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JFK (1991)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
One true fact: this is a great movie, 6 February 2015

How much of what Oliver Stone presents in JFK is actually true? Certainly not all of it. Certainly not none of it. There's definitely some truth in there but Stone obviously takes some liberties as well. It's quite a challenge to make a film that purports to be a true story when nobody actually knows the true story. You end up interpreting history rather than documenting it. Stone obviously believes there was a conspiracy in the JFK assassination so of course that is the story his film will tell. The conspiracy is presented as fact. And Stone certainly makes a compelling case. He hasn't solved the JFK case. But after watching his film you may well think he came much closer to doing so than our government ever has. Stone made a great film. And perhaps more importantly he made a convincing film. You're buying what he's selling.

Stone uses New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison to make his case. Garrison was in fact the only man to ever bring anyone to trial in connection with the JFK assassination. It is Garrison's dogged investigation which drives Stone's film. There are so many obstacles in Garrison's way but he is determined to get to the truth. But in this case truth is almost impossible to find. Tales of shadowy conspiracy emerge but no matter how much Garrison digs it becomes evident he's never going to get to the bottom of this. He makes the best possible case he can given the circumstances. But the real truth, the scary truth, always remains elusive. Kevin Costner turns in an excellent performance as Garrison. He makes you believe in Garrison, makes you believe that this man is doing the right thing. Costner is the strong center around which the film builds. Everything swirls around him. And in this film there is always something, often many things, swirling. There's an awful lot going on. Stone's film careens past three hours and you get the sense it probably could have gone on for three hours more.

The film does go on for quite a long time and it throws so much information at you. There is a lot for the audience to process here. But the film never really gets bogged down. It is entertaining, compelling and thought-provoking throughout. Costner is the standout performer but the rest of the cast is stellar as well. Gary Oldman makes for an eerily convincing Lee Harvey Oswald. Tommy Lee Jones and Joe Pesci bring unique personalities to the roles of two possible conspirators. Jones is calm and suave as Clay Shaw, Pesci nervous and manic as David Ferrie. Donald Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Sissy Spacek and a host of others play their parts well. Familiar faces pop up in even bit parts, the likes of Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and John Candy helping to move the story along. No part, no performance, is wasted. Stone weaves his web expertly. It is a very tangled story, there is the sense that in the end maybe all the strands of the story didn't quite come together. But how could they? This film is a "true story" in which nobody actually knows the truth. Ultimately Garrison, through a powerful performance from Costner, lays out his version of the truth. Through this character Stone tries to convince us. How much of what Stone presents you choose to accept as truth is up to you. You can question Stone's version of history. But there is no question that in JFK he made an excellent film. It may not be a perfect history. But it's a near-perfect film.

Die Hard (1988)
2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Average at best, 28 January 2015

New York City cop John McClane has flown to Los Angeles to reconcile with his estranged wife, Holly. He arrives on Christmas Eve and heads to Holly's office, where her company's Christmas party is in full swing. Holly does not work for some ordinary company. She works for the Nakatomi Corporation, whose headquarters are located high up in the Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper which is still under construction. In this office there is a vault. In this vault there are bearer bonds worth $640 million. Enter Hans Gruber. He and his heavily-armed goons storm the building, take everybody hostage and set in motion their plan to open that vault and get that money. Only one thing stands in their way: John McClane.

McClane is conveniently the only person in the building who manages to escape being taken hostage. He then conveniently manages to stay alive as a whole swarm of well-trained, heavily-armed terrorists continually fires at him with machine guns and attempts to blow him to smithereens with powerful explosives. He makes quite the nuisance of himself, Hans is not pleased. Anyhow, there's a lot of shooting and a lot of things blowing up...and then there's a lot more shooting and a lot more things blowing up...and then...well, you get the picture. It's basically two hours of this on an endless loop. It's an action movie that indeed has lots of action but that action gets repetitive rather quickly. This movie is often described as innovative and revolutionary. That's overselling it by quite some distance. It's an average shoot-'em-up action movie. No more, no less.

