Category Archives: Movie/Long Subject Reviews

Seven (1995)

Yes, I know some people put the number seven in place of the v.  I don’t.  Who gives a sh1t?

Rather than bore you with a blow-by-blow recital of things you already know/can guess, here is a comment on each “Deadly Sin”, in alphabetical order.

Envy:  Don’t know if I buy the explanation for this one, seems a bit too wrap-up-ish and less real…but deserved?  Oh, absolutely.  Merciful, even.

Gluttony: Ok now this one is just obviously plain wrong.  I mean, if death awaits you for eating too much spaghetti, then perhaps the Crusading Atheists/Antitheists have a point. 

It doesn’t, of course…and neither do they.

Greed: Defense lawyers are not, by definition, scumbags.  Plenty of members of each side lie, cheat, and steal.  But this is a good way to make people uncomfortable…”He didn’t deserve that!  Well…he was sort of nasty…ummm…”

Lust: Just record it and give it to his wife, you sick b@stard.  And why is it HER fault, too?  You sexist pig, JD.

Pride: He almost descends to Jigsaw-level with this one…(that’s an insult).  Although Morgan Freeman’s description of what happened is more interesting than anything after ‘Saw (Part One)’

Sloth: How can the laziest person he can find be a drug dealer?  That takes some movement, I would think…and his other activities, while heinous, have nothing to do with Sloth.

Wrath: Now this is where there is a REAL choice…it’s a clear moral dilemna (dilemma, too), accomplishing in one scene what Saw 1 through 187 (haha) fail to in their entirety.

Oh…great movie, too.  Just cut the boring easily-solved-in-Brady-Bunch-time diner scene.

Inspirational Quote: “Honestly…have you EVER seen anything like this?”

Grade: A

Fight Club (1999)

Guest Review:
“It’s macho porn — the sex movie Hollywood has been moving toward for years, in which eroticism between the sexes is replaced by all-guy locker-room fights. Women, who have had a lifetime of practice at dealing with little-boy posturing, will instinctively see through it; men may get off on the testosterone rush…
Is Tyler Durden in fact a leader of men with a useful philosophy? “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything,” he says, sounding like a man who tripped over the Nietzsche display on his way to the coffee bar in Borders. In my opinion, he has no useful truths. He’s a bully–Werner Erhard plus S&M, a leather club operator without the decor.” – Roger Ebert

The most cheerfully vaguely pro-organized-Anarchy piece of ultra-soft-core homosexual porn ever filmed.

Grade: C

The Mummy (1999)

Brendan Fraser (Fray-Zir) is no Harrison Ford.

This movie is akin to ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ in the same sense that ten dollars is akin to ten thousand dollars.  Sure, they’re both worth SOMETHING…they both have value, it’d be nice to have both of them, and so forth.  But there are VERY few people that would rather have the ten.  Not that they wouldn’t WANT it…but it would seem paltry in comparison.

This is a poor (hu)man’s ‘Raiders’.  Less intelligent, less well-acted, less well-written, less funny, less romantic, less…everything.  The cliches aren’t intended and if you’re looking for any sort of meaning or message, you’ll be looking the entire movie.  It’s escapist fantasy, nothing more.

Now, given all of that, why do I still think it’s a pretty good movie?

Everyone enjoys escapist fantasy now and again…and it does the job for just over two hours.  That it’s not ‘Raiders’ isn’t so much an insult to THIS movie, but an homage to THAT movie…’Raiders of the Lost Ark’ is a GREAT movie, and so this, despite lacking in every category by comparison, is a GOOD movie.  Pretty good, at least.

Inspirational Quote: “Someday I might…”

IQ2: “*I*…am a *Li-BRARIAN.*”

Grade: B

7/19/12: “Shut up you silly *deleted* it’s only a bit of fun” – Mr. Brian Equator  Grade: B+

6/22/13: The benefits of character research.  Grade: B

One Eight Seven (1997)

Take ‘To Sir, With Love’.
Remove the unruly but basically decent kiddies.
Add a bunch of violent HS gangsters.
Hire one (and only one) real name actor (John Heard doesn’t count).
Insert gratuitous menace and go for shock value.
Finish strong, with an inventive and incredibly morbid lecture/duel.
Try not to think of ‘Snakes On A Plane’

Not bad.

Grade: B-

Reservoir Dogs (1991)

This is a collection of sketches/scenes.  The reason, I think, that there are flashbacks and then flash forwards and then more flashbacks and then flashbacks FROM the flashbacks…is that Tarantino wanted an excuse for the film to be ragged and non-linear, intermittently interesting and dull.  Try to find the “story” here, if you want…but it’s not about diamonds. 

