Thursday, July 30, 2009

FINAL SCENE FRIDAY: Unforgiven

No matter how great the films from Clint Eastwood have been this last decade, his highest point both as actor and as director came in 1992 with his thoughtful, patient Western epic, Unforgiven. Never before, and rarely thereafter, has a Western dealt with the ideas of guilt, redemption, and nature in the ways that Unforgiven was able to do. The picture is a natural build, an accumulation of pent-up emotions and natural instincts that plays itself out in a progression of scenes that grow more and intense as the plot begins to thicken.

Eastwood plays William Munny, a reformed villain of the Western landscape who, for lack of a better option given the passing of his one true love, is drawn back into a world of corruption and violence. This violence, however resistant Munny may have become in his farm life with his family, ends up as an inevitable destiny for a violent, hardened man. The nature of violence, the obsession with murder, the resistance towards what a man once was, and the damage that it does on the human psyche are all aspects of Unforgiven, and these ideas are summed up in the powerful final scene of the film.

Will Munny has seen his friend, played by Morgan Freeman, murdered and left upright in a coffin as an example to those who may wander into town looking to set things right regarding the violence inflicted upon a naïve prostitute. The villain, Little Bill, is played by Gene Hackman, who does some of the best work of his illustrious career. Munny is drawn back into violence, and has once again, been corrupted. All of the things he tried to do to become a good man in his life have been erased; but the conflict then arises that what got him to this violent place once again is the senseless murder of a good friend by a villain. A villain not unlike he was in his past life.

This final scene has an interesting arc, as it goes from distant, to intimate, to action packed, to chilling, to ultimately haunting. The entire arc of Eastwood as Will Munny can be exemplified in this final scene, as he realizes, in his conversation with the writer Beauchamp, that violence and a murderous outlook were the only things he could ever fit comfortably with:










This is the darkest scene in the entire film. And rightfully so. Will Munny has gone to the point of no return; he is a corrupted man. He is the Will Munny of old. And credit Eastwood for using the lightning strategically to emphasize Munny’s transformation. The result is chilling. The last ten minutes of the film explain the reason for the title, and this emphasizes the craftsmanship the lies within every carefully situated scene which builds to this appropriate finale.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Forgotten Films of the Nineties Series: The Last Boy Scout




THE LAST BOY SCOUT

Somewhere in that grey area between obscure, ridiculous, forgettable flicks and cult status lies The Last Boy Scout, Tony Scott’s overlooked action gem from 1991 starring Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans. That grey are in which it lies is the consensus of the general public, but I feel like this consistently frenetic and often times hilarious action buddy picture deserves its place at the top of the Lethal Weapon knockoff list. This can be attributed to the limber, sharp screenplay from writer Shane Black (who also directed the criminally underrated Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), who also wrote the original Lethal Weapon film.

Bruce Willis, at the top of his wiseass game in 1991, plays Joe Hallenbeck, a disgraced former Secret Service agent who is rambling through life as a private eye. Hallenbeck is a gruff, burnt out shell of his former self, and Willis plays this down-on-his-luck antihero better than anyone in the business. Especially 18 years ago. Hallenbeck is given a case by a friend who just so happens to be nailing his apathetic wife (these are the types of friends a Joe Hallenbeck character is destined to have) and is outed in a scene that is both well crafted and tense. The assignment is to be the bodyguard of Cory, an exotic dancer played by a young Halle Berry. It seems Cory has a bit of blackmail on a few of the powers that be in professional football; blackmail involving illegal gambling and the mob.
Enter Jimmy Dix, a disgraced former star Quarterback (notice the similarities) for the local L.A. Stallions. Addicted to painkillers and floating through life, Dix dates Cory, who in one scene early on says she may have a way to get him his old job back as the QB. Obviously, the blackmail has something to do with her plan. Damon Wayans, at the peak of his career, nails the role of Dix and is a perfect counterpoint to Hallenbeck in the world of shared misery.

Joe and Jimmy soon meet and immediately rub each other the wrong way in one of the better phallus races in a film that is full of them. And then, Cory is murdered in a dramatic shootout that is one of the best scenes in the picture, complete with a slow motion Willis firing at the goons and a man cut in two by a corvette. And from here on out, the two disenfranchised has-beens are on the case to try and find out what Cory knew, and why she was murdered. What they uncover is a tangled web of corruption within professional sports that includes crooked owners, crooked politicians, and gangsters. The big idea here is… who can tell the difference? A great point raised by Black’s script.

The rest of The Last Boy Scout is loaded with the humor and the action one would expect from a buddy flick as such, but what elevates this film above the other Lethal Weapon knockoffs of the early and mid nineties is the creativity that is involved, both in the absurd violence and action sequences, and in the creative wit in the dialogue between Hallenbeck and Dix. But one such action sequence sticks out among the crowded masses, and I know the ones who have seen the film know which scene I am referring to. That’s right, it’s the final run of Billy Cole:




First of all, I cannot think of a single film that involved a football scene ever nailing the accuracy of gridiron action, regardless of how outlandish or serious the scene is intended to be. And this opening sequence is no exception. Everything is turned up to eleven in this scene, and the football movements and actions are obviously staged, but that is to be expected. What is so brash and daring about this scene is that it is the first scene in the film, and the complete shock value and intensity is unmatched in a film of this stature. This shooting rampage between the lines definitely sets the stage for the crazy action that is yet to come.

So many over-the-top action scenes coupled with so much dry humor from both Willis and Wayans help to keep The Last Boy Scout out of the pitfall of so many action films in the nineties that took themselves too seriously. This is clearly a “movie,” and the buoyancy of the dialogue and gunplay never make this a dark or brooding picture, which would have been the wrong direction to take the story. Bringing in a meager $59 million in its theatrical run, still a pretty solid number for 1991, The Last Boy Scout is often overlooked when people cover the career paths of both Tony Scott and Bruce Willis. But credit Willis and Scott, as well as writer Shane Black and Damon Wayans, for creating a film solidly entrenched in the time, but consistently entertaining and always enjoyable to revisit from time to time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TUESDAY TOP 10: Best Sequels Ever...

