Runaway Jury (2003)

Runaway Jury theatrical.jpg

Trials are too important to be left to juries! Nothing like the element of surprise to heat up a legal drama and this has it in spades. After a workplace shooting in New Orleans that kills married broker Jacob (Dylan McDermott), lawyer Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) takes up the case against the gun manufacturer for the man’s widow Celeste (Joanna Going) but has to deal with a ‘jury consultant’, Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman). When Nicholas Easter (John Cusack), a man without an apparent past, gets on the jury he seems to be able to exert influence on the outcome – with the assistance of his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz) who’s operating at the end of a telephone. Both sides are approached to make them an offer to sway the decision – a situation rendered immensely complicated when they are sequestered in a motel on the East Texas border … John Grisham’s thriller was in development for half a dozen years and its original topic – big tobacco – was altered after The Insider (coincidentally featuring Bruce McGill, the judge here) but taps into the very emotive theme of gun rights, the Second Amendment and – in the big reveal – a school shooting. The setting of N’Oleans heaps atmosphere into this very effectively plotted thriller and you’ll recognise a lot of landmarks. The playing – that cast! – is exceptional with Hackman making his return to Grisham territory 9 years after The Firm in which he also essayed a very shady character. Really well managed even if the coda errs on the side of sentiment. Adapted by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland and Matthew Chapman. Directed by Gary Fleder.

Advertisements

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

Jack Reacher Never Go Back.jpg

It was a counter-intuitive move to cast Tom Cruise as Lee Child’s protagonist:  built like a brick shithouse, the Reacher on the page and Cruise clearly bear little resemblance to each other. However much you might like to read about a guy committing GBH against every baddie he meets, it wouldn’t really work on film. So casting a wirier, less obvious action man was a good thing to do and the first film was a fast-moving surprise. This however cannot hold a candle to it in terms of a genre workout. It gets off to a good start – with a scene that was used in every EPK package used for the PR – and Reacher then meets up with army major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) after a cute phonecall but she’s banged up on faked espionage charges when he arrives for a face to face. When he breaks her out he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy with origins in Afghanistan, nailed for a murder he didn’t commit and protecting a teenage girl called Samantha Dutton (Danika Yarosh) who just might be his daughter. With a setting in and around N’Oleans this has at least the virtue of a great backdrop and those ladies run as much as Cruise does – with equal if not more screen time. That said, the adaptation by Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskowitz and director Ed Zwick lacks verve and the entire production feels identitkit, lessening the sense of jeopardy.  The idea of a glum Cruise coming to terms with unintentional fatherhood never really gets the treatment it should in this flourish-free thriller. Oh well! Child himself has a nice little cameo at the airport.

JFK (1991)

JFK movie poster.png

11/22/63. No matter where you stand on whodunnit, this adaptation of N’Oleans DA Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs’s book hits so many targets so precisely you have to just wonder in awe at Oliver Stone’s masterful cinematic achievement. The legal-conspiracy thriller reached new – and mature, true – heights with this exploration of the facts, theories, rumours and lurid stories surrounding the many oversights and strange findings of the Warren Commission. The expedient assassination of the most charismatic American President and the many malcontents who might have ordered it are explored in a series of brilliant character portraits in Stone and Zachary Sklar’s screenplay and performed by a game, talented cast. Garrison is played by Kevin Costner but there are so many great supporting actors – Joe Pesci and his wig are unforgettable as David Ferrie, Walter Matthau is great as Senator Long,  Gary Oldman is the patsy, Lee Harvey Oswald, Kevin Bacon impresses as Willie O’Keeffe. And more. So many more! I don’t know if Stone ever discussed this with Woody Harrelson, whose hitman dad was rumoured to be the shooter on the grassy knoll, and I don’t know if the second fatal shot was shockingly administered in error (maybe) by one of the agents on the car (that’s the most probable scenario, given the ammo burns, IMHO), and frankly it always seemed logical that LBJ ordered the hit, but  what do I know?! This packs a visceral punch. And it was 53 years ago today.  What a revolting anniversary to have to mark. Politics, American-style, with all those mysterious lone gunmen and Manchurian candidates. Stunning, shocking, what film is for.

Midnight Special (2016)

Midnight_Special_(film)_poster.jpg

A little boy wearing goggles in a car being moved around by Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton. An end of days cult in the desert led by Sam Shepard. The FBI chasing the men with the boy. How to describe this masterful exercise in sci-fi and supernature by writer/director Jeff Nichols? A cast in which Adam Driver, the biggest baddie ever in my cinematic universe, is the nicest person? Kirsten Dunst is a mom? A mystery which hangs on an article of faith in which we have no known investment? This is simply great: an intelligent foray into genre that waits to give us information, drip, drip, drip and we have to work out what to believe. And why. Big wow.

Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)

Abbott and Costello Go To Mars poster

In which our bumbling twosome don’t actually go to Mars but accidentally blast off and stop in N’Orleans at the Mardi Gras where a couple of gangsters hitch a ride. Then they all fetch up on Venus (stop the John Gray jokes there in the back) where Mari Blanchard, Martha Hyer and their exclusively lady friends have seen it all before. If you look fast you can spot Anita Ekberg as a guard.  Sci fi was a hot topic so the duo was bound to have a go and indeed this might have been inspired by Robert Heinlein’s 1950 film treatment in which they go to the moon … Some good sight gags (moon boots, the Statue of Liberty) and wisecracks about Miss Universe (Ekberg – or Ekborg?! was Miss Sweden!) but nothing to get hung about.

 

French Quarter (1978)

French Quarter 1978 movie poster.jpg

We love N’Oleans, cher. And we love odd films. So this curiosity from the late 70s drive-in circuit is just the ticket. Directed by Dennis Kane from his screenplay with Barney Cohen. Bereaved drifter Alisha Fontaine (a newcomer of 17 going on 35 who had done a biker flick and a drugs movie some years earlier…) turns up on the Greyhound bus and doesn’t like life as a stripper. By some voodoo trick she winds up in the same bed 100 years earlier, in a brothel. Pretty Baby X French Lieutenant’s Woman, as one wag has it, this has okay production values, narrative stretch (with a VO to keep us in the loop) and some serious strangeness. Bizarrely, the soundtrack is composed by the great Dick Hyman and there are tracks by Jelly Roll Morton (who shows up 100 years ago!!!). Virginia Mayo’s late career appearance is a welcome addition. And there’s Barry Sullivan too!  (And spot a Playboy Bunny). Was it all just an especially piquant dream?

Elsa & Fred (2014)

Elsa and Fred poster.jpg

A gentle comedy about two old-timers getting it together. She’s a gadabout fibber, he’s a temperamental victim of his daughter’s do-gooding interfering. As new neighbours they seem hellbent on making trouble for each other but it turns into something else … A gentle disquisition on ender relationships from the director Michael Radford, adapted from the 2005 Spanish-Argentinian film by Anna Pavignano (who did Il Postino with Radford) but according to Christopher Plummer, rewritten on set in N’Oleans by him, Shirley MacLaine and Radford.

Lulu Belle (1948)

Lulu Belle poster

For those of us only familiar with Dorothy Lamour as the sidekick in the Road movies, this is something of a departure. She’s the half-caste singer who lays waste to a succession of men in New Orleans at the turn of the century. This was a play in the 1920s by Broadway legend and journo Charles MacArthur and Edward Sheldon and for censorship reasons the singer in this had to be white. It’s set up as a flashback with a mystery at its heart:  who has shot the famous Broadway star and her benefactor/lover? And so we learn the history of men and mayhem. Not a huge success but a certain interest remains for all that, particularly for the point of view narrative of her lover George Davis (George Montgomery). And Dorothy sings!

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Interview with the Vampire poster.jpg

This was one of THE cinema events of the 90s:  Anne Rice’s cult novel, which had been in development hell for years, was finally being brought to the big screen helmed by Neil Jordan – and she took out ads in the trades telling everyone how much she hated the project and the casting. Principally, Tom Cruise as her beloved Lestat. But she wrote the screenplay … and did an about turn upon its release. Brad Pitt plays vampish sidekick Louis and Christian Slater plays the role of the interviewer which should have been River Phoenix’ until his shocking death (the film is dedicated to him in an atypical incidence of taste). This is a tale of passions and tragedy and grand guignol. It turned into a folie de grandeur (or epic fail as the kids say) lurching from theatrical and baroque to camp and back again. The scenes with greedy little vampire Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) are particularly funny and make Lestat and Louis look like two especially inept gay dads. Antonio Banderas pops up for Olde Worlde authenticity. (It also boasts Domiziana Giordano, whose entire career appears to have happened due to having an amazing head of hair.) This is a whole lotta fun if you’re in the mood and if you’re a fan of N’Oleans, cher, then this could be the ticket. Which reminds me of my own trip into Rice country pre-Katrina and my experience in the vintage store run by her sister where I resisted the opportunity to buy the woman’s undies (with tag signed in purple ink by the authoress herself.) I got a signed book instead. The past really IS another country. But if Guns’n’Roses can get back together then anything goes (they sing the closing song, Sympathy for the Devil …)