The Fugitive (1993) Review

Director: Andrew Davis

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

Runtime: 130 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

We all have some movies that take us to our “Happy Place.” For me, one of those elite-class films is 1993’s The Fugitive. Just in case you don’t know, the plot’s about a Chicago doctor named Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) who’s falsely accused of murdering his wife, Helen (Sela Ward), and has to escape from police custody to find the true killer. All along the way, he’ll be pursued by Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), a relentless U.S. Marshal.

One of the best things about this classic is the cat-and-mouse game played by Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones’ characters. They’re both professionals and they, like the movie itself, never miss a beat. Ford’s an easy guy to root for and Jones, despite being an antagonist, is not demonized. Action and suspense scenes come and go, but it’s the characters that make the deepest impression.

Speaking of action sequences, there are a few stunners here that I won’t spoil. The big set-pieces are pulse-pounding, and the film captures a great sense of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure. The pacing is exquisite, moving from one fight, evasion, escape, standoff, chase, or close-call to the next, with just enough dialogue to make sure the thing is comprehensible.

The Fugitive is a classy, airtight action-thriller that makes great use of its Chicago-area locations. It manages to feel somewhat plausible on one hand, but, on the other, it doesn’t feel tied down by concerns for excessive realism. The tone’s just right, being serious enough to draw the audience in without being oppressive. I would consider it essential viewing.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

The Comancheros (1961) Review

Directors: Michael Curtiz and John Wayne

Genre(s): Adventure, Western

Runtime: 107 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The last motion picture directed by Hollywood icon Michael Curtiz (who helmed such classics as Casablanca [1942]) was the John Wayne western The Comancheros. Curtiz was dying during the filming of the movie, and Wayne often stepped in to direct for him. The story of the film concerns Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (John Wayne), who has to take down a society of outlaws selling firearms to hostile Native Americans. The Duke really piles up the corpses in this one.

Let’s start with the good stuff. The musical score by Elmer Bernstein is fabulous, even if it sounds a bit too similar to the one he wrote for The Magnificent Seven (1960) the previous year. The action scenes are very good, with tons of people falling off of horses. They certainly didn’t skimp on the body count here. There’s also some interesting worldbuilding for a western flick, with the bad guys – known as “the Comancheros” – basically being a civilization unto themselves.

What holds back The Comancheros from greatness is mostly its meandering plot. John Wayne working to take down gunrunners takes up only a fraction of the picture’s runtime. Much screentime is devoted to the Duke’s dealings with Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), a fugitive that he’s slowly befriending, and some time is dedicated to widow Melinda Marshall (Joan O’Brien) who Wayne might be fancying. The film also falls back on the racist trope of there being “tame” Native Americans (those who voluntarily give up their land) and “wild” ones (those who don’t).

Action and music are the strong suits of this movie, while its shortcomings largely have to do with its unfocused nature. That being said, I’m sure fans of John Wayne will find plenty to like here. I just wish that the screenplay had been streamlined a bit and that a couple of slow spots had been patched over. Still, you could do a lot worse.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) Review

Director: Marielle Heller

Genre(s): Biography, Drama

Runtime: 109 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

I can still remember what it was like when it was announced that Tom Hanks was cast as Fred Rogers in a movie. Everyone on the Internet seemed to agree that this was the casting decision of the century. The film itself is about cynical reporter Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who’s assigned to interview children’s television show host Mr. Rogers (the aforementioned Tom Hanks). Although I have deemed this a “Biography” picture for categorization purposes, this is not a rote biopic of the legendary nice guy.

Some may be surprised to find out that Mr. Rogers is a bit of a supporting character in his own movie. It probably shouldn’t be too much of a shock, since film thrives on conflict, and how are you supposed to make an audience feel uncomfortable if the entire flick is about calm Mr. Rogers running a T.V. program? The primary focus here is on Matthew Rhys’ journalist character, who has some serious father issues to work out.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood avoids the trap of being too cutesy by focusing on some heavy themes. Well, yes, there is some adorable content here, like Mr. Rogers’ puppets, but this is also a picture about death, forgiveness, misanthropy, fear, and anger. It’s not exactly your typical family film, but it will surely resonate with the older members of the audience.

Tom Hanks’ Fred Rogers might be a hair quirkier than the real person, but it’s still a splendid performance. It’s a fantastic feature, overall, never once losing me, despite I being the type of moviegoer who prefers shootouts, explosions, and car chases. I’m definitely not the first person to say this, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is one of those rare movies that comes along that makes you want to be a better person.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Mercenary (1968) Review

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, War, Western

Runtime: 110 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Man, was director Sergio Corbucci on a roll with those “spaghetti westerns” (Italian-made westerns) between the mid-1960s and early-1970s or what? One of the better known of his flicks from this time period is The Mercenary, also sometimes called “A Professional Gun.” Set during the Mexican Revolution, a Polish gun-for-hire named Sergei Kowalski (Franco Nero) finds himself at the service of Paco Roman (Tony Musante), a Mexican bandit who’s an aspiring revolutionary. Many people will be blown away and many genres will be blended along the way.

