Tag Archives: modern classic

Drugstore Cowboy – Review

28 May

In 1990, a novel by James Fogle was released. The text told an autobiographical tale of drug addiction, crime, and the consequences that come with the decisions to engage in that type of lifestyle. Interestingly enough, a movie called Drugstore Cowboy came out in 1989 which is based off of the novel that came out in 1990. Well, that’s a weird circumstance, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that Fogle was still in prison in 1989 and wasn’t released until the following year. With Gus Van Sant in the director’s chair and source material such as this, this film was bound to become something special.

Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon) is living life to the fullest. He has a beautiful girlfriend named Dianne (Kelly Lynch), he has friends that are willing to follow him to the ends of the earth, and he spends his days free of any kind of employment to live his life as a free spirit. He’s also addicted to all sorts of drugs, and will go to any lengths for a fix. His main source of pharmaceutical income is to rob drugstores blind. His luck seems to be coming to an end when a particularly invasive run in with Detective Gentry (James Remar) forces him to leave town and find new means of getting his fix elsewhere. Unfortunately, Bob and his crew can’t seem to catch a break and it doesn’t take long for tragedy to hit the group harder than they ever expected. This forces Bob to really examine what he’s done with his life and wether he’s willing to give it all up to finally find some stability or stick with his usual ways and live a life where death is right around the corner and paranoia is his right hand man.

In 1996, Trainspotting was released and changed the way films about drugs could be made. In 2000, Requiem for a Dream was released and this film redefined these rules. Before all that, however, was Drugstore Cowboy. This was a modern look at drug addiction that helped pave the ways for these other classic films. By today’s standards, Drugstore Cowboy is pretty tame, but it stands tall in the world of film history. This was a movie that showed a realistic and disturbing side to drug addiction, while also being darkly funny in its dialogue and minor idiosyncrasies that are present in all humans, even if they are addicted to world altering substances. This is where this film shines. It shows characters with deep flaws, other than the obvious, while also showing their strengths. It’s clear that Van Sant didn’t want to take sides, but rather depict addiction in its true form when it comes to physiology and the law.

With its meandering plot points and unfocused direction, Van Sant successfully portrayed the lifestyle he was trying to depict. In any other movie, this would be a fault, but since we’re talking about addicts who will hit the open road whenever they want to and completely relocate their lives, it works well. Something that doesn’t work all too well for me is how Van Sant examines the consequences of their actions. There are a few excellent scenes where the characters get what’s coming to them, and those are some of the more satisfying scenes of Drugstore Cowboy, because it makes the choices the characters make have more weight. Then again, there’s something that happens in the middle of the movie that doesn’t end up being resolved by the end. It’s also a little hard to believe these characters can remain so calm and appear so cool under certain circumstances right after how they just got done saying how desperate they are to get high. Maybe Trainspotting just spoiled me.

The writing in this movie is definitely unique. For most of the movie, we have characters in situations that I could really see happening. Matt Dillon is excellent as Bob Hughes, the leader of this gang of miscreants. He plays well with Kelly Lynch, James LeGros, and Heather Graham. Graham and LeGros have a chemistry all their own, which also adds good moments of comedy and serious drama. It’s also a real treat to see William S. Burroughs as a drug pedaling priest. The dialogue they are given often works well, like when Bob is talking about his different superstitions. There are times that it feels a little bit too theatrical, which is something I’ve seen in Van Sant’s work before. For a movie that is trying very hard to be realistic, it kind of loses me when hear a line that sounds like it was written for a movie and not for a character I’m supposed to believe is real.

Drugstore Cowboy is definitely a movie in this subgenre of drug movies that holds a firm spot in film history. It was an honest look at the lifestyle of these wandering addicts that I haven’t seen depicted before this film. I will say that I would have liked it to go a little bit farther. That means the movie could have been a little longer or maybe if the boundaries were pushed a little bit more. Still, despite the lack of grit that I would have liked to have seen, it shows characters that I’ll have no problem remembering and scenarios that are completely unique to this movie. It’s not my favorite movie on the topic, but it’s still a very good film.

