Month: March 2012

Donnie Brasco

Year: 1997
Directed By: Mike Newell
Witten By: Paul Attansio (screenplay), Richard Woodley and Joseph D. Pistone (book)

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is a really dull movie made about an awesome and incredible story.  In a nutshell that is why we own it. I saw this movie in the theater in 1997 but didn’t own it till a couple of years ago after reading the book.  I am a big fan of any mafia/organized crime film and have always been fascinated by the real history it has in our country.  Donnie Brasco is a big part of that history and a truly amazing story.  Despite the efforts to cast the right people for this movie I think what they ultimately came up with wasn’t that good and could have been done much better.

There are plenty of problems with this film but I think one of the main problems is that there’s too much to the story to squeeze it into a two-hour time frame the way they did. Joseph D Pistone was undercover as Donnie Brasco for six years. The movie combines a combination of different stories from throughout those six years into one part of it, his time with Lefty Ruggiero. Another problem is the theme of the film and how it exagerates certain aspects of the story.  One thing that Pistone makes perfectly clear in his book is that there is no “code of honor” in the actual mob.  He says their portrayal in films is mostly Hollywood stuff and that in fact these guys are just scheming thieves and killers who will do anything to make money. Pistone never gets that close to crossing sides either, he was always in control of who he was and what he was doing.

Pistone first infiltrated the Columbo family in New York as Donnie Brasco and then moved on more seriously into the Bonanno family. After his six years working undercover he got over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions of organized crime members.  What I find interesting is how he actually managed to do any of this because he was on such a tight leash by the FBI.  He never actually broke any laws because that would have jeopardized his ability to get convictions. Yet he managed to infiltrate the mob despite this.  I think a lot of it had to do with how stupid the men he infiltrated actually were.  Ruggiero specifically was a real moron, yet still a very dangerous man. Pistone wasn’t on his own as much as the movie implies either, he often worked with other agents who were also working undercover.  Even some of them were found to be undercover yet Brasco managed to continue getting deeper involved. It really is an amazing story and Pistone is a true badass.  He had to make many sacrifices to do his job and he has had to continue living in danger even until today.

I don’t think Mike Newell had any business being in charge of a film like this, the project should have been given to a more talented director. I think casting Al Pacino in a mafia film is an idea that looks really good on paper for obvious reasons but I don’t think it really went well in this film.  He is playing the part of a pathetic kind of mobster that spends most of the film bitching about this and that.  Johnny Depp is OK in the movie but I wouldn’t call him exceptional.  Casting Anne Heche in the female lead is an idea that only made sense in the late 90s for about 10 minutes. I think the best part in this movie goes to Michael Madsen, but Michael Madsen is awesome in everything he does.  Mr. Blonde is one of the most ultra cool actors ever and he didn’t make enough movies in his prime. There are a lot of other notable actors in smaller roles all throughout the film including Paul Giamatti, Zeljko Ivanek, and Tim Blake Nelson.  Bruno Kirby is awful and has way too much screen time in the film.

This film received critical acclaim when it came out but I have seriously never understood why.  As a big fan of anything with the mafia in it I have always thought this was a dull movie and one of the weaker films of the genre. This movie isn’t dark enough to be a good mob film and there isn’t enough violence. With an R rating you have to take advantage of certain opportunities and this film doesn’t, it has no edge to it. I don’t think this movie is worth anybodies time, but the story is.  In lieu of endorsing this film I would like to instead encourage everybody to get a copy of the book and read what really happened.

NEXT MOVIE: Donnie Darko (2001)

Bonnie and Clyde

Year: 1967
Directed By: Arthur Penn
Written By: David Newman and Robert Benton

RYAN’S REVIEW

When we were watching Warren Beatty in Dick Tracy we realized we didn’t have this movie and had to make arrangements to change that.  Not only is this a classic film but it is one we have both always enjoyed.  We were a young crazy couple in love once and it was during that era that we saw this movie. I think it was a movie we both related to at the time.  With the thrill seeking lifestyle that is, not the impotence problem. In our youth we fancied ourselves to be rebels of a sort, and the “Bonnie and Clyde” theme appealed to us in a number of different films.

