Da 5 Bloods
On the Record
I May Destroy You
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A storm blows Cabrini Circus onto agricultural scientist Pee-Wee Herman's (Paul Reubens) farmland and Pee-Wee must help ringmaster Mace Montana (Kris Kristofferson) and the gang overcome the prejudice of the local townsfolk to put on a great show. Circuses have always provided great cinematic fodder, ever since the days of Charlie Chaplin getting caught in a lion's cage sixty years earlier. Unfortunately, placing your characters in the context of a circus doesn't always produce a guaranteed winner.
Pee-Wee's character is much more abrasive in this sequel, particularly when dealing with two old ladies while trying to acquire a cheese sandwich. He's also a bit of a pervert this time around as well. Seriously, he's jumping on his fiancee Winnie (Penelope Ann Miller) every chance he gets and what's with his fetishistic attraction to hair? Even when properly meeting Gina Piccolapupula (Valeria Golino) for the first time, he ogles her cleavage until he passes out! This is not the Pee-Wee I remember from the original motion picture.
"Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" was one crazy set-up after another with very little downtime. "Big Top Pee-Wee" has long stretches where I caught myself glancing at my watch and wondering when the next moderate chuckle would arrive. So much of this film simply falls flat on its face. Vance, the talking pig, didn't seem like a good idea to me when I was young and the movie was newly released - now he's downright intolerable. Jokes about bulimia and sexual intercourse feel out of place in a Pee-Wee film. It's nice to hear Danny Elfman's returning score, but Tim Burton's creativity and outlandish style are sorely missed in the directorial chair. Randal Kleiser certainly wasn't up to the task of filling Burton's boots. Reubens' childlike innocence in "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" struck audiences as if it were a magical lightning bolt. I guess it's true what they say: lightning never strikes the same place twice.
So a few individual girls growing up in the Seventies wanted to emulate Suzi Quatro and David Bowie and wound up falling in with record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). The rest, as they say, is history. The Runaways were a famous all-female rock group filled with strong personalities made even stronger by the fact they were all so young upon uniting. Unfortunately, I kept seeing Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning instead of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. I've seen better acting from these women, both before and after "The Runaways"; acting that involved me in their performances, acting that made me forget I was watching actresses and immersed me completely in the characters they were playing. I'm not entirely sure what went wrong on this occasion. All I know for sure is, they both could have taken lessons from Shannon who is ever the consummate professional and disappears into his role of Fowley with ease.
If I had to use a single word to describe this film, it would be perfunctory. It hits all the appropriate notes, but there's no technique. It's just another sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll biopic in a long line of similar movies. Director Floria Sigismondi has obviously seen better docudramas and tries to duplicate what she saw in them without fully understanding what made the original concepts work so well. The most interesting part is Currie's breakdown and Jett's subsequent coming into her own, but it's handled so ineffectively I felt like I was watching a television movie-of-the-week.
There's nothing really surprising here. There's nothing really inventive here. It's a been there, done that, seen it all before kind of film. The Runaways had some powerful songs during the Seventies and they deserved a powerful motion picture to showcase their legacy. "The Runaways" comes as close to being cookie cutter filmmaking as I've ever seen. Perhaps in more experienced hands, this movie could have etched out a place in my memory as deep as the songs "Cherry Bomb" and "Queens of Noise" did. As it stands, I'm forgetting the film almost as fast as I watched it, which is probably a blessing.
How do you honor a rock god from a cinematic standpoint? Many filmmakers have tried to figure that out over the years and a few have come close to doing their subjects justice. However, none have come as close as Oliver Stone with his near mystical interpretation of Jim Morrison, front man for the titular band, "The Doors." This film traces Morrison's rise from the beaches of California in 1965 to his death in Paris, France in 1971. Six tumultuous years at a time when the world itself was drastically changing and the Doors were there to do their part. Stone's ability to capture cinematographic elegance had only grown since the days of "Salvador" and "Platoon," although "The Doors" could be considered the height of his visual mastery. Storyline wise, Stone lets the myth of Morrison stand on its own accord, examining Morrison's legacy only from the peripheral, which was probably the smartest choice Stone could make.
Almost thirty years after the movie's release and it's still scary how well Val Kilmer stepped into Jim Morrison's shoes. The resemblance is uncanny, from the physical appearance to the voice to the mannerisms. This is as close as any actor could come to actually embodying the masterful Lizard King. Kyle MacLachlan's Ray Manzarek was a nice counterpoint to Kilmer's lead performance. He portrays the intense focus that guides Morrison's free spirit toward destiny. When I first saw this film upon its initial release, I found it remarkable that it didn't try to capture the Sixties. Instead, it felt like it could have taken place in any era. I think that helps to convey Morrison's genius. That it is eternal in its gift. That it defies the boundaries of generation and culture and becomes an epoch of its own.
