1992 – Scent of a Woman

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Scent of a Woman – 1992

This movie wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t as bad as I remember it being.  You see, I had watched this movie many years ago and thought it was very slow and very boring.  But now, after watching it again, I have changed my opinion.  I still think it was very slow, but not as boring as I remember.  The movie starred Al Pacino in an Oscar winning performance as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, a mean, old, blind military retiree.

Opposite him is Chris O’Donnell as Charlie Sims, a 17 year old prep-school student who takes on the job of caring for Frank for a weekend.  This was O’Donnell’s first leading role in a major film.  Of course, Pacino got top billing.  But as I go over the plot a little, you’ll see that the character of Slade was really the supporting role.  The movie was really a coming-of-age film about Charlie’s journey from boyhood to manhood.  Frank Slade was just the catalyst that facilitated Charlie’s transition.

O’Donnell’s performance was adequate, though a bit whiney.  However, it was Pacino’s incredible performance that really made the movie.  Apparently he did a lot of research in order to believably portray a man who could not see.  He was actually pretty amazing.  Throw in a brief tango scene with the beautiful Gabrielle Anwar, and you have yourself a movie.  Unfortunately, like I mentioned, the pacing of the film was pretty slow.  The movie was nearly two and a half hours long, and I think the same story could have been told in under two.  For the most part, the plot was well-crafted, but the ending, which was supposed to be inspirational, was ridiculous, and consequently unrealistic.  But I’ll get to that in a bit.

So Charlie is going to a fancy rich-boy prep school.  He is poor, but he is a model student who is there on a scholarship.  The main plot is about how his rich and spoiled hoodlum friends play a prank on the school’s headmaster.  Charlie and the leader of the rich kids, George Willis, Jr., played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, watch the pranksters setting the prank up, and are seen identifying them.  The headmaster then threatens to expel Charlie and George if they don’t squeal on them.  That’s the main plot.

But really, all anyone really remembers about the movie is Al Pacino.  The character of Frank Slade has a much more interesting story-line, even though I would really call it a sub-plot.  He is a mean, cantankerous, lecherous, old man, and he knows it.  He is bitter about his disability.  He drinks heavily and is a functional alcoholic.  He lies to get what he wants.  He habitually verbally abuses both friends and family members alike.  There is no reason anyone in the world would like him.

To earn some extra cash, Charlie agrees to stay with him while the family that cares for him go on a vacation.  But Frank manipulates Charlie into going on a big spree in New York City.  They stay at the Waldorf-Astoria, eat at the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, hire high-class hookers, and test-drive a hundred thousand dollar Ferrari.  Charlie reluctantly agrees to go along with frank until he learns that the spree is Frank’s last “Hoo-ah!” before committing suicide.  And while I’m on the subject, that annoying catch phrase wasn’t quite as annoying this time around.

Apparently Frank is so depressed about his blindness and his inability to care for himself that he wants to end it all.  Anyway, to make a long story short, Charlie and Frank become friends and the young man convinces the older man to go on living.  But that brings us to the ridiculous ending.  Charlie can either squeal on the rich kids, who he doesn’t even like, and get a free ride to Harvard, or keep silent and ruin his scholastic career.  He chooses the noble path and stays silent.

But then Frank walks into the school’s public hearing.  And after the jerk of a headmaster, Mr. Trask, played by James Rebhorn, recommends that Charlie be expelled, Frank stands up and makes an impassioned speech, praising Charlie and further shaming the headmaster.  He flippantly tells the entire student body and the staff how Trask would rather crush the obviously innocent Charlie and excuse the obviously guilty George because his father is a major financial donor to the school.  After his foul-mouthed speech, the rest of the faculty agrees to punish the rich kids and excuse Charlie.

OK, first, Trask would not have been able to punish Charlie with expulsion in the first place, because Charlie did not commit the crime.  Second, as far as Trask knew, Frank was a stranger off the street, and he would not have been allowed to speak at the proceedings.  Third, If Trask was enough of a jerk as to expel Charlie, knowing that he was being used as a scapegoat because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he would not have listened to the arrogant and crass Frank Slade.  The verbal lashing would have been met with incredulity and dismissal, and rightly so.  Frank had no right to interfere with the proceedings at a school with which he had never, in any way, been associated.  So Frank ends up getting Charlie out of hot water, and Charlie ends up making Frank become a nicer person.  If you ask me, it was just unrealistic.

