(On DVD, October 2016) Hollywood has a tradition of progressive message movies, but few of them have been as muscular as G.I. Jane. Nominally about the integration of women in US combat forces, this Ridley Scott action thriller quickly goes for a harrowing portrait of the SEAL training process, violent harassment of its heroine and a quick action mission to top it all off. Wrap everything in the American flag, well-shot military images, pulse-pounding music and it ends up being a recruitment video that incidentally has a female protagonist. Demi Moore was at the height of her fame in 1997, and part of the film’s power is seeing one of the lead female actresses of that time adopt the gruff aggressive mannerisms of the men she’s asked to surpass, shaving her head and proving her resilience by making a crude request to suck on an appendage she only metaphorically possesses. Against some expectations, it actually works. The military sequences are handled competently, and there’s just enough story wrapped around them to make it interesting. Moore is impressive (far more so than in the thematically linked A Few Good Men) and Scott is able to transform what could have been a preachy script into an effective propaganda piece for both feminists and militarists. It has aged surprisingly well.
(On TV, July 2016) Nearly everyone can quote Jack Nicholson’s furious “You can’t handle the truth!” but watching A Few Good Men highlights how that line works best as a culmination rather than a standalone quote. A somewhat sombre judicial drama in which a hotshot lawyer (Tom Cruise, remarkably good) takes on the US Marines establishment in an effort to discover what happened to a dead soldier, A Few Good Men is the kind of slick mainstream drama that has almost disappeared from the box-office top-ten. Slickly made with a roster of good actors, it has the means to present its story as effectively as possible. The result is a good comfortable film, handled with old-school care. It may not be all that efficient (the opening act is notably slow, and missteps in initially focusing on a character who’s not the real protagonist) but it’s competent and slowly makes its way to a conclusion heavy on shouting and courtroom excitement. Jack Nicholson is good in a surprisingly small role (it looks as if he showed up for a few days of work), Kiefer Sutherland pops up as a soldier, while Demi Moore doesn’t impress all that much in a fairly conventional role that leaves far too much glory to Tom Cruise’s character.
(On Cable TV, June 2016) There’s no denying that Ghost has ascended to the film pantheon as a romantic fantasy film (cue the pottery sequence!) but a fresh viewing shows that the film is a bit more than that: Beyond the romance, it’s got strong comic moments, a decent amount of imaginative flair and quite a few thrills. Anchored by Patrick Swayze’s fair performance and bolstered by a surprisingly funny and good-looking Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost is more interesting when it deals with the mechanics and complications of a ghost trying to make contact with the living. Suspense elements are woven (not always seamlessly) with comic sequences, giving the film a multifaceted appeal that doesn’t quite degenerate into abrupt tonal shifts. Demi Moore is a bit generic and baby-faced Tony Goldwyn is more fascinating than anything else considering how well he has aged in Scandal. Still, the film holds up relatively well beyond the pottery sequence, hitting marks on a wide spectrum of targets. It’s enough to make anyone wonder if today’s blockbusters have grown a bit too selective in their intentions for fear of tonal incongruity. Ghost, at least, deftly goes from romance to comedy to horror to thrills, and the result still speaks for itself.
(On DVD, December 2011) Every so often, a visually ambitious film slips through the cracks of distribution and promotion to land almost unannounced on video-store shelves. From the first few moments, executed with a gorgeous mixture of animation and puppet-theater, it’s obvious that Bunraku is going to be an odd and interesting film. With its fantasy-world mixture of western and samurai iconography, colourful art direction and dynamic direction, Bunraku certainly looks and feels completely different from your run-of-the-mill film. Experimental, action-packed, crammed with confident performances, it’s also a movie that aspires to the “hidden gem” section of anyone’s collection, right next to films just as The Fall and Sin City: not perfect, maybe not even accessible to audiences who aren’t predisposed to this kind of genre-blending, but surprisingly satisfying to those to do get it and certainly looks like no other film: writer/director Guy Moshe has put together a lovely piece of art. Josh Hartnett and Gackt share the lead roles, but Woody Harrelson, Ron Perlman and Kevin McKidd get more remarkable roles as supporting players. (McKidd is particularly good as an eccentric killer.) The script certainly could have been tightened up: Demi Moore’s character doesn’t look as if she has anything to do, the dialogue sometimes veers toward the pretentious and there’s a pacing slowdown during the third act of the film. Nonetheless, Bunraku gains back all of its lost points on sheer visual fun alone, and from its references to other tough-guy movies. For a film that never really showed widely in North-American theaters, I predict a modest cult following.
(On DVD, June 2009): Carl Hiaasen’s particular brand of comic crime fiction can be tricky to swallow even on the page, so it’s not much of a shock to find out that this straight-up adaptation somehow fails to click. His usual strategy of surrounding a competent character with a bunch of idiots may be successful in a novel, but here it creates a comedy vacuum around lead Demi Moore, which becomes a problem since most scenes revolve around her. Hiaasen’s all-knowing narration can’t be used, and the uneasy mixture of comedy and violence becomes even more uneasy on-screen (even after toning down the book’s gratuitously blood-thirsty ending) Worse yet are the problems that the film creates for itself: While a film about strip-teasing is expected to show some flesh, the entire club sequences lose their charms quickly, especially when they still grind the film to a halt about three different times: it doesn’t help that Hiaasen’s twisty plot is snipped to a only a few thin threads that don’t create much suspense. Still, the film isn’t the disaster one could expect: Ving Rhames is hilarious in one of his first big-screen roles, whereas Burt Reynolds hits a late-career peak as a particularly perverted politician. The Miami locations are often well-used, and the whole thing is over before anyone has time to be really displeased.