REVIEW COMING SOON!
REVIEW COMING SOON!
12 Angry Men (1957)
I do tend to have a bit of a fascination with "bottle movies". I've mentioned this a few times before, but for me, it's seeing how good of a story can be told with how little there is to use. Typically, a bottle movie will take place in one room, and there are a few classic examples out there under this category. However, if you see just one bottle movie to say that you've had the patience to sit through one (they aren't necessarily for everyone) it should probably be '12 Angry Men', being that it is the quintessential classic in the genre.
Amazingly, I haven't actually seen this movie until fairly recently when a friend showed it to me. I'll be perfectly honest with everyone here, I didn't LOVE it and even had a few moments when I snickered at something that probably wasn't supposed to be funny. But having said that, it does become a movie I have a certain admiration for. Keep in mind that I'm no pro critic who gets paid for everything he writes, and some really classic stuff like this is material that's not as much in my wheelhouse as it is something I can admire from afar and have respect for. A lot of this was really good, but I think my genuine problem going into it was just already knowing how it would all go down.
The film takes place in an overly hot jury room of the New York County Courthouse where a jury discusses the case of an 18-year-old boy who has been accused of stabbing his father to death. If at the end of the day, this young man is found guilty, he faces the fatal electric chair. Furthermore, the verdict of guilty or not guilty must be completely unanimous. As eleven men seem to have no problem at all looking at the evidence and sealing the kid's fate, Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) has a different idea, and reasonable doubt of the crime in his mind. So, this is the story of the one guy in the jury room trying to convince everyone else there to shift their verdict in order to save a potentially innocent person. We've seen it parodied numerous times, but this is where all those parodies really came from.
We can't give a bottle movie like this much credit without its performances that really carry the film. Aside from Juror #8, we've also got Jurors #1 (Martin Balsam), #2 (John Fiedler), #3 (Lee J. Cobb), #4 (E.G. Marshall), #5 (Jack Klugman), #6 (Edward Binns), #7 (Jack Warden), #9 (Joseph Sweeney), #10 (Ed Begley), #11 (George Voskovec) and #12 (Robert Webber), and no, none of them are referred to by their real names until the very end. Seems like a lot of name-dropping to fill space, I know, but there's something to be said about these performances along with their personalities. The film forces the audience to think for themselves, and even relate to one or perhaps a few of these characters as we go.
Despite knowing how it all ends, I might suggest that from a filmmaking standpoint, this is a pretty golden title. It is and has been for a while now, toted as one of the best films ever made, and with the simple techniques used here, it's easy to see why. The example that stood out to me was seeing these guys seemingly literally sweating throughout their performances in this overheated jury room. The heat adds to the tension everyone feels and seems to make the delivery of frustrating dialogue more believable. Are these guys planning on just saying "guilty" so they can go home and be comfortable, or will they endure this discomfort as long as they have to in order to save a life?
Although on a personal level, this doesn't land on the list of my favourite movies, the film has my utmost respect for its overall execution, and it's not at all hard to see why this film is so beloved by so many. I really think if I had no idea what to expect here, going into it, I'd have gotten a lot more out of it. But again, it's just a scenario I've seen a whole bunch of different times, and it's a shame that I managed to watch something like 'Jury Duty' (a Pauly Shore comedy) before this. I will, however, still highly recommend it to anyone looking for a solid classic because it still does provide a good amount of tension and drama by using so little. It may not be on my list, but if you can, give it a shot for yourself!
When Harry Met Sally
For a very long time, I never really considered romantic comedies to be my cup of tea. While the fact remains that I still see them as almost all the same (the generalized version being "unlikely couple get together in the end"), there are a few that stand out as famous titles under the category. So, I decided to take a look at some of the titles best known as classic romantic comedies that I've honestly never actually seen before now (at least not all the way through).
One of the all-time greats, according to audiences, is 'When Harry Met Sally'. I've gone all these years assuming that the movie was essentially what the title says "these two meet, fall in love, the end", so I've foolishly deemed it to be ultimately predictable, and certainly not the type of movie I'd ever seek out. However, I'm happy to admit that I definitely see why this has its staying power. It's a pretty interesting story of how chance can bring two people together, it tells its story in a matter of 5-year gaps, and two of the most charmingly funny leads of the time are its headliners.
We begin in 1977, when Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) meets Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) through his girlfriend, Amanda (Michelle Nicastro). Upon graduation from the University of Chicago, Harry and Sally drive together for convenience purposes to New York City, where she plans on starting school for journalism and he plans on starting a new career. They eventually part ways on somewhat bitter terms, mostly based on their differing ideas of relationships; namely the idea that men and women can't be friends because the "sex thing" gets in the way (in other words, one ALWAYS has sexual feelings for the other, despite any current relationship status).
I'm not gonna drag it all out, but through the years; once in 1982, and once again in 1987, their paths keep crossing. Eventually, their friendship leads them to have feelings for one another, despite the fact that they both seem to want to just be friends. Because of the stubbornness on both their parts, there can be times that the movie gets frustrating. But I also believe that's all part of it - it wants you to feel what these characters are feeling, which is this insane amount of pressure between maintaining a friendship, forming a relationship, and which is the right move.
One thing I really enjoyed about this movie (aside from that great, famous scene everyone knows and loves) was the overall charm it put forth. Not only do we get the likes of Crystal and Ryan (and Carrie Fisher as NOT Princess Leia), but we have a pretty solid soundtrack, consisting of classy music, and elderly couples reminiscing about how and when they met. You follow along with these stories with a grin on your face because you can't help but fall in love with all these couples, even if they are putting forth their little quirks that can make the relationship tough. My favourite was a couple that kept talking over each other, only to sort of land on the same conclusion to the story.
There is something SO lovable about an elderly couple reminiscing on their love life, and this film has it in buckets. At times, perhaps it's a bit sappy, but I can't help but take these sweet stories to heart. This was a movie I'm glad I finally checked out for myself. Although I probably won't rush back to watch it again, it was entertaining, charming, sweet, and it just hits the right spot. One thing to know going into this is that it's really not raunchy by any means, so don't go looking for it. If anything, I'd say this is a near-perfect date movie for a nice night in.
This may take the cake for the boldest statement I've said on this blog, but here it goes... Of the entirety of the Disney animated movies out there that I have seen, this is, hands down, the single most unimpressive and forgettable product they've ever cranked out. At the time of its release, I saw it in theaters and remember being thoroughly impressed with how solid the animation was. But that's really all it had going for it. Otherwise, things were pretty basic, and it took from a bunch of other stuff.
As time went on between then and now, I've never really given 'Dinosaur' a second thought. As a matter of fact, I damn near almost forgot it even existed at one point. So many modern classics have popped up in the Disney library since, so it has been very easy to get sidetracked. It does honestly make me wonder how many are reading this who are pretty much in the same boat. This is one of those movies that came and went and no one paid much attention to it. However, it was respectfully Disney's big "animation show-off" feature of its time. For 2000, this looked pretty amazing.
