Category Archives: Throwback Review

A look back at old movies that deserve to be remembered.

The English Patient

The English Patient: Still A Masterpiece

What I Remembered: Another week has gone by and the 2016 Oscars are approaching. Therefore, once again this week I wanted to focus my attention on another past the Best Picture winner, the 1996 film, The English Patient.

The English Patient was not something that was on my radar when it was first released. This was not only for the fact that I was quite young at the time, but also because independent films did not have as much of a reach as they do today. In fact, the 1997 Oscars was the first time that a majority of the films nominated were those distributed by independent movie companies and not major studios. So, when I sat down to watch the Oscars back then I was largely unaware of that year’s Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress winner. But, once it brought home three Academy Awards it got my attention and I was determined to see it. I ended up watching a picture that I thought was very moving, incredibly well written, extraordinarily well directed and extremely well acted. In short, I thought the movie was fantastic. But after reading the hilarious novel Twins of Tribeca by Rachel Pine where she details what it was like working at Miramax films when The English Patient was being plugged before the run up to the Oscars, my feelings toward it were altered a little bit.

English Patient Fiennes

When you read about the tremendous egos of the actors in the film, the headaches that came with making it, and the incredibly aggressive way in which it was promoted and designed to garner an Oscar, the shine does come off it to a certain degree. However, after taking the time to see it again recently although some of the teflon had been stripped off it, I still found it to be piece of cinema of the highest calibre.

The Story: The English Patient begins in 1945 as World War II is coming to an end. Hana (Juliette Binoche) a French-Canadian nurse decides to stay behind at an abandoned, bombed out monastery in Italy to care for a badly burned and critically injured patient whose identity no one knows. The patient seemingly believes he is English, but cannot remember his own name. Thus, he is known as the “English Patient.” One evening in the monastery Hana is approached by a fellow resident of Montreal named David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe). Caravaggio was previously a spy for the Canadian military in Africa during the height of the war and a mutual friend has asked him to check in on Hana and her patient. Carvaggio offers to stay with Hana and her patient. After some initial reluctance, she agrees. Additionally two British soldiers one of whom is Indian also join Hana, the patient, and Carvaggio in the monastery.
english patient plane
The patient then begins to tell the story of the time he was a cartographer on an expedition in Libya in the 1930’s shortly before the start of the second world war. It is soon revealed that the patient’s name is Count Laszlo Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) and that he is Hungarian. By flashing back between Almasy telling the tale of his days in Africa and the present day in Italy, the full thread of the film is unwound. Almasy will inform Hana about his affair with Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) the wife of one of the expedition’s members, Geoffrey. Almasy fell deeply in love with Katharine and this affair had deep and lasting consequences for everyone involved.

Technical Details: In my humble opinion, The English Patient was as technically perfect as a film can be. Anthony Minghella did a fantastic job adapting Michael Ondaatje’s novel into a screenplay and his direction was world class. The script and its characters were completely alive and three dimensional, and the atmosphere of Africa and the world pre World-War II, was captured brilliantly. Furthermore, it was expertly paced and edited and there was never a dull moment. Most importantly, though the film was completely captivating and very moving. Finally, the acting was phenomenal.

Ralph Fiennes was incredible as Almasy and Kristin Scott-Thomas was amazing as Katherine Clifton. Moreover, the chemistry between the two of them was electric, which was what made their affair seem so real. In addition to its two stars, The English Patient saw an exemplary performance from Juliette Binoche. (Her Best Supporting Actress Oscar was well deserved.) Colin Firth, Naveen Andrews, and Willem Dafoe were all fantastic and I believe this film is among some of their finest work.

the english patient dance

End Credits: The English Patient was the best of what movies can be. It was intriguing, powerful and exciting and contained all of the elements that make a film great. It was more than worthy of the awards that it attained, especially Best Picture. It can not only stand along side all of the pictures that it was nominated with, but with the great Oscars nominees of years past, all those that followed it, and all those nominated this year. In short, The English Patient was a masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should do so as soon as possible.

Any Given Sunday

Any Given Sunday: So bad It’s Good.

