“The Firm” (1993) starring Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, & Gene Hackman

Did y’all read John Grisham novels back in JHS (like me); I recall reading a few (which were made into movies that my family and I saw). My fave is (of course) The Pelican Brief, as it stars Denzel Washington; Julia Roberts, Sam Shepard and the supporting cast perform well also. The director was Alan J. Pakula; he also wrote the screenplay. Julia commented that “working w/ Denzel was like working w/ The Beatles.” The Client (starring Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones) has also been considered a good movie w/ touching performances; it was directed by Joel Schumacher. A Time to Kill was the first starring role for Matthew McConaughey (looking gorgeous); he is a young defense lawyer. I liked it when I was younger; it’s NOT that subtle (also directed by Schumacher). It has a strong cast: Donald Sutherland (and son Kiefer), Samuel L. Jackson (the defendant), Kevin Spacey (the district attorney), Sandra Bullock (an ACLU attorney), Ashley Judd, etc. It’s where I discovered Chris Cooper (one of my fave character actors); he just embodies every role he takes on. The first Grisham novel to be made into a movie is (probably) the most well-known- The Firm.

Mitch: Hey Ray, wouldn’t it be funny if I went to Harvard, you went to jail, and we both ended up surrounded by crooks.

Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) is a recent Harvard grad w/ a promising future in law. About to sit for the bar exam, he is approached by a small Memphis firm; they make him an offer he doesn’t refuse. Mitch and his wife, Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), are nearly bowled over- they get a luxury car, fully-furnished house, and plenty of Southern hospitality. Also, Mitch will be just across the river from the prison where his older bro is being held. Suddenly, two of the associates are killed while boating in the Cayman Islands. The FBI contact Mitch, asking him for info. He can work with the FBI or stay loyal to the firm. Whatever decision he makes, he’ll lose the successful life he dreamt of since a boy growing up in a trailer park. Mitch thinks up his own plan…

Mitch [to Wayne]: Ten thousand dollars and five years in prison. That’s ten and five for each act. Have you really looked at that? You’ve got every partner in the firm on overbilling. There’s two hundred fifty acts of documented mail fraud there. That’s racketeering! That’s minimum one thousand, two hundred fifty years in prison and half a million dollars in fines. That’s more than you had on Capone.

I saw this movie for the second time recently; I saw it way back in HS. It’s pretty good, though it could’ve been edited down much more (as it clocks in at 2 hrs. 34 mins.) The director was Sydney Pollack; the supporting cast included Ed Harris, Holly Hunter (who got an Oscar nom), David Strathairn (looking good- even in prison garb), Gary Busey (before he went off the rails), Terry Kinney (w/ a full head of blonde hair), Wilford Brimley (in a rare meaty role), and Hal Holbrook. I’m NOT a big fan of Cruise, BUT I think he did a fine job here. There is great chemistry between Cruise and Tripplehorn, so you buy them as a solid/loving couple (though they are still in their 20s). Hackman (who plays senior partner Avery Tolar) does a great job; he goes from intimidating to friendly, then (in the end) becomes rather vulnerable and sympathetic. There is a creep factor in (most of) the scenes between Abby and Avery; he obviously has a thing for her.

Abby: What are they going to do to you?

Avery: Whatever it is, they did it a long time ago.

The firm is all about control; they have the McDeere house bugged and even set traps for Mitch when he is on the Cayman trip. First, he gets hit on by a woman at the bar, as Avery dances nearby. Mitch refuses her advances and goes for a walk on the beach; he comes upon a man acting aggressive w/ a woman. Mitch gets to play the hero- the abusive man rushes off. I learned that Halle Berry tried out for the role of this stranger on the beach (played by former model Karina Lombard). Why does Mitch hook up w/ this woman so quickly!? Well, she is young, unusually beautiful, and tells him a story of wanting to be “safe” (financially). You can see that Mitch connects to this desire. I was surprised that I got a BIT emotional in the end, when Abby comes back to Mitch.

Abby: I’ve loved you all my life. Even before we met. Part of it wasn’t even you. It was just a promise of you. But these last days… You kept your promise. How could you lose me?

Hunter (who wears some loud costumes and colorful wigs) admitted that she never saw this movie. This was the same year that she gained critical acclaim w/ The Piano. I couldn’t help but notice the chemistry between Hunter and Strathairn in one of the last scenes; he’s looking at her like he’s really in love- yowza! During the end credits, we see them sailing off together.

“Thelma & Louise” (1991) starring Susan Sarandon & Geena Davis

Louise [to Thelma re: her controlling/uncaring husband Darryl]: Well, you get what you settle for.

