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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 2000

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Can always count on men to be horny!

Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) is a single mother of three who, after losing a personal injury lawsuit, asks her lawyer, Ed Masry (Albert Finney), if he can help her find a job, since she has a pretty rough time holding one down. Because, in all honesty, Erin’s a bit of a problem for most employers out there – she’s brash, loud, and likes to speak her mind. So yeah, she can be a bit of a handful, which is why Ed hesitates to hire her, time and time again. Eventually, he gives her work as a file clerk in his office, and she runs across some information on a little-known case filed against Pacific Gas and Electric. She then begins digging into the particulars of the case, convinced that the facts simply don’t add up, and persuades Ed to allow her to do further research. Somehow, through non-stop research and eyewitness accounts on her own time and dime, Erin discovers not just a cover-up, but a potential health-crisis that has yet to be addressed in the slightest, leaving it up to Erin and Ed to have to band together and stick it against the big-wigs of the corporate world.

All the biker dudes love big boobs!

Steven Soderbergh loves to flirt with the idea of formula and most of all, mainstream film-making. Even if his most mainstream films (the Ocean’s trilogy), honestly feel more like homages and exercises in style, rather than an attempt at selling-out and just collecting a quick, easy paycheck. Granted, Soderbergh likes to have the studio money floating around for whatever weird, small, and unique indie he wants to make after the big, mainstream flick, but still, it’s not like his soul is being sold. His mainstream movies, like Erin Brockovich, still have a heart, a soul, and a passion to them that make them a step above our average, mainstream fare.

Even if it is, at the end of the day, average, mainstream fare.

That said, Soderbergh gets away with a lot in Erin Brockovich; he gets to play around with the idea of a biopic and how to tell a story, without focusing too much on the facts. See, most biopics of this nature get way too bogged-down by what happened, where, why, and the context of it all, which is dumb, because half of the stuff in these movies is just creative licenses after all. While there are still a lot of moments where it feels like we’re checking off certain facts and pieces of Brockovich’s life throughout, Soderbergh does know how to remind us that, underneath the case, is a real human being.

“Hi, I’m Julia Roberts, playing a normal, everyday gal from the South, who also happens to look like Julia Roberts.”

And as a result, it feels much more like a character-study, rather than a by-the-numbers biopic. Sure, having the case in here helps us get a better context of why she matters and why we’re having this story told to us, but Soderbergh also doesn’t forget to develop this character over time, allowing us to see more sides to her compelling, if sometimes flawed, persona. It’s neat that Brockovich was actually so involved and so accepting of this film (she actually shows up as a waitress), because the movie doesn’t always let her down easy – it can sometimes judge her and not let her forgive and forget, but that’s okay. The movie is showing us the true side to a person who, beyond all of the flaws of her character, wanted to do what was right, even if it didn’t totally convenience her.

Oh and it definitely helps that Julia Roberts was portraying her, too.

Yes, even though Roberts can mostly appear to be sleep-walking through almost every role she takes nowadays, there was a time, when the world of pop-culture and tabloids were done fawning over her, when Roberts was considered to be one of the best actresses working in the biz. And yes, even though it’s obvious to point out her Oscar-winning role here as her best ever, there’s no denying the fact that it’s a great role, as is, because it allows her to utilize all of the skills that we came to know and love her for. She’s not just beautiful, but she’s also lovely, funny, charming, and oh yeah, a bit of a hard-ass when push comes to shove and as Brockovich, Roberts gets the chance to let a little loose in a role that gives her not just enough to work with, but even dig in deeper with, too. It’s honestly the kind of role that Roberts has been working for ever since and it’s a shame that we haven’t seen another one from her since.

Steven? Will you come ‘a knockin’?

Consensus: As far as conventional biopics go, Erin Brockovich is one of the better ones out there, with an attentive eye to detail that not only remembers to develop its subject, but also give us a story to care about.

7.5 / 10

Where are these lawyers now! Get to Flint!

Photos Courtesy of: Brockovich

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The Weight of Water (2000)

Yeah, or something.

Newspaper photographer Jean Janes (Catherine McCormack) travels to the Isles of Shoals off the New Hampshire coast with her husband Thomas (Sean Penn), an award-winning poet, his brother Rich (Josh Lucas), and Rich’s girlfriend Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley). The reason for this little excursion, other than just some nice time to pass-by between friends and family? Well, she’s actually researching the murders of two immigrant women in the same area that occurred around 1873, and were done by Maren Hontvedt (Sarah Polley). And through flashbacks, we find out more about that story, as well as the story with Jean, on the boat, and how she’s trying to come to terms with her husband and his possibly philandering ways. After all, they haven’t been connecting as of late and it seems like Adaline is bringing out the worst in Thomas and making it seem like he doesn’t need her around anymore. Meanwhile, Maren has her own problems to deal with, which is why she eventually snaps and decides to go off and kill.

Yeah, I’d get on that boat.

The Weight of the Water is a beautiful-looking movie that clearly put all of its time, effort and money into its style. And yes, it pays off. It’s not easy to make a movie about two centuries, taking place in two different locations, and somehow make it all look seamlessly pretty and well put-together, but at the same time, different. Everything that takes place on the boat is light, sunny, and bright, whereas everything that takes place in 1873 is cold, dark, damp, and pretty depressing, both in terms of story, as well as the look. And once again, yeah, that all works.

It’s just a shame that nothing else does.

Because while the Weight of the Water gets by on the look and feel, it can’t quite do the same with its story and the structure. In other words, it just doesn’t work; playing around with two different subplots, with two different time-zones, is a hard trick to pull-off and if neither story is interesting, then it absolutely won’t work. And that’s basically what happens here – it would have helped had one story been, at the very least, compelling to watch, but neither of them.

If anything, they just feel long, overdone, and muddled, almost to the point of where you wonder if director Kathryn Bigelow knew she didn’t have a story to work with, or just didn’t care and decided that it was time to make a movie. After all, this was her first movie after Strange Days and while she may have still been in movie-jail for that movie’s undeserved bombing, she found a chance to make another movie, regardless of whether or not it was already troubled to begin with.

The same face everyone in the 19th Century had. Apparently.

Either way, it’s easily Bigelow’s worst movie and it’s a shame, because not only are her talents wasted, but so are those of the casts.

Or, most importantly, Sean Penn. For some reason, Penn seems bored here. It’s not as if we haven’t seen him like this before, but it’s odd watching him in this role, where his character is supposed to be flawed and conflicted, yet, at the same time, not really giving off any sort of emotions, or feelings to that. It all feels like a lot of it was edited together to make it all work, because Penn, clearly doesn’t seem invested.

And honestly, I don’t blame him. Josh Lucas and Catherine McCormack try, but they too, are dealt the crappy-hand of having crummy characters with zero development. Elizabeth Hurley actually fares better off because she’s playing a sexy and mysterious seductress who may, or may not, have sinister intentions beneath it all – it’s what Hurley’s done all throughout her career, but it’s always worked for her and it’s crazy to say this, but yeah, her performance is the stand-out. Sarah Polley is good in a relatively silent role, but it also feels like her story deserved its own movie, where she didn’t need to get taken down by whatever was going on on the boat.

Cause really, who the hell cares about rich, fancy people and their boats?

Consensus: No doubt a beautifully polished movie, the Weight of the Water is also a poorly-written mix-and-mash that never fully comes together and only wastes the talents of the cast, as well as Bigelow. Oh well, it seems like they all bounced back.

3 / 10

Good thing everybody got the sunglasses memo!

Photos Courtesy of: Dreamland Cafe

U-571 (2000)

Male-bonding has never been sweatier.

When a German U-571 submarine with a sophisticated encryption machine on=board is sunk during a World War II battle at sea, the Allies send an American Navy force led by Lieutenant Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) to retrieve it for study. But in order to board it, they have to concoct a plan that will not only get the soldiers aboard, but also ensure them safety when they are in the water. Issue is, that doesn’t quite happen as their cover as a rescue force is quickly blown, not just putting their mission at risk, but also their lives. So now with this wrench thrown into their plans, the soldiers must now take German hostages and prepare to destroy the German vessel before the Nazis can send naval backup. This is all so complicated considering that, you know, they’re basically in the middle of nowhere, without poor radio-signal and even worse of all, no way of getting out of this situation alive. In other words, it’s a suicide mission, but it’s for the country, so it’s not so bad, right?

“Shark?”

U-571 has, for good reasons, gotten a lot of flack for not exactly being the most faithful adaptation of what really happened, but then again, I don’t think the movie really tries to go for authenticity, either. It’s the kind of movie that takes a real life moment in WWII, purports itself as sheer and absolute propaganda, but at the same time, also uses this all for the sake of entertainment and fun to be had at the movies, even if, yeah, the story’s not all that true.

Then again, can we really trust Hollywood with this sort of stuff? Not really and that’s why U-571, issues with authenticity aside, is still an enjoyable movie. It’s the kind that you could take a war-vet to see and not only would they absolutely love, but go on and on about how they actually experienced something close to that, except, not really at all. Still, it’s the kind of movie that prides itself on being for the troops, while also trying to remind people that war is hell, explosive, a little crazy, and oh yeah, dangerous as hell, but that’s why it’s left for the heroes and not for us layman, right?

Well, sort of. Maybe. I’m not sure.

Either way, I’m getting away from the point of U-571 and the fact that, directed by Jonathan Mostow, there’s a old-school look and feel to this thing that’s not just slick and polished, but also reminiscent of some of the best submarine-thrillers, albeit this time, with a much-bigger budget. But what’s perhaps most interesting about U-571 is how it takes measures with that bigger-budget, and not only gives us a few great, sweeping shots of the sea, but even puts a little bit more effort into how the submarine itself looks, feels, and well, most especially sounds.

“Oh no, oh no, oh no.”

See, U-571 actually got nominated for a few Oscars back in the day, and even winning one. Sure, they were all technical awards and no way were at all for the silly acting, screenplay, or direction, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re impressive, even by today’s standards. It takes a certain kind of skill and talent to make all of the constant crashes, bangs, and booms, seem like something new and exciting, even when they seem to be happening every five seconds or so; it’s like a Michael Bay film, but there’s actually a reason for all of the loud-sounds and explosions here. If anything, U-571 shows what can happen when you pay enough attention to the technical-details, while also not forgetting to make your movie somewhat good, too.

Basically, I’m just coming at Michael Bay.

That said, of course, U-571 has its issues; like I said before, everything aside from the action and technical-stuff is a little, how should I say it, weak. However, I don’t think it really pulls the movie away from being anymore fun than it already is – it starts off by setting itself off as a silly, stupid, pulpy action-thriller and because of that, the movie never really loses its sense of style, if there is any to be found. It could have been a soulless and totally boring piece of phony propaganda, but it’s fun and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Good story, acting and screenplay be damned!

Consensus: Stupid and loud, but also kind of fun, U-571 runs the risk of being a whole lot, for a very long period of time, but ends up being an entertaining submarine-thriller, that doesn’t really want us to ask questions, but enjoy ourselves with the loud sounds.

6 / 10

Bad-ass soldier-bros. Don’t mess. Especially with Bon Jovi.

Photos Courtesy of: barneyspender, Mutant ReviewersFernby Films

Chuck & Buck (2000)

Names that sound-alike? Sign of true love.