1992 – Howards End

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Howard’s End – 1992

“OK, round up the usual suspects.  Look up the cast from Room With a View.  Get on the phone to Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith… Maggie’s not available?  Alright, call Vanessa Redgrave.  Get Anthony Hopkins and… Yeah, sure, why not?  Get Simon Callow over here.  Oh, and see how many of them can come back next year for Remains of the Day.”  I know.  That assessment is not at all a fair one.  Emma Thompson wasn’t even in Room With a View.  But it isn’t very far from the truth.

This is another one of those slow and dull British Merchant-Ivory period dramas.  It dealt with, you guessed it, issues of class, social propriety, mixed in with a bit of romance.  Was it a bad film?   Of course not.  It was well-made and had some pretty spot-on acting.  The sets and costumes were elegant and the overall aesthetic was pleasant and somewhat nostalgic.  But if you look at other films like Room With a View, Maurice, and Remains of the Day, and you get the same actors playing the same kinds of parts, dealing with the same kinds of issues.  The movie itself wasn’t dull.  The genre is.

I think it is because of my American sensibility.  Class isn’t as much of an issue here in the United States.  In England, it seems to be everything.  Otherwise, why do they spend so much time focusing on it?  But it is also because period pieces, while quaint, are pretty far removed from my modern sensibility.  Some of the issues and complications these films have would not work in a modern movie.

The story revolved around three families, each representing a different social class.  The Schlegel family, which consists of three siblings: Margaret, the eldest, played by Emma Thompson, Helen, the youngest, played by Helena Bonham Carter, and Tibby, played by Adrien Ross Magenty.  They represent the enlightened bourgeoisie who find it fashionable to care about the poor.  Then there are the Wilcoxes, representing the wealthy capitalists who are slowly replacing the aristocracy, made up of Ruth and Henry, played by Vanessa Redgrave and Anthony Hopkins, and their three children, Charles, Paul, and Evie, played by James Wilby, Joseph Bennett, and Jemma Redgrave.  There was also Dolly Wilcox, Charles’ wife, played by Susie Lindeman.  Then there are the Basts, Leonard and Jacky, played by Samuel West and Nicola Duffett, who represent the lower-middle class, and who become the unwitting targets of Helen Schlegel’s crusade to help the poor.

Yes, there are a lot of characters, but I didn’t find it too hard to keep them all separated.  The plot offered few little romance stories, but not the ones you think you are going to see.  So along with the talented cast, that kept things interesting.  But I think some of the film’s biggest drama was supposed to be things like the rift that formed between Margaret and Helen because Margaret decides to marry the widowed Henry Wilcox.  How dare you marry a rich man when he has such a horribly dismissive attitude toward the poor?  Or Henry’s admission that he’d once had an extramarital affair with Jacky Bast before she’d been married, though Margaret forgave him immediately, without judging him.

You know, I think that’s the problem I had with the movie.  The drama just wasn’t that deep, or wasn’t handled in a very serious manner.  The plot seemed very episodic and when there was a conflict, it was generally solved pretty quickly.  The movie covered a span of years, following the ins, outs, and interactions between the families, but didn’t really go very far in terms of action.  Even when Helen returns home pregnant and unwed, and it is revealed that Mr. Bast is the father, the issue is quickly resolved.  Paul Wilcox goes into a rage and accidentally kills him.  He is arrested and goes to jail fort murder, an interesting sequence that could have lasted fifteen or twenty minutes.  But the whole sub-plot takes up about eight minutes of the two and a half hour movie.

The music was nice, but not very original.  The only original music, composed by Richard Robbins, was used for the opening titles and the closing credits.  Everything else was well-known classical pieces, mostly piano music.  I suppose it was appropriate for the film, but not terribly original.  And the underscoring, while good, was either soft, slow, introspective, and romantic, or more cheerful and jaunty than it seemed it should have been, which had the effect of lightning the mood of dramatic moments that could otherwise have made the film more gripping.

But in doing my research, I found that the fates of the three families were a metaphor for the changing class system in England.  In fact, I think Wikipedia found a great way of saying it which I will quote here.  “In both the film and the novel, the final ownership of Howards End is emblematic of new class relations in Britain. It is the wealth of the new industrialists (the Wilcoxes), married to the politically reforming vision of liberalism (the Schlegels,) which will make amends and reward the children of the underprivileged (the Basts); whereupon Howards End is revealed as an instrument of poetic justice and redemption.”  Nicely put.

