Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Category Archives: 1990s

Safe (1995)

It’s like Bubble Boy. Without a bubble. Or a boy.

Carol White (Julianne Moore) lives a pretty carefree, unexciting life in California with her husband (Xander Berkeley) and stepson. The solid majority of her days consist of finding out which couches’ colors work best with living rooms and figuring out which diet to go on. So, yeah, basically, Carol has nothing to worry about. That all changes one day, however, when she starts to wheeze uncontrollably; though she goes to the doctor to get everything checked out, it turns out that there’s nothing really wrong with her. However, Carol isn’t fully convinced of this, so she looks into the matter herself, and the result she finds out is a bit unexpected, if random. For one, it seems that Carol is allergic to the 20th Century; meaning, there are certain chemicals, gases and irritants that get into her system, make her sick and have her lose control of her breathing. While everyone around Carol thinks that she’s losing her mind and/or is just looking for attention, she herself still knows that her condition is real and wants to find anything that can help her get better and possibly be cured. But where she goes to find these solutions, don’t always pan-out so well.

Pretty, curly hair does not distract.

Pretty, curly hair does not distract.

Todd Haynes doesn’t necessarily direct Safe, as much as he just guides it on along. There’s a very simple story here that, in Haynes’ own, no-frills way, doesn’t ever try to dig too deep into; instead, he just allows for it to be told as straight-forward as possible. However, by doing so, there’s something off about Safe that makes it a movie worth thinking a whole lot about; while it would be easy to classify it as a boring, incredibly slow disease-of-the-week flick, there’s so much more going on in between the folds and lines that make it seem like so much more.

In a way, you could classify Safe as “a thriller”, but at the same time, you couldn’t – while the movie definitely has all of the tension and unpredictability of a thriller, Haynes isn’t really depending on that to tell his story. Sure, the synth-inspired score is eerie to a fault, but despite it, the rest of the movie seems to just be focusing on what happens to Carol next – whether or not it excites you, is generally just up to you and what gets you going. For me, watching this story unfold, before my very own eyes, and to know that Haynes wasn’t trying to be at all pretentious with his style, kept me wide awake and watching.

Granted, I had no clue where the story was going, but that wasn’t the point.

The point of Safe, from what I can gather, is to depict the alienation one woman can feel when she is on the brink of extreme madness and everyone around her knows it. While Carol is, initially, a pretty dull character who doesn’t really have much of a personality, through this disease that she “catches”, we begin to see her develop more and more. We witness and understand the sadness, as well as the shock that she goes through her when she starts to realize that, due to all of these excessive bouts of sickness, she’s starting to lose those around her that she considers loved-ones and friends. What’s perhaps most interesting about Haynes’ direction here, is that he not only doesn’t give us much about Carol, but also doesn’t give us anymore to know about these fellow characters surrounding her, either – they are, in retrospect, just as much of a mystery to us, as they may be to Carol.

And as Carol, it’s definitely worth stating that, as expected, Julianne Moore is great, but it’s a relatively different role for her. For one, it’s not very showy; rather than getting a plethora of scenes dedicated to where she just constantly yells, rants and raves about her disease and the issues she’s having with it, Carol is much more subdued and written-down, which probably works best for her, in all honesty. It’s best that Carol, the character, doesn’t need to spell everything out for us to get the clear picture that yes, she’s feeling terrible and most of all, not doing so well in life.

But because Moore is such a good actress, she channels all of these emotions of sadness and despair in such a way that, despite us not really knowing much about Carol apart from her disease she’s been struck with, it’s hard not to feel a little heartbroken because of it. Moore lost a bunch of weight for this role and because of that, you get the sense that Carol could literally pass-out or fly away at any second; she’s clearly not in the right head-space to enjoy anything about life, so why would she actually continue to keep up with her original diet? But gimmicks aside and all, Moore is superb here and it’s no surprise why she decided to work with Haynes again on Far From Heaven and I’m Not There, as the two seem to bring out the best within one another.

While I’m on the subject of Carol, though, I do think that now is the best opportunity to discuss a problem I found with Safe that kept me away from actually loving it a whole lot more than I should have, and it was its discussion of the disease itself.

How I feel whenever I come home and literally have nothing to do.

How I feel whenever I come home and literally have nothing to do. Except Netflix, of course.

You know, the one where you’re literally allergic to everything surrounding you.

Believe it or not, it’s actually a real disease, which is why it’s so interesting to see someone, let alone, a person like Carol, go through it all and come to grips with all of the side effects of the said disease. What’s perhaps most interesting about is the discussion that Haynes seems to bring up with the disease: Is Carol really sick? Or, is she just another lonely housewife looking for attention? And also, even if the disease is real, does it take physical-form that carries on from one body to another? Or, does it all exist in somebody’s head and the only way for a person to get rid of the disease is to make themselves feel better and more sane?

I’m honestly still battling with myself just what party Haynes sticks with and it’s actually a bit disappointing. In the later-half of the movie, Haynes dives in deep into the idea of therapy as rehabilitation and it’s not only interesting, but also quite smart. However, he seems to just leave it there for us, the audience, to pick up on and it feels like a bit of a cheat. It’s almost as if Haynes himself seemed like he had something to say about this disease, but knew that he’d piss some people off by doing so, so instead, just allowed for it all to play-out as normal as humanly possible. Once again, have no problem with this, but I would have definitely liked to seen more about the disease and what it actually is.

Especially considering that, you know, when’s the next time someone’s going to make a movie about a person with MCS.

Consensus: Anchored by an amazing performance, but never over-done performance from Julianne Moore, Safe feels like the kind of real-life thriller that’s intriguing to watch and dissect, even if there are certain style-contrivances holding it back from reaching that pure level of excellence.

8 / 10

Yep. Still not getting any better. Sorry, hon.

Yep. Still not getting any better. Sorry, hon.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mystery, Alaska (1999)

The New York Rangers clearly have better things to do. Like watch paint dry.

In the small town of Mystery, Alaska, hockey is king. It’s everywhere you look and, quite frankly, it’s all anyone cares about. That’s why, when it turns out that the New York Rangers actually want to fly out there for a total publicity stunt, not only does the town take it as serious as a heart-attack, but the hockey team themselves are as prepped-up and as excited as anybody else in the town. Problem is, they now have to sort through their own personal problems to get their heads in-check for the big game. There’s John Biebe (Russell Crowe), the town sheriff who, at one point, was the captain of the hockey team, but due to his slowness, was given the boot; there’s Charlie (Hank Azaria), a hot-shot producer from New York who once went out John’s wife (Mary McCormack) and now seems to miss his lovely, little hometown; there’s Stevie Weeks (Ryan Northcott), who wants to have sex with his girlfriend, but can’t actually seem to get the act done; there’s Skank Marden (Ron Eldard), who has sex with practically every woman in town, including the mayor (Colm Feore)’s wife (Lolita Davidovich); and then, there’s Judge Walter Burns (Burt Reynolds), who doesn’t really care for hockey, but just might once this game gets going.

No. I am not entertained.

No. I am not entertained.

There’s a lot going on in Mystery, Alaska, however, none of it ever seems to involve the actual playing of hockey. Which, for some people, will be a huge deal-breaker. For those expecting a sports flick with plenty of swearing, fighting, heart, humor and hockey in the same vein as Slap Shot, well, go the other way. Instead of actually getting a movie that’s as dedicated to the sport as it states it is, we get more of a inside look into the lives of these various characters, as they not only try to wade through their problems, but also try to find ways to make themselves the best hockey players that they can be for the big game.

The big game, which, mind you, is highly unlikely to ever occur in the real world, regardless of how many reasons you try to toss in.

But honestly, the fact that this plot is unbelievable to a fault, is the least of its problem. That it wants to be a melodramatic character-study, but is in no way, dramatic, or ever interesting, already proves to the point that maybe more scenes of hockey being played would have helped out. But director Jay Roach and writers David E. Kelley and Sean O’Byrne, never seem to be all that interested in ever portraying the sport; more or less, it wants to see just what the dudes who play the sport are up to. And truly, I’m all for this – however, the writing is neither strong, nor compelling enough to make me see why we needed a movie so dedicated to finding more out about these characters.

Not to mention that the characters, for the most part, spend the majority of the movie going on and on about the loads of amounts of sex they had, and that’s about it. Ron Eldard’s character is made out to be the biggest horn-dog in the whole town and while his subplot is supposed to pack some sort of dramatic-weight, it never actually does because we don’t care about him, the people he’s banging, or the kind of effect it has when those said people he’s banging, get caught by their significant other. Same goes for whatever Russell Crowe’s character is going through; we’re made to think it’s some sort of mid-life crisis, but all of a sudden, turns into a possible extramarital love affair, or whatever.

After awhile, it gets to a point where you’ll wonder: Where’s all the damn hockey!

And then, eventually, the hockey does come up. Problem is, it’s towards the end, which means that you have to wade through the meandering and plodding initial 90 minutes, just to get there. Even then, though, it’s already too late to where we don’t care which team wins or loses, we just want it to be over so we can go home and play NHL 16 or whatever the cool hockey game the kids play nowadays.

Eh. Hope they lose.

Eh. Hope they lose.

Which is to say that Mystery, Alaska, despite the solid cast on-hand, doesn’t do any of them justice. 1999 was a pretty weird time for Russell Crowe’s career, as the Insider had yet to come out and Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do with him. Therefore, we get a pretty dull performance from him as this small-town sheriff who can’t seem to turn that frown of his upside down. Not to mention that once Hank Azaria’s character comes into town, now we have to listen to numerous spousal disputes between he and Mary McCormack’s character; neither of whom, are actually ever interesting to hear, because we don’t know who these characters are, nor do we really give a hoot if they’re together or not by the end.

And everybody else pretty much suffers the same fate as Crowe, McCormack and Azaria. Burt Reynolds, even after coming hot off from an Oscar nomination for Boogie Nights, seems like he’s just going through the motions as the older, yet wiser man of the town who likes to dispose of his knowledge whenever the moment seems necessary. It’s a boring role for Reynolds and quite frankly, he doesn’t do a nice job of hiding his own snoozes. Same goes for Colm Meaney and Lolita Davidovich who, like McCormack’s and Crowe’s characters, are left to just have marital problems and honestly, it’s hard to care at all.

All we want to see is more hockey, the actual New York Rangers (who never actually show up, because they were obviously smart enough), and somebody getting the absolute crap beaten out of them. Just like an actual hockey game.

Except with those, we don’t really care about what their personal lives are like.

Consensus: Even though there’s a great cast on the bench for Mystery, Alaska, none of them are given anything credible to work with, nor do they ever actually get to play as much hockey as everything about this movie may suggest.

2 / 10

And yeah, this is totally not forced.

And yeah, this happens, too.

Photos Courtesy of: A Movie A Day, Every Day, Sorry, Never Heard of It!

American Beauty (1999)

Once the white picket fence goes up, consider your life over.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is going through a bit of a midlife crisis. He’s 42, in a marriage to his wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), that hasn’t been passionate or loving in many years; works at a magazine that he despises has a daughter named Jane (Thora Birch) who, despite living with and seeing everyday, doesn’t actually know; and her wannabe-model friend, Angela (Mena Suvari) catches his eye and all of a sudden, he can’t stop himself from having fantasies about her. Eventually, all of this tension and turmoil in his life leaves him to just say to hell with it all and do whatever the hell he feels like doing! That means, not only does he quit his job, but he gets back onto smoking pot, drinking, talking dirty to his wife, and most importantly, lifting and getting back into shape. Meanwhile, everyone else around him is trying to work with their own lives, and some definitely succeed more than others. Carolyn’s trying to make her real estate agent career work, whereas Jane has taken up with the new neighbor, Ricky (Wes Bentley), who films stuff he finds “interesting”, sells pot to Lester, and has to deal with an overly-oppressive father (Chris Cooper). And through all of their troubles, they try their hardest to achieve happiness and realize the beauty in life, underneath all the material and glamour.

Yes, Lester. You do rule.

Yes, Lester. You do rule.

There’s been so much said about American Beauty that, by now, that’s it hard to say anything really new, or better yet, ground-breaking about it. For one, it’s a great movie – there’s no denying that fact. Secondly, it’s one that helped spear-head the careers of director Sam Mendes, as well as writer Alan Ball, both who have gone on to do great, amazing things with their careers. And also, I can’t forget to mention that, you know, it’s one of those rare, small, indie-based flicks that won a whole lot of Oscars, earned plenty of respect, and also, changed the game of indie cinema and how these big award shows look at them.

Oh yeah, and it’s one of my favorites of all time. However, that’s neither here, nor there.

But even after all these years (15, to be exact), there’s still something that stays relevant in today’s day and age. Back before ’99, it wasn’t out-of-this-world to have a movie satirize the suburbs, the people who lived in them, and the general mind-set that came with being apart of a little world like that. Not much has changed on that front since, either, but still, what American Beauty was setting out to do, or say, wasn’t really revolutionary; it was more in how the movie actually went a bit deeper and further into its subjects that sets it apart from the rest of “suburban malaise” subgenre of film that, quite frankly, got pretty old once people realized they all had the same message: The suburbs suck.

Move on, already!

But like I said, Ball’s screenplay shoots for something much more meaningful than just saying, “People in the suburbs aren’t really happy, no matter how hard they try to make themselves think that”, and leaving it at that. Nope, Ball, as well as Mendes, are both a lot smarter than that and find interesting ways to tell these characters, as well as their stories, in fun, fresh ways that they’re not only hilarious, but at times, pretty heartfelt. While at one moment, we may sneer at a character for being so wrapped-up in materialistic crap that doesn’t at all matter, the next moment, we’ll see a character reveal a fact about their life that not only makes you a bit misty, but also gives you something to take in about those characters.

This is all to say that while, for the longest time, it may appear as such, American Beauty isn’t filled with a bunch of soulless, comical caricatures that are just there for us to point at and make fun of. On the surface, they may appear as such, but once you look a little bit closer (I know I’m sort of referencing the tag-line, but trust me, it isn’t on purpose), you realize that they are actual human beings; ones who breath, think, talk, and act like you or I. They may live in a different situation, or have more experience in one walk of life or another, but they’re still humans none the less that deserve to be seen as such, and it’s here that Ball’s writing really wins points.

