My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.

This week focuses on two films starring Jack Nicholson.



Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I felt this film was overlooked at the time of its release and I still do, though some of its elements don’t work as well as they used to.

Still, this remains the most creatively successful movie I’ve seen from Sean Penn. He assembled an incredible ensemble to surround Nicholson: Sam Shepard, Aaron Eckhart, Helen Mirren, Mickey Rourke, Harry Dean Stanton, Robin Wright, and the list goes on… The star is at his best here. I tend to prefer Nicholson in his Gittes mode, subtle and cerebral, not in his showy, over the top. So I’d rank this role higher than the more obvious ones like CUCKOO’S NEST and THE SHINING. Here, he portrays an obsessed cop’s slow decline with brilliance. I believe all of the sides of his character: honest, passionate, loving, and ultimately mad. It’s not an easy thing to do but Nicholson creates an incredible arch here.

I also enjoy the film’s slow pace. It doesn’t play like most thrillers and that might turn off audiences, along with an anti-climactic, ironic ending which I love. Penn goes wrong when he tries too hard. That shows most in some of the flashy, disorienting moments (an unnecessary cliche of the suspense genre) and in his guidance of Benicio’s part. That is the one cringe-worthy performance in the whole picture, an over-the-top sequence that feels phony. Unfortunately, it’s near the beginning and semi-taints the rest of the picture, which is otherwise a well-crafted, smart thriller.

Watched on Tubi.



Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

This was my first watch of BLOOD AND WINE, a movie that slipped by when it was new and seemed disregarded for years. However, I’ve seen it mentioned on several lists and my curiosity peaked.

It’s amazing to me that Rafelson could do those counter-culture films and then turn around later in his career to make craftsman-like thrillers like this and BLACK WIDOW. And he was good at it. Truth to be told, he could have been a studio director, one of those who added layers of hidden meaning to his genre work. BLOOD is not as good as BLACK, particularly in its overly complex final act but it is worth a watch for many reasons. Most of those reasons are related to Jack Nicholson. He turns in one of his best performances in a long list as the loser husband of Judy Davis (terrific as always) who gets in too deep with the crazy Michael Caine. Caine also does good work here but his is more obvious. Jack is in subtle mode here (my preference) and what he does in the car wreck scene is one of his finest moments on screen.

Dorff and Lopez are just kinda there. They’re the weakest part of the cast and that shows most in the convoluted climax. This noir is very simple until the end, something Rafelson gets right compared to a lot of directors out there trying to replicate the greatness of the 40s and 50s. It’s a solid modern entry in a genre that most filmmakers mess up.

Watched on Criterion Channel.