Musings on Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind documentary

I’ve subscribed to HBO for a month so I could watch season 3 of Westworld. Well, I finished on Friday night and this documentary’s key art on the HBO’s interface and decided to watch it.

The film began with the narration of Natalie Wood‘s own daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, who was only 11 years old when her mother died, saying that so much has been written about her mother’s mysterious death that it practically overshadowed who she was as a person. I think that’s a real tragedy because as I was watching the film, I learned just how accomplished she was as an actress.

Now, I personally wasn’t at all familiar with the legendary performer. I’ve only seen one of her films, Rebel Without A Cause, but news about her death surely hasn’t let up for decades. Even though I haven’t read up much about it, I did remember reading about her case being reopened as late as 2018!

Wood’s husband at the time of her death, Robert Wagner (known as RJ to those close to him), was never charged but was still a ‘person of interest’ in the case. But before we got to that case, the first two acts pretty much focused on Natalie’s story since childhood, born to Russian immigrants, and how she got discovered. She was one of the most accomplished child actors who’ve made a successful transition as a formidable Hollywood star. She began acting at the age of 4, got her first starring role at the age of 9 in Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and received three Oscar nominations before she was 25.

It was really fascinating and moving to see all the archival footage and photos of Wood in various productions, from the not-so-well-known films to the iconic ones such as ‘Rebel’ and West Side Story. Interesting that one of the people interviewed said if she were alive today, she would’ve never gotten the role that made her famous as she played a Puerto Rican character in the famous musical. One thing for sure, Natalie Wood is much more than just a pretty face. Though she was definitely one of the most beautiful Hollywood stars, in her home life she’s shown as down to earth and a dotting mom. She was also intelligent and ambitious, and wanted to take charge of her career. One photo that strikes me the most is this one of her in a film board meeting sitting confidently at a table surrounded by all-male studio honchos. It’s definitely not the kind of photo I often associated with Natalie Wood, who’s often painted as a victim. So it’s good for her daughter to show the world a different side of her late mother.

Now, the third act did address her mysterious death. It’s the huge elephant in the room that everyone expects to be covered in the film. The one-on-one interview between Natasha and her stepfather RJ is no doubt the most emotional moments of the film, both of them looked quite emotional talking about her death. Robert himself was quite candid when talking about their careers. Though he was more famous when they first met, soon her career far outpaced Robert’s, which became a strain to her marriage. Even Robert himself admitted to being so jealous when, after their first marriage ended, she started dating her Splendor in the Grass‘ co-star Warren Beatty. But never did the film ever paint Robert as the guilty party in her death. If anything, it showed how much Natalie loved him and vice versa. I learned that she ended up marrying him twice after both had remarried after their divorce.

It’s clear that from Natasha’s and the doc’s director Laurent Bouzereau‘s perspective, Wood’s death was a tragic accident. Natasha and her younger sister Courtney even said that it’s hurtful to them that the media, and Natalie’s sister Lana Wood, constantly pointed their finger at their stepdad RJ. That fateful night started with RJ having an argument with Natalie’s co-star in her last film Brainstorm, Christopher Walken, but then RJ couldn’t find her, which led to him instigating a search involving the coast guards, etc. But even with the film covering some of the details about that fateful night, we’re still left in the dark about what happened to Natalie. We probably will never know the real truth, only Natalie would know… as Walken himself said at the end.

It’s definitely an intriguing documentary for film fans, especially if you’re a fan of her work. Given it’s produced by her own daughter, it feels personal and full of heart. I’m never bored in the entire 99-minute running time as the film seamlessly combines archival footage and talking heads featuring the who’s who of classic cinema: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, George Hamilton, Elliot Gould, etc. There are also a myriad of photos and clips from her family, as well as those of her famous parties featuring famous Hollywood guests. I mean, according to IMDb, the pallbearers at her funeral were Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier, Elia Kazan, Gregory Peck, David Niven and Fred Astaire.

I’m glad I watched this beautiful tribute to a legend that’s equally fascinating and heart-wrenching. I can’t help feeling sad as I’m watching it… Natalie Wood was such a stunning bright star who left us far too soon. I’m glad I got to see just how much she meant to her family as well as her legacy in the film world.

