Revenge: A Love Story



Global View Productions

Written and Directed by Thor Moreno

Produced by Annette Duffy, Chris McAninch and Shawn McAninch

One of the fun things about reviewing movies is that every so often I’ll get a knock on my Internet door from a filmmaker who invites me to look at their work and maybe, if I like it, give a review. Sometimes I don’t like it. I wouldn’t care to tell you how many short films I’ve been invited to see the past couple of years where I simply couldn’t finish them. But thankfully I am invited by filmmakers such as Chris Regan and Parker Stanfield whose work I’ve enjoyed and that makes it all worth it for me. I’m happy to add Thor Moreno on that list.

REVENGE: A LOVE STORY is a short film, a crime thriller. It’s a tough, vicious little film about tough, vicious people. Undercover narcotics cop Brad Miller (Adam Meirick) is tired of the game. He wants out and he wants out now. He wants the promotion he was promised and he wants to enjoy life with his long suffering wife (Katie Goebel) who wants to start a family with a husband who keeps regular hours. Unfortunately Brad has a 48K gold-plated prick for a supervisor who tell him flat out the only way Brad is going to get out and get his promotion is if Brad brings him a conviction. Brad’s target is Willie Caesar (Zack Williams) the local crime kingpin.


Brad maneuvers himself into an invitation with Willie Caesar and moves up in his organization fast. A little too fast if you ask me but considering the short running time of the movie, I’m willing to go with it. Brad’s rapid rise in Caesar’s trust earns him the suspicion of Caesar’s right hand man Nicky (Shawn McAninch) who makes it his business to find out who Brad really is. He does. And that’s when the mayhem begins.

We’re talking about a short film with a 45 minute running time so there’s absolutely no fat on this meat. But despite the short running time, there’s a surprising amount of plot twists and characterization that made me feel as if I’d gotten a full-length movie. Thor Moreno is my kind of filmmaker. He puts the camera in place, puts his actors in front of the camera and lets them do their job. I appreciate any filmmaker who can show me he knows how to use his camera and his actors to tell me a story and that’s exactly what Thor Moreno does here.


He manages to get a lot of mileage out of a story that may not be wildly inventive or original by virtue of letting the plot take a couple of lefts turns I really didn’t see coming and it’s backed up by an able cast, led by Adam Meirick who is really good. He’s got a Jake Gyllenhaal-ish type of vibe going on here that I really liked. But Shawn McAninch comes awfully close to stealing a couple of scenes right out from under him. Zack Williams brings an old school, 1970’s blaxplotation gusto to his Willie Caesar that’s really fun to watch, especially in a confrontation scene he has with Meirick’s character near the end. Dave Dalton plays one of Nick’s henchmen and he stood out for me because of a scene where he’s creeping through his house with a Samurai sword, looking for an intruder. We see that his house is full of books so maybe he’s not a dumb as he makes out to be. And he pauses to fistbump a picture of Ralph Macchio as The Karate Kid. Don’t ask me why but it’s little touches like that that bring a minor character to life for me. I enjoyed the setting greatly as well. It’s not in an urban ghetto but set in Des Moines, Iowa in an almost rural location and for me that added greatly to the realism of the movie. Crime doesn’t only flourish in big cities but in small towns as well and sometimes it’s worse there is part of the theme of this movie, I think and it’s a theme that gets it’s point across well.


As I said earlier on, this is a vicious and violent film with a torture scene that had me cringing and was well able to convey the horror of the situation with very little blood and I believe that was because the director and his cast did such a good job of investing me in these characters so that I truly was interested and cared about what happened to them by the time we got to that point. REVENGE: A LOVE STORY is going to premier is at the historic Varsity Theater in Des Moines, Iowa next week. It goes to DVD right after that. It will be on sale at next month when the site relaunches. Enjoy.

The Family



EuropaCorp/Relativity Media

Directed by Luc Besson

Executive Producer: Martin Scorsese

Produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla and Tucker Tooley

Written by Tonino Benacquista based on his novel “Malavita”

If you’ve seen the trailer for THE FAMILY then perhaps like me, you were expecting a mob/crime comedy with plenty of laughs and inside jokes at Robert DeNiro’s expense, poking fun at the numerous gangster roles he’s played with able backup from Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones who have made more than a few crime/mob movies themselves and know the genre.  And yes, there are some laughs in THE FAMILY at the beginning of the movie.  But the longer the movie goes on, the fewer the laughs and by the time it gets to the end there’s an appalling no holds barred bloodbath with a platoon of mob hitmen shooting it out with a pair of teenagers wielding automatic weapons like Rambo on his best day while Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer are locked in a hideously vicious fight to the death with a killer roughly the size of Richard Kiel.

