Reviews

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The Searchers (1956)
9/10
John Ford shows us how to make a Western
17 June 2002
John Ford is a classic Western filmmaker (though certainly not the only genre in which he excelled), employing the classic Western film star, John Wayne, in perhaps one of the most underappreciated films of our time. Ford builds a thoroughly entertaining movie which explores classic Western themes without necessarily relying on these themes to drive the plot.

Like any good Western, we are inorexably drawn to a kind of Cowboys vs. Indians saga, but Ford manages to draw us into the conflict in such a way that the mere "Cowboys good, Indians bad" aesthetic isn't really applicable here. While relying on the archetypical roles of the two groups to set up a conflict, Ford is ahead of his time in managing to characterize the Indians as more than "noble savages". Wayne's character's (Ethan Edwards) hatred of "the Commanch" is called into question a number of times, especially in his stormy relationship with adopted nephew and fellow searcher Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), who we are told is a quarter-Indian himself, and cannot bring himself to find the same sort of hatred for the Indians that Ethan holds.

Ethan was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, returning to his brother's Texas homestead after the war. A group of Commanches, led by the ominous Chief Scar, route and kill his brother's family while Ethan and Martin are investigating a cattle rustling, the Commaches' diversionary tactic. The Indians took the family's youngest daughter, and the majority of the film has us following Ethan and Martin in their attempts to track down Scar and take back the girl, Debbie (played by Lorna and Natalie Wood, at different times).

Such a situation sets up one of the many moral ambiguities that make this more than an ordinary Western: the Commanches slaughtered Ethan's brother and his family - he seemingly has reason to hate them with the almost crazy passion that he does. Yet the more naive Martin cannot bring himself to hate them in such a way, and the split between them becomes a major point of contention when it becomes clear that Debbie has more or less been adopted as a Commanche (the two "Searchers" chase after her for about five years in film time). Furthermore, when the two "Searchers" actually meet Scar, who they've been chasing for years, he is presented as a rather intelligent character, although certainly one filled with vengance - he, too, has his reasons for waging war with the likes of Ethan and Martin, and cannot merely be written off a the type of bloodthirsty savage that is typical of the portrayal of most Indians within the genre.

The film relies on enough classic Western material to imbue with the feel with the sense of such pictures. Aside from the question of Ethan's morality, Wayne plays him with classic John Wayne freewheeling confidence and swagger that made the actor such an icon, and it comes off quite well. We are also given a side story involving Martin's romance with the hard-as-nails Laurie Jurgensen (played by Vera Miles, best known for playing Janet Leigh's sister in "Psycho"). The relationship is from a classic, archetypical Western mold - the two have been in love since they were kids, but Martin has responsibilites to his family that stop him from making the proper time for his beau, and his rough frontier-uprbringing leave him seemingly lacking the proper sensitivity for dealing with Laura (though he does, of course, have a heart of gold).

As a side note, this film should prove immensely interesting to any serious fan of the "Star Wars" trilogy (the original one). While those films undoubtably draw a great deal of inspiration from Kurosawa's samurai films, there is most certainly a great deal (especially in the film subtitled "A New Hope") drawn from here. One scene in particular (when Luke returns to his farm after stormtroopers have blasted in pieces) is virtually ripped straight from "The Searchers". Ford's film is also full of the sort of gallows humor present throughout the trilogy, and even incorporates some rather goofy characters, the half-cracked Mose Harper (Hank Warden) and the incredibly over-the-top rival for Laura's hand Charlie McCorry (Ken Curtis), without ruining the overall serious feel of the film, but managing to squeeze laughs out of absurd situations (such as a fight between Martin and Charlie) without compromising the ability to quickly return to a solemn tone. Such deft touch, as well as the addition of wise-cracking dialogue (provided largely by Wayne and Ward Bond here) are a large part of what made the original trilogy so successful, and it's strikingly similar to the type of paradigm on display between various characters here.

Regardless of ranting and raving about Star Wars, however, this is an excellent film on it's own merit.
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6/10
So Close, and yet so far....
29 January 2002
Warning: Spoilers
When I first saw this movie when it came out in theatres, I was very impressed with the visual aspects and overall feeling of this film. When I first read the book, then watched the movie again, I thought it was an amazing adaptation. A few years later, after becoming more familiar with Hunter S. Thompson (whose real-life adventures this film is based on), and reading and watching the movie again, I realized just how flawed an adaptation this really is.

The film does do an outstanding job of visually representing everything in the book. There's a scene in the hotel, where Thompson's character (who is also his alias, Raoul Duke, and played by Johnny Depp), in a drug-induced haze, begins to see giant lizards swimming in blood in the hotel lobby, and the scene looks right out of a Ralph Steadman drawing.

However, the film presents Thompson and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" as a kind of drug-induced escapade, sort of a less coherent Cheech and Chong type of film, with Thompson running around, drugged up in a frenzy with his "lawyer" Dr. Gonzo (based on real-life Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta, and aptly played by Benicio Del Toro), getting into to trouble and acting like idiots. This is wrong. This is not what "Fear and Loathing" in about.

Rather, the book itself is among the most profound epitaphs for the hippie-counterculture movement that formed in the sixties, something that only lip service is given to in the film, in the form of a short Thompson monologue. The book is also an in-depth (though rank outsider) look at the establishment of the early 70s. The second part of the story, which takes place at a National District Attorney's Convention on Drugs, is in large part a running commentary on the failure of the old-school centrist political/economic world (Thompson's white whale) to grasp the youth movement that had budded in the sixties, and now had nowhere to go. This serious, meaningful commentary does not come across at ALL in the film - very little of the myriad of social commentary apparent in any part of the book is in the film.

