Carlos (2010)

(TV-MA)

(TV-MA)

Plot Summary: Over the course of two decades, an elusive Venezuelan terrorist carries out devastating acts of politically motivated violence.

Cast: Édgar RamírezAlexander ScheerAlejandro ArroyoFadi Abi SamraAhmad Kaabour; Talal El-Jordi

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Queue It) The life of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez is extremely interesting in its own right, but the success of this project really depended upon Édgar Ramírez, who rose to the occasion in a remarkable way. Through him, the viewer can see the charismatic, ambitious, inspiring, fiery, driven, obsessed, aggressive, narcissistic, lecherous, hot-tempered, morally and ethically flexible person behind the notorious and fearsome reputation of Carlos the Jackal. One also gains pretty good insight into some of what drives, and the development of, revolutionaries, insurgents, terrorists, etc., and this series begs the question of where the line between those different classifications lies.  The project also calls out how instrumental governments have been in the success of these non-state combatants, and the ensuing hypocrisy of such governments in denouncing these individuals once their services lose enough value. Additionally, viewers can appreciate a fascinating account of the development of the Cold War from the perspective of its “front-lines” fighters and in constantly shifting international settings. In sum, this is a brilliant series about fascinating people and subjects, brought to life by excellent actors.

Rising Sun (1993)

Rising Sun

(R) 2h 9min

Plot Summary: At the offices of a Japanese corporation, during a party, a woman, who’s evidently a professional mistress, is found dead, apparently after some rough sex. A police detective, Web Smith is called in to investigate but before getting there, he gets a call from someone who instructs him to pick up John Connor, a former police Captain and expert on Japanese affairs. When they arrive there Web thinks that everything is obvious but Connor tells him that there’s a lot more going on.Written by rcs0411@yahoo.com

Director: Philip Kaufman

Writers: Michael Crichton (novel & screenplay), Philip Kaufman (screenplay), Michael Backes (screenplay)

Stars: Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Harvey Keitel

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  The actors are capable across the board, but the story is just very cheesy and often predictable, with some of the plot “twists” not developed enough to make sense.

 

Gridiron Gang (2006)

(PG-13) 2 hrs, 5 mins

(PG-13) 2 hrs, 5 mins

Plot Summary: Teenagers at a juvenile detention center, under the leadership of their counselor, gain self-esteem by playing football together.

Director: Phil Joanou

Writers: Jeff Maguire, Jac Flanders (film “Gridiron Gang”)

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Xzibit, L. Scott Caldwell

Serious Jest:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching) An inspiring true story. As you see in the credits, a significant number of movie quotes came straight from the real Sean Porter, who appears to be white. I guess Hollywood wanted to avoid the white-savior trope, but given how great this real-life story is, they didn’t need to reverse whitewash it…then again, Johnson played the hell out of this role (even if it’s not a huge stretch in range). And if you are a football fan like me, there was plenty of action with good camera work to maximize your enjoyment of the games.

Changeling (2008)

Changeling

(R) 2 hrs, 21 mins

Plot Summary: A grief-stricken mother takes on the LAPD to her own detriment when it stubbornly tries to pass off an obvious impostor as her missing child, while also refusing to give up hope that she will find him one day.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan

Serious Jest:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)(Must Watch)  The film is set mostly in the 1920s, but the hokiness of some of its scenes (although, according to IMDB, “Virtually every event depicted in the film appears as cited in legal documents, with dialog often taken verbatim from court transcripts”) and its sappy score are straight out of the 1990s. However, all of that is overcome by tremendous acting performances, especially from Jolie (but not Eddie Alderson, who was not convincing as Sanford Clark), as well as by the incredible story, which is mostly true.

I can’t believe that this could happen to somebody. This is yet another frightening example of the dangers inherent in handing over unchecked power to any law enforcement organization. If we do not pay attention to history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Additionally, this story reminds me of the value of today’s technology and social media. While many complain about how much easier it is to invade someone’s privacy, it is also a lot easier to expose corruption. Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant…these cases are not a new trend developing amongst police departments. This kind of rampant corruption and abuse of authority has existed for long before anyone can remember. But now we finally have the tools to expose them.

