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Speaking of Sex (2001)
Very much in the "screwball" comedy genre, and a direct descendant of 'Bringing Up Baby', etc, films of this kind always walk a fine line between (as they say in 'Spinal Tap') clever and stupid. And the best ones will cross that line more than once during their running time, but in a way that makes the viewer laugh convulsively rather than roll their collective eyeballs and leave the cinema.
'Speaking Of Sex' largely succeeds, in my opinion. But it is really only due to the collection of actors involved. It is most definitely held together almost entirely by some fabulous performances by the ensemble cast. James Spader, Bill Murray, Jay Mohr and Catherine O'Hara really shine in this one. A lesser group of talent would've buried the film. Thankfully, these actors make it work (or, at least, make it eminently watchable). But it does leave you with the feeling that someone should really write these actors something more worthy of their talents. If the script and direction had been sharper and the story more refined, with this innovative and talented cast, the movie could've easily been a comedy classic. It's just a shame that the material itself doesn't hold a candle to the actors who're giving it their all in bringing it to life.
If someone could write these under-rated actors (particularly Spader and Murray) a really great script, I'm sure the result would be awesome. And more wholly deserving of the 7-out-of-10 rating I'm giving this picture.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996)
One of the best U.S. television series' of the 1990's..
Sadly under-appreciated when it comes to the Emmy nominations every year, 'Buffy..' is absolute classic television (in the very best sense.) One of few shows able to successfully combine comedy, drama, action, and fantasy, 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' has always been (and continues to be) one of the very best American televisual exports of recent memory. The writing, as the series has progressed, has only gotten stronger, alternately touching and hilarious, the direction is often surprisingly sophisticated for a TV program, (notably the episodes written and directed by series creator Joss Wheedon.) The actors are all spot-on in their roles, (there is a wealth of real thespian talent on 'Buffy..' that always seems to slip under the radar of the Emmy academy.. possibly due to the misconception that the show is "for kids". The supporting players especially, for example; Allyson Hannigan is always wonderful as Buffy's best friend Willow, and James Marsters (as bleach-blonde bad-boy vampire Spike) is quite simply brilliant in his sarcastic sometimes-evil British bloodsucking way..) The characters have been given room to develop in many unexpected and entertaining (and sometimes quite tragic) ways. To sum it up, the series has all the hallmarks of CLASSIC television... and, quite frankly, it is a crime that it hasn't received as many (if not more) Emmy nods as it's contemporaries. It is consistently watchable, entertaining and intelligent (something it doesn't get nearly enough credit for..) You will be rewarded for repeated viewings.
Blow Dry (2001)
If you've seen 'Strictly Ballroom' you don't really need to see this...
'Blow Dry' has a similar plot, a similar garishness of subject matter, and a similar sense of humour. Of course, unlike 'Strictly Ballroom', this film has Alan Rickman. So there's one good reason to see it. Natasha Richardson is another. She's a very good actress indeed. The film is very predictable and the actors are given very little to work with, but it's pleasant enough to watch (and enhanced by the high standard of acting from the British cast members.) It's not offensively bad, in fact it probably would've been quite good if it hadn't been made at least ten times before (in various guises.) This time it's about hairdressing. A few years ago it was about a brass band, before that it was a bunch of male strippers, and before that ballroom dancing. It's nothing new and nothing special, but nothing really awful either.
Surprisingly classy look at the recording of a classic 90's album..
Shot in black and white (what else? it IS a documentary after all..) this classy "home movie" is an interesting look at one of the best and most enduring rock bands of the past 20 years during the recording of their most notorious and best-loved record, 1991's "BloodSugarSexMagik". It's an absolute must for fans of the band. Easily the the most definitive picture of the Red Hot Chili Peppers yet put on film. Look out for mini cameos from everyone from film director Gus Van Sant to Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz.
The footage of the actual recording is (somewhat surprisingly) the most compelling part of the film. It is obvious that, despite the bands ridiculous cartoon-like media image and eccentric drug and nudity-fueled reputation, that at their core there is in fact a group of incredibly talented and passionate musicians dedicated to making a fabulous racket.
