Saturday, September 28, 2013

904. Trois vies & une seule mort/Three Lives and Only One Death (1996)

Running Time: 120 minutes
Directed By: Raul Ruiz
Written By: Pascal Bonitzer, Raul Ruiz
Main Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anna Galiena, Marisa Paredes, Melvil Poupaud, Chiara Mastroianni


So as I've skipped around, watching movies about talking pigs ("Clueless") and the one with James Cromwell ("Babe"), I've realized that I've actually been putting this one off. I'm not really sure why, but I just had a bad hunch that "Three Lives and Only One Death" would be something that I should dread. Were my suspicions validated?

To detail the plot of TLAOOD, it would take four separate plot synopsis' and since I'm a good, little plot detail man, I'll give you just that. Needless to say, the film is split into four separate pieces, with each piece starring Marcello Mastroianni...

1) The first piece involves Mateo Strano (Mastroianni) bumping into a man at a cigarette stand and offering him 1,000 francs in exchange for one hour of the man's time. Within the one hour, Strano tells the man things that about the man that no one else could know and ultimately tells him that he (Strano) used to be married to the man's wife. He goes on to tell him that he's currently renting an apartment, an odd apartment. One morning, when he awoke from his slumber, he found that he'd been sleeping for twenty years. He blames the heavy rest on fairies, citing that they've taken his time away from him. He then asks the man to return home with him, so that he can show him the apartment. The man returns to his place and Strano then asks him if he'll stay there, while Strano returns home to his wife. When the man refuses, Strano hits him in the head with a hammer and leaves him there. Strano then returns home to a wife that has seemingly been expecting him the whole time.

2) The second piece involves a millionaire named Georges Vickers (Mastroianni), who one day decides that he wants to be a beggar. He gives up teaching at the Sorbonne and takes to placing his hat beside him on a park bench and asking passersby to throw coins into it. Later on, he meets a prostitute and the two become friends, but after a while, Vickers returns to teaching.

3) Next we have a young couple who are madly in love, Cecile and Martin. One day the couple, living in their tiny, cramped apartment, find an envelope in their mailbox with a large sum of money. The envelope arrives every Monday, with the same amount of money. Besides the money, one day when Martin goes to work, Cecile cheats on him with a neighbor. She tells Martin promptly and he forgives her just as promptly. Later, Martin cheats on Cecile, apologizes and is forgiven, as if nothing had happened. Then the money stops arriving and they learn that the man who's been leaving the envelopes has died, but left them in his will. They are willed a mansion, which comes with a butler that they cannot fire, or else they forfeit their inheritance. They name the butler Bell (Mastroianni), for he only comes at the ring of a bell.

4) The final part, sort of ties all the previous parts together and again stars Mastroianni. End of story.

It's worth nothing that there's also a bunch of similarities between the four stories, recurring characters (besides Mastroianni), recurring set pieces (goldfish bowls, snakes, etc.) and other recurring themes (loss of time, changes in social status, love, marriage, infidelity, etc.).

I sincerely just do not know what to say about this one. It was along the lines of something you'd see directed by Luis Bunuel, a piece that peeks your interest, yet leaves you with a "WTF" look on your face and at the forefront of your mind. I was totally turned off when the film started. The story about magic fairies and a man sleeping for twenty years didn't do a thing to entice me and at this point, I didn't know the film would be segmented into fours and I didn't want to sit through two hours of a fairy story. Then that piece ended and the story about the millionaire who wanted to be a beggar started and I dug that. It was a fun little story, perhaps something you'd see in Woody Allen's idea drawer (I've heard he actually has one of those). The third story was the best of all and again, the tiny, decrepit, yet cozy apartment, where the young lovers lived was something you'd find in Woody Allen's world, yet with a surreal twist. I could've watched an entire movie with the characters from episode three. Episode four sort of lost me again and ultimately the whole film left me with that taste you get when you sip a flat Pepsi - you still get some flavor, but ultimately you're left with a cringe.

I don't wanna crap on the film, not at all. I'm fully prepared to take blame for anything I didn't like and say that, perhaps, I was a bit confused by it all. The thing is, is that I didn't hate it by any means, it's just that, perhaps, I expected a little more once the ball got rolling. Episide two surprised me in that it was really good and things got so much better in Act three, that my hopes got a little too high, perhaps. Really, it's one of those films that could go for another look, maybe even three looks to get everything that's thrown at you and fully piece together the puzzle. As it is, call it a definite experience at the movies and something that I won't soon forget, which is always a plus.

RATING: 6.5/10  Not too shabby and definitely had my interest peaked to the max. A bit more explanation, a little more pop and intrigue and this COULD HAVE been gold. As it is, call it just north of *meh*.


September 28, 2013  11:03pm

Friday, September 27, 2013

886. BABE (1995)

Running Time: 89 minutes
Directed By: Chris Noonan
Written By: George Miller, Chris Noonan, from the novel The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith
Main Cast: James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski, Christine Cavanaugh (voice), Miriam Margolyes (voice), Hugo Weaving (voice)
Click here to view the trailer


I realize I said I was going to be moving in reverse chronological order and I'm kind of not, but I reserve the right to be a little wacky with the order in which I move and anyway, I'm moving fairly closely to reverse chronology.

