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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 1990s

Friday (1995)

I guess the hood ain’t such a bad place to live after all.

Craig (Ice Cube) spends most of his days doing nothing, staying unemployed, and just trying to get by in life, constantly chilling with his boy Smokey (Chris Tucker). However, the day that comes between Thursday and Saturday hits and for some reason, there’s something different about the day that isn’t like every other one.

By the mid-90’s, the hood subgenre of film became a bit of a joke. The themes, the violence, the stereotypes, etc., had all been played-out so much so that by a point, there was even a Wayans spoof on it all. What once had been a reliably sad and effective genre of film-making, soon became a bit of a stale product, that only seemed to get worse with each and every attempt at creating something close to resembling Boyz N the Hood.

Every neighborhood’s got a dude like this.

Which is why, at the time, and of course, now Friday is such a breath of fresh air.

Sure, is it a “hood film”? Yeah, it is, but it’s a different kind of one. It doesn’t really try to lay down some life-altering message about getting out of the hood and making a better future for yourself, nor does it ever seem to try and ever take itself too seriously. If anything, it’s just a smooth, relaxed, and downright silly comedy about one day in the hood, where some good stuff, some bad stuff, and some wacky stuff happens in, of all places, the hood.

And yes, Friday works because of that; it’s a very chilled-out kind of movie that doesn’t rush itself, doesn’t have too much of a plot to really get going with, and it sure as heck isn’t running too long with its barely 90-minute run-time. And none of this is a bad thing, either – most comedies, like John Waters always says, should barely be 90 minutes and Friday works well for that reason. A lot of the gags are so quick and random, that they somehow just work and come together, because the movie doesn’t harp on them too much, just like it doesn’t slow itself down with jokes, either. And it all matters, too, because, well, the jokes are actually pretty funny in and of themselves.

Which is why it’s hard to go on and on about Friday without talking about the one and the only, Chris Tucker.

Gotta get down on….

I think it goes without saying that Tucker makes Friday as funny as it can get. He’s often the scene-stealer, using his high-pitched squeal and delivery to make any joke land, as well as seeming like the funniest guy in the room, amongst a pretty funny crowd. It’s not really known how many of his lines were scripted, or how much everyone involved just trusted him to do his thing, but whatever it was, it works and it’s because of Tucker that even when Friday seems to meander a bit too far away from itself (which it often does), it still comes together in the end.

Which isn’t meant to take away from everyone else here, but yeah, when compared to Tucker, it’s hard not to notice. For instance, Ice Cube plays the straight-man, and seems to be having fun, even though often times, his role seems to just be used as the protagonist we see everything through. John Witherspoon is also a lot of fun as his daddy and kept me laughing every single time he showed up but also provided a lot of insight into how daddy’s usually are with their older, bum-like children. Nia Long is also nice as, once again, the romantic love-interest in a hood flick, while such comedic-greats like Michael Clarke Duncan, Faizon Love, and Tiny Lister, and oh, of course, Bernie Mac, all show up, do their things and remind us why they’re so funny in the first place.

But where Friday doesn’t hold up for me (and granted, I have seen this movie about four-to-five times now), is that it’s direction is a bit sloppy, however, with good reason. At barely 25 years of age, F. Gary Gray took over Friday and seemed like he didn’t have to do all that much, but somehow, the movie is still a bit messy. The best aspect of the movie is how, for the longest time, there’s really no plot and nothing needing to drive it by, but by the end, all of a sudden, there’s a plot, there’s a serious conflict, and there’s a, unfortunately, message that we’re all supposed to learn from. If anything, it feels lame, tired and annoying, and it seemed to only happen because Gray was just getting started and needed to get his foot in somewhere.

Thankfully, he did.

Consensus: Even with a slightly amateurish direction, Friday still works because of its odd gags, relaxed, yet pleasing tone, and of course, the exciting cast, led by a stand-out performance from Tucker.

8.5 / 10

Damn, indeed.

Photos Courtesy of: Filmaholic Reviews

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Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Technology is rad.

Motoko Kusanagi is an android cop with a human brain working the streets of a future Japan and trying to make sense of her existence. After all, she’s half-human, half-robot, doesn’t really know how she’s alive, is able to do a lot of the things that she does, and doesn’t quite know how it all ends. In other words, she’s going through an identity crisis of sorts, but is always loyal to getting rid of all evil-doers in the world. And one of her most difficult missions to date, is findiong and getting rid of “The Puppet Master”, a super secret cyber criminal who illegally hacks into the computerized minds of cyborg-human hybrids, getting them to do whatever he so pleases. What makes this mystery person so darn deadly is that they are able to modify the identity of strangers, leaving Motoko pondering her own makeup and what life might be like if she had more human traits, while also creating all sorts of a wide-spread panic amongst the government and military.

Is this considered nudity?

A part of my movie-soul feels like it’s missing out on something because I haven’t seen all of the animated classics from Japan that I probably should have. Sure, a big fan of Cowboy Bebop, and of course, have seen mostly all of Miyazaki’s flicks, but there’s still a great deal of others that have come and gone by my head, without me thinking another second of it. Some of this has to do with the idea of not being able to take an animated-flick of these natures as seriously as other animated flicks, or let alone, regular films in general, but another part of it has to do with a part of me feels like these movies may be too closed-off to fully reach out to someone like me who, for instance, may want to shake myself up a bit and see more that’s offered.

Case in point, Ghost in the Shell.

It’s not that it’s an easy movie to like, or even dislike – it’s just a hard movie to actually understand or get to the bottom of, and that is honestly the biggest issue. The movie seems to pride itself way too much on the fact that it’s confusing, vague, making up certain rules and guidelines as it goes along, and ponders all sorts of crazy questions about life, one’s existence, and most of all, technology. It’s an overload of ideas and story that seems like it’s not really doing much, but constantly throwing us for more loops, time and time again. It actually isn’t until the final-act that things start to make some lick of sense, but even by then, it may be a tad too late to the point of where it’s a wonder what the point was in the first place.

Was it to confuse us? Was it to actually have us question the world in which we live in? Was it to have us think longer and harder about our existence on this planet? Or, honestly, was it just to distract us from the idea that what we’re really watching here is a bunch of robots trying to kill one another, for no real reasons whatsoever?

Ew. I think. Maybe?

To me, it feels a whole lot like that last option and it’s a shame, too, because Ghost in the Shell looks, sounds, and feels great.

It’s just that, you know, it doesn’t always want to make the best sense for anyone who may be new to it. And sure, you can call me an “idiot”, or “someone who just doesn’t know how to pay attention”, but I can assure you, that is not the case – there was a part of me that constantly keep watching and listening for even the slightest bit of detail or thread that I could pick up on and follow, but sadly, it just never seemed to come around.

Does that mean the whole movie was a pain? Not really because, as I’ve said before, it’s a movie that looks great, with animation that still stands the test of time, action that can sometimes go from chaotic, to beautiful, and believe it or not, some neat characterizations that, in a much more clearer and defined movie, probably would have given them more to work with. Our lead protagonist of Motoko Kusanagi is an interesting one because, just like herself, we constantly watch her and question her mortality; we’re not sure if she’s more human than robot, more robot than human, or just a total robot without any human features, except for what’s programmed into her. There’s a nice conversation that she has on a roof-top between her and a fellow man-bot, and it’s fun and kind of sweet, which I wished that there was more of.

Which probably goes to show you that, yeah, I was already expecting something out of an anime flick such as this, that I probably shouldn’t have been.

Oh well. I’ll continue to grow, I guess.

Consensus: Even with some wonderful visuals and action, Ghost in the Shell is also, unfortunately, way too chaotic with its premise to fully make sense of everything that it’s meaning to do, or trying to say to us.

6 / 10

There’s more to the world than just robots.

Photos Courtesy of: The Vault

The Crossing Guard (1995)

Grief makes you crazy. Literally.

After his daughter is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Freddy Gale (Jack Nicholson) is left, unsurprisingly, heartbroken. He drinks a lot, goes berserk, and yeah, patiently waits the day that the driver John Booth (David Morse) is out of jail. It’s something that no one around Freddy can support – not even his ex-wife (Anjelica Huston) – but Freddy doesn’t need their support. He’s grieving and he is in desperate need of said grief to go away, so that when the day comes around to taking care of business, he can do so with a happy mind. Eventually, Booth does get out of prison and he’s come to terms with his accident; he’s apologetic and regretful, and honestly, just wants to move on. He gets a job, starts going to meetings, stays away from bad stuff, and oh yeah, he’s even got himself a girlfriend (Robin Wright). Still though, Freddy doesn’t care. The past six years have been nothing but hell for him and he’s going to let John know it, by any means necessary.

“Yeah, agent? Get me a much louder role next time.”

The Crossing Guard is a tad bit different from Sean Penn’s the Indian Runner, in that it does have a slower, more melodic story to work with again, but this time around, he’s actually developing something about it. As opposed to just giving us something resembling a story, things resembling characters, and issues resembling conflicts, everything matters and is exactly what it seems. There’s conflict, there’s development, there’s characters, and above all else, there’s a drive.

Where that drive ends up may be problematic, but hey, at least it’s going somewhere in the first place.

Where Penn gets the most mileage here is out of the cast, all of whom are terrific. Nicholson’s Freddy is one of the most dramatic and dressed-down performances the man has ever given and it’s a surprise how well he pulls it off, without much of any of the usual gimmicks to be found. His dark persona does work for this character, as we know that there’s something truly upsetting and mean about this character, but there’s also a lot more sadness to him than anything. We see it come out in honest, shocking ways, that show Nicholson can work well, even if he is sort of playing a bit against-type.

Then again, with Nicholson, was he ever a “type”?

It’s a Sean Penn movie from the mid-90’s, so of course Robin will be around, half-naked.

Anyway, Huston gets some solid moments, too, as the ex-wife who, essentially, just yells and hollers a lot. But hey, she does it like a pro. David Morse’s John is also more sympathetic than he would have been in other movies, but it still works to Morse’s skill-set, as we get to see a heart and soul behind the sadness and darkness. We never fully get to know the demons lying inside of this guy, but the ones that we do see and identify, are still interesting. Robin Wright is also fine as his supposed love-interest, who may mean more to the overall story, but mostly, just seems like someone to be there for Morse’s character when all is said and done.

As for the rest of the movie itself, it’s still pretty good, but we also get the sense that Penn himself is constantly growing and learning as a writer/director. Here, with the Crossing Guard, he gets the idea of grief down perfectly and realizes that it’s not us ourselves who make us the most sad in these troubling times, but those around them. Penn doesn’t hide away from the fact that what this Freddy guy is dealing with is some pretty brutal stuff, and rather than trying to sugar-coat as a Lifetime after-school special, he films it in all of its raw, unabashed irony. It’s quite a surprise to get in a movie such as this, and shows that Penn, when he’s not telling a meaningful story, is also not backing down from approaching his story in a much harder manner.

The issues is that by the final act, things get a little screwy. It’s hard to say how, or why, for any of these matters, but just know that the Crossing Guard does eventually dive into thriller-territory and it feels odd. It’s as if Penn himself was so enamored with the character-drama, that he also sort of felt obligated to deliver on the action and supposed violence that a tale like this would promise. It’s a shame, too, because the message it delivers at the end is a smart and meaningful one.