While Ball is opening up this world and dissecting it, he’s also showing us that there’s more to it, as well as life. Lester is the perfect example of this fact because, despite living a grudgingly boring, monotonous life, he’s finally woken-up, smelled the daises, and realized that over-priced couches are what matter most in life – it’s the people you love and the time you spend with them that do! That’s why, despite Lester seemingly doing a lot of downhill things, he’s still the heart and soul of this story who, no matter what decisions he may make throughout, we still support and sympathize with him because, quite frankly, we too want him to feel happier and embrace life more to its fullest.

And honestly, there isn’t a more perfect bit of casting for Lester Burnham than Kevin Spacey.

Spacey, even before American Beauty and definitely after, has always seemed like the smartest guy in every scene he’s in. There always seems to be something on his mind that he wants to blurt out, but he chooses not to, so as a way to keep to himself for his own personal enjoyment. That’s why Lester, before and after his transformation, always feels like a real person that we could actually meet; he understands that the world he’s been surrounded by isn’t “real” and isn’t worth getting sucked-up into. So, he goes against the tide and it’s hard to not be satisfied with everything he does.

Lester throws a plate against the wall; tries to have sex with his wife in the middle of the day; gets caught masturbating in the bed; quits his relatively fine paying-job, only to then take up as a fry-cook at a fast-food joint; buys off of and smokes pot with his neighbor; and above the rest, can’t help but have really hard feelings for his daughter’s friend. Once again, these may seem like choices an unlikable person would make, but because of the way Lester’s written, and the way Spacey portrays him so wonderfully, we’re constantly rooting for him.

So yeah, in a nutshell, Kevin Spacey definitely deserved the Oscar he won that year.

However, he isn’t the only one who puts stellar work in here.

Family dinners have never been so depressing.

Family dinners have never been so depressing.

Annette Bening may get a more of an over-the-top role to play, but because she’s so talented, is able to find certain shadings of humanity that makes us feel bad for her, even if we don’t whole heartedly wish her to be quite as happy as Lester. Thora Birch, despite playing a misanthropic teen a whole lot better a few years later in Ghost World, is still great here as Jane, Lester and Carolyn’s kid who just wants nothing more than for them to stop embarrassing the hell out of her and leave her be. While some of her line-reads are a bit awkward, it works for her character because, like most teens her age, they’re socially awkward as hell. Mena Suvari’s Angela is also a very interesting character because while she is, in ways, a preppy, popular girl, she still hangs around with Jane. Sure, some of this may to make herself feel better, but whatever it is, it doesn’t feel wholly fake or unbelievable, which is why when the character does get a nice dose of reality, it feels deserved and helps allow us to understand this character a bit more.

And yeah, there’s also Wes Bentley as the weird kid next door who, in all honesty, may not be all that weird, Ricky. Bentley has that perfect blend between being both incredibly off-kilter, but also, like Spacey, seem like the smartest dude in the room who is just waiting for that mic to drop down from the sky, so he can just air out all of his thoughts. He and Birch have a nice little chemistry between one another that’s a big part of the movie, but also doesn’t take it over too much to where it’s just a romance about teenagers and that’s it. Though I can’t say the same for Birch, it’s nice to see Bentley back to doing movies and showing the world just the type of talent that he still is, even all these many years later.

Also, worth mentioning here is Chris Cooper who gets one of the more creepier roles in the flick as Ricky’s dad, Col. Frank Fitts. While Fitts is insanely strict dad, there’s also something about him that’s inherently interesting to sit by and watch; though he may over-do it, in no way does he feel like he’s being a bad dad, just over-protective. We come to understand more about this character and his history, but through it all, Cooper remains chilling and scary just about every second. Which makes us wonder more about Allison Janney’s wife character who, honestly, we still have no clue about these years later.

And there’s more to talk about, but honestly, the core cast here is excellent and worth chatting about.

But at the end of the day, what American Beauty represents about being alive is that it’s easy to follow the rules and do what everybody else is doing; in fact, there’s nothing really wrong with this. However, American Beauty also presents the idea of not just being a joyless, emotionless cog in the machine and instead, embracing life for the small things. The plastic-bag floating in the air may be a bit of a silly metaphor, but it’s one that’s still incredibly effective and iconic as well; while some may choose to follow life by a standard set of guidelines and rules, others choose to float freely and see where life takes them next. Whichever person you are, only you and you alone would know. So soak it all in and never take anything for granted.

And also, jam out to some of the Guess Who while you’re at it.

Consensus: For what it’s worth, American Beauty is a smart, often times, hilarious and insightful look into the lives of people we, initially, despise, but after awhile, learn to love, embrace, and sympathize with, much like life itself.

10 / 10

That's the future right there, everyone. Get used to it.

That’s the future right there, everyone. Get used to it.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Sleepers (1996)

Never mess with a hot-dog stand, kiddies.

Lorenzo “Shakes” Carcaterra (Jason Patric), Thomas “Tommy” Marcano (Billy Crudup), Michael Sullivan (Brad Pitt), and John Reilly (Ron Eldard), are all childhood friends from Hell’s Kitchen who, after many years, haven’t really kept in close contact. Most of this has to do with the fact that, when they were younger, they were all sent to a juvenile delinquent center, where they were both physically, as well as sexually abused by the wardens there. Many years later, one of those wardens (Kevin Bacon), gets shot and killed in a bar late one night and guess who the shooters allegedly are? Yup, John and Tommy. Seeing as how they’re buddies are in the right to have shot and killed the warden, Shakes and Michael concoct a plan: Get Michael to defend the dead warden and have their old local mafia gangster, pay-off a lawyer (Dustin Hoffman) who will do the job that needs to be done, where both John and Tommy shine in a positive light and aren’t convicted. However, moral dilemmas eventually sink in and make everybody rethink their decisions – not just in this one particular moment, however, but through their whole life in general.

Trust Dustin, guys. He knows what he's doing.

Trust Dustin, guys. He knows what he’s doing.

There was a constant feeling I had while watching Sleepers that made me think it was just so “movie-ish”. Like clearly, a case like this couldn’t ever be true – and if it was, it sure as heck didn’t deserve the oddly-sentimental tone that Barry Levinson gives it. Despite there being a chock full of talent both behind, as well as in front of the camera, Sleepers just never resonates, mostly due to the fact that it all feels too sensational and over-wrought – something I would expect material of this nature to be.

However, that isn’t to say that Sleepers is a bad movie, because it isn’t. For at least an hour or so, Sleepers is actually a smart, disturbing, and interesting coming-of-ager that doesn’t necessarily try to reinvent the wheel of the kinds of movies that have come before it, but at least put you in the same position of these characters, so that when they do all eventually get back together some odd years later, we’re already invested in them enough as is. When the kids are transported to the juvenile delinquent center, it’s made obvious that the movie’s going to get a whole lot more heavy and mean, and it still worked.

Though maybe the big reveal of having these kids sexually abused was a bit campy, it still worked because it added a certain sizzle to a story that, quite frankly, needed one. Whenever you put young kids and pedophiles in the same story, most often, the stories tend to get quite interesting and thankfully, that’s happening with Sleepers. While I sound terrible for typing what I just did there, it’s the absolute truth; in hindsight, Sleepers is two meh movies crammed into one, with one being a lot more gripping to watch, then the other. That’s not to say that the courtroom stuff of the later-half doesn’t bring about some form of excitement, but because it all feels so phony, it never quite works.

Now pedophiles being in-charge at juvenile delinquent centers? That’s something I can definitely believe in!

Still though, the later-half of the movie brings Sleepers down a whole bunch. For one, it’s hard to ever believe, not in a million years, or even in places like Syria, that there would be a case as blatantly perjured and/or one-sided as this. Sure, the movie tries to make it understandable that a public-defender could get away with doing something like this, so long as he kept-up appearances, but I don’t believe I heard Brad Pitt’s character stand-up and yell “Objection!” once. For the most part, he’s just sitting there, looking determined, tense and most of all, pretty. That’s what we expect from Brad Pitt, of course, but it doesn’t help make the case seem at all legit, even though the movie seems to be depending on that.

"I do solemnly swear to yell at Focker anymore."

“I do solemnly swear to yell at Focker anymore.”

Then, there’s Levinson’s direction that, honestly, is pretty odd. Though Levinson makes it clear that the boys killed a person that raped them when they were kids, the fact remains that they still killed plenty of other, probably innocent people. So, to just stand by them and say, “Well, that guy had it comin’ to him”, seems a bit weird; the guy whose death is being contested over was a bad person, but what about all of the others? What if these two guys are just, regardless of what happened to them when they were younger, bad apples that need to cause some sort of ruckus by killing others? Does that make them worthy of being stood-up for?

The movie never seems to make that decision and it’s a bit of a problem.

But, like I said, the cast on-deck is fine. It’s just unfortunate that most of them don’t have a great deal of heavy material to work with. Jason Patric and Brad Pitt both seem like they’re trying hard to make everybody take them seriously, but sadly, it just ends up with them being a bit dull. Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup, on the other hand, also don’t have much to do except just look mean, mad and ready to pull out a pistol at any second.

The more seasoned-pros of the cast do what they can, too, but as I said, they get lost a bit. Kevin Bacon is in full-on sicko mode that’s fun to see him playing around with, even though his character is quite the despicable human specimen; Dustin Hoffman gets some chances to shine as the inept lawyer of the case, which works because of how laid-back his persona is; and Robert De Niro, with the few scenes he gets, seems to inject some heart into this story that’s definitely needed. He doesn’t help push the movie over that cliff it so desperately seemed to be searching for, but he does the ticket just enough.

And that’s all any of us want from Bobby D, right?

Consensus: Sleepers is, essentially, two movies into a two-and-a-half-hour long one that is occasionally interesting, but ultimately, ends up seeming to silly to be believed in or compelled by.

6 / 10

Enjoy it while it lasts! Each one of your careers are going to go in some very different directions.

Enjoy it while it lasts! Each one of your careers are going to go in some very different directions.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Bugsy (1991)

BugsyposterBig-time gangsters need a little lovin’ too, people!

Benjamin “Don’t-Call-Me-Bugsy” Siegel was notorious for being one of the more profitable and powerful gangsters of his time. However, no matter how shady dealings he got involved with, no matter how many women he slept with, no matter how many people he killed, and no matter how much money he was able to gain, he still wanted to settle for a normal life, where he’d be able to come home to a loving, relaxing home where his kids, his wife, and their many nannies would be around, all having a great time. But it was a lot easier said then done, because of who Bugsy got in bed with – both literally and figuratively. On one hand, Bugsy was in business with the likes of Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) and Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley), two notorious figures in the mob world, and on the other hand, had a lady that he could not stop falling head-over-heels for in Virginia (Annette Bening). Eventually though, Bugsy decides that he wants to open up a casino in Las Vegas, but because of the mess that is his personal life, it starts to leak into his professional one, which ends up impacting his life and putting his name in the history books.

"I ain't cryin'!"

“I ain’t cryin’!”

Ever since Goodfellas came around and hit the big screens, the gangster film sub genre shook up quite a bit. No longer did we have these slow-burning, dramatic stories about gangsters’ plight and emotional problems that they constantly have to get through. Now, the stories were quick-as-a-button, fast, and always compelling, even if the characters themselves weren’t the most morally responsible people around. That’s not to say that in the time from the Godfather, to 1990, that there weren’t any solid gangster flicks being produced – it’s just that most of them seemed to be rolling the same way, without any one’s in particular identity being singled-out from the rest of the group.

Bugsy is, despite coming out nearly a year after Goodfellas, feels like that same step back.

Which, I guess, is sort of the point. Director Barry Levinson and writer James Toback seem to want to adapt Bugsy Siegel’s story in the same vein as a film would have been made back in the 1920’s. That is to say, everything looks great, sounds great, and feels great, but really, at the center of it all, isn’t all that much to really get involved with. It’s as if Levinson and Toback set out to make a party-of-a-flick and just like an actual party, when the alcohol dries up, the band ceases, and everybody leaves to get on with their real lives, there’s nothing really worth holding onto other than the good time everyone just had.

Bugsy, the movie, feels like the party ended awhile back and now we have some dude moping around and whining about he doesn’t get the respect he deserves because, well, he’s a gangster. However, he’s not just any gangster; he’s the violent one who goes around, shooting and killing people for supposedly robbing him, in front of dozens of others. And this isn’t a problem; that Bugsy is a bad guy who goes around, making shady dealings with all the more shady people, killing whoever he needs to kill, screwing whatever dames he sees fit, and earning as much money as humanly possible, makes the film something of an enjoyable watch.

But the fact that the movie tries to make Bugsy out as some sort of sympathetic figure, doesn’t really work. Not because it’s a disservice to this character in the first place, but because it never feels right or genuine. It’s as if Levinson and Toback were so entranced with the legend of Busgy, that they forgot that maybe all of those people he killed, probably didn’t always deserve it. Still though, we hardly ever see the movie trying to make an actual flawed human being out of Bugsy – he’s still just a dude who makes a lot of money, cheats on his wife, and kills whoever gets in his way of more money.

You know, what we always want with our nice guys.

This is all to say that because Bugsy himself is so unlikable and morally reprehensible, no matter how hard he tries to go “legit”, makes the movie feel like a bit of a slog. We get countless scenes where Bugsy seems to be doing certain things that only benefit himself and honestly, it’s hard to ever care; though we know how the story ends, there’s still no tension or anticipation in how he makes these deals come to fruition. We’re just sitting around in our underwear and Cheetos-covered t-shirts, watching as some handsome ladies-man make more money than we can ever dream of.

Just pull the trigger already! Make things interesting!

Just pull the trigger already! Make things interesting!

Is it ever fun to watch? No.

Should it be? Well, as Scorsese showed us, it sure as hell can be.

And even despite the cast’s many attempts, Bugsy never materializes to being much other than just a biopic with limited heart and humanity. Warren Beatty fits perfectly as Bugsy, but also seems like he’s doing the same kind of role he’s inhabited before, except this time, just as a notorious figure in mob history. Annette Bening seems to be having fun as Virginia, Bugsy’s lover, and actually steals a few scenes away from the rest of the dudes around her. It’s probably no surprise that Beatty and Bening share wonderful chemistry here, but really, they’re what saves this movie; you believe every second that they have together. Whether it’s fighting, banging, loving, and/or talking, you believe that these two would fine one another, fall in love and try to make ends meet for the rest of their days together.

Though I think Bening and Beatty’s real life love story will have a better ending than it does here.

Consensus: Despite it looking, sounding and featuring pretty people, Bugsy never makes a strong enough case for giving its subject a two-hour-long biopic with the heart and compassion of a rock.

5.5 / 10

Nice car. Nice guy. Nice, aw who cares.

