by Eric Lee Baker
two movies Eric and I saw and loved best together, were
Bridges of Madison County (in 1995)
Powder ( a few months before he was killed)
We both loved movies
and the understanding of people which those ~soul-windows~ provided.
Erics' experience and comprehension far exceeded my own,
for I merely enjoyed the story and the scenery-
but Eric... Oh, Eric saw and knew every little detail
and all the aspects of the production processes.
He knew everyone connected to the production of movies...
even down to the hairdressers and costumers! He was amazing!
It was a great passion with him, second only to music....
Censorship Note; Click here
Movie Review: ASSASSINS
By Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
Richard Donner has made many memorable films in his long and distinguished career. Unfortunately, this miserable bomb is not one of them. Assassins offers only further proof that Sylvester Stallone is dead as a box-office draw and even further evidence that a good action film (at least these days) is getting to be little more than an oxymoron. I could not believe the level of ridiculous cliché's and overworked that were rampantly placed within this picture. I haven't seen such shoddy production since the fifth Star Trek film where you could actually see the painted sky and forest backdrop they used for the scene where Captain Kirk fell off a cliff he was trying to climb. I understand that these films are supposed to shrug off reality but part of their success depends (at least in some part) on a certain level of competency achieved by the filmmakers in pulling it all together for the amusement of the audience. Not this film. This entire picture simply reeks of over budgeting, slipshod production and loathsome misdirection.
Plot summary is virtually irrelevant; you've seen this one a thousand times before. However, for the sake of fairness, Assassins concerns a hit man (the best in the world of course) who wants to retire from his sordid life of murder for hire. Unfortunately, just as he's about to pack it in, a new player in the game arrives (played in an uncharacteristically abysmal performance by Antonio Banderas, who is intent on claiming the number one spot for himself. In order to do so, however, he must take out the current holder of the number one position (played by Sylvester Stallone). Of course, while Stallone runs for his life, he manages to pick up a beautiful woman (his last "assignment" ironically) and together they decide to flee the city together in a last ditch effort to leave their pasts behind with Antonio in hot pursuit.
The rest is too laughable and inane to even justify mentioning here. I went to see this when I was with one of my friends and after we left I suddenly remembered why I don't even bother with those types of films anymore. I really try not to be hard on movies, as a general rule, and at least try to find one redemptive quality about the movie in question, but this one is just too hideous to merit any praise whatsoever. Avoid it at all costs and save yourself the misery which I had to endure.
Movie Review: Beautiful Girls
By Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
Beautiful Girls offers its' audience a low-key exploration of the post-high school and college malaise which most twenty-somethings find themselves in after four years of relative identity security. Director Ted Demme (brother of Johnathan) gives us a likable cast of characters who are struggling to come to terms with who they were and what they're becoming on the eve of a high school reunion. Timothy Hutton also makes a welcome comeback to serious cinema with his portrayal of the brooding and pensive character of Will and Natalie Portman (The Professional) gives an outstanding performance as the adolescent neighbor who helps him overcome his fears of facing the fact that he has indeed grown up.
While this material is not new (in fact it's a theme which has received significant attention from Hollywood both in the past and more recently as well - Diner, Nobodys' Fool, The Big Chill, etc.) director Ted Demme gives it a renewed sense of urgency. The audience really gets to identify with these characters and gets to feel for their situations and, even though the film is unwilling to expand upon these themes in any new direction, there still remains a discreet sense of comfort with the films' somewhat laid-back approach to its' subject matter.
Much of the films' accomplishment lies in its' use of understatement. It takes the viewer to the edge of the obvious and leaves them with the task of filling in the blank. Huttons' performance as the character Will is instrumental in making this technique work. The audience can tell a lot more about him in any given situation just by looking at him rather than hearing him speak. His face says a lot more than his dialogue ever can. Uma Thurman also gives a brief (but pivotal) performance as the eye-popping cousin of the local bartender who awakens a sense of desire in the rest of Wills' laconic friends. This desire later serves as the same realization of adulthood that Will himself undergoes with the help of his Lolita-like neighbor. The same technique of self discovery applies to Demmes' direction as well. He gives his cast a lot of room to work and the result is a warm and trusting environment where emotions and fears gain a deeper sense of authenticity that would have been impossible had the film been more frantically paced. It appears as if Demme allowed his film to find itself without sacrificing any of its' subtle poignancy in the process.
Beautiful Girls is simply a great picture and one which really extols the virtues of those things we so often take for granted. The small towns we all swore to abandon at the first chance, the friends and dreams we thought we would eventually grow out of - all of them gain a deeper meaning with the viewing of this picture and it is this characteristic which makes it such an appealing film to watch and to recommend to others as well.
