Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Capsule Reviews - July 7, 2021

Alone (2020)

A remake of the 2011 Swedish film Gone, Alone gets off to an incredibly tense start; hoping to get on with her life following a recent tragedy, Jessica (Jules Wilcox) packs her belongings into a trailer and heads north. On her way, she has a run-in with another driver (Mark Menchaca), who seems to pop up everywhere she goes. It isn’t long before Jessica realizes she’s in very great danger, and will have to fight back if she wants to stay alive. The performances delivered by both Wilcox and Menchaca are strong, but it’s the tension that director John Hyams generates that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Even when the movie veers off into predictable territory (scenes featuring a third character - a hunter played by Anthony Heald - are effective despite the fact we know how they’re going to play out), Hyams keeps the tension ratcheted up as high as it can get, resulting in a thriller that consistently thrills.
Rating: 8 out of 10

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

Mervyn LeRoy’s I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang was a film of such power that it actually succeeded in bringing about social change. Based on a true story, Paul Muni shines in the role of James Allen, a World War I veteran who leaves the promise of a comfortable job to seek his fortune on the open road. Unfortunately, his travels land him in the wrong place at the wrong time; James is arrested for petty theft, a crime he did not commit, and is sentenced to serve out his term working on a chain gang, where conditions are intolerable. He eventually escapes and returns home to crusade against a legal system that would allow an innocent man to face unspeakable tortures. The Hays office, which took it upon itself to police the “morals” of Hollywood productions, thought it best to protect the sanctity of the American justice system, and asked Warner Brothers to remove several scenes showing John Allen being beaten by his guards. The studio refused, and the resulting film, which to this day remains as shocking and effective as ever, so stunned audiences that the state of Georgia discontinued its use of the chain gang as a punitive measure.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

New York, New York (1977)

I know what director Martin Scorsese was trying to do with this film, which is to pay homage to the classic musicals of Hollywood’s heyday. Unfortunately the result is a very mixed bag. At the close of World War II, Jimmy (Robert De Niro), a cocky saxophonist, meets and falls in love with Francine (Liza Minnelli), a lounge singer, and we follow the two as their love affair navigates the rocky terrain of show business. The opening sequence, set in a dance club on V-J Day, is phenomenally staged, and Liza Minnelli shines whenever she’s belting out a tune. On the flip side, we have Robert DeNiro, giving a performance I found surprisingly uneven, at times even downright foolish, and because of this I simply couldn’t accept that a romantic spark would have ever ignited between these two individuals in the first place. In most romantic films, you’re asking ‘when’, as in when will the two leads finally discover they’re perfect for each other? With New York, New York, I was asking ‘why’? And in a film that’s entire two hour and 40 minute run time depends on this storyline, this is a really big problem.
Rating: 5 out of 10

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