In all; plenty of great music, a bit of (dubious and slightly drugged-out) philosophy, a wealth of perverted anecdotes, childish antics, and (as with anything even remotely associated with the Chili Peppers) a nice bit of nudity. Great stuff.
Buy it if you're a fan, watch it even if you're not.
The Freshman (1990)
Marlon you cheeky monkey!
I can't decide if this is a good movie or not. I've watched it through a couple of times now and I really can't decide. It did make me laugh out loud (if only at the sheer audacity of Brando's performance), but the one thing I often found myself thinking was how no-one below the age of 15 (or so) would find it very funny at all, as they probably wouldn't have seen 'The Godfather' and wouldn't understand what was supposed to be funny about that mumbling old fat guy that Ferris Bueller looks so surprised to see siting behind a desk. 90% of the film's comedy revolves around Brando's imitation of himself, which, while undoubtedly amounting to cinematic blasphemy in the eyes of many hard-core movie lovers, he actually does very well. (His character being a p***-take of his 1972 Godfather creation Don Vito Corleone.) The remaining comedic 10% belongs to a giant lizard, but that's neither here nor there...
Now, it's widely accepted that Brando has never been one to take himself or his craft particularly seriously, and let's just say that in 'The Freshman' he gets a prime opportunity to express that feeling to his audience. It's the stuff of Hollywood legend that Brando, while filming the wedding scene in 'The Godfather', pulled down his pants and mooned the cast and crew. Of course, that little stunt never made it into the final edit, but with 'The Freshman' you could say Brando gets to moon the audience (metaphorically) to his hearts content. It's a gleeful pie in the face to every up-tight movie critic who's ever demanded he act like the legend they made him. And it is fun to watch... in a cheeky, somewhat sadistic, in-joke kind of way.
A hearty 'Well Done!' to Matthew Broderick for simply being able to act opposite that towering monster whoopi cushion that is Marlon Brando and keep a straight face.
David and Bathsheba (1951)
See it for Gregory Peck.
Gregory Peck gives a brilliant performance in this film. The last 15 minutes (or thereabouts) are great and Peck is an absolute joy to watch. The same cannot however be said for the rest of the film. It's not awful and I'm sure it was made with good intentions, but the only real reason (if I were to be honest) to see it is Peck. For the rest you are better off just reading the Old Testament.
Country Dance (1970)
Great acting, fascinating script..
The undoubted highlight of this movie is Peter O'Toole's performance. In turn wildly comical and terribly terribly tragic. Does anybody do it better than O'Toole? I don't think so. What a great face that man has!
The story is an odd one and quite disturbing and emotionally intense in parts (especially toward the end) but it is also oddly touching and does succeed on many levels. However, I felt the film basically revolved around Peter O'Toole's luminous performance and I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed it even half as much if he hadn't been in it.
Ultimo tango a Parigi (1972)
Quintessentially European (could NEVER have been made in the USA..)
I'd advise first-time viewers of 'Last Tango In Paris' to ignore the films reputation completely. Don't go into it thinking about what you've heard about it (that, for example, it's pornographic, that it's genius, that it's awful, etc, etc..) Just forget it and make up your own mind with a clear head. Here is what I saw:
From the opening credits it becomes clear that the film is going to be an "artistic" venture (the Francis Bacon paintings that appear alongside the titles) which may turn some people off immediately, (is it pretentious? Well that depends entirely on how cynical you are.) I think those particular paintings set the tone beautifully and are highly appropriate considering what we are about to witness (I think if you know anything about Francis Bacon's work you'll probably agree.) The film IS very artistic. That much is true. However, that aspect proves to be both its greatest strength and its weakest link. The film is far too arty to be "mainstream", but is also too mainstream to really be considered "art house". It walks the line unsteadily between the two throughout the whole film and can feel at times slightly awkward. There is something about the way the film is constructed that doesn't quite work. It COULD have worked, and it very nearly does, but there's always something just slightly off. As if it has trouble finding exactly what is wants to say, or doesn't quite know how. However, despite all that, it will stay with you for weeks after you watch it, that much is true.
