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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 1998

Gods and Monsters (1998)

Next time you dress up as Frankenstein this Halloween, think about where the creation came from.

James Whale (Ian McKellen) is one of the most regarded directors of all-time. With such classics under his belt like Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and Bride of Frankenstein, Whale had all of the fame and fortune that any man could ever afford to settle down and spend their last couple of years in utter and total harmony. However, Whale still pains from what his career could have and should have been, had he not been openly-gay and criticized for it his whole career, and it’s beginning to take more of a toll on him as the days continue to go by and his hair gets whiter. Then walks in his newly-appointed gardener (Brendan Fraser), and all of a sudden, Whale has found a new bit of inspiration in his life, whether or not it may just be sex or art. Either way, the man is happy and spirited again but his long-loving care-taker, Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), doesn’t see it as being so happy or spirited. She senses trouble brewing in the air and she may be right, but James doesn’t care nor take notice to it. He’s just happy being him.

He likes what he sees.

It’s interesting to watch Gods and Monsters because, at first, you have a general idea of just where the story is going. You’d automatically assume that Whale, in his last gasp for life, starts something of a relationship with this hunky groundskeeper, reliving all of the lovely and enjoyable times of his past, while also realizing that life is beautiful, wonderful, and grand, and deserves to be lived, rather than not, only to then pass away right as soon as the going gets good. In a way, that sort of happens, but it sort of doesn’t, and it’s why Gods and Monsters remains a solid look at the life of someone that time may have forgotten about, but the movies he’s made, will continue to stand the test of time.

Which is neat, because after watching Gods and Monsters, you’ll soon realize that a lot of the issues prevalent in Whale’s own life, basically shined through his most famous works. Whale had a love and an affinity for showing the weirdo’s, or better yet, the outcasts, of society to the rest of the world. The movie’s many hints at this can tend to get a bit annoying, but that doesn’t make them any less true; making movies for Whale was less about making millions and millions of dollars, gaining respect, and getting the chance to hob-knob with some of Hollywood’s finest, as much as it was about expressing his true, inner-feelings of loneliness that haunted him his whole life.

Does that mean he didn’t have some fun while doing it all? Of course not, but still, we’re shown and told that there was something more here than just a bunch of fun-to-watch monster flicks. There was a heart, a soul, and an absolutely sad being behind it all.

But the movie doesn’t just harp on this one fact and drive it into the ground, as it’s actually more about this made-up guy known as Clay, as played by Brendan Fraser, and the type of relationship he builds over time with Whale. Like I’ve said before, this aspect of the movie could have easily been the most obvious and conventional one seen coming – man and man fall in love, realize something new about one another, etc. – but it doesn’t quite go that way. In fact, Clay doesn’t even know Whale is gay at first, and even when he does find out, he doesn’t quite care; personally, he just likes to hear the stories this guy has to tell.

Can you blame him?

It’s an interesting dynamic these two create and to watch as their relationship builds to something sweet, is quite nice. It also helps that Fraser and McKellen have great chemistry, seeming as if they truly are getting to know one another and getting along while doing it. Fraser has always gotten a bad-rap for being a bad actor, something that hasn’t always been true; just one look at his performance in Gods and Monsters, you’ll notice that he’s holding his own against McKellen, while also showing some signs of immaturity and growth needed. Basically, it’s what his character was going for and Fraser shows it, proving that when given the right material, he’s actually quite good.

McKellen, on the other hand, well, what can be said that hasn’t already been said before about him?

McKellen is an old pro who knows what he’s doing, which is why watching his performance as Whale can sometimes be a joyous experience, even if it does revolve around a great deal of sadness. McKellen shows us that there’s some true light, happiness and inspiration in Whale that somehow reignites once he meets Clay, but also doesn’t forget to remind us that there’s something truly heartbreaking about this character. We get the flashbacks, the dream-sequences, and of course, the stories, but where we really get the idea of something truly unsettling, is through McKellen himself. He plays Whale as an old man, getting older and more broken down as the days go by, proving to himself, that life can end.

But it’s the movies and the creations you release to the whole world, that really make it all meaningful.

Consensus: With two very solid performances from Fraser and McKellen, Gods and Monsters works as a smart, moving and rather sweet take on life, memories, and an aspect of Hollywood classics that most of us tend to look away from.

8 / 10

Best friends forever.

Photos Courtesy of: Cinema Queer

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The Mighty (1998)

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

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

Round one, fight!

Round one, fight!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex, Mubi

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

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

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

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

 

Half Baked (1998)

Can one be addicted to weed? Or just be really lazy?

Thurgood Jenkins (Dave Chappelle), his friends Brian (Jim Breuer), Scarface (Guillermo Díaz), and Kenny (Harland Williams) all seem to live their lives by the way of pot. While they don’t consider themselves “drug-addicts” by any means, for the most part, their everyday lives are consumed and filled with smoking pot, munchies, and not really doing anything. Sure, they all have jobs and do their own things, but really, they just only care about pot and that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, until Kenny gets arrested for accidentally killing a police horse. This lands him in the slammer with a life-sentence that he may be able to get out of, so long as he has enough money for bail. Considering that his buddies spend all of the money they make from their jobs on stuff like food and pot, he’s sort of lost all hope of ever getting out and is forced to live with the reality that the rest of his life, he’ll be somebody’s bitch. However, Thurgood concocts a plan to get some of the best, most amazing and pure pot out there by taking some from the lab that he works as a custodian at, and selling it out on the streets.

I agree.

I agree.

Problem is, they’re all stoners.

I think I speak on a lot of people’s half when I say yes, I’ve smoked a doobie once or twice and yes, it can be quite funny. Things that would seem mundane and almost boring in real life, take on a new life when you’re under the influence of pot and will not only make you laugh loud and hard, but nearly inches away from soiling your trousers. Maybe that’s a tad too extreme, but you get the point, because it’s the same thing with alcohol – the more of it you take, the more things around you change. Some things may make you laugh, sad, serious, or “deeper”.

Obviously, I’m not breaking down any barriers by writing any of this, but the only reason I bring any of this up in the first place is because it’s what helps me understand Half Baked and its appeal a whole lot more. Watching this, not only was I as sober as a priest, but I was also trying to see this through the lens of somebody who is, yes, high, or better yet, an absolute stoner.

Needless to say, the movie definitely benefits from the influence of drugs.

Which isn’t to say that the movie isn’t funny, because it definitely is. There’s moments of pure comedic-genius that are less chuckle-worthy and more smart than anything, but then there are other times where the movie clearly seems to be trying to make us laugh, and it will sometimes work, if only when it’s being as ridiculous as can be. In the pre-Apatow world of stoner-comedies, it’s interesting to see a movie that’s obviously structured and written in a way to ensure that not every joke is just a person going on and on, improving for hours on-end, all to get to the butt of a joke. Co-writer Dave Chappelle is obviously a lot smarter than that and you can tell that there’s a lot of his influence in Half Baked.

At the same time, it’s also a pretty poorly-done movie. However, I expect that if you’re under the influence of anything (like the creators behind it probably would prefer), you wouldn’t notice a single bit of this. The plot is nonsensical and over-the-top, as you would expect, but it hardly even matters in the grander scheme of things. The best parts about movies that feature hardly any plots, is when the movies themselves just make the rules up for themselves, going along at their own pace, not giving a care in the world about whether or not people can follow the complexity or cohesiveness of what’s going on.

Half Baked, for at least a good portion, is like that.

Of course Snoop shows up to smoke.

Of course Snoop shows up to smoke.

There’s certain sequences, like Thurgood having to save up money on a date, or his sex scene told through photographs that, separated from the rest of the movie, work and are funny. But when you throw in a plot that’s supposed to drive this thing along, it can’t help but drag things down. It’s a common-known fact that movies definitely need to have some itching of a plot to base its ground on, but for Half Baked, I almost wish that it was more of a series of sketches for Chappelle and his stoner buddies to mess around with. Obviously, that’s more like an episode of Chappelle’s Show and less of an actual movie, but still, one probably would have worked over the other.

And yeah, Chappelle himself is just fine in the movie. While nobody’s ever expected Chappelle to be a great thespian, as Thurgood, he does his thing, proves to be charming, and that’s it. Perhaps the weakest, most manipulative parts of the movie is when we’re supposed to be focusing on Thurgood’s relationship with a woman named Mary Jane (get it). Sure, because it’s a movie, we’re supposed to have some sort of romantic love-interest to make things matter more, but if anything, it just gets in the way and feels stupid. Not for a single second did I believe Mary Jane, and not just as a character, but as a person who would fall for Thurgood, stick with him after she finds out what she finds out about him, and has gone through in her life. It’s the kind of character that I feel like was probably invented and established in the post-production phase, when the studio hammered back that there needed to be a love-angle somewhere in the story.

If that was the case, know this: Just like with actual relationships, if the romance isn’t working, don’t bother with it. Kick it to the curb and light up a fatty.

Consensus: While there are short bursts of pure, comedic inspiration, Half Baked still doesn’t stay totally consistent, when it’s trying to be so many movies in one, without realizing that the one movie they have and are working with (the stoner-comedy) is just fine enough for all of us.