Nice car. Nice guy. Nice, aw who cares.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Shallow Grave (1995)

ShallowposterThere’s more to life than friends. Like money, baby!

Three ordinary, middle-class friends (Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox, Ewan McGregor) all share a flat together and, generally, seem to be having a good time. However, they’re are in search for a flat-mate who they can hopefully sponge off of when the time comes around. They search through some – most of whom, they make fun of and tease for being lame – until they eventually settle on a person that they feel safe enough to have around in the house. This silent man (Keith Allen) eventually settles in and, wouldn’t you know it? Within a day of his residency, the dude’s already OD’ed on a bunch drugs, leaving behind his naked-body, his belongings, and most importantly, a briefcase full of cold hard cash. Seeing as how they don’t want to lose the money, the three pals decide to get rid of the man by dismembering him and burying what’s left of the body. Surely, they think this is a smart idea that will leave them alone with nobody else, but themselves and all of the money they get a chance to spend, right? Well, time begins to roll on and it becomes clear that the money’s starting to change these friends for the worst, and will continue to do so, until it’s probably too late.

"Can't a man get a little privacy every once and awhile!"

“Can’t a man get a little privacy every once and awhile!”

It’s difficult to judge a director’s debut after having seen everything else they’ve had to bring to the table. Especially when that director’s Danny Boyle. Because obviously, in the past two decades or so, Boyle has turned out to be one of the most vibrant, exciting and interesting directors on this planet. Not only does he find new stories to work with, he also never seems to make the same movie twice. While most may seem like they’re going to be one thing, all of a sudden, about half-way through, Boyle himself decides that he’s bored and switches up genres.

This is the Danny Boyle us movie-fanatics have all come to know and love, which is why it’s a bit of a shame to look at his first film and realize that, well, he wasn’t always this great?

Sure, the Beach is a perfect example of Boyle-gone-wrong, but Shallow Grave still stands as his first film. So, with that said, yeah, it’s pretty messy. Like I mentioned before about Boyle liking to change genres up about half-way through his flicks, he does so here, but it’s not all that effective, nor is it really believable. That these three characters are as normal, plain and simple as you can get, the fact that they start to turn into wild, crazy and downright evil loonies, doesn’t make all that much sense. It would make sense if the movie ever made a mention of any of these character’s having something of a dark history or past, but because Boyle doesn’t seem all that interested in actually giving us a chance to know who these characters are, it just seems random and as if Boyle had a premise he needed to fulfill.

This isn’t to say that Boyle doesn’t make Shallow Grave worth watching, or better yet, fun, but after awhile, the style can run a bit deep. The camera, as expected from Boyle by now, zooms, runs, flies, and jumps all around scenes, and also gives plenty of beautiful moments that only the eyes of Boyle could have found. There’s a certain creepiness to the way the outside world is shown in such brooding darkness, that when we do eventually find ourselves in these people’s bright, shiny and lovely-looking apartment, it’s effective. It does drive home the point that Boyle wants to make with this story about how rich, fame and fortune can make anybody sell their souls and turn evil, but that falls on deaf-ears once all of the blood and gore comes around in the final-act.

Nobody in the cast is really to be blamed for that much, either.

Imagine those kids living on top of you.

Imagine those kids living on top of you.

It’s nice to see Eccleston, Fox and McGregor in such early, fresh-faced roles, but they do seem as if they’re trying to compensate for some of the script’s problems. Though these characters are mostly obnoxious, self-centered and unlikable, doesn’t mean that the movie itself has to be bad; there are loads of movies that focus in on/revolve around mean, nasty characters and yet, still work. However, the difference between these characters is that we never get to see anymore light shine through them than just what Boyle’s presenting. We have an idea of who these characters are early on, but eventually, the alliances start to change, revelations are made clear, and people start getting hurt. When this all begins to happen, too, there’s supposed to be a feeling of some sort of emotional or remorse for what’s about to happen, but because we don’t really get a chance to find out who it is that these characters actually are, makes all of the bloodshed feel empty.

And once again, this isn’t to say that Shallow Grave is a bad film by any chance; that it’s a movie made by the hands of Danny Boyle already puts it higher on the list of most other films. But, having seen what he’s been able to do with such solid flicks like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, Sunshine (or at least half of it, anyway), 127 Hours, Trance, and hell, even the Olympics’ opening-ceremony, it makes this movie pale a lot more in comparison. He was a first-time director trying to hone his craft, work his own sense of style and make sense of it, which definitely makes the movie an interesting one to watch, but by the same token, also makes you happy that Boyle eventually got his act together not too long after this.

Although, yeah, the Beach is a terrible movie.

That’s something I will always stand by.

Consensus: Seeing as how it was his directorial-debut, Shallow Grave remains an interesting, albeit mildly interesting picture in Danny Boyle’s filmography, although it’s clear that he had to brush up on his skills quite a bit.

6 / 10

"The more champagne, the merrier", somebody has had to say.

“The more champagne, the merrier”, somebody has had to say.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Twin Falls Idaho (1999)

Brothers can be so clingy, sometimes.

Penny (Michele Hicks) is a hooker who gets dropped off in front of a shady-looking motel in Twin Falls, Idaho. Though Penny has no idea what she’s getting herself into, she sure as heck couldn’t have expected to stumble upon her two customers being who they are: Conjoined twins named Blake and Francis (Mark and Michael Polish). Initially, Penny storms out because Blake and Francis are only something she’s heard of, but never actually seen in real life. But, Penny soon remembers that she needs to go back and get her purse, which is where she apologizes to both Blake and Francis, in hopes that she’ll at least end the deal on somewhat good terms, even if she isn’t actually going to go through with “the deed”. However, for Penny, she sees Blake and Francis as two guys that she can help out and get to be more sociable with the world around them; even if they all know that it’s hard to actually believe that the rest of the world would actually accept them for they who are, and not look at them as some sort of circus freaks who wandered off. This is where Penny, Blake and Francis learn more about one another and grow closer, even if the rest of society can’t help but turn their heads.

How I imagine every guy acts whenever Michele Hicks enters a room.

How I imagine every guy acts whenever Michele Hicks enters a room.

There’s not much of a plot to Twin Falls Idaho. And you know what? That’s okay. While Mark and Michael Polish seem to try a little too hard to draw some sort of over-aching story to this movie, in a means of keeping things rolling, anything resembling a story-line is far from what they really care about. Instead, the Polish brothers would much rather like to focus on these characters, their odd quirks, intricacies, and lives that, in all honesty, probably wouldn’t have gotten the same kind of front-and-center attention in much larger, more mainstream pieces.

Except if your name is David Lynch and even then, I don’t know if you can consider him “mainstream”.

Either way, Twin Falls Idaho works well because it has a heart carrying it along. The plot, like I said before, tries to be something more than what it is (aka, filler), but once you get past all that, you realize that the Polish brothers do seem to care about these characters and how they interact with one another. Obviously, the lives of Blake and Francis are tragic enough to take over a whole movie as is, but the Polish bros. also incorporate Penny’s story which is definitely just as important to keeping the central main-frame noticeable.

Through Penny, we see how Blake and Francis get by, even despite their situation. Because they are literally attached at hip, there’s no need for the other to yell or scream what the other has to say – quite simply, they just murmur. And eventually, we find out that one has a weaker heart than the other, therefore, making it absolutely essential that the healthy one stays alive and well, or else it’s goodnight for the other. While the subject of surgery does come up quite a number of times, the movie doesn’t set out to use it as a way that shows just how wonderful life can get for these two if they just break apart; sure, it would be a bit of a better convenience, but it’s something that they’ve been living with for so long, that they aren’t setting out for that kind of treatment.

It should be noted, too, that even though the Polish bros. may not be the most talented actors around, they still do solid jobs here and seem like they genuinely have the sort of chemistry that two twins in their situation, would definitely have. They’d bicker and bite at one another, but at the end of the day, they’re all that the other’s got, so it makes sense that they’d get along and love the other. Though it can be a bit hard to tell the other apart, because they truly are identical, it soon becomes clear that one has more to work with than the other and that’s fine, too. Neither actor is bad, nor good, they’re just fine.

No. This is not a TLC documentary.

No. This is not a TLC documentary.

As well as they should be! They wrote the damn movie, after all!

Michele Hicks, who some would probably know a whole lot better from her days on the Shield, does a good job as Penny, showing that there’s more of a heart and shred of humanity to this character than we’d expect from what she does for a living. So yeah, basically, Hicks plays the “hooker with the heart of gold” cliche portrayed in these types of movies, but there’s a tiny understatement to the way this character is played and written, that makes it seem less noticeable. Though she’s the one pushing these guys out the door and into the rest of the Earth’s populations eyes, they’re still the ones who have some growing up and understanding to do on their own – she doesn’t help them, nor does she need to.

And it should be noted that Twin Falls Idaho isn’t constantly trying to be a sappy inspirational-tale of over-coming one’s disadvantages. While one person could definitely grab that from having seen this movie, it’s more about actually enjoying the life you’ve got, while you’ve got it, and not really worrying about who may push you back in the shadows. People will point, whisper and take pictures, but at the end of the day, it’s how you care and experience life that makes the world around you better.

Okay, so maybe it is a bit sappy.

Consensus: Despite an over-reliance on plot, Twin Falls Idaho still works as an odd, but heartfelt slice of life that we don’t usually see get the light of day, unless it’s for harsh laughs or horror.

7 / 10

Seriously! Which one is which?

Seriously! Which one is which?

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Movie Channel

Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)

It’s like they always say, “If you can’t make it in bed, you can’t make it in life.”

Jason Patric, Ben Stiller, and Aaron Eckhart play a trio of pals who regularly get together and talk about sex and/or women, but they all have their own personal lives that somehow find their ways of mashing together. Stiller is having problems with his gal-pal (Catherine Keener), who just so happens to be finding her own lust with a fellow lady (Natassja Kinski); Eckhart is also having similar problems with his woman (Amy Brenneman), minus the whole lesbian-angle; and Patric is just enjoying his life as a total, misogynistic stud that gets what he wants, how he wants it, and doesn’t give a flyin’ hoot about what anybody thinks.

Basically, he’s portraying me.

No matter what Neil LaBute may be talking about and whether or not you agree with what he says or not, there is still one element about each of his films that cannot be argued: They are incredibly well-written. Such as is the case here where not only do we get a plainer look and view inside the world of sexual-politics, but an even plainer one at the world of relationships, whether they be same-sex or opposite sex. Basically, what it seems like LaBute is trying to say here, is that all people, regardless of what different walks of life they may have come from, still can never, ever be alone and still walk through the motions of life, without ever really taking anything in or actually feeling genuine. Why? Well, because people, as a whole, are weak and hate it when they’re alone.

Yup, total lesbians.

Yup, total lesbians.

Maybe that’s me reading into the material, or maybe that’s exactly what LaBute’s actually going for, but either way, it’s all very bleak and depressing. Although, LaBute knows this and gives us something to hold onto with rich characters that may not be the nicest of people out on-display, but are still people that you feel like you could meet a book-store (whichever ones still exist), go out for coffee, chit-chat for a bit about life, love, and all of the finer things, end the conversation, exchange numbers, and never have contact with again. The reason for that being is just because they just seem too terrible or inhumane to surround yourself with.

Yet, they are all still watchable and easy to connect with, even if they don’t always seem like the ones with the biggest heart.

Take, for instance, Ben Stiller’s black hearted-role here as Jerry, may make it seem as if the guy is trying to stretch out his acting muscles and see what he can do when there’s more depth to his act than just goofy voices and faces, but it’s more or less the same act around, just this time: More cursing and screwing. Stiller does the usual awkward, nerdy-shtick and as much as it may work for his character, it’s still terribly annoying to have to watch, let alone listen to and it makes you feel utterly no sympathy for the guy whatsoever. Then again, that’s probably the point to begin with, so if anything, it’s more of a strength.

Aaron Eckhart, on the other hand, is doing something completely different from what we saw with him from In the Company of Men. Not only because he put on so much weight to really fit the role of the insecure, middle-aged man, but because he was so sympathetic and likable, whereas in Men, he was a total and complete dick you didn’t give a single crap about. Eckhart’s character is such a bone-headed doofuss, that you really do feel terrible for him and just want to give him a big old hug, just in hopes that he will at least put a smile on and be able to sustain an erection for his lady. Shows that the guy has some range as an actor, while also giving us a look at the nicest, most-endearing character of them all.

And trust me, that’s saying a lot.

The best out of the trio of dudes is Jason Patric, as the misogynistic, nasty lady-slayer (not literally, mind you) that seems to get along with virtually no one, yet, always finds people to be around him and even better, still finds gals in his bed. Patric is so amazing here because he always seems like the guy who really knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t care about whether or not you believe him on anything he says. He’s just doing him, and it’s great to not only see that in a character actor of high-prestige like Patric, but to also see that in a character in general. There are a couple of scenes where he really releases all hell on these people around him and not only does it make you feel as if he’s the type of guy you would never want to be stuck inside of an elevator with, but also the type of guy you don’t want in your life, mostly because he’ll just call you out on all of your dirty laundry. Patric is by-far the stand-out of this whole movie and completely owns every scene he has.

Outside of the men's locker room, problems never arise. But inside, that's where all the hell breaks loose.

Outside of the men’s locker room, problems never arise. But inside, that’s where all the hell breaks loose.

However, the guys seem to be the ones who get the most attention out of LaBute, as the gals don’t really seem to get all that much love, despite them all being pretty damn good with what they do. Catherine Keener’s character seems terribly bitchy and blunt, but also seems a bit like the voice of reason that you need in a movie like this, where not only everybody is at each other’s jugulars, but also where everybody seems to be talking a bit too much for sore ears. Playing her lesbo-lover is Natassja Kinski and is okay with what she’s given, but still seems one-dimensional and more or less just given a role to fulfill the non-stop quirk of there being a scene where almost every character goes up to a piece of art, asks the same questions, and gives their critique on it. Like Kinski, Amy Brenneman does fine with her role, but she’s almost too moody to be taken in as anyone, let alone an actual, three-dimensional character in a movie like this.

So, yeah. Here, it seems like maybe LaBute drops the ball a bit on presenting fully-layered women characters, as opposed to the men.

But don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Consensus: Like most of LaBute’s flicks, Your Friends & Neighbors features a solid cast working with some mean, nasty and grueling stuff, even if not all of it feels as powerful as his debut.

8.5 / 10

This scene will make you want to go to the library. Yes, it's that awesome.

This scene will make you want to go to the library. That is, if you can find one.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

In the Company of Men (1997)

Yup. This is how us dudes think.