To me, this is Quentin Tarantino’s rough draft of moviemaking for ‘Pulp Fiction’, a much better and more polished effort.  Just like ‘Pulp’, this has some funny scenes, some bloody scenes, some macho scenes, etc etc etc…but unlike ‘Pulp’ they’re not strung together in very interesting fashion.  It’s almost like he wrote a dozen different scenes and then asked someone to pull a Terry Gilliam and link them together, because he had no friggin idea how.  Also perhaps because he was short on funds (Notice Keitel’s bad attempt at cigarette-lighting that makes the final cut).

All that being said, this is good for what it is.  What is it?  It’s a macho movie with lots of confrontation, arguing, fighting, shooting, bleeding, and so forth.  There are SCENES that escape this formula, but not enough to lift it out of formulaic…although the ending is certainly fun to watch with a sort of grim fatalism.  Is this worth watching?  Yes, if only as a document of Tarantino’s progression, much like “Tangerine” to “Stairway To Heaven”.  Worth owning?  I don’t believe in owning Steve Buscemi movies.  

Inspirational Quote: “Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie…or are you gonna bite?”

Grade: B-

9/1/14: “Tarantino’s rough draft of moviemaking for ‘Pulp Fiction’”.

Well, I did say (and still think) ‘Pulp’ was a bit too slick. So, this is a bit too raw…still a good movie. Grade: B

Unforgiven (1992)

Clint Eastwood’s anti-western is so successful in displaying character development, motivation, morality and Human nature that it can be forgiven for, at times, being extremely boring.

The idea, so it seems, was to make a film that debunked the traditional Western cliches made famous by John Wayne, among others (including Eastwood himself).  There is no white hat here to indicate the good guy and black hat to indicate the “bad guy”…in fact, the distinction becomes marginal in portions of the film and disappears altogether at others.  Which is EXACTLY why it’s so effective.

Eastwood plays William Munny, a “reformed” thief and murderer trying to make ends meet on a run-down pig farm with his two young children.  The theme of loyalty/devotion is established here, at the very beginning of the film, and continues throughout, never losing its position as the primary focus of the movie despite powerful scenes involving brutal violence because even in those scenes, there is a form of loyalty on display.  Munny was “reformed” by his wife, Claudia, who apparently saw something beneath the cold-blooded exterior and was instrumental in bringing it to the forefront.  When she passes on, however, Munny doesn’t immediately revert to his previous state.  He HAS changed, and if he wants to survive perhaps he’ll have to change again, for better or worse.

The limitations of most people’s loyalty can be seen as Munny slowly begins to concede one thing after another to his previous incarnation, always resisting out of love for his wife’s memory but slowly (surely?) reverting nonetheless.  Munny was, even by his own accounts, a horrid person before he met Claudia, but in the film he comes across as more of a “good guy” than most of those that are SUPPOSED to be “good”.  Because, in his own way, he is true to what he believes…he doesn’t lie, he doesn’t steal, he takes care of his children, he speaks only when he finds meaning in the words…whereas most of the other male characters in the film are portrayed as either cowardly, stupid, or just plain vicious.

Another theme of the movie is the fascination with violence and with violent people that is without a doubt prevalent in our society.  The story revolves around Munny, and we should hate him…by what he admits he has done, he is a vile person.  But in the beginning he’s more intriguing than he is revolting, and even as he regresses towards the person he was before he maintains that intrigue.  Some of the other characters are much nicer, more honorable, etc…but I don’t think many people care.  In this way Eastwood is skewering the Western cliche of a purely good character against a purely evil character.  Munny is good, AND evil.  So, perhaps, is Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a lawman who seems to take more pleasure from punishing than from protecting.  The character of WW Beauchamp, I believe, is intended to reflect the feelings of the majority of the audience:  Simultaneously repulsed by and irresistibly drawn to people that are most certainly not of the truly “decent” type.  Munny is designed to garner sympathy and Little Bill designed to lose it, so when the inevitable confrontation occurs, it’s difficult to know who to root for.

Philosophical analysis aside, this is a very good film containing first-rate performances but also some fairly unimportant and boring scenes.  Perhaps this is also intentional, a poke at the Spaghetti Western in which something is ALWAYS happening…or perhaps the script just has holes.  Either way, it can be difficult at times to trudge through the lows…but the highs are so high that it’s worth it.

I’ve never liked Westerns, but I’m glad I own this one…a triumph of substance over formula.

Inspirational Quote: “”Deserve”‘s got nothin’ to do with it.”

Grade: B+

2012: Grade: A-

Carlito’s Way (1993)

Al Pacino and Sean Penn are the only two names featured on the front cover (IN BIG LETTERS) of the VHS tape I own of this movie (Sad, I know…) and it’s for good reason – They ARE the movie.
They carry the movie both by what they do, how they do it, and most importantly (for Pacino’s Carlito Brigante) WHY they do it.

