Film Review: Went to Coney Island On a Mission From God… Be Back by Five (1998)

Release Date: April 18th, 1998 (Los Angeles Independent Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Schenkman
Written by: Jon Cryer, Richard Schenkman
Music by: Midge Ure
Cast: Jon Cryer, Ione Skye, Rick Stear, Rafael Baez, Frank Whaley, Aesha Waks, Dominic Chianese, Norbert Leo Butz

Evenmore Entertainment, 94 Minutes

Review:

The reviews for this film seemed pretty even but I remembered first reading about this movie in one of Leonard Maltin’s books where he gave it some pretty solid praise.

Since I noticed it streaming on one of my many services, I decided to finally check it out. Plus, I’ve always liked Jon Cryer, since first seeing him in Superman IV when I was just a kid. So I wanted to see this because it was a more serious role and because he wrote the story.

I’ve got to say, this is pretty good and it really hit me in the feels, as I have had close friends that have gone off the rails, so to speak, since my youth. So I didn’t find this hard to relate to and in a lot of ways it sort of mirrored many of the emotions and sentiments I’ve felt over the years trying to help people that didn’t really want it.

The story is about three childhood friends but it’s primarily about two of them, on a search for the third, who kind of lost his marbles after the death of his little sister. As the film rolls on, the two friends are really challenged by each other and how they’ve grown apart. However, ultimately, they do come together in an effort to help their friend in need.

As the movie progresses, we see the third friend reluctantly try to accept their help and with that, we learn more about the events that led to him disappearing from their lives and the lives of his family.

This is a very human and really emotional movie. But within its story, which is really just the framework, it explores the human soul and our relationships with one another while searching for the meaning and the purpose to it all.

This picture is a much deeper journey that it might appear to be on the surface and maybe that’s why it wasn’t as critically well received as it probably should’ve been. 

Jon Cryer and Richard Schenkman, who also directed, wrote a meaningful story. So much so, I kind of assume that this was based off of something in their own lives.

I love indie movies like this. There’s just something genuine and real about the very personal indie films of the ’90s. This one is no different and it may have barely been a blip on some people’s radar but it’s definitely worth experiencing. 

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: All the President’s Men (1976)

Release Date: April 4th, 1976 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Alan J. Pakula
Written by: William Goldman
Based on: All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards, Ned Beatty, Meredith Baxter, Penny Fuller, F. Murray Abraham, David Arkin, Richard Herd, Dominic Chianese, James Karen

Wildwood Enterprises, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes

Review:

“I never asked about Watergate. I simply asked what were Hunt’s duties at the White House. They volunteered he was innocent when nobody asked if he was guilty.” – Bob Woodward

I hadn’t seen this in years and I honestly didn’t remember a lot of the details about the film itself. Sure, we all know the story about Nixon and Watergate, especially in the year that this came out in, but knowing the ending doesn’t mean that this is a boring or even predictable movie.

Also, having forgot all the details of the story and this film, I found it interesting and compelling, as events and information painted a damning picture of corruption and conspiracy.

I also found it intriguing that this picture’s cast was stacked with so many top notch actors that I had either forgotten about or hadn’t grown to truly appreciate when I last watched this back in the ’90s.

Back then, I didn’t understand or recognize the greatness of Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook, Martin Balsam, Jason Robards, Ned Beatty, F. Murray Abraham or James Karen. I also really only knew Meredith Baxter from her successful sitcom Family Ties. Well, at least I always knew that Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman were f’n legends.

I also didn’t know that this was directed by the same guy that gave us the near perfect film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as Sophie’s Choice, The Parallax View and Klute.

So it should go without saying that the acting in this film is stupendous. In fact, it might really be a clinic, not that many modern actors care about their art anymore, where they seem to be mostly rewarded by cashing in virtue signal points, as opposed to making audiences believe them.

It’s also well directed except that I felt like the pacing could’ve used some work. Granted, this does a great job of building up suspense like a great thriller should, it just feels like it drags a bit in spots.

Still, this is an enthralling film that does its job well and if that’s the only negative, which is pretty minor, than I can’t really harp on it too hard.

All the President’s Men is deservedly a classic and every legend within this film brought their A-game and made this a much better picture than it would have been in less capable hands.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other top notch dramatic political thrillers, such as JFK, Marathon Man and Nixon.

