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Sitting Target (1972)
Fagan, come 'ere
It would be easy to dismiss this film as mindless tosh with a shallow attempt at deep subtext, but that would be way too easy.
This is a hard man's film. Unlike other attempts (Get Carter, McVicar, the more-recent Kray brothers film), it feels almost like watching found-footage. The reasons are two-fold: Reed and McShane. Reed surpasses his usual scenery-chewing with moments of stillness so menacing that he joins Di Nero in 'Taxi Driver,' Michael Rooker in 'Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer' and Ben Kingsley in 'Sexy Beast' as truly terrifying. Far from over-the-top his moments of rage seem real, psychotic, and literally beyond his control.
McShane, however, is a revelation to those who know him mainly from his more recent successes. His nasty, pared-down, pattering con is far more believable than many characters in similar roles in American crime flicks. He is in many ways the real snake in the grass.
Finlay surpasseth all understanding as a sleazy tout. Again, compared to villains in films of the 'Shaft' or 'Dirty Harry' genre, his sleazy crook Marty is a whole character, not a two-dimensional cliché. One even feels a bit sorry for him.
The entire film is worth a look for the jail-break scene alone. I'd love to see this one on the big screen. It's an exploitation film that, like Lee Marvin's 'Point Blank,' is more than the sum of its parts.
Død snø (2009)
Snowmobile of the Dead
This review comes tardy to the party. I write because I so wanted to love, but in the end, could not. I watched this film dubbed and then with subtitles. It is, of course, far better with subtitles. Frankly, though, in the end, the really grim premise just gets buried in an avalanche of silliness. Too much poo humor, too much goofy slapstick, and not enough context or creepy story-telling just make this the undead weekend ski-trip version of Severed without the brilliant cast. Not unwatchable, lots of clever-clever bits, but ultimately very disappointing and predictable 'Zombedy' entry. I know I swim against the tide, oh boys of fan, but can no longer restrain my 'cri de couer.'
The Jacket (2005)
Tight Waist and Cuffs
How I wish I could give this movie a 6.5 out of 10. I am erring on the high side, because some of the twists worked for me. The acting is uniformly excellent, especially the performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh, whom I generally do not like as an actress. Her character is well-conceived and behaves in a consistent and logical way. Nolte is good, if a little under-utilized.
Many will compare this film to 'The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,' and in a sense, that's fair. There are some cross-overs, and some similarities in technique. Also, fans of recent horror films such as 'Dead End' and 'The I Inside' will find much to like here, in a higher-budget package. And inevitable connections to 'The Butterfly Effect' seem likely. 'Dead End' is scarier, 'The I Inside' less satisfying, and only the re-cut version of 'The Butterfly Effect' is superior to 'The Jacket.' Actually, the re-cut version of 'Butterfly' was one of the few horror films in recent years that actually involved my humanity deeply. And because I am a Cthulhu mythos freak, I have to plug 'The Attic Expeditions' as a flawed but groundbreaking look at the issues many of these more recent films raise.
One frustration that I have with 'The Jacket' mirrors my reaction to 'Jacob's Ladder'-it's clear that much of the movie had to be trimmed in places, and, as every commentator has noted, it leaves big gaps in parts of the story. However, in 'The Jacket,' I think this is in part intentional: our minds are being wiped/altered/damaged as we move through the story. 'Eternal Sunshine' has much the same effect, and of course does it better, at least in this reviewer's opinion.
Further, the DVD of 'The Jacket' I rented did not have a great many deleted scenes on it. I'm not saying that all movies of this genre need to have a down-beat ending (in fact, the need for an eternally down-beat ending in horror irritates the crap out of me), but it did feel like a studio wrap-up for palatability's sake. To see how a film can handle this kind of plot-line well, see the re-cut 'Butterfly' as above. My sense remains that there is a great deal more deleted material out there associated with 'The Jacket,' and I'd really like to see it.
The Relic (1997)
*Warning of spoilers* It's like a herd of lobbyists on crack! Actually, what it is is better than one would hope. Basically, it's an updated Cthulhu Mythos story, now set in 'modern day' Chicago. The acting is not bad, and Hyams' script, while predictable, is fairly taught. I sure wish that SOMEONE had been able to save Tom Sizemore from himself in later years. And man, is Penelope Ann Miller easy on the eyes in this pulper.
Because that's the real key here: Hyams is attempting to create a 40s atmosphere in a current film setting. This reviewer thinks he largely succeeds, thanks in large part to Miller and Whitmore, who is wonderful. It's certainly an imperfect film, and not Hyams' best, but for Mythos freaks, it's required viewing. They just don't make very many films for our crowd.