It is no coincidence that the laundry list of horrible, tepid sequels in the film industry easily passes the much shorter, more difficult list. Sequels are hard. Sequels have a daunting task, to capture the magic of the first film while bringing new aspects and stories into the established narrative. Not an easy task. To follow up last week’s ten worst sequels list, we should consider the ten best sequels out there. Those sequels that are worthy of being tied to a franchise; those sequels that meet the impact of the original film; and, in rare occasions those sequels that actually surpassed the original movie. Again, I decided to exclude all of the major “slasher” franchises and the James Bond films for the sheer fact that their collections are so vast they could get their own list:

10) Jaws 2 (1978) – Directed by Jeannot Szwarc, Jaws 2 was clearly inferior to Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece. Nevertheless, there is an endearing, knowledgeable angle to this sequel. Szwarc, it seems to me, realized that his film would not get to the level of the original Jaws, and adjusted his sense of self-importance accordingly. The film never has that heavy dread, as the audience knows what it is in the water this time around, but instead opts to live off of more intense attack sequences. Most notably was the attack on the water skier that managed to become another fond memory of the Jaws franchise. This was also Roy Scheider’s only sequel, and his presence at Chief Brody automatically verifies this film as a valid revisit to the ocean.

9) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) – I know before I even begin that I am in the minority with this pick, but first let me defend it against the third installment to the franchise (I wont even bother dragging the fourth one into this discussion), The Last Crusade. The Last Crusade felt like more of the same from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The brightness, the look, and the feel of The Last Crusade tied it more directly to the first picture, and in that way it felt like a bit of a retread. But Temple of Doom, on the other hand, felt like a completely different direction. TOD is solid in its originality. The arguments that the film is overtly racist seems shortsighted, as Spielberg may have been merely mimicking the serial adventures that were in theaters during the time these films take place, where the enemy was almost always foreign. The darkness of TOD is quite substantial, and also a welcome change to the franchise. TRIVIA: Temple of Doom is actually a story that takes place a few years before the one in Raiders of Lost Ark.

8) Aliens (1986) – This juiced up, high-powered action sequel to Ridley Scott’s meditative, Hitchcockian science-fiction thriller, directed by James Cameron, amps up the action and takes the intensity in a different direction. Cameron, adding several more aliens into the fray, including a massive queen alien, took the special effects to the highest level at the time, a staple of Cameron lore. Aliens was also a further liberation of the female action star with Sigourney Weaver’s tough turn as Ellen Ripley. Some may argue that this sequel is superior to Alien, but I argue that the films are so vastly different and unique to each other that comparison is impossible. Nevertheless, as its own film, Aliens is an excellent sequel.

7) Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) – The only second sequel in this list, Die Hard 3 washed the metal taste of Die Hard 2 out of our mouth with a return to form from the original. Die Hard itself was never surpassed in the franchise, and is one of the best action films ever made, but the third film was a spry, frenetic, well-crafted thriller that managed to grab some of that residual energy form the original and place it in a larger set. The claustrophobia is gone, yet the sense of urgency never falters. The most important thing about Die Hard 3 was the return of John McTiernen, the director of the first film. His presence can be seen on the film, whereas the second film, directed by action hack Renny Harlin, was a flat, empty action film. The addition of Samuel L. Jackson was also an excellent added wrinkle to the films energy. Sure, there were pretty ridiculous segments (cough – dumptruck surfing – cough) here and there, but for the most part the action here had panache, flair that was missing in the second installment.

6) Superman II (1980) – This infamous sequel was originally being directed by Richard Donner, who was filming the first and second movies back to back. But somewhere along the way, things fell apart, Donner was yanked from production, and the majority of the second film was shot by director Richard Lester. The result, after watching the Richard Donner cut a few years ago, is a substantial improvement on the direction Donner was taking with his version. First and foremost, the thrilling opening action sequence that takes place at the Eiffel Tower in Paris was not in Donner’s version. This is also the film where Lois and Superman’s love story becomes deeper and more complicated, and this is also the introduction to the powerful and evil General Zod and his two extraterrestrial partners, Ursa and Nom. Zod, combined with a return of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, make this sequel to the original Superman the best sequel to come along, and arguably the best entry into the entire franchise.

5) Spider Man 2 (2004) – Much like Superman 2, the second Spider Man film does two things better than the original. First, the relationship between Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson goes to deeper levels, as Peter struggles to keep Mary Jane safe from harm. Second, the villain is a vast improvement from the cartoonish Green Goblin in the first film, as Doc Ock is now terrorizing Spider Man and New York City. The story lacks the convoluted mess of the third film, and still manages to be more serious, and ultimately more thrilling than the original film, which was a quality genesis story in its own right.

4) Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Often revered as the best entry into the franchise, this direct sequel to the groundbreaking first film, Episode IV: A New Hope, is the darkest and most brooding entry into the franchise. It is also the film in the series that is really the thrilling transitional film that bridges Episode IV with Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. With the visually enthralling opening sequence on the snow planet Hoth, the second act in the cloud city, Han being frozen in Carbonite, and Luke’s tutelage under Yoda and ultimate revelation, Empire keeps the energy high and the mood dark and brooding, and surpasses the original film in both weight and excitement.

3) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – James Cameron had to wait seven years for his second installment in to the Terminator franchise so that the technology could catch up with the vision he had. And it was an excellent idea on his part to wait, because he delivered the best, most complete action sci-fi picture of all time. The humor, the action, the impending doom, and the groundbreaking special effects are all perfectly balanced throughout the film, and the introduction of Robert Patrick as the metal shape shifting T-1000 still holds up by today’s advanced standards in special effects. This is also, arguably (though not very arguably) the only Terminator sequel that should have ever been made, as the franchise has struggled to find its voice in the two more recent additions to the story.

2) The Dark Knight (2008) – While the first remodeled Batman film, Batman Begins, was arguably superior to any other Batman film in film history, Christopher Nolan’s second foray into this new, darker Batman, is easily the finest, most thrilling, most completely amazing superhero film of all time. There is nothing that comes close to either the quality or the historical impact on pop culture that The Dark Knight has had on the landscape of cinema in the past few years. Beginning with the astounding performance of the late Heath Ledger as a maniacal, nihilistic Joker, everything about The Dark Knight is completely engrossing. Bale also shows his comfort with the Bruce Wayne/Batman character in this picture where he wasn’t quite in the same groove in the first film. Much like the previous superhero sequels in this list, The Dark Knight takes advantage of the ability to develop these characters further while beefing up the villain role, and the picture does this in every way possible.