The remarkable musical score from Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai is one of the first things the audience notices about the movie, and it leaves a major impression. Jack Palance shows up as “Curly,” the picture’s chilling villain. He’s a quietly sinister threat and Palance’s job holds up as one of the best bad guy performances of the 1960s. The action scenes are frequent and frenetic, with plenty of machine gun mayhem. The standout here is probably the highly stylish showdown in the empty bullfighting arena.

The biggest problem with The Mercenary is that it’s pretty episodic at times. The characters played by Franco Nero and Tony Musante are constantly fussin’ and fightin’ as they move from town to town, with Jack Palance’s “Curly” hot on their trail. A stronger central plot might be necessary. It’s interesting to note that this movie has some moral ambiguity for being a “Zapata western” (a politically-conscious western typically set during a time of revolution or rebellion in Mexico), with neither of the leads exactly being terrific role models.

With its effortless tough guy swagger and effective premise, The Mercenary is a must-watch for spaghetti western fans. Its plot may ramble a bit, but it’s fast-paced enough for this to not be a serious concern. For a winning mixture of action-adventure, spaghetti western, war film, and even comedy, check this one out!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Blinded by the Light (2019) Review

Director: Gurinder Chadha

Genre(s): Comedy, Drama, Musical

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Blinded by the Light is a film about the music of Bruce Springsteen, but this is no rock star biopic. Instead, it follows Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), the son of Pakistani immigrants living in Great Britain in the 1980s, who discovers the music of “the Boss” to help him cope with his chaotic life. Based on a true story, this is a euphoric movie that wears its heart on its sleeve.

This dramedy covers more than just classic rock, of course. It’s a coming-of-age story that tackles the issues of intergenerational conflict, prejudice, hero worship, and the role of family. It’s refreshingly earnest and some are bound to find it cheesy in its emotional directness and lack of subtlety. I, however, found the flick’s child-like enthusiasm infectious and charming.

Almost needless to say, there’s plenty of Bruce Springseen music in this feature to rock out to. Most of the biggies are here, like “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Prove It All Night,” and, obviously, “Blinded by the Light.” I was surprised to hear “Because the Night,” a song originally written by Bruce for the Patti Smith Group (it’s the Springsteen version that plays here). Even if you’re not familiar with the works of the New Jersey rocker at its center, you’ll still probably enjoy the picture.

Blinded by the Light is the kind of positive movie that’s not reliant on sex or violence that many people lament aren’t being made anymore. It’s a feel-good flick for sure, but it still shows a few glimpses of the darker side of humanity that must be overcome by our unassuming hero. It’s a focused work of cinema that succeeds without leaning too much on the Springsteen music that inspired it. It’s just a good story.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Django (1966) Review

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Genre(s): Action, Western

Runtime: 91 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

1966’s Django just might be the most famous “spaghetti western” (Italian-made western) that wasn’t directed by Sergio Leone. A mysterious, coffin-dragging gunslinger named Django (Franco Nero) finds himself in the middle of a range war between Mexican revolutionaries and ex-Confederate, Ku Klux Klan-style renegades. It may live in the shadows of the works by the aforementioned Leone, but this flick has a personality of its own.

One of the first things one is probably going to notice about this movie is just how action-packed it is. Guns are going off almost constantly and the body count just keeps rising. Keep in mind that this is a pulpy and over-the-top film that has no time for realism. The violence was considered extreme for its time, and still has a jarring moment or two.

Franco Nero’s cool-as-a-cucumber titular character is obviously based on Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, but I figure he’s just different enough to avoid claims of blatant plagiarism. This feature is rawer and looser than Leone’s pictures, so don’t expect something quite as tight or elegant as those movies. One of the best parts of Django is its theme song, sung by Rocky Roberts. Some may find it lacking in subtlety, but, hey, that certainly fits the film.

Overall, Django is a pretty undemanding piece of shoot-’em-up filmmaking. It verges on the schlocky, but this muddy and bloody classic revels in its carnage in a way that’s hard not to admire. The action’s mostly exemplary, so this makes up for any problems that the rest of the flick may have. It’s worth noting that over thirty movies have used the Django character since introduced here.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Mile 22 (2018) Review

Director: Peter Berg

Genre(s): Action, Thriller

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Mile 22 is intense, but aimlessly so. It got my blood pumping, but I’m not sure why, as it’s so messy and unsatisfying. Set in a fictional nation in Southeast Asia, a team of CIA operatives are tasked with escorting out of the country Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a police officer who knows the location of some weapons-of-mass-destruction that threaten the world. It’s an interesting set-up…with a so-so execution.

This is an action movie, and, on that front, we have a mixed bag. The editing is frequently too choppy for its own good, occasionally making it difficult to tell who’s fighting who. Martial artist Iko Uwais is one of the main draws of the film, and his action scenes are exciting when they’re comprehensible. Overall, the violence is half-sloppy and half-well-done. There’s more gunplay than fisticuffs, resulting in endless headshots.

