I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. Keep checking back to see more recommendations for your holiday shopping. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. With conditions as they are, shopping won’t be easy this season. The nice thing about discs is that they’re so easy to get from places like Amazon that you can give a great gift and stay perfectly safe while you do it. Warner Brothers 4K releases:
Westworld Season 4
“There’s a beauty in this world, an order. That’s what we like to believe. We’re not wrong. There is an order. A great design. We made sure of that. It was a dream for so long, and we finally made it real. Not a better world. A perfect one.”
The series began with the same concepts found in the original stories and first film. It was Disney World on steroids. A park was created populated by near-perfect androids who lived out their programed lives in authentic settings where humans can pay to come and have their way with the place and the “people”. That covers the first two years of the series and until that point it was a very good show. Now things are changed and while it’s still a pretty solid show it’s a much different show. Now the source material is more Bladerunner than Westworld.
Tessa Thompson returns as Hale. She is now pretty much in control of the world. She’s discovered a virus that is spread by their genetically engineered flies that make humans hypnotized and obedient to her through a tone she broadcasts throughout this “world”. It’s kind of her revenge but also making the world in her own image where humans are the slaves and hosts are free to do what they desire. Something has gone wrong and hosts are starting to kill themselves at an alarming rate. She believes that humans have infected the hosts with their own virus and that Caleb, played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul has the key. All he wants to do is get back to his daughter and Caleb has been fighting the new world order with Maeve (Newton). But he’s captured and is converted to a host by Hale. She keeps bringing him to life hoping he will lead her to the contagion.
Jump decades later and Hale’s world is complete but she still doesn’t know why hosts kill themselves. She’s created a Host of The Black Man, once again played by Ed Harris but he’s too much like his source code. He’s just willing to use this new world to fulfill his own dark nature. Meanwhile Bernard, played by Jeffrey Wright has teamed up with Teddy, played by James Madsen and a group of rebels with Caleb’s daughter “c” one of its leaders. The now adult “c” is played by Aurora Perrineau.
The series was not renewed and so we get a resolution here and a promise of more but the show has traveled somewhat astray and is at its best this final season with the short time we spend in a new park world based on The Roaring Twenties with prohibition, jazz clubs and gangsters. Unfortunately we don’t get that much time and most of the season is spent with Hale trying to track down outliers who are humans apparently resistant to her control.
Of course the f/x are crazy off the charts and there’s some incredible performances including Evan Rachel Wood who now plays a human writer who discovers that her “stories” have been used to manipulate the “lives” of the hosts.
But it’s all in UHD 4K here and that’s certainly the proper format for a show with these kinds of production values.
The Lost Boys:
“You think we just work at a comic book store for our folks? This is just a cover. We’re dedicated to a higher purpose. We’re fighters for truth, justice, and the American way.”
In the 1980’s the two Corey’s became somewhat of a Hollywood fad and worked well to bring the teens out to the movies. They did eight films together, and it all started with The Lost Boys. The guys’ paths had crossed several times, with both being up for some of the same parts. But it wasn’t until this film that they actually met, became friends, and started a trend. Unfortunately, times would not go well for either Corey. The life would take its toll, and Corey Haim died at a too-young 38 in 2010. Corey Feldman would not do much better. His own experience with sexual abuse in the industry bought him a hard time getting roles for a while, as the industry wasn’t too happy that he was opening up these Hollywood closets. He turned it into a cause and has worked to help others in that same situation. He was literally a decade or so ahead of his time. Today these accusations are taken much more seriously, and he’s been more than vindicated over the years. But it all began with The Lost Boys, a film that made vampires more fun and kid-friendly. Now Warner Brothers has brought it out in UHD Blu-ray in full glory 4K.
Lucy (West) is a recent divorcee with two boys, Sam (Haim) and older brother Michael (Patric). They move from their big city home to a small California coastal city to live with her father (Hughes). The boys aren’t happy. The town looks like a sleepy one, and Grandpa doesn’t have a television set. He does, however, love reading his TV Guide. It doesn’t take long for all three new residents to be seduced by their own part of the town.