The ultimate predilection of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll in such excess that it doesn't merely elevate but destroys when there is no higher elevation to be obtained is a recurrent theme in the lives of musicians, particularly from the late Sixties. It raises interesting questions, especially in the case of Morrison. Was he a tragic figure or an unworthy icon? Did his fame and indulgence drive Jim insane or did it just turn him into an asshole? It's not a secret that Morrison could be abusive and irresponsible, but did that come naturally from within, amplified by the corrupting influence of celebrity status? Or did the weight of fame crush a sensitive genius until the burden was too much to bear and he had to lash out at those around him? Stone does his best to shine a light on these questions and I personally feel that ensures "The Doors" will remain one of the brightest spots in his own career. This is a movie that is as mind-expanding as the music that inspired its celluloid existence.
Here is a film that gets a really bad rap. Let's get real here, this is no "Citizen Kane," but it doesn't have to be. This is an erotic thriller that knows what it is and gracefully plays within the limitations of its genre. Carly Norris (Sharon Stone) is a book editor who has suffered through a bad seven-year marriage. Now, she's moving into a new apartment building while looking for something fresh and exciting. Enter Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin), the creepily voyeuristic owner of the building who takes an immediate liking to Carly. But there's also Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger) to contend with: a sleazy novelist bordering dangerously on stalker territory. It doesn't help matters that Carly is a dead ringer for the dead woman who was the previous tenant in Carly's apartment. Both Zeke and Jack each have their fair share of secrets regarding the dead woman. The question is . . . did one of them commit murder and, if so, which one?
While the eroticism isn't nearly as explicit as Stone's legendary "Basic Instinct," it's still quite arousing. Although I must admit, "Sliver" does contain one of the most unrealistic sex scenes ever filmed when Zeke the Wonder Schlong crosses a dark room, lifts up Carly's dress and artfully penetrates her from behind against a circular column quick as a bunny. Seriously . . . what an aim this guy has! Playing "poker" in the restaurant beforehand was a nice touch though.
I'm not going to say Stone was at the peak of her sensuality in this film because, let's face it, folks . . . her prime was still going on when she starred in "Fading Gigolo" two decades later. She has always been one of the hottest women on this planet and director Phillip Noyce knew how to coax a genuinely steamy performance out of her. Berenger is as reliable as ever, adding a nervous energy to his portrayal of Landsford while William (affectionately known as "the other Baldwin" for much of his career) had one of his best roles in this picture.
Noyce makes magnificent use of blue, purple, and black tones during some of the evening scenes. It feels close but not claustrophobic; intimate but not overwhelming. There's some nice tension sprinkled throughout which keeps things interesting. Not really edge-of-your-seat stuff, but good enough to keep the flow of the film brisk. There's even good use of UB40's cover version of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," which would be the band's last number one single. Overall, "Sliver" isn't going to be mistaken as a masterpiece of the silver screen. But when I want a touch of titillation blended with a decent, almost noir-ish throwback, I can think of a lot worse films I could choose than this.
Paralyzed crime scene specialist Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington) helps up-and-coming rookie Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) track down a serial killer who harbors an ulterior motive. Okay, so the synopsis for the film is easy to grasp. However, I'm not quite sure what this film wants to be. It's not gruesome enough to be a horror film. It's not structured soundly enough to be an effective mystery. It's both too technical to be a straight drama and too sloppy to belong to the police procedural genre. Director Phillip Noyce was at the helm of much better movies ("Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger" leap to mind immediately) that one would have thought he would imbue his expertise into what could have been a gripping thriller. Sadly, that's not the case at all.
This film features a cast which should have been at the peak of their powers, yet Queen Latifah is highly ineffectual and Ed O'Neill seems to be sleepwalking through his role. Luis Guzman has his usual charm but isn't given enough screen time and Leland Orser . . . well, he tries his best but his character is beyond what Orser is able to convey. Both Michael Rooker and second-billed Jolie appear to be phoning in their roles, and Jolie is the biggest disappointment because she had recently given some incredible performances in films like "Gia" and "Foxfire" - and would go on to give one of the finest performances of her career in "Girl, Interrupted" which was released a few short months after "The Bone Collector." Washington seems to recognize he's leading the cast on his own and simply isn't capable of carrying the entire production on his shoulders.
