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MILLER’S CROSSING (1990) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in movies, USA with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2013 by goregirl

Ethan and Joel, the brothers Coen were busy boys during the 1990s. The duo contributed five solid films through the decade; Miller’s Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Fargo (1996) and The Big Lebowski (1998). I enjoyed all five of these films in varying degrees but the two I’ve revisited the most often have been Barton Fink and Miller’s Crossing. I won’t deny that a large part of the appeal for me of this particular pair is John Turturro who is one of my favourite actors of all time. No matter how small the role or the quality of the film Turturro always gives a memorable performance. While Turturro is the focus of Barton Fink as the film’s titular character and gives an absolutely brilliant performance for some reason Miller’s Crossing is always the first film that comes to mind when I think about the actor. Also, Barton Fink was rented out and Miller’s Crossing wasn’t. Okay, I just wanted an opportunity to chat up Mr. Turturro (more on Turturro momentarily). There are plenty of reasons to visit Miller’s Crossing outside of Turturro; Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman and Marcia Gay Harden to name a few. I love me a period piece gangster film and Miller’s Crossing is one of the most beautifully filmed, well acted and smartest entries of the bunch.

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Johnny Caspar accompanied by his muscle Eddie Dane has arranged a meeting with Leo an aging Irish gangster who formerly was the singular power in the city. Johnny Casper as a courtesy has come to let Leo know that he intends to eliminate Bernie Bernbaum for messing with his fixes. After all, if you can’t trust a fix, what can you trust? Leo lets Johnny know that if he does that there is going to be trouble. Tom Reagan, Leo’s right hand man advises Leo to give up Bernie and avoid a turf war. Tom’s advice has been gospel in the past but Leo has been swayed by a sassy dame by the name of Verna. Bernie is Verna’s brother and is basically a small time grifter that is stirring up shit beyond his scope of importance. Leo is blinded by his love for Verna and inevitably Johnny and Leo become embroiled in the full-fledged turf war Tom warned against.

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Miller’s Crossing is more than a turf war between two gangsters; it is a character-driven film full of wit, wisdom and dark humour. But it is still a gangster film and has plenty of double crosses, brutal atonements and violent action. The titular Miller’s Crossing is a place where guys get whacked, and if you are unfortunate enough to make the trip it is probably your last. Miller’s Crossing is a visual stunner. Sets, set pieces and costumes are all superb and the lush yet spare film style is exceptionally beautiful, particularly the outdoor shots. Granted there are scenes where endless gunshots never seem to make contact but even these are wonderful eye candy. Miller’s Crossing’s best asset however really is its amazing characterizations.

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Tom is the brains behind Leo’s power. Tom never carries a gun and gets the snot beaten out of him copious times throughout Miller’s Crossing. In fact, I think he may hold some sort of record! Tom is a smart ass with a quick wit that likes his drink and is constantly in arrears with his bookie. Tom rarely lifts a finger during the numerous beatings he takes; Tom’s most lethal weapon is his mouth. While he seems quite harmless among an array of bad-ass gangsters, his decisions can carry deadly consequences. Tom knows all the plays and everyone who knows Tom are aware of it. But Tom sees things others don’t and he uses it. This is one of Gabriel Byrnes best performances and he plays Tom with a spot on cocky confidence (he also looks great in a hat).

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Miller’s Crossing features one of my all time favourite scenes in a gangster film. While Leo is laying in his bed smoking a cigar and listening to Danny Boy a couple hit men break into his house. He bolts under his bed and takes a guy down by shooting him in the leg and when he falls to the floor finishes him off with a shot to the head. The second shooter hides. Leo grabs the dead man’s tommy gun, darts out a window and slides down the roof. When he sees the second shooter with his back to the window he plugs an insane amount of  bullets into him. Than a car drives by with yet another shooter but he misses Leo who chases the car down his fancy residential street unleashing a stream of bullets until the car hits a tree and blows up! Holy crap is this a scene! My words really can’t justify it. Albert Finney is one of the finest actors out there and he is brilliant as Leo. He is a likable and honourable gangster, and can even be a soft touch at times, but there is no mistaking the fact that he can be a ruthless son of a bitch when he needs to be.

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I must admit I haven’t seen Jon Polito in much outside of three other Coen brother films but he is great in Miller’s Crossing as Johnny Caspar. He tries in earnest to be level headed but loses his shit on a regular basis. Every time the animated gangster had a fit over one thing or another I was sure he was going to drop dead of a heart attack. You really don’t want to fuck with Johnny Casper. And you definitely don’t want to fuck with Casper’s muscle Eddie Dane. Eddie Dane was the baddest of the bunch. The Dane as he is affectionately called is one stern, intense, humourless and intimidating bastard. J.E. Freeman is fantastic! Freeman was also in another one of my favourite films from 1990; David Lynch’s Wild At Heart and was equally as frightening as Marcelles Santos. Than we have the troublesome Bernie Bernbaum. Bernie plays innocent referring to himself as a nobody but Bernie is an opportunist of the worst kind and would crawl over his own dead mother’s corpse to steal a quarter. He is a trash-talking no good nick and a career grifter who even bad mouths his sister who has gone out of her way to see he is protected. Bernie Bernbaum begging for his life is one of the most pathetic displays of cowardliness I’ve seen in a gangster flick. Bernie Bernbaum is completely unlikable and it is no surprise people want him dead. John Turturro is without a doubt one of the most memorable sad sack pseudo-gangsters ever. Finally we have Marcia Gay Harden who plays Verna. Verna was Harden’s first feature length film credit (with the exception of The Imagemaker where she is listed as “stage manager”). This is one hell of a debut! Harden is perfectly cast as the tough, sassy Verna who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. She is a gangster’s moll with heart and plenty of moxie.

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Miller’s Crossing is quite simply a beautiful, masterfully crafted film full of fascinating characters and epic performances that is a long time favourite I never ever tire of re-watching.

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Joel & Ethan Coen

Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman, Albert Finney, Mike Starr, Al Mancini, Richard Woods, Thomas Toner, Steve Buscemi, Mario Todisco, Olek Krupa, Michael Jeter, Lanny Flaherty, Jeanette Kontomitras, Louis Charles Mounicou III

TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in horror, movies, USA with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by goregirl

I love anthologies! When I find one where all the stories are solid it is extra special! If Tales from the Darkside: The Movie had a darker connecting story that better suited the trio of films I might have given this collection a perfect score. The wraparound story featuring Debbie Harry isn’t awful; it is just far too light and cheerful. It really messed with the collection’s vibe. Debbie Harry plays betty, an upper class housewife preparing for a dinner party. She opens a large pantry door to reveal a neighborhood boy she intends to serve as the main course. She has given him cookies and a book of horror tales to keep him entertained. To stall his demise the boy convinces Betty to allow him to read her a story. Each segue features the boy convincing Betty to listen to another story. It also ends on far too buoyant a note in comparison to the three films it serves. All three of the segments are entertaining and all are fairly dark in tone. The wraparound is a weak link but the three segments are more than good enough to overcome it.

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LOT 249

Edward Bellingham is an intelligent and awkward university student who is a strong contender for the Penrose Fellowship. After being accused of stealing a Zuni Fetish from the museum where he works he is passed over in favor of peer Lee. Edward doesn’t believe for a second that Lee is capable of writing a winning essay and his instincts are correct. Andy’s girlfriend Susan wrote the essay on his behalf and furthermore framed Edward for the museum theft. Susan’s brother Andy lives on campus above Edward and is present when Edward receives his new acquisition; Lot 249. Inside the crate marked Lot 249 is an authentic mummy full of rotten flowers. Although it is pretty damn clear where Lot 249 is headed it is a fun trip getting there just the same. The mummy looked pretty damn cool and there are a couple nasty deaths; although neither of them were graphic. The performances are great! I always enjoy Steve Buscemi and he is definitely a highlight here as central character Edward Bellingham. I quite enjoyed Julianne Moore here also. She plays a huge bitch! She is spoiled, bossy and snooty too. Moore does a nice job playing the unlikable character. Christian Slater and Robert Sedgwick as Andy and Lee respectively are both decent also, but their characters don’t demand much. I loved the final twist! I thoroughly enjoyed Lot 249, although it was my least favourite of the trio.