This week I’m going to deviate from the course that I’ve taken for the last few weeks. Lately my focus has been on Oscar nominees of years past. But, with Superbowl 50 taking place this week I decided to turn my attention to a football themed movie. That would be Oliver Stone’s 1999 film,  Any Given Sunday.

What I Remembered: When this movie was released I went to see it in the theater with a female friend of mine. At the time I was a big fan of Oliver Stone’s past films, particularly JFK and Nixon. I thought that Mr. Stone was an exceptionally talented writer and director. Due to this good feeling, I was interested to see how America’s most political filmmaker would approach the world of professional football. By the time the film was finished, I was disappointed and frankly a little traumatized by all the debaucherous drinking, drug taking and sex I saw along with the nature of the cutthroat world I had seen for the last few hours. As a result, I couldn’t gage the quality of the film and its performances. Thus, I largely forgot about it until recently.

any given sunday pacino

With the 50th Superbowl on the horizon, I thought that I would give it another look. I found a film that had a great many flaws and deficiencies. But, for me it occupies a space very few films do. In short, it’s so bad it’s good.

For those of you whom might wonder what this means, a film I define as “so bad that it’s good,” is one that has a good cast and director, but a poor script and is so inadequately executed that in can be laughed at. That being said, when watching the film you don’t feel as if anyone involved with it saw it that way, as they were making it. Everyone it appears to be working their hearts out, which fills one with I’m ashamed to say, a certain measure of schadenfreude.

The Story: Any Given Sunday centers around a short time period in the season of a football team called the Miami Sharks. The Sharks are members of a professional football league that rivals the NFL, but has similar popularity, influence, and fans. The movie’s main stars are the Sharks aging quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid), it’s head coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino), it’s owner Christine Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), it’s star running back Julian Washington and its third string quarterback, Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx). It opens with Cap Rooney receiving a vicious sack from the defense of the team the Sharks are playing at home that week. Cap is seriously hurt by the tackle and his second string immediate replacement is sent in. But, when the second string quarterback himself goes down with a bad injury, all eyes turn to Willie Beaman. Although having played in the league for six seasons, Beaman is largely unknown to most of the league and most of the members of his own team including D’Amato. The rest of the film follows Beaman’s attempt to handle the role that has been placed in front of him and how it will affect himself the team and those around him.

Pacino any given sunday

Technical Details: Despite the fact that it was helmed and partly written by a celebrated filmmaker, and had truly talented, excellent actors Any Given Sunday had a lot wrong with it. First of all, the script was weak as the viewer was forced to dive into the world of the Miami Sharks with no backstory given or exposition being told. Some more was revealed as the movie progressed, but not enough to truly understand certain plot points like the type of team the Sharks were before Christine Pagniacci who was the daughter of the deceased previous owner, took over. In addition to this, it contained a great many jump cuts, which made it a little hard to follow. Furthermore, whether it may be true to life in professional football or not, all of the players were portrayed as drug abusing, adulterous, overpaid neanderthals, the coaches as alcoholic loners, and the owner as merciless and money hungry. All of this felt over played and over done by the time the film concluded. Finally, despite the fact that such heavyweights as Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, and James Woods were in it and not too terrible, the acting was pretty bad with most of the performers in it offering one dimensional, less than stellar performances.

Even though Oliver Stone’s past films may have twisted history a little many of them were superbly executed. Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, this one was the start of a downward slide by him that has yet to be stopped. Maybe the fact that according to Eric Hamburg’s book about working with Stone called, JFK, Nixon, Oliver Stone And Me, the latter was chasing women, partying excessively, snorting cocaine, and popping viagra throughout the shooting of Any Given Sunday, was what made it so disappointing.

I suppose the one redeeming quality to the film was its portrayal of football itself. The fictional games in it were fast paced, well- choreographed and interesting to watch and the scenes in the huddle were both funny and unnerving. With my football playing experience limited to playground games of two hand touch when I was a kid, I was shocked how utterly brutal and violent football might be at the professional level.

any-given-sunday jamie foxx

Having said all of this though, if you can accept the fact that you’re going to see a bad movie and start laughing at it, it becomes very enjoyable to watch. This especially true when hearing some of the saltiest, foul language I’ve ever heard on film and depiction of the wild drug and sex parties many members of the fictional Sharks partake in.

