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We Own the Night (2007)
Standing ovation -- Not just at cannes
I saw that We Own The Night received a standing ovation at the European critics screening and premiere at Cannes. Well, I can tell you at the preview screening I saw a while ago in the US, the audience applauded enthusiastically as well. The audience was totally into this movie in a way you don't usually see anymore. Not just grooving on it, but engrossed. Reminds me of The Godfather not just the movie, but the way the audience enjoyed it. Only reason I didn't give it a 10 was I don't give most movies at 10 unless they're like The Searcher or Vetigo. Again I don't want to give away too much about the movie because I hate now how everyone knows everything about a movie's plot before it opens. Let's just say it's both a crime movie and a family drama. A socially conscious melodrama and a cop story. And it has a couple of great action scenes. The acting was top notch by Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg (better than in The Departed), Robert Duvall (always good) and especially Eva Mendes who I've never seen like this before. 9/10
The Naked Spur (1953)
One of the greatest of all westerns.
THE NAKED SPUR outdoes even TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE as a classic study of greed and violence. The acting is superb, with James Stewart creating one of his finest and most complex roles, and Robert Ryan and Ralph Meeker almost equalling him. The script is excellent, but it is Anthony Mann's direction that makes this a magnificent film.
Man of the West (1958)
A western KING LEAR!
MAN OF THE WEST is an epic western that ranks with the all time greats. Intense, blistering and sometimes lyrical, the film benefits from superb performances from Gary Cooper and Lee J. Cobb, whose aged, half mad bandit chief bears a remarkable resemblance to the title character from Shakespeare's KING LEAR. The adult script is by Reginald Rose (TWELVE ANGRY MEN) and the excellent photography is by Ernest Haller (GONE WITH THE WIND). Director Anthony Mann was one of the great artists of the American cinema, whose westerns rivalled the best of Ford and Hawks. MAN OF THE WEST is one of his true masterpieces. I rank it alongside THE NAKED SPUR, and just above WINCHESTER 73 among his westerns. His superb nonwesterns include EL CID, GOD'S LITTLE ACRE and best of all MEN IN WAR.
Tougher Than Leather (1988)
Entertaining rap musical action comedy. A fun time capsule.
This is a low budget action move set in the rap music industry, starring one of the most popular groups of the first wave of rap stars, Run-DMC. Though produced on a shoestring and rough around the edges, this fun little epic captures the style and period when rap music was king far better than slicker more hyped films like KRUSH GROOVE. The acting is a bit shaky at times, but Run, DMC, Jam Master Jay and the others project an impressive charisma. The entertaining story moves along at a fast clip, with our heros out to avenge the death of a beloved roadie at the hands of some slimy music industry sharks who have a sideline laundering drug money. Cameos by rap music heavyweights like The Beastie Boys, Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin and LL Cool J add to the amusement. Director/co-writer/co-star Rubin's father Mickey gives a nice performance as a mafia kingpin who is less than thrilled with his son's chosen profession. Co-writer Ric Menello went on to direct several classic music videos for The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. All in all, not too shabby.
Drop Dead Rock (1996)
"I'm your inseminator!" and "By the way, that man is dead".
This is a comic caper that pulls out all the stops in its story of a hasbeen shock rocker name Spazz-O, who is wasting so much of his limited wealth that his wife and manager, who are having an affair, plot to have him killed by a hitman. Before that can happen, he is kidnapped by a neverwas rock group aptly named Hindenberg who hold him for ransom. This is the jumping off point for one of the craziest, most colorful and broad satires of the music scene you're likely to see for some time to come. It's basically O.Henry's THE RANSOM OF RED CHEIF updated to the 90s and cranked up to the max with every rock music cliche thrown into the mix. The script is very funny and the direction is colorful. Special kudos to Ian Maynard as the "great" Spazzo-O, the kind of guy who puts an air conditioner in his sauna because he's sweating in there. Anyone who knows the music business or is a fan of heavy metal will be especially tickled by the cameos appearances of some authentic rock stars. And that song, "Inseminator" is a hoot. Both it and the movie are destined for cult status.
