The Crying Game (1992)

crying

Starring: Stephen Rea, Jaye Davidson (his first film), Forest Whitaker, Miranda Richardson, Adrian Dunbar, Jim Broadbent

Director: Neil Jordan

Summary: An IRA terrorist befriends a British soldier he kidnapped and becomes drawn into the soldier’s world

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Rea), Supporting Actor (Davidson), Original Screenplay*, Film Editing

This movie is pretty much solely known these days for its big plot twist about halfway through, and to me that’s a shame because it’s a genuinely good movie. The first act which is mostly Rea and Whitaker talking with each other in a room where Whitaker is tied up, but their banter is surprisingly enjoyable to listen to and it all sets up the second part of the film where Rea meets Whitaker’s girlfriend. Speaking of Rea, he’s great here-while he looks half-asleep for most of the movie, his dry style somehow works really well for the character, a good man who is not cut out to be a terrorist even if he believes in the cause.

I thought that it treated the revelation and aftermath with a remarkable amount of taste and respect of everyone involved, especially given the time period when the movie was made. It actually goes on to explore the feelings of both parties in a way I haven’t seen another movie try to do since. Davidson’s role was extremely difficult to cast but Davidson does give a really solid performance, especially considering this was Davidson’s first acting role of any kind which is kind of unbelievable to me. The chemistry and camaraderie between Rea and Davidson is great to see-for a movie that was made on a shoestring budget with few sets and is mostly just dialogue between characters, the three major characters, the dynamics between them and the performances of them make for a very good movie.

Rating: B+

A Few Good Men (1992)

fewgood

Starring: Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, Kiefer Sutherland, Wolfgang Bodison (his first film), J.T. Walsh, James Marshall

Director: Rob Reiner

Summary: When a Marine dies on a U.S. Navy base, two fellow Marines stand trial for murder

Other Nominations: Supporting Actor (Nicholson), Sound, Film Editing

There is some good drama here, it’s tightly plotted and it’s reasonably entertaining. The performances are generally good, with Nicholson being easily the best thing in this movie despite being in it for less than 30 minutes total probably. With all that said though, everything from a script, score and directorial standpoint feels very predictable, artificial and soulless like it was spit out by a computer (with one exception I will grant: there’s no romance subplot between Cruise and Moore). Everything is spelled out in the most obvious and blunt way possible, with the dialogue making sure we know exactly how everybody is feeling and what everybody is thinking at all times. The fact that Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay for a Best Picture nominee but didn’t get nominated says a lot about its relative mediocrity. Even if I wouldn’t say I’m that big a fan of his work (except for Sports Night which was great), Sorkin would definitely get better over time. Enjoyable and extremely accessible, but lacks any real craft or soul.

Rating: C+

Howards End (1992)

howards

Starring: Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter, Samuel West, Vanessa Redgrave, Nicola Duffett, James Wilby, Adrian Ross Magenty

Director: James Ivory

Summary: A businessman’s decision to thwart his wife’s bequest of an estate to another woman comes to affect three families of different classes.

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Thompson)*, Supporting Actress (Redgrave), Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score, Art Direction*, Cinematography, Costume Design

Howards End is a great story about class-struggle with richly developed characters and an excellent cast. Thompson does an especially incredible job of pull off a challenging role, considering her character is meant to be a complex mixture and a bridge between the new idealistic, well-read woman of the late 1800s-early 1900s in England and the rationality and cold calculations of the burgeoning industrial business class. The sets and costumes are what you expect from a Merchant-Ivory production: they look terrific despite their remarkably small budgets (in this case, the movie was made for $8 million). For me it took a while to really warm up the film because it takes its time setting up the characters before finally putting them in real conflict with each other, but the effort pays off as it makes all the major and supporting characters very individualized and the story develops a lot of complexity. Not for everyone, but if you enjoy period dramas or even just an outstanding cast, give this one a watch.

Rating: B

Scent of a Woman (1992)

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Starring: Chris O’Donnell, Al Pacino, James Rebhorn, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gabrielle Anwar

Director: Martin Brest

Summary: A young student is forced into accompanying a blind, embittered former Army officer on a hedonistic trip to New York City and comes of age in the process

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Pacino)*, Adapted Screenplay

This loose remake of a 1974 Italian film of the same name has a fair amount of charm but it’s let down in large part due to its length. A buddy-road trip-coming of age story doesn’t need to be 2 and a half hours long (the movie it’s a remake of is an hour and 40 minutes for comparison). We don’t get that much out of the extra length and instead the pacing is poor and there’s a lot of scenes that are inconsequential and the whole movie could have been easily hacked down by 30 minutes and for the better. Pacino’s good here, but a lot of the magic here is in the unique and memorable character versus his performance making the role. His Best Actor win here is widely considered, and I can’t really disagree, as a lifetime achievement Oscar (that he was robbed of when Art Carney somehow beat Pacino in The Godfather Part II). Beyond Pacino though, Chris O’Donnell is far better than I’ve seen him from any of his other work-this is the same guy who was Robin in the Joel Schumacher Batman movies just three years after this and yet here he holds his own with Al Pacino. If this movie was parred down a bit and the ending wasn’t pure cheese, it could have been a really good movie. As is, it’s a solid but flabby movie.

Rating: B-

*Unforgiven (1992)*

unforgiven

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Jaimz Woolvett (in his first feature film), Richard Harris, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher, Anne Levine

Director: Clint Eastwood

Summary: A Retired old West gunslinger reluctantly takes on one last job, with the help of his partner and a young man.

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Eastwood), Supporting Actor (Hackman)*, Original Screenplay, Sound, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing*

This movie, like the many post-1950s Westerns, is a deconstruction of the genre-its main goal being to try and de-romanticize “the gunslinger” by showing how monstrous someone who kills for a living must actually be. Here, the depictions of death and violence carry a great deal of weight, showing not only the effect it has on the victim, but also on the person who kills as well and how it eats away at your soul. Basically, the film’s statement is that the man of real heroism and greatness is the one who is able to somehow find a way to leave a life of violence for a peaceful one, not the gunslinger who can take out five men in a shootout.

I can’t really imagine anyone else in the lead (except for John Wayne if this was made in a different era), as Eastwood’s history naturally imparts on the audience a feeling to the character-you can imagine William Munny here as a sort of older, wiser version of The Man with No Name. In addition, Gene Hackman is great as the sadistic Little Bill and he deservedly won a second Academy Award (after The French Connection) for the film. While it’s not my favorite Western of all-time, it’s truly one of the greats of the genre and a perfect send-off for Eastwood’s career as a Western star.

Rating: A-

1992 in Review

One Notable Film from 1992

Death

This one’s going to be a little offbeat and obscure even by my standards for this space, but today I’m going to look at one of the most improbable how-did-this-get-made films I can think of: Death Becomes Her.

Death Becomes her is a black comedy about two rival actresses who love the same plastic surgeon, end up discovering and then drinking immortality potions, realize that while they are immortal they will require constant maintenance on their bodies because they are actual living zombies. The movie somehow gets more over the top and even more like a madcap Loony Toons movie from there.

This is a bizarre plot for any movie, but what’s so insane to me is that it was a big studio film: the women are played by Meryl Streep(!) and Goldie Hawn, the surgeon is Bruce Willis and Robert Zemeckis (fresh off Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future trilogy, and right before Forrest Gump) directed. It was a box office success (#15 in worldwide box office for 1992), and even won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects (here’s a good example of what they looked like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TvgwlnTU4Q). How often do you see big-budget, high-concept sci-fi black comedies? My guess is that Zemeckis wanted to make it, and during this time he could do no wrong so they greenlighted it. By no means is it a great or for everybody, but the satire on vanity and Hollywood is well-done, the effects are still interesting to look at and really inventively used, and it’s such an anomaly that I think it’s worth watching.

Other Notables from 1992

El Mariachi

A League of Their Own

Malcolm X

Aladdin

Basic Instinct

Wayne’s World

Chaplin

Army of Darkness

Braindead (aka Dead Alive)

Glengarry Glen Ross

Hard Boiled

Husbands and Wives

Porco Rosso

The Player

Reservoir Dogs

1992 in Review

Unforgiven: A- (Won Best Picture)

The Crying Game: B+

Howards End: B

Scent of a Woman: B-

A Few Good Men: C+

A strong year with three movies that in plenty of other years could have won Best Picture, and nothing was chore to watch. Unforgiven deservedly won Best Picture, making it only the third (and as of now, last) Western to win after Cimarron and Dances with Wolves.

In 1993 we have a Best Picture nominee that’s a remake of a 1960s TV series; Daniel Day-Lewis got off relatively easy for his standards here: all he did was lose 30 pounds and stay overnight in the jailcell his character’s in during the movie while people threw water at him; A film that earned seven Oscar nominations for women (a record); Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson team up for their second straight Best Picture nominee; and Steven Spielberg conquers the world, directing both this film which won Best Picture and Jurassic Park in the same year.