For Michael it’s a girl named Star (Gertz), who runs with a motorcycle gang that appears to be the terror of the town. Their leader David (Sutherland) takes an interest in Michael and invites him to be a part of the gang. We soon discover they are vampires, and now Michael is on his way of becoming a vampire himself. For Sam (Haim) it’s the two brothers who run the local comic book store for their parents. Enter the Frog Brothers, Edgar (Feldman) and Alan (Newlander). They appear to be aware of the local vampire problem and try to warn Sam about them. They give him a vampire comic and their number in case they should encounter the living dead. Sam pushes it all off as crazy until he discovers his brother casts no reflection in the mirror. For Lucy it’s the owner of the video rental store, Max (Herrmann). He offers her a job and some much-wanted companionship. But the boys suspect he might be the vampire and offer a few hilarious attempts to expose him. Things get deep for all concerned, and it all leads to a monster smash-up at Grandpa’s home and a few clever reveals as the boys go on a vampire slaughter.
The film remains one of my favorite vampire films to date. The cast was perfect. You could really see that instant chemistry between Haim and Feldman. Feldman is over the top with his “just the facts” demeanor about vampires and a character who never quite understands just how in over his head he truly is. It’s not a surprise that these two ended up friends and doing quite a few films together. The cast goes against type with Kiefer Sutherland as David, the gang-leader vampire. I still consider it one of his best performances, and yes, I think it’s much better than his outing in 24. Edward Herrmann is an underrated actor to be sure. He’s got such a wide range that runs from comedy to horror to drama. He’s got this huge presence about him and the ability to go from almost invisible timid to extremely huge and terrifying. Can’t say enough about Barnard Hughes, who plays Grandpa here. He’s another huge presence who can do comedy and drama simultaneously.
The film’s atmosphere is one of the best aspects of the movie. There are so many wonderful moments from the misty cinematography by Michael Chapman. This is the man who gave us Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. He knows how to build atmosphere, and I’m not sure the film works with someone else running the cinematography. Bo Welch complements the cinematography with wonderful production design that makes the film so visceral. He’s been nominated for four Oscars for production design and deserved to win two of them hands down. Finally, the use of music, and I’m not just talking about Thomas Newman’s score here. There are wonderful ethereal moments that work with the right source music. You can cite plenty of horror films that have one or two of these elements, but I dare you to site the last vampire you’ve seen that excels at all of them. It’s the perfect blend … the perfect storm of atmosphere that makes this a truly standout film in any genre. Hey, it doesn’t hurt that the kids have a Siberian husky.
“For those of you who are wondering who this fella here is, I am the legendary Colonel Tom Parker. I am the man who gave the world Elvis Presley. Without me, there would be no Elvis Presley. And yet, there are some who’d make me out to be the villain of this here story. No, no, I didn’t kill him. I made Elvis Presley. Nothing all those muckrakers said in their books was true. Me and Elvis, we was partners. It was Elvis the Showman and the Colonel the Snowman. I always knew I was destined for greatness. As an orphan, I ran away to the carnival, where I learned the art of the “snow job,” of emptying a rube’s wallet while leaving them with nothing but a smile on their face. But a carnival act that would get you the most money, the most snow, had great costumes and a unique trick, that gave the audience feelings they weren’t sure they should enjoy. But they do. And I knew if I could find such an act, I could create the greatest … show … on … Earth.”