I want everyone who knows me, my writing and my film tastes to stop right now and guess what rating I'll give "Babe". Okay, got it? Now, when you get to the end of the page, lets see if you're right or not, shall we?

The film is probably one of the most wholesome of all the 1001 films contained in the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book and tells the story of a pig who is separated from his mother at a very young age. Just a runt, the pig (later named Babe, since that's what his mom called him and all of his brothers & sisters) is sent to a carnival and set up in a booth where he can be won if passersby can guess his weight. Enter Mr. Arthur Hoggett (Cromwell), a wise, old farmer who happens to know just a what a pig weighs - with or without a full bladder. Needless to say, Hoggett wins the pig and takes it back to his farm, where the pig meets all of the other farm animals, including a ewe, a duck who wants nothing more than to be a rooster, a narcissistic cat and a couple of sheepdogs, the kings of this jungle. Yes, on Hoggett's farm the sheep dogs are the most respected of all the animals, due to the fact that they work so closely with the master (Hoggett). They're feared by virtually every other animal on the farm, especially the sheep, who refer to them as wolves and think of them as nothing more than murderous carnivores. However, Babe takes to the female sheep dog, Fly and in his loneliest hour, is offered a warm lick from her and the invitation to call her "Mom". After Babe is made an honorary sheep dog, he then wants nothing more than to find his place on Hoggett's farm. The dogs are for rounding sheep, the cat is for keeping Hoggett's wife company and "looking beautiful", the rooster's purpose is to wake, the cow's - to produce milk, the sheep - to produce wool. As far as Babe can tell, his only purpose is to provide the Hoggett's with a feast come Christmastime. However, another calling may soon find it's way to Babe's snout.

Can I just go ahead and go out on a limb here? Okay, I will. With the exception of "Toy Story", this is THE BEST family/kids film in the whole book, hands down! Forget "Willy Wonka", forget "The Lion King", forget "Snow White", forget anything else that is aimed toward children and aimed toward providing wholesome entertainment, "Babe" is the best when it comes to that, I promise you!

I can't even particularly say what it is that I liked so much. Perhaps it was the silent, yet great performance from James Cromwell, which provided the audience with a hard character that softened over time and tugged at our hearts, especially at the end when he gave the pig his nod of approval in the form of a "That'll do pig, that'll do". Perhaps it was the fact that the film reminded me of a great, old children's novel, sitting on a shelf covered in dust and waiting to be read to the next sleepy kid, which was a warm and comfortable reminder. Perhaps it was the fact that this is the only talking animal movie that I haven't been against from the opening credits and because it hooked me and didn't let go. Perhaps it was the fact that it did what every great movie has an obligation to do and that's to make me forget EVERYTHING else for just a couple of hours, laugh when I'm supposed to, cry when I'm supposed to and be left with a racing heart when I'm supposed to. "Babe" will take you on a roller coaster of emotions and while your kids are enjoying the crap out of it, you won't be left in the cold, hoping that it all ends soon so you can get back to adult world.

Trust me folks, I'm just as surprised as you are that I liked "Babe" so much, but what can I say. As I said above, it fulfilled the obligations of a great movie and did it quite well. For about ninety minutes or so this afternoon, as I laid on the bed with my wife, cuddled under blanket and with plenty of pillows nearby, I got to be a kid again and it was a great feeling. This film not only provided me an escape, but it reminded me of so many great things, mostly things that disappeared along with my childhood. And no, this movie was not a movie of my youth, as I was eleven by the time it came out and quite over the whole talking pig thing. I actually didn't see this for quite some time later, but never enjoyed it as much as I did today.

RATING: 8/10  Can't go all the way, but I'm shocked it got that high. Consider this a strong candidate for TOP 20 #8. Man, it's going to be funny to produce a TOP 20 potentially featuring both "Babe" and "Taxi Driver", but it's definitely possible.


September 27, 2013  11:05pm

894. Clueless (1995)

Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Amy Heckerling
Written By: Amy Heckerling
Main Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, Dan Hedaya
Click here to view the trailer

AS IF...

I can't believe I'm reviewing this, I can't believe I'm reviewing this, I can't believe.....oh...hello! Yes, the 1995 teen film "Clueless" SOMEHOW gets a nod as one of the 1001 must see movies of all-time and to tell you the truth, I can't believe it.

The film revolves around main character Cher (Silverstone), a typical Beverly Hills teenager, complete with long blonde hair, a rockin' wardrobe, popularity and schoolyard drama. The film is, kind of, told in sectional form, with several running plot lines. When Cher gets a "C" in debate class, she begins to play matchmaker between her debate teacher and another of her teachers. Getting them in love and in a good mood serves well for her grades, which promptly shoot up. Following that, a new student arrives at school, Tai (Murphy), in desperate need of a makeover, which Cher and her best pal Dionne (Dash) take control of. They end up turning Tai into a mini version of Cher and trying to set her up with "Baldwin" (the film's terminology for a cute guy) Elton. However, Elton doesn't want anything to do with Tai and instead wants to date Cher, who isn't interested. Later, Cher falls for Christian, who doesn't seem to be interested. Oh yeah, Paul Rudd's in there too as Cher's ex-step brother, who also seems to have a thing for Cher.