Pacino plays Carlito Brigante, sentenced to 30 years in prison but freed after serving only 5 due to blatant procedural errors made by the District Attorney.  He has Dave Kleinfeld(Penn) to thank for this, and immediately professes his undying gratitude to anyone that will listen.  The thing is…unlike most characters (people?) that make such promises and lavish such praise, he MEANS it.  Every word.  And therein lies the most interesting part of the story.

As the movie goes on, you can see the pivotal relationship (Kleinfeld and Brigante) slowly get more and more strained as Kleinfeld becomes more dependent on Brigante, asking for more and more…and Brigante, feeling he “owes” him, gives more and more.  The other characters and incidents are interesting but basically sidetracks to the real story – Carlito’s trying to get “out”, and Kleinfeld trying just as hard to keep him “In”, to benefit himself.

Theme: Loyalty, rewarded.  Treachery, punished.  It’s fairly simple but it’s so well acted out that it overcomes the cliches that do occur in the movie, especially near the end.  Liken the predictability to a really good CD that you listen to over and over again…you know what you’re going to hear (see), but you don’t mind, because it was SO good.

Lots of great lines/scenes here…some fairly boring ones, too.  But definitely worth watching.  I don’t care if it’s “derivative”…Led Zep was derivative.  It’s also really good.  Not GREAT (it ain’t Zoso) but really good.

The voice-overs are a bit irritating at times, but I suppose they’re necessary in certain instances.  The ending, also, is a bit cliched and not nearly as exciting as it should be.  But in general this is a well made, well acted, enjoyable and thought-provoking movie.

Inspirational Quote: “Yeah, I had a dream Charlie…but now I’m awake.”

Grade: B+

2012: Grade: A-

1/5/15: Penelope Ann Miller also deserves a mention for good acting, as does John Leguizamo (in a small but typically well-done part).  And there’s noone that really stinks…even the most extra extra fits in believably.  But yeah…flaws are still as noted above.  Grade: A-

American History X (1998)

There are a lot of different ways one could look at this movie.

For racists (white, black, etc…) it can be deemed a rather sappy morality play that just isn’t true.

For positivists, it can be deemed a call for acceptance and “brotherhood (and sisterhood) among men (and women)”

For realists, like myself, it can be deemed to be a story of what happens when horrible things happen to you, you feel anger/hatred because of these things, and then you have a choice: Become what you hate, thereby rendering your objections irrelevant, or overcome your gut instincts and behave as you always felt you should.

The movie starts with a differently-edited version of a scene that appears later in the movie…and right away, Ed Norton(as Derek Vinyard) shows why he’s a great actor.  Being in bed with Fairuza Balk (naked, yet) and then being able to quickly detach (emotionally, that is) and focus on a more pressing concern is hard to sell, but Norton does it perfectly.  His character is multi-layered, extremely intelligent, charismatic, and a True believer.  The only problem is WHAT he believes…

The story, then, is about his redemption, his willingness to leave his past behind, to be content with what he has and not destroy what he has that is right by trying to make EVERYTHING “right” (in his eyes).

The transformation from bitterly hateful racist Anti-Semite to tough but sweet guy is quite a change, but at no point does it seem faked…you get the feeling that, in Norton’s shoes, you might do the very same things once jailed, given his personality.  And given his intelligence and “belief”, it’s not surprising what happens when he discovers the other “believers” in jail aren’t real.

A bit of irony exists in the most interesting exchanges of the movie, between Norton’s character and a black man that he initially, of course (given his philosophy) looks down on but who gradually wins him over by the simple plan of being decent.  Funny, too.

Norton’s performance carries this movie.  It is ferocious, compelling, powerful, subdued when appropriate…very nuanced and quite an achievement.  All the other merely “good” performances are completely overshadowed by Norton’s masterful portrayal of an intelligent, sweet boy turned cold-blooded hatemonger by events and, to be fair, his own choice.

Derek Vinyard’s big realization that you should take care of who you care about based on THEM, not based in any way on their skin color seems remarkably simple to me, but for his character the complexity is understandable.

A hell of a lot better than ‘Fight Club’ (couldn’t resist the dig).  The idea that there are perfectly legitimate reasons to love/like/dislike/hate people on an INDIVIDUAL basis is put forth here, and I do in fact agree with it.

Inspirational Quote: “You prey on people, Cam!  You use them!  I lost three years of my life for your fcken phony cause but I am on to you now you fcken snake!”

Grade: A

2012: Brilliant. Grade: A+

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

“Scary As Hell” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Response:

“That’s a reach…that’s a reach.” – Joel Hodgson, MST3K

By now you’ve either seen it or forever sworn not to because you’ve been told that it sucks.

That’s not exactly accurate…it doesn’t suck.  It isn’t anywhere near the “phenomenon” it was made out to be, and the huge lines at theaters during the early time of its release were unfounded.  But it’s not bad…not that GOOD…but not bad. 