When they were kids, Chuck (Chris Weitz) and Buck (Mike White) were actually pretty good friends. But now, all of these years later, they barely even know one another, or better yet, even talk. It’s like they’re two strangers, living in a world, where they both have memories of hanging out in their adolescence, but don’t really talk about it. Or, at least Chuck doesn’t, because after Buck reaches out to him, the two strike back up something of a friendship that calls back to their childhood. But for some reason, Chuck feels awkward and nervous about it; he knows that Buck is a weird fella, and though he accepts him for it, there’s still something keeping him away from fully delving into their history together. After all, he’s engaged now, so what’s wrong with catching up on his former-life, before his new one begins? Well, he’s about to get a huge dose of memories when it turns out that Buck is holding his own autobiographical play locally in town and, well, it has a lot to do with their past friendship.

Something Chuck doesn’t really want to embrace.

Go for it, Buck. He’s not so bad.

Chuck & Buck is an odd movie for quite some time. In fact, it’s so odd, awkward, and just weird, that it’s almost irritating; it feels like writer Mike White just wanted to be cooky for no good reason and director Miguel Arterta didn’t know how to tone all of that down. The two work well together, obviously, but for the first half or so of Chuck & Buck, it feels as if they’re trying a little too hard to weird, to be funny, and basically, to try and be like so many other indie flicks out there.

But then, just about halfway through, it all of a sudden changes. See, Chuck & Buck does have something resembling a heart, but it doesn’t sow itself straight away. In some ways, White’s a smarter writer than he lets on, showing an interesting amount of tact in making us believe that Chuck & Buck is going to be just another silly, off-the-wall indie-comedy about two friends catching up, with one being a weirdo, and the other, well, not being one. But eventually, the tide turns and we start to realize that there isn’t just more to these two characters, their lives, and where they are headed, but their actual relationship.

See, without saying too much, there’s some dirty, dark and odd secrets that Chuck & Buck keeps to itself and it’s worth waiting around for. Once again, White’s writing may take a little while to get used to – he doesn’t really write jokes, as much as he just sets things up to work later on, somewhere along the film – but once he gets into his groove, there’s no one better. He makes the material funny, while still retaining that odd sensibility, but also showing us more into these character’s lives and making us see just who they are, therefore, heightening the comedy, as well as the drama, that eventually takes center stage by the last-act.

Cheer up, Mike. HBO will eventually give you your own show (until they unfortunately cancel it like the evil souls that they are!)

Basically, it’s just smart writing. A bit annoying, but sometimes, you have to bother people, in order to surprise them.

And yes, it deserves to be said that White, while not just a solid writer, is also a pretty good actor here, too. Granted, it is his script he’s working with, so it’s not like he’s exactly stretching himself very far, but as Buck, he shows a hurt, rather tragic soul. Sure, the goofy act, at first, can be a bit bothersome, but it starts to show its shades and angles that not only make us understand why he is the way he is, but also grow a bit closer to him, as a result. There’s something sad just about the way White looks, but he writes Buck in such a way, that it makes us sympathize with him, even if, yeah, he is a bit of an odd duckling.

Chris Weitz, who is also a pretty solid writer/director in his own right, is also quite good here, making Chuck feel more like a human being, rather than just a boring, lame and straight-edged square. Like with Buck, his character feels one-dimensional and boring, at first, but over time, we see that there’s more to him and how Weitz acts in these small, subtle moments with White, truly are surprising and well-done. Beth Colt plays his fiancee and while it seems like she hasn’t done anything since, it deserves to be said that she’s very good here in a role that, yet again, seems too simple and boring from the beginning, but eventually shows itself over time. And the late, wonderful Lupe Ontiveros plays Beverly, the theater owner who has one of the oddest, but surprisingly most touching friendships with Buck that, like before, seems boring, but grows over time.

Notice a bit of a trend here?

Consensus: While initially seeming like every other annoying indie-dramedy ever made, Chuck & Buck begins to show its true colors and turn out to be a smart, funny, and surprisingly moving flick about love, friendship, and how we move on with our lives.

8.5 / 10

Did anyone cut a hole at the bottom of the popcorn?

Photos Courtesy of: CinemaQueer

Before Night Falls (2000)

Us writers, and the wild lives we live.

Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem) had a hell of a life that never ceased to be filled with energy, excitement, and altogether, tragedy. It started when he was born fatherless in 1943, and ended with him dying of AIDS in his NYC apartment in 1990. Everything else that happened in between, such as the love affairs, the constant novels being written, and the plenty of arrests in his life, are all apart of his unique story that, once again, was all a tragedy.

It’s hard for a movie to make us feel any type of sympathy for a character, especially when we know what we see is a biopic and it’s supposed to span a long amount of time. Sometimes the directors/writers have to get down and dirty and give us something that’s unique about this person, or the least bit sympathetic for that matter, in order for us to even give a flying fuck about the subject, or the movie itself. It’s very hard to pull off, and pull off well, but sometimes you don’t even need that aspect of your script to make the subject, or the movie work. Sometimes, all you need is a great actor playing the subject to take things over.

And that’s exactly what we have here with Javier Bardem as Reinaldo Arenas.

Honestly, if it weren’t for Bardem’s amazing performance here as Arenas, I don’t think I would have cared for this person, or this movie at all. We all know that Bardem can act his ass off by now, but back in the early days of post-Y2K: People had no freakin’ clue who this guy was and what all of the fuss was all about with him. He had a lot of buzz going on over in his native-land where he was constantly getting nominated and winning awards, but he never quite broke out into the states. That is, until this movie came around and as they say, “The rest is history”.

Yup, totally gay.

Talk about style.

Bardem is given the simple task here of having to look as if he’s feeling pain and on the verge of absolute-depression, every second, of every scene. For some, it may repetitive, but for me, I noticed something really remarkable here. It isn’t that he’s just using the same look and expression on his face the whole time, it’s more that he’s adapting to the story, the same way the real Arenas would have. There’s always a sad, dark grin on his face the whole movie, even when he’s happy and having a good time, but there’s something more underneath it all that you’re able to latch onto right away, not just because you’re able to tell that is a peaceful soul that shouldn’t be hurt because he’s gay, but because Bardem gives him that soul.

As time goes on for Arenas and the story begins to go through its many dramatic shifts, the performance only begins to pick up more and more heart and emotion, and that’s when Bardem really lights the screen on fire with every ounce of gasoline and brimstone he’s got. The guy’s a class-act of an actor because he’s able to take any type of role somebody has to throw at him, and find a way to make it his own, while also giving something resembling a heart and soul. A soul that we may have to search hard to actually spot, but one that you’ll be able to chalk-up to his ability as an actor and always being able to make his presence more than enough. The dude’s been great for awhile and it’s great to see where it all started.

God, I wonder what we’d do without this guy.

However, I did have a reasoning for talking about Bardem so early on and it wasn’t because he was the main attraction of the whole flick, it’s because he’s probably the best thing going for it since the rest of the flick is a bit of a mess in terms of editing and cohesion. For instance, we jump-forward in time on more than a few occasions where it isn’t that we know what Arenas has been up to in the years prior that we probably missed, but more that we are sort of just plopped-down and left to make up the conclusions ourselves. In some films, this can work, but with a biopic that’s asking us to pay attention to this human-being at the center of the story, it just feels distracting. It’s almost as if we’re paying too much close attention to putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and not the subject himself.

One second, he’s in prison, and then the next second, he’s out and has already written ten books. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even know when he was writing a book, or just writing poetry for the hell of it. The movie never makes that clear enough and it seems because it’s more focused and interested on Arenas’ sexual escapades and the constant trysts he had with other dudes. It’s not wrong to be interested, but it takes away from what was already a brutally honest about depression and grief, especially in this one man’s life. Bardem makes him unique, but he does it so effortlessly.

This movie, on the other hand, doesn’t and even worse, fails at doing so.

No, he did not die from hypothermia.

No, he did not die from hypothermia. Although that would have been tragic as hell.

Like I said before, without Bardem, who knows what the hell would have happened with this flick. He holds it altogether like Gorilla Glue and never lets loose of it, even when the fragmented story-structure tries to pull his weight down. And that’s not to discredit the rest of the cast either, because everybody else does fine – it’s just that the movie isn’t all that concerned with them, and only uses them as window-dressing. Like, you know, for show.

Olivier Martinez probably gives his best performance as Arenas’ most beloved lover, Lazaro Gomez Carriles, and shows that he has a soft side to his act that we may not see in the muddled-crap that he does nowadays; Sean Penn shows up in what is basically an unrecognizable performance that didn’t even seem like him when he was on the screen, but had me do a check-up and I realized it totally was him; Michael Wincott was a fresh face to see on the screen as the main artist who stands-up to the government, and roots for his writing buddies; and last, but sure as hell not least is Johnny Depp, playing dual roles, both of which are surprisingly good. The first one is a transvestite who Arenas takes a liking to in the prison and has one of the more bizarre scenes of the whole flick, and the second one is him playing a Cuban officer that’s a bit strange as well, but a tad bit more vicious than what we’re used to seeing from Depp. There’s plenty more names where those came from, but they all are fine for what they have to do, but it’s Bardem who really keeps the show on the road, even when the direction from Julian Schnabel gets in the way.

Consensus: If it weren’t for Javier Bardem’s amazing performance as Reinaldo Arenas, who knows what the hell would have happened to Before Night Falls, but with him in the lead role, the movie is surprisingly engrossing, heartfelt, and all the more tragic because of the life the real-life figure lived and even died from.

7.5 / 10

Don't lie, you'd hit it. Especially if you were stuck in a Cuban prison.

Don’t lie, you’d hit it. Especially if you were stuck in a Cuban prison.

Photos Courtesy of: Grandview Pictures

The House of Mirth (2000)

The grubbiest paws aren’t always the easiest to bother.

Lily (Gillian Anderson) is a ravishing socialite who takes her charm and beauty for granted. For one, she thinks she’s way better than a lot of those around her and while she’s not necessarily wrong, said beauty and charm does start to bring all sorts of interest her way in the form of men, but it also brings upon jealousy in the form of the fellow women who surround her and can’t stand the fact that she gets so many eyes towards her ways. And just like a lady did back in the day, she seeks a wealthy husband and, in trying to conform to social expectations, she misses her chance for real love with Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz), a man she think she’s better than, even though he thinks that they would be perfect, no matter what. Eventually, her search for a husband takes her to many different men and prospects, none of whom quite work out once Lily is accused of having an affair with a married-man, not just making her bad news, but also an outcast from the rest of the socialites who she used to wine and dine with so often.

See? There’s those long walks.

The best period-pieces are the ones that, no matter how old the tales in them are, or are taking place, still hold some relevancy in today’s day and age and can be looked at through the modern-eye. The House of Mirth is such a period-piece, in which we get a classic tale of a woman trying to find love, be rich, and relaxed for the rest of her life, which isn’t all that relevant nowadays, but sooner or later, eventually does. To say that the House of Mirth takes a turn for pure darkness about halfway through wouldn’t be necessarily such a spoiler, because it’s a story that’s been around for many years and it’s also quite obvious by a certain point just where the story itself is actually headed.

But there’s still something about its deep dive into sadness and darkness that still sticks with me.

And honestly, it’s a true testament to writer/director Terence Davies, who not only has a knack for nailing the period-details to this story down perfectly, but also knows how to make each and every one of these characters, inherently interesting just in the way that they are. Sure, watching a movie where a bunch of rich people bicker, eat, drink, dance, take long walks, and gossip, may not seem like the most entertaining two hours ever put to screen, but somehow, Davies makes it all click and pop off of the screen. He doesn’t take these characters, or this story, as a product of its time, but instead, a product of any time, where rich people sneer at those who they feel are lesser than them, for sometimes awfully silly and ridiculous reasons.