1992 – A Few Good Men

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A Few Good Men – 1992

This was a good movie that had the potential to be great, but it lacked something that might have helped bring it to that next level.  It lacked mystery, a fact which I’ll cover in greater detail in a bit.  The broad strokes of the plot were predictable.  But it was the powerful performances of the star-studded cast that saved the film from simple mediocrity.  Well-known names like Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, and Keifer Sutherland came together to show off their skills.  There were even a few supporting roles by actors who were not famous at the time, but became famous later like Noah Wyle and Cuba Gooding Jr.

This was as courtroom drama, plain and simple.  When a U.S. Marine stationed at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba is killed in a routine hazing, Moore, playing Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, a military lawyer, believes that it was the accidental result of an illegal order called a “code red.”  The purpose of the “code red” order was to, by giving an incompetent soldier a beating, force him to become a better soldier.  However, the fact that the assault was an order meant that the real culprit was a commanding officer, not Lance Corporal Dawson, played by Wolfgang Bodison, and Private First Class Downey, played by James Marshall, who carried it out together.

Wanting to defend Dawson and Downey, Galloway pursues the case which is assigned to Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, played by Cruise.  He is a smart-mouthed hot shot who also happens to be brilliant.  Pollak plays Kaffee’s assistant, Lieutenant Sam Weinberg.  The commanding officers of the two soldiers accused of the murder are Lieutenant Kendrick, played by Sutherland, and Colonel Nathan Jessup, played by Nicholson.  And finally, the prosecuting attorney, Captain Jack Ross, is played by Bacon.

And there’s the set-up.  The details are all revealed at strategic points to foster some tension.  But as I mentioned earlier, the plot’s broad strokes, while interesting to watch, were predictable.  I knew pretty much how it was going to go, and I was not disappointed.  At first, it seems to be an open-and-shut case.  But then as a few more details are learned, it becomes more complicated.  The defense has a rocky start, but the lawyer becomes passionate about the case.  The prosecution seems to have an unbeatable case.  The defense becomes discouraged and believes he is going to lose.  But then, a surprise witness steps forward, or a crucial piece of evidence is revealed and the defense attorney cannot walk away because he believes he is doing the right thing.  In the end, the case gets escalated and more and more people are put on the witness stand until the main bad guy loses control and confesses everything.  The defense wins!

It all sounds pretty stereotypical, doesn’t it?  And it was.  Only the setting and the details were different.  We follow the investigative process of Kaffee, Galloway, and Weinberg.  We are told everything they are going to do before they do it.  We are also clearly shown that the bad guy, Jessup, is guilty, not even allowing us to wonder about his guilt before his breakdown in the courtroom.  I think Roger Ebert said it best when he said, “The film doesn’t make us work, doesn’t allow us to figure out things for ourselves, is afraid we’ll miss things if they’re not spelled out.”

But while I’m on the subject, that final reveal which gave the movie its big memorable quote, the one that has made its way into pop culture vernacular, was wonderful to see in its proper context.  “You can’t handle the truth!”  Nicholson’s performance was fantastic.  He played the part of a man who was so passionate about his job as a military officer that he could easily be called a fanatic.  He is a megalomaniac who believes that he has the most important job in the world, keeping the citizens of the United States safe from harm.  He is therefore completely infallible and undeniably justified in any and every action he takes.

Nicholson had that perfect jar-head attitude.  He was so used to being obeyed that he was actually confused when he was not.  One scene that stood out to me as awesome was when Jessup arrived in court.  He immediately attempted to establish his own dominance over the entire court-marshal trial by belittling Kaffee and demanding that everyone recognize his rank.  But then the judge, Colonel Randolph, played by J. A. Preston, put him in his place by letting him know that it was his courtroom and he was in charge, not Jessup.  Loved it!  I also loved his reaction the result of the trial and Jessup’s arrest.  Nicholson’s inspired portrayal was just phenomenal.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t give proper credit to Cruise, Moore, and Bacon.    Sure, they were a little cookie-cutter but that was not the fault of the actors.  It was the script.  The point is, that despite the outrageousness of the actors and their personal personas like Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch or Moore’s box office bomb, 1996’s Striptease, for which she was paid an unprecedented $12.5 million, they are very good actors.  There is a reason why Hollywood keeps putting them on the big screen.

