Category Archives: Classic

“Collateral” Movie Review

It only takes one special night to either derail all of your aspirations or make you more passionate than ever about them.

This crime thriller was released in theaters worldwide by Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures on August 6th, 2004. Made for the budget of $65 million, it went on to gross over $220.9 million at the global box office, split almost exactly even between domestic and international markets. The film actually debuted at the top of the box office its opening weekend, and remained strong for its whole theatrical run. It also garnered many positive reviews among critics and audiences and managed to receive two Academy Award nominations.

Directed and produced by Michael Mann, the screenplay by Stuart Beatie was inspired a cab trip when he was 17 years old and imagined an assassin in the backseat. Originally a two-page treatment called “The Last Domino,” the final product bears little resemblance to what was first written and went through many different casting options, including Robert De Niro, Russell Crowe, and Adam Sandler at one point. Co-producer Julie Richardson became interested in the project and initially tried to make it as a low-budget movie for HBO. Although he’s the only credited screenwriter on the film, it’s generally accepted that Mann and Frank Darabont performed uncredited rewrites to finalize the script.

Jamie Foxx stars as Max, a highly efficient cab driver in Los Angeles who dreams of opening his own limousine business. One night, a mysterious man named Vincent, played by Tom Cruise, enters his cab and soon becomes a backseat driver of sorts. Impressed by Max’s knowledge and meticulous way of getting around the city, Vincent offers an exorbitant amount of cash to be transported to three more destintions. Initially drawn by the money, Max soon realizes that Vincent is a hitman on his way to different targets and forms a unique relationship with him as the night goes on.

Even though I haven’t watched most of his movies, Michael Mann’s cinematic style is one that, thus far, just clicks with me somehow. The way he’s able to film believable action sequences and balance it out with interesting characters and themes is really compelling and fascinating. That’s one of the big reasons why his 90’s crime film Heat is a masterpiece, in my opinion, along with his uniquely captivating and picturesque take on the West Coast.

But about a year before I originally watched Heat, this film was the first of Mann’s that I ever laid eyes on. I decided to give it a revisit as part of my New Year’s resolution and see if it still holds up well enough and gives me the same tense adrenaline rush that I felt the first time watching it. And while it still suffers from the same issues I have with the third act, Collateral still proves to be highly engaging and riveting.

Much like his earlier work in films like Heat and Manhunter, this film does an interesting job at portraying two men at point in life where they feel disenfranchised by society. Whereas Vincent is a cold, distant man who sees every target of his as just another statistic, Max is a goodhearted person who can’t quite seem to convince anyone on his dream even though he feels strongly about it. This fateful night gives an opportunity for the two of them to meet each other, as they are essentially polar opposites of one another and are forced to confront the unconventional nature of their professions.

The fact that Collateral takes place over one night just makes these themes feel even more immediate and poignant. It’s not a particularly funny movie, (Michael Mann doesn’t really do well with humor) but the film creates a warm feeling of tension and anxiety as there’s this sense of a ticking clock as the night goes on. Even if it loses a lot of luster by the time the third act rolls around, it’s hard to shake the full grip the film has on you for the whole film prior.

Long before he made himself a bonafide star with Django Unchained, Jamie Foxx put himself on the map with his riveting Oscar-nominated lead performance here. As Max, he’s a typical everyman who wants to do good and make his peers happy, even when he has to deal with disrespectful passengers and unforgiving superiors. Although he begins as rather timid and submissive, he gradually grows into someone more keenly aware of the situation as things continuously go from bad to worse.

Also, Jada Pinkett Smith is captivating as Annie Farrell, a federal prosecutor in the state of California. While she only appears in a handful of scenes, she leaves an impression as one of the few passengers who actually treats Max with dignity and respect, and even encourages him to open up his business. She later turns out to have a key role in Vincent’s murderous rampage around LA and proves to be capable in stressful circumstances.

In the backseat for the majority of the film is none other than Tom Cruise as Vincent, the calculating hitman with a gun pointed at the driver. In contrast to his more heroic and easy-to-root-for lead roles of the past, Cruise surprises by making no attempt to be likable and adopts a passive sense of nihilism. He’s calm, ruthless, and utterly indifferent to the loss of life at his own hands, and whenever he isn’t killing his marks, he justifies it to Max and even mocks him for his empathy. To this day, I’m convinced that this is Cruise’s best work as an actor.

And from a technical perspective, Collateral see Michael Mann taking full control of the screen in glorious fashion. The film was the first one in Hollywood to be shot on low-light digital cameras and cinematographer Dion Beebe utilizes it to effect. The film is mostly shot in a handheld fashion, which helps to provide a sense of immediacy and realism to the story. The low-lighting also allows the filmmakers to capture things that would otherwise be unattainable, such as a scene where a pack of coyotes cross the road. The colorful nightlife of LA looks both gorgeous and ominous as the cab cruises through the streets.

This works in tandem with the editing job by Jim Miller and Paul Rubell, which cuts together the film very well. In quieter moments where Vincent and Max are arguing in the cab, the camera cuts between the both of them in a really natural manner so we can both hear their comments and see their reactions. And during action scenes, it knows when to either cut to a different angle or sit tight and let the actors breathe. Even though it’s primarily handheld, you can still tell everything that’s going on.

These elements, combined with the fantastic sound design, come together for the epic nightclub sequence. Swapping digital for 35mm, this whole scene is a masterclass in blocking, editing, and keeping the audience on their toes. It’s at this point in the movie that we finally see why Vincent is a force to be reckoned with as he takes on several adversaries from multiple different parties. It’s one of the finest action sequences of the 21st century, and it wouldn’t be matched until years later when John Wick arrived on the scene.

Relentless and captivating, Collateral is a tense and tightly wound thriller elevated by two magnetic performances. Although it’s not quite on par with his previous crime film Heat, Michael Mann still proves that he knows how to put together a frenetic story with some interesting observations on the world. And thanks to the talents of Jamie Foxx and a career-best Tom Cruise, he’s able to take this high-concept, unconventional setup and make it feel believable and urgent.

“The Matrix” Movie Review

I unfortunately missed the opportunity to review this last year in honor of its 20th anniversary. But since Lana Wachowski and the studio are officially making a fourth installment due in theaters in two years time, the time finally came to go down the rabbit hole once more.

This science-fiction action film was originally released in theaters worldwide by Warner Bros. on March 31st, 1999. Made for the budget of $63 million, it went on to gross over $465.6 million at the global box office, developing extreme popularity through word of mouth among audiences. Its success later led to two sequels shot back-to-back, increased use of CGI in blockbuster films, and even a new school of thought. The film itself also garnered numerous positive reviews from critics and went on to win 4 Academy Awards, particularly for its groundbreaking visual effects.

Written and directed by The Wachowskis, the film was originally packaged into a two-picture deal with the studio after executive Lorenzo di Bonaventura was impressed with their debut screenplay Assassins. In order to lower Warner Bros. Pictures’ fears of the big investment, the siblings hired underground a pair of comic book artists to help create a 600-page storyboard visualization, which finally granted them the full budget needed. Prior to filming, The Wachowskis mandated the cast and crew read numerous philosophical books to understand the themes, including Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, and took heavy inspiration from Hong Kong action films. The “green rain code” was specifically created for the film using a mix of Latin characters and mirror images of katakana characters to create the aesthetic.