It’s just a shame it had to go through that last act to get there.

Consensus: With pitch perfect performances across the board, the Crossing Guard works as a smart, disturbing look at grief and depression, but also botches its final act.

7.5 / 10

He doesn’t look so bad for a child killer.

Photos Courtesy of: HotFlick.net, Pop Matters

The Indian Runner (1991)

If you’re based off of a Springsteen track, chances are, you may be a little depressing.

Frank and Joe Roberts (Viggo Mortensen and David Morse) have been loving and dedicated brothers to one another, even if they couldn’t be anymore different. Frank’s a bit of a wild child, always getting into some sort of trouble, and never staying in one place for very long, whereas Joe, likes to abide by the law as a cop, keep his family together, and yeah, not cause many problems. The two do have some issues with each other, but they’re just like any brother-combo, in that they love one another, no matter what. Which is why when Frank starts messing up big time, what with a pregnant girlfriend (Patricia Arquette), and a slowly-going mad mind, Joe feels as if it is up to him to step up and try to save his brother from totally losing his marbles and possibly doing something he will soon one day forget.

It’s been noted that the Indian Runner, Sean Penn’s debut behind the camera, was inspired by Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman“. It’s a solid song and it’s easy to see where a lot of the inspiration Penn drew from here; he loves these small, subtle tales about normal, everyday, hard-working, blue-collar Americans like you or I, who are trying to make ends meet, but always run into some sort of hardships and have to get over grief. Essentially, the Indian Runner is a two-hour-long Springsteen song, but for some reason, the heart and soul was left in the stereo.

Uh oh. Viggo’s drinking again.

Does anyone even know what a “stereo” is anymore?

Regardless, Penn gets by on keeping his narrative focused and not really trying to complicate things. We get sad people, living in a sad town, not really doing much with their lives other than, of course, being sad. In a way, the Indian Runner works well as a mood-piece that allows for Penn to show us the different layers of this depression and how it can hit each and every character here, but that’s about as far it goes.

See, after awhile, mood-pieces can get to be a bit of a bore, especially once it becomes clear that you don’t really have a story to work with. And with the Indian Runner, that’s exactly the case, with the movie moving along at such a slow pace, you wonder when it’s ever going to get moving, or better yet, what it’s actually going to try to do. It’s interesting that Penn doesn’t really give us much of a plot, filled with an easy conflict seen from a mile away, but he also doesn’t give us much else in place of that. It’s as if he had a whole bunch of ideas about how to build these characters and their relationships with one another, and just thought that somehow, some way, a plot would materialize.

It doesn’t and that’s why the movie suffers.

And normally, this wouldn’t be much of a problem; one of the main reasons why all of those insufferable and nauseating mumblecore movies work well enough is because they can sometimes be so short, you hardly have enough time to be mad. With the Indian Runner, at a little over two hours, it’s easy to get mad, annoyed, and downright frustrated, because you never quite know when anything is going to happen, or even if there will be anything to happen. The general idea is that we’re just going to sit around and watch a bunch of people do things that we probably don’t care about, because well, there’s nothing driving any of them.

What a man.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t character-development to be had here, but it’s a bit thin, at times, bordering on conventional. For instance, take Mortensen’s Frank who is a little crazy, unpredictable and violent – something that Mortensen can play in his sleep. And yeah, he’s good in the role, but there’s never much else to the character other than this, and even the craziness is never fully explained – we assume that some of it may have to do with a childhood trauma, but we’re never quite clear on what that actually is.

Same goes for Morse’s Joe, who seems like he’s just another ordinary, good guy who has to make some tough decisions, but ultimately, gets by in life. Morse is good, as usual, but there’s just not much to this character that makes him all that compelling to watch. Even incredibly brief appearances by the likes of Charles Bronson, Dennis Hopper, Valeria Golino, and Sandy Dennis don’t do much but make us wonder why Penn didn’t put more time and effort into giving these talents more to play around with. The only one who seems to get by well enough here is Arquette, who remains lovely and cheerful in a very depressed movie, but that’s about it.

But hey, at least Penn got better behind the camera.

Consensus: Sean Penn makes his directorial debut with the Indian Runner, and shows that he’s got a lot of promise to work on, but also needs to know how to come up with better writing.

5.5 / 10

They don’t look alike, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.

Photos Courtesy of: Radiator Heaven

Gods and Monsters (1998)

Next time you dress up as Frankenstein this Halloween, think about where the creation came from.

James Whale (Ian McKellen) is one of the most regarded directors of all-time. With such classics under his belt like Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and Bride of Frankenstein, Whale had all of the fame and fortune that any man could ever afford to settle down and spend their last couple of years in utter and total harmony. However, Whale still pains from what his career could have and should have been, had he not been openly-gay and criticized for it his whole career, and it’s beginning to take more of a toll on him as the days continue to go by and his hair gets whiter. Then walks in his newly-appointed gardener (Brendan Fraser), and all of a sudden, Whale has found a new bit of inspiration in his life, whether or not it may just be sex or art. Either way, the man is happy and spirited again but his long-loving care-taker, Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), doesn’t see it as being so happy or spirited. She senses trouble brewing in the air and she may be right, but James doesn’t care nor take notice to it. He’s just happy being him.

He likes what he sees.

It’s interesting to watch Gods and Monsters because, at first, you have a general idea of just where the story is going. You’d automatically assume that Whale, in his last gasp for life, starts something of a relationship with this hunky groundskeeper, reliving all of the lovely and enjoyable times of his past, while also realizing that life is beautiful, wonderful, and grand, and deserves to be lived, rather than not, only to then pass away right as soon as the going gets good. In a way, that sort of happens, but it sort of doesn’t, and it’s why Gods and Monsters remains a solid look at the life of someone that time may have forgotten about, but the movies he’s made, will continue to stand the test of time.

Which is neat, because after watching Gods and Monsters, you’ll soon realize that a lot of the issues prevalent in Whale’s own life, basically shined through his most famous works. Whale had a love and an affinity for showing the weirdo’s, or better yet, the outcasts, of society to the rest of the world. The movie’s many hints at this can tend to get a bit annoying, but that doesn’t make them any less true; making movies for Whale was less about making millions and millions of dollars, gaining respect, and getting the chance to hob-knob with some of Hollywood’s finest, as much as it was about expressing his true, inner-feelings of loneliness that haunted him his whole life.

Does that mean he didn’t have some fun while doing it all? Of course not, but still, we’re shown and told that there was something more here than just a bunch of fun-to-watch monster flicks. There was a heart, a soul, and an absolutely sad being behind it all.

But the movie doesn’t just harp on this one fact and drive it into the ground, as it’s actually more about this made-up guy known as Clay, as played by Brendan Fraser, and the type of relationship he builds over time with Whale. Like I’ve said before, this aspect of the movie could have easily been the most obvious and conventional one seen coming – man and man fall in love, realize something new about one another, etc. – but it doesn’t quite go that way. In fact, Clay doesn’t even know Whale is gay at first, and even when he does find out, he doesn’t quite care; personally, he just likes to hear the stories this guy has to tell.

Can you blame him?

It’s an interesting dynamic these two create and to watch as their relationship builds to something sweet, is quite nice. It also helps that Fraser and McKellen have great chemistry, seeming as if they truly are getting to know one another and getting along while doing it. Fraser has always gotten a bad-rap for being a bad actor, something that hasn’t always been true; just one look at his performance in Gods and Monsters, you’ll notice that he’s holding his own against McKellen, while also showing some signs of immaturity and growth needed. Basically, it’s what his character was going for and Fraser shows it, proving that when given the right material, he’s actually quite good.

McKellen, on the other hand, well, what can be said that hasn’t already been said before about him?

McKellen is an old pro who knows what he’s doing, which is why watching his performance as Whale can sometimes be a joyous experience, even if it does revolve around a great deal of sadness. McKellen shows us that there’s some true light, happiness and inspiration in Whale that somehow reignites once he meets Clay, but also doesn’t forget to remind us that there’s something truly heartbreaking about this character. We get the flashbacks, the dream-sequences, and of course, the stories, but where we really get the idea of something truly unsettling, is through McKellen himself. He plays Whale as an old man, getting older and more broken down as the days go by, proving to himself, that life can end.

But it’s the movies and the creations you release to the whole world, that really make it all meaningful.

Consensus: With two very solid performances from Fraser and McKellen, Gods and Monsters works as a smart, moving and rather sweet take on life, memories, and an aspect of Hollywood classics that most of us tend to look away from.

8 / 10

Best friends forever.

Photos Courtesy of: Cinema Queer

One False Move (1992)

Small towns always need a little excitement.

Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), an immoral thief who always seems to question everyone and everything around him; Fantasia (Cynda Williams), Ray’s girlfriend who doesn’t always seem to take the violent way out, but more than often, doesn’t know what else to do; and Pluto (Michael Beach), an smart, yet, cold and calculated killer who isn’t afraid anyone, are all criminals who have been on the run for quite some time. Together, they’ve taken out friends of Fantasia’s, either to get money, drugs, or a whatever other valuables they can find, not only leaving a huge and disturbingly long trail of blood behind them, but making them public enemy number one, essentially. Eventually, the LAPD gets more and more involved, the more and more bodies start turning up, leaving them to trigger and target Fantasia herself. On the case are two detectives, Dud Cole (Jim Metzler) and John McFeely (Earl Billings), who both travel out into the middle of nowhere in Star City, Arkansas, because it’s where they believe Fantasia will bring her fellow criminals to. While there, they meet the eccentric and sometimes silly police chief Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton), who has always dreamed of one day becoming a big city cop and seems to finally be getting the chance to do so. However, the case itself may be way too out of his league.

See what I mean?

One False Move starts off with perhaps the most disturbing first 15 minutes of as movie I have seen in quite some time. It’s a family, watching the home videos that they just filmed moments ago on their video-cameras, get a knock at the door, go to see who is at the knock, and slowly, but surely, each member of the family is either stabbed to death or killed, all while these tapes are playing the background. In fact, one person’s lifeless body lies right in front of the TV, while tapes of said person talking about how happy they are continue play. It’s harsh, brutal, unrelenting, and just downright mean, but it’s also the rare case of an indie-thriller really taking itself one step further to get down underneath our skin.

That said, it’s also the darkest and perhaps most ugly One False Move gets, which thankfully, doesn’t keep it away from being a solid flick in its own right. It’s just not nearly as upsetting.

Anyway, director Carl Franklin does a nice job here with the script from Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, by letting and allowing for everything to play out. Rather than trying too hard to focus on certain details of the story, the case, the murders, or even the characters, he sort of sits idly by and let them tell us themselves. And because of that, we get a lot of interesting material that we don’t often see in thrillers of this nature; we get an slew of interesting, three-dimensional characters, we get a plot that could literally go anywhere, at any time, we have a story that has, at the very least, more of a meaning than just “bad people deserved to be locked-up”, and oh yeah, bloody, surprising violence that matters more because, well, all of these things work and they matter.