The best thing the movie has going for it is the talents of its two leads. Bruce Willis plays the hero, Alan Rickman plays the villain and if anything in this movie rises above the level of cliché it is their performances. Willis infuses McClane with some personality, delivering wisecracks which bring a smile to your face. Rickman makes Hans into a rather unique villain, a detestable guy to be sure but one with some serious intelligence and cunning. Unfortunately these two main characters spend very little time actually squaring off with one another, McLane spending the bulk of the movie dealing with a bunch of anonymous bad guys you really don't care about. Supporting characters offer very little support. Aside from McClane and Hans there's not much there. Reginald VelJohnson has a few good moments playing an LAPD officer who comes onto the scene. Unfortunately he is soon overshadowed by a deputy police chief character whose stupidity is just mind-boggling. Any momentum the movie threatens to gather comes to a screeching halt anytime this guy opens his mouth. Then some FBI guys show up and remarkably they're even worse. There's a lot of stupidity outside Nakatomi Plaza. And there aren't enough interesting things happening inside the building. Die Hard is a movie which is considered to be a standout in the action movie genre, a classic. The truth is it's a rather ordinary movie.

Doesn't stand out from the crowd, 22 January 2015

Varsity Blues is about as predictable a movie as you will ever see. It's a movie about high school football which is pretty much like every other movie about high school football. Every cliché of the genre is here. The overbearing coach. The football-obsessed town. The parents living vicariously through their children. The players who see football as their only means of escape. The intellectual player who realizes there's more to life than football. The cheerleader who just wants to be with the star, whoever the star may be at a given moment. The big, fat guy who's there for comic relief. The injury that changes everything. The big game at the end. Did I miss any? Oh yes, of course, the biggest cliché of all...Texas. Where else would you set a movie about a town where high school football is the only thing that matters?

So you know what you're in for with this movie. Nothing is going to surprise you here. But as predictable and formulaic as it is Varsity Blues still provides reasonably decent entertainment. The characters may all be clichéd but a number of them still manage to be compelling. James Van Der Beek is the star of the movie, if not the football team. He plays the intellectual backup quarterback, Mox, a guy who plays football not because he wants to but because it is what he is expected to do. Mox's situation changes, how Mox responds to that change is the crux of the movie's rather simple story. Van Der Beek's performance is by no means extraordinary but for this movie it works perfectly fine. He creates a character we can relate to and root for. And Jon Voight, playing the thoroughly detestable Coach Bud Kilmer, does an excellent job creating a character we can despise and root against. Kilmer is a hard-driving jerk, a man who cares only about winning football games. He cares not how many young bodies he must destroy to win another district championship. The conflict between Mox, who gets what life is really about, and Kilmer, who most certainly does not, is quite dramatic. And if a high school football movie can give you some good drama that's really all you can ask. There is nothing spectacular about Varsity Blues. There is nothing that really sets it apart from all the other movies of its type you have already seen. But it is at least entertaining enough to be worth your while. There are good dramatic moments, a few good laughs, some compelling characters. And some rather inventively used whipped cream. It may not rise above its genre but for what it is, and all it was ever meant to be, Varsity Blues is a success.

A political thriller which lacks thrills, 12 January 2015

State of Play is a film which weaves a tangled web and then struggles mightily, and ultimately unsuccessfully, to untangle it. It's a political thriller in which an intrepid newspaper reporter, with the assistance of a cute blogger, tries to get to the heart of some nefarious conspiracy. But the reporter gets bogged down and the movie does too. The plot is quite convoluted which leads to both boredom and glaring plot holes. It's a story with twists, meant to keep you guessing. But by the end you may no longer be interested enough to be bothered to hazard a guess at what's really going on here.

