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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: James Pickens Jr.

Nixon (1995)

nixonposterHe was a crook, but then again, aren’t we all?

U.S. President Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) definitely had all sorts of controversies in his life and career. And those constants issues with the general public and those around him actually lead-out into the rest of his life, even going so far as to drive him a little nutty. But no matter what, his wife, Pat (Joan Allen), whenever he needed some love and comfort the most, even if he wasn’t quite so sure that he could always trust her. Of course though, despite some of Nixon’s best moments as President, his career and legacy would, ultimately, be destroyed because of the infamous incident that everyone, for future generations, will come to know as “the Watergate Scandal”.

So basically, yeah, Nixon is Oliver Stone’s attempt at trying to make some sort of biopic on the life, times and ultimate career of Richard Nixon. And honestly, it makes sense – if there is any director out there who could understand the mind and brain-space of someone who has been hated and despised over the years, it’s definitely Stone. But don’t be fooled by the term “biopic”, as Nixon is anything but conventional, even if that term is exactly what it promises to be.

"Hey, Anthony? Yeah, tone it down just a bit."

“Hey, Anthony? Yeah, tone it down just a bit.”

And that is, honestly, it’s biggest problem.

Stone has a lot to work with here and even at a staggering three-hours, it feels like we got more than enough. For what it’s worth, Stone doesn’t back down from showing us the image of Nixon, both professional and personal, that we’ve all come to know and expect by now. He has to make a lot of dirty, incredibly questionable choices and decisions on behalf of the entire country and because of that, he starts to get a little crazy and act out in ways people don’t expect him to. Stone doesn’t seem to be fully judging him for who he is, or better yet, what he represents, and that’s what works best in the movie’s favor; it’s setting out to tell us a little more about the one President that most of the country has learned to grow and dislike more with each and every passing year, and not shy away from some of the more grittier, meaner aspects of his life.

And because Nixon doesn’t back away from the not-so pretty things about Nixon’s life, it also can sort of seem like it has nothing to really say about its central-figure. Even though Stone tries his absolute hardest to fool us into thinking that this isn’t another one of those typical biopics we tend to get around Oscar-season, what with the quick-editing, non-chronological format, etc., it’s still not hard to look at this as, yet again, another biopic of someone that we think we know, but don’t know every little detail about, to the day that he took his first breath, to his last one. But the movie also begs the question: Do we really need all of this? Is there a point to this never ending focus on this one man in particular?

Well, the answer is yes and that’s because Anthony Hopkins is the one playing the lead role.

"Okay, maybe I'm a little bit of a crook. Just a little bit, though."

“Okay, maybe I’m a little bit of a crook. Just a little bit, though.”

Which is, yes, definitely fine, because no surprise here, but Hopkins does a terrific job as Tricky Dick. Of course, Hopkins himself has a lot to do and work with, playing up the usual mannerisms of Nixon, without seeming like a cartoon and still sinking into the role, despite not looking a single thing like him, but still, there’s something missing here. It’s a performance that does a lot of shaking, yelling, standing, and heavy-lifting, but it’s also one that seems to just be about the actual actor, and not about the actual character/person being portrayed or brought to us. Watching Hopkins do what he does best is a treat, but still, when he’s clearly not working with solid material that gives him more than just another chance to chew the fat, it’s a bit of a slog to watch. It’s almost as if we walked into an empty-theater, just to watch Hopkins himself rehearse and go over his lines, but rather than letting us go out the doors and into the real world, the doors are locked and we’re somehow trapped, forced to watch and be inspired by the thespian that is Anthony Hopkins.

Sure, that may not sound as bad to some, but watching it all play out in Nixon can get to a bit tiring.

Especially when the movie is, like I said before, is a little over three hours long. And while it’s not the Hopkins show the whole way through, what with the likes of Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, Paul Sorvino, James Woods, and Ed Harris all showing up and doing their things, it still feels very much like a vanity-project that was created solely for Hopkins and no one else. Stone may have had something interesting to say about Nixon’s actions, his public-appeal and how he’s become a “crook”, but it gets lost in between every scene that features Hopkins screaming and hooting at the top of his lungs. Sure, that’s enjoyable to a whole bunch of people, but when there’s no real rhyme or reason for all of the hooting, hollering and screaming at the top of the lungs, then it just gets tedious.

Which is something that I’d never thought I’d have to say about a Hopkins performance.

Consensus: Despite a warts-and-all depiction of Nixon’s story, Nixon still feels very much like a movie created solely so that Anthony Hopkins could work shop the whole entire three hours and make himself happy.

6.5 / 10

See? He's a happy Dick!

See? He’s a happy Dick!

Photos Courtesy of: Cydney Cornell, The Ace Black Blog

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Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)

MissippiposterIf it don’t fit, equit. Or something of that nature, right?

