Film Review: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Release Date: September 10th, 1994 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Written by: Frank Darabont
Based on: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, James Whitmore, Mark Rolston, Jeffrey DeMunn, Ned Bellamy, Don McManus

Castle Rock Entertainment, 142 Minutes

Review:

“[to Red] I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living, or get busy dying.” – Andy Dufresne

I’ll admit that I had put off reviewing this for quite awhile. The reason being is that it’s just too good. In fact, it’s almost always ranked as the number one movie of all-time, according to the public, on IMDb. Every now and then The Godfather edges it out but usually just for a little moment in time.

Honestly, I can’t really dispute it being number one, even if it isn’t my favorite movie. It’s definitely high up on my list but I also tend to like a lot of things that aren’t what normal people and critics would consider great. And my favorite films are ones I like to watch a lot. The Shawshank Redemption isn’t a film that I want to watch a lot. It’s something I have to savor about once per decade because none of us are really worthy of its greatness and I don’t see it as a motion picture, as much as I see it as a spiritual experience. It transcends its medium, fully, and it shows us how great art can be and how it can speak to us on a deeper level than we can actually quantify or truly understand.

Am I overselling it for those who haven’t seen it? Absolutely not. This movie doesn’t have a single flaw. I really looked for one this time around, even against my better judgment, as I didn’t want to nitpick it, as it doesn’t deserve to be ripped apart and scrutinized. It deserves to be exactly what it is.

As a real lover of cinema but an atheist, I guess this is as close as I can get to feeling like God is living inside of me. And while this review may come across as cheesy and ridiculous to some, I honestly don’t know how anyone can watch this film and not be profoundly touched by it.

The thing is, reviewing The Shawshank Redemption is really hard because what the hell can anyone say about it other than it is legitimately perfect and doesn’t have a single flaw?

It’s fabulously directed, superbly written, stupendously acted, has incredible cinematography, features an absolutely amazing score, is perfectly paced and it makes you feel every single scene on a visceral level, causing you to look inside yourself and search for your own purpose and sense of real freedom in a world that often times can feel dark, bleak and hopeless.

The film shows you that there is more out there and it gives you hope that you can obtain it.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: The Original ‘Saw’ Sequels (2005-2010)

Release Date: October 28th, 2005 (Saw II), October 27th 2006 (Saw III), October 26th, 2007 (Saw IV), October 24th, 2008 (Saw V), October 23rd, 2009 (Saw VI), October 29th, 2010 (Saw VII), 
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV), David Hackl (Saw V), Kevin Greutert (Saw VI-VII)
Written by: Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman, James Wan, Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, Thomas Fenton
Based on: Saw by James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Dina Meyer, Donnie Wahlberg, Lyriq Bent, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Mark Rolston, Julie Benz, Sean Patrick Flanery, Glenn Plummer, Beverly Mitchell, Meagan Good, 

Twisted Pictures, Lions Gate Films, 93 Minutes (Saw II), 108 Minutes (Saw III), 92 Minutes (Saw IV), 92 Minutes (Saw V), 90 Minutes (Saw VI), 90 Minutes (Saw VII) 

Review:

I wasn’t a fan of the Saw franchise after the original movie. In fact, I quit with the third film and haven’t watched any of them since that one debuted in theaters. Jigsaw died in that one and so I was fine moving on, as well.

After revisiting the first one to review, I figured I would just power through the original string of sequels since they were all on HBO Max.

Since these are all pretty dreadful, blend together in a convoluted clusterfuck and are almost indistinguishable from one another, by the time I got to the end of the fourth movie, I decided just to review them all together. So I pushed through all six of these movies over a weekend and what a miserable experience it was.

The second film is at least a new situation from the first but it also set the stage for what would generally be the formula going forward, which sees a group of people locked in a secret location, having to pass tests in an effort to survive and not be murdered by Jigsaw’s traps.

The third film sees an abducted doctor forced to keep Jigsaw alive, as long as she can. Meanwhile, her husband has to work his way through a test and others are brutalized.

