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Full Frontal (2002)
Interesting, but not wholly successful
Steven Soderbergh's FULL FRONTAL is an interesting film, with moments of brillance, humor and insight. It also has absolutely terrible moments. It's not altogether successful, but I admire Soderbergh for taking so many risks. I was pleasantly surprised by David Hyde Pierce. He is great in this film and delivers the best single performance in the film. Mary McCormack is also wonderful and Nicky Katt is hilarious as a devoted actor playing Hitler (which provides the films funniest scenes). The scenes that didn't work were all the Blair Underwood/Julia Roberts stuff. They are uninspired performances and drag on far too long. They're garbage. Another problem is Soderbergh's choice to shoot on digital video. Unless you know what you're doing on video (like Harmony Korine or Lars von Trier), it's not a format that should be used. Parts of FULL FRONTAL are so dark and blurry you can't tell what's happening. Maybe this was Soderbergh's intention, but it's distracting. I like movies that take risks, even if all the risks don't pay off. FULL FRONTAL is a movie like that. It has inspired moments, but put together they don't all add up. This is closer to SCHIZOPOLIS than any other Soderbergh film. He takes risks that will infuriate many viewers, but I admired it.
Interesting, enjoyable film.
K-PAX is a enjoyable, thought provoking movie. Kevin Spacey plays a man who might be an alien, or he might be insane. Jeff Bridges plays the doctor whose job it is to cure Spacey of his delusions. Every scene between these two great actors is perfect. They have interesting, intelligent conversations, so much more thought provoking than most mainstream films. The problems with K-PAX lie in the subplots. I am so tired of seeing men's wives in movies whine about how their husbands are never home. It's annoying. Cut out every scene with Bridge's wife whining and the movie is much better. The other patients in the mental ward with Spacey are cookie cutter characters. These are the same people we have met in every mental ward since ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. Cut down on those scenes. Despite these flaws, K-PAX is still a very good movie. Spacey and Bridges are perfect. They have fun playing off each other. The ending is sure to confuse some people (I know one guy I work with told me he thought K-PAX sucked after I told him to go see it, because he didn't get the ending). The ending is the type of ending I love. It lets the audience decided what to think. I wish more movies trusted their audience as much as K-PAX does.
The One (2001)
I was not impressed.
Given the level of talent working on THE ONE, I was disappointed. James Wong and Glen Morgan are responsible for some of the very best episodes of THE X-FILES ever and their first film, FINAL DESTINATION, was quite good. THE ONE on the other hand is not. I like Jet Li. His early films like ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (and its sequels) and FIST OF LEGEND rank among the best action movies of the last decade. I quite enjoyed KISS OF THE DRAGON, an extremely violent action film from earlier this year. That one had preposterous logic, but at least it was consistant logic. THE ONE is not quite sure what it believes. It goes back and forth on what will happen if there is only one Jet Li left. The action scenes look cool, but still I was disappointed in them. They use special effects to slow everything down. When I watch Jet Li kick someones ass, I want to see him do it at full speed (although I admit I liked the motorcycle thing). THE ONE does not succeed on any of the levels it is trying to.
Domestic Disturbance (2001)
Promising start, bad finish.
Despite the good cast and director, DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE is nothing special. I liked how the movie started. John Travolta plays a boat builder in a small town. He is divorced from his wife (alcoholism is hinted at here, but never really stated) and his son is having trouble adjusting to his mother's new boyfriend, Vince Vaughn. At their wedding, Vaughn's old friend, Steve Buscemi, shows up and you know that Vaughn is not as perfect as he seems. The actors are perfectly cast. Travolta is good at playing the good guy, Vaughn good at playing the creep and Buscemi is great as playing an even creepier creep. However, once Vaughn's character murders Buscemi (in front of the kid of course) the movie starts to go downhill. We know the kid is telling the truth and Travolta knows he's telling the truth. It's frustrating sitting in the theater as no one else will believe him. The ending feels rushed. It's like the studio told them your movie can only be 90 minutes long, so once they hit 80, they just threw something together. The ending just doesn't work. Harold Becker, the director, has made wonderful thrillers before (SEA OF LOVE and THE ONION FIELD come to mind), but here he's just phoning it in. The movie's on autopilot.
