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Mystic River (2003)
Mystic River is a Sean Penn & Clint eastwood tour de force
Mystic River Director: Clint Eastwood Jimmy: Sean Penn Dave: Tim Robbins Sean: Kevin Bacon
You know it took a while, a long while. The first three quarters of this year produced very few movies that rose above "entertaining". Hell going into October there were only three movies I had seen which I would qualify as great, Phone Booth, X2 and Dirty Pretty Things(T3 came close). Then came Kill Bill. It blew everything away and was my lock for movie of the year...that lock lasted an entire week. Mystic River is THE best picture of 2003 so far. Better than Lost in Translation, better than Th13teen, better than Phone Booth and, yes, better than Kill Bill.
Mystic River takes you on an emotional ride through a small neighborhood and a murder which brings very ugly memories, and even uglier futures. I won't go over the plot, cause really it's pointless. Plus I don't wnat to spoil anything although it really doens't matter. This aint about a big twist ending or a big shoot-out ending, Mystic River's ending is just another step in life and it's heart wrenching getting there.
I must first commend the great Clint Eastwood(one of the most underrated movie makes of our time IMO). This movie features no quick cuts or camera tricks. No special effects or action set pieces. It features realism(and soemtimes graphic realism), it features real characters gonig through troubles and trying to find real solutions. Eastwood has a sure hand in all this and stages the film perfectly. Not one shot is wasted and it is all Eastwood's vision, all the way down to the beautiful score.
The acting, just by the actors names, you know is good. But I never expected it to be this good. Sean Penn wins the Oscar already with his performance. If he is not rewarded with the best actor statuette it's ultimate proof of the Academy's bias and BS. Penn is gut wrenchingly powerful in the early part of the film but in other parts is coldly sadistic but with a reason and thus even in his more sadistic scenes there is a sense of truth and tragedy towards Jimmy, making this Penn's greatest performance of his great career.
Tim Robbins puts in, arguably although only Shawshank comes close, the best performance of his career as his lack of emotional range fits perfect for Dave's traumatic state. Laura Linney, Marci Gay Harden, Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Bacon provide ample support to the leads making this the best ensemble cast of the year.
Overall there isn't much to say about Mystic River except this will move you and it will make you feel. It could possibly be classified a Shakesperean tragedy rewritten in modern time. The guilt, the revenge, the inner struggle it's all there. The acting is the best of any movie this year. But in the end this is Clint Eastwood's movie and, as he always does, Eastwood "makes our day" by making the best picture of 2003.
****3/4(out of 5*)
New Jack City (1991)
Similarities To "Scarface" Aside, A Solid Gangster Flick.
It's funny because only 3 weeks ago I saw "Scarface" for the 1st time and then last week I saw "Traffic" for the 3rd time. And now I see "New Jack City". Out of the three "New Jack City" is the worst, but that by no means implies that it is a bad movie. But just for a fact there aren't too many drug related movies even in the same league as "Scarface" or "Traffic".
In this review I will not use "Traffic" for any comparison because the two films are completely different. But "Scarface" on the otherhand is almost an exact replica of "New Jack City", except it came out 8 years earlier. Both movies are about how a guy starts out on the bottom, works his way to the top and goes overboard falls back down in the drugworld. It's nearly the same movie except you have Wesley Snipes as Nino Brown, instead of Al Pacino as Tony Montana.
The plot in this isn't anything you probably haven't already figured out. Picture "Scarface" except this time there more emphasis on the cops played by Ice - T, Judd Nelson and Mario Van Peebles. But for those who haven't seen either movie here's a short rundown. Nino Brown is a small time hood who along with his partner and best friend Gee Money (Allen Payne, in a role strikingly similar to that of Steven Bauer in "Scarface") gets a tip on something called crack cocaine. Three years later Nino has become the god of the drug world and is above the law. His life is perfect until police officer Stone(Van Peebles) gets Scotty Appleton(Ice - T) and Nick Peretti(Judd Nelson) to head up their own case on Nino. That's the basic plot and you figure out the rest yourself.
