Johnny Depp

Sleepy Hollow

Year: 1999
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Washington Irving (original story), Kevin Yagher and Andrew Kevin Walker

RYAN’S REVIEW

Our next movie lines up perfectly with the season and it will be where we kick off our month of horror movies for Halloween this year. This is a beautifully gloomy if not fantastic movie. It can set the tone for the season but it will never match up against the classics. It’s a spooky movie that looks great, but it doesn’t have that fear factor that the great horror classics utilize.

This is a fantastic Burton movie but I don’t think it’ll even stand up against others such as Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands. He got the look right but I find this to be Johnny Depp’s weakest performance among their collaborations. It’s not all Depps fault, the character of Ichabod is far from cool and hardly the type of character to carry a film.

I get that Ichabod Crane is supposed to be this way but the cowardly character does nothing to enhance the film, even with Johnny Depp in the part. He is so pathetically fearful, at one point even leaping away from a spider. He does nothing to evoke love or admiration and that’s a major flaw. You could argue Depp played the part well but it’s the character that is the problem. There’s no level of awesome or badass within him.

I really like Christina Ricci, but I grew up with a crush on her. I’m predisposed to like her whether she is any good or not. She’s not bad in this movie, but she’s no Winona Ryder.

The rest of this cast is full of regular Burton collaborators and they all help to make this movie really feel like Tim Burton. Depp, Christopher Lee, Jeffrey Jones, Burton’s then wife Lisa Marie, and Christopher Walken. With those guys in tow this movie looks awesome on paper. Burton gets to go wild with his spooky crap. Somehow he managed to miss the mark but at least it all looks good. The pumpkins, scarecrows, fog, and headless horseman give it a perfect Halloween vibe.

The headless horseman is awesome, played by Christopher Walken. He looks sadistic with no head and somehow more fierce with one. Even without his iconic voice Walken manages to be awesome. He has no speaking lines in the movie and that is a good thing. I love Walken’s voice but it would have been all wrong for the character he was playing.

I don’t love this movie by any means but I enjoy it. It is really aesthetically pleasing and it feels so perfect for the season. It’s a fun take on an old classic and they don’t pull any punches when it comes to chopping off heads. I remember when this movie was coming out it was a big deal how many people were losing their heads in this one. It’s not the best movie you can watch during this Halloween season but it’s not a bad one either. If you want something that feels right but isn’t going to scare or gore you then this is a perfect movie to watch.

 

Platoon

Year: 1986
Directed By: Oliver Stone
Written By: Oliver Stone

RYAN’S REVIEW

Back in 2003 I was 19 years old, in college, and aggressively involved in the world on a larger scale for the first time. At that young adolescent age my mind was exploding and I was hungry for all the knowledge in the world. For the first time I had stepped out of the world of Ryan (high school years) and started paying attention to the world around me. I was heavily invested in the Iraq War, both politically and emotionally. I was inspired and full of ideas in a way that only the young can be. I’ll never forget the feeling of despair I had when I sat in front of the TV and watched as the Iraq War officially began. I remember that once it had ultimately started I went to my tiny movie collection and put in this movie. I no longer wanted to see the reality of what must be taking place on the other side of the world. Instead I chose to watch the only thing I had that remotely related to the conflict, which was this movie.

Now there are several similarities between the Vietnam and Iraq wars but that had nothing to do with why I watched this film that night. I not only watched this film that night but I watched it every night after for probably as long as two months. This movie drew me in, it taught me something. It was real and a representation of the consequence of such actions. I watched it so much I knew every character in the film and when their character perished. This movie was made by a man who knew, a man who gave up his cushy life to fight alongside the common man who had no choice. This movie was based on the real life experiences of the man who made it, a man who lived through war. That meant something to me as my country entered another war that would undoubtedly lead to dire consequences for so many.

