Film Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Release Date: January 30th, 1991 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Kasi Lemmons, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Frankie Faison, Tracey Walter, Charles Napier, Roger Corman, Chris Isaak, Harry Northup, Daniel von Bargen, George A. Romero (uncredited)

Strong Heart/Demme Production, Orion Pictures, 118 Minutes, 138 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” – Hannibal Lecter

My memories of this film are as great as they could possibly be but after seeing this again, the first time in many years, I was still surprised by just how perfect it is. There are very few motion pictures that deliver so much and at such a high level that seeing this was incredibly refreshing and left me smiling from ear-to-ear, regardless of the dark, fucked up story.

That being said, as great as both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are as actors, I have a hard time thinking of anything else they were better in.

Sure, they’ve both had other legendary performances but man, they brought their best to this picture like their entire lives counted on it being a success. Plus, their chemistry is incredibly uncanny that in spite of knowing what Hannibal is, at his core, you almost kind of root for them in a sort of awkward, fucked up, romantic way.

I can understand why Jodie Foster didn’t want to return to the role with Hannibal, a sequel that took too long to come out, but I really would’ve liked to see this version of the characters come together again because the strange connection that they share deserved more exploration.

It would’ve been hard to live up to this masterpiece of a film, though, but I’ll save my added thoughts on Hannibal for that review in about a week.

Anyway, it wasn’t just Foster and Hopkins that were great. This film’s entire cast was perfect and this enchanting nightmare just sucks you in and doesn’t release its grip till well after the credits are over. This movie just lingers with you and a big part of that was the performances of every actor.

Credit for that also has to go to Jonathan Demme, who, as director, was able to pull the best out of this stupendous cast from the smallest role to the most iconic and pivotal.

Additionally, he really displayed his mastery of his craft in this like no other movie he’s directed. The tone, the atmosphere and the sound were perfect. This boasts some incredible cinematography, masterful shot framing, exceptional lighting and Demme employs some really interesting and cool techniques. The best being used in the finale, which sees Foster’s Clarice, terrified out of her mind, as she hunts the film’s serial killer, seen through the point-of-view of his night vision goggles, as he carefully stalks her through a pitch black labyrinthine basement.

That finale sequence in the house is absolutely nerve-racking, even if you’ve seen this film a dozen times. The tension, the suspense, it’s almost too much to handle and that’s the point in the film where you really come to understand how perfect this carefully woven tapestry is.

Plus, it really shows how complex Clarice is as a character. She’s brave as fuck but alone, up against a monster like Buffalo Bill, her senses and her primal fear overwhelm her. However, she still snaps out of it just quick enough to put him down, perfectly and exactingly. Foster is so damn good in this sequence too, that you truly feel yourself in her shoes.

Speaking of Buffalo Bill, Ted Levine was amazing in this role. Man, that guy committed to the bit so much that it’s impossible not to appreciate what he brought to the film. It could’ve been really easy to have been overshadowed by Foster and Hopkins but this guy rose to the occasion with them and excelled in this performance.

My favorite sequence in the film, after the finale, is the one where Hannibal Lecter escapes imprisonment. This is where you finally see how cold and vile he can be. It also shows you how damn smart he is at outwitting those who tried to cage this lion but took that cage’s security for granted. He exposes the flaws in their overconfidence and careful planning and leaves this story a free man, out and about in the world.

The Silence of the Lambs was an unexpected runaway hit and it’s easy to see why. I always thought that it was funny that this was released on Valentine’s Day, as it must have shocked many casual moviegoers just looking for a film to see on a date where they just wanted to smooch their lover. It makes me wonder how many married couples saw this on their first date.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: Shaft (2000)

Also known as: Shaft Returns (working title)
Release Date: June 16th, 2000
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: John Singleton, Shane Salerno, Richard Price
Based on: Shaft by Ernest Tidyman
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Dan Hedaya, Busta Rhymes, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree, Lynne Thigpen, Pat Hingle, Mekhi Phifer, Elizabeth Banks, Gordon Parks, Andre Royo, Daniel von Bargen, Issac Hayes (uncredited), Lawrence Taylor (cameo)

Scott Rudin Productions, New Deal Productions, Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Golf is phat… Tiger Wooo, Tiger Wooo, I like him.” – Peoples Hernandez

While I did dig this when it came out in 2000, I hadn’t seen it since then. I’ve gotta say, it hasn’t aged well at all.

This film feels like a relic and it feels like it is about five years older than it is. It had more cheesy, ’90s action flavor than it did the ’70s blaxploitation aesthetic it was trying to recapture and homage.

Shaft, the 2000 version, is just a mundane, boring movie that surprisingly had a good director and an incredible cast that couldn’t keep this ship afloat. It’s a sinker and a stinker.

I guess, despite initially enjoying it, there just wasn’t enough beyond one viewing that ever really made me want to revisit this. And I only did so now because I haven’t reviewed it and also because I wanted to revisit it to re-familiarize myself with Sam Jackson’s incarnation of Shaft before watching the 2019 version, which is now streaming on HBO.

Overall, Jackson was the perfect choice for a modern Shaft. I also liked seeing Jeffrey Wright and Christian Bale in this, as the villains. However, despite the awesomeness that was Wright’s Dominican accent, everything just feels pedestrian and dry.

There are no real surprises in the film and it plays out quite sloppily. It’s a clunky story with a few subplots that all seem forced and unnecessary. In fact, the movie is overly complicated and it feels like it is more into showcasing yuppie racism than it is at telling a good plot or making you care about any of the characters in any way that is deeper than just surface level. It certainly needs more character development than plot layers. The movie gets lost within itself and if you don’t care about anyone, what’s the point?

