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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 1999

At First Sight (1999)

Eyes open or closed, we all know Mira Sorvino is downright beautiful.

Young architect Amy Benic (Mira Sorvino) needs a break from the busy high-life of Manhattan and decides to go out to the country-side, relax, and get her massage on. While she’s getting that on, she falls under the spell and hands of the masseur Virgil Adamson (Val Kilmer). She instantly clicks with him and realizes that there’s something between the two that’s as rare as it can be. Rare, because Virgil’s also blind and has no idea what she looks like, or anything else for that matter.

Watching all of these sappy, romantic-dramedies can honestly do a number on a person. Nicholas Sparks has dulled the senses so much, that even when something relatively sweet, sort of nice comes around, it’s hard to fully embrace it. For someone like me, I’m just so used to saccharine, annoying romantic-junk that yeah, it makes you forget about actual solid romantic-flicks out there in the world.

Sort of like At First Sight. But also, sort of not like At First Sight.

Let me explain.

Well, close enough.

Well, close enough.

Granted, it’s nothing special, but it works at being a piece of romantic-drama that you can root-root-root for the couple, and just hope that they end up together because you can see that they’re good people, have the best intentions for one another, and most of all, love each other like silly. Isn’t that what we all want to be reminded of when we watch sap-fests such as these? Well yes, as well as the ability to love and be loved is still out there and if you have a heart big enough to allow that into your soul, that even you can come under it’s spell? I think so, and I think that’s why I actually didn’t mind this movie as much as I was planning to.

Val Kilmer is a nice fit as our blind man for the two hours (way, way, way too long for my liking!), Virgil Adamson. Despite how he may be behind the scenes, Kilmer has always had a certain cool, suave charm about him, which is what works well for this character here, who could have easily just been a later-day saint who also happened to be blind. It’s also a nice refresher to see him play a much softer, more romantic-side, even though the movie surrounding him is, yes, corny and undeniably syrupy beyond belief.

But like I said, the guy’s so charming, he makes it work.

Daredevil totally ripped this movie off!

Daredevil totally ripped this movie off! Damn Ben Affleck!

Playing his love bird for the two hours (once again, way, way, way too long for my liking!), is Mira Sorvino as Amy. Sorvino is always a charmer and is as cute-as-a-button that whenever she smiles, it’s so easy to just feel all warm and gooey inside. She’s got that beautiful look to her that works to her advantage and it’s just great to see that in an actress that can make bad material like this work, even if we do see it coming a hundred-upon-a-hundred miles away. You actually believe that she could fall in love with a guy like this, knock down all of the problems of being blind, and just look at the person instead. It’s obvious stuff, but Sorvino and Kilmer make it work together and if it weren’t for these two in the roles, it’d be really hard to get through this thing.

Then, there’s Kelly McGillis who eventually shows up as Vrigil’s sister that is always there for him and watching over him and is okay, but also where the movie really starts to go off-the-rails. The first hour, while cheesy, is sweet, soft and enjoyable enough to where it’s a nice piece of time passing-by, because it’s never taking itself all that seriously. But then, miraculously, as soon as McGillis rears her head in, everything gets a bit bonkers and far too serious. It certainly doesn’t help the fact that she’s always yelling, upset, and crying about something going on. Thankfully, Nathan Lane is here to save the day and as usual, use his comedic-charm to his ability and have us love the guy like never before.

So when in doubt, just trust Nathan Lane.

Consensus: Is it predictable? Yes. Is it obvious? Yes. Is it long? Hell yes! Is it at least entertaining? Ehh, sure. At First Sight may not throw you any curve balls you won’t see coming at you miles away, but Kilmer and Sorvino at least make the material seem more than just your average, run-of-the-mill romantic-drama, even if that’s exactly what it is.

5 / 10

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you not supposed to pet those dogs or something?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you not supposed to pet those kinds of dogs or something?

Photos Courtesy of: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

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The Straight Story (1999)

Get it? Because it’s not a total mind-f**k!

Alvin (Richard Farnsworth), an elderly World War II veteran, lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), who has an intellectual disability. When Alvin hears that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) has suffered a stroke, he makes up his mind to go visit him and do it all, hopefully, before he dies and they’re both left to feel like they missed out. However, there’s an issue: Alvin doesn’t have a driver’s license and Lyle does live very far away. So what can Alvin do to travel all of this way to see his bro? Well, he hitches a trailer to his recently purchased thirty-year-old John Deere 110 Lawn Tractor, that has about the maximum speed of about 5 miles per hour, and sets off on the 240 mile journey from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin. Of course, he runs into all sorts of colorful and rather normal characters throughout his journey, most of whom offer to drive him the whole way there, with others just telling him to give up. However, through it all, Alvin remains determined, knowing that this may not just be his last shot at regaining some happiness with his brother, but his last shot at regaining some happiness with life in general.

