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Ginger Snaps (2000)
"Out by 16 or dead in this scene, together forever, united against life as we know it."
It was funny, because I was standing in the video store looking back and forth between "Ginger Snaps" and "The Grinch" (they were both in the G section, after all), trying to decide. I tried to go and see "The Grinch" a year ago, but the sound in the theater was screwed and I didn't get to. So here's my chance. But something about this lone box with two morbid-looking girls on the front of it vs. the panorama of Jim Carrey roused the rebel in me, so I snapped up the indie and left the commercial geegaw behind.
So anyway. "Ginger Snaps" concerns two sisters, Ginger and Brigitte (known as 'B'), living in a town called Bailey Downs, which I think is supposed to be a satellite town of Toronto. Ginger and B are just-turned-16 and not-quite-15 respectively, and they really, really hate the suburban mundaneness they're stuck with. They might well be called Goths, as they do dress in a good deal of black and are obsessed with death. They spend their time on wholesome activities like faking fatal accidents for school projects and planning the details of their suicide pact. The post title up there is their motto. All the boys are hot for Ginger, but she and her sister scorn them. They are both enormously proud of fact that neither has menstruated yet, as it sets them apart from the simpering girls they see all around them. One of these girls is particularly annoying to them- a stereotypical bimbo-bitch named Trina. Another of the girls' greatest joys is imagining the horrible deaths of their peers, so they decide to really freak Trina out by doing something evil to her big-ass dog. Dogs are important in this movie, in part because "something" around town has been mauling them and in part because they're obviously related to wolves. And in case you didn't know, "Ginger Snaps" is a teenage horror movie about werewolves. On the way to Trina's, they discover two things: one of the town dogs mauled to death and Ginger's first period. And whoops! Two seconds after this second discovery a huge, incredibly ugly dog-man thing attacks Ginger and bounds off with her into the woods. And here we discover just how surface-only the girls' death obsession was. This is the single scariest scene in the whole movie, and there is no question that Ginger wants to live and that B wants to save her. Eventually Ginger does get away from the thing and she and B start running like hell. They do make it to the road, which proves advantageous as the thing is subsequently run over by the friendly neighborhood drug dealer.
So now Ginger has been chomped and clawed by this thing. And pretty soon all kinds of weird stuff is going on. And that's all I'm gonna say about the plot. Now I'm gonna yap about the acting. It's good- really good for a horror movie. In fact, how often does the acting in horror movies even merit mention? With this one, it does. The two central actresses are terrific, and the whole movie hinges on whether you can be concerned about them and believe in their very strong relationship. I'm hard pressed to say who gives the stronger performance, because they are significant for different reasons. Ginger is, quite literally, the libido-driven crotch of the flick while B is it's sad, neglected heart. The drug dealer turns out to be an important character, and even he has a bit more depth than you initially imagine. Mimi Rogers- an actress primarily known for her role as The Wife in Tom Cruise's first marriage- plays the girls' mother with some sort of disturbing mixture of psycho glee (she makes a strawberry cake to celebrate Ginger's period) and over-earnest intent to bond.
Their are streaks of humor to be found in this movie (although they are so pitch black I fear not everyone would catch them), which is delightful in that its not the typical ironic `Scream'-inspired post-modern sort of humor. A word of warning to anyone with a delicate stomach: this movie absolutely gushes gore. Some truly gross stuff is here, but really I don't think it matters. I don't like gore, and except for the occasional flinch it didn't bother me. I was concerned with the characters and what would happen, and the gore was incidental. It feels almost classic, in a way, as it's focus is the struggle inherent to werewolf lore, the one that makes it such a great metaphor for (particularly female) puberty- the fight for and against one's own body and its impulses. That said, the ending does veer into far-too-familiar territory toward the end, only to be saved by its final, quietly shattering last shot.
Nicole: The End
"crazy/beautiful" is among the most frustrating films of 2001. There are two ostensible reasons why this is so, both of which are partially true. One is that a family-friendly studio had one too many fingers in the director's rather daring pie. "crazy/beautiful" is among the most noted victims of the push for PG-13 ratings. If the director's dark R-rated original vision had been allowed to stand, then perhaps the entire thing would work better. The other reason is most obvious and less a matter of speculation. Most of the ingredients were second rate from the get-go and the acting so accentuates those weaknesses that they seem far worse than they would if all aspects of the film were equally bad. You want the whole movie to be worthy of the transcendent Kirsten Dunst, whose performance as Nicole seethes with raw, adolescent power. You want it to be worthy of Jay Hernandez's quiet, conflicted grace as Carlos. You want it to be worthy of Bruce Davidson's lovely if slightly confused humanity as Nicole's congressman dad. But it is not worthy of them. Few movies would be. As it stands, they elevate a movie otherwise is so cliched and standard that you wish you could lift them out of it and put them in one that does them justice.
The movie's major problems are these: the voice-overs at the beginning and end could have been dumped entirely. The characterizations of everyone but the main three and Nicole's best friend (who also gives a terrific performance and is shamefully abandoned two-thirds of the way in) could have been miles better. The plot could have been more original. The relationships between the characters could have been more clearly drawn. The ending needs to be redone almost entirely; "the talk" could stay but things aren't resolved so easily. The ending comes too quickly and feels like a cheat not worthy of the emotions the performances have evoked. An entirely different and unhappy ending would undoubtedly be more powerful, but I don't know if my heart could have taken it.
