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The Screaming (2000) (V)
5 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Bad Paint-By-Numbers Horror, 28 April 2004

Jeff Leroy wanted to makes fun of Scientology so built a horror movie around a cult similar to it. The twist is that instead of frail old L. Ron Hubbard as the cult leader, there's a centuries old space monster who turns his followers into vampires. Our hero is a dirty living college student who is doing research into the occult. His landlord is an attractive blonde who tries to get him to clean up his life with the help of the cult. It doesn't take him long to figure out that she's only after one thing: his blood. "The Screaming" was shot very cheaply on video and I just plain ugly. The space monster (which looks like a giant winged cat that looks perpetually mad and has no skin) is alternately a clay-mation miniature and a large scale animatronics puppet, both of which look awful. The acting and writing are both terrible and the director doesn't even try to disguise the fact that this movie was made for nothing. Avoid this non-scary, pitiful little excuse.

137 out of 205 people found the following review useful:
Truly Beautiful Movie and Enjoyable on Many Levels, 26 April 2004

"Natural Born Killers" in itself is a picture of the ironic tragedy of the satire. This movie took the media and American culture head on, challenged it and spoofed it- as a result, American pop culture kicked it up a notch to become as outrageous as the parody! On top of that, few understood Stone's film was a satire and instead accused him of promoting violence. This is a tragedy because "Natural Born Killers" really is a sharp and funny satire that helped to usher in the 90s with Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction".

Yes, it's over the top, yes, it's violent, yes, it's flashy, and most of all, yes, it works! The effect may make you a bit dizzy, it may disturb, and may even offend, but this is a truly great piece of cinema. Like its great predecessors, which it freely homages, "In Cold Blood", "Badlands", and "Bonnie & Clyde", this film is about two killers on the road who are in love. Unlikely movie stars Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis play Mickey and Malory. Through a few frantic and imaginative scenes we see them meet, fall in love, murder Malory's abusive father, and hit the road. These scenes are instantly unforgettable, bearing a wit that may be overt, but is funny enough to accept. Meanwhile our heroes become a media sensation thanks to the TV show "American Maniacs", hosted by Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr. with a British accent).

It isn't all glitz and blood splatter. Auteur Stone works with (what remains of) Tarantino's script to make all these characters into real people, and not symbols or cliches. Character motivation is related mostly through flashed images and flashbacks (as in "In Cold Blood"). The editing and superb Richardson camera work relate complex emotional states, as well as the frenzied mood of the violence. Oliver Stone does have the tendency to be peachy and over the top, but his strength in portraying sympathetic humanity over comes his weaknesses.

Under-appreciated actor Tom Sizemore ("True Romance", "Heat") plays detective Jack Scagnetti, the celebrity homicide cop who pursues and eventually captures Mickey and Malory (in what has to be one of the best, most intense arrest scenes in screen history). In the context of this film, he is a villain, but he is a human being just the same. He leads us into the second half of this picture, which has Mickey and Malory behind bars awaiting a big TV interview with Wayne Gale on Superbowl Sunday. Tensions build to one of the best climaxes a crime or prison movie ever had.

Rodney Dangerfield, Russell Means, and Tommy Lee Jones put in highly memorable appearances in supporting roles. On the director's cut DVD we see cut footage of performances from Ashley Judd (her best work) and Dennis Leary. "Natural Born Killers" is many great small parts adding up to an even better whole. All of it is accented and sealed by a very good soundtrack arranged by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (who contribute the beautiful "A Warm Place"). This is a movie you won't soon forget and will likely enjoy.

I recommend this to fans of Stone, of the movies I mentioned above, of Tarantino (he didn't approve, but as a fan of his, I did), and to anyone who is simply curious about it. It'll blow you away, in the good sense.

"Do you believe in fate?"

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
I Love This Movie!, 24 April 2004

"You know what I'm gonna tell God when I see him? I'm gonna tell him I was framed."

