Sunday, 19 November 2017

My 90 Favourite Movies From The 1990s

My favourite decade for movies in general, there were so many great films that were released. Being born in the early 1980s and living through the 1990s I sat through so many movies and but for a couple of exceptions, the '90s hasn't disappointed in my eyes. More variety, more choice, arguably bigger and better stars compared to today's Hollywood stars (well for me anyway) and more quality movies, as well as some guilty pleasures & hidden gems that still put a smile on my face, every now and then. 

Sad thing is, we will never have a decade as good as this for movies, ever again. But with Netflix, streaming sites and DVDs, we can revisit these movies and other '90s and '80s classics, time and time again. The golden age for cinema, the '90s were, in many ways, an excellent one.

Movies that I have reviewed on the blog are highlighted in bold. 
  1. Awakenings
  2. Hook
  3. The Fisher King
  4. Jumanji
  5. The Birdcage
  6. Mrs Doubtfire
  7. Fathers' Day
  8. Aladdin
  9. Patch Adams
  10. The Pelican Brief
  11. Stepmom
  12. Kindergarten Cop
  13. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
  14. Total Recall
  15. True Lies 
  16. Jingle All The Way
  17. Junior
  18. Soapdish
  19. Batman Returns
  20. Wayne's World
  21. Wayne's World 2
  22. Hard Boiled
  23. My Cousin Vinny
  24. Strictly Ballroom
  25. Boomerang
  26. Police Story 3
  27. Philadelphia
  28. The Fugitive 
  29. Falling Down
  30. Hard Target
  31. Pulp Fiction
  32. Speed
  33. The Mask
  34. Disclosure
  35. Heat
  36. Showgirls
  37. Strange Days 
  38. The Basketball Diaries
  39. Dangerous Minds
  40. Dead Presidents
  41. Scream
  42. Mars Attacks!
  43. The Rock
  44. The Long Kiss Goodnight
  45. Set It Off
  46. Muriel's Wedding
  47. Liar Liar
  48. Con Air
  49. Tomorrow Never Dies
  50. As Good As It Gets
  51. Grosse Pointe Blank
  52. Beverly Hills Ninja
  53. Blade
  54. The Mask of Zorro
  55. American Buffalo
  56. The Rugrats Movie
  57. Wrongfully Accused
  58. Copycat
  59. What's Love Got To Do With It?
  60. Living Out Loud
  61. Losing Isaiah
  62. The Ambulance
  63. Toy Story 2
  64. Election
  65. Galaxy Quest 
  66. Mystery Men
  67. Bowfinger
  68. Boys Don't Cry
  69. Man On The Moon
  70. Home Alone
  71. Goodfellas
  72. Die Hard 2
  73. Predator 2
  74. Darkman
  75. Ducktales The Movie
  76. She Shoots Straight
  77. Whore
  78. The Perfect Weapon
  79. Boyz N Da Hood
  80. Vampire In Brooklyn
  81. Metro
  82. It Could Happen To You
  83. Single White Female 
  84. The Joy Luck Club
  85. Thelma and Louise 
  86. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  87. Ace Ventura Pet Detective
  88. Space Jam
  89. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
  90. Bad Boys

Retro Review: Broken Arrow (1996)

Broken Arrow
Cast: John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo, Frank Whaley, Bob Gunton, Kurtwood Smith
Genre: Action
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $150 million

Plot: Terrorists steal nuclear warheads from the U.S military, but don't count on a pilot and park ranger spoiling their plans

'Banal Action Film That Is Broken In Many Pieces'

A military based action flick, it is, unfortunately, yet another in the line of John Woo's Western efforts that underwhelm after the amazing Hard Target and misses the mark in more ways than one. From the casting and unconvincing turns by everyone but for say, John Travolta as the antagonist to the diluted and dumbed down action that hardly impresses, Broken Arrow is a huge misfire from the usually well-renowned Hong Kong director. And for an action film, strangely, it is also a bore. 

Co-pilot Riley Hale and stealth fighter pilot Vic Deakins are being tasked with a B-3 stealth bomber that comes with it two nuclear missiles. But Deakins has a secret plan in stealing the bombs & demanding a huge sum of money in return. 

I used to enjoy it when I saw it on TV in the mid-1990s, but it's again one of those films that haven't held up well. Revisiting it today, it's unreal how almost all of it is just so bland, tame and unimpressive.