Another drawback is that the pacing for this film is absolutely glacial. Two hours is about thirty minutes too long for what this screenplay has to offer. Sure, there's a sense of urgency prevalent in many scenes. But that sense of urgency is always doled out in a nice, even, average measure, never heightening even in its final act. I guess that appropriately sums up the picture itself: it's a nice, even, average film and nothing more. It stands on the same level as hundreds of other thrillers from its decade, never differentiating itself from the crowd. Unless you're a Denzel Washington super fan, I just can't recommend "The Bone Collector."
There's an old urban legend where a man wakes up in the bathtub of a strange hotel to find his kidney missing. This film begins in much the same manner, the only difference being what has been removed from John Murdoch is a lot more precious than his kidney . . . it's his memory. If you have ever questioned what came before "The Matrix" thematically, "Dark City" is the answer. A group of beings known collectively as "The Strangers" have created a closed-off world where they can study the human race in an effort to learn about the concept of the soul. Changing the memories of the city's inhabitants as easily as most people would change clothes - all in the name of expediting their research - they run across one individual who has become resistant to their methods and has decided to fight back.
While this is certainly an original, inventive idea, I have to say that "The Matrix" took the hypothesis one step further and overshadowed "Dark City" in the process. This is nothing against Alex Proyas's film though, as it is a delight on its own merit. Rufus Sewell plays the appropriately puzzled Murdoch well with the ever-reliable Jennifer Connelly standing in as his love interest. Kiefer Sutherland makes a creepy doctor who holds allegiance to "The Strangers" and the vastly underrated Richard O'Brien plays the malignant Mr. Hand as no one else could. The design of the sets and the visual effects is superb, although they were a bit too dimly lit in a few places for my taste.
As good as the film is, I think the basic idea behind "Dark City" is much larger than the motion picture itself could properly convey to its audience. I'm not sure if this was due to budgetary restraints or the limitations of its authors, but the movie felt like it was lacking in several aspects. I would have liked to know more about "The Strangers" prior to the creation of the city. I would have liked to see more interaction between these alien beings as well. Keeping them at arm's length to the audience might have seemed like a good notion at the time, but the overall effect somewhat hampers the presentation. A side note, another film was obviously inspired by "Dark City" - one of Connelly's own two years later - as the visual elements of the dock sequence overlooking the ocean appears to have been lifted directly from this film and implanted into "Requiem for a Dream." Well, influence makes the art world go 'round, I suppose.
A good horror film should grab you early and, try as it might, this one just doesn't succeed. It begins as it ends: a jumbled mess of half-hearted ideas thrown at a wall to see which ones stick. Brian Yuzna directed some wonderful guilty pleasures from the late Eighties to the early Nineties. By this point in his career, it would seem his inspiration was abandoning him. This film is filled with generic casting, poor lighting choices, lackluster editing, and a distinct lack of innovation in the cinematography department which doesn't really surprise me coming from Jacques Haitkin who crapped out after 1989's "Shocker." There's also a grating hard rock soundtrack that induces headaches rather than generates atmosphere.
John Jaspers' (a ridiculously hammy Mark Frost) illegal immigrant girlfriend is murdered before his eyes so he sells his soul to M(ephistopheles) to gain the power of revenge. Finding himself caught in M.'s web of evil, Jaspers tries to turn on his devilish master and set things right with the help of prison psychologist Jade de Camp (Isabel Brook). This modern update of the Faustian legend feels every ounce the bad graphic novel it was based upon, right down to the Wolverine-wannabe Jaspers with his metal claws.
Andrew Divoff (as M.) and Jeffrey Combs (as a police lieutenant) are absolutely wasted within this paltry material. It wouldn't be so bad if the incredibly useless plot was bolstered by some decent special effects. Sadly, the effects are so laughably horrible they haven't invented bad enough terms to describe their awfulness. After Jaspers has been buried, there are some cheapo effects involving skeletons that look like they must have cost the production a whole $1.99 which leads to Jaspers' "demonic" resurrection in a costume that might . . . MIGHT . . . double that price. You want to see something really terrible? Watch the effects when M. makes his assistant's breasts and bottom grow to ludicrous proportions. It is so ineptly created one wonders how the filmmakers ever acquired jobs in the industry to begin with. This is the kind of film where, once it's over, you're left asking yourself why you wasted so much of your time watching this schlock.
I once heard someone say that beauty plus popularity meant wanting to be bedded by everyone you met. I think Asia Argento, in her feature-length directorial debut, has illustrated that concept exquisitely. Drawing from her own experiences, Asia has created a daring and honest - if not always accessible - film that explores the hectic, exhausting, and often isolating world of an actress who wants more out of life. There's a fine line between what a person chooses to do and what they have forced upon them and that's another heartbreaking reality Asia tries to examine with "Scarlet Diva." It can truly be said when you stand in the spotlight, you stand alone and are surrounded by shadows. At first, fame is seen as an alluring realm of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll but when the sparkle dulls, we're left with the harsh pleasures and even harsher pitfalls of celebrity status.
Anna Battista (Argento) is an actress who wants to be a director, but who suddenly finds her priorities changing when she becomes pregnant after a steamy one night stand with musician Kirk Vaines (Jean Shepard). Her life is filled with, shall we say, interesting exploits from finding her friend Veronica (Vera Gemma) tied up in an apartment for two days after having an argument with her boyfriend to having a brief lesbian tryst with a woman (Selen) she can't remember to being chased down a hotel hallway by a naked, overly amorous producer (Joe Coleman) to almost drowning in a swimming pool while high on drugs. Toss in a few frenetic flashbacks to a broken childhood and you have the beginnings of a fascinating film.
Argento seems deeply involved in her role as Anna, but I hate to say that she doesn't have her father's eye for visuals nor his stylish cinematic presence from the directorial chair. She focuses more on substance and performance which, while there's certainly nothing wrong with that, doesn't help the threadbare nature of "Scarlet Diva." This is a film that screams out for flair and pomp. The authentic quality of the screenplay makes for a solid motion picture but in other hands, this film could have been so much more. On a side note I must give Argento credit for making incredible use of Nina Simone's "Wild is the Wind."
I realize I'm in the minority with my opinion, but here we have a movie that I feel is blinded by its own patriotism and its own importance. The screenplay feels like it's going through the motions far superior films have already set. There's never any real suspense given to the ultimate outcome. It feels like a foregone conclusion from the moment the catalyst event of the motion picture arrives. There are no real heroes in this picture; the same way there are no real villains. That middle-of-the-road mentality might work well for art house pictures that hold no lofty aspirations of dealing with topics of global annihilation. However, for a mainstream movie of this nature, the blurring of the boundaries is more annoying than revealing of its characters natures.
Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman seem to be chewing the scenery instead of performing within the backdrop the scenery supposedly creates. Gone are the subtleties we have seen from both men over the previous years. They are simply thrust into a situation which has all the right technical proficiencies for naval operations and none of the heart that our armed forces display on a regular basis. Visually the film is too claustrophobic, even before we follow our stars down into the belly of the submarine. Hackman addressing his men in the rain is a prime example of that. I'm guessing the filmmakers thought this would give the movie atmosphere but the limited visual scope just seems stale.
We had seen so much better from director Tony Scott at this point. His optical aesthetics were displayed to maximum effect in films like "The Hunger" and "Days of Thunder." His ability to coax high quality performances out of his cast members seems to have taken a temporary vacation on this outing. There's too much competition in the submarine subgenre of cinema that makes "Crimson Tide," to me, seem average at best. If I want to be crammed like a sardine into a tin can for two hours - or more - I'll take "Das Boot" (or any number of other submarine-based motion pictures) over "Crimson Tide" any day of the week.
So what if Brian De Palma's best days were behind him? That doesn't mean he was incapable of turning out some acceptably enjoyable motion pictures. Here, a daring heist performed during the Cannes Film Festival kicks off a twist and turn-filled thriller after criminal Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn) double crosses her partners to save the victim of the theft from being killed. While on the run, Laure is mistaken for a suicidal widow and uses her doppelganger's death to cover her tracks. Meeting a high-powered businessman (Peter Coyote) on a plane bound for America, all things seem to be working out for Laure.
Flash forward seven years later and an ex-paparazzo (Antonio Banderas) lured into one more well paying job takes Laure's photograph, as she has become wife to the businessman-turned-ambassador and is trying to keep her past hidden. Unfortunately for her, once the photograph is made public, her ex-partners know where she is and are out for revenge. Now, Laure will have to hatch a devious plan and she might just be willing to put everyone else in danger in order to save her own skin.
A box office bomb upon its initial release, it's not quite as bad as many have made it out to be over the years. This is a visually sumptuous film, buoyed by De Palma's sparse use of split screen which feels like a throwback to the cinema of old. Romijn is certainly believable as a sexy seductress of a criminal. The striptease she performs near the end of the film is the best of its decade and the hottest mainstream erotic dance since Jamie Lee Curtis turned Arnold Schwarzenegger on in "True Lies" eight years earlier. Banderas is good in his role, although one gets the feeling he could have been capable of more given a larger opportunity.