Louise (Susan Sarandan, 45 y.o. and looking fab) is working in a diner as a waitress and has some problems with her bf Jimmy (Michael Madsen), a musician who is usually on the road. Thelma (Geena Davis, looking youthful at 35 y.o.) is a housewife to Darryl (Christopher McDonald), who takes his wife for granted. He wants her to cook/clean/stay quiet, so that he can watch football. Even though they have been together since HS days, Darryl isn’t ready to have kids. One day, the two girlfriends decide to break out of their boring routines and take a road trip. Their relaxing vacation turns into a dangerous flight from the cops/FBI, after Louise (who may have a past) shoots a man who threatened to rape Thelma (who starts off the story as quite naive). They decide to go to Mexico, but the police are hot on their trail!

Thelma: You’re a real live outlaw, aren’t ya?

J.D.: Well, I may be an outlaw, darlin’, but, uh, you’re the one stealin’ my heart.

Wow, can you believe this movie is 30 yrs old!? Or how controversial it was (esp. the ending) upon first release? I saw it many years ago; I forgot that it was directed by Ridley Scott. He was open to collaboration and allowed the actors to improvise; as a Brit, he wasn’t familiar w/ the accents/culture of the American South. Screenwriter Callie Khouri (whose father was of Lebanese heritage) grew up in Kentucky; she was in her mid-30s when she won the Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1992. Many will recall it as when they first saw Brad Pitt (the hottie hitchhiker who Thelma falls for, J.D.)

Louise: Damn, Jimmy. What’d you do, take some kinda pill that makes you say all the right stuff?

Jimmy: Yeah. I’m chokin’ on it.

I don’t understand why some viewers thought this was a “man-bashing” story! Jimmy is (obviously) deeply in love w/ Louise; he goes out of his way to bring her the money she saved up. Sarandon said that she and Madsen (who looks pretty good, too) were also supposed to have a love scene, which would be intercut w/ the one between Davis and Pitt. However, Sarandon suggested another option to Scott- a serious/heartfelt discussion- and this is what we see in the movie! The lead detective on the case, Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel), is a good man trying to do the right thing. While he interviews the people in the women’s lives, he stays calm, humble, and respectful. Hal wants to get the women to surrender and come out alive, instead of being killed by a cop w/ a quick trigger finger.

State Trooper: [sobbing] Please! I have a wife and kids. Please!

Thelma: You do? Well, you’re lucky. You be sweet to ’em, especially your wife. My husband wasn’t sweet to me. Look how I turned out.

This is a road movie, but w/ women as the leads (which is rare even nowadays); Sarandon said she was so happy to work w/ another actress. As the journey goes on, you will notice that Thelma and Louse look more and more natural (w/ their hair and makeup). I watched some interviews w/ both leads; they seem to be friendly and supportive of of each other- very cool.

[1] I loved this movie from the first time I saw it, but it wasn’t until I sat through it the third time that I figured out why. It is clever, exciting, and funny and is shot in the middle of the breathtaking scenery of the American Southwest. However, the thing that makes it special is its illustration of pure friendship.

[2] I feel sad that this movie received claims of being anti-male. The reality is that there are a lot of challenges women face just for being female and this movie shows that. The shock factor that this movie portrays is that Thelma and Louise feel that they must take drastic measures to empower and free themselves from the challenges they face as women. It was an incredible movie and definitely a must-see.

[3] Both leads – Geena Davis as Thelma and Susan Sarandon as Louise – give fine performances. Thelma and Louise become fully realized human beings who share a powerful and authentic friendship. Their transformation into two outlaws is also made entirely believable by the actresses.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Terror at Home: “Pacific Heights” (1990) & “Unlawful Entry” (1992)

Pacific Heights (1990) starring Melanie Griffith, Matthew Modine, & Michael Keaton

The home is the most dangerous place – the old saying goes. A young couple in San Fran, Drake Goodman (Modine) and Patty Palmer (Grifffith), decide to save on rent by buying a house. Despite it being outside of their price range, they purchase a Victorian house in Pacific Heights (a friendly/diverse neighborhood). They start making renos and renting out the 2 apts. on the ground floor. They rent out the 1 BD back unit to the Watanabes (a older Japanese couple); seemingly-wealthy Carter Hayes (Keaton) is able to manipulate his way into renting the front studio (promising to pay 6 mos. in advance). Drake and Patty eventually learn that Carter is the tenant from hell.

Drake Goodman: [as they are house painting] You have to remember this is an investment, Patty. You can’t afford to do everything at once.

Patty Palmer: It’s not just an investment – it’s our home.