And it’s not just the police. As an attorney, I have personally stopped a mental health professional from wrongfully committing a person to a mental health institution over what basically amounted to a petty verbal argument between the doctor and the patient.

Respect to Straczynski for getting this movie made. This is where filmmaking crosses over into activism. If someone just told you the facts of this case, you might struggle to fathom how this would play out in actuality…how many people would have to screw up, be complicit, or just flat out do nothing to perpetuate this evil…and just how many people would have to decide to do the right thing, even at risk to their own career, financial interests, or even personal safety, in order to unf*ck this mess. This movie very effectively portrays how this unfortunate situation could very plausibly go down…and while there are many more checks and balances today to help prevent some of the previous injustices from happening again, perhaps some who would previously dismiss all police corruption and mental health abuse as wild conspiracy theories might have their minds changed just a little bit by this film.

The Hitcher (2007)

(R) 84 mins

(R) 84 mins

Plot Summary: A serial killer pins his crimes on two college students who gave him a ride.

Director: Dave Meyers

Writers: Eric Red (screenplay & 1986 film), Jake Wade Wall (screenplay), Eric Bernt (screenplay)

Stars: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  According to IMDB, Red was credited as a screenplay writer for this movie, but had no part in writing it (aside from writing the 1986 film).  I haven’t seen the 1986 version, but if it was any good, I don’t blame him for wanting to distance himself from this version.

This flick starts strong and features competent performances by good actors (except for Bush’s second-half performance, which gets out of her range, in my opinion; she just hasn’t mastered the thousand-yard stare).  However, it’s a lot of build-up for nothing.  The effects and action are often hokey, it feels as if some major events were skipped (and not in a good, it’s-better-to-leave-it-to-the-imagination way), and the payoff to the big question throughout the movie is never realized.  If I had to describe this film in one word, it would be “senseless.”

Also according to IMDB, “Rutger Hauer, who played the character of John Ryder in the original was offered a cameo, but declined for artistic reasons. Hauer has since said in the press that he has yet to watch the remake, and according to some of his friends he shouldn’t bother.”  Smart man.

3:10 to Yuma

(R) 122 mins

(R) 122 mins

Plot Summary: A small-time rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who’s awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher.

Director: James Mangold

Writers: Halsted Welles (screenplay), Michael Brandt (screenplay), Derek Haas (screenplay), and Elmore Leonard (short story)

Stars: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  This is a very solid film, with a compelling plot and solid cast, featuring two of the most notoriously ill-tempered actors in the business.  Who will be the bigger jerk?  Watch it and find out!

Also, Foster brings the same leashed intensity that inspired Mark Wahlberg to give up some of his own pay in order to recruit Foster for Lone Survivor.  Foster is one of my favorite supporting actors.

You can enjoy this movie as a straightforward classic action Western, or you can delve deeper into the psychological underpinnings, which are spread throughout the movie and which culminate in an ending that can either anger you or inspire a subsequent deep discussion with others who have seen the film.

For Western aficionados, this flick is an instant classic and Must See.  For the rest of us, you could live with missing this one, but once you start watching it, you’ll be hooked.

Hannibal (2001)

(R) 131 mins

(R) 131 mins

Plot Summary: Living in exile, Hannibal Lecter tries to reconnect with now-disgraced FBI agent Clarice Starling and finds himself a target for revenge from a powerful victim.

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Thomas Harris (novel), David Mamet (screenplay), Steven Zaillian (screenplay)

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must See)  The sequel to The Silence of the Lambs is more creepy than thrilling, and sometimes a little hokey.  Moreover, while Moore is an exceptional actress, it just feels different with her playing Starling.  Furthermore, the plot is not as sophisticated as SotL.