The movie's primary strength, and I cannot stress this enough, is the acting. Great as Davidson and Hernandez are, though, it is Dunst who truly breathes as her character. Kirsten gives a performance I do not hesitate to call worthy of an Oscar nomination. The finest work yet of this young actress's already remarkable career, it bodes very well for her future. She has incidental gifts- her beauty, lithe body and youth- but she is one actress with which you can dismiss those in favor of her primary one, which is acting. Not looking like a glossy Xerox of a human being on-screen, but acting. She is a young, thin, pretty, blond actress who can force people that automatically dismiss all young, thin, pretty, blond actresses to admit that she is talented. Here, buried underneath wane skin, dirty hair and a lost smile, she is complex and heart-breaking. Here, in a movie that treats teenagers as the complex people they are, I wanted to see and know more about her. I wanted the movie, despite its flaws, to be two hours long so that I could.
I've heard it suggested that "crazy/beautiful" is a pale imitation of a handful of movies, like Larry Clark's "Bully" (which also features some powerful performances by young actors), that strive to show adolescents as they truly are in the face of the sparkly barrage of teen flicks. I don't believe this is so. Very few kids are murderers or rapists of big-time drug addicts. Those are the extreme cases. The biggest tragedies of youth are relatively quiet ones, the kids who can be saved and sometimes aren't. Kids like Nicole- and we all know kids like her.
Strange Days (1995)
He's gotta have Faith.....
A largely ignored entry in the sci-fi genre, 'Strange Days' has its problems but ultimately proves worthwhile.
Ralph Fiennes hits the nail on the head as Lenny Nero, a cop-turned-crook dealing in the drug of the future. His eyes are so vulnerable and his words so sleazy, you don't know whether to kick him or hug him. Angela Bassett is tough and brittle as Mace, a straight-arrow limo-driver whose one weakness is her unrequited love for Lenny. It's not at all surprising that James Cameron wrote this script- he is very big on strong female characters, and Mace continues that tradition. Unfortunately, none of the other characters are so interesting as these two. For reasons unknown, Bigalow cast the very fine actress Juliette Lewis as Lenny's ex, Faith, and then gave her nothing to do except smoke cigarettes and look sexy (which she does) in a series of ever-more revealing outfits. A total waste of Ms. Lewis's talent, no matter how much fun it is to look at her. Terrific character actors Tom Sizemore and Michael Wincott could both do all they're called on to do here in their sleep. Vincent D'Onofrio does his scuzz-bucket routine as a murderous cop- but that routine is always compelling, so that's okay. The artificial reality thing is hardly original, but this movie's realization of 'playback' is intriguing. The violent scenes in which the victims are wired to see what's being done to them through the eyes of the perpetrator are highly unsettling and creepy; the POV and an understanding of how the wire works make these scenes seem less than entirely distant- the viewer feels a bit too close for comfort. The whole rap-star murder aspect of the plot seems a bit too pointed and obvious; it works well enough as a device, but comes off exactly like that- a device. Bigalow portrays 'the future' in Blade Runner-ish fashion, with the city of Los Angeles as a virtual war zone where the law and the citizens are equally out of control. The climax of the film could have been taken from a zillion other sci-fi/action movies and is less than satisfying. But despite the ending, this dark piece of futuristic noir works as a whole, primarily due to its two leads and a well-realized atmosphere.
Practical Magic (1998)
Charmless: A Tale of Two Witches
The single most striking thing about this relentlessly mediocre movie is the bizarre casting of the two lead roles. Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as sisters? What parallel universe does the casting person live in? Both actresses are lovely and talented, but each are the other's antithesis. Glamorous Nicole is all pale skin and red hair, so cool and immaculate and you think her skin would probably be icy to the touch- not that you would probably ever find out, so untouchable is she. By comparison, dark, earthy Sandy defies the practice of calling movie stars 'glamorous'- she possesses beauty and sex appeal, but she also exudes tremendous warmth and accessability. The implausability of these two sharing blood would be easier to ignore in the movie if these cool/warm, pale/dark qualities weren't so dominant in them. As it is, I found the contrasts to be the most interesting aspect. Anyway, Sandy and Nicole are Sally and Gillian, the latest pair of sister witches in an all-female family doomed to have the men they love die. Trying to safeguard against this, Sally is determined to never fall in love. As a precaution, she casts a spell specifying that she will only love a man with a certain combination of odd traits. Nonetheless, she does fall in love- with a man her meddling aunts bring into her life. She bears him two daughters, but- alas- the curse is a real one, and he dies. Gillian, meanwhile, is the wild one and is off living the high life with her 'Transylvanian cowboy' boyfriend. When he turns abusive, she calls on Sally. Sally is already suffering a haunting- she is so distraught over her husband's death that she has forbidden her aunts to teach her daughters magic and refuses to do so herself, though she is far more gifted a witch than Gillian. The killing, resurrection, and re-killing of the girlfriend-beater obliges them to endure a more literal haunting and the arrival of a cop (Aidan Quinn) who possesses a certain combination of odd traits. Added onto this is the suspicions of the town and the determined interference of the aunts and daughters. All of this actually sounds better than it is. The story is played out in such an insipid manner, it inspires scoffing and eye-rolling in equal (and large) amounts. The worst part of the whole affair is the climax, which is never a good thing, but should not be construed to indicate that much of anything preceding it was much good anyway.
