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American History X (1998)
Amazing, upon first glance.
AMERICAN HISTORY X is the powerful story of a proud skinhead named Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), who gets sent to jail for 3+ years after murdering a couple of young black men who invade his property. When he gets out, a reformed man, he finds that his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) is following in his old footsteps--and even turned in a school paper entitled, "My Mein Kampf." Danny's school principal, Dr. Sweeney (Avery Brooks), tells him to rewrite this paper and instead focus it on his own brother. After Derek attempts to flee from his old skinhead gang, and embarrasses Danny in the process, he tells Danny of the story that led him into jail, and what happened once he was there... which Danny then puts into his paper, in the process known as passing it on.
AMERICAN HISTORY X is one of those movies that, upon first glance, is really amazing; but upon repeated viewings, it becomes easier and easier to notice its glaring flaws. The main flaw here is the script. It is awfully written, although there are several humorous moments and also several powerful ones (probably due to great acting and direction, though). Truly, the only interesting parts of the movie are the ones telling of Derek's past (filmed in black and white for an interesting contrast)--the current events, filmed in color, are rather boring and are most specifically when the terrible script shines through. And, though it's a pretty unrealistic movie for the most part, it's made up for.
Then there are the aspects of the movie that you can't really win or lose with. The acting is the most obvious of this category. Edward Norton is GREAT in his starring role (and, kind of oddly considering he plays a skinhead jerk for most of the movie, very attractive), and really holds the movie together. Edward Furlong is also great, though he receives the brunt of the bad lines in my opinion. Among the supporting cast, Fairuza Balk is good as Derek's girlfriend Stacey; Ethan Suplee is good as Derek and Danny's friend Seth; Jennifer Lien is great as Derek and Danny's sister Davina; and Guy Torry is also great as Derek's fellow inmate Lamont. However, the rest of the cast is pretty bad. Beverly D'Angelo stands out in particular as Derek and Danny's mother Doris, as does Avery Brooks as Dr. Sweeney. The former is very melodramatic and has awful delivery, while the latter is completely monotonous and expressionless. Elliott Gould (as the mother's boyfriend Murray) has bad vocal delivery, but he also appears in one of the most heart-breaking scenes in the film.
There are some very good and powerful moments, though, which can all be credited to Edward Norton's marvelous acting. The dinner scene is very sad and unnerving, while the smiley/arrest scene is almost unbearable to watch because it's so horrific and well-done. Even the second time that I watched the film, and I knew what was coming, I found myself cringing when Derek orders the burglar to put his mouth on the curb. The prison scenes are pretty unnecessary and badly carried out, however. And the ending totally shocked me--I could feel my jaw drop and stay there until the credits rolled.
After first viewing, I was ready to give AMERICAN HISTORY X a 9. After my second viewing, though, I was less impressed (maybe because I wasn't so shocked and amazed by the disturbing and distressing ending), and was ready to give it only a 7. The average of those two: 8/10.
North by Northwest (1959)
Very enjoyable and captivating.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST is the story of a man named Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), who is mistaken for a government agent by a gang of henchmen. They kidnap him one night and drug him with bourbon, then leave him in a car destined to run off the road into the crashing waters below. Fortunately, he comes to and tells this story to the police, who investigate but find that the facts Roger give them are no longer true. He soon finds himself on the run from the police, and hides in a traveling train, where he meets the mysterious and glamorous Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who ultimately leads him to trouble... though he does just fine getting into it on his own.
This is a very enjoyable thriller, much different than most of Hitchcock's other films. The plot is pretty interesting if kind of confusing, and the execution is great. It starts off pretty slow-paced, but quickly gets very interesting and captivating with some great and classic chase scenes. The helicopter scene is unforgettable, as is the final chase scene on Mount Rushmore, which impressed me greatly.
The acting is pretty good, if in that old-fashioned, melodramatic style. Cary Grant starts out kind of bland and stiff, but livens up and is great and very funny as the leading man. Eva Marie Saint is also great as the somewhat conniving, somewhat sweet Eve. The rest of the cast is good and wonderfully overdramatic in the way most actors used to perform. Of course, direction is great.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST isn't quite one of Hitchcock's best, but it's very enjoyable, exciting, and fun. A deserved classic. 8/10.
