Film Review: Ricochet (1991)

Release Date: October 4th, 1991
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Fred Dekker, Menno Meyjes
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Ice-T, Kevin Pollak, Lindsay Wagner, Sherman Howard, Mary Ellen Trainor, John Amos, Miguel Sandoval, Jesse Ventura

Indigo Productions, Cinema Plus, HBO Pictures, Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 102 Minutes

Review:

“I guess a Beretta in the butt beats a butterfly in a boot, huh?” – Nick Styles

Man, this may be the most Fred Dekker movie ever put to celluloid. It’s got his fingerprints all over the story and Steven E. de Souza’s script really encapsulates the spirit of Dekker’s style. Beyond that, the director, Russell Mulcahy, then turns everything up passed eleven! I’d say he turned it to about seventeen!

I haven’t seen this since it was a new movie on VHS but I’ve got to say that even though I remember enjoying it, I didn’t realize how over the top and crazy it was. I guess that’s because this was fairly normal for an early ’90s edgy boi action flick.

Seeing greats like Denzel Washington and John Lithgow clash in this was fucking incredible, though! These guys brought their a-game, their balls and then, I’m assuming, shot a bunch of steroids and extra testosterone into their man bits. That’s the only way I can really explain their intensity in this movie.

This is a high octane action thriller from the very beginning. It follows a young cop that takes down an extremely violent criminal in the first few minutes. The cop becomes a hero and a bit of a celebrity and eventually starts working for the district attorney’s office. He ends up getting married and has two daughters. All the while, Lithgow rots in prison, fighting and murdering other prisoners, waiting for his chance to escape and get vengeance on the cop that put him there.

Once out of prison, the criminal creates an elaborate plot to break the cop down, destroy his personal life, his career, pump him full of heroin and have him get raped by a hooker with an STD. This story goes to some dark, bonkers places.

In the end, Denzel sets his own trap by utilizing the gangsters he grew up with. The big, legitimately awesome finale takes place on the famous Watts Towers. The finale is fucking great! Especially, for those who loved these type of over-the-top, bar pushing action flicks of this era.

All in all, this is far from a perfect film and it has its flaws but it is perfect escapism, chock full of that “toxic” masculinity that modern Hollywood loathes.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other cop thrillers of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Malcolm X (1992)

Also known as: X (poster title)
Release Date: November 18th, 1992
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Arnold Perl, Spike Lee
Based on: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, Alex Haley
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee, Theresa Randle, Kate Vernon, Christopher Plummer, Lonette McKee, Giancarlo Esposito, Wendell Pierce, Roger Guenveur Smith, Debi Mazar, Karen Allen, Peter Boyle, David Patrick Kelly, Mary Alice, Nicholas Turturro, Michael Imperioli, John David Washington, Ossie Davis

Largo International, JVC Entertainment Networks, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Warner Bros., 202 Minutes

Review:

“[Witnessing Malcolm’s control over a mob] That’s too much power for one man to have.” – Captain Green

Every great director has their magnum opus and this is Spike Lee’s.

Malcolm X is pretty perfect from top-to-bottom and for a film that is nearly three and a half hours, it mostly moves at a really good pace. I thought that the first act was too drawn out but it takes up less than an hour of running time and the film really finds its groove once Malcolm goes to prison and first encounters the lessons and ideas around The Nation of Islam.

From that point forward, this is a truly exceptional motion picture that is bolstered by the legendary performance of Denzel Washington. In fact, despite him winning the Academy Award for Training Day, I would say that this is the best performance of his career.

Beyond Washington, everyone else in this film is superb from the smallest parts to the largest. There really isn’t a weak link in the entire cast and Lee did a phenomenal job in picking who he did for each role.

This also boasts the best cinematography out of all of Spike Lee’s movies. Sure, he has a stupendous eye and employs wonderful visuals in every film but this felt so genuine and rich. It was like a true time capsule back to the 1940s through 1960s and nothing about it felt staged or inauthentic.

Having read the book, years ago, I’ve always seen this as the most perfect interpretation of it. In fact, if anyone were to try and attempt a Malcolm X biopic in the future, I don’t know how they could really make anything better or even as close to great as this is. As far as I know, it’s never been attempted and frankly, it shouldn’t be.

Watching this, it was hard not having my mind try to compare the incidents and the social climate in the 1960s to today. A lot of people love quoting Malcom X and for good reason. However, I think that a lot of people who cite him don’t fully grasp the context and cherry pick what fits their narrative. I think it’s important to understand the man’s full journey and to see what he went through, what he learned and how he applied all of that to his actions and his message.

Unfortunately, Malcolm was gunned down in the prime of his life and we never got to see how he would’ve continue to evolve and how he would’ve worked together with other black leaders and leaders of all races in the following decades.

Malcolm’s death was an absolute tragedy but his life is certainly worth knowing and celebrating. With that, this film is really special in how it captured the man, his personal struggles and growth. Spike Lee and Denzel Washington made a biographical picture that is as good as they get.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Spike Lee’s other films of the late ’80s and into the ’90s.

Film Review: Devil In a Blue Dress (1995)

Release Date: September 16th, 1995 (TIFF)
Directed by: Carl Franklin
Written by: Carl Franklin
Based on: Devil In a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, Don Cheadle, Maury Chaykin, Terry Kinney

TriStar Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“It was summer 1948, and I needed money. After goin’ door-to-door all day long, I was back again at Joppy’s bar trying to figure out where I was gonna go looking for work the next day. The newspapers was goin’ on and on about the city elections – like they was really gonna change somebody’s life. But my life had already changed when I lost my job three weeks before. ” – Easy Rawlins

You know what is refreshing? Seeing a black lead in a film-noir picture, even if it happened half a century after the height of the style. But who was a better choice than Denzel Washington for this picture? He’s handsome, debonair, classy and has the gravitas and charisma that a film-noir lead needs to have. He’s so good in this, actually, that I would have loved to see this character return in a series of films.

Even though this came out in the 1990s, it does feel like authentic noir, more so than a lot of the neo-noirs of that era. Washington is perfect in this, as is his charismatic buddy, Don Cheadle. Tom Sizemore also pulls his weight and gave life to an interesting character that pulls Washington’s Easy Rawlins into this noir web. Then you also have Jennifer Beals, who immediately makes an impact in anything she is in due to her natural beauty and solid acting chops. I never felt like Beals got as many good roles as she probably deserved. Here, she feels like a true woman of film-noir.

In this film, we see Easy Rawlins take a job form the mysterious DeWitt Albright (Sizemore). He is hired to track down Daphne Monet (Beals) and it is said that Albright was looking for her on behalf of Todd Carter (Terry Kinney). Daphne is suspected of hiding out somewhere in the black community of Los Angeles. As the film rolls on, you discover that Carter did not ask this of Albright and that Albright is not who he seems. And this is when the real noir twists come in.

Devil In a Blue Dress is a jazzy and energetic film that doesn’t have a dull moment. This was a film that really felt tailor made for Washington. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hugely popular and that is kind of disappointing, because this film could have given birth to a cool trend of long overdue black film-noir. Sadly, black Americans were hugely underrepresented in classic noir, even though they had a large presence and cultural influence on urban America, where most noirs took place.

This is one of the best neo-noirs of the 1990s, hands down. While it isn’t quite on the level of The Two Jakes, a film I love but the critics, not so much, Devil In a Blue Dress feels right at home next to it.

This is one of my favorite Denzel Washington films and it also features one of my favorite Don Cheadle characters of all-time. What’s not to love?

Rating: 8/10