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Harry + Max (2004)
Intriguing but not completely fulfilling
Harry and Max is an odd little film. It's a film that, quite frankly, I'm surprised any American director/producer/film company/actor would tackle. It's a film that has brotherly incest as an active thread running through it. The trouble is, the incest angle really isn't reason enough for the film - there needs to be another, stronger plot around which to build the film.
Bryce Johnson as Harry and Cole Williams (singer/songwriter/actor Paul Williams' son) as Max are not only engaging and believable as brothers, but downright talented actors. You can see the wheels turning in Max's head as he mulls things over and over. Harry, a burgeoning alcoholic, seems sufficiently numbed to reality.
There is no deficiency when it comes to the acting ability of this cast of quite surprisingly fine actors. Rain Phoenix (River and Joachin's little sister) is believable as the boys' friend/lover and Michelle Phillips does a believable job as the pushy/b*t*hy stage mom.
What is on the screen is thoughtful and thought provoking. My problem with the film stems from what ISN'T on the screen.
The film is about 23 year old Harry (a boy band pop idol with a waning popularity) and 16 year old Max (an up and coming boy band pop idol). Harry lives in New York and Max lives at home with their mother - a woman with whom Harry does not get along. Where Dad is, is anyone's guess.
Max freely acknowledges that he is gay. Further, to Harry, he freely acknowledges that he loves his brother Harry, but in a romantic sense as well as a brotherly sense. We can tell that Harry feels the same, but on some level knows that it is wrong. (He allows Max to have oral sex with him, but doesn't encourage it) Max is so young that he doesn't really care. Max wants Harry and he's fairly blatant about that. Harry wants Max (he masturbates looking at publicity pictures of Max in a teen magazine), but can't bring himself to commit - instead he seduces the 40 year old former yoga instructor who slept with Max several years earlier. It would seem Harry wants to learn how this older man managed to create a "connection" with Max that he, himself, seems unable to develop...or is it simply that he doesn't want to be one upped by his little brother and he wants to know just what it was that Max experienced with this man? Max tries the straight side and sleeps with Nikki (Rain Phoenix), Harry's former girlfriend. After this happens, for some reason, Harry feels the need to divulge to Nikki that he and Max have previously been lovers.
Why? To what end? Max is able to move on with his life, but Harry seems destined to pine after his little brother and drift further and further into alcoholism.
What's the message of the movie? Is there supposed to be a message? Frankly, it doesn't need a message, but since the script is somewhat fragmented, it seems to be trying to provide us with a message.
Now, don't get me wrong, I liked the movie just fine. However, it irritated the devil out of me, because the very realistic conversations between Harry and Max never fully delivered the complete message to me, the viewer. While realistic, in that the two of them reference incidents in their past, we, the audience are never privy to those incidents. They are only vaguely referred to - as two people who share the same past would quite believably do. However, WE don't know what happened. There should have been a flashback sequence (however brief) of the often alluded to incident in Bermuda where the boys initially consummated their incestuous relationship.
What's the background situation with Harry and Roxanne, his New York girlfriend? A couple more lines of dialogue could have cleared this up.
Why did Harry dump Nikki? A couple more lines of dialogue could have cleared this up too. We just know it ended.
In the beginning, we have no reason or reference to understand that Harry and Max are in the music industry. They do not feel compelled to sing or play music. If Harry is as driven as Max says, and Harry is writing his own music, then wouldn't he have at least dragged along a guitar on their weekend camping trip? In the last scene of the film, we are to believe that Max has not only moved on with his life in the music industry, but he has found a male lover with whom he is completely satisfied. From a psychological standpoint, this out of character. He initiated the relationship with his brother and pushed for it to go further, time and again. Harry also wanted the relationship, but just didn't know how to allow himself to "be there". Harry is now the one pining for Max and now Max is completely rebuffing him and confidently so. Moreso, Max seems somewhat disgusted by his older brother. I don't think this is fitting with the character.
This is a short film by feature length standards. I would love to have had about fifteen more minutes of expositional material that could have more fully developed the situations and characters. Learning about the character's background only via the DVD jewel box is not the best way to introduce the audience to them.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Excellent songs complement this Rock and Roll Phantom!
1974 was notable for two films that were major bombs at the time, but which have gone on to become cult classics: The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Phantom of the Paradise.
