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Road to Perdition (2002)
A man's got to do what a man's got to do movie with feeling.
This is a "man's got to do what a man's got to do" movie with the added bonus of great acting from two of America's great stars (Newman and Hanks) as well as a look at future star Tyler Hoechlin, who plays Hank's 12 year old son. This movie takes you back to the speakeasy days and it's look is authentic.
Hank's plays an enforcer for mob boss Newman, who looks great at 80 something, with all the sheen of glamour gone replaced by a harrowed and haunted look. Newman's son is a psychotic killer who makes all the wrong moves, but is under the protection of his father because blood is thicker than water. When Hank's son accidentally witnesses the son's latest atrocity, loyalties become strained and Hank's goes on the run with his son.
Here the movie goes down familiar territory...retribution, which is also it's major moral flaw. If Hank's wants to save his son and keep him from following in his footsteps then surely he should disappear and raise his son somewhere else. Nope! He drags his son around and teaches him how to be a getaway driver while he robs banks, act as lookout while he does some enforcing of his own, and only in the end belatedly saves him from doing what his old man is so good at.
Still it's a solid movie with all it's predictable Hollywood morality. Hanks walks off with the movie, and is helped by the subtlety of many of the scenes. My favorite piece of acting comes when he's in a Diner and starts talking to someone and realizes when the guy smiles that it's a stone cold killer who's been sent to kill him, played creepily by Jude Law. Why? Well go see the movie.
Harrison's Flowers (2000)
A war movie without a soul or a sympathetic character.
Andy McDowell can't seem to portray sympathetic characters. In "Four weddings and a funeral" I wanted Hugh to dump her. In "Sex, lies and videotapes" I knew she was frigid before they told us. It has something to do with those intense brown eyes being too close together, and her pent up, whiny angst. Now she plays a woman so obsessed with finding her (given up for dead famous war correspondent) husband that she roars off to a war zone without a backward look at her children. She then allows her husband's fame to sucker 3 other reporters into acting as protectors and guides, and when one of them gets killed she watches silently as another reporter apologizes for the death. She doesn't have a clue that her irresponsibility is the root of his death. This is supposed to be a love story but how can one tolerate a love from a mother who never shows any concern for the consequences to her children and those around her? Who needs another soul-less war movie these days anyway. They have so ground into the dirt the images of hell that they appear dispassionate. The hell of war is the damage it does to the human soul not just the damage it does to the body. When you show only the latter you're showing off technique and side stepping creative bravery.
Best adult movie of the year!!
Thank God for the Aussies! They always manage to show humans being humans so much better than Hollywood ever can. The fact that this movie got no Oscar nominations is embarrassing, as it is far better than any other "adults relating" movie in quite some time. It takes on themes covered in "In the bedroom" and "Monster's Ball" and delivers them in a much more satisfying way. The characters are never larger than life, and the issues are the ones we all know about, and in the case of the murder of a child the issue is to focus on the aftermath not the murder.
There is not a single error in casting or performance, and it helps that the American audience only knows three of the actors, and that all of them are actors, not movie stars. All the characters are flawed, some more than others, yet I ended up caring for most of them. Their sins are of omission as well as commission, born of loneliness and pain, yet like most humans we see the sins before we see what gave birth to them.
The main character is played by Anthony La Paglia, himself originally (and maybe still) an Aussie. He is a cop on the edge. Nothing new here, but the movie decides to show us how his personal life is falling apart rather than show us his life as a cop. We can intuit what is driving him, or leave it alone. His choice of acting out is to have an affair, with a lonely woman from the Salsa dance class his wife has forced him to endure. Rather than to let out his emotions on the floor he decides to go for the bed. Less artistry, less energy, less personal.
The other main character is played by Barbara Hershey, a tense Psychiatrist who can't see that she's projecting her own insecurities on to the story of a patient. She's decided to shelve grieving for her murdered daughter by publishing a best selling book about it. Her husband, a marvelously lifeless Geoffry Rush, grieves privately, almost in rebellion against his wife's publication of their pain. He has shriveled up and grown cold.
The two characters end up meeting, but I won't say how, and in the process Anthony finally gets some indirect therapy from Barbara's husband. In between there are many other riches to be mined from all the wonderful scenes that fill this movie. Don't miss this one!