Screenwriter Daniel Pyne once rented an apt. to a tenant that he couldn’t evict. In the original script, Carter was a bisexual man who sexually threatened both Drake and Patty; there is no trace of this in the movie. I can’t believe they got such a (respected/veteran) director- John Schlesinger- to work on this boring/predictable movie! There is next to zero chemistry between Modine and Griffith, so I can’t buy them as a couple; these are already actors I tend to avoid. Also, like some critics, I found it tough to empathize w/ this pair. To add insult to injury, check out the terrible fashion they made Griffith wear- ugh. Keaton is trying to do something w/ the scraps he has been given (fresh off of his Batman fame); however, Carter doesn’t come off as scary. Unlike many domestic thrillers, he is a con man after money, NOT a psychopath after another man’s wife. It was at least nice to see a young Laurie Metcalf (best known for Roseanne) as a capable lawyer.

It’s like a yuppie horror. Instead of taking an axe to the head, they take it to the house. Roger Ebert

There is a rather problematic assumption that Drake makes re: potential Black tenant, Mr. Baker (Carl Lumbly), which will rub many modern viewers the wrong way. And yes, I guessed that Baker would turn out to be a cop! As Drake’s more financially-stable/wiser friend Reed, Dorian Harewood doesn’t get much to do. Yup, they put in a Black bestie to offset the possibly racist assumption that Drake made re: Baker; it can’t get more predictable! Avoid this movie- you’re welcome.

Unlawful Entry (1992) starring Kurt Russell, Madeleine Stowe, & Ray Liotta

Issues of security, policing, and masculinity make this film a worthwhile watch (even for modern audiences). After a break-in at their house, a suburban LA couple- Michael (Russell) and Karen Carr (Stowe)- get help from one of the cops- Officer Pete Davis (Liotta)- that answered their call. He helps them install a security system and begins dropping by, even when NOT on patrol. Pete opens up to Karen, hoping to get to know her better. Michael grows V concerned about Pete after going on a ride-along w/ him and his partner.

The director, Jonathan Kaplan (who was known for his TV work), also worked on the critically-acclaimed drama Love Field (also released in 1992). Kaplan’s style is unfussy and workman-like (as some critics noted); this choice works for thrillers. Siskel and Ebert both liked the movie, esp. the strong performance by Liotta (in one of his early roles). I liked Russell and Stowe as a couple; they were easy to empathize with also. They didn’t expect crime to come to their area, or affect them in such a (potentially violent) manner. Russell is playing against type as a yuppie developer; his latest project is a nightclub (actually a beautiful/historic theater in downtown LA). Stowe is an elementary schoolteacher who loves kids; the viewer wonders (like Pete) why she and her hubby don’t have some of their own.

This movie isn’t as shallow as I assumed it would be. It came out after the (infamous) Rodney King beating and subsequent riots. To modern eyes, it will bring to mind the recent changes in policing (after BLM, the worldwide outrage at the George Floyd killing, and related events). Notice how horrified Michael looks when he sees Pete beating the scared/junkie (a Black man) after the ride-along. Yes, this is the same man who broke into the Carr’s house and put a knife to Karen’s throat; however, Pete beats him even when he is unarmed (and has his hands up). Pete’s partner (also a Black man) has already gone off-duty, so didn’t see any of this. Of course, Karen didn’t see this brutal behavior, so she thinks Michael is overreacting. Pete even goes to Karen’s school to talk to the kids, explaining that the police are there “to help people.” We know it’s NOT always the case (from evidence filmed on modern cell phones)! There are (huge) cell phones in this movie; some lawyers and businessmen carried them. At the party, the potential investors are interested to talk w/ Pete, as they are concerned re: the security of the nightclub.

This movie also has something to say re: society’s notions of masculinity and femininity. Michael (who is educated/ambitious) can provide financially for his wife, BUT can’t protect her physically (in the beginning of the movie). He hesitates in taking the chance to hit the burglar w/ his golf club; Michael thinks this makes him weak. Pete (who is trained to fight/authorized to carry a gun) doesn’t hesitate in using violence. He thinks this makes him stronger than Michael (and better suited for Karen), BUT he is an abuser. In the poolside scene, you realize that Pete has put Karen on a pedestal; he turns away when she gets out of the water. In the cop bar, Pete and Karen chat, and we get the sense that she could find him attractive. In Pete’s eyes, Karen (beautiful/refined) is TOO good for him. In the post-hookup scene in his patrol car, Pete insults/hits the blonde prostitute. This woman (able to be bought) is “trash” to Pete, though she was nice to him. In the end, BOTH husband and wife have to work together to defeat the cop who NOT only threatened their relationship, BUT was a danger to society-at-large.