6 / 10

That look. We've all had it. Some just seconds ago.

That look. We’ve all had it. Some just seconds ago.

Photos Courtesy of: Mic, Alchetron, MovPins

Run Lola Run (1998)

And I don’t even think she stopped for water.

Here’s the plot, see if you can keep up with it: Lola (Franka Potente) needs $100,000 for her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). Why? Well, dumb-ass Manni received $100,000 for a drug deal he made, but made the stupid mistake of leaving it on the subway for some bum to take and run away with. Now, Lola has to pick up the scrapes and hopefully Manni’s life, as she runs all-over-the-place to get him some money, save his life, and keep their love alive and well.

Oh, and it’s all done to the glorious-beats of the techno/rave music that was a total hit in the late 90’s.

Can’t ever forget about that.

Seeing as the 90’s were a decade where things that were hip and cool, actually were, hip and cool, it should came as to no surprise that this was one of those sleeper-hits nobody knew about, especially if you didn’t live in France, but it somehow touched the mainstream there, here, and the rest of the world. Hell, when people still run to this day, they just usually shout; “Run! (Insert person’s name here)! Run!” Then again, you could say that it was already done four years before, what with Forrest Gump. But whatever side of the fence you were on, you can’t make any means about it: this movie was cool, and you know what?

Still is cool.

What makes this movie so cool, is the fact that everybody working behind-the-camera (most importantly, writer/director Tom Tykwer) seem to be having the absolute times of their lives with this flick and their own way of telling this story the way they want to. Here’s the thing about this movie: You think that it’s just going to be this girl running around trying to save her boy-toy from doing something completely stupid and getting killed doing so, but it isn’t like that. The story is told three different times, with Lola running into and affecting all of these people’s lives differently each time. Some are funny, some are sad, but plain and simply, it’s a cool way of telling a story the way they want to. It’s a gimmick, sure, but it’s one that’s fun and actually brings out the best in the story.

She just keeps going.....

She just keeps going…..

But the way of telling this movie tells it’s story isn’t what makes it so different – it’s the direction itself. There is pulsating beat backing the film up the whole time and you are constantly moving at a tip-top pace that never seems to end and doesn’t want to let you go. Because of that, you never lose the excitement throughout your whole body and therefore, never actually lose interest in the story.

Is the story a little bit cheesy with characters that seem to do stupid things and not really care for one another? Well, yeah.

But that doesn’t matter when a movie like this is having as much as fun as it seems to be. Rarely do I ever get to see a flick that screws around with it’s camera-angles, score, and scenes as much as this movie does without seeming pretentious in the least bit, but Tywker pulls off something impressive that is worth a look, especially if your friends have been bugging you for forever to see this, like mine have been.

Also, it doesn’t even matter if you hate that trance music that was so big in those ecstasy clubs from the late-9o’s, because it works so well for the movie. Each and every time you feel the adrenaline-rush from Lola running, you feel as if you are on the ride with her. The camera follows her at just the right space and time; the music plays and ends perfectly whenever it needs to tell a story; and the twists and turns couldn’t come at smarter times. Basically, this isn’t a movie – it’s an experience to see if you like whenever a director can do something nutty with a conventional premise like this, put his stamp on it, and never let you forget what it is that you are watching.

....and going.....

….and going…..

Even though this movie couldn’t be any less concerned with what it is that they do, the performances from the cast are still well worth the watch, even if it isn’t like the movie’s depending on them for much. Franka Potente does what she can as Lola, and if there is any shining moment to her performance in this movie, it’s just the fact that she ran. A lot. Her boy, played by Moritz Bleibtreu, is solid in this, even if they do seem like an odd-pair to be together. But then again, the whole movie is practically dedicated to them being separated, her trying to find him in twenty minutes, and them left to wonder if they can make it alive or not.

Like any couple who are truly in love,.

Consensus: Run Lola Run won’t win any points in making you feel something for characters or it’s plot, but what it will win points in is originality with it’s story-structure, it’s style, and the way it makes you laugh, while holding onto the edge of your seat because you have no clue what the hell is exactly going to happen.

8 / 10

Lola

….and, oh. She stopped.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au, Mubi

Rush Hour (1998)

Oh, odd couples.

When a Chinese diplomat’s daughter is kidnapped in Los Angeles, Hong Kong Detective Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) and his ass-kicking ways are called to the scene to help and assist the FBI with the case. However, seeing as how they’re incredibly stubborn and self-righteous, the FBI doesn’t want anything to do with Lee. As a result, they dump Lee off on the LAPD, who assign wisecracking Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) to watch over him. Carter is already in the doghouse of sorts for botching a case where explosives went off, people were hurt, and his career was in jeopardy. But Carter doesn’t know that he’s the laughing stock, so he takes this babysitting job of Lee as serious as a heart-attack, having no clue just who Lee is, or what he’s actually capable of doing. And even though they can’t stand one another, they choose to work together to solve the case on their own when they put two-and-two together and find out that the case is a whole lot shadier than they had expected.

The guys that fight crime together, sing Edwin Starr together.

The guys that fight crime together, sing Edwin Starr together.

Rush Hour, in no way, shape or form, tries to reinvent the buddy-cop genre. If anything, the movie’s pretty generic by those genre’s standards. Two incredibly different people, both cops, come together on a ridiculous case and bring their two, very different backgrounds to help one another out, solve the case, and even possibly, grow closer as human beings and friends. We’ve seen this formula time and time again, however, what makes Rush Hour so damn charming about it all is that Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker really do, surprisingly, make a great team.

Not only does it seem like they get a long great in real life, but it works out well for the movie. The twist here is that while Tucker’s Carter starts out as being awfully racist and thinking hardly nothing of Chan’s Lee, he soon grows to learn to appreciate Lee for not just being a human being, but also being one that kick some ass and just wants to solve crimes like him. Sure, you could say that it’s awfully corny and generic, but this at least somewhat makes up for the fact that most of the jokes aimed at Chan are racist and a tad offensive. Then again, this is the brand of comedy to expect from Tucker, and it’s pretty hard to sneer at when it’s actually pretty funny,

That’s why a movie as conventional, uneventful, and simple as Rush Hour, despite being awfully stupid when it comes to its plot and its jokes, still works.

It’s obvious that the studio here was trying their hardest to try and make Jackie Chan a big hit in the United States by partnering him with someone like Tucker, in a buddy-cop comedy no less. But as manipulative as this may be, it still works because, from what it seems, Tucker and Chan really do have great chemistry that shows both stars working well off of one another and adding a nice dose of heart to the proceedings as well. One scene in particular features Chan unknowingly calling a bunch of black characters the infamous “n-word”, where he then starts to battle and brawl each one, unbeknownst to Tucker who is elsewhere. While this scene may have all the social commentary of a rock, watching Jackie Chan lay the smack down on a bunch of black dudes for calling them an offensive word, somehow works.

After all, this is a movie directed by Brett Ratner, so you get what you come for.

That said, Ratner doesn’t get too much in the way of this material here. All he really has to do is set the camera down so that stars like Tucker and Chan can do their things, be fun, be exciting, be charming, be funny, and leave it all that. With that all taken into consideration, yeah, Ratner does a fine job. He doesn’t need to add his own directorial-spin onto the sometimes silly material, but instead, just allow enough time and space for Tucker and Chan to do what they do best.

"Daaaaaaamn."

“Daaaaaaamn.”

And because of this, the action scenes do tend to work. While they mostly rely on having Jackie Chan fly around like a wild goose with its head cut-off, it’s still awfully exciting to watch, and see how it incorporates itself into the story. There’s one sequence in which Chan has to fight a bunch of guys, but meanwhile, also ensure that a bunch of priceless, almost rare Chinese artifacts don’t break. It’s a nice spin on the typical kind of action-sequences we’re so used to seeing with movies like these, but made only better by the fact that it’s Chan himself doing all of his own stunts and seeming to put himself into harm’s way, every chance he gets.

Of course, Tucker gets to work his shine, too. However, as is mostly the case with Tucker, the enjoyment of the humor here will mostly rely on whether or not you’re a fan of Tucker in the first place. For me, I love the guy and feel like he’s a comedic genius, so yeah, obviously I was hooked here from the very beginning. But yeah, he’s definitely of an acquired taste and it makes sense why some people who don’t like Tucker’s brand of humor, may not like Rush Hour.

But it’s also pretty hard to hate Rush Hour when it’s just trying to be a fun movie that entertains you, makes you laugh, and offer you up an odd pairing of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.

The kind of pair that nobody ever thought would see the light of day, let alone, actually work.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel by any means, what Rush Hour does best is that it offers up a fine blend of humor, action, and fun, also made better by the wonderful chemistry between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.

8 / 10

Look out, Hollywood. Jackie's taking over!

Look out, Hollywood. Jackie’s taking over!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Thin Red Line (1998)

The war is a jungle. In this case, literally.

