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Sing Street (2016)
Against all odds, John Carney does it again
I'm a huge fan of the movie Once. When I arrived at South By Southwest, and saw that John Carney had directed another movie, I have to say I was a bit skeptical that he could capture the magic of that movie again without the amazing music and raw performances of Glen Hansard.
My fears were unfounded.
SING STREET is a heartfelt, funny and artful coming-of-age movie set in 1985 Dublin. I'm close to an ideal audience member for this film, because I grew up in the 80s myself, a child of the MTV Generation. I count John Hughes' films and the Cameron-Crowe scripted Fast Times At Ridgemont High among the most influential films of my childhood. They are the reason I became a screenwriter, and why I continue to write movies for a teen audience.
Sing Street truly hearkens back to those great teen movies of the 80s. The best stories about teenagers are rooted in pain and isolation, and this is no different - Connor "Cosmo" Lawler comes from an upper middle class family that has fallen on hard times. His parents have constant fights. His older brother Brendan is a college dropout and his sister, the 'smart one,' pretty much keeps to herself. In order for the family to save money, Connor is transferred to the local Catholic boys school, where he's quickly made an outcast and an example by the authoritarian headmaster.
You could say that this is a movie about forming a band. And this genre of story - of artistic awakening - seems to be replayed quite often in British and Irish films like The Commitments, Billy Elliott, The Full Monty, and others. But those movies each had a unique wrinkle, and Sing Street does too. It's the beautifully told story of the way that the inspiration and inception of the best art is rarely an individual act of genius, but rather, the result of a series of interconnected acts of human desire and emotion.
It's the parents who sentence you to a horrible school; the girl who you long for that won't give you the time of day; the other guys who join your band because they're outcasts too... the brother who loves you too much, and is too angry at his own cowardice, to let you settle for less than your best.
There's also a lot of great humor in Sing Street about the fact that you have to try on the styles of your heroes before you find your own confidence. 40-something audiences will definitely get another level of enjoyment out of all the allusions to great 80s bands. The art direction and costumes are done wonderfully in that respect. But I think this movie will work wonderful for today's teenagers as well.
The movie is by turns funny, heart-wrenching, soaring and surprising. And the musical numbers, while not necessarily Oscar winning, like Once, is great. I'm thrilled that a new generation of teenagers will get to experience the release of a movie that's on par with the films I love so much as a kid.
If you don't get this movie, consider yourself lucky
On the radio show Loveline, the sex and addiction therapist Dr. Drew Pinsky once said that childhood trauma literally changes the brain chemistry of its victim forever: it creates a kind of psychic scar, and the victim, without intense therapy, will replay the trauma in his or her life again and again and again, to the destruction of everything that is good and healthy in their life.
Brandon Sullivan is a sex addict. Addiction can be a tedious and joyless affair. And it's no surprise that many people who see this movie come away feeling angry and cheated, especially if they were expecting some kind of lurid, sexy roller-coaster.
If you don't understand the simple tragic power of this story, count yourself lucky. You have never suffered from addiction, never had anyone close to you suffer that way. Sex addiction, like all addiction, has its roots in childhood trauma. Those who can't read between the lines of this movie, again, should I suppose count themselves fortunate. But I'm happy to explicate (spoilers ahead).
Brandon's sister says "We're not bad people. We come from a bad place." Brandon also mentions that he lived in Ireland as a child, then grew up in New Jersey. If you don't think that the backdrop of this story is about two children who grew up suffering sexual abuse in the Catholic Church then you're simply not paying attention.
If you don't realize that Brandon and his sister had a confused and incestuous past as a coping mechanism for the abuse they suffered, you're not paying attention.
People accuse this movie of being a series of sex scenes, one the same as the next. That's ludicrous. Every single sex scene in this movie serves a unique purpose. For example, when Brandon interacts with a woman from work who is actually his intellectual and emotional equal - a woman with whom he could actually have an authentic relationship, he can't get it up. He can't exist in a sexual relationship where he could conceivably be vulnerable.
His sister isn't a sex addict - but she is a love addict. And yes, those do exist. They are people who play out intense emotional relationships - they fall into one doomed love affair after another - because they crave the chemical serotonin rush of falling in love the way sex addicts crave orgasm. This is why Brandon is so angry to have his sister around - not only does she, in her addiction, crave an unhealthy emotional connection - she is also his sister, a person truly worthy of his authentic love. It angers Brandon that these two things are hopelessly intertwined. His sister's love for him is both authentically pure and deeply unhealthy.
New York City is undeniably a character in its own right in this movie. The city that never sleeps - the city where someone like Brandon can always find an unhealthy outlet for his pain. The power of Shame is in what it doesn't say. And what is left unsaid goes far beyond Brandon's back story - it goes to the character of the city where he lives, and the country that calls New York its greatest city. On the surface, a beautiful, glamorous life. But that beautiful facade is built on a long history of unspoken atrocities that define it and foretell its destiny.
The Karate Kid (2010)
An insult to movie-lovers everywhere
It's truly a pleasure to be able to give this movie the lowest possible rating of one star.
The remake of the Karate Kid really does represent everything that is wrong with Hollywood today. Columbia pictures has taken a great, beloved film and recycled it for cheap profit.
The original Karate Kid film is a beloved gem for several reasons. Pat Morita, a beloved character actor and a fine man, was given the chance to be the star of a movie and he delivered beyond anyone's wildest dreams. The relationship between Morita and Ralph Macchio's Daniel was touching and perfectly done.
