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Posts Tagged ‘John Goodman’

BARTON FINK (1998) BLU-RAY REVIEW

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

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Stars – John Turutrro, John Goodman, Michael Lerner * Director- Joel Coen
* Released by Kino Studio Classics*Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The Coen Brothers seem to have a habit of alternately making good pictures and weird pictures. This is one of the weird ones but it is very good. Barton Fink has just had a hit on Broadway. It’s the forties and when Hollywood calls you run. Barton runs but he carries with him lots of trepidation, suspicion and a total lack of confidence. When he gets there Michael Lerner play the big cigar chomping studio boss to the hilt. He welcomes the boy, showers him with praise then gives him a wrestling picture to write for Wallace Beery. Once back as his hotel and staring at his typewriter Barton is unable to write. He suffers a bad case of writers block and the continual interruptions of his next door neighbor at the hotel. John Goodman is an outgoing gregarious salesman who always has drink ready and a big smile.

What strikes you right off the bat is the tremendous attention to detail that went into every aspect of this film. The hotel lobby takes you back in time. The colors, the furniture, the textures, and the costumes all look perfectly period and very real. We get these shots of the long empty hall on the floor where Barton is staying. Shoes are lined up outside everyone’s door to be polished. Steve Buscemi collects them on this wooden cart that rattles and shimmies with just the right touch. The actors and script draw a lot from real life. Aspects of writers Cifford Odets and William Faulkner who were seduced to work in Hollywood inhabit John Turutrro and John Mahoney’s performances. Every time Michael Lerner behaves in his over the top fashion he seems to be channeling Louis B Meyer or several others types. There is a classic Film Noir set up poured into the film that leaves Barton with a woman in his bed. He probably, no definitely should not have slept with her. Now she is dead and trouble is coming. The Coen brothers literally heat up he hotel. The thick wallpaper starts to peel off the walls. It gets very surreal. When detectives question Barton about the dead girl theysuggest that his pal next door just could be a serial killer with a habit of decapitating and sawing body parts off of his victims. Things spiral out of control in a whirlpool that is capped off by a huge fire in the hotel. Then there is that postcard that shows a lady sitting at the beach.

Some people may just reject the entire bizarre story. Others are free to concoct whatever works for them to see their way through the wacky tale. For me basically when Barton encounters a bad case of writers block and is unable to write anything past the first two sentences of a script we spend the next two hours inside his head as his mind rolls on. His more than fertile imagination conjures up a twisted and paranoid landscape. It’s a nice irony that for someone who supposedly cannot think up a simple plot to a wrestling movie he has no trouble spinning a tale that moves easily from illicit sex and severed heads to an entire hotel burning down around him. This is a beautifully made film with well thought out and executed acting from a wonderful cast. The other part of Barton Fink that really deserve your attention is the extraordinary soundtrack. There is a wealth of effects that go from the various sounds that feet make on floors and carpets to the parade of lunatics whose crying, coughing, wheezing, throwing up and lovemaking plague Barton during the picture. The sound shifts from irritating to intriguing so that by the last third of the film your ears have been set up to behave like twin detectives alert and prepared to pick up the subtle nuances on the track. Those who have a sound system as part of their home set up will really appreciate this. Even on a stereo TV the track will make you sit up and take notice. I am a big fan of creative soundscapes. It can add so much to a film. This one is flat out amazing.

Video – 1.66:1
The transfer works fine for this film. Detail is strong. Black levels are deep without any problem. Grain is readily apparent but never appears out of hand. The acid test for me is how a Blu-Ray renders fire. The hotel fire at the end of this look looks great. There is a good balance of the various flame colors, the smoke and the brightness. The long shots of the flame on either side of the long hallway look terrific.

Audio – DTS-HD Master 2.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
Even though just stereo the soundscape is incredible. We hear the insidious noises that seem to assault poor Barton throughout the film. There is someone crying in the next room when he is trying to go to sleep, someone throwing up in the bathroom stall at work and then some Olympian love making going on in another hotel room. We hear people inhaling loudly. There is often the swoosh of air coming in as a door is opened. The sound of feet walking on various surfaces always gets attention. Later on when Barton goes out to a nightclub to celebrate the sound of the big band playing hot jazz is loud and sassy. The brass section really shines. It is a delight to experience the work that obviously went into creating this sound design

Extras – - Interview with star John Turturro, – Interview with actor Michael Lerner
- Interview with producer Ben Barenholtz, – Interview with composer Carter Burwell
- Interview with sound editor Skip Lievsay, 8 Deleted Scenes, – Original theatrical trailer