The story deals with PointCorp, a shadowy private defense contractor which is being investigated by Congress. It's Congressman Stephen Collins who is leading the investigation. We meet him just as he is delivered some crushing news: the woman who was his lead researcher has just been killed by a Washington Metro train. Looks like suicide but Collins doesn't believe it. He would certainly have some personal insight into the woman's frame of mind seeing as he was having an affair with her. Once that information becomes public Collins is enveloped in quite the scandal. This of course is not at all bad news for PointCorp. To try to get to the bottom of this Collins turns to old friend Cal McAffrey, investigative newspaper reporter. Cal is on the case but, much to his chagrin, he finds himself teamed up with perky young Della Frye, blogger from the newspaper's online operation. Suffice to say Cal doesn't have much respect for cutie-pie bloggers. Anyhow this odd couple works the story and the film begins to take numerous twists and turns as it moves to what is ultimately a rather disappointing end.

A quite unkempt Russell Crowe plays Cal and Crowe provides a solid foundation for the film to build on. With the likes of Helen Mirren, Robin Wright and Jeff Daniels on board this was always going to be a well-acted movie. Rachel McAdams also does fine work in the role of young, naive Della. Ben Affleck, playing Collins, doesn't make for the most convincing congressman but he's not so bad that it really hurts the film. What does hurt the film is that the story just never works properly. It's all about a big conspiracy but there's never enough of a hook to make you really care about that conspiracy. And the film keeps piling on more and more information, so many different strands of the plot which need to tie together. It's all a bit too much. This is a story which desperately needs a big payoff but the ending is not nearly as smart as the filmmakers apparently thought it was. In a film which needs to be filled with suspense there really is very little of it. Honestly the subplot about the pressure on the reporters and their editor, what with the dying newspaper industry and all, seems more compelling than the big conspiracy that the film is actually about. There's a hint of an interesting story in this film but that story gets buried under the weight of the unwieldy plot. Some good performances, especially from Crowe who creates a very interesting character, but the performances are not enough to salvage the film.

Smart, witty romantic drama, 30 December 2014

With a "friend" like Addie Ross who needs enemies? Deborah, Rita and Lora Mae are the three wives of the film's title. And Addie Ross is going to deliver them that devastating letter. The trio of young wives are good friends, Addie very much the outsider whom they keep a wary eye on. And wary they should be because each of their husbands is quite clearly smitten with Addie. The men look upon Addie as a goddess. The women look upon her with disdain. Addie knows how they feel about her. And boy will she ever get her revenge. The trio of wives are about to embark on a daylong cruise, chaperoning a group of underprivileged children. And just before the boat sets off Addie has that letter delivered to them. She tells them she is leaving town for good...and she has taken one of their husbands with her. And Addie really twists the knife by not saying which husband it is she has run off with. So now our three wives face a long day of torment, each wondering if she will be the one to return home to find her husband gone. That Addie Ross, what a stinker.

As the cruise goes on we, through a series of flashbacks, see how each wife's marriage is somewhat strained, why each husband may be tempted to run away. First up is Deborah, a simple farm girl who met her husband-to-be Brad in the Navy. Deborah is desperately uncomfortable in Brad's upper class social circle. And also very uncomfortable with the fact that everyone in that circle always assumed Brad was going to marry Addie. Next comes the telling of Rita's story. She's a successful career woman, writing scripts for popular radio programs. Her husband George, a humble teacher, is a little insecure about the fact his wife is more successful than he is. It all comes to a head at an exceedingly awkward dinner Rita hosts for her boss. That the dinner happens to be on George's birthday, a fact Rita forgot until a present arrives from Addie, doesn't help matters. Finally we come to Lora Mae. She's married to Porter, perhaps the richest man in town. Did he ever want her for anything more than her beauty? Did she ever want him for anything more than his money? Is there any love here at all? And why, the first time Porter brings Lora Mae to his home, did he have a picture of Addie on top of his piano?

