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Yi yi (2000)
Not a "foreign" film; but a universal one
The family may (or may) not speak another language than you do, and they may or may not have a different color skin, but this family is the 21st family complete with the joy of a young child throwing water balloons off of buildings; a loving husband who loves his wife enough not to cheat on her with an old flame, yet wonders what might have been; a wife lost in depression and lack of purpose, a grandmother's death, a wedding, and a mall with a food court with lonely teenagers trying to connect, two of which do, and yet don't.
There is something in this film I can describe only with one word: humanism. No, I can't relate every actors name, but when I saw this film years ago, and I was stressed out, I went to a theater in another to see it, and after the three hours -- which flies by like a summer breeze -- I saw real people both on the screen and in the theater. It's a relaxing, human film, well worth the time to rent or screen for another time.
Sadly, the director of this film left this life too prematurely, but he and everyone associated with this film left us a real family and the joy of being human, despite all our faults, and all of life's cruelties, in a film set in a corporate world with lots of reflecting, cold windows (one of the recurring images of the films) and loneliness, but this world also a real family that has love and hope in it.
Too much but enough (just like the war on drugs)
Stephen Soderburgh is one of a kind. I love his indie efforts of "sex,lies, and videotape"; "Bubble"; and in a strange way, "Schizopolis". I like it when he develops characters, but I haven't seen a majority of his "big" films because I see him as an innovator and more of an indie film maker. Maybe I should. I don't know.
With that intro out of the way, let me say that everyone in the film under the direction of Soderburgh -- Michael Douglas, Catherine-Zeta Jones, Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, Benico Del Toro, the assassin guy -- everybody plays their part well and they act well -- but the issue is the war on drugs something we see only glimpses of on the news and in the streets (and, yes, in the labs and fields, etc.) I appreciate the effort of the film and its overall message that it this "war" is unstoppable and you take victories where you can get them. But the film, in all of its cool glory, never takes enough time to let us know these people, with the possible exception of Del Toro's cop.
There's so much going on: the color schemes, the characters "representing" a specific piece of the war (legislation, drug dealers, etc.) with a such a star-studded cast that we always see the actors and actresses on the screen rather than their characters. Del Toro's cop, Javier Rodreguez, is allowed to be fleshed out more than anyone else in the movie. We think he is a good man, than we wonder, then we realize that is again, and then we realize why he wants what he wants. In a movie with interlocking stories, color screens, and this and that, he is a human being to whom we can relate. The rest, even Douglas' performance, fail to move me as beyond stereotypical.
I don't hate this film; I just think it was trying to do too much, and lost its emotional core, except for Del Toro. Like I said, good performances and good direction ... but like the real war on drugs, it doesn't add up to too much. Check out "Requiem For A Dream" for a better, intimate statement about this war.
Van Sant's "Malcolm X"
Two of the most genuine and unique voices in American cinema still belong to Gus Van Sant and Spike Lee, even though, beyond being expert film makers, both are totally far apart in topic matter. They came of age in the business in the indie eras of the 80's and 90's (Van Sant's "Mala Noche" was in '85; Lee's "She Gotta Have It" was in '86, I believe.) Even though they do commerical films (VS: "Good Will Hunting"; "Finding Forrester"; Lee's "Inside Man"), they produce films for the formerly unheard markets of blacks and gays and do so in a way to humanize them. Sometimes of their films are a miss, and a lot succeed financially and critically, but they always do things their way.
In "Milk," Van Sant chooses someone he admires like Lee found personally in "Malcolm X" (Why Denzel W. didn't receive a win, is beyond me, but that's another story.) Again, the heroes are different between the two. Malcolm and Harvey were far from the white middle class acceptance values in films, and I suppose if you did a study of their individual histories and these films, you could find a lot of differences and similarities, but I invite you to see both films again, and notice that both directors allow their main character to be human beyond the history pages and the documentaries and the documents.
One thing Milk and Malcolm share is a desire to be someone beyond who they are, even with their insecurities. And each director is confident in his abilities to show these insecurities these struggles, their confusion, their ability to lead people, their triumphs, and ultimately, the price for being different even in their own communities, which lead ultimately to their deaths. Anyone who can read can read a book out loud about facts and figures and a sub par director do the same thing on film. Skilled directors allow a character to be human and this makes all the differences.
With all due respect to the Academy, Penn's win does not make him a better actor than Washington. (Penn is a great actor; Washington is a great actor. Period.) A gold statue doesn't make you any better or worse. My advice to you is to see both films and see how good acting, good writing, and good direction brought two characters from history to life on the screen if only for a few hours or so.
3 Needles (2005)
How we keep f'ing up ... and yet there's still hope
The film is a international collection of how we as humans keep f'ing ourselves over literally and figuratively when it comes to the AIDS epidemic. Yeah, we keep screwing up ... but somehow there is hope in the end, if only we listen to Olympia Dukasis' character at the end.
The first story is in China, where a blood-for-money scheme turns a village slowly into a death camp, and gives us one of the best ironic dark humor lines in the film. The second is in Canada, where a porn star infection comes to a peaceful conclusion ... almost. And the third shows us that there is hope even though those who provide it -- especially one nun -- has to turn her back on God to save his children.
