Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 1990s

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

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Find the head and you may get the killer.

Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a New York City detective whose unorthodox techniques and penchant for gadgets make him unpopular with is colleagues. That’s why, after much time spent on science and all of the ground-breaking inventions being made within that world, he is sent to the remote town of Sleepy Hollow, where they hope he’ll be able to solve a whole slew of murders that have been occurring – as local townspeople have all been disappearing in the woods and dead, only to have their bodies found with their heads cut off. Who is doing this and why, Ichabod hopes to find out and it’s why, despite not having a great idea of the land that he’s about to settle into, he is, at the very least, inspired. Once he gets to this town, Ichabod realizes that there’s a lot more going on between these townsfolk that may or may not solve his crime, but also continue to make the folk tale of the Headless Horsemen all the more grandiose and magical, if also kind of dangerous.

From Hell?

From Hell?

It’s great to watch Tim Burton having fun, because unfortunately, he so rarely does nowadays. While he could have made a drab, dreary and downright depressing version of Sleepy Hollow, Burton instead goes for a fun, high-wire, quick, and exciting version that is also drab, dreary and, yes, depressing. Sounds crazy and almost impossible to imagine or even picture seeing, but somehow, Burton pulls it all off so well, adding a great sense of slick and brooding style to go along with the fast velocity in which the plot is being told to us.

Does it all work?

Sadly, no, not really. However, there’s something to be said for a messy Tim Burton movie that is, in ways, a very fun one. By the year 1999, Burton wasn’t quite as well-known as the imaginative and ambitious creative-mind that seemed to have lost his way, like he is now – back then, he was still seen as the imaginative and ambitious creative-mind that may have had a few missteps along the way (Mars Attacks! and Beetlejuice, depending on who you talk to), but recovered from them quite greatly because he still had a style to work with and wasn’t afraid to get as weird as one can possibly get. That’s why, for the longest while, Sleepy Hollow is quite the thrill-ride; it’s probably not as scary as Burton wants it to be, but with an R-rating, it’s allowed to do a whole lot of things, like stab, slice and splatter all sorts of blood.

It’s as if Burton was given free reign to run wild with whatever he budget he had in mind, with whoever was around, and at the same time, still put something of his stamp on an age old classic. It’s basically the dream that every director/writer dreams of one day actually having, which is what makes it all the more joyful to see Burton getting a chance to live out that dream, once and for all. Sure, he may have already had his dreams lived out before with the Batman flicks, but personally, as dark and as sinister as this can sometimes get, it seems like Burton is really in his zone. He doesn’t have to answer to too many people, nor does he have anyone set in his mind about pleasing.

Except, well, himself, of course.

Who needs lines when you're Christopher Walken?

Who needs lines when you’re Christopher Walken?

That said, Burton does slip up somewhere by the end, once the film relies that it has to actually tell its age old plot and give something resembling a reason for all of the crazy murders and whatnot. It’s not that we needed it, because we sort of do, it’s just that it feels like such a hack-job that Burton himself didn’t even seem to care about, is that it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t hold much meaning. We get an idea of who the villain in the story may be, but the movie isn’t solely depending on the big, final twist of who was really chopping all of the people’s heads off; it’s all about the ride and joy of getting there, which is where Burton works best. Grounding himself in rhyme, or reason, is not Burton’s forte and while he can definitely do it, he doesn’t really need to with a movie as silly and, sometimes, as insane as Sleepy Hollow.

It’s also why the final-product, while still enjoyable, still does feel like a bit of a mixed-bag. There’s no denying the fact that it’s a fun-filled, campy, and over-the-top wild ride that doesn’t ever seem to let up, by the end, it can get a little exhausting. All of the characters in this are, well, exactly that; every actor who shows up here is great, but they’re also working with cartoon cut-outs. Sure, some may not expect this from a Burton flick, or better yet, a Sleepy Hollow adaptation, but it would have been nice, if not, necessary to get some downtime in between all of the craziness to get to know who we’re dealing with and why. Just having talented, good-looking people like Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, and Miranda Richardson isn’t enough.

A little bit more detail and care can go a long, long way, no matter how much style you have going on.

Consensus: Wacky, wild, over-the-top and occasionally nuts, Sleepy Hollow finds Tim Burton having a great time putting his own spin on the classic tale, but also finds him never knowing when to slow down and tell us a little more about the story.

7 / 10

Yeah, time to turn around, I'd say.

Yeah, time to turn around, I’d say.

Photos Courtesy of: Overdue Review

Very Bad Things (1998)

Bachelor parties. What’s the worst that could happen?

Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau) is finally ready to settle down with his fiancee (Cameron Diaz). But before that all goes down, he’s got one weekend with his four pals, where they’re going to take a trip out to Vegas and celebrate his bachelor party the right way. While Kyle’s perfectly fine with a weekend chock full of booze, drugs and pay-per-view, he gets a little more than he bargained for when his best buddy, Boyd (Christian Slater), decides that it’s time to call up a stripper and let her do her thing. She does, but she also gets a little more than what was asked of her when the guys accidentally kill her. Having to tie-up all sorts of loose-ends, the guys all plan on covering it up and acting as if it never happened. However, when you have to tie-up one loose-end, there’s plenty more that need to be tied-up, especially when you have a bunch of yuppies dealing with all these sorts of issues.

One wedding....

One wedding….

Very Bad Things is the kind of movie that was meant to be despised and disgusted by when it first came out. It’s the kind of pitch black comedy that we hear so much about, yet, because more and more studios want to actually make money off of their movies, so rarely actually see. And with Very Bad Things, we get the kind of pitch black comedy that deals with all sorts of ugly and disgusting issues, like rape, like murder, like death, like crime, like incest, like drug-use, and like so many, many other problematic issues that so many movies are actually afraid to even take a whiff at.

And that’s sort of why this movie works as well as it does.

Peter Berg made his directorial debut with this and it’s actually quite surprising; while he’s become known as the go-to guy for true stories of heroic people, acting heroic, it all came from somewhere very dark and disturbing. That’s why, as sick and twisted as the movie may be, there’s still something interesting about why, of all people and of all the material out there in the universe, did Peter Berg decide to direct this? Was it because he needed to get his start and didn’t quite care? Or, was it because he actually liked the material and was basically against the idea of pleasing anyone with his first movie?

Whatever the reasoning behind his decision, it doesn’t matter because Berg does all that he can with this movie and, for the most part, makes it work. Because its grisly, upsetting and downright vile, Berg has to really make us feel as if we’re lowering ourselves down to this sort of heinous material, which he does, but he also allows us to have a little fun in it, too. Sure, a lot of people won’t like the idea that we’re supposed to be entertained, let alone, compelled by a premise involving a bunch of yuppies killing a stripper and trying to get away with it all, but there’s still some fun in watching that all play out here. After all, Berg makes the smart choice in not ever showing these guys in a positive light and is clearly against each and everyone of their ugly decisions.

One funeral....

One funeral….

But does that mean we have to hate the time spent with them?

Not really and it’s why, Very Bad Things, like a lot of other dark comedies in the same vein as it, feels like it’s enjoying itself enough to where we know that it’s in on the joke and is having fun, yet, at the same time, also isn’t afraid to pay attention to the darker, grittier details of a very dark and gritty tale such as this. There’s always a sense of joy in the air, for sure, but Berg isn’t afraid to show the kind of emotional-toll something like this can take on the people involved – especially when a bunch of the people are just your typical white, middle-class jagbags. Berg doesn’t make Very Bad Things all that serious, but there’s a hint of that to be found, which underlines all of the near-comical situations that arise, which makes it, at the very least, admirable.

Of course, it also helps that the cast is very good and clearly able to work with material as mean-spirited as this. Jon Favreau, despite not even getting top-billing, does a fine job as our lead protagonist, as well as his fiancee, as played by Cameron Diaz, who actually turns out to be the harshest, maybe even meanest character of the whole bunch. And as the friends that join in on the activities, David Stern, Jeremy Piven, and Leland Orser are all pretty great, but it’s really Christian Slater who gets to steal the show as the crazy and demented Boyd. While Mr. Robot has, no doubt, allowed for Slater to show off a more maniacal side to him, it’s really Boyd where he gets the perfect shot as displaying his range of crazy, hell-bent anger, without ever making it seem like he’s joking. Slater’s always best when he makes it seem like he’s absolutely losing his cool and here, as Boyd, he doesn’t shy away from it one bit.

Sure, Mr. Robot‘s a better watch, but hey, there’s no problem with getting a wild and nutty Christian Slater.

Consensus: Though its material is, at the very least, upsetting, Very Bad Things still has enough of a funny, comedic-edge to make it, on few occasions, hilarious, but also slightly serious, all things considered.

7 / 10

Five d-bags....

Five d-bags….

Photos Courtesy of: Isaacs Picture Conclusions

Alexander (2004)

Some people let fame and fortune go to their heads. Others, just want to party and have a lot of sex.

Ever since he was a little boy, Alexander (Colin Farrell) was always a person destined for great and wonderful things like becoming the greatest empire in the world, at a staggeringly young age of 32. Of course, however, his path to greatness was a rough and troubling one, mired by all sorts of controversy and adversity that seemed to take him down a peg, even when it seemed like he was ready to take down everyone who stood in his way. There’s his mother (Angelina Jolie) and his father (Val Kilmer)’s legacy and how all of their accomplishments have overshadowed his impact; there’s his sexuality and how some people don’t ever know what it is that he likes to have sex with; and then, there’s also that need and utter desire he has that makes him want to kill nations and nations of people because they don’t praise him as the lord he so desperately wants to be praised as. Of course, all of this would be prove to be his ultimate demise.

