Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cape Fear

Day 199 - 7/18/09 - Movie #199

BEFORE: Another De Niro performance that got a lot of buzz over the years, which I never just sat down and watched before - which is the point of this whole exercise. I admit a couple of the De Niro films in the last couple weeks have been fillers to pad out the list - but not this one. Should be all thriller, no filler...

THE PLOT: A convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a 14 year sentence, stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.

AFTER: The first time we see De Niro's Max Cady, he's doing those crazy "Travis Bickle" push-ups - then a few scenes later we see him in a movie theater, laughing hysterically while watching the film "Problem Child" - so now we know he's clearly deranged!

I never saw the original version either - but it's a real nice touch to include both Gregory Peck AND Robert Mitchum from the original in small roles here (and Martin Balsam too, I later found out...) Also appearing are Joe Don Baker and "Law & Order's" Fred Dalton Thompson.

Max Kady is an obvious villain (maybe a little too obvious) but Nick Nolte's Sam Bowden isn't exactly innocent either, in fact he's sort of responsible for the monster's creation. My recurring theme this week seems to be - "Do two wrongs make a right?" Or in this case, three - we have Kady's original crime, Bowden's improper acts defending him as a lawyer, and then Kady stalking Bowden's family in retaliation. So clearly two wrongs DON'T make a right, and it's Bowden's family (and anyone else in the immediate area) that pays the price.

Kady's willing to go a very long way to prove his point - the final 1/2 hour is absolutely gripping, and Kady's like the Energizer Bunny of movie villains. Shoot him, stab him, burn him, he just keeps on going.

RATING: 8 out of 10 cigars

DENIR-O-METER: 10 - for bringing the full-on crazy

Friday, July 17, 2009

Marvin's Room

Day 198 - 7/17/09 - Movie #198

BEFORE: De Niro and DiCaprio again, this time with Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton also in the mix...

THE PLOT: A leukemia patient attempts to end a 20-year feud with her sister to get her bone marrow.

AFTER: Boy, DiCaprio really had a lock on those juvenile delinquent roles in the 1990's. Diane Keaton plays Bessie, the "good sister" who had put her life on hold to take care of her senile father, and Streep plays Lee, the hairdresser who smokes and can't control her older son, and hasn't spoken to her sister in 20 years. It seems a little overly simplistic, but gets made more complicated when Bessie develops leukemia, and contacts her sister for help.

It's OK as plots go, but there's zero resolution - a bit like someone forgot to finish the movie and left it 2/3 done.

RATING: 5 out of 10 medicine bottles

DENIR-O-METER: 4 - De Niro plays it straight as a nice-enough, simple doctor. He didn't really shine, but didn't offend either.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This Boy's Life

Day 197 - 7/16/09 - Movie #197

BEFORE: Just about a week left in my De Niro Fest - and when it ends, I'll be just about ready to board the plane for San Diego. From a 1940's setting we move to the 1950's, for this period piece co-starring Ellen Barkin and Leonardo DiCaprio.

THE PLOT: The story about the relationship between a rebellious 50s teenager and his abusive father, based on the memoirs of writer and literature professor Tobias Wolff.

AFTER: It's a battle of wills between DiCaprio's Toby and De Niro as his stepfather, Dwight. It seems for a while like things might work out, since Dwight at first just acts like a normal, dorky guy - even when we learn that Dwight's a little strict, Toby seems like a kid who could use a little more discipline in his life, maybe even a few boxing tips. But when Dwight turns into an abusive tyrant with impossible house rules, the relationship doesn't seem so constructive, and Toby starts looking for a way out. He tries to get out of Concrete, Washington (great name, BTW) by applying to a prep school, which means changing his school record and forging some recommendation letters - so again I question, do two wrongs make a right?

The school representative who interviews him was played by Gerrit Graham, who I happened to meet in the real world this past Monday...weird. I've probably seen him in a bunch of movies, though I might have mistaken him for David Paymer...though after reviewing his IMDB profile, the only movie I can confirm is "C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud" (don't ask).

RATING: 5 out of 10 merit badges

DENIR-O-METER: 6 - for pulling off a quirky, dorky, bullying meathead. That seems like it might have been a difficult balance to obtain.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

True Confessions

Day 196 - 7/15/09 - Movie #196

BEFORE: Another film I'm going into mostly blind - I picked this up during my DVR search on "De Niro" - I know it's set in the 1940's and also stars the OTHER Bobby D. - Robert Duvall.

THE PLOT: A Catholic priest and a homicide detective are brothers drawn together after many years apart..

AFTER: And De Niro's a priest again! That's four in a row - you'd almost think I planned this or something... De Niro's priest has to deal with some shady characters in the construction business in the 1940's, to get some schools and convents built, and Duvall plays his brother investigating a brutal murder, so their worlds intersect in a long flashback.

Plot points are revealed in the church confessional (I think), but very little is revealed in the framing sequences, which are set in the 1960's. So I don't really see the point of structuring the film this way...

There are also a couple of classic character actors, like Charles Durning, Dan Hedaya and Burgess Meredith - it's an interesting period piece if you like the 1940's, but there's not much of a plot, and even less resolution to said plot.

RATING: 4 out of 10 stag films

DENIR-O-METER: 3 - De Niro seems to be holding back, so Duvall's character can let loose and lose his temper in a few notable scenes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Day 195 - 7/14/09 - Movie #195

BEFORE: Who knew that there were so many movies in which De Niro played priests? I sure didn't...this is #3.

THE PLOT: After a prank goes disastrously wrong, a group of boys are sent to a detention center where they are brutalized; over 10 years later, they get their chance for revenge.

AFTER: It starts out as sort of a cross between "Stand By Me" and "The Shawshank Redemption", but it's far from being anything like a feel-good pic. And you may never look at Kevin Bacon the same way again, after watching him play a sadistic juvenile-prison guard.

Later in the film, when the boys are adults, I was reminded that Brad Pitt is actually a fine actor, when he wants to be. I can't really say the same for the other 3 members of the group (Jason Patric, Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup) who gave mostly flat performances. But good supporting work from Dustin Hoffman, Terry Kinney, Bruno Kirby, and of course Bobby D.

When two of the grown-up boys meet one of their torturers years later, they exact their revenge in a public place. I don't understand why they didn't use their guns to escort him to a more private location. There's a foreshadowing story the boys were told earlier in the film about a mobster that waits 8 years to get revenge on a man who hurt him, by shooting him in a private bathroom. So the kids learned the moral of the story - but failed in the execution.

So there's a trial, and another of the grown-up boys serves as the prosecuting D.A. (didn't anyone check out his connection to the accused?) It's a neat trick, getting the audience to root for perjury, conspiracy and legal misconduct, assuming you believe that two wrongs do indeed make a right. Do they? You make the call...

RATING: 7 out of 10 hot dogs

DENIR-O-METER: 6, for making the best use of limited screen time, as a tough Hell's Kitchen priest with a heart of gold, who's forced into making a difficult decision.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Mission

Day 194 - 7/13/09 - Movie #194

BEFORE: Today was the Dancing of the Giglio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where 100 or so men from the parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel lift a 5-story tower and a model boat, both on platforms with 12-piece brass bands, and carry them through the streets around the church. (While we spectators stand around, applaud, and eat lots of calzones and sausage-and-peppers heroes) Any resemblance to Robert De Niro's character carrying a heavy bag of armor up a raging waterfall is purely coincidental...

OK, full disclosure - I have seen this film once before, when it was released in theaters in 1986. But I haven't watched it since, and I don't remember anything about it, so it qualifies. I need one more De Niro film anyway, to make the chain end where I want it to, plus I can't pass up the chance to watch 2 films about religious figures in South America back-to-back. Plus, I just want to watch it, and that's allowed, right?

This might be the 2nd De Niro film I ever saw (after "Brazil"), since I didn't get around to watching the "Godfather" films until later on. This film reminds me of a period in college where I went to the movies a lot, usually by myself - this was before DVDs were even on the market, and before I had any access to cable TV.

THE PLOT: 18th century Spanish Jesuits try to protect a remote South American Indian tribe in danger of falling under the rule of pro-slavery Portugal.

AFTER: I'm glad I bent my own rules to watch this - the struggle between the Jesuit priests and the Portugese colonial army was ten times more exciting than waiting for that damned bridge to collapse in last night's movie.

This is a complex movie, and a complicated historical issue - who had the right to the land? Since the Jesuit priests had educated and Christian-ized the natives, it was hard to classify them as "savages", yet that's what the high church officials wanted to do, to make it easier for the Portuguese government to enslave them and colonize the land. Amid this backdrop, we see the personal struggle of the Jesuit priests, who had to choose between obeying the church, or defending the natives, risking excommunication.

RATING: 8 out of 10 bibles

DENIR-O-METER: A solid 7. Jeremy Irons plays the senior priest, but De Niro plays a mercenary slave trader who seeks redemption, becomes a priest himself, then is forced to become a mercenary again - that's a juicy role, for sure.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Day 193 - 7/12/09 - Movie #193

BEFORE: I'm going into this one knowing almost nothing about it - I picked this one up off cable after doing a search on "De Niro", and it seemed like it would go well on a DVD with "The Mission".

THE PLOT: Five people are killed in a freak accident when a lofty rope bridge collapses. The film details a priest's journey to discover if there was a divine reason for the bloody disaster. Set in Lima, Peru, during the 18th century.

AFTER: Confusing, confusing! So much of this film went over my head, I feel like I barely understood a thing. We're told that 5 people died in a bridge accident, then we see a series of flashbacks representing a monk's examination into the lives of the people who died - but we don't know WHICH 5 people will die in the accident.

It's really a look into the lives of the Peruvian aristocracy, exciting as that sounds, and a chance for Harvey Keitel and F. Murray Abraham to wear period costumes and powdered wigs. But there are all these little rules and customs that I just didn't grok. It got so tedious that I couldn't wait to see the bridge collapse, which is a little like watching "Titanic" and rooting for the iceberg.

Gabriel Byrne plays the monk who's looking for some kind of divine meaning, some kind of peek into God's plan in taking these 5 lives. But, it's a ROPE bridge - maybe the bridge failed because 5 people tried to cross it at one time, and that Marquesa (Kathy Bates) was a pretty hefty woman! I'm thinking, send Kathy Bates across the rope bridge, and if it holds, then maybe 2 more people can go across...common sense, right?

RATING: 2 out of 10 letters to Spain

DENIR-O-METER: 2 - De Niro plays an archbishop, mostly in a flat manner, but he perks up a bit in the "Inquisition" framing scenes.