1997 Movie Review: LA CONFIDENTIAL, 1997

 

LA CONFIDENTIAL MOVIE POSTER
LA CONFIDENTIAL, 1997
Movie Reviews

Directed by Curtis Hanson
Starring: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger
Review by Brent Randall

SYNOPSIS:

The corruption existing within Los Angeles police force of the 1950s is exposed in this crime thriller.

WON 2 OSCARS – Best Supporting Actress (Basinger), Best Adapted Screenplay

REVIEW:

From the opening scene to the final credits, L.A. Confidential keeps you on the edge of your seat as it weaves through the murky waters of the Los Angeles police force. Set in the 1950s, the movie opens with discussing the wonders of Hollywood by showing a series of shots of the beach, the grand strand, and Hollywood, and how life in L.A. is better than anywhere on the planet, much less America, and the Los Angeles Police Department is the pride and joy of the City of Angels. After about five minutes of praising the city with a marvelous voice over from Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), Hudgens shifts gears and begins shedding light on the mobster, Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle), and how Cohen is pushing heroine through the city and causing chaos in a clean and pristine town.

At first, it seems that the police force is dead set on snuffing out the crime with the arrest of Mickey Cohen in the opening sequence with their brilliant detectives, Bud White (Russell Crowe), Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), and Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). However, it is merely an illusion, and the corruption within the famous police department is quickly exposed. As the viewer, you get the sense early, all is not right within when a brawl breaks out between the inmates and the policeman on Christmas Eve. Personally, I thought it was brilliant to stage the fight on Christmas Eve, a time known for peace and joy, and the fight is one of the most vicious, realistic fights I have seen in recent films. Shortly after the fight, the event that sends everything in motion is a horrific set of murders that occurred at the infamous “Night Owl” restaurant. A blood bath that took place over a failed robbery attempt in Captain Smith’s account. Captain Smith, who is always trying to get justice, in his own words, “swiftly and merciless”, pins the murders on three young black men who had previous records . Smith feels no one would raise too many questions regarding these suspects, and they could shut the case for good.

However, Bud White and Ed Exley, while not choosing to work together for most of the film, know something stinks about The Night Owl investigation, and desire to find some air freshener to eliminate the “smell.” They employ the help of Detective Jack Vincennes, which is brilliantly performed by Kevin Spacey, and Lynn Bracken, a high class hooker, played by Kim Basinger in her best performance ever, in my opinion. We quickly learn that Bud White believes in justice, cares for women, has a major temper, and is loyal to the department. Exley, on the other hand, is a kiss up, but also believes in justice. Throughout the movie, it is easy to see why these two do not get along, but one quickly learns they have much more in common than originally thought, and they both prove to be honest and men of integrity. Russell Crowe (playing Bud White) and Guy Pearce (playing Ed Exley) both give brilliant performances, and makes one realize the line between right and wrong is very, very, complicated and sometimes justice is found on both sides of this proverbial line.

Bud White is probably, in my opinion, Crowe’s best roll to date. Not to take away anything from the movie Gladiator, but in L.A. Confidential, his character is not always right, he is not always wrong, but his quest for justice and righteousness gives the viewer a real sense of hope. Bud White is a character, as a human being, I can relate to. He is real, honest, has major flaws, but genuinely seeks the good in all and more importantly, the good within himself.

In fact, Bud White and the other character is what makes this film great. The story line is solid, but as the film progresses, you find yourself loving some, hating others, and not sure how to take the rest. Some represent the good in the world, Bud White. Others represent the evil in the world, Captain Dudley Smith. Some represent the people who look out for themselves as in Jack Vincennes, and then there is Lynn Bracken. In my opinion, she represents the hope we all have as humans for a brighter future, and that hope along with her brilliant acting might be why she took home the best supporting actress Oscar.

From scene to scene, and character to character, this film keeps probing deeper and deeper into corruption and darkness in search of hope, justice, and peace. It grips your the viewer’s emotions and takes you on a roller coaster ride. The acting is brilliant, and the stars (Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger -just to name a few) are even brighter. It is a film that makes you want to search within yourself, question your own morality, and makes people realize that some of the worst enemies are the ones who appear to be friends, and vice versa. While it did not win best picture, (it was nominated and in my opinion, should have won!) it definitely qualifies as one of the best crime thrillers of all time.

 

LA CONFIDENTIAL, 1997

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Film Review: REBEL IN THE RYE (USA 2017)

 

Rebel in the Rye Poster
Trailer

The life of celebrated but reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, who gained worldwide fame with the publication of his novel, “The Catcher in the Rye”.

Director:

Danny Strong

Writers:

Danny StrongKenneth Slawenski (biography “J.D. Salinger: A Life”)

REBEL IN THE EYE is an American biographical drama film based on the author of the famous ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.  It is directed and written by Danny Strong, who adapted the book J. D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski.  Director Strong bought the book rights with his own money which must mean that the book really fascinated him.

