Movies on the Brain: Runaway Jury

John Cusack is one of my favorite actors and he’s a big reason why I wanted to see this one. I’ve never seen a performance by him that I didn’t enjoy, even in America’s Sweethearts. I read the book a number of years ago and know the plot has been changed to be a jury sitting on a gun-control case and not a tobacco-death case, but I’m OK with that.

0:01 – Does anyone remember Johnathan Brandmeier’s late-night talk show? Didn’t Rick Dees have one, too? For a while there in the early nineties talk shows were coming and going it was hard to keep track.

0:02 – Yes! Jeremy Piven is in this! My wife and I loved his short-lived show “Cupid” about five or six years ago. It was witty, well written and offbeat so of course it was cancelled fairly quickly.

0:04 – Dylan McDermott got killed in the first four minutes of the movie and I’m thinking, how badly does his agent suck. “Hey, Dylan! I’ve got you a part in a big money adaptation of a John Grisham book. Who do you play? Some schmuck who bites it after 150 seconds of screen time.”

0:05 – John Cusack just blew into an envelope he was opening and now I’ve got Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent going through my mind. “No one, I repeat NO ONE has seen the contents of these envelopes!”

0:08 – Gene Hackman is freaking out a cab driver by acting like he’s psychic. Why not just go the full nine and show him getting a kick out of messing with people’s heads like that?

0:10 – Does Jeremy Piven get a “Best Friend of the Lead Actor” rate for these movies? Not that he’s not a good actor, but I have to wonder if his being given a role is just a standard part of Cusacks’ contracts at this point.

0:11 – I think Gene Hackman has set up his war-room in the CIA headquarters from “Alias”. I keep waiting for him to brush past Victor Garber.

0:12 – Given my being from the Chicago area I have no problems when Jeremy Piven or John Cusack connect their characters to Chicago in some way.

0:14 – I want “Buck Rogers” on DVD for three reasons: 1) Erin Gray; 2) I want to watch it again to see when exactly the decline in quality started; 3) Erin Gray.

0:16 – Bruce Davison is a very good actor, but ever since X-Men I keep waiting for him to melt into a pool of water. By the way, how ridiculous was Halle Berry’s performance in those movies? On a scale of one to ten do these officially go to 11?
0:17 – Is it all right to hold it against the French that so many buildings in New Orleans are pink? I realize they may have had absolutely nothing to do with this, but does that really matter?

0:19 – Nora Dunn would have fit in perfectly in the National Public Radio spoofs they’ve done on Saturday Night Live recently.

0:25 – I, personally, find standing up in a courtroom, yelling at the top of my lungs and smearing myself in blood to be a bad thing. Call it upbringing, but I think this is not appropriate behavior.

0:29 – My mind has been wandering to the diner scene from Chasing Amy for the last few minutes for no real reason. I think this worked for me so well because Kevin Smith had kept Jay and Silent Bob out of the movie up until that point, so it was a pleasant surprise.

0:32 – I thought Enemy of the State was a fairly decent movie, except for Will Smith. Good performance by Hackman, though.

0:35 – Just realized this movie marks another pairing of Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz, the first of course being Confidence, which I liked. It convinced me Edward Burns could be a pretty good actor; he just needs to stop being his own director. Please realize I say that having never seen 15 Minutes.

0:39 – Can’t stop thinking about what this movie would have been like had they retained the original cigarette-based plot device. I guess it was seen as not “flashy” enough.

0:44 – I love southern food, especially grits. This completely disgusted some friends of mine when we were on a road trip to Florida. Their revulsion really just increased my enjoyment. Is that wrong?

0:46 – I’d love to see Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford on screen together again.

0:49 – No pun intended, but is the jury still out on Jennifer Beals’ career resurrection? It seems like she’s trying to get back in the game ever since Roger Dodger, which I thought was fantastic. It’s kind of too bad she’s got the whole Flashdance persona hanging over her.

0:51 – Do schools still have kids say the Pledge of Allegiance before the day begins anymore? Use to be a big deal in grade school on days when we would have to wear our Boy Scout uniforms and we would have to salute instead of placing our hands… No one is paying attention anymore are they?

0:53 – When I was a kid, playing with toy guns wasn’t really seen as a big thing. Now, of course, allowing your kids to play “war” is tantamount to giving them a real gun and pointing them in the direction of the local 7-11.
0:56 – Who invented cable television? Did they just sit down and say, “I want to put a TV signal through a wire in the ground”? Did manufacturers of antennas threaten him like the cigarette company threatened Russell Crowe in The Insider? If so, can you imagine him opening up his mailbox and seeing a pair of old-fashioned bunny ears?

1:02 – The commercials for drugs on television crack me up. My favorite is the one for the social-anxiety disorder treatment with side effects of “gas with oily discharge” and “frequent, uncontrollable urination”. They remind of the “Happy Fun Ball” commercial on Saturday Night Live years ago. “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball”.

1:05 – Does Cusack demand his characters are shown to enjoy the latest in hip music? His apartments always have posters for underground bands and such.

1:10 – Going back to the whole Cusack/Piven thing, I was kind of surprised Cusack didn’t show up in Family Man, even in a brief cameo. Yes, I know – there’s no good reason to watch Family Man. Let’s move beyond that.

1:13 – There’s all kinds of good acting going on in this movie, but I really am waiting to see Cusack and Hackman together.

1:15 – Continuing my Kevin Smith-based run of non-sequitors, I am now replaying the scene in Dogma when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are forced off the bus after Damon starts shooting people. “I can spot a commandment breaker a mile away.”

1:19 – Considering all the spam I get, I occasionally start thinking I’m paying too much for my free email accounts.

1:22 – Did Dustin Hoffman decide halfway through filming that his character was not going to have an accent? Where was the person in charge of continuity?

1:23 – I think Hoffman and Rachel Weisz are having this meeting in a Six Flags food court. Must have been a bitch to take the sound of roller coasters out during post-production.

1:26 – Hackman and Hoffman are having their confrontation in the courthouse men’s room. I didn’t really have a joke or gag written down here, so I’m wondering what I was trying to make a note of. A little voice in the back of my mind, though, keeps reminding me not go for anything obvious.

1:29 – Did Gene Hackman have a mortgage payment that he couldn’t make when he decided to take the role in Quick and the Dead? That’s the only explanation I can think of.

1:31 – Apparently John Cusack’s character used to live in Cincinnati and I’m thinking: I’ve been to Cincinnati. You’d leave too.

1:32 – I graduated high school about two years before the whole “Goth” look became nationally recognized. There were a few kids who dressed like that, but it was never a whole sub-culture like it seems to be now.

1:36 – Cusack’s jury has been sequestered in a shady looking motel and now I’m worried people are going to start dying off mysteriously.

1:37 – Cool, here’s the Cusack/Hackman confrontation I was waiting for and both actors are holding their own.

1:39 – I am a complete snob when it comes to widescreen versions of movies. If I see a pan-and-scan version on TV, I don’t care if it’s The Godfather, I’ll skip right past it and instead grab my DVD copy.

1:42 – Why do people always take out their frustrations on the phone they’ve received bad news on? You don’t see people punching their computers after getting a bad email nearly as much. How weak is the product placement group for phone companies that this keeps happening?

1:47 – Raise your hand if you’re under 30 and actually had a stereotypical disheveled-looking liberal professor in college. That’s what I thought.

1:54 – Sorry, but you can’t really do a jury deliberation scene without my waiting for Lee Cobb to threaten Henry Fonda.

1:57 – The judge keeps calling the bailiff and I can’t help but wait for Richard Moll to pop up.

2:00 – I think one of the patrons of this bar is Francis Ford Coppola. Is he in there drinking after realizing his daughter has had more successful films in the last five years than he has?

PARTING THOUGHTS – I really liked this one. It had all the markings of a big-budget studio movie but didn’t fall into as many of the potholes as those usually do. Great performances by the entire cast certainly deserve a large amount of the credit for this. Pretty nice, if not completely surprising, twist at the end along with a nice tight script and good pacing also made this movie enjoyable.

Movies on the Brain: Once Upon A Time In Mexico

(Originally published on

I’ve really been looking forward to this one. I saw Desperado when it came out and thought it was just a hilarious action movie. It had a much better plot and sense of humor about its own ridiculousness than most of the other “action-comedy” movies out there. Steve Buscemi should have been nominated for an Oscar.