Little Odessa (1994)
A superior drama, and a stunning debut for director James Gray.
This is without a doubt the best debut by a filmmaker in the last decade. James Gray has directed with a sure hand, exerting amazing control over a wide variety of performers and flawlessly maintaining a haunting and menacing mood in his tale of crime and punishment among Russian immigrants in Brooklyn. Vanessa Redgrave is superb, as usual, and Maxmillian Schell has been kept from the unrestrained emotionalism to which he is prone (see JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG), so that he gives one of his very best performances in years. As for Edward Furlong and Tim Roth, both of whom can be very good or very bad, lets just say they haven't been this good before or since. Gray's command over such aspects of the film as pacing and visual style is impressive. The whole thing builds to a stunning climax.
La cérémonie (1995)
The greatest film of the 1990s,period.
Claude Chabrol may just be the best and most underrated filmmaker working today. This masterly thriller is miles above the childish junk that passes for "suspense" today,like THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. The performances, especially by Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Bonnaire, are magnificent, and Chabrol's direction is masterful and rigorous without being showy. The film gathers force as it moves inexorably towards its violent and shattering conclusion, stopping along the way for delicious moments of black comedy. The influence of both Alfred Hithcock and Fritz Lang can be felt in Chabrol's mis-en-scene, but he has long since come out from under their shadows to become his own man cinematically. A classic.
The Yards (2000)
A strong tale of corruption and redemption from a major American director.
I saw THE YARDS at a preview screening and found it a powerful and unsettling experience. It is a subtle movie, perhaps too subtle for the smash and grab movie culture that we have created in America in the last twenty years. The performances are uniformly strong, with James Caan, Charlize Theron and Mark Wahlberg particularly effective; and what director James Gray has done with Joaquin Phoenix, is nothing less than astonishing. I would also single out Tomas Milian in a small but crucial role.
Writer/Director James Gray has pulled off a small miracle in these cynical and exploitative movie going times, a real movie with a real story and real emotions. Though it involves corruption and crime, it is NOT a gangster movie. It is rather a social drama done in the style of Visconti. Which is not to say it is an art film.
Just about anyone who watches THE YARDS with an open mind and heart will be fascinated and moved. Without doubt, in years to come people will look back on this film as a classic, and James Gray as one of the foremost directors of the new American wave.
An overrated mess.
Aside from Russell Crowe's strong performance, GLADIATOR is a chaotic mess. The editing is jumbled and confused, especially in the Arena scenes. To say this confusion is "realistic" is absurd, since when facing an opponent in the Arena, the most important thing is to remain clearheaded and outmaneuver him if you are to win. The celebrated battle in the forest in the beginning is just a silly attempt to ape the D-Day segment in the similarly overrated SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. As for the supporting performances, the best that can be said is that Richard Harris is dour and Oliver Reed is enjoyably hammy. Joaquin Phoenix is never convincing for a moment as the emperor. His performance would be more at home in a modern high school pageant. The photography resembles a European perfume commercial more than an evocation of ancient times. I wasn't aware the only color available in Rome was gold. For a truly excellent version of the same story, check out Anthony Mann's superb 1964 FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. While both films are based on the same historical characters, GLADIATOR shamelessly "borrows" many plot points from the earlier film, to less effect. Russell Crowe's supporting cast cannot hope to compete with such classic actors as Alec Guiness, Christopher Plummer, James Mason and Sophia Loren in FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. It would also be pointless to compare the directorial style of Anthony Mann, who is without a doubt one of the great American filmmakers of the 50s and 60s, with that of Ridley Scott, who directs like he's making a commercial for GLADIATOR perfume or a music video for a band dressed as ancient Romans. Just compare the finale man to man combat in the Arena in Scott's film with the same scene in Mann's. No comparison.