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Funny Canadian Show
Holy crap, what is this? I checked out the first episode of this show after seeing some people posting about it on Facebook. It's the pilot episode for comedy set in Toronto. Let me start off by saying, seeing my hometown on screen is one of my favourite things and this show starts with an awesome montage of a morning commute through the city. I have no idea how they shot this, but it's a pretty sick opener.
The show is about three people who get hired to be Recruiters. I've gotten calls from Recruiters before, but have to be honest, have never had any idea about what they do. From the look of it, their work is pretty crazy.
The show kind of reminds me of what would happen if David Fincher made an episode of The Office and had swearing. It's really funny but dark too. I really like the look they were going for.
The show isn't all comedy. It actually gets kind of serious towards the end when the hero Alex needs to make a decision that, not going to lie, had me pretty engaged for a minute. There's an awesome scene in a bathroom with the villain that I won't give away, and an awesome shot in a hallway. It's pretty impressive when you consider it sounds like these guys didn't have much money.
My favourite characters are the office jerk who doesn't like any of the new people (his scene in the bathroom is my favourite) and the stoner roommate who comes looking for money. I've lived with dudes like that. He's only in one scene, but it's pretty spot on and legit hilarious. I don't miss living with that dude. The office idiot (I think his name was Simon), had a lot of funny parts too. I may as well mention the sassy HR guy as well. Another one scene character, but really funny.
There are two female main characters too. A good one and a not as good one. The good one is kind of boring but she hints at things that could make her interesting. The bad one (who puts the idea in Alex's head about what to do to the office jerk) is really funny. I dated a girl like her once. It didn't last very long.
I'll be honest, I didn't go into this with much expectation. A Canadian TV pilot made with no money doesn't sound very good, but I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed myself. I think they should try harder to focus more on the Recruitment stuff (I still have no idea what they do), but there are a lot of interesting characters and I'm excited to see where they will go next.
Can't wait for another episode. The web site says they are working on the next one, but doesn't really say when it's coming out. Hopefully soon. I'd recommend anyone who likes comedies or is from Toronto to check this out.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
****1/2 out of 5
Last House on the Left is among a rare breed of cult classic horror films along with Night of the Living Dead, which are so effective in part because they stood inside of themselves and looked out. They saw us as we were seeing them. That's where the horror lies, people were so fascinated and sickened by these films because they were essentially watching themselves, or at least the bleak social realism of the world they lived in.
Night of the Living Dead was so powerful because it was filmed the very same year that American troops entered the Vietnamese village of My Lai and destroyed everything in site, thus the horror was shifted. Suddenly that limp American flag hanging in the cemetery of the opening scene was much scarier than then walking dead that surrounded it. Similarly Last House on the Left defines true evil during a time when teenagers practiced peace and love. "I thought you're supped to be the love generation" the main character's mother says after hearing that her daughter is going to a Bloodlust concert. If she only knew how deceiving surfaces can be.
The story is simple. After the concert, two rebellious teenage girls go looking to score some grass. They stumble upon Junior who is the junkie son of Krug, an escaped murderer who is hiding out with another escapee and his girl. Junior, promising the girls a sweet deal, lures them back to the filthy apartment where the convicts are hiding. During this sequence Wes Craven (who wrote, directed and edited) cuts between this sad space and back to one of the girl's home in which her parents, in their conservative, bourgeois living space, set up for their daughter's birthday.
Upon arrival the girls are mocked, abused, harassed and tortured. They are then rounded up in the morning and driven into a remote country area where the criminals' car breaks down and the sexual and physical torture of these girls continues in the nearby woods until both are murdered.
Then something ironic happens which leads to a brilliant scene of terror. Not knowing their surroundings, the killers clean themselves, change their clothes and head to the nearest house where they can spend the night until getting their car fixed in the morning. Turns out the house belongs to the parents of one of the girls they killed, who, after discovering what these people did to their daughter, exact their revenge.
Last House on the Left explores depravity in a way that Craven would never return to over the course of his highly successful career. Maybe that's for the better. The film has a rawness that is unparalleled even to this day. We have come to a point in time where horror films are all gloss, where violence exists more as a special effect than a product of evil. Here is one that exists at ground level and unflinchingly shows us acts of violence and torture as if we are a very part of the process.
Last House on the Left is so penetrating in part because it takes responsibility for the evil that it shows us. It is sickened by the state of American depravity that existed underneath its surface image of peace and love. This is a contrast that Craven makes in the mentioned scene, between the normal American household and the criminal underbelly. The truth is that evil can penetrate any space, even the bourgeois household, which is why the parents take their revenge, not as part of a horror movie climax, but because evil is not defined by surfaces, it can lurk just below even the most conservative looking of spaces. Now that's a scary thought.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
**** out of 5
Deep down I know that the Matrix Revolutions is a good movie because it excites me to think about it. Ironic maybe because the more I think about it the more I like it. It hits us with ideas that the end is near because everything that begins must end, but in some ways it seems to breathe more life in its paradoxical conclusions than the first movie did with its cultural references. But it is not the best film in the trilogy because even though there is artistic poetry in the final showdown between Neo and Agent Smith, the Matrix Revolutions seems to forget its mass audience. At some point we see a transition from the self-professed philosophy of Reloaded, spawned from real philosophies and other cultural impacts, into a method in believing that we must fight for the end with our honour, our valour, and our pride. But the Wachowski Brothers get away with it because they have so much already invested in these characters that they were bound to succeed.
Yet the Matrix Revolutions is not simply a nice looking action picture. It focuses its story more on human connections in comparison to machines as Neo awakens in a place somewhere between the real world and the Matrix. After being saved by his comrades he talks to the Oracle who speaks prophecies that could be expected from a psychic at a Star Trek convention.
This lends Neo with the impression that he must venture to the machine world on his own because there he will find what the fate of human kind depends on. Far and wide between these ideas lies an immensely long action sequence with minimal cuts in relentlessness and no interwoven notions of Neo's state. But it still answered some of my questions. And even when it felt the need to sway from an explanation I didn't mind because the new questions left in the open were just as fascinating as the answers to the old ones. Then ending on a note of such curiosity that if a fourth film were made I would not watch it because coincidence does not merit an explanation.
This is a film that hinted at ideas, more fully explored in graphic detail in Darren Aronofsky's cult masterpiece Pi. In Pi, conscious decisions were made with prime material that this film didn't have room for due to mentioned action sequence of epic proportion. The hint in Revolutions that coincides with Pi is in that every human action is based on a code and that we need machines to be the mathematicians that our minds can't allow us to be. That film was kind of an elaborate set up for a look into a man's limit to his own sanity. This one speaks in tongues that show the better part of a grade eleven math course finally doing itself some good. The belief stems to say that every equation has equal opposition between worlds. In a mathematical sense, the figures that exist on both sides of the equal sign (parallel worlds) are, in turn, the same information, only presented in different forms. For example the number three could be opposed as being six divided by two in another universe making it the same power in a different identity. That's where the Matrix comes in. It was a system designed to balance the equations. The Architect, we learned in Reloaded, was a mathematician, who, in creating this vast program could balance the equations and hold the power of humanity in his hands, because those who hold the answer hold the understanding. In this film we find his equal opposition. That one whose attempts to unbalance the equations effect a chain reaction of unbalance between bi-polar opposites Neo and Smith. In Reloaded we were thrown a bunch of psychobabble about how Neo and Smith were one in the same. This is true in Revolutions as we find the only way to balance an equation is to make both sides of equal proportion, leading up to that final battle sequence, which may make sense of, or complicate matters even worse. That's what I would have liked to see more of in Revolutions. Although, it is a smarter film than critics are giving it credit for. And it doesn't surprise me. When something is given such mass appeal it is easy to become immobile to hate for no better reason than to be the one saying something different. Unlike the first two films, with Revolutions it comes down to a war between parallels that are acted out instead of further exploring reasons. I was looking for more curiosity in the methods behind the action, but such is not the case. All ideas seemed second to the endless shooting inside the Bay of Zion. But to a certain advantage point I was still content that this was a good film because we are receiving no more than what was avoided but pushed toward during Reloaded; a special effects extravaganza.
