Category Archives: 1990 Movie reviews

The Grifters-1990

The Grifters-1990

Director-Stephen Frears

Starring-John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening

Reviewed January 28, 2009

Grade: B-

The Grifters is a film that has witty writing and has an overall appeal to it- the film is very unique and quirky and is in the style of a charismatic film noir from one of the golden ages of film, the 1930’s and the 1940’s. Additionally, the film has a very sharp, clean look to it.

The performances, especially Anjelica Houston, are excellent. In fact, all three principles, (John Cusack and Annette Bening) give fantastic performances and furthermore, feed off each other so well that the chemistry works quite well.

Cusack plays a small time crook named Roy Dillon, inept in ways, and estranged from his mother (Huston). When she returns to town, she along with his girlfriend (Bening), all attempt to con and outmaneuver each other for their own personal gain. The film is set in sunny Los Angeles.

As compelling as the film sounds on paper, I did not find myself completely captured by it. It took me awhile to get into the film and by the time I finally did, it had ended. Overall, well made, and respectable, and I can see how some people would love it, but for me there remained something missing.

The Godfather: Part III

The Godfather: Part III-1990

Director-Francis Ford Coppola

Starring-Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia

60011153

Reviewed December 3, 2016

Grade: B+

The Godfather: Part III, released in 1990, has traditionally been met with unwavering criticisms for not being as great as the two preceding epics. Sofia Coppola, who plays Mary- daughter of Michael Corleone, in particular, has bared the brunt of the attacks. No, The Godfather: Part III is not on the level of the others, but is actually pretty damned good based on its own merits and is a capable mob epic to conclude the franchise in a satisfying fashion. The central theme is Michael’s continued desire to leave the mafia and religion, and the Catholic Church are central themes of the film.

Some backstory to the making of the film; Coppola had a non-expiring offer to create a third installment to the saga ever since 1974, when Part II was released. Having had a financial crisis, 1990 was the time Coppola agreed to do the follow-up. The ever crucial role of Mary (now a coming of age young lady) was to be played by Julia Roberts, who dropped out. Winona Ryder was then cast and bailed at the very last minute. Out of necessity, Coppola daughter Sofia was cast and had little time to prepare or much acting experience (she would later become an acclaimed director, which better suited her talents).

In similar fashion to the other epics, a big event launches the film, as Michael (Pacino) is named Commander of the Order of Saint Sebastian in a lavish ceremony at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. It is revealed that Michael is approaching age sixty and semi-retired, leaving his business dealings mainly to Joey Zasa in New York, who has ravaged what the Corleone family had once built. Many characters- Kay, Mary, Tony, and Connie, are re-introduced, and new characters such as Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) and Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) are introduced, in a flurry of new story lines. It is like a big, grand, soap opera, with wonderful, rich, writing.

I was immediately impressed by the neat cinematography- the camera captures wind-swept leaves and an artistic introduction to the film, as well as either mentioned or appearing in cameo roles, small characters from the first two films- a great touch in continuity and history. Coppola does a fantastic job of providing little updates of these characters during a party. For example, we learn that Vincent is the deceased, illegitimate son of Sonny, his mother being Lucy Mancini, who appears in a scene. (Clever viewers will remember Sonny and Lucy’s torrent affair in the bathroom during The Godfather-it is suggested that this produced Vincent). It is mentioned that Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) has died, though his wife and son appear, and Coppola treats us to a myriad of flashbacks (Apollonia, a young Michael and Kaye). These nuances make The Godfather: Part III filled with cool little aspects that fill the loyal viewer with warmth.

The main story- Michael takes Vincent under his wing- and strives to steer the family clear of criminal ties- is interesting, if not spectacular. Connie rises from battered mafia wife, raising kids, to a major player in the family, just as women progressed from the 1940’s to the 1980’s, when the story takes place. She even feeds her godfather a poisoned cannoli! Michael, Vincent, and Connie involve themselves with the Catholic Church, bailing them out (the real-life Papal banking scandal is linked to the story) and making a deal with them for major shares of a real-estate company, Immobiliare. In-fighting between the major crime mob bosses lead to several bloody massacres throughout the film, on the streets, in Atlantic City, and finally, in the Sicilian Opera house.

The pairing of cousins and lovers, Vincent and Mary, never really works, nor does Bridget Fonda’s one or two scene appearance as Grace Hamilton, a brief dalliance for Vincent. Also, the exclusion of the character of loyal family attorney Tom is a glaring omission. So the film does contain a few negatives.