“Yeah, honey. You’re driving me mad. Literally.”

So the inside joke about the Straight Story is that, pun intended, there’s not much else to it, other than just what is exactly presented to us. It’s just a normal, everyday story, told in the most straightforward, easy-to-follow manner imaginable, without any curves or side-turns into the extreme or ambiguous. It is what it is, no questions, meditations, think-pieces, or re-watches necessary.

But the reason why this deserves to be said is because it’s directed by David Lynch who, for what seems like the first and perhaps, last time, ever, made a normal movie. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a problem with his many mind-benders that went on to make him famous and well-known, but at the same time, there’s something to be said for a dramatic change-of-pace like the Straight Story, where it literally seems like Lynch is a whole entirely new person, trying on a new piece of skin, seeing how it fits him, and working with it.

And yeah, it works.

The Straight Story is probably one of my favorites of Lynch’s because there are bits and pieces of it that feel like a Lynch film, what with the sometimes odd, awfully random character interactions, but it is still, after all, a movie in its own right. It’s slow, meditative and yes, old-timey, but there’s something truly charming and lovely in that that not only makes us feel like we’re watching the perfect movie for the whole family, but the perfect movie for anyone wanting a bit more drama and depth to their road-tales about elderly people. After all, there’s plenty out there like the Straight Story that feel it is necessary to dumb-down their material, for the sake of making silly jokes and ham-handed sentimentality.

But Lynch proves to be a smarter director than allowing himself to get caught up in all of that. He knows what the material deserves and doesn’t lose his sight on telling it, without trying to add some sort weird spark onto it. Sure, can it be a bit disappointing to see Lynch so ordinary and plain? Probably, yes. But like I said, a change-of-pace, especially one as solid as this, is a welcome one.

Gosh. Cheer up a bit, eh Richie?

It makes you wish that more idiosyncratic directors jumped out of their wheelhouse a bit and tried some new flavor for once.

That said, the Straight Story proves to be as much of a showcase for the skills that Lynch has, as much as it proves to be for the talent of the late, great and highly underrated Richard Farnsworth. As Alvin, Farnsworth gets a whole lot to do; while he is definitely playing an old-school, do-gooder who likes to wax on about the good old days, he’s also funny, charming and above all else, kind of sad. In fact, there’s a lot of sadness to this character – just by looking in Farnsworth’s pale blue eyes, you can tell that there’s just years and years of anguish and grief piling up, and it works absolutely well for building this character and helping us to understand just what there is about him. After all, he’s just another old guy who wants one last shot at life, so what else is there about him that can be offered?

A lot, it seems and it’s why Farnsworth’s a talent we still miss to this day. We just don’t know it.

Sissy Spacek is also quite good in the supporting role as his daughter, although at the same time, doesn’t get a whole lot to do, except have the occasional conversation with her daddy while he’s on his adventure. That’s probably how the whole rest of the cast plays-off as – they’re there to assist Farnsworth in all of his daily duties. Some are good (like a randomly pregnant teen), some aren’t (the woman who hits the dear is so over-the-top, I’m actually shocked it made it into the final-cut), but for the most part, they’re there to help us fully realize the world that David Lynch doesn’t often portray in his films: The simpler, kinder and more soft-spoken one where people aren’t all monsters and demons, but instead, actual nice, sweet people, who wouldn’t mind helping out an old-timer get to see his long, lost brother.

Consensus: Definitely a change-of-pace for Lynch, but a welcome one at that with a smart, attentive direction, witty, humanistic writing, and above all else, a great lead performance from Richard Farnsworth.

8.5 / 10

Pull him over!

Photos Courtesy of: Konangal Film Society

The Corruptor (1999)

Chinatown’s good for everything but the night life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Film Critic, Esq.

All About My Mother (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9.5 / 10

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Photos Courtesy of: Enter the Movies

Ride with the Devil (1999)

Ridin’s better than runnin’, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always follow Jewel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

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

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

EDtv (1999)

edposterWhat’s reality TV?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's love at first medium-shot.

It’s love at first medium-shot.

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

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

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

5 / 10

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

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

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

Tumbleweeds (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

And yeah, Tumbleweeds is that movie.