As I was searching for pictures to include in this post, for some reason a picture of Alex DeLarge came up (Malcolm McDowell from "A Clockwork Orange") and it dawned on me even harder what a travesty it was to include "Clueless" in THE BOOK. Now "Clueless" fans, don't get in an uproar just yet, because I do have some nice things to say, I promise, but you have to let me gripe a bit too. If it was the intention of THE BOOK to include a perfect example of a teenage comedy and a representation of 90s culture, then kudos to them, because they succeeded. But you're telling me there wasn't a better example of that? Perhaps there wasn't, I mean the film does give a pretty good example of 90s life in America. You've even got clips of "Beavis and Butt-head" and "Ren and Stimpy" in there, not to mention the music (tunes from The Might Mighty Bostones and No Doubt, two very 90s bands). You've also got the clothes (Paul Rudd rocking flannel, grunge style) and the dialogue all oozing 90s and to be honest, the film kind of took me back to my youth, as I am a child of the 90s. Hell, even Alicia Silverstone, who seemingly lived and died in the 90s (well her public image did anyway) is the star, made famous by the Aerosmith song "Crazy", another 90s tune. The film is 90s through and through!

But still, that doesn't excuse this poor excuse for a must see movie and Heckerling's attempt to recapture previous glory that she had with "Fast Times at Ridgemont High". Hell, there's even a Spicoli in there (Breckin Meyer as Travis)! I won't be too hard on it, because honestly I can understand WHY they included it (the 90s factor), but I can still bitch about it! Honestly though, as much as I didn't take to this movie (I just don't think I'm the core audience), my wife and I did have a pretty good time watching it, giving each other rolled eyes looks and chuckling at the stupid humor.

RATING: 5/10  Slice it right down the middle and call it an average time at the movies. Short one today, because lets face it, "Clueless" doesn't take as long as say "Pi" or "Woman in the Dunes" to write about.


September 27, 2013  12:49pm

Thursday, September 26, 2013

895. SMOKE (1995)

Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: Wayne Wang, Paul Auster
Written By: Paul Auster
Main Cast: Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Stockard Channing, Harold Perrineau, Forest Whitaker
Click here to view the trailer


This is another case of being on an actor kick, this time the actor in question being Harvey Keitel. Since I've just recently watched "Taxi Driver" and more notably for Keitel, "Mean Streets" and since this one was on the horizon, I figured I might as well go for it.

The film is sort of sliced up into five vignettes, each one paying special attention to one of the five main characters. The general plot revolves around a cigar store and it's owner, Augustus "Auggie" Wren (Keitel). He's a simple guy; he runs his store, he chit chats with the customers and he minds his own business. He has several customers that he knows, just through his interactions with them at the cigar store, including Paul Benjamin (Hurt), a novelist. Benjamin is a widow, who's wife died during a street shooting. One day, while walking home from the cigar store, Paul nearly walks into oncoming traffic, only to be pulled back onto the sidewalk by Rashid (Perrineau), a homeless seventeen-year-old with nowhere to go. Since he's just saved Paul's life, Paul feels he owes the boy something and offers him a place to stay for a few nights. Rashid ultimately accepts, but the two clash and Rashid moves out two days later. From there, Rashid goes to find his birth father, whom he hasn't seen in twelve years. Rashid does find his father, Cyrus (Whitaker) working at a garage and strikes up a conversation with him (keeping the fact that he's his son to himself, even lying about his name). Turns out Cyrus owns the garage and offers Rashid a job, which Rashid accepts. There's even a few more plots, one involving an ex-girlfriend of Auggie's (Channing), who returns claiming to have birthed their daughter years prior.

I DID like this, but not as much as I would've liked it, say ten years ago. This is just the type of movie that I used to be a sucker for: real life people, interacting in real life situations. It's something that I would've easily slapped a '10' on back then, but today I'm a little more stingy with my '10' rating and this left me wanting just a hair more. Now, I'm not going to focus on negatives, because honestly the negatives were few and far between. I'd rather focus on the positives; the fantastic cast, the atmosphere and a great script. Can I just say, before we move on that I LOVED Paul's (William Hurt) apartment in this. It was one of those Woody Allen-esque apartments, the kind of an apartment essential to a writer, with a dividing slide door, separating Paul's writing area from the rest of his place. Those great big windows out front, good for watching the streets and drumming up inspiration and even that small window above the kitchen sink, good for watching the rain pour over on a dreary day. Great set location!

Anyway, enough about that. Keitel was really great here and I realize I said in my "Mean Streets" review that he didn't make a good leading man, but I have absolutely no bones to pick with Keitel, as he almost always turns in a noteworthy performance and "Smoke" is no exception. You've also got one of my faves in William Hurt, the fantastic Forest Whitaker and Harold Perrineau, who some of you may know from HBO's Oz (as Augustus Hill, the one in the wheelchair. Oddly enough, Keitel's name in "Smoke" is also Augustus). You've also got Stockard Channing and a quick appearance from Ashley Judd (who also showed up in "Heat", my previously viewed movie).

