Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Retro Review: Papillon (1973)

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen
Genre: Historical Period Drama 
U.S Box Office Gross: over $53 million 

Plot: A man befriends a fellow criminal as the two of them begin serving their sentence on a dreadful prison island, which inspires the man to plot his escape

'Performances Are Worthy Enough To Sit Through What Is A Bloated & Overlong Movie'

A version of The Great Escape, which starred Steve McQueen and set in France meets The Shawshank Redemption, for a period-based drama Papillon is mildly profound and impressive in places, yet unfortunately, it lacks an engrossing and vibrant story to back up the exceptional performances and strays way too comfortably when it ought to have really have gone the distance.  

McQueen is Papillon: a convict who is sent to prison on an Island in French Guyana after being wrongly convicted of murdering a pimp. The screenplay was based on a 1969 autobiography by French convict, Henri Charriere. Steve McQueen plays the self-titled character. From there on, he meets up with and befriends fellow prisoner, Louis Dega played by Dustin Hoffman and the pair of them come up with ways to escape.

As Louis Dega, Dustin looks rather adorkable with the glasses and he has a few nice scenes; there is a nuanced and tenderness to his portrayal as the bumbling yet well-meaning Louis Vega. The scene with Louis on a boat and his foot is being tended to with a hot knife, was for me as scary as the teeth-pulling scene in Marathon Man & whilst it is far from being a truly memorable performance, again, it goes to show how impressive and versatile Hoffman is at playing both offbeat and sincere characters. But it is Steve McQueen, who performance-wise, ultimately owns this film, although together as a duo, they were good. The performances, at most or at least, by Hoffman and McQueen are a good enough reason to sit through it. And but for their friendship as well, the film doesn't really give any real insight into the characters and thus, Steve McQueen's Papillon & Dustin Hoffman's Louis are very much an afterthought, with the main story being the real focus. 

The film clocks in at over a bum-numbing 2 hours and this runtime is awfully long-winded and as a 2 hour + film, I expected a whole lot from this movie that was going to keep me peeled all the way through. The story fluctuates and the film's pacing issues make it a tad bloated. This felt very unforgiving. The attempted escape scenes are all short-lived and whilst this is needed to prolong the longevity of the film, everything else seems to be way drawn out. I think once Louis and Papillon and their friend manage to break free and get away and flee from the prison, the film slightly improves and it was nice to see their friendship blossoming in the wake of their survival.  At least with this film unlike Straight Time, it kept me peeled on occasions far more so than the former. Although the last third does go down a weird and surreal path and is so unlike anything resembling the first hour of Papillon

Final Verdict

If it wasn't for this film running at over 2 hours long and the rather bloated story, I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more. The first hour was exceedingly dull, come the last 30 mins of the second hour it became more interesting, but thanks to the fine performances given by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman and the impressive production, it makes what would have been a drawn-out and weary viewing experience into a tad more bearable one. 

All in all, Papillon is a film everyone should see at least once in their lives, not to mention it is something I would revisit once every couple of months. However, at times I do wish that there had been more energy given to the story to further enhance the film and that as a feature, it was less gruelling to withstand. 


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Retro Review: Straight Time (1978)

Straight Time
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, Theresa Russell, M. Emmett Walsh, Kathy Bates
Genre: Crime Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $9 million

Plot: A paroled burglar tries to get a job and keep on the straight & narrow. His hardcore parole officer has different ideas and sends him back to jail. When he gets out again, he returns to a life of crime 

'A Forgotten Dustin Hoffman Flick With A Great Performance By Him Marred By Sluggish Pacing & Tepid Story'

A late 1970s crime drama that went unseen and a Dustin Hoffman movie that is rarely talked about, Straight Time stars Dustin Hoffman in an against-type performance as an ex-con named Max who attempts to go down the straight and narrow after his release from prison, with a parole officer breathing down his neck. But when Max encounters an old ally in Willy, it isn't long before he slips back to his old ways. 

