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This movie practically rivals Holy Grail for funniest movie of all time. Besides the dirty fork sketch and Gilliam's not-always-great animation, every part of the movie is a true masterpiece. A great introduction to Python.
Unquestionably moving and brilliant, even if...
OK, before I start listing all the good things about the movie Magnolia, and believe me, there are many, I will list the things that are potentially bad about the movie, and get them out of the way. It's often self-indulgent and self-important. It contains one too many confessions of spousal cheating. It can be argued that the movie gets downright cheesy at some times--like when they all start singing the soundtrack song "Wise Up" by Aimee Mann, and maybe there are some aspects of the plot (the prophetic kid rapper, just what DOES William H. Macy do for a living?) go unexplained or unjustified, and you either will love or hate the finale. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I'd like to say that Magnolia is one of the most moving movies of all time. There is a quiet yearning always apparent in the movie--some people say it is a movie about misery, but I don't believe it's quite that--I think it's a movie about wasted lives, the lives of people who just need to get over their sense of regret before they can make something of their lives. More than one character says in the movie "we may be through with the past, but the past isn't through with us," and for almost every character in the movie it is a definitive quote. Here is the plotline in as few words and most connections as possible. Earl (Jason Robards) is a dying TV producer, cared for by a male nurse (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Earl left his wife years ago when she developed cancer for the younger Linda (Julianne Moore), leaving his son Frank (Tom Cruise) to look after his mother, and Frank became an on-TV sex guru, preaching his "seduce and destroy" method to millions of followers. Produced by Earl is the TV show "What Do Kids Know," a show whose returning champion is the young boy Stanley (Jeremy Blackman), a boy who is sick of being looked upon as a freak and sick of his father (Michael Bowen) and the pressure he puts upon him. Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) was the champ on the show about 30 years ago, but is now a grown-up failure who resorts to robbing his own store when things get rough. The host of the show is Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall), who is also dying and wants his beloved wife Rose (Melinda Dillon) and abused, drug-addicted daughter Cluadia (Melora Walters) to forgive him before he dies. Neither of them seem to, especially Claudia, who seems to now be leading a sleazy lifestyle of drugs and sex until she is visited by good-hearted, religious policeman Jim (John C. Reily), who instantly falls for her, and just could be the source of her redemption. If it sounds like a lot to take in, remember the movie's 3-hour running length. For a movie that is 3 hours long, though, it flies instantly by. Several people on this site were complaining of it being sooo lonnnngggg, but I was constantly glancing at my watch, and hoping that I still had a good amount of time before the movie was over--much like the 1993 ensemble piece "Short Cuts," I didn't want it to end, I wanted to learn more about these characters, I wanted them to find happiness. Quite needless to say, the performances across the board are quite excellent. Though Jason Robards and Phillip Baker Hall might not get much of a chance to act through their confessional time, they get the job done. Julianne Moore and Melinda Dillon are pretty good as their wives. But the performances only get better from there. As the two quiz champions, Jeremy Blackman is truly wonderful and William H. Macy is at his nervous best. But then we get to the three performances that make this one of the best ensemble casts since "Pulp Fiction". Melora Waters's absolutely heartbreaking performance as the doomed Claudia is one the viewer is not likely to forget. Tom Cruise does maybe his best dramatic work so far here--when he is on stage, he's on fire, and could easily be a preacher preaching his religion, and to some extent, he is, but his too best moments come when he tells the reporter that's interviewing him "I'm quietly judging you," and when he half laughs/breaks down at his dying father's bedside, truly a matured performance that the star of "Cocktail" could not have given. But the performance to watch here is John C. Reily's, as the centerpiece of the movie, the voice of reason, the voice of goodness among the disappointment, the do-gooder cop who just wants to help people. Maybe less showy than Cruise's role, but just as emotionally powerful. He pulls it off with such a sense of reality that we pray for his safety and pray for his happiness. It is brilliantly directed by P.T. Anderson. Often compared to one of Altman's multi-charactered mosaics, Anderson's technique could not really be much more different. Altman's direction always gave his character pieces a sort of distanced, alienated feel, but Anderson's here is very intimate. Characters are given slow close-ups, or are slowly followed as they move, or sometimes when you see two characters talking, you will only actually see one of the characters and try to guess what they are thinking. The story is well written and the stories all well connected, and the ending...well, as I said, you either love it or hate it. I loved it. If you asked me to explain the meaning of it, whether it was a biblical metaphor, or a chance for self-reflection for the characters, or what, I could not tell you. But it hit an appropriate emotional nerve for the time, and in the cold world of 90's movies, why not? Maybe it was a plot device, but if so, a very, very powerful one. And the music, let's not forget Aimee Mann (who'da thunk it? The lead singer of the 80's onehitwonder band 'Til Tuesday comes back out to write the most appropriate soundtrack to a movie since The Graduate?) and her hauntingly correct songs. "Save Me" is one of the true highlights of the movie--an aching, desperate cry for what everyone in the movie seems to be searching for.