It’s important to note what works here, because One False Move could have been a very easy movie to figure out, in terms of where it’s going, or what it’s going to be about. Had it been so easy, the movie would have just been another, typical action-thriller with plot twists and turns that don’t actually matter; instead, it’s a movie with some heart, emotion, crime, violence, and oh yeah, tension. It comes together mostly all perfectly well by the end, showing that in order for a crime-thriller such as this to work, all you really need is extra attention paid to the things that matter most.

“Stop thinking about the pony-tail, baby. It’s what’s in.”

Like, once again, characters, all of whom are played exceptionally well by all involved.

As the three criminals, Thornton, Beach and Williams all do good jobs in helping us get inside the mind of these sometimes cruel and unforgiving characters. While they’re never sympathetic or nice, they still at least show some colors you wouldn’t often get in a movie like this. Like, for instance, rather than seeming like a simple peon who is tired of the whole world stepping on him, is actually more of just a sissy who has a gun and some homicidal tendencies, which mostly has to do with the fact that he’s egged on by those around him. Beach is also impressive as Pluto, who is more detestable and downright evil, but shows signs of reasoning for it all. Meanwhile, Williams is effective as Fantasia, showing that there’s some sadness there, which makes her the most sympathetic out of the three, even if we’re never sure we can trust her.

However, the real standout of the movie has to be Bill Paxton, who on pure sheer charm and excitement, basically steals every scene he’s in. Sure, it helps that Paxton’s working with the most well-drawn character of the bunch, but Paxton shows some true heart, soul, and energy here and brings it to a movie that’s so drab and depressing at times, it’s a wonder if it knows what humor it is. Thankfully, it does and Paxton is the one to bring it, showing a real spirited soul within Dale Dixon and makes you not only see him as a good cop, but a good human being in general, who wants to make the world a better place, and intends to do so, all with a smile on his face and a beer in his hand.

Man, Bill. We miss you already.

Consensus: Dark, intense, and unpredictable, One False Move proves to be an effective thriller, but also gives us great performances and characters to help even things out, too.

8.5 / 10

Small-town cops get no respect.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, The Fanboy’s Perspective, Paperblog

Heavy (1995)

The more, the merrier.

Victor (Pruitt Taylor Vince) works in a pizza shop and doesn’t really talk to anyone around him. While he gets along with most everyone, it has to do with the fact that he’s so shy and big, nobody really knows how to really talk to him, or what to say. Because for Victor, life is just something to get through on a day-to-day basis and it doesn’t really matter about much of anything else. But his life sort of changes when a new girl, Callie (Liv Tyler), comes into town and begins working at one of the local taverns in the area. Immediately, Callie takes a bit of a liking to Victor – it may not be love, infatuation, or anything sentimental, but it’s enough to give Victor some life and hope. But Callie has some issues going on in her own life, in that she doesn’t really know what she wants to do, either. The two end up forging something of a friendship that helps the two navigate through life and realize that there truly is some sweetness out there in the sometimes dark and brim world.

Writer/director James Mangold has had quite the career, mostly because he’s never really seemed to pin himself to one genre in particular. When he’s not making action-heavy, big-budget spectacles (the Wolverine, Knight & Day), he’s actually out there making subtle, slightly arty dramas (Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line). And of course, when he’s not making those movies, he’s off trying his hand at other genres, like Westerns (3:10 to Yuma), fantasy rom-coms (Kate & Leopold), and twisty, Hitchcockian-thrillers (Identity).

"Take me away. Far, far away from here, where people don't call me, 'Steve.'"

“Take me away. Far, far away from here, where people don’t call me, ‘Steve.'”

And then, there’s his debut, which is perhaps his most different movie, but unfortunately, probably his weakest.

For one, it shows that Mangold definitely knew how to create a sense of time and place. Heavy is a very sad, depressed and at times, moody flick. Mangold puts us in this small town, where it’s not exactly bright, shiny, or even happy – it’s just a lot of rain, clouds and frowns. There’s hardly any light in the sky, nor is there much of any light in the people’s faces. In a way, they’re all kind of miserable and at a stand-still, not knowing where they want to go, what they want to do, and how to go about the rest of their lives.

Which is fine for a mood-piece, if that is exactly what you’re going for, but at nearly two hours, Heavy wears out its sad and repressed welcome. After all, Mangold presents this small part of the world and doesn’t have much else to offer; the sweeping shots of the forest and mountains underneath dark clouds of rain, while beautiful, are also incredibly repetitive, not adding much to the story except an obvious bit of symbolism. Which isn’t to say that it’s a pretty movie, because it is, but beautiful landscapes can only go so far.

Especially when you don’t have much of a story to actually work with.

And that seems to be what’s happened with Heavy. Mangold has a good idea of how to frame and show a story, but actually telling it and allowing for there to be any sort of drive behind the narrative, he doesn’t quite seem to have the knowledge of here. Cause if anything, Heavy isn’t just a heavy movie, but it’s a slow one, that doesn’t really seem to have much to say, or anything to really show. It’s just a bunch of sad people, being sad and trying their hardest not to be sad anymore.

Or something like that, I’m not quite sure. It’s basically the most picture perfect Sundance movie ever made: Moody, dark, gritty, and basically just depressed. It doesn’t have much of a reason to be, either, but Mangold clearly doesn’t know that and pounds hard on the darkness.

Cheer up, Liv! You're always going to be rich!

Cheer up, Liv! You’re always going to be rich!

If anything, the performances do help this movie out a whole bunch, even when it seems like there’s no real character-development or strong writing to even help them.

Case in point, Pruitt Taylor Vince as Victor. Vince is a pretty accomplished character actor, who shows up every now and then in those sloppy, country bumpkin-ish roles. Here though, he’s actually pretty thoughtful and rather sweet as Victor, never going too far to say much of anything, but always getting something across by just the look on his face, or the slight-movement of his brow. It’s actually the perfect kind of small, subtle performance, for this small, rather subtle movie, the only problem is that the rest of the movie doesn’t quite know what to do with itself, so of course, it’s a great performance put to waste.

Same goes for Liv Tyler as the object of Victor’s affection. At this stage early on in her career, Tyler was more of a cute mystery – we didn’t quite know if we could trust the characters she portrayed, nor did it seem like she did. And here, she’s quite good in a role that doesn’t quite measure up to much, except being pretty, moody, and nice to almost everyone around her. Pros of the big-screen like Shelley Winters, who plays Victor’s sometimes controlling mother, and Debbie Harry, as the co-worker who’s a bit of a problem to everyone, work out well here, but they, too, like the rest of the movie, just seem underdeveloped.

Oh well. At least Mangold would eventually get his act together.

Consensus: Even with the beautiful cinematography, Heavy just never fully comes together as both a visually and emotionally satisfying movie, but instead, only resulting in the former.

5 / 10

Kiss her, bro. Do it. Why not?

Kiss her, bro. Do it. Why not?

Photos Courtesy of: Derek Winnert

The Cable Guy (1996)

What’s a “Cable Guy”? Better yet, what’s “cable”? Is it like Netflix?

Matthew Broderick plays Steven, a dude who just got out of a relationship and needs someone to fix his cable one day. He calls up the cable guy (Jim Carrey) and he’s a bit weird, but he gets the job done. However, the cable guy wants more than just the job, he wants a buddy and that’s something Steven isn’t quite up for just yet.

The Cable Guy is often forgotten about in today’s world of media, whenever it comes to the conversations of the careers of both Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller. See, while they are both two of the most recognizable names in comedy, at one time, they actually got together and tried to make something that, well, wasn’t quite a comedy. If anything, it’s a lot darker and weirder than anyone had ever expected, which is probably why it’s hardly ever heard from and basically bombed when it was first released.

But did it deserve all that?

It's Jim Carrey being wacky! What could go wrong?!?

It’s Jim Carrey being wacky! What could go wrong?!?

Not really.

 

The Cable Guy is a strange movie, for sure, but definitely more of a comedy, than an actual drama. There’s lots to laugh at, but there’s also plenty more to cringe and be surprised by, too; there’s no real distinction between genres here and Stiller does a solid enough job as writer and director, never letting us in on the lines. We think we know what should be laugh-out-loud hilarious because of other comedies and what they constitute as hilarity, but with the Cable Guy, it’s far different and it’s why the movie, while not always successful, is an interesting watch.

And at the center, yes, it does have a little something to say about the culture of television and how, in ways, it can shelter us off from the rest of the world, and have us feel as if we are in our own, little bubble – the same kind of bubble where you are always loved, accepted and taken in, for who you are, not what you should be. Sure, it’s obvious and been said many times before, but the Cable Guy tells it again, but in a much smarter, heartfelt way, especially with Carrey’s portrayal of the title character who, surprisingly enough, is never given a name.

See! He's not so bad!

See! He’s not so bad!

How fitting.

Which isn’t all to say that the movie’s a down-and-out drama, because it’s actually pretty funny when it wants to be. Of course, though, it brings on problems with tone, where it seems like the movie may have bitten-off more than it can chew and handle all at once, but still, there’s something refreshing about watching a major-studio comedy flick give it the professional try. It may swing and barely hit, but at least it’s trying in the first place, so sometimes, a pat on the fanny is all that matters.

Right? Eh. Whatever.

Anyway, Carrey is the real reason why the movie works as well as it does, because he, like the movie’s tone, constantly has us guessing. We never know what he’s going to say, do, or try next and because of that, we don’t know whether to love, like, or be terrified of him. There’s this slight sense of danger to him, but also a bit of fun, too. Then, there’s also this sad aspect to him that may make you want to give him a hug. It’s a rich character that could have probably done wonders in a far darker, more dramatic movie, but as is, Carrey’s terrific in the role that, unsurprisingly enough, audiences just weren’t ready to accept just yet. It would take some time, obviously, but man, if only they had caught on sooner, rather than later.

On the opposing side of Carrey is Matthew Broderick, who’s fine as the usual straight-man he’s so used to playing by now, but his character has some issues. For one, he’s a bit of an a-hole; he’s constantly a Debbie-downer, never having anything nice or pleasant to say, and yeah, just not bringing much to the movie as a whole. Like I said, Broderick tries, but it seems like the script wasn’t there for him; instead of developing another compelling and well-rounded character, the movie just made him something of a blank slate, with little-to-no personality and allow for the Cable Guy to get all the work. It’s not like it doesn’t work, but hey, it would have definitely helped if we had a little more to work with.

Consensus: It’s obvious what the Cable Guy is trying to say, but it’s less about the message, and more about the funny, sometimes darkly odd premise, bolstered by an unforgettably crazy and all-star performance from Carrey.

8 / 10

Oh, uhm. Ha-ha?

Oh, uhm. Ha-ha?

Photos Courtesy of: Monkeys Fighting Robots

After Dark, My Sweet (1990)

dark

Small towns will be the death of ya.

After having quite an illustrious career in boxing, Kevin “the Kid” Collins (Jason Patric) loses it all in one fell swoop, when he loses his cool in the ring and damn near kills his fellow opponent, way after the bell was rung. This leaves Kevin on his own, on the run from the law, essentially, and now drifting all around the country. For what reason? Or better yet, what is he trying to reach/achieve? Well, Kevin himself doesn’t quite know, until he meets the sweet, sexy and illustrious Fay (Rachel Ward), who takes him in to her abandoned home right away. Why, though? She isn’t offering him sex, and she sure as hell isn’t all that nice to him, so why would someone like Fay allow a total and absolute stranger like Kevin into her home? Well, once Kevin meets Uncle Garrett (Bruce Dern), he soon begins to realize what his purpose in the house is and it may lead to some dangerous, violent situations for all three involved.