The film hits the ground running, quite literally, as a Carnotaurus burst onto the scene, looking for a meal. The Carno wrecks an Iguanodon nest, sending a lone egg on a journey to an area inhabited by prehistoric lemurs. A family of lemurs adopts the small dino, and once hatched, they name him Aladar (D.B. Sweeney). The family, consisting of father, Yar (Ossie Davis), daughter, Plio (Alfre Woodard), and granddaughter, Suri (Hayden Panettiere), take Aladar in as one of their own, and Al grows alongside Suri over the years.
During a lemur mating ritual (yes, you read that right), in which Plio's brother, Zini (Max Casella) fails, a meteor suddenly strikes the Earth, which wipes out the island of this lemur "orgy", forcing Aladar and the rest of the lemur family to flee to the mainland. The family eventually runs into a herd of displaced dinosaurs heading for the communal Nesting Ground. This herd is led by another Iguanodon named Kron (Samuel E. Wright); your average egotistical not-good but not-bad jerk character, who sends the family to the back of the line.
There, they befriend an old Styracosaurus named Eema (Della Reese) along with her dog-like Ankylosaurus, Url, and her Brachiosaurus friend Baylene (Joan Plowright). Eventually, there is also tension between Aladar and Kron when Kron's sister, Neera (Julianna Margulies), comes into the picture. All the while, travel continues and results in a movie about Dinosaurs trying to get to some kind of (almost) paradise while having to duck and dodge predators and undergoing real-life, relatable situations. Does that sound familiar to anyone? A Don Bluth movie that gave Disney some stiff competition when it ran alongside 'Oliver & Company'?
Anyway, it will come as no surprise watching this today that, overall, it's pretty underwhelming. For its time, the CG animation was a little bit ground-breaking. When you look at this and consider 'Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within' (the film I personally consider to be the leap from full-length "cartoonish" CG to full-length "realistic" CG) being released a year later, it's easy to see what the big-screen draw may have been when this first came out. But I daresay it has faded into obscurity as nothing really more than a stepping stone for animation. Other Disney titles surround its future and past as much more memorable classics we've grown to love. I'm sure this one has its audience, but I can't say I'm one of them. I'll stick to 'The Land Before Time'.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
The last time I saw this was when it was originally released on video, so truth be told, this viewing made for a whole new experience. When I was younger, watching this, I remember not liking it so much because it was "too musical". In fact, I seem to recall fast-forwarding all of the musical numbers and establishing that any non-singing sequences amounted to only about 15 minutes or so (at least, that's how I remember it).
At the time, I was used to these movies being musical, but having the songs be a fun piece of things as opposed to overtaking the entire film. However, I was also just not in the right frame of mind back then. Nowadays, I have to appreciate that this is meant to be a full-on musical rendition of the tale of Quasimodo - the Hunchback of Notre Dame. What's even more interesting is that this opens up very unexplored territory for Disney animation in looking at classic "horror". I could see something very similar to this arising from 'Phantom of the Opera' or 'The Invisible Man' as they are now Public Domain.
Moving on, however, 'Hunchback' begins in 1462, Paris. A group of Gypsies, carrying a deformed baby, are ambushed by Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) and his band of soldiers as they are trying to sneak into the city, illegally. Frollo snatches the child, assuming it's stolen goods, and is shocked at the "monstrosity" of a baby. In the process, he manages to kill the child's mother, and as a result is made to atone for his sin by taking in the child, and caring for him. Frollo names the child "Quasimodo" (or "Half-Formed"), and hides him in Notre Dame Cathedral's bell tower.
Twenty years pass, and Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) grows into a young man who lives his solitary life, making friends with the gargoyles, Victor (Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (Jason Alexander) and Laverne (Mary Wickes). The trio tries to convince Quasimodo to go to the annual Festival of Fools and have some fun for once in his life, despite Frollo's warnings of how he'd be treated. He does attend, and is even celebrated for his appearance, until a riot breaks out, started by one of Frollo's guards. Things escalate, but soon, Quasimodo is helped by the lovely Esmerelda (Demi Moore) who is probably my favourite unofficial Disney Princess. She stands up for the little guy, she can really hold her own in a fight, and she's loaded with confidence.
After all this, Esmerelda and Quasimodo flee to the Cathedral together, where they are pursued by Frollo's new guard, Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline) who is quite struck by Esmerelda and refuses to arrest her, telling Frollo she has claimed sanctuary within the church. Without going into too much further detail, we end up with three dudes who have feelings for Esmerelda. Quasimodo sees her as a wonderful person, Phoebus sees her as a love interest, and Frollo actually tries to fend off his full on lust for her. This lust drives Frollo to need to destroy her in order to "break her spell on him", on account of her being a Gypsy in the year 1482.
I actually appreciate the musical that it is, as compared to the earlier Renaissance movies. It feels a bit like a Broadway deal, and each song sets the mood to great effect - especially between the opening number and 'Hellfire', Frollo's villain song. But while I can appreciate the film for what it is, I have to say that it's still not exactly in my "favourites" category. I think that there's still that part of me that thinks things are a bit too musical here, and maybe even a bit too serious for the kids. And all of that is fine, it's just not entirely my cup of tea when it comes to Disney Animation. It's a film that has my full respect for its attempt at trying something newish, but it's no 'Lion King'!
I would generally begin a lot of Disney animation reviews with fair warning that anything bordering on controversial wouldn't be paid attention to. I'm into these movies mostly for good story, solid characters, and hey, maybe even a good song or two (especially with 'Aladdin' and 'Lion King'). But this is... different. The thing about Pocahontas as that it's the first of these to be based on a true story... very loosely.
I won't go into all the dirty details of everything, but let's just say this movie does real world history quite a bit of injustice. It's bothersome, because the movie's message is rather positive, and its heart is in the right place. The execution, however, teaches kids something far different than what the history books give us. I'm not gonna sit here and go paragraph after paragraph on it, but just Google the real story and you'll see what I'm talking about. This isn't like getting a fairy tale right or wrong, as Disney has done up to this point.
In the Disney version, however, we open in 1607 with a group of English settlers, sailing from London to the New World aboard the ship, the Susan Constant. The crew is lead by Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers); a greedy settler on the lookout for lots of gold and heightened status. Here, we also meet Captain John Smith (Mel Gibson) who rescues a young crewmate named Thomas (Christian Bale) from drowning during a rough storm. Soon enough, they reach the mainland, Ratcliffe claims Jamestown, and the crew get digging. Meanwhile, Smith goes off to explore, only to stumble upon the lovely local Native, Pocahontas (Irene Bedard).
Pocahontas and Smith end up sharing, bonding, etc. and fall for each other. This is much to the dismay of her father, Chief Powhatan (Russell Means) and future husband of her arranged marriage, Kocoum (James Apaumut Fall) and, before you know it, tension between the settlers and natives rise very quickly and... yeah, it's 'Avatar', it's 'Dances with Wolves', it's 'Fern Gully', it's basically just Disney's execution of that particular story. It's a tale about two very different groups of people, their misunderstandings about each other, and nature vs mankind's evil ways always plays a huge part.
