Archive for 1996

Sleepers * * * 1/2

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

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Director: Barry Levinson.
Screenplay: Barry Levinson.
Starring: Jason Patric, Robert DeNiro, Brad Pitt, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Bacon, Minnie Driver, Ron Eldard, Billy Crudup, Brad Renfro, Joe Perrino, Geoffrey Wigdor, Jonathan Tucker, Bruno Kirby, Vittorio Gassman, Terry Kinney, Frank Medrano, Aida Turturro, Dash Mihok.

After the massive box-office flop of “Toys” in 1992 and the overlooked, straight to dvd, “Jimmy Hollywood“, director Barry Levinson seemed to be in need of some stronger material. As a result, he decided on a couple of adaptations; the first was Michael Crichton’s “Disclosure” followed by “Sleepers“, the controversial novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra, which served as a reminder that Levinson still had something to offer.

Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, four close friends, Shakes (Joe Perinno), Michael (Brad Renfro), John (Geoffrey Wigdor) and Tommy (Jonathan Tucker) fill their days playing pranks and making their own entertainment. However, one of their pranks lead to a man getting seriously injured and they are sentenced to time in the Wilkenson Detention Centre in upstate New York. In the centre they are subjected to beatings and sexual abuse by the guards. Over ten years later, two of the boys take revenge on one of them (Kevin Bacon), which drags up the past and involves everyone they know.

What we have with “Sleepers” is a stellar cast, a more than capable director and a story that’s purportedly based on fact. There’s really not that far you can wrong in these instances but, unfortunately, it’s the “based on fact” angle that let’s this film down. Everything else is handled with skill, but no matter how well it’s delivered, it leaves an aroma that smells vaguely of garbage. It’s too far fetched and under closer scrutiny and investigation, the events that writer Lorenzo Carcaterra claims to be true, are unfounded. There simply isn’t any evidence of them. Now, if this film just played out as a piece of storytelling then that issue wouldn’t exist and you’d be able to sit back and enjoy what this film has to offer. And what it has to offer is plentiful. The cinematography by (Scorsese regular) Michael Ballhaus, captures the look and feel for the times that reflect, in some ways, an urban version of “Stand By Me” in the earlier part of the film and Levinson does a very professional job on his direction duties. Where his strength lies is in drawing out brilliant performances from his impressively assembled cast: Throughout an abundance of familiar names, it’s Patric (playing writer, Carcaterra) that get’s the most focus but the rest still get enough to work with; Bacon verges on the stereotypical side but still channels an effective sadistic presence; Pitt, in a lesser role (when he was still on the rise) captures the cocksure arrogance required and the always reliable and masterful Hoffman brings a lot of depth and humour with his subtle mannerisms. At the risk of sounding biased, though, it’s DeNiro that impresses most as the avuncular priest, Father Bobby. He delivers one of the most endearing and charismatic performances of his career and happens to have a moment in the film where his expression is solely focussed on, as he hears about the tragic and abusive events that took place. He doesn’t utter a word, but his pain, anguish and compassion is expressed entirely and powerfully within his eyes. The only drawback amongst the performances is that the greats of DeNiro and Hoffman don’t get a chance to share much screen time together. (In fairness, Levinson rectified this in his later movie “Wag The Dog” and subsequently they have shared the screen in the “Meet The Parents” sequels). These two fantastic actors have never really went toe-to-toe on dramatic terms, though, and this film seems like a missed opportunity on that level. As for the structure itself, it’s a film of two halves; the first concentrating on the boys’ high jinks (again, with great performances from it’s young actors – Joe Perrino and Brad Renfro being the standouts) while the latter half descends into a formulaic courtroom drama which stretches credulity and eschews any form of logic in order to further the plot. It’s during this, that the “true” nature of the story becomes seriously questionable and we’re also left with an overhanging, dubious message on justice. Despite these issues, though, there are many highlights to be found and at nearly two and half hours long, it’s never dull. Whether or not it’s true is another matter, but at the very least, Carcaterra has written an emotional and involving tale.

Flawed and uneven, with a conclusion that simply doesn’t convince, but if you’re able to sidestep these faults then there’s still a very good film at it’s core.

Mark Walker

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Trainspotting (A Scottish Review) * * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on June 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Danny Boyle.
Screenplay: John Hodge.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly MacDonald, Peter Mullan, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas, Shirley Henderson, Pauline Lynch, Stuart McQuarrie, Keith Allen, Kevin Allen, Dale Winton, Irvine Welsh.