Yep. not crazy.

Yep, not crazy.

After Dark, My Sweet is the kind of noir that you have to take your time with. I’ll admit it, the first time I saw it, I wasn’t quite ready; for some odd reason, I had the feeling that I was going to be getting a sexy, exciting, and rather tense crime-thriller, with hot people acting all dangerous and secretive, but instead, I got something much, much slower and more detailed. Back in those days, I couldn’t appreciate the movie for what it was, but the times have changed and well, so have I.

I’m still an a-hole regardless, but a better movie-viewer.

And that’s why After Dark, My Sweet, worked better for me this go around; it’s not that I knew what to expect in terms of the plot (much of which I actually forgot), but knew what to expect and look for in terms of its tone and pacing. Director James Foley has a knack for telling these rather dark and dreary tales of sad, lonely people, trying to make sense of the world that they live in, and he does a solid job here – the movie can get a little meandering at points, never knowing what it wants to be about, but the meandering actually kind of works in the movie’s favor. We don’t quite know where this story is going and the movie’s better off for it.

Foley knows that telling a story like this, you need to keep your audience in the dark, every step of the way. Eventually, the movie starts to figure itself out, make sense of itself, and tell us what it’s going to be and from then on, it does actually get rather tense and exciting, but like I said before, not in the ways that you’d expect. There’s not a whole lot of violence, there’s not a whole lot of blood, and there sure as hell isn’t a whole lot of guns, but sometimes, you don’t need all of that to make a movie exciting and tense – sometimes, all you need is good characters, a compelling plot, and oh yeah, a solid cast.

Look out when Bruce gives you that look!

Look out when Bruce gives you that look!

Which After Dark, My Sweet, definitely has.

Jason Patric is especially the stand-out here, as Kevin Collins, an odd, weird and definitely mysterious person we think we have a good idea about early on, but over time, throughout, we start to see new shadings, too. Patric deserves a lot of credit for this, too, because a character like this could have easily been annoying and dull – the sheer fact we don’t know much about him, besides what we tell him, is already a bit of a stretch – bit Patric makes this character interesting. We don’t know if he’s a good guy, a bad one, or just someone doing things because, well, he’s bored and he’s got nothing else to do. Or, is he a total loon who needs to be locked away from the rest of society? We never quite know and that’s why Patric’s performance is mostly special.

That, and well, he’s always been one of my favorites actors around, so yeah, maybe that’s got something to do with it.

Bruce Dern also shows up as Uncle Garrett, another shady, mysterious figure who doesn’t give us his full intentions right away, but over time, starts to peel away certain layers to his skin. Dern’s great at these kinds of characters and yeah, he’s clearly in his element here, although you do feel a whole lot more sad for this character. The only one who seems to be a bit out of her depth, for some odd reason, is Rachel Ward, however, I don’t know how much of that is her problem. The character of Fay is, essentially, a type – she’s the femme fatale, but a lot more naive and vulnerable. The movie doesn’t know what to say about her, though, either; she’s less of a mystery to us than the other two and because of that, we never know if she really counts to the overall story. Ward tries, and she’s definitely stunning, but her character just seems like more of a type, than well, an actual human being.

Something movies like these survive off of from dorks like me.

Consensus: Sexy and compelling, After Dark, My Sweet takes its time to get going, but is still deserving of a watch with the solid cast.

7.5 / 10

Oh so sexy and well, kind of sad.

Oh so sexy and well, kind of sad.

Photos Courtesy of: Twenty Four Frames

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

jonathan

Sell, or die.

Four salesmen get the wake-up call of their lives when corporate decides to wake them up with the highest seller in the company (Alec Baldwin), over to their dingy office to not just motivate them, but also warn them: If they do not sell the right amount real estate that’s necessary, well, then they’re fired. This shocks everyone to the core and leaves each salesman left to fend for themselves, by any means necessary. There’s George (Alan Arkin) and Dave (Ed Harris), two guys who seem to have each other’s backs, even in all of the thick of this; there’s Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), who can hang with the best of them and get any person to buy, just based solely on his charm alone; there’s old-timer Shelley “the Machine” (Jack Lemmon), who’s been in this business long enough to know just how to sell, but has been having a rough go as of late; and then, finally, there’s John (Kevin Spacey), who is, essentially, their boss, but is mostly there to just go back to corporate and tell them all what these guys are doing, who’s providing the best results, and most importantly, who gets to stay, and who gets to go.

I'd love to have a drink anywhere near these two. Seriously.

I’d love to have a drink anywhere near these two. Seriously.

Glengarry Glen Ross is great for many reasons, the main being David Mamet and his way with words. Sure, it’s no surprise to anyone who has ever seen a Mamet movie that the guy knows how to script smart, somewhat tough-guy dialogue for people you wouldn’t expect to saying it, but watching and especially, listening, to each and every person talk in Glengarry Glen Ross, is truly a joyful experience. It’s like listening to an old pro, just go on and on about his experiences and life lessons, without it ever seeming hacky, or annoying – you want to hear gramps go on and on, so long as there’s more coffee being provided.

In Glengarry Glen Ross, you don’t need the coffee. All you really need is the great ensemble assembled here, all of whom, honestly, are pretty great. And this deserves to be pointed out, too, because in a lot of Mamet’s movies, you can tell when there are those people who can do his dialogue justice, and others who just can’t seem to get it. Due to his dialogue being so mannered and stern, sure, some actors come off as if they’re trying too hard, or not getting the point, but when you have those actors who do know what they’re doing and know how to handle the material, then it’s an absolute delight to listen to.

Which is why, I reiterate again, there’s no bad performance to be found anywhere here.

Everyone’s perfect for their role and it’s the rare gamble wherein a bunch of big names took on Mamet’s material, and they were all pretty great, without a single weak one anywhere in sight. Al Pacino does a superb job as the slimy, but smarmy and charming Ricky Roma; Alan Arkin is interesting to watch as the sort of meek and mild salesman, who seems as if his fighting days are long over; Ed Harris plays a rather sensitive role as the one salesman who is trying his best to stay afloat, but also seems to realize that his career has gone down the crapper; Kevin Spacey is good in a rare against-type role as a rather cowardly boss who has to do a lot of heavy-lifting for his job, doesn’t like it, but hey, has to get paid somehow; and of course, yeah, Alec Baldwin’s cameo is pretty amazing and legendary, but there’s no reason to go on about it. You’ve seen it, you’ve loved it, and you’ve probably quoted it a hundred times before, so there’s no reason to beat that horse.

We got it. Sell.

We got it. Sell.

But really, the stand-out for me, and the one who should have gotten more attention, was Jack Lemmon and his performance as Shelley, or as some call him, “the Machine”. Later-day Lemmon wasn’t filled with all that many bright spots, where he saw himself in more old grandpa roles, rather than the kind that challenged him more and showed that even in his old age, he could still hang with the big boys. And in Glengarry Glen Ross, he got to show that; the character of “the Machine” is a rich one in the first place, but Lemmon dives deep into him, with all that he’s got. “The Machine” is a sad, unfortunate man who sees his life and his career slowly running away from him, but he doesn’t sit around, he doesn’t pout, and he doesn’t ask for any sympathy – he goes out there and tries to sell, dammit. Lemmon makes us see the unbearably sad limits this character will go to, not just to stay successful, but somewhat relevant, as if his name will forever be remembered in the world of salesman.

It’s sad to think that such a thing exists.

The only thing that keeps Glengarry Glen Ross away from being the perfect piece of film making that it sometimes flirts with the idea of being, is that it’s pacing is a bit off. Director James Foley does a nice job of giving us a dark, eerie and noir-ish tone to the whole movie, without ever taking his attention away from the actors and their craft, but sometimes, it feels like it’s less of a play, and more of just a bunch of conversations happening, that we get to hear somehow. Not much of a story and when they do try to give us something of that, it doesn’t quite register. All we want to do is hear and watch these guys try to sell real estate, as well as their lives.

Sometimes, that’s all we need to be happy in a world like this.

Consensus: With amazing performances all around and an absolutely biting script from Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross works as one of the better stage-to-film adaptations that has some ripples, but overall, transitions quite well.

8.5 / 10

Oh and yeah, you need those things, too.

Oh and yeah, you need those things, too.

Photos Courtesy of: LIDA’S FILM BLOG

The Corruptor (1999)

Chinatown’s good for everything but the night life.

NYPD Lieutenant Nick Chen (Chow Yun-Fat) is head of the Asian Gang Unit and his main job is to ensure that there is peace in Chinatown. After a turf war between the Triads and the Fukienese Dragons broke out in the town, Chen now really has hands full, with even more possible gang-warfare expected to break out and kill more and more people, most of all, innocents who just so happen to get wrapped-up in the fire. The city sees this, knows this, and recognizes that this is a huge problem, and not one that can be handled by just one cop all alone. That’s why they decide to send over talented agent Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg), who knows how to get the job done, however, Chen isn’t having any of it; Wallace doesn’t like Chen much either, but he knows that there’s a job that needs to be done and because of that, he’s not going to let personal issues get in the way. But the two start to dig in on each other’s past more thoroughly and they begin to find out that the other has something dirty and controversial, making them wonder if they can continue to work together and stop this whole warfare from starting.

"So, uh, do we have to be friends, or something?"

“So, uh, do we have to be friends, or something?”

You have to feel bad for Chow Yun-Fat, one of the most exciting and iconic Chinese talents ever, because no matter how hard we try, the States just doesn’t get him. Or, if they do, they don’t give him the right material that’s not just worthy of his talents, but matches perfectly why people have loved him so much in John Woo’s films. See, the movies that he’s done, where he’s the lead and made out to be this big deal, don’t really match the same sort of craziness and excitement that Woo’s films have and allow for Yun-Fat to shine; movies like Bulletproof Monk, the Replacement Killers, Dragonball Evolution, and yeah, even the third Pirates of the Caribbean, all gave him something to do and kick ass, but it just didn’t match what everyone knew and loved him for over in China. What made him a bonafide star over there, for some reason, just didn’t translate over to here.

And it’s not like it’s his fault, either, because Yun-Fat tries as he might in all of these flicks, including the Corruptor – it’s just that these movies themselves don’t measure up. They’re not as crazy, not as wild, not as fun, and sure as hell not as entertaining as we’re used to seeing Yun-Fat and his movies and it’s why they feel like a sheer disappointments, considering what we know Yun-Fat himself can do.

But the Corruptor may be the better of them because it gives him a lot to do, in terms of action and acting, but still, there’s something missing.

For one, the Corruptor was clearly seen as Yun-Fat’s big break into the American-market and because of that, he gets a lot to do; he nails his English as well as you’d expect, the scenes where he has to throw guns around and kick ass, he shows off style in, and when it’s just him, sitting down, smoking a cig, he’s still pretty cool and charming. The man’s got presence for sure, it’s just that the Corruptor, oddly enough, just doesn’t know what to do with him, or better yet, even itself.

