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.

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.

The Ninth Gate (1999)

(R) 133 mins

(R) 133 mins

Plot Summary: A rare book dealer, while seeking out the last two copies of a demon text, gets drawn into a conspiracy with supernatural overtones.

Director: Roman Polanski

Writers: Arturo Pérez-Reverte (novel), John Brownjohn (screenplay), Enrique Urbizu (screenplay), Polanski (screenplay)

Stars: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Depp manages to make a stuffy movie about old book collectors interesting.  Well, to be fair, the books are about the devil, the film is full of murder and mystery, and Emmanuelle Seigner is captivating as The Girl.  However, some scenes are hokey, and the ending is abrupt and unfulfilling.  It seems like the novel is probably much better, as it was probably better suited to delve more deeply into the central themes and inner struggles.  In sum, this movie has great buildup, but it leaves you with theatrical blueballs.

Barton Fink (1991)

(R) 116 mins

(R) 116 mins

Plot Summary: A renowned New York playwright is enticed to California to write for the movies and discovers the hellish truth of Hollywood.

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (uncredited)

Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Stars: John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Despite good acting, especially from Goodman, I had no desire to examine the deeper meanings and metaphors of this film because it…dragged…so…hard.

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.

Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)

(R) 98 mins

(R) 98 mins

Plot Summary: Urban legend-style killings begin to occur on a movie set, in this non-sequel sequel to “Urban Legend”.

Director: John Ottman

Writers: Silvio Horta (characters), Paul Harris Boardman (written by), Scott Derrickson (written by)

Stars: Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Hart Bochner

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  You may be flipping through your cable channels and come across this movie.  Parts of it may seem entertaining, especially if you’re a fan of urban legends, like myself.  If you continue about your business with this film on in the background and occasionally stop to watch a couple of scenes, you may not be disappointed…but do not waste your time by dedicating over an hour and a half to watch a collection of half-interesting urban legends executed with unconvincing special effects.  While the plot twist isn’t bad, the ending is otherwise hokey and ruins what was a mediocre movie featuring some recognizable actors like Anthony Anderson, Eva Mendes, and Joseph Lawrence…and Loretta Devine, shame on you for playing this role…you know what I’m talmmbout.  In sum, this flick is bad enough so that its homage to Alfred Hitchcock is a little insulting, but it’s not bad background if you keep your expectations low.

 

Sea of Love (1989)

Sea of Love

(R) 113 mins

Plot Summary: A detective investigating a series of murders becomes involved with a woman who may be the culprit.

Director: Harold Becker

Writer: Richard Price

Stars: Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, John Goodman

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  After some deliberation, I’d have to recommend skipping this movie.  The passage of time has rendered it obsolete.  While the plot had a decent twist to it, and the film wasn’t boring, the action scenes, dialogue, and even the sappy saxophone soundtrack just don’t compare to today’s crime dramas.  Pacino over-acted some of the scenes (or maybe his character was written to be unnecessarily dramatic, as in his uncalled-for outburst in a shoe store), and Goodman’s Queens accent was heinous.  I’d actually have to say that Barkin stole the show here.

 

In the Cut (2003)

(R) 119 mins

(R) 119 mins

Plot Summary: After getting entwined in an affair with the police detective who’s investigating the murder of a young woman in her New York City neighborhood, insular schoolteacher Frannie Avery begins to suspect that her lover was involved in the crime.

Cast: Meg RyanMark RuffaloJennifer Jason LeighNick DamiciSharrieff PughKevin BaconYaani KingHeather Litteer

Director: Jane Campion

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  Halfway through the movie, I still wasn’t sure what it was about, and the twist was pretty predictable…but the acting was top notch, the dialogue was solid, and some scenes were so steamy that I recommend you watch this with your significant other.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

(R) 101 mins

Plot Summary: Four teens are in great danger one year after their car hits a stranger whose body they dump in the sea.

Director: Jim Gillespie

Writers: Lois Duncan (novel), Kevin Williamson (screenplay)

Stars: Jennifer Love HewittSarah Michelle GellarAnne HecheRyan Phillippe

Serious Jest:  (Worth Watching)  Hewitt, Gellar, Hech, Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr.Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, and Johnny Galecki show you how entertaining a great cast can make a decent slasher script.  Gellar and Phillippe were so good together, they were reunited two years later in another classic, Cruel Intentions.

This film’s general concept is cool, and I appreciate the unexpected resolution of some of the scenes, but too many of the other scenes are run-of-the-mill, some of the stunts are hokey, and some of the dialogue is cheesy.  Still, I’m a fan of this cast and the hook-man urban legend, so I consider this flick a slasher classic.  Your life won’t be incomplete if you never see this movie, but it’s worth watching if you ever stumble across it.

On a final note, if you’re trying to get your squeamish girlfriend to watch a horror film with you, this movie is a great set of training wheels.  It is one of the mildest slasher flicks I’ve seen.  I’m actually surprised it got an R rating.

CraigMakk: (Worth Watching) Okay, so bear with me here for a minute, I’ll get to my point eventually. This is a by-the-numbers horror movie in every conceivable way. There’s a: 1) secret of unmanageable shame, 2) person who wants revenge for said secret, 3) bunch of supposedly gory kills committed against those deemed responsible, and 4) a group of dumb teenagers who are literally begging to be killed. Honestly, I’d kill at least two of them just for the stupid things they say and do in the face of an unstoppable killer who is hunting them and picking them off one by one.

That all being said, this movie goes out of it’s way to prominently feature Sarah Michelle Gellar’s boobs. Keep in mind, this is 1997, so SMG is in the prime of her hotness (as noted by the Guiness Book of World Records for “Best Hooters of 1996-1997”)  And while she may not get completely naked, they find ways to show her milk bombs anyway (i.e. wet t-shirts, etc). And that makes every movie better in my boob…I mean book. That was a typo. And since I’m typing this on a computer, I could’ve corrected it. But I thought it really drove home my point, so I left it in there. Long story short, her phenomenal funbags make a two mug movie a clear three. So, if you like movies with almost-bare bazookas, check this movie out. And if you can think of a way I could’ve worked in the slang term for breasts “wopbopaloobops” without sounding too contrived, you are a better person than I am..

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Hanna (2011)

(PG-13) 110 mins

Plot Summary: A 16-year-old who was raised by her father to be the perfect assassin is dispatched on a mission across Europe, tracked by a ruthless intelligence agent and her operatives.

Director: Joe Wright

Writers: Seth Lochhead (screenplay & story), David Farr (screenplay)

Stars: Saoirse RonanCate Blanchett and Eric Bana

Serious Jest:  (Must See)  This film features: an awesome, edge-of-your-seat story; great dialogue; a tuff soundtrack; captivating camera work; diverse international settings, and even cool fonts reminiscent of a Sergio Leone flick.  The cast was incredible; Blanchett continues to show great versatility and general badassness, and young Ronan actually outdoes Natalie Portman in The Professional (although, to be fair, Ronan’s character is much more amazing).  Additionally, if you look beyond the action and suspense, you’ll find commentary about science ethics, family, identity, free will, and social chains on individual development.

This movie is worth owning, but it falls just short of being a Must Own, since the action scenes are decent, but not impressive enough to want to watch over and over again.  Also, a couple of aspects of the film are a bit of a stretch–for instance, it’s hard to believe that Hanna is overwhelmed by the wonders of basic electrical gadgets, but then a couple of days later, she’s doing internet research.  Overall, though, this is a solid, delightful movie, and you should make the time to watch it at some point.