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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Abdul Salaam El Razzac

Pretty Woman (1990)

Hookers tend to have hearts of gold. Until they steal all your money.

While on a business trip, Edward (Richard Gere), for some reason or another, decides that he doesn’t want to spend the night alone. Instead, he wants to buy himself a hooker from off-the-street, which is, yes, dirty and not at all safe, but wouldn’t you know it? Edward gets the luck of the draw! Not only is his hooker named Vivian (Julia Roberts), but she’s as pretty as they come, even if all she does do is have sex with a bunch of middle-aged men for money. However, Edward doesn’t see the need in having sex with Vivian, because he’s all too busy being her friend, so yeah, he decides to pay for her longer, but in a consensual way. And eventually, the two start to get more and more along and understand where the others come from. But for Edward, he doesn’t fully know if he wants Vivian in his life, or he just wants someone he can connect with and go home to at night. Whereas with Vivian, she’s still not sure if she wants to continue being a hooker for the rest of her days, or settle down, start a family, and live what is, basically, the American Dream.

Whatta sugar daddy.

Whatta sugar daddy.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

You can call Pretty Woman “iconic”, or, dare I even bother to use the term, “significant”, because of two notable features; one, it featured the occupation of a hooker as not the worst thing known to man, and showed the whole world the beautiful, bright and charming talent that was Julia Roberts. Take those two aspects from the movie, and guess what? You’ve not only got a pretty dull movie, but a pretty unmemorable rom-com, that has little, to no redeeming qualities.

But yes, Julia Roberts is quite great here, so it’s obvious that I basically have to start there. Sure, you can say that Steel Magnolias and Mystic Pizza were movies that brought Julia Roberts to plenty of eyes, but really, Pretty Woman is what brought her to the mainstream, and with good reason. Every second the camera spends with her, it can’t help but just love every second of her; her teeth-filled smile, her lovely, youthful body, her approachable, but seemingly beautiful face, and yes, even her winning charisma, are all on full-display here and it helps make this character more than just your typical “hooker with a heart of gold”. Okay, maybe not, because yes, this movie practically started that whole convention, but still, Roberts is pretty great here.

Some may still get up in arms over the fact that she got nominated for an Oscar, which, to some extent, is understandable, but at the same time, not, because, well, she makes this movie. She’s not just a bundle of charm, but she’s also smart in making this character the slightest bit likable or believable. Even if the character of Vivian is so clearly made-up and phony Hollywood drivel, Roberts still makes you want to believe that someone like her exists – someone who is just waiting on the dirty, muggy streets of some overpopulated city, doing all sorts of sexual acts for a buck and a burger, while still looking for that special someone who will, one day, sweep her off of her feet, love her for who she is, and give her everything and anything that she’s wanted.

It’s all a bunch of baloney, but hey, Roberts is good enough here that she makes us want to believe in some of it.

Wowza Jules!

Wowza Jules!

As for the rest of the movie, yeah, it’s all pretty lame. Most may know this already, but in case you don’t: I’m not a big fan of Richard Gere. For the most part, his performances always tend to be a bit lazy and dull when he isn’t given the right material to work with and here, nothing really changes. Granted, his character is a bit of an unlikable dope who, yes, means well, but is also so sad and pathetic that you almost wish that Vivian would find another client, who paid her more, and run away with him. Sure, Gere brings the sex-appeal for the ladies that I presume Roberts brought for the men, but there has to be a little bit more than just good-looks and a hot body, right?

Either way, Garry Marshall doesn’t seem to interested in really giving these characters anything more of a personality that goes beyond “nice person”, or “evil person”. The story wants to be a very deep and serious dramedy about the costs of life and love, but at the same time, just really feels like it’s not going anywhere. Eventually, the movie starts to make stuff up as it goes along, like a random conflict with Jason Alexander’s character, and an overworking of Gere’s character’s job. Honestly, I didn’t care for the character in the first place, so why the hell should I give a flyin’ hoot about his big-wig, high-class, corporate job? Is it because he’s ordering a hooker? Is it because he’s Richard Gere? Or, is it because Marshall knew that working with such a limited story didn’t really create much of any conflict, tension, or interest to be found at all?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that Julia Roberts may go down as, singlehandedly, the most attractive prostitute to ever grace screens.

