Archive for 1997

Jackie Brown

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on November 13, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Quentin Tarantino.
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert DeNiro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Chris Tucker, Michael Bowen, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Hattie Winston, Sid Haig.

AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes“.

After “Reservoir Dogs” in 1991 and “Pulp Fiction” in 1994, Quentin Tarantino was hailed as the new wunderkind of contemporary American cinema with his triumphant originality and seemingly effortless ability to excite audiences. However, there were still claims of him borrowing heavily from other movies and despite the second feature from a new filmmaker predominantly being the ‘tricky one’, it seemed that it was Tarantino’s third that posed this problem for him. Added to which, he still had a few doubters wondering if he could emulate his previous successes.

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Titanic * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on April 9, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: James Cameron.
Screenplay: James Cameron.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Kathy Bates, David Warner, Danny Nucci, Victor Garber, Gloria Stuart, Bernard Hill, Bernard Fox, Jonathan Hyde, Suzy Amis, Bill Paxton.

Woohoo! “Titanic“, the 1997 romantic epic that won 11 Academy Awards, has been re-released on an even grander scale. We are, once again, treated to over three hours of the most wearisome and banal piece of cinema to ever grace our screens. But wait… it’s in 3D. I’m so happy, I could shit myself.

An old woman, Rose DeWitt Bukater (Gloria Stuart) recounts her past to April, 1912 when she boarded the most advanced liner ever built – the Royal Mail Ship Titanic. It departed from Southampton with over 2,000 passengers aboard and we are taken back to when she was a younger woman (Kate Winslet), due to be married to aristocrat Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). On board though, she meets young, adventurous artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) who she falls in love with. But there is trouble ahead, in the shape of a giant iceberg that forces the ship and it’s passengers into desperate survival.

This, for me, stands as the most ridiculous and overrated of films. Amongst the (unwarranted) awards it received, there is only one that it could truly justify: Best Visual Effects. How the triteness of this film could overshadow the superb and labyrinthine “L.A. Confidential” during awards season, is beyond me. Anyone familiar with British pulp romantic novels, will known what I mean when I say, this is just “Mills & Boon” on a boat – the chivalrous Jack pursuing the chastised damsel Rose. The only thing that’s missing, is the gardener with a rippling torso. DiCaprio and Winslet are fine actors and two that I admire greatly but they totally ham it up in this absolute peace of trash. It’s very stereotypical in everything it does; the impoverished Irish, dance a jig below deck; the band plays on when everyone else is panicking; the steamed-up car, were Jack and Rose consummate their relationship; even Jack’s little Italian friend get’s to shout the obligatory “Bastardo”, as the shit is about to hit the propellers. The characterisation is frankly insulting and for the most part, the film is uneventful. That is, until the long-awaited Iceberg makes a welcome appearance. When it does, Cameron’s use of visual effects really kick-in and they’re undeniably impressive but by this point, I couldn’t care less. If anything, it was quite enjoyable watching the irritating and underwritten characters plummet and drown to a slow and painful death. Shame the footage of this film couldn’t have went down with the ship also.

Originally released in 1997, James Cameron then followed it up in 2003 with documentary “Ghosts Of The Abyss” and now we get it again in 3D. Really James, let it go man… let it go.

Woefully Bad. Even the film’s caption “Nothing on earth could come between them” is misleading. For a start, a massive Iceberg didn’t find it too difficult, not to mention a makeshift raft that wasn’t big enough to hold them both. A * 1/2 star rating for the visuals and a solid supporting performance from the large glacial deposit. But being dazzled with special effects and technical achievements, ultimately doesn’t change anything. You still can’t polish a turd.

Mark Walker

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L.A. Confidential * * * * *

Posted in Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery with tags on March 10, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Curtis Hanson.
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland, Curtis Hanson.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Graham Beckel, Brenda Bakke, Paul Guilfoyle, Ron Rifkin, Matt Malloy, Simon Baker.