Which is why the House of the Mirth, both the source-material, as well as the movie, still work, way beyond most other period-pieces do. It’s a tale of love, sure, but it’s also a rather chilling, disturbing tale of one person’s descent into sheer madness and depression, and just how that can all happen, solely through people’s words and actions. It follows a very clear path early on and never really strays away from it, but the path is compelling to watch; we know where the story is headed, but to watch it all play out, as sad as it can sometimes get, honestly, is hard to turn away from. It’s like a train-crash you see from a mile away, can’t do anything about, and for some reason, you don’t want to miss the end-result of.

Just take him, Lily! Don’t be silly!

Okay, so that maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you get my point.

And of course, the movie works as well as it does because Davies has assembled a pretty solid ensemble here, what with Gillian Anderson leading the charge as the complex and heartbreaking Lily Bart, a character we get to know, love, and feel so much sympathy for over the two hours. Anderson has always been a very strong actress and it’s interesting to see her here, because she has to show so much emotion, by barely showing much at all; it’s the kind of stuffy, yet, subtle performance so many actresses try to work with and nail, that Anderson does so flawlessly here. Watching her try to navigate through life, as well as all of these various people around her, can truly be hard-to-watch, but she always stays rich, true and honest, and it’s why her character works as well as it does, all issues aside.

Eric Stoltz also has a nice role as the love of Lily’s life who, for some reason, she doesn’t ever come around to loving because she think she’s better than him; Anthony LaPaglia plays another possible suitor for Lily who, may or may not, have the best intentions in mind; Dan Aykroyd gives a truly surprising and shocking performance as a married-man who instantly takes a liking to Lily and wants to help her out in any way that he can, with obvious strings attached; Terry Kinney plays a very similar character; Laura Linney plays a married-woman who doesn’t take so much of a liking to Lily’s naughty ways; and the same goes for Elizabeth McGovern.

Basically, everyone here is evil, sick, or twisted. But hey, they’re rich, so they’re able to get away with.

Consensus: As stuffy and blase as it may start, the House of Mirth soon turns into a sad, shocking and rather upsetting tale of class and gender roles that still feels relevant.

8 / 10

Then again, can you blame all men for practically drooling over this woman?

Photos Courtesy of: All About Gillian

Proof of Life (2000)

Americans, stay home.

Alice and Peter Bowman (Meg Ryan and David Morse), are a loving couple who are now stationed in a nice little house somewhere in South America. Why? Well, because where Peter’s energy company is overseeing construction of a dam, something that is obviously benefiting them, but no one else who actually lives there and has to put up with all of the destruction, construction and rampage. While Peter is out and about doing his job, Alice is at home, getting more and more frustrated and unhappy about their marriage, what she wants to do with her life, and wondering whether or not she actually wants to start a family with Peter, or leave him altogether. Well, Alice is in for a shock when she finds out that Peter has been taken hostage by a bunch of terrorists, looking for more money from Alice and seeing how long they can keep her on the hook, while he’s still alive. Alice, without a clue in the world of what to do, decides that the best way to handle this situation is call up a professional: Enter Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe), a professional negotiator who has a strict moral code when it comes to hot and heavy situations like these, and won’t put up with any silly shenanigans, especially since he’s kind of becoming a little attracted to Alice and her plight, all things considered.

"Yeah, let's go yell and shoot things."

“Yeah, let’s go yell and shoot things.”

Most of the heat surrounding Proof of Life around the time of its release wasn’t how “good”, or “bad” it actually was, but because of how both co-stars, Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan, got together, shacked-up and inevitably, ended the later’s years-long marriage to Dennis Quiad. Does any of that really matter? No, not really, but it definitely does help to make sure that a movie, whether it’s bad or not, is talked about in the mouths of many people who probably have no reason to see it in the first place.

They just want the gossip and that’s about it.

That said, Proof of Life is a better movie than the controversy surrounding it, mostly because it’s about something slightly more than you’d expect with thrillers of these natures. Director Taylor Hackford is definitely hit-or-miss, but what he does well here, is that he does find smart, interesting ways to keep the tension moving, even when it seems obviously and abundantly clear just where the story is going, at almost every moment. Writer Tony Gilroy also deserves some credit for trying to make this ordinary thriller about more than just a husband being kidnapped, and more about the issues of big, corporate America coming in and taking over foreign countries for land, oil and money, but a part of me feels like there was a far more detailed script, that went into this a whole lot more and more.

Instead, Proof of Life mostly concerns itself with the fact that Morse’s character may have been up to no good and probably deserves some bad stuff to happen to him, but to die for it all? Well, probably not. And that’s fine; Hackford and Gilroy do come together enough in a way that makes us care about Morse’s character while he’s on this seemingly never ending journey to nowhere, as well as making us care about the characters at home, sitting around, waiting for something, hell, anything to happen. In fact, there’s more character stuff going on here than I see with most other thrillers of the same kind, making it worthy of getting invested in.

Wait, which one's David Morse?

Wait, which one’s David Morse?

And yes, that does mean that Crowe and Ryan are good, however, both seeming to be in different movies.

Proof of Life is by no means whatsoever, a smart, sophisticated film made for the far more prestige-crowd out there, but at the same time, it’s no silly, slam-bang action-thriller, either. It’s just serious enough to be dark, but also fast-paced enough not to be slow. That’s why it’s odd by how cartoonish Crowe is here, showing up into every scene, only to drop some witty line, kick somebody’s ass, or stare long and hard at Meg Ryan. Don’t get me wrong, Crowe is fine with that and can be fun to watch, but when you take into consideration the rest of the movie surrounding him, it seems a little off. Same goes for David Caruso, who is so loud, obnoxious and foul-mouthed, you wonder if he was expecting this to be some sort of Die Hard spin-off.

But on the other hand, Morse and Ryan are both quite great here, showing that this kind of material can work, so long as you underplay as much as you can. Sure, often times, Morse laps into the loud craziness that contains both of Crowe’s and Caruso’s performance, but there’s also these small, human moments that make his character tick a whole lot more and it’s interesting to see what sort of lessons he learns and how he handles said situation. Ryan’s good as his wife, because her character’s also a little complicated, too; she’s the wife who actually got into a dispute with her hubby, didn’t know whether or not she wanted to stay with him and now, all of a sudden, has to really care about him and his well-being, all of a sudden. It’s a difficult role to make sympathetic, but Ryan does and it’s a shame that she never seemed to get enough credit for her against-type roles, because she truly did challenge herself, when push came to shove.

Unfortunately, not so much anymore, but here’s to hoping for a possible return of Meg Ryan.

Even as unrecognizable as she may be.

Consensus: While definitely an odd mixture between being too serious and sometimes silly, Proof of Life is an interesting thriller that tries to be about something, but overall, just ends up being a tense thriller.

6 / 10

"Come with me, Meg. Marriage is so silly, anyway."

“Come with me, Meg. Marriage is so silly, anyway.”

Photos Courtesy of: Rave Pad, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB

Hollow Man (2000)

Even while invisible, Kevin Bacon still loves to show his dong.

Scientist Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is working with a secret military research team to complete his experiment of making living-things, completely and utterly invisible. It works on a couple of animals, but Sebastian being the narcissist and ego-maniac that he is, decides that it’s his turn to go under the wire and test it out. It works, but as you could expect, it does come with some perks. Deadly perks, at that.

At the time that this movie came out, it was regarded as a visual-spectacle. The idea that a character like Bacon’s, could seemingly disappear, re-appear, and show up in different forms over time and still have it look realistic is very stunning to say the least. Granted, in the days of Avatar and every Summer blockbuster known to man since 2008, we’ve come to expect a lot from a visual stand-point, but that’s still not to say that this movie isn’t surprising with what it shows us. If you take it into context of the time that it was made, how, when, and who made it, it’s damn surprising and definitely deserved an Oscar nomination. However, anything more than a cheap-o special-effects nomination, would have been ridiculous and downright laughable.

Sort of like Hollow Man itself.

Now, that’s not to say that the movie is terrible or anything – it’s just a total and complete B-movie. If you still don’t think it is, take into account who the director is, one Paul Verhoeven. Basically, this is a fun movie from the wicked-mind of Verhoeven that never seems to sleep, until he’s satisfied with as much blood, gore, nudity, sex, and violence that he can get. And then some.

The guy’s a nut behind-the-camera and gives this movie the type of feel that we want from our corny, sci-fi flicks, campy fun. Some of it is a bit too serious, but who the hell cares when you got a movie about a guy that’s invisible, naked, and killing people, left and right?

No one! That’s who!

Oscar-nominated visual-effects right there....

Oscar-nominated visual-effects?

Still though, the story does leave plenty to be desired in the end. Actually, there’s a lot left to be desired, what with a premise such as this. This movie is bonkers, in the right ways, and in the wrong ways, but no matter what, you never, ever for a second take this movie, the story, its ideas, or its characters ever seriously. I don’t know if that’s a discredit to the peeps involved, but either way, I just didn’t care. Sometimes, you just want to have fun with a crazy B-movie and often times, it feels like Hollow Man forgets a little bit about that.

Despite getting very horror-ish by the end, with everyone getting killed every which way but loose, the problem within Hollow Man was that it tries so hard to make this main character’s problem seem so universal, so understandable, and so relatable, that it should almost come off as no wonder to us why he would ever, ever think about killing everybody. A story needs to be told here, of course, and Verhoeven needs to get rid of the ketchup packets he paid for, of course, but the movie could have done more to actually make me believe the fact that this guy would literally lose his cool, and instantly start killing people.

Also, the people around him are so stupid and never, ever think for themselves for one instance. Even when Sebastian’s invisible and a bit creepy, everybody still has him call the shots because what better way to go about things than to let the invisible guy who’s been cooped-up for awhile say what needs to be done, right? It’s dumb, but honestly, watching dumb people get killed in awfully gory ways, while sometimes fun, does still seem repetitive because you know, no matter how far they may get from him, they’ll always screw it up somehow and die.

Basically, it’s every other horror movie ever made, but with Verhoeven, there’s nothing wrong with wanting/expecting a little bit more.

...these too.

Oh, now I see why….

And at the same time, it’s hard not to feel a little something for the cast. Kevin Bacon feels like he was really down-on-his-luck when he took the offer for this movie, not because he’s bored or anything, he’s actually having a lot of fun playing the baddie for awhile, it’s more just that he seems like he’s too good for this kind of trashy stuff and couldn’t be bothered either way. Probably just a nice way for him to get a new, Summer house, so if that is the case, good for him.

Elisabeth Shue is also randomly here as his ex-lover/co-worker, who knows what to do when he gets a bit wild, but is also a tad stupid in her ways, too. That’s where Josh Brolin comes in to save the day and show that he can be cool, charming, smart, and pretty bad-ass once he’s given the chance to be. A pre-cursor to his role in No Country For Old Men? I think so. Oh, and any movie that has Greg Grunberg in it, is always a win for me. Even if two strong gals like Rhona Mitra and Kim Dickens are, unfortunately, nothing more than walking, talking meat, with boobs.

Then again, this is a Paul Verhoeven flick. Why should I be surprised?

Consensus: The Oscar-nominated Hollow Man is nothing more than another stupid, nonsensical sci-fi flick that’s initially intriguing, then gets dumber and dumber as it verges into slasher-territory. However, if you want a good time, give it a look cause that’s what it’s here for and nothing else.

5 / 10

"What the fuck did we just star in?"

“What are we all doing here?”

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Boiler Room (2000)

Sometimes, Charlie Sheen’s swagger is just needed.

Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi), is university drop-out who doesn’t have much going for his life. However, determined to prove his worth to a demanding father (Ron Rifkin), he decides to take a job at a small brokerage firm and, through his time there, begins to become something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, for lack of a better term.

