BOUND (1996)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTORS: The Wachowskis
CAST: Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano, Christopher Meloni
MY RATING: 10/10
ROTTEN TOMATOMETER: 89% Certified Fresh
Everyone’s a Critic Category: “Watch an Independent Film”

PLOT: A petty thief and a mobster’s girlfriend get romantically involved and plan to steal $2 million from the mobster, but, as with all simple plans, complications arise.

My girlfriend and I have found ourselves walking out of a lot of movies over the last 5 or 6 years talking animatedly with each other about how we would have done something differently.  For example: At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, we came up with an amazing lost opportunity to have Black Widow be one of the characters who got “blipped.”  Then, when Bruce Banner discovers her fate, his shock triggers him to finally “hulk out” again, but out of grief instead of anger.  Now THAT would have been a tearjerker.

By contrast, Bound is one of those letter-perfect thrillers where the plot has been worked out so neatly, so thoroughly, and everything proceeds with such perfect logic, that it’s impossible to see how anything in the movie could have happened in any other way.  I can see no way how this thriller shot on a shoestring with such exquisite creativity could have been improved by a bigger budget or bigger stars.  It recalls the heyday of film noir – Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Pickup on South Street – but it also feels fresh and modern, due in no small part to the fact that the protagonist couple is composed of two women.

But before I get to the nuts and bolts of the movie, let’s talk about that same-sex plot device for a second.  Corky (Gina Gershon) is a petty thief fresh out of the slammer.  Violet (Jennifer Tilly) is arm candy for a mid-level Mafia hood named Caesar (Joe Pantoliano).  I can vaguely remember when this movie came out in the mid-‘90s, and this lesbian relationship caused a minor sensation.  It even included – gasp! – a sex scene.  An explicit sex scene!  Not pornographic, mind you, but nothing more or less explicit than the coitus featured in other notorious sexy potboiler/thrillers, like say, Basic Instinct or Fatal Attraction or Jagged Edge.

One of the things that makes Bound so cool is that the whole lesbian angle, even though it’s a huge part of the plot, is never really…what’s the word I’m looking for…exploited in any kind of way that might now be described as progressive or, dare I say, woke.  There are no melodramatic scenes showing anyone getting fired because they’re gay, or being bullied because she’s gay.  Nor is the movie making any kind of statement that that kind of ugly behavior doesn’t exist.  To me, Bound is simply saying, “Here is a great thriller, and the two romantic leads are women.  We are showing people that it’s possible for a movie to be a superior genre film with two clearly gay characters as the leads.  Let’s get on with it.”  If the main couple had been a man and a woman, the overall effect of the movie might have been diminished to a degree, but the underlying story is so good, the movie might still have worked.

Then again, it probably wouldn’t have the notoriety that turned it into a cult classic, so what do I know.

Anyway, the movie.  In a tale as old as noir itself, Corky and Violet hatch a scheme to steal $2 million from Caesar.  How that plan leads to an astonishingly tense scene with a trio of corpses in a bathtub and two policemen in the living room standing on a blood-soaked carpet is only one of the delicious little joys on display in this film.

Take the little details.  The $2 million in question gets unexpectedly splattered with some unlucky bastard’s blood.  Caesar is forced to literally launder the money, then steam-dry every single $100 bill with an iron and hang them up throughout the apartment like the most expensive load of laundry in history, resulting in one of the coolest, most surreal shots in any neo-noir I’ve ever seen:

Then there are the wicked little visual innuendos scattered throughout the movie as subtle – and sometimes not-so-subtle – references to Corky and Violet’s sexual preferences.  At one point, Corky visits a lesbian bar called…wait for it…The Watering Hole.  That’s one of the not-so-subtle jokes, but one which I did not “get” until maybe the third or fourth time watching the movie.  Sometimes I am not…smart.  Or how Corky is unscrewing the pipe in the U-bend under a sink to retrieve an earring.  As Violet, wearing a tight skirt, stands provocatively close to Corky while she works, we get a close-up of Corky’s hands as water from the sink suddenly splashes onto them.  Or note the shot that slowly pulls out from inside the barrel of a revolver.  (You know, maybe NONE of these visual jokes are subtle…I might just have been really dumb when I first saw the movie…)

And the dialogue…if there were a way for me to phoneticize a chef’s kiss in prose, I would.  (<mwah>…that’ll have to do.)  It puts a modern spin on the best of the old film-noir tough guy talk, that heightened kind of realism that really only exists in the movies.  Take this bit when Corky is talking to Violet, formulating her plan to steal the money from Caesar:

“For me, stealing’s always been a lot like sex.  Two people who want the same thing: they get in a room, they talk about it.  They start to plan.  It’s kind of like flirting.  It’s kind of like…foreplay, ‘cause the more they talk about it, the wetter they get.  The only difference is, I can f*** someone I’ve just met.  But to steal?  I need to know someone like I know myself.”

Nobody actually talks like that, but that’s one of the greatest passages in any crime movie, ever.  I could cite example after example, but I don’t want to ruin any surprises.

