Unexpectedly this starts the same way as The Terror, with a ship becoming icebound and seeing mysterious things on the ice, but this takes five minutes to get where Terror got in a couple hours. Dr. Kenneth Branagh Frankenstein is traveling to the ends of the earth to escape his creation, or something. Clearly this movie was an answer to Coppola’s Dracula, but Branagh turns in a faithful literary adaptation, one of those prestige pics where none of the actors are strictly bad in it, but the overall effect is weak. It’s nice when the camera whirls slowly through the middle of rooms during long conversations, anyway.
Also the monster can fly in this version
More than anything else, I liked this staircase:
After the framing story with Captain Aidan Quinn (In Dreams, the bad Handmaid’s Tale), Young Dr. Frank meets Helena Bonham Carter via family friend Ian Holm, then Frank’s mom passes away. “No one need ever die. I will stop this.” At school, Frank pals around with foolish Tom Hulce (Amadeus himself), challenges intolerant professor Robert Hardy (he starred in Demons of the Mind), and learns creepy secrets from John Cleese as Professor Snape, before the professor is murdered by anti-vaxxer Robert De Niro (no shit).
The classroom pet: a cursed monkey’s paw
The part where Frank floods the creature with amniotic fluid then releases electric eels into the chamber is the first thing worthy of Unbound, but Ken quickly goes too far into kookiness when the floor becomes slippy with fluid and nobody can stand up for a long minute, then Frank accidentally kills the monster through clumsiness and bad placement of ropes. But of course the monster survives, wanders off and bonds with a blind grandpa (Shakespeare specialist Richard Briers, also in Spice World). No orderly trial for Justine like in the previous movie, just mob violence. Helena B.C. is angry when Frank gets to work making a lady monster instead of planning their wedding, and even angrier when she’s murdered then wakes up as the lady monster.
Memorial screening for Charles Grodin and Yaphet Kotto, here playing a criminal banker and an FBI agent with his identity stolen, respectively. Robert De Niro is the bounty hunter returning Grodin from NY to LA. It’s a wacky crime comedy road movie, with the cops and the gangsters (led by Dennis Farina) and RdN’s rival hunter Marvin (John Ashton of Beverly Hills Cop) all after them, so it’s sufficiently incident-packed to be a hugely successful commercial hit. Throwing in a sad visit to RdN’s family, and morally letting the criminal off the hook at the end turns it into a solid 80’s classic (pretty sure I saw it in theaters on first release) and also a semi-remake of Remember The Night. Got tired of Marvin, didn’t buy that the criminal snipers would open fire on the cops, otherwise lives up to the legend.
Home Movies (1980)
Framed as a lecture by professor Kirk Douglas on student Dennis, “an extra in his own life.” Some of the framing in this is nice if one seeks that De Palma magic, but the action is silly-ass, with sped-up-film goofiness and pauses for laughter after clunker jokes. It’s some consolation that it’s all meant to be a film-in-a-film with a self-consciously big music score.
Kirk must’ve done this as a favor after The Fury. Our main boy who films everything (including his cheating dad) is Keith Gordon, his girl is Nancy Allen, a year before they both appeared in the great Dressed to Kill. I dig the energy of Keith’s cult leader brother Gerrit Graham, just off playing the title role in C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud. As a cheapie exercise in film production assigned to De Palma’s real college students, it came out mostly fine, except maybe the blackface bit.
The Wedding Party (1969)
Another collaboration with Sarah Lawrence college, this time with De Palma the student, shot before Greetings but released after Robert De Niro’s star rose. More undercranking and dubbed voiceover, opening as madcap silent comedy – so this is where he learned it – and references to cross-dressing in both films prefigure Dressed to Kill.
Charlie is a nervous groom, arriving with two groomsmen (RDN +1) at a wedding site with the bride’s too-large family. Bride Jill Clayburgh is ironically best known for a film called An Unmarried Woman. They each get advice from their people, Charlie waffles on the marriage and/or cheating with piano girl Celeste. The dialogue is better than the other movie, and editing is very fun, with jump cuts galore. It gets a little long – hard to sustain wacky comedy for 90 minutes.
Robert De Niro trying to pick up girls at a VJ Day party runs up on Liza Minnelli, whose first 20 lines in the movie are “no.” De Niro plays a guy with social problems, if you can believe that. It’s a talky hangout drama with some good character moments, gradually accumulating plot as their music careers develop.
Then after an entire two-hour not-great movie, Liza’s husband is having a crisis because she’s more famous than him, and she stars in a play where her man runs off because he can’t bear being with a woman more famous than him… the movie finally, gloriously becoming the full-blown musical it had been hinting at, Liza’s glamour more interesting than De Niro’s aimless dissatisfaction. According to the wikis, the movie-within-the-movie was cut from the theatrical release version – no wonder it wasn’t commercially successful. And here I was stupidly wondering if it’s based on the real couple who wrote the titular classic song in the 1940’s/50’s, but the song was written for this movie.
Dick Miller, being the man:
Nice to see this at the Landmark before it disappeared onto the small screen (bragging). Quiet movie – there are long stretches with low conversations and no background music. I don’t want to say it’s too quiet, but its epic length and contemplative air didn’t resonate as much with me as others – I didn’t feel a great sadness that the hit man’s family wouldn’t talk to him and he ended up friendless, puttering around a retirement home and choosing his own casket. Still, from scene to scene, undeniably a heck of a movie. Scorsese with his Gangs of New York screenwriter. Starring all the actors I recognize, plus a few I almost do (The Captain from USS Callister as Hoffa’s foster son).