The Great Depression produced many celebrity outlaws that the film industry has always been willing to exploit on screen. Actually adding to the problem in doing so by glorifying their actions for an even greater audience. John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson have all graced the big screen at one time or another but none were as famous or celebrated as Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.  Arthur Penn does a good job using them as the centerpiece for his story about the Great Depression but his movie is an inaccurate portrayal of actual events.  Like most movies that try to cover something historical like this they just can’t possibly fit the whole story into two hours.  There was much more to this story and some of the things the film portrays were outright exaggerations or made up all together.  The filmmakers were actually sued for defamation by the family of U.S. Marshal Frank Hamer, who was never captured and photographed with the gang members. The infamous death of the two is shown differently in the film than how it actually happened as well.  Bonnie and Clyde did go out in a hail of bullets but they were heavily armed and fighting back at the time. The way they are killed in the film implies that they were unarmed and victimized by the law. One of the many ways the film glorifies their actions and character despite the fact that they were ruthless killers and thieves. Nevertheless the film does cover the basic story and does a good job; you just have to be careful about what you take at face value.

Warren Beatty was in his prime when he made this film.  At 30 years old this is definitely the youngest and fittest I have ever seen him. I don’t know much about Beatty beyond him being a very private and powerful celebrity. I have always been a big fan of Gene Hackman who is also really young in this film. Hackman was an actor for over forty years and maintained a staying presence during the majority of that time; he only got more active in his later years. He has made countless good movies with iconic roles throughout his career; we will review many of his films. Faye Dunaway looks spectacular in this film, although she is much more beautiful than the actual Bonnie Parker, but that makes no matter. It’s also worth mentioning that Robert Towne did some doctoring to the script of the film.  Towne is well known for his writing roles in films like Chinatown and The Yakuza.

This was a very violent movie in 1967 that had a large and pronounced sexual theme thrown in the mix.  There has been talk that our culture’s fixation on sex and violence all began with this movie. I don’t know that for any actual certainty but I think it is an interesting idea. After all, I am a product of the film world created under the influence of this film, and my favorite movie of all time is practically just a modern version of this movie. This is a classic film and you don’t need me to tell you it’s a good movie.  This one is definitely worth your time.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I remember watching this movie in film critique class in high school. I immediately liked it. There are a few things that I distinctly remember from class so I will reiterate them here.

The big guns and cigars are used in the movie to symbolize the impotence that Clyde experiences. The irony is that he is this big badass bank robber, but he can’t get his junk up. Also, this movie was one of the first of its kind to make the viewer actually side with and feel sorry for the bad guys. Bonnie and Clyde were horrible criminals that stole and killed, yet this film made the viewer actually root for them in the end. Even though you know in the end they both die, you feel a sense of sadness for the gruesome way in which they are killed.

I really like this movie. It is a classic tale of a true life story and is more than worth your time.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Year: 1988
Directed By: Frank Oz
Written By: Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, and Paul Henning

RYAN’S REVIEW

I mentioned in my review of Criminal that I usually enjoy movies about con men and that is especially true for this film.  I wouldn’t say that I loved this film or that I think it is awesome, but nevertheless there is a lot to like about it and it’s always fun to watch. I wouldn’t call this film exceptional by any means but sporting the duo of Steve Martin and Michael Caine makes it something special. Throw in the fact that it was directed by Yoda and you have something that is easily worth your time.