A film about successful creative writing appeals to many particularly film reviewers who could learn a thing or two about their writing.  The spill on voice in writing illustrated by a passage read by Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey) in a William Faulkner novel is especially engaging.  He reads a passage in a monotonous tone to illustrate the fact that it is the incidents will make the writing and not the tone.  But if the author’s voice or impression is added, that would be inspiring.  Unless the voice comes across as pompous instead of sincere.

The film follows the life of Jerome Salinger (Nicholas Hoult).  He attends writing at Columbia University where Professor White Burnett grinds him to be a successful writer.  His devastating experiences during the War watching many die during the D-Day beach landing earn him the maturity that finally gets the fame he seeks with ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ but not after suffering mentally.  He is aided by an Indian Swami (Bernard White).

The message in the film is quite obvious – the importance of truth in writing.  Salinger refuses to compromise changing his story to the notes of the New York Times in order to be published.

Besides the story of J.D. Salinger as a writer from budding writer to published author, the film has several major subplots that undermine the film’s goal.  One is the relationship between Salinger and his mentor Whit Burnett.  The second is the failed love affair between Salinger and Oona (Zooey Deutch).   All the action takes place during World War 2 with Salinger himself going off to fight in the war.  The segments with the Indian Swami are more laughable than credible,

In Strong’s attempt to put his voice into his film, he gets too obvious.  One example (too in-your-face metaphor) is the blurred image of Salinger’s face as seen through the glass of his mother in the homecoming dinner.  This also comes across as an attempt to be too pompous instead of sincere – advice that he should have taken himself from the film.

For a film that stresses about voice in a story, Strong falls again into the trap of not following his own advice.  He resorts in too many familiar filming formats.  One is the over-use of voiceover.  Another is obvious at the start of the film when a scene is shown and then the film flashes back to years earlier (in this case 6 years) to the events that precede the scene.  The over use of music, as if to force the audience to feel a certain way (Indian music during the Swami advice segments and a musical interlude when Salinger gets published) is yet another.  Every character in the film speaks the same way – with sarcasm and with anger. 

REBEL IN THE EYE ends up a flawed biography in which director Strong commits all the mistakes the writing professor Burnett in the script warns Salinger never to make.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWRhXMMb7CY

rebel in the rye

Film Review: BABY DRIVER (USA 2017) *** 1/2

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baby driver.jpgAfter being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Edgar Wright
Stars: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James

Review by Gilbert Seah
 
The most ambitious and most expensive of the Edgar Wright movies (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ) , BABY DRIVER sees the Brit director working in a big budget Hollywood movie for the first time. The film is a car chase comedy crime caper with romance tied in for good measure.

The title derives from the name of the getaway car driver – Baby. A young and talented getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the personal beat of his preferred soundtrack, to be the best in the world of crime, as music heightens his focus and reflexes to extreme levels. A car accident as a child killed both his parents, and left him with permanent tinnitus, which he blocks out using music. He is preferred as a getaway driver by Doc (Kevin Spacey), a mastermind organizer of bank robberies and other high-earning heists.

Baby’s love interest is Debora (Lily James). Baby’s foster father is black and wheel chair ridden. These two people in Baby’s life are targets when Baby refuses in any way to comply with Doc or his crime partners. His main crime partners are Buddy (Jon Hamm), his girlfriend, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx). Baby has no problem performing the heists unless a killing is involved.

The car chases have to be good in a film about a getaway car driver. The audience is shown a sample of these in the opening scene. There are a total of three main car chases and these are expertly edited by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. One of the most important components of a car chase on screen is its continuity. This is what made Peter Yates’ BULLITT (with Steve McQueen) and William Friedkin’s THE FRENCH CONNECTION two films best remembered for their car chases. Thankfully, Wright’s film falls into this category, him relying less on computer graphics than the real thing.

Ansel Elgort, young and looking fresh for this movie is good as the dancing driver. Kevin Spacey delivers a straight-face performance reminiscent of his Oscar winning performance in AMERICAN BEAUTY. Of the cast. Joe Hamm is also memorable, being cast against type as a hardened criminal ready to kill for revenge.

As Baby relies on listening to is preferred songs on his iPod, the film also requires a good soundtrack of equivalent songs that should drive the audience. Surprisingly, Wright only offers the audience samples. The audiences is for example, told of Baby’s song by Queen when driving for the final heist, but they never get to listen to the full song. Similarly for the segments when Baby is dancing to music, the music is silent and baby is shown with his dance moves to no music. It can be argued as a case of less leading the audience to wanting more.

I am not a true Edgar Wright fan. Though I have enjoyed his films, I think SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, are over-rated and I did not like THE WORLD’S END that had sloppy writing with inaccuracy in details. This makes BABY DRIVER Wright’s best movie.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2z857RSfhk

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Movie Review: THE REF, 1994

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time

The Ref, 1994
Classic Movie Reviews
Directed by Ted Demme
Starring: Dennis Leary, Kevin Spacey, and Judy Davis
Review by Carey Lewis

Synopsis:

A cat burglar is forced to take a bickering, dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve.