So the women all wonder who's lost her husband and we wonder right along with them. The story is very engaging, wonderfully scripted with plenty of good wit sprinkled throughout. Addie narrates the story but director Joseph L. Mankiewicz uses a smart device to keep her largely shrouded in mystery. The less we know about this supposed goddess the more intriguing things become. Addie sets the plot in motion but it is the three wives whom she torments who carry the film. And each of the three actresses plays her part wonderfully. Jeanne Crain plays the bundle of insecurities that is Deborah. This is clearly the most sympathetic character. You know if her husband leaves she'll fall to pieces and Crain really makes you feel for the poor woman. The other two women are much more assured. But Rita comes to realize maybe she was a little too assured for her own good. Has she emasculated, and ultimately lost, her husband? Ann Sothern plays this part and her interactions with Kirk Douglas, playing her husband, are top-notch. And then there is Linda Darnell, playing Lora Mae. Easy to see why Porter would want Lora Mae, Darnell's a stunner. But Darnell has more than her good looks going for her, she's a very strong actress too and she gives it as good as she gets with Paul Douglas, playing Porter. The rest of the film is very good but Lora Mae's story is a cut above, helped greatly by the powerful performances of Darnell and Paul Douglas. If Lora Mae was just in this marriage for money her husband running off would actually be a good thing. But maybe there's love there after all. Darnell captures that ambiguity perfectly.

It's the women's picture, they're the unquestioned stars. But both Kirk Douglas and Paul Douglas have very important parts to play in the film's success as well. Jeffrey Lynn, playing Deborah's husband, has much less to do but what he does do he does capably. There's also a fun appearance from Thelma Ritter providing some comic relief in the role of a house servant. And of course, hovering over the whole picture, is the looming specter of Addie Ross. Mankiewicz uses her in just the right way to add another layer to the film's mystery. The film presents a smart, engrossing story. The three wives weave in and out of each other's stories, everything ties together beautifully. The relationships the wives have with their respective husbands are most important but the relationships they have with each other are very telling too. By the time that boat finally docks and the women race home to hopefully find their husbands you're right on the edge of your seat. Few romantic films are as dramatic as this. This is a very well thought-out, well-crafted, and ultimately very satisfying film.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Captivating but ultimately frustrating, 22 December 2014

Putting together a jigsaw puzzle can be fun. And make no mistake, Donnie Darko is a puzzle of a film which asks the viewer to put the pieces together. But in the end there is frustration as you realize you were never going to be able to put it all together. There are pieces missing. So while the film, which is certainly captivating and thought-provoking, is often fascinating it ultimately is setting you up for a bit of disappointment. It's nice to have a film which makes you think, which makes you work to understand it. It's also fine to have a film which is open to interpretation. But if in the end you don't have all the information necessary to make a reasonable interpretation that is a problem. And that is the case here. What just happened here? Hard to say. The untidy ending doesn't completely ruin the film, this is still a film well worth seeing. But there's no denying that the ending is a bit of a letdown.

So who is Donnie Darko? He's a high school kid, a really smart guy. But he's got issues. Paranoid schizophrenia maybe, at least that's what his therapist thinks. He suffers from hallucinations, he sees things. And right now he's seeing a giant bunny rabbit named Frank. One night a jet engine crashes into Donnie's bedroom. But Donnie's not there because Frank has summoned him to a golf course where he tells Donnie that the world is going to end in 28 days. What is Donnie meant to do with this information? Is this schizophrenic teen supposed to somehow save the world? Oh by the way, that jet engine? The one that would have killed Donnie had a giant bunny rabbit not summoned him to a golf course in the middle of the night? Nobody knows where that engine came from. No airplane lost an engine. Well that's weird. Things are only going to get weirder but then again you probably already guessed that since the plot revolves around a giant bunny rabbit.

So the clock ticks down toward the bunny-prophesied doomsday. Among other events Donnie gets himself a girlfriend, rebels against life lessons taught by a ludicrous self-help guru and discusses time travel with one of his teachers. Time travel? Is that what this film is actually about? Who knows. The film never comes close to fully explaining itself. But the film certainly holds your attention. You can't help but be intrigued. You expect that all the weirdness will ultimately pay itself off with some sort of brilliant finish. Sadly that is not the case. The ending, while admittedly powerful, only adds to the confusion. There is a director's cut which makes things a little clearer but in the original version you're left to figure everything out for yourself. And you don't have near enough information to be able to do that. Donnie Darko is a very compelling film. And it is performed wonderfully. Jake Gyllenhaal hits all the right notes in his portrayal of Donnie, a character who is just as confused as we are. And the supporting cast is by and large excellent as well. Whether it be big stars like Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze, or lesser-known performers who you've never heard of, everyone fits their role very well, contributing their solid piece to the puzzle. But that puzzle never does fully come together. And that ultimately makes Donnie Darko a somewhat frustrating film. There's so much good stuff here to recommend it. But there's also that little tinge of regret, a wish that perhaps the giant bunny rabbit could have told Donnie, and us, what the heck was going on.