Starring: Christian Slater, Robert Sedgwick, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Michael Deak

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CAT FROM HELL

The second story appropriately called Cat from Hell is all about revenge. Millionaire Drogan hires hitman Halston to kill a cat. $50,000 up front and another $50,000 when Halston brings him the tail. Drogan believes the cat was responsible for the death of his sister Amanda, her friend Caroline and hired hand Gage and Drogan believes he will be next. Halston takes the job laughing the old man off as crazy and senile; but Halston is about to find out this kitty has claws. Black cats are awesome! This particular kitty is really a hero! I don’t want to give away all of the goodness but let’s just say Drogan’s Pharmaceutical company engages in unsavory practices and this cat has a legitimate case for vengeance. Cat From Hell has solid suspense, a little light humour and the perfect setting. The big old fancy mansion was perfect and provided the segment with great atmosphere. The finale is surprisingly gory and peculiar, I loved it! There are a few shots where you can tell it is not a real cat, but it is easy enough to forgive. William Hickey is so neat with that crazy voice of his and he is very convincing as the powerful, unscrupulous and terrified rich old man. David Johansen is also top notch as hitman Halston. The real star of this segment is the bad-ass black cat who positively roars! Meow-licious!

Starring: David Johansen, William Hickey, Alice Drummond, Dolores Sutton, Mark Margolis

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LOVER’S VOW

They definitely saved the best for last! Lover’s Vow is the story of struggling artist Preston. Preston meets his agent Wyatt in the local bar he frequents. Wyatt tells Preston that the gallery showing his work is dropping him and he will no longer be his agent. A bad night is about to get worse when he witnesses the owner of the bar decapitated by a gargoyle. The gargoyle corners him but instead of killing Preston it swears him to secrecy. Preston is never to speak of their meeting. As Preston makes his way home he runs into a beautiful woman walking alone. The woman introduces herself as Carola and they fall in love. Carola gets him hooked up with another gallery and things begin looking up for Preston. Several years and two children later Carola and Preston are celebrating the ten year anniversary of the night they met. Will Preston carry the secret to his grave or will he divulge the secret to his true love on their special night? James Remar is very likable and empathetic as Wyatt and Rae Dawn Chong is charming as Carola; the two have great chemistry together. The gargoyle is pretty cool. It looks just like you would expect a gargoyle to look if they were real; except taller and thinner. Its face was slightly comical particularly the eyes. It was no less intimidating however when it easily lops a guys head off! Lover’s Vow has a well-written, intriguing story; the best of the trio. I actually think this segment would have made a great feature length film. Lover’s Vow has a brilliant finale, great performances and a perfect mood and tone.

Starring: James Remar, Rae Dawn Chong, Robert Klein, Ashton Wise, Philip Lenkowsky

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WRAPAROUND FINALE

I would have liked to have seen Betty eviscerate the boy and serve him for dinner. That does not happen. The wraparound was cutesy and really seemed like it belonged to another series of tales; perhaps one intended for children. Debbie Harry is sort of fun, but the kid was mildly irritating. Meh. The wraparound just did not work for me.

Starring: Debbie Harry, Matthew Lawrence

I really enjoyed Tales from the Darkside: The Movie! Great performances, well-filmed, solid makeup and effects, and seriously entertaining stories; it is a shame about the wraparound but otherwise Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is top notch! Highly recommended.

Dungeon Rating: 4/5

Directed By: John Harrison