Jennifer Eight (1992)
Robinson Crusoe (Possible Spoilers)
I have no idea what did Bruce Robinson in with critics of this movie. While it's so that the ending is perhaps abrupt, and that there are some small inconsistencies of plot, much of the caviling and carping about this film seems pointed in the direction that the identity of the killer was obvious.
'Jennifer 8' is not an upbeat film, nor is it a standard cop drama. It is a compelling portrait of a professional on the edge and a longstanding co-dependent relationship collapsing under fire. The acting is uniformly superb, and the script up to the task. A genuine insight into the limits of human relationships is Robinson's forte, and he doesn't disappoint here.
It's important to remember that small towns protect their own. That being said, I applaud Robinson for successfully evoking the closeness and claustrophobia of small towns, thus making the protective impulse, to this viewer at least, believable. Robinson succeeds with 'Jennifer 8' in ways that Sam Raimi failed in both 'A Simple Plan' and 'The Gift': Robinson convinced me that willed blindness (get it?) hindered the search for a dangerous killer.
As with his classic, 'Withnail and I,' Robinson scores with textures, tones, and very subtle attitudes. Another commenter singles out the 'junk mail' line Garcia quotes from his dream about God (God tells Garcia in his dream that God sees prayers as junk mail) as 'sophomoric'.
First, that's part of the point about Garcia's character. He's a bitter, adolescent guy. Although fans of Garcia's might not want to embrace it, he's not a very nice person in this film, and remains substantially unredeemed. Perhaps this resolution explains some of the hostility to this film. John Berlin (Garcia) is not an anti-hero, but his is fundamentally weak in some critical way. His healing has made him rigid, not clear in his thinking, self-righteous, but not necessarily right.
Second, the dream about God is a very telling moment in the film because Robinson keeps it so small. It's almost a throw-away scene, but it gives great insight into both the despair and the essential shallowness of Berlin's self-reflection. It is these tendencies that lead Berlin to make a terrible mistake that nearly destroys everything in his world.
I rate this a strong 8/10.
Not from the hip
"Jackpot" is a tiny part of "Nashville" blown up into a feature-length tour-de-misere. While the film may strike some as funny or good-humored, it is only so to the extent that the comedy cuts the pain of the characters like a shot of bourbon.
The film has a pacing problem, in my view, and does spiral a bit aimlessly through the middle, but the character-driven plot and the editing are generally excellent. It IS a 'film-school' film, and may well exasperate annoy the average punter looking for a fun-time flick about Karaoke. I would recommend that such a viewer stick with "Duets".
This film is about facing up to broken dreams, and coming to terms with very hard necessities. As such, it's not fun, and indeed, is justly not for everyone. If you're not interested in what is essentially an extended meditation on some of the seamier songs by Waylon Jennings, avoid.
The Indian Runner (1991)
Drifting toward Terrence Malik
This fine debut from Penn introduces us to the range of underrated actors David Morse and Viggo Mortensen. While I agree that the film has its anachronisms, the plot is fairly compelling in its simple way. The film, however, belongs to the actors, who are uniformly excellent. Bronson deserves special mention for a lean, painful performance, free of the cant and false emotionalism that so often accompanies films about poor people in America. At times, "The Indian Runner" has the feel of John Sayles. Well done all around and worth a look.
Kicked in the Head (1997)
Tout le Matin de la Monde
This is a film that really drives home the point that, alas, morning always comes.
One of the best indie flicks I've seen in a long time, and nearly on par with one of my favorites, "Floundering".
In fact, there is an argument to be made that "Kicked in the Head" is an East Coast take on many of the same weird experiences as "Floundering". Both films have a 'mob spin', people who get shot at but don't die, an 'older woman' as a love interest, cameos by great actors, difficult relatives, and solid, if slightly bemused protagonists. Both films are really modern retellings of "Candide", with the LA Riots and the Hindenburg disaster serving as the "Lisbon Earthquake" of "Floundering" and "Kicked in the Head" respectively. Although the search for the truth in "Kicked in the Head" gets a touch abbreviated, well, let me just say, if Linda Fiorentino wanted to wrap me up that way, I'd relax and enjoy it.
Both films are more interesting and fulfilling quests for the truth than "Dogma", which rather overplayed its hand. They ain't Hal Hartley, but they are definitely worth the rental, for the mental stimulation and occasional guffaws they engender.
The Crystal Ship
"Everyone thinks racism is wrong."
But aren't we all sophomores when we flounder?
Well then, I suppose this movie needn't have been made.
These judgements come from other comments on this film.
They will not be borne out in mine.
A truly remarkable coming-of-silliness take on coming-of-age films, this movie will p**s off those who dislike surrealism. This film, detailing the miserable turns that James Le Gros's life in LA takes, is NOT needle-tip satire. Like "Kicked in the Head", this film treats its audience as insiders to the joke.
As such, it treats viewers as intelligent, and alert to the weird angles at which the the plot zips off into a new scenario. My particular pleasure in this film comes from Peter McCarthy's ability to run the show without making the film seem choppy.
Far from vacuous, Le Gros is poignant and low key. His 'Cezanne' was one of the high marks in "The Myth of Fingerprints", and this film gives a good introduction to his style.
The objections to this film seem largely based on its perceived political sentiments; a shallow reading leads to a shallow conclusion.
If you liked "Tape Heads", "Kicked in the Head", "The Doom Generation" (or anything by Greg Araki), and "The Myth of Fingerprints", then likely this film is for you.
People who tire easily should seek their pleasures elsewhere.
Laws of Gravity (1992)
One of the things that bugs me about indie film-making is that the wrong people make it to step two. Nick Gomez surely should have been able to do more work than "Illtown" and "New Jersey Drive" after finishing this well-crafted, if choppy, urban tale. I liked "New Jersey Drive" a lot, so I guess Nick's getting his recognition through "The Sopranos" at the moment. And why is Mr. Green still only playing psychos and tiny little bit parts, apart from his brilliant work in "Clean Shaven"? At least Adam Trese went on to "Palookaville"!
Ok, so that's more of a rant than a review, and I'll cut to the chase:
If you liked "Bottle Rocket", "Palookaville", or "A Bronx Tale", see this film.
It's an old story, but I'll tell it again:
Guys from bad neighborhoods, against whom the deck is pretty well stacked, get some better-than-usual goods to sell. And sell them they must, under less than ideal circumstances, leading to all sorts of fun and frolic, in a very non-comedic sense. Greene, Trese, Falco, and Schulze stand out. Saul Stein is quite creepy as the face of the "new mob".
This sort of film appeals to me more in its American genre than the current British versions of this story ("London Kills Me", "Lock, Stock", "Twin Town", and "Trainspotting") as the Scots/Welsh/Home Counties vision of petty crime has a heavily injected fantasy slant absent in four American flix cited in my discussion.
Also, these petty-street-crime films are probably (with the exception of John Sayles) one of the few windows into American poverty available in US film right now. The scene in "Laws of Gravity" between minor criminal Frankie and Greene's screen spouse Denise (Edie Falco) on the nature of life and work is brilliant.
lordwhorfin says, go ye forth and rent.
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Possibly one of the finest films ever made.
"Bad Day at Black Rock" has been described by many reviewers as a "Western", and indeed it has many of the plot features of that genre. I would, however, classify it more as a film noir from many of its tropes. Like the very odd Norwegian (1997) film "Insomnia", it is a noir that takes place in the blazing sun. It's also worth noting that "The Asphalt Jungle", a noir classic, ends in the brightest of Technicolor daylight. Sin, Sturges and Huston seem to be saying, cannot hide from the sun. "Bad Day" is a revelation to those who know Spencer Tracy mostly from his comedy, and the script allows him a performance leaner than a Longhorn on a 500 mile cattle-drive. Hyperbole aside, this film blends classic Western themes with noir elements and a very sad and affecting story to create a mood and memory that will cling to the viewer's consciousness for some time after.
Descending Angel (1990)
A Compelling Vision
I am of the opinion that this film has an undeserved reputation as "underdeveloped." The better description of the feel of this film lies closer to "stark" or "lean" rather than "limited." I find Descending Angel better in many ways than The Music Box, which explores similar themes (although Jessica Lange and Armand Mueller Stahl are excellent in the latter film). One point of contrast that I find falls fully in Descending Angel's favor is that Roberts, unlike Lange, does not suddenly jet off to Eastern Europe in pursuit of "the truth." The chickens come home to roost messily in the United States, and give the film a nasty political edge I find compelling. I give it 8/10 for cable fare. Roberts, Lane, and Scott are enough reason to see this piece. Some of the scenes between Roberts and Scott are among the most compelling confrontations between past actions and present morals as have been filmed in the 1990s. If you liked True Colors or Storyville, you'll like this one too.
Keys to Tulsa (1997)
While I may be wrong about many things, compelling trash is not one of them. This film, like the much under-appreciated "Freeway" is NOT a "so-bad-it's-good" film. Rather, it is "Dynasty" for very corrupt smart folks. The film has a definite made-for-cable pace, but I think this adds to its "colored-umbrella in my drink" ambiance. Kind of like "Miami Vice" should have been. The primary reasons to see this film are the acting and the script. First, Eric Stoltz is wonderfully blissed out and funny. Second, Spader does a great stretch in this film, and he makes the catch. Third, Ms. Going walks on water. Fourth, so does Michael Rooker. Trust me; you really want to see James Coburn say "We, Richter, we're men, we love our women badly." It's a grade "A" genuine hoot and a half. And Cameron Diaz has precisely 3 minutes of screen time.