Blue Velvet (1986) Review

Director: David Lynch

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

Runtime: 120 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

One day, resident of American suburbia Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) finds a decomposing, severed human ear in a field, setting him off on an investigation to find out whose it is. It’s a set-up to a wildly popular mystery-thriller, but this one failed to get under my skin the way it has for countless other viewers. I appreciate director David Lynch’s style, but Blue Velvet is one of his more forgettable feature films in my experience.

This semi-surreal thriller is set in a weird version of suburbia that seems uncanny. Something’s “off.” There’s an undercurrent of melancholy. Blue Velvet is all about the sinister mysteries that could be lurking under the clean veneer of your hometown, just waiting to be discovered if you only wanted to find them. This film dares to explore the dark corners of its community, and the results are somewhat disappointing. It’s not a bad movie, it’s just not terribly memorable.

The best part of this work is Dennis Hopper’s unpredictable, foul-mouthed, gas-huffing villain, Frank Booth. However, the motion picture could have benefited from some more surrealism, in my opinion. For a David Lynch flick, it almost feels too “normal” at times. Sure, there’s that classic Lynchian sense of unease, but I think I might’ve preferred the movie if it was Eraserhead Moves to the Suburbs. Many, perhaps most, will disagree with this take, but I’ll stand by it for now.

I like the ideas that went into Blue Velvet, but the execution didn’t thrill me. It does have all the right elements of a crackerjack thriller. It’s a respectable neo-noir as it stands now, but I just don’t enjoy it as much as most people seem to. This picture is frequently hailed as a masterpiece, and I can sort of see why, yet I can’t really agree with the consensus. It’s too odd to be a conventional mystery feature, yet not crazy enough to be a full-on David Lynch “freak-show” extravaganza.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Cape Fear (1991) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The original Cape Fear (1962) is a terrific movie, but director Martin Scorsese sent a remake to theaters in 1991. So, which one is better? Before we get into that, let’s go over the plot. A deeply disturbed rapist who was recently released from prison, Max Cady (Robert De Niro), stalks the lawyer who unsuccessfully defended him in court, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), and his family. Okay, I won’t leave you in suspense, the 1962 one is superior, but the 1991 version is still worth watching.

The newer release of Cape Fear is, interestingly enough, much pulpier and more unsubtle than the original. The direction is histrionic and in-your-face, making you wonder if Martin Scorsese was trying to be funny. It’s almost comically over-the-top at times. I’m not sure if “operatic” is a word I’d normally use to describe a crime-thriller about a rapist stalking a lawyer and his family. To add to the movie’s heightened energy, the loud-and-proud musical themes from the 1962 original, composed by Bernard Herrmann, are employed here, as adopted by Elmer Bernstein.

The 1991 Cape Fear adds traces of moral ambiguity that weren’t present in the original. Unfortunately, this only detracts somewhat from the tension, as it’s scarier when the villain is interrupting a picture-perfect lifestyle of the heroes, as seen in the 1962 version. Robert De Niro’s bad guy’s characterization is all over the place. At least, three of the actors from the older one – Gregory Peck (as Lee Heller, a slimy lawyer), Robert Mitchum (playing Elgart, a policeman), and Martin Balsam (portraying a judge) – make cameo appearances.

Scorsese’s version of the story ups the ante (including in the violence department), but at what cost? It’s also the longer film, making it seem less taut than the 1962 one. However, it’s still a compelling thriller with some memorable scenes. It would probably be more fondly remembered if it wasn’t riding the coattails of the original, directed by J. Lee Thompson. It’s not essential viewing for film buffs, but they probably won’t regret watching it once or twice.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Cape Fear (1962) Review

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1962 classic Cape Fear (which was remade in 1991 with the same title) is one of those thrillers that wasn’t directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but easily feels like it could’ve been (another one is Mirage [1965], which also stars Gregory Peck). An ex-con named Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), who just got out of prison, stalks the lawyer, Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), who put him behind bars and his family. It could be the docks or the “bowling center,” Max Cady is sure to be right behind them.

This modern-feeling crime-drama was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who had previously helmed the World War II action-adventure masterpiece The Guns of Navarone (1961) and would later direct – erm – Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987). His leadership of the project is rock-solid. Cape Fear is a tense, tightly-wound movie, with moody black-and-white cinematography and a booming, delightfully unsubtle musical score from Bernard Herrmann (who frequently collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock).