00:01 – Anyone remember the one crossover pop hit for the Gypsy Kings? I remember when their video was actually airing on MTV years and years ago.

00:02 – Oral traditions are a part of ancient cultures I always admired. The passing down of stories and legends from one generation to the next was what gave them their sense of place in the world, one we don’t have much of these days.

00:04 – Salma Hayek has been cast as a stripper in two movies, Dogma and From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, but I can’t decide which one is hotter. Dogma had the whole bubblegum chewing cheerleader thing but Dusk had the entire atmosphere going for it. This decision may take a while and involve multiple viewings of the scenes in question.

00:05 – Anyone else still wondering what was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction? I’m sure this is well known information at this point but I’m not well connected enough to be in on it.

00:07 – I had never seen Touch of Evil until I saw the Player. Fred Ward talks about the long opening tracking shot in the middle of a long opening tracking shot. Realizing this made me go track down the movie. And thinking about Fred Ward always makes me think about Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. One of those great always-on-cable-in-the-eighties movies. He learned how to dodge bullets way before Keanu Reeves needed CGI to do it. Ok, now I’m rambling.

00:08 – I can’t read a note of music, despite singing for a dozen years at school. Always drove my music-major friends nuts. That was fun.

00:10 – What? No cameo by Quentin Tarantino? All I ask is for him to pop up and tell one horrible joke. Is that too much to ask?

00:12 – Mickey Rourke is in this movie. Excellent. Meteors don’t fall to Earth as fast as his career took a nosedive. Is he going to be acting here or is this the credits for the gaffers?

00:15 – A fairly restrained Johnny Depp. I’m reasonably certain every career move Depp makes is guided by his not wanting to wind up in a “21 Jump Street” reunion television movie.

00:18 – There are lots of times I’ve wanted to kill a cook at a restaurant, but never for a meal being too good.

00:20 – I’d love to visit Venice. Only problem is I’d keep expecting Harrison Ford to pop up out of a random manhole cover at some point. I wouldn’t be able to relax the whole time.

00:23 – Big explosions in movies are fun when they’re unapologetically gratuitous. It’s when they’re done because someone actually thinks they help the story along that I think they’re a problem.

00:26 – I’m a big fan of making Reformation jokes whenever I visit a Catholic church. These tend to make everyone uncomfortable and nervous around me. Good times.

00:29 – So far this may be my favorite Johnny Depp performance.

00:31 – William Dafoe is sitting in a street café and I keep waiting for Harrison Ford to show up. Wow. Two Harrison Ford references and I’m barely a half-hour into the movie. Not bad.

00:33 – Sorry, but I think the guy on screen right now is the Mexican Burt Young. “We’re gonna punch his lungs out!”.

00:36 – What’s the point of casting Salma Hayek if only to put her in flashbacks? Still – a little Salma is better than no Salma I always say.

00:38 – Oh, man, Johnny Depp just shot Cheech! That’s just wrong.

00:41 – I hate it when I walk into a room and women start shooting at me. Happens more often than you might think, but it never stops being troubling.

00:43 – Johnny Depp apparently was able to pick out his own wardrobe for this movie. He’s had some just fantastic outfits so far. My favorite was the purple T-shirt with “C.I.A.” in big letters. This in itself is just hilarious.

00:43 – Despite the overwhelming consensus (at last count roughly 85% of the world’s population) I do like the closure that Godfather Part III provides. Sofia Coppola’s entire metamorphosis into a respected director feels like penance she’s paying for that one, though.

00:47 – There was a great line on “Angel” recently about a guy who waited sixty years for revenge: “I know revenge is a dish best served cold, but his must have been frozen solid by now”.

00:50 – You’d think checking to make sure you put bullets in a gun would be a no-brainer. It’s just like making sure you locked the door behind you and that the dryer isn’t running when you leave the house. Just make it part of your routine.

00:54 – Not translating certain dialogue into English has probably saved a lot of movies from getting a more restrictive rating. Plus, it’s taught so many kids how to curse in languages that their teachers or parents can’t understand. It’s actually kind of a public service when you think about it.