Writer/director Ben Younger literally wears his Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street influences on his sleeve, that the man doesn’t even try to hide it. In fact, a few times, the man actually shows clips of the movie, in Boiler Room, where the characters here are seen actually saying the same lines of those movies. In a way, you want to call him a “rip-off artist”, but at the same time, you don’t want to, because he’s not hiding it; he’s letting us know, right off-the-bat, that these characters, as well as himself probably, look up to these movies, these characters, and these ideas of capitalism, that they don’t care if they look like copy-cats.

"Wait, what?"

“Wait, what?”

They’re making money, baby and that’s all that matters!

Regardless, Younger as a director and writer, is a pretty solid one. There’s a certain energy to the movie that’s hard not to get wrapped-up in, because as our characters are making more and more money, the more the movie picks up its pace. In a way, it’s the junior-version of Wall Street, but it works so well because Younger is constantly reminding us that none of those influences matter; sure, they’ve helped him to where he’s at with this movie, but hey, so what? Just party, bro.

But honestly, where Younger really starts to fail is in the actual story department itself.

Younger seems as if he knows a thing or two about keeping up the brisk pace and how to have fun with these sometimes detestable characters, but when it comes to actually slowing things down, focusing on these characters, their lives and their motivations, he loses a bit of his step. For example, try the terribly-forced “romance” between Ribisi and Nia Long, who don’t seem to have any chemistry at all, any reason to be together, or anything really holding them together once things go South for both of them. It annoys me that films like these feel the need to add in a romantic subplot, just to appeal to women and hoping that they don’t get alienated from this movie but the bad news is that they already will. No girl will be attracted to a movie about a bunch of young, hot, cool, hip, and rich dudes in suits that make millions and millions of dollars, so it’s hard to imagine ladies wanting to come out and see something in the first place, because oh my gosh, Giovanni Ribisi and Nia Long make-out!

And then, the story begins to get a tad bit more predictable as it rolls on along. Boiler Room is obviously a rags-to-riches story, or so to speak, and because of that, it follows a very plain and conventional plot-line. Ribisi’s character starts at job, starts getting really rich, starts getting cocky, and eventually, one bad thing happens after another, until he’s broke, near-dead and without a pot to piss in. It’s all very formulaic and try as he might, Younger can’t help but get caught up in doing the same stuff we’ve seen done before, many, many times.

"Yeah, I'm done with action flicks. Maybe."

“Yeah, I’m done with action flicks. Maybe.”

Despite this, the cast is quite good and help keep the ship afloat.

In a rare lead role, Giovanni Ribisi kicks some fine stick-selling ass as Seth Davis. Ribisi gets a bad-rap sometimes for taking roles to the next level of over-the-top and making them terribly campy to the point of where it’s cringe-inducing, but some will be surprised that this kid can hit it out of the park when it comes to being subdued and very charming. You like Seth Davis right when you see him and even though his character motivations may get mixed around in a bender a bit too much, you still like both him and Ribisi. Wish that this movie made Ribisi the top mainstream act that everybody thought he was going to be, but I don’t think it bothers him if he’s second-in-command.

Everybody else is fine as hell, too. Vin Diesel is a scene-stealer as Chris Varick, the guy who teaches Seth the ways of the stock broker, and it’s a great dramatic role for Diesel that shows the guy has a terrible amount of charm and humor in him, that makes all of his characters work. The guy may be stuck doing Fast and Furious for the rest of his life, but at least we know that we can depend on him to pull out something like this or Find Me Guilty to remind us of why the guy has such a presence about him in the first place.

Nicky Katt plays the “stereotypical dickhead role” as the one guy who doesn’t really like where Seth is going in his success and it’s an obvious character, but a fine performance from a guy that I see in everything and still haven’t been able to match the name with the face. Let’s also not forget the fine, little cameo from Ben Affleck that practically seems like a total rip-off of Alec Baldwin’s cameo from Glengarry Glen Ross, but still works here because it seems like Affleck is having a total ball here and that’s always a joy. There’s a bunch of others in the cast like Scott Caan, Tom Everett Scott and Jamie Kennedy, all playing the young hotshots within the firm and are all perfectly cast.

Consensus: Boiler Room is, initially, a fun, exciting and thrilling ride, but soon turns preachy and predictable, which makes it feel a little uneven.

6 / 10

"Stop. Over. Acting!"

“Stop. Over. Acting!”

Photos Courtesy of: Derek Winnert

Best in Show (2000)

Are people this crazy at cat shows?

Eccentric show dog owners travel to compete at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. Some are crazy, some are determined, and some, well, nobody really knows. Regardless of what they are, they are all under one roof, going for the number one spot of having the best dog in the show.

Improv comedy is sort of a gamble in that, if you have the right people, it works. For Guest and his usual suspects, it tends to normally go by all fine, but there are the times in which you can tell that he’s just rolling with whatever weird and crazy stuff he can find, even when some of it can be cut. Such is the case when you have a whole cast just ad-libbing whatever comes to their mind naturally, but somehow, Guest can get by fine with it because he’s had enough material to work with and of course, the solid cast and crew to play with, too.

America's favorite ad-lib couple.

America’s favorite ad-lib couple.

And really, that’s the main thing to talk about when discussing Best in Show, as they’re all the reason why the movie does, and honestly, doesn’t work.

Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara probably deserve some of the highest praise out of the whole cast, because not only is their chemistry perfect, but the little running-gag about O’Hara’s character is probably the best in the whole film. The whole gag is about how she was pretty funky and wild when she was younger, and before she met Levy’s character, so therefore, every guy that she sees in person comes up to her, talking about their wild nights together and it just gets even crazier and crazier as you hear more about it. Especially the one scene with Larry Miller who plays an old flame, and just knows how to make everything so terribly uncomfortable for all. Also, Levy is probably the most endearing character out of this whole film since this guy just never seems to cut a break and get away from a guy his wife hasn’t slept with.

There’s also the terribly neurotic, snooty couple, Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock, who both do terrific jobs with their roles as they are the type of people you get with any one of these high-flying competitions where people literally lose their cool over the smallest things out there. All of the fights they have are hilarious and seem so over-the-top, but in all honesty, who the hell cares? Each one is funny and they all have great chemistry together, you know, when they’re just going at it on one another.

We also have the stereotypical gay couple, played by John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean, and have a great chemistry together, very surprisingly, and also have some of the best lines in the whole film. Higgins is always a comedic actor that I have always appreciated when I see him show up in random junk like Fired Up or The Ugly Truth, because he always ends up stealing the show, as he does here. Sure, it’s a stereotype of what we normally see made of gay characters in movies and TV, but it still works and not necessarily made to offend.

After all, like everyone else here, he’s just a character.

The true couple.

The true couple.

Then, there is also the one “couple” that has the dog that’s one two years in a row, played by Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge, and they both play their typical characters that we have seen them both play before. Lynch is probably the better of the two because there’s a deep and dark intensity to her character that I feel like this film could have went into more about, in order to create funnier and more memorable moments, but I guess it was all about going with the flow on this one.

The weakest character out of the whole bunch would probably have to be Guest’s own character he played. It’s not that this character isn’t interesting or funny, he just seems very unoriginal in the fact that he is the usual dumb hillbilly that comes from the roots of the woods, and says things very strangely in his country-bumpkin accent. It’s understood what the one single joke about this character is going to be from the beginning, and rather than trying find variances on it, Guest sort of goes with the same one, over and over again.

Still, the real show is left up to Fred Willard to steal and that, thankfully, he does.

As the head color-commentator, Willard gets to do a whole lot of crazy and random things, by mostly just saying whatever comes to his mind first, even if it has nothing to do with the actual dog show and you know what? It works so perfectly well. Willard has perfect comedic timing and whenever he says something dumb, you don’t care because the guy just continues to roll and roll with it, almost to the point of where you feel bad for the straight-man British actor that calls the show right next to him. It’s one of those moments where it makes me realize that Willard always makes me laugh no matter what it is that he does.

Consensus: Though it’s not always a winner with it’s improvisational jokes, Best in Show is still a very funny comedy mainly because of the talent that’s on-display here, especially Willard who will have you in stitches by the end of it.

8 / 10

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Photos Courtesy of: Film Experience Blog

Finding Forrester (2000)

Forrester. William Forrester.

After novelist William Forrester (Sean Connery) discovers that a young athlete named Jamal (Rob Brown) is also an excellent writer, he secretly takes him on as his protégé. There, they develop something of an unlikely friendship. As they learn more about each other, they learn more about themselves, and ultimately, with the help of his new mentor, the basketball star must choose the right path between following his writing dreams or his hoop dreams.

Despite this being a Gus Van Sant flick, Finding Forrester‘s overall story itself is pretty damn conventional. Just in the same way that Good Will Hunting was, essentially, a simple inspirational tale of one small-time genius coming to know more about himself, the world around him, and how to use his smarts to his advantage, Finding Forrester is about the same thing, except this time, with a bit of a different focus than before. Rather than seeing the perspective from low-class, foul-mouthed boy from Boston, this time around, we have a 16-year-old black kid, living in New York. It may not seem all that different, but in a way, there’s short and tiny spins on the age-old story that makes Finding Forrester still work.

"Listen up, kid. Don't be like Mozart."

“Listen up, kid. Don’t be like Mozart.”

Then again, it’s not nearly as great as Good Will Hunting.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect that Finding Forrester offers to this story is that, for someone like Jamal, who looks like what Jamal looks like, and because of the kinds of perks that come with him, he’s never allowed to grow to his fullest potential. In today’s day and age, the issue with race is quite frequent, with many kids just like Jamal never getting their chance to shine and show the world what they can do, even they truly are the masterminds that they’re made out to be. Van Sant sees this small world of the private school system, kind of as this cold, dark and sadistic place where the usual people flourish, mostly because they have all of the money and connections to do so, but the outsiders, don’t. Instead, they are treated as outliers who need to get with the program, or else they’ll be thrown out immediately.

It’s quite sad to see this played out on screen, but it’s something I myself saw while going to a private school in my first year of college and unfortunately, it happens more often than you think.

Then again, Finding Forrester isn’t all that dark or dramatic, even though I make it seem that way; if anything, it’s just a darker, much slower drama than Good Will Hunting. And because of that, the movie definitely runs into problems with pacing, where it seems like it picks itself up to get going, then stops, then starts again, then stops, and then, for some reason or another, Van Sant himself gets distracted by whatever is working his mind and loses whatever build-up he was working with. In all honesty, this is a frequent problem with Van Sant and his movies, which is why it’s a huge issue with Finding Forrester and it’s two-hour-and-16-minute run-time – it comes close to feeling like every minute of it, mostly because Van Sant doesn’t always know when to cut a scene, or at least do any bit of a trimming.

But really, the movie, as well as the sluggish pace, is basically saved by the two leads and what they bring to this sometimes wonderful material. Sean Connery, as usual, is great as William Forrester and does everything he can to make this character more than just another one of those “out-of-touch, old dudes” who we tend to see in movies such as these. However, this is Sean Connery we’re talking about here and the guy doesn’t let you forget about his charm that never seems to go away no matter how many years pass, his comedic-timing that has never left him, no matter how serious he tries to be, and his handsome looks that still, even at age 82, makes him look as good as ever.

Spin a ball, you can spin a book. Or at least that's how I think it goes.

Spin a ball, you can spin a book. Or at least that’s how I think it goes.

May sound weird, but hey, so be it. Sean Connery’s a great talent and needs to come back for at least one more movie, so that we can all wipe the stink of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman away.

But as good as Connery is, Rob Brown doesn’t lose any ground here, either, and it’s one of the better debuts ever seen on film. As I’ve made a mention about Jamal before, he’s a good character because he is a smart, but yet, troubled that obviously knows the difference between right and wrong, but also is still a kid growing up in a place of society that doesn’t always accept him for what he is. Because of that, Brown has to do a lot of heavy-lifting that he works quite well with, showing a great deal of angst, as well as growth in a character that desperately needed it to seem believable. Brown’s had a good career since this, but honestly, he deserves so much work.

