Tag Archives: John Leguizamo

The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer was the first film in the revival of Matthew McConaughey’s career after a lengthy slump stretching back to the early 2000’s, and what a banger of a pseudo courtroom drama it turned out to be. Based on the series of novels by Michael Connelly which focus on slick, morally untethered defence attorney Mick Haller (played to perfection by Matt), director Brad Furman whips up an enjoyable, razor sharp yet laid back LA crime saga that’s smart, re-watchable and competently staged, not to mention stuffed to the roof with great actors. Haller is something of a renegade lawyer who operates smoothly from the leather interior of his Lincoln town car, driven by trusty chauffeur Earl (the always awesome Lawrence Mason). Mick is ice cool and seldom bothered by the legal atrocities he commits, until one case follows him home and digs up a tormented conscience he never knew he had. Hired to defend a rich brat (Ryan Phillipe) accused of murdering a call girl, events take a turn for the unpredictable as older crimes are dug up, double crosses are laid bare and everyone’s life starts to unravel. It’s a deliciously constructed story with twists and payoffs galore, as well as one hell of an arc for McConaughey to flesh out in the kind of desperate, lone wolf role that mirrors the dark side of his idealistic lawyer in Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. Let’s talk supporting cast: Marisa Tomei is sexy and easygoing as Mick’s ex wife and rival, Bryan Cranston simmers on low burn as a nasty detective, William H. Macy does a lively turn as his PI buddy, plus excellent work from Frances Fisher, Shea Wigham, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton, Bob Gunton, Pell James, Katherine Moennig and the great Michael Paré as a resentful cop who proves to be quite useful later on. There’s a dark side to the story too that I appreciated, in the fact that not every wrong is righted, or at least fully, a sad fact that can be seen in an unfortunate character played by Michael Pena, but indicative of life’s brutal realities, something Hollywood sometimes tries to smother. One of the great courtroom films out there, a gem in McConaughey’s career and just a damn fine time at the movies.

-Nate Hill

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Jonas Ackerlund’s Spun

Jonas Ackerland’s Spun is a film you’ll be onboard with in seconds, or jumping ship before the credits even start. It’s unpleasant, epileptic, downbeat, hyperactive, fucked up, strung out, cartoonish, nonsensical, unstructured, and is a complete masterpiece for those willing to lend an empathetic ear towards lost souls mired in the doldrums we call drug addiction. Set on a particularly sweaty day in the suburbs of L.A., all the film really does is try to keep up with a sorry bunch of meth-heads as they meander through a hazy existence filled with confusion, mania and that ever present need to score. Jason Schwartzman’s Ross is the default protagonist, and he moves from locale to locale, encountering the denizens of each dwelling in all their warped glory. John Leguizamo’s trademark brand of crazy is right at home as Spider, a maniacal dealer who can’t sit still for a nanosecond, along with his haggard looking girlfriend Cookie (Mena Suvari). Brittany Murphy is excellent as wayward Nikki, who leads Ross to her cook boyfriend, a strange fellow credited as literally The Cook, played in a brilliantly dark pitched, sad turn by Mickey Rourke. There’s others flitting about as well, including Patrick Fugit’s nutball Frisbee, a couple of frenzied narcs played by Alexis Arquette and Peter Stormare, plus cameos from a grab bag of figures like Debbie ‘Blondie’ Harry as a fearsome diesel dyke, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford as a porn shop clerk, Ron Jeremy, Larry Drake, Josh Peck and a surprise Eric Roberts who gets a reunion of sorts with former costar Rourke. Director Ackerland, also a music video whiz, employs every stylistic trick and balls out editing fuckery to his film, until we have some wild inkling of what it must be like for these deranged urban pixies and their ADHD addled misadventures. It isn’t all comedic though; Once in a while the crazy curtain lifts and we see the deep set sadness that lives in these characters, a melancholy self loathing in which the actors find truth amongst the raging din, especially Murphy and Rourke, who provide the best work of the film. Mickey has a final act monologue that encapsulates the weary trajectories inhabited by these folks. Much of the film is stylized sound and fury though, a cavalcade of noise, vulgarity, offbeat altercations and loosely strung together events that have no meaning to anyone outside this asylum’s inner circle of addicts. One of a kind experience, and the most blatantly honest film I’ve seen on the subject of drugs.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Frogs For Snakes