4/5 stars


Have you seen this documentary? What are some of your favorite film(s) of Natalie Wood?

Quick thoughts on Oscars 2017… and that crazy Best Picture mixup!

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Well this is the first year where the Oscars almost escaped me… It’s funny, there’s a line that my lead character said in my Hearts Want script, ‘I don’t give a f*** about the Oscars…’ Well, it seems his um, lack of enthusiasm seems to have rubbed off on me a bit. Suffice to say, I’ve just been so preoccupied w/ prepping my short film that I really couldn’t be bothered. In fact I stayed past 1:30 Saturday night making updates to the script. But y’know what, though I’m exhausted I don’t feel tired, I pretty much operate on adrenaline rush these days.

Before I posted about my thoughts on the Oscars though… what a sad news 😦

Ok just a few comments on the red carpet stuff…

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These three massively talented actors slay ’em at the red carpet!


Well, I think overall the ceremony is pretty boring… and Jimmy Kimmel is annoying generally. I did enjoy that whole bit about bringing a tour bus full of unsuspecting tourists to the Oscars. Especially these moments…

The expressions on these tourists faces are priceless… go Gary from Chicago!!

And can Sunny Pawar host the Oscars with Dev Patel next year?

Ah Taraji… she’s too freakin’ adorable!!

As for the winners…

The Oscars got it right w/ the first acting award of the night…

And finally… a classy, crazy talented lady gets her overdue moment to shine…

Beautiful, emotive lyrics too… so yeah I wish the Audition song instead of City Of Stars had won instead.

Haven’t seen Manchester By the Sea… can’t say I’m all that enthused about it.

Lest we forget…

Yep Denzel… I SO share your sentiment!

Emma’s performance in the Audition scene made me cry… so yeah, I have no problem w/ her winning. And her speech felt real and sweet. Leo presenting her the Oscar made me wonder why they haven’t worked together though.

As for the award of the night…

WOW, you’d never guess what happened!! I mean I saw it w/ my own eyes and I still couldn’t believe it!! Warren Beatty is the new Steve Harvey!!

WHOA!!! Seriously this was the craziest thing I’ve seen at the Oscars… or live TV for that matter! Well, I guess you could say the night ended with a BANG…

But yaaaaasssss!!!! I had always been #TeamMoonlight all award season…

I gotta say though, the La La Land producers, esp. Jordan Horowitz, was a good sport about the whole ordeal. I mean it must’ve been so devastating, not to mention embarrassing, to have started a speech and be told someone else had won!! But hey… in the end the Oscar voters got it right when it comes to Best Picture 😀

Yep, me too Mr. Jenkins. Me too!!


bestpicturemixuposcars2017

Well, I’m glad I tuned in to the Oscars tonight after all… otherwise I wouldn’t have witnessed the battiest Oscar moment in history on LIVE TV!

///

Everybody’s Chattin + Trailers Spotlight: Jeff Nichols’ LOVING + Warren Beatty’s ‘Rules Don’t Apply’

EverybodysChattin_Movies

Happy almost Friday everyone! It’s been quite a busy week for me, in and out of work, so I’m glad the weekend is just around the corner!! I’m going to see Captain Fantastic tonight so very excited for that.

Ok, about those links…

Keith posted his Blindspot review on A Man Escaped

Dell posted his thoughts on Steve Jobs movie

Meanwhile, Courtney argued that Swiss Army Man might be the most uplifting movie yet

I love birthday tributes and Margaret just posted a massive one on the legendary Harrison Ford

Steven posted a review one of my brothers’ favorites, Smokey and the Bandit

Well, we can’t agree on everything but that’s what makes blogging fun, right? Eddie reviewed Midnight Special and Jordan reviewed Sing Street, they feel quite differently than I did about each movie.


Trailers Spotlight

This week I’m highlighting two movies that deal with forbidden romance, relationships that break the rules of sort, though both are set in very different circumstances. Whether it’s society’s rules of the time or rules mandated by strict employers, the couples in these films face challenges to stay together. Both films are released in November.