Rock bio-pictures have been pretty hot as of late. It really started with the exceptionally done Bohemian Rapsody that chronicled the rise of the band Queen, and more its flamboyant front man, Freddie Mercury. In its wake have come lesser films that have still performed well at the box office, like Elton John’s Rocketman, which turned out to be more fantasy than bio-film. With a subject like Elvis, it’s really hard to go wrong. He’s one of the most successful brands in rock history, and make no mistake. He was a brand. He was also more than just a flash of style. Elvis Presley is often referred to as The King Of Rock And Roll, at least to his fans. There’s no denying the impact that he had on the music scene. He was the first rock and roll star, to be sure. Colonel Tom Parker, his long-time manager and partner, created many of the marketing traditions that are commonplace in the industry today. He knew the value of his star, not only as a performer, but as a brand. For the first time, a musician’s image and name started to appear on everything from bath towels to women’s underwear. Fans are often split on their feelings for the self-styled Colonel, but Elvis would not have become the name brand he still is today without him. That doesn’t take away the selfish way that Parker turned Elvis into his private meal ticket, paying attention to his own needs more than those of his star. But no one marketed a brand like Parker did in the days before Elvis. One of those brand expansions tapped into Elvis’s own boyhood fantasy. Elvis had worked as an usher at a local movie theater as a teen. He’s often related that he would linger in the auditoriums, watching those movies and fantasizing that he was James Dean or Marlon Brando, two of his idols. With the help if Colonel Parker, Elvis would get to see that dream become a reality. The King was to expand his realm to include the movie business and Hollywood. No experience? No problem. After all, if Elvis could go from failing music in high school to becoming the highest paid musician on the planet, he could certainly tackle the world of acting. And he did just that. And that’s really the first “issue” with the film. It might be called ELVIS all in caps, but this is really Colonel Tom Parker’s story, and in case you have any confusion on that score, it will become clear soon enough. You see, the entire film is narrated by Parker and told from his unique point of view.
The film actually starts in the 1990’s when Colonel Tom Parker (Hanks) is on his deathbed. He becomes somewhat self-reflecting in his final moments and feels as if he has to set the story straight about his relationship with the cultural phenomenon known as Elvis Presley, played by Austin Butler.. I’ll admit that I didn’t like it at first. It’s not that the performance was bad, but it seemed awkward until I realized this was also intentional, but this time a smart move. Butler began to inhabit the part as his character developed his own confidence. By the time he’s older and also in prosthetics, they aren’t a distraction. He’s haunted by the accusations that he stole from Elvis and many accusations that he literally killed him by his actions. So Parker takes us back to those days of yore to tell us his version of events.
We are treated to quick snippets of Parker’s early years when he literally ran away to the carnival where he became a student of the art of showmanship. He eventually drifted into a hybrid of the carny show and country music, touring with a mediocre country star named Hank Snow (Wenham). He’s always looking for a new act, and he finds it when one of the crew brings in a record by a new guy named Elvis Presley. Parker sees his appeal as a white singer who does music very much in the style of the traditional black musicians of the time. In the racist South of the 1950’s, he can deliver what the kids want without the problems of having a black singer. He still gets into trouble with the good ol’ boys when Elvis accidentally discovers that his stage-right nervous twitch starts driving the girls crazy. Before too long Elvis The Pelvis is a hit with the kids, but not so much the establishment, who threaten to close him down and incarcerate him if Parker doesn’t get him under control. Of course, no one likes the “new” Elvis, and the antics put Elvis in the Army for two years.
But Parker doesn’t give up. When Elvis returns, he lines up Hollywood movies to reinvent his meal ticket. Elvis is back, and when rules loosen up, he’s back on top. But Parker won’t let him travel the world where he’s being offered millions to perform. If you know the story, you already know why he doesn’t let Elvis tour. I won’t spoil it if you don’t. But to keep his star in the United States, he lines him up at a new hotel in Vegas where Elvis turns out to be a bigger star than ever. This is the Elvis people like me remember with the studded jump suits that continue to be the image of Elvis today, helped along, of course, by the thousands of Elvis imitators who make a living from that image 50 years after the man’s death. Parker keeps his star where he wants him, but the strain on Elvis’s life and relationships take a hard toll that Parker selfishly accepts for his own benefit. We all know how it ends. No spoilers here. Elvis dies at just 42 years old, and now only the legend and hundreds of releases remain … and now Baz Luhrmann’s film.
In the hands of director Baz Luhrmann you have to expect a flash of style to compete with the substance of the film. I would have thought his subject alone could provide all the flash and style any film could want. Unfortunately, that’s just not true here. So ELVIS becomes a very mixed presentation. A pretty good film that could have been a great film. A classic. But Luhrmann just can’t help himself. The film inserts comic book styles to much of the film in a misguided attempt to honor Elvis’s love of comics growing up. He inserts rap music that just doesn’t fit the style of the story that he’s telling. Yes, Elvis was heavily influenced by black music, and he hung with and respected so many of these artists in his life. But that landscape is rich with these incredible talents like B.B. King (Harrison, Jr.), Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (Clark, Jr.) and the amazing Sister Rosetta Tharpe who influenced music so completely and is played here by Yola. Luhrmann offers us some wonderful glimpses into those places and moments, and he should have understood that these were powerful enough moments that didn’t need to be modernized in any way. He ends up giving up the purity of these artists that they were there to provide.