Christian Slater doesn't strike me as an action star, whatsoever. He didn't look convincing in Hard Rain and he made for a terrible invisible man baddie in Hollow Man 2, the direct to DVD follow-up to the Paul Verhoeven movie - minus Kevin Bacon. & he didn't convince me as the good guy here. Plus, he was bland. Samantha Mathis is terribly miscast, out-of-place and she didn't do much in the role that was sufficient enough. If it had to be a done deal to have a female character in this movie, then the casting crew should have done a better job in hiring someone else other than Mathis, who is one of those actresses who hasn't blown up, big time due to poor and lacklustre film choices. John Travolta, now whilst he did it better in Face/Off, Woo's follow-up film that was also the last best performance and movie of his, before his decline, here his character was also a bit too annoying. Both he, Kurtwood Smith and Delroy Lindo were all wasted here, but Mathis and Slater could have been so easily replaced by other - and better actors who would have offered more. They just don't gel well together & nor do they look like a solid pairing, whatsoever and their performances come off looking stiff. The onscreen love chemistry they have for one another was odd and it didn't come through at all. 

Written by Graham Yost, who was also responsible for Speed - a movie that didn't have much substance yet in Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves they added extra watchability and it was still a good film -, Mission to Mars (not so good) and Hard Rain (unmemorable), Broken Arrow relies on the standard action movie formula but removing all of the great qualities and replacing it with sub-standard action that is not very good and is the quality seen in many other straight to DVD action B-movies. It still has the slo-mo shots of characters flying about, which is a trademark of Woo's films. The characters have either plastic personas or are devoid of personality.

As far as expensive action movies go, and expensive this was to make, the lack of action makes it incredibly disappointing. But even the action itself underwhelms with bombs going off and there is little in the way of fighting and is weak. The story is arduously long and there is too much dialogue with scenes whereby little is happening. 

Broken Arrow is broken all right, but it also has no depth. & with that in mind, this is a feeble excuse for an action film. 

Final Verdict:

Broken Arrow is an action B-movie with a slightly flashier actor in John Travolta and slightly flashier director, John Woo. & yet it is still hackneyed throughout. Though for me, the bigger culprits are Slater, Mathis and the action itself, which is not good enough, along with a dreary screenplay by Yost. And as underwhelming as the script is, they truly brought this film down and made it less enjoyable for me and more of a chore to sit through. 

Lower-tier John Woo effort, this has a straight- to- DVD feel, despite its high budget and Woo has done better. Far better. Yet Broken Arrow comes off looking as corny and trifling. 

Stick to Hard Boiled, Hard Target, Face/Off, The Killer & A Better Tomorrow for your Woo Fix.



Saturday, 18 November 2017

My 80 Favourite Movies From The 1980s

Just a random post on my favourite films of the 1980s that I have watched and thoroughly enjoyed. You can find the reviews to most of those movies that I have blogged and written on the 'My Other Movie Reviews' section of this blog on the far right-hand side and scrolling down below for the titles. 
  1. Airplane
  2. Body Heat
  3. Return of the Jedi
  4. Indiana Jones and the last crusade
  5. Back to the future 2
  6. Do The Right Thing
  7. Kiki's Delivery Service
  8. Roadhouse
  9. Tango & Cash
  10. Steel Magnolias
  11. Best of the Best
  12. The Ambulance
  13. Devil Hunters
  14. Die Hard
  15. Akira
  16. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
  17. Rain Man
  18. The Naked Gun
  19. Cocktail
  20. Police Story 2
  21. Dead Heat
  22. Feds
  23. Chicken and Duck Talk
  24. Robocop
  25. Lethal Weapon
  26. Spaceballs
  27. Good Morning, Vietnam 
  28. The Running Man
  29. Adventures in Babysitting
  30. Throw Momma from the train
  31. China Girl
  32. Fatal Attraction
  33. Overboard
  34. Ishtar
  35. Stripped to Kill
  36. Aliens
  37. Big Trouble in Little China 
  38. The Great Mouse Detective
  39. Ruthless People
  40. Wildcats
  41. Les Fugitifs
  42. Magnificent Warriors
  43. Seize The Day
  44. The Goonies
  45. Commando
  46. Rocky IV
  47. Police Story
  48. My Lucky Stars
  49. Fletch
  50. The Jewel of the Nile
  51. Tin Men
  52. Red Sonja
  53. Yes, Madam!
  54. The Protector
  55. Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars
  56. Ghostbusters
  57. The Terminator
  58. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  59. Beverly Hills Cop
  60. Footloose
  61. Romancing The Stone
  62. Wheels on Meals
  63. Crimes of Passion
  64. Fear City
  65. Return of the Jedi
  66. Trading Places
  67. Project A
  68. The Survivors
  69. Into The Night
  70. Blade Runner
  71. ET
  72. Tootsie
  73. 48 Hrs
  74. The World According To Garp
  75. The Snowman
  76. Banana Joe
  77. Aces Go Places
  78. The Empire Strikes Back
  79. Gloria
  80. In The Line of Duty IV