See Magnolia. If you were more bored than I was, I'm sorry. You're missing an experience unlike really any other.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
I don't understand why...
In 1994 The Hudsucker Proxy was released to indifferent reviews and failed box-office. It failed to get a single oscar nomination. After watching it several years ago, and again tonight, I can only come up with one question: Why? Everything in this movie clicks like the huge clock that towers over NYC from the Hudsucker building. Tim Robbins has rarely been better and provides a worthy successor to the clueless but ultimately endearing Capra heroes of the 30's, like Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart. Jennifer Jason Leigh, who has been so good in many movies, provides a winning cross between the professionalism of Rosalind Russel's character in His Girl Friday and the archetypal Katherine Hepburn character (she even gets the voice right!). Paul Newman makes an ideal villain, and Charles Durning has a memorable cameo. The cast is not even the best part. The movie is visually stunning (where were the cinematography and art direction oscars on this one?) and adds all the more to the storyline. The direction flawlessly invokes the madcap comedies of the 30's with a plot that is heavily influenced by Sturges and Capra but has some now-typical Coen twists in it as well. However, the best part is the screenplay. A true american original, it exceeds especially with the hula-hoop plotline. This movie flopped in' 94, but hey--so did Vertigo in '58 and The Magnificent Ambersons in '42. Some genius takes time to be appreciated--lets hope time appreciates this true Coen masterpiece. Makes a good double bill with the similarly screwball but more over-the-top Raising Arizona
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
2nd most poetic and artistic
Aside from Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo", A Clockwork Orange is probably the most poetic and artistic movie ever made. From it's haunting and downright frightening first shot of Alex's face (with his perfectly constructed wardrobe and one fake eyelash, an idea nothing short of genius), to the dialogue (consisting mainly of Nasdat, a language similar to english though certain terms are used in replacement of our terms. Example: Good=Horrorshow, In-Out, In-Out=Sex), to the ultra-modern houses that Alex and his droogs raid, to the ironic and disturbing idea of having Alex sing "Singing In The Rain" while shamelessly raping a middle-aged woman, to the fish eye lens shots Kubrick uses to capture imagery, to the contraption that forces Alex to watch the ludivico video, and finally to the overall question of the entire movie: What is it better for a man to be--naturally evil or mechanically enforced good? Alex has a chance to experience them both.
Now to the plot: Alex (Malcolm McDowell)is a disturbed youth who spends his days faking sick from school so he and his droogs (friends) can drink milk-plus at a bar or go out for "a little of the ultra-violence" It is kind of like a gang of theirs, which Alex leads, consisting of 4 members. They wear the same costumes, fight other gangs, beat up homeless drunks, rape innocent women and sometimes kill them, and try to run cars off the road. Alex is obsessed with Beethoven, who he refers to as "Ludwig Van". He associates Beethoven with sexual violence. After he angers his droogs and puts down a potential mutiny through (what else?) violence, they decide to double cross him by knocking him out after he kills a woman, leaving him for the police. He hates it in prison, but he manages to humour the religious head there by pretending to be interested in the bible (all he really cares about in the bible are the sexual and violent parts, which he imagines himself in). Through gaining the religious head's favor, he is allowed to get off early for his crimes, on one condition--he undergoes the "Ludovico Treatment": a treatment supposed to cure the need for violence. The treatment consists of holding Alex in a chair, putting him in a straitjacket, forcing his eyelids to stay open by putting hooks under his eyes, keeping his head stationary, and thereby forcing him to watch the video that they display: A video of sexual violence with a soundtrack of bastardized Beethoven music. Alex is absolutely shellshocked at the sights and sounds of this video. After he watches it, you see him on a stage crouching down. A topless woman walks onto the stage. He reaches for her breasts. Before his hands can get there, he crumples over and starts gagging. Whenever Alex now thinks a violent thought, he becomes unbearably sick. Then he goes back into the everyday world, where the tables are turned on him in almost every way.... Malcolm McDowell's performance perhaps ranks among the 10 best ever given. His brave portrayal of an absolutely monstrous teen is so frighteningly believable that the mere sight of him is scary. The music is appropriately moody, as it is in all Kubrick movies. The art direction is flawless, as is the cinematography. This is the most Kubrickesque of all his films, and probably his best overall. The surreal atmosphere is disturbingly relevant, though perhaps not at first glance. This movie deserved oscars for best picture, best actor, best director, best adapted screenplay, best cinematography, best art direction, best costume design, and best sound. IT GOT NONE OF THEM!!! It was nominated for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, and best editing. What did it lose to in all 4 categories? THE FRENCH CONNECTION!!! The two movies are completely incomparable--The French Connection seems so shallow compared to A Clockwork Orange. It's losing to The French Connection ranks among the top 5 mishaps of the oscars: the other 4 being Citizen Kane losing to How Green Was My Valley, an unnominated Vertigo losing to GIGI?!?!, Goodfellas losing to Dances With Wolves, and Pulp Fiction losing to Forrest Gump (Honorable mention goes to an unnominated Usual Suspects losing to the poorly acted Braveheart). In retrospect, one wonders how any of them could've happened, but they did. Somehow. See A Clockwork Orange. And if you're one who says it is nothing but "sexual, ugly rubbish," you probably (not definitely) should be forced to be placed in a contraption not unlike the one Alex was forced into, and be forced to watch the movie over and over until you realize the true wonder of cinema that it is.
Keeping the Faith (2000)
Not clever and intellegent at all
I went to see Keeping The Faith expecting that it would be not so good. I was, sadly enough, right. TV's Dharma is a so-so actress who I don't think would really have so captivated the attention of Stiller and Norton, especially not to the degree that they'd give up their faith to have her. Ben Stiller gives a downright lousy performance as an unfunny, supposedly "hip" rabbi who the film tries to show the "light side of religion" through. It is plain ridiculous, and the film seems to think that it's ok to make so much Jewish humor just as long as it's at the expense of it's own characters. The humor is all cliches, as is the screenplay. I'll admit it's an original idea, but it's completely implausible. No one would go to a Synagouge that had a gospel choir sing "Ein Keloheinu", and they certainly wouldn't like the rabbi. Norton is the one saving grace in the film, but unlike in American History X, the strength of his performance is not nearly enough to carry the movie. If you are contemplating seeing a touching, funny, contemporary movie about relationships, see When Harry Met Sally or Annie Hall. Don't see this unless you laugh at anything merely because it is classified as comedy.
Hitch's 2nd Best, But That Is Saying A Whole Lot
Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho is probably the best horror movie ever made, and though slightly inferior to his Vertigo, it remains a true showcase of the master's talent. Though I was not around the 1st time the movie came out, I was lucky enough to recently catch a screening of it, with a guest appearance by Janet Leigh. I had already seen the movie twice, and anticipated everything that was about to happen, but it didn't really matter. It still scared me so much, I was petrified to think how terrified I would be if I saw it in the theaters in 1960, not knowing what was about to happen. We all know the plot--Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) embezzles 40,000 dollars from her company and is on the run. She stops at the Bates Motel where she meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a friendly young man who is restrained from being close to anyone but his possessive mother. They talk, and she gets in the shower. Before she is done her shower, she is stabbed to death by Norman's mother. But who really stabbed her? And is she really dead? Marion's sister Lila (Vera Miles) and Marion's boyfriend (Jon Gavin) hire detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam) to investigate. Then he is similarly stabbed to death before he can question Norman's mother.... Psycho is simply amazing, one of the true artistic pieces of the cinema. Joseph Stefano's disturbing, sick screenplay will not soon be forgotten, though the plot is not the main part of the movie. The cinematography is some of the best ever put on the screen, from the several pans from the Bates Motel to Norman's house to the opening shot across the city. It is dark--undeniably bleak and dark, as is the mood of the movie. The art direction is necessarily scary--Norman's house is perfectly secluded from the rest of the world, and looks very spooky, as does the motel. As Balsam notes, the hotel seems to be "hiding from the world." The acting varies--Balsam is quite good as the always suspicious detective, Leigh is ideally cast as the every day woman who sees a chance to get away from life and takes it, and Perkins is nothing less than fantastic as Norman Bates, a roll that would define his career, and one he will always be associated with. However, Miles and Gavin are wooden anti-characters with no personality whatsoever showing. But that really doesn't matter. Hitchcock liked the idea from the start--getting a big star and killing her off in the first reel. It certainly shocked audiences, who before came into movies whenever they wanted, sometimes even 30 minutes to an hour into the movie. They were not allowed to do that with Psycho. "The film you should see from the beginning--or not at all" the taglines stated. Psycho is a perfect example of audience manipulation--everyone assumes that the story is about Leigh, and when she gets bumped off, Hitchcock takes the audience down a completely different road. The shower scene is one of the most memorable and suprprising scenes in film history. The scenes in which Leigh is driving are suspenseful, even though there's nothing really happening. And when Perkins is trying to dispose of Leigh's car by pushing it into the swamp, the way the car stops sinking for a second--everyone suddenly wonders what he will do now--but then it sinks away again. Surprisingly enough, the audience wants the car to go down--we want Perkins to get rid of the evidence. And untrue to Horror formula, the climax of Psycho takes place not in a rainy dark night--but in the bright, sunny daylight. These are all examples of audience manipulation--which no one does better than Alfred Hitchcock. But yet--Hitchcock's direction, I think, is not the best part of the movie--or at least it is tied for first. The best? BERNARD HERRMANN. If you do not know that name yet, write it down. BERNARD HERRMANN. He has done the score to the Hitchcock movies Marnie, The Birds, The Wrong Man, North By Northwest, Vertigo (ohh, the Vertigo score), and Psycho. He also did the score to Scorcese's Taxi Driver, and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. He won an oscar for his score for The Devil And Daniel Webster. His score for Psycho is certainly his most well known--especially the shower scene part. Though not his best (Vertigo is his best) the score is the part of Psycho that stays with you after the film is done, days after. That keeps haunting you, that keeps scaring you. Psycho would be three or four times less scary without the shrieking violins of Herrmann's score. Herrmann also pulled an exercise in audience manipulation--for the score, frightening as it is, consisted of only 4 violins. The music truly sets the mood for the movie. Creating the madness and worry in Marion's mind while she is driving, creating the true horror of the murders, and creating the calm but suspenseful serenity of some of the dialogues, where there is no music at all, and the film is eerily silent. You know the shrieking violins are soon. Bernard Herrmann's scores are not often enough credited as a huge, HUGE part Hitchcock's success with his pictures. So write that name down if you don't know it already: BERNARD HERRMANN. And see Psycho. If you've already seen it, see it again to catch the little things you missed before. I guarantee you there are some.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
As Creative As Horrors Come
This movie was genuinely scary, unnerving, and disturbing. Yet the scariness of the movie certainly does not come out of mindless gore or unrealistic monsters. It comes out of sheer, basic, suspense, the likes of which I may have never seen since Psycho, more than Silence of the Lambs and Seven.
Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is a nice man,a devoted husband and psychiatrist. So good is he at his work, he receives a plaque from the mayor commending him. However, his joy that night is brief, as his celebration with his wife is cut short by an unexpected blast from the past--a patient of Malcolm's that he couldn't help (Donnie Wahlberg in a short but memorable cameo). He tells Malcolm that he didn't help him, and he has still been miserable for the last 10 years because no one could pinpoint why he was so upset. He then pulls out a gun, shoots Malcolm in the gut, then blows his own brains out. Flash forward to 2 months later: Malcolm is standing near the house of young Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) and his mother (Toni Colette). Cole has become a patient of his, and after reviewing Cole's case, Malcolm realizes that he and the man who shot him have a lot in common, and Malcolm sort of sees this as his shot at redemption for failing his other patient. The two meet and strike an instant rapport. But Cole is depressed, and always seems to look sad. His single mother is constantly stressed, trying to juggle two jobs and be a mother and father to Cole. She can not reach Cole herself, cannot understand why he is always so frightened. Eventually after Malcolm earns the trust of Cole, Cole tells him his secret: "I See Dead People." Cole explains to Malcolm that he constantly sees dead people walking around, not knowing that they are dead, and not seeing each other. Only Cole can see these people. At first Malcolm tries not to believe Cole, but after listening to a tape of one of his sessions with the man who shot him, he realizes Cole is telling the truth. The two have their individual problems, though. Malcolm and his wife haven't talked in months, they are now completely estranged from one another, and she seems to have found a new beau. Cole's mother wonders why her grandmothers pendant keeps getting moved, and gets furious when Cole denies taking it. The story goes on like this, telling about how Malcolm and Cole try to help each other This intelligent film is about 3 completely heart-wrenching relationships. Malcolm's relationship with his wife, Cole's relationship with his mother, and Malcolm and Cole's relationship with each other. All three are introduced to the story at the beginning, and at the end, all three are neatly and beautifully concluded. Possibly the most moving scene of the movie is when Cole comes home from school. He asks his mom how her difficult day was. She says: "Well, I won the lottery this morning, I quit all my jobs, I picnicked in the park, and then swam in the fountain all afternoon." She then asks Cole how his day went at his school (where everyone views him as a freak and an outcast). He answers: "Well, I was picked first for dodgeball, I hit a game-winning grand slam, and everyone carried me off on their shoulders." It shows how the only escape from their two difficult, miserable lives, is each other. The two most memorable things about this movie are Haley Joel Osment, who is nothing short of a revelation as Cole and who unjustly lost the academy award for Best Supporting Actor to the simple acting of Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules, and the ending, which clearly borrows a little something from The Usual Suspects. The rest of the cast is uniformly good, especially Toni Colette as Cole's mother. Bruce Willis does an admirable job as Malcolm, a very different character than he has played in his traditional movies. The writing and direction is some of the best you will ever see. M. Night Shyamalan has loaded the Sixth Sense with symbolism, foreshadowing, and clues to the big finish. He had the bad luck as coming out the same year as American Beauty, which was only a little better written , but much better directed. The Sixth Sense was nominated for 6 oscars: Best Picture, Supporting Actor Haley Joel Osment, Supporting Actress Toni Colette, Director Shyamalan, Writer Shyamalan, and Editing. It lost them all, unfortunately.
Epic that pays homage.
The movie "Gladiator" filled pretty much up to my expectations. It had wonderful photography and visual effects, probably one of the most enjoyable movies to look at of the 90's. The action sequences are tense, suspenseful, gut-wrenching, slick, and above all, violent. Russel Crowe's talents, unfortunately, are somewhat wasted in this part, since primarily his part is just to fight and be brave. He does do this little well, though.
