Joker


Viewed – 08 October 2019. Cinema

I didn’t get the most positive impression upon seeing the trailer for this. Although I believed Joaquin Phoenix was an ideal casting for the clown prince of crime … the realistic approach and the fact the movie looked simply like a guy laughing a lot and acting a bit strange didn’t fill me with excitement. There’s more to Joker than being a clown and a bit of a weirdo … but thankfully having sat through this, such feats are swept aside as director Todd Phillips delivers precisely the origin story fitting to the iconic character.

Phoenix plays Arthur, a guy with more than a few mental problems, not helped by an over dependant mother, a thankless job as a street performer, hopeless aspirations to be a stand-up comedian and living in a city that doesn’t give a damn. However with a girl next door who catches his eye, not all is bad. That is until a series of events finds him sinking further into madness and eventually finding a confidence in himself – as the Joker is manifested. Welcome support comes from Robert DeNiro as a chat show host but this is clearly Phoenix’s show and despite (favourable) comparisons to Nicholson & Ledger, he somehow makes the character his own in a complex, at times heart-breaking – yet still menacing portrayal.

This can be seen as a snapshot of our current society. It’s a brave exploration of how the powers that be can create a monster. At the same time, the movie plays cleverly with the viewers interpretation of what is real and what is fantasised . In the closing moments this approach is almost its undoing but with very strong echoes of Taxi Driver and even Black Swan I still came away surprised and particularly impressed. A must-see.

Verdict: 5 /5

Jackie Brown


Viewed – 14 May 2016  Blu-ray

This is probably the one movie in Quentin Tarantino’s career that divides audiences most.  There are critics and fans who love it for it’s laid back, character-driven approach and then there’s the ones who really don’t like it for it’s lack of energy or that Tarantino pop-culture referencing, larger-than-life aesthetic.  I sit somewhere in the middle and even watching this now, I’m still unsure exactly how I feel.

Pam Grier

70s Blaxploitation star Pam Grier plays airline stewardess Jackie Brown who gets caught by a couple of Feds bringing back $50,000 in cash in her luggage.  Turns out she’s carrying it for local mobster Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) and finds herself in a bit of a pickle when the feds want her to inform on her ‘business’ partner.  Lucky for Jackie a kind natured bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) is on hand to help.

Now firstly my issue with this is usually what attracts me to a Tarantino flick – the dialogue.  This time around occasional lines that I’m sure are meant to sound cool, come off more cringy when delivered by actors not best suited to Tarantino’s style.  Pam Grier especially seems awkward or just out of practice, but thankfully fairs much better in her intimate exchanges with Robert Forster than attempts at sass with other characters.  However Jackson of course is right at home and doesn’t put a foot wrong despite a rather bizarre ‘look’.  Robert DeNiro is also here as Ordell’s buddy straight out of lock up, but seems to be (intentionally) sleeping his way through his performance, yet comes alive in the final act.  Additionally Bridget Fonda plays stoner surf girl Melanie and looks gorgeous and makes for a fun character, but is mostly forgettable.  So the show is left up to veteran actor Forster, who is easily the most likable and well rounded character and the viewer’s anchor to weigh all the other stuff down with.

Deniro & Jackson

Quentin’s direction though is clearly a love letter to Blaxploitation and 70s TV cop shows, and with this he captures a perfect tone, decorated with various memorable Motown and bluesy tunes that really bring the movie to life and capture certain moments beautifully.  Yet in the grand scheme of things, for me this is still his least engaging picture – it desperately needs a sharper knife in the editing room as it languishes in all but the final act – which at least proves dazzling, classic Tarantino.  Following on from Pulp Fiction was no mean feat, and as with Hateful Eight following Django, this was a different beast entirely … but not without it’s merits.

The Blu-ray is pretty decent with a very detailed and impressive image to the movie that although a little fuzzy and rough-looking in places, perfectly captures a 70s look.  The DTS HD Master Audio is very clear and brings the various tunes to life.  Adding to this are a wealth of extras with plenty of featurettes and documentaries both looking back at the movie and showing some behind the scenes stuff as well as deleted scenes.  Jackie Brown is a peculiar beast as overall there is much to love but it doesn’t entirely come together as well as it should.  Yet the Blu-ray does a decent job of disguising this and is still worth a look if you’re a fan of Tarantino.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Last Vegas


Viewed – 05 March 2015  Netflix

I like how Hollywood occasionally dusts off some of our older veteran actors and throws them together in one movie.  When it works it can work well (Bucket List, The Heist) and when it doesn’t it can be uncomfortable (The Expendables).  Thankfully this is the former.  Marketed as kind of a senior citizen version of The Hangover we have Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline as life long friends who come together to go on Michael Douglas’s bachelor party in Vegas.  You see much like Douglas in real life, he has a young girlfriend who he plans on marrying, but at the same time there’s some unresolved issues between him and DeNiro that a weekend together may just bring up again.

last vegas

This is enjoyable stuff.  It has some good observations of getting older, life and love and is actually rather heart-warming.  It sensibly avoids the toilet humour adult comedy of the aforementioned Hangover, and as these guys are a bit fish out of water, they naturally look awkward attending clubs and chatting up the scantily clad girls…but then that’s kind of the point.  This does have some good jokes (most at Douglas’ expense) and several great sight gags, and works best when the four seasoned actors are sparring off against each other.  Mary Steenburgen appears as a love interest and helps this movie develop a bit more meaning and depth than it might have.  Director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) has played his cards well, and treats the actors with respect whilst still poking a little fun at the situation.  DeNiro is especially good as the grumpier of the foursome yet each actor gets a moment in the spotlight and goes on a bit of a journey.