Some say the film is too long, and its and international film shot in, as I said, China, Canada, and with the nun segment, Africa. Maybe it does get too long. Maybe too preachy. But maybe you need to hear these stories so you don't become a victim ... of AIDS or of being a judge without knowing the facts. (To the best of my recollection, all the sex involved is hetero; and the needle sharing is in a poor village between non-drug users.) If nothing else, listen to the sister's closing statement. Love it or hate it, think about it.
Fiction better than drama
In the summary line, I was referencing both "Pulp Fiction" and the Spanish language "Amores Perros" ("Love is a Bitch"), both of which like Rebecca Miller's great movie here, have one connecting event that all three characters in the movie share that connect them, even though their personal stories (destinies; "velocities") are happening within the context of their lives. There are no endings for each character, but we see doors opening for them them at the end of each section of their lives, some of which they must enter. We are visiting their lives, but they live beyond their screen time. To us, they are real. The three women: Kyra Sedgewick's abused but strong woman; Parker Posey's career woman with a good job, but poor relationship, and Farziua Balk's young soon-to-be mother, are developed through strong detail and strong acting. Both elements bring us characters we see, feel, and could almost touch. By the end of each short segment, we can understand them even if we don't like nor dislike them, because for a few minutes they are more real than an intimate person you think you know, and that's worth a viewing alone. My favorite section is Balk's: The expectant mother knows what to do just by her body language. You may have another favorite. It's cool. Just remember they exist even after the screen turns dark, and please, wish them well.
The Wrestler (2008)
Rourke's "The Ram": One of the best four performances by a man.
Place Brando's Terry Malloy; De Niro's Jake La Motta, Kietel's Bad Lt., and Rourke's Wrestler together, and you have four of the greatest roles a man could emmulate. (One day, I'll describe four great actresses, but of now ...) Each actor allows the character to be a strong man man physically, but suffering through their soulless existence in such a way, that regardless of capturing Oscar gold or not, the performances say what men cannot say about their inner lives.
Alright, Brando is gone, and he left behind "A Streetcar Named Desire" to "The Godfather" and could act out of places actors only dream about, but only in "On The Waterfront" do we we see a young powerful, muscular Brando open up his soul as a conflicted boxer/bum who ultimately finds redemption by betraying his mobbed-up life, and he is left a bloody mess himself for doing so. He's given the 1950's happy ending, but only because of creative forces outside the film, and within the film the soul of a priest/leader played by the now-late Karl Malden.
He receives the love of a forbidden: the sister of the man whom he helped kill only by standingup and taken his blood punishment in the streets. Up until "Last Tangoin Paris' " monologue about his his wife, only "I could have a been a contender ..." is the greatest examination of a bum/hero's soul.
Due to space, I'll put DeNiro's "Raging Bull" performance and Kietel's NC-17 "Bad Leiutentant" individual performances together. Jake LaMotta was a prizefighter who was never alive with soul until he went into the ring and bloodied his opponent. He was a hero in the boxing ring; a bum outside it. Fueled with jealousy, rage, and self-hatred, we see him as both just like Malloy, except there is no true redemption for him. He sold his soul to the sport and his inner demons long ago, and with age, he is left with just an imitation of himself, ironically channeling Brando's Malloy without any true heart.
The Bad "Lt." (he is never given a name in Abel Ferrera's sleeper) is a Catholic and a crooked, whore chasing, drug addict, cop who cries in the nude because he slouches through life with no reason to live, except for one raped nun in this NC-17 drama. It is here that he starts to feel again some sort of redemption process and a glimpse of a soul in his heart. Yes, he is evil, and he winds up a bum's death, but not before, like Malloy, he feels something within his heart. The "Mean Street" boys actually show you their souls through their actions. They carry on Brando's torch in these roles and in their bodies.
Finally, Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson is a collection of these characters. He can only find his soul in a pro wrestling ring, not a boxing one. His reality belongs to the fans and the men who he wrestles. He is a bum, but he is past his prime of commanding main event status. He still draws them in, and could have still could have been a contender ... in life, if he had chosen to be a better human being. He is more tragic than the Lt., because although he is a drug user, he is also a decent man trying to feel something for the forbidden love of a stripper who is fading away from her glory days (just like he is) and a daughter he would love if he knew how to love. Randy and Cassidy, the stripper, can make fantasies for others come true, but somehow if you look at Rourke's and Marisa Tomei's characters, you know that they lost their souls somewhere and are now paying for it. And that's what really good acting is all about: in every movement there is a bit of your soul choosing to live or dying because it can't.
See these movies, see the actors who peel way their souls. Different eras mean nothing to the essence of these Hemmingway-like characters. Each actor has created a character that lives by a code, or a lack of one, that hurts him in the end, and in doing so, creates one of the most articulate pictures of inner turmoil from characters that one expects only grunts or shows.
Before commenting on my comment, review each film -- "On the Waterfront;" Raging Bull", and Bad Lietentant" and you'll see where the "Ram" came from.
Talk to Me (2007)
Cheadle acts his @$$ off!