BANDITS is a lot of fun. The story of two bank robbers who are completely different. Bruce Willis plays the tough guy. He's big, has a violent temper. Billy Bob Thornton is the twitchy hypochrondriac who is scared of everything (even antique furniture). Together the become the most successful bak robbers in American history. Everything is going good until Cate Blanchatt, a bored housewife enters their lives and ruins everything. There is nothing really new in BANDITS, its all just done very well. Director Barry Levinson finds the right note between comedy and drama and the performances are perfect. Despite the fact that is stars Bruce Willis, BANDITS is not an action movie. It's a story of three strange characters on the road. The just happen to rob banks. Willis is wonderful. I'm starting to think I underestimated for years. He plays the character perfectly. Blanchatt proves one again that she is one of the best actresses of her generation, playing a part completely different from anything she has done before. But the star of the show is Billy Bob Thornton. What a tremendous actor this guy is. His best roles to date have been as simpletons (SLING BLADE and A SIMPLE PLAN). But here, he's the most intelligent person in the film. It fits him. His outrageous phobias are funny, but they fit him. BANDITS is just a lot of fun to watch.
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
A great film (that is, if you get the director's cut)
Sam Peckinpah was disgusted with the version of PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID that was released in 1973. The studio took the movie away from him and recut it. This happened more then once to Peckinpah and it probably contributed to his heavy alcholism which killed him at the age of 59. The original version of the film (that is the one released in 1973) is awkawardly paced, and doesn't fully explain the things that need to be explained. The director's cut, now available on video and I hope soon on DVD, is a great film. The restored material helps to clarify everything that was foggy in the original. Like most of Peckinpag's films, this is a violent story. Like THE WILD BUNCH it has a outlaw (Kris Kristofferson) being pursued by an old member of his gang (James Coburn). What's interesting, is that Peckinpah does not make either of his main characters all that likable. Both are violent men, who will kill without feeling (that is until they have to face each other). Peckinpah offers no easy answers or standard Western moralizing here. It's an honest film. Those who complain about the historical inaccuracies (and I'm sure that some morans do), have missed to point entirely. It's not a film about what really happened between these two men, but a story of what happened between these two characters. In that respect, it is a great film.
Straw Dogs (1971)
A violent masterwork.
WARNING SPOILERS MAY BE AHEAD Sam Peckinpah may just be the most sexist director in movie history. Alfred Hitchcock is a close second, but he just liked to humilate his female characters, wheras Peckinpah views them as man's downfall. Consider that most his female characters from THE WILD BUNCH to PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID to BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA are all whores. The ones that aren't like Ali McGraw in THE GETAWAY, are willing to whore themselves to get what they want. In STRAW DOGS, Dustin Hoffman plays an American professor who moves to his wife's small England town to live peacefully. Unfortunatly, the local men, all of whom seem to know Hoffman's wife intimately, insult his masculinity and harass him constantly. Hoffman is terrfied by his attackers, but consider the reaction of his wife. When the attackers break into their house, to rape his wife, she goes along with it. There are no screams of terror or attempt to fight them off. Instead, she's a willing participant. The closing scenes in the film which are mercilessly violent, are therefore strange. Peckinpah has done something different here, along the lines of John Ford's THE SEARCHERS or Martin Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER. He's protecting a woman, who herself does not want to be protected. There is a difference however. This time, Hoffman is in danger too, something Wayne wasn't in SEARCHERS of DeNiro in TAXI DRIVER. Peckinpah has made a complex film, that challegnes his audience to evaluate everything they have seen in the movie carefully. Peckinpah was dismissed by feminist critics as sexist and vile, a man who hated women. This may well be true, but what interesting films he made on that theme. His women always love the main characters (remember the sad scene in ALFREDO GARCIA, where Oates' girlfriend is willing to be raped to protect him) yet they always seem like a lot of trouble. Peckinpah is a master film maker, and STRAW DOGS is one of his great works.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Perhaps the best western ever made.
WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD Along with John Ford's THE SEARCHERS, Howard Hawkes' RED RIVER, Robert Altman's McCABE AND MRS MILLER and Clint Eastwood's UNFORGIVEN, THE WILD BUNCH is one of the greatest acheivements in western moviemaking. It is a violent story of an old gang in the late 1910's who have outlived there time period. The wild west is dead, and yet they go on living. They travel to Mexico, where hopefully they will find a place to belong. But it's useless. All the find is a violent military government and sad people. William Holden plays Pike, the leader of the gang who rob a bank and flee to Mexico. Robert Ryan is a former gang member, hired to hunt them done. These two great actors give perhaps their best performances in this film. There are many great moments here. The opening robbery, the bridge blowing up and of course the final showdown. Before the showdown takes place, a quieter, scene takes place. Pike, sitting in a room of a whorehouse, looks at her and her baby. He then throws all his gold on the floor and walks over the next room where two other members are. He says two words "Let's go" and they both know immediately what he wants. They then walk outside, where Ernest Borgnine is waiting. One look at Holden and he knows what they have to do. The following shots are quiet, as these four men walk down a dusty street, towards their deaths. This is a sequence of devastating emotional power, matched by the closing battle and then the final scenes in the movie, where Robert Ryan, sits outside of town thinking for hours. He should have been there and died with his friends, not been trying to catch them. This is undoubtably the best movie master filmmaker Sam Peckinpah ever made. A violent, emotional masterpiece.
Ride the High Country (1962)
A great film.
WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is one of the best westerns ever made. Directed by Sam Peckinpah, this is more of a classic style western than a Peckinpah western (see WILD BUNCH or PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID). It is the sad story of two aged gunfighters (Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott) hired to transport gold. McCrea has honor left in his old age and wants to do a good job. Scott, tired of having to whore his old reputation just wants to steal the gold. These two old friends clash. There are many fine moments in this film, like when McCrea, too embarrassed to admit he needs glasses to read, goes into the bathroom to read over the contract. Or after McCrea ties Scott's hands together and Scott pleads with McCrea to undo his hands for the night because "I don't sleep to well anymore". These men reminded me of the outlaws in Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH, because like them, they are past their prime and have outlived there time. They are men with few equals, because everyone else they know is already dead. The final scene in the movie, where McCrea is dying and says to Scott "I don't want them to see this" referring to the two youngsters along for the ride is one of the saddest, most poignant moments in any western. This is a great film.
One of Peckinpah's best!
Roger Ebert recently added BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA to his list of the great movies. Having never seen the film, I decided to go rent it. It is a strange, warped, violent masterpiece. Peckinpah handles violence in his films better than any other American director in history. His films are about violent men reaching the end of their lives and waiting to die. In ALFREDO GARCIA Warren Oates plays a piano player in Mexico who journeys with his hooker girlfriend to find the corpse of Alfredo Garcia so he can cut his head off and sell it for 10 thousand dollars. Along the way they get stopped by bikers who want to rape his friend and are followed by other bounty hunters. Once he has the head and his girlfriend is killed, the film becomes more and more violent as he tries to track down who wants to film. On the surface, ALFREDO GARCIA may seem like a typical, albeit extremely violent, road movie. But it's deeper than that. It is the story of a man at the end of his rope, trying to get revenge. Oates is amazing. His performance is tough as nails. This film is a forgotten masterpiece, forgotten probably because it was so hated when it was originally released. Watching it now, it stands among RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, STRAW DOGS and THE WILD BUNCH as one of Peckinpah's greatest acheivements.
Red River (1948)
One of the best westerns ever made!
Howard Hawkes's RED RIVER is one of the best films the master ever made. It is a subtle, brillant work about two men in conflict. John Wayne gives one of his very best performances (only THE SEARCHERS is better), as Tom Dunson, a tough, tyrannical cattle rancher determined to move 9000 cows from Texas, where there is no market for them, to Missouri, where he'll get a lot for them. Along the long, tough drive he angers all of his men with his uncompromising ways. Tom's adopted son, Montgomery Clift, even sees Dunson as losing it and eventually has to take over. It then becomes a battle between these two men. Clift trying hard to move the cows, and Wayne on his trail wanting to kill him. Unfortunatly, the movie cops out at the end, but up until then it's great. Wayne was a great actor. Able to go over the top if he has to too, but here playing against the always great and understated Clift, Wayne is subtle, powerful and brillant.