Look, this is just a really easy to watch movie that I think a lot of you are going to love if you give it a shot. It's not one many of us have heard of, I don't think, so it's also got that hole in the wall factor, the kind of film that you can spring on people and make them think you uncovered this rarely seen, little gem. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Harvey Keitel's big, at least ten minute monologue at the end, entitled Auggie Wren's Christmas Story, which is just a beautifully written piece. Whenever you can set a camera in front of someone and just let them go and they have the chops to pull it off, you know you've got talent on your hands and that's Keitel for ya.

RATING: 7.5/10  No real, prevalent flaws to speak of, just a really good picture. It's not top notch stellar or anything, but it's certainly worth your time.


September 26, 2013  1:39am

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

892. HEAT (1995)

Running Time: 171 minutes
Directed By: Michael Mann
Written By: Michael Mann
Main Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore
Click here to view the trailer


So this was coming up real soon anyway and since I just got through watching six straight Robert De Niro flicks, I figured I'd might as well make it a lucky seven and watch "Heat" too.

So if you're not familiar with "Heat", it's probably the best straight crime movie (and I'm talking cops and robbers, shoot 'em up style stuff here) to come down the pike in the last, oh, say twenty - thirty years. Actually, that's a bold statement and I'm surely forgetting something, but let's just go with it for now. You've got Vincent Hanna (Pacino), the good guy cop, who is working on failed marriage number three - a detective who sacrifices sleep and family to catch the bad guys and lock them away. Then there's the other side of the spectrum and Neil McCauley (De Niro), a brutal criminal and an ace professional who lives by the philosophy of "never having anything in your life that you're not prepared to walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner". The film starts with an armored truck heist, but McCauley and crew, including Chris (Kilmer) and Cherrito (Sizemore). That gets the cops' attention and the cat & mouse game is on. The film is paced quite nicely for a three hour affair, so that we're given equal portions of important scenes, so that we're not forced to sludge through chunks of boring and meaningless material. Neil ends up meeting a girl, one whom he eventually develops strong feelings for and one that he may not be willing to walk out on in thirty seconds. Meanwhile, Vincent's marriage is crumbling, but his admiration for Neil keeps him on the streets.

It's a crime flick, ladies & gentlemen - need I say more. There's cops, there's bad guys and they play like cowboys and Indians in the street and that's really all you need know. Plus it's got Pacino and De Niro; that should be more than enough to skyrocket this classic to the top of your Netflix queue, especially if you haven't seen it. Let's talk about Pacino and De Niro for a second and who comes off as the better actor. Well it may be the recent intake of "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull" and other fantastic De Niro films, but I tended to lean more toward the De Niro performance here. Granted, I used to be Camp Pacino all the way, but, like I've said a thousand times before, THE BOOK will do wacky things to your cinematic taste buds and sometimes flip you to the exact opposite opinion. De Niro's Neil is a lot more reserved, cool, held back than Pacino's sometimes over the top Det. Hanna. De Niro knows when to turn up the volume and when to get a little more rambunctious and I liked that self control on his part.

As far as the story, like I said in the plot synopsis, the film never leaves you waiting for the next piece of the puzzle. It paces itself like a marathon runner, so that the viewer always gets a little something to tide them over until the next big rush of excitement. You've got the opening armored car heist then we get some story, then at about the halfway mark you get the bank robbery and the death of some key characters up to that point and then you get the rest of the story. It's beautifully paced and as someone who as seen a lot of long movies that haven't been well paced, I appreciated that.

Look it's just a great movie. It's a mainstream hit that actually delivers quality results. I still remember the first time I saw it. It never gets too complicated, like some police/detective/criminal movies do. We're given simple facts to deal with and left with only the responsibility of having a good time at the movies. Also, if you're any sort of movie fan, then the pairing of De Niro and Pacino will be a fascinating one. I think I'm correct in thinking that this is the first film they did together and to watch them go, within the confines of the same film, is like watching Picasso and Rembrandt do a painting together.

RATING: 8/10  Very good, but De Niro impressed more with his earlier Scorsese offerings. Still though, if you've never seen this go and see it like right now.


September 25, 2013  1:10pm

Monday, September 23, 2013


So I'm pretty much out of horror movies from THE BOOK, but am tinkering with the idea of continuing the FRIGHTFEST here on the blog. It's something I've done since 2010 and always enjoy a few good horror flicks around the month of October, usually a few weeks in range of Halloween.

Anyway, this year, I may just pick a random group of between 5 - 7 horror movies and give them full, formal reviews here on the blog. First off, what would you guys think of me giving full reviews to non-BOOK films?

Secondly, I am open to suggestions of which horror movies to actually watch. I already have a few ideas and I can't guarantee I'll take your suggestions, but I'm definitely all ears and if you plead your case good enough, I'm easily persuadable. My only criteria is that it has to be stuff I've never seen. Why? Just because I'd rather use the opportunity to see some things I haven't seen, as opposed to seeing horror movies I've already seen.

Some ideas so far:

Romero's Day of the Dead
Snyder's Dawn of the Dead
The original "The Omen"

What say you?

September 23, 2013  5:45pm

Sunday, September 22, 2013

814. GOODFELLAS (1990)

Running Time: 145 minutes
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese, from the novel Wise Guys by Nicholas Pileggi
Main Cast: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino
Click here to view the trailer


FINALLY, I get the opportunity to finish "Goodfellas" and conclude the "Scorsese Week" that wound up turning into two weeks, nearly three. This is the movie that, even though I owned it on DVD and just last week, ordered it through Amazon on Blu-Ray, I still had to pay $2 to see. Stay tuned...