Therein lies the major problem that weights "Femme Fatale" down - we're given all of the information we need to follow the film and yet it still feels somehow empty. We move from one plot point to the next, but there's no flow between the scenes. They're like snapshots taken from Banderas's camera - they're nice to look at but you suspect there's more in between the photographs that you'd like to see. I feel the same way about this film. It's a good piece, but if the characters were given more room to develop, I think the aforementioned twists and turns would have had more impact and "Femme Fatale" would have ranked higher in De Palma's body of work.
Whenever I want a return to a simpler time, I pick up a comedy from the Forties and melt my cares away with its cordial humor and traditionalist values. The fourth film in the long-running "Road to . . ." series from Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, "Road to Utopia" focuses on two vaudeville stars who perform a charlatan magic act that swindles the audience out of their hard-earned cash. Thinking the heat is on them, they hop an ocean liner (only one of them willingly) bound for Alaska to prospect gold.
One of the things I like best about the "Road" pictures is the subtle breaking of the fourth wall. Take the "shortcut to Studio 10" sequence as our protagonists are shoveling coal in the engine room of the ocean liner after not having enough money to pay their fare. I also like the way the sound drops out when Hope is trying to let the audience know what he really thinks of one of the villains and Crosby says "I told you they wouldn't let you say that." Perhaps the greatest zinger Hope ever gave Crosby is in this motion picture when, after failing to win a talent contest aboard the ocean liner, Hope tells Crosby that next time he's bringing Sinatra. The occasional narration by Robert Benchley at the request of the studio is also a welcome addition of comedic expertise.
Crosby and Hope's rapid-fire interplay keeps the film light and breezy but it's not without its problems. There's a sequence when Hope unwittingly romances a bear which is very, very cute . . . which is what a lot of the situational comedy can be called in this film: "cute." I much prefer true screwball humor in my comedies, which is why I will forever be a Marx Brothers man. Another issue I have is that while Crosby was one of my favorite singers in the movies of the Forties, a couple of the songs here felt like they were forced into the picture just to give him something to sing. They don't actually help move the plot forward and they seem like side trips off the beaten path that leads to an overly abrupt conclusion. Still, I can think of far worse ways to spend your cinematic time. What works really works well and what doesn't work isn't enough to keep this picture from being an enjoyable ninety minute romp.
Perhaps one of very few true geniuses to exist in the silent era of cinema, Charles Chaplin knew how to work a camera. His facial expressions were among the best ever conceived and his timing was impeccable. His gift for setting up outrageous visual sequences and making them believable was unsurpassed. Take, for example, the seesawing cabin perched precariously on the edge of a steep cliff. The coordination between Chaplin and Mack Swain to make the initially unrealized threat seem both legitimate and hilarious is astonishing in its detail.
Then there's the influence Chaplin left on the industry. "The Gold Rush" contains a famous moment when Chaplin sticks forks into two dinner rolls and uses them as feet to perform a dance routine on the table top. I was aware of this sequence when I was a small boy, well before the name Chaplin ever crossed my impressionable young mind. There's also the remarkably funny gag which finds Swain's character envisioning Chaplin as an oversized chicken. Surely this was a great influence on the "Looney Tunes" cartoon "Wackiki Wabbit" in which two shipwreck survivors visualize each other as food.
Chaplin also knew how to spot talent outside of his own. I can't imagine anyone playing the role of Big Jim McKay as well as Swain and Georgia Hale makes a wonderful love interest for Chaplin's "little tramp" character. Each person fits well with each of their surrounding co-stars in a way most films can only dream of accomplishing. It's easy to see why, after one hundred years have passed since the start of his career, Charles Chaplin is still a name said with reverence in cinematic circles.
Many cinematic enthusiasts go into this film with the wrong mind-set. They are expecting to see a typical Dario Argento horror classic and they don't understand that this is perhaps one of the finest minimalist satires of its decade. Argento had already produced a serious version of Gaston Leroux's famous tale in the form of 1987's "Opera." Now, the Italian legend was out to gently skewer pop culture, showing us a side of himself his fans had not been privy to previously. This ain't your granddaddy's "Phantom" . . . this Phantom is a miserly telepathic mesmerist which is certainly a unique first.