This is the movie that helped me understand war. The movie that taught me that war is more than action and wrong on several levels. There is “the way of war” and it’s an awful thing. No matter the circumstances that bring it about, when war becomes an option it is the innocent that suffer. In the way of war people are fighting for their lives. You have two sides pushed to the extreme and you have people caught in the middle. Who is to blame when horrible and awful things happen? The circumstances are a recipe for mayhem. When war is established life becomes dog eat dog for the people involved. It sucks but that is “the way of war.” Once the point of no return has been crossed the consequences that follow are inevitable.  Wars are fought by the young, especially this war because most of the men serving were drafted. Teenage boys carrying guns through the jungle can’t be held accountable for when they snap under the pressure. The people caught in the middle can’t be to blame because they are just trying to stay alive. There are so many unfortunate circumstances created by war. These things can never be lost on the men making the decision to go to war. People are going to suffer when war becomes necessary, it has to be for good reason or else it is just wrong and there is no justice to it at all.

When I was 19 years old I thought Oliver Stone was a God. Not literally of course but I thought he was head and shoulders above other filmmakers. He was the number one director in my mind and I felt his career was one of the greatest. Those illusions came crashing down a year later when the much anticipated, to me at least, Alexander came out. I had eagerly awaited that movie only for it to claim the highest echelon in the ranking of movies that crushed my soul. That is neither here nor there though as a year prior when I was watching this movie night after night I still had all my hopes and dreams for films invested in this man. Oliver Stone was Private Taylor from this film played by Charlie Sheen. Stone had dropped out of Yale to fight in Vietnam, something admirable that I respected then and still do today. Oliver Stone may be a bit of a conspiracy nut and like all conspiracy nuts he will bend the truth to serve his own purposes but there is still plenty the man deserves our respect for.

I had become infatuated with Stone for the wrong reasons prior to 2003. Like most young adolescent boys I was rebellious and as a movie fan I was drawn to the films that inspired my wild and immature inclinations. I liked to walk the fine line between good and bad and experimented with an aggressiveness that was encouraged by the movies I loved. Stone came into the picture with films like The DoorsAny Given Sundayand of course Natural Born KillersThese movies fueled my endeavors into rebellion, drug use, promiscuity, and profanity. There were several films and filmmakers that had this affect on me but it was Stone I stayed with as I matured from a boy into a young adult. With films like Platoon, Wall Street, Nixonand JFK Oliver Stone inspired me in new ways that molded my personality during the developmental years that continue in college. I have since grown out of the stage I was in when these films inspired me and I no longer see Stone in the same light I did back then. Nevertheless I still hold most of his films in high regard and I will always respect the man. A man that lived the life he does and did the things he has done deserves respect. I know better as an adult than to take everything he made at face value but there are still plenty of things I took away from his films and I appreciate the lessons that they taught me.

I have always found the Vietnam War to be fascinating and prefer the war movies from that era as opposed to the ones from before. There are different themes from those differing generations that I think are important. WWII left Americans with the impression that they were the greatest country in the world and could do no wrong. Many WWII movies I find enhance this theme. As a young man I whole heartedly believed in these all-American ideas as well but when I grew up I felt differently. Vietnam was like a slap in the face to Americans because it reminded them that not only were they not the unbeatable super power who could do anything but they were not even the good guys in some circumstances. Vietnam happened during a time when the children of the Baby Boomers were coming of age and they had different ideas about the state of the union.  The things happening in Southeast Asia were being broadcast on television every evening for the first time and the news was rarely good. It left an impact on the younger generations not only because it was in their face but because many of them were being recruited to fight in the conflict. Vietnam was going on during a cultural change in America. It was not a time where the country united to protect the world for the greater good like in WWII, but a time when the country was bleeding at home and divisions among the public were fueled by the conflict at hand. I feel like WWII films tend to represent the propaganda age of America while Vietnam films represent the realism that the country had to face. Vietnam films usually focus on the reality of war, the consequences that it creates, and the truth that we all need to understand as a people.

