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Drama

The Mambo Kings (1992) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

The Mambo Kings is a flawed film but it’s energy, art direction, production design, and music give the picture a vitality that is hard to resist. Anchored by two sensational performances from Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas, this adaption from the Pulitzer winning novel is an absolute knockout. The film tells the story the two Cuban brothers, both musicians who come to New York with aspirations of making it big on the Mambo scene.
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About Last Night… (1986) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

About Last Night is a comical and sometimes touching story about a young couple trying to make a relationship work in the 1980s. It deals with the fear of commitment, which this film treats like a social epidemic. The story revolves around a one-night stand between Danny and Debbie, which turns into a full-blown love affair. This is an equal offender love story that should find relevance with most adult audiences, who will be quick to recognize real-life truths within this exquisitely written romantic comedy.
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Black Rain (1989) – Review

3 Stars

Stunning visuals, courtesy of all-star cinematographer Jan DeBont dominate this otherwise conventional police thriller set in Japan. The visual design is such a key element to the film that it may cause casual viewers to become lost in the style, putting details of plot and character in the background. Ridley Scott stylishly uses these visual hallmarks of his to cover the rough-patches in the screenplay by Craig Bolton and Warren Lewis.
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Never Die Alone (2004) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Never Die Alone is a dark and unforgiving drama about a truly vile character and the lives he ruins along the way to his rightful murder. Starring and narrated by the gravely voiced rapper DMX, the film is anchored by a strong narrative structure that plays with temporal timelines and shifting attitudes towards the people trapped inside this nightmarish existence. Shot in a autumn-toned color palette and directed by frequent Spike Lee collaborator Ernest Dickerson, Never Die Alone is the cinematic treasure that DMX’s own Belly should have been.
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The Color Purple (1985) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Steven Spielberg’s first attempt at a ‘serious’ film is a remarkable success, that found both critical acclaim and commercial riches upon its release. From the prolific director behind such mega-hits like E.T., Jaws and the Indiana Jones saga, this richly textured story spans decades in the life of an abused, uneducated woman living a grueling life in the South. Uniformly outstanding performances abound, with exceptional cinematography and an equally prodigious screenplay from scribe Menno Meyjes, based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-Prize wining novel of the same name.
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Always (1989) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Steven Spielberg’s heart-felt remake of the 1943 romantic drama A Guy Named Joe, is like a wholesome variation on Ghost. Take out the sexual exploits and murder mystery sub-plot of that film, infuse it with a serious case of the “cutes” and you’ll get a good idea what Always has in store for viewers. Reuniting Dreyfuss with his Jaws collaborator, the two apparently have a deep affection for the source material. Perhaps this respect was too great, resulting in a curiously small-scale, silly and downright flat experience.
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Pompeii (2014) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Pompeii mixes Conan the Barbarian, Spartacus, countless prison B-Movies, and Titanic in concocting a sometimes ungainly but never boring brew of schmaltz and spectacle. Director/writer Paul W.S. Anderson has studied the sword and sandal genre’s greatest hits and has taken a throw everything against the wall approach to his ancient epic. This causes for some moments of rousing action and a few (unintentional?) laughs.
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Letters from a Killer (1998) – Review

2 Stars

Letters from a Killer takes nearly the entire first act to stabilize itself, before settling down into a coherent, yet under-whelming story-line. Those first twenty minutes are so staggeringly inept that the basic premise is botched early on and puts the viewer in the awkward position of trying to guess what is happening to whom. This is particularly surprising because of the level of cast and crew involved with this misbegotten project. Obviously influenced by the box-office success of The Fugitive and Double Jeopardy, this straight-to-DVD B-movie is well produced, photographed and acted which all help in rescuing this derivative plot from the bottom barrel.
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Protector (1998) – Review