The Corruptor tries to be a lot of things, but for some odd reason, never seems to fully explore any of the numerous ideas. At one point, it’s a look into the deep, violent and bloody underground of Chinatown; at another, it’s a look at police corruption. At one point, it’s a drama about racism and prejudice and how it affects the workplace; at another, it’s about sons and fathers not connecting with one another and hiding secrets from one another. At one point, it’s this mysterious, crime-thriller where secrets have to be discovered and murders have to be solved; at another, it’s this slam-bang, crazy and violent action flick that likes killing people and blowing up cars.

Kind of confused, yet? Well, that’s sort of the point.

Chinese stand-offs are a lot wilder than Mexican ones.

Chinese stand-offs are a lot wilder than Mexican ones.

The Corruptor doesn’t know what it wants to be and it’s a shame because director James Foley is probably not the best one to make sense of this material. You almost get the sense that he was shooting and looking for something deeper, smaller and far more emotional, but once the studio got involved and realized the possibility of the bucks that they could rake in, well, he lost all control. Foley is best when he’s dealing with these tiny and sturdy character-pieces, and while the Corruptor still feels very much like a noir of his, it’s still clearly not up his alley and it takes away from what could have been a far better, more exciting and interesting movie.

Speaking of studio interference, it’s also obvious that Mark Wahlberg was thrown into the cast, just because he was a sort of big name at the time and the studio really wanted to ensure that people would flock out to see it. And even though Wahlberg is perfectly fine now and one of the best leading-men we have around, back in ’99, he wasn’t quite established; his acting wasn’t all that there, he seemed far too serious for his own good, and yeah, he didn’t show much versatility. And it’s a shame, too, because the scenes he has with Yun-Fat, you can tell that the two are clearly trying to make some sort of spark happen, but the script just isn’t there and neither are they. They’re there to collect a paycheck, move on and see what happens to their career next.

It’s a good sign for Marky Mark. Maybe not Yun-Fat, but hey, it probably doesn’t bother him much.

Consensus: Unfocused and rather conventional, the Corruptor gets by on the bits and pieces of a compelling story, as well as an always reliable Yun-Fat, but ultimately, feels like a missed opportunity to make something great and memorable.

5 / 10

"Yeah, elsewhere, I'm a pretty big deal."

“Yeah, elsewhere, I’m a pretty big deal.”

Photos Courtesy of: Film Critic, Esq.

Blood In Blood Out (1993)

Trust your brothers. Half, or not.

Growing up on the streets of East Los Angeles is pretty rough, especially if you’re a Chicano kid. You’re always being looked at by cops, you’re always seen as a gang-member, and you’re always seeming to be looking for trouble. For three brothers, this is especially the truth. There’s Miklo (Damian Chapa), who leads their gang and seems to have the most violent tendencies out of the three; there’s Cruz (Jesse Borrego), the artist of the three who aspires for something bigger and better, even if his own family and gang-life may bring him down; and then there’s Paco (Benjamin Bratt), who knows that he wants something more out of life, too, but just doesn’t know what yet and because of that, is stuck thinking about what sort of career he wants to explore. All three of them try to navigate through life and survive on the streets, however, when you have a gun in your face, that’s a lot easier said then done, which is what happens to one of the brothers, leaving the two left to pick up the pieces back at home, while the one is at jail, gaining a whole new outlook on life. And not in the good way, either.

Self-portrait?

Self-portrait?

When you’re movie is nearly three hours long, you have to try really hard to have us, the audience, make sense of that. You can’t just have one large movie, with all of this material written for it, and throw it at us, expecting us to take it all in and be fine with it – this is literally three hours of our lives. Three hours we may never, ever get back; it’s fine if it’s an hour-and-a-half, or maybe even two hours, but three is really asking much and that’s sort of why Blood In Blood Out doesn’t totally work.

Had it been literally an hour shorter, it probably would have been an exciting, compelling and relatively heartfelt look inside the lives of three men and the adventures that their lives took, but with that extra hour, it’s overlong, drawn-out, and honestly, kind of dull. It’s the kind of movie where, had it been shorter, would have been fine, warts, flaws and all, but as a three-hour movie, it’s sort of hard not to get by them; you start to pick apart the puzzle a little bit more, piece by piece, until you realize that there’s something wrong here and you’re getting closer and closer to figuring out what. And then, you do, because you had all of the time in the world and well, what else were you going to do with your time?

Oh, watch the movie? Okay, yeah sure, but Blood In Blood Out doesn’t really have all that much going on within it.

For the most part, it’s a pretty conventional tale that will, every half-hour or so, bring out some true excitement and liveliness, but for the most part, tells this familiar story in such a slow-pace, it’s hard to really ever get caught up in it all. Not to mention that the movie does take on three different subplots, neither of which are ever all that interesting, with the exception of Miklo’s trips to jail; there, the movie becomes an interesting, if overly familiar prison-drama that’s got all of the standard stuff we expect from prison-dramas of the same nature. But for some reason, in that story at least, there’s a sense of realism and grit not found in the other, too, and helps keep things afloat when, quite frankly, they start to drown.

And as director, Taylor Hackford doesn’t quite have enough skill to make all of this material work and stay alive, in a three-hour production. It’s clear that a lot of this could have been trimmed-out, taken out, left on the editing-room floor, and somewhere to be found on the DVD extras, but nope. For some reason, Blood In Blood Out is nearly three hours and it never makes the case for it to be that way.

Is it possible to be moody, gritty and hot, all at the same time?

Is it possible to be moody, gritty and hot, all at the same time?

Of course, there’s a lot of brutal and bloody violence to be seen and shocked by, but at what cost? The movie is portraying prison the same way it’s always been portrayed as and it’s not really doing much else, either. The other two stories are supposed to be this small, dark and sometimes sad tales about guys growing up and finding out more about their lives, but it just doesn’t quite work – we don’t feel anything for these characters and we sure as hell don’t really see them as anything more than just cliches.

The only aspect about them barely getting them by is the ones who play them.

Damian Chapa has a lot to do as Miklo and does a fine enough job with it, but like a few others, he does tend to go a little over-the-top, almost to the point of where it’s laughable. There’s something about the look in his eyes and his bulky-presence that carries him from scene-to-scene, but there’s also something about how he yells almost every line of dialogue, that also ruins said eyes and presence. Jesse Borrego doesn’t fair much better as the artsy Cruz, who battles with drug-addiction and being ripped-off by agents, and yeah, it doesn’t quite matter, because, well, who cares. Benjamin Bratt is probably the best out of the three, because when push comes to shove, he downplays almost the whole thing. His character is far more responsible than the other two and because of that, it’s not hard to sympathize with him as best as we can.

Now, why couldn’t we have gotten his own story for one, little movie?

Consensus: At a nearly three-hour run-time, Blood In Blood Out more than wears out its welcome with familiar, dated subplots about violence, prison, gangs, racism, drugs, and all of that other fun stuff we learned about in high school.

4 / 10

Strike a pose!

Strike a pose!

Photos Courtesy of: Crime Movies, Grantland

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Damn. Life kinda sucks.

In a small New England town, where everyone knows each other, their family history, and business, Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates) works as a housekeeper for the rich but sometimes heartless Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt). Vera’s a crabby woman who says and does what she wants, which is something that Dolores puts up on a day-to-day basis and has been for at least two decades now. However, when Vera turns up dead, the cops all look right towards Dolores and want to know just what her motive was. Meanwhile, her estranged daughter, Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a well-respected New York City journalist, decides to visit her old town and mother and investigate the matter for herself. As Selena continues to dig deeper and deeper into this case, as well as into her own mother’s past, she realizes that there’s a lot more involved with her family-history than she, or the cops, know. Something that may explain why she is the way she is all of these many years later.

It seems like a lot of people have problems with movies if they’re “too depressing”. Sometimes, it seems like a movie has to be right amount of dark, stark and serious, but also the right amount of light, heart and humor, to make it seem more like a balancing-act. While in some cases, sure, this may be true, but for a movie like Dolores Claiborne, there doesn’t need to be much light, heart, humor, or even fun – all it needs to be is a dark, stark, serious and yes, damn depressing flick.

"Don't look at me with those wild eyes, Daffy!"

“Don’t look at me with those wild eyes, Daffy!”

And in that way, sure, it works.

Director Taylor Hackford seems to get enough right then wrong here, considering that he’s adapting some very rough and disturbing material from Stephen King. While it’s hard to dive into this movie without saying many of the spoilers that do eventually come to light, just know this: You probably won’t be expecting it and that’s because Hackford seems to do a good job of hiding the mystery from us. Sure, the movie may tell us some stuff too early on to really have us gripped, but there’s still an aura of mystery surrounding the movie, even in the more simpler moments.

That said, there’s something odd about Dolores Claiborne, and it seems to come through the actual material itself. In a way, the story is an absolute horror-story, except, without ghosts, goblins, or ghouls, there’s real life, dirty, despicable and disgusting human beings. In a way, the later is far more scarier than the former, which is why a story like this can be and is, chilling. But Dolores Claiborne is odd in that it doesn’t know whether or not it wants to be an all-out horror flick, a dark Southern Gothic, an over-the-top thriller, or a small, subtle drama about families and the secrets we all keep.

All by themselves, they make for some very interesting movies. However, together, they just don’t quite mesh.

Hackford’s good with the mystery here, but he isn’t the most subtle director in all the world, which can sometimes lead to his far more darker and messed-up scenes, somewhat coming off as silly. There’s a very loud score that screeches every time something bad or dramatic happens, and it almost seems like a parody after awhile; it gets worse by the end of the flick when character revelations are coming to us and half of the time, we’re hearing the bombastic score and nothing else. While a story like this probably isn’t asking to be as downplayed as I make it sound, there is something to be said for a movie that doesn’t know when to chill it on the theatrics and just trust the story, and the actors to speak for themselves.

After all, there are a lot of heavy-hitters here and for the most part, they all do fine. But before I jump into one performance in particular, I just want to talk about accents in movies: They’re hard to pull-off. I get this. You get this. They get this. We all get this. However, there’s an issue with your movie when there’s supposed to be one sort of signature accent that each and every character should have and, well, for some reason, they don’t. Everyone’s speaking differently, despite being from the exact same place, everyone seems to be trying hard, and yeah, everyone seems to be forgetting about them halfway through.

It happens in a lot of movies, but it’s never hit me as hard as it did with Dolores Claiborne, the one movie where not a single person has the same accent going for them. Due to every character here basically being from this New England town, there’s a lot of hard “a’s” and “r’s”, and while two people in particular seem to get it down perfectly, others like John C. Reilly, David Strathairn, and especially Jennifer Jason Leigh, not just struggle with it, but never seem to let us forget about that neither; Reilly sometimes sounds British, Strathairn, while chilling, sounds like a cartoon, and Leigh, seems like she doesn’t know whether she wants to fully commit to the accent, or not. Instead, it all just sounds like everyone’s getting started with the accents and aren’t quite ready to film them just yet, but Hackford himself didn’t care and just started filming anyway.

Symbolism?

Symbolism?

Regardless, they just don’t work.

End. Of. Story.