It’s not a poorly acted film but it is poorly written and directed. John Singleton has proved, specifically before this, that he is capable of so much more.

I guess this is okay if you go into it as just a mindless 99 minute action romp but it’s nowhere near as cool as it thinks it is and it pales in comparison to the original film it wanted so hard to be.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the Shaft franchise, as well as late ’90s/’00s Samuel Jackson action movies.

Film Review: RoboCop 3 (1993)

Release Date: May 1st, 1993 (Japan)
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Frank Miller, Fred Dekker
Based on: characters by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Robert John Burke, Nancy Allen, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry, Rip Torn, Mako, John Castle, CCH Pounder, Stephen Root, Jeff Garlin, Shane Black, Bradley Whitford, Lee Arenberg, Daniel von Bargen

Orion Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Well, I gotta hand it to ya. What do they call ya? Murphy, is it?” – The CEO, “My friends call me Murphy. You call me… RoboCop.” – RoboCop

RoboCop 3 should not exist. Well, at least in the form that it does.

For one, Peter Weller left the series and Nancy Allen’s Lewis gets killed off pretty early on, leaving us with a movie mostly devoid of the actors and characters we’ve come to care about except for a few minor side ones like the the police sergeant and Johnson.

Not even Dan O’Herlihy came back to play the Old Man in charge of OCP. I guess his absence was explained by OCP being bought by a Japanese company. So instead of the great O’Herlihy, we got a bored looking Rip Torn as the new head of OCP. Johnson was still there though, even if he felt out of place hamming it up with new office buddies.

The story deals with a bunch of poor people getting violently thrown out of their homes so OCP can steal the land and build Delta City, which has been an overused plot point since the first movie. RoboCop catches feelings for the poor people, especially after meeting a four year-old girl that hacks ED-209s and watching Lewis get gunned down by a private military company hired by OCP. There’s also some terrible cyborg ninjas in this. Oh, and RoboCop gets a pointless gun arm and a lame as shit jetpack.

The special effects in this are laughably bad, even looked at within the context of the era this was made in. This is a much cheaper looking movie than RoboCop and RoboCop 2 by a wide margin. ED-209 looks about the same but I’m sure they just reused one of the robots from the first film. RoboCop himself is a new actor but he’s wearing Peter Weller’s suit, which was too short for the new actor and caused him a lot of pain.

RoboCop 3 is just one costly shitshow that has nothing redeeming hidden within it. I’ve only seen this one a few times but I’ve watched the first two at least a dozen times each. This is just really hard to sit through and pretty much a pointless film, overall.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: the first two RoboCop movies but they’re far superior and I guess any bad RoboCop ripoffs with an extremely low budget, hokey effects and crappy acting.

Film Review: The Faculty (1998)

Also known as: The Parasite (Japanese English title)
Release Date: December 25th, 1998
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Kevin Williamson, David Wechter, Bruce Kimmel
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Shawn Hatosy, Clea DuVall, Josh Hartnett, Laura Harris, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen, Usher Raymond, Salma Hayek, Jon Stewart, Danny Masterson, Louis Black, Duane Martin, Daniel von Bargen

Dimension Films, Los Hooligans Productions, Miramax Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not putting that hack drug up my nose – it’s so eighties!” – Stokely, “Aliens are taking over the earth. Weigh it!” – Zeke

I thought I had seen this film before and maybe I did but watching it now, it was all new to me. Granted, at the time when this was a current movie, I was dabbling in extracurricular substances. Angsty Gen-X teen shenanigans, am I right?

And I guess this film isn’t too different from my head space in the era in which this came out. I was dabbling in the party hard lifestyle and all it had to offer like most of the kids in this movie.

Anyway, this film had everyone in it. Seriously, this cast was loaded with talent to the point that it is pretty unbelievable when watching it today. In fact, I’m surprised this wasn’t a hit or didn’t get a much larger cult following. It kind of came and went but it also came out in a time when there were a lot of films like it.

I also didn’t know that this was a Robert Rodriguez film. But when this came out, I wouldn’t have really known who he was yet even though I had seen From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado.

The story is pretty simple, an alien parasite is taking over the minds of people. Basically, it borrows heavily from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and a lot of other similar stories. This takes place in a high school though and the aliens have pretty much taken control of most of the faculty and a lot of the students. As the film rolls on, a group of teens discovers what’s happening and they decide to stop the invasion.

This was a much better movie than I anticipated when I fired it up nearly twenty years after its release. I was surprised with how fun and nuts it was. There are some parts that don’t make a lot of sense, like the whole opening scene if you reflect on it after watching the rest of the movie. However, Robert Rodriguez gave it a certain spirit that made me think of one of his other films: Planet Terror. Now this wasn’t Planet Terror levels of insane but it was edgier and cooler than other films like it from the late ’90s.

This also had some really impressive special effects and visuals. The scene where the alien queen, in human form, is walking naked through the locker rooms and the shadows of her invisible intertwining tentacles cast shadows all over the room is so fucking cool. Seriously, I loved this moment in the film and it really legitimized the picture as something much better than its contemporaries.

The Faculty is a greater film than it needed to be and that is the mark of a great director. I feel like it was certainly held tightly under the studio thumb and that Rodriguez would have made something pretty insane if he made this later in his career but he was still able to put his unique stamp on it and turn out a film that was damn good.

The film also features the worst Josh Hartnett hairstyle ever captured on film.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Disturbing BehaviorTeaching Mrs. TingleUrban LegendIdle Hands and other late ’90s teen horror.