In a nutshell, The Godfather: Part III is a very good, epic, crime drama even without the Godfather name. To measure up to the glory of Parts I and II is impossible. With the added bonus of having the rich Corleone family history and the intricate relationships between the characters, this makes for a treat for fans. There has not been a Part IV, nor should there ever need to be as the conclusion of the film is a satisfying wrap-up to the saga.

The Witches-1990

The Witches-1990

Director-Nicolas Roeg

Starring-Angelica Huston

20282991

Reviewed September 20, 2016

Grade: B-

The Witches is a G-rated family film with a slightly dark tone that is done in a soft manner as the film is really targeted for children. However, it is a film that adults may love too. I found the film to be entertaining, with impressive special effects, and a dazzling comedic performance by Angelica Huston, but ultimately The Witches has a silly quality, though admittedly not trite, that does not completely make it a success in my book.

The film is based on a Roald Dahl children’s book – with predictably a child as the central character- similar to other Dahl novels that became films like James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I cannot help but wonder if my mediocre rating of The Witches has to do with the fact that I have not read the novel, as I have the other aforementioned novels in his collection.

Our hero in the story is Luke- a  kindly, innocent young boy living in Norway with his parents and grandmother- Helga. When his folks are tragically killed, his grandmother takes him to London to begin a new life for themselves. When Helga falls ill, they stay at a seaside resort where they stumble upon a convention of witches disguised as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Luke’s and his plump friend Bruno become victims of the witches plot to turn children into mice. The witch group is led by the Grand High Witch (Huston), who the other witches fawn over with grandiose praise.

Huston is fantastic as she overacts the part she plays- this is not a bad thing, but makes the role quite fun and energetic. When she transforms from a glamorous woman to a shriveled monster, the transformation is interesting to watch and an impressive part of the film. Furthermore, the way that Luke and Bruno interact when they are mice is also cute and a positive to the film.

I enjoyed the aspect that, if watched closely, can be seen involving the reveal that numerous witches are really men with female wigs on. This successfully gives the witches a grotesque, obviously mannish quality and emits a chuckle of pleasure at the same time.

Still, there is something slightly childish or juvenile about the offering- while the film appears dark on the surface. The subject is rather played for laughs instead of going full steam ahead as a dark film. Undoubtedly this is due to the target audience that the film is going for. For instance, hotel manager and his affair with a hotel maid seems slightly unnecessary.

The Witches is a decent offering due respect for the creative aspects that it elicits- I just felt the story might have been done a bit more serious. Additionally, the ending feels  slightly forced and abrupt- a Hollywood intended ending perhaps?

Miller’s Crossing-1990

Miller’s Crossing-1990

Director-Joel Coen

Starring-Ethan Coen, Gabriel Byrne

60028099

Reviewed April 13, 2016

Grade: B+

Containing a mixture of The Godfather Part III, Goodfellas, and The Grifters- ironically all released in the same year-1990- Miller’s Crossing is an old-fashioned gangster film made fresh thanks to the direction of  Joel Coen, who bring a quirky edge to the film, throwing in a blend of film noir, black humor, and edgy characters, that make the films story-line feel fresh and alive in present time, though it has a definite late 1980’s era cinematic look (not a compliment). I could immediately tell in which decade it was made. Miller’s Crossing begins slowly, but during the second act gains steam and is the best part of the film.

The film is set somewhere in New York during the 1920’s Prohibition period- it is assumed New York City, but this is never stated. The general story involves Tom Reagan, a handsome Irish gangster, and right hand man of Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney), who becomes involved in conflict with Leo, his lover Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), and her brother Bernie (John Turturro), who is wanted dead by rival Italian mobster, Johnny Caspar. Johnny’s right hand man “Dane” comes into play, as does another gangster, Mink, played by Steve Buscemi. Tom changes allegiances and plays one mob boss against the other as a web of deceit, tested loyalty, and murder ensues.

As the first half concluded I was not completely sold on the film. How many times have I seen a gangster film with all the stereotypical elements, the tough-guy shtick, and the contrivances? I was afraid I was watching a retread of similar films. I wondered what the point of the film really was- the relationship between Tom and Leo’s struggle for power and control? A triangle between Tom, Verna, and Leo? I noticed little chemistry among any of them and could not help but wonder if a female presence was required in the film, but really not all that necessary. Regardless, I was quickly bored with the character of Verna. But then the elements of the film started to come together and some rather left of center nuances presented themselves leaving me more engrossed.