Movie Review: *Broken Arrow
By: Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
Broken Arrow : Any action film (with rare exception) is pretty much a formula picture. Therefore, judging the quality of such a film takes on a slightly different context than those criteria which would be utilized to judge a drama, for instance. The areas to be analyzed in an action film are really those of originality within the specific formula and the pacing of the action itself. Broken Arrow scores fairly high in both of these areas, despite some repetitive stunts and a typically shoddy script. Director John Woo (known for his love of ultra-violence) had hoped to make a sizable impression on American audiences with the release of this picture and, judging by box-office returns, he has succeeded in doing so.
The bare-bones plot concerns the theft of nuclear warheads from a downed bomber and the efforts of one of the pilots (Christian Slater) to retrieve them from his evil commander (John Travolta). The entire film takes place on the desert with a fairly innovative train-chase sequence at the end of the movie along with lots of exploding vehicles, helicopters and just about anything else you can imagine. On a more interesting note, it was refreshing to note the absence of a lot of gunfire and ridiculous shootouts between major characters. Instead, Slater and Travolta each do a lot of hand to hand combat throughout the movie, especially with each other. This is where Woos' brilliance and action director really shows because he employs lots of invasive, rapid camera movement and razor-sharp editing to make the scenes more appealing instead of relying on simple choreography and a wide angle lens to convey all of the action. These traits (along with several new innovative ways of disposing of various "bad guys" during the movie) are what really make it worth an afternoon matinee.
Although the acting was particularly abysmal in this film, Travoltas' performance as the deliriously evil Vic Deakins, was really top-notch. It was clear he had a lot of fun playing this character and it shows in his over-the-top delivery of some otherwise pretty inane dialogue. He got the most out of his character (not an easy thing to do in an action movie) and it was his performance that I enjoyed watching the most. Christian Slater looked kind of lost and desperate for a paycheck to me for almost the entire film and Samantha Mathis' performance was too horrid to even mention in detail here.
Otherwise, Broken Arrow offers maximum bang for the buck and a likable villain to boot.. It is worth checking out in the theater in order to fully experience the ridiculous amounts of violence but just a tad under being worthy of a full price ticket. See it in the afternoon (like I did) and enjoy!
*<this was the last review Eric published in the Iron Blade, and appeared four days after his death. His death and the candlelight memorial service were announced in the same paper... which was handed to us at that service, for it had just arrived and they wanted to be sure that we received our copies>
Review: The Brothers
By Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
The Brothers McMullen is a delightful film from Irish newcomer Edward Burns. Already gaining comparisons to Woody Allen, Burns has created a film which is both sentimentally heart-warming and endearing to the intellect at the same time. While not extravagant and in many ways downright plain in its' presentation, The Brothers McMullen creates a gentle atmosphere of reflection and confusion out of which ultimately springs a genuine sense of direction for the characters involved.
The story consists of three brothers, all of whom live together and are seemingly comfortable with their current lives. The eldest is happily married while his two younger college-age brothers (who have moved in on a "temporary" basis) also seem to be on the path to contentment as well. As the movie progresses however, the viewer realizes that all is not well with their individual lives. Each of them is forced to confront their own personal problems with the opposite sex and these confrontations are often hilarious as they are poignant. Before the movie is over, each faces their own difficult decision concerning the direction of their lives (as well as the lives of those they love) by growing up together all over again as only brothers can do.
Burns throws in just the right mix of humor and seriousness to make the film work. Much of the humor is subtle and often dry, yet it plays a vital role in the development of the characters. After a lifetime of making jokes, they realize that they can no longer make light of serious situations. This is a change which demands all of Burns' talents as a director. While the film is rough in some places, especially in terms of editing and the use of camera angles, the viewer cannot help but fall in love with the characters. This was an essential task to complete in order to make the film work and Burns does an admirable job with what could have been a mediocre story. It's this accomplishment which makes The Brothers McMullen such a pleasure to watch and to recommend to anyone interested in romantic comedy.
Movie Review: Carlittos' Way
By: Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
Carlittos' Way is the latest entry in the continuing saga of gangster and mob-related films. Al Pacino, fresh from last year's Oscar win, is once again called in to play the tortured, hapless victim of events far beyond his control and Sean Penn gives a mesmerizing performance as a crooked lawyer who finds himself walking the thin line between power and greed.
Pacino portrays Carlitto, a recently paroled mobster determined to go straight. However, the only reason Carlitto is free is due to a series of clever legal manipulations by his lawyer, David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn). Carlitto feels indebted and Kleinfeld, a hopeless cocaine addict, uses his gratitude to ensure the help which he desperately needs in running his numerous side schemes and a recently acquired club.
As Carlitto begins to realize just how deep he is getting in the affairs of the underworld, he also realizes that getting out will be next to impossible. Rekindling a love he shared with a dancer (Penelope Ann Miller) before his incarceration, Carlitto plans one last desperate escape from his past with the hopes of starting life anew with her.