"I know you love the blonde hair. All the girls do."

“I know you love the blonde hair. All the girls do.”

Alexander is not nearly as awful as people make it out to be. It’s probably Oliver Stone’s worst movie, but in that, therein lies an interesting movie that has a lot of good ingredients, a few rotten ones, and ultimately, doesn’t fully come together as perfectly as his other movies have. But does that make it absolutely, positively awful?

Not really.

And it’s because of Stone, that a movie like Alexander – one that would have been so slow and boring – actually comes off far more compelling than one would expect. Just as he’s shown before, Stone seems a whole lot interested in just what makes a legend like Alexander tick and become the man that he wants to eventually become; sure, the narrative of him from childhood, to his adult-years, don’t always mesh well and would have probably worked out better had they been shown in a more conventional format, but still, there is something of interest to this person here. Stone doesn’t always know what he wants to say about Alexander, or better yet, what point he’s trying to get across by telling his story in the first place, but there is something here, as small and as slight as it may be, that’s definitely worth watching and thinking about.

It’s just that it’s still hard to figure out just what that may be. Stone seems interested in judging this person solely on the fact that he condoned a whole lot of violence, yet, at the same time, didn’t know why or for what reasons, expect that it was all he was taught when he was just a little tike. But then, Stone also seems interested in how his sexual preferences may have also done a little something to make him seem like a weakling that couldn’t be trusted in the long-run. And then, of course, there’s also the fact that Stone seems interested in wondering just what it is about a person like Alexander that makes him feel like a God that can do no wrong, never die and still keep the love, respect and adoration of all those around him.

There’s a lot to think about and work with, but unfortunately, yes, the movie is also quite messy and doesn’t always make the best sense of what it’s trying to do or say.

And yeah, that’s a huge problem for Alexander, considering that it clocks in at nearly three hours, showing us that, once again, Stone is the King of excess, especially when it seems like there’s no real reason for the actual excessiveness in the first place. And hell, if there is a reason, it’s because Stone himself knows that he doesn’t quite know what he’s getting across with the material, so rather than trying his hardest to make a small, concise movie, he overloads it all, adding more bits and pieces of style that come and go as they please. It’s what we’ve come to know and, unfortunately, expect with Stone, even if it does sometimes feel like he’s got something of interest to work with here.

Their family is better than yours.

Their family is better than yours.

He just doesn’t know what it is, sadly.

But that’s why he’s got such a good cast to work with and, in ways, pick up the pieces whenever the narrative seems to flowing from one place to another. Colin Farrell is fine and hunky as Alexander, even if the character himself is written in so many different ways, that he almost feels like an entirely different person altogether, at random parts of the movie. Farrell gets past most of it, but he also feels like he’s struggling to make sense of just what Stone is aiming for here. As his parents, Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie are terrific, vamping and hamming it up, showing us that Alexander definitely had two role models in his life, for better and for worse, and they made him who he is today, and honestly, the movie would have been a whole lot better just about them and their little dynamic.

Because once Kilmer and Jolie are thrown in the background, others like Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and the one and only, Anthony Hopkins show up and quite frank;y, the material just isn’t there for them. They all feel like added-on characters who show up because Stone wanted to work with them and, honestly, needed an excuse. Dawson’s got the most to do out of all these actors, but even she feels short-shifted, only made to give sad looks and take her clothes off. I’m not complaining, but trust me, there’s a whole lot that she can do.

In fact, so can everyone else here. Including Stone himself.

Consensus: Not quite the travesty as some have made it out to be, Alexander suffers from being messy and never always making the best sense of itself, yet, gets by on a few good performances and moments from the near three-hour run-time.

6 / 10

"Join me in this fight now and afterwards, we'll all get mangled!"

“Join me in this fight now and afterwards, we’ll all get mangled!”

Photos Courtesy of: The Ace Black Blog, Metro, Cine Cola

U-Turn (1997)

uturnposterNext time, wait for the rest stop.

While on the road to who knows where, Bobby (Sean Penn) has a bit of car trouble and has to pull over into the nearest gas-station/mechanic he can find. Of course, this leads him right into the lovely, yet wacky little town of Superior, Arizona, where he’s told that his car will have to stay around for a few more days so that it can get inspected and get all of the right parts it needs to continue to run. Bobby’s not happy about this, but he can’t do much about it, so he decides to set up shop in town for a short while, and in doing so, attracts a whole lot of unwanted and crazy attention from the local folks who clearly seem to be pretty interested in what a city boy like Bobby’s doing around their parts. One person in particular is the sexual and dangerous Grace (Jennifer Lopez), who decides that she wants to run away with Bobby and start out a new life for her. The only issue is that her husband (Nick Nolte), controls almost everything that she does and will not let her out of his sights, regardless of who stands in his way.

Even Sean knows neither of these kids have a career in showbiz.

Even Sean knows neither of these kids have a career in showbiz.

U-Turn is the perfect movie for someone like Oliver Stone to direct right after making something as loud, bombastic and overstuffed like Nixon. Because with U-Turn, you can tell that Stone’s getting back down to his roots, catching his breath, and enjoying this sick, dark and twisted world that he seemed to love and be so fascinated with in Natural Born Killers. And sure, while U-Turn is no way in the same league as that near-masterpiece, it’s still a fun little piece of noir-trash that reminds us what can be done when you have some good material, with a director who knows how to handle it all so well.

Of course, Stone has been better and worse before, but still U-Turn shows us that, once again, Stone knows a thing or two about these dark, gritty and messed-up tales about small people, in small towns, doing some pretty cruel and evil things to one another. Stone of course makes this little town of Superior all the more zany and crazy than we’d ever expect right away, but it works in the movie’s favor; every character we run into and get a glimpse of, despite seeming like over-the-top cartoons, still have this smallest sense of danger in their bones that makes it feel like they could step into the story at any second and cause all sorts of damage. It’s what most thrillers in the same vein strive for, but because Stone has a certain eye for these kinds of movies, it works a whole lot more.

Then again, it is a very disgusting movie that, at times, sure, can test our patience for what we’re capable of seeing and accepting for an upwards of two hours or so.

That said, Stone is having fun here and honestly, that can be sort of rare. There’s this small glimmer of a message about Native American tribes and the fact that they were kicked off of their land, but the movie doesn’t make it a top-priority to get on any sort of soapbox and preach to the audience – it’s rare for an Oliver Stone movie to do that, but it’s a welcome change-of-pace because it helps not take away from the cast and twisty, turny plot, and also allow for us to enjoy the movie a whole lot more, all its shortcomings with plot aside.

Wow. Is this the last time Billy Bob was actually engaged and/or enjoying himself?

Wow. Is this the last time Billy Bob was actually engaged and/or enjoying himself?

Sean Penn is a nice addition to the world of Oliver Stone and even though it’s not a more spirited and crazy performance like we’re so used to seeing from him, as Bobby, it almost feel like he didn’t have to be. In a way, he’s sort of the cool, calm and collected one in the middle of a group full of nuts, wacko’s and fools, which suits Penn a whole lot, even if it is also a whole bunch of fun to see him freak-out every so often. Same goes for Lopez, who is playing the typical femme fatale we see in these sorts of flicks and does a solid job playing up that sexy, vivaciousness of her, making us wonder if we can, or can’t, trust her.

But then, there’s the rest of the ensemble who seem to be a little more ramped-up than Lopez and Penn, which is perfectly fine because it suits them all so well.

Powers Boothe and his eyes steal every scene he’s in, because of how scary he is; Jon Voight has a few heartfelt moments in the middle of a wacky and wild movie; Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes seem as if they walked off of the set of a sitcom as two young lovers who constantly keep on running into Bobby; Billy Bob Thornton seems spirited and awake as the town mechanic who seems to be enjoying his chances of ripping Bobby off every chance he gets; and yes, Nick Nolte is as dastardly as can be, playing Grace’s husband, snarling and howling every line that comes out of his mouth. But you know what? It works. We’re supposed to be repulsed by this guy and Nolte is perfect at delivering it all.

If only he and Stone worked together more.

Consensus: As wild and as crazy as Stone has been, U-Turn also shows off his most vile and inhumane piece that is definitely not his smartest movie, but still a bunch of fun, if in the right mood for it.

7.5 / 10

Yeah, Sean can't be bothered because he's just too cool, yo.

Yeah, Sean can’t be bothered because he’s just too cool, yo.

Photos Courtesy of: DVD Dizzy, Horror Cult Films

Nixon (1995)

nixonposterHe was a crook, but then again, aren’t we all?

U.S. President Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) definitely had all sorts of controversies in his life and career. And those constants issues with the general public and those around him actually lead-out into the rest of his life, even going so far as to drive him a little nutty. But no matter what, his wife, Pat (Joan Allen), whenever he needed some love and comfort the most, even if he wasn’t quite so sure that he could always trust her. Of course though, despite some of Nixon’s best moments as President, his career and legacy would, ultimately, be destroyed because of the infamous incident that everyone, for future generations, will come to know as “the Watergate Scandal”.

So basically, yeah, Nixon is Oliver Stone’s attempt at trying to make some sort of biopic on the life, times and ultimate career of Richard Nixon. And honestly, it makes sense – if there is any director out there who could understand the mind and brain-space of someone who has been hated and despised over the years, it’s definitely Stone. But don’t be fooled by the term “biopic”, as Nixon is anything but conventional, even if that term is exactly what it promises to be.

"Hey, Anthony? Yeah, tone it down just a bit."

“Hey, Anthony? Yeah, tone it down just a bit.”

