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Partner (1968)
Where acting, directing and art meet
13 April 2002
Movie making is a form of expression that has in recent years been subject to a mold of narrative. The Partner is a genuine example of a film that does not comform to the standard. As always Bertolucci was able to draw performances that transform t characters he created into tangable moments. Particularly remarkable is Pierre Clementi's performance of a man with two identities. Made at the early age of 22, this film is a window into an artist mind. Open your mind and just allow yourself to enjoy the ride.
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Gods Does Some Brilliant Soul Searching
16 April 1999
Gods and Monsters is an invigorating look into the spirit and the meaning to be found at the end of one's life. The film is based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram and explores the final days of James Whale, the director of the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein movies. It was written and directed by Bill Condon (Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh) and features a highly talented cast, led by Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, and Lynn Redgrave. Though not every scene is right on target, Gods is perhaps one of the most moving and emotionally complex films to hit the theatres in a long while. The story takes place in 1957 and is based on the relationship between the retired director and his gardener. Whale (McKellen), long forgotten by the Hollywood studios, has withdrawn to a secluded life of painting. However, following the latest in a series of disabling strokes, Whale becomes more and more reliant upon the care of his live-in maid Hannah, and more and more distraught at what seems to have been a lonely and meaningless life. Then he meets Clayton Boone (Fraser), the burly young gardener that Hannah has recently hired. Whale becomes fascinated with Boone, and right away asks to paint him. Boone, though somewhat flattered, is reluctant to accept the offer of the intimidatingly flamboyant Whale because he is unsure of the old man's motives. Boone does finally accept, however (if only to please the lonely old man), and what results between the two is of the most beautiful of friendships. McKellen and Fraser thrive during these scenes, in which their true acting talent shines through delightfully. The film is at its best here too, for it is here where we learn about the fears and inhibitions of the two characters. We learn that Boone and Whale, at opposite ends of life but equally as afraid of what lies ahead, really need each other. Whale needs someone to validate his existence and to bury the monsters of his past, and Boone needs someone to fill the void that was created by the lack of a father figure in his life. There are times, however, when Gods and Monsters can run a little slow. I particularly felt this way during Whale's dream sequences in which Fraser played Dr. Frankenstein and McKellen appears as the monster himself. These scenes serve to reinforce Whale's view of himself as a perverted monster, but they don't seem fit with the tone of the film and feel confused. For the most part, however, the imagery that Condon loads his film with is wholly positive. One such instance takes place in a scene between Boone and his former girlfriend, Betty (Lolita Davidovich). Betty, the older of the two, gets through telling Clayton that he is too immature and drives away, leaving him standing all alone on a hopscotch course in the middle of a playground. Boone, upset by what Betty has just told her, kicks a nearby can in disgust. The unmistakable impression that Condon conveys to the audience is that Boone, playing kick the can on top of a hopscotch course, is indeed a child. There is no doubt, however, that the acting is what makes Gods and Monster shine. Both McKellen (Actor) and Redgrave (Supporting Actress) were nominated for Oscars, and deservedly so. McKellen (Apt Pupil, Richard III), in pulling off beautifully such a complex role, once again proves that he is one of the top four or five actors around. And Redgrave, who won a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe Award for this role, brings energy and wit to Hannah, whose wry humor and old-fashioned religious morality helps to pump life into Gods while at the same time further antagonizing the beleaguered Whale. It is refreshing to see her character written in this way, as all-too often this type of supporting character acts merely as a go-between and mediator for the two major characters. Brendan Fraser is another plus, too. Audiences who are used to seeing Fraser in one-dimensional roles for such movies as Blast from the Past and Encino Man may be pleasantly surprised as to the amount of depth he is able to bring to Clayton Boone. There are very few films that come out nowadays that have a combination of good acting, scriptwriting, and directing. Gods and Monsters is one of those few. It is certainly a film that is driven by the acting, but Condon's direction, as well as his script (which earned Condon a Best Screenplay Adaptation Oscar) provides a workable stage for the acting to take place. The result is one extraordinary film that any true movie-lover must see.
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The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix a Visual Treat, But Not Much Else
5 April 1999
What if the world in which we live wasn't real? This is the scenario that the writing/directing team of Larry and Andy Wachowski (Bound) take on in their ultra-paranoid new sci-fi flic, The Matrix. The film takes place in the near future, where Paul Anderson, a hacker who goes by the name of Neo (Keanu Reeves), stumbles upon an immense computer program, The Matrix, about which nothing is known. Neo quickly gets intrigued by the mystery of The Matrix, and in his quest to find out what it is he meets Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), another hacker who claims that he can reveal the secret of The Matrix to Neo. The catch: once Neo finds out what The Matrix is, his life will never be the same again.

