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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Michael Collins (Released in 1996) - Starring Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Alan Rickman, Julia Roberts

A historical biopic which was released in 1996, Michael Collins is based on the life and war efforts of the Irish Patriot and revolutionary, Michael Collins. Directed by Neil Jordan, the movie offers viewers a glimpse into the Irish Republican Army’s fight against the British Empire. The star cast includes Liam Neeson, who plays a very convincing Michael Collins, Aidan Quinn as Harry Boland (Michael’s closest friend and compatriot), Julia Roberts as Kitty Kiernan, the love interest of both Michael and Harry, Ian Hart as Joe O’Reilly and Alan Rickman, as Eamon de Valera, among others.
The movie opens in 1922, with Kitty Kiernan mourning the death of Michael Collins, and Joe O’Reilly attempting to console her. From there it flashes back to 1916, when Collins and his compatriots were captured by the British Army. The movie portrays Collins’ foresight and innovation as a leader, especially when he is shown to be telling Boland that next time they would not play by the British rules, but rather make up their own. The movie shows how Collins recognized the need for guerilla warfare and the pointlessness of conventional attacks.
However, de Valera strongly opposes his tactics and supports the conventional rules of fighting with the British. After Collins’ release from an internment camp, he is conducting a rally when it is attacked and he is injured. His friend Boland rescues him and together they hide out and recoup at a friend’s farm. That is where they meet the pretty Kitty, who begins a romance with Boland.




Their struggles continue, and soon Collins receives a tip that the British are going to arrest de Valera and the Cabinet. De Valera has other ideas which do not include going into hiding. He believes that if they are arrested there would be a huge outcry from the public, demanding their release. The Cabinet is arrested, but Boland and Collins manage to escape. However, de Valera sees it as a threat when he realizes that in spite of being arrested, there was no protest from the public, all because Collins was not imprisoned.
After Collins and Boland break Valera out of prison, he insists on meeting with Woodrow Wilson in US so as to seek recognition, and asserts that Boland should travel with him. Once Valera leaves for the United States, Collins is left in charge and he orders the IRA to carry out various surprise attacks, which put the IRA at an advantage. However, when Valera returns, he insists they go back to conventional formal military attacks. Collins advises him against it, but not heeding Collins advice, Valera goes ahead with an attack on The Custom House, which fails badly, with many IRA members killed and captured.
Worried that the IRA are on their last leg, Collins is surprised when the British call a cease fire. Valera then orders Collins to go as a negotiator to England, knowing fully that Collins is not one. And when Collins returns after having signed an Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921) Valera is enraged that he was not told of the terms of the Treaty before it was signed. Collins argues for the treaty, while Valera and his supporters are staunchly against it. Both the sides try hard to sway the Irish public in their favour.
When anti-Treaty Republicans attack Collins, he barely manages to escape. In the aftermath, he further solidifies his already blooming relationship with Kitty, who throughout the movie is shown to be torn between the two men. Collins asks her to marry him and she accepts. Finally the Irish people vote to approve the Treaty. However, Valera refuses to accept this and orders the IRA to fight against its former comrades. Collins who is now Chief of Staff of the National Army hates that he has to stand up against his fellow compatriots all because of Valera.
But the Treaty had been signed, and as a result, the Irish Free State Army is given an ultimatum to deal with IRA, or else the British Army will. Despite Collins attempts to capture his long standing friend and compatriot Boland, he gets killed while trying to escape. Distraught by his friend’s death, Collins tries to reach out to Valera to try and arrange a peace treaty. However, without the knowledge of de Valera, an arbitrator informs Collins that Valera is willing to meet. Collins walks right into a set up where he is killed. The film ends with Collins’ funeral.
While the movie shows Collins in a heroic light, it is de Valera’s character which is portrayed in a rather weak light. It may be true that he was responsible for some of the tragic events that took place, but to cast him as an enemy of the Irish state on equal footing with the British is a tad too controversial. However, overall, the movie and its focus on Collins throw some light on the Irish struggle. The movie also argues that if Collins had not died he might have succeeded in uniting Ireland and saving many lives.
The only area the movie falls short of expectations is the romantic angle or rather triangle between Collins, Kitty and Boland. The romantic scenes only serve as a break from the movie and not much else. But on the whole, the movie is well made, and worth a watch, especially to understand the heroism of Collins and his struggle for a united, liberated Ireland.