One thing that puts "New Jack City" aabove an average gangster movie is the acting. Snipes is excellent(this still stands as the best performance of his career), Ice - T has never been, and considering how many direct-to-video stinkers he's been in recently, and never will be better and Chris Rock explodes onto the screen stealing every scene he's in. Well to be honest every peroformance is great except for Nelson, who in my opinion gave his character to moral centre at all and seemed lost the whole movie.
So comparisons to "Scarface" aside and little problems aside, "New Jack City" is a good movie and a top notch gangster movie. 7/10
Brian De Palma's remake of the 1932 classic "Scarface" nearly drowns in excess at times, but flourishes from it at other times. None of this is surprising considering Oliver Stone wrote the script. But this movie has to also be considered one of the bravest films of all time.
I won't say much about the plot which is pretty standard when it comes to gangster movies. It's about cuban refugee Tony Montana's(Al Pacino) rise and fall in the drug world. Eventhough other characters come and go, notably wife Elvira(Michelle Pfeiffer), best friend Manny(Steven Bauer), boss Frank Lopez(Robert Loggia) and sister Gina(Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, this is basically Montana's/Pacino's show.
In "Scarface", Al Pacino is at his over-the-top best as Montana. Whether he's burying his face into a pile of coke, shooting someone point blank in the head or refusing to kill two small children Montana always seems like a real, deep character. He's a ruthless business man and killer, but he also has an honour code, He'll become a drug addict as long as his sister doesn't ect. But what really makes this film work is how visibly Monatana evolves from a young hothead looking to get rich, to a burnt out, paranoid addict who has it all and wants even more.
I have heard a lot of arguments as to whether "Scarface" belongs in the company of "The Godfather" and other gangster classics. Well in my opinion it does. If not for being very original or deep, but for having enough balls to go further than any other gangster movie, plus for having one of the most brutal antihero/villains in history. Oh yah and don't forget it's 206 uses of the F-word third mot in history(After Pulp Fiction and what I consider the best gangster movie of all Goodfellas). Great study in excess and brutality. 9/10
Finding Forrester (2000)
Better than a great book!
'Finding Forrester' is without any doubt the best movie of the year 2000. I've heard many people say that this is just director Gus Van Sant's retread of his oscar winning hit 'Good Will Hunting'. That is the furthest statement from the truth. Eventhough the general idea of two different people bonding is here, everything else is as different as it comes.
The story is about Jamal Wallace(Rob Brown, making his bigscreen debut), an allstar basketball player who's only 16 but has a passion for writing and reading. One night on a bet he breaks into the apartment of a person only known to the neighborhood kids as "The Window". But when he's caught, Wallace bolts and forgets his backpack. Later he gets his backpack back, with all his written material analyzed, corrected ect. After revisiting the man, Wallace finds out that "The Window" is none other than reclusive author William Forrester(Sean Connery), who has been hiding for 40 years. They cut a deal that as long as Jamal doesn't tell anybody about William, then William must help Jamal with his writing. Over the course of the movie a beautiful bond forms as the two different people become friends and partners. Along the way William helps Jamal deal with his biased english professor Robert Crawford(F. Murray Abraham), his new girlfriend(Anna Paquin), his brother(rapper Busta Rhymes) and everyone else in his life.
The acting in this film is universally excellent, and no matter how it is billed Brown is the real star of this movie. Connery is brilliant but isn't on the screen enough to outshine Brown. Abraham comes off as the perfect nemesis and Busta Rhymes acquits himself rather well. Anna Paquin isn't too bad but she isn't given too much to do. Excellent supporting cast withstanding the best scenes in the film are the one on one interactions between Brown and Connery. I especially loved the "Soup questions" scene and the Jeopardy scene.
Considering this is Van Sant's first film since the terrible 'Psycho' remake he made a few years back he does very well. And surprisingly he generates more tension and suspense in one basketball sequence late in the movie than he did in all of 'Psycho'.
Overall this is not only Van Sant's best movie but also the best film all year. And after seeing this movie three weeks after the Academy Awards it makes it all the more shocking that 'Gladiator' won as I can't see how, in any way, it is better than this great film. Like a great book 'Finding Forrester' gets better every viewing and i'm sure it will stand the test of time. 10/10
Space Cowboys (2000)
Very Light, Engaging and Enjoyable
"Space Cowboys" pulls off a miracle. Specifically, not movie itself but Director/Star Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner. While the script of "Space Cowboys" isn't topnotch, the acting and directing are. Let's with the way Eastwood directs. The whole process is all very smooth and eventhough the story is 100% implausible, Eastwood somehow makes the story seem possible and maybe even likely to actually happen.
