A Movie A Day #353: The Public Eye (1992, directed by Howard Franklin)


New York in the 1940s.  Leon “Bernzy” Bernstein (Joe Pesci) is nearly a legend in the city, a freelance news photographer with a police radio in his car and a darkroom in his trunk.  Bernzy is a solitary man who lives for his work, the type who has many acquaintances but few friends.  He gets the pictures that no one else can get but his dream of seeing a book published of his photographs seems to be unattainable.  As more than one snobbish publisher tells him, tabloid photographs are not art.

Bernzy is invited to a meeting with Kay Levitz (Barbara Hershey).  Kay is the widow of one of Bernzy’s few friends.  She has inherited a nightclub but now a mysterious man is claiming to be a former partner of her husband and says that he owns half of the club.  She asks Bernzy to discover who the man is.  Bernzy agrees and soon finds himself a suspect in a murder.  Even as Bernzy tries to clear his name, he never stop looking for the perfect shot.

Joe Pesci made this neo noir shortly after winning an Oscar for GoodfellasThe Public Eye was an attempt to elevate Pesci from being a character actor to a leading man.  It may not have accomplished that but it is still one of the better neo noirs of the 90s.  Howard Franklin does such a good job of recreating the style of film noir that the movie seems like it’s in black-and-white even though it’s in color and Barbara Hershey is perfectly cast as a sultry femme fatale.  The tough but eccentric Bernzy turns out to be a perfect role for Joe Pesci, who gives one of his best performances.  This overlooked film is one to watch for.

A Movie A Day #294: Ghost In the Machine (1993, directed by Rachel Talaly)


Karl (Ted Marcoux) is a serial killer who works in an electronics store and who steals address books and uses them to pick his victims.  His latest stolen address book belongs to Terry (Karen Allen).  Before Karl can start killing Terry’s family and friends, he is killed in a car accident.  Because there is a lightning storm going on at the same time, the dead Karl is able to transfer his evil soul into the electrical grid.  Traveling from appliance to appliance, Karl starts to kill all of Terry’s friends and co-workers.  A microwave oven.  A hand dryer.  A dishwasher.  If it is electrical, Karl can use it to kill.  Fortunately, Terry knows a legendary hacker (Chris Mulkey) who can help her fight back.

Like Prison, Destroyer, and The Horror Show, Ghost in the Machine is another dumb movie about a psycho who gets his soul transformed into electricity.  Ghost In The Machine was also obviously influenced by The Lawnmower Man and the entire movie is full of early 90s paranoia about the internet and computers in general.  Rachel Talaly, who got her start with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and who has recently directed some of the best received episodes of Doctor Who, does a good job with the deaths but cannot do anything with the lousy script and unlikable characters.  Nearly everyone who dies is killed because they know Terry but that never seems to bother her.

I think every 90s kid, or at least every 90s male, watched Ghost In The Machine on HBO and had a crush on Shevonne Durkin.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Arrival (dir by David Twohy)


I recorded The Arrival off of Cinemax on March 3rd.  Having just watched it, I am 95% sure that it is not the same movie as the Arrival that I saw in theaters last fall.

It’s true that both films deal with the arrival of aliens and feature scenes that take place in space ships.  And it’s also true that both films involve scientists trying to figure out what the aliens want.  However, The Arrival that I recorded featured far more of Charlie Sheen than I remembered being in the Arrival that I saw in theaters.  Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner were nowhere to be seen but Charlie Sheen was all over the freaking place.

And I mean all of Charlie Sheen.  The Arrival was made back in 1996 and I guess that Charlie Sheen was still working out back then because, seriously, he is either naked or, at the very least, shirtless for the majority of the movie.  What’s funny is that, with a few minor exceptions, there’s rarely a reason for him to be naked.  I guess someone just said, “We might as well record Charlie Sheen looking fit and healthy while we still can…”

The Arrival is a relatively serious movie.  Oh, it has moments of humor but it’s all Hollywood blockbuster humor.  It’s not a comedy by any means.  It’s always strange seeing Charlie Sheen in a serious role because … well, he’s Charlie Sheen.  Plus, he was never a particularly good dramatic actor.  He walks through The Arrival with this grim look frozen on his face and that, combined with his muscular chest, makes him look like a killer robot from the future.  You keep waiting for Charlie to say, “I’ll be back.”

Of course, Charlie Sheen isn’t playing a killer robot.  He’s playing Zane Zaminsky, an astronomer who works for the government.  Or, at least, he did work for the government until he detected an alien signal coming from a nearby star.  He’s fired and blackballed by his boss, Phil (Ron Silver).  Unable to get work, Zane does what anyone would do.  He and Kiki (Tony T. Johnson), the streetwise neighbor kid, set up a DIY astronomy lab in his basement.

At least, that’s what I think he did.  I kind of had a hard time following The Arrival‘s plot.  It all seemed a little bit overcomplicated, especially when savvy viewers will have already guessed that 1) the aliens are real, 2) Phil is an alien, 3) there’s a big government conspiracy involved, 4) and Zane has stumbled across it.

What are the aliens doing on the planet?  To figure that out, Zane’s going to have to go to Mexico and meet with climatologist Illana Green (Lindsay Crouse).  However, we already know what the aliens are  doing.  They’re attempting to destroy the environment so that they can wipe out humanity.  We know this because that’s what aliens are always trying to do!  They’re always either trying to save the environment or destroy it.  My personal theory is that Bill Nye, The Science Guy is actually an alien.  It explains a lot.

Anyway, it may sound like I’m criticizing The Arrival but it was actually kind of a fun movie in its dumb way.  It’s a serious movie but it’s also kind of a silly movie.  Any film that features Charlie Sheen as anyone other than Charlie Sheen is going to be watchable just on a WTF sort of level.  Beyond that, Ron Silver makes for a rather convincing alien and director David Twohy keeps the action moving quickly.  Several of Twohy’s shots are memorably atmospheric, even if they often do feature a bearded and naked Charlie Sheen.

Is The Arrival as good as Arrival?  HELL NO!  Arrival is one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.  The Arrival is a rather minor sci-fi melodrama but it’s fun nonetheless.  Just don’t expect it to make any sense.  To quote the bard, John Lennon, “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.”

Horror On TV: Tales From The Crypt 2.13 “Korman’s Kalamity”


Believe it or not, I was planning on sharing more than just episodes from Tales From The Crypt this October but seriously, these old shows are just so much fun!

For instance, consider tonight’s episode!  In Korman’s Kalamity, Jim Korman (Harry Anderson) is an artist who works on the popular and famous comic book … Tales From The Crypt!  (Needless to say, his name should also make you think of Roger Corman, as well.)  After his wife (Colleen Camp) orders him to take an experimental fertility pill, his drawings suddenly start to come to life!

Since Korman specializes in drawing monsters, you see how this could be a problem…

Korman’s Kalamity is a self-referential delight.  Needless to say, it’s all played for laughs and sentiment so be sure to sit back and enjoy!

This episode was directed by Rowdy Herrington (who also directed that cable mainstay, Road House) and originally aired on June 26th, 1990.

 

Insomina File No. 16: Kill The Messenger (dir by Michael Cuesta)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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Last night, if you were awake and unable to get any sleep at 1:45 in the morning, you could have turned over to Cinemax and watched the 2014 conspiracy thriller, Kill The Messenger.

Kill The Messenger opens with one of those title cards that assures us that the movie we’re about to see is based on a true story.  We are then introduced to Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a California-based reporter who we know is a rebel because he has a precisely trimmed goatee.  Gary is interviewing a suspected drug smuggler (Robert Patrick) at the smuggler’s luxurious mansion.  Suddenly, the DEA storms the house, shouting insults and roughly throwing everyone to the ground, including Gary.  It’s actually exciting and promising opening, one that perfectly establishes both Gary as a truth seeker and the U.S. government as an invading army that’s fighting a war that’s full of collateral damage.

Gary, of course, has nothing to do with smuggling drugs.  He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  If he was treated unfairly by the DEA, it’s just because the government is serious about winning the war on drugs!

Or is it?

Following up on a tip, Gary comes across evidence that, in order to raise money for pro-Amercian rebels in Central America, the CIA not only helped to smuggle drugs into the U.S. but also arranged for the drugs to largely be sold in poor, minority neighbors where, in theory, no one would notice or care.

When the story is finally published, Gary is briefly a celebrity.  Not surprisingly, the government denies his accusations and start tying to discredit him.  However, Gary also finds himself being targeted by his fellow journalists.  Angry over being outscooped by a relatively unknown reporter, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post both launch their own investigations.  Instead of investigating Gary’s allegations, they jealously and viciously investigate Gary himself.

Soon, both Gary’s career and his family are falling apart and Gary finds himself growing more and more paranoid…

Remember when everyone was expecting Kill The Messenger to be a really big deal?  It was due to come out towards the end of 2014, right in the middle of Oscar season.  Jeremy Renner was being talked up as a contender for best actor.  Then the film came out, it played in a handful of theaters for a week or two, and then it sunk into obscurity.  Some commentators even complained that Focus Features buried the release of Kill The Messenger and that the film was ignored because of its leftist politics…

Of course, it’s just as probable that Focus Features realized that The Theory of Everything was more likely to charm audiences than a movie that suggested the U.S. government was behind the drug epidemic.

Or it could have just been that, despite telling a potentially intriguing story, Kill The Messenger was an oddly bland film.  Other than one scene in which he admits to cheating on his wife, Gary Webb is portrayed as being such a saint that it actually causes the film to lose credibility.  (Don’t get me wrong.  For all I know, he was a saint.  But, from a cinematic point of view, sainthood is never compelling.)  This is one of those earnest films that gets so heavy-handed that, even if you agree with what the movie is saying, you still resent being manipulated.  (Of course, some of us have grown so cynical about the media that we automatically doubt the veracity any movie that opens with those dreaded words: “Based on a true story.”)  Watching Kill The Messenger, one gets the feeling that a documentary about Gary Webb would probably be more compelling (and convincing) than a fictionalized dramatization.

(Unfortunately, if you think it’s difficult to get an audience to watch a movie that suggested the U.S. government was behind the drug epidemic, just try to get them to watch a documentary about … well, anything.  I know most of our readers would probably happily watch a documentary but that’s because y’all are the best and a thousand times better than the average person.  Love you!)

Here’s what did work about Kill The Messenger: the performances.  Jeremy Renner, who also produced this film, gives an excellent performance as Gary, especially in the scenes where he realizes that both the government and the press are now conspiring about him.  Rosemarie DeWitt has the traditionally thankless role of being the supportive wife but she still does a good job.  And finally, Ray Liotta shows up for one scene and is absolutely chilling in that way that only Ray Liotta can be.

Kill The Messenger doesn’t quite work but, thanks to the cast, it is, at the very least, a watchable misfire.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace

Ted 2 Sucks!


Ted_2_posterWell, I think the title of this review pretty succinctly sums up my reaction to Seth McFarlane’s latest film, Ted 2.  Thanks for reading and have a good…

Oh, really?

Okay, I’ve been told that I have to try to think up at least 300 words to say about Ted 2.  Otherwise, in the eyes of Rotten Tomatoes, we’re not a legitimate film blog.

*sigh*

Okay.

