Film Review: Freeway (1996)

Release Date: January, 1996 (Sundance)
Directed by: Matthew Bright
Written by: Matthew Bright
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Wolfgang Bodison, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Brooke Shields, Michael T. Weiss, Bokeem Woodbine, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy, Conchata Ferrell

The Kushner-Locke Company, August Entertainment, Davis-Films, 104 Minutes (uncut), 102 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“Holy shit! Look who got beaten with the ugly stick! Is that you, Bob? I can’t believe such a teeny weeny little gun made such a big mess out of someone! You are so ugly, Bob! And, hey, I heard you have one of those big poop bags that’s like attached to where the shit comes out the side, you’re just a big old shitbag ain’t you, Bob! You just think of me every time you empty that motherfucking thing, motherfucker!” – Vanessa Lutz

Freeway is a batshit crazy movie. I’m not a massive fan of it as many others are and honestly, I wasn’t even sure what to think about it when it came out back in 1996. I was in high school at the time but I found it hard to grasp, as it feels more like a sequence of ideas wedged into a singular film. It also has a disjointed tone and a weird narrative structure.

I never hated the film but it wasn’t my cup of tea when it came out. I’m able to enjoy it more now but that’s also because an extra two and a half decades of life experience and film watching has made me more open to experimental and nontraditional filmmaking.

I mostly liked the film now, seeing it for the first time since it hit VHS. I never had much urge to revisit it but I figured I’d check it out because it’s been so long and my tastes have changed. Plus, I like Reese Witherspoon when she’s not in romantic comedies and I’ve always dug Kiefer Sutherland.

Additionally, this boasts a strong cast that wouldn’t have meant as much to me as a teenager. We’ve got Dan Hedaya, Brooke Shields, Bokeem Woodbine, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy and Conchata Ferrell.

The story is a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It’s vastly different, though, as Witherspoon plays a trashy teen brought up by a speed addicted prostitute and pedophile stepfather. She’s essentially Little Red Riding Hood while Kiefer Sutherland plays the Big Bad Wolf, trying to hunt her down on the way to grandma’s house. The Wolf in this case is a famous (and still at large) Interstate serial killer.

Along the way, Sutherland’s Bob picks up Witherspoon’s Vanessa, after the car she stole broke down. They spend some time together but things get weird as the trip rolls on. Eventually, Vanessa discovers that Bob is the I-5 Killer. She is able to escape and puts several bullets into him. Vanessa ends up getting arrested and Bob survives, although he is severely disfigured.

In the second half of the movie, Vanessa is locked up in juvenile jail while the media makes Bob out to be a victim and heroic survivor. Vanessa eventually escapes juvie and makes her way to her grandma’s house where Bob is waiting for her, disguised as her grandma in bed ala the Big Bad Wolf.

While the film is tapping into the famous Brothers Grimm story, it definitely takes tremendous liberties and only seems to channel Little Red Riding Hood where it is convenient. In a lot of ways, the films plot is all over the place. It’s not hard to follow but it doesn’t follow any sort of structure. Frankly, there really isn’t a three act structure, either. You can break it out into four parts. I’m also not saying that this is a bad thing as it makes for a film that isn’t formulaic or predictable and in some regard, that’s refreshing. I’m actually glad that I forgot most of the plot details over the years since first seeing this.

Furthermore, Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland are both tremendous in this. Witherspoon, in only her fifth film, shows that she’s got real chops. Sutherland also brings his A-game and he’s so nuts in this that he really makes the movie better than it should have been on paper. He does crazy well and this may be the most bonkers role he’s ever played.

I’ve also got to point out the musical score by Danny Elfman. I dug the hell out of it and it’s one of the most unique Elfman scores of all-time. While it has the Elfman aesthetic, it’s different and unusual enough that had I not seen his name in the credits, I might not have realized it was him.

Freeway is nowhere near a perfect film but it’s a damn interesting one that’s carried by two solid performances and a story that takes you on an unexpected and wild journey.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as two other ’90s Reese Witherspoon movies: S.F.W. and Fear.

Film Review: Inherent Vice (2014)

Release Date: October 4th, 2014 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Joanna Newsom, Hong Chau, Eric Roberts

Ghoulardi Film Company, Warner Bros., IAC Films, 148 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it’s dark and lonely work, but somebody’s gotta do it, right?” – Petunia Leeway

I had really high hopes for this film.

It’s directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who everyone, even their pets, loves. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and a superb supporting cast. And, well, it’s a neo-noir set in the early ’70s that looked damn cool from the trailers.

Sadly, this was duller than an unsharpened pencil.

I kind of hate that I didn’t dig this but it was really hard for me not to nod off through almost every really long, drawn out scene. Frankly, the film didn’t even need to be two hours, let alone 148 minutes.

Visually, the film is stunning. Every scene and every shot looks pristine and perfect. But that’s not enough to carry a movie. I can see cinematography of the highest caliber in television commercials and music videos.

The thing is, the narrative needs to be as exciting as the visual allure. It needs to capture you, hold on and at least try to leave you breathless until the final frame.