Final Grade: B+

Glory – Review

11 Aug

Movies about the American Civil War only seem to crop up every so often. The more popular option to explore is World War II or even more current warfare, which is honestly all well and good when done right. My point is that I don’t think there are nearly enough movies that properly explore the time when America was completely at odds with each other. This is partially why a movie like Glory really stands out. It also stands above many others because it tells a story that’s rarely told, and that’s the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which was made up of the Union’s first only African-American soldiers. This film is not only a testament to what free thinking and ideals can do for an army, but also an incredible dramatization of a plan that helped turn the tide of the Civil War.

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During the early years of the Civil War, there was no certain way of telling wether the Union of the Confederacy would come out on top. There were many dedicated soldiers fighting for both sides, like Captain Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a Union soldier who longs for peace but will not stray from a battle. After being injured in the Battle of Antietam, Shaw is promoted to the rank of Colonel, and put in charge of the 54th Regiment Volunteer Infantry, which was to be made up solely of African Americans. Many African Americans jump at this chance to fight and stand up for their rights, which inspires Shaw to be the best leader he can possibly be. During this time, Shaw meets John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), Silas Trip (Denzel Washington), and Jupiter Sharts (Jihmi Kennedy), who all become his finest soldiers and stand with him as they face opposition from both the Union and the Confederacy.

Like I said before, I feel like the American Civil War hasn’t been covered as much as it maybe should be in film. There’s so much material to explore, and Glory is a testament to that. This isn’t just a movie about the Civil War nor does it stop at just telling the story of this particular regiment. This is a movie about beliefs and ideals and how far people are willing to go to protect what they believe in. That’s what really gives this movie support. It’s a theme that’s been explored many different times in many different movies, but this era and situation adds an extra layer of gravity to the situation since it was such a historical event. That being said, Glory can be a very emotional movie. What’s really interesting about the feelings I got watching this movie is that it made me feel very proud of the characters and the camaraderie that forms between them, but by the end of the movie things turn very bittersweet and I was left feeling a combination of happiness and devastation.

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This movie is filled with excellent actors, and their performances is a big reason to watch this film. I never really thought of Matthew Broderick as a great actor, and while his performance in this movie is really good, there are a few awkward moments where I didn’t quite believe his portrayal. The real highlights in Glory are Morgan Freeman, Jihmi Kennedy, and Denzel Washington, who won an Academy Award for his performance. Each character symbolizes an area of slavery or of being a freeman during the time of the Civil War, and each actor brings these characters and what they represent to life. While the writing is great, it’s these performances that make the movie so powerful and feel so true. When actors can make the viewer really begin to care about what happens to them, that’s when you know you are witnessing great performances.

Along with Denzel Washington winning Best Supporting Actor, Glory was also awarded Best Cinematography and Best Sound. Watching this movie, you can see exactly why. One of the most important aspects of creating a historical movie is to be able to put the viewer in that time period without any doubt of what is being seen. The battle scenes in this movie, from the opening at the Battle of Antietam to the finale at Fort Wagner, this is an epic film in every sense of the word. The finale is especially an achievement, going from a battle in the daylight to a night time raid that is lit by the flares and explosions from the Confederate fort. None of these visuals would mean as much it wasn’t for the pounding sound design that felt like a cannon was being shot right into my living room.

Glory is an epic story of a group of people that helped turn the tide of the American Civil War. It’s a story about beliefs, brotherhood, and freedom that are told by an accomplished film maker (Edward Zwick) and actors that have a deep understanding of their characters. Over the years, this movie has be lauded as one of the best war films ever made, and possibly the best concerning the Civil War. I whole heartedly support this opinion, and not only because of the battle scenes. Glory hits all the right points in terms of narrative and themes and it’s a movie that should be seen and appreciated.