Miss Congeniality (2000)
Congenial, But No Winner
To say 'Miss Congeniality' is brain-numbingly predictable is to give it an element of surprise it never even thought about having. It is clear from the box cover/poster that this fits into both the 'fish-out-of-water' and 'makeover movie' formulas. Sandra Bullock is Gracie Hart, an impossibly shlumpy young FBI agent who has, her entire life, suffered from the Ugly Duckling syndrome. A letter from the 'the Citizen', a mass-murderer, leads the Feds to believe his next target will be the Miss United States pageant. And of course they'll need an agent to go undercover. And of course it will be Gracie. They reckon she's the only one who'll look half-decent in a bathing suit, so despite her recent screw-up during an arrest, they send her to a pageant consultant (Michael Caine). The typical transformation into Swan commences, and there is, of course, a cute guy (Benjamin Bratt) who never really noticed her before but suddenly realizes she looks pretty nice in a miniskirt. Burdened with a weak script with little to recommend it but plenty of straggling plot points, the movie is still not without a few positive qualities. The performances are good enough, the jokes are cute enough, Sandy Bullock is beautiful and a good physical comedienne. There's nothing wrong with any of that. The problem is that this same movie has been made about 3 dozen times under different titles in the past couple of years alone. And it's been made better. If you are a Sandy fan, happen to love makeover movies or are in the mood for one while in the video store, by all means give 'Miss Congeniality' a try. If you are looking for a movie with so much as a scrap of originality, though, give it a pass.
Life by 'Chocolat'
What a sweet movie. 'Chocolat' is a fun fable about a free-spirited woman named Vianne (played by Juliette Binoche), who travels wherever the north wind takes her in order to heal the troubled souls she meets up with. Her cure? Chocolate. This time, the sly wind has brought Vianne and her young daughter to a small town in rural France. The mayor of this town, Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), is the latest in a long line of moral-compass types to watch over the village and its traditions. He is not bad or evil; he simply strives to preserve tranquility- but unfortunately for those who have to live there, the town's tradition of tranquility has become little more than suppression. When Vianne shows up with her aura of warm sensuality the mayor sees her as a threat, so she must strive to prove to him and those like him that there is more to live than pointless self-denial. Juliette Binoche is both a presence and a timeless beauty; she will be beautiful at 70 because it exudes from both her face and her spirit. It's really no wonder the entire town reacts so strongly to her character. Also on hand is another warm, beautiful woman: Judi Dench (who is already nearly 70) plays Vianne's landlady and friend, Armande. Lena Olin is another strong character- Josephine, at first a beaten wife and klepto, then transformed into a spirited young business woman. Johnny Depp is Roux, a handsome river-rat whose arrival is the catalyst for the film's climax. All of these characters will face temptation- the chocolate Vianne makes is an obvious metaphor. In this fable, however, temptation is not a bad thing. It's what makes life worth living.
The Matrix (1999)
Free your mind, and the rest will follow.....
There is so much that's good about this movie, it's a shame that there's even a little that's bad about it- but there is. First of all, the bad: some of the performances and dialogue are a bit stilted. Not even the main characters are particularly developed beyond their central archtypes- Trinity and Neo's love story isn't the least bit believable because of this. The final scene is just silly. And the whole film has the Messiah Complex, which has been done and done and done...... Okay, enough haggling. Here's the good: everything else. The whole idea is cool. This just might be the launching film for a whole mythos, like 'A New Hope' and (hopefully) the first Lord of the Rings movie. There are metaphors and analogies here, a lot of them. The Wachowski brothers showed great promise with their very first flick, the terrific 'Bound', and continue to do so here. There are small things that intrigue me- things like the little robots that help with the human-harvesting and look like a cross between insects and surgical instruments. Visually, the movie is nothing short of an unprescedented marvel and has already proven to be one of the most seminal films made in the last couple of decades in that regard. Hugo Weaving is a true find- amazingly creepy as Agent Smith, he absolutely exudes menace and contempt for humanity. The story is rooted in our race's fear of our own creation- technology. Technology has been our salvation. It has allowed the human being- a physically inferior mammal with few natural characteristics to recommend it- to thrive. Cautionary tales that display our fear that it will also be our destruction abound- 'The Matrix' is one of the best. It will be interesting to see how the series develops. It could be as important to the action genre in terms of complete, complex story-telling as it already is visually. One can hope. With the Wachowskis at the helm, there's a good chance.
The Doom Generation (1995)
A bleak, surreal adventure.
Scaldingly angry and hateful, this is the tale of a trio of young people on a roadtrip to hell. Amy Blue and Jordan White are a teenage couple who have been dating "a really long time"- 3 months. One night Xavier Red jumps in the backseat of Amy's car and leads them on a mad, illicit journey through Greg Arraki's twisted vision of young America. Much has been made of the 'excessive' violence and sex this movie has, but that very excess is part of the point- that pointless excess has led the youth of America down a path where death barely registers, and intimacy doesn't at all. Greg Arraki *likes* these 3 characters. He grieves for the innocence they never even had and the love they try to fashion from the bloody shards of their hearts. And he rages at the widely held and ever-so-patriotic belief that regressing back into intolerance is the answer to America's problems, especially in regards to the young. Maybe he's looking for a third option, one that actually does children good, rather than oppressing them or leaving them to run wild in an irresponsible world. Rose McGowan once stated that Amy, with her sharp tongue and wounded eyes, is Rose herself at 15. Like Amy, Rose suffered a horrible childhood and because she put her fury and pain into her character, any 15-year-old girl who has suffered at the hands of those who are supposed to protect her can relate. Jordan is just adrift. He finds that Amy is having sex with Xavier, and he dismisses it- a soft, honest "whatever, Amy." Xavier plays demon-imp, tormenting and tempting Amy and Jordan headlong into their bleak, surreal adventure. Ultimately this story is Amy's, and the story is about isolation- hence Amy's whispered, matter-of-fact assertion at the beginning that "there's just no place for us in this world", her attempts to connect with both boys in the only way she knows how, and then her unseeing stare at the end.