Is Don Cheadle the greatest living actor? Pauline Kael once wrote that very sentence after seeing a actor named Morgan Freeman in "Street Smart." I don't know if Cheadle is or isn't, but as I got to know his character Petey Greene in this film, I was thinking he did a better job rounding out a character of a DJ than either Robin Williams ("Good Morning, Vietnam")or Eric Boogisan ("Talk Radio.") For an actor to live in a DJ booth during critical parts of the film, that's high praise.
Yet, Petey/Don does go outside the booth more than anyone especially seeing his beloved Washington D.C. burning after the MLK assassination. I haven't seen all of Cheadle's work, especially the nominated "Hotel Rawanda," but in the characters I see him create from the big time movie "Boogie Nights" to the fantastic and fantastically under seen rape drama "Things Behind the Sun," (and I'm probably missing more), he is one of the best actors in America, bar none, for creating real characters. Petey is one of his best, because we get to see him as a convict to civic voice to 70's almost-but-not-quite national celebrity on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" and all stops in between. I have never heard of Greene ever before in my life, but Cheadle creates such a vivid character,you feel as though he was a girl-hopping, street-smart, articulate, friend.
Cheadle couldn't have pulled off the fine acting without fine actors around him such as Martin Sheen as the radio station boss,Tarj P. Henson as his outspoken and wild girlfriend, and of course, Chitwel Ejofor as the man who becomes his friend and manager after hating his guts. (Long story and a little cliché; but Ejofor is just as brilliant as I'm telling you Cheadle is.) I'm writing this months after seeing the film so I may have missed some good and bad points. Nonetheless, this film is the real deal, and one of this great actor's best roles.
A West Coast "Clerks" for the unemployed in the 90's
A perfect slacker film that is re-watchable without missing a beat anytime. This film has several plots as James LeGros' ("Living in Obilivion's" could-be-Brad Pitt clone) John Boyz deals with life in L.A.after the last (and hopefully, for everybody, the LAST) riot there.
It's kind of like Richard Linklater's "Slacker" and "Waking Life" except it focuses on Boyz in his hood. (There's even a joke about that.) There are cameos galore -- Steve Buscemi, Ethan Hawke, John Cuscak, some of the old "In Living Color" cast, etc. -- and since it was filmed in the L.A. area it contains actual footage (stock and directed) of the area during the infamous 90's wake-up call. My bet: just follow John around: he'll offend you; he'll do weird things with his mind (with or without drugs); and God knows he'll make you say WTF?, but his ride his never boring once you get to know him. So ride along with him, and wish him well as he fades out into the sunset, because if anybody can be John Boyz, it is us.
Stuart Saves His Family (1995)
In its own way, the best SNL-character based film ever
For those you who don't know that Al Franken became a political author/congressional candidate, he was a funny comedian who had entertained "Saturday Night Live" audiences since the 70's, and into the 1990's (off-and-on). His most famous character was a self-help, for lack of a better word, addict; i.e., his character was addicted to self-help groups, sponsors, 12 step meetings, etc., because he lacked or was coming to terms with his low self-confidence everyday and was trying to spreading self-esteem to others through a fictional cable access show on SNL called "Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley."
He would say things like "Doggone it, people like me." Okay, that's a lousy summation of an SNL character made into a film, but if I told you about two blues singing brothers who were wanted by all of Chicago ... of two rock n' roll delinquents who had their own cable show ... or two party guys whose heads moved when they heard "What is Love ..." ... would you know what the hell the fess is about in every case? If you want to look up Stuart on YouTube, or DVD feel free. He was funny, at times. But for this movie, know that it is both funny and sad (in a dark humor way) as we see a child of alcoholics and food addicts overcome his past, this film is a pretty damn good one. Directed by Harold Ramis, it doesn't go for any real forced SNL-inspired laughs, even though there are a lot in there if you want to look. The laughs basically occur because they come from pain, comedy's actual twin. There is a both sad and happy ending (or is it happy and sad?) from this film, but its never forced because Ramis, Franken, Vincent D'Onofrio, Juila Sweeny, and Laura San Giacomo know how to play the tightrope between pain and humor. It's not perfect, but its easily one of the best SNL character movies ever made, and one of the best about family alcoholism.
Angel: The most Catholic of vampires?
First, let me say, that I do not intend to offend the Catholic church which I once belonged to in kindergarten. My overall comparison is more of a Martin Scorsese catholicism, i.e., the very first line in "Mean Streets" (in the dark before Harvey Kietel's Charlie wakes up is, in the the director's own words, "You make up for your sins in the streets, not in church, and all the rest is bull----, and you know it." ) If you accept this view of Catholicsm, you can see where I am going with the vampire with a soul adventures of Angel and his friends. If not, you don't have to read the rest of my review.
In the Joss Whedon universe, vampires are creatures literally coming from an opening in hell, and want to either kill a living creature for their blood or sire them. According to the Whedon universe, Angelus, the dark side of Angel, was one of the most ruthless of all vampires, and not even a good human before then. However, a gypsy curse gave him a "soul", which I gathered from the show is an awareness and the pain of all he has done in the past. Or, at least from my experience, a helluva lot guilt.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it's not all gloom and despair, but it does exist in all the three dimensional characters of this "Buffy the Vampire" spin-off. There's plenty of humor, love, pop culture references (even though they may now be dated on DVD) and other goodies. It's definitely a good series even though, sometimes the story arcs needed close attention. For me, though my butt was in front of the tube as much as I could see it, and I still miss it.