They say actors will literally ‘kill for a role’, and in the long forgotten, bizarre NYC set indie flick Frogs For Snakes, that’s the very concept. A handful of Bronx lowlifes all directly involved with criminal kingpin Al Santana (Robbie Coltrane, before he went all Hagrid on us), discover he is putting on a play, and promptly begin to literally murder each other for parts. Now, such a premise should provide a downright brilliant film, but sadly that’s not the case with this dreary gutterball. The possibilities are just endless, and all these miscreants do is just languish in alleyways, decrepit apartments and dive bars, monologuing about.. nothing much at all. It hurts when you have a cast this good in such fuckery as well. Al’s ex wife (Barbara Hershey) works as a debt collector for him, while she pines for her thespian boyfriend (John Leguizamo) who spends the majority of his scenes reciting overblown monologues that have nothing to do with the story, or lack thereof. There’s all manner of creeps and hoodlums running about like New York sewer rats, played by an impressive lineup including Harry Hamlin, Lisa Marie, Ian Hart, Clarence Williams III, Nick Chinlund and briefly Ron Perlman, but none of them have much to do and seem to aimlessly shamble through their scenes as if they were never given much of a script. Being the weirdo that I am though, I did get a sick thrill out of hearing potty mouthed Debi Mazar explicitly describe giving a blowjob to Coltrane’s character, a mental image I won’t soon erase from my head. It’s a whole lot of nothing for the most part though, and kinda makes you wonder how the thing ever got green-lit, let alone attracted such talent. If the film itself were a play, it would be run out of town on opening night. 

-Nate Hill

John Wick: A Review by Nate Hill

  

The reason John Wick works so well is a flawless mix of simplicity, earnestness and passion. The premise is a familiar one, and nearly identical to countless other slam bang action flicks out there, a simple and well travelled formula. It’s in the absolutely stylish, classy and distinct execution that it finds its uniqueness. The filmmakers (Chad Sahelski and Derek Kolstad) are stuntmen themselves, and therefore know what is needed to make a successful action film: well staged action. The terrific atmosphere that tagged along is a bonus and goes to further prove these guys have serious talent. They also care, want to have fun and want their film to exist within a memorable universe, and this all shows. An action film would be nothing without it’s star, and Keanu Reeves comes busting out of the gate in full rampaging glory as the titular ex-super hitman John Wick, an expert operative who can do things with guns that would make Neo nervous. John is grieving the death of his wife (the lovely Bridget Moynahan) and taking care of the puppy she left behind to console him, living the quiet life as it were, or at least as quiet as life can get for an ex mob assassin. Wick manages to chill out for a bit with the doggo, but that all ends when his path crosses with that of a spoiled mafia brat (Alfie Allen, played an even nastier snot rag than he did in Game Of Thrones) who steals his car and kills the poor pupper. This really lights Wick’s fuse, gives his brutal talents a new lease on life and throws him headlong back into the dangerous and often eccentric realm of covert contract killers. Allen was the son of a powerful, loose cannon Russian kingpin (Michael Nyqvist in a mirthful blend of funny, scary and just plain exasperated), and now John is at odds with hordes of his underlings and a few former associates who want his head. That’s pretty much all there is in terms of plot, but the film soars on the wings of propulsive, meticulously choreographed action and positively drips with cool, it’s main asset found in Reeves, who is an absolute boss in the role. Sporting a tailored suit, fiery attitude and lethal reflexes, John punches, kicks, stabs and shoots his way through endless unfortunate adversaries, seeming to be both fallible human and invincible archangel of destruction simultaneously. It’s the perfect role for him, a comeback of sorts and just a rip snortin action hero you can get riled up for. There’s attention to detail paid to his world too, the clandestine realm of killers given a mythology, currency and protocol all its own and perfectly original. Adding to the already impossible levels of class are a perfectly chosen roster of supporting talent too. John Leguizamo makes a peppy cameo as a cranky auto fence, Willem Dafoe plays a morally vague fellow hitman, watch for Lance Reddick, David Patrick Kelly, Daniel Bernhardt, Dean Winters, Adrienne Palicki and the always awesome Ian McShane as the suave proprietor of The Continental, a posh hotel that caters only to assassins. All characters encounter John Wick at some point and in some capacity, but Wick himself is the constant, the raw element which drives this film forward with the force of a stampeding bull, scarcely hesitating to breathe or seek medical attention on his quest for carnage. Reeves sells the character and then some, headlining one of the most flat out spectacular action films of the last decade.

CARLITO’S WAY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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There was a lot of anticipation when Carlito’s Way was released in 1993. Director Brian De Palma had just come off a lukewarm reception for yet another Alfred Hitchcock homage, Raising Cain (1992) and was in need of a hit to appease the studios. And so, a re-teaming with Al Pacino in an effort to recreate the magic of Scarface (1983) made commercial sense. Carlito’s Way was much more somber in tone than the cinematic shotgun blast that is Scarface. It is a tragedy about how a criminal tries to go straight but is ultimately doomed from the get-go.

Carlito’s Way features one of the oldest chestnuts in the world. Narrating his story during the last moments of his life, Carlito Brigante (Pacino) is a veteran criminal recently released from prison and intent on leading a normal, law-abiding life. Of course, it isn’t going to be that easy and when he returns to his old neighborhood, his reputation precedes him. Local gangster Benny Blanco from the Bronx (John Leguizamo) is a cocky, up and comer who sets his sights on Carlito after he is shamed by him in public. Carlito, however, barely notices him as he’s torn between reuniting with an old flame, Gail (Penelope Ann Miller), a struggling Broadway dancer, and keeping his lawyer friend, David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) out of trouble.

As a personal favor to David, Carlito runs a nightclub so that he can raise enough money to start his own business renting cars in a tropical paradise with Gail. However, Carlito’s loyalty to David will be his undoing because his friend has become so corrupt during the time that Carlito was in prison.

As always, De Palma injects the film with his trademark bravura action sequences, including one early on when Carlito accompanies his cousin on a routine drug deal that turns into a violent blood bath. One look at the set-up and, like Carlito, we know that something is not right. De Palma prolongs the violent confrontation for as long as possible, gradually building the tension as we feel Carlito’s apprehension. The director orchestrates the entire scene like a pro, knowing just how long to build things up before the inevitable eruption of violence.

Carlito is a role tailor-made for Al Pacino, allowing him to essay another larger-than-life character. Carlito is a smart guy who cannot escape what he is no matter how hard he tries and Pacino conveys the melancholy that lurks behind the bravado of his character. The real scene stealer, however, is Sean Penn’s sleazy, coked-up lawyer. The actor reportedly did the film to help finance his second directorial effort, The Crossing Guard (1995). For a paycheck role, Penn does a great job as he disappears into the character, complete with a frizzy afro and cheap suits. It’s almost as if Pacino’s presence inspired Penn to step up his game. And this makes Penn’s memorable turn so much fun to watch.

The rest of the cast is filled out by solid character actors like John Leguizamo, who plays Benny as a pushy little runt with a motor-mouth, and the always reliable Luis Guzman as Carlito’s right-hand man. The only miscasting is Penelope Ann Miller as Pacino’s love interest. She looks out of place and just doesn’t have the chops to hold her own against Pacino.

Despite the cliched premise, Carlito’s Way works so well because of the caliber of actors, David Koepp’s screenplay with memorable dialogue (“You think you’re big time?! You’re gonna fucking die big time!”), and De Palma’s stylish direction. This film is proof that given the right material, De Palma can still make a hell of an entertaining movie.

Titan AE: A Review by Nate Hill 

Titan AE is one of the best 2D animation ventures out there that isn’t Disney. Science Fiction and animation just seem to inherently go hand in hand (affirming my belief that Treasure Planet is the best one that Disney ever churned out, but that’s another story), perhaps because of the dazzling possibilities in a form of creation like that, tools which make the visual patterns of the artist’s dreams and beautiful renditions of the cosmos a reality. This one nails the visual aspect, but it was story that hooked me ultimately. Along with the artwork there is a boundless creative surge, a very human plotline that’s relatable to anyone who’s ever felt lost or like they don’t fit in. In the year 3028 A.D., a marauding race of aliens called the Drej decide that us humans are a threat, and obliterate earth, leaving few survivors. Dark way to kick off an animated movie, amirite? That’s another great thing about it, it’s not exactly for kids and reaches for themes that are a little more than your standard animated flick, getting fairly intense in the process. One of the few human survivors is young Cale (later played by Matt Damon), whose scientist father (Ron Perlman) was working on an idea that could have greatly advanced our civilization. In the years following the destruction, Cale has been left to wander the galaxy with the sparse, impoverished remains of the human race, now looked down upon by other alien tribes for essentially being homeless. When human Captain Joseph Korso (Bill Pullman) comes to him telling of a mysterious device created by his father long ago, Cale is reluctant, resenting his him for disappearing on the Titan ship so many years before. Soon it becomes clear that Perlman’s device is the key to creating a new earth, and reuniting humanity. Thus begins an epic race across the universe to find it before the Drej do. Drew Barrymore lends her sassy voice talents to Akima, Korso’s tough lieutenant, and there’s also work from John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, Charles Rocket, Alex D. Linz and rapper Tone Loc who has a perfect voice for this kind of thing, playing a kindly alien mentor named Tek. This one is timeless, feeling fresh and vital with each passing decade it’s allowed to age through. A celebration of imagination and the creative force of will that lies inside each and every one of us humans, no matter how dire our situation. Classic stuff. 

LAND OF THE DEAD – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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The 2000s saw a resurgence in the zombie film with the good (28 Days Later), the bad (Resident Evil) and the funny (Shaun of the Dead), but all of them pale in comparison to George A. Romero’s trilogy of zombie films. The first two have been remade already, most significantly with Dawn of the Dead (2004), and both failed to build on or even recapture what made Romero’s films so great in the first place. They seem to only be in love with the gore and miss (or just didn’t understand) the socio-political message of them. Romero returned with a zombie movie that was years in the making and was well worth the wait.

As with his other zombie films, Land of the Dead (2005) is a stand-alone story but looks like it could exist in the same universe as the others. The zombies have completely taken over and the dwindling human population tries desperately to hold onto what little land they have left. A small, heavily armed group venture regularly into zombie territory to scavenge whatever supplies they can find and then return to an island complex known as Fiddler’s Green. The island has been heavily fortified by the military who rule with complete control with rich businessman Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) as their leader.

Society has degraded even further since Day of the Dead (1985). The wide gulf between the rich and the poor is even more pronounced. In the slums of the city people can get their pictures taken with captive zombies or shoot them with paintball guns. At one point, they even throw a woman (Asia Argento) into a steel cage with two zombies for sport. The rich people aren’t much better as represented by Kaufman who is corrupt and amoral enough to make money off of and sacrifice his own people. It’s as if Romero’s saying that it wouldn’t be so bad if the zombies wiped us out. Look at what we’ve become.

The glimmer of hope is represented by Riley (Simon Baker), the leader of the scavengers and his sidekick and ace sharpshooter Charlie (Robert Joy). Like the protagonists in Romero’s Dead trilogy and Knightriders (1981), Riley is a reluctant leader who is tired of this corrupt world and is quietly planning an escape route to a more natural way of life. However, this is disrupted by another member of his group, Cholo (John Leguizamo), who represents the dissenting voice. He’s only in it for the money and has a secret pact going with Kaufman. However, when Kaufman rips off Cholo, the mercenary goes rogue and takes off with Dead Reckoning, the island’s heavily armored vehicle. So, Kaufman cuts a deal with Riley to find Cholo, kill him and bring back the vehicle.

To make matters worse, the zombies are getting smarter as exemplified by Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) who not only learns how to use a gun but is also able to organize legions of the undead. It’s nice to see a return to the slow moving zombies that we all know and love, but with a definite upgrade in the intelligence department while the humans continue to regress, embroiled in more bickering and in-fighting. After all, the zombies are the ultimate have-nots in this world. They are clearly tired of being shot at and exploited by the living. It’s almost as if Big Daddy is some kind of zombie Che Guevara leading an undead revolution that wants to take down corrupt, rich capitalists. In fact, Land of the Dead can be read as Romero’s critique of the George Bush administration with Kaufman as a Donald Rumsfeld stand-in.

Romero has crafted a very smart horror film, which is something of a rarity these days what with all of these lames remakes littering the landscape. Land of the Dead has all of the requisite gore (and the unrated version has even more) while actually trying to say something. There are plenty of powerful images, like the undead rising out of the water at night (a nice nod to Carnival of Souls, one of the films that inspired Night of the Living Dead) or zombies crashing through the posh apartment complex and feasting on the wealthy. Like with his other zombie films, Land of the Dead is a commentary on the times in which it was made. And for that alone, his movie is a refreshing breath of fresh air.