Two male co-workers, Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy), are both angry and frustrated with women. So much so that they get to a point where they feel the need to plot and toy maliciously with the emotions of a deaf female subordinate Christine (Stacy Edwards). Something that, at first, plays out like a terrible, mean-spirited game, but eventually, turns into something far more serious and romantic for Howard.

If you go into a Neil LaBute movie, chances are, you know what to expect. His movies are mean, nasty, and most of all, angry. However, you can’t hate them if they’re, well, for the most part, well-done and written.

And sadly, that’s exactly what In the Company of Men, his directorial debut, is.

He's terrible.

He’s terrible.

The premise, right away, will turn most people away. Yes, it’s a cruel joke that two guys literally come up with after a night of shooting the shit and coming to realize that maybe women are all terrible and deserve to be manipulated and treated like crap. This is something that will most likely have audiences out of the film before the ten-minute mark and as well as they should be. There is some real painful stuff to be had here and when you see the grand scheme of things, it’s even worse. But somehow, LaBute makes it work.

Granted, this whole film is basically just one whole conversation after another that just so happens to be stretched-out to an hour-and-37-minutes. That would seem terribly boring for some, but with a screenplay like LaBute’s, it’s anything but. Every character here has an agenda, an idea, and their own way of speaking to one another. Some are shy, some are nervous, some are dicks, and some are just plain and simple people, but either way, you’ll notice that in this film, everybody is different from one another by the way they act and speak to one another, but yet, still have the same thoughts on most things as well. In a way, it’s exactly like a play (something that, obviously, LaBute specializes in), but it never feels too talky or meandering like some plays-turned-to-movies can occasionally feel.

As for being a huge piece of misogyny at it’s finest, I don’t really think that was LaBute’s aim and it shows. This whole film is definitely considered as one big cruel joke that goes on for way too long, but it isn’t the idea of these two dudes manipulating a deaf girl is what gets me, it’s the fact that LaBute is still able to bring some heart and depth out of these characters while they are doing so. If you look at it from afar, everybody in this film gets hurt in one way or another, and that’s sort of how life is. No matter who you may hurt, another person always gets hurt, and you’ll most likely get hurt once again later in life.

It’s some deep stuff, even if there is a deaf girl at the center getting toyed around with.

And just to show you how terrible and disgusting men can be, ladies, just take a look at the finest specimen/example to-date: Chad. Aaron Eckhart plays the mother of all slime-balls everywhere as Chad and from beginning-to-end is exactly what all girls think they see in the quintessential dick-head. Full of himself, powerful, angry, never nice, rude, manipulative, and most of all, just plain evil. But you know what’s even worse about that idea? It’s actually true because there are guys out there in the world that are just like Chad, and are just as hell-bent on showing the type of control they have over somebody and their emotions. Eckhart is almost too perfect in this role because the guy always feels like he knows what he’s doing, never makes a mistake about it, and rarely ever apologizes for doing so. You’ll come to hate this guy’s guts, but you can’t take your eyes off of him and there’s something inherently compelling about that. We all know people that are just like Chad and you know what? As much as we may hate them, they still never cease to amaze us with just how far they’re willing to go.

He's fine.

He’s fine.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, playing his buddy/partner-in-crime is one of my favorite character actors ever, Matt Malloy. Malloy’s Howard is definitely the far more sympathetic one out of the duo as it seems like he genuinely does not care for this experiment, but is just participating in it to appear “cool ” in front of the eyes of Chad. It’s terrible to think that someone would actually want to stoop down to Chad’s level, but LaBute makes a pretty clear case in Howard; not just by showing that he’s still heart-broken over a recent break-up, but that he’s not exactly the one dude you call up for beers and to talk about sports. He’s much more sensitive and in-tune with his feelings, which makes his dates with Christine all the more interesting and, honestly, sad.

Then, slap-dab in the middle all these guys is Stacy Edwards as Christine, the deaf co-worker. Edwards is beautiful – there’s no denying that one bit. However, it works well for the character in that it doesn’t really matter that she is, or isn’t deaf; she’s still got something of a lovely personality and seems to genuinely care for those in her life. This makes it all the more painful and hard to watch when it becomes awfully clear that she’s falling for one of these guys more than the other and is just getting her heart tripped-up all the more. Edwards does a perfect job with this character (even despite not being deaf), but it’s LaBute who I definitely think deserves credit for the handling of this character.

LaBute catches a lot of flack for not writing his female characters as strongly as his male characters, but in this case, I think they’re wrong. For one, there’s more to Christine than just being “the deaf girl”. She’s fun to be around, enthused about life, and simply put, doesn’t ask for any sympathy concerning her situation. She’s just happy to be around people who make her happy and is taking full pride in having two men in her life, that are actually interested in her. That’s what makes it all the more upsetting to think about what’s to come.

Because we all know that there’s just no chance in this ending well for anyone.

Except for, well, Chad of course. That dick.

Consensus: In every sense of the genre, In the Company of Men is a horror movie without any murder, blood, or monsters, but with three solid performances and a whole lot of insight into how the human brain works for all sorts of different men out there, whether anyone’s willing to admit it or not.

9 / 10

She's great. But man oh man, do I just want to give her a hug.

She’s great. But man oh man, do I just want to give her a hug.

Photos Courtesy of: Werewolves on the Moon

Arlington Road (1999)

That guy who walks his dog around at 4 a.m.? Yeah, I’m going to stay away from him from now on.

Human-terrorist professor Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) saves a little boy from an incident that practically burned off most of his hand. The boy’s parents, Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack), are ever more than grateful for this and want nothing more than to repay him any way they can. They are always there for him when he needs help, some food, some company, a friend in need, or any sort of need in the world. However, Faraday is a pretty damaged guy who lost his wife after a botched FBI investigation so maybe he can’t handle all of this love and smothering just yet. Or maybe, he’s just a little too suspicious by the way these two neighbors of him have been acting. They’re friendly, but are they too friendly? And if they are “too friendly”, then why is that and just what do they have up their sleeves?

Believe it or not, as much as this flick continues to get forgotten about in today’s day and age, it was pretty ahead of it’s time being released in the summer of ’99. See, this was a time before 9/11, where films could actually talk openly and discuss the art of terrorism, how to find it right away, and where it can be most discovered, something that no film could do nowadays. Or if they could, they have to water it down to the point of where it offends almost nobody who may be caught watching it. That doesn’t make the film any more memorable or significant to the world of films, but it does bring up some suspicions about how we as a society acted around this time, when the thought of terrorists attacking us and some of our most secured destinations would be simply implausible.

"The neighbors, they're putting their trash cans on the side-walk. What the hell?"

“The neighbors, they’re putting their trash cans on the side-walk. What the hell?”

In fact, that’s what some of the reviews for this movie called it: “Implausible”. It seems that people couldn’t quite believe that a family who seems like your ordinary, type-of-folk would actually be suspected of terrorism to such a harsh extent that even the most easy-going neighbor would be going nutso in his nutshell about it. Back in ’99, this probably wasn’t something you heard about all too often or even thought about for that matter, but in the 21st Century, after all that we’ve been through as a country and society; it feels all too much of a common-place. But as I said, that doesn’t make the flick any more memorable or perfect, it just brings up a lot of questions and thoughts about our country back in the days of when this came out.

So with all of that gibber-jabber out of the way, back to the movie.

I have to say, right from the beginning of this flick I wasn’t expecting much other than another, run-of-the-mill thriller that would have me tense and on the edge of my seat, but only for a little bit once I began to know that everything was going to turn out exactly as I suspected. However, that’s not at all what happened. Instead, the movie started off going through the motions like I expected, but then totally changed itself up once a big reveal about half-way through came to prominence, and the premise itself picked right up to the point of where I had no clue where this thing could have gone. It feels like a Hitchcock type of thriller, but it’s a lot more paranoid in the sense that we have know idea what the hell these neighbors are up to, just like Michael doesn’t either. We see everything over his shoulder and through his eyes, and nobody else’s.

That means that every piece of information that he gathers, we gather as well and whatever doesn’t seem right and a little sticky in the mind, we feel as well. These types of thrillers can work because they place you inside the mind of a person who isn’t too sure that he sees everything that’s going on, but just enough to make up his own conclusions. That also brings up the idea is whether or not everything he’s coming up with is actually true. Who knows if these neighbors are terrorists, planning another attack somewhere, or if they were terrorists at all to begin with and Michael just needs a release from his on-going days of paranoia and tension about his wife’s death, and the anger he still feels against those who caused it. You don’t quite know what to believe, just like Michael doesn’t either, which makes it all the more scarier when you take into consideration that anything could happen, at any second.

With that said, it gives us more pleasure to watch a fine actor like Jeff Bridges really work his ass off with this script, especially because the guy has to go through some pretty strange areas with it, but like the class-act that he is, pulls it off perfectly. His character is a bit of a nut-job, who still can’t get over the death of his wife after three years and goes on terrifying rants about terrorists and about being against the federal government, but Bridges gives him more sympathy and more dimensions than just that, which makes it easier for us to actually care for him when it seems like him versus the world. Or, in this case: Versus the “alleged” terrorist neighbors. Hope Davis plays a former-college grad of his that somehow winds up in his bed after his wife’s death which may raise some eyebrows for some, but she plays it off very well and seems like the voice of reason, even when everything else seems to go on a little bit too cuckoo for Coco Puffs.

"FBI? Yeah, I got two friendly neighbors here that just made me cookies, should I take a bite or not?

“FBI? Yeah, I got two friendly neighbors here that just made me cookies, should I take a bite or not?

On the opposite end of the weirdness is Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack as Oliver and Cheryl Lang. Robbins is good as this weirdo that’s able to turn on the charm, but also show something sinister about his act the very next second, but play it off so cool and calm that you don’t know which persona is the real him. Is he naturally crazy? Or, is he just a good guy that’s pushed to the brink of insanity and is continuing to try and snap back to reality? You never know with the guy, and that’s because Robbins is so good with this role, that we never do know or find out. Cusack doesn’t fair so well as his wifey-poo, but that’s mainly because she isn’t given much else to do with this script other than look all nice, sweet, and wholesome, almost to the point of where it’s a little too much for one’s own good.

Still though, I can’t end this review without at least giving some credit to the way that this movie ended, which is uncommon for even the grimmest, Hollywood productions. I won’t give too much away, but just expect to leave with a bit of a sour taste in your mouth, whether you want to or not. It’s going to happen, as it’s still happening to me. Something that will never, ever happen again in today’s world, and wouldn’t even get past the Board of Directors. Now that’s something at least worth remembering.

Consensus: Arlington Road is a weird movie, filled with cook-balls, nuts, and random occurrences, but is also very tense, suspenseful, and mysterious, up to the final shot where most of you may leave satisfied or unhappy by what the hell just happened.

7.5 / 10

"You like bats? Well, keep on calling me a "terrorist", you'll be one. Intimidating enough?"

“You like bats? Well, keep on calling me a “terrorist”, you’ll be one. Intimidating enough?”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Wild Things (1998)

Drunk, alone, and horny? Turn this one on and you’ll have a new best friend.

Two high-school girls (Denise Richards and Neve Campbell) accuse their teacher (Matt Dillon) of raping them on two separate occasions. The guy tries his hardest to defend himself against this terrible case, but it’s not quite as it seems as we see from detective Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon). Even if Duquette himself may be up to no good, either.

To be honest, the only real reason this film is as popular as it once was (and maybe still is), was all because of the infamous threesome and a rare dong-shot all being placed in a big, Hollywood production. Not that there’s necessarily anything daring about two girls and a guy engaging some hot, steamy sex, or even a slight shot of some male genitalia, but being that this was a pretty big movie, it created quite the stir. But is there more here to at least enjoy other than that threesome?

Yeah, but not too much.

Former Bond girl there, folks!

Former Bond girl there, folks!

It’s been awhile since the last time I saw a whodunit and Wild Things is a classic example of a whodunit that’s made to just keep on getting more and more ridiculous as it runs along. The script, for one, is probably not the best out there and can seem really lazy at points. You would expect a sexy little thriller like this to have some ultra-sexxed up dialogue that ladies would be quoting to dudes everywhere, but instead, it just comes off like a corny B-movie flick that goes through the motions with all of it’s dialogue. So, basically everything you’d expect from your ordinary B-movie, you get here and it’s sometimes hard to watch and enjoy because it’s so damn laughable at points. Now, there is a certain thing to be said about that and that’s how I actually found myself having fun with it but still, when everybody is serious and you are pretty much the only one laughing, you have to feel like something was missing here or that these people just weren’t in on the joke. I think I choose both.

As for the little plot twists that seem to come out of nowhere, they’re okay and actually make this story a bit interesting. Since there are so many plot twists to be had here, you can’t help but think that the film sort of loses itself with being a bit too over-exaggerated with itself, but it at least creates a tense mood to surround everything. Some of the twists took me by surprise, and some of them still took me by surprise, but after awhile I started to think about them and realize that they made absolutely no sense to the story at all and may have just been thrown in there for shits and gigs after all. Hey, I’m all down for a couple of neat plot twists here and there to spice up the story, but don’t make it overkill!

Then, there is, of course, the infamous threesome which will probably go down as the film’s biggest claim to fame and I will cut it some slack on, because it’s pretty freakin’ hot.

Usually when I watch films when some raunchy sex scenes are happening right in front of me, I don’t really feel anything since I know that they’re all fake and they aren’t really engaging in any sorts of sex with each other. But for some odd reason, with Wild Things, it all felt too real and it was just as hot and sexy as I remembered it being all those years ago around the first time I watched it. I won’t comment on the infamous dong scene but for all of the ladies out there, you got your six degrees of Bacon, alright!

"What did you say about the Following possibly getting cancelled?"

“What did you say about the Following possibly getting cancelled?”

Speaking of Kevin Bacon (and getting away from his actual Bacon!), he’s actually the best out of the whole main cast because the guy can sell any role no matter what he has to do and you can almost feel like this guy was just laughing at everybody else’s acting in the film by how laughable they can all be. Those ones I’m talking about are Matt Dillon and Denise Richards who could be placed in the “so bad, they’re good” category for the respective performances they give off here. Dillon plays up that macho, hammy bullshit dude that nobody likes and the whole film, just seems like he’s phoning it in from start-to-finish where you don’t really see this guy being an evil genius, you just see him being a total schmuck. Then, you got Denise Richards who is terrible in this role as the main high school girl who starts all of this drama and deliver every line of dialogue as if it were a self-serious soap opera, but without any slight wink to the audience. Dillon has barely any of that, but at least some, as opposed to Richards being such a dull presence to begin with, the fun sort of get sucked-out.