Based on a novel written by a thief and convict, as watchable as it was in some parts, the film itself never sustained my interest and was not compelling enough. Also, it is because I'm more used to Hoffman being the type of guy who is the good guy and has good intentions in his other films. I bought into his role and performance in Midnight Cowboy, but here, sadly with the script, Straight Time didn't have more of those moments where I wanted to really enjoy it fully. It just didn't sit well with me. It was a little strange seeing Dustin play against type and playing a different type of character that his fans and the audience, in general, don't tend to associate him as. Yet this role would have still been a good one for him, had Max had any characterisation to him, yet he barely does so and because of that, Dustin is having to go beyond his usual typical and conventional performances to really bring Max to life.  

Straight Time had its moments, but story-wise, I felt it was lacking on occasions and it just wasn't engrossing as it should have been. Its pacing was so sluggish, it made it a bit of a chore to endure. This film practically lost me right after Max had robbed a grocery store, only to win me back with the love scene - only to lose me again. In-between the moments where Max handcuffs the prison warden and pulls down his trousers/pants & exposing his behind, the main bank robbery & the grocery store robbery, I was feeling indifferent towards this film. The first half I enjoyed but after that, I was switching off in places and it didn't hold my attention long enough. The occasional bursts of moments, in addition to the sluggish pacing, did affect my overall enjoyment. Russell herself didn't blow me away as her character was mostly one-dimensional and one note-ish who has no motivations for any of her actions. The love story didn't really add anything to the film to make it more worthwhile. The remaining performances were well done, especially by Gary Busey and Kathy Bates as the couple. 

Dubbed a crime drama, in spite of its interesting premise, it becomes a dramatic movie with so few thrilling and engaging scenes to give it the extra boost Straight Time needed. The director didn't do justice to this film or to his cast and thus that sentiment was pretty much felt by Dustin Hoffman who had initially directed this film and after several days, he handed the directing reigns to Ulu Grosbard, only to have fought with him over the end product. Hoffman still considers it as one of his finest performances. 

Thank goodness for Hoffman, whose presence and scenes alone just about make it watchable for me, just. Because other than that, everything else such as the story was told in a way that is frankly mundane.  

Final Verdict:

Being an avid admirer of so many of Dustin Hoffman's roles and movies, I really wanted to get on board with Straight Time, yet unfortunately, despite its good intentions, its execution left me wanting more from the film, but at the same time, the tedium in the story and its arduous pacing began to sink through and had ultimately affected my enjoyment. There are so few watchable moments and scenes besides the robberies and the last third themselves. 

Dustin, as ever, is great - even if it is a tad eerie to see him in this, but he is far from his best here, performance-wise compared to many of the other movies he has starred in and the film itself is so not one of his best; I wasn't too fond of his character, plus it dragged so often and despite his notable efforts, it just isn't enough to make up for what it is a really underwhelming and less than compelling crime flick with a tepid story. 

Thereupon Straight Time, as far as Dustin Hoffman movies go, is one that is underwhelming and is in many regards, for me anyway, sadly and inexplicably forgettable (although this opinion may change after several views).

*score last updated: 17 October, 2017*


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Retro Review: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Midnight Cowboy
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro
Genre: Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $44 million

Plot: A native hustler travels from Texas to New York to seek personal fortune, but in the process, finds himself a new friend 

'In The Midnight Hour'

Noted as the first X-rated film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Midnight Cowboy's understated worth as a drama is supplemented by the groundbreaking performances given by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, as the unlikely duo who hustle their way in New York to obtain financial success, only to succumb to personal tragedy in the end for one half of the pairing. It is a film that defies belief at times and way before Patty Jenkins Monster of 2003 attempted to delve into the life of female prostitution, 1969's Midnight Cowboy was viewed as being more courageous and daring through its male equivalent. 

Even though Hoffman is given top billing, it is Jon Voight who opens the film as Joe: a young cowboy hat wearing Texan, who decides to leave his state and turn his attentions to New York where he believes he will score with women, fall in love. He chooses to become a male escort and woo rich New York women. 