This movie taught me many of those truths, and I took them more seriously because the man teaching was one who knew. He was there and had firsthand experience in what he was trying to explain. I still find this film just as inspiring as I did when I was watching it for the first time and I still find lessons in it that we can all learn from. I am no longer the diehard Oliver Stone fan I was in my youth but that is by and large due to growing up. As an adult I am not as infatuated with the stoned and suspicious mind of Oliver Stone. The man’s work is on screen and he made some incredible things, but in the grand scheme of things they spoke to a younger version of myself that went into hibernation years ago before my kids were born. There is often a fine line between brilliance and insanity and Stone danced that line till he fell over into the insane side a long time ago. I am no longer the young and impressionable adolescent who believed in such grand ideas as the JFK conspiracy and believed that with a strong enough voice things in the world would change for the better. The world is what it is; you can only accept it at face value and keep moving forward. Delving into the larger scheme of things is only going to bring you disappointment and amount to wasted time.

There is something from this movie that I always used as an example to suggest Stone’s abilities and it had nothing to do with his take on the war. In this movie Oliver Stone got an impressive performance from Charlie Sheen in the role of Private Taylor, and again a year later in Wall Street. Charlie Sheen is an incredibly interesting person, but that aside, he has never been a particularly good actor. In the years before all his crazy antics in the press I used to wonder how it was that this man was such a celebrity and made such a good living at it. There were so few performances aside from the two already mentioned that I thought were worth anything. Point being, he was not a very good actor. However, I have always believed that a bad actor can be made great in a film by the right director. Hence the impression of Stone I had grew because of the performance he was able to get out of Sheen. In contrast I felt that in 2004 the opposite was true. Despite all the time he had invested in the film Stone made a horrible movie with his Alexander and specifically got an awful performance out of another bad actor, Colin FarrellAlexander, as far as I am concerned, was the end of Oliver Stone’s career for me as a fan because it signified a decline in skill. A couple years prior to Alexander one of the greatest directors ever, Steven Spielberg, had gotten a good performance out of Farrell in Minority Report. If Spielberg could do something that Oliver Stone could not it suggested to me that Stone had lost something, and I still feel like that holds true because in the last 10 years nothing he has done has impressed me as it did prior to Alexander.

Beyond Charlie Sheen this movie offers a very rich cast of actors. Tom Berenger gave one of the best performances on his career playing Sgt. Barnes. The role of Barnes was initially meant for Kevin Costner, who I think could have pulled it off well but Berenger made it his own. Willem Dafoe gave an equally good performance as Sgt. Elias. Dafoe is such an interesting actor and continues even until today to show a range and diversity as an actor that is impressive. Stone intentionally cast Berenger and Dafoe in roles contrasting what the public was used to seeing them play. Berenger, who usually played good guys, was cast as the ruthless and cruel Sgt. Barnes while Dafoe, who usually played villains, was cast as the crusader Elias. An interesting idea that worked well and brought more diversity to the careers of both men.

In the roles of other Sergeants were long time Stone collaborator John C. McGinley and the scariest man ever, Tony Todd. McGinley never reached that upper echelon of stardom but he played so many terrific parts over the years. Tony Todd plays a small part in this movie but his presence in anything should never go unnoticed because when you fail to notice Candyman he comes up behind you with a hook and kills you. Johnny Depp played the translator Lerner in one of his first roles ever. Stone reportedly met with him during casting and immediately predicted his future fame. In fact he considered casting Depp in the lead role of Taylor but didn’t because Depp was so young and unknown at the time. Keith David plays one of the biggest parts of any of the grunts in King. I am a big fan of Keith David and like just about everything he has ever done. Also as another grunt was future Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker whose part was small but shouldn’t go unnoticed.  Kevin Dillon played Bunny, the sadistic grunt who by the end nobody knows what to make of. Dillon probably had high hopes for his career in 1986 but he turned out to be the less famous brother of his not so famous older brother Matt Dillon.