Sorry, Divine Brown.

Consensus: Julia Roberts star-making performance is what helps allow for Pretty Woman to get through some real cracks in its story, but it’s almost not enough.

5 / 10

Come on, Richie! You're smarter than that!

Come on, Richie! You’re smarter than that!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Challenges, Fanpop

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Malcolm X (1992)

MalcolmposterSometimes, one biopic will do.

At an early age, Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) faced racism almost everywhere he went. His family was terrorized by local KKK members, his family was broken up, and he was always told that he would never be allowed to practice law. So basically, Malcolm X, no matter how hard Malcolm tried, he was always brought down to the color of his skin. As Malcolm grew older, and the troubles he enduced became more frequent, he started to realize that the only person who was going to look after him was him and himself alone. That’s why, when he was put into the slammer for burglary, he found a new calling in life. Around this time in his life, Malcolm began to find faith and discover a new voice that was always inside of him, just waiting desperately to come out. Finally, it did. Problem was, many people didn’t like what he had to say; rather than being like MLK and promoting peaceful protests in order to gain the respect and gratitude of the white man, Malcolm was all about fighting back and giving white man the hell that they deserved. Many adored and praised Malcolm for this stance, however, many others didn’t. Eventually, the latter would ultimately change his life forever.

He was a leader.

He was a leader.

At three-hours-and-20-minutes, there’s a lot of ground that Spike Lee covers. Malcolm X is the kind of biopic that knows that it should be the only biopic ever made about Malcolm X, so in order to ensure that no others come out and try to tarnish said person’s legacy, it goes out of its way to focus on just about everything in Malcolm’s life, without leaving any gray areas whatsoever. In a way, you have to applaud for Lee going as far as he can possibly go.

At the same time, the movie’s pretty long.

There’s a good half-hour or more that I felt like could have been blocked-out of this movie and made it just nearly three hours. All of the early scenes concerning Delroy Lindo, as he good as he is, don’t really work in the latter-part of the flick; while it’s trying to show how Malcolm has changed and is willing to forgive those who he has wronged, it’s also, at the same time, feeling a bit unnecessary because, well, we get it. Malcolm X is a changed man and he wants to let the whole world know it.

That said, there’s a lot about Malcolm X that deserves to be seen, regardless of the small amount of filler that always seems to be around in Lee’s films. For one, it’s a powerful statement on the act of protesting. While Lee has been known to be awfully preachy with just about each and everyone of his flicks, here, he seems to genuinely sit back and just let the speeches, and film tell itself. Because Malcolm X was such a compelling presence no matter what he was doing, when you hear his famous speeches play-out here, and the sort of effect they have, it’s hard not to want to get up, scream, and shout along with him. It doesn’t matter what color, gender, or class your are – there’s something about Malcolm X that’s easy to relate to.

That general sense of telling the opposing side to, “f**k off”, is universal and it’s one of the main reasons why Malcolm X works so well. It not only gives X’s teachings more spotlight, but also likes to show us just exactly what he was fighting and yelling for; while maybe not all that much has changed, it still goes to show that somebody like him, who was way ahead of his time, wasn’t afraid of those he may piss-off or offend. While some people may say that X’s teachings were more than just pure “fighting words”, the fact remains: When Malcolm X did a speech, you sat down, listened and hung on to every word that he had to say.

There’s nothing more powerful than that.

And as Malcolm X, Denzel Washington is, in all honesty, a revelation. It’s actually no surprise to anyone, but throughout the near three-and-a-half-hours, Washington remains engaging, interesting and most of all, believable through it all. This is all the more special due to the fact that X himself, went through so many transformations over his 40 years of living that to have someone play all of these different sides and personas in an understandable manner, to where we can still believe it’s the same person, is definitely something to boast on and on about. That Al Pacino won the Oscar that year is totally beyond me, but hey, it’s the Oscars.

A lover.

A lover.

How am I not surprised?

