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After reading a large number of negative reviews, it finally became clear to me why this movie is so widely hated - because it honestly depicts the modern biased race-based American society, in which uneducated crowds are ready to devour an honest person, and punish him for a crime he didn't commit. The acting is great, Tom Hanks does an admirable job, however,it isn't acting which makes the movie great. The superb directing, creating realistic and horrible scenes of dirty political games and black (literally) PR, capture my attention. So, to sum up, a brilliant political satire. The movie could make a laughable comedy, if it wasn't so terrifying...
Bonfire of the vanities. A movie that has the reputation of being
awful. I didn't think so. I saw it a long time ago but liked it. I have
heard so much about how bad this movie was and never understood why. It
isn't the best movie definitely not but there are so many BAD
movies-this movie had a message (a pretty sad one) and the story was
Involving. My attention was captured. I wanted to see what would happen
This movie is so true to life. There ARE people out there whose actions would be worse then some in this movie. People whose lives are motivated by greed. (The worst bad movie out there that I've seen that tells the story of truly horrendous people motivated by greed and power is "in the company of men". Much more unpleasant then this movie.) This movie, I GUESS is controversial, not considered as good as the book and maybe it was ahead of its time. I think it's worth seeing though and would give it a 7.
This film will probably be re-discovered in later years and be described as the classic--albeit flawed--that it really is. The script is excellent in places and neatly captures the irreverence and cynicism that this kind of satire needs. People have criticised this film merely on the basis of wanting to shoot down the successful careers of those working on it---but I suspect that Willis, Hanks, De Palma,et al, will be secretly pleased that they have this lost treasure in their back catalogues to be resurrected and discussed long after their more popular films might be.
(NB - I have not read the book.)
Unfairly chastised by the press on release, and too easy to tar as a weak
link in De Palma's ouevre, BOTV is better than Wall Street, Working Girl
al. and is still very relevant.
This is an OTT opera where every character is a cynic trying to work an angle, and every action (in a complex story about contacts, smear campaigns, politics and pawns) has an obvious and (most of the time) greedy motivation. BOTV also confronts sex, racism and class clashes with a frankness that most Hollywood movies run a mile from - it is suprisingly frank in it's depiction of these (The exception being that the New York judge had to be, of course, black [Morgan Freeman]. This is something dramatists do to make some of their social opinions seem less controversial since they are being spouted by a man of colour in a white forum.)
On par with His Girl Friday and The Sweet Smell of Success, and possessing an oddball universe Preston Sturges would've been proud of creating, this film is all the more powerful when you actually live in a world kind of like this (and I meet these kinds of people all the time - this is REAL!).
PS - Half an hour was lopped off by the studio after disasterous preview screenings. This movie deserves a DVD director's cut release.
Its a pity people don't get this film, but its a real shame most of the
critics do not, either! This is the finest film I've ever seen, De
Palma's best by far.
What you need to realize about this film is its complex ironical code. If you cant get the irony, the "movie" will seem pointless to you.
Stylistically, this is De Palma's most remarkable film, built on theatrical acting, pulling the limits of conventional movie acting to the very edge. The whole cast is just brilliant! Follow the camera, its angles and plans; the twisted camera perspective is the most significant technical instrument to produce ironical effect in this film. Everything which is said and done in this film can be observed not only in virtual, but also in metaphorical manner, and that is where rich political symbolics come from.
This is the film which successfully unites political and aesthetic aspect in a lovely and inspired interplay, and it is highly recommended to anyone trying to cultivate his taste.
This is a funny film that digs at people who do take advantage of race to
further their own agenda. It is not PC at all. Frankly, it is every bit
good as the book. See it with honest friends of more than one race and
will all be laughing out loud and naming one or more persons who might be
portrayed. The acting is generally outstanding and the cast is first
After giving us two excellent films - "The Untouchables" and "Casualties of War" director and auteur Brian De Palma tried to get the masters degree on major filmmaking with the very complex best-selling novel by Tom Wolfe. Faced to the challenge of making a great satire of nowadays America, De Palma does not find his own voice as he did in his two previous films, and goes back to the copy-and-paste path. This time it is not an imaginative and talented personal version of Hitchcock obsessions, but an interesting approach to Kubrick's style in "Dr Strangelove" and even "Lolita". After confessing that the director he admires in a most intimate way is Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma uses the witty Tom Wolfe novel as the story he needs to imitate one of his most admired masters.
The result is an excessive but funny satire. It is certainly underwritten, overacted and overdirected but, still, De Palma shows once again a great visual style and a wild sense of humour which makes us laugh several times.