1) The Godfather, Part II (1974) – Other than being the film responsible for beginning the numbered-sequel phenomenon, Francis Ford Coppola’s penultimate masterpiece somehow, some way, managed to surpass the depth, the magnitude, and the undeniable power of the first film. Going back and forth between Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) struggles to keep his family together and the origin story of Vito Corleone (played to perfection here by Robert DeNiro) was a risky idea by Coppola, as too much misdirection often times spells disasters for sequels. However, the juxtaposition of the two stories and the two character arcs in these parallel narratives enriches the thematic elements of the Godfather legend. Again, this sequel is much darker, more brooding than the original, as it becomes clear that Michael will never be like his father, and was never destined to run this family. Tension, history, heartbreak, and the occasional shocking moment balance this second entry into the Godfather franchise, and make it Coppola’s most complete film of his illustrious career.

Monday, July 27, 2009

REMAKE MONDAY: Westworld

Every once in a while, Hollywood could be well served by remaking certain films. But there is a catch, Hollywood: instead of concentrating your efforts on remaking modern classics that are still fresh and endearing to a larger population, remake those fringe films that have developed somewhat of a cult following throughout the years but have never truly been “mainstream” films. Put down the ABC Family-esque adaptation of Footloose, throw away the rights to Romancing The Stone, and focus your efforts on a film that could benefit from a reinvention. Now that you have that mindset, put some thought into a remake. Make the remake a film that can stand alone. Don’t go find a cheap director and some Nickelodeon alumni to star to keep the budget down.

One such film that would benefit greatly from a reinvention, and at the same time draw attention to the creativity and entertainment value of the original film, would be Michael Crichton’s first foray into amusement parks gone awry: Westworld. Written and directed by Crichton, the film takes place in the future and stars Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as two yuppies who travel to an adult amusement park where you can be transported to another place and time. The park is divided into three different worlds: Roman World, Medieval World and, of course, West World. What makes these parks so unique is the fact that they are populated with lifelike robots, robots that serve as antagonists and lovers to the men who visit, robots that make the visitors (who pay $1000.00 per day) feel like they are truly members of these worlds.

Benjamin and Brolin live in West World, and everything is going according to plan. They are winning shootouts with the robotic adversaries, namely two gunfights against the gunslinger robot played with an icy eeriness by Yul Brynner. They are bedding some of the beautiful, robotic women at the saloon. They are living the life of a cowboy in the Old West, and loving every minute of it. That is, until the robots begin to malfunction, are unable to be controlled or shut off by the central control room, and become murderous stalkers. Brynner’s turn as the gunslinger gone off the grid becomes truly chilling, and the suspense of the picture becomes quite palpable by the end. But that is not to say that there wasn’t quite a bit of humor in the first two acts.

West World allows its guests to participate in bar fights, bank robberies, and one-on-one showdowns, all of which they are never at risk of being injured. They even get the opportunity to break out of prison. All of these elements are explored in the first two acts of the film, and the bar fight in particular has a certain campy energy to it as chairs are flying and people are being slid down the top of the bar, crashing into beer glasses along the way. All the while, scientists in white lab coats are noticing the unusual malfunctions of the robots throughout the entire park.

There is a lot to like about Westworld. The camp, combined with the early seventies musical score and visual texture give the picture a very concrete sense of place. But that is not to say that there isn’t a vast bit of untapped potential in Westworld. This remake floated around Hollywood for a while in the early 2000s, with Arnold Schwarzenegger tied to play the Yul Brynner gunslinger, which suggested an angle focusing on the terror and science fiction that is primarily the third act. But I would suggest that what made the original so clever and entertaining was the kooky Western clichés that the film exploited for the sake of the park visitors. The offbeat comedy in the picture keeps it energetic and slightly off center, a mood that would serve the remake well. Here, now, we can assign the Westworld reinvention a new director and a cast of stars, and have a good time imagining what the result would be.

DIRECTOR: Early on in the film, I started to wonder what director might fit this material, and one name kept popping in my head: Wes Anderson. At first, this seemed off base, as Westworld is not necessarily Wes Anderson material. But perhaps it is enough of a Wes Anderson-styled offbeat story that this could be a new direction for Anderson to go while still keeping in tact his subtly skewed comedy. Anderson could definitely handle the first two acts of a picture that ever so quietly builds suspense in a minor subplot early on, while focusing on the exploits of these two yuppies in a series of appropriately-clichéd Western situations. It would be interesting to see Anderson handle the terror and suspense that dominates the final act of the film, and it seems to me that this would be a chance for Anderson to break out of his slump as a director. Changing directions, if only a little, could be the very thing Anderson needs, and it seems that Westworld has a perfect blend of Anderson quirk while adding in some true suspense and thrills that could show a possible range in Anderson as a director.

CAST: Schwarzenegger as the gunslinger would have been a boring take on the Yul Brynner robot. Brynner’s gunslinger was vacant and icy, and also quite trim and athletic, making his swaggering gait as a robot even more unsettling as he stalks the visitors. Rather than getting a muscle-bound superstar to fill the role, it seems the film would be better served by employing a lesser known, slimmer, unassuming actor. Ben Foster came to mind, perhaps because of his role as the villainous gunslinger in the recent 3:10 to Yuma, but the correlation to that role may be too much to keep this character exclusive from his Yuma role. But then, Gerard Butler came to mind. Although Butler is physically imposing, he is not an overwhelmingly large specimen. His girth can be masked. What Butler can pull off, I believe, is that coldness. His stare can be appropriately icy, and his grizzled, rugged look would serve the gunslinger character type quite well.
As far as the two park guests, Peter (played by the lanky Richard Benjamin) and John (a cocky, swaggering James Brolin), there are a few options here, but it seems that two names fit the mold more than any others. For Peter, who better to get to star in a Wes Anderson telling of Westworld than Owen Wilson? His comedic familiarity with the Old West, as well as his ability to have enough range to be believably frightened and in peril, make him a perfect fit for the lighter, more offbeat of the two leading men. And for John, after watching James Brolin in the role, who better than Josh Brolin? The uncanny resemblance to his father makes Josh maybe the most obvious casting choice, but an excellent choice nonetheless. Brolin’s ratio of seriousness to flightiness is the mirrored opposite to what Wilson could bring to his role.

