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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 1990s

The Cable Guy (1996)

What’s a “Cable Guy”? Better yet, what’s “cable”? Is it like Netflix?

Matthew Broderick plays Steven, a dude who just got out of a relationship and needs someone to fix his cable one day. He calls up the cable guy (Jim Carrey) and he’s a bit weird, but he gets the job done. However, the cable guy wants more than just the job, he wants a buddy and that’s something Steven isn’t quite up for just yet.

The Cable Guy is often forgotten about in today’s world of media, whenever it comes to the conversations of the careers of both Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller. See, while they are both two of the most recognizable names in comedy, at one time, they actually got together and tried to make something that, well, wasn’t quite a comedy. If anything, it’s a lot darker and weirder than anyone had ever expected, which is probably why it’s hardly ever heard from and basically bombed when it was first released.

But did it deserve all that?

It's Jim Carrey being wacky! What could go wrong?!?

It’s Jim Carrey being wacky! What could go wrong?!?

Not really.

 

The Cable Guy is a strange movie, for sure, but definitely more of a comedy, than an actual drama. There’s lots to laugh at, but there’s also plenty more to cringe and be surprised by, too; there’s no real distinction between genres here and Stiller does a solid enough job as writer and director, never letting us in on the lines. We think we know what should be laugh-out-loud hilarious because of other comedies and what they constitute as hilarity, but with the Cable Guy, it’s far different and it’s why the movie, while not always successful, is an interesting watch.

And at the center, yes, it does have a little something to say about the culture of television and how, in ways, it can shelter us off from the rest of the world, and have us feel as if we are in our own, little bubble – the same kind of bubble where you are always loved, accepted and taken in, for who you are, not what you should be. Sure, it’s obvious and been said many times before, but the Cable Guy tells it again, but in a much smarter, heartfelt way, especially with Carrey’s portrayal of the title character who, surprisingly enough, is never given a name.

See! He's not so bad!

See! He’s not so bad!

How fitting.

Which isn’t all to say that the movie’s a down-and-out drama, because it’s actually pretty funny when it wants to be. Of course, though, it brings on problems with tone, where it seems like the movie may have bitten-off more than it can chew and handle all at once, but still, there’s something refreshing about watching a major-studio comedy flick give it the professional try. It may swing and barely hit, but at least it’s trying in the first place, so sometimes, a pat on the fanny is all that matters.

Right? Eh. Whatever.

Anyway, Carrey is the real reason why the movie works as well as it does, because he, like the movie’s tone, constantly has us guessing. We never know what he’s going to say, do, or try next and because of that, we don’t know whether to love, like, or be terrified of him. There’s this slight sense of danger to him, but also a bit of fun, too. Then, there’s also this sad aspect to him that may make you want to give him a hug. It’s a rich character that could have probably done wonders in a far darker, more dramatic movie, but as is, Carrey’s terrific in the role that, unsurprisingly enough, audiences just weren’t ready to accept just yet. It would take some time, obviously, but man, if only they had caught on sooner, rather than later.

On the opposing side of Carrey is Matthew Broderick, who’s fine as the usual straight-man he’s so used to playing by now, but his character has some issues. For one, he’s a bit of an a-hole; he’s constantly a Debbie-downer, never having anything nice or pleasant to say, and yeah, just not bringing much to the movie as a whole. Like I said, Broderick tries, but it seems like the script wasn’t there for him; instead of developing another compelling and well-rounded character, the movie just made him something of a blank slate, with little-to-no personality and allow for the Cable Guy to get all the work. It’s not like it doesn’t work, but hey, it would have definitely helped if we had a little more to work with.

Consensus: It’s obvious what the Cable Guy is trying to say, but it’s less about the message, and more about the funny, sometimes darkly odd premise, bolstered by an unforgettably crazy and all-star performance from Carrey.

8 / 10

Oh, uhm. Ha-ha?

Oh, uhm. Ha-ha?

Photos Courtesy of: Monkeys Fighting Robots

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After Dark, My Sweet (1990)

dark

Small towns will be the death of ya.

After having quite an illustrious career in boxing, Kevin “the Kid” Collins (Jason Patric) loses it all in one fell swoop, when he loses his cool in the ring and damn near kills his fellow opponent, way after the bell was rung. This leaves Kevin on his own, on the run from the law, essentially, and now drifting all around the country. For what reason? Or better yet, what is he trying to reach/achieve? Well, Kevin himself doesn’t quite know, until he meets the sweet, sexy and illustrious Fay (Rachel Ward), who takes him in to her abandoned home right away. Why, though? She isn’t offering him sex, and she sure as hell isn’t all that nice to him, so why would someone like Fay allow a total and absolute stranger like Kevin into her home? Well, once Kevin meets Uncle Garrett (Bruce Dern), he soon begins to realize what his purpose in the house is and it may lead to some dangerous, violent situations for all three involved.

Yep. not crazy.

Yep, not crazy.

After Dark, My Sweet is the kind of noir that you have to take your time with. I’ll admit it, the first time I saw it, I wasn’t quite ready; for some odd reason, I had the feeling that I was going to be getting a sexy, exciting, and rather tense crime-thriller, with hot people acting all dangerous and secretive, but instead, I got something much, much slower and more detailed. Back in those days, I couldn’t appreciate the movie for what it was, but the times have changed and well, so have I.

I’m still an a-hole regardless, but a better movie-viewer.

And that’s why After Dark, My Sweet, worked better for me this go around; it’s not that I knew what to expect in terms of the plot (much of which I actually forgot), but knew what to expect and look for in terms of its tone and pacing. Director James Foley has a knack for telling these rather dark and dreary tales of sad, lonely people, trying to make sense of the world that they live in, and he does a solid job here – the movie can get a little meandering at points, never knowing what it wants to be about, but the meandering actually kind of works in the movie’s favor. We don’t quite know where this story is going and the movie’s better off for it.

Foley knows that telling a story like this, you need to keep your audience in the dark, every step of the way. Eventually, the movie starts to figure itself out, make sense of itself, and tell us what it’s going to be and from then on, it does actually get rather tense and exciting, but like I said before, not in the ways that you’d expect. There’s not a whole lot of violence, there’s not a whole lot of blood, and there sure as hell isn’t a whole lot of guns, but sometimes, you don’t need all of that to make a movie exciting and tense – sometimes, all you need is good characters, a compelling plot, and oh yeah, a solid cast.

Look out when Bruce gives you that look!

Look out when Bruce gives you that look!

Which After Dark, My Sweet, definitely has.

Jason Patric is especially the stand-out here, as Kevin Collins, an odd, weird and definitely mysterious person we think we have a good idea about early on, but over time, throughout, we start to see new shadings, too. Patric deserves a lot of credit for this, too, because a character like this could have easily been annoying and dull – the sheer fact we don’t know much about him, besides what we tell him, is already a bit of a stretch – bit Patric makes this character interesting. We don’t know if he’s a good guy, a bad one, or just someone doing things because, well, he’s bored and he’s got nothing else to do. Or, is he a total loon who needs to be locked away from the rest of society? We never quite know and that’s why Patric’s performance is mostly special.

That, and well, he’s always been one of my favorites actors around, so yeah, maybe that’s got something to do with it.

Bruce Dern also shows up as Uncle Garrett, another shady, mysterious figure who doesn’t give us his full intentions right away, but over time, starts to peel away certain layers to his skin. Dern’s great at these kinds of characters and yeah, he’s clearly in his element here, although you do feel a whole lot more sad for this character. The only one who seems to be a bit out of her depth, for some odd reason, is Rachel Ward, however, I don’t know how much of that is her problem. The character of Fay is, essentially, a type – she’s the femme fatale, but a lot more naive and vulnerable. The movie doesn’t know what to say about her, though, either; she’s less of a mystery to us than the other two and because of that, we never know if she really counts to the overall story. Ward tries, and she’s definitely stunning, but her character just seems like more of a type, than well, an actual human being.

Something movies like these survive off of from dorks like me.

Consensus: Sexy and compelling, After Dark, My Sweet takes its time to get going, but is still deserving of a watch with the solid cast.

7.5 / 10

Oh so sexy and well, kind of sad.

Oh so sexy and well, kind of sad.

Photos Courtesy of: Twenty Four Frames

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

jonathan

Sell, or die.

Four salesmen get the wake-up call of their lives when corporate decides to wake them up with the highest seller in the company (Alec Baldwin), over to their dingy office to not just motivate them, but also warn them: If they do not sell the right amount real estate that’s necessary, well, then they’re fired. This shocks everyone to the core and leaves each salesman left to fend for themselves, by any means necessary. There’s George (Alan Arkin) and Dave (Ed Harris), two guys who seem to have each other’s backs, even in all of the thick of this; there’s Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), who can hang with the best of them and get any person to buy, just based solely on his charm alone; there’s old-timer Shelley “the Machine” (Jack Lemmon), who’s been in this business long enough to know just how to sell, but has been having a rough go as of late; and then, finally, there’s John (Kevin Spacey), who is, essentially, their boss, but is mostly there to just go back to corporate and tell them all what these guys are doing, who’s providing the best results, and most importantly, who gets to stay, and who gets to go.

I'd love to have a drink anywhere near these two. Seriously.

I’d love to have a drink anywhere near these two. Seriously.

Glengarry Glen Ross is great for many reasons, the main being David Mamet and his way with words. Sure, it’s no surprise to anyone who has ever seen a Mamet movie that the guy knows how to script smart, somewhat tough-guy dialogue for people you wouldn’t expect to saying it, but watching and especially, listening, to each and every person talk in Glengarry Glen Ross, is truly a joyful experience. It’s like listening to an old pro, just go on and on about his experiences and life lessons, without it ever seeming hacky, or annoying – you want to hear gramps go on and on, so long as there’s more coffee being provided.

In Glengarry Glen Ross, you don’t need the coffee. All you really need is the great ensemble assembled here, all of whom, honestly, are pretty great. And this deserves to be pointed out, too, because in a lot of Mamet’s movies, you can tell when there are those people who can do his dialogue justice, and others who just can’t seem to get it. Due to his dialogue being so mannered and stern, sure, some actors come off as if they’re trying too hard, or not getting the point, but when you have those actors who do know what they’re doing and know how to handle the material, then it’s an absolute delight to listen to.

Which is why, I reiterate again, there’s no bad performance to be found anywhere here.

Everyone’s perfect for their role and it’s the rare gamble wherein a bunch of big names took on Mamet’s material, and they were all pretty great, without a single weak one anywhere in sight. Al Pacino does a superb job as the slimy, but smarmy and charming Ricky Roma; Alan Arkin is interesting to watch as the sort of meek and mild salesman, who seems as if his fighting days are long over; Ed Harris plays a rather sensitive role as the one salesman who is trying his best to stay afloat, but also seems to realize that his career has gone down the crapper; Kevin Spacey is good in a rare against-type role as a rather cowardly boss who has to do a lot of heavy-lifting for his job, doesn’t like it, but hey, has to get paid somehow; and of course, yeah, Alec Baldwin’s cameo is pretty amazing and legendary, but there’s no reason to go on about it. You’ve seen it, you’ve loved it, and you’ve probably quoted it a hundred times before, so there’s no reason to beat that horse.

We got it. Sell.

We got it. Sell.