Anyway, Ted 2 is the story of a talking teddy bear (voice by Seth McFarlane) who likes to smoke weed and … well, that’s about it.  He’s just gotten married to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and they’re having trouble because Tami-Lynn wants a baby but Ted, being a teddy bear, doesn’t have any reproductive organs.  So, he and his friend John (Mark Wahlberg) decide to give Tom Brady a handjob so they can still his sperm.  But, it turns out, none of that was important because the state of Massachusetts claims that Ted is not even a person.  Instead, he’s just “property.”  So, now, John and Ted and their lawyer, Sam (Amanda Seyfried), are fighting the courts to win Ted his civil rights.  And then Giovanni Ribisi wants to kidnap Ted and Morgan Freeman shows up and says a few words.  And the film is narrated by Patrick Stewart because it’s funny to hear Patrick Stewart curse and…

Oh!  And Liam Neeson shows up.  He’s a customer at the store where Ted works as a cashier.  Liam wants to know if Trix are only for kids.  The joke here is that it’s Liam Neeson and he’s asking about cereal.  Ha ha.

Oh!  And there’s two guys who shows up at New York Comic Con so that they can beat up “nerds.”  During every scene set at Comic Con, they’re in the background beating people up and insulting them.  And the two guys are gay!  See, they’re bullies and they’re gay!  And they’re beating up random people at Comic Con, just because they can!  Hilarious, right?

Ted 2 spends a lot of time trying to convince us that Ted’s struggle to be recognized as a person is actually meant to be a metaphor for the American civil rights movement.  But, honestly, I get the feeling that McFarlane relates more to the bullies than he does to any oppressed minority.  As he previously proved with his TV shows and A Million Ways To Die In The West, McFarlane is only interested in going after easy targets.  He’s your typical white male hipster who thinks that, because he voted for Obama, he can get away with telling racist jokes.

And, before anyone misunderstands, I wouldn’t mind McFarlane’s humor if it was at least funny or original.  But instead, it’s the same stupid jokes that he always tells.  Seth McFarlane’s comedic technique is to basically drag things out until viewers laugh from pure exhaustion.  Is it effective?  Well, there are people who continue to praise and defend him and Seth certainly has made a lot of money off of his act.  So, obviously, there are people who respond to this.  But to me, Seth McFarlane’s humor just feels lazy.

Ted 2 lasts 128 minutes.  That’s over two hours devoted to a concept that feels more appropriate for a five-minute skit.  Interesting enough, the first Ted was tolerable because it focused on Mark Wahlberg’s Johnny.  Ted was just a supporting character and he worked as a metaphor for Johnny’s struggle to choose between growing up or being a happy slacker.  (The first Ted was all about Johnny falling in love with Mila Kunis, whose character is rather cruelly dismissed at the start of Ted 2.)  In Ted 2, Ted is the central character and once you get over the fact that he’s a teddy bear who drops multiple F bombs, there’s really not much to the character.  It helps, of course, that we only have to listen to McFarlane.  We don’t have to look at his imminently punchable, oddly lineless face.  But, to be honest, even McFarlane’s voice has become grating.  It’s just so self-satisfied and smug.

I saw Ted 2 with the blogger also known as Jedadiah Leland.  Over the course of 128 hours minutes (it just felt like hours), we each laughed once.  Not surprisingly, both laughs were inspired by Wahlberg’s dumb-but-sweet performance.  Now, I will admit that the rest of the audience laughed a bit more than we did.  But still, there was a definite atmosphere of resignation in the theater.  You could literally hear the people thinking, “Oh, Ted just made a joke about black people.  Better laugh now so everyone knows that I get whatever the Hell this is supposed to be.  After all, those tickets weren’t free…”

What’s the word count now?

758?

Cool.

That’s enough words for me to say, “Ted 2 sucks!”