Okay, maybe not the actual end because if there is one person who not just gets the accent right, but just about everything else, it’s Kathy Bates. It’s probably no surprise at all that Bates can do great work with a role as a hard-ass, rough-nosed woman who doesn’t take any crap from anyone around her, but there’s more to her than just a tough shell – we soon start to realize that under the hard-exterior, lies a sad, tortured and vulnerable who just wants to be loved, or better yet, even held. It’s the kind of role that, in a much better movie, would garner a lot of Oscar-buzz, but unfortunately, because the rest of the movie is so wild and crazy, it unfortunately takes away from Bates’ powerhouse-of-a-role more.

Oh well. Kathy’s still bad-ass no matter which way you put it.

Consensus: With a dark, brooding atmosphere and great performance from Bates, Dolores Claiborne works, but is also hampered by the rest of the ensemble, as well as Hackford’s tendencies to go a little overboard when it isn’t necessary to do so.

6.5 / 10

Nice green-screen. What? Was New England nowhere to be found?

Nice green-screen. What? Was New England nowhere to be found?

Photos Courtesy of: Cinesnatch

The Mighty (1998)

David and Goliath could have always been pals. But society, man.

Maxwell Kane (Elden Henson) is having a pretty rough time growing up. His mom’s died, his father (James Gandolfini) is in jail, he’s living with his grand-parents (Harry Dean Stanton and Gena Rowlands), and his big, sort of dumb, and easy to pick on. He’s trying to better himself and in a way, make the situation that he’s in, better as a result, but because of all these bullies and the fact that he has yet to pass the seventh grade, really does hinder from accomplishing some of the achievements he sets out for himself. However, there is some hope for Maxwell, but oddly enough, it comes in the form of his next-door neighbor Kevin (Kiernan Culkin), who happens to have been born with a bad spine, forcing him to hobble around on crutches for what may seem like the rest of his short existence. With Kevin, Maxwell not only learns how to read better and pass the seventh grade, but in return, he puts Kevin up on his shoulders and takes him everywhere that he wants to go. And because Kevin has such an ambitious head on his shoulders, this normally leads the two to some pretty crazy and wild adventures, with a few of them leading to some pretty dark and scary places.

Round one, fight!

Round one, fight!

I’m torn about the Mighty for a lot of odd reasons. It’s not because I can’t decide whether the movie is “good”, or “bad”; it’s definitely “fine”, and probably nothing more. No, what I’m really torn about is whether or not I should have liked it more, because of what it did with the sub-genre of kids movies. The Mighty, on the outside and sort of in, seems like a traditional kids movie, in which it deals with some sad themes, like death, jail, and bullying, but uplifting ones, too, like family, love, respect and inspiration.

But it’s never really a total kids movie, or at least, not the kind I’m used to seeing. What the Mighty teaches, is that being the best to your ability is always a good way to get by in life, but also keeping yourself smart, by reading, challenging yourself, and constantly exploring the world, will also make a you better person in the long run. It also takes about the reality of death, what it does, how it can affect you, and how just to get by it all; very rarely do kids movies touch on death, for the sake of not scaring too many parents/kids away from seeing, but the Mighty isn’t scared of doing that. In fact, it embraces the reality of life and knows that it’s better to talk about it, rather than just shove it to the side and forgetting about its existence.

But at the same time, the movie’s still not as good as it should be.

One reason is because while it can be sentimental, it’s also very cheesy, seeming like a movie made in the early 70’s, as opposed to a movie made in the late-90’s. For instance, there’s a bunch of bullies who run rampant around Chicago, picking on Maxwell, Kevin, and oddly enough, random adults who sort of just take it and accept it as is. Needless to say, these are kids who are probably around 15-16, running around a city like Chicago, getting away with robbery and random bits of assault, all forgetting that it’s Chicago and yeah, they don’t put up with a lot of crap, let alone a pack of young white kids, snatches up purses and picking off wallets.

That, to me, is just relatively laughable, but okay, I’m willing to get past it for the sole fact that it’s basically a kids movie and sure, some fantasy is allowed. But then the movie, for some reason or another, decides that it needs more to its plot than just Kevin and Maxwell getting to know one another better, and making each other better people. Therefore, we get a random, wholly unnecessary subplot involving Maxwell’s long lost criminal daddy, that comes in and out of the story for a total of fifteen minutes, wastes the sheer talent of Gandolfini, and oh yeah, is settled in about two seconds.

I'd eat at that table. The kiddies would have to shut it though.

I’d eat at that table. The kiddies would have to shut it and let the grown ups speak, though.

It’s silly and breaks up any energy that the movie had going for it.

Because when it’s about Maxwell and Kevin, well, it kind of works. Once again, it’s one of these kids movies where the kids talk and act a lot smarter than you’d typically expect, which can get to be a bit tiresome, after about the fourth or fifth soliloquy. It does help that two very young guys like Elden Henson and Kiernan Culkin are working with this dialogue, but sometimes, even they fall prey to its forced-quirkiness, with Culkin’s character hardly ever saying anything in a serious manner – older Culkin is a different story, but when he was about 12 or so, yeah, it just didn’t quite work.

Honestly though, it’s a real shame that so many people in this great cast got wasted. Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton are basically here to just be the grand-parents, who don’t really do or say much of anything at all; Sharon Stone tries what she can with such an under-written role as Kevin’s mom; Gillian Anderson’s character is another bit of pure waste, even though she’s charming as hell; and even Meat Loaf shows up, not really doing much. The Mighty is definitely a kids movie, which makes sense that it would put such a huge emphasis on the kids and forget about the adults, but come on, when you have a cast full of so many heavy-hitters, it’s an absolute shame not to use them.

Then again, if the kiddies are happy, who cares, right?

Consensus: Corny, overly sentimental, and surprisingly over-plotted, the Mighty does deal with some very important aspects about growing up and living up to your full potential, but ultimately, doesn’t live up to its own.

5 / 10

Life is better when you tower over everyone. Trust me.

Life is better when you tower over everyone. Trust me.

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex, Mubi

All About My Mother (1999)

Everyone’s got mommy problems. Some more than others, obviously.

Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a nurse and single mother tries her hardest to come to terms with the death of her one and only son, Esteban (Eloy Azorin), who was tragically killed when he was struck by a car. For some odd reason, Manuela never got around to telling her son about his father, except that he was dead. However, that was all a lie and after much time of just sitting around and wallowing in her own grief, Manuela decides to get up and leave Madrid and head for Barcelona in hopes of finding Esteban’s actual, real life and hopefully, still alive, father. However, the man that she left behind, eighteen years ago when she was pregnant, is now a transvestite named Lola (Toni Canto). Now, Manuela has to find out just what happened to Lola all of these past years and actually come to grips with where her life has gone, for better and for worse.

All About My Mother is typically considered one of Almodóvar’s best, and with good reason. For obvious reasons, it won him a plethora of awards, especially the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, among some very stiff competition that year. But despite all of that surface-junk, it’s one of his most tightly-written; his balance of wacky, over-the-top comedy, with heartfelt, somewhat subtle character-drama and obvious melodrama is so perfect here that it almost seems like he’s not trying.

Laugh it up, ladies. Something bad may happen soon.

Laugh it up, ladies. Something bad may happen soon.

If anything, it’s the one movie where it doesn’t even seem like he was on the set for half of the days, directing and you know what? The movie’s kind of better off for that. There’s a feeling of ease to this, that isn’t found in all of his other flicks; other movies obviously show a tad bit of restraint and relaxation from Almodóvar, but for the most part, they all flirt with it, until they’ve had enough of sitting around and decide to get a little wacky. All About My Mother, in another way, sort of stays the same, practically the whole time and it’s a better movie for it.

Still, it’s an Almodóvar movie through and through and that should never be forgotten.

What it mostly all comes down to is the characters and from Almodóvar, they’re always strong. But what’s always most interesting about his characters is that he’s writing strong, emotional roles for and about women, without ever seeming like he’s looking down upon them, judging them, or simply using them as a prop so that he can get his kicks off of them. Sure, he’s had some questionable issues with sex and gender in the past with his movies, but when you get right down to it, no one is writing strong characters for women like he is and it helps you think of his movies in a far better light because of it. Most Hollywood movies have forgotten how to write for, or about, women in the first place, so it’s a nice bit of fresh air to see someone who knows what he’s doing and how he’s going to go all about it.

And if you need any further evidence of what I’m trying to get across, just look at each and every character in All About My Mother. Sure, a lot of them are goofy and rather over-the-top, but they’re also real, honest, living, breathing and emotional human beings, not to mention, women; the same kind of women who aren’t afraid to lash-out and be emotional every once and awhile, because, well, they’re allowed to. Almodóvar seems to have every character here perfectly written down, even to their smallest, little tic or trait, that it feels like, as time goes on and on, we get to know and love them even more.

She's not just beautiful, but a good actor, people!

She’s not just beautiful, but a good actor, people!

It also helps that the ensemble is pretty great, too, as is usually the case.

Of course, All About My Mother features the usual talent we’ve come to expect with Almodóvar, which isn’t necessarily a criticism, as he knows what works for thee ladies, and what doesn’t. Cecila Roth’s Manuela has to act-out in some unsympathetic ways, but because this is, essentially, her tale, we always feel for her; Marisa Paredes’ celebrity-mother character is perfect for her vamping-side, but we also get to see a little more underneath the facade that makes her everyday interactions with those around her, incredibly interesting; Penelope Cruz is here in an early role, showing a certain bit of heart and humanity that I wish more modern-audiences knew her for; and as Agrado, the most fun and exciting member of this cast, Antonia San Juan steals every scene she’s in, showing a great deal of heart, humor and humanity, just about with every opportunity. Watching as all of these characters sit in a room and chat about whatever comes next is enough of a treat, but because everyone is so good and their characters are so vividly-drawn, the movie’s just a blast to watch.

It’s hard to imagine saying that about a drama, but such is the case when you have expert-writing, directing and of course, acting.

Man, why can’t all movies be like this?

Consensus: Smart, funny, emotional, and above all else, heartfelt, All About My Mother is one of Almodovar’s best, but without ever making a big stink about it.

9.5 / 10

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Photos Courtesy of: Enter the Movies

Breakdown (1997)

Truck-drivers act as if they own the road and well, sometimes, they do.

A married-couple, Jeff and Amy Taylor (Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan), are leaving their regular lives from Boston, and moving to San Diego. Why? Well, I guess to get a fresh new start, but that all begins to change when they break down on the side of the road. Thinking that they’re going to be fine as long as Amy goes with a truck-driver (J.T. Walsh) to the local diner where she can call up for help and some movement, Jeff begins to get suspicious when she doesn’t come back for awhile. Now, Jeff who is all alone and without a clue in the world of what to do, decides to go out and look for her, and hopefully uncover clues and hints as to where she might be, and why the hell this kidnapping even occurred in the first place.

Sounds like a pretty standard thriller-plot, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is. Nothing really flashy here in terms of writing, directing, or even the plot – just a normal and average thriller that actually happens to be pretty damn tense as well. It starts off with a mystery that we’re totally left in the dark with and for awhile, there’s a lot of questions surrounding what’s going to happen with this plot.

Yeah, it don't look pretty, now does it, Kurt?

Yeah, it don’t look pretty, now does it, Kurt?

Director Jonathan Mastow knows what he’s doing to craft this sometimes very tense thriller, but he puts us in the same exact position as our lead character, Jeff. Everything that Jeff sees, hears, feels, or even thinks, we see, hear, feel, and think along with him. It gives us a better way of feeling for this dude, but also get into his head a bit, as he continues to look down each and every alley-way, river, and desert for Amy, wondering just what the heck truly happened to her. Mastow’s interested more in making us wait, rather than throwing each and every plot twist or reveal at us and making us feel like we know what to expect next. But rather than taking that latter, lower-road, Mastow keeps us confused, puzzled, a bit worried, and altogether, very tense.

However, it works well for about a good hour or so, and then it all begins to fall apart once more and more ideas come to our attention. I don’t know if that’s more of Mastow’s fault, or just our own. Since we know what to expect from thrillers such as these, it becomes pretty clear just where this flick is going to go and how, which sets it more and more out of the realm of actual possibility, unlike the rest of the flick that seemed to make plenty of sense, as if it could happen to either you or me, on a good day at that. Once the plot gets going and we figure out what’s really brewing underneath the surface here, the movie begins to answer questions and show us situations that could only happen in a movie, rather than in real-life.

Gone way too soon. Seriously. There were so many more psychos to be portrayed!

Gone way too soon. Seriously. There were so many more psychos to be portrayed!

Then again, I’m cynical and it’s kind of hard not to be in certain situations such as these.

At least Kurt Russell was around to save the day and keep things more and more interesting, as more and more of his true colors began to come out. Russell is good at playing these bad-ass characters that take no names, no prisoners, and sure as hell do not let-up for anyone, and is still able to show that, even with the yuppie-act he’s given here. It is a tad hard to believe that somebody as rugged and tough-looking as Russell could be this soft, wimp-of-a-man that all of a sudden has a change of heart once the love of his life is captured, but he at least milks it for all that he can, without ever resorting to the usual, snarling one-liners we tend to hear with his characters. He’s less of an action-hero, and more of a regular-dude who’s been pushed a little bit too far off the edge and it’s time for someone to pay.

In one of his last film roles ever, J.T. Walsh shows exactly why he was the go-to guy you needed when you needed somebody to play a evil and psychotic villain here as the truck driver that captures Amy. Walsh is good at the beginning because he gives you this wholesome, likable feel that you could only get with the country buck, but then changes things up once the going gets good and the devil horns begin to grow. The character Walsh plays is very one-note, but at least Walsh keeps him interesting and entertaining to watch, making us expect that he’s going to fully come out of his shell and show off a real person, underneath all of the cheating, lying, murdering, and stealing. However, we don’t get that and at the end of the day, the guy’s just another bad dude, who lives in the middle of nowhere, and does bad things because he can, and I guess that’s scary enough as it is.

But still, I wanted more. Is that so much to ask for?

Consensus: Breakdown starts off with enough juice and gas to keep it moving at a steady-pace for it’s hour-and-a-half run-time, but eventually hits the breaks by the end when it gets too silly, too goofy, and way too conventional for it’s own good.

7 / 10

Is this the part of the movie where they turn around and are absolutely horrified by what's coming at them?

Is this the part of the movie where they turn around and are absolutely horrified by what’s coming at them?

Photos Courtesy of: JMount’s Written in Blood

Cape Fear (1991)

Criminals never forget.

When attorney Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) knowingly withholds evidence that would acquit violent sex offender Max Cady (Robert De Niro) of rape charges, Max spends the next 14 years of his life in prison. And of course, while in the clink, Max has been thinking about that decision each and every day of his sentence, while on the other side of the bars, Sam has been living life with his wife (Jessica Lange) and young daughter (Juliette Lewis), who seems to be getting more and more rebellious as the years go by. But now that the 14 years are up, Max is ready to extract some revenge right from the get-go. However, rather than just beating the hell out of, or better yet, killing Sam, what Max does is spend every waking moment of his life and dedicating it all to stalking Sam, his family, and especially his friends. To Max, no one is safe and after awhile, Sam starts to realize that he’s going to have to come to some pretty drastic decisions if he’s going to protect the lives of those that he loves and wants to keep alive.

Bad lawyer.

Bad lawyer.

There’s nothing like watching an insanely talented director have the absolute time of their lives. It’s like watching a little kid in a Toys R Us, but rather that kid being limited to only buying a few items, the kid’s allowed to have the whole store. They can do whatever they want, however they want, and with all of these wonderful, fabulous and great toys.

That’s what it’s like watching Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear; the kind of movie where a master of his craft knows exactly what it is that he’s doing, having a lovely time with it all, and is barely ever going to let-up. And honestly, when you’re doing a remake on an already-great movie, that’s sort of the way you’ve got to go – you can’t follow the same, beat-for-beat, note-for-note, track-for-track, but instead, amp things up a bit differently. You can focus on a different plot-point altogether, bring out more interesting ideas of the story that may not have been discovered originally, and basically do whatever else you want with the story, so long as you stay true to heart and soul of the original. So few remakes actually abide by this rule, but despite the changes in story and style that Scorsese goes through here, he still sticks true to the original with an eerie tone humming all throughout.

But what’s interesting is that it’s different this time around.

Scorsese approaches the material as if it was an over-the-top, wild, wacky, crazy and unpredictable adventure into one man’s psychotic psyche – someone who doesn’t seem to have a moral compass anywhere to be found and because of that, is taking out the nice, somewhat innocent people. The original touched on this idea, obviously, but Scorsese really hammers it in, allowing for the character of Max to be as depraved and as sickening as humanly imaginable. Sure, it’s campy, it’s wildly insane, and it’s really schlocky, but you know what? It actually kind of works.

A good portion of that has to do with Scorsese’s quick pace, but another portion of that definitely has to do with De Niro’s committed-as-ever performance. Of course, working with Scorsese brings out the best in De Niro, but here, it’s unlike how we’ve ever seen him before – he’s definitely flirted with the idea of being a villain in other flicks before and after this, but never to the supreme extent that he goes with Max. The movie does try some avenues to have us, in the very least, sympathize with him and his stance, but for the most part, the movie knows that he is a monster, and so does De Niro, which makes every scene in which he’s just acting like the creepiest, most erratic person around, so damn entertaining.

It almost makes you wonder where all of the inspiration’s gone in the past few or so years.

Bad housewife.

Bad housewife.

Regardless, Scorsese doesn’t shy away from letting the rest of the cast have their moments, too, especially since they also get to have some development and not just become a typical white, suburban, upper-class family who plays golf and tennis. Nolte’s Sam has got some dark issues to work with, Lange’s Leigh seems to be struggling in her own ways, Lewis’ Danielle, while most definitely a teen, is also a little bit smarter than we’re used to seeing with this kind of character, making her one key scene with De Niro all the more creepy, and Illeana Douglas, in a couple or so scenes, shows true fun and spirit for a movie that seems to enjoy her presence, yet, at the same time, remind us that there’s something dark and grueling really behind all of this fun we’re having.

In fact, where Cape Fear works less is probably in the last-half, when Scorsese really loses his cool here. In a way, Scorsese wants us to see Max as a sort of Christ-like figure which, for a short while, is fine and all, but by the end, becomes such a major plot-point, that it’s almost unbearable to sit and listen through. We get the point as soon as it’s mentioned, yet being that this is a Scorsese movie, faith must be driven into the ground and because of that, the final-act of Cape Fear feels more like wild and over-the-top symbolism, on top of symbolism, and less of a thrilling, compelling and wholly satisfying to a wild ride of thrills, shrills, and shocks.

Still though, it’s one of the rare remakes that rivals the original and how many times can you say that?

Consensus: Wild, a little insane, well-acted, and always exciting, Cape Fear is the rare remake that works just as much as its legendary original does, especially what with Scorsese seeming to have the time of his life behind the camera.

8 / 10

Bad criminal. Or is that sort of obvious?

Bad criminal. Or is that sort of obvious?

Photos Courtesy of: the ace black blog

Postcards from the Edge

Life’s pretty bad. And then there’s your mom.

Hollywood actress Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) seemed to, at one point in her career, have it all, but now, it seems like she’s about to lose it all. Now that she’s out of rehab and recovering from a very public drug-addiction, she hopes to get better so that she can continue to work and make all sorts of money again like she’s used to doing. But it is recommended by those who know best that she stay with her mother, famed actress Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine), who has become a somewhat champion drinker herself. Now, more than ever, not only does Suzanne struggle with her sobriety, but she’s also got to struggle with getting along with her mom and accepting her for all the flaws and faults that she is, underneath the whole glitz and glamour of the career she once had and still receives praise for.

So yeah, if you don’t know, Postcards from the Edge is an adaptation of Carrie Fisher’s autobiography, which is about her own battle with drugs, stardom, booze and yes, her famous mother, Debbie Reynolds. Knowing that, the movie definitely takes on a more interesting and darker spin; after all, watching someone famous, play another famous person who is literally telling their heartfelt, mostly true story, seems a little odd. It makes you wonder why they didn’t just hire Fisher and Reynolds in the first place and call the thing a day, right? After all, they seemed to get along so well in the first place, so why wouldn’t they be up to the task to begin with?

I know, moms, right?

I know, moms, right?

Regardless, the movie still works.

Oddly enough, Postcards from the Edge actually works best in the performances, mainly, those of Streep’s and MacLaine’s. Streep is especially great here because you get the sense that she’s not trying to get us to love her, or better yet, sympathize with her – the movie doesn’t ever seem to get as dark, or as mean as it should, but the very few instances of actual rawness comes through Streep’s portrayal of Vale/Fisher. Just by watching how she interacts with those around her and seeing as how she’s practically pushed to the side of everywhere she goes, all because of a troubled and checkered past, well, is pretty sad to watch. Streep plays it well though, never demanding sympathy and makes this person all the more realistic.

And then there’s MacLaine who seems very much in her element here. Playing an aging dame of an actress, MacLaine gets to enjoy herself, occasionally vamping it up, but always coming back down to reality, reminding us that she’s a grade-A actress who can go head-to-head with Streep any day of the week. Together, they’re the perfect mother-daughter combination, and it almost makes you wish the movie was a smaller, much more contained piece and just focused on them, their relationship, and where exactly they’re going to go from here.

Of course, though, we don’t get that movie.

Don't trust Gene.

Don’t trust Gene.

The movie we do get, in fact, seems awfully concerned with so much else. Mike Nichols always seems to have a general idea of what he’s doing with the material he’s working with and you’d expect from him, a much more emotional, rewarding experience, but the movie doesn’t seem to get all that close to the true emotions that an autobiographical story such as this could evoke. Most of this has to do with the fact that the movie seems to take on a whole lot more than it can actually chew, let alone, swallow; there’s Vale’s career, her relationship with her mom, her mom’s career, her experiences on movie-sets, her trying to nail parts in major Hollywood productions, her trying to maintain a steady relationship, her trying to stay sober, her trying to stay alive, etc.