The plot of this movie is reminiscent of countless other epics. Emperor has doubts about who to give his throne to, and his unexpected decision stirs up jealousy in those not chosen (Ran). So unchosen decides to run off the one chosen and tries to kill him, though the chosen somehow survives, while the unchosen believes he is dead (though not an epic in practical sense, The Lion King, and possibly others). The chosen finds his wife and son dead and vows vengeance against the now king (Braveheart). He is instead, though, sold into slavery and enrolled in a gladiator school (Spartacus). There, he is put on display in a colosseum to compete with others for the audience's amusement (Ben-Hur). He rallies up support, but after being betrayed by his own people, he is caught by the king (Braveheart again). Then, there is an ending which I'm not quite sure what movie it is from. I must not have seen it yet. Alright, so maybe the movie is going to win any acting or writing oscars. It probably doesn't deserve them anyway. However, the scenes in the colloseum are so beautifully and skillfully crafted, that the academy still should grant "Gladiator" oscars for Best Director Ridley Scott, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, and maybe, just maybe, best picture. We will see.
American History X (1998)
Norton makes it happen
American History X only got one oscar nomination: Best Actor, Edward Norton. He lost to the tour de force performance of Roberto Benigni in "Life Is Beautiful". Whether Norton deserved it over Benigni (I hope that is the right spelling) is a question worth debating, both were career-making performances. I think that Norton probably deserved it a little more for 2 reasons: 1. He plays COMPLETELY against type. You can not believe that this is the same relatively tame Edward Norton who won so many people over in such movies as Rounders and the People Vs. Larry Flynt. Rarely are there such acting transformations. 2. Norton carried the movie. The direction was somewhat sloppy, the script had a couple holes here and there, and besides Furlong's convincing peformance as an impressionable youth, the acting is only so-so. But Norton was solid, convincingly ranting and raving and recruiting. The slow transformation of Furlong's character into a neo-nazi under Norton's influence and then the transformation back to tolerance truly exemplifies how the Nazi movement could have spread through Germany over 60 years ago. The movie is definitely worth a watch. Some heads may be turned by it, even.
I can't think of a thing that I would change.
Every once in a while, I will watch a movie that just totally blows me out of the water. Spartacus was one of those movies. Everything about it seems perfect to me. I was not bothered by the length, as the story required a lengthy movie. After director Anthony Mann was fired, Stanley Kubrick was brought in to work as director. If he had been the original choice for director, perhaps we would see a Spartacus with the flashy long camera shots and the deep, haunting scores, and the abstract art we have become used to from Kubrick's 2001, A Clockwork Orange, and even Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick's style is much more restrained in Spartacus. The only time when Kubrick really shines through is the battle scene, where the troops of Casuss' army asssemble to make symmetric shapes. But since Spartacus is not really the kind of movie that requires that kind of work, since a ray of hope shines over the entire thing. In the hands of a lesser director (notably Cecil B. DeMille, king of the mindless epics) it might have turned into just that, a mindless epic. But Kubrick saved that from happpening. Critics of the romance between Spartacus and Varinia may be right when they say that there is no passion there. I disagree with this, though. Besides, the love scenes gave an excuse to hear the traditional score. The score (basically consisting of 3 notes being played in the same pattern but in different keys and by different instruments) is perhaps the most touching thing about the movie, and its simplicity drives what is going on on screen home. The movie's screenplay and story takes the best elements from such movies as Braveheart, Ben-Hur, and even the Ten Commandments and gives it to much better actors. Though the story may have many factual errors, it gives the actors a chance to shine in their work. The acting is top quality. Almost every legend of the silver screen had his role that made him one, the role that when one thinks of the actor, they must think of the role also. Marlon Brando had his Vito Corleone, Clark Gable had his Rhett Butler, Orson Welles had his Charles Foster Kane, even Anthony Quinn had his Zorba the Greek. Well, Kirk Douglas has his Spartacus. Although his character required little acting, and he was not oscar-worthy in it, he gave Spartacus an identity. Other acting standouts are oscar-winner Peter Ustinov as Spartacus's former owner, Laurence Olivier as the evil dictator Cassus, and though most people would disagree with me, Tony Curtis as Antoninus.
This is a 5-star movie, see it soon.