Monster's Ball (2001)
A finely understated movie about the way human pain can be expressed.
I expected the movie to be about racism, but it wasn't. It's about the expression of pain into anger and the projection of anger onto identifiable objects; such as race and expression of sensitivity. Billy Bob is an up-tight correctional officer overseeing an execution, as is his son (Heath Ledger). The son, however is showing signs of weakness, such as being friendly with the Black neighbors children, and - worst of all - by letting his feelings towards his job show. Both are portrayed as emotionally stunted in two harsh, like father like son, prostitute scenes. Both are chips off the old block of Jim Crowing, misogynistic grandpa Peter Boyle, and both wish silently they weren't.
Into this family comes Hale Berry as the widow of the man they execute. Billy Bob reluctantly helps her out with her grief while struggling with his own, and the two become lovers. The movie now asks us to believe that the relationship allows Billy Bob to shrug off his imbedded hatreds, which we accept mostly due to the movies subtlety of letting things just be.
Berry has received an Oscar nomination. Although I liked her performance, and was not surprised by it, I can't help but think she's getting an all too common Hollywood "wow we did not know this person can act!" award, such as the one doled out to Cher for "Moonstruck". To be frank Berry's presence in this movie does her career much more good than it helps the movie. Hollywood just can't allow us to see average people being played by the average looking. There is absolutely no surprise in Billy Bob having the hots for her (hell Hitler would have the hots for her!) and so his transformation doesn't affect the Richter scale. We know in real life she'll end up as another woman who Billy Bob won't be able to love for the duration.
I did like the pace of the movie and it's willingness to let the scenes speak for themselves. The death row scene is inevitable but not over dramatized as it was in "The Green Mile", although it too shows how inhumane the whole ritualized process is, simply in it's rituality.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
This is certainly the most intense movie in quite awhile. It is pure and simply a war movie without any frills whatsoever. We don't get to know much about anyone, which I think forces the viewer to look at the total picture's view of war and not get stuck on rooting for individuals.
The action scenes are realistic and so gritty that they frankly terrified me. I know I do not have the courage it takes to be a soldier. Added to that is the senselessness of the cause, and the stupidity born of arrogance to assume that Americans are super heroes and Africans are just another incapable enemy.
It chooses to look one sidedly at the conflict, which again forces the viewer to experience the hell these poor guys went through rather than be conflicted by objectivity (in a telling footnote we find out that 1,000 Somali's lost their lives to 19 Americans, and we're kept clear of the hell they went through).
This kind of an approach reminds me of the old Cowboy and Indian movies, where we root for the outnumbered white guys and the Indians are portrayed as layer after layer of killing robots. We never learn about the enemies rationale for hating us; we never see their heroism; we never see their humanity. We are now finding out what that kind of subjective view of the World can lead to.
Flashy but dumb.
This is your quintessential flashy but dumb Hollywood "high-tech" thriller. I avoided seeing it in the Theater and rented it recently. The only thing I missed was seeing pyrotech mayhem from a bigger vantage.
Travolta, sporting another giggle hairdo, struts through the movie with enough irony to (hopefully) let us know it's all in fun. Hale Berry is DDG as usual, but should have been allowed to be bad ass! She's too pretty to be playing a character who may be naughty or nice without coming off as bland. The boob shot was over rated. I preferred the shot of her in her skimpies.
Now to the, ahem, plot. Travolta hires a super hacker (Jackman) to hack into the DEA and steal Gazillions of dollars. Jackman plays the hacker doing things on the computer that resemble what Hollywood perceives hackerdom to be - virtuoso keyboard strumming! He's on another plane, he uses his third eye! Wow! He gets to prove how fast he is by breaking into the DOD while getting a blow job and having a gun pointed to his head, all in less than 60 seconds.
As with all bad big movies this one starts off well and careens off downhill, ending with one of the silliest car chases ever filmed. Travolta has all the hostages and fellow cohorts aboard a bus being chased by half of LAPD. To get away he -get this- has a giant helicopter pick up the bus. The helicopter travels at less than 100 m.p.h., mostly vertically, as visible as the holes in the plot, and proceeds to crash into everything in sight before smashing down on a roof top so John can make his get away. I can see the special effects guys saying: "Who cares if it doesn't make sense it's never been done before".