Every technical aspect of the film is solidly done - the main actors, Depp and del Toro, are quite good. Depp, in fact, is more or less a dead ringer for Thompson, almost exactly how you might imagine the author in the early 70s. But the film doesn't take itself seriously enough to be anything more than a fun visual experience. Which is a shame, because director Terry Gilliam does, at times, seem to have a real feel for the presentation of feel of the book. But he makes too many changes (Lacerda's weird personality, for instance), cuts the wrong parts away (much of Thompson's introspection and commentary), and adds the wrong things (*and this isn't really a spoiler, but I'll put a small warning anyhow* such as the final scene, where we hear Depp's Thompson doing a voice-over from an epitaph he wrote for Acosta two years after this, which does not by any means appear in the book, nor particularly apply to anything else that happens in the story - which is as good a summation for the film as I can give - this is a group of wierd experiences missing the overriding feeling and commentary that brings it together so brilliantly in print.
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The Producers (1967)
8/10
Don't you see, it's so simple....
13 January 2002
"The Producers" is Mel Brooks' first film - it is also his most original, the only one to win him and Oscar (for Best Screenplay), and to many (myself included), his best. There are certain filmmakers who seem to create their own sort of film with a different style than anyone else (people like Woody Allen or Wes Anderson, for instance), and Brooks is one of these. There isn't anything else that has the ribald, comedic, sarcastic, and overly theatrical tone of a good Mel Brooks film.

This is, in such a sense, Brooks' master work - the film is imbued with a natural theatricality in the way each character is seemingly caricaturized, and the presence of Broadway favorite Zero Mostel in the leading role just adds to the effect.

The movie is of course, about a play - a work entitled "Springtime for Hitler" (a spring with Hitler and his lover Eva, showing the Fuhrer's lighter side), which ought to tell you everything you need to know about the sense of humor necessary to enjoy such a movie. The movie is full of blatantly (and purposely) tasteless humor - Bialystock (Mostel), a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer, raises funds by wooing little old ladies whom he refers to with such names as "Hold Me, Touch Me". His partner, Bloom (Gene Wilder), is pretty much a full-blown wimp who still carries around a "blue blankie", and together they make quite a pair.

The rest of the cast fills out nicely - Kenneth Mars as the yammering German Franz Liebchen, full of love for "you-know-who" and no grip whatsoever on reality, Christopher Hewitt as the flambloyant director Roger DeBris, Lee Meredith as Ulla, the secretary who speaks no English, Dick Shawn as Lorenzo Saint-DuBois (or, as his friends call him, L.S.D.), an hippie actor who ends up playing Hitler, and excellent cameos from the likes of Estelle Winwood and Burgess Meredith.

It would be amiss to talk about this film now and not mention the current hit show actually on Broadway. The play is, to be honest, probably a bit better. The majority of the best one-liners and scenes remain, but the play fits even better into Brooks' theatrical, over-the-top stylings (indeed, at times the play goes so far over the top as to not be in the same atmosphere as normal entertainment, such as the character of Carmen Ghia in the play). The Broadway adaptation features a slightly different storyline and drops the character of L.S.D. altogether, but it comes out as a more entertaining production than the film. That said, and with apologies to Matthew Broderick and (especially the excellent) Nathan Lane, Mostel and Wilder play these characters better than their newer counterparts, so there is a bit of a balance.

The film itself stand alone, and is definitely worth seeing, not only for the greatest musical number ever to grace film stock (also named "Springtime for Hitler), but for the entertaining feel and pace of the film.
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Orange County (2002)
3/10
Not Horrid, but nothing special
11 January 2002
First off, let me point out that I saw this at a press screening, so I can't be sure I saw the final cut. What I did see, however, was maybe 10 to 15 minutes of good movie stuffed in an hour-and-a-half long film. "Orange County" isn't nearly as bad as the majority of teen movies out today, but that isn't a saying a lot - and that's about all there is to say for it.

I can sum of the good aspects of this movie in two words: Jack Black. He's very good at what he does, a kind of goofball in his own world kind of character, and he excels at it here. He steals every scene he's in, and perhaps the best scene in the film is between Black and Ben Stiller, in an inexplicable cameo. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Black reminds me a bit of John Belushi - not quite the same, but with the same comic mentality. He just needs better vehicles than this.

Colin Hanks isn't bad, but no one else really shines. I'm gonna go ahead and assume that the majority of bigger names in this film (Catherine O'Hara, John Lithgow, Lily Tomlin, Harold Ramis, and -say it ain't so- Kevin Kline) appear as a favor to Lawrence Kasdan, director Jake's father. They all seem out of place, especially Kline, and O'Hara's over the top caricature of a drunken gold-digger is too odd for words.

The direction itself is not bad - the film moves along at a brisk pace, and avoids some of the normal pitfalls of the stupid teen comedy cookie-cutter. All the same, the story itself borders on the utterly ridiculous - it was pointed out to me that the end of the movie works out in such a way that the lead character(Hanks) actually manages to hurt his chances of achieving his dream, largely because certain elements of this movie apparently exist in fantasy-world, where the right choice is always the one accompanied by cheap sentimentality. This is a shame, because with a little work and a different ending, this actually could've turned out to be an interesting film.
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7/10
Close, no cigar
15 December 2001
Having not seen Rushmore or Bottle Rocket, I have nothing to compare this to, though I will say the film makes me want to see the other two Anderson has made.

"The Royal Tenenbaums" is an interesting and entertaining film, but it has its shortcomings. Namely, it seems to have lost its message somewhere in one too many little side commentaries about familial relationships. The film sets itself up to have a message, but none comes forth - is it about the downward career trajectory? reaching your peak too early? how selfish parents affect kid's lives? What?

