Film Review: Marathon Man (1976)

Release Date: October 6th, 1976 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Schlesinger
Written by: William Goldman
Based on: Marathon Man by William Goldman
Music by: Michael Small
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, William Devane, Marthe Keller, Richard Bright

Robert Evans Company, Beckerman Productions, Paramount Pictures, 125 Minutes

Review:

“The gun had blanks, the knife, a retractable blade. Hardly original, but effective enough. I think you’ll agree. I’m told you are a graduate student. Brilliant, yes? You are an historian, and I am part of history. I should have thought you would have found me interesting. Frankly, I am disappointed in your silence.” – Christian Szell

The thought of seeing Dustin Hoffman act opposite of Laurence Olivier is an intriguing one and well, it was really cool seeing them both in this, as it felt like a symbolic passing of the torch from one generation of great actors to the next.

Add in Roy Scheider, one of my all-time favorite manly men actors, and this thing has a pretty f’n solid trio of premier acting talent!

This was also directed by John Schlesinger, who already pulled a legendary performance out of Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy.

Overall, this was a really good motion picture, even though I had a few issues with it. None of them really break the movie for me, though.

The acting in this was incredible but that should probably go without saying but I was pretty impressed by the lesser known talents, as well.

This was also a really good looking picture that did a superb job of capturing an authentic feeling 1970s New York City onscreen. I especially loved the street scene with the Nazi trying to evade the people who recognize him, as well as the long sequence that saw Dustin Hoffman run through the streets at night, trying to evade capture.

My one big issue with the film comes down to the pacing. It felt a bit disjointed and off in some parts. There’d be stretches of the film that seemed to move along at a good speed and then there’d be these pockets where things seemed to slow to a crawl.

I also felt like there were a lot of things in this movie that just felt like plot convenience. For instance, the Nazi asshole being recognized by nearly every Jew he came across in New York City seemed a bit farfetched. And none of that really went anywhere, other than having the Nazi kill an old guy in the middle of the day while running from an old lady shouting from across the street. He gets away, unscathed in a taxicab.

But, as I said, the flaws weren’t so bad that they wrecked the film. However, they did get in the way of making this a great one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s crime thrillers.

Film Review: Who’s the Man? (1993)

Release Date: April 23rd, 1993
Directed by: Ted Demme
Written by: Seth Greenland, Doctor Dré, Ed Lover
Music by: Michael Wolff, Nic. tenBroek, various
Cast: Doctor Dré, Ed Lover, Badja Djola, Cheryl “Salt” James, Colin Quinn, Denis Leary, Bernie Mac, Bill Bellamy, Terrence Howard, Richard Gant, Guru, Ice-T, Larry Cedar, Jim Moody, Joe Lisi, Karen Duffy, Roger Robinson, Richard Bright, Rozwill Young, Vincent Pastore, Caron Bernstein, Kim Chan, Ken Ober, B-Real, Ad-Rock, Apache, Bow-Legged Lou, Bushwick Bill, Busta Rhymes, Chi-Ali, CL Smooth, Pete Rock, Del the Funkee Homosapien, D-Nice, Dres, Eric B., Fab 5 Freddy, Flavor Flav, Freddie Foxxx, Heavy D, House of Pain, Humpty Hump, Kid Capri, Kris Kross, KRS-One, Leaders of the New School, Melle Mel, Monie Love, Naughty by Nature, Penny Hardaway, Phife Dawg, Queen Latifah, Run-DMC, Scottie Pippen, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, Stretch, Yo Yo, Da Youngsta’s

De Passe Entertainment, Thomas Entertainment, New Line Cinema, ,,, Minutes

Review:

“You fucked me! You fucked me! You might as well kiss me ’cause you’re fucking me!” – Sgt. Cooper

I’m one of the few people that saw this in the theater back in 1993 and honestly, I’m one of the few that saw it in my theater, as there were only three of us on opening night.

Still, I was stoked to see it, as I was a weekly viewer of Yo! MTV Raps at the time and the thought of Ed Lover and Doctor Dré in their own movie featuring dozens of rappers had my fourteen year-old self pretty damn excited.