Though these two are pretty bad at what they do here, they don’t fully bring the ship down and leave everybody else to dry. Neve Campbell at least has some nice touches with her sympathetic character that got the best treatment out of everybody here, but still somehow seems like she gets the short end of the stick at the end. But as good as she is, she stands nowhere near to how great Bill Murray is as Dillon’s ambulance-chasing attorney that absolutely takes the film’s script, wipes his greasy hands all over it, and leaves some sort of particles that make the film a whole lot more entertaining whenever he’s up on-screen. I’ve said it many, many times before, but Bill Murray is the freakin’ man and whenever the guy isn’t out chillin’ with RZA, or playing a zombie, the guy can still take small roles like these and make them the most memorable due to that perfect comedic-timing.

Makes me wish he was in the film more, but hey, I guess that’s why we all love Bill Murray in the first place.

Consensus: While it’s hot and steamy for sure, Wild Things does get a bit too bogged-down by its own plot-twists, to make this campy-ride feel like one that’s a bit too rampant and wild for its own good.

5.5 / 10

Keep being you, Bill.

Keep being you, Bill.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDB, Premiere.Fr

Donnie Brasco (1997)

Forget about it?

New York mobster Lefty (Al Pacino) walks into his usual diner, starts talking up a storm with some guy named “Don the Jeweler” (Johnny Depp), figures out that the ring he just bought his girlfriend was a Fugazi, takes him out to find the guy, gets his money back, and badda-bing, badda-boom, the deal is done. However, Lefty doesn’t want to just say “bye” to Don and be done with him forever – he wants him to be apart of his mob, walk him through the ranks so that one day, Donnie will be the new crime boss that everybody obeys and looks up to. Donnie has those aspirations too, but the problem is that his real name is Joseph Pistone and he’s not all that he seems to be. Rather, he’s an FBI informant that’s been working the streets for about two years now, and he’s getting more and more tied into this underground life, and leaving his other life, the one with his wife (Anne Heche) and kids, on the back-burner as if it almost doesn’t exist.

I honestly could not tell you how many times I’ve seen this movie. I want to say the perfect, rounded-up amount is probably ten-and-a-half times, but I can’t be too sure because it’s probably a whole lot more than what I can remember. Hell, probably a couple of drunken-views may have happened in there as well. Either way, whatever the total amount is, doesn’t matter, because each and every time I’ve watched this flick, not only have I liked it even more, but I get to see more and more about it, especially since, as a film fanatic, my eyes have been opened a bit wider to what makes a movie work, and what doesn’t.

"Ew, fugetaboutit!"

“Ew, fugetaboutit!”

However, I still have yet to call this movie a “favorite” of mine, and here’s exactly why: The problem I have with this movie is that, after all of the times I’ve seen this and plenty other movies of the same nature, I’ve come to realize that the “FBI-informant” story has all been dead by now. We get it; whenever you take a regular, FBI agent, throw him into a world where he has to have that one identity and nothing else, then most likely, that dude’s going to get thrown in there too deep. It’s what we see with every undercover-cop flick, and it doesn’t make it all the better or more original. It’s just there.

But there is that one aspect to this movie that makes that problem sort of go away: The drama involved here between the characters and the situation we have on our hands here. Everybody in this flick is essentially a cliché of what it’s like to be apart of the mob. Greased, slicked-back hair? Check. A bunch of Italian, mobster slang used that makes no sense? Double check. Paying for a coffee or a drink with a wad of cash? Way too many checks. An over-the-top scene of an act of violence to prove how much you do not want to get all tangled-up in with the mob? You got it. People getting whacked? Well now, would it be a mobster movie if it didn’t at least have one or two or more scenes that include that act?

I’ll allow for that last, hypothetical question to rest in your mind.

So, with all of that said, you see where I’m going with this? If not, follow through. The aspect behind this movie that makes it work, despite all of the obvious conventions and happenings of the usual mobster movie, is that there’s actual, real-life emotion involved with this story and the characters that inhabit it. Rather than making Joe, or “Donnie”, the type of FBI informant that’s way too in over his head, is a bit of a bastard for throwing his family to the side and focusing a little bit too much attention on the task at hand, the movie shows him off as being a troubled-soul, yet, one that knows what mission he has to complete, and to do it by any means necessary. Sure, he has to get his hands dirty a couple of times and may even have to pull off some risky moves of his own, but he knows that he has to get the job done and the movie paints him more as a regular-guy, who just so happened to stick to his guns, in more ways than one. I don’t want to call him a “hero” per se, but I do want to call him an inspiration to most people who feel like they can’t go through something because the shit’s too deep or too dangerous. And I’m not just talking about FBI informants – I’m talking about anybody, dammit!

Then, something strange with this movie begins to happen: You start to feel a bit wrapped-up in this world just as much as Joe does. Once Joe realizes that not all of these mobster-figures are as bad or as dastardly as they may seem from the outside, he begins to wonder whether or not he should fully go through with it, and if he does decide to actually say, “Yeah, arrest all their asses”, he still wonders whether or not it’s the right thing to do or if he should leave a couple people out of it. It’s a problem for us, almost as much as it is a problem for Joe, and it gets you more and more involved with the material, regardless of if you know how it all turns out. Obviously no major Hollywood production is going to fund a movie where the real-life protagonist gets killed, but you still feel like any chance the dude has to lose his cover, he will, and become a victim of it so.

Don't worry, honey. Just fugettaboutit.

Don’t worry, honey. Just fugettaboutit.

Very smart writing and directing on both sides of the camera, but in front of it all is the two stars we have on our hands here, none other than Johnny Depp and Al Pacino themselves. This was the first movie where I think Johnny Depp really broke-out of his shell, showed us that he could actually “act”, and, despite what his good looks may have you believe, make it seem like he’s a real person, with real problems, marital ones and whatnot. Depp’s character may go through the usual trip of where he gets in way too deep and can barely get out without keeping his hands clean, but it’s Depp himself who keeps his head above the water, allowing us to believe in him no matter how scary certain situations may get for him. There’s a real sense of likability and regularity to Depp here, that I wish he would just go back to, at least one more time. That is, before he gets back together with Gore Verbinski and starts acting all nutty and cuckoo again. Why Johnny?!?! Why not come back to the real world?!?!

As great as Johnny is here, though, he’s definitely not the one who walks away with the flick. Leave that recognition to Al Pacino, playing, yet again, another mob boss that has a bit of anger-issues and problems on the inside, but keeps them more bottled-in than what we’re used to seeing with this type of character, or even the way Pacino usually plays them. What’s so great about Pacino playing Lefty is that, we get that this guy is not perfect and definitely has some control issues that get in the way of his better-judgement at times, but we still feel like he’s a good guy, underneath the phis-age and all. In fact, we know it, it just rarely comes out in the most obvious, hackneyed way you’d expect from a movie such as this. Pacino yells and hollers at times, but he keeps it surprisingly subdued and quiet as well, and that’s probably some of the best parts of this movie. Actually, mainly the ones with Depp and Pacino together, because you can tell that they form a bond that’s like a father-son combo, but also one that feels like it could be best friends as well. It’s sad to see them together, but you can’t help but feel something for them both, especially Lefty, who feels like an old man who will just never, ever get it right in the world that he lives in. Poor guy.

Same can sort of be said for the rest of the rag-tag mobsters that these two hang with. Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, and James Russo all play members of their mob and all do great jobs with the roles, especially Madsen who gives us his bad-boy charm that we all know and love, but also shows a bit more sympathy underneath it all, as if he too has something to prove to the people he surrounds himself with and aspires to be in the same shoes of one day. They’re all characters you’d expect to hate right off the bat, but they surprisingly have more heart and charm to them then you’d ever want to see in a flick like this. Just like the character of Joe’s stay-at-home-wife, played to perfection by Anne Heche, who not only shows us a real hard-edged woman that isn’t taking any shit from her hubby, but is also easy to sympathize with, despite her being a bit of a nag for bothering her husband about a job that not only pays the bills and gets the kids to school, but she knew about when she married him. She should be the vain of your humanity, but she’s written very realistically and performed very well by Heche herself, an actress who doesn’t get as much credit as she should.

Consensus: Though on page, Donnie Brasco should not work and be considered as conventional and predictable as they come, it surprisingly becomes a more emotional, compelling trip about what happens when a man gets too deep, can’t quite get himself out right away, but still has the screws in tight enough to get through it all. Sounds corny, but in the hands of Depp, Pacino, and the rest of the cast and crew, it’s very far from.

8.5 / 10

"I'm serious. Just forget about it."

“I’m serious. Just forget about it.”

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Play It to the Bone (1999)

Only a movie that could have been made in the 90’s. Why? Because boxing was considered “cool and sociable”.

Former semi-famous boxers, Vince and Cesar (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas) are now buddies living in L.A. after their careers fell apart. In other words, their has-beens, but still haven’t yet come to terms with that fact, still train, still long for the golden days, and hope to get their shots at being in the “big time” once again. All their dreams come true though, once two boxers who were originally scheduled to appear in an undercard match, seemingly can’t, giving the major-promoter (Tom Sizemore) nowhere else to go except to round these two up, have them fight one another, for a hefty-sum of $50,000 and a shot at the title. Sounds pretty good for these two, but getting there might be a problem, so they call-up gal-pal Grace (Lolita Davidovich) to give them a ride, but also to enlist some moral-support in both of them, considering that she’s banged them both, and is still banging one.

Without even knowing all about this flick prior to seeing it, I have to admit that the premise itself is pretty interesting and leaves plenty of room for fascinating questions, ideas, and themes, For instance, this is the tale of two friends that have to go head-to-head against one another, and basically beat the crap out of each other, just in hopes that they get more money and recognition than the other. That, and also the fact that it will probably ruin their life-long friendship from now, until forever. That’s got to be a pretty big risk to take for a friendship, no matter who the two friends are in question and it sets up some pretty intriguing, psychological questions about the limits of friendship, how far one goes to keep it lasting, and also, how far one will go to end it to better themselves.

Oh, the days when the Caesar-cut was still in style.

Oh, the days when the Caesar-cut was still in style.

All of these are thought-provoking questions, which also are never, ever addressed a single ounce in Ron Shelton’s flick.

Instead, we are subjected to two idiots who not only can sustain a normal conversation without getting into a meaningless argument about whatever’s on their mind, but a road trip with these buffoons as well. Yay for us! Actually, not “yay” at all, since practically the whole movie consists of us watching as these two just blow smoke out of each other’s ass, try to be funny, and try to make their characters seem like real people, with real feelings and emotions, but they never go any further than just, “meat heads who have a bit of a soft-side”.

That’s all there is to them. Well, with the exception that one is a firm believer in the almighty God and will make sure to let you know every time you mutter “Jesus Christ” in a sentence – and that the other also happened to be playing for the same team (if you know what I mean) for a little over a year. Why? Well, because he was depressed that he got his ass kicked in a boxing match and thought that there was nowhere else to go except for the Johnson. Now it totally makes sense why gay people are in fact, well, gay. It’s because they’re depressed. Thanks, Ron Shelton!

The insight you feature in your films, mainly this one, is unbelievable!

But not only is this movie stupid, it’s undeniably boring as well, which is a real shame for a boxing movie. Even the actual boxing match at the end is pretty dry because apparently we’re supposed to care for these characters, the outcome of their match, who’s going to win, who’s feelings are going to end up being hurt the most, and who’s going to get a shot at the title when all is said and done. Even worse, the movie loses its whole jokey feel and tone, and decides to get serious on us, but not without giving us some shots of naked women, dudes, and a guy dressed as Jesus. It’s all supposed to be hilarious, but dramatic at the same time, but instead, just feels rather odd, as if Shelton didn’t know where he wanted to take this material, so instead decided to just throw in jokes that weren’t ever funny to begin with and just resorted to cuing-up the sad, dramatic music, all before ending on a rather conventional, obvious, and totally care-free note that should infuriate you by how lame it is, but just doesn’t because you don’t care.

At least somebody's bothering to call their agent.

At least somebody’s bothering to call their agent.

Not even a single bit.

And despite Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson being two lovable, charming fellas, they can’t really do much with this crap script or their thinly-written characters. Banderas has a bit more to work with here as Cesar, mainly because the dude’s softer and more sympathetic than Harrelson’s outlaw Vince, but can’t hit the comedic-notes as well as Shelton wants him to. Not that the comedic-notes were funny to begin with, but it does get painful after awhile to see Banderas try to be humorous, while also trying to defend his character by denying the fact that he was “a fag for a year”. That’s the type of humor we’re dealing with here, and I use that word “humor” very loosely. Harrelson seems like he’s doing the same thing he’s been doing for his whole career and does it well as Vince, it’s just that his character is random.

First of all, he’s trying to be a nice, Christian-like dude that believes in the Holy Spirit, believes in a higher-power, and will do everything to ensure his spot up there all tucked-in and cozy in heaven, but is also a bit of a slum-bag. Take for instance when Lucy Liu’s terribly annoying character comes in, starts acting like a skank, and gets his eyes moving out of nowhere. Obviously, she’s good-looking and obviously, any dude in their right mind would take a whack at that, but after all of his Holy Father preaching of self-righteousness, he’s going to be one of them? Really? Okay, I guess I’m making more of a stink of it than it deserves but so be it. It was just odd to watch after awhile and I felt bad for Harrelson because the dude seems to be trying with all of his might, it’s just not working out well for him. And as for Lolita Davidovich, as pretty and charming as she can be, her role serves no purpose here other than giving these two dudes a ride, and trying to get them to reflect on their own actions and decisions. Or something like that.

Honestly, nobody should care.

Consensus: Peeps going in and expecting a sports movie that’s fun, entertaining, hilarious, fast-paced, quick, and witty, will probably be more than disappointed with Play It to the Bone because it’s so safe, meandering, and boring, you’ll wonder when the hell they’re just going to hit the year 2005 and all of the boxing world will practically be forgotten about because of even bigger idiots like these ones here.

2 / 10

Fight, or don't fight. I could care less.

Fight, or don’t fight. I could care less.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Insider (1999)

Just another reason why cigarettes are not good for you.

The true story of how the commentator of 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer), and his producer, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) were black-balled into dumping a segment on tobacco industry defector Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), because CBS execs were in the midst of a multi-billion dollar merger with the corporation that owned Wigand.

