Film Review: Tropic Thunder (2008)

Release Date: August 11th, 2008 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, Etan Cohen
Music by: Theodore Shapiro
Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Steve Coogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Brandon T. Jackson, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise, Brandon Soo Hoo, Reggie Lee, Trieu Tran, Tobey Maguire, Tyra Banks, Maria Menounos, Martin Lawrence, Jason Bateman, Lance Bass, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Alicia Silverstone, Christine Taylor, Yvette Nicole Brown, Sean Penn, Jon Voight, Justin Theroux

Goldcrest Pictures, Red Hour Films, Dreamworks Pictures, 107 Minutes (theatrical), 121 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m just like a little boy, playin’ with his dick when he’s nervous.” – Kirk Lazarus

Tropic Thunder is only thirteen years old yet it definitely isn’t a movie that you could make today.

Things have really changed in American culture and this picture now feels like it was Hollywood’s final attempt at a giant middle finger to the sensitive bitches that they knew would dictate the direction of cinematic art going forward.

While I haven’t seen this since it came out, I loved it pretty immensely at the time. I wasn’t sure if it would be as good as I remembered but man, I really should’ve been watching this fairly frequently over the last several years. I miss movies like this where nothing was sacred and you could make fun of anything and people still laughed.

There is a stark contrast between the world in 2008 and 2021. It’s fucking worrisome, as we live in a time where everything is fucking offensive and because of that, comedy is dead. I mean, when’s the last time a new movie made you laugh as hard as this one? These films just don’t and can’t exist anymore.

Not only is this hilarious, it’s pretty superbly acted for a comedy movie. The cast is pretty stacked with talent and all of them commit to the bit in every single scene. Frankly, there isn’t a weak link in this flick and I say that not being a big fan of Ben Stiller or Jack Black. Sure, I like some of their films but they were never guys I went to the movies for.

That being said, this might be the greatest thing that Ben Stiller has even done, as he doesn’t just star in it but he also co-wrote and directed it.

With that, the concept for the film was great and Stiller’s direction was just on another level, here. He showed that he can handle action, as well as comedy, and he got some fantastic shots in this picture.

The more I reflect on this, after my first viewing of it since the ’00s, it might very well be one of the all-time greats, as far as ensemble comedies go. While it’s not quite on the level of Ghostbusters, it’s not too far behind it, honestly.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Heat (1995)

Release Date: December 6th, 1995 (Burbank premiere)
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Michael Mann
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Jon Voight, Val Kilmer, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman, Tom Noonan, Kevin Gage, Hank Azaria, Danny Trejo, Henry Rollins, Tone Loc, Ricky Harris, Jeremy Piven, Xander Berkeley, Martin Ferrero, Bud Cort (uncredited)

Forward Pass, New Regency Productions, Warner Bros., 170 Minutes

Review:

“You know, we are sitting here, you and I, like a couple of regular fellas. You do what you do, and I do what I gotta do. And now that we’ve been face to face, if I’m there and I gotta put you away, I won’t like it. But I tell you, if it’s between you and some poor bastard whose wife you’re gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.” – Vincent Hanna, “There is a flip side to that coin. What if you do got me boxed in and I gotta put you down? Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We’ve been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate. Not for a second.” – Neil McCauley

I saw this movie in the theater on a date during my junior year of high school. I think that my then-girlfriend was really annoyed because she wanted something “long and boring” so that we could fool around in the back row. Unfortunately, for her… this movie grabbed my attention and I couldn’t look away from it from start-to-finish.

Heat just clutches onto you immediately with the armored truck heist and how shit in that heist goes sideways, even though the criminal gang does successfully pull it off. The whole sequence was just absolute perfection, though, and it set a really, really high bar for the rest of the picture. However, that high bar would be surpassed with the bank robbery that starts the third act of the movie.

Never has there been a better bank robbery sequence on-screen. At least, I’ve never seen one and I’ve seen many. It’s just cinematic perfection. I love the way it’s shot, the way everything played out, the lack of any music and the absolute intensity of the rapid gunfire, as the criminals and the cops turn downtown Los Angeles into a literal warzone for several minutes. The tension building of the robbery itself, just before the bad guys hit the streets, was incredible!

Apart from these stupendous heist sequences, the film is full of great scene after great scene. Credit really should go to everyone involved in the movie, though.

The cast is one of the most talented ever assembled in this movie’s era and the direction by Michael Mann was damn near perfect. Mann’s pacing, visual style and tone all closely matched what he did with the original Miami Vice television series and the film Manhunter. While this lacked the ’80s panache it was still very stylized and just felt like a more refined and updated version of what I see as the patented Michael Mann style.

For a film that’s just under three hours, there isn’t really a dull moment in this thing. Every scene matters and even the most minute shit ends up having some sort of impact on the story or the characters within.

As I’m getting older, my attention span is getting worse and sometimes, sitting down to watch a movie this long is a real turnoff. I’m also surrounded by distractions and it’s hard to give a lengthy picture like this my full attention. However, Heat is so damn solid, all the way through, that it’s damn near impossible not to get lost in it.

And when you get to that first scene between Pacino and De Niro, you will feel chills. I still do and I’ve probably seen this a half dozen times over the years.

Rating: 9.5/10

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: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Release Date: May 25th, 1969 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Schlesinger
Written by: Waldo Salt
Based on: Midnight Cowboy by James Leo Herlihy
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles, Brenda Vaccaro, Jennifer Salt, Bob Balaban

Jerome Hellman Productions, United Artists, 113 Minutes

Review:

“I like the way I look. Makes me feel good, it does. And women like me, goddammit. Hell, the only one thing I ever been good for is lovin’. Women go crazy for me, that’s a really true fact! Ratso, hell! Crazy Annie they had to send her away!” – Joe Buck, “Then, how come you ain’t scored once the whole time you been in New York?” – Ratso Rizzo

I’ve seen this movie three times now and I’ve always loved it. But it’s that type of film that drains on the soul and frankly, I can only watch it about once per decade, as it just weighs on me for days after seeing it.