I watched this movie and was so disinterested in it that I couldn’t remember what the film was about, where it needed to go or why Phoenix was investigating things. I felt like my mind was as numb and disoriented as the majority of the characters in the picture.

If you like movies solely for visuals and great soundtracks, than this may be your bag.

It wasn’t mine though.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: mind numbing drugs and a case of cheap whiskey while watching a Hypercolor t-shirt cook in the microwave.

Film Review: Fear (1996)

Also known as: No Fear (working title)
Release Date: April 12th, 1996
Directed by: James Foley
Written by: Christopher Crowe
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon, William Peterson, Alyssa Milano, Amy Brenneman

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“I want you to understand somethin’, pal. If you don’t disappear from my family’s life, I’m gonna rip your balls off and shove ’em so far up your ass they’ll come out your fuckin’ mouth! You got that, my friend?” – Steve Walker

I saw this in the theater in 1996. I was on a date. She picked the movie. We never went out again.

There are probably other movies that are a better examples of terrible ’90s cliches mixed into a blender and then splashed across the screen but Fear is a walking, talking tapestry of bad ’90s cliches with a Boston accent and a third nipple.

With around 1000 film reviews that I’ve written for Cinespiria, I’m surprised to find that this is the first thing I’ve reviewed with Mark Wahlberg in it. Okay, full disclosure: I don’t like Wahlberg. I never have. I think he’s the same f’n guy in everything and he brings down other actors that work opposite of him. This is very apparent in this film, as the talented Reese Witherspoon is sucked down into the Wahlberg muck and gave a pretty terrible performance, which is most notable in the scenes they share together.

The gist of this movie deals with a teenage girl’s older, psycho boyfriend. Wahlberg was born to play this role, I guess. He sheds his Marky Mark hip-hop gear but still looks for every excuse to have his shirt off, exposing that third nipple of his. I think it’s that third nipple that gives him power over girls who love chunky “bad boys” that talk like male detectives on Rizzoli & Isles.

Anyway, Marky Mark is a psycho, who wins over the girl, her family but not the dad. The dad knows that this 23 year-old statutory rapist is bad news. Things escalate, the father doesn’t take any shit from this smug douchepimple and the big finale is a raid on the family home by the King of Boston Accents and his shitbird gang of generic ’90s grunge rock thugs.

There isn’t a single likable character in this entire film. Well, except for maybe the little brother who actually goes gangster, sneaks outside, fires up his dad’s truck and runs over some thug. Kudos to that kid.

Weirdly, as bad as this is, I don’t hate it. It was actually kind of enjoyable because of how bad it was and because it was a giant ’90s cliche of so many shit things from that decade.

On a side note, I don’t mind Marky Mark in comedies.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Meh. I don’t really think this pairs well with much of anything. It’s a terrible Wahlberg film. But I guess if you are a Reese Witherspoon fan, check this out with 1994’s S.F.W.

Film Review: Walk the Line (2005)

Release Date: September 4th, 2005 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Gill Dennis, James Mangold
Based on: Man In Black: His Own Story In His Own Words and Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash
Music by: T Bone Burnett
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts

Fox 2000 Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 136 Minutes (theatrical cut), 153 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“You wear black ’cause you can’t find anything else to wear? You found your sound ’cause you can’t play no better? You just tried to kiss me because “it just happened?” You should try take credit for something every once in a while, John.” – June Carter

I’ve been a big fan of Johnny Cash since the age I first sprouted ears. That being said, I hadn’t seen this film until recently. Reason being, there were a ton of musical legend biopics popping up in the early 2000s and whether they were critical successes or not, I was pretty burnt out on them.

To be honest, I’m kind of glad that I waited, as I saw this at the right time, when I needed to. Plus, being a good distance away from the slew of other biopics that were in abundance back then, allowed me to appreciate this better than I would have in 2005. Also, my knowledge on old country and rockabilly is richer than it was in 2005, so I was really drawn in to all the other famous characters worked into this picture’s narrative.

Besides just being a really good movie, Walk the Line really gave me an understanding of who June Carter was and why Johnny loved her. The film gave me an appreciation and a respect for her that I didn’t have before. I have to give a lot of the credit for that to Reese Witherspoon, who won an Academy Award for her performance here and deservedly so. She also held her own musically and her performance of “Juke Box Blues” was energetic and awesome. Her duets with Joaquin Phoenix were quite amazing, as well.

Speaking of which, Phoenix truly knocks it out of the park with his performance as Johnny Cash. He had the voice, the mannerisms and exuded the presence of Cash. His covers of Cash’s songs were also well done and more than convincing. One thing that really worked extraordinarily well in this movie were the live performances. Everyone involved in this picture created musical magic.

The film was directed by James Mangold, who most recently directed Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine, the stupendous Logan. From his work on this film, I can see why Mangold was given the reins to helm two Wolverine films, both of which were really good.

Walk the Line isn’t a perfect movie but it is a solid biopic that is only enhanced by the talent of its stars, its director and its stellar musical performances.

Rating: 8.5/10