Wes Anderson’s Westworld starring Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, and Gerard Butler as “the Gunslinger” would be an adventure worth taking. Anderson’s well-known ability to handle slight, offbeat comedy with the untapped potential to branch out into something a bit different could keep the flair of the original in tact while delivering a new interpretation of the material. And Butler’s cold stare in opposition to the versatility of an Owen Wilson-Josh Brolin paring makes the central casting here something worth seeing, maybe just to see if they could pull it off.

Friday, July 24, 2009

FINAL SCENE FRIDAY: The Godfather, Part II

Welcome to Final Scene Friday, where we end your week with the end of a movie. The final shot of a film can be shocking, prophetic, serene, and often times can be the most important scene of the entire picture. To open up this weekly staple, I thought there couldn’t be a better final scene of a movie than the last five minutes of The Godfather, Part II. When asked about the final shot of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful sequel, many often cite the murder of Fredo out on the fishing boat while Michael watches on from the house. They sometimes disregard the true final scene of the movie, and perhaps the most important scene of the entire trilogy.

We immediately realize that this final scene is a flashback, because it opens with Sonny, played by James Caan, introducing his good friend Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Rizzi) to the rest of the family and, more importantly, to Connie (Talia Shire). In the first film, Connie and Carlo marry and, well, as you know things don’t go well for anyone. These two friends, Sonny and Carlo, become enemies and ultimately meet their demise in the first picture.

It is Vito’s birthday, so the gang is all here ready to surprise him. This is also where Michael breaks the news to the family that he is joining the Army, much to the chagrin of short-tempered Sonny. What is most important about this scene is the way in which it ends:



Michael being left alone, isolated from his family, is a clear indication that he was never meant to be the Don. The isolation at the table mirrors his isolation at the end of the second picture, when he has murdered his own brother and has lost connection with his family. He is left in a very dark place. While the scene is a telling one, it also carries a heavy bit of nostalgia seeing everyone back from the original, save for Marlon Brando. Credit Coppola for his decision to get James Caan and Gianni Rizzi back, and to add this very prophetic, symbolic final scene to the end of his ultimate masterwork in the trilogy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION'S ANTI-RELIGIOUS INTERPRETATION...

One of the most interesting, entertaining, and ultimately rewarding things about watching a movie that carries certain level of emotional depth and thematic presence is being able to deconstruct the picture and take from it different ideas and different themes. One such movie that I found myself doing this with happens to be, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and rewarding films of all time, and my personal number one. That film is the prison drama The Shawshank Redemption, a picture that is free to interpret in many different ways regarding its narrative and its ultimate thematic message. One such interpretation would be to say that The Shawshank Redemption is an anti-religious film. Certain characters, their relationship to one another, the prop work, and the end result of the film indicate, in my humble opinion, that Shawshank speaks against the idea of religion as salvation. Warning: spoilers ahead…

Andy Dufresne, played to perfection by Tim Robbins, is a wrongly accused man; a timid, intelligent man whose wounded pride lands him in the Shawshank Federal Penitentiary with back to back life sentences for a crime he ultimately did not commit. Dufresne, along with a line of damned souls, is introduced very early on to Warden Norton (a deliciously evil Bob Gunton), a man who uses Christianity to mask his otherwise untoward acts. Each prisoner who enters Shawshank is given the bare essentials regarding clothing and toiletries. They are also given a bible. Norton tells the new prisoners “I believe in two things: discipline and the bible.” This sets up Norton as the representation of Christianity for the film.

The fact that Norton is the most evil and corrupt of the characters in the film is the first indication that the film does not take a positive stance towards religious ideologies. But that is not enough to convict the film. The prison walls themselves represent the broad-spanning hold that religion has upon the masses. Everyone in the film, in one way or another, relies on the prison to live. Consider the quote from Red, Andy’s closest friend played by the always reliable Morgan Freeman. Early on in the second act of the film, Red discusses the idea of institutionalization: “These walls are funny. First you hate them, and then you get used to them. Enough time passes, you get so that you depend on them.” This explanation points to the idea, in this argument, that the prisoners of Shawshank, the masses, eventually buy in to the idea of prison as represented by the Warden. So by that rationale they develop a dependency on the religion represented by the very walls of the institution. Thus, the institution becomes religion, meaning religion is represented in the broadest of senses by the prison itself.

Now that the religious groundwork has been laid for the film, consider now Andy’s escape. First, consider the actual physical task of escaping. How does he do it? By using a rock hammer, Andy chisels away at the prison wall, creating a hole in its existence, enough to crawl through to the other side. This very literal action simultaneously represents the figurative idea of creating a hole in the prison wall that represents religious ideology. Now consider Andy’s hiding place for the rock hammer he uses for his escape. Andy hides the hammer in the bible which Norton supplied him in the beginning of the film. He does this by literally taking the words out of the bible and fitting the hammer inside. The very physical action of removing the words of the bible to hide what is ultimately Andy’s true salvation, coupled with the physical hole in the wall of the prison, are both clear indications that the picture is rescinding the idea of religion as the institution by which these characters must abide. The creation of holes in the very fabric of religious representation in the film points to the anti-religious ideology of the narrative.

Once Andy is finally free of the prison walls, he finds himself in the rain, a rain which washes him clean of all of the corruption and evil deeds that were put upon him within the prison walls, and put upon him by Warden Norton. This is Andy’s true baptism, a baptism free of all of the religious symbolism that loomed large over the first two acts. Only when Andy is free of the walls and of Norton, is he truly saved. His salvation, in other words, comes not from religion, but by escaping religion.

This may be one man’s opinion, but it seems that there are a number of physical and figurative actions throughout The Shawshank Redemption that indicate it’s stance on religion is not one of praise and positivity. Instead, the indictment of religion lies within the very fabric of the film’s plot. This, however, does not take away from the very impact and beauty of a film that hinges on the idea of hope. Hope does not have to be exclusive to religion, and perhaps that is the ultimate message of The Shawshank Redemption.

CAREER MAKEOVER CANDIDATE: Tom Berenger

From time to time, actors for some reason or another, simply disappear. Unless you peruse the direct to DVD shelves at your local video store, there are a handful of once prominent actors who used to star in mainstream films, popular films, great films, films with merit and substance and creativity, who are nowhere to be found. This happened to actors the likes of John Travolta in the eighties, until his star was resurrected thanks to Quentin Tarantino.

