The Long Riders (my Genre Grandeur entry)

The tale of the Jesse James gang members, their numerous exploits and their individual fates.
The Long Riders is a sympathetic portrayal of the story of the James-Younger gang that undertook a number of legendary bank robberies as way of revenge. The group, headed up by none other than Jesse James (James Keach), had their share of excitement during their time together, and went down in a blaze of glory when some plucky townspeople call time on their raids.

I’ve always been a fan of westerns – I kind of have to be given that my dad is too. I think it’s fair to say that for an 18-year-old girl, I’ve seen quite a few new and old, traditional and contemporary westerns and have enjoyed most of them. When this month’s Genre Grandeur came up, I thought it was right up my street. I had initially thought about watching something with John Wayne or Robert Mitchum in, but decided to venture a little further out in the end. The Long Riders was a decent western, but not one of my favourites, and here’s why.

The cast of this film is quite an ensemble. You have the two Keach brothers, both Quaids and three of the Carradine clan – more than fitting for a film about a gang that is made up of brothers wouldn’t you say? This benefitted the performances so much as there was a lot of real family ties that already existed. The bonds portrayed on screen just felt so genuine, and I think this made the telling of the story so much more enjoyable to watch.

There was plenty of action in this film, especially in the last half an hour or so. While I am a fan of both slow burners and fast paced movies, I perhaps edge slightly further towards the more high-octane westerns. It was really fun to watch when all the shots were being fired, and it let you see the Jesse James gang in all their glory. One of my favourite scenes in the film was when the men were trapped in a cabin by the Pinkertons chasing them, and they had to break their way through the panelling in the back and take a back route to escape. For me, it’s scenes like that that encapsulate the old west – big shoot-outs and the heroes escaping by the skin of their teeth.

I do have one big issue with the film, however, and while it may seem like a minor detail, it was a big issue for me. Some of the transitions from scene to scene were a bit rushed. the biggest example I can give you of this is at the end of the film when Jesse meets his maker. The big moment happens, and then straightaway the shot cut to the scene of Frank James, played by Stacy Keach, handing himself over to the authorities. This took away so much of the impact of what was one of the biggest blows the film dealt in my opinion, and I really wish that more time had been spent of making the change more meaningful.

All in all, as much as I enjoyed The Long Riders, it didn’t make enough of an impression on me to be amongst my favourite westerns. There were some rip-roaring shoot-outs and I loved the family dynamic that was made so wonderful by the fact that the cast consisted of so many brothers. What damaged the film so much in my eyes was some of the dodgy transitions between scenes. It really impacted some of the biggest moments in the film for me, which is why I cannot place it amongst the ranks of El Dorado or The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Nonetheless, it was worth seeing, and was an hour and a half of my time well spent.

You Don’t Know Jack provides plenty to think about 

A look at the lives and deaths of assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian.

Throughout the 1990s, Dr Jack Kevorkian’s (Al Pacino) mission in life was to bring peace to those who needed it most. After seeing his mother die a slow, drawn out death, and after hearing endless stories of what she and his father had bore witness to during the Armenian genocide, Jack decided that those who faced death without dignity should have the right to euthanasia. He would interview candidates to determine their suitability and have these taped by his sister, Margot (Ronda Vaccaro). When he finds his first candidate, Jack turns to the Hemlock Society president (Susan Sarandon) for help. Between the three of them and their lawyer, they keep a pretty tidy operation and for years, Jack manages to evade the law via loophole after loophole. However, eventually he goes a step that the law deems too far and it’s a fight he cannot win. Was it heroism or hubris that was Jack’s downfall?

