Just two weeks before the 1995 Project comes to an end, which means just two weeks for me to catch up with as many ’95 movies as I can before September rolls around and I move on to another year in my quest to define what is the best movie of my lifetime. Anyway, here’s a round-up of what I saw last week.
Dead Man Walking (directed by Tim Robbins)
No one can call Robbins a subtle man, from his acting to his politics, he has always been as blunt as one can be. The weakest parts of Dead Man Walking are those when Robbins is clearly trying to make a point about the death penalty and his stern righteous self bluntly imposes itself on the filmmaking. The best, are when he is doing a movie about people connecting to each other. Sean Penn might be trying a little too hard, but boy does he sell the emotions, while Susan Sarandon is simply magnificent. This is a tremendous acting duet, deserving of all the awards and attention it got when the movie came out. And there is lots of little pieces of human interaction outside the two leads, too. Robbins is great with actors, he shows us beautiful details of human behavior that we don’t always see in cinema. On that front Dead Man Walking is great. As a whole, it is merely good.
GoldenEye (directed by Martin Campbell)
For the most part I love spy movies. I am, however, allergic to James Bond. Ironic, considering he is the quintessential movie spy, but I am just not interested in his movies. I haven’t seen many, but I’ve seen the ones people tend to cite as the best: Goldfinger, Casino Royale, Skyfall, and now GoldenEye. This one was particularly underwhelming. The plot is silly, but not silly enough to go into pure camp, and outside from the opening scene, the action is quite underwhelming. There was also the uncanny feeling that, despite being the movie that re-introduced Bond to the mid-nineties in a big way, the movie looks ver much like a product of the previous decade. The framing, editing, and especially the score all seem dated in an unexpected way.
La Haine (directed by Mathieu Kassovitz)
It very much feels like the French answer to Do the Right Thing, dealing with youth culture, institutionalized racism, and class conflicts. It also blends in large chunks of comedy into its daily life story until it becomes a tragedy. This was one of Kassovitz’s first features, and one can feel the excitement of young filmmaking, as well as the presence of film-school flourishes and aesthetics. It is very much a nineties movie that looks “cool” in a nineties kind of way. The main acting trio, however, is aces, and the cinematography and staging creates some memorable and striking images. If there is anything that hinders the movie, is the fact that coming when it did and the way it did, it feels like another entry in an established movement, and not like the cold splash start of a revolution.
The American President (directed by Rob Reiner)
Directed by romantic comedy connoisseur Reiner, but perhaps more importantly, written by political enthusiast and television auteur Aaron Sorkin. On this front, The American President feels very much like an embryonic test-run for The West Wing. Not only because of Martin Sheen’s presence, but there are many in-jokes and political issues that Sorking would deal with (more in depth) in the series. Despite the show being Sorkin’s zenith as far as political writing is concerned, this is a solid movie with a really good cast (Michael J. Fox and Anna Deavere Smith are particularly fun in supporting roles).
The movie’s biggest weakness comes somewhat retroactively. It is hard, after the disaster that was The Newsroom, not to notice Sorkin’s most annoying and frustrating tendencies when revisiting his previous work. In this case, it’s his more sexist tendencies. The male lead, being the President, stand in an overwhelmingly powerful position when compared to the female lead, and because Sorkin has deep respect for the office of the President, he creates almost an ideal leader in the Michael Douglas character, burdening Annette Bening with all of the personality quirks of the typical romantic comedy. It’s got the problems you’d expect from a Sorkin script while remaining a pretty solid rom-com.
Pocahontas (directed by Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg)
I wasn’t planning on re-watching Pocahontas for this project since I watched it twice very recently. Once for the “Disney Canon Project“, and another for an episode of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot“, but I caught it on ABC Family the other night so I figured what the hell. My thoughts on the movie remain the same. It is a pretty ok movie, with some assets (the sidekicks, the visuals) and some flaws (the villain, the romance) that deserves a better reputation that it has, except for the fact that its an incredibly problematic movie in terms of historical context and re-appropriation of history. The story of Pocahontas was probably one of the worst stories Disney could have chosen to adapt into a family musical… Still, if nothing else, this is, for my money, the most visually striking movie Disney Animation has ever produced.
Devil in a Blue Dress (directed by Carl Franklin)
This is a solid detective noir that becomes interesting due to the fact that its protagonist is an African American P.I. by the name of Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington). The racial angle factors into the movie, and it brings some interesting shades to a story of deceit and corruption, but the movie’s plot remains a basic hard-boiled mystery. Not a bad one, but not an exceptional either. The most interesting part is Denzel’s performance, as he balances the fact that he is Denzel Washington, one of the most assured and coolest actors that ever lived, with the fact that his character faces the considerable limitations of being black in 1940s America. His balancing of Easy’s different faces and attitudes is remarkable.
The movie didn’t make much money when it came out, but it did get good reviews and amassed some awards buzz for Don Cheadle’s supporting performance as Easy’s violent friend Mouse. Buzz that I must admit I do not understand. Not because Cheadle is bad in the part, but because there is very little to Mouse as a character. People talk about him a lot, then he shows up, does a couple things, and leaves soon after. It seemed he was there to serve the plot and Easy’s character than he was an actual interesting character.