And an extravaganza it was. The person next to me in the theatre could only utter two words as the Sentinels swarmed into Zion, the first being `holy...' With that, there is no doubt in my mind that it will be years before the effects in this film will even be comprehensible to all the other special effects driven films to follow. I know that I have neglected to examine much of the story and characters of Revolutions but in all honesty it would be impossible to have someone follow anything that happens in this film without prior knowledge to the first two. I think of this as more a theoretical analysis rather than an opinionated view, because there is much more to be explained and discovered in the questions I was left with than in the actual technique of the filmmaking.
I'm reluctant to say that Revolutions is the worst film in the trilogy, simply because it was more entertainment than thought. But I still have my impressions that this series is not the culture-shock phenomenon that many claimed it to be. During the bonus features of the DVD for Reloaded I heard someone say in an interview that this could be the most complex movie ever made. I highly doubt that, but it could very well be the smartest and nicest looking action movie of its time.
Hollywood Homicide (2003)
****1/2 out of 5
There are two things that make Hollywood Homicide better than the pack of endless summer action movies that came out this year. One is that it never once felt the need to take itself seriously, and it takes matters upon itself to have fun along the way. Directed and co-written by Ron Selton, the man behind White Men Can't Jump, Hollywood Homicide is an action movie so smart, witty and ripe with hilarious dialogue that it could very well be the best, if not chattiest, detective movie since Clint Eastwood retired Dirty Harry in The Dead Pool.
Harrison Ford stars in prime comedic fashion as Joe Gavilan, a detective with Hollywood Homicide and a real estate salesman on the side. He is stuck with all his money invested in a house on Mount Olympus, located at the corner of Hercules and Alkalise. Gavilan is a man who takes the term job related stress to all new levels of comedy as his cell phone acts as a near third-party character. It seems when Gavilan is doing police work he is on the phone chatting real estate and vice versa. That's his quirk.
His partner, K.C. Calden, played by Josh Hartnett, is a youngster who teaches a woman's yoga class, because it makes him feel needed as an individual. And because it gets him sex. Calden wants to get out of police work. `What do you want to do,' askes Gavilan. `I want to be an actor.' `Okay, so your gay, I can deal with that,' replies Gavilan.
The two are assigned to find the man behind the shooting of an up and coming rap group in a local nightclub run by Master P. Even the club owner has his own quirk. He wants to buy a house, and as luck would have it, Joe wants to sell one. The identity of the killer is kept as no secret. It is an upscale record company executive named Antoine Sartain, who kills off his top acts just before they are about to `break out.' A statement to teach fellow artists not to mess with the music industry. Hollywood Homicide is a cliche; there is no doubt about that. It's story lacks facts to make sense of the situation it finds itself in. But the movie is crafted with such naturally funny conversations, misunderstandings and quite, if not droll, sarcasm that it is, simply put, a goofy delight from start to finish. Sample dialogue: Calden: `Joe someone is stealing your car.' Gavilan: `That's okay, it's insured.' It also features a hilarious car case scene in which Gavilan tries to cut a deal on a house while in the middle of hot pursuit and another classic scene involving a suspect fleeing in a paddle boat. What sets Hollywood Homicide apart from the rest of the pact, is that its situations exist inside a model of everyday life. The film's focus does not rest on the investigation. Shelton makes it a point to show what happens between the high-speed chases and the deadly shoot-outs. Rather, following his characters to yoga meetings, hot tubs and the homes of rich Hollywood producers, which all carry on outside of the main purpose of detective work. Action films like these are usually far from believable. This one presents a car case down the wrong side of the road, over and through many obstacles, and even riding the side of a parked transport truck on two wheels. The thing about action is that, although we don't believe the act that surrounds it is possible, we must believe in the characters that execute it.
Both Ford and Hartnett create a likeable pair, with impeccable comedic reaction time. Watch Ford's expression as he takes a bike from an on looking pedestrian. They play that rare duo that spend more time making small talk about things that are naturally funny because we don't expect them in a no-brainer action flick, than bickering like the Odd Couple.
The art of the buddy flick is a worm out formula. The art of two cops with life's pressure having a strong bearing on their job; that's something fresh. These characters are not super heroes; they make mistakes, funny ones at that, including jumping off the top of a building onto a vender cart below. Showing someone doing something funny is dull. Now show someone doing something naturally stupid and then suffering the consequences; now we have something. Your probably wondering how I can sit here and give away all the films jokes and still expect people to want to see it, and trust me I am severely biting my tongue as it is. But in reality I have not even began to scratch the surface. Shelton injects every line of this film with those same observations of human nature and instinct that made White Men Can't Jump such a great film. This one works on the basis that, it may not be funny that a cop is a real estate broker, but human nature tells us that the thought of a person like this in existence is pretty funny.
The key factor driving the success of this film was that Shelton knew that he may not have the greatest story but he didn't need one in the first place. Because there is not set outcome that burdens everyday life, why should there be in an action movie about the life that it's main characters inhabit? After Shelton struck out with his mismatched boxing comedy Play it to the Bone, I thought to myself that if only he could make another film that cares about its characters enough to develop them through specific quirkiness he'd be on the right track, Then, write those characters into a film that does not barricade them into a set pattern of life from one-dimensional scripting, that he would have a true hit on his hands. And now he has.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
**** out of 5
I try to avoid talking about classic movies. They have already been analyzed to an extent where it almost becomes an impossibility to come up with anything fresh or interesting to say. But A Clockwork Orange is a film that is still making itself today. Of course, not of the same effect today as it had on audiences in 1971. With it being placed next to such modern controversy as Natural Born Killers and American Psycho it is hard to appreciate just how original it was when it was made. Yet still it holds strong as the reigning king of controversy to this day, and with changes in society and science fiction on a whole, it is an exception to be made when coming time discuss its content.
At its best, A Clockwork Orange is an `out-there' type of cult masterpiece, staging over-the-top theatrical tactics to make its point, while at the same time breaking it down into mockery. At its worst it is still a pretty good, if not an overrated classic of flawed proportion, whose reputation has been built, more so, on the controversy that surrounds it than on the technique of its filmmaking.
The first half of the film lives and breathes its character, Alex de Large. Alex is ` a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.' An anti-hero whose mind is set more on anti than hero. A character study all to his own right. He and his `droogs' roam the streets of a futuristic society at night looking for old men to beat and women to rape for something to do. But when one of the victim's dies and Alex is betrayed by his friends, he is sent to jail. In jail he hears of an experimental government program that is designed to get criminals out of jail and keep them out. Alex is the first test subject. After being forced to watch videos of violent behaviour, Alex is released back to a society that doesn't want him, making him sick to all the ills that he used to be a part of, creating a doubtfulness towards the power of society and politics. Some have argued that director Stanley Kubrick `made' A Clockwork Orange. But in the shape of it all, this film is more a vibrant distraction from the lively sarcasm of the much superior book of the same name, by the late Anthony Burgess. What Kubrick is missing here is much of what made his adaptation of Steven King's The Shining so disappointing. Failing to implement key story traits, Kubrick directs his vision, but not the same vision of politically incorrect poetry that made the book such a pleasure. The book was a first- person character study, existing within the paradoxes of an individual mind without the use of third person analogies. This is not a problem to the genius first half of the film. But after Alex is released back upon the world there is nothing but third party character present, making it unbelievable to distinguish Alex from just another background fixture. Changing from character study to storytelling, forgetting that the story lies in the character. The most noteworthy of controversy attached to A Clockwork Orange was its label as `violent porn.' But in looking at such criticism with equal opportunity to criticize we can see that the term `violent porn' has spawned for the narrow influence of individuals who base philosophies on their first reactions. `Porn' is an adjective, describing an outlet for gratuitous sexual stimulation. There is nothing that I can find even remotely pleasurable in the horrifying acts committed in this film, and anyone who argues differently has fetishes that run deeper than the content at hand. As for `violent.' It is another adjective, but this time misinterpreted as a noun. Because the word, in this case, is not to be used as a noun we rarely witness the violence. It is a mere deterrent used to describe the atmosphere. On the other hand, the violence that is seen is viewed from a comedic standpoint. That's the gift of satire, you don't have to find it funny to be able to laugh. If anything this is a positive film, teaching the Christian belief that it is the right of all individuals to have free will and choice. As stated by Blake Morrison in the book's introductions, `Alex must be able to choose to be good; he must be an orange, capable of growing and sweetness, not a wound-up clockwork toy.' Meaning that an orange may be bitter at first but it has the ability to grow on its own and ripen into something sweet. Unlike clockwork which only works on the basis of what it is programmed to do.
