To celebrate the birthday of my most vocal reader (HAPPY (belated) BIRTHDAY, MS. SEKWA!), I decided to spend the weekend watching a couple of films that she's managed to recommend to me over God knows how long. Here's the four I picked.
Tonight's reviews: Angel Heart
Over-the-top horror noir is astonishingly, spectacularly unsubtle. (It is, after all, an Alan Parker film.) But somehow, that seems to be the perfect approach to the material -- a more guarded film wouldn't have been nearly as effective. It's not like Parker is trying to disguise where the film's headed, either. Knowing the twist at the end won't help, though; even though I went in with full knowledge of how it all wrapped up, the climax still connected like a frying pan between the eyes. Noir has always been one of the most despairing of genres, and when coupled with supernatural horror and served at a frenzy, it becomes painfully, existentially nihilistic, like Dashiell Hammet writing Sartre's No Exit
. Not even remotely a feel-good movie, but a forceful and disorienting one by a filmmaker at the peak of his powers. Mickey Rourke demonstrates yet again why he's one of the most underrated actors of our time -- the role is more or less unplayable by anyone other than him. Demerit: Has possibly the dumbest character names of any movie ever.
Another perenially underrated and underutilized actor is Rutger Hauer. He's a bit limited in his range, but he's very good at what he can do, and he's often the best thing about less-than-stellar movies. Which is the case here. It's competently made and commendable to a point but not particularly gripping or interesting, save Hauer's compelling performance and a solid climax. Stallone doesn't suck, happily. The last few minutes are also quite clever.
Grade: C+Dominick and Eugene
When Bad Endings Happen to Good Movies: Excellently acted, sensitively directed, warm and human drama is a fine film... right up to the point where Tom Hulce sees something he shouldn't. At this point, the film goes hackneyed and ridiculous on us. Now before someone mentions it, I understand the reasons behind the climactic crisis, and the emotional breakthrough is touching and overwhelming as it should be. (Ray Liotta has a monologue that'll getcha right in the heart.) But geez... there HAD to be a better way to achieve the catharsis. Any way, any way at all, would have been preferable to the soggy and melodramatic hash that got whipped up here. And I thought the loose, unresolved plot strands were going to be this film's biggest problem. Still a good film worth seeing, but man... what a letdown.
Grade: B-...And Justice for All
Smug. Obnoxious. Overwrought. Irritating. Self-righteous. Full of shit. Arrogant. Inane. These words and others flew through my mind at a dizzying rate as this pap unspooled in front of me. There's a few good scenes, and Al Pacino is as good as ever... but Christ almighty. Is this facile, crude junk really what Hollywood liberals think of as "social criticism" or "satire"? Biggest surprise: It was co-written by Barry Levinson. Compare this overrated rot to, say, Levinson's Wag the Dog
, which is just as snide and self-important but also A) is really sharp and funny, and B) stays relatively grounded in reality and doesn't give in to the temptation to leap headlong into inappropriate black absurdism.