Mistrial (1996, directed by Heywood Gould)


When a NYPD cop and her partner are murdered, overworked and stressed-out Detective Steve Donohue (Bill Pullman) follows a trail of circumstantial evidence that leads him to the door of the cop’s ex-husband, a community activist named Eddie Rios (Jon Seda).  Donohue’s attempt to arrest Rios goes terribly wrong and results in a shootout that leaves Rios’s second wife and bother dead before the handcuffs are eventually slapped on his wrists.

Rios may be the one on trial but Donohue is now the one facing judgment.  With protesters lined up outside the courthouse and the city’s mayor (James Rebhorn) more interested in his own reelection than in the pursuit of justice, Donohue knows that the only way he’ll be vindicated is if Eddie Rios is convicted.  Unfortunately, that’s not what happens.  Rios’s sleazy attorney (played by Josef Sommer) gets most of the evidence tossed out of court on a technicality and it appears that Rios is going to walk free.  That’s when Donohue decides to take the court itself hostage, pulls out a gun, and demands that Rios immediately be put on trial for a second time, with the jury hearing all of the evidence that was originally thrown out of court.

Mistrial is an example of the good-cop-pushed-over-the-edge genre.  Up until a few years ago, this was a very popular genre.  Today, of course, it feels tone deaf and it’s a lot more difficult to sympathize with a cop, even a fictional one, complaining about being restricted by the constitution.  The main problem with Mistrial is that it’s established early on that Eddie Ramos is guilty so there’s no real tension as to whether Donohue is doing the right thing by demanding a second trial.  If there had been some ambiguity about whether or not Ramos was the murderer that Donohue claims he is, it would have made the film much more interesting and less predictable.  The other problem is that Bill Pullman is just too naturally earnest and clean-cut to be convincing as an overworked cop who has been pushed into doing something crazy.  Remembering back to the 90s, I think someone like Gary Sinise or William L. Petersen could have pulled off the role but Pullman’s just not right for it.

Robert Loggia has a few good moments as Pullman’s sympathetic captain.  This was the 2nd time that Pullman and Loggia co-starred together.  The first time was in Independence Day.  The 3rd time would be in Lost Highway, a film that’s as different from Mistrial as day is from night.

A Movie A Day #217: Wyatt Earp (1994, directed by Lawrence Kasdan)


Once upon a time, there were two movies about the legendary Western lawman (or outlaw, depending on who is telling the story) Wyatt Earp.  One came out in 1993 and the other came out in 1994.

The 1993 movie was called Tombstone.  That is the one that starred Kurt Russell was Wyatt, with Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton in the roles of his brothers and Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday.  Tombstone deals with the circumstances that led to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  “I’m your huckleberry,” Doc Holliday says right before his gunfight with Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo.  Tombstone is the movie that everyone remembers.

The 1994 movies was called Wyatt Earp.  This was a big budget extravaganza that was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred Kevin Costner as Wyatt.  Dennis Quaid played Doc Holliday and supporting roles were played by almost everyone who was an active SAG member in 1994.  If they were not in Tombstone, they were probably in Wyatt Earp.  Gene Hackman, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Annabeth Gish, Gene Hackman, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham, and many others all appeared as supporting characters in the (very) long story of Wyatt Earp’s life.

Of course, Wyatt Earp features the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral but it also deals with every other chapter of Earp’s life, including his multiple marriages, his career as a buffalo hunter, and his time as a gold prospector.  With a three-hour running time, there is little about Wyatt Earp’s life that is not included.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his time in Tomstone, Wyatt Earp’s life was not that interesting.  Neither was Kevin Costner’s performance.  Costner tried to channel Gary Cooper in his performance but Cooper would have known better than to have starred in a slowly paced, three-hour movie.  The film is so centered around Costner and his all-American persona that, with the exception of Dennis Quaid, the impressive cast is wasted in glorified cameos.  Wyatt Earp the movie tries to be an elegy for the old west but neither Wyatt Earp as a character nor Kevin Costner’s performance was strong enough to carry such heavy symbolism.  A good western should never be boring and that is a rule that Wyatt Earp breaks from the minute that Costner delivers his first line.