One of the more prominent flaws of the feature is the unlikable main character, James Silva (Mark Wahlberg). This guy’s got anger issues and does very little to ingratiate himself to the audience. Okay, he does prevent a kid from being blown the Hell up by a bomb, but that’s so far into the runtime that the opportunity to win over the viewer is long gone. He’s probably one of the most unpleasant leads since Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars prequels.

Yeah, I’ve definitely ragged on this movie enough. I mean, it’s not a boring picture, for what it’s worth. There’s no shortage of action here. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, it’s an oddly intense-feeling action-thriller, yet it doesn’t leave that much of an impression when it’s all said and done. It seems to have a worldview that’s on the nasty side, but, considering the film’s underwhelming nature, does it even matter?

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Richard Jewell (2019) Review

Director: Clint Eastwood

Genre(s): Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 131 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Richard Jewell is made in the terse, economical style that one would expect from a movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Its challenging story (based on true events) is about American security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), who discovers a bomb at a crowded concert at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. However, in this film, it’s really the stuff that takes place after the Olympics that really matter.

The committed performances by the cast definitely sell the picture. Originally, the title character was going to be played by Jonah Hill (who also helped produce the work), but the less-famous Paul Walter Hauser got the role in the end. I think casting a less familiar face for the lead makes the flick a more immersive experience. The resulting movie is taut and efficient, being very effective on the level of making the audience wonder what’s going to happen next.

Despite its engaging nature, the film attracted quite a bit of controversy for its depiction of reporter Kathy Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde), who is portrayed as a sleazy, narcissistic sort who trades sex for news scoops. Scruggs, who died in 2001, was not around to defend herself, and many felt she was being railroaded the same way that the media and the government railroaded Jewell. It’s hard not to hold this against the finished product, but I don’t think it’s quite enough for me to give it a negative review.

Richard Jewell offers a few problems for viewers just trying to enjoy the picture, yet it’s far more entertaining than not. It offers up some complicated moral dilemmas and some good suspense. It goes to show that a feature doesn’t need a big gunfight at the end to be satisfying. There are parts of the flick that are on-the-nose, but it’s a solid, little drama that its target audience will definitely get a kick out of.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Magnificent Seven (2016) Review

Director: Antoine Fuqua

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

Runtime: 132 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 2016 version of The Magnificent Seven can’t top the 1960 original, but it doesn’t go down without one Hell of a fight. In this action-packed western, seven gunmen are hired to help protect a small mining town from robber-baron Bartholomew Bogue’s (Peter Sarsgaard) private army. What this film lacks in originality, it makes up for with fireworks.

2016’s The Magnificent Seven is set domestically in the United States, so it largely lacks the internationalist, Wilsonian edge of the 1960 flick. Still, the seven gunslingers are a diverse bunch, so one could argue that it’s still about people of different backgrounds coming together to fight tyranny. One of the main characters has an unnecessary motivation for his actions (that I won’t spoil here) that sort of ruins the angle that the heroes are doing this from the purity of their hearts, though.

If all you want is Wild West action, this feature delivers that by the wagonload. The final shootout (more of an all-out battle) is a lengthy affair, going through several different stages. This film’s body count is nothing short of ludicrous. In comparison to the 1960 original, there’s a lot more shoot-’em-up, but, in terms of quality, they’re roughly on par with one another.

So, I just prefer The Magnificent Seven (1960), but I can put aside my love of that picture to say that this one is still worth a ride or two (or three). The 1960 film has a more impressive cast and a more riveting musical score by Elmer Bernstein (the 2016 version’s score, by Simon Franglen and James Horner, is downright restrained in comparison). Yeah, it’s hard to beat a classic, but this movie is still worth watching…especially for action-adventure fanatics.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972) Review

Director: George McCowan

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

Runtime: 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The Magnificent Seven Ride! is the fourth entry into the franchise, and also the darkest. The plot is sort of a combination of The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Dirty Dozen (1967), being about seven gunfighters, including five prison inmates offered pardons for their handiwork, who must protect a small Mexican village from some raping, murdering, pillaging bandits. It just might be the most engaging of The Magnificent Seven films since the original.

Despite sometimes having a made-for-television quality, this movie still manages to feature some very good action sequences. They’re squibbier than the ones in previous pictures in the series, giving them a more violent edge. Sure, these just might be the weakest set of action set-pieces in the franchise (by just a tad), but they’re still better than those found in most other westerns. There’s really a palpable sense of danger and impending doom here.

The Magnificent Seven Ride! features the least notable set of characters in the series. The flick makes a mistake by recruiting five of the titular seven in one scene, so they don’t get much of a chance to show off their individual personalities. Hell, some of these dudes barely get any distinctive personality at all. The character who returns from the previous three features is played by a different actor in this one (making him the third actor to play this character).

Maybe this movie’s a little weak when it comes to fleshing out supporting characters, but I think it does a better job of establishing tension and dread than Return of the Seven (1966) or Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969). It’s a solid men-on-a-mission action-adventure picture with some better-than-average gunplay. If you’ve liked the previous films in the series, odds are good you’ll enjoy this one.

My rating is 7 outta 10.