Uncategorized

A Walk Among The Tombstones

a-walk-among-the-tombstones-15-600x900

2014

Universal Pictures

Directed and Written For The Screen by Scott Frank

Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Tobin Armbrust and Brian Oliver

Based on the novel “A Walk Among The Tombstones” by Lawrence Block

 I was about an hour into A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES when it hit me that I was watching a period piece. And it hit me with real surprise because the movie takes place the 1990’s before The Internet, home PC’s and cell phones really became indispensable and integral components of our daily lives. And the thing is this: I remember the 1990’s. I was there. I lived through the 1990’s and I can’t rightly call a movie a period piece if I actually lived during that period, can I?

But yes, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is indeed a period piece because it takes place in the 20th Century and we are now in the 21st. But it’s not just the lack of modern technology that makes this movie a period piece. One of the characters, a street urchin named TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) upon finding out that Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) is a private detective demonstrates that he’s familiar with Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. And Matthew Scudder is very much a literary grandson of those two classic P.I.’s

1410409727529-a-walk-among-the-tombstones-df894e-1410409738

Matthew Scudder, once a NYPD cop, left the force due to an accidental shooting he was involved in while drunk. He’s now sober and maintaining his sobriety while working as an unlicensed private detective. As he puts it to his prospective client, drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) “I do favors for people. And in return they give me gifts.” The favor Kenny Kristo wants Scudder to do for him is to find his wife who has been kidnapped. In return Kenny will give Scudder the gift of $20,000.

Scudder’s investigations put him on the trail of two truly monstrous psychopaths who have hit on a novel idea: they kidnap the wives and daughters of drug dealers knowing full well that the dealers can’t go to the police or FBI for help since that would expose what they do to the authorities. But as Scudder digs deeper into the case he discovers that this pair are more interested in killing their victims than the million dollar ransoms they demand.

Film Title: A Walk among the Tombstones

I never realize how much I miss this kind of story until I see it on screen. All the fun has gone out of being a private eye as now all they have to do is know how to work a computer. Matthew Scudder does it the old fashioned way. He does legwork. He goes to the library and uses a microfiche (Hah! Go ahead and Google that!) He asks questions and interacts face to face with people. And instead of taking DNA samples he uses his brain coupled with his years of experience and the instincts he’s developed to find the kidnappers. It’s quite the performance from Liam Neeson. I know people who saw the trailers for this and dismissed it as another variation of “Taken.” Trust me, in tone, in story and most importantly, in character this is nothing like Neeson’s “Taken” movies. I liked how the Matthew Scudder character doesn’t angst over his alcoholism. It’s part of his personality, yes, but it doesn’t define him. It was responsible for a tragic mistake in his past but he’s stepped up to do something about it so that it doesn’t happen again.

I really enjoyed the supporting cast in this one. Mainly because most of the faces were not familiar to me and so I wasn’t watching the actors playing these roles. I was watching the characters. Acting honors in this movie go to Boyd Holbrook as the drug addicted brother of the drug trafficker. He and Scudder bond over their mutual addictive problems and he turns out to be more pivotal to the plot than you would think at first. Brian “Astro” Bradley is also very good as TJ who bonds with Scudder due to his interest in detective fiction and wanting to be a detective himself.

And living in Brooklyn I naturally loved that the movie was filmed here. Some of those same streets that Scudder walks on I’ve either walked on myself or driven down. My tax guy used to have an office right across the street from the graveyard that figures prominently in a suspenseful and tense hostage/money exchange. Unlike a TV show like “The Strain” which goes out of its way to insist that it’s taking place in Brooklyn but never shows me a recognizable street or landmark, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is very clear that it’s a New York movie and lets you know it with every shot.

So should you see A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES? Absolutely. It’s way better than “8 Million Ways To Die” the 1986 attempt to bring Matthew Scudder to cinematic life. Jeff Bridges did his best in the role but was sabotaged by the direction of Hal Ashby. Brilliant as he is, Ashby was the last director in the world who should have been directing a hard boiled P.I. thriller. And Scudder is such a New York character (New York City itself can be said to be a supporting character in the Scudder novels) that moving him to Los Angeles just seemed wrong.

rs_1024x759-140908124317-1024-A-Walk-Among-the-Tombstones-ls.9814

But A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES never goes wrong from start to finish. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing throwback of a movie, one full of rock solid performances and a story to match. Don’t wait to see this one on DVD or Netflix. Go check it out while it’s still in the theater. Enjoy.