The film also features Fab 5 Freddy and T-Money from Yo!, as well as some top up and coming comedians from the era like Bernie Mac, Denis Leary and Colin Quinn.

Now this isn’t specifically a well acted movie but it doesn’t need to be, as it is a buddy cop comedy made to appeal to teenagers that had a love of hip-hop. That being said, Lover and Dré were great, their chemistry shined through and their comedic timing was superb.

In a lot of ways, I saw the duo as their generation’s Abbott & Costello but unfortunately, they weren’t able to do anymore movies beyond this one. That’s kind of a shame, as they would’ve only gotten better but at the same time, Yo! MTV Raps was cancelled only two years later, ending a great era for hip-hop fans, which I feel had a lasting negative impact on hip-hop music going forward.

What makes this so fun to watch, especially now, is that it shows me how pure hip-hop still was in 1993 before it devolved into the overly corporate bullshit it became. This came out in a time where rappers still had real shit to say and a lot of the music was simply about having a good time or expressing positive messages. Sure, we all love the gangsta shit too but this film mainly features the East Coast side of the classic hip-hop era at its peak. There’s something magical about seeing all these guys in their prime, many of whom we have lost since then.

The bulk of the story revolves around Lover and Dré being failed barbers and having to join the police force to pay their rent. What they don’t know is that there is a sinister scheme afoot in their part of Harlem that leads to their beloved mentor and father figure being murdered for his real estate. This sets the pair off on trying to solve the mystery, even though they aren’t detectives and the police force doesn’t want them to be anything more than basic beat cops.

Along the way, they run into countless rappers, some of which have larger roles and most of which just have cameos. What’s weird about adding all these rappers in is that none of it seems forced or out of place. All the cameos are well handled and it’s kind of amazing that they actually got so many people in this movie.

The film is directed by the late Ted Demme, who was instrumental in bringing Yo! MTV Raps to the small screen. He would go on to direct a pretty good handful of films before his death, most notably Blow.

Additionally, this is written by Lover and Dré, which is probably why everything feels so natural, as they essentially play themselves in the film and they already head good relationships with all the other people in the movie, specifically the dozens of rappers.

This certainly isn’t a movie that’s going to resonate with those outside of my generation, who didn’t already have a love for East Coast hip-hop of the early ’90s, but it’s still pretty funny and these guys had incredible charisma and natural chemistry.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other hip-hop comedies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: The Godfather, Part III (1990)

Also known as: The Death of Michael Corleone (working title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1990 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton, Sofia Coppola, Raf Vallone, Franc D’Ambrosio, Donal Donnelly, Richard Bright

Zoetrope Studios, Paramount Pictures, 162 Minutes, 170 Minutes (VHS Special Edition)

Review:

“I, uh, betrayed my wife. I betrayed myself. I’ve killed men, and I ordered men to be killed. No, it’s useless. I killed… I ordered the death of my brother; he injured me. I killed my mother’s son. I killed my father’s son.” – Michael Corleone

Godfather, Part III gets a lot of shit from just about everybody but I think the general hatred for it is asinine and people dismissing it mainly do so because it doesn’t live up to the bar set by the two films before it. That doesn’t make it a bad movie on its own, though. And honestly, if you look at it, as its own body of work, it’s a pretty compelling and interesting picture.

I like that it takes place at the end of Michael Corleone’s life and it shows how much power he’s amassed for the family, decades after the first two films.

Michael also tries to sort of legitimize everything and wash the blood off of his hands from the past. You also see how certain decisions he’s made have haunted him, such as killing his brother Fredo. However, it’s hard to change one’s nature and its influence and as much as Michael struggles to make things right, old habits die hard and the family finds itself in another war.

This time, the Corleone Family is so powerful that they have a scheme going with powerful people within The Vatican. I don’t want to spoil too much about the plot details but all of this I found really damn interesting. Even if you don’t agree with Michael’s methods, it’s hard not to respect what he’s accomplished with what he convinces himself are noble intentions.