By this time I was 12, going on 13, and 'Toy Story' was a hell of a lot more interesting that summer than this for yours truly. At this point, I had kind of hung up my Disney hat and moved onto my Pixar hat (which, let's face it, is just a different kind of Disney hat)- following them very closely to this day, ever since. Disney animation, however, took a long break from my interest level, starting here. 'The Lion King' was kind of the cherry on top of these movies for me though, and I have to admit, I still don't feel like I missed a whole lot of greatness... but we'll see.
The interesting thing to note right now is that, starting with this, I have never seen the rest of the Disney Renaissance movies ('Pocahontas' to 'Tarzan') except 'Hunchback' and 'Mulan'; each of which I think I've only seen through once. So I'm going into all of the last parts of this relatively fresh. But getting back on track, I gotta say, I really just did not like this movie. It's another one, much like 'Peter Pan', where the whole time watching it, I felt awkward and cringey. It's something I really don't think they could get away with today; at least as far as an execution that tosses the word "savages" around so much there's a whole song about it.
I will give the movie a bit of leeway on its overall message that it's trying to convey (again, the same as 'Avatar', 'Fern Gully' etc.), and I have to admit that the song 'Colours of the Wind' is a solid take on the things mankind takes for granted - especially in nature. I personally thing the whole "true story" idea is just a mistake for Disney to begin with, as there's just too much controversy behind it - even if 'Mulan' is still a great movie. In 'Mulan', however, she's a strong woman trying to do what's right. Pocahontas here still felt like a relatively weak character, even if her spirit was strong. In the end, it's simply not strong enough to follow 'The Lion King' or 'Aladdin'. I mean, to each their own, but I might recommend checking out the true story first.
The Lion King (1994)
I think if I had a favourite animated Disney movie, it would be this one, plain and simple. While a lot of it has to do with the fact that it's from my past, and therefore provides nostalgia, there's so much more to it. It's one of the first movies I can remember successfully hitting every note with me as far as emotions go. I laughed, I cried, I felt hope, I felt dread. It's really just a wonderful story that some say is more of a present-day 'Hamlet'.
I went to the theater to check this out when I was 11, going on 12, and have held it close to my heart ever since. Sometimes you come across a movie that gets into your being so deeply that you honestly can't wait to see it again. This could have been the first time that really happened for me. There was a certain success Disney had with this one in delivering the magic - and it doesn't stop at the amazing animalistic animation, either. The songs are great, the characters are likable (and voiced by quite the all-star cast), and the overall story is really quite moving.
The film opens with the world's most culturally significant sunrise as we see all of the animals of the Pride Lands of Africa gather to celebrate Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick), the newborn lion cub of King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sirabi (Madge Sinclair). Presenting him to the kingdom in that famous scene is shaman and advisor, a mandrill named Rafiki (Robert Guillaume), who isn't in this a ton, but does end up playing an important part in Simba's development. Simba eventually grows a little, and Mufasa explains the Circle of Life to him (this is where I also learned about it) as well as his responsibilities when he becomes king.
Meanwhile, Mufasa's brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons) ends up being a bit of a "Loki" about things, and wants the throne for himself. He hopes to achieve this with the help of his hyena sidekicks, Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Banzai (Cheech Marin) and Ed (Jim Cummings). Of course, most know the tragedy that this leads to by now, but spoiler alert anyway; it all eventually leads to Mufasa's murder, Simba's exile, and Scar taking over the throne as next in line. Why do the hyenas help this lion? Well, he pretty much just promises them sustenance, and that's reason enough.
The question is, however, will Simba come back to resume his responsibilities as rightful king? Or will he just chill with his new homies, Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella)? And although that's the film in a nutshell, a couple more characters worth mentioning are Simba's best friend, Nala (Niketa Calame-Harris/Moira Kelly), who plays a big influence on Simba, and Mufasa's majordomo, comic relief character, Zazu the hornbill (Rowan Atkinson). Altogether, this cast makes a pretty great balance between serious and comical with their characters, and it's nice to see a variety of comedy relief rather than just one character.
There's not a whole lot more to say about this one, but I think it will keep that "favourite" title for quite some time, all things considered. It's funny, but even after watching the incredibly animated remake, I thought that was actually dull in comparison to how much this one pops. Songs like 'Hakuna Matata' and 'I Just Can't Wait to Be King' are catchy and fun, but Scar also has 'Be Prepared' for something dark, and we can't leave out Elton John - most famous for his songs 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' and 'The Circle of Life'. The film provides a wonderful balance of everything, and still totally holds up to this day. It's one I never mind checking out again.
I'm gonna start this one off by putting my cards on the table (appropriately enough) and just confess that I found this to be one of those hard-to-follow movies that is, perhaps, a bit beyond me. This was also my first time watching it, so it's also a movie that I feel I'd get more out of with multiple viewings. However, at about 3 hours, it's one I need to be in the mood for.
I'll do my best here, but bear with me. It won't be my best quality review. Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert De Niro) is sent to Las Vegas by the Chicago Mafia to run the Tangiers Casino. While Sam unofficially runs everything behind the scenes (often quite brutally), there is still a front man serving as the casino and hotel manager named Philip Green (Kevin Pollak). Sam is incredibly successful, leaving nothing to chance with any cheaters, raking in cash, and sending some to Midwest Mafia bosses. Meanwhile, Sam's childhood friend, Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) is also sent by Chciago boss, Remo Gaggi (Pasquale Cajano) for Sam's and the casino's protection.
While Nicky does a fine job of keeping everyone in line, his own criminal activities end up catching up with him by drawing too much media attention, especially when he gets his brother, Dominick (Philip Suriano) and friend Frankie Marino (Frank Vincent) involved. This threatens getting Sam into hot water on its own, but Sam also has to contend with his drug-addled, alcoholic, former prostitute wife, Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) who still cares way too much about her former pimp, Lester (James Woods).
So a lot of it seems to have to do with Sam being sort of caught in the middle of things. While his wife is an off-the-wall, overall unlikable drama queen of a character, Nicky ends up taking a lot of his "talents" much too far. I'm a little ashamed to end things there, but that's essentially what I got from it. Having said that, however, this is the kind of movie you have to really focus on if you want to follow it, and I did have a few distractions along the way. But once again, I do feel like I'm quite honestly just a little below this movie as far as really getting it goes. It's the kind of movie where I wish things were simplified after a long explanation.
But is this something I would call a "bad" movie? Not even a little. I think I just need to view it a few more times to get more out of it. It's clear that it's cleverly written, and beyond that, I have to say I liked how "real" it got in a lot of parts. The whole ending quite honestly made me a bit uneasy, so kudos to Scorsese for his great direction. At the end of the day, it's simply not my favourite Scorsese flick, and I'm gonna end up in the 1%, I'm sure. I know this is a total classic, and I don't mean to take that away, but I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure this one was for me. It does, however, have genuine potential to grow on me over time.