There are a lot of little touches which illustrate the fact Argento is winking at his audience. The child being abandoned in the sewer, to be raised by rats instead of penguins as in "Batman Returns." The character of Christine Daae taking the stage at the empty opera house brings to mind Diva Plavalaguna from "The Fifth Element." Seriously, watch the two sequences back-to-back and tell me you don't see the similarities between the exaggerated arm movements and the hitting of the impossible high notes.
How about the hilarious moment when the head rat catcher tries to keep his hand from entering the trap? The bird that makes the "woo woo" sound when Alfred and Paulette are getting it on? The biting out of Paulette's tongue which references star Julian Sands's own "Warlock" film from 1989? The waterlogged argument over the more important poetic influence, Rimbaud or Baudelaire? And you still want to tell me this isn't supposed to be a comedy presentation?
Add to that the dwarf-riding rat killing machine which looks like a cross between something that came out of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and one of the torture devices from Tinto Brass's "Caligula" and the "Looney Tunes"-like puff of dust Carlotta emits after being cold-cocked by the pillar and the laughs are definitely piling up. In fact, the only thing one should truly take seriously from this film is the fantastic score composed by Ennio Morricone. There's still plenty of blood and guts for the gorehounds but whenever I want some smiles attached to my tale of terror, I know I can rely on this motion picture to provide me with a few.
Here we have a tale that is as old as the Twentieth century and . . . and . . . okay, bad analogy. Seriously though, who here has never heard of the opera house-haunting Phantom - that mysterious, disfigured individual who develops an unhealthy fascination with an operatic understudy (in this case the lovely Christine Daae) and does everything in his power to possess her? Of course Christine has a lover (in the form of Vicomte Raoul de Chagny) and her continued meetings with him may seal her fate in the eyes of the jealous Phantom. A German version of "The Phantom of the Opera" was released in 1916, only six years after Gaston Leroux's novel, but has since become a lost film, making this 1925 motion picture the earliest surviving cinematic copy of the tale.
Filmmakers were still learning what kind of power the visual medium held and director Rupert Julian was one of the more underrated innovators in that field. He gives his camera its own persona, static though it may be, which is almost as creepy as the titular character. The night the chandelier comes down in the Paris Opera House (particularly when the crowd goes running for the exits) and the centerpiece masquerade ball look like something out of a D. W. Griffith epic. Let's face it, folks . . . if you have to incorporate styles from other directors, the least you can do is emulate the best. The use of two-tone color in the aforementioned masquerade ball (red and green) and its subsequent bridging rooftop conversation (red and blue) is an inspired touch that adds greater depth to an already visually stunning masterpiece. The set pieces within the claustrophobic catacombs and terrifying torture chambers beneath the opera house are some of the finest any silent film would ever use.
However, in the end, the most impressive aspect of this film is its star - Lon Chaney. The horrific physical transformation he performs on his face originally left a larger impact on my startled young psyche than any stitched-together science experiment or gruesomely burned child molester could. There are some roles legendary actors will always be associated with no matter what other triumphs they have scattered throughout their career . . . and for good reason. They so owned these characters, they breathed so much life into these characters, that they will never be forgotten by true cinephiles regardless of how many other movie adaptations exist. Lon Chaney will forever be the Phantom against which all others are measured.
After being pimped out by her former employer, forward-thinking secretary Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) begins working for friendly-on-the-surface mergers and acquisitions agent Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). But when Tess accidentally discovers that her new boss is planning on stealing her idea, Tess takes advantage of a golden opportunity (Katharine breaking her leg in a skiing accident) to make a name for herself . . . even if she has to bend a few rules to do so. However, when she begins to fall in love with potential business partner Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) - and then finds out Jack is Katharine's soon-to-be-ex-flame - things become more complicated than she could have imagined.
This is the kind of nice, pleasant comedy drama you might watch on a rainy afternoon. Griffith is suitably charming in her lead role. Ford is ever the dashing love interest in his. Weaver rounds off the triangle with her deliciously underhanded (albeit all too briefly seen) performance. And that is the biggest problem this film suffers from: all of the sharp edges have been rounded off. It's too gentle of a love story to turn the business world on its head and yet it's too reliant upon its corporate plot to be a breezy "meet cute" of a movie. It's not sexy enough. It's not scathing enough. It's not insightful enough. It's not romantic enough. It simply doesn't stand out enough.