The story itself by necessity is quite uneven. There’s a lot of material here to be mined and only so much for a film. The story has been told countless times, and I suspect will be as long as stories are still told. It appears one must pick a time or event and focus the energy there. I think that’s why my favorite continues to be Elvis And Nixon. It’s a perfect snapshot of one event. Luhrmann understandably focuses on the music, and that’s not a bad instinct. You will get to see a lot of those iconic stage moments, and they did a pretty solid job of making them appear authentic and in some cases seamlessly interchangeable with the actual events. Elvis fans will get plenty of what they came for, to be sure. But if you were looking for that little something more, you’re going to be disappointed, more so because of just how close it all comes to being something so much greater.
“This rare Texas air will fix you right up.”
Until The Exorcist came along in 1973, Giant was Warner Brothers’ highest grossing film at the box office. It was also the last film made by James Dean, who killed himself in a car crash two weeks before production, requiring the services of Nick Adams to step in and provide some of the voice ADR work for Dean. The film earned an at-that-time record 10 Oscar nominations. You would think that a film of this kind of historical importance and success would have been well cared for over the years since 1956. You would have been badly mistaken if you had that belief. Instead the film was allowed to deteriorate to a point where the restoration experts originally thought it could not be salvaged. After great effort and searches for better elements, the film has been pieced back together and given an impressive 4K release, and the result is an image that appears to be something of a miracle, now available to the public with Warner Brothers release of Giant on UHD Blu-ray in its native and natural 4K.
The film is based on the novel by Edna Ferber. It starts in the late 1920’s with Bick Benedict (Hudson), a guest of a family that is selling him their top stallion. At a dinner he impresses the table when he describes his large ranch. Pushed to define large, he reluctantly admits that it is over 500,000 acres. One of the daughters, Leslie (Taylor) becomes rather caustic with Birk, but it covers an infatuation that leads too quickly to the couple married and on their way to his ranch he named Benedict Reata. When I say too quickly, I refer to the fact that immediately from that dinner we cut to the couple married and returning to the Reata. It’s one of many abrupt time jumps in the film that makes for a rather awkward narrative. I have not read the novel, but I suspect there’s material between these jumps that would have made this an easier story to relate to or care about.
There’s a general narrative as we blow through 40 years of the Benedict family. The most important story involves the ranch hand Jett Rink, played by James Dean. We quickly get the idea that he’s been trouble and that Birk would rather he was gone. Those sentiments become justified when the young hand makes some passes at his wife. Nothing really happens, which is somewhat of a disappointment ,because the film has often been described and even marketed as if there was some kind of a romantic triangle between these three characters, and there is nothing of the sort going on. Leslie rejects any advances, and that’s pretty much the end of that.
Leslie has more trouble adapting to Birk’s overprotective sister, who has been kind of the strong woman of the ranch. She runs the household. Luz (McCambridge) asserts a kind of rivalry with Leslie, forcing her to stand up to the woman who has to now step back. She is a short-lived problem who becomes an even larger problem upon her death. She has always felt a little sorry for Jett and leaves him a small, apparently worthless piece of property. Both Birk and the ranch’s lawyers attempt to offer Jett $500, at least double its value, in order to keep the entire ranch intact. But Jett refuses the sweet deal, mostly to rebel against Birk and the others. He attempts to create his own ranch, for a while calling it the Little Reata. But it’s not working out, and Birk forces him to drop the name. But then one day, he wasn’t shooting at some food. But up from the ground came a bubblin’ crude. Oil, that is. Black Gold. Texas Tea. He drills the land and hits the jackpot, and as we rush past the years, he’s one of the richest tycoons in the country. Eventually he gets Birk to do the same on his land, and the two become wealthy but not anything near friends. Birk has a ton of resentment, as does Jett. It all collides at a ceremony at Jett’s fancy hotel to celebrate the groundbreaking on an airport to bear his name.
