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Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Creative, Original, Well-Acted, Rocking FUN
I don't know much of the back story on this film, except that it was an off-Broadway success before it was made into a movie, and that the star of the film (John Cameron Mitchell) is also the director and writer, and that one of the other actors in the movie (Stephen Trask) also did the music.
Having said all of that, I have to say that I LOVE IT when a low budget movie comes along from (seemingly) nowhere and just kicks a##. "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is not a perfect movie, but its weaknesses are easily overlooked, because this movie rocks.
First, the music . . . this is one of the most satisfying soundtracks I've heard in along time. Almost all of the songs here are well done and catchy. But this isn't just pop fluff, there's some talent at work here. I was amazed at the number of good songs (crafted by Trask) in the film. In addition Mitchell's voice, evidently stage-proven, makes a great transition to that of a punk rocker. I found myself wondering if these guys ought not to really start a rock band, and really make music. I'd buy the albums.
Next, the creativity . . . wow . . . you've never seen a movie like this . .. it is wholly original . . . just take a glimpse at the premise: a partial transexual punk rocker from Berlin tries to make it in the U.S . . . and along the way . . teaches us some things about love and life. Also, the animation was clever, and was integrated nicely with the rest of the film.
And lastly, Hedwig him/herself . . . the movie presents us with the unlikeliest of heroes, and Mitchell gives (truthfully) an Oscar-worthy performance. As far as I am concerned, Hedwig has clearly established himself as a cult figure now, on the fringe perhaps, but this is one of the most memorable characters and performances that I've seen in a while. The wigs were also fabulous.
The script and writing is generally good, with just a few holes and weaknesses. I felt that some of the supporting characters (i.e. the Stephen Trask character) needed a little more light shed on them, and in some ways the "meaning" of the movie was blurred a little by the drama of it all. Just as point of reference . . . I feel that "Pricilla, Queen of the Desert" from Australia is a better drag queen movie. But "Hedwig" and "Pricilla" are very different movies, both equally great in their own genres. And the music for "Hedwig" is far superior to that of almost any movie out there.
But mainly, this movie is great fun. You'll be laughing at Hedwig's camp, singing along with "Wig in a Box" or with "Wicked Little Town", feeling Hedwig's pain as he does, and maybe even learn a couple of things about life along the way. I am left with a few indelible images from the film . . . like Hedwig shimmying his underside over the head of a senior citizen at one of his live performances, shouting, "It's a car wash, ladies and gentlemen". . . or Hedwig as a child dancing on the bed or harmonizing with his head in the oven . . . or Hedwig's mobile home park rock concert where the trailer wall itself acts as his fantasy stage . . . or Hedwig's desperation as he pleads with his lover to "Love the front of me, honey" . . . or Hedwig's description of meeting his first husband and the gummy bears. (I won't elaborate further on this one . . . make of it what you choose.)
So see Hedwig with an open mind--you'll have the best time that you've had in a movie in a while.
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Burton's Movie Lacks Innovation, Is Disappointing
Tim Burton has proven to be a director with vision. Many of his previous movies broke new ground artistically, like Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Ed Wood. They were wildly imaginative, visually intriguing and entertaining. That is why I was so excited to learn that Burton was directing Planet of the Apes. I expected him to take the classic Apes from the 60's and give it his own Burtonesque twist. I expected ingenuity and to be immersed into a weird futuristic ape world. What I got was a modern-day Hollywood formula movie. It is as if all the creativity and intrigue of the original had been beaten out of the film.
You know the story. An astronaut crash-lands onto a strange planet ruled by primates. Humans are on the planet too, but the humans are considered `animals' and are treated as slave labor. The biggest problem with Planet of the Apes (2001) is that it is simply not captivating. There is no discernable plot, except that the astronaut wants to get back to his mother ship, and the apes want to make him their slave (or kill him.) And while other `slice of life' films may not need a plot to succeed, sci-fi epics do. There is nothing compelling here to move the action and characters (and us) forward. The result is . . . boredom. Burton's job at a minimum with this film was to entertain us. He fell far short.
Mark Wahlberg plays astronaut Captain Leo Davidson in a performance that is largely inconsequential. Helena Bonham Carter is Ari, a female ape (and unspoken love interest) who cares about the plight of the humans. Carter's performance is measured and effective. Tim Roth portrays Thade, the leader of the ape army. Roth is a fine actor whose performance here is at times captivating, and at other times one-dimensional. The actors who play the humans, Kris Kristofferson and Estella Warren, are almost as unimportant as Wahlberg. I liked the original movie better when the humans just grunted. Also, Charleston Heston even shows up in disguise to waste away a scene with us.