I love that the movie takes this guy, at the end of his life, and exposes his flaws, his doubts and explores how haunted he is and how it’s changed him while still keeping him cold, callous and calculated. It’s a damn masterpiece in how this film showcases his inner conflict and both sides of his character. This is a testament to how good Al Pacino is as an actor, as well as how great of a writer Mario Puzo was and how well Francis Ford Coppola understands these characters.

Additionally, the relationship with Michael and his children has a massive impact on his evolution. I think that Coppola, also coming from a large, close Italian family understood these dynamics quite well and was able to pull from his own experiences as a father and make them fit for the Corleones and their unique situation.

Everything between the core characters’ relationships felt genuine and real. You could sense the pain and the regret between Michael and his ex-wife, Kay. You felt the tension between father and son, as wells as the love between father and daughter. Frankly, with this being as strong as it was, it made the final moments of the picture truly gut-wrenching.

Now I can’t call this movie perfect, as the criticisms of Sofia Coppola’s performance over the years are pretty accurate. Well, the real criticism, not the cruel criticism from those that hate the movie just to hate it. Originally, this role was meant for Winona Ryder but she dropped out of the film and I think that it suffered quite a bit because of this.

Also, the pacing is a bit slow at times and even though this is the shortest of the three Godfather films, it feels like it’s actually the longest.

Other than those two things, I don’t really see any other negatives.

Coppola’s direction is stellar and his eye for visual perfection is uncanny. Cinematographically, this is one of his best films. Everything and I mean everything looks absolutely majestic and flawless. This is a beautiful film from the opening frame to the last and there isn’t a moment that isn’t visually breathtaking.

The score by Carmine Coppola is also superb but then, so is all the film’s music from the party scenes to the big opera house finale.

As I stated in my first paragraph, I don’t get the amount of shit that this picture receives from fans of the series. It’s a damn fine film with minimal flaws and it gives a satisfying ending to a massive family saga. It’s like the third act to a Shakespearean tragedy and when you look at the whole body of work, over the course of three great movies, it’s a tale worthy of rivaling some of literature’s greatest epics.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: its predecessors.

Film Review: Red Heat (1988)

Release Date: June 14th, 1988 (premiere)
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Walter Hill, Harry Kleiner, Troy Kennedy Martin
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Belushi, Peter Boyle, Ed O’Ross, Gina Gershon, Laurence Fishburne, Richard Bright, Brion James, Peter Jason

Carolco Pictures, Lone Wolf, Oak, TriStar Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Since I figure cops are cops the world over, how do you Soviets deal with all the tension and stress?” – Commander Lou Donnelly CPD, “Vodka.” – Ivan Danko

Red Heat was a part of a string of really good Schwarzenegger films (omitting the weak Raw Deal from that string). There was just something great about Arnie in the 80s and Red Heat is another good example of how cool and bad ass the Austrian Adonis was in his prime.

The film also benefits from being written and directed by Walter Hill, another man that was at the top of his game in the 80s, coming off of directing a string of great pictures: Hard TimesThe WarriorsThe Long Riders48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire. He also directed Brewster’s Millions, which wasn’t his normal forte but was still an entertaining vehicle for both Richard Pryor and John Candy.

The film also has some notable other actors in it: Laurence Fishburne, Peter Boyle, Gina Gershon, Brion James and Richard Bright. Then there is James Belushi, the other star and comedic half of the cop duo but oddly, I’ve never been a big Belushi fan and find his presence kind of distracting and the main negative aspect of the picture. But hey, at least this is better than K-9.

Honestly, there was probably a ton of great comedic actors that could have played alongside Schwarzenegger better than Belushi but this film is almost thirty years old and Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray or Richard Pryor probably cost too much. But hell, they couldn’t get Dan Aykroyd or Harold Ramis? Dudley Moore? Dabney Coleman? Roger Dangerfield? Tony friggin’ Danza?

Walter Hill has a very straightforward style with his directing. However, he still captures a certain sort of magic that set the quality of his films apart from others in the 80s action genre. His pictures look crisp and pristine and just very well produced. The mix of the Soviet Union scenes with urban Chicago gives this picture a cool visual dichotomy that enhances the contrast between the Soviet cop and the Chicago Police Department. The urban scenes also have that same sort of lively grittiness that Hill gave us with The Warriors48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire.