In the wake of Tarantino's runaway success in the early 90s, many imitators followed, making a lot of bad indie flicks. Christopher McQuarrie is responsible for two of the few good movies in this sub-genre; the first is "The Usual Suspects", which he wrote, and the second is "The Way of the Gun", which he wrote and directed. Of those two films, this is the weaker (mostly because of McQuarrie's inexperience at directing), but it's still a treat.

The viewer is introduced to our "heroes" (not really the appropriate term since there aren't any good guys in this film), Benecio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe, in a very funny fight scenes set to the classic Stones song "Rip This Joint". This a good warm up for a movie full of great dialogue, funny situations, and well used music. Hard up for money, the two become sperm donors. In the waiting room they overhear a phone conversation which ends up leading them to their next attempt at big money. Juliette Lewis is a woman being paid to have a baby for a wealthy couple who are connected to the mafia. Del Toro and Phillippe kidnap Lewis (in a brilliant scene) and are pursued by body guards and mafia hit men. McQarrie is careful to establish every character and make them all somewhat loathsome in a likeable sort of way. The dialogue is terrific, laced with catchy lines like: "We're not talking about how long you're gonna live, we're talking about how slow you're gonna die". And I can honestly say this is the only movie I've seen where the McGuffin (plot-moving object of desire) is an unborn baby.

I won't blow the ending, but anyone who's seen a lot of Del Toro's or Phillippe's movies will know what to expect. Caan is great as usual as the aged mafia bag man who's seen it all. Keep in mind that this isn't strictly an action movie or a comedy. "The Way of the Gun" is a 90s crime-drama. This is a film to be appreciated mostly on the strengths of its dialogue, its cast, and the complete strangeness of its situations. It can't measure up to "Reservoir Dogs" or "The Usual Suspects", but holds its own against "Suicide Kings" and "Poolhall Junkies". I highly recommend this to fans of the cast and of the I-wish-I-was-Tarantino genre. "Until that day."

15 Minutes (2001)
4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Very Weak attempt to take on "Natural Born Killers", 23 April 2004

John Herzfeld's "15 Minutes" is more than a little half-baked. Part of the time it is a poorly-conceived satire, the rest of the time it's a pretty dull cop movie. It's an attempt to catch some of the fire from "Natural Born Killers" while actually missing its point entirely by working from the good guys' point of view.

Instead of Mickey and Malory, we get a pair of Russian immigrants with a video camera. Instead of Wayne Gale we have a rarely seen Kelsey Grammer as a shock-TV host. Where Scagnetti used to be, we now have spotless Robert De Niro the cop, and Edward Burns the righteous arson investigator. The killers aren't complicated human beings with souls, like in Stone's film, instead one is a psycho and the other a dim-witted movie nut. Fresh off the boat, they immediately steal a camcorder and they're off to kill some people they knew back home. When they burn the apartment of their victims, our hero Burns (gag!) shows up. Immediately, he is made out to be an anything-to-bring-down-the-bad-guys type cop (or fireman, the point is he wants to be Dirty Harry). De Niro is the cop/celebrity-hero who must team up with Burns to bring the foreigners to justice.

None of these ideas seem to have been given much thought by writer/director Herzfeld. Some scenes seem to try to develop character or establish motivation, but it never makes any headway. The plot is really just rubbish and Herzfeld the director never does anything to make us forget this. It wants to be smart and satirical like "Natural Born Killers", but it has none of the incredible visuals, editing, performances, or dialogue that made that movie a winner. Meanwhile, it has the same weaknesses as NBK, having zero subtlety and a tendency to preach. Herzfeld's roots as a TV director are obvious all the way through this poor excuse for a movie. The failure of the movie to be original or to pose any real drama around real characters make it dull and uninvolving.

This is yet another sad waste of Robert De Niro, who is in more and more crap these days. Anybody thinking of seeing this movie should just spare themselves some torture and see the movie this tried to be, Oliver Stone's far superior "Natural Born Killers". "15 Minutes" simply isn't worth your time.

8 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Lame Remake of "Wings of Desire", 21 April 2004

"What did you like best?"

"Not 'City of Angels'"

It's really hard to describe how truly awful it felt to have to sit through this dreadful excuse for a film (it wasn't my fault, my boyfriend dragged me there). Even worse was the fact that partway through I realized it was a remake of Wim Wenders's much better (if slower) "Wings of Desire".