3 Stars

Remember back in the late 1990s, when the seemingly bi-weekly releases from No Limit records had embossed, glossy cover-art? It was a popular fad that made the cheap product appear to have a value far greater than was actually contained within. B-Movie companies got in on the act as well, none more prominently than Sterling Home Ent. which released Protector in the aforementioned flashy video sleeve. It’s an unnecessary marketing gimmick but does catch the eye, especially with the noticeable image of star Mario Van Peebles holding two large guns straight ahead. The image and tagline sell the picture as a Dirty Harry knock-off which is false, Protector share a lot more in common with erotic thrillers like Jade and Body of Evidence, not the most esteemed company I’ll admit. So it’s somewhat shocking that Protector hold together fairly well from a story stand-point and moves quickly enough so that the audience won’t be left to ponder some of the more implausible moments in the script.
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Daybreak (1993) – Review

1 Star

Daybreak is a thinly veiled allegory to the AIDS epidemic and the ensuing hysteria it spread across the country in the 1980′s. Before the public revelation of the fatal STD, sex wasn’t viewed as engaging in a form of combat that may result in the loss of life. Based on the stage play by author Alan Bowne titled Beirut, the story is set in a futuristic version of New York City, fascist young bands of police patrol the streets looking to lock up and quarantine anyone deemed sick and a threat to the health of society.
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Captain Phillips (2013) – Review

4 Stars

Honesty in reporting compels me to betray the increasing conception I have that Tom Hanks is a shell of his former self. After the abyssal Larry Crowne, I thought the venerable thespian from the school of Bosom Buddies (Google it!), had shown me all of his faces, ticks and traits. Since he also directed that fiasco and saddled it with a serious case of the ‘cutes’, I was astonished that he would put himself in a project that showcased his weakness as a romantic leading man. So I’m through floored that Captain Phillips the film and the performance are amongst the strongest in Hanks’ esteemed career.
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The Counselor (2013) – Review

4 Stars

I’ve seen The Counselor twice now, and I’m still not clear on exactly what happens to whom and for what ultimate reason. That a major studio release could be this confounding, lyrical, erotic and downright brutally violent is a testament to the faith executives have in both Cormac McCarthy and Ridley Scott. With each successive viewing the film grows darker, colder and just the slightest bit more coherent, but this isn’t a movie that is assembled for cohesiveness, it is intended to rattle and disrupt viewers. The Counselor is a film that demands your full attention, and in return Scott delivers beautiful visual compositions and attractive stars to match the eloquent writing of McCarthy.
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The Bodyguard (1992) – Review

3 Stars

The Bodyguard may seem dated and rather ordinary today but back in the time of its release it was a colossal blockbuster. Costner coming off a string of critical and commercial successes is the bodyguard of the title Frank Framer, a role that was originated for Steve McQueen before his passing, and he is tasked with protecting a beautiful, ultra famous pop star. The singer, Rachel Marrron (Whitney Houston) is initially unaware that she is receiving death threats and that recently someone has broken into her mansion and self-satisfied themselves on her bed. Rachel resents the overly cautious Frank and his constant meddling in her established routines. Before long the two are thrust into a romantic relationship that will test the boundaries of their care for one another.
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Only God Forgives (2013) – Review

1/2 Star

You used to be able to spot a bad movie by a certain level of incompetent craftsmanship. That is not the case anymore. Only God Forgives is one of the best-looking bad movies I’ve seen, it’s also one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve had to endure in quite some time. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has not lost his sense of visual boldness in the stark and intriguing shot compositions, but this is a case of style greatly over-riding substance. Refn likes to shock, sometimes with a single image, or a line of dialogue, or even an entire scene. He spells out nothing for his audience and expects, you do figure out the pieces and what is reality or memory. It’s a valid directorial choice, but when the underlying material is this thin, these artistic touches come off as self-indulgent and unnecessary.
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Someone to Watch Over Me (1987) – Review

1 Star

Ridley Scott is credited as director on the erotic crime thriller Someone to Watch Over Me and yet, outside of a few shots that feature billows of fog and nice cars I can’t detect the guiding hand of Scott in a single frame of this lackluster movie. Featuring two of the most bland characters to ever appear in a noir thriller and brought to life by Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers, two actors that have zero chemistry with one another. These disastrous mixing of awkward elements creates, not surprisingly the worst film to ever emerge from the talented Ridley Scott. The problem may be with the iconic british helmer himself, his ponderous and heavy-handed approach to the simple material overwhelms the story, until it results in a case of style outshining subject.
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