The former film garnered its cult following because of many factors, but not least of which is its message of inclusion for all who are different.
The latter - the Phantom... - garnered its following because the film is downright fun and full of great performers delivering great performances, plus it has a really excellent soundtrack.
Since the Phantom of the Opera is known to just about all, its plot is also well known. With various remakes already having been made, a somewhat unknown director, Brian DePalma took the helm of a film that is a melange of several classic Gothic horror stories with The Phantom of the Opera being the leading one.
The Phantom of the Paradise actually more closely follows the 1950's Hammer version of The Phantom of the Opera and adds in The Portrait of Dorian Grey and Faust for good measure.
Paul Williams, the diminutive actor/songwriter plays Swan, an evil record company owner who also is the living embodiment of a modern day Dorian Grey. Williams also wrote the lyrics for the entire film.
William Finley, a college buddy of director Brian DePalma, plays Winslow, a gifted rock opera writer (as Tommy had just come out and rock operas were seen as a wave of the future), from whom Swan steals his masterpiece - a rock version of the great horror story of Faust - about a man who sells his soul to the devil. Winslow becomes our phantom.
Jessica Harper gives us a very delicate version of the old Mary Philbin role in a character named Phoenix.
There are some really dynamite songs that permeate the film and I think that you'll find that although this is technically a "musical" it is not a musical of the "Oklahoma" variety.
The way in which Winslow is disfigured to become the Phantom is truly gruesome and ripe for the era.
Humor is rampant in this film and it never takes itself too seriously.
Paul Williams is very very creepy as Swan and he really delivers the goods on the music. (in fact it is Williams not Finley who actually sings as the Phantom).
Let's compare apples to apples.
No, this isn't Citizen Kane or Sunset Boulevard - but it deserves a 10 in its own right as a cult classic.
Rocky Horror is great, but take a break from it and check out this awesome addition to the same genre!
The White River Kid (1999)
P U ! This movie stinks up the room!
Whoever green lighted this film should be canned immediately. It sucks! Not only is it terrible, but the acting is terrible. When a film is shelved for several years before finally being released in the U.S. (and even then only on cable and video) you know it's got to be bad. This film seems to be the Hollywood Squares of films: where once decent actors go when they're past it. Or in Wes Bentley's case: where overly hyped and overrated actors start out (watch out Wes, outside of American Beauty, you've done nothing but act badly in several rotten films).
Psycho Beach Party (2000)
Poking fun at "Beach Blanket Bingo"!
I don't know why I had heard of this film, but I had. I don't know why I wanted to rent it, but I did. I don't know why I laughed all the way through it, but I did.... Yeah, I do know why I laughed. It was funny. It wasn't as purile as most modern "teen" comedies are, but it sure did have fun poking fun at the 60's beach movies like "Beach Blanket Bingo".
Charles Busch, who plays the part of the female detective, is absolutely a laugh riot: I truly believe he was channeling Kathleen Turner. The two hunky doofus boys who are more in love with each other than any of the babes...Nicholas Brendan, in a reverse take on his role on "Buffy", plays the major stud puppy here...Thomas Gibson in a reverse take on his televsion role as "Greg", plays a beatnik surfer dude. Beth Broderick, with her unbelievably sexy raspy voice, plays this films version of June Cleever with a twist.
The lines are outrageous. The costumes dead on. The portrayals ridiculous and accurate at the same time.
The is high camp! Don't expect serious - don't expect typical humor. But if you're over thirty, and remember those old beach movies, then you'll get a real blast out of this film.
War Party (1988)
Silly, but enjoyable film!
Yeah - I guess, I'm a typical guy, because I like mindless entertainment. Package it with decent acting, at least passable scripting, and good production values and I'll watch it.
This is a silly movie...A reinactment of a battle of settlers vs. Indians goes awry and people really start getting shot..... You can hear the people in the studios getting excited over this one as they dug deep for the money to finance it.
But really it's not THAT bad. You've got Matt Dillon's little brother (who I really like more, because he's more interesting) and you've got Billy Wirth (who, when this movie was made had appeared in The Lost Boys and nothing more). They can act though. The sets are good - (and let's face it - I love a western - even an implausible one) and the action is exciting, albeit stupid.
