Pulp Fiction (1994) Review

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 154 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Quentin Tarantino, using his trademark blood-soaked-hipster aesthetic, brought about a filmmaking revolution with Pulp Fiction. With its nonlinear storytelling and ruthlessly hip nature, this beloved movie spawned countless imitators. The plot’s pretty loose, but revolves around the stories of two chatty hitmen – Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) – and boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), who’s ordered to take a dive in the ring by mob boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames).

Pulp Fiction, despite its popularity, is a misnamed movie, being more of a darkly comedic neo-noir than a work of cinematic pulp. Pulp is something more along the lines of the Indiana Jones series, anything Tintin, King Kong (1933), the Brendan Fraser Mummy franchise, The Untouchables (1987), Island of Lost Souls (1932), Dillinger (1973), etc. Pedantry aside, there is some very good location work here, and some sequences, like the apartment interrogation involving Samuel L. Jackson’s character and the pick-your-weapon scene are truly genius.

The truth is: I’m not much of a fan of this flick. This eye-rollingly talky and self-conscious pop-culture-apalooza features characters that I often wish would just shut up. Nothing’s as simple as “yes,” “no,” or “okay” in this picture’s universe. With its look-how-cool-I-am attitude, Pulp Fiction verges on the emotionless. There’s surprisingly little human drama to sustain the feature, although some parts are admirably suspenseful. Ultimately, it leaves the audience feeling little.

This film, which helped put director Quentin Tarantino on the map, is highly irreverent, yet also oddly self-important. It broke new ground and all the rules, but at what cost? I understand that droves of film enthusiasts hold this one in high regard, but, a few flashes of brilliance aside, I feel like I’m on the outside of its universe, rather than immersed in the experience. I’m not calling it overrated, but it doesn’t have much resonance with me.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

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.

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.

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.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) Review

Director: Carl Reiner

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The film noir spoof Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid feels like an extended sketch from a late night talk show program…and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Here, private eye Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) “interacts” with various actors and actresses from the golden age of noir while trying to solve the mystery of the death of scientist and cheese-maker John Hay Forrest. Director Carl Reiner apparently considered this his favorite movie that he directed (at least according to the IMDb Trivia page for it).

The primary gag of this flick is that Steve Martin spends a great deal of time talking to actors and actresses of the 1940s and 1950s by having footage from their pictures ingeniously spliced into this 1980s production. We meet familiar faces, ranging from James Cagney to Kirk Douglas, from Alan Ladd to Burt Lancaster, from Humphrey Bogart to Barbara Stanwyck, from Cary Grant to Bette Davis. The joke doesn’t really get old after a while (the whole thing’s only eighty-eight minutes long), and there’s plenty of other antics to provoke laughter.

Unfortunately, the back-and-forth story of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid can feel like a mess at times. I suppose that this is true to the nature of film noir, a style of filmmaking that sometimes features convoluted plotting, but most of the feature is Martin’s character going from location to location to meet with different people. Despite this, I’d say that the movie builds up to a satisfying climax that makes the aimless-feeling nature of the plot feel worthwhile.

Quibbles about the story aside, this is one funny film. Steve Martin is both hard-boiled and hilarious at the same time and the pacing is fast. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of noir, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid tickled my funny bone fairly thoroughly. The spot-the-movie-star aspect of the movie only adds to its appeal. Do I recommend this one? Yes…yes, I do.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Nobody (2021) Review

Director: Ilya Naishuller

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The explosive action-thriller Nobody offers exactly what action movie fans want to see. The efficient plot is concerned with boring family man and former U.S. government auditor Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk), who fails to foil a home invasion and looks like a major loser to the rest of the community. Things escalate from there. Action junkies miss this one at their own risk.

Bob Odenkirk previously made a name for himself as a comedy writer and actor. Hell, the guy was a writer for Saturday Night Live between 1987 and 1991 and also for Late Night with Conan O’Brien from 1993 to 1994. However, his transition to action star could not be more flawless or convincing. He makes it look effortless. Christopher Lloyd (who plays David Mansell, the elderly father of Odenkirk’s character) also demands a special mention for his crowd-pleasing performance.

Nobody is darkly comedic without being intrudingly cheeky. As funny as it gets, the humor never detracts from the danger or excitement. The whole thing sort of feels like a John Wick sequel where you actually care about what’s taking place onscreen. Like the John Wick series, this feature boasts astonishingly good action set-pieces and plenty of bloody carnage. The body count is high…very high.

Nobody has just the right runtime (a little over ninety minutes) and it wastes no time getting started. It serves as a fascinating commentary on mankind’s addiction to violence. Well, even if you don’t give a damn about exploring the human condition, you’ll want to see this flick. Its star my come from a comedy background, but this actioner is just about as badass as they come.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Gun Crazy (1950) Review

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

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

Runtime: 87 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

I’m generally not the biggest fan of film noir, but once in a while I’ll see one that really tickles my fancy. Gun Crazy is one of those movies. The story is about two firearms-obsessed crack-shots – Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) and Bart Tare (John Dall) – who fall in love and go on a crime spree. Does this sound like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) to you? It’s certainly an important precursor to that landmark picture.