Another beautiful example of how well this screenplay was constructed is how it plays with your expectations, especially if you’re a fan of the classic noir genre.  In classic noir, a hero or heroine comes up with a plan, only to be betrayed by random chance or their own hubris.  Sometimes someone who seemed trustworthy at first reveals themselves to be nothing but a conniving opportunist.  Bound addresses that concept head-on in a conversation between Corky and Violet, where they talk about trust and ask each other very specific questions.  “How do I know you won’t just run once you get the money?”  “How do I know you didn’t just plan this whole thing to get me to do your dirty work for you?”  In classic noir, these kinds of questions usually lead to mistrust, betrayal, and a very non-Hollywood ending, and so the Wachowskis almost seem to be telegraphing what’s going to ultimately happen.  But believe me: nothing in this movie telegraphs anything.  Not even those snatches of conversation we hear in Corky’s head at the very top of the film when we first discover her bound and gagged in a closet.

And even THAT’S not really giving anything away…that’s how inventive this screenplay is.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the sound design of Bound.  Watching it the first time around, it’s subtle enough to be unnoticeable.  Watch it again, though, and really listen, and you can hear the unmistakable way the Wachowskis manipulate sound effects to create a unique atmosphere in the same way they would go on to do in the Matrix trilogy.  There are many instances where, for example, in the two or three seconds before a phone rings, you’ll hear the ring in a crescendo, quiet at first, then peaking at the exact second the phone rings.  It’s a little hard to describe in a review but trust me.  Watch it at least once while paying attention to the sound, and you’ll hear a lot of things that sound exactly like The Matrix.

(Which might mean that Bound actually takes place in the Matrix universe…?  …nope, not pulling on that thread.)

There’s quite a bit more I could say about Bound, but I think I would start spoiling some of its real surprises if I did.  Put it this way: I recently compiled a list of my 100 favorite movies of all time, as a “challenge” from one of my fellow cinemaniacs.  Bound wound up at #73, ahead of movies like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Dark Knight, and Finding Nemo.  I don’t know if that cuts any ice if you haven’t seen Bound yet, but if you haven’t, it’s my sincerest hope that I have encouraged you to seek out this movie on Amazon or Ebay and make it part of your collection.  You won’t regret it.


Why did you choose this particular film?
One, I’m not sure a lot of people realize this was an independent film (released through Gramercy Pictures, now defunct), and two, it’s a movie that doesn’t get mentioned enough, or at all, when folks list their favorite crime dramas.  This movie deserves way more recognition than it currently gets, in my opinion.

Best line or memorable quote:
“You know what the difference is between you and me, Violet?”
“Me, neither.”


By Marc S. Sanders

You know how there are some movies designed for that unexpected thunderous rainy, Saturday afternoon?  Maybe a Star Wars flick or an Indiana Jones.  James Bond or Marvel?  For me the best candidate is probably The Goonies, where the rascally kid in all of us comes alive, yearning for adventure like riding our bikes through the paths of the sleepy town we live in over to a hiding spot on the other side of the woods where a once long lost treasure map begins an unknown journey.  Quick on our tales though are the bad guys with the humped back, crooked nose and clicking revolver.

Richard Donner did more for The Goonies than I think a lot of people realize.  It’s no wonder to me that the film is officially inducted into the National Film Preservation Archives since 2017, the same year that pictures like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Ace In The Hole and Titanic also received their recognition.  Maybe Donner had help from producer Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Chris Columbus.  Granted, ahead of the age of cell phone addiction, these guys knew how twelve and thirteen year old kids ticked.  The Goonies bond over insulting each other, shoving one another, telling each other to shut up and freely dropping the s-word.  It’s a rite of passage.  It’s how I bonded with my buddies at that age.  Heck, I still maintain contact with my best friend at the time, Scott, and we still trade barbs like that even if we live over a dozen states away from each other.

Sean Astin plays the asthmatic leader of the gang, named Mikey.  A son of actors Patty Duke and John Astin, he made his film debut with The Goonies, and I think it holds as one of the best child performances to grace a screen.  He’s such a genuine little guy, who is passionate about making any last ditch effort to save his house and home town from being bulldozed by greedy golf course developers.  On a rainy Saturday afternoon, Mikey’s buddies ritually come over to the house and with his older brother Brand (Josh Brolin, another celebrity son making his film debut) make their way into the attic and uncover a treasure map written by the infamous pirate from the 16th century, One Eyed Willie.  Soon after, Mikey along with Mouth, Data and Chunk (Corey Feldman, Ke Huy Quan and Jeff Cohen) embark on adventure that leads them to the underground caverns of an old restaurant off the Pacific coast.  Two high school girls, Andy and Stef (Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton) join the gang.  Andy and Brand have adorable puppy love crushes on each other. 

One Eyed Willie’s map supposedly leads to a treasure of enormous wealth that Mikey and the gang believe can save their small town of Astoria from being razed.  However, there are inventive booby traps along the way, and the nasty Fratelli brothers with their cranky old mother (Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano and Anne Ramsey) are hot on their trail.  The Fratellis are straight out of those old Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries.  They are hilarious with their bickering, and scary at the same time. Anne Ramsey was a special kind of character actor with her ugly appearance and craggily voice. It eventually even got her an Oscar nomination (Throw Momma From The Train).  