Okay, so the movie's no good - but it's a good kind of no good. It beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Really kickin' film!!
Imagine the French Connection for the 1980's and that's what this film is. In fact, it's by the same director: William Friedkin (who is either brilliant or terrible). The characters are cold and calculating - even the good guys. The plot is intriguing and very complex. The colors, sounds, and sights in this film are fabulous! The car chase scene in this movie rivals the one Friedkin used in French Connection and actually tops the one used in "Bullit". Rent this film! It is very exciting!!
The Claim (2000)
Boring and confusing mess of a movie
This is a bloated pompous mess of a movie that looks really good and wants to be good, but cannot be. The editing is mostly to blame. It jumps around from time period to time period without much warning and then there are the events in the movie that make little sense. For example, why does a fully furnished house moved into place by men and horses, not have broken dishes, crockery, paintings on the floor, etc.? Instead everything is perfect when the actors step inside. And why is a train circa 1930's running around in 1900 California? And how on God's green Earth could someone be buried six feet under when there is a good two feet of snow on the ground (anyone who lives in a snowbound area knows this is impossible)? Wes Bentley isn't so much acting as just saying lines. The one thing this movie had in its favor is that none of the actors had straight teeth - and that would be fitting for the era...
Great Music, Lousy plot, Lousy script!
The point of watching this film is not for the story (it's thread bare) or the acting (who told Michael Beck he could act?) - it's for the music.
Originally planned as a roller disco movie and changed in mid stream to another idea (and it shows), Xanadu is supposedly about a Muse who comes to help with the opening of a nightclub called "Xanadu". Along the way she meets and falls for the wooden actor Michael Beck - though many years before she had fallen for Gene Kelly's character.
Some of the really neat things in this film: The Tubes appear in a sequence and do a really bang up job of "working it". And....this is apparently the movie where Olivia Newton-John met her future/now former husband Matt Lattanzi. He is credited and quite visible as a dancer (who knew?) in the title song sequence - just behind Olivia (coincidence or on purpose?).
The Brotherhood (2001)
Dismally bad attempt at homoerotic vampire flick
A bunch of hunky guys with bodies to die for march around - say a few stilted sentences - pull off their shirts, reveal they are vampires and then say a few more stilted words. That pretty much sums up this baaaad film. If you want to look at really hunky guys - go for it. Don't expect much in the way of script or acting though. There is only one actor with anything resembling talent and he's relegated to being the "ugly geek" though he is not. You could drive trains through the gaps in the dialogue - which is too elaborate and wordy for what is being said. Expositional information is related that doesn't fit the characters presenting it. And explain something to me - how does the most popular fraternity manage to have only four members, yet have parties where dozens upon dozens attend - and yet they "rush" only one candidate?
The "best" thing about this film is its blatent homoerotic overtones. There's a particularly cheesy scene in which one vampire helps his novice drink blood from a girl's arm...from the camera angle, for all practical purposes, it looks as if one guy is having oral sex with the other. And the guys seem to hang all over each other and walk around half naked in front of each other for no reason at all. I think this had to have been scripted, shot, directed, or lensed by either a woman or a gay male because it is just "too" much.
I'd like to find out how to become a filmmaker of this caliber because it seems like there is some sort of market for this trash. However, I would imagine that it is probably just as difficult to make a film like this as it would be to make a good one - so why not go the extra mile?
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
Really good - not great - but hit the spot!
Another reviewer said it, but it's true: This isn't a great film, but it really was entertaining. I don't know what I was expecting when I watched it, but I don't think it was what Redford presented. While in places the film failed to deliver (was Bagger real or not?; did the tournament save the country club?), all in all it was a really good film. The acting was superb. I found myself laughing out loud many times at quiet little jokes that hit the spot for me. Now, I'm not a golfer, but I was raised one, so maybe that's why I liked it in part. Other than that - the cinematography was superb - the settings agonizingly beautiful - and the costuming was dynamite. I find myself liking Damon more and more with each film - he seems to grow more as an actor. And Charlize Theron is just flat gorgeous! And interestingly, I found myself wondering just who was playing Bobby Jones. Joel Gretsch, who plays him, makes him seem as if he really were a professional golfer. Take a couple hours and rent this film - I think you'll like it.