Sunday, May 26, 2019

Guilty By Suspicion

Movie Name: Guilty By Suspicion
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Irwin Winkler
Starring: Robert De Niro, Annette Bening, George Wendt, Patricia Wettig, Sam Wanamaker, Luke Edwards, Chris Cooper, Ben Piazza, Martin Scorsese, Tom Sizemore, Gailard Sartain, Robin Gammell, Brad Sullivan
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Irwin Winkler has made a name for himself as a celebrated producer, and typical collaborator of director Martin Scorsese (he produced "New York, New York", "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas" to name but a few). His directorial feature was precisely "Guilty By Suspicion", which came out in 1991, with a script doctored by him, from an original by Abraham Polonsky (the film got selected to the prestigious official selection at the Cannes Film Festival). The film takes place in the 50s and it follows the story of David Merrill, a successful Hollywood director, who after a stint in France directing a new film, returns to the US to find his loyalty being questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. His family who has always played a second role in his life, is somewhat alienated from him, but David decides to remain faithful to his principles, and reveal nothing about himself or friends/associates. As his stern conduct remains, he finds himself unable to find work, that is until the prospect of directing a film, provided he testifies in front of congress, wins him over. As he deals with the lines of questioning from the committee, David realizes the effects these situations have had on people he has cherished and is forced to realize what his true priorities are.
"Guilty by Suspicion" is a lesser well known film in Robert De Niro's filmography since it got dwarfed by the immense exposure and success of "Cape Fear", also released in 1991. If that film was a phenomenal exercise in over the top menace and a dramatic physical transformation for the actor, "Guilty by Suspicion" is a much more subdued exercise. It's also a much needed lesson on staying true to one's beliefs, the power of freedom and transcending tyranny. The film manages to be humane, by progressively uncovering David's life, including all that he has compromised in order to be successful. It also showcases how in the end, his family, his friends, the love that permeates across his relationships, is the only real fountain of truth and loyalty. It's a film that sheds light on a dark period of history, but nonetheless a film that tackles and illustrates hard decisions and the consequences that they had in a lot of people's lives (and in many ways, the dramatic fatal ones). It's impeccably staged, featuring a stunning cinematography from the late Michael Ballhaus, and a competent score from James Newton Howard. The supporting cast is uniformly great, with Annette Bening, Patricia Wettig, Chris Cooper and Sam Wanamaker all providing a colorful backdrop to the events. Worth watching.

The Perfection

Movie Name: The Perfection
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Richard Shepard
Starring: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber, Alaina Huffman, Milah Thompson, Molly Grace, Graeme Duffy, Mark Kandborg, Winnie Hung
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
Another month, another feature released by streaming giant, Netflix. "The Perfection" follows the story of Charlotte, a talented cellist who has had to give up her career in order to care for her mother, who in the meantime has passed away. Charlotte reaches back out to the head of the school, and goes to Shanghai to witness their selection process of a new star pupil. While in Shanghai Charlotte meets the young woman who took her role as star pupil/protege, Lizzie. The two women form a fast friendship, that quickly becomes romantic. The following day they decide to go explore a bit of the area, but Lizzie starts feeling nauseous, which becomes aggravated the further away from the city they are. In parallel with the nausea, Lizzie starts hallucinating, until they get expelled from the bus and something drastic occurs. When we next see Lizzie, we witness the aftermath of those events and the thirst for revenge she has. However she ends up unearthing a lot more than she anticipated when she goes out looking for closure.
Netflix is on a spree to create content and maintain their subscribers interested in their releases. This however means that for every superlative "Roma" that comes along, a lot of less than interesting films seem to also be getting released, which is the case of this "The Perfection" (the ration quality versus quantity, definitely seems to be falling on the latter). Richard Shepard who in the past has directed interesting features such as "The Matador" and "The Hunting Party", limits himself to illustrate in this case a rather pedestrian plot, which almost plays itself as a tv film of dubious quality. This revenge plot is uninspired, and even this committed cast can't save it from the ultimate fact that these characters are barely passable, the situations barely believable and the final twist, less than laughable. In order to make this truly unforgettable, the film needed a stronger narrative, defined characters and an actual sense of dread that never materializes. It's an instantly forgettable endeavor. 

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

Movie Name: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Asia Kate Dillon, Mark Dacascos, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Tobias Segal, Said Taghmaoui, Jerome Flynn, Randall Duk Kim, Margaret Daly, Robin Lord Taylor
Genre: Action, Thriller, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
The John Wick narrative continues, following the successful previous two installments. This series, which saw a humble beginning in 2014, directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (uncredited), two professionals previously associated with stuntwork, both of whom have successfully carved out a fruitful directorial career, just keeps getting better, more refined and engaging. The film picks up where the last installment left - after killing someone in a sanctuary locale, John Wick is given an hour to escape, since a bounty will be placed on his head. He, alongside his dog, desperately go in search of help, picking up a few items along the way in order to make that happen. Wick manages to get to Casablanca, in the pursuit of an old associate who can get him in touch with people who know how to get in contact with the head of the organization. Wick manages to buy some time, but in order to be granted his life, he has to execute one of his old allies. What lies ahead is a series of more obstacles for him to overcome.
Much of what I stated about the second installment of the series, applies to this film. These films have a distinct B-movie aspect to them, which they wear it on their lapel with much gusto. The characters never have much depth to them, but that has never been the core significance of this series. These films have an ultimate goal of making all the events suitable excuses for very choreographed ballets of death and bullets, administered by the taciturn Keanu Reeves. As the series continues, the budgets have gotten better, and so have the action set pieces, which continue to be exhilarating, even if at times, almost exhaustive in their length. Still, it's a film not to be taken seriously, where there's a gratuitous pleasure in the havoc and mayhem that Keanu Reeves' character creates. It's not as cartoonish as Michael Davis' "Shoot 'Em Up", but also nowhere near as complex as anything that Michael Mann has ever created. The cast is uniformly solid and cynical, with Anjelica Huston, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne and Ian McShane, adding just enough personality and wit to keep the film watchable and fun. The cinematography from Dan Laustsen is impeccable. An entertaining film worth watching.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Insidious: The Last Key

