Secret Witness (1988 TVM)

US / 71 minutes / color / Just Greene, CBS Dir: Eric Laneuville Pr: Vanessa Greene Scr: Alfred Sole, Paul Monette Cine: Matthew F. Leonetti Cast: David Rasche, Paul Le Mat, Leaf Phoenix (i.e., Joaquin Phoenix), Kellie Martin, Barry Corbin, Paddi Edwards, Deborah Wakeham, Dean Wein, Kendall McCarthy, Eric Love, T.C. Ryan, Jeff O’Haco, Eric Harrison, Betty Bridges, David Raynr

Although its two lead protagonists are children, this is arguably not a children’s movie. I’m not sure it’s entirely a movie for adults, either, since, while it deals tangentially with adult subjects like sex and adultery and features a psychopath, it doesn’t do so in any especially analytic and/or graphic fashion. For similar reasons, it doesn’t really cut it as a family movie, either. Best just to take it on its own terms, then, and enjoy it as the lightweight piece that it is.

Kellie Martin as Jenny

Leaf (Joaquin) Phoenix as Drew

Of course, there are plenty of movies that have child protagonists yet aren’t aimed at children—or, on occasion, even suitable for a youthful audience. Writing now, late on a Sunday night, just off the top of my head, I can think immediately of a few noirish examples: Continue reading

American Gangster (2007)

US / 176 minutes (unrated), 158 minutes (rated) / color / Imagine, Relativity, Scott Free, Film Rites, Universal Dir: Ridley Scott Pr: Brian Grazer, Ridley Scott Scr: Steven Zaillian Story: “The Return of Superfly” (2000 magazine article, New York) by Mark Jacobson Cine: Harris Savides Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin, Ted Levine, Armand Assante, Clarence Williams III, John Ortiz, John Hawkes, RZA, Lymari Nadal, Yul Vazquez, Ruby Dee, Idris Elba, Carla Gugino, Joe Morton, Common, Richie Coster, Jon Polito, Kevin Corrigan, Roger Guenveur Smith, Malcolm Goodwin, Ric Young, Roger Bart, Tip Harris, Kadee Strickland, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Norman Reedus, Melissia Hill, Bari K. Willerford, Skyler Fortgang.

A gangster movie that claims to be based on a true story although, by all accounts, it’s largely an exercise in mythopoeia.

In Harlem in 1968, ruthless yet philosophically inclined, intelligent and often goodheartedly generous gangster Bumpy Johnson (Williams, bizarrely uncredited) dies of heart failure while he and his chauffeur and right-hand man Frank Lucas (Washington) are staring in dismay at the contents of a discount store. Assuming Frank is just a nobody, gangsters like Tango (Elba) move in on Bumpy’s old turf, little realizing they’re up against a criminal genius. It’s not long before Frank hits on the notion of dispensing with the middleman in the heroin racket, instead buying it directly from sources in Southeast Asia and bribing US service personnel to bring the dope into the US aboard military transports returning from the still-raging Vietnam War. His other major import is of his extended family from North Carolina to be his employees/partners, a job that his brothers willingly take on after they witness him coldbloodedly murdering the arrogant Tango on a crowded Harlem sidewalk.

American Gangster - In search of a drug supplier

Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) goes in search of a drug supplier.

At the same time, Newark cop Richie Roberts (Crowe) is earning himself the undiluted loathing of the rest of his PD through being honest. When he and partner Javier J. Rivera (Ortiz) come across nearly $1 million in unmarked bills and Continue reading