Malcolm McDowell doesn't only play Alex, he is Alex. McDowell goes so far for absolute broke in his take-no-prisoners performance, that it could have ruined the film and career of a lesser man. In a role that is so rowdy, McDowell never takes himself serious Always sporting a mean grin of pleasure and a jolly sort of stance, making him nothing short of unintentional evil. A scene in which Alex kicks a man who is down while reciting Singing in the Rain is of utmost classic and one of the best in this film.
A Clockwork Orange is not an easy film to watch or even all that inspiring of one either. It knows that just as many people hate it and don't understand it as those who love it. But those who do love it love it for the right reasons. Not because it is a well made film. It is nowhere near a definitive Kurbick masterpiece, but because `when a man does not have the ability to chose, he ceases to be a man.'
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
* out of 5
(Warning: contains spoilers) Rosemary's Baby is the kind of film that no one really needs to see because with all the notoriety that has come with it over the years we just assume it is good without ever really knowing. If I would have saw it during the year of 1968, when it was first released, I may have given it praise of the utmost standard. Focusing my thoughts on its firm analysis of paranoia and how it walls people into situations where the only ones who seem safe from its effects are the audience. I also would have talked about Mia Farrow's career making performance and director Roman Polanski's ability to present motions of fear without the use of blood. But it is not the kind of movie that ages well with admiration. These days we know its secrets, and since we expect them, it's more common to find yourself waiting than actually watching with anticipation, and as Hitchcock once said `there is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.' Rosemary's Baby opens its thoughts in grand old horror movie fashion, with an idea that has very little to do with the rest of the story. In the Exorcist it was an archaeological dig. Here it is the mysterious death of a recently befriended neighbour. I'll admit, for the most part, this scene did have intentions of leading the audience somewhere with ideas of fear, confusion and paranoia. But in a film where we already know something is up, the mystery lies in when the character will finally realize it too. In general, Rosemary's Baby focuses on a young couple in Rosemary and Guy, who should have realized that moving into their new apartment was an unwise decision when they find a cabinet that is blocking what appears to be a seemingly normal closet. The film then presents a scene, obligatory by today's standards, where the couple is warned about the apartment building's wicked past from a friend who believes in witchcraft and the such. This character is necessary to the film because were it not to believe in its own sense of evil than the idea that no one can be trusted would be lost inside itself. Yet, even in necessity, two problems arise. The first being that if it is a close friend who gives reason for the main character to have feelings of untruth, how can he be trusted even though we already know he is a decent character? The other problem comes from a statement that I made in my review for the Recruit. I said that I was not a fan of the `trust no one' approach to writing. With that film I made an exception because `in turn it didnt know itself very well.` Here, writer Polanski knows where he wants to go and I like it even less because it is already suspected why characters can't be trusted. With the intention of conceiving their first child, Rosemary and Guy have a truly strange sex scene/dream sequence where it appears that Rosemary is making love to the devil himself? That scene is one of two dream sequences. The first being unsolicited and unexplainable. I suspect it to be a set-up for the future, so that when the second comes along we are ready for it in hopes of an explanation. Alas, Rosemary becomes pregnant, but at the expense of her own tainted psyche. Now everything seems strange to her. Her husband is always away and her neighbours are a little too nice for comfort. She isn't gaining any weight and is having constant chest pains, but her new doctor assures her that everything is okay and to just keep receiving the care given by her lovely neighbours. Things become even more confusing for Rosemary when Hutch, the friend, falls into a coma and dies soon after. Now Rosemary takes no chances and begins buying books on witchcraft and studies satanic cults. From this she gathers reason to believe that her neighbour is the descendant of a witch and her husband has promised their baby to him in an act representing the second coming of Satan in human form. She's right... the end. The biggest flaw that Rosemary's Baby put upon itself is that it confined its paranoia to the central purpose of one character. In pushing everyone else to the sidelines, Polanski makes it no challenge to determine the good from the evil. For when only one character has a reason to fear for herself, the audience outweighs the possibility of innocence in any other characters.
There is no doubt that Polanski is a good director, but he has done better. A lot better. He offers no memorable scenes or dialogue. What is, just is. In that sense, I suppose that Rosemary's Baby may not be a bad movie, just an overrated one. Or maybe I missed my mark entirely while watching it. Still it is anything but Polanski's masterpiece. In his lack of thought and abundance for feeling we are made digest an awkward balance of predictability and unfocused half-truths. Mia Farrow stars as Rosemary, in a confident performance. She runs, she screams and she looks concerned a lot. It's standard horror fare but Farrow sells it by never once leading us to believe that the world isn't against her. The thing that diverts the focus from the good acting is the fact that Polanski is more concerned with how his characters react to his ideas and not how they exists within their own environment. With this I find it hard to decide whether I should be giving Farrow credit for her performance or taking it away for the directors selfish neglect for everything but his vision. Some will probably debate that I may have given away too much of the story to those who still wish to see Rosemary's Baby. But in contradiction to that, I have already stated that this is a film that no one really needs to see. So why bother?
Poolhall Junkies (2002)
****1/2 out of 5
The problem is that it is hard to make a Martin Scorsese film that's already been made, unless you are Martin Scorsese himself. The other problem is trying to impress a person who believes that Scorsese is one of the top five greatest directors in American film. With that I suppose I have tasted my own philosophies because Poolhall Junkies is an impressive little picture. There is a world all on its own in the game of pool that exists in two sectors. One is the game itself. The other is the hustle. The game on a whole is something like life. It relates its success to the skill and ambition used to play. Ultimately, determining who wins and who loses. In the world of pool the man with the best shot is not the winner. The winner is man who knows how the shot was made. So if the game is life than the hustle must be fate. The hustle is, in the sense of the game world, how you see yourself. `If you think your a loser the only person who you'll be able to beat are the ones who think they are bigger losers than you,' advises Nick (Rod Steiger in his last performance), the hall owner. Therefore in a universe where the game is life, one must be willing to live by the hustle. It's true, Poolhall Junkies could have focused itself on violence and the quarrel between an honest guy caught in a bad mans world. But it doesn't. It doesn't because it is a film that knows its game, and understands how its players approach it. Johnny is a man who lives pool. He never misses because `the cue was part of his arm and the balls had eyes.' But after his hustling mentor Joe throws away Johnny's chances at being the best player in the world, Johnny is forced into the seedy world of the hustlers. Its also true that there is not much story to a film like this. It has its basic set up and then lets its characters roam freely as they wish. Sometimes all they want to do is have fun, sometimes they chose good, and sometimes bad, but in life that's how the game works. Even in its lack of story it still believes that the players are the fuels for the game, so why not be the focal point? So I'm not going to waste time explaining plot twists involving lost money and lost tempers because Poolhall Junkies never embodies that standard or seriousness. This is a film so cleverly acted and crafted that even the ones who know nothing of pool can walk away feeling, not only educated, but intoxicated by its vivid nature. Writer/director Gregory `Mars' Martin is only on his second feature with Poolhall Junkies but he realizes that in order to hold the audience's attention they must view the game as a risk not an investment. In turn, the film has a risky nature about it. In not separating heroes from villains, no character, not even Johnny, has a feeling of safety. By doing that Martin has created an atmosphere where the stakes are always high and always up for grabs. The pool room scenes in question are beautifully choreographed by Robert Morris. Morris knows where the importance of his focus lies. On the movement of the balls. How they manoeuvre. Defy gravity. And even speak a hidden langue of their own, is filmed in such slick and fast cutting that the film becomes not about who is putting the ball in the hole. But the intrigue of seeing how it will make its way there. Martin plays Johnny with remarkable skill as well. He is an actor who crosses somewhere between the flashy confidence of James Woods and the slick tough guy of Michael Madsen. In that, Martin is able to deliver a performance of compassion and inner choice, but never lowering himself to fit a character label. He obviously had a good time making this film. In an act of pure genius casting we see the always-devilish Chazz Palmintero and the always-wonderful Christopher Walken appearing on none other than the same screen. Palmintero is riveting as Joe, delivering every line with such malicious confidence that it is almost impossible to not feel a pleasurably guilty sensation every time he walks on screen.