It’s slap dab in the middle of WWII, or 1942 to be exact, and needless to say, a lot of lives are being lost. Bus most importantly, a lot of soldier’s lives are being lost, which is why a huge platoon is ordered to take the island of Guadalcanal. While this is no walk in the park, it’s made all the more difficult by the fact that the soldiers are literally forced to walk up the mountain, where they’ll most likely be meant by the opposing side, as well as a hail-fire of bullets. Among the many soldiers involved with this battle is Private Witt (Jim Caviezel), a U.S. Army absconder who has gone “native”, as they say, living peacefully with the locals of a small South Pacific island. While Witt is clearly enjoying his time in the sun, it’s all cut short when he’s discovered by his commanding officer, Sgt. Welsh (Sean Penn), and forced back on the battlefield. However, there’s more at-play during this battle than just Witt, or Welsh. There’s Lt. Col. Tall (Nick Nolte), who is having a real hard time making up his mind what the best cause or plan for warfare is, even in the heat of the moment; there’s Capt. Staros (Elias Koteas), a fellow soldier in a position of power, who also seems to be having an issue of what to do with it; and there’s Pvt. Bell (Ben Chaplin), a soldier who’s reeling from a recent heartbreak in his life.

Jesus?

Jesus?

By now, most people know that Terrence Malick is the kind of director you can expect to give you the most ambitious, sprawling, and at times, confusing pieces of epic cinema this side of Kubrick or Kurosawa, but it wasn’t always like that. With his first two feature films (Badlands, Days of Heaven), Malick not only showed his keen eye for an attention to beautiful detail, but also for small, character-driven stories that barely even screech past 100 minutes and instead, keep things tiny, tight and mostly focused. But after spending 20 years away from making movies and doing whatever the heck it is that he was up to, it was clear that something within Malick changed.

And honestly, we’re all the better for it, because, yes, the Thin Red Line is not only Malick’s best film, but perhaps one of the best war films of all time.

Having seen the film at least three times now, I can easily say that it’s up there with the likes of Saving Private Ryan, or Apocalypse Now, when it comes to curating the list of “the greatest war movies ever made”, however, it’s a very different one. In a way, Saving Private Ryan is a far more conventional, Hollywood-ized war movie (although it’s still great), whereas Apocalypse Now is a far more disturbing, terrifying and twisted one (and yes, it’s still great). But what separates the Thin Red Line from these other two flicks is that it’s far more meditative, but at the same time, in its own way, brutal as all hell.

By putting us right along with the numerous soldiers on men on the battlefield, Malick doesn’t let us forget that, for one second, these soldiers aren’t in the nearest thing to hell. They don’t have the slightest clue who is shooting at them, from which direction, where they’re supposed to go, what they’re supposed to do, or even what they’re next line of action is once they actually do get up to the top of the mountain – all that they do know what to do is to shoot, kill and try their absolute hardest to survive. This idea of frustrating, but horrifying confusion that these soldiers must have been going through is effective, especially since Malick keeps his eyes and attention set solely on the American soldiers, what they see, what they feel, and what they’re thinking about at that given time.

Oh, and not to mention, that these soldiers are literally engaged in action for a whole hour-and-a-half, which, when you take into consideration the three-hour run-time, evens out to being pretty action-packed.

However, the movie, nor is Malick all about that idea. No matter what happens in the movie, no matter who gets killed, or for what reasons, Malick never forgets to portray this war as an absolute slaughterhouse of not just lives, but psyches as well. Killing as many people as some of these soldiers do, can do quite a number on you; while that of course can start to happen when the fighting is over, it’s still something that can happen while on the battlefield as well. That’s why it’s not only shocking, but downright upsetting to see some soldiers here lose their minds, not have a single clue of where they’re at, or what they’re actually doing. There’s quite a few soldiers here and there that show up to prove this fact, but regardless, Malick drives home the idea that war is hell.

But even despite all of the violence and sheer ugliness of what’s being portrayed, Malick still finds ways to create some of the most beautiful, eye-catching images ever seen on the big screen. A part of me wishes that I was old enough at the time to see this when it was first in theaters; not just because it would have been great to join that short list of people who actually saw it in theaters when it was originally out, but because John Toll’s cinematography is so amazing, that it absolutely deserved to be seen on the biggest screen imaginable. Even though people are getting killed left and right, bullets are flying, and there’s no exact idea of who is where, Malick and Toll always find the time to capture the loveliness of the scenery this battle is taking place in.

The grass is always greener, well, whenever you don't see grass anymore.

The grass is always greener, well, whenever you don’t see grass anymore.

Of course, with Malick and Emmanuel Lubezki’s relationship becoming something of fact over the past years, the visuals have only gotten better, but it’s hard to deny that the Thin Red Line is easily his best-looking film to date.

But what makes the Thin Red Line perhaps Malick’s best movie, is the fact that it introduced everybody to the fact that he surely did not care at all about star-power, when it came to making his movies. Sure, he clearly doesn’t mind having the likes of Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, George Clooney, or John C. Reilly want to be apart of his movies, but at the same time, he still doesn’t feel like he’s at all inclined to feature them heavily, just because of their name recognition, or whatever other silly ideas Hollywood has about commercial appeal. Though, of course there’s a lot of infamy surrounding Malick’s casting-process and just exactly who he does leave in his movies (Adrien Brody is barely here, despite being lead on to believe he was the main star, and other stars like Mickey Rourke, Bill Pullman, and Martin Sheen were cut-out of the final product).

Honestly, it takes a lot of guts to cut-out someone like George Clooney, and feature a relative unknown at the time, Jim Caviezel, but guts is exactly what Malick has always had in his career and it’s great to see someone in his position to not give a flyin’ hoot about who is a bigger star than somebody else. Of course, it also helps that those that Malick focuses his final-edit on the most, all give great performances, given that a lot of the times they’re thrown in the mix because Malick forgot about them, or just felt like their time was necessary.

Caviezel is a suitable protagonist, who not only shows the inspirational faith within someone like Witt, but the sheer horror when he realizes the evilness to war; Elias Koteas’ character has many scenes where you don’t know what he’s thinking about doing next, but it’s hard to look away; Ben Chaplin’s character is easy to feel sympathetic for, even if he can be a bit hard to differentiate from Caviezel’s Witt; Nick Nolte, well, let’s just say that he’s the stand-out among the cast, showing just how a person in his position of power, can use to his advantage, for better, as well as for worse. Even then, however, when he’s faced with the reality of the harsh realities of war, he still believes that it’s something necessary to life, and even something to be celebrated. And even though he’s quickly told this is not the truth about life, he still smiles his way onto the next war.

And that’s just the way war works. You get past one, and guess what? Sooner or later, you’re onto the next.

Consensus: Beautiful, endearing, thoughtful, well-acted, and above all else, sad, the Thin Red Line is less of a tribute soldiers, and more of a key look inside the sorts of hell they have to go through, and the sort of effect it has on them, while not being nearly as preachy as I make it sound.

9.5 / 10

Let's play a game! Guess which one out of three has a significantly less amount of time in the movie......

Let’s play a game! Guess which one out of three has a significantly less amount of time in the movie……

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

SLC Punk! (1998)

SLCposterThey’re right: The Sex Pistols are too mainstream.

Stevo (Matthew Lillard) and Bob (Michael A. Goorjian) are two friends who seem as if they’re a bit out of place, know it, and don’t have any clue of what to do about it. They don’t just sport blue Mohawks, but they listen to hardcore music, go to punk shows, thrash, smoke pot, drink beer, party, trip, and do all sorts of bad stuff that can sometimes be misconstrued as “rebellious”. Steveo, Bob and the rest of their pals are fine with this, however, the only thing that’s holding them back is the fact that they live in such a boring place as Salt Lake City, Utah, where they aren’t really allowed to branch out as much as they want. Sure, they have a good time being their typical rebellious selves, but what they really want in life, is to be accepted and seen as equals, even if everyone around them makes it all the more difficult, with their poser ways and lifestyles. Stevo, however, is starting to see that all of the anarchy he loves, praises and lives by, may just be a bit of a waste of time, especially considering that everyone around him isn’t gaining much from it to begin with.

Rebels in a restaurant!

Rebels in a restaurant!

Writer/director James Merendino has a lot to say with SLC Punk! and that’s absolutely obvious from the very start of the film. With the loud, head-banging punk music, blue Mohawks, and constant yelling from Matthew Lillard, it’s clear that Merendino has something he wants to get off his chest and it’s interesting to see just how he goes about it. Rather than feeling overly preachy and annoying (like he most definitely could have been), Merendino instead, finds a way to make sure that all of the points he has to make through his characters, is done in a fun, exciting way, so you don’t lose yourself in all of the ranting and raving.

Of which, yes, there are many.

However, for the longest time, I was fine with this. Not only does a lot of what Merendino has to say is true, but it’s also those insightful to those souls out there who have no clue just what he’s talking about, or trying to make a joke about. Even if you didn’t grow up in Utah, the idea and feeling of being repressed is still prevalent in any city, town, or state; the feeling of not being allowed to do everything that you want to do, or be yourself because of some silly, preconceived notion that it isn’t “what’s in”, can be found just about everywhere you go. Merendino is dealing with a bunch of anarchists who clearly don’t hide their feelings or emotions, but there’s no issue with that because a lot of what these characters have to say sort of hits home and feels almost healthy for Merendino.