You Don’t Know Jack is the 2010 HBO-produced TV movie that tells the story of Dr Death himself, Jack Kevorkian. It is a fairly in-depth look at what the man did and also the reactions he got across America for his work. I, for one, rather enjoyed the film – it was darkly funny, had Al in it and centred around a very volatile subject I think just about everyone has an opinion on, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it would something for everyone…

Pacino is on top form in a role I doubt too many people would associate him with considering he rose to fame as infamous gangster Michael Corleone, and stayed at the top for a long time with roles in similar genres. The best way i can describe him as Jack is that you should just probably just imagine Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom from Nightcrawler in retirement. Jack was an odd-ball with few friends and a real obsession. I don’t know if i should have done, but there were many times when i had a good old giggle to myself at some of the things he did. In a way, it’s a good job he only dealt with the dying the man’s social skills were awful. Nonetheless, Pacino was terrific – his mannerisms truly fitted the character of Jack and there was still a scene where one of those rants crept in.

You Don’t Know Jack also sees a reunion between Pacino and his Sea Of Love co-star John Goodman who plays Neal Nicol, Jack’s longtime friend who gets him all the supplies he needs. I really liked the pairing in the 1989 film and so I looked forward to seeing them both again here, as I knew despite some of the fairly heavy subject matter, there could very well have been some hilarious exchanges between Goodman and Pacino. I wasn’t wrong, and actually nearly cried at one point near the start when Neal paid Jack a visit to congratulate him on making the cover of a magazine and Jack suggested they both had a glass of water to celebrate. That alone was funny for me, but Goodman’s facial expressions at that point set the standard for the rest of the film and I loved it.

Now. Whilst I found the film to be very comical in places, we mustn’t forget that the real point of the film is to ask audiences whether or not assisted suicide should be legalised. It is a sensitive subject, and the film is based on real events which or course means that the people who go to see Jack in the film represent real people who went to see Jack in real life. It is this reason why I think the film may not quite be for everyone.

I found You Don’t Know Jack to be a decent film that perhaps was worthy of a cinema release but unfortunately didn’t quite make it. It makes bit of a statement that certainly made me think a little bit about the way things are, and whether it would be better or worse if they changed, and revolves around an issue that so many people have views on for so many reasons. I highly recommend you see it if you can, but it covers a serious moral issue, and I think it’s your stance on this issue that could make or break the film for you.

Why Serpico is the reason Pacino stayed famous

To celebrate his 76th birthday, I’ve reviewed Serpico – one of my favourite films of his, although I find it very hard to choose!

The true story of a New York policeman who discovers that honesty is not a job requirement.

Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) joined the NYPD a fresh-faced beat cop straight out of the academy. He never really liked the way things worked whilst he was out on the streets and so asked to be transferred to a department that working in identifying criminals. When it turns out Frank’s boss doesn’t like him much, he asks again to be moved elsewhere. Frank soon finds himself to be working undercover, taking down some very unsuspecting criminals, however he discovers that some of his colleagues are struggling to stay on the right side of the law themselves. What’s worse is the fact that Frank is also expected to join in on the corruption that has riddled the force for so long, but Frank is a man of integrity and refuses to take the bribes. He goes to higher powers, wanting to expose the situation but knows that he’s a dead man walking if he gets found out. However, as clever and as careful as he is, someone sees Frank for what he really is – an honest man – and his life is placed in jeopardy at the hands of his colleagues.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve fallen slightly in love with Al Pacino and his work over the last year, so it was only a matter of time before I got my hands on Serpico. I really enjoyed this one, and apparently good ol’ Al did as well. He has said many a time that he loved playing Frank Serpico as he was a real person and he could embody him. Serpico is a wonderful character study, plus it has quite a statement to make about the way the government forces work, despite what they may want us to think.

Obviously the whole reason Serpico is such an awe-inspiring film is solely thanks to Pacino’s powerhouse performance as Frank himself. After watching this, I read somewhere that The Godfather made Pacino a star, but Serpico made sure he stayed one. Well, I can’t argue with that. He is quite simply astonishing, although I’ve come to expect nothing less from him. You could really understand the way that Frank must have felt, and you couldn’t help but admire the courage the man showed despite the tight corner he was in. There was, of course, that part of the performance where Pacino just suddenly flew off the handle – the thing that drew my attention to him when watching him as Michael Corleone; the unpredictability that meant no other characters or the audience could ever feel too comfortable in his presence. In everything I’ve seen him in, that wildness has appeared, and I think that is what I love most about his work.