So the film is, kind of, a lot like "Casino", in that it uses a butt ton of narration and pop music to tell it's story, except Scorsese makes things flow a lot smoother here. The main narration is via the main character, Henry Hill (Liotta), who, for as long as he can remember, has always wanted to be a gangster. Tracing Hill's life back to his days as a teenager, working at a cab stand in Brooklyn, for the Cicero crime family. Henry mainly answered to Tuddy, the brother of "made" man and Cicero don, Paul (Sorvino). The film also introduces us to James "Jimmy the Gent" Conway (De Niro) and Tommy (Pesci), two old-time Mafia men, both with violent streaks. Since Henry breaks into the crime business at such a young age, he grows up being a right hand man to the Cicero clan. The film is HEAVILY narrated by Henry, who at the age of twenty-two met and later married Karen (Bracco). The two were a good match, but the mob life eventually soured Henry on married life and ultimately, like most mobsters, he took a girlfriend, whom he set up with a cushy little apartment. Hill ends up doing a little prison time, but prison life for wise guys, as portrayed in the film, isn't like regular prison life and as long as they greased enough palms, they coasted by on an easy road. Later, Henry is warned about dope dealing, by Paulie, but doesn't heed his boss' advice and gets wrapped up in the drug racket.

So, yeah, I'm not sure why, but I thought this was worlds better than "Casino". If you think about it, "Casino" is almost, kind of like a remake of "Goodfellas". Both films heavily feature narration, both films feature an almost non-stop, pop soundtrack, both films are based on works by Nicholas Pileggi, both films are about "wise guys", both films are based on real people and I'm sure there's a lot of other similarities. I now wonder why Scorsese would make such a similar film, only five years later, especially considering he was probably never going to top "Goodfellas". Maybe he was just trying to recreate the success of the 1990 picture, but he failed miserable and I hope he knows that. I've honestly never noticed the similarities before, but that's the perk of review writing, you tend to over think everything.

This film was just FAR more interesting. The Ace Rothstein character of "Casino" did absolutely nothing to capture my interest, whereas I actually found myself, many times, wondering what it  must've been like to be Henry Hill, to live in that era, doing what he did, leading the life he lead. Oh and while we're talking Hill, let's not forget about Liotta, who has never really impressed me before, but this time really stood out to me. That one scene where he beats up the guy that tried to rape Karen - watch his face after he smashes the guy's face in and he's walking back across the street. He just looks like a killer. His facials are so brilliant, they're scary. Here's a guy - Liotta - who found himself shoulder to shoulder with one of the all-time greats (De Niro) and decided that he just had to bring his A game and that's just what he did. Kudos to Liotta! Bracco wasn't bad either, but tell me she doesn't look like Debra Winger's twin! I half kept waiting for the scene where we found out she had cancer and Shirley MacLaine showed up to give Henry guff about cheating on her.

So, in conclusion, this is just a great movie and I defy you not to be totally caught up by the mob lifestyle, either finding it deplorable or fascinating - and not a good kind of fascinating, but that kind of fascinating where you can't believe people actually lived this high roller, gun toting, drug sniffing lifestyle. It features fantastic performances all around, a score that won't make you wish it would just stop (who doesn't love "Layla" and that montage of dead body discoveries?) and effective narration from Liotta and Bracco, that makes you glad the narration is present, so that you constantly be getting little tidbits of information and background.

RATING: 9/10  I just didn't get that '10' feel, which is necessary when giving a '10', but it's a damn fine film and one that would come with my highest of recommendations.


Usually I say a few words about the director, but I think you get that I'm a huge Scorsese nerd and I'll just let the reviews speak for themselves. Anyway, here's a quick list of the Scorsese films, listed best to worst, as per my personal opinion.

1) Taxi Driver
2) Raging Bull
3) Goodfellas
4) The King of Comedy
5) The Departed
6) Mean Streets
7) Casino

I'd like to do some non-BOOK reviews of some of his other works, so keep an eye on the recap section either at the end of this month or next.


September 22, 2013  6:51pm

Thursday, September 19, 2013

891. CASINO (1995)

Running Time: 179 minutes
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Nicholas Pileggi, from his book
Main Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, Don Rickles, James Woods
Click here to view the trailer


I had to, temporarily, skip over "Goodfellas" when I put it into my DVD player two nights ago and it didn't want to play for me. Therefore, I had to jump straight to "Casino" and continue rolling the ball that is "Scorsese Week".

At this point, it is the 90s and Martin Scorsese isn't what he used to be. He made his two best films in the latter half of the 70s and perhaps he blew his wad, because he never quite got back there. Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself, let's talk details first. De Niro is, once again, the star of the show, this time playing Sam "Ace" Rothstein, an expert handicapper turned casino operator, circa the 1970s. The film begins with Ace turning the key in the ignition of his Cadillac, only to have it explode From there, we're into flashback mode and LOTS of narration via De Niro's character and Pesci's Nicky Santoro, Ace's childhood friend and the man who is put in charge of watching his back. A lot of information is thrown at the viewer, but the only thing we really need to know is that it's a gangster movie set in Las Vegas, instead of Scorsese's usual New York. After a while, Ace meets and falls in love with Ginger (Stone), a high class call girl with a penchant for snorting coke, being spoiled and collecting jewels & money from grateful men. Ace finally convinces Ginger to marry him and of course, it all goes downhill, as she still holds a flame for the pimp she can't quit and the dope she can't stop sucking through a $100 bill. There's a whole lot more details, but honestly, you got what you need...