End Credits: Any Given Sunday was not a good film when it came out and still is not a good one today. But, it is watchable and definitely something anyone planning to see this year’s Superbowl might want to sit down with before the big game. This is because it adds a whole new dimension to the real life action you see on TV or in a stadium when you watch football because it leaves one wondering, “Is this really what it’s like?” Maybe if the movie had had the cooperation of the National Football League it could have been better and addressed the world of professional football in a more realistic, sympathetic way. We’ll never know if the league’s lack of involvement or sanctioning of the project is what made it subpar or if the many attributes it lacks due to an unclear vision on the part of Stone and his team of collaborators. In the final analysis what can be said about Any Given Sunday is what I wrote at the beginning of this piece, it’s so bad it’s good.

Nixon

Nixon: As Worthy of An Oscar In 2016 As It Was In 1996

Although they are now mired in controversy the 88th Academy Awards will be taking place on February 28th. Due to this fact, I’ve decided to spend the next few weeks mostly reviewing Oscar nominated films of years past. For me doing this is always an interesting action to take. So much hype surrounds Oscar nominated films, screenplays and performances during the fevered hectic time of awards season that the mere fact that a film, actor or director has received a nomination means that it must be of the best quality. There seems to be no doubt that its merit should be questioned in any way. However, now knowing a little bit about why and how films and actors are nominated for Oscars and seeing how so many brilliant films, actors, and directors have been snubbed over the years, I view the whole process with a jaundiced eye. In my opinion, when it comes to the Oscars sometimes nominees are chosen because they are truly terrific and other times they are chosen because the studio and/or publicity team behind them lobby the academy in such an aggressive way that they are able to finagle a nomination. Therefore, just because a movie, director or actor has been fortunate enough to be nominated it does not necessarily mean that the honor was well deserved. Recently, since it has been so long since Oliver Stone’s Nixon came out I thought that I would see if it had staying power and if it that warranted the many Oscars that it was nominated for, including Best Picture.

Nixon-Anthony-Hopkins-as--001

What I Remembered: Being a self confessed history buff, I was interested about this film when I heard it was being made. Being someone who was nearly obsessed with his film, JFK I was doubly curious. When I saw it in the theater shortly after it came out, what I found was an excellently written, acted, and directed. At the time it was more than worthy of the many Oscar nominations it was given. Taking time to watch it again lately, my view has not changed.

The Story: Nixon is co-writer, producer and director Oliver Stone’s interpretation of the life of the 38th President of the United States, Richard Nixon. It follows Nixon from his boyhood in Whittier, California to his resignation from the presidency in 1974, due to his illegal actions regarding the burglary of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C. It features significant events in Nixon’s life as well as significant moments in American history. These range from his work on the Alger Hiss case as a young Congressman to his time as vice president to President Dwight Eisenhower to his three presidential campaigns, to his presidency and up to Watergate and its aftermath. On the personal side, it examines Nixon’s relationship with his wife Pat and his mother, father and brothers. It seeks to paint a complete portrait of the man and his times.

Technical Details: Nixon hit all the right buttons when it comes to technical execution. Oliver Stone, Steven J. Rivele, and Christopher Wilkinson wrote an exemplary script. Though some of it may have been fictionalized particularly Nixon’s interactions with a wealthy Texas oil man named Jack Jones( Larry Hagman). It was heavily researched via scores of books and technical consultants like former Nixon aides Alexander Butterfield and John Dean, and it made viscerally real Nixon and those around him. Furthermore, the film is not advertised as a documentary, but instead was a work of fiction with its roots in history, and therefore it was permissible that dramatic license was taken. Stone’s direction was him at his best as he was able to capture the times that Nixon influenced and the complexity of the man, his allies, and adversaries all while offering an incredibly well- paced and edited film that made subjects some might find boring in other mediums or contexts very interesting and engaging. Finally, the acting was the best it could be. Filled with an all- star cast that consisted of Anthony Hopkins as Nixon portrayed as a tragic figure, Joan Allen as his wife, Pat and James Woods, E.G. Marshall, Bob Hoskins and Mary Steenburgen in various roles. The best actor and actress nominations that Hopkins and Allen got were more than deserved, but two surprising, outstanding performances were those of Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger and David Barry Gray as a young Richard Nixon.