Movie Name: Insidious: The Last Key
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Adam Robitel
Starring: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Aleque Reid, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Bruce Davison
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
The Insidious franchise has found its anchor character, not on the Lambert family, which was the focus of the first two films, but instead on psychic Elise Rainier and her two accomplices, Specs and Tucker. These trio of characters was central to "Insidious: Chapter 3" and now to "Insidious: The Last Key". The film takes us to Elise's childhood in New Mexico, and how her powers manifested in her household. At the time, Elise and her younger brother, were living with their parents in a house which was part of the prison establishment of that area, since her father was the ward. Her father was strongly against Elise's "perceptions", and punished her severely, unlike her mom who was always quite supportive. After the passing of her mom, Elise eventually flees her household, due to her father's abuse, leaving her brother behind. After all these years, Elise gets a call from someone asking for help in her hometown, something she initially refuses, until she realizes the person is living in her former childhood home. She decides to go back with her team, to solve those hauntings, and finally address her own childhood demons that still populate her nightmares.
Actor/Writer/Producer/Director Leigh Whannell, has continued to expand the "Insidious" franchise, with a flurry of stories stemming from the cases investigated by Elise Rainier. Whannell of course made his name by creating the "Saw" franchise, but "Insidious" is a close second in terms of reach and popularity. The films are low budget and always manage to provide substantial returns, which always validates their return. The narrative arc however is starting to lose momentum, and this fourth film is a testament to the fact that the freshness and originality of the first film, is now starting to give way to a formula that is not very rewarding. As we get to witness the humble beginnings of Elise, we never really know much about who she actually is, aside from her gifts, and how she uses them. Whannell seems to forget that in order for the scares to be effective, the characters that are haunted have to have some dimension to them (the same going for the supporting characters). The strangeness of the creatures that populates this universe is still interesting, but it's now borderline devoid of any relevance, since the narratives in which they exist, are so threadbare. Director Adam Robitel mostly illustrates and keeps the cadence of what James Wan brought forth in the first installments, without much originality or distinctiveness. Lin Shaye and Bruce Davison manage to keep the film watchable, but as these progress the reason to pay attention is dwindling. 

Insidious: Chapter 2

Movie Name: Insidious: Chapter 2
Year of Release: 2013
Director: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Steve Coulter, Ty Simpkins, Angus Sampson, Danielle Bisutti, Tyler Griffin, Lindsay Seim, Hank Harris, Andrew Astor, Garrett Ryan
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
James Wan followed the surprise success of "Insidious" with two releases in 2013, one being a natural succession to the first "Insidious", while the other was the even more successful "The Conjuring" (which would in turn launch an equally very successful horror universe with plenty films for Warner Bros.). "Insidious: Chapter 2" starts right after the events of the first film. Josh Lambert is back, or so it seems, as is Dalton, but in the process Elise Rainier, the gifted psychic was killed. Josh, now possessed by the entity who has always haunted him, killed Elise, and is intent in wreaking havoc in his own family. As the ghosts keep showing up in their household, and Renai gets more and more freaked out, Lorraine (Josh's mother) alongside the help of Specs and Tucker (Elise's former associates), have to figure who is the entity possessing Josh, and how to help him come back.
What was so remarkably interesting about the first "Insidious" was the fact that Leigh Whannell and James Wan, managed to create an environment so macabre and suspenseful, with very little flash, but very effectively, by largely playing with shadows, and the notion of an other post life existence. What  made the first film so compelling was precisely the fact that the mystique of the characters was left unchallenged. The film had some touching points with what Steven Spielberg did with "Poltergeist" - the nuclear family being threatened in their household by something out of their control, and how through resilience, unity, they managed to battle those forces. The sequel tries to extend that formula, but this time around tries to explain the existence of the creature inhabiting Josh, and to a certain extent, the universe where they exist. Sadly, even if the tone is very similar to the first film, the freshness and innovation in storytelling factors are more subdued, and what is left is an attempt to replicate/continue the first film. However the details are not quite as strong (such as Josh's attempts at killing the family), and what was originally an unseen menace, becomes something quite different. There are definitely strong elements inherited from the first film, and James Wan is a gifted storyteller, but the film could have benefitted from a more refined script. The cast is uniformly good, particularly Barbara Hershey and Lin Shaye, who always manage to bring gravitas to the proceedings. A minor film, still interesting to watch from an eclectic director. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Fried Green Tomatoes

Movie Name: Fried Green Tomatoes
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Jon Avnet
Starring: Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary Louise Parker, Cicely Tyson, Chris O'Donnell, Stan Shaw, Gailard Sartain, Timothy Scott, Gary Basaraba, Lois Smith, Jo Harvey Allen, Richard Riehle, Raynor Scheine, Nick Searcy
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following a prolific producing career which started in the 70s, Jon Avnet ventured into feature directorial territory with "Fried Green Tomatoes" (following a few directorial credits in TV). The film is an adaptation of the book by Fannie Flagg, and focuses on the lives of women in two very distinct timelines. In the 1980s, the film focuses on the story of Evelyn Couch, a somewhat timid housewife, who feels somewhat adrift, and who meets an older lady in a nursing home in Anderson, Alabama. The two strike a friendship, and Ninny Threadgoode (the older lady), starts narrating stories of her hometown, Whistle Stop, in particular the story surrounding Idgie Threadgoode. This story takes place in Alabama, in the 30s/40s, and details the growing pains of Idgie as she loses her older brother, and the relationship she forms with her former sister in law, who becomes her dearest friend. When Ruth is forced into an abusive marriage, Idgie shows up to save her, alongside the help of her staff. Ruth is pregnant, delivers a young boy, and she and Idgie start a cafe, well known for their barbecue. Sadly Ruth's sadistic husband, shows up to get her child, but is unable to do so, and eventually shows up dead, getting Idgie and her friends in trouble. Ninny continues to narrate these stories to Evelyn, including the outcome of these dramatic events, and they slowly have an impact on Evelyn's own life, who progressively finds her own voice.
"Fried Green Tomatoes" is a well executed film that primarily lives from the fantastic cast that Jon Avnet assembled. The characters, particularly the ones portrayed by Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker, are the ones with the lion share of the story, though it's interesting to see the arc given to Kathy Bates' character. Her progression from mousy housewife, to a woman with ambition, though not dramatically enacted, is still rewarding, mostly due to the fantastic performance from Kathy Bates. It's a somewhat placid film, that does play like a higher caliber tv film, but one that does lack a more distinct point of view, and a director with the willingness to tackle some issues that the film alludes to, but never presents openly, such as lesbianism, racism and domestic abuse. Still it's a testament to the impeccable cast assembled, that the film remains watchable and enjoyable. The score from Thomas Newman is fantastic as is the cinematography from Geoffrey Simpson. Worth watching.