Ivan Danko is one of the coolest Schwarzenegger characters of all-time, to the point that it would have been cool to have seen him return in some form in another project or a sequel – preferably without Belushi. Arnie was just able to nail the role and he just looked like a tough as nails manly man in his Soviet cop uniform. He was an intimidating presence and the persona and visual vibe fit the actor to a t.

While this is not the balls out action masterpieces that Commando or Predator were, it definitely fits in the upper echelon of Schwarzenegger’s work. Walter Hill and Arnie worked really well together and it would have been cool to see them re-team but as of yet, that hasn’t happened.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Girls Nite Out (1982)

Also known as: The Scaremaker
Release Date: June 20th, 1982
Directed by: Robert Deubel
Written by: Joe Bolster
Cast: Julia Montgomery, Hal Holbrook, Rutanya Alda, James Carroll, Carrick Glenn, Richard Bright, Rutanya Alda

Independent International Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Whore!” – The Dancing Bear

This is one of those films that I didn’t even know about until recently, as slasher pictures were a dime a dozen in the 1980s and this one isn’t particularly good, other than a few things I found to be amusing.

The biggest thing that this film has going for it, other than Hal Holbrook being a sole campus cop dealing with murdered babes, is that the killer wears the school’s mascot costume. What we have, is a psycho dressed as a dancing bear. However, the bear has a makeshift bear claw comprised of serrated steak knives that he uses to shred college girls as he calls them “whore” and “slut” or my favorite line of the film, “Bitch! You bitch! Time to pay the price for being a slut!”

Girls Nite Out doesn’t feature any notably successful teens. Well, there is Julia Montgomery, who was in Revenge of the Nerds and two of its three sequels. Also, the super beautiful Carrick Glenn is in this. Her only other notable film was The Burning. She kind of disappeared after this film, which sucks. I thought she seemed like a cool chick that could do better things than where she was when she stopped acting.

As far as the teens go, they were all fairly unusual and goofy but it worked in a really entertaining way and at the very least, they all stood out in different ways and made the movie more playful than it otherwise would have been. There was great chemistry and camaraderie with the cast and it looked like a film where they were all having fun on and off camera.

The real problem with the movie, is that it is just such a cookie cutter slasher flick and it doesn’t do anything notable or new other than having a killer in a bear suit. However, there is a twist ending that I thought worked pretty well, even if everything leading up to it was sort of basic bullshit.

I do feel that the movie was a missed opportunity for the writers to come up with some really fantastic bear puns. If I wrote this thing, I’d be dropping puns all over the place. “Who do you think murdered these babes?” “I don’t know, deputy. But this is certainly… grisly.” Or something like “Hey, aren’t you that nerd from my civics class?” “No! But I’d like to express my right to bear arms!” “Arghhhhh!!!” Or how about “If you thought that was bad, bitch… you’re going to find what happens next… un-bear-able!” Or after hitting on some slutty chick at a party he says something like, “You’re too clingy, I’m going to have to claw my way out of this relationship!”

Such a missed opportunity for great bear puns.

Anyway, Girls Nite Out isn’t a total waste, even without those bear puns but it could have been much better. Hal Holbrook automatically improves just about anything and the teens were better than typical slasher fodder. There could have been a bigger emphasis on boobage and more creative killings but a bear mascot with a knife hand, two years before Freddy Krueger, is pretty creative.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Release Date: December 12th, 1974 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Marianna Hill, Lee Strasberg, Bruno Kirby, Joe Spinell, G.D. Spradlin, Frank Civero, Roman Coppola, Danny Aiello, Harry Dean Stanton, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Richard Bright, Dominic Chianese, Michael V. Gazzo, Connie Mason (uncredited)

The Coppola Company, Paramount Pictures, 200 Minutes

Review:

It is hard saying which is the better movie between The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. For me, both of them are as close to perfect as a movie can get. I like Part II the most overall but I like that Part isn’t broken up by a nonlinear plot and feels more cohesive. I also like the ensemble of the first movie better. That is actually magnified when you get to the end of Part II and see a flashback dinner scene of all the men in the family, excluding Marlon Brando’s Vito. After spending almost seven hours with this family, up to this point, they always seem to be at their best and their most dynamic when all the men are present.