Now I know why I rented this movie. At home no-one can hear you scream!
Spy Game (2001)
A great throwback
Finally a thriller that really is smart and action packed! Redford steals this movie, not the least because he's in practically every scene. He's seasoned by time in the sun, and it fits his character. He plays an essentially duplicitous CIA agent with such charm that we of course convince ourselves that he is just a patriot doing his job. It's vogue again to have the ends justify the means.
Pitt gets all the action stuff and little to do in the acting department, but that's all-right, he's pretty. He also gets to play the moral character who doesn't like people being treated like pawns, even though he does it!
The Beirut sequence hits very close to home, and is probably one of the more intense action scenes in any Hollywood movie. We've seen this before from people like DePalma, but after 9-11-01 were not just casual observers.
Discerning eyes will notice that practically all the actors, save our intrepid heroes, are British ("ooh 'Secrets and Lies', ooh 'Masterpiece Theater'"). After years of neither side being able to pull off a decent "across the puddle" accent we are now in an era of being unable to tell the nationality of native English speaking actors!
It's such a glorious ride that I didn't really mind the improbable ending which, if it had happened in real time, would have been an act of war! And in case you haven't noticed the LeCarre irony now has a patriotic edge.
A smoother Mamet
This is a fast paced thriller with plenty of Mamet's signature con games going on.
Of all the Mamet movies this one is the least stylized. The dialogue is less stilted, which I can't decide is due to the dialogue itself or the Director's choice to allow the actor's to talk more normally. His choice of Hackman, the least stylized of actors, helps. DeVito is of course DeVito. Sardonic and oozing charm from every superficial pore.
If you've seen other Mamet movies about criminals (especially "the Spanish Prisoner"and "House of Games") you'll easily spot a set up or a con when it's happening. As soon as you see Ricky Jay you know why he's in the picture. The trouble is that Mamet is so busy being convoluted that he forgets the core of a good successful mystery: it all has to make sense in the end.
One of the questions Mamet teases us with throughout the movie is the one about the loyalty of Gene Hackman's wife, and his resolution rings as hollow as a bell. Speaking of Hackman's wife Rebecca Pidgeon is a delightfully tough and sexy character.
A feel good movie for these times.
This is your basic Hollywood "suspend disbelief" feel good movie. It's best to not be too critical about a movie that can suck you in right from the start, and have you depart knowing that they've given you the opportunity to leave feeling "reality based" or "fairy dusted".
Kevin Spacey plays Prot, declaring openly and shamelessly that he's from another planet. He's taken to a mental ward (suspend disbelief; no-one goes to a Psych Ward for mere delusions these days) and the inmates come to buy his story, and the Psychiatrist (Jeff Bridges,tamping down his usual irritating facial and vocal dramatics) tries hard not to.
Just when we've accepted that Spacey may be a genuine alien Bridges uncovers, through hypnosis, another possibility. Now the movie has us right in it's grip, desperately wanting Kevin to be Mork and not Sybil.
I left feeling good, only later allowing the massive holes in the plot to rationalize their way in to my brain. I decided to be fairy dusted instead. As it is a feel good movie I'll allow the Director his fantasy about the state of mental health treatment for the chronically ill!!
Ghost World (2001)
Not for the faint hearted
This movie does not pull any punches about teen age angst. Two girls graduate from High School and face the future with little to offer, encumbered by the age appropriate self centered 10 degree vision. Thora Birch plays Enid, the more curious of the two, but is also the least able to adjust to the inevitable. She develops a tentative relationship with an older dork, Seymour - played by the man born to play dorks; Steve Buscemi. Slowly enraptured by his obsessive hobby of collecting old and esoteric memorabilia and art, she initially tries to steer him out of loneliness and into a relationship with someone of his age, only to realize that she cannot stand staying lonely, while he starts living a little, with someone less tolerant of his tastes. Her character, mired in depression, only tolerates the unhappiness of others. As others grow she becomes more panicked and confused. Seymour ends up taking the brunt of her confusion. There is no happy ending, which is an honest outcome. Still the Director can't resist ending it with a metaphorical twist, with hope for Enid, and none for Seymour. Again this is honest, as Enid has her life ahead of her while Seymour is mired in his.