Anybody who hears the name “Michael Mann”, automatically thinks of a high-tech, energized-up mofo that did epic-thrillers such as Collateral and Heat. In fact, I’m one of those people considering I think those are the only two films he truly kicks ass with. However, my mind has officially been blown by what he’s able to do with a straight-forward story where I don’t think a single shot is fired. Except for when it’s people actually getting fired themselves.

What Mann does so perfectly here with this story is that he take his time with it. Everything starts off rather mysterious if you aren’t already familiar with the true story this movie is based on, but it’s also very thrilling where we don’t know where this story’s going to go, how it’s going to go, and what’s going to set it off. Thankfully, after about the first 15 minutes, we realize what type of story we’ve stumbled upon and that’s when everything starts to become clearer and more understandable to take in, but by the same token, still mysterious. We know that the walls are going to drop eventually, but as a matter of when and where is what’s really interesting.

Life in the cameras. So depressing.

Life in the cameras. So depressing.

Then again, it doesn’t really matter because the characters were given to watch are already interesting enough as is.

Most of the Insider is concerning a bunch of evil people, talking about evil things, and actually doing most of those evil things that they discuss. Granted, this may not sound like the most exciting thing in the whole world, but Mann makes it so. The whole film is one tense ride from start-to-finish where twists come absolutely out of nowhere, but they make sense and keep the story moving on and on until it reaches it’s breaking-point. Every single shot/scene in this flick seems like it actually means something and furthers the story, rather than just being placed in there for a time-killer and to add more exposition to a story that was filled with it already in the first place. It’s over two-and-a-half hours, and while that would normally kill me, this time, it doesn’t. Hell, I don’t even know how this could have been shorter! Nearly two-hours and forty-minutes seems like the perfect amount of time for Mann to give us a story, where almost nobody does the right thing, and still be able to keep our attention glued onto the screen.

Bravo, Mr. Mann. Bravo.

As entertaining and tense as this story may be, the emotional-level of this film didn’t fully connect with me, and I think that has something to do with some of the characters here. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to really feel bad for anybody in this flick as they all do bad things that better themselves and nobody else, but there was a certain amount of disconnect that I was feeling with everybody that came off as a bit too dreary. The only person that could be considered remotely sympathetic and actually good, is Wigand, and even he comes off as a bit of a jerk that sort of screwed the pooch on himself this time and should have just done the right thing, rather than put himself, and everybody else around him in jeopardy. Then again, the guy had a story to tell and it just goes to show you that not everything in this movie, let alone life, is as cut-and-dry as some people make it out to be.

Going along with that last point, I feel as if the whole story behind the actual story, lacked any type of real feeling. This is, as I put it up above, a story about how 60 Minutes got sued and was almost bought out for millions and millions of dollars by a huge corporation, but even that said corporation has an interesting story to tell; one that never fully grows to get you as excited as when 60 Minutes begins to get hit hard in their pockets. This could have really twisted everything up and got us, the audience, rooting for the home team the whole time, but just had us sitting there, and watching it with barely any feelings or emotions left still intact. Maybe this is just a weird problem I had and nobody else, but so be it.

A lot of people that see this flick will probably not only be surprised by how freakin’ tense this movie is, but by also how Al Pacino doesn’t really get into his infamous “insane-o mode” that we all know, and sometimes, love him for. Instead, his character, Lowell Bergman, is more of a straight-man to everything else that’s going on around him; keeping his cool, and not really having much to talk about or keep at-stake, other than what he gives everybody else around him, his “word”. It’s a character who doesn’t seem all that interesting right from the start, as he’s mostly content with just sitting around and letting the wheels turn as they go, but eventually begins to build more of an arch as the film continues. This makes it even better to see Pacino actually playing it subtle for once, and still be able to garner the same emotions he would if he was all coked-up and shooting the shit out of people. But don’t let that fool you, he still has a freak-out here or two, and they’re both pretty awesome.

"You talkin' to me? Oh wait, sorry, wrong guy to be doing that bit to."

“You talkin’ to me? Oh wait, sorry, wrong guy to be doing that bit to.”

God, why did this guy have to do freakin’ Jack and Jill?

Playing opposite of him, Russell Crowe gives one of his finer performances as the strange, but compelling technician that starts this whole shit-storm in the first place, Jeffrey Wigand. Crowe is great here as Wigand because the guy has to go through a lot in terms of emotions and feelings, and Crowe pulls it all off with ease. The guy does seem very sympathetic as he’s the only person who seemingly does the right thing and the whole time we are left sitting there, watching as his whole life comes crashing down, without him ever being able to recuperate. It’s pretty sad to watch at times, and makes you wonder just how the hell this Wigand guy kept his cool and didn’t end up taking a leap off the Brooklyn Bridge for good measure. My only complaint about Crowe here isn’t really a bad thing about the movie, it’s just more that he plays this role, almost the same in every movie where he stars as a middle-class, American man. Not a huge complaint, but still something that’s obvious when you look at any other Crowe film where he practically plays a regular guy, with a more than less-than-regular problem brewing up inside of him.

The other performance that really took me by surprise was Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace. Plummer plays Wallace as your stereotypical, high-class dick that demands respect and wants everything done his own way, even though he doesn’t really contribute much except for asking a person a bunch of dumb, meaningless questions most of the time. Still, the character comes full-circle by the end of it all and shows that Plummer was, and still is able to, convey all types of heartfelt emotions out of any character he plays and it’s another reminder as to why this guy was long over-due an Oscar win. Everybody else in this film do superb jobs, as well, but these are three that continue to come to mind when I think of the exact stand-outs.

Consensus: Though it is, essentially, a two-hour-and-40-minute flick dedicated to a bunch of unsympathetic people, talking about doing unsympathetic things, the Insider is still one hell of a thrill-ride that asks the right questions, portrays them the right way, and still has us thinking about what was right, and what was wrong even after it’s all done.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

After these comments, I think Russell definitely has the right to be as paranoid as he is.

After certain comments, I think Russell definitely has the right to be as paranoid as he is.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Naked (1993)

NakedposterMaybe all Gen-X’ers appreciated a little reading of Jane Austen on the side of constant yelling and drug use. Just maybe.

After sexually assaulting a woman back in his homeland, Johnny (David Thewlis) runs for the hills. And by “the hills”, I mean, Manchester where he’s going to try and find his ex-girlfriend for no real reason other than to bug her and cause some extra havoc along the way. However, the word “havoc” doesn’t exactly fit Johnny’s persona as he’s the type of dude that is a lot smarter and knowing than you might believe after the first 20 seconds of the movie, or how he dresses and walks around aimlessly. As Johnny’s “adventure” continues on, we begin to get to know more and more about him, his thoughts, his feelings, and just what the hell he even feels like doing with his life; probably more than I ever expected to stick around for.

Reviewing this movie is going to be a bit of a challenge because I have yet to make up my mind as to whether this was a dark comedy with dramatic elements, or a full-on drama, that just so happened to make me laugh. I’m still racking my brain around which either one this flick is and what Mike Leigh was trying to go for. That’s more of a knock against me than his actual directing because some of the things that this character Johnny says, had me laughing because I simply “got it”. Others, however, may not think so much, which is where the confusion of what genre this movie is from comes in.

"Should I hit it, or should I not? Aw, fuck it! I'm a man in his prime!"

“To hit it, or not to hit it? That begs the real question.”

However, finding a genre out for this sort of movie doesn’t matter because the flick is still good, well-written, and interesting to watch, even if you don’t think so until you read all of the positive buzz about it. See, going into this movie, I knew it was going to be good, and coming from the sturdy-hands of Leigh, I knew it was going to be all talky and feel all natural. I love that about Leigh’s approach, as it’s so rare that he ever steps in front of the story and the characters that inhabit it; he just lets it be told, the way it was meant to be told, and he doesn’t ever get in the way. Good man, because I know plenty of directors that probably would have had enough with all of this improv, and at least put his foot down, stating “enough is enough”. None really come to mind, but they’re out there and Leigh isn’t one of them.

No, no, no. Leigh is a special type of director that makes movies, not just for the sake of making movies, but to bring out emotions and feelings within a society that may, at times, seem to be falling apart from the inside out, without them even knowing it themselves. That’s the idea that this flick taps into very well; the idea that life in the underbelly of post-conservative England, especially during the 90’s, wasn’t pleasant, and was filled with just as many contradictions and grimness than you can shake a stick at. People were constantly on the streets, out of jobs, sad, and hopeless for what was to come. They were just waiting to see when the world would end, just so they could remove the sad existence of life they have on the planet.

It’s a dark mind-set to have placed, but it’s one that Leigh attacks with full force and never loses sight of. Sure, his movie may seem to meander at times because all it is is a loner having a bunch of random bits of conversations with people he doesn’t really know or want to know, but it’s very intriguing to actually have to hear and listen to what these people have to say, and how they respond to the thoughts and ideas of what a normal, average young adult would be thinking about and contemplating around the same time. Of course Leigh knows what he’s trying to say, but the people he associates himself with don’t, and he tries to show them in any way that he possibly can. At all costs really.

This also actually brings into discussion the way Leigh filmed this movie, which isn’t very different from other movies of his, but still brings up plenty of interesting ideas of what was meant to be said with this flick. See, rather than having almost every character improv their rumps off in front of the camera with Leigh standing behind it and just filming whatever he could get, he allowed each and every worker to make up their own lines and feelings, rehearse it for quite some time, and then eventually start filming and putting it altogether. At times, this approach works because a lot of what these characters have to say, feel honest and brutal, but sometimes it doesn’t mix well with all of the over-the-top theatrics that Leigh throws in himself.

Case in point, the whole subplot featuring the supposed land-lord of Johnny’s ex, Jeremy G. Smart as played by Greg Cruttwell. Cruttwell is good at playing this evil, sinister bastard that has no care or affection for the women that he seduces, and only cares about making them feel the pain and agony that he feels on a day-to-day basis. And that’s all fine and dandy, but the story never really has much to do with Johnny’s or anybody else’s for that matter. He shows up from time-to-time, takes our minds off of Johnny’s life, and gets us involved with something that seems to be pushing the envelope, only for the sake of doing so. No reason or rhyme whatsoever. Probably would have worked in a flick that was centered solely than this, but being the case that it is in this movie and gets in the way of everything, it’s a bit bothersome to have to deal with, especially since Johnny himself is such an interesting character overall.

All men love not having to do any work, and just laying there.

All men love not having to do any work and just laying there.

The reason why Johnny is such an interesting character isn’t because of how sharp and smartly Leigh has written him to be, but because David Thewlis is such a master at playing him, that it still makes me ponder the reason as to why he didn’t even get an Oscar nomination for his work of brilliance here. Considering that most of what Johnny says and feels, is mainly through Thewlis and Thewlis alone, you feel closer and closer to this character, even though you know you shouldn’t. Johnny’s not a nice guy and as the first shot of this movie may have you think, is a total and complete dick-bag that you do not want to ever be around for five seconds, let alone, for a whole two hours. However, Leigh throws him in front of our faces and never asks us to gain sympathy for him or what he’s brought onto himself.

Instead, we just get a portrait of a character who is just being himself, and nothing but. You rarely ever see that with a movie, and it was a big surprise that Leigh or Thewlis didn’t try to sap him up in any way, in order to make us care for him. He’s a character, being a character, in all his fullest and complete form. And to top all of that off, Thewlis is actually pretty damn hilarious, not just because of the lines he delivers, but by how dry and ironic he is half of the time. Everybody else around him seems so serious and dramatic, that once Johnny comes through to shake things up a bit, you realize that the world needs more humans like Johnny; minus all of the women-torturing, violence, anger, and such. Then again though, the world needs more anger and more people to shake a big, middle-finger to the Man, so maybe that’s what Johnny represents and what we should represent as well?

Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

Consensus: At times, it can be a ponderous experience, but taken as a whole, and especially as a meditation on the way our youth views the rest of the world and society altogether, Naked is an interesting flick to watch and listen to, made all the better by David Thewlis’ brilliant piece of acting as Johnny.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Perfect place for a couple of drinks: the same spot you just did a number two in.

Perfect place for a couple of drinks.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

I don’t know how I’d feel if Nic Cage’s mug was the last one I saw before I died.

Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) is a EMS paramedic working in New York City and has to put up with some pretty crazy stuff on a regular-basis, but now that he’s pulling in three nights on the job, it’s getting even worse. Not only does Frank seem to be losing his damn mind over the stuff that he sees, but he’s not really sure if he can handle his job, or even his life any longer. That sort of changes though once a grieving woman (Patricia Arquette) comes into his life and puts everything into perspective. Well, sort of.

I’m pretty sure that within the past-decade, people have pretty much accepted the fact that Martin Scorsese is a guy you can trust with any movie he does. When I first heard about Hugo, I’ll be honest, I was incredibly skeptical of him diving right into a PG-rated, 3D-movie. However, all my reservations went out the window once I realized that it was the Scorsese charm that eventually took over me. But yet, stories about kids finding a movie-legend aren’t what we associate Scorsese with. We more or less associate him with the violent, bloody, gritty tales of the crime-world and that’s why I was really looking forward to this flick, even though it seemed like it was one of his least-known pieces of work to have ever come out.

"Nic Cage to the rescue", is something, I assume, that no person on the verge of death wants to hear.

“Nic Cage to the rescue”, is something, I assume, that no person on the verge of death wants to hear.

However, this just made me want to watch Hugo all over again.

And maybe even check out Leaving Las Vegas one more time for old, good times sake. Although, I don’t think “good times” can be associated with that movie.

Anyway, right from the start of Bringing Out the Dead, I could tell taht this was going to be a very strange, dark movie-experience and it only seemed right that I compare this to a Scorsese classic, meaning Taxi Driver. Not only do both stories feature guys on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but they even feature two guys who just act-out in violence and pure craziness to get over it. It’s pretty obvious how the two stories are alike in many ways, but, in other ways, they aren’t and I think that’s where the problem for this film really lied.

See, in Taxi Driver, you actually care about the cause which Bickle is fighting for, despite it being based on a huge sense of lunacy. He’s an anti-hero in the fullest-form – he’s not the greatest guy out there in the world, but it’s easy to sympathize with him because of how many times he’s been pushed and shoved to the ground, even though he himself felt as if he was doing the right thing. Here, with this guy Frank Pierce, it’s hard to really feel a connection to this guy, considering that he’s more manic-depressive than anything else. Yeah, everybody’s had a crappy job that they don’t want to stay up for, or even go to in the first place, but that doesn’t mean everybody feels the need to go off, crash cars, break windows, or beat the ever lovin’ crap out of some homeless people because of their misery. Maybe some people do, but I’m pretty sure those people aren’t psychologically-cleared to do any type of work in the first place.

