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Thunder and Lightning (1977)
Too Much Good Ol Boys and Too Much "Yahoo"
2 out of 10
Contrived good ol' boy, yahoo nonsense that is taken into overdrive. There really is no need to talk about the story since it is very derivative and just an excuse to put in a lot of smash up car chases.
The filmmakers seem compelled to come up with every southern stereotype they can think of. There is the grizzled, uneducated, overall wearing, backwoods moonshiners. There is also the grubby, beer swilling, uneducated, pick up truck driving rednecks with names like Bubba and Scooter. Then there's the virtuous, but spunky southern daughter with a accent that is really annoying. There is even a scene where a couple of down home boys jump into a car and shout "yahoo!" as it takes off. It's all a very one dimensional, uninspired mess that makes you feel completely brain dead after about ten minutes.
The production values aren't too good. The sound is muffled and there are too many quick cuts making some of the action hard to follow. The whole thing looks rushed and haphazard and simply done to cash in on the success of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT.
Carradine's performance is much too subdued. He seems to have no energy and is just mouthing his lines. Jackson is pretty, but her personality is much too strong. The only fun piece of casting is Holloway. He plays the main moonshiner and is probably best known as the voice of Winnie the Pooh. This was to be his last film appearance.
The film has a few good moments that are worth mentioning. One is a unique speed boat chase done on a large swamp. There is a segment where a minister preaches his sermon while wrestling with a alligator. There are also hit men who like in PULP FICTION have unusual conversations. Some of the strange topics include too much violence on TV, Captain Kangaroo, and even Norman Vincent Peale. There is also one really good inside joke. Napier is having a fight with Carradine and yells out "Hey as----- knock off the Kung Fu sh--."
A Good Approach That Just Doesn't Go Far Enough
5 out of 10
True story of Aileen Wournos. A prostitute who killed over seven men in and around the Florida area during the 1980's.
The most interesting aspect of this film is the fact that it merges the morality. Nothing is black and white and the Wournas character is portrayed in a sensitive light. In a lot of ways you really grow to have a compassion for her and a feeling for a her rough existence. In fact during the first incident where she kills a man you are actually rooting for her to do it as he has tied her up and torturing her. Wournas is really a victim and is no way the 'monster' that the title infers. This is one of those 'stories behind the headlines' that allows you to see it from a different perspective and have a better understanding about what happened and why.
This also allows for a good commentary on society where the film seems to place the brunt of the blame. We see her trying to go clean and yet when no one will hire her she is forced to go back to her old ways and then punished for simply doing the desperate acts of a desperate person with few if any options. The real monster here seems to be our socio-economic structure and certain puritanical people who underneath are really quite ugly and just as scary.
The atmosphere is gritty and authentic and never let's up. There is also a nice running commentary by the Wournas character, which allows for further insight into how she rationalizes what she does. Some of her observations are right on target.
The film's biggest flaw is that it puts too much emphasis on her relationship with lesbian lover Selby (Ricci). It's a rather offbeat relationship for sure and there are some telling moments about it, but it's only one element. Some of the scenes between the two go on too long and become boring.
The film also completely skip Wournas's childhood, which seems like an almost fundamental stage to examine. The scenes involving the killings of the male customers are pretty benign. Only the one involving Wilson, who was simply a kindly old man at the wrong place at the wrong time, has any emotional impact.
Theron certainly plays the part without fault and was an obvious choice for the Oscar yet some of the credit really needs to go to the make up department. Ricci is usually pretty good, but some of her responses here seem affected. Still she has a real nice innocent girl look here that ends up exposing a dark side you just don't see at the start.
Overall the film doesn't seem too have as much impact as it should. The approach is a little too biased and they seem almost intent at making Wournas into some sort of martyr. Despite an earnest effort it still seems like just an overview.
Secret Window (2004)
Not a Real Good Career Move for Depp
4 out of 10
Strained thriller dealing with a writer (Depp) in a secluded cabin who becomes menaced by a country hick (Turturro) who insists that Depp stole one of his story ideas. The hick becomes more and more vengeful, which leads to some intense confrontations and even murder.
The biggest problem with this film is the fact that it is based on a short story that would make it perfect for an episode of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, but as a feature film it gets stretched pretty thin. The whole concept is built around a gimmick that comes around the final twenty minutes. It is a severe twist that is unexpected and may be a turn off to some viewers. There are no real 'hints' of it coming and not enough reasons to back it up. The final result is stale with no real scares to speak of. The characters and dialogue are really bland. In a lot of ways this is quite similar to THE DARK HALF, which was another movie based on a Stephen King book. It also starred Timothy Hutton who appears here and also tries to sport a southern accent that doesn't sound to good and wavers a lot.
Depp is known for taking 'daring' roles, but this one backfired. He is completely unlikable from the very beginning. He is self absorbed, snide, indecisive, and even a bit stupid. He is alone in a lot of the scenes, but he can't supply them with any energy. He also doesn't seem to know how to dress himself. He never even remotely resembles a successful adult writer at a cabin retreat. Instead he looks like a college slacker who got the place to himself while his parents where away on vacation. When he puts on his stocking cap he actually starts to look like your average street punk. Even Depp fans might walk away wishing they had skipped this one.
Out of all the characters only the one played by Charles S Dutton is the least bit engaging and of course he disappears way too soon. You gotta love that timer clock that he uses in his office it is the funniest part of the whole movie.
Turturro's hillbilly character is overly cliched and borders on being laughable. It would be amazing if this character could even spell let alone write anything of any coherence. Still Turturro can be creepy when he wants to be in what otherwise looks like nothing more than a leftover character from DELIVERANCE.
Bello is engaging as Depp's ex-wife simply because she looks so much like Tuesday Weld in her prime. It is a uncanny resemblance. It is also nice to see a male character in a Hollywood film that is actually married (or in this case formerly married) to a woman that was his same age and not twenty years younger.