A platonic love story of two damaged souls: Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo was ravaged by Polio as a child, whilst Jon Voight's Joe Buck had bad, as well as sad experiences with various women that left him emotionally damaged, as these events replay in his head over and over. Joe left the 'dirty' South for the hustle and bustle city life of New York of the East Side for sexual pastures new. Tall, handsome, he travelled to the other side to make a living as a prostitute. What he wasn't expecting however was how women he'd fall over would chew him up and spit him out, without giving him a chance. He even has an oral sex encounter with a gay man in a cinema. Broke and without a roof over his head, he turns his attention to Ratso Rizzo - a homophobe and businessman, who he becomes best buds with. But just as Joe had finally turned the corner, Razzo's hopes don't look good - in fact, they have gotten worse, with illness taking a toll on his health.

Midnight Cowboy was quite a departure for Dustin Hoffman; coming off the back of The Graduate, thief Razzo was a world away from the naive -yet nice guy, Benjamin Braddock. Disheveled looking, cigarette-smoking and with a cagey swagger, Razzo has been through to hell and back. & in turning to Joe, he was reliant and dependent on him earning a living & doing whatever it takes to get money. The film also features Hoffman uttering the line ''I'm walking here'', which the AFI named it as the 27th greatest movie line of all-time. Jon Voight was entertaining and turned on the charm, but without Dustin Hoffman and as his character Razzo and the manner of the performance he gave onscreen, Midnight Cowboy will be half the film that it is. He had the cagey swagger, he nailed the ''new Yawk'' accent to a tee, he was fantastic. This odd couple amorality tale is more of a buddy picture that sees two polar opposites trying to find a common ground in their friendship, in the midst of hope, which is very short-lived and imminent gloom and tragedy.

Grim, gritty, raw in places, although to be fair, by today's standards compared to other X-rated films, this one does feel tame as Midnight Cowboy has very little sexual nudity and nudity in general, as well as less cursing. Sex is occasionally mentioned a few times but it is not heavy or shown and portrayed in a way to be deemed erotic. In fact, it is extremely discreet. 

Final Verdict:

I'm not sure whether Midnight Cowboy lives up to its fame and whilst it is far from being a completely recognizable and instantly memorable Dustin Hoffman picture along with the likes of Tootsie, The Graduate & Kramer Vs Kramer, there is no denying that for me it was definitely watchable, thanks to the leads and more so Hoffman as the vulnerable, tragic Ratso. Well-written with great direction by John Schlesinger, there is a rawness and genuine feeling that this film evokes which is also underpinned by the unlikely friendship of Razzo and Joe, as they each come to the realisation their livelihood comes at an even much heavier price that money and sexual clients could never buy. 

For Dustin Hoffman fans, undoubtedly Midnight Cowboy is a film that needs to be seen and added to their collection.


Friday, 13 October 2017

Retro Review: Fakin' Da Funk (1997)

Fakin' Da Funk
Cast: Dante Basco, Pam Grier, Margeret Cho, Duane Martin, Tichina Arnold, Tatiyana Ali
Genre: Comedy

Plot: An adopted Chinese teen and an Asian exchange student try to befriend peers in the Los Angeles hood

'Enjoyable Look At Multiculturalism In African-American & Asian-American Contexts'

An interracial comedy that explores the concept of identity in the context of culture, set in the South Central, Fakin' Da Funk is a satirical and wider look at what it is to be like as an Asian-American growing up and assimilating into African American culture. A mix-up at an adoption agency leads to a Chinese boy being sent to a Black family. Julian becomes accepted into the family and his Atlanta neighbourhood. It is when he relocates to South Central, L.A where his new neighbours think Julian is putting on an act. When they discover his actual roots and that he was brought up by a Black father and mother, that is when things come to a head for him and the people he surrounds himself with. 