The aformentioned story is about how in 1958 four men get screwed out of going to space by Beaurocrat/NASA worker Bob Gerson(James Cromwell). Then in 2000 the same four men have to go to space to change the direction of a satellite which was invented by one of the old guys, Frank Corvin(Clint Eastwood). Along with Hawk(Tommy Lee Jones), Tank(James Garner) and Jerry(Donald Sutherland), Frank goes to space only to find out that everything isn't as advertised.
The acting is what makes this movie work. The four guys have such great chemistry it's just fun to watch them on the screen. Whether i'm laughing as they go through training or holding my breath as they try to survive in space, the whole time I was cheering for them.Led by Eastwood all four actors shine. I also noticed for the first time in any Eastwood movie i've seen(And i've seen almost all of them), Clint gives someone else the best and most well-written role. That role went to Tommy Lee Jones as William 'Hawk' Hawkins. Tommy Lee Jones brings real depth and skill to what, in the hands of a less capable actor, would have been just another cliched character. Jones is also the only one of the four whose given a real romantic subplot, which is comes off very well and mature. As his love interest Marcia Gay Harden was excellent. Out the rest of the cast Sutherland stands out the most in what is probably the most comedic of the characters.
Not with standing all the script problems and all that the whole movie is just watching four great veteran action stars saddle up for one last ride. And if the day does come when of these great actors passes on they will always remember this wonderfully enjoyable space movie. Hats off to you Clint. 8/10
The Immortals (1995)
Standard Heist Thriller with an Unusual Twist
On the outside "The Immortals" just looks like another in a long line of standard heist thrillers, with the only difference being that this one's probably much more violent. But as the story starts developing we find out that all these characters aren't your stereotypical 'I want money' robbers, they're all doing it out of necessity. Thats the very unexpected and unusual twist in this very violent movie.
The plot isn't extremely complicated. It's about a nightclub owner, Jack(Eric Roberts who shows why all his movies lately have been direct-to-video) who picks 8 people(Tia Carrere, Chris Rock, Joe Pantoliano, Clarence Williams III, William Forsythe, Keiran Mulroney, writer Kevin Bernhardt and Brian Finney), all with terminal illnesses to rob a crimelord(Tony Curtis). But when they get betrayed it turns into an all-out battle for survival...and a very entertaining one at that.
After the movie gets into its second act it turns into 'Predator' style game of who's next to die. But one thing that raises "The Immortals" above the average heist thriller is that the characters aren't stereotypes but real people. I actually cared for the characters when they died.
While "The Immortals" won't win any Oscars, and won't make any critics top ten list, it's still an entertaining rental. 7/10
3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)
Violent, Pointless...yet extremely entertaining
"3000 Miles To Graceland" is one of the most violent films in a long time. The body count rivals that of World War 2, the blood quotient rivals that of Reservoir Dogs and there are enough bullets fired to justify changing the title to "3000 Bullets To Graceland", but the movie is entertaining as hell.
Being an action I personally loved this movie, but that doesn't mean I recommend it to everyone. This movie will appall some people and make others leave 15 minutes into the movie. But one area in which this movie won't disappoint is pleasing it's target audience, 20 something males looking for more bullets than plot, and for that I applaud it.
Now on to the movie itself. As most of you know it's about how five Elvis impersonator's(Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, Christian Slater, Bokeem Woodbine, David Arquette) rob the Riviera casino during an Evis convention. As you can expect the usual double-crossing ensues and without revealing plot points I can say a lot of people end up dead and somehow a con-artist mother(Courtney Cox-Arquette) and her klepto-maniac son(David Kaye) end up on the run with the survivors with 3.2 million at stake. Through all the commotion two FBI agents(Thomas Haden-Church, Kevin Pollak), a high priced helicopter pilot(Howie Long), a shady but weasely money launderer(Jon Lovits) and an independent killer(Ice-T) get involved.
Well if your looking for a entertaining 'guy movie' or plain and simply a blood bath, see "3000 Miles To Graceland". But if your looking for a smart, plot driven thriller steer clear of this movie. I give it 7/10
The Patriot (2000)
Patriotism at its Highest Level
"The Patriot" is another in the long line of patriotic summer movies, with recent examples being Independence Day and Armageddon. But unlike those two other pro-US patriotic movies, "The Patriot" is excellent. Eventough it's mostly the same point as the other patriotic movies, the United States can prevail over anything, this benefits from great performances by two Aussie's.
The two Aussie's in question are Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. Gibson puts in a performance which stands as some of his best work, while Ledger(in his first major role) proves he can hold his own with even the best actors. All the other actors in this movies acquit themselves quite well. Led by a scary performance from Jason Isaacs as the main villain. Tcheky Karyou proves that with the right material he can also be excellent.
The plot is based on the Civil War and eventhough the main character and most of the other characters are all made up the story stays loyal to the source. One thing this movie does well is put in a right mix of action and drama. At some points I was nearly crying and at others I actually stood up and cheered. The character of Benjamin Martin(Gibson) is very intelligently written, while his Gabriel(Ledger) is at times under-written but comes off very convincingly. The only character that I didn't specifically like was that Colonel William Tavington(Isaacs). Eventhough the movie made me hate the character like it was supposed to, Tavington was just a bit too cartoonish in his evilness and it was hard to believe that he was a real person.
But overall "The Patriot" overcomes it's small flaws and becomes one of the best films of the year. I highly recomend "The Patriot" 9/10
L.A. Confidential (1997)
A Masterfully Spun Web of Corruption
"L.A. Confidential" is one of the most masterfully spun conspiracy movies in history of cinema. It's also one of the darkest and most violent film noir's i've ever seen. But none of that will matter as you watch because all you'll be able to think about is how the three main police officers can uncover the web and not get killed in the process.
The three main police officers in question are Jack Vincennes(Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects), Bud White(Russell Crowe, Gladiator) and Ed Exley(Guy Pearce, Ravenous). Jack is a hollywood cop. He lives for his role as technical advisor on the Dragnet-like show Badge of Honor. He also gets payed by journalist Sid Hudgeons(Danny DeVito, Twins) to give Sid info on busts of celebrities. Bud White is a thug of a cop. He lives to beat confessions out of suspects and to punish woman beaters. Ed Exley is a politician cop. He lives to rise in the ranks of the LAPD and doesn't even care if the whole station despises him.
Add to the mix Captain Dudley Smith(James Cromwell, Babe), callgirl Lynn Bracket(Kim Basinger, The Marrying Man), pornographer Pierce Patchett(David Strathairn, The Firm) and dirty District Attorney Ellis Loew(Ron Rifkin, The Negotiator) and you have a web of corruption, cops, porn and Los Angeles that makes for the most entertaining and best movie of 1997.
This is the movie which should of swept the 1997 oscars not Titanic. Overall L.A. Confidential is the bets movie about L.A since Chinatown and deserves to be seen. 10/10
The Truman Show (1998)
"The Truman Show" is one of the most original, captivating and entertaining comedy-drama's i've ever seen. This movie is very different from any other movie i've ever seen. Eventhough in plot it's not extremely deep, it has an excellent premise which is more than a twilight zone rip-off.
One of the things that sets this movie apart from other alternate reality movies(edTV, Pleasantville)is the exquisite acting. Led by the pitch-perfect performance from Jim Carrey this movie has a great mix of excellent character actors. But like I said it is all fueled by Jim Carrey's brilliant Golden Globe© winning performance as Truman Burbank, a man whose life is on television 24/7. It is still beyond how he didn't even get nominated for an oscar when his performance was by far the best of that year. The other oscar worthy performance comes from the great Ed Harris(The Abyss, The Rock). Unlike Carrey, Harris did get nominated for an Academy Award©(He lost to James Coburn).
When you put all that together, along with the brilliant direction of Peter Weir, and you not only the best movie of 1998 but also one of the best movies of the 90's. See this movie. 10/10