Film Review: Bartleby (2001)

Also known as: Bartleby at the Office (working title)
Release Date: March 10th, 2001 (SXSW)
Directed by: Jonathan Parker
Written by: Herman Melville, Jonathan Parker, Catherine DiNapoli
Based on: Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville
Music by: Seth Asarnow, Jonathan Parker
Cast: David Paymer, Crispin Glover, Glenne Headly, Maury Chaykin, Joe Piscopo, Seymour Cassel, Carrie Snodgrass, Dick Martin

Parker Film Company, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I would prefer not to.” – Bartleby

Outside of his own directorial efforts, Bartleby may be the most Crispin Glover movie out of all the Crispin Glover movies ever made.

But I’ve always liked Glover and since I hadn’t seen this since it was fairly new, I figured it was time to revisit it. Plus, it was available for free to Prime members.

The film is a modernized adaptation of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivemer and despite its setting, it doesn’t really deviate too much from the source material. I also think that the creative approach makes it more palatable to a modern audience, who might not want to read the old story or watch the 1970 adaptation of it.

While Crispin Glover plays the title character, the main character is actually The Boss, played by David Paymer.

Paymer approaches the role a bit understated, except where emotion overcomes him. It’s a really good performance and he is able to display agitation and care on almost the flip of a dime. He feels damn genuine, as he tries to understand and deal with the difficulties of his new employee.

Glover’s performance is even more understated than Paymer’s but the role of Bartleby calls for that, as one has to assume that he’s a guy that’s just given up on life. What’s interesting about the story is that you never really get to solve or really understand the mystery that is Bartleby. He comes into the story and eventually, his story is over, not revealing much about him. Now there are some clues as to why he was so depressed and unable to participate in the world but it’s never made fully clear to the viewer.

The cast is rounded out by other really talented people who work at or come into the office. You have Glenne Headly as the secretary with Joe Piscopo and Maury Chaykin as co-workers who become very disgruntled over Bartleby’s lack of effort. Seymour Cassel also appears in a minor role as a sort of sleazy businessman.

I like the style and simplicity of the film. It feels otherworldly and its supposed to but it works well for the material. Everything is also helped out by an interesting, quirky and cool score by Seth Asarnow and the film’s director, Jonathan Parker.

Overall, this is a strange but interesting movie that was the perfect vehicle for someone as unique and talented as Glover. I don’t know if it was made with him in mind for the title character but it really was perfect casting and gave the film a certain mystique it probably would’ve been lacking without his involvement.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the 1970 adaptation of Bartleby, as well as other films starring Crispin Glover.

Film Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Warren Beatty
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R. G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Estelle Parsons, Mary Woronov, Marshall Bell, Robert Costanzo

Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You get behind me, we all profit; you challenge me, we all go down! There was one Napoleon, one Washington, one me!” – Big Boy Caprice

I guess, from a critical standpoint, this film didn’t get the sort of respect that it should have. I’m not really sure why or how it didn’t resonate with some critics but Roger Ebert adored it, as do I.

In fact, Dick Tracy is almost a perfect film for what it is and I’m not sure what else anyone would want from this near masterpiece. Warren Beatty directed and starred in this and he gave us something magical and marvelous. It fit the classic comic strip to a t and truly breathed live action life into it. As great as the comic strip was, I feel like this film is an improvement on the story, the characters and the ideas of Chester Gould’s beloved creation.

Unfortunately, this great launching pad for what should have been a franchise, never got to have a sequel due to copyright disputes between Warren Beatty and Tribune Media Services. The courts eventually settled in favor of Beatty but that wasn’t until 2011. He has since talked of a sequel but there hasn’t been much movement and so much time has passed. Also, Disney had hoped that this would achieve 1989 Batman numbers but it didn’t hit that mark, even though it was financially successful.

And at least this film has its fans and, at the time of its release, the public supported the picture. Some of this could be due to the film’s immense star power, boasting a cast of superstars, or because of the awesome marketing campaign this film had – one of the best of all-time, in my opinion. Especially, the tie-in stuff they did with McDonald’s. Plus, there was that great Batman picture the previous year, which finally proved that comic book movies could be something that can be taken seriously.

The film has held up tremendously well and may actually be more visually alluring today. The use of vibrant giallo-like colors and tremendous matte paintings gave the film a real pulp comic feel that felt lived in and lively. Today, the picture truly feels like a work of art and has a visual uniqueness that stands on its own.

The picture was also enhanced by the incredible score by Danny Elfman. This is one of the greatest scores of Elfman’s long career and is very reminiscent of his work on Batman, the previous year, and 1990’s short lived The Flash television show. The score is powerful and blends well with the old timey tunes and the performances by Madonna.