That’s why, even when Lillard’s character jumps into and practically gets lost into these rants about punk culture, the art of “selling out”, college, certain cliques and social groups, etc., it’s all neat to hear. Merendino seems like a smart fella who, yeah, may have definitely gone through some growing pains, but at the same time, still has something to say that deserves to be heard. Not to mention that there’s a feeling of excitement and energy throughout, mostly due to all of his camera-trickery that makes it seem like we’re right along for the party as it’s happening.

But then, the movie changes and realizes that, well, it has a story to deal with.

And that’s where SLC Punk! really falls apart.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry at a movie for following through on telling its story and giving us at least some sort of narrative to follow through on, but for some reason, it almost feels like a distraction from everything else that Merendino’s doing. For one, the actual plot itself, isn’t very interesting; angry, pissed-off youngin’s spend their times moping around, looking irate, and searching for the nearest bit of conflict they can find. Sure, this may be how life is, but for a movie, there’s not much to it.

Yes. Jason Segel was, at one time, a punk.

Yes. Jason Segel was, at one time, a punk.

Another issue with this focus on the actual story is that, well, the characters themselves aren’t very intriguing to watch do stuff or have stuff happen to them. Sure, the stuff that they have to say may be thought-provoking, but they themselves really seem as if they’re just types, fueled by drugs, booze, and punk music, and that’s about it. Merendino tries to have them become more than they appear, but by the point, it almost feels like a little too late, as if he got so distracted by all of the fun he was having showing this lifestyle, that he realized that he had to at least finish it all up in some way, shape or form.

Then again, Matthew Lillard, above all else, is really the one actor who gets off of this perfectly and it’s nice to see. Nowadays, it seems as if Lillard is getting more and more supporting roles in stuff that some people see, and some people don’t, but regardless, it’s interesting to see where this guy has come from and where’s he gone over the past two decades of his career. While he may definitely get a lot of flak thrown at him for playing Shaggy and just generally seeming like an a-hole in the stuff he does, he’s actually a talented actor who, especially, shows that he’s got plenty of range set beyond just looking and acting like a prick.

Yeah, he’s great at playing that, too, but it’s not all he does.

As Steveo, Lillard has a blast with a role that shows him frequently talking to the camera, and just letting his mind wander about whatever it is that he wants it to wander about. While this is a device some people may find annoying, the pure hellbent rage and anger inside of Lillard is felt, which makes more of these scenes feel raw and emotional, rather than preachy and over-the-top. They totally are, but Lillard shows that there’s a reason for all this anger, and it’s what keeps SLC Punk! from being just another typical angry letter from the future generation.

Consensus: Without much of a solid plot to work with, SLC Punk! falls apart in the final-act when it tries to be important, but for the most part, its fun, exciting, and sometimes insightful, tone makes it worth a watch.

6 / 10

"Yeah. Who cares?"

“Yeah. Who cares?”

Photos Courtesy of: The Inquisitive Loon, Reel Reactions

Wild Things (1998)

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

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

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

Yeah, but not too much.

Former Bond girl there, folks!

Former Bond girl there, folks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.5 / 10

Keep being you, Bill.

Keep being you, Bill.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDB, Premiere.Fr

Zero Effect (1998)

We all knew there was more to Bill Pullman than just delivering kick-ass speeches.

Bill Pullman is Daryl Zero, the self-titled world’s greatest detective and Ben Stiller is his reluctant assistant. Together, they begin to investigate a blackmail case that turns out to be much more than they had originally expected. So much so that Daryl Zero himself, realizes he may be a bit too over his head for the first time in his life and may have to cool his jets before he makes this the last case he ever does.

Son of famed writer/director Lawrence Kasdan, Jake Kasdan finally got the chance to make a name for himself with a little flick he did back in ’98 that I can’t believe I found anywhere. I hear about it from time-to-time and I even saw it at a yard sale not too long ago, but other than that, nothing else for this little-known flick has ever popped-up.

Thankfully, On Demand always has me covered so that I can discover little gems such as these.

What I liked most about what Kasdan does with this flick here is how he starts it off in a goofy, off-kilter type of way but then soon changes up the whole pace to where it’s actually more about the mystery case than you would think. The opening credits and first 15 minutes may have you think in you’re in-store for a type of nutty, Coen Brothers-like dark comedy/thriller, but somehow that changes up about half-way through; without feeling too sudden or random. It’s just right, because these characters are given such time and care through Kasdan’s direction.

RIP payphones

RIP payphones.

I think that’s where most of the kudos to this script has to go to is with Kasdan’s handle of these characters and their stories. As soon as we meet these two guys, they seem like your typical bunch of dorks that we have to watch for the next two hours, just walking around and bumbling on and on about some case that has no suspense or surprises. However, that’s the difference between this film and those other flicks: This one actually has some surprises and characters we care about. The mystery did get me involved and kept me wondering what was going to happen next, but I also felt a bit worried for what was actually going to happen to these characters in the first place, since Kasdan made me care for them so much in the beginning. It’s remarkable how Kasdan was able to balance out the human side of this story, along with the mystery one so well to the point of where the transition doesn’t even seem noticeable. Really takes you by surprise even more when you realize that this is by the same cat who did raunchy-comedies like Bad Teacher and Orange County.

Where this film lost me a bit was by the end and how it seems like they really, really lost any sign of their funny-bone that seemed attached so well in the first couple acts. I will admit, I was going into this film expecting some laughs and even though I got that for a good amount of the picture, they seem to have taken a trip elsewhere once the middle act comes strolling right through. That bothered me because the off-kilter humor had a certain type of charm and energy to it that made this flick pop out a bit more and I could have only wished that Kasdan decided to stick with this side of the film just a bit more. You know, just so I was able to get entertained from all areas of the film.

But despite this, the film still works because of what I mentioned earlier: It’s characters and their development. And when I’m talking about “character development”, I’m mainly talking about Bill Pullman and what Kasdan gives him to play around with as Daryl Zero. What’s so fun to watch about Pullman in the first place is that the guy seems like he’s really having a fun time right from the start with this role as this goofy detective, and it only seems like it’s going to get better with him along the ride. This is exactly what happens, but not in the way that you would expect, nor in the way that I actually expected.

Ben Stiller: All the ladies love 'em.

Ben Stiller: All the ladies love ’em.

Zero begins to find out more about himself through this one gal he becomes involved with and as corny as it may seem to some, to me, it seemed believable and deserved since this character was a mystery to me and I wanted to know more about him. Pullman’s great when it comes to displaying all of the goofy antics and ways of this guy, but when it comes down to getting underneath his skin and realizing what makes him tick the way he does, he’s even better and it makes you think more about Pullman’s acting chops. The guy has never been perfect, but he’s always been good and that’s definitely what’s on-display here.

The other character in this flick is played by Ben Stiller and as good as Stiller is with handling these types of yuppie-like roles, he sort of gets a bit annoying after a bit and you can’t help but be less interested in his story, compared to Zero’s. Now granted, this flick is mainly about Zero and his realization of himself through this one case, but Stiller’s character never really seems to get that chance to fully flesh-out and show us more about him. The guy wants to get out of the life that Zero has put him in, get married, have a family and eventually settle into retirement, but it’s a story I, for some odd reason, didn’t see myself caring about too much when all was said and done.

Because, when it comes right down to it, you can’t mess with Bill Pullman, people. That’s just a fact.

Consensus: It may not stay consistently funny throughout the whole duration of its two-hour time-limit, but Zero Effect at least keeps its story interesting, fun, fresh and surprising in ways that may take some for a bit of a different turn.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Eat your heart out, ladies. And possibly curious men.

Eat your heart out, ladies. And possibly curious men.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Armageddon (1998)

Before we all die, at least we can take some pleasure knowing that we’ll be treated to the lovely sounds of Steven Tyler.

After NASA catches wind of a meteor the size of Texas heading straight for Earth, executive director Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) cobbles up a plan: Get a crew on the meteor, drill a hole through it, and leave a nuke in there so that it can break off into two pieces and still miss the Earth by a small bit. It’s a smart plan, but the only problem is finding out who’s right for it. In walks oil-driller Harry S. Stamper (Bruce Willis) who Truman recruits for this mission because the ship plan is the same one Stamper uses on his own oil rig. Though Stamper is initially hesitant to take on such a huge, daring mission, he eventually decides to take it, but on one condition: He gets to choose the crew that goes with him. In walks the rest of his rag-tag group of dysfunctional nut-balls that either love prostitutes (Steve Buscemi), love to smash things (Michael Clarke Duncan), or love Stamper’s own daughter (Ben Affleck). Though not everybody feels alright with this change, they don’t have any other plan to go along with. Meaning, it’s all up to these guys to save the world and all of mankind.

Not much of a burden if you think about it really, you know?

Well, well, well. Here it is, everybody! The movie I swore I would never, ever watch again after seeing it numerous times as a little kid, all because back then, I knew it was total junk. But for some reason, curiosity killed the cat in my case and I just could not help myself; I had to see if this movie got any better with age, and also, whether or not my tolerance for mostly all things Michael Bay would have anything to do with any change in feelings toward this.

He would have done anything to say "Yippie-Kay-Ya".

He would have done anything to say “Yippie-Kay-Ya”.