Film four through seven are just rehashes of everything we’ve already seen. Sure, there are different characters with different sins that they have to atone for in Jigsaw’s game. However, we have one Jigsaw successor, then another, then his ex-wife who is also working for him and eventually we discover that the Cary Elwes doctor character from way back in the first movie, has been assisting all along too.

The first film was great because it had a stellar twist at the end. Each picture after it, though, tries to outdo it and ultimately, fails at trying to replicate the shock of the original film’s closing moments.

In fact, with each new plot twist, big reveal and eye-opening flashback, the overall story gets more and more complicated to the point that you really can’t follow any of it and I don’t think the filmmakers even cared about consistency and logic because they were pumping these things out, annually, in an effort to make hundreds of millions off of each movie, all of which cost a slight fraction of that.

Saw after the success of the first one became a soulless, heartless, pointless cash cow. It was pushed as far as it could go and it ultimately diminished what the first movie had built and the reputation it deservedly earned.

I also hate the visual style of these films. They look like a ’90s industrial music video, everything is choppily and rapidly edited and they’re overwhelmed by more violent, shrill, jarring flashbacks than my ‘Nam vet uncle on LSD.

The musical score is also overbearing a lot of the time. It’s like this series has one theme playing throughout the movie and when crazy, violent shit pops up, they simply raise the volume.

Additionally, outside of Tobin Bell, these things are terribly acted. As much as I like Bell as Jigsaw in spite of this shitty series, even his presence runs its course midway through this series. He basically just becomes this prop in each film for the writers and directors to hang their stinky ass ideas on.

People may want to point to other long-running horror franchise and call them pointless cash cows too but most of the movies in the Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc. franchises were at least fun and entertaining.

There is nothing fun about these movies. They’re just full of miserable people who do miserable things, trapped in a miserable situation that only extends their misery and the misery of the audience. I don’t know why people kept going to see these for seven fucking annual installments. But then again, some people really, really liked Limp Bizkit, JNCO jeans and Jerry Springer.

Saw II – Rating: 5/10
Saw III – Rating: 5.5/10
Saw IV – Rating: 4.25/10
Saw V – Rating: 4/10
Saw VI – Rating: 4/10
Saw VII – Rating: 4.25/10

 

Film Review: The Departed (2006)

Release Date: September 26th, 2006 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: William Monahan
Based on: Infernal Affairs by Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Anthony Anderson, Kevin Corrigan, Mark Rolston, Robert Wahlberg

Media Asia Films, Vertigo Entertainment, Initial Entertainment Group, Plan B Entertainment, Warner Bros., 151 Minutes

Review:

“My theory on Feds is that they’re like mushrooms, feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark” – Dignam

I probably would’ve enjoyed this movie a lot more had I not seen the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs first. Reason being, this is an American remake of that film and frankly, it’s nowhere near as good but I’ll explain why.

To start, the acting is superb as fuck and really, that should go without saying if you look over the cast list. And really, I think that’s the one part of this film that possibly exceeds the original. DiCaprio is solid. Damon is solid. Nicholson is solid. Frankly, so is everyone else and there isn’t really a weak link in this chain of talent.

I think that for the lesser known actors and those with smaller parts, working with these other legends really helped them rise to the occasion. But some credit for that obviously has to go to Martin Scorsese’s direction. Scorsese, time and time again, always pulls the very best out of his actors from top-to-bottom in every production.

But this doesn’t discredit the acting in the Hong Kong film, which was also top notch and pretty damn close to this one even with the language barrier and having to experience it through subtitles.

One thing I’m not super keen on about this version is that it feels like the least Martin Scorsese film that the man has ever made… or, at least, that I’ve seen. It’s like Scorsese really wanted to replicate the tone and style of the original and while he did a fine job in replicating it, it sort of loses his patented touch. I would’ve rather seen him really take this story and make it his own.

Speaking of the story, I found this harder to follow than its source material. The Hong Kong film developed the characters better, especially the backstories. This movie lacked a lot of the extra context we got in the original between the Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon characters. I think that context was pretty important and maybe those scenes were filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.