And that is, honestly, it’s biggest problem.

Stone has a lot to work with here and even at a staggering three-hours, it feels like we got more than enough. For what it’s worth, Stone doesn’t back down from showing us the image of Nixon, both professional and personal, that we’ve all come to know and expect by now. He has to make a lot of dirty, incredibly questionable choices and decisions on behalf of the entire country and because of that, he starts to get a little crazy and act out in ways people don’t expect him to. Stone doesn’t seem to be fully judging him for who he is, or better yet, what he represents, and that’s what works best in the movie’s favor; it’s setting out to tell us a little more about the one President that most of the country has learned to grow and dislike more with each and every passing year, and not shy away from some of the more grittier, meaner aspects of his life.

And because Nixon doesn’t back away from the not-so pretty things about Nixon’s life, it also can sort of seem like it has nothing to really say about its central-figure. Even though Stone tries his absolute hardest to fool us into thinking that this isn’t another one of those typical biopics we tend to get around Oscar-season, what with the quick-editing, non-chronological format, etc., it’s still not hard to look at this as, yet again, another biopic of someone that we think we know, but don’t know every little detail about, to the day that he took his first breath, to his last one. But the movie also begs the question: Do we really need all of this? Is there a point to this never ending focus on this one man in particular?

Well, the answer is yes and that’s because Anthony Hopkins is the one playing the lead role.

"Okay, maybe I'm a little bit of a crook. Just a little bit, though."

“Okay, maybe I’m a little bit of a crook. Just a little bit, though.”

Which is, yes, definitely fine, because no surprise here, but Hopkins does a terrific job as Tricky Dick. Of course, Hopkins himself has a lot to do and work with, playing up the usual mannerisms of Nixon, without seeming like a cartoon and still sinking into the role, despite not looking a single thing like him, but still, there’s something missing here. It’s a performance that does a lot of shaking, yelling, standing, and heavy-lifting, but it’s also one that seems to just be about the actual actor, and not about the actual character/person being portrayed or brought to us. Watching Hopkins do what he does best is a treat, but still, when he’s clearly not working with solid material that gives him more than just another chance to chew the fat, it’s a bit of a slog to watch. It’s almost as if we walked into an empty-theater, just to watch Hopkins himself rehearse and go over his lines, but rather than letting us go out the doors and into the real world, the doors are locked and we’re somehow trapped, forced to watch and be inspired by the thespian that is Anthony Hopkins.

Sure, that may not sound as bad to some, but watching it all play out in Nixon can get to a bit tiring.

Especially when the movie is, like I said before, is a little over three hours long. And while it’s not the Hopkins show the whole way through, what with the likes of Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, Paul Sorvino, James Woods, and Ed Harris all showing up and doing their things, it still feels very much like a vanity-project that was created solely for Hopkins and no one else. Stone may have had something interesting to say about Nixon’s actions, his public-appeal and how he’s become a “crook”, but it gets lost in between every scene that features Hopkins screaming and hooting at the top of his lungs. Sure, that’s enjoyable to a whole bunch of people, but when there’s no real rhyme or reason for all of the hooting, hollering and screaming at the top of the lungs, then it just gets tedious.

Which is something that I’d never thought I’d have to say about a Hopkins performance.

Consensus: Despite a warts-and-all depiction of Nixon’s story, Nixon still feels very much like a movie created solely so that Anthony Hopkins could work shop the whole entire three hours and make himself happy.

6.5 / 10

See? He's a happy Dick!

See? He’s a happy Dick!

Photos Courtesy of: Cydney Cornell, The Ace Black Blog

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Some of the greatest loves are the from those who just take pictures of bridges.

While she is, in no way, considered bored with the life she lives with her family, Italian immigrant, Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep), still feels as if there’s a little something more to her life that she’s possibly missing out on. Not sure what that is, she takes to just doing her own thing for a few days, while her family is out and about at the Illinois State Fair. But one fateful day, she meets the illustrious and incredibly confident Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), a photographer for National Geographic who was sent around the world to take pictures of the world’s oldest and most well-known covered bridges. It sounds boring to some, but to Francesca, she’s so interested that she can’t help but take a liking to the world of photographer, but also to Robert himself. And you know what? Despite her being married and whatnot, Robert takes a liking to her and brings up the possibility of an affair – a small decision that would continue to haunt them for the rest of their lives. For better, and especially, for worse.

Meryl photogenic? No! You don't say?

Meryl? Photogenic? No! You don’t say?

Sound a little Nicholas Sparks-y, eh? Well, that’s because it’s supposed to – after all, Sparks novels of forbidden and tragic love come from a special place in each and everyone’s worlds and hearts, and it’s what we call love. Actual love. You know, where two people meet, get to know one another, figure out what they do and don’t like about the other person, spend more time with them, and yes, eventually, over time, fall in love.

It’s a crazy thing, but hey, it does exist in this place that we like to call Earth, right?

Well, that’s why a movie like the Bridges of Madison County, as corny and as sappy as it may sound, is anything but. If anything, it’s a heartfelt and endearing snapshot in the lives of two people who, clearly, had a lot of life to live before and after the time that they met and got to know one another, but for some reason, clearly seem to have been so taken by this point in their lives, that it makes them who they are. It’s the kind of movie you wouldn’t expect for Eastwood to not just star in, but direct, but somehow, he makes it work, showing that with enough attention and detail to the smaller things in a story like this, everything can work out so perfectly.

After all, when you’re telling a romance tale, all you really need is a romance that’s easy to believe in and to root for. And that’s what we get with Robert and Francesca, two people who seem to be almost polar opposites upon first glance, but after a short time, begin to get to know and love one another, gradually and realistically, even if it may seem like they’re just serving a plot. But that’s why two class-acts like Eastwood and Streep are meant for these kinds of movies; the romance at the center may seem shoddy and rushed, to a fault, so it’s up to them to figure out small, but important ways on how to get it to work where we fully do trust that they are in love and against the rest of the world.

Which is to say that, yes, Eastwood and Streep are pretty great here, whether they’re together, or not.

It's okay, Meryl. Just win another Oscar.

It’s okay, Meryl. Just win another Oscar.

For Eastwood, it’s interesting to see him in a different, much more romantic and sweet light. Sure, he’s quiet and subdued as usual here, but he’s also got something of a heart that’s easy to spot at the very beginning, and not something that we have to search for. Despite what sneaky things Robert may be up to, the movie always makes it out to appear that he has the best intentions at heart and it shows – you almost always get the sense that he doesn’t just want some quick and easy nookie, but a woman to love and care for, what with him getting older and not really having any seeds planted out there in the world.

With Streep, the two create a nice bit of chemistry that continues to build and build over time, with him always egging her on to say something more about her life, and with her, constantly seeming like she’s got something on the tip of her tongue, but is too shy to actually get it out. As Francesca, Streep is, as usual, amazing, handling a really heavy Italian-accent very well, while also giving us a female lead that feels honest and raw, but never brutal. The movie never judges her for what she choices to do and because of that, it feels like we get to know more and more about her, through the life she tells us about, as opposed to who she decides to and decides not to, sleep with.

That said, as good as Streep and Eastwood are together, there’s an issue that Eastwood, the director, runs into and it’s that he has two plot-lines going on here, with one far more interesting than the other.

While the romance between Streep and Eastwood is lovely, nice, sweet and powerful, there’s also this story revolving around Francesca’s two kids, older and grown-up, having to figure out their own lives and what they want to do next. Though Annie Corley and Victor Slezak are two good actors in their own right, here, the material just doesn’t work for them; Corley seems too whiny and conceited to be sympathetic and Slezak’s line-readings are so wild and crazy, that it makes me wonder why there wasn’t at least 50 takes of every one of this guys’ scenes. Of course, this is what usually comes to happen with Eastwood’s movies – they’re never perfect and always taken down by a weak element, but still good enough to watch.

It’s just a shame that that had to happen here.

Consensus: The real heart and emotion of the Bridges of Madison County lies within Eastwood and Streep’s great chemistry and performances, while the subplot occasionally gets in the way, creating more of a fine piece of romance, as opposed to a great one.

7.5 / 10

Sordid affairs have never looked so sweet.

Sordid affairs have never looked so sweet.

Photos Courtesy of: Cut the Crap Movie Reviews


Hero (1992)

HeroposterEveryone’s a little super. Just look closely and stop judging!

Bernie Laplante (Dustin Hoffman) is known as a cheap-skate, a swindler, and just all around rat, who can’t be trusted with anything, or anyone. However, he makes the first selfless gesture of his life when he helps save injured passengers from a roadside plane crash. Before he can get any sort of recognition or praise for this righteous act of heroism, he vanishes into thin air, feeling as if he’s got nothing else to offer. But Bernie is very wrong, because not only are people out there looking for him, but most of all, the one, the only reporter Gale Gayley (Geena Davis) is now interested in finding this mystery man who put his own life at risk. And in by doing so, she announces a $1 million prize for anyone who is willing and able to step forward. But when handsome vagrant John Bubber (Andy Garcia) takes credit, Bernie now feels like it’s time to speak up, even while all of the media is centered on this one story.

What? Would you not trust these two faces?

What? Would you not trust these two faces?

Hero is a sloppy film in that it balances out a lot of what it wants to say, do, and actually be, but still, it all comes together because, when you get right down to it, it’s an enjoyable movie, with some great performances to be found. Sometimes, that’s honestly all you need in a movie, no matter how messy, muggy, or dirty it may actually be.

Okay, maybe that’s not always the case, but you get my point, right?

Anyway, what Hero benefits from the most is a great cast on-deck who feel as if they are more than capable of taking on this material and giving it all that they’ve got, even if they do sometimes feel like they’re far much better than the material itself. Hoffman especially is great in the lead because while he’s definitely an unlikable and pathetic bum, who constantly steals and rips people off for his own self-gain, he’s still likable and fun to watch. This is the beauty of Hoffman – give him a gritty character, a bunch of unlikable traits, and still, watch him as he works wonders into making him the most lovable guy in the whole world. The script always wants to give you the sense that there’s good in this man, but Hoffman does away with them in smart moves; you almost get the sense that Hoffman would have preferred for this character to have been more detestable and mean, but unfortunately, the movie is too light and quick on its feet to really get down and deep into those dark waters.

If anything, it wants to play around, have some fun, make jokes, but also be “about something”, which is what kind of ruins it in the end.

Cause honestly, Hero is the kind of movie that, yes, on the surface, it’s about something, but for some reason, the direction from Stephen Frears doesn’t seem to show that. If anything, Frears seems more interested in having fun with this situation and watching it spiral more and more out of control; it’s like a Capra crowd-pleaser, but obviously, a lot more modern. However, that’s the central issue with Hero – it never fully feels like it’s as funny, or as light as it should be, nor does it feel like it ever gets as dark or serious as it should.

Yeah, take a shower, Dusty.

Yeah, take a shower, Dusty.

What Hero seems to be talking about here is how the media portrays certain people as being hero’s, for the sole sake of ratings and attention, even if, deep down inside, these people are evil and ugly human beings, really. There’s been plenty of movies made about this topic and honestly, given today’s world of media, you don’t even need movies to know this – just turn on the tube and you’ll see what picture the world paints of celebrities and athletes. That said, it is hard to get down on David Webb Peoples and his script for trying, because Hero is the rare big-budget movie, with A-list stars, that’s more than willing to ask the hard questions.

Sure, it may not give the answers it oh so desires, but sometimes, all you need is a little question to make it all matter most.

Anyway, Hero‘s messy, but it’s a fun and, at times, interesting mess. It is something of a redemption story that, because of Hoffman and his dedication to his craft, is a lot smarter and sweeter than it may have intended to be. Even all of the media stuff, as wild and hectic as it can sometimes get, still works because of Geena Davis, in full-on charm-mode, showing us a character who may be sad, deep down inside, but is still looking for that story of her lifetime to make her feel somewhat complete as much as she possibly can. The movie never gets as deep with her as I make it sound, but trust me, there’s something there, if you look close enough.

And yeah, even Andy Garcia is fine; while comedy has never been his strong suit, there’s something to this character that makes you hate him, but also like him as well. The movie is filled with characters like these and it’s actually quite refreshing to watch; we know we’re supposed to like them, but there’s still factors and ideas about them that make that much harder to be a reality. Why more and more movies can’t feature these kinds of attributes is beyond me, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Doesn’t matter the decade it comes from.

Consensus: Albeit messy, Hero still benefits from a great class, interesting ideas, and an entertaining approach to a premise that could have easily been boring, preachy and sad.

7 / 10

All of the men can't wait for Geena. No matter what the year.

All of the men can’t wait for Geena. No matter what the year.

Photos Courtesy of: Rob’s Movie Vault, Virtual History, Cineplex

Get Shorty (1995)

Be cool. Not the sequel. Just be cool in general.

Chili Palmer (John Travolta) is a Miami mobster who gets sent by his boss, “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina), to collect a bad debt from someone who Bones a whole lot of money. However, Chili’s not just going out and roughing up any normal dude, he’s going out to meet the one, the only Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), a Hollywood producer who specializes in all sorts of flicks, but most importantly, horror flicks. And Chili meets Harry’s leading lady (Rene Russo), he can’t help but fall a little head over heels for her. So of course Chili wants to join up in the film-business and eventually sells his life story to Harry, and a few others in Hollywood. Sooner than later, Chili finds out that being a mobster and being a Hollywood producer really aren’t all that different, even if one does concern more ass-kicking than the other. Oh and while this is all going down, Bones is still out there looking for his money – something he will not let go of until it is in his hands.

Don't get too close, Rene. You have yet to be "audited".

Don’t get too close, Rene. You have yet to be “audited”.

It’s easy to do a Hollywood satire. All one really has to do is find some sort of way to say that “Hollywood is a sick, evil and cruel place where people with barely any talent flourish, and those who actually do possess a certain level of said talent, don’t.” It’s that simple and honestly, it’s why so many showbiz satires can sometimes feel tired, even if they are funny; Birdman was the latest showbiz satire that actually had a bite and sting to it that worked and made me laugh, beyond just being mean.

And yeah, Get Shorty‘s got a lot of bite to it, too. However, by the same token, it’s not trying to pass itself off as a Hollywood satire, through and through. If anything, it’s a fun, sleek, and cool crime-comedy, that also just so happens to take place in Hollywood, with actors, actresses, producers, directors, screen-writers, dolly-grips, interns, and etc. But it’s not as silly as it sounds – somehow, writer Scott Frank and director Barry Sonnenfeld find the perfect combo of action, comedy, drama, romance, and satire that, yeah, may not always make perfect sense, but still works out smoothly.

Which is more than I can say for some other Hollywood satires who really try to take on too much, without ever realizing that they have a story to continue with beside their mean-spiritedness. But really, underneath all of this, Get Shorty is just a fun movie that’s hard not to be entertained by. Frank’s script, when he isn’t riffing on any of the mechanisms of Hollywood or the film-business in general, is funny and features a great list of colorful characters that more than make up for some of the dull moments in the movie’s languid pace.

John Travolta, when he actually seemed to give a total damn, did a great job as Chili Palmer. There’s a sense of coolness about Travolta that, despite current controversies, we tend to forget actually exists, but here as Chili Palmer, he showed that off perfectly. At some points, he’s supposed to be this mean and tense figure, but then, he changes into being someone nicer and more charming. Some people may not believe both of the sides to this character, but it works, because Travolta could somehow be both menacing, as well as likable at the same time.

Always listen to Gene. Even when he sounds crazy, always listen.

Always listen to Gene. Even when he sounds crazy, always listen.

Where all of that has gone, is totally beyond me.

Anyway, he also has wonderful chemistry with Rene Russo who, as usual, is great here. The movie does kind of deal with the fact that her character is an aging actress in Hollywood, but doesn’t seem to be getting on her case – if anything, it makes her more sympathetic and makes us want to see her and Chili run off into the sunset at the end. Why she wasn’t around for the second movie, is totally beyond me, but then again, it may be more of a blessing than a curse.

Everybody else is pretty great, too. Gene Hackman seems to be having a lot of fun as the perfectly-named Harry Zimm, someone who is actually quite infatuated with the lifestyle that Chili seems to live; Danny DeVito is pitch perfect as Martin Weir; Dennis Farina gets plenty of chances to curse and act psycho, which is always a treat; Delroy Lindo shows up and he’s always good; and there’s even a few, oddly surprising cameos that seem to come out of nowhere, yet, still work.

Get Shorty is the kind of movie that may seem dated, considering it’s over a decade old, but it still works. The breezy pace helps a lot of the movie’s heavy-lifting and moving, feel as if we’re spending a lot of time with characters that we can learn to love, forgive and forget that they can sometimes be evil human beings. They may not be as lovely to learn about as they were in Elmore Leonard’s original book, but hey, they’re still fine as is.

Heck, they’re way better than whatever happened in the sequel.

Seriously, stay away from that movie.

Consensus: With a smart script and charming performances from the solid cast, Get Shorty is more than just another satire with jokes aimed at Hollywood for giggles, and it’s what matters most.

8 / 10

"I've got this great idea. How about a sequel?"

“I’ve got this great idea. How about a sequel?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Qwipster

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)

Yeah, I’m totally telling my high-school classmates I know Brad Pitt.

Romy and Michele (Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) are two 28-year-old women who have been best-friends for life and have always been there for the other no matter what the situation called for. However, their ten year high-school reunion is coming up and they both come to the realization that they haven’t done crap with their lives other sit around, piss, moan, and talk about random stuff. In order to have people think differently of the wastes of life they’ve become, they decide to make lies about themselves and what they’ve been up to in the past years since high-school. Basically, it comes down to them being co-inventors of the “Post-it Note”, among many other glamorous lies.

What’s genius about Romy and Michele is that, sure, yeah, it doesn’t set-out to light the movie world on fire, however, it comes away more meaningful than most movies with that certain level of importance attached to itself from the very beginning. What it does is, essentially, show how these two have essentially done nothing new or cool with their lives since high school ended, but also doesn’t show that as such a terrible thing. They’ve always stayed themselves, have never really hid away from what they thought was cool, and actually have sweet souls, even if they do seem like the types of chicks who’d be out first in the spelling bee. And it’s not like I, or the movie is ragging on them either – they are pretty much those types of Valley Girls that talk, sound, and dress like they’re hot stuff, yet, have no clue what the result of two plus two is – however, the movie never judges them for this.

Those girls sure can dance!

Those girls sure can dance! They probably don’t know calculus, but hey, who cares?

If anything, the movie itself is almost too “nostalgic” to really frown on these two, nor should it have to.

Because honestly, Romy and Michele really do deserve their own movie, whether we know it right away or not. They may be dumb, but they have good hearts and are there for each other and whenever they aren’t thinking of what cool things they could do or say next to impress the hell out of the popular ones from school, they are just talking to each other and being the best friends that they can honestly be. If that doesn’t warm your heart a tad bit, I don’t know what will. It looks at high school as a joke and isn’t very serious when it comes to its depiction of what high school is and used to be, and shows that, honestly, that crap doesn’t matter; who you surround yourself around and care for is all that you need in life.