The part of Yoda in the Star Wars films was played by Frank Oz.  Oz has also been known to direct films of his own from time to time and has made some really good movies.  This movie, as well as What About Bob?, are really good examples of his work.  I am not sure why Steve Martin has not been able to transition his talents with the times but it seems now that all his best work is long behind him.  He is the center of so many great comedies throughout the 80s and early 90s but has had such a struggle making hits in his later years.  Michael Caine is the complete opposite however, seemingly getting better with each film that he makes of late.  Caine is like a bottle of fine wine, not only does he get better the older he gets but he makes every movie he is involved with better.  Caine carries an air of dignity and class with him that he is able to put on display in all the films he is part of. He has the good fortune of being a favorite of director Christopher Nolan currently and can be seen in many of his films.  Nolan is possibly the greatest director currently out there so getting a definite role in all of his films is quite the accomplishment.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a timeless comedy, it will be fun and funny for as long as people continue watching it.  These kind of con artists will undoubtedly always be part of our society and they will always spark the curiosity of movie goers when films center on them.  This is a comedy so we can enjoy the antics of these men without having to deal with the dramatic consequences these people bestow upon their victims.  I think both Caine and Martin are outstanding in the film and Frank Oz comedies are usually quite fun. I always enjoy watching this movie and I think it is definitely worth your time.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I love Steve Martin. I think he is one of the funniest people I have grown up watching. I like this film as well. You get to see a younger Michael Caine, which is awesome considering most people our age know him, but can only remember him looking like an older man. This film is a silly movie about con men. It isn’t an academy award winner and it won’t have you peeing in your pants laughing, but it is definitely worth your time and is a good movie.

NEXT MOVIE: Donnie Brasco (1997)

Dinner For Schmucks

Year: 2010
Directed By: Jay Roach
Written By: David Guion, Michael Handelman, & Francis Veber

RYAN’S REVIEW

Sometimes a movie is only as good as the mood you are in when you see it.  I remember watching this movie and laughing the whole time. I thought it was funny enough to buy at some point over the past year and having watched it last night I can’t figure out what I was thinking.  This movie has its moments but overall I am finding it stupid this time around.

This movie is out of the norm for me because I am not fond of either Steve Carell or Paul Rudd.  While Rudd does have a presence in many good comedies I don’t think these comedies are good because of him.  He tends to play the exact same part in all of them but maintains a good level of success despite that. He always has a girlfriend that he has some sort of issue with and he is paired with a funnier actor that carries the movie for him.  The main examples that come to mind besides this movie are I Love You Man and Roles Models. I think those two films are both much funnier than this one though.  I was a big fan of The Office but came to loathe Steve Carell’s Michael Scott character long before his departure from the show.  I think he was only funny because he was regurgitating a Ricky Gervais character and I haven’t really enjoyed many of his ventures into films. While the 40-Year Old Virgin may have been awesome, I think its biggest downfall was that it launched a career for Steve Carell. Zach Galifianakis is a funny guy but I don’t think his star is going to shine for very long.  He is simply letting that beard get him as far as it can and that can only go so long.  He was great in The Hangover but I am already getting bored with seeing that character continually popping up in movies like this one.  Being from North Carolina I want to mention that he is a local, born and raised in North Wilkesboro which is not too far from where we live.  There is literally nothing there; I am shocked this current megastar came from the place.

Half way through this movie I found myself bored and began questioning whether it belonged in our collection or not.  By the end of it I had decided to take it out of our collection.  I love comedies, but really good comedies get better each time you watch them no matter what kind of mood you are in.  This has proved to be a premature purchase for us and it doesn’t belong among the rest of our films. I’m sure many of you out there might enjoy this film; I did the first time at least.  I can’t recommend this movie though, and I intend to take it out of the collection.

AMBER’S REVIEW

This movie is alright, it’s not completely horrible. It isn’t the funniest movie that I have ever watched or anything. I really enjoy Steve Carell in this film. I like him in almost everything I have seen him in aside from Evan Almighty. I love that he almost resembles the mice that he sets up in notable scenes from history.

I don’t really have anything else to say about this film, except that I don’t mind that Ryan is removing it from the collection. (Although, he has only had it since December because he added it to his DVD Christmas list for whatever reason.) I still love him; hey we all make movie mistakes. I would just catch this on FX sometime. Don’t make an extra effort to buy it or anything.