Part of what made the original movie work is that it was about class differences. You really believed that Daniel was a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who was struggling to fit in at a new school. And you believed in the awkward puppy love with rich girl Elizabeth Shue. With Jaden Smith, the son of a multi-millionaire actor, you don't believe in for a millisecond. This kid has never had to struggle for anything in his life. The entire emotional premise of the film doesn't work at all.
Everything that is any good in this disgusting Jaden Smith/Jackie Chan remake is lifted out of the original film. There is nothing redeeming about it beyond that. Jaden Smith can't act, he can't emote, and you don't believe him for a second. Beyond that, he's too young and too small to play the role. You simply don't believe for a moment that he could actually beat these other kids in a tournament. It's ridiculous. The scene where Jackie Chan breaks down crying has to be one of the worst-acted, horrible dramatic moments ever put to film.
Like the remake of Willy Wonka, The new Karate Kid movie is an instance of Hollywood cannibalizing its own best work for short term profit. There were dozens of original, creative, magical new stories that were turned down so that this movie could be made. We are all the poorer for it.
An enigmatic cipher
I watched this film in a very strange way -- I had put it on my Netflix list and couldn't remember why (other than that I knew Philip Seymour Hoffman was in it). Since the film has no opening credits, I couldn't even remember who had directed it.
As my wife and I watched it, I turned to her about 45 minutes in and said, "You know, I keep wanting to decide that I hate this film, but something about it just won't let me stop watching it." Then there's a stretch of about half a dozen scenes in the middle of the movie that are truly electrifying in the actors' performances.
It was only as the end credits rolled that I realized it was a Sidney Lumet film. And I thought -- wow. I'm surprised that Lumet took on what was really a dirty, petty little story about really mean, broken people. But it's a testament to his talent that I was so taken in when I didn't even realize it was him.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is really, really good in this movie. Like scary good. Put this up against Capote and I would argue the Oscar should have been for this film instead.
I also highly recommend the narrative special feature with Lumet, Hawke and Hoffman talking about making the movie -- it's entertaining and educational, with Hawke playing the student eager to learn at the master's feet. Lumet definitely teaches you the first rule of working with actors -- kiss their asses constantly!!
There are a lot of violent, melodramatic movies out there that are empty ciphers when all is said and done. And there is an element of that in this film -- that the actors fill the air with sulphurous blasts of emotion, and when the smoke clears there's nothing left. Nothing resonates on a deeper level.
But Lumet has given us Network and Twelve Angry Men -- films that, each in their own ways, have been elevated into the highest echelons of cinema.
This movie isn't at that level. But there's something about it that lingers. And maybe that's enough.
My final comment is about the comments -- if you look at the number of comments about this little movie here on IMDb -- and the depth and intelligence of the comments, pro and con -- it's a pretty good indication that something special is going on with this film.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
Disappointing and sloppy
In the end, ATLANTIS is a specimen form the awkward middle period between the wonderful animated Disney musicals such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and the modern Pixar films.
On a story level, Atlantis is just plain sloppy. There are tons of anachronisms in the movie. They set the film in 1914, but almost immediately they create characters who look and talk like present day characters (does a wisecracking teenage latina mechanic sound like someone you'd meet in 1914?!).
Atlantis is too easy to find -- the explorers show neither smarts nor courage, and yet they are able to find the lost city where thousands of others have failed.
Finally, it's quite amusing how the filmmakers felt the need to stop the action in the middle of the movie to give these long, awkward detailed back-stories to the supporting characters. It is done in such a ham-handed way you really have to wonder what they were thinking.
The design of the characters is equally all over the map, with some of them (Milo, Kida) looking very middle-of-the-road, vanilla Disney characters and others (Mole) looking like something out of the Triplets of Belleville.
The subject matter is certainly interesting but overall it was a disappointing effort.
Trainspotting is what film should be: honest, imaginative, surprising, and groundbreaking.
LIke Goodfellas, Trainspotting is a meandering movie that manages to grip you the entire time. It is funny and heartbreaking at the same time, anchored by Ewan MacGregor's absolutely devastating performance as Renton. Put his performance up against the Best Actor nominees in any given year and I dare you to say it doesn't belong.
Contrary to what others have posted, Trainspotting absolutely made an impact here in the States. That may have been to Danny Boyle's detriment as he's never quite reached the same heights since.
But for us, in the U.S., you have to realize that it was basically a foreign film because you can't understand about 25% of the dialogue because the accent is so thick. Begbie's dialogue is purposely opaque, I think. Not that it matters - the performance is rock solid.
If you haven't seen the movie, go out and get it. It's in my all-time Top 10, and it holds up beautifully over time.
Enormous plot holes
Several film critics, including Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune, gave Fracture a good review. Some have even compared it to Hitchcock.
This is utter nonsense. Fracture is dreck. It's half-assed work by all involved.
Let's see if you can swallow these giant coincidences and plot holes:
1) A man and a woman have an affair, and never get each other's last names. One happens to be a police hostage negotiator who happens to show up when the woman he's been seeing has been murdered.
2) There are two guns on the scene when the body is discovered by police. For the entire length of the movie the investigators never think to check out one of those guns to see if it's the murder weapon.
