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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A gritty, worthy entertainment with two great performances, and an incredibly good ending, 3 May 2003

Ten years after "Scarface," a movie I didn't think was successful beyond Pacino's nearly perfect performance, De Palma made this film, returning to the gangster genre after one more outing, the more classical (and vastly overrated) "The Untouchables." This film is like that other Pacino film only superficially. It bears a closer resemblance to "Boogie Nights" or even "GoodFellas," though it has the epic quality of neither. Though the film is nearly two and-a-half hours, we don't feel as if we've been subjected to a long slog. The only slow moments in the film come in the more tender moments between Pacino and the girl.

At the time, ten years ago, Pacino was still relevant, going on smoky tirades. Here, we see him enunciating his words like a cross between a Puerto Rican from Noo Yawk and a Southern Baptist minister preaching the gospel. He throws his voice around like a ventriloquist; he doesn't yell like he's known for now -- there are no blowup courtroom scenes here. (Actually, I'm lying. There is one at the very beginning, but it's fun, so don't worry.) And his voice-over narration never rises above a husky whisper. Most reviews I've seen have praised Pacino's work here, and they're right to. It's the opposite of something like "Scent of a Woman," a film I enjoyed, with a performance from Pacino that was terrific. Here, he's quieter, more soulful. (The beard was a big plus, somehow it makes him more huggable.)

Carlito (Pacino) has just been sprung from jail by his lawyer, Kleinfeld (Penn), and after he picks up $25,000 during a tense drug exchange, he decides to go into a club business with Saso, who's got gambling debts, until he can get $75,000 and get out of the life for good. Penn, in wiry glasses and a Jewfro, with his down-turned nose plays Kleinfeld as a coke-sniffing tough-guy wannabe. We watch as Kleinfeld drifts from the lawful to the criminal; or more aptly, we see more and more of his character come to surface. One of Kleinfeld's clients at Riker's prison barge insists that Kleinfeld, who he believes ripped him off of a million bucks, bust him out of jail or be killed. Carlito stands by Kleinfeld throughout the film, even when he gets dumped on by the police, his girl, and even Kleinfeld himself for doing so.

The supporting players are roundly interesting and well-played. In the first moments we meet a young up-and-comer Benny Blaco, and John Leguizamo plays him flamboyantly. Luis Guzmán plays one of Carlito's workers at the club. As Lalin, Viggo Mortensen makes a quick appearance -- probably helped along by Penn -- as a now-crippled, former suave heartbreaker turned into a sniveling embarrassment.

But really, all the innovation here comes from Penn. Look at how slowly, how slyly his character evolves. It's really a wonder to get such growth in a film performance.

The film is admittedly flawed. For instance, something simple like Carlito's ex-lover not instantly recognizing his very recognizable voice is unlikely. The entire secondary story with Carlito's ex-lover Gail could have been handled better, or another way. That's not to say she's completely useless: she provides the ending with a little oomph.

The film is vicious, ruthless, and the emotions run high. There's a strange honesty throughout the film, too, mainly through the dialogue, that's sort of indescribable. Also, there's always a sense of humor here, like when "You Are So Beautiful" plays while Carlito reaches out for Gail through a chained door. (It's either humor or a really, really bad grab at sentiment.) When the song is played again over the closing credits, that time around there's an entire history attached to it, and it's played for sad irony.

Ultimately, it's not a profound work, but it's a worthy entertainment. It's predictable, through to De Palma's credit he admits that even he knows this at the beginning of the film, with black and white images, a dreamy camera, and a sentimental score. In the film, De Palma's camera moves around, showing us what we're interested in taking a peek at, and it plays a pivotal role in building up the tension for an incredibly well-crafted climax at Grand Central Station, complete with an amazing, gliding, nearly floating tracking shot. The finale, the last twenty minutes or so, is some kind of masterpiece and definitely leaves you with a good aftertaste.


Lovely hidden gem, 19 April 2003

Steven Soderbergh is a talented, experimental, sometimes avant-garde filmmaker that doesn't make jokey movies (the Coen Brothers) or gimmicky ones (Christopher Nolan) or Tarantino ones. In even his more mainstream movies, he's distinguished. He's one of the few (relatively) young directors that makes "real" movies (not to knock the "fake" ones) about a wide array of subjects. He doesn't need to be cool or ambiguous all the time.

Set in St. Louis in 1933, "King of the Hill" is like a light kids version of "The Pianist" (it's even got Adrien Brody!). The film centers around the 12 year-old Aaron Kurlander, and his family -- his mother, father, and younger brother, Sullivan. The Depression is in full force, and Aaron's parents have come to the agreement that the only way to save money and be able to continue raising their two sons is to have young Sullivan shipped off on a Greyhound bus to live with his uncle. Soon thereafter, Aaron's mother is taken out of the picture when she has to go for a stay at a sanitarium. The family lives in a hotel run by a bank, and Aaron's father isn't paying the bills; soon he's out of the picture when he goes off looking for work, leaving Aaron on his own to fend for himself.

He makes friends with a rich nerdy kid at school when he rescues him from some school marble bullies, and comes up with schemes of how to make money, like having canary's mate, since a newborn will fetch three dollars. He spins tall tales in order to get by at school, like telling his teacher that his parents work for the government. His hunky, older pal also living in the hotel, Lester (Adrien Brody) helps him about; in one incident they end up stealing Aaron's father's car, and with Aaron too small to be able to reach the brake pedal, he ends up going on a scary trip around town.

When one girl from school invites him over for supper, he gets caught in his own web of deceit when the school kids, at an after-graduation party where Aaron wins a special prize, hear different stories about what his parents really are. (Government workers, archaeologists, pilots.) At the same party, he's exposed for what (they think) he is: a poor kid and a teacher's pet.

He befriends a gawky girl in his hotel with a crush on him when she invites him over for hot dogs and dancing, but ends up having some sort of fit on the floor. (Epileptic seizure?)

The cop out in the street is just looking to bust some young punk kid, and the hotel bellhop is just waiting for Aaron to slip up, so he can lock him out of his room. (Look fast for Lauryn Hill as the hotel elevator operator!)

The movie looks great, both in the set deco and the juicy, round cinematography. The music is a plus, and nearly all the performances are first-rate. Jesse Bradford, with his big, expressive eyes, is just terrific as Aaron. He's got an ultra-pleasant face to watch, and his acting is totally fresh, without any hint of affectation. (Unlike his father's strange accent.)

"King of the Hill" is a lovely, great-looking period piece. A sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking dramedy without any pretensions to be anything other than a good little gem of a movie. And that it is.


14 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Simple never felt so good, 19 April 2003

Komajuro Arashi and his acting troupe arrive in a small fishing village on the coast of Japan. Komanjuro goes to visit a woman who runs a sake bar, and who, we learn, is a former lover, and with whom he fathered a child, though the child is unaware of this fact and believes him to be his uncle

Their son, Kiyoshi, has just finished high school, and Komanju comes to see him as much as his former lover. He hopes that Kiyoshi will be able to become something in his life and not end up like Komanju himself, a washed-up actor drawing small crowds for his failing samurai productions.

When Komajuro talks with his gorgeous young son, we can see the excitement in his eyes, in his face. The acting here is all rather flat, or better, it's reserved. (Ozu adds a little joke to this later in the film, when on a fishing boat Kiyoshi accuses his father of being "too muggy" in his performance.) This adds to the impact of the few emotional (and physical) outbursts later in the film.

The conflict in the film is that of Komajuro's double lives. When his current mistress, Miss Sumiko -- a jealous and conniving witch of a woman -- discovers that he's been seeing some other woman, she's enraged, and plots what she believes will be his sort of downfall. By hiring a young woman, Kayo, to seduce Kiyoshi and embarrass Komajuro, she plans on making the two seem like different generations of the same person, both relating with unimportant actresses, thereby ruining Komajuro's hopes of his son becoming somebody important.

Unlike most, Ozu is an auteur because of what he doesn't do. His unmoving camera, which is famous, sits placidly, observing the characters with interest. I do sometimes wish that the camera would move around curiously, interested in the conversations of the characters, but maybe Ozu's point was that his camera is (or we should be) too interested to move, and that the events of everyday life need not be jazzed up for entertainment purposes. (He seems to mock this idea when he has Komajuro say to Kiyoshi about his plays that, basically, modern audiences can't appreciate good drama.) The entire film is restrained; on the rare occasion when people cry, they cover their faces and softly whimper.

The ending shot of a dark blue sky, with red lights from a rolling train, reminds us that whether it's 2003 in North America or 1959 in a small Japanese fishing village, we're all the same people with the same problems.

In and of itself, the film is terrifically simple: a simple story, with simple acting, simple music, and made even more simple by the simplicity of the static camera. But what makes the film something special, rather than just some family drama, is the honesty. Ozu isn't after anything big here. Any enlightenment comes from Ozu's realization that the most important conflicts are in the home, the ones no one sees, the ones we all feel.


Gummo (1997)
40 out of 49 people found the following review useful:
I wanted to hate it, but I ended up loving it., 16 April 2003

I described "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" as part of the urine in a bucket movement of art. That's not quite fair -- Greenaway had an obvious craft, intelligence, and eye for stunning visual beauty. This film, however, is urine, with or without the bucket. Its makers would no doubt hide behind that mask of "realism," and that's fine. But does anyone who sees this movie come away with anything other than awfulness? That's what I asked myself about ten minutes into this film. Does the movie reveal great truths about us or the world in which we live? Maybe, though I'm not quite sure. If this movie has any value to the average moviegoer, that's it.

I'm sure that aspiring directors interested in cinema verite would gobble this up, as would the self-important proponents of the Dogme 95 movement. (Apparently, Korine's next film, which I have but haven't yet watched -- "Julien Donkey-Boy" -- is the first American film to use the Dogme 95 rules.)

I was ready to hate it. In fact, I wanted to hate it. I wanted to reject this as the bowel movement of some no-talent film graduate. But I couldn't, and I can't.

It's something like "Kids" (a film Korine wrote), or some other Larry Clark concoction. It's a hard-to-take movie that would probably anger most, intrigue some, and bore the rest. (I was angered only a few times, during the scenes of animal cruelty -- nothing gets me writhing in my seat quicker.)

The main idea or "story" here is just a stream-of-consciousness tracking of a number of white trash kids. The main character, Solomon, and the kid who plays him, Jacob Reynolds, is very interesting. It's a shame he hasn't been in anything since 1999, according to IMDb. The narrator, who to his/her credit (I never did figure out who it was) is only talking for a small amount of time, is extremely annoying. He/she is full of that fake out-of-breath gaspiness that sounds absolutely forced. It's the only part of the movie I really didn't like. (Well, I guess I could have done without the pretentious slow-mo.) There is no character or voice-over -- even that of the sometimes narrator -- to inform us about these characters. By the end of the movie, I knew some characters, briefly glimpsed others, and didn't quite know how they all fit together. This is a good thing.

Maybe I'm becoming desensitized to grossness (or maybe this movie exists in only grossness, making individual bits of it hard to identify from one another), but an early scene in the movie, where a mother and (I think) daughter are trying to make their chest seem bigger with tape is sort of sweet.

There is a lot of offensive, amoral stuff here: a girl describes, in a voice over, being molested/raped by her own father; the two main character boys sell dead cats to a grocer; Solomon, who looks about 13, and his older friend pay a man to sleep with an overweight, dimwitted girl in her dollhouse-like bedroom. There's also a sort of murder. ("Sort of" because...well, you'll see what I mean when you watch the movie.)

I wanted to keep watching. I wasn't repulsed by the movie, which early on seems to wallow in its own filthiness. Some people maybe waited for something profound to occur, to "legitimize" the film, a la "Breaking the Waves." Well, I'll tell you now that there isn't. And there doesn't need to be. This movie is like the enemy of another I liked, "Joe the King" about poor children. That film was like "The 400 Blows" times ten -- it had hope for something better. This movie has no hope -- it sees nothing wrong with itself.

There's a criticism people like Charles Taylor throw around about filmmakers like Korine, that their characters are inspected like bugs caught in a glass jar, heartlessly. The only scene in this film that felt that way to me was one where two skinhead brothers are fighting with each other in a kitchen. Aside from that, the movie, I thought, was very inviting. It's just up to you to accept the invitation.

However, Korine walked a fine line here. Obviously, attempting humor is always a good thing, but when you're dealing with characters and subject matter such as this it would be so very easy to mock your characters, and no doubt some people misinterpreted Korine's few honest jokes as just that. (Like one hilarious moment, with Solomon in a grungy bathtub filled with black water, where he's served supper on a platter by his mother. He takes a drink of milk and instantly pats his mouth to make sure he remains presentable.) Linda Manz, that wonderfully elliptical philosopher from "Days of Heaven" plays Solomon's mother, the eccentric tap dancing kind.

There's a scene (and that's all the movie is -- a serious of scenes) when two boys shoot another boy with toy guns that seems to represent the darkest side of America. The shot boy, wearing pink bunny ears on his head, lays on the ground, frail, looking like a strange version of Jesus. It just really got to me. Another scene where a boy and a black dwarf (or midget, I don't know the difference -- something about proportionality) are sitting on a couch, and the black guy says he's gay, and then the other boy comes on to him. It sounds like a really bad SNL sketch, but it's somehow touching.

A lot of these characters I just wanted to give a hug. However hard it is to believe, this film is, in the end, bursting at the seams with love. The rather obvious and wrong-headed claim is that all this movie does is try to shock and disgust. That's not true. It shows a vision of reality, as Korine sees it, and asks its audience to accept it. Very simple.

If I had to guess, I'd say about 75 % of mainstream moviegoers, including the most sophisticated film buffs, would strongly dislike this movie. And judging by the IMDb rating and general consensus by most of the reviewers here, I think I'm pretty close to being right. The hate and writing-off that movies like this get, ultimately, perplexes me. I mean, I figure that if a 17 year-old, relatively basic moviegoer like me can wrestle with a movie to see its faults and its triumphs, then anyone else should be able to do the same. (I loved reading one review of "Julien" where the reviewer told the readers what Korine's fans liked about his movies, as if they're a group of non-thinking drones.)

I don't know who my top filmmakers are right now (I'm so under-viewed with movies in general that it's sad), but Korine, with this film, has a special place.


Panic Room (2002)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Worthy Fincher movie, on par with his lesser "The Game", 11 April 2003

The premise of "Panic Room" interested me. I've always created situations of getting stuck in an elevator or some such, and playing out all the different scenarios in my mind (usually when I'm taking a long elevator ride). The idea of small, constricting spaces where everything can go wrong, and most often does, appeals to me for some reason. So the idea that an (almost) entire movie take place within the confines of one room, without being something like "Tape" or Kiarostami's "Ten," seemed instantly promising.

And the movie fulfilled my expectations. I wasn't expecting some sort of masterpiece, or necessarily any better a movie than something Fincher's done before. As is stands, I still think "Se7en" is his best film, I was very interested in "Fight Club" for the most part, despite the obvious flaws, and enjoyed "The Game" thoroughly. This, for me, falls into "The Game" category. It's not nearly as polished as "Se7en," and not as intriguing, really, as "Fight Club." But both "Panic Room" and "The Game" work on somewhat of a gimmick level. I mean, does anyone NOT know how this movie is going to end? We want to see this movie because we want to get tense, and we do.

The basic idea here is that Jodie Foster and her daughter spend an entire movie within an impenetrable panic room, a hidden room placed in a home to protect from intruders. And whaddya know, when the two girls move in, the bad guys soon follow. So that's all there is, really. The choice of actors is interesting. I've never fell under the spell Foster has cast on some, but I have nothing against her. She's suitable in this movie, but someone else -- someone more capable of showing repressed anxiety could have been better. But no complaints. The bad guys -- Jared Leto, Forest Whitaker, and a masked Dwight Yoakam -- are fun. Leto is just annoying, but that's a small complaint in the context of the movie. Whitaker is someone I adore, and here you can't help but love the wacky-eyed guy. Yoakam, whose music I love, is a hoot.

Unlike "Se7en," which benefited enormously due to its distinctive look, "Panic Room," I think, is far too murky. The whole house is green! That one amazingly fluid tracking shot that glides through rails, keyholes, floors is fun to look at, but it's so much of a show-off piece that I can't believe it wasn't at least half computer-generated.

Of course, there are flaws here. The bad guys describe too much of what they're going to be doing, rather than doing. Jodie Foster talks to herself too much. Not only are the girls forced into the panic room, but it turns out Foster's daughter is diabetic. When people are bashed with sledgehammers, they rise again. Explosions don't seem to hurt people indiscriminately. But none of this matters, because we all know what we're getting into when we watch this movie.

And Fincher's craft gives it a little extra oomph.


Coppola's most personal film. Proves him as the best director of the '70s., 11 April 2003

"The Conversation" is a great paranoid character study disguised as a thriller. And it works magnificently on either level. It's one of the finest, most interesting films out of the '70s, a great decade for movies. While I should probably see "The Godfather Pt. II" again, this film assures Coppola's position as THE filmmaker of the '70s. He somehow managed to take great art -- that was also wickedly entertaining -- and make it commercially viable. There's a sad moment during his commentary for the film where he reflects on never having attained that position again after the great, ambitious masterpiece "Apocalypse Now" was.

The opening shot of the movie, by Haskell Wexler, who, Coppola says, left the film due to artistic differences, is a great one. Shot with long lenses, we see a mime walking around a couple in a park area. He walks by a man who then proceeds to follow that same couple, observing. The man then leaves, goes over to a van, and gets in the back. He's a surveillance expert, we learn. A professional eavesdropper who's been hired to piece together the conversation between the couple in the park. In the van, the man, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) checks on the other people surveying the couple. They're using things like gun microphones which can be aimed at objects from long distances and pick up specific noises. Also in the back of the van is Harry's partner, Stan (the late, wonderful character actor John Cazale).

The movie focuses on Harry. The conversation, of course, is important, but what's more important -- what Coppola (who also wrote the screenplay, inspired by Antonioni's "Blowup") is interested in is Harry's life. When Harry goes home, to his apartment, he opens the well-locked door to find a bottle of wine left by someone downstairs. He wonders how they got in, and we start to wonder if Harry is as smart as he seems to be. We see Harry's girlfriend Amy (Teri Garr), though she's not really a girlfriend; Harry just sees her at his own convenience, neglecting to tell her about himself.

At Harry's workspace (it looks like a caged section of an underground parking lot) he tries, rigorously, to piece together the elements of the conversation he and his assistants have recorded. When Stan starts to inquire as to what the couple is talking about, Harry becomes incensed, saying it's not important; that what's important is that he gets a good-quality tape to transfer to whom it is that hired him. Of course this is ridiculous, as Harry himself becomes more obsessed with the tape. And when he unscrambles one line in particular, "He'd kill us if he had the chance," he becomes infatuated beyond help.

The man who's hired him to record this conversation, we learn, is "the director," a head of some corporation. When Harry decides to turn the tapes over, the director's assistant (who'll appear later), played malevolently by Harrison Ford, motivates him to change his mind.

Harry is deeply religious, and we see him at a Cathedral, in confession, confessing that his tapes have gotten people in trouble before. We hear of one instance, in particular, that left a family murdered; one of Harry's recorded conversations made one man in a two-man scheme think the other had talked to someone.

At a surveillance convention, some of the background is given to us. Another surveillance expert, Moran, is thrown into the mix for coloring. He doesn't affect the plot that much (or does he?), but he adds some flavor to the film by "penning" Harry. When Harry's tapes mysteriously disappear, the movie kicks into gear. Everything up until now has been build-up.

Harry becomes a part of a larger conspiracy. His phone number is suddenly made available, he fears that he may have become the surveyed, he doesn't know who to trust.

The two repeating themes of the movie are: repetition and eavesdropping. The principal tape from the opening is listened to again and again, at different times. The more we learn, the more the tapes begin to mean, the more they change meaning. The editing in the film is, as is often said, amazing. I didn't know how, going into the film, the editing could be anything special, but it really is. The way the initial conversation is edited into the film as it goes; as Harry listens to the tapes, we're shown the scenario in different angles, from different viewpoints again and again. As Harry deciphers the tape, the jumbled words (sounding like computer language) slowly come into form.

The sound in the film is extremely important; the subtlety of the tape, the sound of the voices. David Shire's soft, jazzy, haunting piano score is invaluable. Also, the camera is interesting. Aside from that terrific opening shot, some of the camera shots seem delayed, which is interesting. On the commentary, Coppola describes how he intended the camera to act as a surveillance object, moving as if it were automated.

The conspiratorial suspiciousness makes an interesting parallel to the Watergate scandal which was occurring (or about to occur) around the time the movie was released.

Hackman gives one of his best performances, understated, and intelligent. He plays Harry as a loner who's closest companion is his sax -- a close companion that, by the end, Harry might have been wise to get to know better (wink, wink).

Naked from the excess of "Apocalypse Now," and not as lush as "The Godfather," "The Conversation" may be Coppola's most important movie in terms of showing what he was capable of, alone, at his peak. All that, plus a great ending with the most freakishly horrific toilet flushing you're ever likely to see.

A masterwork of real suspense.


Vertigo (1958)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Good, but the greatness eludes me., 11 April 2003

The greatness of this film eludes me. It's certainly a good film, and I liked it, but whatever element this film has that makes it any better than the rest of Hitchcock's movies remains unseen by me. To be honest, the only idea that makes me value it any more than a standard Hitchcock thriller is its honesty -- that Jimmy Stewart's controlling nature over Kim Novak parallels Hitchcock's own controlling nature over his actresses.

The most thrilling moment of the entire film, for me, was the opening credits, with those classic spirals and the first hint of Bernard Herrmann's great score.

The story is simple: a cop (Jimmy Stewart), after watching one of his buddies fall to his death, contracts vertigo and acrophobia and leaves the force. Then, one day, when an old school friend calls him to keep an eye on his wife (Kim Novak) who's been acting strangely, believing she's someone else, he gets involved once more. Stewart falls in love with Novak, whom he saves from drowning in the San Francisco Bay, but her aloof nature and apparent psychological damage prevents her from returning the love.

Then something happens that would be criminal to give away.

I just don't see what makes this movie great, or stand out among Hitchcock's other work. Is it really because it's so personal? Maybe there's something I'm missing, maybe there are subtleties placed throughout the film that I didn't get and that I've completely misunderstood the point of the movie. As far as I can see, though, the film's "complex" message is that love is either one big trick or a perverted obsession. (Either that, or I'm forced to venture desperately into dream territory: "Oh, you know, everything after so-and-so was a dream, and that, therefore, makes the movie real complex.")

I admire the film's craft, and I didn't find it boring or anything, but I was expecting something very complex, much more than this. I also felt for the heartbroken Stewart, as well as the Midge character, his admirer. I could also sympathize with Novak's character, as she's manipulated by Stewart.

Aside from the opening credits, which I adore, my favorite part of the movie may well be the restaurant where we first see Novak. That incredibly red room must have influenced Peter Greenaway when he made "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover." There are also a few camera moves that are nice, and thanks to the terrific transfer, the colors, images, and sounds (which are essential to the film's appeal) are impeccable.

While I want to understand what it is people feel that makes them call this movie great, and I'll see it again sometime, I'm not going to re-watch it just so I can "get" it. I'm generally not a fan of re-watching movies to discover their greatness -- I find most people who do that are, in effect, lying to themselves the second time, convinced that they "get" it. I hate to be part of the dissent, especially when favorites of mine like "Fargo" have an equally enthusiastic following that denounces them as completely unexceptional. But as it stands, this movie is just a well-crafted, more-personal-than-usual thriller.


Metropolis (1927)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Not really sci-fi at all, but a masterpiece nonetheless., 11 April 2003

"Metropolis" is, if nothing else, one of the most spectacular visual movies I've ever seen. Reportedly the most expensive German movie up to that time, Fritz Lang created an awesome city, totally memorable. I was lucky enough to see the restored version of the film -- listed as being 124 minutes, seeming like less -- in the theater with a group of about 70 people. Everyone seemed to enjoy the 75 year-old beast. (There was some clapping at the end -- a tradition that has always perplexed me. I mean, it's not like Fritz and his crew, or even those responsible for the wonderful restoration, are around to bask in the applause. Although, I guess, the applause was meant more for the theater that opted to bring the film here.)

This is definitely one for the big screen.

The story is heavy-handed by today's standards, but putting myself in the shoes of what I imagine the average audience of the time would have been like made me appreciate the ideas of the film more. (By no means, however, am I suggesting that a 1927 audience was less educated than we. They just didn't have the extra 75 years of movies we do.)

The subterranean workers of the great city threaten to overthrow its rulers, led by Joh Fredersen. Now, Joh's son, Freder, sees an angel of a girl, Maria, who shows him his "brothers" and the terrible conditions of his father's workers. Maria captivates Freder, and she preaches the message of love and peace. The film's message, stated through her, is that the mediator of the hand (workers) and the mind (leader) is the heart (Maria and Freder).

Freder goes below, to the "depths," where he poses as a worker. He discovers plans for a revolt (more like a strike) where the workers will leave their machines in the hopes of being granted better conditions.

But things get more complicated when Joh Fredersen has his scientist, Rotwang, who lives in an old barn-like house that the technical revolutions of the future have forgotten, design something for him. Rotwang has already created a machine man, modeled after Joh Fredersen's dead wife Hel (a sort of "replacement"), but Joh Fredersen has him affix Maria's face to the machine. Joh plans to use this machine to incite the workers to violence, by having her first get the workers' attention by doing a (not so) sexy gyspy dance. Of course they do, and the city is flooded. The moral at the end of the film is silly, but because the whole film is so unrealistic, so much like a fable, it didn't bother me. (I did, however, lean over to my friend and say in a Fred Rogers voice, "Won't you be my mediator?")

There really isn't much else you can say about "Metropolis." Those images are why you'd see this movie. The way it reflects (or maybe warns against) Nazi totalitarianism is interesting. (One image, in particular, where a machine explodes and turns into a giant devourer, has an unsettling similarity to gas chamber.) I like that Lang was interested both in the ideals of Freder and Maria, but also in a sense of order. With the uprising that does occur, of course, there are repercussions. The dialogues (or title cards) in the film express a protest of the sort of dictating aristocracy of Metropolis, but Lang's own spectacular sets and monumental vision seem to argue with that.

The sets and the images (including two memorable camera moves) just can't be overemphasized. Sometimes they look like models or Styrofoam or just plain goofy, but they're incredible and original and influential. Many a homage has been paid to this film, from "Dr. Strangelove" to more of a blatant rip-off in "The Fifth Element."

This is a vastly entertaining movie, made no less enjoyable by its sometimes silly premise. (It's not as if the acting in silent movies isn't wildly exaggerated -- and isn't that the appeal in the first place?) I'm completely ignorant when it comes to Lang -- this is the first movie of his I've seen. Nevertheless, this is a masterwork.


Cry-Baby (1990)
Slight Waters; nice for Depp fans, 11 April 2003

I watched "Cry-Baby" for two reasons: it was Johnny Depp's breakthrough role, his first lead after the TV series he did; and after watching (and thoroughly enjoying) "Serial Mom," I wanted to see what else John Waters had to offer. For that first reason, I was satisfied. For the second reason, I guess I was also satisfied. "Serial Mom" was in no way a great movie, but it took such a giddy pleasure in itself that it could do no wrong (except maybe be too obvious). I didn't enjoy "Cry-Baby" as much, but it's still fun.

The idea here, a parody of the '50s, is that Johnny Depp play a character (Cry-Baby) that pokes fun at the James Dean image of the '50s. It's a great way for Depp to start, if you think about it -- he was inevitably going to be compared to Dean, so he might as well get it over with by playing with the idea. And that is really all that's here: Depp and his fellow juvenile delinquents -- the Drapes vs. the Squares. The girl he falls for (or maybe more appropriately, who falls for him) is a Square. And thus the much-needed CONFLICT is formed.

There are a number of interesting bits here: the massively overweight Ricki Lake, the hideous Hatchet-Face, a small role by Iggy Pop, Patricia Hearst playing a girl's mother, and a cheery crossing guard.

The whole cast is game for Waters' antics, and Depp is giving it his all (if not pulling it off completely). He gets the chance to sing and dance, grease up his hair and look very much the type of the early '50s era sensitive rebel.

Some other standouts are: the French-kissing; Depp's love interest's explaining that she was left orphaned when her parents, in different planes, both died in a crash; Depp's father the alphabet bomber; Willem Dafoe's cameo as a weird prison guard; and Depp's love interest drinking (presumably) a jar of his tears.

The songs are okay, and they keep the film flowing with Waters' light style, but at less than 90 minutes, ultimately the film is a slight diversion. Worth checking out if you're a Depp fan.


1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Ultra-charming, the height of '80s teen movies, 5 April 2003

John Cusack is one of the most enjoyable actors alive. It's a shame that he's most well-known from semi-terrible action movies like "Con Air" (worth watching for an amazing cast -- Steve Buscemi, Nicolas Cage having fun with a bad southern accent, Ving Rhames, and John Malkovich chomping the scenery) and so-sweet-they'll-make-your-teeth-rot romantic comedies. When he's in a good, even great, role as he is here, the pleasures he brings are endless.

The so true tagline of the movie is: "To know Lloyd Dobler is to love him. Diane Court is about to know Lloyd Dobler." Cusack plays Lloyd Dobler as an optimistic, verbose charmer of a 19 year-old longing for Diane Court (Ione Skye). Diane is an overachiever -- not a snob, but she's afraid that people see her as "prissy." In the film, we never see her with her friends; rather, we see her working at her father's (John Mahoney) old folks home. Dobler, on the other hand, we see with his friends like the great Lily Taylor, as a forlorn girl who sings Angry Chick music -- 65 songs written about the guy who dumped her. (She encourages Dobler to be a man, not just some "guy.")

Diane's not a long-legged blonde or a bombshell by any means, but she is cute. She's a social outcast of sorts. While she's been accepted by a fellowship in England, she doesn't have a clue socially. When she reluctantly agrees to go out to an after-graduation party with Dobler (after one of the all-time classic phone calls, in a constraining bathroom space), she overdresses terribly for the occasion. Dobler isn't a stud, but he's instantly likeable and spending time with his presence is a joy.

As Diane's father, John Mahoney gives a subtle, hopelessly un-hip portrayal of an emotionally open father whose pride is his daughter (and will do whatever he can to secure her happiness). At first, he's indifferent towards Lloyd, although he does question Lloyd's career prospects (just as Lloyd's friends question why Diane is interested in him at all). In the most heartbreaking and perfectly handled scene in the movie, the divorced Mahoney tries to pull a Lloyd Dobler and charm a store clerk, only to have two credit cards denied, and have the clerk pity him by saying she won't confiscate his card as she's supposed to.

I've always had an affection for '80s teen movies (even though -- or maybe because -- I'm too young to remember them first first-hand). Many of them -- particularly those by the King of '80s teen movies, John Hughes -- have a strange self-awareness and a weirdness that's really unique. The two reining favourites remain "The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," both by Hughes. But "Say Anything..." wasn't a John Hughes movie, it was Cameron Crowe's first as a director. It doesn't have that weirdness of many '80s teen movies; instead, it's got an honest charm (as opposed to, I don't know, a goofball charm). It's genuinely funny (Cusack's dead-on timing is a major asset), and ultimately the perfect date movie. The only thing I'd worry about is your date falling in love too much with Lloyd and his bumbling eloquence. After watching "Say Anything...," she might see you as second rate.

There's one scene in the back of a car (yep, you guessed it) that seems as if it were directly thieved by James Cameron for his vastly overrated (but sill enjoyable) "Titanic." (I know it's not just some coincidence either -- there's more than one Bob Dylan line stolen and reworded for Cameron's film.) Also, I'm fairly certain that The Simpsons paid homage to "Say Anything..." and Diane's fear of flying, in an episode where Marge is calmed by Homer, naming all the completely ordinary plane noises. (Diana also retells a story in the film of how she screamed so loud that she and her father made a plane turn around -- in The Simpsons, it's actually shown.)

In this, one of the great romantic-teen-comedies -- a masterwork, and Crowe's crowning achievement with "Almost Famous" trailing close behind -- it's great fun getting to know Lloyd Dobler.


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