Tag: christopher walken

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #53. The Deer Hunter (1978)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

 Deer Hunter

“I feel a lot of distance, and I feel far away.”

In 1980, Michael Cimino made Heaven’s Gate, a movie that flopped so hard, it eventually bankrupted the studio that made it.  But a director can only hang himself, and his studio, to such a degree if he’s given enough rope.  So, why would United Artists give Michael Cimino that much rope?  Because only two years earlier, he’d won a Best Director Oscar and a Best Picture Oscar, among half a dozen others, for The Deer hunter.

Michael (Robert De Niro), Stan (John Cazale), Steven (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) work together in a Pennsylvania steel mill.  After Steven’s wedding, they go on a hunting trip together before Michael, Steven and Nick ship out to fight in Vietnam.  In Vietnam, they’re taken prisoner and forced to play Russian roulette while their captors bet on the outcome.  They manage to escape, but the ordeal has damaged them all in different ways.  And going home isn’t the relief it should be for any of them.  Including people who they left at home when they went to war, like Meryl Streep’s Linda. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #94. Pulp Fiction (1994)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
True Romance was an amazing debut from a new screenwriter who introduced a new style of wordy, pop culture obsessed dialogue and story telling that was as inspired by high brow, classic cinema, as it was by 70s schlock, as it was by modern day blockbusters. Reservoir Dogs showed that the writer of True Romance had a visual style to back up the words on his pages. But as amazing as that one-two punch introduction was, Quentin Tarantino didn’t declare himself as Hollywood’s newest, loudest, most stylistic voice, until Pulp Fiction.

Fresh off the plane from Amsterdam, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) is on his way to conduct some gangster style business with Jules (Samuel L Jackson). Retrieving a briefcase from some young criminals for their boss Marsellus (Michael Clarke Duncan), Jules and Vincent end up with a headless dead body in the backseat of their car.

But Vincent has a bigger problem. He has to entertain Marsellus’ wife while his boss is out of town. With a fresh story of a man being thrown out of a window due to the jealousy of Marsellus, Vincent approaches the night with some trepidation. When he meets the wife, Uma Thurman as Mia, there’s an instant chemistry between the two that leads to $5 milkshakes and a late night overdose.

Meanwhile, boxer Butch (Bruce Willis) is being paid by Marcellus to throw a fight. A deal he breaks in the hopes of making one big score by betting on himself, before leaving town to start fresh. Once again, Vince is dragged into the situation, once again, things don’t go so well.

Pulp fiction is a movie that I always think is great, but not the mind blower its reputation would have you believe. Then every four or five years I watch it again, and wonder why I never give it the credit it deserves as a mind blower. Even 20 years later, the dialogue is as sharp and kinetic as ever. For a movie so reliant on references and pop culture allusions, I can’t believe how effectively Pulp Fiction refuses to seem dated.

Visually, Tarantino set a new standard that was copied incessantly for a lot of years after, that almost no one could ever emulate in any effective way. And again, I was surprised about how well it holds up. Actually, ‘holds up’ doesn’t do the look of Pulp Fiction justice. Usually when something this ground breaking happens, the unavoidable cheap imitations take some of the shine of the original. Here, it made me appreciate Tarantino’s eye even more.

I like the Tarantino movies that have come since Pulp Fiction (except Death Proof, possibly the biggest wast of movie watching time in my life), but I sometimes think the style is hiding a little lack of substance. Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained are great looking, well written, expertly acted movies, but they seem like movies that know they’re movies. With Pulp Fiction, Tarantino made this amazingly hyper world, but the people living in it seem like real people, really living in it. In a few months, I’ll probably start to think it’s a little over rated again, but right now, I’m already looking forward to that next viewing in four or five years when it blows me away all over again.

Pulp Fiction
Directed By – Quentin Tarantino
Written By – Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary

Academy Awards
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Forrest Gump)
Best Director (Tarantino nominated, lost to Robert Zemeckis for Forrest Gump)
Best Actor (Travolta nominated, lost to Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump)
Best Supporting Actor (Jackson nominated, lost to Martin Landau for Ed Wood)
Best Supporting Actress (Thurman nominated, lost to Dianne Wiest for Bullets Over Broadway)
Best Original Screenplay – Tarantino and Avery  

MOVIE REVIEW | ***FLOP WEEK*** Gigli (2003)

A central relationship built around two people with exactly zero chemistry…  An overly convoluted kidnapping plot involving a mentally challenged, Baywatch obsessed man-child…  Pointless cameos from Christopher Walken and Al Pacino perpetuating all the negative opinions we have about the modern work of these once-great (still can be great when they try) actors…  When watching Gigli, the question isn’t “What went wrong?”, it’s “How did any these ingredients result in a movie being made at all?”

Why did writer / director Martin Brest bother finishing the screenplay?  Surely by the time he wrote “mentally challenged man, obsessed with Baywatch” in his outline, he knew he was on a stinker.  Why did the studio think a combined $25million for Affleck and Lopez was a good investment when the script was so terrible?  Even after all that, once it was made, why did anyone involved think it was worth ruining their reputations for the foreseeable future by letting it be released.  Oh yes, Gigli lives down to every negative thing you’ve ever heard about it.

Affleck is Larry, a low level mob enforcer who’s instructed to kidnap the brother of a District Attorney or something.  I can’t be sure of the specifics, because I did find myself distracted and zoning out for long stretches.  The kidnapee is played Justin Bartha, he’s the “other guy” from The Hangover movies.  You know, the one who disappears before the fun adventures begin.  Here he goes, as Robert Downey Jr would say in Tropic Thunder, full retard.  I don’t know if that statement is offensive, but I do know his performance is.  J-Lo shows up as Ricki, another mob enforcer sent by Affleck’s boss to keep an eye on the kidnapping.  Also, she’s a lesbian.  Apparently, in Martin Brest’s world, that’s enough to make her a fully formed character.

Brest tries to give all his characters personality through monologues.  Long, rambling, excruciating monologues.  I think he might have been attempting a mix Tarantino “cool” and Kevin Smith “sexual frankness”, but they all just come off as indulgent wanks.  Affleck, Lopez and Pacino all deliver them adequately, but when working with such hacky dialogue, the best performance in the world is still like putting lipstick on a pig.

On the one hand, I can understand how Gigli put Affleck in movie limbo for a few years.  He does play the leading role in a truly terrible movie.  But on the other hand, he also manages to make some of Brests’ terribleness not quite so terrible.  There are a couple of genuinely funny moments where the humour consists of 1% joke, 99% Affleck working his ass off to make it at lease grin worthy.  Seeing him turn this massive lemon into a few drops of lemonade, it seems inevitable that he became a directing and acting A-lister when the stank of Gigli finally wore off a few years later.

I generally don’t enjoy watching movies that are so bad, they’re good, but I get it when other people do.  Gigli doesn’t even have that going for it.  It’s a mess, but not even an entertaining mess that falls apart under too much ambition.  It aims low and somehow hits even lower.  One thing worse than a bad movie, is a boring, bad movie.  Even worse than a boring, bad movie, is Gigli.

Budget $75.6million / U.S Box Office $7.2million

Razzies Won:
Worst Picture
Worst Actor – Ben Affleck
Worst Screen Couple – Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez
Worst Director – Martin Brest
Worst Screenplay – Martin Brest

Directed By – Martin Brest
Written By – Martin Brest

Instead of Gigli, watch proof that Martin Brest can make a really funny crime adventure, with Midnight Run

MOVIE REVIEW | Heaven’s Gate (1980)


It’s one thing for a movie to bomb so bad it ruins a director’s career.  It’s another thing for a movie to bomb so bad, it almost ruins the studio that made it.  Heaven’s Gate was director Michael Cimino’s follow up to The Deer Hunter, which had won him a Best Director Oscar.  It’s also seen today as one of the movies that killed the American auteur system of the 70s.  People like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdonavich and Warren Beatty had all had a great run making personal films that created critical buzz and decent box office returns.  Then Cimino crapped all over it with this shit bomb that went way over schedule and way over budget.

Actually, that’s harsh.  Before watching it, Heaven’s Gate had a mythical status for me as that shit bomb, so I had some pretty strong preconceived notions.  Preconceived notions only made stronger when I saw it came with an almost four hour running time.  Seriously, four hours?  If you can’t tell your story in two and half, three at the absolute most (and your movie had better be a ball tarer if you’re gonna take three hours of my life), maybe you should look at making a TV series, not one of film.

And that’s the thing, while I was watching, I checked the clock a few times, but not constantly, so the running time wasn’t a huge issue.  But when I think back, I can’t recall four hours worth of story.  It opens with main character James Averill, played by Kris Kristofferson, graduating from Harvard in 1870, in a sequence that could have been done in ten minutes, but goes for closer to thirty.  It then jumps twenty years ahead to the midst of land disputes between American land barons and European immigrants.   Kristofferson is on the side of the immigrants because he’s banging an immigrant whore…  Oh, that and because he’s a top bloke with principals and stuff.  About an hour in (just over a quarter, if you’re doing the maths), we meet Nate Champion, played by Christopher Walken, Kristofferson’s rival for the whore’s golden heart.  It’s great to see Walken before he became “Walken”.  No weird line deliveries, no creepiness, no “quirk”.  Just a solid, subtle performance.  That really is the broad strokes of what fills the four hours, it’s not a complicated story, though the characters are.

Watching Heaven’s Gate, it’s easy to see where all the money and time went in its making.  It looks absolutely amazing.  Shot on location in a Montana national park, every exterior shot has the most amazing, natural backdrop of deep valleys, snow capped peaks and wild frontier.  In a modern world of movies full of slapped together CGI, this really is one of the most impressive looking movies I’ve ever seen.  And more than just the natural wonders, Cimino adds an almost gold filter to the majority of the film.  Some scenes are somehow monochrome, but full of deep, rich colour at the same time.

On one hand, I can understand why it wasn’t a huge success on release, but on the other, I think it is a legitimately awesome piece of film making.  And the best part, the title comes from a roller skating rink seen several times throughout the story.  Yep, this epic tragedy is named after rolling skating rink.  I can only hope if a movie is ever made about some terrible time in my hometown’s past, they have the forethought to call it Skate Haven.

Directed By – Michael Cimino
Written By – Michael Cimino