Film Review: Se7en (1995)

Also known as: Seven (alternative spelling), The Seven Deadly Sins (working title)
Release Date: September 15th, 1995 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, Richard Roundtree, Richard Schiff, Mark Boone Junior, Michael Massee, Leland Orser, Hawthorne James, Reg E. Cathey, Charles S. Dutton (uncredited)

Cecchi Gori Pictures, Juno Pix, New Line Cinema, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.” – John Doe

I was blown away by this movie when I first saw it, back in the ’90s. I would watch it pretty regularly for about ten years. However, it’s been at least a decade since I’ve seen it and even though I knew I loved it, I somehow underestimated it and forgot how great it actually is.

Fincher made a solid trio of movies in a row in the mid-to-late ’90s between this, The Game and what I consider his magnum opus, Fight Club. Being that I still hadn’t reviewed these films, I figured I’d start with the first.

Fincher had a very distinct look with his movies and while it might not appear distinct and unique nowadays, that’s because a lot of less capable directors came in and stole his aesthetic. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as they say. I would also add that theft is the weakest form of creativity but if you’re going to steal, steal from the greats.

While I’m not a massive Fincher fan, his later ’90s work is pretty fucking exceptional.

Se7en is well acted, well directed, looks incredible and features a story so dark, fucked up and mesmerizing that it’s hard to turn away from the screen, even if you’ve seen the movie a dozen times.

This motion picture is the result of having all the right people from top-to-bottom, behind and in front of the camera. As far as the actors go, they all played their parts perfectly. They felt like real people in a real situation. The relationships between the characters come across as genuine. I loved that the new partners were at odds with one another but knew they had a job to do in spite of their personal issues and differences in their approach to police work and their philosophies on the universe and our place in it.

The score by Howard Shore is one of the composer’s best and when you really look at his body of work, this included, he’s such a versatile composer that it’s sometimes hard to tell that you’re listening to his music. It’s always good but it never takes over a film and just blends in with it, accenting it in a great way.

Additionally, the songs used throughout the film are great, especially the tracks that were used by David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails, as they both fit absolutely perfectly within this picture’s atmosphere.

There’s nothing bad I can really say about this film. My only really gripe is that I’m not a huge fan of the ending. But I’m a traditionalist that doesn’t want the bad guy to win. While he meets his demise, his plan is executed to perfection and while I knew that Brad Pitt’s character was flawed by his emotions and idealism, there’s still that part of me that wishes he would’ve been stronger. Granted, I’ve never had my wife’s head put into a box. Also, this came out in the edge lord ’90s.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: David Fincher’s other ’90s films not named Alien 3.

Film Review: Wall Street (1987)

Release Date: December 11th, 1987
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Oliver Stone, Stanley Weiser
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Daryl Hannah, Martin Sheen, Hal Holbrook, Terence Stamp, John C. McGinley, James Karen, Sean Young, James Spader, Saul Rubinek, Sylvia Miles

Amercent Films, American Entertainment Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.” – Lou Mannheim

I wrote pretty extensively on this film several years ago for a politics and economics site that I used to run. That article also made it into one of the books I published. That article was called Gordon Gekko, the Hero?

I won’t spend too much time rambling on about the morality, themes and messages within this film, as that lengthy article already does. This is a movie review, so I’ll focus on the things that make it great beyond just the story and my interpretation of its core characters and their real motivations.

To start, this is hands down one of my favorite Oliver Stone movies. It may, in fact, be my favorite but it’s been a really long time since I’ve seen Platoon and JFK.

This is also one of Charlie Sheen’s best performances and he held his own and wasn’t overshadowed by the stupendous cast around him, especially Michael Douglas, one of the greatest actors of his generation.

I did find Daryl Hannah to be kind of weak, though. I don’t necessarily blame her for that, as her character barely got time to develop or to allow you to care for her. I feel as if she was more than a predatory gold-digging shark but that’s pretty much all we got to see from her.

Additionally, I felt like Sean Young was really underutilized and honestly, the women just seemed like they were put on the backburner. Also, this wasn’t really their story but it felt like their efforts were a bit wasted for what they potentially could’ve brought to the film.