And together, Brown and Connery work well off of one another, showing a great deal of chemistry and fun between two people you wouldn’t expect to see that from. That said, the rest of the cast and characters are pretty awful and it’s a shame because Forrester and Jamal are truly compelling. People like F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Michael Pitt, and even Busta Rhymes, all show up here and do what they can with the material given to them, but a lot of their characters are so one-note and boring, that it’s hard to ever take them seriously, or care about whether they exist in this story or not. Abraham’s character is probably the most distasteful and while he’s a smart enough actor not to have a role like this jump into caricature, there’s still a sense that no matter what, this character will always be the villain in the movie. Same goes for Michael Pitt’s character and while she’s not necessarily considered a “villain”, Anna Paquin’s love-interest is just boring. The only one who seems to be trying anything different and at least somewhat succeeding is Busta Rhymes, but after awhile, he’s just left to give Jamal inspirational speeches that could have definitely been left to Connery.

Then again, a battle between Connery and Busta would probably make a better movie, as much as it pains me to say.

Consensus: Finding Forrester definitely suffers from being a lot like Good Will Hunting, in terms of subject matter and themes, but also benefits from a solid one-two punch of Sean Connery and Rob Brown, and their characters, even if the direction isn’t always there to pick them up.

7 / 10

"Yes, dog?"

“Yes, dog?”

Photos Courtesy of: Doeppi’s Blog

Girlfight (2000)

Girls can do anything as good as boys. Including kicking butt.

Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez) is a no-nonsense, take-no-crap teenager who has a bit of issues. For one, her mother’s dead, so she’s forced to live with her disapproving father (Paul Calderon), and her rather meek brother (Ray Santiago). Needless to say, Diana is very angry with the life she has, and her only way of actually getting any bit of intensity out, is through boxing at her local gym. While her father would not allow for Diana to box, he still pays for her brother to box and train at the gym – funds that she uses in her favor, while he goes off and does his own thing. Eventually, Diana starts to get better and channel her anger in a way that’s a lot less hectic, but more controlled. This leads Diana to start boxing in actual, small-time matches, but because she’s a girl in a very male-populated sport, she’s never taken nearly as seriously as she should be. Looking through this all is fellow boxer Adrian (Santiago Douglas), who takes a liking to Diana right away. However, their love for the sport of boxing eventually comes between them and their left with thinking of whether or not they should go on further together, or separate and allow for their own boxing-careers to play out.

Watch what you say about the third season of Lost!

Watch what you say about the third season of Lost!

Everything about Girlfight just screams “cliché”. Angry, young adolescent finds a way to channel her anger through boxing; father disapproves; nobody else takes her seriously; eventually, she starts to train more and get better; and, oh yeah, she then finds herself a love-interest. If anything, people will probably see Girlfight as the female-version of Rocky, however, they would be totally wrong; though the movies aren’t wholly different, they still differ in terms of their perspective, as well as their heartfelt take on a subject we’ve seen one too many times before.

And they’re also both pretty great movies in their own right, without ever being too showy or flashy about it.

Where Girlfight gains most of my respect is through the way in how writer/director Karyn Kusama uses a lot of her very limited resources to her advantage. From what I’ve read, the budget was around $1 million and because of that, it leaves Kusama dealing with a lot of low-budget issues. Certain shots seem too grainy, or poorly-choreographed, and yeah, certain scenes go on a lot longer than they probably should because it’s too expensive to take a scene elsewhere, but for some reason, it all works. You can feel the bleeding heart and love Kusama has for this story, these characters, and, surprisingly, this sport, that all of the raw emotions you get, feel and see, all come together so perfectly.

It’s also worth mentioning that even if the story does seem to be a bit conventional, Kusama defies all of the predictable aspects that we’ve come to expect with stories of this same nature. Not every fight is an absolute, balls-out, gory slobber-knocker like we’re used to seeing movies portray them, just like Diana herself isn’t an unstoppable, can’t-be-tame beast; sometimes, she loses, and other times, she loses her cool. But she will, on some occasions, win a fight, if not in the most spectacular way imaginable. While, for some, this may not be the most exciting bit of action, it still provides a nice layer of realism that makes us feel closer and closer to this world than ever before; Kusama could have easily lost her head and just made the movie all about the ass-kicking, the bloody faces, and the crushed-souls, but instead, she uses boxing as a way for Diana to channel her emotions and make herself something of a better person.

It also helps that Diana is a great character from the very start and Michelle Rodriguez, in her debut role, is spectacular.

What works so well about Diana is that she isn’t asking for our love, our sympathy, or our hearts. If anything, she just wants us to shut the hell up, let her do her thing, and lead us to make up our own conclusions about her. While the movie may make it seem like she’s going to be a typical, moody and angsty teenager (with a dead mother and daddy issues, no less), the movie instead shows that she’s got a lot more to her. Sure, she uses boxing as a way for her to vent out all of her frustration with the world she lives in and the life she’s been given, but at the same time, she also wants something a tad bit more out of life than just kicking ass, taking names, and getting fit. If anything, she wants a better life, to feel loved, to feel needed, and above all else, to be respected.

Boys?!?! Ew!

Boys?!?! Ew!

After all, the boxing-world in which she moves around in isn’t so accepting of her in the first place. While they don’t necessarily push her to the side and show her the way to the kitchen, nobody also takes her all that seriously. Kusama isn’t trying to make some sort of feminist-heavy statement, but at the same time, she’s also showing just how much this adversity can lead to someone wanting to prove themselves a whole lot more. Yes, this all sounds so very corny, especially for a sports movie, but I trust you, it’s very far from.

And yeah, it goes without saying that Michelle Rodriguez is amazing here. While in recent years, Rodriguez has become something of a “type” (the bad-ass, take-no-names female supporting character), it’s nice to see where she got her start and why she’s become known for that kind of role. As Diana, Rodriguez shows a very rough and tough side to a character who you’re clearly scared of, but also want to know more about. Through Rodriguez, we get to see more of a vulnerable and sweet side to this character than we ever expected; some of the best scenes are between just her and the love-interest, where instead of trying to be all cutesy, they’re just two kids, feeling one another out and figuring out whether or not they want to make a go of this thing that they’ve got going together. Rodriguez allows us to see all sides to this character and it’s a shame that she doesn’t really get nearly as many juicy roles in today’s day and age.

But I’ll forever and ever continue to hold out hope that she one day reaches the same great acting-heights that she did with Diana Guzman.

Aka, my kind of lady.

Consensus: On paper, Girlfight may seem like every other sports movie ever made, but with attentive and smart attention to details, characters, a sheer avoidance of clichés and conventions, and a star-making performance from Michelle Rodriguez, it’s anything but, and then some.

9 / 10

Corn-rows are enough to make any opposing male-figure squeal.

Cornrows are enough to make any opposing male-figure squeal.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDB, Indiewire, Cineplex

Thirteen Days (2000)

Next time, let’s just take all of the nuclear devices away from possible enemies.

For thirteen very long, very crucial, and very tense days in October of 1962, the world stood on the brink of an unthinkable catastrophe. While there were plenty of questions in the air, almost nobody had a single answer, which is what kept the world, or most especially, the United States, on the edge of their toes, taking each and every precaution there was. Of course,I’m speaking of the apocalyptic nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union, which would turn out to be the “Cuban Missile Crisis”, and it was an issue that was fought long and hard, from just about every person in the White House at that time. There was, obviously, President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) who, when he wasn’t facing controversies surrounding his risque personal life, also had a lot to handle with being the positive face of the country. However, there were more powers at-work than just JFK when it came to this crisis of sorts. There was the Special Assistant to the President, Kenneth O’Donnell (Kevin Costner), who was also dealing with some troubles at home, as well as Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Steven Culp), who was clearly in the shadow of his brother, but also was trying to find a way to solve each and every issue in his own way, while maintaining a level head.

Who can out Boston-accent the other?!?

Who can out Bawhstan the other?!?

Thirteen Days is, essentially, a two-and-a-half-hour long movie in which a bunch of middle-aged men sit around, smoke cigars, have the occasional shot of Scotch or two, yell, and have discussions with one another about Cuba. That’s basically it. While I’m most positively sure that won’t work or sound at all appealing to younger, more explosion-driven audiences, for someone like me, believe it or not, who values a well-told story with emotional fireworks, as opposed to the actual physical ones, then yeah, it actually works/appeals to me.

Won’t for everybody, but hey, screw everybody!

What director Roger Donaldson does best is that he allows for us to feel suspense and intensity, even while we clearly know what’s to come of this story, how it’s going to end, who is going to live, who is going to perish, and most importantly, what life lessons will be learned when all is said and done. Certain movies like Titanic, or Apollo 13, or a more similar one like JFK, all toy with the perception and idea of reality, what we know of history, and uses it as a springboard to actually get us involved and invested with the story. Somehow, even though we know a good portion of history and had to, sadly, go through all of those years in the backs of classes, wondering who the 15th President was and never remembering, there’s still that feeling that not everything will go exactly as according to plan. Donaldson won’t take any huge risks like re-writing history, but the simple idea that he actually could, makes Thirteen Days all the more exciting.

Even though, yes, it is just a bunch of dudes talking to one another.

And yes, even at two-and-a-half-hours, maybe the movie’s a tad too long. There’s certain facts about the Cuban Missile Crisis that were apparently unearthed for the first time in this movie and because of that, the movie goes on beyond just being a re-enactment. But at the same time, it’s still doing a lot of re-telling, without ever putting its own narrative-spin. In a way, it almost feels like Thirteen Days works as something that would work best on the History channel, as opposed to a full-length, big-budget (although you wouldn’t always know it), feature flick. We never really get an investigative eye into what happened and what we still perceive to be as history, but mostly, just a “Hey guys, this is probably what happened when you were all duck and covering under your desks.”

Then again, maybe Thirteen Days doesn’t need to be anything more than a slightly glamorized re-telling of what may or may have happened. There’s just a certain feeling I can’t help but embrace where I wonder, being in the 21st Century and all, whether or not we should ask more questions about our history, where we come from, and what made us the country that we are today. Granted, maybe these are the types of questions that only I would like to hear answered, or possibly explored, but for some reason, watching a movie paint a nearly God-like portrait of Bobby and John Kennedy, still feels like a missed-opportunity. We should be able to paint a little closer and hold-up the lense to what we see as our nation’s history.

"Marilyn or Jackie tonight?"

“Marilyn or Jackie tonight? Hmmmmmm.”

If we can’t do that, then what’s the point of re-telling stories like this all over again?

Inform the public? Re-live the golden days when time was a lot simpler and somewhat more paranoid? Make a quick buck?

I don’t know, really. This isn’t to say that a movie like Thirteen Days, one that’s well-acted, exciting and believe it or not, fun, without ever trying to showcase a car-crash or actual action-sequence, doesn’t deserve to exist, but hey, push a little harder or further next time. I’m not saying put RFK or JFK on a stake and make them apologize for their ways, but an extra discussion or two about what was the right move, what wasn’t, and what deserves to be talked about to this day.

After all, if schools cease to exist, and all we have to rely on is movie’s for education, then why not dig a bit deeper?

Consensus: Without ever trying to be manipulative, Thirteen Days still works as a sometimes tense, almost exciting re-telling of an infamous time in our nation’s history that maybe, just maybe, there should be more of a discussion about.

7 / 10

Cuba best recognize that this is who they're messing with.