There's a whole slew of boxing movies that I've never seen before, simply due to it never really being my thing. In fact, sports movies in general were never really my thing unless I could find some sort of differing qualities that didn't fall under the old formula of "underdog, or underdog team works their way to the final battle and wins". Most of these made for kids would also include the token "pro" among the misfits. I leaned more towards sports movies that told an interesting story disassociated from the sport like 'The Sandlot' where the final showdown involves a giant dog, showing the token "pro" display his skills in other ways.
Now that I've used such a youthful and fun example, this brings me to Scorsese's 'Raging Bull', which is definitely one of the more unique boxing movies I've ever seen. Its use of black and white, and use of years past make it something timeless, and it goes to places one wouldn't really expect. It all opens with, of all things, a comedy routine from former boxing champ Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), who has been aged almost unrecognizably. The film then flashes back from 1964 to 1941, where we see him lose his first boxing match to a guy named Jimmy Reeves (Floyd Anderson). He then discusses a potential shot for the middle-weight title with his brother, Joey (Joe Pesci), who has a mafia connection with someone named Salvy Batts (Frank Vincent).
Without unfolding the whole plot, the film follows the career and personal life of LaMotta, largely including his brother and his significantly younger spouse, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) and their relationships. One key thing in this movie is the idea that LaMotta is someone you really neither love nor hate. There are moments in this where you see him as a total piece of crap, but there are others that you can't help but feel for him. Behind a lot of it is a terrible jealous streak that makes him altogether abusive, often taking it out in the ring. A lot of this seems to be about the downfall as well as the uprising, which is something that can be applied to just about any career in the realm of "fame".
The film is, indeed, based on the life of a real person. Perhaps the most notable moment in his boxing career was his six-fight rivalry with Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes), which is highlighted through the film. De Niro's performance here is probably the best aspect of the movie, often making me laugh (albeit perhaps a bit inappropriately). For example when he yells at his wife for his steak near the beginning, going "BRING IT OVA HEEAAH!" But as I said, he does become a well fleshed-out character where your feelings on him are a bit mixed. It's almost like you want to want to route for him, but his reputation as a bully holds you back.
I have said this before, but I definitely have a thing for movies that develop a character who isn't seen as particularly good or bad, but human. I think the movie 'Crash' has always been my favourite example of such a movie, but this certainly does do a good job of it - with everyone, not just our lead. Often viewed as one of Scorsese's best works, I would have to fully agree. This is a fine example of a film that has a generous sprinkling of everything, It does range very well, making you go from feeling apathetic for the character to sympathetic and you sort of do a back and forth with it. This one is a true work of art on Scorsese's part, and I might suggest he hasn't quite done anything like this since.
Now we're going to take a look at some of the most important film material I've missed over the years; movies directed my Martin Scorsese, featuring his old go-to, Robert De Niro. I've seen some, but missed most, and we kick things off with the film that arguably put both Scorsese and De Niro both on the map. After this, they would both go down in cinematic history as one of the all-time great duos. But the path starts here, where De Niro actually plays a secondary role, but an interesting one nonetheless. He's not quite the guy we've come to expect over the years. In fact, this one's more of his comedic side - but not a family friendly one.
The film opens by introducing us to our four leads, and showing us their individual personalities; Michael (Richard Romanus), Tony (David Proval), Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) and Charlie (Harvey Keitel). Johnny Boy is a small-time gambler, owing money to loan sharks and refusing to work to make it happen. Feeling a responsibility towards him as a good friend is Charlie, who also happens to be having an affair with Johnny Boy's epileptic cousin, Teresa (Amy Robinson).Charlie also works for the mafia, under his Uncle Giovanni (Cesare Danova), who would rather Charlie distance himself from Johnny Boy and his self-destructive behavior.
Most of the movie is watching how Charlie deals with his personal divide between his devout Catholicism and his work for the mafia, which ultimately tears him between his friend, Johnny Boy, and some of the people Johnny owes money to. As for the other two characters, they are essentially a part of the group, playing side characters who own a bar, make deals in the streets, and have a fairly solid future ahead of them. They're the ones who may or may not get really hindered by Johnny's eccentric personality in the long run. But that's really about the extent of things as far as plot goes.
What I really liked about this one was its overall simplicity. This wasn't another mafia movie as we've come to know them so much as a "slice of life" movie about one particular mafia character. The movie is largely just watching how these four characters act, and it's surprisingly packed with a certain sense of humor you don't always get in these kinds of movies. And the way it ends, for yours truly, is just a *chef's kiss*. Without spoiling anything, it's left open-ended, but not in the sense that you think a sequel is going to happen. Think 'Inception' or 'Thelma & Louise'. I love having to use my imagination for stuff like that because, dammit, sometimes being "spoon-fed" is just no fun.
As one would probably expect from a movie from 1973, there are bound to be areas of the film that wouldn't quite fly as well today - but at the same time, when we're looking at these characters, these offenses come as no real surprise. Regardless, the film went on to be one of the all-time great "break-out" films in history. The equivalents to this for Scorsese would be along the lines of 'Jaws' for Spielberg, 'Clerks' for Kevin Smith, or 'Halloween' for John Carpenter. So it could be that this one is off the radar for some, simply due to age, but if you like a good mafia type movie with a good sense of humor, I can highly recommend this one. While it may not be my favorite Scorsese flick, I still really enjoyed it for the type of movie it turned out to be.
The Fox and the Hound
It has been long enough for me since I last watched this that I had pretty well forgotten it altogether. It was definitely a treat to feel like I saw a movie like this for the first time again. I can't help but appreciate how good an example this is of how to make a story both deep and simple. Like a lot of Disney movies, one may find a concept or two a bit dated. But in my case, I found the problem overshadowed by something else that sort of saves it (which I'll get to later). Regardless, this is a particularly good story, and it leans a bit more towards the dramatic side than the comedic, which is often a breath of fresh air.
It all starts in 'Bambi'-ish fashion, as we experience a pretty breathtakingly animated sequence that is robbed from us when the victim of a hunter is shot. In this case, we have a mother fox, who carries her cub to safety before things go down. He is taken under the wings (pun totally intended) of Big Mama the owl (Pearl Bailey), Dinky the finch (Richard Bakalyan), and Boomer the woodpecker (Paul Winchell). The trio drop the baby fox on the doorstep of the kindly Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan), who takes him in and names him Tod - short for "toddler". (Keith Coogan/Mickey Rooney). The pair develop a very friendly and loving relationship, and he helps her with her loneliness.
Meanwhile, Tweed's Neighbour, Amos Slade (Jack Albertson) has adopted a new hound puppy named Copper (Corey Feldman/Kurt Russell), and his regular hunting dog, Chief (Pat Buttram) is assigned to take care of him. Eventually, as Tod's out playing and Copper is out tracking something (which ends up being Tod), the pair meet, play, become best friends, and pledge to be so forever. Soon, though, Slade takes Copper and Chief away to learn the ways of the hunt. This is after Slade finds Tod hanging out with Copper on his property, and accusing him of raiding his chicken coop. It all turns into a question of whether or not Tod and Copper will be able to be friends in the future - and that friendship really does get its fair shake of testing, often through misunderstanding.