One of the best aspects of this picture is its performances. It’s a battle of wills (that’s threatening to turn physical) between Gregory Peck’s upright integrity and Robert Mitchum’s sexual menace. The latter is truly an animalistic force of nature here. Watching him crash the Bowden family’s idyllic lifestyle is disturbing. Good supporting roles are provided by Martin Balsam as Mark Dutton, the police chief, and Telly Savalas as Charles Sievers, a private detective.

The 1962 version of Cape Fear is a tremendous thriller in the vein of Psycho (1960)-era Alfred Hitchcock. Intense from the get-go, the movie succeeds on Mitchum’s character’s unpredictability and Gregory Peck’s character’s willingness to go to extremes to defend himself and his family. It carefully escalates tension and excitement without feeling pulpy (not that pulp is a bad thing by any means). You have to find a copy of this one to watch.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Batman (2022) Review

Director: Matt Reeves

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

Runtime: 176 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Man, these Batman movies just keep getting darker and darker, don’t they? Set in Gotham City, superhero/masked vigilante Batman (Robert Pattinson) fights to stop the twisted murderer the Riddler (Paul Dano), who’s been bumping off members of the city’s elite. It’s a superhero actioner, an underworld neo-noir, a serial killer thriller, and a psychological drama all in one, without ever feeling hastily assembled or scattershot.

Robert Pattinson makes a surprisingly fearsome Batman, but a mediocre Bruce Wayne. Paul Dano’s Riddler is hold-your-breath scary, not just for his gruesome murders, but also for the philosophical threat he poses to Batman’s brand of justice. James Gordon is played by Jeffrey Wright, who knocks it out of the park with this role. The plot sometimes threatens to become convoluted, but it mostly stays understandable for somebody who’s bad at following intricate stories (like myself). The sinister musical score by Michael Giacchino sometimes resembles a high-tech, high-powered dirge.

The action sequences in The Batman might seem a little reserved at first compared to those in other entries in the Caped Crusader’s filmography. However, they feature clear camerawork, exciting choreography, and high stakes. The fist fight illuminated by automatic weapons fire, the harsh, pulse-pounding car chase, and the finale are the highlights in the action department. Pushing the MPAA’s PG-13 rating to its limits, this flick sometimes gives the audience am-I-watching-something-illegal? vibes, especially during the scenes involving the Riddler’s “dark web” presence.

The Batman is one of the best films in the superhero’s franchise. It features a solid blend of Batman doing detective work and outright battling his foes. Sure, it’s dark, intense, and oppressive, but this gamble paid off big time here, with the picture pulling off a real sense of danger and a desperate need for heroism. There are plenty of ace movies set in the Batman universe out there, and this is a welcome addition to that growing filmography.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

James Cagney returned to the role of gangster in 1938 with the popular crime-drama Angels with Dirty Faces. Here, a group of inner-city kids find themselves torn between the influences of tough mobster Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and virtuous priest Jerry Connelly (Pat O’Brien). Who will they follow in the footsteps of? Who will survive to the ending? Is James Cagney the best basketball referee of all time? Humphrey Bogart also shows up as corrupt lawyer James Frazier.

Cagney gives one of the strongest performances of his career here (he was given an Oscar nomination for Best Actor). The acting is terrific across the board, and the use of light and shadow is excellent. Overall, this movie is not as nitty-gritty as The Public Enemy (1931), action-packed as ‘G’ Men (1935), or ferocious as White Heat (1949), but Angels with Dirty Faces has a clear identity of its own.

This is a very well-paced gangster film, with it moving from scene to scene with amazing grace. On the action front, things are pretty solid. The big action moment, the final shootout, has got to be one of the very best gunfights in cinema up to that point in history. Cagney apparently had actual bullets fired in his general area during filming. Director Michael Curtiz (who would later helm Casablanca [1942]) is no stranger when it comes to exciting action.

