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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: J.T. Walsh

The Grifters (1990)

Do con-men and women really look this dashing? If so, I’m not cut-out for the job.

Lilly Dillon (Huston) is a veteran con artist who begins to rethink her life when her son Roy (Cusack), a small-time grifter, suffers an almost-fatal injury when hit with a thrust from the blunt end of a baseball bat, right after a failed scam. However, she doesn’t realize that her boy has fixed himself up with a dame (Annette Bening) that may not seem to be all that she appears to be.

Calling this movie a “thriller” would not be doing it any justice, and I’m still contemplating on whether or not it’s the good type of justice, or the bad. Good, mainly because it has you siked and ready for a story about a trio of cons that never tell the truth, always seem like they’re up to something, and always know to make a little extra-dough by playing to cool, but at the same time, bad, because it has you siked and ready for a story about a trio of cons that never tell the truth, always seem like they’re up to something, and always know to make a little extra-dough by playing to cool. See, it’s not the type of film about cons that you’d expect. It’s not filled with a big-heist, it’s not filled with thrilling suspense and action to hold you over, and it’s not even really filled with that many twists or turns. Instead, it’s sort of like the day-time soap opera version of a movie about cons and that’s both good, and bad. It’s very love-hate with me here, and I think you’re about to find that out.

The problem I ran into with this flick was that I feel like it would be going-on in such a slow, tedious-pace that it almost felt deliberate. Most movies that have this slow pace, usually do it for the same reasons that this flick did it, but it works a lot better for them since it’s exactly how the story should be told and judges how effective it will be to the viewer. However, with a story/movie like this, the slower-pace doesn’t quite work as well as it might think and continued to piss me off, because every time the film felt like it was really getting somewhere and picking-up itself and all of the pieces it was leaving on the ground, it would just stop, take a moment to pause, and jog it’s way through.

"Hayyyyy, aren't you that gal from the Addams Family? Where'd your black hair go?"

“Hayyyyy, aren’t you that gal from the Addams Family? Where’d your black hair go?”

It was like me in a 5k mile run. I start off so perfectly, then I realize I put too much energy into the first 5 minutes, then I decide to slow things down, almost to the point of where I begin to walk, then, I get some inspiration and energy in my step and begin to run again, and then so-on, and so-forth, all up-until I get to the finish-line and everybody treats me like I just cured cancer, even despite me coming in 2nd to last place. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it goes with me (I obviously always win those runs, obviously…), but that’s how I felt with this flick and I feel like director Stephen Frears was just toying with me on-purpose. In some ways that works and makes the flick seem less predictable as it strings along, but in other ways, it just feels cheap and sort of like the director wants to be like the characters and play a sick, cat-and-mouse game that some people may not be too happy with in the end when they find out what’s to come of it all.

However, I can’t hate on Frears too much because no matter how slow and languid the pace got, I was always interested in seeing what was going to happen next. The story definitely takes it’s fair-share of detours into the past and they are definitely what feature the most energy and fun of the whole flick, but whenever it focuses on these characters, what they’re doing now, how they’re getting their money, and who’s playing who, the film still stays fun, if not all that energetic as the flashback sequences. Seeing cons do their thing like no other is always a blast to see on-screen and rather than just having it be a flick that exposes trick-after-trick, we get more of a balanced look at how broken and dull some of these cons lives are, and how money cannot buy them happiness and instead, only buys them more trouble. You actually care for these characters and that’s only what raises the stakes even more when the unpredictable-factor of this story comes into play, and you feel like you have no idea where it’s going to go or how, you just know that somebody is playing somebody. Then again, when you think about life and all that is: aren’t we all?

"Nope, Warren's still bigger."

“Nope, Warren’s still bigger.”