Now, to revert back to what I mentioned earlier about the "problem" and the "overshadow", it basically boils down to how Slade sees Tweed - basically as a dumb, useless female. I'm not sure he says those exact words, but the message is clear. The overshadow, however, is Tweed, herself. She's actually a rther strong female character, not afraid to stand up for herself, and able to make extremely hard decisions with Tod in the interest of Tod's safety. I think, speaking as a pet owner, she's extremely easy to relate to as well as empathise with. The guy being a jerk about things is just that - a very unlikable jerk. I might not label him as a villain, but he's definitely the everyday stubborn asshole we all know in one way or another.
Setting that whole deal aside, this viewing was, again, like seeing it for the first time. Though critics tend to kind of meet this one in the middle, as there's nothing particularly ground-breaking about it, it's that simplicity that I think makes this so good. This is a story that tells valuable lessons the young watchers are learning about friendships, and the tests that they may inevitably endure one day. I know I've been to Hell and back with a few close friends, and it's something one should probably have a heads up about at an early age. To some degree, it's saying "one day, your friendships will be tested", but another way to look at it is that if things do fall apart, you can still hold on to those fond memories of that friendship.
I think this is another one to be strongly considered for a Top 10 of these Disney animated films. It quickly rose up the ranks for me on this viewing, and although there's no real nostalgic attachment to it for me, it does make me think of a lot of the solid friendships of my youth. Some are still around, some have moved on, and some, I've even lost. But this film really did manage to spark a lot of those happy memories I had with these people. It definitely got deep with me, and gauged just about every emotion. It does it all with ease, but impact at the same time. For yours truly, this is one of Disney animation's better titles... and yes, I do realize how bold that statement is, but honestly, I loved this movie.
As soon as you hear those few opening chords to 'Old Time Rock & Roll', odds are, the first thing to spring to mind when hearing them is something along the lines of Tom Cruise (or *insert pop culture character here*) sliding into view with a popped collar, no pants, and an air of "freedom" about him as he's been left at home with his parents out of town. Most of the time, this would generally result in some sort of party gone awry, but 'Risky Business' takes the whole concept to the extreme.
We are introduced to Joel Goodson (Cruise - get it? "good son?"). He lives with his parents (Nicholas Pryor and Janet Carroll), is a great high school student in all regards, and has plans (that are really more his Dads) to eventually go to Princeton University. Joel participates in an extracurricular activity involving the creation of small businesses in teams of students called "Future Enterprisers". Everything is on the up and up until Joel's parents leave on a trip, where his friend, Miles (Curtis Armstrong) tries to convince him to take full advantage of his parents absence, have some fun, loosen up, and just be able to say "F*ck it!"
It all starts out with the typical - raiding the liquor cabinet, driving the "good" car, etc. But a whole new and weird door opens up for him when Miles calls an escort to Joel's house for a good time. At first, there's a misunderstanding, but Joel is given a different contact who might be what he's looking for. Joel goes through with things, only to meet Lana (Rebecca De Mornay), who asks after the deed is done for $300, which leads Joel to the bank in which he has to use some pretty important cash in order to pay for his one night of fun. When he returns, Lana is gone, along with his parents expensive... egg.
They eventually meet again and have a confrontation that leads Lana to leave her pimp, Guido (Joe Pantoliano), and bascially end up squatting at Joel's house, only to introduce him to the concept of running a whole different kind of business. This will get him more money than the egg is even worth, and perhaps send him down a much darker path of destiny than he initially intended. But while this would be a cautionary tale most places, the thing about 'Risky Business' is that it, shall we say, "embraces the sleaze". We get that Joel is very uptight and cautious about where he ends up in the future, but we also get his reluctance about his situation and that maybe, just maybe, he's interested in something much more edgy.
For yours truly, I kind of see this as the 'Boogie Nights' of the 80s (I dunno what it would be today). It shows a certain side to the whole sex industry, but does so with escorts instead of porn stars. For 1983, it was probably a bit heavier than it stands today. By today's standards, I've just plain seen more, and there's nothing shocking about this movie at all. But I also can't think of much like it that came before it, and it really does kind of stand alone in its overall concept. So it certainly gets points for being unique, and edgy for the time. I don't know that it necessarily holds up today, but it also is what it is - a sleazy 80s comedy drama involving escorts.
So I enjoyed it for what it was, but I have to admit that I don't necessarily understand the hype behind it. It's perfectly fine, but it's not something I'd be able to throw on any old time, either. It probably worked better back then than it does now. But If nothing else, it has engraved the "Old Time Rock & Roll" image in the cinematic history books, and that's an image that has withstood the test of time in a major way. As I mentioned, that scene alone represents what's going on in a lot of teenage heads when their parents make the announcement that they're going away for a few days.
This one takes me back to around the middle of last year, when a coworker recommended it. It took me a while to get around to it, but I promised to check it out and review it on my next round of "Reader's Suggestions", and I finally made it. It was recommended as a solid Denzel movie after I brought up the fact that I find him to be one of the all-time greats, but there's still a lot of his material I haven't seen yet (which may lead me to a Denzel month soon for "Catching Up").
Anyway, something a lot of people don't know about me is that before watching almost any movie, I check out Rotten Tomatoes just to get an idea of the movie's quality towards critics and general audiences alike. Be it the critic meter or the fan meter, one is almost always higher than the other, but this actually caught me totally off-guard. The critics give it a measly 23%, but the audience seems to appreciate it as generously as 78%. This means it averages out at almost exactly 50/50, and it was very clear that it was a film I'd be analyzing from both perspectives - which honestly makes things much more fun.
John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington) is a factory worker in Chicago, living with his wife, Denise (Kimberly Elise) and son, Michael (Daniel E. Smith). The couple are in the midst of some financial trouble when suddenly, during a little league baseball game, Michael collapses. After rushing to the hospital, John and Denise learn that Michael's heat is wearing out, and he will need a heart transplant in order to survive. The procedure will cost $250,000, with a required down payment of $75,000 just to get Michael on the organ recipient list. To make matters worse, John further learns that his job has changed health insurance policies, no longer covering him for his son's surgery.
When desperate times call for desperate measures, a spark is ignited by Denise when she tells John to do what he needs to do in order to get Michael on the list. This leads to John confronting the hospital staff at gunpoint, and forming a whole hostage situation. His demands are quite plain and simple; to get his son on the list. But with his stand-off with negotiator, Lt. Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall) and police chief Gus Monroe (Ray Liotta) come the whole documentary of 'Sicko' in which the film digs into the unfair practices of the American Health Care system. In that sense, it may be seen as a bit preachy. But I can't say I don't empathize with the whole situation, either. The film represents the desperate voice crying out through it all, pleading for help. Imagine being told "you don't have enough money, so your son is out of options and won't get to live" - I don't even have kids and that hurts.