Tuturro comes off very thoughtful. He measures his answers and his words. He’s thoroughly engrossing to listen to. We get a nice insight to the way he works as an actor and interacts with his directors. Michael Lerner is a hoot. He is over the top and will launch into various impressions at the drop of a hat. He’s a natural storyteller and a delight to spend time with. The guy is pretty outspoken, too!  Also of note is the interview with the composer and sound designer. They talk about how they divvied up the sounds – some done by effects, others by instruments.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

C. H. U. D. (1984) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

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Stars – John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry, John Goodman,
Director – Douglas Cheek

Released by Arrow Films

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

A woman walks her dog late at night. As she passes a manhole cover something quickly lifts it up, grabbing her and her dog. The cover closes and they are gone. A lone police detective pushes the case of people disappearing in an area in the Lower East Side of New York City. He pushes hard because that lady was his wife. He research takes him to a grungy soup kitchen run by Danny Stern (Home Alone, The Wonder Years). Stern has some customers, very shy ones who he calls the undergrounders that lives in the bowels of the subway system unused tunnels. Lately they have not been coming up for their daily serving of free soup. They are afraid and some are missing. The other man who joins in to help crack this mystery is a slovenly photographer who seems to have it in for all authority figures. The film builds slowly like an old science fiction movie from the fifties. Everyone in the cast plays it straight up. The searches into the tunnels have some genuine frights. It is not until late in the picture that the higher ups with the police believe there is something out there. There is some political corruption behind all of this. When a diner on the corner explodes into flames and the three leads have to take the battle into the creepy tunnels C.H.U.D. turns into a creepy little monster film.

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Sure it takes a while to get there but that ride is more than half the fun. Are the monsters worth the wait? Initially the claws that reach out from under the sewer look great, all scaly with large claws. The design seems pretty good but unfortunately we mostly get to see them in close ups that are full of blurry movement. What’s more there is a splotchy light emanating from their eyes that tends to wash out a lot of what looks like it may have been some pretty good detail. We do catch a glimpse of them shuffling around in a dark section of the tunnels. They look short, almost like the Mole Men that Superman had to face in the old TV series episode. The bulk of the fun in this film clearly comes from the acting of the leads. John Heard is a solid actor that had worked in some very good films like Chilly Scenes of Winter and Cutter’s Way. He’s a real actor. Yet within the space of two years he’s staring in this one and Paul Schrader’s remake of the Cat People (1982). He brings a lot of character and believability to the role. Danny Stern is always fun to watch work. He makes the grungy hippie guy who runs the soup kitchen as bastion of ethics. It is a neat dynamic. Heard and Stern blend very well together. Seeing them in the colorful Lower East Side locations is a real kick.

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C.H.U.D. has developed a strong cult following over the years. It is easy to see why. While there is action and some creature feature attractions it’s the look and feel of the film that is hard to resist. The actual streets and building in downtown Manhattan are put to good use. There is a clever mix of real locations and meticulously built tunnels and dark dingy enclaves for the subterranean denizens to move about it. Heard and Stern have to crawl and wiggle through some scungy and tight spaces as the follow along the underground trails. They look fantastic! Fans of cheap horror and science fiction film will have a good time with this one. It’s an eighties film with more than a bit of a fifties feel to it.

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Video – 1.85:1
When it first started the image is close to spectacular. We see a perfectly detailed nighttime lower east side street. A sewer grid glistens in the rain drenched street. However this is followed by a host of pale interiors. Several scenes look either scrubbed with DNR or simply too washed out to reveal much fine detail. Oddly once we get into the dark underground scenes the picture quality picks up considerably. In the last third the whole she bang steps up in quality. The transfer is very inconsistent. Much of it particularly in the beginning looks to be too aggressively brightened and cleaned but the trade off is a real enhancement in detail. In the darker scenes there are no unsightly clusters of noise or crush however one does miss the grain that goes perfectly with this kind of film. Over all it is entirely watchable and fine but discerning fans of cheap low budget films will definitely  feel something is missing.

Audio – Mono PCM with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is fine and clear.

