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: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Also known as: Black Mask (working title)
Release Date: May 21st, 1994 (Cannes)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avery
Music by: various
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Bruce Willis, Phil LaMarr, Frank Whaley, Joseph Pilato, Steve Buscemi, Kathy Griffin, Alexis Arquette, Quentin Tarantino, Julia Sweeney, Lawrence Bender

Jersey Films, A Band Apart, Miramax, 154 Minutes, 178 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“What now? Let me tell you what now. I’ma call a coupla hard, pipe-hittin’ niggers, who’ll go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. You hear me talkin’, hillbilly boy? I ain’t through with you by a damn sight. I’ma get medieval on your ass.” – Marsellus

Where the success of Reservoir Dogs opened the doors of Hollywood to Quentin Tarantino, it was Pulp Fiction, only his second film, that took him mainstream and made him one of the hottest, young directors of the ’90s. With that, he was able to make movies the way that he wanted with minimal interference from the studio system and he’s still considered an absolute maestro today.

From 1994 till about ten or so years ago, this was a picture I watched at least once per year. Hell, in the ’90s, I probably watched this, Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown almost monthly. I had them on VHS until the tapes either snapped or got warped to shit.

However, it’s now been several years since I’ve watched this. At least five, as that’s about how long it’s been since I first started Talking Pulp under its original name, Cinespiria. Seeing this again, though, was like coming home after a really, really long absence.

Everything about this film still feels right and man, it’s aged tremendously well and makes me yearn for a time where 99 percent of the films coming out weren’t dog shit.

Pulp Fiction is also a movie that birthed its own subgenre of of crime film. Many imitators emerged and dialogue in film changed around the mid-’90s due to this picture and Reservoir Dogs’ influence. For a film to really have that sort of impact on the entire American film industry is astounding but this did and dialogue is one of those things that really drives Tarantino’s work and many directors that followed and were inspired by it, whether knowingly or unknowingly.

The film is sort of an anthology but not fully. It has multiple stories going on but there is so much overlap with common characters that I can’t see it as a true anthology. It’s also told out of sequence, which isn’t a bad thing but I do remember the older generation being confused by the story when the movie came out. But ultimately, I like that there are these multiple plot threads, all of them very good, and none of them really being the main story.

Tarantino also pulled the very best performances out of his cast. This is incredibly well acted, so much so, that it revitalized John Travolta’s crumbling career and established Samuel Jackson as a long-term mainstay in Hollywood. Hell, that guy has been in so many damn pictures since Pulp Fiction, I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reviewing them all and I review movies, sometimes multiple, daily.

The real breakout star for me in this movie was Uma Thurman, as she was able to show how skilled of an actress she is and thus, cemented herself as one of the top leading ladies of the ’90s and beyond.

The film also did great things for Ving Rhames’ career. He had some notable roles before this but it really opened a lot of doors for him too. Had he not done this film, he might not have gotten to be a big part of the Mission: Impossible film franchise alongside Tom Cruise and later, Simon Pegg.

Pulp Fiction is just a great film and one of the best of the ’90s, hands down. For Tarantino’s work, this along with the Kill Bill films are my favorites. It’s hard to choose between them but then again, the man’s worst work is still lightyears ahead of most directors’ best. He doesn’t have a bad movie, even if some of them don’t resonate for me on the same level as Pulp Fiction.

Anyway, you’ve probably already seen this movie and love it, so I’m not stating much of what you don’t already know. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m not sure what sort of rock you live under and if you have seen it and don’t love it, you need to see a veterinarian because you’re not human.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Quentin Tarantino’s other crime films.

Film Review: Red Dragon (2002)

Release Date: September 30th, 2002 (premiere)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frankie Faison, Anthony Heald, Bill Duke, Ken Leung, Lalo Schifrin, Frank Langella (deleted scene), Ellen Burstyn (voice, uncredited), Frank Whaley (uncredited)

Dino De Laurentiis Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Think to yourself that every day is your last. The hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise. As for me, when you want a good laugh, you will find me in fine state, fat and sleek, a true hog of Epicurus’s herd.” – Hannibal Lecter

In my quest to revisit and review all of the Hannibal Lecter movies, I’ve finally reached Red Dragon, the last film with Anthony Hopkins in it as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. It’s also interesting in that it is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs and a remake of 1986’s Manhunter, which was the first Hannibal Lecter movie that saw the famous character portrayed by Brian Cox in a chilling performance.

Having seen this again for the first time since theaters, I was pleasantly surprised by it. Especially, since it came out a year after the pretty mundane Hannibal.

Still, I think that Manhunter is the better film due to the visual style and pacing of its director, Michael Mann, as well as the performances of its cast. I thought that Tom Noonan’s version of the serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, was a lot more intense and scary than Ralph Fiennes version in this movie. That’s not to take anything away from Fiennes, though, as he’s pretty damn good too.

As much as I like Edward Norton in everything, I also prefer William Peterson’s version of Will Graham.

Where Red Dragon does take the cake, though, is in the chemistry between Norton’s Graham and Hopkin’s Lecter. The scenes they shared together were really great. While it’s not on par with the exchanges between Jodie Foster’s Clarice and Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, it still propels the film and it’s the primary factor in this film redeeming the series after it’s severely underwhelming predecessor.

Also, this is just a good story, all around. I’m not sure which is the more accurate film to the source material between this and Manhunter but the plots are very much the same with a few details being different.

I’d also consider this Brett Ratner’s best movie. In recent years, his career has been derailed by sexual harassment allegations and with that, this will probably remain his best film, as he most likely will never work in Hollywood again.

All in all, this is pretty good and it didn’t let the Anthony Hopkins trio of movies end on a sour note.