Nixon anthony hopkins

All of this having been said, those who have never seen Nixon should not believe that everything they are shown on the screen is fact. The film was merely Oliver Stone’s interpretation of Nixon and his role in American history. It is not the definitive account of Nixon or his role in American history and should not be accepted as such.

End Credits: I started this piece by asking whether Oscar nominated films of years past deserved the honors they were given. When it comes to Nixon the praise that it received from the Academy was more than justified. It contained everything that an Oscar worthy film should have. Great writing, acting, and technical expertise are these qualities and it has those in abundance. It was one of the best movies of 1996 and thus merited all of its commendations. Furthermore, it can stand up against anything that is up for an Oscar today. So, if you would like to, you should spend a few hours with Nixon. It’s some of the best that cinema can offer.

Moon: An Excellent Film, Period

Duncan Jones’ Moon, is already a sci-fi classic.

What I Remembered: I first saw Moon about a year after it was released. Being an occasional sci-fi viewer, I thought that the concept of it was intriguing. Furthermore, I find that when a science fiction film is good it can be very illuminating and reveal the true talent of the directors and actors in the film. After all, a well executed movie in that genre has to make a world that is not real or based on any historical or present context, feel real. So, with that in mind know nothing of the director, Duncan Jones, but having great respect for Sam Rockwell after seeing him in Matchstick Men, I was interested in seeing where the movie would go. I came away very impressed as it was not only expertly written, acted, and directed, but was filled with many insights and some tributes to classics like 2001. Having watched it again very recently, my esteem for it has only grown.

moon-movie rockwell

The Story: Moon is set in the year 2035. A company known as Lunar Industries has been able to solve all of the Earth’s energy problems by sending astronauts to the Moon and mining a new energy source called Helium 3. In order to cut expenses, the company has developed a program of sending one astronaut at a time to the Moon, and having that astronaut stay there for a three year period. While on the Moon, the astronaut is responsible for mining the Helium 3 and then sending it to Earth in a space capsule. The astronauts live on a base that has been constructed on the far side of the moon.

As Moon opens, it is here that we meet Sam Bell (Rockwell). Sam is nearing the end of his three year rotation with Lunar Industries and is eager to get back to earth to his wife Tess, and their young daughter, Eve. He has presently lost the live feed that the company was sending him so his only contact with the outside world is through a series of prerecorded video messages. Most of these are from his family and keep him going. His only contact within the base is GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) an artificial intelligence who acts as a kind of caretaker to him. GERTY does everything from cutting Sam’s hair, to administering his medication, to preparing his meals, to even assessing his psychological well-being. As a result, GERTY is a great comfort to Sam.

moon_movie rover

It is implied that the years of continual isolation have begun to take their toll, though. Sam has occasional hallucinations involving a teenage girl, treats the plants that he must tend to as if they’re people by giving them names like Katherine, and by his own admission, is concerned about how much he talks to himself. One morning when Sam has to leave the compound to go onto the lunar surface to fix a problem with the equipment that is used for mining he has an accident in his lunar rover and is rendered unconscious. He awakens some time later, back on the base with GERTY checking on him. Once Sam begins to recover from the accident he will come to learn some disturbing truths and come to realize that everything he thought he knew about his mission, his company, his family, and himself has been wrong.

Technical Details: On a technical level, Moon was almost flawless. Duncan Jones direction was pitch perfect. (It was hard to believe that this was his feature debut. But, after learning that he was the son of the now late and amazing, David Bowie, I was not surprised.) He created the atmosphere of isolation on the Moon with such realism and detail that it was almost awe inspiring. Moreover, he and Nathan Parker penned a top notch story and script. Additionally, Moon was well edited and paced as it moved along nicely with many unexpected twists and turns. Finally, the movie provided some wonderful insights about the dangers of isolation, and the questionable ethical practices that science can engage in in the name of bettering humanity.

Sam rockwell moonHowever without question, the lifeblood of Moon were Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey. Rockwell’s acting was phenomenal considering the fact that he was almost the only face seen throughout the entire piece and watching him never got boring. I was waiting with baited breath to see what he was going to do and what was going to happen next, which is no easy feat. This is a great credit to his enormous talent.

