Archive for 1988

Rain Man * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on October 11, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Barry Levinson.
Screenplay: Barry Morrow, Ronald Bass.
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, Gerald R. Molen, Jack Murdock, Michael D. Roberts, Bonnie Hunt, Ralph Seymour, Lucinda Jenney, Beth Grant, Barry Levinson.

I must have been about ten or eleven when Rain Man was released and I remember enough about this time that it was seemingly heralded as a modern classic. The fact that it went on to win several oscars – including Best Picture – would further back this up. In hindsight, it’s not the classic that its proclaimed to be but still remains a solid human drama.

Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is a self-centred car salesman who discovers that his recently deceased father has left his fortune to his older, autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) – that he didn’t know he had. In a bid to get his hands on the money, he kidnaps his brother but rather than it turning into a money making scheme, Charlie finds himself bonding with Raymond on their cross-country journey.

On the surface, Rain Man comes off as a film about family ties, responsibilities and an exploration of learning disabilities. This is true to a great extent but essentially it’s a road movie with two mismatched characters and actors. Hoffman delivers another masterful performance and one that gained him his second Best Actor Oscar after “Kramer Vs Kramer” in 1979. There’s a real sensitivity to his performance, which in turn, brings a lot of humour. The humour can sometimes come across as unintentional but that’s all the more credit to Hoffman’s abilities. As for Cruise, he’s all cocksure arrogance – like most of his performances throughout the 80’s – but he’s perfectly fitting and delivers one of the more grounded and mature performances of his career. He plays off Hoffman brilliantly and after playing alongside Paul Newman in “The Color Of Money” two years previously, this marked the second time that Cruise held his own against two of the screen greats – the two of them also on Oscar winning form at the time. Behind the camera, Levinson does an admirable job but his main strengths lie in capturing the subtleties of the performances. Anything else other than that is generic filmmaking. That’s not to say that it’s poor. It far from that, but I wonder whether it was deserving of a Best Director Oscar. Other candidates from that year included Martin Scorsese for “The Last Temptation of Christ” and Alan Parker for “Mississippi Burning“. At least two, that could arguably have taken the award. However, this is the type of material that the Academy laps up; it’s a difficult subject in highlighting the complexities of autism and although it’s one of very few film’s to tackle it, it doesn’t provide any answers and doesn’t probe as well as it should. Maybe the lack of probing is exactly the point? Autistic savants can’t be understood and it confirms that through Cruise’s frustrated character. Either way, I found that it became a little contrived and formulaic. This is a small gripe though, as the journey that these two go on is filled with humour and pathos and manages to be both touching and emotionally uplifting.

A thoughtful and affecting story that benefits from exemplary performances and great chemistry from the two leads.

Mark Walker

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Midnight Run * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Crime with tags on July 31, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Martin Brest.
Screenplay: George Gallo.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano, Wendy Phillips, Richard Foronjy, Robert Miranda, Jack Kehoe, Tom McCleister, Lois Smith, Tracey Walter, Philip Baker Hall.

Many films have tried (and failed) to combine the genres of action and comedy. They were particularly popular in the 80’s with the most successful being Walter Hill’s “48 Hrs” and Michael Ritchie’s “Fletch” and four years before this film, director Martin Brest had already delivered one the decades best in “Beverly Hills Cop“. With the studios churning them out to this day, this still stands as one of the finest of it’s kind.

In order to collect his $100,000 fee, bounty hunter (Robert DeNiro) must find and return bail jumper and former Mafia accountant (Charles Grodin) from New York to Los Angeles. What he doesn’t bargain for though, is that the F.B.I., the Mafia and another rival bounty hunter (John Ashton) are also on the trail. As problems arise on the trip back, a strange bond and friendship develop between the disparate duo.

How many films can you honestly say deliver on all fronts? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many. This, however, is definitely one of them. It has exciting action set-pieces; perfectly tuned comedy moments; it has pathos; character development from an unlikely pairing of actors and throughout it all, maintains a level of danger. Is there really anymore you can ask for?
Working from a marvellous script by George Gallo, director Martin Brest has the perfect balance on this one. He captures all the aforementioned qualities just right and shows a level of skill in his handling of the material. What makes this film work so well though, is the chemistry from it’s leads; two complete opposites but still entirely believable. Robert DeNiro is an actor that has never been taken lightly and has, rightly, received acclimations aplenty throughout his illustrious career. However, on occasion, some of his performances are slightly overlooked or maybe overshadowed by his more meatier, well known, roles like Travis Bickle, Vito Corleone or Jake LaMotta, when in fact he has several little gems that slip under the radar. This is one of them. His portrayal of bounty hunter Jack Walsh is absolutely superb, delivering an intimidating presence in his trademark style but also a friendly, lightness of touch which add layers and depth to his character. Playing the fool to DeNiro’s straight man is a wonderfully endearing but highly irritating Charles Grodin as embezzling accountant Jonathan Mardukas. His character is obsessive, intelligent and gentle of heart and they both play their roles to absolute, comic-gold, perfection. Very rarely do you get such a dissimilar pair that are so believable and work together as well as this. It’s down to these two fitting performances that the blend of comedy and action is so seamless. They’re not alone though, the rest of the cast are also given substantial supporting roles, particularly a portentous Dennis Farina as gangster Jimmy Serrano and an unscrupulous Joe Pantoliano as bail-bondsman Eddie Moscone. It’s a film that affords the time to a host of great characters and performers.
Danny Elfman’s excellent and dynamic score also helps in developing and maintaining a particular mood and style, keeping the exciting cross-country adventure from ever getting stale.
It’s an old formula that plays like a cross between John Hughes’ 1987 comedy “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and Stanley Kramer’s 1958 jail-break classic “The Defiant Ones” but it’s injected with such a poignancy and freshness that make it very hard not to be swept away with it.

I wouldn’t really say that this is a film that’s underrated as any that have seen it, tend to speak highly. It is, however, often forgotten about and has claim to be one of the most enjoyable film’s of the 80’s.

Mark Walker

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My Neighbour Totoro * * * 1/2

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on July 19, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Hayao Miyazaki.
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki.
Voices of: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Pat Carroll, Paul Butcher, Lea Salonga, Frank Welker.

Anyone familiar with the animated works of Hayao Miyazaki will be aware that he takes you into a fantasy world full of imagination and delight. I’ve managed to work my way through a lot of his film’s but this one had always eluded me. However, maybe it was my anticipation for this that left me feeling more underwhelmed than I normally am with his films.

Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei Kusakabe (Elle Fanning) are two young sisters who move to a rural house in Japan to be closer to their ailing mother in hospital. Upon their arrival, they begin to explore their new surroundings and find that there are strange little creatures who inhabit the old building and further exploration into the forest brings them closer to a giant furry sprite named Totoro, who they go magical adventures with.

Miyazaki’s film takes it’s time to get going. It starts off positively and there is an early introduction to his fantastical nature but he never fully explores it. It was more of a human drama than it was a fantasy adventure. However, no-one does it quite like Miyazaki and his film’s always possess a refreshing vitality. This still delivers on that front but isn’t as accomplished as “Spirited Away” for example. I think the main problem rests in the pace of the film; it too lethargic for children and a little too heavy on the drama. The fantasy element is wonderful when it gets going but it’s not explored as in-depth as I would have liked, leaving my concentration to wander. The fact that this is included in the IMDb top 250 is high praise indeed but it shouldn’t be held any higher than “Howl’s Moving Castle“.
I also found the English language version a little off-putting. I mean, how hard can it be to add dubbing over hand drawn animation? It’s not as if there should be a problem with lip-syncing but for some reason, this didn’t seem to fit. Speaking of the animation though, it is quite exquisitely crafted and proof that Miyazaki has been at the forefront of hand drawn material for quite some time now.

Not as entertaining as I would expect from Miyazaki but still a wonderfully endearing and affectionate tale from the hand-drawn Sensei.

Mark Walker

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