An interesting story but a mediocre movie, 19 December 2014

Danny Greene's life story seems tailor-made for Hollywood. But ultimately the movie proves less compelling than the man. Kill the Irishman brings Greene's story to the screen but does so in rather mundane fashion. Chock-full of mob movie clichés there's not enough here to make this movie stand out from the pack. The movie is overflowing with violence, shootings and bombings galore, yet still seems to lack in energy. An explosive start promises great things but things soon fizzle out. Danny Greene leads a very interesting life but the movie really doesn't capture that. The story as presented here is actually somewhat dull and clearly disappointing.

Danny Greene may be the hero of the film but make no mistake he's not a good guy. He's mixed up in all sorts of nefarious activity as he rises from lowly Cleveland dock worker to union president to full-fledged mobster. Cleveland's Italian mafia kingpins have no patience for this Irishman who thumbs his nose at them at every opportunity. So eventually they decide they want Danny Greene dead. Easier said than done as he escapes one attempt on his life after another. Cleveland becomes the car-bombing capital of the world as mob war rages. Seems like there should be a lot of excitement here, this should be a movie absolutely crackling with energy. But it's actually a bit of a dud.

Ray Stevenson does a decent enough job playing Danny Greene but is not quite charismatic enough. For this movie to work Danny has to be absolutely irresistible, you have to be mesmerized by him. And you're really not. It's Danny's movie, none of the other characters rise above sideshow status. All the clichéd roles are there. There's a wife, a girlfriend, a cop and a bunch of mostly anonymous tough guys. There's also Christopher Walken playing a typical Christopher Walken role. At least his character stands out a bit. The rest of the supposed big-time mobsters disappoint. The Italian bosses actually come across as somewhat pathetic, acting like big-shots as they run their little Cleveland family but needing to call in some real mafia guys from New York to try to clean up their Danny Greene mess. And make no mistake, Danny Greene revels in making a mess. There's seemingly a lot of very good material here but the movie falls flat. It's an interesting story. And there's a nice 1970s period feel to it, the movie looks good. But the movie never really grabs you. This should be edge-of-the-seat stuff. And it is not. The story of Danny Greene is one worth telling. You just wish it was told in better fashion than this.

A comedy that's far from horrible, 5 December 2014

Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell play three horrible bosses. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis play their respective mistreated employees. One night over drinks these employees get the bright idea to kill their bosses. Well, it seemed like a bright idea anyway. Their plans inevitably go awry, these are not guys well-equipped to plot murders. The laughs come fast and furious as their plot unravels. Who knew attempted murder could be so hilarious?

The movie sets up a reasonably interesting story and then the excellent cast takes that story and runs with it. It is the performances that really make Horrible Bosses work. Each of the six key figures fits into their role wonderfully. Spacey is a treat in playing a sadistic executive at a financial firm. Aniston is both funny and sexy in playing a man-eating dentist. And Farrell effortlessly disappears into the body of a clueless, cocaine-binging schlub. But while the bosses are great it's their murderous employees who really carry the movie, we spend much more time with them. Bateman, as he does so often, largely plays the straight man which suits him perfectly as he reacts to all the chaos swirling around him. Sudeikis is terrifically witty, delivering deadpan humor in a way that always brings a smile to your face. And Day may be the best of all. Perhaps the least known of all the film's stars he threatens to steal the whole show. There's something endearingly offbeat about his character and Day captures that so well. The chemistry between Day, Sudeikis and Bateman is terrific. You really pull for these guys, and laugh with them, even as they plot a triple homicide. The fact they bumble things all the way through obviously helps with the laughs.