Similarly, although I only heard his voice, Kevin Spacey delivered a fine performance as GERTY. He was able to give this piece of artificial intelligence such a life and- for lack of a better word- a humanity that was endearing. Lastly, the fact that GERTY was the polar opposite of HAL in 2001, was a nice touch as well.

End Credits: Moon is an excellent film not just for its genre. It is an excellent film, period. If you like science fiction films, you’ll love it. If you appreciate great acting, you’ll probably love it, too. If you’re interested in world class film making the picture is a great lesson in how it is done. So, you should take a look at Moon if you have a chance. I highly doubt that you will be disappointed.

Throwback Review: The Siege

The Siege: More Important Now Than Ever Before

What I Remembered: When The Siege was first released in November of 1998, I’m shocked to say that i laughed it off. It’s hard to believe, but even though the United States had only recently survived two embassy bombings in Africa, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the idea of the United States being attacked by fanatic Middle Eastern terrorists and the government enacting severe measures to combat the terror felt far fetched. But, a year and a half later when I caught the film on HBO, I thought that it was a reasonably good thriller, but still something meant for the realm of fiction. However, after the horrific events of 9/11 it took on a new meaning. Suddenly, the New York City of the movie was not too distant from the one I was living in. As somewhat prescient as it felt in those days, seeing it again recently it took on a new significance. After the 2015 horrors of Paris and San Bernardino and the xenophobic reactions of some in the United States, I contend that it is a movie that everyone should see.

The Story: The Siege opens on then- President Bill Clinton holding a news conference about the bombing of a United States facility in the Middle East (It is very similar to the bombings of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1995.) then to the United States government capturing the terrorist leader responsible for the attack and holding him without trial. After that, it cuts to F.B.I. agent Anthony “Hub” Hubbard (Denzel Washington) and his partner a Lebanese born naturalized American citizen named Frank Haddad ( Tony Shaloub). They are both members of the joint FBI/NYPD Terrorism Task Force and they are called upon to negotiate at the scene of a bus that has been taken hostage by terrorists of Middle Eastern origin who claim to have a bomb on board. To Hub and Frank’s great relief when the bomb on the bus goes off, but it is a dud filled with blue paint. At the conclusion the incident, Hub and his fellow agents and officers at the Task Force receive a statement from those responsible for the incident to “Release Him” or the city of New York will face more terrorist attacks. At first having no information about the capture of the terrorist mastermind of the assault in the Middle East, Hub and Frank don’t know what to make of the communication, but go to visit the bus to see if it can yield any clues. At the site where the bus is being held in evidence, Hub meets Elise Kraft (Annette Benning) a C.I.A. agent who has a peculiar and suspicious interest in the bus and the group that Hub is investigating. Elise is not very forthcoming about why she is there. But, when a second bus is bombed she, Hub, Frank and all of their colleagues will become engaged in a struggle against an enemy they cannot identify and will have a very difficult time bringing to justice. The results of this battle will be the borough of Brooklyn being placed under martial law, Muslim and Arab Americans being put into detainment camps and the actions of a fanatical U.S. Army General (Bruce Willis) going to far to try to end the crisis.

bruce willis the siege

Technical Details: The Siege had a tremendous lot of technical merit. Edward Zwick (Glory, Love And Other Drugs) did a fine job directing as he was able to create the feel of a city and country under siege with incredible realism. (This was especially unsettling when seeing the terrorist attacks on Broadway and at an elementary school that the movie depicted.) At the time it may have felt out there, but now it feels eerily close. Furthermore, the script penned mostly by him and Lawrence Wright( The latter was a writer who would end up authoring an excellent book about 9/11 called The Looming Tower.) was very well- crafted and structured. Finally, the cinematography was top notch as was the overall mood of the picture.

For all of these attributes the acting in the film was the linchpin of it. Nearly all the actors in it delivered extraordinary performances. Denzel Washington, Annette Benning, and Tony Shaloub were at their incredible best and although Bruce Willis received a Razzie for his work in The Siege, I did not think he was THAT bad. Additionally, I was tremendously impressed with French actor Sami Bouajila who played the character of Samir a Palestinian who has a murky relationship with everyone involved, very convincingly.