LOVING

Release: November 4, 2016
Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton

LovingPoster

Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married.

Check out the brand new trailer:

“I know we have some enemies. But we have some friends too.”
– Mildred Loving

This beautifully-shot film is poised to be a real tearjerker. I love Nichols’ work, as well as Joel Edgerton and Nichols’ muse Michael Shannon. But it’s Ruth Negga‘s performance I’m most looking forward to seeing. I cried just watching this trailer, it’s certainly a timely film, especially in light of recent events in my state as well as in Texas. As a non-White person who have many friends who married people outside of their own race, this is certainly a topic I’m intrigued by. In fact, before I met my hubby who shares my Southeast Asian heritage, back in college I’ve gone on dates with a Latino, as well as Caucasian guys. I remember feeling a bit uneasy walking or dining with my White boyfriend in the small town I lived in, as some older people would stare. I don’t think they meant any harm though, so I can’t imagine what the Loving couple had to go through endure living in 1950s America!

Director Jeff Nichols was able to tell the story of the Loving family as accurately as possible by relying on Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story (2011), which captured many details of their private lives: “We had this beautiful documentary footage unearthed from the mid-’60s where we got to go into their home and see them and watch them,” Nichols said. “It’s an unusual thing to have access to.” (per IMDb)

RULES DON’T APPLY

Release: November 23, 2016
Produced and Directed by: Warren Beatty
Screenplay by Warren Beatty; Story by Warren Beatty and Bo Goldman
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Haley Bennett, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, Lily Collins, Steve Coogan, Alden Ehrenreich, Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Megan Hilty, Oliver Platt and Martin Sheen
RulesDontApply

An aspiring young actress (Lily Collins) and her ambitious young driver (Alden Ehrenreich) struggle hopefully with the absurd eccentricities of the wildly unpredictable billionaire (Warren Beatty), who they work for.

It’s Hollywood, 1958. Small town beauty queen and devout Baptist virgin Marla Mabrey (Collins), under contract to the infamous Howard Hughes (Beatty), arrives in Los Angeles. At the airport, she meets her driver Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich), who is engaged to be married to his 7th grade sweetheart and is a deeply religious Methodist. Their instant attraction not only puts their religious convictions to the test, but also defies Hughes’ #1 rule: no employee is allowed to have any relationship whatsoever with a contract actress.

This one seems to have a similar comedic vibe as Hail, Caesar!, and hey, the new Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich is in this, too. Hopefully this one will be a better movie though. It’s also got has an amazing cast, interesting to see Bening & Beatty working together again (after Bugsy & Love Affair in the 90s), haven’t seen either one of them in ages. I haven’t seen Matthew Broderick in a long time either, he looks pretty funny here.

Apparently Warren Beatty first pitched a Howard Hughes biopic as early as 1973. He continually tried to get a film involving Hughes off the ground every year or two since then. One can say it’s a film 40 years in the making. (per IMDb)


What do you think of either of these trailers?

The Flix List: Great Saps in Cinema

Greetings, all and sundry! I have decided to stick with the idea of Lists that Ruth suggested a few weeks ago. Which has presented me with a plethora of ideas. And the desire to tidy up loose ends and and possibly expound on a certain category of character in film. First suggested by iluvcinema in her response to my article on The Top Ten Femme Fatales on FrontRoomCinema. To that end, I proffer a Rogues Gallery of Mugs, Sad Sacks, Fall Guys, Stooges and men who think they are the smartest ones in the room and pay the consequences for it. Allow me to introduce.

To this end, allow me to introduce one of the most talented, yet underrated actors of the past century. Whom many may recognize as a poster boy for Disney during the 1960s and later as television’s proverbial Perfect Dad in My Three Sons. A worthy topic for another time. Though now, I would like to plunge back to the earlier times and films which firmly planted the subject of this dissertation on the Hollywood map while specializing in a specific and memorable type of character.

