GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language

Directed by: James Foley

Written by: David Mamet

(based on the play GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS by David Mamet)

Starring: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce & Bruce Altman

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is quite interesting for a lot of reasons. In 1984, playwright David Mamet penned the play that this film was based upon and that play went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony. In 1992, Mamet adapted his own play for the big screen and whoever cast this film did one hell of a job in filling the roles. Pacino, Lemmon, Baldwin, Arkin, Harris, Spacey, and Pryce have all put in acclaimed performances throughout their success-filled careers. However, to see them all in one place is stunning. Even though this film bombed at the box office, it wound up being nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. If you like dialogue-driven narratives and amazing acting, then you’ll likely find something to love in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS.

At a small real estate firm, four salesmen are competing in a high-stakes competition that will result in the winner getting a bonus and a brand new car. This competition just got more important as the company higher-ups have sent in a trainer (Alec Baldwin) to reveal that the top two salesmen will be keeping their jobs and the rest will be fired. This dire discovery puts the employees in a desperate spot. Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) talk about possibly getting revenge on the company. Washed-up, has-been Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon) desperately tries to close his lousy leads. Meanwhile, office superstar Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) seems to be sky-high on his sales. However, things become drastically more complicated when a burglary occurs at the firm and its clear that one (or more) of the salesman might be responsible.

Though there are crime-mystery elements in its second half, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS mainly functions as a downbeat drama and dark comedy about four salesmen desperately trying to prove their importance. As a result, this plot is purely forward by dialogue and conversations…which means the acting had better be really damn good or the viewer would be in for one long drag of a film. Thankfully, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS’s strongest qualities are its powerhouse performances and the snappy dialogue.

The best performance easily comes from Jack Lemmon as “The Machine” Levene. This character seems like a sad shell of the person he used to be. Lemmon won a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival for his more than believable portrayal of the live-action equivalent of Gil from THE SIMPSONS. Honestly, Lemmon deserved this film’s nomination for the Academy Award and Golden Globe as well. You legitimately feel sorry for his character and you can visibly see the desperation on his face throughout damn near the entire film. You also see how cocky he gets upon potential newfound success as well. Lemmon’s Levene steals the show!

Though he’s only regulated to a single scene, Alec Baldwin dominates his sole moment as the foul-mouthed company “motivator.” Baldwin’s character’s motivational methods mainly consist of verbally demolishing everybody around him and laying on deep psychological abuse as he seems to almost revel in the fact that half of the firm will be out of jobs by the end of the so-called “competition.” Meanwhile, Ed Harris and Alan Arkin play off each other as two men who are so desperate for cash that they might put their entire futures at risk with thoughts of a bone-headed decision.

Al Pacino plays Ricky Roma, the only “good” salesman of the bunch. Roma’s devilishly slimy tactic is building trust/friendship and then unexpectedly springing his sale pitch on his newfound “friends.” Pacino’s Roma is about as scummy as a salesperson can be and there doesn’t seem to be a genuine bone in his body, unless he’s talking about screwing someone out of their hard-earned cash or ultimately benefiting himself. Jonathan Pryce pops in for a couple of scenes as one of Pacino’s insecure customers/”friends.” Also, Kevin Spacey stars as the stuck-up office drone, who coldly pisses off every single salesman at one point or another.

If nothing else, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS will make you paranoid about ever talking to a salesperson again. The dialogue is loaded with more profanity than your average Quentin Tarantino movie, but flows along in a naturalistic and witty manner. The film’s constant conversations might bore some viewers who cannot stand the idea of watching salespeople talk, fight, argue, and accuse each other for just under two solid hours. However, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is an example of how great acting and smart dialogue can carry a film all by themselves. It’s not for everybody, but GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS should satisfy cinephiles who want to dig on an amazing cast of actors delivering fantastic performances.

Grade: B+

TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action Violence, Sexuality and Innuendo

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Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode

Written by: Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Gotz Otto, Ricky Jay, Joe Don Baker, Vincent Schiavelli & Judi Dench

The eighteenth film in the Bond series and the ninth in my 007 retrospective, TOMORROW NEVER DIES wasn’t as well-received as GOLDENEYE by most critics and audiences. Color me surprised, because I absolutely loved this second Brosnan Bond film just as much as GOLDENEYE. In a franchise that has frequently used evil organizations, constant nuclear threats and a noticeably sexist viewpoint towards its female characters, TOMORROW NEVER DIES does something out of the ordinary. It’s so vastly different from the rest of the 007 series (in a good way) that I couldn’t help but appreciate every second of this eighteenth(!) Bond entry.

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After saving the world during an opening sequence, James Bond is saddled with yet another assignment (does he ever get a break?). His latest venture is to investigate narcissistic media mogul Elliot Carver. Carver’s newspaper was the first to report on the mysterious sinking of a British submarine. Bond discovers that Carver is intent on starting World War III in hopes that he’ll gain a stronger hold on the media and more power for his god-like complex. Bond is on a mission to stop the insane businessman, but Carver is also onto 007. A deadly, international game of cat-and-mouse erupts between the two with others caught in the crossfire.

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I already said in my review of GOLDENEYE that Pierce Brosnan wonderfully inhabits the old-school Bond that Connery made his own. That doesn’t change in this second outing with Brosnan in the role. The biggest stand-out is Jonathan Pryce as Carver though. He’s simply a fantastic villain. Though his plan to start WWIII might echo a certain earlier Roger Moore entry, his insanity and motives are wholly unique. The narcissistic attitude and smugness in which Pryce plays the part make Carver into a Bond villain unlike any other. He’s simply a lunatic with a massive complex and a most unusual view of world domination. What’s also notable is a distinct lack of a singular Bond girl for a majority of the running time. If you want to be technical there are two female partners with whom 007 teams up, but they come at different points in the movie and don’t necessarily qualify as main characters in my view. It was nice to see Bond up against a villain who was one step ahead of him for nearly the entire film. Unlike Sean Bean in GOLDENEYE (who served as a wonderful villain due to his familiarity with 007), Carver is just an insane genius who makes some pretty ballsy moves in order to outwit Bond.

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Much like GOLDENEYE, TOMORROW NEVER DIES uses familiar elements from older Bond flicks in a fresh way. A megalomaniac villain exists in pretty much every Bond movie to date. After all, who are you going to pit a seemingly invincible secret agent up against? An average small-scale bad guy or someone who wants to wreak global havoc? I think everyone would agree that the latter option will always be the better one. Besides a killer villain, TOMORROW also uses an extremely fast pace with tons of action. However, it doesn’t feel like it’s doing so merely for the sake of using bombastic special effects. Instead, the story ventures into remarkably darker territory (especially one scene in a hotel room) that older Bond movies wouldn’t have dared to go into. These plot points make for a more sinister and intense storyline. It all worked because I was hooked from start to finish.

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Thus far, the two Brosnan Bond flicks I’ve seen have shaken up familiar 007 conventions. Familiar plot points are adjusted with a modern flare that make for high-octane spy entertainment willing to take more risks than previous efforts. TOMORROW NEVER DIES really stands out as one of my favorite 007 films so far. It has a creative, original story when compared to most other entries in the franchise. Carver stands out as one of the most unusual villains in the series too. I was blown away by this movie and look forward to revisiting it many times in the future. TOMORROW NEVER DIES comes highly recommended as one of the very best Bonds.

Grade: A

RONIN (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and some Language

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Directed by: John Frankenheimer

Written by: J.D. Zeik & David Mamet

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean & Jonathan Pryce

RONIN is the best FAST & FURIOUS movie never made. This thriller doesn’t venture too far over-the-top in its many action sequences, features a likable band of rag-tag heroes, and rip-roaring car chases. Though the plot is pretty simple stuff, the execution of the material offers a lot of fun for viewers who just want a cool action thriller that doesn’t require over-complicated twists or a ridiculous number of explosions. Plus, you have Robert De Niro and Jean Reno as a pair of badass mercenaries. There’s something to be said for that alone.

On the streets of Paris, five strangers have been recruited by an Irishwoman to retrieve a mysterious briefcase. The contents of the case are not revealed to the group. They are only informed that they need to retrieve it from some heavily armed men and that they will be handsomely rewarded. Whatever is inside of this small case seems to be causing a lot of tension between various nations (including Russia and Ireland) and the group soon find themselves put through shifting loyalties, lots of car chases, and double-crossings galore. This also leaves two of the mercenaries, Sam (De Niro) and Vincent (Reno) to fend for themselves in the chaotic violence.

RONIN gets off to a solid start by introducing our band of diverse characters. The witty banter between them is entertaining to watch, especially Robert De Niro throwing smartass dialogue at a mile a minute. Other cast members include Jean Reno (a few years past his iconic LEON role), Jonathan Pryce (always a welcome face), Sean Bean (in a small part), and Stellan Skarsgard (who has a significant role to play in the proceedings). Though a few characters are drastically underused (especially Bean) and a so-so romantic angle muddles the proceedings, RONIN could be recommended purely on the merits of watching its R-rated OCEAN’S ELEVEN style characters talk amongst themselves.

The characters are just icing on an adrenaline-filled cake as this film packs in some of the most exciting cinematic car chases I’ve ever seen in my life! RONIN isn’t wall-to-wall action, especially because the first third spends so much time developing these characters and setting up the stakes. When the film takes off in a high-speed pursuit (one of many), it rarely lets up. Bullets fly, betrayals occur, suspense is milked, and people die. It’s all tremendously exciting stuff, especially since the characters are actually worth caring about.

The downside to RONIN comes in the form of several clichés that rear their ugly heads in an overly familiar story that also becomes too predictable during moments. This is especially true of the climax which is set in a location that really felt like it was from an entirely separate movie and used one twist too many. These clichés don’t hurt the proceedings much, but are dusty nonetheless. Even more annoying is that Jean Reno isn’t given much to say when Robert De Niro keeps throwing out an endless stream of clever one-liners during his scenes.