Pretty funny... if you're into that stuff.
MALLRATS is the story of two college kids, T.S. Quint (Jeremy London) and Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee), who have just gotten dumped by their girlfriends, Rene (Shannen Doherty) and Brandi (Claire Forlani). To console themselves, they head to the local mall. There they find that Rene has gotten together with Brodie's archenemy from Fashionable Male, Shannon Hamilton (Ben Affleck), and the competition between Shannon and Brodie begins. They also discover that Brandi's father is hosting his game show, Truth or Date, at the mall that day, and T.S. decides to go on the show to win Brandi back. Do our heroes Brodie and T.S. succeed in their quests?
MALLRATS is a pretty typical movie from director Kevin Smith. It's about dimwitted characters doing stupid things, and it's pretty crude, but it's funny. It's pretty slow-paced and the humor comes in odd moments, but it's an entertaining movie. Jay and Silent Bob steal the movie and have the funniest scenes. The actors all do well with their roles, even though the bulk of them don't have good jokes to deliver.
There's not a lot to say about MALLRATS. It's entertaining and pretty funny... if you're into that stuff. 6/10.
MAN--Guy Ritchie is a f***ing genius!
SNATCH has two main plots. The first is of an unlicensed boxing promoter named Turkish (Jason Statham) and his sidekick Tommy (Stephen Graham), who get ordered by Brick Top (Alan Ford) to arrange a fight and then throw it. After Turkish and Tommy's original fighter, Gorgeous George (Adam Fogerty), is made unable to fight by the gypsy Mickey (Brad Pitt), the pair convinces Mickey to fight instead. When Mickey fails to go down in the fourth as Brick Top instructs Turkish and Tommy to make him do, he puts the two in a potentially lethal position if he doesn't come through the next time.
The other plot is about a diamond heist. Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) and his men steal it initially, but then the diamond is stolen by Vinny (Robbie Gee), Sol (Lennie James), and Tyrone (Ade). Soon Avi (Dennis Farina) and his men, who were supposed to receive the diamond from Franky Four Fingers, come looking for it, putting Vinny, Sol, and Tyrone in potentially lethal situations as well.
Got all of that? I know, it's a lot for just one movie.
But man... SNATCH has to be one of the best movies I've seen recently. I saw it on TV one night and was blown away even then, and knew I had to rent the unedited version. I was very, very impressed. The four main things that make SNATCH so good:
1. The screenplay. It's absolutely hilarious and very well-written. For the most part it's very lighthearted and fun, but there are a couple of really powerful scenes as well (the burning of the caravan and after Gorgeous George gets knocked out). And, might I add, the plots and the way they, and the characters they involve, interact... is genius.
2. The acting. All of the actors are brilliant and perfect in their roles, adding the right amounts of humor and seriousness at the right times. It's hard for me to pick out any standout actors, because they're all terrific--but, if I have to: Jason Statham and Stephen Graham, who make a great pair; Robbie Gee and Lennie James, who also make a great pair; and specifically Brad Pitt as Mickey. Every Brad Pitt movie I see, he proves himself to me more and more as an actor--but this film really sealed the deal for me. Everyone is terrific in this one. The characters are tough and yet wimpy, and there is no definitive good or bad guy, which I really like.
3. The style and creativity. Honestly, from the moment I learned there was a character named Turkish in this movie (by far, the coolest character name I've ever heard), I knew I would think this was an awesome movie--so, from the first line, basically. And this hunch was confirmed by the sequence in which all of the characters are introduced. It's such a slick, stylish movie, and you can tell it's not trying too hard either.
4. The direction, cinematography, and editing. The reason I lumped these three together is because they work so well to complement each other. There are three examples of how well they work together: The diamond heist occurring across the security cameras; the sequence of all the characters being introduced; and the hare coursing scene. Even when I look at any of these scenes individually, I think, "Wow! They're so stylish and well put-together. It's amazing." And it really is. Guy Ritchie is, in my opinion as of now, a f***ing genius.
The only real complaints I can make about SNATCH are that the accents are really, really hard to understand. Although maybe they were made that way to add to the humor, which they certainly do. But I, for one, had to turn on the closed caption if I wanted to understand a bit of what they were saying. Also, there's so much going on and so many characters to keep track of that it can get confusing. I know a couple of details were lost on me, but repeated viewings fix this flaw.
