jump to navigation

Classic Movie Review: A Time to Kill (1996) August 18, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

After reading the book of the same name by John Grisham (my review here), several people have recommended that I watch the film adaptation of A Time to Kill, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Matthew McConaughey (in his breakout role).  It’s one of those films that I really wanted to, but for whatever reason never saw when it was first released in 1996.

For those who don’t know the background, it’s Grisham’s first book but the fourth of his adaptations (behind The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client).  It stars McConaughey as a young hotshot lawyer, Jake Brigance, who is tasked with defending a black father who took the law into his own hands after two white drunks raped his little girl.  Due to the racial politics of the time and place (very important to remember when watching), Brigance not only has to fight a seemingly unwinnable case, but also has to deal with the dangers of representing a black man in a racist community.

I quite liked the book, but didn’t think it was anything special.  For me, the film version was a rare improvement on the book that addressed some of the things I felt the book could have done better.

For starters, Brigance is a much more likeable character in the film than the book, where he was more egocentric, obnoxious, and cared far too much about publicity.  In the film they really toned it down and made him more of a ‘hero’, which works well because the audience really needed to connect with him.

The second big alteration is that Ellen Roark, the brilliant college student played by Sandra Bullock, is given a much bigger role in the film than the book.  In the book, Roark doesn’t appear until halfway through, but in the film she’s there almost right from the beginning.  In fact, Bullock received top billing even though she was a secondary character — most probably because she was coming of the phenomenal success of Speed and The Net and was a huge cash cow at the time.  Nevertheless, I liked Roark’s expanded role because I always felt she was one of the more interesting characters in the book.

Plenty of scenes, characters and subplots were condensed or removed in the film version, which I personally thought was welcoming because they clogged up the central narrative and slowed the pace.  When I read the book I always felt there was something not quite right in the structure and the development of the plot, as though Grisham couldn’t figure out what was important to the story and what wasn’t.  In the film, they were able to adjust the equilibrium to create a smoother, less stilted delivery.  For instance, I was glad to see the actual trial commence relatively early, unlike the book, which waited until the final 100 pages or so.  The final climax, in particular, was reformulated to make it more about Brigance’s ability than luck, which made for much better cinema.

The most pleasant surprise for me was the number of stars or would-be stars in this film and outstanding performances they delivered.  Of course, McConaughey went on to be a big star after this film, and even though I’ve paid him out ever since Contact (‘By doing this, you’re willing to give your life, you’re willing to die for it. Whyyyyyyy?!!’), I must admit he was excellent here as Brigance.  It also made his solid performance in the more recent Lincoln Lawyer easier to comprehend.

I already mentioned Sandra Bullock as the top-billed star of the film, and she was probably at the height of her stardom at the time (some may say she was ‘bigger’ when she won the Oscar, but I disagree), just before Speed 2: Cruise Control knocked her down a few notches.

Of course, there was also Samuel L Jackson, one of my favourite actors in one of the best performances of his career as the father, Carl Lee Hailey (I’d still say Pulp Fiction was his greatest achievement, but others might say Snakes on a Plane or Deep Blue Sea or perhaps The Search for One-eye Jimmy).  In 1996, Jackson was coming off a string of less than impressive films (with the exception of Die Hard with a Vengeance) and this film helped boost him back up to where he belonged, as he would then go on to appear in a number of blockbusters/hits over the next couple of years, such as  Jackie Brown, Sphere, The Negotiator and Out of Sight.

The list of goes on.  There’s Kevin Spacey as the snooty DA, Rufus Buckley, who was, as usual, marvellous, and one of the highlights of the film.  He brought out the essence of Buckley without overdoing it, making him less of a caricature than he was in the novel.  Remember, in 1996 Spacey was coming off his masterful performances in Seven and The Usual Suspects,  and would go on to appear in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, LA Confidential and The Negotiator, right before his career defining performance in American Beauty in 1999 (personally, Verbal Kint is still my favourite).

What about the always-good-to-have-around Oliver Platt, who plays Brigance’s best buddy Harry Rex, or Donald Sutherland, who plays Brigance’s mentor Lucien Wilbanks?  What about veteran actor Chris Cooper as poor officer Dwayne Looney, before he rose to prominence in films like American Beauty, The Bourne Identity and Adaptation?  Or Ashley Judd as wife Carly, at the start of her strong career, before she broke out in films such as Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy and Eye of the Beholder?  Heck, there was even Mr Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland, as a KKK redneck, before he became the butt-kicking CTU agent in 24.  I knew the film starred McConaughey, Bullock and Jackson, but it was a pleasant surprise to see just how much star power this film had.

In all, I enjoyed A Time to Kill (the film) a lot more than I thought I would.  Yes, it is a little self-righteous, melodramatic and contrived at times, but for the most part it was still an entertaining, thrilling, though-provoking courtroom drama that was boosted by its awesome star power.

4 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2D) (2011) July 31, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
7 comments

With the exception of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (starting next week, can’t wait!), Marvel’s mega blockbuster Captain America: The First Avenger was, up to this point, my most anticipated movie of the year.  To be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about the superhero other than the fact that he’s going to be in next year’s most anticipated movie, The Avengers, along with Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, and a bunch of other superheroes led by an eye-patched Samuel L Jackson.  Maybe it’s the name and/or the costume, but Captain America never aroused much interest in me — until now.