Supposedly a documentary about a research project gone horribly wrong, it’s actually (SPOILER ALERT!!! Yeah right…like you don’t know by now) just a fake documentary about an imaginary myth (???) made to appear as realistic as possible and whose “realism” was enhanced at the time of (and prior to) release by the insinuation of the filmmakers that it was, in fact, real.  A great piece of propaganda…really annoying, but not totally destructive to the viewing process if you can get past it.

The “acting” is very good exactly because these aren’t actors and they aren’t acting.  They were given a bare-bones script, yes, but they improvised a lot of it, including their reactions to creepy/weird/annoying/freaky events while thirsty, hungry, tired, and generally annoyed and pissed off at each other and themselves.  So it looks “real” when they act scared or distressed because it IS…they ARE.

Unfortunately, you’re not.  The film isn’t the least bit scary, not by today’s standards…or any day’s standards, really.  What it IS is creepy.  It’s a study in the gradual collapse of a mini-society (three people) who get along wonderfully at first and are happy and peppy but who slowly become more and more worn down by events until they’re literally screaming/crying at/with one another.  The directors use sound effects and props to good effect, and it IS certainly weird.  But I never was “scared”…it’s more interesting than it is terrifying.

Still, as a historical document of the effectiveness of mass marketing, it ain’t bad.  Worth watching if not owning.

Inspirational Quote: “AHHHHH!”

Grade: B-

3/25/14: “B-“?  That’s a reach…that’s a reach.  Grade: C+

Crimson Tide (1995)

This is the story of what happens when two Alpha Males go head-to-head.

Also, some submarine scenes and other actors are involved, but that’s secondary.

‘Crimson Tide’ is the rare Simpson/Bruckheimer film whose strengths far exceed its typical weakness (Macho Bullsh1t).  Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman play the Captain and Ex-O (Executive Officer) of the USS Alabama, whose unfortunate mission it is to travel just off the coast of Russia after an Ultra-Nationalist Russian government dissident manages to seize power in a small area of the country, which just HAPPENS to contain a naval base, which just HAPPENS to house ICBM’s (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles…I love showing off) which just HAPPEN to be armed with Nuclear warheads.

Needless to say, with a Simpson/Bruckheimer film, very little is done to actually ESTABLISH this or maintain the exact logistics of it, etc…it’s merely a convenient vehicle to get two great actors on the same set and have them fight for control of the audience and of the submarine.  Neither one backs down, and given the two personalities here, that is a problem…I won’t give away the resolution if you haven’t seen the film yet, but they may have both been humming Don Henley’s “I Will Not Go Quietly” along with Axl.

In all fairness, the supporting cast is excellent, they just simply aren’t the focus.  James Gandolfini and Viggo Mortensen both appear in roles they would never accept now that they’ve scored with ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’, respectively.  Very good acting, very good tension, very interesting submarine “conflict” scenes…not just “battle”, mind you.

All in all, despite the macho BS, Washington and Hackman’s performances are far too powerful to ignore, and this is a very good-to-great film.

Inspirational Quote: “At birth they’re not white…they’re black”

Grade: A-

The Crow (1993)

Giving goth a Good name.

Plot: Man killed comes back to life and is almost invincible, until his “wrong” has been made “right”.

There’s not much more to it than a series of revenges, but they’re all done brilliantly…if you like that sort of thing.

It’s “style”, it’s “atmosphere”…WITH substance...and there’s no “pretension” here.  Brandon Lee’s death in reality is a fact, and lends an undeniable weight to the movie in which he died(twice) before dying on the set.  The makeup scene in particular is clever (“Mime from Hell”, HAHA) and gleefully foreshadowing.  The film was released during the reign of Grunge, and so in fitting fashion it IS raining…ALMOST all the time.  Good music, too.  The dialogue can be really cheezy…but the cool quotes abound.

Brandon Lee is brilliant as the lead…a true Gothic Hero, not an “Anti-Hero”.  He’s dark, he’s a killer…but he’s a very sympathetic character.  You feel his pain because you do, not because he whines about it and shoves it down your throat.  And he’s Good, in the exact sense of the word that comes back to haunt one of his “victims”…(aren’t we all?…Sorry, I can’t help myself).  The Evil “Devils” in this movie “See Goodness” and truly FEEL how awful it is.

Inspirational Quote: “Buildings burn, people die, but Real Love is Forever”

Grade: A-

In The Mouth Of Madness (1995)

Wherein John Carpenter does Michael De Luca’s best H.P. Lovecraft.

You know it’s a John Carpenter movie because, like fellow egomaniac George A. Romero (although with much less justification) he calls this movie, like most of his, ‘John Carpenter’s *Insert Name Of Film Here*’.  Just a minor, trivial note; but since this is easily Carpenter’s best work since ‘The Thing’ it’s a good idea he made sure to lay claim to it, unlike some of his other “works of art”.