Costner was originally cast in Tombstone, just to leave the project so he could produce his own Wyatt Earp film.  As a big, Oscar-winnng star, Costner went as far as to try to have production of Tombstone canceled.  Ironically, Tombstone turned out to be the film that everyone remember while Wyatt Earp is the film that most people want to forget.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Accidental Tourist (dir by Lawrence Kasdan)


the_accidental_tourist

I have to admit that I was tempted to be a little bit snarky in my review of the 1988 Best Picture nominee, The Accidental Tourist.  I was going to say that The Accidental Tourist was a perfect example of a genre of film that has always been oddly popular with the Academy, the emotionally stunted man in New England learns to love again genre.

But, then I realized that I was wrong.  The Accidental Tourist does not take place in New England.  It takes place in Baltimore which may be located up north but which is technically considered to be part of the mid-Atlantic.  But, even with that in mind, it was impossible for me to watch The Accidental Tourist without thinking of other New England-set Oscar nominees, such as Mystic River and Manchester By The Sea.

As for the film itself, it’s about a man whose depressing life would be unbearable to watch if not for the fact that everyone around him is so extremely eccentric.  Macon Leary (William Hurt) is a travel writer.  He’s writes books giving people advice on how best to behave while seeing the world.  Throughout the film, we hear snippets of his prose.  Macon warns people about overpacking.  He warns them about arriving late at the airport.  He warns them about not properly planning out their trip.  He suggests that travelers bring a book to read but not too many books.  And don’t bring magazines because they get wrinkled too easily.  Now, to be honest, I liked most of Macon’s advice but then again, I’m OCD and I spend most of my time trying to make sure that everything I own is properly organized and can be equally divided.

A year ago, during a fast food robbery, Macon’s son was shot and killed.  Withdrawing from the world, Macon barely reacts when his wife, Sarah (Kathleen Turner), leaves him.  After breaking his leg while trying to convince his dog to climb down the stairs into the laundry room, Macon ends up moving in with his three siblings: autocratic Porter (David Ogden Stiers), slightly less autocratic Charles (Ed Begley, Jr.) and sweet but neurotic Rose (Amy Wright).

And so it goes.  Even when his agent, Julian (Bill Pullman), starts to date Rose, Macon can’t bring himself to open up emotionally.  Fortunately, Macon meets Muriel (Geena Davis), a quirky dog trainer.  Though it takes a while, Muriel starts to pull Macon out of his shell.  Soon, Macon is spending his nights over at her apartment and bonding with her sickly son.

(Why does every single mother in these type of movies have a sickly son?  Just for once, couldn’t a single mother be portrayed as having a child who is well-adjusted, popular, and healthy?)

But, just when everything seems to be perfect, Macon’s phone rings.  It’s Sarah and she wants to give their marriage another chance…

Just judging from the tone of this review, you’re probably thinking that I disliked The Accidental Tourist.  Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  While the film’s mix of grim reality and relentlessly quirky supporting character can be a bit overwhelming at first, the film works if you stick with it.  That’s the thing — you have to stick with it.  When William Hurt first stares at the camera with his dead eyes and starts to drone about the importance of not spending too much money while in Paris, it’s tempting to just give up.  But, as the film progresses, it improves and so does Hurt’s performance.  By the time he finally worked up the strength to hold Muriel’s son’s hand while walking the boy home from school, I had tears in my mismatched eyes.

The Accidental Tourist is low-key but rather sweet film.  While the film centers around the performances of Hurt and Geena Davis (who won an Oscar for her work here), my favorite performances came from Bill Pullman and Amy Wright.  I honestly would happily watch a film that was just about their characters.

The Accidental Tourist was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Rain Man.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Independence Day: Resurgence (dir by Roland Emmerich)


Independence-Day-2-poster

Oh, who cares?

