Film Review: Leap of Faith (1992)

Release Date: December 15th, 1992 (Dallas premiere)
Directed by: Richard Pearce
Written by: Janus Cercone
Music by: Cliff Eidelman
Cast: Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich, Liam Neeson, Lukas Haas, Meat Loaf, Philip Seymour Hoffman, M. C. Gainey, Delores Hall, Troy Evans

Paramount Pictures, 108 Minutes, 95 Minutes (Ontario cut)

Review:

“Look, I run a show here. It’s a lot of smoke and noise and it’s strictly for the suckers. I’ve been pulling one kind of scam or another since I was your age, and if there’s one thing I know it’s how to spot the genuine article because that’s what you’ve got to watch out for. Not the cops, you can always get around the cops. But the one thing you can never, ever get around is the genuine article, and you, kid, are the genuine article.” – Jonas

I saw this movie once a really long time ago but I really liked it and had been meaning to revisit it at some point. It’s just one of those films that slipped down the memory hole. But when I reviewed My Blue Heaven, I discovered that I hadn’t yet reviewed any of Steve Martin’s work, which was surprising due to how much I love the guy. So when I went down the list of his films, this one immediately popped out as one I needed to revisit as soon as possible.

I’m really glad that I did, as it’s held up pretty well and I’m honestly not sure why this isn’t considered one of Steve Martin’s best from the general critical consensus.

This is a film that really shows Martin’s dramatic range while still allowing him to be comedic. But this is a more serious picture than his most popular ones. Just being a few years removed from Parenthood, however, Martin was able to kind of build off of that film’s more serious tone and deliver another well-balanced performance that is both campy and real.

In this, he plays a professional conman that is running around America as a faith healer. He tries to justify his massive con by pointing out that his work, despite its dishonesty, does in fact help people because he makes them believe it. But ultimately, the story and the people he encounters on this stop of his journey, make him see himself and his work differently.

Martin is surrounded by a solid, very capable cast made up of Debra Winger, Liam Neeson, M. C. Gainey, Meat Loaf, a very young Philip Seymour Hoffman and an even younger Lukas Haas. But everyone in this film brings it. Plus, seeing the relationship blossom between Neeson’s Sheriff character, who wants to expose Martin’s preacher as a fraud, and Debra Winger, Martin’s trusted assistant, is really well orchestrated and executed.

The film lets you know that Steve Martin’s Jonas Nightingale is a pretty scummy guy from the get go but it still allows him to win you over and lure you in regardless of how he capitalizes off of very poor people’s naivety. You still fall for the guy even knowing the con and once you actually get to know him, you understand that his life has been pretty shitty too. It doesn’t excuse his poor life decisions but it allows you to understand where they came from and hope that he somehow finds a better path because he does touch people and could actually do some good in the world.

In its simplest form, this is a movie about redemption and I love redemption stories. It’s far from the greatest redemption story ever told but it is still a very enjoyable one that features a complex and charismatic character that you kind of want to root for in spite of his selfish, predatory nature.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies with a high emphasis on drama.

Film Review: My Blue Heaven (1990)

Release Date: August 17th, 1990
Directed by: Herbert Ross
Written by: Nora Ephron
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Joan Cusack, Melanie Mayron, Bill Irwin, Carol Kane, William Hickey, Deborah Rush, Daniel Stern, Ed Lauter, Colleen Camp, Troy Evans, LaWanda Page

Hawn / Sylbert Movie Company, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

“Richie loved to use 22s because the bullets are small and they don’t come out the other end like a 45, see, a 45 will blow a barn door out the back of your head and there’s a lot of dry cleaning involved, but a 22 will just rattle around like Pac-Man until you’re dead.” – Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Antonelli

Even though My Blue Heaven kind of bombed when it came out, I’ve always liked the movie. I’d even go as far as to say that Vinnie Antonelli is my favorite Steve Martin character. I think a lot of that has to do with it being a real departure from typical Steve Martin while still having his DNA all over it.