Pacinos' performance is virtually flawless as usual and a strong supporting cast make this picture a definite must see. However, director Brian De Palma often adds too much pomp and flair in all the wrong places. His heavy-handed style drags the picture down in some places, especially when the audience should be concentrating on the actors, not the bizarre camera angles and unnecessary subtitles when the actors occasionally switch to Spanish dialogue.
However, these flaws are only small detractions from an otherwise excellent production. De Palmas' directing is flawed, yet certainly adequate in bringing the picture together and the script manages to still surprise the audience with a few unexpected plot twists. Pacinos' performance is once again outstanding and Sean Penn may even find himself in the running for a best supporting actor nomination. This film is certainly no Godfather nor is it as powerful as Scarface but it does command an audience which should appreciate the vast talent gathered here and its respectable outcome on screen.
Movie Review: Circle Of Friends
By: Eric L. Baker
Circle Of Friends is a heartwarming film which captures both the joy and pain associated with post adolescent life. The film revolves around the characters of Eve, Nan, and Bennie, chronicling their individual experiences with the often confusing adult world they find themselves suddenly thrust into. The viewer watches them encounter love, death and betrayal as well as themselves in their quest to come to terms with their surroundings. While certainly not a new theme in the history of film, Circle Of Friends offers the viewer a new and refreshing approach to this timeless subject and provides genuine characters which are easy to feel for and identify with.
Director Pat Conroy puts the emphasis entirely on the story behind the film and it remains character driven throughout its course. This approach allows for a unique bond to develop between the audience and the film's characters so that we become genuinely concerned with what happens to them. The multi-talented cast, which includes Chris O'Donnel (from Scent Of A Woman) and newcomer Minnie Driver, are also no small factor in helping make this film pure enjoyment to view. Driver's performance is particularly impressive as she effortlessly portrays the role of Bennie, perhaps the most complex and detailed of the movie's roles.
While Circle Of Friends fails to rise above the level of typical Hollywood escapism, it also makes no effort to do so. What it does accomplish is a mystical whisking away of its audience to a gentler and more sensitive place and it is for this very reason that it is such a sheer pleasure to view. Warm and inviting, this movie takes the same problems we struggle with on a daily basis and portrays them in a less threatening light than we are used to experiencing. This is quite simply an excellent film to take someone special with you to view and enjoy its simplicity with. Highly recommended.
Movie Review: City Hall
By Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
Harold Beckers' City Hall is one of the biggest disappointments to come out of Hollywood in a long time. Supposedly a film which was to chronicle the corruption inherent in big-city government and its' ability to seduce even the most moral of men. City Hall ends up becoming a disastrous collage of fragmented idealism which any intelligent viewer would have difficulty in deciphering. Although the film was promising in all of its' previews and offered up a strong cast which seemed more than capable of making the movie work, something apparently got lost in the transition from script to screen. Even the cast seems a little bewildered in this picture, particularly Al Pacino as the mayor of New York City. No one seems to have gotten a handle on their characters and it's easy to see why when listening to their cut and paste dialogue. Only John Cusack gives an admirable performance as Pacinos' embattled deputy mayor but the chemistry between the two of them never seems to be quite convincing, even in the parts of the movie when the tension between their two characters should be at its' strongest.
While Pacino is on his way down the political ladder due to corruption, Cusack is on his way up because of his squeaky clean image and the films' ending is particularly a joke when one considers what has happened and who is actually responsible for it. From that point on, the movie is hopelessly predictable and the characters have become obvious actors in the roles that have lost their sense of direction. It seemed as if the writers started out on a definite purpose but lost their conviction about half way through the creative process. This is extremely surprising, considering that the writing team for this picture was top-notch and included the renowned Paul Scrader among its' authors. What was he thinking? Unfortunately, that answer may never be known because the answer never materialized on screen. There are other pictures which tackle this subject with much more focus and Harold Becker would have been wise to watch those before trying to tackle this badly bungled project. I would advise viewers interested in this film to skip it because you'll want those two hours of your life back when you realize you've just wasted them in a darkened theater and have nothing to show for them but an empty box of popcorn and a crumpled ticket stub. Check out films like True Colors (another John Cusack film) and Storyville instead. They deal with the same subject matter and do a better job with their subject matter.
Movie Review: Clerks
By: Eric L. Baker
Clerks is one of the funniest and most intelligent films to come to the big screen in a long time. An independent production financed by a budget of $27,000, Clerks takes the viewer through a typical day in the lives of two disgruntled, twenty-something convenience store clerks. Simply put, director Kevin Smith's totally hilarious and often unpredictable film is a true masterpiece which should not to be missed by any means.
The story revolves around a day in the lives of best friends Dante and Randal. Dante gets called into work on his day off to cover for a fellow employee. Already furious at having to work a shift other than his own, the situation only accelerates into total chaos with the arrival of his friend Randal, an employee of the adjacent video rental store next door. From there, the film relates their ongoing disastrous day together. One cannot help but laugh hysterically as Randal and Dante redefine the term slacker. Together they encounter customers from hell itself, shrug off their work responsibilities to act on the slightest whim (including closing up shop to play hockey on the roof in the middle of the day) and generally wreck havoc on everyone and everything around them.
Director Kevin Smith (who also produced the film and wrote the script) imbues his work with a perfect blend of humor and occasional seriousness. The witty sub-headings which come before major scene changes and his totally unconventional approach to filming his characters are only a small part of what makes Clerks the truly enjoyable film that it is. Watching this movie is pretty much a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience, but then so are the lives which its characters lead.
While not for everyone, Clerks is certainly representative of the modern generation of misfits and malcontents, among which many of us may already count ourselves as members. Anyone who is fed up with the system and wishes to vent some steam via outrageous humor and reckless abandon to social restraint owes it to themselves to see this movie. Playing at the Grandin Theater.
Movie Review: CLOCKERS
By Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
Spike Lee has always been known for his controversial film and the release of Clockers does nothing to help erase that image from the publics' mind. While not as blatantly accusatory in tone as some of his other releases, Clockers does find fault with the seemingly indifferent society that tolerates the steady disintegration of inner city life. While this is not a new theme for Spike, the presence of executive producer Martin Scorsese seems to have liberated Spikes' sense of direction, particularly in the films' aesthetic treatment. This is most evidenced in the films' cinematography which is much more adventuresome in terms of technique than any of his previous films.
The plot of Clockers involves a young drug dealer (nicknamed Stryker) and his growing frustration with the system he knows is leading nowhere. He peddles drugs, reports to his boss and gets harassed by overzealous police; a cycle which begins to eat away at him until he is driven to one final, desperate act. To say much more would hamper the films' power (especially for those who have not seen it) but it is safe to say that Lee keeps the film tightly focused especially in regards to the story. It will not be easy for the audience to decide how they feel about Stryker until after the credits fade and then it will prove a difficult task for some people.
This is where Lee excels as a filmmaker. He makes the audience identify with his characters, rather than judge them. This was what made Do The Right Thing such a brilliant film because Lee makes us feel the tension in which his characters were forced to survive and this atmosphere was so realistically portrayed that it easily transcended the boundaries between screen and mind. Clockers works the same kind of cinema magic by making us feel the desperation of everyone involved, even the police. Everyone is up against the wall in this film and the options they face are coldly realistic. There are no comforting options in this film, just like in the urban chaos which Lee strives to re-create on screen. Clockers is ultimately a warning of where our society is headed and no matter what your opinion of the film, Lee forces those who view it to think and think hard. Consequently, the films' title becomes more symbolic than we may care to realize. Time will always slip away, but we will always choose how to spend it.
Music Review: The Cure: SHOW
By: Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
October 21, 1993
The Cure's new release, Show, is a live recording of their recent Wish Tour. Having broken with their electronic oriented approach towards composing, the release of 1992's WISH signified a return too their original status as one of the premier forerunners of the early punk movement. The usually dominant keyboards were replaced with a dense wall of sonically manipulated feedback causing their already emotional aggressiveness to take on an even fresher urgency.
Show takes this new approach and uses it to full effect on the live recording. Smith's voice takes on an even ghostlier howl behind the bleeding guitars and the music surges in a densely layered blanket of sound. There are no extended solos, either vocal or instrumental, and the emphasis is clearly placed upon the harmony of the performance. The band plays with a quiet fury which manifests itself even in the slower songs such as "Trust" and "Lullaby", luring the listener into a state of total enthrallment. New member Perry Bamonte adds the extra guitar element in the revamped sound and his presence is a relatively smooth transition from the brooding, melancholy oozings of ex-member Roger O'Donnells' synthesizers.
While this sound may come as a surprise to fans of such computer dominated recordings as Head On The Door and Disintegration, devoted fans of the group will recognize the return of the original sound which established the Cure in the first place. Clocking in at over 73 minutes of material, most of which is drawn from the Wish release, this disc offers an excellent repertoire of classic Cure in a well recorded and top notch performance. An additional CD single, Sideshow, offers three additional live cuts not released on the album and another live album, Paris, is due within the next month.
Movie Review: DEAD MAN WALKING
By Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
Dead Man Walking is one of the most powerful film I have ever had occasion to view. Directed by Tim Robbins, the film seriously calls into question those beliefs that we haphazardly voice agreement with on a daily basis, in this case the death penalty. While skeptical of the films' intent at first, I was soon swept up in its' horrific portrayal of both sides of the story - both the criminal responsible for a reprehensible act of irreversible violence and the parents (and a society left to deal with this aftermath).
Sean Penn makes an incredible return to the screen as a death row inmate, coming to terms with his impending execution. After swearing that he would never act again after directing and writing his own critically acclaimed film (The Indian Runner), Penn puts on a performance that will bring tears to the eyes of even the most stoic of movie goers. His character is guilty of the crime, but has no way of identifying with its' consequences until he accepts responsibility for it. It is the same challenge which Penn faced after having to make the audience feel compassion for a man too caught up in his own evil to realize it while also avoiding the pitfall of making him into a martyr for a political cause. This is an immense task which is accomplished through what can only be considered an Oscar nominee performance.
This brings us to the films' other central character ( Susan Serandon) as the nun thrust into the role of being the spiritual advisor for a condemned man with an endless amount of rage and no signs of remorse. It is through her guidance, both spiritual and emotional, that Penns' character learns to accept what he has done and live (and die) with the knowledge of what his actions have caused in his own heart, as well as the hearts of others. Serandon herself does an immaculate job of portraying a woman who is at a loss to fully understand her own role in such an assignment, but also with an infinite capacity to continually keep reaching out - to both parties involved.
Tim Robbins has created a virtual masterpiece with this film. Its' scope transcends any category and its' power defies words. To watch this film is to come just about as close to the real thing as is probably humanly possible. Using a variety of innovative camera shots and a collage of haunting and unforgettable imagery, Robbins takes the viewer everywhere in this film, even to the depths of the human soul, from which emerges a reflection on a single closing scene, one whose portrayal is echoed in the faces of every person who has ever had to face death and its' aftermath. This is the true triumph of the film, not challenging something as politically charged as whether or not the death penalty is legally justifiable. Instead, Dead Man Walking juxtaposes its' title to include the living amongst its' audience and to remind them of the severe consequences inherent with any action regardless of moral conviction.
by Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
October 10 ,1993
Demolition Man, according to previews, promised to be an excellent new action movie with proven stars and a big budget to provide for a lavish display of stuntwork and special effects. However, not only does this film fail to deliver on its promising possibilities, it also ruins what could have been at least an average action-adventure movie.
Sylvester Stallone turns in one his most wretched performances to date as Sergeant John Spartan, a wrongfully convicted ex-cop who is sentenced to a cryo-rehabilitation prison along with his arch nemesis, Simon Phoenix. Phoenix, played by Wesley Snipes, is the only bright spot in this film and his acting might be worth paying the 99 cent rate to view his maniacal performance.
While the two enemies sleep, the world undergoes a drastic change where violence and "abnormal" behavior are eradicated. Even cursing and spicy food are outlawed because they do not promote harmony and well being. Everything is run by computer and the police merely serve as button pushers when a "crisis" arises. Not everyone is happy with the new arrangements, however, and an underground resistance is being led by Edgar Friendly (Dennis Leary) to return the world to its normal state. As a result, Phoenix is thawed out and programmed to kill Friendly, but when Phoenix can no longer be controlled, Spartan himself is thawed and ordered to apprehend Phoenix.
Director Mario Brambilla has created an insufferable mess with this film. We are subjected to numerous jokes about Spartan's inability to cope with the future (toilet paper has been replaced by seashells) and his love for profanity, for which he is constantly fined by the computers which bark out ego boosting sermons to the citizenry. These jokes are cute at first, but after the horrendous repetition with which they are put into use, they become a nuisance to the film itself.
As for the violence, almost all of the sequences are shot in dimly lit settings and fought by people dressed entirely in black, so its difficult to really see what is going on. The opening sequence in which an entire warehouse is demolished by an explosion is so obviously staged that I could hardly believe it made it past the editing room.
Not even Stallones' bulging biceps and guttural utterings are enough to save this wretched film from video hell. The only thing this film did for me was to demolish the meager amount of cash once contained in my wallet. Fans of Stallone would do better to wait for Cliffhanger to come out on video and only the most ardent fan of Snipes can appreciate his presence in such a miserable production as Demolition Man unfortunately turned out to be.
Movie Review: Exotica
By: Eric L. Baker
Director Atom Egoyans' latest creation is an odd mixture of surrealism and moody images which overpower the viewer with their intensity. Moving at a slow, yet methodical pace, the viewer becomes gradually enthralled by the movie's intricate and enticing structure. The plot is centered around a strip club which bears the films' title as its name as well as the questionable relationship which develops between one of the dancers, a D.J., and a government auditor who frequents the club on a regular basis. Often creepy and certainly disturbing, this movie defies any attempt at a comprehensive description, other than its' impressive attributes as a prime example of avante-garde filmmaking.
What truly makes Exotica unique among current releases is its masterful use of subtly. The audience is slowly manipulated by Egoyans' script, as well as his camera, into situations which provoke definite emotional reactions. All of this is accomplished through keeping the characters relatively sketchy. Although it is impossible to not develop some concern for them, the audience can never be sure about just what exactly it is they are feeling towards certain individuals, even in situations which are seemingly clear in their presentation.