We may know how the story will end up, but Donner, Spielberg and Columbus advance with one unpredictable scene after another.  Reader, when I feel the height of suspense in a film, I actually tear up and I get a very nervous laugh.  The shootout scenes in Heat (1995) and Lethal Weapon will do that to me every time.  The lightsaber dual in The Empire Strikes Back and the snake pit scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark!!!!  I’ve been watching The Goonies since I was the age of most of these characters.  I still get this natural reaction when Andy has to play the correct notes on a skeletal piano to open a passageway.  Each time she plays the wrong note though, a tease of impending doom appears.  It works so well in the ensemble performance of the cast bellowing “Oh no!” and “Oh shit!” and “My God!” and “Hurry up!”  Edited with the quickly advancing villains getting closer, and the pulse beat music accompanied by composer Dave Grusin, and you are so caught up in their escapades now, that it feels like you are there.

All these kids become your best friend quickly.  Data is the inventor with the tripped out gadgets, inspired by James Bond, ready to set his own booby traps.  Mouth is the Spanish interpreter who gleefully causes trouble and mischief, but Feldman the actor is allowed some tender moments as well.  Jeff Cohen is like the Curly of The Three Stooges who gets sidetracked on his own adventure with a monstrous but loving, and sadly rejected son of the Fratellis.  A chained-up ghoul named Sloth (John Matuszak).  Cohen might have the best comedic moments in the film.  When I moonlight in Community Theater, I still must remind myself that just once I’d like to audition with his hysterical crying monologue where he confesses to stealing his uncle’s toupee to use as a beard to dress up as Abraham Lincoln, while another time he used fake vomit to sicken an entire movie house.  Hilarious stuff! 

There are dropping boulders, rattling pipes, a waterfall wishing well, scary skeletons, that creepy piano, and fun water slides to circumvent around One Eyed Willie’s maze onward to his legendary treasure aboard the most spectacular pirate ship ever seen.  Rarely are kid’s adventures constructed like this anymore.  I dunno.  Maybe it’s the script.  More likely, maybe it is the cast of kid actors doing one of the best ensemble performances together on screen.  Their timing could not be more perfect among the seven Goonies. 

The Goonies is a much more honest and transparent look at how kids behave with one another than you might find in a bleached-out Disney flick.  These kids get dirty and unsophisticated, yet thoughtful.  They are not age 21 playing age 14.  They don’t have fashionable haircuts and designer clothing. They are not pop singers trying to be actors.  Most importantly, the conversations among the gang are more natural in pal around rudeness.  You’re not really a friend unless you are telling the kid next to you to shut up and exclaiming “Oh shit!” when another encounter with danger lurks ahead. 

The Goonies is just a fun ride to watch over and over again. It succeeds with its own interpretation of The Little Rascals, and it’ll give you all the feels as you watch Mikey plead with One Eyed Willie for the next clue, or when he stops to remind his Goonies that there’s more at stake than just a play date on a Saturday afternoon. 

My advice is to keep the rose colored glasses off your children’s eyes.  Let them know it’s okay to get in trouble and make mischief.  Make sure your kids know they should be the best Goonies they can be.


By Marc S. Sanders

Mark Steven Johnson is probably a director you never heard of. He made two very bad movies based on Marvel’s character Ghost Rider featuring Nicholas Cage. Still Johnson has one redeeming quality and that is the very underappreciated Daredevil featuring Ben Affleck in the title role.

It’s not so much that Affleck is good in the role as blind lawyer/vigilante Matt Murdock aka the title character. More so, is that Johnson writes and directs a solid film very faithful to the source material. So, reader, what if you tell me you never read the comic books? My reply, so what! There’s still a lot of fun and colorful characters to get caught up in and you should have no trouble getting the hang of it.

Michael Clarke Duncan’s hulking physique was always his best attribute and serves him well as the crime warlord Kingpin aka Wilson Fisk, the puppet master of Hell’s Kitchen and the man responsible for the death of Murdock’s washed up boxer father. Colin Farrell chews the scenery (maybe little too much on my repeat viewing many years later) as Bullseye, a mercenary villain who can use any object as a precise throwing weapon, whether it be a card, a pencil, or shards of glass. It’s a ridiculous and unlikely talent but Farrell makes the most of it and the character serves as a perfect foil to the blind vigilante hero who uses his remaining four senses to skillfully fight and dodge and acrobat his way through rooftops over the city at night.

Jon Faverau (before directing Iron Man) is welcome relief as Murdock’s legal partner with some good humor material. Jennifer Garner is filler in the role of Elektra, a skilled fighter with trident weapons in each hand and the film’s standard love interest looking for revenge. Garner is nothing special. I’ll say it. She’s here based on her looks and her body and at the time she was the action go to gal (thanks to her TV show Alias) when Angelina Jolie was not available.