What’s strange is that this movie is a whopping fifty minutes longer… fifty! Yet it feels like it has less story and the story that is present is a bit complicated. I feel like they tried to add extra layers into this where they didn’t need to be. While I don’t remember every detail of Infernal Affairs, as it’s been four years since I’ve seen it, but it did feel more streamlined and focused in spite of all the characters it had to balance.

It may seem like I’m shitting on The Departed but I don’t mean to. It’s just that I found a lot more value in the original.

This is still a damn engaging movie with characters you like, even the bad ones. It mostly moves at a brisk pace and as I’ve already stated, it’s a movie that’s greatly enhanced by its performances.

It was kind of cool seeing guys like DiCaprio, Nicholson and Damon come together in the same picture. It truly feels like a once-in-a-lifetime team-up and these guys worked together wonderfully.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

Release Date: July 5th, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Shane Black, Warren Murphy
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, Derrick O’Connor, Patsy Kensit, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Jenette Goldstein, Dean Norris, Kenneth Tigar, Sherman Howard, Mark Rolston

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 114 Minutes, 108 Minutes (cut), 118 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

This is my favorite Lethal Weapon movie and in fact, it’s pretty close to perfect on every level.

While most people probably see the first film as the best, I enjoy this one slightly more because it builds off of that foundation and makes it better. Also, this is the film that added in Joe Pesci, who had an amazing dynamic with Gibson and Glover and made this power duo a superpowered trio.

I also prefer the criminal plot in this movie and it takes more of a front seat, as the first film was primarily about dealing with Riggs’ personal problems and overcoming them.

That’s not to say that Riggs’ emotions don’t get the better of him in this film, they do, but the story and the context as to why are much more apparent and the tragedy that befalls his character actually happens in front of your eyes in this chapter. It makes more of an emotional impact on the viewer and because of what he’s already overcome, you understand his drive in the third act of the film and you root for him, and Murtaugh, in a way that you didn’t in the first picture.

Additionally, the villains are fucking superb. Joss Ackland is at his all-time best in this movie as the villainous, racist, South African diplomat, hiding behind legal red tape. I also like Derrick O’Connor as the top henchman. He isn’t quite on Busey’s level from the first movie but he is much better than the standard henchman from most action films of a similar style.

Overall, Lethal Weapon 2 takes the formula that was already established and perfects it. It adds to the series without taking anything away while having a swifter pace that doesn’t leave room for unnecessary filler. The characters are developed more in this chapter and all that is done organically as the story progresses. This is a finely written motion picture that understands the balance it needs between the action genre, comedy, drama and character building. It masters this in ways that other similar films have struggled.

There isn’t a bad thing I can say about the movie, really. It’s just awesome, top to bottom. It has everything I want in a Lethal Weapon movie and none of the stuff I don’t.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s buddy action movies.

Film Review: RoboCop 2 (1990)

Also known as: RoboCop II (working title)
Release Date: June 22nd, 1990
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: Frank Miller, Walon Green
Based on: characters by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Tom Noonan, Belinda Bauer, Gabriel Damon, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry, Willard E. Pugh, Stephen Lee, Frank Miller, John Glover, Fabiana Udenio, Mark Rolston, Patricia Charbonneau (uncredited)

Tobor Productions, Orion Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes we just have to start over, from scratch, to make things right, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to build a brand-new city where Detroit now stands – an example to the world.” – The Old Man

Do you remember that time that RoboCop showed up on a WCW pay-per-view to rescue Sting from the Four Horsemen? Well, that was a stunt to promote this movie. That being said, it would have been a better stunt to promote the third film, as this one wasn’t quite as cheesy as that terrible professional wrestling segment. Spoiler alert: the third movie is terrible but I’ll review that one at a later date.

RoboCop 2 is no RoboCop but it is still a pretty solid sequel, all things considered, and it is still to this day the second best RoboCop film.

Now this isn’t, by any means, a classic. It is, however, a pretty good example of a sequel that can expand on an already established mythos and expand on it in a new way, enriching the world these characters live in and giving us new material that isn’t simply just a retread of the already proven formula.

Peter Weller is still excellent and I was glad that we got to see more of him playing off of Nancy Allen. They have a nice chemistry, which existed in the first movie but didn’t really flourish until the end of it. Sadly, this would be the last time they’d share scenes together, as Weller dropped out of the series before RoboCop 3 was filmed.

