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Comedy, drama, action, romance, suspense . . . `The African Queen' blends
all these elements flawlessly into one phenomenal film. The film, for the
most part, features just two characters on a thirty-foot boat . . . but the
boat's not ordinary, and neither are the characters. Katherine Hepburn
gives one of her greatest performances ever as missionary Rose Sayer, and
Humphrey Bogart puts in THE best performance of his career as the grungy,
affable captain of the `African Queen', Charlie Allnut.
The plot is fairly simple -- it's 1914, and Allnut is a riverboat captain in Africa, bringing mail and other sundries from one port to another. One of the places he brings mail to is a missionary led by the British reverend Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his sister Rose. With the outbreak of World War I, German troops overrun the missionary -- Samuel dies, and Allnut manages to spirit Rose away to safety. Allnut finds himself challenged, though, when Rose concocts a plan -- not to flee from the Germans, but to attack the German ship `Louisa', which controls the African rivers.
The story is more about the relationship between Rose and Allnut than about the journey of the `African Queen' itself -- where these two characters travel emotionally is far more important than where they go physically. Allnut starts out as a world-weary traveler, content with his comfortable life of piloting his boat and drinking his gin. It takes meeting someone like Rose to make him realize that there might be more wonderful things in his life that he might be missing. In a similar way, Rose is an extremely sheltered woman, committed to the missionary and to her brother; when those things are stripped away from her, she is forced to see what else the world might hold for her. The story moves nicely between comedy and drama as well -- there's a funny scene early on where Allnut has some embarrassingly loud gas, but in the very next scene, he's trying hard to offer comfort to Rose, even though he can't find the words to offer that comfort. Hepburn is brilliant as Rose, struggling to maintain her dignity even though she's an emotional whirlwind, and Bogart . . . man, Bogart's simply the best. He's incredibly funny, he's deadly serious, and perhaps most importantly . . . he's polite. It's a great touch how he always politely calls Rose `Miss' throughout the film, no matter how urgent or dangerous the situation, simply because he believes that Rose should be treated with respect. Bogart's portrayal of Charlie Allnut won him an Oscar in 1951; and quite honestly, it might be one of the top ten performances ever captured on film. Ever.
Director John Ford does a great job with the film as well -- the shots of the `African Queen' going down the rapids are simply breathtaking, and an eerie (and somewhat repulsive) scene involving Allnut and some leeches is skillfully handled as well. Equally impressive, though, is how Ford handles the scenes between Bogart and Hepburn are fantastic as well. Many times, while one character speaks, Ford chooses to focus on the other character that's listening, capturing a small smile or the sagging of shoulders to let the audience know what that other character's reaction is without the use of dialogue. There's easily a dozen or so small touches like this throughout `The African Queen' that set it slightly above other great films, and into the realm of the masterpiece.
Enough rambling. It's one of the best films ever made, without question. Go watch it!! Grade: A+
`Stagecoach' isn't so much a traditional Western as it is a forefather to
the modern disaster film (with Apache warriors being the `disaster'). In
many ways, the film is closer in style to `The Towering Inferno' than to
`True Grit', but it's undeniably a great film, one of John Wayne's best.
It's a simple story, really -- eight strangers, each with their own secrets
and emotional baggage, are passengers on an Arizona stagecoach going from
the town of Tonto to the city of Lordsburg, despite the looming threat of
imminent Apache attacks. Along the way, the stagecoach comes across the
Ringo Kid (John Wayne), who's just broken out of prison -- he's looking to
go to Lordsburg as well, to avenge the death of his kid brother. He joins
the passengers to Lordsburg, and during the journey, in one way or another,
most of the passengers wind up learning something about themselves -- and
wind up fighting Indians as well.
Hokey? Not really -- the story's quite good, and for the most part, the acting's wonderful. John Wayne's great as the Ringo Kid -- this actually may be one of his best Western roles. The Ringo Kid is a murderer, looking to avenge his family, but he's also a fairly principled man. The role's a lot deeper and more complex than some of Wayne's later `white hat' heroes who were always perfectly good and flawless. The Ringo Kid wants a normal life, but at the same time knows he'll probably never have one, and John Wayne pulls off this internal conflict flawlessly. Wayne also has great chemistry with the wonderful Claire Trevor, who plays Dallas, the former lady-of-the-evening -- she's also seeking to create a new life, and the uncomfortable, almost shy way she reacts to Wayne's gentle, genuinely polite comments is terrific to watch. Like the Ringo Kid -- indeed, like most of the characters in `Stagecoach' -- Dallas wants to change her life around, but doubts that she can. The other characters in `Stagecoach' are excellent as well, but it's Claire Trevor and John Wayne who really make the film enjoyable. (Side note -- while he's quite good, I was shocked to read that John Mitchell actually won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Dr. Josiah Boone in this film. His character's essentially a cross between W.C. Fields and Yoda, and while I'm not sure who else was in contention for the Best Supporting Actor award with Mr. Mitchell, I find it hard to believe that this was, in fact, the best supporting performance captured on film in the year 1939.)
John Ford's direction is excellent as well. `Stagecoach' is the first film where Mr. Ford used the breathtaking landscapes of Monument Valley, and even in black-and-white, they're still used to vivid effect. His action shots of an Apache attack and war raid are also stunning, even by today's standards. Ford also has great touch with changing moods in `Stagecoach' -- the film moves effortlessly from light comedy to tear-jerking drama, and the changes of mood never seem contrived. `Stagecoach' is clearly one of John Ford's better films.
Does `Stagecoach' have problems? Yes, but most of them are more a by-product of the customs and conventions of filmmaking in the 1930s. For example, the music is often obtrusive, and doesn't always fit with what's actually happening in a given scene. There's also not a lot of time spent exploring the character's backgrounds -- it would've been nice to know lot more about where the characters had come from (particularly Dallas), if only to help understand each character's motivations. Since this can be said about most films made during this era, it' somewhat forgivable. However, one significant flaw of `Stagecoach' itself is the character of Hatfield (John Carradine) -- while Mr. Carradine does a good job with the part, the character constantly contradicts himself. He behaves one way in one scene, then in a completely different manner in the next, and there's never a reason given for this. Add to this that Hatfield adds next to nothing in the film (his only useful purpose, apparently, is to ask Mrs. Platt (Lucy Mallory) `Are you all right?' every thirty seconds), and he becomes totally superfluous. If the part of Hatfield had been excised entirely from the script, "Stagecoach" would have been much better.
`Stagecoach' is not a typical Western (there's a lot more character introspection going on than blazing six-shooters), but it's an extremely entertaining film nonetheless. The memorable interaction between John Wayne and Claire Trevor alone makes it a near-classic. Grade: A-
One word can be used to describe `I Know What You Did Last Summer' -- ick.
It' difficult to believe that Kevin Williamson had the gall to follow up the
sly, smart `Scream' with this rancid garbage. `I Know What You Did Last
Summer' is a prime example of bad filmmaking from start to finish.
Essentially, it's a big budget version of `Friday the 13th, Part 5', except
even the films in the `Friday the 13th' films had better acting and better
scripts. Whatever marketing executives touted this awful film as a
`follow-up to Scream' should be flogged for their lies.
`I Know What You Did Last Summer' is the allegedly horrifying tale of four stereotypical high school friends: Barry (Ryan Phillippe), the rich jock; Helen (Sarah Michelle Geller), the popular cheerleader; Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the brain; and Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.), the loner. On one fateful Fourth of July, they accidentally hit a stranger on the road, killing him. Instead of reporting the accident like normal, responsible people, they dump the stranger's body in the ocean and vow never to speak of the night again. A year later, when all four characters are still wracked with guilt over the horrible thing they've done, Julie suddenly receives a strange note -- yes, it's the ominous `I Know What You Did Last Summer'. People around Julie start dropping like flies, dying at the hands of a murderer who dresses suspiciously like the Gorton's Fisherman. Gratuitous blood and carnage ensues.