It’s all incredibly corny, but you know what? It works. If not for the script, but for the amazing chemistry between Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino. You get a sense that these two have been side-by-side for as long as they can remember and you also get the sense that they understand each other, in more ways then one. Though the movie has them doing a whole bunch of embarrassingly silly stuff, the movie also doesn’t forget that they’re also very happy to be with one another, even if they still don’t know what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

But what really makes these characters work is that they aren’t necessarily the same person, in and out, and both Kudrow and Sorvino show that off perfectly.

Oh, you 80's-looking-but-stuck-in-the-90's-gals.

Oh, you 80’s-looking-but-stuck-in-the-90’s-gals.

Kudrow is always hilarious in anything she does and even though I am always impressed with what she can do when it comes to showing her more dramatic side, her comedic side never seems to falter and it’s always a blast to watch. She has a lot of choice lines that make this movie any funnier than it has any right to be, but if you get to thinking about it, she’s just another-rendition of Phoebe, with a smaller-brain. That’s not even that much of a complaint either, because that character still works, no matter what!

Then, there’s Sorvino who really knew and understand just what it took to make someone as beautiful as her, look and sound so incredibly idiotic, yet, pull it off so wonderfully, that it was actually genuine. She’s more of the stand-out here because she really sets herself apart from the rest of the crowd for being so damn beautiful, but is also able to make us believe that a lot of people would just push her to the side for being a bit of a weirdo, as well as a bit of a dummy. Like Michele, she’s a not terrible person for being dumb and thinking she’s all that, and if anything, it makes us like her a little more.

Others like Alan Cumming and Janeane Garofalo, show up and do what they can, but really, it’s all Sorvino and Kudrow from the very beginning, to the end. In fact, the movie is so reliant that, after awhile, it can tend to be a bit obvious. No problem with playing to your strengths, but honestly, there was probably more within this movie that could have worked, had there been more polishing and focus. However, it doesn’t really matter, because the movie’s entertaining, funny and yeah, that’s all you need.

So I’ll shut up now.

Consensus: Thanks to a heartfelt, endearing and funny chemistry between Kudrow and Sorvino, Romy and Michele is a lot better than it has any right to be, showing that high school, ten years down the line or whenever, doesn’t really matter, so long as you’re happy and love the people you’re with.

6.5 / 10 

So, uh, sequel anyone?

So, uh, sequel anyone?

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex, IFC, AV Club

Celebrity (1998)

Never mind. I’m fine with being a peasant.

After divorcing his wife, Lee (Kenneth Branagh) now has a new mission in life and that’s to be dive deeper and further into the entertainment industry, where he’ll be able to wine and dine with all sorts of celebrities, be a part of their lives, and see the world through their eyes. However, Lee gets too close to some and often times, he finds himself struggling to keep himself calm, cool, and collected, while all sorts of decadence and debauchery is occurring around him. Meanwhile, Lee’s ex-wife, Robin (Judy Davis) is trying her hardest to live life without fully losing it. While she’s working at a talent agency, she doesn’t really know where to go next with her love life. That is, until she meets the charming and successful TV producer Tony (Joe Mantegna), who not only strikes up a romance with her, but also brings her into the celebrity-world – the same one that Lee himself seems to be way too comfortable in.

Pictured: Not Woody Allen

Pictured: Not Woody Allen

In the same sort of spirit he had with Deconstructing Harry a year earlier, Celebrity finds Woody Allen with a fiery passion to get something off of his chest. However, instead of throwing all of his anger around towards those around him who he holds most near and dear to his life, Woody positions everything towards the whole celebrity culture in and of itself. Which isn’t to say that he makes fun of celebrities and mainstream talent (which he does do), but more or less that he criticizes the whole idea of being an actual “celebrity”; in Woody’s eyes, it isn’t if you have any talent, per se, is what makes you the biggest and brightest celebrity, sometimes it just matters who you’ve slept with and whether or not you’re at the right place, at the right time.

Sounds pretty smart and interesting, right? And heck, you’d even assume that someone who has to deal with celebrities, pop-culture, and tabloid sensations as much as Woody Allen has had to, that there would be some shred of humanely brutal truth, eh?

Well, unfortunately, Celebrity is not that kind of movie.

Instead, it’s one where Woody Allen tries to recycle old themes and ideas that he’s worked with before, but this time, with a much larger ensemble, more unlikable characters, way more of a disjointed plot, and well, the biggest issue of all, no originality or fun. Even in some of Woody’s worst features (of which there are quite a few), you do sort of get the sense that he’s still having fun, even if he doesn’t totally feel any sort of passion or creativity within the project itself. Here, with Celebrity, a part of me wonders where the inspiration actually began – I already know where it ends (at the very beginning of the flick), but why did Woody want to make this movie, about these characters, and using this story?

The question remains in the air, as there’s so many characters to choose from, it’s hard to really pin-point which one’s are actually more annoying and underdeveloped than certain others. But to make that decision a little easier for yourself, just watch whatever Judy Davis and Kenneth Branagh are doing here because, oh my, they’re quite terrible. And honestly, I don’t take any pride in saying any of that; both are extremely likable and interesting talents who have honestly knocked it out of the park, more times than they’ve actually struck out, but for some reason here, they’re incredibly miscast.

Seeing as how he never worked with Woody before, it’s understandable why Branagh was miscast, but Judy Davis?

Really, Woody?!?

Anyway. the biggest issue with Davis is that her character is so over-the-top, neurotic and crazy, that you almost get the sense that she’s doing a parody of what a crazy person should look, act and feel like. It’s never believable for a second and just seems like an act, above everything else. Then again, when compared to Branagh’s impersonation of Allen, Davis almost looks Oscar-worthy, because man oh man, he’s even worse. Though it’s never been too clear who’s idea it was to have Branagh act-out in every Woody-mannerism known to man (I say it was Woody’s, but hey, that’s just me), either way, it doesn’t work and just hurts Branagh; his constant flailing around, stuttering, pausing, and general awkwardness is painful to watch because, like with Davis, we know he’s acting. We never get a sense that he’s actually “a person”, but more or less, “a character” that Woody has written and made into another version of him.

Bebe knows best.

Bebe knows best.

And while nobody else is bad as Davis and Branagh, they’re not really all that much better, either. In fact, despite the huge list of impressive names, no one here really stands-out, or is ever given as much time as they should; Joe Mantegna and Famke Janssen are probably the only two who get actual real time in the spotlight, whereas all of the names get pushed to the side for what can sometimes be constituted as “glorified cameos”. Even Leonardo DiCaprio, in his very young-form, shows up, curses a lot, assaults Gretchen Mol at least a dozen times, snorts coke, has sex, and never hits a single comedic-note.

Of course though, that’s not Leo’s, or anybody else’s fault, except for Woody Allen himself.

While it may appear like Celebrity is Woody’s worst, it really isn’t; it’s got a funny moment or two spliced between all of the silly love-triangles and pretentious speeches, but there’s not enough. And honestly, Woody really missed the opportunity on reeling in to Hollywood and the celebrity-culture itself. Clearly, he knows a thing or two about it, so why not let your feelings heard loud and clear for the whole wide world?

Couldn’t hurt, right?

Consensus: Despite an immensely stacked and talented list of actors, Celebrity fails by not being funny, interesting, or original enough of a Woody Allen comedy, that sometimes wants to be satire, but then, other times, doesn’t want to be.

3.5 / 10

They've stopped following Gretchen around, but they haven't stopped following Leo. Thankfully.

They’ve stopped following Gretchen around, but they haven’t stopped following Leo. Thankfully.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Screw too many women, trust me, you get screwed, too.

Harry Block (Woody Allen) has had a pretty crazy and unfortunate life. He’s been with many women, has made many mistakes, and has a lot of opinions that don’t always make him the most popular guy in the room. And now, he’s gaining fame and fortune off of all of that by putting into a new book of his, one that people love, with the exception of the few he’s actually writing about. Most of the women from his past have disowned him, which depresses Harry to a great degree. However, the only thing keeping him alive and well is the fact that he has a son, who he knows will have a bright future. Also, Harry finds out that the university that once kicked him out, now wants him back for a ceremony to honor him and all of his accomplishments. This gives Harry an idea: Take his son with him on this trip and allow for all sorts of fun and adventure to occur. Little does Harry know that he’s kidnapping his son to go along for the ride with him, along with the likes of a friend (Bob Balaban) and hooker (Hazzelle Goodman).

Way more loyal than Annie Hall.

Way more loyal than Annie Hall.

Due to the fact that Woody Allen likes to make a movie almost every year, a lot of people tend to get on his case. Obviously, some movies are better than others and, especially as of late, it appears like some of them aren’t even worth watching, but because they’re movies by Woody Allen and feature great talent in front of the screen, people can’t help but see what he’s got cooking up next. After all, a bad Woody Allen movie is at least better than most of what we seem to get out there, right?

Well, either way, where it seems like some of the issues with Woody releasing a new movie every year is that the movies tend to all follow the same formulas, ideas and themes of all of his movies. They’re mostly all lighthearted affairs that have to do with dysfunctional families, Judaism, forbidden love, sex, writing, poetry, classical music, jazz, or anything else of these natures. They’re all very similar and it honestly makes me wonder why Woody himself doesn’t bother to go deeper and darker with himself, or his material.