That said, the film is incredibly well made. The sets are very well done, you subtly notice things like the character's always wearing basically the same clothing, these kinds of things. There is a nice bit of subtlety as you continually see Ben Stiller's character (Chas) shut his father out literally and figuratively by turning out the lights in the room his father (Hackman) is in. The film is full of these kinds of impressive touches.

The acting is a mixed bag - a couple of characters aren't written particulary well. Hackman, Bill Murray, and Danny Glover all shine in characters that are ridiculous to some degree. Anjelica Huston is great. Luke Wilson and Stiller are right for their roles, and Wilson makes a stunning transformation that fits well into the movie, and he does a fine job as the film's moral center (I think.) Gwyneth Paltrow and Owen Wilson's characters, however, appear to be included for the sake of advancing the plot - neither one really gets much of a chance to act, so I can't really blame them for their performances (though O. Wilson did, of course, co-write this, so I can blame him a little).

"The Royal Tanenbaums" felt like it still had a lot of rough edges to work out. There are a lot of hilarious, dark comedy moments, but the film seems to be concerned more with these moments that making any salient point. There are something akin to eight major characters (the five Tenenbaums, Glover, Murray, and Owen Wilson, not to mention Chas's two kids, who provide a number of great moments), each of whom have their own separate and interesting issues, and there isn't near enough time to explore them all - only Luke Wilson's Richie and Hackman's Royal seem to find their solutions (and maybe Chas) - the ending is kind if a cop-out, though I won't say more about it. Basically, the film kind of deals with everyone's problems, sort of, maybe, and for the characters whose problems aren't really adressed (like Paltrow's, Owen Wilson's, and Murray's) you have to wonder why they're brought up to begin with, because there really isn't one central turning point around which everyone revolves, as much as the film wants it to be Hackman.

This is definitely worth seeing, for Hackman's (especially) excellent performance, for the way it was filmed, and for some a good laugh, but it doesn't quite reach the level of memorable piece it seems it was intended for.
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8/10
Great concept, well executed
14 October 2001
First off, this is a much better movie if you have seen Murnau's expressionist masterpiece, "Nosferatu". There are a number of scenes from this movie that draw on "Nosferatu", and it makes a lot of the scenes more enjoyable. The movie is done in very much an expressionist vein it itself, the kind of film F.W. Murnau would certainly have appreciated.

The concept here is incredibly intriguing - what if a horror movie was a horror to film? Once the film kicks into gear, it establishes a rather creepy mood, especially in the sets, most of which mirror those of "Nosferatu" (the writer's bed, for instance, looks exactly like Hutter's).

As the film progresses, the actors take over the film, and it's interesting to see how they stack up to their precursors from 70 years ago. Eddie Izzard is an interesting Hutter (the Jonathan Harker analog), as (pretend) silent acting is well-tailored to his overbearing antics. Udo Kier is quite good as reserved producer Albin Grau. Alas, Cary Elwes, one of Hollywood's most underappreciated actors, is typecast as a kind of roguish, free-spirited Fritz Wagner, a real cinematographer (and the main one throughout all of "Nosferatu") and one of the stalwarts of German cinema into the 50's.

Malkovich is ideal for this role. He does a good job of being a manic, desparate for everything on his film to go right. His Murnau is a control-freak, a guy who keeps his crew in the dark, and adds to the generally creepiness.

The most curious thing about Murnau's "Nosferatu" is the vampire himself. The rest of the characters are pretty direct analogs of "Dracula". But instead of a suave, cool vampire of the Christopher Lee/Gary Oldman mold (later roles, of course), Murnau's vampire was a stiff, cold, violent monster. Willem Dafoe is absolutely brilliant in portraying this. He has some moments of comedic relief, bickering harmlessly with Malkovich, and generally being a fish out of water. Soon, however, his character becomes undeniably creepy, and Dafoe does a great job of making Count Orlok seem like the kind of guy who makes your skin crawl. In some way, this Orlok is less of a monster - he's portrayed a bit more sympathetically, sorrowing in his loneliness and never getting to see light. Murnau's vampire was almost always shot from below, making him appear huge and menacing; Dafoe's Orlok isn't monstrous so much as he just makes your skin crawl.

I do have a couple beefs, though, mainly technical. On a purely nitpicky level, Murnau is mentioned as a comtemporary of Griffith and Eisenstein, despite the fact that Eisenstein didn't make a movie until two years after "Nosferatu". On a less petty level, the characters seem a bit dumb. They have no problem accepting the fact that Orlok is an actual vampire once Malkovich tells them, but can't seem to figure it out on their own, despite seeing, among other things, Orlok pulling a bat out of the air and sucking the blood out of it.

The film, in general, does not end well. The penultimate scene is horribly contrived, a lot of silly reminiscing to to advance the plot a little. The ending itself isn't necessarily bad, just a bit ambigous. You don't come away with a clear sense of who (if anyone) was wronged amongst the main characters, and we leave a couple of them in limbo. A couple of technical details are odd, too. Murnau's Nosferatu has a shadow and a reflection, but this one only a shadow. Also, in the final scene they are supposedly filming, there's a wooden stake that's nowhere to be found in "Nosferatu".

A quick note, by the way - while the movie they are filming actually exists, rest assured the story is pure fantasy. Max Schreck went on to make more movies, as did the rest of the actors in this film, and no actors were bitten during the filming of the original movie.

A thououghly enjoyable film, especially if you're familiar with the subject matter.
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5/10
um......huh?
9 October 2001
I'd like to go ahead and start out by saying that I saw this film amidst a good number of students from the Tisch Film School at NYU, and they don't get it, either.