1992 – The Crying Game

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The Crying Game – 1992

This was a very good movie with a small but competent cast.  It is about Fergus, played by Stephen Rea, a man with a generally kind heart who gets involved with the Irish Republican Army.  He and his fellow soldiers, Peter Maguire, played by Adrian Dunbar, and Jude, played by Miranda Richardson, kidnap and hold for hostage a black British soldier named Jody, played by Forest Whitaker.

Fergus is assigned to guard Jody, but being a good man, he feels sympathy for and befriends him.  During their brief friendship, Jody tells Fergus of his girlfriend Dil, and gets him to agree to protect her after his death.  But when it comes time to murder him, Fergus cannot do it and lets him run.  Unfortunately, Jody runs into the path of a British tank and is instantly killed.

Fleeing the British attack force and his fellow IRA companions, Fergus goes to London to seek out Dil.  She is a hairdresser who also sings at a local bar.  Without telling Dil of his involvement with the IRA or his relationship with Jody, Fergus pursues her and falls in love with her.  But here is where I have to spoil the movie’s big twist.  If you plan on watching the movie, stop reading this review.  But I have to go into it because it is what turned the film from good to great.

As Fergus and Dil become closer and form a strong emotional bond, it is revealed that Dil is actually a man living as a transvestite.  Now, even though I had never seen the film, I already knew this plot twist, so I was expecting it.  But it must have been quite a big shock to the audiences of 1992.  First of all, they were very shocking in how it was revealed.  The audience finds out in the same way that Fergus does.  Dil takes off a robe and is completely naked.  Fergus is looking up into her eyes, and the camera slowly begins to pan down, following his gaze.

We see her bare chest, but it isn’t immediately apparent what the absence of breasts means.  But as soon as Fergus, and the viewing audience for that matter, is confronted with Dil’s manhood, his reaction is immediate and extreme.  He slaps her across the face and runs to the bathroom to vomit into the sink.

OK, so that was the big reveal, the big shock.  But what I found even more interesting and perfectly portrayed was the fact that Fergus quickly realizes that his emotional connection to Dil was strong enough to make him stay and explore his own boundaries in regards to his sexuality.  He could have just run and never looked back.  But he didn’t.  He had fallen in love with Dil, and was comfortable acknowledging his feelings to himself.  He went out of his way to protect her, even when his old IRA buddies show up and threaten to hurt his girlfriend if he doesn’t assassinate a local judge.

The script was so well crafted and engaging.  It had some great characters and some top-notch acting.  Stephen Rea was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars, though he did not win.  His performance was subtle, but it was right for the character.  Fergus was a quiet and deeply emotional man.  But he habitually kept those strong emotions inside.  He was clearly uncomfortable displaying them.  Rea’s subtle, and one might say emotionally understated performance was absolutely appropriate.

I also really liked Forest Whitaker as Jody.  His screen time was fairly brief, but he is an incredibly skilled actor and he got the emotions of a man who knows he is going to be executed just right.  Miranda Richardson was also pretty good, and I especially liked her death scene.  I also have to mention a little-known actor who had a minor part as Fergus’ boss at his construction job.  Tony Slattery, who I mostly know as a comedian, played the part of a real jerk, the kind of guy nobody would want to work for.  I also liked Jim Broadbent as the bartender Col.

And lest I forget, Dil, played by Jay Davidson, did a great job as well.  He was incredibly convincing as a woman, as opposed to, say, Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie.  He did it without any wigs and if you didn’t know he was actually a man, you might only guess if you were really paying attention.  Unfortunately, I knew he was a man before watching the film, and knowing what to look for, I didn’t get the pleasure of the surprise twist.

Still, it was a great movie with an ending that I’m still trying to decide how to interpret.  Dil saves Fergus by preventing him from going through with the assassination.  Then she shoots and kills Jude when she comes looking for Fergus.  And so, to protect Dil, Fergus takes the blame for the murder and goes to jail for a six year sentence.  Dil is Fergus’ only visitor during his incarceration.  Fergus clearly enjoys her visits, but he continues to show lingering signs of discomfort with his own feelings for her.  Still, I liked that Dil promised to wait for her man.  But did Fergus love her out of a sense of obligation to Jody?  Maybe at first, but by the end, I think he actually loved Dil.  I’m not sure if he felt the same romantic love as her, but it was undeniably love of a sort.  So, happy ending, right?  Right.