In the final analysis this film is built solely around one twist. If you like the twist you will like the film if not you won't. Personally I didn't like it. The story could have gone in several different directions and many of those could have been better. Here it ends up being just too cold, too calculated, and too unexciting. The filmmakers clearly thought this would end up being a lot more 'clever' than it really is. Hard to believe that this was done by the same guy who did APARTMENT ZERO. That film seemed so much more sophisticated.
Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Far Superior to the Original
7 out of 10
Agreeable, easygoing actioner detailing a motley group of eleven very different guys brought together to a rob a highly secure casino in Las Vegas.
This is a remake of the 1960 original that starred Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. This one is far, far better. Of course that film was so boring it is hard to believe that a remake could be any worse. That film did not concentrate on the robbery itself, but instead just relied upon ol' blue eyes and Dino mugging for the camera. This one is much more focused on the heist, which is elaborate and once it gets going even exciting. They also do not fill you in on the complete plan and therefore gives the viewer some real neat intricate twists to the heist as it progresses.
The real drawback to it is just the fact that it seems virtually impossible to pull off especially with the way that they do it. The fact that they do it with such ease really hurts the tension level. It also gets a bit too exaggerated and hi-tech. At times it almost seems more like an espionage film than a caper flick.
The comraderie amongst the group is one of the film's better elements. No one is overly obnoxious and no one is so cool that they can't be touched. These guys are slick, but they can still get nervous and display other vulnerabilities. There is also some genuine concern and support for each other. There is even some snappy exchanges although there could have been and should have been a lot more.
It is also nice that it breaks the age barrier and incorporates old timers Reiner and Gould into the fold. Gould is pretty much wasted, but at least it's nice seeing him back doing movies that are released to the theatre and not just to your local video store shelf. Although I must say his oversized Harry Carey glasses are awful and not even good for laughs. Reiner is good because he proves here that he can actually act as well as write and direct. The ethnic accent he uses isn't bad.
The character of the casino owner who gets robbed is a interesting one. He is a man that carries everything out with a precision and is apparently quite sadistic and violent if he feels you betrayed him. He is written as kind of 'untouchable' character with a mystic like the one in THE USUAL SUSPECTS. However Andy Garcia, who plays the part, fails to bring out even one shred of that mythical quality. In fact Garcia makes the character seem downright dull.
One should also mention the terrific smooth jazz score. It perfectly compliments the laid back style of the film and is distinct. Of course, at times, the film may get a little too laid back. It takes a while to get you involved with it and the ending is just too restrained.
I am usually not too into sequels, but a sequel here seems like a good idea. This is a fun bunch too watch and they should be enjoyable in further adventures. Their robbery schemes are clever. A little fine tuning and it should be a blast. Clooney is always good, but he overshadows Pitt too much and hopefully that will get rectified.
Bank Shot (1974)
Funny, Funny, Funny
8 out of 10
Completely wacky story involving seven nutty people who decide to rob a bank that is inside a mobile home. They do so by stealing the entire building only to find that trying to open the safe is even tougher.
This is the type of comedy that works because although it is built around one gimmick it doesn't just stay dependent on it. Everything is offbeat here. It really is just one laugh after another and it comes at a extremely fast pace. Nearly every scene is diverting and some of it even memorable. It shows a good handle on the absurd with just the right balance of the irreverent particularly with the police and other authority figures. Scott's escape from his prison camp is good example of all these ingredients. He uses a stolen bulldozer to crash through the gate while the police chief tries to 'chase him down' while driving nothing more than a flimsy little golf cart. It all makes for one of the most unique chase sequences you will ever see.
Of course the actual heist of the bank building is still the best. The innumerable and frustrating attempts at trying to open a most difficult safe comes in at a close second. There are also a lot of other fun ironic twists.
Scott is not necessarily the best person for the part of the cunning and audacious criminal mastermind. He looks very old, grouchy, and tired here. He has your grandfathers big bushy eyebrows and talks with a very strange lisp. Yet he is also at his crumudgeon best and the film makes the most of it. Cassidy with her infectious laugh and very sunny disposition makes for a terrific counterpart. James though probably stands out the most in a over the top caricature of the hard nosed police sergeant. It's the best role of his career and a part he looks to have been born to play.
If the film has any faults it is the fact that it tends to be too one dimensionally silly and at points seems almost cartoonish. A little more tension here and there wouldn't have hurt. It also goes by way too fast and the ending isn't very satisfying. Still this is a solid comedy that should appeal to anyone with a good sense of humor. It is also fun for the whole family.
Something's Gotta Give (2003)
7 out of 10
Nicholson plays an older man (over 60) who likes to date much younger women (under 20). Things begin to change though when he has a heart attack at the home of his girlfriend's mother (Keaton). As he is stuck their recuperating the sparks between him and the mother slowly begin to fly. Unfortunately complications are furthered by his doctor (Reeves) who also has a interest in the mother.
This is a real fun and charming romantic comedy. This is the kind of breezy film that can be both topical and observant without going overboard on either. It nicely explores both the issue of age and double standards. It has a fresh feel and yet still makes some good points along the way. It also takes the major step of making older single women look not only sexy, but accomplished and fulfilled as well.
The love scenes between Keaton and Nicholson work along these same lines and to an extent almost seem groundbreaking. It is indeed refreshing to see such 'mature' people having such an unabashed little romp. Yet Hollywood has made us very accustomed to seeing only young people doing this on screen and at first it does seem a little bit jarring yet it is all handled in a very light and sweet way. It is also different from most other films in that it emphasizes the romantic side of lovemaking instead of just the erotic.
Keaton really does shine here. She has now fully outgrown her ANNIE HALL persona. In many ways her character here is the exact opposite. She is confident, secure, and opinionated. She has a real nice snappy delivery to her lines. She goes toe to toe with Nicholson and never misses a step. Her performance comes off as believable and everyday an Academy Award nomination should certainly be in order.
Peet, as the daughter, is real good in a different sort of way. Depending on the scene she comes off as either jaded or very child like. It is both keen and funny to see this young women who seems very sophisticated and confident and yet when Nicholson has his heart attack she seems very confused and helpless and even calls out for her mother.
McDormand is wasted and doesn't appear hardly at all after the beginning. This is a shame because she is not only a great actress, but her character nicely compliments Keaton's. Reeves also seems a bit wasted and also a little too dumped on.
There are times when this film falls into the same old romantic cliches and the ending just doesn't ring true. Yet it still keeps things pretty real. It shows how difficult finding true love can be and the many road blocks it entails even after you've found it.
The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
Glossy and Superficial, But Still Quite Interesting
7 out of 10
It is hard to resist this documentary even though it seems more like self promotion. The fact that this man has attained what others could only dream about makes it a must see itself. Robert Evans certainly does seem to embody every stereotype one could imagine when they think of a Hollywood producer. He is rich and suave, he wears big, tinted glasses, dresses in gaudy suits, hosts wild parties, dates beautiful women, and lives in a beautiful, serene Hollywood home. You would think that he would almost have to be a caricature, but he isn't. His stories involving famous Hollywood celebs, both past and present, could alone fill a movie if not several.
Of course that is the problem with the documentary. It all seems a bit too Hollywood. Everything seems a bit phoney and too far removed from the average person. He seems, in a way, to have made a production out of himself. The film, like the man, is very deliberate and highly glossy. It depends almost exclusively on some very well transferred old photographs and elaborate stills. At no time do we ever get someone else's viewpoint or perspective. Evans shows no ability at having any self depreciating humor or humbleness. His determination and gutsiness is inspiring yet it would have been nice to see Evans as a child and a little bit more on his upbringing. Also the dialogue between him and his then wife Ali Macgraw seems really weird and only adds to the mythical quality of the thing.
Evans does all the narrating and proves to be quite a character and showman. His ability to do different accents and voices is impressive. The whole thing is very fluid and it gets you involved in a hypnotic sort of way. You also gotta love his saying, which was taken from an old Chinese proverb "Luck is when opportunity meets good preparation."
September 30, 1955 (1977)
Too Melodramatic For It's Own Good
4 out of 10
The title represents the date that the legendary and truly great actor James Dean died in a car crash. His death has an adverse effect on a group of teens in a small southern town.
Thomas is the main character who , along with his girlfriend Billie Jean, seems to get the most upset. Although some of his actions may seem fanatical it is really not as extreme or as a fanatical as you may think it would be or could have been. At no time does he become so immersed in it that he loses sight of reality. At times it really becomes more of a story of lost young souls looking for an identity than it does on celebrity worship.
The story itself is pretty slow and has a lot of long drawn out takes. There are times when the drama gets just a little too heavy. The ending is especially unsatisfying as it doesn't even give us a hint as to whatever became of these characters who are all left in unfinished scenarios. In the final analysis this thing is nothing more than another one of those sappy 70's teen romance tragedies.
Beyond the poor structure there are indeed some good things going on here. One is the just the chance of seeing such budding young talents working together and carrying a film. The other is director Bridges who shows some really good insight into Dean's mystic and why he made such a strong connection with the youth. You have the feeling that Bridges himself was a really big Dean fan. He also makes a good statement about just how many lost, lonely souls there are out there and the stifling nature of small town life especially during that period. He also recreates an excellent 50's flavor maybe some of the best you will ever see. The interactions between the characters seems very real and there is good historical accuracy. Bridges is honest with his assessment of the 50's and yet is not condescending to it like with a lot of other movies. He digs beyond just the period detail. You really feel, at least during the first hour, that you are right there and a part of the 50's experience, which is interesting and fun.
Overall Bridges shows signs of being a serious up and coming filmmaker. Unfortunately he tries a little too hard here. It seems too labored and trapped by the sensibilities of it's era. It is also completely humorless, too talky, and an eventual bore.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
One of the All Time Best
10 out of 10
British P.O.W.'s at a Japanese island prison are ordered to build a bridge for the Japanese army yet the bridge and the construction of it only serve as a metaphor for human nature and the overall human condition.
This film is actually split up into six very distinct parts. The first and by far the most interesting is the clash of wills between Colonel Nicholson and Colonel Saito. The second part is the actual building of the bridge while the third is the planning for it's destruction. The fourth is the slow and dangerous advancement through the jungle by the people hired to destroy the bridge. The fifth consists of the actual completion of the bridge while the sixth deals with it's destruction.
It is really rare for a film to grab your attention right away and hold it consistently all the way through. Even through three hours length it never has a slow moment and thankfully is not filled with needless extraneous footage either. It is one of the most compacted, tightly edited three hour films you will ever see. Finally Director Lean has a found a story that is strong enough and profound enough to match his very expansive visual style.
This film is tops in literally every aspect. There is a terrific music score, lush photography, great location, acting, editing, and some really good special effects. It is is also just a great all around adventure that balances it's profound moments with some really good action. The ending is especially powerful and thought provoking. There is also, believe it or not, some really good comedy. Pay special attention to that calender in Hayakawa's office and how it changes from month to month.
Of course there is some strong doubt whether any of this could really happen in a actual P.O.W. camp especially with that big variety show the prisoners put on after the bridge's completion. Yet the film still represents some very universal issues. The animosity between the Guiness character and the Hayakawa one is the best because it shows how even with the greatest of adversaries they are more alike than they are different. It also shows that how sometimes the one thing that really separates people more than anything is nothing more than circumstance. It is also great at how it examines that even with the strongest, most disciplined, and most intimidating of people they can still have weaknesses somewhere. This is also a film that makes terrific use of it's silent moments and makes it one of it's strongest elements.
Makes Good Use of it's 'Rags to Riches' Formula
9 out of 10
Inspiring and exhilarating story about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that broke long odds by beating the mighty Russian team and eventually going on to win the gold medal.
This film gives off a rousing spirit that can be equaled to the one given off by the classic ROCKY picture. One almost wants to jump from their seat and cheer. This a very unique brand of movie because you know exactly what is going to happen and yet it only makes it all the more exciting. It has a marvelous structure that takes things from the 'blueprint' stage to the final stage. You see everything from the hiring of coach Brooks, to the selecting of players, their rigorous conditioning and eventual molding. You see how this really wasn't a 'miracle' at all, but instead just good strategy and a lot of hard work and sacrifice.
This is a film that can be appreciated by a true sports fan as well as a player or coach. It sticks to the basic story and by and large keeps things real. There are no unnecessary story threads or exaggerations. On the whole it is accurate and amazingly detailed. It captures the era well and should bring back a strong feeling of emotion and nostalgia to those who lived through it.
Russell at first seems miscast as Herb Brooks. He wears a puffy hairpiece that looks absolutely awful on him. The plaid pants he wears look almost as garish. His Minnesota accent seems a little goofy at first, but by and large he stays pretty consistent with it. Eventually he starts to really melt into the role. His body language resembles the real Brooks and by the end you start to believe he is Brooks. The way he chews his gum behind the bench during the games looks exactly the way a real coach does. This is one of Russell's best acting jobs and deserves Oscar consideration.
It's hard to find anything too critical about this film. The "Dream On" song by Aerosmith, that is played over the closing credits, seems to edgy for the material however the rest of the music is excellent. It would also have been nice to see what the players look like today instead of just reading tidbits about what they are all now doing. The crowd in this film cannot equal the enthusiasm of the real crowd. It might have worked better had it been filmed in the U.S. and an actual American crowd been used.
It is unfortunate that those in Canada dislike this movie because they consider it pro-American. This film is not about politics of even hockey for that matter. This film is about having big dreams and the exhilaration that comes when they are finally met. It's just the same old 'rags to riches' formula, but it's very well done.
Revealing and Captivating Despite Appalling Production Values
6 out of 10
A pure interview movie if ever there was one. There are no effects, no cutaways, photographs, or anything else resembling anything of cinematic value. The picture merely focuses on Traudl Junge talking and recounting her years as Hitler's secretary. It is shot on videotape an almost looks like someones home movie. The subject is captivating enough, but calling this an actual film is a real stretch. Even a TV interview have better visuals.
In some ways this is good and almost a novel idea because it avoids the distractions that come about when too many visual 'enhancements' are thrown in. It allows the viewer to totally focus in on what the subject is saying and allowing them to create their own mental pictures. However the framing, setting, and editing all look horribly amateurish. The editing is especially a problem. Black frames pop up to cut from one interview segment to another and it gets distracting even a bit disconcerting. It also hurts the flow of the picture although this seems to happen more at the beginning and by the end pretty much drops off.
Content wise the stories are interesting, but really don't offer any major revelations. Junge seems to be given free rein to talk about anything she likes in anyway that she wants with no direction. A more crossfire type interview may have allowed it to be better structured and more of a impact. At best her stories can be described as being revealing and even slightly amusing. If anything her portrait of Hitler is different from anyone elses. His comments towards her during her interview for the job is down right stunning and memorable. Her accounts of his actions and reactions to things during the last weeks of the war will really surprise some people. In fact some of it seems so weird that it is almost too hard to imagine.
Overall despite it's humble production values it still has some good elements. Those that are interested in history and psychology should find this the most interesting. Junge seems a very affable and unpretentious individual that displays some amazingly good insight. Her accounts of the final days of the war are the most vivid and captivating part of this picture. The only thing that is missing is a little more on Junge the person especially with her adjustments after the war ended.
Interesting in a Very Disgusting Way
6 out of 10
Finally a movie that actually lives up to it's title. This is a film that cuts no corners and really doesn't particularly care if the viewer ends up liking it or not. In many ways the filmmakers seem to take a certain glee in just how disgusting and 'vulgar' they can make it. There is a different type of motivation here. It's a sort of assault on the viewers senses. It's a test at seeing just how much one person can take. It's crude and ugly all the way through. It's just one grotesque image or comment toppled onto another. Victory to these filmmakers seems to constitute how many viewers it can repulse. This seems especially evident on the DVD version where in the bonus section they proudly display all the rejection letters they have received from all the film festival organizations.
The story involves a hard on his luck guy who works as a clown for children's parties. He decides he needs some extra money so he decides to attend a adult party and pose as a male clown stripper, but it ends up all being a set up. Once he gets there he becomes accosted and eventually raped by three grown men.
The rape scene is actually not as disturbing as you might think. For one thing it is handled very well technically. It has some interesting camera angles and viewpoints. It also comes after so much other ugliness that by the time you get to this part it all seems very status quo. In fact the filmmakers become so obsessive in painting such a over the top tasteless and nihilistic portrait that eventually it all becomes darkly amusing. A good example of this is the protagonists mother who sits in a senior home and spews all every imaginable insult and put down that she can to her son. She seems so mean to her son, who otherwise seems like a nice guy, that at first you cringe at what she says. Eventually though she spews out so many that you just can't help but start to laugh.
There may actually be a message here somewhere. It may be saying that we live in a very mean and ugly world with no chance at defeating it or escaping it. Good guys and innocent people get raped by it all the time (Note how our protagonist is nothing more than an innocent children's clown.) You almost have to get ugly yourself in a way in order to deal with it because you can never really get beyond it. This is evident by the way our protagonist becomes rich and famous and yet his attackers just track him down and try to extort money from him by saying they have a videotape of the attack which they could send out and humiliate him with.
Overall this is a very cheap looking and grimy picture. It's excessively vile nature will be a test to just about any viewer. Yet it is well paced with a nicely compact structure. The dialogue is good and the three attackers are perfect enhancements to the mountain men in DELIVERANCE. If anything it has it's own vision. This is a viable candidate for future cult status.
3 out of 10
Out of all the films that have been made about the adolescent experience REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE is still the best. It may have been made in the 1950's but it's issues are as timely as ever. Unlike most other teen movies it tried harder to be honest and wasn't caught up with simply being hype or trendy. It seems like every time someone comes out with the latest 'relevant' teen movie the more irrelevant they actually become. Like with a lot of the others this one is way more smoke than fire.
The main problem with this one is that it is just too much of what you'd expect. One 'shocking' scene is piled up by another with a very tiring regularity. None of it has any impact and it all seems very one dimensional. Just about every imaginable facet of outrageous teen behavior is shown. You feel almost cheated when she doesn't runaway and become a hooker with an abusive pimp. It is all very exploitive, leering, and degrading. Saying that this is simply a 'honest look at todays teens' shouldn't forgive it.
The film may have some validity, but it all seems meshed together in effort to create some seedy paranoid nightmare. It seems to have gotten inspirations from Larry Clarke's excellent docudrama KIDS. This film though fails to be as compelling or as hypnotic. In many ways this films style is very distracting. They seem even more obsessed with the hand held camera than THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.
The Hunter character could easily qualify for the worst parent award. She misses all the obvious signs and seems to have no ability to control, punish, or even confront her daughter. She also looks and acts too much like a teenager herself. Maybe this is the point, but still a some more meaty confrontation would have given this thing a little more electricity.
Wood as the star is certainly an up and coming actress. She shows a lot of composure and is all around outstanding. She has a very sweet and delicate face, which makes her transgression all the more jarring. Yet the character she plays is smart and sensitive and who already seemed to have a lot of friends. It seems to be pushing it to think that she would have fallen so completely in with the wrong crowd when she really didn't have too. Reed, who co-wrote the screenplay and plays the new friend with a bad influence, is a much weaker actress and is hardly effective at all.
Overall it is easy to see that this was written by a young novice. The story is aimless and pointless. In the end it amounts to nothing, but a waste of time.
Me Without You (2001)
Maudlin and Uninspiring
5 out of 10
The film follows two friends from childhood to adulthood. It observes how the two make a pact to stay friends forever as children only to find that this friendship becomes a detriment as they get older.
This British made film seems very similar to the cult hit ANTONIA & JANE. That film dealt with the same theme but was much quicker paced, had a better sense of the absurd, and was all around more fresh and funny. This film takes more of a bare bones working class mentality of a Mike Leigh picture. Yet Leigh leaves more of a emotional impact and his characters always have interesting idiosyncracies about them.
This film doesn't have that and it gets kind of depressing. The characters seem to meet nothing but perpetual heartache and disillusionment. Having them receive a few more ups instead of a constant stream of downs might have made it a little less taxing to watch. The Miranda character especially seems like a poster child for tragic figures. Where is that droll British wit when you need it.
The moral of this story is how Miranda imprisons Holly with their 'friendship'. In many ways that is exactly the same thing this friendship does to the viewer. It becomes obvious after the first thirty minutes that these two have grown vastly separate personalities. There is nothing real to hold these two together and in real life they would have drifted apart much sooner and found other friends that would have fit more with their own individual interests. Keeping these two together seems done only for dramatical purposes. What is more is the fact that these girls do some really mean things to each other and no one in this picture displays any redeeming qualities or strength.
The film only seems to get interesting when it gets away from the girls friendship and focuses on the other characters. Holly's relationship with Miranda's older brother is actually much more interesting. The film might have done better had it broadened out from the beginning and shown how the evolution of life affects people in general.
It is amusing how in these films girls that are portrayed as 'plain janes' are still superior looking than the average women in real life. Here Holly is considered the 'unattractive' one and yet she still has a terrific figure and a cute face. In fact it is the supposedly enticing Miranda that seems more unattractive. She looks too made up and gaudy. Depending on her hairstyles she runs the gamut of looking like a poor man's Catherine Deneuve to a poor man's Shannon Doherty. What is worse is that by the end, particularly after a bad crying bout, she actually starts to resemble a poor man's Susan Tyrell.
The film is quite polished from a technical standpoint. There are moments of keen observations and the viewer can't help but think back to their own childhood friendships. It also has a real nice wrap up and a good music score. Unfortunately it tends to be unrelenting and has nothing to really make it distinctive. It also has a small ongoing stream of sensuality to it that seems forced and predictable.
The Music Lovers (1971)
A Kaleidoscope of Good and Bad Elements
6 out of 10
Revealing look at famous composer Peter Tchaikovsky who fought his homosexual tendencies by marrying a woman he really did not love. Eventually he abandons her and they both go on to suffer their own forms of madness.
In some ways this is a interesting film. Pianists and composers were like what rock stars are today. Director Russell nicely handles the concert sequence. He injects images and thoughts of the people as they listen to the music therefore visualizing the experience a concert goer of classical music has.
Russell continues to show his great flair for the visual. Some are beautiful while others are garish but just as lyrical in a darker sort of way. The scenes with Jackson in the asylum are a good example of the grotesque imagery, but they are also well composed and quite memorable. Some of it gets to be a bit overdone and even becomes unintentionally comical. The scenes involving Chamberlain's ill fated attempt at lovemaking to Jackson on a shadowy, bouncing train car definitely fits this mold.
Russell also shows no real feeling for the subject and seems more interested in using it only as a excuse to show off his flashy style. The viewer can never get that emotionally involved with the characters. We are only given a fragment of what these people were like and are never given the whole picture. The emphasis seems exclusively on the dark and self destructive side. Watching their descent into madness is not very inspiring or insightful.
The casting of Chamberlain was a poor move. The guy seems to have a very limited acting range. He is good looking, but lacks the charisma. His facial expressions rarely seem to change. He shifts badly from underplaying the part to overplaying it.
Jackson is much better as his counterpart. This could be a real find for her fans because she plays a type of character that she has never done before or since. Usually she plays very strong willed people, but here she plays a very weak person who allows herself to be dominated and exploited shamelessly even by her own mother. She even does a very provocative nude scene.
Overall if you like Russell's style then you will enjoy it more than others. Otherwise it comes off as shallow, moody, and fragmented. There are also some real slow spots especially in the middle.
What Happened Was... (1994)
A Stark Look at the Dating Scene
6 out of 10
Stupid title belies a otherwise interesting experiment. There are shades of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE here except it's not two men getting together for dinner and conversation it's a man and women on a date. The whole film takes place in the women's apartment and simply follows their date and course of conversation.
It scores a bullseye when it comes to modern day dating and all the elements that come with it. Anyone who has done a lot of dating or is heavily into the dating scene will most assuredly relate. These are indeed two very real people. Sillas is a women typical to the dating scene. She is rather plain looking with a boring job and rather dreary overall existence. She looks for a relationship as a way to escape the blandness. Her nervous laughter and gestures are completely on target. Noonan, as her male counterpart, is indeed the culmination of a typical male lost in the dating jungle. He is balding and gawky. He is smart and amiable, but still limited in his interactions.
There ninety minute dialogue is both painful and funny. It is clear that these two people, like in a lot of first dates, are in two very different worlds. They never really talk or connect. They try to force something to work that really can't simply to avoid their own loneliness.
The concept is terrific, but the overall visual style is not. The color is too washed out and the effect is too grayish and bland. The pacing is all right, but there is a odd segment involving the reading of a childrens story that the Sillas character had written. The story is very ghoulish in nature and seems like something that would not have been written by that type of character. The reading of the story goes on too long and there are some subtly strange supernatural elements that happen during it that doesn't make any sense and certainly doesn't fit with the rest of the picture.
Overall though it is a nice try. It can be both entertaining and amusing in it's observations. Yet it's approach is bit too honest and oppressive. It may hit too close too home for some reminding them too much of their own bad dates and their own situation. Viewing this could ultimately become just one big depressing experience.
Anger Management (2003)
Some Good Laughs, But Overall Pretty Typical
7 out of 10
A mild mannered businessman (Sandler) has a slight confrontation on a airplane that gets way overblown. He is court ordered to take part in a anger treatment program whose instructor ( Nicholson) seems completely nuts. His participation just makes him angrier. Things get worse when his instructor decides to give him a more 'aggressive' treatment by moving in with him for 30 days.
On the whole this is a pretty good comedy. The sight gags and one liners are funny and come along at a nice pace. The story touches slightly on the absurdities of our modern age. Most notably it looks at the new age psychobabble that is supposed to solve everything, but when it comes right down to it can't hold much water. It also shows how easy it is for someone to get swept up in the nonsense and how hard it is to get out of it.
The members of the anger group are definitely a fun bunch. They are perfect victims for the new age trap. Dopey, but still lovably human. The two porn star members are hilarious simply because they seem so out of place. Turturro also scores as Sandlers anger 'buddy'. He comes off with his usual intensity. He makes a good odd pairing with Sandler and one that could have been explored further. It is just as funny and intriguing as Sandlers pairing with Nicholson and maybe even better.
The film's weaknesses come from the fact that it is just like every other feel good comedy. It tries so hard to be entertaining that it ends up being silly and forgetable. The film gives us no new insight into the anger management world that really does exist. Some of Nicholson's treatment 'techniques' are ridiculous and bar any type of rational or tolerance. For instance having him get into bed with Sandler and even insist on sleeping in the nude would and SHOULD test anyones patience. You also start to feel a bit sorry for Sandler's character. He is a nice guy that is being put through too much nonsense for no good reason. You, the viewer, start to feel angry just watching it.
There is also a running sight gag involving Sandler's pet cat named Meatball. The cat is extremely overweight and Sandler uses the cat as a model for his fat cat line of clothing. The sight of seeing such a fat cat in such absurd outfits is supposed to be funny and cute, but proves to be neither. The cat looks consistently miserable and it is very unhealthy for a animal to be so fat.
Sandler's turn as a straight man is a success. Nicholson has just the right angle of the modern day therapist consistently talking in that overly calm, soothing type of voice. His flashes of craziness seem like highlights from his other crazy guy roles. Tomei makes for a nice girlfriend, but by the end this film has shifted too much from a buddy movie to a formulated romance.
There is a nice feel for New York City especially Sandler's apartment which seems authentically designed and lighted. The climatic sequence at Yankee stadium is also good. There are also some really good (and funny) surprise cameos. They include Woody Harrelson, Bobby Knight, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter, Mayor Rudy, and Harry Dean Stanton as a blind man. Unbelievably John McEnroe's cameo was taken out but can be seen on the deleted scene section of the DVD version. It's pretty good.
Ron is Just a Real Likable Guy
7 out of 10
It is rare when you can use the words cute, cuddly, and porn in the same sentence and yet this is definitely one of those times. This is one of those films that is very natural and honest and has a real feel good spirit to it. You can't help but like Ron Jeremy a man who has done over a thousand adult films and has had sex with some of the hottest women in the business. He is very self effacing and affable. He seems less like a film subject and more like a chum. He is somebody you could party with and have around as a pal.
The filmmakers show no intent at conveying any particular type of message. A wide variety of things are shown. Everything from his background, his childhood, his costars, his hobbies, his family, and of course his many adoring fans are seen. The approach is objective with the porn scene shown in a very matter of fact way. It also takes a look at the stressful side of being a male performer. In particular are the methods they use to gain erections and then sustain them for long periods.
This is a film that can be fun even for those who don't like porn. Ron is certainly an original and nothing like what you might expect a porn star to be. He is intelligent, out of shape, and has a very warm relationship with his family. He also takes his job quite seriously and even considers what he does as true acting. He is very opinionated about this. Depending on your point of view you may find this either intriguing or just highly amusing.
Some of the best parts are the deleted scenes, which you can find on the DVD version. The part where he hugs a tree that was planted the same day he was born is both goofy and memorable. He is shown to be a very good pianist and also tells of a rather arousing 'Lolita' story. The deleted scenes also shows more of his father who is fun to listen too and has a real nice 'old man' charm.
Like the man himself this is fast, funny, and offbeat. It has a very humanistic approach and doesn't stay on anything too sordid. It can be enjoyed equally both by those who like porn and those that don't.
On the Beach (1959)
Too Mild and Restrained
5 out of 10
Nuclear war was waged and the entire northern hemisphere was annihilated. The nuclear cloud has not yet reached Australia nor did it hit the American crew of a underground water sub. The rest of the film revolves around these people and the adjustment to the inevitable.
This is indeed a rather unique nuclear war movie. There is no billowing mushroom clouds here. Australian society seems to continue to run in a very orderly fashion even after the knowledge that half the world is gone and they are next. Everyone seems to remain very civilized and accepting to their fate. There is no panic, no rage, no madness, no looting or even general chaos. There isn't even a mention of a underground shelter. Maybe there would be a segment of society that might respond to their impending doom in this fashion, but by making it like everybody would be this way seems to be giving us a very limited scope of the true situation.
The film also has a rather odd view of the landscape in a nuclear aftermath. Peck and his crew venture back up to the American shores. Yet there is no dark clouds, no cold temperatures, no destroyed buildings or even a dead body or two. The sun is shining and San Francisco looks as beautiful as ever except that it is completely empty. Yes viewing the empty streets (and a very empty Golden Gate Bridge) does give off a certain eerie and surreal feeling, but it certainly doesn't coincide with any of the accounts of a nuclear winter that I've read about.
The film also concentrates on too few characters who are, by and large, not very interesting. Only Gardner, as a lonely and desperate woman, comes off as memorable. Peck seems even stiffer than he usually is. Having him go on normally even after knowledge that his whole family has been killed seems more inhuman than stoic. Astaire, in his first dramatic role, isn't too good either. He seems unable to exude the deep cynicism that his part demands. He also takes part in a car race. There are some shots of him driving his car with the other cars driving behind and around him. It was done , or course, in front of a blue screen and it has to rate as one of the poorest and most obvious blue screen format shots ever seen.
The movie could have used a little more of a dark sense of humor and not been it so achingly serious. There is some attempts at humor, but it is very weak. It would have also been nice to see everyones reactions when they first heard the news instead of just starting off well after it has soaked in. The film also has a bad tendency at falling into a soap opera type mentality.
Yes the very nature of the story makes it compelling, but it is too slow and restrained to be really powerful. The intent is to make it thought provoking and even a cry for action. Yet it is so unrelenting and maudlin that when it is all over all you want to do is forget about it.
Didn't You Hear... (1983)
A Very Strange and Moody Picture
4 out of 10
A strange film dealing with a detached college student (played by a young Christopher sporting a very big mop top) who is out of sync with his environment. He escapes by imagining that he and some of his friends are a couple of modern day pirates. They sail to an island that is inhabited by an adult population that eventually prove to be quite hostile.
This certainly does rank as an interesting curio. The story and pace are eccentric and yet still manages to work. It does have a tendency to meander and some may find the whole thing boring and meaningless. Yet it remains strangely compelling and outside of a few corny songs has a good music score that works well with the action. The low budget is a problem and could explain why the fantasy segments really aren't very fantastical. Yet the filmmakers do a good job at filming everything with a wide variety of camera shots and angles. It gives the illusion that everything is new and different and keeps an otherwise limp story flowing.
The message itself isn't bad, but it tends to work more on the emotional side. It taps into the need for individuality and independence. The need to live life on ones own terms versus the responsibilities one has when living in a society. It specifically analyzes the college age when one isn't a child, but not quite ready (or willing) to embrace the adult world. They certainly do have an engaging free spirit and the film seems to take this on with it's very free form style. It may all just revert back to the whole 'hippie vs establishment' thing that permeated the era when this was filmed, which was actually 1970. Yet the film still seems very fresh and some of the philosophical discussions are interesting. The aloof ending though pretty much ruins everything.
Christopher scores in his first film appearance. He seems to get more into it as the film progresses. His role is insightful as it shows how on the outside he seems to be very rule bound, but on the inside he is actually quite free thinking. Busey is also fun in one of his early roles.
The weird title is actually in reference to a line that is said throughout the picture. It bears a special significance at the very end.
The Gazebo (1959)
7 out of 10
Fun time filler involving Ford and his attempts at murdering a blackmailer and then burying the body underneath a newly constructed gazebo.
Nothing profoundly exceptional here, but it is genuinely and consistently offbeat. There are some good laughs and a couple of uniquely comical moments. Ford and his rather timid delivery really carries the picture. In many ways he was much better at comedy than drama and this film not only proves it, but takes full advantage of it. The very nervous way he proceeds with the murder is a real riot alone. The very high strung way he tries to direct a live on air broadcast, that is shown at the beginning of the film, is not only funny but completely on target.
Their are a lot of twists and turns here and they all become much quicker in pace near the end. None of it is predictable. The best sequence may actually be the one involving a pigeon named Herman. Also don't miss the comment by the police chief at the very end as he is leaving the house.
Reiner adds good energy in support playing a lawyer that never stops deliberating. Character actor McGiver is pretty good also playing against type. Usually he plays very stuffy type characters who enjoy pontificating. Here he plays a gruff laborer who speaks sparingly.