And so begins the adventure for Neo, who must put aside his own disbelief in order to defeat the Gatekeepers and the traitor Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) save Morpheus' life, all while falling in love with Morpheus' second-in-command, Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss). Not bad for a lowly software programmer. Admittedly, the plot for The Matrix sounds a little weak and the dialogue is pretty cheesy (we're given lines like `Hold on Dorothy, ‘cause Kansas is going bye-bye.'), but the film is able to pull it off, mostly with the help of some brilliant special effects. And they are brilliant. Mass.Illusions, LLC, the same parent company that achieved technical wizardry with What Dreams May Come, once again shines through here with some impressive freeze-frame motion special effects. Keanu Reeves (Speed, Johnny Mnemonic) still can't act, but, Bill and Ted's aside, this is probably the least horrible of all his performances. Luckily, his stone-cold serious character is given little to do besides blow things up and utter one-word exclamations such as `Whoa!' and `Cool!' It was almost as if Neo was written with Reeves' limited talent in mind. Unfortunately, however, none of the other actors are given too much to do either. For all of his talent, Laurence Fishburne (Just Cause, Hoodlum) is only given so much to do, to the point where he is neither a plus or a minus in the film. The same holds true for Carrie-Ann Moss (Sabotage, The Secret Life of Algernon), who seems too preoccupied with her love for Neo and so comes off as being an extremely one-dimensional character. Even the film's most interesting character, Agent Smith, as the leader of the Gatekeepers, is overdone too the point of being annoying. This is a shame because the dry, cynical way in which Australian actor Hugo Weaving(The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Reckless Kelly) portrays him is for the most part a welcome deviation from the robot-like interpretations of every other character in the movie. The bottom line is that The Matrix is worth seeing if for no other reason than to be blown away by some really cool visual effects. Because, honestly, there is really not a whole lot more than that. One wonders just how good The Matrix could have been, if only the script could have been revised just a few more times, and the cast had been chosen just a little more carefully.
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Edtv (1999)
Everybody Loves Ed!
2 April 1999
All of us, if only for a moment, have wondered what it would be like to be famous. Now, we need wonder no more. In EDtv, director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Ransom) takes a self-reflecting and often hilarious look into the not-so-private life of the celebrity. But the beauty here is that the celebrity here is not really a celebrity; he's just an everyday Ed Pekurny. When Northwest Broadcasting Company's (NWBC) flagship cable channel, True TV (a station devoted to Real TV-like documentary programming) falls so low in the ratings that they find themselves playing catch-up to stations like the Gardening Channel, programming director Cynthia Topping (played charmingly by Ellen DeGeneres) decides that it's time for a drastic change. So, in a last-ditch effort to boost ratings and save her job, Topping suggests putting an ordinary person's life on live cable TV. It's all live, 24- hours a day, with no script and no editing. It's the ultimate in True TV! Once the project gets the green light from station executive Jim Whitaker (Rob Reiner), Topping sets out to find her star. She eventually settles on Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey), a handsome yet lazy video store clerk who just happened to be in a San Francisco bar where True TV conducts their talent search. Within days, however, Ed is propelled to superstar status, as EDtv becomes a huge hit across the country. Unfortunately, it isn't a picnic for Ed. His blossoming relationship with his brother's camera-shy ex, Shari, (Jenna Elfman) begins to fall apart due to the lack of privacy in Ed's life. Consequently, Ed's relationship with his brother and the rest of his family crumbles. It gets so bad that Ed is not even allowed at his estranged father's funeral because of the television cameras that accompany him everywhere he goes. It is at this point that we begin to question just whether being a celebrity is all that it's cracked up to be. At first glance, EDtv seems suspiciously similar to last year's hit The Truman Show. At least that's what I thought when I first saw the previews. But the two films are actually very different. In fact, Ron Howard pokes fun of the supposed similarities by casting Harry Shearer as a talk-show host (virtually the same role he had in The Truman Show). It's true that they both deal with putting the lives of people on television, but in all actuality the two films deal with two very different questions. The Truman Show looks at the ethical questions involved with putting someone on TV who does not choose to be there, and subsequently is all about the effects this has on the main character. However, EDtv is an exploration of the loss of privacy that results from being a celebrity, and how that effects not only the life of the celebrity and the lives of those around him. As Ed's best friend, John (played by Adam Goldberg) puts it, in one of the best lines in the movie: `With no privacy, there is no dignity.' McConaughey pulls off the innocence and charm that Ed puts in front of the camera quit nicely, but it's the supporting cast that really puts EDtv into high gear. Elfman puts just the right touch amount of emotion into her role, avoiding the selfish sob-queen stereotype that would have been all-too-easy to fall into, and Woody Harrelson is hilarious as Ed's self-absorbed big brother Ray, who sees Ed's good fortune primarily as a golden opportunity to promote his gym. Degeneres gives undoubtedly one of the best performances of her career as the programming director whose die-hard commitment to boosting ratings and keeping her job suddenly seem trivial when it becomes obvious that Ed is no longer enjoying all the attention he is receiving. And the supporting cast of EDtv phenomenal as well. Martin Landau as Ed's Lark-ridden stepfather and Clint Howard (Ron's brother, making his token cameo in a Ron Howard-directed film) as the show's pathetic director, make excellent contributions and keep the laughs coming. But EDtv is as smart and well-made as it is funny, and the message is clear: being a celebrity ain't all that it's cracked up to be. Perhaps after seeing this movie some audience member won't want to become famous anymore. As for me, I'd rather see for myself.
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