Sorry, I know that’s like an ultra unprofessional way to open a review but Independence Day: Resurgence is one of the least inspiring films that I’ve ever seen.  Jeff and I saw it the day that it opened and, at the time, I was planning on reviewing it the next day.  But when I sat down to actually write about the movie … well, I discovered that I could hardly care less.  This is one of those films that I could have easily waited until December to review.  However, seeing as today is Independence Day, this seemed to be the right time to say something about it.

Memorable movies inspire.  Good movies inspire love.  Bad movies inspire hate.  A movie like Independence Day: Resurgence inspires apathy.

Actually, what’s really frustrating about Independence Day: Resurgence is that it starts out with such promise.  The first few scenes suggest that maybe the film is trying to be something more than just another “let’s blow shit up while stars get quippy” action film.  Independence Day: Resurgence imagines an alternative history for post-alien invasion Earth and it’s actually pretty clever.  Earthlings have taken advantage of the alien technology but society has also become heavily militaristic.  The main characters of the first film are all revered as heroes but, when we first meet former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman, with a wise old man beard), he’s having nightmares about the invasion.

And seriously, for the first 30 minutes or so, I really thought that Independence Day: Resurgence might turn out to be surprisingly clever, that maybe it would satirize the excesses of the original while subtly critiquing everything that’s fucked up about our real world.

Well, that was a mistake on my part.  There is no satire.  There is no critique.  Instead, it’s just another alien invasion film and it’s all terribly predictable.  It may be a sequel to the first Independence Day but it feels more like a rip-off of Battle: Los Angeles.  Considering what the film could have been, it’s impossible not to be disappointed by how familiar and uninspired it all is.

What I failed to take into account is that this film was directed by Roland Emmerich.  Emmerich is a director who is best distinguished by his total lack of self-awareness.  After all, this is the director who, in Anonymous, seriously suggested that William Shakespeare personally murdered Christopher Marlowe.  Watching Independence Day: Resurgence and listening to the generic dialogue and witnessing the generic mayhem, I started to get the sinking feeling that the film was a joke and that  Emmerich was the only person on the planet who was not in on it.  He doesn’t realize how predictable his movies are or that his characters are cardboard cut-outs or that the film’s inspiring moments are so overdone that they instead become groan-inducing.  One of the stars of the first film sacrifices himself in Resurgence and you know who it’s going to be from the minute he shows up onscreen.  Emmerich is not a good enough director to make his sacrifice touching.  The fact that the film ends with the promise of a sequel is not surprising and yet, it still somehow manages to be annoyingly presumptive.  The film’s ending seems to be taunting us.  “Of course, you’re going to want to sit through this shit for a third time…what other choice do you have?”

In the film’s defense, the cast is big and it includes a lot of good actors.  Unfortunately, the characters are so undeveloped that you again find yourself regretting what a waste it all is.  Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch are both likable but Bill Pullman seems to be incredibly bored with the whole thing.  Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher, and Maika Monroe are all stuck playing typical Emmerich ciphers.

I should mention that, despite how negative this review may sound, I did not hate Independence Day: Resurgence, at least not in the way that I’ve hated other films, like Anonymous or the remake of Straw Dogs.  My problem with Resurgence isn’t that I hated it or even that I disliked it.  It’s that I didn’t feel much about it, one way or the other.  It’s one of those film that is best described as “just kinda being there.”  Apathy is the worst thing that a film can inspire.

Perhaps the best thing about Independence Day: Resurgence is that Roland Emmerich has protected the holiday from being co-opted by Garry Marshall.

Things Could Be Worse: 8 Fictional Presidents Who Were Terrible At Their Job


Jack Nicholson

2016 is an election year and things are looking pretty grim right now.  It’s enough to make you throw your hands up in frustrating and demand that someone push the reset button.  However, things could always be worse.  From the world of film, here are 8 President so incompetent, corrupt, and sometimes murderous that they will make you long for the dull mediocrity of a Jeb Bush or a Martin O’Malley.