The Doors

Movie Name: The Doors
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon, Michael Wincott, Michael Madsen, Mimi Rogers, Josh Evans, Kathleen Quinlan, Crispin Glover, Dennis Burkley, Billy Idol
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After a tremendously successful output of films in the 80s, director Oliver Stone started the 90s with two distinct insights into the America of the 60s, firstly with "The Doors", followed by the galvanizing and potent "JFK". The film focuses on the rock band "The Doors", particularly on the iconic lead singer, Jim Morrison. The film introduces us to Jim as he's going to college, where he's studying film, and where he meets his future girlfriend, Pamela Courson. While at college he also meets Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore, forming the music band with all of them. As the band becomes progressively more well known, Jim's behavior becomes more erratic, due to his drug and alcohol consumption. As he gets involved in a series of other things, they all start taking a toll on his responsibilities towards the band, their performances and general perception, until his sudden death at age 27 (in 1971). 
Being from the same generation as Jim Morrison, Oliver Stone experienced the 60s, and tried to capture it and portray it through this film. And for the most part the film is an interesting perspective into the life of excess of a rock star, however it also is a very cliché ridden perspective, since it doesn't really give much dimension to Morrison, his band members, or the women in his life for that matter. Trying to capture so much of the decade, including people's experiments with drugs, the war on Vietnam, the civil rights movement, women's liberation, Oliver Stone really threw everything into this film, peppering it with some interesting cameos from recognizable faces (for instance, Andy Warhol), but the film ultimately feels hollow, since none of the characters actually have much depth to them. It's still an impeccably shot film (courtesy of Robert Richardson), and it features a crackling performance from Val Kilmer, who really owns the role, making Jim Morrison come to life in a charismatic way, even if the script doesn't give him that much to do. An unbalanced film from an interesting director.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Dead Again

Movie Name: Dead Again
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia, Wayne Knight, Hanna Schygulla, Robin Williams, Raymond Cruz, Christine Ebersole, Campbell Scott, Lois Hall, Richard Easton
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Actor/Writer/Director Kenneth Branagh made a splash in 1989 with his version of William Shakespeare's "Henry V", which placed him on a path to become an heir apparent to the career/legacy of the late Laurence Olivier. For his next film he decided to tackle a different type of material, a suspense thriller. The film written by celebrated screenwriter Scott Frank (one of his first features, which he followed with Barry Sonnefeld's "Get Shorty", Steven Soderbergh's "Out of Sight" and Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" to name but a few), follows the story of Mike Church, a detective in Los Angeles, specialized in finding missing persons. He gets a case from a local parish, who is trying to help a mute woman who suffers from amnesia, something that is so severe, that she does not even recall her own name. She also keeps having these very vivid nightmares, where she relives with precise detail, the life and death of pianist Margaret Strauss, who was seemingly murdered by her husband Roman, in the 1940s. Fresh out of ideas, Mike decides to use the services of an antiquarian/hypnotist, who starts uncovering more information about this woman, and these nightmares.
"Dead Again" is a film, that much like its director, tries very hard to be many things, but that can never find its own identity. Kenneth Branagh emulates throughout this film many suspense/noir films from the 40s/50s, but the suspense never really builds up, mostly because the situations are poorly resolved and showcased. As much as the focus of the thread of the narrative is the uncovering of Grace's past, and simultaneously uncover the identity of Margaret's killer in the 40s, none of them ever really have a sense of dread, mostly because the characters never feel more than bland sketches. The film needed a stronger point of view from a directorial point of view, and an actor who could embody Mike Church's "loser with a heart of gold" persona with a bit more grittiness and conviction. Emma Thompson and Derek Jacobi are impeccable, and try to sell the material as much as they can, but the overall film simply lacks nuance and style, something that will elevate it above the instantly forgettable note. It's a film with solid production values, but a sadly minor effort from an irregular director. 

Cape Fear

Movie Name: Cape Fear
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Joe Don Baker, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Illeana Douglas, Martin Balsam, Fred Dalton Thompson, Zully Montero
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following the formidable "Goodfellas", director Martin Scorsese tackled his first remake at the time, "Cape Fear". Originally directed by J. Lee Thompson in 1962, and adapted from a novel by John D. MacDonald, the film follows the story of the Bowden family. Father Sam is an attorney, while mother Leigh is a designer and daughter Danielle is still in high school. Their seemingly placid existence is thrown into disarray when recently freed convict Max Cady comes into town. Cady starts stalking the family, until his intentions are made clear. He was a former client of Sam's, and was convicted for sexual assault, however, there were further information on the case that could have given him a lighter sentence, something Sam chose not to divulge. Cady during his time in prison, got a degree, and uncovered issues in how his case got handled, and once he's out, he sets his sights on making Sam's life as miserable as possible.
Director Martin Scorsese followed a brilliant film with yet another phenomenal and virtuosic feature. Though "Cape Fear" inhabits different terrains than "Goodfellas", it's a film that has become a staple (and a classic) for its depiction of a relentless criminal, who will stop at nothing to get his revenge. Max Cady's obsession knows no bounds, no limits, and is all consuming, something that the film illustrates brilliantly. Scorsese manages to perfectly balance Cady's pursuit by showcasing the disintegration of the Bowden's existence, with their seemingly idyllic life shattering, not solely due to Cady's emergence, but also due to marital issues existing between Leigh and Sam (and some of his indiscretions). It's a film with a fantastic cast, with highlights going obviously to the fantastic Robert De Niro, but also Juliette Lewis, who managed to impress tremendously as the young Danielle. It's a film that manages to build a perfectly timed suspense and tension, as the clash between the central characters becomes inevitable, and how the games between the characters are orchestrated. It's also a testament to Scorsese's perfect stylistic approach, something that can be witnessed in the impeccable editing work from Thelma Schoonmaker, cinematographer Freddie Francis and score from Elmer Bernstein. A fantastic film always worth revisiting, from a truly phenomenal director.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Adams Family