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

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

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

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

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

We were all kids nonetheless.

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

But hey, it still works.

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

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

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

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

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Find the head and you may get the killer.

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

From Hell?

From Hell?

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

Does it all work?

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

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

Except, well, himself, of course.

Who needs lines when you're Christopher Walken?

Who needs lines when you’re Christopher Walken?

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

Yeah, time to turn around, I’d say.

Photos Courtesy of: Overdue Review

Runaway Bride (1999)

Keep a hold on your women, Richie.

Maggie Carpenter (Julia Roberts) can’t ever seem to make up her mind about any man in her life. That’s why, after three instances in which she got engaged, planned-out a wedding, walked up to the altar, only to turn around and start heading for the hills, she’s now been branded as “the runaway bride”. A lot of her friends and family call her that, so it’s okay, but once journalist Graham (Richard Gere) calls her that after hearing of her story one random day in a bar, she decides to get involved. Obviously, she threatens legal action, which gets all of Graham’s employers upset and worried about what might happen, so yeah, they fire Graham. Pissed-off as one journalist can be on the verge of Y2K, Graham decides to go out and see this Maggie all for herself and give her a piece of his mind. But for some reason, Graham quite enjoys Maggie’s little hometown, where he’s not only welcomed with open arms, but he actually finds himself getting along with Maggie herself. But with her latest wedding coming soon, Maggie will have to think of if she wants to go through with it, or not.

Joan Cusack > Julia Roberts.

Joan Cusack > Julia Roberts.

I know I’m probably not supposed to enjoy, or better yet, enjoy a movie like Runaway Bride, but somehow, I couldn’t help myself. Maybe a good portion of it had to do with the fact that I watched it back-to-back with the soulless and dry Pretty Woman, or maybe it was just that I was in a good mood and trying to have some fun, but either way, Runaway Bride surprisingly worked for me. Then again, I felt like enjoying it was almost the same thing as going out to dinner with your grandmom; sure, you got to spend some quality time with your grams and a free dinner, but seriously, what is she talking about?

And come to think of it: Why doesn’t she know how to send a gosh darn e-mail!

Anyway, I digress. What I’m trying to get across here is that yes, Runaway Bride is a fun movie, but it’s also a very corny and silly one that should not at all be taken seriously. That’s why those who hate it, sort of seem to miss the point; it’s not setting out to be this true, down-to-Earth statement about the sanctity of marriage, love, life, families, and all that, it’s really just trying to make us laugh. Garry Marshall definitely loves to dip his feet into the syrupy material of his sap, but he also appreciates a good joke when he’s got it in front of him, too, and it’s why Runaway Bride can work at times when it shouldn’t.

Sure, everybody acts out in crazy, insane ways that they would never in the real world, nor does a small town as simple, loving, or carefree as the one in which Roberts’ character lives in, either, but for some reason, that’s all fine here. The movie is a lot less about the mechanics of the plot and more or less about trying to get us all settled in and laughing. It doesn’t always hit the highest comedic-marks, but then again, what other movie really does? It’s hard to always be consistently funny, so when a movie like Runaway Bride does its hardest to get me to laugh, without seeming like its trying to rip my lungs out, yeah, I’m fine.

And yes, I was even fine with Richard Gere here.

White has never looked so white and privileged.

White has never looked so white and privileged.

I know, I’m shocked, too, but yeah, he actually seems more interested in what’s going on here. As Graham, Gere has to be a bit of a dick who decides to turn the other cheek about halfway through because of, well, love, but it’s somewhat believable this time around. Most of that has to do with the fact that we get to know a bit more about Graham before the whole plot actually kicks in, and it’s also because Gere seems more willing to let himself be the butt of the jokes. A lot of silly, almost slap-sticky things happen to Gere here that make him look like a goober, but it works in the end, because not only do we like this character more, but Gere himself!

And yes, Julia Roberts is good, too. She’s doing her usual thing where she makes every person in the movie bow down to her beauty, as well as her likability and that’s fine to see here. The two have a solid bit of chemistry here that wasn’t able to shown in Pretty Woman and it helps put the movie into perspective, when things start to get all heavy and serious. Which is to say that, yes, the movie definitely suffers when it gets to this point, but are you really surprised? The whole movie is one, two-hour-long joke about Gere and Roberts’ personalities clashing. There’s no plot in that, but hey, I’m fine without one.

Just give me laughs and I’ll be as cool as a cucumber.

