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If you don't get this movie, consider yourself lucky
On the radio show Loveline, the sex and addiction therapist Dr. Drew Pinsky once said that childhood trauma literally changes the brain chemistry of its victim forever: it creates a kind of psychic scar, and the victim, without intense therapy, will replay the trauma in his or her life again and again and again, to the destruction of everything that is good and healthy in their life.
Brandon Sullivan is a sex addict. Addiction can be a tedious and joyless affair. And it's no surprise that many people who see this movie come away feeling angry and cheated, especially if they were expecting some kind of lurid, sexy roller-coaster.
If you don't understand the simple tragic power of this story, count yourself lucky. You have never suffered from addiction, never had anyone close to you suffer that way. Sex addiction, like all addiction, has its roots in childhood trauma. Those who can't read between the lines of this movie, again, should I suppose count themselves fortunate. But I'm happy to explicate (spoilers ahead).
Brandon's sister says "We're not bad people. We come from a bad place." Brandon also mentions that he lived in Ireland as a child, then grew up in New Jersey. If you don't think that the backdrop of this story is about two children who grew up suffering sexual abuse in the Catholic Church then you're simply not paying attention.
If you don't realize that Brandon and his sister had a confused and incestuous past as a coping mechanism for the abuse they suffered, you're not paying attention.
People accuse this movie of being a series of sex scenes, one the same as the next. That's ludicrous. Every single sex scene in this movie serves a unique purpose. For example, when Brandon interacts with a woman from work who is actually his intellectual and emotional equal - a woman with whom he could actually have an authentic relationship, he can't get it up. He can't exist in a sexual relationship where he could conceivably be vulnerable.
His sister isn't a sex addict - but she is a love addict. And yes, those do exist. They are people who play out intense emotional relationships - they fall into one doomed love affair after another - because they crave the chemical serotonin rush of falling in love the way sex addicts crave orgasm. This is why Brandon is so angry to have his sister around - not only does she, in her addiction, crave an unhealthy emotional connection - she is also his sister, a person truly worthy of his authentic love. It angers Brandon that these two things are hopelessly intertwined. His sister's love for him is both authentically pure and deeply unhealthy.
New York City is undeniably a character in its own right in this movie. The city that never sleeps - the city where someone like Brandon can always find an unhealthy outlet for his pain. The power of Shame is in what it doesn't say. And what is left unsaid goes far beyond Brandon's back story - it goes to the character of the city where he lives, and the country that calls New York its greatest city. On the surface, a beautiful, glamorous life. But that beautiful facade is built on a long history of unspoken atrocities that define it and foretell its destiny.
The Karate Kid (2010)
An insult to movie-lovers everywhere
It's truly a pleasure to be able to give this movie the lowest possible rating of one star.
The remake of the Karate Kid really does represent everything that is wrong with Hollywood today. Columbia pictures has taken a great, beloved film and recycled it for cheap profit.
The original Karate Kid film is a beloved gem for several reasons. Pat Morita, a beloved character actor and a fine man, was given the chance to be the star of a movie and he delivered beyond anyone's wildest dreams. The relationship between Morita and Ralph Macchio's Daniel was touching and perfectly done.
Part of what made the original movie work is that it was about class differences. You really believed that Daniel was a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who was struggling to fit in at a new school. And you believed in the awkward puppy love with rich girl Elizabeth Shue. With Jaden Smith, the son of a multi-millionaire actor, you don't believe in for a millisecond. This kid has never had to struggle for anything in his life. The entire emotional premise of the film doesn't work at all.
Everything that is any good in this disgusting Jaden Smith/Jackie Chan remake is lifted out of the original film. There is nothing redeeming about it beyond that. Jaden Smith can't act, he can't emote, and you don't believe him for a second. Beyond that, he's too young and too small to play the role. You simply don't believe for a moment that he could actually beat these other kids in a tournament. It's ridiculous. The scene where Jackie Chan breaks down crying has to be one of the worst-acted, horrible dramatic moments ever put to film.
Like the remake of Willy Wonka, The new Karate Kid movie is an instance of Hollywood cannibalizing its own best work for short term profit. There were dozens of original, creative, magical new stories that were turned down so that this movie could be made. We are all the poorer for it.