Review:

Christmas brings out the craziness in everyone as the holiday season becomes more and more festive. There are great family movies to watch during this time that will put you into the yuletide spirit, such as A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street. However, I’ve always been the type to go against the grain, for better or worse, and I quite enjoy my counter-culture programming. The Ref isn’t as counter-culture as say, Black Christmas (one of the all time best horror movies), but it’s not a movie that you can sit down and watch with young children.

The movie starts with Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis respectfully) at a marriage counseling session. Right away from the language that’s used, and the timing, and the vulgarity, you can tell this is a different kind of Christmas movie. It’s pretty clear that their marriage is on shaky ground.

Meanwhile Gus (Dennis Leary) is robbing a rich home. After the botched attempt, his partner, Murray (Richard Bright) fleas the scene, leaving Gus to fend for himself in this upscale Connecticut town. Gus ends up taking Lloyd and Caroline hostage.

The comedy starts right away as Lloyd and Caroline can’t help but bicker with each other, even when being held at gunpoint. Gus is forced to wait at the house until his partner can find and steal a boat, as all the roads are blocked off as the cops scour the town for the robber. But it’s not going to be that easy…

The Chasseur’s son, Jesse (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.) comes home from Military School, where he’s been sent for being an unruly child, and has been blackmailing one of his teachers. Not only that, but Lloyd’s brother and his family are coming to dinner, along with his despicable mother. To get through this mess, Gus pretends to be the marriage counselor, Dr. Wong. How Leary explains his name to the mother is an example of one of the many great dialogue exchanges through this film:

Mother: Your name is Wong?
Gus: My Mother was Irish.
Mother: And your Father?
Gus: Wasn’t.

During this night, Caroline decides she wants a divorce and gets a little drunk, and the gloves really come off. Gus won’t let Caroline and Lloyd be in separate rooms from him, so they’re forced to confront each other and talk. Or maybe yell. It’s a bit of both. Because they have no escape they’re forced to finally communicate. And communicate they do; and the whole family gets in on it. Gus, who’s the criminal, actually has it together more than anyone else in the room.

The way the family members face each other and stop “acting” in front of each other is hilarious. No subject is taboo, and everyone finally learns how they’re really thought of, and how they feel about the others.

Ted Demme does a great job walking the tightrope in this comedy. Everyone is hilarious, but he manages to keep it from going over the top and becoming a comical farce. Certain elements to the plot are setup, but don’t seem like a setup because they’re funny, which is very important. In too many movies, there’s something near the beginning that happens that you know will come back later to tie the story up, because it seemed to serve no purpose. Well, the setups in The Ref, you think are there because they’re funny, so there’s a satisfaction that comes when you realize later that it was a setup for a payoff later in the film.

Demme also does a great job setting up the differences between the class system which exists in the world, and he manages to do this without being heavy handed about it.

The script by Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss is comic gold in the hands of the fine actors in this film. Every character is defined and not alike another in the film. I’m sure most people will recognize some elements of every character in their own family, which is another reason this film is so great. Everyone knows people like these, and chances are, you’re related to some of them!

The Cinematography by Adam Kimmel is always warm, which is important for a film like this. Many people won’t realize this, but the look of this film is part of its heart. The warmness of the picture is the reason why we can find humor in this family’s misery, and why we know things will be better in the end. If it had been cold, or desaturated, we wouldn’t want to laugh, and we’d take the movie in a much more serious tone. There’s nothing flashy about the photography, which is good for this movie.

And then of course there’s the cast, which really makes this picture work. Every character gets to spit out some fantastic dialogue, but they also get their serious moments too. Leary does a great job of restraining himself (if you’ve ever seen his stand-up you’ll know what I mean), but Demme gives him enough room to let fly at the right moments. In this film, before Kevin Spacey was THE Kevin Spacey, you’ll see that he had great acting ability all along. His timing is impeccable and his line delivery is nothing short of perfect. Davis is also great as the hurting wife who feels cornered, who has more than a few jabs to lash out, but also does a fantastic job of exposing her inner turmoil. These three roles are really key as the film is about stripping away the facades until you get to the core of the truth.

So if you want to sit down with the family and get the warm and fuzzy feelings of Christmas, I don’t recommend this movie. But if you want an anti-Christmas movie, and ever wish of telling family members that you only see a couple of times a year what you really think of them, throw this flick into your DVD player. You won’t be disappointed, and you might find a new holiday favorite.

 

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Happy Birthday: Kevin Spacey

kevinspaceyKevin Spacey

Born: July 26, 1959 in South Orange, New Jersey, USA

Won Broadway’s 1991 Tony Award as Best Actor (Featured Role – Play) for “Lost in Yonkers.” He was also nominated in 1999 as Best Actor (Play) for a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.”

 

 

 

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