Cuba best recognize that this is who they’re messing with.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Who says superheros are the only ones allowed to fly?

Master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), a retired warrior, pays a visit to a nobleman friend to give him a sword that can apparently cut through anything, called “Green Destiny.” However, the sword is stolen, and Mu Bai joins forces with old friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to get it back. Even though Mu Bai believes the thief is Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei), an assassin who killed his master not too long ago, little does Mu Bai, or Yu Shu know that it’s someone completely different. Meanwhile, there’s the story of Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), a a bored and annoyed teenager who is set to get married to a nobleman she has clearly no interest in whatsoever. But what excites Jen the most are these warrior women who have control over their mind, body and life. And even though her life is about to go through a drastic change sometime soon, she still can’t seem to get past her love for a killer known as Dark Cloud (Chang Chen).

I wouldn't want to mess with Michelle Yeoh as is. But with her wielding a blade? Forget about it!

I wouldn’t want to mess with Michelle Yeoh as is. But with her wielding a blade? Forget about it!

It’s nice to know that there’s directors out there like Ang Lee who are true, absolute visionaries who don’t care what it is that they do, they just want to do it. What I’m trying to say by this is that Lee, for as long as he’s been directing, hasn’t really stuck with any one genre and made that “his thing”; instead, he’s bounced around from one to another, taking on all different lives, trying on all these different skins, and for the most part, making it all work out just fine. Sure, there’s the occasional misstep (*ahem Taking Woodstock), but when you take into consideration all of the other great movies, as well as all the other genres Lee’s played around in, it doesn’t really matter.

All that really matters is that Ang Lee still exists and is still making movies.

And while everybody knows and believes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to be his unabashed “masterpiece”, there’s still something about it that I have yet to fallen in love with. Granted, this being the second time I’ve seen it (once before when I was way young and only cared about the characters kicking each other’s butts), there wasn’t much of an element of surprise to guide me along, but for movies such as these, ones that are considered “absolute perfection”, I feel that it’s almost necessary to check them out for a second time. Sometimes, you don’t know if you’ve missed something neat, or interesting, or cool about the movie that you may have missed the first time around, like a subtle hint, or clue, or piece of story-telling that gets better and better each time you think about it, which is why it’s always a blast to re-watch movies.

But for Crouching Tiger, that’s not really the case. Everything that you see, is basically what you get. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as what we get is pretty solid in its own right, but really, there’s not all that much depth to Crouching Tiger other than honor, loyalty and respect. Sure, there’s plenty of love stuff to go around, too, which was a nice touch, but really, it gets over-powered by all the scenes concerning characters talking about their loyal ways and rules they’ve been set out to follow and how they’ll continue to do so. Once or twice is fine, but once these scenes get to be seen/hear at least seven or eight times, it gets to be a bit tiring.

Then again, that’s why the fight sequences of Crouching Tiger have always been the source of adoration.

In some cases, sure, you can tell when there’s wire-work, but for the most part, you get used to seeing these characters fly around, fight one another, get hit pretty hard, bounce back from it, and continue to battle on, without hardly a scratch to be found. It’s actually like a video-game whenever a fight happens here, but they’re filled with so much fun, energy and inspiration, that it almost doesn’t matter how much it looks like the PG-version of Mortal Kombat. Lee does something smart with these action-sequences though, in that he has them constantly build up from one another, all until the point of where it seems like there’s nowhere else to go, or anything else to do. That is true, all until it isn’t, and we realize that Lee is literally throwing everything at us, kitchen sink included and it’s a whole lot of fun to watch.

"Hey, girl. What up?"

“Hey, girl. What up?”

Which isn’t to say that the story itself doesn’t work – it just obviously pales in comparison when you look at it side-by-side with the action.

The only subplot that I really found myself genuinely interested in was Jen Yu’s. Her story of a young, lustful romance that takes place in the desert isn’t just surprising, but funny and heartfelt, sometimes at the same time. In a way, it’s almost as if Lee decided that he wanted to make another movie halfway through, but realized that he already had all of this good material for Crouching Tiger, so rather than chucking it all to the side, he stuck with it, placed the lover subplot somewhere in between and decided to let the film-reel continue to roll. It feels slightly random, but it’s still a welcome surprise because it brings plenty of emotion to a story that, quite frankly, needed it.

And this is also to say that, as Jen Yu, Zhang Ziyi is all the right kinds of smart and sassy, but at the same time, still feels like a kid at the same time. In a way, she sort of steals the movie from the rest of her cast, although that isn’t to say that she gets away with it Scott free and without any competition in her way. Chow Yun-Fat is wise and rather intimidating as Master Li Mu Bai, someone you know can kick a mean ass, but just waiting to see him actually do that is half of the fun. Then, there’s Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien, who is also pretty bad-ass in her own right and the fact that she gets to get down and dirty with most of the battles, makes her all the more of an impressive character who is willing to step up to the plate and throw down the gloves, especially when she’s called on to do so.

Consensus: Perhaps not Lee’s best film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is still, by the same token, a fun, exciting, and lovely tribute to the kinds of over-the-top, crazy kung-fu movies that Lee himself clearly has a soft spot in his heart for.

8 / 10

Those youngsters and their kung-fu ways.

Those youngsters and their kung-fu.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Pinterest

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Take it from rappers, being imprisoned makes you a better musician.

In Depression-era Mississippi, Ulysses McGill (George Clooney), Pete (John Turturro), and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) all escape from jail to embark on a buried-treasure that Ulysses himself declares that he hid and is safe and sound somewhere. However, they have an awful long way to go before they get to the treasure, which means that they have to go through a lot of hoops, meet a lot of shady characters, and most of all, try to stay away from the police’s sights. Obviously, this sounds a lot easier said then done, but everything and anything seems to be happening around the same time that these three are heading out for their adventure. For one, they unintentionally become a popular folk band, then, they get mixed-up with the KKK, make an African American friend by the name of Tommy Johnson, have a run-in with Baby Face Dillinger, and, most importantly, meet the acquaintance of some very lovely ladies. But no matter how many holes may stand in the way of these guys’ trip, they never forget about the treasure that’s just awaiting for them to seize and make their own.

Try singin' your way out of this one!

Try singin’ your way out of this one!

There’s no denying that the Coens have a certain love and adoration for their characters, no matter how silly, ridiculous, or over-the-top they may, or can get. Some people say that they make fun of said characters, as well as their settings, but I tend to disagree with this notion, as it’s clear from the very start that the Coens find something very interesting about each one of their characters that they draw and create, as well as the world around said characters that seem to take on a whole personality on its own. In O Brother, it’s clear that the Coens have a soft place for the sweaty, mugginess of Depression-era Mississippi that’s less about making fun of people who talk funny, but more about embracing some of their more old-timey notions of life.

Obviously, the Coens are a bit subversive about this idea, too, with featuring a story all sorts of violence, racism, and blood, but they don’t ever lose their sense of fun here. They also never seem to sell themselves short; rather than making this just a one-note premise in which these stupid characters get away with everything that comes their way, they show that there’s some trouble and difficulty for these characters to get from point A, to point B. Of course, O Brother is, first and foremost, an adventure flick and it’s nice to see the Coens give as much attention to their characters, as much as they do to the jokes and random sequence of events.

For instance, Ulysses, Delmar, and Pete may all seem like your typical, bumpkin idiots, but really, the Coens show that there’s more to them.

Not only do they have hearts, but they all do seem to genuinely care for one another that makes it easy to see why they’ve got such a strong bond in the first place. As a result, we want to see these three together more and more, not just because they’re fun to watch (which they are), but because there’s something warm, soft and cozy about knowing these three pals are all together and because of that, nothing will go wrong. Of course, things don’t always turn out that way, but still, watching and listening to these three characters was more than enough to stick around.

Stop trying to make yourself ugly, George. It ain't gonna work.

Stop trying to make yourself ugly, George. It ain’t gonna work.

And let’s not forget to mention that George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson all do fantastic jobs in these roles, seeming like they’re very interested in who these characters are, past the backwater-stereotypes. Clooney, however, is the one who really seems like he’s having the time of his life, smirking, snarling and laughing in just about every scene he’s shown, where you get the idea that he could not wait a single second to work with the Coens, nor could he get enough of the fact that his character is, in some ways, the smartest out of the three. Clooney gets to use a lot of big words and articulate a whole lot, which may not sound like it works, but surprisingly, does, and it just goes to show you what Clooney can do when he’s a bit unhinged and less caring about appeasing a certain demographic.

There’s more people in this film, like John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, and others, who show up here, do their thing and show that they’re worthy of being around, which makes O Brother all the more exciting.

There’s not a huge world out there for the Coens to work with, but it’s all up to their own choosing. While O Brother is certainly not the Coens best movie, it’s still their most ambitious as it shows that the studio had no problem funding their vision and idea for this movie, even if every period detail seems perfectly picked to the bone. And with more money and freedom to do what they want, they run wild. Sometimes, the goofiness, other times, it doesn’t; when the movie is supposed to be deep and serious, it can’t help but stumble and make you wonder where all the smiles and charms went. But still, it’s a Coens brother movie, which mostly always means, it’s worth seeing.

If not for them, then at least do it for the soundtrack.

Consensus: Perhaps not the Coens best, yet, at the same time, still very much an exceptional piece of work from the power duo, O Brother shows they not only have a keen eye for attention to detail and character, but also their odd sense of humor that still hits.

7.5 / 10

Back on the chain gang, boys!

Back on the chain gang, boys!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Gangster No. 1 (2000)

All gangsters are cool. Even the crazy ones.

Malcolm McDowell plays an unnamed Gangster who, through him, we’re being told this story. He finds out that his mentor, Freddie Mays (David Thewlis) is finally getting released from prison. This is when we’re brought back to the year, 1969, where he tells us the story of when he was a young gangster (Paul Bettany) and practically climbed through the ranks of the British mafia.

It seems like whenever a gangster flick comes out, they’re always unnecessarily compared to other, sometimes better gangster flicks that came before them. For instance, if one has a bit of humor in it, it’s often considered a rip-off of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Or, if one is quick-as-lightning, it can be sometimes looked as a carbon copy of Goodfellas; and if there’s a flick that’s takes its time, and prefers more of the slow-burn approach, it’s then compared to the Godfather, no matter what. Basically, gangster flicks have it tough and it’s only made worse by the fact that it’s getting a whole lot harder to tell these kinds of stories in fun and fresh ways.

When does Malcolm McDowell not look pissed-off?

When does Malcolm McDowell not look pissed-off?

But what about a gangster flick that’s more like American Psycho?

Now, that’s something new, which is why Gangster No. 1 is a pleasant surprise.

Director Paul McGuigan deserves credit here because he doesn’t try to be like any other types of gangster flicks out there, nor does he over-do anything, either. There’s no hip soundtrack, nor are there any bits of wit to break-up the tension when things get too serious; it’s very straight-forward gangster movie. However, it is, in no way, a boring or conventional one; it’s a surprisingly ruthless piece that, once it gets going, starts spinning faster and faster, only until that wheel eventually breaks loose and becomes a wild ride where you have no idea where it’s going to end up and how. The story may not be as unpredictable as I may make it sound, but what really makes this film tick is the style (or lack thereof) of the violence in this film that no matter how gruesome or tense it got, it keeps you glued.

One scene in particular that stays clear in my mind is the one where “the Gangster”, finds a rival mob-boss, and slowly tortures him. Heard it done before? Of course, but there’s a surprising twist with it: It’s told in the victim’s view-point. It may sound gimmicky, but surprisingly it’s effective as every little piece of pain that gets inflicted onto him, almost feels like it’s getting inflicted onto us. The blood for that scene just shoots out everywhere, the camera is constantly moving rapidly, but yet, still stays on the violence happening, and there’s even a nice little pop tune playing in the back to remind us just how more sinister this piece of torture truly is. Anytime you have pop song in your violent movie, always make sure to play it during the most violent scene.

Always ironic. Always awesome.

And while that was just one scene in particular, the rest of the movie works because McGuigan doesn’t seem to try too hard to make this separate itself from the plenty other gangster flicks out there.

But if there was something here that bothered me, it was the narration from Malcolm McDowell, that honestly, was heard one too many times. At first, it didn’t seem like much of a problem because it placed us in the story and setting, but after awhile, it just became over-bearing and pointless to where it just seemed like half of the stuff he said was profanity. He even goes as far as to describe one scene while it was happening and it just seemed like over-kill and probably could have been done a lot better without really having to explain the needless things. Then again, they were probably just trying to put us in the mind of a psycho killer, which honestly, we kind of get the drift of after the first ten or so minutes.

Gangsters? Or Wanksters?

Gangsters? Or Wankers?

And before I forget to mention it, why the hell did everybody look the same with some nice make-up on after the 30 years, but Paul Bettany completely changes into McDowell. Everybody in this cast gets some fake, gray hair, a couple of wrinkles in their skin, and a very fragile voice, but the main Gangster is the only guy that gets fatter, has a bigger head, has a terrible five-o’-clock shadow, and is still yelling, pissing, and screamin’ all of these years later. Maybe people don’t change after 30 years and still stay their same old, crazy selves, but it seemed a bit unbelievable to me that after 30 years, these people would all still look and act the same, as well as holding the same, old grudges they held before.

Maybe I’m just not a true gangster.

Though it may not sound like I was happy with him doing anything here, McDowell is still quite solid in this role as the aging, but still vicious gangster. It’s obvious that they placed him in the role of an older, and much more crazier psycho (*cough cough* A Clockwork Orange *cough cough*), but he kicks ass with the role still and made me laugh whenever he seemed like he just felt like dropping the C-word for no good reason at all.

But it’s Paul Bettany, playing the younger version of him, who steals the whole show. Bettany has a lot to work with here because he gets to show a lot of evil and dark aspects to this guy, while also showing a lot what makes us love him so much in the first place. However, a lot of that lovely shite he usually has in those other flicks, isn’t as showy here and we get to see what he can do whenever he gets angry and just feels like gutting somebody up into little pieces. We’re never made to feel sympathy for this cat, which works; he’s not asking for that and that’s what makes him so much more bad-ass. Now, will somebody please give Paul Bettany one more leading role and just act like Priest doesn’t even exist.

Consensus: Without trying to be too flashy or shiny, Gangster No. 1 is still an effective, surprisingly fun gangster flick that puts us inside the mind of a psycho killer, and allows for Paul Bettany to work wonders with the meaty role as said psycho killer.

7.5 / 10 

Silent, but deadly. Yup. Obvious one, I know.

Silent, but deadly. Yup. Obvious one, I know.

Photos Courtesy of: Nick Tentis, Film4, Mubi 

Billy Elliot (2000)

True men dance. So take that, daddy!

Young, British boy Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) wants to be a dancer. Although he goes to the local gym for prepaid boxing-lessons, he has no passion behind hitting people just for the heck of it. Instead, he prefers to learn a thing or two about swiveling his hips, jumping up and down, clapping his hands, and moving around rooms as if he was the second-coming of Fred Astaire. However, due to the fact that he lives in a very conservative British coal mining town and also because he lives with his relatively masculine father (Gary Lewis) and brother (Jamie Draven), Billy’s not allowed to really tell anybody about his life long dream. That’s why he and the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters), decide that it’s best that they keep it their little secret; one that may or may not get out and when it does, will affect everyone. Most importantly, Billy himself who is trying his hardest to be the best dancer he can be and get accepted into a very high-class, prestigious dance academy.

Us men feel your pain, bud.

Us men feel your pain, bud.

Like most inspirational tales, Billy Elliot follows a familiar pattern. Protagonist has talent, protagonist faces adversity from someone or something surrounding them, protagonist trains harder and harder (of course, cue the montage), and eventually, it all leads up to the protagonist having to prove themselves in an epic climax that can only be a single event. You see this with just about every sports movie; basketball, football, soccer, baseball, tennis, cross country, track-and-field, fencing, bad-mitten, and etc.

And now, you can add dancing to the list, all because of Billy Elliot.

Because, like I said, Billy Elliot is a lot like these other movies in that it follows the same sort of line and hardly diverts away from it. While some of you may be utterly displeased with the fact that I may have given something away about the movie, I assure you that I have not. Because obviously, all I did was layout where the movie goes, not where it ends up, nor how it gets there. And believe it or not, those later aspects matter most and they’re what help Billy Elliot be something a bit more than just a traditional tale of a boy conquering his fears and living out his dreams.

For one, it’s a movie that has a heart, something I’m not sure many of Stephen Daldry’s other movies have been known to have. But unsurprisingly, there’s something about Billy and those around him that keep this movie surprisingly sweet, when it could have easily gone sour. A solid example of this is when one of Billy’s friends turns out to be gay and harmlessly kisses him on the cheek. Rather than Billy criticizing him for it, Billy instead embraces this fact about his buddy, even if he has to turn down the offer because, well, he’s not gay. He may enjoy dancing quite a lot, but that doesn’t make him gay, nor does it make him any less of a man than those that surround him.

While I’m not particularly sure that a kid as young as the one portrayed by Billy’s friend would actually be so sure and out with himself as he is here, the movie still drives home the point that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, or what social/ethnic background you come from – if there is something you love to do, then do it, dammit! Billy is constantly being bombarded by the masculine men that live in his home and because of the society they’re living in, it’s considered not “right” for him to be out on a stage, prancing around in tight-clothing and shaking his rump like no tomorrow. There’s something wrong with this, we understand, within the movie, but it also carries a universal theme that no matter how many years we think we advance, there’s still that idea that men, aren’t men, unless they’re eating, killing, or screwing something.

Sometimes, men can dance and be masculine. Think of all those ladies’ tushes they touch while they’re on the stage.

I guess she's Ginger Rodgers, too.

I guess she’s Ginger Rodgers, too.

But anyway, I realize that I’m not doing this movie any favors by making it sound as preachy and as annoying as possible, but I can assure you, it’s very far from. Daldry keeps the message only alive through the song and dance numbers, most of which, are as joyful and exciting as they should be. Though there’s maybe one or two more montages than there should be (we get it, he likes to dance to glam-rock!), the movie still moves at a fine pace to where it feels like we understand what it is about dancing that Billy loves, while also wanting to see him succeed at his dream of becoming a respectable dancer. However, that word “respectable” has many meanings and it’s engaging to watch as he constantly has to battle with each and everyone, trying to figure out just who the hell he actually is in the process.

And as Billy, Jamie Bell does a fine job in a very young role of his. Obviously, this is the one that put him on the map and has led to a pretty respectable career thus far, but it’s better if you don’t think about it as a time capsule performance, and more as one that shows how lucky Daldry was to get him when he did. Because honestly, getting a kid actor who can, well, act and do so in a way that’s not obvious or cloying, is especially impressive. Not to mention the fact that, from what the movie seems to show, Bell did a lot of his own dancing and it impresses me all the more.

Why Bell doesn’t dance more in movies nowadays is beyond me, but hey, maybe in the next Fantastic Four movie, eh?

But the one who steals the show is Julie Walters, playing Billy’s foul-mouthed, but fun teacher/inspirational-figure. Walters is hilarious in this role and shows that even while she may have a funny quip to end every sentence on, she still does have a heart, a soul, and genuinely care about what happens to Billy and his career with dancing. Though the movie drives home the point that Billy is looking for a mother-figure in his life to reach out to, it doesn’t over-do its hand and allows for the scenes these two have together to have a quiet bit of resonance in them. That Billy wants somebody to love, adore and teach him is sweet, but the fact that a woman who seems as uninspired as Mrs. Wilkinson is actually that person and wants to continue to be that person, makes it all the more sweeter.

Okay, yeah. This thing’s pretty corny.

Consensus: Despite a familiar layout, Billy Elliot still features another heart, humor and fine performances to make it worth a watch, especially since it’s Stephen Daldry’s most pleasant movie to-date.

8 / 10

Oh boy-o! Where has the time gone!

Oh boy-o! Where has the time gone!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Beach (2000)

Give a hippie too much freedom, and peace does not conquer.

Having grown reckless and tired with his American life, Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) decides to run away on a road trip of sorts that, for one reason or another, land him in Bangkok. Though Richard plans on spending most of his time navigating around Thailand, he stumbles upon a mysterious map that, from what he can read, takes him out into the middle of the ocean, where a random island pops up. Richard has no clue what is on that island or even what it means – all he knows is that he wants to go out there and find out for himself. Even if he does along the way, then so be it! At least he died by trying! Well, Richard does reach the island and finds out that it’s everything he wanted it to be: Peaceful, fun, and chock full of hippies that love to live life to their fullest. As time rolls on though, Richard begins to realize that there’s something wrong with this island, as well as some of the people on it and it isn’t before long that Richard starts getting that ache to head back home in the U.S., where life’s a lot more simple and cleaner.

Just think of the horrid stench they must carry as one unit. Yuck!

Just think of the horrid stench they must carry as one unit. Yuck!

The saying around those associated with critiquing media is, “Review what’s there, not anything else.” Meaning, basically, just review what it is that’s in front of you and not a product that you wish happened, or better yet, wanted. You may have wanted for all the Transformers films to be heartfelt, eye-opening dramas about the state of technology versus today’s society, but the creator behind those movies, may have saw billion-dollar, explosion-fests with the depth of a pebble. And honestly, whose movie is going to be created? Yours, or somebody like Michael Bay?

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at here is that it’s hard to review a movie like the Beach, without thinking of what could have been. Cause, for one, I’ve read the book and needless to say: It’s a near-masterpiece. It’s fun, exciting, energetic, lively, interesting, hilarious, insightful, and most of all, smart about its themes that deal with nature and how humans, in ways, ruin it. Alexander Garland is a talented-as-all-hell writer who, quite frankly, deserves to create more in his life. I’d rather take a movie a year from Alexander Garland, rather than seeing another one of Woody Allen’s latest, where it seems like he’s got some time left in his year, so he just oughta make something.

But I digress.

Everything that the novel is, the movie-version of the Beach is not. And that’s not just a shame because the source-material is so ripe, raw, and perfectly-ready to be made for the big screen, but because there’s plenty of talented people here working this. Danny Boyle, in case none of you know this already, is an immensely talented director who makes anything more interesting just by doing what he always does: Add techno to the background, keep that camera moving, and always finding the most disturbing aspects of humans. This isn’t to say that Boyle’s style doesn’t help the Beach out, because it most certainly does; however, most of the time, it’s obvious that around the half-way mark, he gave up in the editing-room and just let the studio-hacks take over and make their own movie, creativity be damned!

Not that Boyle had a perfect film to begin with, but yeah, this is possibly his worst movie to date.

Once again, too, you’d be surprised to hear this, not just because it’s a Danny Boyle film, but because it’s one that stars the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Paterson Joseph and Guillaume Canet, but they’re left without a paddle to float around on. The movie itself is such a jumbled-up mess, that even when it seems like there’s an effort being put in to give these actors interesting material to revel in, sadly, it seems to go to the next subplot and just totally forget about whatever it was that it was trying to develop mere seconds ago.

Sure, she's cute and all, but just about the last time she bathed.

Sure, she’s cute and all, but just about the last time she bathed.