(As Trainspotting is one of my favourite film’s, I think it’s deserving of a review written in my native Scottish tongue. So here it is. It’s also a little experiment to see if anyone, other than a Scot, can understand what I’m actually saying)

Director Danny Boyle’s braw debut “Shallow Grave” wiz always gonnae be a hard act tae follae but tae attempt an adaptation ae the ‘unfilmable’ Scottish novel “Trainspotting” by Irvine Welsh, seemed like lunacy. Boyle, oan the other haun, captures Welsh’s book brilliantly and even though “Slumdog Millionaire” gathered him a best director Oscar, this stull remains his best film.

It follaes the lives ae a group ah freends fae Auld Reekie as they experience the up’s and doon’s ah life through scag use. Renton (Ewan McGregor) decides tae go clean and rid hissel ae his affliction and his low-life mates but finds that’s easier said than done. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is a bit ae ah dunderheid and far too needy, SickBoy (Jonny Lee Miller) is too sleekit and gallus, Tommy (Kevin McKidd) is scunnert and has just taken some bad direction and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is always crabbit and just a plain fuckin’ nutter. It disnae matter though as Renton still decides tae enters intae makin’ a wan aff drug deal with his auld pals, so as tae make a new life for hissel aw th’gither.

Boyle’s filum has aften been criticised as glorifyin’ drug use. Glorifyin’ drug use? Really? Eejit’s who believe this must huv been watchin’ a differnt filum. The characters involved aw behave despicably. They are responsible for stouth’s, rammie’s and deith’s – includin’ the deith ae a wean; get imprisoned; contract HIV; ruin their lives and others’, aw because they’re junkies and need tae feed their habit. Whit this film has in depth, vibrancy and fun, is the reason it could be mistaken for bein’ pro-drug use but huvin’ these qualities is mair ae a testament tae the filmmakers involved, in making a bleak and depressin’ subject matter, very entertainin’. The characters urr extremely well written (kudos tae writer Welsh) and acted by an ensemble ae excellent actors. It made a star ae Ewan McGregor, who’s character, although likeable – and brilliantly played – is essentially the person responsible fur the doonfaw ae many of the other characters. Notable other performances urr Ewen Bremner as the numptie “Spud”, the maist endearin’ of the group and a character too saft fur ‘is lifestyle. The best ae the bunch though, is Boabby Carlyle as the psychotic “Begbie”, who’s choice ah drug isnae heroin but violence, and he’s just as destructive wae it. He’s a dangerous and highly volatile gadgie and Carlyle perfectly captures the oan-edge feelin’ ae his terrifyin’ unpredictability. It’s an award worthy performance that wiz sadly overlooked. Everythin’ aboot the film reeks ah class. Fae it’s rollickin’ soundtrack, tae the rich, snappy dialogue, wae great characters in hilarious situations and kinetic fast paced direction. This film huz everythin’ gon fur it and stauns as wan ae the finest films ae the 1990′s.

A relentlessly energetic experience that leaves ye cravin’ fur mair, much like the habit ae it’s protaganists.
A pure uncut, Class “A” steesher.

(If this review is indecipherable to anyone go here for the English language version)

Mark Walker

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Breaking The Waves * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on February 21, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Lars von Trier.
Screenplay: Lars von Trier, Peter Asmussen.
Starring: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard, Adrian Rawlins, Katrin Cartlidge, Jean-Marc Barr, Jonathan Hackett, Sandra Voe, Udo Kier.

This was controversial Danish director Lars von Trier’s first film in English and also the first in his “Golden Hearts” trilogy in which the heroines remain naive despite their actions. The two other parts are “The Idiots” and “Dancer in the Dark” but this is the strongest of the three.

Bess (Emily Watson) is a devout, church going, innocent young woman living in a remote Scottish village in the 1970’s. She possesses a real sweetness, warmth and affection but she’s also not right in the head. She marries oil rig worker Jan (Stellan Skarsgard) and is unable to bear separation from him when he leaves for work. When he is brought back from the rig paralysed after an accident, her obsession adds to his despair. They arrive at a bizarre arrangement; he urges her to take a lover, for his own sexual gratification and she interprets this as a spiritual mission.