Perhaps what surprised me most about Malcolm X was how Spike Lee doesn’t set out to fully lionize X, his words, or even the movement he was so desperately fighting for. While this could have been an easy praise-piece where, no matter what he did, Malcolm X was always in the right and never made a mistake, the movie shows that he did, like many other humans and civil rights activists, get stuck in some sticky situations that he couldn’t get out of. That not everyone around him is fully on-board with what he has to say or do, already shows that maybe, just maybe, X himself may have taken things a tad too far in some perspectives.

Some could make the argument that X himself needed to take that extra step, just to force the change to happen, but still, it makes you wonder. Malcolm X, above all else, is the biopic that gives us every shade to X’s character; he was a kind, warm-hearted man who loved his wife and family so much that he never wanted anything harmful to ever happen to them, but he was also a bit of a nasty, sometimes irresponsible man who let his emotions get the best of him. Was he human? Of course he was. Was her perfect? Hell no. Then again, that’s what made Malcolm X, the person, such an iconic figure to latch onto: He was a person trying so hard to see a change.

Sadly, it didn’t bode out so well and most of us are still stuck, trying to figure out what to do next.

Consensus: Though it is quite lengthy, Malcolm X is, at the same time, a necessary biopic that gives power to its figure’s voice, and also allows for Denzel Washington to give one of the best performances of his career and keep us intrigued practically the whole way through.

8.5 / 10

And yeah, a pretty solid speech-giver, too.

And yeah, a pretty solid speech-giver, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Glory (1989)

Yes. People did go to war over the Confederate flag.

During the Civil War, the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the more infamous troupes, due to the fact that they were, for the most part, filled with black men. Some were freemen from the North, others were slaves, but all of them were under the command of Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a commander who is still reeling from the affects of the warfare he’s experienced in his lifetime. Already, before they even set out for battle, there was already plenty of trepidation towards the 54th, because some believed that blacks could not be controlled, or commanded in such a way that would have them prepped and ready for war. Despite this, Shaw, along with his second-in-command (Cary Elwes), try their hardest to not only discipline the soldiers, but even relate and connect with them, as hard as it may seem to do. Some soldiers, like John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), are more than willing to go along with all of the problems they encounter fighting for a country that doesn’t accept them as human beings, whereas others, like Trip (Denzel Washington), aren’t and want the whole unit to know that they aren’t fighting for freedom at all – they’re just fighting to die. Obviously, this causes problems between each and everyone and all culminates in the disastrous attack on the Confederate fort in Charleston, S.C.

Goofy-looking 'stache.

Goofy-looking ‘stache.

Glory is, as most people say, a “classic war film”. Not to take any spit out of that statement, but that’s sort of true. It’s a very good movie, in fact, and one that shows both the humane, as well as harsh realities of the war. At the same time, however, it’s also a film about slavery, and how two races can simultaneously connect to one another, while also having to prepare for a war that they may not actually win and come away alive from. Edward Zwick clearly had a lot on his plate here and it’s one of the many things that makes Glory a solid war film that deserves to be seen by any person out there who either, loves film, history, or a combination of the two.

But, that doesn’t make it a perfect movie, as some may call it.

For one, its extremely dated in the way the story is told. What I mean by this is that rather than getting a story about black people trying to get by under extreme war-conditions, told by a black person, we are told the story through their white commander, as played by Matthew Broderick. It’s understandable that the reason for this is to show how the black soldiers are helping to make Shaw open his eyes a bit more to the realities that, well, believe it or not, African Americans are humans, too. Even though he lives in a world where slavery does exist (although, not for much longer), he knows that these black men are just as honest and humane as he is, which is why we see the tale told, in his own words, through his own eyes, and in his own way.

However, at the same time, it sort of feels like a disservice to the actual black folks in the story. Why are we being told that these fellas are all magical and lovely people, when we can clearly see that happening, right in front of our very own eyes? Did we really need to deal with Shaw’s voice-over to begin with? In all honesty, probably not, because it’s already understood that Shaw will start to warm up and grow closer to these black soldiers that are under his command. So, for anything else to be thrown on, makes it feel like stuffy and, well, a bit schmaltzy. Not saying that it didn’t happen in this way, but the way Shaw is used as our heart and soul of the story, makes Glory seem like it’s taking the easy road out – rather than letting the story be told by those who are most affected to begin with.

