The Usual Suspects (4.5 Stars)
Released in 1995, The Usual Suspects is an expertly-crafted crime drama with colorful performances and one of the most memorable finales in modern cinema. The story follows five criminals who are brought together for a police lineup and hatch a plan for their next job. Kevin Spacey stands out with the best performance of the bunch, fleshing out his character with a multitude of quirks. Additionally, Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, and Benicio Del Toro all succeed in bringing flare to their own roles, helping to round out this entertaining bunch. The screenplay skillfully guides the viewer through the criminal underworld with some great dialogue and even better suspense building, all culminating with a superb climax.
Kramer vs Kramer (4.5 Stars)
Released in 1979, Kramer vs Kramer is an acting showcase for Dustin Hoffman, allowing him to deliver some of the best work of his career. This tender tale follows the lives of Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) and Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) as their family goes through a divorce and custody battle for their son. The film centers around Hoffman’s character, who shines with a powerful performance as an everyday man trying to make ends meet and persevere through an incredibly tough real world experience. He is relatable and provides the audience with a frame of reference for the events going on. Meryl Streep is great as well, yet in a more minimized fashion. It is a simple story, yet a powerfully empathic one.
Mississippi Burning (4 Stars)
Released in 1988, Mississippi Burning is a dark historical crime drama that shines a light on one of the bleaker moments in the history of the United States. Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Ward (Willem Dafoe) are two FBI agents with contrasting styles who are paired together and sent to rural Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of civil rights workers during the 1960’s. The film offers up a ruthlessly honest depiction of life in the South at the time and the stark contrast between individuals of differing skin colors. Hackman, Dafoe, and Frances McDormand are all wonderful in their respective roles, serving as beacons of light that help guide the story through it’s dark source material. It may be too much for everyone, but will reward those willing to take the journey.
Black Rain (3 Stars)
Released in 1989, Black Rain is an action-packed ride led by a charismatic Michael Douglas. The film centers around two NYC cops (Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia) who are tasked with returning a recently arrested member of the Yakuza back to Japan when he becomes extradited. This is a classic 80’s action flick jam packed with cool set pieces, corny dialogue, and fun fight sequences (everything that could be expected from the genre at this time). Nothing unique is offered here in regards to the script, but Douglas and Garcia are entertaining enough to elevate the material beyond that of the average generic action movie and create a fun ride.
Hotel Artemis (3 Stars)
Released in 2018, Hotel Artemis is a joyous sci-fi adventure the possess an eclectic cast. The post-apocalyptic story follows a nurse (Jodie Foster) living in a riot-torn Los Angeles and running a members only emergency room for criminals. Highlighted by an ensemble that, along with the always wonderful Foster, features Sterling K. Brown, Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henery, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, and Sofia Boutella, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Each actor brings forth a unique portrayal, and while nobody is giving their best work, they all remain engaging nonetheless. Unfortunately, the intriguing premise offered a great deal more potential than is delivered on. Still, this is an enjoyable entry to the genre that provides solid action and colorful performances.