The making of this movie was quite an incredible thing that went a long way with how the final product came out. As a veteran Stone didn’t just cast actors and put them in the jungle. He went farther and put them through an actual boot camp in the Philippines that ended the day before shooting. He didn’t want them to have any down time after the camp because he didn’t want them getting soft again before shooting the movie. It was a rigorous shoot that had some actors feeling like they had actually been in the war by the time they got home. Charlie Sheen reportedly kissed the ground upon his return to the States. These guys went into the jungle and did it the hard way; the way it should have been done to get it right. Even the fun stuff during this shoot was hard on the actors. In the scene where King takes Taylor to “meet the heads” the actors had been actually getting high all day on potent Filipino weed. By the time they actually shot the scene they were all stoned out of their minds and some were even feeling sick. An interesting story that I’ve always figured had to play into the long term drug use of the young Johnny Depp and Charlie Sheen. I don’t know but if I had to guess I’d wager Oliver Stone was the guy who introduced Charlie Sheen to his favorite drug of choice, cocaine. I imagine the Filipino weed was merely a stepping stone for Sheen as he moved onto coke and ultimately…tiger blood.

This movie is important to me because it taught me something that I will never forget. However this movie is important for many more reasons because it was a great movie and it accomplished what it intended to. The screenplay for this movie was written back in the 70s when Stone returned to America and didn’t appreciate how the war was depicted in John Wayne’s The Green BeretsIn that sense it succeeded in depicting a more realistic view of what the war was actually like. It wasn’t alone in trying to send that message as a few films about Vietnam came out around the same time. Most notably, Full Metal Jacket came out the following year. Both are great movies but they should not be compared because they are so different. Platoon was a film about the Grunts while Full Metal Jacket was a film about the Jarheads. The significant difference there was that men were drafted into the army while the marines are a branch made up of volunteers. That makes all the difference as one film is about men who chose to serve while the other is primarily about men who had no choice in the matter.

The Vietnam War was a fascinating chapter in American history and a true example of how history is never used enough going forward. Had the powers that be reflected on history during the development of the conflict in Vietnam the whole thing may have never happened. On the flip side, had the lessons from that conflict specifically been learned the US may not have entered another long war to force democracy down the throats of people who had no interest in it. It is difficult to fight a war on the other side of the world for reasons that mean little to the inhabitants. Guerrilla warfare is hard to combat, the British learned that over 200 years ago but somehow the lesson seems lost on the US. When the enemy can be anybody and can come from anywhere bad things will happen all around to everyone involved. The soldiers fighting under the pressures of their lives being on the line can’t be held accountable for the things that happen nor can the inhabitants who at some point may just get fed up and take up arms against the foreign soldiers in their country. It is the “way of war” and war never goes well. It’s not an action movie and it’s not a video game. When it happens people are going to suffer and someone’s hands are going to get dirty.

Movies are made to entertain but they are so much better when they can actually teach us something at the same time. This movie can do that and I appreciate it more for that very reason. This is a great film and it doesn’t need my stamp of approval on it because it has plenty already. If you haven’t seen this movie then you are missing out. If you don’t know the incredible history of the Vietnam War you are missing out, but you’d need a lot more than a movie to learn about that. As time moves forward things get lost behind us but it is important to never forget the lessons the past has to offer. This movie, for me at least, represents such a lesson and that makes it worth everybody’s time. This is an awesome movie and I think everybody should see it.

NEXT MOVIE: Pleasantville (1998)

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Year: 2003
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez
Written By: Robert Rodriguez

RYAN’S REVIEW

This movie made it into the collection by way of the “Mexican Trilogy” pack that came out with its counterparts El Mariachi and DesperadoI am a huge fan of Robert Rodriguez and loved his first two films when I was younger. As I have gotten older my love of exaggerated action movies has faded and truthfully I found this film a bit disappointing when it came out. I was in college at the time and I was really excited to see this franchise return to the big screen. The movie fits in with the trilogy really well but I have never found it overly impressive.

I appreciate the style of Robert Rodriguez and his efforts to make incredibly badass Mexican heroes. I grew up watching and loving action movies. When I was younger, exaggerated action only fueled my adolescent imagination and El Mariachi and Desperado were two I specifically got into. Robert Rodriguez, along with others like Renny Harlin and John Woo, really had a knack for these kinds of movies. Now that I’m older though I’m not so into them. If it was a film I fell in love with as a kid then I still get into it but when it comes to something new it just seems silly to me.