But really, the stand-out for me, and the one who should have gotten more attention, was Jack Lemmon and his performance as Shelley, or as some call him, “the Machine”. Later-day Lemmon wasn’t filled with all that many bright spots, where he saw himself in more old grandpa roles, rather than the kind that challenged him more and showed that even in his old age, he could still hang with the big boys. And in Glengarry Glen Ross, he got to show that; the character of “the Machine” is a rich one in the first place, but Lemmon dives deep into him, with all that he’s got. “The Machine” is a sad, unfortunate man who sees his life and his career slowly running away from him, but he doesn’t sit around, he doesn’t pout, and he doesn’t ask for any sympathy – he goes out there and tries to sell, dammit. Lemmon makes us see the unbearably sad limits this character will go to, not just to stay successful, but somewhat relevant, as if his name will forever be remembered in the world of salesman.

It’s sad to think that such a thing exists.

The only thing that keeps Glengarry Glen Ross away from being the perfect piece of film making that it sometimes flirts with the idea of being, is that it’s pacing is a bit off. Director James Foley does a nice job of giving us a dark, eerie and noir-ish tone to the whole movie, without ever taking his attention away from the actors and their craft, but sometimes, it feels like it’s less of a play, and more of just a bunch of conversations happening, that we get to hear somehow. Not much of a story and when they do try to give us something of that, it doesn’t quite register. All we want to do is hear and watch these guys try to sell real estate, as well as their lives.

Sometimes, that’s all we need to be happy in a world like this.

Consensus: With amazing performances all around and an absolutely biting script from Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross works as one of the better stage-to-film adaptations that has some ripples, but overall, transitions quite well.

8.5 / 10

Oh and yeah, you need those things, too.

Oh and yeah, you need those things, too.

Photos Courtesy of: LIDA’S FILM BLOG

The Corruptor (1999)

Chinatown’s good for everything but the night life.

NYPD Lieutenant Nick Chen (Chow Yun-Fat) is head of the Asian Gang Unit and his main job is to ensure that there is peace in Chinatown. After a turf war between the Triads and the Fukienese Dragons broke out in the town, Chen now really has hands full, with even more possible gang-warfare expected to break out and kill more and more people, most of all, innocents who just so happen to get wrapped-up in the fire. The city sees this, knows this, and recognizes that this is a huge problem, and not one that can be handled by just one cop all alone. That’s why they decide to send over talented agent Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg), who knows how to get the job done, however, Chen isn’t having any of it; Wallace doesn’t like Chen much either, but he knows that there’s a job that needs to be done and because of that, he’s not going to let personal issues get in the way. But the two start to dig in on each other’s past more thoroughly and they begin to find out that the other has something dirty and controversial, making them wonder if they can continue to work together and stop this whole warfare from starting.

"So, uh, do we have to be friends, or something?"

“So, uh, do we have to be friends, or something?”

You have to feel bad for Chow Yun-Fat, one of the most exciting and iconic Chinese talents ever, because no matter how hard we try, the States just doesn’t get him. Or, if they do, they don’t give him the right material that’s not just worthy of his talents, but matches perfectly why people have loved him so much in John Woo’s films. See, the movies that he’s done, where he’s the lead and made out to be this big deal, don’t really match the same sort of craziness and excitement that Woo’s films have and allow for Yun-Fat to shine; movies like Bulletproof Monk, the Replacement Killers, Dragonball Evolution, and yeah, even the third Pirates of the Caribbean, all gave him something to do and kick ass, but it just didn’t match what everyone knew and loved him for over in China. What made him a bonafide star over there, for some reason, just didn’t translate over to here.

And it’s not like it’s his fault, either, because Yun-Fat tries as he might in all of these flicks, including the Corruptor – it’s just that these movies themselves don’t measure up. They’re not as crazy, not as wild, not as fun, and sure as hell not as entertaining as we’re used to seeing Yun-Fat and his movies and it’s why they feel like a sheer disappointments, considering what we know Yun-Fat himself can do.

But the Corruptor may be the better of them because it gives him a lot to do, in terms of action and acting, but still, there’s something missing.

For one, the Corruptor was clearly seen as Yun-Fat’s big break into the American-market and because of that, he gets a lot to do; he nails his English as well as you’d expect, the scenes where he has to throw guns around and kick ass, he shows off style in, and when it’s just him, sitting down, smoking a cig, he’s still pretty cool and charming. The man’s got presence for sure, it’s just that the Corruptor, oddly enough, just doesn’t know what to do with him, or better yet, even itself.

The Corruptor tries to be a lot of things, but for some odd reason, never seems to fully explore any of the numerous ideas. At one point, it’s a look into the deep, violent and bloody underground of Chinatown; at another, it’s a look at police corruption. At one point, it’s a drama about racism and prejudice and how it affects the workplace; at another, it’s about sons and fathers not connecting with one another and hiding secrets from one another. At one point, it’s this mysterious, crime-thriller where secrets have to be discovered and murders have to be solved; at another, it’s this slam-bang, crazy and violent action flick that likes killing people and blowing up cars.

Kind of confused, yet? Well, that’s sort of the point.

Chinese stand-offs are a lot wilder than Mexican ones.

Chinese stand-offs are a lot wilder than Mexican ones.

The Corruptor doesn’t know what it wants to be and it’s a shame because director James Foley is probably not the best one to make sense of this material. You almost get the sense that he was shooting and looking for something deeper, smaller and far more emotional, but once the studio got involved and realized the possibility of the bucks that they could rake in, well, he lost all control. Foley is best when he’s dealing with these tiny and sturdy character-pieces, and while the Corruptor still feels very much like a noir of his, it’s still clearly not up his alley and it takes away from what could have been a far better, more exciting and interesting movie.

Speaking of studio interference, it’s also obvious that Mark Wahlberg was thrown into the cast, just because he was a sort of big name at the time and the studio really wanted to ensure that people would flock out to see it. And even though Wahlberg is perfectly fine now and one of the best leading-men we have around, back in ’99, he wasn’t quite established; his acting wasn’t all that there, he seemed far too serious for his own good, and yeah, he didn’t show much versatility. And it’s a shame, too, because the scenes he has with Yun-Fat, you can tell that the two are clearly trying to make some sort of spark happen, but the script just isn’t there and neither are they. They’re there to collect a paycheck, move on and see what happens to their career next.

It’s a good sign for Marky Mark. Maybe not Yun-Fat, but hey, it probably doesn’t bother him much.

Consensus: Unfocused and rather conventional, the Corruptor gets by on the bits and pieces of a compelling story, as well as an always reliable Yun-Fat, but ultimately, feels like a missed opportunity to make something great and memorable.

5 / 10

"Yeah, elsewhere, I'm a pretty big deal."

“Yeah, elsewhere, I’m a pretty big deal.”

Photos Courtesy of: Film Critic, Esq.

Blood In Blood Out (1993)

Trust your brothers. Half, or not.

Growing up on the streets of East Los Angeles is pretty rough, especially if you’re a Chicano kid. You’re always being looked at by cops, you’re always seen as a gang-member, and you’re always seeming to be looking for trouble. For three brothers, this is especially the truth. There’s Miklo (Damian Chapa), who leads their gang and seems to have the most violent tendencies out of the three; there’s Cruz (Jesse Borrego), the artist of the three who aspires for something bigger and better, even if his own family and gang-life may bring him down; and then there’s Paco (Benjamin Bratt), who knows that he wants something more out of life, too, but just doesn’t know what yet and because of that, is stuck thinking about what sort of career he wants to explore. All three of them try to navigate through life and survive on the streets, however, when you have a gun in your face, that’s a lot easier said then done, which is what happens to one of the brothers, leaving the two left to pick up the pieces back at home, while the one is at jail, gaining a whole new outlook on life. And not in the good way, either.

Self-portrait?

Self-portrait?

When you’re movie is nearly three hours long, you have to try really hard to have us, the audience, make sense of that. You can’t just have one large movie, with all of this material written for it, and throw it at us, expecting us to take it all in and be fine with it – this is literally three hours of our lives. Three hours we may never, ever get back; it’s fine if it’s an hour-and-a-half, or maybe even two hours, but three is really asking much and that’s sort of why Blood In Blood Out doesn’t totally work.

Had it been literally an hour shorter, it probably would have been an exciting, compelling and relatively heartfelt look inside the lives of three men and the adventures that their lives took, but with that extra hour, it’s overlong, drawn-out, and honestly, kind of dull. It’s the kind of movie where, had it been shorter, would have been fine, warts, flaws and all, but as a three-hour movie, it’s sort of hard not to get by them; you start to pick apart the puzzle a little bit more, piece by piece, until you realize that there’s something wrong here and you’re getting closer and closer to figuring out what. And then, you do, because you had all of the time in the world and well, what else were you going to do with your time?

Oh, watch the movie? Okay, yeah sure, but Blood In Blood Out doesn’t really have all that much going on within it.

For the most part, it’s a pretty conventional tale that will, every half-hour or so, bring out some true excitement and liveliness, but for the most part, tells this familiar story in such a slow-pace, it’s hard to really ever get caught up in it all. Not to mention that the movie does take on three different subplots, neither of which are ever all that interesting, with the exception of Miklo’s trips to jail; there, the movie becomes an interesting, if overly familiar prison-drama that’s got all of the standard stuff we expect from prison-dramas of the same nature. But for some reason, in that story at least, there’s a sense of realism and grit not found in the other, too, and helps keep things afloat when, quite frankly, they start to drown.

And as director, Taylor Hackford doesn’t quite have enough skill to make all of this material work and stay alive, in a three-hour production. It’s clear that a lot of this could have been trimmed-out, taken out, left on the editing-room floor, and somewhere to be found on the DVD extras, but nope. For some reason, Blood In Blood Out is nearly three hours and it never makes the case for it to be that way.

Is it possible to be moody, gritty and hot, all at the same time?

Is it possible to be moody, gritty and hot, all at the same time?

Of course, there’s a lot of brutal and bloody violence to be seen and shocked by, but at what cost? The movie is portraying prison the same way it’s always been portrayed as and it’s not really doing much else, either. The other two stories are supposed to be this small, dark and sometimes sad tales about guys growing up and finding out more about their lives, but it just doesn’t quite work – we don’t feel anything for these characters and we sure as hell don’t really see them as anything more than just cliches.

The only aspect about them barely getting them by is the ones who play them.

Damian Chapa has a lot to do as Miklo and does a fine enough job with it, but like a few others, he does tend to go a little over-the-top, almost to the point of where it’s laughable. There’s something about the look in his eyes and his bulky-presence that carries him from scene-to-scene, but there’s also something about how he yells almost every line of dialogue, that also ruins said eyes and presence. Jesse Borrego doesn’t fair much better as the artsy Cruz, who battles with drug-addiction and being ripped-off by agents, and yeah, it doesn’t quite matter, because, well, who cares. Benjamin Bratt is probably the best out of the three, because when push comes to shove, he downplays almost the whole thing. His character is far more responsible than the other two and because of that, it’s not hard to sympathize with him as best as we can.

Now, why couldn’t we have gotten his own story for one, little movie?

Consensus: At a nearly three-hour run-time, Blood In Blood Out more than wears out its welcome with familiar, dated subplots about violence, prison, gangs, racism, drugs, and all of that other fun stuff we learned about in high school.

4 / 10

Strike a pose!

Strike a pose!

Photos Courtesy of: Crime Movies, Grantland

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Damn. Life kinda sucks.

