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Drama

Rocky (1976) – Review

4 Stars

Rocky is a study of isolation and despair, love and triumph and many other facets of the human condition. That the film is wrapped in a Cinderella story of a down on his luck pugilist given a million to one shot at the Heavyweight title, and features one of the screen’s greatest characters of all time, is just icing on the proverbial cake. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a broke down fighter, past his prime and never much good anyhow, these days he works as a part-time leg-breaker/collector for a local mob figure. The problem is Rocky is too compassionate for the job, when he’s ordered to break a guy’s thumb for late payment, Balboa instead tells the man “he should have planned ahead”. He walks the cold and desolate Philadelphia streets alone, bouncing a rubber ball like an over-grown child and wearing a floppy fedora, that gives the character a Chaplin-esque quality.
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Rocky II (1979) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Rocky II is the most delicate entry in the long-running series. Set directly after the events in the first film, Balboa and his opponent Apollo Creed find themselves laid up in the same hospital for over-night observation. Unable to sleep and temporarily bound to a wheelchair, Rocky (Stallone) quietly opens the door to Creed’s room and asks the champ, “Did you give me your best?”. Small moments like these are sprinkled throughout the movie and it’s a richer experience for it. Stallone has taken over directing duties from OSCAR winner John G. Avildsen, and it is remarkable how consistent the two films are in tone and visual quality. The deserted Philly streets of the first picture, which were symbolic of the isolation and despair felt by its characters, have been replaced by a Philadelphia that feels lived in but alive. People on the streets recognize the slugger and with Balboa’s new-found popularity comes the responsibilities of public life.
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The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) – Review

3 Stars

The Thomas Crown Affair is a slick and light-weight caper flick that has been brought to life under the sturdy direction of John McTiernan and anchored by Pierce Brosnan, playing a debonair playboy not far removed from 007. This is a remake of the 1968 film starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (given a cameo role here), and it is an improvement on the source material. Updating the heist from a bank-job to a high-end Art Museum theft is a nice touch. The chemistry between the leads is good, better than McQueen and Dunaway, and the playful banter is intelligent.
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Blood Money (1999) – Review

1 Star

Michael Ironside is one of the most recognizable faces in movies, having appeared in over 100 films in a career spanning nearly forty years. After having played bit parts or villains in many movies, Ironside wrote himself a lead role and was given the opportunity to direct Blood Money a.k.a. The Arraignment. The actor’s effortless on-screen presence does well for the picture, which is otherwise just so bland that nothing distinguishes the movie from a television episode of Law & Order.
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Lookin’ to Get Out (1982) – Review

2 Stars

A barely released Vegas comedy with a high-profile cast, including Angelina Jolie in her screen debut, directed by Hal Ashby is reminiscent of John Cassavetes or Tarantino, but Lookin’ to Get Out is a bizarre ramble with some truly unruly characters. Jon Voight brings a detestable character to life through sheer energy and constant chatter.
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Twilight (1998) – Review

2 Stars

Paul Newman at 73 years of age strides through the role of private investigator Harry Ross with the ease of man whose stardom dates back nearly four decades. Surrounded by an array of fine supporting players, this melancholy tale of murder, cover-ups, Hollywood sex scandals and adultery would be right at home if it were written and filmed in the 1940’s. The cast can only elevate the material to a certain level before the over-wrought plotting and logical mis-steps dump the movie on its ass, wasting the hard-work from everyone on-screen.
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Counterpunch (2013) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

As with Stallone in Rocky, an immensely watchable screen persona is born in Alvaro Orlando star of the boxing drama Counterpunch. Based on the true story of Orlando’s own upbringing and struggles with foes in the ring and mental health issues outside. This very enjoyable and well-directed story is anchored by the quirky performance from the relatively obscure young lead.
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Noah (2014) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Throughout his career Russell Crowe has done his most powerful work in period pieces, from Gladiator to Robin Hood, Cinderella Man and now, Noah. His unconventional handsome-ness and melancholy demeanor are prefect fits for these characters that existed in eras long ago. Except for possibly Maximus, no role until now has allowed Crowe to tap so deeply into that steel reservoir of determination. Noah is an ambitious, exciting and beautifully mounted production that contains some truly spectacular images, and the first ‘wow’ at the movies this year.
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Streets of Gold (1986) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

In the wake of Rocky and The Karate Kid comes Streets of Gold, a minor entry into the boxing genre. The film has been directed with little flair by Joe Roth, who shows no conceivable style, motivation or interest in his subject. Perhaps, the most disappointing is that the film features marvelous method-actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, and sports a script from the usually top-notch Richard Price.
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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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