Archive for 1995

Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on April 22, 2013 by Mark Walker

20130422-150435.jpg

Director: Gary Fleder.
Screenplay: Scott Rosenberg.
Starring: Andy Garcia, Christopher Walken, Treat Williams, Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nunn, Steve Buscemi, Gabrielle Anwar, Fairuza Balk, Jack Warden, Bill Cobbs, Michael Nicolosi, Marshall Bell, Glenn Plummer, Josh Charles, Sarah Trigger, Don Stark, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Don Cheadle.

Post Quentin Tarantino and “Reservoir Dogs” there was an influx of stylish and fast-talking crime movies. It became the fad during the 90’s and beyond. “True Romance“, “Pulp Fiction” and “The Usual Suspects” were another few. Some fell by the way side while others genuinely succeeded and “Things To Do In Denver…” is one of those films that creates a positive, lasting memory. Crime escapades and colourful characters are what this film has in abundance.

In order to fund his small business, Jimmy the Saint (Andy Garcia) is in debt to lone sharks. However, his debt is bought over by an old venomous cohort from the past (Christopher Walken) who drags Jimmy back into a life of crime and orders him to scare off the new boyfriend of the ex-fiancée of the boss’s simple-minded son and heir. Jimmy assembles a tight-knit crew to keep the job simple but things don’t go to plan, leaving him and his friends with contracts on their heads.

As the lively and spirited Tom Waits song “Jockey Full of Bourbon” is played overhead we are introduced to our suave, confident, wheeler/dealer protagonist ‘Jimmy the Saint‘ and given an almost instant idea of this films stylish intentions. Like Jimmy, this film moves fast and talks fast. However, this isn’t strictly down to him. Where this film succeeds is not just in one particular character or it’s particularly cool demeanour. Where it succeeds, is in it’s plethora of interesting and delicately written supporting roles and a whole hot of quality actors to embody them. A lot of them get limited screen time but it’s still a testament to the writing qualities of Scott Rosenberg who manages to give them enough of a backstory to make them stand out and the actors bring the right amount of presence required for us to invest in them. The real standouts from Jimmy’s crew are: Christopher Lloyd’s leper – nicknamed ‘Pieces’ on account of his fingers and toes falling off from a circulatory disease and a completely on-edge Treat Williams as ‘Critical Bill’ – a psychopath, who can’t seem to stop harming people. He even uses funeral parlour corpses as punchbags to relieve his tension. There is also excellent support in Christopher Walken’s crippled mob leader ‘The Man With The Plan’, who’s so ruthless, he even threatens to have his henchmen pull out his “dead dick” for Jimmy to suck on. He’s a lamentable nasty but one that Walken excels at, and all the more, because he acts only from the neck up. On the sidelines – but no less memorable – is Steve Buscemi’s clinical hitman ‘Mr. Shhh’, who’s brought in to despatch of Jimmy and his crew. Buscemi gets the least amount of dialogue and screen time but anyone familiar his role in “The Big Lebowski” will know that this is never a problem for him to still make a lasting impression.
At times, there is an elusive nature to the sharply written dialogue and the characters’ use of a distinctive vocabulary but it only helps to convey a strong bond and understanding between them. On closer inspection, their patois is explained and the camaraderie and altercations throughout the film are driven by paying as much as attention as it does, to such a vernacular approach.

Fast talking dialogue with fast and colourful characters in the fast and dangerous Denver underbelly. This film has the goods to satisfy fans of the crime genre and manages just the right amount of cool that Quentin Tarantino made his name on. An overlooked and thoroughly entertaining addition to the genus.

Mark Walker

20130422-150458.jpg

Casino * * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on April 8, 2013 by Mark Walker

20130408-143045.jpg

Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Nicholas Pileggi.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, James Woods, Frank Vincent, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, L. Q. Jones, Dick Smothers, Melissa Prophet, John Bloom, Pasquale Cajano, Vinny Vella, Frankie Avalon.

Five years after delivering one the mob genre’s finest films in “GoodFellas“, director Martin Scorsese reunited with screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi and several of the same actors – mainly Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci – to focus on another true-life crime story. This time he takes it away from the mean streets of New York and focuses on the deserts of Las Vegas. The results may be highly similar but they’re just as impressive.

Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert DeNiro) is a smooth and ambitious type that moves out to Las Vegas to become the operator of the Tangiers Casino. Things go well for him until his volatile childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) arrives to get in on the action and Sam falls in love with conniving, unbalanced and untrustworthy, showgirl Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone). Before long, a cycle of drugs and violence ensues while Sam struggles to hold onto his casino license and the mob back home are less than happy with the results.