Do you know what "Casino" reminds me of? A counterfeit $100 bill. A counterfeit $100 looks green, has Franklin on it and seems to be legit, but under closer observation it really isn't worth anything. Just like the phony money, "Casino" has the Scorsese name on it, looks like a Scorsese picture and seems like a good one on the surface, but when you start thinking like a critic, you realize that it really isn't what it's cracked up to be. So yeah, I was disappointed with "Casino", to say the least and we might as well start off with the bad, before I forget what I disliked.

For starters, this film has got to be like 60% narration. My God, the voices just never stop spewing out dialogue and it's not even eloquent, narration worthy dialogue. Let's just say you're lucky if you actually get to see the actors act, as opposed to just hearing them talk over the film, telling us what they should be showing us. You have one of the greatest actors of all-time on set and instead of utilizing his chops, you have him reading cue cards into a microphone, with plans to play his voice over 50% of the picture? Give me a break! Speaking of De Niro, we start to see a decline in his talents here, as he sort of slips into auto pilot at this point and becomes type cast as a tough guy, playing this same role in many pictures. When you watch De Niro in the previously reviewed films and the De Niro that would come in the 90s, you get the sense that you're watching an actor who's lost his chops. I'm just not a modern day De Niro fan.

You know what else I really hated about this movie? The same things I hated about "Boogie Nights". The fact that this film is all up in your "grill", with nearly constant, blaring music and did I hear Scorsese ripping off the score to "Contempt" in there? Blasphemy! Whatever happened to just natural sounds. Perhaps I'd rather hear the rhythmic sound of a car engine instead of Fleetwood Mac and whatever happened to a little silence can go a long way. To me, this film comes off as Scorsese trying really hard to recapture something. I don't know what, but that's how it seems. There's no denying he was still a fantastic filmmaker at this point and that he DID have a good idea here. This could've been a great, great film, but it's too noisy, too in your face, too desperate to win you over, gives you way too much information to process, is too flashy, too long and is not subtle enough. Also, it's a little too violent. Hey, I'm all for a violent picture, but you have to have reasoning behind your violence and not just violence for the sake of violence (same as nudity). Here, you have blood splattering for the sake of adding a little color and it's too much.

In conclusion, it's not that I hated "Casino", it's just that I was disappointed in it. I'm a big Scorsese fan (as you've probably been able to surmise) but this wasn't up to his standards. If you look at Scorsese in the 90s, it seems the more he downplayed it, the better it was. Films like "Bringing Out the Dead", "Cape Fear" and even his contribution to "New York Stories" are all fine examples of why Scorsese still had IT in the final decade of the 20th century and they all rely on the subtleties. "Casino" relies on being hyperactive and BARELY succeeds...and I do mean BARELY.

RATING: 6/10  Just right around the average marker, but I love Martin too much to call anything he does a '5' or lower. I'm working on it though. Also, I'm totally fine with this being taken out of THE BOOK, in the new edition, and I definitely get why they did it.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

905. SHINE (1996)

Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Scott Hicks
Written By: Scott Hicks, Jan Sardi
Main Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Googie Withers, Lynn Redgrave, Noah Taylor
Click here to view the trailer


I promise, this will be the last of me straying from "Scorsese Week", as I intend to have my next two, watched films be "Goodfellas" and "Casino", which will be the end for Martin. For now though, let's take a look at the movie that rightfully won Geoffrey Rush the Best Actor Oscar in 1996.

The film is a biopic, for the unaware, and tells the story of David Helfgott, Australian pianist (Rush, at his adult stage). From the time David is a little boy, he is gifted with the talent of being able to play classical piano. His father (Mueller-Stahl), is his teacher and expects a certain discipline from his only son. His father tries, at times to be a friend, but usually comes off as extraordinarily strict, wanting nothing but success for his boy. His father thinks he is doing what's best for the boy, being a stern figure, but emotionally, his attitude is taking it's toll on David. As David grows, he only gets better and eventually there are offers for David to study elsewhere in the world, including the United States. His father, not wanting to lose him, forbids him to ever take any incoming offers. Ultimately, an offer from England arrives and David is determined to accept. With a little urging from friend Katharine (Withers), David confronts his father with the news. His father reacts by beating him and telling him that if he does leave, he will no longer have a father - David leaves. In England, David's talent is only further heightened, as he is taught by the finest of professors. Eventually he tackles a very challenging piece (Rachmaninoff) and upon his acing it, has a mental breakdown and is admitted into a hospital, where he becomes a resident for many years. Later, as an adult, David is released and tries to re-enter society, under the passing care of several people, including a friend of his wife to be.