Speaking of screen pleasures, Walken alone would be worth the price of admission as Mike, Johnny's backer. Walken is again at the top of his game, delivering yet another crisp, cool performance, that at the moment when he asks Johnny if he ever watches the animal channels, you know to expect one of his ingenious monologues, that none other but Walken are capable of pulling off. There are other characters is the film. Tara is the love interest and Johnny's brother Danny and his friends serve mostly as comic relief, repeating jokes that have been done better somewhere else. But none of them quite reach the desire of the game. Seemingly whose only motives are to distract from it, taking away the sense of professionalism exhibited in the films best scenes, and replacing it for exaggerated views on outside issues.
Poolhall Junkies is indeed a rare film about pool and pool alone. Its best scenes focus on nothing but. There is no violence or anything typical of a movie where money is at risk. Strange because in a world where the game is life and the hustle is fate, that must make the table the voice of ambition. Any movie can overpower that sensation with distractions. It takes a good one to listen.
The Rundown (2003)
**** out of 5
After seeing The Rundown some odd sensation in me suggested that if director Peter Berg had been more interested in surveying his characters in his ultra-stinker debut, Very Bad Things that he could have had a masterpiece on his hands. With that assumption stated it is hard to believe that The Rundown is one of those rare films that physically pits its heroes above their action. Allowing a story to build around natural causes instead of setting up backdrops in order to initiate planned action sequences.
Existing somewhere between a big, dumb summer popcorn flick and a sincere alternative, staring into the eye of adventure, this is a film that is entertaining on almost all levels. We are given assurance to this early on in the film from none other than Arnold Schwarzennger when he tells star, the Rock to `have fun' while walking down the hall of a nightclub. Having had such a mighty torch passed to him so early on it would be a dishonour to expect anything less than off the wall amusement from the Rock. He in turn gives a performance in Beck that is so crisp and fresh that we believe he has the potential of a hero. Beck works for the bad guys, taking jobs that no man without a purpose would ever question. But the Rundown is a good movie, and a good movie knows enough that its characters need dimension. Thus Beck is a man who does have a purpose. He is aspiring to open his own restaurant. But in order to get the money to achieve his goal he takes one last job. The job finds himself traveling to Brazil to a small town called El Dorado in order find his bosses son Travis (Sean William Scott of American Pie) and bring him home, not an easy task as the duo quickly develop a strong love/hate relationship.
Along the journey we find another layered characteristic about Beck in that doesn't like guns. `You're the only American I know who doesn't like guns,' says an onlooker. But he doesn't like them because `bad things happen when I use guns.' And from watching Beck in hand-to-hand combat it is not hard to image what life would be like with a gun at his disposal.
What follows in the jungle is an action flick that I've already seen, in Gunmen and Indiana Jones. But Gunmen was a joke that no one seemed to be in on or, maybe it didn't realize it had one, but the Rundown does. Making it a lot easier to have a sense of humour about something that sees caricature in itself. We then encounter a villainous mine owner named Hatcher in Christopher Walken who says all the things that we tend to wonder when unbelievable circumstances are questioned in a serious film. Walken, an actor so aware of himself and his purpose that he seems to make even the most senseless dialogue meaningful, is given the films single best line. When asked by one of his henchmen if he thinks Beck and Travis are dead after driving off a cliff, Hatcher replies, `what am I, psychic.' He later outdoes himself and his character again when, after a stampede erupts in the middle of a town he utters impressively, `that's a lot of cows,' while watching a video monitor.
But Walken isn't the only key player with something unique to show. Rosario Dawson gives the most curios and understanding action performance from a female since Linda Hamilton stared in the Terminator, and the Rock proves that, although his acting range may be limited, that is no excuse for one dimensional character association. Scott also shows that his smart-alecky nature is not just reserved to the American Pie movies.
Then, in a near change of pace, somewhere around the halfway mark the Rundown changes from a mission of retrieval to a hunt for lost gold, and manifests other sub plots involving loyalty and a running joke about sexually active monkeys. Under the conditioning of a movie with the soul intent of an action basis this could have been a problem, but because the core of Berg's focus lies in the chemically imbalanced structure of his characters, we tend not to make a point of it. The motivations in Berg's direction come in his desire to avoid playing with ideas of violent behaviour. Analyzing his characters and explaining what prompts their involvement in violent circumstances. Making the obligatory action climax seem like more of a reward for good behaviour rather than a set-up for no better reason than to follow standards.
The an example of this happens in one of the best scenes from an action film I have seen all year, in which Beck is tempted into using a gun. In a genre that lives by the motto of `shoot first, ask questions later.' The idea of what would convince a man of honour to go against himself for the benefit of his temperament is equally as fascinating as it is exciting in its conclusions. The films cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, also disserves great credit for his masterfully filmed action sequences, that at times may also seem like too much, but when this degree of care and technique is put into something, its a strong tendency not to be bothered with such small criticism. As a result, making for some of the most poetic and electrifying action sequences since Daredevil. Although the Rundown may not be a perfect film, overlooking problems in pacing and the neglect of some under developed ideas, it is still one of the most enjoyable times I've had at the movies this year. Making me believe that what the Rock is cooking smells like nothing less than a great career as an action star.
What a Girl Wants (2003)
***1/2 out of 5
I knew from the moment that I heard the line `No hugs dear I'm British, we only show affection for dogs and horses' that I was in over my head, as the jokes don't get much better with patience. So maybe I will hate myself in the mourning but at the same time What a Girl Wants is a film that is so nice, modest and organized towards what it needs to say that it would be my great dishonour to renounce it for having a happy ending.
Films like this are often taken for granted because of unbelievable stories, continuity problems and characters who if not falling under the sweet category, fall somewhere between wicked and annoying. But I think somewhere a film this focused on happiness needs to be regarded to some extent. Still it is not of my interest or that my readers to sit and pick apart what should have been done better, what should have not been done at all and any basic principal in story for that matter. In truth it is senseless to pick out formulas in these movies because they all follow the same basic pattern, if youve seen once...you've got the idea. In reality, the conclusion that I bestow upon you all is that in a world that needs a positive touch, a warm hand on the shoulder can't do us any harm. So although this film may be far from perfect, its over exertion to care with such precision and dignity is what makes it worthy of the time.