#10: Steve Buscemi’s Mink in Miller’s Crossing (1990)

The low life bon vivant, conniver, coke head and suggested homosexual lover of J.E. Freeman’s Eddie Dane. Though Buscemi isn’t on film long. He makes exquisite use of his role. Playing fast and loose with The Dane and John Turturro’s Bernie Bernbaum affections. Mink inadvertently sets himself up to be shot in the face at Miller’s Crossing in Bernie’s place. Creating one heck of an unseen plot line while allowing Bernie to perform all kinds of mischief.

#9: Frank Sinatra and The Rat Pack in Ocean’s Eleven (1960)

What chance does five Las Vegas casinos have against being robbed simultaneously during the rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ New Year Eve’s night by a dozen WWII commandos looking for a score? Slim to non existent. Until one of their men dies of a stroke crossing The Strip immediately after the festivities. With a mob fixer looking for clues, Ocean decides to ship their swag out in Richard Conte’s coffin. The Rat Pack is in full attendance at a local chapel as the whispered sounds and word of Conte and his coffin being cremated stops everything in its tracks.

#8: Oliver Reed as Dr. Hal Raglan in David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979)

A well intentioned psychologist who uses controversial methods to physically manifest his patients’ inner angst and anger in ways as shocking as they are ugly. The good doctor is divorced and his institutionalized ex, Samantha Eggar takes her anger to whole new level. Giving sudden birth to small, childlike and incredibly strong creatures that carry out her reign of terror on Hal and his new family. Not for the faint of heart!

#7: Orson Welles’ Michael O’Hara in The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Who falls head over heels for Rita Hayworth’s scheming Elsa Bannister. Bored, blonde and married to unexciting, though constantly looking for kicks, Everett Sloane. His and Elsa’s game involves another couple. A proposed fake death, A real murder and $5000.00. That ends with a chase through Chinatown and its final showdown between Elsa and her husband. With pistols blazing in a Hall of Mirrors inside The Crazy House.

#6: Edward G. Robinson as Professor Richard Wanley in The Woman in the Window (1944)

An absolute, little known Noir gem from expressionist Fritz Lang. The professor is unassuming and has it all. A wife and son. A house in the suburbs and a sudden attraction for a portrait in a gallery’s huge window. The professor meets the portrait’s model, an alluring Joan Bennett. Alice. Who is much more than appears to be. A very hard boiled dame. The professor is hooked. Starts to lie to his wife and others to see Alice again. Until her boyfriend and possible pimp shows up. A death occurs and the professor’s sedate life heads South in a hurry!
Suggested by iluvcinema

#5: Joseph Cotten as novelist Holly Martins in The Third Man (1949)

Who travels to post war Vienna in time for the friend who had invited him, Harry Lime’s burial. A stranger in a strange land. Holly tries to get a grasp on the situation while rubbing elbows with expatriates, refugees, British and Russian troops and Harry’s girlfriend, Anna. Who may be a Russian agent and link to Harry. A Black Market kingpin who sells diluted Penicillin and has a lot to answer for. Holly gets played by everyone. Especially the Brits and their Intelligence Officer, Major Calloway. Methodically played by Trevor Howard. Who coerces Holly to be his “Dumb, decoy duck” in flushing Harry out of Vienna’s maze like sewers.

#4: Warren Beatty’s Pulitzer Prize seeking reporter, Joe Frady in The Parallax View (1974)

One of the last great conspiracy films of the late 20th century. As Frady dusts off the cobwebs the assassination of a Senator at the Seattle Space Needle he and a few others had witnessed a year before. Under Alan J. Pakula’s deft direction and a superb supporting cast, Frady moves slowly and is drawn into random events that end in unexplained, accidental deaths. Following leads and getting inside the Parallax Corporation. Then finding himself suddenly in way over his head.

#3: Sterling Hayden’s thuggish Johnny Clay in John Huston’s superb The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

A two-time loser who wants nothing more than to make a bunch of money. Leave the city and get back to his Quarter Horses in Kentucky. Brought into a big time diamond heist led by just paroled yegg and safe cracker, ‘Doc’. Sam Jaffe. Who needs an expendable Hooligan while hiding his urges for very  young, nubile girls. Johnny takes on the role of Jaffe’s confidant and protector as the heist is pulled off with some last second intervention by the police. Only to be double-crossed and shorted by the rich old men financing the operation. Johnny is gut shot protecting Doc and manages to get home just as the police close in.