Keanu Reeves stars as Thomas A. Anderson, a low-level software programmer who moonlights as a hacker nicknamed Neo. As he increasingly begins to suspect that something is not right with the world around him, another hacker named Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, approaches him with a unique opportunity. Serving under the infamous hacker fugitive known as Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishbourne, they reveal to him that the world he’s known all his life is a virtual lie- and that he might be “The One” to save humanity. Now tailed by seemingly superpowered men led by Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving, Neo and his new cohorts race to get to the truth of what’s going on in the world.

It’s kind of hard for a person of my generation to imagine just how different the world of sci-fi action movies was before this film came out. Nowadays, its influence can clearly be seen across many different forms of media, from its revolutionary bullet time effects to its philosophical ideas. But back when it came out, it completely changed the game in so many unexpected ways that it’s almost impossible now to imagine what the world would be like if it had never been made.

As such, it’s relatively hard to watch the film from an objective perspective because of how it’s fundamentally integrated into pop culture. Every time I watch it again, I initially get a little worried that I will finally get worn out from it because of some outdated aspect or that it would somehow feel immature. But as usual, The Matrix still proves to be an absolutely mind-bending and highly satisfying film for fans of all genres to watch no matter the occasion.

What has always sold this movie for me was never actually the groundbreaking visual effects or the incredibly filmed action sequences, but the philosophical themes and discussions the story provoked. Its meditations on the straddled line between reality and simulation are arguably the driving force for the whole series, as the Wachowskis confront how many people would rather live in a comfortable lie than face the harsh truth. The great thing about the red pill/blue pill analogy is that it can be applied to many different scenarios, including the directors’ coming out experience as transgender women.

At this point, it seems almost like a cliché to say that The Matrix is just a story that can be boiled down to “What is real? How do you define real?” But as you watch the film and its sequels, (Which I personally find to be very underrated movies) it becomes apparent that those ideas are explored in a really unique and unexpectedly meaningful way, and several characters have their own monologues on the subject. While the technology shown in the movie hasn’t aged particularly well, it’s ultimately the musings on the existence of spoons and prophecies that keep me coming back time and time again.

This was the role that launched Keanu Reeves into superstardom and all these years later, it’s still his most iconic one to date. As Thomas A. Anderson, he feels lost in a repetitive and boring world and longs for a greater purpose in life beyond his office job. As the film goes along, we watch him gradually transform into and accept the fact that he is Neo, “The One” who will supposedly help free humanity from its virtual shackles; and thankfully, the “reluctant hero” trope works here.

By his side for much of the film, Carrie-Anne Moss also excels as the hacker Trinity, who draws Neo into the larger world of the film. She’s deeply intelligent and highly resourceful in most combat scenarios and carries her own personal thoughts on the ideas of destiny and free thought. There’s a personal stake for her in this conflict, one which we don’t learn of until late in the film and helps make her role even more impactful.

Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne are equally captivating as Morpheus and Agent Smith, the main mentor and antagonist of the film, respectively. Each one represents a different side of the central fight, Smith being obsessed with order and control while Morpheus seeks an open world of freedom and critical thought. As it happens, both are also quite intimidating when it goes to hand-to-hand combat and tactical fighting, being exceptionally trained in multiple fighting styles. For much of the film, they both remain stoic until the real costs come into sight..

The impressive supporting cast consists of Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Anthony Ray Parker, Julian Arahanga, Belinda McClory, Matt Coran, and Gloria Foster. While Foster and Pantoliano are easily the most memorable and important of the bunch, everyone has a good part to play here and helps flesh out the world.

And just from a technical point-of-view, The Matrix is a remarkable cinematic accomplishment for the ages. Shot by the incomparable Bill Pope, the cinematography adopts a highly unique aesthetic that’s come to define the visual language of the Wachowskis’ work. The camera roams around the whole set in many action sequences to give a sense of disorientation and to know what’s going on. Many scenes are filtered with a subtle green hue to signify the carefully coded reality many people are living under.

This matches up with the work done by Zach Staenberg, who won an Oscar for his editing job here. The film knows exactly when to cut to different shots for dramatic or visual effectiveness. Speaking of which, it often times lingers to make room for the special effects, which remarkably still hold up to this day. Whether it’s the opening scene of Trinity freeing time to take down police forces or when the now-iconic “bullet time” segment begins, the editing does wonders to blend it in with real shots.

Frequent Wachowskis collaborator Don Davis provides the instrumental film score here, which perfectly fits the mood. The soundtrack is a fascinating blend of traditional orchestral work with more electronic-driven tracks. The film makes constant uses of strings, brass, and percussion to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and tension as our heroes try to enact a plan of action while on the run from Agents. Meanwhile, the synthesizers and droning beats help the techno-underworld feel more alive.

Packed with memorable quotes, incredible special effects, fantastic action, and stimulating conversations on simulation, The Matrix is a mind-bending treat for the eyes and the mind. The Wachowskis not only created one of the most iconic built-from-scratch franchises of all time, but they completely changed the way that films could be made and shown in the modern era. The entire cast help to bring to life these beloved characters, and fully trust the filmmakers’ vision the whole way through.

I have no idea what Lana Wachowski and Co. have in store for the fourth installment, but no matter what, she and her sister Lilly undoubtedly showed us what was possible with cinema. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries; a world where anything is possible.

“GoldenEye” Movie Review

Obviously, with 24 films in the bag already, I don’t have nearly enough time to review all of the James Bond movies in existence. But since No Time to Die is coming out in theaters soon, it seems only appropriate to go back and review a couple of Bond’s best.

This action spy film was originally released in theaters worldwide by MGM on November 17th, 1995, being released in the U.K. a week later. It managed to gross over $355 million at the global box office against a production budget of $60 million, far surpassing many of its predecessors without adjusting for inflation. This made it the highest-grossing film in the franchise since 1979’s Moonraker with Roger Moore. It also received some very positive reviews from critics and audiences, mainly for how it adapted to the modern world while remaining true to the past.

Directed by Martin Campbell, efforts to produce a new film were halted by legal and financial disputes within the studio, causing previous star Timothy Dalton to step down from the part. The end of the Cold War and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union led to numerous rewrites with completely different drafts one after another. The film was the first in the long-running series to not be based on any of Ian Fleming’s novels and to not be solely shot on the 007 sound stage. It was also the last film in the franchise with the involvement of longtime producer Albert Broccoli, who passed the torch onto his daughter Barbara and son Michael G. Wilson.

Pierce Brosnan makes his debut as James Bond, an MI6 officer and veteran of the Cold War. While on assignment investigating the Janus crime syndicate in Russia, a mysterious EMP goes off in a scientific base in Siberia destroying fighter aircraft and knocking out satellite systems in orbit. His newly appointed superior M, played by Judy Dench, orders him to get to the bottom of it, soon discovering a larger techno-conspiracy at play. Facing his former partner Alec Trevelyan, played by Sean Bean, Bond races against time to figure out his plan and stop it before it can be enacted.

The James Bond franchise is one that has consistently fluctuated in quality throughout the years for me. For every great movie in the franchise like Skyfall or Casino Royale, there’s always been a few that are mediocre or just straight up bad like Moonraker. In fairness, it’s a challenge for a character that’s over 50 years old to stay relevant in an ever-changing world, which leads to mixed results with each installment.

As such, I was curious to rewatch this particular entry after so many years away from it to see if my opinion had swayed at all with the times. Part of me was worried that its 90s style and setting would have aged badly by this point, not to mention whether its treatment of the main character would still fly in the modern era. Thankfully, GoldenEye still proves to be one of the franchises better entries and just a fun action movie in general.

It’s interesting to note how Martin Campbell is actually responsible for revitalizing the Bond franchise twice, first here and later with Casino Royale. (Whose own review will be coming soon) And both times, he found a way to make the character of James Bond grow and modernize without losing his essence. The Soviet Union is long gone by this point, so what use is an old-fashioned secret agent like him to the rest of the world?

Furthermore, GoldenEye manages to acknowledge Bond’s long history of womanizing and points out that it’s really immature and unprofessional of him. The most telling moment is when M tells 007 “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, and whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appeal to that young woman I sent to evaluate you.” And although the film ultimately can’t resist giving him an attractive female lead, (Or two) it makes up for it in various other departments.

In his first outing with the iconic role, Pierce Brosnan proves more than capable of putting his own unique spin on James Bond. Although he is surprisingly soft-spoken, he knows exactly how to use both words and weapons to turn control of the situation over to his hands throughout the film. He has a very clear way of keeping his composure under stressful situation, but it becomes tested when his connection to the main conflict suddenly becomes personal.

Also making her franchise debut, Dame Judi Dench is nothing short of impressive as the new version of M, Bond’s superior at the MI6. She’s highly determined and intelligent who fully understand the gravity of her new position, but never passes up the opportunity to break out some wit. Although she’s initially skeptical of 007’s capability as an agent, she begins to develop a grudging respect for him even if she strongly disapproves of his seductive methods.

Sean Bean also shouldn’t be overlooked as Alec Trevelyan, the primary antagonist of the film. While Bond villains are very inconsistent in terms of quality or intrigue, Bean is able to avoid these pitfalls by creating a personal connection with our hero and really represents what he could have become if he hadn’t maintained his loyalty to the United Kingdom. His effortless charisma and confidence makes him pretty intimidating, especially as he seems to know all of Bond’s weak points.

Izabella Scorupco, Famke Jenssen, Gottfried John, Alan Cumming, Robbie Coltrane, and Desmond Llewelyn round out the cast of new and returning supporters. Some of them definitely standout more than others, (I honestly thought Cumming was miscast) but they all play key roles in the grand scheme of things. Everyone knows that they’re in a James Bond movie and have no problem hamming it up for the crowd if the moment comes for it.

And from a technical perspective, GoldenEye marked an evolution behind the camera for the long-running franchise. Phil Méheux’s cinematography looks shiny for the most part but also manages to capture so many cool moments on-screen. Chief among them is the opening sequences when James dives off the top of the Contra Dam and the camera follows down with him. It’s an amazing stunt that immediately sets itself apart from all the previous entries in the series. There are also numerous points throughout where it uses numerous angles and long-takes for certain scenes. And the lighting is almost immaculate all the way through.

This works mostly in tandem with the editing job by Terry Rawlings. Every scene is carefully cut together so that the action can remain exciting but still intelligible for audiences. One particular moment near the end where Cumming’s character keeps frantically pushing on a pen creates a lot of unique tension as it builds towards a literally explosive climax. It also manages to blend the visual effects with practical in-camera tricks really well to where it looks mostly seamless.

Luc Besson’s frequent collaborator Éric Serra provides the instrumental film score here and to be honest, it’s entirely forgettable. The composition very much is inspired by contemporary 90’s music with an attempt to mix traditional orchestral sounds with more electronic rhythms. Unfortunately, the combo really doesn’t work as well as it should, and it honestly feels more like an afterthought than anything else.

Pop superstar Tina Turner gives us an original song for the requisite opening credits sequence titled the same as the film. As far as Bond songs go, it’s fine but not particularly memorable. Turner’s incredible vocals are always a delight to the ears but the rest of the track still leaves a lot to be desired.

GoldenEye is a welcome reinvention of a very archaic character. Martin Campbell is able to wrangle together a capable cast and great crew members to successfully bring James Bond into a post-Cold War world that proves to be just as great, if not more so, than its predecessors. Pierce Brosnan is more than willing to carry the iconic role forward with all of the wit, charm, and sophistication that we’ve all come to expect from 007.

“To Catch a Thief” Movie Review

It was only very recently that I realized I hadn’t actually seen nearly as many Hitchcock movies as I thought. Thankfully, my New Year’s resolution presented an opportunity to help rectify that situation, at least a little bit.

This romantic caper thriller was released in theaters worldwide by Paramount Pictures on August 3rd, 1955. Made for the budget of $2.5 million, the film went on the gross about $4.5 million in U.S. rentals during its original release. However, its global total at the box office is believed to be closer to around $8.75 million, on par with the director’s previous films. Although the film received mixed reviews at the time of its release, it has since garnered a respected reputation among his extensive oeuvre.

Directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock, the script by John Michael Hayes was adapted from the novel of the same name by David Dodge. The main star had attempted to retire two years prior out of anger for the House Un-American Activities Committee’s treatment of Charlie Chaplin. However, he ultimately returned to collaborate with the director and would go on to act for 11 more years afterward. It’s also Hitchcock’s only film with Paramount that the studio still owns the rights to, as the rest were sold back to him in the 1960s and put out through Universal Studios.

Cary Grant stars as John Robie, a retired cat burglar living a peaceful retirement in the French Riviera. While he enjoys a comfortable, reformed public image, a series of copycat thefts is committed against the small town’s wealthy tourists. The authorities immediately assume that Robie has gone back to his criminal ways, causing him to go on the run. With a limited amount of time, Robie sets out with young American tourist Frances Stevens, played by Grace Kelly, to catch the real crook and prove his innocence.

Obviously, Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most important and influential filmmakers in cinema history. He managed to completely change the way that films were made and presented, with a wholly unique style and clear vision of what he wants. North By Northwest and Vertigo rank among some of my favorite movies of all time, and even some of his lesser work like The Birds is extremely impressive for its time.

I had seen that this particular film, one of his more celebrated as I understand it, was finally available to stream through my resources. Hitchcock is far from a stranger to the caper genre and was curious to see what he and Cary Grant could make prior to their collaboration on North By Northwest. And while To Catch a Thief is certainly not the director’s finest work, it still manages to be a whole lot of fun that subverts expectations all these years later.

Obviously, when you’ve made so many iconic and groundbreaking films like Hitchcock, a few of them are bound to get lost somewhere by the wayside. This one certainly falls into that category, since it was made seemingly in between masterpieces as a sort of lightweight exercise for all involved. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all because there’s still plenty of entertainment value to be had here and reflects the kind of caper adventure that Hollywood has seemingly lost interest in making.

It’s also a testament to the quality and production of To Catch a Thief that it stilly manages to really grab your attention all these decades later. Whether it be the magical pull of Hitchcock’s direction, the irresistible cast, or a combination of both, it’s hard not to fall right into Robie’s misadventures and quest for innocence. That’s a sort of Old World optimism that, by today’s standards, actually seems rather quaint, and is an immortal part of its irrevocable charm.

Cary Grant was one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood for a reason, and his third collaboration with the director is further proof of it. As John Robie, he’s his usually charismatic and debonair self, a career criminal who simply wants to hang up his hat and live the rest of his life in peace. While he acts completely in control of the situation towards the authorities and locals, it all turns out to be a façade as everyone he once considered his friends start turning on him.

In one of her final roles before her royal retirement, Grace Kelly shines as Frances Stevens, Robie’s young American accomplice on the run. Although she only appears initially as a pretty face with a lot to say, she actually turns out to be much more intelligent and resourceful than given credit for. Despite the apparent danger this bandit-on-the-run scenario presents, she seems willing to jump headlong into the excitement of such an adventure.

John Williams (Not to be confused with the legendary composer) also gives a memorable performance as H.H. Hughson, a local insurance man who acts as Robie’s handler. Unlike Robie, he’s an extremely pragmatic career man who understands the intricacies of a situation like this and is highly skeptical of his colleague’s innocence. When it comes down to it, though, Hughson comes through for Robie when almost everyone else in the Riviera immediately believes his guilt.

Jessie Royce Landis, Charles Venel, Brigitte Auber, and Jean Martinelli all turn in memorable supporting roles of varying importance. Each one of them fits perfectly into the classic roles of a caper film which have since become archetypes of the genre. They all prove to be formidable players with someone like Hitchcock and manage to find the right balancing act for each of their respective characters.

Meanwhile, from a purely technical perspective, To Catch a Thief shows Hitchcock has already mastered his craft. Shot by frequent collaborator Robert Burks, the cinematography is very bright and full of diverse compositions. This was the first of five films the director filmed using the VistaVision process, which helps to create a widescreen format that makes the adventure feel bigger in scale and scope. Many of Hitchcock’s trademarks are shown throughout the film, including unusual angles that signify a character’s mental or emotional state during the plot.

This matches up well with the editing job by George Tomasini, who go on to work with the director for 8 more feature films. The film consistently makes use of cross dissolves as transitions between scenes to make things feel somewhat dreamy. And while the film consists of many scenes of dialogue, Hitchcock and Tomasini are able to keep things interesting with consistent cuts that don’t interfere with what’s going on. One particular scene sees a highspeed car traveling dangerously on a cliffside road as Frances and Robie finally come to an understanding with each other. Even 65 years later, that sequence still makes my palms sweat from anxiety.

In one of his earliest jobs for Hollywood, Lyn Murray composes and conducts the instrumental film score here. It is a perfect encapsulation of movie music during this period because of how wide-ranging the whole soundtrack is. The primary theme is an excellent tune that mixes the tone of adventure and mystery, using a mixture of woodwinds and strings to its advantage. Later in the soundtrack, we get to hear unusual percussion such as xylophones and bass drums to illustrate the relatively fast-paced nature of the story. While it’s not the best score of Old Hollywood, it is one worth listening to after the credits roll.

The kind of adventure that rarely gets made these days, To Catch a Thief is a lightweight caper with fun performances and old-school tricks. Alfred Hitchcock may have been coasting on his acclaim here, but he’s still able to assemble one hell of a picture that shows the best of his tendencies. It also has the luck of being carried by both Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in their prime to boost this straightforward and unpretentious classic.

“Rain Man” Movie Review

Welcome back, one and all, to my New Year’s Resolution! It’s been a great way for me to finally watch films I’ve always wanted to and look back on old favorites. The rules are the same as the have been for the past two years, and it’s time for me to start by scratch a major film off my watchlist.

This road-trip dramedy was originally released in theaters worldwide by MGM on December 16th, 1988. Made for the middling budget of $25 million, it went on to gross over $354.8 million at the box office. This made it the highest-grossing U.S. film of that year, despite competition from the likes of Die Hard and Twins. Critically acclaimed, it went on to win and be nominated for several year-end accolades, including top honors at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival. It also managed to win 4 Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Picture, out of 8 total nominations.

Directed by Barry Levinson, the Oscar-winning screenplay was originally written by Barry Marrow before being polished by Ronald Bass. The characters and story were inspired by Kim Peek and Bill Sackter, two real-life savants who Marrow met by chance. The final draft was delivered a few hours before the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike started, preventing any further rewrites during filming. There was also a controversy when 15 major airlines omitted a pivotal scene from the film, except for the Australian based Qantas whose safety records become more well-known afterwards.

Tom Cruise stars as Charlie Babbitt, a selfish young wheeler-dealer who tries importing cars against the EPA’s rules. When his estranged father dies, he travels to Cincinnati to hear the will reading and presumably inherit his vast amount of money and assets. However, he learns that his father’s entire fortune has been bequeathed to his older brother Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, who’s lived much of his life in a group home due to his autism and savant syndrome. Together, they embark on a cross-country roadtrip to change the legal status of their inheritance and form an unusual bond along the way.

Full disclosure for everyone reading this: I am an adult male diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. I have been on the spectrum for as long as I can remember and it has been a major defining part of my life and personality. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve truly become interested in researching the topic and I’d even go as far as to say that it has helped shape my passion for movies and storytelling. It’s something I’ve become comfortable with, and I’m proud of the resilience it has given me over time.

Despite this, with a few exceptions, I have rarely seen a portrayal of the condition in mainstream media. Shows and films such as Atypical, The Accountant, and Barfi have attempted to normalize it for neurotypical people in recent years, but I had never seen the one that had put it on the map for more people. As a serious depiction of autism, I have a couple of issues with it. But as a film on its own, Rain Man is still a pretty engaging and entertaining road movie to watch after 32 years.

The way they handle Raymond’s condition was much more sensitive than I had anticipated and it definitely gets a lot of things right. Many of his on-screen mannerisms, such as talking to himself and frequent panic attacks or outbursts, are remarkably accurate to the general symptoms of autism. It also gets points for showing how Charlie, a cold and selfish person, initially tries to manipulate Raymond for his own purposes before gradually changing his mind; that really hit close to home for me.

Where Rain Man falters here, aside from just being a typical roadtrip movie, is that it almost implies that all people on the spectrum are savants who are cut off from normal human emotions. This makes Raymond seem almost robotic during his time on-screen, and it feels way too simplified to have a full impact. But at the same time, I have to give Levinson and Co. some credit for at least trying to do something realistic with it, especially for the time it was made in.

In one of the earlier roles of his storied career, Tom Cruise delivers the goods here as Charlie Babbitt. At the beginning of the film, he’s a callous and narcissistic older brother who wants no responsibility that doesn’t result in his own personal gain. And while he tries to use Raymond’s incredible mathematic skills for his benefits, he soon comes to realize that having a relationship with his brother is far more important.

Valeria Golino is also worth mentioning as Susanna, Charlie’s level-headed girlfriend and business partner. She constantly tries to put Charlie on the right path and often tries to shoot down some of his schemes when they clearly only benefit him. As the film goes along, she starts to see his softer side as the influence of Raymond begins to show on the both of them.

And then, we have Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, the role that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. It’s easy to see why his performance was so acclaimed at the time of release and why it’s so controversial now. As mentioned earlier, Hoffman plays the role rather robotically, only showing real emotion during big outbursts. A huge part of me really wishes that had actually cast someone on the spectrum for the role rather than a neurotypical actor, but then again, the film might not have gotten made.

That being said, Hoffman does a pretty good job at showing his character’s insecurity when things don’t go according to his routine. It may seem a little childish at first, but it soon becomes clear that this is the only way that Raymond can cope with the real world, which he has never lived in as an adult. Seeing the way average people dismiss him because of his behavior is heartbreaking, especially since he can’t really express himself or his feelings in a “normal” way.

And from a technical perspective, Rain Man fits right into the pack of late 80s movies. John Seale’s cinematography tries to capture the sense of a sprawling road trip, with sweeping shots across the countryside. Being shot on location helps make it feel like an authentic look through a part of Americana. There are also a number of medium close-ups to help get intimate with the characters in small moments.

This works decently with the editing job by Stu Linder. It’s a very straightforward and unpretentious method he uses to cut the film together. There are only cuts whenever there need to be for the story or for when the emotions start running high, instead opting mostly for longer takes. The lack of flare allows for the characters to take center stage here.

In one of his earliest works in Hollywood, Hans Zimmer provides the instrumental film score. It essentially serves as a guideline for all his scores to come because it is a genuinely good, if not quite memorable one. You can hear his signature style of blending electronic sounds with that of a more traditional orchestral sound. The main theme is an interesting theme that doesn’t really feel sentimental but still feels appropriate for what Charlie and Raymond go through. The trademark 80s synthesizer and percussion is ever present throughout as it sets the tone for the adventure to come.

A clear product of its time, Rain Man is a somewhat problematic mishmash of genuinely good intentions. Barrys Levinson and Marrow do work within the confines of a traditional road trip movie but still put forth a lot of effort to take its subject matter seriously. It’s also a great showcase for a pre-action Tom Cruise and a performance from Dustin Hoffman that, for better or worse, has made its way into film history.

As someone on the spectrum, I’m still trying to work out my exact feelings on how it treats autism. I can definitely respect the attempts the filmmakers made at painting a more accurate picture of the condition, but there’s still a long way to go.

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” Movie Review

Almost everyone who celebrates Christmas has some unique family traditions they try to bring back every year. And if yours are anything like the shenanigans in this film, then you’re truly living a big life. This slapstick Christmas comedy was originally released in theater by Warner Bros. on December 1st, 1989. After coming in second its opening weekend, it went on to gross over $71.4 million at the worldwide box office. Against a budget of roughly $25 million, this made it the highest-grossing film in the Vacation franchise for about 25 years. Although it received mixed reviews during its initial run, it is now considered a modern Christmas classi among many film fans, this one included. Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, the screenplay by John Hughes was originally written as a short story called “Christmas ’59” published in the National Lampoon magazine. He only agreed to do it for the studio because of the quality of the story and left the series for good afterwards. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone director Chris Columbus was originally set at the helm before leaving after clashing with its main star consistently. Columbus and Hughes would later try and work together again on the future holiday classic Home Alone. Chevy Chase stars as Clark Griswold, the energetic and enthusiastic patriarch of the oddball Griswold family. As the winter season progresses, he sets out to try and give his family the best Christmas of all time by any means necessary. As more members of his extended family arrive, more and more absurd problems arise as Clark attempts to save old traditions. Just like It’s a Wonderful Life, I wanted to go ahead and close out my New Year’s Resolution with a pair of Christmas films that are considered classics. Sure, there’s a whole lot of cheese in places like Hallmark and Lifetime, but there are plenty of films that take the genre in great ways. And it’s nice to have a traditional rewatch every season, whether it’s a real decades-old classic or a recent gem. I decided to go ahead and look back on a film that’s renowned but not usually discussed in the pantheon along others like Miracle on 34th Street. My feelings on National Lampoon as a whole are kind of mixed, but their Vacation franchise provides some big laughs every now and then. And after all these years, Christmas Vacation still proves to be the best of them and a genuinely fun holiday regular. If you’re hoping for a strong narrative in your yuletide films, you’ll be disappointed because the plot and setup here are extremely simplistic. But that ultimately works to its advantage because it allows breathing room both for the hilarious jokes and the more heartwarming moments. It’s primary theme of trying to find what it means for a truly great Christmas season is really resonant and universal for audiences, no matter how dysfunctional your family may be. The one issue that keeps Christmas Vacation from being a complete classic for me is an unnecessary fantasy pool scene. It comes at around the beginning of the third act and just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film before or after. But if you can ignore that one scene, (I’ve begun just fast-forwarding through it on each rewatch) the rest of the film is pretty fun across multiple demographics. Although most people associate him with Community and his days on Saturday Night Live, Chevy Chase was really at the top of his game here. As Clark Griswold, he’s extremely energetic and enthusiastic about bringing all of his family’s traditions into the fold this year. He tries to bottle up his frustration with failures and work but finally lets it all out in one of the best and funniest tirades in cinematic history. By his side, Beverly D’Angelo is amazing and endlessly funny as his confused and deadpan wife Ellen. She plays it more like the straight-laced partner who acts completely rational compared to her husband’s wild behavior. Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galicki play the Griswolds’ daughter and son, respectively, which continues the gag of their children always changing actors. They’re both earnest in their desire to make Christmas great but are constantly unsure about their father’s unorthodox methods to get to it. In a way, they act more as an audience surrogate as we witness the bizarre and absurd take hold in their household in gradual fashion. John Randolph, Randy Quaid, Diane Ladd, William Hickey, and Mae Questel round out the memorable members of the Griswold family while Sam McMurray, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest, and Brian Doyle-Murray play some of their various acquaintances. With the exception of Quaid and Louis-Dreyfus, not many of the supporting cast really stand out or leave a huge impression. None of them really have big character arcs but they provide some decent laughs and contribute to the overall package. And from a technical point-of-view, Christmas Vacation has just enough flare to distinguish itself from other comedies of the decade. Thomas E. Ackerman’s cinematography here is, by and large, straightforward and pretentious. There aren’t really any clever movements, aside from a dramatic push-in on Clark when the house lights finally come on. It mostly places the camera in one or two different static positions during a scene and finds a way to make the humor more visually satisfying and timed well. The main colors associated with the holiday- blue, red, white, and green -are often seen throughout in many different ways and the frame captures them pretty decently. It’s really the editing, which is a joint effort from Jerry Greenberg and Michael A. Stevenson, that brings out the personality. The film often cuts between something really obscene with something more warmhearted for the holiday season, creating a very funny dichotomy. Each scene is nicely cut together to a tea and knows what to focus on for the specific moment. It also makes a wise decision of when to include a pause or when to cut away to the punchline. The aforementioned tirade is mostly shown in a long take of Clark in his living room and he kicks the furniture around him and gathers his breath. The fact that the camera doesn’t cut away during this moment makes it very hard not to break out in laughter as he pours out his true feelings for the first time. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a jolly good time with some really timeless jokes and heart. Excluding that unnecessary pool scene, Jeremiah S. Chechik and John Hughes have crafted a really nice classic in the already crowded pantheon of Christmas movies. Your mileage for the film as a whole may vary, but it’s Chevy Chase’s inimitably hilarious turn as Clark Griswold that makes it worth rewatching time and again. A fantastic way to close out the 1980’s, this comedy is sure to bring plenty of yuletide joy and laughter to the family.