But most of all, it’s just disappointing to see DiCaprio, an amazing talent, give what is, essentially, a terrible performance. For one, it seems like Leo is trying way too hard at everything; he’s always yelling, wailing-about, and trying to make scenes a lot funnier than they may have to be, which make it seem like he’s straining himself more than he needed to. Also, despite Leo probably being around 25 to 26 around the time of this movie, he still seems so boy-ish to really work in this role and makes it appear like he’s a bit out of his league. Leo tries, time and time again here, but ultimately, it adds up to him just turning in, most likely, his worst performance to date.

It all worked out though once Catch Me If You Can came around and Hollywood finally realized what to do with him.

Thank heavens for that.

But to go back to my earlier point about not disowning a movie for what I would have liked for it to have been, and more of what it actually is, the Beach is possibly my most personal choice with that. There are certain plot-points and ideas that the novel touches on that help round this story, this character and the impact it has on the reader, more effective. Those same points and ideas are merely touched on here, only to then be tossed away once Boyle remembers that he’s got to get a whole 400-plus page book, into a near two-hour movie. Granted, it must have not been an easy task, even for somebody as incredibly talented as Boyle and his associates, but still, it’s hard not to deny the fact that this movie never has a clue what it wants to do, be, or even say about anyone, or anything depicted in it.

The book did all of this and so much more. Just saying.

Consensus: Messy, silly, uninteresting and poorly-acted, the Beach tries because of Danny Boyle behind the camera, but is a missed-opportunity on capitalizing with some very promising source material. So basically, just go and head to a Barns and Nobles, if they even still exist.

2 / 10

Jack survived the sinking after all and is now a wannabe hippie.

Jack survived the sinking after all and is now a wannabe hippie.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Gossip (2000)

These 21st Century kids make millennials look like babies.

Sex, deception and rumors run wild amongst a group of university students and roommates when Derrick (James Marsden), Jones (Lena Headey) and Travis (Norman Reedus), collaborate on their new journalism class assignment: Identifying the link between news and gossip. But when their class project goes frighteningly out of control, it puts friendships, the future, and their lives, in total jeopardy.

Looking at Gossip from afar, you’d expect it to be your normal, by-the-numbers teen-beat thriller that features a good amount of stuck-up, rich, good-looking kids all running around, drinking, having sex, getting crazy, and saying all sorts of mean, ugly things behind one another’s back. And considering that the film stars many actors/actresses who were, at the time, nearing-30, this makes the movie actually seem like a whole lot of campy, unintentionally-silly fun. And it sort of does, which is why it’s weird to see this being directed by Davis Guggenheim; someone who is most known for directing important, finger-pointing documentaries (An Inconvenient TruthWaiting for Superman).

Not even Kate can take James seriously with that cut.

Not even Kate can take James seriously with that cut.

Pretty odd, right?

Well, what’s even odder is that Guggenheim seems to take this material a whole lot more serious than it probably needed to be. But, like I expected, there’s something fun about the fact that it revolves so much around bullying and gossiping, and doing so in such a straight-faced, no-jokes manner. And because everybody’s a lot older than who they’re playing, it’s a lot more entertaining to be watching 30-year-olds go on and on about rumors of who cheated on who and where at.

One would expect a film titled Gossip, to be one hard-hitting morality tale on how people lie with their words, only to extract revenge on that other person for something they may have done, or to just see that person being talked about, feel pain and hurt. While they touch on that a bit in this film, it’s never materialized into being anything more meaningful or smart. Instead of actually digging deep into how gossip affects us everywhere we go (jobs, media, relationships, etc.) the film takes a left-turn to silly land and becomes a “he said, she said” argument that’s not nearly as smart or as defined as it may think it is. You have to give points to the movie for at least trying, but for the most part, I just wanted them to go back to the screwing, drinking, partying, and gossiping.

Then again, who doesn’t want to watch teens do that for an-hour-and-a-half?

Like I said before, too, the cast is filled with all sorts of recognizable faces who, in plenty of other work, show that they’re more than willing to do great things with the material given to them. However, because everything is so cheesy here, they’re sort of limited to just having to go through the motions. Even if, you know, some do try to step apart from the rest of the group.

Still Pacey, bro.

Still Pacey, bro.

That one, key performance would probably have to be from James Marsden, playing some asshole named Derrick. Marsden is a good-looking guy; there’s no doubting that, no matter who you are, what’s your sexual orientation, or what your taste is. Where Marsden works well with here is that he plays against that fact and shows that, yes, while he may be awfully handsome, there’s not much more to him than that. He’s rude to girls, treats them like used-tissues, and will, on more than a few occasions, make himself feel better regardless of how it makes another person feel. Yes, he’s so deuchy and annoying, that it makes Marsden’s performance all the better and more enjoyable to watch because he’s not backing down from it one bit. Sure, it’s hard to imagine what sorts of wonders Marsden could have done with a better movie/character to work with by his side, but for what it’s worth, the dude gave all that he could.

And what else could you ask for?

That’s why when I look at everybody else in the cast, while I’m initially impressed, I see them in the film and it’s a bit of a disappointment. Nobody, much like with Marsden, is given all that much to do, so they’re sort of just left with being around and servicing a lackluster script. Lena Heady is most definitely pretty, but her character is flat and seems like she’s in a whole other movie completely; the incredibly talented Norman Reedus is fine as the art-weirdo that seems to be a bit too obsessed with all of this gossip-talking, but seeing what he does now on TV, really makes me think that this type of character doesn’t really suit him totally well; same goes for Joshua Jackson who, with the Affair, seems like he was primed and ready for a good role to come his way, he just wasn’t getting it just yet; Kate Hudson despite not being around nearly as much as she should is good in a rare dramatic role as the rich girl, Naomi, because the verdict is never fully out on whether this character is as good of a girl as she says she is, or is as raunchy and vindictive as others say, too; and Eric Bogosian seems so randomly-placed here that it’s actually pretty awesome. He definitely took this as a nice paycheck gig, but still: When was the last time you could say you saw Eric Bogosian in the same film as Cyclops, Daryl, Pacey, and Cersei?

Never! So yeah, see it for that, if anything else.

Consensus: Gossip wants to be, at certain points, a trashy, over-the-top and wacky teen-thriller, while at others, wants to be a melodramatic, soap-opera-y message movie about the affects of false rumors and never makes perfect sense of either, but is still occasionally entertaining to watch because of the cast involved.

5 / 10

Teenagers. Literally never get old.

Teenagers. Literally never get old.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Patriot (2000)

Ah. The good old days of when people could actually trust in Mel Gibson to save the day.

During the American Revolution in 1776, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a veteran of the French and Indian War, declares that he will not fight in a war that is not his own. However, his oldest son (Heath Ledger) thinks differently and decides to enlist himself. Though Benjamin is upset with this decision, he knows that it is up to his son to make his own decisions and to be able to live with them, just as he has done with his own. But one fateful night, his son comes back, bloody, beaten-up, battered, and in need of some shelter; Benjamin, obviously, gives it to him, thinking that this will be the last time his son sets out for battle ever again. But Benjamin is proven wrong when, early the next morning, the British come looking for him and want to take his son away. Obviously, Benjamin is against this, as well as the rest of his family, which is when one of his young sons is shot and killed. This is when Benjamin decides that it’s time to quit being a pacifist and to pick up his sword, his gun, and his tomahawk, in order to extract some revenge, the good, old-fashioned way, baby!

Evil.

Evil.

Obviously, seeing as how this is a film from Roland Emmerich, I wasn’t expecting there to be any sort of complexity involved with the occasion. However, what’s different about the Patriot, apart from most of Emmerich’s other movies, is that it seems like he’s actually trying to make this an emotionally-gripping, detailed-story about how one man fought for the love and honor of his family, even when all the odds were stacked-up against him. This, on paper, all sounds heartfelt and kind of sweet, but the way in which it plays out?

It’s the furthest thing from.

For one, as soon as Gibson’s Benjamin Martin picks up his tomahawk, it’s go time right from there. People are shot, decapitated, split-open, spit-on, bled-out, and all sorts of other lovely actions involved with war. To be honest, I’m not one to back away from a movie that contains an awful lot of violence (especially when the violence is as graphic as it is in a big-budgeted blockbuster such as this), but there’s something here that feels incredibly off about the whole movie, that put a sour taste in my mouth.

Because, to be honest, it doesn’t seem like Emmerich gives much of a hoot about whether or not Benjamin actually feels fulfilled when every Redcoat is dead and gone away with; he cares more about how many people get killed, and in how many ways that make people go, “Aww yeah!”, or “Ooh!”. You can’t hate Emmerich for wanting to please his audience, but you can hate him for trying to pass all of that death and destruction with something resembling a peaceful; it’s just stupid and feels ill-written.

But, if I did have to rate this movie as a summer blockbuster, it’s an okay one.

It sure as hell did not at all need to be nearly three-hours, but considering the huge budget it has to work with, it’s nice to see that, at one time at least, Hollywood was willing to put all of their money into a history epic that featured as much gritty and raw violence as a single season of the Sopranos. Though the violence is oddly thrown in there with an inspirational message about standing up for your rights and taking down those who take what means most to you, it’s still effective; through the many war-sequences, we get a certain feel for just how dangerous and hellish the battlefield was, without any bullshit thrown in there.

It’s literally just blood being shed, lives being lost, and more disturbing memories for the generations to come. If anything, that’s as deep and as far as the Patriot is willing to go with any life-affirming message. For the most part, it is, like I said, concerned with just showing how many people can get killed, in all sorts of graphic ways that may, or may not please people.

Naive.

Naive.

Depends on who you are, I guess.

Though the movie tries to dig deep into Benjamin Martin’s psyche, eventually, it just stops and allows for Mel Gibson to do the leg-work for them. Which was obviously a smart idea, because even though Gibson seems to be, once again, playing another man on the search for getting justice and revenge for the loss of a loved-one (see Braveheart and/or Mad Max), the role still fits him like a glove that it doesn’t matter how old it seems for him to be playing. He has that perfect balance of being just vulnerable enough to make you think that the odds could topple over him, as well as being just mean and vicious enough to make you think he could kill whoever he wanted, how he wanted to, and whenever he saw fit. It’s actually quite scary, but it’s the role Gibson’s worked well for as long as he’s been acting and it’s only gotten more dramatic as he’s gotten older.

A lot of other people show up here and seem to be trying on the same level as Gibson, but they’re sadly tossed-away once the movie decides it doesn’t have time for them to stretch their wings out. The late, great Heath Ledger, Rene Auberjonois, Joely Richardson, and Chris Cooper all seem to have shown up, ready for work, but they don’t have anything worthwhile to do. After all, they’re in a Roland Emmerich movie, and when was the last time when of them was actually about the solid performances on-display?

No seriously – when was that? Cause I sure as hell don’t remember!

And the main reason why I didn’t include the likes of Tom Wilkinson and Jason Isaacs in that last paragraph, is because they are sadly given the roles as “the British” here, which means they play, either, nonsensical idiots, or blood-loving savages. It would make sense why the British would have a problem with this movie to begin with, but it’s made all the worse by the fact that two immensely talented actors like Isaacs and Wilkinson were given roles, so limited in their development and scope, that even they couldn’t save them. Sure, they went through the motions and collected the nice, meaty paychecks, but is it really all that worth it?

Consensus: As a summer blockbuster, the Patriot is more violent and bloodier than you’d expect it to be, but also happens to be a Roland Emmerich movie, which means it’s basically all of that, and hardly any depth beyond.

5 / 10

Heroic.

Heroic.

Photos Courtesy of : Super Marcey, Rob’s Movie Vault, Popcorn for Breakfast