This is because you aren't supposed to get it. The point of a non-linear narrative is that there is no actual story, just a general idea. From a filmmaking perspective, there are a lot of goodies here, absurdities that are genuinely funny, and I think this film reads best as a dark comedy.

It is definitely not hard to see where we make the switch from proposed TV pilot to forty minutes of wierdness. The last part of the film sees the characters switch roles, and also sees the story (well, ok, the quasi-story) overlap itself a couple of times.

The acting is fine, and Lynch has a key eye for making his film artistic and clean looking. But there's a lot of stuff in here that's just off-beat to the max, pure David Lynch stuff, that shouldn't make sense unless you're on acid, basically, because in isn't supposed to make sense in any natural way.

A good movie to see if you don't mind the fact that there isn't a point to the plot.
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Kids (1995)
1/10
In a word: AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!
27 June 2001
This movie is terrible, terrible, terrible. It's a clear, transparent attempt to show what "life in the big city" is like for a couple of loser teenagers. Unfortunately, what you end up with is a bunch of teen stereotypes walking around uttering some horrid dialogue.

There are apparently some people who believe this is what life is like. Don't think so. For starters, the characters are paper-thin. They have no depth to them whatsoever. Think about it, for a moment, and you'll realize that Telly is totally evil. Also, that any girl who had the slightest clue who he was would never get anywhere near him. Furthermore - forty kids don't just beat the stuffing out of some guy and a park and attract no attention.

Aside from the complete and utter lack of morality in any of the characters, the script is just awful. Someone needs to give these people scriptwriting lessons, or else tell them to stop writing dialogue under the influence of heavy narcotics. I can't remember for then for or five sentences that consisted of multiple ploy-syllabic words. Kinda scary when you think about.

This movie is clearly an attempt to accurately portray teen life in the big city. It didn't ring true with me - a couple scenes made me laugh at the the pure ridiculousness of it, but most of the time, I just felt like turning away. An entirely awful movie that I am sorry for have seeing.
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8/10
One of the most frustrating movies I've ever seen
31 May 2001
Warning: Spoilers
I think it's best to write about this move now, having given it some time. I am a fanboy, if you will, on of these people who knows the dialogue of the original trilogy by heart, and stuff like that. I saw "The Phantom Menace" when it came out in theatres the first day, and I expected to see it at least ten times in theaters. It turned out to be two - so, having gone back and watched it again, I feel I have a better perspective. It would be silly to see this and not hold it up against the original trilogy, so here goes:

Simply put, for whatever reason, this is not a very well-made movie. Neither the acting nor the storyline are particularly bad, but there are so many unnecessary elements. First off, something must be said about Jar Jar Binks. Clearly, this movie is aimed for a far younger audience than the originals, and this is unfortunate. There was comic relief in the original trilogy, but it was subtle (such as Luke and Han starting to fight over Leia in "A New Hope", or Leia insulting Luke and Han's plan to rescue her in the same film), not the kind of overly blatant schtick present with Jar Jar. Apparently, despite the negative reaction he received (I have yet to have a single person tell me they enjoyed the character), George Lucas is bringing him back for Episode 2, which is a shame.

Another problem for me was the special effects. It's hard to express this properly, but they were too good. Part of the appeal of the original trilogy's effects was that cold, heartless, outer-space feel given both to the ships and most of the Empire, especially the stormtroopers. The effects work because they're minimalist, simple, and look coldly technological. Everything in "The Phantom Menace" is bright and vibrant, which is not the right mood for a Star Wars movie. Furthermore, even though this movie is supposed to take place before the original trilogy, the technology appears quite improved (for obvious reasons), which is confusing in itself. The movie is far too in love with the effects, and it backfires - sometimes too much technology is a bad thing for a movie.

I said before this was simply a poorly made movie, and there a couple things that really bother me. There is a scene in which Anakin asks Qui-Gon to explain what "midi-chlorians" are. It's not necessarily that the movie takes time to explain the concept, as most fans want to know everything about the Star Wars universe. It's simply that the dialogue is such a blatant attempt to give the movie a chance to explain, it's shameful. You almost feel as if you're watching a child's movie, watching Anakin ask a question with no real purpose other than to explain this new concept.

For all familiar with the Star Wars universe, this is what really bothers me, though: at some point in the movie, virtually every Jedi, including Yoda, Mace Windu, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, etc., are in the presence of Senator Palpatine (WARNING: major spoiler ahead if you are totally unfamiliar with the larger plotline), who is, of course, clearly the evilest Sith (Dark Jedi) Lord around. Why can none of them sense the dark side in him? Even if his power covers it, how could they have never sensed it before? Furthermore, the movie is too isolationist at this point: everyone know Palpatine is a Sith who later becomes the Emperor - there is no need to work around the fact, or be coy around, cause we all know it happens.

While we're on the subject, Anakin's character is just a bit too happy-go-lucky here. Just as we know what happens to Palpantine, (WARNING #2: major spoiler for those unfamiliar with the SW universe) we all know Anakin will eventually become Vader. Everyone I know came into this movie expecting to see hints of what he was to become, but there was very little intrigue. It also says something to me about the casting when the only character who is really able to convey the potential danger in Anakin properly is a wrinkled, green, 3-foot tall puppet (Yoda). Sam Jackson just does not fit in this universe, unfortunately, and no other members of the Jedi council said much.