Amanda Bynes has the eyes in which all the curiosity of the world is stored, giving her the exact note in which to draw from to bring her character Daphne to life. Daphne's story would be a sad one to any teen girl living it, but her gracious smile indicates that she will receive no less than what she bargained for in the first place. So what is her story anyway? Daphne is a girl who has a father but has never met him and in turn he is not aware of her existence. It comes as quite a shock when she runs away to Britain in search of not only her father, but that mysterious figure that inherits her dreams. The problem is that Daphne is a simple American girl and her father, Henry, is a posh British politician. As circumstance would have it, Henry to be engaged to the largest snob a movie studio could dream up. And if there is one cliché I can't stand more than the irritation of a snobbish fiancé, its that of a snobbish step child, whose nose appears to be so far in the air that I'm sure she can smell the clouds. Those young girls who have already saw the Princess Diaries and Cinderella know where I am going with this and to everyone else, rest assured your deaf ears have probably already taken the better part of your interest out of this film. With formulas already set in, it comes as no surprise there are many teenage difficulties that don't check out at the boarder, for without them a story could not survive, and a young audiences attention span would be stretched to the limits. Most noteworthy of the problems is the pressures of conformity, if I should be so bold as to dare think that this film's target audience would understand such a statement. In turn our beloved `ugly duckling' is plagued with the guilt of being the odd one out even though through either irony, or poor writing, she seems to bring nothing but goodness to all that she touches. Indeed this royal family believes that she must smoothen those American edges and become a proper young lady but in a scene of obligatory sentiment effective to those willing to invest in it, she is told `it's not the crown that makes the queen, it's in the heart.' So maybe this film has been made before under a different name with different actors and different purposes but what draws ones attention to its own sense of urgency is how much it cares about the success of its characters. Writers Jenny Bricks and Elizabeth Chandler realize that sending a teenage girl after her dreams adherers to no unhappy moments because when you are a teenager in search of something meaningful, dreams are the ones with the most magnificent imaginations. What a Girl Wants is the kind of film that mothers with gladly take their daughters to see because it was smart enough to realize that family values have more meaning than ideas of them. Many directors can show a happy families, but Dennie Gordon creates one. The problem is that the politics of them family seem more a concern than the benefits, a shame because in a world of fairy tale dreams coming true, the only leaders should be the mind's determination to succeed. So what exactly is What a Girls Wants many of you may be wondering? It's unlikely, and pretentiously flawed but at the same time, a delightful showcase of such light-hearted nurture and care that, well, it's probably exactly what any girl would want.
**** out of 5
There are two things a blind man can do. One is to cry. The other is to see his life flash before his eyes and in some ways I suppose he can see into your soul, because the soul is the city, and the city will always live through loss. Daredevil is the kind of comic book film to come along that audiences will gladly leave their children at home for. In fact I recommend it. It is bleak and violent, not far off from an R rating I suspect. Still it is curious out of a strange cock-eyed grace. It flips from scene to scene so smoothly and with so much grace it feels like, well, flipping the glossy pages of a comic book. But leave your belief of comic books behind because Daredevil has the poise and curiosity of an art picture, sewn only together with the basis of comic book theory, which states that every hero must have equal, if not, more fierce opposition. Yet at the same time the threads of comic nature weaken the hold of artistic substance within a film that needs no more oppression than that of which scars a mans mind. Matt Murdock was twelve when he lost his sight. In an unavoidable freak accident the boy is robbed of vision but finds that all of his remaining senses increase significantly. He now roams the city tops, making his home in Hell's Kitchen his new official playground. His father was a washed up boxer working for a criminal who would later rob the boy of value and replace him with a man of vengeance when his father is killed for not throwing a boxing match. As a man Murdock is a lawyer by day and a masked avenger named Daredevil by night, ridding the city of disease in hopes of one day avenging his father's death. He is soon dubbed as the man with no fear, but is told by a local priest and friend that `A man without fear is a man without hope.' The intriguing development into this character begins from the opening scene, a scene that shows weakness in a genre that relies on strength and stability. `It's true that you see your life flash before your eyes when you are about to die' says Daredevil. To get a glimpse of humanity into a character this early on is a welcomed change in events for any genre piece. The guidelines that this film follows are not a general topic of discussion, if you want guidelines watch Batman. Sure there is a hero, and with him there is a romantic interest in Elektra (a sexually charged performance from Jennifer Garner), but even that connection feels motivated by deeper surroundings. Both Daredevil and Elektra have something in common, they have both had loved ones die at their hands, and they both cover their reality with their cynical looks into revenge. Then there is the bad guys, maniacally played, yet still observably out of motion, by Michael Clark Duncan and Colin Farrell. Duncan plays Fisk (A.K.A. the Kingpin) a man with a theory that `no one is innocent' and who is believed to be behind every single criminal activity in New York City. But if memory serves me correctly, I always believed that Fisk was a white man? Nevertheless, Farrell, as expert marksman Bullseye, is the kind of chew-'em-up, spit-'em-out type performance that we all look forward to in comic book villains, but never see their due payoff in the story per say. The heart of this story lies not in who killed who or who wants to kill who, its in the personality and, the struggle and blind determination of the title character. That's where star Ben Affleck comes in, in a performance so cocky and self righteous as Murdock, you find it hard to believe when he finally slips into the bleak and unrelenting persona of Daredevil that we are viewing the same person. Director Mark Steven Johnson is an armature, directing only one film prior to this in Simon Birch, yet he relays the same kind of dismal hope that perplexed that movie and rose it above formula standards. In using rain and shadows as symbols Johnson was able to create more in character than even the most well filmed action sequence could have. Johnson also proves that in a world of computer generate special effects that those engines were created to heighten the impact of a film not lesson it from upstaging its actors. A scene of true passionate originality in which Murdock is able to see Elektra's face through the individual vibrations that each rain drop produces upon hitting an object, proves that, although a standard genre picture, comic book films are not limited to the single cell frames that their story inhabit. As for trivia buffs, there are several guest cameos; the best being that of comic book legend and Daredevil creator Stan Lee as a man who almost walks into oncoming traffic. Also comic book enthusiast and Jay and Silent Bob creator Kevin Smith can be seen in a quick spot as a lab worker. As the day closes and night veers its tragic change upon us it is hard to be a man stuck between revenge and justice. Daredevil may have had its flaws in formula and believability, but it still had the intelligence to realize that revenge doesn't take the pain away and justice cannot be served at the hand of vengeance.
