Reviews written by registered user
rcraig62

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79 reviews in total 
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1 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Late-career, not-so-hot Fields, 9 December 2009
4/10

There are still moments of greatness in "Never Give A Sucker An Even Break", but, by this time, they are few and far between. Fields is great in an early sequence arguing with a fat diner waitress, and his jumping out the airplane window is priceless. But I think even Fields must have known he'd had it by this point, and the most telling sign is the inclusion (at Fields' insistence) of the dreadful Gloria Jean. When heavy hitters like Fields insist on being portrayed on-screen as 'lovable', the game's over. If I never hear her insipid Bavarian yodeling again, it'll be too soon. Some people will love the utter insanity of the movie script that Fields tries to pitch to Hollywood hotshot Franklin Pangborn; I thought it dragged on a bit. A sometimes funny, but kind of sad epitaph to one of the world's greatest comedians. R.I.P. Uncle Bill!

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Phony Games, 29 October 2009
1/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

What can i say about this film? For the uninitiated, Funny Games is about a pair of excruciatingly polite young men who insinuate their way into a family of three's vacation home and then systematically torture and murder the entire family. The writer/director Michael Haneke insists that the film is really a protest of the way American cinema toys with human beings so that violence is made consumable, but this sounds suspiciously like the sort of self-important pap that directors often spew out when they realize they've got a klunker on their hands. It goes like this, 'I'm making a powerful statement, but the public is too dumb to understand it.' Practically none of the violence is this film is actually shown; this appears to be Haneke's idea of a reverse cliché, and there are cutesy gimmicks like having characters make sly asides directly to the camera that don't seem to exist for any reason other than being a cutesy gimmick. They feel stuck into the movie at the last minute, attached. Naomi Watts gives a performance as the tortured wife of such power and sincerity that it's admirable, but that's really all I can say in its favor. There is a demi-class of audience that will find this sort of thing entertainingly sick, and I wouldn't hold that against them, but i found the whole thing so dismal and unpleasant, that I don't feel my movie-going life was enriched in any way by having seen it.

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Preposterous piece of junk, 28 May 2006
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There are certain subjects that, I think, people feel should be treated with reverence, no matter how badly they're done. Homosexuality and AIDS are two such subjects, and the tolerance and understanding with which one is supposed to accept these facts of life has carried over to "The Dying Gaul", an appropriately snooty title for this pretentious waste of film stock.

The first 40 minutes or so of this thing, the set-up, as it were, is quite engaging. A slick Hollywood executive (Campbell Scott) invites a young gay screenwriter (Peter Saarsgard) to his office to offer to buy his new screenplay "The Dying Gaul", but there's a catch. The gay element in the screenplay has to be eliminated for audience appeal or there's no deal. The price: one million dollars. The writer compromises and soon becomes a member of the Hollywood in-crowd. From there, it takes a peculiar turn. But what people are perceiving as unique and clever is just a reprise of the old messy love triangle let's-do-away-with-the-inconvenient-spouse thing that goes back to God knows when, Double Indemnity and probably before that, only updated to reflect changing social mores. It is, in fact, not terribly imaginative, and the writer-director Craig Lucas is fond of using splashy photographic effects, like sprawling sunsets and characters having conversations against a red screen to cover up the gaping holes in the plot. I didn't believe the executive's wife could be unaware of his bisexual tendencies after all their years of marriage, nor did I believe Saarsgard's character wouldn't have suspected the wife to be ArckAngel since she specifically asked him what chat rooms he frequented. Can these allegedly intelligent characters be that dumb? Does the screenwriter really think he's being contacted from beyond the grave? And what purpose does the writer's wife and child serve? It feels like an afterthought. It's also not clear how the wife got the dirt on the screenwriter that she got. And the whole chat room sequence is a dud. Every time the characters start typing, the movie grinds to a halt. Watching people display their secretarial skills on camera is not a very compelling motion picture device and I felt the same inertia here as I felt watching the lovers bang out messages in "Closer".

Even more offensive, though, is a real nose-in-the-air attitude this movie struts about with. There's a bit of business in the opening scene that defines the haughtiness to a tee. When Scott, the executive, asks Saarsgard about the derivation of the title "The Dying Gaul", he goes into a long-winded spiel about culture and victimization that should have been played for a laugh. But Lucas treats it reverentially and Scott's character impatiently lets him finish. That's Lucas the screenwriter talking; he believes in the sincerity of such pompous, pretentious crap. This Gaul isn't dying, it's embalmed.

5 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Revenge of the Dollhouse, 20 May 2006
3/10

In 1965, a movie called "The Loved One" claimed to have "something in it guaranteed to offend everyone". Since then, numerous movies have tried to claim that honor, pushing the envelope further and further into offensive territory. "Pretty Persuasion" appears to be the latest entrant for the title.

The movie is centered around the activities of three high-school girls, mostly Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood), who try to entrap a hated teacher of theirs into an imagined sex scandal. But to talk about this movie in terms of plot is a joke; the squeaky contraption is merely a device for the filmmakers to use sexual perversion, ethnic insults and the like as their ticket to making the greatest "something in it guaranteed to offend everyone" movie of all time. But what's offensive here is not the slurs and the insults, but the incompetence of the filmmakers. The only character here that's fully fleshed out is Wood's. She plays her angel-bitch role for all it's worth, and she is tremendous in it. But the other characters have no real identity and feel like accessories to the so-called plot, which is crudely slapped together. The only driving force here is Wood, who dominates the screen in nearly every scene she's in. Only James Woods, playing her loudmouth racist father, can even get close to the performance she gives. He's insanely funny, with little more than a slew of vulgarities and ethnic stereotype wisecracks passing for dialogue.

But the story, ultimately, is negligible and poorly executed, complete with a series of neo-Tarantinian flashbacks and flash-forwards (which seems all the rage these days). The three girls are set up in a dynamic that's meant, I guess, to mimic the dynamic of the girls in "Clueless". Elizabeth Harnois as Wood's best friend is a neutral presence on screen, at best, with a wordless girl from India (Adi Schnall) cast as the outsider. This is the most peculiar character of all- she trails Wood around for most of the movie, but it's not clear what kind of person she is or how she feels about anything, except a humble gratitude at being allowed to hang with the popular girls. When she testifies in court - falsely - that the teacher "touched her boobs", it rings false, since we have no idea of her motivation, or, for that matter, the way she's dressed in the movie (traditional Indian garb), if she even has boobs. When, disgraced, she blows her brains out off-camera, leaving only a pithy message on a blackboard, it's laughingly bad. One minute the movie is toiling in depravity, the next it's straining for depth? What's up with that?

"Pretty Persuasion" tries to leave us with a message, but it hasn't earned the right to preach to anyone, because it hasn't earned the right to satire. This isn't satire; it's just gross-out humor for the masses. This movie is Clueless, all right, but in this case, the adjective more accurately describes the filmmakers.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Somewhere in the middle, I think, 30 April 2006
6/10

I don't think Atom Egoyan's "Where the Truth Lies" is a very likable movie. It's admirable, and it looks good, and a lot of the budget went into details and style that are about right, but the story just leaves me cold.

Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth star as (its unclear to me) either Martin and Lewis or a chintzy answer to Martin and Lewis (the same way Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall would be a chintzy answer to Nichols and May). The distinction is important, because why would Alison Lohman's character idolize these two bums unless they were considered big time. This is a flaw in the screenplay - I don't think Egoyan does a very good job of writing the stage material for Morris and Collins. It's a cheap club act, and I guess that's the idea, but it feels out of whack with the pedestal Egoyan puts them on in relation to the story. (After all, who ever idolized Charlie and Mitzi?)

The story, about a crusading young female biographer trying to get the true story of what happened the night a deal girl was found in their hotel room bathtub, has a lot of labyrinthine twists and turns, not all of which can be followed by the average viewer. You can't even go back in your head later and put it together in your mind, the way you can with other confusing thrillers. The performances are fine - Kevin Bacon stands out as the Jerry Lewis-ish rotten human being, which I believe, is an accurate depiction - but the characters are not well drawn and it's difficult to tell what they're meant to be. We see Alison Lohman's character taking a hard line with her bosses at the publishing house on editorial control, but then she allows herself to be placed in sexual situations with both Morris and Collins in ways that are totally implausible to anything a reputable journalist would ever get involved in. Some plot threads don't make sense: why is the publishing house so worried about Lanny Morris' competing book, when it's clear he has no intention of discussing the mystery of the dead girl? - the central event associated with Morris and Collins (and it must have been the central event - their act was so crummy).

The film does have a distinctive, evocative look. Egoyan does a good job of capturing the time and mood - from the hokey naiveté of the 1960's to the run-down glamour of the disillusioned seventies. The colors are bright in the Morris and Collins heyday - and in the sequences with the dead girl's mother, then muted into autumnal shades for the later years, maroons and walnut browns. But all this backstage whiplash is really wearing - it's orgy after orgy and orgy, loyalties are discarded as easily as clothing. Where The Truth Lies certainly isn't a bad movie, but it may well be the death of show-biz yet.

Quintet (1979)
3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
When's this on DVD? I can't wait!, 14 September 2005

I jest, of course. I guess I didn't dislike Quintet as much as most people did, although it is quite an ordeal to sit through. The interesting thing about it is that, unusual as it is, I felt like I'd seen it a thousand times before. In various ways, it strongly suggests Rollerball, Soylent Green, Walking Tall, and even Satyricon, another movie I didn't like. It's Fellini on ice, you might say. It's amazingly trite for an Altman picture - a distant world when everyone's nuts except the hero. And the mano-a-mano stuff between Paul Newman and Vittorio Gassman at the end is right out of Saturday afternoon matinée. The plot points aren't clear in any way until the end when Paul Newman sort of sums them up, but then Fernando Rey tosses it all out by replacing the logic with a philosophical explanation of life, similar to the one John Houseman gave in Rollerball. The music and sets both fall into the category of lavish condemnation. Well, at least I was indoors when I watched it.

25 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
Bitterly disappointing, 3 September 2005
2/10

This movie got a lot of undeserved juice from Roger Ebert's four-star review, and it's just awful. I've liked some of Toback's other work, particularly "Fingers", but this thing feels like a really boring home movie on autopilot. It's purportedly about the non-adventures of this bratty little rich girl (Neve Campbell) and her no-account boyfriend (Fred Weller) and, ultimately, their scheme to seduce a rich Italian count (Dominic Chianese) out of some major money. But it takes some time to get to this plot point, and up till then, the movie just meanders in a cinema-verite sort of way that makes it seem like Toback can use it as an excuse for the picture being a dud. It's like he's saying, "Well, whatever we shot, we shot. I can't be held responsible for the randomness of events."

The movie goes from Neve Campbell meeting one person on the street to another in what I'm sure Toback would insist was "character development", but it's done in such a way that it all rings false. It's scripted without being scripted. In another words, it's contrived. When Neve's college professor (played by Toback) explains what he thinks is going on with Neve and her head games, you can almost hear the gears locking in the background. It might be the most mechanical ad-libbed sequence in history.

Toback's use of celebrity here is also peculiar. The Mike Tyson cameo is pretty funny; he actually gives the movie a momentary spark. But when Toback has Neve recognizing a bit actress like Lori Singer on the street like she's Jane Fonda, I wonder what world he's living in. This whole "expository" part feels like padding, like Toback didn't have enough legit material to go around. Then, when the action shifts to the "scheme" in the final twenty minutes, it's good - it's the best part of the film. But the effect is a little jarring. Toback goes from a lazy, dawdling atmosphere to a sequence that's scripted tighter than Abbott & Costello's Who's on First, and it just doesn't work. The two forms don't really mesh, and you get the feeling Toback only had twenty good minutes in him to begin with - the rest is like a warm-up, like running in place to get the circulation going. And I hate to sound like an old prude (which I'm far from being), but the nude shower scene is an absolute cheap shot; Neve Campbell is just being exploited here. It has nothing to do with her character or anything else; it's completely gratuitous. But I guess anything goes when you have no material. Minus credits, this thing is barely over an hour and fifteen minutes. It hardly seems worth being made.

Bitterly disappointing, 3 September 2005
2/10

This movie got a lot of undeserved juice from Roger Ebert's four-star review, and it's just awful. I've liked some of Toback's other work, particularly "Fingers", but this thing feels like a really boring home movie on autopilot. It's purportedly about the non-adventures of this bratty little rich girl (Neve Campbell) and her no-account boyfriend (Fred Weller) and, ultimately, their scheme to seduce a rich Italian count (Dominic Chianese) out of some major money. But it takes some time to get to this plot point, and up till then, the movie just meanders in a cinema-verite sort of way that makes it seem like Toback can use it as an excuse for the picture being a dud. It's like he's saying, "Well, whatever we shot, we shot. I can't be held responsible for the randomness of events."

The movie goes from Neve Campbell meeting one person on the street to another in what I'm sure Toback would insist was "character development", but it's done in such a way that it all rings false. It's scripted without being scripted. In another words, it's contrived. When Neve's college professor (played by Toback) explains what he thinks is going on with Neve and her head games, you can almost hear the gears locking in the background. It might be the most mechanical ad-libbed sequence in history.

Toback's use of celebrity here is also peculiar. The Mike Tyson cameo is pretty funny; he actually gives the movie a momentary spark. But when Toback has Neve recognizing a bit actress like Lori Singer on the street like she's Jane Fonda, I wonder what world he's living in. This whole "expository" part feels like padding, like Toback didn't have enough legit material to go around. Then, when the action shifts to the "scheme" in the final twenty minutes, it's good - it's the best part of the film. But the effect is a little jarring. Toback goes from a lazy, dawdling atmosphere to a sequence that's scripted tighter than Abbott & Costello's Who's on First, and it just doesn't work. The two forms don't really mesh, and you get the feeling Toback only had twenty good minutes in him to begin with - the rest is like a warm-up, like running in place to get the circulation going. And I hate to sound like an old prude (which I'm far from being), but the nude shower scene is an absolute cheap shot; Neve Campbell is just being exploited here. It has nothing to do with her character or anything else; it's completely gratuitous. But I guess anything goes when you have no material. Minus credits, this thing is barely over an hour and fifteen minutes. It hardly seems worth being made.

12 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Corporate Fraud, 28 August 2005
4/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Business of Strangers" is a stylish piece of work, but it's a bit fraudulent. The story, to me, anyway, is completely implausible. I just didn't believe a woman with the controlled personality of a CEO could be so easily drawn in to such a dumb prank. And once I found myself disbelieving that, I didn't buy anything else that happened in the film. The film also glosses over the implications of what Julia Stiles' character does - the guy could easily have died from the drug overdose. I suppose some people will interpret the ending as Stiles' character, the cold, manipulative bitch, beating the CEO at her own game, but I didn't see that at all. She just struck me as a man-hater, a lonely, lost little girl.

This movie is also far from original. It contains too many elements from better movies I've seen before, notably "In The Company Of Men". Even the best lines of dialogue in the movie are an utter cliché, when Stiles and Stockard Channing are swapping "Ok, you told me what I am, now I'm going to tell you what you are" barbs. The performances are all great; it's just the material that's lacking. "The Business of Strangers" is not terrible, but it's weak, and it trivializes not only the plight of women in the corporate workplace, but rape victims as well.

Envy (2004)
7 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Shooting A Dead Horse, 31 July 2005
2/10

I admit to liking a lot of the so-called "frat-pack" movies. No matter how bad they are, I can find something to like about Ben Stiller or Owen Wilson or Vince Vaughn or Will Ferrell or Jack Black. But "Envy" just left me about as cold as the white horse that Ben disposed of. This time, it's Ben and Jack Black as a couple of nutty neighbors, one of whom (Black) discovers a aerosol spray to make animal poop disappear and becomes incredibly wealthy while the other (Stiller) writhes in envy. That's supposedly the plot, but then it veers off in other directions that don't really make much sense.

I guess the 'Vapoorize' thing is sort of amusing at first. The problem is, they try to sustain the gag for the whole picture (Black has a license plate that reads 'Caca King') and it gets fairly tiresome. But even Ben and Jack are used poorly; the energy level for both of their performances seems significantly dialed down. The two best performances by far are Rachel Weisz and Chris Walken. Walken's neo-hippie-dippie guy is so offbeat and so well-modulated a performance that it really never suggests any of Walken's other familiar nutcase characters. It's completely unique, yet comes across as unmistakably Walken. And Weisz is about the best actress in the business that nobody knows about. Even with limited screen time, she still dominates every scene she's in.

The whole crux of the so-called drama is that Ben, in a jealous drunken stupor, accidentally shoots Jack's prize white stallion, and then goes to ridiculous lengths to cover it up, fearing his best friend will find out and cut him dead. But the plot twist isn't believable because there's nothing about Jack's character to indicate that he would do such a thing. He plays such a sweet guy that it renders the whole excruciating horse chase null and void. You discount it completely. It's all filler. And what's the point of the out-of-control merry-go-round, except that Barry Levinson wants us to know that he's seen "Strangers on a Train"? The screenplay is painfully bad and the acting of the two leads poorly directed. Someone with Levinson's track record should know better. Maybe someone will invent something to make this film disappear. Oh, wait, they already have.


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