Movie Name: The Adams Family
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci, Dan Hedaya, Elizabeth Wilson, Dana Ivey, Carel Struycken, Paul Benedict, Jimmy Workman, Christopher Hart, Judith Malina
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After a solid start in the film world as a cinematographer, Barry Sonnenfeld made the jump into feature film direction with "The Adams Family". Based on the cartoons created by Charles Adams (which were firstly published in The New Yorker in 1938), the film follows the story of the unconventional Adams family. The story revolves around their long lost family member Fester Adams (the older brother of Gomez). The son of con artist Abigail Craven, by the name of Gordon, shows up at the family's mansion, claiming to be Fester. In reality this is all part of a ploy, in order to discover where the family keeps their riches within the vast mansion they own. This ploy is orchestrated by Gomez's lawyer, Tully, who owes money to said con artist/loan shark and who sees this as a quick way to get the money he so urgently needs. However, Gordon/Fester turns out to be more than anticipated.
Based on a screenplay by Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson (both of whom worked with Tim Burton), with revisions by the fantastic writer/playwright Paul Rudnick, "The Adams Family" is a gothic inspired comedy, resting much of its laurels on the impeccable cast, quick wit and flawless production design. The film has a somewhat generic story development, but it is tremendously successful in creating a darkly humorous universe, one where the characters are borderline ridiculous, but never take themselves, or the situations, very seriously. The film functions as a combination of  light content with heavy visual orchestration, all this wrapped around the familiar take on a dysfunctional family comedy. It features great performances by Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia, who truly embody those characters and make them feel like odd creatures in love, still allowing for Dan Hedaya and Christopher Lloyd to also shine in their supporting turns. The cinematography from Owen Roizman/Barry Sonnenfeld is fantastic, as is the product design from the late Richard Macdonald. An entertaining comedy worth revisiting.

Wild at Heart

Movie Name: Wild at Heart
Year of Release: 1990
Director: David Lynch
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, Willem Dafoe, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Calvin Lockart, J.E. Freeman, Sherilyn Fenn, Crispin Glover, David Patrick Kelly, Freddie Jones
Genre: Crime, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8 
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
At the peak of astounding success that was "Twin Peaks", director David Lynch presented the fantastic (and controversial) "Wild at Heart" at the Cannes Film Festival (where it won the Palm D'Or for best film). Based on the book by Barry Gifford, the film follows the story of young lovers, Sailor and Lula. Sailor gets sent to prison, following a particular attack orchestrated by Lula's mom who hates him and wants him as far away from Lula as possible. Upon his release, they set out to California, but once again with ferocious threats looming, as Lula's mom once again puts a target on Sailor's head. During their road trip the pair of young lovers encounter all sorts of situations, characters and further cement their love for each other.
"Wild at Heart" could have easily been translated into a road trip film of two lovers escaping a mob of deranged contract killers, in a somewhat generic fashion (much like what Tony Scott did with "True Romance" in 1993). However, David Lynch as is usual with his films, infuses the narrative with his own prism and blend of reality and surrealism, populating the story with extreme characters and situations, sometimes stretching the credibility to a breaking point, but never losing track of what his universe is and where his interests truly lie. It's a film that once again opens the gates for a series of references, over the top characters, where the poetic and lurid walk hand in hand, creating this experience that like most of his films is unique and unforgettable. The characters are somewhat primal and more than a few lack nuance, but it's nonetheless a fantastic feat to witness the universe of an artist be this eloquently displayed, with a cast that is deeply committed to bring these vignettes and situations to life. Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Willem Dafoe, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, are all fantastic, and make this film a great experience to watch. The music from Angelo Badalamenti is fantastic as is the cinematography from Frederick Elmes. A great film from a uniquely talented voice in cinema.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Total Recall

Movie Name: Total Recall
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Marshall Bell, Mel Johnson Jr., Michael Champion, Roy Brocksmith, Ray Baker, Rosemary Dunsmore, David Knell
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Director Paul Verhoeven continued the interesting phase of his directorial career in the US, following the immense success of "Robocop", with this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story. The screenplay from Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon (also responsible for Ridley Scott's "Alien") had been groomed by other directors, before ultimately settling on Verhoeven. The film takes place in the future, and follows the story of Douglas Quaid, a construction worker, who is fascinated by Mars. His wife keeps bringing his attention to other topics, but Doug is focused and fascinated by life on Mars, and how people live in that colony (though the current events speak of an insurrection against the local power, who seems intent on controlling air). Following a visit to an institute (appropriately named Rekall), who is capable of implanting fake memories (which goes awfully awry), Doug gets jumped/attacked by some co-workers, forcing him to kill them in order to escape. When Doug returns home and explains these events to his wife, he suddenly has to defend himself from her, since she's not who she seems. Turns out Doug's memories have been erased and he has gotten a new set of memories, alongside a new life and a new wife. Once he discovers this, as he uncovers who he is, his trail takes him to Mars, where he unmasks a bigger conspiracy.
Paul Verhoeven has made a career out of tackling subject matters that may at times be considered riskier. His approach is definitely a visceral one, where he doesn't brush aside presenting what makes humans eminently human, including the rawness that sometimes comes with those topics. "Total Recall" is no exception to his point of view - a lot of his trademarks, such as the representation of oppressive/repressive authority figures, brutality and bloody fight scenes, and heroes that are flawed, are all on display on this film. Doug Quaid who is supposedly an ordinary worker, finds himself to be a lot more than what he has been led to believe. His existence and his path in this film, is the thread we accompany, as he uncovers the conspiracy, while in the process also understanding who he was and where he wants to be (and of course, brutally dispatching supporting opponents) . The tropes are somewhat familiar and typical, but Verhoeven imbues this film with his visual style and panache, making it entertaining, humorous and even a tad kitsch. It's a film that is aware of the limited character definition scope, but one that has fun with these conventions, not taking itself very seriously. The score from Jerry Goldsmith is impeccable, as is the cinematography from Jost Vacano. The cast is uniformly competent, and it's a nice opportunity to witness Sharon Stone on her way to become a marquee name, which she would do just two years later. Worth watching.