3) The district attorney's office is given a single long weekend to come up with extra evidence in an attempted murder case when a witness is compromised. Anyone who's ever been involved in any aspect of a real murder case knows how laughable this is.
4) A hospital agrees to a man's Do Not Resuscitate request for his wife the day after the man has been acquitted for attempting to murder her. No one intervenes on behalf of the wife, no family, no friends, no victim's advocates, no one.
5) A man who has planned out a brilliant scheme for getting away with murder, covering every last detail with psychotic foresight, neglects to read the fine print in the Double Jeopardy laws and carelessly re-implicates himself.
Anthony Hopkins is sleepwalking through a second rate Hannibal Lecter impersonation here. Every plot point is sloppy and rushed (how about jumping in bed with your boss the night after you are hired? lol) Ryan Gosling, a fine actor, is wasted.
This movie's best attribute is that it makes a good primer on how not to write a legal thriller.
Bastards of the Party (2005)
A Bigger Movie than just Los Angeles
Having worked with both Bloods and Crips as a volunteer in Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, I found Bastards of the Party to be a gripping and extremely important work -- setting down the historical record about the rise of gangs in South Central L.A. This should be required viewing in all Juvenile Halls and prisons. And important viewing for anyone who lives in Los Angeles as well!
What struck me about the movie is its relevance to the current foreign policy of the United States. The policies of the LAPD and the laws in California, such as "Three Strikes," which fill our prisons to overflowing with black and Latino young men, are in place because they are politically expedient: saying that you are tough on crime is the easiest way to get elected in this city and in this state. I personally know a kid who got a 50 year prison sentence because he was in a car when another kid shot a gun at two rival gang members -- and missed. It was his first felony. Ask yourself, does that punishment fit the crime?
There is no more ironclad way to get elected in America than by saying you are "tough on defense." George W. Bush gets criticized for lots of things, but when he says that "Islamist extremists" are out to destroy our children for no other reason than that they hate us, no one contradicts him. Middle eastern Muslims have become the preferred "other" to demonize and dehumanize and fear.
I don't mean to minimize the point of this film -- that if L.A. gang members become more self aware about their situation, maybe they can start to move past this cycle of violence that they did not initially create.
But I'm just saying that it's happening again now on the world stage. The American government is using the same propaganda techniques, the same agent provocateurs in the Middle East. Do you really think it was an Sunni Arab who blew up the Golden Mosque of Samarra and unleashed this huge civil war? Get real.
Now, Iraqis are slaughtering each other by the hundreds of thousands, just like gang members have murdered each other here in Los Angeles for decades.
And yes, there is growing movement in this country for us to get our troops out of Iraq. But no one talks about the Iraqi-on-Iraqi carnage that we have been party to.
In any case, I congratulate Cle on his work, I hope it increases the peace here in L.A. For every single retaliation that it stops, it saves dozens of lives down the line.
Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
Gripping, Disturbing and Not to be Missed
In my opinion, this film is a front-runner for the Oscar for Best Documentary for 2006.
It's absolutely riveting. If you are a fan of "Silence of the Lambs," you should see this because Oliver O'Grady is just as chilling as Hannibal Lecter -- more so because he is real. Filmmaker Amy Berg did a news piece on O'Grady, a Catholic priest who raped dozens -- possibly hundreds -- of children in California. On a whim, she called him in his exile in Ireland and got him to agree to an extensive three day interview. It is a confession unlike any other.
On one level, Deliver Us From Evil is a righteous indictment of the Catholic Church: its inaction, its enabling, its bureaucracy, its male-dominated backwardness.
At the same time, the film is a profile of some incredibly decent people: Catholic parents and children who were victims in this rampage. Their character is inspiring -- their pain is as raw as anything you will ever see on film.
Finally, it's the study about the way a psychopath can play every human emotion to his own advantage.
There is Hell to pay for this man's sins. And some victims are living that hell every day.
An absolute abomination
This is not the only awful film to be made from a children's book in the last few years: Lemony Snicket and Cat in the Hat spring to mind, and certainly, the Harry Potter movies are never much better than mediocre.
But Charlie and the Chocolate Factory suffers from the fact that it must be compared to the Gene Wilder version, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which is not only superior to it in every way, but is truly a classic film.
One might well ask why anyone would dare to remake a film that was written by Roald Dahl himself. A film that had beautiful, classic songs, biting humor, and a hilarious cast.
The answer, of course, is money.
This film was made for one reason -- to wring more money out of a Warner Brothers property. Why else remake a nearly perfect film? It's an insult to moviegoers and an affront to the many children who may never bother to watch the original now that they've seen this trash.
The thing is, the Gene Wilder version is very, very funny. Its comedy still seems edgy today. And somehow, they've managed to turn it into a movie with almost no laughs. The timing is sometimes, it seems, deliberately thrown off.
Johnny Depp's performance is, I think, his worst ever. It's just stupendously bad. Then again, he has basically nothing to work with, caught between plain, unfunny new dialogue, and struggling to go in the opposite direction from Gene Wilder's brilliance. I don't envy the task. But don't worry, Johnny got lots and lots of money for his troubles.
The new Charlie, Freddie Highmore, was decent enough in the tearjerker Finding Neverland. But here, he's just all wrong. His one acting choice seems to be "Smile Every Time You Say Something," which I last saw used by Denise Richards in Starship Troopers.