It feels like the film is being torn apart by its two halves and it should have picked one direction to travel in instead of splitting itself in two. With Griffith and Weaver taking the wheel, they could have steered this film down a road of sarcastic humor and biting lessons in business etiquette that would have been far more interesting without the shoe-horned romantic subplot. Conversely, had this gone the direct romantic route and focused solely on Griffith's failing relationship with supporting cast member Alec Baldwin by finding solace in the arms of Ford, this could have been a deeply passionate love story that would have ignited silver screens around the world.
In the end, it's still a slightly above average time waster that disappoints mostly due to the fact that we've seen better films from director Mike Nichols. Nichols seems to be standing in the middle of the aisle, playing it safe for his own corporate masters in the movie industry. It's hard to believe this is the same filmmaker who gave us the counter cultural classic "The Graduate" or the caustic "Catch-22." Maybe I'm to blame for wanting more from the movie than Nichols and inexperienced screenwriter Kevin Wade were willing to give.
Money easily made is money easily lost, or so the old adage goes, and yet there will always be people who are suckered into the dream of becoming rich overnight. In this film, Bud Fox is one of those people. He has talent, he has ambition, he has brains, and yet when confronted by the cold, hard reality of quick cash, Bud Fox folds like an origami swan. Michael Douglas won a well-deserved Academy Award for this, his best performance to date. He has created a slimy character in the form of Gordon Gekko, a man who honestly believes the underhanded activities he promotes are not only a profitable necessity but a patriotic mandate to boot. Gekko's perception of a free market society versus a democratic society is one of the most outstanding cinematic monologues outlining the idea of wealth dominating humanity.
Douglas doesn't walk away with the entire show though. Charlie Sheen (as Bud Fox) really comes into his own with this film. "Platoon" gave him the opportunity to shine; "Wall Street" gave him the balls to stretch himself farther than I ever thought he'd be capable. It's a shame to see how far he has fallen since this film. Charlie's father Martin also steals his own portion of the spotlight in a role that should have won him his own Academy Award. His tense stare down with his son in an elevator was magnificent. For her part, Daryl Hannah is one of the most underrated actresses of her generation. She always had a tendency to be shoved into the role of the woman with a pretty face ("Splash," "Roxanne," etc.) and she always had a penchant to instill a vitality and an intellect into those roles far beyond what was written for them.
Director Oliver Stone apparently could do no wrong during the latter half of the Eighties. Between this film, "Salvador," "Platoon," "Talk Radio," and "Born on the Fourth of July," Stone crafted a viciously insightful catalog of must-see cinema, shredding every outmoded concept he came across. Stones captures the pompous charisma of high-level stock trading and peels apart the layers until we're left with the unflattering truth. "Wall Street" will always rank high on my list of favorite films from 1987. Maybe it will become one of your favorites, too.
There's weird for the sake of being entertaining and then there's weird simply for the sake of being weird. Unfortunately, "Tromeo and Juliet" falls under the latter half of that statement. I've been a fan of Troma films for a long time. From "Bloodsucking Freaks" to "Class of Nuke 'em High," I've been impressed by their resistance to both normalcy and complacency. I love the fact that they have pushed every envelope set before them. They were one of the best cult motion picture makers of their age. However, by the time the mid-Nineties rolled around, they were starting to wear a bit thin.
Some of the girls are cute, some of the jokes are uproarious, and some of the film is enjoyable. It was a stroke of genius to hire metal god Lemmy Kilmister as the film's narrator and both Will Keenan and Sean Gunn are two of the best actors featured in a Troma production during the decade. The idea of warping one of Shakespeare's finest plays to fit the Troma mold is another winner. Sadly, the promise just doesn't live up to the premise.
Too often I found myself sighing, wondering when the film was going to end. The ribald humor that actually worked arrived fewer and farther between as the movie wore on. The climax felt like a mishmash of good concepts crammed together to form a finished picture that was significantly less than the sum of its parts. I hate to say it, but by 1996, Troma's best days were behind them.
As far as opening montages go, the one which begins our 2014 Muppet outing is one of the best and features a song ("We're Doing a Sequel") which conjures up images of the classic late Seventies/early Eighties period in Muppet history. While the opening is a true return to form, the idea of an evil Kermit doppelganger named Constantine is brilliantly modern. Escaped criminal Constantine takes over Kermit's role in the Muppets to use as a front for pulling off a series of large jewelry heists. Kermit, on the other, is forced to take over Constantine's position in a Siberian gulag where he is coerced into directing the annual prison revue.
Now that their popularity was riding high again, it felt like the pressure was off for "Muppets Most Wanted." They could relax a bit, stretch out a little, generally they could have more honest fun with the screenplay instead of feeling like they were taking it to seriously (as in the 2011 "The Muppets"). Does that make this the better film? Well, no . . . it's fairly equal to the '11 outing but it's enjoyable for different reasons.