The story is ambitious, but handled the right way could have become a classic Hollywood epic, but that never really happens. The film did great at the box office, but one hast to account for the star power of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor and the fact that it was released shortly after Dean’s sensational demise. All of these factors certainly factors into why the film is considered a classic today. I was very pleased to see the film restored, and seeing it for the first time uncut was a treat, to be sure. Beyond that, the film has great historical importance but it is far from the great film it has often been remembered as.
The time jumps make it difficult to follow the human elements of the story. We see Birk and Leslie go through various stages emotionally in their marriage, but the time doesn’t remain with us long enough to feel like we actually went on this emotional ride. Their kids grow up fast, and there’s a nice but underdeveloped story about them wanting different things in their lives. The son is played by Dennis Hopper, who also appeared in Dean’s singular true classic, Rebel Without A Cause. His youth here is somewhat startling. It’s not the Dennis Hopper most of us have known through our lives.
The film attempts to deal with the theme of racism here and sometimes is quite effective. Mexicans are treated as not “real men” and are demeaned strictly as a matter of routine. When Birk’s son marries a Mexican girl, they get to see the prejudice rather close up. Jett’s hotel denying her service at the beauty salon leads to the ultimate confrontation at the film’s climax. Like everything else, it never gets fully developed, but those scenes at Jett’s hotel are the most powerful the film has to offer.
The cinematography takes full advantage of the Texas locations, and at times you get hints of almost John Ford-like vistas. Texas is quite a theme running throughout and part of the initial confrontation Birk has with Leslie at that first dinner. She asks if Texas wasn’t stolen from Mexico, and it riles Birk’s Texan pride, bringing up such stalworth Texas images of the Alamo and Sam Houston. I’m sure there is a ton of stuff here that won’t stand up to today’s more woke sensibilities. The film is certainly worth seeing, but time and distance from Dean’s death have robbed it of much of its attraction of 1956.
“They think I’m hiding in the shadows, but I am the shadows.”
You have certain expectations when you go to a superhero/comic book movie. Sure, it changes a little depending on the character that you’re going to see. But there are certain things that all of these films tend to have in common. There’s an expectation of frantic action and some mind-bending special f/x. You’re looking for colorful villains who tend to act over-the-top and always provide that gentle wink back at the audience. When these expectations aren’t met, audiences tend to be disappointed, and big-budget films can end up costing the studios hugely in the end. Even as we appear to be reaching the last days of the limited pandemic crowds, that risk gets multiplied. It also doesn’t help if audiences are still riding the high off the first big global billion-dollar film in almost three years. That’s the kind of headwinds The Batman is facing when audiences line up to see the return of one of the oldest and most famous heroes in comic history. What if I were to tell you that you won’t get a lot of any of those things, but you’re going to love it anyway? That’s exactly what I am telling you about Warner Brothers’ newest Batman film, simply titled The Batman.
It all started pretty much when the whole Snyder-led Justice League era was coming to an end, at least for a while. Ben Affleck was going to continue his run as Batman in a standalone film that he was once going to write/direct and star in. Well … Affleck’s life took a little turn for the worse, and the more time that went by, the less likely it was that movie was ever going to see a local multiplex. Warner Brothers didn’t give up. They turned to Matt Reeves, who did such a great job on Fox’s Planet Of The Apes franchise. Before we knew it things were looking brighter for The Dark Knight. Robert Pattinson was tapped to take on the dual lead of Bruce Wayne/Batman, and my expectations got a little deflated. But a huge, strong cast started to get caught up in this thing, and it grew to monstrous proportions. Rumors started to circulate that the first cut of the film ran almost four hours. By the time of the final cut, it was still running just under three hours. And that’s where it finally stands. The question remains. Will that three hours feel more like four hours, or will it sprint by so fast we won’t see the end coming? I’m happy to report, it’s the latter.