NEXT MOVIE: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

The Walking Dead

I have hated on this show, I have been bored with it, and I have found it to be too dramatic for most of the series. However, tonight I must eat crow. This has quite possibly been one of the greatest episodes of any show I have ever seen. If nothing else, all the drama and the agonizing boredom has been worth it for this. I take back everything bad I ever said about the show because this episode alone has made it all worth wild. I suddenly have hope in this show again. That may not be a good thing though; one great episode can still lead to more of the same. Nevertheless I am back on board and will continue to stick with it no matter what now. This one episode has been good enough to validate all the time I have invested in the show.
Check that, is this woman seriously going to pine over the death of the other guy (Shane)? No matter the circumstance why would she have any reason to worry? I do hate the fact that this show will get so soap-operaish about its drama. I know from researching the comic that it is strongly implied that the baby is Shane’s. Nevertheless her behavior about his death at this point only makes things more dramatic when it is totally unnecessary. Also, why does Rick confess what happened with Shane to the group? Give me a break dude and drop the drama. He could have just as easily not told anybody what really happened and the show could have given us something else really exciting. Obviously the show will continue to deliver on pointless drama but with the potential to give us all this excitement again.
I like the lead-in into season 3 and now have hope for the show. This was a truly outstanding episode and I look forward to what else the show has to offer. Obviously the group is going to set up camp at the prison and they will run into a new enemy when we see them again.

Movies By Request

Criminal

Year: 2004
Directed By: Gregory Jacobs
Written By: Gregory Jacobs & Sam Lowery

RYAN’S REVIEW

I had never heard of this movie before it was brought to me the other day but I was instantly interested when I looked it over.  I usually enjoy movies about con men and I also am a big fan of John C Reilly when he isn’t acting like an idiot.  Con men are such clever and desperate people that they always have good stories worthy of being told.

To be perfectly honest this movie isn’t all that different from many other movies that are about men of similar repute, but like I said, these people always have interesting stories around them.  I think John C Reilly was really good in the part; he can be incredibly talented sometimes. I like him whenever he is doing something serious but I think he spends a fair amount of time wasting his talent acting like a moron in movies with Will Ferrell like Step Brothers or Talladega Nights. Those movies aren’t awful but he isn’t being funny in them; he is being stupid and I usually find that more annoying than funny. I like Maggie Gyllenhaal as well and she does a good job in this film too.  I have never heard of Diego Luna but he has a large part in this film and does well.  There are also a handful of extras including Michael Shannon who bring their talents to the film.

This isn’t the best movie I have seen about con men but everybody plays their parts well and it has a good story to tell. I think it was a good movie I just don’t feel compelled to write very much about it. Overall Amber and I both enjoyed seeing this one and would feel comfortable recommending it later down the road.

Die Hard With A Vengeance

Year: 1995
Directed By: John McTiernan
Written By: Jonathan Hensleigh

RYAN’S REVIEW

While I stand by what I said about the first Die Hard, it being one of the greatest action movies ever and a classic.  This is actually my favorite Die Hard film.  It has a much broader story that was well written and it has a strong cast.  It’s heavy on the action with an appropriate amount of humor and witty dialogue. Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson have great onscreen chemistry that they have been able to exploit more than once. This is the kind of movie that I like everything about and I always enjoy watching it.

John McTiernan returned to the franchise for this film and I think that’s part of what makes it such a successful third film.  There aren’t many glowing examples of a good second sequel but this is one that always comes to mind when I am trying to think of one.  Bruce Willis is again great in the role, playing a much more rough and personally screwed up John McClane. His demons have beaten him into submission when he is suddenly thrust into this game of cat and mouse with a terrorist who holds a personal vendetta against him.  Willis benefits from the presence of Samuel L Jackson. I have mentioned before that I am a big fan of Jackson, but who isn’t right? He is great in nearly everything he does, but he does have to have his “Samuel L Motherfuckin Jackson” moment in about every movie. It’s the moment when he raises his voice to the next level and kicks his intensity up a notch. In this movie it’s when the cop pulls a gun on him in the subway while Simon is trying to call. “If you have to shoot me then SHOOT ME, BUT I HAVE TO ANSWER THIS PHONE.” Speaking of Simon, Jeremy Irons is great as the main antagonist.  He has that dark and foreign accent that sounds so sinister over the phone.  It was a great idea to make the villain the brother of Hans Gruber from the first film, and Irons was a great choice. I also like this army of giant German soldiers that McClane has to fight all over New York City.