Okay, so let me take you through the experience I had with "Shine". First of all, it took me two sittings to watch it because I started it Sunday night, but then got a little too tired to continue giving it my full attention, so I retired with about an hour to go and finished it last night. So anyway, I'm watching along and it's not dragging or anything, but it's not standing out as anything particularly "must see" either. It begins to occur to me that I'm starting to dislike biopics, because they just never choose any stories other than hard luck ones. Perhaps that's why I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the Howard Stern biopic "Private Parts", because it's just a story about a guy and it's not about him carrying a cruise liner up a mountain, barefoot through broken glass, while choking on an root beer barrel. I bet you that 95% of the biopics out there are hard luck stories and they all seem to follow the same pattern, even though they're all supposed to be different, unique stories about one person's life. Hey, don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm not sympathetic to the hard luck stories in biopics, but lets just say they don't always make for good films and perhaps I'd rather be watching a documentary about the struggling person's life, or archival footage from YouTube or something. So anyway, this isn't playing out as anything different and I'm watching the clock and wondering when this Geoffrey Rush performance that I've heard so much about is going to begin. To the unaware, Heflgott's story is told through the use of three different actors portraying him and Rush is the adult version. So we have to sit through Helfgott as a child and as a teenager, before FINALLY getting to Rush, at nearly the one hour mark!

But then, Geoffrey Rush steals the show! Now, don't get me wrong, it probably wasn't enough to totally win me over or anything, but what a freaking performance and this guy truly earned his little gold statue and that's coming from a guy who loved Billy Bob Thornton as Karl Childers (also nominated that year). Look at it this way, I was quite unimpressed with this movie, yet Rush nearly got me to cry on TWO different occasions in the film: 1) When he has to say goodbye to Gillian and 2) when he himself cries, at the end, after his concert. I mean, when people talk about outstanding performances, this is what they're talking about. I'll stop gushing about it, because I can't say enough good things about it and there's no use trying. On a final note, I fount the beginning of the film to be quite odd. Why start with David knocking on the restaurant door? What was so significant about that moment in Helfgott's life that we had to start there and then meet back up there, later in the film? The only thing I can think of is because it was where he met the woman that would later introduce him to his wife, but even David's marriage is downplayed quite a bit, in the grand picture.

RATING: 6/10  And all six of those notches are for Geoffrey Rush. What a freaking performance. Must see? Yes, but without Rush, it's must avoid.


September 17, 2013  7:33pm

Sunday, September 15, 2013

901. The Usual Suspects (1995)

Running Time: 106 minutes
Directed By: Bryan Singer
Written By: Christopher McQuarrie
Main Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, Benicio del Toro
Click here to view the trailer


Taking a little break from the "Scorsese Week" festivities, to jump into reverse chronology mode again, picking up with the movie that made Bryan Singer a household name - "The Usual Suspects".

Let's see here...I suppose you people want a plot synopsis or something. Allright then. The film gets going when a truck full of guns is knocked off and five of the "usual suspects" are rounded up and hauled in for questioning. Among the five men, you've got Todd Hockney (Pollak), Michael McManus (Baldwin), his partner Fenster (del Toro), a cripple Verbal Kint (Spacey) and bad cop gone clean Dean Keaton (Byrne). As the five men sit in a prison cell, awaiting their release, they get to talking and one thing leads to another and the five men form a crew, with their first mission set in stone: get back at the police. They do this by stirring up trouble for the precinct, by uncovering "New York's Finest Taxi Service" - a crooked cop operation where members of the police escort high profile criminals around the city, in exchange for a payoff. They go on to commit another crime, before being put in touch with a lawyer named Kobayashi, a man who works directly for mystery man Keyser Soze  - a modern myth in the criminal underworld. The five know that if they cross Keyser Soze and that if he does exist, they won't live to tell about it. It all leads to a big blow up at the pier, involving some dope smugglers, a lot of cash, a lot of criminals, Keyser Soze and the usual suspects.


You know, this is probably the fifth or sixth time I've actually seen "The Usual Suspects" and despite liking it well enough, I don't think I ever need or want to see it again. It's just not one of those movies that lends itself to repeated viewings, for me anyway and no, it's not because of the twist ending. It's just something that I'll admit is very good, but something that I'm almost sick of seeing at this point, if that makes any sense. I mean, what can I say that hasn't been said about this movie. It seems that everybody likes it, everybody's seen it and whether they've seen it or not, I think everybody knows that Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze. The cat's out of the bag and it's one of those endings that isn't a secret anymore (kind of like how EVERYONE knows that Bruce Willis is dead in "The Sixth Sense").

Plot holes? Well, I can't spot any off hand, but I'm almost sure there's a few in there. But, guess what? It doesn't matter if there's plot holes, because the ending suggests that EVERYTHING we've just watched has been pretty much invented by Spacey's Kint. I mean, I'm right here, right? The entire movie is just a story as told by Verbal Kint a..k.a. Keyser Soze? That's kind of cool, but in a way it's also kind of irritating to realize that there is no ultimate solution and that there really isn't a puzzle, because it was just a story. Sure, I guess you could argue that every movie is just a story, but you know what I mean.

Here I am bashing "The Usual Suspects", saying I never want to see it again and saying that it's pointless, when I'm fully prepared to give it good points in the rating below. The film isn't bad, I promise and when you forget about the puzzle aspect of it, it's actually a pretty decent little crime caper movie. In fact, maybe that's it - maybe the part that really bugs me about the movie is that they ruined a perfectly good crime picture, with a dirty, corrupt atmosphere by surrounding it in all this mystery and Keyser Soze crap. Hmm something to think about. A good movie though, that I'm sure most will take to. Oh, who am I kidding; most already have taken to it.