#2: Timothy Carey’s monumental, gaunt and doomed Private Maurice Ferol in Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957)

Carey is nothing more than a soldier in the French army during WWI. Whose platoon is assigned the task of taking ‘The Ant Hill’. A reinforced position with artillery and machine guns. The problem is. Carey’s and his mates’ task has been going on for more than a month of Trench Warfare that consistently ends in stalemate. A new Commanding Officer wants a maximum effort that has Kirk Douglas’ Colonel Dax leading more of the same. The new CO gets mad and wants Dax to choose three men at random and have them Court Martialed and shot for Desertion. Carey’s Pvt. Ferol is one of them and is given every opportunity to bluster and bully at first. Then break down and grovel as the hour approaches. Definitely Carey’s best and most unencumbered performance on film!

#1: Elisha Cook Jr. – The Grand Old Man of Saps!

Whether he’s giving life to George Peatty. Soft spoken, quiet nebbish with a domineering wife, Sherry (Razor tongued Marie Windsor) in Kubrick’s The Killing (1958). Two bit gunsel, Wilmer Cook in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Just looking to get by Harry Jones in The Big Sleep (1946). Or paranormal incident survivor, Watson Pritchard in House on Haunted Hill (1959).

Mr. Cook reigns supreme in a highly specialized niche. An every man’s everyman. Buttressed by many small, though meaningful roles as  the landlord, Mr.Nicklas in Rosemary’s Baby (1971). Near invisible, Mr. Bunker in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972). Cody in Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973). Soft spoken Willie in Electra Glide in Blue (1973). And a cameo amongst many as Carl in The Outfit (1973) and as Eli the Taxi Driver in Wim Wenders’ Hammett (1982).
Mr. Cook had made a cottage industry and consistently utilized career as a balding, kind of flabby and meek, high voiced nobody with something to say. Often quietly. Sometimes pathetically. Yet, always memorably!

Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews



Thoughts on
this list of Great Saps in Cinema? Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Guest Post – Forgotten Box Office Misfires Part II

Ok, here’s the last part of the forgotten big-budgeted misfires. Just to reiterate, these were the films that had a huge budget for its time and their failure went so far as to bankrupt the studio that marketed them, and some even ruined the filmmakers’ career:

5. Cutthroat Island (1995): I think more people know about the other box office misfire from this year, Waterworld, than this movie. For sure Waterworld was huge box office bomb but at least it didn’t bankrupt the studio, but Cutthroat Island did. The studio behind the film was Carolco Pictures. They used to churn out a lot of big films in the mid-80s and early 90s, including Rambo 2 & 3, Terminator 2, Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Cliffhanger. By the mid-90s they were running out of money and decided to put all of their chips on this film. It’s listed on the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest box office flop of all time. Ge this, it cost the studio about $115 mil to make and it only earned back around $10 mil, ouch!

They should have pulled plug on this film from the beginning. Michael Douglas was attached to be the leading man, but decided to drop out a couple of months before the cameras started rolling. Then they went on a panic mode to look for his replacement, offering the lead role to pretty much all of the A-list actors around that time, but none of them took it. So finally they offered the role to Mathew Modine, who’s never starred in any big-budgeted films nor was he an A-list actor. Because director Renny Harlin was so busy trying to find a new male lead, he didn’t look over the script or set designs, so when he was finally ready to shoot the film, he didn’t like both the script and the set pieces.

Matthew Modine & Geena Davis on the set

The project underwent a script-rewrite and the sets also had to be rebuilt, which ballooned up the production budget and caused the film to be behind schedule. It was scheduled to open in the Summer of 1995 but didn’t make it to theaters until that December. Carolco Pictures filed for bankruptcy six weeks before the film open, so they didn’t have any money to market the film. The film was released by MGM Studios and it opened with a paltry $2 mil in one weekend.