1991 – The Prince of Tides

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The Prince of Tides – 1991

I was really surprised by this film on more than one count.  First, I have never been a fan of Nick Nolte.  In my head, I have always had this unfounded, preconceived notion that the actor was just a real jerk.  I don’t know why, but I have always instinctively avoided watching his films.  But after watching The Prince of Tides, I think I might have an idea as to why I can’t stand him.  It is because he is such a good actor.

I’ll explain.  I don’t like dealing with people who are easily angered or people who, when they become angry, display anger so intense that it is almost frightening to see.  Unfortunately, Nolte is an actor who can go from zero to one hundred at the drop of a hat, and his emotions seem completely real.  I instinctively react to such raw emotion and become angered in response.  He has a facial expression of fury that looks far too natural on him.  But Nolte portrayed far more than anger.  There was a full range of emotions that were fueled by a powerful story, and Nolte turned in a memorable performance.

I speak mostly about him, but I can’t ignore Barbara Streisand’s performance as his leading lady, and the movie’s director.  The plot had several surprising revelations that propelled the narrative.  It took place in two different locations, South Carolina and New York City.  Nolte played Tom Wingo, a man whose life is on the verge of falling apart.  He has no job, and his marriage seems to be floundering.  He carries an unimaginable amount of emotional baggage because of a wildly dysfunctional childhood.

Tom’s twin sister Savannah’s latest suicide attempt forces Tom to reluctantly travel to New York to help her psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein, played by Streisand, to delve into her past.  As Tom and Susan try to figure out why Savannah has tried to kill herself again, Tom effectively dredges up his own ghosts.  And all the while, a subtle romance begins to develop between Tom and Susan.

And that brings me to the second thing about the film that really surprised me.  I loved that the film devoted just as much time to Tom and his emotional journey as it did to the romance.  It was subtle and yet completely visible.  As the film’s director, Streisand took her time developing the relationship between them.  It was beautifully done, and when, near the final stages of the film, they finally jumped into bed, it was both expected and welcome.  It was never portrayed as something tawdry or taboo.  They were both married and they remained true to their marriages until it became clear that their respective spouses had moved on to other lovers.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t any flirting, but I respected Tom’s character because when Susan’s ever-traveling husband returned home, he stepped aside graciously and without apparent bitterness.  He only took Susan away after her husband went out of his way to humiliate them both.  When Susan asked him to take her with him, he did so without hesitating.  I also liked that there were a good number of flash back sequences in the film, depicting how messed up his, and consequently Savannah’s childhoods really were.  They had a brother, Luke, who had been dead for some time.  Their father was both physically and emotionally abusive, treating everyone in his house with cruelty.  And the mother wasn’t much better, rarely showing anything that might resemble love.

And then there was the event.  During one of the flash backs, Tom tells Susan of a night when three escaped convicts invaded their home.  Not only were his mother and thirteen year old Savannah raped, but Tom, himself, was also raped.  But that wasn’t all.  Luke came in with a shotgun and killed two of the rapists, while the mother killed the third.  Then, to make the whole situation even more messed up, Mom ordered her boys to take the bodies outside and dispose of them while she and Savannah cleaned all the blood off the walls.  All this was done before Dad ever got home.  Then the whole thing was just ignored as if it had never happened.  The scene where Susan guides Tom into dealing with his hidden emotions over the incident was powerful, and both Nolte and Streisand did such a great job with it.

Blythe Danner and Melinda Dillon did just fine as Tom’s wife, Sally, and Savannah.  Though Dillon didn’t have much screen time, I will always hold a special place in my heart for her for her great performance in one of my favorite science-fiction movies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Susan’s son Bernard, was also a pretty important character.  He was played by Streisand’s real-life son with actor Elliot Gould, Jason Gould.  Bernard develops a paternal relationship with Tom, helping Tom to feel more comfortable with being a part of Susan’s life.

It was a well-crafted movie, and I have to give props to Streisand for some pretty great directing as well as some spot-on acting.  But again, I have to give credit where credit is due.  Nolte really did a phenomenal job.  I think that maybe I need to give the actor and his extensive body of work a second chance.

