Friday, September 30, 2011

Black Rain

Starring Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, and Yusaku Matsuda

Directed by Ridley Scott

Release Date: September 22nd, 1989

NYPD detective Nick Conklin (Douglas) has been tasked with transporting Japanese criminal Sato (Matsuda) back to Osaka, Japan. Soon, Conklin and local detective Masahiro (Takakura) must uncover why Sato came to America and what are his plans back in Japan. Will Conklin face the dreaded Japanese mob, the Yakuza?

I'm a big fan of Ridley Scott; he directed several of my favorite movies and I'm always excited to see his name in a film's credits, be it as director or producer. Therefore, I found Black Rain to be another great Scott film using a "fish out of water" template for a cop/crime action movie. Director Scott shows many great panning shots of Osaka, making the city seem grand and foreign to newcomers, yet can also be seen as familiar to those who know those locations in Japan. Since the film is nearly entirely shot in Japan, there is a cavalcade of great Japanese actors, such as Ken Takakura and Yusako Matsuda. Matsuda played the villainous Sato, a great combination of crazy and intimidating, stuck in my mind as a great 1980's villain (sadly, Matsuda passed away weeks before the film's theatrical release).

If you're a Ridley Scott fan or a fan of Action/Crime/Cop movies, you'll certainly enjoy Black Rain.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blow Out

Starring John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, and Dennis Franz

Directed by Brian De Palma

Release Date: July 21st, 1981

Jack Terry (Travolta) is a sound effects technician on B-grade Horror movies. Out one night recording sounds to use on a new movie, he hears what may be a blown-out tire may have been a political assassination. Soon enough, Jack beginning to uncover a deep truth which may not only get Jack killed, but also the young woman he saved, Sally (Allen).

A psychological thriller that delves into the technical aspect of sound recording that delivers Jack Terry (Travolta) into a world of conspiracies and murder. Travolta and Allen have a good rapport with one another and make a believable relationship under their circumstances. Due to the fact that sound is so important to the film's plot, the use of diagetic sound is amazingly clear and sharp, making the sounds of sirens fill the audience with alarm and panic.

Rating; * * * * of 5

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, and Albert Brooks

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Release Date: September 16th, 2011

Stunt Driver by day, Getaway driver at night. A young mechanic (Gosling) makes a living working with cars and keeping to himself, until a budding romance with Irene (Mulligan), has him involved with the robbery of a pawn shop. Soon enough, events get darker and more violent as the masterminds of the caper are local gangsters Bernie Rose (Brooks) and Nino (Perlman). The stakes are high, and the road is all he needs to settle the score....

Adapted from the novel by James Sallis, Drive is a character study on the lives of criminals in Los Angeles, such as the nameless Driver or his boss, Shannon played by Bryan Cranston. Unlike big budget action movies, Drive is more focused on the monotony of crime, such as setting up meetings or waiting for the "customers". Also, Drive is a visually stunning film, with little dialogue spoken, especially from the unnamed protagonist. Many will be reminded of "THE MAN WITH NO NAME" trilogy in this regard, using the facial expressions of the characters and the body language on screen to get across what the characters are thinking, rather than use redundant dialogue.

Drive also has a stellar cast, especially with such stellar actors as Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman and Bryan Cranston. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman get a lot of great scenes, such as Brooks giving a menacing monologue about meeting Cranston's character for the first time. Many know Brooks as a comedic actor, in such works as Finding Nemo and TV's The Simpsons; I think Brooks walks a good line between menace and charm, making Rose into a believable criminal rather than a cartoonish villain.

Rating: * * * * * of 5 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Murder by Death

Starring Peter Faulk, Truman Capote,Alec Guiness,  Peter Sellers, James Coco, and James Cromwell

Directed by Roger Moore

Release Date: June 23rd, 1976

Five world famous detectives (each based on literary characters in real life) are summoned to an eccentric millionaire's home for a rousing weekend: solve "the perfect murder" and collect $1 Million or be killed by the murderer! Who will win the game, and who will be next on the chopping block?

 Written by Neil Simon and directed by Roger Moore (who previously collaborated with Guiness and Sellers on The Ladykillers), Murder by Death spins the mystery genre on its head and has a few chuckles with such cliches as the previously unheard of motive or the last minute character by the third act. Also, I will note that the film is very similar to Clue, down to the fact that both films have eccentric hosts and stuffy butlers (however, MbD does have Alec Guiness give a hilarious performance as Bensonmum). If you're in the mood for witty word play and hilarious performances from great actors like Faulk and Sellers, you'll certainly get a kick out of Murder by Death.