Some of these actors need a reboot. Some of them have a quality; a quality that made them popular at one time, talents that, if put in the right directorial hands, could shine once again and get their name back in the public lexicon. It happened most recently for Mickey Rourke, and if it could happen for him, why not others? So here, now, is my campaign to resurrect one of the more popular actors of the late eighties and early nineties: Tom Berenger

I understand that laughter is your first response, but that is precisely my point. Seventeen years ago, considering Tom Berenger as a viable leading man would not have garnered the consensus chuckle. Seventeen years ago, Major League II (the roman numerals make it more… important) had not hit the screen yet and marked the beginning of the end of Berenger’s mainstream acting career. But consider what came before Major League II.

Back in 1983, Berenger, who had been working for several years in smaller pictures, starred in the ensemble drama The Big Chill. Berenger played Sam Weber, a member of a group of friends that included Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, and William Hurt, who had come back together after college to attend the funeral of one of their friends who had committed suicide. Weber had become a famous television actor, playing a Magnum P.I. type action star, J.T. Lancer. Berenger portrayed Weber as a humble star, wanting to keep his fame in Los Angeles while he was with his friends back in Michigan. Berenger fit in well with the large ensemble, and The Big Chill became one of the more popular films of 1983 and has kept quite a cult following throughout the years.

Three years later Berenger starred in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam opus, Platoon. Berenger played Seargent Barnes, the villain of the picture, Stone’s head representation of the pro-war faction that ended up dividing the Platoon into two different mindsets. Berenger earned his first and only Oscar nomination playing the brooding, evil, scarred war veteran whose villainy was unmatched in 1986. One scene in particular in a Vietnam village was both deeply disturbing, as well as a true testament to Berenger’s ability to be a ferocious and impacting actor.

The following year Berenger teamed with director Ridley Scott in the under seen but effective thriller Someone To Watch Over Me, then the following year in yet another small thriller, Shoot To Kill, opposite Sidney Poitier. Shoot To Kill, despite its aimless and meaningless title, is a taut, suspenseful picture that takes place in the mountains of the Northwest, and Berenger’s mountain man is a perfect adversary/partner to Poitier’s FBI agent who longs to get back to civilization. Berenger was running along at a film a year at this point, and the following year would star in another ensemble picture, this time creating one of the most endearing and consistently humorous sports flicks of all time.

Major League starred Charlie Sheen, a fellow Platoon alum, as well as Wesley Snipes, Renee Russo, and Corbin Bernsen, and despite its noticeable similarities to Bull Durham, holds its own as a solid, and often-hilarious sports movie. Berenger played Jake Taylor, the veteran catcher of a band of Cleveland Indian misfits, and was the heart of the picture as well as one half of the movie’s inevitable romantic angle. Berenger was building a solid career, seemingly on his way to another Oscar nomination and perhaps a win somewhere down the road.
Maybe Berenger’s agent, around this time, developed a coke problem, one he kept hidden from Berenger. Maybe between doing lines on his glass-top, eighties coffee table, complete with wooden pink flamingos serving as legs for said table, Berenger’s agent was reading the scripts for movies like Shattered, Sniper, and Sliver, and was thinking “these are great films! This could be Berenger’s forever-remembered ‘S’ Trilogy’!” These potboiler thrillers were dead on arrival. I can understand trying to cash in on the Sharon Stone early-nineties sexual popularity by starring in Sliver, but there is no excuse for the corny, laughable thriller Shattered or the poor attempt to return to the war picture, Sniper.

Berenger’s star was beginning to fade, so now his agent, scrambling for a hit, switched his coke for pot, and read the script for Major League II. Perhaps if you’re stoned this script would seem funny, but I cannot imagine any sort of mind-altering substance making this screenplay read for laughs. Throw in a neutered PG-13 rating, whereas the original was a funny R-rated picture, and the recipe is there for failure. Berenger should have known better, and perhaps this is where he switched agents, but it seemed to be too late for him to find his way back into cultural prominence as an actor.

After floundering through the rest of the nineties in direct-to-video drivel like The Last of the Dogmen (ironic title?), forgettable theatrical films like The Substitute (later to be immortalized in sequels starring Treat Williams), and Shadow of a Doubt (yawn), Berenger was officially out of the limelight. So much so that seeing his face on the cover of a DVD box elicits laughter, and seeing him appear randomly in a film like Training Day causes the viewer to say something along the lines of “hey… wait… is that… it’s TOM BERENGER!”

Having just turned sixty, it is time for Berenger to take a different role, something edgy, subdued, and something totally out of his comfort zone. He needs to be challenged again, and I don’t mean challenged to keep his old knees and fake hip in shape enough to do a fourth Sniper film (that’s right, there were two sequels. To Sniper). Berenger needs to campaign to get a small, important role in an Aronofsky film, or he needs Paul Thomas Anderson to whip his ass into shape, or Tarantino to write a role in which he could flourish, something that would get him to show off that fiery intensity and acting prowess he gave Oliver Stone twenty-three years ago. Or perhaps he could flash some of that quick wit and aggressive humor he flashed twenty years ago in a new dramedy, maybe as a father or an uncle to the main character. Or perhaps, he just needs to drug test his next agent.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

TUESDAY TOP 10: Worst Sequels Ever...

In this sequel happy world of Hollywood money grabbers and creatively stunted studio executives, there have been some truly unnecessary, totally abhorrent, and downright insulting sequels to some otherwise solid films and film franchises. For every Godfather II out there, there is, on the other end of the spectrum, an Exorcist II. And an Exorcist III for that matter, and… well you get the idea. Not that the Exorcist sequels are the absolute worst of the worst. No, no… those are the ten that follow here. Don’t expect to see Pumpkinhead 2 on this list, or any of the dozens upon dozens of sequels to any of the major horror franchises listed here because, well frankly, those could be in a list of ten or twenty by themselves. Broken down by overall quality, the magnitude of expectations, and necessity, here are the definitively ten worst sequels ever to litter the silver screen:

10) Beverly Hills Cop III (1993) – After Tony Scott took over the reins for the first sequel, amped up the action, and retained most of the spontaneous and edgy humor from the original, John Landis (yes, THAT John Landis) dumped this abomination into the summer movie season. This time, most of the story takes place on a movie set, er, amusement park. Gone is John Ashton as Sergeant Taggart – an actor who really had nothing better to do but somehow knew better – and to replace his absence we get pummeled with more of Judge Reinhold’s Billy, a dopey, unfunny character who is over the top and quite irritating. And perhaps this marked the beginning of the end of Eddie Murphy as a wisecracking comedian, because in BHC3, his smartass routine seems tired and forced.