Michael Collins (Released in 1996) - Starring Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Alan Rickman, Julia Roberts

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hook (Released in 1991) - A fantasy film - Starring Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins

A 1991 fantasy movie directed by Steven Spielberg, Hook is based on the concept and idea of the beloved children’s book character - Peter Pan, growing up. A multi star cast movie with Robin Williams as a grown up Peter Pan (known as Peter Banning in the present day), Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, Maggie Smith as Granny Wendy, Bob Hoskins as Smee, Amber Scott and Charlie Korsmo as Peter Banning’s kids, and Caroline Goodall as Mrs Banning; Hook serves as a sequel to Peter and Wendy (1911).
The movie starts with Peter Pan all grown up, going by the name of Peter Banning. He is a successful corporate lawyer, with no recollection of his past as Peter Pan, and no memory of his life before the age of 12. He is shown to be more in touch with his cell phone than his children. Eventually the entire Banning family travels on a holiday to London to meet Granny Wendy, who is being honored for her work in setting up an orphanage. Granny Wendy remembers Peter’s past and opens up a plethora of adventure and magic in the viewers, when she asks Peter a simple question - “you really don’t remember who you are Peter?”
One night when Peter and his wife are out celebrating, Captain Hook abducts Peter’s children and takes them to Neverland. Peter comes home to find his children missing. Later that night, Tinker Bell confronts Peter and forces him to go back to Neverland with her to save his children. But, seeing a grown slightly out of shape Peter Pan, agitates Captain Hook who wants to kill Peter and his children. Finally, Smee reasons with Hook and deduces that spending a long time away from Neverland must have wiped away Peter’s memories. At the same time, Tinker Bell pleads with Hook to give Peter 3 days to prepare for a fight against Hook.



With 3 days granted to him, Peter and Tinker Bell go to the Lost Boys’ Home to prepare. None of the boys there believe him to be Peter Pan and go all out to try and humiliate him. Meanwhile Hook tries and turns Peter’s children against him, by feeding lies. While his daughter stays steadfast in her belief that her father will save them, Peter’s son Jack looks to Hook as a father figure. Through his journey back in Neverland, Peter discovers himself again, the time he had spent as a child in Neverland with Tinker Bell, the mistakes he has made in his adult life and the true value of family.
After 3 days he readies himself for a fight against Captain Hook, with the support of the orphans and Tinker Bell. He saves his children, defeats Hook and goes back to London to celebrate with his family. While the movie is a good concept, the promise of magic (considering it is a Steven Spielberg movie) leaves a lot to be desired. With the famous white light that sparks off outside his window, waiting to take Peter back to Neverland, as a viewer, we hope for a view of the lush green island full of fun, magic and surprises.
But Neverland fails to deliver. With more red-brown tones used throughout the island, Neverland feels more like it is witnessing a terrible draught. Also, there are too many props and too much happening on the costume front. The set looks exactly like a studio set, and not an exotic magical island. Most of the actors, including Hoffman and Roberts perform their parts more as a duty than something exciting. Robin Williams struggles hard to keep the magic alive, and he does succeed to an extent. But, one actor can do only so much to keep the magic alive. The fencing scenes between Williams and Hoffman towards the end leave a lot to be desired. Almost all Asian movies have tremendously better sword play than the one choreographed for this movie. All in all, the movie is worth one watch, specifically for the younger audience. But, with a storyline that starts off with a magical character having grown up, one does expect a lot more than what is delivered.