Cause, honestly, Deconstructing Harry is that perfect example of what Woody Allen can do when he decides to throw all caution to the wind and just not appease to anyone. While some of themes and ideas may be the same from before, here, they’re much more darker and sinister; rather than appearing to play for the big and broad laughs, Woody’s going for something much more meaner and angry, where it appears that he does in fact have an ax to grind.

Who is he grinding it at/for?

Well, no one in particular, but it allows for Deconstructing Harry to be better than most of his other flicks, because it proves that the guy actually has a point. He’s not just making a movie because he’s got the budget, the stars, and an inchworm of an idea that he’ll decide to play around with after the first-half – nope, this time Woody is going for the kisser and not apologizing for it. This is all to say that Deconstructing Harry is quite funny, but in a far different way that makes me feel better about Woody Allen, the writer – his jokes aren’t necessarily played-up for the smarter people of the crowd, but more for anyone who appreciates a good joke when they’re given one.

It sounds so stupid in hindsight, but honestly, good, consistent humor in a Woody Allen movie can sometimes be hard to find. Sure, every once and awhile, you’ll get a sly or witty line passed by some character here and there, but here, Woody’s throwing out jokes left and right. Do they all work? Not really – the whole bit involving Billy Crystal as the Devil could have probably bit the dust in the editing-room – however, the moments where the comedy works, it really works and is worthy of a big, howling laugh.

Focus on the finer things in life.

Focus on the finer things in life.

Yes, I know, it sounds stupid, but trust me, it totally matters.

But it’s not like Deconstructing Harry is better than most other Woody Allen movies because it’s darker and funnier (although, those are two attributes that help it), but because what Woody himself seems to be talking about is interesting. Harry Block’s life is such a whirlwind filled with heartbreak, anger, resentment, and controversy, that writing about it, gets him into hot water with those around him and eventually, he alienates himself from the rest of the world. Clearly, Woody seems to be channeling his own, inner-most demons and it’s neat to see play-out, as Woody himself definitely feels guilty for hurting the people that he’s hurt in the past, but also knows that the same hurt that he’s caused, is the same kind that’s brought him so much fame, fortune and respect in the biz.

So yeah, Woody’s talking about himself a lot here, but it works. Woody himself is quite good in the movie, but really, he’s meant to let others do all the work for him and show that they’re worthy of being here. People like Tobey Maguire, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Robin Williams, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Kirstie Alley, and others, don’t have a whole lot of screen-time, but are still funny and well worth their short time here. Why none of these people have bothered to show up in a Woody Allen movie is beyond me, but then again, maybe they, too, don’t want to waste time on something that’s going to just be “mediocre”.

Then again, neither do I, and I still can’t stop watching his movies.

Consensus: With a darker, more energetic edge, Deconstructing Harry shows a meaner side of Woody Allen that we hardly ever see, that’s both funny and interesting.

8 / 10

Everyone loves Woody. Except obvious people.

Everyone loves Woody. Except obvious people.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Schindler’s List (1993)

Not everything’s in black and white. Except for, well, this movie.

Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) was a German industrialist and Nazi party member, who came to Krakow in 1939 and capitalize on everything that was happening in this area at that time. Schindler is already a rich man, but he sees a way to get richer, so he decides to use various Jews who are being pushed from one ghetto to another, to his good use. Not only does he employ them for the easiest tasks, but he’s making all sorts of money off of it, too. With the help of Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), Schindler is basically able to keep going with this form of slave labor. However, what makes Schindler less terrible than he sounds, is the fact that these workers are called “essential”, meaning that they stop in the factories, and away from the gas-chambers. While Schindler doesn’t care too much about this at first, eventually, once he begins to see all of the pain and cruelty the Nazis are making the Jews suffer through, he decides to wage a small war of sorts, trying to get every single Jew he can find into his factories, so that they don’t have to die. Sometimes, it works. Other times, unfortunately, it doesn’t.

Yes, people: Liam Neeson did act before Taken!

Yes, people: Liam Neeson did act before Taken!

It’s difficult to do a review on Schindler’s List because, well, what else is there to say about it? By this point, it’s basically like reviewing water – “Yeah, it’s pretty good and all, right guys?” Some people obviously don’t like it, but others still and to this very day, love it with all of their hearts. Is there any problem with that? Absolutely not, as it’s one of the very rare movies that, no matter how many times you see it, still is able to conjure up feelings of anger and rage that only grow stronger as the movie goes on and on.

Then again, why you’d want to watch this movie more than once is totally up in the air!

Regardless, what Schindler’s List proved back in the day, and especially now, was that Steven Spielberg wasn’t afraid to get as heavy and as dark as he possibly could. Sure, the Color Purple showed some people the truly messed-up and scary feelings he was battling deep down inside of his soul, but if anything, Schindler’s List releases them on full-blast. No man, woman, or child is safe from Spielberg here and that’s how it should be when doing a movie on the Holocaust; there’s no bright, shining sun here, it’s all sadness, almost all of the sadness.

But like I said, it needed to be, in order to get what it’s trying to say, which is basically as simple as can be: The Holocaust was a terrible time for our world. While this may not be any groundbreaking news to anyone out there who has ever picked up a book or a newspaper, still though, Spielberg really does make you feel the chaos and wretchedness of the Holocaust, without ever pulling back. One sequence in particular is when the Jews are all moved from their ghettos, to the camps, and while you assume that the sequence is over once all of the Jews are in the camps, all safe, warm, and cozy, surprisingly, it isn’t. It continues to go on, while showing more and more Jews who tried to stay behind and hide in their homes, all get caught, gunned-down and treated awfully, even if they were trying something incredibly admirable.

This is all to drive home the fact that, yes, the Holocaust was horrible. Spielberg’s camera constantly focuses in on everything happening, without ever making it seem like we’re watching a movie of his, or a movie in general, and more or less, a viewpoint from someone who was actually there. This makes the movie all the more terrifying and also give you that feeling of suffocation that, no matter where you go, you cannot hide from the Nazis.

They love it that way, too.

Spielberg is smartest when he tones himself down and here, he totally does. The cheesy, overly sentimental moments, at least for the longest time, are all turned down so that Spielberg himself can just focus on the story, these characters, and most of all, this setting. It would have been very easy for Spielberg to pass judgment on each and every Nazi here, but believe it or not, he actually just shows everything for what it is; people get killed for stupid reasons, Nazis act out in vicious, inhumane-like ways, and human rights are violated every way from Tuesday, and yet, no judgement from Spielberg. He shows everything as it is, just as it would have been back in the day, which makes the movie all the more disturbing.

But Spielberg doesn’t just wallow in the sadness – in fact, he does feature a story here and a pretty compelling one at that.

He's just English enough to be classified as "German".

He’s just English enough to be classified as “German”.

What’s perhaps so interesting about Oskar Schindler and his story here is that we never get a full grip on just who he is, what he cares about, what he believes in, or exactly why it is that he’s doing all that he does here. Sure, he definitely wants to profit off of the helpless Jews and he also wants to have a whole lot more power to his name, but does he really care about all of this so much? The movie never makes a clear decision on what it is that Schindler is all about, and that’s perfectly fine; Schindler is as much of a mysterious to us, as he is to those around him. We watch him interact with Jews and Nazis alike, acting and speaking in two, entirely different manners; with the former, he’s soft and caring, whereas with the latter, he’s respectful, but also tricky and figuring out any way he can con these men into giving him what it is that he needs, or better yet, wants.

In fact, after watching Schindler’s List for the, ahem, second time, I’ve come to the conclusion that Oskar Schindler wasn’t entirely a good person and that’s alright – in fact, he’d probably prefer it as such. What’s so great about Liam Neeson’s performance is that while he always appear to be the hero in the story, the things that he does and says don’t always show this; sure, he was trying to save Jews from being wrongfully killed, but at the same time, didn’t he just want to make a quick buck without having to pay anyone else for it? Neeson makes us constantly think that the man is some sort of later-day saint, without ever fully converting and showing off his good features, and allowing for us to be confused by just who, or what kind of man this guy was?

The questions remain long after the movie, but still, they’re worth bringing up.

It’s also worth bringing up that Spielberg allows and dedicates some time to the Nazis and, incredibly, allows for them to be fleshed-out as much as they can possibly be fleshed-out. What Spielberg is trying to show with these Nazi’s, is that even though they’re going around, killing Jews because of silly orders they were given, sometimes, they don’t always like to do that; most of the time, they’re just bored, teen-like guys who need to blow-off some steam and don’t really have any other way that doesn’t involve shooting people for no reason.

Ralph Fiennes’ performance as Amon Goeth shows us exactly what it is that we need to know about these Nazis. While he himself is a terrible excuse for a man, the movie also shows that there is some breath of humanity in him that, despite never coming out, does exist. Fiennes is startling in this role; being both scary, twisted and naive, all at the same time, but never overdoing any of it. He could have definitely been an over-the-top, wacky and wild Nazi villain, but he plays it at just the right level to where we definitely hate him, but also realize that he’s a human being and unfortunately, he has way too much power and time on his hands.

Then again, same could be said for Hitler.

Consensus: Smart, provocative, well-acted daring, disturbing, and downright emotional, Schindler’s List is the high-mark in Spielberg’s career, and with very good reason.

9.5 / 10

Happiness (1998)

Is all sex good? Or only some? Ugh! High school didn’t teach me anything!

Three sisters (Jane Adams, Laura Flynn Boyle, Cynthia Stevenson) all seem to be facing problems in their lives, but they aren’t the only ones. A husband (Dylan Baker) is struggling with being the right role model for his son, while also struggling with his pedophile-like ways; a socially-awkward man (Philip Seymour Hoffman) can’t bed the woman he wants the most; and an aging, married couple (Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser) run into problems when one-half decides to sleep around and see whether or not they can be happy.