00:59 – Five-part flashbacks, where you get just a little more of the story each time, don’t really work for me. Either show us everything all at once or use dialogue to explain what happened, but don’t be a plot tease.

1:01 – I really like that there’s more screen time given to Antonio Bandaras’ helpers in this one, even if one of them is Enrique Iglesisas.

1:03 – There was just a shot of William Dafoe’s crotch that went of for far too long. I think I need one of those eye-wash sinks they put in laboratories.

1:07 – To atone for the Dafoe buffalo-shot, Eva Mendes’ breasts just took up the entire frame for a moment or two. Why wasn’t this in the trailer? Could have pushed the movie’s box-office take into Lord of the Rings territory.

1:09 – The Mexican Day of the Dead has always fascinated me. Our sensibilities in the U.S. are so delicate we are nervous about any organized remembrance of the dead, but this is a celebration of ancestors that shows how much stronger family and community ties are in some other cultures.

1:13 – Not only does he have a great wardrobe, but Johnny Depp is also getting some of the juiciest lines. This is actually a better performance by him than Pirates of the Caribbean, I think.

1:16 – Mexican Burt Young is pretty good with guns. Couldn’t they have cast Mexican Burgess Meredith and Mexican Carl Weathers? Hey – Robert Rodriguez could just do a Mexican cast-led remake of Rocky! That would be golden! He could get Mexican Talia Shire. As long as he stops after Mexican Rocky II. The world does not need a Mexican Rocky IV.

1:17 – Every character in this movie is wearing sunglasses. Do they also wear them at night? Would they wear them if they had half a pack of cigarettes?

1:19 – Part of me wants an assurance from the filmmakers Mickey Rourke was high as a kite during filming. It would increase my enjoyment of the movie three-fold.

1:23 – I don’t know what I would use them for, but I now want both a radio-controlled guitar case as well as one that doubles as a flame-thrower. I should write this down so I don’t forget what to ask for come Christmas.

1:25 – Never saw the sequels to The Crow. RIP Jason Lee.

1:26 – Johnny Depp’s character has lost his eyes and I’m thinking did the scene of his murdering his father and sleeping with his mother wind up on the cutting room floor? Why isn’t it a bonus feature on the DVD?

1:28 – It’s got to be disheartening to be a brutal would-be dictator and walk into a room only to see all your men dead on the floor. Somebody should see if Hallmark makes a card for occasions like this.

1:30 – William Dafoe is walking around with bandages on his face and I am now thinking of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. This now leads to my thinking how bad I feel that Dafoe got stuck behind that awful mask in Spider-Man.

PARTING THOUGHTS – Great movie. Enjoyed this one from beginning to end. It had the same just gleeful sense of mayhem that I got a kick out of when I saw Desperado. Everyone looked like they were having fun and that came across clearly on film. Just a fun, fun roller-coaster ride of a movie.

Critical Analysis: Pieces of April

Fitting in with one’s own family is tougher than it would seem at first glance.  It would seem a no-brainer since conventional wisdom is that family-based love is unconditional.  The reality of the matter is that just as with every other relationship one has, being part of a family takes work.  Occasionally, someone is not willing to put in the effort and walks to the beat of a different drummer.

In Pieces of April, we are introduced to April, a vaguely twenty-something girl with all the visual clichés of rebellion: large obvious tattoos on her neck, reddish pink-dyed hair and clothes which look like they have been personalized after being bought at a thrift shop.  She is living outside of the rest of her family with her boyfriend in a less-than tourist friendly portion of New York.

The rest of her family, whom we meet later, is the very picture of suburbia.  Dad is a slightly overweight well-meaning sentimentalist while Mom we find out later is a breast cancer victim who has emotionally distanced herself from everyone.  Brother Timmy is a photography aficionado and sister Beth seems solely concerned with not upsetting the status quo.  We view their interpersonal interactions as they drive from their home to April’s apartment, to which they have been invited for Thanksgiving dinner.

The issue of Joy, the mother’s, breast cancer is central to the dynamic between all these people.  Beth will use her mothers’ fragile state to try and derail the trip throughout the journey.   The first thing she does when she gets in the car with her mother is badger her on an entire list of possible symptoms.  “Are you nauseous?  Are your hands clammy?”  Any sign of weakness from Joy and Beth will see it as a reason to not go.

It’s obvious that in the wake of April’s rebellion, which has apparently been going on since she was an infant, Beth has taken the role of the good daughter.  Throughout the journey Beth is putting the best spin on everything as an attempt to boost the failing spirits of her mother.  The only times Beth turns negative is when the subject of April comes up.  When Joy is remembering a happy memory of April as a child, Beth is quick to correct her that, no, that was her not April.

At one point, Joy is putting all her cards on the table.  She is letting loose with all her feelings and she says to Beth “I love you even though you’re making the same mistakes I made and I wish you’d make some of your own”.  Beth has chosen to play the part of the perfect child, as if she is hoping to give her mother a chance to reclaim her youth and health by seeing it as a rerun.

Timmy worships his mother in a different way.  He has an almost worshipful view of her, referring to her as “Mommy” despite being a seventeen to eighteen year old.  He shows her the bag of extra film he has brought for his camera in expectation of praise on the foresight he has shown.  It’s unfortunate, then, that he has forgotten the camera.

Timmy’s photography hobby has been put to use in service of his mother-idolization.  As Joy flips through a photo album later we see she is his primary subject.  One even has Joy topless before surgery; a picture she commissioned so she would remember her now removed breasts.  A later picture has her topless again, but this time post-surgery.

So we see that the two children still at home are there for a reason – their mother.  Interestingly, the sense is that the role Timmy is played was chosen by him whereas the role Beth plays seems to have been one she feels it her duty to play.

Deciding what roles we play is the heart of the matter.  Beneath Beth’s calm and loving exterior may beat the heart of someone anxious to strike out on her own.  She feels it her duty, though, to take up the slack April let down when she chose rebellion.

The relationship between April and her mother is, despite being strained to an extreme, is actually the simplest among the three siblings.  They simply don’t speak.  We’re to understand that from earliest childhood April was on a mission to upset both her mother in particular as well as the family as a whole.  Joy recounts a list of transgressions: a fire in the kitchen (which the father defends as accidental), trying to trim her brother’s bangs with a lighter and so on.  Joy even accuses infant-April biting her nipples when Joy would attempt breast-feeding.

This original sin of April’s gives some indication that her rebellious path, instead of being one of her own choosing, was actually put before her by Joy.  Any transgression by an infant has to be seen, by any logical person, as an accident.  A baby has no sense of right and wrong or often what it is they’re doing.  When their finger scratches the arm of the person holding them it’s not done out of malice or anger, but because the child has little to no sense of their own body much less someone else’s.

If Joy is seeing incidents of April’s misbehavior from infancy, she is neglecting to view the role her own emotions have played in April’s life choices.  When being bad is how someone gets attention, that’s what he or she will stick with.  April obviously got lots of attention for her behavior so she saw that as they role she was given to play.  That’s how she filled the part of daughter.  It’s a failing on both parts.

Both parties continue to see themselves as the wronged one in the relationship.  It’s not until Joy is in a restaurant bathroom after fleeing April’s seedy street that she realizes the mistakes she made.  She sees a mother and her ten-or-so year old daughter having an argument from which the mother storms away.  Joy sees the mistakes that both people made in an instant and seems to understand those mistakes will forever influence that relationship.  She then strikes out with Timmy to reconcile with April, if only for a Thanksgiving.



How do I feel about Colin Farrell? That depends on what day it is. On some days I think he’s a hack pretty-boy who deserves every venereal disease he gets from Tara Reid. On others I think he’s a pretty good actor who, if nothing else, has made some interesting choices in the roles that he takes. This is also the opinion I have of Samuel L. Jackson. Just when I think he’s starting to get some good roles under his belt, he’ll do something like XxX. The less said there the better.

via MOVIES ON THE BRAIN: “S.W.A.T.” – Film Threat

MOTB – Underworld


I love stories like this. Vampires versus werewolves just sounds too cool and the addition of the ever-so-lovely Kate Beckinsale has made this a must see since I saw the first commercial. I don’t consider myself an ultimate geek, but supernatural or fantasy stories, when well done, just leave me wanting to explore more of the back-story and mythology of that world. I’m pretty excited going into this one.