Hook (Released in 1991) - A fantasy film - Starring Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Dying Young (released in 1991) - Starring Julia Roberts, Campbell Scott and Vincent D'Onofrio

Based on a book of the same name, written by Marti Leimbach, Dying Young was directed by Joel Schumacher, and released in 1991. This romantic comedy, before its release, was pinned as one of the biggest blockbusters to release in the summer of 1991. However, after its release all it got was negative reviews. The star cast included Julia Roberts and Campbell Scott among others.
The movie opens with Hilary (played by Julia Roberts) making it plenty clear that she has next to no luck in the love and work department. Having broken up with her cheating boyfriend, Hilary, who now lives with her mother (played by Ellen Burstyn) decides to answer an ad in the papers, for an attractive woman with little (or no) work experience. Dressed in a red miniskirt, she decides to go try her luck for this job.
Without even an interview she gets selected to take care of a young man, who is shown to be battling leukemia. Donned with the duty of taking care of Victor Geddes (played by Campbell Scott) who is a 28 year old, rich and well educated man, Hilary becomes his live-in caretaker. However, she isn’t sure whether she is up for the task especially after having seen his reactions to chemotherapy. But, obviously she rises to the challenge, reads up on leukemia and tries to be a better homemaker/caretaker.
Over time, it is shown that Victor’s chemotherapy is complete and the two head down to the coast, where Victor has yet another home. All this while, Victor’s father hasn’t been given a strong role. He is shown to be indifferent at the most. The happy couple continues to live on the coast where their relationship evolves to love, all the while Victor doesn’t share with Hilary the fact that he has been taking morphine to hide the pain and that his chemo hasn’t actually been completed.




However, during one dinner party with friends, when Victor acts aggressively and later collapses on the floor, Hilary rummages through the garbage and finds the syringes. She confronts Victor and finds out the truth. She calls up Victor’s father and tells him everything. He promises to pick up Victor in the morning and take him to the hospital. Hilary and Victor have another talk, and Victor convinces Hilary that he will go back but wants to stay for one more party. Hilary agrees and goes to call Victor’s father to let him know, only to come back and find Victor packing his back in order to flee.
Yet another confrontation and “supposed to be” emotional declarations of how Victor has lost hope and Hilary loves Victor, take place. Hilary however finally convinces him to fight and get back to his chemotherapy. The movie closes with the two of them walking out of Victor’s house to go to the hospital.
Although nobody actually dies in the movie (young or old), the characters and their constant dribble of self-pity does make the audience die a little bit inside. The plot has a vague similarity to Pretty Woman, but without the fun elements or Julia Roberts contagious and vivacious attitude. While the movie is about a young man, his relation with his caretaker, and how they fall in love while he learns valuable life lessons from her; it fails to create the same warmth and humor as Pretty Woman.
Since Campbell Scott fails to generate any warmth or sympathy for his character, it would be wrong to blame Julia Roberts for lacking humor and vibrancy. The filmmaking itself is not too great, with dramatic effects being thrown in, without actually being seen through. Overall, the movie got negative reviews and after painfully sitting through more than one and half hours of this movie, one can understand why.

Dying Young (released in 1991) - Starring Julia Roberts, Campbell Scott and Vincent D'Onofrio

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy (Released in 1991) - Starring Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergin and Kevin Anderson

Released in 1991, this psychological thriller is based on a novel of the same name, by Nancy Price. Directed by Joseph Ruben, the movie’s star cast includes Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergin and Kevin Anderson. Even though it was a box office success, the movie received many negative reviews. Especially since the beginning of the movie raises expectations of the viewer, only to make it come crashing down through the remaining one and a half hours of the movie.
The plot of the movie starts off with some hope. Laura Burney (played by Julia Roberts) is the wife of a millionaire investment counselor, Martin (played by Patrick Bergin). However, everything in their fancy beach house is not hunky-dory. Trapped in a marriage where she is used as a trophy wife, and then abused at home on account of Martin’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCDs) Laura is looking for a way out. She decides to fake her own death by pretending to have drowned in an accident, when the two of them go boating.
However, having made it known to Martin that she cannot swim, Laura pretends to have drowned and then heads home to grab her “go away” bag and flush her wedding ring down the toilet. She moves to Iowa, under a new name. She even had Martin believe her mother is dead, and then gets her shifted into a nursing home. In her new set up under a new name, she befriends her next door neighbour, Ben Woodward, who also happens to be a drama teacher at the University of Northern Iowa. But soon has to confide everything in Ben, since he finds out that her new identity is not real.
While her life seems to be gradually getting better, Martin gets a phone call at the office from the YWCA about Laura. From that phone call he learns that Laura had secretly been taking swimming lessons, and his doubts start to play up. He goes home and somehow finds the wedding ring in the toilet bowl. It apparently did not get flushed when it was supposed to. He then tracks down Laura’s “supposedly dead” mother and manages to pry information, about Laura’s current location, from her.