Friday, 17 November 2017

Retro Review: Charlotte's Web (2006)

Charlotte's Web
Cast: Julia Roberts, Dakota Fanning, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric The Entertainer, Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Robert Redford, Thomas Haden Church
Genre: Fantasy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $144 million

Plot: After learning that a young pig's days are numbered, a literate spider weaves an elaborate plan to save her friend from the butcher's block 

'A Web That Needed To Weave More Magic & Charm'

I went into this film with low expectations; I didn't expect much out of it and given as I wasn't familiar with the original story and that I'm not really into farm-based movies, I thought it would be something that wouldn't hold my attention for very long. Charlotte's Web is a famous children's tale, which also spawned a 2D animated version of the film by Hanna-Barbera, with Debbie Reynolds voicing the lead role. 

When a young piglet in Wilbur is saved from being slaughtered & ending up as somebody else's Sunday roast by a young farm girl played by Dakota Fanning, who promises to take care of him, the two form a close-knit bond until he is relocated to another barn. From there onwards, Wilbur forms an unlikely friendship with a spider named Charlotte who changes his life, forever. She also vows to save his life, yet with her health deteriorating and worsening, it's up to Charlotte to teach the young 'un a few lessons about life, as well as death, before she passes on. 

With co-production by Nickelodeon, the 2006 version sees the E.B White tale come to life in CGI form and with a more star-studded cast in the likes of Robert Redford, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese and Julia Roberts. Julia voices Charlotte who is a spider, who befriends Wilbur. She has a nice soothing and comforting voice and tone that, along with her affectionate quality, suits and accompanies this character really well. Yes, people will digress and say otherwise and label it as nothing more than stunt casting, and that is fine. But for me, her deadpan delivery was good to have. Young Dominic Scott Kay was also sweet as lead, Wilbur. 

Despite my unfamiliarity with the story, I would have enjoyed it more, had the film been in 3D or 2D animated form. So going into Charlotte's Web as a neutral & not knowing anything about the book but looking forward to a good movie, it didn't deliver. 

The story was the least of my interests although that aspect didn't wow me, I was more into how the voice casting fared: it was playing the guessing game where I tried to guess who was voicing who and matching the names with the characters. As I was watching Charlotte, all I was doing is picturing Julia Roberts's face & visualising her in that role, focusing on that aspect. Her vocal efforts were consistently on point throughout & thus, she triumphed. She needs to take up a few more voice-over animated character roles, but also characters with far more personality. Steve Buscemi as Templeton the Rat was energetic and boisterous. The rest of the cast did okay to good. 

Charlotte's Web basically, respectfully and competently remains faithful to the plot of the story; unfortunately, one needs to be completely familiar with and have fully enjoyed the original story to have grasped it well enough & the vocal talents of Roberts & Buscemi barely, and just barely made its moments watchable. At over 1 hour and 30 mins, the story meanders on without it ever exploding in certain moments and the film lacks any true witty scenes to give it a boost. The lack of a focus for this movie didn't help matters either. 

The silly flatulence moments were silly and come to the end, it is a movie that the likelihood of me sitting through it again, is practically zero.

It's nice, but still, that just wasn't enough. 



