Julia Roberts has many notorious pop culture hits under her belt, all of which become memorable for a reason: they’re flashy, relatable, well made crowd pleasers like Erin Brockovich or Pretty Woman. But that irresistible charm (if you’re a fan of hers) was also put to great use in some quieter, more challenging and less accessible pieces like Lasse Hallstrom’s Something To Talk About, an interpersonal dramedy that explores the relationship between her and her husband (Dennis Quaid) in the aftermath of him cheating on her. She comes from a big family, has headstrong parents (Robert Duvall and Gena Rowlands) who have an influential role in her life and a fiery, fiercely protective older sister (Kyra Sedgwick is fantastic) who literally kicks Quaid in the nuts when she finds out. Now, this is a 90’s film and doesn’t have the same perspective on life we now know today, so her frustration, anger and outrage at her husband’s infidelity isn’t taken as seriously as it could be right off the bat. Duvall is more worried how it may be bad for business than any emotional toll it will take on his daughter, while she simply wants to be heard and allowed to be pissed off at the guy. Her husband reacts with a sheepish wounded animal tactic that wears off when he realizes his wife is smarter than that, and Quaid handles the arc carefully and humbly. It’s basically about the snowball effect an affair can have in a close quarters family situation, and while I enjoyed some of the laughs provided by Roberts deliberately exposing other sneaky cheaters in their tight knit community, I connected most when the film focused on her as a woman wronged, and a woman who’s not afraid to stand up for herself, even if it means stirring shit up royally. She’s a movie star with a mile wide smile and people know her as such, but I think that the high profile roles sometimes have us forgetting what an absolute diamond of an actress she is as well, and small, character driven pieces like this serve well to remind. She rocks it here, and is supported by all around her including Muse Watson, Brett Cullen and Haley Aull as their intuitive daughter. A treasure.
Ron Underwood’s Heart & Souls is a lovely forgotten gem from the early 90’s, a metaphysical comedy drama with an all star cast and a heartwarming storyline with just the right amount of tear jerking moments, one of which is really affecting. They say that some people become civil servants in the afterlife, but in this movies case they are social workers, or rather guardian angels. Young boy Thomas thinks he has four imaginary friends who accompany him everywhere, but they’re really the ghosts of four wayward souls whose unfinished business on earth has caused them to linger and provide their service to the living. Shy would be singer Harrison (Charles Grodin), grieving mother Penny (Alfre Woodward), regret filled waitress Julia (Kyra Sedgwick) and guilt ridden petty thief Milo (Tom Sizemore) hang out with young Thomas for years until he grows a bit older, their debt to heavenly society is apparently paid and they move on from him, which is truly a heart wrenching scene to watch the poor kid go through. They seem to have forgotten the most important thing though: resolving their own unfinished issues in this plane, and return some thirty years later to find a now grown up Thomas (Robert Downey Jr.) and get his help in putting their troubles to rest. Seeing very grounded, down to earth Downey as a stern businessman in the midst of stormy issues with his girlfriend (Elizabeth Shue) suddenly be faced with the four childhood chums he thought were figments is hysterical and played for all the laughs one would hope. It’s also played for emotional resonance too though, as he learns about the childlike nature he left behind and regains his dormant sense of wonder, and humour. Each of the four of his friends is played brilliantly by these actors, all with their own important story and part to play in the lives of each other, as well as Downey’s. Director Underwood gives it the lighthearted, cloudy sentiment and humour it needs, but still let’s the moments of sorrow land effectively too, finding that balance between joy and heartache nicely. This one is lost a bit to the ages, but always holds up as a timeless romantic fable, well acted and perfect to brighten up the mood of any TV room.
Cop Car is the sort of callous thriller that socks you right in the gut, then kicks you in the nuts before you’ve had a chance to grab a breath. It’s premise is simple: on the quiet plains of rural Colorado, two young lads wander about aimlessly, practicing their cuss words and trying to impress one another with various mischief. All of a sudden they stumble on a seemingly abandoned cop car in a secluded glen. What do they do? They do what any respectable, rational one of us would, of course. They steal the thing and careen about across the terrain, before taking off down the highway. It’s just their luck that the vehicle happens to belong to Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) an evil son of a bitch who’s just about as far from the law as one can get. He was out there doing dark deeds in the bush, and arrives back to find his cruiser gone, reacting with an amusing fight or flight tantrum not unlike that of a cornered coyote. Bacon has a canine look to him as well, amplified by the fact that he’s in his late 50’s and is looking all brittle and scary as hell these days. He panics and goes on a mad yet calculated hunt to find the car before his dirty little secrets are flung about the county and his jig is up. Employing MacGyver worthy tricks, chilling cruelty and a bone rattling, hyena esque cackle, he hunts the two youngsters down relentlessly, and they elude him through sheer dumb luck. Speaking of dumb, the kids are remarkably stupid even for ten year olds, and it’s tough for the film to draw forth any sympathy from us by any means other than the fact that they are children, run disastrously amok. They’re forced not only to deal with Bacon, but a sleazeball who they find bloodied up in his trunk, played by the ever entertaining Shea Wigham. He has an exchange of dialogue with the boys that will seperate those with a dark, messed up sense of humour from those without, and I was laughing up a storm. The film reminded me of similarly vehicular themed thrillers like The Hitcher and Duel, and can certainly be put on that same pedestal of quality. Blood, burnt rubber, sweat and tears abound here, and what’s more, the thing makes sense in its turn of events. So many thrillers erupt into bombastic and unbelievable plot turns that serve shock value or simply exist to be a showcase piece for the trailer. This one gallops along a series of events that are stacked up like a nasty Jacob’s Ladder of fate, each step of the way a logical piece of the story, nothing brashly jumping at us or taking us out of the story. Admirable traits, not found too often these days. Watch for Camryn Manheim and an invisible Kyra Sedgwick as well. A lean, mean little flick, guaranteed to raise a pulse and steal a few well earned, guilty grins from you, as well as impress you with it’s competence in execution, and restraint in keeping things fast, to the point and mean to the core.
Murder In The First examines courtroom intrigue in San Francisco, concerning an Alcatraz inmate (Kevin Bacon) who has been accused of killing a fellow prisoner upon being let out of a cruelly long stint in solitary. In fact, the word cruel seems to be the running theme of his incarceration, at the hands of sinister and sadistic Warden Milton Glen (Gary Oldman). A decade prior, Bacon almost succeeded in escaping the island, which seems to have given the correctional officers the idea that they can do whatever they want to him. His plight creates ripples in the D.A.’s office, and soon a young, inexperienced attorney (Christian Slater) is assigned to his case. His boss (Stephen Tobolowsky) seems to think, and I quote, that a monkey would be more suited for the job. The D.A. (William H. Macy) has hope. And so it happens, with Bacon arriving in an obvious shellshocked state, Slater trying to exploit his maltreatment at the Warden’s hands and win not only his innocence, but his freedom. Bacon can swing his internal compass from victim to villain at the drop of a hat, taking up the bruised martyr mantle here and proving to be quite affecting. Slater is… Slater, the guy doesn’t have endless range but can carry a scene decently enough. Oldman is sly and scary, covering up the true nature of Glen’s monstrosity underneath a beauricratic sheen. The cast is wonderful, with further standouts from Brad Dourif as Slater’s veteran lawman brother, Embeth Davidz as a key witness, R. Lee Ermey as the stern judge overseeing the trial and brief appearances from Mia Kirshner, Charles Cyphers and Kyra Sedgwick. The expert cast carries it along with innate talent and applied teamwork, with Bacon and Oldman taking front and center. Now I’m not entirely sure if this is based on a true story, but it’s very fascinating nonetheless and serves to show the rotten places in the penal system which definitely do exist in real life. Solid stuff.