Rick Moranis is also great, here. However, he plays the straight character and he’s not too dissimilar from the regular Moranis role. Well, except he’s an FBI agent and a bit of a badass when push comes to shove.

Rounding them out is a good cast of character actors, as well as Joan Cusack, who is pretty dynamite, overall. I like her character a lot and as you get to know her, you start to feel for her while the story makes her character’s journey a worthwhile one.

The plot revolves around an ex-mafioso who has been put into Witness Protection by the FBI. Martin plays the mafioso while Moranis plays the FBI agent assigned to him. Cusack plays the District Attorney of the town where Martin has been relocated to. Martin’s Vinnie can’t keep his hands clean, however, so Cusack’s D.A. keeps trying to throw the book at him while Moranis keeps interjecting, drawing the ire and the attraction of Cusack.

Mostly, the film plays out like a series of gags and funny bits with a simple but nicely layered story bringing it all together.

The best parts are where Steve Martin interacts with other people. He really makes this picture work and on paper, he probably didn’t seem like the best casting but he actually shines and shows his range in the comedy realm. Granted, Moranis and Cusack also bring a lot to the table and they only compliment Martin’s performance, giving him solid people to work off of.

In a lot of ways, this is just a feel good romantic comedy with some crime and a wee bit of action. It’s good, mindless entertainment and reminds me of a simpler time when we could escape into our entertainment and forget the world for 90-120 minutes.

The film has held up well and even though many would disagree, it’s still one of Steve Martin’s best.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies of the ’70s up to the early ’90s, especially Parenthood and Little Shop of Horrors, which also feature Rick Moranis.

Film Review: The Black Dahlia (2006)

Release Date: August 9th, 2006 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Josh Friedman
Based on: The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw, Patrick Fischler, Rose McGowan, Troy Evans, Pepe Serna, William Finley, Kevin Dunn (uncredited)

Davis Films, Millennium Films, Nu Image, Signature Pictures, Universal Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“She looks like that dead girl! How sick are you?” – Kay Lake

For a modern noir picture with a cast this star studded, The Black Dahlia was a real disappointment. It had some positives but it mostly falls flat and is an example of style over substance.

This is not a good example of the work Brian De Palma can do. He is one of the best directors of his generation but this really misses its mark, which is unfortunate, as the subject matter is great and the talent he was able to get in this picture was impressive.

Josh Hartnett is the main star of the picture but his role feels pretty weak. I don’t feel like it is Hartnett’s fault, I feel like it is the direction of De Palma and the emotionless script. However, Hillary Swank, who is more talented than this film is able to show, is kind of just in this movie. It doesn’t really matter that it is her.

Although, everyone else does seem to work with the material. I thought that Aaron Eckhart and Scarlett Johansson were really good in their scenes and Patrick Fischler, a guy who is in everything but doesn’t get the notoriety he should, knocked his scenes out of the park. You also get to see Mike Starr and Troy Evans, two guys who do a lot of cop type roles but always bring their best to the table.

The real scene stealer however, is Mia Kirshner, an actress I’ve been mesmerized by since first seeing her in The Crow: City of Angels, a film where she was the only positive other than the murderous psycho biker played by Iggy Pop. Kirshner truly owns her role in this picture and it may have been the best she’s ever been. She’s really the only character in the film that you feel any emotion for. Honestly, it’s been eleven years since this came out and she should have gotten more prestigious roles but maybe her work was overshadowed by this being such a lackluster film.

Now, despite the overall film falling short, the visuals are top notch. The cinematography is unquestionably superb. Everything within the film feels true and authentic, even the bizarre K.D. Lang performance that pops up in the middle of the movie.

The narrative and the big reveal at the end were all pretty poorly strung together, though. It just made the film too bizarre and frankly, pretty fucking stupid and just really annoying after sitting through this two hour mess.

Typically, I like the work of Brian De Palma. This one just misses its mark.

Rating: 5.25/10