He then follows Laura who is seen with Ben to her home. But, before he does so, he visits Laura’s new home and in rearranges methodically Laura’s towels and kitchen shelves in a very “slasher-meets - obsessive compulsive behavior man” kind of way! Laura sees these rearrangements and begins to get worried. Martin having followed Laura and Ben home from a local fair, confronts her while brandishing a gun. What follows is typical, with Ben trying to intervene and getting knocked out in the process. Laura struggling with Martin, somehow managing to get the gun in her control and finally shooting him, after placing a call to 991 stating she has an intruder in the house.
Only Martin isn’t dead, and he tries to take the gun from Laura and shoots. But thankfully by then the bullets in the gun are exhausted along with the audience’s patience. Martin finally dies and Laura and the now revived Ben hug over Martin’s dead body which was holding Laura’s wedding ring.
Having started with some pretty impactful scenes, the movie raises the expectations of the viewer. But, soon it turns into a typical slasher movie. And halfway through, it goads the audience to do the one thing they should not do in such movies, and that is try to find logic. For example, why did that ring not flush itself? Or was that toilet left unused for so many days? Or why and how did the YWCA call up Martin on his office number? Or even what was the point of Martin tracking down Laura only to rearrange towels in her new home?
The movie seems watchable if one keeps their brains aside and doesn’t ask too many questions. But in complete fairness, all the actors have done a wonderful job, especially Julia Roberts as the battered wife looking for a way out. The movie could have been a lot better, and in the opening it feels like it probably is. However, it just seems to miss its mark and falls a bit short of expectations.
Sleeping with the Enemy (Released in 1991) - Starring Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergin and Kevin Anderson

Monday, October 13, 2014

Flatliners (Released in 1990) - Medical and sci-fi thriller - Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt

Directed by Joel Schumacher, Flatliners is a sci-fi thriller which was released in 1990. The movie is about 5 medical students who decide to play God, and find out what lies on the other side. Conducting dangerous experiments and trying to one up each other, the movie gradually shifts from sci-fi to drama. The 5 medical students are played by Kiefer Sutherland and his band of experimentalists, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, Oliver Pratt and William Baldwin.
Being a medical student and learning to become a doctor, always leads to students trying to play God. After all, how can one look patients in the eye and tell them what to expect, if they themselves do not know. So, conducting an experiment to medically die and then be brought back to life sounds like an interesting theme for a movie.
The film begins with Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) a medical student, toying with the concept of afterlife. Having heard stories and experiences of what the “other side” is all about, Nelson tries and successfully convinces 4 of his classmates (Randy, Joe, Dave and Rachel) to take part in an extremely tricky and tremendously dangerous experiment with him. They each decide to flatline for a minute or so to see for themselves what lies on the other side.
Nelson goes first. Once dead, he sees the image of Billy Mahoney, a child he had bullied as a kid. Within a minute, his friends resuscitate him, but he does not go into the details of what he saw. Next to flatline is Joe (William Baldwin) who has an erotic afterlife vision. After him is Dave (Kevin Bacon) who has a vision of a girl, Winnie Hicks, whom he had bullied and taunted as a child.
What follows next, are hauntings. All 3 of them are haunted by the visions they saw in the afterlife. And worse, Nelson seems to be getting cuts and bruises on himself after every episode of Billy haunting him. Joe who is supposed to be married soon is haunted by the home videos he had filmed of his sexual encounters with women. And Dave is also haunted by Winnie. He keeps seeing her everywhere, taunting him. However, none of them tell the other what exactly it is they saw.
Rachel (Julia Roberts) insists on flatlining next. And finally the group caves in and allows her. Once she flatlines, she sees her father who had committed suicide when she was younger. They barely manage to get her back, as the electricity goes out when she is under. Once she is brought back, she keeps seeing visions of her father and is haunted by them, just like the others.