Image result for christmas vacation poster

“It’s a Wonderful Life” Movie Review

If you’re not in the mood for the sappy schmaltz of Hallmark movies or the action-heavy bravado of Die Hard, you can always look to the “Golden Age” for holiday favorites. This holiday romantic fantasy drama was originally released in theaters worldwide by RKO Pictures on December 20th, 1946. Despite being able to recoup its $3.18 million production budget, the film failed to break even due to stiff competition, and it wasn’t close. Many experts and historians attributed this as the start of the once-popular director’s decline in his favor with the major studios. Nowadays, it is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. Directed by Frank Capra, the film was originally inspired by the short story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern. The studio initially set it up as a starring vehicle for Cary Grant with Dalton Trumbo writing the screenplay before all of their ideas were scrapped. Capra came in and did extensive (And apparently strenuous) work on the new script with Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich and auditioned several actors for all bu the main role. A few months after the release of the film, there was a memo sent out to the public by the FBI accusing the film of having Communist sympathies. Set in the fictional small town of Bedford Falls, Jimmy Stewart stars as George Bailey, a young man working as a building and loan banker. As the film goes along, we witness all the things in his life leading up to a series of particularly miserable decisions and bad luck. On Christmas Eve 1945, he becomes so depressed from his situation that he contemplates suicide, only to be saved by his guardian angel Clarence Odbody, played by Henry Travers. In an effort to show him how different life would be, Clarence takes George to a version of the world where he was never born and the consequences therein. I’ve made it clear in the past that Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie of all time and I firmly stand by that. However, I also recognize that sometimes it’s nice to find something a little older and more family-friendly to watch over the holiday break. And although it could from household to household, more often than not, it comes down to this film and White Christmas. I had personally not seen this film for the better part of a decade, even though I distinctly remember loving it the first time. I finally got the chance to watch it again in the past few weeks, hoping that my older eyes would see it in a new light. And it’s with a brightened heart and a lifted spirit that I say It’s a Wonderful Life is still fabulous and even improves on repeat viewings. The central premise is a question we’ve all asked ourselves before; would the world be much different without me? This film paints Bedford Falls as a genuinely kind town and in the scenario without George Bailey around, it becomes a much darker and colder place called “Pottersville.” It does a fantastic job at showing how much the protagonist has made the lives of those around him better, even if he himself can’t realize it. Interestingly, something you may notice is that It’s a Wonderful Life doesn’t really get to Clarence or the alternate world until over an hour into the film. The whole movie leading up to that moment is spent with the voices in Heaven recounting George’s whole life story from childhood to present day. It not only helps further establish context for him and his loved ones but also creates a big emotional payoff for the iconic and heartwarming ending. Jimmy Stewart has built his whole career playing the likable American everyman, and I’m convinced that this might be his best work outside of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. As George Bailey, he’s immensely compassionate and is able think on his feet rather quickly when financial situations come up. Although he’s clearly happy to help his fellow neighbors, seeing him sacrificing his dreams of leaving Bedford Falls time and again shows his growing frustration of wanting to live a bigger life but never getting to. In direct contrast to him, Lionel Barrymore is extremely memorable as Mr. Henry F. Potter, the richest man in town. Although he doesn’t move much outside of his wheelchair, he’s successfully able to make both Bedford Falls citizens and audience members despise him as he only cares about buying and owning everything. He prides himself on manipulating various businesspeople on deals and loans for his own gain and only seems to get angrier and greedier as the film goes along. Henry Travers also delights as the guardian angel in training Clarence Odbody, one of the best side characters in cinema. Despite his cheerful and optimistic attitude, he’s determined to show George why his life truly matters and isn’t afraid to show the darkness. It’s almost like a learning experience for both him and us as we learn everything about this town and its people right alongside Clarence and the value of human decency. The supporting cast includes Donna Reed as George’s loving and quick-witted wife, Thomas Mitchell as his caring but dim-witted uncle Billy, Todd Karns as his innocent yet honest younger brother, H.B. Warner as a well-meaning but oft-drunk druggist, and Frank Albertson as George’s wealth but absent old friend. Each one plays an important part in the story of the main character and it’s clear they all are impacted by him. Even if George himself can’t see it, their lives are much better with him around and radiate a genuine warmth and neighborly presence in each scene. And from a technical point of view, It’s a Wonderful Life showcases Capra’s real brilliance behind the camera. Because of the difficulty of production, three cinematographers were credited: Joseph Biroc, Victor Milner, and Joseph Walker. Despite this, the black-and-white cinematography is still timelessly great, filled with long takes for dialogue-heavy scenes between all of the characters. There are a surprising amount of close-up shots used, either used to capture an actor’s internalized emotions or highlight important information on a document. Although a colorized version does exist, the black-and-white original makes the frame feel much more natural and the smooth movements make it seem almost like a fairytale. The editing job by William Hornbeck is equally excellent, being able to showcase everything with great precision and timing. As previously stated, there are several long takes throughout the film. But there are also numerous scenes where it cuts back and forth between different points of view to provide variety and tension, especially during arguments. A handful of times, the frame will freeze so that Clarence and his superiors in Heaven can fill in some blanks on lost time. It’s a brilliant way to keep the audience engaged without trying to hold their hand the whole way through. Dimitri Tiomkin, who previously worked on the director’s prior films, provides the instrumental film score for what would be their last effort together. It has all the sweeping greatness of many old-school Hollywood films, with a full orchestra and more. The main suite is a grand theme that mixes multiple different sounds and instruments together in a great manner. The mixture of strings and brass help create an emotional environment as George moves from one thing in his life to another. It also utilizes both subtle and overt choral moments that highlight the ethereal nature of the story. And best of all, it also knows when to let their be no music whatsoever, making it land much more effectively. A true cinematic classic if ever there was one, It’s a Wonderful Life is a beautiful and humanistic tribute to all the small moments in our lives. Arguably Frank Capra’s masterpiece, the film shows us how much of an impact we all have on the people immediately around us, even if we don’t fully realize it. Jimmy Stewart has quite possibly never been better than here and George Bailey is undoubtedly one of the best heroes in movie history. There is perhaps nothing more true to the “Christmas spirit” than for us to appreciate the time and space we share with our loved ones, and this film shows that wonderfully.