Von Trier shoots in a grainy, almost documentary like style (with help from respected cinematographer Robby Muller) adding to the realism of his story and his characters. Emily Watson (in her debut) is commanding throughout with a marvellous and brave performance. Her physical and mental struggle is tragically and achingly portrayed. Von Trier’s films tend not to be easy viewing, or the treatment of his female characters, for that matter. Just look at the aforementioned films, as well as, “Dogville” and “AntiChrist“. This is no exception and any actress taking on a role in his films needs to be committed. Watson certainly is here and commands the screen entirely. The only downside that the film suffers from, is it’s length. After the two hour mark, and another half hour to go, it overstays it’s welcome. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem but the subject matter is so depressing that it becomes an exhausting experience.

Not to everyone’s tastes but if your a fan of von Trier, then it’s essential viewing. But, as always, with the provocative director, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

Mark Walker

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Trainspotting * * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on January 28, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Danny Boyle.
Screenplay: John Hodge.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly MacDonald, Peter Mullan, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas, Shirley Henderson, Pauline Lynch, Stuart McQuarrie, Keith Allen, Kevin Allen, Dale Winton, Irvine Welsh.

Director Danny Boyle’s marvellous debut “Shallow Grave” was always going to be a hard act to follow but to attempt an adaptation of the ‘unfilmable’ Scottish novel “Trainspotting” by Irvine Welsh, seemed like lunacy. Boyle, however, captures Welsh’s book brilliantly and despite “Slumdog Millionaire” gathering him a best director Oscar, this still remains his best film.

It follows the lives of a group of friends from Edinburgh as they experience the high’s and low’s of life through heroin use. Renton (Ewan McGregor) decides to go clean and rid himself of his affliction and his low-life chums but finds that’s easier said than done. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is too needy, SickBoy (Jonny Lee Miller) is too controling, Tommy (Kevin McKidd) has just taken some bad direction and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is just plain pychotic. Renton, however, enters into making a one off drug deal with his old pals, so as to make a new life for himself altogether.

Boyle’s film has often been criticised as glorifying drug use. Glorifying drug use? Really? People who believe this must have been watching a different film. The characters involved all behave despicably. They are responsible for thefts, fights, deaths – including the death of a baby. Get imprisoned. Contract HIV. Ruin their lives and others’, all because of their drug habit. What this film has in depth, vibrancy and fun, is the reason it could be mistaken for being pro-drug use but having these qualities is more of a testament to the filmmakers involved, in making a bleak and depressing subject matter, very entertaining. The characters are extremely well written (kudos to writer Welsh) and acted by an ensemble of excellent actors. It made a star of Ewan McGregor, who’s character, although likeable – and brilliantly played – is essentially the person responsible for the downfall of many of the other characters. Notable other performances are Ewen Bremner as “Spud”, the most endearing of the group and a character too gentle for his lifestyle. The best of the bunch though, is Robert Carlyle as the psychotic “Begbie”, who’s choice of drug isn’t heroin but violence, and he’s just as destructive with it. He’s a dangerous and highly volatile person and Carlyle perfectly captures the on-edge feeling of his terrifying unpredictability. It’s an award worthy performance that was sadly overlooked. Everything about the film reeks of class. From it’s rollicking soundtrack, to the rich, snappy dialogue, with great characters in hilarious situations and kinetic fast paced direction. This film has everything going for it and stands as one of the finest films of the 1990’s.

A relentlessly energetic experience that leaves you craving for more, much like the habit of it’s protaganists.
Pure uncut, Class A.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker

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The Crucible * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on January 28, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Nicholas Hytner.
Screenplay: Arthur Miller.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Joan Allen, Paul Scofield, Bruce Davison, Jeffrey Jones, Rob Campbell.

Who better to pen the script to a film version of the classic stage play, than the playwright himself, Arthur Miller?

Centered around the Salem Massachusetts witch trials of 1692, it tells the story of Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder), a young woman who is infatuated with local landowner John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis). They once had an illicit affair but when Proctor refuses any further contact, the jilted Abigail accuses Proctor’s wife Elizabeth (Joan Allen) of witchcraft, resulting in trials being held. Young Abigail is so convincing in her scornful lies, that it brings the whole town to ruin and under suspicion. With the arrival of Judge Danforth (Paul Scofield), determined to rid the town of evil forces, hangings of innocent people begin, prompting Proctor to face the lies he has told in order to save his friends and his wife.