As is usually the case with Todd Solondz’s movies, almost every aspect of these stories are in some way, form, or shape, disturbing. It doesn’t matter whether they concern two people coming together, finding love, or some aging-couple trying to figure out if they are good enough for one another, because somehow, someway, Solondz is going to find his way to make it as disturbing as he can. For most writers/directors, this blatant attempt at really messing with our general taste for decency would seem rather showy and annoying, but for Solondz, it can sometimes works very well because the characters in his flick tend not to have much decency, either.

Just go for it, bro. What have you got to lose?

Just go for it, bro. What have you got to lose?

Then again, when you’re human, who needs such a silly thing as “decency”?

And that’s basically the whole point of Happiness: What it means to “be human”. A lot of the movie has to deal with sexual coming-of-age, masturbation, pedophilia, aging, philandering, and all of that other happy, joyful stuff, but the movie still treats all of these matters with some respect. Rather than having each story seem like it could only happen in a movie, where people speak and act as if they are in a movie, Solondz makes it seem like every character is a real-life person, you just don’t know it because underneath the whole charade and appearance, their real selves are waiting to come out.

Solondz knows that he is uncovering some real, brutal truths about what makes us human here, and he does not shy away from it in the least bit. This is refreshing to see because you need a guy who’s going to slap you in the face, tell you what’s going on in reality, and never let you forget about it. Sometimes, the grotesque dirty talk can be a tad overboard, but he still kept it grounded to where you could see people having conversations like this everyday. It’s just all a matter of what type of people I’m talking about because, as this flick will show you, there are some strange human specimens out there that are just waiting to be noticed, loved, and find happiness.

But hey, we’re all human, so don’t we all deserve a little bit of love, respect, and, well, happiness? Solondz argues this idea, but because his writing is so smart, it works. We care for these characters and understand them, even if we know that they’re sad and sometimes vile creatures.

And yes, the cast is so good that it helps us watch them more and more.

Out of the whole flick, Dylan Baker probably has the hardest role to make work, because of how creepy and unsettling his character is, but yet, also has to stay relatively sympathetic as well, to sort of make us feel like we can see where the hell he is coming from when he wants to touch little boys. It’s not supposed to work, but somehow, he makes it work. As the perfectly-named Bill Maplewood, Baker plays that type of dude you see in the park with his family, that looks so regular, happy, and joyful, but, deep down inside, is the most dark and disturbing soul imaginable. He’s that one in a million dude that seems to find away to hide who he really is from the outside world. Baker not only makes this guy creepy as hell, but also makes him seem like a real person in the way he is so desperate to make himself pleased and happy, that he will go to the end of the Earth to achieve it. It’s not an easy role, but it’s one that Baker plays with effortlessly, allowing us to see everything there is to see about this man.

But yeah, he’s not the only solid one in the cast, as there’s plenty more.

The era of blind dates; they'll never end.

The era of blind dates; they’ll never end.

Playing another creep in this movie is Philip Seymour Hoffman as that weird dude in high school, who you never talked to, got shoved into lockers, was too afraid to take showers after gym class, and never spoke a word to anybody. However, the thing about Hoffman’s character in this movie is that he seems like the quintessential geek that always looks at porn and breathes down the hot girl’s neck, but you feel as if there is more to him than just that heavy-sweating and non-stop boners. Hoffman makes this guy interesting, as if more and more layers are going to be popping out of him at any second, but you never really get that and to be honest, we didn’t really need it. We see how he can be nice and find his true, inner-self, but there does come a point where you wonder just who he really is, other than that nerd you stay away from on the street.

And then there’s Jane Adams as the youngest of the three sisters who seems to be having the most problems with her life, for the main reason that she just can’t seem to get a grip on things. She knows that she wants to be happy, make money, be loved, find that special someone, start a family, and be successful, but she just doesn’t know how. The story that she has where she gets all hot and ready with a student of hers (Jared Harris, who has an odd Russian accent here) doesn’t really light up the screen, but the way she acts and looks the whole movie does. You can tell she’s confused, scared, and upset with where her life has gone, but you can also tell that she’s searching for the answers whenever they come to her quick enough.

Only time will tell with this poor soul.

But those three performances are, unfortunately, where the compliments for this cast and these characters somewhat stop, because they don’t all work. The problem I seemed to have had with Solondz’s framing-device is that there seem to be about five different stories going on at the same time, and maybe only two-and-a-half of them are even interesting. The others? Ehh, not so much.

The one story that should have really re-located our hearts to our stomach should have been the one with Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser as the old, married-couple that are hitting an incredibly rough patch. So rough, that the one thinks that it’s time they call “a break” for a bit. What’s bothersome about this subplot is that it’s rarely focused on, but when it is, it seems to bring everything else down with it because it doesn’t tell us anything new or doesn’t even seem to be turning it’s wheels. It seems to just give Solondz a bit more freedom to play around with old people banging. It doesn’t work and only took away from the film. But there’s other stories here that are at fault as well, but mainly it’s Solondz’s.

Once again, he wants to disturb us, and that works.

Mission accomplished, I have to assume.

Consensus: Not everything in the dark and disturbing Happiness works perfectly well, but it’s amazing cast really does allow for these characters to come off the screen.

8.5 / 10

Daddy's got some issues he's got to work through.

Daddy’s got some issues he’s got to work through.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aflixionado, Claude’s Corner

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

Dollhouse1Growing up was actually pretty weird. Like, did I actually do all of those things?

Middle-school student Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) is having a lot of growing pains that seem to all just be piling-up on each other, one after the other. She’s not only teased and bullied at school for looking the way she does, but when she goes home, the kind of place she expects to be “a sanctuary” of sorts, she gets heckled and criticized there by all of her family. Basically, she can’t win, no matter where she goes; after all, she’s the middle child between her nerdy older brother Mark (Matthew Faber) and her perky younger sister Missy (Daria Kalinina), who seem to gather all of the attention from their desperate parents. But now Dawn feels as if she’s got something going on for her life when she meets a cute, but much older boy (Eric Mabius) whom her brother knows and doesn’t want around Dawn. However, the only person who she seems to get the most attention from is the local bully named Brandon (Brendan Sexton III), who not only threatens to rape her, but seems like he actually wants to hurt her. That is, until the two actually do meet up and for some reason, Dawn’s life may be forever changed.

Weird kids never get the window seat!

Weird kids never get the window seat!

Todd Solondz is definitely a writer/director with a style of his own that, if you aren’t more than willing to accept and roll with, his movies can tend to be a miserable slog. With the exception of maybe Happiness, all of Solondz’s movies seem to hold shelter under the same umbrella where characters are constantly terrible to one another, saying mean, cruel and nasty things, and generally acting out in weird, sometimes sadistic ways. Solondz wants to say a lot with this stylistic choice of his own and for the most part, it can work, but other times, it can feel like he’s straining himself just to be more and more miserable than before.

Welcome to the Dollhouse feels like the perfect middle-ground for Solondz and his trademarks – for better, as well as for worse.

While a solid portion of the story wants to deal with a coming-of-age tale, there’s also another portion that seems perfectly fine with just seeing how far and willing these characters are able to being absolutely awful to one another. For instance, Dawn is clearly the least-liked out of her whole family, so much so that her parents clearly favorite the younger one over her and also want to rip down her playhouse she has out back. There’s some humor in the idea that no matter how hard Dawn tries, she can’t get a break from the rest of her family, but it’s also a joke that gets replayed way too often, and after a short while, just becomes cruel.

Solondz may show us that he does care about Dawn, at the end, throughout, it’s kind of hard not to think that there’s at least some part of him enjoying poking the stick at Dawn when she’s down, out and in need of an arm to pull her back up. Some may disagree with this notion, but it’s what continued to bother me throughout the movie – in fact, more so than any of the times that the Brandon kid dropped the word “rape”. In a way, Solondz is trying to poke fun at the reason for why that word is being used, especially from that character – everything else, especially the stuff that seems directed at Dawn, mostly seems like him getting his rocks off for the sole sake of getting his rocks off.

That said, Heather Matarazzo is quite great as Dawn Weiner and it’s no wonder why she actually did something with her life and career after this. At only 12 years of age, Matarazzo is able to find just the right bits and pieces of subtlety to make Dawn more than just your average nerdy, little girl; she’s got a heart and soul to her that wants to be loved, but is also damn confused about what love actually is. Solondz may throw a lot at her, but Matarazzo is a smart enough actress, even at such a young age, that she gets through it all, making us love this character even more, flaws and all.

Typical family din-dins.

Typical family din-dins.

The rest of the characters don’t fare as well as Dawn, but some at least show some semblance of humanity that’s very hard to come by in Solondz’s movies.

Matthew Faber’s Mark is just a nerd who can’t seem to do anything with his band; Daria Kalinina is basically told to play a brat and, well, as Missy, that’s exactly what she does; Eric Mabius is good as Steve Rodgers, highlighting that this guy may actually just be a genuine nice dude, even if Dawn is a little creepy; and then, there’s the aforementioned Brandon, as played by Brendan Sexton III. His character, as well as his subplot, is perhaps the most interesting thing that Welcome to the Dollhouse has going for it, because it not only surprises, but also is a little sweet, too.

Initially, the relationship that Brandon has with Dawn may seem just like another bully-nerd kind of thing going on, eventually, it starts to show different shadings. It shows that, at his heart, Solondz really does care about these young characters and how they connect with one another, even if they really don’t have a single clue how to express their connection, or even got a single clue of what’s going on. Some of Solondz’s more affectionate moments come out in the scenes between Dawn and Brandon, and honestly, I would have been fine with a movie just about them both.