Avengers: Endgame

Movie Name: Avengers: Endgame
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Brie Larson, Tom Holland, Tilda Swinton, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Evangeline Lilly, Chadwick Boseman, Tessa Thompson, Rene Russo, Elizabeth Olsen, Danai Gurira, Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Dave Bautista, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Anthony Mackie, John Slatery, Marisa Tomei, Angela Bassett, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Winston Duke, Linda Cardellini, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alexandra Rachael Rabe, Samuel L. Jackson, Ty Simpkins, Robert Redford, Angela Basset, Letitia Wright, Jon Favreau, Taika Waititi, Frank Grillo
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
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Synopsis and Review:
Following the immensely successful "Avengers: Infinity War", directors Anthony and Joe Russo are back, with the continuation and conclusion of the "Avengers" plot-line (at least the one surrounding the series of films around this team, which started in 2012 with Joss Whedon's "The Avengers"). The plot resumes right after the events of the last feature - the alien Thanos, snapped a finger and decimated billions of people across the Universe. The remaining Avengers go on his pursuit, though once they find him, getting the stones and undoing that dramatic occurrence is impossible to be done. That is until Ant-Man emerges finally from being lost microscopically, and devises an idea to basically build a time machine of sorts, which will allow the team to retrieve the stones, before Thanos ever gets a chance to use them. By the time this happens, 5 years have gone by and the team has scattered, and are trying to cope with the devastating effects of those losses, as well as they can. The whole team has to go to different moments in time, retrieve the stones and bring them back to their present time, in the hopes of saving not just humanity, but the universe itself.
"Avengers: Endgame" is of course another film from the well oiled production machine from Marvel/Disney, which this year alone has already released the very successful "Captain Marvel". These films, as much as their different directors try, are starting to look and feel like the result of a production factory, where entertainment value aside, what typically occurs - narratively speaking - is very standard and formulaic (and that's always been, to a certain extent, the reason of their immense popularity). This time around, the directors and the writing team, having decided to place the story at a mortal crossroads on the previous episode, move in the direction of introducing time travel in order to satisfyingly bring back most of the characters to the fold. Narrative coherence aside, the film manages to exhibit some nuance in the manner of how it handles the aftermath of a destructive occurrence and the effects that it has on some characters and to a larger extent, the inhabitants of Earth. However, subtlety has never been one adjective associated with Marvel, and even in the grief there's a series of cliches the characters have to exhibit, namely the change that occurs in Thor. As the film picks up speed and the plot is set in motion, everything and everyone in the Marvel films pantheon makes a comeback, making for a jumbled mix of timelines and styles (Joss Whedon's style, mixed with James Gunn's among others). By the time the climactic big battle comes along, there's a hyperbolic curtain call of all these characters, in a Marvel rave/greatest hits sort of situation, where no one necessarily makes an impact, save for the remarkable visual effects. The film manages to score some heart and drama with the performance of Robert Downey Jr., though most of the remaining characters, in particular the female ones, once again have nothing much to do (even Captain Marvel, who sort of shows up momentarily, only to once again disappear). It's an entertaining film with impeccable production values, a diverse cast (who doesn't really have much to do), but that ultimately doesn't really shift how these films are built, both narratively speaking and even visually/aesthetically (where the most thrilling one in the series so far continues to be Scott Derrickson's inventive "Doctor Strange"). On to the next.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Sheltering Sky

Movie Name: The Sheltering Sky
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring: Debra Winger, John Malkovich, Campbell Scott, Jill Bennett, Timothy Spall, Eric Vu-An, Amina Annabi
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following the huge success of "The Last Emperor" in 1987, director Bernardo Bertolucci decided to tackle another story taking place in an unexpected locale, this time around, Northern Africa. The film is an adaptation of the novel by Paul Bowles, originally published in 1949. It follows the story of Kit and Port Moresby (who were in turn, thinly disguised versions of Paul Bowles and his wife, Jane), who arrive in Algeria in 1947. They're accompanied by Tunner, a young rich New Yorker, who is indeed a tourist, whereas the couple sees themselves as travelers (they plan on being in Africa for 2 years). Kit and Port are trying to overcome some relationship issues, and coming to a different setting, is something that they feel can re-energize their life and how they relate to each other. This re-awakening is towards each other, but also towards life itself. Kit rebuffs Tunner's romantic advances, while Port explores what the city has to offer. As they continue to explore and simultaneously get acquainted with other travelers, their lives starts taking a turn that will forever change them. 
"The Sheltering Sky" was a property that had been targeted to be adapted to the big screen for quite some time, until Bertolucci decided to tackle it. The director had in the past delivered richly layered films, such as "The Conformist", "Luna" and "Last Tango in Paris", and this novel seemed like a good fit for him. The film is possessed of a beauty that is undeniable, due to the simply superb cinematography from Vittorio Storaro (this is quite possibly one of the most stunningly captured films I have personally seen) and the equally fantastic score from Ryuichi Sakamoto. Where the film fails to engage, is the definition of the relationship between the central characters. There's a lack of nuance and depth to Debra Winger's portrayal of Kit, and her relationship with John Malkovich's Port is never conveyed or believable. There's no chemistry between the characters, and as the story progresses, we never really witness a journey of experience or even of all the tribulations producing any sort of awareness or comprehension on the lead characters, particularly Kit. As their reality unravels and their ordeals become more dramatic, what should have been captured in a somewhat desperate manner (such as what was illustrated by Alejandro G. Inarritu in "Babel"), never really achieves those heights. It's a film that while successfully capturing the remoteness of that universe and the longing to simultaneously be lost and found for some of the characters, it fails to ultimately make them humane. Not all characters need to be relatable to the audience, but their ordeals, challenges, dynamics have to at least be transposable in a way that they can be viewable and reachable. It's a film filled with promise, but hampered by a faulty casting (Bertolucci should have gone with Annette Bening or even Natasha Richardson). An unbalanced film from a sadly missed director.