It's jam-packed with poetic situations that play up to the undeniable melodrama of human passions (whether it be sex, grief, anger, love, or otherwise) and in that way it's admirable. The attempts to expose and explore some of the deeply hidden aspects of the human condition (a lot of the wildly conflicting and contradictory emotions that revolve around sex, identity, death..) infuse the film with a sometimes dark, sometimes light feeling of real intensity and passion. You can tell that the director is a poet (Bernardo Bertolucci was an award-winning poet in his younger days I believe) not only by his poetic choice of subject matter but by the use of visual imagery, symbolism, and the often emotionally gut-wrenching scenes he has the actors play out. Marlon Brando gives a staggering performance as Paul. He really deserved some kind of high accolade (an Oscar?) for this. There isn't a single moment in the film in which he's not absolutely mesmerizing. The feral and completely uninhibited Maria Schneider also does well in what is, by all accounts, one of the most difficult parts in acting history (you have to admire a nineteen-year-old girl who can honestly hold her own against Marlon Brando in scenes where she's completely naked and constantly skipping between French and English dialogue.) The acting is very very brave stuff. Not many actors could have pulled it off, (in fact I can't imagine how anyone other than Brando could have played the male lead with any degree of success at all.)
I think the film would've had a better chance of succeeded completely if it had focused more exclusively on the relationship between the two characters in the enclosed world of the apartment, and allowed their lives and the world outside to revolve around that. The apartment could have been used as the much needed axis and emotional center for the drama to unfold around, which, in the end, the picture lacked. Without it everything seemed a bit too scatter-shot.
I don't know how to summarize this film (and am not sure if I should even try to) so I will just refer to what I think is the best scene in the whole picture. Brando and Schneider are sitting naked and entwined in each others arms, and she offers to tell him her name, he doesn't want to know saying something to the effect of "I've had so many names in my life. We don't need names here. I've always expressed myself better in the form of a random noise anyway.." and then he proceeds to demonstrate what his "name" is using primal grunts, groans, and animal noises, and she does the same. It's a very funny and very effective scene (my description doesn't do it justice at all.) In my opinion it is one of the most genuinely poignant scenes not only in 'Last Tango In Paris' but in the history of film. It stands almost entirely alone.
Overall I'd give the film 8/10 (points awarded mainly for the acting, the sheer bravery of its undertaking, and the artistic effort behind it.)
Bob Roberts (1992)
A very obvious and unfair satire
I found this film pretty insulting to be honest. I'm what you'd call a liberal myself, and apparently (being of that political persuasion) I am supposed to love this film. Well I don't. I thought it lacked any kind of subtlety, and was incredibly stereotypical and mean-spirited. It also came across as being exactly what it attempts to criticize: IGNORANT. It tries to portray all republicans as one-dimensional, hypocritical, greedy idiots and makes absolutely no attempt to see the point of view of those who hold less than far leftist views. It's absolutely not representative of how most democrats and liberals view republicans. It's grossly unfair and almost unbearably smug. In its attempt to be clever it makes itself look incredibly stupid. For a comedy there are very few laughs. It makes Tim Robbins look like a myopic self-righteous extremist with no subtlety whatsoever. A successful satire will take no sides.
Very rarely has something so well-intended gone so badly awry. Sorry Tim, I understand what you were trying to do here, but it didn't work. Doubtless you meant well but the message of this film insults anyone who knows anything about American politics (of more than one party.) Leave the political satire to David Mamet next time, he does it infinitely better. (See 'Wag The Dog'.)
Running on Empty (1988)
Subtle, grossly underrated masterpiece from Sidney Lumet..
No one makes movies like Sidney Lumet. The man is (in my opinion) one of the greatest directors in the history of film. For evidence see "Dog Day Afternoon", "Network", "Twelve Angry Men", "Q & A", "Serpico" (the list goes on and on..) One of the truly exceptional things about Lumet is that he understands and respects actors, and due to this, always, without fail, gets first rate performances from the actors he works with. (Notice also that all the actors have nothing but gratuitous praise for him as a director. There is a mutual appreciation there.) Read his book "Making Movies" if you're really not convinced of his genius. However, going by the excellence of this film, "Running On Empty", I honestly don't see how you could see him as anything but.
Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti both give wonderful performances as the ex-radicals on the run from the FBI for 17 years (and the worried parents of two fast-growing-up boys,) but the undoubted star of the picture is (a then 18-year-old) River Phoenix as their eldest son. Phoenix plays Danny Pope, a 17-year-old boy on the verge of adulthood, who's never known a life not lived in constant fear of being discovered. Who, for all his young life, has moved from town to town with his parents and younger brother, changing schools, homes, and identity at each stop, so as not to be located by the government and punished for the acts his parents committed before he was born.
The film concentrates on the latest identity, the latest stop on the Pope families' never-ending quest to evade the law. This stop, as one eventually had to be, is different. Phoenix's character falls in love with a girl (played by Phoenix's real life girlfriend at the time, Martha Plimpton) and wants to stay. A move that would mean breaking up the family, the one thing that his father simply cannot accept as a possibility. On top of this, Phoenix is offered a place at the prestigious Juilliard school of music (being a prodigiously talented piano player) which presents another good reason for him to stay.
The unique family dynamic is brilliantly portrayed. The tension, the strong bond of love, and the eventual acceptance (that every parent has to deal with at some point) of letting go of one's children. It's all there, and it's all handled so subtly, so poignantly, so BRILLIANTLY.
River Phoenix's performance ranks among the best I've ever seen from a young actor in my life. If you can picture a subtle mix of some of the best aspects of James Dean and a young Henry Fonda and you're coming close to what Phoenix achieved here.
'Running On Empty' is a classic example of great, poignant, affecting, emotional film making (and acting) and I give it 10/10. Without hesitation.
An interesting idea & a very brave decision by Van Sant
Gus Van Sant must've had balls of steel to attempt this project. Gotta admire him (in a way) for having the gall to even suggest it! He must've known (in his heart of hearts) that it wouldn't work. He must've known how critics would react to something so blasphemous. He must've known that modern audiences wouldn't understand what he was trying to do. Yet he went ahead and did it anyway. Brave man.
It's not awful. The cast give it all they've got (kudos to Vince Vaughn) and as a whole the picture (like the original) gives off a pretty eerie and frightening vibe. I think it's better to watch this movie without so much pop-culture cynicism attached. It's far more interesting and enjoyable that way.
However, I can't defend it too much. A big part of what makes the original 'Psycho' so disturbing to watch (for me) is the fact that it's in black and white. It makes it seem A LOT more sinister. The update, in color, is like watching a horror movie on a sunny afternoon (when we all know that they're best watched at midnight with all the lights out..)
Well done to Van Sant for proving that (after the huge mainstream success of 'Good Will Hunting' the year before) he still had it in him to do something this bold and experimental. But it still gets only 6/10 from me. Sorry Gus.
An American Tail (1986)
Fievel the Russian immigrant mouse: Ultimate screen hero!
This (along with 'Annie') was my absolute favorite movie when I was little. Fievel was my hero. Why? Because he was a mouse, he wore a great hat, and he sang a pretty song at the moon. I *LOVED* this film. I must've watched it every week from the age of about 5 right up til the day I discovered Tarantino...
I MUST rate it with top marks (because I'm a sentimentalist at heart.) Ten-out-of-Ten! Go Fievel!
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
James Stewart made me cry..
Not being an American citizen, I've always been wary (and more than a bit cynical) of all the flag-waving star-spangled U.S. patriotism and the grand illusions that the country claims to stand for. However, 'Mr Smith Goes To Washington' reminds me that my cynicism is merely a by-product of the corruption and b**tardization of what, in it's essence, is a country based on some wonderful ideals, not in fact of the country itself. James Stewart conveys the idealism and naivete and (all to rare) honest-to-God decency of newly appointed Senator Jefferson Smith to absolute perfection. I really believe that this is Jimmy Stewart's finest hour. It's damn near impossible not to be deeply touched by his performance. He puts across with real depth of feeling the character's complete conviction and belief in the fundamental moral elements that the United States was built on, and also his complete heartbreak when he realizes that all is not so clean and constitutional in his nations capital as he had perhaps always believed. The rest of the cast provides first rate support, the direction (Capra at his best) is impeccable, the script is smart, touching, witty.. you really couldn't ask for much more from a film. If you only see one James Stewart movie (or one Frank Capra movie for that matter) try and make it this one. 10/10.