On one hand, I wondered as I was watching it whether the movie would fare better with someone who'd never seen the original. But on the other, this film is so disjointed and strange, I'm not sure how anyone could follow it if they hadn't seen the first film.
The Oompa Loompa "songs," if you can call them that, consist of CG clones singing the same rhyming lines over and over again. There is no narrative or melodic progression to the songs -- they are as two dimensional as cardboard cutouts.
Add to this bland, unimaginative mix a few ghastly changes from the earlier movie: Charlie has a father now, his family magically gets "unpoor" at the end by the dint of their own optimism, and Willy Wonka learns -- get ready for this one -- that families are not a bad thing.
It's beyond awful. Watch the original again instead, I beg of you.
Hey Putsie...15 minutes
GREASE was on AMC tonight and I happened to catch it.
This movie is so great. There's no pretension to it. It is really hard to make a movie musical that isn't pretentious and uppity. Has anyone watched "Chicago" lately, even though it got all those Oscar noms? Yeah, I thought not.
Sure, everyone's seen the movie. But here are a few facts about it you might not know.
The original Broadway production was a hit, but the music was REALLY hokey and many of the songs were different.
Can you imagine a movie musical being made today from a musical where new songs are added that are BETTER than the originals? Grease (the opener), Sandy, Hopelessly Devoted and You're the One That I Want are all new for the movie, and all are now classics.
It's fun to watch the Pink Ladies scenes knowing that Stockard Channing was 33 and Dinah Manot, who played Marty, was only 18 when the movie was being filmed.
(Side note -- if you haven't seen Dinah Manot in Ordinary People, watch it -- you'll be amazed at what a good actress she was).
Another interesting cast note: the woman who played Jan (brusha brusha brusha) basically was in this movie and that's it except for like three tiny cameo roles in other films. How's that for a film career -- one movie and it's one of the biggest hits of all time! Not bad!
When you talk about the movie version of Grease, you have to talk about Travolta. Seeing the bloated, bad actor that he's become, you have to go back and watch this movie to realize that this guy is one of the most talented all-around comedians who ever hit a screen. He can sing, he can dance, he's funny as hell, and he has a style all his own. I dare you to find a young actor today who pops off a screen as much as Travolta did. Unbelievable.
The thing I love most about Grease is that it was such an underdog as a project.
Helmed by a 31 year old TV director Randal Kleiser (who was George Lucas's roommate at USC, and apparently wrote his own IMDb biography, so maybe he'll read this and correct my mistakes), Paramount didn't expect much out of this movie, and they kind of left the young cast and director to do their thing. There's a fast-and-looseness to the movie, an almost improvisational feel at times, yet the comic timing is always DEAD ON.
This is a movie that respects comedy. Sid Caesar, Eve Arden -- these are giants of comedy that were at a career ebb around 1977, and the director shouldn't have been able to get them, but he did, and they make the movie hugely better.
But it's all about the young cast. You can tell that this is a group of actors that really felt like friends and were just having a good time. You've got actors in their late 20s and early 30s playing high schoolers, but somehow it's the best of both worlds -- there's plenty of sophomoric humor, but when Stockard C. sings "There are worse things," she gives it a depth Christina Aguilera never could . You've got actors like Jeff Conaway who never really did anything even close to good after this but he's brilliant as Kenickie. You've got a screenplay written by some woman I've never heard of who, once again, dropped off the face of the earth after this movie -- but how many classic lines are in this movie?! It's just amazing.
I salute every one who was a part of Grease. I loved it as a little kid and I still love it today.
Mystic River (2003)
Settle down folks, it's not THAT good.
Mystic River is already being lavished with Oscar talk in a year that has seen precious few quality movies.
While the movie is certainly worth seeing, I'd hardly call it great. I think it's gotten inflated notices from the major critics simply because of the star power involved, especially Clint Eastwood.
"Solid" and "Assured" are the most overused words in reviews when describing
Eastwood's directing style. Maybe those are euphemisms for unimaginative--I don't know. I think Eastwood is being unduly praised for this film.
Here are a few major criticisms -- some spoilers included.
1) The occasional "flashes" of memory, such as when Tim Robbins is staring at the pavement and "flashes back" to his childhood trauma, are unnecessary, and they actually undercut the tension created by the actors.
2) The scene in the bar, where Sean Penn's daughter comes in with her friends, rings so cheesy and false, it really shows how out-of-touch Eastwood is as a director. It reminded me of bar scenes in movies in the 80s like Top Gun or The Accused, where situations feel so staged and unrealistic. This scene in particular belonged on an episode of Nash Bridges, not an Oscar-worthy movie.
3) While Sean Penn and Tim Robbins deliver good performances, and Kevin Bacon holds his own, Marcia Gay Harden is horribly over-the-top. Eastwood should have reined her in for her own good and the good of the movie.
4) As he did with "Midnight in the Garden..." Eastwood lets this film go on way too long. The Sean Penn/Laura Linney scene in the bedroom at the end is bizarre and emotionally confusing. The parade scene seems to grope for an ending. He should have ended the movie with Penn and Bacon walking away from each other.
5) The entire subplot with Kevin Bacon and his estranged wife is handled so poorly, and given such short shrift, it should have been cut completely. Its use as an attempt to balance the tragedy of the story is almost cringe-worthy.
Mystic River is a decent film. But before we all get too excited and give a mediocre film the best picture and best director award (can anyone say "A Beautiful Mind"?) let's actually watch the movie with a critical eye.
HOW TO WATCH THIS MOVIE
There are literally hundreds of comments about this movie on IMDB. Many of them exhort its greatness. I don't disagree with them.
But I'd like to add a suggestion to those of you out there who haven't seen this film. I'd like to tell you HOW to watch it.
The people who made this movie didn't think they were producing a masterpiece. Bergman left the shoot disgusted. The screenwriters were on salary for Warners, writing half a dozen movies a year, and this was just one more. Bogie was punching the clock in the middle of a workhorse career.
So as an audience member, you can't sit down expecting gilded greatness.
Don't have a Casablaca party. Don't watch it on your first date, hoping it will lend that "Romantic Touch." Don't watch it as part of your "I need to watch the Best 10 movies of all time" Film School project.
Buy this movie on DVD. Have it at the ready. And then, one Friday night, when your plans fall through and you find it's 10:30pm and there's nothing on TV that's any good, open a six pack of beer, or pour yourself some wine, and watch this movie in a darkened room.
The characters in Casablanca are absolutely devoid of sentimentalism. Every one of them sees the world without a hint of rose color in their lenses. As Rick says, "Three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this big old world." If you're in a mood where you understand what he's saying, watch this movie and it will transport you.
There is no single movie that deserves to be called the best movie of all time. Because movies, when all is said and done, don't amount to a hill of beans. They are meant to entertain us, not for us to worship THEM.
But no movie has ever known this fact like Casablanca.
If you watch Casablance this way, with no expectations, with no "hype," you might catch 10 percent of its greatness on one viewing. And that will be enough to start you on your way.
Happy viewing, kid.
If you're going to fail, fail big.
First of all, I'd like to say that I'm thrilled that Ang Lee was given the chance to direct a huge comic book blockbuster such as The Hulk.
I've been a fan of his films ever since "Sense and Sensibility." "The Ice Storm" was, to me, an under-appreciated masterpiece, and "Crouching Tiger" proved
that Lee was the most versatile director working today. His filmic range, like his intelligence and curiosity, seems to know no bounds.
One thing was for certain: Ang Lee would make a super-hero movie like nothing we'd seen before.
That is certainly true.
Ironically, Ang Lee's desire to do something different has brought about the
familiar: for the first time, a comic book movie LOOKS like a comic book. The optical effects, boxes, wipes and mesh effects are truly (forgive the pun)
Marvelous. Comic book artists have long known how to create movement, depth
and multiple dimensions on a static page: Lee has exploded this sensibility into the cinematic realm.
Ang Lee has taken a great many chances with this film. In addition to the
sometimes brilliant, sometimes distracting comic book visuals, he also delays the metamorphosis deep into the movie, asking us to live off the characters'
Ang Lee took big, wild chances on this film, and I respect him for it.
Unfortunately, those chances don't pay off with an entertaining movie. There are many reasons why.
Let's start with casting. First, there's Eric Bana. He's just plain bland. He's also playing against Jennifer Connolly, who is undeniably beautiful, but her painfully serious tone takes this movie, which already takes itself too seriously, right over the edge into grating pretense. Nick Nolte hits all the wrong notes, and one gets the tickling suspicion that the hair stylist didn't have to touch Nolte's head when he showed up for work every morning. He's already that freaky.
The script, alas, falls short. That was a surprise to me, given that James
Schamus, Ang Lee's longtime collaborator, has a credit on the film. The Hulk's outbursts are never very clearly motivated. The villains are hackneyed (how
many times have we seen the evil Government antagonists? Wargames?
Starman? Outbreak? The list goes on and on...), but worse than that, they are stupid and redundant. This movie makes its protagonist the most ignorant guy in the room when it comes to the plot. We feel like we're spending the whole two hours plus waiting for Bruce to GET IT. Sprinkle in some preachy, over-the- top speeches about the evil military, which clank and thud right about now, and you've got a pretty lame screenplay.
As I said earlier, I admire this director, and this movie, for the chances they take. If you're going to fail, fail big. I guess it's nice to see that Ang Lee is human, because it makes me respect his successes all the more.
But in the pantheon of his creative endeavors, this Hulk will be a miniscule little blip.
Gangs of New York (2002)
An epic disappointment
Just returned from a Writer's Guild screening of "Gangs of New
York," and the news is not good. The movie certainly has its nice
moments (I would hope so -- at close to three hours you should
stumble on good moments every once in a while) but overall, it
simply does not work. It fails as entertainment.
Chief among the problems is the movie's pedantic approach to its
subject. "Gangs" comes off like the history lecture you fell asleep
in in college. There are long sequences that attempt to give the
bigger picture of the social struggles in Civil War-era New York.
Each of these sequences is accompanied by on-the-nose voiceover that tells us nothing more than what we are seeing.
There's no dramatic core to it. Granted -- this is an under-reported
era in our nation's history, when ideas of patriotism and civic duty
clashed with the reality that the country was built on the backs of
immigrants. But for God's sake, if you're going to teach history,
make a documentary.
Scorcese (and Pileggi) used voiceover to virtuoso effect in
"Goodfellas." But that voiceover had its own idiom, the language of
the streets that Scorcese loves so well. And it had a point of view:
Henry Hill's narration crackled with the energy of a man falling in
love with crime. DiCaprio's voiceover is as deadly dull as a
Sunday School lecture. And what's worse, he loses his accent half
the time. On top of it, the words themselves simply report the
action, or, lacking drama, become too flowery. The screenwriters
strain to create emotion when none is there.