Reversal of Fortune

Movie Name: Reversal of Fortune
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Ron Silver, Annabella Sciorra, Uta Hagen, Fisher Stevens, Jack Gilpin, Christine Baranski, Stephen Mailer, Christine Dunford, Felicity Huffman
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Director Barbet Schroeder has had a diverse and interesting career. "Reversal of Fortune" followed "Barfly", the first feature he directed in the US, and was focused on the life of writer Charles Bukowski. "Reversal of Fortune" is based on the real life case of Sunny von Bulow, an American heiress born Martha Sharp Crawford in Virginia, who after a first failed marriage, marries Claus von Bulow, a Danish/British socialite. The film is narrated by Sunny, who is in a coma, after falling into a diabetic shock which occurred following a Christmas party. Her husband Claus, is accused by her two elder children of attempting to murder Sunny, by giving her an overdose of insulin. Claus resorts to Alan Dershowitz  in order to reverse the case, and while the attorney is initially against taking the case, he finally acquiesces, since he has other cases that need funding, something that the von Bulow case can pay for. He and his team (comprised of a variety of professionals and students), go through all the data, in order to understand the facts, but also clarify and hopefully dismiss the prejudice against the charming and cold Claus.
"Reversal of Fortune" is an interesting film in the sense that, when it starts, we already know the fate of one of the lead characters. Sunny von Bulow, never recovered from that coma, and eventually passed away in 2008. What makes the film so compelling, is the way it showcases the information that defines these characters lives. Much like a detective story, it traces the backdrop to all these characters lives, while also considering multiple alternative scenarios, and never really giving a clear definition of what actually happened. There's conjectures, hypothesis, but the film never solves anything, and the characters, particularly the stupendous Jeremy Irons, walks the fine line between debonair/charm and possible guilty/assassin. The film manages to perfectly capture the universes that it sets out to showcase, starting with the life of luxury lived by Sunny, Claus and their families, the life of attorney Alan Dershowitz, and his colleagues/team members and finally the courtroom scenario, where all the facts, findings and suspicions get analyzed, dissected and showcased. It's a finely drawn film, very well edited by Lee Percy, with a beautiful cinematography from Luciano Tovoli. The cast is uniformly fantastic, but Jeremy Irons is simply superb and towers over all the proceedings of the film. Glenn Close and Ron Silver provide solid support. A very good film always worth revisiting.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Pretty Woman

Movie Name: Pretty Woman
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Garry Marshall
Starring: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Laura San Giacomo, Hector Elizondo, Jason Alexander, Ralph Bellamy, Alex Hyde-White, Amy Yasbeck, Hank Azaria, Larry Miller, Robyn Peterson, Patrick Richwood
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Actor/Writer/Producer/Director Garry Marshall was fresh off a successful 80s string of films, which included "Overboard" and "Beaches" when he decided to tackle "Pretty Woman". The film based on a script by J.F. Lawton had a very different tone, which was of course altered during filming and in post production, and resulted in one of the biggest hits of 1990 and further launching Julia Roberts career. The film follows the story of Vivian Ward, a young woman who is also a prostitute, in the Hollywood area. One evening she meets a man, whom she assumes is a client, but turns out to be lost. His name is Edward Lewis, and he's in town to address some corporate business, alongside his attorney. What starts as a casual meetup, and a simple case of providing directions, evolves into something more, as Edward hires Vivian to be his escort for the week. During that week it is her job to attend social gatherings with him, and generally always be available to him (day and night). Unexpectedly though, they both develop feelings for each other, and end up impacting each others lives in ways that none of them had predicted. 
"Pretty Woman" is a very slight film, that takes the typical Cinderella story (which in itself is a narrative that has existed for centuries, and has become a classic thanks to the writings of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm), where a destitute girl, meets a man of wealth, both falling in love and building a life together. "Pretty Woman" mixes this somewhat typical premise, by introducing the concept that Vivian is a prostitute, living in a shoddy situation, surrounded by some bleak scenarios and counterparts, and Edward is the man who comes in to save her from that whole nightmarish ordeal. It's very much a fairytale, one where the tone of the narrative is a bit all over the place, and one where the roles of men and women are somewhat drawn in clichés, but looking past that, it's a romantic story anchored on the chemistry of the leads, and the charm, energy and charisma brought forth by Julia Roberts. The film effectively launched her career to great heights and lives mostly from her ability to navigate both drama and comedy effectively, making the character feel more than just a stereotype. While the prostitution angle is never effectively sold (she comes across more as an 80s Halloween costumed version of what a prostitute is), the rest of the film plays very superficially like a romantic comedy between two charismatic leads. The rest of the cast, including Richard Gere, Hector Elizondo, Laura San Giacomo are all equally effective and captivating. A slight film worth watching for its cast. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Presumed Innocent