If the film had any sensibility -- in other words, if it had even vaguely been like `Scream' -- it might've been fun, if not great. However, the only similarity between the two films is its use of teen TV stars from Fox and the WB. `Scream' was able to play with the typical slasher film conventions in new and original ways; `I Know What You Did Last Summer' clutches at those conventions like they're religious dogma. There's no suspense or terror in the film. Characters wander alone into dark alleys and they die. Characters mouth dumb dialogue ripped straight out of `Nightmare on Elm Street, Part Two' and `Halloween 4'. Lights go out at the most inconvenient times. Yawn. It's been done before, and done much better, by nearly a dozen other slasher films.
I give two of the actors credit for trying -- Ryan Phillippe makes the most of his paper-thin character Barry, and Sarah Michelle Gellar's actually pretty good as the disillusioned Helen -- but their performances aren't nearly enough to save the film. The other two simply aren't very good. As Julie, Jennifer Love Hewitt doesn't do much except to ask stupid questions and to look helpless; and Freddie Prinze Jr. is about as lively as a store mannequin as Ray, the troubled loner. (Side note: who keeps casting Freddie Prinze Jr. in movies, anyway? It's scary how consistently the guy keeps churning out flat, wooden performances.) So, the performance of the four leads essentially even out to add nothing to the film's script . . . and since the script is an unoriginal mess, there's almost nothing good to say about the movie. (The one original and genuinely funny line spoken in the entire movie is said by Sarah Michelle Gellar -- she makes a reference to `Silence of the Lambs' that's terrific, and also completely out of place with the rest of the insipid nonsense being spoken throughout the film.)
Looking for a great, traditional slasher film? Rent the original `Halloween'. Looking for a great, modern slasher film? Rent the original `Scream'. Looking for a rotten, boring, completely uninspired slasher film? Rent `I Know What You Did Last Summer'. Avoid this film like the plague. Grade: D
Much like its contemporary "Fight Club", the film "American Psycho" attempts
to express dissatisfaction with the status quo of modern society through
shocking (and typically violent) means. However, while this intent can be
applauded -- sometimes, it's good to shake things up a little -- the
execution cannot. "American Psycho", for the most part, features unlikable,
unsympathetic characters doing unlikable, unsympathetic things to one
another, ultimately creating a film that's very difficult to care about . .. or to take seriously.
Based on the overrated novel by Bret Easton Ellis, "American Psycho" is the story of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a young, handsome Wall Street stock broker who's finding it more and more difficult to deal with how utterly hypocritical and fake his life has become. He hates the world so much, he doesn't feel like a real person, so the only way he knows how to feel real is by committing acts of sadistic depravity -- rape, torture, and murder. The ironic thing is, Bateman doesn't try to cover his tracks particularly well -- he almost wants to get caught -- but no one else believes he's capable of such heinous acts; after all, how could such a young, good-looking successful man be such a monster?
The problem with "American Psycho" lies with the psycho himself -- Bateman. Christian Bale does an admirable job with the character, considering how badly the part is written, but the fact of the matter is that Bateman is never a particularly sympathetic protagonist. Yes, the people he tortures and kills are a bunch of unpleasant, two-faced hypocrites, but considering that Bateman is really no better than they are, there's no way of understanding, let alone condoning, his actions. He also has options besides becoming a serial killer, obvious (and more positive) options. Think about it -- Bateman's been given more opportunities (money, friends, intelligence) than most people can ever even dream of in his life, and he chooses just to squander them as an Ed Gein-wannabe? Come on. Another problem is that Bateman is far too sane. He's nuts enough to think up some incredibly sick stuff to do to people, but he's rational enough to realize what he's doing is wrong. It may not have made him more sympathetic, but it might have made the character slightly more believable if he'd been crazier, thinking that his sick actions were just as rational as the mundane, boring things he did at work. (A subplot involving the idea that Bates isn't actually killing anybody -- all the murders are just in his head -- helps to make the film a little more believable, but not by much.) The result? One mean-spirited person kills a bunch of other mean-spirited people. Who cares?