Consensus: With a wackier tone in place, Runaway Bride works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor does it allow for its stars to go away without trying to do something fun.

6 / 10

So incognito Richie and Jules.

So incognito Richie and Jules.

Photos Courtesy of: Youtube, Cineplex, Chris and Elizabeth Watch Movies

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Death to Jar-Jar.

In order to tell the story in its fullest form, sometimes, you have to go to the very beginning. In this case, we start with two Jedi knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), who are sent in to break up some sort of intergalactic trade embargo that’s going on and interrupting all sorts of people. However, while they’re on the case, they also manage to uncover a secret, scary plot by a bunch of aliens who’s sole plan is to take over the planet Naboo by sheer force and power. While all of this is going on, the two Jedi’s also discover the presence of two Sith warriors, who were thought to be long extinct by this point, but are still a force to be reckoned with. And of course, the Jedi’s end up crossing paths with small, young slave boy who has something about him that just makes them want to work with him to be the next great Jedi. The kid’s name? Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and he is destined to be “The Chosen One”. Even though certain folks like Yoda, aren’t too sure of the kid and make it their top priority to test him every chance they get.

2-on-3 has never been so cool.

2-on-3 has never been so cool.

It’s become almost second nature to despise the Phantom Menace. When I was around six or seven and saw this movie, I’ll never forget the feeling; there was just a certain rush of joy and excitement that I couldn’t get out of my system. I was hooked from the very beginning and all I wanted to do was see it again. Then, once that happened, I got the awesome PS1 video-game, caught up on the other Star Wars flicks, and considered myself a fan for so very long. But now, after all of these years of constantly pushing it away and not wanting to admit it, I can easily say that, well, yes, the Phantom Menace is not a very good movie.

Does that mean it’s an awfully terribly crappy one that deserves every cop in existence to burned and steam-piled?

No, of course not. In fact, there’s very few movies that actually deserve that; while my mind automatically jumps to Adam Sandler’s flicks, even then, I still find something here and there to take away. With the Phantom Menace, you get the sense that because the movie had so much hype surrounding what it was supposed to be, that when it ended-up actually becoming something of a let-down, it wasn’t just a disappointment – it was a sign of the end of the world. That the movie and George Lucas was given as much money and time as he needed to make this movie and do whatever he wanted to with it, already puts everything into perspective: Like, is this really what he wanted to do?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a nice couple bits within the Phantom Menace that are still fun and exciting, even if they feel thrown in a jumbled-up mess. The pod-racing scene, of course, is neat to watch, even after all of these years; the Jedi-battle duel at the end is by far one of the very best of the franchise; and Liam Neeson, playing the almighty dad-like figure as he’s best known for, does seem like a genuinely nice and warm figure to have around. Do all of these factors add up to a good movie? No, they do not. However, by the same token, they at least help the movie out in ways that, quite frankly, people don’t give them enough credit for.

Once again, I am in no way saying that the Phantom Menace is a misunderstood masterpiece that people just wanted to hate because they could – what I’m saying is that, well, it’s pretty lame and misguided, but not terrible.

Most of this has to do with the fact that George Lucas, who returned to directing and writing after 22 years for this, doesn’t seem like he’s always clear of what he wants to do with this story, whom to put the main focus on, or set things up for the next two movies. It’s obvious that, from the very start, Lucas set-out to make a Star Wars movie that his kids could enjoy and because of that, we’re tragically forced to sit through and watch as Jar-Jar Binks and Anakin take over the film, and hardly bring out any emotions whatsoever. Everything’s already been said about Jar-Jar, his faux-Jamaican accent, and the fact that the movie itself couldn’t get enough of his slapstick, so without trying to beat a dead horse, I’ll just say that, yes, when I was six or seven, Jar-Jar was awesome – now, he’s just super annoying and makes you feel like you’re watching a different movie.

Someone misses Leon.

Someone misses Leon.

But really, I still can’t wrap my head around the casting of Jake Lloyd in the iconic role of Anakin Skywalker. For one, as much as it pains me to say this, Jake Lloyd can’t act; though the movie seems like it wasn’t helping him out much either, there’s still the impression that the kid doesn’t know how to read his lines without seeming like he’s confused and in need of some help. This isn’t me ragging on him and being a cruel, miserable a-hole, because it’s not just his fault, but why he was pushed so far to the front of the line for this role, is totally beyond me. There’s also the idea of why he’s so young to begin with, but hey, that’s another post for another day.