Egoyan also keeps the direction of the film tightly marked until its end and even then certain aspects remain just as veiled as they did at the film's beginning. Overall, Exotica depends heavily on its audience to make its plot work. People who enjoy films which present their subject matter in a clear and concise manner will NOT enjoy this film. However, if viewed with patience and an understanding as to what Egoyan is ultimately trying to do with this movie in terms of audience manipulation, Exotica is a definitely worth checking out. Playing at the Grandin in Roanoke.
Movie Review: Flesh and Bone
By: Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
November 7, 1993
Flesh and Bone is a dark romantic drama set against the brooding landscape of the American plains. With an impressive story and excellent directing, the film's descent into the twisted relationships of its characters and the tortured realities which haunt their lives is an experience not to be missed.
Dennis Quaid plays a vending operator who travels the counties refilling candy bars, condoms and cigarettes from his roadside machines. Haunted by the memory of an innocent family's brutal murder during a botched robbery in which his father forced him to participate, Quaid is desperate not to allow any deviation from his purposely uneventful life. Through coincidence, Quaid meets a drunken dancer (Meg Ryan) at a bar and when she passes out, he takes her back to his hotel room and over the course of several weeks, begins to fall in love with her. As their relationship moves dangerously closer to true love, he begins to struggle with the horrifying realization that this woman may indeed be the baby whose life was spared by his father the night of the robbery.
This fact does not go ignored by his father (James Caan, in an excellent performance) who re-enters his son's life upon learning of the girl's existence. Certain that this woman is indeed the same one he neglected to kill earlier, he sets about tying up "loose ends", even if it means the death of his son in the process.
Flesh and Bone approaches its subject in a deeply existential manner. The film moves slowly at times yet methodically builds to the terrible realization which all of its characters must face. Combining a moody sense of isolation and despair through prolonged shots of the vast and dry American plains, the directing in this picture is the key to its success. One cannot help but sympathize with the helplessness Quaid feels as he struggles with his pro-longed guilt and the desire to expose the dark truth to Ryan. The characters in this film are all victims: victims of each other, their upbringing and most of all, their search for meaning. Plagued by despair and guilt over their choices until their lives are consumed by self pity, the climax presents itself as only another painful choice for each to make, such as the one Quiad faced when he remained silent about the baby's presence that fateful night.
The saga of Quaid, Ryan and Caans' characters ends in exactly the same setting as it began. The abandoned house where the robbery took place serves as the final ground in which each character faces the demons of their past while the American heartland stretches out around them like a yawning darkness, swallowing the viewer in its staggering implications and subtle commentary on the human condition itself. Playing at Valley View mall only.
Eric L. Baker
Dr. Daniel V. Gribbin
Feb. 24, 1995
FILM NOIR ASPECTS OF TAXI DRIVER AND BAD LIEUTENANT
The conventional aspects of film noir offer filmmakers a myriad of potential effects and approaches towards their craft. Regardless of whether or not the subject matter is handled through a complex technical style or simply conveyed via a riveting performance-driven approach, film noir allows both viewers and directors the opportunity to approach the darker side of humanity in their own unique way. Taxi Driver and Bad Lieutenant are perfect examples of film noir at its best, clearly illustrating the varied approaches within this genre and their effects upon the audience.
Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese, approaches its theme of moral decay via Scorseses' intricate and commanding use of the camera. The city which serves as the story's backdrop is filmed in deep hues of darkness, often awash in a hazy layer of grimy smog. Scorsese creates an immediate mood of loathing and despair with these vivid images, using them to flesh out the growing madness of his central character, Travis Bickle.
Bickles' tightly wound psychological state is portrayed through a variety of claustrophobic shots, indicating his increasing isolation and inability to relate to those around him. The angles used in these scenes serve to dictate the viewer's perceptions of exactly how Bickle views his physical and social surroundings. These effects also enable the viewer to better relate to Bickles' pain and confusion.
This technique is utilized to perfection in a scene in which Bickle calls a woman he has recently dated and stumbles through an awkwardly apologetic speech. Although the viewer cannot hear her words, it becomes obvious by Bickles' increasingly agitated responses that she has no interest in his efforts to salvage their relationship. As the speech progresses, Scorsese shifts the camera from Travis standing at the phone to a long and deserted hallway which contains many doors, all of which are closed except the one which leads into the street. This shot emphasizes Travis's frustration at being unable to communicate his desire in a productive manner. The hallway comes to symbolize the barren emotional landscape which Travis is seemingly exiled to, while the closed doors indicate the decreased amount of options available to his already limited means of emotional release. By putting the viewer in the same situation via the use of the camera, Scorsese forces the same emotional reaction from the audience which he has already created on screen.