Affleck is fine in the part. He’s got the looks and physique. You can easily believe he’s a lawyer. If anything, I could have done without his voiceover narration. I think the film narrates itself fine without additional instructions. I’d argue that Affleck and Johnson could have taken this franchise further. At the time, it actually got good reviews. What did not help were the published exploitations of Affleck with his girlfriend at the time (now new bride), Jennifer Lopez (and later Garner), as well as his other poor choices of roles like Gigli and the insultingly embarrassing Pearl Harbor. (Main character Raif McCauley I have not yet forgotten!!!!)

Years later, some of the fight scenes look clunky. Some of the mid 2000’s alt rock is a little much (but Evanescence is always welcome, especially during a nicely dramatic rainy funeral scene). However, Johnson still has some tricks up his sleeve that work really well. He uses a great filming technique where Daredevil can see by means of sonic waves of sound thus making him more attuned to the trajectory of a bullet or where to find his adversaries. So, to pit a blind guy against the greatest marksman…yeah that’s a dual worth seeing. This gimmick was invented in the comics by Stan Lee and John Romita, yet very well captured in the medium of film. Another great bit is to translate how Daredevil can tell if a person is lying, a great skill for any lawyer to have. He can hear their heartbeat. Duh! Especially well done is how Murdock can see the facial features of Elekra during a brief escapade in the rain. Johnson CGIs it in midnight blue to leave an impression. Yes, Garner’s best moment comes when she’s animated in CGI blue.

The film offers a great theme of superimposing the devil image of the vigilante against the backdrop of the catholic church and other opportunities for a cross to intrude a scene. It hints that Matt Murdock is a religious catholic, but not enough. It seemingly questions the actions of its hero. Affleck even asks himself at one point “Am I the bad guy?” It’s a good additional dimension to the character; one I wish Johnson capitalized on a little more. When is a vigilante truly crossing over into the realm of sin?

Daredevil is worth watching and not worth comparing to the Netflix series. The product is served in two different mediums, one of which has the luxury of telling its story over a span of 10 hours each year. The original film, though, is condensed quite well in origin and character. Live with that and feel forsaken.


By Marc S. Sanders

Empire Of The Sun is a marvelous film.  Finally, I got to see it, and now I consider it to be Steven Spielberg’s transition film within his storied career. It’s also one of his best cinematic achievements.

Other than The Color Purple, the majority of his directorial work up to this point in 1987, consisted of adventure and escapism found in cliffhangers and children with the innocent curiosities to uncover what is underneath.  Empire Of The Sun contains all of these elements, but as the film progresses, it matures and grows up right before your eyes. 

Christian Bale makes his introductory role a performance to remember as young Jamey Graham.  He is a British child of unlimited privilege living in Shanghai with his parents, naïve and sheltered from the gradual Japanese occupation taking place in 1941 when China and Japan were in conflict with each other.  Jamey happily plays and gets into adventures with his model airplanes and his imagination of heroics.  One day, while at a costume party, he discovers a crashed war plane and then envisions his fantastical heroism.  Shortly thereafter, the fantasy becomes real when he comes upon a Japanese battalion, just yards away.  With his parents, they make a desperate escape from the city they and their ancestors have called home.  However, Jamey becomes separated from them amid the chaos within the surmounting crowds.  Now, this young child with no sense of self reliance has no choice but to become resourceful if he is to survive and reunite with his mom and dad.

Eventually, Jamey meets up with two Americans named Basie (an outstanding John Malkovich) and his sidekick Frank (Joe Pantoliano).  The three are sent to a Japanese Internment Camp forced to live and survive on bare necessities as the second World War rages on with the Americans joining the fight.

Spielberg treats his protagonist the same as he did with the Elliot character in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.  Jamey happily lives in his own imagination until it is disrupted by an intrusion.  For films like Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and E.T., an alien of fantasy interrupts the protagonist’s lifestyle.  For Jamey, however, the reality of war harshly takes over.  It fascinated me how Empire Of The Sun, with a screenplay adaptation by Tom Stoppard of J.G. Ballard’s biographical account, seems to follow a familiar formula to Spielberg’s other pictures, and yet it reinvents itself with reality as opposed to fantasy.

Furthermore, Steven Spielberg does not abandon one of my favorite tropes of his as he makes the unseen the antagonist of the film.  When the veil is lifted, you can’t help but gasp.  Everyone knows he followed this approach in Jaws.  I also like to think he did this effectively with the German tank in Saving Private Ryan.  Here, he caught me completely off guard.  Young Jamey is dressed like Sinbad for Christmas jubilation at a costume party.  He’s happily tossing around one of his model planes and then when it flies out of sight over a grassy ridge, he runs over to the edge and finds something shocking beyond his treasured toy.  It’s a moment that happens early in the film and immediately tells me that this story will be bigger and more frighteningly real than meeting a cute, strange friend from another planet willing to eat my Halloween candy.

