Film Review: Empire Records (1995)

Also known as: Rock & Fun, Empire (working titles)
Release Date: September 22nd, 1995 (limited)
Directed by: Allan Moyle
Written by: Carol Heikkinen
Music by: various artists
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Maxwell Caulfield, Debi Mazar, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Renée Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry, Coyote Shivers, James ‘Kimo’ Willis, Brendan Sexton III, Ben Bode

Regency Enterprises, Warner Bros., 90 Minutes, 107 Minutes (Special Extended Edition)

Review:

“We mustn’t dwell… no, not today. We can’t. Not on Rex Manning Day.” – Mark

Empire Records was not a hit when it came out in theaters but it had a pretty limited release and when it did expand into more theaters, it still didn’t get into a lot of them. In fact, I never even heard of the movie until it came out on VHS in 1996 while I was working at a video store. I checked it out and liked it but I never imagined that it was something that many people would see or that would gain a pretty good cult following.

I think that it resonated with me because I was the same age as the characters, I worked in a video store and a music store and it felt a bit more like an ’80s teen comedy, which were movies I grew up on and had an impact on me as a kid.

Sure, the film is pretty hokey and very goofy but with that it has a lot of charm and an innocence about it, even if it delves into some more serious subject matter. At it’s core, it just follows a day in the life of an indie record store but it is a well crafted coming of age movie.

It is almost fantasy in how it is presented and in that way, it kind of reminds me of Clerks. They’re not even close from a tonal sense but both movies cram a bunch of crazy stuff into a single work day in a way that isn’t realistic but works for these type of films because all of these things could actually happen, just not on a single day.

The acting isn’t great but this does feature some people that would go on to have pretty good careers. It also stars Anthony LaPaglia as the only real adult in the film and the glue that keeps things together and a bit more grounded than the film would be without him.

I can’t say that this has aged well and maybe I still like it because of the power of nostalgia but it’s just a great film to throw on, once in awhile, when you need to be taken back to a simpler time and a simpler life before being buried in adult problems and worries.

I also love how musical it is and how fun it is. You actually do care about these characters and you want a happy ending for all of them. Because they’re all just kids and most of us have been where they are.

Plus, without this film, we never would’ve had Rex Manning Day.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other teen comedies of the ’90s.

Film Review: Hostiles (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Scott Cooper, Donald E. Stewart
Music by: Max Richter
Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet, Jonathan Majors, Q’orianka Kilcher, Paul Anderson, Stephen Lang, Scott Wilson

Waypoint Entertainment, Le Grisbi Productions, Bloom Media, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve killed everything that’s walked or crawled. If you do it enough, you get used to it.” – Captain Joseph J. Blocker

Hostiles came into the theater with a lot of praise from top critics. Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “…the best western since Unforgiven.” That’s a pretty bold statement but when looking at traditional westerns from 1992 up until now, it’s a statement that’s not too far off. It’s a superb picture, through and through.

I haven’t been a huge fan of director Scott Cooper’s work. I didn’t care too much for Black Mass and I thought Out of the Furnace was pretty mediocre; I’ve yet to see Crazy Heart, even though I’ve been meaning to. I think Cooper certainly has a good eye and he’s great at building suspense but I thought Black Mass suffered from a narrative standpoint, as it seemed to rely on people already knowing its story, while Out of the Furnace was initially engaging put tapered off pretty quickly. With Hostiles, I was pulled in from the opening scene, fully engaged throughout and thought the narrative was really strong, well paced and subliminally sweet underneath all the violence and racial tensions. I feel like Hostiles was a body of work that benefited from the director learning from his past hiccups and thus, really coming into his own in a new way.

The film was so amazing and visually enchanting that it’s the first film I’ve been to in years, where the theater was full and everyone actually stayed off of their phones and shut the hell up for the duration of the picture, which must have been hard for them, as this was over two and a half hours with all those friggin’ trailers.

The story sees a war hero have to transport an old Indian chief from New Mexico to Montana, where he is to be buried on his sacred land. The hero, played by Christian Bale, wants nothing to do with the mission and even tries to bait the Indian once they get far enough away from his fort in New Mexico.