The story follows Frank from when he first joins the police force up until he finally gets the court case he pushed so hard for and nearly died fighting for. It is a very thought-provoking chain of real events that questions the ethics behind law enforcement. Yes, this was from a long time ago, but it is still an issue that I don’t think has been fully dealt with anywhere.

Now, it was always a dead certainty that I was going to say that Serpico is a fantastic film due to the fact that Pacino is in it. After watching it a couple or three times, I strongly believe it is a must-see due to the heavy but very real issues it deals with, and the light in which it portrays government institutions.  

Good, but not quite the howler it intended to be…

The story of a Wall Street stockbroker on his rise through the ranks, and, of course, the fall…

In 1987, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) began his career as a stockbroker on Wall Street. He started working for Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) and saw the life he could be living. However, just as he started to settle into his new role, the Crash of ’87 happened, and Jordan lost his job. He later found worker as a penny stockbroker, and soon discovered ways to make big money. He created Stratton-Oakmont with a staff of twenty, and their staff and status on Wall Street grew exponentially very quickly indeed. Jordan got a taste for the high life; marrying a beautiful wife, buying a dream house and throwing lavish parties. The flamboyant behaviour soon had the FBI watching him like a hawk, and we all know that what goes up must, inevitably, come down.

The Wolf Of Wall Street is the latest film from epic director Martin Scorsese. He has made quite a name for himself with films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Casino, and so expectations for his films have been set high for a very long time. To be completely truthful, I was a bit disappointed with this film. It wasn’t anywhere near as good as I thought it might be. Part of me thinks that this is down to the astonishing run time – at 172 minutes, it was a bit long for a comedy where the main subject matter included many ugly men getting off their faces on whatever drugs they could find and boob being shoved in your face left, right and centre. Whilst there were parts where I had tears in my eyes from laughing, it did get a bit tiresome where some of the jokes weren’t as funny as they were, perhaps, supposed to be. 

Nonetheless, I did think the cast and performances were great. There were quite a few big names dotted throughout; Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler and Joanna Lumley, and they all played their respective roles very well. Of course, there is no doubt the main man of the film was DiCaprio. He played the title character, Jordan Belfort, so he needed to be good, although with DiCaprio, is there ever a time he is not? The way he portrayed Jordan (which was as a complete jackass, by the way) was so believable, and all the while you were watching, you could only imagine the size of the ego this guy had. The richer he got, the more of a dick he became. The funny thing was that as soon as Jordan’s downfall started, he suddenly remember reed how to treat people again. DiCaprio did a wonderful job, and I’m starting to feel for him over that Oscar win that keeps evading him.

As I’ve said, I do think the film was too long, but despite the odd gag not quite working out, the story was adapted for the screen very well from the book by the real Jordan Belfort, and if anyone was to make such an outrageous tale viewable on our screens, it would be Mr Scorsese, so I do think it fell into the right hands. It just didn’t grab me in the way I thought it would for some reason.

Overall, I wouldn’t say The Wolf Of Wall Street is an absolute must-watch because there are better ways to spend nearly three hours of your time. However, with the hype this film got, many of you wont listen, will go onto watch The Wolf Of Wall Street and then proceed to prove me wrong and say you loved it. Leave your comments below – I’m interested to hear what you’ve got to say on this one. 

Milk is the cream of the crop

The story of Harvey Milk – a gay activist who fought for gay rights, and who became became California’s first openly gay elected official.