It doesn’t really matter who stars in this movie, they aren’t important…the performances are solid but there’s nothing to stand out either in a good way or a bad way.  They do their jobs, nothing more nothing less.

The POINT is the mood, the story, the fragmentation, the eerie growing disquiet, the descent into either armageddon or insanity, depending on your viewpoint.  And perhaps not even depending on your viewpoint, because what does it matter what YOU think?  It’s not *knock knock* reality.

The plot is thin and disjointed and the script isn’t brilliant, but that doesn’t matter…in a story of insanity, coherence is self-defeating and any faults here can be overlooked by saying “Well, he did that on purpose because it’s about insanity”…did he?  *Shrug*  Who knows…who cares.  Just go along for the ride…it’s creepy, cheezy at points, but mostly scary in an eerie, hopelessly free-falling sort of way.  Reality isn’t what it used to be.

Inspirational Quote: “I can’t, he wrote me this way.”

Grade: B+

2012: Grade: B

5/26/13: Oh, P.S. – I changed my mind, kiss my a$$! Grade: B+

8/5/14: Sam Neill is actually quite good, as the only (then) star. Otherwise no change, although this is a very guilty pleasure at times, even for a very good movie – which it is. Grade: B+

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

This film is very silly.

No, that’s not the entire review, but you get the general idea.  I’m not quite sure exactly how much of it is MEANT to be silly, but I suppose that doesn’t really matter.  Intended or not, this is almost all camp, with some of the best scenes coming in unbelievably macabre and twisted fashion.  Macabre and twisted, but so hokey that you can’t help but snort or snicker, much like ‘Dead Alive’ only without anywhere NEAR as much gore.

The plot centers around a couple of college students on vacation in jolly olde England.  They’re walking across the countryside and come to a little tavern called “The Slaughtered Lamb”.  Foreshadowing?  Who knows.  Who cares?  It’s a silly movie.  Anyways, they go in, and the best part of the movie occurs…unfortunately, right near the beginning.  The reception they receive is grim but turns lively in rather amusing fashion, and the atmosphere is captured perfectly.  Then they leave, and the movie starts to mostly suck.

One of the students (David Naughton) is bitten by a (get ready for a surprise) werewolf, while his friend is bitten repeatedly (translation = mauled to death). 

Naughton’s character David (yes, same name) then slowly starts to “transform” into a werewolf, or so it seems, while his dead friend keeps appearing to have polite discussions about what happened, what will happen, and what SHOULD happen.  It’s amusing in places, utterly ridiculous, vastly overblown, and good for a few chuckles.  Once.  Da End.

Inspirational Quote: “You…made me miss.”

Grade: C

3/21/12: Ok, funnier (cheezy amusing not “haha”) than I gave it credit for, and played straight.  Which gives it a slight edge over stuff like ‘Troll 2’.  Grade: C+

The Princess Bride (1987)

This is a Rob Reiner film, and so the satirical/silly parts go without saying.  The difference between this and, say, ‘Spinal Tap’ (Where Reiner goes for all-out satire) is that not only does the movie totally succeed as a satire on the pretensions of D+D movies that have been dreadful since the dawn of time itself, but it also totally succeeds when it becomes wry, romantic, touching, menacing, dramatic, uplifting, *insert adjective that it goes for here*.

It’s a beautiful, nearly perfect film.  Cary Elwes plays a role that IS Cary Elwes, as he’s proven (sometimes unintentionally and unfortunately) in countless movies since: quick-tongued, charming and yet annoying at the same time, overly dramatic, and hopelessly over-acting.  But here, it WORKS…it’s like if Jim Carrey ever found a movie whose sole intention was to extol the virtues of talking out of your a$$.

Robin Wright is perfect as the perfectly Pure Princess “Buttercup” (Yes, it’s meant to be a silly name). Chris Sarandon is excellent as the Evil yet Stoopid Prince Humperdinck (Yes, it’s meant to be a silly name).  Even Andre the *BEEP* Giant is good in his role…

However the two absolute standouts are Mandy Patinkin and Christopher Guest, who fittingly have a confrontation near the end of the movie that is without a doubt the climax of the movie and one of the most moving scenes in a non-pure drama that I have EVER seen.  And this is seeing it 24 *BLEEPIN* years later!

If you don’t know the script by now, look it up somewhere.  Actually, don’t.  It’s a PURE Fairy Tale…quaint, charming, understated, fun, funny.  A truly great film.  Enjoy.

Inspirational Quote: “I want my father back you sonofab1tch!”

Grade: A+

The Professional (1994)

This is the edited-for-content American version of the longer (and much more explicitly controversial) ‘Leon’, the original film by French director Luc Besson.  Most of the scenes that have been cut from the original deal with the relationship between Leon and Mathilda.  Personally, I’d like to see them because they would show how the two become closer, and even if they do veer more and more towards what is already made explicit in this edited version, they never (from what I understand) cross the line from disturbing into flat-out obscene.