Jane Eyre (1996)
Caught on TV by happy accident
A very charming adaption of the classic book. Beautifully shot (if you're familiar with Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet, you'll have a good idea of the look of this film. Simple, dark in places, whimsical and beautiful in others. Look out for a great shot of the house framed by the fantastic colours of the autumnal woodland of the surrounding area. That is Zeffirelli at his best.) William Hurt is simply perfect as Mr Rochester, (and actually extremely sexy in a slightly strange way..) Both Anna Paquin and Charlotte Gainsbourg turn in great performances as the young and slightly older Jane respectively. The film overall is quite heartwrenching (actually more so than I remember the book being) and very elegant in style. The cinematography is very complimentary to the tale. The only complaint I might have is how quickly it ends. It seemed to wrap up quite suddenly in the space of about 5 minutes at the end. What happened there? Budget run out? (Either that or the editor wanted to get home early..)
Overall though, a very good film. Kudos to Franco Zeffirelli and William Hurt particularly.
Read the book first
This is a fine movie. I enjoyed watching it. The cast is very good and it's filmed nicely, don't get me wrong. However, it is IDENTICAL to the book. There is no variation. There is so little actual "adaption" in it it actually began to annoy me slightly. If you've read the book you will find no surprises whatsoever. So why not just read the book? There are no clever cinematic tricks or interpretations (which can be so interesting and work so well when adapting a book to screen.)
If you want to see a clever and interesting adaptation of a cult 1960's book see David Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch". If you want it straight off the page and onto the screen, see this.
Not half as bad as you may have heard..
I was pleasantly surprised by this movie, proving once and for all you shouldn't believe everything you hear (having "heard" that it was one of the biggest career mistakes Al Pacino ever made..)
I'm not really sure what made critics (and others) hate it so much. I thought Al Pacino gave a very good performance as Tom Dobb, the battle scenes were well done, the supporting cast were good, there were no glaring historical inaccuracies.. so what, I ask, was the big deal?
Regarding Al Pacino's accent.. (I believe this was one of the focal points of the critics derision) I must say that I didn't hear anything wrong with it personally. Sure, it kind of "fluctuates" during the course of the film, but considering the character he's playing (an inarticulate unlearned man "of few words") and the era in which the film is set (a time of great cultural turbulence) I'd say that a slightly mix-and-match accent is actually quite appropriate. Sometimes he sounds American/New York, sometimes regional English or Irish, but it never bothered me for a minute truth be told (and it's not like he had to deliver any long booming Shakespearean speeches anyway..) (Honestly, I thought the "Most Ridiculous Accent Award" should have gone to the guy playing the pompous English army captain who led the dog hunt. High-pitched, exceptionally nasal and outrageously camp. THAT guy was the one who prompted a snort of derision from THIS viewer.)
Naked Lunch (1991)
The zone protects its own...
They said it was unfilmable (and I agreed with them) but apparently in the remarkable hands of David Cronenburg "they" (and me.. very much so) were proven wrong. This is a great beat film. It (amazingly) makes immense amounts of vivid and perverse SENSE! While it's not so much a direct adaptation of the book (which is the "impossibility" which many short-sighted intellectuals probably had in mind when they discounted the notion of 'Naked Lunch: The Movie'..) it is an interpretation of elements of the book combined (to great effect) with real-life events in the life of the author William S Burroughs. It's done exceptionally well. Far superior to any of the other past cinematic stabs at capturing the "beat" mindset on film. This is the second movie I've seen in as many days depicting Bill & Joan's tragic William Tell routine. It's far less dramatic in this than in 2000's "Beat"... but in this it has a warped LOGIC. A bug told him to do it! (That's a perverse take on "the butler did it" if ever there was one..) Joanie was an agent for Interzone, an elite core centipede, you see and the over-sized cockroach-like creature said she must be dead within the week... and as juicily as possible. (Females are a different species, but Joanie was an exception.) I think Cronenburg gave a pretty good swing at understanding the book, the beats, the stories, the drugs, the nightmares... I enjoyed particularly the part where the typewriter began dictating. Done very well. I'm definitely going to read the book again soon.
