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U Turn (1997)
Stuck in Superior
Your average Oliver Stone fan would say (at least in my experience) that U Turn is his worst film. In a list of socially conscious films, usually critical of "the system" in one way or another, U Turn certainly stands out as uncharacteristic, or so it might seem. I think Oliver Stone may well be the best director there is and in my opinion U Turn is his best film.
In Hollywood you get movies that are actually vehicles as they say for action, gratuitous sex, violence, cheap scares, laughs, etc. That is to say, these movies exist merely to provide the viewer with plenty of (fill in the blank), and the plot is merely a line taking the viewer from one (fill in the blank) sequence to another. I see U Turn as a vehicle for art, and the plot is really just intended to bring the viewer from one brilliantly visually composed episode of colorful character interaction to another. Not to be confused with art house fare, with all its pretentiously multilayered, obscure self referential metaphors and what have you. Save that stuff for the beatniks. The art of U Turn is in its extra dimensional visual narrative, which makes use of brief cuts of imagery and often sound to interrupt the scene, so as to give mental impressions visual representation. You don't watch U Turn, you experience it.
So when someone says U turn is an inferior imitation of Red Rock West for instance, and I've seen this comparison made time and time again, I have to laugh. As if Stone would lower himself to such an undertaking. While the plot may resemble that of Red Rock West, the plot alone is almost inconsequential when talking about the value of U Turn as a film.
The value of U Turn is in the way it visualizes the mental, a technique Stone has referred to as cubism. As with Picasso's cubism, which was his way of conveying the third dimension of an image while limited to a flat medium, Stone's "cubism" is intended to visualize what you know is there but can't see: the mental. This cubism has been present in most of Oliver Stone's recent projects: traces of it in The Doors and JFK, over the top in Natural Born Killers, subtly used but obviously present in Nixon, and finally executed to perfection in U Turn.
So in this respect, U Turn is perfectly characteristic of his body of work, maybe not as a filmmaker but certainly as an artist. As Stone develops a mastery of his cubism in future films (we see it again in Any Given Sunday), we will look back and realize that U Turn is the standard against which these films are to be measured.
Having said my piece about cubism, let me say a few words about the characters in U Turn. U Turn is a surrealistic odyssey into Bobby Cooper's limbo, and its other characters are the obstacles that keep him trapped there. Every character given any screen time simply shines. The actors in U Turn understand (better than many viewers do unfortunately) that their role in the film is a joke. Jake, Darrell, the Sheriff, Jenny and Toby, the blind man, even Bobby - these are spoofs (for lack of a better word) on their character types. This is not over acting, these are comic performances carried out with talent rarely seen. The strength of U Turn's characters is comparable only to that of a movie like Apocalypse Now. Again here we have a movie that is a surrealistic odyssey not to watch but to experience. Kilgore, Chef, the Photo Journalist, these too were comic performances. In movies like these, each character is really an episode in the narrative of the protagonist's journey.
Apocalypse Now was ahead of its time and U Turn, I think, will prove to be as well.
10 out of 10. A UNIQUE film experience.
"Flesh" & "Blood": Verhoeven's clever euphemisms for "Sex" & "Violence", his trademarks. Exceptional.
Ok, we're talking about a movie that's basically titled Sex & Violence by none other than Paul Verhoeven?! Those of us who know better should know what to expect here. For those of you who don't, know this: the same man responsible for the ultra sexy "Basic Instinct" and the ultra violent "RoboCop" made his debut (in American cinema, at least) with this masterwork concoction of ultra sex AND ultra violence.
Set in medieval Europe, the utter savagery of the sex and violence in this film is perhaps more at home than it could have been in any other setting. Depredation and debauchery: to the victor go the spoils, be they women, wealth, or what have you. And just a brief word about the plague: there's been a lot of criticism about the accuracy of its use in this movie. How 'bout the sheer ingenuity of it: the use of plague ridden slabs of dog as biological weaponry. Repugnant. Vile. Ingenious. Priceless, I loved it.
Rutger Hauer is excellent, this is probably my favorite performance of his. He's a power inflated pillager who is a bit of a tyrant to his followers. He's the devil we expect him to be. Jennifer Jason Leigh is surprisingly good in her youth as a sexually curious, devious little wench whose loyalties sway with the wind. She's a survivor.
Who this movie is NOT for: Those who have to think too hard about every movie they see, who demand a certain level of intellectuality (which is commendable). Plot holes? Are you kidding me, what plot? This isn't English Patient, its Sex and Violence. And for those with inhibitions about film content, who demand a certain level of decency (which is understandable), again, Sex and Violence, this movie is certainly not for you.