After sitting through two stiff early horrors, this was more like it – the voodoo-magic of White Zombie and satanism of The Devil Rides Out thrown into a noir-blender. Unlike The Fly its style and music can’t quite transcend its 1980’s origins, but it’s a good try.
Angel is Mickey Rourke, and I’m not used to seeing him pre-Sin City – he looks more like Mathieu Amalric here. He’s hired by the devil Robert De Niro (“Louis Cyphre… Lucifer… even your name is a dime-store joke”) in 1955 to track down devil-dealing singer Johnny Favorite who disappeared without paying his debts (reminiscent of Hellraiser from the same year). Angel follows the leads to New Orleans, meets Favorite’s ex Charlotte Rampling, Favorite’s daughter Lisa Bonet, and Favorite’s bandmate Brownie McGhee, all of whom end up murdered. But Angel himself is the missing Johnny, and after he tracks down all his old friends and family (and has sex with his own daughter btw), he blacks out and murders them, before the devil reveals all and Johnny/Angel is taken away.
Joy (J. Lawrence) dreams of being an inventor, but then her life gets sidetracked with a husband (E. Ramirez), two kids, a divorce, a lazy mom (V. Madsen), an erratic dad (De Niro) and a spiteful sister. One day she hits on a new idea for a miracle mop, and sets to producing and marketing it, bringing the whole family along with dad’s rich girlfriend (I. Rossellini) and Joy’s supportive grandma (D. Ladd) and best friend. Then there are pricing and patent disputes. Then after everything has been pretty lousy and hopeless for Joy for an hour and fifty-eight minutes, she wins a major victory against a crooked business partner then becomes wildly successful in postscript.
It feels like Russell builds overcomplicated situations in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, shoots the scenes with his trusted cast, and figures out how it’ll all work in the editing room, relying on energy and instinct to carry him through – and this time, he didn’t have it. The scenes and sporadic voiceover and transitions and characters often felt half-assed, and if I hadn’t known a distinguished filmmaker was behind the whole thing, I rarely would’ve guessed.
The cast gathers ’round to watch NAILED on cable:
Every character feels like a half-sketched first draft, awaiting development that never comes … The excruciatingly literal dialogue also feels like first draft material. “I feel like I’m in a prison,” Joy sighs about her house. Later, she and her supportive best friend Jackie reminisce about “all the things we used to dream about,” and Jackie introduces a flashback with “Remember the party where it all started?” Exposition inevitably comes either via Mimi’s gushing voiceover, or “As everyone here already knows…” speeches. Joy’s own emotional development consists of a recurring nightmare in which her childhood self scolds her for abandoning her ambitions.
Lawrence is too good of an actress not to be watchable in the part, but she’s totally miscast as a divorced mother of two who’s been repeatedly beaten down by life’s disappointments. This part was meant for the Jennifer Lawrence of 2025, not the one of 2015.
Haven’t seen this in 18 years, so I’d forgotten most of it, and didn’t realize it contains The Definitive Samuel L. Jackson Performance.
Shot by Tarantino buddy Robert Rodriguez’s cinematographer Guillermo Navarro – close-ups galore and terrific acting. Part of a mid-90’s cinematic Elmore Leonard craze, between Get Shorty and Out of Sight. Grier, Forster and Jackson got various awards and nominations. Only Forster made it to the oscars, though… jeez, it was an all-white year at the oscars except for a 4 Little Girls documentary nomination.
Keaton, the year after Multiplicity. De Niro shortly before he turned to self-mocking comedy in Analyze This and never looked back. Bridget Fonda apparently retired after 2002. Jackson would continue the 1970’s references with his Shaft remakquel. Chris Tucker’s Fifth Element costar Tiny Lister appears as Forster’s employee at the bail-bond place.
Unfortunately Pam Grier’s follow-ups don’t look so good: Chris Elliott comedy Snow Day, Fortress 2, Snoop Dogg’s Bones, Ghosts of Mars, and finally the career-killing Adventures of Pluto Nash. I assumed Jackie Brown was a comeback for her, but it looks like the movies she made the year before were better than any that came after: Mars Attacks, Escape From L.A. and Larry Cohen’s Original Gangstas.
Great to see this again, although maybe I should’ve sprung for the high-def version to see if it looks much better than my old letterboxed DVD. Katy agreed that the movie seems long, and opted not to teach it in her dystopian fiction course.
I’ve seen people call Brazil the centerpiece of Gilliam’s dream trilogy – Time Bandits being the dreams of youth, Brazil of adulthood, and Baron Munchhausen an old man telling dream-stories to children. It’s a lovely thought, but then what is the rest of Gilliam’s career full of dreams and visions?
Don’t think I knew who Jim Broadbent was the last time I watched this. He plays Sam’s mom’s plastic surgeon: “Snip snip, slice slice, can you believe it?” Jack Purvis of Time Bandits is rival doctor “the acid man”. Sam’s mom’s friend getting acid treatments (“my complication had a little complication”) is Barbara Hicks of Britannia Hospital, and her daughter is Kathryn Pogson, recently of The Arbor. Mrs. Buttle (I’d forgotten how good she is) was Sheila Reid (Felicia’s Journey, Lady Rawlinson in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End). I haven’t recognized Kim Griest in anything else but I see she was in Manhunter and CHUD. Mr. Helpmann (‘ere I am, JH) was in some Ken Russell films and Mountains of the Moon. Sam’s useless first boss was Ian Holm and his decisive, always-walking boss in Information Retrieval was Ian Richardson (later Mr. Book in Dark City).