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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

The Card Counter

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

THE CARD COUNTER is the new one from writer/director Paul Schrader, with Oscar Isaac (THE BOURNE LEGACY) taking his turn as the Schraderian anti-hero. Like so many of these characters, William Tell (as he calls himself) is a troubled man with an unusual and lonely lifestyle, who narrates his story in the form of diary entries, telling us about his normal routine before things go horribly wrong.

In some ways he hearkens back to (non-narrating, from what I remember) Richard Gere in AMERICAN GIGOLO, because he’s handsome, and neatly dressed and coifed. On the surface he seems charismatic and sociable, especially compared to most of the other people in his circle as a professional gambler.

Like the title says, he can count cards. He explains the concept of it – keeping track of the cards being played to calculate his odds, saving larger bets for when they lean in his favor. He explains how he travels around to different casinos, telling us his strategies for different games, and his philosophy of making enough money to keep going but not enough to get the casinos after him. I’m not a cards guy or a gambling guy so I don’t really give a shit if some of it is wrong (as I read some claim). I’m happy to accept that he knows what he’s talking about, and I can follow enough of it to get by. (read the rest of this shit…)

Barton Fink

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

“He’s poor, this wrestler! He’s had struggle!”


It used to be that August was a time for studios to release a bunch of movies they thought were bad or didn’t have high expectations for. You know, they release ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and T2 early in the summer, hoping young people and families will go repeatedly throughout the summer. Once it gets closer to school starting up again there’s less chance for that, so that’s why in the year in question we were seeing weird rooster cartoons and weird dog cartoons and weird dog live action movies and weird Mickey Rourke movies.

Many things in the world of pop culture were shifting that month. While on the Lollapalooza tour, long-time goth fixtures Siouxsie and the Banshees actually actually made it onto the Billboard charts for “Kiss Them For Me.” (By the next summer they’d have a song in a Batman movie.) Pearl Jam released their first album. LaKeith Stanfield was born. But also Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” love theme from ROBIN HOOD was still the #1 song!

This particular August ended with kind of a whimper – CHILD’S PLAY 3 (still the weakest Chucky movie four sequels later) was released on the 30th. But I thought I should end this review series on the August 21, 1991 release that happens to be one of the weirdest but also best regarded movies of the season. If I had to compare it to another ’91 movie I’d have to say it reminds me most of THE DARK BACKWARD, of all things. Well, and I case some fire stunts reminded me of BACKDRAFT. But those are stretches. This one stands alone. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Commitments

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

August 14, 1991

THE COMMITMENTS is the story of a wannabe music manager in Dublin convincing his friends (all white) to put together a soul cover band. The conceit is that ’60s soul music is beautiful and “honest,” that working class Dubliners have more in common than they realize with the African-Americans who created this music, and that the novelty of white Irish people pouring their hearts into these beloved songs would be a cute and fun way to celebrate them in the context of a comical underdog story.

This is one of Mrs. Vern’s favorite movies, so I wanted to be open to it, but I definitely rejected the idea at the time, not taking any serious offense or anything but just under the belief that at best white singers can do pretty good soul music. Dusty Springfield was a one off and Amy Winehouse was 9 years old at the time so it just seemed delusional. I imagined some kind of “let’s all clap for these white people pulling off pretty good soul music” story of triumph for people who don’t generally listen to the real thing. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Blue Lagoon / Return to the Blue Lagoon

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021

In my study of Summer of 1991 and especially it’s part 2s, I didn’t think I could skip RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON. But I had never seen the first film – 1980’s THE BLUE LAGOON – so I had to watch that first.

Based on the 1908 novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole (previously filmed in 1923 and 1949), it’s an adventure and, I’m sorry to say, romance. Sorry because it’s between two teenage cousins who grow up stranded on a tropical island together. Even aside from the incest thing, they literally don’t know any other humans, how romantic is it gonna be that they choose each other?

It’s a period piece in the Victorian period, which we only know from the boat at the beginning. Richard and Emmeline are little kids. Emmeline’s parents have died, and her uncle, Richard’s dad (William Daniels, MARLOWE), is taking them to San Francisco. It is established that Richard is already a horny little bastard – he sneaks a peak at the cook’s collection of nudie photos and gets spanked for it. But there’s a fire onboard and only the kids and the grumpy cook, Paddy (Leo McKern, DAMIEN: OMEN II), escape on a life boat. (read the rest of this shit…)

Pig

Monday, July 19th, 2021

PIG is an unusual new Nicolas Cage joint that I was happy to have as my second post-vaccination theatrical experience. But this one is about as different from an F9 type spectacle as can be achieved by science. When you see the trailer or hear the premise (somebody steals Nic Cage’s truffle pig and he goes to the city to get it back) you might think about TOM YUM GOONG/THE PROTECTOR (where somebody steals Tony Jaa’s baby elephant and he goes to the city to get it back) or maybe JOHN WICK (where somebody kills Keanu’s dog and he goes on a rampage to get back at them). The truth is that it only shares the emotional center of those ideas (people form bonds with and assign meaning to their animal companions) – it’s decidedly not an action movie or even a revenge thriller. It’s a slow burn character piece and parable that doesn’t even have much violence, and will probly be pretty boring to some people, especially if they came in with the wrong idea. But it was just what I wanted.