The first thing you have to understand is that you need to adjust those expectations. Don’t think of this as a superhero film or a comic film. Think of this more like a serial killer thriller like Seven or Silence Of The Lambs. That’s not as much of a stretch as you might think. Remember that in his early days back in the late 1930’s until the 50’s, Batman was better known as The World’s Greatest Detective. He actually rarely faced big bads like The Joker or The Penguin. He faced mobsters and normal killers. Consider this film a return to those oft-forgotten roots of the character, and you will be in for a fine treat.
The film is loosely based on the Year Two comic run. Batman (Pattinson) is still kind of finding his way and keeping a journal of his exploits and thoughts. The Gotham City police are split on what they think of the vigilante. Most don’t trust him. James Gordon (Wright) isn’t commissioner yet. He’s a lieutenant and pretty much Batman’s inside man on the force. He believes in this mysterious stranger and has worked out a signal to summon Batman when he’s needed. It’s a crude version of the famous Bat Signal. And Gordon needs Batman’s help now with the brutal murder of Gotham’s mayor, who was in the middle of a tough campaign for re-election. The killer leaves behind an envelope addressed to Batman and calls himself The Riddler (Dano). It appears that this killer has a list of people with connections that are yet to be discovered. He intends to kill them in gruesome fashions and taunts Batman to stop him. Things get complicated when it appears Bruce Wayne is one of the targets because of the deeds of his father Thomas (Roberts) and Martha Arkham Wayne (Stocker). Bruce is learning there is so much he doesn’t know about his parents, and only butler Alfred (Serkis) appears to know those truths. It appears that his parents might have been mixed up in a corrupted mob led by local Don of Gotham, Carmine Falcone (Turturro). The more he investigates, the deeper the mystery goes. He must battle his own demons and stop The Riddler. The result is a much more nuanced Batman than we’ve ever seen and a deep collection of characters that feel more like throwbacks from an old George Raft gangster film or a modern film noir assortment of seedy characters who live and operate deep in the shadows of Gotham City.
Those characters include The Penguin, played by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell. Like the character of the old comics, he’s the owner of a seedy nightclub called The Iceberg Lounge. Batman also encounters cat burglar Selina Kyle, played by Zoe Kravitz, who is planning on taking Falcone down for personal reasons. Another throwback from those 40’s comics has Batman and Kyle in a somewhat complicated relationship. The two share much better chemistry than I expected, and there are some really nice film noir moments between these two characters. You never hear the name Catwoman, but the origins are certainly easy to see. John Turturro is equally lost in the guise of Falcone and truly brings to life one of the better characters from the old comics. I love that when Bruce goes to see Falcone for the first time, he’s listening to I Have But One Heart, the song Johnny Fontaine sings at the wedding in The Godfather. The most amazing thing about this cast of characters is with a running time just shy of three hours, almost everyone but Kyle is underused. Andy Serkis gets very little screen time, and you will absolutely be wanting more of Dano’s Penguin.
The Green Mile
“They usually call death row the Last Mile, but we called ours the Green Mile, because the floor was the color of faded limes. We had the electric chair then. Old Sparky, we called it. I’ve lived a lot of years, Ellie, but 1935 takes the prize. That was the year I had the worst urinary infection of my life. That was also the year of John Coffey and the two dead girls.”
For me that place would be the movies. From the time I was a little kid, movies have always had an incredible fascination with me, and it’s where some of my fondest memories come from. It’s what has led me here, writing about the things I see, and it’s never lost its charm even when it became a job. Films like The Green Mile are a huge reason why that is so.
Our first, middle, and last impression of writer Stephen King has always been one thing. He’s considered the King of the Modern Horror Novel. Pretty much everything he has ever written has found its way to the small or large screen, and often with various versions over the years. The problem is that King is such a visceral writer, and his novels tend to be so long that it’s very difficult to damn near impossible to translate a good King story for television or the box office. No matter how hard some of the best filmmakers have tried, an alarming number of King’s written masterpieces have fallen flat at the box office. There have, of course, been notable exceptions. The recent two-film version of It is one of the finest of those attempts. But for nearly three decades it turned out that the most successful film adaptations of King’s written work weren’t horror stories at all. They were also based on shorter works instead of those multi-thousand-page novels. Stand By Me, based on the novella The Body, is one of the most endearing and enduring, and while a title like The Body certainly carries the King ominous connotations, it’s actually a quite unscary coming-of-age story. The Green Mile took us to death row, not for a story about a demented killer about to seek revenge as a reanimated executed criminal, but a whimsical fantasy about a death row guard with a rather amazing pet mouse and accompanying story.
