Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead (1995) Review

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Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead (1995)

Directed by Gary Fleder

Starring: Andy García, Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nunn, Treat Williams, Jack Warden, Steve Buscemi, Fairuza Balk, Gabrielle Anwar, Christopher Walken, Michael Nicolosi, Bill Cobbs, Marshall Bell, Glenn Plummer

Running time: 115 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
Five different criminals face imminent death after botching a job quite badly.

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My Opinion:

Okay…. I think it was almost a year ago that I watched this movie so I guess I’ve put off reviewing it for long enough. It’s a favorite of a fellow blogger who shall remain nameless (ERIC!) and he and another blogger who shall remain nameless (MARK!) were always shouting (well, typing) “Boat Drinks!” at each other and I was like “What the hell is that all about?”. I was never in a big hurry to watch the “movie where they shoot people up the butt” but it was on TV one day so I thought “Screw it – let’s see what this Boat Drinks thing is all about”.

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Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead was better than I was expecting based on what it’s most famous for (the butt thing. sorry – I normally avoid spoilers on this blog but, seriously, it’s such a well known fact about this film & probably why I avoided it for so long). I have to say it’s actually a pretty solid crime drama with some really great characters and some very memorable lines & scenes. It seems to get compared to (or accused of ripping off) the previous year’s Pulp Fiction a lot but, in some ways, I think it’s actually a better film (I find Pulp Fiction overrated). I think it’s closer to, although not as good as, Reservoir Dogs. It has the same sort of interesting characters, amusingly witty banter, shady characters, violence, and the always entertaining Steve Buscemi. I suppose it just didn’t have the “style” the Tarantino films have so it didn’t get the same level of attention. Which is sort of a shame because, if you haven’t seen this, you’re missing a fantastic performance from Christopher Lloyd. He was the best thing about the movie for me and the “boat drinks” scene between him & Andy Garcia is the definite highlight of the film. It’s a wonderful scene! I’m happy I saw the movie just for Christopher Lloyd and that one scene.

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There are other good things about the movie, though. Lloyd was my favorite but each character in this group of misfits is entertaining and they all have very different personalities, meaning that everyone who watches this will have a different favorite character. I have to say that Treat Williams as a violent lunatic was a real treat for a change (ha!) and I always enjoy seeing Steve Buscemi in a movie even if he’s playing a similar sort of role as he has in a lot of other films. The two female characters (Fairuza Balk & Gabrielle Anwar) are of course pretty unimportant in this “guy movie” (typical) but I don’t really have too much of a complaint there – they get a bit more screen time than other female characters in similar “movies for dudes”. My only real disappointment, unfortunately, was with Christopher Walken. I like Walken most of the time but, in this, he’s a little too “Christopher Walken”. If you love him, you’ll like him in this as he’s being his usual, crazy sort of character but it almost felt like he was bored in this one. I don’t know… I think it’s one way in which Pulp Fiction has this movie beat – Walken was more interesting with a watch up his ass.

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Summary:

I think that Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, although not my usual sort of movie, is a very good film within its violent crime genre. I think it actually deserves more praise & recognition than it seems to have gotten. This is probably down to it coming out after both Reservoir Dogs & Pulp Fiction and being accused of being a Tarantino rip-off. It’s not as good as a Tarantino movie but it’s also much better than a lot of the other films that could be accused of ripping him off. I suppose it could be argued that there would be no Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead if there was no Reservoir Dogs but I don’t think that matters – plenty of films are similar and it’s still a good movie in its own right. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re a fan of this genre. I’ll also make a bold statement here & say that I actually enjoyed this movie more than another similar film that also came out in 1995 – The Usual Suspects. The ending of that one is of course great but, overall, I liked this one more.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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**Speaking of one of those bloggers who likes this movie, I participated in Eric’s popular Shitfest celebration of horribly bad movies over at Isaacs Picture Conclusions. You can view my entry, a review of the annoying Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, HERE. 🙂

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American History X (1998) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Abbi of Where The Wild Things Are. She’s also reviewed Kill Bill: Vol 1& Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl. Thanks for the reviews, Abbi! 🙂 Now let’s see what she has to say about American History X, IMDB rank 34 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

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In probably his most celebrated role, Edward Norton plays Derek Vinyard, one of the leaders of a local White Supremacist group who is jailed after brutally murdering two African-American gang members attempting to steal his truck.

On the day of Derek’s release from prison, his younger brother, Danny (Edward Furlong) is called to the principal’s (Avery Brooks) office after writing an essay on Mein Kampfand its influence on the civil rights movement. Principal Sweeny then sets Danny the task of writing a new essay explaining the events that led to his brother’s arrest and conviction.

As Danny simultaneously attempts to unpick his brother’s past and deal with the fact that Derek has come back changed, both Derek’s former associates and enemies close in with devastating consequences.

As much as American History X may outwardly seem like a study on racism, more than anything it is an exploration of feelings of powerlessness and how they lead to anger and ultimately hatred and destruction. Derek’s prejudice against anyone who isn’t a white protestant has little to do with the actual target of his hatred but rather a desire to belong to a movement where he feels empowered. The irony of Derek’s belief that people of other races and religions are inferior to him is that those he hates are driven by exactly the same feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness that he is and act out with similar impulses… and it’s all a distraction from the way corporate America oppresses its poor.

There isn’t anything particularly unique about this story of a confused young man learning the error of his ways and not wanting his brother to follow in his footsteps but there are a number of elements that elevate American History X above other similar films.

First is the non-linear story-telling. Director, Tony Kaye, slowly reveals what is not only behind Derek’s change of heart but also his original prejudices concurrent with his current post-release experiences with the past shown in black and white. It keeps the audience hooked in until the end wanting to understand who Derek really is. It also adds a level of drama and grittiness to Derek’s past, demonstrating how he sees the world in completely black and white terms. In the present day his experiences are in full colour, showing how his perception has changed. It’s a simple but effective device.

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Second is the powerful performances. Edward Norton manages to capture Derek’s power, charisma and confidence but as he enters the prison system and his vision of the world starts to unravel his mask begins to slip and he moves from being a character it is easy to revile to a nuanced sympathetic one. Furlong also gives what is probably the only decent performance of his career as a boy at a crossroads with the potential to build himself and new future that doesn’t include repeating his brother’s mistakes. They are ably supported bythe two men who have the most influence over Derek’s life. Stacy Keach as Cameron Alexander, the fascist leader who lets Derek do his dirty work while he keeps his own hands clean and Avery Brooks as the educator who ultimately believes that Derek is capable of more than his past actions. Guy Torry is also engaging, playing Lamont, a fellow convict who ultimately breaks Derek’s prejudices through friendship.

Thirdly, Derek is never portrayed as stupid. Although his beliefs are abhorrent and there is no way to justify them, it is easy to see how his arguments convince the disempowered around him as well as how he has convinced himself. And the fact that the gangs he directs the majority of his rage at are hardly innocents adds to the believability.

Finally the film does not shy away from showing brutality of its characters, refusing to shy away from who they really are, with one particularly horrific scene proving to be the one thing that everyone remembers turning away from. And this is equally matched by some of Derek’s experiences in prison.

While there is no question that American History X is a powerful, hard-hitting film with a strong and valuable message on occasion it’s a little over dramatic and at times it strays towards predictability. It’s definitely a worthy entry to the IMDB top 250 though and one I would highly recommend. 4/5

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