Needless to say, they sort of do. But not by much. Here’s why:

See, though I like to give Bay the benefit of the doubt on most cases for blowing all sorts of shit up and taking absolute pleasure in doing it, I felt like this was total over-kill. And yes, even by his standards, that means a lot. Then again, I may be getting ahead of myself here, because most of the explosions occur during the last hour-and-a-half of this movie. As for the first hour of this movie, we’re “treated” to watching a bunch of clichés act like nuts, talk goofy, get some back-story on what makes them the slightest bit of “human”, and try to have us believe that they could actually be smart, trained, and neutered astronauts in a near 18 days, but actually be trusted in saving our whole race from extinction.

And while I’m all for a movie being silly for the sake of making people laugh, this was not that kind of silly – it was just downright dumb. What makes it even worse is that the cast here is pretty damn talented – actually, scratch that, it’s an unbelievably stacked ensemble that, with any other movie/director, would have me rushing the gates as soon as I caught wind of it happening, but not here. Especially not with Michael Bay, the kind of guy who takes pleasure in taking these incredibly talented, wonderful screen-presences, and making them his wild, wacky, and near-racist guinea pigs.

Then again though, in the world of Hollywood, money really does talk, so I guess I can’t be getting on Bay’s case too much for just getting along with the times and following the path set out for him.

Still though, that doesn’t excuse giving somebody as wonderfully charming as Steve Buscemi a role in which he just makes stupid comments about hookers, having sex, dying, not being crazy, menstrual cycles, and going absolutely nuts while shooting a machine gun. And yes, while that all may sound incredibly amusing to some of you out there, I can assure you, it’s totally not. It’s just downright corny and seems like Bay is trying way, way too hard to make us laugh at anything; so much so, that he’s willing to embarrass the hell out of some of the most respected talents in the biz.

Also, he uses this comedy to break up all of the nonsensical violence, loud noises and explosions that occur during the last half-hour which, coming from a Michael Bay-standpoint, is relatively impressive. Though, nearly 16 years after the fact, some of it looks a bit dated, you can tell Bay really pays attention to the constant vibrancy he has behind the camera and how he makes this movie look. Sure, it’s frantic and you can almost count how long Bay holds a shot for (don’t worry, it’s two seconds or so each), but it does show you that he’s the kind of director that works well with this stuff.

However, with this stuff here, there’s just way too much. Too much double-crossing; too much dumb humor; too much poor script-writing; too much explosions; too much of random things happening only to make the plot seem more dense and the movie run-time a little longer; just too much of everything really. And yes, while I do admit to being on Bay’s side for this very same reason in most movies, this is not one of them. For some reason, it just felt different this time and rather than laughing and having a great time, I was just laughing, only in a way to pass the time of my complete boredom with the same things happening again, and again, and again.

All that was missing was a bottle of Jack and some Funyuns to make life a whole lot less depressing.

Love and animal crackers: It's the combo you never thought you'd never thought you need.

Love and animal crackers: It’s the combo you never thought you’d need.

Like I mentioned before, too, Bay really does have a knack for getting together an interesting cast, it’s just such a shame that he gives them so very little to do. And even when he does give them anything to do, it’s utter garbage that only makes it seem like the actor in question was in desperate need of another shore house. For instance, despite being practically the perfect role for Bruce Willis in which he has to play a tough, rough, and masculine-as-hell man (with an in-and-out Southern accent), somehow, the writing is so cheesy and godawful for this guy, that everything that comes out of Willis’ mouth seems like he’s having a hard time reading anything at all. Not just because he can’t believe the trash that he’s reading, but because he forgot his glasses on the counter at home.

And heck, I wish I could say the same for Ben Affleck, but man, this kid is terrible here. I know that Big Ben has cleaned his act up now and is a pretty respected guy out there, but any reason why anybody thought he was just a young talent, with barely any of the later at all, were totally correct when they saw this. Which is a shame because watching Affleck, you can see a guy that’s trying really hard, but just doesn’t have the skills yet to really deliver on all of the sobbing and screaming he has to deliver on. It just seems like he’s in a parody of the type of movie that he’s in. You know, a parody of a Michael Bay movie, in which every character has an IQ of 38, has women-troubles, likes to cuss, say dumb stuff, act silly, and at the end of the day, still be able to save the world, all while chanting “USA! USA! USA!”.

Yep, that’s Michael Bay for ya: Praising America, one over-budgeted mess at a time.

Consensus: Though much of Armageddon is what you expect to get from a Michael Bay movie, there’s still no denying how incredibly hard it is to believe anything that happens in this movie, nor enjoy one’s self when all there is a explosion, after explosion, after explosion, with barely any end in sight.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

If these are our saviors, we're fucked.

If these are our saviors, we’re fucked.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Godzilla (1998)

First time anybody realized dinosaurs were lame.

After a giant-sized creatures leaves a foot-print in a foreign country, Dr. Niko “Nick” Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), a worm-enthusiast/scientist, is brought to the scene to scope it all out and hopefully let the army know what the deal is. The problem is, Nick doesn’t know what the deal is until New York City just so happens to get attacked by this creature, leaving half of the town in ruins and evacuated. This is when Nick and the army decides to take their mission-work over there, where they will hopefully get rid of the beast, and not even think twice about how it all started in the first place (smart move). But standing in their ways, sort of, are a group of Frenchmen (lead by Jean Reno); a news cameraman that wants to get every shot he possibly can (Hank Azaria); a mayor, aka Roger Ebert, who doesn’t want his whole town blown to bits (Michael Lerner); and even Nick’s ex-girlfriend, Audrey (Maria Pitillo), who not only happens to be in town, but a reporter that’s just waiting for her big break. She feels as if she’s finally gotten that chance now with Nick back home, however, she realizes that they have bigger fish to fry right away.

Get it? It was sort of a pun.

Aw, who am I kidding?!? What the hell do I care if you got that or not? Because, to be honest, you’d probably be a lot better off, had you not understood the joke – which would have also meant that you never even bothered to see the movie in the first place. Good on your part. Seriously.

The state of modern journalism: Getting trampled on by whomever it is you're covering.

A metaphor for modern-day journalism: Just imagine the foot as the internet.

Sadly, for somebody such as myself, I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and I have nobody else to blame that on except for my parents. Yep, that’s right: My parents. Not only did they practically force this down my throat once it came out on VHS, but it was practically the only movie they’d allow me to watch whenever I was bored. No professional wrestling, no video-games, no MTV, no nothing! Just this 1998-reboot of Godzilla that, dare I say it, is an absolute offense to the original Japanese creators who made it, or anybody else who shelled-out money to go and see it all the way back in the summer of ’98.

It makes sense why some would go and see it – hell, it was the late-90’s, and when you have something with the tag-line, “Size Does Matter”, and you’re advertising your movie as, “from the creators of Independence Day“, chances are, people are going to see this. Especially during the 90’s. Nowadays, Roland Emmerich and his rag-tag team of over-eccentric goofballs, can’t really seem to get a hit on their hands, and I think that’s with good reason: People stopped trusting them as soon as this movie came out.

See, with this here Godzilla, what works well is the build-up. Even though the characters suck, the plot suck, and every line of dialogue sucks, there’s still a nice bit of tension leading up to the moment of when we’re finally going to see that huge monster that is “Godzirra!”. However, once we do see him, not only does he look like total, CGI-crap, but he doesn’t really have much personality or anything. I know that’s a bit hard to ask of for a movie creature, but for some creatures in film, the slightest ounce of personality can go a long way for them; heck, even the old-school, clunky-looking Godzilla’s were at least half a bit of charming, if only because they looked so cheap, that it didn’t matter whether you could take it seriously or not.

But here, with this Godzilla, not only does he look like garbage that only a late-90’s DELL would be able to fix up in a matter of seconds, but we don’t know what to think about him in the first place. Is he good? Bad? Or, is he just simply living the way he was supposed to live, and we, as a society, are just in his way and living on his land? I, for one, don’t really know. It seemed like here, that the only time Godzilla actually started doing some straight-up evil, villainous stuff, was when he was either getting shot at, hit with explosives, or chased all around downtown like it was some harsh game of “Cops and Robbers”. Any other time before or after then, we don’t really get a sense that Godzilla is being all that much of a meanie; in fact, it’s probably more of the government that are the ones being the meanies here. Not Godzilla.

And no, I am not saying that they should have just let Godzilla walk all across the Big Apple, tearing down buildings, stepping on cars and endangering thousands and thousands of lives, but I would have said that they should have found a more humane-way to level with him. Sounds very hippie-ish of me and, considering the movie I am speaking about, a bit ridiculous, but hey, it’s a creature-feature – and with creature features, you have to think of the creatures themselves and whether or not you can put a tag on them as “good”, “bad”, or “easily misunderstood”.

Here, with this Godzilla, I never fucking knew. It was only until the end where they tried to give us some sort of sad-sack attempt at sympathizing with him in a very quiet, rainy-night sequence. It’s the type of scene we need to see in these types of movies to gain some perspective on what we have just all went through as humans, as well as audience-members, but it’s handled so poorly afterwards, it seemed almost like an after-thought. Almost as if Roland Emmerich didn’t want to seem like a total savage when this movie came out, and instead, wanted to give us a glimpse at a peaceful Godzilla, that is really just peaceful because he went to war with practically the WHOLE DAMN UNITED STATES ARMY.