For Angel, and his friends literally fought hell spawn and demons inside themselves. For even though a vampire hates a cross by nature, that doesn't mean his past sins cannot be redeemed by helping others, or in Angel's private detective practice, literally saving the world from a hell spawn apocalypse countless times and battling a corporation of hell spawn (or worse than that)- filled corporate lawyers in L.A. (The series of course, is fun for geeks and non-geeks just for the dark humor alone.)
I personally don't know if Angel will ever find happiness. (The curse will change him back to "Angelus" if he ever finds true happiness, which he did once on "Buffy" by sleeping with her (long story -- see "Buffy") or in an imaginary reality (see Season 5 of "Angel", but do we ever feel more than a moment of happiness beyond a few mere moments? For most of us, we are haunted by the past (and in some cases the present) like Angel, and although religion/spirituality may help us, ultimately we must make our redemption through living and helping each other the best ways we can.
Things Behind the Sun (2001)
Honest, emotional, and even redemptive ( a must see for rape victim caregivers)
This is perhaps Alison Anders' greatest work, even surpassing "Gas, Food, and Lodging," because she brought her whole soul into this emotionally charged film. The beautiful Kim Dickens ("Deadwood") is a singer haunted by the past she can't remember. Subconsciously she marks the exact anniversary of the day was gang-raped by a bunch of a--holes, and through the course of the film is unable to love the man who loves her the most, picking up strangers -- willingly -- and asking them to place her in a rape position to punish her. She continues to hide under alcohol and self-destruction until one day a reporter from a rock magazine assigns himself to cover a story on her latest song -- reflecting the rape --knowing the truth about her past because he saw and participated in the act itself.
One of the most honest descriptions of rape and its aftermath ever, where both victim, boyfriend, and even one of the rapists receive some sort of redemption from their hell. Complex, and emotionally charged this should be required viewing for everyone, but especially those who need to understand and help others to heal. (Rape victim info is included on the DVD section.) Excellent performances from the cast all-around make this truly realistic and heartfelt.
Alison, God bless you, and we hope your demons, while they may never truly vanish, have at least been left at that house.
Dead Presidents (1995)
O-Dogg vs. Anthony Curtis=Tatre's a good actor
... that the Hughes Bros. apologized for this film because they thought they messed it or something. They didn't. The film shows a familiar trail: innocence of friendship before Vietnam, the war itself, and then the return home from war where you were once rewarded for killing and now you're trapped barely making ends meet with a family to support.
Larenz Tate, whose character was full of hate in "Menance II Society", here shows how a good kid can turn into a bad man and shows me, which is very important, why he changed into a criminal. For me, O-Dogg was a modern day Clockwork Orange. That was fine for Menance because it was a shot of gangsta energy from debut directors. Anthony Curtis' story is more textured and proves Tate can tone down anger to show the humanity behind it.
'No Viet Cong called me a n----r," M. Ali said. And here, in this film, I can see through the H. brothers' direction and Tate's acting, performance a strong argument againist why anyone, especially, the black man (and woman) got screwed over in Vietnam to support Ali's statement.
I'm rambling, but see it for yourself as an edit changes Curtis from running home over fences to a solider running over the Vietnam jungle, and then later as a pimp, who has being doing Curtis' wife, pushes him down the stairs. In the 80's movies, Rambo was a hermit with a lot of anger. Curtis lived in a much more real world, and would have done what Curtis did.
A prostitute born on Christmas Day
For many, David Arquette is just a smart guy acting stupid in films like the "Scream" trilogy or the AT & T TV spots. In this film, he proves he has humor with acting chomps.
His character, Donner, is a male prostitute, but there is very little sex involved in the film, and perhaps only one person does care about him -- even though he can't let people into his emotions. The film is centered on Christmas Eve, his birthday, a day where he hopes to spend entirely in a fancy hotel just to relax, and not work on the streets to barely eat.
It doesn't matter if he is straight or gay: he is both and he is neither. He survives by "entertaining". He has a young apprentice out on the Hollywood streets and mentors him in street life, a life he really can't stand, and a life that he is afraid of leaving even at the last second.
Supported by Terrence Howard as a pimp; Richard Kind as hotel clerk who sees through Donner's lies but wants him to have the room because he sees Donner as a good person; Keith David as an angelic homeless "john"; and Lukkas Haas ("Witness") as an openly gay teen who loves the man who cannot love himself, this film works because of what is said and what we miss for those people the world forgot outside Hollywood.
Haute tension (2003)
Except for the last scene ... WTF?
High Tension ("Haute Tension") has one really good scary moment, and that's the final scene. A horror fan enjoys, in the sickest parts of our souls, something where the hero or heroine squirms a little, then kills or defeats the monster or killer (at least until the next sequel in some cases.) This film isn't the worst horror film ever made, but seriously, what the ###$ was this with the gender reversal that made no sense. I never felt compassion for any of the character not even the chain-bound-and-gagged brunette until the blonde "senses" her at the last scene. NOW that scene was scary. Everything else was ... okay as splatter films go, but the "WTF" switch really was a waste. So, despite the actresses efforts, was the film. (It also contained the weirdest looking gagged woman I ever saw.)
Julie Johnson (2001)
You can sleep with anyone, but you still wake up with yourself
Very realistic if you see the film. In terms of premise, you wonder how "realistic" applies to a happily married heterosexual mother of two in New Jersey without a GED who winds up making love to her best female friend and realizes that she is a mathematical genius alone but strong at the end of the film.
But it does work, because these people are real, at least for two hours or so, and we can feel that in Lilli and Courtney's acting there isn't a con; after a heterosexual friendship leads to characters making love, there are more than enough hints that this is happening in the real world.
For instance: Neither woman, upon leaving their spouses, knows how to balance a checkbook, because they were never taught to, rather Juile (Taylor's) son, helps them because he just learned it in school. And perhaps more importantly, the characters don't see each other as villains or heroes or plot devices. These characters have known each other for a long time, and will continue to do so. Julie's husband is loving if blind to her needs, while Love's character's boyfriend really just sees her for sex. When each woman realizes they are love with one another, it isn't treated like the sex scene from "Bound": they are, after finding out about their love, scarred of this leap, but true -- and here's the key -- to their characters -- the women make love in a brief scene that's more about tenderness between them than getting any sort of reaction out of an audience. Inbetween the growth and eventual disintegration of their relationship, each scene matters because it cares about the characters. Even Julie's last moment with her husband is taken with the same form of tenderness between former lovers and friends.
Julie isn't a genius overnight, either. It was latent, just like her homosexuality (or bisexuality or whatever you want to call it) -- she read books, educated herself by watching scientific based programs on t.v., etc. and grew up denying her own intelligence because she didn't believe she had it.
The story is essentially Juile's: a closed off woman from the world at large who grows to believe in herself. If you complain the ending is ambiguous ... well, isn't life?
It made sense to me, and I'm not a big fan of Willie's on paper
English professors, English teachers, English students who don't want to read the cliff notes ... lend me your ears (well, actually your eyes.) To a lot of people, Hamlet is Twain's version of a classic: someone everyone cherishes, but no one wants to really read or watch. This version may be seven years old, but like the Romeo and Juliet version by DiCaprio-Danes, kids will be able to relate to it, and most likely watch and understand it, if not respect the beauty of the language.
The kids (and others) may be stumped at the language, but they'll recognize the context clues and acting of their contemporary actors, and they'll get the gist of it. I respect Kenneth B. and Laurence O. for trying to be faithful to the Bard. (Hell, to be honest, I've only saw Oliver's version as a kid in school. I have to revisit it as an adult. But I digress.) The words are the same, but when you have Bill Murray acting serious long before "Lost In Translation" to his son "Scream's" Liev Schriber while Ethan Hawke ponders the emotional/moral question of life in a Blockbuster video store you have something special that works even though on paper it would seems a mismatch to make a CEO a king in New York City. (Kudos also to the beautiful Diane Verona -- yes, Verona -- who plays a sexy Gertrude.) Look, I'm just a writer placing this stuff in a electronic "box." But I really suggest if you want to teach Hamlet to today's youth show them the corporate version, with yes, blood, but also with heart. Then go to Oliver, Kenneth B., Mel Gibson, and so on. That's just my suggestion. View it first, and then if possible, tell me what you think it does: is it both entertaining and enlightening as a good Shakespeare play or not? That's my question.
Last Action Hero (1993)
Screw it! Have some fun with this picture!
I've seen the movie twice and everyone states its has to be a traditional action film, a mediation on film themes, an intellectual exercise that failed, it has to be this , it has to be that ...
Screw it. It's a fun parody that the now-Governator had of himself.
Everyone wants Mr. S. to be Conan, a Commando, a Terminator, a spy ... etc. They want(ed) the one-liners. They want predictability, and to tell the truth. I never was a big fan of Arnold's movies. They were okay, but you knew anyone that big is virtually indestructible in real life too. Maybe Arnold got tired of playing a recycled character, so he said screw it. Not to his fans, but to himself. And for the first time, I was laughing with him.
This movie throws the kitchen sink at everything it touches: crazy cop combinations, the actor vs. the character, the car chases, the hair never out place in a fight, the flesh wounds the size of Arnold's hands, plus it has Ian McKellen as Bergman's version of Death, the late Anthony Quinn as a crazy gangster, and a heck of a lot of movie tie-ins that relate to Arnold and other films.
In short, it's Arnold's 8 1/2 ... millimeter (couldn't resist) When you view the movie for yourself, just do it for crazy, wild fun. Yes, you are finally able to laugh with Arnold instead of at him (as some would do - behind his back, of course.) But it's okay, just think like the kid in the film and you might be able to relax and enjoy the show.
If you know someone and care about them, this drama may help
"Drunks" deserves a better wide release than it received in the early 90's. It's not an easy film to digest, but if "Six Feet Under" can make us look at mortality, death, and grieving a little easier, than this film can help others see this disease a little more clearly.