And this hurts the movie. Rather than being interesting in the slightest, the story just feels like a drag and almost like it didn’t really matter to anybody involved, not even, dare I say it, Scorsese himself. There is definitely an cool, even compelling story here of a guy that can’t cope with the work that he has to do and has to find an escape from it all, but all of that feels used for a bunch of hyperactive, insane moments that come out of nowhere, just because it’s the seedy underworld of New York City. Showing me scenes of an EMT trying to save failing patients is something that grips me, but if you just continue to throw gratuitous shots of drugs, sex, violence, and blood at us, then I don’t really care and can sort of tell that you don’t either. I mean, I get it, downtown NYC is a very, very messed-up place, but constantly reminding us of this by showing a homeless person, a hooker, or even a drug addict every five seconds or so, makes it feel less gritty, and more lazy than anything.

Also, the fact that this movie is nearly two-hours long really kills it, as well as any type of momentum it wanted to build up.

But, for what it’s worth, there is some joys to be had with Bringing Out the Dead, even if they don’t solely come from Scorsese’s direction or Paul Schrader’s script – it mostly comes from the wild fire cast who, with what they’re given, are called upon to just be crazy and do just that. And this is clearly some good news for the king of crazy himself, Nicolas Cage, but for some reason, it’s not quite his most memorable performance. Not even in the slightest, actually.

It's alright, Nic. You two would only be together for two more years anyway.

It’s alright, Nic. You two would only be together for two more years anyway.

Practically everybody bad-talks Cage for the types of movies he takes, or just by simply phoning it in one too many times, and yes, I do sometimes agree with these criticisms. Cage is one of my favorite actors working today, and always finds ways to make even the most dreadful material, the slightest bit interesting, but here, he’s sort of just going through the motions, although he has a couple of bright spots here and there to show. The character of Frank Pierce is a bit of a strange and not one that I find fully believable since he’s such a freakin’ nut with his up-and-down personality. But, like I expected, Cage found a few ways to make me laugh here and there and just fall in line with his nuttiness. The character gets a bit boring by the end, but Cage tries and tries again, only to then, I guess, give up and realize that maybe this is just not going to be his highest moment.

It’s fine, though, because the dude had plenty more to come after this.

The rest of the cast is pretty fun, too, with a few familiar faces bringing a lot more excitement to a movie that seemed to desperately need it. John Goodman doesn’t really show his face all that much as a fellow EMT of Pierce’s, but is still pretty funny and cooky to watch as the one dude who always wants to bail on a bunch of sick/dying people, and instead, eat Chinese food and sleep. Hey, it’s not such a bad motive to have in life, but when you have to save people’s lives, it’s not the best way to go about your life. Tom Sizemore plays one of Nic’s more loonier, off-the-wall EMT’s and does what he always did before he got sent-off for doing too much blow: Play gritty, asshole characters that you can’t help but hate, and actually like. Ving Rhames is surprisingly the stand-out of this whole cast as the one EMT who seems to always have God on his back and mind throughout the whole job, yet, is still most dangerous EMT of them all that had me cracking up so damn much. Watching him and Cage just play-off of one another was a delight to watch. In a way, too, it made me wish the movie was just about them two driving around, picking up sick/injured people, having random conversations, and just living another day on the job. If only.

Consensus: Martin Scorsese finds slight ways to keep Bringing Out the Dead interesting, if only through visuals, but also can’t seem to get past the fact that the script is way too uneven for it’s own good, and doesn’t really ever generate any emotional-spark, or even give us enough to feel compelled by.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Probably thinking about stealing the Declaration of Independence.

Probably already thinking about stealing the Declaration of Independence.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Crow (1994)

Just wait till Kurt wakes up from his sleep. There’s gonna be some hell to pay.

Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) was a young, hip, cool, and happy dude that lived his life to the fullest with his fiancée and the local kid that they would watch over from time to time. However one night changes all that when a band of thugs stroll in, kill him, and rape and murder his girl. Fast forward to a year later, on the same night, Eric resurrects from the dead only to get revenge on the people who caused his death in the first place, as well as the powerful kingpin who may have been behind it all along (Michael Wincott).

I don’t think I’m sharing any shocking news to anybody out there reading this, but as you know, the leading star of The Crow, Brandon Lee, son of Bruce, tragically died on the morning of March 31, 1993, because of a gunshot wound that was supposed to be a dummy bullet, but was instead a very, very real one. It’s news that I don’t think is necessarily “new”, but it’s something you should definitely know about before seeing this flick as it puts a darker spin on a movie that, hell, was already pretty dark to begin with. But being a film-viewer and one that acknowledges tragedy and what could have been, I will admit that it’s very sad to see something as upsetting as a wrongful death happen to a star that seemed to have so much promise going for him.

What’s even sadder however, is how damn ironic this flick is, especially when you know that Brandon Lee is dead and is in fact, playing a dead guy who comes back alive, only to ponder the questions of living life, being dead, and the after-life.

"Hahahaha! I laugh at you soft, PG-rated superhero movies!"

“Hahahaha! I laugh at you soft, PG-rated superhero movies!”

Yup, it gets pretty shaky at times when you look at this movie in hindsight, but there’s something about this movie that still stays cool and fun. That’s all thanks to director Alex Proyas who, as you could probably tell from the first shot of this movie, had a background in music videos prior to this. Proyas gives us a style that’s as unrelenting and seedy as the underworld it takes place in and around, while also speeding things up when we need it to. There’s a certain sense of energy and quickness in the tone of this movie, but it’s also very somber and it never lets you forget that, no matter how crazy the story may turn out to be with it’s ghosts and all.

That’s why a movie like this would usually scare the hell out of audiences by having them think it’s “uncool” to see something as goth and evil as this, but the movie walks a fine line between being strictly for the geeks, as well as for the action-audience as well. It’s a fine line that they cross a couple of times when it decides to get a bit in too over it’s head with all the questions and thoughts about remorse, death, and how we all approach grief, but still kept me intrigued. I’ve probably watched this movie about three or four times by now, and it’s only gotten better for me once I realized that there was more to this direction than I’ve ever noticed before. Proyas is a flashy guy, but he never loses his sense of wonder and allowing people to join in on that wonder and look around for a bit if they like. I looked around, and I liked what I saw, for the most part.

What I didn’t like when I looked around is the story itself which, if you take into consideration what it’s really about, is pretty weak in trying to convey emotions. Without sounding too harsh, if it wasn’t for the real life fact that Lee died, the story probably wouldn’t have been as emotional and hit harder, because it’s pretty standard stuff. Dude wakes up from death; dude wants revenge; and dude his revenge in the bloodiest, most unabashed ways possible. So standard, that when the movie tries to get us to feel anything, anything at all, it loses complete control of what it’s really about and brings into question whether or not this movie had a second-agenda to itself, or is it really just trying to be a darker, R-rated version of a superhero movie that gets the baddies, exactly where it hurts? The answers never really come, because the movie never knows what it wants to be, but at least stayed interesting because Proyas gives us so much eye candy to taste on.

And also the real-life fact that Lee died.

Okay! I’m just saying!

While I’m on the subject of Lee, the dude does fine as Eric Draven, but it’s honestly not something I’ll remember for the rest of my days and wonder “what could have been?” It’s more or less a performance that is amazing when it comes to the physical attributes of it and what he had to do in order to kick ass and make it look realistic, but when it comes to giving this character a heart or a soul (I’m guessing that’s a pun), Lee doesn’t really seem to hit his mark. He shows joy and wonder in messing with the dudes he’s set out to get, but everything else, whether it be to emote or show some sort of heartfelt feeling in the pit of his head, he seems like he’s trying a bit too hard, or isn’t trying at all. It’s a shame too, because I feel like Lee would have gotten better and better as time went along and he had more roles come his way, but for what he left us on, I can’t say I was colored impress. I was saddened to not see more of him, but life will go on and I’ll probably think about him, his life, or what could have happened to his career, less and less as the days go by. That’s not me being mean, that’s just me telling it like it is.

Since it's the dirty and dark streets of Detroit, I guess hair-trimming is out of the question?

Since it’s the dirty and dark streets of Detroit, I guess hair-trimming is out of the question?

Despite Lee not being the electrifying-presence the movie may have needed to really tune itself up, the supporters are energetic and fun to watch, even if the movie seems more concerned with Lee and Proyas’ style. Michael Wincott is a bunch of fun to watch as the main baddie of them all who shows that he always has the upper-hand on everybody, whether it be because of his control of the city, or because of the skills he has to kill people in most unexpected ways. Whatever it may be, the dude provides an equal-villain against the Crow and doesn’t allow himself to get out-shined once him and Lee share the same screen together. Other detestable character actors like Jon Polito, Bai Ling, and David Patrick Kelly show their fine faces and give us the type of baddies we want and desire from a movie like this, and keep it fun and over-the-top, just like it needed to be, in order to be taken seriously.

Strange to say, but “over-the-top”, seemed like the right way to go for this movie to ever be taken in as a smart meditation on life and death, even for those 15-year-old kids who probably went out, saw it with their parents’ money, went home, and told them both how much he/she hated them and couldn’t wait to live out on their own after high school.

And then they didn’t, and felt like a bunch of a-holes; like we all do at age 15.

Consensus: The personal, on-set tragedy of what happened to the Crow, may overshadow some of the movie’s obvious faults, but taken in as a movie and a swan song for Brandon Lee, it shows that there was talent here and there, it just never got a chance to shine away like it did for his daddy.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Best solo of his life, now he's done. Forever. RIP Brandon Lee.

Best solo of his life, now he’s done. Forever. RIP Brandon Lee.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

eXistenZ (1999)

You know what’s so lame about GTA? It’s not real!!

Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a famous video-game maker who has made a video-game where people can transport themselves into other lives, as well as gives them the chance to constantly guess whether or not they are in real life, or just living a pure fantasy where they can do anything that they want. This inventive, yet, incomprehensible game is called eXistenZ, and it soon takes over her mind, as well as her bodyguard (Jude Law)’s.

Video-games have become so crazy now, that I honestly wouldn’t be surprised one bit if somebody came from out of nowhere, made this type of game, and watched it as it sky-rocketed to the charts of the highest-sellers come the Holidays. That person would also have to watch as the suicide-rates would be sky-rocketing off the charts as well, because with a dangerous mind-fuck of a game like this, you know people are just going to go crazy. I’m telling ya, it’s a surprise that this hasn’t happened yet and I’m just waiting for more video-game designers to think of the next “Million Dollar Idea”.

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

However, if they do come up with this idea, they do have to give some of that change they earn straight to writer/director David Cronenberg, because he’s the main guy who came up with the idea in the first place and milks it to the brim with this movie. I have to give Cronenberg a lot of credit here because the guy definitely starts this flick out on the right foot with any eerie feel, a lot of mystery in the air, and a whole bunch of suspense as to what the hell is going to happen next to these characters once they finally suit up (I guess that’s what you could call it), and whether or not they’ll make it out of the game alive. When Cronenberg gets crazy ideas like these, they usually don’t pan-out so well for me, but here, he actually kept me involved and kept my mind on the film at hand, considering the whole game these two are playing, is just one, big twist after twist without any real type of explanation as to what’s going on and what it isn’t.

Which normally isn’t fine for me with most of his movies, but here, was surprisingly so.

As much as Cronenberg may toy around with the idea of us not knowing whether or not this is a game, or real life, he still allows himself to get real nutty on all of us and uses some of the trademarks we all know him for. The gore here is downright disgusting as we go through a couple of different spots where blood comes shooting, guts fall out, and people’s faces just come flying straight-off, landing on the floor below them. And on top of that, there’s also a lot of gooey, slimy sounds that make you squirm even more and add just another level to Cronenberg’s already, ‘effed-up mind that he obviously wants us to play around with him in. But while this would usually tick me off with some of his movies, here, I decided to just go along for the ride and enjoy myself, even if I had no idea what exactly was happening, or even what it meant.

But that was the problem I eventually ran into with this movie: I knew everything about anything Cronenberg was trying to discuss. See, while this movie, on the surface, is about this insane, balls-out game that allows its players to do whatever they want, in a world that they have no idea about as is, when you dig a bit deeper, it ends up becoming something darker and more upsetting. In a way, Cronenberg is trying to get across what your mom has been saying for the past two decades to get you off you Laz-E Boy and in the classroom: Video games are bad and they make you do bad things.

Now, while I don’t necessarily agree wholly with that statement, I still understand that many people see an evil in the art of video games and how it may drive certain people to lose their minds. We’ve seen certain cases regarding this in the past and while I don’t feel its appropriate to voice my opinions out on those here and now, I’ll just say that whatever Cronenberg is trying to get across here, is practically the same message and it’s kind of annoying. We get that video games mess with certain people’s minds and allow them to not be able to differentiate the difference between “reality” and “fiction”, but do we really need to be reminded of this every five-to-ten-minutes? Maybe because of the time this was released (nobody in 1999 had ever heard of an XBOX), but the message, in today’s world, seems relatively preachy and dated. Granted, back in the day, these ideas may have been revolutionary and eye-opening, but to us humanoids from the 21st Century, we realize that everything being said here, is why we moved out of parent’s place in the first place.

The future of gaming, people. Except, not really at all.

The future of gaming, people. Except, not really at all.

So take that, older-generation!

Another problem that most Cronenberg movies, not just this one in particular, is that usually he’ll cast an interesting bunch in his movies, but since his material is sometimes so weighty and dense in the way that it’s delivered, you can tell which actors are more suited to it than others. For a total surprise, Jude Law actually ends up doing well in a rather restrained role as this body-guard. Sure, Law’s using some of his charm to get us to like him and his character here, but most of it is actually just him trying to be weird and mysterious, and it works well and to his advantage. Same goes for the likes of Sarah Polley, Willem Dafoe, and Ian Holm who don’t show up too long or often to leave an impression, but show that they are capable of fitting into Cronenberg’s world, where everyone speaks like he imagines them as speaking.

The only one who feels totally off in this movie is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is supposed to play this geeky, downright off-kilter video game nerd, but just ends up coming off as she’s bored. In fact, a part of me felt as if she was in her own movie altogether; one where she was allowed to deliver her lines like she’s been doing for the past three decades, but instead, actually worked. Here, it seems like Cronenberg cast her, without really knowing full well if she’d be able to handle his “speak”, quite as well as the others. Don’t get me wrong, Leigh’s still a top-notch actress in most of the stuff she does, but here, she feels awkward stilted.

