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Friends (1994–2004)
5 February 2000
I think this is one of the most overrated series on TV. The storylines are just silliness (for the most part), and the actors annoy me. I am so tired of hearing about how "great" it is. I just do not get it at all. Maybe you have to be 15.
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Could Have Been Funnier
5 January 2000
I'm torn on Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo. The truth of the matter is that this really isn't a very good movie, and yet there are individual scenes that made laugh harder than any comedy this year. I can't recommend it overall, and yet if you're a fan of this kind of comedy you may find it's worth your time. Rob Schneider stars as Deuce, a lowly professional fish tank cleaner (!) who lusts after the girl who works in the local pet shop (he even has her unknowingly dunk her upper extremeties into the cold fish tank water at the shop so he can enjoy the view). He has no luck with women, and seems about ready to hang it up when he meets up with Antoine (Oded Fehr), a male gigolo who needs someone to watch his home while he is in Switzerland "on business". Upon finding out that Deuce knows all about his sick rare fish, Antoine asks him to look after the fish and his house, a turn of events which Deuce sees as a great possibility to score. Well, one thing leads to another and soon Deuce finds himself pretending to be a male gigolo to repair the mess he's made of Antoine's apartment. Most of the laughs in Deuce come from the humorously problem-ridden women Deuce has to take out as part of his "job". There's a narcoleptic who falls asleep while bowling, an oversized woman who stores pieces of chicken in her clothes, a woman who's so huge that Deuce can barely fit her feet in his hands, a woman with Tourette's who uncontrollably utters profanities, and so forth. Some of this is quite funny. Also funny is Eddie Griffin as T.J., the "man-whore pimp" who gives Deuce advice and a makeover to turn him into a "man-whore". Griffin is actually one of the best things in the movie -- his running gag with the hot tub is great, and he puts a little spin on some of the dialogue that puts it just over the top. The movie has a lot of lulls though, and there's one running gag I didn't think worked at all -- the private detective who pursues Deuce throughout the entire movie and tries to coax him to look at his "privates". Also not funny is the oppressively gross bathroom humor involving Deuce's father, who works in the restroom at a restaurant (if you see the movie you'll see what I mean). The movie has the feel of an Adam Sandler flick, but I actually enjoyed it more than Sandler's last movie, Big Daddy (which was too heavy on the sappy stuff and just too too dumb). It's really lowbrow, and pretty much makes There's Something About Mary seem like Frasier on the intelligence scale. But if you turn off your brain, or if you are just in the mood for silly, goofy humor (especially if you're a Sandler fan), you could do a lot worse than Deuce.
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Hard To Watch, But Worth It
5 January 2000
Frank Pierce is at the end of his rope. As portrayed by Nicolas Cage in Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out The Dead", he is a burned out, alcoholic, insomniac New York City ambulance driver tormented by the ghosts of those he failed to save -- specifically, the ghost of Rose, a young, asthmatic woman he couldn't "bring back". The movie is basically a snapshot of Frank's life -- three days of hell as seen from his vantage point : a speeding ambulance by which a blurred, uncertain, frightening, and often oppressive world flies.

Frank tells us at the movie's outset that he hasn't saved a life in months, and that he's beginning to believe in things like spirits that leave a body and don't want to come back. He's starting to feel like a "grief mop", like his only real responsibility is to "bear witness" to death and suffering. Frank and his partner Larry (John Goodman) are attempting to resuscitate a heart attack victim as the movie begins, and as the man's daughter Mary (Patricia Arquette) looks on in horror, Larry is successful in pulling him back from death's door. The overrun hospital, however, shoves him into a corner and keeps him drugged up, shocking him back to "life" when necessary. Mary tells Frank she hadn't spoken to her father for a long while before his attack, and in fact had often wished he were dead, but that now there's nothing she'd like more that to just hear his voice again. She was once a junkie but has now been clean for months, she tells him. Frank seems moved by Mary, seems to want to "save" her -- perhaps he thinks if he can save her, he will be able to let go of the pain of losing Rose.

Frank's developing feelings for Mary provide a counterpoint to the insanity he encounters on emergency calls with his partners Larry (John Goodman), Marcus (Ving Rhames), and Walls (Tom Sizemore). Sometimes the calls involve merely picking up the local smelly drunk Mr. O, their "most frequent flier" who seems to think the hospital is a nice place to sober up. Other times they involve matters that are much more serious, like resuscitating a heroin OD in a club (a great scene) or assisting in the allegedly virgin birth of twins (haunting, and one of the movie's many examples of religious imagery). But no matter where Frank goes, he sees Roses' face -- he sees her everywhere, she comes to him in the guise of the nameless street people that cross his path.

There really is no plot to "Bringing Out The Dead", and that's a good thing because the movie isn't meant to be a straightforward narrative. It's meant to be a snapshot of a man's soul, of his inner demons, and a conventional plot would only cloud the movie's real point. The narrative thrust comes mostly from Frank's interactions with his partners -- each of them representing a different approach, a different way of dealing with the pain brought on by this nerve wracking job. Larry (Goodman) seems to be able to block out the emotional aspects of his job, he seems to see his position mainly as a means to an end, and in fact he tells Frank he'll be a captain one day. Marcus (Ving Rhames, in a scene stealing performance) puts all trust and faith in God, believing that if someone dies, it's just their time to go. Walls (a scarily effective Tom Sizemore) is a borderline psychotic, terrorizing patients (including dread locked street person Noel, well played by singer Mark Anthony) and bashing in his ambulance headlights with a baseball bat.

If these three provide the kinetic thrust of the movie, Frank and Mary provide it's emotional center. Frank finds himself drawn closer and closer to Mary, and in fact he tries to rescue her when she resorts to visiting scummy drug dealer Cy Coates (the excellent Cliff Curtis) at the Oasis, a scarily shot urban hellhole that seems to be a local haven for drug dealing. She needs some respite, however temporary and narcotic, from the pain, and in this sense she has a link with Frank (who drinks on the job and taps into his own medical supplies to get high). The movie seems to be saying that these two people need each other; perhaps each has what is needed to soothe the other's hurt.

"Bringing Out The Dead" is the fourth collaboration between Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader, and it touches on their familiar themes of faith, guilt, hope, and redemption. Much has been written about the similarities between this film and "Taxi Driver", Scorsese's 1976 ode to urban rot. I feel these similarities are somewhat superficial. Though Frank and Travis Bickle are both lonely, disenfranchised, ill people, Frank wants to help people; Bickle just wants to clean the "trash" up off the streets. Bickle lashes out in rage; Frank lashes out in fear and desperation. Schrader's screenplay offers satisfying levels of complexity, so that ultimately, towards the end, when Frank does something totally unexpected and morally ambiguous, we understand exactly why he's doing it and can sympathize.

Of course, from a technical standpoint "Bringing Out The Dead" is flawless. Ace lensman Robert Richardson (who previously worked with Scorsese on "Casino") gives the city an appropriately gloomy, sick look, and his work is especially effective in a scene in which Cy dangles from a sixteenth floor balcony while fireworks explode behind him. Thelma Schoonmaker's expert editing is, as usual, outstanding -- she gives the fast paced scenes the charge they need, and provides some dizzying sped up camera effects during the emergency call scenes. Scorsese's choice of music is great, as is his work with the actors. Sizemore, Anthony, Curtis, Arquette, and especially Rhames are all good, but it's Cage who must hold the movie together, and he succeeds with a towering performance that is easily his best work since "Leaving Las Vegas". Cage is cast perfectly here; his tortured, implosive Frank Pierce is an indelible character.

"Bringing Out The Dead" is not for everyone. The movie's lack of a conventional narrative arc will probably confuse and alienate some viewers, and the way it uncompromisingly looks into the darkest corners of human nature with an unflinching eye will disturb others. Yet these qualities are Scorsese's hallmarks, and this film has links to many of his other works -- the confusion of "After Hours", the emotional indecision of "The Age of Innocence", the alienation of "Taxi Driver", the spiritual search of "The Last Temptation of Christ". "Bringing Out The Dead" is not easy to watch, and at times it's hard not to look away. But it's real, and it stays with you.
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5 January 2000
Man on the Moon is the eagerly awaited biography of Andy Kaufman directed by Milos Forman, an Academy Award winner whose last biographical feature was the outstanding The People vs. Larry Flynt. I want into this movie with very high expectations because: (1) I have a lot of respect for Forman as a director and (2) the early reviews were glowing, suggesting Oscar gold for both Forman and Carrey. Sad to say, I was disappointed. I didn't learn anything new about Kaufman from Man on the Moon, and in fact the movie seemed like little more than a series of sketches strung together in an attempt to illustrate Kaufman's life. The movie gets off to a promising start, showing us how Kaufman had the urge to entertain even as a child (he's just sure there are cameras in his bedroom walls broadcasting to some huge unseen audience). It then skips years into the future, and we find Kaufman (now played by Jim Carrey) is making a meager living doing stand up in nightclubs (of course, his idea of stand up involves reciting nursery rhymes to an increasingly hostile audience). His boss lets him go, explaining that Kaufman needs to learn to perform in a more conventional fashion in order to engage the audience (he suggests impressions or dirty jokes). Kaufman returns to wow the audience with a hilarious Elvis impression, and soon finds himself cornered by agent George Shapiro (Danny De Vito), who soon convinces him to star on the prime time sitcom Taxi against his better judgment ("Sitcoms are the lowest form of entertainment", he says). Taxi thrusts Kaufman into the public eye, a place in which he seems increasingly uncomfortable. He finally comes up with a funny scheme to get off of the program, involving his riotous alter ego sleazy lounge singer Tony Clifton (for whom Kaufman has secured a recurring role on the sitcom). It's about here that the movie seems to lose its' way. Kaufman meets Lynne (Courtney Love), and I suppose that we are to assume that the two develop a close relationship, even though the film doesn't give us very many interesting dialogue scenes between them (compare this with the intriguing relationship developed between Larry and Althea in Forman's People vs. Larry Flynt). Kaufman and Lynne become involved in the pro wresting circuit, pioneering intergender wrestling and causing quite a stir with such wrestling pros as Jerry Lawler. Kaufman becomes known as the ultimate prankster -- willing to do anything for a laugh, and liking nothing better than when he can fool his audience. In fact, his family and friends don't even believe him when he develops cancer -- they think it's just another elaborate prank, making comments such as "This is a showbiz hospital, Andy knows all these doctors, etc". But, it's not. One problem I had with Man on the Moon concerns personal preference. I just didn't find a lot of Kaufman's humor in this movie funny. Kaufman seems less a conventional comedian than he does a performance artist of sorts, and that's fine, but it makes for a long haul when you are watching a biography of a comedian you don't find particularly amusing. I laughed some during the movie (particularly at the scenes with Tony Clifton), but having seen the movie I can honestly say that I don't see why Kaufman is revered so. He seems less concerned with entertaining an audience than he does with entertaining himself, and indeed the second half of the movie deals in depth with his rejection by a mass audience, a development I understood completely (though the film treats it as baffling). If you are a big fan of Kaufman, you may find this movie hilarious and may want to add a star to my rating.... but I just didn't think a lot of it was funny. I can't lie. However, I think the main weakness with Man on the Moon is its failure to really probe the psyche of its protagonist. Going into the movie, I knew Andy Kaufman was on Taxi, I knew he was considered a comic genius, and I knew he was destined to tragically die quite young. The movie wasn't very illuminating in that it didn't really allow us to get to know Kaufman, and so when I left the theater I didn't know anything more about him than I did going in. Sure, Carrey is brilliant in the scenes in which he recreates Kaufman's skits, but when it comes time for him to really portray him as a character (in the second half of the movie), he seems lost. There just isn't much of a real character here for Carrey to sink his teeth into as an actor. Even though I personally find much of Kaufman's humor strange and unfunny, if the film had given me a really good idea of who Andy Kaufman was and what he did to deserve his status as a national icon, that would have been enough for a recommendation. It doesn't, and for that reason, the movie left me unfulfilled. It's quite good technically, with strong performances all around and the usual pro job from Forman, but the script seems pitched at the level of a tv-movie. A few less skit re-creations and less time spent on the wrestling coupled with more character development would've resulted in a higher grade from me. An honorable misfire. 6/10
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