As it's a comedy, the film does take the mick out of Black and Chinese culture, but it tends to be malicious, rather than deliberate. It's not an out and out comedy that makes you laugh a lot, but from a cultural aspect, it certainly makes one think about certain things. It did that for me. It is also considered as the first official Hollywood based Asian-Black movie and was released a year before Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker's Rush Hour. 

Julian acts far more like a Black person than his girlfriend, played by Tatyana Ali of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Dante was pretty good and he shows what a good actor he can be with a good story, which this movie has. 

As interesting in places as Fakin' Da Funk was, I do have a gripe with Dante Basco as Julian (who fans of the film, Hook will recognise, played Rufio): despite his good performance, he is Filipino - not Chinese, as well as that Margeret Cho is Korean. If one is to portray a particular race of people, this has to be reflected properly on screen. Julian could have been easily played by Chinese American Florida-born rapper/actor Jin Au-Yeung, who already appeared in 2 Fast 2 Furious & for me, he would be the better fit for Julian. 

But besides that inconsistency, Fakin' Da Funk was extremely watchable and entertaining with satisfying performances across the board and it goes about examining cross cultures and different races and despite the differences, how it doesn't get in the way of finding love, getting friends and being accepted by your family. I was a little apprehensive that the film would descend into racial mocking and where the comedy would be cringing, and yet as malicious as a lot of it was, that didn't become a burden on me.  

Though it is billed as a comedy, it has light-hearted moments and some good scenes, but it definitely tries to play things straight and it has a lot of heart and its message about the importance of accepting yourself and who you are, was good. 

Final Verdict:

Despite my concerns, such as the stereotypes of the gawky Asian student and being anxious at how this one would turn out, in the end, Fakin' Da Funk has good performances & a tightly well-conceived script that doesn't degenerate into foolishness or silliness. It's a look at multiculturalism and when African-American and Asian cultures come together, it's done so in a frank and straight to the point fashion with some light moments, whilst it also seeks to downplay on stereotypes. 

It is not an amazing film, but I certainly found it harmless entertainment and very enjoyable.


Thursday, 12 October 2017

Retro Review: Punchline (1988)

Cast: Sally Field, Tom Hanks, John Goodman, Mark Rydell, Damon Wayans
Genre: Drama
U.S Box Office: over $21 million

Plot: A housewife and mother suddenly develops the urge to be a comedienne. Her comic instincts are on target, but her delivery and timing stinks. Steven, a stand-up comic with a few years' experience under his belt, offers to teach Lilah the ropes

'A Punchbag For Lack Of Genuine Laughs That Survives Only Through Hanks & Field' 

A mostly disappointing drama on the life as a stand-up comedian and the efforts they go for a laugh and to get a standing ovation, Punchline is only just about worth seeing for Tom Hanks and Sally Field alone. And yet with actual actors who are comedians like Robin Williams or Jim Carrey and/or even Roseanne Barr or Ellen Degeneres playing the lead roles, who have the natural ability to make people laugh and where their jokes and riffs are off-script, this would have made far more sense, as well as it makes it far more watchable.

Steven is a hard-working comic, whose passion for stand up comedy is at odds with his father who wants him to go to medical school and when Steven fails medical school, he is kicked out of school. He turns to comedy and becomes a major overnight hit. Lilah is another comic who is also a housewife, who resorts to buying her own jokes, but through her encounter with Steven, she follows her passion with all her might. Punchline examines the contrasting lives of two people who are trying to make a success out of what they do.

The first time I tried to get into this film, I switched it off after 10 mins as I mistakenly went into Punchline thinking this would be a comedy, when in fact this is a drama about comedy. Some of the skits with the comedians telling jokes, I felt was not very funny and humourous when they try to be. The only performer who is an actual comedian is Damon Wayans. The casting by Jackie Burch is not very inspired with the screenplay penned by David Seltzer, who wrote the unimpressive Bird on the Wire & My Giant, which stars Billy Crystal and so-called comedy films that I didn't find particularly amusing.

