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The Big Lebowski (1998)
The greatest movie ever made about a rug
From the infamous Coen brothers, comes a movie so fresh and original that one must wonder what they were thinking when the concept for this film sparked.
The Big Lebowski revolves around the simple-looking yet wonderfully-acted character of "The Dude" Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), and due to a case of mistaken identity with another Jeffrey Lebowski, he becomes swept up in the story of family deception.
The story if the movie seems to be about extortion and conspiracy and kidnapping, but the reality of the movie exists on two different levels. There is the overly dramatic suspense story, and then there is the story of a deadbeat who just wants his rug back and to remove himself from all the confusion. The brilliance is that the movie treats the Dude's plight as the more important story, in the same process making a parody of the big story within the movie and a parody of dramatic plots in general. Everyone, even the Dude's best friend Wally, starts moving on this upper wavelength, and the Dude is the only one who brings the viewer back down to Earth.
The Dude himself is merely a complete loser, albeit one whose charisma has earned him a crown of respect among his own lower tier. He is swept up in the flow of this big conspiracy against his will and gets taken for a brutal ride, he gets beaten up, attacked by a marmet, has his rug peed on, and receives repeated abuses to his car, along with other things. The kidnapping plot becomes confusing and hard to follow, but it's not necessary to understand totally. The real treasure of the movie is watching the Dude's reactions to all the convoluted things happening around him.
The juxtaposition of the over-the-top drama of most of the characters and the simple-mindedness of a man who spends the entire movie in his pajamas and with a White Russian in his hand provides for countless memorable scenes and quotable dialogue. The movie is at its roots, always a comedy, but a smart one. Its downfall is that it has more "highly amusing" moments than it does "laugh out loud" moments.
Still, what it lacks in cheap laughs, it makes up for in beautiful cinematography. The musical score, the camera angles in the bowling alley especially, and most of all, the dream sequences that have to be seen for words cannot do them justice.
Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, and John Goodman all give fantastic performances. The characters are fun and memorable, and there's not much I can do else to describe the movie. Everyone owes it to themselves to see this movie at least once just to experience its unique taste.
Escape from L.A. (1996)
And you thought LA was bad now...
It should be noted first and foremost that I have not seen Escape from New York, the predecessor to Escape from L.A.
If movies were graded solely on their concept, Escape from L.A. would be an absolutely fantastic movie. The city of Los Angeles has finally been hit with "the big one" and fallen away from California. The anarchy escalating from the '89 riots has made it the haven of moral degrady and thus becomes forcibly ceded from the United States by the new theocratic dictatorship government. It creates a beautiful scene. A post-apocalyptic setting before the apocalypse even happens.
Indeed, the scenery throughout the movie is gorgeous, and though a desolate ruin, everything in the movie reiterates the distinct "This is L.A." feeling, from the car-graveyard highways, to the plastic surgery patients turned organ-hungered freak shows. Aside from the now-outdated computer effects in some scenes, it's an extremely appealing movie, visually.
The problem in the movie is the execution. The plot, the acting, the general meat of most good movies. While there isn't any downright "bad" acting, Kurt Russell as Snake Plisskin is essentially a typical action hero. He can't talk in any tone other than the gruffest, most manly voice that humans are scarcely capable of. He also is incapable of talking in anything other than catchy one-liners. This probably would have annoyed me, had I felt the movie took itself seriously.
One CAN'T take the movie seriously, because there's just WAY too much belief to suspend. Then there would be many questions the movie can't answer. Why would any country willingly give up all its civil rights and liberties so easily? Why is it that Snake can barely walk with a bullet in his leg, but he can surf perfectly on that same leg? When apparently ten or so aftershocks happen everyday in Los Angeles, why is it that the one that occurs when Snake is in the sewer causes a cave-in, when the last 200 didn't?
Steve Buscemi does his usual great work as the wormy map peddler, and he was the most interesting person on the screen anytime he had a scene. I noticed Bruce Campbell's name in the opening credits too, whom I'm a fan of, but I didn't even recognize him through his makeup when he appeared. His voice was unmistakable though. It's a shame he had such a small part, though.
Good ideas, good production values, nice vision, the laughs are well-paced, but typically subpar action movie execution. Worth a watch though.
If all you care about is the message, this movie is for you. Otherwise...
Every once in a long while, a movie comes along with decent mainstream attention and yet speaks mostly to the punk and anti-establishment individuals.