In a small New England town, where everyone knows each other, their family history, and business, Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates) works as a housekeeper for the rich but sometimes heartless Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt). Vera’s a crabby woman who says and does what she wants, which is something that Dolores puts up on a day-to-day basis and has been for at least two decades now. However, when Vera turns up dead, the cops all look right towards Dolores and want to know just what her motive was. Meanwhile, her estranged daughter, Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a well-respected New York City journalist, decides to visit her old town and mother and investigate the matter for herself. As Selena continues to dig deeper and deeper into this case, as well as into her own mother’s past, she realizes that there’s a lot more involved with her family-history than she, or the cops, know. Something that may explain why she is the way she is all of these many years later.

It seems like a lot of people have problems with movies if they’re “too depressing”. Sometimes, it seems like a movie has to be right amount of dark, stark and serious, but also the right amount of light, heart and humor, to make it seem more like a balancing-act. While in some cases, sure, this may be true, but for a movie like Dolores Claiborne, there doesn’t need to be much light, heart, humor, or even fun – all it needs to be is a dark, stark, serious and yes, damn depressing flick.

"Don't look at me with those wild eyes, Daffy!"

“Don’t look at me with those wild eyes, Daffy!”

And in that way, sure, it works.

Director Taylor Hackford seems to get enough right then wrong here, considering that he’s adapting some very rough and disturbing material from Stephen King. While it’s hard to dive into this movie without saying many of the spoilers that do eventually come to light, just know this: You probably won’t be expecting it and that’s because Hackford seems to do a good job of hiding the mystery from us. Sure, the movie may tell us some stuff too early on to really have us gripped, but there’s still an aura of mystery surrounding the movie, even in the more simpler moments.

That said, there’s something odd about Dolores Claiborne, and it seems to come through the actual material itself. In a way, the story is an absolute horror-story, except, without ghosts, goblins, or ghouls, there’s real life, dirty, despicable and disgusting human beings. In a way, the later is far more scarier than the former, which is why a story like this can be and is, chilling. But Dolores Claiborne is odd in that it doesn’t know whether or not it wants to be an all-out horror flick, a dark Southern Gothic, an over-the-top thriller, or a small, subtle drama about families and the secrets we all keep.

All by themselves, they make for some very interesting movies. However, together, they just don’t quite mesh.

Hackford’s good with the mystery here, but he isn’t the most subtle director in all the world, which can sometimes lead to his far more darker and messed-up scenes, somewhat coming off as silly. There’s a very loud score that screeches every time something bad or dramatic happens, and it almost seems like a parody after awhile; it gets worse by the end of the flick when character revelations are coming to us and half of the time, we’re hearing the bombastic score and nothing else. While a story like this probably isn’t asking to be as downplayed as I make it sound, there is something to be said for a movie that doesn’t know when to chill it on the theatrics and just trust the story, and the actors to speak for themselves.

After all, there are a lot of heavy-hitters here and for the most part, they all do fine. But before I jump into one performance in particular, I just want to talk about accents in movies: They’re hard to pull-off. I get this. You get this. They get this. We all get this. However, there’s an issue with your movie when there’s supposed to be one sort of signature accent that each and every character should have and, well, for some reason, they don’t. Everyone’s speaking differently, despite being from the exact same place, everyone seems to be trying hard, and yeah, everyone seems to be forgetting about them halfway through.

It happens in a lot of movies, but it’s never hit me as hard as it did with Dolores Claiborne, the one movie where not a single person has the same accent going for them. Due to every character here basically being from this New England town, there’s a lot of hard “a’s” and “r’s”, and while two people in particular seem to get it down perfectly, others like John C. Reilly, David Strathairn, and especially Jennifer Jason Leigh, not just struggle with it, but never seem to let us forget about that neither; Reilly sometimes sounds British, Strathairn, while chilling, sounds like a cartoon, and Leigh, seems like she doesn’t know whether she wants to fully commit to the accent, or not. Instead, it all just sounds like everyone’s getting started with the accents and aren’t quite ready to film them just yet, but Hackford himself didn’t care and just started filming anyway.

Symbolism?

Symbolism?

Regardless, they just don’t work.

End. Of. Story.

Okay, maybe not the actual end because if there is one person who not just gets the accent right, but just about everything else, it’s Kathy Bates. It’s probably no surprise at all that Bates can do great work with a role as a hard-ass, rough-nosed woman who doesn’t take any crap from anyone around her, but there’s more to her than just a tough shell – we soon start to realize that under the hard-exterior, lies a sad, tortured and vulnerable who just wants to be loved, or better yet, even held. It’s the kind of role that, in a much better movie, would garner a lot of Oscar-buzz, but unfortunately, because the rest of the movie is so wild and crazy, it unfortunately takes away from Bates’ powerhouse-of-a-role more.

Oh well. Kathy’s still bad-ass no matter which way you put it.

Consensus: With a dark, brooding atmosphere and great performance from Bates, Dolores Claiborne works, but is also hampered by the rest of the ensemble, as well as Hackford’s tendencies to go a little overboard when it isn’t necessary to do so.

6.5 / 10

Nice green-screen. What? Was New England nowhere to be found?

Nice green-screen. What? Was New England nowhere to be found?

Photos Courtesy of: Cinesnatch

The Mighty (1998)

David and Goliath could have always been pals. But society, man.

Maxwell Kane (Elden Henson) is having a pretty rough time growing up. His mom’s died, his father (James Gandolfini) is in jail, he’s living with his grand-parents (Harry Dean Stanton and Gena Rowlands), and his big, sort of dumb, and easy to pick on. He’s trying to better himself and in a way, make the situation that he’s in, better as a result, but because of all these bullies and the fact that he has yet to pass the seventh grade, really does hinder from accomplishing some of the achievements he sets out for himself. However, there is some hope for Maxwell, but oddly enough, it comes in the form of his next-door neighbor Kevin (Kiernan Culkin), who happens to have been born with a bad spine, forcing him to hobble around on crutches for what may seem like the rest of his short existence. With Kevin, Maxwell not only learns how to read better and pass the seventh grade, but in return, he puts Kevin up on his shoulders and takes him everywhere that he wants to go. And because Kevin has such an ambitious head on his shoulders, this normally leads the two to some pretty crazy and wild adventures, with a few of them leading to some pretty dark and scary places.

Round one, fight!

Round one, fight!

I’m torn about the Mighty for a lot of odd reasons. It’s not because I can’t decide whether the movie is “good”, or “bad”; it’s definitely “fine”, and probably nothing more. No, what I’m really torn about is whether or not I should have liked it more, because of what it did with the sub-genre of kids movies. The Mighty, on the outside and sort of in, seems like a traditional kids movie, in which it deals with some sad themes, like death, jail, and bullying, but uplifting ones, too, like family, love, respect and inspiration.

But it’s never really a total kids movie, or at least, not the kind I’m used to seeing. What the Mighty teaches, is that being the best to your ability is always a good way to get by in life, but also keeping yourself smart, by reading, challenging yourself, and constantly exploring the world, will also make a you better person in the long run. It also takes about the reality of death, what it does, how it can affect you, and how just to get by it all; very rarely do kids movies touch on death, for the sake of not scaring too many parents/kids away from seeing, but the Mighty isn’t scared of doing that. In fact, it embraces the reality of life and knows that it’s better to talk about it, rather than just shove it to the side and forgetting about its existence.

But at the same time, the movie’s still not as good as it should be.

One reason is because while it can be sentimental, it’s also very cheesy, seeming like a movie made in the early 70’s, as opposed to a movie made in the late-90’s. For instance, there’s a bunch of bullies who run rampant around Chicago, picking on Maxwell, Kevin, and oddly enough, random adults who sort of just take it and accept it as is. Needless to say, these are kids who are probably around 15-16, running around a city like Chicago, getting away with robbery and random bits of assault, all forgetting that it’s Chicago and yeah, they don’t put up with a lot of crap, let alone a pack of young white kids, snatches up purses and picking off wallets.

That, to me, is just relatively laughable, but okay, I’m willing to get past it for the sole fact that it’s basically a kids movie and sure, some fantasy is allowed. But then the movie, for some reason or another, decides that it needs more to its plot than just Kevin and Maxwell getting to know one another better, and making each other better people. Therefore, we get a random, wholly unnecessary subplot involving Maxwell’s long lost criminal daddy, that comes in and out of the story for a total of fifteen minutes, wastes the sheer talent of Gandolfini, and oh yeah, is settled in about two seconds.

I'd eat at that table. The kiddies would have to shut it though.

I’d eat at that table. The kiddies would have to shut it and let the grown ups speak, though.

It’s silly and breaks up any energy that the movie had going for it.

Because when it’s about Maxwell and Kevin, well, it kind of works. Once again, it’s one of these kids movies where the kids talk and act a lot smarter than you’d typically expect, which can get to be a bit tiresome, after about the fourth or fifth soliloquy. It does help that two very young guys like Elden Henson and Kiernan Culkin are working with this dialogue, but sometimes, even they fall prey to its forced-quirkiness, with Culkin’s character hardly ever saying anything in a serious manner – older Culkin is a different story, but when he was about 12 or so, yeah, it just didn’t quite work.

Honestly though, it’s a real shame that so many people in this great cast got wasted. Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton are basically here to just be the grand-parents, who don’t really do or say much of anything at all; Sharon Stone tries what she can with such an under-written role as Kevin’s mom; Gillian Anderson’s character is another bit of pure waste, even though she’s charming as hell; and even Meat Loaf shows up, not really doing much. The Mighty is definitely a kids movie, which makes sense that it would put such a huge emphasis on the kids and forget about the adults, but come on, when you have a cast full of so many heavy-hitters, it’s an absolute shame not to use them.

Then again, if the kiddies are happy, who cares, right?

Consensus: Corny, overly sentimental, and surprisingly over-plotted, the Mighty does deal with some very important aspects about growing up and living up to your full potential, but ultimately, doesn’t live up to its own.

5 / 10

Life is better when you tower over everyone. Trust me.

Life is better when you tower over everyone. Trust me.

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex, Mubi

All About My Mother (1999)

Everyone’s got mommy problems. Some more than others, obviously.

Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a nurse and single mother tries her hardest to come to terms with the death of her one and only son, Esteban (Eloy Azorin), who was tragically killed when he was struck by a car. For some odd reason, Manuela never got around to telling her son about his father, except that he was dead. However, that was all a lie and after much time of just sitting around and wallowing in her own grief, Manuela decides to get up and leave Madrid and head for Barcelona in hopes of finding Esteban’s actual, real life and hopefully, still alive, father. However, the man that she left behind, eighteen years ago when she was pregnant, is now a transvestite named Lola (Toni Canto). Now, Manuela has to find out just what happened to Lola all of these past years and actually come to grips with where her life has gone, for better and for worse.

All About My Mother is typically considered one of Almodóvar’s best, and with good reason. For obvious reasons, it won him a plethora of awards, especially the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, among some very stiff competition that year. But despite all of that surface-junk, it’s one of his most tightly-written; his balance of wacky, over-the-top comedy, with heartfelt, somewhat subtle character-drama and obvious melodrama is so perfect here that it almost seems like he’s not trying.

Laugh it up, ladies. Something bad may happen soon.

Laugh it up, ladies. Something bad may happen soon.

If anything, it’s the one movie where it doesn’t even seem like he was on the set for half of the days, directing and you know what? The movie’s kind of better off for that. There’s a feeling of ease to this, that isn’t found in all of his other flicks; other movies obviously show a tad bit of restraint and relaxation from Almodóvar, but for the most part, they all flirt with it, until they’ve had enough of sitting around and decide to get a little wacky. All About My Mother, in another way, sort of stays the same, practically the whole time and it’s a better movie for it.

Still, it’s an Almodóvar movie through and through and that should never be forgotten.