James Ellroy is one of the finest of hard-boiled crime writers. For those not familiar, check out his “L.A. Quartet“; four novels, that delve into the seedy and corrupt world of the Los Angeles police force in the 1950’s. This film is actually based on the third novel in the series and director/screenwriters Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland have done a marvellous job in adapting Ellroy’s convoluted narratives and staccato writing.

L.A. in the 50’s is rife with organised crime and corruption in the police force. Both intertwine in the glitz and glamour of the booming Hollywood movie business. The story follows the path of three very different police detectives. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) – the suave and ambitious type with an eye on stardom for himself. Bud White (Russel Crowe) – the brutal strong arm who will do anything to achieve his form of justice and rookie Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) – who does everything by the book and believes in law and order. A late night shooting in a coffee shop, which leaves one policeman dead brings these three detectives together in an elaborate plot involving corrupt politicians, prostitutes made to look like movie stars, gangster Mickey Cohen and sleazy tabloid journalists.

First of all, where this film succeeds – in it’s difficult adaptation – is capturing the mood and setting. Not since Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” in 1974 has this been achieved. The music by Jerry Goldsmith taps into film-noir with a seedy jazz score, while Dante Spinotti’s rich cinematography perfectly captures the infancy of the city of Los Angeles, before it’s economical boom. It was a city that could make or break a person, with corruption at every corner. This rich attention to detail, is also captured by some outstanding performances. Kim Basinger won a supporting actress award but it’s Spacey, Pearce and particularly Crowe that own this film. Their performances have seldom been better. The story itself can simply be described as labyrinthine. There are so many facets that’s it’s hard to keep up. It demands your attention and commitment but it also rewards. Credit must go to Curtis Hanson, who does an excellent job in handling all the narrative arcs and teasingly fitting all the pieces together. This is filmmaking of the very highest standard.

An absolutely enthralling film, that’s so vivid and compelling that fans of the genre should not ignore.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker

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American Perfekt * *

Posted in Crime, thriller with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Paul Chart.
Screenplay: Paul Chart.
Starring: Robert Forster, Fairuza Balk, Amanda Plummer, David Thewlis, Paul Sorvino, Joanna Gleason, Geoffrey Lewis, Chris Sarandon, Jay Patterson, Judson Mills.

This was one of those crime thrillers that came along in the wake of Quentin Tarantino’s emergence and tried to emulate his style for ‘cool’ violence. The only thing this has in common with Q.T. though, is Pulp Fiction’s Amanda Plummer and Jackie Brown’s Robert Forster in the cast. The rest pales in comparison and frankly, I don’t see much of a resemblance.

A young woman (Fairuza Balk) travelling through the desert on her way to meet her sister (Amanda Plummer) crosses paths with a psychotic physician (Robert Forster) who decides his actions on the flip of a coin.

When I seen this years ago, I was thoroughly entertained and thought it was a highly original and exciting film. On second viewing, it doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny. The originality I thought it once had is basically taken from novelist Luke Reinhart’s “The Dice Man”. What is an intriguing premise is played out with such a lack of urgency that it becomes very tedious, very quickly. It picks up when Fairuza Balk arrives in town though and Forster’s psycho pychologist begins to reveal himself. However, he’s still a little tepid and despite a decent performance, he’s not nearly menacing enough. There are a few things worthy of admiration but it’s the pacing that’s all wrong, letting down a decent cast and missing an opportunity for genuine thrills.

A half baked psychological thriller that aims high but ultimately falls hard from it’s intended target.

Mark Walker

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Boogie Nights * * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on January 19, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, Alfred Molina, Thomas Jane, Philip Baker Hall, Robert Ridgely, Ricky Jay, Nicole Ari Parker, Joanna Gleason, Melora Walters, Jack Wallace, Jonathan Quint, John Doe, Robert Downey, Sr. Nina Hartley.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson made his debut in 1996 with “Hard Eight” but it was with this film, a year later, that he exploded onto the film scene and raised a few eyebrows with this daring and mainstream film about the californian porn industry.

Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a young kitchen porter working in a vibrant nightclub. He’s trying to escape his mundane life at home with his parents and make a better life for himself. It’s here that he meets Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), a succesful and well known director in the porn industry. Horner immediately sees the potential in Eddie and takes him under his wing. It is rumoured that Eddie has a “gift” which could make them all very rich indeed. The appeal and glamour of Horner and his cohorts – the sexy Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) and Rollergirl (Heather Graham) are too much for Eddie to resist, so he agrees to become involved. First, he needs a porn name, deciding on “Dirk Diggler” and it’s at this point that the glamourous and exhilarating adventure begins.

Set during the 70′s & 80′s, this captures the period brilliantly (with marvellously evocative cinematography by Robert Elswit) and is reminiscent of director Robert Altman’s “Nashville” or John Badham’s “Saturday Night Fever“. It shares the same elaborate structure of the former and the bold vibrancy of the latter. Being only 26 years old at the time, it was an ambitious project for such a young director at this point in his career to tackle. Anderson could easily have crumbled under the pressure but instead, pulls off (excuse the pun) an intricate and expertly structured film in the style of the aforementioned Altman, in handling numerous characters and narrative strands or Martin Scorsese, in his long and impressive tracking shots. Anderson’s talents are not only apparent in his writing or directing though. He also has an eye for performers and amasses a highly impressive ensemble of actors; Mark Wahlberg has never really convinced me over the years but here he is absolutely perfect (in a role originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio) and shows fine range as the naive Eddie growing more confident as Dirk; John C. Reilly adds a nice comic role as his bumbling, endearing friend Reed Rothchild; Julianne Moore and Heather Graham excel in their roles as the female leads; William H. Macy as Little Bill is at his tragic best – knowing that his wife is having sex with every other man, except him; Philip Seymour Hoffman, no matter how small a role always manages to add depth and pathos as Scotty J, the homosexual cameraman who can’t resist his urges towards Dirk and Burt Reynolds has never been better as the patriarchal Horner. In fact, there are so many marvellous performances it’s difficult too mention them all here. It’s testament to Anderson’s skills that despite his large cast, he affords them all adequate time to become their characters and never judges them for their shortcomings.

An extraordinary and provocative film, with an abundance of talent throughout. It works both as an expose of the porn industry and a deeply involving character study that’s not without moments of intensity and well tuned humour.

Mark Walker

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The Game * * * 1/2

Posted in Mystery, thriller with tags on January 10, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: David Fincher.
Screenplay: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris.
Starring: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Anna Katarina, Mark Boone Junior, Jack Kehoe, Tommy Flanagan, Spike Jonze.

Following up the magnificent, visceral serial killer thriller “Se7en” was always going to be a hard task for director David Fincher but with this, he opts for an equally dark, yet more playful, mind-fuck thriller.

Egotistical, successful businessman Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) gets an unusual birthday present from his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) – a gift certificate for a sophisticated recreational company that stages a ‘game,’ the nature of which is never revealed. Before long, Nicholas’ entire existence is torn apart as he desperately clings to his life and his sanity.

First off, this film has got plot holes aplenty but if you give yourself over to it and suspend your disbelief, this is a very enjoyable edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller. Fincher knows what he doing and wrings out the suspense at every turn. The twists and turns of the plot are so relentless that it’s easy to identify with the desperation of Douglas’ character.
Admittedly, I’m not his biggest fan but Douglas is absolutely superb in this. He captures the arrogance and egotistical nature he portrayed before, from his Oscar winning signature role ‘Gordon Gekko’ in “Wall Street” and couples it with a fragile vulnerability. The unravelling of his character is masterful and he delivers a very entertaining performance that just about manages to take your mind of the sheer implausability of the story. Like “Se7en”, Fincher’s ability to craft an environment that’s dark and depressing is once again captured, helped by subtly excellent cinematographer Harris Savides. There is a gloomy air of dread throughout and nothing ever seems natural, adding to the sense of unease as ‘the game’ unfolds. By the time the end credits roll and the final revelation is delivered, you’ll feel as exhausted as Douglas looks.

It doesn’t take much to realise the whole thing simply doesn’t hold up but if looked at as entertainment, then it’s a winner. Farfetched and unlikely, but highly imaginative.

Mark Walker

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