I like Nicolas Cage a lot and love those times when he puts in a really good performance, but "City of Angels" was not one of those times. Cage plays an angel who takes people away when they die. He hangs out with the other angels and they do lame artsy things like stand on the beach together looking unhappy. Anyway, Cage falls for Meg Ryan (who personally can't stand, but who's lack of talent I can objectively point out) who hangs out in the library. Being an angel, Cage can't touch her (bummer) so he's all torn up inside.

Ryan works in a hospital and is caring for a guy with a heart condition, Dennis Franz. Franz reveals to Cage that he used to be an angel himself until he "fell" (sadly it's literal) and became human. Cage sees his option to be with Ryan, but since it's a bad thing for an angel to fall, -once again- he's all torn up inside.

The conclusion may bring more laughs or groans than the intended tears.

This thing tries to be touching and to jerk tears and to seem "true" in an emotional sense. What "City of Angels" comes out as, is an artsy chick flick that fails to muster enough "heart" to compensate for its lack of brains. You won't feel sorry for the characters, but yourself for having lost two hours of your life that could have been better spent doing ANYTHING else. Meg Ryan fans might enjoy it... but then again, maybe not. Don't waste your time. See "Wings of Desire" instead, if you have the time.

The Trial (1962)
81 out of 93 people found the following review useful:
The Best Legal Drama or Paranoia Film Ever Made, 18 April 2004

Like most people, I've read Kafka. "The Trial" was one of the books I read for credit during high-school. I always thought it was a good book that did a great job depicting a reality based around a state of mind. While I liked the book and held it in high esteem compared to other literature I'd read, it couldn't prepare me for the incredible experience of Orson Welles's great adaptation "The Trial" ("Le Proces"). The man who once delivered the best movie ever made (in America) to a major studio made this masterpiece on almost no money and limited resources in two European countries with no sets.

Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins turns in a convincing performance as Joseph K. K awakes one morning to find the police in his apartment arresting him without taking him into custody or telling him what he's charged with. People come and go from the room with a creepy, unnatural ere that makes it all seem less real. Every aspect of K's life becomes warped as he realizes everyone expects him to behave differently but he isn't sure how and his attempts to correct himself get him deeper into trouble. He's lead to a secret meeting that turns out to be his hearing which turns out to be a mockery. K gets a lawyer, played by Welles himself (who has one of the best entrances in screen history here), but he turns out to more of a villain than a deliverance. Every woman K meets is attracted to him, presumably because he's accused. Our hero is a marked man who can't understand the game and is appalled by the rules. As K ventures deeper into the secrets of the mysterious legal system he becomes more and more convinced that he is doomed and for no reason at all. The movie builds to an astounding climax that fits the dream tone perfectly and surpasses any expectations.

"The Trial" is set in an unnamed country in a city composed of decaying industrial buildings, old factories, shady tenements, and empty streets. Welles filmed much of this in an abandoned train station in Paris and the ad-hoc location proves to be the perfect psychological landscape. Welles took Kafka's paranoia over the persecution of Jews and updated it to a post-war setting where the law is the enemy of every man, or as in this case, the everyman. This is no mere portrait of fascism or communism, but a condemnation of abuses of the law everywhere. The landscape is highly engaging, and some modern buildings are thrown in the mix, perhaps to remind the viewer that this could happen here in America, too. "The Trial" is one of the most memorable settings in screen history and Welles gives us a taste of its terrors from lofty heights to claustrophobic depths.

Welles always said that the dialogue was priority number one, and here every scrap of it is memorable. In spite of the spectacular lines, the visual style is awe inspiring and it's a bit shocking to consider that this was the end of production that Welles never planned. The look is very film noir, like a 50s detective picture, but darker, almost to the point of being horror. This movie runs on fear, but maintains dramatic pathos and a sense of humor that help it rise above other films with that intention. People call Welles's films "style over substance", but if you watch the opening bedroom scene, you'll agree that this film kept them in harmony.

