Jackie Brown (1997)
by Steve Habrat
After the massive success of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the hype around Quentin Tarantino was through the roof. He put a creative spin on the gangster movie with Reservoir Dogs, made Pulp Fiction, which was labeled a modern day masterpiece, and then turned around and nabbed a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for it. Everyone was wondering what this exploitation-obsessed film guru would do next. Rather than writing another original screenplay, Tarantino chose to pen an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch. Reworking the title as Jackie Brown and swapping the heroine’s race from white to black, Tarantino makes a modern day blaxploitation film that actually turns out to be his most mature work in his catalogue. Leaving behind the countless pop culture references and dialing back on the knee-jerk violence, Jackie Brown is a slow moving drama that lacks the instantly iconic characters and razor sharp humor that peppered his first two films. In true Tarantino fashion, he has gathered an ensemble cast and even found a way to revitalize the careers of blaxploitation queen Pam Grier and B-movie actor Robert Forster, who went on to earn a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role. Despite being more mature, Jackie Brown does sag a little under its weight and lengthy run time, but I’ll be damned if Tarantino doesn’t put up a fight to keep the film off the ground.
Jackie Brown (Played by Pam Grier) is a beautiful but lonely flight attendant for a small Mexican airline called Cabalas Airlines. On the side, Jackie, whose career has hit a snag, smuggles money from Mexico to the United States for charismatic gunrunner Ordell Robbie (Played by Samuel L. Jackson). It turns out that Ordell is under surveillance by the ATF. After one of his employees, Beaumont Livingston (Played by Chris Tucker), is arrested, Ordell visits bail bondsman Max Cherry (Played by Robert Forster) and arranges for a $10,000 bail to spring Livingston out of fear that he may become an informant. It turns out that Livingston already blabbed to ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Played by Michael Keaton) and LAPD detective Mark Dargus (Played by Michael Bowen) while in custody and the two men intercept Jackie while she is arriving at the airport. Fearing that Jackie may also become an informant, Ordell once again visits Max and arranges her bail. After meeting Jackie, the mild mannered Max begins developing feelings for the tough flight attendant. Meanwhile, Ordell plans to murder Jackie but instead, she negotiates a deal to smuggle $550,000 of Ordell’s money out of Mexico, enough cash for him to retire. Ordell agrees, unaware that Jackie may be helping out the ATF agents. To make sure he ends up with the money, Ordell hires a stoner beach bunny named Melanie Ralston (Played by Bridget Fonda) and former cellmate Louis Gara (Played by Robert DeNiro) to help out with the job. With this much money involved, all the thugs begin devising way to make off with the cash for themselves but Jackie has other plans.
At two and a half hours, Jackie Brown certainly has its fair share of backstabbing, double crosses, and scheming going on. While it seemed appropriate in Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown seems to just be rambling on and sometimes not in a good way. The first hour of the film is fun, a little sexy, and funny in spurts, but after a while, I was left wishing that Tarantino would pop the cork on crazy and get the party started. He never really does and it is slightly disappointing. However, you can’t really blame Tarantino for toning it down a bit after his rambunctious behavior in Pulp Fiction (Who could forget the Gimp?). And then there is the trademark dialogue, something we really look forward to when going into his movies. In Jackie Brown, you feel as though Tarantino is blending his dialogue with Leonard’s and the results are mixed. There are a few funny lines here and there and only a few moments where it is truly memorable, but none of it comes close to what was in his first two films. Despite lacking the shock and crazy of his first two films, Jackie Brown does prove that Tarantino can pile on the emotion and really hook us with a touching love story. You really root for the romance between Jackie and Max, a love that is really the heart and soul of the movie. It is like Tarantino revealing his softer side, something he doesn’t really seem to enjoy too much (just watch an interview with him). Dare I say that Jackie Brown makes us feel a little warm and fuzzy inside?
If the bloated plot of Jackie Brown begins to wear on you, you may find some relief in the performances, mostly the ones from Grier and Forster. Grier is in fine form as the sensitive but fierce Jackie, one tough mama who doesn’t put up with any of the torment dished out by Ordell. Age seems to be holding Grier back from really kicking ass and taking names but she is as sharp as a tack when it comes to staying one step ahead of everyone but Max. Forster is measured, gentle, and subtle as Max Cherry, the kindly bail bondsman who develops a crush on the curvy Jackie. You can’t help but love him as he jams out to crooning R&B classics in his car, music he heard from our badass heroine. Together, the form an unlikely romance but I suppose that opposites attract. Plus, you feel like Max really deserves this romance. Jackson tones down the intensity he brought to Pulp Fiction and brings a menacing cool to Ordell. Watching him manipulate the thugs around him will have your knuckles whitening, especially when he shows up at Jackie’s apartment to settle some business. DeNiro is quiet fun as the loose cannon Louis, a slouchy thug who never can resist the bong in front of him. He gets some great moments with Fonda’s Melanie, a perpetually stoned and horny beach bunny who is always taking too long to get ready. Keaton is on point as the hotshot ATF agent who is always chewing on a piece of gum. We also get a funny and jumpy performance from the rarely seen but always welcome Chris Tucker as Livingston. Tucker isn’t here long but you’ll certainly remember his character.
Even if things are a little too drawn out, Jackie Brown still manages to entertain you even in its slower moments. I really enjoyed the scenes where Louis and Ordell sat around and discussed firearms over beer and weed as Melanie rolls her eyes in boredom. These scenes crackled with Tarantino’s punchy dialogue and humor, his usual trademarks. I also enjoyed the way Tarantino laid out the climax of the film, dropping all of his characters into a busy shopping mall and letting them try to outsmart each other while the money bops around in a shopping bag. Then there is the final confrontation, which does flirt with Tarantino’s unpredictable flashes of violence and bloodshed. Overall, I do like Jackie Brown and I have to say that I did fall head over heels for Grier and Forster. I also love the idea that the film is a big fat valentine to Grier and her feisty roles from years past. Yet as a tribute to blaxploitation cinema, Jackie Brown is a little clunky. It seems to lack the sass of the blaxploitation subgenre. I give Tarantino credit for breaking away from his usual formula but Jackie Brown left me starving for his crazy side.
Jackie Brown is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Halloween Guest Feature: Five Films That Scare… Bubbawheat
I was actually quite honored when Steve asked me to be a guest contributor for his Halloween spectacular. One of the hardest things for me to do is to come up with a list of favorite anythings. If you put something in front of me, I can tell you whether or not I liked it, but it’s hard for me to honestly place one thing above another. Luckily, this is just a list of “five films that scare me” so that’s a plus. I’ve never really been a huge fan of horror movies, the ones I’m most familiar with are the classics that spawned dozens of sequels that were all pretty formulaic and tired. Even when I was younger, I never really got caught by the allure of watching a horror movie that I wasn’t supposed to be watching. I think that’s partly because of the first movie on my list.
I had to have been about 6 or 7 when I first saw this movie, I don’t recall the specific details, but I believe I really wanted to watch it based on the previews, and I enjoyed watching it. But that line at the end must have stuck with me “…turn on all the lights. Check all the closets and cupboards. Look under all the beds. ‘Cause you never can tell. There just might be a gremlin in your house.” I remember that it was the movie Gremlins that made me scared of the dark for about a month. And even though my daughter is currently infatuated with all things monster (from Monster High to Hotel Transylvania) I made her skip that movie when I recently re-watched it.
Of course I have seen my share of horror movies once I passed my teenage years, usually not due to my own choice but rather due to the choosing of my girlfriend or later on, my wife. And while it’s not on my list, I will give an honorable mention to The Grudge which scared the living daylights out of my wife when she first watched it, and not only that but it was the movie that really introduced both of us to the wide world of Asian horror movies, and led us to a more obscure series that fascinates me more than scares me but I have to share it with you.
Tomie: Replay (2000)
There are quite a few Tomie movies that have been released over the years, but my favorite is probably the second one, even though (or possibly because of) it’s the one that most closely follows the conventions of a typical Western horror movie. The concept behind Tomie is that she is a beautiful demon that makes men fall totally in love with her and drives them crazy until they eventually kill her and chop her into pieces. And then those pieces grow into new Tomies and she goes on to start the process over again. It’s such a bizarre premise, but it’s a pretty great movie. Well, this one and Tomie: Rebirth are probably the best, some of the later ones get way to bizarre for my own liking.
Event Horizon (1997)
This movie is on my list because it’s probably the first horror movie that I watched for the purpose of watching a scary movie. It caught my interest because of the sci-fi aspect, and it was recommended to me by a friend. I don’t think I’ve watched it again since, but when I think of movies that are actually scary rather than just movies in the horror genre, this movie usually comes to mind. The scene with the guy (or girl?) suspended by all the hooks was the singular image that really stuck with me for a long time, I also remember the scene where they spend a brief time in the vacuum of space, shutting their eyes tightly to keep them from exploding. It’s interesting what details can stick with you after so many years.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that the only reason why I rented this movie in the first place is because it had Anne Hathaway’s first nude scene in it. It was her first “grown up” movie to try and keep from being pidgeonholed into movies like Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted. The movie itself isn’t really anything worth mentioning, but for whatever reason the initiation scene which contained the reason why I wanted to see the movie in the first place disturbed me a little more than I thought it would. If you haven’t seen it, and I wouldn’t really recommend it, Anne Hathaway and Bijou Phillips play gangsta wannabes who end up trying to get into a real gang. Their initiation is they roll a die and that’s how many guys they have to sleep with. Hathaway is lucky and rolls a one and has her tender moment with the guy she likes, but her friend rolls a 3 or 4 and only after they start to they find out that it’s how many guys they have to sleep with, at the same time. I can’t put my finger on it, and it probably sounds silly to describe it but when she’s bouncing back and forth between two guys, it just stayed in my mind in the worst way.
Son of the Mask (2005)
The final movie on this list scares me to think that it somehow actually got made in the first place. It is one of the most awful movies I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen quite a few awful movies. They took a good movie, a couple good actors (and several bad ones), and came up with a movie where I wanted to hide my eyes more times than any so-called scary movie I’ve ever seen, and I had to figure out some way to toss in a superhero/comic book movie, I just couldn’t help myself.
A little about Bubbawheat:
Bubbawheat is the author of Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights, a review site focused on reviewing superhero and comic book movies, as well as featuring superhero themed fan-films and interviewing the fan-filmmakers. When he’s not watching superhero movies, he spends his time with watching children’s movies and romantic comedies with his wife and 5-year old daughter and has recently moved to the Chicago area. You can follow him on Facebook facebook.com/flightstightsandmovienights , on Twitter twitter.com/Bubbawheat , and he’s also a member of the As You Watch podcast podomatic.com/asyouwatch
Halloween Guest Feature: Five Films That Scare… John LaRue
by John LaRue
When Steve asked me to count down the five films that scared me, I grinned like the Cheshire cat. It gave me a bonus opportunity to write about one of my earliest loves- horror films. As I sat down to compile the list, I realized that most of what scares me all ties back to childhood. Apparently, I was steeled for life as a horror-watching adult before my 7th birthday, because I watched nearly all of my selections in 1982 at age six. Is there anything scarier than what we see when we’re children, unprepared for the fantasy worlds given to us on a movie screen? The same naiveté that gives you Santa Claus also gives you ghosts, goblins, witches, vampires, and a whole host of other things that give kids nightmares. I’ve illustrated all of this the best way I know how- with an infographic detailing my list of five films that scare me, along with some fun facts about my personal quintet of terror.
John LaRue is owner and minister of information of tdylf.com. In his spare time, he is a baseball and Nazi zombie enthusiast, as well as a graphic designer. He lives in the provel cheese capital of the world- St. Louis, Missouri. Follow John on Twitter (@tdylf).
Batman & Robin (1997)
by Steve Habrat
If Batfans were worried about what direction the Batman films were going in after 1995’s half-campy Batman Forever, our worst fears were confirmed with Joel Schumacher’s 1997 atrocity Batman & Robin. For this Batfan, I remained in denial about the movie for several weeks after I saw it, refusing to admit that it was downright awful. As the days passed, I began to face the truth and accept that Batman had been turned into a two-hour toy commercial that had little respect for the character I had grown up with. Schumacher had done what absolutely no one wanted to see and that was return to the silliness of the 1960s. Even more family friendly than Batman Forever, Batman & Robin was relentlessly juvenile, with Looney Tunes sound effects, the dynamic duo playing hockey with the “hockey team from Hell”, and Mr. Freeze delivering some seriously appalling one-liners that made any proud Batfan want to smash their head into a wall then curl up and die. Oh, and they totally ruined Bane! As a result of Batman & Robin, I actually gave up Batman and quit collecting the comics and toys for years after. I was so embarrassed by it and even today when I revisit the film, it is a real chore to get through. For two hours, Warner Bros. and Schumacher crush your spirits and spit in your face with lines like “You’re not gonna send me to the coolah!”
Batman & Robin begins with Commissioner Gordon (Played by Pat Hingle) summoning Batman (Played by George Clooney) and Robin (Played by Chris O’Donnell) to Gotham City to stop the sinister Mr. Freeze (Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) from stealing a cache of diamonds. Mr. Freeze narrowly escapes the masked vigilantes and returns to his hideout where he is trying to save the life of his beloved wife who is suffering from MacGregor’s Syndrome. Meanwhile, in South America, botanist Dr. Pamela Isely (Played by Uma Thurman) is working under the mad Dr. Jason Woodrue (Played by John Glover) who is experimenting with a serum called “Venom”, which transforms runts into super soldiers. He experiments on a scrawny criminal and in the process, turns him into the hulking killing machine Bane (Played by Jeep Swenson). Dr. Isely witness the experiment and when she refuses to join Dr. Woodrue, he brutally murders her with an assortment of different toxins that she was working on. Isely is reborn as the sexy seductress Poison Ivy, who joins forces with Bane and heads to Gotham City to confront Bruce Wayne about cutting the funding of her project in South America. Once she arrives, she bumps into Mr. Freeze and together, they form an alliance that will have Batman and Robin scrambling to find all the help they can get.
In interviews about the film, Schumacher explains that Warner Bros. really pressured him to keep things light for the children, even more than they did on Batman Forever. They also ushered in toy companies to have a strong input in the design of gadgets and vehicles and it is completely obvious. It was an attempt to make things more “toyetic”. There are countless gadgets strewn throughout the film, most of them serving no purpose at all. Then there is the Batmobile, which looks like a supped-up sports car that will be used for street racing rather than battling crime. I’m stunned that Schumacher didn’t throw text on the screen that read “For sale at your local Wal-Mart!” just so everyone knew it was available. The film has a paper thin plotline that barely makes any sense at all, the whole grand scheme here is that Mr. Freeze wants to freeze the city. The annoying aesthetic that Schumacher applied in Batman Forever is also punched up to one hundred as the film constantly looks like it was filmed in various glow-in-the-dark nightclubs as techno pumps into the fight scenes. While all of this is bad, nothing can compare to the performances that Schumacher captures.
Stepping in for Val Kilmer is the hunky George Clooney, who is so uncomfortable in the role that he is practically looking into the camera and saying it to us. His Bruce Wayne is a grinning and sunny philanthropist who refuses to brood or be at odds with his duty of protecting Gotham City. He is more of a wisecracking dad to Chris O’Donnell’s Robin, who belts out cringe inducing dialogue at every turn. A scene where Batman and Robin glide through the sky on makeshift surfboards has Robin yelling “Cowabunga!” as he surfs over the rooftops of Gotham. There is a disposable side plot that finds Robin growing tired with all of Batman’s rules, which consistently keep him alive and he doesn’t even realize it. He whines and moans that Bruce doesn’t trust him but it never leads to anything substantial. Schumacher also can’t resist lacing the moments between Bruce and Dick with a homoerotic feel that once again is completely out of place. Things really get weird when they begin bickering over Poison Ivy, who introduces herself at a charity ball that has the dynamic duo arguing over who will take her home. The scene culminates in Batman whipping out an American Express card and warning Robin to “never leave the Batcave without it”. I don’t know about you, but I would think it would be odd that Bruce Wayne wouldn’t be at his own charity ball but Batman is there bidding millions of dollars to take Ivy home. Maybe it is just me, but I think doing something like that would give yourself away instantly.
Then we have the villains, who once again steal most of the movie away from the title characters. Schwarzenegger is a lumbering chunk of blue cheese as he delivers some of the films worst lines of dialogue. Every line written for the man is a one liner that references freezing something. He crashes a party and shouts “Everyone chill!” as the guests shriek in terror. Then there is the femme fatale Poison Ivy, who is equally cheeky when she delivers lines like “Curses!” as she is foiled by Batgirl. She spends a good majority of the movie trying to seduce men and kiss them, which is the only thing deadly about her. Then we have Swenson’s Bane, a mindless brute with greenish skin that grunts, groans, and moans as Freeze and Ivy give him commands. For a villain that was extremely deadly in the comic books, it is such a disappointment when Robin and Batgirl swoop in and defeat this hulk. Alicia Silverstone shows up as Barbara Wilson, Alfred’s niece who likes to play sweet and innocent but has a knack for getting in with the wrong people. She ultimately becomes Batgirl but there is no build up to this. She just suddenly becomes part of the team and Batman never once questions her sudden appearance. Michael Gough reprises his role as Alfred and even he seems to be phoning it in here. He gets a side story that reveals his character is hiding an illness that may take his life. This is the most interesting part of Batman & Robin but it certainly doesn’t better the movie. Also returning is Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon who is present only to grab a few laughs and then disappear.
By the time Mr. Freeze has converted a giant telescope into a freeze machine that will blanket Gotham City in a thick layer of ice, you will have completely checked out of Batman & Robin. Poison Ivy basically serves no purpose in the movie other than to drag the film out a little bit. Batman and Robin are unable to beat her even though she is powerless yet Batgirl swings in with one kick and Ivy is no more. Our heroes also have time to do a quick wardrobe change in the final act of the film, emerging onto the slick streets of ice town wearing futuristic armor that looks ridiculous. It doesn’t aid the trio in battling Mr. Freeze and seems like it is only here to look cool. And DON’T get me started on the nipples that are once again present on the Batsuit! Overall, it is hard to believe that Batman & Robin is operating in the same universe that Tim Burton created in 1989. An obnoxious mess of a film that is completely unwatchable from the get-go, Batman & Robin is not only the worst Batman film ever made, but is also one of the worst superhero films to ever grace the silver screen. A complete embarrassment on every single level, both for fans and the filmmakers.
Batman & Robin is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Men in Black 3 (2012)
by Steve Habrat
I think we can all agree that the world wasn’t starving for another Men in Black film. It has been ten long years since Agent J and Agent K saved the world in the lousy Men in Black 2 and now they are back in a film that is a slight improvement over the 2002 disaster. Men in Black 3 is not a great film but it has great performances and truly incredible CGI to marvel at, but the absence of any fun action sequences cripples this lukewarm installment. Considering the film has a price tag of $215 million dollars, you’d think that it would have at least one “WOW” moment in there somewhere. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t. Sony must have forgotten they were making a summer blockbuster for audiences who want to see things blow up. Throughout the runtime, I also couldn’t shake the feeling that everything that was playing out on the screen had been done before and much better at that. It felt like Sony just repackaged the original film, tied it up with recycled jokes, and put a big ribbon of 3D on it.
Men in Black 3 begins with the revolting alien menace Boris the Animal (Played by Flight of the Concord’s Jermaine Clement) breaking out of a massive prison that happens to be on the moon rather than good old Earth. Boris is also missing one of his arms and he is pretty pissed off about it. It turns out that his arm was shot off by Agent K (Played by Tommy Lee Jones) way back in July of 1969, who then took him into custody and shipped him to his lunar prison cell. Boris quickly figures out a way to time travel back to 1969 so he can kill the young Agent K (Played by Josh Brolin) before K can shoot off his arm and arrest him. He also wants to stop K from planting a device that protects earth from a massive alien invasion. After older K disappears, it is up to suave Agent J (Played by Will Smith) to travel back to 1969 and join forces with the younger (and nicer) Agent K to prevent the alien invasion and stop Boris before he completely alters history.
Men in Black 3 was plagued by script rewrites and multiple delays that almost drove director Barry Sonnenfeld to the breaking point. The good news is that despite all the rewrites, Men in Black 3 tells a fairly engaging little story with some mildly clever moments. The bad news is that screenwriter Ethan Coen doesn’t ever really do much with J’s appearance in 1969. He resorts to dated jokes like telling Andy Warhol that he’d “have no problem pimp-slapping the shiznit” out of him and complains about dated technology. The film only takes a few opportunities to really play with the race relations of the late 60’s, mostly in a scene where two white police officers stop J and accuse him of stealing the car he is driving. It is jokes like this that would have really went over big in 1997, when all of this seemed fresh and slightly innovative. If those jokes aren’t enough to make you roll your eyes, once again, the film cracks jokes about certain celebrities being aliens as well as extraterrestrials hiding in plane sight. Doesn’t it feel like 1997 in here?
What ultimately saves Men in Black 3 from crumbling right in front of our eyes is the acting, especially from Brolin, Clement, and Michael Stuhlbarg, who shows up as a neurotic alien who can see multiple futures that all have different outcomes. Brolin steals the show with his impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones, an impersonation that is eerily spot-on. From the drawl in his voice to the sleepy eyes, Brolin is an absolute knock out, getting every twitch, step, and head turn just right. It is also the funniest aspect of Men in Black 3. Clement does a damn fine job making you remember him once the credits crawl across the screen. Boris could be one of the nastiest aliens from the Men in Black universe, snagging what has to be one of the most disgusting kisses in motion picture history. Coen and Sonnenfeld really hold back with his character and he is someone that I wished we had seen more of. The underdog of Men in Black 3 is Michael Stuhlbarg as the sweet Griffin, who turned out to be one of my favorite characters in Men in Black 3. He was just such a likable soul—one whose faith in humanity was so infectious, you couldn’t help but root for him.
As far as our two veteran protagonists are concerned, they fair about the same as they did in the previous two films. Smith is still the wild child, the one who is more concerned with making the job look good. The scenes in which he uses the Neuralyzer on crowds of people are some of his best. A touching last act twist gives his character a heaping amount of emotional weight that, in a way, comes a little too late. Jones, on the other hand, is absent through a good portion of the film, allowing Brolin to take the driver’s seat for a while. Jones is his usually crabby self, one who smiles by letting his face droop. I won’t deny that Smith and Jones do have an odd-couple chemistry that somehow has kept through three films and it is no different with Men in Black 3. They really find their groove early on and in a way, it is sad to see it cut off even if Brolin does a fantastic job.
The biggest problem I have with Men in Black 3 is the uneven action sequences that feature fine CGI, but just have no adrenaline to keep them moving. I was never on the edge of my seat once during the film. An action scene at the beginning that features multiple aliens seems like it was included just to give the partnering toy company some ideas for action figures. I couldn’t help but feel the same about the handful of new gadgets that we see. Sadly, Men in Black 3 plays things a bit too safe for my tastes. It seems to cater to the kiddies, who will surely eat it up and have a few good laughs at some of the slapstick moments. I feel like Men in Black 3 would have faired a little bit better last summer, when Hollywood had a fixation with period piece blockbusters, ones that were heavily interested in rewriting history (mostly with superheroes). Men in Black 3 ends with a showdown on Apollo 11 that is mixed with a handful of scenes showing in-awe spectators glued to their televisions screens, sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to be blown away by this sublime moment. For all the eye-candy Men in Black 3 throws our way, I truly never felt like one of those grinning, in-awe spectators even though I so desperately wanted to. I was fighting back yawns.