What it mostly all comes down to is the characters and from Almodóvar, they’re always strong. But what’s always most interesting about his characters is that he’s writing strong, emotional roles for and about women, without ever seeming like he’s looking down upon them, judging them, or simply using them as a prop so that he can get his kicks off of them. Sure, he’s had some questionable issues with sex and gender in the past with his movies, but when you get right down to it, no one is writing strong characters for women like he is and it helps you think of his movies in a far better light because of it. Most Hollywood movies have forgotten how to write for, or about, women in the first place, so it’s a nice bit of fresh air to see someone who knows what he’s doing and how he’s going to go all about it.

And if you need any further evidence of what I’m trying to get across, just look at each and every character in All About My Mother. Sure, a lot of them are goofy and rather over-the-top, but they’re also real, honest, living, breathing and emotional human beings, not to mention, women; the same kind of women who aren’t afraid to lash-out and be emotional every once and awhile, because, well, they’re allowed to. Almodóvar seems to have every character here perfectly written down, even to their smallest, little tic or trait, that it feels like, as time goes on and on, we get to know and love them even more.

She's not just beautiful, but a good actor, people!

She’s not just beautiful, but a good actor, people!

It also helps that the ensemble is pretty great, too, as is usually the case.

Of course, All About My Mother features the usual talent we’ve come to expect with Almodóvar, which isn’t necessarily a criticism, as he knows what works for thee ladies, and what doesn’t. Cecila Roth’s Manuela has to act-out in some unsympathetic ways, but because this is, essentially, her tale, we always feel for her; Marisa Paredes’ celebrity-mother character is perfect for her vamping-side, but we also get to see a little more underneath the facade that makes her everyday interactions with those around her, incredibly interesting; Penelope Cruz is here in an early role, showing a certain bit of heart and humanity that I wish more modern-audiences knew her for; and as Agrado, the most fun and exciting member of this cast, Antonia San Juan steals every scene she’s in, showing a great deal of heart, humor and humanity, just about with every opportunity. Watching as all of these characters sit in a room and chat about whatever comes next is enough of a treat, but because everyone is so good and their characters are so vividly-drawn, the movie’s just a blast to watch.

It’s hard to imagine saying that about a drama, but such is the case when you have expert-writing, directing and of course, acting.

Man, why can’t all movies be like this?

Consensus: Smart, funny, emotional, and above all else, heartfelt, All About My Mother is one of Almodovar’s best, but without ever making a big stink about it.

9.5 / 10

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Photos Courtesy of: Enter the Movies

Breakdown (1997)

Truck-drivers act as if they own the road and well, sometimes, they do.

A married-couple, Jeff and Amy Taylor (Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan), are leaving their regular lives from Boston, and moving to San Diego. Why? Well, I guess to get a fresh new start, but that all begins to change when they break down on the side of the road. Thinking that they’re going to be fine as long as Amy goes with a truck-driver (J.T. Walsh) to the local diner where she can call up for help and some movement, Jeff begins to get suspicious when she doesn’t come back for awhile. Now, Jeff who is all alone and without a clue in the world of what to do, decides to go out and look for her, and hopefully uncover clues and hints as to where she might be, and why the hell this kidnapping even occurred in the first place.

Sounds like a pretty standard thriller-plot, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is. Nothing really flashy here in terms of writing, directing, or even the plot – just a normal and average thriller that actually happens to be pretty damn tense as well. It starts off with a mystery that we’re totally left in the dark with and for awhile, there’s a lot of questions surrounding what’s going to happen with this plot.

Yeah, it don't look pretty, now does it, Kurt?

Yeah, it don’t look pretty, now does it, Kurt?

Director Jonathan Mastow knows what he’s doing to craft this sometimes very tense thriller, but he puts us in the same exact position as our lead character, Jeff. Everything that Jeff sees, hears, feels, or even thinks, we see, hear, feel, and think along with him. It gives us a better way of feeling for this dude, but also get into his head a bit, as he continues to look down each and every alley-way, river, and desert for Amy, wondering just what the heck truly happened to her. Mastow’s interested more in making us wait, rather than throwing each and every plot twist or reveal at us and making us feel like we know what to expect next. But rather than taking that latter, lower-road, Mastow keeps us confused, puzzled, a bit worried, and altogether, very tense.

However, it works well for about a good hour or so, and then it all begins to fall apart once more and more ideas come to our attention. I don’t know if that’s more of Mastow’s fault, or just our own. Since we know what to expect from thrillers such as these, it becomes pretty clear just where this flick is going to go and how, which sets it more and more out of the realm of actual possibility, unlike the rest of the flick that seemed to make plenty of sense, as if it could happen to either you or me, on a good day at that. Once the plot gets going and we figure out what’s really brewing underneath the surface here, the movie begins to answer questions and show us situations that could only happen in a movie, rather than in real-life.

Gone way too soon. Seriously. There were so many more psychos to be portrayed!

Gone way too soon. Seriously. There were so many more psychos to be portrayed!

Then again, I’m cynical and it’s kind of hard not to be in certain situations such as these.

At least Kurt Russell was around to save the day and keep things more and more interesting, as more and more of his true colors began to come out. Russell is good at playing these bad-ass characters that take no names, no prisoners, and sure as hell do not let-up for anyone, and is still able to show that, even with the yuppie-act he’s given here. It is a tad hard to believe that somebody as rugged and tough-looking as Russell could be this soft, wimp-of-a-man that all of a sudden has a change of heart once the love of his life is captured, but he at least milks it for all that he can, without ever resorting to the usual, snarling one-liners we tend to hear with his characters. He’s less of an action-hero, and more of a regular-dude who’s been pushed a little bit too far off the edge and it’s time for someone to pay.

In one of his last film roles ever, J.T. Walsh shows exactly why he was the go-to guy you needed when you needed somebody to play a evil and psychotic villain here as the truck driver that captures Amy. Walsh is good at the beginning because he gives you this wholesome, likable feel that you could only get with the country buck, but then changes things up once the going gets good and the devil horns begin to grow. The character Walsh plays is very one-note, but at least Walsh keeps him interesting and entertaining to watch, making us expect that he’s going to fully come out of his shell and show off a real person, underneath all of the cheating, lying, murdering, and stealing. However, we don’t get that and at the end of the day, the guy’s just another bad dude, who lives in the middle of nowhere, and does bad things because he can, and I guess that’s scary enough as it is.

But still, I wanted more. Is that so much to ask for?

Consensus: Breakdown starts off with enough juice and gas to keep it moving at a steady-pace for it’s hour-and-a-half run-time, but eventually hits the breaks by the end when it gets too silly, too goofy, and way too conventional for it’s own good.

7 / 10

Is this the part of the movie where they turn around and are absolutely horrified by what's coming at them?

Is this the part of the movie where they turn around and are absolutely horrified by what’s coming at them?

Photos Courtesy of: JMount’s Written in Blood

Cape Fear (1991)

Criminals never forget.

When attorney Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) knowingly withholds evidence that would acquit violent sex offender Max Cady (Robert De Niro) of rape charges, Max spends the next 14 years of his life in prison. And of course, while in the clink, Max has been thinking about that decision each and every day of his sentence, while on the other side of the bars, Sam has been living life with his wife (Jessica Lange) and young daughter (Juliette Lewis), who seems to be getting more and more rebellious as the years go by. But now that the 14 years are up, Max is ready to extract some revenge right from the get-go. However, rather than just beating the hell out of, or better yet, killing Sam, what Max does is spend every waking moment of his life and dedicating it all to stalking Sam, his family, and especially his friends. To Max, no one is safe and after awhile, Sam starts to realize that he’s going to have to come to some pretty drastic decisions if he’s going to protect the lives of those that he loves and wants to keep alive.

Bad lawyer.

Bad lawyer.

There’s nothing like watching an insanely talented director have the absolute time of their lives. It’s like watching a little kid in a Toys R Us, but rather that kid being limited to only buying a few items, the kid’s allowed to have the whole store. They can do whatever they want, however they want, and with all of these wonderful, fabulous and great toys.

That’s what it’s like watching Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear; the kind of movie where a master of his craft knows exactly what it is that he’s doing, having a lovely time with it all, and is barely ever going to let-up. And honestly, when you’re doing a remake on an already-great movie, that’s sort of the way you’ve got to go – you can’t follow the same, beat-for-beat, note-for-note, track-for-track, but instead, amp things up a bit differently. You can focus on a different plot-point altogether, bring out more interesting ideas of the story that may not have been discovered originally, and basically do whatever else you want with the story, so long as you stay true to heart and soul of the original. So few remakes actually abide by this rule, but despite the changes in story and style that Scorsese goes through here, he still sticks true to the original with an eerie tone humming all throughout.

But what’s interesting is that it’s different this time around.

Scorsese approaches the material as if it was an over-the-top, wild, wacky, crazy and unpredictable adventure into one man’s psychotic psyche – someone who doesn’t seem to have a moral compass anywhere to be found and because of that, is taking out the nice, somewhat innocent people. The original touched on this idea, obviously, but Scorsese really hammers it in, allowing for the character of Max to be as depraved and as sickening as humanly imaginable. Sure, it’s campy, it’s wildly insane, and it’s really schlocky, but you know what? It actually kind of works.

A good portion of that has to do with Scorsese’s quick pace, but another portion of that definitely has to do with De Niro’s committed-as-ever performance. Of course, working with Scorsese brings out the best in De Niro, but here, it’s unlike how we’ve ever seen him before – he’s definitely flirted with the idea of being a villain in other flicks before and after this, but never to the supreme extent that he goes with Max. The movie does try some avenues to have us, in the very least, sympathize with him and his stance, but for the most part, the movie knows that he is a monster, and so does De Niro, which makes every scene in which he’s just acting like the creepiest, most erratic person around, so damn entertaining.

It almost makes you wonder where all of the inspiration’s gone in the past few or so years.

Bad housewife.

Bad housewife.

Regardless, Scorsese doesn’t shy away from letting the rest of the cast have their moments, too, especially since they also get to have some development and not just become a typical white, suburban, upper-class family who plays golf and tennis. Nolte’s Sam has got some dark issues to work with, Lange’s Leigh seems to be struggling in her own ways, Lewis’ Danielle, while most definitely a teen, is also a little bit smarter than we’re used to seeing with this kind of character, making her one key scene with De Niro all the more creepy, and Illeana Douglas, in a couple or so scenes, shows true fun and spirit for a movie that seems to enjoy her presence, yet, at the same time, remind us that there’s something dark and grueling really behind all of this fun we’re having.

In fact, where Cape Fear works less is probably in the last-half, when Scorsese really loses his cool here. In a way, Scorsese wants us to see Max as a sort of Christ-like figure which, for a short while, is fine and all, but by the end, becomes such a major plot-point, that it’s almost unbearable to sit and listen through. We get the point as soon as it’s mentioned, yet being that this is a Scorsese movie, faith must be driven into the ground and because of that, the final-act of Cape Fear feels more like wild and over-the-top symbolism, on top of symbolism, and less of a thrilling, compelling and wholly satisfying to a wild ride of thrills, shrills, and shocks.

Still though, it’s one of the rare remakes that rivals the original and how many times can you say that?

Consensus: Wild, a little insane, well-acted, and always exciting, Cape Fear is the rare remake that works just as much as its legendary original does, especially what with Scorsese seeming to have the time of his life behind the camera.

8 / 10

Bad criminal. Or is that sort of obvious?

Bad criminal. Or is that sort of obvious?