Unforgiven – Review

31 May

Clint Eastwood and the western genre pretty much go hand in hand. Eastwood practically built his career out of playing heroic gunslingers navigating through the violent old west. From his iconic performances in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, to more traditional American westerns like Hang ‘Em High, Eastwood has really just become a staple of the genre. Wether it was intentional or not, he was also responsible for resuscitating this kind of film making with his 1992 revisionist western classic, Unforgiven, which has gone down in modern history as one of the best American films.

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After cutting a woman working in a brothel in the town of Big Whiskey, Sheriff Little Bill Dagget (Gene Hackman) runs two cowboys out of town, despite the other girls wanting to see them hanged for their crime. As a last resort, the women at the brothel pull their money and put a bounty on the cowboys’ head, which draws in a couple of bounty hunters like English Bob (Richard Harris). It also attracts the attention of a young gunslinger called the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) who hires the help of a retired outlaw known for his brutality, William Munny (Clint Eastwood). After a wave of reluctance passes, Munny realizes he needs the bounty money and brings along his old friend, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), to help him and the Schofield Kid kill the two criminals. What this gang of bounty hunters don’t know is that Little Bill Dagget runs Big Whiskey with an iron fist, and he’ll be damned if a bunch of no good gunslingers undermine his authority.

I’m not really a huge fan of classic westerns where the hero is a moral gunslinger who faces off against the clearly evil bad guys. It doesn’t seem like that’s really what the west should be portrayed as. Granted, there are some exceptions, but I like my westerns to be a bit more complicated than that. That’s why I love a good revisionist western like The Wild Bunch and Unforgiven. There really aren’t any clear good or bad guys in this movie, even though you’d want to think that Clint Eastwood is the obvious good guy. This just isn’t the case, because it’s made clear that William Munny was an awful guy in the past and you can still see some of that evil lurking beneath the surface. On the flip side, Little Bill Dagget makes some pretty brutal moves in this movie, but there’s still a human side to him that just wants to live a peaceful life. This is an intriguing western with complex characters.

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Another interesting thing about this movie is that it can be argued that Unforgiven is just as much about a lifestyle, set of beliefs, or state of mind as it is about the characters. There are a lot of characters in this movie that all get ample amounts of screen time, which makes it hard to really distinguish who the main protagonist is. This is a movie that does tell a story about a group of people who clash in a small western town, but it’s also a look at the violence and attitudes of people during the time period. Is it all accurate? I don’t know, but it is a good way of examining the tropes of a genre along with what is known about the time period. This is kind of a weird thing to figure out the first time you watch the movie, but after letting the structure sit with you for a while, it starts to really feel like Eastwood did something new with this movie and reinvigorated a genre and his faltering career.

Unforgiven is possibly the most beautifully shot western I’ve ever seen. A lot of this is due to Eastwood’s skill as a director, but credit also has to be given to cinematographer Jack N. Green. Green worked with Eastwood before Unforgiven and would work with him even more afterwards, but nothing in his career has really stood up to his work on this film. The silhouetted figures riding their horses in front of a setting sun has never looked as great as it does here. That along with the natural looking lighting in the various saloons and jailhouses makes this film feel as naturalistic as it does artistic.

Unforgiven is a modern day masterpiece that has gained the recognition and reputation that it deserves. It took home 3 Oscars, which were Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, and Best Editing. There’s plenty to enjoy with this movie, but Unforgiven is more than just a western featuring the heroics of the good guys and the evil deeds of the bad guys. Instead, it explores a time period and the thin line between leading a good life and falling into unforgivable sin. This may well be Eastwood’s best movie and certainly has a place as one of the best westerns ever made.

