Updated: Apr 25, 2020
Hidden Gems: HBO GO
Grosse Pointe Blank (4 Stars)
Released in 1997, Grosse Pointe Blank is an enjoyable concoction that combines the thrills of a hitman action flick with a charming romantic pursuit, sprinkling in wit throughout. The story centers around Martin Blank (John Cusack), a professional assassin who is sent on an assignment to his hometown of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Coincidently, he arrives in town just as his 10-year high school reunion is about to take place. Martin proceeds to juggle business with pleasure during his stay, zeroing in on his mark, while also reconnecting with old friends, Paul (Jeremy Piven) and Debi (Minnie Driver). John Cusack is great in the lead role, guiding the story with a neurotic portrayal of a hitman with a conscience. The loaded supporting cast contributes as well, including enjoyable supporting turns by Dan Aykroyd, Joan Cusack, Alan Arkin, and Hank Azaria that further enhance the effectiveness of the already sharp screenplay. The final product is a refreshing take on the genre, full of quirky characters and a killer soundtrack that is sure to entertain.
Men of Honor (3.5 Stars)
Released in 2000, Men of Honor successfully spotlights two supreme acting talents working within an inspirational story of overcoming adversity. Based on true events, the film follows Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding Jr) who enlists in the recently desegregated Navy in 1948, determined to become the first African-American master diver. Being trained by Master Chief Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro), Carl is forced to endure great hardship if he is to achieve his dream. The script is a simple one, offering up a well-worn tale of overcoming obstacles to attain greatness, but what sets this apart from most is the fantastic performances. Cuba Gooding Jr and Robert De Niro play off each other incredibly well, showcasing excellent chemistry and creating the best scenes of the film whenever they share the screen. Cuba offers up possibly his best work to date as the hard-working young Navy enlistee, possessing a youthful optimism and genuineness for his role. Meanwhile, De Niro provides his best portrayal this century as the layered Master Chief, bringing a level of gravitas that the role requires to effectively flourish. This is a feel-good story brimming with hope that is anchored by spectacular co-leads and will keep the audience engaged from start to finish.
Notting Hill (3.5 Stars)
Released in 1999, Notting Hill is a charming tale of sweet romance about two people from opposite worlds coming together. The story follows a chance encounter between an average bloke, William Thacker (Hugh Grant), and a glamourous movie star, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts). A relationship blossoms, but can two people with such radically different lifestyles make it work? The screenplay provides the film’s greatest strength, providing wit and sincerity to the characters. In an age where so many romantic comedies double down on humor to get through a majority of their adventure, this film opts instead to lean into its romantic aspects. This creates a more earnest movie, grounded with realistic characters and conversations. Hugh Grant is splendid as the everyman, executing the heavy lifting throughout while Julia Roberts is solid as well, instilling the character with an authentic movie star demeanor. Additionally, the supporting cast provides quality contributions, notably Rhys Ifans, who is a scene stealer as one of William’s friends. Overall, Notting Hill is pleasant romance that may lack sufficient humor for some, but enthralls with its enjoyable characters and heartfelt journey.