The 4th Floor (1999)
Mediocrity Lives On 'The 4th Floor'
'The 4th Floor' is a decidedly mediocre film starring Juliette Lewis as a young interior designer with a heck of a problem neighbor. Jane (Lewis) has recently inherited a terrific 5th floor apartment from her grandmother, and per agreement with the landlord, gets a ridiculously low renting rate. Her boyfriend (William Hurt as a creepy weather man) wants her to move in with him, but she wants her own space. So she moves in, and weird stuff starts happening, and because this is a B-grade horror flick, there's a dumb, not-to-be-found-in-reality reason why. As the none-too-intriguing Jane keeps trying to tell others- her boyfriend, the police, coworkers- what's going on, everybody thinks she's losing it. So, of course, she has to face the problem- the lunatic living right below her- alone. Neither scary nor interesting, The movie's single saving grace is Lewis. She's a very fine actress but poorly used here, which is not to say she isn't the best thing about this flick- because she is. She has feral charisma and holds the screen better than a dozen of the silicone bimbos that routinely populate this type of movie. This type of movie, though, is not worthy of her- which is ironic, given that she's probably the only reason anyone would see it.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
An Experiment In Fear
Hmm. Wow. What is there left to say? I've waited for most of the hype to die down to even add my comments for this movie to IMDB, and here they are:
This is really a movie that has polarized a lot of people. Many love it and consider it the best thing since sliced bread, and plenty more absolutely hate it and call it tripe, drivel, awful, wretched, the worst ever, etc. (NOTE: as far as I'm concerned, the opinions of anyone calling any movie the best- or even more especially, the worst- movie ever are to be immediately disregarded.) Highly innovative in its way, it spawned many parodies and an interesting but inferior sort-of sequel. In the summer of Star Wars: Episode 1, this was the movie that originated several cultural symbols.
I saw this movie shortly after it opened in wide release. Sitting in a theater surrounded by my friends with popcorn in my lap and watching Mike and Heather run around some creepy old house, I felt for the first and last time in my adult life *real, creeping fear* when I myself was not in danger.
Many have complained about the shaky-cam, the cussing, how nothing 'really happens', and that it's not scary. By and large, the camera is not *that* shaky, at least to the point where you can't understand why- they're tromping through the woods and they're scared half to death. I must not get queasy very easily, as I had no problem with it. As for the cussing- the lines were ad-libbed, the actors are college-age, and all three sound exactly like every American college student I've ever known. So maybe people have a problem with young peoples' language, but what else is new? That's not a flaw of the movie- it's realism and part of why so many more young people found TBWP scary.
I think at least some of the dissention in opinions is caused by generational and cultural differences. My mother's friends told me it wasn't scary, but that 'Psycho' terrified them. 'Psycho', while interesting and a classic, is not the least bit scary to me. 'The Excorcist' has only a couple scenes that I find frightening, but my mom breaks out in goosebumps at the mere mention of it. The scariest thing I ever saw until I watched this movie was a reel in a collection of horror shorts: a woman walks into her house carrying groceries, drops her keys down her heating vent, bends down to try to get them, and something grabs her scarf. She struggles, but within a minute or two, she's drug down and strangled. The scarf goes slack, the woman is lying dead on her floor, and that's it.
TBWP is about what you *can't see*, about how your fear of the unknown is so much worse than what the unknown could probably ever be. The characters were not even necessarily likable, but they were *familiar*- Heather is the girl I sit next to in film class who thinks she has all the answers. Their mundane existence, captured in the beginning of the film, roots them in reality. What happens to them is terrifying because they are so every day, so interchangable with millions of other college kids. And, finally, you never know whether the Witch exists or not. Everything that happens can be explained away by coincidence, pranksters, bats, hunger, exhaustion and imaginations run wild with fear- or you can choose not to explain them away.
Young Americans are not scared of much- school shootings can roll off us like water, the evil human beings inflict on each other is run-of-the-mill 6 o'clock news, we are raised in a culture that claims to worship a vengeful, elitist god while almost everyone is hypocritical and uses the power of spirituality as a way to abuse others. We are in information overload from birth. What we fear is not knowing. And in the Black Hills Woods of Maryland, just beyond the flashlight's reach, something is making strange and terrible noises- but we don't know what it is.
She's All That (1999)
Sorta cute but forgettable.....kinda like Freddie Prinze Jr.....
Recipe for 'She's All That': mix 1 part 'Never Been Kissed', 1 part '10 Things I Hate About You' and 1 part 'Pygmallion', with a dash of the Farrelly brothers (for the utterly disgusting pubic hair pizza scene), add a lot of water and mix until it's vaguely familiar yet still unidentifiable watered-down mush. Freddie Prinze Jr. is Zach, a wildly popular and admired high school senior who gets dumped by his Queen Bitch girlfriend, Taylor (the very voluptous Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) after she meets Brock, a Puck-like creature from The Real World, during Spring Break at the MTV Beach House. The character of Brock is one of the two highlights, played by the ever-entertaining Matthew Lillard. The other highlight is Rachel Leigh Cook, despite the rather ridiculous assertion that a girl this gorgeous could manage to be the school loser. They didn't even do a good job of masking her beauty, as they did with Drew Barrymore in 'Never Been Kissed'. Beautiful as Drew is, they managed to uglify her in the flashbacks scenes enough that you could believe that young Josie Geller was a geek. Here, they basically just stuck thick glasses on Rachel, and she's far too pretty a girl for that to work. Despite that strain on suspended reality, she has a certain prickly charm- her dark eyes flashing in her tiny face, smirkingly throwing Zach on stage in the one place he's entirely out of his league, stomping up like a midget warrior princess to stand face-to-cleavage with Taylor. I should also add here that although Ms. O'Keefe's performance can't really be called a highlight, she handles her thankless role with skill. This movie really seems to have attracted a lot of names in supporting roles- Usher, Lil' Kim, Anna Paquin, Paul Walker, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Pollak, the young man who played Pnub in 'Idle Hands' and his costar from 'The Mighty', Kieran Culkin. Usher and Lil' Kim did little to distinguish themselves here, other than causing me to remember just how young Lil' Kim is. Anna Paquin has a wonderful quality about her (especially evident in her performance in 'Almost Famous') that shines even here in her small, one-note role as makeup artist- a sort of sly, knowing good humor peering from the corners of her eyes, mixed with a petulant vulnerability. Sensuality is in her also, and it could be dangerous. Paul Walker was much better as a doofy dream boy in 'Pleasantville' than he is here as Zach's jerk buddy. Freddie Prinze Jr. is actually the perfect sort of actor to play Zach- cute, generic, likable and harmless. The sort of boy you'd like in high school and forget the first day of college. The movie doesn't end quite like you expect it to and, ironically, this one strike of originality was something I didn't like. Not to reveal too much, but while it's all good and well that we can't have the fairy tale ending with Zach and Laney getting crowned Prom King and Queen, I think they should have been reversed. I'll also add that I'm sorely tempted to try making a teen movie myself for no reason other than to gain evidence that there actually exist some ideas for teen movies that don't climax at the friggin' prom. I think I'll have my teen movie's climax take place at the Christmas dance.