On a late night in 1963, black activist Medgar Evers (James Pickens Jr.) was gunned-down and killed in front of the hotel where his family was staying. While each and every sign of evidence pointed to the self-proclaimed racist Byron De La Beckwith (James Woods), somehow, he got off with barely even a slap on the wrist. Obviously, African Americans were up in arms over the decision, but also knew that they had no chance of winning it again, due to a completely racist court and jury system at the time. Many years later, Medgar’s late wife (Whoopi Goldberg) is shipping her case around to any firm that will listen to her and take her issue seriously. Some obviously don’t, but one person who does is Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin), an assistant District Attorney, who happens to be married into a very racist family. However, despite the unpopularity of the case, DeLaughter takes it on and experiences all sorts of issues in the process. But no matter how bad or heinous it may get, he’s inspired and passionate enough to know that he’s got one job and that’s to gain some sort of vengeance fro Medgar Evers. Even if that does mean risking his own career to do so.

Just another simple night, sitting around and watching TV.

Just another simple night, sitting around and watching TV with the fam.

What really hits the hardest at-home about Ghosts of Mississippi, is about how so much of it seems and feels relevant to today and what’s going on out there with racial relations in society. Without going on for too long and ranting, let’s just put it like this: Racial travesties like what happened to Medgar Evers, still happens to this very day and it’s the government itself who seems more than willing to try and cover everything up.

However, regardless of if you choose to look at the movie with a modern eye or not, there’s no denying that Ghosts of Mississippi deals with some racial issues that aren’t just still around today, but more than likely help to make the case for “not much has changed”. Black and white people still can’t get along; there’s still a clear divide of injustices; and there’s still cops out there killing black people, and not getting locked away for it. Ghosts of Mississippi was clearly released way before all of these issues became front-and-center news for every news outlet, but it still holds a certain bit of relevance to everything that’s going on out there in the world and the kind of equality we’re all still fighting for.

Anyway, there. That’s all the preaching you’re going to get.

But despite its great relevance, Ghosts of Mississippi isn’t always a great movie; Rob Reiner is a smart director, but here, he decides to play it less than subtle and doesn’t always make the best decisions, from a narrative-perspective. For one, the movie is nearly two-and-a-half-hours long and the only reason it feels like it, is because a solid portion of it is spent on Baldwin’s lawyer character. This is fine, because yes, he was the main lawyer in the case and, in a way, the main heart and soul of this story, but I feel like Reiner went a bit overboard with this character. When it becomes clear that DeLaughter will be single due to the case he’s taking on, the movie decides to introduce a new female character that he can flirt, fall in love with, and marry eventually.

While yes, this probably happened in real life, the fact that it literally takes up at least 20 or so minutes of the film, without showing or telling us anything new about this DeLaughter character that we didn’t already know from the first half-hour, gets to be a bit bothersome. More time could have clearly been dedicated to DeLaughter looking further and further into the case, as well as Goldberg’s Myrlie Evers. Both Baldwin and Goldberg are good in these roles and give them a lot to work with, even if it can sometimes feel like they’re limited to doing anything more.

That Alec Baldwin - always the liberal in the room.

That Alec Baldwin – always the liberal in the room.

But really, the character I wanted to see more and know about, was James Woods’ Byron De La Beckwith – one of the more despicable human beings in film history.

While it’s hard to make the case for a character who is so clearly evil, despicable and guilty of every bad thing he has ever been accused of in the history of his life, there’s something about the way Woods plays him that makes him interesting to watch. Sure, he can go a tad over-the-top and crazy with this character, but maybe, just maybe that’s how he was in real life? Maybe he did go on TV and pronounce his hatred for black people, regardless of the fact that he was in the midst of being accused of killing one some many odd years ago? Or, maybe he didn’t?

I don’t know, honestly. There’s a lot about this story that seems fishy and not all that believable, but whenever Woods was on the screen, I stopped caring. He’s s mean and nasty, that you almost wonder if Woods can take it any further, until you realize that, well, yes – yes, he can.

Which isn’t to say that he sort of steals this movie, but at the same time, yeah, he kind of does. The message at the center is still clear and heard, if a tad obvious, but Reiner gets by solely on a case that keeps us interested, even when it’s clear where it’s going to go, who is going to win, who is going to lose, and just what lessons about life and race relations are going to be learned.

As it turns out, none whatsoever. Which is makes Ghosts of Mississippi, unfortunately, something of a tragedy.

Consensus: Ghosts of Mississippi doesn’t always keep itself interesting, but with a solid cast and relevant themes about race and society, it hits pretty hard.

6 / 10

Evil, everyone! Evil!

Evil, everyone! Evil!

Photos Courtesy of: And So It Begins, Jonathan Rosenbaum

Sleepers (1996)

Never mess with a hot-dog stand, kiddies.