Visually, the film's fine. Director Mary Harron moves the film along at a smooth pace, flipping with great style between false notes of security and genuinely disturbing. However, since the disturbing elements are diluted by the fact that it's difficult to care at all about the characters involved in "American Psycho", some tremendous efforts in regards to cinematography and editing get wasted. Ditto the performance of the actors -- as mentioned above, Christian Bale is very good as Bates, Willem Dafoe is good as the criminally under-used private investigator Donald Kimball . . . but no actor or actress on the face of the Earth could ever make any these characters remotely interesting, likable, or for that matter, watchable.
"American Psycho" deserves some credit for trying to be daring, but it's ultimately an emotionally hollow film filled with some oddly gratuitous, clinically detached violence. Pass this one up. Grade: C-
"Full Metal Jacket", which often seems to be more a random collection of
loosely connected stories than an actual movie, dooms itself to mediocrity
by telling its best stories first. The first half hour is incredibly
powerful, possibly the best work that master director Stanley Kubrick ever
captured on film . . . and then the film stumbles backwards, unable to
maintain the impossibly high standards that it established for itself. Since
the film has nowhere to go but down, down it goes, and without a unifying
theme holding the film together, "Full Metal Jacket" degenerates into a
"Full Metal Jacket" is about the journey of one man, Private Davis(Matthew Modine), during the Vietnam War, starting with boot camp and heading inexorably onward to the horrors found in Vietnam. Throughout all his experiences, finds nothing but madness and chaos in everything he sees, from his maniacal drill instructor, Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey, whose performance is absolutely flawless in this film) to the Vietnamese "enemy" to the soldiers on his own side. In a way, the original movie poster for "Full Metal Jacket" best describes the film -- it shows a soldier's helmet decorated with both a psychedelic peace symbol and the angrily scrawled phrase BORN TO KILL.
The strength of "Full Metal Jacket" is ultimately its downfall as well - the opening training scenes at Paris Island. While Davis is essentially the main character of the film (or at least the main observer), the basic training sequence of events focuses primarily on the horrifying relationship between Drill Instructor Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) and one unfortunate recruit nicknamed Gomer Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio). To be fair, Sergeant Hartman treats all the recruits (including Davis, whom Hartman nicknames `Private Joker`) with equal amounts of venom and disdain, but it's Private Pyle that's affected by it the most, and as such, Pyle's relationship with Sergeant Hartman becomes the cornerstone of all the basic training scenes. R. Lee Ermey (who in real life was an actual Marine drill instructor before his foray into acting) puts on such a brutally honest, harrowing, and disturbing performance that it's unforgettable . . . and it easily blows the performance of almost every other actor in the movie. (Watch for a priceless scene where the sergeant tries to inspire his recruits for a sharpshooting drill . . . and uses Lee Harvey Oswald as his shining example of marksmanship.) The exception to this is Vincent D'Onofrio, who turns Private Pyle into a ticking timebomb of insecurities, wanting desperately to succeed and to please the sergeant - although, deep down, Pyle knows he'll never be anything but a failure in the sergeant's eyes. Two masterful performances, both bordering on film perfection, but since neither Sergeant Hartman nor Private Pyle continue onward with Davis to Davis's part in the Vietnam conflict, the rest of the film suffers greatly. After basic training, it's off to the Vietnam War, and this is where the film just falls apart. Some scenes are undeniably brilliant, some are uninspired and awful, but no matter the quality of the scenes, there's nothing linking them all together. Perhaps this was Kubrick's intent, to show that one of the most horrifying things about war is just how meaningless it all is. But telling the truth doesn't automatically translate into telling a great story, or even a mediocre one, and "Full Metal Jacket" degenerates into a muddled heap of conflicting messages and morals despite its raw honesty. Yes, it's sad and horrifying, but it's done in such an detached, unfocused manner that the brain becomes numb to the horror, instead of outraged by it.