Peter Weller is perfect (as perfect can be) in the William Lee role. (I'd like one of those Burroughsian felt fedora porkpie hats he wears in the film for myself. Lesser brim than Sam Spade thereby marginally less camp. Great hat.)
I wonder (more than pretty much any other story in history, except possibly Joan Of Arc) about what really happened on that Mexico evening in 1944 between Mr & Mrs Burroughs and that sure-shot 44.... Bill said that he realized later, with some horror, that if it hadn't been for his wife's death he might never have thrown himself into writing and become the writer he was. I wonder at the extent to which it haunted him. I wonder not so much HOW it happened as WHY. Bill was an ace-shot and standing less than 3 feet away. I wonder WHY he shot her in the head, not HOW. This movie offers no real explanation (of course not.. why should it? How could it?) but takes the notorious tale and melds it into the story and logic of the book (and thereby the movie.) An impressively clever move on Cronenburg's part.
Cronenburg's movie is the perfect adaptation (and the most unlikely success of it's kind in history.) A risk that paid off thanks to a lot of THOUGHT. (I'll bet Cronenburg thought about it in great depth and long into many a night for YEARS before he made it..)
We await with baited breath Francis Ford Coppola's adaption of 'On The Road'....................................
His Girl Friday (1940)
Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant are flawless and hilarious in this movie. They are so smooth, so cool, so charming and witty you could almost forget about the story. The chemistry between these two masterful actors is simply glorious. I'd happily watch them mouthing-off and getting clever with each other for two hours without a plot. The dialogue is so fast-paced you almost expect the actors to pass out at the end of each scene. I recommend this movie wholeheartedly for the script and the impeccable delivery of it alone! You really have to watch this film a few times over to fully appreciate and catch the million gags embedded in the script. Truly great stuff throughout. Classic, quality movie making.
I love you like a hole in the head
I wasn't expecting much (truth be told) but was quite pleasantly surprised. As much as history equates to fiction (and from what I've heard/read this movie must be taken as a work of near-fiction.. "sources" being what they are..) this story still made for a pretty good motion picture. Courtney Love is a very good actress, and not many parts is she better suited to than that of Joan Burroughs. I liked her performance. Keifer Sutherland also made a pretty convincing Bill. The guy that played Lucien Carr (Norman Reedus?) was also impressive.
As "interpretive" as the story was I didn't resent it as much as I thought I might. I imagine William Burroughs, were he still in the land of the living, might have had a few issues with this film but hey, movies always without fail in-one-way-or-another romanticize the truth (truth, truth.. mmmm.. ponder it) and the movie DID do that.. but not as grotesquely as it could've and for that, if nothing else, I liked it. Well-observed (in a secondary, nobody-here-was-actually-there, speculative kind of way) the story still flowed (aided by the, in my opinion, very good performances.) Keifer made William Burroughs seem to have emotions, and strong ones at that, which was interesting.. as you never really picture him like that. (Going by the tone of his spoken-word recordings maybe? the dour face? the slightly contemptible countenance? I don't know.. you just never think of him as the howl-at-the-moon type.. I think Keifer's attempt at humanizing him was quite admirable really.)
The script wasn't bad (could've been MUCH worse.. riddled with beatnik cliches..) there were no real cringe-worthy moments (no-one said anything to the effect of "are you hip to all that jazz" etc etc.. which was a relief.) I liked the movie overall. It's no major statement, and you'd do infinitely better to read some of the great biographies out there if you want an overview of the tale and the beats in general, but the movie is a harmless, and quite enjoyable, footnote.