Disturbing Behavior (1998)
Disturbing Behaviour breaks down social barriers with such a high level of teenage angst and authenticity that those who find it interesting are the ones who think rebellion is a model of life, not a text book stage from it. It is an older film, from 1998 for the perfectionists of the world, but I visit it because it is of a dying breed that hit its climax and slowly sunk away. This is the type of movie that doesn't have the ethics to show its face anymore after being mocked, ridiculed, and ripped apart by the Scream movies. The genre is teen suspense, more a vehicle to revolt against everything moral than one to thrill. And ironic enough it seems an unsolicited task to rebel in a world where police take no authority after one of the `good' students break into a bloody fist fight at a local convince store. Welcome to Cradle Bay, a place where strange things are going on, and director David Nutter never makes it priority to conceal this fact. I guess in his blunt approach he never realized that a lack of explanation doesn't substitute for mystery. After witnessing a fellow student shoot a police officer, Gavin (Nick Stahl), a teen outcast, appoints himself as narrator and commentates new student Steve (James Marsden) through life at Cradle Bay. Steve has recently moved there with his family to escape past demons that threaten the family dinner table. In a horribly plotted sequence, we see a diner table conversation functioning as nothing more than an excuse not to explore the films plot. At school divisions are ever so present. There are the skaters; the boys in leather who dream about their cars and the Blue Ribbons. The Blue Ribbons are part of a program to help worried parents by turning their troubled teenagers into model students. By planting computer chips in their heads, a school doctor can create an army of lobotomized overachievers who will excel in their work ethics. At least that's what I was able to gather. Nutter spends so much time finding ways to avoid his material that trying to get insight into what is going on is harder than finishing the last night's homework. After being `sold out' by his parents Gavin is forced into the Blue Ribbon program and it is up to Steve and Rachel (teen poster queen Katie Holms who, at her best is one of today's most promising teen actors and at her worse is, well, better than this), to team up and uncover the secret behind the Blue Ribbons. But they never find a secret. They never rise above or break down boundaries. Nor do they even begin to understand the logic behind what is going on here. Neither does the audience because Nutter never makes it an issue to create surprises, making plot revelations no more than a build up of what we have already learned and already come to expect. The conclusion is every bit as sadistic as it is implausible, showing none more than the lack of commitment writer Scott Rosenberg had to his story, a compilation between A Clockwork Orange and the Stepford Wives in a post grunge generation. The idea behind Disturbing Behaviour is that the educational system is so hung up on image and punctuality that teachers are doing nothing more to their students than brainwashing them (ho ho the satire is killing me). Yet irony takes its toll when we realize, after an unwarranted visit to an insane asylum that the school vision has been demised by the dynamic heroics of central character Steve. And even in a world trying to be perfect, the `ideal' students have side effects. They exhibit violent dislike to all that are not of their kind, including parents and peers alike. The scariest thing about this film is in the idea that the ones that you need worry most about sending a fellow student home in a body bag are not the ones who dress in black or listen to rock music. Rather the ones in charge of holding school sponsored bake sales. The script in question is full of plot devices so oblivious to all but their own existence that it is a more fun to pick them out than to watch the film implode under their weight. In this case we have the kid who knows to much, the bounty hunter who poses in role, hoping that nothing will put his mission in jeopardy (although who I will not say, you'll know before they do), the scene in which the villain convinces the heroes parents that he is there to help. And, my person favourite, the loss of a loved one who serves no more than for superfluous flashback sequences. In this case it's a brother, although personal classification reflects nothing to a story that bears no need for a script implication such as this anyway. But it is this death that prompts the move to Cradle Bay with no deeper explanation than `everything will be better here.' To say that Disturbing Behaviour is a shallow film that was made without thought or insight would be missing the point. It's like telling the kid with the blue hair that he looks strange, the more you tempt the outwardly the stronger they become. So is it possible for a film like this to rebel against social status in the school system? Well, if your idea of rebellion lies in doing everything the exact opposite of what a good movie would do, consider this one a success.
About Schmidt (2002)
***** out of 5
About Schmidt is a sad movie; there is no doubt about that. It doesn't highlight a happy ending or happy characters. But it is not intentionally that way. Well no more than it is intentionally funny or intentionally disheartening. The only thing it tries to be is a good movie, and at that it succeeds marvellously. What is sad about this film is that it is hard to watch bad things happen to good people. But is Warren Schmidt really a good person? I have read several other reviews sighting him as a jerk and in a film of lesser calibre such may be the obvious, but this is not a lesser film. Schmidt is not a jerk; he is indeed a good man, an instantly lovable character. That's what sets him apart from other characters of his kind. But he is a lonely man. He is also angry and afraid, maybe afraid because he is angry, or angry because he is afraid, the kind of man who excuses himself from his own retirement in order to get a drink at a bar down the hall. `I wake up and ask myself the same question ever night. Who is this old woman living in my house?' Schmidt says of his wife after his retirement party, which has seemingly left him at a loss for himself. That's how the film begins. Warren R. Schmidt is 66 years old and ready to step down as the assistant vice president of an insurance company. He seems miserable as all of his friends pay homage to him, and he seems equally as miserable on his down time at home. Everything his wife does seems to annoy him, he visits the young man who has taken over his job in hopes of him needing some help with current affairs, and he lies in spite of himself. He lies because he needs comfort but doesn't need others to know of this. Material like that on its own would be enough to comprise a great film, but this one pushes further. After the sudden death of his wife and the upcoming wedding of his almost estranged daughter, Schmidt has some soul searching to do. The coping process with the loss of a spouse is done with specific care and grace. Where again, a lesser film would use such a circumstance as a means to sway the audience, director Alexander Payne uses it to show the viewers what it is truly like to lose someone. Now instead of waking up asking who is sleeping beside him, Schmidt doesn't sleep, instead wondering why there is no one beside him anymore. All the while Schmidt narratives himself through the letters he sends to a starving foster child that he is supporting in a foreign country. This could have been used as an excuse in lazy scripting, something some writers do to tell how characters are feeling instead of allowing the director to show it. Here it means so much more, coming full tilt in the end for a beautiful scene of misunderstanding. With no better option, Schmidt loads into his Winnebago and decides to go see his daughter sooner than previous arrangements had allowed, but his daughter doesn't want him sooner. She knows he will just get in the way, telling him to go back home and wait until the set date. But adventure calls and Schmidt decides to travel to many locations that he has never been to before. He buys collator Hummel's, meets up with another family in a camper and in one of the films most effective scenes asks his wife to forgive him for the past while sitting out under the stars. There have been a lot of films of this same nature, but this one sticks out. It is not a happy film, but it does itself the justice of developing an understanding of its characters instead of just presenting them. Director Payne allows us not to look into the life of a tragic man, but look into the `man' of a tragic man, using the same type of urgency that he mastered so fondly in his tongue-in-cheek high school satire Election. The same basic formula for comedy applies here as it did in Election. Schmidt is a man who we don't know if we should laugh at or cry in sympathy for. I guess that's the genius of comedy done well, it has to transpire from natural circumstances. Proving that it may be a lonely world that we live in, but it can always be a funny one. The acting in About Schmidt is superb. Jack Nicholson garnered his twelfth Oscar nomination for his starkly honest portrayal of the title character and the always-enjoyable Kathy Bates is also unforgettable as the mother of Schmidt's soon-to-be son in law. A hot tub scene in particular is a priceless movie moment. Hope Davis also shines with all she has as Jeannie, the daughter of Schmidt, who wears hair clips as if to insert that she is still her father's little girl. Davis does a brilliant thing in portraying a character that loves her father, but can't help but resent his ways. In the end the lesson that Schmidt learns in life may go unrealized or unappreciated, but we, the audience know that, it doesn't take a hero to make a difference and you don't need to make a difference to be a hero. The moment Schmidt catches a glace of a sign at a pioneers road attraction let's us know that a moral lost is still better than a moral never gained: ` The cowards never started. The weak died on the way. Only the strong survived. They were the pioneers.'