That being said, the film is entertaining in more of a comedic-horror way.  Hopkins is deliciously sinister, the supporting cast is very talented, and there is a classic scene involving the human brain that is worth adding to your pop-culture tool belt.  If you’re a fan of Hannibal the Cannibal, you should set aside time to see this flick once, although you shouldn’t go into it with high expectations.  If you’re not high on Hannibal, though, this movie will be more of a Worth Watching for you.

City of God (2002)

(R) 129 mins

(R) 129 mins

Plot Summary: Growing up in a Rio de Janeiro slum, Rocket is able to avoid being drawn into a life of drugs and crime by having a passion for photography.

Director: Fernando Meirelles, Katia Lund

Cast: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Jonathan Haagensen, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Daniel Zettel

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must Own)  I kept hearing that this movie was good, but I never got around to watching it.  Having glanced at its cover before, I was expecting something different…more of a sappy romantic tale.  Instead, I discovered one of most poignant, suspenseful, exciting, and action-packed tales of a place that I’ve only heard stories about.  It catapulted me through a wide range of emotions.  Watch this and then try to complain about your “first-world problems.”  The City of God is shockingly poor and frighteningly dangerous, yet culturally rich and unexpectedly beautiful.

Meirelles and Lund manage to convey a stark realism through a cast made up largely of actors from Rio favelas who had never acted before, but who stepped up to the task in an amazing way with some intense coaching.  The film even features some takes which were not scripted, as well as real coverage from true events.  The music masterfully complemented the mood of each scene, while staying true to the beauty of Brazil.  The camera work was top-notch (especially for 2002), both in César Charlone‘s skillful employment of the equipment and in the scenery that he captured.  Daniel Rezende, the film editor, presented Charlone’s vision at a wonderful intersection of deliberate and thrilling, ensuring that the viewer’s attention stayed captive throughout.

This flick is so good, I wanted to watch it again immediately after the credits rolled the first time around.  You will be hooked from the moment the chicken starts running for its life.  Make this film the next one you watch.

Angel Heart (1987)

(R) 113 mins

(R) 113 mins

Plot Summary: Harry Angel is a private investigator. He is hired by a man who calls himself Louis Cyphre to track down a singer called Johnny Favorite. But the investigation takes an unexpected and somber turn.

Director: Alan Parker

Writers: William Hjortsberg (novel), Alan Parker (screenplay)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must Own)  These are some of the best acting performances I’ve seen from De Niro, Rourke, and Bonet.  It is probably De Niro’s creepiest role.  It’s also amazing to see the huge difference 25+ years has made in Rourke’s appearance, while how little Bonet has aged.

This flick has the ingredients to keep you on the edge of your seat.  Aside from the great acting, it is a film noir featuring murder, sex, the occult, two major cities with very different cultures, and a very solid mystery with a twist that I didn’t see coming.  If you predicted the latter, please let me know in the comments, but precede your post with “SPOILER.”

While the quality of the video, effects, sound, etc, is not on par with today’s technology, which could easily render most movies with such a dark tone sleepy, its aforementioned strengths make this movie a classic and one that you will want to watch more than once…probably not right away, but somewhere down the line, someone will say that they never saw this film, and you will suggest that you both sit down and watch it together.  You will probably enjoy watching it the second time around, knowing what to look for.

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

(R) 102 mins

(R) 102 mins

Plot Summary: In 1948 Los Angeles, a stranger asks war veteran “Easy” Rawlins to help locate a missing woman–a task that gets him embroiled in a murder mystery.

Director: Carl Franklin

Writers: Walter Mosley (book), Franklin (screenplay)

Stars: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  Unlike too many 1990s blockbusters, this film is timeless because it did not rely on big explosions, hoky effects, or the general ignorance of audiences in the pre-Google age.  Instead, it showcased a captivating story, interesting characters, a cool setting, and good acting (Don Cheadle & Sizemore are especially badass).  In sum, it is a very solid film noir, well worth dedicating a couple of hours to watch it, but it is not so unique that it’s a Must See.