It’s predictable in places and rather cringy at times, but never out stays it’s welcome.  I’d have swapped the casting of Kline for someone on the same level as the others (sorry) … yet overall, this still worked very well.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Goodfellas


Viewed – 30 May 2015  Blu-ray

25th Anniversary Edition

I remember when I first saw this widely acclaimed mob drama, that somehow despite my love of the genre, I had taken several years to get around to watching it (I did a similar thing with The Shining…).  Suffice to say I was blown away.  Director Martin Scorsese who I best knew from Taxi Driver and After Hours (remember that?) had delivered his masterpiece in a genre he seemed to know like the back of his hand.  Yes before this hit we had movies like The Godfather and Scarface to name but two, but something about this small-time mob enforcers tale, especially the rags-to-riches-journey Henry Hill goes on from a wet-behind-his-ears kid to a connected wise guy, was a revelation.  In may ways the movie has similarities to John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood which borrows a similar structure, but told on a more epic scale, ‘Fellas delivers the ultimate gangster drama that also happens to be based on a true story.

Goodfellas

Ray Liotta play’s Henry, a street kid from a Jewish background who winds up working for the local mobsters at the cab stand, and gradually learns all the underworld dealings of being a gangster.  Before long he’s rubbing shoulders with Joe Pesci’s volatile Tommy and Robert DeNiro’s charismatic Jimmy.  Aided by Liotta’s excellent narration (the deep tone of his voice adding to much of the movie’s iconic status) along with Scorsese pulling out every directing trick in the book – a stellar soundtrack, superlative editing, slow motion, zooms, speed ups and clever-ass tracking shots – this had it all.  Each performance electrifies and compliments one another; Lorraine (The Sopranos) Bracco’s Karen is the perfect female morality figure, Pesci brings humour and crazy psychosis to a character that earned him an Oscar …. and DeNiro’s class makes Jimmy likeable but also complex and scary.  Add to this great turns from Paul Sorvino (“now I gotta turn my back on you”) and especially Roy Liotta who brings a nervous out-of-his-depth quality to a character who throughout knows exactly what he’s a part of, but still looks and acts uncomfortable when things get nasty.  Oh and do things get nasty … from the beating and murder of Billy Batts to the various stabbings, skewers in the back of the head, a gun being repeatedly bashed against someone’s face etc. etc.  But for some reason it all just fits and never feels quite as gratuitous as Casino.  This is why compared to that other Scorsese mob drama, this zips along, has a more gripping ‘journey’ and just has stand out scene after stand out scene (“funny how, how am I funny, like I’m a clown?”).

One of the best movies ever made, and certainly the finest gangster movie ever made.

goodfellas 25This re-release for the movie’s 25th anniversary comes with a glossy and detailed full colour booklet as well as a letter from the director himself.  Add to this a whole extra disk of special features that houses a brand new documentary featuring cast and crew (sadly no Pesci!) and several archive docs covering the production and the movie’s legacy.  On the movie itself, we get a cast & crew commentary and a second crook and cop commentary (featuring Henry Hill and the FBI agent that caught him!) which were found on the 20th anniversary edition.  What’s most important though is the picture and sound.  Presented in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio the music, dialogue and everything else is crisp even if the surrounds aren’t especially showcased.  The image-quality (from a 4k master apparently) whilst a little grainy and rather soft in places (especially street scenes) retains good detail, especially in close-ups and faces.  Overall not too bad a job for a genuine classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Casino


Viewed – 08 May 2015  Blu-ray

20th Anniversary Special Edition

I first saw this acclaimed mob drama a number of year’s ago, and even though I knew it was based on a true story, only recently have I learned about the real-life events the story follows.  Robert DeNiro plays professional gambler Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein who gets the opportunity to run the Tangier’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in the late seventies.  He makes a big pil o’ cash for the mob ‘back home’ and attracts former childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) who also has ideas of making a killing on the strip…literally and figuratively.  Meanwhile Ace falls for glamorous hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone) who soon complicates everyone’s lives.

casino

A spiritual successor to director Martin Scorsese’s other famed mob classic Goodfellas, reuniting DeNiro with Pesci … who pretty much plays the same type of unhinged psycho that nabbed him an Oscar in ‘Fellas.    DeNiro however, despite his character’s connections to the mob, is more the straight guy trying to avoid any sort of ‘heat’ – and his presence here commands the movie from beginning to end.  Stone is a welcome inclusion to the Scorsese mob-movie fold and adds her usual sexy sass and grit in a role that pretty much enables this movie to have it’s own voice.  At a butt-numbing three hours it can sometimes drag, yet the situations, strong performances and the whole glitz of the setting (not to mention a stellar soundtrack) make for great entertainment.  It’s incredibly violent at times, to the point of being gratuitous (especially towards the end) and the story isn’t as engrossing as it thinks it is.  Also some of the ‘artistic licence’ with the facts remain puzzling (Tangiers is fictional, based on the famed Stardust hotel) and DeNiro and Pesci’s character names are made up, but based on Frank Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro respectively.  Yet to quibble at this is to do the movie a disservice, as it remains another decent, if familiar mob drama from the true master of the subject.

The Blu-ray, re-issued for the movie’s 20th anniversary has a very nice image quality, retaining grain and detail even if some shots (especially in door and night time scenes) get a little fuzzy.  The sound in DTS HD Master Audio, which is very dialogue-driven is mostly excellent and the fantastic soundtrack really brings this one to life.  Vegas looks incredible also.  The extras consist of a ‘moments with the cast & crew’ option which has pop up interviews as the movie plays.  We also get a couple of detailed documentaries, as well as a few deleted scenes.  However, there doesn’t seem anything here that wasn’t on previous releases … making for a bit of a cash-in.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5