Tag Archives: brad dourif

Mississippi Burning – Review

5 Jan

In 1964, 3 Civil Rights activists went missing in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Foul play was suspected, so the FBI made their presence known and an official investigation began. Over time, a handful of city officials and other citizens were ousted as members of the Ku Klux Klan and sentenced to prison for the murders of the activists. This story shows a very dark time in modern American history and is a perfect incident to be dramatized because all of the themes and hostilities that it could explore. This is where Alan Parker’s 1988 film Mississippi Burning comes in. Parker isn’t one to shy away from controversial topics, and this film did spark controversy, but it also works well as a piece of hard hitting entertainment. There is just one major flaw that stands in the way of this being a truly excellent movie.

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When three Civil Rights activists go missing in Jessup County, Mississippi, two FBI agents are sent to investigate. The investigation is headed by the young and hardheaded Agent Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe), who is partnered up with the experienced yet brash Agent Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman). Upon their arrival they are warned by multiple city officials that nobody wants them there and that whatever happens in their town is their business. This is unacceptable to the two investigators who call in more agents to help with the search. This causes an uproar in the Mississippi town, and causes the KKK to become even more hostile to the African American community in this town. With more lives being threatened every day, the town suddenly seems to be at war with itself which forces the agents to change their tactics in order to achieve justice.

The strongest thing that Mississippi Burning has going for it is its fantastic cast.  Other than Dafoe and Hackman, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, and Michael Rooker all have supporting roles. This is one of the stronger casts I’ve seen in a movie in a long time and they all bring their best to the table. While everyone is great I have to focus the most on Gene Hackman. There are times when he really stands out and there are times where I don’t really remember him, but never is he bad. In this film he’s downright excellent and it may be my favorite performance of his I’ve ever seen. These performances work really well with getting me really into the story and into the time period, which is super important for any period piece.

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What also be remembered to get an audience into a time period are the production values and costume design. Mississippi Burning exceeds in these two areas. This is a fantastic looking movie and is well deserving of the Academy Award it won for Best Cinematography. There is a great juxtaposition of serenity in the film making mixed with much more harsh and unforgiving film making. This works great with the themes and story of the movie. The set design and costume design also looks very natural and very believable. Sometimes when a movie about the 1960s comes out, there can be some unnecessary flashiness like the film makers are trying to prove that it’s a different time period instead of trusting the audiences to see for themselves. This movie looks exactly what I’d expect a small Mississippi town to look like the mid-1960s. I wasn’t alive, of course, so this is just an assumption.

There is one major thing about Mississippi Burning that really gets under my skin and I didn’t really notice it as I was watching. It was only when I was thinking about it afterward did I realize that the representation of African Americans in this movie isn’t all that flattering. There’s mention of Martin Luther King and there are a couple of marches shown in the movie, but altogether they’re just portrayed as weak, helpless, and scared. Of course, that’s a part of history. It was a terrifying time to be alive for many people, but it was also a time to stand up for yourself and your basic human rights. There could have been more black main characters instead of just using them as mostly silent side characters. This isn’t something that made the movie any less entertaining as it was on, but it was something that kept eating at me afterwards.

Mississippi Burning is very close to being a great movie. The performances are amazing and the cinematography is worthy of the Academy Award that it won. The only issue is that there are no central black characters in a movie that is all about racism in the South during the 1960s. Even if there was just one main African American character to ground the film with that perspective, I would have been pleased. Still, Mississippi Burning is a very entertaining movie that is filled with tension, suspense, and realistic atmosphere.

Final Grade: B

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Catch .44 – Review

7 Jun

Part of the joy of watching movies is seeing how an influential film maker created something so great that film makers coming after them take their content and utilize it to make something else new and original. For example, The Rambler took parts from Lynch and Cronenberg and made it something new. Catch .44 and its writer/director Aaron Harvey has their sights on Tarantino, however, who is one of the most influential film makers of his time. Now, what’s interesting about this movie is that it provides a wonderful lesson: Homage should never be pure mimicry, because that is just annoying.

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Tes (Malin Akerman) is a waitress in a sleazy strip club who is completely fed up with her job. Luckily for her, her skillful pickpocketing is recognized by a drug lord, Mel (Bruce Willis), who owns the bar. After working with him for a number of years and messing up a big job, Mel tasks Tes and her two friends with finding a rival drug transporter in a remote diner in the middle of the night. The friends make their way to the bar, but bullets soon begin to fly and blood is quickly spilled. After the violence dies down, Mel’s associate Ronny (Forest Whitaker) arrives on the scene and explains to Tes that not everything about this job is what it seems, and it is very likely that everyone left standing may not live to see the end of the night.

It’s crazy to realize that a movie has a completely ludicrous plot when I actually have to sit down and write a summary. That is just one of many things that are wrong with Catch .44. Like I said before, this movie is a Tarantino knock off in the most obvious and obnoxious of ways. I can only compare it to the cereal that you would find on the bottom shelf in a plastic bag that is an obvious knock off of Lucky Charms. The plot unfolds in a non linear fashion, very similar to Pulp Fiction, but certainly nowhere near as good. The actors also try to engage in this quirky kind of small talk that is reminiscent of the opening scene in Reservoir Dogs. Again, it’s nowhere near as good, and it’s clear that Harvey doesn’t operate on the same playing field as Tarantino.

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One look at the cast will leave you completely baffled, as it did me. Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker? Don’t they have better things they can be doing? Well, maybe they saw something in the script. I don’t know. What I do know is that they are the only reasons this movie is almost watchable. It seemed like they were both just having a really good time with their roles while everyone else were just sort of there. Brad Dourif is also in this movie for like two minutes, making him one of the most wasted characters I’ve seen. Dourif is a great actor and I wanted to see more of him in this movie, but instead I just scratched my head and wondered why the character was even there in the first place.

The reason that Dourif’s character is even in the movie is just one example of how messy it is. There’s absolutely no reason for him or really for Forest Whitaker’s character either. The only important part of the movie is what happens in the diner, but only a short amount of time is spent there with all of the flashbacks that try to add depth to the characters or explain how they got there in the first place. The only problem with that is that the characters don’t have any depth and the reasons they are there are anything but interesting. Nothing in Catch .44 really adds up to anything except for a few scenes that were kind of cool.

Catch .44 really wants to be something it isn’t, and that just makes it hard to watch. The wit is dry, the characters are shallow, and the actors are miscast. There are even characters who are absolutely useless. There is potential somewhere hidden in here, but it only shows itself during one quick scene and the rest is just wasted material. There’s really no one that I can think of that can watch this movie and fully enjoy it, so I recommend to just stay away from it completely.