I liked the quotes at the end (their attempt at a summery i suppose..) especially the gorgeous quote from Lucien Carr. Oh yes and Ron Livingston was also in fine form as poor old lovelorn Allen Ginsberg.
Less Than Zero (1987)
Disturbing adaption of Bret Easton Ellis' novel..
You'll either love it or absolutely hate it I'm sure..
Watching this film is in no way a pleasant experience, but I do have a grudging respect for it (much like I do for the book..) I'd advise anyone who wants to (TRY and) understand this film (and the world that this film inhabits,) to read the book, then watch the movie, then (if you can find any) read some interviews with the author Bret Easton Ellis.
Robert Downey Jr is scarily perfect in the role of Julian, and his performance is, without doubt, the best thing about the movie dramatically speaking. He's truly quite staggering in some scenes.. The film is not really that similar to the original book by Bret Easton Ellis (of 'American Psycho' fame) but, in an almost absurd way, does it justice. The vapidity and apathy and emptiness of the "cocaine Hollywood" scene of the 1980's is all too clear, and makes for increasingly uncomfortable viewing. Overall it is magnificently depressing and will probably leave you feeling vaguely sick.
Robert Downey Jr should really have won some kind of award for this..
Wonder Boys (2000)
Intelligent, quirky, very funny, wonderfully acted..
Michael Douglas really deserved and Oscar nod for his wonderful portrayal of the grizzly pot-smoking Professor Grady Tripp in this infinitely charming comedy/drama. As did most of the supporting cast in fact; Tobey Maguire is great as the morose young student/writer prodigy James Leer, Frances McDormand is as subtle as ever as the Chancellor, and (a perfectly cast) Robert Downey Jr turns in a delightful performance as Tripp's book editor Terry Crabtree. In addition to the brilliant casting (which, on it's own, could keep this film afloat) the movie also boasts a witty script, a great multi-layered storyline, a perfect soundtrack, and some exceptional direction from Curtis Hanson. The film is full of moments that will make you burst out laughing, usually out of surprise, and is a genuine delight from start to finish. The Bob Dylan song ('Things Have Changed') that opens and closes this movie is, as well as being a great song on its own, PERFECTLY suited to the vibe of the film. I sit until the end of the closing credits each time I watch this movie because the song just caps it so well. The narrative aspect added to the films literary quality (it was adapted from the novel by Michael Chabon) and served it well, and in some ways reminded me of Stand By Me (the ending in particular..)
I really think this movie deserved more recognition, and definitely more Oscar nominations, than it got. It is easily the equal of (the previous years Oscar fave) American Beauty, to which, in terms of style and vibe, I might compare it. I heartily recommend this film to everyone, (and add that I think the more literary minded among us will appreciate it particularly.)
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Odd, touching, River Phoenix is intensely brilliant..
This is the movie that I sincerely hope River Phoenix will long be remembered for. His performance as the narcoleptic and confused street-hustler Mike is so perfect and touching and realistic that it makes me cry every time. Gus Van Sant's films often have a strange aura about them (see Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For) and never has it been more evident than in this oddly affecting road movie/drama. The camera shots of long horizon-spanning roads and skylines, fast-motion clouds, surreal and symbolic shots of houses and rushing rivers provide the film with a strange almost other-worldly charm. Interspersed with the gritty realism of life on the streets of Portland Oregon in the early 90's, and (stranger still) Shakespeare. Some of the plot (Bob and Scott mainly) is based on the Shakespeare play Henry IV (with Keanu Reeves playing the Prince Hal character of Scott, and William Richert playing the Falstaff-like role of "King-Of-The-Streets" Bob.) It's a fascinating, touching and very successful blend of styles overall. The big themes (the search for love and belonging) are conveyed in a very interesting and genuinely moving manner. I particularly enjoyed the symbolism and pathos the film flittingly suggests. The performances are uniformly excellent, and this movie remains one of my all-time favourites. One of the greatest (and most unique) indie movies of the 1990's.