And what the real shame about Lucas putting all of his focus on the likes of Jar-Jar and Anakin, is that it takes away from the overall impact of the story. Because this is the first movie of the supposed trilogy, after all, it makes sense to start things off slow, easy-going, and relatively peaceful, but really, a lot of this film just seems meandering. It’s as if Lucas wasn’t ready to scare his audience just yet, so in a way to wind them all up, he just gave each and everyone a film that’s perfectly serviceable for the whole family. Of course it worked for me when I was younger, but now, it just feels like a waste of what a great opportunity this movie could have been.

Thankfully, it gets better from here on out.

Sort of.

Consensus: George Lucas clearly had some rust when making the Phantom Menace, which will always and forever be known as the unwanted and unloved “Annie and Jar-Jar Show”, despite it not being the end-all, be-all disaster people love to hop on the band-wagon and go on about.

4.5 / 10

"Get out of this business while you still can, kid. Trust me."

“Get out of this business while you still can, kid. Trust me.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mystery, Alaska (1999)

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

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

No. I am not entertained.

No. I am not entertained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eh. Hope they lose.

Eh. Hope they lose.

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

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

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

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

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

2 / 10

And yeah, this is totally not forced.

And yeah, this happens, too.

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

American Beauty (1999)

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

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

Yes, Lester. You do rule.

Yes, Lester. You do rule.

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

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

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

Move on, already!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family dinners have never been so depressing.

Family dinners have never been so depressing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Twin Falls Idaho (1999)

Brothers can be so clingy, sometimes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. This is not a TLC documentary.

No. This is not a TLC documentary.

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

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

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

Okay, so maybe it is a bit sappy.

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

7 / 10

Seriously! Which one is which?

Seriously! Which one is which?

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Movie Channel

Arlington Road (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Play It to the Bone (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least somebody's bothering to call their agent.

At least somebody’s bothering to call their agent.

Not even a single bit.

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

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

Honestly, nobody should care.

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

2 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Insider (1999)

Just another reason why cigarettes are not good for you.

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

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

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

Life in the cameras. So depressing.

Life in the cameras. So depressing.

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

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

Bravo, Mr. Mann. Bravo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Probably thinking about stealing the Declaration of Independence.

Probably already thinking about stealing the Declaration of Independence.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

eXistenZ (1999)

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

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

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

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So take that, older-generation!

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

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

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

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

6 /10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Fight Club (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

The perfect romance.......

The perfect romance…….

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

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

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

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

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

....or is this?

….or is this?

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

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

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

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

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

9.5 / 10 = Full Price!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images, Collider

The Cider House Rules (1999)

Abortion, incest and ether – oh my!

Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is a young man who, for as long as he can remember, grew up in an orphanage. He was given to it when he was just a baby and taken in twice, but rejected and sent back both times, leaving the head of the orphanage, Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), to take him in and teach him everything he needs to know about being a doctor. And by “everything”, I do mean, everything. See, the orphanage is more than just a place where a bunch of kids without any family run around, live in and wait to be adopted by curious families, because Dr. Larch himself actually allows there’s certain people to come in who want an abortion, which, way back when in the 40’s, was downright illegal. One couple in particular is Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron) and her soldier boyfriend (Paul Rudd), who interest Homer so much that he decides to leave with them and see what plan life has set for him next. Somehow though, that plan ends up being on an apple-picking farm, where he encounters all sorts of characters and even falls in love, although the happiness he feels, may not be the same for those that he left behind in the orphanage. Especially not Dr. Larch.

Director Lasse Hallström really did concoct a neat little trick here with the Cider House Rules – while the movie, on the surface, may appear to be an old-timey tale about exploring the world around you and all of the other possibilities, deep down inside, it’s a dark, somewhat rather disturbing tale about being lonely in a world, not knowing where to go with it next and how decisions we make, don’t just affect us for a short time being, but for the rest of our lives. Oh, and there’s a lot of abortions, too; which, to me, was shocking for the longest time in how Hallström presents this as something “illegal”, yet, thankfully doesn’t go any further into that fact and just lets it sit there. Almost as if it’s a fact of life that some people make, and others don’t.

Like everybody's favorite Robin said: Chicks really do dig the car.

Like everybody’s favorite Robin said: Chicks really do dig the car.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that this movie surprised me once I really what it was actually all about, and also, what I was to expect from the rest of where it was going to go.

