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A Guy Thing (2003)
7/10
I enjoyed this movie, and that's saying a lot
3 June 2003
I was literally preparing to hate this movie, so believe me when I say this film is worth seeing. Overall, the story and gags are contrived, but the film has the charm and finesse to pull them off. That gag where Jason Lee thinks he has crabs, and tries not to let his boss/future father-in-law and co-workers see him scratching himself isn't terribly intelligent, but it sent me into a frenzy of laughter. Very few of the film's gags are high-brow, but they made me laugh. As I said, the film has charm and charm can go a long way.

The characters are likable, too. I must say I wish I got to see more of James Brolin's character, since he was a hoot in the very few scenes he was in. Plus, I admire any romantic comedy that has the guts to not make the character of the wife (who serves as the obstacle in the plot) a total witch. The Selma Blair character is hardly unlikable, and there's never a scene where I thought to myself, "Why did he want to marry her in the first place?" The ending is Hollywood-ish, but it could've been much more schmaltzy.

The cast is talented. I haven't had a favorable view of most of Jason Lee's mainstream work. I just loved him so much in Kevin Smith's films that I couldn't help but feel disappointed at seeing him in these dopey roles. And he never looks comfortable in these dopey roles. Even in this movie, he doesn't look perfectly comfortable, but he contributes his own two cents and effectively handles each scene. But I still miss his work in independent films. Julia Stiles proves again why she's so damn likable. Of course, she's a very beautiful girl with a radiant smile that makes me want to faint, but she also possesses a unique charm and seems to have good personality. In other words, her beauty shows inside and out. I don't know the actresses' name, but the woman who plays the drunk granny is hilarious. Julie Hagerty also has a small part, and she's always enjoyable to watch, which makes me wish she received better roles. I loved her so much in "Airplane" and "Lost in America" that it's a shame she doesn't get the same opportunities to flaunt her skills.

Don't be put off by the horrible trailers and even more horrible box office records. This is a funny, charming film. Romantic comedies are getting so predictable nowadays that it feels like the genre itself is ready to be flushed down the toilet, so it's always to see a good one among all these bad apples.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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7/10
Amazingly smart, witty and funny
2 June 2003
This is not your usual dull, hackneyed teen sex comedy. I actually found it to be amazingly sharp and witty. It's directed by Michael Lehmann, who also made the great teen satire "Heathers." The script is also well-written. Josh Hartnett is one of the best new young actors, and gives another fine performance. He doesn't play the scenes for laughs, but as a seriously conflicted man. So the comedy works out better with him playing it straight. Paolo Costanzo of "Road Trip" says a few hilarious lines and steals a few scenes as his free-spirited roommate. Naturally, you can't make a teen comedy without at least one veteran adult actor in the cast, and this time it's Griffin Dunne, who's an absolute hoot as Hartnett's boss. It's funny to watch him be just as obsessed with sex as his employees half his age.

The movie isn't perfect. Along with the witty sex gags there are some gratuitously predictable moments, like the dinner scene with Hartnett's parents, in which his father starts going on a tangent about the sexual positions he's still able to use with his broken hip. And the third act contains no surprises, as it resorts to the usual feel-good cliches.

As for the eye candy factor, both men and women should be satisfied. Men should enjoy the gratuitous shots of naked women, as well as the hot-looking Shannon Sossymon, Vinessa Shaw and Maggie Gyllenhaal. And needless to say, women should enjoy the sight of Josh Hartnett.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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Big Trouble (2002)
3/10
Godawful
30 May 2003
I think instead of postponing its release date, they should've just sent it direct to video. Movies that get their released dates postponed don't often succeed at the box office, but even if this movie were released as planned I'm still pretty sure it would've tanked.

The main problem with this film is it's way too chaotic. There's so many characters to keep track of, so at times I'd forget the goals of each character. Not to mention the characters aren't any interesting. The cast is excellent, yet every single actor is given a horribly thankless role. Tim Allen is supposedly the star of the film, but his character is so poorly developed that at times I forgot he's supposed to be the hero in this story. And the same goes for the rest of these great talents: Ben Foster, Janeane Garofolo, Jason Lee (who's for the most part cursed when it comes to mainstream film), Rene Russo, Patrick Warburton, Conan O'Brien's great former co-host Andy Richter, Omar Epps, Johnny Knoxville, Tom Sizemore, Stanley Tucci, Zooey Deschanel and DJ Qualls. Yes, ALL that wasted talent. What the hell did they see in this script? Obviously they were paying more attention to their paychecks. Dennis Farina seems to be the only actor who didn't sleep through his role, giving another fine tough-guy performance. Heavy D also seems to be having fun, but that's considering his 15 minutes are up and he's simply glad to have a job period. But when you have a lame script, what can you do? Even if you are a greatly talented actor.

All the gags are either lame, predictable, forced or consisting of hackneyed sexual innuendos. The comic situations are so contrived it makes you want to puke. Farce is very tricky, and when it's not handled correctly it can fall to pieces. "Arsenic and Old Lace" is an outrageous comedy with characters getting into outrageous situations, but it worked, because it was handled with great precision by Frank Capra. When "Wild Wild West" was showered with poor reviews, I thought I was on crack when I was one of the few people who liked it. But now that I see "Big Trouble," I stand corrected. I can tell when Barry Sonnenfeld has screwed up.

My score: 3 (out of 10)
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Equilibrium (2002)
9/10
An overlooked gem that is DEFINITELY worth a look
30 May 2003
I won't hesitate to call this film a masterpiece! First of all, the premise is very original and brings up some interesting concepts. It's the 21st century, and all emotions have been outlawed. It sounds strange on the surface, but the society feels that emotions lead to conflict, which can lead to war and destruction. And having just finished World War 3, the society is fighting to make sure another war won't break out.

Now, THIS is a sci-fi plot I can relate to. This actually sounds like something that may happen in the future. This is none of your "Matrix" or "Star Wars Episode 1" mumbo-jumbo. I don't mind sci-fi as a genre, but for me to really be connected to a film, it has to be based in reality. And just because a movie stretches the truth, doesn't mean it shouldn't contain any truth. The "Matrix" films aren't based in reality; they're based in some crackhead alternate universe where a whole bunch of wacky things happen and the movie tries to make sense of it with a lot of pretentious sci-fi jargon that only geeks of the genre will fully absorb. I don't have to be a sci-fi geek to understand "Equilibrium."

Christian Bale gives one of the best performances in his career, and I really felt for his character and his struggle. There's also a great tension between his character and that of Taye Diggs, who envies his status as an officer. My favorite moment, which actually sent me to tears, was when the squad was sent to murder a large group of canines, and Bale becomes hesitant as he picks up one of the cute little puppies, and feels incredibly sympathetic towards it since he just started to feel emotion. And there's also a touching flashback, where his wife is arrested, yet he doesn't have any feelings about the event.