Even with these admirable qualities though the movie did have some flaws. Namely, it lacked character development to some degree, did not clarify certain elements and plot points, and wrapped up a little too quickly. That being said, those deficiencies don’t taint it too much.

the siege

End Credits: The Siege is not a perfect film, but one that I strongly urge everyone to see right now. At a time when the world is faced with the scourge of ISIS, seeing how some of the characters are able to face a group similar to it with strength and stoicism and without fear id something that we should all do. At a time when certain presidential candidates are making incredibly dangerous, prejudiced statements against all Muslims and Arabs- not just those that follow the insane radical ideology of a few- and threatening to ban all Muslims, this film should be viewed to see how far such rhetoric can go when put in practice. Finally, when the question of how to balance security with individual rights once again one people are starting to ask, seeing how it is balanced in this film is worth taking a look at.

The Siege may have seemed improbable at the time it was released. It may have seemed frighteningly somewhat similar in the Fall of 2001. But, now in a country that has been at war with radical Islamist terrorism for fifteen years, and when those radicals have become more vicious than before, and their acts and perversion of their religion have led to xenophobia and prejudice in certain circles, it is painfully accurate. Therefore, regardless of your religion, heritage, or political persuasion, you should see this movie. Doing so, has never been more important.

Throwback Review: Planes, Trains And Automobiles

Need To Get In The Mood For Thanksgiving? Try Planes, Trains And Automobiles

With Thanksgiving coming up I started to try and recall movies that featured the holiday and found myself going blank. After a quick Google search, I was surprised that there were quite a few movies where Thanksgiving was prominent. (This was surprising to me considering the plethora of Christmas films that exist and the fact that what looked like a dreadful movie by Garry Marshall was entirely devoted to New Year’s Eve. Due to this fact, I thought almost no films featured that day) But, most of the films on the list looked pretty awful or were not of my taste. The Ice Storm definitely being the latter. Still, I did find a few that were good and that have a definite way of putting one in the mood for Turkey day.   Planes, Trains, And Automobiles is my focus this week.

steve martin john candy planes trains and automobiles

What I Remembered: I first saw this film when I was barely out of diapers. Back then I liked it a great deal and thought it was pretty funny. But, given my level of comprehension at the time I’m not that surprised at my reaction. I saw parts of it off and on in my younger years and was doubled over with laughter at particular points and actually unsettled by others. Now, being a grownup I recently decided to take another look at the entire picture. What I came away with was a piece that had moments that were extremely hilarious, a story that was good, and had poignancy, but that also felt stuck in its time period and could be nauseatingly schmaltzy and saccharine.

John Candy planes trains and automobiles

The Story: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles focuses on its two central characters Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffiths (John Candy). As the film begins, we meet Neal who is a marketing executive from Chicago. He is presently in New York on a business trip that has been unsuccessful. He is running to make it to La Guardia airport during rush hour for his flight back home and while trying to hail a taxi, loses it to an unseen man carrying a huge trunk full of something. (It is also implied that it is only a few days before Thanksgiving and that Neal is a family man eager to get him to his brood for the holiday.) He arrives late to the airport and believes that he has missed his flight until he sees that it has been delayed. While reading a magazine as he’s waiting to hear news about his flight he notices a man sitting across from him at the gate. The man is looking at him as if he recognizes him. Neal sees the trunk beside the stranger and realizes that he is the man who stole his cab. When the man introduces himself as Del and asks Neil where he knows him from, Neal with an annoyed look on his face, tells Del that he took his cab to the airport from Manhattan. Del apologizes and offers to buy him a coffee, but Neal declines.