Gun Crazy is an interesting dive into the United States’ fascination with firearms. It’s a fine character study, too, being a b-movie that looks like an a-movie, thanks to its production values. The budget was low, but the strong cinematography and acting do a great deal to elevate the proceedings. The runtime is only eighty-seven minutes, so it trucks along at a good pace.

This feature has more action than your average film noir, which is probably a key reason why I enjoyed it more than most examples of that style. The body count remains relatively low, but many scenes still involve somebody taking out a pistol. One of the best sequences in the film is a one-shot robbery scene that must’ve been pretty ambitious considering the low budget.

No, I don’t love this one more than the aforementioned masterpiece Bonnie and Clyde, but it’s still a very entertaining, stylish little flick. This thriller even has a non-criminal character named “Clyde” – Clyde Boston (Harry Lewis). It lives up to its lurid title and its sensationalistic tagline (“Thrill Crazy…Kill Crazy…Gun Crazy“). Even if you’re not a noir person, this one still might be worth tracking down.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Ace of Hearts (1921) Review

Director: Wallace Worsley

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

Runtime: 75 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The silent 1921 drama-thriller The Ace of Hearts may have been an attempt to recapture some of the magic from The Penalty (1920), another crime film that also starred Lon Chaney, was directed by Wallace Worsley, and was based on a work by pulp novelist Gouverneur Morris. There may be a reason why this movie isn’t as fondly remembered as The Penalty, but it’s still worth a watch. The story is about a secret society, of which Farallone (Lon Chaney) is a member, that is plotting the killing of a wealthy individual, and the assassin being chosen by the random dealing of cards (ace of hearts gets to carry out the mission).

The Ace of Hearts‘ biggest strength is its atmospheric nature, with many scenes having a strong nocturnal energy. The image of Lon Chaney waiting outside of your apartment window in a nighttime rainstorm is powerful. The picture feels pretty padded-out, even with a running time of only seventy-five minutes, but the feature does build up to a successful climax, even if it has some unsure footing along the way.

This film does have a prominent romantic triangle in it that feels a little silly, but it’s largely forgiven by the time the flick ends. You see, the backroom secret society has one female member – Lilith (Leatrice Joy) – and two of the potential assassins – Farallone and Forrest (John Bowers) – are madly in love her, both wanting a chance to be the hitman in order to show their devotion to “the Cause.” Farallone – Lon Chaney’s character – mostly just stands around looking glum in a ridiculous hairdo.

The Ace of Hearts may not hold up that well when compared to a couple of Lon Chaney’s other movies, like West of Zanzibar (1928) or the aforementioned The Penalty, but, despite an occasionally slow pace, it should have enough merits to make it worth tracking down for fans of “The Man with a Thousand Faces.” It has an interesting story with a nice payoff. Check out the audacious main title sequence, which simply shows the ace of hearts playing card (instead of text) when the title should be shown.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Timecop (1994) Review

Director: Peter Hyams

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

Runtime: 99 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Police officer Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is tasked with preventing the abuse of time travel, when he finds himself fighting against corrupt American politician Aaron McComb (Ron Silver), who’s been using that technology to accumulate funds for a Presidential campaign. As of the writing of this review, Wikipedia says that this is Jean-Claude Van Damme’s highest grossing movie where he played the lead role. Does it live up to that title?

When it comes to action, Timecop is definitely not the be-all-end-all Van Damme picture. The fights are actually pretty good, but the most elaborately choreographed ones are not saved for last. The ending confrontation feels forgettable in comparison to some of the set-pieces that preceded it. This feature’s finale focuses more on the emotional stakes than the physical ones, though that’s not to say that there’s no death and destruction during the third act.

The script gives the Muscles from Brussels one or two solid one-liners, but most of the comic relief is handled by Bruce McGill, who plays Eugene Matuzak, one of the higher-ups at the time travel agency. I mainly know this actor as “that one guy” from FDR: American Badass! (2012), but his attempts at providing levity are successful here. Does all of the time travel science and whatnot make sense in Timecop? Well, you’re asking the wrong person. I can’t wrap my brain around all of this complicated, scientific stuff, so I just ride with it. It’s fine in a turn-off-your-brain-and-watch-stuff-explode sort of way. It takes a high-concept idea and follows through with a fairly run-of-the-mill execution.

One can think of Timecop as a fusion of the time travel elements from the Terminator series and the sci-fi law enforcement parts of RoboCop (1987). Unfortunately, it can’t reach the high peaks of its apparent inspirations. As far as Van Damme films go, this one’s pretty average, but this average is higher than the normal score a movie starring, say, Steven Seagal would get. There are certainly better JCVD flicks out there – like The Expendables 2 (2012), Double Impact (1991), Legionnaire (1998), and Hard Target (1993) to name just a few – but this one will do in a jam.

My rating is 7 outta 10.