As for Renny Harlin, a year later he came out with another big-budgeted film The Long Kiss Goodnight, which also starred his then-wife Geena Davis, and again, it failed at the box office. In 1999 and 2001 he made Deep Blue Sea and Driven, both had huge budget but again neither of them made a dent at the box office. His last few films were either small-budget or straight-to-DVD fares. Geena Davis’ career didn’t pan out well either, the last time I saw her was on a TV show where she played the President of the US, forgot the name of it.

6. Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997): Keanu Reeves was smart enough to drop out of the Speed sequel a couple of months before the cameras started rolling. Unfortunately for Sandra Bullock, she was stuck because she said she was obligated to do the film because director Jan De Bont made her into a big star by casting her in the first film, so this was her way to to pay him back.

The film’s budget was around $160 mil and it only made around $48 mil back. The film didn’t ruin Bullock’s career but she was sort of in a slump after this film came out. Jan De Bont on the other hand, hasn’t had a big box office hit since 1996’s Twister. He was set to direct a lot of big action pictures after Speed 2, one was about a group of secret agents hunting down the world’s most ruthless terrorists and he was offered a chance to direct the American remake of Godzilla. Of course he never got to make those films because Speed 2 was such a huge failure that the studios didn’t want him to be in charge of their tent-pole pictures.

7. Town & Country (2001): I bet not many of you remember this film right? Well don’t worry, it’s not worth remembering. It’s one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. The film cost around $105 mil to make and earned about $10 mil back. The production started in 1998 but the film didn’t come out till 2001. The reason it took so long to finish was because Warren Beatty demanded to do a lot of takes and the screenplay be rewritten while they were shooting the film. I believe this was the last time Warren Beatty appeared on the big screen, there were rumors that Tarantino offered him the role of Bill in Kill Bill but he didn’t want to make another film again after the experience he had making this film.

8. Rollerball (2002): This remake of 1975 Norman Jewison’s film was so bad that I can’t even recommend it to my worst enemies. Its budget was round $70 to $90 mil and made back around $18 mil. What’s so unbelievable was that the film was directed by John McTiernan, the man who made three of my favorite action films, Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October. I don’t know what went wrong during the production of this film but wow, I just couldn’t believe it was made by the same person!

Back in 1999, McTiernan remade another of Norman Jewison’s film The Thomas Crown Affair, which was a good movie and it made some money at the box office. So I presumed MGM figured ‘hey, why not give him a lot of money to do another remake and we can make more money from it.’ Well of course it didn’t turn out that way. First, Keanu Reeves dropped out before the film started shooting (I’m starting to think Keanu is a lot smarter than he looks since he dropped out of two of the biggest box office bombs in history.) Then they cast a Keanu look alike, Chris Klein, to replace him. Klein’s got to be the worst actor I’ve ever seen.



The film was scheduled to come out in the summer of 2001 but because of negative word of mouth after early screenings, the studio finally dumped it in February of 2002. The studio knew that they had a stinker in their hands, so in order to spread some good word of mouth to the movie geeks out there, they contacted Harry Knowles, the owner of a very popular movie website aintitcool.com and flew him in a private jet for a private screening with director John McTiernan with the hope that he would give the film a good review and convince his readers to go see it. Well, after Knowles saw the film, he published a review of it by tearing it to pieces.

After the film came out, John McTiernan got into some legal troubles and I believe he’s currently serving time in prison. Chris Klein disappeared from the face of the earth; apparently he’ll reprise his role in another American Pie sequel. I’m sure he’s a got a lot of time on his hands now since never became the movie star the studio hope he would be.

Sources: imdb.com, boxofficemojo.com, youtube.com and Wikipedia.org


Well those are some of the not-so-well-known box office failures, let’s hope Hollywood studios will learn from their past failures and invest wisely in future films. Wait a minute, what I’m I smoking? Studios released crappy films with huge budget yearly, some made money and some didn’t. Ridley Scott said in an interview last year that studio presidents told him they don’t even read scripts, they just listened to their executives and would green light any script with potentials to make them a lot of money. No surprise there right?

Any thoughts about any of these films? Which of these films happen to be your favorite?