But, everything else about Glory, aside from that little nugget of anger, is great.

Like I stated before, Zwick clearly had a lot to work with here, and he does so seamlessly. He gives enough attention to the black soldiers that matter most and show how each and every personality can, at times, clash, while at other times, rub against one another to create a far more perfect and in-sync union. No character here is made out to be a perfect human being, and because as such, it’s easy to sympathize with these characters early-on – and makes it all the more tragic to realize that, in all honesty, they aren’t really fighting for much.

There’s one scene in which this is presented perfectly when Denzel Washington’s Trip goes on about the fact that even when the war is over and everybody goes home, he’ll go back to whatever slum he’s been forced to stay in, whereas Shaw and his white counterparts will be able to head back and relax in his big old mansion, and continue to live his life of total luxury. This scene, above all else, drives home the point that these soldiers may, yes, be fighting for their lives, but are doing so in a way because, quite frankly, they have nowhere else to go, or nothing else better to make up with their time. Most of the soldiers are slaves, so therefore, they have no freedom to begin with; however, even the ones that are free, don’t really have much to do except still be treated as minorities and non-equals, although not as harshly as slaves.

Mediocre 'stache.

Mediocre ‘stache.

So yes, it’s a very sad tale, if you really think about it. But Glory shows that there is some light to be found in the folds. There’s heart, there’s humor, and above all else, there’s humanity here that shows that each and everyone of these soldiers were, race notwithstanding, human beings. And because of this fact, the performances are all the more impressive by showing the depth to which these characters are portrayed.

Though Broderick’s Shaw didn’t really need to be the central figure of this huge story, he’s still solid enough in the role to make me forget about that fact. Ever since Ferris Bueller, it’s known that Broderick has always been trying to get past that image and, occasionally, he’ll strike gold. This is one of those times wherein we see Shaw as not only a clearly messed-up vet of the war, but also one that has enough pride and courage to still go back to the battle and ensure that each and everyone of his men are fit for the same battle he will partake in. Cary Elwes is also fine in showing that, even despite him being more sympathetic to the slavery cause, still has to push his men as far as he possibly can, without over-stepping his superior, obviously.

But, as expected, the best performances come from the three cast-members who get the most attention out of all the other black characters: Andre Baugher, Morgan Freeman, and of course, the star-marking turn from Denzel Washington. As an educated, smart and free black man, Baugher’s character faces a lot more tension from the rest of the black soldiers, and his transition from being a bit too soft for all the training, to becoming a far more rough, tough and gritty one, is incredibly believable. Freeman, too, stays as the heart and soul of the black soldiers and proves to be the one who steps up the most when push comes to shove and a leader is needed. Freeman, in just about everything he does, always seems to become a leader of sorts, so it’s no surprise that the role here fits him like a glove.

However, the one that shines above the rest is, obviously, Denzel Washington as the rebel of the group, Trip.

And the reason why I said “obviously”, is because it’s well-known by now that Denzel was given an Oscar for his work here and understandably so; not only does he steal every scene, but when you get down to the bottom of the story, you realize that he’s the heart and soul of the whole thing. Without him, this would have probably been a normal tale of blacks and whites coming together, to fight the obstacles set against them, and fight a war, but it’s Trip who’s the one that hits everybody’s head and wakes them up to the harsh realities that is the world they live in. Denzel is, at times, hilarious, but also brutally honest, and it’s his voice that keeps this movie’s humanity afloat.

Now, if only the movie had been about him to begin with and not the white dude.

Consensus: Heartfelt, emotional, and well-acted on practically all fronts, Glory is a solid war picture, that also happens to have a message about racial equality that doesn’t try too hard to hit you over the head.

8.5 / 10

No 'stache at all and guess what? He's the coolest one.

No ‘stache at all and guess what? He’s the coolest one.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins