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Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
Much has been made of Hollywood Shuffle, Robert Townsend's debut film made at a very minimal cost. Unfortunately, the material just isn't very funny. Townsend and his cast try hard, but this comedy is strictly hit or miss, and most of it misses.
Meet the Parents (2000)
DeNiro and Stiller are a great team
Ben Stiller has become the poster boy for neuroses, and here he is very good as the horribly-named Greg Focker (there are other name issues). Meet The Parents is the story of his trip to the parents of his girlfriend (Teri Polo), and her parents (Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner). Jack takes a particular interest in Greg's background, and as the lies grow, so does the comedy.
Meet The Parents is very funny and features great performances from DeNiro, Stiller, and Owen Wilson as Polo's ex, and is ably directed by Jay Roach.
Very, very funny
A truly original comedy, Dick stars Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst as two giggling high school students who unintentionally stumble across the Watergate scandal. They meet Dick (President Richard M. Nixon) who appoints them the White House dog walkers. The girls bring the President cookies (with an unintentional special ingredient) and one of them falls in and out of love with the President, and later they become the infamous Deep Throat, confiding in Woodward and Bernstein, who are constantly competing with each other. (and wait till you see how the 18 1/2 minute gap in the tape was created !)
What makes this film such a treat is not only because it is such a bright satire, but the terrific performances. Both young stars are great, and Dan Hedaya, the best character actor there is, is simply perfect as Richard Nixon. He doesn't do an impersonation, but beautifully displays the paranoia and anger of the man. Saul Rubinek does a great Kissinger, and Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch of Saturday Night Live are the famous "Woodstein". This is a film of SNL alumni, including Ana Gasteyer as Rose Mary Woods, Jim Breuer as John Dean, and Harry Shearer as G. Gordon Liddy.
Dr. T & the Women (2000)
Interesting Texas Tale
Richard Gere stars as, Dr. Sullivan Travis, a Dallas Ob/Gyn who is surrounded by women: his wife (Farrah Fawcett) who suffers a memorable breakdown in a Dallas mall and is in a childlike state; his daughter Dee Dee (Kate Hudson) who is trying out for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and is a little too friendly with her maid of honor Marilyn (Liv Tyler); daughter Connie (Tara Reid) who works at the Conspiracy Museum, and Peggy (Laura Dern), his sister-in-law, who has moved in with her three children. There is Bree (Helen Hunt), a golf pro from his country club who he is falling in love with. Finally, there are the women who flock to his very busy office to seek his services.
Robert Altman's film, which was written by Anne Rapp (they collaborated on last year's Cookie's Fortune) looks deeply into the relationships between men and women. This is NOT a film for everyone: there is lots of nudity, and a shocking birth scene. It does have a witty, interesting script, and which is well acted by its cast, especially Gere, who does some of his best work here. Robert Altman has directed some very unique and controversial films, and this one is definitely included. Like many of them, it is worth discovering.
Simply OK; Hurley is wrong Devil
Elliott Richards is a pathetic, groveling employee of a computer company who lusts after Allison (Frances O'Connor), and who would do anything to win her. Anything ? Here comes the devil (Elizabeth Hurley) to offer him the oldest bargain ever written: the Faustian sale of his soul to the devil for his wish. Only she gives him seven wishes (and her pager), and each of his wishes lends to some mildly funny results.
Such is the premise of Bedazzled, a remake to the 1967 comedy starring Dudley Moore, Peter Cook as the Devil, and Raquel Welch as Lust (who else ?) As a whole, Bedazzled is a disappointing movie. To his credit, Brendan Fraser is an excellent comic actor, and he works hard throughout the film with his different looks and accents, and successfully embodies the physical comedy required. Likewise, O'Connor is terrific and beautiful, and stands out in several scenes. One of the problems, however, is the casting of Elizabeth Hurley as Satan. While certainly beautiful, playful, and fun, this film needs a devil who is actually evil, and who could scare both Fraser and the audience. In addition, while Bedazzled boasts Larry Gelbart and Harold Ramis as co-writers, it simply doesn't achieve its comic goals. Slightly better the average.
The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Fascinating and important documentary
The Celluloid Closet is a documentary that examines Hollywood and homosexuality, and how gays and lesbians have been portrayed in films.. It actually all began in 1895, with Thomas Edison's film of two men dancing together!
