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Hypnotically entertaining. Can't be touched.
When was the last time you unintentionally winced from a movie? Maybe it happens to you easily from a chainsaw massacre, or maybe it takes the obscure, like revealing dialogue or the money shot from The Crying Game. For me, it was way back in about 1998, when I first saw Pulp Fiction and Travolta had to plunge an adrenaline shot into Uma's chest. I never thought a movie could do that to me again. Then I saw Oldboy.
A drunk businessman named Oh Dae-su, who gets arrested and released on his young daughter's birthday, is suddenly kidnapped and held captive in a room with TV and the occasional gassing for 15 long years. One day he wakes up on the outside in new clothes and is given a phone and wallet full of money by an oblivious bum, and suddenly it is revealed that he has just five days to find his obvious enemy and finally uncover the excuse for his long torture. Twists and turns are abound in this Korean film with a slight bonus I love in any overly dramatic movie: a biting sense of humor. My favorite scene - and it was hard to pick with all the damage mainly administered to characters' mouths (including the eating of a live octopus) - is a continuous shot of Dae-su kicking butt with his own signature fighting style (and a hammer) in a hallway full of villains ready to kill him (Just wait till he finally reaches the elevator). Awesome movie with a traumatic ending we Yanks are almost not ready for; if our country decides to remake this a la The Departed, I personally can't see it even coming close to the original.
Best Picture... seemed like a good idea at the time.
"Wow. This movie has guts and a brain to match with it. The tragedies that can be caused by even a slight sample of prejudice are showcased in full light, especially with Ryan Phillippe's cop in a nightmarish link to the characters' connections. Breakout performances can be found by Michael Pena (an actor I'll keep my eye on for the future), Terrence Howard (very good actor - can't wait to see Hustle & Flow), and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges (that's right, THAT Luda). No one in the cast dominates the screen more than Matt Dillon, who plays an extremely racist cop with a sick father and, in my favorite scene, must rescue a black woman he took advantage of earlier from certain death. My only complaint that keeps the movie from receiving that last half of a star is the fact that while this seems like it should be a fairly balanced script for the ensemble, some actors (like Brendan Fraser) played characters who didn't seem as pivotal to the plot and shined less. Also, to those of you playing "Where's Danza?" look here."
This is what I wrote when I first saw Crash, when it first came out on DVD. This was before its now infamous Oscar-win over Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture of 2005. At the time, I gave it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (9 out of 10 here)....
.... I still think the film is slightly better than the pretty-yet-credit-greedy Brokeback Mountain (not the first homosexual romance film, folks!), but I see its win for Best Picture merely as a desperate attempt at ending racism once and for all - not a reward for an extraordinarily crafted film. Crash is a good film, Paul Haggis is a terrific writer, and the cast did what they could (As it turns out, my favorite scene, the only one that stands out to me, is Pena putting his daughter to bed), but its aura - its very being - is just not as lasting as anticipated.
I don't blame the Academy at all for their choice; I was even on the same boat. How comfortable would it be to live in a world where we would no longer feel the need to remind each other that racism is an ugly thing? Of course it would feel fantastic! At the time, handing out one of the most established and prestigious prizes this country has to offer to a film like Crash felt like a brilliant, society-improving move. We Crash-lovers all thought that hopefully, giving Best Picture to Crash will end that constant obligation we all feel, and no more movies, books, TV shows, etc. about racism will ever have to be made again! This mark in history, this "Oscar upset," when Jack Nicholson announces the winner, THIS will change everything, right?...
To be blunt (and this is coming from an Oscar-holic), none of the Best Picture nominees were all that amazing. My favorite among them was Capote, but I realize it's not the most amazing of films...
2005 was a year fueled by political frustration (Syriana, Munich, Good Night, and Good Luck., the Oscar telecast was even hosted by Jon Stewart!). I normally never side with the family-friendly genre, but through all that opinionated muck, I found my favorite film of 2005 to be March of the Penguins. (Sigh) At least it won Best Documentary.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
The People Vs. Exorcism
Another movie that is advertised as a different genre than it actually is. It's not a horror movie; it's a courtroom drama. Laura Linney plays the same part she played in Primal Fear, only this time she's defending Tom Wilkinson (as the exorcist accused of the negligent murder of Emily) and is being haunted by either demons or her own imagination. There are some intense moments from Emily's last days that rule the movie, thanks largely to powerfully-lunged contortionist (and Louisville native!) Jennifer Carpenter as the title character. My favorite scene is the attempted exorcism that moves from the bedroom to the barn - exciting and just what the movie needed to be rescued from obvious liberties taken with the story, like Linney's haunting nights and the fate of a surprise witness to the exorcism. If you believe in Heaven and Hell and watch Law & Order on a regular basis, you might want to give Exorcism of Emily Rose a try. I will say it's better than The Devil's Advocate.
The Merchant of Venice (2004)
The final Shakespeare play to be fleshed out by Hollywood.