Scorsese also relies predominantly upon his directorial style to create the mood for the film. Although their is superb acting by Robert De Niro in the title role, the film does not depend on his acting ability alone to convey its sense of moral and psychological decay. De Niros' performance is more focused on displaying Bickles' highly physical reaction to his surroundings. This emphasis is displayed in the lengthy scenes in which Bickle begins implementing his rigorous physical fitness program as well as the meticulous construction of his weapons gear. Once again, Scorsese makes us feel Bickles' rage and confusion through his physical demeanor. The psychological aspects of his deteriorating condition are portrayed through Scorseses' continually revolving camera, allowing the viewer to truly immerse themselves in the atmosphere which has spawned such chaos within Bickles' mind.
Bad Lieutenant, directed by Abel Ferrara, emphasizes an entirely different approach towards its subject. The movie is basically a character study of the lieutenant's journey towards utter self-destruction. Interestingly, Ferrara gives his title character no name. The viewer's first and lasting impressions of the lieutenant come from the title of the film itself. This characteristic is applied to all of the movie's characters in that all are nameless and defined by their actions rather than words.
Unlike Taxi Driver, Ferraras' film shies away from any flamboyant directorial style. Where Scorsese would have manipulated an image or particular scene, Ferrara purposefully distances himself. Since Bad Lieutenant is essentially a character driven story, its power comes from Harvey Keitels' raw performance as the lieutenant. Keitel brilliantly portrays a man who has no illusions about his own worthlessness but is still desirous of some type of salvation, causing the viewer to simultaneously feel immediate disgust at the baseness of his character but also eliciting pity as well. Ferrara allows Keitel all of the freedom necessary to create the mood for the film by remaining distant in his direction. Utilizing a realistic approach via lengthy takes, long shots and minimal distortion of physical surroundings, Ferraras' directorial distance from the action actually allows the lieutenant's spiraling descent into hell to have an even greater psychological impact on the mind of the viewer.
This effect is especially noticeable in scenes in which the viewer watches Keitel commit various acts of unspeakable evil. The camera simply films these actions in an unobtrusive manner, never moving from its often stationary position. This technique remains constant throughout the duration of the film, even during the scenes in which a nun is brutally raped and Keitel does all but sexually assault a pair of teenage girls during a trumped up traffic stop.
This technique forces the viewer to deal with the raw emotions generated by Keitels' performance, as opposed to having to unearth their significance from beneath a technically complex shroud of directorial wizardry. In this regard, Bad Lieutenant somewhat transcends the film noir genre. Its emphasis on characterization over physical surroundings and directorial style seem to place it outside of this typical classification. However, the mood which is evoked by other techniques employed in the screenplay and by Keitels' performance clearly root the 5
film in the same philosophical foundation which serves as the basis for the film noir movement. Both films fully illustrate the varied approaches available within the context of film noir towards portraying the frightening capacities of the human heart. Taxi Driver and Bad Lieutenant are particularly excellent examples because they approach their material from opposite ends of the spectrum. Scorseses' choice in using his own unique style to convey the tortured state of Travis Bickle stands in direct contrast to Ferraras' de-emphasis of that same approach. However, both films effectively illuminate the inherent blackness of the human soul, thus making them true classics in the ongoing film noir tradition.
THE THEME OF
EMOTIONAL DYSFUNCTION IN
FOOL FOR LOVE
Fool For Love is an evocative play which clearly illustrates the gaping emotional and spiritual isolation which has gnawed at humanity's core for centuries. The central characters, Eddie and May, are utilized as representative of this condition in that they both depend on each other to continually nourish the warped manner in which they interact. Author Sam Shepard also places great emphasis on the physical aspects of the character's surroundings paying particular to the sensory and visually related aspects of the play. Careful attention is given to the design of the set, all the way down to the horse sweat stench of Eddies' well-worn jeans as well the texture of the furniture which occupies the motel room.
The play moves very methodically in its gradual explanation of the depraved nature of Eddie and May's relationship. It is not until halfway through the play that the reader learns that Eddie and May are half brother and sister and once that information is revealed, the context in which both of their past and future actions are viewed takes a dramatic turn. Shepards' development of this complex and often confusing relationship is also indicative of the seething emotional undercurrent which drives the play. Although there is an obviously twisted element to Eddie and May's love for one another, neither of them wants to address it. They choose to respond to their inability to communicate by violence or simply ignoring the obvious altogether. They become obsessed with creating what they know to be impossible and constructing some type of happiness from the ashes of their past.
Shepard uses this choice on their part to illustrate what has become a national phenomena of sorts. Eddies' life mirrors that of his father's in the same way as May's life resembles that of her mother's. Both characters are obsessed with continuing in the behavior which has caused them (and those before them) the exact same misery they wished to avoid. Whether or not this is the result of a fear to break free from such an unstable (yet predictable) cycle or an inability to comprehend its devastating effects is unclear. However, the obvious source of the ongoing chaos which inhibits both Eddies' and May's happiness is clearly rooted in their inability to face the reality of their current situation as well as that of their past.