To be fair, the makeup and special effects in Planet of the Apes are well done. The costumes and sets are all good, if not too dark (but the art direction is disappointing when compared with Burton's previous works). The music, by Danny Elfman, is great, if not distracting.
The film's final scene, which I will not give away, has been deemed by some as clever or cool. I think not. Imagine if you will, what closing visual would be as evocative as the Statue of Liberty scene in the original movie? I guarantee that if you allow your mind to wander, you will guess it. That's not innovation, that's more of the same from Hollywood. What happened Tim?
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
'O Brother' Is Enjoyable, Entertaining & Quirky
The Coen brothers have created another enjoyable film. While O Brother, Where Art Thou?' is definitely not their greatest work, it is certainly enjoyable, and is likely better than 70% of the movies being released today.
Loosely based on Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey', O Brother' is the story of three inmates who've escaped from a 1920's prison chain gang in Mississippi. They're running from the law and soon meet up with several adventures as they try to regain a million stolen dollars hidden nearby.
Despite O, Brother's' origins in the classics, the movie is actually rather shallow. There's not a lot of character development, and the plot, while entertaining, is somewhat thin. O, Brother' did not set out to change the world or to tackle any important social issues. But what seems to make this movie enjoyable is a fun script combined with good old-fashioned movie making--along with a variation of non-standard filmmaking techniques. The Coens use music, and lots of it, to help move the movie along. I was surprised to hear full versions of well-done folk and gospel songs. The soundtrack for this movie is wonderful, and worth a separate purchase if you like folk or acoustic music. Additionally, the movie's cinematography is effective. Hues of yellow and brown fill many of the scenes, and it is fitting. The colors and scenery effectively place us in a dusty 1920's Mississippi setting. The Coens also cleverly vary the pace of the film. Slow deliberate moments are followed by well-paced action sequences. It has the effect of luring you into a scene, and then cranking things up again with a new adventure. Some may think that scenes are ill placed or do not fit well with the rest of the film. But to me, this is the movie's strength. . . a quirkiness. (This is not standard Hollywood fare.)
The acting was fine. I wouldn't expect any awards here due to the fact that the characters were not written with any real depth. But both Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro are hilarious as sidekicks to George Clooney. Their characters and accents couldn't be goofier.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?' is not a great movie. But it has enough fun, and enough innovation, to entertain and impress.
Scary Movie 2 (2001)
With the Exception of Elliot's Hilarious Performance, this Movie Is Drivel
I rarely walk out of a movie before it ends. I feel that I owe something to the cast and crew to sit through the results of their hard work. But I left Scary Movie 2 after the first hour. Simply put, there was no reason to stay until the end. I had guessed every scene up to the point that I left, so I just imagined a dull, uninspiring ending and got popcorn instead. The movie was lazy, not scary and not funny. Essentially, Scary Movie 2 exists to capitalize on it's predecessor's name and make a lot of money off of teenagers (and me). I enjoyed the original Scary Movie. While I admit that it was lowbrow movie fun, it was hilarious. The performances were funny. The writing was clever and satirical. It was worth my money. I feel that the makers of Scary Movie 2 owe me money now. To think that I actually gave up an hour of my life for this worthless chatter angers me. I will, however, say this about one of the actors . . . Chris Elliot (previously in Cabin Boy, There's Something About Mary, and the Doritos commercial) is hilarious as the disgusting misfit butler Hanson. If this movie is ever on HBO, try to watch Chris' scenes. He really is a comic talent. I suspect most of his dialog was improvised, since it contrasted so starkly to the rest of this depressed film. Scary Movie 2 is drivel.
Quirky, Dark, Cannibalistic Fun
This movie is darkly fun. Delicatessen is set in a run-down, quirky apartment building where the landlord (who is also the butcher in his downstairs deli) kills visitors to feed his tenants. This doesn't seem to bother the residents, who belly up to the deli counter on mornings after a murder to get their share of meat. Some of them even help the landlord when it comes time to kill. You see, times are tough, and people are hungry. (I guess even human flesh can provide sustenance in the world of surreal make believe.) But there's a new visitor in the building, a circus performer who signs-on as a handyman. He hits it off with the landlord's daughter. They become attached. But the residents get hungry for meat, and chaos ensues. The movie is in French with English subtitles. The acting is sufficiently odd and hilarious. The sets, lighting and overall feel of the movie make it dark and surreal--fitting for its cannibalistic theme. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, nicely paced, and entertaining. Mostly, it's original--and just an overall better movie than 90% of the other movie releases today. I give it 8 out of 10.