“Romancing the Stone” (1984) starring Michael Douglas & Kathleen Turner

Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), a romance novelist in NYC, receives a treasure map in the mail from her recently murdered BIL. Her sister, Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor- one of the co-writers of the screenplay), is kidnapped in Colombia. Two sleazy criminal cousins, Ralph (Danny DeVito) and Ira (Zach Norman), demand that Joan travel to Cartegena to exchange the map for her sister. Joan, despite the warnings of her editor, Gloria (Holland Taylor), flies to Colombia. Joan (who doesn’t know Spanish) becomes lost in the jungle after being fooled by the mysterious Zolo (Manuel Ojeda). Joan meets an irreverent fortune-hunter, Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), who agrees to help her out for a price. They embark on an adventure that could be straight out of one of Joan’s novels!

Gloria: [observing men in a bar] Wimp. Wimp. Loser. Loser. Major loser. Too angry. Too vague. Too desperate. God, too happy. Oh, look at this guy. Mr. Mondo Dismo. I actually used to date him. Total sleaze bucket. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Hold everything. Get a load of this character. What about him?

Joan Wilder: No, he’s – he’s just not…

Gloria: Who? Jessie?

Joan: Maybe it’s silly, but, I know there is somebody out there for me.

This was the only produced screenplay for writer Diane Thomas; she was a waitress in Malibu when Douglas optioned her script for $250,000 – wow! Thomas (only 39 y.o.) died in a car accident, while working on a new project w/ Steven Spielberg the following year; her bf has been driving the Porsche that Douglas had bought her as a gift. Director Robert Zemeckis was able to go forward on his own project, Back to the Future (1985), since this movie was a hit. Alan Silvestri was hired to do a temporary score, but Zemeckis liked his work so much that he kept him on as composer. Romancing the Stone was to be filmed in Colombia; the country suffered an increase in kidnappings of Americans, so production was moved to Mexico. After the film’s original cut rated very low w/ preview audiences, Fox feared it would be a flop and Zemeckis was fired from Cocoon. Zemeckis made substantial changes, incl. to the prologue and ending; the scene w/ Gloria and Joan to the bar was added and scene in the crashed plane was re-shot (6 mos. later).

Joan: [after Jack cuts off the heels of her shoes] These were Italian.

Jack: Now they’re practical.

If you’re in a cranky mood, or just want to watch a fun movie, check this out! Yes, this has elements of the rom com (NOT my fave genre), BUT the twist is the action/adventure (which drew me in). There is also humor, incl. some LOL moments (even IF feeling V low/tired)! The chemistry between Turner (who came from the theater) and Douglas (who was already a box office draw) is terrific; Douglas said: “I don’t know what it was. Somehow, we just got along right from the start.” I’m NOT a big fan of Douglas (though I love his dad’s work), BUT I found him to be a charming guy here. Turner admitted that it was tough to work w/ Zemeckis, as she was still new to movies and didn’t understand much re: directing for the screen. We know DeVito is very funny, but Juan (Mexican actor/director Alfonso Arau) provides humor also. At first, Juan (a drug lord) becomes a fanboy upon meeting Joan (his fave writer), then he takes her and Jack on a wild ride on his “mule” Pepe (a tricked-out truck). Arau directed two of the most (visually) appealing movies I’ve ever seen- Like Water for Chocolate and A Walk in the Clouds.

Joan: What is all this?

Jack: All this? About five to life in the States, a couple of centuries down here.

Joan: Oh, marijuana.

Jack: Oh, you smoke it?

Joan: [defensively] I went to college.

The music goes along so well w/ the film- it just carries you into the adventure. The scenery is beautiful, esp. the brief scene where Juan, Jack, and Joan come upon the valley w/ “The Devil’s Fork.” The hair and costuming also helps tell the story. At the start of the story, Joan has her hair up in a bun and wears a puffy jacket over conservative/tight business suits. Later on, her hair is down and she’s wearing a flowing top and skirt w/ bold/bright flowers. The dance scene is sweet and also reminiscent of classic Hollywood; Douglas said that they didn’t realize that cameras were rolling (so were just enjoying themselves dancing w/ the locals/extras).

In the prologue depicting Joan’s latest novel, the music used is the theme from How the West Was Won (1962). In the fight scene, Zolo asks Joan: “How will you die? Slow like a snail? Or fast like a shooting star?” This is a call-back to the opening when the villain tells Angelina: “You can go quick like the tongue of a snake, or slower than the molasses in January.” At the end, Jack and Joan “sail off” down the street in Jack’s yacht Angelina (the name of the character in the book Joan is writing at the beginning of the film).