I reserve perfect scores for films that really blow me away, and I don't have a problem giving a perfect score to SNATCH. After watching it, I just sat there shaking my head at how creative and well-done it is. It's an amazing heist movie. 10/10.
Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Very fun popcorn movie with a lot of flash.
A remake of the 1960 Rat Pack version, OCEAN'S ELEVEN is about eleven men involved in robbing a Las Vegas casino vault on the night of a big boxing match--when the vault's contents will be at their highest, around $150 million. The leader of this heist is Danny Ocean (George Clooney), fresh out of jail, and his right-hand man is Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt). Things become more complicated as we learn that the owner of the casino in question, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), is involved with Danny's ex-wife Tess Ocean (Julia Roberts). The plan unfolds bit by bit, and ultimately unravels in a thrilling conclusion.
OCEAN'S ELEVEN isn't really meant to be a thinking movie, but it does what it comes to do very well. It's a fun popcorn movie, that's really slick and very stylish and cool. Aside from the fact that this could never happen in real life, the movie makes the heist and all of the details of it seem brilliant. Of course the outcome of it is entirely predictable, but the fact that the whole plan unravels perfectly is very impressive. The movie is a ton of fun to watch.
Though this is a big ensemble movie (and with a great cast, too), there's no definitive star. There are a lot of big names, but one of the biggest, Julia Roberts, doesn't get a lot of screen time and has a minor role (an unnecessary and irrelevant one, as well). All of the cast does excellently, though. They aren't given a lot to work with except sit back and look cool, but they pull it off perfectly. Brad Pitt has probably the coolest role, with George Clooney in second.
OCEAN'S ELEVEN won't provide many twists in the plot or even real substance, but there's a lot of flash and it's very fun to watch. Excellently cast and a great ensemble. 7/10.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Hilarious stupid humor.
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE is the charming story of a small-town boy of the same name (Jon Heder), who is, by definition, a bonafide geek. He doesn't have any real friends and his schoolmates enjoy laughing at him. One day he meets a new student named Pedro (Efren Ramirez), and the two become friends. Napoleon and Pedro go on many adventures, including trying to go after the same girl, Deb (Tina Majorino), and trying to help Pedro win the title of Class President against the popular Summer (Haylie Duff). The two form a great friendship and an inseparable bond.
Okay, so the last part is exaggerated. But NAPOLEON DYNAMITE is a very enjoyable, feel-good comedy that is just jam-packed with laughs. Of course it's incredibly silly, and it's not trying to be a great film. It's meant to be one of those films that you can just sit back and enjoy, not having to think much. And it's one of the best of those kind. It's so silly, but with a very sweet undertone.
Almost all of the jokes are hilarious, and it's cast perfectly. Jon Heder is perfect in his role as the geeky, awkward title character--halfway through the film, you won't be able to even look at him without cracking up. You also won't be able to picture anyone else in his role--he captures it perfectly. Aaron Ruell is also hilarious in the same way as Napoleon's brother Kip, whose only source to the outside world is the chatrooms he visits daily. Jon Gries is okay as Uncle Rico--not really funny, but more pedophilically creepy. Efren Ramirez and Tina Majorino do very well as Napoleon's friends as well.
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE is a very silly movie, but very funny and very enjoyable as well. Most people will probably dismiss it as stupid before they even see it--and while a lot of the humor is stupid, it's hilarious. 8/10.
Red Dawn (1984)
Okay war movie.
RED DAWN is set in the time of war, when the Soviet Union takes over the United States. When they capture many of the parents of one city's youth, the teenagers band together to fight back against the Soviets and try to win their country back. The teenagers' unofficial leader is Jed (Patrick Swayze), whose brother is Matt (Charlie Sheen). Other members of the guerrilla squad are Robert (C. Thomas Howell), and Erica (Lea Thompson) and Toni (Jennifer Grey), two girls picked up from friends to keep custody of. In such a rough time as war--how will they all survive?
