The Sixth Sense (1999)

The_sixth_senseAll I knew going into The Sixth Sense was that it featured Bruce Willis and there was a twist at the end. That was about it. Thus, it was an interesting opening to have our main character already be shot within the first few minutes. But it’s not much of a spoiler per se because we quickly flash-forward to a year later.

That first case came back to haunt him in the form of a very distraught patient, with a major grudge, however, Dr. Malcolm Crowe has seemingly gotten past it and continued with his life. It doesn’t mean that his marriage is not still difficult and his work still taxing, but he gets by. Finally, he gets a case that might help him resolve his previous failures, at least that’s how he sees it. Of course, the intelligent, but aloof boy Cole Seer (Haley Joel Osment) sees the world in a whole different way. He literally sees dead people, but let’s take a step back for a moment. He has trouble connecting with his loving but nevertheless troubled mother (Toni Colette) and Dr. Crowe seems like his only friend. None of the kids at school like him, because they think he’s a creep.

What Crowe does is help him work through everything that it is unique about Cole and also help him see that there may be some purpose behind these ghosts that he can see. They want him to do things for him so maybe this is Cole’s chance to help them. And so he begins the process and despite it being terrifying and disconcerting at times, he is able to lay to rest these specters. Finally giving them peace and in the wake of a traffic accident that results in a death, Cole finally opens up to his mother. She has trouble believing him at first, but she never discounts her son, which leads to a tearful scene between mother and son.

M. Night Shyamalan is obviously well-known for his great interest in supernatural stories with twist and turns, but to his credit, he firmly plants his films in a reality, like Philadelphia, that we can grasp onto. That’s our base and he can go from there with psychological thrills and even a touch of horror. However, his film actually has characters that are far from throwaway, even if we just look at Malcolm, Cole, and his mother. They are individuals that we can grow to care for over the course of the movie even with the supernatural plot devices and of course, the final surprise ending.

Honestly, I had an unfair advantage knowing that something was coming, so I caught onto some of the peculiarities leading to the final disclosure, but I was still relatively surprised when it came. Despite the rather contrived plot and purposefully cryptic opening, followed by a long wait, the final payoff of The Sixth Sense is certainly worth it.

4/5 Stars

Nobody’s Fool (1994)

NobodysfoolEarlier this year I wrote a piece on the evolution of acting that I envisioned as a case study of sorts. The second wave of actors I attempted to analyze included the likes of Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Paul Newman.

It is this last figure I wish to look at again in the context of Robert Benton’s 1994 film Nobody’s Fool. In all areas, this drama meanders along following town grump and crotchety ne’er do well Sully Sullivan (Paul Newman), who works as a freelance construction worker in a peaceful, snowy New York getaway. So, by all accounts, it seems like it should be a complete and utter bore, but it is not thanks, in part, to Paul Newman and his array of supporting players.

As I have watched more and more films in the last half a dozen years or so, there has been an ongoing trend where I tend to care less and less about substantial plot and more and more about characters. Don’t get me wrong, I love a taut thriller or an engaging mystery story, but the films that really do it for me have memorable performances that reflect a bit about the world we live in. Sometimes I even feel like a broken record, because I reiterate this fact so often, but I believe it to be the truth.

In other words, it feels utterly superfluous to go in depth about this film’s plot. It’s about a no-good Paul Newman, who left his wife, left his son, and never turned back. Now he must accept the path he chose and decide whether or not to spend his waning years finally getting to know his son and grandkid. It’s not rocket science by any means, and the film certainly feels dated, but Newman strangely does not, although his hair is a little bit whiter.

Now back to the generation of actors he came out of. They were the young, moody band of men brought up on the method that taught them to grab hold of emotions and experiences to be projected on the screen in each role they took. Dean was legendary, but his career was cut short. Brando was a giant, but slowly fell from grace and his waistline grew. Newman was famously married to his wife Joanne Woodward for over 50 years, started the charity Newman’s Own, and continued having a media presence in the late 20th and early 21st century. In other words, he aged gracefully compared to many of his contemporaries.

Nobody’s Fool nobodys1falls closer to the tail end of his career, but he has the same gleam in his eye or maybe it’s that sour smile with a hitch in his giddy-up. But it feels genuine, it feels relatable, and it feels very much like the Paul Newman many people know and love. I know I do. He’s so often a malcontent or a bum and yet we cannot help but root for him. He also has some wonderful moments to work with the likes of Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, and Melanie Griffith, among others, because first and foremost this is a film about relationships. These are people who have made mistakes and who are not always the wisest, but somehow we still appreciate them with all their faults and peculiarities. I guess that’s what the small town mentality does, in a way. You get to know everyone and you come to accept them for who they are. Stealing a snow blower, playing cards, drinking a beer, or buying your daily trifecta ticket just feels commonplace. That’s life.

3.5/5 Stars

Die Hard (1988)

4062f-die_hardStarring a cast including Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, the film opens during the Christmas season with cop John McClaine arriving in L.A. to be with his estranged wife and kids. He goes to an office party to meet his wife and that is when terrorists strike. John gets away unnoticed and he must wage a one man war against the criminal mastermind Hans Gruber, and his henchmen. First the police, then the FBI get involved but they can do little to remedy the situation from the outside. It comes down to the grit and determination of McClaine to take on his adversary all throughout the skyscraper. Fittingly, it all culminates with a showdown with the man behind it all. This film is definitely full of action and excitement. Several of the characters are enjoyable to watch and a handful are quite irritating.

4.5/5 Stars

Pulp Fiction (1994)

53f76-pulp_fiction_coverStarring a cast including John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, and Bruce Willis, this Quentin Tarantino crime film tells the somewhat inter-related stories of these four main characters. Travolta and Jackson are a pair of hit men who have several adventures having to do with retrieving a briefcase, disposing of a dead body, and eating breakfast at a diner. Separately, Travolta has a somewhat harrowing outing watching the wife of his boss (Thurman). Willis on the other hand does not throw the boxing match he was suppose to. Thus, he finds himself in hiding with his lover, facing his own set of problems. I do have to say this film was interesting because of the nonlinear format almost like chapters. The eclectic pop culture references were classic along with some of the dialogue. However, it gets tiring listening to the strong language and a scene or two are worth skipping in my mind.

4.5/5 Stars