It’s not quite up there with the aforementioned White Heat or The Public Enemy, but Angels with Dirty Faces is still one of Cagney’s best flicks. The picture’s ambiguous ending has been debated by fans for decades, and the acting still holds up. This one is certainly recommended. In Home Alone (1990), a movie titled Angels with Filthy Souls is watched on television, and, in its sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), a film named Angels with Even Filthier Souls makes an appearance.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

I Walk the Line (1970) Review

Director: John Frankenheimer

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Romance

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Gregory Peck stars in a rural crime-drama with a soundtrack consisting of tracks from Johnny Cash? Yes, this film exists…and it’s not too bad either. In small-town Tennessee, Sheriff Tawes (Gregory Peck) falls in love and has an affair with Alma McCain (Tuesday Weld), the daughter of local illegal moonshiner Carl McCain (Ralph Meeker). Blood will be shed before this story is over.

Of course, the most famous element of this picture is its Johnny Cash soundtrack (“I Walk the Line” is unsurprisingly present). It’s not enough to make the movie worth watching by itself, but it does improve the scenes that it appears in. There isn’t much action here, but there is suspenseful excitement at the very end. This is far from Gregory Peck’s best role, but he’s fine in I Walk the Line.

Even though I Walk the Line is about the main character’s personal dilemma, it isn’t a particularly inspiring (for the lack of a better word) one. How about not having an affair, especially with a moonshiner’s kid? How about that, Mr. Peck? Think! Gregory’s character’s wife, Ellen Haney (Estelle Parsons), and his deputy, Hunnicutt (Charles Durning), probably end up suffering the most from his affair, even if both of their roles are pretty forgettable.

According to the IMDb Trivia section for this work, it is “[c]onsidered by many to be Peck’s worst film.” Ouch. Okay, I don’t think that it’s that terrible (haven’t these viewers seen Marooned [1969]?), but it doesn’t give you very many compelling reasons to set aside some time for it. I Walk the Line is watchable, despite being neither-here-nor-there in the recommendability department. Normally I’d say “Gregory Peck fans might enjoy it,” but, considering its reputation, I’ll just keep my mouth shut.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Touch of Evil (1958) Review

Director: Orson Welles

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 95 minutes (original theatrical cut), 111 minutes (restored cut)

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Touch of Evil, released in 1958, was one of the last films noirs from the golden age of that style in the 1940s and 1950s…and it’s one of the best. The story’s about American cop Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) and Mexican police officer Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) investigating a fatal car-bombing along the border between their two countries. The most critically-acclaimed movie from director Orson Welles may be Citizen Kane (1941), but, to be honest, I’d rather watch Touch of Evil, which he helmed and starred in.

In addition to the talented cast, the cinematography is a major star of the show. The long, one-shot opening sequence, depicting the car-bombing that sets off the plot, is a doozy and is rightfully famous. Shadows and interesting camera angles are used incessantly. The flick has a seedy, sleazy, nocturnal atmosphere that works wonders (although a few too many scenes take place during daytime).

This boundary-pushing classic is no action picture, but those moments where the shit hits the fan warrant a chef’s kiss. One murder scene is just as intense and ferocious as anything you’d see nowadays. It’s an edge-of-your-seat part of a fantastic film, with another one of those staggering sequences being the one with the hopped-up hoodlums at a remote motel. Some have raised issue with Charlton Heston playing a Mexican character, but it’s handled very tastefully for that sort of thing (no cheesy accent here).

If I must find any fault with Touch of Evil (other than the aforementioned complaint about too much sunlight at times), it’s that the plot can feel a bit vague in the opening scenes (even if the first thing the audience sees in the entire picture is a bomb). While films noirs generally aren’t my thing, this one is harsh, in-your-face, reasonably easy to follow, not overly talky, and satisfying. This is a movie that any self-respecting cinephile needs to check out.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Wild at Heart (1990) Review

Director: David Lynch

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

Runtime: 125 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Wild at Heart is a crime-thriller from director David Lynch about two lovers – “Sailor” Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) – who find themselves on a road trip to Hell while trying to escape the latter’s mother, Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd). This is David Lynch we’re talking about here, so this is a deliberately weird work that won’t appeal to viewers looking for something – well – coherent. However, I love surrealism, so will Wild at Heart do the trick for me?

First of all, those expecting this to be Eraserhead: Road Trip! will be sorely disappointed. Yes, there are scenes in this flick with an oneiric feel to them, but I don’t think that the movie went far enough off the deep-end to be truly memorable. There’s this strange sense of unease throughout many sequences, but there isn’t a whole lot of dream logic. Some may be thrown off by the film’s odd sentimental streak and dark humor.