New Muppet Walter is still a unifying factor for our familial group even though his screen time has been considerably lessened from the last film. However, this works to the character's advantage as he feels like he belongs to the Muppet inner circle instead of being a stranger dwelling on the fringes. The talents of human actors Ricky Gervais and Tiny Fey are more suited to their Muppet co-stars than Jason Segel and Amy Adams were in the 2011 motion picture. The guest spots are funnier as well, particularly those of Christoph Waltz and Danny Trejo. The soundtrack doesn't leave me cold like the 2011 film did either. I'd even go so far as to say that the song "I'm Number One" would have worked well within the confines of the classic songs Paul Williams wrote for "The Muppet Movie" and "The Muppet Christmas Carol." Not everyone will like this film, but I personally enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed "The Muppets" and I would love to see another theatrical sequel made soon.
Things I never thought I'd see in my life: a puppet cow being orgiastically milked by a puppet octopus. Yeah, that ranks right up there. A former puppet police detective named Phil Phillips has to rejoin his ex-LAPD partner Connie Edwards to solve a case revolving around the murders of a popular television show called "The Happytime Gang" which has just signed a ten million-dollar syndication deal. I've seen this film take a lot of flack and I'll be the first to admit, it's not a good motion picture by any stretch of the imagination. However, I'll also be the first to admit that I was never once bored while watching the film either.
Relying heavily on shock value instead of honest jocularity was the production's biggest mistake. You have Melissa McCarthy in your cast for crying out loud and you've basically relegated her to a straight woman role. Shocks wear off quickly - seeing a puppet vagina on screen is not going to be as surprising in this day and age as the makers of the film expected - but real humor stays with a viewer long after the movie is over. There's just nothing here that made me laugh. It genuinely felt like "The Happytime Murders" wanted to be a traditional cop yarn and I find that more appalling than any crude puppet sex maniac or sugar-sniffer populating the cast. This material was so ripe for parody. If the jokes had been there, "The Happytime Murders" could have been more than a mere blip on the cinematic radar screen.
Walter is a fan of the Muppets. Actually, one might be more inclined to label him as a Muppet super fan. To the point where it could be considered obsessive. Let's face it, folks . . . Walter is fast approaching the "get me to a psychologist NOW" territory. So when a rich oil baron decides he's going to tear down Muppet studios in order to reach the oil beneath, it's up to Walter, his brother Gary (Jason Segel), and Gary's girlfriend (Amy Adams) to help Kermit the Frog reunite the Muppet gang and hold a telethon to save their studio. It's a solid premise and the Muppet players are welcome back on the big screen. However, the production is not without its problems.
First and foremost, in my opinion, are the musical performances. Most of the songs are instantly forgettable and only serve to slow up an otherwise tightly paced motion picture. Even the return of "The Rainbow Connection" feels out of place; like a carbon copy of the original performed by a well-meaning cover band who just can't quite hit the right notes. "Life's a Happy Song" is particularly repugnant with its exceedingly cutesy attempts at charming its audience. Most of the music in this film has neither the toe-tapping catchiness of "Can You Picture That" nor the heart of "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday" that imbued the original 1979 Muppet outing with such warmth and memorability. Only Kermit himself comes out looking like a frog prince with his sincere-sounding "Pictures in My Head."
The choice of human actors left me a bit befuddled as well. Neither Segel nor Chris Cooper (as the oil baron) really added anything with their presence. Any actor could have been shoved into their roles and had about as much lasting effect. Jack Black is the only real exception to that rule, playing a kidnapped celebrity the Muppets use as guest host of their telethon. Black plays off his captors beautifully, especially during the "Head Bowling" routine and the barbershop quartet sequence. At least the Muppets are the Muppets we have always loved and enjoyed. They have the same crisp, witty dialogue that has made them enjoyable for more than four decades now. Even Walter makes an amiable addition to the Muppet family by the end of the film. Leaving aside the songs and the human performers, this movie is still strong enough to be the best Muppet film since Gonzo the Great donned the duds of Charles Dickens in 1992.
With the nostalgia factor ramped up to maximum and an admirable moral of believing in yourself, "The Muppets" - for the most part - delivered a fresh and wholesome alternative to the kind of "Fast and Furious" bombast and "Saw" gruesomeness that audiences had been subjected to on a near-regular basis. It's nice to know that Jim Henson's greatest creations can still find a place for themselves in the cinematic world.