Trailer Park Dreams
From Darren Stein- who would direct 'Jawbreaker' a year later- comes an odd and likable little movie called 'Sparkler'. Young Mr. Stein has a distinct style, although he has yet to make a truly good movie. He doesn't seem quite capable of pulling together an entire, cohesive film, but both of his movies thus far bear his slightly weird and skewed surrealism. The title refers to the film's main character, Melba May, a middle-aged trailer park princess with dreams of getting out and a husband who nails any and every woman he can get to lie down. She stumbled across three young men at a run-down bar. They are on their way to Vegas to raise rent money. One is Trent, a pie-in-the-sky innocent capable of admiring Melba May's seedy, self-delusional glamour. He is the one who nicknames her Sparkler, and Jamie Kennedy is so cute and lovable in his quirky way that it's impossible not to like him. The other two are more cynical- Joel, dealing with his repressed homosexuality, and Brad, (played by Freddie Prinze Jr. in his only standout performance besides the one he gave in 'The House of Yes') a boy trying to be a Hollywood agent so frightened by life that he has to hide behind bluster and sneers. A lost earring and Brad's business card sends Melba May after them. She wins them their rent money, tracks down her showgirl friend Dottie, and is relentlessly persued by her trailer-trash husband because, unbeknownst to her, she's won a million dollars in the sweepstakes. This is a movie that is probably best characterized as a black comedy, as it deals quite frankly with several unsavory and potentially offensive topics but does so with a sense of humor. It has an odd brand of charm, but it's charm all the same.
Whoever thought up the Magic Carpet Ride car chase was inspired......
'Go' is one of a small handful of movies that I turn to repeatedly when I can't think of anything else I want to watch. The funny tale(s) of what happens to a web of loosely related young people on Christmas Eve, it bears a strong structural similarity to 'Pulp Fiction' and also owes no small amount of gratitude to that film's wit and sharp dialogue. It's nearly impossible to hold that against it, though, as this movie actually succeeds in capturing some of Tarantino's magic where so many other PF-knockoffs fell flat on their faces. There are 3 stories here. One is about Ronna, a world-weary supermarket cashier short on rent who comes up with a fairly brilliant sceme to raise money, if not for that gorgeous but nasty drug dealer. One is about Simon, a lovably sleazy Brit spending a day or two in Vegas with his 'mates', who can't seem to make the connection between his wild enthusiasm for everything and the crazy messes he keeps getting into. The third is about Adam and Zack, a pair of soap-opera actors who happen to be lovers and in trouble with the law for drug possession. There are plenty of memorable supporting characters- the previously mentioned drug dealer, Ronna's friends Mannie and Claire, Simon's friends Marcus, Singh and Tiny, the really strange cop assigned to Adam and Zack, the father-son team of thugs on Simon's tail, and other, random weirdos floating along the river of life in a city that never seems to sleep. All these wild characters get themselves into wild situations, and we get to sit back and watch the energy crackle. Tons of fun, really, and a sure bet for still-enjoyable subsequent viewings.
Lewis & Clark & George (1997)
Two Guys & a Girl
'Lewis & Clark & George' definately fits into a nitch- that of the black comedy road movie- but it does a good job of fulfilling the requirements of said nitch without becoming too generic. Rose McGowan is George, a gorgeous, deadly and mute young woman with a lot of tricks up her leopard-print sleeves. She has stolen a rare snake from a zoo, leaving her boyfriend to the devices of a mad bowler who proceeds to pursue her for the rest of the film. Not every character in this movie is a moron, as has been asserted. You can be pretty sure that George, at least, has a triple-digit I.Q. Lewis and Clark are a pair of escaped convicts, as different from each other as can be. Lewis is blond, illiterate, (it's a running joke that he keeps encountering and faking out other illiterate people,) and a cheerful murderer. Clark is dark-haired, a computer nerd, and would seem to have the sense of self-preservation Lewis lacks if not for the way he falls for George like a ton of bricks. They all share the desire to find a Mexican gold mine. There aren't any big mysteries here, except maybe how Rose managed to stay so pale shooting almost the whole movie in near-desert conditions. Fairly predictable things happen. It's a fairly predictable movie. Nonetheless, at least this predictable movie is fun while it lasts.