Two grades for "Full Metal Jacket": An A+ for the basic training scenes, which are equal parts brilliant and distrurbing, and a C+ for the overall movie, which sadly falls apart once those basic training scenes end. Not one of Kubrick's better films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
`Strange Days', one of many films made in the mid- to late-1990s that chose
to dabble in `the near future of the year 2000', not only still looks good
in the year 2001, but holds its own as a darn good film. A mix of `Blade
Runner' film noir and uncomfortable realism, `Strange Days' has the audacity
to tackle some disturbing topics and to actually tell an interesting tale in
Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is a black market peddler of VR films - memory implants that are downloaded directly into the brain, allowing a person to vicariously sample someone else's experiences. The VR chips are like drugs, as people find the shared virtual experiences far better than those they find in their own lives. Lenny, who's both dealer and addict, is jarred back into reality when one of his friends is killed in vicious fashion - and the experience is captured on a VR film. Lenny comes to believe that his ex-girlfriend Faith (Juliette Lewis) may be next on the killer's list, so he begins his own search for the killer, partly to prevent anything bad from happening to Faith . . . and partly to impress Faith, and possibly win her back.
Visually, `Strange Days' is terrific - it's hard to see how this film could be better in that department, even if James Cameron had directed the film himself. Some of the shots are astounding, such as a point-of-view clip of a man running along a rooftop and jumping to his death, then another simple clip of a woman on a date . . . it's part of a VR film `sampling', one that gives the audience a taste of why the characters in `Strange Days' think the films are so real, and so voyeuristic. Combine that with the way other things are filmed in `Strange Days' - the close-up look of Lenny's face as he samples past memories through VR films, the utter sweeping chaos of a riot as shot from high above - director Kathryn Bigalow creates a film that's visually mesmerizing. The designers and special effects guys really went to town, and should be given full credit for creating an outstanding, memorable look for `Strange Days'.
Ralph Fiennes is awesome as Lenny - he's scummy and underhanded enough to keep himself from ever being a true hero, but he imbues Lenny with enough affable charm and backbone to make him likeable nonetheless. The rest of the cast falls short of Fiennes' great performance, though - Angela Bassett is decent as limo driver/armed muscle Mace, but Juliette Lewis is forgettable as Faith (and considering that she's supposed to be the love of Lenny's life, that drags the film down), and Tom Sizemore is more annoying than menacing as villain Max Peltier. The story, while highly original, is uneven as well - certain plot points get abandoned for no reason, and sometimes the characters' motivations really don't make any sense at all, save to advance the story into the next scene. The quick pacing of the film and its imaginative look help to gloss over these weaknesses, but they're still there, just the same.
Inventive and daring, `Strange Days' is a solid movie, falling short of true greatness only because of the awkward execution of some brilliant ideas. Still, it's very entertaining, and definitely worth viewing, especially if you're a fan of sci-fi films. Grade: B/B+
There's more than a few reasons to hate `Scream'; the main reason would be
that the film single-handedly resurrected the teen-slasher genre, a movie
category that had long been beaten to death. Because of the success of
`Scream', witless horror crap like `I Know What You Did Last Summer' and
`Urban Legend' got greenlighted, half the teenage casts of various WB
television shows got summer acting jobs, and some awful scripts that
should've been left dead and buried `Teaching Mrs. Tingle' got to see the
light of day. `Scream' is responsible for a lot of garbage. But the truth
of the matter is, `Scream' is also a phenomenal movie.