But you know. Just saying. Most likely, I’m looking into this a lot deeper than I should (that’s actually a definite), but the fact remains: This movie sucks.

There’s hardly much more for me to bitch and moan about with this movie that hasn’t already been said before. The action is whatever; the script is god-awfully cheesy; the special-effects would have been dated, even by ’98’s-standards; the ensemble tries, but are just pawns in the huge chess game that is this terrible script and movie; and half of the movie is a total rip-off of Jurassic Park in the first place (especially once those little twerps’ eggs start hatching). How Steven Spielberg didn’t lawyer-up right away and bankrupt the hell out of Roland Emmerich and his aforementioned pals is totally beyond me!

"Aw shucks! Guess I shouldn't have taken that day off in the first place!"

“Aw shucks! Guess I shouldn’t have taken that day off in the first place!”

Maybe he has yet to even see it? Maybe, just maybe, this could be the big break we as film-goers have been waiting for. Maybe Steven Spielberg, if he gets the right lawyers, picks the smartest angle to go at this case that he can find, and stick it to Emmerich and Pals, then maybe, we’ll never have to see another Roland Emmerich movie EVER AGAIN! Oh my gosh! Say it ain’t so! This really and truly could happen, people!! Whose with me?!?!?

Anybody?!?!

Huh??!?!

Really?!?!

Come on!

Oh, fine.

Whatever.

We could have changed history right here people. Not just for ourselves, right now, at this moment in time, but for future generations to come. Think about it, people. That’s all I ask.

Consensus: Overlong, dull, poorly-written, thin, a complete rip-off of better movies (*ahem* Jurassic Park), and just plain boring, Godzilla never really gets going once it shows us its titled-monster, and instead, just gets worse as it goes on, and on, and on, and on, into a state of complete oblivion that should be kept that way so no more people have to be punished into laying their eyes on it.

1 / 10 = Crapola!!

Hey look! They just took the Happy Meal figure and filmed it!

Hey look! They just took the advertised-Happy Meal action-figure and filmed it!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Pi (1998)

My favorite kind is pumpkin, how ’bout yours?

Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) is a mathematical genius that may, or may not be crazy and imagining things. Okay, there’s actually no question about it! He is going crazy and imagining things, but he doesn’t know that yet, nor does anybody else around him. However, what does aid him in this state of absolute craziness and non-stop paranoia, is the fact that he’s able to count and predict numbers in daily-routines. He even believes that he can predict the patterns in the Stock Market and make billions and billions of dollars. However, eventually, others begin to catch onto him, or so he thinks. For some reason, he has a bunch of neighbors that can’t seem to mind their own business; a overly-friendly rabbi who constantly bothers him at a local coffee shop to talk numbers; an old friend/confidant of his (Mark Margolis) that warns him of the dangers of getting into your own head a bit too much; and a suited-up, business-lady of sorts that is always calling him and finding him on the streets, in the subways and right outside of his apartment. So basically, it’s Max versus the world, or at least that’s how it all may be playing out in his head. You never know!

That’s not the most perfect synopsis ever summarized for this movie, but you get the idea: Dude’s smart, dude’s crazy, dude’s paranoid, bad stuff happens to dude. It’s a premise we’ve all seen done a million times before, but what sets this movie apart from the rest of of those other flicks about basket cases, is Darren Aronofsky’s highly-stylized direction. See, back before he gave us asses-to-asses, killer ballerinas, or even Noah’s ark, Darren Aronofsky was just another young, Jewish kid from New York that wanted to make movies and wanted to make his presence known.

Hasidic Jew-paranoia. Can't say I've ever been there, but why not!

Hasidic Jew-paranoia: Can’t say I’ve ever been there, but why not!

So, of course, what better way to do so then have your whole movie filmed in grainy black-and-white, crazy editing-tricks only seen in certain music videos at the time, and have a heavy-electronic score done by the one and only Clint Mansell! And while that aspect of the story may separate from the millions and millions of others, it isn’t like the style takes over what should be substance. Because while Aronofsky definitely does show the many tricks up his sleeves that he has, he also realizes that in order to push a story forward, you have to be able to trust your audience that they’ll be paying attention, using their brains whenever possible, connecting the dots and, if worse comes to worse, be taking notes down on whatever piece of information they may see as “pertinent” to the story, and what might not be.

Because of this trust between Aronofsky and the audience he clearly is making this movie for, it’s easy to see why one person would get mixed-up in it all. Hell, even yours truly, a person that was strung-up on two cups of coffee by the time of watching this, even got lost on a whole bunch of clues/hints/ideas/whatever-the-hell that was thrown my way. That’s probably less of a complaint about the movie, and more of a problem I just have a silly, stupid, cheese-burger-loving human being, but so be it! I’m not always up-on-my-game, I tell you!

Anyway, Aronofsky keeps this movie moving at a nice pace where you don’t always have enough time to make sense of everything that’s happening, nor do you quite allow all of the details of this story sink in just yet. You sort of just have to roll with the punches, and see exactly where it is that Aronofsky ends up with this story, and where he takes all of his characters. Needless to say, it’s a crazy adventure that definitely doesn’t take it easy on you, much like Aronofsky’s other movies that would soon follow.

Which is, yet again, another aspect of Aronofsky’s movies that worked so damn well here, as well. His style may be overbearing, but I think that’s the point. In order to racket-up as much tension as humanly possible for a pseudo-intellectual thriller that runs just under an-hour-and-a-half, Aronofsky throws whatever the hell it is that he can at us. Certain scenes in this movie seem like dreams that linger on in to the territory of being nightmares, which is all because our protagonist, Max Cohen, is just a total and complete nut-job. Although it should definitely be said that he’s a sympathetic one, if only because we truly feel bad that a guy such as him would be subject to so much mind-fuckery that it’s insane. Also, Sean Gullette does a nice job at making this a guy we can believe both as a weirdo, as well as a guy that can be nice and normal, if his mind and his habit of number-crunching allows him to do so. But most of all, what makes him so damn watchable is that we’re right there with him for the whole adventure he’s taken on.

Tio lives! Better yet, he speaks!

Tio lives! Better yet, he speaks!

Everything he sees, we see; everything he hears, we hear; everything he feels, we feel; everything he thinks, we think. Why? Well, it’s all because we are inside his mind the whole entire movie; which is both a good thing, as well as a bad thing.

It’s good, because it constantly throws us for a loop every time we think we have this story all completely figured-out; but on the flip side, it’s not-so-good because the dude is clearly crazy and doesn’t always have the right idea about whatever is in that thick head of his. Therefore, since we’re seemingly placed inside of his mind, lounging on a spec of his brain, it’s never clear where this will go, why or with whom. It’s all up in the air, and I think that’s how Aronofsky wants it to be, if all because he knows that sometimes, these types of stories can end in such predictable, obvious ways. Good on his part for not letting it be so, since this could have easily just been another case of a first-timer getting a bit too big for his britches. Even if so, it’s done him well in the 16 years since. That’s for sure.

Consensus: Easily one movie to throw any smart and determined viewer for a loop, Pi is the type of movie you can’t expect to get, but at least pay enough attention to that you understand just enough in order to feel like you’re along for the psychological thrill-ride Aronofsky loves having us be aboard for.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

I would say "don't do it", but by the same token, he does make a pretty good case for why "he should". So who am I to stop someone from doing what they clearly want to do?

I would say “don’t do it”, but by the same token, he does make a pretty good case for why he “should”. So who am I to stop someone from doing what they clearly want to do?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

Rushmore (1998)

Rebellion, love and angst. You know, the perfect mix for any 15-year-old.

Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is a 15-year-old high school student who absolutely loves the hell out of his school, a little, privately-owned joint called “Rushmore”, that he’s in on academic-scholarship. He loves it so much, that he practically starts, runs and is apart of every group/activity there is to be apart of at the school, which definitely makes him feel inspired most of the time and probably look good in the eyes of future-colleges he aspires to go to, like Harvard or Oxford, but is taken a beating on his studies. However, he doesn’t really seem to care too much, since he sees himself as willing to pull any strings that he can in order to get what what he wants, when he wants. That’s why when the beautiful, yet mysterious teacher Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams) comes along his way and stuns him, he can’t help but fall weak at the knees and do whatever it is that he can do to have her fall in love with him, despite the age-difference. Also, an older, but dedicated friend of his Herman Blume (Bill Murray) seems to take notice of her as well and even gets in the way of Max’s plans, which is exactly when things start to get very tense, very angry and very sad for all three of these individuals lives.

For anybody, high school is a pretty rough time. Not only is your body changing, but so is your mind and brain, and with that, you begin to think and feel differently than ever before. In other words: You begin to get older and grasp what it means to be “an adult”. That sounds scary and all (which it definitely is, so RUN AND HIDE!), but for some people, they can’t wait for that moment to come around when they finally get rid of that adolescence that’s been holding them down for so long, to where they can take that next step into adulthood where they’ll have more responsibilities, more ideas of who they are and most importantly, more freedom than ever before. For some, it happens quicker than others, but it does eventually happen and it’s kind of scary, dare I say it.