Movie Name: Presumed Innocent
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, Greta Scacchi, Paul Winfield, John Spencer, Joe Grifasi, Sab Shimono, Jesse Bradford, Joseph Mazzello, Bradley Whitford, Christine Estabrook
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Director Alan J. Pakula had a somewhat discrete decade in the 80s, save for his finely drawn and impeccably acted "Sophie's Choice" which came out in 1982. "Presumed Innocent" jumpstarted his career in the 90s which turned out to be filled with films with far more success and visibility. "Presumed Innocent", based on the novel by Scott Turow, follows the story of Rusty Sabich, a Chief Prosecuting Attorney, who finds himself in hot waters, when one of his colleagues is murdered. Initially in charge of the case, Rusty quickly becomes a suspect, when it comes to light that he had had an affair with the beautiful Carolyn Polhemus, something that nearly destroyed his marriage. When some evidence is discovered at Polhemus' apartment, Rusty is indicted and forced to hire a defense attorney. As the case starts being litigated, some unexpected politics surface, and Rusty seems himself in a progressively worse situation. 
"Presumed Innocent" was one of the big hits of 1990 and it's easy to understand why. It's a finely drawn thriller, with a series of unexpected situations that keep popping up and deflecting the unravel of the killer of the beautiful Carolyn Polhemus. It's a film that also perfectly captures the despair of a man targeted by a system that contains interests and agendas that go far beyond what is immediately perceived. Rusty is man engulfed in a situation that is the more dramatic, since he was still in love with the victim, and his family life, though now stable, isn't what he truly desired and longed for, something that more shocking with the twist at the end of the feature. It's a taut and well defined thriller, with an impeccable cast, including Harrison Ford in the central role, playing a more passive character unlike his previous larger than life heroes, well supported by Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia and Paul Winfield. The cinematography of the late Gordon Willis is fantastic, as is the score from John Williams. A solid and entertaining film always worth revisiting.

Forever

TV Show Name: Forever
Year of Release: 2018
Created by: Matt Hubbard, Alan Yang
Directors: Alan Yang, Miguel Arteta, Janicza Bravo
Stars: Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, Catherine Keener, Noah Robbins, Sharon Omi, Kym Whitley, Julia Ormond, Obba Babatunde, Peter Weller
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis:
As the streaming wars continue, it's interesting to witness the output of shows that the different companies are producing. From Amazon Prime comes "Forever", a show created by Matt Hubbard and Alan Yang. Yang previously created "Master of None" (with Aziz Ansari), while both he and Hubbard wrote for different shows such as "Parks and Recreation" and "30 Rock", to name but a few from their eclectic writing resumes. The show follows the story of June and Oscar, a married couple who have comfortably lived together for some time. Their existence is based on a series of repetitive routines that they have established, which June initially found endearing, but as time as moved on, have begun wearing her out. When they decide to go on a ski trip, their lives change dramatically, as Oscar dies and June is left to move on. June's career also, and unexpectedly, suffers a dramatic change, sending her on a trip, where she suffers a fatal accident. June and Oscar are reunited in the afterlife, where they initially start resuming their lives together, much like they did when they were living, but with different friends/neighbors. But as new neighbors join their peaceful existence, such as Kase, June in particular starts questioning her relationship with Oscar, and particularly the choices she made and keeps doing even in the after life. This need to explore leads her into unexpected situations and discoveries.
"Forever" is a show that takes its time to unfold the concept that is presenting. It's a comedic show made of nuances and observations, and plays cleverly with the concepts of afterlife, relationships, the dichotomy of resistance/acceptance to change and ultimately the notion of true acceptance of one self. It's a show that provides enough information on the context to keep the audiences interested, without delving too deeply into the circumstances where the characters find themselves in. The focus is very much on the relationships between these characters and how they come to realize their paths, always with a great sense of humor, with some situations being borderline ridiculous/surreal, but also and because of that, extremely funny. Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen are perfectly cast in the show, and they ultimately elevate it, making it always interesting, particularly since their characters are always showing a different side to them. It's a show that still needs a bit more clarification on the universe where it stands, and where the supporting characters can also benefit from some extra dimension, but it's nonetheless engrossing and impeccably shot. Worth watching! 

Russian Doll

TV Show Name: Russian Doll
Year of Release: 2019
Created by: Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler
Directors: Leslye Headland, Jamie Babbit, Natasha Lyonne
Stars: Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett, Greta Lee, Elizabeth Ashley, Rebecca Henderson, Jeremy Bobb, Ritesh Rajan, Yul Vasquez, Dascha Polanco, Brandon Sexton III, Burt Young, Chloe Sevigny, Yoni Lotan
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
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Synopsis:
Another show hailing from the prolific streaming giant that is Netflix, "Russian Doll" is a show that is the result of a diverse trio of writers: Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler. Two of those writers are of course acclaimed actresses on their own, and one of them is the protagonist, in what is one of the best shows Netflix has released thus far. The show focuses on Nadia, a woman living in New York, who is celebrating her 36th birthday. Nadia is a software engineer, and has an active and eclectic social life. During the party she talks to her best friend Maxine, hooks up with Mike, a college professor, and generally has a nice time. However after her fling, she ends up getting involved in a car crash and is killed. That death is temporary as she suddenly reappears on the bathroom of the apartment where her birthday party is taking place, as if nothing had occurred. As these occurrences keep surfacing, Nadia tries to understand the meaning behind these interminable loops, until she accidentaly meets Alan, who is also experiencing the exact same problem. Together they set out to find out how to break their loops, as their lives seem to be progressively losing detail as the loops become more and more frequent.
"Russian Doll" is a show that manages to function on a multitude of levels. It's successful as a perfect capture of a specific type of cultural New York microcosms, but it's also peppered with the perfect balance of humor, drama, heart and insight. It's a show that leverages the mechanics of Harold Ramis' "Groundhog Day", but takes it in a completely different direction. Whereas Ramis' film was about a man finding his soul and connecting with others, this show focuses on characters who are coming to terms with their own pasts, choices, and the paths in life (both past and present). These can be weighty themes to ponder in a show, but it's concocted with such intelligence and warmth, that one can't help but marvel at what is occurring. The cast is uniformly great, but Natasha Lyonne, Jeremy Bobb and Elizabeth Ashley are all impeccable in creating their characters. The show allows them to be more than just typical archetypes, and the interminable loops allows to see these characters from multiple angles and connections. A very smart show, impeccably acted, written and directed, worth watching.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