1) The President (William Devane) in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

devaneYou’re the leader of the free world and a masked terrorist has just launched a deadly attack on a major U.S. city.  He has blown up a major sporting event on national television.  He has killed the mayor.  He is allowing a crazy sociopath to preside over show trials.  The terrorist demands that you neither send troops into the city nor do you aid anyone who is trying to leave.  What do you?  If you are the President played by William Devane in The Dark Knight Rises, you say, “Okay,” and then breathe a sigh of relief when Batman turns out not to be dead after all.  William Devane also played JFK in The Missiles of October and President James Heller on 24.  Neither of them would have backed down to Bane as quickly as the President in The Dark Knight Rises.

2) The President (Billy Bob Thornton) in Love Actually (2003)

This President thinks that he can bully the world until he makes the mistake of getting on the bad side of the new British Prime Minister (Hugh Grant).  How are you going to call yourself the leader of the free world when even Hugh Grant can make you look like a fool?

3) The President (Donald Pleasence) in Escape From New York (1981)

DonaldHey, Mr. President, when Snake Plisskin nearly gets killed trying to save your life, you might want to try showing a little gratitude.  Escape From New York ends with Snake asking The President who he feels about all the people who died rescuing him from New York.  When the President can only mutter a few words of regret, Snake responds by destroying the tape that would have presumably prevented World War IV.  Way to go, Mr. President!  Would it have killed you to shed a few crocodile tears, at least over the fate of Cabbie?

4) The President (Cliff Robertson) in Escape From L.A. (1996)

The President from Escape From New York was practically Lincolnesque compared to the jerk who succeeded him.  A theocrat who claimed to have an open line to God, this President banned smoking, drinking, cursing, red meat, guns, atheism, pre-marital sex, and everything else that made life fun.  Anyone who disagreed got exiled to the island of California.  Good thing that Snake Plisskin was still around to set things straight, even if it did mean that Florida ended up getting conquered by Cuba.  Why doesn’t Snake ever run for President?

5) President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) in Independence Day (1996)

billIn a word, overrated.  Yes, President Whitmore did lead the army that repealed the alien invaders but he would not have had to do that in the first place if he had prevented the Earth from being invaded in the first place.  How many warning signs did the Whitmore administration ignore until it was too late?  And how much funding did his administration cut from the military that the Air Force was left in such poor shape that they could get shown up by Randy Quaid in a crop duster?  As for Whitmore’s famous speech and the battle that followed, a sequel to Independence Day is coming in June so he must not have done that good of a job of scaring the aliens off.

6) President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) in Mars Attacks! (1996)

At least President Whitmore got a chance to redeem himself by leading the battle against the invaders.  James Dale did not even get that far.  After foolishly believing everyone who told him that the aliens came in peace, he made the mistake of offering his hand in friendship and ended up with a flag sticking out of his chest.

7) President Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman) in Absolute Power (1997)

Not only did President Richmond think that he could get away with murder, he also thought he could outsmart Clint Eastwood.  Big mistake.  Clint Eastwood is no Hugh Grant.

8) President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) in Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

Mixing the raw charisma of Adlai Stevenson and the phone skills of Bob Newhart, President Merkin Muffley attempts to stop the end of the world and fails miserably.  He even allows the Soviet ambassador to get a picture of the Big Board!  But don’t worry.  President Muffley may have failed to prevent nuclear war but he will not allow there to be a mineshaft gap!

When this election year get you down, just remember: things could always be worse!

strangelove

 

 

Here’s the Trailer for Robotec…I mean Independence Day: Resurgence


Independence Day Resurgence

For decades fans of Robotech (Macross everywhere else in the world) have been hoping for a live-action film adaptation of this very iconic anime series from Japan. Many Westerners had their first introduction to anime after watching the localized version of the original Japanese series Macross. There have been some traction to get the live-action film up and running but rarely past pre-production stage.

With special effects advancing to the point that we can almost recreate dead people back to life via digital trickery, entire worlds astronomers could only dream of and fantastical lands and creatures it’s high time we got a live-action Robotech film. We fans deserve such a gift.

For now, let’s settle for Independence Day: Resurgence which seems to lift certain elements from the anime series spoken of above to make up the plot of the sequel to 1996’s blockbuster hit, Independence Day.

Independence Day: Resurgence is set for a June 24, 2016 release date.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Wes Craven Edition


Today is the birthday of one of the masters of horror. So, here’s wishing Wes Craven a happy birthday.

Now, go out there and check out his films. Here’s a four to try out. It’s got voodoo, a thing from the swamp, a street full of nightmares and, the one that started him off, the very last house on the left.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

Swamp Thing (dir. by Wes Craven)

Swamp Thing (dir. by Wes Craven)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (dir. by Wes Craven)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (dir. by Wes Craven)

The Last House on the Left (dir. by Wes Craven)

The Last House on the Left (dir. by Wes Craven)

Horror Scenes I Love: The Serpent and The Rainbow


TontonMacoutes

“I want to hear you scream.” — Dargent Peytraud

All I can say about this scene is that I guarantee every guy who watches this will want to cross their legs tight. They may just scream as well just as a reflex action to what happens in the end.

Yet, as one watches this torture scene of the main lead in the film the audience never really sees anything. Everything’s implied and we see signs of what’s about to happen throughout the segment.

The Serpent and The Rainbow continues to be one of my favorite horror films and one of my favorite Wes Craven offerings.

Horror Review: The Serpent and The Rainbow (dir. by Wes Craven)


The word zombies conjures up the flesh-eating variety popularized by George Romero’s horror films and the legion of films from others soon after. Prior to 1968’s Night of the Living Dead the word zombies was synonymous more with the gothic-like horror films which took the Haitian voodoo folklore about the recently dead being brought back to life by voodoo priests to act as mindless slaves. It’s this version of the word zombie which Wes Craven decided to explore with his 1988 film adaptation of the Wade Davis non-fiction book The Serpent and The Rainbow. Wes Craven’s film fictionalizes the ideas and treatises put forward in Davis’ book and creates a film which tries to put to light the true horror which lay behind the voodoo folklore regarding zombies.

The film introduces us to the ethnobotanist character of Dennis Alan (played by Bill Pullman) who’s approached by a major pharma-corporation about researching the scientific origins and cause of the voodoo “zombie”. He heads off to Haiti at a time when it’s going through a political upheaval that would lead to the subsequent revolution that topples the dictatorship of that country’s leader, Francois “Baby Doc” Duvalier. During his time in Haiti he investigates story of a patient named Christophe who was reported dead 8 years past but seen recently walking about in a dazed manner. It’s while trying to get a handle on how Christophe was declared dead by authorities but then “resurrected” years later which brings Alan in contact with the local witch doctors who question Alan’s motives but also ridicule him for his narrow viewpoint regarding things which science cannot answer. But through persistence he finally gets one local to assist him in procuring the so-called “zombie powder” used to bring the dead back to life.

The Serpent and The Rainbow shows the real horror about zombification when Alan’s investigations and persistence to acquire the “zombie powder” brings the attention of the country’s secret police (the Tonton Macoutes) and one of it’s leaders and reported voodoo priest in Captain Dargent Peytraud (played by Zakes Mokae in a chilling performance) who warns him repeatedly not to continue. Repeated verbal warning and threats soon become more direct and physical as Alan finds out first-hand why no one in the country dares to speak of “zombies” to an outsider and why Captain Peytraud and his Tonton Macoutes were feared as if they were agents of the evil spirits of their voodoo faith.

Craven does a very good job in taking Wade Davis’ non-fiction book and creating a thrilling and suspenseful piece of horror which suggests that the lead character of Dennis Alan has stepped into a world that was steeped not just in the realm of science but also in the supernatural. The film includes some great scenes which shows Alan experiencing some very horrific nightmares which seems indistinguishable from his waking moments and vice versa. Unlike Craven’s previous work in horror which were imbued with some dark humor but always brutal in it’s depiction of everyday horror, this film rarely goes the gory route though the scenes of torture should make even the most hardened and jaded horror aficionado to squirm in their seat.