Shortly after moving to San Francisco from New York City, forty-year-old Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) finds his purpose as a gay activist in the city’s Castro district. Rights activism soon becomes political activism as Milk decides his work could be more effective as a politician, whether he is elected or not. Through several elections and losses of both city and state seats, Milk becomes the first openly gay man in the U.S. to be elected into political power when he wins a supervisor seat in 1977. Throughout his journey, Milk’s many political battle fronts include one with the national anti-gay Save The Children crusades led by singer Anita Bryant, whilst also fighting many demons in his personal life as well. Milk’s entire political career is covered here, from the moment he first decided to take charge of changing his life, and many others, right until the man’s tragic death.

Milk is the wonderful account of Harvey Milk’s political career and the many ups and downs it had over the years. It is a film full of brilliant characters and is a very insightful retelling of the events that took place during what I suppose you could call the man’s rise to fame.

The performance we should all be talking about here is that of the amazing Mr Sean Penn. He was extraordinary as the title character in this film, and I greatly admire him for taking the role. If you didn’t know any better, you would’ve thought the actor was gay. I really liked the fact that Penn is someone who has played quite a variety of different characters throughout his career, and in recent years, roles such as those he has played in Gangster Squad and The Gunman have earned him a fairly respectable Hollywood hard man title. To see him in this was very refreshing, and I would imagine that it was a big boost for gay rights campaigners when he got on-board with this project. And it would’ve been an even bigger boost when he won an Oscar for his portrayal of the politician. He really was magnificent, and the passion with which he delivered his lines and the whole speeches was spine-tingling. Penn sincerely meant his performance, and as a result, you fully believed in him. 

Josh Brolin starred alongside Penn as Harvey’s opposition, Dan White. I’ve always said that I think Brolin is an incredibly underrated actor, and he proved here again why I think more people should know his name. Dan was the man who assassinated Harvey, and so I think that the idea that he was actually playing a bad guy meant that Brolin was harder to swallow, but it did prove his versatility, and why I am quite a fan of his performances. It was also because of him that I decided to watch Milk, as I saw Brolin on Inside The Actor’s Studio and he spoke very highly of Penn and his other fellow actors performances.

I really liked the way the story was done. The story was told as Harvey sat at his kitchen table recording a message to be released in the event of his murder which, sadly, did happen. It’s not something I’ve seen before in a biopic and it just impressed me because of its creativity.

On the whole, I would say that Milk is a film that you need to see. The struggles these people faced and overcame are enough to impress anyone, and they perhaps prove to us all that if you believe in something strongly enough, you can achieve it.

Invictus – a real winner

In his first term as the South African president, Nelson Mandela enlists the national rugby team in a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup and unite the apartheid-stricken country once more.

11th February 1990, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is released from prison. Four years later, he is elected president of South Africa, and the man’s first objective is to unite the nation that has stood divided by apartheid for so long. A major symbol of the divisions is the country’s rugby team – the Springboks. Mandela chooses to use them as the spearhead for his campaign, and with the World Cup approaching, he invites the team’s captain, François Pienaar (Matt Damon), to the government palace for tea and to inspire the skipper to win the championship with his sceptical teammates for the whole country.

With the Rugby World Cup 2015 currently on our screens, it really seemed like no better time to finally get round to watching Invictus. I really enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s take on the true story of the breaking of apartheid as it was generally a very uplifting tale of how how sport can be used to communicate with the people and make changes for the better. It also addressed the very serious matter of apartheid and the problem Mandela faced when he first came to power without being too heavy-going.

Freeman’s performance as Mandela was beyond wonderful. He really channelled the late former president in this, and the man’s charm was evident in his performance. Freeman very clearly brought Mandela’s charisma forward in his portrayal and I thought it was great to see. It was also obvious how passionately Mandela felt about bringing racial divisions in South Africa to an end. I think that was very important – that what was actually at the heart of the events that took place in the film wasn’t forgotten about, but also wasn’t too heavily dwelled upon as the main focus for the film was the extremely positive changes that were brought about by the campaign.