Spielberg’s production value is eye opening with thousands of extras within the scenes of mass exodus from Shanghai or within the internment camp.  Especially impressive is how he directs his extras to seem so overwhelming against young Christian Bale.  The child actor really followed direction, but more importantly it’s easy to see how method Bale might have been even at this young age.  He gets pushed and pulled and tugged on like I can only imagine an unforgiving circumstance of war would present itself.  Cinematics often praise Whoopi Goldberg’s debut in The Color Purple as one of the greatest introductions ever.  I have to put Bale’s performance up there as well.  The character arc that young Jamey experiences is well drawn out within Stoppard’s script, but Bale really performs the gradual change of a spoiled brat forced to become resourceful for not only himself but his comrades within the camp.  A director can tell a child actor where to walk or to sit or to stand.  A director can discuss the motivations of a particular scene.  With Christian Bale though, his performance throughout the film seems to remember where his character left off earlier in the story, where it has currently arrived and where it hopes to end up.  This young actor is so in tune with his character’s story. 

You may say John Malkovich serves as the staple mentor that every child protagonist has in so many other stories.  Basie is not that simple though.  A child will be quick to trust anyone he comes in contact with.  Spielberg and Stoppard know it’s not that easy though.  Malkovich is that dynamic actor who never seems forthright with his portrayals.  There’s something he always seems to hide from the audience.  Is he a snake ready to strike?  Is he a gentle pup ready for an embrace?  I never trusted how Basie would end up with Jamey by the film’s conclusion.  Malkovich delivers unpredictability so well.

Miranda Richardson is credited as a once wealthy friend to Jamey’s parents.  She’s not given much dialogue or scene work, but with the times she appears on screen Spielberg gradually breaks her down.  At first, she is well dressed in her finest linens insisting that her husband explain who they are to the Japanese forces.  Later and later in the film, the strength of her proud stature slowly crumbles.  It’s nice work and it’s crushing to watch.

Notable “tough guy” Joe Pantoliano goes through a similar transition.  A capture of him with Spielberg’s camera eventually focuses on a weeping and weak man.  Like much of the film, it is so unexpected.

There are epic overhead shots of panic and riots within the streets of Shanghai.  There are amazing moments where aerial attacks coming from nowhere with Jamey depicted running in a parallel line along the trajectory of a bi-plane.  It’s such a sweeping, personal story but the visual effects and camera work are so impressive as well.  The photography is striking in bright sunlight amid fireball missile strikes.  It is dazzling to watch.

As I noted earlier, Empire Of The Sun is Steven Spielberg’s transitional film.  Once again, he focuses on the innocent, young and unaware hero who is forced to become wise and most especially sensitive to a change in setting and circumstance.  With Empire Of The Sun, Steven Spielberg demonstrated that he could mature himself away from fantasy and embrace reality. 

I think Empire Of The Sun is an absolute masterpiece.


By Marc S. Sanders

Martin Brest’s Midnight Run is a perfect blend of comedy, action and sweet tenderness. Different facets of what two guys could potentially experience together, especially if they are on an unexpected cross country road trip, pop up unexpectedly. It’s a well-acted film with great exchanges in dialogue that surge with broad comedy and high-octane car chases and shootouts. Yet, there’s even some special quiet moments to appreciate as well. It’s another favorite film of mine.

Robert DeNiro is Jack Walsh, a disgraced former Chicago cop now turned bounty hunter who spends his days wrangling up criminals who skip out on their bail. When Eddie the bondsman (a great Joe Pantoliano) asks Jack to bring back Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin) who skipped out on a $450,000 bond, something as simple as a “midnight run” turns into an excruciating journey from New York to California. The Duke doesn’t make it easy for Jack. He never shuts up and right from the start it doesn’t help that he’s afraid to fly. Well, there’s always the train, right? Plus there’s plenty of time because Jack has five days to get The Duke back into custody.

Not so fast. The mob, led by a silky smooth and threatening Dennis Farina, wants The Duke dead as revenge for embezzling millions of dollars from them, plus avoiding the risk of him testifying against them. The Duke unknowingly served as their accountant. The Feds, led by a just as awesome Yaphet Kotto, want The Duke as their material witness against the mob. On top of all that, Jack has to compete with Marvin (John Ashton), another bounty hunter who wants to bring in the The Duke.

There’s great action in Midnight Run and you can’t get enough of it, but it’s the comedic layers of complications the cast of characters bring on to themselves that serve the film best. Danny Elfman’s music accompaniment primarily on horns with guitar and piano bring out the fun in the best way possible. Great chases with a helicopter and various stolen vehicles while Jack and The Duke outrun endless squad cars are magnificent. Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop) is just an entertaining director.

Still, the action is not even the highlight for me. First, the chemistry among all the actors is fantastic. They have such brilliant exchanges of cursing each other out, getting on each other’s nerves, and especially listening to one another as well. It doesn’t matter if it’s a screaming match phone call between DeNiro and Pantoliano, or a one on one with Kotto getting frustrated DeNiro. It all works.

Most especially is the pairing of DeNiro and Grodin. They hate each other and then seconds later they’re laughing with each other. Grodin as The Duke, as pesky as he is, plays an unwelcome therapist at times to DeNiro’s Jack as the history of his failed marriage resurfaces and his fall from grace with the Chicago police department comes back to bother him. Jack doesn’t give in so easy to The Duke’s desire to share his feelings. He’d rather endlessly smoke, eat unhealthy food and tell The Duke to “shut the fuck up!” Nevertheless, a bond between the two forms and continues to reshape itself during the course of the film. A great moment occurs when they need to scam a barkeep out of some twenty-dollar bills. You’ll never forget “the litmus configuration” after you see Midnight Run.