The hallmarks of Scorsese’s style and structure – that were so prevalent in “GoodFellas” – are all on show again here. He has his usual reliable cast, delivering voiceover narrations that take us through the events and there is regular use of classic tracks from The Rolling Stones. His directorial techniques and are also on show; from flash-cuts to freeze-frames, crash zooms and montages. In other words, Scorsese is doing it all over again and it’s these very techniques and stylistic flourishes that have drawn some criticism Casino’s way for being too similar to his aforementioned crime classic. To some extent, I can understand these gripes. There is definitely a feeling of repetition and lack of originality in it’s approach. The most obvious comparison being the casting of Joe Pesci. As good as Pesci is (and he is very good) it may have served Scorsese better to cast someone else in that role. The character is too similar to Pesci’s Oscar winning Tommy DeVito. I’d liked to have seen (another Scorsese regular) Harvey Keitel, for example, just to mix things up a bit and he’s proven beforehand that he’s an actor that plays off DeNiro very well. That being said, there is an argument of ‘if it ain’t broke, dont fix it’. It does tread old ground and doesn’t really bring anything fresh to the table but it’s old ground that’s worth treading again. Where Scorsese does succeed, is in his casting of DeNiro. In “GoodFellas“, DeNiro was underused but here he delivers some solid work. He has a less showy role than those around him, making it easy to overlook just how effortless he is. He’s rarely offscreen for the entire 3 hours of the film and shows an absolutely commanding reservation. Other great inclusions in the cast are a weasel like James Woods and a surprisingly outstanding Sharon Stone. She takes a back seat in the early stages but when she properly enters the fray, she delivers a very powerful and layered performance and the convincing catalyst for the unravelling of the characters’ indulgent lifestyles. She was rightfully Oscar nominated for her work here and very unlucky not to win. It’s a testament to these committed performances and Scorsese’s expertise that this film still manages to stand alone as a very fine piece of cinema in it’s own right. Added to which, the lavish production design by Dante Ferretti and Robert Richardson’s sublime cinematography bring the whole glitz, glamour and corruption of Las Vegas to fruition.

An enthralling and intimate portrayal of the decline of the mob in the 1970’s. It may not be as tightly constructed as “GoodFellas” but how many film’s are or ever will be? If this is the only criticism that can be appointed to Casino then there’s no point criticising at all. Another superb addition to Scorsese’s canon.

Mark Walker

20130408-143130.jpg

Heat * * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on April 26, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120426-170610.jpg

Director: Michael Mann.
Screenplay: Michael Mann.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Tom Sizemore, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Kevin Gage, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Danny Trejo, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Tom Noonan, Hank Azaria, Henry Rollins, Tone Loc, Jeremy Piven, Xander Berkeley, Martin Ferrero, Bud Cort.

When this was released in 1995, most people believed it to be an original idea. It wasn’t. It was actually a more fleshed out and elborate version of Michael Mann’s 80’s TV movie “L.A. Takedown“. He obviously didn’t have the budget or the actors, to realise his vision at this time, so with a second chance, Mann grabs it with both hands and both of the best actors in the business.

Professional and precise thief Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) lives by a strict code and doesn’t take chances. He has a tight-knit crew that takedown big jobs for big money but he ends up drawing the attention of determined and obsessive robbery/homicide cop Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). The two of them have more in common than one might think and as their worlds draw closer, they are led to an inevitable confrontation.

At it’s core, “Heat” can be viewed as an old fashioned cops-and-robbers tale but it’s done with such vastness and great attention to detail that it rises above most, if not all, of the genre. It not only focuses on the the lives of the two main characters – at opposite ends of the moral scale – but it pays attention to the city and environment in which they operate. What almost overshadowed the storyline, was the anticipation of seeing DeNiro and Pacino share the screen for the first time (They were both in “The Godfather part II” but never had any scenes together). Comparisons between their acting styles will obviously be made and without focusing too much on their different approaches, I found DeNiro’s more subtle, calculating delivery far more convincing than Pacino’s tendency to overact with random, explosive outbursts, bellowing at everyone he meets. There, I said it. However, the film is far more than just these two great actors. It’s a multi-layered character study and the supporting roles, particularly Sizemore and Kilmer (in a role originally intended for Keanu Reeves) are given a substantial amount of work and the female parts of Venora, Brenneman and Judd play a massive part in shaping the leads also. We are given a glimpse into their home lives and the struggle they all face in maintaining a ‘normal’ life – when it goes against their nature. The actors are all given roles to work with, allowing us to identify and care about them. It’s because of this, that when the action is delivered, it’s edge of your seat stuff. There are three great ‘Getaway’ scenes from movies that I found particularly powerful; Kathryn Bigelow’s “Point Break” had Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze (on foot) running through suburban houses and backyards; The opening of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” had Ryan Gosling (in a car) careening and speeding through a darkened urban jungle and this… the major characters (with weapons) shooting it out through a busy congested Los Angeles street. As much as this isn’t just about the two leads, it’s not just about the action either. It’s more about the city itself and it’s inhabitants. The refined dialogue allows these inhabitants to come alive and Mann’s meticulous, hypnotic direction and ethereal choice of music breathes life into the city as well.