RONIN is far from a classic, but does contain some of the greatest car chases in cinematic history. The simple plotline only serves as an excuse to get all of these big actors in one film that happens to have a fair share of gun fights, explosions, and criminals. It’s basic and to-the-point fun that should entertain those looking for a quick fix of car chases and bullets.

Grade: B

BRAZIL (1985)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Strong Violence

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Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown

Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Jim Broadbent

BRAZIL is George Orwell’s 1984 with a sense of humor. This is an overly comical view of a depressing industrial world where paperwork proceeds every tiny action. This is a bleak future where a totalitarian government monitors everything, keeps the public in a constant state of fear from supposed unseen terrorists, and specializes in making free-thinkers simply vanish in the blink of an eye. BRAZIL, much like 1984, strongly resembles some issues currently happening in various countries around the world. Besides maintaining some solid laughs throughout, the film also is unrelentingly dark and never loses focus of the story being told. This is the kind of science fiction satire that simultaneously made me laugh and want to cry from the dire circumstances unfolding before my eyes.

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In a metallic-tinted bureaucratic-laced future, Sam Lowry lives a perfectly suitable existence in his meager position as a low-level government worker. He has frequent dreams about flying the skies and rescuing a beautiful girl he has never met before, but is completely content with his way of life. After a minor error is made in a typewriter that sends an innocent man to a horrible fate, Sam finds himself caught in the web of dangerous repercussions following that paperwork mistake and indeed trying to save the very girl of his dreams.

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To give anything more specific away would spoil some of the fun. The plot of BRAZIL is at the same time overly complicated and extremely simple, much like the processing system of the asinine society running the show. The film also blends the dark nature of the plot with frequent laughs. One thing that should be noted about the tone is that it grows progressively more grim as things go along. The first 40 minutes are comedic genius and then things begin to get more twisted and serious. If you go into this film expecting an all-out comedic tour-de-force, then you’ll finish the experience mighty depressed from just how alike it is to 1984 (a story you really have to prep yourself for due to the sheer unrelenting bleakness of the content).

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The real complaint I have about BRAZIL is that the movie comes close to wearing out its welcome on more than one occasion. There were some scenes that could have easily been cut. The film runs at over two hours (nearly two and a half if you’re watching the director’s cut). It’s not that things drag out to the point of being insufferable, but some sequences do seem to go on a bit too long. One thing that might annoy certain viewers, but I totally dug it was that lots of different variations of the song “Brazil” were used throughout the entire film. I know there was probably some other music in the score, but that piece of music (used hauntingly as the end credits roll) will forever stick out in my mind when this film is brought up in conversation. Some of the running gags (of which there are quite a few) work better than others, but I did appreciate that there were still some chuckles as the story tauntingly played with my emotions.

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Terry Gilliam is known for being a visionary director and that’s certainly the case here. Every little detail added to the sets is well-realized. Little touches to this world only further enhance the sensation that I was looking into a vision of the future and what I saw made me wish that tomorrow would never come. The depressing roots of 1984, which Gilliam admitted to liberally borrowing from, are still very much intact in Gilliam’s vision of Orwell’s novel. In fact, I’d dare say that the final 30 minutes play out like one long extended nightmare that had me glued to the screen.

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As far as the cast goes, there are some great performances and a notably mediocre one. Jonathan Pryce is a phenomenal lead and it helps that Sam Lowry is a likable character. He signifies a good man trying to keep his moral compass in a broken society, which makes his struggles all the more difficult to watch. Katherine Helmond, covered with layers of make-up, appears as Price’s mother at varying ages and a friend of hers provides one of the best recurring jokes throughout the film. Those interested in seeing younger versions of Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent, and Ian Holm need look no further as they appear as a maintenance man, a plastic surgeon, and Price’s boss, respectively. Robert De Niro has a few scenes as a wanted would-be terrorist that are entertaining. The only real let-down is Kim Greist as Price’s love interest. I don’t know which direction to point the blame in. Her character isn’t exactly given a lot of development, but Greist doesn’t raise her above a one-note rebellious damsel-in-distress whom Price to trying to save.

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BRAZIL may wind up pushing the time limit this story might have been told in (over two hours was a tad too long) and some jokes may fall flat, but it remains a wonderful classic dystopian future tale. One entirely forgettable love interest aside, the film is packed full of colorful characters and great performances. The contrast of dark material and quirky humor works wonders, though the humor really begins to disappear as the film reaches nightmarish levels in the final act. Gilliam’s unofficial adaptation of Orwell’s famous novel is weird, strange, oddly funny, and doesn’t skimp on the entirely grim subject matter within the book. I recommend bracing yourself for a tough, heady piece of art before sitting down to watch BRAZIL. This all being said, the film is phenomenal and comes highly recommended for those wanting something completely out of the ordinary.

Grade: A-

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