An enigmatic cipher
I watched this film in a very strange way -- I had put it on my Netflix list and couldn't remember why (other than that I knew Philip Seymour Hoffman was in it). Since the film has no opening credits, I couldn't even remember who had directed it.
As my wife and I watched it, I turned to her about 45 minutes in and said, "You know, I keep wanting to decide that I hate this film, but something about it just won't let me stop watching it." Then there's a stretch of about half a dozen scenes in the middle of the movie that are truly electrifying in the actors' performances.
It was only as the end credits rolled that I realized it was a Sidney Lumet film. And I thought -- wow. I'm surprised that Lumet took on what was really a dirty, petty little story about really mean, broken people. But it's a testament to his talent that I was so taken in when I didn't even realize it was him.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is really, really good in this movie. Like scary good. Put this up against Capote and I would argue the Oscar should have been for this film instead.
I also highly recommend the narrative special feature with Lumet, Hawke and Hoffman talking about making the movie -- it's entertaining and educational, with Hawke playing the student eager to learn at the master's feet. Lumet definitely teaches you the first rule of working with actors -- kiss their asses constantly!!
There are a lot of violent, melodramatic movies out there that are empty ciphers when all is said and done. And there is an element of that in this film -- that the actors fill the air with sulphurous blasts of emotion, and when the smoke clears there's nothing left. Nothing resonates on a deeper level.
But Lumet has given us Network and Twelve Angry Men -- films that, each in their own ways, have been elevated into the highest echelons of cinema.
This movie isn't at that level. But there's something about it that lingers. And maybe that's enough.
My final comment is about the comments -- if you look at the number of comments about this little movie here on IMDb -- and the depth and intelligence of the comments, pro and con -- it's a pretty good indication that something special is going on with this film.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
Disappointing and sloppy
In the end, ATLANTIS is a specimen form the awkward middle period between the wonderful animated Disney musicals such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and the modern Pixar films.
On a story level, Atlantis is just plain sloppy. There are tons of anachronisms in the movie. They set the film in 1914, but almost immediately they create characters who look and talk like present day characters (does a wisecracking teenage latina mechanic sound like someone you'd meet in 1914?!).
Atlantis is too easy to find -- the explorers show neither smarts nor courage, and yet they are able to find the lost city where thousands of others have failed.
Finally, it's quite amusing how the filmmakers felt the need to stop the action in the middle of the movie to give these long, awkward detailed back-stories to the supporting characters. It is done in such a ham-handed way you really have to wonder what they were thinking.
The design of the characters is equally all over the map, with some of them (Milo, Kida) looking very middle-of-the-road, vanilla Disney characters and others (Mole) looking like something out of the Triplets of Belleville.
The subject matter is certainly interesting but overall it was a disappointing effort.
Trainspotting is what film should be: honest, imaginative, surprising, and groundbreaking.
LIke Goodfellas, Trainspotting is a meandering movie that manages to grip you the entire time. It is funny and heartbreaking at the same time, anchored by Ewan MacGregor's absolutely devastating performance as Renton. Put his performance up against the Best Actor nominees in any given year and I dare you to say it doesn't belong.
Contrary to what others have posted, Trainspotting absolutely made an impact here in the States. That may have been to Danny Boyle's detriment as he's never quite reached the same heights since.
But for us, in the U.S., you have to realize that it was basically a foreign film because you can't understand about 25% of the dialogue because the accent is so thick. Begbie's dialogue is purposely opaque, I think. Not that it matters - the performance is rock solid.
If you haven't seen the movie, go out and get it. It's in my all-time Top 10, and it holds up beautifully over time.
Enormous plot holes
Several film critics, including Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune, gave Fracture a good review. Some have even compared it to Hitchcock.
This is utter nonsense. Fracture is dreck. It's half-assed work by all involved.
Let's see if you can swallow these giant coincidences and plot holes:
1) A man and a woman have an affair, and never get each other's last names. One happens to be a police hostage negotiator who happens to show up when the woman he's been seeing has been murdered.
2) There are two guns on the scene when the body is discovered by police. For the entire length of the movie the investigators never think to check out one of those guns to see if it's the murder weapon.
3) The district attorney's office is given a single long weekend to come up with extra evidence in an attempted murder case when a witness is compromised. Anyone who's ever been involved in any aspect of a real murder case knows how laughable this is.
4) A hospital agrees to a man's Do Not Resuscitate request for his wife the day after the man has been acquitted for attempting to murder her. No one intervenes on behalf of the wife, no family, no friends, no victim's advocates, no one.
5) A man who has planned out a brilliant scheme for getting away with murder, covering every last detail with psychotic foresight, neglects to read the fine print in the Double Jeopardy laws and carelessly re-implicates himself.
Anthony Hopkins is sleepwalking through a second rate Hannibal Lecter impersonation here. Every plot point is sloppy and rushed (how about jumping in bed with your boss the night after you are hired? lol) Ryan Gosling, a fine actor, is wasted.
This movie's best attribute is that it makes a good primer on how not to write a legal thriller.
Bastards of the Party (2005)
A Bigger Movie than just Los Angeles
Having worked with both Bloods and Crips as a volunteer in Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, I found Bastards of the Party to be a gripping and extremely important work -- setting down the historical record about the rise of gangs in South Central L.A. This should be required viewing in all Juvenile Halls and prisons. And important viewing for anyone who lives in Los Angeles as well!
What struck me about the movie is its relevance to the current foreign policy of the United States. The policies of the LAPD and the laws in California, such as "Three Strikes," which fill our prisons to overflowing with black and Latino young men, are in place because they are politically expedient: saying that you are tough on crime is the easiest way to get elected in this city and in this state. I personally know a kid who got a 50 year prison sentence because he was in a car when another kid shot a gun at two rival gang members -- and missed. It was his first felony. Ask yourself, does that punishment fit the crime?
There is no more ironclad way to get elected in America than by saying you are "tough on defense." George W. Bush gets criticized for lots of things, but when he says that "Islamist extremists" are out to destroy our children for no other reason than that they hate us, no one contradicts him. Middle eastern Muslims have become the preferred "other" to demonize and dehumanize and fear.
I don't mean to minimize the point of this film -- that if L.A. gang members become more self aware about their situation, maybe they can start to move past this cycle of violence that they did not initially create.
But I'm just saying that it's happening again now on the world stage. The American government is using the same propaganda techniques, the same agent provocateurs in the Middle East. Do you really think it was an Sunni Arab who blew up the Golden Mosque of Samarra and unleashed this huge civil war? Get real.
Now, Iraqis are slaughtering each other by the hundreds of thousands, just like gang members have murdered each other here in Los Angeles for decades.
And yes, there is growing movement in this country for us to get our troops out of Iraq. But no one talks about the Iraqi-on-Iraqi carnage that we have been party to.
In any case, I congratulate Cle on his work, I hope it increases the peace here in L.A. For every single retaliation that it stops, it saves dozens of lives down the line.
Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
Gripping, Disturbing and Not to be Missed
In my opinion, this film is a front-runner for the Oscar for Best Documentary for 2006.
It's absolutely riveting. If you are a fan of "Silence of the Lambs," you should see this because Oliver O'Grady is just as chilling as Hannibal Lecter -- more so because he is real. Filmmaker Amy Berg did a news piece on O'Grady, a Catholic priest who raped dozens -- possibly hundreds -- of children in California. On a whim, she called him in his exile in Ireland and got him to agree to an extensive three day interview. It is a confession unlike any other.
On one level, Deliver Us From Evil is a righteous indictment of the Catholic Church: its inaction, its enabling, its bureaucracy, its male-dominated backwardness.
At the same time, the film is a profile of some incredibly decent people: Catholic parents and children who were victims in this rampage. Their character is inspiring -- their pain is as raw as anything you will ever see on film.
Finally, it's the study about the way a psychopath can play every human emotion to his own advantage.
There is Hell to pay for this man's sins. And some victims are living that hell every day.
An absolute abomination
This is not the only awful film to be made from a children's book in the last few years: Lemony Snicket and Cat in the Hat spring to mind, and certainly, the Harry Potter movies are never much better than mediocre.
But Charlie and the Chocolate Factory suffers from the fact that it must be compared to the Gene Wilder version, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which is not only superior to it in every way, but is truly a classic film.
One might well ask why anyone would dare to remake a film that was written by Roald Dahl himself. A film that had beautiful, classic songs, biting humor, and a hilarious cast.
The answer, of course, is money.
This film was made for one reason -- to wring more money out of a Warner Brothers property. Why else remake a nearly perfect film? It's an insult to moviegoers and an affront to the many children who may never bother to watch the original now that they've seen this trash.