Both Sally Field and Tom Hanks, who are terrific actors, would later team up for the far superior, Forrest Gump in 1994 as mother and son; although in Punchline, they make for a good duo. I liked the individual scenes with Sally as Lilah and I found her character arc to be the most intriguing by far. She is someone who sees comedy as a way out of her mundane existence, with a husband who at first is not very supportive of what Lilah does, and who is destined for bigger and better things. Lilah is enthusiastic yet misguided who becomes a shoulder for Steven to lean onto. Two of my favourite scenes of hers is when Lilah and her daughters set up the dinner table and when one of the daughters go ''what did one c***sucker say to the other?'' in front of the priest. Tom as Steven is impressive as the selfish, arrogant comedic hotshot and it makes me wish he had landed more comedy-based films in his career. His performance does make me wish that Hanks had a more diverse filmography with comedy and drama films and roles. The scene where Steven breaks down into tears as he tells the jokes is more tragic and painful than laugh out loud amusing, whilst the romantic angle of Steven and Lilah's relationship doesn't work at all. Thankfully, it fizzles out and in a nice way also.

If one is going to write and produce a film about stand-up comedy, it should make a convincing attempt, or make that attempts to make you laugh. This film just doesn't do that within those 2 hours. It tries to tell a story about being a comedian with a set of characters, but Seltzer goes about it in a way that is not very engaging or entertaining. Humour-wise, it disappoints; drama-wise, through some of Sally Field's and Tom Hanks's storylines, it's overly decent and the film picks up halfway through it and as it went on, it did get more interesting, thanks to Field and Hanks. But even with that, it doesn't compensate for a lacklustre first half & poor skits.

Luckily enough, however, Sally Field and Tom Hanks's watchability and charm makes this film far less of a chore to sit through.

Final Verdict:

An uneven offering with the inconsistent mix of comedy and drama, which is scattered all over the place, the scenes with Sally Field & Field and Tom Hanks together especially are worth and are only worth the admission fee alone for Punchline, as everything else doesn't fall and click into place. Overlong with weak comedy skits that fail to elicit genuine laughs and drama that is not very compelling or intriguing enough to be overly satisfying, but is also not quite the disaster critics have labelled this as and one I had serious reservations towards.

Sally Field was terrific, whereas Tom Hanks, whilst he has gone on to do better, gives a great account of himself also. And still, despite their efforts, Punchline is a drama about the world of comedy that, like I said, with actual comedic actors, it would have made it even more whimsical and more memorable. 


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Retro Review: RoboCop 3 (1993)

Robocop 3
Cast: Robert John Burke, Nancy Allen, Rip Torn, C.C.H Pounder, Jill Hennesey
Genre: Cyberpunk Action
U.S Box Office Gross: over $10 million

Plot: Robocop saves the day once more. This time the half-man/ half-robot takes on ruthless developers who want to evict some people from their land 


RoboCop 3 is not a RoboCop film - it's far from the ultra-violent crime flick I have come used to via Paul Verhoeven's 1987 debut classic and the less said about its foul-tasting sequel in 1990, the better also. This is a PG/G-rated kids affair and an awful one that is on the lines of a Disney movie. Actually, come to think of it, if Disney had created Robocop, I presume it would be somewhere along the lines of this offering. But it's not just a bad RoboCop film - it is a bad Hollywood film that doubles up as a straight-to-DVD movie with a tacky, cheap looking feel, despite the special effects. It doesn't even feel like I was watching a RoboCop film, but an entirely different film with a manly-looking robot shoehorned in. The darker tone is eliminated in favour of a much more lighter one. 

The third film sees Alex Murphy aka Robocop now protecting a group of rebels/squatters, who were evicted from their homes by OCP. Robocop also has to embrace his human side as Murphy, in yet another attempt to decipher whether he is more man or a machine. This has been one of the major stumbling blocks of the RoboCop films, and one which neither of the sequels and the unnecessary 2014 remake have really tried to address. 