Let me start off my critique by saying that the plot is absolutely ridiculous. The Soviet Union invading America? Okay. The soldiers capturing parents and leaving teenagers alone on their own? Fine. But those teenagers forming a GUERRILLA army to fight the Soviets? It's unbelievably unrealistic. You can't even fathom any possible way that this could happen. Other than that--the script is awful except for a few great one-liners (most of them given to the character of Robert). The movie is much too long and gets incredibly boring after a while. But, there's some good in everything...
A few of the scenes in RED DAWN are incredibly powerful. The opening sequence of the soldiers sailing down onto the school campus is amazing, and I'll never be able to forget the scene where the boys are driving away in the truck and one of their fathers is left behind. The boy shouts, "Papa! Papa!" And the father is calling out to his son, but the soldiers get him before the boy can. That's heart-wrenching stuff right there. Also, after Jed and Matt see their father in the military camp, and basically any scene involving the teenagers' parents, is great. It's very touching and relatable, as well as the fact that is displays some fine acting. The acting is pretty good for the most part, but the actors really aren't given a lot to work with. The action scenes are all pretty great, but unfortunately more of the focus is on the characters, which, in this case, is insanely boring.
RED DAWN is an okay war movie. If it had instead focused on the characters and them coping with the loss of their parents, that would have been a good movie, given that the elements I described were continued. But instead, this ridiculous plot is thrown in and drawn out. By the end, I really didn't care what happened to the characters. There's a couple of good displays of great acting (C. Thomas Howell in particular does very well, playing the best character in my opinion), and the action scenes are good--but this probably won't interest most people. 5/10.
CRY-BABY is the story of a hoodlum named... Cry-Baby (Johnny Depp) who is your typical stereotype of bad news. He hangs out with his group of friends, whom are called the "Drapes," and has clashes with the other, rich group, called the "Squares." One day, he sees a Square named Allison (Amy Locane) and decides to pursue her. Of course, this causes a big controversy, as two people so different should not be together. Will the love that surfaces between them in their first (and only) night hold them together?
Oy... I really don't know what to say about CRY-BABY, other than that it is a painful movie to watch. I guess I'll get the flaws out of the way first, since there are more of them. The story is incredibly overdone and has been done much, much better. It's full of stereotypes and almost forces you to root for Johnny Depp's character--even though, by the end, I wasn't rooting for anybody. The "jokes" (aka, the things that are supposed to be funny, if this movie confused that meaning for you) are hardly ever chuckle-worthy, and most of the humor is crude and even disgusting. Case in point: the French-kissing scene. It starts out kind of funny at how ludicrous it is, but quickly becomes disgusting and unnecessary. The screenplay is so ridiculous and full of cliches that it's hard not to cringe or roll your eyes at every other line. And, to top it off--the acting is terrible. It was so bad that it almost seemed like it was being done intentionally; and if it was, that should have been made clearer. If this movie was a parody on bad old movies--fine. I'd like it a lot more. But I don't think it is. It's just trying to be one of them.
The good? Well, Johnny Depp has his moments and shows some hints of the greatness to come, but even he is awful in this movie. (He looks absolutely gorgeous though! Wow! I would watch the movie again on mute just to see him, but unfortunately the tracking on the tape I rented is so bad that I can't.) It's fun to see Johnny so young and so long ago, and it's kind of amusing to see Ricki Lake pregnant as Cry-Baby's sister Pepper. And I do have to say that the musical scenes were very good and very well-done, even if it wasn't really them singing. But, on that note--when the hell did this become a musical?
Ultimately, CRY-BABY would never be thought of today if Johnny Depp hadn't starred in it. It has great musical scenes, but God-awful everything else. It was literally painful to watch and I couldn't wait for it to end. It's almost worth it to see Johnny lip-synching, dancing, and impersonating Elvis though... almost. 3/10.
One of the weirdest movies I've ever seen.
A few nights ago, I was in a mild state of insomnia and found that Fox was airing HIGHWAY. I began to watch. The movie is about two insane men, Jack Hayes (Jared Leto) and Pilot Kelson (Jake Gyllenhaal). They flee to Seattle one day after Jack sleeps with the owner of a pool he cleans and her husband's friends ("Miranda's Pandas," Jack and Pilot call them) come after him. Along the way, they encounter Cassie (Selma Blair) being abused by her friend (or more), and decide to pick her up and bring her along for the trip. Meanwhile, Miranda's Pandas learn from Jack and Pilot's stoner friends where they are headed and set off after Jack, intent to break his feet. Johnny the Fox (John C. McGinley), Pilot's stoner friend, comes along for the ride to attend Kurt Cobain's memorial. Will Jack evade Miranda's Pandas?
Usually I would go into more detail about the plot, but I really don't know what a lot of it is about. There were several scenes that were absolutely lost upon me (the scene where Johnny the Fox and Pilot are spinning around, high on drugs, and there's some nonsense being muttered, in particular). And above all, I really don't know what to make of this movie. I wouldn't call it a drama by any means, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a comedy either. I would call it a mixed bag.
There are a few scenes that are pretty funny--the beginning, mainly, and some of the part about the sideshow feature the Alligator Boy. But most of the scenes are just incredibly weird. It's a pretty entertaining movie for the most part, although by the end I found myself not really caring what happened to the characters (though that could have been sleep calling to me).
The oddest thing about this movie was the characters and the actors who played them. All of the characters were insane in their own way, though Pilot is a definite standout as the weirdest. The main thing I wondered while watching HIGHWAY was what possessed Jared Leto and Jake Gyllenhaal to do this movie. They were both in versatile and great projects prior to this--why this movie? The fact that they were in it was quite a shock to me, to say the least.
All in all, HIGHWAY left me completely baffled. The story's pretty entertaining, but the characters and the majority of the scenes are completely insane. This is, without a doubt, one of the weirdest movies I've ever seen. 4/10.
The Outsiders (1983)
Doesn't quite pack a punch.
THE OUTSIDERS is the tale of different classes growing up in Oklahoma (I think), divided into the Socs and the greasers. The Socs are upper-class, snotty, and arrogant; the greasers are lower-class, humble and typically nice, but more than willing to fight if provoked. One night, Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio) find themselves being chased by some drunken Socs. When they try to drown Ponyboy, Johnny stabs and kills the leader Bob (Leif Garrett) in an attempt to save his friend, causing the rest of the Socs to scatter. When Ponyboy comes to, the friends realize what they've done and run to Dally (Matt Dillon) for a place to hide out. He sends them to an abandoned church in a nearby town, where they stay for a few days until the heat dies down. In the midst of this, the two become close friends.
When Dally returns to tell them that the news is quieted down and they have Bob's girlfriend Cherry (Diane Lane) testifying for the greasers, Ponyboy and Johnny decide to return to town. When they recede to the church to collect what few things they had there, they find that it has set fire and several kids are trapped inside! Ponyboy, Johnny, and (reluctantly) Dally step in to help them. They save all of the children successfully, and Ponyboy gets out all right, but Dally has some burns and Johnny's back was broken by a falling beam. The three return to their hometown (though Dally and Johnny are in the hospital) and find themselves rendered heroes. Meanwhile, the two groups are about to have a rumble to settle their differences once and for all, and everything boils up to a tragic conclusion.
I used to love THE OUTSIDERS, but re-watching it recently, I wasn't quite sure why. It's a pretty good movie, but it definitely has its fair share of flaws. Though I read the book and loved the story, it's definitely not expressed as well in the movie (though that's to be expected). Many of the moments that could be viewed by many as symbolic and touching, I view as cheesy. And there are a lot of these moments--they're almost cringe-worthy. There's one flashback sequence that is quite unnecessary and very corny--but only one, which is good. It's not nearly as powerful and sad as it could have been, but I'm unsure who to blame this on. The other main flaw is Matt Dillon's acting in this one--he was great at playing an insensitive jerk, but he was terrible whenever he tried to show emotion.
However, with the bad comes the good. The story is great (though the deleted scenes of the Curtis brothers' bond would have added a lot to the movie), and executed quite well. Most of the other actors are great in their roles, namely C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio as the two leads. The supporting cast is great too, namely Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe as Ponyboy's brothers Darry and Sodapop--though their characters were underdeveloped. Diane Lane was great as the greasers' "spy" Cherry, and Leif Garrett was as well, surprisingly. It's fun to see famous actors of today back then--especially Tom Cruise in a small role.
THE OUTSIDERS is a pretty good movie with a great storyline and great acting (for the most part). It has a great display of cheesy moments (far too many), and a great tragic ending, but it doesn't quite pack a punch. 7/10.