This movie came out right around the time that I could just no longer tolerate such films and even it’s connection to two others I loved couldn’t get me on board with it. I think there is plenty to like in this movie and it is cool as only a Robert Rodriguez film can be but it’s just not one I’m interested in anymore.

Johnny Depp does his best to be super cool in this movie and he has his moment in the end when trying to take on the bad guys in a gun fight with no eyes. I think the movie centers around his character far too much though. The Mariachi, “El” that is, just isn’t in this movie enough and when he is he is just far too supernatural. When this movie came out Johnny Depp was still the cool guy for my generation. The same year this came out he was also in Pirates of the Caribbean and I have never felt he was the same since. Since playing Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp has been an agent of Disney and lost the cool guy persona my generation came to love. Gone were the movies like Blow and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, to be replaced by a series of films in which he seemed to wear progressively more and more make-up. A trend that continues in his career and marriage with Disney. He was still cool in this movie but I have never been a huge fan of his portrayal of this overly cheesy and catty CIA operative.

There isn’t enough of Salma Hayek here either and when she is it’s a bit too exaggerated. Now all can be forgiven in the face of such a flawless beauty but there is just not enough of her in it. This movie isn’t lacking in cast at all and in fact I think it is the saving grace of the film. I may have outgrown this type of movie but I can still appreciate it for what it is. Rodriguez never fails to get a terrific cast together. In this movie are many of his regulars such as Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, and Julio Oscar Mechoso among others. Rodriguez takes a lot of pride in his heritage and I admire his loyalty to it when casting films.

Antonio Banderas is as cool as ever in the hero role. A bit too supernatural this time around but it is a role he pulls off well. As I said earlier though, there isn’t enough of him in this movie as too much of the film focuses on Depp’s character and near the end too much screen time is dedicated to the other mariachis. Why try to make Enrique Iglesias into a badass when he is only going to take screen time away from a guy like Banderas? I like Mickey Rourke and Willem Dafoe in this movie. I have always been a fan of Dafoe. He was everywhere when this movie came out if that offers any explanation as to how he got this role and it didn’t go to an actual Latino actor. Eva Mendes is flawlessly beautiful but has never really been able to rise to any big time roles.

This movie is what it is. It’s an overloaded action movie that will suffice if that is what you are in the mood for. There are better movies for the occasion but you could do worse by not giving this one a chance. It has plenty of moments to appreciate and keep you interested. I don’t know this this movie is really worth your time but if you are a fan of the series it is still a must see.

NEXT MOVIE: Orange Country (2002)

 

Nightmare on Elm Street

Year: 1984
Directed By: Wes Craven
Written By: Wes Craven

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is the film you should be watching for Halloween. It is as scary as they come and it’s a horror legend. This film has created a franchise that has lived and thrived for thirty years now. To date there have been nine movies and countless other media featuring the character of Freddy Kruger. It all started with this movie and when you watch it you understand why it has lived on in this fashion. The long standing success of the franchise led to an unnecessary  remake about four years ago that nobody should waste their time seeing.

Classics should never be touched. It’s a crime to remake a popular classic film for the sake of making money. There was nothing wrong with this original film and nothing to be improved upon. This was a great movie that scared us with an original idea and effects that were far ahead of their time. They did things in this movie that had never been done before and it looked great. Johnny Depp falling into his bed and exploding into the ceiling is insane. Freddy stretching through the wall look great. Technology didn’t need to improve upon these effects even if it could. This movie shouldn’t be touched and it angers me to think a new generation of fans might bypass the original and just watch the new one. The new one wasn’t as well received and I don’t even know that I saw all of it. It can splash all the blood and provoke a scream now and again but it can never recreate the magic of the film made in 1984.

Despite the presence of this franchise throughout my entire life I haven’t seen many, if any at all, of the sequels. I was born the same year this movie came out and for as long as I can remember I have known about it but not dared to actually sit down and watch them. In my oldest memories Halloween always stands out and Freddy has always been present during the holiday in some capacity. Be it a neighbor who gets a kick out of dressing like him for trick-or-treaters or simply trick-or-treaters themselves he was always around and I thought he was really scary. So I think I subconsciously avoided this series for as long as I could simply because it reminds me of the fear I felt as a kid when things were much scarier. I am more interested than ever now because this movie so thoroughly impresses me and I will seek out some of the films that follow. If anybody has any thoughts on the quality of the sequels leave us a comment and let us know if they are worth our time.

Happy Halloween everyone and check out this movie once the kids has eaten their candy and had their sugar crash. When the doorbell finally stops ringing and you can sit back to look for your own fear for entertainment watch this movie. It’s scary and it’s for real. It’s a perfect evening for a scary movie and you can’t go wrong with this one.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I had never seen this movie before. I know it’s a classic, but my step sister was always terrified of this movie so I never wanted to see it. I know why she was terrified now; this  movie is one of the creepiest hrror movies I have ever seen. Freddy is creepy looking and does scary, gory things and the whole plot line is terrifying in itself. I felt extremely sleepy the whole movie, just knowing that she couldn’t sleep or he was going to get her. Overall, this is a great movie, and stands legend today for a really good reason. I think this might become a regular Halloween movie for us from now on.

Edward Scissorhands

Year: 1990
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Tim Burton and Caroline Thompson

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is such an awesome movie.  When it came out it was a new and interesting fairy tale made in true Tim Burton fashion.  Like many other Burton movies this one is exceptional because there really is no other like it.  This movie is interesting, imaginative, and incredible. With this strange fantasy story Tim Burton manages to give us an insight into how he sees the world and tell us something about ourselves all in one stroke.  This film is about finding out who you are, it’s about love and fear; it’s part Beauty and the Beast, part Frankenstein, and all Tim Burton.

Tim Burton really is one of a kind.  He has such a vision when it comes to blending colors on screen and he has a style that is all his own.  I have never cared much for what I think of as “the creepy Tim Burton crap” but it is part of who he is and it is original.  His originality is what makes him such a great filmmaker and this is one of the best showcases for his talent.  My favorite of his films has got to be Beetle Juicebut this is a really really close second. Johnny Depp is great as the title character and if I’m not mistaken he has referred to this as one of his favorite roles.  He portrays such an innocent being that is victimized by the world and ultimately misunderstood. Winona Ryder is young and beautiful.  Dianne Wiest is honest and good spirited.  However, after Johnny Depp I think the best performance has to go to Alan Arkin.  He plays the father of the Boggs so deftly and naturally that it makes you believe this is a real family and a real story.  I have read that the death of Jim at the end of the film was Tim Burton’s revenge on the jocks who picked on him in high school but I think that revenge came in casting Anthony Michael Hall as the jock instead.  Hall had played dorks and nerds for a long time but was trying to change his image with this role. Who was he kidding though, right?  He did a horrible job and his career continued on a downward spiral because of it.  This was the last film that Vincent Price appeared in and that is another thing that makes it special.  It is sad that the last thing he did on screen was dying though.

Edward is a creature of isolation, in this film we see him adapt and attempt to live a normal life.  Edward does not understand what he is dealing with in society though and he is vulnerable because of his ignorance. The world is cruel, and it isn’t long before the world is trying to exploit Edward in a variety of ways.  When he doesn’t understand what is going on he responds in ways that society doesn’t understand. He isn’t a person, he is the unfinished product of the inventor and it isn’t his fault that he doesn’t understand the world.  He tries to do what he thinks is right but is unequipped and unaware of how to deal with the manipulation and the cruelty of others.  Everywhere he goes people continually fill him with hope by telling him that they know a doctor who can help him but the only people who do help him are the Boggs, and ultimately they fail to understand him as well.  The only one who really knew him was the one he fell for, and she couldn’t help him either. What makes Edward such a great character is that he is so diverse and innocent.  He is someone we can all learn from because in his story we can see aspects of ourselves and our nature.

