My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Abel Ferrara is making more interesting in his later years than he did before. True, I’ve only seen a handful of his earlier work but this film and Pasolini represent a new and exciting direction for the provocative filmmaker. I am excited to start a journey through his previous work and see how he has changed over the years.
In some ways, Tommaso is a companion piece to his portrait of Pasolini: both films are centered around the lives of filmmakers, both films bounce back and forth between reality and fantasy, both films wrestle with the meaning of existence. However, with this film, Ferrara exposes his own life in a touching, vulnerable way. The filmmaker character, based on Abel himself, is played to perfection by Willem Dafoe. He has incredible lightweight moments (dancing with his daughter and students) and others of true darkness, demonstrating once again his impressive range. He is truly one of our best actors.
The raw reality captured by Ferrara, mostly through improvised scenes, is always effective and sometimes even powerful. I was moved to tears when Dafoe talks about his past addiction. The sex and lust represented is true. Such scenes are often so phony in movies but not here. Everything Ferrara presents is a sincere statement about life, love, and creative work. As a filmmaker, I could relate to everything Dafoe goes through and, though not a single scene takes place on a movie set, I believe with Tommaso that Ferrara has made the best film ever about being a movie director.
Watched on DVD.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
The fact that this film, and Cage’s performance in it, took critics by surprise shows just how little they understand and appreciate the actor. As joked about in the movie, he “never went anywhere”. I’d argue that every movie Cage has made since 1983’s Valley Girl has been worth watching for one reason alone. He’s always interesting even in the worst films. And therefore, for true Cage fans, I don’t think The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is much of a revelation but it’s still a lot of fun.
One of the best parts of this film is Cage’s sincere delivery which plays best in two scenarios: 1. When he’s arguing with his fantasy younger self. 2. When he’s playing opposite Pedro Pascal. In the first situation, we’re treating to some of the film’s most outlandish and Cagey-ist moments, including a ridiculous kissing scene. In the second, the film finds its center. The relationship between these two men is the core of the picture and where it succeeds most. When’s the last time Cage had a co-star who could really stand toe-to-toe with him? Honestly, it feels like it’s been since the days of The Rock and Face Off. Pedro Pascal is outstanding as his counterpart and I hope this isn’t the last time these two are paired together.
I could have watched them hang out and get into all kinds of misadventures for the entire runtime. Though I see what the filmmakers intended, the subplot with the family bored me. It feels the least true to Cage, the most fabricated part of this tongue-in-cheek take on his persona and life. The action/thriller direction the film takes in the last half is not nearly as intriguing as the buddy relationship comedy at the beginning. Yes, I understand the irony they’re playing with but what’s most ironic is that if they stuck to the more human story, as the characters of Cage and Pascal argue for, this would have been an even better film.
Nicolas Cage has been my favorite actor for more than twenty years. Of course, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie even if I can point to ten or twenty of his films that I prefer (especially last year’s Pig). The critics act like he’s made a comeback, a reaction the movie predicts and pokes fun at. The truth is he’s always been great and always will be.
Watched at Majestic 7 in Tempe, Arizona
Trancers 5 (1994)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
The sixth entry in this series (counting the great short film Trancers 1.5) and Tim Thomerson’s last is definitely a close tie with Trancers 4 for the least successful.
This pair, filmed back to back, take the great mythology created by Band and company in a different direction, one I tried and failed to get behind. The whole medieval setting and concept of bringing sorcery into the world of Jack Deth doesn’t work for me. That being said, there are still some fun, classic Thomerson moments here. It’s a testament to his screen presence that an entire film can be worth watching for just a few of his scenes. I could probably watch Jack Deth watch paint dry and be happy…
I look forward to finishing the franchise and, for fun, coming up with my own pitch for a final film that features the return of Jack Deth.
Watched on Full Moon Features.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
I love the concept of turning the Halloween franchise into more of an anthology series instead of just regurgitating Michael Myers every film and it’s a shame Carpenter and company were not able to continue with that idea. However, this film is definitely a mixed bag.
The first half is mostly successful, setting up an intriguing plot that has touches of Carpenter’s own They Live that would come six years later and Larry Cohen’s The Stuff which would be made in 1985. Atkins and Nelkin were good enough to keep me interested but once they get to the town where the whole conspiracy is unfolding, the film falls apart.
It starts with the ridiculous amount of sex the characters have in the hotel room… who screws this much while you’re in an emergency situation? From there, the plot gets more and more far-fetched. I lost interest when the villain’s reason behind all this was clearly no more thought out by the filmmakers than most James Bond baddies. It’s a shame too because there were a lot of good elements in play here and the creators miss a great opportunity to do more with the masked children.
Watched on Shudder.
The Pelican Brief (1993)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
If Hitchcock was the “Master of Suspense”, then I’d argue that Alan J. Pakula, not DePalma who only copied the master’s style, inherited that title while he was alive and made it his own. He was the master of paranoia, a title he earned not only from his famous loose trilogy (Klute, Parallax View, and All the President’s Men) but gems like Presumed Innocent. Even his one Western, Comes a Horseman, is filled with paranoia not common to the genre. And late in his career, he produced three more stylish thrillers (The Pelican Brief, Consenting Adults, and The Devil’s Own). Unfortunately, like several late career Hitchcock films, these did not live up to their creator’s earlier work.
The Pelican Brief has a lot of potential and its thriller subject might be more relevant now, in this deeply divided political climate, than it was in the 90s. But there are a few major issues that prevent the film from succeeding. One is the absence of Gordon Willis. The prince of darkness who lit Pakula’s best films did not lens this one and the difference shows. It’s not that Stephen Goldblatt does a bad job but his work demonstrates just how essential Gordy’s visuals were to the success of Pakula’s paranoid tone.
Second, the film is far too long. I was rewriting and recutting it in my head the whole time, finding whole sections that could have been streamlined or removed altogether. For what should be a tight thriller, the movie goes on 20 to 30 minutes longer than it should.
And lastly, the cast just doesn’t quite have the weight they should. Both Roberts and Washington didn’t really mature as actors until years later: Julia with Erin Brokovich and, in my opinion, Denzel didn’t until after Flight. It’s especially interesting to watch Washington here and to think about how much he’s grown in recent years. His work never impressed me until he really started to challenge himself with the aforementioned film and embodied more gravitas in Tony Scott’s later and best work like Deja Vu and Unstoppable. I really credit his collaboration with Scott for taking Denzel to a new level. But back to Pelican Brief, both leads just feel very lightweight and can’t carry this entertainment but flawed thriller. However, watching the “master” at work is always worth it.
Watched on HBO Max.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
This is an odd documentary from film historian and Scorsese pal Kent Jones. The whole concept for its existence and title is misleading. After an introduction that explains the background behind Truffaut’s famous book about Hitchcock, the entire middle of the movie forgets about the New Wave filmmaker.
Instead, we’re treated to a series of thoughts about his classic films from famous directors like David Fincher and, of course, Marty. These segments feel like DVD extras or short TCM specials cobbled together into a feature film. A few are interesting, like Paul Schrader’s story about the scarcity of Vertigo prints in the 70s, but every subject is given a brief treatment before the filmmaker moves onto the next one. Overall, nothing new is said about Hitchock so why are we watching?
Near the end, Jones finally returns to the connection between Truffaut and Hitchcock, delivering more interesting material in the last ten minutes than the whole movie that proceeded it. I think this was a misguided effort.
Watched on Tubi.