Pros +

- The voice casting
- Julia Roberts as Charlotte brings charm & was very endearing
- Animated fantasy scenes are well done
- Endearing and cute at times

Cons -

- Story lacks wit, charm & is not very engrossing
- Still doesn't come close to Babe
- Wished this voice casting was for Babe than for this film
- I'd have preferred it in 3D animated form, ala Pixar/Dreamworks style 
- The human characters lack character & their parts were incredibly dull
- Unless you are a true fan, this is not a movie that everyone can get into and enjoy

Final Verdict:

Babe with a star-studded cast, although Babe has slightly more charm and I'd wished that film had this casting. Of course, Babe still went on to gross millions more than Charlotte's Web. If the story was much better and had more for me to fully love it, then that would have been great and had I known and read and loved the book, that would have been of great benefit also.

Julia Roberts's inclusion and admirable efforts just about saves it from being utterly mediocre & unwatchable. I usually can't stand spiders, but any spider voiced by Julia gets my seal of approval. Plus, my eyes were leaking when she died *sob*. Still, Charlotte's Web is not horrible and it's not too shabby, but it's not great either and, but for the closing moments, the story is not satisfying enough to make me want to fully love it. 

Despite the star-casting, Charlotte's Web is decent at best and passes as pleasant, but underwhelms and it's hardly a movie most people would bat an eyelid for, without the well-known names. 

For its intended fans of the book, only. 


Mini Retro Review: Dennis The Menace (1993) #badmovies

Dennis The Menace
Family Comedy

I remembered the cartoon, I wasn't a fan but it was okay. It was about a mischievous kid being a pain in the butt for neighbour, Mr Wilson. The opening music is so Home Alone - like, the late Arnold Stang who voiced Top Cat is in this one playing a photographer. But for a few chuckle-worthy moments, the entire rest of this film is sheer boredom with little to no depth characters. The slapstick is this side of Home Alone and it's not anything you haven't seen before. Every cast member is wasted, although Lea Thompson seemed, okay yet exists more or less as background noise and I'd much remember Walter Matthau's turn alongside Robin Williams in The Survivors, rather than this showing. The addition of Christopher Lloyd would have been all right - had his character not been a disgusting pedo, but alas, it seems so out of place. The actor who plays Kevin's brother in Home Alone is in this too. Whereas Kevin in Home Alone was too much of a smart ass, he still came across as likeable and he took it out on the bad guys - Dennis meanwhile is annoying & he took his actions out on Mr Wilson, who wasn't so much of a bad person. This is an unmemorable and tepid version of Home Alone with much younger characters.

Is It Worth Watching?

Only if you don't mind movies like Home Alone


Thursday, 16 November 2017

Mini Retro Review: Nora's Hair Salon II: A Cut Above (2008) #badmovies

Nora's Hair Salon II

I need to get round to seeing the first Nora's Hair Salon, which was supposed to be okay overall but better than this movie. Supposedly so that is. This movie is a cheap Z-movie version of Beautyshop which starred Queen Latifah, only minus the charm and appealing characters & is set in a beautyshop. If you have seen that movie, then you will know that Nora's Hair Salon is the same type of movie, well, premise-wise. 2 sisters have to put aside their differences, in order to make the Salon a financial success. There is a Chinese American male character and his mother, 2 old guys are sitting outside the salon making small talk (either they are ripping off the old guys in Coming To America as played by Eddie Murphy, or it feels tacked on for no apparent reason) that does nothing but to fill in the film's runtime, the production levels are bottom of the barrel low and as expected in a straight-to-DVD movie. In fact, it looks like a low-cut TV movie this side of Hallmark channel. Stacey Dash is in this one, as well as Fresh Prince of Bel Air's Tatyana Ali and Bobby Brown. There is little plot, the humour is downright unfunny with characters that are devoid of identity and personality and the performances are poor. The dialogue is poor with curse words thrown in for cheap measure & the script is weak. 

Is It Worth Watching?

This movie is clunky and feels like it was all put together in a few days. So no. Stick with Beautyshop & Barbershop if you are into movies like this


Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Retro Review: Do The Right Thing (1989)

Do The Right Thing
Cast: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Turturro, Rosie Perez, Martin Lawrence
Genre: Comedy-Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $37 million

Plot: One scorching inner-city day, racial tensions reach boiling point in a tough Brooklyn neighbourhood

'Fight The Power' 

It's hard to argue that Spike Lee has been the staunch figurehead and known as the powerful voice in not just African American cinema, but culture as a whole as his movies have a more resounding impact as they are revisited and rewatched, time and time again, 3 decades later. Most of his movies deal with the African American experience and what it is like for these characters and the stories that they are in. Lee's third motion picture coming off the back of 'She's Gotta Have It' and 'School Daze', in contrast, & unlike those efforts, Do The Right Thing took on a much more ballsy and bold approach & with that, it was one that made waves on the mainstream commercial front. 

