Monday, December 8, 2008

MOVIE MONDAY NO. 1 - Dec. 08, 2008

Greetings! My name is Justin A. Swartz, and I'm often called the 'Bargain Bin Barbarian' by my friends, due to my sifting through music trade stores, discount stores, and other places for cheap movies. So, I thought I'd start a blog that featured my thoughts on these specific bargain films. Let's jump right in with the very first Movie Monday, Final Analysis.


“You ever think that maybe you picked the wrong sister?”
--Pual Guilfoyle as Mike O’Brien

When I was ten, I used to get oodles of money from my Aunt Barb. If she had change in her purse, it was mine. If she dropped a twenty on the floor (intentionally), she would declare it “dirty money” and give it to me. Somewhere between eighteen and now this practice stopped for unknown reasons. Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, Aunt Barb handed me forty dollars on Black Friday and said, “Buy yourself something nice.”

Being the lover of cheap movies that I am, I headed to the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet located in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the hometown I was visiting over Turkey Day. Boy, did I ever luck out when I saw the thin, worn wire-bound rack of assorted $2.99 DVDs arranged by the cash registers. I went nuts. My mother politely said, “Don’t spend it all,” and let me be. My father said, “Listen to your mother,” and left as well. I disregarded both their statements and went digging. You’re talking to a guy who, three years ago, was living on the paltry sum of $210 a month from welfare and learned how to dig through bargain bins and music trade stores to get his DVD fix, so this rack at Ollie’s was like discovering an oasis in the Sahara.

One of my better finds that day was the Warner Brothers’ 1992 psychological thriller Final Analysis, starring Richard Gere (who also executive produced this romp), Kim Basinger, and Uma Thurman. Gere plays Isaac Barr, a noteworthy San Francisco psychiatrist who is frequently called on to testify at criminal trials, due to his extensive knowledge and study of the criminal mind.

One of his patients, Diana Baylor (played by a very provocative Thurman), is suffering from a recurring dream about arranging flowers. She insists that the answer to this dream lies with her sister Heather (played by Basinger), who she suggests Isaac should meet.

They do, and they meet several more times, Isaac becoming more and more involved with Heather. During the process of their entanglement, it’s revealed that Heather is married to Jimmy, a Greek mobster played one-dimensionally by Eric Roberts. Eric was in prime villain form here, and was also in peak physical condition as evident by the many scenes he plays without a shirt on. It’s clear that Jimmy is a manipulative jerk when it comes to Heather, whom he’s simply using for a sexual release or two, and Heather comes to a decision to leave Jimmy for Isaac.

In the meantime, Isaac has learned that Heather is married to Jimmy and has his best friend, district attorney Mike O’Brien (Paul Guilfoyle in a devilishly funny pre-CSI role), look up his record. Jimmy is under investigation by the Justice Department for ripping off low-income housing and keeping it all for himself. When Mike suggests to Isaac that he stop seeing Heather immediately, Gere injects the right amount of desperation into his character’s voice by saying, “She’s not the kind of girl you stop seeing.”

If this all sounds like a campy soap opera at this point, I admit that Final Analysis starts off that way, until it’s revealed that Heather suffers from a little-known disorder called pathological intoxication. With this disorder, even the smallest amount of alcohol will send her into psychotic rages and fits...which gives her the perfect defense for murdering her husband Jimmy with a weight-lifting dumbbell. It’s right around this point in the film that things start to get twisted and very interesting, and I have no intention of spoiling any more of it for you.

I’ve always felt that Richard Gere has been handed a lot of roles that make him come off as a complete dork. This role in Final Analysis is one that he can really sink his teeth into and seems to suit him and his temperament rather well. There’s an early scene where he comes on to Basinger’s character in his home and drops all pretenses of professional ethics by asking her out to coffee. There’s no music, no fancy props, no fancy camera angles, just him and Basinger doing their magnetic chemistry thing. It’s one of the standout scenes that really sold their attraction to each other, and it couldn’t have been done without an actor like Richard Gere and without such a well-written role.

Basinger is part seductress, part psychotic murderer, and part scarred victim. She plays all three parts of Heather’s personality to the hilt, but the psychotic murderer side of her (i.e. when she sticks it to Jimmy) is hugely over-the-top and did not match any of the other acting in the film. It’s quite the switch to see Basinger act like someone off their medication for a week, but I think she’s better off sticking with more subtle roles.

Thurman blew me away in this one, which is not a role she’s widely known for. There is a bit of a tag at the end of the movie that makes you wonder if she wasn’t the one who instigated the “kill Jimmy and pin it on Isaac” plan, and she plays it with the expertise that one would expect from a seasoned actress, such as Basinger or Gere. I think Thurman is one of the most under-appreciated actresses in the film business today, and her turn as Diana in Final Analysis is evidence that she was on her way to great things back in ’92.

The supporting cast of Guilfoyle, Roberts, and a very stereotyped Keith David as the police detective out to pin something on Gere is directed well enough, but I thought that Roberts’s character of Jimmy was so one-dimensional that it was almost like a satire of Greek gangsters. He lives in a plush apartment, soaks in a bubble bath every night, his wife removes her clothes on see what I’m saying? He’s sinister and controlling enough, which Roberts is nothing short of perfect when he plays those characters. I just wish there was some more dimension in his character, like a snippet or two about how he came to power in San Francisco.

The style of this movie is something to talk about too. Fashioned like a Hitchcock thriller or Laura-esque film noir, but shot in 1992, it really adds to the throwback/homage feeling of the plot, the characters, the setting, and the production design. Even the lighthouse, the scene of the final confrontation, is ripped right from an old 1940’s noir mystery, with rusty catwalk and spiral staircase. Hats off to production designer Dean Tavoularis and director Phil Joanau for getting the mood just right.

Overall, Final Analysis was a real nail-biter that starts off slow and ends with a righteously big bang. I highly recommend it to fans of the Gere-Basinger combination or anyone looking for a great thriller that honors the masters of yesteryear.

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