stereotypical “Steven Spielberg Film.” Though it’s based on Peter Benchley’s novel, Spielberg initiated several rewrites to the script to make the film more fun, the characters more likable, and the ending more explosive.

TJaws crowdhe story follows Amity Island Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), a man who must defend his family and his town from a man-eating shark. While the story is presumably about the hunt for the shark, the film focuses more on Amity Island town politics and Brody’s relationship to his wife and children. Creating relatable character drama with a backdrop of extraordinary events is the hallmark of Spielbergian filmmaking, and it all started here with a shark tale.
The result became his cinematic template — the way Amity Island is made real with its cast of colorful characters is echoed in Spielberg films I had seen throughout my childhood, films like E.T., Poltergeist, Gremlins and Goonies. I was dumbstruck when I realized that with Jaws, Spielberg created a narrative that he would copy, and see imitated by others, for decades.
The impact of Jaws, obviously, was felt even more at the box office. It changed moviegoing forever. Until that summer, Hollywood viewed the winter months as the time to release its blockbuster films; summer was a dumping ground for under-performers. But first with Jaws and, a few years later, Star Wars, Hollywood studios began to program the “summer movie.” More, the summer blockbuster had a type: high-concept, audience-pleasing characters, ever-improving special effects.

Jaws SignThese films captivated moviegoers year-after-year, and throughout the 1980s I was one of the summer masses going to theaters for every big opening day. It was the heirs to Jaws’ legacy that made me love movies.
It took me 36 years to get around to watching Jaws, but when I did I immediately recognized that this film’s DNA was passed on to all of the favorite films from my youth.

Tomorrow — 1976!


Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec 


August 5, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

40 Year-Old-Critic: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

the-texas-chainsaw-massacre-movie-poster-1974-1020198670In The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.

See a list of all reviews

I was born in 1974, and if my parents took me to a movie that year I have no memory of the trip. In the 40 years since, I’ve caught up on many of the classics from that year such as The Godfather Part II, Blazing SaddlesThe Conversation, and Young Frankenstein. But, truthfully, none of those pictures shaped my life nearly as much as the small indie film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Of course, I didn’t see this film in its original release. I was only 19 days old when Texas Chain Saw hit theaters.  And while my parents were pretty lax with the content of movies I watched or books I read, even they would have had serious concerns about my watching teens carved up for food.  I got into true, hard R-rated horror films when I turned 12, and the constant Chain Saw references in the 1987 Mark Harmon film Summer School had me finally rent this grindhouse film on VHS.

I was unimpressed.

I had built Leatherface up in my mind as a Freddy, a Jason, or a Michael Myers.  But, in truth, Leatherface had none of the slick, commercial appeal of those later imitators.  As such, the film was less fun for me as a teen.  I later returned to Texas Chain Saw in 2010 for Now Playing Podcast’s retrospective series and, to the shock of many listeners, I gave it a red arrow.  The cacophonic score, annoying performances, and dirty, low-budget look of the film still made it a movie I couldn’t enjoy.  I labeled it “horror homework” — great for aficionados of the genre but not a film I’d recommend for the masses.

But while I may not recommend watching the film I truly recognize there are few films more important than this.  It is no exaggeration to say that without The Texas Chain Saw Massacre the horror films I love may never have come to be.
First, Texas Chain Saw was a hugely successful film, costing only $300,000 to make and grossing over $30 million at the US box office (which, per BoxOfficeMojo is more than $131 million adjusted for inflation).  This showed studios that inexpensive horror films could make bank.

tumblr_m9ss0zSwkk1rs3en5o1_1280In addition to showing studios a pathway to profit, Texas Chain Saw also inspired screenwriters and directors.  This film, along with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho,  provided a template for the “slasher” sub-genre of film, combining a masked killer with an iconic weapon  Later horror films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and even Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, all series that I love, took this formula and refined it for even greater success.  And Leatherface’s greatest successor may just be Hannibal Lecter, another cinematic cannibal that has captured my imagination.

More, this film launched director Tobe Hooper into the spotlight, paving the way for him to direct Poltergeist, another seminal horror film of the haunted house variety.  (And yes, we discussed how much influence Hooper had on Poltergeist in Now Playing Podcast’s 2011 Spring Donation Drive.  Those podcasts are no longer available.)