The Last Castle (2001)
The performances are great!
The reason to go see THE LAST CASTLE is to see the performances. Robert Redford is doing his best work in years as a General sentenced to 10 years in military prison and leading an uprising against it's sadistic warden. As the warden, James Gandolfini is amazing. He's miles away from his character on THE SOPRANOS. He's a petty, little man who doesn't value human life as much as he values order. Mark Ruffalo also does a wonderful job as the little snake within the prison population. It's hard to get a read on him until the very end. The bottom line is, THE LAST CASTLE is predictable movie making. There's is nothing really new here, but it's still tremendously entertaining. Director Rod Lurie (THE CONTENDER) has made a good prison movie, with a terrific ending action sequence that is really a showcase for the actors. Gandolfini in particular deserves an Oscar nomination.
Training Day (2001)
A wonderful exercise in excess.
TRAINING DAY goes for broke. Everything about it is over the top, and that's why I loved it so much. It's not a gritty, realistic portrayal of a corrupt police officer, but a story of a man so far over his head that there is no way he'll ever get out. It reminded me of Brian DePalma's SCARFACE, about drug dealer Tony Montana. Realistic? No, but tremendous movie making. Denzel Washington outdoes himself here. He goes over the top so far, but still within the limits of the movie. Director Antoine Fuqua (THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS and BAIT) is not exactly known for his subtley, and TRAINING DAY is anything but subtle. It's like a freight train of a movie. The violence is strong, persistant and off putting, but then again it's supposed to be. (WARNING SPOILERS MAY BE AHEAD). The final scenes with Denzel in the street screaming at all the people he thought loved him so much, are great. Denzel's fate was sealed from the beginning of the movie, it just took him some time to realize it.
From Hell (2001)
FROM HELL is one of the few mainstream movies this year to get excited about. It is an amazingly well made movie with terrific performances. It's a horror movie that earns it scares, because they come out of credible situations. Johnny Depp, who is always fantastic, is great here as the opium addicted detective on the trail of Jack the Ripper. Heather Graham gives her best performance since BOOGIE NIGHTS as the hooker who might be next. Robbie Coltrane is wonderful as the chubby, sergeant and Ian Holm does a great job as a doctor. The Hughes Brothers have been great directors since their first film, MENACE II SOCIETY, and here they have outdone themselves. The movie is full of tremendous images, not least of which are the grisly murders themselves. FROM HELL is a definite must see!
Save the Tiger (1973)
Good, not great.
I had seen all the best actor nominees of 1973 (Brando, Last Tango in Paris, Pacino, Serpico, Redford, The Sting and Nicholson, The Last Detail) except for the one that won, Jack Lemmon in Save the Tiger. Looking at the list of actors he beat out, I thought that Lemmon mist have been amazing to win. But then I wondered why I had never heard of the film. So I rented it. The film is good, but not great. It's defineatly not Lemmon's best performance - that would be The Apartment- but it's a well crafted, thought provoking film. Lemmon is a garment manufacturer trying to survive in the world of the 1970's. Haunted by the war (WWII, not Vietnam) and hopelessly out of date with today's youth (one of the best scenes in the film is when Lemmon picks up a young hippie hitchiker who asks if he wants to bone), Lemmon is falling apart. I now see why Kevin Spacey thanked Lemmon in his acceptance speech for "American Beauty" last year - if Save the Tiger were made today, Spacey would be the actor to cast. The film is a little slow in parts, and little pretenious, but it is a good showcase for Lemmon's considerable talent. Still, Brando should have won. 7/10
One of the worst films of the year!