An exciting and methodical piece of work from a highly accomplished cast and director. A near masterpiece of modern cinema.

Mark Walker

20120426-171544.jpg

The Quick And The Dead * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Western with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120129-185758.jpg

Director: Sam Raimi.
Screenplay: Simon Moore.
Starring: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lance Henriksen, Gary Sinise, Keith David, Kevin Conway, Fay Masterson, Tobin Bell, Pat Hingle, Roberts Blossom, Mark Boone Junior, Scott Spiegel, Mick Garris, Bruce Campbell, Woody Strode.

There’s no doubting director Sam Raimi when it comes to his playful nature. He managed to inject hilarity into horror in “The Evil Dead” series and does so again with the western. Not taking his material too seriously at all, here he delivers a cartoon take on the duelling western gunslingers.

The town of ‘Redemption’ holds an annual gunslinging contest (a strict local custom in which pistol-packers young and old, local and not, shoot to the death). Riding silently, moodily and mysteriously into town is, Ellen (Sharon Stone). A woman who keeps her motivation quiet, working her way into the contest with a score to settle against the town owner Herod (Gene Hackman).

Although this borrows heavily from the great Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood cowsers, it’s playful use of the camera and refusal to take itself seriously gives it a fresh feel all it’s own. Raimi’s use of camera angles and slow motion shots are sublime and what really make the film. The camera is just as much a character as the eccentric bunch on screen. The focus being on the nervous eye-contact and elaborate ticking of clocks, in keeping with true spaghetti western style. It’s a very stylish parody on the western showdown scenario helped by a who’s who cast of ecclectic character actors, not to mention a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe at the beginning of their careers.

It’s completely ludicrous but it’s ludicrous nature and style is exactly what makes it fun.

Mark Walker

20120203-214620.jpg

Braveheart * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Biography, History, War with tags on January 18, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120118-224143.jpg

Director: Mel Gibson.
Screenplay: Randall Wallace.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Patrick McGoohan, Brendan Gleeson, Sophie Marceau, Catherine McCormack, Angus MacFadyen, Ian Bannen, James Cosmo, David O’Hara, James Robinson, Sean McGinley, Sean Lawlor, Peter Hanly, Alun Armstrong, Gerard McSorley, Tommy Flanagan, David McKay, Peter Mullan, Brian Cox.

My being Scottish is probably not going to consist of the most accurate of reviews regarding this film but I will be totally straight up and admit that it is historical inaccurate on more than a few occasions. However, there’s no denying the spectacle and grand scale of the whole thing, harking back to epic films of the past.

13th century Scottish peasant William Wallace (Mel Gibson), who after the raping and pillaging of his village and the death of his wife by the English army, takes it upon himself to make a stand and fight back. He assembles an army of his own and refuses to succumb to the rule of King Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan) inciting an uprising amongst the Scottish people against the tyranny and oppression of the English.

As mentioned earlier, there are several historical facts altered for dramatic effect but when the real history is looked into, I wonder why it was altered. William Wallace’s life needed no further exaggeration but then again it’s Hollywood we have on the battlefield here. Speaking of which, the battle scenes are brutally and violently depicted and expertly shot by Gibson. He takes us straight back to the harsh conditions and environment of the people at this time in history and manages to give depth to the characters involved, regardless of their screen time. McGoohan in particular is absolutley superb as the bitter and determined King Edward and despite a dodgy Scottish accent, Gibson equips himself well as Wallace. Wonderfully powerful music by James Horner also, not to mention some fine cinematography by John Toll.

An epic film that competes on every level with the best of the genre and the only reason I don’t give it five stars is incase my judgement has been clouded by Scottish bias.

Mark Walker

20120215-120122.jpg

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,895 other followers