Cage’s character Rob is a loner who lives in a cabin in the woods somewhere outside of Portland, Oregon. He seems very enamored of his nameless pig, who comes when he whistles and helps him dig up truffles in the forest. When he makes himself a “rustic mushroom tart” for dinner he shares it with her. The rest of the truffles he puts in a cooler to sell to the young hot shot Amir (Alex Wolff, HEREDITARY), who drives in every Thursday in his bitchin’ yellow Camaro. It feels like a drug transaction. Amir tries to make conversation, but Rob doesn’t so much as grunt. (read the rest of this shit…)

Straight Out of Brooklyn

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN was a little $450,000 movie that The Samuel Goldwyn Company released on 5 screens over Memorial Day weekend, 1991. Some time after that it expanded up to 75 screens, and it made $2.7 million dollars on that small budget. Roger Ebert reviewed it on June 28th (he liked it).

You will not not notice how low that budget is. At its slickest, STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN seems like an early ‘80s TV movie, as the saccharine orchestral score by Harold Wheeler (arranger and producer, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk by Meco) plays over dark, grainy establishing shots of New York City buildings.

At its cheesiest it looks like a filmed community college play, with straight-on shots of family drama at a dinner table or a man looking in a mirror giving a long monologue to a white man he argued with at the gas station earlier.

At its best, though, it’s a time capsule of the Red Hook housing projects, where the director grew up, and of an exciting young actor giving a great first performance, even if he’s saying pretty on-the-nose stuff about The American Dream and shit as he points accusingly to the Manhattan skyline.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Jungle Fever

Monday, June 7th, 2021

June 7, 1991

JUNGLE FEVER is five films and five years into the career of Spike Lee. You have the financed-on-credit-cards debut SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, the polished studio debut SCHOOL DAZE, the explosion of DO THE RIGHT THING, the follow up MO’ BETTER BLUES, and then this. Like all of his movies it’s interesting and bold and full of greatness but in my opinion, especially in retrospect, it’s his first fumble. That’s fine. He did MALCOLM X next.

It is the story of possibly the most only-Spike-Lee-would-ever-name-a-character-this character of all time, Flipper Purify, played by Wesley Snipes, who had been in Lee’s MO’ BETTER BLUES and was coming off of the success of NEW JACK CITY. He’s an upper class architect, living in Harlem with his wife Drew (Lonette McKee, BREWSTER’S MILLIONS, ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT), and things seem to be going well from the hot morning sex that opens the movie (the sounds of which greatly amuse their daughter Ming [Veronica Timbers]). (read the rest of this shit…)

Thelma & Louise

Monday, May 24th, 2021

“Check the booty, yo it’s kinda soft an’ / If you touch it you’re livin in a coffin / I’m in the ‘90s, you’re still in the ‘80s, right / I rock the mic, they say I’m not ladylike”

—“You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo” by Yo-Yo

On May 24, 1991 – exactly as the above-quoted song debuted on the Billboard charts at #87 – a parallel but more wide-reaching pop culture event arrived. Ridley Scott’s THELMA & LOUISE isn’t the type of movie we normally think of as a summer blockbuster, but it was a phenomenon arguably bigger than most of the t-shirt and Slurpee selling spectacles I love to document in these retrospectives. A surprise hit, an Oscar winner, a capturer of the zeitgeist, it inspired months of back-and-forth editorials and feature articles, and was soon declared a watershed moment for women in movies. A genuine cultural moment.

But I hadn’t re-watched it since that moment, and I really wasn’t sure how it would play now. It turns out when you remove it from any newness or perceived importance, it only emphasizes what an effective piece of entertainment it is. (read the rest of this shit…)

One Good Cop

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

May 3, 1991

I’d never seen this one before, and from the title I always thought it was a thriller about police corruption. I guess I had only seen the tough guy poster on the DVD and blu-ray, and not the theatrical one that looks like SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE or something.

I think there is some subtle commentary about policing early in the movie, which I will go into, but for the most part it’s not about that. Instead this movie – which was only the fifth release from Disney’s not-for-kids label Hollywood Pictures – really is a fusion of the type of vibe of those two posters. It’s a gritty police/crime thriller about a cop whose partner gets killed, but in addition to going after the people he considers responsible, he and his wife take care of and then try to adopt the dead partner’s three adorable daughters. The amount of screen time and sincerity it puts into the second part is very unusual, so although this is in many ways not my type of movie, I respect its bold mix of genres. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sound of Metal

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

SOUND OF METAL is not what I pictured at all. It’s about this guy Ruben (Riz Ahmed, VENOM) who’s a heavy metal* drummer, and then he loses his hearing. That’s the part I did know. The poster and the trailer and everything all focus on him shirtless on stage banging away on those things, and especially since it was nominated for best picture I had to figure it was about him struggling and overcoming and finding some thrillingly dramatic way to keep playing. I’ve heard of deaf people who play music based on vibrations, so I don’t think it’s impossible. It’s loud music, after all.

*pretty sure there’s a more accurate name for what their group Blackgammon plays, but fuck if I know what it is. Maybe sludge metal?

That’s not what this is at all. In the beginning he’s on tour with his group Blackgammon, which is just him and bleached-eyebrow singer girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke, READY PLAYER ONE). They live in an RV (a little nicer than NOMADLAND) so they’ll just play a show at some small place, try to sell some records and merch, then move along to the next town and find the next place.

The hearing loss seems pretty out of the blue. His ears just start ringing before a show. Then it sounds like he’s underwater. He just kinda pretends it’s nothing and hopes it will pass. Doesn’t even tell Lou. During the show he just goes for it, and Lou is looking at him like something’s wrong, so we wonder how far off he is. Suddenly he loses it, gets up and runs out the fire exit. (read the rest of this shit…)