1991 – JFK

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JFK – 1991

This was a good movie, but not, I think, for the reasons it was supposed to be.  Obviously, it is a film that is centered around one of the most tragic events in American history, the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States.  Most of this movie was supposed to be about the investigation that took place 3 years after the murder, carried out by Jim Garrison, the New Orleans District Attorney.  And it was.  But that story almost seemed like a subplot next to the facts concerning the assassination.

What I mean is that the structure of the movie was too much like a documentary.  It was almost 3 and a half hours long, and the most dramatic and interesting parts of the movie were about the event itself and not Jim Garrison’s investigation of it.  And the scenes that were devoted to the investigation had some poorly written dialogue, a slow pace, and a bloated sense of self-importance.  It was as if Garrison’s story was used as nothing more than a vehicle for the film makers to show the viewing audiences the amazingly suspicious facts surrounding JFK’s death.

That being said, there were some good performances.  Kevin Costner played Jim Garrison, the man in charge who is obsessed with the investigation.  His Assistants, Michael Rooker, Laurie Metcalf, and Wayne Knight as Bill Broussard, Susie Cox, and Numa Bertel.  Sissy Spacek played Jim’s wife, Liz.  Gary Oldman did a wonderful job playing the part of Lee Harvey Oswald.  Tommy Lee Jones played Clay Shaw, the main conspirator being investigated in the trial.  Joe Pesci, Kevin Bacon, Ed Asner, Jack Lemon, Walter Matthau, Donald Southerland, John Candy, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Jay O. Sanders all had supporting roles.  So it had a pretty big list of Hollywood stars.

Everybody played their parts well enough, except for Joe Pesci.  He is a good actor, but he started off one way, and ended up becoming his foul mouthed character from the movie Goodfellas.  I don’t know if this was intentional, or if he just forgot to keep the southern drawl we heard him speaking with in his first scene.

But the real star of the film was the assassination, which took place in 1963.  Director Oliver Stone did a pretty good job of mixing new footage shot for the film and real news footage from 1963 and 1966.  But it was the money shot that stole the show – the Zapruder Film.  That is the famous footage that clearly showed Kennedy’s head exploding.  You see, I found the explanation of the facts surrounding the assassination fascinating.  The film took a pretty solid stance, stating that Oswald could not have been the killer.  It looked at the story that the government had given the public and picked it apart in amazing detail.  It examined the event from every possible angle, interviewed eye-witnesses whose stories all told of shots coming from behind a fence, and put together re-creations.  All this was shown within the context of Jim Garrison’s investigation and court trial, in which he tried to prove Clay Shaw’s involvement in the assassination.

The most crucial piece of evidence to support Garrison’s case about the assassination being a conspiracy was the magic bullet.  The argument was made that in order for Kennedy to get wounded in the way in which he did from a single shooter such as Oswald, as well as taking into account the wounds of Texas Governor John Connally, the second bullet would have had to defy the laws of physics by doing things like pausing in mid-air and changing directions.  Thus there had to have been more than one shooter, which implies a conspiracy.  The film was based on two conspiracy theory books: On the Trail of the Assassins by the real Jim Garrison, and Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy by Jim Mars.  The film seems to believe everything the books had to say.

Incidentally, if you do any research into the subject, you’ll find that modern computer enhanced investigations have been made, and there are those who can proove how the magic bullet could actually have made all the wounds while flying in a straight line.   The magic bullet theory is only impossible if Connally was seated directly in front of Kennedy, facing forward.  But the Zapruder film clearly shows him turned half way around to look at Kennedy as he is grabbing at his throat.  This makes the lone gunman story seem very plausible.  But putting the magic bullet aside, there were too many other suspicious events surrounding the murder.  Was there a government conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy, or did Oswald act alone?  I’m not sure if anyone really knows.  But I personally believe there was.  Too many of the people involved died or disappeared to perpetuate the cover-up.

Anyway, Costner’s impassioned speech to the jury in his closing argument was moving.  And throughout the movie the common theme kept being reiterated.  Why on earth should we sit still and mindlessly believe a government that would lie to us?  That kind of government is not worthy of our trust or our loyalty.  And if we have to fight to get an honest government, then it is our duty to do so.  Actually, I found it a little heavy-handed, but that made it no less true.

1991 – Bugsy

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Bugsy – 1991

Bugsy is based on the true story of Benjamin Siegel, the Jewish American mobster known as, you guessed it, Bugsy.  Warren Beatty played the infamous criminal, who was known for being a particularly violent hit man who, after moving from Brooklyn to Hollywood, became involved in the original construction of the Las Vegas Strip.  I have to give Beatty’s performance some respect.  In my humble opinion, he was better here than in other films in which I have seen him, like Reds or Bonny and Clyde, not that there was anything wrong with those performances.

The beginning of the film was a little confusing.  It seemed to start in the middle of the story. The director, Barry Levinson, didn’t spend any time introducing characters or letting us know their relationships to each other.  He just skipped past all that and let the audience figure out who people were as they went along.  Of course, I knew who Beatty was playing, but I see him talking to Ben Kingsley.  Even after the film was over, I still wasn’t clear on who Meyer Lansky was, and he was an integral character to the plot.

Then Joe Mantegna shows up, and I soon figured out that he was a Hollywood actor, but I’m still unclear as to why he was associated with the violent gangster, Bugsy.  Elliott Gould makes an appearance as Harry Greenberg, but his screen time was so brief that I didn’t get a chance to figure out who he was or why he was there.  It was as if the movie expected me to know the real story of Bugsy Siegel, and all the people involved, before I watched it.

Well, Bugsy moves to California and when he sees Virginia Hill, played by Annette Benning, on a movie set, he instantly falls in love.  And it has already been established that whatever Bugsy wanted, he took.  He was such a well-known and feared mobster that he could walk into a wealthy opera star’s home and force him to instantly sell it to him for cash, right on the spot.  That seems pretty far-fetched, and I have to question it.  Did that really happen?  The answer is no, it didn’t, but it was a great scene for developing the character of Bugsy as an impulsive and intimidating loose cannon.

The film seemed to chronicle the rocky romance between Bugsy and Virginia.  They seemed to have an up and down relationship that kept coming back to a storybook love, one in which lies, deceptions, thievery, and infidelity seemed to be forgiven with ease whenever either one of them displayed an act of kindness or affection.  Her passion for him seemed to turn on and off like a light switch, implying that, in her own way, she was just as unstable as her lover.  But I liked that they showed how the character of Virginia had just as much of a colored past as Bugsy.  Her mouth was just as unapologetically foul and she did her share of sleeping around.  Benning played the part very well.

I also have to give a big thumbs-up to Harvey Keitel’s portrayal of Mickey Cohen.  We actually didn’t meet his character until we we’re well into the film, so he was introduced before we were expected to know who he was.  Keitel just has the fact of a mobster. He had the perfect look for the part, and I have always regarded him as an excellent actor.

So, as I do with most films that are based on reality, I did a little reading, just to see how much the movie got right, and what they got wrong.  Bugsy was, for the most part, true to history.  They got the personalities of the characters right, and the general facts about Bugsy’s involvement in illegal organized gambling, murders, and erratic, violent behavior.  But the biggest thing that the movie fictionalized was just how involved he was with the building of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.  The film would have us believe that it was all his idea, and that he was solely responsible for conceiving the Vegas Strip that we have today.  In truth, the Flamingo was built by Billy Wilkerson, a man whom the film completely omits.  Billy was a famous entrepreneur who had nearly completed building the Hotel and Casino before Bugsy Siegel got involved.  Also, and this one is pretty minor, the film depicts Bugsy as being murdered on Christmas night, the night the Flamingo closed.  But in reality, he was murdered 6 months later.

The movie was a good movie with some pretty good acting.  I especially liked Keitel and Benning.  But if I had any complaints, I would have to say that it was two things: the film’s length, which goes hand-in-hand with its pacing.  It was too long and too slow.  The problem is that I’m not sure what I would have changed.  Beatty, who was instrumental in getting the movie made, and who is credited as being one of the producers, did a fine job of paying attention to historical details, and that is never a bad thing.  But maybe certain scenes could have been shortened to speed things up a little.  Maybe the whole sub-plot about Bugsy wanting to go to Italy to assassinate Mussolini could have been cut down or eliminated.  But then we might not have gotten to see a great little performance by Bebe Neuwirth, as Countess di Frasso, the wife of one of Mussolini’s friends.  Either way, the pacing and the length would really be my only complaints.