In short, I loved Captain America: The First Avenger.  It’s the second best pre-Avengers tie-in film after the first Iron Man (in other words, better than Iron Man 2, Thor and The Incredible Hulk, even though Ed Norton is out and Mark Ruffalo is in as Bruce Banner).  Marvellous action, incredible special effects, solid performances and a cracker of an origin story which includes Nazis, big guns, advanced technology and the occult — what’s there not to like?

This is an origins film that tells of how a scrawny, weak little man with a big heart by the name of Steve Rogers became Captain America as part of a secret military experiment during World War II.  I won’t spoil much more than that except to say that the film has ties to Stark Industries from Iron Man and a powerful energy source that appears to originate from the world of Thor.

I was surprised how well the story was executed by director Joe Johnston (Rocketeer, Jumanji, The Wolfman).  It would have been easy to make this film too patriotically and cringeworthyly American, but somehow Johnston kept the focus on the story and characters and even had a little fun with the unavoidable Americanism of the character.

Speaking of character, a lot of ‘hardcore’ Marvel fans blew their sacks when they heard Chris Evans had been cast as the titular superhero.  ‘He can’t be Captain America,’ they cried, ‘because he’s already Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four!’  Be that as it may, nobody wants to see another Fantastic Four movie, and Chris Evans makes a wonderful Captain America — big and buffed, blonde hair, blue eyes, and oozing All-American charm.  He might not be an actor with the greatest range or depth of emotions (like say a Robert Downey Jr), but he’s good enough here because he is physically perfect and Steve Rogers is a highly likeable character.  The special effects used to create the pre-suped up Steve Rogers were practically flawless.

Hugo Weaving plays the villain Red Skull, Hitler’s crazy head of weaponry, and I’m afraid to say he was a little bit of a weak link.  It’s not entirely Weaving’s fault because anyone that can play Agent Smith (from The Matrix), Elrond (from The Lord of the Rings) and V (from V for Vendetta) must be one of the greatest supporting actors of our time, but here he’s not given enough juice to make Red Skull a worthy adversary for Captain America.

The rest of the supporting cast was strong.  Haley Atwell was solid as Peggy Carter, pretty much the only female character in the film, as was Sebastian Stan (I know him from Gossip Girl), who was adequate as the sidekick.  Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones had relatively minor but important roles, though the real stand out had to be Tommy Lee Jones, who was fantastic as Colonel Chester Phillips, which would have been a bit of a nothing role had Jones not worked his magic.

For me, strangely, the film was at its best when Rogers was not the fully-costumed Captain America.  Following him in his journey from sickly little dude to superpowered superhero was so enjoyable that when he finally became Captain America I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.  Not to say that it wasn’t still exciting — it’s just that there have been so many quality superhero movies in recent years that it becomes really difficult for one to rise above the others when it comes to action sequences.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger from start to finish — and that includes the little sneak peak we got at the upcoming Avengers movie following the credits (a long long wait, but certainly worth it).

4 out of 5!

Movie Review: The Other Guys (2010) September 20, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

I would say Will Ferrell‘s unique brand of humour is a combination of randomness, awkwardness and absolute stupidity.  When it works (and it sometimes does), it really works.  But when it doesn’t, it’s just tedious and unfunny.

In my opinion, The Other Guys is both the best and worst of Will Ferrell.  There are times when the film is genuinely hilarious, reminiscent of Ferrell at his best (think Anchorman), but when the jokes fall flat, there’s just no nice way to say it — it sucked.  Thankfully, I think the good outweighed the bad in this one by a not insignificant margin.  And that makes The Other Guys one of Will Ferrell’s better films.

The Other Guys is a buddy/cop comedy, what you could probably call a ‘spoof’.  Will Ferrell plays Allen Gamble, a ‘forensic accountant’ in the police department.  His partner is Terry Holtz (Mark Wahlberg) a highly capable detective who is stuck with Gamble due to an unfortunate incident 7 years ago that made him lose all credibility (it’s a ripper).  Together, they are the ‘other guys’ to the supercops in the department, played by Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson (ie the Rock).

Rounding out the impressive cast are Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes and Steve Coogan, and there are a number of cool cameos thrown in too.

Ferrell, as expected, was perfect for the role of the socially retarded Allen Gamble, but Mark Wahlberg was surprisingly good as his straight-faced partner.  Though they have personalities at opposite ends of the scale, the two characters have an authentic chemistry that provides plenty of laughs.

As usual, the trailers revealed way too many of the best jokes in the film — and the one thing with Will Ferrell’s comedy is that it’s never as good the second time around.  That said, there were still a number of random and bizarre but comically successful scenes that will no doubt please Ferrell fans.  As a bonus, the action sequences were quite decent too.  Unfortunately, as is often the case, many jokes (including some of the best ones) were milked way too far.  Let it go!  At times it was like beating a dead horse.  It was the most frustrating thing with an otherwise fairly good comedy.

2.5 stars out of 5

%d bloggers like this: