Film Review: Throw Momma from the Train (1987)

Release Date: December 11th, 1987
Directed by: Danny DeVito
Written by: Stu Silver
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Danny DeVito, Billy Crystal, Anne Ramsey, Kim Greist, Kate Mulgrew, Rob Reiner, Annie Ross, Olivia Brown, Oprah Winfrey (cameo)

Throw Momma, Rollins, Morra & Brezner, Orion Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t you “In a minute, Momma” me! Get off your fat little ass or I’ll break it for you! I want two soft-boiled eggs, white toast, and some of that grape jelly goddammit! And don’t burn the toast!” – Momma

Man, I haven’t seen this since the ’80s but it held up pretty well and I found it as hilarious and amusing now, as I probably did back then when I was too young to grasp all of the clever humorous bits.

Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal make a pretty great comedic duo and this film really capitalizes on their strengths. The scenes they share with Anne Ramsey are also good and she was pretty believable as DeVito’s mean and overbearing mother.

Now that I’m older, I also appreciated the plot more, as it is basically a twist on one of Hitchcock’s classics, Strangers On A Train. With that, DeVito assumes Crystal gave him the plan of killing his ex-wife and in exchange, Crystal would kill DeVito’s mother.

For most of the movie, you believe that DeVito actually killed the ex-wife and this puts pressure on Crystal to kill the mother, as he realizes he is in deep shit and needs to keep a lid on things.

While the plot sounds ridiculous, it really sets up a good black comedy scenario and the two leads just commit to the script and put in performances so good, it’s really easy to get swept up in the story and not worry about whether or not it’s realistic. Frankly, this is meant to be a bit surreal.

The cool thing about this picture is that DeVito directed it. I think he did a pretty solid job and he definitely got a stupendous performance out of Anne Ramsey, who left this planet a year or so later.

Throw Momma From the Train was just good escapism and it featured two legendary comedic actors in their prime, who happened to have good chemistry.

Honestly, I wish these two would’ve done more together.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s and early ’90s comedies, specifically those with Danny DeVito or Billy Crsytal.

Film Review: Manhunter (1986)

Also known as: Red Dragon (original script title), Red Dragon: The Curse of Hannibal Lecter (US TV title), Manhunter: The Pursuit of Hannibal Lecter (US video box title)
Release Date: August 15th, 1986
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Michael Mann
Based on: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Music by: Michael Rubini, The Reds
Cast: William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan, Michael Talbott, Frankie Faison, Chris Elliott, Marshall Bell

Red Dragon Productions S.A., De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 120 Minutes, 124 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 85 Minutes (video edit)

Review:

“And if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.” – Hannibal Lecktor

Many people just dismiss Manhunter as the earlier version of Red Dragon that’s not as good because it doesn’t have Anthony Hopkins in it as Hannibal Lecter. That’s a pretty shitty assessment, though, as I feel like this is a better film and deserving of more notoriety than it’s gotten over the years.

Hannibal also isn’t in the story as much as one would expect but when he is, Brian Cox did a superb job with the character and gave the audience one of his best and certainly most chilling performances.

Beyond Cox, this movie has a pretty stacked cast between the underappreciated William Petersen, as well as Dennis Farina, a really young Stephen Lang and the enigmatic Tom Noonan. The film also has smaller roles for Frankie Faison, Marshall Bell, Chris Elliott and Miami Vice‘s Michael Talbott.

Speaking of Miami Vice, this was directed by that show’s creator, Michael Mann. I assume that this was shot between seasons of that show and this is also probably why a lot of it was shot in the southern half of Florida. Some of it was shot in Atlanta too.

With that, this has a very similar visual style and tone to Miami Vice when it was in its prime before jumping the shark in later seasons with weird storylines and a somewhat aimless creative direction.

Petersen is great as this film’s version of Will Graham. I liked him better than Ed Norton’s version of the character in Red Dragon and I say that as a big Norton fan.

It’s really Tom Noonan that steals the show, though, as the serial killer that Graham is trying to take down. Noonan does creepy so damn well and I feel like he’s been typecast in his career because of how terrifying he was in this movie. That’s also not a bad thing, as the guy is just so damn good at these sort of roles and he never disappoints. Frankly, he deserves more notoriety than he’s gotten too.

Manhunter is so much better than most people probably realize. I get that everyone loves Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter but that also doesn’t mean that the film that came before his debut should be dismissed and forgotten, as some B-movie, bad version of the Red Dragon story.

As I’ve said, I prefer this to the 2003 Red Dragon movie. It’s moody, stylish and wasn’t made just to capitalize off of Hannibal Lecter’s popularity in pop culture.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films, as well as Michael Mann’s hit ’80s crime show, Miami Vice.

Film Review: Brazil (1985)

Release Date: February 20th, 1985 (France)
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Kim Greist

Embassy International Pictures, Brazil Productions, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, 142 Minutes

brazil-1985Review:

Brazil is one of those movies that after you see it, you can’t get it out of your head.

The film follows Jonathan Pryce’s Sam Lowry, as he goes through his humdrum mediocre life in his industrial dystopia. He discovers that the government made an error in capturing who they suspect is a terrorist. The man they caught is killed and his family is left in serious distress. Lowry is tasked with resolving the error. In the process however, he sees a woman that looks like the mysterious girl he’s been dreaming about. The woman, Jill Layton (played by Kim Greist), is also trying to get to the bottom of the government’s mistake, as she is the neighbor of the victim’s family. Lowry obsesses over the woman and does everything he can, putting himself at risk, to prove the government’s mistake. The government, not privy of having its flaws exposed, responds with an iron fascist fist.

This is one of Terry Gilliam’s most critically-acclaimed films alongside The Fisher King, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen12 Monkeys and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It is also the one that was the most influential on other filmmakers. The visual style and other elements have gone on to inspire Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro, the Coen brothers, Alex Proyas, Tim Burton, Darren Aronofsky and Zack Snyder.

The film is similar to 1984 in its subject matter. However, it has a comedic twist and more action. The comedy is a mixture of satire and slapstick and it works really well for the picture. The action sequences are executed nicely, especially the fantasy segments pulled from Lowry’s dreams. Overall, the film is a surrealist playground with stellar set design, costumes and cinematography.

The acting is also pretty superb. While De Niro is in this, he only has a few scenes, despite being billed pretty high. It is refreshing to see De Niro play a character that isn’t just Robert De Niro, like all of his later films.

Despite the talent in this film, though, I thought that Kim Greist just couldn’t cut it as Jill. Apparently, Terry Gilliam felt the same way, as her scenes and screen time were cut down in the editing room. She delivered lines like a B-movie actress and just felt out of place, sticking out like a sore thumb while playing off of the incredible Pryce.

The only other complaint I have, is running time. I feel like some sequences were too drawn out. The film had an uneven pace at times but its positives far outweigh its negatives and I don’t want to be nitpicky for the sake of nitpicking.

Ultimately, Brazil is a fantastic dystopian fantasy and some of Gilliam’s best work. The performance by Jonathan Pryce was so good, that because of this film, I always light up when I see him pop up in other pictures.

Rating: 9/10