One of the few films I would call a masterpiece. But that's coming from someone who thinks Apocalypse Now is the finest cinematic experience ever realized, so take that for what its worth. RoboCop, I would call a masterpiece. U Turn, I would call a masterpiece. Big Lebowski, I would call a masterpiece. Flesh & Blood I would call a masterpiece.
Wall Street (1987)
Wealth at the price of humanity, or humanity at the price of wealth?
Wall Street is about those for whom material wealth takes precedence over morality, and those for whom it does not. Moreover, it is the story of one who is struggling to decide which of the two he is: greedy or ethical.
Bud Fox is a young stock broker who only wishes to excel in life. His father, Carl, provides a strong moral foundation, prioritizing human life and well being over profit. Bud's mentor, Gordon Gekko, is a ruthless and legendary Wall Street player whose values couldn't conflict with those of Bud's father more perfectly. So caught in the middle is Bud, who pitches his father's airline to Gekko with the intentions of saving the company while everyone gets rich in the process. This business deal sets the stage for the conflict of interests Bud faces, and whether in the end it is his moral father or his greedy mentor he would most like to become.
Wall Street is impeccably directed and perfectly cast. Oliver Stone really captures all the elements necessary to the telling of this story, with all its moral, economic, and legal implications. Michael Douglas is almost frightening as the ghastly Gordon Gekko, a role for which he took home the Oscar for best actor. And the casting of Martin and Charlie Sheen as father and son lends authenticity to their numerous emotional exchanges. We see what seem to be genuine hurt, pride, and shame from the two of them together. John C. McGinley makes his customary appearance in yet another of Stone's movies as Bud's coworker, and as always he shines, contributing his unique personality to the film. The combined efforts of talented individuals in a powerful story of human strength and weakness makes Wall Street a must see movie.
I rate it 10/10.
A look at inner city youth that is more touching than shocking. Refreshing.
The life of an inner city teen in Larry Clark's KIDS is portrayed as single minded and pointless, and while it was an eye opening film experience, ultimately its overall value was shock. I was infuriated at the lengths that selfish teens with no since of life's value would go for self gratification, in the only pursuit conceivable to an immature mind.
Hurricane Streets shows us an inner city teen that seems to see the bigger picture. Marcus gets by committing minor thefts, storing his money away with future plans in mind. He's smart enough to shy from major crime and isn't overcome by peer pressure. Theres nothing macho in his criminal activity, he's drawn to it out of immediate necessity. Furthermore, Marcus is capable of not merely lust, but love. He's generous rather than selfish. When you see him at his worst, its sympathy you feel, not disgust or shame.
Like the teens in KIDS, Marcus grows up too fast in a hostile environment that precipitates this growth. But the choices he makes are smart or at least noble, not stupid and shameless. His life is not pointless, it has meaning.
If you want to get a look at the tragic inner city life of teens, you could watch KIDS and be shocked, or you could follow the example Marcus sets in Hurricane Streets and see the bigger picture.
I rate it 9/10
Escape from New York (1981)
One of J.C.'s finest
One of John Carpenter's earliest films, Escape from New York was a daring undertaking when it was created and isn't often fully appreciated today. His dark view of the future of humanity, and his humiliating criticism of the U.S. president and authority in general, were not readily accepted when this film was released.
Kurt Russell is the out-for-self anti-hero, who's heroics come from self interest rather than a love for his fellow man. Carpenter, who always tries to incorporate western themes into his movies, modeled Snake's character after Clint Eastwood's nameless gunslinger from Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, and its interesting to watch Kurt Russell translate the role to a futuristic setting. Ironically, Lee Van Cleef, who played Angel Eyes in the Good the Bad and the Ugly, plays a role that is equally antagonistic towards Snake in Escape from NY. Its probably no coincedence either, as Carpenter has been known to pay homages to the film makers who influenced him.
The setting is New York, an island prison of the future. Snake is basically a gunslinger, and due to some unfortunate business, has to do certain deeds against his will. The odds are stacked against him like nobodys business.
So maybe some of the action sequences aren't totally plausible, scenes that might make you say "Hey, theres no way he coulda lived through that!" This sort of criticism wasn't meant for ACTION movies. So if you feel like putting your brain cells to rest for a while, and enjoy bleak futuristic pictures, urban violence, and indestructable tough guy anti-heroes, heres a movie you don't wanna sleep on. I gave it a 9.