Going back to looking at those Tomatometers, let's first take a look at the critical side of things. I think I understand a lot of the criticisms behind it, because I have a few of them, myself. For one, it's a movie that relies on tugging at your heartstrings. I don't tend to mind that as much as others, but I do recognize it. It goes to extremes even beyond the poor kid who is slowly dying in the background. I think it also clearly takes its "Q"s from other movies too, for instance I saw some 'Dog Day Afternoon' with the crowd cheering on the gunman, agreeing with his purpose. Besides that, it is kind of just another hostage movie; desperate man takes hostages and demands things while a celebrity negotiator tries to talk him down.
On the other side of things, there's still something likable about this, and level out a lot of that criticism. For starters, there's just Denzel, himself, and that's all you really need. This is a guy who just oozes charm in whatever he's doing, even if he's being an asshole. He's one of those actors that really adds "star power" to a movie in a very real sense; perhaps because most of the time he sticks to reality, and is therefore more relatable than an actor who dabbles in fantasy or sci-fi. Otherwise, I appreciate the film's very real statement, and they use the extreme of their young dying boy for the purposes of standing out and asking "what if this was you?" Where some see it as too much, I see it as the message the film is trying to get across, and the more personal it is, the more effective it is. I appreciated what the film was, I'm glad I saw it, but it's also not something I'd rush to see a second time. Landing on the Tomatometer, I might end up more on the fans side, but while understanding the critic's perspective. Where do you land?
I think that after watching this I've really come to realize that I have a certain stubbornness when it comes to the outer space experience. I seem to really need a big screen in order to fully appreciate them. Perhaps it's due to the fact that I understand the vastness of our infinite universe, and therefore the scale of things is something I feel needs to be grandiose. I think that for what this film ended up being, I really missed out on that big screen experience. Much like with 'Avatar', you need that submergence into that world to fully appreciate what the film is doing.
It all starts in the near future, where our solar system is being hit with power surges that threaten human life on Earth. US Space Command informs astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) that these surges are connected to the Lima Project; an attempt at contacting extraterrestrial life, created with his father, Clifford's (Tommy Lee Jones) guidance 29 years prior. For quite some time, Clifford has been believed dead, since all communication with the project has ceased for the past 16 years, after the project reached Neptune. However, once US Space Command tells Roy his father may still be alive out there, he agrees to suit up and travel to Mars in order to try to communicate with his father, along with Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), Clifford's old associate.
As the mission unfolds, Roy has to prove that he can still maintain the proper mindset while under pressure, made all the more difficult based on his personal attachment to the mission. He's eventually told that if he can't establish any communication with his father, then the Lima Project would have to be destroyed. So there's also a bit of a race against time aspect to this. But having said that, I still didn't find it to be an exciting movie. Although it most certainly has its moments of tension, I think the real draw to this movie is the overall visual aspect. There's a certain amount of wonder here that you don't see much of, and some of its so simple. For example, as scene involving moon rovers that kick up moon dust that gets suspended in the low, low gravity long enough that Roy can run his fingers through it. The film is full of neat stuff like that, and the Oscar-nominated sound design helped bring you into things further.
I have to admit that while this was a visual spectacle of sorts, I still found myself easily distracted. Despite some cool aspects, there is a certain dryness to it, and for the most part, I found it somewhat boring. But this is like saying '2001: A Space Odyssey' is boring. I can't help but feel that overall excitement wasn't entirely what they were going for, so much as they were trying to show the scale and wonder of space. Of course, that pretty much just brings me back to my first thought, though, in that I really wish this was something I saw on the big screen instead. If you can do space right, then the excitement of what could be an action sci-fi movie simply doesn't matter. There's a realism to films like this that I can admire, and therefore, my boredom can easily take a back seat - IF it's on a big screen.
For me, this is another one of those films where I may not have gotten much out of it the first time around, but I feel deserves a re-watch. If I have two hours to kill again some time down the line, I might check it out again in an attempt to appreciate it more. But I'm also not exactly rushing to check it out a second time, or even really recommend it very highly. In a space film like this, you sort of get what you get. It would be more entertaining on a bigger scale, but holds its own for what it is on the smaller screen. I may have found a lot of it slow, dry and tedious, but there was still enough to appreciate that I wouldn't at all consider it to be bad in any way. It's something one has to see and judge for themselves, as it left me somewhat confused on my feelings for it.
The Man from Nowhere
This month is another focus on reader suggestions. I have been keeping a list as I go, and in some cases I ask about films with certain details. In this case, I requested an international action flick - and oh boy did I get one. To me, this was a mixture of 'John Wick' and 'Taken', and adding just a dash of 'Oldboy' to it, at least as far as the film's overall disturbing nature goes. It's a very dark, badass revenge film, but there's enough here to make one cringe in just how far it's willing to take things. One might even say there's a horror element to it all.
The central character of this story is ex-special agent Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin), a man who runs a pawn shop and keeps to himself. He befriends a curious little neighbor girl named Jeong So-mi (Sae-ron-Kim) who is seemingly fascinated by him, and sees good in him where others can't seem to. So-mi's mother, Hyo-jeong (Hyo-seo Kim) is a heroin addict who one day entrusts Tae-sik with a camera bag which, unbeknownst to Tae-sik, contains some stolen heroin. This captures the attention of a crime lord named Oh Myung-gyu (Young-chang Song) who sends his brothers Man-seok (Hee-won Kim) and Jong-seok (Seong-oh Kim) to retrieve the stolen drugs.
This eventually results in the kidnapping of both Hyo-jeong and So-mi, who the gang promises to release upon delivery of the stolen goods which Tae-sik has in his possession. Of course, when an ex-special agent finds himself in such a situation, especially with the kidnapping of the young So-mi, you know shit's about to go off. As one can predict, you get what you come to see. For me, it's not quit as up there in action as 'John Wick', and it's actually a bit closer to 'Taken' as far as its execution. There's a bit more of a thriller here than straight up action. But I will say that when the action does unfold, it's some pretty badass stuff.
The film is certainly propelled by the same ideas as John Wick though in the sense that something of pure innocence is taken away and we want nothing to stop our hero in his mission on getting revenge. We live vicariously through this hero as he stabs, shoots and punches his way through all the bad guys - and the worse someone gets it, the better we feel, especially when we know they're horrible people. Just to appeal to the masses, this is the same feeling just about anyone gets nowadays when we watch a World War II allied soldier take out a Nazi who's in the middle of torturing an innocent civilian. I suppose there's a sort of sadistic glee we get from such things - myself included. We just want to see horrible people get their comeuppance.
