Casablanca (1942) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 102 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Made while World War II was still raging and its outcome was still uncertain, 1942’s Casablanca was an essential piece of wartime spirit-raising that went down in history as one of Hollywood’s greatest motion pictures. Set in Vichy French-occupied Morocco during the war, American nightclub owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) faces a moral dilemma when he has to choose between escaping from the region with Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), the love of his life, or helping smuggle Czechoslovakian freedom fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) back into the battle against the Nazis. Buckle up, you’re in for a treat.

This timeless masterpiece is typically marketed as a romance film, but it is so much more than that. More important than the lovey, dovey stuff is the story of awakening your inner hero to fight against tyranny. It may not have any battle scenes, but this is actually a badass war flick, through and through. A tale of idealism, heroism, and sacrifice, it reflects the Wilsonian outlook on foreign policy that was crucial to the Allies in the Second World War and its aftermath. Isolationism is treated like the folly that it is.

The cosmopolitan classic Casablanca benefits from one of the snappiest screenplays ever written. It’s just one iconic line after another. The feature also has a stellar musical score from Max Steiner that’s largely built around the 1931 tune “As Time Goes By,” written by Herman Hupfeld. The cinematography is classy and dazzling, and the nightclub at the center of the movie sometimes resembles a real-world version of the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).

This accessible and big-hearted piece of cinema is an important allegory for the United States’ role in World War II. It has a hopeful message that international cooperation and selfless heroism can overcome evil and oppression. Powerful stuff. It’s a wonderful gift to the people of the Free World and a reminder that their work in combating the forces of darkness are not over.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Another 48 Hrs. (1990) Review

Director: Walter Hill

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte return for more in this so-so sequel to 48 Hrs. (1982). Once again, tough guy cop Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) recruits the help of conman Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) to help him on a case. This time, the police officer wants to take down a mysterious drug lord known as “The Iceman” as well as clear his name after being accused of killing an unarmed man.

The plot of Another 48 Hrs. feels rather formless, which is the biggest problem with the film. In retrospect, it just seems like our dynamic duo are chasing various leads until the final shootout arrives. Sure, Nolte and Murphy do no wrong here, but the plot needed a little more meat on it. Oh well, at least the adequate pacing and relatively short runtime keep this flaw from being fatal.

The action scenes here are actually better than the ones in the first installment of this motion picture duology. They’re definitely not top-tier, but they are filmed and edited in a more coherent fashion than in 48 Hrs. This picture is somewhat famous for the amount of glass that gets smashed in it and, yeah, panes of that stuff are being broken left and right. I guess it adds to the fun of the whole experience.

Another 48 Hrs. features less racist and homophobic dialogue than the original, which may make it easier to watch for modern audiences. It’s also less grimy- and gritty-feeling, but – hey – if that’s the cost of superior action set-pieces, I’ll pay it. Okay, the bottom line is that this one isn’t quite as good as the 1982 flick, but it certainly is watchable.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Sea Hawk (1940) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Adventure, Romance

Runtime: 127 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1940 anglophile swashbuckler The Sea Hawk serves as an interesting allegory for World War II, made by Hollywood prior to the United States’ entrance into that conflict. Set in the 1500s, Spain (a stand-in for the Axis Powers) is Hellbent on conquering the planet, and daring English privateer (a pirate who works for a government) Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn) and his crew are the only ones who stop it. It works pretty well as a wartime spirit-raiser, but less so as a thrill-a-minute adventure piece.

The Sea Hawk is, unfortunately, slowly paced, all too often getting bogged down in romance or geopolitical scheming. The love story between Errol Flynn’s character and Doña Maria (Brenda Marshall) largely feels shoehorned in and the plot may have needed some streamlining. Another flaw is that the villains of the picture feel underdeveloped.

On the action front, this movie delivers its best set-piece far too early into its runtime. In fact, the very first action sequence in the film, a thrilling sea battle, is the best one. Nothing after that in the feature can top that for excitement. Yes, there are some other above-average bits of mayhem spread into the mix, like a cool one-versus-four sword duel, but why start a flick with your best action scene?

If there’s one thing that keeps The Sea Hawk being propelled forward, that is its Erich Wolfgang Korngold musical score. It’s a rousing piece of work that elevates the material. That being said, this film largely exists in the realm between “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down.” It has some great action, but, if you’re in the mood for an Errol Flynn movie, you’re better off with The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). That’s the real deal.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) Review

Director: Arthur Penn

Genre(s): Action, Biography, Crime, Drama, Romance

Runtime: 111 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 1967 gangster movie Bonnie and Clyde feels just as alive, fresh, zesty, and vital now as it did during its original theatrical run. As you probably know, the plot concerns bandit duo and lovers Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), who tear through the Central-Southern United States on a crime spree in the 1930s. One of the best of its kind, this film took the sensibilities of the French New Wave and applied them to these American folk figures.

Bonnie and Clyde remains dazzling partially because of its expert juggling of action, drama, romance, comedy, suspense, and historical context. Unless you abhor pictures that glamorize murderous criminals (which this one has a tendency to do), there’s something here for just about everybody. The feature starts off adventurous and relatively light, but, by the time of the third act, it feels like a road trip to Hell.

It’s generally a fast-paced piece of work, with some very, very good action sequences (the violence that they contain was considered shocking back in 1967). A special shout-out has to go to the cast, who all play their distinctive characters with aplomb. The Great Depression-era United States is convincingly recreated here, and the flick is surprisingly funny at times.

Bonnie and Clyde is sometimes credited with playing a critical role in tearing down the old Hollywood Production Code, which dictated what content could and couldn’t be in American movies. The film’s graphic violence, sexual undercurrents, and glorification of ruthless criminals made the Code impotent. It was soon to be replaced by the MPAA rating system (you know, like G, R, etc.). Talk about a movie that left an impact! However, this motion picture is still highly recommended, regardless of its influence and significance in cinema history.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

48 Hrs. (1982) Review

Director: Walter Hill

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 1982 action-comedy 48 Hrs. is an excellent example of how the right casting can save a movie. Here, Eddie Murphy is the hero of the production. The story of the picture in question is about a down-on-his-luck San Francisco police officer named Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) who reluctantly teams up with imprisoned con man Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) to track down a pair of cop killers. It’s often considered one of the first of the “buddy-cop” subgenre, but, in this case, only one of the two main characters is a lawman.

It’s largely thanks to Eddie Murphy that this gritty crime-thriller keeps afloat. The movie really comes alive when he shows up, and it’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role. The plot may be nothing worth writing home about, but when Murphy’s on a roll, he’s on a roll. Be warned, though, that this flick contains quite a bit of racist, sexist, and homophobic language that makes it a little awkward at times.

Director Walter Hill is generally very good at handling action scenes, but I don’t think 48 Hrs. is one of his better outings when judged by carnage alone. The action here feels a little clumsy sometimes. It’s certainly not all bad, but it doesn’t feel up to the Walter Hill par. The sequences of violence, however, do feel appropriately grounded for such a tight, intimate film.

This is an important landmark in the history of buddy-cop movies, and it holds up pretty well today (except for the bigoted remarks, of course). Sure, it would be topped by Lethal Weapon (1987), but it still has a sleazy, dirt-under-the-fingernails charm all to its own. Also, David Patrick Kelly, perhaps better known as “Sully from Commando (1985)” makes an appearance as criminal Luther.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Highwaymen (2019) Review

Director: John Lee Hancock

Genre(s): Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 132 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) famously showed the Barrow Gang’s 1930s crime spree from the criminals’ points-of-view, while 2019’s The Highwaymen flips the script and reenacts it from the perspectives of the lawmen who hunted them down. It’s the Great Depression-era United States, and gangsters Bonnie Parker (Emily Brobst) and Clyde Barrow (Edward Bossert) are rampaging through the Central-Southern part of the country, with former Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) hot on their tracks. It’s a respectable change of pace.

No, this movie isn’t nearly as good as 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. The two leads – Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson – have good chemistry and keep the leisurely-paced flick chugging along. The rural United States in the time of the Great Depression is brought to life surprisingly well, showing the breeding ground for criminals in desire of a better life. However, this film certainly does not glamorize the two crooks that the main characters are tracking down.

As I mentioned above, the pace of this picture can be, uh, leisurely. This is fine at first, but the feature does a questionable job of kicking it into high-gear when the climax approaches. Some moments of action feel sort of cheaply-made. The movie also underutilizes Kathy Bates’ character, “Ma” Ferguson, the Governor 0f Texas, who has to have Bonnie and Clyde killed or captured before they can make her look like too much of a fool.

Bonnie and Clyde are ruthless murderers here, largely kept offscreen like the beasts of a monster movie. Fortunately for the audience, the two lawmen on their trail are rendered colorfully here to make up for the lack of screentime that the two gangsters get. Overall, this film is a decent-enough diversion, but it needed a bit more pep in its step at times.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Biography, Comedy, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 180 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

This depiction of the life and times of American financial criminal Jordan Belfort (Leonard DiCaprio) is a work of pure, unrestrained id. Set in the 1980s and 1990s, gleefully obnoxious and hedonistic-to-the-power-of-x stock-broker Belfort claws his way up to the top. At three hours, it’s a long one for sure, but director Martin Scorsese ensures that this comedic biopic is never remotely boring.

The Wolf of Wall Street feels like a circus or a party (not the kind I would want to go to, though), with its orgies, oversized yachts, mountains of cocaine, and literal hundreds of “f-words.” It’s all excess, all the time. The movie is so full of amplified depraved behavior that it starts to feel like a twisted sort of experimental film after a while. Despite (perhaps because of) the incessant debauchery, this is one hilarious flick, with a style that goes for maximum impact.

As funny as all of this is, one flaw with the picture is that it doesn’t really show the consequences of the main character’s crimes on the people he swindled. It barely feels like a crime film at all for that reason. Yes, there is an FBI agent, Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), on Jordan Belfort’s case, but this feature comes dangerously close to glorifying the law-breaking of the work-hard-play-harder man in the center of the narrative.

For a three-hour movie about wealthy thugs doing wealthy thug activities, The Wolf of Wall Street‘s story, acting, and script hold up well. The whole thing’s outrageous, but it’s handled by a master filmmaker (Scorsese) who prevents it from becoming pure schlock. This one’s not for the prudish, but, if you want to take a peak into the lives of the Rich and Sociopathic, this picture comes highly recommended.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Shutter Island (2010) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Runtime: 138 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

With 2010’s Shutter Island, director Martin Scorsese waded into the world of the psychological horror-thriller film…and he did so quite effectively, in my opinion. Set in the 1950s, this movie is about two American federal agents – Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) – who’re sent to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from an offshore asylum for the criminally insane. Despite a somewhat mixed reception from critics, many moviegoers have latched onto this menacing mind-bender.

Professional film reviewers are generally quick to compare this picture to the works of director Alfred Hitchcock, but there are also notable elements of noir and pulp here, too. I can’t help but feel that the aforementioned pulpy aspects threw some critics, who may have expected something a bit more grounded, for a loop. Anyway, this flick’s paranoid thriller style is supremely foreboding and sinister.

With its high-impact imagery and tense musical choices (collected by Robbie Robertson of The Band fame), Shutter Island is gripping from the start and never lets up. It starts off mysterious and uneasy before building up to fever dream-like ferocity. Some audience members have found some of the production’s plot points to be predictable, but I think that it’s just as much about the journey as it is about the destination in this case.

This feature got a divisive reaction, and I happen to fall on the side believing that it’s a superb piece of suspense and psychological terror. Its plot is alluring and the pacing is swift enough to keep the viewer from questioning some of its potential excesses. For fans of trippy cinema that messes with your head while remaining somewhat mainstream (we’re not talking Un Chien Andalou [1929] levels of nuttiness here), this is an easy one to recommend.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Public Enemies (2009) Review

Director: Michael Mann

Genre(s): Action, Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 140 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Public Enemies is a solid gangster flick that has the misfortune of living in the shadow of the similar Dillinger (1973), which was written and directed by John Milius. The plot of the 2009 picture in question covers the 1930s bank-robbing spree of super-criminal John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). There’s plenty to like about this movie, but just about everything about it was topped back in the 1970s.

The ferocious gunfights that director Michael Mann is known for are very much present here. It probably has as many firearms-per-frame as 1973’s Dillinger and the shootouts are probably more realistic-feeling. The expected highlight in the action department is the firefight at a lodge known as Little Bohemia, but the other sequences of violence work exceptionally well, too.

Perhaps the biggest fault of Public Enemies is how colorless many of the supporting characters are rendered. Sure, the big players in the story get their time to shine, but most of the side members of the John Dillinger gang, for example, don’t stand out at all, which is a stark contrast to how these folks were handled in the aforementioned Dillinger. “Baby Face” Nelson (Stephen Graham) manages to steal the scenes he appears in, though.

Public Enemies is a much more somber and subdued film than 1973’s Dillinger, trying to play things closer to historical fact (although there are still several deviations from what happened in real life). It’s fairly ambitious, but it lacks the flair, pizazz, and print-the-legend audacity that the Dillinger story from John Milius had. I figure that both motion pictures are worth checking out, so make it a Dillinger double feature if you can.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

U.S. Marshals (1998) Review

Director: Stuart Baird

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 131 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 1993 action-thriller The Fugitive seems like an unlikely movie to get a sequel, but get one it did. A man named Sheridan (Wesley Snipes), who’s been accused of murdering two government agents, has escaped from police custody, and – you guessed it – U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) is on the case. It certainly isn’t as masterful as The Fugitive, but it’s a better-than-serviceable film that keeps my attention.

This one is a tad different from the original Samuel Gerard movie in that it’s not clear if the fugitive being pursued is innocent or not. Okay, it’s not exactly a wildly unpredictable ride, but it has enough ambiguous situations to keep one’s interest. The whole cast does a good job, but, as you’d expect, Tommy Lee Jones is the standout here as a gruff, yet protective, lawman.

U.S. Marshals tries to outdo the action in the first film with mixed results. Sure, the action set-pieces are probably bigger in scale than most of the ones in The Fugitive, but this one lacks some of the human drama of the 1993 flick. The most memorable sequence in the 1998 picture has got to be the part where circumstances allow Wesley Snipes’ character to escape from the law in the first place (I’m not going to spoil the details of it). There are a few other good action bits here, but they probably won’t stick in your head like some of the ones from The Fugitive.

Yeah, U.S. Marshals might contain a slightly slow section or two (making it less relentless than the 1993 production that it’s a sequel to), but it will still satisfy many viewers who were left wanting more (in a good sort of way) by The Fugitive. Earth-shattering it is not, but there’s enough mayhem here to keep an action buff amused for two hours. It’s not exactly a necessary sequel, but, despite lacking the Harrison Ford factor, it’s one worth watching for fans of the original.

My rating is 7 outta 10.