There are people who are patient and take the time to read, understand, and usually like Shakespeare; then there are those who would rather spend their time doing something else, but will see a Shakespeare movie if it's not too hard to follow (even if it's something like 10 Things I Hate About You, which is, as we all know by now, essentially The Taming of the Shrew). I like Shakespeare, but I don't overrate him; while his language was always top-notch, some of his plays (like some of the comedies), no matter how inventive in plot, just flat out suck. This movie is straight Shakespeare period piece, but it's slightly spiced up with Al Pacino playing Shylock. I'm not getting into Semetics, but to those that don't know, this is Shakespeare's most controversial play, portrayed for the first time on film here. The film is really long and drawn out, and I think Jeremy Irons was asleep in some scenes, but Pacino does a very believable job as Shylock (especially when he's angry, big surprise). My favorite scene is the court scene when Shylock is ready to collect the pound of flesh from Antonio - great ensemble acting. If only the rest of the movie were as interesting.
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Sofia finally makes a positive contribution to film!
Kirsten Dunst is basically the star of The Virgin Suicides, director Sofia Coppola's (Lost in Translation) first feature length film. Based on the novel by Jeffrey Euginides, a family containing five pretty, blonde daughters live in a quaint neighborhood in the mid-70's. Cecilia Lisbon, the youngest daughter at 13 (and young Jenny from Forrest Gump!), becomes suicidal. When Cecilia tragically finds the chance to do herself in, town speculation starts to surround the overprotective parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner) and the future of the remaining daughters. The new youngest daughter Lux (Dunst) falls for the high school heartthrob Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), who manages to talk Mr. Lisbon into allowing the daughters (importantly Lux) to go to the homecoming dance. When Lux stays out too late, only to be left alone on a football field, the Lisbons get more strict with the daughters, putting their fate more into question than ever before. I don't think any scene in this film is meant to be favored, but my favorite scene is when the daughters make a rare outdoor appearance to protect the tree Cecilia loved from being removed by the government. The Virgin Suicides is in many ways like an after-school special, but through strong performances (especially from Woods), some of the best narration I've heard in film from Giovanni Ribisi, and foreshadowing that doesn't remotely feel like foreshadowing (the picture Mr. Lisbon takes of the daughters before the dance), it's good to see Coppola is a good filmmaker... because if you've ever seen The Godfather Part III, you know acting just ain't her thing.
Might actually have been better without words.
Jumanji is the movie Night at the Museum (which also stars Robin Williams) wishes it could be what with all the creatures magically coming to life and running amok. My question is... Why would any movie strive to be Jumanji?... Well, I suppose it is a successful and memorable family film, but honestly, how much better does that make it? Based on the wordless children's book, "Jumanji" is the name of a jungle-themed board game that two recently parentless children happen upon. When the kids roll the dice, their game-pieces magically (or magnetically) move, and if the game says something about monkeys or a ferocious lion, monkeys or a lion actually appear in their home. Robin Williams pops out of the game as a past Jumanji player who spent his childhood surviving animals and a hunter in the game's jungle world. Since his piece is still on the board along with another's piece, the girl who watched him get sucked into the game (played in all-grown-up form by Bonnie Hunt), they have to help the kids end the game/destruction of the town. My favorite scene is when the monkeys are terrorizing In Living Color alum David Alan Grier in his squad car... although I just can't stop wondering why the filmmakers didn't use real animals instead of the awful, blatant CGI. Ultimately, the film's marketing is what hurts it the most: funnyman Williams is over-dramatic, the movie's style is more freakish than fun, depth is attempted in double-casting Jonathan Hyde as William's hunter and father... Jumanji lies to its audience in every fathomable way, but at least it still has a sense of adventure, which I guess is good...
Along Came Polly (2004)
Along Came January...
Have you ever noticed what a dumping ground for awful movies the month of January is? True, there are a few Oscar-hopefuls left over (Using this year as an example: Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth), but then there are the ones (like The Hitcher, Stomp the Yard, and... trying really hard not to laugh here... Alpha Dog) that would drown against regular spring, summer, or fall box-office competition. Along Came Polly was a January release and is the film that immediately comes to my mind when I think of January releases (Well, this and Torque). The premise goes like this: Ben Stiller plays an uptight, hesitant, OCD-ish sort of fellow (How's he different from his past roles in There's Something About Mary and Meet the Parents? Answer: He's not.) who falls for an "on the edge" girl (Jennifer Aniston) who isn't exactly Ms. Cleanliness. Torturing Ben Stiller can only be so funny for so long - in this flick, he shares the company of a ferret, rubs up face first against a sweaty, hairy guy, and befriends an intolerable Philip Seymour Hoffman (Every time I hear the word "sharted," I want to revoke the Oscar he won for Capote and brain him with it). Throw in a couple of teeth-grinding clichés, like the character who doesn't speak until it's absolutely necessary, and voilà! A true fizzle. My favorite scene, the only scene that comes close anyway, is the scene Stiller shares in the bathroom with Alec Baldwin, who shows the comedic timing that is currently making him an award-winning hit on the show 30 Rock. I hate to end a review in a vague way, but I just can't talk about Along Came Polly anymore: This movie sucks. Don't see it.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
SCTV + Jim Henson = Only way to do Little Shop.
As far as non-Disney movie-musicals from the 80's go, Little Shop of Horrors is probably about as good as you can get, although since its sharing a category with disasters like Earth Girls are Easy and Xanadu, that's not saying much. In this adaptation of Roger Corman's schlocky monster flick, Rick Moranis (remember him?) plays Seymour Krelborn, a poor doofus of a kid working as a lackey for a downtown flower shop on its last legs. One day he comes across a "strange and unusual plant" he affectionately names "Audrey II" after his co-worker and girl of his desires, Audrey (Ellen Greene). As Seymour's discovery rapidly grows, so does the store's business; alas the catch is the plant won't grow unless it is regularly fed blood, which Seymour does with a poke and squeeze of his fingers. When Audrey II lets Seymour in on the secret that she can talk (and sing with soul thanks to the vocal talent of The Four Tops' Levi Stubbs), the evil manipulative plant talks Seymour into something a tad more chewy than blood in exchange for empty promises. All of the songs are catchy - standout musical numbers include "Skid Row" (Moranis, though nasal, is shockingly talented at singing), "Feed Me," and my favorite scene, "Dentist!" with classic doll-decapitating Steve Martin appropriately miscast as Audrey's rebel D.D.S. boyfriend. The movie can come off as painfully campy at times (especially if your high school is one of the millions to do the stage production), but through the astounding puppetry of the Jim Henson Creature Shop (Frank "Fozzie" Oz directed) and some memorable funny cameos by the likes of Bill Murray and Christopher Guest among others, Little Shop gets the passing grade, even if the ending does a complete 180 from the original stage musical's.
3rd place for Two Towers (still wins a medal!)
I have been debating on whether to review the original theatrical releases or the Special Extended DVD Editions director Peter Jackson "originally intended audiences to see," but since I have about the same opinions for both with each movie, I've decided it doesn't really matter. If you think it does, I've chosen the original theatrical releases because I don't review the deleted scenes for other movies and do think favoritism is wrong. That being said, all three LOTR films, whether you find them fascinating or slow, are cinematic masterpieces. Pre-emptive warning: If you haven't seen The Fellowship of the Rings, most of this review might as well be in Braille for you.
Two Towers marks the beginning of the split-up of the Fellowship. The human-elf-dwarf combo of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli (Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, and John Rhys-Davies) go in search of their trailing hobbit friends Pippin and Merry, who were captured by the Orcs. Fortunately, the two prisoner hobbits manage to escape the Orcs themselves into the forest of Fangorn where they are acquainted with the tree-creatures known as the Ents. When their search party enters the forest, they come across an old friend, but I won't spoil how the mystery friend got there. Meanwhile, throughout the film, the carrier of the ring Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and his loyal associate Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) are continuing their quest to dispose of the ring once and for all. The ring is still taking a toll on Frodo, but not so much as it is with Gollum, a creature formally known as Smeagol who once possessed the ring and has been following Frodo and Sam, waiting for his chance to strike. Without a doubt, my favorite scene is the Gollum/Smeagol split-personality debate, not only because it is a witnessing of some of the best visual CGI in recent memory but also for Andy Serkis' debatably Academy-overlooked performance (I can understand the snub, but I don't agree with it). The Two Towers is a vital piece of the trilogy and fits it as well as the others do, however, of the three, it gets the bronze. My main beef with the film was the Ents and their incredibly slow ways; sure, they add variety and character to the series and do their part in providing an awesome action-packed ending for The Two Towers, but long and literally drawn-out dialogue is about the last thing a 179-minute film needs. Still, this is a small bicker, and the trilogy is still a must-watch.
Problem Child 2 (1991)
Even De Niro in Cape Fear would be disappointed.
The only good either of the Problem Child films caused was bringing together Amy Yasbeck and the late John Ritter. Aside from that, the flicks are as demonic as their hero. In this basically unnecessary sequel, freshly separated Ben (Ritter) and his little hellraiser Junior (Michael Oliver, who never needs screen-time ever again) move to a new town infested with willing bachelorettes. Ben eventually picks Lawanda (played by the most underused original SNL-er Laraine Newman), whose Blanche DuBois tendencies don't suit Junior in the least. To add on to Junior's torture, it seems this town already has a little firestarter in younger girl form with Trixie, who coincidentally has a sweet, single mother played by Yasbeck, the same actress who played Junior's first horrible mother-through-adoption. You can see where the plot goes from here. Searching for my favorite scene is like pulling teeth, so I guess I'll go with the "cherry bomb in the toilet" gag that makes Back to the Future's James Tolkan one of the many grown-up victims (that guy's always playing school authority figures). Jack Warden and Gilbert Gottfried return as their parts from the first film, but sadly, there is no appearance from the Bow-tie Klansma- er, I mean Killer (Michael Richards) that made Problem Child all the more fun. On a serious note, I'm sure these films, whether abusive parents saw them or no, did wonders for the red-headed children of America. Let us also salute these proud American flicks for their terrific promoting of adoption. Oh, and dog poop jokes - gotta have dog poop jokes.... Shmucks.