Anyway, the story is solid but the pacing can drag a bit, here and there, and I think that’s the main reason why I don’t see this as more of a masterpiece. That’s not to say it’s dull but a lot of scenes felt like padding, as if Stone wanted to hit a two hour mark on the running time.

The film is also full of so many great character actors in smaller roles and it’s sort of like a who’s who of cool ’80s dudes that were in everything. I especially liked James Karen and Hal Holbrook in this. John C. McGinley also stole the show in the scenes he was in.

Being an Oliver Stone picture, one should expect this to be technically sound and beautiful and it is. Wall Street doesn’t disappoint and it features some stellar cinematography and a few iconic shots that have been burned into my memory since I first watched this picture as a kid in the late ’80s.

Also, the music is perfect from the film’s score by Stewart Copeland and the pop music tracks sprinkled throughout. It’s been so long since I’ve last seen this that I forgot how much I loved that motorcycle sequence to Brian Eno’s “Mea Culpa”.

All in all, this is still a fantastic motion picture where just about everything goes right. There are those few minor flaws but they hardly detract from how great this movie is, as a whole.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as Boiler RoomThe Wolf of Wall Street and Rogue Trader.

Film Review: Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)

Also known as: Highlander 2 (unofficial title)
Release Date: January 31st, 1991 (Germany)
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: Peter Bellwood, Brian Clemens, William N. Panzer
Based on: characters by Gregory Widen
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside, John C. McGinley, Allan Rich

Davis-Panzer Productions, Harat Investments, Lamb Bear Entertainment, 91 Minutes, 86 Minutes (DVD), 100 Minutes (both theatrical versions), 109 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Most people have a full measure of life… and most people just watch it slowly drip away. But if you can summon it all up… at one time… in one place… you can accomplish something… glorious.” – Ramirez

How do you follow up a pretty awesome and unique film that didn’t need a sequel?

Well, you completely fuck everything up and produce a cheap, trashy, nonsensical, unnecessary clusterfuck and release it on the world!

Highlander II: The Quickening is a complete bastard of a motion picture and one of the worst sequels in history. But I’ll explain, as there is actually a lot to pick apart with this piece of rabid, foaming horseshit.

The biggest problem with this, more than anything, is the plot. Instead of the Immortals just being an unknown cosmic mystery that just exist, this film turns them into space aliens from a far off planet. The ones on Earth were basically exiled away for whatever reason and they must fight until “there can be only one”. That “one” then wins “The Prize”, which is now, essentially, a trip back to their home planet. I mean, what in the absolute fuck?

And that doesn’t even get into how secondary that whole plot point is, as the film spends more time focused on trying to take down an energy shield that was created by MacCleod to replace the o-zone layer, which was destroyed by pollution. Never mind that the Earth looks even more polluted and somehow this energy shield wrecked the world’s economy because it’s convenient for the plot, which needed this film to be set in a cyberpunk dystopian future.

I think I’m retelling this right but this picture had an effect on my brain where it made me feel completely smashed without actually sipping a drop of alcohol. I’m still immensely hungover from this cinematic swill.

It honestly feels like the filmmakers were given a script about o-zone layers and energy shields that wasn’t even related to the Highlander mythos and they decided to rework it just to throw the Highlander name on it and to bank on getting Sean Connery in this flaming turd.

The second worse thing about this picture is the acting. Almost every character in this, especially the baddies, acts absolutely and utterly insane. And not in a good way that the film calls for. It’s like they rounded up all the villain actors and locked them into a prison cell made out of cocaine, which they then had to snort their way out of. Well, except John C. McGinley, he’s actually really dull by comparison when looking at Michael Ironside and those flying, primal weirdos that look like they’re from an ’80s Norwegian industrial band.

On the flip side of that, Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery are also really dull. Lambert plays this like he’s a charisma vacuum while Connery makes sure that the audience understands that he doesn’t endorse this film and just needed to buy his wife a new house.

I guess Virginia Madsen is the most likable person in the movie but she’s completely drowned out by all the fuckery going on around her.

The third worse thing is the special effects and the general aesthetic of the movie. They’re deplorable by 1991 standards and this looks a lot cheaper than the first film. I mean, they’re embarrassingly bad. Almost every sequence in this film looks like a cutscene from an early ’90s cyberpunk PC game. You know, back when they would hire really inexperienced actors to act out live action scenes with terrible effects and dystopian sci-fi sets all around them.