Carrey makes the movie worthwhile. Just don't expect magic.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas is worthwhile for its performances, namely by Jim Carrey as the Grinch. I rated it a 6 out of 10. I am a big fan of Dr. Seuss' books and the original Grinch cartoon from 1966, and I had high hopes for this remake. However, I was somewhat disappointed with the movie. In particular, I felt that it could have been crafted a little better to be a "classic". After all, the story and characters are timeless. But a classic movie this was not. The pace of the movie seemed to drag a little bit, the town of Whoville (frankly) seemed a little boring and unappealing to me. There were also a few too many modern-day-Hollywood-like-add-ins in the movie which (in my opinion) dated it and detracted from its impact. I was also disappointed with the art direction and set design. The illustrations from the Dr. Seuss books and from the original cartoon are unmatched in their creativity. The movie dabbled a little, remaining true to the general feel of these designs, but it broke no new creative ground with its art direction and set design. Ron Howard has done some "great" directing in the past. His direction here was simply "good"--not his best work. But the movie is at its best when we are allowed to watch Jim Carrey as the Grinch. He was wonderful. His performance is perhaps even Oscar-nomination-worthy, depending on the competition. He is funny, menacing, sad and joyful; and I felt his character truly grew and developed throughout the film. Carrey makes the movie worthwhile. Just don't expect magic.
Muriel's Wedding (1994)
Laugh, cry, think and feel inspired
This movie makes my (ever-evolving) personal top 10 list--not because it will change the world, but because it is just so thoroughly enjoyable. You will laugh, cry, think, and even feel inspired. It is a version of an ugly ducking story about a young lady (Muriel) in Australia who lacks self confidence, has hardly any friends, and suffers from a hapless & quirky family life. She spends her time listening to ABBA (yes, ABBA) tunes and fantasizing about getting married, which she believes will turn her life around and end all of her woes. She then embarks on a journey of self-discovery that results in an affirming lesson--that the "real meaning" in life is often found in the most unlikely of places. Toni Collette is priceless as Muriel. I truly respect actors who take chances with their performances. Toni did. Rachel Griffiths as Muriel's best friend and the rest of the cast are wonderful as well. This is another one of my rainy day favorites--the perfect movie to watch to help you feel more inspired. Good music too.
Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
Artfully fun with great music
Sweet and Lowdown is not one of Woody Allen's best films. But once you get past that, the movie is artfully fun with great music. Sean Penn does a fine job as the wanna-be-famous guitarist, Emmet Ray. This is not Penn's greatest work (see Dead Man Walking for THAT performance), but he does just fine here, capturing the good, the bad and the funny of his character. He really is one of America's best modern day actors. Samantha Morton also does a wonderful job as Hattie. Her warm face and mannerisms will make you smile. The other star is the music. The guitar-playing by Dick Hyman inspired me to buy the CD. This is good stuff. However, if I were to be critical of Sweet and Lowdown, I'd say that it doesn't offer enough . . . enough insight into the characters, enough meat to sink your teeth into. But then that's not really the type of movie it is intended to be.
Waiting for Guffman (1996)
This Movie Is a Hoot
It is rare to find a movie that makes me laugh out loud over and over again. Theater fans (and fans of amateur dramatics) will love Waiting for Guffman. This is the story of the locals in Blaine, Missouri putting together and performing in a stage play for their town's 150th anniversary. There's more of a plot and a bit of a message here, but that's not the point. Just enjoy it. The entire cast does a wonderful job. Acting as real people rather than just as caricatures is a tough job, especially when you're trying to be funny at the same time. But these actors and their characters seem perfectly matched. The script is very funny--reflecting on the humor and eccentricities of everyday life. Chistopher Guest and Eugene Levy (who are also performers in the movie) co-wrote. Director Guest and the actors seemed to employ a lot of improvisation as well, and it worked nicely. My favorite moments in the film include Parkey Posey (as Libby Mae Brown) talking about her routine life at the "DQ" a.k.a. the Dairy Queen. Her monologues are so true to life, I hurt myself laughing. Maureen O'Hara and Fred Willard (as Sheila and Ron Albertson) auditioning for the play and later having dinner with Eugene Levy's character and his wife (Dr. and Mrs. Pearl) are hilarious. I also loved Christopher Guest's many scenes (as Corky St. Claire) especially one when he is having a public (and quiet) disagreement with the music director of the show (played by Bob Balaban.) There are many more very funny scenes. Buy the video and watch it anytime you're feeling down--it's a hoot.
Sophie's Choice (1982)
One of the Best Movies Ever
This movie is almost perfect, if there is such a thing. Meryl Streep gives her finest performance ever as Sophie. In fact, her performance here is quite possibly the best movie acting that I have ever seen. (It's really that good.) Plus there's even more--the music, the directing, the writing, the supporting actors--are all excellent. Be warned that this movie is very moving and tragic, but it is extremely well done. It will make you cry and laugh--it will fill you with hope and despair--it will make you appreciate life and understand sorrow.