With nothing left to live for, a California senator attempts to drive his campaign into the ground by bluntly slamming politics, the government, the media, lobbyists, big corporations, and other things activist kids in college love to trash. Senator Bulworth's plan backfires though and his refreshing take on politics gains him popularity.
His new connection with the quieted and abused minorities of America gives him new reason to live, and so a large part of the plot involves Bulworth tries to call of the hit he put on himself when he was suicidal. The plot is just an excuse to fill time between political commentary though, which is clearly the meat of the movie.
It's a good premise too. It speaks against modern-day oppression and promotes truth in politics, as a radical notion. The way Bulworth makes fools of the "rich, white majority" empowers the viewer's sense of justice that truth prevails.
Let it never be said though that a good premise means a perfect movie. Perhaps some might try to justify the rest of the movie in the name of a good message, but the movie has plenty of flaws.
First off, although it's a satire, it still requires the viewer to suspend a lot of belief to buy some of ridiculous things along the way. For example how one man can do so many nonchalant things like smoke pot in public or making out with a woman who isn't your wife in front of reporters and not have his opponents pick up on it immediately and trash his record, or why his plans for the future are completely inconsistent with his actions in the past six years. Instead, all anyone ever asks is, "What's with the new campaign style?"
The movie presents its side of the story as the ideal setup without any of the realistic repercussions or even the other side of the story. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that the movie is a comedy, it would be nothing more than a propaganda film. As it stands though, it is a comedy, and so one can't take *everything* seriously. It does provide some funny moments, such as any time Warren Beatty raps.
Overall, it's a nice message. The audience it specifically caters for will eat the movie up like candy. The execution is decent but flawed. Worth a watch.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
The most enjoyment you'll have seeing a movie for the *second* time
Ah, the Usual Suspects. My personal favorite movie of all time. Don't let my bias be a fool. Perhaps it's not THE best movie ever, but it's one that I never get tired of.
If you like flash and bikinis and breath-taking camera angles, you won't find them here. Usual Suspects is not an "epic," and it doesn't pretend to be. It's a modestly-budgeted piece by a fresh director (who later went on to do the X-Men movies, a FAR departure).
A great, gritty script, beautifully-acted characters, and what many have called the greatest movie ending of all time, are some of the shining qualities that make the Usual Suspects an object worthy of praise above its humble-looking shell.
The casting is very unusual but somehow fits perfectly. Gabriel Byrne is convincing as the ex-con trying to build a new life when he gets drawn back into his old life. Stephen Baldwin has the role of his career as the smart-mouthed and cocky professional. Kevin Pollak takes a big departure from his usual good comedy self to take a more dramatic role. Benicio del Toro literally takes a one-dimensional character with absolutely nothing in the script to give him character, and he fleshes it out with brilliant mannerisms and memorable mumbling to show incredible acting creativity. Kevin Spacey as we know him was born from this movie. His manners and fast-talking yet shy gimp nature are a treat to listen to throughout the flick.
Without giving away the plot, the best and most genius parts of the movie are the subtleties. After you see the ending, and the truth hits you like a ton of bricks, you have to watch it again. On the second time through, you'll jump up and point at the screen whenever you spot a clue you missed the first time. It's even possible to watch the movie multiple times and see something new with every viewing. It's that attention to detail that make the deceptively innocent-looking Usual Suspects one of the greatest movies of all time.
Primary Colors (1998)
Best if watched with an open mind
I recently saw Primary Colors on television for the first time since I saw it in the theatre. I had nearly forgotten about this movie for some reason, although there's enough memorable about it to tell a friend about it.
The story of a Southern governor's rise from obscure democratic primary candidate to president of the United States is shown in this amalgam of a movie. I'm still not quite sure how to classify it. It has too many heavy moments to be a pure comedy. It's too silly and light-hearted at moments to be a straight drama. It's not insulting enough to be a satire, and it's not self-promoting enough to be a propaganda piece.
It encorporates many elements, yet it somehow all flows brilliantly together. All the actors give above-average performances, especially Kathy Bates, the over-the-top, aging, lesbian, hippie cowgirl who digs the dirt for her friend Jack Stanton. Bates steals every scene she's in, and brings us the highest and lowest points of the movie, emotionally.
One thing I will say is this movie is best if you don't think about it too hard. If you go into the movie, thinking, "I heard this was based on Clinton," then you're going to be confused and disappointed. There are parallels between Stanton and Clinton, from the voice and appearance, to their Southern governor origins, to sex allogations, but it's not a biographical piece in the slightest. It's a story all its own, and this movie and the book it's based on deserve to be treated as such. Both sides of the political spectrum get jabbed at in this movie, so don't worry about political spin. Just watch it for being a movie.
It's not perfect. The movie does drag a bit at times, and it's not too subtle in the script. The story does take interesting turns, but it's all very straight-forward, and there's not much to interpret. The ending is too abrupt. It skips from one scene to far into the future and just ends. Then you sit back and think, "Well, I guess that was a sensible place to end it now that I think about it." The problem is that one's not quite sure where the climax is and when the movie reached the final resolution.
Overall, it's definitely worth watching at least once, and perhaps more than once.
Bring It On (2000)
(Minor spoilers perhaps) A rousing tale of Kirsten Dunst's quest to wear many skimpy outfits
I recently have had the fortunate (unfortunate?) opportunity of watching the full, uncut version of "Bring It On" on my dorm's free movie channel. For some reason, I must have blocked out any evidence of this movie's existence from my mind as soon as I heard of it four years ago. I say this because as I cannot remember this major movie's release at all.
It might as well have stayed that way, because this is a horrible movie. One might look at a trailer for a cheerleader movie and go, "What a boring concept. This is probably going to be a boring, flat movie." Well, that person would be completely correct.
To sum up the plot of "Bring It On," I would have to say there isn't much of one. The primary story revolves around a cheer competition, and apparently the cheer team's old leader stole all of their routines from an inner city school. This means they have to come up with a new routine from scratch with the competition right around the corner, or suffer humiliation.
As gripping as that sounds, it's pretty hard to feel compassion for the protagonists. There isn't anything riding on the idea that "they must win," and the characters seem cliché at best. Kirsten Dunst plays the new head cheerleader with a strong sense of justice, Eliza Dushku is the new recruit "bad girl," and the rest have typical valley girl accents and attitudes. The friction between Eliza and the rest of the girls seems to disappear quickly into the movie for no reason, and after that, the whole team is pretty uniformly uninteresting.
The worst part of the movie would have to be the "rival" cheer team that they had stolen all their dance routines from. I am shamed at the women who played those roles, because they've set back minorities 30 years at least. The wise-talking, street-fighting, finger-snapping group of African Americans and other minorities are a walking satire of hip-hop culture.
The biggest surprise of the movie is when I found out that it's a comedy. The reason that's a surprise is because it's not funny. There are a few cute moments, but I wouldn't say there were any guffaw-worthy scenes. A few jokes I concede that I enjoyed. "Those aren't spirit fingers. THESE are spirit fingers."
There is a bright side to this movie, though shallow it very much is. In every single scene, they somehow manage to get Kirsten Dunst in very telling and alluring outfits. They somehow manage to accentuate her breasts in every part of the movie without having to show cleavage most of the time. That being said, the highlight of the movie for me was the carwash scene where Eliza and Kirsten both were covered in soap-lather while wearing small bikinis. Honestly, moments like that were the only thing that kept me awake through the movie.
Black Knight (2001)
Nothing that you want, and everything you expect... almost
The star of one of the most successful African American sitcoms of the 90s returns for yet another uninspired comedy charged with more racial jokes than you can shake a stick at.
Medieval feudalism meets hip-hop. Another typical "culture clash" comedy, with all the tools to look exactly the same as its predecessors ("Rush Hour," "Bringing Down the House"), but doesn't come across quite as funny.
The one thing I can say for this movie is that it definitely doesn't take itself seriously. The reactions and mannerisms of the medieval people are stretched at best, and Lawrence's reactions aren't quite how you'd expect a normal person to act, were he thrown back in time. All of the jokes are clearly set up, but the ridiculousness of the movie might just grow on you after a while if you treat it like a bad movie.
The front half of the movie is completely abysmal. It's just about clichés of black culture and nothing more. The second half mellows a lot on the racial humor and becomes more charming. It doesn't become "good," but it had charm. Without giving anything away, there's a contrived dance scene that arises well into the movie. As silly and ridiculous as it is, it's an entertaining and well-done scene.
I still gave this movie a two, because even though I enjoyed some scenes near the end, I wouldn't be much of a movie critic if I gave this movie TOO much due. It really is just a bad movie. The fairly original concept was enough to hold my interest, although the comedy was cliché most of the time and overall poorly executed.
Worth watching if you're in the mood for seeing something stupid but not boring. If you want a laugh-out-loud masterpiece, look elsewhere.