The 51st State (2001)
**1/2 out of 5
Formula 51 is a politically incorrect film without the politics. It exists in a fantasy world disguised as the British City of Liverpool. Now I've never been to Britain but I am willing to consider that this films version of Liverpool is exaggerated. I come to these conclusions because in another British-based drug film, Trainspotting, drugs were viewed as an underground indulgence and violence was simply a private business proposal. In Formula 51 everyone in town seems to be onto the local drug scene. People have discussions about drugs in open places, police are corrupted by drug money, and men can pull out guns in public airports without anyone seeming to take notice. In Formula 51 Samuel L. Jackson stars as Elmo, an American genius who is busted by the police while doing a Tommy Chong impression and smoking a joint just after his graduation, putting his life dreams on hold. Thirty years later Elmo looks oddly younger and has become one of the worlds greatest drug chemists. He possesses the formula for a drug he has created that is fifty-one times as potent as any drug on the market. After double crossing a drug pusher named The Lizard, who refers to himself only in the third person (played by Meatloaf. A man who may be responsible for some great Rock N' Roll, but has yet to promise a memorable performnace), Elmo puts on a kilt, grabs his golf clubs and heads to England to sell his formula. Here he meets Felix (Robert Carlyle), a supposed tough guy who swears constantly and pulls out his gun without thought of his action, but compared to Carlyle's Franco from Trainspotting, Felix seems like an armature. Felix then has to team up with Elmo to help find a buyer for the drug after his boss is killed in a violent shoot-out. There is yet another complication in the story. The Lizard wants Elmo and his formula, so he sends his female assassin Dakota after him. Trouble arises after we find out that Dakota is the still missed ex-girlfriend of Felix. In the end what this film comes down to is nothing more than a who can escape who before they get shot, and who can deceive who with the most efficiency. Formula 51 is truly an action caper in disguise of a real drug film, a shame because it could have had a lot to say about drugs. But it doesn't understand drugs enough to comment on them. In order to have a good drug movie there must first be an understanding of three concepts. 1) The drug itself, 2) the user and his condition, and 3) the consequential sum of the first two parts. Trainspotting successfully did that, as did Requiem for a Dream, but this film doesn't, almost missing the first aspect entirely. It is more concerned with the actions of its characters than that of which stem from them. It shows no concern or remorse for its drug of choice, focusing only on the violent tendencies of its holders rather than its significance to the story as a theme instead of an excuse for such ruckus human behaviour. On the upper hand the film does have several promising qualities. It features a good car chase sequence; but then again what film doesn't have a good car chase sequence these days? It also unfolds an effective scene in a rave club, where Elmo must first test his drug on the ravers before Iki (played brilliantly by Rhys Ifans); the new target for sales will buy the formula. This is one of the only scenes that tries to target drug use as the underground sub-culture that it is instead of the widely publicized exploit that is shown throughout the entire film. Beside all of this is Formula 51's greatest achievement. Its ending. A succession that, if taken seriously, self-destructs the entire films plot on top of itself. Thus making the proceedings no more than an over long running gag. This pleased me because I felt no more gratitude than that toward the handling of this material. But because of this, Elmo is allowed to make a speech on the drug-marketing scheme that may have had a point were it touched upon earlier into the film. I have to wonder if this was an intentional act or just lazy scripting? Formula 51 was directed by Ronny Yu, probably best know for his work on Bride of Chucky and most recently Freddy vs. Jason. This is obviously uncharted territory for Yu because he never seems to show any hints of progression in the story or any point of development in his characters. He cares no more for the characters than to make them run around in a frantic daze like ducks at a shooting gallery. The jokes in this film are also forced and unfunny, once even boarding on racist, but never really having a punch line to explain their significance. Formula 51 was forgotten about at the box office and came face-to-face with many negative reviews nationwide. Although this is not a great film by any means, it is not quite the disaster critics have pegged it as being. I believe that somewhere between the profanity and the violence of Formula 51 lies a good film, but not a good film about drugs, rather a good film about marketing.
House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
**1/2 out of 5
` Howdy folks. Do you like blood, violence and freaks of nature?` Somewhere between a camp horror flick and a bad acid trip comes House of a 1,000 Corpses. It is quite possible that the journey of publicized ups and downs of this movie has been more interesting than the actual viewing of it. After being dumped by Universal Studios due to a rating dispute (Universal would not release the film because they thought that the NC-17 rating was not proper to release). It was then picked up and dropped from another studio, until, finally the Canadian based Lions Gate Films (behind such controversial titles as American Psycho and O), finally released it to theatre and video. The film, directed and written by pseudo-bad bay theatrical rocker, turned film director Rob Zombie, is a meandering mess from the very first moment. The fault of this was indirectly taken by Zombie himself when in an interview he was quoted as saying ` I didn't go to film school. I just watched s**t.' So now after years of watching, Zombie has decided to allot his talent to the big screen and make a piece of s**t for himself. The problem is that, being an amateur with no film background, he brings nothing but recycled ideas to the table. It seems as if he had written all of his favourite horror movie moments onto a piece of paper and crumpled them into one, big incoherent ball, voiding the film of any real developmental pattern. In a world where villains are given more onus than innocent teenagers, four youths are travelling cross-country in hopes of writing a book. The teens stop for gas at a rundown station whose sign reads `Fried Chicken and Gasoline.' The place is run by Capt. Spaulding (Sid Haig of Spider Baby, chewing so much scenery Im surprised he didnt choke), a redneck clown whose hobbies are chicken and serial killers. He runs a tour that introduces the myth of Doctor Satan to the curious teens. After fascination runs amuck, the teens are on their way to investigate this local urban legend, but on the way, pick up a hitchhiker from A Texas Chainsaw Massacre and drive right into one of the rednecks from Deliverance. So after their car is broken down they decide to go home with Baby, the girl they pick up (played either brilliantly or annoyingly by Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon) who, we later realize has the family from hell, when Leatherface joins them at the diner table. I'll give Zombie the benefit of the doubt; he has an eye for two things. One is image. This film is a Technicolor orgasm of psychotic images, the problem being that the attempt is far too strong to be focused. Zombie seems to be throwing just about everything he can think up at us faster than viewer consumption could be possible. This is a graphic film, and at some points a very scary one, but in most cases simplicity and ideas in Zombie's characters profit over his bloody chaos. The other thing that hurls Zombie into camp territory, where most modern horror movies go for polish and complexity, is his understanding of character. He understands the fundamentals of characterization. He allows his characters to be instead of just simply acting as they appear. What he needs to work on is the how to insert those characters into the film so that they will accent the story instead of co-exist with it. For example; the Doctor Satan character is put to meaningless use within the measure of the story as a script loophole, when he should have represented a turning point when he finally appears towards the end of the film. But Zombie does understand the basis of horror; two of his favourite horror films are heavyweights, A Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead. Even though through ludicrous proceedings at times, he always keeps everything suspenseful by never allowing any hint of predictability, something that has mostly been lost during modern times. House of 1,000 Corpses did surprisingly well at the box-office. It was conceived form a budget of 7 million dollars and made almost 3.5 million. This was not a huge stretch by any means, but the last time we saw a rocker attempt to create horror we got Dee Snider's Strangeland (written, produced and stared in by Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider). That film didn't even breach the million-dollar margin and received not a single positive hit on Rotten Tomatoes.com. As far as acting goes, the youths play their parts, as people who we feel should be punished for their dumb actions. While the villains take on a strong character ark of over-the-top dialogue and over-acted, sadistic activity; I'm surprised Universal had any scenery left after all the actors chewed it up, spit it out and then proceeded to chew at it again. There is a good movie somewhere within this one that has five star elements abroad, it is picking them out that is the hard part. In light of this I was quite anxious at catch wind of plans for a sequel to House of 1,000 Corpses. If Zombie can focus his talent in a manner effective to his art, it should be interesting to see what will happen the next time the s**t hits the fan.