Obviously, minus all of the usual despicable Solondz trademarks.

Consensus: With enough attention to its character, Welcome to the Dollhouse gets by on what could have been perceived as Todd Solondz getting too deep into his character’s own depression and misery, even if it can sometimes come off that way.

6 / 10

Love at first hate.

Love at first wet willy. 

Photos Courtesy of: The Vern’s Video Vortex, Design Sponge

Posse (1993)

It’s like Unforgiven, except with a beat.

The film tells the story of a posse of black soldiers who are living and dying by their own ways and codes, team up with an ostracized white soldier (Stephen Baldwin), after they are all betrayed by a corrupt colonel (Billy Zane). Together, they decided to team-up, take him down and show him that he messed with the wrong cowboys.

After kicking complete ass with his gangster flick debut, New Jack City, writer/director/star Mario Van Peebles had a lot of pressure on his back to make something worth being mentioned in the same boat as that one. So yeah, it seems pretty obvious that the guy would take on a passion project of his and give us what is essentially the untold story of African American cowboys.

"Wait. I thought I asked for Alec?"

“Wait. I thought I asked for Alec?”

Right? Well, maybe his passion got a tad too ahead of him.

Van Peebles starts this movie off as if this was going to be a history lesson on how African-Americans had a place as cowboys in the Wild West, but just never really got the credit they deserved. This beginning threw me off for a loop and I honestly thought that I was going to be sleeping throughout the whole thing, but what surprised me the most was how much fun it seemed to have with itself once it got past this. There’s all of the typical trademarks you need with a Western, like the guns, the shooting, the desserts, the horses, the sexy ladies, the gambling, the sweat, the sheriffs, the saloons, and of course, the awesome show-downs. That’s all here and it seems as if Van Peebles is having a lot of fun with it by the way he makes everything so damn hectic all of the time; while “hectic” is usually not a positive word for most movies, but here, it worked and kept me entertained for the most part.

However, anybody wanting exactly what I was afraid to get, will be utterly disappointed as it’s just silly, stupid, and terribly-written. Every single line in this film is just a cliche or line taken from another, or far better Western that not many people have heard of, but know that they heard the line used before. Normally, bad dialogue doesn’t matter, as long as the creator behind the dialogue seems as if they’re having a ball with it – Van Peebles doesn’t give off that vibe, though. In fact, he seems so damn serious about it all, that anytime a character opens their mouth, you almost have to hold back the laughter.

Which is a shame, too, because Van Peebles clearly has a lot to discuss and highlight here.

No woman can resist that Mario charm.

No woman can resist that Mario charm.

There’s a lot of talk about slavery, racism, untold stories of the West, and points about what the black man always had to go through, but none of it ever comes through fully. All of the walking and talking could have been placed in any other flick other than this, and totally worked, but since this is something of a silly Western, it doesn’t fit altogether. In a way, it feels uneven and it can get pretty annoying because once you think the film is about to pick-up it’s feet and start kicking some Western booty, it stops and starts to tell it’s story in some lame flashbacks that all make sense, but we still didn’t need to see.

As for Van Peebles and his acting, he’s pretty good and has a nice presence about him that makes you understand why so many people fear him in the first place, but he does show-off his ego a little bit too much. What I mean by that is that there a couple of scenes where it’s just him, with his shirt off, and standing there looking all ripped-up and tough, while getting a hot girl. It’s obvious that this is his movie and he’s able to do what he wants to do but this just came-off as him trying to hog the spotlight a bit too much, in all of the wrong ways. Then, of course there is everybody’s favorite eye-patch-wearing villain, Billy Zane, who is corny, lame, and nonthreatening, but also very fun to watch because come on, it’s Billy Zane dammit!

Everybody else in this strange cast does a fine job with what they’re given, but it’s what Van Peebles does with them that really works. While there’s clearly a silly aspect surrounding some of the names here (Big Daddy Kane, Tiny Lister, and Tone Loc, for instance), Van Peebles still seems happy to have them all around. Maybe the lame dialogue was to make-up for the fact that some of them were really well-trained thespians in the first place, but still, the bad dialogue aside, Van Peebles knows his cast’s strengths and their weaknesses, which helps make the final showdown, where some important people do get mowed-down and taken out, a tad more exciting and watchable.

If only the rest of the movie had been like that, then we would really have something to talk about.

Consensus: Stupid, frenetic, crazy, overstuffed, and disjointed, Posse is not the best film to watch if you want a smart piece of commentary about African Americans and their roles in the West, but is still a fun flick that will keep your interest for the time it’s on-screen.

5 / 10



Photos Courtesy of: Blaxploitation Pride

Apt Pupil (1998)

Pupil1The old German dude who lives alone next door? Yeah. Probably a Nazi.

16-year-old high school senior Todd (Brad Renfro) has a lot going on in his life. His parents bother him a whole lot, what with their rich ways, his friends all want him to go out, party, drink, and do sexual things, and his grades have to be constantly on the up-and-up, or else he’ll lose his scholarships. But for some odd reason, Todd has an obsession with Nazis, which is why when he finds out that a former Nazi death-camp officer lives around him, he can’t help but talk to the guy. While the former officer, Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), initially doesn’t want to be bothered with this boy’s childish claims, eventually, he gets blackmailed into doing everything that Todd asks. At first, Todd just wants to hear disturbing, overly graphic stories about the concentration camps, but after awhile, it starts to turn more severe. Todd wants him to start doing more and more evil things, which eventually leads Dussander to teaching little Todd a few things about his own heart and soul that may be a little darker than the kid is able to admit to and accept.

Just your friendly neighborhood Nazi!

Just your friendly neighborhood Nazi!

Honestly, a part of me is still shocked that this movie ever got made, or for that matter, got the budget that it did. Although I’m just speculating, I imagine that studios felt as if Bryan Singer have given them a big enough hit with the Usual Suspects, that, regardless of the controversial subject material, they were willing to shell out some money for Singer to work and play around with. Sure, this movie could definitely be made today, but given the budget, the stars in it and the wide release, it’s a surprise that we got to see Apt Pupil in 1998, if at all before Y2K.

That said, being risky and downright ballsy doesn’t always make your movie “good”.

What Singer does and does well, is that he doesn’t shy away from the bleakness of this material. If having a 16-year-old blackmail an aging, nearly 80-year-old former Nazi officer, wasn’t off-putting enough, the movie then delves into each one of their psyche’s and own issues with life, love and morality, without pulling back. Meaning, yes, cats are thrown in ovens, injured birds are killed, school advisers are threatened, and homeless people are murdered.

So yeah, it gets pretty dark, pretty quick and I’ve got to give Singer a lot of respect for not shying away. He could have easily backed down and away from the dark and heavy subject material when producers started breathing down his neck, but nope, Singer pulls through. He allows for these characters to show their true, darker sides, without ever making either one out to be considered “heroes”, or “sympathetic”.

And yes, with that said, the cast is pretty solid, too.

Even though we’re going on eight years since we lost him, it’s still tragic that Brad Renfro isn’t around anymore. As the young and brash Todd, Renfro plays both sides of this character very well; while he’s still got plenty of power and control over this older man, he’s still a naive, sometimes idiotic kid who doesn’t always control his emotions, nor know how to think things through perfectly. Despite the premise seeming a bit silly, Renfro’s portrayal of Todd makes you believe that a kid like this would actually go through all of the appropriate steps to ensure that he’s got a strong hold over this guy.

But what’s interesting about Todd the most, is that when the tides change for the characters, Todd himself continues to become more and more of a child. This is when Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Kurt Dussander really comes into play and works so perfectly – not just for this character, but for this movie. While he’s most definitely an evil and despicable human being, for some reason, it’s kind of hard not to sympathize with the guy. Sure, he used to kill thousands and thousands of Jews, ran away and hid from war crimes he would have definitely been convicted of, but the fact that he’s being terrorized by this darn kid, all of these years later, against his will and without a leg to stand on, is kind of sad. McKellen is great at playing these kind of snarly, slightly mean tragic figures and here, he really gets a chance to shine and show people why he was the perfect choice to play Magneto.

That's the look of some kid who needed military school at a very early age.

The look of a kid who needed military school at a very early age.

Not that we needed much convincing in the first place.

But regardless, one of the biggest problems with Apt Pupil is that it doesn’t really do anything with these dark characters or themes. What Singer does do is show us just how far and willing these two characters are able to go to the deepest, darkest pits of hell, just to keep themselves safe, but that doesn’t really translate to being suspenseful, or tense. After awhile, it just seems like there’s a bunch of slightly detestable characters, doing things to save their asses, but there’s not much to them other than that.

If Singer wanted to make this a brooding and small character study, it probably would have worked; he wouldn’t have had to make this like a thriller, where there’s supposed to be a conflict and story to hold everything together. But considering that the movie is very much a thriller, it doesn’t quite work. The characters don’t have many other lights to them than just what’s presented on the surface and there’s nothing really compelling to just sitting by and watching them poke around and prod with other people, as well as themselves.

Still, it doesn’t matter. Singer got the X-Men job and the world would never be the same again. So yeah, there’s at least some good to come out of this.

Consensus: Singer does the dark characters right in Apt Pupil, however, the plot doesn’t always come together to make a fully compelling flick.

5.5 / 10

"Respect yo Nazi elders, boy!"

“Respect yo Nazi elders, boy!”

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Boozer, Greg King’s Film Reviews, Afixionado