The real scene stealer in this film is Tom Noonan, who just plays creepy bad guys so damn well. This was the first time that I remember seeing him but he went on to be one of my favorite character actors of his day. Although, the scenes with the young Gabriel Damon, who plays the child gangster Hob, were pretty f’n great too. The villains here aren’t as great as Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox in the first RoboCop but they are still fantastic foils and gave RoboCop two new types of threats that he didn’t face in the first movie.

I also liked the girl, Angie, and the top level henchman that looked like a cross between Joe Bob Briggs and Elvis.

Additionally, I love that Tom Noonan’s Cain is made into a new cyborg, appropriately called “RoboCop 2”. This was the first time that we got to see RoboCop fight a big villain that was similar to himself and not just a human meatbag. Granted, he has two run ins with ED-209 in the first film but those were relatively easy confrontations for him.

I liked that they really embraced the dark humor a bit more in this film too. The use of kids as legitimate juvenile delinquents in an almost post-apocalyptic Detroit was damn cool. Especially when I saw this as a kid.

A real standout for me though was Willard E. Pugh. I talked about him a bit when I reviewed the severely lackluster The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 because he stood out in that film and was pretty funny and the same can be said here. In this film, he plays the mayor of Detroit and he’s just so enjoyable that it’s almost a crime that he didn’t come back for RoboCop 3. Other than this film, he is probably most famous for playing Trustus Jones in CB4.

My only real complaint about this film is that the score was all new. Basil Poledouris did not return so I guess they didn’t use his iconic themes. The score here is decent but it lacks the extra gravitas that the original RoboCop theme had. Poledouris would return for RoboCop 3, however.

RoboCop 2 is a sequel worthy of following its predecessor. It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice, or so they say, but this was much better than other sequels to sci-fi classics.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the first RoboCop movie and the first two Terminator movies.

Film Review: Hard Rain (1998)

Also known as: The Flood (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1998
Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Written by: Graham Yost
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Edward Asner, Richard Dysart, Betty White, Ricky Harris, Mark Rolston

UGC-PH, Tele-Munchen, BBC, Nordisk Film, Marubeni, Toho, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Look! We just want the money! You guys can walk away, we won’t kill you!” – Jim

This film has more studios, distributors and countries involved in its creation than I have ever seen. Okay, maybe not ever but there is a whole shit ton of people behind this little action movie.

It also has a pretty big cast for a movie about a town vacated due to massive flooding. But the big cast of characters was actually a benefit as this movie has so many twists, turns and character morality shifts that at its core, this is very much film-noir.

Christian Slater plays an armored truck guard. He and his older mentor, played by Edward Asner, get stuck in the flood waters as they are transporting three million dollars from the small town’s bank to safety. They are quickly overcome by a group of thieves, led by Morgan Freeman. Asner’s character is killed in the initial confrontation but Slater escapes and hides the money away in a tomb. As the water rises further, Slater is on the run from Freeman’s gang, who have acquired boats and jet skis to more easily navigate the flooded city streets.

The town is also protected by a three man police force led by Randy Quaid. They seem like a heroic lot but as the film progresses and greed takes over the hearts of nearly everyone in the film, we see the worst come out in those tasked with keeping the peace.

Minnie Driver is thrown into the film because you need eye candy and someone for the hero to try and hook up with. You also have an elderly couple who stayed behind, played by the great Betty White and Richard Dysart. There is also the town’s dam operator, played by Wayne Duvall.

Hard Rain is a guilty pleasure of mine. I know it isn’t a good movie but it is great, mindless fun for ninety minutes. The action is good, there are a lot of layers to the story and there really isn’t a dull moment. I can’t say that the script is good either but at least the plot moves swiftly, offers up some decent surprises and is interesting enough to keep one engaged.

The highlight of the film is the three male leads, all of whom played their parts well and seemed to be having fun with the material.

This is a quintessential ’90s mid-budget action picture. It doesn’t try to do too much and stays pretty grounded in reality. The premise made for an ambitious picture, especially in regards to how much water was needed to create the scenes, but it never felt over the top or ridiculous. The shootout inside the church is marvelously executed and still looks good today.