Hollywood has portrayed drunks as lovable figures, whether it be W.C. Fields' characters to "Barfly" (was Bukowski ever truly happy, though, or was Rourke's characterization just an acceptance of a barfly's life? Yet, we all know people who have gone from social drinker to lost in themselves.
"Once Were Warriors." The great "The Lost Weekend." "Reqiuem for a Dream." "Nil by Mouth." "Under the Volcano." Leaving Las Vegas." "Less Than Zero." Thousands of lives have been damaged by alcoholism, and if you ever want to see a real tragedy, look at the people on these screens and, if you see yourself, you might be in real trouble.
Back to the film. Basically, this a film of monologues, yet each contains more power than you might think when you hear the word "monologue." Lewis' performance is of course, great, as the reviews say, but please read his autobiography to discover how far he was from becoming Jim. It is a must-read for any addict, and while not an addict, it has helped me personally with some of my problems. Another great performances include the late Howard Rollins, of TV's "In the Heat of the Night" fame, who also was an addict at various points in his life. Splading Gray, a brilliant actor who committed suicide due to depression, also gives a brilliant performance as a man who wanders upon the meeting, and realizes he is one of them. A young Calista Flockhart and Faye Dunway find the right notes as addicts who need to sponsor each other. Even performances from Lisa Gay Hamilton (TV's "The Pratice")as an HIV positive woman, are damn strong.
That's the key to the film. There may be no happy endings, but there is no preaching, and no sermonizing. Please, I urge you to seek this one out if you ever wonder what a real AA meeting is about, and get it more accessible to your friends who might need it to see it ... or yourself. It's not preachy, but it's a good drama.
I'm off my soapbox: Please see this as drama. And remember if you need help, there is always someone there, don't give up. And hopefully, this film, will help you see that even the most self-destructive person can survive.
Blue Car (2002)
The world sucks especially when your a kid: "The 400 Blows" indie style
Blue Car is not as classic as Truffaut's "The 400 Blows", but it may be a distant relative about how a teenager is trapped by circumstances beyond his or her control while growing up. Both use the sea in the films to show their metaphorical entrapment in a world where adults may either not have the time to give a damn, or in Car's case, want to use the child for their own needs. Despite what the DVD/VHS box says, comparing "Blue Car" to "American Beauty," Car is about a woman-child trapped in this world while "American Beauty", showed a man-boy who never really escaped from the pressures and stupidity of the adult world until his death. Spacey's character grew up trapped until his final days.
The protagonists in both "400" and "Car" are smart. They worship Balzac and English poetry, respectively. But they can't escape what fate has given them -- the cards are to hard to deal with without a proper guidance figure. So, with the exception of a POSSIBLE happy ending at "Car", they are still intelligent but they are still tortured. They represent us as we start/are starting to realize that as a great muse once sung,freedom is a word for nothing to lose.
I wish I had more time to get into the comparison, but see both "The 400 Blows" and "Blue Car" when you can, and I think you'll see what I mean. Younger adults can understand both (although, yes, Car, does go a little over-dramatic sometimes) feelings of non-delinquents youth who do need help more readily than some adults, but the adults, if they want to stop suppressing their memories, know they felt/feel the same way if they are just honest enough to admit it.
Watch both. One is a classic, and one an under-appreciated gem.
You won't get any satisfaction from this movie
This film tried, but ultimately it was a waste of talent. It tried to hard to be "sexy." I'm not putting down the works of such actresses as Ellen Barkin and Peta Wilson (who will find something besides TV's "Le Femme Nikita" worthy of her talents.) I just didn't find, even in Ms. Wilson's so-called near-seduction scene with Mrs. Barkin any real emotion, even though I know the thespians tried very hard to make the scene work. If the sexual elements of Wilson's disturbed sex victim didn't touch our heart (which it didn't even by an ending it didn't deserve), neither did the murder element of the plot. Perhaps it was the script or perhaps the direction, but I didn't feel for anyone in this movie, and without this feeling, a movie doesn't work for me. If you are interested in a movie about lesbianism, there are a least two films on either side of the specturum to check out: 1.) The gulity pleasure of "Bound" which works well in a noir setting; and 2.) The more honest, and touching story of a lesbian growing up in Hell's Kitchen called "All Over Me." It's a well-defined indie from the mid-90's that handles that coming-of-age issue with feeling, not forced sexuality. Both would be a better rental than "Mercy" which has next to nothing.
