Friday, May 21, 2010

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

John Hughes wrote this and Pretty and Pink. I will present Some Kind of Wonderful in relation to the earlier, superior Pretty and Pink.

Molly Wringwald + Sex Change = Eric Stoltz
Duckie - humor + androgynous angst = Mary Stuart Masterson
Andrew McCarthy - money = Lea Thompson
James Spader - talent = Craig Sheffer
Annie Potts - quirky charm = John Ashton

The main deviation in plot is that the pining loser actually asks out the dream girl, and she leads him along with everyone, save for him, knowing that she's being totally insincere. Other than that, it is basically the same movie, with the class struggles between the rich and poor cliques taking center stage and the young teens struggling for identity amidst adolescent development blah blah blah. It's not all that bad, and Thompson, easily the best thing in the film, has a subplot involving her richer, domineering friends that is actually quite heartbreaking and genuine. But it's too derivative to be worth recommending for anything except the strong direction, dependable acting, and killer soundtrack.

Slightly Recommended for fans of John Hughes and corny '80s teen movies.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lansky (1999)

Cool TV movie with Richard Dreyfus as Meyer Lansky, partner of Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel and co-founder of the Flamingo and, ostensibly, Las Vegas. We watch him witness anti-semetism in his native Russian country, and then from the Italians as he rises in the mob stateside. A numbers man, he makes a name for himself through numbers and business management, leaving the heavy work to his more violent, sociopathic friends (Luciano and Siegel, played by Anthony Lapaglia and Eric Roberts, respectively). The film, scripted by Mamet, flip flops between the end of Lansky's life and flashbacks filling in the rest, and it flows well without sustaining too much tension, due to the fact that we know he lives through the most dangerous events of his life. Mamet's contribution, inevitably, is great, evocative dialogue, that paints the portrait of these 3 legendary figures in concise, controlled strokes. The women get shafted; as his wife, Beverly D'Angelo replaces Illeana Douglas (as another character) without ANY fanfare. The highlight, inevitably, is Dreyfus. He gives a thorough, nuanced, and introverted performance that warrants the feature film surrounding it. His younger incarnations are also strong, but it is when he carries the picture that it truly earns merit. Roberts and Lapaglia are also having a blast playing these legendary gangsters.

Recommended for those interested in the formation of organized crime and Las Vegas and fans of Richard Dreyfus. The quality is on par with the stronger HBO movies (Grey Gardens, Recount).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Short Cuts (1993)

A masterful, kaleidoscopic vision of L.A. from Robert Altman, in the vein of Nashville. Like Nashville, this film completely justifies all the praise that is directed towards it; both films are perfect examples of Altman's ability to juggle storylines in such a way that the film is, in the end, a pastiche, but a very distinct and poignant one nonetheless. The stories reveal snapshots of the lives of several L.A. denizens over the course of a few days. To describe the particulars of the stories here would do them a disservice; the main joy of the film is the natural, human ways the tales play themselves out. The cast is among the best of any film I've ever seen, period, and they all turn in memorable work in their short screen time; Robert Downey, Jr., Tim Robbins, Anne Archer, Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore, and Lily Tomlin are among the myriad of faces that create distinct, fully-fleshed characters seemingly out of thin air. Much of the film was improvised, which makes me credit much of the watchability of the long, ambitious film to the actors. The film resembles Magnolia in its location, running time, and broad outline, but that's all; the tone here is more ambivalent and detached than tragically bemused. The score, jazzy and loose, is terrifically appropriate, giving the film a leisurely vibe that allows the drama to come across very naturally and organically.

Highly Recommended. Altman was known for this type of film, but this and Nashville remain the crowning achievements of this interwoven, low-key style. I still prefer the Long Goodbye in terms of sheer personality and revisionism (it remains my favorite noir I've ever seen), but this and Nashville are the perfect examples of Altman's famed aesthetic.

Next of Kin (1989)

Okay, forgettable late '80s actioner about 2 hick brothers out to avenge the death of a third in Chicago. The dead brother is played by Bill Paxton, and his brothers are played by Liam Neeson (YEAH!) and Patrick Swayze (...he's dead.) Because this was made 2 years after Dirty Dancing, and not in smarter times, Swayze is the lead, the pacifist brother who wants to take the law and order route until *gasp* they cross the line! The villains are played by Adam Baldwin, Andreas Katsulas (the one-armed man from The Fugitive), and Ben fucking Stiller. The script is crappy and stupid, with the characters all being stereotypes, and boring ones at that, but the film rests on the laurels of the cast for a good amount of the film. Baldwin, Stiller, and especially Neeson, as the fur-trappin, John Deere drivin psycho hick of the two brothers, have charisma coming out of their ass, and make their scenes pulpy and larger than life. But Swayze was no action lead, no matter how hard he wanted to be. Without a role like the Bodhisattva in Point Break, he could not bring anything extra to a role, as can be seen in Red Dawn (which I prefer to this) and Road House (which I don't). And in movie with this many talented actors (Helen Hunt plays his wife as well) he comes across as puny and pathetic; no good when you're standing next to Liam Neeson talkin about raining hell on the bastards that killed his brother.

Slightly Recommended to late '80s B-movie action buffs or diehard Neeson fans curious to see him rock a southern accent. Firefly fans take note: Jayne plays a pretty badass evil henchman in this one, and helps pushes the film across the edge into enjoyable status.

Ninja Assassin (2009)

Cool, if slight American ninja flick from the Wachowski Brothers and James McTeigue with a Korean actor playing the lead ninja. The story involves an exiled ninja, one of the best, who left his clan after the death of a woman he loved. He attempts to avoid being recognized by enemy clan members and authority figures (namely a suspicious Interpol agent), but ends up getting caught up in the investigation of the clans' assassination trade. The story is stupid, and follows every cliche of this type of movie one could imagine. However, they could have easily gotten away with that on sheer style which, aside from the action sequences, is not really there. The action is easily the high water mark of the film, and the beats where they just show ninjas doing their thing in glorious (albeit CGI-ed) motion are pretty successful. But inevitably, there isn't enough action, and the film crumbles under the weight of its own irrelevance. Plus, the goddam Japanese assassin everyone keeps talking about is not only obviously Korean by his Chevy Chase, but Bee (Rain) is a GODDAM KOREAN POP SUPERSTAR!! I hope they reaped the benefits off of that casting choice (aka Korean cash money), because it's really distracting and illegitimizes the film from the getgo.

Slightly Recommended to fans of ninja B-movies or really thin spectacles a la the Wachowski's Speed Racer. Remember, after Matrix and Bound, when the Wachowski's were the baddest motherfuckers in Hollywood? Then one of them became a woman, then they ruined their greatest creation with pretension and greed, and now, keep trying to prove themselves with bastardized movies of good concepts. Sigh.

44 Inch Chest (2010)

Stupendously badass, ideally cast chamber piece (har har) about a group of old English cads who take care of one of their own after his wife leaves him. Ray Winstone plays the beleaguered husband, and John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Ian McShane, and Stephen Dillane play his friends, who have obviously gone back with Winstone far enough to risk their own life and limb for his mental and physical well being. That's all I'll reveal, but I'll say that fans of high-tension, one location-based dramas should definitely take an interest here; the dialogue, and the magnificent acting, are exceptionally strong, hilarious at points and quite painful in others.

Highly recommended for fans of the cast, or films like Reservoir Dogs or Tape where they seem to never leave one location. I had heard some disparaging things about this one, turns out it was all bullshit. Special props to Hurt for his poison-veined, wiry codger, who gives the marvelous actor his best character in recent memory.