The plot of `Scream' is very simple: a masked knife-wielding maniac is busy stalking the students of High, killing them off one by one. The killer's inordinately obsessed with one girl, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who of course gets involved in the quest to unmask the killer. The catch (in case you don't already know it), though, is brilliant. Everyone in the film is familiar with all the slasher film conventions. They know that you shouldn't walk in the woods alone at night. They know that having wild sex is an unwritten invitation to be hacked to pieces. They know not to say things to each other like `I'm going outside for a cigarette; I'll be right back.' -- such statements are virtual death warrants. One of the best examples (and best characters) of this is Randy (Jamie Kennedy), the film-obsessed nut of the film, who actually goes so far as to muse what `real' actors and actresses should play the other characters in the film, going so far as to joke about who gets to be Tori Spelling. All the dumb conventions of slasher films are pulled out of the shadows, exposed for what they really are . . . and then, some of them get used anyway, because the characters willingly choose to ignore those conventions. Some cliches are thrown away, while others are embraced. `Scream' really turned the horror/slasher film genre on its ear, becoming the first truly suspenseful and exciting slasher film in many, many years simply because it suddenly had a million new avenues to explore. The film's self-awareness allowed to move in brand-new directions . . . and suddenly, scenes that used to be predictable in other slasher films suddenly become incredibly intense in `Scream'.
Director Wes Craven was perfect for this film -- as director of slasher classics like `Nightmare On Elm Street', he easily sets the visual feels and style of film to perfect evoke all the slasher films of yore . . . and then, much like `Scream's' script, chooses to either faithfully follow the tried and true, or to go off in competely unexpected directions. Either way, Craven manages to create a lot of absolutely nail-biting, thrilling scenes. He also doesn't hold back with the gore, which is always a plus in great slasher films. The acting ranges from barely mediocre to good -- Neve Campbell's okay as Sidney; Courtney Cox is pretty good as tart-tongued reporter Gail Weathers; Jamie Kennedy rules as Randy the film geek; and David Arquette is utterly bland and forgettable as Deputy Dewey Riley, the sad-sack policeman. But casts in slasher films don't particularly matter anyway; the good ones are all about suspense, terror, and gore. And in `Scream', Wes Craven provides massive amounts of all three of those criteria.
The irony is, `Scream' spawned dozens of imitators, and by spawning imitators, all the new avenues opened up by `Scream' quickly got old and boring once more. Still, purely on its own merit, it's an excellent film. The best slasher film of all time is still John Carpenter's `Halloween', without question, but `Scream' actually runs a close second. It's well worth watching. Grade: A-
`The Rock' effortlessly achieves what most action movies can only dream
about it's paced so well, and has action scenes and characters so good,
the weak spots in the story really don't matter. Story quality is one of
the major components behind making a good movie, but it's certainly not the
only component, and `The Rock' demonstrates that to great effect. With
great direction from Michael Bay, and with outstanding performances from the
cast (especially Ed Harris), what might've been a standard, mediocre film in
other hands is instead a fantastic action movie.
The premise: `The Rock', or Alcatraz, as it's more commonly known, is taken over by a bunch of military terrorists led by General Francis Hummel (Ed Harris), an American war hero. Instead of issuing the usual comic-book demands of typical terrorists, Hummel wants the United States government to pay compensation to the families of American soldiers who died in covert, officially unrecognized missions in the amount of one hundred million dollars. Failure to pay as per Hummel's demands will result in the obliteration of San Francisco with bio-chemical weapons.