Lorenzo “Shakes” Carcaterra (Jason Patric), Thomas “Tommy” Marcano (Billy Crudup), Michael Sullivan (Brad Pitt), and John Reilly (Ron Eldard), are all childhood friends from Hell’s Kitchen who, after many years, haven’t really kept in close contact. Most of this has to do with the fact that, when they were younger, they were all sent to a juvenile delinquent center, where they were both physically, as well as sexually abused by the wardens there. Many years later, one of those wardens (Kevin Bacon), gets shot and killed in a bar late one night and guess who the shooters allegedly are? Yup, John and Tommy. Seeing as how they’re buddies are in the right to have shot and killed the warden, Shakes and Michael concoct a plan: Get Michael to defend the dead warden and have their old local mafia gangster, pay-off a lawyer (Dustin Hoffman) who will do the job that needs to be done, where both John and Tommy shine in a positive light and aren’t convicted. However, moral dilemmas eventually sink in and make everybody rethink their decisions – not just in this one particular moment, however, but through their whole life in general.

Trust Dustin, guys. He knows what he's doing.

Trust Dustin, guys. He knows what he’s doing.

There was a constant feeling I had while watching Sleepers that made me think it was just so “movie-ish”. Like clearly, a case like this couldn’t ever be true – and if it was, it sure as heck didn’t deserve the oddly-sentimental tone that Barry Levinson gives it. Despite there being a chock full of talent both behind, as well as in front of the camera, Sleepers just never resonates, mostly due to the fact that it all feels too sensational and over-wrought – something I would expect material of this nature to be.

However, that isn’t to say that Sleepers is a bad movie, because it isn’t. For at least an hour or so, Sleepers is actually a smart, disturbing, and interesting coming-of-ager that doesn’t necessarily try to reinvent the wheel of the kinds of movies that have come before it, but at least put you in the same position of these characters, so that when they do all eventually get back together some odd years later, we’re already invested in them enough as is. When the kids are transported to the juvenile delinquent center, it’s made obvious that the movie’s going to get a whole lot more heavy and mean, and it still worked.

Though maybe the big reveal of having these kids sexually abused was a bit campy, it still worked because it added a certain sizzle to a story that, quite frankly, needed one. Whenever you put young kids and pedophiles in the same story, most often, the stories tend to get quite interesting and thankfully, that’s happening with Sleepers. While I sound terrible for typing what I just did there, it’s the absolute truth; in hindsight, Sleepers is two meh movies crammed into one, with one being a lot more gripping to watch, then the other. That’s not to say that the courtroom stuff of the later-half doesn’t bring about some form of excitement, but because it all feels so phony, it never quite works.

Now pedophiles being in-charge at juvenile delinquent centers? That’s something I can definitely believe in!

Still though, the later-half of the movie brings Sleepers down a whole bunch. For one, it’s hard to ever believe, not in a million years, or even in places like Syria, that there would be a case as blatantly perjured and/or one-sided as this. Sure, the movie tries to make it understandable that a public-defender could get away with doing something like this, so long as he kept-up appearances, but I don’t believe I heard Brad Pitt’s character stand-up and yell “Objection!” once. For the most part, he’s just sitting there, looking determined, tense and most of all, pretty. That’s what we expect from Brad Pitt, of course, but it doesn’t help make the case seem at all legit, even though the movie seems to be depending on that.

"I do solemnly swear to yell at Focker anymore."

“I do solemnly swear to yell at Focker anymore.”

Then, there’s Levinson’s direction that, honestly, is pretty odd. Though Levinson makes it clear that the boys killed a person that raped them when they were kids, the fact remains that they still killed plenty of other, probably innocent people. So, to just stand by them and say, “Well, that guy had it comin’ to him”, seems a bit weird; the guy whose death is being contested over was a bad person, but what about all of the others? What if these two guys are just, regardless of what happened to them when they were younger, bad apples that need to cause some sort of ruckus by killing others? Does that make them worthy of being stood-up for?

The movie never seems to make that decision and it’s a bit of a problem.

But, like I said, the cast on-deck is fine. It’s just unfortunate that most of them don’t have a great deal of heavy material to work with. Jason Patric and Brad Pitt both seem like they’re trying hard to make everybody take them seriously, but sadly, it just ends up with them being a bit dull. Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup, on the other hand, also don’t have much to do except just look mean, mad and ready to pull out a pistol at any second.

The more seasoned-pros of the cast do what they can, too, but as I said, they get lost a bit. Kevin Bacon is in full-on sicko mode that’s fun to see him playing around with, even though his character is quite the despicable human specimen; Dustin Hoffman gets some chances to shine as the inept lawyer of the case, which works because of how laid-back his persona is; and Robert De Niro, with the few scenes he gets, seems to inject some heart into this story that’s definitely needed. He doesn’t help push the movie over that cliff it so desperately seemed to be searching for, but he does the ticket just enough.

And that’s all any of us want from Bobby D, right?

Consensus: Sleepers is, essentially, two movies into a two-and-a-half-hour long one that is occasionally interesting, but ultimately, ends up seeming to silly to be believed in or compelled by.

6 / 10

Enjoy it while it lasts! Each one of your careers are going to go in some very different directions.

Enjoy it while it lasts! Each one of your careers are going to go in some very different directions.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins