The Fanatic (2019) Review

Director: Fred Durst

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The Fanatic, directed by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, was one of the most talked about movies of 2019 for all the wrong reasons. The film’s story is about Moose (John Travolta), a Los Angeles street performer “with severe autism” (in the current words of Wikipedia) who stalks his favorite movie star, Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). It’s a hard flick to make heads or tails of, but I suppose that that’s part of its appeal.

This feature is notorious for being an unintentional laugh riot, but was it unintentional? It’s hard to tell when the comedy comes from filmmaking ineptitude and when it comes from co-writer/director Fred Durst’s presumably twisted sense of humor. Were lines like “I can’t talk too long. I gotta poo” meant to split the sides of the audience? Regardless, this picture has received many complaints about meanspiritedness, especially when it comes to people on the autistic spectrum.

For what it’s worth, John Travolta’s performance is clearly committed and this makes the flick, uh, watchable. Even if it is exploitative, this drama-thriller does make the viewer wonder what’s coming around the next corner. It’s not boring, like a truly bad movie should be. There’s also some intriguing commentary on the United States’ love/hate relationship with celebrities. You know what? This film isn’t as bad as its reputation.

The ending doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, but The Fanatic is still an interesting work. Yes, the dialogue is often, er, terrible, but it sometimes seems like this was the intention. I’ll give this one a passing grade, because I’m drawn to hopelessly bizarre movies that make you laugh, and then wonder if that reaction was what the director was hoping for. On the “Parents Guide” for this flick on IMDb, under the “Frightening & Intense Scenes” section, it currently reads “In a distressing scene, a character forces a child to listen to Limp Bizkit[,] turning up the radio while driving down a street.” I’m sure that bit will be taken down soon, but it made me chuckle. Yes, the director did put his own band’s music in the finished product.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Wrath of Man (2021) Review

Director: Guy Ritchie

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Wrath of Man is not your typical Guy Ritchie film. A lot of the movies that he directs have frequent comedic touches, but there’s nothing cheeky about this rampaging, bloody Jason Statham actioner. Patrick “H” Hill (Jason Statham) is a new armored truck guard with a mysterious past (of course) who may have an ulterior motive for getting the job. This is actually a remake of the French picture Cash Truck (2004).

This is surely a very intense flick, full of seat-squirming moments and loud-as-Hell action scenes. There are a few violent episodes scattered throughout the runtime, but most of the ammunition is saved for the ferocious finale…a heist on Black Friday. You may need to take cover under your seat. As fierce as everything gets, it should be noted that there are obvious computer-generated blood effects that detract from the grittiness.

Jason Statham is just as grim and serious as the movie around him. It’s probably not a challenging role for him, but it’s the Statham we love to see. Notable supporting roles are played by Scott Eastwood (as Jan) and – wait – is that Post Malone (credited as “Austin Post” here, playing “Robber #6”)?!? The story borders on becoming convoluted a time or two, but the feature feels shorter than its two-hour runtime.

If there’s a problem with Wrath of Man, it’s that it has too many bad guys and not enough heroes. Anyway, this flick is worth watching for viewers who like their action films hard-boiled and borderline-humorless. Some may find it overly straight-faced, but, in a day-and-age of self-referential superhero comic book movies, it’s nice to see a work committed to a more serious approach.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Espionage Agent (1939) Review

Director: Lloyd Bacon

Genre(s): Drama, Romance, Thriller, War

Runtime: 83 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Espionage Agent was among the first American movies to warn the U.S. populace of the dangers posed by the Nazi regime in Germany. In fact, it was released in September 1939, the same month that World War II broke out. The plot’s about an American diplomat in Morocco – Barry Corvall (Joel McCrea) – who falls in love with a Nazi spy – Brenda Ballard (Brenda Marshall) – in the days leading up to the Second World War.

Unfortunately, this film doesn’t offer much in the way of excitement. The most engaging part of the feature is the presumably somewhat fictionalized opening montage of foreign sabotage in the United States prior to that nation’s entry into World War I (the 1916 Black Tom explosion is mentioned). Yup, the best sequence is the one at the beginning of the flick. After that, we get a car wreck and a pistol-whipping, but the action is severely lacking.

Espionage Agent was made to brace the United States against the wave of infiltration of the country by agents of totalitarian governments (like the Nazi and Soviet ones) that was going to take place. It’s an intriguingly political movie, even if it avoids pointing fingers too blatantly (the swastikas on the Nazi troops’ armbands are covered up). Its warnings seem to come from a place of encouraging isolationism, rather than international cooperation, though.

Sometimes this picture feels like a recruitment ad for the U.S. State Department, but that’s okay. The real problems here are its anticlimactic ending and leisurely pacing. It means well, but the budget just isn’t there. It would be interesting to see a remake related to the information war being waged on free nations by the dictatorships of the world currently being waged.

My rating is 5 outta 10.

Souls at Sea (1937) Review

Director: Henry Hathaway

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Romance

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1937 adventure-drama Souls at Sea teams up Gary Cooper and George Raft, two of the biggest tough guy actors of the time period. The story’s hard to describe without going into spoilers, but I’ll give it my best shot. In the 1840s, two sailors crossing the Atlantic Ocean – Michael “Nuggin” Taylor (Gary Cooper) and Powdah (George Raft) – find themselves wrapped up in a plot involving slave smuggling out of Africa.

Souls at Sea promises an exciting movie, but it easily gets sidetracked by two romantic subplots. These love scenes don’t offer much different from what was typical at the time. The love-dovey stuff threatens to consume the entire picture, so much so that the action finale seems to come out of nowhere when it arrives. However, the climax does offer some entertainment value.

The grand finale rescues the film, although the special effects are a mixed bag. Some of the destruction looks so real that you don’t stop and think about it as visual effects, while those transparent silhouettes of people running in front of fire and explosions aren’t exactly convincing. The ending also gives Gary Cooper a chance to show off a surprisingly dark side of him that we usually don’t see.

This feature has some interesting ideas, but its execution is only so-so. For much of the runtime, it has routine romance on its mind, when it should be focused on high-seas thrills. It’s an okay movie, despite a few slow spots. It should be mentioned that this flick’s attitude towards African slavery has aged better than some of the other films from around the same time – like Gone with the Wind (1939) or Santa Fe Trail (1940).

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Big Fish (2003) Review

Director: Tim Burton

Genre(s): Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Runtime: 125 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Big Fish doesn’t really look like your stereotypical Tim Burton film for the most part, but, if you look close enough, you can find his fingerprints. The story is about a dying old man, Edward Bloom (Albert Finney, and played by Ewan McGregor in the flashbacks), who recalls the events of his life in the form of fantastical tall tales. This creates conflict with his son, Will (Billy Crudup), who just wants to know what actually happened for once in his life.

This Southern Gothic-tinted movie is about people who choose to believe comforting lies over sober truths. The flick itself seems to come down on the side that the power of good storytelling should trump cold reality, something I can’t really get behind, but the feature is just so wonderful that I can’t hold this against it too much. Albert Finney’s character resembles a pathological liar, yet this is a motion picture you can’t turn away from.

I may not agree with the moral of the story, but Big Fish is beautifully-done and oh-so colorful. Between all of the memorable characters and whimsical locations is a film that consistently engages the viewer and tugs on the heartstrings. The finale is a real tearjerker. The inclusion of a Pearl Jam song (“Man of the Hour”) over the ending credits feels like a minor misstep, though. Maybe Danny Elfman’s Oscar-nominated musical score should’ve played over the end instead?

This feature defies the odds by having a somewhat episodic plot, but managing to never lose focus. It’s pretty Spielbergian in nature, so it probably shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the project was originally going to be helmed by Steven Spielberg before Tim Burton was put in the director’s chair. Overall, this fantasy-dramedy is excellent and highly moving, even if its message doesn’t resonate with me.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) Review

Director: Frank Tuttle

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 99 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

After former San Francisco cop Steve Rollins (Alan Ladd) is released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he seeks out those who framed him, putting him on a collision course with mob boss Victor Amato (Edward G. Robinson). This is one of the few films noirs of the 1940s and 1950s to be in color. So, this is a colorful movie in the literal sense, but is it a colorful flick in the figurative sense?

Hell on Frisco Bay is a pretty typical gangster-oriented noir. There are a few moments of cool action, but the picture is ultimately a bit too safe in its conformity to the Production Code that dictated content in Hollywood works of the time. It’s a fairly clean film that doesn’t take any risks. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. I’ve seen much worse.

This production has a lot of characters to keep track of…perhaps too many for what should’ve been a straightforward revenge saga. I wouldn’t use the word “convoluted” to describe it, but it may have been overwritten at times. Alan Ladd plays the stoic-to-the-point-of-stiff hero, while Edward G. Robinson does a role he probably could’ve performed in his sleep by now. There is not much atmosphere for this type of feature.

Hell on Frisco Bay doesn’t quite live up to its explosive title, but it’s a watchable romp into dockside gangland. There’s always the novelty of seeing Ladd and Robinson square off against each other. It has the common courtesy to end on a high note and it’s not boring. You shouldn’t line up around the block to see this one, but, hey, if you see it on T.V., that’d be fine.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Blowing Wild (1953) Review

Director: Hugo Fregonese

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Romance, Western

Runtime: 90 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Could Blowing Wild be considered a western movie? It’s set in South America around the time of its release date (1953), but it still involves tough guys wearing cowboy hats wielding six-shooters in confrontations with outlaws on the fringes of civilization. I’d say it has enough western film tropes to qualify as one. The plot of this flick is about a group of oilmen – Jeff Dawson (Gary Cooper), Ward “Paco” Conway (Anthony Quinn), and Dutch Peterson (Ward Bond) – fighting for survival in bandit-infested territory in Latin America.

Blowing Wild features two of the greatest tough customers to ever grace the silver screen: Gary Cooper and Anthony Quinn. They’re in top form, as you would expect, and they’re backed up by an exquisite sense of atmosphere. At times it feels like an oil-oriented (rather than gold-oriented) version of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Backing up all of this is a surprisingly good theme song: “Blowing Wild (The Ballad of Black Gold)” sung by Frankie Laine, with music by the great Dimitri Tiomkin.

This is an excellent look at adventurous, hardy men trying to make a living on the edge of human advancement. There’s lots of action (by 1950s cinema standards) to keep you on the edge of your seat. We’ve got gunfire, punches, explosions, and speeding vehicles. Blowing Wild also has a bit of a romantic triangle, but it’s nothing that can’t be solved with a little violence.

This is one of the best action-adventure movies of the 1950s. It has a unique plot and setting, with quite a bit of physicality and excitement. It takes the western genre and sets it in mid-twentieth-century South America, which succeeds like gangbusters. I find it shocking that this picture isn’t more popular. It does contains a brief moment of unintentional humor, though. When the opening credits end, a title proclaims that “All events, places and persons depicted in this film are fictional,” which is immediately followed by another title saying that this story is set in “SOUTH AMERICA.” I didn’t know that that continent was fictional.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Last Outpost (1935) Review

Directors: Charles Barton and Louis J. Gasnier

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Romance, War

Runtime: 76 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Outside of Gunga Din (1939) and North by Northwest (1959), Cary Grant isn’t really known as an adventure hero, but he certainly fits that role in The Last Outpost, from relatively early in his career. The film concerns itself with the exploits of British officer Michael Andrews (Cary Grant) in the Middle East and North Africa during World War I. It’s not top-of-the-line, but it still makes for reasonably rousing escapism.

The first third of this flick deals with Grant’s character in Ottoman-held territory in the Middle East, while the middle act is more romance-heavy, as he wines and dines nurse Rosemary Haydon (Gertrude Michael) while in Egypt. The last third is the most action-packed, as Grant’s character is deployed to Sudan to help put down a rebellion there that’s sympathetic to the Central Powers. Each act has a personality of its own, but the film still manages to feel coherent.

One of the most memorable aspects of The Last Outpost is how stock-footage-intensive it is. There’s plenty of scenes borrowed from the documentary Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925) and the battle sequences in the third act are augmented by footage from The Four Feathers (1929) (according to the IMDb Trivia page for the movie). These scenes tend to stick out like a sore thumb and make the picture’s budget seem smaller than what it probably was.

Running only seventy-six minutes, this is an enjoyable war-time action-adventure story that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Cary Grant finds himself in some interesting predicaments, both on and off the battlefield, and the final third has enough combat to satisfy those looking for thrills. The plot synopsis on IMDb contains some spoilerish details, so, if you’re dead-set on watching this feature, I’d avoid reading it. It’s interesting to note that co-director Louis J. Gasnier’s next project would be Reefer Madness (1936).

My rating is 7 outta 10.

A Beautiful Mind (2001) Review

Director: Ron Howard

Genre(s): Biography, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 135 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

While A Beautiful Mind is not my favorite movie of 2001 (that would be A.I. Artificial Intelligence [2001]), it was still a very worthy choice for Best Picture at the Oscars held for films released that year. The feature being reviewed here has a wide appeal and still holds up very well. It’s a biopic of genius mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe), who finds himself increasingly wrapped up in the Cold War intrigue of the late-1940s and early-1950s.

A picture like this easily could’ve become just another dry recitation of the events in the subject’s life, but, under the guidance of director Ron Howard, it becomes something far more than that. A Beautiful Mind turns out to be an engrossing psychological thriller that rewards multiple viewings. If there’s any downside here, it’s that the third act isn’t as eye-popping as some of the content that came before it.

Russell Crowe was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his work on A Beautiful Mind. His performance here could not be any more different than his performance in the previous year’s Gladiator (2000) if he tried. They’re worlds apart, with him playing a badass action hero in the 2000 movie and an awkward, self-absorbed intellectual in the 2001 one. However, the entire cast of A Beautiful Mind deserves a shout-out, because they all did a phenomenal job.

As far as flicks that won the Oscar for Best Picture go, this one is certainly more on the crowd-pleasing side, rather than the it-only-appeals-to-film-snobs side. On paper, a film about a mathematician who doesn’t kick anybody’s ass may sound like a recipe for disaster, but Ron Howard pulls it off. It really is a stirring and thought-provoking drama, with some great performances thrown into the mix.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

RoboCop (1987) Review

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 102 minutes (R-rated version), 103 minutes (unrated version)

MPAA Rating: R (rated version), Not Rated (unrated version)

IMDb Page

The 1987 version of RoboCop may have a somewhat kitschy title, but this actioner proves a movie can have both brains and brawn. You see, this film is in on the joke and serves as a biting satire of American consumerism. Anyway, RoboCop is about viciously murdered Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), who’s brought back to life as a cyborg crime-fighting machine.

This sci-fi-crime flick is a no-nonsense joy that intelligently handles its subject matter. However, even if all you want to see is a bunch of people get killed, you’ve come to the right place. The action scenes, while certainly quite good, aren’t top-notch, but they’re handled with so much enthusiasm that you can’t help but find yourself entertained. The gory carnage here feels like director Paul Verhoeven playing with (and brutally destroying) action figures in a sandbox.

Under Verhoeven’s wily direction, every character makes an impression, although thanks to a game cast willing to jump into the fray and try out some weird stuff is also due. The humorous screenplay has proven itself endlessly quotable, and it keeps the pacing from ever lagging. Perhaps the feature’s secret weapon is Basil Poledouris’ amazing and heroic musical score that guarantees that fists will be intermittently pumped in the air.

RoboCop is seriously graphic in the violence department, but the tongue-in-cheek nature of many scenes prevents the slaughter from becoming overbearing. Despite its satirical attitude, the picture works on the sincere level of the audience actively rooting for the titular character and hoping for his success. I suppose you couldn’t ask for a whole lot more. A franchise would follow in the wake of this film, but the 1987 original is in a league of its own.

My rating is 9 outta 10.