Photos Courtesy of: the ace black blog

Postcards from the Edge

Life’s pretty bad. And then there’s your mom.

Hollywood actress Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) seemed to, at one point in her career, have it all, but now, it seems like she’s about to lose it all. Now that she’s out of rehab and recovering from a very public drug-addiction, she hopes to get better so that she can continue to work and make all sorts of money again like she’s used to doing. But it is recommended by those who know best that she stay with her mother, famed actress Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine), who has become a somewhat champion drinker herself. Now, more than ever, not only does Suzanne struggle with her sobriety, but she’s also got to struggle with getting along with her mom and accepting her for all the flaws and faults that she is, underneath the whole glitz and glamour of the career she once had and still receives praise for.

So yeah, if you don’t know, Postcards from the Edge is an adaptation of Carrie Fisher’s autobiography, which is about her own battle with drugs, stardom, booze and yes, her famous mother, Debbie Reynolds. Knowing that, the movie definitely takes on a more interesting and darker spin; after all, watching someone famous, play another famous person who is literally telling their heartfelt, mostly true story, seems a little odd. It makes you wonder why they didn’t just hire Fisher and Reynolds in the first place and call the thing a day, right? After all, they seemed to get along so well in the first place, so why wouldn’t they be up to the task to begin with?

I know, moms, right?

I know, moms, right?

Regardless, the movie still works.

Oddly enough, Postcards from the Edge actually works best in the performances, mainly, those of Streep’s and MacLaine’s. Streep is especially great here because you get the sense that she’s not trying to get us to love her, or better yet, sympathize with her – the movie doesn’t ever seem to get as dark, or as mean as it should, but the very few instances of actual rawness comes through Streep’s portrayal of Vale/Fisher. Just by watching how she interacts with those around her and seeing as how she’s practically pushed to the side of everywhere she goes, all because of a troubled and checkered past, well, is pretty sad to watch. Streep plays it well though, never demanding sympathy and makes this person all the more realistic.

And then there’s MacLaine who seems very much in her element here. Playing an aging dame of an actress, MacLaine gets to enjoy herself, occasionally vamping it up, but always coming back down to reality, reminding us that she’s a grade-A actress who can go head-to-head with Streep any day of the week. Together, they’re the perfect mother-daughter combination, and it almost makes you wish the movie was a smaller, much more contained piece and just focused on them, their relationship, and where exactly they’re going to go from here.

Of course, though, we don’t get that movie.

Don't trust Gene.

Don’t trust Gene.

The movie we do get, in fact, seems awfully concerned with so much else. Mike Nichols always seems to have a general idea of what he’s doing with the material he’s working with and you’d expect from him, a much more emotional, rewarding experience, but the movie doesn’t seem to get all that close to the true emotions that an autobiographical story such as this could evoke. Most of this has to do with the fact that the movie seems to take on a whole lot more than it can actually chew, let alone, swallow; there’s Vale’s career, her relationship with her mom, her mom’s career, her experiences on movie-sets, her trying to nail parts in major Hollywood productions, her trying to maintain a steady relationship, her trying to stay sober, her trying to stay alive, etc.

Eventually, you get the picture and unfortunately, that’s why a good portion of Postcards feels muddled. It takes on a lot, seems to have so much to say, but when all is said and done, it’s just too much. The Hollywood stuff is funny, but it’s not really new or groundbreaking; the relationship stuff with the mother gets developed enough; all of Vale’s career plots sort of work; her drug-addiction never gets nearly as descriptive or as eye-opening as it should; and although it’s always great to see Dennis Quaid, you take him out of this movie and guess what? It keeps on going.

Still, though, there’s a part of me that’s glad a movie like Postcards exists, because it does paint a cynical portrait of Hollywood that we do see often, but still need to be reminded of. The idea that Vale’s career was already dying because of her age, and maybe less about her drug/alcohol addiction, is interesting as we still see it in today’s day and age of film. Of course, having Street play the role is interesting, considering the woman probably gets every role she ever shows any interest in, but still, there’s something to be said about a business that openly discriminates, gets away with it, and continues to live long and prosper.

Maybe something needs to change, eh?

Consensus: With two very good performances in the leads, Postcards from the Edge is an interesting tale of family, but never goes any deeper than it probably should have beyond that.

7 / 10

RIP, kind of.

RIP, kind of.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures, Bobby Rivers TV, Film Experience

Dick Tracy (1990)

What a Dick that guy is.

Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) is the type of detective all men of the law aspire to be. He’s charming, smart, inspired, always on the good side, gets whatever lady he wants, and always finds a way to catch the baddies before they cause anymore harm in the world. But he might just have met his match with “Big Boy” Caprice (Al Pacino). Caprice has practically taken over the crime world by himself, and made almost every sort of illegal activity occur. With Tracy on his tale, though, times may change for Caprice.

I’ve never fully understood why this thing didn’t become a series of movies rather than just a movie that seemed to promise one. Apparently, Beatty has been hyping one up for a long time and is still fighting producers and creators as to whether or not he still owns the name/title Dick Tracy. Who knows? Maybe 26 years later ain’t too late?

Regardless, Dick Tracy came to us back in the day when comic book movies used to not be so serious and dark, and instead were just goofy, campy, and over-the-top. However, they were also knowing about it so it wasn’t just a strange movie from start-to-finish, it had reasoning for being so silly. That’s the smart approach Beatty thankfully takes here and is one of the key aspects to Dick Tracy being more than just another conventional comic book flick.

"Go fish."

“Go fish.”

Cause we’ve got way too much of that now.

It all starts as soon as we’re introduced to the character of Tracy, what he does, how he does it, and where he does it. He gets a call on his watch about somebody missing, leaves the play he is at with his gal, comes back five minutes later after scoping the scene out, and acts all natural and cool. If that doesn’t at least have you chuckle, then don’t even bother with this movie because that’s all there is here. Just goofiness, through and through, and that’s what keeps it relatively fun.

The only time the movie does seem to lose its sense of “fun”, is when it decides to focus its story on so many other elements that weren’t needed. Throughout the whole movie, we get to see Tracy’s miniature-sized side-kick, “The Kid”, pal around, hang out, and help Tracy solve crimes. The only problem is that he’s an orphan and orphans are supposed to be thrown into the orphanage as if they were garbage. Most of the movie concerns whether or not Tracy will end up falling for the tricks and keeping Kid, or getting rid of him and doing what the law says. It’s a dilemma that we’re supposed to care about, but just don’t. Kid is actually sort of annoying because all he does is yell, scream, and shout that there is some crime needing to be stopped. He’s a joyful, little lad, but it got annoying, real quick. And yes, is having “the Kid” loyal to the comics? Of course, but sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

But as the film goes on, it continues to entertain but bore at the same time. It’s very confusing actually because you never know what type of film Beatty is trying to go for. You know he’s trying to make a wacky, wild romp that’s based on some nutty source-material, but he never quite goes all out. Certain parts of Dick Tracy are really silly and weird and seem like the perfect fit for the kind of over-the-top, wild romp that comic books seem to promise. But then, there’s a bunch of subplots that continue to complicate the story and make it seem like we’re supposed to be caring about this more than we actually are.

After all, what everyone comes to Dick Tracy for, in the first place, is to have a little bit of fun. Take that away and what the hell is the point?

The ladies love Dick.

The ladies love Dick.

Thankfully, the cast always keeps things together. Despite being nearly 53 at the time and initially seeming like an odd fit, Beatty works well as Dick Tracy. There’s always been something about Beatty’s cool, calm and breezy charm, that makes you trust and like the guy, but also never feels like he’s macho-posing for the hell of it. It works for the character and makes Tracy seem like a good guy. Granted, in a time where superheros reign supreme and show up almost every, single summer, it’s a bit unexciting to get a superhero that just shoots a Tommy Gun and figures out predicaments pretty easily, but it’s simple. You don’t need a superhero that has some sort of inner-problems going on with his life, or something taking away what he can and cannot do with his special talents. You just need a guy that does right for the world he loves, does whatever he can, continues to fight until no more, and leave it at that.

Simplicity at its finest, folks.

But really, it’s Al Pacino who walks away with this all here. As “Big Boy” Caprice, Pacino spends literally each and every scene yelling and acting way over-the-top. But, it works. Pacino loves to scream and shout himself through a role, but while that can sometimes feel unnecessary in mostly everything he does, here, it works for the whole movie. The tone, whenever it’s focusing on him, is played for laughs, so we never need to take him seriously. Pacino’s in this crazy, little pulpy world that doesn’t care how much he screams, or how loud it is – it just cares how much fun he’s having.

Everybody else in this movie deserves a pat on the back for the same thing as well, even if they only show up for a good couple of minutes. James Caan is here for five seconds to look cool, mobster-ish, and intimidating, only to walk off and get blown-up by a secret car bomb; Paul Sorvino shows up in tons and tons of make-up, only to be betrayed and thrown in a tub of concrete underneath the ground; the late, great Charles Durning is playing a cop that Tracy can trust no matter what; and last, but sure as hell not least is Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles, who does exactly that. It’s funny to see, especially because you know Hoffman is enjoying himself while doing so. Oh and Madonna is quite the sexy, fiery presence that the movie oh so promised on in all of its advertisements, proving that she could definitely act, given the right material to play around with.

Consensus: Beatty’s direction may be too all-over-the-place for such goofy material as Dick Tracy to make it work wonders, but it always stays fun, light, goofy, and knowingly over-the-top, without ever making apologies for being so. It’s just pure, unadulterated fun.

7 / 10

All these gangsters and no pasta?!? What the hell?!?

All these gangsters and no pasta?!? What the hell?!?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Den of Geek

Basic Instinct (1992)

Eyes advert, fellas!

Homicide detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is known for always solving his cases to the best of his ability and because of that, he not only has a good career, but a good life in general. However, it all changes one day when he begins to investigate the mysterious of a rock star and links up with the sexy, vivacious, and possibly dangerous Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). Believe it or not, she’s actually a crime novelist who loves to write about all sorts of deadly, violent crimes, or better yet, like the ones that continue to pop-up around the same time the death of this rock star occurs. For Nick, however, he believes that no matter how beautiful Catherine is, he won’t let her get in the way of his investigation. But that becomes a whole lot harder when Catherine starts alluding to Nick’s lover (Jeanne Triplehorn) as having more of a criminal background than she may have let on, making Nick think long and hard about whether this case is worth it, or if he just wants to retire from the force now and possibly settle down.

Love at first fight. And other stuff.

Love at first fight. And other stuff.

Oh, and Sharon Stone flashes a bunch of dudes.

There’s certain moments in film history that will forever remain infamous and the aforementioned Sharon Stone scene is one of them. Does it matter that the rest of the movie is neither as shocking, crazy, unpredictable, or infamous as that one scene in particular? Not really, but it doesn’t keep Basic Instinct, a rather mediocre, if at times bland erotic-thriller, to continue to pop-up in discussions about sex, movies, the MPAA, and mainstream, big-budget movies as a whole.

Because, like I said, Basic Instinct is a fine movie – director Paul Verhoeven doesn’t have it in him to make a boring movie, by any stretch of the imagination – but it also seems like the kind of movie that wants so hard to be cool, sexy, seductive, and rad, that it also forgets about what makes most movies like that in the first place: Some semblance of entertainment. Verhoeven loves his movies to be trashy, dirty and sweaty, which is what we get a whole lot with Basic Instinct, but that doesn’t make it nearly as fun, or as exciting as it sounds; in a way, it can actually be kind of boring. In a way, it’s clear that Verhoeven wants to make a sort of homage to the film noir’s of the 1950’s or so, but obviously, with a far more modern-update.

