Film Review: The Departed (2006)

Release Date: September 26th, 2006 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: William Monahan
Based on: Infernal Affairs by Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Anthony Anderson, Kevin Corrigan, Mark Rolston, Robert Wahlberg

Media Asia Films, Vertigo Entertainment, Initial Entertainment Group, Plan B Entertainment, Warner Bros., 151 Minutes

Review:

“My theory on Feds is that they’re like mushrooms, feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark” – Dignam

I probably would’ve enjoyed this movie a lot more had I not seen the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs first. Reason being, this is an American remake of that film and frankly, it’s nowhere near as good but I’ll explain why.

To start, the acting is superb as fuck and really, that should go without saying if you look over the cast list. And really, I think that’s the one part of this film that possibly exceeds the original. DiCaprio is solid. Damon is solid. Nicholson is solid. Frankly, so is everyone else and there isn’t really a weak link in this chain of talent.

I think that for the lesser known actors and those with smaller parts, working with these other legends really helped them rise to the occasion. But some credit for that obviously has to go to Martin Scorsese’s direction. Scorsese, time and time again, always pulls the very best out of his actors from top-to-bottom in every production.

But this doesn’t discredit the acting in the Hong Kong film, which was also top notch and pretty damn close to this one even with the language barrier and having to experience it through subtitles.

One thing I’m not super keen on about this version is that it feels like the least Martin Scorsese film that the man has ever made… or, at least, that I’ve seen. It’s like Scorsese really wanted to replicate the tone and style of the original and while he did a fine job in replicating it, it sort of loses his patented touch. I would’ve rather seen him really take this story and make it his own.

Speaking of the story, I found this harder to follow than its source material. The Hong Kong film developed the characters better, especially the backstories. This movie lacked a lot of the extra context we got in the original between the Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon characters. I think that context was pretty important and maybe those scenes were filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.

What’s strange is that this movie is a whopping fifty minutes longer… fifty! Yet it feels like it has less story and the story that is present is a bit complicated. I feel like they tried to add extra layers into this where they didn’t need to be. While I don’t remember every detail of Infernal Affairs, as it’s been four years since I’ve seen it, but it did feel more streamlined and focused in spite of all the characters it had to balance.

It may seem like I’m shitting on The Departed but I don’t mean to. It’s just that I found a lot more value in the original.

This is still a damn engaging movie with characters you like, even the bad ones. It mostly moves at a brisk pace and as I’ve already stated, it’s a movie that’s greatly enhanced by its performances.

It was kind of cool seeing guys like DiCaprio, Nicholson and Damon come together in the same picture. It truly feels like a once-in-a-lifetime team-up and these guys worked together wonderfully.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Release Date: August 30th, 1992 (UK – Edinburgh International Film Festival)
Directed by: James Foley
Written by: David Mahmet
Based on: Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mahmet
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce, Bruce Altman, Jude Ciccolella

GGR, Zupnik Cinema Group II, New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes

Review:

“You never open your mouth until you know what the shot is.” – Rocky Roma

As much as I like finance and business thrillers, as well as everyone in this incredible cast, I had never seen Glengarry Glen Ross until now.

Granted, I have seen most of the iconic scenes from the movie for years, as people have referenced and quoted this movie for decades now. I’ve probably seen the Alec Baldwin speech a dozen times whether it was sent to me via YouTube or clipped into something else I’ve watched. I almost know it verbatim but there’s much more to this movie than its most iconic, most quotable scene.

Narratively and visually, I’d consider this to be a neo-noir picture, as well as just being a great business flick. It has backstabbing, conniving and a crime plot but brings some mystery into the second half of the picture.

The neo-noir aesthetic is pretty clear with this film’s cinematography, especially in regards to the scenes shot at night or in the bar. Visually, it reminded me of the cinematography style of Robby Müller. Specifically, his work in The American Friend, Repo Man and Paris, Texas. The night scenes are full of high contrast between dark shadows and vivid lighting. The daytime office scenes, however, feel muted and a lot less lively, as if the office is a sort of colorless, boring hell.

The film’s plot surrounds the worst real estate office in a large company and how the four salesmen are pitted against one another for survival. The two who do the worst, will lose their jobs. With that, we see the worst parts of these men’s characters rise up from their apathy, as paranoia and survival instinct sets in over the course of two days.

The acting in this is absolutely stellar and it is completely a film driven by the astounding dialogue and masterful acting.

Having never seen this in its entirety, I didn’t know the ending. By the time I arrived there, it was like a real punch to the gut and I didn’t see the twist coming.

While many that are into business thrillers and movies about sales and finance are very aware of this picture, I feel like it’s grossly underappreciated amongst normies and general film buffs.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other business and finance movies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Also known as: M:I-6, Mission: Impossible VI (alternative titles) 
Release Date: July 12th, 2018 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan, Vanessa Kirby, Wes Bentley, Frederick Schmidt, Ross O’Hennessy, Wolf Blitzer (cameo)

TC Productions, Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Media, Paramount Pictures, 147 Minutes

Review:

“There cannot be peace without first a great suffering. The greater the suffering, the greater the peace. The end you’ve always feared… is coming. It’s coming, and the blood will be on your hands.” – Solomon Lane

These movies are so damn good! Well, at least from the third one forward. I’m still sour about my initial experience with M:I-2 from twenty years ago.

Anyway, this one is a hair below the previous chapter but it’s still a near perfect, spy thriller masterpiece.

There is really only one negative with this film and that’s the exclusion of Jeremy Renner. However, Renner had become too busy with his work as Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so his absence is understandable. Also, adding Henry Cavill to the cast was a massive plus, even if he doesn’t survive beyond this chapter… or so, one would assume.

Other than Renner, this brings back everyone from the previous film, as well as bringing back Michelle Monaghan in a role that was thankfully bigger than just an uncredited cameo like in the fourth movie.

This one also adds in Angela Bassett as the CIA director, who is a secondary antagonist until she sees the light and learns to trust America’s greatest hero, Ethan Hunt. We’re also introduced to a new character, played by Vanessa Kirby, who I sincerely hope returns in future films. Not just because she’s f’n gorgeous but because her character is really damn interesting, badass and I’d just like to see her get to develop more, as they keep pumping out these movies because Tom Cruise is ageless.

The plot feels a little heavy and overloaded but thankfully, by the end, everything kind of falls into place in a good way. I also felt like this didn’t just build off of its direct predecessor by featuring the same villain and key characters but it also sets up the future, as the main villain is still alive and one would assume that he will come back into play again, almost becoming Mission: Impossible‘s equivalent to James Bond‘s Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Plus, Sean Harris is f’n chilling as hell in this role and despite him being a monster, I want to see more of him. Although, I do eventually want to see him catch a bullet or an even more over-the-top death.

I think that my favorite thing about this film, though, was the rivalry and personal war that developed between Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Henry Cavill’s August Walker. While Cavill dies, their final battle was so damn enjoyable that I wish he hadn’t. And no, I don’t think they’ll bring him back because that’d be stupid, based off of how he gets taken out, but killing him was a mistake due to how well he and Cruise worked together.

Additionally, the action in this chapter is top notch and nothing short of what you would expect.

I also feel like I need to give props to the film’s score by Lorne Balfe, who successfully experimented with the classic Mission: Impossible theme in multiple parts of the picture. I liked his fresh take on the score, as it felt like it belonged and didn’t come off as a composer trying too hard to stand out and make his own mark. It meshed well with what we’ve become used to over the last few films and just built off of that.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is impressive. But most importantly it was entertaining as hell and a shit ton of fun.

I’m also just going to come out and say that this series, after the disastrous second chapter, is my favorite film series post-2000. They’re consistently great, always leave me impressed and make me yearn for more.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Also known as: Mission: Impossible 5 (working title), MI5 (informal title)
Release Date: July 23rd, 2015 (Vienna premiere)
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie, Drew Pearce
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Joe Kraemer
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris

TC Productions, Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Media, Paramount Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t protect you, that’s why I need you to leave.” – Ethan Hunt, “That’s not your decision to make, Ethan! I am a field agent, I know the risks! More than that, I am your friend, no matter what I tell the polygraph every week! Now you called me because you needed my help! And you still do! So I am staying! And that is all we are gonna say about that!” – Benji Dunn

Man, I was a fool for quitting this series after the pretty terrible second film. Each movie since then has gotten better and better and frankly, I’m incredibly impressed by these stupendous movies! I shouldn’t have ignored the hype, I should’ve bought in and just enjoyed these on the big screen. Well, thankfully there are two more installments currently being filmed.

Getting into this particular chapter of the franchise, all my favorite surviving members of the series are back and it’s great seeing them pick up where the fourth film left off while also adding in Alec Baldwin and Rebecca Ferguson, who I absolutely fucking loved in this. I’m glad they chose to let her stick around for more films after this one, as she hit it out of the park and became the best female in this series almost immediately. Although, I was curious about Paula Patton’s absence and hope that her character appears at some point again, in the future.

This chapter also establishes a great villain and villain group that our heroes have to face. It’s sort of like Ethan Hunt having to face his own version of James Bond‘s SPECTRE but a lot less hammy and a bit more scary, as these film’s tend to veer more towards realism than the classic SPECTRE stories in the earliest Bond movies.

And while this might easily be brushed off as a rehash of that idea or other similar stories with villainous, secret terrorist groups like Hydra or Cobra, this group feels more plausible in the real world.

As is customary with these awesome flicks, the movie is full of incredible stunts and action sequences. While I think the previous film edges out this one in that regard, this is a slightly better movie, overall. That has a lot to do with the story but also in how this expands the mythos in a cool new way while building up from the franchise’s very strong foundation (excluding M:I-2 of course).

In the end, this was near-fucking-perfect for what it is. It gives me hope for the sixth film, which I still haven’t seen, as well as the two sequels yet to come. If the series maintains its quality beyond this chapter, it may become my favorite franchise of the modern era, post-2000.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.

Film Review: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Also known as: Black Klansman (working title)
Release Date: May 14th, 2018 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
Based on: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Nicholas Turturro, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Paul Walter Hauser

Blumhouse Productions, Monkeypaw Productions, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, QC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, Focus Features, 135 Minutes

Review:

“Darn tootin'” – David Duke

For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. I have to get that out of the way because it’s probably going to sound like I’m overly critical of it, as I continue on in this review.

First and foremost, it was a solid, interesting story with actors that I thought handled the material well. In regards to Adam Driver, this was the first thing that I have seen him in where he wasn’t Kylo Ren or that stupid Logan Lucky movie that made me want to burn the theater down. I really got to see his legit acting chops on full display and I was impressed. He lived up to what other people have told me about him. Well, mostly girls that wanted me to watch Girls. No thanks.

One major thing about this film is that it is based on a true story, the biographical account of these events by the real Ron Stallworth, the main character in the film. The problem, which happens with many Spike Lee movies, is that the director takes some tremendous liberties and sort of uses the real story as a basis to weave his films the way he sees fit, whether honest, accurate or not.

One major moment in this film is the big jab at the end where Stallworth calls David Duke to reveal that he was a black man the entire time. This never happened and Duke wasn’t ever privy to Stallworth being black until it was revealed to him in an interview in 2006.

Another issue I have with the film is that it works perfectly as its own tale but once you get to the end, it immediately switches to real world footage of the 2017 Charlottesville incident. I understand the parallels, everyone does, this film does a great job of painting the picture that Spike Lee needs to get his message across but the switch to modern real world footage is jarring. I know that it is supposed to be jarring but it isn’t jarring because of the incident itself, which is still very fresh in the public’s mind, but because it cheapens the film from an artistic standpoint. It’s heavy handed and forcibly shoehorned into the film in a way that cheapens the effect of Spike’s own picture, basically saying, “Hey, if you don’t get the message after this 135 minute beautiful film I did, than here’s a hammer to the face just to make sure you got it.” Spike Lee is talented enough to make films that speak for themselves and can lead his audience where he needs to without the hammer to the face. And this also looks like he has a lack of confidence in his own storytelling abilities; he shouldn’t. This worked without the exclamation point.

Additionally, this movie was released almost on the one year anniversary of the incident, which means it was already being made and Lee decided to tie it into Charlottesville after the fact or that it was made as a response to it and rushed out, which gets into some of the technical problems the film had.

Most of the film flowed well but there are some key points where I noticed clunky editing and transitions as well as bad audio management. Sometimes it felt as if something got cut from the film, it jumped to the scene after and the transitions were already done so they didn’t really bother to smooth out and polish the later cuts from the film.

Another thing that bothered me was Lee’s apparent lack of environmental awareness. I’ll give two examples.

One, when Stallworth is following the Klansman on a dark country road at night, the Klansman is able to see that a black man is behind him. I’ve driven on dark country roads. You can’t see the face of the person behind you, all you can see is their headlights. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t made into a somewhat important plot point that had an effect on three different scenes.

Two, when Stallworth is watching the Klan meeting towards the end of the movie, he’s watching from a second story window overlooking the meeting room. He is in direct view of David Duke, who is on the stage giving a speech. Every time they show the back wall with the windows you can see the silhouette of Stallworth’s head with it’s large afro. There’s no way that Duke wouldn’t see this while pontificating out to the crowd and while probably paying attention to his surroundings, as he has had threats and is under police protection.

I’m not sure if Spike Lee just doesn’t care about these details, as just telling the story is most important, or if he just didn’t think these scenes through. Again, maybe the film was rushed to try and get it out on the anniversary of Charlottesville.

Another thing that I disliked and it isn’t just in this film, it’s in a lot of films, is that it portrays the vast majority of KKK members (and general bigots) as buffoons. I’m certainly not defending those scumbags but I think in doing that, it dumbs them down in a situation where you need to show how much of a threat they actually are to all people and society as a whole. Are many of them dumb rednecks? Most likely, but playing some of them up for comedic value just makes them bumbling idiots and doesn’t really display them as beacons of pure evil. Granted, I thought Topher Grace did a good job in the role of David Duke and the local president of the KKK also played the role straight but they were the only two.