Enter the geeky Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage), a FBI bio-chemistry expert, to be part of the team needed to get onto `The Rock' and defuse the weapons. He's paired with the renowned spy John Mason (Sean Connery), who's supposedly the only person ever to successfully escape from Alcatraz the FBI figures since Mason knew how to sneak out of the prison undetected, he'll be able to sneak back on. Together, Mason and Goodspeed travel to Alcatraz to thwart General Hummel's plans
The action is phenomenal and paced perfectly; director Michael Bay manages to keep a tense, frantic edge throughout most of the film, but seems to know just when to stop or slow things down so that the audience has a little time to breathe. Many of the action scenes seem to be cribbed from other films a car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco is nearly lifted perfectly from `Bullitt', for example, while a three-way armed standoff is highly reminiscent of any number of Sergio Leone westerns but they're conducted with such joyful enthusiasm, that doesn't matter. Individually, these scenes might seem like nothing but cheap knock-offs of other films, but they're brought together with such skill that the overall film looks great.
Connery is great as Mason, the spy who's seen more than any normal man should ever see, and Cage is pretty convincing as the bumbling Goodspeed, who's more comfortable with a calculator than a handgun. Both imbue their characters with enough depth to make them a cut above typical action movie heroes. Ed Harris steals the movie, though, as the gritty, weary Hummel you wind up caring about him and his band of patriotic renegades a lot, and since he's technically the villain of `The Rock', it adds whole new dimensions to the standard action movie formula, dimensions that both Michael Bay and the screenwriters took the time to explore. Ed Harris' portrayal of Hummel literally makes `The Rock' an outstanding action movie on his own. With different actors, would this movie have been as good? Maybe . . . but I doubt it very much.
Are there problems with `The Rock?' Certainly. Hummel and his men, for example, don't seem to understand the concept of `secured radio channels', allowing Goodspeed and company to overhear vital plot information almost at will. The tunnels beneath Alcatraz are apparently bigger than the Lincoln Tunnel, and better lit to boot. The list goes on, but these are minor issues that only slightly detract from the awesome ride that is `The Rock'. Grade: A-
The running joke throughout `Get Shorty' is that there's virtually no
difference between Hollywood and the Mafia. Both places involve lying,
cheating, threatening, and constantly dealing with lowlifes in order to get
ahead. It's no surprise, then (although it's certainly funny) that a
formerly `connected' loan shark and legbreaker becomes an overnight
Hollywood success story.
The loan shark in question is one Chili Palmer (John Travolta), a tough guy with a passion for movies who's sent to Hollywood to chase down a guy named Leo (David Paymer), who owes the Mob a lot of money. While in Hollywood, Chili decides he's no different from the rest of the Hollywood moguls, and starts putting in motion an idea for a film the story of a loan shark hunting down a guy in Hollywood. Real life and fiction start blending in seamlessly with each other, as Chili starts pushing other people's buttons to see how he can improve the `story' for his movie.
`Get Shorty', which is faithfully based on the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, is a film that crackles along at a good pace, moving along and weaving together a half-dozen entertaining subplots with incredible ease. The characters and the dialogue make the film great as well `Get Shorty' is a comedy, but while the characters say a lot of funny things, they treat each other and the events of the film quite seriously. Also, the dialogue's so good, it can been savored like a fine wine. (Example: `How'd you get in my hotel room?' Chili Palmer says at one point to mob lieutenant Ray `Bones' Barboni (Dennis Farina). `It was easy,' says Bones. `I told the front desk that I was you, and I lost my keys. I acted real stupid and they believed me.') Sharp tongues rule in `Get Shorty', but those tongues have a lot more to say than just acid wit Palmer's relationship with the actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo), for example, blossoms into something quite sweet after an initially rocky start.
Travolta's terrific as Chili Palmer, putting together the right mix of laid-back coolness and serious intensity. It's funny to watch other characters treat his threats as a joke ironically, Chili Palmer's probably the most honest person in the film, even though he's the one considered the criminal. Gene Hackman is also quite good as Harry Zimm, the Roger Corman-esque producer of B-movies who likes to consider himself a Hollywood power broker, even though he's not. The one weak link in the cast is probably Danny DeVito as the Hollywood mega-star Martin Weir it's not so much DeVito's performance so much as he's simply miscast. Martin Weir is supposed to be this all-powerful movie star (and a short one at that hence, `Get Shorty'), but he never really exudes the magnetism or charisma that Weir's supposed to have. It would've been interesting if a real Hollywood star could've been convince to play `himself' in place of the Martin Weir character (a la John Malkovich in `Being John Malkovich') Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise might have made interesting alternatives.