The thing is, the Gene Wilder version is very, very funny. Its comedy still seems edgy today. And somehow, they've managed to turn it into a movie with almost no laughs. The timing is sometimes, it seems, deliberately thrown off.
Johnny Depp's performance is, I think, his worst ever. It's just stupendously bad. Then again, he has basically nothing to work with, caught between plain, unfunny new dialogue, and struggling to go in the opposite direction from Gene Wilder's brilliance. I don't envy the task. But don't worry, Johnny got lots and lots of money for his troubles.
The new Charlie, Freddie Highmore, was decent enough in the tearjerker Finding Neverland. But here, he's just all wrong. His one acting choice seems to be "Smile Every Time You Say Something," which I last saw used by Denise Richards in Starship Troopers.
On one hand, I wondered as I was watching it whether the movie would fare better with someone who'd never seen the original. But on the other, this film is so disjointed and strange, I'm not sure how anyone could follow it if they hadn't seen the first film.
The Oompa Loompa "songs," if you can call them that, consist of CG clones singing the same rhyming lines over and over again. There is no narrative or melodic progression to the songs -- they are as two dimensional as cardboard cutouts.
Add to this bland, unimaginative mix a few ghastly changes from the earlier movie: Charlie has a father now, his family magically gets "unpoor" at the end by the dint of their own optimism, and Willy Wonka learns -- get ready for this one -- that families are not a bad thing.
It's beyond awful. Watch the original again instead, I beg of you.
Hey Putsie...15 minutes
GREASE was on AMC tonight and I happened to catch it.
This movie is so great. There's no pretension to it. It is really hard to make a movie musical that isn't pretentious and uppity. Has anyone watched "Chicago" lately, even though it got all those Oscar noms? Yeah, I thought not.
Sure, everyone's seen the movie. But here are a few facts about it you might not know.
The original Broadway production was a hit, but the music was REALLY hokey and many of the songs were different.
Can you imagine a movie musical being made today from a musical where new songs are added that are BETTER than the originals? Grease (the opener), Sandy, Hopelessly Devoted and You're the One That I Want are all new for the movie, and all are now classics.
It's fun to watch the Pink Ladies scenes knowing that Stockard Channing was 33 and Dinah Manot, who played Marty, was only 18 when the movie was being filmed.
(Side note -- if you haven't seen Dinah Manot in Ordinary People, watch it -- you'll be amazed at what a good actress she was).
Another interesting cast note: the woman who played Jan (brusha brusha brusha) basically was in this movie and that's it except for like three tiny cameo roles in other films. How's that for a film career -- one movie and it's one of the biggest hits of all time! Not bad!
When you talk about the movie version of Grease, you have to talk about Travolta. Seeing the bloated, bad actor that he's become, you have to go back and watch this movie to realize that this guy is one of the most talented all-around comedians who ever hit a screen. He can sing, he can dance, he's funny as hell, and he has a style all his own. I dare you to find a young actor today who pops off a screen as much as Travolta did. Unbelievable.
The thing I love most about Grease is that it was such an underdog as a project.
Helmed by a 31 year old TV director Randal Kleiser (who was George Lucas's roommate at USC, and apparently wrote his own IMDb biography, so maybe he'll read this and correct my mistakes), Paramount didn't expect much out of this movie, and they kind of left the young cast and director to do their thing. There's a fast-and-looseness to the movie, an almost improvisational feel at times, yet the comic timing is always DEAD ON.
This is a movie that respects comedy. Sid Caesar, Eve Arden -- these are giants of comedy that were at a career ebb around 1977, and the director shouldn't have been able to get them, but he did, and they make the movie hugely better.
But it's all about the young cast. You can tell that this is a group of actors that really felt like friends and were just having a good time. You've got actors in their late 20s and early 30s playing high schoolers, but somehow it's the best of both worlds -- there's plenty of sophomoric humor, but when Stockard C. sings "There are worse things," she gives it a depth Christina Aguilera never could . You've got actors like Jeff Conaway who never really did anything even close to good after this but he's brilliant as Kenickie. You've got a screenplay written by some woman I've never heard of who, once again, dropped off the face of the earth after this movie -- but how many classic lines are in this movie?! It's just amazing.
I salute every one who was a part of Grease. I loved it as a little kid and I still love it today.