‘The Professional’ is ostensibly the story of a “cleaner” named Leon who saves the life of a young girl named Mathilda.  How young?  Well, she’s 12, as people seem to know for absolutely no reason.  A young boy’s age is also known for absolutely no adequately explored reason, and it’s a bit of a running joke after a while, sort of like everyone thinking “Snake” Plissken was dead(sp?).

Some of the action scenes are somewhat dated(Perhaps ‘Equilibrium”s only redeeming scene should be cut-and-pasted?).  The acting is not as good as the ideas, nor is the writing.  But the ideas are brilliant, and those who complain about Gary Oldman’s over-the-top Stansfield are overlooking the fact that at least Oldman gives his character an interesting persona, beyond what is actually “called for” in the script.

I could wax philosophical about how the movie is not about death and killing but about saving life and Salvation, and while that may or may not be true, it seems to me to be more about slick cinemacraft than either.  Not without its merits, certainly, but as over-rated by its adoring fans as it is hated by its critics.

Oldman’s character displays a creepy fascination for REALLY close physical contact(think of a younger version of ‘Book of Eli”s Carnegie) and is just as menacing in his calm, relaxed psychosis as Pesci in ‘Goodfellas”s “Funny Guy” scene.  Reno plays emotionally stunted and naive perfectly…I buy it, at least.  Natalie Portman does about as well as a child-actor can as Mathilda, out-performing many of the adults.

Oldman’s character Stansfield is in a position of extreme power, which is a bit far-fetched – Odd, Psychotic Drug Addicts seldom rise to that level of power, I would imagine.  And most of his men are INCREDIBLY incompetent.

The “bonding” scenes seem a bit forced at times, again begging for the inclusion of the deleted scenes.

The last third of the movie is easily the best part…everything has been established and the ending is, in its own way, brilliant.  However the whole thing is perhaps a bit TOO well-directed.  Slick, stylish…so slick it loses some of its believability.  Sort of the Reverse-Reservoir-Dogs effect.

Inspirational Quote: “I’m DYING to meet him.”

Grade: B

7/22/14: Parts of it are dumb and parts are too slick and parts are boring, but there are too many great scenes and powerful moments/feelings not to grade this slightly higher.

The ray of light, as if sent down from Heaven in a gesture of Divine mercy, is a fav touch. Arty without being pretentious.

Grade: B+

The Truman Show (1998)

Much-ballyhooed as a triumph of the Human Spirit and a celebration of Reality, my only problem is this…why did they possibly think Jim Carrey was the “perfect” person for this role?  Granted, he has his moments, and he tries…but that’s the point.  He tries TOO HARD, like he always does.  And for all the fanfare to the contrary, despite an impressive debut as a real, “serious” actor, his performance is flawed.

‘The Truman Show’, if you don’t know by now (I’m 13 years late with this, oh well) is the story of a man (Truman Burbank, played by Jim Carrey) whose life is entirely contained and controlled, without his knowledge.  Sort of like the world’s biggest artificial bubble, except that Truman is the only one that doesn’t know it’s artificial.  At a time when the world has grown tired of “special effects” (I doubt that) and seeks a real person they can identify with (I don’t doubt that), Truman plays, unbeknownst to him, an important role in the lives of millions of people.  In his life, they see the safety, security, tranquility, and harmony that they wish so desperately for in their own lives.  The problem is, such things come at a price, and Truman has to decide if willfull, blissful ignorance is better than sometimes-harsh reality.

In some ways this is a brilliant movie…Ed Harris is exceptional as Christof, the “Creator” (of a television show) and some of the lines are truly haunting/inspiring/scary.  I like to think of this as a sort of Positive Transcendentalist’s response to ‘Brave New World’, ‘1984’, and countless other books/movies that portray the impossibility of happiness and safety existing hand-in-hand…in ‘Brave New World’, the only answer is escaping happiness for liberty, in ‘1984’ the only answer is escaping liberty for “happiness” (If you can call a zombie-like state “happy”).  ‘The Truman Show’ offers another way out…a difficult road that may or may not be taken, that may or may not succeed, but is there.  In that, it is a complete Triumph.

But the majestic sweep and power of the message is constantly lessened by the now-familiar histrionics of Carrey, who seems to think the script isn’t good enough as a drama and needs his own particular blend of humor, which has NOTHING to do with the movie, and which seems COMPLETELY out of character for a man in his situation.  Over-acting is suited more to Carrey’s natural style (playful and “wacky”) than what you’d rationally expect from someone whose entire Life’s Reality is collapsing around him at an accelerating pace.  When Carrey is subdued, it works perfectly.  Then he slips into ‘Ace Ventura’ mode and gets a few laughs at the expense of destroying the logical character development that should be taking place.  I don’t know about you, but if I found out that everything I knew was wrong, I wouldn’t feel “liberated” and start running around…I’d curl up into a ball and hide.

Carrey’s best work is when he is actually being SUBTLE, which he does with (considering his previous work) surprisingly good effect, and especially in his confrontation with Christof, when the music’s repeated swells echo the lost nature of his soul and his extreme inner conflict building to a (perhaps) logical conclusion.

Message: Given the choice of Alpha Plus placement in a brave new world, choose the Freedom of the Savage.  There is hope for individuality, if the will is strong enough.

Couldn’t agree more.

Inspirational Quote: “Cue the Sun”

Grade: B

5/18/16: “He’ll turn back, he’ll be too afraid.”

“Give me some lightning.
Again.
Hit him again.”

“Capsize him.”
“He’s gonna drown and he doesn’t even care…”
“Do it.”
*headshake* “No.”
“Do it!”



*end*

The horror parts, the truly scary parts, happen long before this. This, actually, is an escape; one way or another. Grade: B+

FAIR USE: CRITICISM – In the clip, Carrey, Harris, and the music combine to signal a defining moment for Truman; an absolutely vital decision. It’s the best part of the movie, IMPO, and I find it moving every time.

Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (1999)

Low on dialogue and high on imagery, foreshadowing, and mood (What do you expect, it’s a Jim Jarmusch film), this hypothetically modern take on Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s instructional manual for Samurai (‘Hagakure’) is forced to get by (or not) on the strength of the wisdom quoted throughout and the powerful lead performance by Forest Whitaker as ‘Ghost Dog’, who shows that a book can indeed have a VERY powerful effect on a young person’s mind.

Whitaker’s performance is amazing, and is easily the best in the film.  The role seems to have been made for him: an actor/character that can convey at the same time equal parts menace, cunning, detachment, and a still-innocent affection for those few things dear to his heart.  When he has a conversation with a little girl (played by Camille Winbush) you don’t, for a second, have any sense of foreboding.  In his eyes, as in yours, she’s an innocent…viewed the same as defenseless animals, only with more (again, innocent) affection and a sense of reluctant nurturing.

The plot centers around a young man saved from a savage beating by the lucky coincidence that the person that notices it happening has a gun and “isn’t afraid to use it”.  From this develops a sense of Loyalty and Devotion, a personal allegiance intertwined with the extremely complex “Code of the Samurai” and Ghost Dog’s own personal background, hardly the stuff of upper-class Feudal Japan.  It’s a fascinating contrast, as Whitaker manages to display an easy street savvy (look for the obvious references) while still maintaining an extreme focus and a disciplined, simple (in the materialistic sense) life.

Parts of the movie are boring.  Then again, parts of ‘Hagakure’ are boring.  Parts of life are boring.  It’s a necessary thing to bear with the less “interesting” parts in the knowledge that there is more to come.

Repeated watchings make it more, not less, impressive, as it was obviously made with extreme care.

The music is very well suited as yet another contrast between Ancient Japan and the world that Ghost Dog is REALLY living in…this ain’t no Ancient Culture, but, to him – “Sometimes it is”

Grade: B+

2012: A must-watch for people who don’t read.  Grade: A-

Braveheart (1995)

Mel Gibson’s extremely fictionalized account of William Wallace and the Scottish struggle for independence from English rule is a true Epic in the classic Hollywood sense – Visually stunning, action-packed, and alternately inspiring and sappily cliche.

Taken as a historical recreation, this is an abysmal failure.  Taken as a work of fiction, it is a triumph whose charming and numerous strengths overcome its annoying weaknesses.

Weaknesses: The same incredibly gory battle scenes that made me “Oooo!” in amazement and delight as a young lad now make me either cringe slightly in frustration and/or disgust or just get through them by spotting the obvious errors in battlefield placement (the Scottish soldier half-heartedly fighting noone is a personal favorite).  In a film like ‘Saving Private Ryan’, similarly disturbing scenes work because they’re SUPPOSED to be disturbing, serving as a reminder of the horrors of a War that too many people have nearly conveniently forgotten.  In ‘Braveheart’, they seem obligatory if not glorified, as if Gibson thought of a lot of interestingly gruesome ways for people to get killed and he was going to make d@mn sure he took this opportunity to display them.

The other major complaint is the interaction between Wallace and the Princess of Wales – not because of its obvious historical impossibility, but because it’s so TOTALLY out of the character that Gibson had worked so hard to establish for Wallace.

On the positive side, the acting is almost uniformly excellent, with Gibson’s lead being outdone especially by Patrick McGoohan as King Edward “Longshanks”, and also by Wallace’s three Lieutenants (Most notably Stephen the Irishman in a bit of brilliantly insane comic relief).

The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, the costumes and soundtrack beautiful, and the script is (for the most part) intelligent, inventive, and gripping.

I cried several times watching this movie over the years, and also felt an undeniable surge of adrenaline and exultation.  When a movie can produce both effects, you know it’s doing something right.

