Film Review: Basquiat (1996)

Also known as: Build A Fort, Set It On Fire (alternative title)
Release Date: August 9th, 1996
Directed by: Julian Schnabel
Written by: Julian Schnabel, John Bowe, Michael Holman, Lech Majewski
Music by: John Cale, Julian Schnabel
Cast: Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Benicio del Toro, Claire Forlani, Michael Wincott, Parker Posey, Courtney Love, Elina Lowensohn, Paul Bartel, Tatum O’Neal, Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Sam Rockwell, Michael Badalucco, Joseph R. Gannascoli, Vincent Laresca, Vincent Gallo (uncredited)

Eleventh Street Production, Jon Kilik, Miramax, 107 Minutes

Review:

“What is it about art anyway that we give it so much importance? Artists are respected by the poor because what they do is an honest way to get out of the slum using one’s sheer self as the medium. The money earned, proof, pure and simple, of the value of that individual, the artist. The picture a mother’s son does in jail hangs on her wall as proof that beauty is possible even in the most wretched. And this is a much different idea than fancier notion that art is a scam and a ripoff. But you can never explain to someone who uses God’s gift to enslave, that you have used God’s gift to be free.” – Rene Ricard

Everyone has a favorite movie or few. This is one of mine and honestly, I’ve put off reviewing it because I’ve found it difficult to put into words what I love about it so much. It’s just more of a feeling and a vibe that it gives off, and as an artist myself, I felt deeply connected with the film the first time that I saw it.

While the picture is a biopic about Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist that rose to prominence and died way too young, it is also an examination of art itself and the artist’s place in the world. It’s a real critique on the art world, especially in the opulent ’80s and the New York City scene. What makes this even more interesting, though, is that this was made by people who knew Basquiat and who were part of this community at the time that he rose up and took the art world by storm.

Honestly, this is probably the most intimate look inside that world and of that specific era that outsiders have ever gotten. It’s an incredibly intriguing place. It’s also made that much more personal by the love of the filmmakers and the passion they put into this motion picture.

This passion goes beyond director Julian Schnabel and the writers, though, as it also comes out through the performances of the actors. And man, this is a movie with an incredible cast from top-to-bottom. For an indie picture about an artist that was here and gone so quickly, the production attracted so many worthwhile actors.

The two that standout the most, however, are Jeffrey Wright as Basquiat and David Bowie as Andy Warhol. These two men gave real life to these iconic figures and their chemistry together was so good that you truly believed in the real life bond between Basquiat and Warhol, a bond everyone else seemed jealous about.

I also loved the scene with Christopher Walken, as a journalist asking Jean-Michel some pretty pointed questions. But this scene kind of shows you where Basquiat is in life, at this point, as everything has moved so fast. Plus, the film shows sections of his life and there isn’t any sort of traditional progression of time, which I liked. Things happen in a dreamlike blur but that’s often times how life goes and you have these random moments that sort of ground you and put things into perspective.

There isn’t a weak performance in the whole film and it features incredible moments between Wright, a newcomer at the time, and well-established actors like Dennis Hopper, Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, Parker Posey, Michael Wincott, Benicio del Toro and so many others.

Additionally, the music in the film is just as important as the art and it truly sets the tone in every scene and it’s actually my favorite soundtrack that’s ever been assembled.

By the time you get to the end, the film tries to give you some hope and through a story Jean-Michel tells to his friend, Benny, you fully understand what his place in the world was and still is. Sadly, the writing was on the wall for how Basquiat’s story would end but even with his life cut incredibly short, he created something that would live on forever.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: The Aristocats (1970)

Also known as: The AristoCats (alternative spelling)
Release Date: December 11th, 1970 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Ken Anderson, Larry Clemmons, Eric Cleworth, Vance Gerry, Julius Svendsen, Frank Thomas, Ralph Wright
Based on: The Aristocats by Tom McGowan, Tom Rowe
Music by: George Bruns
Cast: Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers, Paul Winchell, Lord Tim Hudson, Thurl Ravenscroft, Dean Clark, Liz English, Gary Dubin

Walt Disney Productions, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Buena Vista Distribution, 78 Minutes

Review:

“Ladies don’t start fights, but they can finish them!” – Marie

Well, The Aristocats was a lot more fun and lively than I remembered. This is a classic Disney animated feature film that I hadn’t actually seen since childhood.