Everything positive I said about the first film still holds true in the second. The acting, direction, cinematography, costumes, art and design are all absolutely top notch.

However, this chapter in the saga takes things to a new level. The world that the Corleone family lives in is even bigger and more opulent. The section of the film that sees Michael go to Cuba is mesmerizing. It adds an extra bit of grit to the picture, not that it needed anymore than it already had.

The highlight of this film is Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the younger Vito Corleone. He took a role that was very much Brando’s and made it his own without stepping on the toes of his elder. It was definitely a performance that deserved the Oscar De Niro got for it. It is also the only time two different actors have won an Oscar for playing the same character.

The film also contrasts the first movie in that you see the Corleone empire being run in different ways. While the family business is the bottom line, Michael goes further than his father in what he’s willing to do to keep the empire running. Michael went from a young man who didn’t want his family to define his legacy, in the first film, to a man that goes to extremes to keep the family together while he is battling the conflict within himself.

Godfather, Part II is a more dynamic and layered story overall and it is well-executed. While I mentioned preferring the linear plot to Part I, the plot is still managed perfectly. The scenes of Michael and then the flashbacks of Vito go hand-in-hand and they reflect off of each other, showing that despite the differences in the father and son characters, that they still travel the same path in a lot of ways.

In reality, The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II just feel like one really long movie that had to be broken into two parts. And the place where they decided to break them, at the end of the first movie, was the best spot. It flawlessly separates the legacies of the two men, out for the same thing but in very different ways.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: The Godfather (1972)

Release Date: March 15th, 1972 (Loew’s State Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Abe Vigoda, Alex Rocco, Joe Spinell, Sofia Coppola, Richard Bright, John Cazale

Alfran Productions, Paramount Pictures, 177 Minutes

godfatherReview:

I had a great experience, as I finally got to see The Godfather on the big screen. Like my recent experience of seeing Aliens in the theater, movies just take on a different life when seen in their intended format, much larger and in a dark movie house with other filmgoers there for the love of the picture.

I’ve mentioned before that it is hard to review a masterpiece and this is really no different. In fact, The Godfather goes beyond that. It is a film truly devoid of any real flaws.

I don’t need to talk about the great story and the great acting or how Francis Ford Coppola was at the top of his game – everyone already knows that. The music is perfect, the cinematography is absolutely pristine and tonally, everything is pure magic. I mean, this is a film that has a 9.2 on IMDb. Only one other picture in the entirety of film history is rated higher and that is The Shawshank Redemption.

The Godfather‘s real appeal is that it truly feels timeless. It takes place in the 1940s but was made in the 1970s, yet none of that matters. The world within the film, even now, feels true to itself and incredibly authentic. The Godfather has a certain realism to it missing from most other films, especially the mafia crime genre. It doesn’t feel like Hollywood at all, it feels like you are really a fly on the wall in this family’s home. Even Goodfellas, as great as it is, doesn’t come close to the authenticity of The Godfather.

The film is long, at almost three hours. That is usually a bone of contention with me, but everything in the film feels necessary. Where I feel that certain filmmakers make really long epics in an effort to somehow legitimize their films as something epic and great, The Godfather is one of the few that deserves as much time as it needs. Here, the time is truly needed. At the other end of the spectrum, 2005’s King Kong didn’t need three hours, let alone the extra twenty minutes that brought it to a whopping 200 minutes.

The running time, makes The Godfather feel more like a lengthy miniseries, especially taking into account its sequel, which was even longer. However, it deserves to be seen in the theater. In fact, that is where it should be seen. Not on a small screen where it has existed for the entire duration of my lifetime. I really hope the sequel gets re-released theatrically in the very near future. Hell, I’d even see The Godfather: Part III just to complete the saga on the big screen.

If you have the opportunity to see this in the theater, you need to. And if you’ve never seen the film, you really owe it to yourself to experience it.

Rating: 10/10