There were certainly, some excellent parts to this film, most notably the lightsaber duel between Darth Maul, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan, and the pod racing scenes certainly draw acclaim. The movie was entertaining, yes, but really a letdown after the original trilogy. The beauty of the first three films (especially ANH and ESB) is their subtlety is developing the plot, and the interplay between characters. "The Phantom Menace" is simply a direct, in-your-face approach, in a galaxy filled with with annoying Gungans and a hero/villain who buries his shoulder in a 14-year old girl's lap and everyone calls "Annie." The difference is comparable to that between, say, Chewbacca and Jar Jar. You have to go for the grizzled space ape over the annoying, clumsy lizard-creature any day. Certainly, this film is watchable as part of the Star Wars universe, but I think most hope the second episode is a great deal more similar to the original trilogy than this overmarketed, overdone number. Thanks for letting me get that all off my chest, and may the force be with you.
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5/10
A decent sports comedy
11 August 2000
"The Replacements" is a strange mix of reality, slapstick comedy, and plot lines you've seen a hundred times before that mix to form an engaging, though not spectacular comedy. Their is some decent football action, and some big laughs.

Aside from the fact that 80% of this script seems to be lifted more or less directly from the 1991 Scott Bakula vehicle "Necessary Roughness" (whose script wasn't that original itself), this movie at least had a kind of glitzed up feel that most football movies like to avoid. It didn't get down and dirty in the trenches, like so many movies before it. You'll have seen many of the gags before, but they're well-done, and there is the added bonus of Pat Sumerall and John Madden doing what I assume to be a satire of themselves (how else to explain such Madden quotes as, "He caught the ball! He doesn't usually catch the ball, but he caught the ball!"

Only two things really irked me about this movie: #1 - why the need for replacement cheerleaders? I understand they wanted to take a slightly racier angle (something lifted from "Baseketball, but used to much greater effect here), but it isn't as if cheerleaders belong to the NFL Players Association. Also, the movie has the strike occur with 4 games left to go in the season. The strike on which this is based (in 1987), happened at the beginning of the year, as do all labor disputes but baseball's. This is presumably to add the dramatic effect brought on by the hunt for a playoff birth, but that's never really present, so it I think it just would've seemed a little less silly if this was all occurs at the start of the season.

Decent acting, good football scenes, the occasional big laugh, and nothing you haven't seen a hundred times before. But still worth a watch.
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10/10
An Amazing Film
7 August 2000
Surely, if you haven't seen "The Usual Suspects", you know of the great reputation it carries. Well, it deserves every bit of it. It is simply a wonderful combination of inventive film-making, a great story, and absolutely wonderful acting (and casting, for that matter).

I'm not sure I've ever seen a film where every actor in the cast was this good, especially an ensemble cast. The absolute best scenes are the dialogue that occurs between Spacey (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but has the most screentime of anyone) and Chazz Palmintieri, who is really in his element as a tough-guy cop. He never seemed to feel right in numerous bad guy roles, and he gives a great performance here as what I would term the most moral character.

There are a number of underappreciated actors who are excellent here. I've always been a big fan of Kevin Pollak, and this is by far his best dramatic role. The sam can be said of Stephen Baldwin, who luckily found time to be in this this between such forgettable films as "Bio-Dome". It was nice to see Giancarlo Esposito, who's another guy that deserves more acclaim. Dan Hedaya, who has had one of the stranger acting careers in recent memory (remember Nick Tortelli on "Cheers"?) is fine in a bit role. This is the only role I've ever like Pete Posthelwaite in, and Gabriel Byrne and Benicio Del Toro round are very good as main characters. I mention all these people because they were all that good.

The plot is original, breath-taking, and engrossing. It takes you through twists and turns you never see coming, but never takes a turn that leads to complete unbelievability (a la "The Sixth Sense"). The plot is so engrossing that the name Kaiser Soze has become part of popular lingo, despite coming from a low-budget film. The feel of the film, from the sets, to the lighting, to the actual dialogue give the perfect film noir mood.

Also - the ending is the absolute coolest (the best word I can think of) you're likely to ever see. It's and ending where you see it, and just kind of go, "Wow."

This film is easily my favorite movie, and I've seen quite a few. Nothing really matches it in the ability to have every aspect of the film of such high quality.
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9/10
A Film everyone should see
30 July 2000
I have yet to meet a person who watched this move and didn't find it evnjoyable. It's a simple, yet innovative idea: they made a classic, archetypical Dark Ages hero/romance flick, but set it right on the edge between satire and earnestness. The whole story is, supposedly, a book a grandfather (Peter Falk) reads to his sick grandkid (Fred Savage). It should tell you all you need to know about this film when, the first time the two estranged lovers find each other and embrace, you all of the sudden hear, "Wait, I don't wanna hear about kissing."

The principle actors here are all very good. Cary Elwes is fine as our dashing hero. Mandy Patinkin is his foil/friend, with his own subplot. Robin Wright is fine as the damsel in love and distress, and Chris Sarandon makes a good evil, scheming villain, and he's a highly underrated character actor (see "Dog Day Afternoon" if you don't believe me).

The real beauty of this film, however, is the performances turned in by such actors as Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Carol, Kane, and that noted thespian, Andre the Giant. Shawn, for instance, is the con man with a list who is the early (not final) villain. His character is short, has a lisp, and uses the same word (he prounounces it "inconthievable") to address every situation (which leads to the best quote of the film, Patinkin's response "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.") It's this kind of dialogue that seems out of place in such an action/romance film. "The African Queen" or something or the like, while being fine movies, would never have a character like Billy Crystal's "Miracle Max", who plays a sort of caricature of a Jewish parent (to me, anyway).

The beauty of this film is that you aren't quite sure if you should be laughing, or should be caught up in the story, and the beauty is that you can do both.
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X-Men (2000)
8/10
Plenty of bang for your buck
15 July 2000
This movie is the perfect example of a summer blockbuster done right. All the elements were in place. There was a well-developed storyline 30 years in the making, and director/co-writer Bryan Singer (from "The Usual Suspects") spends enough time on character development and story that the movie does not adopt the feel many sci-fi/action films do of simply being a vehicle for destruction.