Eventually, you get the picture and unfortunately, that’s why a good portion of Postcards feels muddled. It takes on a lot, seems to have so much to say, but when all is said and done, it’s just too much. The Hollywood stuff is funny, but it’s not really new or groundbreaking; the relationship stuff with the mother gets developed enough; all of Vale’s career plots sort of work; her drug-addiction never gets nearly as descriptive or as eye-opening as it should; and although it’s always great to see Dennis Quaid, you take him out of this movie and guess what? It keeps on going.

Still, though, there’s a part of me that’s glad a movie like Postcards exists, because it does paint a cynical portrait of Hollywood that we do see often, but still need to be reminded of. The idea that Vale’s career was already dying because of her age, and maybe less about her drug/alcohol addiction, is interesting as we still see it in today’s day and age of film. Of course, having Street play the role is interesting, considering the woman probably gets every role she ever shows any interest in, but still, there’s something to be said about a business that openly discriminates, gets away with it, and continues to live long and prosper.

Maybe something needs to change, eh?

Consensus: With two very good performances in the leads, Postcards from the Edge is an interesting tale of family, but never goes any deeper than it probably should have beyond that.

7 / 10

RIP, kind of.

RIP, kind of.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures, Bobby Rivers TV, Film Experience

Dick Tracy (1990)

What a Dick that guy is.

Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) is the type of detective all men of the law aspire to be. He’s charming, smart, inspired, always on the good side, gets whatever lady he wants, and always finds a way to catch the baddies before they cause anymore harm in the world. But he might just have met his match with “Big Boy” Caprice (Al Pacino). Caprice has practically taken over the crime world by himself, and made almost every sort of illegal activity occur. With Tracy on his tale, though, times may change for Caprice.

I’ve never fully understood why this thing didn’t become a series of movies rather than just a movie that seemed to promise one. Apparently, Beatty has been hyping one up for a long time and is still fighting producers and creators as to whether or not he still owns the name/title Dick Tracy. Who knows? Maybe 26 years later ain’t too late?

Regardless, Dick Tracy came to us back in the day when comic book movies used to not be so serious and dark, and instead were just goofy, campy, and over-the-top. However, they were also knowing about it so it wasn’t just a strange movie from start-to-finish, it had reasoning for being so silly. That’s the smart approach Beatty thankfully takes here and is one of the key aspects to Dick Tracy being more than just another conventional comic book flick.

"Go fish."

“Go fish.”

Cause we’ve got way too much of that now.

It all starts as soon as we’re introduced to the character of Tracy, what he does, how he does it, and where he does it. He gets a call on his watch about somebody missing, leaves the play he is at with his gal, comes back five minutes later after scoping the scene out, and acts all natural and cool. If that doesn’t at least have you chuckle, then don’t even bother with this movie because that’s all there is here. Just goofiness, through and through, and that’s what keeps it relatively fun.

The only time the movie does seem to lose its sense of “fun”, is when it decides to focus its story on so many other elements that weren’t needed. Throughout the whole movie, we get to see Tracy’s miniature-sized side-kick, “The Kid”, pal around, hang out, and help Tracy solve crimes. The only problem is that he’s an orphan and orphans are supposed to be thrown into the orphanage as if they were garbage. Most of the movie concerns whether or not Tracy will end up falling for the tricks and keeping Kid, or getting rid of him and doing what the law says. It’s a dilemma that we’re supposed to care about, but just don’t. Kid is actually sort of annoying because all he does is yell, scream, and shout that there is some crime needing to be stopped. He’s a joyful, little lad, but it got annoying, real quick. And yes, is having “the Kid” loyal to the comics? Of course, but sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

But as the film goes on, it continues to entertain but bore at the same time. It’s very confusing actually because you never know what type of film Beatty is trying to go for. You know he’s trying to make a wacky, wild romp that’s based on some nutty source-material, but he never quite goes all out. Certain parts of Dick Tracy are really silly and weird and seem like the perfect fit for the kind of over-the-top, wild romp that comic books seem to promise. But then, there’s a bunch of subplots that continue to complicate the story and make it seem like we’re supposed to be caring about this more than we actually are.

After all, what everyone comes to Dick Tracy for, in the first place, is to have a little bit of fun. Take that away and what the hell is the point?

The ladies love Dick.

The ladies love Dick.

Thankfully, the cast always keeps things together. Despite being nearly 53 at the time and initially seeming like an odd fit, Beatty works well as Dick Tracy. There’s always been something about Beatty’s cool, calm and breezy charm, that makes you trust and like the guy, but also never feels like he’s macho-posing for the hell of it. It works for the character and makes Tracy seem like a good guy. Granted, in a time where superheros reign supreme and show up almost every, single summer, it’s a bit unexciting to get a superhero that just shoots a Tommy Gun and figures out predicaments pretty easily, but it’s simple. You don’t need a superhero that has some sort of inner-problems going on with his life, or something taking away what he can and cannot do with his special talents. You just need a guy that does right for the world he loves, does whatever he can, continues to fight until no more, and leave it at that.

Simplicity at its finest, folks.

But really, it’s Al Pacino who walks away with this all here. As “Big Boy” Caprice, Pacino spends literally each and every scene yelling and acting way over-the-top. But, it works. Pacino loves to scream and shout himself through a role, but while that can sometimes feel unnecessary in mostly everything he does, here, it works for the whole movie. The tone, whenever it’s focusing on him, is played for laughs, so we never need to take him seriously. Pacino’s in this crazy, little pulpy world that doesn’t care how much he screams, or how loud it is – it just cares how much fun he’s having.

Everybody else in this movie deserves a pat on the back for the same thing as well, even if they only show up for a good couple of minutes. James Caan is here for five seconds to look cool, mobster-ish, and intimidating, only to walk off and get blown-up by a secret car bomb; Paul Sorvino shows up in tons and tons of make-up, only to be betrayed and thrown in a tub of concrete underneath the ground; the late, great Charles Durning is playing a cop that Tracy can trust no matter what; and last, but sure as hell not least is Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles, who does exactly that. It’s funny to see, especially because you know Hoffman is enjoying himself while doing so. Oh and Madonna is quite the sexy, fiery presence that the movie oh so promised on in all of its advertisements, proving that she could definitely act, given the right material to play around with.

Consensus: Beatty’s direction may be too all-over-the-place for such goofy material as Dick Tracy to make it work wonders, but it always stays fun, light, goofy, and knowingly over-the-top, without ever making apologies for being so. It’s just pure, unadulterated fun.

7 / 10

All these gangsters and no pasta?!? What the hell?!?

All these gangsters and no pasta?!? What the hell?!?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Den of Geek

Basic Instinct (1992)

Eyes advert, fellas!

Homicide detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is known for always solving his cases to the best of his ability and because of that, he not only has a good career, but a good life in general. However, it all changes one day when he begins to investigate the mysterious of a rock star and links up with the sexy, vivacious, and possibly dangerous Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). Believe it or not, she’s actually a crime novelist who loves to write about all sorts of deadly, violent crimes, or better yet, like the ones that continue to pop-up around the same time the death of this rock star occurs. For Nick, however, he believes that no matter how beautiful Catherine is, he won’t let her get in the way of his investigation. But that becomes a whole lot harder when Catherine starts alluding to Nick’s lover (Jeanne Triplehorn) as having more of a criminal background than she may have let on, making Nick think long and hard about whether this case is worth it, or if he just wants to retire from the force now and possibly settle down.

Love at first fight. And other stuff.

Love at first fight. And other stuff.

Oh, and Sharon Stone flashes a bunch of dudes.

There’s certain moments in film history that will forever remain infamous and the aforementioned Sharon Stone scene is one of them. Does it matter that the rest of the movie is neither as shocking, crazy, unpredictable, or infamous as that one scene in particular? Not really, but it doesn’t keep Basic Instinct, a rather mediocre, if at times bland erotic-thriller, to continue to pop-up in discussions about sex, movies, the MPAA, and mainstream, big-budget movies as a whole.

Because, like I said, Basic Instinct is a fine movie – director Paul Verhoeven doesn’t have it in him to make a boring movie, by any stretch of the imagination – but it also seems like the kind of movie that wants so hard to be cool, sexy, seductive, and rad, that it also forgets about what makes most movies like that in the first place: Some semblance of entertainment. Verhoeven loves his movies to be trashy, dirty and sweaty, which is what we get a whole lot with Basic Instinct, but that doesn’t make it nearly as fun, or as exciting as it sounds; in a way, it can actually be kind of boring. In a way, it’s clear that Verhoeven wants to make a sort of homage to the film noir’s of the 1950’s or so, but obviously, with a far more modern-update.

If that was his intention, then yeah, he got it down well; he captures the look, the feel, and most of all, the performances, except with a whole lot more boobs, butt, blood, and ice-picks. But style-points in a movie like this can only go so far – after awhile, there needs to be a story, emotion, and most of all, action. And I don’t mean “action” in the literal sense, as much as I mean in the proverbial sense – people just standing around, staring into space and thinking long and hard about what they want to do next, unfortunately, just doesn’t cut it.

You can look, but you can't touch, boys.

You can look, but you can’t touch, boys.

A lot of that happens in Basic Instinct, too.

A part of me thinks it’s just Verhoeven’s obvious European influences coming out, but a part of me also thinks that it’s just him slowly realizing that there’s not much more to the movie than a bunch of hot, steamy sex. And like I said, the hot, steamy sex is done well, it’s just that everything else surrounding isn’t and more or less, feels as if it’s all just filler so that Verhoeven himself can get another sex scene going. It’s understandable why the movie was so shocking back in 1992, but nowadays, sex in movies is overplayed, no matter how explicit and it made me wish that a good chunk of this flick was actually dedicated to an actual, compelling plot, and less to how Sharon Stone’s boobs or butt looked while mounting Michael Douglas.

Then again, the two do mount each other nicely and it’s one of the stronger aspects of the movie. That Nick has a bit of a dark side to him and is drawn to Catherine’s even darker, possibly more sadistic ways, makes the movie all the more enjoyable to watch; we know that he’s going to eventually crack under the pressure and make sweet, sexy love to her like the Dickens, but when, where, how, and at what cost, makes it all the more intriguing to sit through. Together, the two are quite good; they play-off of one another well, with Stone’s over-the-top playfulness, going hand-in-hand with Douglas’ over-the-top seriousness. In a smaller movie, with less of media-attention and a different director, the two probably would have made a very interesting drama, where instead of focusing on how many times they bang, it’s more about how many times they actually do love one another, but of course, that’s all a fantasy.

Of course, what we have is a movie that allows them to put in some good work, even if the work itself isn’t all that there. Verhoeven does eventually have some fun in the final-act, once people start getting killed-off left and right, but by then, it’s a little too late. The movie’s a little over two hours, but honestly, feels a whole lot longer than that, and because of such, it’s a bit of an uneasy watch. Just when you think and expect for the movie to fully pick up the slack and get going somewhere, Verhoeven decides to slow things down and focus in on these characters and whatever garbage lines they have to deliver. Sometimes, that’s fun, as long as it stays trashy and fun.

But being just trashy and leaving it at that, I’m sorry, is not fun.

Consensus: Well-acted and directed with plenty of style, Basic Instinct also proves that all of the sex, violence and nudity in the world, can’t make-up for a weak story and script.

6 / 10

Yeah, it's that scene.

Yeah, it’s that scene.

Photos Courtesy of: The Iron Cupcake, Indiewire