Remember the Titans (2000)
As arctypal as 'inspiration' movies come, 'Remember the Titans' still manages to please. Not the least of its charms are the seriousness with which it takes the race issue and its rating- i.e., this is a movie a whole family could watch together before having a conversation about racism and personal responsibility for treating others with respect. Denzel Washington rarely gives a bad performance, and he didn't here. Will Patton is equally likable. Here are two men devoted to teaching their young charges about life, and realize that it is their responsibility to arm them for battle in the real world. The lovely story of friendship between Julius and the doomed Gerry is poignant indeed. Classy people come from all different races and backgrounds. The one thing that really pulls it together is the audience's awareness that this is based on a true story. I'm sure they've 'Disney-fied' it, but what would come off as incredibly cheesy and manipulative as an entirely fictional story comes off as, well, inspirational when it has at least a grain of truth.
Charlie's Angels (2000)
A Promise Kept
I always love to look at the scoring demographics, and here it's interesting to note that women in every age category give this flick higher points than do men. I'm sure there is a person out there sneering that it's because women are dumb and don't know what makes a good movie. That person is a creep. I think it has more to do with the fact that we so rarely get to see female action heroes, particularly ones we can like. We had Trinity at the beginning of The Matrix before the movie quickly found a man to focus on, and we have Max and Buffy on television. It's a sign, though, that even silly movies featuring women kicking butt are so popular among, well, women. We need this. We need strong females in leading roles, even in silly movies. And this is a very silly movie, make no mistake. I also think it intends to be that way. Each scene has it's own cartoon feel, and the movie itself is like a comic book come to life. There are some very nice and admirable touches, added at Drew Barrymore's insistence. We see the Angels eating heartily, we see the Angels use martial arts abilities instead of guns, we see the Angels saving gentlemen in distress. Certainly, there are aspects that could be regarded as sexist, but this is 'Charlie's Angels', for crying out loud, based on the show that spawned the term 'jiggle-television'. Worth mentioning is the wonderful Crispin Glover playing one of the odder and more unforgettable villains I've seen. Does he even have a single line of dialogue? And only 'Charlie's Angels' would feature a villain like Eric Knox. He's like the quasi-cool younger brother of those guys from 'Night at the Roxbury'. And Bill Murray is Bill Murray. There's not much else to say about that. Ultimately, the movie works because it never promised to be more than what is is- an action-comedy about three hot babes wearing cool clothes while kicking bad-guy ass. Anyone who watches it and condemns it for being anything other than that has only himself to blame.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
So much sound & fury, signifying nothing
I really like Oliver Stone's movies and I have nothing against football, but this movie didn't really work for me. It was so loud and so frenetic, yet it didn't really hide that there was nothing much going on except the usual sports-movie hijinks. I expect more of Oliver Stone, and he usually delivers. The characters aren't sympathetic, but at the same time you can't really hate them. Yeah, they're all self-centered, but you can hardly blame them for trying to keep their own butts covered, given the people they're surrounded by. 'Sharks' was a fitting team name here. If this movie has a point, it's simply a portrait of the thirst for money and power that abounds in pro sports. That's what all of these characters are after, one way or another. Even the characters that should be likable- like Dennis Quaid's- come off as desperate and greedy. I suppose Al Pacino's character was supposed to be 'our hero'- after all, are old, white, male football coaches ever supposed to be anything but noble?- but I found him a good deal more distasteful even that the characters played by Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx, both of whom I suspect I was supposed to dislike, either a lot- Christina- or a little- Willie. She, supposedly, would 'eat her young' for being a tough team-owner trying to make her franchise work, and he's a jerk for trying to look after himself in a world that certainly isn't going to look after him on his behalf. On the positive side of things, the performances- one and all- were terrific. This was really a good ensemble cast, and they all seemed to have latched onto their characters and realized that the selfishness inherent in every one of them is both loathsome and understandable. I give praise to the actors and the realistic portrayal of pro-football injuries, stress, and excess, but this movie quite simply collapses under the weight of it's own artifice. It's a heavy, slick veneer over a shell of a film that is, essentially, empty.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Robbers and Preachers and Vampires, oh my!
Anyone trying to do a 'serious review' of this movie needs to lighten up. George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino are the Gecko brothers, two bad, bad men on their way to Mexico. Along the way they pick up a preacher played by Harvey Keitel and his two kids. They're supposed to meet a partner at a bar called The Titty Twister, and once they get there madness ensues. From there it takes a turn that many seem to find infuriating but I personally find highly entertaining. It's humming along like a typical Tarantino picture, and then- BOOM. Out of nowhere, it becomes all too clear that these two bad, bad men are not by a longshot the baddest in *this* bar. All of this can- and *will*, given the right attitude on the part of the viewers- read as a loving high-five to 70s zombie flicks, a homage to the campy fun of those movies. The tough guy dialog continues throughout, the gore level is astounding, and we see via Kate- the preacher's daughter, played by Juliette Lewis- that sometimes a p***ed-off virgin with a crossbow can more than hold her own. On top of that, it has a hella-cool biker-bar soundtrack and Salma Hayek in a bikini. What's not to like?
The Contender (2000)
I really have mixed feelings on this one.......