If that was his intention, then yeah, he got it down well; he captures the look, the feel, and most of all, the performances, except with a whole lot more boobs, butt, blood, and ice-picks. But style-points in a movie like this can only go so far – after awhile, there needs to be a story, emotion, and most of all, action. And I don’t mean “action” in the literal sense, as much as I mean in the proverbial sense – people just standing around, staring into space and thinking long and hard about what they want to do next, unfortunately, just doesn’t cut it.

You can look, but you can't touch, boys.

You can look, but you can’t touch, boys.

A lot of that happens in Basic Instinct, too.

A part of me thinks it’s just Verhoeven’s obvious European influences coming out, but a part of me also thinks that it’s just him slowly realizing that there’s not much more to the movie than a bunch of hot, steamy sex. And like I said, the hot, steamy sex is done well, it’s just that everything else surrounding isn’t and more or less, feels as if it’s all just filler so that Verhoeven himself can get another sex scene going. It’s understandable why the movie was so shocking back in 1992, but nowadays, sex in movies is overplayed, no matter how explicit and it made me wish that a good chunk of this flick was actually dedicated to an actual, compelling plot, and less to how Sharon Stone’s boobs or butt looked while mounting Michael Douglas.

Then again, the two do mount each other nicely and it’s one of the stronger aspects of the movie. That Nick has a bit of a dark side to him and is drawn to Catherine’s even darker, possibly more sadistic ways, makes the movie all the more enjoyable to watch; we know that he’s going to eventually crack under the pressure and make sweet, sexy love to her like the Dickens, but when, where, how, and at what cost, makes it all the more intriguing to sit through. Together, the two are quite good; they play-off of one another well, with Stone’s over-the-top playfulness, going hand-in-hand with Douglas’ over-the-top seriousness. In a smaller movie, with less of media-attention and a different director, the two probably would have made a very interesting drama, where instead of focusing on how many times they bang, it’s more about how many times they actually do love one another, but of course, that’s all a fantasy.

Of course, what we have is a movie that allows them to put in some good work, even if the work itself isn’t all that there. Verhoeven does eventually have some fun in the final-act, once people start getting killed-off left and right, but by then, it’s a little too late. The movie’s a little over two hours, but honestly, feels a whole lot longer than that, and because of such, it’s a bit of an uneasy watch. Just when you think and expect for the movie to fully pick up the slack and get going somewhere, Verhoeven decides to slow things down and focus in on these characters and whatever garbage lines they have to deliver. Sometimes, that’s fun, as long as it stays trashy and fun.

But being just trashy and leaving it at that, I’m sorry, is not fun.

Consensus: Well-acted and directed with plenty of style, Basic Instinct also proves that all of the sex, violence and nudity in the world, can’t make-up for a weak story and script.

6 / 10

Yeah, it's that scene.

Yeah, it’s that scene.

Photos Courtesy of: The Iron Cupcake, Indiewire

Ride with the Devil (1999)

Ridin’s better than runnin’, right?

In 1861, two best buddies from the South, Jake and Jack (Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich), are forced to join up with the guerrillas in order to get revenge for the slayings of their families. At first, they seem to be really inspired to be rebellious and start killing whomever they think is on the other side and against them, however, they begin to think otherwise once they realize that they have a future ahead of themselves. For instance, Jack gets together with a widow (Jewel) who’s watching over them for short while, while Jake starts to think differently about the cause that these rebels are fighting for, and what it even matters in the end. Obviously not everybody thinks the same way these two folks do, so they land themselves in hot water, not knowing whether they’re going to die on the battlefield, or behind enemy lines.

"I swear, on my heart, not to pass on the Spider-Man role."

“I swear, on my heart, not to pass on the Spider-Man role.”

Ride with the Devil is an interesting flick in that it starts out as being something very ordinary and conventional, yet, changes around halfway through. Something very tragic happens and rather than getting ourselves a slam-bang Western full of action, guns, broads, whiskey, saloons, and pianos, we get something of a down-to-earth, mellowed-out character-drama that’s concerned more with its acting, than its pure spectacle or anything like that. And coming from Ang Lee, you can’t totally expect much different. The guy has made a living by taking a simple premise, and somehow being able to turn it on its side, giving us something that we didn’t expect to see, or didn’t really want to.

Which normally works for Ang Lee, but is still a bit messy here in Ride with the Devil.

For instance, it mostly all comes down to its plot. At one point, the movie’s about these two buddies who go into the war, not knowing what to expect, and somehow get thrown into the middle of it all. Then at the next point, somehow, the movie becomes a racial-drama, showing us all sorts of hatred and remorse African Americans had to face before they were made free. At one point, the movie becomes something of a war epic that’s made to get us up in the air, with our feet giving out right from beneath us. But then, at the next point, it suddenly becomes something of a romantic-drama, mixed with little bits and pieces of comedy. Oh, and before I forget to mention it, the movie does seem like it’s trying to make a point about the rebels and they’re hypocritical way of going about their business in order to make a point, which was probably the most interesting point the movie had to make yet, sacrificed it for a rivalry-angle between two characters that comes out of nowhere, and yet, they continue to milk it for all that they got.

Always follow Jewel.

Always follow Jewel. Except if your name is Kurt Loder.

So yeah, there’s a lot going on here and Lee, with all of his best intentions, does what he can to make it interesting. And for the most part, he does; this harsh and unforgiving view of the Wild West, that also paints it as an unpredictable hellhole, where any wrong decision can have you shot dead in the dirt, is a refreshing one and shows that Lee never backs down from a challenge, whether visually or structurally. However, the movie does have so much going on, with so much to say and do, that it seems as if Lee himself is having a hard time keeping up with, or better yet, even track of where he’s going next.

Unfortunately, that also keeps the movie away from having the sort of emotional and powerful effect it should most definitely have.

But thankfully, his cast is so good that they really do help it out. Tobey Maguire fits perfectly well as the sweet and quiet Jake; Jewel is actually a nice fit as the fiery, yet somewhat seductive widow who Jake falls for and starts something of a relationship with; Skeet Ulrich is actually a lot of fun to watch as the brash and charming Jack, showing that there was more to him than just his boyish good-looks; Jeffrey Wright, in one of the performances that put him on the map, does a great job as Daniel Holt, a former slave dealing with racism in these terrible and violent times, sometimes, hardly even having to say something to get his point across; and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, despite playing what is, essentially, the conventional villain of the movie, does a good job with it, making us feel like he’s more tortured than just evil, as if the pains and terror of war may never leave him, no matter how many years go by, or how long he stays away from guns and murder.

There’s a whole lot more to this cast that really help Ride with the Devil, but it’s always Lee’s show, first and foremost.

Consensus: With so much going on, Ride with the Devil still works as an interesting and well-acted, if somewhat messy, Western epic.

7 / 10

The West is about to get a whole lot more wild now.

The West is about to get a whole lot more wild now.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, Memorable TV, Duke Wayne.com

The Ice Storm (1997)

Cheer up, suburbia. Have some sex.

1973 is winding down and you know what? Maybe it’s time for a little break. It’s Thanksgiving break and those living in the suburbs of Connecticut, when they’re not dealing with the cold temperatures and snow on the ground, are also dealing with one another. Ben (Kevin Kline) is a frustrated father who doesn’t like his job, but also doesn’t know how to seek love or happiness from his wife Elena (Joan Allen). So rather than trying to actually solve it by talking to her like the old days, he’s currently seeking fulfillment from his neighbor Janey (Sigourney Weaver). Meanwhile, his teenage daughter, Wendy (Christina Ricci), has some issues going on of her own, too. She’s currently playing weird sexual games with Janey’s son Mikey (Elijah Wood), making him act out in the usual ways that young, adolescent kids do. And there’s the older brother, Paul (Tobey Maguire), who has a huge crush on some girl in his class (Katie Holmes), but doesn’t know how to go about it, nor does he quite know how to even talk to girls, but is going to try anyway.

When in doubt, trust daddy to carry you home.

When in doubt, trust daddy to carry you home.

Though it doesn’t get a whole lot of credit for this, the Ice Storm was actually one of the first “suburbia sucks” movies to start the boom that sprung in the late-90’s-to-early-aughts. Of course, a lot of the movies to follow were bland, unoriginal, and just downright depressing, but the Ice Storm, even without it being the starter-package, still sails above the rest. See, it does something with its message and its sadness, and it actually builds off of them; so many of the other movies that were soon to follow, seemed to just focus in on this aspect of suburbia and not go anywhere else.

It was just one emotion, the whole way through.

And sure, you could also kind of say the same about the Ice Storm, but it’s a much more deliberate mood-piece. It’s a slow-burner for sure, but it’s also a movie that takes its time for certain reasons, like building up characters and each of their relationships to one another; the fact that the movie has about five-to-ten core characters, really gives off that feeling of repression and suffocation, but in a way, draws us closer to these character. Ang Lee may be known for paying extra attention to the ways his movies look, but here, he shows that there’s a certain attention paid to characters that just can’t be matched.

What Lee shows is that, beyond all of the sadness, repression and claustrophobia, is that there can be some bittersweet moments of pure love and joy. At times, when it’s not trying to get us down in the dumps, the Ice Storm can actually be a funny movie, poking fun at both growing old and growing up, in a time and place where it seems like the experiences and feelings are almost identical. That’s not to say that the movie’s a dramedy in any sense of the term, but the movie isn’t just one long funeral – there’s bits and pieces of sheer happiness and joy, but because they are indeed so scattered, they truly do make those said moments all the more lovely and emotional.

And then, yes, there’s the ensemble who are all, as expected, pretty great.

Kevin Kline is so perfect as Ben, the upset and constantly nervous father who clearly wants the best for him and his family, but just also doesn’t know what to do anymore. With Kline, there’s always this feeling that he’s the cool and hip dad who never gets the respect he deserves and watching him here, you totally feel that – he’s just waiting to be noticed, recognized and if anything, appreciated. If he has to go out and find that for himself, then so be it.

Joan Allen plays his wife, Elena, and has a far more subtler role than him, but is still very effective in it. There’s this lingering sense of anger underneath everything that she does and it’s exciting just waiting around to see when she’s going to crack and lose her cool, once and for all. Sigourney Weaver’s Janey may also seem like a total villain at first, but the movie does humanize her in certain ways that’s not just surprising, but refreshing; here’s a woman, having sex with a married man, and while she doesn’t feel regret for it, she’s also not very happy about it, either.

Like everyone else, she’s just trying her absolute hardest to get by.

Sorry, Tobey. Don't have to go home, but can't stay here.

Sorry, Tobey. Don’t have to go home, but can’t stay here.

As for the kids, they all fair-off pretty fine, too, especially since most of them were the premiere young actors at the time. Christina Ricci is great as the sassy, overtly sexual Wendy; Elijah Wood is very fun to watch as the fellow teenage boy she constantly teases and plays around with; Tobey Maguire plays the older college student who isn’t sure just how to go about picking up girls and because of that, his awkwardness shines through in every scene; and Katie Holmes and David Krumholtz, in only just two scenes, really do come close to stealing the show, highlighting a great deal of adolescent sincerity that they were able to match in the following years to come, but not with the same amount of rawness.