The Desperate Hours (1955)
Methodical Drama with Stilted 50's Sensibilities
6 out of 10
Bogart and pals escape from prison and hide out in a suburban home. There they hold the parents and two children hostage. The father (March) quietly plots a plan and slowly takes control of the situation.
The film certainly does have it's minuses. The plot is too general in nature and too sanitized. The crooks don't seem too smart or sophisticated. They never seem very menacing and seem completely out of control not only with the family, but even amongst themselves. Things seem to unravel for them at almost predictable intervals making the suspense rather minimal. They also make some glaring tactical errors. Having the family move around freely and talk amongst themselves upstairs while the bad guys 'stand guard' downstairs seems stupid. It's almost like asking them to come up with an escape plan.
Bogie is one terrific actor who can be very adept at creating dark characters just catch his performance in TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. Yet here, despite his best efforts, he comes across as being bland. This is mainly due to all the problems mentioned above.
On the plus side is the fact that the film is very methodically paced and builds to a good climax. The interior of the house is well designed. The staging is excellent and allows for some good dramatic shots. The neighborhood exterior is also very detailed. March gives a powerhouse performance and his confrontations with Bogart are excellent.
If you can get past the stilted 50's lingo and sensibilities then you may find that this film still has some impact. Little Ralphie is one the most endearing child characters you'll see. He is cute but very feisty and daring especially with the bad guys. If you look quickly you can also see Joe Flynn, in a very early role, as a driver of a hijacked car.
Last Embrace (1979)
Good Effort, but Still Just a Poor Man's Hitchcock
6 out of 10
A mysterious man, who works for a mysterious organization, is being chased by some mysterious killers, for some unknown and mysterious reason. Has all the trappings of a bubblegum thriller and when you scrape away all the flashiness that is really all you get.
Not that it isn't entertaining. The camera movements and angles are downright dazzling. I especially liked those frantic zoom shots that look like it's shot from a camera put on a roller coaster car. There is also some interesting use of lighting and framing. Not to mention some terrific on location shooting especially the Niagara Falls finale. The story is very fast paced with a new twist coming with literally every scene. There is also a wide assortment of other gimmicks used that on a non-think level can be fun, especially during the first hour. The haunting music score is good too although it gets played a bit too much.
The problem really comes with the fact that all these twists and turns really add up to a lot of nothing. Too much is left unexplained and the final revelation seems far-fetched. There is a wide segment of other loopholes and there is just the plain old fact that you have probably seen a lot of this before. It also becomes very cliched and even kind of annoying at the end. The film expects you to become close to characters that on the whole are very poorly fleshed out.
The movie does offer a great opportunity to see Janet Margolin who is a very uniquely and naturally beautiful woman. Even when she is made to look frumpy she is beautiful. She has a face that looks like it never got past 21. She closely resembles 80's porn stars Kelly Nichols or Jennifer Noxt.
Scheider does not fare as well. He looks alright, but his presence is very transparent. He just doesn't seem to have a strong enough personality or acting ability to really create a memorable or forceful impression. Also that white suit he wears all the time has really got to go.
Overall despite it's best efforts it is still just a poor man's Hitchcock. The real thing is still better.
The Boy Friend (1971)
9 out of 10
Excellent musical that should be the basis for all other musicals. Seamless, flawless, and visually stunning. A wide variety of backdrops and settings are used. There is everything from the conventional dance line to a fairy tale setting where the performers are dressed like ladybugs and living in giant mushrooms. There is also a fun take off on Greek mythology done in a scenic forest setting.
By far the two best segments take place with them dancing on a giant record player and another with them made to look like characters on a giant playing card. The giant record player one as got to be the most impressive because they show them on not one, but two giant record players, side by side and from overhead. The dancers than dance on top of the giant turntables and , as a group, make unique symmetrical designs with their bodies. It's like a old Busby Berkley number and yet almost out does even him.
This is a rare film that can carry itself on visual level alone. The story is at best just a standard musical plot. It involves a group of underpaid actors who put on a tacky low budget musical for a small group of people. The film than interweaves between the low budget numbers, which are all still really good, and their visual fantasies of what things would look like if they had a big budget. Twiggy plays the shy awkward crew hand that comes on as the star when the leading lady breaks her leg.
Sure it is, at times, predictable, corny, and lightweight yet it also has a really good sense of humor. The songs ALL have a good score and the dances are certainly fun to watch. Twiggy may never score as a great actress, but she hits the mark here. She has a cute bob haircut and a constantly perplexed expression that is really amusing. All the other characters have amusing idiosyncracies also. Jackson is fun, of course, as the injured leading lady who comes back and is none too happy to see how successful her replacement is.
Some of director Russell's films have been considered excessive and nonsensical. Yet that is not the case here. His visual flair and indulgence really work. This guy has talent. He use of primary colors in every shot is nice.
This is truly a visual delight that is impressive even by todays standards. This is a really fun to watch.
Naughty Nurse (1969)
5 out of 10
A women, who works as a nurse, uses her lunch hour to get together with a doctor in a seedy hotel room. Their they spend the time having weird, wild sex together. One day a policeman catches them in their act and this leads to ironic results.
This is Bartel's second short following SECRET CINEMA and this one directly lead to his hiring of his first feature length film 1972's PRIVATE PARTS. It is easy to see why because like with ...PARTS it emphasizes a lot of kinkiness especially in relation to a non intercourse type of sex. This is surprisingly edgy in your face stuff and for it's time really seemed to push the envelope. Also like with his first feature it is technically well done, but could have been played out more. It's basically just a one joke movie with a twist ending that isn't too bad.
There's also a deeper, darker side to it than just the sex angle. It seems to be a bit of a satire and just how detached people are from their jobs and how even educated professional people can be just as perverse as anyone else. It's bitingly funny to hear them discuss their next sexual adventure while performing on a live patient.