Image result for it's a wonderful life poster

“Highlander” Movie Review

After watching and reviewing a slew of critically acclaimed “classics” for My New Year’s resolution, I decided to have a bit of a change of pace. And I honestly couldn’t be prouder of the decision. This fantasy adventure film was originally released in U.S. theaters by 20th Century Fox on March 7th, 1986. It was eventually brought to theaters in the U.K. about 5 months later on August 29th of that year by the now-defunct EMI Films. Made for the budget of around $19 million, it failed to recuperate that with a final box office intake of just $12.9 million. It also didn’t help that critical reviews for the film at the time ranged from dismissive to outright panning it. Despite this, it later found some newfound success when it was released on home media, becoming something of a gem with a huge worldwide cult following. It also, for some reason, spawned a franchise that included four sequels, an animated film, and a T.V. spinoff. Directed by Russell Mulcahy, the screenplay was originally written while screenwriter Gregory Widen was an undergrad student at UCLA, and sold it for $200,000. The original concept was apparently much darker and more violent but was watered down after the studio brought Larry Ferguson and Peter Bellwood to rewrite several drafts. Filming was apparently a grueling process for all involved, particularly with getting locations figured out and the logistics of certain shots. Beginning in Scotland 1536, Christopher Lambert stars as Conor MacLeod, a warrior and patron of his family clan. After apparently dying on the field of battle, he discovers that he is one of a group of immortals that can only be killed by decapitation. Fast forward to 1985, Conor is living in New York City under the alias Russell Nash and learns that his lifelong enemy The Kurgan, played by Clancy Brown, has found him. Knowing that their confrontation could decide the fate of the universe, Conor remembers all his teachings and prepares for the final battle. If that premise alone doesn’t automatically scream the 1980s, then I honestly don’t know what does. It was a time when the industry, while heavily commercialized and influenced by the Reagan Era, still churned out original blockbusters at a steady rate. Even if all of the movies from that decade weren’t great or even good, it’s cool to see something so admittedly bonkers get bankrolled by a major studio at the time. This was one of those movies that I had always heard a weird response about, with just as many people proclaiming it a genre classic as there were those who denounced it completely. It had been in my Blu-Ray collection for many years, but now I finally had the chance to sit down and watch it myself. Make absolutely no mistake; Highlander is objectively a bad movie on several fronts, but I just couldn’t help but be totally entertained by it. In my personal experience, there are two different types of “guilty pleasure” movies to watch. There are the ones that are so atrocious that they’re hilariously fun to watch with a crowd, and then those that you love even with the full knowledge that it’s not good at all.  The 80s had plenty of both types, and I consider this film to be among the latter category. I also feel like Highlander is a movie that could only really have worked if it were made in this specific time frame. If they had made it today, (And apparently, there are efforts to try and reboot it) it would have taken everything way too seriously and tried to find some sort of thematic resonance. And while there is a glimpse of looking at immortals cursed to walk the Earth forever, it’s really the zany silliness that makes the movie what it is. Christopher Lambert is not a good actor and his performance as Conor MacLeod in this film is iconic in a different way. As stoic as a statue of William Wallace, he can either go too far into a scene or not far enough depending on the emotional requirements. It’s also arguable that no other actor could’ve portrayed him like this, especially with all of that luscious hair. In more positive notes, Clancy Brown seems to be having the time of his life playing The Kurgan in this film. The future voice actor for Mr. Krabs chews up how overtly villainous and contemptible his character is, covered in many scars and undesirable clothing. Aside from an epic voice and a litany of swear words, he also gets credit for uttering the film’s most iconic line, “There can be only one!” Sir Sean Connery is also noteworthy as Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, Conor’s immortal mentor during his early days. The only one in the film with a convincing Scottish accent, it’s both perplexing and amusing trying to figure out what background his character is supposed to be. As he rides through the gorgeous hills with a flamboyant costume in tow, he espouses some observations on the values of love for men like them and just hams it up the best he can. Roxanne Hart, Beatie Edney, Alan North, Jon Polito, Sheila Gish, and Hugh Quarshie round out the relevant players in the supporting cast. There’s a decent variety of performance here, with some playing it straight and others going all-or-nothing. I wouldn’t put these actors up as the most memorable roles of the decade or even their careers, but for what it is, they do a fine job. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Highlander are a mixed bag, ranging from good to jarring. The cinematography by Gerry Fisher bares a sort of sheen of plasticity found in many films from the era. Many colors are weirdly washed out, but come bursting out in bits and pieces such as Juan’s extravagant outfits. It often trades big, swooping landscape shots for many intimate medium or close-ups to try and bring it back to the characters. With only one exception relatively early on, most of the shots are consistent in style and quality as it moves from scene to scene. Speaking of which, the editing job by Peter Hoeness can be highly inconsistent. The transitions from scenes in the present day to 16th-century Scotland are pretty clever and subtle for the most part. But during the fight sequences, the cuts between multiple, drastically different shots is bizarre at best and incomprehensible at worst. A couple of battles even take place mostly in dark shadows as if to hide the stunt doubles, which is a shame because a number of them are decently choreographed. But the incorporation of practical sets and effects is mighty cool and at least feels like an attempt at authenticity. The soundtrack is noteworthy because it reeks of the 1980s in the best way possible. Immortal British rock band Queen write a handful of songs for the film, which eventually were composited into their album Kind of Magic. The two most notable songs they contributed are “Princes of the Universe” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” Both feature the band’s typical, synth-heavy sound from the decade, while Freddie Mercury’s inimitable vocals fit perfectly for the grand scope of the adventure. Although the former song discuss the cosmic implications of the main story and characters, the latter is more of a somber love ballad for Conor’s doomed attempts at mortal romance. Iconic in ways both genuine and ironic, Highlander is a shamelessly cheesy adventure with entertaining yet unreached potential. Although it definitely leaves much to be desired and could easily find more meat with its premise, Russell Mulcahy and Gregory Widen still managed to create an original mythology that finds a great place in its crowded era. Christopher Lambert may not be able to act well, (Or at all, really) but Conor MacLeod is a hero worth rooting for who gets the chance to go head-to-head in a swordfight against Mr. Krabs. I mean, is there anything else you could possibly ask for?

“All That Jazz” Movie Review

I’ve been constantly looking for the one film that could possibly win over even people who weren’t a fan of musicals. And I’m pretty sure I just found it. This fantastical musical drama was originally released in theaters worldwide by 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures on December 20th, 1979. Made for the budget of $12 million, it went on to gross over $37.8 million at the box office, considered above expectations. One of the most acclaimed films of its year, it went on to garner the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival the following year and won 4 Academy Awards out of 9 nominations. Additionally, it received high praise from figures in the industry, including filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Directed by Bob Fosse, the screenplay was written in collaboration with producer Robert Alan McArthur. As the production’s cost was continuously climbing, another studio had to be brought in to help finish it and was given domestic distribution as well. The film is said to be based on Fosse’s experiences trying to stage a production of Chicago while simultaneously editing the film Lenny, which resulted in him suffering massive heart attack. Many of the actors involved were either based on people in Fosse’s life or were playing mildly fictional versions of themselves. Roy Scheider stars as Joe Gideon, a workaholic yet successful Broadway director and choreographer. As he’s working on a brand new show, while also editing a film behind schedule, his health condition gradually becomes worse as he can’t pull himself away from a life of debauchery. He frequently has imaginary conversations with an angel of death named Angelique, played by Jessica Lange, who tries to help him understand the sins of his life. And despite the crystal clear signs and warnings from family and friends that he needs to slow down, Joe is determined to finish his work before his time on Earth is over. While my Broadway history is far from thorough, I really do enjoy Bob Fosse’s work on musicals like Chicago. His intimate and first-hand knowledge of that world really shines through in just about every one of his projects. There’s a certain energy and wavelength they’re all on that’s just impossible to resist so easily. Despite this, I had never seen any of his film productions until this one. I guess it was partially because I feared if his masterful staging and choreography would translate into cinema very well. And that is just the case because All That Jazz is a phenomenal film that transcends its very genre over and over. Unlike most semi-autobiographical pictures, this one doesn’t try to sanitize the director’s lifestyle or his profession. In fact, the best and most terrifying part about it is how Fosse reckons with his destructive choices and the people he’s damaged as a result. And yet, I’ve been told that this is still somehow less dramatic than what had actually transpired in real life. Even more scary is that All That Jazz is unafraid to show the dangerous side of show business, warts and all. There are numerous scenes where the producers and financiers of Gideon’s projects are either extremely uncomfortable with his vision or trying to find a way to undermine it for investment returns. In that, it might be too brutal to watch for some, but it never forgets the humanity at the heart of the story. Roy Scheider makes a total departure from his heroic turn in Jaws by completely embodying the director in the best way possible. As Joe Gideon, he convincingly portrays his gradual downfall as his personal and professional life come to a head. His constant movement and multitasking shows the natural talent he possesses, even if it alienates everyone in his life. Watching him slowly fall apart, first denying it hen embracing it, is heartbreaking to see. Jessica Lange also shines as Angelique, Gideon’s eager and contemplative angel of death. The film often interjects scenes of the real world with Gideon recounting different stories to her, who’s goal seems to be trying to understand his humanity as death inches closer. Her curiosity towards his failings as a man makes her one of the few characters he opens up to, even though she’s somewhat distant emotionally. The supporting cast is rounded out by a troupe of noticeable character actors, many of whom have background in theater. This includes Ann Reinking as the auteur’s youthful new girlfriend, Ben Vereen as a late night music entertainer, Cliff Gorman as the lead actor in a film Gideon is cutting together, John Lithgow as one of Gideon’s Broadway rivals, and Wallace Shawn as an opportunistic insurance investigator. Each one plays a big part in Joe’s personal or professional life and frequently come and go as the story needs them to. And from a purely technical standpoint, All That Jazz is a towering achievement in the Hollywood New Wave. Shot by Federico Fellini’s collaborator Giuseppe Rotunno, the cinematography is gritty and largely unpretentious. For the moments when it’ just focused on Joe’s personal affairs or business dealings, the color palette is very grimy and harsh as to represent his lifestyle. But when it switches to something more theatrical, the colors turn vibrant with spotlights and the lighting is incredible. Most of the shots are steady zooms or tracking shots, often showcasing a whole performance in one go. It is made even more amazing by the editing job from Alan Heim, which may as well be a Masterclass in editing. The most notable example of it being Joe’s morning routine, which repeats several times and gives a great view of his unhealthy habits. It frequently cuts between two scenes to show a strong juxtaposition between them, such as the Broadway show’s backers discussing financial prospects contrasting with Joe’s heart surgery. As the film goes along, the editing becomes more distorted as Joe becomes more unsure of what’s real and what’s the afterlife. Both of these things culminate in a glorious final act, which might just be one of the best endings in film history. With a new rendition of The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love,” it’s a spectacular finale befitting of its protagonist. And the smash cut to the last shot is perhaps one of the most devastating you’re likely to ever see in a motion picture. Featuring intense performances, amazing direction, and an incredible ending to cap it all off, All That Jazz is an existential masterpiece of music, death, and the personal cost of artistry. By subverting the “tortured artist” cliché and letting his guard down, Bob Fosse delivers one of the most powerful and unhinged portraits of the entertainment industry. Roy Schieder gives a great performance as a caricature of Fosse and the whole rest and the cast and crew bring their absolute A-game. As I said in the beginning, even if you don’t really like musicals, it will be very difficult to not be captivated by this film’s chaotic beauty.