When his flight finally boards, Neil finds that due to the fact that the flight was overbooked his first class seat is unavailable and he has to sit back in coach. There he finds a chaotic and irritating scene made worse by the fact that Del will be his seat mate for the entire trip. Del is chatty and slightly annoying and it’s only until Neal politely asks Del to cease talking that he stops. But, Del continues to be irksome when he takes he shoes and socks off and keeps unintentionally resting his head on Neal’s shoulder while he sleeps. The flight is diverted to Wichita due to weather and Neal finds himself stuck in the airport for the night. When Del offers to help him get a motel room through a business contact (It is surmised that Del is a traveling salesman.) Neal reluctantly agrees. Neal will now find himself paired with Del both by intention and chance for the rest of his trip home where they will use many means of transportation and undergo many different setbacks, so that Neal can be with his family on Thanksgiving. Along the way, they will learn about a great deal about themselves and each other.

Technical Details: Planes, Trains, And Automobiles was not an incredible film, but it was not bad. John Hughes writing and direction were more than competent and the pacing of it was done well. The script itself was packed with moments that were humorous, realistically uncomfortable when there were arguments, and times where it was poignant especially the ending. Arguably, the most laudable aspect of Hughes direction was his ability to capture the atmosphere of the United States before Thanksgiving and the headaches that come with travel, with tremendous realism. In addition, a great highlight of the movie were the performances of Steve Martin and John Candy. Steve Martin was excellent as the slightly dispirited, often aggravated, Neal. While John Candy was both someone that you could be sympathetic to and abraded by. Playing these two characters was no easy feat as if it were not done well Neal could just come off as a self- centered mean jerk and Del could just be some idiot you could have the misfortune of being trapped with. It was a credit to both actors talent that they were able to pull of making both characters so understandable and agreeable.
planes trains and automobiles pillows
However, the movie’s strongest point was its comedic moments. The famous “between two pillows” scene in the motel room was extremely funny as is the one in the rental car. But, by far my favorite moment occurred during Steve Martin’s f-bomb laden tirade when he goes to the rental car counter after being dropped of in the rental car lot, finding his car not there and then having to walk back to the airport. In that moment, having to deal with the exasperatingly perky rental car clerk is a moment I’m certain many of us have had, which is why it is so funny.


For all of its merits though, Planes, Trains and Automobiles did still have some deficiencies. First of all the movie was and is completely trapped in its era. The phone calls made on pay phones, the way credit cards, are processed, the look of the costumes and the feel of the airports, planes, cars, buses and trains featured in it, scream 1980’s. This undoubtedly dates it. Secondly, some of the scenes of Neal’s family desperately awaiting his return felt and still feel almost revoltingly overly sentimental. Finally, although the end of the film and the big truth about Del that was revealed in it and was somewhat moving, veers towards being schmaltzy once (Spoiler Alert) Neal is reunited with his family for the holiday.

End Credits: Planes, Trains, And Automobiles was and mostly still is, a good movie. It is full of humor, well- acted and because it has a slightly serious underpinning to it, is more than just your average everything is going wrong kind of comedy. When you add the fact that the whole thing is set on and around Thanksgiving it is a good way to get you in the mood for the upcoming holiday season. So, if you’re looking for a movie on Thanksgiving and want something that captures the moment that you’re in, you should try Planes, Trains, And Automobiles. It was not the greatest movie ever made, but it is more than worth seeing.

Throwback Review: The Negotiator

The Negotiator Review: Still a great film, 17 years later.

What I Remembered: I first saw The Negotiator approximately a year after it was released. Despite the fact, that it seemed to have a formidable cast based on its trailer which felt contrived, I was less than enthusiastic about seeing it. However, after a friend whose tastes were somewhat similar to mine recommended it, I decided to give it a shot. After starting it, I could not believe how wrong my initial impressions were. Furthermore, I thought that it was proof of how a poorly executed trailer can mislead an audience about the quality of a particular piece of cinema. What I found was an intriguing, skillfully put together movie, with very good acting and some exciting moments. Having watched it again recently my initial feeling has remained largely unchanged.
samuel L jackson the negotiator
The Story: The Negotiator stars Samuel L. Jackson as Danny Roman. Danny is a Chicago Police Department hostage negotiator and is quite adept at his job. This is made very clear during the opening scene of the film where he defuses a terribly dangerous situation involving a deranged man who will kill his young daughter unless his wife watches him commit suicide, by risking his own safety to end the situation without any loss of life. That evening while celebrating the successful operation as well as his chief’s birthday, Danny is told by his partner and best friend Nate (Paul Guilfoyle), that the latter been contacted by fellow police officer who is also an informant. The informant has told Nate that unnamed fellow officers in Danny’s precinct have been stealing money from the Chicago P.D. Disability Fund and that the chief of internal affairs may also be involved in the scheme. While at home after the party, Danny receives a page from Nate asking to meet him in a parking lot. When Danny arrives he finds Nate murdered with a gun shot wound to the head. Danny is then the prime suspect in Nate’s murder and the fraud and larceny that has taken place involving the Disability Fund. When it appears that he will be arrested, charged and most likely convicted with these crimes that he did not commit, Danny takes matters into his own hands in a drastic way.