Akim Tamiroff ("Ocean's 11") and Romy Schneider ("What's New Pussycat") shine in supporting roles as the lawyers subordinates, slaves who play inside the rules to save themselves. They help to flesh his out as not merely an adaptation of Kafka's work, but an expanded drama, brought to life with the skill of Shakespeare and a lens worthy of Hitchcock. This is more than a parable, it's a human drama that bathes in pure expressions of fear and depression.

"The Trial" is easily the best film of its year if not of that decade. It should be seen by fans of good film and by audiences in general "because tomorrow, or someday soon, it could happen to you!"

Targets (1968)
0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
"Is that what I was afraid of?", 17 April 2004

Peter Bogdanovich's "Targets" is a brilliant film that examines the contrast between violence on the screen and violence in reality. Although the director's inexperience is clear, his homages to great films like "Citizen Kane" make this a treat to watch. The performances are surprisingly good for a first film. Boris Karloff plays a character modeled after himself, an aging horror movie star who wants to retire. Another storyline runs parallel, showing a young man named Bobby who is obsessed with guns and is very unsatisfied with his life. Karloff brushes off all attempts to come back to the movies until he begrudgingly agrees to one last special appearance at a drive-in theater. Bobby and Karloff seem pointed at each other by destiny, leading up to a climax that is simply awesome. Bogdanovich depicts all the violence in the realistic style that had just started being used at the time. The blood-shed isn't glamorized, nor is it underlined by psychological camera tricks, it's shown in a very frank, very shocking way. There are parts of this film I think Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of. The structure of the film is a lot like the first half of of "In Cold Blood" and the theme the movie plays with are very reminiscent of "Sunset Boulevard". Fans of Karloff and of Bogdanovich will appreciate that their mutual connection to Roger Corman is saluted here with several in-jokes and a screening of "The Terror". "Targets" is a thoughtful film that's full of good ideas, and while it may not be a smoothly executed movie, it is a beautiful experience.

Nixon (1995)
78 out of 90 people found the following review useful:
A Sympathetic View of a Hated Man, 17 April 2004

Everyone accuses Oliver Stone of being a conspiracy theorist, a revisionist historian, a muckraker, and a falsifier of history. Whether these things are true or not, he is a great director and his portrait of president Richard Nixon is sensitive, fair, and human. Stone may be opposed to Nixon, but he does not depict him as a monster. Stone and Hopkins give us Nixon, the man undone by fear. He is not condemned, nor is he forgiven. In spite of some scenes suggesting a connection with conspirators involved in the assassination of JFK, the president is given a fair shake.

Hopkins gives a wonderful performance as Nixon. He's not a carbon copy, but he gets the voice and mannerisms down so well that it doesn't matter. At his side he has Joan Allen as Pat and Paul Sorvino as a picture perfect Henry Kissinger. The supporting cast features James Woods, Bob Hoskins, Ed Harris, and E.G. Marshall and, for their part, they shine as well. Call Stone over the top all you want, but he gets real performances.

The biopic structure of "Nixon" starts us off with his political career in the late 50s. The audience gets a taste of the man's relationship with his wife and (mostly through flashbacks) his relationship with his mother. The flashback structure and editing scheme aren't as impressive as those used by Stone in "JFK", but they serve the movie well and make the 3 hours run by smoothly. As the story rolls on you get a real sense of sympathy for Nixon. I was pretty surprised how much pathos Stone could build for a character history labels a monster. Throughout the Watergate scandal we are not outraged at Nixon, we fear for him, his paranoia is ours. Nixon is a human being just like us and we can understand his mistakes and his flaws and his fears. By the end it's hard to think of him as the monster you thought of before.

Robert Richardson's stunning photography helps to perfectly render this drama. "Nixon" is a sensational looking movie. Just like Stone did with "JFK" and "Natural Born Killers", the photography and editing work to heighten the drama and never distract from it. The approach as human rather than historical drama makes "Nixon" believable and touching. Who'd have thought I'd ever shed tears over Richard Nixon! Anthony Hopkins does the trick.

I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys good drama. Fans of the cast and of Oliver Stone won't be disappointed.