Beginning in the 1930's, filmmakers, because of the strict production code in place at the time, constantly inserted gay and lesbian themes and storylines, and the earliest gay male character was always the `sissy', and lesbians could only be used if they were presented as dangerous predators. In viewing the film clips, some scenes from certain films are more overt than others, especially in non-gay or lesbian themed films. For example, Jane Russell, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, sings in a room of half-naked man, none of whom pay any attention to her. A less overt example features a scene from Red River in which Montgomery Clift and another actor discuss their pistols after removing them from their holsters. Numerous writers, directors, and actors, including Gore Vidal, Susie Bright, John Schlesinger, Tom Hanks, and Susan Sarandon, all comment on their roles in this aspect of film history. This is an important and always interesting documentary that should be seen by everyone, no matter their sexual orientation.
A rush of crime on Christmas Eve
Drug users, drug dealers, a pair of soap opera actors, and more. They all cross paths on one Christmas Eve in L.A. and Las Vegas in this film from Doug Liman, who directed Swingers. This movie certainly has lots of energy, and tries to push its audience into its ongoing rush. But unlike Pulp Fiction, the film to which it has often been compared, the screenplay is nowhere as original, funny, or good. Liman did a much better job with Swingers, which was funnier and more clever. Still, this is a talented young cast, and includes solid performances from Jay Mohr, William Fichtner, Katie Holmes, Taye Diggs and Desmond Askew.
Girl 6 (1996)
Spike takes on phone sex
Spike Lee directed this look at one woman's attempt to improve her life by working in the phone-sex trade. Theresa Randle stars as the plucky, wanna-be actress who settles for this line of work, which is presented in a clean, corporate style. Lee co-stars as her neighbor, Jimmy, and there is some subplot about than man (Isaiah Washington) who keeps following her along, but as can be this case with Lee films, there's not much beneath the surface.
Nurse Betty (2000)
Great casting, acting, and original screenplay
Neil LaBute takes a dramatic turn from his first two films, In The Company of Men & Your Friends and Neighbors, with this funny and original thriller/comedy/road movie. When Betty (Renee Zellwegger) witnesses the brutal murder of her no-good husband (Aaron Eckhart), she develops a bizarre sort of amnesia, and flees in his car, not knowing that there is large stash of drugs in the trunk. Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock are the hit men who follow her.
What Betty is chasing, besides a new beginning (although she can't remember the old life) is her beloved, Dr. David Ravell (Greg Kinnear). Only problem: Dr. David isn't real, he's a soap opera character on the show `A Reason To Love' and he's really an egotistical actor named George McCord.
To say any more regarding what develops would be too much, but Nurse Betty is certainly original. Its hit men are, like the hired killers of Pulp Fiction, are violent yet philosophical, its take on soap operas terrific spoof material, and its acting is the best feature of all. This has to be one of the best cast films in recent years. Renee Zellwegger is perfect for Nurse Betty, with the constant gleam in her eye that pushes her in her quest. Morgan Freeman brings his constant state of grace to the role of a killer at the end of his career, and Chris Rock is his partner, a man of rage and great impatience. Greg Kinnear is at his comic best as the vain actor/soap opera doctor. There are also great supporting performances from actors such as Emmy-winner Allison Janney (The West Wing), Harriet Sansom Harris (Frasier's agent Bebe Glazer), and Kathleen Wilhoite (Chloe on ER). Actually, the supporting cast is a Who's Who of television best character actors.
A unique film that is funny one moment and chilling the next, Nurse Betty is a mix of great acting, casting, and a terrific screenplay.
The Matrix (1999)
Unique sci-fi action
Many moviegoers have voted The Matrix as one of the greatest films of all time (current ranking on the IMDB 250: 31st), but it does not deserve that ranking. It is however, a very good film for its genre(s); a sci-fi thriller with lots of martial arts.
I won't try to explain the plot, because I only started to understand the story about an hour into this film, and even then am not sure what was going on. That being said, The Matrix is arguably Keanu Reeves' best film. Reeves, who is constantly derided as a mumbling surfer dude, fits his role perfectly as a hacker/possible savior of mankind. The martial arts sequences, while somewhat campy, are amazing, and the video-game-like action sequences are certainly unique (did he really need that many guns, though ?) Laurence Fishburne and the always good Joe Pantoliano are also very good in this unique film. Among the best films ever ? Not by a long shot.
Olivier, Olivier (1992)
Interesting French drama of missing child
Interesting and slightly odd film about a son who disappears from his French family. He has a somewhat Oedipal relationship with his mother, and the family is very dysfunctional. Years later, he returns, but questions are raised if he is the real young man. The family drama is good and well-acted, but contains some truly bizarre subplots, such as the daughter's ability to levitate objects. The film also leaves some major perplexing questions regarding the boy, which I will not reveal. Nevertheless, an interesting and different film.
The Tao of Steve (2000)
Logue's performance will make you believe in "Steve"
Dex is a believer in The Tao of Steve. The Tao is a belief that states that if you harness the coolness and restraint of Steve McQueen, Steve Austin (The 6 Million Dollar Man) and Steve McGarrett (Hawaii Five-O), you will be able to score with the ladies. Donal Logue plays Dex, an overweight (Logue wears a latex device to create his enormous belly) occasional substitute teacher in New Mexico whose life is going nowhere, apart from his sexual track record. But when he meets Syd (a terrific Greer Goodman), things become interesting when he discovers that she is no easy conquest. Director Jenniphr Goodman (Greer's sister) uses a terrific cast and beautiful New Mexico locations to tell a funny, heartwarming story that works best because of Logue. Here is one actor who has always played the supporting part well, and who is ready to break out to stardom.
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Sinking and stinking
This was among the first of the `All-Star' disaster movies of the 70's, and which were so well-spoofed in `Airplane!'. The plot involves a tidal wave that manages to flip over a large cruise ship, and the all-star cast (at least in 1972), which includes Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens, and Red Buttons. With the exception of Hackman (is this how you follow The French Connection ?), the rest of the cast was better suited to the Love Boat, and not this boat. The dialogue is inanely silly, and Hackman, playing a cussing, derriere-grabbing reverend, just screams through most of this. It may have some larger cultural significance, but The Poseidon Adventure simply sinks.
American History X (1998)
An amazing film in its story and acting
Edward Norton gives an incredible performance as Derek Vinyard, a neo-Nazi who goes to prison for murder, and his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) who worships Derek, and who is heading along the same disturbing path. This is a beautifully photographed and wonderfully written movie that takes a very strong subject, and forms it all into a truly unique film. Norton is amazing - He has such as tremendous range as an actor that it so difficult that he also played a neurotic New Yorker in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You. His buffed-up physique, shaved head, and goatee all make him look incredibly realistic as a Los Angeles skinhead (and worried some that skinheads would become chic). His performance is incredible, as are the standout supporting performances from Avery Brooks as the black teacher who believes in both Derek and Danny, and Stacy Keach (who seems determined to break his image as Mike Hammer) as the head white supremacist in town. First-time feature director Tony Kaye (who also served as cinematographer) directs and photographs this film beautifully, and Anne Dudley's score is one to remember. This film will make you think about racism, Neo-Nazism, politics & race, and where hate really comes from - it is passed along from parent to child.
Lola rennt (1998)
Stylish and different, but derivative plot
Run Lola Run has achieved a sort of cult status since its arrival from Germany, and in its style alone, it's easy to see why: this is one fast-paced, breakneck-speed story, with a likeable, punk heroine (Franka Potente), very cool animation, and a good soundtrack. On all of those levels, Run Lola Run works well. However, the story is another matter. I've read several reviews praising the different nuances, stylistically and story-wise, which change as the story runs each time. What I found was a crime-story version of the film Groundhog Day, or a more stylish version of an X-Files episode from several years ago titled `Monday', in which Mulder experienced the same botched bank robbery several times. Run Lola Run definitely wins on its style points, but on those points alone.
Mission to Mars (2000)
Horrible. Good actors like Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, and Kim Delaney star in this turkey of a spaceship's crew trapped on Mars, so another ship has to go save them. The plot is a recycled cross between Alien and the Abyss, except it is neither scary nor tense nor funny. The actors have to recite the stupidest dialogue imaginable, and even the special effects can't save this. $90 Million ! What a waste ! At least I didn't pay to see this - I saw it on a plane.
Wild Things (1998)
Steam in South Florida, Served with a Twist
Wild Things, a tawdry tale set in South Florida, is a story with more twists than corkscrew pasta, and is over-the-top good. Matt Dillon stars as guidance counselor Sam Lombardo of a public school in the town of Blue Bay, and is accused of rape by the luscious daughter (Denise Richards) of one of the wealthiest woman in town (Theresa Russell - It's incredible casting, because the mother and daughter look so alike.) Of course, Sam is a former paramour of the mother. From there, things begin to go all over the place: sex, lies, murder, double-crossing, and more. Director John McNaughton really keeps the story tight, and the audience sliding from one surprise to the next. This is sort of Dynasty crossed with Melrose Place for the high school set.
The Getaway (1972)
The remake is much better
Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw play lovers on the lam; she helped to bust him out of prison, but they owe a local crime lord one last heist. Sam Peckinpah is a very good action director, and those sequences do work, as do the scenes that open the film: McQueen is prison, thinking about the things dearest to him (including MacGraw). The story, though, plods along, until the climatic shootouts. I saw the 1994 remake directed by Roger Donaldson and starring Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, and James Woods, and I thought that it was much more stylish, sensual, and was better acted. Check that one out instead.
Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman star in this chilling and creepy drama of a woman slowly driven to madness in her London home - the same house where her aunt was murdered. Boyer and Bergman are both excellent, and the foggy London atmosphere is perfect. Only caveat - Joseph Cotten, playing a British detective with an American accent !
Hung fan kui (1995)
Great stunts and action
This isn't one of those movies where an in-depth review is needed - it is a classic Jackie Chan action flick: silly plot, some lame dialogue, and incredible stunts. Oh, and Vancouver doesn't double well for the Bronx. Still, a terrific action flick.
Same Time, Next Year (1978)
Funny and touching, with solid performances
Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn star as two people each married to other people who have an affair with each other on one weekend for 26 years. (Is there any other way to describe that ?) Both stars are very good, and have great chemistry, although Alda's constant whining can grate on some nerves. As their affair continues, the years pass, and other events in their lives affect each of them more and more, their own relationship exhibits its own changes. A very smart, sweet and touching film, adapted from Bernard Slade's play. Listen for the haunting piano theme that is performed through the film; it will definitely stick with you.
Arlington Road (1999)
This is one chilling movie. It begins with the opening sequence, when we see a little boy dazed in the street, his hand bloody, and Prof. Michael Farraday (Jeff Bridges) comes to his aid. The boy is the son of Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack), a nice, suburban couple. But things start to change. Behind the façade of suburbia, Farraday, already paranoid as a terrorism expert and as the widower of an FBI agent murdered in a Waco-style raid, starts to suspect that the Langs are quite different that he expected. From there, the story twists and turns towards one disturbing conclusion.
Arlington Road not only has a bizarre and twisting story, but has a unique visual look as well, thanks to director Mark Pellington. In fact, the film at times looks similar the the music video for Pearl Jam's song `Jeremy', which Pellington also directed. Bridges, perhaps the most underrated actor there is, is terrific and has a similar role in many ways to 1994's Blown Away. Robbins is an actor who is so versatile, that he can play both the innocent simpleton (The Hudsucker Proxy) or a conniving senatorial candidate (Bob Roberts), here displays a few new sides to his personality. Joan Cusack is also excellent in perhaps what is even a creepier role. This one will stay with you after the lights come up.
The Last Waltz (1978)
The Band's last concert was filmed by Martin Scorsese, and is full of the group's great rock/country music. Also includes performances by Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and more. Scorsese's discussions with Band members Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm are especially appealing.
The Defiant Ones (1958)
Vastly overrated. While the subject matter of this film was surely controversial in 1958, it's simply not a good film: Tony Curtis doesn't' sound believable for a second as a supposedly tough convict, Theodore Bikel (? a Jewish singer/actor) as a Southern sheriff isn't believable either, and the entire concept of a woman so lonely that she would take in not only two convicts in chains, but a black prisoner at all, is completely laughable. There are some fine moments in this, and I understand its cultural importance, but it's nothing special.
This script won an Oscar ? Must have been a lean year.
The Perfect Storm (2000)
A fine film of man's battle against the sea
Director Wolfgang Petersen, who is known for making films that demand the best of people in extraordinarily tight situations (Das Boot, Outbreak), here directs a fine cast in the adaption of Sebastian Junger's best seller.
George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg star as two of the men aboard the Andrea Gail, a boat that left Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1991 for a swordfishing trip, but was caught up in a terrifying mix of three storms. Never had such a meteorological event occurred.
Much has been written about this film's special effects in their portrayal of the stormy seas, and these effects are truly incredible. Perhaps more importantly, the film follows Junger's book in its portrayal of Gloucester and its community: A one industry town, where the residents feel obligated to the incredibly dangerous deep-sea fishing industry, even though they have lost so many of their citizens.
The cast is solid: Clooney fits well as Billy Tyne, the Andrea Gail's captain, and although he doesn't have a New England accent, there isn't much lost in that. Mark Wahlberg and Diane Lane are both very good as the only characters with any romance in their lives, and we truly feel the love and hope that they have for each other. John C. Reilly, William Fichtner, and the ever-tough Michael Ironside (is he EVER a good guy ?) round out the cast.
Junger's book was a fascinating and important story to tell, and Petersen has directed a fine film about man's battle against the sea and its consequences.