I also want to call attention to one of my favorite of so many DeNiro moments in his long career. Midway through the film, Jack reunites with his ex wife and teen daughter that he hasn’t seen in nine years. Like many divorced couples, an argument breaks out among the parents only to be quickly silenced by the quiet intrusion of Jack’s daughter Denise (Danielle DuClos). As Jack waits for his wife to bring him money to help, Brest allows DeNiro to do some of his best acting with this young actress. They can hardly speak to one another. DuClos simply stares in disbelief that her estranged father came home. DeNiro can’t, in good conscience, make eye contact, knowing he’s been the absent parent. It’s too difficult. It is such a humane moment that it grabs me every time. It reminds me that dialogue is not always necessary for a great acting piece. Martin Brest really trusts his actors in this moment. It’s likely my favorite scene of the film and of DeNiro’s career. You can take this scene out of the context of the entire film and still be just as moved by it.

The best action films succeed when the filmmakers care about the characters. When the characters are given depth, then we worry about them. We hope they don’t get killed or taken or arrested, and simply make it home. Midnight Run is that kind of action piece. Had we not cared for Jack and The Duke, movie lovers never would have cared for Martin Brest’s film, now going on 34 years later. It’s a perfect film.


By Marc S. Sanders

In 1993, Andrew Davis directed the best Alfred Hitchcock film that was not directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The Fugitive with Harrison Ford being pursued by Tommy Lee Jones was a runaway smash. As we now live in an age of cell phones and the World Wide Web, you’d think this film might be somewhat dated but it is the last thing on your mind while watching. This is a tense, taut thriller that never, ever lets up. Another favorite picture of mine.

The opening credits serve as a prologue, showing Dr. Richard Kimble struggle with a one armed man in his home after his wife (Sela Ward) has been assaulted and killed. Kimble becomes the accused and eventual guilty party who is sentenced to death.

Davis is now ready to show his first of many wonderful set pieces. As Kimble’s prison bus careens off the road landing on railroad tracks, an oncoming train collides with the bus. Kimble and another prison inmate now have the opportunity to escape and go on the run. Enter Tommy Lee Jones as Deputy Sam Gerard and his team of smart, intuitive misfits to catch up to Kimble who has made a mad dash into the dense Illinois woods. Because Kimble and Gerard are depicted to be incredibly smart, Kimble only remains a few steps ahead throughout the picture. Later in the film, Kimble makes his way back to Chicago to search for the one armed man and uncover exactly why his wife was murdered.

Location shots are masterfully done in The Fugitive. From the woods to a sewer system (a manufactured set I believe), to the streets of Chicago and Cook County Hospital.

The train crash is one of the all time best moments in film. No miniatures. No CGI. This is a fully loaded train crashing into a bus, and this is where you can not deny the craftsmanship of great filmmaking. Cameras were positioned at multiple angles to capture the mayhem in one take.

The other great set piece occurs during the actual St Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago. Gerard once again gets Kimble in his sights and Kimble manages to blend in with the parade marchers. The quick editing of improvisational camera work is spectacular here. Kimble and Gerard are literally in the same frame and yet Gerard can’t see what’s under his nose. Moments like these can’t be storyboarded. Andrew Davis’ production could not stop the actual parade for another take. It all had to be done on a now or never basis.

I watch The Fugitive and I always think back to Alfred Hitchcock’s best work like The Man Who Knew Too Much and North By Northwest. An innocent man is unexpectedly swept up in a conspiracy where he becomes the target and his adrenaline and instincts must kick in to save himself. The only thing he’s armed with is his mind. There’s also an unusually creepy antagonist, The One-Armed Man. This makes the film incredibly foreboding. I know the film stems from the legendary television series, but Davis treats this villain as if he’s among the ranks of Hitchcock’s use of Martin Landau or James Mason.

Harrison Ford is great at never glamorizing his role. He doesn’t suddenly become Rambo. He becomes a man of convincing desperation. Ford shines in roles like these such as his other films like Witness, Air Force One, and Frantic.

Tommy Lee Jones gives one of my most favorite performances on film. He plays Gerard with non stop adrenaline. He has exquisite chemistry with his team, including Joe Pantoliano. As well, Gerard is only interested in fetching what has escaped. He has no interest in guilt or innocence, until he realizes that Kimble has no interest in the consequences of escape. Kimble is interested in his innocence. Even Gerard becomes attuned to Kimble’s drive. Here is where the script is wise. There is no dialogue to imply what Gerard is thinking. Tommy Lee Jones has a way of giving a great close up to show what he’s thinking. He trusts the audience will presume what’s driving his intuition.

Davis pulls out all the stops with this film. There’s magnificent action shots of Gerard’s helicopter quickly flying over the ambulance that Kimble is racing away in. A great cat and mouse maze sequence happens within a sewer system. Lighting is perfect, there. Nothing is overly dark. There’s also incredible overhead shots of the dam and ravine that Kimble makes for a getaway with an absolutely surprising dive from an enormous height.