Grade: A-

2012: It’s only a movie…it’s only a movie… Grade: A

10/3/16: Robert the Bruce also deserves a mention for impressive acting, and Gibson does have *some* moments of brilliance; the feelings and thoughts he conveys without words after meeting the Bruce on the battlefield are impressive and undeniable. Grade: A

Land Of The Dead (2005)

The precise moment when George A. Romero FINALLY gets some real actors to work with is the precise moment he creates his greatest film and definitive statement, better even than the original ‘Night’ or the mercilessly cynical and anti-commercial (but quite cheezy) (original) – sequel ‘Dawn’.

Simon Baker (showing that “Good Guys” need neither be Pure nor Stupid), the late (great) Dennis Hopper (showing once again that inflection and attitude can make ALL the difference) and especially the vastly underrated John Leguizamo (pushing an ultra-cocky attitude that only a VERY few actors, including himself, could fully pull off) are all first-rate.

The supporting cast is almost as good, especially Robert Joy as the somewhat-unwanted sidekick and Eugene Clark as “Big Daddy”, the most intelligent of the zombies (Yes, they’re getting smarter).

The unrated/uncut version is grotesquely gruesome, and while I’m sure that a lot of the same people that liked the original movie not for the story or the message but for the shock value will revel in it, to me it’s irrelevant…perhaps a necessary reminder of the horrid contrast between the Have’s (Fiddler’s Green) and the Have-Not’s (Everyone else), and a grim depiction of Inhumanity versus Humanity, but purely secondary to the acting and character development.  That’s not to say it’s “gratuitous”, it’s used to horrifying effect and makes the movie’s endgame that much more Hopeful.

The story is a multi-layered version of ‘Night”s claustrophobic inevitability, and while I won’t spoil it by telling every detail of what happens (That’s what Wikipedia is for, if you want to know) I will say that it is extremely good from start to finish. 

When people talk about loving or hating horror movies, this is where the divide should be:  Only those that absolutely refuse to watch a film that is violent even if it is of extremely high quality won’t derive pleasure from this, while those that simply crave gore will probably be a bit disappointed that Romero didn’t spend less time having his characters talk and more time having them dismember…or be dismembered, as the case may or may not be.

Inspirational Quote: “No.  They’re just looking for a place to go.  Same as us.”

Grade: A-

2012: Add Asia Argento to the supporting cast mentions.  Her and Baker win in the “Most adorable romance that you KNOW will eventually lead to LOTS of sex using mild flirtation only as their lives hang in the balance” category.  I had to watch this again to make sure I wasn’t over-rating it as a thankful reaction to most gore film sh1t.  I wasn’t.  Grade: A-

Equilibrium (2002)

A cult seems to have sprung up around this movie for reasons I can’t fully understand.

Yes, the idea is a brilliant one.  Unfortunately, it’s not ‘Equilibrium”s idea.  But beyond the concept of totally rehashing previous films/books, which is a weak argument at best considering that many fine movies do exactly that (see “sequels”), there is just nothing here beyond the opening scene (Which is quite violent – get used to it, love it or not – but also displays a certain inventiveness in combat choreography and a mild subtlety to its character development and foreshadowing that seems to be lost during the rest of the movie) that’s worth watching in any way, shape, or form that could in any way be considered an advancement or even a worthy homage to an idea not already driven into the ground with the finesse of a Peter Gabriel.

LET THERE BE NO DOUBT ABOUT IT.

Perhaps fans of the over-rated but still vastly superior ‘American Psycho’ are just humming Genesis and Huey Lewis and The News songs as Christian Bale trudges woodenly through Ch..ch…ch…ch…changes in (I guess you could call them) emotions during his painstakingly reinforced metamorphosis from cold-blooded killer to warm-blooded killer (I mean “Freedom Fighter”), but for me, the promising professional mediocrity of the opening scene having long since worn off since…the opening scene, the final moment of tolerance comes during a dog-killing spree that apparently was the result of a “Creative” meeting that must have gone something like this:

(Man) “Hmmm…the script kinda sucks, how exactly are we going to keep people horrified?”
(Other Man) “How about burning priceless works of art?”
(Man) “Not enough…”
(Other Other Man) “How about flashbacks to traumatic moments?”
(Man) “Nope…”
(Woman) “How about actual character development?”
(Man) “Shut up!”
(Other Other Other Man) “How about killing defenseless little cute adorable animals?  Ummm…Kittens?”
(Man) “PUPPIES!!!”
(ALL) “BRILLIANT!”

Grade: D-

2012: Grade: F

4/23/16: Like ‘Fight Club’, ‘Saw’, and other movies I think are VASTLY overrated, I WANT to rank this lower than it deserves; sort of a counter-balance in the overreaction department. Unfortunately, critical integrity demands that I not. So…it just really stinks. Grade: D-