Okay, away from the philosophical ramblings of a 19-year-old film critic, back to the movie at-hand here. Yeah, the Grifters. I think without this trio of leads that the flick features, it probably would have folded underneath it’s own weight but thankfully, this trio of leads are here and are here to give some magnificent performances that stick with you, long after the flick is over. Before ’90, John Cusack was mainly known for racing randomly in the streets and always knowing the right Peter Gabriel track to have the ladies swooning, but once the year 1990 actually hit and this flick came-around, people began to look at him differently and realize something about him: this guy’s all grown-up. Cusack never really got a chance to stretch his acting-skills back in those days, mainly because everybody thought he was made for just hooking-up with high-school girls and in a way, they may have been right, but Cusack proved them all wrong and showed that the guy could play a sly, evil son-of-a-bitch that was as slick as they come and didn’t know when to stop pulling-in jobs and ranking-up the dough. Cusack always seems like a believable character and that’s all because the guy never over-does his whole cool essence and look to his act and always seems like he’s one step ahead of everybody else in the flick, as well as the audience themselves, yet, we always like him and cheer for him as things begin to go South for his hormones and his job. I guess being a con is considered a job and if so, he definitely must have had to won “Employee of the Month”, at least once.

Anjelica Huston plays his mommy, who just so happens to be 14-years-older than him and shows you that the gal can, as usual, play a strong-willed and big-brained, female-lead like no other and as much as this may seem like a convention of hers by now, I still can’t hold that against her. Huston’s great with this role and you always wonder whether or not she is Roy’s mom, his lover, a past-fling, or simply, just some chick who’s trying to play a con on him and get his stash of cash. Like the rest of the characters in this trio, you never know what’s up with her and what her next move is going to be, but like typical, Huston-fashion, she always keeps you guessing and interested. Still, I was just waiting for that wig to come off. I could not believe how legitimate it truly was in terms of the story and setting.

80's, teen heart-throb he is no more.

80’s teen heart-throb he is no more.

The best out of this trio, and the one who really stands-out among the rest is probably Annette Bening as Myra, the fellow-squeeze of Roy. Bening, no offense to her or her looks, has never really been the type of actress that I could really declare “sexy”, “hot”, or even one that I would just have to take to bed, if I saw her in real-life (because they all would go to be with me, let’s face it), but here, she totally had me re-think that. Bening uses her flair for sexuality and nudity to her advantage and has her character come-off as a bit of a tramp, but a smart tramp at best, and a tramp that knows exactly what she’s doing, even if the others may not be able to catch onto it right just yet. Out of of the three, you’ll be wondering the most what side Bening’s is on and when you finally get your answer, you may be shocked, you may not be, but what you will be, is surprised by how much Bening uses the look and feel of sex-appeal to make a character that’s full of it, really, really work.

Consensus: Stephen Frears’ direction definitely makes you feel as if he is just playing with you, just in-order to be more like his subjects, but that’s why The Grifters does, and does not work in it’s own right. However, you can’t deny the charm and power that is within these three performances and it’s just wonderful to see them act each-and-every-single-one of their asses off, even if the pace seems to not be serving them the full-plate that they so rightfully deserves.

7/10=Rental!!

Possibly the gayest look John Cusack has ever given another man caught-on-film. Ever.

Possibly the gayest look John Cusack has ever given another man caught-on-film. Ever.

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The Negotiator (1998)

Finally Samuel L. has just had it with all of these white people effin’ him over.

Police choppers circle as swat marksmen target Danny Roman (Samuel L Jackson). he is holding the chief of the Internal Affairs Department at gunpoint. Roman’s world has been destroyed by false charges of murder and embezzlement. Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), a negotiator from another precinct is brought in to mediate.

What we have here is a pretty generic, B-movie that wouldn’t want to be watched by anybody if it didn’t have the two stars it has in the lead roles. To be honest though, I can’t say that it’s a bad thing either.

Director F. Gary Gray does a pretty good job at keeping this flick moving with a nice essence of suspense and tension through the air. It reminded me a lot of a mixture between Man on a Ledge and Dog Day Afternoon, where I had no idea what was going to happen next with this negotiator and these hostages as well. Gray is good at keeping the action moving but it’s not just about big explosions, car chases, and guns going off in this flick, it’s more about the game of wits between the two negotiators. Since they are both professional negotiators, they both know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to talking a person out of doing something and it’s very interesting to see considering we never really see the tables turned around like this in a generic movie such as this one.

However, all of those games suddenly get lost by the half-way mark and then the script starts to lose itself a bit. Rather than being a flick about two professionals basically out-playing the other one, it ends up being another “whodunit” that we always see and in this case it’s nothing or exciting. It’s not hard to see where this film is going right from the start but it was such a disappointment considering I was having so much fun with these two dudes on-screen, but instead, Gray had to bring in the big-bangs and the boom-booms so I sort of have to blame him as well.

