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Ben Kingsley is best thing and we don't see much of him!
I haven't written a review in a while. This is because existing reviews usually closely match my sentiments but in this case I feel compelled to warn Kingsley fans that he is not seen very much in this movie and those first 15 minutes in which we learn that shrewd real estate tycoon Damien Hale (Kingsley) is dying is the best part of the movie. The film goes down a lot with Ryan Reynolds playing the young Damien, a man who suddenly develops empathy and a host of other characteristics that don't represent any part of the Damien we were just watching a few minutes prior. Had there been a transition in the character brought on by living a new life, this movie would have been a lot better. Another thing that would make the movie better is if they had better casting for Maddie and Anna, two people in young Damien's new life. I won't share anything else as it may be considered a spoiler but all I can say is these two are barely tolerable in their roles. This movie had a lot of potential with a pretty creative plot but the two issues cited above make it average at best.
Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
You will laugh and be enlightened!
I just had the pleasure of seeing this movie again but this time through the lens of an adult. I'm amazed at how smart and funny this movie is. The film is a humorous and yet sad satire on how blacks are betrayed in film and television. The film focuses on Bobby Taylor (Robert Townsend) as he attempts to become a successful actor. It features over the top white Hollywood casting agents, producers, and directors who provide feedback to black actors (in some cases classically trained) on how to act "more black" or be like Eddie Murphy. The film is set-up as a series of vignettes which are all good but I had two favorites. One is a vignette that involves a television show called "Sneakin' in the Movies" which is a parody of Siskel and Ebert reviews, involving two ghetto teenagers. They review four movies: Amadeus meets Salieri, Chicago Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dirty Larry, and Attack of the Street Pimps. They're assessments, especially on what would really happen to Dirty Larry (a parody on the movie Dirty Harry) involve so many funny quotable lines that I dare you to not find yourself repeating one of them. The other vignette features Keenen Ivory Wayans as Jheri Curl. Now this second vignette might be hard to get unless you grew up in the 80s.
Despite the topic, the film is not mean spirited but uses humor to educate us on the stereotypes we frequently see (even today) when it comes to blacks in film and TV and it's not hard to see how this enlightenment we have obtained would expand to other minorities and diverse groups like Hispanics, Asians, or gays. It's good to learn and laugh at the same time Enjoy!
In Time (2011)
In Time is Surprisingly Time Well Spent
I found this movie original and enjoyable. It's about a futuristic world where people stop aging at 25. They all have a digital clock on their forearm bearing a year's worth of time. The clock begins its countdown once you turn 25. There is no money in this bleak future world. Instead the currency is time. Everything you do from getting coffee to riding the bus is paid in time so literally time is money. Within this backdrop is a love story and revenge tale. Justin Timberlake is suitable as factory worker Will Silas and Amanda Seyfried plays the beautiful, pampered Sylvia. They are likable and the chemistry between the two is believable. The main downside to the movie is the subplot involving Timekeeper/Cop Raymond Leon and his cronies. I found his character annoying and his zeal for the job unbelievable. However, the plot is strong enough to make-up for this distraction. As someone not expecting a lot, I was glad I took the time to watch this movie.
Play Misty for Me (1971)
Despite the too familiar "obsessed by scorned lover theme", this film still resonates
Play Misty for Me is about a handsome radio DJ named Dave Garver (Clint Eastwood) who has a one night stand with a female fan of his nightly radio show named Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter). She frequently listens to the show and calls in to request that he play a song called "Misty". The "no strings attached" encounter takes a turn for the worse as Evelyn becomes increasingly possessive of Dave. She believes that the two of them have something special; however, Dave has no romantic interest in her. His heart actually belongs to ex-girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills). This movie is satisfying; although, one out of place element in this rather dark film is the inclusion of a lengthy romantic montage with Dave and Tobie featuring the classic Roberta Flack hit "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". It's like it's done just to make sure we see a loving side to Dave and avoid the risk of us seeing him as a jerk that deserves what he gets. Play Misty for Me predates Fatal Attraction by about 15 years but the female protagonist in this film makes Glenn Close's character in Fatal look rather reasonable. The film marks the directional debut by Clint Eastwood which makes it worthy of a look just for this historic value.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
The best way to watch this movie is to be oblivious to the plot
This movie is so cheesy and campy that it was bound to have a major cult following and it does. It is clearly dated with sex obsessed teenagers at a summer camp in short shorts and tight muscle shirts and unhealthy tans. The acting is pretty cringe worthy and the film (video?) quality is subpar. With all that said, it's probably worth a look if you're a fan of the teen slasher genre which reached its height of popularity during the 1980s.