9) Matrix Revolutions (2003) – I should have seen this coming at the end of Matrix: Reloaded, a movie with cool action but no substance. The substance turned into indecipherable futuristic battles between humans and robots that numb the senses halfway through. On top of that, we get yet another battle between Neo and a bunch of Mister Smiths, only this one is longer! And look, it’s in the rain! Wow! The battle goes on and on and somewhere in the back of everyone’s mind they realize that nothing is going to be solved by the fight because the logic that so cleverly backed the original film disappeared near the end of Reloaded. And speaking of drawn out nonsense and absurdity to the highest power… [SPOILER] I think Trinity is still dying as you read this. Seriously, I think even Neo was getting tired of listening to her.

8) Jaws: The Revenge (1987) – The most amazing thing to me about this film is the fact that Michael Caine is in it. Avoiding all avenues of logic at all costs, this third sequel turns the Great White into some sort of stalker/serial killer, places the action in the Caribbean (big Great White population down there), and even has the shark deliver a monstrous roar a couple of times near the climax. I understand that Jaws 3 was no award winner, but at least it tried to employ 3-D technology and had a storyline completely unrelated to the first two films. This would be much higher on the list had it not been for the unrelenting comedy. I mean even the poster tagline, “This Time It’s Personal,” is laugh-out-loud funny.

7) Robocop 3 (1993) – Red flag number one: Peter Weller, an actor who wasn’t necessarily turning down scripts left and right at the time (or now for that matter) decided he had better things to do, being replaced by Robert Burke. Red flag number two: The first two Robocop films were absurdly violent, and for good reason, garnering hard R ratings. So, for the third entry into this franchise that has served to exploit and satirize violence in the media, the powers that be decided to trim it down to PG-13. Red flag number three: Nancy Allen reprises her role as Murphy’s partner, only she reports to the set with about fifty extra pounds, indicating that she knows she will be mailing in this performance. And finally… Red flag number four: Robocop flies. If I remember correctly.

6) Superman IV (1989) – I don’t care what anyone says, Superman III was a solid, entertaining sequel. Superman IV, on the other hand, was a disaster from the beginning. Thrown together in a hurry, even borrowing scenes form the previous films, this 89-minute sequel looks rushed, unpolished, and the effects are somehow worse that those from the original film eleven years previous. And the villain, Nuclear Man (yawn), overacts horribly, sports a Don Johnson-esque feathered mullet, and wears some ridiculous black and gold outfit that looks like a last-minute costume someone would by on their way to a Halloween party. And the fact that the storyline revolves around the serious subject of the nuclear arms race makes this addition all the more embarrassing to the franchise.

5) An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) – This is the first, and I believe only, addition to this list that I couldn’t make it all the way through. There was something about the look of this film, the polished, synthetic look that was such a distraction from the absurd plot and horrible acting. And the effects of the werewolves themselves were cartoonish and completely unbelievable. Everything about the original film from John Landis (yes, THAT John Landis), the humor, the grit, the horror, the pathos, all of that is absent here and what is left is a complete disaster.

4) Rocky V (1990) – It’s hard to believe that this is the first Stallone sequel that deserves to be on this list, but the first three sequels to the Rocky franchise were, in their own way, enjoyable and entertaining. This is neither enjoyable, nor is it entertaining. The film was simply a money grab, and an attempt to rekindle those nostalgic feelings form the first two pictures by placing Rocky in his black hat and fingerless gloves and dumping him back in the old Philly neighborhood, where he inexplicably begins to sound as dumb as he did in the first film. Throw in Stallone’s real-life son as his whiny, wimpy, irritating son in the film and real-life boxer Tommy Morrsion – whose acting might even be worse than his boxing, if that’s possible – as Tommy Gunn, another irritating character, and the formula is their for disaster. I cannot believe Stallone was able to coax the original film’s director, John G. Avildsen, back for this mess of a sequel.

3) Caddyshack 2 (1988) – Not that you can expect much from a sequel whose only original cast member was Chevy Chase (whose star had begun to fade by this point), but this film was irritating to the point of anger. The abrasively obnoxious Jackie Mason replaces Rodney Dangerfield’s fiery wit in this go round, and Bill Murray’s brilliantly comedic Carl Spackler is this time a stupid, unfunny Dan Aykroyd. And then, all of the original edge of the first film, the sex and the drugs, have been chopped form this sequel, neutering the story and leaving really nothing but inane slapstick to fill the gaping holes. Albeit, to no success.

2) Spiderman 3 (2007) – This is by far the most maddening sequel on this list. After taking the Spiderman story to new heights in Spiderman 2, creating a compelling story and enhancing the villain from the original, this third installment completely fell apart. The first problem is that there is too much going on in this second sequel. Director Sam Raimi, feeling heat from the fanboys, elected to throw in the Symbiote storyline and have Topher Grace play Venom. He also decided to have Spidey don the black costume, one that corrupts his mind, meanwhile employing Sandman into the mix and shamelessly referencing Uncle Ben’s murder in order to make the Sandman’s story seem relevant. Not to mention the fact that there is a dance sequence from Tobey Maguire smack in the middle of the story that is perhaps the most confusing and stupid scene from any of the three films. Oh, and I didn’t even mention the third villain, the Hobgoblin, played by James Franco who apparently didn’t bother trying to act his way through this train wreck. Instead, Franco insists on cheesing a stupid grin and acting like a ten-year old for some inexplicable reason after getting amnesia. Part of me wants this fourth installment to hopefully wash this bad taste out of my mouth, but part of me is afraid things may only get worse, as they tend to do with a third sequel.


1) Batman & Robin (1998) – Where to even start with this one. It seems now, after director Joel Schumacher took Batman Forever towards the direction of camp and overt art direction, that his second addition to the franchise might have been bad. But I don’t think that anyone could have ever predicted such an awful, cheesy, messy, poorly acted, mysteriously over-budgeted nightmare that Batman & Robin turned out to be. With Arnold Schwarzenegger shamelessly overacting, even to his standards, and George Clooney seeming to know, underneath his bat nipples, that what he was doing was going to kill the franchise for almost a decade, it is hard to imagine the powers that be sitting down for a screening of this thing and feeling good about what they had done. Schumacher managed to turn the franchise from a brooding, artistic comic book adaptation into some sort of flamboyant, over-produced rock opera that is so overloaded with characters and subplots, none of which are terribly interesting, that it makes Spiderman 3 look like a one-act play.