Giovanni Maznoni (Robert DeNiro) was once one of the most powerful mob bosses in Brooklyn and as such became a threat to The Boss of Bosses, Don Luchese (Stan Carp) who orders a hit on Maznoni and his family that fails. Giovanni turns snitch and Don Luchese goes to jail.  The Maznoni family enters the Witness Protection Program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and relocated to Normandy, France.


This assignment is far from being easy duty for Stansfield. In fact, the Maznoni family are a collectively big pain in his ass due to the fact that they simply cannot stop being what they are: a mob family.  Giovanni has…anger management issues, let’s say and he’s easily irritated by such things as his tap water coming out brown and nobody taking it seriously. Wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t take kindly to the stereotypical comments that she overhears by pretending she doesn’t speak or understand French. Her response to such is…explosive, shall we say. Daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) is a sweet, soft spoken girl who falls in love with a substitute teacher who tutors her in math. She also has a ferociously violent streak that a Klingon would envy. Son Warren (John D’Leo) is a grifter/forger/hustler who in no time at all has his own junior mafia in his new school.


The situation is complicated by Giovanni writing a tell all book about his life in the mob. A book that both Maggie and Stansfield tell him can never be published. And through a really bizarre coincidence I just couldn’t buy, Don Luchese finds out where the Maznonis are hiding out and sends a hit team to whack ‘em out and that takes us to the blood-soaked final showdown between the mob and the Maznoni family.

Here’s what I liked about THE FAMILY: The performances are first rate but I wouldn’t expect anything less from old pros like DeNiro, Pfeiffer and Jones.  But the kids step up to the plate and hold their own with the seasoned pros.  Dianna Agron I know from “Glee” and I was surprised to see how well she inhabited this character. The movie was actually almost over before I finally remembered where I knew her from. Judging just by this movie I’d say she has a career in movies if she wants it.  John D’Leo is also a lot of fun to watch as he maneuvers his way towards running his school with the finesse and cold-bloodedness of a Michael Corleone.

I also liked how the movie doesn’t have the kids or the wife BMWing about how they want to have a normal life and why can’t they just be a normal family.  This is a mob family who have accepted and embraced their lifestyle.  They’re criminals and they don’t make any excuses for it. For them this is their “normal” life


The direction by Luc Besson is also first rate as I would expect from the writer/director/producer of some of my favorite action movies such as “Leon: The Professional” “The Fifth Element” the “Transporter” series “Taken” “Taken 2” and “District 13.”  And I think that’s the problem with THE FAMILY. Luc Besson is an action director and he seems uncomfortable with the comedy in this movie which puzzles me as I’ve seen “Angel-A” a couple of times and I know he can do comedy. Maybe what threw me off is the level of violence in THE FAMILY which is really bloody and brutal and really doesn’t mesh well with the comedy. Oh, there are are funny scenes and funny lines, don’t get me wrong. But right after that we’ll get a scene like the one with DeNiro and the plumber.  It’s a scene that would have been more at home in “Goodfellas” or “Casino” than in a movie that is billed as a comedy.


So should you see THE FAMILY? I say Yes. There’s really nothing wrong with THE FAMILY except for what I feel is an uneven tempo and off center mix of really violent violence with humor.  It’s as if Luc Besson really wanted to make this a full blown thriller but every once in a while an AD poked him with the script and reminded him he had to throw in a joke here and there.

112 minutes

Rated R




Levine Pictures/Jamie Kennedy Entertainment

Directed and Written by Ryan Combs

Produced by Phillip Glasser and Brian Hartman

When I first heard about this movie my interest was immediately piqued. A urban crime thriller set in the 1970’s starring Ving Rhames, Pam Grier and Robert Patrick? Why had I not heard about this movie before now? I mean let’s consider the star power involved here for a minute:

Ving Rhames has worked with high octane directors such as Quentin Tarantino, John Woo and John Singleton. He’s proven himself to be an exceptional capable and memorable actor in many movies and I always like to point out to people that besides Tom Cruise, he’s the only other actor to have been in all five “Mission: Impossible” movies. He’s also well known for that incredible moment when he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor back in 1998 and gave his award to Jack Lemmon:

Don’t worry, Ving got a duplicate award later on.

If you’ve known me for any length of time then you know I worship Pam Grier and have ever since I started seeing her movies back in the 1970’s. Her legendary movie career during the 70’s and 80’s has enshrined her as the Queen of Blaxplotation and over the years she’s continued to flourish, demonstrating an acting ability that proved she had a range and talent that has taken her far beyond that period.


Robert Patrick’s career took off with his role as the T-1000 in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and just kept on taking off. I really enjoyed him when he joined the cast of “The X-Files” and I actually liked the show a lot better when he was there. So we’re agreed that we’ve got three of the best and most talented actors working today, right? Actors who certainly have no problem finding work, right?


So what are they doing in a movie like MAFIA?

I highly suspect that Ving Rhames asked Pam Grier and Robert Patrick to do him a favor and co-star in the movie because he’s recently been making quite a few movies with MAFIA’s writer/director Ryan Combs. Movies such as “King of The Avenue” “Caged Animal” and “Animal 2” Ryan Combs is an African-American writer/director I wasn’t aware of until I saw MAFIA and even though this movie doesn’t hit the bullseye I’m sufficiently intrigued by what I saw in MAFIA to check out some of his other movies. And if that was the intention behind having actors like Ving Rhames, Pam Grier and Robert Patrick in this movie then it succeeded.

Set in 1975 the movie recounts the last few days in the career of crime boss Renzo Wes (Ving Rhames) as he sets about obliterating his rival crime bosses. Renzo is in turn being pursued by police detectives James Womack (Pam Grier) and her new partner Jules Dupree (Robert Patrick) Renzo killed Womack’s ex-partner and she’s on a holy rampage to do everything and anything she can to bring him down. Dupree just wants to take it easy as he’s planning on getting married soon and doesn’t want anything going down that will interfere with that. He’s got enough on his plate as his fiancée (Melanie Marden) has told him that her brother is viciously racist.

The turf war escalates, jeopardizing Renzo’s criminal empire and straining his relationship with his right hand man Train (Sean Derry) who is rightly concerned that all the killing is going to bring the cops down on them with both feet. Renzo continues his war against his rivals while being plagued by visions of a chubby little boy holding a yellow toy truck and looking at Renzo with accusing eyes. And are his other visions of him in prison memories or premonitions?

First off, I have no idea why this movie’s title was changed to MAFIA as there is never so much as a mention of that criminal organization in the movie’s entire running time. The original title of “The Consequence of Renzo Wes” is a much better, more original title and fits the tone of the movie much better.

The movie obviously doesn’t have the kind of budget you would think a movie starring these three would have. The 1970’s period flavor is invoked strictly through the cars that are driven along with the appropriate clothing and hairstyles. In particular Pam Grier sports an afro that I would swear is the same one from “Foxy Brown” she used to hide a gun and razor blades in. But the slang used is contemporary (we didn’t say “ya feel me?” back in the 1970’s) and the music used is that fake pseudo 70’s music filmmaker use when they don’t have the budget to pay for the rights to use music and songs from that period. In addition, the city the action takes place in is never named or identified and there’s never any landmarks or anything mentioned or technology (outside of rotary phones) specific to that time period.

With a larger budget and better script, MAFIA could have been more of a notable movie. Combs deliberately films it as if it were a 1970’s exploitation crime thriller and I respond to the sincerity of the intent. But the movie is too laid back and too restrained. It doesn’t have that manic quality true 70’s exploitation B-movies had where you feel as if anything could happen at any time. Renzo has an enforcer who carries two double barreled shotguns who could have been turned into a memorable supporting character but he just stays in the background most of the time. And why is Pam Grier’s character’s first name “James”?


And this is the main impression I got while watching MAFIA : that the writer hasn’t read any real hardboiled crime/gangster stories or novels and not really all that much of any sort of crime fiction at all. MAFIA feels to me like it was made by somebody who’s simply seen a bunch of 70’s black exploitation movies and said, “yeah, I wanna do that.” The problem is that there’s no heat, no passion in the movie and no originality brought to the story or the characters. This movie really needed a writer who could have fleshed out the thin story, given the characters some dimensions and brought some much needed energy to the plot and make it sing and swing instead of just going from one predictable point to another.

So should you see MAFIA? If you don’t, you won’t be missing a thing. The only actor bringing their A-game to this is Ving Rhames himself. Pam Grier and Robert Patrick stay safely on autopilot for this one. And it’s got a mercifully short running time of 82 minutes so you won’t waste too much time if you do.

Rated R

82 minutes

Alex Cross


James Patterson Entertainment/Summit Entertainment

Directed by Rob Cohen

Produced by James Patterson and Leopoldo Gout

Screenplay by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson

Based on the novel “Cross” by James Patterson

Depending on who you talk to, get ready to either get kissed on the lips or kicked in the ass when you bring up the subject of Tyler Perry. Seriously. I’m not joking. He’s a topic of conversation that has no in between. Most people I know either love his work or detest it. His career began with stage productions he wrote and directed, mostly focusing on dysfunctional families in stories that were just as much tragedies as they were comedies. Touring the country with these productions on the Urban Theater Circuit, also known as “The Chitlin’ Circuit” developed Tyler Perry’s enormous success with black audiences that are devoted to him.

And when he put on a dress and starred in movies as his signature character, Mabel ‘Madea’ Simmons he really struck pay dirt. The profane, loud-talking, pistol-packing massive elderly woman who can still open a can of Whoopass at the drop of a cigarette has been a source of much controversy. Spike Lee has said that Tyler Perry’s Madea movies are nothing but modern-day minstrel shows while Perry counters that they are simply entertainment and not to be taken seriously. Professional movie critics gave Perry’s movies such a smacking around that he stopped screening them for the press, saying that he made his movies for his audience and not for critics.

Whatever you want to say about him, there’s no doubt that he’s a powerhouse in both film and on television as he produces three sitcoms for TBS and has entered into an agreement with Oprah Winfrey to produce content for her OWN network. And his films have grossed a half billion dollars worldwide. So why then would he now decide to jump into a completely different genre, one he’s never so much as shown an interest in and take on the role of homicide detective/psychologist ALEX CROSS in an action/crime thriller?

Maybe he’s bored with what he’s been doing. I know I saw an interview with him once where he said that he wanted to do a movie where he kills Madea off so he doesn’t have to get into that dress one more time. I dunno. I applaud him for stepping waaaaayyyy out of his comfort zone to attack this role with such gusto. I don’t believe that he’s going to be treated fairly and that’s a shame because even though I wasn’t jumping up and down in my seat with excitement I also didn’t feel that my time was wasted watching him play action hero.

Detroit homicide detective Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) is summoned in the middle of the night by his superior Captain Brookwell (John C. McGinley) to report with his team to a murder scene. Cross gathers up his partner Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) who is having a hot and heavy relationship with his teammate Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols) and the two of them report to a mansion that is full of dead bodies, one of them gruesomely tortured. Due to a bizarre drawing left at the scene, Tommy nicknames the killer Picasso and it sticks.

Picasso (Matthew Fox) is one of those serial killers that movies loves. He’s hyper-intelligent and apparently psychic since he can extrapolate any and every move the police are going to do days before they themselves even think of it. He’s in Detroit to murder a number of businessmen and he goes about it in the way that only assassins in movies can do seemingly by magic; tapping into and bypassing security systems with ridiculous ease and slipping by squads of armed men as if invisible. And naturally he kills everything he aims at with one shot while dodging blizzards of automatic fire thrown his way.

It’s during the pursuit of Picasso that Alex Cross and his team are soon turned from hunters to the hunted as Picasso seeks to revenge himself on them for their interference in one of his carefully planned assassinations and it’s here that the movie kicks it up a notch. The intellectually composed Alex Cross gives into his dark side and forsakes all in the quest for vengeance. But as his beloved Nana Mama (Cicely Tyson) asks him “If you do this, how will you face your children?”

Okay, let’s get to where the rubber meets the road: you want to know if Tyler Perry nailed it to the wall or did he stink like a houseguest that don’t know when to leave. I’ll give you the opinion of my wife Patricia to answer that. Patricia is the Alex Cross expert in our house having read most of the books or listened to them on audio. She felt that Perry wasn’t sexy enough to be Alex Cross but she freely admits there there is no man alive as sexy as the Alex Cross in her imagination. She did like to see a movie where a black man was presented as a family man enjoying a healthy relationship with his wife, children and colleagues as well as being a respected professional and not the sidekick to the hero. The movie didn’t live up to her expectations but if there’s a sequel made, she’s all for it.

ALEX CROSS is pretty much an origin story to explain his background to those who have never read one of James Patterson’s novels and as such, it works. Tyler Perry does a honest job as action hero and he certainly has the physicality for such a role but he just couldn’t convince me this Alex Cross on the screen has the same formidable intellectual power and laser-beam psychological insight the Alex Cross of the books I have read has. He takes what he’s doing seriously and he respects the character and I do think that in many ways he did capture the spirit of the character.

Fortunately he’s backed up by some truly solid supporting players. Cicely Tyson, John C. McGinley, Jean Reno, Giancarlo Esposito and Edward Burns do their jobs admirably and are generous in stepping aside and giving Tyler Perry his moments to do his thing when the script calls for it. There are no outstanding performances from any of them but I do so enjoy seeing professional work from actors where they do what they do and make it look easy. Matthew Fox is plainly having a ball playing the brilliantly deranged Picasso and I really hope he gets a chance to play another villain as he really didn’t have a chance to build a satisfying character in this one.

So should you see ALEX CROSS? There are some of you reading this who wouldn’t go see a Tyler Perry movie if you were paid to do so. And there are some of you reading this who probably already have seen it and will probably see it again. For those of you who are undecided, I’ll have to leave it up to your conscience. I myself didn’t feel that ALEX CROSS wasted my time but neither was it a superior movie in this genre. It’s way better and far more faithful to the character than the two Alex Cross movies made in the 1990’s starring Morgan Freeman but not as good as I feel it could have been. The fight sequences were a letdown for me as Rob Cohen succumbed to using that fargin’ shaky-cam again and as a result the fight scenes are a blur of arms and legs where it’s difficult to tell who’s hitting who.

Bottom line: it’s an interesting acting experiment for Tyler Perry. If you don’t want to spend your money on a DVD or Blu-ray for an experiment but are still curious, wait for it to show up on Netflix.

101 minutes


American Gangster


Universal Pictures

Directed by Ridley Scott

Produced by Brain Grazer and Ridley Scott

Screenplay by Steve Zaillian

Based on the article “The Return of Superfly” by Mark Jacobson

This isn’t the first time that Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe have squared off against each other in a movie.  Anybody remember the 1995 sci-fi thriller “Virtuosity”?  In that one, Denzel Washington was the cop and Russell Crowe was the bad guy, a virtual reality serial killer unleashed on the real world.  In the years between “Virtuosity” and AMERICAN GANGSTER both actors have made an impressive amount of really fine films and they’ve both won Best Actor Oscars.  Both men have achieved a level of respect and professional achievement that few actors today can claim.  And separately just their names are enough to guarantee a big weekend box office.  So putting them together again in a movie should assure us of some really outstanding scenes between the two of them since both men have done nothing but get better at their craft since 1995, right?

I wish I could say it was so but AMERICAN GANGSTER is a lot like the Robert DeNiro/Al Pacino crime thriller “Heat” or Robert DeNiro/Kevin Costner in “The Untouchables” in that for most of the movie we’re following two separate but intertwined storylines and we have to wait about two hours before we get to what we want to see: the two main actors going at it.  It’s worth the wait to finally see Denzel and Russell face to face, trust me on that but the few scenes they have together are so good you can’t help but wish they had more of them.

It’s the 1970’s and Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) has inherited the crime empire of his boss, the legendary Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson who has passed away from an unexpected heart attack.  Frank doesn’t waste time in consolidating his power.  To do this he intends to control the heroin traffic in Harlem by cutting out any and all middlemen and making a deal directly with the supplier.  Frank himself flies to Bangkok and with the help of his cousin (Roger Guenveur Smith) he strikes a deal for a previously unheard of amount of heroin that is 100% pure.  He gives it a brand name: ‘Blue Magic’ and sells his product for half the price of his competitors.  Frank brings up his family from North Carolina, including his elderly mother (Ruby Dee) and buys a huge mansion estate for them all to live in.  He makes his five brothers his lieutenants and they proceed to make money.  A whole lot of money.

Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe) isn’t having as much fun in his life as Frank is in his.  Ritchie’s wife is divorcing him because of his constant womanizing and his single-minded devotion to his job.  Ritchie is such an honest cop that he turns in a million bucks to his superiors without even thinking for a minute about keeping it for himself.  It’s simple for him because he looks at it simply: the money was made illegally.  He’s a cop.  Cops don’t take illegal money.  Haw.  Remember that this is back in the 1970’s when police corruption in New York was just part of the job.  Ritchie is ostracized by his fellow officers and so he jumps at the chance when his boss (Ted Levine) gives him a chance to head up his own squad of Untouchables who will target the high-level drug dealers.  No nickel-and-dime dealers.  Ritchie’s investigations eventually lead him to Frank Lucas who has managed to stay under the radar for so long because he doesn’t go in for the flashy pimped out lifestyle of his peers like Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) Not Frank.  He dresses in conservative business suits and takes his momma to church every Sunday.  He doesn’t get high off his own supply and he runs his organization with a professionalism that makes him the gangland equivalent of Donald Trump.

Frank intrigues Ritchie who is amazed that a black man could amass so much wealth and power that even old school Mafia kingpins like Dominic Gattano (Armand Assante) give him respect and he’s determined to take Frank down.  It’s not going to be an easy job as Ritchie has no idea how Frank is smuggling his product into the United States and there’s a crooked cop (Josh Brolin) who is making life hell for both Frank and Ritchie.  The lives of these two men intersect at a very critical juncture in their lives and once they join together their story has a unique twist.

AMERICAN GANGSTER works extremely hard at wanting to be an epic crime drama.  But I actually think it works more as a character study of the two men, Frank Lucas and Ritchie Roberts.  Frank Lucas is a cold-blooded killer who can set a man on fire without blinking and sell heroin to children without losing a night’s sleep.  But he also provides for his family, instills a (twisted) set of business values and ethics in his brothers and faithfully attends church every Sunday.  Ritchie Roberts is a helluva cop who chases bad guys by day and goes to law school at night.  He’s also a neglectful father and a lousy husband.  Family values is an elusive concept for Ritchie who seems genuinely puzzled that his wife doesn’t accept his womanizing and off-hour association with the lowlife of New York City.  I think that director Ridley Scott spends so much time on the separate stories of these two men, both of who are looking for The American Dream in their own way and allows us to examine their moral values and ethical codes and he wants us to make up our minds as to what we think of how they achieve it.

Ridley Scott is a strange choice for this type of straight-up crime thriller.  I think perhaps the closest he’s come to a movie like this is 1989’s “Black Rain” starring Michael Douglas.  Ridley Scott is not the first director you think of when it comes to crime thrillers.  In the hands of Martin Scorsese or Carl Franklin I think the movie would have had more bite to it.  As it is Scott focuses more on how these two men conduct their business and their relationships to those around them.  As a result you’re not going to find over-the-top violence such as in “Scarface” “Goodfellas” or “The Departed”.  There is violence, sure.  But it’s handled in an almost documentary like manner.

Denzel Washington turns in his usual outstanding performance as Frank Lucas.  By now we’re all so used to Denzel being so good that it’s no surprise that we’re not able to take our eyes off him when he’s on the screen.  He’s gotten really good at playing bad guys.  And Russell Crowe is easily his equal in acting ability.  Separately they create fully realized characters and both men do more in a scene by saying nothing than other actors do with ten minutes of dialog.  They’re just that good.  And they’re backed up by an equally impressive supporting cast.  Ruby Dee has a really splendid scene where she has to talk Frank down from doing something really stupid and the honesty of the scene comes right out of the screen and grabs you by the shoulders.  Josh Brolin as Detective Trupo steps up his game considerably.  He has scenes with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe and damn if he doesn’t hold his own with the both of them.  It’s an impressive acting job he does here.  Chiwetel Ejiofor and Common have roles as two of Frank’s brothers.  Cuba Gooding, Jr. continues his streak as the most puzzling actor of all time.  Why does this man continue to waste his talent in unfunny so-called comedies when he has such a gift for dramatic roles?  His five minutes as Nicky Barnes in AMERICAN GANGSTER beats out the entirety of “Boat Trip” “Rat Race” and “Snow Dogs” all put together.

I was puzzled by Joe Morton’s character of Charlie Williams who in appearance is a near dead ringer for Gordon Parks.  His character’s relationship to Frank Lucas is never really explained.  He shows up every now and then, gives Frank some sage words of wisdom and then he’s gone.  And while we’re on the subject the relationship between Frank Lucas and his wife Eva (Lymari Nadal) isn’t all that satisfying either.  Despite the scene where Frank goes ballistic on Dominic Gattano when a hit on Frank goes wrong and his wife is almost killed I wasn’t convinced that either of them were ever that much in love with the other.

So should you see AMERICAN GANGSTER?  If you’re a fan of Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe then you probably already have.  And with good reason.  Both men are at the top of their game right now and watching them work is truly a pleasure.  The supporting cast does their job and backs up the leads superbly.  The direction is realistic and not unnecessarily bombastic.  And no, I don’t think that AMERICAN GANGSTER is the great crime epic it aspires to be but it is solid entertainment that’s worth your time to watch.

157 minutes

Rated R


Miami Blues


Orion Pictures

Directed and Written by George Armitage

Produced by Fred Ward and Jonathan Demme

Based on the novel “Miami Blues” by Charles Willeford


You ever watch a movie then see it years later and it in no way resembles the movie you saw years ago?  I had that feeling while watching MIAMI BLUES.  I know I saw this movie years ago at a 42end Street grindhouse mainly because I’m such a Fred Ward fan.  But I remember the movie as being more of a comedy and not quite so dark and violent.  Maybe it’s me that’s changed and not the movie.  After all this time I should hope I’ve changed.  But it was still disconcerting to me because I’m usually pretty good at remembering movies I’ve seen even as far back as 1989.  My wife Patricia says she can’t understood how I can’t remember the names, phone numbers and birthdays of 75% of my relatives but I remember casts, plots and lines of dialog from movies I’ve seen 20 years ago.  There’s an obvious answer but we won’t go into that now.  Let’s get on along with the movie review.

Frederick J. Frenger Jr. (Alec Baldwin) flies into Miami wearing the suede sport coat of a man he’s killed in San Francisco.  Fifteen minutes after he’s touched down Junior has broken the finger of a Hare Krishna just trying to offer him celestial enlightenment and stolen a suitcase.  Junior’s a killer, a con man and thief.  He’s successful at all three but only God knows how.  He never plans his crimes, just seizes whatever opportunity he happens upon and through a combination of nerve, luck and bravado manages to pull them off.   Junior quickly shacks up with the extremely dim witted hooker Susie Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is totally captivated by Junior.  She dumps her pimp for him as well as empties her bank accounts to give to Junior.

In the meantime, Detective Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward) is assigned to the case of the Hare Krishna with the broken finger.  Seems as if the poor bastard died from shock so now it’s an active homicide investigation.  Neither Moseley nor his partner (Charles Napier) seems very interested in solving the crime.  But Moseley gets lucky enough to actually track down Junior to Susie’s apartment and rattles Junior with a couple of quite astute observations while they’re having dinner.  Just the scene where Fred Ward manages to get himself invited to dinner is a quirky enough scene.  It’s not funny enough to be comedy yet it’s not serious enough to be drama.  After chowing down Susie’s pork chops and drinking all of Junior’s beer, Moseley retires to the run-down hotel he calls home.  And is yoked the very next day by Junior who has followed him there.  Junior beats the ever-lovin’ tar outta Moseley.  He then steals Moseley’s gun, badge and his false teeth (don’t ask) and proceeds to go on a one-man crime wave using Moseley’s badge and pretending to be a cop.  Moseley, now the laughing stock of the department lies in a hospital bed, getting fitted for a new set of choppers and planning his revenge on Junior once he gets released.

MIAMI BLUES is a strange sort of crime thriller in that when I first saw it I remember laughing a whole lot more but having watched it recently after such a long period of time there were scenes where I was wondering if I should be laughing or cringing.  The scene where Moseley is having dinner with Junior and Susie qualifies as comedy until the moment when Moseley offhanded asks Junior where he did his time.  Junior replies that he’s never done time and Moseley casually notes that Junior protects his plate as if somebody is going to take his food from him.  The same way cons in the joint protect their plate.  Suddenly the mood and tone of the scene changes gears just that fast and you get the feeling that Junior just might do something nobody is going to like.  Especially since we’ve seen that he can commit mayhem as easily as other men put on their pants in the morning.

It’s got a nice cast.  Alec Baldwin has a lot of fun playing the psychotic Junior Frenger.  Baldwin is really good at playing guys like this; guys with more good looks and charm than any one man should have but who can turn into a cold-blooded bastard in a heartbeat.  And you can’t help but have a sort of admiration for the sheer nerve Junior has in pulling off his crimes.  This is one of those movies where the bad guy is actually more appealing and sympathetic than the good guy.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is a hoot as the slow-witted hooker Susie.  I’m so used to seeing her play really smart roles that it was actually very funny seeing her play a character so dense that even other characters in the movie ask each other if it’s possible Susie can be that dumb.  Fred Ward is one of my favorite all time actors and I’ll watch him in anything.  His Hoke Moseley is a cop who really doesn’t seem all that motivated or interested in doing his job.  At least not until Junior starts running around Miami pulling stickups while waving his badge and shooting people with his gun.  I could do without him taking out and putting in his false teeth every five minutes but the teeth are a running gag in the movie so maybe you’ll get more of a laugh out of it than I did.  And I was pleasantly surprised to see Shirley Stoler appear in this movie.  She co-starred with Tony Lo Bianco in “The Honeymoon Killers” a terrific crime suspense thriller based on a true story.  Charles Napier, Paul Gleason and Nora Dunn are also very good in their supporting roles, especially Nora Dunn who plays a detective Moseley pressures into helping him find Junior after Moseley gets out of the hospital.

So should you see MIAMI BLUES?  It depends on your mood and your tolerance for quirky semi-comedic/dramatic movies and how much of a fan you are of Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Fred Ward.  I happen to like all of them so just on that basis I’d say yes.  Alec Baldwin has plenty of scenes where he walks around with no shirt on so he’s eye candy for the ladies and this is a chance to see him in his early in his career when he was hailed as the next big thing in movies.  If you’re a fan of crime thrillers I’d say give it a rental.  But as I said earlier, there’s a lot going on in this movie that might have you thinking that it’s a comedy.  At least until you get to the violent bits.  And the violence in this movie is unexpectedly brutal so consider yourself warned.

97 minutes

Rated R: And it most certainly is.  There’s free use of adult language, brutal violence and two mildly graphic sex scenes so make sure the urchins are in bed before you watch this one.

Assassination Tango


United Artists/American Zoetrope

Written and Directed by Robert Duvall

Produced by Robert Duvall and Rob Carliner

It’s kinda difficult to categorize exactly what ASSASSINATION TANGO is all about.  It’s got Old Time Tough gangsters, hit men and political intrigue.  It’s also got beautiful women and handsome men in Buenos Aires dancing the tango.  A lot.  Which I suppose leads to the question is ASSASSINATION TANGO a crime thriller or a dance movie?  It’s both and it’s neither.  It manages to serve up generous helpings of both while also being a character study as well.  How well Robert Duvall as writer, director and star of this movie pulls it off is entirely up to each individual.

John J. Anderson (Robert Duvall) is a career mob hit man past his prime.  But he’s still a dangerous son of a bitch when he has to be.  But he no longer wants to be.  All he’s interested in is settling down with his girlfriend Maggie (Kathy Baker) and her 10 year old daughter Jenny (Katherine Micheaux Miller) and take care of them.  But Anderson is persuaded by his boss, Coney Island mobster Frankie (Frank Gio) to accept a hit in Argentina.  The money’s too good to turn down and after Anderson gets Frankie’s word of honor that this will be his last job, Anderson flies down to Buenos Aires.


He hooks up with his local contacts (one of them played by Ruben Blades) and learns that he’s to kill a general who has apparently outlived his usefulness.  This is the part of the movie that really made me sit up and pay attention because what we’re talking about here isn’t just whacking Benny Two-Toes in back of The Bada-Bing because he forgot to leave the cannolis.  This is clearly a political assassination and I was interested in seeing the ramifications of American gangsters being hired to carry out hits on foreign soil.  But we never get that angle of the plot.  The general breaks his leg in a riding accident and so the hit is off for three weeks.  Don’t ask me why Anderson couldn’t just have gone to the hospital and whacked him there but he doesn’t.  Instead, he spends his time wandering around the city until finding a tango club and after watching the performers he’s immediately he’s smitten with the dance.  It’s been shown early on in the movie that Anderson loves to dance and he’s seen the tango done before but never like this.  And he’s never seen anything like the gorgeous woman he goes to see dance the tango every night for a week, Manuela (Luciana Pedraza, Duvall’s real life wife).  Anderson asks Manuela to teach him the ‘real’ tango and the assassination plot gets put on hold as Manuela takes Anderson on a tour of tango clubs where he learns what the tango is all about.  But don’t worry, we get back to the assassination part of the story but it doesn’t really take the course we would expect a movie like this to take.


I suppose that’s the main reason I’m recommending ASSASSINATION TANGO: you never get comfortable enough to assume you know where this movie is going.  There are a lot of scenes that start out like the type of scenes we’re used to seeing in a crime thriller but the payoff of these scenes may have you cocking your head to the side in surprise.  The relationship between Anderson and Manuela is also handled in an unexpected manner.  You fully expect that the old guy is going to immediately fall in love with this ravishing young woman and theirs will be an impossible love that cannot be fulfilled.  Nah.  It don’t go down like that.  In fact, they have a conversation in a coffee house that is one of the most adult and natural sounding conversations I’ve ever seen and heard on film.  The way Duvall and Luciana Pedraza play the scene is wonderful to watch.


Now there’s going to be a bunch of Robert Duvall fans that will see this movie and wish there was a lot less tangoing and a lot more assassinating but it just isn’t that type of movie.  It’s more of a character study about this hit man who is in the twilight of his years but still finds things that keep him young, like his relationship with a 10-year old girl who he considers the daughter he never had, the relationship with this marvelous tango dancer and his learning how to dance the tango the way it was meant to be danced.

This brings me to the dancing itself.  Robert Duvall is an enthusiastic tango dancer in real life and many of the dancers in this movie are celebrities in their native Argentina and the way they move is breathtaking.  I love dancing and love watching dancing, especially when it’s done this well and with such grace, precision and emotion.  It’s easy to see why Anderson falls in love with the tango when it’s danced this way.


The resolution of the assassination plot comes almost as an afterthought.  The hit is botched and Anderson finds himself on the run from the police and the people who wanted the general dead in the first place.  The way it all ends may leave you saying: “waitamminit…that’s it?” But then again, considering that this movie isn’t really about the hit at all may mollify those of you who want to see a bloodbath of violence at the end of your movies.  ASSASSINATION TANGO ends on a quiet, even contemplative note.  And when you think about this movie afterwards I have a feeling that like me, you won’t be thinking about the violent scenes.  You’ll be thinking about the ones where Anderson takes Jenny for a horse ride or Anderson sitting in a tango club discussing the philosophy of the tango with a group of dancers.  Or that great coffee house conversation between Anderson and Manuela.  I’d say check it out if you’re a Robert Duvall fan like me.  ASSASSINATION TANGO would make a great double feature with “The Apostle” another movie written and directed by Mr. Duvall.  Both of them highlight a totally different side of this astoundingly talented actor.

Rated R for language and violence

114 minutes