Although I wanted to bail out about midway through this movie, I'm glad I remained vigilant as the ending of this movie provides a payoff for our patience and still holds up today. I implore anyone interested in seeing this movie to avoid even the most basic of summaries, plot synopsis , etc.
A Soldier's Story (1984)
A glimpse into racism within the segregated black U.S Army
This film was nominated for three Academy awards including Best Picture and deservedly so. It continues to be a highly underrated film but I suspect it will receive much greater appreciation as time goes by, as in the case of many films that are considered great classics today. The movie is about a black officer, Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.), who is sent to investigate the murder of a black sergeant (Adolph Caesar) in Louisiana near the end of World War II. Captain Davenport is faced with the tremendous pressure of being in the unprecedented role of a black officer who must get at the truth of who killed sergeant Waters, no matter the consequences. The story focuses on racism within the segregated black U.S Army regiment and is told in flashbacks with rich writing and highly complex characters, especially the conflicted and hated sergeant Waters, the defiant Private First Class Peterson, (played by Denzel Washington), and the self-righteous Captain Davenport. The acting is compelling! In fact, Rollins, Ceasar(who was actually nominated for Best Supporting Actor), and Washington were all deserving of an Academy Award nomination for their acting.
This was one of Denzel Washington's earliest films but one of his strongest performances and I say this as a fan of his work in such films as Cry Freedom, Glory, Maxcolm X, Courage Under Fire, Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Training Day, to name a few. In fact, if you're a Denzel Washington fan, you would be remissed if you don't see this earlier work of his. This film was also one of the last major films for three of the main actors; the very talented Howard E. Rollins Jr., who is best known for his Academy Award nominated role in Ragtime, Adolph Ceasar, best known for this role and his role as "Mister" in the film Color Purple, and Larry Riley, who played CJ Memphis in the film. The fact that these three very talented actors died in their prime (between 39-52 years of age) makes this film even more nostalgic for me when I watch it today. May their memory live on in this superb film.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Must see thriller with a creepy Brother's Grimm Fairy Tale vibe
I've seen this film a few times now and it remains one of the most enjoyable and memorable films I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.
The film is about convict turned "preacher" name Harry Powers (Robert Mitchum) who marries widow Willa Harper (Shelley Winters) in order to find the $10,000 that her late husband Ben (Peter Graves) hid before he was convicted and hung for robbery and murder. Harry learned about the hidden money when he was a cell mate of Ben's. The only ones who know where Ben hid the money are his children, street-smart nine-year old John (Billy Chapin) and sweet four-year old Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce). The children swore to their father that they would never tell where the money is hidden but Harry will stop at nothing to force them to reveal this information. What evolves is a battle of wills and wit between Harry and young John.
This movie can be divided into two parts: Part one focuses on Harry marrying Willa and trying to become a wonderful stepfather to the two children. He puts on an outward charm to the local towns people but is cruel to his meek and religiously repentant wife Willa and also to the children, especially John who sees through Harry and knows he is a shyster. Harry is relentless in his questioning about the whereabouts of the money with the children. Willa eventually realizes that the money is the real reason why Harry married her and she confronts him. It is after this revelation that we are now privy to the real depths of this man's evil. Part two of the film takes on the air of a dark fairy tale complete with tough, wise "Mother Hen" Rachel Cooper who reads stories from the bible and sings hymns. She finds John and Pearl who have arrived on a river boat. The children live with Ms. Cooper and her foster children. For a little while, the kids appear to live a normal life; although John remains a bit aloof in his new surroundings. The happy fairy tale is soon interrupted as Harry reemerges and the battle between good and evil are heightened to full effect.
Mitchum's Harry Powers is one of the most evil characters on film. He is a psychopath serial killer with hints of Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde. He walks around with the words "love" tattooed on his right hand and "hate" tattooed on his left. His description of why he has these words tattooed on his hands is one of the many memorable scenes in this film. Every character in this film is rich and complex and superbly played, especially Mitchum's Harry, Chaplin's John, and Gish's Ms. Cooper. I'm always pointing out ways a remake might make a film better but in this case, I have nothing. In fact, any remake would surely be inferior to this version.
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
A comedy that you can see again and again!