It’s absolutely depressing and its hard to peg what it is about the film that makes it so endearing but I have to give all the credit to the two leads: Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. In fact, the men are great actors and both have done several great motion pictures but this may be the best performances that both men have ever given.

What’s amazing about the film is that both characters are pretty despicable people but you end up caring for them, pretty deeply. The film does humanize them and gives you their backstories, which show you why they are the way they are. However, by the end, Voight’s Joe Buck has probably killed a man and is on the run, even if he planned to leave New York City anyway. But you still feel for him because even though he’s done dark shit, he’s a stupid person that pretty much has the mind of a child. He tries to take life head on but continually gets his ass kicked by his own ignorance and inability to comprehend the depth of the water he keeps diving into.

As for Hoffman’s Rizzo, he’s a conman, he takes advantage of people but when you see into his world and into his past, you hurt for him. The fact that he’s sick and degenerates over the course of the story becomes a hard pill to swallow and you want him, despite all of his flaws, to find the peace he needs. The scene where he falls down the stairs and then has to walk himself home, alone and in the cold, is pretty damn heart-wrenching.

I think that the direction and cinematography greatly enhance the film. This is a fluid movie with a lot of motion, matching the quick moving world of New York City. But it doesn’t shy away from the gritty reality of New York and the dark lives these men lead. Frankly, the film doesn’t sell you a Hollywood fantasy about New York City, it shoves its harshness down your throat and force feeds it to you from the moment Joe Buck arrives in town until the moment where he and Rizzo get on the bus to Miami.

Interestingly, this motion picture was rated X. That’s not a rating that really has any meaning in modern times but for the late ’60s, this was controversial for its harshness but also because it examined sexuality in ways that were pretty taboo and uncomfortable for the general public. It’s one of the earliest films that specifically deals with a protagonist trying to figure out whether he’s gay or not. I can’t think of anything that is this open about it that came out earlier but if such a film exists, please let me know in the comments.

The sexual exploration and Joe’s uncertainty over who he is, is the driving force behind his development throughout the movie. He’s lost, confused, wants to know himself and find his place in the world but the reality of his emotions and what does or doesn’t arouse him is a hard pill for him to swallow. And this just shows how difficult these things were for people in 1969. It’s clear that Joe hates himself but the possibility that he may be gay just compounds his self-hatred. And the tragic thing, is that he’s too dumb to make sense out of his emotions and his situation.

Midnight Cowboy is a pretty important motion picture in the history of film. It’s especially important in how it addresses and looks at LGBT issues. For a lot of filmgoers who saw this when it was current, it had to be their first experience in understanding the struggle of gay or sexually unsure people.

It’s a superbly acted and produced movie; certainly one of the top social films of its time. I feel like it also sort of set the stage for what became the cinematic view of New York City in the 1970s, as seen in the films of Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet and others.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other films of the era: Easy Rider, The Graduate and The American Friend.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible (1996)

Release Date: May 20th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: David Koepp, Robert Towne, Steven Zaillian
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emilio Estevez

Cruise/Wagner Productions, Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Can I ask you something, Kittridge? If you’re dealing with a man who has crushed, shot, stabbed, and detonated five members of his own IMF team, how devastated do you think you’re gonna make him by hauling Mom and Uncle Donald down to the county courthouse?” – Ethan Hunt

I wasn’t super fond of this when it first came out but I must have been stupid at 17 years-old. Revisiting this movie over two decades later was a real treat.

Full disclosure, I haven’t seen any Mission: Impossible movies since the second one and I haven’t watched any of them since that one came out in 2000. Friends always rave about them but I’ve always been like, “Meh, whatever.”

Since I’ve heard exceedingly good things about the last few, I figured that I’d start the series over and see how I feel about them now. Well, this one was a hell of a lot of fun and it resonated with me much more now than it did in 1996.

I really like Tom Cruise in this picture and Ethan Hunt really is the American equivalent to James Bond. However, he isn’t quite there yet, as far as being as cunning and as suave as Bond, but it is a work in progress. While this isn’t Ethan Hunt’s rookie mission, this story feels like the moment where he becomes more than human and actually evolves into a super spy or really, a superhero without a cape.

Brian De Palma did a nice job of creating an interesting and rich world. This is the smallest and most confined of the Mission: Impossible films, as they would get more and more grandiose with each release, but it is still a real big screen extravaganza. It feels and looks like a blockbuster. And while I’ve been a massive James Bond fan my whole life, I think it was the slightly more realistic approach with this series that didn’t allow it to click for me, as I had just come off of Goldeneye, a year prior. You see, Bond still had a good amount of cheesiness to it then.

Now don’t get me wrong, Mission: Impossible had some cheese too but it was less gadget-y and not full of sexy one liners and sexual tomfoolery every five minutes. That final confrontation where we see the helicopter go into a subway tunnel is absolutely insane and it bugged me in 1996 but in a way, it still kind of does because it didn’t feel like it fit the tone of the film. It felt like the movie jumped the shark there and even though I appreciate this more, that scene still made me cringe a bit in 2018.

But that’s really my only gripe about this motion picture. It had a very capable director and a solid cast, although I wish Emilio Estevez wouldn’t have gotten killed off so damn fast.

Most importantly, this gave birth to a massive film franchise and looking back, this wasn’t a bad launching pad.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Mission: Impossible sequels, the Bourne film series and the Kingsman movies.