When the film's opening credits have Rosie Perez dancing & doing the running man dance, I knew I was going to be in for a fascinating movie. Do The Right Thing is a film that attempts to explore race relations in late 1980s New York through the vignettes and various snapshots of the main characters involved. The internal conflict in Do The Right Thing is centred on the presence of these racially diverse set of protagonists who all operate within and are situated in a predominately Black neighbourhood area of Brooklyn. A lot of them don't seem to get along with others, whilst Mookie is pretty much a guy who chooses not to get involved himself. 

Spike Lee is Mookie: a pizza delivery boy
 who has a Hispanic girlfriend, who is also the mother of their child. Mookie works for Sal, the owner of the pizzeria, who also has two sons in the fiery tempered and not-so-easy-going -yet whining Pino, who is racist and hates Blacks, as well as his job and Vito, who isn't racist and of whom doesn't have a problem in working with Mookie. Mookie's friend is a political activist who becomes incensed when he sees there are no famous Black faces that adorn the walls of the restaurant that he and Radio Raheem team up with several other people to smash it up and loot the Pizzaria place. Other characters include Radio Raheem, who carries with him a massive booming boom box & blasting out rap songs, as well as an elderly gentleman whose presence attracts Mother Sister played by Ruby Dee & Mookie's sister, Jade. There are also appearances from Samuel L. Jackson as a disc jockey, Martin Lawrence as one of the gang members & Rosie Perez as Mookie's girlfriend, Tina.  

Don't get me wrong, this was still a fantastic movie in many ways and it took me on the second viewing for me to get into the story, fully, but I was a little baffled at the lack of progress being made by Spike Lee's character, Mookie. Besides Lee's performance, which was sufficient, despite being the lead, I was disappointed that Mookie never fully took charge and rather in this character, it appears as such his attitude and actions just led me to believe he didn't become the character to make the impact this film should have warranted. 

On the flipside of that argument, notwithstanding, it's great that Lee wanted to incorporate the different perspectives of the different characters who hail from various cultural and social backgrounds. From Italian Caucasians to African-American Blacks, Asians through the Koreans, Latinos and even a mentally handicapped person in Smiley, I liked this diversity aspect and these melting pots of cultures really made Do The Right Thing more substantial and self-fulfilling. The characters are also not one-sided, one-dimensional cardboard cutouts: each one of them encompasses depth and personality. Every central character who has a role to play in this movie through their individual subplots, all make the required effort. This film is basically a series of binary oppositions, where different qualities, themes, categories which are opposites, when there is a common connection, these are paired together to create further meaning. African-American Blacks/Italian Whites, the police, who are presented here as casual racists versus everyone else.

The film came out and it caused controversy in 1989, which when I look at it today, it seems that all the points Lee made look affable, but at the same time, it was quite a daring and bold statement that he made here: did it endorse and perpetuate violence and racism, or did it exist for Lee to make a point that these things did and do exist & those ethnic minorities are victims of 'White power'? Whichever position you take up, one thing is for certain as I sat through Do The Right Thing, and that is, it doesn't pander to one side, go down the preachy route, nor does this movie take either side. It presents things as they are and as equally and fairly as possible, in a straightforward way. Spike Lee's approach, thankfully, does not repeatedly hit you on the head so many times for the viewer or audience to understand and contemplate what is exacting happening in each scene. It is also thought-provoking, amusing, witty, straight to the point and is a tale of two or be it four halves: the Blacks, Whites, Asians and Latinos and the lives of all of those living in a multicultural area, as they share their experiences

As the film went on, Lee cranks up the pressure, slowly and surely, one by one and when it all implodes during the final third, it gets better. 

Final Verdict:

Roger Ebert, who I disagree with on many occasions, said Do The Right Thing is the most important film of 1989, which I fully agree with, but not only that, I'd go as far as saying the story, the characters here are far more potent and significant than something like Dead Poets Society, which by taking away Robin Williams's performance & which was heavily dependent on it, would have so easily been throwaway and not as memorable. This movie is one of the best to come out of 1989 & I prefer it over the Peter Hyams effort, by far and as it took more risks and chances. 