This is an exciting action movie that kept the franchise going strong.  It actually had an alternate ending in which the robbery was a success. Afterwards John McClane ultimately takes the fall for all that happened and loses everything.  He tracks down Simon despite this and takes out his anger on the terrorist before killing him.  This was seen as too menacing a portrayal of the film’s hero and it was cut.  The new ending was re-written for a happier ending for our hero.  I hate when studios sell out for this kind of ending, but I don’t hate how the film actually ended.  I do think that the studio’s effort to continue the franchise have been foolhardy though.  In the ridiculously titled “Live Free of Die Hard” McClane is more like Jack Bauer than the rough and natural McClane we saw in this film.  I only saw the film once and ultimately lost my patience with it in the end when McClane literally shoots the bad guy behind him by firing the gun into his own gunshot wound. If the whole film in itself wasn’t too much to bear already that definitely took it too far.  I had my doubts before seeing the film altogether because I think it is ridiculous to make a PG-13 rated film for a longstanding R rated franchise.  John McClane is a New York cop with really colorful and obscene things to say, you can’t write that character appropriately and get a PG-13 rating.  This follows a trend in Hollywood that has developed over the last decade in which studios don’t seem to have the balls to make a film with an R rating.  It cuts out a large market of underage viewers when films are R rated and studios aren’t willing to sacrifice the money that could be made.  I understand their reasons in an age when it is harder and harder to get viewers into the theaters but the movies suffer when this is done.

I mentioned in one of these Die Hard posts that there is a fifth film currently in the works but my expectations are low.  Bruce Willis is awesome and I will always give him a chance when he is playing this role but I think the franchise should have ended with this film, and this film should have ended the way it was intended to.  There was a 12 year gap between this movie and the fourth installment.  Another example of the desperation of Hollywood to get viewers back into the theater is how they dig up old franchises and reboot others.  The biggest examples, aside from this one, are the Terminator franchise being brought back, the (albeit very successful and awesome) Batman franchise reboot, and the nearly immediate Spiderman franchise reboot.  Some of these movies are very good and I enjoyed many of them but it’s only the name recognition that’s getting people back to the theaters.  Instead of coming up with new and interesting ideas they are merely remaking and rebooting all the older ideas.  If you have noticed the last couple of years it seems that all summer blockbusters are sequels or reboots. This is disappointing but I’m afraid there is no end in sight.  We have a summer fast approaching that is full of reboots, remakes, and sequels.

Now getting back to the initial point, I think this was an awesome movie and it really is my favorite of the Die Hard movies. Great performances by Willis, Jackson, and Irons and enough action to keep us glued to the screen.  This movie is more than worth your time and I would recommend seeing it at any opportunity.

AMBER’S REVIEW

Out of all three of these movies, this one is the only one that I have actually seen, and this one is the only one I didn’t sleep through for this blog as well. Can we say major fail? I still promise to go back and see the first two. It is only right, I really like this movie. It is just another cheesy action film, but Bruce Willis is in his prime and looks great and is just his all around usual self. As we have both stated before Samuel L. Jackson is just completely awesome in everything he is in. There is something about him that invokes comedy and fear all at the same time. In any case, this movie is a part of a classic line of movies that all men have or should have seen. They aren’t academy award winners, but they are good classic fun. If you haven’t seen them, you should (as I am told) because they are classics.

NEXT MOVIE: Dinner For Schmucks (2010)