The Fugitive is smart and action packed to the teeth. You are in full focus while watching the ongoing pursuit. This film was nominated for Best Picture. Rare for an action film, but also a testament to its greatness. Tommy Lee Jones deservedly won the Oscar for Supporting Actor.

No doubt for me that The Fugitive is a must-see film for any kind of moviegoer. There are moments to feel scared, to laugh, and to cheer. When it is finally over and the story arrives at its satisfying conclusion, you cannot help but let out a deep breath. You feel like you’ve run a hundred miles, or at least as long as Richard Kimble ran towards his innocence. Your time will be well spent investing in the The Fugitive. An absolutely fascinating picture of great, mounting suspense.


By Marc S. Sanders

Miguel and I went to see the The Matrix Resurrections last night and honestly, when I woke up this morning, I had forgotten I’d even seen it.  That’s because, other than the original Matrix film, the subsequent chapters are about as special as cheap food court Chinese food.  When you get home from the mall, you recall what you may have window shopped, but you never reflect on what you had for lunch; well maybe your gut does later on, and that’s certainly not doing you any favors. 

When The Wachowskis introduced the world to The Matrix way back in 1999, it was one of the biggest surprises in films.  No one saw its uniqueness coming.  Everyone was focused on the over hyped resurgence of Star Wars, or a kid who desecrated a pie, or a hand held video film that was seemingly terrorizing audiences.  Yet The Matrix arguably may have had the best longevity that year.  It seemed like a combo sci fi/super hero picture with the players looking ultra-cool in designer sunglasses and leather night club outfits.  Guns and jiu jitsu flew off the screen, but it was done in a new visual kind of way.  Bruce Lee would have likely been a part of this picture had he been alive.  When someone took a kick to the face, it was edited super cool looking sloooooowwww motion.  Bullet time became a thing with projectiles warping through the space between characters and these players, especially Keanu Reeves as the messianic Neo and Carrie Anne Moss as Trinity, would bend and twist and twirl acrobatically (again in slow motion style) to dodge machine gun fire and endless shrapnel.  The look of the film remains absolutely superb.  Nothing (other than maybe the film’s sequels) has duplicated what was accomplished here. 

As well, the original Matrix stands apart from the other three because it actually told a story and developed its protagonist and his mentor (Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus) into fleshed out characters.  It also went so far as to describe what the Matrix is, and what the world outside of that realm represents.  Like all humans, Neo, also known as Thomas Anderson, was actually under the control of a machine-like community designed to sustain a world known as the Matrix, and…well…that’s just bad!  There was solid storytelling here with setting and character development that was later accompanied by well-choregraphed action and pulse pounding club music.  When the film ended, audiences couldn’t wait for more and Warner Bros happily greenlit two more films that were shot back-to-back.  Only the train derailed from there.

Gearing up for the 2021 installment, directed by Lana Wachowski, I watched the first three films again.  Other than the first film, I had forgotten much of what occurred in the 2nd (The Matrix Reloaded) and 3rd (The Matrix Revolutions) pictures.  I realize now that I only forgot what really wasn’t there.  Substance!  Of the two films, Reloaded is likely better, thanks especially to an outstanding highway car chase involving sci fi effects of the characters bouncing off of big rig trucks, motorcycles and car roofs.  A pair of characters dressed in evil white leather with dreadlocks morph in and out of the vehicles and concrete streets as well.  The scene comes late in the film and only wakes you up from the meandering ahead of it.  Truly, it’s hard to comprehend what the hell is being explained in this second film.  The Wachowskis almost would prefer you be impressed with the monosyllabic vocabulary that’s exchanged with each character.  Dialogue doesn’t advance the story any further from where the first film left off.  All that I gathered was our band of rebels who successfully broke free from the slave-controlled Matrix are regrouping at the promised land of Zion, and the machines (squid like metal robots with countless red light bulbs) are advancing for an attack.  Morpheus, Trinity and Neo take it upon themselves to reenter the Matrix (because they look so much cooler there) and do who knows what.  Near the end of the film, Neo walks down a long hallway, opens a number of doorways and encounters the one supposedly responsible for the Matrix, an older gentleman known as The Architect.  This moment was intended to be a highlight of the film and yet it was anything but.  This architect spews out word diarrhea at an alarming rate that only clouds your mind further and further.  The guy has a great radio voice and has an antithetic appearance against the heroic looking Neo, but what in the hell are we supposed to do with any of this?  What’s the point?

On to Revolutions which begins exactly where Reloaded left off.  This is a picture that could have had a running time of thirty minutes at best.  The robots are finally attacking Zion.  One character who seems like he should be important or necessary to the Matrix storyline saddles up in a robot suit equipped with massive machine guns and The Wachowskis make the poor choice of feeding their audience a good seven or eight minutes of this guy spraying endless amounts of bullets in an upwards direction towards the infinite swarm of octopi robotic armies.  His guns never run out of ammo.  He just bellows as he continues to fire.  Where’s the story here?  Where’s the innovation that the first film offered?  Also, what goes up, must come down.  Shouldn’t some of that ammunition have dropped down in a hail storm eventually?  Reader, if I have to ask that last question then you know there’s not much to pay attention to in this film.