 

Shattered Politics #58: City Hall (dir by Harold Becker)


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Interestingly enough, New York City may be the center of wealth and politics in the United States but being Mayor of New York rarely leads to any sort of greater office.  Though the Americans Elect people tried to unsuccessfully recruit Michael Bloomberg in 2012 and there’s a few deluded souls who seem to think that Bill de Blasio could run and win in 2016, only three NYC mayors have taken the plunge and actually run for President.  Of the three of them, DeWitt Clinton was the most successful.  He not only won the Federalist nomination but he came close to beating James Madison in the election of 1812.  However, both John V. Lindsay and Rudy Giuliani were forced to end their campaigns when their electoral success in New York failed to translate into votes outside of the Northeast.

And that’s the thing really.  Everyone in America knows that New York is an important city, perhaps the most important city in the United States.  And they resent the Hell out of it.  It’s kinda like how the rest of country hates my home state of Texas because they need our oil more than we need … well, whatever the Hell it is that the rest of the country brings to the table.

I mean, let’s face it.  There’s a lot of resentment out there.  And that resentment will probably keep anyone from going from Gracie Mansion to the White House.

That’s one of the problems that I had with the 1996 film City Hall.  In order for City Hall to work, you have to believe that Mayor John Pappas has a legitimate chance to not only be nominated for President but to win the election as well.  At the start of the film, we’re informed by Deputy Mayor Kevin Calhoun (John Cusack, speaking in one of the worst attempts at a Louisiana accent that I’ve ever heard) that Pappas is the greatest mayor that New York City has ever had.  I guess that might be true, even though we really don’t see any evidence of that fact.  (Pappas does get to deliver a few monologues about how much he loves New York but if love is all it took, I’d be a really kick ass Prime Minister of Canada.)  However, it’s because Mayor Pappas is such a product of New York City that he’d probably never be able to actually win a primary in Vermont and capture Iowa’s electoral votes.  That’s one reason why it’s difficult to buy Mayor Pappas as a future President.

The other reason is that Mayor Pappas is played by Al Pacino.  And we’re not talking about Godfather or Dog Day Afternoon Al Pacino here.  Instead, we’re talking about raspy voiced, constantly bellowing, thousand-yard state Al Pacino.  As played by Al Pancino, it takes only one look at Mayor Pappas to imagine thousands a middle American voters running in terror away from the voting booths.

(One gets the feeling that if a large group of police officers ever turned their back on Mayor Pappas, he would immediately start jumping up and down while yelling, “YOU ARE TURNIN’ YOUR BACKS ON DA MAYOR HERE!  WHAT DA FUCK IS GOIN’ ON WITH THIS SHIT HERE!?”)

That said, there’s another reason why Mayor Pappas may never be President.  There’s been a shooting.  An undercover cop and a drug dealer shot each other.  A little boy was hit by a stray bullet.  The little boy is black but, oddly enough, nobody in the film ever suggests that there was any sort of racial element involved.  Instead, Mayor Pappas goes to the boy’s funeral and is enthusiastically applauded by the entirely African-American congregation.

It turns out that the drug dealer is the nephew of a mafia don.  He should have been in prison at the time of the shooting but instead, he was given an early release by a seemingly incompetent judge (Martin Landau).  As Calhoun and a lawyer named Marybeth Cogan (Bridget Fonda, giving a good performance in a generically written role) investigate how the dealer came to be released, they discover that local politician Frank Anselmo (Danny Aiello) may have had something to do with it.  Calhoun also discovers that his idol, Mayor Pappas, may know more than he’s saying as well…

If you do happen to watch City Hall, be sure to compare Danny Aiello’s performance with Al Pacino’s.  Both Aiello and Pacino are playing larger-than-life characters.  And both Aiello and Pacino have a tendency to bellow and to play big.  But, whereas Pacino’s performance feels forced and oddly empty, Aiello’s performance feels totally natural.  You actually believe that Aiello could be elected to a citywide office whereas Pacino — or at least the version of Al Pacino that shows up for City Hall — seems like he’d have a hard time getting elected to a student council, much less Mayor of America’s largest city.

