Beverly Hills Cop (1984) (R)

This is Eddie Murphy at his finest, at his most powerful, and maybe his funniest. Though the tendency is to lump the actor in with "over-actors" like Jim Carrey, what you might forget is that Murphy can carry a scene without weird faces or fancy voices. For most of the movie, he plays the straight man (and I do mean that in more than one way) and rarely goes into the typical whirlwinds of screaming and flailing that we would expect.
The movie begins in Detroit, which is shot in its worst possible light. The buildings look to be crumbling, the crime rate always appears to be's not exactly what Rebecca Solnit had in mind. Axel Foley (Murphy) is a cop who likes to take things into his own hands. It's not that he's extremely moral about his work, just sometimes he feels that the system has to bend, so he bends it.
This doesn't go over too well, and his boss sternly lets him know that one more infraction and he can kiss his badge and gun good-bye.
He grumbles but can really do nothing about it, so he thinks that he'll abide by the law for a little while, until his friend Mikey (James Russo) comes back into town. Mikey has been working in Beverly Hills as a security guard and now seems to have stolen some money. When Mikey winds up dead that night, Foley decides to take it upon himself to go to Beverly Hills to solve the murder.
Upon arriving, he immediately upsets the power balance by treading of the ground of Victor Matiland (Steven Berkoff) one of the local kingpins of "art". Getting taken into police custody, Foley finds himself dealing with a pair of bumbling cops, Rosewood and Taggart (Judge Reinhold and John Ashton).
"Beverly Hills Cop" is neither a black comedy (you can take that more than one way if you wish) nor a slapstick piece. There are moments of genuine peril in the film as well as laughs. Murphy's performance is so easy to watch that you almost forget he had to get paid for doing this—for that, the movie is an inviting one.
Martin Brest, the director, finds a way to make his film successful while still defying the norms. There is a black man at the center of the film, and no one tries to take his's a crime thriller/police movie about him and no one else. There's a female character who doesn't get thrown around, who won't take crap off of people...and she doesn't have to sleep with anyone.
Narratively, there are a few cliches; but character-wise, "Beverly Hills Cop" is golden.
If nothing else, the movie is remarkable for its stunt work, which opens the movie in spectacular fashion and would predate somethings Nolan would do in his movies...the two couldn't be more different.
Animosity grows between the pristine local police force and Foley's rouge man show as he starts to inch closer and closer to the truth about Mikey's death.
In the end, it's not the plot that makes "Beverly Hills Cop" rewarding. It's not something that makes you say "wow", stand up, or clap; but its easy going attitude and frankly mindless entertainment value is beyond anything of the era.
There are hidden gems to the movie. References to movies like "Shaft", commentary on race situations, and certainly more than one funny surprise moment.
It's good, it's fun, and it's harmless.

Score: ★★★

Drugstore Cowboy (1989) (R)

There's nothing terribly original or amazing about Gus Van Sant's "Drugstore Cowboy". The sub genre of drug flicks would later be completely fleshed out in works like "Trainspotting" and "Requiem for a Dream"—these both have their genesis in something like "The Lost Weekend"; but "Drugstore Cowboy takes an almost nonchalant approach to drugs and that is something that I find admirable.
This isn't a movie made to preach, just like Bob (Matt Dillon) isn't a preacher. At one point in the movie, he's asked why he doesn't become a counselor and try to help struggling addicts. His response is that a drug addict will not be talked out of their next hit, their next high. You can't reason with them, it's something they have to come to on their own terms. I feel like this sums up exactly what Gus Van Sant had in mind.
The movie begins with Bob introducing is to the rest of his crew. There's his wife, Dianne (Kelly Lynch), his friend Rick (James Le Gros) and then Rick's girl Nadine (Heather Graham). Nadine is the odd woman out, the one who everyone keeps at arm's length because she's new and she seems unpredictable. The rest of them, this trio that is, have one thing in common: they love dope. It's their holiest of holies and Bob acknowledges this much to us, the audience.
All of "Drugstore Cowboy" acts as a flashback with Bob as our set narrator. He's really dry, almost to the point where it rings true of Scorsese's "Goodfellas" but with a little less jazz.
Gus Van Sant likes to pull out all the stops, and for this, we have a little crazy going a long way. Van Sant milks each possible second of his film for every amount of drug induced weirdness he can, which unfortunately, isn't that much.
"Drugstore Cowboy" is making a stance. It's not saying that the drug turns you into an ideal of yourself as "Trainspotting" did, not is it saying that drug use is the rape of the human body, as we see in "Requiem for a Dream"; but instead, we see druggies as junkies...people who like to use dope. There's this air about the movie that is much like a shrug of the shoulders. Who cares? They use drugs. Now let's move on. I really appreciate this, but it's also Van Sant's downfall.
Because the movie is so interested in character rather than stereotype of a character, you really have to nail your actors down and here Matt Dillon isn't convincing enough to pull off the lead. He's charming, good-looking, but dull and flat. His co-stars, including the fairly wild Kelly Lynch show him up in every scene. He's not Keanu Reeves bad, but he certainly doesn't hold a movie like this up on his own.
Van Sant's brand of curious sexual meditations are here, but play such a muted role in this movie as compared to his others. Here we see a director started to experiment a little. It's a work like this that would bring around something far more experimental like "My Own Private Idaho".
Alas, Dillon is no River Phoenix.
Besides the problem of the lead actor, "Drugstore Cowboy" is fairly low of plot and manages to not feel ever surprising. Van Sant is not master of third act twists, so naturally there are all the cards you need to see the end far before you get there. But that really doesn't matter. The surreal mixes with the realism and soon you find that "Drugstore Cowboy" has an unnatural charm to it.
It shouldn't work because it has a lot of things going against it, including its odd humor. Still, Van Sant is powerful and in the end, it wraps up nicely for a good narrative.
It's very structured and very safe; but that also helps make it good.

Score: ★★★

Getting Go, the Go Doc Project (2013) (Unrated)

I'm not sure that "Getting Go, the Go Doc Project" could even be likened to the underground cinema of prior years, yet it is the thing you could haphazardly lump it in with. It belongs instead with the resurgence of these queer indie movies meeting soft-core pornography and calling it "intimacy". It is beyond hateful in so many ways, and yet the movie's charm is so surprising that it is the only redeemable thing found within.
Saying all this, it's hard to forget that there were scenes in the movie that I could barely contain a smile watching...yet there were also moments that I felt repulsed by the very notion of it, by its campy nature, and by it itself.
"Getting Go" sets up the cyber hipster, young virgin trope right from moment one, when we open to see our lead actor (Tanner Cohen) masturbating in front of a video camera. In this way Cory Krueckeberg (a staple in indie queer films) tries to make something a little edgier that "may get into some festivals". This almost college graduate is making vlogs online to let his limited audience know that he is obsessed, obsessed with a go-go dancer whose name we are never told.
In fact the whole anonymity of the piece is annoying, even though it's supposed to transcend the screen and be applied broadly to the queer community like a healthy dollop of aloe vera; but its pretenses are nothing if not its hindrances. We are never shown anything beyond what is digitally represented. This is purposeful. Maybe it's Krueckeberg's way of showing that we all place a facade on social media, or maybe it's trying to make us have genuine human interactions instead of just masturbating (physically and mentally) to pixels on tablet. Then again, I think analyzing the movie this much gives it an intelligence it does not possess.
Our lead man one night drunkenly sends an email to this go-go dancer asking if he can use him as the subject for a documentary film for college. He gets a hearty yes as a response and then meets said go-go boy at the club...and from there, the two begin an interesting relationship.
Besides the fact that this is all a ploy and that the lead man—who gets the coy nickname "Doc" just as his muse, the dancer, is known as Go (Matthew Camp)—is manipulating someone into exposing themselves emotionally to him just on the off chance that he might get to touch's all rather distasteful; but it's played out super cute, like it's supposed to just wink glitter at the audience and then it'll be alright.
Eventually the question of homosexuality comes up and Doc starts making his point: he's not "the typical gay man" just as Go supposedly embodies this cliche. *insert eye roll here*
Aside from the fact that Cohen and Camp are two unprofessional actors who rarely do a good job (notable exceptions include the unnecessary yet still tactful sex scenes), "Getting Go" presents the problem with the digital sweep. The movie feels like it was made in a hurry, without the proper time set into it, just thinking about where it wants to go.
Because we are addicted to social media, the whole movie is shot like a lost footage type of would have been much more interesting with witches.
The movie sets us up to have our hearts broken, it makes us think that love is some elusive, mysterious charm found only in post-coitus whispering, and it makes us hate the notion that we have to conform and/or break from society's stereotypes.
All this said, there is an element of goofy fun that the movie employs and there are times that it is genuinely moving, entertaining, and damn charming. These moments dissolve when you start thinking rationally about it all; but at least it tried, right?
Doc and Go's relationship gets closer and closer until it becomes inevitable that the two will end up in bed together. Krueckeberg seems to be speaking vicariously through both his lead men...but the whole Andy Warhol thing doesn't make sense...hence, the reference to underground cinema.
There is nothing in this movie as experimental as Warhol, yet the motifs return to him, recreating some of his films with modern lenses and ideas. It's an interesting facet of the movie; but useless and limp.
The gay and queer youth seeking validation in films should not be steered towards something like this, even if a doomed romance is your idea of amazing film. Instead, look at "Weekend"; but that's another story.
The film is somewhat childish in the way that it lines up the "stripper with the heart of gold" routine just to juxtapose it next to "I fuck anything that moves". These differences are enormous yet the film treats them with a shrug of the shoulders. There isn't enough complexity for Go to encompass both, so we're just left with a monogamous idea of shattered romance. It's kind of unnecessary.
Still, the film was never designed for large screens and critics, it's very medium is the digital technology it seems to be at war with.
But there are surprising emotional moments that make it all worth seeing once, if nothing else will possibly do.

Score: ★★

Nightcrawler (2014) (R)

There's something entirely uneasy in the way that Dan Gilroy shoots "Nightcrawler". He gives us a steaming plate of wacky tendencies, blended up in a Hollywood smoothie of "insanity" and we're supposed to gag when we drink it. And gag we do.
What sets this movie apart from the rest is its firm hold on its lead character. Obviously, he has a few screws loose in his head; but the "Nightcrawler" makes sure to never depart from his emotions, his logic, his head.
At the movie's opening, Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is nothing but a petty thief. His synergetic style of business appropriate talking makes him sound like he's selling something, which he is: himself. He will cut metal from fences and sell it to scrap yards; but he wants something a little more permanent. He wants a job.
Coming home one night, Louis stumbles across a horrific car accident and he pauses to watch it. From nowhere, a group of men with cameras rush to the scene to capture footage of the wrecked car and the policemen trying to pull the passengers out while a fire starts—it's footage that sells itself. These men are the freelancers of the news world, the nitty and gritty underlings who prey off the moral. At least, that's how Gilroy sees them. Much of "Nightcrawler" feels like his intense hatred of the new media machine; but more on that later.
For Louis, this experience is like a sign from God, one that cannot and should not be ignored. He has found his calling.
Now armed with a police scanner and a camcorder, Louis starts to tag along to the crime scenes, being the most forward one with how close he gets to the wreckage. He begins to form a professional relationship with Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who is the manager at a local news station. She is the embodiment of what he wants, successful, ruthless, and effective. But Nina's report never accurately reflects how brutal she can be. Seeing a chance, she seizes the footage from Louis and promises if he brings back more bloody and more gruesome images, he will have a place at the station.
Louis then hires an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed) to help him navigate the streets of Los Angeles.
Rick is the antithesis to Louis, in as they both are motivated by different things. Rick is in it for the money, but Louis seems to be attempting to preserve his name in gold.
Things start to heat up as Louis takes more and more risks in getting his footage and starts blurring distinct moral lines. This is not the man who should be crossed.
Jake Gyllenhaal has always proven that he is capable of a range of characters and Louis Bloom does nothing but celebrate the actor's talent. As Louis, Gyllenhaal manages to convince you of his standpoint while simultaneously repulsing you. I think a lot of that also has to do with Gilroy's screenplay.
It's a complex piece, one that makes you squirm for feeling so attached to Louis Bloom and here Gilroy seems more seasoned than he actually is. He is restrained and violent...but always in the best interest of Louis Bloom.
There's one scene that sticks out to me: Louis is explaining to Nina about his ethics—twisted and pretentious. The music swells and Nina appears to get sexually excited. Yet it all feels genuine. It feels like Louis does believe what he is saying and it feels like Nina is attracted to him. It's all very uncomfortable, but not too much that you want to look away.
Gilroy obviously hates the media. I can think of no other reason why he would want to so blatantly mock and throttle the institution of his story. There is no one character—even those who attempt to be moral "sidekick" like people—in the machinery who isn't despicable in some form.
"Nightcrawler" is less so thrilling and frightening than it is simply appealing to hate. This is intentional and I think it works quite well.

Score: ★★★½

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2013) (Not Rated)

Like many of the current era of pop culture, I'm not an avid consumer of the theater. I know the name of a few plays, I know about "Wicked"; but I can't say that any modern performers who aren't cross-overs from television or movies are names that come to mind. In this arena, I am very unknowledgable.
I was introduced to Elaine Stritch through "30 Rock" which became one of my all-time favorites TV shows and Stritch's character one of the most dear to me. It made me feel like I was her friend, foolish but true.
Then "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" came out and the world was given a glimpse into an artist's soul, one who was finally winding down. It's a morbid little documentary, a flirty and wonderfully coy piece, a devastating meditation on mortality, and the celebration of artistry that it deserves to be. It cuts right through the bullshit.
The movie opens as Stritch is planning a new venture in the theater involving Stephen Sondheim's songs. She practices in her house, in her hotels, and always without pants. Always described in the critical eye with a sense of cautious love, Stritch embodies the beasts that she is so often compared to. She is a lion or a dragon; but she is not fearless. Far from it.
The nerves are getting to Elaine and we see that from one scene to the next as director Chiemi Karasawa never shies away from showing the whole picture, however devastating it might feel.
For a figure most known for bringing laughs, it's strange that such a piece as this could such a powerhouse of emotions. Elaine balances on a tightrope, this proverbial act of theater and personal life teetering along from drink to drink as she keeps promising the camera that she is going to quit someday.
The alcohol is one issue, the diabetes is another, the paranoia a third, and the fading memory the largest one. As Elaine prepares for her Sondheim stage show, she begins to be more and more nervous about how she is going to make it through the night. Sondheim is already hard enough to read without the added pressure of an aging starlet meeting the reality of her situation.
"Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" makes me never want to age another day. It makes me want to preserve these moments that I have in some sort of crystalline form and never let them age. I'm fairly certain that on this, Elaine Stritch and I agree.
Although there are moments when she confesses that it's "her time", she fiercely defends her right to be in the theater those other times.
Karasawa acknowledges how the documentary might be taken and lets us really really see Elaine Stritch in her primes and in her lows. One moment that sticks out particularly so is Elaine directing the camera man to follow her around because it's "how it should be" rather than what looks better. She is very irate, in complete diva form, and refuses to budge on her position. Eventually the cameraman has no choice but to obey her.
But there is also a knife of self-criticsm that cuts through Elaine and these are some of the moments that are the hardest to watch. She beats herself up for forgetting the words that she worried so much about, she refuses the biggest room in studio and settles for a large study area, etc. But she is unashamed of herself and places her bare image on the screen for us to see.
"Shoot Me" is as much a comedy as it is a tragedy. There are no laughs, but no real tears here; yet it suspends us in the artistry of the woman and the despair of it all. The admiration that people have for Elaine Stritch is tremendous and justifiable...but that doesn't paint the picture in its full complexity.
For being so short and about such an interesting person, "Shoot Me" feels like it shouldn't have the emotional impact that it has...but it is such a hard movie to watch...the memory, the diabetes episodes, the neuroticism, the alcohol.
Perhaps in making this, Stritch's legacy lives on a little longer; but maybe it also detracts from it. It's almost too real to even bear watching.

Score: ★★★½

Gandhi (1982) (PG)

Maybe it was just an emotional day for me, or maybe it was the end of an emotional week, or maybe (and I think the likeliest) I wasn't old enough to appreciate "Gandhi" the first time that I saw it. The movie's long running time, the old-timey epic feel to it, I think they all flew over my head. What I saw today when I revisited it, is a piece of cinema that has not lost any of its thematic power, though many audiences now would opt for a three hour robot-fest and not this film.
The movie opens to Gandhi's assassination in the late 40s and then throws us back to before the turn of the century, where Gandhi (Ben Kingsley in one of his most famous roles) is a lawyer in South Africa. He does not receive the same treatment as other British citizens, simply because he is Indian and the first scene we are witness to sees him thrown out of first class on a train.
But he won't take this lying down and equality becomes the word on the tip of his tongue. He holds a few demonstrations, gets beaten up and tossed around in jail and then released. His peaceful but "non-cooperative" method baffles many legal ties.
Eventually, he becomes a figure that is politicized and as India starts to struggle for independence, he becomes a key figure in representing both the people and the ideas they stand for.
"Gandhi" is a sprawling work that covers over fifty years and never lets any of its screen time go to waste. It fills every second with a quest to understand its titular character's heart, something that we are told in the beginning.
Not only is "Gandhi" massive in its time, but it is massive in production. Being a love child of Richard Attenborough, the film remains the movie with the most extras and when you see Gandhi's funeral scene, it's almost too large to take it.
Certainly one of the grandest and best, if least influential of all Hollywood's epics, the movie channels David Lean with a more emotional reward.
The script by John Briley is one of the finest ever written and has such nuances that every sentence feels like it was destined for a meme somewhere in the internet.
But above all, this is a film about triumph and failure. Personal triumph, triumph over self and government and failure to both. Failure to self is what drives Gandhi to have hunger strikes, to remind the people of India that they are not the mindless evils that the Western world assumes them to be.
Now, the film takes obvious licenses; but what I find most curious is how Attenborough paints the Indian people. He never flatters the British and often villainizes them, making it clear with just how he shoots the scenes in India, that the people there are not a set design for him, but actually part of the film, the backbone if you will.
Ben Kingsley turns in a stunning performance and one that will never be forgotten. For a film that's now considered a snooze-fest for how boring it is, it baffles me how some can watch all the violence, murder, history, philosophy, religion, and character development and think that this is a boring movie.
"Gandhi" swept the Oscars and won rightfully deserved statues, beating out more fanciful and fun works like "Tootsie"; but I think anyone witnessing the spectacle of the movie would realize that it never overplays any of its cards. It could be solely about history, racism, or religion and it's about none of these things. It is not only about Gandhi, but about him and his country, him and his belief.
Successful at its best, the movie seeks to find Gandhi's heart, and I think that they did...somewhere in the vastness of the film.

Score: ★★★★