Perhaps, De Palma should have remembered that such a witty and complex story has to be told seriously with the apparent simplicity and hidden complexity he reached in "Casualties of War", without trying to underline with the direction that every scene is supposed to be funny. Those strange camera angles taken from Kubrick nuclear satire do not work here and the characters are too exaggerated -Jean Renoir said that each character has some reasons and here,if De Palma had tried harder not only to criticize but to understand them, it would have been a much more effective film- and being both a Kubrick and a De Palma fan, I think that Kubrick influence was not good at all here. In this satire, as in his Vietnam drama, such a talented director as De Palma could have given more importance to substance that to form, given that this was not one of his brilliant thrillers where form is essential, but an intelligent satire about people. In fact, in many moments of the film De Palma uses a not so mannered and much more effective style and shows a great talent in portraiting situations ironically, something which is not usual in films from the nineties.
Overall this work remains as one of the most aggressive portraits of America ever filmed. Perhaps this is why the film was a flop in the Box ffice -it was absurd to make it with such a expensive cast and budget, given that such an acid satire cannot be popular- and De Palma's career, which was on his best moment, did not recover completely even after the wonderful "Carlito's Way", one of his best films. If you study Film direction it is absolutely necessary to see it, because of its risks, mistakes and achievements.
In conclussion, one of those strange films which you will find fascinating both because of its values and its mistakes.Forget about the novel; the film is an excessive and wild satire which will make you both think and laugh. De Palma genius and talent are present in many scenes. Moments like the initial shot, Alan King's speech, Clifton James,Donald Moffat or Andre Gregory performances -even the Morgan Freeman final scene, which De Palma did not like and is really good, reminding me of Capra, something extremely difficult in such a cynical decade- are not easy to forget.
It is not often to find such a complex and interesting film. I strongly recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If ever there was a film that didn't deserve all the bad press it
received, this is it. "The Bonfire of the Vanities" is actually an
absorbing, slick-paced and well-acted piece of cinema that works on
several levels. Tom Hanks is great as Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street hot
shot whose life unravels because of one wrong turn into the Bronx.
While behind the wheel of McCoy's Mercedes, his mistress accidentally
strikes an intimidating young black man who approached the financial
wizard. Enter Bruce Willis as Peter Fallow, a reporter eager to regain
his reputation who sees the incident as just what the doctor ordered.
"The Bonfire of the Vanities" is a fascinating look at how self interests trump decency, how public perception matters more than the truth, and how lies are sometimes necessary for the truth to surface. One of the reasons this film was so poorly received is that it isn't often laugh-out-loud funny. But "Bonfire" isn't really a comedy; it's a satire about contemporary society, and one that hits all too close to home.
The back cover for the DVD calls this movie "hilarious" and "the
quintessential story of the go-for-it '80s." In truth, it is neither. The
Bonfire of the Vanities is, however, funny in parts, poignant in parts, and
The protagonist is Sherman McCoy, a man whose one fatal flaw (an affair we know of from the beginning) leads to the downfall from his envious position as a "Master of the Universe." Tom Hanks gives an excellent performance and shows real emotion in bringing this highly plausible character to life. Unfortunately, his character is the only one with enough depth to be realistic. Even Morgan Freeman's Judge White, representing a refreshing dose of intelligence and honesty in the film, is perhaps too good to be believed. All of the other characters are mere caricatures, appearing too greedy, too pretentious, too self-absorbed, or too flighty to be believed. Bruce Willis might have made himself an exception as well, but I feel he simply lacked enough screen time to flesh out the different faces he had to show.
Nevertheless the story is very well told. If the other characters appear less than convincing, accept them as colorful background for McCoy, who is the real focus anyway. There are numerous laughs, and the other characters represent elements that are definitely present in society - even if not to the extent shown here. Wolfe's story is entertaining enough to make this movie worth seeing. And it might even make you think twice about the names you see next time you open a newspaper.
7 / 10 stars.
Bonfires of the Vanities is a film drenched in flop sweat. I can recall
no film that has tried so hard to be so unrelentingly outrageous,
provocative and important, yet failed so consistently across the board.
It is like a stand up comic who's not getting laughs, but can't leave
the stage. The harder the film tries, the louder each attempt at a
laugh results in a resounding thud. The desperation the film displays
is so glaring it almost rouses pity for all those involved.
The film achieves laugh-out-loud status only twice. Once is in the sight of Geraldo Rivera playing an obnoxious, arrogant and amoral TV tabloid journalist -- which is funny only because he apparently doesn't realize he is playing himself. The other scene that deserves to be laughed at is the film's final "big moment," wherein the judge played by Morgan Freeman delivers the sanctimonious lecture about what morality is ("it's what your mama taught ya!"). The pomposity of the moment is insulting to the point of being absurd.
Yet, one must admit it is a noble effort. It does have a good, if poorly cast, band of actors, who try to make characters out of cardboard thin caricatures. The film looks professionally made and the little cinematic flourishes that director Brian DePalma just loves are apparent, if not particularly effective. But the film, which apparently wishes to be a commentary on modern morals and ethics, never arises above the level of cartoon. Satire requires style. Farce requires energy. Even sitcom requires timing. But the best Bonfires can muster is desperation. In the end, you don't want to laugh, you just want to turn away.
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