Scream and Scream 2 – Review

15 Dec

It can be debated that Wes Craven is the king of modern horror. I strongly believe that he is, but that’s just my opinion that borders on fact. With films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Last House on the Left, it’s clear that he’s left his mark on the horror genre. In 1996, with the help of writer Kevin Williamson, he left an even more distinct map with the Scream franchise. These much talked about horror/satire/mystery films take horror to a meta level that wasn’t explored in the horror genre before, making these films truly unique.

Scream hit the scene in 1996.

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When Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is brutally murdered, the small town of Woodsboro is thrown into a frenzy. Local high school student Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is having an especially rough time considering that all this is happening so close to the one year anniversary of her mother’s murder. As the body count begins rising, the different players are all put in danger including local policeman Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette), Sydney’s best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan), and film nut Randy (Jamie Kennedy). Pressure also builds further around Sydney when her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) becomes suspect number 1 and media hound Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) interferes with the investigation and Sydney’s past.

What puts Scream on such a higher level than other slasher films is the writing and characterization that can, in part, be accredited to Craven, but I put most of my praise on writer Kevin Williamson. Every time I watch this movie, I care for the characters just a little bit more. Their witty banter that revolves around horror films is relatable to me, and they’re just much more believable than the cliched victims in films like Friday the 13th and even the original Halloween.

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Along with the writing, it both satirizes and terrifies in perfect unison. After Scream came out in 1996, there was a significant rise in caller ID purchases. That’s a fact, and also hilarious. The opening scene in this film is something straight out of my worst childhood nightmares, and the bloody climax is so god damn cool. In terms of comedy, it works just as well as horror. Horror buffs will appreciate all the little in-jokes, but even newcomers to the genre will still find something to laugh at. Throw in the mystery, and you got yourself a multi-genred masterpiece.

Agree with me or not, I firmly believe Scream is destined to be a horror classic. In my eyes, it already is. Not only did it capture a generation that overwhelmed the mid-90s, but it also succeeds at spoofing and honoring the horror genre. It’s bloody brilliance from the combined minds of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson. Need I say more?

But, as with pretty much every horror film, a sequel seemed to be just predestination. Hitting the theaters just one year later, Scream 2 reunited characters and audiences in 1997.

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Having survived the killing spree that took place in Scream, Sydney is trying to get on with her life. Now in college, she has remained close with Randy, lives with her friend Hallie (Elise Neal), and has found love with Derek (Jerry O’Connell). Things are shaken when a murder happens at the premiere of Stab, a film within a film based off of the events of the original, and the media invades Sydney’s school, putting her face to face again with Gale, and reuniting her with Dewey. More students begin dropping and it’s only a matter of time before Sydney herself is at the other end of the knife, unless she can figure out who is behind the mask and why they crave the bloodshed.

As far as sequels go, Scream 2 is as worthy as they come. Being reunited with the survivors of the first film feels just as good every time I put the movie on. All of the new characters work pretty well too. Derek and Hallie have god chemistry with Sydney and are good counter balances to her paranoia, and Timothy Olyphant’s Mickey is just what Randy needs to create fun and memorable film banter, especially about sequels.

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Wes Craven is back directing and Kevin Williamson still penned the movie, so the characters and dialogue are as rich as ever. The screams and the laughs are just about on par with its predecessor, but the sense of mystery doesn’t quite live up to the expectations presented in the first film. In Scream, it’s hard to really figure out who the killer is because of all of the twists and turns the plot takes. In Scream 2, it isn’t really that difficult because a main character pretty much just disappears right in the middle. Then they show back up again, just in time for the climax. There is another twist that is pretty cool, but the whole unmasking thing just doesn’t feel as exciting.

Scream 2 isn’t as great as Scream, but it holds its own with other sequels that are worthy of their predecessors. The film isn’t perfect, nor will it be considered a classic like the first film, but it’s still one of the better modern horror films, even with its satirical elements.

My next review will be covering Scream 3 and Scream 4. Was a trilogy enough, or maybe a fourth was a necessary addition. Check back for my second part of the series.