Maybe that’s how Cronenberg wanted her to be? Then again, maybe not. Who the hell knows what goes on inside that dude’s head!

Consensus: David Cronenberg loves to play with his audience and in eXistenZ, he gets a chance to do so, but too many times does it feel like he stops the wild fun, just so that he can prop us down for a lesson or two about the world of video-games that, trust me, we already know full well about.

6 /10 = Rental!!

Even in so-called "virtual-reality video-games", the ladies still fall head-over-heels for J-Law. Damn that Brit bastard and his sexy charms!

Even in so-called “virtual-reality video-games”, the ladies still fall head-over-heels for J-Law. Damn that Brit bastard and his sexy charms!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Fight Club (1999)

Next time you want to buy those hip, new jeans from JC Penney, punch yourself.

In a country as wide as America, it’s hard not to get swept up in all of it. An normal guy who sometimes go by the names of either “Cornelius”, or “Jack” (Edward Norton) knows this, but he can’t help but still fall for the tricks that mainstream society has set up for him to get caught in. Because of this, he becomes an insomniac that binges all day and night on crappy sitcoms, expensive furniture and belongings, and occasionally goes to a job where he has to file reports on faulty cars’ systems. However, he eventually finds a cure for his insomnia in random support groups that occur all around him. Though he can’t really connect with any of the other members in these support-groups, he still finds some solace in the fact that he can go to these private places and just let all of his emotions out. That all changes, though, when a fellow “phony” named Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) starts showing up to the same meetings and ruining our protagonists’ peaceful vibes. This is when the insomnia continues, but this time, he finds another form of escape – however, this time, it’s not with a group, but instead, with a person.

The person’s name, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt); the person’s occupation, making and selling soap; and lastly, the person’s beliefs, well, that we should all just start letting our oppressed anger out and start taking it out on our follow man.

This is a hard movie to talk about, but not for the reasons that some of you may think. See, with a film as culturally significant and iconic as Fight Club, it’s hard to write a review/post, fifteen years later after the movie has been released and consumed, and bring up certain points that haven’t already been stated.

Well, technically, I could. Like for instance, I could talk about how incredibly sleek, grimy, and gritty David Fincher makes this movie look; or how the twist is a total shocker to any first-time viewer, yet, totally works when you see it countless other times; or even how mostly all of what Chuck Palahniuk was trying to get across about the state of our nation’s culture, our society, and the way in how our citizens were constantly being shaped into becoming what the rest of the world wanted them to be. Of course I could talk about all of this and while I’ll definitely dive into some of that here, simply restating these points would be lazy.

The perfect romance.......

The perfect romance…….

However, I’m going to probably do them anyway. Sorry, people. I’ll try and stay away as far and as long as I can, but such is the dilemma with Fight Club: There’s clearly a lot to discuss and argue about, but so much has already been said. Then again, on the flip side, the beauty behind Fight Club is that so many people can think about it differently. Because even though Fincher himself has sort of thrown little hints here and there about what the real meaning surrounding Fight Club is, he’s sort of left it all up to us, the viewer, and it’s not only a smart move on his part, but for us to actually follow through with it, as well.

I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a simple, relatively peaceful conversation about this movie and its meaning, that’s all of a sudden turned to something resembling a brawl. I’m totally exaggerating (maybe), but this is probably what Fincher and Palahniuk intended in the first place: They wanted their material to be dissected, interpreted, and talked about for days on end. Does it deserve to be? Absolutely, but there is something to be said for a movie that continues to still keep on popping up in pop-culture, and just real life in general.

Does that mean this movie is overrated? Not at all. But is it perfect? No, it is not. Fincher has definitely made some better movies in his storied-career and while this movie definitely comes close to being one of them, it just isn’t. However, that’s not really a complaint, as much as it’s just a statement from yours truly; Fight Club, for what it is, is a movie that deserves to be seen. If not a few times, just once then, because while it’s a movie that asks you to think outside of imaginary box you don’t know you have around your life, it’s also the rare studio-movie that poses some morally and ethnically questionable ideas about how a society is ran, and how those members in society feel when they aren’t allowed to express themselves for so very long.

For instance, take our unnamed protagonist, he’s your typical everyman – boring, easily influenced by conformity, and never true to himself or the beliefs he has lying underneath that clean shirt and tie. However, once he realizes that there’s more to the way the world can be ran, his especially, he can’t help but join in this free frenzy of anger, violence, and hate that stems from the inner-most core of man: The right to express themselves freely. And even though you could argue that he only does this because he’s so taken away with Tyler Durden and the way he carries himself through everyday, bizarre-o life, you could also look at the fact that this rage has been brewing inside of him for quite some time. It’s just until now that he finally gets a chance to let it all out, with a numerous amount of fellow men who feel the same as he does.

And since I already mentioned his name, I guess it’s right to mention the character of Tyler Durden himself: A wacky, wild and sometimes, border-line insane caricature of what every guy, no matter how hard they try to deny it, want to be. And honestly, what better actor to play this ideal-perception of a man, according to fellow men, than Brad Pitt himself. Not only is this pure casting-magic at its finest, but it’s also one of the sheer signs of genius that Pitt was beginning to show us; not just as an actor, but as a star who had the right to choose whatever project he wanted, without having to worry about how the rest of the world viewed him. Because yes, even though Pitt still gets to look hunky and jacked-out as humanly possible here, he’s still something of a grotesque character that you’re never too sure of. You know that he’s someone you can’t pin-point down if you saw him in a crowded room and met him for the first time, but then again, he’s the first guy you’d notice in that same crowded room.

....or is this?

….or is this?

This is to say that Pitt is wonderful in this role and absolutely crackles and pops with every second he gets to play as Tyler Durden. But that isn’t to say that Edward Norton doesn’t get to do anything effective here either as our main protagonist, because he totally does. It’s just less of a showier-role, which is totally saying something because Norton gets a chance to do everything we love seeing him do in just about any movie he decides to do: Get your attention right away, sometimes be funny, and make you wonder just what his character is going to do next.

The same could be said about the movie as well, because while Fight Club can’t necessarily be classified as something of a “thriller”, it’s still the kind of movie that will have you on edge. Not just with where it’s story goes, or the plot-mechanics of how, but why. Fincher does, much like what the novel also was capable of doing, bring up viewpoints on various forms of everyday society: Music, movies, television, fashion, commercials, etc. And while you could definitely say this a movie with an agenda, good luck trying to figure out what that agenda is.

Personally, I think it’s all about how we as a society are inherently already built to conform and give into mass-media. Or better yet, that fitting in and following along with the rest of the current is the right, relatively safe thing to do. Though I know this movie is speaking this mostly through/from the male viewpoint, I think this is a point that could be made for all members of society; stop doing what everybody else is doing, or what others say you should do. Stand up, scream, shout and do whatever you can to make yourself happy and express yourself. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean you should go around, starting clubs where people beat the shit out Jared Leto, that doesn’t mean you should sit back, watch from the back-row, and sheep around with the rest of the flock.

Or, you know, at least that’s what I think it’s about.

Consensus: Audacious, bold, original, thought-provoking, and somewhat of a crowd-pleaser, Fight Club is the perfect blend of art and commerce, while also serving as a metaphor for the world in which we live in, and the chaos that’s always linger from within it.

9.5 / 10 = Full Price!!

Aww, who am I kidding!?!? Just show me shirtless dudes, beating the shit out of one another! Fuck yeah! Rebellion rules!

Aww, who am I kidding!?!? Just show me shirtless dudes, beating the shit out of one another! Fuck yeah! Masculinity rules!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images, Collider

The Fisher King (1991)

Have to look out for them homeless. They can improv with the best of ’em.

Shock jock Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is at the top of his game; rich, famous, loved by almost everyone, has a few possible TV-deals in the pipeline and does whatever he wants, because he, quite frankly, thinks he’s the man. However, after he incidentally spurs on a caller to commit a killing spree, Jack is absolutely shocked and retreats from the spotlight. Three years later, he isn’t doing so well and is spending most of his time drinking, working in some low-rent, rental video store (it’s the 90’s), and, occasionally, pleases his loving, yet annoyed girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl). That all changes when, late one night in a drunken stooper, Jack is almost killed by a bunch of punk kids who have nothing better to do than pick on homeless people. That is, until he’s saved by a lively, eccentric homeless man with a big imagination who goes by the name Parry (Robin Williams). Though Jack initially doesn’t want anything to do with Parry, he soon realizes that the two may be connected moreso than he could have ever originally imagined and Jack decides to stick with Parry and see if he can turn both of their lives around.

I must say one thing off the bat: This isn’t my first time seeing the Fisher King. It may be the first time seeing it and actually liking it, but overall, it’s maybe my second or third, and from what I can recollect, this movie and I don’t have the best relationship. However though, due to the recent tragic news of the passing of Robin Williams I decided, “What the heck?!? It’s on Netflix for Chrissakes!”

And while I’m not the least bit happy Williams is gone from our screens, as well as our lives, I am happy to see a film of his that reminds us all why he was such a lovable presence to watch in the first place.

"You don't know who I am? I'm the, aw, forget it, man!"

“You don’t know who I am? I’m the, aw, forget it, man!”

That said, Williams isn’t the only good thing here; he’s only one piece to a very large, very strange, and very manic puzzle. The one putting all of those pieces together? Director Terry Gilliam who, if you don’t know already, is a guy who has a rather strange style. Mostly all of his movies, in one way or another, take place in some sort of fantasy-world, however, it’s how he spins those stories to make them not only touch your everyday movie-goer, but even those who don’t really care for his fantasy films, or fantasy films as a whole in general.

That sad-sack person would normally be me, but somehow, that all changed here. Gilliam’s style didn’t bother me here, mostly due to the fact that I was happy to see him take an honest, down-to-Earth story about two people helping one another out, and only using the fantasy-sequences to express what it is that’s going on in one of those particular character’s minds. Therefore, they feel less showwy, as if Gilliam himself can’t wait to show you what a big, brave and creative mind he has in that big ol’ head of his, and more in-tune to what it is that this story is trying to get at here – which is how everybody blocks certain things out of their heads, just so that they can make more room for the happy, pleasing stuff that we don’t harp on as much as we should.

Sounds quite sappy and movie-of-the-week-ish, but taken in the context of this movie and the way Gilliam allows his character’s to speak for themselves, it feels as honest and as raw as any drama out there. Of course, this isn’t just a “drama” through and through; there are plenty of elements of comedy, fantasy, and a psychological thriller tricking on through and while it doesn’t always work, it’s at least a bold move on Gilliam’s part to at least try with it and come out on top, more times than not. Gilliam’s full of plenty of bold moves here, but where he really nails it is in just giving us a simple tale of two people trying to help one another out, and by doing so, helping those out around them as well.

Some Gilliam die-hards may consider this “too weak” or “ordinary”, even by his standards, but I feel like it’s the kind of movie he had to make, just to show us that yes, he has an ounce of humanity inside of his soul and yes, he does know what it’s like to just pay attention to his characters. Sure, the moments where we see mystical creatures roaming the streets of Manhattan may be a tad cool to look at, but they don’t add to much; what does add up to a whole lot are the characters and how we see each and everyone of them grow and continue to do so over the time we spend with them. Time which, mind you, is two-hours-and-20-minutes, yet, breezes by so quickly, you’ll hardly ever notice.

Jeff Bridges has been one of those actors who, it doesn’t seem to matter how many great movies a year he does, he just never gets the love, adoration and notice he wholeheartedly deserves. Sure, he won the Oscar for Crazy Heart some odd years back, but that isn’t anything compared to the kind of work he was putting in some, odd ten/twenty years before. And one of those great performances of his is here as Jack Lucas; a shock jock made in the same vein of Howard Stern, yet, has some level of a conscience that makes him worth being invested in. Because lord knows, if we didn’t at least feel like this Lucas guy had some level of sympathy located in the pit of his stomach, then there’d be no reason for us to really care about his character, his plight, or even what he aspires to do.

It would have just been watching a dick head, try not to be a dick head, even though we know whole well that he’s just that: A dick head.

The perfect date, in the eyes of one Terry Gilliam.

The perfect double-date, in the eyes of one Terry Gilliam.

And even if that is the case, Bridges plays him so well that we do begin to see little shades of who he really is start to come out and it’s hardly ever tacked-on or unbelievable. There’s a belief in the way Lucas really wants to help out those around him who deserve it the most, which makes it all the more sad to see what happens to him when he realizes that, sometimes, you just have to give up and let others do their own thing and live their own lives. You can go your whole entire existence, trying your near and dear hardest to make those around you feel better as good about themselves as you do about you, but in reality, not everybody wants that. Sometimes, they just want to be left alone to do their own thing and live their own lives, without having to swat a helping hand every second, of everyday.

Which is why, at first, Williams’ Parry seems a whole lot like a bunch of crap that a screenwriter would just cobble up together to make some of us love him automatically, but as time goes on and we start to see and understand more about Parry, who he is, who he was, and why he’s in the state that he’s in now, there’s a certain connection we build with this guy. He’s happy just being him and even though that does mean he constantly smells like garbage and having change thrown at him and his little coffee cup, he doesn’t care. He’s just a guy who wants to keep on living the life and being happy about all of it.

He’s the perfect character for Robin Williams to play and it’s no shock to anyone to find out that he’s great in the role. Say what you will about his whole, joke-a-second-act, when the man was on fire, there was nobody better. Here, as Parry, he gets a chance to not only be his own, manic-self, but even reveal more beneath the facade as well that, believe it or not, does resemble something of a human being. By now, we all know that Williams was capable of acting like a real person, and much less of a wacky and wild wildebeest who could never switch the “off” button, well, on, but to get a chance to see him juggle both aspects of his acting is a testament to the kind of performer he truly was.

And that’s not to discredit anybody else in this film; especially not the ladies of the cast. Amanda Plummer is suitably weird and quirky as the object of Parry’s affection, and Mercedes Ruehl absolutely deserved the Oscar she got for her work here as Anne, Jack’s no-nonsense, yet, incredibly lovely girlfriend – but it’s Williams and the show he’s able to give us that ends up striking the final note, making it the hardest and most felt one.

Exactly how he would have wanted it, too.

Consensus: Gilliam’s direction doesn’t always work, but when he’s paying attention to the cast and the humane story in the middle of the Fisher King, it’s an emotionally satisfying piece.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Go get 'em, tiger."

“Go get ’em, tiger.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images


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