“Trial by Jury” (1994) & “The Juror” (1996)

Trial by Jury (1994) starring Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Armand Assante, Gabriel Byrne, & William Hurt

For one juror, the question of guilt or innocence is a matter of life or death… her own. -Tag line

For those who’ve seen The Juror (see below), this film (which was released first) will seem very familiar! However, this story focuses more on the trial, rather than what happens outside the courtroom. Both individuals are (oddly) happy to appear for jury duty, as many viewers have chuckled at. The son here is younger and there is a supportive grandfather character (who lives upstate on a small farm). The fathers (ex-husbands to the protagonists) are barely mentioned; they’re absent from the daily lives of the sons. Both moms must survive under tremendous pressures and eventually take actions into their own hands (rather than relying on the authorities).

In NYC, Valerie Alston (Whalley-Kilmer) is a single mom/owner of a vintage clothing store called to participate in the jury of the trial of mobster Rusty Pirone (Assante). Just before the trail begins, the key witness for the prosecution is executed, along w/ the four police officers who were protecting him. The lead prosecutor, Daniel Graham (Byrne), is on a mission to get Pirone, and also the media’s attention. An alcoholic ex-cop, Tommy Vesey (Hurt), threatens to hurt Valerie’s son unless she says “not guilty.”

I enjoyed the parts w/ Byrne and his team of eager/ambitious prosecutors. Assante made a smooth/compelling villain (w/ a love of classic films and everything old-fashioned). Playing against type, freelance baddies Hurt (w/ waves in his blonde hair) and Kathleen Quinlan share a dysfunctional dynamic. The third act of the story is (obviously) inspired by the noir genre. I wasn’t a fan of the editing; this movie could’ve been shorter and more tightly put together.

You will feel Gabriel Byrne’s frustration as he tries to catch the mob boss and and work within the law only to have the legal system perverted by the influence of that mob. You will see how his character… could easily have gone in that direction.

-Excerpt from IMDB review

The Juror (1996) starring Demi Moore, Alec Baldwin, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, James Gandolfini, & Anne Heche

In upstate NY, Annie Laird (Moore) is a sculptor (clerk by day) raising a smart/observant 13 y.o. son, Oliver (Gordon-Leavitt) on her own. Annie is cautious, responsible, and busy (though doesn’t mind going to jury duty). She even comments to Oliver: “I need some excitement in my life!” Her closest friend is a carefree/single doctor, Juliet (Heche), who also shares a great rapport w/ Oliver. I liked the female friendship element in this story, thought the women seemed like opposites. Annie is one of the jurors chosen for the trial of Louie Boffano, who is accused of the murders of a rival mob family (incl. a 10 y.o. boy). A mysterious man dressed in black (Baldwin) bugs Annie’s (eclectic-looking) farmhouse; his friend/colleague Eddie (Gandolfini) keeps a lookout.

The next day at a gallery in NYC, Annie receives a check for $12,000, as she has finally sold some of her work. Outside this gallery, a man introduces himself to Annie as “Mark”- the art dealer who purchased the sculptures. He humbly asks her to go have coffee; they have a chat re: art vs. business (which I liked). When Mark explains that “art is used as a kind of currency” in Japan, Annie becomes indignant, saying: “I don’t want my work treated as currency!” Some critics/viewers said this was naive of Annie; after all, she is trying to transition to becoming an artist full-time. Annie decides to go out on a date with Mark, encouraged by Juliet, who thinks her friend is too reserved. Well, Mark (who had some serious issues- we will learn) reveals his true intent for getting close to Annie- she must declare that Boffano is “not guilty.”

To keep the viewer guessing, Baldwin’s face is kept mostly in shadow during the early scenes. There is a good amount of tension in this film, which keeps the viewer’s attention. There are some implausible moments and the editing could’ve been tighter. I thought Gandolfini did an esp. fine job; he was probably the most “normal” character (though still a baddie) in the movie. There are twists and turns, so you won’t be bored. I liked the (pivotal/intense) action scene between Baldwin and several mobsters. Like many viewers, I didn’t see the point in taking the story to Guatemala. We also never learn much re: Dr. Boone (Matt Craven)- is he Annie’s ex/Oliver’s father or just an old (platonic) pal? The final face-off is exciting, but also rather cliched (as seen in other action movies).

The role she [Demi Moore] plays here is, in a sense, the feminine counterpart of many Harrison Ford roles, the ordinary person elevated to heroic action by compelling circumstances.

Alec Baldwin… He fills the screen with his presence like something you can’t get rid of. He is so compelling you want to push him away or just give up. And he is charming-evil, but charming.

-Excerpt from IMDB review