Extras – Commentary by director Douglas Cheek, writer Shepard Abbott, and actors John Heard, Daniel Stern and Christopher Curry / Brand new crew interviews / Original Theatrical Trailer / Reversible sleeve with original and new artwork / Booklet

There is an excellent new extra interview with the production designer. He talks about the friends he met on the set of Creepshow that he brought to this production. Listening to him gives a deeper appreciation of how the film came to look as good as it does. We learn how the actual locations in the city were combined with artfully built sets to give a united presence.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Good (too bright and clean for some tastes)

Movie – Good

The Gambler (2014) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

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Stars – Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jessica Lange, George Kennedy
Director – Rupert Wyatt

Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

One can’t ignore the fact that this is a remake of the acclaimed 1974 film written by James Tobeck and directed by Karel Reiz (Sweet Dreams). That film managed to artfully combine the scholarly and the sleazy in a no holds bared examination of a brilliant university professor whose gambling habit has brought him to the brink with the gangsters he owes a great deal of money to. That film contains what is for my money one of James Caan’s two greatest performances; the other being Thief (1981). As long as there is some distance from the original the new version can certainly be its own movie. I’ve nothing against remakes as they truly don’t damage or interfere with the standing of the initial production. However in this case the choices that writer/adapter William Monahan has made are simply not very appealing. He states in the extras that his script is the antithesis of the thesis of the original Tobeck script. The characterizations are poorly drawn leaving us with a film centered around an egotistical college professor who believes life is an all or nothing at all proposition.

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Mark Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett in a perfectly costumed sloppy attire that has every unkempt hair set perfectly in place. He does look very cool indeed behind his shades. The times we see him in his classroom he tells the class who is talented and who may as well just become an electrician. There is a cute girl in the class with whom he has an affair. Brie Larson as Amy is very bright and attractive. However we have no idea why she hangs around the loser professor. The rest of the supporting characters never seem to connect very well with the main character save for one scene. Michael Kenneth Williams (Boardwalk Empire) is one of the gangsters who holds a marker on James. John Goodman is another lender whose expansive girth here is photographed to make him seem like Jabba The Hut. His second scene with Whalberg is one of the few well written past of the film. Goodman explains his theory of Fuck You Money in life. When you get enough you can say Fuck You to anything anyone wants of you. Before he lends Jim a considerable amount of cash he insists that they see the world eye to eye. It’s a very effective sequence mostly due to the monologue as written by Monahan and delivered by Goodman. It reminded me of an interview that Johnny Carson once gave Rolling Stone as he was about to retire. He too extolled the value of earning enough to say the magic phrase.

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Jessica Lange turns in a good performance as Jim’s mother although there is none of the emotional dept and whallop that drove Jacqueline Brookes’ heartbreaking turn as the mother in the earlier film. If you have seen the original comparisons are bound to come up. There are images and bits from the original film such as Caan in the bathtub listening to the basketball game that are reenacted with Wahlberg. That seems a poor choice as it never lets the new film fully stand on its own, for good or bad. Director Rupert Wyatt who did such an unexpectedly great job with another remake, The Rise of the Planet of The Apes, makes the most of the Los Angeles setting. He gives the locations a nice looking sheen. Even the back alleys look good. The world he has created for The Gambler has an LA slickness to it. Professor Jim inhabits a world of the rich and well to do. He keeps the film in that one modality. Even the part where Wahlberg gets worked over and beat up is set in the deep end of an empty indoor swimming pool. His camera starts back so we can appreciate the angles and expanse of the pool’s shape from the shallow the deep end where Wahlberg sits tied to a chair. As opposed to a threatening ambiance we can another empty type locale that matches Jim’s seeming indifference to anything that happens to him. Unfortunately that attitude is catching as we never seem to care much what happens to him either.

THE GAMBLER

Video – 2.40:1
This film looks absolutely fine as you would expect for a current picture on Blu-Ray. Colors appear to be realized exactly as intended. Black levels are strong. Detail is very sharp throughout.

Audio – DTS-HD Master 5.1 in English as well as French, Spanish and Portuguese, Subtitles are offered in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and English SDH
All dialogue is clear and easy to follow. There are some very clever song choices peppered into the track. Hearing Alan Price’s “Poor People” song from O Lucky Man was very welcome cue.

Extras – Mr. Self Destruct: Inside The Gambler, Dark Before Dawn: The Descent of the Gambler, Changing the Game:Adpatation, In the City: Locations, Dressing the Players: Costume design, Deleted / extended scenes. DVD and Digital copy included.  We get to hear the producers, writer and director talk extensively about their preparations for the film.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Fair

Flight (2012) Blu-Ray / DVD Review

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Stars: Denzel Washington, Nadine Velazquez, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly,
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Flight rather than being the tale of a heroic man is a heroic tale of a failed man. Whip Whitaker is a functioning alcoholic. He is divorced, has no relationship with son, does drugs and leads a selfish life. He is frequently drunk. Yet if you were in a plane that suddenly lost control and were plummeting toward the earth bound for certain death he is exactly the man you’d want at the controls. Apparently Whip goes to work with alcohol in his blood all the time. The flight crew seems aware of it. The rookie co-pilot who sits down beside him smells it on his breath yet says nothing. That morning before the flight we see him wake up with a gorgeous naked stewardess. The place is littered with bottles. He snorts a few lines of coke to get his game on and is off to work. After take off the plane hits a great deal of turbulence and he calmly takes the plane through a hole in the storm system to calmer skies. He threads the needle as he puts it. Whip then saunters back to the serving bay and dumps three bottles of scotch into an orange juice for his in flight cocktail. He puts the show on auto-pilot and passes out. What follows is an incredibly harrowing sequence.

Director Robert Zemeckis easily trumps the plane crash is his earlier film Cast Away (2000). This is a frightening ride through hell. Some flaps on the plane fail to work right and the thing begins rapidly descending. Whip takes control. He is calm and clear. He issues distinct and very specific orders to his crew. He rolls the plane over, turning it upside down to slow down the speed. It’s a magnificent performance. He lands the plane in a big empty field of Jehovah’s Witnesses. All but six live. It’s a miracle. There is a big investigation and we expect to follow the intricate blame game between the airline, the pilot’s union and the airline safety officials. Someone has to pay. People died. Whip’s blood alcohol level is found to be well above the limits for driving a car let along flying an airplane. He’s also got cocaine in his system. But we don’t get that. There is a tremendous dichotomy in Whip’s character. He is an unmitigated failure yet he seems to function fine in his job. How do we reconcile this heroic act with such a man? Are there those that can abuse themselves so much and still get by? Is he someone who can “handle’ his drugs and alcohol? That’s a very interesting story that we don’t get either

What we do get is a very solid drama about an alcoholic. Denzel Washington delivers a terrific performance as Whip Whitaker. After such a harrowing experience and all the media attention he retreats to his father’s old house in the woods. We see him throw out the alcohol, pot and pills in the house. This sequence takes awhile as he’s got stuff stashed everywhere. It’s hard not to be proud of him. Yet he has lied to us and will drink again. It’s a terrible life he leads, full of lies and bottles. You do get a bit blindsided by this though. There’s no heroic story or careful examination of a flawed hero. This is a broken man breaking further. While Whip is in the hospital he sneaks into a stairway to grab a smoke on the sly. There he meets a junkie who had overdosed but was saved. He remarks that devious minds think alike. They have a very candid conversation. Then we see a bald guy in a hospital nightgown making his way up the stairs carrying an IV drip stand. He bums a smoke from Whip. This collection in the hallway is a beautifully written scene. Writer John Gatins’ script has several outstanding passages like this that ring true as a deftly sliced piece of life.

As he begins a relationship with the recovering junkie played by Kelly Reilly we wonder if it takes a near death experience to change. The film brings up lots of prickly questions about religion and redemption. John Goodman is a friendly and very confident pusher who can solve any situation with a little something-something. He is terrific in the role and brings a needed does of humor to the proceedings. Don Cheadle portrays a cold and calculating lawyer to a T. You despise him but would want him on your side in a jam. Kelly Reilly does some nice work as the junkie who crawls herself back from the abyss.

Flight is an excellent drama, though it may be a bit deceiving. The marketing present it as a film about a hero somewhat in the mold of a Sully who saved the plane that crashed in the Hudson River in New York City. It appears to be about the pressures of that sudden fame. While that fame does weigh the lead character it is really at its heart the story of a functioning alcoholic who may or may not be able to admit he has a problem. It is an excellent drama but those who go into it expecting more focus on the pilot’s heroics may feel a bit blindsided. Following such a well written script the coda at the end of the film feels tacked on. Why is it necessary to spell everything out? The script has plenty of acceptable loose ends and inconsistencies prior to that. Even the big investigative hearing which is only a short sequence at the end plays slightly less honest than the rest of the film has. Take the airline hat off of Denzel on the cover, give him a bottle and call it what it is. And it is a very well done drama with some outstanding performances.

Video – 2.40:1
The film looks sharp. Whether it’s the high tech contours of the plane’s controls or the glistening collection of bottles under a night light everything looks crisp. Detail is uniformly strong. No complaints at all. The DVD will do fine but the Blu-ray is by far the stronger experience.

Audio – English 5.1 DTS-HD, 5.1 Dolby Digital in French, Spanish, Portuguese. Subtitles offered in English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The sound is in fine shape throughout the film. There are a lot of rock and pop tunes used. Some are too obvious to work and fall flat. The ones that work are played loud and fit snuggly right up against the character’s mood. Interestingly many of them are from the time when the lead character would have been a young boy.

Extras – Origins of Flight, Making of Flight, Anatomy of a Plane Crash, Q & A Highlights from a panel (without Denzel Washington)

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

Blu-Ray – Excellent

DVD – Excellent