The wisest character of the Matrix films, Morpheus, is given very little to say or do in either film.  Fishburne stands in the background and let’s everything happen around him.  He’s not utilized to explain anything like he was in the first picture.  His skill for teaching the audience has been completely diminished.  Whatever he had to offer was exhausted following the first picture.  With Revolutions, especially, the filmmakers rely on B characters that we’ve never really gotten a chance to know or remember or adore like Yoda or Jabba or even Boba Fett in the films that followed the original Star Wars. In fact, Revolutions seems more concerned with its extras than any other film I can recall.  So much so that when a major character from the first film has a death scene, you hardly care for the loss.  There wasn’t much to expound on the character after the original film.  Revolutions only relies on the war nature of the human armies against the monochrome metallic squid race.  Beyond shooting at one another, where’s the conflict?  Ms. Pac Man and Frogger have more depth than any of this.

That’s the problem with these films.  A discovery was made with the 1999 installment and the filmmakers opted to capitalize on the effects and not the challenge of story. 

Furthermore, and this goes back to the original film when I first saw it in theatres, I was always of the mindset that I’d rather live in the Matrix.  After all that Morpheus has revealed to me, the Matrix still seems like the better place to reside.  The real world consists of living on a dirty, dreary ship and eating slop for food while wearing torn sweaters and having electrical plug orifices running down my spine.  Who wants that?  A Judas character from the first film turns on his crew by telling the evil Agent Smith that he will bring them Neo as long as in return he doesn’t know that he’s under the control of the Matrix and he can savor the taste of a juicy steak again.  Now I’m with this guy.  Aren’t The Wachowskis as well, though?  More footage and highlights take place in the computer mainframe of the Matrix than outside of it.  Thereby, more cool looking action sequences can happen and the cast appears more glamourized.  The films want us to fear the horrors of the Matrix on the humans by showing them plugged into wires while drowning in a pod like puddle of KY jelly embryonic ectoplasm.  You know what?  What I don’t know won’t kill me.  So, leave me be.  Perhaps the argument would have been more convincing had the environments been reversed.  Put the rebels as slave dilemma in the real-world areas and the utopian setting within the Matrix.  Then I might buy the problem here.

The newest film, Resurrections, is nothing special and nothing new.  It’s rather boring actually.  Revolutions was boring too.  It only kept me awake because it was two hours of headache inducing noise.  With the new 2021 film, apparently a new Matrix has been developed and thus a new Neo and Trinity have been conceived.  The antagonist is represented by Neil Patrick Harris and that’s about it.  Miguel pondered much, following the picture as to what was going on.  That’s not a good sign for a popcorn action flick, and it’s consistent with what was done with the 2nd and 3rd films.  What the hell is anyone talking about. Once again, dialogue moves to a beat of answering questions with questions. Even the allies speak to one another that way, and if it is not a question, then it is a cliché of some sort.  Don’t these people want to help one another?  If so, then speak to each other like your four years old and get to the point.  The action scenes drone on and on.  A goal of the picture is to keep Neo from finding Trinity because if they do, then the Matrix crashes.  Okay.  That’s simple enough.  Yet (spoiler alert), when they do find each other, somehow this new Matrix continues on.  Huh??????  The movie just betrayed me, and I don’t like that. 

Miguel attempted to conjure up the idea that Lana Wachowski was trying to demonstrate her transition from a man to a woman and this new picture was a representation of that.  Could that be true?  Maybe, but it never occurs to me while I’m watching the picture.  Am I watching The Matrix Resurrections because it’s the newest Wachowski film?  No.  This isn’t a Quentin Tarantino or Christopher Nolan piece.  This is leather and gunfire and sunglasses and noise, all depicted in a green DOS computer hue lens.

The Matrix was always worthy of a sequel; a subsequent follow up that explored imagination and perhaps more background.  What has Neo not yet uncovered.  Yet, the series as a whole continues to deny those opportunities and simply settles for cool looking visuals that get overly exhausted and tired.  No new skills are featured with each passing film.  Over the course of the series, the big bang, so to speak, of the first Matrix never reveals itself.  Instead, we are mind controlled viewers relegated to depend on overlong dialogue with no point and no where left to explore.  We are simply gifted with Neo punching Agent Smith and/or infinite duplicates of Agent Smith with no one getting weakened or wounded or defeated.  Look no further than an early fight scene in Reloaded.  The scene goes on forever.  The editing is amazing.  So is the choreography but after four minutes of this, it’s time to show some progress.  The Wachowskis limit their imagination to just having Neo fly away.  Scenes like this only allow me ample time to exit the theatre for a bathroom break and return having not lost out on any storytelling.  My friends, you can find plenty of bathroom breaks in this series of films.

The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, and The Matrix Resurrections should never have been made.  Producer Joel Silver and Warner Bros would argue otherwise though.  Their wallets continue to get fatter, but at the cost of controlling moviegoers’ appetite for something more when all they really got was dry rice and overcooked orange chicken from the food court.