Film Review: Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Also known as: Dog Day (worldwide English informal short title)
Release Date: September 19th, 1975 (Spain – San Sebastian Film Festival)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Frank Pierson, Thomas Moore
Based on: The Boys In the Bank by P. F. Kluge
Cast: Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, Charles Durning, Lance Henriksen, Chris Sarandon, Penelope Allen, Sully Boyar, Susan Peretz, Carol Kane, Dominic Chianese

Artists Entertainment Complex, Warner Bros., 125 Minutes, 131 Minutes (1975 cut)

Review:

“Look, Mom, I’m a fuck-up and I’m an outcast and that’s it. You come near me, you’re gonna get it – you’re gonna get fucked over and fucked out!” – Sonny

I’ve probably seen this movie a half dozen times but it’s been a few decades. I always saw this on cable, so it was always the “safe for TV” version and having now watched this again, I realized that I had never seen the beginning of the film, as I never knew there was initially a third bank robber that bolted in the opening sequence of the movie.

It was really great seeing this in full and the way it was meant to be seen without cable television censors getting in the way of the art. Being that this is a Sidney Lumet film, it deserves to be seen as the director intended, as he was a true motion picture maestro.

Seeing this now also made me appreciate how good John Cazale was and it makes me wonder how great his career could have been had cancer not taken his life in 1978. In fact, this was the last film of his that he lived to see released theatrically. But it’s crazy to think about what iconic roles after his death he may have had a shot at playing or what mediocre movies he could’ve elevated had he been cast in place of others.

Additionally, this shows how incredible Al Pacino was in an era where he was still growing as an actor but already displayed the chops that would earn him legendary status.

The rest of the cast is pretty damn perfect too from the cop to the federal agents to the bank teller with the least amount of lines. Lumet did a spectacular job in getting the most out of his cast: utilizing their strengths and personalities to maximum effect.

The majority of the film takes place in one location but this moves at such a brisk pace that it doesn’t bog things down, which can happen fairly easy in pictures without the talent that this one had.

Plus, the cinematography was solid, the musical score was perfect and the film just had the right sort of tone. It felt like real, gritty, ’70s New York City without coming off as edgy or dark like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Granted, this was a film that had its fair share of violence and perilous, unfortunate situations but even knowing the outcome could never be good for the main characters, you still didn’t give up hope or fall into a sense of despair.

Dog Day Afternoon is a motion picture that deserves its status as one of the best films of its decade. It also boasts some of the best performances by just about all the key actors involved.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other crime films of the 1970s, especially those starring Al Pacino.

Film Review: The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Release Date: December 12th, 1974 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Marianna Hill, Lee Strasberg, Bruno Kirby, Joe Spinell, G.D. Spradlin, Frank Civero, Roman Coppola, Danny Aiello, Harry Dean Stanton, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Richard Bright, Dominic Chianese, Michael V. Gazzo, Connie Mason (uncredited)

The Coppola Company, Paramount Pictures, 200 Minutes

Review:

It is hard saying which is the better movie between The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. For me, both of them are as close to perfect as a movie can get. I like Part II the most overall but I like that Part isn’t broken up by a nonlinear plot and feels more cohesive. I also like the ensemble of the first movie better. That is actually magnified when you get to the end of Part II and see a flashback dinner scene of all the men in the family, excluding Marlon Brando’s Vito. After spending almost seven hours with this family, up to this point, they always seem to be at their best and their most dynamic when all the men are present.

Everything positive I said about the first film still holds true in the second. The acting, direction, cinematography, costumes, art and design are all absolutely top notch.

However, this chapter in the saga takes things to a new level. The world that the Corleone family lives in is even bigger and more opulent. The section of the film that sees Michael go to Cuba is mesmerizing. It adds an extra bit of grit to the picture, not that it needed anymore than it already had.

The highlight of this film is Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the younger Vito Corleone. He took a role that was very much Brando’s and made it his own without stepping on the toes of his elder. It was definitely a performance that deserved the Oscar De Niro got for it. It is also the only time two different actors have won an Oscar for playing the same character.

The film also contrasts the first movie in that you see the Corleone empire being run in different ways. While the family business is the bottom line, Michael goes further than his father in what he’s willing to do to keep the empire running. Michael went from a young man who didn’t want his family to define his legacy, in the first film, to a man that goes to extremes to keep the family together while he is battling the conflict within himself.

Godfather, Part II is a more dynamic and layered story overall and it is well-executed. While I mentioned preferring the linear plot to Part I, the plot is still managed perfectly. The scenes of Michael and then the flashbacks of Vito go hand-in-hand and they reflect off of each other, showing that despite the differences in the father and son characters, that they still travel the same path in a lot of ways.

In reality, The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II just feel like one really long movie that had to be broken into two parts. And the place where they decided to break them, at the end of the first movie, was the best spot. It flawlessly separates the legacies of the two men, out for the same thing but in very different ways.

Rating: 10/10