Disonhorable Mentions: A shout out to Alien Resurrection, the fourth installment to the Alien franchise complete with a cloned Ellen Ripley and a half human, half alien thing, The final two entries into the Karate Kid franchise, and the overtly racist Lethal Weapon 4. The overt racism in LW4, I guess, seems no surprise now since Mel Gibson was involved…

Monday, July 20, 2009

DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: Kathryn Bigelow

Director Kathryn Bigelow is a rarity in Hollywood, mostly due to the fact that she is a female in the proverbial “man’s world.” Bigelow does not deal with the Rom-Com or the manipulative “terminal illness” films that one might automatically assume belong in the portfolio of a female director. Instead, Bigelow has opted to go the other direction throughout her career, setting her sites on action and intensity and creating films that shine with quality and carry that ever-important street cred term, “cult following.” Her talents as a director have gone mostly overlooked throughout her long career until perhaps this very summer with the release of her newest action flick, a film that has somehow, some way, overcome predisposed negativity to perhaps be Bigelow’s biggest break yet.

After studying art and criticism at an early age, Bigelow transitioned to film with The Set-Up, an artistic short feature in 1978 that examined violence in different ways. A few years later she co-directed The Loveless, an amateur biker film. It wasn’t until 1987 that Bigelow “the director” made a name for herself by co-writing and directing the groundbreaking vampire-western genre mash up, Near Dark.

Starring Lance Henrickson and Bill Paxton, Near Dark followed a family of night stalkers across the Southwest. Though it didn’t make up its $5 million budget in its initial theatrical run, Near Dark was generally well received by critics at the time and was the first of Bigelow’s films to collect, throughout the years, a loyal cult following. This following is due in no small part to the supporting performance of Bill Paxton as Severen, the wily maniac of the family whose charred and bullet-riddled body has become the most iconic image to be pulled from the film.


Following Near Dark, in 1990, Bigelow directed Blue Steel, a police drama starring Jamie Lee Curtis and the late Ron Silver. Blue Steel was well made, but fairly overlooked by audiences and generally forgotten. Bigelow didn’t wait long to get over the shortcomings of Blue Steel, as in 1991 she released Point Break, a fast and furious, wildly creative cops and robbers action film set in Los Angeles that is sometimes dismissed as hokey and vapid.

These dismissals are quite absurd when you look at Point Break for what it is, and I would argue that it belongs in the discussion as one of the best pure action films ever made. Consider the inventiveness of this plot: a gang of California surfers and adrenaline junkies rob banks wearing latex masks of the ex-presidents. An FBI agent, who was at one time a star college quarterback, is put on the case to try and hunt down the gang of criminals, only he becomes caught up in their free-spirited world of thrill seeking and surfing that his judgment grows cloudy and he disappears deeper and deeper into their lifestyle. Now consider the fact that Bigelow captures some truly exhilarating sky-diving footage, stages some high-energy robberies, and films one of the finest foot chases in the history of movie making, and it is hard to deny Point Break its rightful place among the top action films of the last thirty years. It is also Bigelow’s biggest money maker of her career.

Four years later, in 1995, Bigelow directed another inventive picture, Strange Days, starring Ralph Feinnes and Angela Bassett. This neo-noir was set in the near future, New Year’s Eve, where a police conspiracy is uncovered by Feinnes’ character, Lenny, an ex-cop who deals in selling “dreams,” cerebral images put together and sold to the willing for their enjoyment. Though it was well received by the critical masses, again, it failed to find an audience. Strange Days was perhaps ahead of its time, and was also a difficult film to market in the mid nineties where that sort of film wasn't quite as popular as it became in the early 2000s.

After Strange Days, until 2008, Bigelow directed only two more feature films. In 2000, she departed from her M.O, directing a small, somber film about two women in crumbling relationships, set against the backdrop of a hundred-year old murder mystery. The film was The Weight of Water, and it starred Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley. Distributed in greatly limited release, The Weight of Water was quite a different film for Bigelow, and her unfamiliarity with the subject matter may have hindered her a bit with the direction of the film. Two years later, Bigelow helmed K-19: The Widowmaker, a technically sound, but overall flat submarine picture starring, curiously, All-American Actor Harrison Ford as a Russian submarine captain. Perhaps the lukewarm reviews and middling box-office was due in part to the fact that American audiences could not buy Ford as a Russian leader.

Between K:19 and the present, Bigelow directed a handful of varying television shows, but this year she may have struck gold with her latest film, The Hurt Locker. Despite the uphill climb this film has had to endure (it is an art-house action film in the midst of summer uber block busters, as well as an Iraq war film), The Hurt Locker is one of the best-reviewed films of the year, and it looks like quite an exhilarating picture. The film is even in early Award discussion, and perhaps could be Bigelow’s next big thing.


Kathryn Bigelow is a talented director, not a volume shooter the likes of action hack Renny Harlin who insists on pushing out mind-numbing action drivel like Driven to pay for his swimming pool, but an overlooked talent in the action world. With her new film, The Hurt Locker, gathering so much praise and attention amid a season rife with over-produced, over-marketed special effects extravaganzas, the recognition is a testament to her skillful eye and artistic approach to a film genre that lacks those very approaches all too often.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Moon


SPACE BLAHS

Moon - Sam Rockwell (97 min.)

In Moon, the new science fiction film from director Duncan Jones, Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut alone on the surface of the moon mining rocks that the Earth now uses for our energy source. His only contact, aside from recorded messages from his wife and daughter, is GERTY, a robotic apparition voiced by Kevin Spacey. After an accident investigating one of the mining vehicles, Sam wakes up in the station infirmary to the realization that he may not be alone up there. And so goes the premise for the film, one that builds up psychological fear and dread only to deliver answers too soon, then sputter to the finish line.
Rockwell does an excellent job here, given the fact that he is really the only actor in the film outside of video feeds and the voice of Kevin Spacey. He is always an interesting actor, and one of a few these days that could carry an entire film like this one. Spacey, again in voice alone, cannot help but sound mischievous, especially as a disembodied voice. His presence is felt throughout, even when he is merely watching events unfold from the background.