The action is good, but not overwhelming, and the better parts are based on the interpersonal relationships between the characters. The acting is very good. The movie has one actor from about every other extremely popular sci-fi movie series: The two leading mutants are Patrick Stewart (a.k.a Capt. Picard), who is perfect for this role. Ian McKellen (Gandalf in the upcoming Lord of the Rings trilogy) is also quite good as the evil genius Magneto. I really liked Ray Park's (also Darth Maul) character "Toad", the only bad guy other than Magneto with any personality.

Anna Paquin and Hugh Jackman are very good as Rogue and Wolverine, the central characters here, though if you're a familiar with the comics, Paquin will look a little strange until the end. Rogue is portrayed as too much of a kid here for my tastes, but it doesn't detract largely from the story. The other are fine as well. The relationship between Wolverine, Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Jannsen, from the Bond series while I'm at it) provide the wittiest dialogue. Halle Berry's Storm is sort of removed on a personal level from the other X-Men, and her dialogue is the worst among them, but the makeup and appearance of her character more than make up for it.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable movie, well worth the two hours it ran, and has me looking forward to the sequel.
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4/10
Good Movie undermined by a colossally bad ending
9 July 2000
It is hard for me to really comment on this film without talking about its ending (I won't). For about an hour and a half, this is a spectacular movie, well-acted, with excellent script and dialogue, and moving at a good pace. I think it's something of a cross between film noir and thriller, and it has that eerie "Silence of the Lambs" feel to it (though much tamer).

This movie lasts one scene too long. I heard someone remark once that some movies "are great or awful depending on the ending". The very last scene in this film is absolutely preposterous; instead of wrapping up the story neatly, with maybe a tiny plot hole, the last two or three minutes brought to mind at least 20 or 30 gaping plot holes immediately. I have a friend who told me he could guess the film's "secret" thirty minutes in. Things like that usually don't surprise me, but this was so unbelievably, outrageously stupid I had no idea. I felt like screaming at the screen and demanding my hour and a half back based on that scene alone.

The only reason I don't consider this movie among the worst I've ever seen is because it is quite good for awhile. Haley Joel Osment is excellent, and the only good reason to see this movie. Other than that, I can't believe this thing was as popular as it was. The ending left me feeling so cheated, I wanted to break the screen in two.
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3/10
A Waste of a Good Novel
25 June 2000
This wasn't a very good movie at all. If you've read the novel, you'll see how the movie adapts some of the novel (some actual dialogue), but entirely loses the spirit. If you haven't read the novel, I can't begin to imagine what you might think of this film.

The problem, to me, was incredibly obvious. The writing was awful. The acting wasn't really all that bad, and Bruce Willis was actually pretty good in the lead role. But three of the main role, Harry Le Sabre (Nick Nolte), Wayne Hoobler (Omar Epps), and Kilgore Trout (Albert Finney) are written entirely wrong. We are meant to see something of ourselves in these characters, when instead we saw what is almost animation.

This is the whole problem with the movie. The material is treated almost as a comedy (look at the category it's listed under), which it is most certainly not. Between Epps bouncing around like an idiot, Nolte mumbling through 3/4 of his line, and Finney portraying Trout all wrong (there's supposed to be a quiet dignity to him which is missing until the end), this movie just misses on all cylinders.

As an interesting side note, Michael Clarke Duncan of Green Mile fame has a cameo here as a prisoner - it may be the only role he's ever played where his character isn't revealed to have a sweet personality under a gruff exterior.
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American Pie (1999)
5/10
Unbelievably formulaic
24 June 2000
Let me start off by saying: Just where is this high school? Seemingly everyone in the film in attractive, and no one actually looks like they're in high school. The school is clean and well-kept. Also, among the hundred or so students we see, a while two of them are minorities.

This is a wierd film, when you think about it: a strange mix of There's Something about Mary, Animal House, and Stand by Me that just doesn't sit right, somehow. The whole story (if you can call it that) is pathetically obvious. If they let everything be about sex, that's one thing - but there's some abstract issues here the film wants to play in but doesn't really try to understand. Lip service is paid to "love", but everything makes more sense when the characters just want to get laid.

The movie isn't all bad - there's some funny scenes as the main character (Jason Biggs) and his dad (former CTV star Eugene Levy) try to broach the subject of sex in a fatherly manner, but there isn't much else.
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Happy Gilmore (1996)
6/10
The best of Sandler's comedies
20 May 2000
While calling a movie Adam Sandler's best may be damning it with faint praise, this is pretty well-done as dumb comedies go. Sandler is in his element as the goofy hockey wannabe trying to raise money by using his 450-yard drives to win money on the PGA Tour. Playing off the indignant Christopher McDonald, a pro on a hot streak bothered by the popularity of this working-class hero, the comedic timing here works out well, and there are some good scenes when tempers flare (a notable one with both McDonald in a bar and TV's Bob Barker).

The movie will become a lot funnier if you happen to play golf, or even watch, it, because the antics of Sandler on the golf course (he plays in a Boston Bruins jersey and putts like he's using a hockey stick) are ridiculous enough to be funny. There are some good laughs from various places on the course, and Ben Stiller gets some chuckles as the insane and sadistic orderly at the nursing home Sandler's Grandma is staying in while he tries to win back her house.

As a final note, you can't hit a golf ball that far like that. I've tried , my friends have tried, anyone who plays golf and has seen this movie has tried. Everyone just hits a 50-yard worm burner.