Rating: * * * * 1/2 of 5

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Babe: Pig in the City

Starring Magda Szubanski and James Cromwell 

Directed by George Miller 

Release Date: November 25th, 1998

After the thunderous approval of Babe, co-writer and Director George Miller brought the sheep-pig back to the silver screen.  This time, Farmer Hoggett (Cromwell) has injured himself on the farm so it's up to Mrs. Hogett and Babe to save the farm! 

B:Pitc is a surreal and surprisingly dark family comedy. At times, the dilemmas that both Mrs. Hoggett and Babe may be frightening for young children. However, I applaud the filmmakers for trying something new with the sequel rather than retool another sheep-herding contest. Also, the look of the city: it's a sight to behold and makes for a unique setting. The CITY, as it is called, is an amalgam of Australian, European and America Cities, with water walkways and 1950-1960s automobiles. It may feel strange, but there's a charming timelessness to the film's atmosphere. Babe: Pig in the City is in the same category as Rango: both films are a tad darker than expected for younger children, but are certain to entertain the 8-12 year old crowd. 

Rating: * * * * of 5 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Party

Starring Peter Sellers and Claudine Longet

Directed by Blake Edwards

Release Date: April 4th, 1968

A very silly slapstick comedy starring Peter Sellers. While the film has a very minimal plot, it has a ton of sight gags, physical comedy, and visual stunts that makes it into a goofy spectacle. There's not much dialogue, as it has been stated that the film was produced to accomodate Seller's use of physical comedy. Take for example a scene where his character, Hrundi V. Bakshi, is admiring a parrot in an enormous cage: he inspects the wiring in awe, then begins to gradually toss more and more birdseed into the cage while disrupting the other guests. Or, when Hrundi needs to use "the facilities", his body language gets more and more exaggerated and frantic. He acts less like a fool and more of a little boy in a man's body, not sure what the best action is and still wants to be polite to the beautiful singing Michele Monet, as played by Longet. Sellers sells the character, making into a likable bumbler who's just accident prone but kind at heart. 

If you're a fan of THE NAKED GUN trilogy, The Hangover, or Superbad, you'll certainly enjoy The Party.

Rating: * * * * of 5

The Help

Starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain

Written for the screen and directed by Tate Taylor

Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett

Release Date: August 10th, 2011

In 1960s Mississippi, the maids working for Jackson wives deal with persecution and bigotry while on the job and underpaid. Maids like Minny and Aibileen care for their children and make their food as these same women call them names and demean them at the weekly bridge club. Soon, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Stone) is looking to make  her mark as a writer and stumbles upon a startling discovery: write a tell-all book about life as an African-American maid for white families in the South. It will take a lot of courage and strength to stand up for what's right, and it may take everything to stand up to people like Miss Hilly Holbrook (Howard)...

Adapted from the novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help is a deep and profound look back into race relations in  the 1960s. Tate Taylor does a commanding job of making such a stellar best-seller into one of the best films of 2011. He does a great job of balancing several stories at once, making them flow into each other easily and tie into the main plot of Skeeter publishing her book. Speaking of, the cast is full of great performances from the mainly female cast, with the main standouts being Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. As Emma Stone's character begins  the events of the story, Davis and Spencer are largely the focus of all important events. Davis is certainly a powerhouse actress, seen in such films as State of Play and Doubt, certainly deserves to be nominated for an Academy Award this year, as her performance as Abilene is a strong women who carries a sense of compassion within her despite a sea of hatred around her. Octavia Spencer, as Minnie, gives a hilarious performance with a lot of snappy dialogue when Minny goes to work Celia Foote, as played by Jessica Chastian.

While the film is unsettling in its depiction of race relations, it is certainly a recommended drama that fans of the novel will certainly enjoy.

Rating: * * * * * of 5 

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Starring Cher, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello, and John Mahoney

Directed by Norman Jewison

Release Date: December 17th, 1987

Loretta (Cher) just wants to get rid of her bad luck from her previous marriage to her new fiance, Johnny (Aiello). She will go to any lengths, uphold every tradition just to have a happy life. While Johnny is in Siciliy to attend to his ailing mother, he asks Loretta to patch things up with his younger brother Sonny (Cage). What could happen on a full moon night?

Based on the traditions and karma that many people balance their actions with, Moonstruck takes these decisions into a broad, comedic set that also delves into the Italian-American community, such as in the locations of the movie, the use of Italian phrases, and customs. Though much of the plot is focused on Loretta, there are two amusing subplots with Loretta's parents, as played by Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis. Gardenia, for example, is seeing another woman while claiming how strong his marriage is. Finally, there's an especially fascinating performance by Nicolas Cage as Sonny, the one-handed baker with a heart for opera.

If you're a fan of romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally, you'll certainly enjoy Moonstruck.

Rating: * * * * 1/2 of 5