Some people really do lack a sense of humor and take life way too seriously. These are the people that will complain that this movie is not funny. The rest of us will find at least some genuine funny moments. In my case, I found several. My Cousin Vinny is a movie that I will play to cheer me up because it's hard to feel down while watching it.
Joe Pesci who scared the hell out of us as Tommy Devito in Goodfellas takes on the role of wise cracking, inexperienced attorney Vincent Gambini. He is wonderfully matched with the nagging, street smart, and charming Maria Tomei as his girlfriend Mona. The two hard core New Yorkers wind up in rural Alabama to defend Vincent's cousin (Ralph Macchio) and friend on robbery and murder charges. There are plenty of funny moments created from the culture clash between the "yankees" and the southerners ranging from the fascination with grits to the colorful colloquialisms used by each. Some of the best moments involve the exchanges between no non-sense Judge Haller (Fred Gwynne) and Vincent who he can't understand due to his New York accent. However, this film does not rely on stereotypical southern slapstick comedy. It is actually smart and there's a real plot involving a court case that all but looks clear cut until Vincent and his girlfriend begin looking at the evidence. I love all the court room scenes and Pesci and Tomei have great chemistry.
This movie is truly underrated; although Tomei did earn an Academy Award for her role in this film. I highly recommend it to those of us with a funny bone!
This film has good bones but missed a real opportunity to be a "classic" due to watered down themes
This film is pretty original as we don't often see movies about the relationship between a brother and his two strong-willed sisters. Harry is a middle-aged bachelor who lives with his two sisters, Lettie and Hester. The family was once rich but lost their money during the Depression. Now the two sisters depend on Harry who works at the fabric mill making prints. Lettie is the pretty, spoiled sister that feigns illnesses for attention and is obsessed with the family staying together; particularly her and Harry. Hester is the feisty, practical widowed sister that knows Lettie's illnesses are faked and frequently argues with her. Harry is caught in the middle of it all, living a mundane existence before he meets beautiful, young female designer Deborah. What you essentially get is a love triangle of sorts between Harry, Deborah, and his needy sister Lettie and the consequences of their decisions.
This movie has good bones but it's missing the complexity and richness for a really good film noir. All the characters are pretty one-dimensional and you find yourself wanting more background on the characters and relationships like how Lettie and Harry became so co-dependent on one another (due to censorship, the film couldn't address what was obviously incestuous feelings by Lettie or both Lettie and Harry).
I'd love to see a remake of this film with some extra depth and without the production codes of the time. It has all the makings to be a classic.
A Piece of the Action (1977)
Fun alternative to the Blaxploitation films of the 70s
This film is a guilty pleasure, you know one of those movies that will never be on anyone's "best movie" list but one you can watch over and over again and secretly enjoy as much as those great films. A Piece of the Action is a stark contrast to the popular Blaxploitation films of the 1970s and stars the handsome and talented Sydney Poitier as Manny Durrell and the very funny and charming Bill Cosby as Dave Anderson.
The film is about two high-end thieves (Poitier and Cosby) who are being blackmailed by a mysterious caller with a distinctive baritone voice. The caller agrees not to turn over what he knows to the police if they agree to donate their time to the Community Improvement Center which works with "incorrigible" youth from the inner city. The remainder of the movie involves the two thieves partnering up to work at the center's job preparedness program while also looking for the blackmailer and avoiding the crooks they stole from. Juggling all these things create some amusing encounters.
My favorite parts involve Poitier's interaction with the teens. He's cool and suave and doesn't take anything off the rebellious teens. Over the next few weeks, the teens develop pride in who they are, learn the value of a dollar and hard work, and develop the necessary skills for getting and holding down a job. There is some fantastic dialogue like Barbara's (Sheryl Lee Ralph) Poverty Pimp speech directed at teacher Ms. Thomas. There are also some touching moments, i.e. Willie talking about his brother Timmy. I also like the romantic relationship that forms between Cosby's Anderson (Who knew he had a sexy side) and Lila French (Denise Nicholas), the Center's Director.
The colloquialisms, clothes, dances and music are admittedly dated (although the music soundtrack is awesome). However, some of the over-arching themes are still relevant like having pride in your race, dealing with stereotypes of black youth, etc. I really hope we see a remake of this movie as well as the other two films that partnered Poitier and Cosby Uptown Saturday Night and Lets Do It Again. This is the strongest of the three films and deserves its place in Black Film history.