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Lean on Me (1989)
Much more realistic than "Dangerous Minds" with hardly any cussing
I work in a school that was totally struggling and considered hopeless, marked as "failing" and basically in the same position as Eastside High in Paterson, NJ, the subject and setting of "Lean on Me." "Lean on Me" is a very good, nearly great movie. But better than that it is the true story of a true hero who truly made a difference (http://www.joeclarkspeaker.com/index.html.)
Even if i wasn't a teacher, "Lean on Me" is a solidly recommendable film. Fine workmanship in depicting the underdog who deserves to win from the director of "Rocky." Justifably award winning acting by Morgan Freeman, well before he became a stereotype of himself. BUT, better than the traditional "movie-ishness" of the picture, the story is not only a story of hope, but it is a true and ongoing lesson that real commitment can create real change.
The whole process of the often startling and occasionally unpleasant shock and force necessary to rebuild a dangerously failing school is accurately portrayed. And so is the joyous feeling sensing the turn around taking place.
Even if you never learned anyone's name from the film, the story will inspire. Even if you think of none of the ideas of it, you cannot help but feel its heart.
A horrible history we only wish wasn't true: Rosewood did happen
So much of what i'd seen in reviews of Rosewood made the film seem a fabrication of some totally removed never thoroughly investigated minor incident in American history. But the fact is Rosewood did happen. In watching the film earlier this evening, again and again, i thought how shabbily and implausibly invented some of the developments and characters seemed. Then i went to the official website--not of the film, but of the Florida foundation which promotes the continuing study of the massacre, "Remembering Rosewood" (http://www.displaysforschools.com/rosewood.html). The massacre at Rosewood is a horrible history we can only wish was not true.
The shooting of Sarah Carrier on her front steps with a children's birthday party inside and the house being burned down. True. Two white men killed in the attack. True. A white man named Wright whose family risked their lives saving blacks who were being hunted by a mob that eventually grew into the hundreds. True. And the daring rescue of some of the town's children by train. Not only true but those children eventually grew up to cause the state of Florida to finally officially investigate the atrocity and make restitution to the survivors in 1994. Furthermore, author Michael D'Orso wrote a 370 book on the subject "Like Judgement Day" which is available through Amazon complete with accompanying essay from John Singleton. (The Ving Rhames character seems to be an invention, however.)
As a teacher i've commented on Rosewood each year during February/Black History Month and always remained hazy about it, not knowing any details beyond a few sketchy ones i'd found in an article on race riots and had not much discussed the Singleton film, not knowing how truth based it might be. No more. Singleton has brought to life a horrendous chapter of shameful history with impressively accurate detail and a heart wrenching message.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Redux the better
Just finished reading a very lucid and well prepared argument against the redux version of the film released in 2001. I must admit, at the moment i am neither particularly lucid nor well prepared, but i found the redux version superior to the original release for several reasons, a few of which i suspect to be sound. Clarity. I am as much a fan of drug induced incoherence as anyone (a quick stroll through my other IMDbposted remarks should prove that); but the expanse of the redone film film with its little morality play Playboy bunny arc and Renoir homage French Plantation sequence adds so much moral weight to the vision that it is barely the same film. The 1979 version is like an acid trip, jumping from one great scene to the next where the mind spend much of its time trying to catch up. In the Redux version all scenes seem connected, everything makes sense, even if the sense is somewhat uglier than the original. To me the French plantation sequence is of paramount importance to establishing the gravity of the film as a grand indictment and not just a heady horror story with intellectual presumptions.
Sure, rent either, preferably both, but i believe if you do rent both you'll agree the extra clarity and gravity of the longer version was worth the 22 year wait.
Cold Mountain (2003)
excellent adaptation of a superior novel
"How can a name, not even a real name, break your heart?" Here's how. There have been few film versions of a celebrated novel that have done better justice to their source material than Anthony Minghella's movie of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. If you've read the book you will be able to feel most of the major scenes soul shakingly recreated. I personally cried numerous times while reading the novel and spent much of the evening watching the film through tears.
Astounding scope, beautiful words, great acting and great music. In the interview on the DVD accompanying the film Minghella talks about the multiple layers of the story. All of them work. One of the best films I've seen and an invitation to one of the greatest novels of the last ten years.
hyper-stylish, bloody & hypnotic: lurid in the best possible way
Just saying you've got a movie about John Holmes is a guarantee to get some folks in front of the screen, but writer/director James Cox delivers oh so much more. A "Rashamon" of the sleazy Hollywood set, the film splitters the July 1981 Wonderland murders through a variety of angles (and film stocks), but mostly through the filter of John Holmes' coked out weasel brain. In a film full of bad guys Holmes is either the most vile, the most pathetic or both. Several versions of the story emerge and merge as Cox flashes jump cuts and twisting title cards amid effects and emoting. The dialogue is fast and naturalistic and never once rings false. While the film takes places two years after Holmes had fallen out of porn and into a truly wicked drug fueled depravity, Kilmer relentlessly exudes a sexuality so intense it can be measured in inches. This sexuality at its edges creates a sense of foreboding that hangs over the entire film almost as heavily as the violence at its center. Those murders are teased at through the whole film though are never clearly shown, not even at the climax,though the violence of them relentlessly infuses the whole picture and much blood is splattered across walls and crime scene photos. Once again Val Kilmer as Holmes shows he can act wacko better than anyone else working. Strutting, cringing, bragging or begging, Kilmer is constantly in character and the character is constantly a fascinating car wreck. Stand out performances beside Kilmer definitely include Ted Levine as the lead cop in the investigation and Lisa Kudrow as Holmes estranged wife. The trio of criminals Holmes falls in with include the frighteningly high energy Josh Lucas, the ever interesting Timothy Blake Nelson and an absolutely unrecognizable Dylan McDermott in a pivotal role as the teller yet another version of the murders. Cox suggests that no matter how much we learn about Wonderland, there is always a worse version possible, but looking through the debauchery surrounding it is much more fascinating than understanding the truth.