While this film doesn’t click with me as entertainment, I credit Texas Chain Saw for paving the way for later horror films I love. This film was born the same time I was, and without it I would not be the man, or the movie critic, I am today.

I do, however, stand by that red arrow. As I found out when I was 13, this isn’t a film I can recommend for those looking for the same glossy thrill given by Friday the 13th Part VI.  It is not a Hollywood production and it shows.  But while I can’t recommend it, I love it for the future films it enabled.

Tomorrow — 1975!


Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys.  You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec 

August 4, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The 40-Year-Old Critic – Introduction


40-Year-Old-Arnie-Master-working-CloseUp-2In exactly 40 days I turn 40 years old.

That milestone is not one without heft.  If the actuarial tables for American males are to be believed, I’m likely at least halfway through my time on this planet.  Each day I am probably closer to my death than to my birth.  Now is the time to start measuring life by the things I’ll never do instead of the things I could do.  It’s a time to reflect on what has been and determine what will be for the rest of my days.

The usual things come to mind when I ponder my life thus far:  My loving, supportive, smart, and funny wife, Marjorie.  My long-time best friend, Stuart.  My godparents, who helped raise me and taught me to be analytical.  My sister, who exposed me to literature and deconstructionist themes.  My father, who gave me a cynical view, a strange sense of humor, and a love of classical music.

But what all these people have in common is a strong memory of watching films together; sitting in a dimly lit cinema, absorbed by the images on the screen.

Marjorie and I have seen so many films together that I doubt I could compile a comprehensive list. but a few stand out.  Our first film as a married couple, watched in a midnight release on our honeymoon, was Star Wars:  Attack of the Clones.  The projector broke.  We sat for 3 hours past the planned midnight start time before the movie began.  I can still sing that New Orleans’ theater’s jingle for popcorn and candy, which played on a loop the entire time.

Another memorable movie trip was to see Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset. It was a limited release so we had to drive 4 hours each way just to watch the film, and I was so tired on the return trip we had to get a hotel.

I remember Ocean’s 11 — a movie with such a strong feel-good vibe that it saved our Sunday.  We walked into the theater in the most sour of moods, and left extremely happy.

I remember watching Fight Club on video.  Marjorie was tired so she went to sleep, and the next day all I could talk about was how she had to see that film–the first movie that I felt she and I had to share as a couple versus being able to experience on my own.

Stuart and I have seen films together since 1982.  I remember going with him to see E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Return of the Jedi.  Many more movies followed, but there are standouts. Charlie Sheen’s The Wraith, which we saw hoping for horror but got car races and heavy metal instead.  We hated it at the time, but I later came to love this film for what it was (and the Sherilyn Fenn waterfall scene).  We saw The Gate the weekend it opened, and bemoaned our choice for days.  Not all the movies we watched were terrible — I first saw The Godfather trilogy in Stuart’s Chicago apartment, and he introduced me to Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner as part of a film noir marathon we had together as teens.

For years Stuart and I had a standing Christmas night movie appointment.  He was in town to spend the holiday with family, and so a dinner of Chinese food and a movie viewing was had. Jackie Brown was the most memorable of those Christmas viewings, and we had wildly different reactions to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction follow-up.


But from European Vacation to Jaws 3-D to The Devil’s Rejects, Explorers, JFK, The Lawnmower Man and hundreds more, Stuart and I are still going to movies together.

My sister Susan took me to see my first R-rated film, Beverly Hills Cop.  She also exposed me to many movies I’d have not seen in my youth without her influence, including Ghostbusters and Lady and the Tramp.  She is much older than I, so our movie time together has been sparse, but always memorable, including E.T., Return of the Jedi, and Bridget Jones’ Diary.  (Though she staunchly refused to join me for a Hellraiser marathon.)

Yes, throughout the years my romantic, familial, and friend relationships have all involved, and in some ways been shaped by, movies.  Sometimes there is no quicker way to look into a person’s soul than to ask what films they cherish.  So it seems appropriate that to celebrate my 40th birthday I look back at 40 years of cinema.

Each day, from now until my birthday on September 12th, I will post an article looking back at the one film from each year of my life that impacted me most.  This may not be my favorite film, it may not even be a film I like, but the one that had the longest-lasting impact on me and helped shape my view of the world.

I hope you’ll join me each day as I reflect on my lifetime of cinema.




August 3, 2014 Posted by | 40-Year-Old Critic, Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments