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Waste of Talent
I must be really missing something. I watched this movie and saw a meandering voyeuristic doting on what appear to be spoiled pseudo-intelligent rich brats, their mentally comatose father, his grand-daughter, and their hired keeper. The players are all virtually perfect in their roles, but are wasted in this looney home movie with no point. The boyfriend Chris at first appears fairly normal, but later he seems caught up in their uninhibited self-indulgence. I don't even want to think about the helicopter!
The only really sympathetic character in the picture is the patriarch of this strange brood, ably played by Harry Dean Stanton. His attempt to passively transfer from the asylum into a somewhat normal life is thwarted by the harridan he tries to partner up with. We see and applaud his withdrawal from the mayhem.
Look for a bit role filled by a young Tim Robbins.
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Triumph of tragedy
I had no expectations of this movie, and was pleasantly surprised with this sensitive story. Jennifer Connelly does a good job as Kathy, the hapless self-destructive beauty who initially loses the house through her own incompetence. Once we get past her astonishing looks, we have little sympathy for Kathy, a black dahlia who corrupts all she contacts.
Easily corrupted is Lester, well played by Ron Eldard. A touch of Kathy's hand is enough to strip the patina of decency and honor from this weak man.
But the master of this epic is Ben Kingsley, as Behrani, the deposed and chastened Iranian colonel trying to recapture former glory for his family (and himself). Basically decent, this complex man is not without his faults. But his flaws pale when compared to the completely unprincipled twosome of Kathy and Lester.
We are pleased when Lester gets his just deserts, and we mourn the tragedy that befalls the Behrani family, bringing the colonel to his knees in a pride-swallowing resort to his faith.
Honorable mention goes to a gem of a performance by Shohreh Aghdashloo as Mrs. Behrani, whose innate kindness partially serves to bring her family to a tragic end.
Well shot and scored, this is a wonderful, if not uplifting, unique movie.
Henry V (1989)
Methinks I detect the fragrance of ham
I know little of Shakespeare, other than to expect masterful use of the English language. Unfortunately, the actors in this movie either whisper their beautiful lines so one cannot hear them, or rattle them off in snarling unintelligible shouts. I found Branagh's rally speeches to have the opposite of their intended effect; they made me wonder why anyone would follow this spoiled swaggering slip of a royal to their death. Jacobi is wasted as the Chorus, and seems in a hurry to get it over with. And the homely French women (supposed to be pretty?) learning English from her idiot maid made me want to just slap her!
One can excuse the incessant waiving of the English flag, and even the derogatory depiction of everyone French (except the herald). That, apparently, is the play. One can also excuse the Hollywoodization of the battle scene (apparently French horses can not walk without falling over) in which everything English is effective and everything French is wicked and moronic. But one cannot forgive the unmistakable aroma of ham that pervades this entire enterprise.
Shut it off about a half hour before the end; couldn't take any more!
Sweet November (2001)
Having not seen or heard of the 1968 version of this movie, I went in blind and full of expectations. However, very quickly, I realized I was watching a real stinker, albeit a stinker with two of my favorite Hollywood names (can't say actors, as they're not). A chemistry that worked pretty well in the Devil's Advocate is totally absent from Theron-Reeves here. And here there is no Al Pacino to play off.
This movie has no sense of direction, no real story, no characters you care about, and fails to explore anything with interest potential. It cannot decide whether it is a comedy, a tragedy, a catharsis, or who knows what.
The two attractive stars give perhaps their worst performances. Neither character is believable or even likable. Even the score pirates snippets of other pieces and does not see them to their musical maturity.
Paths not taken: 1)The neighbor kid Abner is not explored or exploited and you wonder why the kid even remembers Nelson, 2)The wise gay neighbor is a powerful ad exec, but we hear no more about it, even though he is a direct competitor of Nelson's, 3)The dysfunction in Theron's family is manifest only by half a phone conversation, 4)It is never clear why Reeves relents and goes to stay with Theron for the title month.
This is a real loser!
Middle of the Track
Seabiscuit is a movie about a famous horse. For me, this is a handicap to be overcome, since I am not nuts about horses or horse movies. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, mostly due to the efforts of Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper. Bridges underplays the rich and basically decent Charles Howard just right: the audience can forgive him his wealth, even in light of the depression all around him. He is fair and reasonable, yet a risk taker and huckster.