A homosexual triangle (almost never seen in traditional, crime/mob films) took shape between Mink, Dane, and Bernie. Certainly all vicious killers, they had no stereotypes often seen in film, which is refreshing. Dane was even arguably the most brutal of all the characters, and the bloodletting was plenty. I found this reveal completely refreshing not to mention unexpected. However, the intricacies of the triangle were left unexplored. They simply bedded each other.

A pivotal scene set in the woods (Miller’s Crossing) is as gorgeous as it is character-driven. Tom must choose between killing Bernie and proving his loyalty to mobsters awaiting, or secretly let him live, fake his death, all in the name of his love of Verna. But will his decision come back to haunt him?  Is Tom, at his core, a good man or a bad man? The calm of the forest mixed with the brutality of the film is perfect. I was reminded of the 1970 Italian masterpiece The Conformist as I viewed this beautiful scene. Tom’s  conflict between good and evil and his earlier premonition of a tumbling hat come into play. His characters conflict reminded me of Michael Corleone in The Godfather films.

Look quickly and you will see Frances McDormand, soon to be a fixture in Coen films, as a slinky, well dressed secretary. We are reminded of great things to come by this then unknown talent.

A nice thing that I always look forward to in Coen films are the quirky, weird, fun, minor characters, and Miller’s Crossing is no different- Johnny Caspar’s overweight wife and son- an Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory lookalike- give comedy to the potentially too dark film. From Bryan to Tic-Tac, to the fat lady with the purse, all give amusing and meaningful turns that give the film a richness with an unusual cast of characters.

Miller’s Crossing proves to be a nice little film once it picks up steam  and the intertwining of stories, characters, and a bit of classic film noir mixed in, makes it a refreshing take on an age old genre of film.

Goodfellas-1990

Goodfellas-1990

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring-Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Top 100 Films-#89

70002022

Reviewed February 12, 2017

Grade: A

Director Martin Scorsese adapts Goodfellas, a crime-mob film, from the 1986 non-fiction book written by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi helped Scorsese write the screenplay. The film is a more matter-of-fact telling than the purely dramatic The Godfather, with more wit and humor thrown in and great editing. Featuring powerful acting by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci, it is a classic mob film that is memorable and can be enjoyed via repeated viewings.  Largely ad-libbed, the film is rich in good dialogue and holds the distinction of containing one of the highest totals of curse words in film history.

The film is told from the first person narrative of the lead character, Henry Hill. Henry, now in the Witness Protection Program, recounts his years affiliated with the mob, spanning the years 1955-1980. We meet Henry as a youngster in Brooklyn, New York, half-Italian, half-Sicilian, he idolizes the “wise guys” on the streets and has every intention of one day joining their ranks. From there, the film describes the trials and tribulations of Henry’s group of miscreants. Henry meets and falls in love with Karen (Lorraine Bracco) and their tumultuous love story is explored, through tender moments and affairs.

What I love most about Goodfellas is the love of the characters and the sense that you are part of the action. The film is really a highly stylized family drama- gritty nonetheless, but the viewer feels like they are part of things and a member of the family- milestones are celebrated and meals are shared. We see Henry grow from a teenaged gullible boy- idolizing the neighborhood men, to actually being part of the group. The other characters, such as vicious and volatile Tommy DeVito (Pesci) and Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (De Niro), age and mature.

Bracco’s character is an interesting one- she, unlike most of the female characters in The Godfather films, is not content to merely sit on the sidelines and look past her husbands shenanigans and torrid affairs with floozies. She is a more modern, determined woman and Bracco plays her with intelligent and a calm demeanor. She wants to be Henry’s equal instead of just some trophy wife.

Pesci, who deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, is brutal and filthy, but so mesmerizing a character. During a memorable scene, his character of Tommy jokingly teases Henry, but when Henry responds in a way that displeases Tommy, the scene grows tense and Tommy becomes increasingly disturbing. His famous line “What am I a clown- do I amuse you?” is both clever and haunting in its repercussions.

I adore the soundtrack that Scorsese chooses for the film- spanning decades, he chooses songs true to the times such as “Layla” (1970) or “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” (1964) are just perfect. Worth noting is when a scene plays, sometimes the song is mixed in with the narrative so that it actually enhances the scene altogether- becoming a part of it rather than simply background music.

If one is looking for the perfect mob film, that contains music, wit, charm, and fantastic writing, Goodfellas is among the best that there is. My preference is for The Godfather and The Godfather II, but while Goodfellas has similarities to these films it is also completely different and stands on its own merits.