On the one hand, this is the rare and admirable story of a woman fighting for power, and the opposition any such woman would encounter is not candy-coated. This nation will not have a woman president for quite some time yet- I believe we will have a black male president first, even though women are more than half the population and blacks are something like 14%. This is still a country deeply afraid of women, and the combination of politics and the double standard is a vicious one. It also briefly tackles the hypocrisy of anti-abortionists and the separation of church and state. I admire the film-makers for addressing these issues, but I also have my 'howevers'. First of all, the ending was frankly overwrought. Second of all, this movie is ostensibly a fictional work. If you believe that, you probably also believe 'Planet of the Apes' wasn't about the mistreatment of blacks and that 'The Crucible' wasn't about McCarthyism. This movie was at least in part about the Clinton administration, although I think that was inevitable. You can no longer make a movie about sex in politics and have it not be at least somewhat about Clinton's terms in office. It's also frankly pro-Democrat. Now the thing is, I don't have a problem with it defending the Clinton administration or it being pro-Democrat. While I disagree with some of the things Clinton did, his sexual life is his business. That's not being anti-morality, it's being pro-privacy, and I applaud a movie that upholds that ideal when our culture is awash in sleaze and our bedroom behavior is daily fodder for tabloids. I'm not Democrat, but I'm even less inclined toward Rebulicans, and I will agree with another reviewer here that no Democrat is so angelic as Joan Allen's character, although there are certainly Republicans like Gary Oldman's. As for Hollywood being awash in liberals- I would imagine so. Film-making is on some levels still a creative endeavor, creative people will have a higher tendency towards liberalism, and conservatives are all for advocating environments that suffocate creativity and free-thinking. On the other hand, there has already been a very fine and honest movie made about the Clintons- it's called 'Primary Colors', and it comes with a strong recommendation from me. I cannot believe there is a politician as noble as Laine Hanson- rising to that level of power ensures that. Indeed, I believe there are very few people that noble. Some of the film-makers behind 'The Contender' might well have a spark of it, but were that spark full-blown, this would have been a more honest film.
What Lies Beneath (2000)
"I see hot old people!"
I can never think about 'What Lies Beneath' without remembering the above line written in a professional review of this movie. But really, 'What Lies Beneath' has little to do with the very good thriller 'The Sixth Sense'. It's more like 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' for the Babyboomer set. Here we have an older, attractive couple- amusingly enough, the Ford-Pfeiffer pairing seems to be an honest attempt to cast a woman old enough for the male lead, and there's still a 14 year age difference. At least H.F. and M.P. are good in their fairly one-dimensional roles. Anyway, one of them 'did' a bad thing and of course it's going to come back and haunt them. 'It' is a young woman that has disappeared, and Agent Michelle is on the case. 'What Lies Beneath' has got a lot of jump scenes- complete with musical spikes- and a couple of genuine thrills, but I think I would have enjoyed this movie a lot more if I hadn't correctly guessed the ending 45 minutes in.
A Rainbow of Delights
How interesting it is that the statistical rating for 'Pleasantville' plummets nearly an entire point between people under 18 years of age and people aged 45+. 'Pleasantville' is a lot like an actual teenager- bright, amusing, rebellious and possessed of a fierce and passionate sense of personal freedom. This is not a subtle film, but it has a lovely, misunderstood message, cool Crayola effects and nice performances. The point here is not strictly that the 90s and color are better than the 50s and black and white. The point is that black and white can still exist in a world of color, but color can not exist in a world of black and white. The point is not that the 50s were evil, but that the backwards-thinking idealization of that time brings with it the cultural sterilization that flourished then. The 50s were the 50s and they were as they were supposed to be- there's nothing particularly wrong with that. People have responded strongly to this film because the 50s are falsely seen as some sort of promised time for America and there are those who find that image appealing. That was a time when these people think that "their morals" ruled supreme, and Manon forbid that "their morals" be attacked as they attack "ours". It also takes people of the 90s to task a bit- as Jeff Daniels' soda jerk notes, we don't even realize how lucky we are. 'Pleasantville' is not saying, as has been alleged, that sex equals free expression. The basketball team captain doesn't spring to color after Jennifer deflowers him. He stays in black and white and tries to make her burn her book. Sex is one of many tools used by this bright, passionate movie to metaphor- and *embrace*- the Fall. Sex doesn't make one 'colorful'. Self-awareness and free-thinking do. The idea is that self-awareness and freedom of thought are good things. That's it. Of course, the human being is not a perfect animal, and with self-awareness and freedom of thought come a higher saturation of some things that are problematic- witless promiscuity and drugs. But promiscuity and drugs existed in the 50s, along with racial and sexual hatred, violence, and thoughtlessness. All of these are not reflections on a lack of cultural moralizing- they are reflections on a lack of widespread personal responsibility. They are also not products of the 90s- they are products of the state of being human. But do we really want to give up self-awareness and freedom of thought to live in the 50s again, just so we can cover up all the problems we have now and HAD THEN AS WELL with hypocritical and constricting 'black and white' moralizing? That is the question 'Pleasantville' asks. There is a saying that anyone who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither. This is the message 'Pleasantville delivers. And besides that, it's a really cute fantasy flick.
Illumination For the Soul
So frequently, movie-goers, myself included, will describe a movie as being 'a waste of time'. Sometimes it's a fun waste of time, sometimes a horrible one, sometimes a pointless one, etc. And then there are movies like 'Magnolia', the exceptions- indeed, the very antitheses. Here is 3+ hours sitting in front of a television that is anything but a waste- 3+ hours of life that serve to enhance the hours afterward. 'Magnolia' is a meditation on life- one of the few movies to seriously shoot for that goal and one of the fewer still to achieve it. Each and every one of the actors give terrific performances, the ties between them bobbing and weaving until it all falls into place, merely great cinema humming along between moments that spark and flare and illuminate in ways seldom seen. May Paul Thomas Anderson always be as inspired and observant as he is now. 'Magnolia' is a marvel.