Anyway, City Hall is currently making the rounds on cable, which is how I saw it.  It had the potential to be an interesting look at urban politics but, ultimately, it just doesn’t work.  To a certain extent, I hate to be negative about any film that, like City Hall, has its heart in the right place but the movie just doesn’t work.

 

Trailer: Man of Steel – “Fate of Your Planet”


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Leading up to this film I was still hesitant to embrace it after the underwhelming Superman Returns. I think the more fun and energetic Marvel Studios fare has spoiled me to the the more dour (though still entertaining) take on the DC main heroes (though the Green Lantern one was neighter serious, fun or enjoyable).

The trailers and teasers already released for Man of Steel has focused a lot on the existential question about who or what Superman is and his role on Earth. Some of the teasers and trailers even try to ape the Terence Malick visual-style with the close-ups of waving wheatfields and background narration asking deep questions. But this latest trailer now switches gear and focuses on the villain of the film and more action.

I’m not hugging this film 100%, but this latest trailer has me closer to embracing it.

Will Man of Steel be too dour a la Christopher Nolan or two much a visual overload by way of Zack Snyder or will the two differing storytelling styles be able to meld into a perfect balance to finally give Superman his day in the sun once again.

Man of Steel is set for a June 14, 2013 release date.

Trailer: Man of Steel (3rd Official)


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We’re now just two months away from one of this year’s biggest and most-anticipated films. It’s also one of the biggest gamble for Warner Bros. Pictures in light of the success that Marvel/Disney had with their Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Man of Steel looks to reboot that Superman film franchise after the lackluster Superman Returns of a few years back. Gone are Bryan Singer and in comes Zack Snyder in the director’s chair with Christopher Nolan (himself reviving the Batman franchise from the depths) overlording over it all. It’s a recipe that smells success, yet there’s still some nagging doubt about whether it’s going to rule the summer and become the stepping stone to what Warner Brothers hopes will be their return shot at Marvel/Disney: a Justice League film.

The first trailer for Man of Steel had quite the Malickesque look to it. From the subtle music in the background to existential narration about the nature of Superman. Then that was followed up a couple months later by a more action-packed trailer that had the hallmarks of Snyder as a visual artist of onscreen mayhem. Now we have a third trailer (hopefully a final one) that seems to be an amalgam of the first two that tries to explore the nature of Superman in regards to his adopted planet and then some action that shows Man of Steel won’t be a two and half hours of Zack Snyder channeling his inner Terence Malick.

Man of Steel is set for a June 14, 2013 release date.

Trailer: Man of Steel (2nd Official)


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The very first Man of Steel trailer was underwhelming and played out more like a Terence Malick production. A lot seem to have happened between the release of that first official to the latest one which Warner Brothers premiered earlier today. Where the first trailer was all about serene images of Kal-El in his Clark Kent persona going through his Jack London phase this second trailer delves more into the persona of an emergent Superman who fears that the world he intends to protect from General Zod may not and will not be ready to accept his as their savior.

We get to see more glimpses of the action Man of Steel seem to have more of than the underwhelming reboot done by Bryan Singer just a couple years ago. There’s scenes of entire high-rises collapsing and what looks like Superman battling either Zod or, at the very least, Zod’s minions. We also get to see some of the other cast members from Costner’s Pa Kent to Diane Lane as Ma Kent. We already get to see Michael Shannon as General Zod and Richard Schiff as S.T.A.R. Labs director Dr. Emil Hamilton. The film doesn’t give it out but whether Emil Hamilton is an ally of Superman or a potential enemy the film will have to answer.

The story has a lot of the gritty, realistic DNA that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy had but the impressive visuals that Zack Snyder has become well-known for. It’s going to be interesting to see if the Nolan narrative aesthetic will be able to co-exist with the Snyder flair for imagery.

We’ll find out in June 14, 2013 if all the questions being asked about this second reboot of the Superman franchise will be positive ones or more of the case of opportunity and potential wasted.