A different spin on a BBC TV legend
I was not familiar with Robert Pastorelli, who died of a drug overdose, shortly after the series ended. I know he starred on "Murphy Brown" and some other television series, but that was it. Looking back at his "Fritz" the character and the actor clicked, for the most part. Granted, some of thedialogue was straight from the U.K. series, but Pastorelli did some nice personal touches in the series too: 1.) Compare Robbie Coltrane's (WHO is the definitive Fritz) ability to take down a suicide jumper compared to Robbie P.'s "Some Day A Lemming Will Fly" in both series. The approach is more American with R.P. flapping his arms attempting his own version jump believing the suspect will save him and get them both off the ledge. Robbie C. gives a speech about the title's meaning, but Robbie P. adds a little world weary flair by the flapping. It should be noted that the American Fritz really did hate his life, while the U.K. version's vices (gambling, booze, and adultery) kept him alive. I'll never forget Robbie P.'s line to an arsonist about to blow a house up: "Go ahead. It's been a bad week." 2.) After knowing that he puts an innocent man behind bars in "Lemming", both Fritzs react differently. Coltrane reflects quietly; Pastorelli gets sloshed the day they wanted to have a date. Again, it was Pastorelli's view of Fritz that made that role in the U.S. his. He wasn't just copying Coltrane word-for-word and action-for-action always. 3.) Some dialogue is definitively up-to-that-date American: Robbie P. tells an antecodote that Robert Mitchum lived on juice and alcohol. Just like the U.K. version had its pop references so did this one. 4.)Also of note are the episodes when Pastorelli has a heart attack (or rather his Fritz does), which is not in the U.K. series, the U.S. version of Fritz talking to his dad, and the final episode where Robbie Coltrane stars as a Hollywood star. The point that I am hinting at is that yes, Coltrane, who is a very good actor, fit U.K.'s Fritz like a glove, and yes, I love his Fritz. Pastorelli's Fritz was an American sequel to the series. (Note that the U.K.'s final episode -- not including "Lucky White Ghost" -- was the plot for the first U.S. series.) Pastorelli seemed to draw from the hell he was in shortly before his death to make the character his own. If that ain't Method acting, what is? For even attempting to touch this beloved U.K. character with his own style should give the man some credit in the great beyond. His American Fritz never got fully developed, and that was the truth. Nonetheless, the U.S. series was a very good attempt, and if you can, try to see it as the work of Pastorelli and R. Lee Emery and others instead of a copycat. It deserves better than that label.
(Personal note: If responding to this comment, no tabloid crap or jokes about R.P.'s life, okay? Tahnk you.
Plump Fiction (1997)
Ed Wood presents Tarnatino's greatest hits (sort of)
Compared to some of the Tarnatino rip-offs that advertise themselves as original, give PF credit for being the stupidest, and its pride in being one of the worst, weirdest low-budget films ever made. Granted, its stupid basically because of its inconsistency (why "Nell" and a Gump clone came into the story I'll never know and the "Reservior Nuns" section fades out after the "Monkees" theme really confuses me), but from what I understand of Ed Wood's bad movies they didn't make sense either. Still, PF has some amusing things going for it: 1.) the independent film café (with a good Walken impersonator and Priscillia, Queen of the Desserts who gives the sum of the movie's literal running gag: "It's been a crazy mixed-up day (reference to Pulp's time frames); 2.) wild acting by Julie Brown and some of then Comedy Central's show "Strip Mall"'s actors, Sandra Bernhard, Tommy Davidson, and "Strangers With Candy's Paul Dinello and many others (including the real Homer Simpson -- Dan Canstella); 3.) a weird mix of "Clerks" and Reality Bites" together; and 4.) an overall loving homage to everything QT at that time(including "Natural Born Killers" and "True Romance") ... except it's weird and inconsistent. Give it a shot for something ... original?
In comparison, Film Threat's "My Big Fat Independent Film" is a better Indies spoof, but for a weird homage to QT go with the Plump ... it's cult like a Ed Wood original.
"Those looking for a plot will be shot." -- Mark Twain, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
American Gun (2005)
I don't give a damn ...
... about the politics of gun control. This film is more about what happens in life when things get complicated. The metaphor is guns, but the real issue is humanity. The issue could be about the environment, sex, or a f---in' alien ship. What matters most is what happens to characters we care about.
The character I actually care about the most is Jane, played by Marcia Gay Harden. I've seen her in lesser roles, such as in "Miller's Crossing;" "Meet John Doe" (with Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt), and "Pollock," for which she won an Oscar. I never been a fan until seeing her in this film, as Jane, a mother working two shifts in a factory so her son doesn't have to go to the same school that, a few years earlier, her other son and his friend destroyed in a killing spree. From the moment you see a cross around her chest line, and peer into pain filled eyes, you know she is devastated. Not by any law or control, but by the hand dealt her by life. Her son's decision to kill is never explained, nor does it have to be. She and her living son, played by "Joan of Arc's" Chris Marquette (who hits the right notes as a semi-innocent kid also facing the same aftermath)have to face the fact that he must go back to the same school because the money is running out. Jane even (arguably) prostitutes herself in a news story about the shooting, stirring up her family pain, and the pain of the patrolman who could have stopped the shooting but didn't ... and also secretly lives down the pain.
Now I don't have anything against gun use in film (I reviewed John Woo's "The Killer", for Christ sake.) But in life, you're going to feel some sort of pain whether your protected or not. And watch how Jane, her son, and the policeman feel their pain, both in dialog an in silence, and you'll see some great acting.
In the same year he won an Oscar for "The Last King of Scotland," Forest Whitaker also played a different authority figure, this one with a soul but little options.
Whitaker's high school prinicipal Carter is anti-gun -- within the school, of course -- but is so devoted to helping the students, that he literally ignores his family for his job.
Look at the man during the film: he constantly tries to fix an overhead fixture in the rundown school, yet has forgets his son in his office to reprimand some kids. He does this because he came into an inner-city from the Midwest with his family to make a difference for the kids today. He's not perfect: he ignores his family for his job; is unable to explain the murder of a hooker who died on the playground to his young son because he, maybe in his own heart, can't find the words to say it, slams a gun-toting student againist the wall, and is forced to expel another student, one I believe he admires for his scholastic work, because the student his the gun underneath the school. In the end of the film, he is acknowledged for his good deeds and also realizes they are not enough.
Jay, another fine actor named Arlen Escaperta, -- watch for his name in other roles, he's good -- only did that because he needs the gun for self-defense in his job as a gas attendant late at night where, in one scene, he gets shot at through the glass windows. He survives, and is not a white/black (his color isn't important as his role's character is) typical inner city city youth who hates and wants to shoot back at eyerything. He just wants to live and get a better life.
From Jane's suburbs and Carter's inner city to Donald Sutherland and his granddaughter's South, (their storyline receives the less attention, sadly, even though she questions her uneasiness about guns after witnessing a rape of a friend in college, their are no easy answers, and not aconventional Hollywood ending in the film, but I have some questions for YOU:
If the title of the film was The Fog, would you be pro or anti-fog? If it was American Rabbit, would you be pro or anti-Rabbit? Seriously, this the Internet Movie Database, not Current Affairs 101. Hey, you can say what you like about this review, but at least it talked about acting and plot. You can believe what you want to, this is America. But could you at least stick to talking about the film instead of personalizing this issue? What I saw was a film, and I gave the best damn review of it I could, so if you're going to give me an unuseful comment button, go ahead. I did my job. Now, I don't give a damn.
Dip huet seung hung (1989)
Redemption with bullets
Remember Jack Horner (Burt Renyolds) in "Boogie Nights"? He wanted to make a porno back in the early 70's that an audience would stay around for after they got their satisfaction. He wanted art from what would be sleaze.
Recently, I saw a IFC documentary called "Chop Socky: Cinema Hong Kong" in which Woo himself describes his beautifully choreographed gun play style to that of traditional swordplay Hong Kong films that Woo grew up on. And he's right, when we see his violence, its not just to count bodies (well, maybe). But there's a helluva lot of difference between most shoot the character for fun, and forget about him.
Chow Yun-Fat's character of Jef or John (depends upon the translation you get of the film) is the ultimate in modern cool, just like Melville's under seen and always watchable hit-man Jef Costello in Woo's favorite film (or one of them, at least) "Le Samouari" (a must-see, by the way, even Tarnatino listed it as an influence on his Reservior Dogs DVD) Like Costello, Chow's Jef dresses well, is handsome, confident and damn good at killing people. (When the film was released in Hong Kong, scores of men wanted to dress like him.) So far, so commonplace in every film. Line the victims up, and let Woo do the fancy gun play and you would get ... just an adrenaline high. A man who shoots unbelievably well, and that's it.
A good Woo film never settles for an empty thrill, or a visual stroke. It's about why he kills, and the choices he made in making a mistake that make us care, that make us want to stay after the guns.
The key to a good John Woo film is honor among thieves -- something like this doesn't exist in every world but in a romanticized world of John Woo it's the only thing that makes worth living for a man like Jeff.(Note how he cares about an accidentally shot girl on a beach and consoles her as he drives her to the hospital; Tarantino might have used something like that scene for "Reservior Dogs".)Woo grew up on streets as mean or meaner than Martin Scorese, but like Scorsese he was also raised Catholic. So like Scorsese, violence is a factor in the people he portrays, but in the heroes, so is compassion. That woman whom he shot becomes Jeff's salvation. His unrequited love is Platonic; he is a killing machine but also compassionate towards mankind. If this was a Western-cowboy genre, Yun-Fat would have a black hat in the beginning, and then, to save the girl, a white hat.
In order to bring his own redemption to the violence he creates, he teams with Inspector Ling (Danny Lee) to fight the requisite bad guys in a church with the now standard Woo doves flying out of the church signifying a final war is about to begin for one man's soul. (The church is an excellent choice, because the film is about the brotherhood of man: Jef's now dead mentor was a father to him, Ling's dead partner was a friend; and Sally, who both men try to save from blindness and death, is a holy innocent.
The body count is immense. But there is a purpose this time: a killer's soul. There is action, but ism spirituality among the characters. They are, granted, almost too one-dimensional at times by Western standards, but they define themselves by actions and little word play. This is the type of film that pleases both our violent natures .., and supplies a little chicken soup for the idea of redemption too (covered in guns, bullets, and blood.)
Hostile Takeover (1988)
A lost man
I saw the film on cable one day and it still stays with me a little. Sure, everything was under produced, the lighting dark, and the overall acting, story, and dialogue incoherent in many places, and the story has a whole depressing. However, maybe that's how the story was suppose to take place as seen through the eyes of the protagonist, Eugene. Eugene is the typical quiet man in suspenders who finally has enough of his sad, lonely life and takes people three people to be hostage just to be heard by someone who gives a damn. His exact reasons are never explained just alluded to in one scene, but watch how Sally and he begin an honest relationship that ends perhaps as it should. Also note Jayne Eastwood's performance as an older woman with scars of her own. All very strange, but it all fits its own logic.