Chocolat is terrible, one of the worst films I have seen in a long time. Here we have a great cast with nothing to do Juliette Binoche basically sits around and looks pretty for two hours. Alfred Molina is on overdrive and horribly one note. Lena Olin - well she doesn't really do anything. Carrie-Ann Moss looks pretty, but doesn't do much else. Peter Stormare is the big lout he always is. Judi Dench - well you can't really complain about her performance because it the SAME DAMN performance she always gives. Even Johnny Depp looks bad. The film is rubish. All the characters are cookie cutter version of characters in much better films. The story, so to speak, is predictable, trite and cliched. If this were directed by an American, critics would rip it apart, but since its directed by a European, with a foreign setting and an international cast, why it must be one of those charming European films about a quaint little town. It was all I could do not to throw up in the theater as I was watching.
Steal This Movie (2000)
An interesting film
The film is an interesting look, at what appears to be an interesting man. The style of film is distracting at first - it's all a little too busy, but once you get get by that the film is an interesting ride. The performances are great - Janeane Garolfalo and Jeanne Tripplehorn play the women Abbie loved and do it very effectivly. And D'Onofio is great as Hoffman himself - fiery, passionate and very effective. If there's a problem with the movie, it's that it seems too in love with Hoffman to give a truly accuarate picture. It romaticizes his struggle and seems to think that Hoffman did nothing wrong when he sold what appears to be a lot of cocaine to an FBI agent. True, he was set up, but he still sold it. The film breezes past Hoffman's suicide and paints a man like a golden boy, a truly great man. I would have appreciated a more honest look.
The Pledge (2001)
A wonderful movie
WARNING SPOILERS CONTAINED
I am shocked at all the negative reviews this film has gotten on this website. This perfectly demonstrates that many people are no longer interested in watching challenging movies, they just want to see old movies rehashed again and again. THE PLEDGE is a fascinating, visually stunning film that contains one of Jack Nicholson's very best performances. He plays a cop who on his last day before retirement gets involved in a case involving a murdered child. He is the one who has to tell the parents about the crime, in a wonderful scene as Nicholson has to walk through thousands of turkeys to get to the parents. Nicholson pledges to find the killer. The other cops think they have their man, a retarded Indian who confessed, then killed himself. Nicholson doesn't think so. He does some investigating and finds two similar unsolved cases in the area, where the description of the victim was identical to the crime he's investigating. He sets up a surveillance of the area by buying a gas station where he's sure the killer will turn up. He meets a woman (Robin Wright Penn) who has a daughter who fits the description of the other victims. But, he would never use her as bait, would he? The ending has drawn a lot of complaints, but I think it ends the film on the perfect note. Nicholson's dark obsession with the killer, and his using a little girl for serial killer bait, means that Nicholson is not a hero. If he isn't a hero, why should he get a heroes ending? A lot of people say a lot of terrible things about Nicholson as the film closes, all of them true. But he wasn't wrong. This is a fascinating film about a man slowly imploding. 10/10
Proof of Life (2000)
Not bad, but too cliched
PROOF OF LIFE wants to be something it's not. It wants to be a movie about love, as well as a kidnapping thriller, and that is where it fails. The movie is obviously inspired by CASABLANCA- we have a very good man in danger, his loyal wife, and a rebel who loves the wife, and who maybe loved by the wife. The difference is, Rick and Ilsa in CASABLANCA were already in love when she reappears in his life, wheras is PROOF OF LIFE, we are asked to believe that Russell Crowe's Terry Thorn falls in love with Meg Ryan's Alice Bowden in just one meeting. It doesn't work. Ryan and Crowe are good together- they have chemistry. David Morse provides solid support as the kidnapped man and David Caruso has a good part as a buddy of Crowe's who loves danger. The film is made really well, with drained colors in the mountain camps. It just that the films central realtionship doesn't click. We need a reason to believe that Crowe would risk everything in his life for Ryan, and the film doesn't give us one. It's too bad, because much of the movie is well done.
Two Family House (2000)
A wonderful film!