What also bothered me about this flick was that this script got really thin, really quick. I felt a lot for Danny, our main character, because the guy totally got effed over and how could you not want to cheer someone on when they’re up against a bunch of dirty cops? But the problem I had here was that he was the only character that was really fleshed out, and everybody else was just a bunch of corny types that we see in movies like this all time. The cops here are the usual “get the job done, at any cost” types, the hostages are the “we’re scared, but can also help you with this hostage situation you’re pulling off” type, and even the other negotiator himself is a type too. So many people here are types and even though I’m not always disappointed in every film that I see that shows characters as two-dimensional, here it bothered me because it seemed like they were starting off so well.

When it comes to two actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey though, you can’t go wrong. Samuel L. is awesome here as Danny and creates a likable and believable character that really could g0 to the ends of the earth to prove that he’s innocent after all this time. Jackson has a couple of scenes where he just lets loose on his anger, especially one where he messes with another negotiator who just doesn’t know what to do and it’s funny, but also very tense the whole way through which reminded me a lot of his “What” scene in Pulp Fiction. Spacey is also very good with his toneless readings here as Chris and gives him a certain edge that makes him a lot cooler than any of the other cops in this flick. Still though, I think that with Spacey you need to have more dimensions to him because his voice is so monotone and sinister, that he can give any likable character a darker edge to them as well. Then again, they didn’t go down this road and Spacey still did fine with it so I can’t complain that much.

Consensus: The Negotiator has tension and suspense to it, and also features strong performances from reliable leads like Jackson and Spacey, but it starts to lose itself about half-way through and gets more and more predictable until we end at a conclusion we thought we were going to have all along.

6/10=Rental!!

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Now I know that I definitely have to stay away from my wife’s sisters from now on.

The film is a tale of three sisters-Hannah (Mia Farrow), Holly (Dianne Wiest) and Lee (Barbara Hershey-who are all unique and special in their own little ways, but they all have problems when it comes to their men and love life. Taking place over two years, we see their struggles, pleasures, and problems as they come to grip with life.

This film goes into some gross places considering the fact that one of sister’s own husband starts boning around with another sister, however Woody Allen is an amazing writer and makes even the weirdest and craziest of things work somehow in his own little cooky way. I think one of the main reasons being is the fact that he’s able to balance all of these stories, topics, and genres so well that it almost is too hard to take your eyes off the film and rarely does your mind ever go somewhere else.

This is also one of the films in Allen’s career where a lot of it feels very realistic because not only does he use that hand-held camera that makes me feel as if I’m right there with these characters, but the fact that a lot of what these people go through and talk about all ring true. I mean we’ve all gone through these feelings at one point or another (not necessarily the boning of your wife’s sister, but you know what I’m saying…) and because of these very interesting characters, it’s also even easier to relate to.

There is a lot to enjoy here but I really have to give some love to Woody who does a great job of keeping this film very interesting and not trying to bog it down with a lot of his annoying themes and messages he always tries to get across in his films, but here they don’t really get in the way all that much. Except for the whole religious angle which I kind of felt was a little forced and out-of-nowhere. I mean maybe Woody was trying to satirize and bring out some questions within the fact of Christianity, but I didn’t see any real reason for this, except for how it kind of ties together in the end.

I was very glad to see Woody taking a back seat to this cast, and letting everybody strut their stuff and do a bang-up job. All of the girls are all very interesting in their own right and it also helps that each one is played exceptionally well, although I do think we could have gotten to know more about Hannah, considering she is the one who is named in the title and she’s the one sister the film pay’s attention to the least.

Michael Caine actually won an Oscar for his role as Elliot here and I have to say he deserved it because he is just great to watch. Caine’s character is the one who is dicking around on his wife and that calls for many emotionally-strong scenes where he just does not know what he wants, much like everybody else from the whole film, except this guy is actually doing something bad. Caine owns almost every scene and it’s a real great change of pace for him considering he’s not always in every scene and not being terribly witty.

Consensus: Hannah and Her Sisters is a great Woody Allen flick because it balances out heart, darkness, humor, and tenderness all so well with a very well-written script, and performances from everybody involved that add so much more dimensions to these already interesting characters. Oh and it also has Thanksgiving din-din in the film so watch it around that time.

8.5/10=Matinee!!

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