But there’s a slight problem with Hallström’s direction, and it’s not in the way that he pictures this story. In fact, quite the opposite – I loved the look of this movie. Not only does it have that old-timey look and feel that we’d get from a movie that was filmed in the 40’s, but the fact that it’s set in the rural lands of Maine makes it feel like something of its own nature (pun intended). In this part of Maine, people sort of go about, do and say as they please. There isn’t much of a hustle and bustle like there is in the city, nor is there a real sense of community like there can be in the suburbs. It’s just a bunch of people, separated from one another, who continue to live on in their own, sometimes secluded lives. Not only does that make it seem like Maine is an essential setting for this kind of story, but that it also gives us an even larger feeling of the loneliness sometimes felt from these characters; a point that this movie doesn’t drive home as much as it totally should have.

That said though, Hallström doesn’t get everything right, and that has more to do with the fact that the movie can’t decide whether it wants to be a real dark and heavy drama you’d see on AMC, or maybe even HBO, or a schmaltzy, sentimental piece of melodrama that you’d probably catch on the Lifetime, or Hallmark channel, had you been flipping through the tube. And because of that, the movie feels disjointed; there are plenty of moments in which a character will reveal something nasty or cruel that they did, but the next second later, we’ll get a montage of Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron frolicking and cuddling in the woods. It makes you wonder who Hallström was trying to please here?

Was he going for the sappy, feel-good vibe that most families want to see, especially around the holidays (when this was released)? Or, does he want to have us think about our own lives and shed some light on the fact that what we think is out there, doesn’t really need to be seen at all? In a way, Hallström tries to have it both ways and it doesn’t always work. Sure, it’s an interesting piece that makes you wonder what would have happened to the final product, had Hallström and writer John Irving (original writer of the book, too) been on the same page the whole entire time (pun intended).

Because not only does it affect the tone of the movie, but it also has the cast feel slightly awkward in certain places where they shouldn’t. Michael Caine won an Oscar for his work here as the realistic-thinking, ether-inhaling Dr. Wilbur Larch, and though he is good, there’s a good portion of this movie in which he doesn’t even show up, leaving you to wonder just what the hell is he up to and why couldn’t we have had just a tad bit more time with him before we had to set off into the rest of the world. Even Tobey Maguire, despite being quite subtle in the only way he knows how to be (sometimes too much so), feels like the sort of character that lingers from place to place, doesn’t really have much of an emotional center, and is there for us to just see what he sees and experience whatever the heck it is that he experiences. Maguire has done this sort of role before and he’s fine with it here, but it still seems like there could have been more done to this character that would have made him somebody else other than just a “protected young guy who wants to see the world”.

Uh oh. Tobey's sad. I think we all know what's coming next.

Uh oh. Tobey’s sad. I think we all know what’s coming next.

The supporting players are better-off, considering that they aren’t paid attention to nearly as much, but even then, some just feel like window-dressing. Charlize Theron does a fine job as the Candy, the girl that eventually becomes the object of Homer’s affection, and while it’s easy to see why she is in fact the one he goes after, we don’t really get to know much more about her, other than that she likes a good time and a nice hump or two; Paul Rudd does some rare dramatic-work here as the boyfriend and isn’t around much to really show his chops off, but is charming enough that we feel bad for him when Homer starts banging his girl; and honestly, it was a shame to see two wonderful actresses like Jane Alexander and Kathy Baker be reduced to playing the “old, yet, sweet orphanage nurses”, whereas we all know they could have definitely done some real damage with a script that serviced them better.

But the one who really walks away with this movie and actually left something of an impression on me is a favorite of mine, Delroy Lindo. Lindo plays the head honcho of the workers from the apple-picking farm known as Mr. Rose and while, on the surface, everything seems all kosher and pleasant with this guy, deep down inside, we begin to find out that there’s something very wrong with him indeed. Which is why, when that area of his character explored, the movie really shocked me and, unsurprisingly enough, is exactly when Lindo’s powerhouse acting came in play. Because through Lindo, we see a truly damaged human being that believes what it is that he does, is regardless of if it’s right or wrong in the real, is his way, in his world and he doesn’t want anybody poking around in his business. It’s interesting to see where this character goes from when we initially meet his bright and smiling mug, to a sad and frowning one, but one could only imagine how much better it would have been for the character, as well as Lindo, had the material here been better.

Consensus: Inherently messy, the Cider House Rules had plenty of interesting ideas, as well as a finely-assembled cast to go along with it, but the script and the direction never seem to come together well enough to create a whole, cohesive story.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"And don't you dare thinking about stealing my cocaine."

“And don’t you dare thinking about stealing my cocaine.” (Now say that statement really fast)

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images