Standard Sandler fare, but good for a few laughs.
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Gladiator (2000)
8/10
A Riveting Movie
17 May 2000
Chances are you know something of this movie, and have heard the excellent reviews for it. This is largely to the fact that, as a summer epic, "Gladiator" is a very watchable and entertaining movie, delivering all the big-time action some want to see, while still maintaining a level of clean dialogue and plot to spark the interest of the more discerning viewer.

Russell Crowe, as the hero Maximus, is very good. He is excellent at playing the outraged but moral good guy stuck in a position he can do nothing about (a la L.A. Confidential), and he is brawny enough to pull off the action hero look.

I especially liked Joaquim Phoenix here. The part he plays, the new Caesar Commodus, is partially based on fact (unlike the entirely fictional Maximus). He's the only one here who really manages to convey the sense of decadence and depravity that pervaded the upper classes of Roman society during its decline. In my mind, Phoenix stole every scene he was in.

There are a couple problems. For one, director Ridley Scott (who did Alien, amongst others) concentrates more on heads getting chopped off then what could have been a rather engaging plotline, which is reduced to the bare points necessary to drive the action. This movie also falls into the ridiculous assumption Hollywood always seems to make that the upper class of any society has a British accent; it may not be a huge deal, but it's a pet peeve, and it makes no sense. Why would there be any particular accent? The battle scenes, while exceedingly bloody, are also a bit contrived, and don't seem real at all. Scott also makes some incredibly obvious attempts at symbolism using background colors that no one will miss, and it loses some significance because it's just so obvious.

All in all, this was a very good movie. It was fun to watch, and I was entertained for 2 1/2 hours. The combination of action, good acting, and semi-intriguing plot makes this a shining example of the blockbuster epic, sure to entertain just about anyone.
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6/10
Not one of Kubrick's best
14 March 2000
The much hyped "Eyes Wide Shut" didn't really meet my expectations as a big fan of Stanley Kubrick's works. While I am more enamored of his less artistic works to begin with, such as "Dr. Strangelove" or "A Clockwork Orange", this movie didn't even meet the levels of "2001".

One of the best parts of most of Kubrick's work is that he keeps you enraptured throughout his films, never taking your eyes off the screen. Not so here. The first 45 minutes seem to stretch on endlessly. Nicole Kidman, especially, is simply playing a bad character. She isn't so much the wife on the protagonist, Tom Cruise's Dr. Bill Hartford, as much as she's another aspect of the libido we explore throughout the film. This is symbolized ad nauseam, mainly in the fact that Kidman takes about 30 seconds between every word she speaks, so as to give the impression of a far off angel, I suppose.

There are some good spots, when Cruise's character hits the street. Vinessa Shaw, a lady of the street, and Todd Field, an old friend who shows him another world of sorts, are very good. There are some moments that make you sit up and say "Wow", the kind of thing only Stanley Kubrick can do. The problem here is that Kubrick tries to inject too many of those moments into his film, instead of letting them come naturally, and it doesn't have the same effect.

All in all, this isn't a bad movie, but not as good as you might expect given some of the names working on out. There is layer upon layer of symbolism and insight, and sometimes it crashes upon itself, and you're left wondering what exactly Kubrick was aiming for with certain scenes. The movie is worth seeing, but don't go in with your expectations too high, especially if you're familiar with some of Kubrick's earlier works.
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Magnolia (1999)
7/10
A tour de force of a movie
22 January 2000
Paul Thomas Anderson's most complete work, "Magnolia", is one of the most exciting, interesting, and breathtaking movies I have seen in quite a while. It somehow manages to combine the best elements of his previous films with new, completely unexpected twists, to make a great movie.

The story is truly engaging. As we switch between a good number of somewhat interconnected stories, a narrative takes form through the film's chracters. We see thoughts processes come into place, and you begin to identify with some of the characters as you go along.

The acting is flat out superb. Everyone is great. My favorite performance is that of John C. Reilly, the good intentioned cop who tries to keep everyone together. All of Anderson regulars are back in force, and the Phillips, Baker Hall and Seymour Hoffman, do a fine job. Tom Cruise is very good, and it is his character that becomes the true driving force in the movie.

"Magnolia" is a long, twisting storyline. About five times during the film, you'll think you've reached the end, but the story keeps on going. Everyone's problems have to be dealt with, one way or another, and there is enough time here (almost 3 hours) to fill all the stories out to satisfaction.

This film is one of the gutsiest, most intriguing films I've seen made in quite awhile. It makes its points without resorting to mind-numbing melodrama, and the story stays mostly intact. The change of pace exhibited at times is amazing, and you can tell Anderson has truly become a master of this art. In all, "Magnolia" paints a broad spectrum of character and plot that was wholly enjoyable.
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7/10
An enigma, wrapped in a puzzle...
22 December 1999
Much like the man himself, "Man on the Moon" is a biopic on Andy Kaufman that tell you pretty much nothing you dindn't already know. The performances are outstanding, but it plays more like a highlight show that an introspective.

First off, Jim Carrey is great. You get the feeling if there's one person who might get Andy Kaufman, it's Jim Carrey. He seems to hit all the characters just right. Paul Giamatti as Bob Zmuda is the best of the supporting cast, and there are a number of interesting guest cameos of people playing themselves.

The only problem is that all the movie seems to do is show you his various acts in succession. There's no attempt to make Kaufman out to really be anything other than the actor he was, no attempt to see what was behind the characters. Milos Forman fails to make anything out of Kaufman, to suggest anything of his persona. This is strikingly different than his last movie, "The People vs. Larry Flynt", and this technique lacks a little. There are a couple of various, really obvious attempts to show everyone's aware he's a little nuts, not no real probe into his physche. There's also a somewhat mysterious ending, something in the true Kaufman spirit.