After recognising that the fanbase of RoboCop comprised of children, Orion Pictures edited out and scaled down on the graphic violence of the first two movies, much to the film's detriment and retooled the movie in order to cater to the younger audiences. The so-called violence no longer exists in this barren take of a much recognised -yet maligned franchise. Given that Robocop is a character kids can take to, even though this is an R-rated adult sci-fi film, I guess they wanted to squeeze out as much cash as they could. & anyhow, given the second film was terrible personally, after that debacle I guess the creators of Robocop didn't care about quality control. Just as long as they get the Robocop name out, and people eat it up, they didn't care. Even with a new actor in place of Peter Weller as the title character, I knew this movie wouldn't be good. Robert Burke's voice as Robo also doesn't suit the character; likewise, I prefer Peter Weller's voice and to me and many people, he will always be and known as the original RoboCop/Alex Murphy. Robert Burke's voice never seems fitting and it never made me buy into him as that character. 

The only good thing I liked about RoboCop 3 is Lewis's hair, which got better as the trilogy went on, and though this movie is pretty bad, I have to say it was okay until she got killed off. & with her gone, it started to get worse and more silly as it went on. Much like with RoboCop 2, the smart satirical slant is ebbed away and in its place is a feeling akin to a comic book, but in a not so good way. The story is not so good and the idea of Robocop working alongside a ragtag group of rebels that include a little girl is weird. The little girl was obviously added as this was a PG-13 film and the part where she activates the ED-209, was so far-fetched. The thing with Officer Lewis having feelings for Murphy is just so, off and so ridiculous, I don't get why the writers came up with this. The action itself is heavily diluted, not entertaining and it is dumbed down. The fight between Robocop and the Ninja robot is not good and is made to look lame and Robocop looks awkward with that jetpack. 

Final Verdict:

RoboCop 2 had a distasteful and bitter tone, but RoboCop 3 is the franchise killer, although it is sad to see the series is marred by disappointing follow-ups to the first film. Obviously, the first film could never be bettered or toppled, but the other movies ought to have built on what it achieved in RoboCop 1. They never did that. 

Thoroughly and comprehensively inept in every aspect & the weakest out of the four, it is a film that says little about the story and doesn't explore the characters and their significance of their role in the movie, which is none. Although the other supporting characters were not much to brag about themselves. 

With cheap TV movie production values along with the look and feel of a Z-list bargain bin movie, with three strikes, RoboCop 3 is down, and out. 


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Not So Mini Review: Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B (2014) #badmovies

Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B

Aaliyah's tragic death in 2001 sent shock-waves in the music world, not just to the R&B community and her fans, and yet her music still lives on. I am not a follower of her music, but she was talented and I liked some of her records. This film came out 10 years + after her tragedy - and 10 years too late I reckon. I think that had it been released in the early 2000s and was given just as much attention and the high production quality values as we saw in the Tina Turner biopic, ''What's Love Got To Do With It?'', this would have been a whole lot better than what Lifetime have dished up here. For starters, Aaliyah's music would be included, which didn't happen with this movie. In fact, only one song of hers is in this film.

Sitting through this Lifetime biopic, all I could think of was this is a TV movie trying to be a legitimate feature film. Low-budget, lesser-known performers playing the roles, the actors playing R. Kelly and Damon Dash bare little similarity to the singer and producer. Alexandra Shipp, who is mixed race, also bears little similarity to Aaliyah, in terms of looks. 

Without the permission of Aaliyah's family, Lifetime did a disservice to them, Aaliyah, her friends and her fans by making things up as they go along and putting it on screen. & with that, that is wrong. This film just didn't feel right and I had an inkling as I sat through it that this is nothing but an amateur attempt of Lifetime's trying to pay respect to Aaliyah - when really they are paying a disrespect to her. 

Once Lifetime got the message that her family said no, that should have been the end of that. Full stop.

Is It Worth Watching?

For die-hard fans of the late singer or people who want to know more about Aaliyah, listen to her songs and read more about her past life elsewhere, instead of giving this movie any of your consideration or time. 


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