No matter how old you are, every person has to see this film, at least once in your lives and having finally got round to it, I understand now why Do The Right Thing is so highly and well received. 

Beneath the subtle humour and individual vignettes of the characters spouting playful lines of dialogue, that underlying message about racial and social tolerance, unity and diversity couldn't be any more further from the truth. Because in many ways, Do The Right Thing, manages to tell the truth- as skewed as some people think it is through Spike Lee's eyes-, and it does so with realness and authenticity. 



Monday, 13 November 2017

Retro Review: Better Luck Tommorow (2002)

Better Luck Tomorrow
Cast: Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan, John Cho
Genre: Crime-drama
U.S Box office gross: Over $3.8 million

Plot: A group of over-achieving Asian-American high school seniors enjoy a power trip when they dip into extra-curricular criminal activities

'Great To Have A Different Take On Asian-American Myth & Shattering Stereotypes, But It Just Wasn't Edgy Enough'

I cannot tell you how incredibly disappointed and underwhelmed I felt about this film, after all the praise that has been lauded and that I was looking forward to Better Luck Tomorrow as this gritty, interesting and entertaining drama about a group of young Asian males who put down their studies in favour of breaking the law and causing trouble wherever they go. & one reason for this is the movie went down the MTV production route and as a result, any of the heightened impact and tension it tried to evoke was lessened. & with that, the story and its characters never exploded & shocked me as it should have done. It never left me in awe.

Better Luck Tomorrow was directed by Justin Lin, who went on to do the Fast & the Furious movies and the film follows four students, Ben, Virgil, Daric and Han who get straight A's as well as throwing wild parties, get into fights. There is also a romantic storyline involving the main character, Ben. 

I know what some of you are probably thinking: as I am Chinese/Asian, I should be able to enjoy this film and get into it as much as I could. Well, I tried to, but the story and the direction never captured my attention. I found it convoluted. & even if this story was written with White or Black characters in place of the Asian ones and the story remained the same as it was, I still wouldn't feel any more different, and I'd still find it bland. 

Before I tuned in, I read the plot for this movie and for me, it was in a way familiar with Dead Presidents with the Asians rebelling and going against the model minority standards myth. I was thinking that perhaps Better Luck Tomorrow would do for Asians and Asian Americans as Dead Presidents did for African-Americans and have very edgy, in-yer-face characters with striking personalities. 

When I did sit through it, it just never offered that to make it more worthwhile and to make the film more talked about. All that talk about this film being gritty and hard-edged never transpired, onscreen. Justin Lin's MTV look and feel just never resonated and made strides. It's just vignettes and scenes of characters talking about various 'stuff', sniffing coke, having sex but it was never entertaining. & besides, running credit card scams and a high school cheatsheet to dealing with Coke & guns, just doesn't reek of shocking to me, but it is minuscule and petty. The only scene that had me watching was when the Asian American students beat up the racists. 

It's a shame. I really enjoyed Big Trouble in Little China and The Joy Luck Club and I was hoping that Better Luck Tomorrow would join the ranks of those movies. Yet had it gone down the mainstream, commercial route with more established production values, it would have helped this movie a lot. The indie camera work is okay at best, but it just never suited this story that it tried to tell to the audience, well to me anyway. The characters motivations also appear to be not very ambiguous and rather muddled, & I got no sense of their motivations and reasonings for their actions and behaviours. 

Better Luck Tomorrow is or be it was also touted for shattering and breaking Asian stereotypes - when arguably, what it did was highlight the most common stereotype in the brainy geek who studied hard at school. The film's reluctance also in addressing prejudiced attitudes and racial issues, especially in relation to the characters Asian-American identity, further undermines the film's intentions, which is also not made abundantly clear. 

The further the film went on, the more it couldn't decide which direction to take the movie into, and with that, I cared even less for it. 

Final Verdict:

The film shows promise, especially at the beginning but in the end, it just doesn't deliver what it set out to do and that I found it completely underwhelming and it never went to lengths for me to truly love it. I barely was able to finish it that come to the 40th-minute mark, I lost all interest. There is no edge, no feeling of drama and hardly any real grit to this film dubbed a crime drama. Even when it descends down the darker path, it just never went far enough and plus, it was too sterile.  