Although loosely based on actual events it was also written by Miller as an allegory on Senator Joseph McCarthy and his “Communist witch hunts” of the 1950’s, that blacklisted artists and filmmakers for being “Un-American”. This included Miller’s one time friend and film director Elia Kazan, who went on to make “On the Waterfront” as a defence of his ‘naming names’ and a direct response to Miller’s play. It’s a powerful film with powerful performances. Not being overly keen on Winona Ryder, she is actually really good as the conniving and scorned Abigail. Joan Allen is absolutely solid as the seemingly stoic and reserved wife. Daniel Day-Lewis’ tormented Proctor is at first, slow-burning but once he realises the full extent of the injustices, his portrayal of a proud man torn apart by guilt is mesmerising, and the almost expressionless Paul Scofield seems to convey his character through his tone of voice, which is very powerful and, quite simply, a masterclass in acting.

It would make an interesting double bill with Kazan’s “On the Waterfront“. Both having entirely opposing messages and themes throughout and showing, quite clearly, what side of the fence they both sat on. Me?… I’m with Miller.

Mark Walker

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From Dusk Till Dawn * * * 1/2

Posted in Crime, Horror, thriller with tags on January 17, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Robert Rodriguez.
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Michael Parks, John Saxon, Kelly Preston, John Hawkes.

Before their collaboration on the “Grindhouse” double-bill, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez joined up to do this crime/horror picture. Both Tarantino and Rodriguez’s choice actors also join the show, with the inclusion of a pre-stardom George Clooney.

Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney & Quentin Tarantino) are two murderous bank robbers on the run and fleeing for safety to a nightclub in Mexico called the “Titty Twister” which is reportedly a safe haven for criminals. To get there they kidnap preacher Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) and his kids Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu) who are travelling in their motor home. Once they reach the club though, they soon realise that when the sun goes down, they have more to deal with at the hands (and teeth) of bloodthirtsy vampires.

If this sounds rediculous or over-the-top then thats because it is. The film starts in true Tarantino fashion with the two criminal brothers dressed in black suits similiar to “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs” and spouting equally impressive dialogue. This however, changes abruptly about half way in and becomes nothing more than a horror B-movie – obviously the work of Rodriguez. As much as this is quite fun, it jars with the cool and dialogue laden beggining. It’s a transition that’s not a very smooth one and feels like two different films cut and pasted together. This a shame really, because the first half of the film is up there with Tarantino’s best stuff. I would have much preffered it if he had just completed the film in that similiar style. What I was most impressed with was the effortless performance of a cool-headed but dangerous killer from George Clooney, who at this time in his career was just fresh from his “E.R.” scrubs. He is absolutely brilliant and this was just the beginning of several fitting performances from Clooney in the future.

There’s no denying that is an enjoyable gore fest with wonderful dialogue but I couldn’t help but wonder what might have been.

Mark Walker

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The Rock * * 1/2

Posted in Action with tags on January 15, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Michael Bay.
Screenplay: David Weisberg, Douglas Cook, Mark Rosner.
Starring: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, David Morse, John Spencer, John C. McGinley, Tony Todd, Bokeem Woodbine, Danny Nucci, Claire Forlani, Todd Louiso.

This film has a lot to answer for, mainly because Hollywood decided to give more jobs to director Michael Bay following this successful action film. Unfortunately, what he produced after this makes my eyes bleed but he has to be given credit for keeping up the thrills in this one.

The story is (as ever) basic! A disgruntled veteran (Ed Harris) feels the government has done him wrong despite his service to the country and decides to hold the city of San Francisco to ransom by taking over Alcatraz and using it as a base to launch a chemical attack on it’s innocent citizens. The Government feels he’s a loon-ball and decides to enlist the help of F.B.I chemical weapons expert (Cage) and a team of marines to put a stop to the lunacy. None of them have have a clue how to infiltrate Alcatraz so persuade a former British agent (Connery) – the only person to ever escape Alcatraz and currently being held by the Americans – to help out and earn his freedom in return. What then ensues is…you guessed it…big guns, big explosions and mucho machismo.

This is all done under the guidance of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, so I suppose you can’t really complain when things get silly and over the top. I’m not a great action fan but I can recognise it for what it is and this isn’t too bad, considering. The three leads involved, Connery, Cage & Harris are what make this film. They are all fine actors and deliver worthy performances. Connery is one of very few actors that can cut being old and still able to be convincing as an action hero (Clint Eastwood being a recognisable other). Cage shows his early action man credentials, while still retaining his wacky humorous side and Harris, as always, is intensely commanding. They all seem to have their tongues stuck firmly in their cheeks and in it for the healthy paychecks. They know and we know, that this is complete nonsense but hey, there’s fun to be had anyway.

If you ever get the sudden notion to bang your head against a big Rock, don’t bother. Bang your head against this one instead. It almost has the same effect but this one’s slightly more gentle. Just slightly, mind you.

Mark Walker

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