At the WGA screening, two of the screenwriters attested that
Scorcese hired a third, Ken Lonergan, to add the voiceover after
everything else had been written. I have no idea why this was
done. It's completely superfluous and it hurts the movie.
On to the acting. I'm afraid the news doesn't get much better.
Everyone is falling over themselves saying how great Daniel Day
Lewis was. Take a step back, people. Lewis certainly has
charisma to spare. But half the time he seems to be doing a bad
Deniro impression. His scenery-chewing gets more and more
over the top as the movie goes on. This performance is about on
par with Tim Roth's performance in "Rob Roy." What? You say
you don't remember that? Exactly.
Cameron Diaz looks ridiculously out of place in this movie. I'm
sorry to say it, because I love her work, and she normally makes
smart choices. Not this time. I just don't buy her as a whoring
orphan pickpocket. She tries very hard, and she even brings
humor and spark to the role. But come on! You can't have it both
ways! You can't tell us how rough and tumble the streets of New
York were in 1860, and then show us Cameron Diaz as a pickpocket, looking like she just finished a revlon commercial!
People will be put off by the violence. Some will be horrified by it. I
don't mind the violence. I just didn't care about it at all. It was all
so predictable and pat. There were SO many characters, and SO
MANY get killed, that in the end you didn't feel that much for any
one of them.
Which brings me to my final beef. LESS IS MORE. Less, Marty, is
MORE. This movie was three hours long because it is trying to
trick people into thinking it is "Epic" and "Artsy." In other words,
they're hoping it will be nominated for Best Picture before anyone
can figure out that it isn't any good. And it just may work. But if the
movie had been trimmed down by about an hour (removing the
last forty minutes would have helped), it would have benefitted
greatly. As long as the story focused on the main three characters,
it at least worked as melodrama. When it tried to bring in the
bigger, sprawling historical context, it became muddled, tiresome
and completely without drama.
I'm not taking anything away from Martin Scorcese. Even the great
ones miss once in a while. But don't see this movie unless you've
got a lot of time and you can forgive a lot of faults.
Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
Funny and profound
I remember liking this movie a lot when I saw it in the theater. I
recently caught it again on HBO and was struck by the deeper
thematic resonance that you might not pick up on first viewing.
The character of Flender speaks the film's theme for his own
shallow reasons. He says, "True artists create their own moral
universe." Flender uses this mantra to rationalize boinking his
friend's girlfriend. But it is true nonetheless. Artists believe that
great art transcends human life, because it perserveres through
generations and it enriches the lives of countless people. On one
side this is a beautiful notion. But the flip side of the notion is
The artistic ideal is unforgiving: it demands everything from its
devotees. That's why many a great artist (Picasso, Pollack,
Hemingway) has broken hearts and even killed rather than
Most people in the world don't live that way. They follow the golden
rule. This moral integrity allows them to feel at one with humanity,
and it gives them a sense of peace and self-worth.
For artists (like gangsters), civility is a luxury. If they want to
achieve greatness, they have to be willing to push mediocrity, and
mediocre people, aside.
Chazz Palmentieri (not Joe Mantegna, as some have incorrectly
stated) plays Cheech, a gangster who discovers he has a passion
for writing. He's willing to kill and die for his work, and that's what
makes him an artist. John Cusack plays David, a playwright who
has great ambition and even great good fortune, but who realizes,
through his association with Cheech, that he is not willing to
sacrifice his common humanity, and therefor, he is not an artist.
I think this is one of Woody Allen's best films (in the top three or
four). But I have to believe that Douglas McGrath had a great deal
to do with the script, since Woody's other recent efforts are far
inferior to this. So I applaud Doug McGrath, from one artist to
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Best Picture of 2002, aka "Big Fat American Manifesto."
I look at the incredible word-of-mouth that "My Big Fat Greek
Wedding" has achieved. That movie has been like a feel-good pill
passed from person to person during this trying year of 2002.
If only we could achieve the same phenomenon with "Bowling for
Columbine." Because while there is a time for feel-good movies,
there is also a time for movies that change the way you think and
force you to make a difference.
99% of the time, the movie-going experience is about escape.
Escape from our problems, escape from responsibilities and
worries of daily life. And that's fine. It's a necessary part of our
But once in a while a movie comes along that does the opposite:
it holds life right up to your face and forces you to take action. To
make your voice heard.
"Bowling for Columbine" is one of those films. It is undoubtedly
my pick for Best Picture of the Year.
Yes, it has a liberal bent. Yes, it make make you angry. But it WILL
make you think. And we need that so desperately right now,
because there are so many challenges for our country to face.
See this movie and tell your friends about it. Thanks.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
The teen movie to end all teen movies
There is a devoted contingent of people around my age (30) for
whom Sixteen Candles is and always will be the greatest movie of
all time. I am one of them.
I cop to the fact that it could be due to the "teenager effect": the
movies you saw around 13 will always be your favorites. But I think
it's more than that. Clearly John Hughes was, in 1982, an insanely
talented writer at the top of his game. He went on to write teen
classics The Breakfast Club and Ferris Beuhler in quick
succession after this. Sixteen Candles was not his first script
(Vacation, another comedy classic, preceded this) but it was his
directorial debut, and he's firing on all cylinders.
I love the way that Hughes gives such respect to his teen subjects.
He realizes that things DO matter more when you're a teenager,
because you're experiencing it all for the first time.
The second incredible thing about this movie is Anthony Michael
Hall's performance as the geek. I challenge you to find another
performance by a teenager that is funnier, anytime, anywhere. He
is simply incredible. I think he deserved an oscar nomination for it
and people think it's crazy but I stick by that.
Hughes' sense of humor is appropriately juvenile at times, and his
use of sound effects can seem a little bush-league. Of course, the
racist caricature of Long Duck Dong is a blight on the movie (then
again, most of the characters are drawn in broad strokes, but
when it comes to race there are different rules of conduct).
I've seen this movie about 50 times. And it still cracks me up. I
could list my favorite quotes... but there isn't room.
It takes some work to watch this movie. I would recommend
seeing it in a theater, because it demands all your attention. But
wow, is it good.
A strong argument can be made that Paddy Chayefsky was the
best screenwriter of all time, simply based on the risks he took
and the issues he tackled. Ned Beatty's "There is no God -- only
Business" speech in Network is an absolute tour de force of
writing and social commentary, and it's truer today than it was
twenty-five years ago.
NETWORK actually becomes more contemporary as it gets older.
It is a truly prophetic work -- only Chayefsky was willing to take the
culture of media to its logical endpoint. To say that life and the way
we experience life through the media are two separate things is
preposterous. Just as we think of politics in terms of Democratic
and Republican, we experience a world that has been crafted and
shaped for us by CNN, NBC, HBO and CBS. Mafiosos watch "The
Sopranos." Pop stars are addicted to "American Idol." We define
our own self worth by saying, "At least I'm better off than Anna
Faye Dunaway's character remains one of the best roles ever
written for a woman.
I'm glas that this movie remains on the Top 250 list for IMDb. One
question: why in the world is it listed as a comedy? Yes, it's funny
at points, but if this is a comedy, we're all in trouble.
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Standing up for those that HATE this film
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But with a movie like DANCER IN THE DARK, it's very easy to get the sense that those who didn't like it are simple-minded sour-pusses with artistic tunnel vision.
Plus, most people who hated it don't take the time to write a comment. Why waste another second of your life on this dreck?
I'd like to congratulate everyone who has the guts to trash this film. It is not entertaining. It is founded on characters who make ridiculous decisions to facilitate melodramatic story points. It plays to the weaknesses of every one of its participants.
Some of the comments can be paraphrased like this: "I like a film that causes such intense reactions, good and bad." If a film isn't good, why in the world would we indulge the amateur auteurs who created it? This means Lars Von Trier will be encouraged to make MORE horrible films!
Being forced to watch Bjork act is like being forced to listen to Anna Nicole Smith play the saxaphone. Why can't we let people who were trained to act do their job? Bjork vacillates between a caricature of her weird childish stage persona and a poster-child for OverActing 101 (especially the prison scenes).
Selma, as a character, is by turns stubborn, stupid, unreasonable and selfish. Not a very good candidate for a martyr. David Morse's Bill, the antagonist, goes from benevolent protector to psychopath on the thinnest of motivations. Peter Stormare practically drools to show how stupid he is when he is wooing Bjork. It's a condescending repulsive love story.
Part of me wants to not submit this comment, because in the end, the film isn't worth this much thought. But if everyone thought this way, the comments would be overwhelmingly positive. And I can't believe that that is representative of the audience reaction to this film.
Unless you have a high tolerance for arthouse highbrow crap, don't see this movie. It's a waste of your time.
Sunshine State (2002)
Don't Expect a Good Movie
I understand that people have different expectations of low-budget, arthouse movies. I also know that John Sayles has a sort of glow about him, that earthy, intellectual anti-hollywood vibe, a la Tim Robbins, the Coen brothers and Atom Egoyan, that makes him a darling with the critics from the get-go.
But this is not a good movie. I'm sorry, it just isn't.
It meanders. It has too many characters. Its tone is uneven, its point of view is muddled, the acting is all over the board, from naturalistic to over the top. It lingers for long moments with minor characters we don't care about and cuts away from tense scenes just when things are getting good.
It misses the mark.
The worst flaw in the movie is that the two closest things to a protagonist, Edie Falco's Marly and Angela Bassett's Desiree, are straight-jacketed in characters that have no drive. Marly is an apathetic drunk, steeped in her life's own inertia. Desiree is a woman trapped in her own repressed pain. When your two main characters' world-views can be summed up with the phrases "I don't care" and "I want to leave here," why should the audience give a rat's patootie?
I'll be plain: Sayles writes funny dialogue. He's very adept at crafting a scene. The problem is, these scenes don't go anywhere. There's no spine to the movie. No drive. The movie doesn't create rooting interest in any of the characters. In my opinion, he's also too preachy about big bad corporate America gobbling up the little guy.
If you want to see a quality "small" movie, see David Lynch's "Straight Story." Pass this one up.
Heat passes the test
"Heat" has been in nearly constant rotation on HBO lately, and while I was never a passionate fan of this movie, I have to say that it passes the test. That is, whenever I flip to a channel and "Heat" is on, I am inevitably drawn in for at least an hour of it. Even when I do NOT have that hour to spare. It's a riveting movie. Pacino and De Niro are working in their sweet spots and the dirty, slimy sheen of Los Angeles rings very true. A Michael Mann film will never be spotless, it will always over-reach and be, at certain points, pretentious. But Michael Mann's films always draw me in, and "Heat" is his best.