As I mentioned, but for a few exceptions of the Asian characters dealing with a few racial slurs and Stephanie being adopted into a White family, this is the type of tale where even with White or Black characters, it would still be the same story and it would still feel tepid and mundane. 

Unconvincing and not gritty enough, Better Luck Tomorrow? More like tough luck.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Retro Review: Dead Presidents (1995)

Dead Presidents
Cast: Larenz Tate, Keith David, Chris Tucker, Freddy Rodriguez, Terrence Howard, Jenifer Lewis, James Pickens. Jr
Genre: Crime Thriller
U.S Box Office Gross: over $24 million

Plot: A Vietnam vet adjusts to life after the war while trying to support his family, but the chance of a better life may involve crime and war shed

'Vicious & Brutal, Dead Presidents Is A Dark & Tense Transformation From Protagonist To Antagonist'

1995 has been a great year for movies; it's especially one of my high points in terms of favourite films that have been released: from Jumanji to underrated and overlooked gems in Strange Days directed by Kathryn Bigelow and The Basketball Diaries, as well as erm, Showgirls (!). & with that, I'd add Dead Presidents to that growing list from this particular year.  

A dark coming-of-age heist crime drama, the film follows the life of Anthony: a youth from the South Bronx who after graduation, heads off to Vietnam to fight in the war with his comrades. When he returns from the war, 4 years later, he assumes that life would get easier and he'd be a much happier and better person after that. In fact, it is the complete opposite: disillusioned with life on the streets of New York, it turns out that not only is he the father of a young baby girl, he has financial problems to contend with. And to further compound his misery, his friend is a heroin junkie who shoots up and his girlfriend, Juanita hasn't been completely faithful to him. Plagued by PTSD that he has accumulated during his time fighting in Vietnam, Anthony & with the help of his friends later attempt a heist by robbing a van containing millions of dollars of old bills, known as the so-called ''dead presidents''. As the heist situation unfolds, the repercussions of it become just as deadly and costly. 

The premise of Dead Presidents is how the psychological effects and experiences of war can seriously impact on a person's state of mind. The main character is an all-round good guy Samaritan & easy-going, but when he returns from the war, he carries over some of those experiences over and with that, he completely changes. & it's not for the greater good. It's more in the veins of a character study, where the audience sees the progression, or in this case the regression of this character, who we end up loathing and feeling sorry for.

The casting is mostly made up of a who's who in African-American cinema, along with Ugly Betty's support player, Freddy Rodriguez. Comedic actor Chris Tucker turns in an unexpected and nuanced performance and treads down the darker path as he plays it straight. Laurenz Tate does a sterling job in Anthony's demise and as he teeters closer to the edge, he displays a narcissistic and less contemptuous side. 

What I'd call ''Dead Presidents To Society'', this is a fresh and innovative look at the horrors of the Vietnam conflict from a lower-class Black perspective and rather for it to be looked at as another heist crime movie, this is, in fact, a very engaging and powerful - yet unflinching drama that seeps into the mindset of those affected and left traumatised by the war. But also that no crime goes unpunished and that by doing evil deeds and being a more evil person, that doesn't make you any less off and if you do the crime, you'd have to be prepared to face the consequences and to do the time as well.   

The war battle scenes are realistic and the heist, as action-orientated as it is and is the main centrepiece of the movie and complete with distinctive White face make-up, is not what this film is all about. Rather it's more about the depiction of war itself and its consequences: the Black African-American men who strive to serve and represent the USA in the Vietnam conflict and who fought for what their Black friends told them as ''the White man's war'', as they returned to New York. Rather than making a movie about the war, the Hughes brothers use this as a foreground for the breakdown in relations between ex-soldiers who feel betrayed by their own country, and of American society, of whom the likes of Anthony choose to target and vent their actions towards. 

And the movie did an excellent job in explaining and conveying those sentiments, feelings and frustrations. 

Over 20 years later, Dead Presidents still remains to this day as one of the most underrated and underappreciated African-American movies that got lost in the shuffle amongst Boyz In Da Hood, Menace II Society, sadly & it isn't as highly regarded because it deserves to be. 