I have written before about Danny Elfman as a composer, we have reviewed several movies now that he scored. I do like Danny Elfman but in this journey through our movies I have found myself losing respect for him.  He has such a specific sound that I don’t even have to see the credits to know he was involved in a movie now.  While I think he has put together some great musical scores for films I am noticing more and more that all his scores sound the same.  Tim Burton uses him frequently and I think they work really well together.  Elfman’s gloomy sound is perfect for Tim Burton’s purposes.  If you want to know what I am talking about though see Beetle Juice, Darkman, Batman, or Batman Returns

This is a wonderful movie that many love.  It isn’t one you need me to tell you to see but I am always happy to recommend it during a rare time that I find someone who hasn’t seen it.  Great cast, great story, and a great filmmaker at his best.  This movie will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you feel on a deeper level.  It is more than worth your time.

AMBER’S REVIEW

This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I love, love this movie. This was the first film of it’s kind that I had ever seen. I didn’t even know that movies like this existed or could exist. It is a beautifully made movie, with and incredible plot. I love the housing units, the costumes, the hairdos. Everything was thought about and thought about until it was perfect.

I thoroughly enjoy this movie and could watch it over and over. If you haven’t seen it, it is more than worth it to watch it.

NEXT MOVIE: Enemy of the State (1998)

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)

Blow

Year: 2001
Directed By: Ted Demme
Written By: Bruce Porter

RYAN’S REVIEW

I was 17 when I saw this movie for the first time and it fueled my juvenile fantasies of being a gangster.  It had the same affect on many of my friends as well but it was merely a phase for some.  This is a great movie despite any bad influence it may have had on me and my peers as youths.  Its name belongs right up there with the other great films in its genre like Goodfellas, Casino, and The Godfather.  While those movies all center around the Italian Mafia they do have one big things in common with Blow, which has no Italian Mafia elements.  It’s that white powder that they are all involved with in the end.  This movie is not as iconic and fantastic as Scarface but it is an interesting story about a real life criminal and the movie was well made.

I have said before that this was the last good movie Johnny Depp made, and while I don’t believe that any longer it is still a great movie for him.  He is cool and his ageless quality came in handy when he played this part of a man who ages over twenty years during the film. Paul Reubens revived his career with this movie but was unable to turn that success into anything meaningful.  I will never forget the cover of Entertainment Weekly that had his picture on it.  He had powder all over his nose and the front of his face and the tagline said “Pee-Wee does Blow!” Penelope Cruz is unbelievably smoking hot and the obvious choice for the Colombian wife of George Jung.  Ray Liotta has a natural place in movies like this and is well cast as Geroge Jung’s father.  I am not overly familiar with the work of Ted Demme but I understand this movie had a bad influence on him as well.  A much worse influence I should say as he died about a year after this movie was released from a massive heart attack brought on by using too much cocaine.

This movie might make you want to relive some of the good old days if you aren’t careful but it is still a fantastic movie.  I do not know how historically accurate the movie it, I have studied Pablo Escobar at some length but still know very little of George Jung outside of what I have seen in this film.  Crime movies are always very exciting and offer alot of like.  This movie is more than worth your time.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I thoroughly enjoy this film. I heard someone tell me last week that they had never watched this film because they were not a big Johnny Depp fan. I think that is a completely stupid reason to have never watched this film. It is art in movie format and depicts the story of a man on a mission. His mission may be drugs, but it is his mission as he sees it and we follow him through his trials and tribulations. The story itself is based on quite a real story and to have such a monotonous life, his life is quite thrilling and amazing to someone like me. With movies like this I feel like we can live out some of our fantasies through the characters on the screen.

All of the actors in this film play their role to the “T” and it shows. The story is believable, and you can ride along in the crime and drug filled events that take place. This is a great movie and is completely worth the time to watch it.

NEXT MOVIE: The Bounty (1984)