Now there’s also the prequel film that came out after this but I’ve never seen it and it actually isn’t currently streaming anywhere. I want to watch it and review it as well but I’ll have to wait for it to pop up on a streaming service I already have, as I don’t think it’s worth buying based off of the things I’ve heard about it over the years.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

TV Review: Ray Donovan (2013-2020)

Original Run: June 30th, 2013 – January 19th, 2020
Created by: Ann Biderman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Paula Malcomson, Eddie Marsan, Dash Mihok, Steven Bauer, Katherine Moennig, Pooch Hall, Kerris Dorsey, Devon Bagby, Jon Voight, Susan Sarandon, Graham Rogers, Susan Sarandon, Elliott Gould, Peter Jacobson, Denise Crosby, Frank Whaley, Hank Azaria, James Woods, Rosanna Arquette, Sherilyn Fenn, Wendell Pierce, Ian McShane, Katie Holmes, Leland Orser, Aaron Staton, Fairuza Balk, Embeth Davidtz, Richard Brake, Lisa Bonet, Stacy Keach, Tara Buck, Ted Levine, C. Thomas Howell, Donald Faison, Lili Simmons, James Keach, Adina Porter, Jake Busey, Sandy Martin, Zach Grenier, Alan Alda, Lola Glaudini, Kerry Condon, Kevin Corrigan

David Hollander Productions, The Mark Gordon Company, Ann Biderman Co., Bider Sweet Productions, CBS, Showtime, 82 Episodes, 45-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Lots of people talked this show up for years like it was the second coming of The Sopranos. I wanted to wait for it to end, as I typically binge things in their entirety. With this show, that was probably the best way to view it, as so many things happen with so many characters, that it would’ve been hard remembering all the details over seven years.

I wouldn’t say that this is anywhere near as good as The Sopranos and I also don’t have as high of an opinion of that show as most people do. Granted, I did still like it quite a bit when it was current.

Ray Donovan follows Ray Donovan, a badass uber masculine guy that works as a Hollywood fixer. However, his entire family is complex and interesting and this isn’t so much about Ray being a fixer, as it is about his family’s criminal behavior and their turbulent personal lives.

The show does a remarkable job of pushing its characters to the point of you hating them but then finds a way to make you realize you love them. It’s a show that actually has a lot of mini redemption arcs but it also shows, within that, that people tend to surrender to their nature even if they want to work on themselves.

Ray is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen on television but that can also be said about several other core characters, here

I think in the end, my favorite character ended up being Eddie Marsan’s Terry, the eldest Donovan brother, as he was always trying to do the right thing by his family, even if they often times found themselves doing really shitty things.

I also liked Bunchy a lot but by the end, his constant bad luck and terrible decisions became exhausting.

The first five seasons are really solid, even if the fourth was a bit weak. The show kind of lost me in season six, where it moved from Los Angeles to New York City and didn’t feel like it had much of a point. Plus, there are things that happened in season six that made the show jump the shark for me.

The only thing that really saved the last two seasons was how damn good Sandy Martin was once she entered the show.

Overall, I enjoyed watching this and if anything, it showcased incredible performances by stellar actors playing really fucked up but endearing characters.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Sopranos, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Justified.

Film Review: Career Opportunities (1991)

Also known as: One Wild Night (working title)
Release Date: March 29th, 1991
Directed by: Bryan Gordon
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Frank Whaley, Jennifer Connelly, Dermot Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney, Barry Corbin, William Forsythe, John Candy (uncredited)

Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[to himself] She’s so beautiful. And I’m the town liar.” – Jim Dodge

This film probably gets a worse rap than it should. If you are comparing it to John Hughes’ top films, yeah, it falls short. But it is still a fun and amusing coming of age comedy that still has the John Hughes spirit worked into its script.

Maybe some of the problems with this is that Hughes didn’t direct the movie and that it rehashed a lot of ideas that he already addressed in better ways with previous films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles but those ideas are still worth exploring in a fresher way with characters that are a bit older.

I liked Frank Whaley and I know that even he had reservations about his own performance and being cast in the role but I think he did a good job and he was certainly likable in this, despite being the “town liar”. Really, he’s just a chronic embellisher and storyteller.

Jennifer Connelly also did a good job and her performance and line delivery were actually better than what the script called for. But I think the thing that worked well for this picture was that she had really good, natural chemistry with Whaley.

I also liked all the smaller characters in the film like the cameos by John Candy and William Forsythe, as well as the scenes with the always entertaining Barry Corbin. Dermot and Kieran Mulroney were also enjoyable as the bumbling bandits that come in at the end of the film.

If I’m being honest, some of my love for this movie could be due to nostalgia. As a kid, this movie was cool because what kid didn’t want to be locked in a Target all night with the entire store as a playground? Plus, I was crushing hard on Jennifer Connelly and frankly, that’s a crush that never really died, as she still catches my attention in almost every film she’s in.

For the time, the soundtrack is also solid. It features a lot of pop hits but it’s that weird era where music was transitioning from the ’80s into the ’90s and being middle school age when this movie came out, meant that a lot of the music worked for me and the time.

While I wouldn’t put this in the upper echelon of Hughes’ work, it’s still a fun, energetic and entertaining movie. Hughes actually requested to have his name taken off of the film, as he didn’t like the finished product, but I still think this is a better picture than most people give it credit for.

Career Opportunities achieved what it set out to do. It was made to be a lighthearted coming of age comedy that served as escapism for an hour and a half. Okay, maybe it fell just slight of that running time but it was good escapism for a twelve year-old in 1991. And I still revisit it every half decade or so.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other coming of age John Hughes comedies: Ferris Bueller’s Day OffWeird ScienceSixteen CandlesThe Breakfast ClubPretty In PinkSome Kind of Wonderful, etc.