The story is about a rich lady that loves her cats. She decides to leave everything to her cats in her will with the butler getting everything after the last cat has passed on. Once her butler discovers this, he decides to get rid of the cats, so he can obtain the woman’s inheritance upon her death.

I forgot how cool of a character the cat, Thomas O’Malley, was. After revisiting this, he may be one of my favorite protagonists from animated Disney movies. He’s just a pretty suave, romantic and heroic character that meets Duchess and her kittens, once they’ve been dumped way out in the country. He helps them on their adventure back home and along the way, becomes the surrogate father figure to this family. He also introduces them to his other feral cat friends who are pretty awesome jazz musicians.

Out of all the animal-centric Disney movies, this one is the most entertaining, overall. It’s also heartwarming and sweet. There really isn’t a character that you won’t love, except for the villainous, greedy butler. However, he gets what he deserves in the end.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The Jungle Book (1967)

Release Date: October 18th, 1967
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
Written by: Larry Clemmons, Ralph Wright, Ken Anderson, Vance Gerry
Based on: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Music by: George Bruns
Cast: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders, Sterling Holloway, John Abbott, Louis Prima, Bruce Reitherman, Clint Howard

Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions, 78 Minutes

Review:

“What do they call you?” – Baloo, “His name is Mowgli, and I’m taking him back to the man village.” – Bagheera, “Man village? They’ll ruin him. They’ll make a man out of him.” – Baloo, 

While I always liked The Jungle Book it wasn’t one of the films that popped into my head when thinking of Disney’s greatest classic animated features. However, seeing it this time, the first in a few decades, gave me a new appreciation for it, as seeing it through the eyes of an adult made it a richer experience.

The reason for that, is that even though I can relate to Mowgli, I have more appreciation for Bagheera’s point-of-view and also have grown away from my more care-free ways that Baloo exhibits. Well, until Baloo has to ultimately let the kid move on and live his life.

The magic of this film is that it can connect to anyone through the youthful Mowgli but it has the ability to speak to the adults watching it in a way that the kids also probably understand but can’t fully connect to until they’ve actually experienced more in life.

Also, this is just such a fun and jovial movie that its music really stands out for this era of Disney pictures.

I also like the art style and the lush colors and environment.

It reminds me a lot of the film before it, The Sword In the Stone, in how this plays more like two friends going on random adventures where the main plot is just kind of secondary. Except, this does that better and overall, provides a more memorable and emotional bond.

The Jungle Book is simply great. It’s a positive, fun, coming of age story that has some of the best tunes in the history of Disney films.

Rating: 8/10

Documentary Review: Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)

Also known as: Persistence of Vision (working title)
Release Date: September 5th, 2009 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Don Hahn
Written by: Patrick Pacheco
Music by: Chris P. Bacon
Cast: Don Hahn (narrator), Roy E. Disney, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Randy Cartwright, Howard Ashman, various

Red Shoes, Stone Circle Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“People always talked about Roy as the idiot nephew. That was his nickname. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was smart, unassuming and powerful. You could easily underestimate him, but you did so at your own peril.” – Peter Schneider

If you like old school Disney stuff, there are a lot of documentaries about old school Disney stuff on Disney+. Honestly, it’s the only reason I’m currently subscribed other than having access to the classic movies I also love. I barely care about Star Wars or the MCU, at this point.

Anyway, this is one of those documentaries.

Waking Sleeping Beauty is the story of how the backbone of Disney, it’s animated feature films division, was suffering by the mid-’80s and how several creatives came in and turned it all around with what’s now referred to as their “renaissance”.

This is a compelling story and for fans of classic Disney animation, this is certainly worth watching. It features interviews with lots of people who were there and who understood the structure and politics of the company at the time.

My only real gripe about the documentary is that it never felt focused enough on the important topics and it jumped around quite a bit, as it tried to cover a lot of films and their whole creation process in a documentary that was less than 90 minutes. However, Disney+ could easily expand on all of this, as they already have several documentary shows that spend full hours on specific topics from their past.

Still, this held my attention from start-to-finish and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I just wish a lot of it was expanded on and fleshed out more because it was all so interesting. It just felt rushed through at times.

Rating: 7.25/10