Gradually they all start to open up about their visions with one another. And Dave decides it is time to make amends. He tracks down Winnie, and apologizes to her. She accepts his apology and he feels a lot better. Nelson, who had come with Dave and was waiting back in the car, sees Billy running across the road and then next to him in the car. He is attacked by Billy with a pickaxe and is saved just in time by Dave, who tells him he was having a hallucination and was actually attacking himself with the pickaxe.
Next, Joe’s fiancĂ© turns up unexpectedly and finds out about the home videos. She leaves him and Joe feels as if a weight has been lifted off him. Finally Nelson decides to take Randy and Joe to a grave site, which turns out to be that of Billy, the kid Nelson and his friends had accidentally killed as children. Nelson leaves saying it’s time to set things right.
Meanwhile, Rachel sees her father and finds out he was addicted to heroin. He apologizes to her and she feels like she can let go. Later, they all get a phone call from Nelson saying he is going to flatline again to make things right. They rush to help him and talk him out of this fool hardy plan, but arrive nearly 9 minutes after the phone call.
On the other side Nelson replays the entire accident that took place and somehow trades places with Billy. Billy forgives him, and in a last desperate when attempt Dave tries to resuscitate Nelson, he regains consciousness.
While the basic theme of the movie starts out as something interesting, the constant death and resuscitation becomes somewhat boring. To add to this, the visions experienced by the med students convert the film from a thriller to a horror movie. All the stars have done a brilliant job, showcasing the right mix of foolhardiness, fear and intensity. But, where the movie starts out with loads of interest, it soon falls into a mundane pattern; making the viewer wish the screenplay had been just a tad bit more thrilling and suspenseful.

Flatliners (Released in 1990) - Medical and sci-fi thriller - Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Steel Magnolias (Released in 1989) - Starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts

A 1989 drama/comedy movie, Steel Magnolias is a film about 6 women who take life’s troubles and hardships in their stride. Directed by Herbert Ross, the movie is an adaptation of Robert Harling’s 1987 play of the same name. It is a woman centric movie, displaying the dainty and delicate flower like women to be tough as steel.
The star cast includes Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Shirley McLaine, Olympia Dukakis and Daryl Hannah as the 6 women who share the limelight in the movie. The inconsequential yet present male star cast includes Dylan McDermott, Sam Shepard, Tom Skerritt and Kevin J. O’Connor.
The movie opens with a beauty salon, run by Truvy Jones (played by Dolly Parton), who hired Annelle Dupuy (played by Daryl Hannah), a beauty school graduate. M’Lynn Eatenton (played by Sally Field) and her daughter Shelby (played by Julia Roberts) come into the salon to get themselves ready for Shelby’s wedding. One look at herself in the mirror, and Shelby faints. However, it is only because she has Type 1 diabetes. With a little orange juice in her system Shelby recovers. It is then that M’Lynn voices her concerns about how the doctors believe Shelby’s body will not be able to handle pregnancy.
Around afternoon, in walks Ouiser Boudreaux, (played by Shirley McLaine), who confronts Annelle about her past. Annelle confesses that her husband is a dangerous criminal and on the run from the police. Feeling sorry for her, Shelby invites her to the wedding, where Annelle lands up meeting Sam, who she later goes on to marry.