give back the awards Gus
NO! This movie doesn't work. The long mid-range shots Van Sant used fairly effectively in his just previous work, "Gerry" are totally wasted here and EXTREMELY annoying. Van Sant's governing creative idea of flat effect for everyone and everything precisely works against the plot: a high school massacre, which is supposed to be emotionally charged and direct, not smugly oblique. The first 3/4s of the film jump cuts amongst the various soon to be victims, but the midrange camera work and midrange emotional detachment Van Sant operates with fails to allow the viewer the connection to give a crap and often even understand what's going on on the screen. Also the genre seems also to morph as the film goes on, from kicky pseudo-mockumentary with no resolution to teen splatter film with no set up. And the "medias res" ending totally sucks. At one point in the film a character is playing a first person shoot-'em-up video game with all the realistic detachment of a typical bored teenager. Van Sant's choice to not develop viewer relationships with either the victims or the perpetrators turns the climax into virtually the same thing--a placeless, faceless shoot-'em-up with endless blood and hallways. I tell ya, the last thing I expected from a Cannes grand prize winner was to feel like a typically bored teen.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
wonderfully stylized, but as false as a gusher of blood
Don't get me wrong, I think of a 9 of 10 as pretty high praise, but it's no #77 on the top 250. That kind of rating should be for films which are about something more than live action anime. Tarintino does do a wonderful job at capturing and honoring the mood of today's violent cartoons and yester-year's B-movies. And those recurring gushers of blood are hilarious in a "Yeah I'm sick but it sure can be entertaining" sort of way. Tarintino also does a credible job incorporating a great variety of styles and approaches to the material, but the film's continuous winking at itself telegraphs that the plot is secondary and you end up wondering how much of the film is Tarintino and how much is second unit directors and stunt coordinators. ALSO, and this may be me and my watching Kill Bill, Matrix II, and Blade II all in the same weekend, but I'm awful tired of scenes where a horde of attackers supposed there to assail the main character take their turns politely waiting to get their butts kicked instead of just zooming in and dispatching the hero's ass like they should. Oh Quentin, if you could put this much love into something that really mattered ... sigh.
Bruce Almighty (2003)
The film you saw isn't nearly as good as the one they cut
Sometimes watching the deleted scenes on the DVD of a movie leaves you hankering for the film that could have been and suddenly disappointed with the film you had thought you liked. Like the DVD for John Dahl's "Joyride"(2001), the DVD package for Tom Shadyac's "Bruce Almighty" reveals a whole other movie that was shot, but underperformed at the test screenings and got chopped down to a simplistic version of itself. Don't be confused, "Bruce" still amply earns it's 8 of 10 rating and that's an 8 tending toward 9 due to the reasonable attempt to discuss philosophical issues amid Jim Carrey's rubber faced mugging and fart jokes. The plot: "what would happen if you got to/had to be God?" is rife with possibilities and the finished film reels like a Marx Brothers telegraph of a Tolstoy novel. Pretty darn good, but Oh what could have been. Watch the deleted scenes and the "Method of Jim" reels on the extras portion of the DVD then pause to imagine the film that "Bruce Almighty" was before "Shady-hack" went to chopping. It's an editing job that trades divine for dividend.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
worthy conclusion to transcendental series
Some have said that the time gaps between issues of the Matrix series rendered dramatic developments and narrative techniques irrelevant. I say no. The 3rd and concluding chapter of the "Matrix" saga,at least on video lives up to its predecessors and far outstrips the technically impressive but emotionally inert second chapter. The challenge for a movie of scope is to be able to embrace the personal and the Wachowski brothers amply achieve that. Even more, the challenge of a series is to culminate, not merely conclude, and Matrix Revolutions does indeed finish and exceed the previous chapters, BUT ONLY if you watched the first two. As a movie oriented afternoon/evening of philosophical impact, emotional enlightenment and kick-ass entertainment, it was be a challenge to surpass the Matrix trilogy and in particular, this conclusion of the series.
hypnotic maybe, but too darn annoying to be good
When i read reviews that said they'd hated "Gerry" i hoped they were wrong and insisted on going against reviewers advice because, among other things i live in the desert. But Van Sant was too overwhelmed by it and chews through far too many three minute wordless panning shots just staring at it's vastness. Damon and Affleck (the one who can act)are fantastic in their descent into dehydration delirium and the desert, like i say is great, but the pacing and vast wordlessness of the film distance it from the viewer and make really hard to not get impatient, not to mention the stoner stupidity of the characters getting themselves into such a predicament in the first place. Definitely not a waste of time, but expect to want to bitch slap Van Sant and his editor.