I'd pay to stay at that table.

I’d pay to stay at that table.

However, what happens when you’re already somewhat of an adult at an early-age? Well, that’s where Max Fischer comes into play and show you the result of what happens when a kid who is way too smart, way too knowing and way too tactical for his own age or good, just so happens to fall victim to one of the most powerful, earth-shattering forces in the world: Love. Yes, love is definitely one of those first baby-steps we take into adult-hood and needless to say, it’s not all that it’s made out to be, especially not in today’s day and age where most of the adolescent-relationships we see occur nowadays, only last for a year, or even less.

Anyway though, that’s besides the point. The point here, is that this is a Wes Anderson movie we have on our hands, folks, and it’s definitely one of the first instances in which anybody actually took notice of this guy and saw him as the real deal. Which is why it’s pretty interesting to have seen all of his films now (some of them, more than once) and see just what was to come with his style, his themes and his character-developments, all through this movie.

But as I could definitely go on and on about how Anderson’s work here, practically shapes-out everything that was next to come, I won’t. Instead, I’ll focus on one aspect of his writing-style that Anderson seems to truly love and utilize more often than not, which is that he loves it when two opposing-sides/personalities, come together and clash head-on. Not only does he love writing us vibrant, lovable and colorful characters that are quite hard to forget, he also loves seeing them when they are at their lowest, or highest, in self-esteem. Because, honestly, whenever anybody is upset by anything, their anger usually gets the best of them and they show ugly-sides to them that they don’t ever want anybody to see. Anderson loves this about his characters and it shows that he loves to give his characters some depth, but also make us realize that they are actually people we’re dealing with here, faults and all, baby.

That’s why when watching a character like Max Fischer, you can’t help but feel like Wes Anderson knew exactly what he was doing, why he was doing it, and exactly whom it was that he was doing it with. I definitely bet that back in ’97 or whenever this flick was made, that Anderson took a real bold step with choosing relative-unknown Jason Schwartzman for this lead role as Max Fischer, but it was a gamble that paid-off big time as not only did it make Schwartzman a bigger-name, but gave us such an iconic character in the form of Max Fischer – the character I think every teen, male or female, should shape a small part of their lives around, for better, and especially for worse.

See, what makes Max Fischer so interesting as a character is that you don’t necessarily know how to pin him down; he’s kind of cool, in a real nerdy, preppy-way, but he’s also kind of a jerk that steps over people’s feet, just to get by in the world and make himself better. However, on the other hand, he’s also really smart and despite being quite naive about the possibility of having this much-older woman be his special, one and only someone, there’s a part of him you can definitely see knows exactly what it is that he wants to do with life, and how he’s prepared to get by in the world. He’s got the look and body of a 15-year-old kid, but the mind of a 40-year-old, been-there-done-that kind of guy. He’s a little bit cool; a little bit nerdy; a little hopeless; a little bit selfish; a little bit arrogant; and a little bit too ambitious. However, the fact remains is that he is human, and more important: He’s a 15-year-old high school student that’s just trying to understand his life, one embarrassing situation at a time.

But as much as I could harp on and on about how rad and well-written Fischer is, the fact remains that Jason Schwartzman does a very awesome job with this role, nailing all the deadpan delivery Anderson needed to have this character feel a bit more raw, without ever trying to be too real. When he raises his middle-finger up to those who look down on him, you can’t help but want to get up and join him; when he tries to kiss Ms. Cross and gets denied, you can’t help but want to give him a hug and go get some ice cream with him; and most of all, when he’s trying to impress those around him and do cool things, you can’t help but want to join in on the fun, because he’s just that awesome to be around.

Bill Murray, being Bill Murray. What else could ya ask for?

Bill Murray, being Bill Murray. What else could ya ask for?

So yeah, kids, if you need a role model in your life, look no further than Max Fischer. The kid’s got all of the answers. Or, at least some of them.

The one person you don’t want to have as a role model is probably who Bill Murray plays here, Herman Blume. By now, each and everyone of us know that Murray is a Jack-of-all-trades; not only can he be hilariously off-kilter and goofy, but he can also dial-it-back and be subdued, giving us a very humane, down-to-Earth person that we may have never thought was there in the first place. But back in ’98, before Wes Anderson came around, he was sort of just known to us as Bill Murray, a guy who can be, and is, downright hilarious. Here though, Murray finally got a chance to show everybody that he could actually act, and by doing so, he gave us a very sad, very emotional look at a guy who is just depressed with life. Herman Blume not only hates his kids, but he hates his wife, his job, his salary and even hates rich people, despite being one of them. That’s why when you see him absolutely light-up whenever Max is around, it’s sweet to see since you know that this is a down-and-out guy, finally finding someone he can connect with and be around, and not actually hate.

So when the two actually do start fighting over this gal, it’s amusing to watch, in a funny way, but also a bit sad since you know they are friends, and they are hurting one another’s feelings. But it’s all for a good cause, right? Well, I’d say so, because Ms. Cross is a catch for any guy that’s able to nab her down, thanks mostly to Olivia Williams perfectly-nuanced performance. She’s pretty, British, charming and pretty easy-going, but we do know that there’s a huge path of sadness just brewing all beneath her, and it makes you wonder if either of these guys deserve to be with her, or if she should just give up on dating alone and live the rest of her life in solitude and sadness. Doesn’t sound too ideal, but I guess when you have two wild cards like Herman Blume and Max Fischer fighting over you, then I guess it’s the only possible solution really.

Consensus: Wry, snappy and chock-full of angst, Rushmore finds Wes Anderson at his meanest, yet, still finds a way to give us characters that we can not only love, but identify with, making their adventures together all the more rewarding by the end.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

What a smug a-hole. But damn is he cool or what?!?!

What a smug a-hole. But damn is he cool or what?!?!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

The Faculty (1998)

Don’t we all think our teachers are body-snatching aliens?

A geek (Elijah Wood) finds a small mollusk on a football field. He thinks it’s a new discovery until the school’s teachers start behaving very Children Of The Corn ish and become obsessed with the element of water. This is where many of the teenagers band together, all cliques aside and find out just what the hell is up with their teachers, why they’re acting so funny, and just hope that they don’t become like one of them. Because let’s face it: No high school kid wants to be a teacher, and if they do, they don’t want to be like THEIR high school teacher.

If you look up the term “slasher movie” in the 90’s dictionary, you’ll probably find a picture and a short bio of writer Kevin Williamson, who basically re-invented the horror movie franchise back in then with both Scream and Scream 2, among others. Then, if you look up “movie genius” in the same dictionary, you’ll probably see a picture and a short bio of Quentin Tarantino, but a synonym would probably be Robert Rodriguez. Putting them together for one, big horror movie seems like a pretty awesome idea full of wacky, zany fun and originality, right?

Only due to a supposed alien-invasion are they even considering being around one another.

Only due to a supposed alien-invasion are they even considering being around one another.

Well, it saddens to me say this, but disappointment ensues. But how?

In case you haven’t been able to tell, this is a lot like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers mixed with the kid from The Breakfast Club. It may not sound like the coolest idea ever, but Williamson and Rodriguez at least do a good job of making it entertaining with a couple of actual thrilling moments. This follows the same formula of your usual horror movie with the constant jumps and scares that we have come to know (and sometimes love) with the genre, and they work pretty effectively here. You can’t go into this expecting anything you haven’t ever really seen before, nor can you really expect something that breaks down the whole horror movie conventions, because not only has Williamson done that many times before, but he’s practically perfected it by now that it’s become somewhat predictable. You just got to go into this expecting an exciting and sometimes, funny ride that comes from two geniuses like Williamson and Rodriguez.

However, that’s the exact problem with this flick: Most have come to expect more from these two talents just because of what they have been able to do in the past, and to see them collaborate on a feature that’s anything but awesome, is really sad. With Williamson, we get some moments where these kids talk in a very self-referential about how they know that aliens exist, why they exist, and what they can do just to stop them; as well as a lot of references to other sci-fi flicks out there like Men in Black, E.T., and even The Invasion of the Body Snatchers itself, but it sort of comes off as a cheap rip-off because it’s so damn obvious that Williamson is basing this plot off of those flicks, so he thinks by referencing them in his own movie will give it some sort of gratitude and make it seem like less of a rip-off. So instead, it comes off just exactly like that and it’s sort of one of the golden rules where it doesn’t matter if you reference the film or not, if you are ripping it off, plain and simply, you are ripping it off! Bam!

As for Rodriguez, seeing what he can do with an ordinary story and take it in all of these different twists and turns, it’s pretty disappointing when he gives us a flick that’s not only pretty predictable from start to finish, but one that seems like it could have been directed by anybody. There’s no turtles, no Antonio Banderas, no Mexicano music playing somewhere in the background, and no vampires getting their heads blown off by George Clooney. Nope, instead it just seems like one of those typical horror movies that seems like it could have gone somewhere magical with this premise, but goes exactly to where you would expect it to go, which, given the talent that’s involved behind-the-camera, is a bit of a bummer.

Gosh, teachers!! You're so annoyingly weird!!

Gosh, teachers!! You’re so annoyingly weird!!

What makes this movie a little more appealing is the young cast, and deciphering who has had the biggest star out of all of them is now. And to be honest, I can’t really say since everybody seems like they’re on the somewhat same page. Elijah Wood is here as the typical geek that obviously knows something is up with all of the teachers and faculty at his school, and plays up that whole nerdy act with him very well. However, how many times have we seen this guy do that act before? Yeah, so it does kind of get old after awhile, no matter how early in his career it was. Josh Hartnett, being the stud that he is, plays the slacker who gets held-back, sells drugs and quite possibly gets it on with his very hot teacher. Hartnett’s good for this role and it’s a real wonder why he doesn’t do more with his career, although I feel like the novelty of a young, hot, charming dude has sort of worn-off and been thrown over to Channing Tatum.

Shawn Hatosy plays the jock that just wants to be known for being smart, and he’s pretty good at it. It’s a shame that he hasn’t really been showing up in much, except for Alpha Dog, where he played a total dick, but in a good way. Jordana Brewster plays the bitchy, high school newspaper-editor that seems to always be on everybody’s case about lord knows what, but she’s fine with it and I think she still deserves more hits at drama because I think this gal can really make it work, if given the chance. There’s a whole bunch of other peeps in this cast that’s worth talking about, but really, I don’t want to be here forever so just check the film out yourself and see all of these familiar faces who may, or may not be, showing their faces around anymore.

Consensus: Though it can be a lot of fun with some goofy references to other horror flicks that inspires it, The Faculty never fully comes through on its own as an original or different kind of horror thriller, and more as a carbon-copy of the movies it can’t help but crack jokes at and about.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Okay, well I don't think he counts as anything.

Okay, well I don’t think he counts as anything.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBJoblo

The Truman Show (1998)

Surprisingly, MTV hasn’t tried this yet. Probably will after Jersey Shore starts to become repetitive. Oh wait…

‘The Truman Show’ chronicles the life of a man named Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) who is initially unaware that he is living in a constructed reality television show, broadcast around the clock to billions of people across the globe. Truman becomes suspicious of his perceived reality and embarks on a quest to discover the truth about his life.

In today’s day and age where everybody is constantly on Twitter tweeting about what they had for din-din, on Facebook posting pictures of them and their bong sesh the night before, or on YouTube uploading videos on themselves singing R&B songs by Mariah Carey, it’s easy to see why you would sometimes feel like you’re life is all one big TV show. However, life isn’t that cool and unique after all.

High Concept movies are usually hit-and-miss and rarely ever do they hit as well as the concept here. Writer Andrew Niccol takes gives everything he can into this concept where Truman in his own little world, and where everything is one big show, one big block of advertising, and most of all, one big piece of reality TV. There’s obviously a lot of satire to be had here where Niccol brings up the point about how our nation, is a nation that is consumed by watching other people’s live and needing to know everything that goes on in his/her private lives. It’s definitely a theme that gets better and better as the years go on by considering we have so many things in today’s world that take more and more away from our privacy. But it’s not all about the obvious satire, and that’s where the real beauty of this film lies.

Director Peter Weir did a perfect job here as a director because he immerses us into this world where Truman lives. We see everything that goes on in his “fake” world, then to the people who make this world for him, and then to what’s going on behind closed doors and how they are all filming everything the way they are. It definitely seems like a concept that would be a little too far-fetched but somehow Weir was able to pack all of these things in here that gets you more and more involved with this story as if you are, hey, watching a life play out in front of your own eyes. That’s right people, I’m talking about something that sounds exactly reality TV. Oh em gee! As you see Truman start to peel away the layers of his life to realize that something eerie is going on, you start to root for him and can only hope that he eventually does find out that it’s all one big show, and that he was the main star. This plot may have never been able to work, had it taken place in real life, but the way he realizes everything, hint by hint, not only makes the film seem plausible but feel like it’s actually happening right then and there.

It’s a real surprise how a plot like this actually came together so damn well in the end, but I guess when you put two heads like Niccol and Weir together, miracles can happen.

My only problem with this flick was that I sort of felt like the ending was a bit too abrupt. All of this build-up is leading and leading up to the finale of where Truman finally finds out about the world outside of his own, but even when it does happen, it’s sort of a let-down. Actually, I don’t want to say that it’s a let-down because I think it was actually handled very well in fact, it was just that it all happens so quick and I would have liked to see more of what actually happened after the ending went down. I know I sound very vague but that’s because, believe it or not, I don’t really want to give too much away here.

Ever since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out, people really started to take notice that Jim Carrey could play a more serious role than we usually see, but this was the real film that let us know that this guy had more than just a bunch of goofy faces. Carrey is amazing as Burbank because he makes this character so damn likable and believable that it’s easy to see why someone would want to center a TV show around him in the first place. In front of everybody, he’s hamming it up to the neighbors and going through the same routines day-in and day-out, but behind the closed doors, he continues to lose his shit as he realizes that something is a little too freaky underneath it all and you really do want him to find out everything at once and just get the hell out of there. Carrey totally throws himself into this role showing a lot of dramatic range as an actor, but also showing the things that make him funny in the first place as a comedian and giving us a new look at someone that we thought would end up being his own biggest fan.

Even though I’m not as fond of her as everybody else seems to be, Laura Linney is pretty good as Truman’s wife and it makes me wonder just how much money would a lady take if they had to act like Carrey’s wife and sometimes, get it on with him? Yeesh. Ed Harris is also good as the show’s director, Christof, and gives off this God-like nature to him that makes it seem like he was the one who actually gave life to Truman after all. Also, be on the look out for a nice little side spot from Paul Giamatti. Damn, this guy was everywhere back in the 90’s!

Consensus: The Truman Show works as well today, as it did way back when in 1998 with it’s very realistic satire but also works because of an amazingly original premise that seems to get better and better as more and more is revealed, and also features some great performances from the cast, especially a very good and very different Jim Carrey.

8.5/10=Matinee!!

The Negotiator (1998)

Finally Samuel L. has just had it with all of these white people effin’ him over.

Police choppers circle as swat marksmen target Danny Roman (Samuel L Jackson). he is holding the chief of the Internal Affairs Department at gunpoint. Roman’s world has been destroyed by false charges of murder and embezzlement. Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), a negotiator from another precinct is brought in to mediate.

What we have here is a pretty generic, B-movie that wouldn’t want to be watched by anybody if it didn’t have the two stars it has in the lead roles. To be honest though, I can’t say that it’s a bad thing either.

Director F. Gary Gray does a pretty good job at keeping this flick moving with a nice essence of suspense and tension through the air. It reminded me a lot of a mixture between Man on a Ledge and Dog Day Afternoon, where I had no idea what was going to happen next with this negotiator and these hostages as well. Gray is good at keeping the action moving but it’s not just about big explosions, car chases, and guns going off in this flick, it’s more about the game of wits between the two negotiators. Since they are both professional negotiators, they both know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to talking a person out of doing something and it’s very interesting to see considering we never really see the tables turned around like this in a generic movie such as this one.

However, all of those games suddenly get lost by the half-way mark and then the script starts to lose itself a bit. Rather than being a flick about two professionals basically out-playing the other one, it ends up being another “whodunit” that we always see and in this case it’s nothing or exciting. It’s not hard to see where this film is going right from the start but it was such a disappointment considering I was having so much fun with these two dudes on-screen, but instead, Gray had to bring in the big-bangs and the boom-booms so I sort of have to blame him as well.

What also bothered me about this flick was that this script got really thin, really quick. I felt a lot for Danny, our main character, because the guy totally got effed over and how could you not want to cheer someone on when they’re up against a bunch of dirty cops? But the problem I had here was that he was the only character that was really fleshed out, and everybody else was just a bunch of corny types that we see in movies like this all time. The cops here are the usual “get the job done, at any cost” types, the hostages are the “we’re scared, but can also help you with this hostage situation you’re pulling off” type, and even the other negotiator himself is a type too. So many people here are types and even though I’m not always disappointed in every film that I see that shows characters as two-dimensional, here it bothered me because it seemed like they were starting off so well.

When it comes to two actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey though, you can’t go wrong. Samuel L. is awesome here as Danny and creates a likable and believable character that really could g0 to the ends of the earth to prove that he’s innocent after all this time. Jackson has a couple of scenes where he just lets loose on his anger, especially one where he messes with another negotiator who just doesn’t know what to do and it’s funny, but also very tense the whole way through which reminded me a lot of his “What” scene in Pulp Fiction. Spacey is also very good with his toneless readings here as Chris and gives him a certain edge that makes him a lot cooler than any of the other cops in this flick. Still though, I think that with Spacey you need to have more dimensions to him because his voice is so monotone and sinister, that he can give any likable character a darker edge to them as well. Then again, they didn’t go down this road and Spacey still did fine with it so I can’t complain that much.

Consensus: The Negotiator has tension and suspense to it, and also features strong performances from reliable leads like Jackson and Spacey, but it starts to lose itself about half-way through and gets more and more predictable until we end at a conclusion we thought we were going to have all along.

6/10=Rental!!