Technical Details:  The Negotiator has many technical facets to it. F. Gary Gray provided some excellent direction and was able to capture the atmosphere of excitement, fear and mystery that pervaded the film in an excellent way. James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox wrote an excellent script with fully dimensional characters, some wonderful plot twists, and some very informative moments, like when Danny shows how you can tell when someone is lying. Furthermore, the movie’s pacing and editing were absolutely great as it moves along in a fast paced, dramatic way. Finally, the supporting cast were all top notch. This was especially the case with Paul Giamatti, David Morse, Ron Rifkin and the two late greats, John Spencer and J.T. Walsh.
the negotiator spacey
As good as the supporting cast was though, the two best performances in the piece were those of Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey as fellow hostage negotiator Chris Sabian. Both of these excellent actors were in their best form as they played each character with a tremendous amount of depth, sympathy and realism. Moreover, the chemistry and back and forth between the two of them was really fun to watch.

However, for all of its facets the picture did have some flaws. Namely, these were a few scenes between Danny and his wife that felt a little artificial and a couple of brief moments during the middle portion of the movie where Sam Jackson felt like he was slightly overacting. That being said, they didn’t diminish the quality of The Negotiator too much.

End Credits: Though it was released over seventeen years ago, The Negotiator is as good now as it was then. It has all of the mystery and suspense one would expect from a movie of its kind and is better than a lot of the movies like it that followed. Even though there are some moments in it that are not the best in the world, that doesn’t take away from all of the good aspects of it. So, if you want to kick back with a film for a couple of hours and want something exciting to see, try The Negotiator. I highly doubt that you will regret it.

What’s Your Favorite Casino Movie?

What’s Your Favorite Casino Movie?

Over the years, casinos have been a common setting for films and television shows alike and with the recent news that Sandra Bullock will star in an upcoming  Ocean’s Eleven reboot/remake the casino floor still seems to be a big draw. Perhaps it is because both the best and worst of humanity can be found on the casino floor, and the extremes of winning big and losing everything are the things that drama is made of. Maybe, we just wish we could be as lucky as those characters we see on the screen. There are many excellent casino themed films that have been produced over the years. Let’s take a look at some of the must see casino movies.

What’s your favorite? 

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It’s best to start with maybe the most-well known of them all, Martin Scorcese’s hit casino movie from 1995, appropriately titled Casino. Starring Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, it follows the rise and fall of one of the most powerful gangs in Las Vegas history. Brilliant acting, a great story, and wonderful direction make Casino a classic film which hasn’t aged a bit.

oceans 11

Probably the most popular casino film is the George Clooney/Brad Pitt powered remake of Ocean’s 11, where a talented team of criminals uses a brilliant plan to pull off a casino heist. It’s two sequels don’t quite match the fun of the first, but are worth it nonetheless.

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Another film based on a true story is 21, about the famous MIT blackjack team. Starring Kevin Spacey, 21 gives us a sneak peak into the world of card counting by following the career of a group of college students who won millions counting cards at the blackjack tables.

Rounders cast

While firmly set in the realm of fiction, Rounders likewise gives the viewer an inside look into the world of gambling, this time with Matt Damon thrust into the world of high stakes back room poker.

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Finally, if all the drama is weighing you down you can always opt for National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation, where Chevy Chase and the Griswold family once again fail spectacularly at taking a simple vacation, this time in Las Vegas.

The house may always win, but so do audiences as long as Hollywood keeps churning out these gambling fueled films. There’s a lot of casino movies out there. What’s your favorite?