The movie skips a few months, and refocuses on these 6 women at Christmas time. M’Lynn and Shelby are back in town to celebrate Christmas and the news of Shelby’s pregnancy. However, M’Lynn is worried that this will only harm Shelby. Finally, convinced by everyone to relax and live happily in the moment, M’Lynn looks forward to Shelby’s delivery, which goes off smoothly.
However, a few months later, Shelby lands up in the hospital on account of kidney failure. M’Lynn donates one of her kidneys and Shelby’s operation is a success. Later, Annelle is to get married to Sam, who she had met at Shelby’s wedding. All the ladies plan a wedding shower for Annelle. Only Shelby can’t make it because of her job. But, after the shower, they find Shelby unconscious on her porch.
Rushed to the hospital, M’Lynn finds out that Shelby’s body rejected the kidney and Shelby has gone into a coma, from which she could never wake up. The family decides to pull Shelby off from Life Support. At Shelby’s funeral, M’Lynn breaks down and is consoled by the other women. Later, she somehow pulls herself together and focuses her energy in taking care of her grandson, Shelby’s child. A few months later, Annelle announces she is pregnant and requests M’Lynn to let her name her baby after Shelby. The movie ends with the birth of Annelle’s child on Easter.
While the male characters don’t really have much to do in the movie, the female leads shine through. This is essentially a woman’s movie, tracing their ups and downs. And even though there is a big tragedy in the end, the entire screenplay is filled with humorous one-liners, and showcases 6 women who are constantly funny and sarcastic. The tragic ending adds drama to the movie, especially with Sally Field’s heart wrenching monologue, where she feels a great injustice has been done. But, those tears soon change to laughter, with some predictable dramatic tricks.
While the movie is not super impactful, it does have its moments and overall is enjoyable. All the women perform brilliantly and that is the main focus of the movie. They all come together to create a world where they are always there for each other, through the good times and bad.

Steel Magnolias (Released in 1989) - Starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts

Monday, October 6, 2014

Blood Red (Released in 1989) - Starring Eric Roberts, Giancarlo Giannini, Burt Young, Lara Harris and Dennis Hopper

A 1989 period American Western drama is directed by Peter Masterson and shows the brother sister pair of Eric and Julia Roberts together on the silver screen for the first time. While the movie was shot in 1986, it was released in 1989. As a result, it was actually Julia Roberts’ first movie, even though it released after Mystic Pizza and Satisfaction. But it was also her first movie starring alongside her brother, already a well-known actor.
The movie is about a Sicilian family who migrates to America in the 1890’s and starts the winemaking business. The Sicilian family-the Collogeros and another winemaking family are shown to be living in California. They come into conflict with railroad baron, William Bradford Berrigan (Dennis Hopper), who is after their land to construct railroads through the wine plantation.
Sebastian Collogeros (Giancarlo Giannini) is the head of the Collogeros family. He has 2 children, siblings Marco (Eric Roberts) and Maria (Julia Roberts). Marco is shown to be no good, especially since he doesn’t care about the business or the dispute that has escalated between railroad owner William Bradford Berrigan and his family. He is in love with Angelica (Lara Harris), who is the daughter of a rival wine plantation owner.
However, things get heated and start to escalate into a full-fledged feud with guerilla warfare. Maria is witness to her father’s murder, who is tortured and killed in front of her by Berrigan’s thugs. Berrigan is desperate to get his hands on the land which cuts through the Collogeros’ wine plantation as also the land of some of the surrounding Sicilian families’ wine plantations.




After his father is murdered and matters reach a breaking point Marco decides to take the law into his own hands. He gathers his friends and plans a revolt against the railroad tycoon. He becomes an outlaw in the process, but manages to win over the other Sicilians from neighboring wine plantations, creating an army of sorts.
Blood Red is more a quasi-western movie with gun slingers and paybacks. While the movie may start off as a social drama which has a cause, it soon turns into a full-fledged western, complete with fistfights and gun plays. One of her first movies, Julia Roberts may have done a decent role, but there isn’t enough of a role given to her. She mostly stands around in the background looking pretty with hardly any dialogues. The script gives a stronger role to Eric Roberts, who is shown to be a one man army created to wreak havoc and get revenge for the murder of his father.
The movie did not do too well in the box office, but seems to have inspired many people to actually look up the history of railroads development in America. The only problem is its direction and focus. It starts off as a period drama broaching an important issue, but soon turns into a western solely running on revenge. As a result, the end is predictable and could have been better written. But, overall the movie is worth a watch.

Blood Red (Released in 1989) - Starring Eric Roberts, Giancarlo Giannini, Burt Young, Lara Harris and Dennis Hopper