The Fly (1986)
Real science and THE FLY
The greatest thing about Cronenberg's version of THE FLY is how insightful it was about its science. In 1985, when this script was being written, Cronenberg and Pogue almost certainly could not have known how close they were to the truth of things regarding DNA.
Scientists have known for quite a while that just as all computer programs can ultimately be broken down to 1's and 0's, the fundamental building blocks of human life are the same in all living things. Human beings and flies share over 95 percent of the same DNA code. So, the concept of combining these two things on a "molecular-genetic level" is not as far-fetched as it might seem. In fact, scientists actually have done it the other way around. They have replaced sections of fruit fly DNA with human DNA, and bred honest-to-goodness humanflys.
A much newer discovery is even more fascinating in light of THE FLY. Dolly, the sheep clone, recently developed arthritis. That's not interesting in and of itself: sheep commonly get that ailment. The strange thing is that Dolly got it at a much younger age than she should have. Scientists believe that it has something to do with the fact that she was cloned. It's as if the sheep lost something in the copying process.
Now, this does NOT make scientific sense. Cloning is like copying a CD: it's digital. The exact same DNA should create an organism that has exactly the same body (and chance of getting sick) as the original. But the real-life experiment with Dolly seem to bear out the idea that there is something creepy and mysterious about messing with things on a genetic level, even if--scientifically--it seems like everything should be kosher.
So, in the FLY, when Jeff Goldblum starts slowly metamorphosizing, with both positive and then very negative results, I believe it's scary because it rings true, and we actually believe that it would happen that way.
How cool is it when science-fiction actually predicts science, and not the other way around?
Vanilla Sky (2001)
Reviewing the reviewers
To quote Mel Brooks: "Critics are like eunuchs at an orgy. They just don't get it."
It really p***es me off when people trash an ambitious, thought-provoking movie like Vanilla Sky. They do it because it makes them feel important. Anyone can trash Tomcats, right? But if you can bash Cameron Crowe, you must be REALLY smart.
People put out this bad buzz, and then the ambitious movies don't make as much money, and then we end up with theaters full of Scary Movie III and Dude Where's My Car. Oh joy.
To the people who call this movie "unfocused": Look, you cretins. This is an ambitious film. It blurs the traditional lines between fantasy and reality, it leaves you hanging in limbo for much longer than you're used to. Most movies tell you exactly what to think. Vanilla Sky leaves you guessing. Calling this movie "unfocused" is another way of saying "I need to be spoon fed the plot! I'm a cinematic toddler!" Go watch Legally Blonde and talk about how cute Reese is in her argyle sweater and leave this movie alone.
To those who said Vanilla Sky is full of bad acting: Excuse me? I'm sorry, but it is an absolute travesty that Cuba Gooding, Jr., Anna Paquin, Jack Palance and Marisa Tomei have acting Oscars, and Tom Cruise doesn't. He's a great talent, no question. He takes chances. He plays strange, even unlikeable roles, and he's not afraid. We need to give him his Oscar, because there's a bit of desperation creeping in to his recent work--as if he's doing acting backflips to get respect. Penelope Cruz is gorgeous and likeable. Cameron Diaz could get by on just being HOT. But she doesn't. She takes roles in Being John Malkovich, and Vanilla Sky, and she even elevated her character in Best Friend's Wedding. Brava, Cammie.
To those who say the movie is too long: I'm sorry, but when Pearl Harbor comes in at 3 hours, I think I can forgive Vanilla Sky for being 135 minutes (not 150, as a million reviewers have incorrectly stated). As if all of you geniuses who have time to write reviews on IMDB can't spare an extra 15 minutes.
To those who say "it's not as good as Almost Famous": Whatever. In two years you'll be trashing Crowe's next movie and talking about how brilliant Vanilla Sky was.
I'm not saying people have to love everything. It's fine to have high standards. But don't trash a movie that aims high and doesn't quite reach the stars, or you'll end up with a bunch of middle-of-the-road pap.
Thank God there are a few American directors left that still have enough confidence to take chances and make us think: Wes Anderson, Ang Lee, and Cameron Crowe. And Tarantino, if he ever directs again.
Vanilla Sky: 8.0/10.0 Critics: 0.0/10.0
The race is over
When I left the theater last night, I had that elated, buzzing, and yet somewhat sad feeling that means only one thing: I knew the race was over. I had seen the best movie of 2001.
I've read several of the comments picking Amelie apart. That's fine, that's what this forum is for. But I disagree with the critics, and I agree with the fans: I think this is an astonishing film.
I always judge a movie on its own terms. I don't judge it on some outside criteria of how long it should be, how realiastic it should be. A movie should not be a confirmation of our own worldview. It should be a trip into another person's head, a taste of someone else's vision.
And the vision of this director, Jeunet, is nothing less than stunning.
I had seen City of Lost Children, and was ready for the visual feast. But Jeunet has taken a huge step forward here. Has a female character been more lovable than Amelie since Audrey Hepburn played Holly Golightly? The palate of characters is funny, human, tragic, and full of longing. The movie pushes you to the edge of your imagination in an exhilarating and yet confident way.
Go to the theater ready to laugh, ready to fall in love, and ready to experience something wonderfully different. Do this, and Amelie will make you believe in the magic of film.