Movie Name: The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Alex Gibney
Starring: Elizabeth Holmes, Errol Morris, Dan Ariely, Roger Parloff, John Carreyrou, Tyler Schultz, David Boies, Tim Draper, Douglas Matje
Genre: Documentary
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis and Review:
Celebrated and prolific documentary film maker Alex Gibney is back, following his latest feature which focused on Rolling Stone magazine, "Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge". His new documentary focuses on the company Theranos, its creator Elizabeth Holmes, the culture of entrepeneurs in the Silicon Valley area, the whole mechanics of this environment, and the eventual downfall that has since occurred (to Theranos and Holmes that is). It's a documentary that succinctly defines the scope of what is attempting to explain, namely, how Theranos came to exist. It does so by painting a picture of its leader, Elizabeth Holmes, with a summarized and brief view of her beginnings, to the crucial point where she decides to cut short on her college experience, in order to start Theranos.  While the film doesn't go into great lengths to understand a bit more about who this person is, and ultimately her motivations, besides some of the interviews that are captured and where her pitch is consistently repetitive, it does showcase the process by which an idea in Silicon Valley can immediately attract investors and large sums of money, all based on good pitches, and a charismatic personality. As the film probes deeper and deeper to the inner workings of the organization, it's shockingly surprising to realize that fiction, captured for instance by Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street", is not that distant from what Alex Gibney captures here through his clinical and unflinching look at Theranos. They're both stories focused on people who projected an image that ultimately didn't correspond to the reality, and both of whom had built an empire, based on hollow promises, that soon fell apart. It's an interesting look not only at how Silicon Valley works, from an investing and idea generation point of view, but also a sharp look at how quickly the media, investors, and even general audiences, embark on the creation of these mythical personalities, based on nothing, or on cleverly designed games of show and tell (that ultimately have little to show and nothing to tell). A very pertinent documentary for these days, worth watching!

Predator 2

Movie Name: Predator 2
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Starring: Danny Glover, Ruben Blades, Gary Busey, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi, Adam Baldwin, Morton Downey, Jr., Calvin Lockhart, Kevin Peter Hall, Kent McCord
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
John McTiernan's "The Predator" was a solid hit, one that further established his career, but also Arnold Schwarzenegger's. Obviously a sequel was inevitable (and the other ones that have since followed), but the director chosen, Stephen Hopkins, was at the time a slightly untested one, with one of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" films under his belt, alongside his debut feature, "Dangerous Game", which he directed in his native Australia. The film takes place in 1997, in Los Angeles, which has become a city dominated by gang warfare, and where the police is clearly unprepared to deal with the level of destruction wreaked by them. The Predator is lured to this city torn by warfare, and as his attacks begin, he comes under the attention of Lieutenant Mike Harrigan and his team, who stop at nothing to find and solve issues/problems. The Predator also lures a secret government agency, who has been on his trail since the events from the first film, and their goal is not to document the explorations of the creature, but possibly capture him in order to get more information on that alien species. 
Whereas the first "Predator" was a film focused on a group of trained individuals, who get decimated one by one, very much like a Hitchcock type of suspense story, only gorier and more muscled, this sequel moves the character to an urban setting and down plays the hide/reveal game that defined the Predator originally. The concept of the group of characters that gets targeted is still there, but this time around, there's less focus on each of these characters, making them all feel even more under-developed than the original ones. The central character, Danny Glover's Harrigan, seems to be a one note character, and apparently a relentlessly going one, without need for food, sleep or water. The film takes place during an interval of a few days (though that's not exactly defined), and as the gore increases, so do the clichés around certain characters (the drug dealers, the women on the police force, the playboy police officer, the scummy news reporter). Whereas the first film was about the quest for survival, resourcefulness of the group and understanding that alien entity, this second one lacks focus, with the Predator also becoming part of the scenery, and ultimately not quite as interesting. It's a film that has a good cast, with Ruben Blades and Bill Paxton trying their best, but ultimately lacks character definition, and action scenes/set pieces that are ultimately, more exciting. Quickly forgettable.

Postcards from the Edge

Movie Name: Postcards from the Edge
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Mike Nichols
Starring: Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Annette Bening, Richard Dreyfuss, Robin Bartlett, Conrad Bain, Rob Reiner, Mary Wickes, Simon Callow, CCH Pounder, Barbara Garrick, Gary Morton
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After ending the 80s with two distinct but equally well received films, namely "Biloxi Blues" and the Academy Award magnet, "Working Girl", director Mike Nichols started the 90s with another award winning caliber film. The film is an adaptation of the novel by Carrie Fisher, who is also responsible for the screenplay, and follows the tribulations of Suzanne Vale, an actress going through a rough patch in Hollywood. Suzanne has substance abuse problems, and finds herself in rehab, due to the insistence of her mother, a well known actress from Hollywood's golden days, Doris Mann. The relationship between the two women is strained, and matters get further complicated, when Suzanne is forced to live with her for the duration of a new film she's about to start. Susanne attends her AA meetings, but when she meets the handsome Jack Faulkner, her hopes of staying focused on her well being are somewhat compromised. 
Mike Nichols films always primed for allowing characters to exist as more than two dimensional archetypes, allowing for actors to flex their muscles and create interesting and distinct performances. "Postcards from the Edge" is a great example of his craft - the film is built around the process of self awareness and path into adulthood of a woman, who has lived a sheltered and privileged life, but does so with nuance, humor, tackling difficult issues, without falling into schmaltz or kitchen sink drama. The screenplay is of course peppered with references and insider knowledge of what actually entails to live and work in Hollywood, but to Carrie Fisher's credit, she's more interested in Suzanne's point of view, and how her jaded outlook on that reality, actually makes everything look superficial. The film features some fantastic performances, namely from Meryl Streep, who runs the gamut and is truly phenomenal, but also Shirley MacLaine, Annette Bening, Gene Hackman and Mary Wickes. The cinematography from Michael Ballhaus is impeccable, as is the score from Carly Simon. A good film always worth watching and revisiting.