The true horror revealed by Craven’s film is the very human figure of Captain Peytraud and his Tonton Macoutes who use the local populace’s fear of “zombification” and how Peytraud has taken advantage of these people’s voodoo beliefs to control the public and keep themselves in power. It’s horror that many recognize and understand yet heightened even more with the addition of a local religious practice that’s relatively unknown and misunderstood by outsiders (especially by those in the West). The film never truly answers the question raised in the beginning of the film of whether the practice of “zombification” is wholly scientific and pharmacological in origins and cause or does religion and the supernatural has a hand in making the process occur. Even after the climactic encounter between Alan and Captain Peytraud in the end of the film only brings more questions which Craven seems to relish in not letting his film answer on either side of the discussion.

The Serpent and The Rainbow is one of those films during the 1980’s which never really got a fair shake from critics and the audience but has since gained quite a following in the years since it’s release. It’s actually one of Craven’s more subtle works during that period of time where violence in the film was the exception instead of the rule as in his past films. It’s a film which continues to gain fans as more and more younger film fans discover the film. Sometimes the word zombies doesn’t conjure up the typical flesh-eating variety but instead one even more horrific since it’s one based on real-life. Sometimes reality can be scarier than what we can conjure up in our minds. The Serpent and The Rainbow is one film which does a great job in supporting that.

Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day Ep. 08 “End of the Road”


“End of the Road” is quite an apt title for the eight episode in the fourth season of Torchwood. We see the end of a couple characters during the episode and at the same time we finally get the final pieces to the question of who or what caused “Miracle Day”.

The episode begins with the Torchwood team arriving at the Colasanto estate and led by Olivia Colasanto to her grandfather and Jack’s former companion and lover from the late 1920’s. We find out that Angelo Colasanto has kept himself alive through natural means, but is now in a coma as Jack looks on. Angelo’s condition when revealed almost felt like a cop out, but in a major exposition info dump done by his granddaughter we find out who is behind Miracle Day”. They’re called The Families and are made up of the descendants of the three men last seen in the previous episode forming an alliance to study Jack’s seeming immortality.

Angelo himself has been kept out of the alliance due to the three men’s discomfort over his homosexuality. Angelo has been observing not just the three families through the years, but Jack as well in an attempt to either stave off whatever plans The Families have in regards to the “Miracle” or, at the very least, give Jack the clues needed to fix the problem. But before Jack, Gwen, Esther and Rex can do their thing to save the day there’s the little obstacle of Rex’s old boss in the form of Wayne Knight interrupting the Jack/Colasanto reunion. The rest of the episode never lets go of the throttle once John De Lancie’s CIA head honcho Shapiro show’s up and we get closer to this season’s endgame.

The episode was well-written even with the major expositional scene involving Nana Visitor’s character. Each character in the Torchwood team got a chance to shine in their roles with Barrowman making Jack’s bittersweet reunion with Angelo a mixture of happiness and regret. If there was a weak point in the cast’s performance it would continue to be some of the side characters like Wayne Knight’s deputy director Friedkin and Bill Pullman’s Oswald Danes. While I can understand the role of Knight’s character in the overall scheme of things this season I still can’t quite grasp just exactly what Pullman’s Danes character is suppose to do other than be over-the-top creepy. Even Ambrose’s Kitzinger got a chance to own her scene as she finally unleashes what she truly feels about Oswald Danes despite having to be his publicist.

“End of the Road” ends on a major cliffhanger with one of the Torchwood team members shot and the team split apart as the CIA, The Families and everyone else seem to be pulling at them from all directions making their task about solving “Miracle Day” that much more difficult. With only two more episodes remaining this season what looked to be a show that seemed stuck on idle for most of the middle episodes has suddenly begun to speed ahead towards what could be an epic conclusion.