But the real takeaway from the Ice Storm and these characters is that, yes, they’re performed and written well, but they’re also never judged. Because these characters are so sad and in such huge funks, they don’t always make the best, or brightest decisions – in most cases, they’re doing just whatever they feel will make them happy at that one exact moment in time. It would have been easy for a movie, let alone, its director to shine a light on them and frown, but instead, Ang Lee embraces them for all of their faults and realizes that they too, just like your or I, have issues and they’re just trying to wade through them all. They aren’t perfect, hell, they’re not even nice, but they’re real people and those are the kind that are very hard to find movies nowadays, or in general.

Consensus: With extra attention paid to its troubled characters, the Ice Storm is a sad, dramatic, but rather moving mood-piece about suburbia and all of those imperfect beings who inhabit it.

9.5 / 10

Cheer up! Your celebrities!

Cheer up! Your celebrities!

Photos Courtesy of: Moon in the Gutter, Awards Circuit

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Why can’t people just date like they used to?

When Elinor Dashwood’s (Emma Thompson) father dies, her family’s finances are absolutely crippled, leaving her and her family to think fast of where they’re going to end up next, or better yet, who they’re going to marry. After the Dashwoods move to a cottage in Devonshire, Elinor’s sister Marianne (Kate Winslet) is torn between the handsome John Willoughby (Greg Wise) and the older Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman). She seems to not care who she ends up with, because all she really wants is to have some fun, be happy, be loved, and most of all, be taken care of for the rest of her days. On the other side of things, Elinor doesn’t have the best options, even though she’s definitely in love with one Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), who also happens to be previously engaged to another woman to marry. Through this all, however, Elinor and Marianne come together and realize that there’s way to be happy and pleased with life, with, or without husbands.

Sisters till death do them part. Just don't tell them that.

Sisters till death do them part. Just don’t tell them that.

Sense and Sensibility is probably the best period-piece ever made. Sure, there’s a lot of stuffy people out there in the world who probably sneer at certain flicks of this nature, because they don’t feature any action, violence, or explosions – or at least, not in the physical, literal sense – and prefer to focus on more things like characters, plot, emotion, and most importantly, language. If it’s not your bag, then fine, but to say that it’s a terribly boring genre in and of itself is wrong; when done right and to near-perfection, they can be quite the most exciting, most emotional things to watch.

Take Sense and Sensibility, for obvious reasons: While it may seem boring and overstuffed, in just a little over two hours, it does so much. It’s funny, heartfelt, romantic, sweet, sad, passionate, beautiful, exquisite to look at, perfectly acted, and most of all, directed with such a smart, detailed look, that it honestly feels like Ang Lee hardly even showed up to the set.

Which is, yes, a good thing.

What it shows is that the material was already there and all that Lee himself had to do was just stand there, keep the camera in-place and of course, focus on the action; while that sounds incredibly simple and easy, which it is, there’s also something to be said for a director who gets literally every shot correct. There’s not a dull moment, or misplaced shot to be found – Lee knows how to make beautiful scenery look even more impeccable and it’s the main reason why Sense and Sensibility may remain his best movie. It’s not flashy, or overstuffed with the sort of visual flair that he’s known for using – it’s just plain and simple, but still compelling in each and every way known to man.

 

Don't trust all men, Kate. They're swine.

Don’t trust all men, Kate. They’re swine.

And it also all comes down to the fact that the ensemble cast is so perfectly assembled, that it’s hard to find the single best, even if it does come sort of close. While Emma Thompson may not have wanted to be cast here in the first place (she’s also co-writer), she’s still amazing as Elinor. Thompson’s one of the best around, but what she does so well here is that she finds small, subtle ways to get her character’s feelings of sadness and regret across, but never actually has to say it; throughout the whole movie, she’s constantly on the verge of tears and one step closer to losing her marbles, and watching as Thompson constantly battles with that, is incredibly moving.

She was great in Howard’s End, but honestly, she could have won the Oscar for this, too.

Anyway, there’s also a very young, very spirited Kate Winslet as Marianne, being as lovely and as charming as we’ve ever seen her before, working as the perfect counterpart for Elinor’s more reserved-self. The fellas aren’t so bad, either, with Hugh Grant playing the perfect Edward, and never letting us know just whether he’s a slime or not, and the late, great Alan Rickman, playing Colonel Christopher Brandon, who may have a far more obvious route of going with his character, but to watch as he constantly battles himself over his love for Marianne, is quite the watch.

But really, it all comes down to the actual meaning of Sense and Sensibility, which isn’t just that, “Rich, white people will always fall in love,” as much as it’s actually about, “Don’t stop giving up on love and finding whatever path your life will take you.” Sure, it sounds all incredibly corny and sappy, as if you’re almost reading a self-help guide, but it’s not quite as bad as I make it sound; there’s a true bleeding heart here, that shows us many people can be sad, even if they are rich. It’s not a matter of how much money, or mansions you have, as much as it’s about what sort of love you’ve got in your life and what it does for you, day in and day out.

Okay, yeah, it’s a little sappy, but man, it works.

Consensus: Smart, heartfelt, sweet, well-acted, and most of all, never boring, Sense and Sensibility is the ultimate peak of period-dramas, showing Ang Lee’s great balance of humor, mixed with pathos and romantic-drama, and never missing a mark.

10 / 10

Not all ladies search for male suitors. But when they do, they do so in style.

Not all ladies search for male suitors. But when they do, they do so in style.

Photos Courtesy of: Decider, Frock Flicks, The Rush Journals

EDtv (1999)

edposterWhat’s reality TV?

In the world of reality television, every network is constantly fighting one another over getting the highest ratings imaginable. It doesn’t matter if the programs they air are even entertaining, let alone, real – as long as people are tuning in and keeping the ratings healthy, then all is fine. That’s why, one network in danger of closing its doors for good decides that it’s time to focus a whole reality-show, on some random schmo, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With that, they find  Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey), a laid-back video-store clerk, who doesn’t really care about the show in the first place, but still thinks it’s a pretty neat idea, so he allows himself to be followed around by a camera-crew, capturing every moment of his life (except for, as he puts it, “bathroom stuff”). While the TV series makes Ed an overnight celebrity, it also begins to wreak havoc on his personal life, complicating his relationship with his new girlfriend, Shari (Jenna Elfman), and causing tension with his brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson). But it also gets him a possible new gilrfriend (Elizabeth Hurley), who may or may not have been hired by the studio for rating’s sake.

"Now, just say "alright, alright, alright". It's pretty easy."

“Now, just say “alright, alright, alright”. It’s pretty easy.”

As is the case with almost every year, two movies who seem to have, virtually, the same plot, or ideas, get released in the same year. In the case of 1999, EDtv came out roughly nine months after the far more entertaining, intelligent Truman Show came out, and just so happened to be a movie about some person having their life filmed for the whole entire world to see. While the former is different from the later, in that it’s protagonist knows all about being filmed and is perfectly okay with it, it still doesn’t matter, because they are both quite different in many ways.

For one, Truman Show is a way better, more thoughtful movie, whereas EDtv is just, well, silly.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the movie definitely prides itself in not taking its plot all too seriously, but it also keeps itself away from doing anything else. Even as a commentary on the modern-day state of television (which, even by today’s standards, not much has changed), EDtv seems to scratch the surface, but never really dig in deep enough to be such a scathing, mean-spirited satire, a la Network. The moments where it really does sink in to Hollywood, big-budget studios, and television as a whole, is through Ellene DeGeneras’ fun character, but she also seems like a type; she’s supposed to be the film’s villain, but is too comical to be believed.

And this isn’t saying that EDtv is a “bad” movie by any means – at times, it can be very enjoyable in a light-hearted, dad-has-off-of-work-day, but it also just never really does much of anything, either. Even in his lowest of lows, Ron Howard has always seemed like he was trying to do something interesting with his flicks, but here, he does seem spell-bound; he’s sort of going through the motions, allowing for there to be comedy and some fun, but never really doing much else to have the movie jump-off the screen.

In other words, EDtv is just plain. Not boring, but plain. Sometimes, that may be worse than actually being “bad”.

Which is weird because the ensemble cast does try. While Matthew McConaughey is a bit dull as a naturally good and likable everyday dude, he’s really just doing what the script calls on him to do: Be nice, be cool, be charming, and most importantly, just be yourself. Nowadays, McConaughey wouldn’t be found dead with this kind of material, but back in 1999, it was a whole different ball-game for him and having a chance to look at something like this, makes me happy to realize that he’s changed his ways, in some respects.

It's love at first medium-shot.

It’s love at first medium-shot.

Jenna Elfman’s career definitely hasn’t turned out so well since the days of 1999, which is a huge shame, because she really is funny and clearly capable of handling dramatic-stuff, when push comes to shove. The only issue for her is that the movie roles just weren’t nearly as good as what she was doing on TV, audiences didn’t quite respond, and because of that, she’s left to star in shows with talking towels. Same goes for Elizabeth Hurley who, with the Royals, has bounced back quite well, but also seems to have the same issue in that she was charming, fun to watch, and most of all, beautiful-as-hell, but just never quite connected with audiences past Austin Powers.

And then, of course, there’s Woody Harrelson, who is great here as Ed’s brother, which is interesing to watch, mostly because of True Detective. There’s a real friendship to be seen here and while the movie doesn’t always give it the right time and light, the few moments of real camaraderie between Matt and Woody feel genuine and entertaining, as if we’re watching real-life buddies get the chance to pal around with one another. If anything, there’s a feeling that EDtv wishes it was like that, but sadly, it just doesn’t happen.

Consensus: Even with a timely theme, EDtv may have been less before its time, and more of just a plainly mediocre movie that never sets out to really tear the world of television a new one, but doesn’t do anything else of much worth, either.

5 / 10

A budding friendship that would, unfortunately, get really effed-up come 2014.

A budding friendship that would, unfortunately, get really effed-up come 2014.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Derek Winnert, Hey U Guys

Courage Under Fire (1996)

Who to trust? The hunky guys? Or the gal?

While he was on-duty during the Gulf War, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) accidentally caused a friendly fire incident and it caused him to rethink his military career, even if his superiors were able to look the other way for it. Now, with the war-effort over, he is assigned to investigate the case of Army Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan), a soldier who was killed in action when her Medevac unit was attempting to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter. And while it seems like a simple case of a solider being killed by enemy-fire, the more and more Serling begins to look, the more he realizes that there’s more to this story than just what’s on the surface. In a way, someone on the U.S.’s side could have killed Walden and if so, for what reasons? By interviewing everyone involved with the incident and who worked closely with Walden on that one specific day, Serling hopes to find it all out and then some.

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Courage Under Fire is a lot like A Few Good Men in that, yes, it’s a fairly conventional drama-thriller that deals with the Army and a case that needs to be solved, however, it ends on a far more interesting note than it may have ever set out for. With the later, it’s become infamous for its final showdown between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise and all of the countless conversations to follow, but with Courage Under Fire, that discussion is literally the whole two hours. In a way, Courage Under Fire is a conversation and an argument both for, as well as against the Army and the war-effort during the Gulf War of ’91, that neither pays tribute, nor attacks the soldiers who have, or haven’t participated in it.

Which is to say that it’s a good movie, yes, but it’s also more than just your average war-drama.

Director Edward Zwick knows how to handle a lot of material all at once, but what’s surprising the most here is that he does seem to actually settle things down and focus on the smaller details of the story that make it so dramatic. Sure, whenever he takes a flashback to the actual incident itself, the movie is chock full of action, with bullets flying, people dying, and explosions coming out of nowhere. At first, it may feel a tad uneven, but eventually, the movie, as well as Zwick, begin to find a groove that works in helping for the movie get to its smaller moments, while also giving the action-junkies a little something to taste on.