Shepards' closing lines of the play truly define the problem which has cost both Eddie and May their hopes for any prospective future. Once Eddie leaves the room to check on the fire outside, May immediately begins packing, telling Martin twice that "He's gone" even though Martin tells her that "He'd said he be back in a second" (Shepard 707). This realization on Maes' part does nothing to make her change her role in allowing the entire scene to be repeated somewhere else down the road. She'll run from Eddie only far enough to gain some space before allowing him to catch up to her and they'll repeat the same scenario until some physical tragedy destroys their already fragile emotional union. Their inability to face themselves drives them even further into despair and even farther away from each other, a sad commentary on not only their relationship but a society that is equally as spiritually and emotionally bankrupt.
Eric L. Baker
Movie Review: Frankenstein
by Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
Frankenstein Delivers Real Chills: Mary Shellys' Frankenstein is probably one of the most anticipated film openings of the year. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film delivers a true retelling of the classic tale with the added advantage of special effects wizardry to give it extra power on the big screen. An excellent cast also helps make this movie a delightful viewing experience, particularly the amazing performance of Robert DeNiro as the monster and Branaghs' equally stunning portrayal of its' tortured preacher.
Branagh once again goes for a heavy handed atmosphere of Shakespearean proportions in this picture and the few problems the film has are mostly contained in his directional style in bringing all of this to life. He tries much too hard in the beginning of the film to make this approach work and all of the aesthetic flourishes he garnishes the film with end up ultimately overwhelming the story itself. Patrick Doyles' score is often overbearing and seemingly out of place throughout much of the film; the essential characterization of young Frankenstein and his family are lost in the sweeping camera angles and lavish set designs. Branagh needed to let the story speak for itself in this respect and should have toned down his use of genre to enforce the novels' theme.
In terms of special effects, the film delivers an incredible array of innovative and stunning visuals. The birthing scene in which Frankenstein comes to life is simply amazing. However, some glaring technical gaffs are also present which may seriously mar the films' overall credibility in this department. While these deficiencies are probably unnoticed by all but the most critical eyes, they simply should not have been allowed to go past the editing room without being corrected.
Ultimately, the film works best when focusing on the book and the performances by the ultra-talented cast. The screenplay by Steph Lady and Frank Darabont does an admirable job of strictly adhering to Shellys' text and except for minor flaws in characterization, the novel still retains its' original power, even after modification of the big screen.
It almost seems as if Branagh realizes his overindulgence in directional egoism about halfway through the film. From there, the picture picks up speed and lightens up on the Victorian atmosphere, focusing instead upon DeNiros' unsettling performance as the monster and the novels' more darker subtext. It is this turn-around which makes Branagh more than forgiven for the films' earlier flaws. After this "awakening" Branagh makes this picture ooze with an atmosphere not generated by effects or fancy camera angles, but rather by the truly disturbing elements contained within Shellys' novel. This is what makes the film really worthwhile in terms of seeing it in a theater. Driven by strong performances and an uncluttered screenplay, Mary Shellys' Frankenstein passes for an extremely entertaining evening of movie viewing.
Movie Review: Nightmare On Elmstreet 7
by Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
Freddy Returns In The Sixth Sequel: It may seem hard to believe that seventh Nightmare On Elmstreet could ever be made, but studio executives obviously (and successfully) pitched the idea to aging horror movie maverick, Wes Craven, the original creator of the series. Since the premise of these films has worn a little thin by now, a pretty startling and innovative approach had to be thought up in order to lure back the droves of gullible adolescent and college-age students who watched the first six films (myself included). Hence, theaters across the nation are currently showing Wes Cravens' New Nightmare to the same gullible crowd (myself included). To make things more interesting, Craven has Freddy cross over into the real lives of everyone connected with the making of this film. There are no real characters, since all of the major actors portray themselves, including the infamous Robert Englund (minus the make-up), Wes Craven, Himself (in a brief cameo), and B-movie king, John Saxton. Unfortunately, the film takes a long time to get started. Craven seems intent upon making a suspense thriller out of this film rather than the effects-heavy Freddy films of the past. However, after the film gets halfway through, it becomes obvious that the whole idea really is as ridiculous as it sounds, and the psychological suspense approach is chucked aside in favor of the technical wizardry that makes these films such fun to begin with.
Although there is little new here in the gore respect, it is still fun to watch such pointless and grotesque violence unfold on the screen and scare the hell out of you when you least expect it. The film does manage this at least partially, and some particular scenes may save this film from a total theatrical death. But they're only good enough to warrant a 99 cent viewing at best. Basically, if you can sit through the first hour, the end is playful and violent enough to make it vaguely interesting. Unfortunately, its' merits aren't good enough to command such positive attention and it will probably fade from theatrical release fairly fast. Recommended for watching on video for fun and laughs.
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