All of the set and art direction is well handled here, as the vehicles and exterior shots of the moon look appropriately beaten and worn. Director Jones has definite patience with the story, and he gives the audience some interesting sights to see. He also creates a solid amount of suspense early in the story, but it isn’t long before that suspense is upended.

Without giving too much away, I will simply say the other person Sam meets once he wakes up is himself. Mystery, of course, surrounds these events, but the ultimate answer to the puzzling question seems pulled from previous science fiction films and falls flat upon delivery. When this answer was unwrapped on the screen, it was so soon I automatically assumed that the answer was a mere diversion from the actual truth. Unfortunately, I was mistaken, as once the revelation is made the film never gives another twist to really catapult the story and deliver on the psychological dread it promises early in the picture. Even though the truth behind the story is somewhat interesting, and in actuality is a disturbing notion regarding corporate power, it doesn’t make up for the been-there-done-that feel of the final answer. The end result is a mediocre film that sputters and wanders through the second half to its conclusion that is neither shocking nor memorable.
C

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Forgotten Films of The Nineties Series: Bringing Out the Dead






BRINGING OUT THE DEAD

It is hard to imagine, especially in this decade, that a Martin Scorsese film would come and go in the multiplexes without much fanfare and would be generally forgotten when considering the great directors’ catalogue. But that is the case with Bringing Out the Dead, Scorsese’s 1998 release starring Nicolas Cage as Frank Pierce, an EMT who is struggling to hold on to his sanity as he patrols the depraved, nightmarish streets of New York City in the early nineties. Bringing Out the Dead was not well received at the box office, but I argue that there is quite a lot to like about this film, a film that could be considered a bookend picture, or an accompanying piece to his 1976 film, Taxi Driver.
Frank Pierce is a tired, beaten, frayed human being, an EMT who trolls the city streets answering emergency calls with whomever his partner in the ambulance is at the time. Frank’s partner changes first from Larry, played by John Goodman, then Marcus played by Ving Rhames, and finally Tom, played by Tom Sizemore. Each of Frank’s partners plays an important role in his character development throughout the movie.
Frank is having trouble sleeping, haunted by the death of an eighteen-year old homeless girl who he is seeing more and more in the people he drives past on the street. Frank and Larry answer a call at an apartment where a man is dying on the floor. The man’s daughter, Mary (Patricia Arquette), catches Frank’s attention immediately and after miraculously reviving her father the two spark a bond that practically keeps Frank from slipping over the edge.
The parallels to Taxi Driver are everywhere in Bringing Out the Dead. Like Travis Bickle, Frank is burned out, he cannot sleep, he works nights, and several times throughout we are given a glimpse of the city streets through his eyes, streets filled with depravity, violence, and scum, depicted in the same ways those vile streets and sidewalks were shown to us in Taxi Driver. Frank feels that he needs to help these people, to save them from themselves, much in the same way Travis did. However, where Frank and Travis split as characters is in Frank’s realization that his job, the things he is doing to try and save these people, is not the way he can save them, and he fully realizes this in a poignant scene with Mary’s ailing father. Aside from the strong parallels to Taxi Driver, Bringing out the Dead also carries great thematic similarities to Dante and even Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
For Frank, different settings represent different circles of hell. The hospital, a chaotic, starkly lit world full of screaming, anger, and pain, represents hell. Each patient Frank and his partners deliver is being brought to hell, with the city streets representing purgatory, and only those deserving of redemption are able to free themselves from the hell that is the hospital. In this interpretation of the film, Frank’s narrative arch is representative of a journey through the different circles of hell, with each call answered being a different aspect of death and pain. But perhaps the stronger thematic parallel to be drawn from Bringing Out the Dead is the pictures somewhat indirect interpretation of A Christmas Carol.
It is no coincidence, I believe, that Frank rides with three different EMTs throughout the film. The first is Larry, played with empathy and an ability to separate life from work by John Goodman. Goodman’s Larry represents Frank’s past, the way he was before he lost the eighteen-year old girl. Frank could sleep, he could live his life outside the ambulance in much the same way Larry can in the film’s first act. Frank’s second partner is Marcus. Marcus is played by Ving Rhames, and though he is still somewhat together, there are signs of cracking in his psyche. Marcus also relies on religious ideology when it is convenient. Through Frank’s earlier voiceover, he mentions that he feels he can see spirits, although he knows how unstable that notion may be. Frank’s simultaneous recognition and dismissal of the idea of religion in his line of work is personified in the actions and speak of Marcus, cementing the idea that Marcus represents Frank’s present.
The final traveler in Frank’s journey is Tom, played by Tom Sizemore. Tom is a reckless, unstable, nihilistic maniac who feeds off of the blood being spilled in the streets. Once Frank is paired with him, it is Frank’s façade that has begun to crack even more, and with Tom as the driver, a maniacal look in his eye and a thirst for violence and the macabre, it is clear that Tom is Frank’s future.
All of the supporting performances in Bringing Out the Dead are superb, as Scorsese manages to get the best from the actors he uses in his films. Patricia Arquette, perhaps the most talented and seemingly underused actress in the Arquette family, is a perfect match with Cage’s Frank here. And there is also an energetic performance form none other than Marc Anthony as Noel, a homeless man who is seen as crazy to most, but perhaps is not as crazy as people think. But of course, the draw here is Cage, who loses himself in the role of Frank. Cage can act with his eyes with more skill and pathos than most actors can with their entire bodies. Nicolas Cage has to be one of the most frustrating actors of the last twenty years. You can see, in performances like the ones in Bringing Out the Dead, Adaptation, and the phenomenal turn as a doomed alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas, that Cage has a real edge and real depth to his talents as an actor. It’s just a shame he has tarnished his name with such a staggering array of awful films.
As always, and even more so perhaps in this film, Scorsese incorporates Catholicism both in imagery and thematic elements in Bringing Out the Dead. From top to bottom regarding the production, Scorsese’s every action with the camera and the lighting is done for a reason. Most scenes are shot with a bright white glow shining down from above, an obvious religious reference. And Scorsese’s brilliant ear for rock music is strong on the soundtrack, namely the use of Van Morrison’s eerie and desperate "TB Sheets," which travels in and out of the frame as needed. Bringing Out the Dead can be a difficult film, and is not a picture that everyone will enjoy, but it should definitely be re-evaluated some eleven years later as being an important movie, both as a companion piece to Taxi Driver, as well as a piece so rich in thematic diversity that there is enough room for vast interpretations. True signs of a well-made picture.