This is just a fun movie with a good cast that I have to revisit once in awhile.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Broken Arrow, another Christian Slater action film from the same era.

Film Review: Aliens (1986)

Release Date: July 18th, 1986
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill
Based on: Charcaters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein, Mark Rolston

20th Century Fox, 137 Minutes

aliensReview:

Aliens is a movie that I have seen at least a few dozen times. It was a staple in my movie diet when I was a kid in the 80s. I never got to see it in the theater because it is rated R and I was seven when it came out. But I did see it when it hit video, probably a year later. Then I watched it all the time and as an adult, at least once a year. But I am now reviewing it because I finally got to see it on the big screen and man, what an experience it was!

Seeing Aliens in a large theater made one thing very clear, it has been a really long time since I have seen something as good as this while at the movies. It made me nostalgic and I went back to a place where I haven’t been since I was a kid, in a decade where there were so many amazing blockbusters. It also made me sad, simply because there really isn’t anything in the modern era of filmmaking that even comes close to the big tent pole pictures of 1980s summers. I mean, it really was the decade that made summer movies a thing in the first place.

This is James Cameron’s greatest film. Sure, many will argue for TerminatorTerminator 2: Judgment DayThe Abyss, True Lies, the incredibly overrated Titanic or the derivative CGI lovefest AvatarAliens is simply his best, period.

I’ve always sat on the fence over which is better between Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens. I still do. They are both equally as brilliant and fascinating but for very different reasons, as both are very different films. And I’m fine with that, because both pictures are special and exceptional and one doesn’t have to be better than the other. They are perfect companion pieces that are, I would have to assume, impossible to replicate because no other chapters in the franchise have come close to the pure magic of the first two films.

What still makes Aliens work, is the effects. They are practical, everything you see is real, apart from the wonky landing sequence of the dropship. The use of animatronics, real slime, luscious matte paintings, massive physical sets and meticulous physical detail are why this film stands the test of time. It is also why it carries a sense of realism that just alludes you when you watch something like the Star Wars prequels or Cameron’s most successful picture, Avatar.

The cinematography is perfect. The sets are incredible, the lighting is superb and the world truly feels like a dreadful and cozy home for the viscous alien xenomorphs that have overrun the fairly large settlement of humans sent to terraform the planet.

Just about every character in Aliens serves a purpose. Sure, there are a few grunts solely there to be immediately exterminated upon discovering the alien threat. However, after that, each character is pretty dynamic or at the very least, very entertaining, as is the case with Bill Paxton’s hilarious Hudson and Jenette Goldstein’s big gun-toting Private Vasquez.

Sigourney Weaver has never been better than she was in this movie. She’s played a version of Ellen Ripley four times but this is where she was on another level. She took control of a horrible situation and became the savior of those who survive, primarily the young girl Newt, who lost her entire family to the xenomorphs. Ripley became the ultimate bad ass mother figure of the 1980s. Weaver was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Aliens, which is pretty unheard of for a sci-fi or horror film, at least in the acting category.

Paul Reiser truly owned it as the corporate weasel Burke. Michael Biehn was good as Hicks, even if he felt like an extension of his Kyle Reese character from The Terminator, two years earlier. The real standout in the supporting cast was Lance Henriksen as the android Bishop. This is one of the absolute best roles Henriksen has ever played and my favorite character in the Alien franchise after Ripley.

Aliens is as close to perfection as you can get minus a few minor hiccups, mainly just the one or two effects that didn’t hold up to the test of time. But considering that it is now over thirty years old, nitpicking a slight visual issue with a scene isn’t really fair to its legacy and what it was at the time of its release.

I was glad that I got to see this on the big screen. It made the film come alive in a way that I have never experienced. Yet, we live in a time where people watch movies on their phones. It makes me feel like the love of movies I grew up with is dwindling away. We need to find a way to get back to creating motion pictures that can generate the emotions and feelings and visual awe of a movie like Aliens. I guess that’s my challenge to any up and coming filmmakers that may just stumble across this review.

Rating: 10/10