“Mean Streets” Movie Review

With Todd Phillips’ Joker coming out this month, there is so much attention given to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. I decided if we’re gonna talk about that film’s obvious influences from Scorsese, why not go back to his real roots? This crime drama was originally released in theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures on October 14th, 1973. Part of the reason it managed to see the light of day is because some of his fellow “Film School Brats” of the Hollywood New Wave helped him get it off the ground. When it finally did, it managed to gross over $3 million against a production budget of around $500,000, which was considerably low at the time. The film also managed to become extremely popular with critics and young NYC audiences when released, including a rare positive response from Pauline Kael. Co-written and directed by Martin Scorsese, the screenplay initially began as a continuation of characters from his debut feature Who’s That Knocking at My Door. The film is said to based on real events Scorsese witnessed regularly as child in the Little Italy neighborhood. The director almost made it in the style of a Blaxploitation film for Roger Corman before a connection got him in contact with producer Jonathan Taplin, who managed to secure studio funding. While it is his third directorial effort overall, it’s apparently the first one made completely of his own fingerprints. Set in a small New York City neighborhood, Harvey Keitel stars as Charlie Cappa, an Italian-American man and small-time hoodlum. He’s best friends with young gambler John “Johnny Boy” Civello, played by Robert De Niro, who’s swimming in debts to local loan sharks. Charlie is struggling to reconcile his deep Catholic beliefs with his aspirations to rise in the local mob run by his uncle Giovanni, played by Cesare Danova. However, as Johnny Boy’s behavior towards other street-level thugs becomes increasingly volatile, their chances of making it out alive get increasingly harder. This is not usually the film that people talk about whenever Martin Scorsese’s name comes up in conversation. It’s understandable why not, since it’s very early work and clearly lacking the finesse of some of his later films. But I still feel like it’s important to acknowledge where every artist gets their start, no matter how bumpy it is. Recently, almost all of the auteur’s early films appeared on Netflix, including Taxi Driver and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. I thought it would be a cool change of pace to steer clear of his more well-known pictures and choose something a little more hard edge for him. And Mean Streets proves to be a pretty good starting point for the director, even if it’s more amateurish than his later works. Scorsese’s career-long fascination with Italian-American crime is evident here in the look at all these small time hustlers. The mob itself isn’t captured in as much sprawling detail as it would be in the future with Goodfellas and Casino, but there’s a certain quality to it that makes it feel lived-in and real. Everyone in this neighborhood knows everyone and what they’ve done, and that doesn’t always bode well for the protagonists. Where Mean Streets falters a little is that it’s sometimes hard to care for the characters and what they’re all doing. There are numerous scenes where multiple people are talking over one another with lots of vulgarity, which helps give it a fly-on-the-wall feeling. But seeing this and watching them do reprehensible things for about 2 hours can get exhausting, especially because none of the characters really change by the end. Harvey Keitel has always been an underrated actor in my opinion, and his performance in this film is proof of that. As Charlie, he’s very conflicted about his choice of career as it contrasts heavily with his Catholic background. He does his best to keep cool but when pressured just enough, he explodes in a fury of anger that’s hard to look away from. And in the first on nine collaborations with the director, Robert De Niro is absolutely incredible as Johnny Boy, one of his most unpredictable characters. In every scene, he’s extremely volatile and fast-moving, practically refusing to stay in the same place for very long. There’s a tinge of melancholy to his character as he just gets himself into more and more trouble as the plot rolls along. These two characters are undoubtedly the main focus of the whole movie and rightly so. De Niro and Keitel’s chemistry is excellent and you really feel like these two have been friends for a long time. This duo is also flanked by a capable supporting cast of character actors, who fill various roles with lots of appropriate gusto. Chief among them are Richard Romanus as one particularly irked loan shark trying to collect his due, George Memmoli as a pool hall owner, Amy Robinson as Johnny’s cousin and Charlie’s secret girlfriend, and Cesare Danova as Charlie’s calculating and cautious uncle in the mob. Each one has something to lose to someone else and the film’s refusal to paint a black-and-white portrait of the characters is very engaging. And when it comes to the technical aspects, Mean Streets shows Scorsese’s distinct voice gradually developing. In his professional film, Kent L. Wakeford’s cinematography has a certain cinéma vérité quality to it. Nearly every scene is handheld and follows the characters through the grimy and ugly streets of New York. There’s also a beautiful use of the color red, as it often appears in a hazy dominance over several scenes. Whether it’s a birthday party for a drunken soldier or a simply night out at the bar, the color red is almost always there as if to foreshadow the bloodshed in this lifestyle. This just about works on par with Sidney Levin’s editing job, which cuts between each scene exhaustively. While lacking real precision, its intentions are still clear as it never tries to linger too long on violence or nudity to avoid being gratuitous. A couple moments also involve freeze frame, which gives leeway for Charlie’s narration of his thoughts. Although, there are a handful of moments where it’s hard to figure out who’s saying what, but that just adds to the immersion of this world. Mean Streets is a bumpy but solid start to a great auteur’s career. Although I’d never rank it alongside his best work, Martin Scorsese still manages to paint a unique picture of crime in an environment that seems familiar yet alien. With actors that would later become his own regular collaborators, it could certainly be argued that this served as the basic blueprint for his films to follow. It gets very rough around the edges and probably not worth watching more than twice, but if it helped lead to the director’s later masterpieces, than I am content with it.