Tag Archives: John Leguizamo

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.

What’s The Worst That Could Happen? : A Review By Nate Hill

  
People rag on What’s The Worst That Could Happen all the time. Let em, and screw em while we’re at it. Implausible? Yes. Silly? Yup. Ridiculous? Oh yes. Funny? You bet your ass. It’s one of those lighthearted Martin Lawrence comedies like Blue Streak or National Security, tripping along an alleyway of lowbrow humour and bawdy antics that you just can’t stay mad at, like a friend who does something really dumb and follows up with something that cracks a grin on your face. Lawrence also has the luck to be paired with Danny Devito here, who is funny even when he isn’t trying to be. Lawrence plays Kevin, a cocky cat burglar who bungles the wrong dude when he breaks into the not so vacant summer home of sleazy billionaire Max Fairbanks (Devito). Max catches him red handed, holds him at gunpoint and convinces the cops that a family heirloom ring on Kevin’s finger is part of the stolen goods, adding insult to arrest. That dick move launches an ego fuelled battle of wills as these two morons find more and more elaborate ways to incite each other’s wrath. They each have a little armada who back them up when they aren’t questioning their every idiotic movie. Kevin has his gorgeous girlfriend (Carmen Ejogo has sadly made a career of being underused), his partner Berger (John Leguizamo plays around with accents like you ain’t never seen) who is the Dumber to his Dumb, and his sassy handler (Bernie Mac). Max is hounded by his witchy wife (Nora Dunn), shunned by his much abused attorney (a dry, delightful Richard Schiff), pawned over by his mistress (Glenne Headly) and secretly lusted for by his chief of security (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Larry Miller do his thang here). Max and Kevin are engaging arch enemies, with Lawrence mugging for face time a tad too much, and Devito perfectly settled into his shtick as always. I must make note of probably the best performance of the film, from William Fichtner as a flamboyantly gay police detective who hounds all parties involved. He’s one part frightening with a side of classy charm, subverting his usual weirdo tough guy image for something even weirder and totally out there. Watch for Lenny Clarke and Siobhan Hogan as as pair of squabbling fellow burglars, and work from Cam Neely, Kevin Chapman and Garry Shandling as well. It’s a screwball caper. I love it. Many don’t. They can suck it. Check ‘er out and make up your own mind. 

Tony Scott’s The Fan: A Review By Nate Hill

  
  

Tony Scott’s the fan is a wild ride with an off the hook turn from Robert De Niro. It’s ranked and regarded as a pretty low notch on Scott’s belt, but it’s hard to compete with his best work. It’s still a sleazy blast and pure Scott, his characters always let, lurid and delightfully pulpy. Sure it falls apart near the end, but until then it’s nasty, delicious fun. De Niro plays Gil, a die hard baseball fan and devout follower of Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), star player for his favourite team. Gil wants Bobby to succeed so badly that he becomes violent, unstable and pretty bonkers. At first it’s obnoxious and amusing, but soon he gets dodgy and dangerous and eventually just out of control. It’s great fun seeing De Niro go bug nuts bit by bit, and he’s always had a wild menace that he like to take down from the shelf and dust off for the occasional performance. Benicio Del Toro does one of his puzzling, indecipherable vocal riffs as a rival player, adding to the weird factor. Ellen Barkin is a sexy sass bomb as Jewal Stern, a mouthy talk show host who sniffs out the controversy in high style. John Leguizamo is always sterling, and classes his scenes up like a pro. Watch for speckled cameos from M.C. Gainey, Brad William Henke, Don S. Davis, Tuesday Knight, Wayne Duvall, Richard Rhiele, John Carrol Lynch, Michael P. Byrne and Chris Mulkey as well, all excellent. Not Scott’s best for sure, but a nicely mean spirited little romp through the psycho stalker fields. Fun stuff. 

REED MORANO’S MEADOWLAND — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Credit must be given to director Reed Morano with her feature film debut Meadowland – she’s taken incredibly dark and troubling material and turned it into an inherently compelling, extremely raw, and often times painful cinematic experience, one that’s wholly engrossing, but that will test the strength of most viewers. Given that the film is essentially a study of hopeless denial and deeply repressed anger during the aftermath of a child’s disappearance, this demanding (and draining) piece of work isn’t going to be for everyone. But for those of us interested in thought provoking, intensely modulated dramas that ask questions about ourselves as individuals, then this will be the perfect antidote to whatever CGI laden blockbuster is currently littering moving screens. Morano, an accomplished cinematographer on such films as The Skeleton Twins, Frozen River, and Kill Your Darlings, gets in close to her characters with her intimate cinematography, which is almost all hand-held, yet shot in 2.35:1 widescreen with an emphasis on off-kilter angles, extreme close-ups, and side of the head framing that evokes the introspective beats of a Michael Mann film.

Centering on a husband and wife (an excellent Luke Wilson playing a NYC cop and a never better Olivia Wilde as an inner city teacher) exactly one year after their son was abducted at a gas station, the film sticks very close to its two central performers, allowing peripheral characters to shake up the proceedings; the estimable supporting cast includes a recently busy Kevin Corrigan (funny and effective in this year’s romantic dramedy Results), Giovanni Ribisi (love seeing him!), John Leguizamo (always solid and edgy), Elisabeth Moss (quick but effective), and Juno Temple (always spunky and sexy). But the film belongs to Wilde and Wilson, who both cut all-too-convincing portraits of parents pushed to their emotional edge, with Wilde going especially deep all throughout this nervy, focused story of loss and potential acceptance. The final moments, from a directorial standpoint, are very bold, as it’s clear that Morano wants the audience to think for themselves and realistically accept the facts that have been presented for us.

There’s nothing “easy” about Meadowland, and in that sense, this film will likely challenge those who are looking for simple, digestible storytelling, which this is anything but. Meadowland aims to explore the awkward moments between friends and family members after a traumatic incident; nobody knows quite what to say, what the boundaries are in any given situation, or how the directly affected individuals are truly feeling inside. The thoughtful script by Chris Rossi might rely on some familiar storytelling tropes (support groups, personally-inflicted pain, children with learning disabilities) but it all feels organic to the environment and sadly, all too believable, considering that these are real struggles that people face every day. Not a film for the overly sensitive or for those who need their art spelled out for them, Morano has crafted a hard-hitting piece of cinema that has emotional resonance as well as arresting visual style. Available on Itunes and screening in limited release in theaters.

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