Equally as brilliant was Matt Damon as the Springboks captain, François Pienaar, who was basically Mandela’s right hand man on this project. Damon transformed himself for his role as the South African number 6 and, like Freeman as Mandela, was totally believable as Pienaar. The man’s devotion to the president’s cause was unmeasurable, and the friendship the two men struck up was without a shadow of a doubt. It was another sturdy performance from Damon, and I can’t imagine anybody else pulling it off like he did.

I’m slightly in love with Eastwood’s style of directing. He doesn’t over-complicate things; he strips things right back to the very basics and builds from there. For me, it’s a great way to do things as it means that you can focus fully on the story that’s being told, and not have your attention stolen by any artistic flare other directors might have been tempted to add. Don’t get me wrong, there are times with some of my favourite directors that artistic flare is what I live for, however with a story such as that told in Invictus, what is important is the story and the message it carries with it.

All I all, I would highly recommend Invictus. As a rugby enthusiast, I had wanted to watch it for ages, but you don’t have to be a fan of the sport to enjoy the film, and I strongly believe that is where the magic of it all lies. It is a feat of cinema and one that will also reaffirm your faith in humanity.

Watch Goodfellas for one hell of a good time

The story of Henry Hill as he works his way up through the mob.

Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is a young Irish-Italian American boy who gets a job at a taxi-cab exchange just over the road from his house. The owner comes in the shape of Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) who is actually the head of the local Mafia. Pretty soon, Henry is a young petty criminal who is introduced to James Conway (Robert DeNiro). Years later, Henry is a big-time thief alongside James and their friend, Tommy De Vito (Joe Pesci) and later becomes a middle-aged crack cocaine addict and dealer.

Goodfellas is the realistic true story of Henry Hill’s rise and fall. What a wonderful film! Martin Scorsese does a fabulous job of directing modern day Godfather tale with a brilliant cast. The day-to-day account of the goings on in these people’s lives was very realistically told, and made for a very enthralling watch.

All the lead performances were tremendous. Liotta as Henry was terrific. Obviously a lot of weight was put on him as he was the one who was telling the story, therefore for you to buy into it, you had to believe in him. Well, I fully believed in him. Liotta showed the friendship Henry had with James and Tommy very well, and the admiration and respect Henry had for Paul was also very clear. However, my favourite relationships portrayed by Liotta were those shared with all the women in his life. Henry hadn’t a single simple, easy association with any woman he got to know. He stood up a date, who went after him at his beloved taxi-cab exchange – they later got married and she tried to kill him many years later. He didn’t get on with his mother-in-law, and his many mistresses gave him all a lot more grief than they were worth. Even his babysitter gave him a hard time. Bless him…

De Niro as James was also very good. He played the guy who got stuff done and was friends with everyone, including judges and police officers, but also scared everyone at the same time. In all the operations the three men conducted, he and Henry were the brains and they both made sure that things went to plan. However, if a job went pear-shaped, James was the one who went about sorting someone to clean up after them all. Whilst Henry might have just wanted to be a businessman dressed as a gangster, James was the whole hog, and De Niro pulled it off extremely well.

Then there was a little tornado in the form of Joe Pesci. How good was he as Tommy De Vito? He could turn on a six pence and was a real loose cannon. Tommy was a proper gangster who just so happened to be Henry’s best friend. This guy was so unpredictable you wouldn’t believe it. One minute, he could be laughing and joking with you, the next he could be waving a gun in you face. He was mad, there is truly no other way of putting it. Pesci played him beautifully, and won himself an Oscar which was very well deserved.

Again, Goodfellas is a very realistic rebelling of Henry Hill’s rise and fall which was very well written by Scorsese and a man called Nicholas Pileggi, who actually wrote the book from which the film was adapted.

All in all, I’d go as far as to say that Goodfellas is a must-see. Ranked number seventeen in IMDB’s all-time 250, clearly I am not the only one to think this. Go ahead; do something positive with your life and watch this.