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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.
Just a Little Harmless Sex (1998)
I will admit I didn't finish watching this film, so perhaps the last 20 minutes were brilliant and I tragically missed something wonderful by changing the channel. But I rather doubt it and, to be honest, I can happily live the rest of my life without knowing.
The plot is dull, the acting is bad, the script tries way too hard to "say something" (about what? men and women? sex? the fact that people have sex? and it's often bad? well, fancy that!), the directing is typical metteurs en scene fare, the overall premise is uninteresting (and un-funny), the characters are generally unappealing (the men are idiots, the women sexually agressive 'Sex In The City' rejects. Eg: Man offers woman a ride, woman offers man blow-job as a "thank you", turns out woman is a prostitute, man gets busted by cops mid-fellatio. Oops. Eg2: Group of women go for a "girls night out" at a strip club. They drink margaritas and one of them gets on the dancefloor to indulge her secret longtime fantasy of being an erotic dancer. Profound stuff, huh?)
Gets very talky once they all get to the club. (Nobody says anything insightful, but they seem to think they do.) Tries to be 'Swingers' and fails miserably.
When things like this get the production go-head it really makes you wonder what kind of scripts actually get *rejected* in Hollywood...
Weak. Don't waste your time or money on it.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997)
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'.)