The bottom line is basically, if you thought Andy Kaufman was funny, you'll like this movie. Otherwise, it will likely appear a bit hollow, though good for a laugh. Still, it seems the movie could have somehow been a bit better. After all, if the filmmaker's didn't stick to the facts, as the opening suggests, why not take some guesses into his inner thoughts?
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Election (1999)
7/10
A very watchable movie
12 December 1999
"Election" is an ispired farce, and a good one at that. It's refreshing to see a good character-driven movie, especially one that doesn't take itself too seriously. The characters are all a little off-the-wall, but they make the movie work.

Granted, some of the storyline is a bit contrived, and there are a couple dumb turns that keep it from a higher level. All the same, the plot keeps in the right general direction, and provides the right background for the various dramas to take place.

The story is based around a number of high school personae and the twists and turns their lives take, revolving around the school's student body president elections. Broderick is good as the teacher whose life gradually falls apart, and Reese Witherspoon turns in the only good perfromance of her career, from what I can tell, as the bratty, status-seeking go-getter who wants more than anything to become president.

The real interest in this movie comes from the fact that all the characters have common problems, and they're dealt with in an interesting, though unlikely, scenario. All in all, worth the money to rent it.
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4/10
A big miss
27 November 1999
Granted, this seems like a good idea. Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn, and John Cleese in a Neil Simon comedy. Where can you go wrong? Watch the movie, and you'll find out.

In truth, Martin, the lead, is mis-cast. He's not doing the great slapstick he's known for, from movies like "The Jerk", but instead plays a sort of in-between character that doesn't work. Hawn, with no one to play off of, is terrible. Cleese is the only even partially funny member.

To top it off, the plot is pretty stupid. I can't say how much of it may have been changed, but the characters seem to lack the slightest bit of common sense. They blunder through New York, not doing anything right, and unfortuneatly, nothing funny. Not only is the whole premise completely unbelievable, it seems to give the message that people who don't live in New York aren't very bright, a theme repeated throughout the movie.

In summation, instead of seeing this, go rent the original "Odd Couple" again.
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Dogma (1999)
9/10
Straddling the fine line between good and great
12 November 1999
Kevin Smith's latest effort, "Dogma", is certainly worth the money you'll pay to see it (well, as much as almost any other movie is). It's not quite as good a "Clerks", but it's probably better than "Mallrats" or even "Chasing Amy". This is Smith's first attempt at what could be termed an epic of sorts, and he pulls it off nicely.

Most of the movie is very, very good. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck do a great job as two fallen angels trying to get back to heaven. Linda Fiorentino plays the confused Bethany. Jason Mewes and Smith himself are the "prophets" Jay and Silent Bob. Smith regulars like Jason Lee and Brian O'Halloran join newcomers like Chris Rock, Alan Rickman and George Carlin in a mostly excellent cast.

The story here is intriguing. There are a few convenient occurences, but the overall storyline in a generally interesting one. The outcome (the end of the world) is treated as a real possibility, not just another big joke in a line. The plot takes a number of turns, but ends up coming together with aplomb.

There is some downside that prevents this from being a really great movie. For one thing, Salma Hayek's character (Serendipity) is completely superflous. She seems to be included solely to catch her stripping on video. Alanis Morissette as God is more about who Morissette is than who she's playing. Other than that, there is a good balance of tension and comic relief throughout the movie that give it a real energy you don't often see.

One thing that has to be mentioned is the Catholic uprising over the repeated knocks on the church in the movie. It occurs to me that very, very few of the movies detractors could actually have seen the movie. The ending (without giving away too much) is very much for the church, and the heroine is a Catholic. While the arguments in the movie against the church may be old and tired, Smith proves the inherent hypocrisy of the church outside the theatres, as they boycott something on hype alone. I find it amazing that I, a Jewish-raised athiest, am less offended by "Dogma"'s pro-church ending than many Catholics. The movie treats you as if you have an intellect, letting you decide if what happened is real, or if it's right. Too bad the same can't be said of the Catholic church.

All in all, a very enjoyable movie. Definitely a further sign that Kevin Smith is a premier film-maker of his generation.
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10/10
A good movie with a great concept.
6 November 1999
This is an inspired, twisted movie. The much-talked about concept, where actors actually go inside John Malkovich, is an excellent twist, but would not have worked were the plot and acting not so good in themselves.

In truth, Malkovich is a catalyst for the plot. A weird love triangle occurs between John Cusack, Catherine Keener, and Cameron Diaz. Instead of the average movie with such a premise, where the actors pretty much spend an hour and a half lamenting their situation, the three of them act upon their instincts using a portal in Cusack's office they find that takes you into Malkovich's head.

The wonderful thing about this movie is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. While there is real emotion and tension throughout the movie, it's mixed in with the weirdness of the whole situation, and ends up with a very good balance between the comedic aspects of being able to go inside someone's mind, and the feeling the characters have for each other.

A word about the acting: Everyone is good. Cusack and Bean play straightmen of sorts, and are very good at it. Cameron Diaz tries to shed her beauty glow, and it almost works, though at times she tries to hard to seem downbeat. There are two excellent performances: One is Catherine Keener, as the vixen who enchants everyone she meets. She plays the part with a real sexual energy you don't often see. And...

John Malkovich is great. He really plays three characters, and plays them all expertly. He is really a comic relief of sorts in this story. He allows the movie to poke all kinds of fun at him, and his performance is great. Better than the one where he play a jewel thief. (if that doesn't makes sense, see the movie).

All in all, this movie is a real departure from the usual Hollywood drivel. I highly recommend it.
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