TWO FAMILY HOUSE is one of the year's best films. It is the story of a perpetual loser named Buddy (Michael Rispoli) who has a dream to open his own bar where he can sing. His wife, played by Katherine Narducci, thwarts him at every turn. She yells at him and just wants her life to stay the way it always was. Buddy wants more. He buys a house, and he has to throw the upstairs tenant out- a beautiful Irish girl (Kelly McDonald from TRAINSPOTTING), who has just had a baby. To complicate things, the baby is half black. He helps her out, and soon they realize they have feelings for each other- but what to do about them? TWO FAMILY HOUSE is a lovely movie- full of effection for its characters. It's realistic and believable. The performances are great- not just by the three leads but all the supporting characters including Vincent Pastore, "Big Pussy" from "The Sopranos", as another local bartender. This is a wonderful, big-hearted film.
One of De Palma's best Hitchcock homages!
WARNING: SPOLIERS AHEAD Not just of this film, but also of Hitchcock's PSYCHO!!!
Brian De Palma wants to be Alfred Hitchcock. All of his thrillers are homages to the master, and SISTERS is one of his best. It is an intense film about a reporter who thinks she witnesses a murder in the apartment across the street. She calls the police, but when they can't find the body, they close the case. The reporter delves deeper into the story and finds some disturbing things. Margot Kidder plays the woman suspected of the murder. She has a demanding twin sister who gets mad whenever the nice sister brings a man home. The film is really well made, in the style of Hitchcock. The films conclusion, where it is revealed that the evil twin sister died years ago, and the nice twin has taken on both personalities brings to mind Hitch's PSYCHO, where Norman Bates has taken on the alter ego of his demanind mother. PSYCHO is not the only Hitchcock film used as base material here. REAR WINDOW is as well. It is a thrilling chiller.
The Caine Mutiny (1954)
A great film.
For anyone who thinks all Humphrey Bogart did was play Humphrey Bogart in every film, you have to see THE CAINE MUTINY. This is miles away from any other performance Bogart ever gave. Instead of a tough "stick my neck out for no one" personality Bogart is famous for, his Captain Queeg is a neurotic, paranoid fool. Bogart pulls it off flawlessly. The rest of the cast is also stellar, particularly the underrated Fred MacMurray. This is a wonderful film.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
One of Hitchcock's best!
SHADOW OF A DOUBT, was said to be a personal favourite of Hitchcock's and it is easy to see why. It's tense and wonderful, with great performances from Joseph Cotton and Teresa Wright. When Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) comes to visit, little Charlie (Wright) couldn't be happier. But she slowly begins to expect that he might be a serial killer. Joseph Cotton is one of the great actors in film history. His performance in SHADOW OF A DOUBT is one of his best. He's truly frightening and charming- at the same time. The film's conclusion in almost unbearably intense. A masterpiece, from one of the greatest of all directors.
Billy Elliot (2000)
Good film, but very cliched
BILLY ELLIOT is a charming movie about a young boy who just has to dance. He meets resistance from everywhere, yet he loves ballet and that is what he is going to do. Jamie Bell gives a remarkable performance as Billy, but the film itself is a little too cliched for my taste. There is never a moment when you don't know exactly where this film is heading. However, charm wins out. BILLY ELLIOT is a charming film, with real heart, that doesn't shamlessly manipulate its auidence like say, PAY IT FORWARD. The film is quite good.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
CAUTION: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD- NOTHING MAJOR BUT IF YOU WANT TO GO IN FRESH, DON'T READ
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is a masterpiece. It is the most harrowing, unforgettable look at drug abuse ever put on film. It makes TRAINSPOTTING and DRUGSTORE COWBOY look pale by comparison. Ellen Burstyn delivers the best performance of anyone this year as a old housewife who convinces herself she'll be on TV and takes diet pills to lose weight. Her slow descent into madness is unforgettable. Jared Leto is also amazing as her son- a hard drug addict who along with his friend, Marlon Wayans, comes up with a plan to make money. Leto's final fait is graphic, unforgettable and deeply disturbing. Then there is Jennifer Connelly- the most underrated actress in the movies. She starts out a beautiful, sweet, naive girlfriend of Leto's, and by the end she has turned into a hardcore addict, putting on sex shows for perverts to get her fix. The film is brilliantly well made- the fast-forward montages, and extreme close-ups probably show us what its like to be on drugs better then any film before it. This truly is a masterwork, by a talented new director. 10/10