However, why the hell did Spike Lee cast Nicholas Turturro as a KKK member? Turturro is Italian as fuck and I am also part Italian and I’m pretty sure the Klan didn’t like us either. I guess Spike always needs a Turturro in a movie but this wasn’t the right spot for him and he stuck out like a sore thumb talking and jiving like a Little Italy gelato shop owner.

But enough griping.

I really enjoyed John David Washington as the star of this film. He hasn’t done much but he proved that he is an actor more deserving of bigger roles. Also, Laura Harrier was fantastic and the only other thing I’ve seen her in is Spider-Man: Homecoming. This role was a big jump for her but she knocked it out of the park and hopefully, gets more prominent roles after this film. I also might be crushing hard on her after this.

Back to Adam Driver, he was the focal point of the most challenging scenes in the film and he really steals the picture when he’s present. A lot of the material had to have been difficult but he nails it and carries the bulk of the film on his back.

Spike Lee crafted a pretty good movie, the running time was a bit long but he tends to do that. Initially, it wasn’t as preachy as I thought it would be. Well, at least until the blunt instrument to the face in the last few minutes, but the film made its point very well without him needing to spell it out in all caps like an angry twelve year-old girl tweeting about a breakup.

But, in the end, this was refreshing in a summer full of blockbuster duds.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Spike Lee movies: Do the Right ThingMalcolm X and Bamboozled.

Film Review: The Shadow (1994)

Release Date: July 1st, 1994
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: The Shadow by Walter B. Gibson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry, James Hong, Al Leong, Joseph Maher, Frank Welker (voice)

Bregman/Baer Productions, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll be there… around every corner… in every empty room… as inevitable as your guilty conscience…” – The Shadow

The Shadow wasn’t shy about what it was trying to be. It was Universal’s answer to Warner Bros. massive success with Batman and Disney’s pretty popular Dick Tracy. It is almost like a blend of the two and I guess The Shadow was the right property to adapt at the time, if you wanted to marry both of those other franchises into one thing. Granted, it also throws in some Asian mysticism but ninjas and Oriental magic were pretty popular back then too.

I wouldn’t call the finished product a big success though. This film pretty much bombed, critics didn’t like it and it felt like it was trying too hard to be those other things that it wasn’t. It’s sad because The Shadow could have actually been a really great movie. It has so many things working for it that you almost have to try to make it not work.

Granted, this film is far from terrible and I like it quite a bit more than I dislike it. It’s just that those bad elements really held this motion picture back.

For starters, Alec Baldwin was boring as hell as the Shadow. He was dry, tried to come off as overly manly and sexy and it just felt silly. His Bela Lugosi illuminated eye trick when he was using his psychic shtick just didn’t work and I’m a huge fan of that method when used correctly. But maybe that only worked well in old black and white Universal Monsters pictures. His weird facial prosthetics also didn’t work for me and just made him look strange.

I also didn’t like John Lone as the villain, who is essentially a resurrected Genghis Khan. At least I think he was, his explanation was kind of weird and confusing. He kind of sounded like Tommy Wiseau with a little Asian flourish to his accent.

I did like the rest of the cast. Penelope Ann Miller was alluring as hell, Ian McKellen was delightful and Tim Curry stole the show, as he always does.

I also liked the score by Jerry Goldsmith. It was made to sound a lot like Danny Elfman’s scores for Batman and Dick Tracy but it wasn’t a total ripoff, it had a very strong Goldsmith vibe to it.

The look of the film was nice but it really was just an amalgamation of Tim Burton’s Gotham City and The City from Dick Tracy. It was actually New York and had the iconic landmarks but the night shots used sweeping cameras weaving around building’s ala Burton’s Batman and featured gargoyles with waterfalls coming out of their mouths and other things that didn’t seem very 1930s New York.

The film did its best to be exciting but it just wasn’t. It was as bland as Baldwin’s performance and to be honest, unlike similar films of the era, I never had the urge to go back and watch this until now. I have seen Batman and Dick Tracy and even The Rocketeer a few dozen times.

Although watching it now, I really liked the sequence during the final showdown in the hall of mirrors. It was a bit hokey but it still looked beautiful and was the best visual moment in the picture.

The Shadow isn’t a complete waste of a film. It’s less than two hours and is a decent time killer, especially if you’ve never seen it and are a fan of similar pictures and 1930s style.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The two films it borrows heavily from: 1989’s Batman and 1990’s Dick Tracy.