After all, the movie, from the ads and posters and whatnot, does appear to be promising this slam-bang, action-thriller of a war flick, which is also very far from the truth. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t thrills, chills and action – there is, it’s just not in the forms of any sort of violence. Instead, it all seems to come from learning more and more about what really happened in this incident, realizing the conspiracy theories and cover-ups, and then, also seeing all of the different perspectives and how those characters shape the perspectives themselves. It’s a whole lot like Rashomon, but there’s a whole lot going on that keeps the similarities at bay, and instead, just feels like an interesting way to tell a mystery that could have been dull, boring and, honestly, uninteresting.

It’s also very hard to make a movie as dull and and as uninteresting as the one it could have been, especially what with the great cast on-hand.

"No blinking!"

“No blinking!”

As is usually the case, Denzel Washington is great in this lead role, showing a lot of dramatic-depth and compassion, without hardly saying anything at all. He’s the kind of actor that gets by solely on a look of his face and totally makes the scene his, and even though his role may not have been as fully-written as he’s used to working with, it’s still a role that Washington himself works wonders with, even if he does have to put in a little extra here and there. It’s also nice to see the likes of Lou Diamond Phillips, Seth Gilliam, and a young Matt Damon, as the soldiers involved with the incident, showing us more into their souls and what they saw.

But really, it’s the performance from Meg Ryan that makes the movie so good, as she shows a rough, tough and brave character who, despite what version of her, we hear and/or see, is still an admirable one. Ryan may seem like an odd-choice for this role, but as she proved in the 90’s, she owned almost every role thrown at her, and it was nice to see her do well with a role for someone who was, essentially, shown in just flashbacks. It honestly makes me wish she did more drama and stayed away from all of the non-stop rom-coms, as she clearly had the chops to pull it all off, but yeah, unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

And now, nobody knows quite where she’s gone.

Consensus: With a timely, smart message about war, Courage Under Fire brings a lot of thought and discussion to its sometimes predictable format.

8 / 10

Just one of the guys. Except, a lot prettier. Depending on who you ask.

Just one of the guys. Except, a lot prettier. Depending on who you ask.

Photos Courtesy of: Writer’s Digest, Teach With Movies, Empire

Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Everyone’s got the acting bug. Some more than others, obviously.

The town of Blaine, Mo., approaches its sesquicentennial, there’s only one way to celebrate: A musical revue called “Red, White and Blaine.” And to ensure that everything goes all fine and smoothly with this musical, Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) is assigned the duties of director, writer, choreography and just overall boss of everything that goes on. Corky tries out a few talents but ends up settling on a bunch of excited but also, unfortunately, untalented locals (Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara). For awhile, everything seems to be going fine – the musical-numbers are performed well and the actors themselves seem competent enough that they’ll be able to remember their lines when it’s showtime. But when Corky and the rest of the cast and crew find out that respected critic, Mort Guffman, is coming to see what the show is all about and how it’s going to go down, then everyone loses their cool and feels as if it’s time to crank the show up to 11.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

What’s odd about Waiting for Guffman is that it’s probably Christopher Guest’s less known, or seen feature, yet, it may also be his best. It’s not perfect, but it’s tight, hilarious, and most of all, heartfelt. See, there’s something that seems to be missing from some of Guest’s other flicks and it’s the fact that he actually does love and appreciate these characters for what weird specimens they are; he may crack jokes at their expense and enjoy making them look silly, but he also enjoys their company and loves hanging around them.

And that’s why, Waiting for Guffman, despite featuring Guest’s typical jokes and gags, also seems like a tribute to the kinds of characters he likes to poke fun at and get plenty of laughs from. It’s less of a movie about the theater world and how thespians may, or may not, take their work a little too seriously, as much as it’s about these small-town, seemingly normal folks trying to make a difference in their lives, as well as the numerous lives of other people around them. Guest is a smart writer and director in that he doesn’t try and get sappy, or hammer this point away by any means, but there’s a feeling to these characters and this town that they live in that’s easy to feel a warmness from – something that’s not always so present in Guest’s other work.

However, it’s still the actor’s showcase no matter what and it’s why Guest, as usual, is able to work so many wonders.

Because a good portion of his movies are ad-libbed, Guest can sometimes forget when to cut a scene, or an actor’s antics, but here, he seems as if he knew exactly what to do and when to do it all. Everyone gets their chance to have fun and shine like the bright diamonds that they are, but Guest also doesn’t forget to cut things whenever necessary. Sometimes, it’s not about how much funny material you have, as much as it’s about how much of it works when cut-and-pasted next to one another; having someone go on and on about airline food is one thing, but to have a person make a line about it and keep moving on, especially when your movie is barely even 80 minutes, makes all the difference.

Yep, don't ask.

Yep, don’t ask.

I know this makes it sound like so much more than it actually is, but this kind of stuff and attention matters in comedy and it’s why Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks – a lot of the stuff that he would somehow miss the mark on in the next few films to come, he seemed to have nailed down here, which makes me wonder why mostly all of the ones to follow were, at the very least, disappointing. That said, Guest himself is quite great as Corky, playing up one of the best caricatures he’s ever had to deal with; while most of the jokes thrown around about Corky is his flamboyancy, the movie, nor Guest’s performance, comes off as homophobic. Sure, it’s funny that Corky constantly, day in and day out, still says that he’s straight, but the fact remains that Corky himself is still the brains of the operation here and without him, the play itself doesn’t go too well.

In a way, the same could be said about the movie, too.

Cause honestly, Corky is such a fun and lovable character, it’s hard not to miss him whenever he’s not around. Sure, the usual suspects like Levy, O’Hara, Willard, Posey and Balaban are all here to pick up the slack and still have us enjoy what it is that we’re watching, but Guest’s performance takes over the movie so much that whenever he’s absent, it’s hard not to think of where he’s at, or what he’s doing. Guest is obviously behind the camera, doing what he does best, but what about Corky? Sometimes, it’s best to just give us more of a character who is stealing the show to begin with. Maybe it’s not always the case with every great character, but it seems like it would have been perfectly fine for Corky.

Consensus: Funny, smart, quick, and a little touching, Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks that shows just what he can do when he’s thinking on his feet and is still capable of editing his material to perfection.

8.5 / 10

Somehow, it's not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I've seen have been.

Somehow, it’s not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I’ve seen have been.

Photos Courtesy of: Theater Mania, The Film Authority, Cinema da Merde

Tumbleweeds (1999)

tumbleweedsposterAlways count on momma. Even if she doesn’t make good decisions.

Every time something seems to go wrong with a relationship, Mary Jo Walker (Janet McTeer) and her daughter, Ava (Kimberly J. Brown), pack up and move to another city. It’s a routine that Ava is getting tired of as she gets older and, if anything, just wants to settle down in some place, where she can make more friends and have something resembling a healthy, reliable family-unit. But because Mary Jo is such a wild firecracker, who seems to have a knack for always choosing the wrong guys, Ava doesn’t get that. However, after traveling further down South, Ava and Mary Jo feel as if they may have finally found that one and special someone who, yeah, may not be perfect, but may also be the answer that they’ve been looking for. He’s trucker Jack Ranson (Gavin O’Connor), who instantly takes a liking to Mary Jo and does whatever he can to please Ava, but for some reason, she’s just not taking it. After all, she’s way too preoccupied with trying to get the lead in her school’s take on Romeo & Juliet where, of all the roles, she decides to try-out for the role of Romeo.

"We're just taking a ride. Why? Wanna hop on in?"

“We’re just taking a ride. Why? Wanna hop on in?”

Tumbleweeds has that feeling of every Sundance indie-flick you’ve ever seen, but there’s also something refreshing and quite lovely about it. Some of that has to do with the fact that co-writer/director Gavin O’Connor, knows how to handle these small, somewhat gritty tales about everyday people that you’d normally meet on the street and try something with them that’s interesting to watch. They may not be ground-breaking tales, but they’re still ordinary takes on everyday human beings lives and for that reason alone, they definitely deserve a watch.

And yeah, Tumbleweeds is that movie.

O’Connor, as both a co-writer and director, does well here with the material. While he’s treading a whole lot of familiar-ground, he gets by with the material in soft, small and subtle touches that somehow make it feel a slight bit fresher. The fact that Ava is, like so many other movie teens, a precocious kid who has a love for Shakespeare, but an even bigger want, love and desire for the perfect family, not only makes her more believable, but somehow more sympathetic, even when it seems like she’s being a brat. Same goes for Mary Jo who seems like the typical free-spirited lady in one of these movies – the kind who has no rhyme, reason or code for what it is that she does or when she does it, but decides to pack up and leave whenever she feels it’s necessary. They’re both unlikable in certain respects, but because they have such a lovely and nice bond with one another, it’s hard not to love them together.

It also helps that Janet McTeer and Kimberly J. Brown are both pretty great in their roles, showing a nice bit of chemistry that’s actually believable and not at all annoying. McTeer has a certain sense of fun and spunk in her performance that makes Mary Jo an entertaining gal for who she is; while she likes to drink hard, party hard, and have sex pretty hard, she also longs for a solid family-unit, where she can finally settle down and not have to worry about where her life is going to take her next. McTeer keeps us guessing as to when that other shoe is going to drop and when she’s going to get ready to hit the road, but it’s still enjoyable to watch her nonetheless.

And even though she’s playing the kid here, Brown’s also quite good. Sure, she’s the teenager who may have a bit of a chip on her shoulder and may act as if she knows more than she actually does, but there’s still something entertaining in watching all that. Brown feels like a real kid here as Ava, so it’s hard to watch her performance and not think of how we all acted at this age – of course, they may have been under circumstances, but still.

Nothing like a mother admiring her sassy, but soulful daughter. Or at least, let's hope that's her daughter.

Nothing like a mother admiring her sassy, but soulful daughter. Or at least, let’s hope that’s her daughter.

We were all kids nonetheless.

And while it may seem odd that he cast himself in his own movie, in such a pivotal role, O’Connor’s actually pretty competent as an actor that he helps some of his rougher-scenes, actually work. I have no clue why he was doing a New York accent the whole time, despite being a rough, gruff and tough truck-driver from San Diego, but hey, I’ll take it. It’s also nice to see Jay O. Sanders here as Mary Jo’s co-worker who, just like her and Ava, seems to have that same longing for love and a family, but just doesn’t know how to go about actually getting it. It’s a sweet role that works well beside Mary Jo and Ava’s relationship, even if he does randomly pop-up at contrived moments.

But hey, it still works.

Like I said before, though, Tumbleweeds isn’t a perfect movie. It’s hard not to pinpoint just what is going to happen with the plot, where and at what moments, but the movie is less about the plot-structure and the surprises that the actual story itself has to offer, and more about the characters, their relationships, and how they get by in life. Once again, it’s your typical Sundance flick, but that doesn’t always have to spell out trouble. Sometimes, it can just mean that your story and your movie pays more attention to the human heart and characters than most other movies out there and well, there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

So long as you do it all right. Which O’Connor does and has done for quite some time since this flick.

Consensus: Regardless of the conventional plot, Tumbleweeds is a well-acted, heartfelt take on the mother-daughter relationship, without hitting any sappy moments that material like this would seem to promise.

7.5 / 10

Dinner-tables have never seemed so much fun! Even without food!

Dinner-tables have never seemed so much fun! Even without food!

Photos Courtesy of: Nick’s Flick Picks, Superior Pics