With its great characters, razor wit and out-and-out laid-back charm, `Get Shorty' is a fantastic, funny film (and one of John Travolta's best). Go watch it! Grade: A-
I have a difficult time watching (and reviewing) `Forrest Gump'. Despite
the brilliance of its actors, of director Robert Zemeckis, and of certain
powerful scenes, I find that the overall film itself is a cynical lie. On
the surface, `Gump' is a cheerful film about the perseverance of its
genuinely sweet title character. Under that sweetness, though is a
disturbing, uncomfortable message that says daring to dream is a bad
For the seven people who haven't seen `Forrest Gump', the film deals with the travels and troubles of one Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), an affable man with an IQ of 75 who manages to bounce around key historical events from 1950 onward in `Zelig'-like fashion. Forrest inadvertently teaches Elvis to swivel his hips. Forest accidentally becomes a football star. Forest accidentally becomes a Vietnam war hero, then accidentally becomes a successful businessman. (See a pattern?) Throughout all his travels and misadventures, Forrest is forced to deal with adversity and hardship and he can never seem to fully capture the love of his childhood sweetheart Jenny (Robin Wright-Penn) but through sheer niceness and through blind faith in the goodness of others, Forrest invariably manages to push on through his difficulties and to triumph in life.
Again, on the surface, a sweet, glowing, feel-good film. Despite my own misgivings about the film, there's no doubt that Tom Hanks is simply awesome as Gump he clearly deserved the Oscar he won for the role. He gives Forrest Gump a childlike innocence, but there's more to it that that; there's a certain confidence that he exudes at all the right times, as well as insecurities at his low moments. Forrest Gump is certainly far more complex than the simple figure he appears to be at first glance, and I can't think of any actor who could've played it better than Hanks. Robin Wright-Penn is perfect as Jenny, who makes an astonishing journey through the years between wide-eyed to hardened cynicism to the acceptance and understanding of experience. I'm surprised she wasn't nominated for an Oscar as well. Gary Sinise makes a perfect counterpoint to Gump in the Vietnam era as Lieutenant Dan, another person who can't seem to travel through life quite as smoothly as Forrest does. Combine this with a superbly paced film, with moments both funny and sorrowful (often at the same time), as well as some of the best, subtle uses of CGI effects ever put to celluloid, and `Forrest Gump' should be one of the best films of all time. Right?
In my opinion, no. `Gump' is a bitter, bitter movie. Look at Jenny's dreams and aspirations, how hard she works to attain them, and how little she actually accomplishes. Ditto the dreams of Lieutenant Dan, or Gump's friend Bubba (Mykelti Williamson). For them, their hopes never ultimately amount to anything, not without the `accidental' help of Forrest Gump, anyway. Forrest, who has no ambitions, and never shows any true interest in doing anything, becomes wildly successful by doing nothing. In essence, those who dare to dream in `Forrest Gump' are punished for their ambition, while those who do nothing are handsomely rewarded. Considering that some of Jenny's dreams (and Lieutenant Dan's) are particularly selfish in fact, a few are downright noble I found this little understated message to be incredibly disturbing. It bothered me enough to make me not like this film at all, despite all the wonderful moments it does contain.
`Forrest Gump' gets an overall grade of a C+ -- it starts out as an `A', but its dark underlying cynicism drags it back down to that level. But hey, I could be wrong. It's simply the Mad Reviewer's opinion. Good or bad, there's some great performances, and it's also thought-provoking. Watch it for yourself, and let me know what you think.
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