With allusions to everything from The Wizard of Oz (1939) to Elvis Presley, this picture’s approach can feel scattershot. Try something surreal, and, if that doesn’t work, try another surreal trick. Nicolas Cage’s hammy performance is amusing at first, but it’s not enough to sustain the two-hour runtime. Willem Dafoe (as killer Bobby Peru) is a highlight. Just look at that bastard’s moldy-mouthed grin beneath the bank-robbing stocking he’s wearing over his face! Terrifying, isn’t it?

There were times where I think I understood what David Lynch was going for here, but I just didn’t care enough to appreciate it. I totally dig movies that make you feel like you’ve stepped into somebody’s dream, but I couldn’t get on the same wavelength as this one. It’s a little repetitive and not quite surreal enough. Some plot threads don’t really go anywhere. I like the idea of this movie more than its actual execution.

My rating is 5 outta 10.

This Gun for Hire (1942) Review

Director: Frank Tuttle

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

Runtime: 81 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1942 film noir This Gun for Hire was the breakout movie for tough guy actor Alan Ladd. Here, Philip Raven (Alan Ladd), a moody, cat-loving American hitman, becomes caught up in a scheme to sell national secrets to the Axis Powers during World War II. This is a surprisingly good flick, which is high praise coming from me, since I usually don’t fancy straight film noir.

The first of four pictures to feature both Alan Ladd and actress Veronica Lake, this crime-thriller greatly benefits from a relatively short runtime (eighty-one minutes) and a decent amount of action. Despite being in black-and-white, it’s rather colorful, and it also has a plot just about anybody could follow. The pacing slows down a tad as the Alan Ladd character finds himself hunted down in an industrial park, but that’s only a very minor complaint.

It’s interesting to note that this film noir could also be considered something of a war movie, since its villains intend on dealing with the Axis Powers of World War II. This level of intrigue makes the work more fun to watch. This Gun for Hire also feels somewhat daring for a flick released during the days of the Production Code. I mean, how many other American motion pictures from this time period have a hitman as their hero?

A focused crime-drama, this movie is an enjoyable watch. Alan Ladd really sells it in the role that made him a star. Even if you’re not typically a fan of noir, I’d recommend giving this one a shot. Now it’s time for some trivia. Footage from this picture was edited into the Steve Martin noir spoof Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), and it was later remade as the mediocre Short Cut to Hell (1957), the only film ever directed by iconic actor James Cagney.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

His Girl Friday (1940) Review

Director: Howard Hawks

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Romance

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) tries to win back his reporter ex-wife, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), by having them cover a murder case together. When one thinks of screwball comedies with lots of rapid-fire, fast-paced dialogue, His Girl Friday is what they think of. According to the Trivia section for this movie on IMDb, the rate of dialogue for a normal film is about 90 words per minute, while this picture attacks you with about 240 words per minutes. Yowza!

Unfortunately, this rom-com isn’t as funny as the earlier collaboration between director Howard Hawks and actor Cary Grant, Bringing Up Baby (1938). I suppose that if you think fast-talking 1940s wordplay is inherently funny, you’ll have a field day, but I was less amused. The best joke is probably the one where Grant describes how boring the character of Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) is by name-dropping a certain actor, which was supposedly an ad-lib by Grant (it almost made me do a double-take at the television set).

I did not find His Girl Friday to be a compellingly put-together film. It sometimes comes across as repetitive, and occasionally it feels like the two major plot threads – that of Cary Grant trying to win back Rosalind Russell and the murder case coverage – don’t come together seamlessly. Some sequences heavily focus on the Grant-Russell relationship, while others heavily deal with the attempt to stop an execution from taking place. The pace just isn’t as fast as the dialogue.

Overall, I was just left with a “meh” feeling after watching this classic. Perhaps I just should’ve watched Bringing Up Baby again. Anyway, it feels longer than its runtime would indicate and it’s rather talky (although that’s expected). I’d be dishonest if I said that it was bad, but I was largely indifferent to the somewhat forgettable flick being reviewed here. You could do worse, but you could also do better.

My rating is 5 outta 10.