Being a poppy 1930s style gangster story, Beatty tapped the Bonnie and Clyde well and cast Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard in small roles. The film was only missing Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman in reuniting the gang from that classic 1967 film.

Beatty was a fantastic lead and perfect Dick Tracy. Additionally, the rest of the cast was magnificent. Al Pacino got to be a hammy mob boss and foil to Tracy. Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice is also one of my favorite Pacino characters ever put to celluloid. Both Madonna and Glenne Headly are stellar as the leading ladies and this is just one of many roles where I became a huge fan of Headly.

The cast is rounded out by so many other great actors in smaller roles. Dick Van Dyke plays a crooked mayoral candidate, Dustin Hoffman plays the gangster Mumbles and R. G. Armstrong is the sinister mob boss Pruneface. You’ve also got cameos by James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Kathy Bates and Paul Sorvino. William Forsythe and Ed O’Ross play Big Boy’s top henchmen Flattop and Itchy. You also have the always great Seymour Cassel as one of Tracy’s cop buddies. Plus, Charlie Korsmo was cool as The Kid.

Dick Tracy is action packed and stylish but it doesn’t put that style over its substance. The narrative works, the plot moves swiftly and there is never a dull moment. Plus, who the hell doesn’t love Tommy gun shootouts in the street?

It is also worth mentioning that the character of The Blank is one of the coolest film characters to come out of this era, even if used sparingly and in the dark. Had this gone on to be a film series, it would’ve been cool seeing someone else take up that mantle or The Blank living on in some way. The character also added an interesting twist to a film that, on its surface, looks like just a straight up cops and gangsters, good versus evil, cookie cutter type scenario. The Blank added a third, unpredictable element and a noir vibe.

Dick Tracy is one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made and it deserves more recognition today than it receives. It took some creative risks that paid off and it brought together a literal who’s who of great bad ass actors.

My initial viewing of this motion picture on the big screen is one of my fondest childhood memories. It stands alongside Batman, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original animated Transformers movie and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as one of my favorite theatrical experiences of my early life.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Don Jon (2013)

Release Date: January 18th, 2013 (Sundance)
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Music by: Nathan Johnson, Malcolm Kirby Jr.
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Rob Brown, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Tony Danza, Paul Ben-Victor

Voltage Pictures, HitRecord Films, Ram Bergman Productions, Relativity Media, 90 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2013.

“There’s only a few things I really care about in life. My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.” – Don Jon

Funny that I watched this yesterday after writing my last big article Modern Porn Is Bullshit. It was totally a coincidence. Anyway, on with the review.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been proving himself to be quite the actor over the last few years. With Don Jon he goes beyond that, showing off his writing and directing chops for the first time. For a debut, it was a pretty good film. It was also smart of him to cast Scarlett Johansson as his love interest. Shit, I would’ve done the same but made her commit to some nudity. I kid… or do I?

Anyway, this film follows a Jersey brah who has a severe porn addiction. He meets the love of his life and she’s kind of a bitch that is repulsed by porn. Frankly, I knew girls like this and it made me stop going to church. As a 30+ year-old man that hangs around 25+ year-old women, I don’t know of any that are this repulsed by some filmed sex acts.

That being said, I found Johansson’s character to be somewhat unbelievable, especially considering her overtly sensual and sultry nature in the film. To put it simply, she was ready and willing to put out and put out a lot after the first fifteen minutes of the film. Her reaction to catching her boyfriend rubbing one out to porn was hilarious… in a bad way.

Weirdly, after finding Johansson’s character to be poorly written with insane motivations, I did find Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s role to be pretty awesome. He owned the part and did a fantastic job. I guess this is what can happen when you write your own material. He really hit the mark though and the fact that he was also directing this film, didn’t seem to hinder his performance.

The other bright spot of the film was Tony Danza as Joseph Godon-Levitt’s dad. Dude was brilliant and I loved seeing him back on the screen because he’s still got it. Glenne Headly as his mother was also pretty awesome. I’ve loved her ever since Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Getting to the story, it was fairly bland overall and I found it mostly uninteresting. I really didn’t care about Johansson’s character and obtaining and keeping her was the primary plot device of the film. She was a bitch, unreasonable and a controlling douche. Joseph Gordon-Levitt needed to snap out of her spell after her first bullshit meltdown. And that’s my main problem with the film. But, then again, some guys can’t save themselves.

This isn’t a bad movie, I enjoyed it for the most part but I wasn’t as invested in it as I had hoped. I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s body of work and was excited to see how he did as a director. In that role, I feel that he succeeded overall. As a writer, well… I’m going to wait and see what he does next.

Rating: 5.75/10