If you're looking for a solid revenge film and don't mind a few subtitles, I might recommend this one to you, especially if you're missing that feeling 'John Wick' or 'Taken' gave you. However, I might bring to mind the horror element to this I brought up before. There's a certain realism to this film that is downright disturbing, and there are some pretty gruesome scenes throughout, be it in the physical or psychological sense. I'm not afraid to admit there were a few scenes here that got in my head, not because they were necessarily scary, but the imagery just stuck, and some of it was a bit too real - especially some scenes involving children. The odd thing is, it's probably not disturbing in the same ways one might imagine
This is certainly one of those movies that falls under the category of movies where you feel like you need a post-viewing shower because it's just that filthy. But I will say that if you manage to make it through, the ending is something pretty powerful, and I have to say it caught me right in the feels. While it maintains a dark, creepy and even dirty atmosphere, there is still something about it that captures your heart in the sense that you feel for the misunderstood Tae-sik and you sincerely want him to find So-mi because their friendship is something truly special. I would recommend this to anyone looking for something more intense. It's not exactly what I'd call fun in the same way 'John Wick' is, but it does strike that chord of vengeful badassery quite nicely all the same.
Welcome to Marwen
Finally wrapping up my 2018 catch-up, this title sort of seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye. It floats somewhat under the radar for most, it seems, as whenever i bring up the title, people either haven't heard of it, or if they have, refer to it as "that weird doll movie" or something along those lines. I, however, always knew it was something that dabbled in the area of mental health, and I'm always curious about such things, so to choose this as my final title was a bit of a no-brainer.
We meet Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell), who we learn suffers from acute memory loss and posttraumatic stress disorder, based on an attack from a group of homophobes that left him hospitalized for some time. The basis of this attack was the idea that he (Mark) enjoys wearing women's shoes, and it's plain and simply a hate crime against him. As a result, Mark now uses fashion dolls to create a fictional World War II-based village called "Marwen" in order to escape and cope with the world around him. All is basically well until he gets reminded of his court date, which leads to nervous breakdowns in reality, and Nazi attacks in Marwen within his imagination.
Residing within the world of Marwen are namely himself as "Cap'n Hogie", and a handful of tough, protective women who represent his friends in real life; home caretaker, Anna (Gwendoline Christie); Physiotherapist, Julie (Janelle Monáe), Suzette (Leslie Zemeckis), Bartender, Carlala (Eiza González) and hobby store clerk Roberta (Merritt Wever). Nazi soldiers represent the guys who beat him up, but perhaps most strange is the green-haired Belgian witch named Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger), as she prevents Hogie from getting close to any of the women of Marwen, and insists she's the only one who can stop his pain.
All seemingly has the potential to change, when his new neighbor, Nicol (Leslie Mann) moves in, and he becomes interested for the first time since bartender Wendy (Stefanie von Pfetten) found him after the attack. As one can probably imagine, the whole world of Marwen, and the animated sequences within, are symbolic to everything going on around him, and soon enough Mark has to face reality when it comes down to a court date that can hopefully put his attackers away. If you have ever seen the movie 'Sucker Punch', there are similarities with the extreme symbolism, but its all executed very differently - I'd even say probably a bit better here, as I found this much easier to follow.
The animated sequences, themselves, are really well done. I enjoy the CG used to render each doll, and furthermore, how much the dolls represent the people in his life. That said, there is some oddball stuff here, like the idea that Suzette is actually based on his favorite actress and, as far as I can tell, is also a porn star, and she's barely a part of things. I don't know about real-world accuracy, but it did seem unnecessarily crammed in. On top of that, it does feel obvious to me almost right away what exactly Deja represents, although the film makes her out to be a mystery woman. It makes one question if they SHOULD have known all along, because once the big reveal happens you kind of end up thinking to yourself "well, duh".
This isn't a movie I'd necessarily consider to be bad in any way, but it certainly didn't leave me with the impact that some of Zemeckis' similar earlier work has, namely as 'Forest Gump', which is still a personal favorite. Although, it does manage to deal with things like having to overcome one's anxiety to face one's fears head on - in this case, his court date and facing his attackers. I also enjoy that they don't really shy away from anything he does, and instead of making it a movie where he's frowned upon for playing with dolls, his community is actually very supportive and want to help him with his work. At the end of the day, it didn't entirely impact me, but I'm still glad I took the time to finally watch it. It's something one would have to judge for themselves, but despite a few holes here and there, it's not that bad.
Right off the bat, we can safely say that knowing my particular tastes, this wasn't generally my cup of tea. It's just a little too messed up in its horror aspect, and I'd probably say that it's Kevin Smith's answer to 'Human Centipede'. The main plot of the story is very similar in that it involves a drugging followed by human biological experimentation. The thing about 'Tusk', however, is that it's based on a true story... well, not really, but kind of. More on that later.
The film opens with podcasters Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) and Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment) who host a show called 'The Not-See Party'. Their podcast showcases humiliating viral videos; the latest being 'The Kill Bill Kid' in which a guy clearly parodying 'The Star Wars Kid' replaces lightsaber with katana, and chops his leg off. Upon reviewing the video, Wallace heads to Manitoba, Canada where the kid lives in hopes to interview him, but through certain circumstances, the interview cannot move forward. Not wanting to come to Canada for nothing, however, he decides to seek someone else out for an awesome story to share on his podcast.
In the bathroom of a bar, Wallace finds an ad from a Howard Howe, offering a free room and the guarantee of interesting stories in exchange for a few chores. Howard is a wheelchair-bound, retired seaman, and claims he can't do certain things around the house anymore. Wallace answers the ad, and gets directions from Colleen McKenzie and Colleen Collette (Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp, respectively) to Howard's home, located smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. Arriving that night, Wallace gets some pretty cool stories from Howard that he could potentially bring back for his podcast; one involving a walrus that save his life, who he developed a friendship with.
As anyone can predict, Wallace quickly gets more than he bargained for with a drugged tea, and waking up strapped to a chair, missing a limb. I won't sit here and spoil what else happens, but there are pictures all over the internet, and any Kevin Smith fan who hasn't even seen this movie has likely seen the end result. I knew that's what I was getting into as far as the main plot goes, so I can't pretend to be shocked by much. But once again, the whole human experimentation/shock horror thing isn't generally what I enjoy in a horror movie (even if it is a horror comedy). So right off the bat, I already knew this wasn't going to be a favorite. But I will admit, it's not without a perk or two.
This is another American comedy that pokes fun at Canada in so many ways, with so many stereotypes. Even speaking as a Canadian, I'm all about Canadian stereotypes. Some are damn close to true, but some are so hilariously off that you can't help but laugh at them. To put the cherry on the sundae, Johnny Depp comes into the picture as Guy Lapointe; an inspector from Quebec (not the hockey player). The performance is very much a stereotype, but his delivery is pretty spot on, and I don't think he really says anything particularly harmful. Maybe it's just me, but being Canadian, I feel like I can embrace Canadian stereotypes far easier than I can get offended by them. That could be part of what makes us so "nice".
One final note brings me back to that "true story" bit. The truth is, inspiration for the film came from a fake online advertisement very similar to the one Wallace finds. The ad was an old man, offering a rent-free room with the catch that the tenant has to wear a walrus costume and behave like one from time to time. To everyone's astonishment, the ad actually received over 400 responses, despite the fact that the ad was placed as a joke, written by Chris Parkinson of Brighton, England. So essentially, Smith took the idea and twisted it to that 'Human Centipede' standard, throwing in some fairly solid comedy along the way.