And I didn't even get to the spectacular action sequences, which are bound to give the Wachowski Brothers a run for their money! The film was made on a low budget, so the effects aren't as high-tech as in "The Matrix," but who said expensive effects make better action scenes? They're even better, since they don't depend highly on CGI. The scenes are so beautifully choreographed that I felt like I was watching a great John Woo film. But part of what made the scenes work was the fact that I fully sympathized with Bale's character and his goal to rebel against the society that's trying to put him and everyone else down.

I also love the wonderful score, which at times sounds like the one from "Broken Arrow"--which also worked wonderfully. Good films come more often than you assume, but great films don't. So I'm always proud to see a great film like this come along, and it's a damn shame that it didn't receive good distribution and probably made peanuts at the box office. Because this is a MUST-SEE!!! Screw "The Matrix"! "Equilibrium" is sci-fi at its best!

My score: 9 (out of 10)
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Secretary (2002)
5/10
Weird, disturbing...but not much else
28 May 2003
I don't mind films that deal with disturbing material, as long as I get a sense of the methods behind their madness. I'm sure the director wasn't intending to make an exploitative softcore S & M flick. I mean, the film doesn't even contain that much nudity. But the film just left me dry, with a bad taste in my mouth. I knew this wasn't supposed to be the feel-good movie of the year, but I thought I would at least get more of a sense of the characters' motivations. I never fully got a sense of why the two main characters were into these fetishistic S & M acts. True, the film is different. True, the film is daring. But it didn't really lead anywhere. I had the same feeling after watching "Blue Velvet," which also dealt with a female character who enjoyed being abused.

The actors are not to blame. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives as human a portrayal of her character as possible. And I always enjoy James Spader, who lately I don't see too often in the movies.

The movie has a mildly promising beginning, and I can't say I "hated" it, but it was an overall unsatisfying experience, with a premise that could've been put to good use.

My score: 5 (out of 10)
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Blood Work (2002)
8/10
Bloody good
27 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers
It's hard to release movies like these nowadays, and expect great box office receipts. Am I bashing this film? Far from it. I'm simply saying that many audiences just aren't in the mood for a good old-fashioned mystery. They prefer braindead actioners like "Fast and the Furious" and "XXX." I, on the other hand, appreciate a solid mystery-thriller that compliments my intelligence, instead of insulting it.

"Blood Work" didn't get me bored for one minute. Like the character of McCaleb I was constantly wrapped up in this investigation, dedicated to uncovering the identity of this killer, and the plot twist really blew me away. This is one of the few times I've watched a film a second time, after knowing its twists and turns, and it was a great experience. This time I kept looking for evidence pointing to why this person turned out to be the killer, and it made quite a bit of sense to me. I was just as wrapped up in the film as I was when I first watched it.

I've been fascinated by forensic detective work, which this movie has a lot of. So that's one of the reasons I loved it so much. I'm always intrigued to see these investigators pick up on the most minute pieces of evidence that the average person would take for granted, and use them as keys in cracking the case.

**********SPOILER AHEAD*********

One element of plot I felt was too far-fetched was the kid pointing out a key piece of evidence. The killer left a code, which was a set of nine numbers. Every single number was featured, except for the number "1." Sure, that doesn't sound too complicated to figure out, but the average person would probably overlook that tiny detail. But having the kid point out there was no "1" is a contrived idea, simply put in to surprise the audience by having them think, "Wow, this little kid cracked the code. Impressive."

**********END OF SPOILER**********

In the comic relief department, we have Paul Rodriguez and Jeff Daniels. Both actors helped temper the film's dark tone. I definitely recommend "Blood Work" to anyone in the mood for a good film with a good plot. Yes, a good plot--that's something you don't hear everyday.

My score: 8 (out of 10)
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Frailty (2001)
7/10
Creepy, genuinely effective horror/thriller
27 May 2003
I compliment Bill Paxton for a kick-butt directorial debut! The film has a good, original premise with echoes of "Night of the Hunter." Paxton takes on sort of the Robert Mitchum role, as a religious fanatic who believes that God chose him to rid the demons from the world. I'm always fascinated and amused by religious fantaticism, because it's something that cannot be exaggerated. You can never be "over-the-top" in portraying religious fanatics, because these people really do invest in every hint of bullcrap they spew, and say it with a straight face. And I'm not making assumptions, because I lived next to a family of religious fanatics for nine years when I was back in Brooklyn.

Paxton was obviously going for gothic horror. I was never truly scared, but I was creeped out. This is quite a haunting film. The plot is also rich and colorful, so this isn't one of those horror movies that depends on cheap scares to keep an audience interested. I barely hinted at one of the plot twists, but it still came unexpected and kept me glued to the edge of my seat.

The performances are good all-around. Paxton delivers a delightfully evil, yet human performance. It's hard to measure up to Mitchum's tour-de-force performance in "Night of the Hunter," but Paxton's comes close. Besides, I've always liked Bill Paxton, and find him memorable even in small supporting roles like the used car salesman he played in "True Lies." I will never forget him for that performance! Matthew McCoughnahey has recently faded from popularity, but is slowly gaining it back with hit films like "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." He's definitely more than a pretty face, and is another actor I always enjoy watching. I've never complained about Powers Boothe, but he's never given a performance that had me jumping for joy. His performance in this movie is definitely an exception.

Paxton worked with Sam Raimi on "A Simple Plan," and he definitely owes a good deal of thanks to the Raim-meister, with whom he obviously drew inspiration from in making this creepy film.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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7/10
Extremely crude at times, but delivers the laughs
26 May 2003
After watching Martin strike out three times in "Blue Streak," "What's the Worst That Could Happen" and "National Security," I'm glad that this film came out to prove to audiences that, yes, he is still funny. The problem is, and this is not uncommon among many comedians/actors, when he's given a script (especially a poor one) he hams it up to the extreme and simply comes off as brutally annoying. When using his own material, he feels much more secure, and as a result he's much more funny. His on-stage energy is incredible, but unfortunately like many concert films it drags at times. It's hard not to make a concert film drag, since you're stuck staring at the same set and same actor for nearly an hour and 30 minutes. When you're part of the live audience, you're better able to capture his intensity, which makes the experience more enjoyable, but engaging a movie audience with this material is more of a challenge. That's why I was interested in the commentary, in which the directors and producers explained all the work put into making the film. Before hearing the commentary, I didn't know there was much work put into these types of films, but they spend lots of time choosing which camera angles to cut to, maintaining continuity, framing shots while Martin constantly maneuvers around stage and choosing how to neatly splice together material from each of the two concerts.

Despite Martin's journey into PG-13 territory with his most recent films, I didn't forget that he does indeed have an amazingly filthy vocabulary. So I was prepared for excessive profanity and explicit sex talk. But there are moments where he goes way too far, and comes off as merely crude and disgusting. Nevertheless, I laughed a good deal, and I don't understand the extremely low IMDB rating. And despite all the crudeness, Martin does deliver some good morals. I liked his motto: "Ride this motherf**ker 'til the wheels fall off," pertaining to how you live your life, savoring every moment and not giving a crap. His other motto, "No one is immune to the trials the tribulations of life," is also memorable and full of meaning. Martin may be criticized heavily for his run-ins with the law, but what does that say? That all other comedians are saints? Even the supposedly morally correct Bill Cosby has vices of his own. No one is perfect. No one's life is a bowl of cherries. Martin confessed his sins, and now it's time to move on.

Finally, I liked the fact that Martin's act wasn't filled with the hackneyed black people/white people cracks I was negatively anticipating. If your money got sucked down the drain by buying tickets for Martin's lame recent comedies, then "Run Tel Dat" is definitely worth seeing, because the guy DOES have talent. And don't let these crappy films fool you.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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25th Hour (2002)
9/10
One of Spike's best
26 May 2003
This is definitely Spike Lee at the top of his game! `25th Hour' is a purely character-driven drama filled with engaging, complex characters and sharp dialogue. I like how Spike allowed the scenes to play out, without being too concerned about dampening the pacing. I'm sure some will complain (and this probably explains why it wasn't a big success) that the film is boring and slow-moving. If they do, that's probably because audiences are so used to watching movies with a million cuts in one scene, and more time emphasized on action and sex scenes than character development. The characters were so well-developed that I felt a deep connection with each of them. It's rare nowadays that I really get sucked into a film, and this was one of those rare cases. It might also have to do with the fact that I'm familiar with many of these types of characters in real life. You have the Barry Pepper character, who's this smooth-talking playboy who ends sleeping with a ton of women, despite the fact that he's harsh and not very likable. And there's the Philip Seymour Hoffman character, who's a lonely, average-looking guy, who's alienated from society because he doesn't look like an Adonis. It's a harsh reality that handsome guys with nice bodies get away with being complete jerks and still maintain an active dating life, while average-looking guys can have great personalities and women will be repulsed by them, but it is indeed a reality. Sure, it isn't right for Hoffman to be lusting after one of his underage students, but I'm sure if he were ten times better looking, people wouldn't be as disgusted-because God knows that teachers sleeping with their students is sweeping the globe like an epidemic.

The approach to these character interaction scenes is almost documentary-like, which adds to the film's engaging qualities. I love the scene between Pepper and Hoffman, where they chat about dating and Pepper describes his buddy as being part of the 62nd percentile, in the dating world. Sometimes it doesn't work when you deviate from the main characters to focus on the supporting characters, but in this film it did, being that they're very essential in Monty's life and it's helpful to allow the audience to know them inside and out.

The acting is terrific. Edward Norton is always brilliant. But the supporting cast is just as strong. Barry Pepper is a wonderful actor as well, and it's interesting to find out that he's from Vancouver, yet he convincingly inhabits the character of a true New Yorker. Brian Cox is only in the film for about 20 or 30 minutes, but his appearances are very memorable, and he is absolutely magnificent. After seeing him in this movie, I must add him to my list of favorite underrated actors. It's ironic that he shows up in practically every other film, yet he never gets the recognition he deserves. Hopefully, one day he will. Even Tony Siragusa impressed me. I'm not hugely familiar with him, but I saw him make a guest appearance once on `The Tonight Show,' and he seems like a cool guy with a good sense of humor, but I wasn't sure how he'd pan out in a serious dramatic role. Well, he is great, and pulls off the Ukrainian accent with hardly a hitch. I also liked how his character would mess up on his English every once in a while, instead of these foreign characters in movies who speak perfect English, only with an accent. I'm always proud to see Philip Seymour Hoffman, who never fails to impress. One reason I'm so drawn to him is because-like me-he's an average-looking guy, yet he receives decent roles and doesn't get typed as the `fat slob' like most actors in his weight range. So I think of him as an inspiration to all overweight aspiring actors. I once read a review for `Magnolia' in which someone bashed him for being so ugly. Of course, this person didn't mention anything about his acting, but that just proves how superficial of a society we live in today. Many audiences are so used to seeing actors and actresses with near-perfect faces and near-perfect bodies that they can't stand to see actors who look like `normal people.' How often do you walk outside and see people who look like Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow? Even these so-called reality shows try to include the most beautiful people possible. So people get hypnotized into thinking that's reality. I'm a heterosexual man, so naturally I'm open about enjoying the sights of beautiful actresses, but that's not going to impact how I feel about their acting abilities. And the sight of beautiful women alone surely doesn't make a film good (i.e.: `Charlie Angels'). Speaking of beautiful women, wrapping up this talented cast are Anna Paiquin and Rosario Dawson. Paiquin is cute and effective in her role, though technically it's similar to the ones she played in `HurlyBurly' and `It's the Rage.' I just hope she doesn't get typecast as the teenage slut who loves sleeping with older men. But she's a fine actress, and despite these similarities, she takes different approaches to each of her characters. Rosario Dawson just gets hotter and hotter by the movie. When I saw that trailer shot where she's dancing in the club in that silver dress, I couldn't help but think to myself, `I'd give my left leg to marry that girl.' Well, I'm glad to see that she receives good roles that compliment her acting abilities. She really has a commanding screen presence, outside of her outstanding beauty.

I only have two minor criticisms about the film. One is the unnecessary `F.U. sequence' where Norton goes on a blue streak about his hatred for the people of NYC and the world in general. I'm sure many will find deep meaning in that sequence, but I felt it was out of place and simply an opportunity to remind people that this is a Spike Lee joint-since it's identical to the race-bashing montage in `Do the Right Thing.' Spike mentioned in the commentary that the scene was in the screenplay, and adapted from the original novel, but I'm sure he thought of it as a perfect opportunity to insert one of his directorial trademarks. My other criticism is the use of flashbacks. Nowadays, some directors feel that dissolving into flashbacks and showing subtitles that read things like `Three years earlier' is passe, but the audience needs some sort of clue that we're going back in time. In the scene where Dawson and her friend are in the playground, and Norton first meets her, is obviously a flashback since Dawson is wearing a Catholic private school uniform. But there are other scenes that I didn't realize were flashbacks until I watched the movie with Spike's commentary. But even without knowing those scenes were flashbacks, I didn't feel thrown off, so that's always a good sign.

Besides the `F.U. sequence,' there were other Spike trademarks, which I felt worked out well, like his famous dolly shot. The movie is long, but not overlong. As I said, this is Spike at the top of his game. I'm personally a fan of most of his work, even the awfully bashed `Summer of Sam.' Other fans should also be impressed. Hell, even if you're not a Spike Lee fan, you should appreciate this film! It's a smartly written, well-acted, character-driven drama that doesn't come along too often.

My score: 9 (out of 10)
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8/10
Funny, delightful, realistic gem
26 May 2003
I was very impressed with this movie. First of all, it's very funny. It's definitely a feel-good movie, but at the same time doesn't resort to campy sentimentality. It's also a film that escapes from the stereotypes and depicts Latinos like they're meant to be depicted. One realistic touch that I appreciated was that half the time the characters would speak Spanish and the other half they'd speak English. That is how it seems to be in most Latin-American families. You rarely hear English spoken 100 percent of the time, unless both the parents and children are from the states. The director didn't worry if American audiences would be too lazy to read the subtitles. What's the big deal about reading subtitles? I'm taking a class in International Film, so I always cringe at the fact that when I tell other students about the class, their immediate reactions are, "God, you gotta read subtitles?" I'm proud to be an American, but at times like that my pride gradually lessens.

It's about time a film is released in which the main character is not only female, but a slightly overweight female. Because, and those hypnotized by the media be prepared to gasp, not all women are a size 3! Who's to say that a woman can't be pretty while having a few extra pounds? I think America Ferrera is a very pretty girl, not to mention she has charm. In everyday society, there are overweight guys and girls who have dating lives! In this film, her eventual love interest is a skinny white guy. That's not unusual. Unfortunately, media possesses us into assuming that the only types of relationships involve pretty guys and pretty girls. I'm sure even in California that isn't always the truth, despite its reputation for being Land of the Beautiful People.

I like how the film depicts the girl's mom and her hypocritical attitudes towards her daughter's obesity. Throughout the film, I never understood why her much more overweight mother was criticizing her daughter for being a big fat pig. But this happens in real life! Later in the film, the mother even says, "I'm married. I have the right to be fat." Parents can have those attitudes, unfortunately. And like in the film, they don't hesitate to humiliate their sons and daughters in public for having a certain problem like obesity.

The acting is topnotch. Lupe Ontiveros doesn't always receive decent roles in American film, and it's because of that many American audiences aren't familiar with her. That's too bad, because she's really a terrific actress and in "Real Women" I finally did get a chance to see her in a decent role. The ironic thing is she's often cast as Hispanic characters (usually maids) who have just came to this country, yet she was born in the states and hardly has an accent. Newcomer Ferrera is also incredible, and I hope to see her in future projects. She really has much potential, and if Hollywood studios decide to remove their heads from their behinds and cast men and women who aren't less than 120 pounds (in roles other than the "fat slob") she'll become a rising star. Finally, I was genuinely impressed with George Lopez, who actually plays a serious role, never once drifting into comic territory. It's rare to find a comedian who has just as much talent at acting as being funny, so it's nice to discover that George may be one of those people.

If you want to see a good, solid, entertaining low-budget indie gem that'll make you think and make you laugh, then this is definitely the film for you! It's one of the most original films I've seen come out in a while.

My score: 8 (out of 10)
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7/10
Decent horror flick
22 May 2003
Another film that I didn't place high expectations on and, as a result, I enjoyed it. The plot is nothing special. But there are some cool gore effects and death scenes. The acting is good. As a matter of fact, one of the main reasons to check this movie out is for an early performance by Naomi Watts--that's right, the absolutely bee-u-tee-full actress from "Mulholland Drive" and "The Ring." I swear to God, I'd marry her in a second--there's not one element of her that isn't beautiful! Even her sweet, songbird-like voice is beautiful. And she's a fine actress to boot.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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7/10
Still entertaining, but goofier on repeat viewings
21 May 2003
Though I still enjoy this movie, I have to admit that the film gets goofier and goofier on repeat viewings. It's slick, funny and altogether entertaining, but the more I watch it the more I realize how unrealistic the film is. It especially pales in comparison to "Dangerous Liaisons," which has its flaws as well, but is much more smart and ingenious. I still find Sarah Michelle Gellar attractive, but for some reason I no longer find her all too sexy--and this is a big leap, since I used to have a crush on her. Plus, her performance is very one-note, failing to express the same subtle humanity Glenn Close did when portraying the same character. With Ryan Philippe, though his acting still needs plenty of brushing up, he delivers the right amount of emotion needed for his character and nicely inhabits the role of Sebastian Valmont. One of my problems is the film's dialogue, which is sometimes as goofy and unnecessarily raunchy as it is pretentious. Some of the songs in the soundtrack are highly dated, and now sound way too lame (i.e.: "Praise You" by Fatboy Slim). However, I did feel "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve fit perfectly with the final scene. But the score is effective, helping intensify the film's erotic tone.

I recommend this film if you're in the mind for some fun, entertaining, "Dawson's Creek-like" fluff, since that's all the film really is. It's not quite an artistic gem, though some of the set and costume designs are beautiful. But one thing's for sure: it's a hell of a lot better than the sequel! Except this film doesn't have a girl-girl shower/kissing scene, which kinda sucks.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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Stakeout (1987)
8/10
Fun mix of action and comedy
21 May 2003
I really enjoyed this movie! It's filled with laughs and excitement, and never once was I not entertained. Next to "48 Hours" I think this is one of the best buddy cop movies I have yet seen. Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez make a wonderful team, with dead-on chemistry. Dreyfuss steals the show with his hilarious performance, proving he's just as talented at doing broad comedy as he is intense drama. That especially shows in the scene where he's about to walk out of Madeline Stowe's house, but doesn't want to be recognized, so he asks her to lend him a hat. The way he handled that scene was so magnificent, and there are many other farcical moments that he handled just as efficiently, and with the wrong timing and delivery those scenes could've collapsed. Estevez plays the straight man, also doing a magnificent job, and you really feel his envy when he's spying on Stowe, who's being hit on by Dreyfuss. I loved the scenes where the rival cops pulled pranks on each other. Speaking of which, Forrest Whitaker pops up in a fine early performance. And Madeline Stowe is great and sexy, as always.

Sure, the plot is quite predictable, but as I said I was always entertained, thanks to sharp writing and great performances. John Badham is a fine action director, so he kept those action scenes filled with suspense and tension. "Stakeout" is not a film that will keep your brain occupied--as a matter of fact there are some scenes that require you to check your brain at the door--but I assure you that you'll have a damn good time.

My score: 8 (out of 10)
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7/10
An impressive addition to the genre
19 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers
*I'm pretty sure there's no spoilers ahead, but just in case I'll give my SPOILER WARNING*

After renting the merely adequate "Darkness Falls," I was glad to see this solid, tension-filled horror flick that delivers the goods. The movie did surprisingly well at the box office, and critics and audiences have been raving about it, so I was wondering what all the fuss was about. This is definitely not your standard teen slasher.

First of all, I admire the choice of focusing on two characters. As the two characters are developed, we became quite attached to them, and when we finally see them in peril--we care!! Often in these types of movies, we're faced with an ensemble of characters, who are each one-dimensional. So instead of clenching onto the edge of our seats, hoping they don't die, we're actually waiting to see how they get killed. But in this case, the characters are well-developed and they're brother and sister. This way there's no cheap, gushy romantic moments. The two of them love and care for each other, but not in a romantic way.

The acting is good. Yes, I'm discussing a horror movie and admiring the acting. This is no misprint. The two lead actors each express great emotion, and we really feel their terror.

The movie has a unique approach, because it's intelligent and clever, yet it doesn't go for camp. This campy horror approach sometimes works, but there's so many of these types of films that the line between horror and comedy is beginning to get blurred. There are self-referential moments, like when Darry goes into the pipe and his sister says, "You know, this is one of those moments that they show in scary movies where the character does something stupid and everyone hates him for it!" and when she runs over the killer and Darry asks, "Is he dead?" She replies, "They never are," and continues to run him over a couple more times. For all this time, I've been waiting for characters to really give it to the villain, completely making sure he or she is dead, and that moment has finally come. So I thank Victor Salva for that. But these moments aren't done with a heavy hand. The film has spurts of comic relief, but all in all it treats the horror genre with seriousness and respect.

"Jeepers Creepers" isn't perfect. There is some annoying dialogue and I wanted to know more about the killer's motives, but other than that this is a solid horror-thriller. And I admire the ending, which also isn't standard in the horror genre. Salva, who directed the poignant drama "Powder," is truly a talented director and hopefully he'll be recognized for his talent and not for his past as a sex offender. I've said several times: if we only leaned towards artists who are "normal," we wouldn't watch movies or listen to music period.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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5/10
Didn't excite me
16 May 2003
I didn't hate this movie. There are much worse scary movies out there. But at the same time nothing really excited or fascinated me about it. There are a few unexpected scares which made me flinch, but other than that, it really doesn't deliver. Not to mention the acting from the lead actors is horrible. The guy who plays the lead is ultimately devoid of any expression. He makes Vin Diesel look like a Shakespearean actor. Emma Caulfield, though undeniably attractive, also sleeps through her role. I understand she's on "Buffy," a show I stopped following years ago. Obviously, she doesn't have to do any serious drama on that show, because showing emotion is definitely not her forte! I've mentioned several times: horror movies don't require tons of acting skills! So if you suck at acting in a scary movie, you really shouldn't think of developing a serious acting career. Even in "Jason Takes Manhattan," I felt the acting was decent. It's not that much work! One thing that did impress me was that most of the supporting cast was from Australia, since that's where the movie was shot, and they pulled off their American accents without a hitch. I tried to get into this movie, but it just left me dry. But hey, at least it was only 75 minutes long (if you don't count the credits).

My score: 5 (out of 10)
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2/10
Not your average teen movie, but it's still a piece of crap
5 May 2003
If there's one good thing I have to say about your average teen fluff flick, it's that at least they don't pretend to be holier-than-thou. The makers of "She's All That" and "Never Been Kissed" didn't pretend that they were making "Richard III." "The Rules of Attraction" is unbelievably pretentious. The minute you start watching this movie, you can explicitly visualize the director doing an interview and gloating about how "this is not your average teen movie." I don't care if this were a senior citizen film--it's crap!!

Roger Avary definitely has a great style, which especially shows in one scene in which James Van Der Beek and Shannon Sosseman are talking to each other, and we see close-ups on each of their faces through a split-screen. There are also many moments in which Van Der Beek gives an evil stare into the camera, which was obviously inspired from Stanley Kubrick, who used that with method with Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange," Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" and Vincent D'Onofrio in "Full Metal Jacket."

The problem? The story just isn't interesting. It's a complete bore! There are some slick lines of dialogue, which were obviously taken from the Bret Easton Ellis novel--one of his trademarks being his knack for extraordinary detail. In a better script with a better story, these elements could've strengthened the film, but instead it just builds a slick facade over a pretty hollow piece of cinema. When it all boils down to it, it's a simple story about jealousy, betrayal, philandering, sexual promiscuity, virginity--the same themes in every teen film!

The actors can't be to blame either. Van Der Beek perhaps gives the finest performances of his career, and has the aforementioned evil stare down pat. And he doesn't play the same lovestruck teen character, which is probably why he seemed to have been having so much fun in his performance. Shannon Sosseman (I'm sure I'm spelling her name wrong) is also perfectly cast. And the film definitely provides great eye candy with such stunningly hot actresses as Jessica Biel and Kate Bosworth. The scene where a drunken Jessica parades through the halls half-naked is definitely worth rewinding over and over again.

I liked the soundtrack, which contains some great 80's tunes like "Move Out" and "Faith." I know, I know. It sounds as if I'm actually commending the film. That shows what kind of damage a badly written script can do on a film. Not to mention the film is totally dreary and depressing in tone. The film was marketed as your standard teen film, which is evident through its trailers and TV spots, which included the great song "She Hates Me" by Puddle of Mudd. To be honest, it looked to be like a sex comedy, but as it turns out, it's far from it.

"The Rules of Attraction" is both boring and unpleasant. My instincts tell me this will receive a minor cult status, as it looks like the type of film you either love or hate. Well, I hated it.

My score: 2 (out of 10)
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5/10
Mediocre bore
5 May 2003
The problem with this movie is not that it's unbelievably awful, but it's just plain dull. I got a few laughs here and there, mostly from Tom Green's mindless rantings, but overall the movie suffers from below-average writing and Bruce McCullouch's poor direction, hampered by limp pacing. My main reason for seeing this movie was Tom Green, and though he receives star billing, he basically plays a supporting role. After being disappointed from the horrible "Freddy Got Fingered," I was hoping Tommy could redeem himself. Well, as far his performance goes, he put his best foot forward. And maybe he should stick to supporting roles like this. His performance in this movie reminds me of his equally funny performance in "Road Trip," and in both movies he plays supporting roles, as opposed to "Freddy Got Fingered," in which his mindless ranting and cheap shock humor got stretched over a tedious hour and 30 minutes. This is really Jason Lee's movie...unfortunately. Now, I loved Jason in all of Kevin Smith's films and I also liked him in his supporting roles in "Mumford" and "Vanilla Sky." But for the most part, he seems bored with every role he's given in a mainstream film. Of course, you can't completely blame him with some of these scripts he's given ("Stealing Harvard" being one good example), but his lack of enthusiasm certainly doesn't help. But it seems like, with the exception of his amazingly different role in "Mumford," he doesn't feel comfortable with any role where he doesn't get to play the hopeless neurotic. The great Dennis Farina tries to add some spice, also putting his best foot forward, but he couldn't breathe much life into this mediocre fluff. When you get Dennis Farina in a dress (yes, Dennis in a dress, that's no misprint) and still can't make me laugh, there's obviously a problem. Most of the funny moments were given away in the trailers like when Tom and Jason are about to rob a convenience store, and they pick fake names with Tom whining, "I wanted to be Steve!" I didn't hate this film, but I surely wasn't too entertained either.

My score: 5 (out of 10)
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8 Mile (2002)
9/10
Lives up to the hype
3 May 2003
Another rapper making a transition to acting? Eminem receiving worldwide acclaim for his performance with some promise of an Oscar nomination? This is the kind of stuff the press just has a field day with. But guess what? This is not your standard vehicle for an up-and-coming hip-hop star. Directed by Curtis Hanson, who made the wonderful "LA Confidential," this is a deeply moving, thought-provoking, unpretentious drama that sheds light on a world I knew nothing about: the world of rap battles.

I'm not the biggest fan of hip-hop, but it's an art like any other. What I don't understand is when a movie is filled with profanity, sexual content and violence, it's deemed as realistic, yet when a rap song contains those same elements, it's deemed as exploitative. These rappers are simply placing a mirror up to reality. How can you write about beauty and happiness when it barely exists in the world you live in? These rappers live in a world filled with gang violence and drive-by shootings, so they have to write what they know about. Martin Scorcese lived in a rough neighborhood growing up, and that's why he makes hard-boiled films about gangsters and other characters of that sort. And rightfully so, he receives much acclaim for placing that mirror up to reality.

I never knew about these rap battles, and I found them to be very interesting. They're like boxing matches, only the competitors fight with words. They search for each other's weaknesses, and do their best to mock those weaknesses via rap lyrics.

Now onto Eminem's performance...Yes, he was magnificent! Some critics and audiences claimed it wasn't a stretch for him, since he's playing a character that's so close to who he really is. First of all, acting is not just about being "another person." Just watch Prince's "Purple Rain" and you'll see what I mean. Was Prince playing a character vastly different from himself? Of course not! But he was still horrible! Acting is about expressing yourself and showing emotion. And Eminem did a beautiful job at showing emotion, and what impressed me the most was there was a lot of scenes in which he had no dialogue and had to express the way he was feeling nonverbally. I know, as an aspiring actor, that the hardest thing to do in acting is to be silent. It's easy to scream your head off in an intense dramatic scene, and let out all your aggression. But to communicate your emotions simply through facial expressions and body language? That takes talent. Not to mention that's a huge challenge for a first-time, inexperienced actor. I'm sure Curtis Hanson saw something great in him or else he wouldn't have hired him in the first place, because Hanson is a very reputable director and is not a whore for the industry, who'll allow any popular music star to walk onto his set to make a boatload of cash. Second of all, Eminem's character wasn't a carbon copy of himself, but an extension of himself, just like the story was inspired from moments in his life, but it's not exactly an autobiography. I recall one critic saying that if playing yourself in a movie were so easy, then anybody can act. That rings very true. Acting is something many people say they can do with their hands tied behind their backs, but once they're in the spotlight, they freeze up. So for all of you smart-alecks who feel that Eminem's performance wasn't a stretch, I'd like YOU to make a movie about your life, and let's see how effective your performance turns out to be. Much easier said than done.

The story is touching and powerful, yet at the same time surprisingly honest. There are a few contrivances, like Eminem finding out one of his best friends is screwing his girlfriend, and we're faced with the cliched scene in which he catches them in the act and beats the crap out of the guy. But other than that, the story is amazingly realistic, which is especially evident in the film's conclusion. It's not a tragic ending, nor is it happy. It's actually a character-driven ending. How often do we see those in movies? The whole film is pretty much character-driven, failing to take the easy way out by manipulating the audience left and right with corny melodrama and sentiment. Each character is rich and multi-dimensional. I assumed that Eminem's trailer-trash mother would be the standard foul-mouthed, abusive wench. But instead I grew to like her character, despite her drinking and sleeping around, because I got a real sense of her humanity and love for her son. The most powerful scene, in my mind, is when Eminem gets the crap kicked out of him as his little daughter watches from the window. At that moment I was nearly brought to tears.

The performances by the supporting cast are also great. Kim Basinger is great as the mother, and her performance (along with the way the character was written) helps add humanity to the role. A less-experienced, less-talented actress would've probably watched every "Jerry Springer" episode for research and hammed it up to extremes. Mekhi Pfieffer, who never disappoints, is also great.

I'm proud that the song "Lose Yourself" won the Oscar, which is the first for a hip-hop song, because its lyrics are rich with meaning and I thought it would be immediately snubbed simply because it's a hip-hop song. But luckily, the Academy voters kept an open mind, because it's really a beautiful song.

I don't care if you're 18 or 60, love hip-hop or hate it, I recommend you see "8 Mile."

My score: 9 (out of 10)
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Bubble Boy (2001)
7/10
A charming little film
3 May 2003
Of course, I wasn't expecting much, because of its poor reviews and horrible box office records, and I enjoyed it. Jake Gyllenhaal never seems too comfortable with his role (he seems more comfortable with meaty, dramatic roles like in "Moonlight Mile" or "Donnie Darko"), but his less-than-satisfactory performance didn't completely spoil it for me.

The idea is original. I can't say I've ever seen a comedy about a boy in a plastic bubble on a quest to find the girl he loves, and the movie plays with that idea very well, never descending into one-joke territory.

The cast is filled with talented actors. I especially liked Danny Trejo as the psychotic biker who lends the bubble boy a helping hand. People probably recognize Trejo from most of Robert Rodriguez's work, and he often gets typecast as the macho guy who's there to beat the crap out of people and doesn't say much. He's a fine actor, and I appreciate seeing him in roles like this, and hope to see him in more roles like this in the future.

As far as the story goes, don't expect anything beyond predictable. But the film has charm and that's what makes it work. It's harmless, likeable film with some good laughs to spare. It really left me with a good feeling.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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Empire (2002)
7/10
Definitely not as bad as people say it is
28 April 2003
Despite its poor box office performance and multitude of bad reviews from major critics, I found the movie to be quite good. John Leguizamo gives a powerful performance, exhibiting that same dramatic power he did in Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam." This is writer/director Franc Reyes' first film, and it's no masterpiece, but he definitely shows signs of talent. Not to mention the film was made on a low budget, yet it's just as effective, if not more, than urban gangster movies twice its budget. The film is flashy, but not too flashy. There is one shot, inspired by John Woo, in which Fat Joe flips a shotgun up in the air and it's played in slow-motion. Moments like that have their charm, "moment" being the key word. Too many scenes like that and you've got yourself the stereotypical, hare-brained, MTV music video disguising as a motion picture ala "Charlie's Angels." Reyes used an interesting lighting technique, making the ghetto scenes appear more golden and the uptown scenes a darker, blue-ish color. In most movies of this type, the ghetto scenes would be much more darkly lit, but Reyes wanted to break from the mold.

The story is predictable, except for one moment at the very end, but at the same time it's inspired and realistic. There are a few contrived, you-asked-for-it moments like Leguizamo's girlfriend catching him cheating on her with Denise Richards, but I didn't make a big fuss out of them. Reyes himself grew up in the South Bronx, so some of the scenes and characters are inspired from his childhood, and that inspiration really shows. Also, I always condone films with predominantly Latin-American casts, whether they're good or bad, because Hispanics are still very much snubbed in the world of media. So this is a film from a real Latin-American perspective, and not the perspective of a white man who did some research on their barrios and starring white actors with cheesy Latin accents (i.e.: Al Pacino in "Scarface").

Even though I'm all for minorities getting their art out there, that doesn't mean they have to diss the majorities. What I wasn't too thrilled about was the way the white characters were written. They're portrayed as the usual stuck-up, Armani-wearing fools they are in most films with a cast predominantly consisting of minorities. The climax involves the Peter Skarsgard character yelling out a racial slur. That seemed like a cheap device to elicit huge reactions from the young Hispanics in the audience. And the Denise Richards character is a ditsy floozie. What else is new? However, I've seen worse Caucasian stereotypes in African-American films. At least in this case, the whites weren't complete objects of ridicule.

The only member of the cast who I felt was out of place was Isabella Rossellini, who for some reason just seems like she walked onto the wrong movie set and never seems comfortable with her role. But the rest of the cast is superb. God knows I don't condone rappers venturing into acting, as a general rule, but the rappers who are in the film (Fat Joe and Treach from Naughty By Nature) are effective in their small roles, the key word being "small." If they had more major roles, my opinion would probably be a lot more negative.

"Empire" is a good, solid, well-acted, entertaining, action-packed joyride with great elements of truth. In a way, it's like an inner-city film noir.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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9/10
Sexually explicit and hilarious, yet at the same time very compelling
28 April 2003
I read an article about this movie and some have referred to this movie as a Mexican version of "American Pie." I believe the joke was that it should be called "Latin-American Pie." Now, I enjoyed the "AP" movies, and don't believe them to be crappy movies, but they possess no depth and substance. "Y Tu Mama Tambien" is much more sexually explicit than those two films put together, but it's in no way exploitative. It's a slice-of-life story involving teens, and who's gonna deny that 80 percent of a teenager's life revolves around sex?

The two main characters, though utterly repulsive in nature, aren't totally unsympathetic, like the characters in Larry Clark's "Kids." Through the narration, we get a sense of the characters' backgrounds and why they are the way they are. We aren't simply thrown into this torrent of teenage decadence without a net.

I'm sure very few people will regard this as a comedy, but it's filled with hilarious moments, mostly involving the explicit sexual conversations. Though it leaves you with a sad feeling at the end, it doesn't keep you depressed the whole way through.

As well as being a character-driven youth drama/road movie, it's basically a film about life, most specifically fate and how it works in mysterious ways and how many people live parallel lives and simply aren't aware. I'm not going to pretend as if I wasn't stimulated by the sex scenes, or seeing the Spanish actress who plays Luisa naked, but I didn't enjoy it just because of its sexual content. Too many movies nowadays forbid you the pleasure of going on a character's journey. Too many movies are all about plot, and more specially about plot devices. Screenwriters spend so much time developing plot that character development is put on the backburner. When you get to know the characters this deeply, you're able to connect with them, feel their pleasure and feel their pain. "Y Tu Mama Tambien" is one of those rare, character-driven gems that is definitely worth a trip to the video store!

My score: 9 (out of 10)
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4/10
Horrible, and not in a good way
21 April 2003
The original "Hellraiser" had its flaws, but overall it worked. "Hellbound" is an utter disaster, which may only appeal to the absolute biggest fans of the "Hellrasier" series. The story is not the least bit interesting, and lost me about halfway through. If this were a film I really cared about, I'd burn as many brain cells as possible to make sense of it, but this clunker wasn't worth the effort. The savvy gore f/x are still there, but that alone can't save this wreck. Sequels are supposed to shed more light on its predecessor, and this shed very little light. So we see Pinhead out of his makeup, as a human being. Big deal! The script even resorts to such cliched characters as the crazy girl, who's locked away in an asylum, doesn't talk to anyone and possesses the one power that can save the characters from eternal damnation. And as if this wasn't unpleasant enough to sit through, there's a disgustingly graphic scene in which a crazed mental patient scrapes maggots off his body with a razor blade, slicing himself left and right. I'm pretty jaded when it comes to violence on film, but I don't have a strong enough stomach to endure a scene of that nature. I guess it's because I react most negatively to violence I can relate to. I would never know what it feels like to be decapitated with a chainsaw, but I know what it feels like to cut myself with a razor. It's not something I do regularly, but I know the feeling. As I said before, hardcore "Hellraiser" fans may find merit in this sequel, but as for others--BEWARE!!!

My score: 4 (out of 10)
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Hellraiser (1987)
7/10
Solid horror flick
21 April 2003
For a long time I've been dying to get my hands on the original "Hellraiser," and now that I finally did I was quite satisfied. Though it's by no means a "great" film, it makes its mark in the beloved genre. I can't say I was scared during any moment of the film, but I did find it disturbing. The violence and gore is amazingly graphic, not just for its time. Clive Barker definitely created some great visuals. One of my minor criticisms deals with the story, which is good enough to hold my interest, but could've been a little richer. And the characters are for the most part underdeveloped. I understand horror films are more about entertainment than aesthetics, but I like to be able to connect with the characters in the story, so I can better feel their terror. The acting ranges from good to awful. Doug Bradley is outstanding as Pinhead, but he doesn't have much screen time, despite the fact that his face is plastered across the video cover. But the performance that really stood out was by Claire Higgins, who is delightfully fiendish. I always appreciate it when an actor treats a role in a horror movie in the same respect as that of a Shakesperean drama, and that was definitely the case with Bradley and Higgins--both brilliant English character actors. The performances by Andrew Robinson and Ashley Laurence are uneven. Laurence expresses sufficient terror with her facial expressions, and also happens to be very attractive, but some of her verbal outbursts are a little cheesy. The actor who plays Ashley's boyfriend is extremely wooden and nearly lifeless, but luckily he only has a small role. Not surprisingly, Clive said in the commentary that he wasn't happy with his part. And just as a side note, the commentary on the DVD is great and very enlightening, despite the fact that Clive's mumbling is sometimes hard to understand.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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6/10
An awesome comeback sequel!
8 April 2003
Now that I've purchased The Tox Box and have watched many Troma documentaries and commentaries, to the point where I felt like I was virtually inside Lloyd Kaufman's head, I've grown more understanding towards Troma films. Those Troma fans who've read my comment in my review for Carmen Electra's film, "The Chosen One," probably want to lynch me for accusing the producers of Troma of being shallow and not having depth. Well, it turns out that Lloyd Kaufman actually has strong opinions about the government and its many hierarchies, as well as mass media in general. I agree with some of his opinions and disagree with others, but nevertheless he has much proof to back up his arguments and everyone has freedom of speech. Basically, Troma's known for making "awful" films. In all actuality, it's an outlet for eccentric independent filmmakers who want to get their work out there, but the hypocritical studio system is afraid to give mainstream audiences something different. That's why I'm glad Troma has received a great cult following. If you think of it, the work of Lloyd Kaufman isn't much different from that of John Waters, only Waters receives much more praise for his work. Kaufman and Waters both make satire, only Waters happens to sometimes stumble upon reputable actors like Johnny Depp and Melanie Griffith, and when you have big names to slap on the marquis, you've got it made. But even great actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Billy Bob Thornton (before they got famous) had their start in Troma films. So who's to say only crappy actors fit the mold for Troma?

I still haven't yet seen a Troma film worthy of over a rating of 6, but I appreciate the effort. "Citizen Toxie" is one of the best Troma films I've seen, along with the first "Toxic Avenger," but that's not to say I loved both of these films. But I did enjoy them. And "Toxie 4" definitely compensated for the less-than-satisfactory Parts 2 and 3.

I can tell Kaufman decided to REALLY pull out all the stops. There are moments in the film in which I can tell were just there to make the MPAA gasp. He was basically telling the MPAA, "I don't give a damn about you guys! I'll make this movie as gross and gruesome as I please!" And that he did! Saying he went over-the-top would be an understatement. He doesn't once spare us a gag involving defecation or someone's insides being ripped out. After seeing "Class of Nuke 'Em High 3," "Tromeo and Juliet" and the past "Toxic Avenger" flicks I'm very familiar with Troma's theory of "the gore the merrier." But I can't pretend as if I wasn't brutally disgusted by some of these gags just to make the Troma-philes happy and show that I'm hip. Some gags may sound funny on paper, but on screen they work out horribly. The defecation gag is one of them. I didn't find the "retard" gags funny either. I'm into dark comedy if it's done right, but mental retardation is almost impossible to make funny.

Naturally, I had nothing wrong with the pervasive nudity. It's a Troma trademark, and Kaufman wanted to make use of that trademark as often as possible. All the women are very well endowed, yet they don't look like the standard artificial Hollywood goddesses--which is something else I have to compliment Troma for. Though the women are often very attractive with bodies to die for, they're not as skinny as Calista Flockhart and actually look like girls you might bump into in real life. There's even a hot lesbian scene. It would've been hotter if the actress who played Sarah agreed to get naked in the scene, but it's still quite hot.

Speaking of sex scenes, one scene I could've done without is the one between Joe Fleishaker, the actress who played Sarah and a block of cheese. Yeah, I know. Don't ask. That was simply weird and disgusting, and not in any way funny or stimulating. But there are a lot of sick, demented, hilarious gags to make up for those that are just plain sick and demented. And as I said, the gratuitous nudity helps a lot too. Troma-philes will almost definitely be satisfied!

My score: 6 (out of 10)
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9/10
A beautiful, funny, moving, character-driven tale
3 April 2003
"Strawberry and Chocolate" is definitely one of the best foreign films I've seen so far. It's both entertaining and moving. In the opening scenes, I couldn't help but laugh at the fish-out-of-water interactions between the main character and the gay man. But the actor who plays the gay man isn't a walking stereotype. He shows many feminine characteristics, but not in a way that he seems to be almost laughing at himself. Often times, gay men feel like women stuck in men's bodies, so it's only natural that they act feminine, but that doesn't mean all they talk about is which guys they think are hot and their longing for promiscuous sex. During those interactions, the gay man hits on the main character, but that's because he's a handsome guy. If a straight man were to meet a pretty girl, he'd hit on her too. Only that wouldn't be disputed, because heterosexuality is considered normal. But the gay man's advances aren't too forward and he doesn't start harassing him or anything.

The friendship between the two characters develops slowly, but realistically. You can't expect an average heterosexual man to immediately click with a homosexual. During their later conversations, the gay man expresses more of his emotions, and how he's shunned by society. Of course, we've seen other movies where gay characters express their disgust for being treated as third-class citizens, but in this case I felt connected to the characters to the point where it didn't feel like a plot device. As I said, the relationship develops naturally and not through sentimental coincidence.

Some directors would augment the relationship to the point where the main character decides that he himself is gay. But what are the chances that'll happen in reality? I have some gay friends, but that doesn't tempt me to like men as well. In fact, I still cringe when certain gay friends of mine talk about their sexual episodes. In this film, the main character remains straight and even falls in love with the man's older next-door neighbor. I enjoyed that little subplot and felt it strengthened the narrative, instead of driving it off course. The next-door neighbor also adds more comic relief to the film, with her quick wits.

The acting is excellent. Aside from the actor who plays the gay character, who I feel gave a tour de force, the main actor also delivers. His reactions are very genuine, as he's sort of the straight man (no pun intended, seriously) feeding off his co-star's energy. The film is directed the same team who made "Guantanamera," another independent gem which I had the pleasure of watching in one of my previous film classes. The two movies show the directors' knacks for telling an engaging story that can be both riotously funny and incredibly moving.

My score: 9 (out of 10)
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