The story begins when an elder Paul Edgecomb (Greer) is moved by the film Top Hat, watching Fred Astaire singing to Ginger Rogers the song Cheek to Cheek. His tears bring his friend Elaine (Brent) to ask questions. These questions lead to him telling us a story that goes back to 1935 when he was the commanding officer at a prison death row block and was also played by Tom Hanks. The block was called The Green Mile, because a condemned prisoner’s journey to the death chamber is traditionally called The Last Mile, and this block’s floor happened to be a pale lime green color. There he commanded a team of correctional officers. David Morse is Brutus “Brutal” Howell. While his nickname might imply he is a violent man, he is actually quite the opposite. He’s softspoken, but a pretty big guy. He’s Paul’s right-hand man. Barry Pepper plays Dean Stanton, no relation to the actor Harry Dean Stanton, who coincidentally also appears in the film as death row inmate Toot-Toot. Jeffrey deMunn is the elder officer Harry Terwilliger. The final member of Paul’s team is Percy Wetmore, played by Doug Hutchison. He’s as bad as any of the killers on the block. He’s the nephew of the governor’s sister and gets away with pretty much anything. He can’t be fired, and his antics include taunting the condemned prisoners and eventually causing an execution to go horribly wrong, torturing Eduard Delacroix, played by Michael Jeter. Delacroix was a repentant Cajun who befriends a mouse on the block. Pay attention to that mouse, because it plays a huge part in the film by the movie’s conclusion. Finally the prison warden is Hal Moores, played by James Cromwell, who is also dealing with a wife dying of cancer, played by Patricia Clarkson.
Life goes on as usual on the block, and Paul’s dealing with a painful urinary infection. But all of that is about to change, including Paul’s infection, when a new condemned prisoner is brought in. Enter John Coffey, played brilliantly by a newcomer at that time, Michael Clarke Duncan. He’s a mountain of a man who initially scares the guards a bit. They eventually find him to be a gentle and timid soul. But they discover much more when he touches Paul and heals his infection. After Percy cruelly stomps on the mouse, Coffey is able to bring it back. Naturally a plan starts to hatch to bring this miracle to the doors of the warden in order to help heal his wife.
Coffey’s abilities go beyond the ability to heal. He seems to have precognition, and there are several moments in the film where he knows things he couldn’t have or predicts something about to happen. He shares this gift with Paul and lets him see things through his eyes, including the fact that Coffey was not guilty of the brutal child murders for which he has been condemned to death. It leaves Paul with an incredible crisis of conscience, which truly gets to the heart of the film and its emotional conclusion.
While the main cast is a first-rate cast, even the supporting players deliver here, including Sam Rockwell as the deranged Wild Bill, who creates considerable trouble for the guards at The Green Mile.
For Tom Hanks this was his chance at a bit of a redo. Frank Darabont badly wanted Hanks to take the lead in The Shawshank Redemption, but Hanks was already committed to a little film called Forrest Gump and had to turn it down. Darabont got his man this time, and it’s that nuanced casting that gives Frank Darabont two of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made. King still calls this his favorite adaptation, and with good reason.
There was a time when everything Stephen King wrote was considered movie material. Somewhere studios were trying to figure out how to make a film franchise from his shopping lists. Most of the time the films fell massively short of the original material. The Green Mile is a noteworthy exception, as this is far superior to the King story. There are no monsters or ghouls (unless you count guard Percy). Instead, this film manages to pull on your emotions in subtle ways in contrast to King’s usual M.O. of hitting you over the head with your fears. The chemistry between Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan is magical enough to make you believe the unbelievable. An ending that at first glance appears over-the-top and contrived quickly becomes the perfect coda to a wonderful tale. And during a tale like this, “You just can’t hide what’s in your heart.”