True Romance (1993)
With Plenty to Praise and Little to Deride, 'TR' is a Worthy Film
It's interesting to note that this same screenplay spawned 'Natural Born Killers' the year after 'True Romance' was released. I love that movie to pieces and it has a lot more to say than this one, but that should not be taken as an affront to an enjoyable film- which is exactly what 'True Romance' is. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are Clarence and Alabama Worley, two relative innocents- a comic-book store clerk and a call girl- who fall in love after his boss hires her to sleep with him. He develops an instant hatred for her pimp, so he puts a gun in his sock and goes to visit. Her pimp is Drexl, played by Gary Oldman as a half frighteningly realistic and half laughable 'wigger'. A shootout commences, from which Clarence flees with a suitcase filled not with Alabama's things as he had though, but with cocaine. He realizes he and Alabama could definately use the kind of money that can be made off selling it, so they skip town and head to L.A. after briefly visiting his dad. From there they get mixed up with a famous actor named Elliott, an aspiring one named Dick, Dick's pothead couch potato roommate, Floyd, and a whole gallery of folks who want them dead. 'True Romance' ends well but goes at a fast clip and feels shorter than what it is- for one thing, the time is never taken to develop the sense of inevitability of love between Clarence and Alabama that was created between Mickey and Mallory Knox. Nonetheless, Christian Slater is enjoyable as a guy who knows he's in over his head but is trying to do his best in the situation, and Patricia Arquette has one of her best roles in that guy's cute, not-as-dumb-as-she-seems wife. Her scene with the goon sent to collect the cocaine from their hotel room is both nauseating (who wants to see our heroine get her face bashed in?) and terrific, (how often do you get to see a woman win a brawl this nasty in the movies?) and from it and her ending voice-over, you know that this woman is a survivor through and through. Fun, well-done, and fast-paced, 'True Romance' is a worthy companion film to 'NBK' or, indeed, just about any of the other movies Tarantino has scripted.
I still can't figure out what a 'Book of Shadows' has to do with anything....
Only slightly more annoying than folks who jump on a movie's bandwagon are folks who go out of their way to trash a very good to decent flick as being "absolutely the worst, most awful, horrible, terrible piece of trash ever put on the silver screen" for no reason other than that they can't be reasonable about such things. For two prime examples of both phenomena, (see also: Star Wars Episode 1) we have 'The Blair Witch Project' and 'Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2'. Neither is 'Citizen Kane', but they both certainly have something to recommend them. 'The Blair Witch Project' can never be recreated. It was a one-time marvel, wildly innovative in its way, and the scariest movie I've ever seen in my life to boot. 'TBWP' is all about what you can't see, but are afraid is there. This annoyed some people something fierce, as they certainly couldn't be expected to exercise a little imagination, now could they? Others, like me, saw it as the 90s' single blow for true psychological terror. Furthermore, it has believable characters. Heather, Mike and Josh talk like every college kid I've ever known, including me. And *you never know*. Was there really a Blair Witch? Did those three ill-fated campers actually even die? Who the hell put Heather's footage at the foundation, anyway? I remember sitting in the theater watching the last 5-10 minutes of 'TBWP' and feeling like my fiercely pounding heart was pumping icicles through my bloodstream. I flinch at a jump scene like everyone else and grimace at gore, but sitting in a theater, surrounded by friends, I felt for the first and last time *real, creeping fear* when I myself was not in danger. Of course, shortly thereafter, the media couldn't stop yapping about a movie that had been talked about for months in the independent film industry. It's ultra-creepy web site was getting a gazillion hits a day, and 'TBWP' was an Event, voted 'Movie of the Summer'- over Star Wars, no less- by several publications. The point of all this rambling about 'TBWP' in a review ostensibly for its sort-of sequel is necessary, as the one aspect of this second film *is* the reaction to the first- and it is also necessary to look at the aftermath of the original movie to understand reactions to this one. At the end you still 'don't know' what happened. 'BW2' is not as scary, funny, believable or innovative as the original. It's got nudity, sex and tons of blood, none of which the original stooped to- although the blood-letting flashbacks were put in at the studio's insistence. The performances- though not groan-worthy- are not as good, some of the characters not as interesting. Erica and Kim- who bears a middling resemblance to Rose McGowan- are both gorgeous, and they are at least fairly interesting. Jeff comes off as useless, but you can understand his position, and the 'normal couple' is simply boring. 4 of these actors- all except Erica- have worked before, although for one- Stephen- this was a first movie role. All are relative unknowns, but most of them have parts in upcoming flicks, and any talk of their careers ending here is just malicious b.s. on the part of the anti-bandwagoneers. Any assertion that the box-office failure of 'BW2' shows that most people hated the first after being 'tricked' by the hype into seeing it is strictly inaccurate- I didn't see it in the theaters, not because I hated the first but because I didn't have time and I was sick of the *hype* itself. There is a subtle but important difference. What we have here is a movie that tries to be independent of the first- it's relative lack of artistic and structural ties to that movie being one of its best assets, as it avoids most sequel cliches- and it's a decent effort on it's own merit. The problem is that it can't be seen as an independent movie with its own merit in the eyes of the general movie-going public. If it didn't have 'Blair Witch 2' as part of it's title, half the people who have posted reviews here wouldn't have done so, and those reviews that remained would not have been so adamant. This is not a movie worth getting *that* worked up about. It is, however, worth a rental.
Country Mouse's Adventures In the City
'Loser' has exactly 2 things going for it- the good (but by no means great) performances of Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari as a matched set of lovable college kids who are no respectable human being's idea of 'losers'. The rest is pretty lifeless. Biggs' character Paul has 3 roommates who are all complete creeps and kick him out of the room; Mena is working at a strip bar as a waitress and carrying on an affair with a professor. Greg Kinnear plays smarmy, but he did it better in 'Mystery Men'. So Paul and Dora meet in class, and since Dora's apparently the only nice person Paul has managed to meet, (which is an odd and unbelievable aspect to the movie, as college students immature enough to behave the way everyone but Paul and Dora do in this movie are few and far between) he develops an attachment to her. Various plot contrivences then pop up as scheduled. The plot is entirely predictable, although it's still hard not to smile when our two protagonists get together. Definately not great- or even particularly good- 'Loser' is basically a fair and formulatic movie made watchable by its leads. I'll also say, though, that as far as I'm concerned, Paul should have reported his date-raping roommates to the police.