While not a perfect comedy Horrible Bosses ultimately is a very satisfying one. Perhaps we could have spent a little more time with the bosses, there was probably some comedic potential there left untapped. Farrell in particular gets short shrift, he is definitely underused. And if you have Kevin Spacey playing a deranged psychopath there's so much more you can do with him than this movie does. But all in all the movie works. What the performers are given to do they all do very well. Day may be the standout, and Aniston memorably blows her good girl image to smithereens in hilarious fashion, but all six of the film's stars deserve a lot of credit. It's a winning ensemble enhanced by one supporting character, the "murder consultant" our bumbling idiots hire. That character adds a few more laughs to the movie's impressive comic mix. This is a comedy with great energy, great laughs, great characters and just enough story to keep the whole thing moving forward. The bosses may be horrible but the movie about them is pretty great.

Porky's (1982)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Not funny, not raunchy, not good, 28 November 2014

Porky's is a coming-of-age movie. The teenage boys the story focuses on think coming-of-age is just about seeing naked girls and, if at all possible, having sex with them. So we follow this band of horny young men on their quest to see some breasts. They go to a nightclub where love is for sale but that trip doesn't end up going according to plan. In the movie's most famous scene they spy on a group of girls in the shower. At least that leads to a pretty funny scene in which coach Beulah Balbricker, whose name tells you all you need to know, lays out her plan to identify one of the peeping Toms. Sadly, that's pretty much the only funny scene in the movie. And what the movie lacks in laughs it doesn't make up for in outrageousness. Porky's has a reputation for being wild and raunchy but it is actually rather tame. If the most outrageous thing in your movie is a scene featuring a handful of girls in a shower for a minute or two your movie is not particularly outrageous at all. So there's no laughs, no raunch, and pretty much no plot. That's not a formula for a successful teen sex comedy. Toss in the fact that supporting characters, such as the aforementioned Balbricker, are more interesting than the guys the movie actually focuses on and the movie is clearly doomed to fail. The fact that the character of Pee Wee, who is focused on most of all, is incredibly annoying certainly doesn't help matters any. The fact that the threadbare plot ultimately leads to a simply absurd climax is just the final insult. Porky's is noted for helping to launch the teen sex comedy genre. It may be among the first, it's certainly among the worst.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Neither mysterious nor funny enough, 26 November 2014

Assassination of a High School President is a mystery/comedy mishmash in which neither the mystery nor the comedy are really any good. The story unfolds in a high school, where Bobby Funke writes for the paper. Except he's never actually finished a story. But he gets his big break when he's assigned to do an article on student body president Paul Moore. Then the school principal discovers the completed SATs have been stolen from his office. Intrepid reporter Bobby Funke is on the case. He ties Paul Moore to the crime and writes an article incriminating him, pretty much ruining Paul's life. His sleuthing has earned Bobby newfound popularity amongst his classmates but he soon begins to have doubts. Was Paul really guilty? Or was he just a pawn in some sort of grand conspiracy? Bobby resumes sleuthing but unfortunately for the viewers nothing particularly interesting or funny happens while he does.

Reece Thompson does a reasonably decent job with the role of Bobby but the script does him few favors, especially with the way it uses Bobby as a narrator who narrates seemingly every second of the movie. This grows tiresome very quickly, especially as much of the narration is meant to be funny but is not. Meanwhile the film's central mystery ends up not being very mysterious, you'll figure the whole thing out long before Bobby does. The film's obviousness drains much of the drama away. And the film really struggles for momentum. The plot, such as it is, moves forward at glacial pace. Some scenes are absolutely interminable. Humor falls flat. Really the only guy to draw any laughs is Bruce Willis playing the quite strange principal. Willis has his moments, injecting some life into the dull proceedings. Mischa Barton has a big role as the school's resident hot girl. The film tries to set her character up as some sort of femme fatale but neither the actress nor the character convinces. By the end rather than coming together the film pretty much unravels. You can see where the movie's going, you don't like where it's going, and you got very little entertainment out of it along the way. No way to spin this as anything other than a big disappointment.

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