Rated R

113 Minutes

Guardians of The Galaxy

guardians-of-the-galaxy-logo-movie-wallpaper

2014

Marvel Studios

Directed by James Gunn

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman

Based on “Guardians of The Galaxy” by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

I’m just going to come out and say it straight and plain so you’ll know exactly where I’m going with this review and if you disagree with me you can then stop reading and go onto to something else that you feel is worth your time. Watching GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY gave me the exact same feeling I had when I saw “Star Wars” for the first time way back in 1977. Yeah, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is that good. It’s that good because it did its job of transporting me to an entire universe of brilliantly colorful characters and spectacularly different worlds. Visually the movie is pure cake and pie. It manages the feat of giving me characters that I thought I knew and making them seem fresh and new. And it tells a rousing story of a group of individuals who overcome their own petty interests and personal demons to make the choice to do the right thing. And by doing so they become Heroes.

guardians_of_the_galaxy_movie

When we meet Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) it’s twenty six years after he was abducted from Earth by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). Yondu is the leader of The Ravagers, space pirates who survive and turn a credit anyway they can. Quill has become quite the accomplished thief as he proves when he steals a mysterious orb hidden in a forbidden temple on the equally forbidden planet of Morag.

It isn’t long before Quill realizes that he’s got a highly dangerous object in his possession as he’s pursed by not only Yondu, but Korath (Djimon Honsou) as well. Korath serves the Kree religious fanatic Ronan The Accuser who also wants the orb. Quill tries to sell the orb on the planet Xandar but winds up ambushed by not only Gamora (Zoe Saldana) the deadliest woman in the galaxy but by the most mismatched pair of bounty hunters ever; the genetically engineered Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and the tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel).  The whole lot of ‘em are arrested by The Nova Corps, the elite police force/militia of Xandar and are thrown into The Kyln, an inescapable space prison. It’s here that they meet up with the formidable Drax The Destroyer (David Bautista) a warrior thirsting for vengeance on Ronan. It’s also here that Quill learns Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, the mad Titan who and has struck a bargain with Ronan; get me the orb and I’ll destroy Xandar for you. It’s up to our band of misfits to break out of The Kyln and keep the orb out of the hands of Ronan as it contains an Infinity Stone, one of the most powerful objects in the universe.

Guardians of The Galaxy Movie 2014 Stills Wallpaper

Now that only covers about the first fifteen minutes of a two hour movie but if that doesn’t make your heart beat a little faster then check yourself into a hospital because you must be dead. But I admit to being heavily biased in favor of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY because it’s been so long since I’ve seen an honest-to-Flash Gordon Space Opera in the movie theaters and even longer since I’ve seen one done this spectacularly well. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is being called a superhero movie and while it does have its superheroish elements, it actually belongs to a older tradition. One that was pioneered by such astounding writers like Leigh Brackett, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Edmond Hamilton. Other creators such a Alex Raymond with “Flash Gordon” and George Lucas with “Star Wars” made significant contributions to the Space Opera and it’s my hope that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY will jump start this genre in the movies much as “Star Wars” did back in the 70’s.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-3

The vibe I get from the entire movie is one of total confidence in the material, the direction and the acting. The movie does its best at throwing the most improbable situations and elements at us and damn if we don’t go with it, grinning and cheering. This has been a terrific year for Chris Pratt. Earlier this year he scored big with “The Lego Movie” and now here he is in a leading role which he carries with such ease that you would think he’s been starring in mega budget summer blockbusters for the past ten years. He had me right from the opening credits where he avoids death trap after death trap on the planet Morag while never missing a beat of Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love” And I think it was nothing less than brilliant to score the movie with pop songs of the 70’s and 80’s. In a bizarre way I think nobody could have seen coming, the songs fit perfectly and the rationale behind why we’re hearing The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” and “The Pina Colada Song” by Rupert Holmes while flying around in a starship billions of light years from Earth is a poignant one and a constant reminder to us that there is an Earth out there somewhere.

David Bautista really surprised me in this one as I only know him from “The Man With the Iron Fists” He has way more lines in this one and gets to do way more acting and pulls it off quite well. He also provides more than his share of the comedy relief as Drax tends to take everything Quill says literally. Very literally.  Zoe Saldana essentially is playing a green-skinned incarnation of the character she played in 2010’s “The Losers” but she does it so well that I’m willing to overlook it. Karen Gillian is almost unrecognizable as Nebula, another adopted daughter of Thanos that he’s transformed into a cyborg killing machine but she acquits herself well. I enjoyed her Darth Vader-ish I’m-Outta-Here move during the movie’s major battle scene.

Guardians-of-The-Galaxy-HD-screenshots-13-800x450

John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro all provide more than able backup in supporting roles and it wasn’t until I got to the end of the movie that I realized just how star studded this movie is and the level of talent involved. You’ve got more than a few in there who have either won Academy Awards or been nominated for such more than once.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-wallpaper-22

So should you see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY? Chances are you already have but if you haven’t then by all means, stop reading this review and go see it right NOW. For once a movie lives up to all the hype and praise heaped on it. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a movie that for me has saved an otherwise somewhat dull summer movie season and it’s done it by giving me an experience I go to the movies for. It’s action-packed, full of humor and a surprising amount of heart and it’s a movie that I have no doubt will become known as a masterpiece years from now. By all means go see and not only enjoy but be delighted.

PG-13

122 minutes

 

The LEGO Movie

the_lego_movie

2014

Warner Animation Group/Village Roadshow Pictures

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Produced by Dan Lin and Roy Lee

Screenplay by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Based on Lego Construction Toys

The only people I can see having a problem with THE LEGO MOVIE are the same Batman fans who had a problem with the animated TV series “The Brave and The Bold.” Like THE LEGO MOVIE, “The Brave and The Bold” wasn’t afraid to poke fun at Batman and lighten up the character. Plenty of Batman fans absolutely detested “The Brave and The Bold” as they thought it was outright blasphemy that any trace of humor or comedy should or could be associated with Batman. Those are the ones who need to stay away from this movie, then. Me, I got a kick out of a Lego Batman who flies around in a Lego Batplane with his girlfriend composing heavy metal songs about how cool it is to be Lego Batman.

000048.0027807.tif

Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker living in Bricksburg, a Lego city that apparently is one huge construction project. He cheerfully follows the instructions for his daily routine as laid out in his instruction manual and goes to work singing the only song that exists in this world; “Everything Is Awesome!” I song I guarantee you will absolutely not be able to get out of your head once you’ve heard it.

One day at work Emmet finds a mysterious red brick that seems to speak to him and gives him visions. He passes out and upon awakening finds the brick attached to his back and himself in the custody of Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson)  the chief henchman of Lord Business. (Will Ferrell) Lord Business has possession of The Kragle, a superweapon that he intends to use to freeze the various realms of The Lego Universe in place forever. The only thing that stands in his way is a prophecy that was spoken to him eight and a half years ago by the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) that a person called The Special would use The Piece of Resistance to stop The Kragle.

Emmet is rescued by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) from the clutches of Bad Cop/Good Cop and takes him to Vitruvius who explains that there are Master Builders fighting against Lord Business, so named because they are capable of building anything they need out of Legos without need of an instruction manual, simply using their own creativity. Other Master Builders are Lego versions of characters we’re familiar with such as Batman (Will Arnett) Superman (Channing Tatum) Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders) Shaquille O’Neal (Shaquille O’Neal) Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) William Shakespeare. (Jorma Taccone) And a few other characters we’re meeting for the first time such as Metal Beard the Pirate (Nick Offerman) Benny The Space Guy (Charlie Day) and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) a unicorn/anime kitten hybrid whose unrelenting optimism and upbeat cheerfulness borders on the frightening.

the_lego_movie_2014-wide

Can Emmet overcome his lack of creativity and come up with a plan to unite The Master Builders into a team and defeat Lord Business? What is The Piece of Resistance and how exactly is it supposed to be used to stop The Kragle? And what is the secret of The Man Upstairs?

Finding out the answers to these questions is a delight for the audience to find out as the characters do and you’ll have a good time doing so. A movie like this walks a fine line in entertaining kids while keeping adults engaged and the adults at the showing of THE LEGO MOVIE Patricia and I attended sounded like they were having just as much fun as their kids. I know we were.

The more cynical among you would say that THE LEGO MOVIE is simply a 100 minute commercial to sell toys and you’d be wrong. The filmmakers have actually taken their time to tell a real story about creative freedom. Lord Business wants to lock everything into a set form, following a rigid set of rules and instructions while The Master Builders want everybody to be free to explore whatever it is they can dream up and create. But it doesn’t beat you over the head with that message and never forgets it’s supposed to be entertaining and funny as well. Chris Pratt is utterly charming as Emmet. Between this and “Guardians of The Galaxy” this is going to be a good year for him. Will Arnett walks off with the voice acting honors in this one as his Batman is so wickedly pompous. And Jonah Hill is right behind with his Green Lantern who so desperately wants to be Superman’s best bud and is constantly rebuffed by the Lego Man of Steel.

But it’s not really fair to single out one or two because everybody gets a chance to shine with their characters and get their funny lines or scenes as the rollercoaster plot takes us through various Lego worlds and to the final confrontation with Lord Business that definitely did not end the way I thought it would.

The-Lego-Movie

So should you see THE LEGO MOVIE? By all means. It’s got terrifically colorful animation and and an outstanding voice cast. The story is simple enough for kids to grasp but witty enough that it doesn’t insult the intelligence of adults. This is the best kind of movie. One that does not want to do anything but entertain, make you feel good and send you home with a smile on your face.

Rated PG

100 minutes

The Assassination Bureau (LTD)

the-assassination-bureau-movie-poster-1969-1020248877

THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.)

Directed by Basil Deardon

Produced by Michael Relph

Screenplay by Michael Relph and Wolf Mankowitz

Based on the novel by Jack London and Robert L. Fish

“Professional assassination is the highest form of public service.”

Chiun, The Master of Sinanju

I start off this review with that quote because Chiun would understand the underlying philosophy that created the worldwide organization known as THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) being in the same business himself. As the Chairman of the organization, Ivan Dragomiloff (Oliver Reed) puts it; The Assassination Bureau fulfills a necessary evil. The Bureau assassinates those who are evil and who need assassination. They do not kill indiscriminately. They are not murderers. The Bureau assassinates those who only cause pain, misery and suffering. The Assassination Bureau (Ltd.) demands proof that the people who are contracted to be assassinated truly deserve assassination.

At least that was the dream of Ivan’s father. However, due through the corrupting influence of the Bureau’s Vice Chairman Lord Bostwick (Telly Savalas) on the other members of the Bureau, the purpose of The Assassination Bureau (Ltd.) is no longer what it once was. That is why Ivan accepts the commission of aspiring journalist and women’s right advocate Sonia Winter (Diana Rigg) to have him assassinated by his own organization. Ivan sees this as the ultimate test of his organization. If they kill him, so be it. He is the supreme assassin and if they kill him they he does not deserve to lead.  But this gives him the opportunity to remove the dead wood from his organization and test their loyalty. It’s kill or be kill, assassin against assassin. And in the middle is Sonia Winter who has no idea that she is feeding vital information to Lord Bostwick, who owns the newspaper she wants to write for as she is unaware of Lord Bostwick’s affiliation with the very organization she wishes to expose.

During the 1970’s there had to be somebody in charge of programming at ABC here in New York who loved THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) I have no idea who they were, if they were male or female but I thank God for them. Because they scheduled THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) on a regular basis on The ABC Sunday Night Movie which is where I first saw and fell in love with this movie. And every time it aired, I watched it. In fact, I turned my mother and father onto it as they simply had to see this movie because if I knew it was coming on Sunday night, I refused to leave the house for any reason at all.

In short, THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD). is a movie that I fell in love with the first time I saw it and one that I have recommended to everybody who will listen to me. It’s one of the best examples of a pure adventure movie that I’ve ever seen. It’s thrilling, it’s exciting, it’s heart-pounding and it’s funny. In fact, it’s wasn’t until I saw “Raiders of The Lost Ark” that I fell in love with a movie as much and yes, THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) is that good.

As Ivan Dragamiloff Oliver Reed creates a hero who is as charismatic, knowledgeable and brilliantly resourceful as Doc Savage, James Bond or Sherlock Holmes. This movie should be seen simply for seeing Oliver Reed in a heroic role. I love his performance for the same reason I love Richard Boone as Paladin in “Have Gun Will Travel.” These are actors who look more like the bad guys but are able to translate that into good guy roles of interesting dimensions. Oliver Reed’s Ivan Dragamiloff is so much fun to watch because I got the impression watching him in action in this movie because he seems to have so much fun playing a good bad guy.

1249104190-the_assassination_bureau_5

And this movie also has to be seen for Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas. THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.)  had to be made around the same time as “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” which they also starred in and their chemistry is apparent in this movie as well. It’s nothing short of a delight to see them on screen together. In fact, everybody’s chemistry works well together. Oliver Reed and Diana Rigg also have a great time in their scenes together and it’s so much fun to watch them work.

cdf50b1c778996628e9e66ff891_prev

Okay, I’m not going to go on and on and on about it. THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) is one of my favorite movies and if you’ve been reading my reviews all this time then you either trust me or not. Watching it won’t cost you a thing because the movie in its entirety is available on YouTube and you can watch it at the link provided below this review.

The bottom line is this: if you trust my judgment at all when it comes to movies then watch THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (LTD.) It’s one on the best movies I can recommend to anybody in terms of story, casing, acting and just sheer fun. It’s one of My Ten Favorite Movies Of All Time and I suspect that after you watch it, it’ll be one of yours.

Who Wears It Better? Tina Or Beyonce?

1374363_591794210882775_460267898_n

Intermission

First of all, my thanks to those of you who emailed me and queried via Facebook and IM if everything was okay as you noticed that I appeared to have stopped writing reviews. It was most thoughtful of you and I don’t take your continued interest and support in my work for granted.

And no, I haven’t stopped writing movie reviews. Matter of fact, in the next couple of days you’ll probably be seeing reviews of two Elizabeth Taylor movies I’ve watched recently; REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE and SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER. Those are two movies that are so psychologically screwed up and downright horrifying (indeed, SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER should be classified as a horror movie) that they should be seen just so that today’s movie fans should see the kind of films that were being done back in the 50’s and 60’s that people were going to see without blinking an eye. Movies like these would be considered ‘independent’ films now but back then, this was mainstream fare.

But enough of that. You’ve heard me go on about that subject enough. I’ve seen my share of movies this summer: PACIFIC RIM, which along with 2 GUNS were the best movies I’ve seen this whole summer. PAIN & GAIN which surprised me a lot considering Michael Bay directed it. It’s the best movie he ever done and has an Oscar worthy performance from Dwayne Johnson.

THE BIG WEDDING was a delightful family comedy/drama and TURBO was just charming enough not to be boring.

What else? Oh, THE BUTLER. That turned out to be a lot better than I thought it would be. Who knew that Oprah Winfrey could carry being the comedy relief in a movie so well?

For some reason something or somebody didn’t want me to see THE WOLVERINE as no matter when I planned to go see it, something would come up or I didn’t get to the theater on time for the designated showing. From what I’ve heard of it, I didn’t miss much.

Worst movies I saw this summer? No contest. THIS IS THE END and ELYSIUM. I wouldn’t sit through those movies again if you paid me.

So why didn’t you see reviews of those movies? Because I just simply decided to take a break from writing reviews is all. I found myself going to a movie and halfway through the flick I was starting to write the review in my head instead of just sitting back and enjoying the experience of watching a movie. And you can’t do both at the same time. Trust me. It takes away from the pure undiluted fun of watching a movie when you’re nitpicking at the performances and special effects and cinematography at the same time.

In short, it was time for me to step back and just enjoy going to the movies again as a movie lover. You will be seeing reviews of most of the movies I’ve named as I plan on seeing them again. Especially PACIFIC RIM and 2 GUNS which I’ll probably get on Blu-Ray the day they come out and yes, they are that good.

So the reviews will be coming again, never fear. I’ve put too much work into The Ferguson Theater to just abandon it. And I love writing reviews too much to stop doing that either. But you know what they say…a change is a good as a rest. And I’ve had a good one. Once again, thank you for your patience, your support and your time.

So that’s enough about me. What movies did you see and enjoy this summer?

 

And this is a picture of the first movie theater I can remember going to: The RKO Albee that used to be in downtown Brooklyn. Saw my first Kung Fu movie there: FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH.  

albee theater

 

Judging by the movies being shown I’d say this picture was taken during the early 1970’s. ’73 or ’74.