Cooper's character, trainer Tom Smith, is perhaps even more interesting. The stereotypical cowboy whose time has run out as the range became fenced and organized, Smith becomes a trainer who works primarily on instinct and his rapport with the animals. The movie allows that instinct to err occasionally, bringing out the simple humanity of the man.
Less interesting is Tobey MaGuire as jockey Red Pollack. Born to a wealthy and cultured family gone bust, he is farmed out by his desperate parents who never return for him. It is hard to tell if the problem here is Maguire or Pollack; either way, the character is not too likable (unless you're a horse, apparently).
Production values are high in this period piece, and cinematography is excellent.
Unfortunately, a few little things prevent this good movie from being a great one: The Depression documentary narration is cornily inspirational and out of place, too preachy. Some during-race jockey banter is just silly! And shots of Pollack cheering "the Biscuit" from his hospital bed should have been omitted even if true; its just been done too often.
One other sort of annoying aspect is the editing. The movie tends to cut away from scenes just as the points are to be delivered, and the cutaway from the start of the 'Big Race' is just plain arrogant!
Having said that, it was an enjoyable two and a half hours, and I'm glad I saw it. I give it a vote of 7.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998)
Why Do Three Fools Fall in Love
Other commentators seem to feel this is, or should have been, a movie about the life of Frankie Lyman. However, as the title indicates, it is really about three women who fell in love ... with a guy named Frankie Lyman. As the movie brings home fairly early, there is not much about Frankie to love. He is portrayed as a shallow, self-centered fool, with as little understanding of the music business as of the women he scams into being his wives.
Did Frankie have raw talent? Of course he did. Did Frankie do anything to develop this raw talent into an enduring musical career? No evidence of that. So much for Frankie. Larenz Tate plays him fairly well on stage, and rather flat off stage. We are not given a clue as to what the attraction may have been.
And, since two of the women were relatively unaware of his celebrity status when they were first taken with him, and the third had a celebrity status of her own, we expect the movie to answer the title question. The women do not entirely succeed in this, but they are terrifically watchable while they try.
Halle Berry is great as Zola Taylor, singer with the Platters. Viveca Fox is almost as good as the home girl who turns hooker to support Frankie, and Lela Rachon is perfect as the goodie-two-shoes last wife, a God-fearing and educated working woman.
The music scenes are good, and the courtroom scenes are outrageously unrealistic.
This would have been a better movie if they had not specifically based the story on Lyman, but only alluded to him. In this manner, the Hollywoodization of the story would have been less noticeable. Unfortunately, realizing that such a course would inevitably preclude using the Lyman hits, they chose to make this a triography of the wives, and allow them to play off Tate's weak Lyman persona.
All in all, a good couple of hours of enjoyment that is not too compelling. When it was over, we found ourselves asking, "Why DID these three fools fall in love?"
Not So Trapped
This movie had a chance with its premise, and sort of blew it within the first half hour. Bacon's grand scheme of pulling off unreported kidnappings is nearly foiled when Theron produces a revolver his research obviously missed. She holds it on him, and he says his being hurt will cause him to miss making the periodic phone call (that the victim's life supposedly depends on). This was Theron's cue to blow off one of his fingers or something (where's Quentin Tarantino when we need him?) and insist that he call and have the kid returned before she continues blowing off body parts. But NO! She gives up the gun only to torture us with another concealed weapon later, in a scene that no doubt had all male viewers clutching their scrotums.
Acting is fairly good: Bacon is convincingly despicable as the self-styled mastermind; Theron is reasonably good as the upset mom; Dakota Fanning is a precision technician as the kidnapped child. The guy who plays Marvin has some difficulty conveying whether he is supposed to be Lenny from "Of Mice and Men", or Albert DeSalvo from "The Boston Strangler".
Poor Stuart Townsend looks like the youngest doctor since Doogie Howser (but Doogie hadn't had time to amass a fortune through drug research AND get his pilot's license).
Courtney Love plays her role with all the aplomb of an off duty counter girl from Macy's thrust into a film role. Fortunately, Townsend has just the right drug in his black bag (research docs still carry black med bags with them?) to neutralize her with paralysis, which Love manages fairly well.
The movie could still have worked if not for the gun scene mentioned above, the annoying obsession of Bacon's character to sex each victim's mom, and the extraneous connection in the past of the kidnappers and these particular victims.
Six stars out of ten!
Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)
Kissing "Kissing Jessica Stein"
Thank God! Finally a witty, intelligent, well-acted, and well-written romantic comedy -- a watchable and lovable movie about real, believable people. I loved the banter about the proper use of words - indicating that there are people somewhere that give a damn about such things.
Yes, KJS is a movie about a romantic relationship. But this time its girl-meets-girl. The whole thing is so deftly and lovingly done as to cut any sexual prejudices off at the knees. We WANT these two terrific ladies to get together!!!
Jennifer Westfeldt shines as the title character, an intelligent if neurotic copy editor fearing Jewish spinsterhood while going through the trials of the hit-and-miss singles scene. Tovah Feldshuh is masterful as the perennial Jewish mother, but has honed the character into a believable and compassionate parent. Scott Cohen is a suave Richard Lewis lookalike (sans most of that comic's frenetic self-psychoanalysis) as Jessica's boss and former flame, a would-be writer.
But in my book, Heather Juergensen steals the show as the self-assured Helen, the catalyst of the "forbidden" relationship. She turns in a natural and loving performance as an all-around trendy intellectual lady of the twenty-first century looking for fulfillment on risky ground.
This wonderful cast makes it really work. Or, as stated in the movie, it's "clicking". Well, it clicked with me. Congratulations to director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld for pulling all this together. A great picture and not a car chase or shooting to be found!
The movie has you chuckling or laughing out loud much of the time, and then suddenly trying to hold back the tears when Helen learns she is not invited to (or even informed about) Jessica's brother's wedding, and then you just have to let them loose when Jessica and her Mom sit on the porch and Feldshuh nurtures her daughter with insightful understanding and love. My God, why haven't we seen more of these people?
Two Thumbs Way, Way Up!!!
Is This Heaven?
Here we have a fantastically beautiful film. It never lets you escape the stark beauty of Italy, where even the police station is staged with loving cinematographical care. The initial scenes are taut and very well done. Later, when the main character played by Cate Blanchett learns she has hideously murdered four innocent people (including two children) instead of the drug kingpin she intended, she gives the only evidence of being an actress. It is a great scene with a well controlled metamorphosis, and it is the only acting either main character does for the remainder of the movie.
Both Blanchett and paramour Giavanni Ribisi seem oddly anesthetized for the rest of the picture. I was reminded of Pinocchio in reverse: the real boy turned to wood; he seems forever at parade rest. The Italian police are portrayed as a pack of well-uniformed and corrupt asses. And the ending leaves one a bit betrayed, mouth open saying, "Huh?"
If one wants profound symbolism and obtuse metaphors, read a book. A movie needs a beginning, a middle, and an ending, with some characters that spark sympathy, hatred, or some kind of interest. I didn't buy into the story or the players one bit. But I liked the movie for its relentless beauty, wonderful camera angles, and marvelous sets and locations.
Mad City (1997)
Having watched this mess without having payed too much attention to the synopsis on the jacket, I was amazed that it is a Costa-Gavras work. The story is way too blatant and extreme; Costa-Gavras apparently decided to make his point, if it can be said there is one, with the bludgeon, not the rapier.
The film is technically well put together, but that does not save it or even capture one's interest. It is up to the performers to do that, and here again, the film fails. Travolta, who we know is capable of better, is neither engaging or believable (he comes off as almost retarded). The role was done much better by Denzel Washington in "John Q".
Faring a bit better is Alan Alda, playing Hawkeye Pierce all grown up and jaded.
Hoffman is masterful and is the only reason I rated this a 2 instead of a 1 (awful). He is smooth and professional and almost makes you want to try to like the movie. But, alas, he cannot do it alone.
The casting of the featured players in roles we have seen them in before is just more evidence that Costa-Gavras slept through this one. You would do better to sleep through it, also. Don't but it, ... and rent it only if you desire to watch lots of familiar Hollywood faces embarrass themselves.