Although it delivered a few solid laughs, however, this kind of thing is not up my alley as far as the horror aspect goes, and it's just plain weird and uncomfortable to sit through. To be fair, that IS the point, but I think it's safe to say that we all have something we don't like to see in movies. For me, it's basically any form of something torturous, and experimentation such as this totally counts. It had its moments, but for now, it's probably the Kevin Smith movie I'd furthest disassociate myself with.
This month for Catching Up, I have finally put my foot down on getting caught up on Kevin Smith's non- Jay & Silent Bob movie collection. I consider myself a Kevin Smith fan based on those movies, as well as his 'Evening' trilogy, but I haven't really bothered much with anything else he's made for some reason. Once I finish this month's series of reviews, I'll be all caught up on what I've seen. I also hope that some of the others turn out a bit like this one, in that, I find it's honestly not quite as bad as people let on.
A media publicist in New York City named Ollie Trinké (Ben Affleck) is living a happy life with his wife, Gertie (Jennifer Lopez), but it only goes as far as the birth of their first child, where Gertie tragically dies in childbirth. At first, Ollie is distressed and puts his work in the path of his childcare, passing things off to his father, Bart (George Carlin). The stress gets the better of him one day when he flat out insults Will Smith in front of too many reporters, makes a public ass of himself, gets fired, and moves in with Bart in New Jersey along with the baby, who he names after Gertie. After his screw up, he promises the baby Gertie that he'll be a better father, and presumably becomes a great father over the next 7 years.
Now 7, Gertie (Raquel Castro) has a bit of an obsession with renting movies from the local video store, where they both meet the lovely Maya (Liv Tyler) who soon enters their lives. To make a lot of this short, much of the rest of the film eventually leads to Ollie's struggle between the happiness of his old life and the comfort of his new life. Everyone he loves, including an impressionable Gertie, is perfectly happy with their lives, but there's a big part of Ollie that ends up wanting his old life back. It's a movie that plays with the ideas of parenthood, and just how complicated a situation can get. That said, it's pretty predictable as far as its ending goes, but at the same time, I do find it to be a sweet movie - even if it's a little over the top with the drama sometimes.
Usually, this is toted as one of Smith's worst titles, but I sincerely think there are worse. I'd say one of the more important things to keep in mind as far as Kevin Smith is concerned is that he makes movies for his fans, not critics, and he also creates from the heart. There's a bit of a personal touch to his movies, no matter what he's creating, and this one was a dedication to his late father. It was also inspired by his own life as a new father to one, Harley Quinn Smith, so to truly criticize this movie just feels like a dick move to me.
If I had to pull something from it to nitpick about, it's that it often gets a bit overdramatic, and some of it's heavy-handed. But I just can't reach that deeply into this to look for the dirt. I see it as a love letter to his Dad and his Daughter more than anything, and I can't bring myself to pick on that, or be selfish about not getting what I thought I was gonna get. Actually, I got pretty well what I figured. I just thought it was sweet, and though it's not without its problems, I've seen much worse. It's a simple slice of life kind of story, and I think it gets much more flack than it deserves. It won't be for everyone, but if you're a Smith fan and haven't checked it out yet, you might surprise yourself.
This movie is one of my favorite things; a movie with a Critic Rating scale on the low side (40%), but an audience rating on the high side (74%). Movies like this are the reason I do what I do here. I review these titles, not as a film school graduate, but as an audience member. I wanted to review movies from a general audience perspective, and it probably shows with how generous I tend to be with some of my ratings. I therefore go against the grain on this one, and hop in there with the audience, because 'Bloodsport' has so much still going for it.
The film centers on American Army Captain, Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who's sensei, Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao) trained in the art of Ninjutsu. Tanaka took Dux under his wing, as a child, who broke into Tanaka's house to steal a katana. Tanaka tells Dux that a katana is not to be stolen, but earned through strict training, and such is done, alongside Shingo (Sean Ward), Tanaka's son. Eventually Shingo fights in an illegal underground tournament held in Hong Kong called the Kumite, which kills him, and soon Dux is trained to become a member of the Tanaka clan through a pretty brutal but bad ass training montage. Dux is then invited to fight in the same tournament, and the movie really makes you wonder how they got a movie like 'Street Fighter' so screwed up.
His superiors refuse to let him go, so Dux just says "the hell with it" and goes to Hong Kong to fight, anyway. This leads to Criminal Investigation Command officers, Helmer (Norman Burton) and Rawlins (Forest Whitaker) to track him down. Meanwhile, once he gets to Honk Kong, Dux is befriended by a fellow tournament fighter, Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) and a streetwise guide named Victor Lin (Ken Siu). The pair are lead to the tournament, Dux performs some bad assery to prove he's worthy to fight, and the tournament begins. Soon the attention of Kumite champion, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) is caught when Dux breaks his record for fastest knock-out - guess who the villain is. As for romantic interest, that's here too, with American journalist, Janice Kent (Leah Ayres), who's investigating the Kumite, which could mean trouble.
Anyway, the bottom line is that if you wanna see Jean-Claude Van Damme in a better 'Street Fighter' movie that's more about the tournament than anything else, this is a very good place to turn. Let's face facts, the fighting and bad-assery is why anyone is gonna watch this movie and enjoy it. Things like acting and bad dubbing are to be overlooked, and it's a simple story of vengeance, complete with some gnarly broken bone scenes. With that, there's not a whole lot more to say about 'Bloodsport'. It's an hour and a half of Jean-Claude Van Damme training and fighting, but make no mistake, it's not as dull as that either. There's a generous sense of humor behind it, and there's a charm when we see the friendship between Dux and Ray. It's that same buddy-buddy thing you got with Maverick and Goose from 'Top Gun'.
'Bloodsport' has developed a really generous cult following over the years since its release, and some might even claim this as Van Damme's real breakout performance. Up until this point, he was credited as a movie goer, a spectator, a soldier, a "gay karate man", and finally, Ivan Kraschinsky the Russian in 'No Retreat, No Surrender', which he's known for, but I daresay it doesn't have quite the same strength as 'Bloodsport' as a popular movie. I actually remember peers talking about this movie when I was a kid, and how cool JCVD was. Some would even challenge Schwarzenegger's awesomeness with his. Bear in mind that a LOT of my peers were watching things like gory horror at a super early age.
Without this being the suggestion of a dear old friend, I'm not sure I ever would have gotten around to watching it. It was always one of those martial arts movies that for whatever reason I never got super into (which is super weird, considering some of my particular tastes). When you picture your ideal-minded kid when it came to watching violence, I was damn near perfect. I didn't even start getting into horror until I was about 17, so movies like this were just off my radar, growing up. Nowadays, it's really just more interesting to watch as a piece of cinematic history. It was movies like this that prompted American action filmmakers to say "let's get the guy who can do the splits, he's awesome." It's well worth the hour and a half, and my criticisms are so minimal they don't matter. Just sit back and watch the fight.