Final Verdict:

Highly ambitious and bold in places with a no-nonsense attitude, Dead Presidents is one '90s overlooked gem and after Menace 2 Society, the Hughes brothers have delivered yet another one of the quintessential African- American movies of the 20th century. 

With terrific performances across the board and a nitty-gritty and bleak story, Dead Presidents is a movie that manages to tell it so well and yet also, it never lets up for a single minute. It is a few steps away from being a masterpiece, yet nonetheless, it still gave it everything it had. 


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Retro Review: The Basketball Diaries (1995)

The Basketball Diaries
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Lorraine Braco, Mark Wahlberg, Juliette Lewis, Bruno Kirby
Genre: Coming-Of-Age Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $2 million 

Plot: A teenager finds his dreams of becoming a basketball star threatened after he free falls into the harrowing world of drug addiction 

'Young Leo Shines In This Harrowing Tale of Drug Abuse'

A moving, yet realistic account based on a true story of the late writer and musician Jim Carrol, who before that was a high school teenager who once had a promising basketball career, only to see it evaporate in the blink of an eye through drug addiction & crime, which took over and tragically cost him his life. Despite the title, the main theme isn't of basketball, but of the devastating effect that drugs have on a person. The 1978 memoir of Carrol is based on the diaries he had kept between the ages of 12 when his addiction first started and it continued with his best friends. Along the way, they deal with some unsavoury characters that include the school's basketball coach played by Bruno Kirby, Swifty, who turns out to be a paedophile/pervert, as well as some good guys in mentor Reggie, who challenges Jim to after-school basketball games. As Carrol's addiction spirals out of control, he resorts to crime to support his habit, but then as his friends lose their own way and his mother turns her back on her own son, it isn't too long before Carrol's descent to madness, sadness, chaos and despair transpires. 

The film gained notoriety and courted controversy through a dream sequence scene where Jim, dressed in a trenchcoat shoots and kills his fellow students and his teacher. This scene inspired the infamous Columbine High School massacre, which took place on the day before the fourth anniversary of the release of The Basketball Diaries and it had ultimately cost the lives of 12 students and one teacher. 

Leonardo DiCaprio does resemble a young James Dean and he completely and fully immerses himself into the role and at only 18 years of age back in 1995, in watching his performance, he was born to be an actor. He even went better with Titanic, which blew him up big time 2 years later and since then, he has later gone on to become of one of Hollywood's fully-fledged A-listers in his 40s, after his transition as a so-called teen star/young actor. I have to admit back in the 1990s when he was everywhere via the success of Titanic, I didn't take notice because I thought he'd be one of those actors who'd be known for teenybop roles and movies and a heartthrob for millions of young girls. I was wrong. DiCaprio is an actor, who through his experiences, has shown his range, depth and the different dimensions in a variety of roles and rarely has he disappointed on each and every occasion. Despite his baby-faced look, DiCaprio was riveting here, whilst many have argued that he was and is far more deserving of an Oscar Nomination and win for The Basketball Diaries than for The Reverent. Provocative, efficient, but also showing his maturity and ability to undertake and tackle difficult and challenging roles with ease like a pro, DiCaprio's first foray into serious drama with The Basketball Diaries has paid dividends.  

There are some difficult scenes to watch, such as when Jim is being raped whilst he is in the toilet, but The Basketball Diaries is raw, gritty and a drama that doesn't shy away from being in-yer-face, and yet at the same time, it sends out a powerful message that drugs can be and is the be-all, end-all thing for a person's life.  

Final Verdict

Great performances, well-acted as a whole and as Jim Carrol, this was the breakthrough role for Leonardo DiCaprio, and what a breakthrough role it was too, making Titanic look tame by comparison, despite its populist status. This is still one of his best performances and one that is rarely often mentioned these days in hindsight to his more well-known and established roles in Titanic, Gangs of New York, The Avatar and The Reverent, which is a bit of a shame. I also thought he shined in the Internal Affairs remake, The Departed of 2003 as well. 

The Basketball Diaries is not easy viewing by all means, but it is truly worth it for the performances alone, spearheaded by that of DiCaprio. 

This film has exceeded my expectations and is much better than I'd anticipated it to be. At most, I thought this would be a good film, but in fact, come the end credits had rolled I was more than impressed. 


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