I could go on and keep picking out more negatives but this motion picture doesn’t deserve to have a novel written about it.

I’d talk about the positives but honestly, there aren’t any. And that’s not me being a dick, there really isn’t anything I can pull out of the bottom of this Port-O-Let and say, “Well, this little nugget here isn’t total shit.”

In the end, it was really hard to sit through this and I honestly don’t know if I can get myself to sit through the three sequels after this one. From memory, this was the worst in the series but I don’t have very fond feelings for the others, either.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: the other Highlander sequels, none of which come close to the cool and original first film.

Film Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Wallace Langham, Fred Armisen, John C. McGinley

Decibel Films, Cloud Eight Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I’m the ladies number one. I’m the champ. Why would I lose?” – Bobby Riggs, “Because dinosaurs can’t play tennis.” – Billie Jean King

I wanted to see this in the theater last year but there were so many top notch indie movies coming out around the same time that this one got lost in the shuffle. It also didn’t help that it came and went in the cinemas near me pretty quickly. I think it was gone within two weeks.

Luckily, we live in a time where you can stream almost any movie in less than three months after it hits theaters. So when this popped up to rent, that’s what I did.

For the most part, this was entertaining and I cared about what was happening. The film felt like it was lacking some weight though. There wasn’t a lot of depth to it. It focused a lot of its time on Billie Jean King’s personal life in regards to her sexuality and that’s perfectly fine, as it may have really effected her game in the way that it did in this film but the actual “Battle of the Sexes” element seemed to be on the backburner through large portions of the film. It certainly didn’t feel like the real focal point until it happens on screen. Mostly this felt like two pictures pushed into one film without enough care and balance given to the script. Also, and I rarely say this, this is a film that would have benefited greatly with a longer running time.

I like both aspects of the story but things felt sacrificed on both ends, as this was a film that didn’t establish its identity well enough or at least given us both sides with more organic fluidity. It honestly feels like there was a half hour lobbed off of this movie late in post production. Like the studio decided that no one would sit through a 150 minute movie without superheroes blowing up cities.

Regardless of the disjointed narrative, the performances by Emma Stone and Steve Carell were great. Stone was absolutely believable as King, especially in showing her emotional struggle with her sexuality and with fighting for respect for women.

Carell’s take on Bobby Riggs reminded me a lot of his most famous character, Michael Scott from The Office. He didn’t play Riggs exactly like Scott but he had that same sort of presence where he was highly comedic and could still touch your heart dramatically in very subtle ways. He played Riggs with respect and didn’t just make him a sexist oppressor, which is so common in Hollywood movies these days. He was just as much a comedian as he was a tennis giant. And really, you’re sort of left wondering if Riggs was a genius and a hero in his own right because maybe, just maybe, he was trying to help women by being the chauvinist archetype that needed to be conquered. Granted, I don’t think he fixed the match, I just think that his anti-women stance was a show to create the perfect climate for the event to happen.

I also loved seeing Natalie Morales in this, as I’ve been a fan of hers since Parks & Recreation.

Furthermore, I adored Alan Cumming’s role, as he was an almost fatherly figure to King in regards to helping her accept her sexuality and reassuring her that she is going to be okay because times are changing and she’s a big part of that. It almost makes up for Cumming annoying the hell out of me as Boris in GoldenEye.

This film handles the issue of gender equality very well. Stone’s King sums it up best when she tells reporters that she isn’t doing this because she wants to show that women are better than men, she’s doing it for respect. That’s something that seems lost with the sentiment of a lot of modern feminists and social justice warriors. It’s about respect and coexisting for everyone’s benefit, not warring over who is better or trashing those who aren’t your gender.

At its core, this film was respectful to the historical figures it represented and to the culmination of their conflict. It’s also nice to know that everyone did go on to live happy lives and there was a real respect and appreciation between King and Riggs after the dust settled.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Sadly, there just aren’t a lot of good tennis movies. Almost none, actually. At least where tennis isn’t just a minor element. But for 2017 and for being a historical sports biopic, I’d put this with I, Tonya.