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Lying Beside You (2001)
This movie was as good as The Making Of Star Wars, and only slightly inferior to Day For Night in the realm of the whole "Let Us Make A Movie" genre. It is about a movie that is being made. The director of the movie likes the girl who is the star of the movie. The friends of the director of the movie do not think it is a good idea for him to love the girl star. (Start Spoiler) But, forsooth, the director continues to love her, and, at the end of the movie, has won her love (End Spoiler). At times, this is a "movie within a movie" like The Last Action Hero (nowheres near as good as this movie). It is shot in Black And White (like Good Night And Good Luck, which is about as good a movie as this one). The acting is this movie (as well as the "movie within the movie") is above adequate. If you happen upon this movie (perhaps on public access television), please sit down and view it. You shall not be sorry you have done so.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Even Better After It Sits
While watching this, I knew I was seeing a film that was completely engaging. It was paced really well and was top-heavy with wonderful performances. Eastwood is of the school of direction that favors substance over style, yet this film uses shadows and light as tools better than any film I can think of in the last 30 years (Since The Godfather). He also gives, here, his best performance ever. His is a risky performance, as an actor he pushes himself into emotional territory he had only touched on before. Hillary Swank is quite a bit of terrific, as well in a role that is solidly wonderful. She isn't stretching the same way Eastwood is, but is gritty and brave. Morgan Freeman is, like Swank, "typically" good, not reaching as far, but when you're Morgan Freeman, you really do not have to. The film is about choices and consequences, and, three days after seeing this, I cannot stop thinking about the implications of the last twenty-five minutes or so. The sign of a great film is what it does to you after it has a chance to settle in. On that basis alone, this ranks towards the top of a Master Director's list of Great Films. The movie hits you, yet the sting lingers long after. I mean that in the best possible manner.
It is probably not a good sign when a thriller has four (count 'em) possible
alternate endings, as this movie does (check the DVD-or better, don't). It goes to show how misconstructed and misbegotten this movie is on all levels. It is a thriller that never manages a single jolt of suspense. The basic plot is
serviceable (greiving parents allow their dead son to be cloned--to horrific
results), but is (mis)handled on such a basic level that all the plot does is remind us of other similar films (really, isn't the basic premise merely King's "Pet Sematary" with a science fiction veneer?) What's wasteful is that this movie managed to nab talented actors (Kinnear and Romjin-Syamos are actually
rather underrated in other, much better, films). What can be said of Robert
DeNiro in this film (as well as many others from this point in his career)?
Hopefully, the large paychecks afford him a nice house, and his children shall never want, but the effect it is having is ruinous (DeNiro in a movie used to indicate something different and special--no longer). What might have been a potential silly (yet enjoyable) thriller has been squandered by inept storytelling, characterization, and indifferent direction. Not one single moment in the film is emotionally engaging on any level (including such tough scenes as parental
devastation at the loss of a child). The "dead child" premise isn't even
interesting enough to allow the film "so bad its good status". Just "so bad its bad".
This is a sweet tale with a good message about how to deal when Bad Things
Happen. Beautiful animation (as expected by Pixar). Amazing how much
emotion is packed in a slim 5 minutes. Sentimental without being cynical or
cloying. A mini-triumph. This is getting wide exposure as it is playing in front of The Incredibles (another Pixar triumph). I am not usually a huge fan of
computer animation, and if you aren't either, you really ought to give this a shot. This is Oscar worthy, hopefully in the short animated subject realm. Since it is a short, here's hoping this appears on The Incredibles DVD. It would be a shame if this gem were to somehow get lost underfoot someplace at the studio. I
hesitate to mention much of the story, as I knew absolutely nothing going in, and was floored by how moved I was by it. A must see.
Owning Mahowny (2003)
A New Addiction
PS Hoffman is rapidly becoming America's leading actor with that last name. He is willing in this film to play a singularly focused banker/gambler. Unfortunately, the two "jobs" meet with harrowing circumstances. Based on true events in the early 1980s, the film follows a meek (on the surface) man with a hidden passion for games of chance. By working in a bank with access to limitless amounts of stake money, he makes the classic gambler's mistake of doubling his bets (thus, digging deeper and deeper into trouble). One doesn't want to reveal too much of what happens, suffice to say it is quietly riveting. His performance is amongst the most inward I've seen (a close second to Hopkins in Remains of the Day). While it is nearly a one man show, credit is also due to the always great John Hurt as shark-like casino boss, and the under-appreciated Minnie Driver (hindered only by what I imagine is an unconvincing wig). The film-making and screenplay are not film-school flashy, and all the better for it. This film understands addictive personality as well as any other. That it is so entertaining truly makes it special.
Problem Child 2 (1991)
This movie is vile, stupid, and altogether wrong. Proof positive that the guidelines for PG-13 are loose, really loose. It leaves few bodily fluids untapped. The acting by the two child leads is over the top and back around the other side. All of that is true. Also true is the level of humor, which is high (certainly as funny as the Farrelly Brothers on an off day). You'll laugh, then you'll laugh at the fact you are laughing. Then you'll watch Titanic to cleanse yourself. Sick, funny stuff.
A great movie made even better on DVD. Not just for fans of the band, it will be entertaining for non-fans as well. This film could be taught in film school as a primer on concise editing and pacing for the most difficult of genres, the documentary. Of course it will be ignored come Oscar time because it commits the two cardinal sins of documentaries: 1) it is in no way about World War II; 2) it is entertaining. The DVD is maxed out with deleted scenes (cut only, one presumes, for length not quality) and insightful commentary by the makers and "the Two Johns". Certainly one of the gems of 2003.