RATING: 7/10  Like I said, not bad, but I have to say that this was my final viewing and I've formed a definitive opinion here.


September 15, 2013  3:38pm

Saturday, September 14, 2013

704. The King of Comedy (1983)

Running Time: 109 minutes
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Paul D. Zimmermann
Main Cast: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard, Shelley Hack
Click here to view the trailer


Okay, so the fourth anniversary of the blog has officially concluded and it's back to business as usual and the continuation of "Scorsese Week". I do, one last time, want to thank everyone who stopped by and wished me & the blog a happy birthday. Thank you. Today, we take a look at one of the first Scorsese pictures I fell in love with - "The King of Comedy".

Once again, the star of the film is Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin (perhaps my all-time favorite fictional name), a man who treats celebrities like Gods, wants to be a celebrity himself and who lives in his mother's basement. If in Rupert's mind all celebrities are to be worshiped, then the be all, end all is Jerry Langford (Lewis), host of a late-night show (ie. The Tonight Show) and someone who doesn't really want to be bothered by his fans. One evening, when Rupert assists Jerry into his car, Jerry repays Rupert by allowing him to ride along with him to his apartment. In the car, Rupert suggests that he is about to break into show business and wonders if Jerry would be interested in listening to a tape. Jerry agrees (only to get rid of Rupert) and the following day, Rupert records a tape and takes it to Jerry's offices. The tape is listened to and rejected by Cathy (Hack), Jerry's assistant and, as you can imagine, this doesn't sit well with Rupert. You see, Rupert is a little unbalanced, to say the least. This becomes no more evident than when Rupert, along with his obsessed cohort Masha (Bernhard) kidnap Jerry and tie him up, forcing him to make a call to his producer and schedule a spot for Rupert on that night's show. When Rupert makes his appearance, delivers his comedy act and it airs, Jerry will be released, but not a second sooner.


You know I really had no idea I was this in love with Robert De Niro, but here I am about to gush all over him for a fourth time. You see, this is the advantage of doing a blog, because you get to sit down and sort out all your thoughts, write them out, discuss them with others and it really pounds into your head what you like and who you like. Until this week, I sincerely never really considered myself a De Niro fan, but in the four Scorsese films I've watched thus far, I've seen four completely different Robert De Niro's and to me, that's talent. I mean it too, there was no trace of Travis in Rupert, no trace of Jake in Johnny Boy, no trace of Johnny Boy in Travis, etc, etc. These were four stellar, different performances and Rupert Pupkin is the funnest one of them all. I mean, this is a character who is just a treat to watch. Maybe it's just me, but I get a crack (a huge one) out of watching De Niro holler at his mother, telling her to please be quiet so he can record his comedy tape. It gets me every time.

What is this film about? Perhaps it's another exploration of how we build people up who have no right being built up. But it's more than that, it's also about a man who can't differentiate between reality and fantasy, who gets lost in his own head and who has SERIOUS delusions of grandeur. The idea of people worshiping celebrities, fainting at their feet, has always been a fascination of mine. I just don't get it, I guess. We see Rupert's inability to separate fact and fiction when Martin seamlessly alters back and forth between fantasy and reality, with no clue that we're going from one to the other. It's also a big clue that the ending may not be fact, but rather existing only in Rupert's head. In fact, I think it's essential that we think that, because if the ending is real, then that defeats the whole purpose of the film, which to me is that Rupert isn't funny, won't be successful and is just someone who thinks he's hilarious. Surely if Rupert was talented, Cathy and whomever listened to his tape, would've told him so, but they didn't and just sort of wanted to be rid of him. Even Rupert's act isn't funny in the slightest and I think for the ending to be reality, then the act would have to be really good and something that would've genuinely made the audience laugh. To me, it was the act of an amateur and a never will be. So in my world, either Jerry makes it back to the studio before Rupert's act airs or Rupert's act does air, it flops and he goes to jail, end of story.

The film also examines the expectations we put upon celebrities, that they have to be nice, polite and always sign our autographs, even if they're clutching their chest and claiming a heart attack. The lady who praises Jerry on the street and then seconds later wishes cancer on him always cracks me up, but also fascinates me. I feel sorry for celebs at times, how they're almost forced to live as prisoners, just because they wanted to pursue something that they were good at. How they can't even buy a gallon of milk without getting bombarded for a signature, a picture or a hug - something they probably once dreamed of, now just a hassle. The film explores a lot of fascinating ideas, holds great acting from both De Niro and Lewis, but also manages to be a laugh out loud riot. Scorsese proves with this and "After Hours" that not only can he make classics, but also classic comedies. That's versatility.

RATING: 8.5/10  I can't go '9', even though I kind of want to, because this just isn't AS GOOD as "Raging Bull". However, it's damn close.


September 14, 2013  6:50pm

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #69: Re-Animator (1985)

Running Time: 105 minutes Directed By: Stuart Gordon Written By: Dennis Paoli, William Norris, Stuart Gordon, based on the story Her...