As the story progresses, we meet a woman whose entire family was slaughtered by Indians. The journey is long and arduous and the party encounters many enemies, some Indians and some white men. By the end, we see personal biases fade and a family dynamic develop between this small group of people who started the journey with hatred for one another.

The film had a perfect cast. I’ve been a fan of Wes Studi and Adam Beach for a long time. I’ve actually loved Beach as far back as 1998’s Smoke Signals, a fantastic Native American coming of age picture that everyone should experience at some point.

Additionally, Bale was stellar, as was Rosamund Pike. I liked seeing Jesse Plemons play a nice character and it was cool seeing Timothée Chalamet in this, as he’s a young actor who is quickly becoming one of the best talents working today. Rory Cochrane was a pleasant surprise in this, as I’ve followed him since his teen pictures Dazed and Confused and Empire Records in the ’90s. There are also small but pivotal roles played by Ben Foster, Stephen Lang and Scott Wilson, who was pretty much the antithesis of his most famous character, Hershel from The Walking Dead.

The cinematography was handled by Masanobu Takayanagi, who also did The Grey, which I loved but most people didn’t. He has a real talent for capturing incredibly majestic landscapes. Here, he had some vast and beautiful country at his disposal and made the most of it.

Max Richter provided the score and did a fine job with the film’s music. He most recently worked on Miss Sloane and Arrival before this.

I would say that Hostiles is as good as the critical hype. I love westerns and it’s rare that I get to see a really great one come down the pipeline.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Scott Cooper’s other films.

Film Review: Black Mass (2015)

Release Date: September 4th, 2015 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Jez Butterworth, Mark Mallouk
Based on: Black Mass by Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Juno Temple

Cross Creek Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

“Take your shot, but make it your best. ‘Cause I get up, I eat ya.” – Whitey Bulger

Black Mass is the latest mobster biopic to come down the pipeline. What makes this one interesting is Johnny Depp wears a bunch of heavy make-up that looks odd and makes him look like the elderly love child of Ray Liotta and one of those reptilian aliens that I heard are taking over the U.S. government.

The film is directed by Scott Cooper, who also did the critically-acclaimed Crazy Heart and the mediocre Out of the Furnace. He also acted in an episode of The X-Files a long time ago. I wouldn’t say that this film brings back the bright shining star status Cooper had with his debut Crazy Heart but it isn’t a bad film by any means. It is more eventful than Out of the Furnace but unlike that film, I don’t care about any of the characters in Black Mass.

Depp’s portrayal of James “Whitey” Bulger is interesting and well executed for the material but there is a real lack of material there. There is no character building or development. What you have is a one-dimensional psycho on screen from the opening bell to the closing bell. His backstory is casually mentioned, his relationship with his friends and family is bland and he just feels like a cookie cutter bad guy in a cookie cutter mob film. I don’t care about Bulger, good or bad. I don’t sympathize with him or hate him. I should feel something, correct? And that is how it is for every character in this film.

For a movie boasting a cast of names like Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Joel Edgerton, Jesse Plemons, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson and Juno Temple – I expected more. Additionally, Rory Cochrane from Dazed and Confused and Empire Records has an integral role, as does Dakota Johnson, who I am not as familiar with but she is some sort of big deal because she was in Fifty Shades of Grey (hopefully that’s not all she’s going to be known for).

This film seems to be getting a lot of love from critics. I’m not sure why. It plays from scene-to-scene and has a logical and fairly fluid plot but there just isn’t a lot of suspense or build up. Everything is predictable. You know who is going to die and when, you know what this psycho is thinking. Realistically, shouldn’t the psycho surprise you? I know that this is a biopic but some of us don’t know the whole “Whitey” Bulger story and the film would benefit from giving us a few surprises instead of blatantly foreshadowing everything to the point of eliminating any real tension or drama in the movie.

Black Mass is more good than bad, even though I am being somewhat harsh. The thing is, it is pretty forgettable in the grand scheme of gangster movies. It is interesting enough to watch but it certainly isn’t a classic in the sense of Goodfellas, The Godfather, Scarface or even Depp’s 1997 film Donnie Brasco.