***** out of 5
Warning: if you have not seen Psycho stop reading and immediately run to your nearest video store and pick up a copy of it at all costs. (may contain spoilers) Psycho was released during the year of 1960. It was director Alfred Hitchcock's response to a frenzy created by the media's first publicized serial killer Ed Gein. Psycho brings back memories of a time when film was just as much about story as it was style. Hitchcock embodied that, a true storyteller at heart. He was an inventor, using misbegotten images and twisting them into something darkly erotic through voyeuristic tendencies presided inside of characters. Hitchcock didn't make films to scare the audience with what happens, he made films to scare the audience with what they shouldn't see but can't help but want to. I have always said that it is not hard to scare an audience if the initiative is there, but it takes a true mastermind to produce scares that will not take away from the films point, rather uphold it. Hitchcock was that mastermind. Who else could have made a murder scene in which we see a victim stabbed to death but never once actually witness the knife penetrate the flesh and still have it disturb audiences forty years later? The story to Psycho is simple, given the routine inspection. The idea, on the other hand is complex, twisting and turning around corners and bends, leading the audience to grasp onto central ideas and characterization only to turn it around and reinvent itself, as if to have never even implied any motives in the first place. That was Hitchcock's way. Janet Leigh is Marion Crane. We open to a scene of her with her secret lover. She has a headache and is going to work; they may never see each other again. Our interest has already flared. After arriving at work Marion asks for the rest of the day off after she takes an envelope filled with forty thousand dollars in cash to the bank (a client's payment on a new home). But instead of depositing the money she skips town without telling anyone and checks in at the Bates Motel. Here she meets the owner, Norman Bates, who ensures her that he has a vacancy, `in fact I have twelve. Twelve cabins, twelve vacancies.' Normal takes a liking to the girl, he is lonely and has no one but his mother. He watches Marion through a hole in the wall of his parlour; he even invites her up to his hillside home for diner. His mother won't allow this, she is much to overbearing we learn, not from seeing her but understanding her through voiced assumption. Mystery begins to peak. This all seems minimal, it isn't. These opening scenes are a form of admission to the good ones, not to say they are any less enjoyable. They build up character, making us feel like we are part of something that we aren't through melding words of falsehoods. We see them as important to building story, they are really a distraction through explanation. Now comes the shower scene, one of the most famous scenes in film history. I should not be giving anything away by saying that Marion is killed off during this scene, that was one of the many twists. When it was first released audiences could not understand why Hitchcock would be killing off his main character in a climatic occurrence a mere halfway into the film. There is a reason for it as far as I can see. A lot of people regard it as the pivotal scene in the film, it isn't. The scene on its own does not have enough constitution to regard an explanation for itself. The key scene occurs mere minutes before, in the parlour, a scene that coined the popular phrase `A boys best friend is his mother.' It represented a breaking point in the life of Ed Gein that could explain the motives behind all actions to follow. It was speculated that Gein killed his brother after talking ill of his mother (Marions murder), but there was never any proof found to support this logic (we never see the face of the killer). It is for that reason why the parlour scene is to be placed in such high regard. Listen closely to the dialogue in comparison to such a true-life event and then survey the shower scene as, not an action on its own, rather a physical reaction from an emotional exploit. The remainder of the film is almost of an entirely different ilk, as Marion's sister and lover search for an explanation as to why she has gone missing, and a deeper pursuit into the Mrs. Bates character. I won't get into it, for these scenes are so full of uncomfortable mystery and bitter intrigue that they almost need to vindicate themselves. But what I lastly wish to touch upon is the Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. Perkins reminds me of an old Vince Vaughn (who ironically played Bates in the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho). He delivers a chilling performance from his nervous paranoia, what he says doesn't scare us, but what we think he isn't saying gives reason to worry. Perkins gives a truly masterful performance. There is not a lot of stones left to be turned when talking about Psycho. It has been receiving critical praise for over forty years. And though Alfred Hitchcock died in 1980 he is still greatly missed and still considered one of the most influential and important directors of all time. Revisiting this film only reminds us that, even though he has been taken away from us, his vision will forever live on through his timeless classics.
Avenging Angelo (2002)
**** out of 5
Today must have been a truly silly day because Avenging Angelo is a truly silly movie, and I truly enjoyed it. As was told in the years best film, Adaptation, some writers believe that Gone With the Wind is the greatest screenplay ever written, and if a writer can duplicate it in any way then they will be faced with a hit. That was funny advice, put into context, but this film took it seriously and ended up with funny results. Will Aldis may have gotten wind of this teaching, but he instead, transferred the knowledge into duplicating The Godfather. Avenging Angelo is a film about gangsters with names likes Bruno and Marcello, typical stereotypes. It is fluent in Italian terminology even though never giving an historic significance to any of it motives, and it even has an opera scene much to the same effect of the climatic scene in The Godfather Part 3. What it doesn't have on the other hand, is half a brain or a wit in which to spring from, but dont let my rambling distract from the fact that this film is pure popcorn delight. It is a romantic comedy dressed as an action picture, the sheep in wolf's clothing that didn't deliver what it promised but delivered what it had promisingly. It focuses on a girl named Jennifer (Madeleine Stowe), who is the estranged daughter of a gangster named Angelo (Anthony Quinn in his last role), who is killed off after a chain of confusion so complicated and amusing that words would not do it justice here. What I will tell is that after these occurrences the mob wants Angelo's child dead. So he puts her up for adoption and gives her to a poor family who raise her in mystery of herself. But Angelo always kept a close eye on her through Frankie (Sylvester Stallone), his bodyguard. After the death of Angelo, Frankie fulfills his promise in protecting Jennifer at all costs and illuminating her to the truth about herself. There isn't much story to Avenging Angelo, it gets lost amid its barbaric twists and unwilling plot turns. The script is all over the place, it is full of holes. The direction of unbalanced and awkward but still, the delightful chemistry between leads Stowe and Stallone keep the viewer interested out of unadulterated skepticism, which is all right as the story is so ridiculous we never really notice. Avenging Angelo is an extremely well made film, despite its obvious flaws. It is subtly directed and softly spoken. It is rarely violent, leaving only goodness to behold. It is at times, gloomy out of honesty not action, but always emotionally in tact, handling sentiment with considerate procedures and light hearted atmosphere. It is usually heart-felt, and always inviting, delivering glimpses of pure senseless pleasure. I will not divulge much into production values and directorial skills, although both were surprisingly well for a direct to video release, because that is not where the gratification transpires. This is not a film about professionalism, it doesn't concern itself with logic. It is a film about loony people doing unbelievable things, resulting in high entertainment value. This film is not a question of how the camera moves, but if it is capturing the actions of the people on screen. What makes this film so much fun to behold is the gitty, almost child-like chemistry that is found between both Stowe and Satllone, both seem to be having the time of their lives making this picture, and it shows, because in reward, we like watching it. These are characters that contradict each other, defy each other and at some point probably despise each other, but we are not so quick to judge. We know that these characters have feelings for each other, and will probably end up together, but imagining is more fun than realizing so we play along and give the story the benefit of the doubt. The story on the other hand is laughably unbelievable in its frail attempts at being The Godfather, at some point it even seemed to be balancing on parody, a scene in which Frankie tells of how all the confusion started at a driving range was particularly funny, when being compared to The Godfather. And a scene in which Jennifer asks Frankie why he doesn't have a nickname is pure Hollywood stereotype. But a running joke featuring a defecating body goes on far to long, it is simply a lowest common denominator attempt at giggles, but the comedy that works, works well, or as well as you could expect it too. The acting in this film highlighted the viewing experience, as it was the key aspect of driving the material home because all this film really had to begin with were the actions of its characters. The true highlight came from Anthony Quinn as Angelo; in a heart-warming performance that took itself far more seriously than the remainder of the film did, but was nonetheless exemplary. A lot of people who claim to be `professionals' will hate this movie, I can almost foresee it because films like these are usually looked down upon. Yet those who are willing to keep it within its own context and take it for what it is and not what it should have been will be greatly delighted by its charm, as I was. Although this film is awkward and ever-to-often fell into a contrived plot hole that couldn't be explained as simply as it was brushed off, this film left me with a smile, and what better way is there to end off a truly silly day than with a smile?
The Recruit (2003)
***1/2 out of 5
Deliverance director John Boorman once stated that he wanted to cast unknowns in his picture because he wanted no one to have a feeling of safety. He said that if the audience saw Robert Redford rowing down that river than it would be obvious that he would not be killed off. The opposite may just be the biggest flaw in the Recruit, a film that gives us half a film about training to become an employee of the CIA when the audience knows that star Collin Farrell will surely pass all of his tests. The Recruit is a film that trusts no one and hopes that its audience wont either for no other reason than they don't know any better. I have never been a big fan of the `trust no one' approach of scripting. I always felt that it took away from the audiences right to free thought and opinion, placing them in an uncomfortable situation of confinement. This film is an exception to this rule because it, in turn, doesn't know itself very well. Colin Farrell stars as James Clayton, a sort of pre-Mission Impossible Ethan Hunt, who is being Recruited by Walter Burke (Al Pacino) to become a CIA operative. The new recruits are then given mental endurance tests and sent to a secret location know as `the farm' where they are taught stealth by being sent into a rigged house to plant three bugs without getting caught. They learn how to determine if someone is telling the truth or a lie from the dilation of the pupils. They are taught how to use explosives and hand held weapons, and they are even captured and tortured for information. All the while Burke briefs them, constantly reminds them that `nothing is what it seems' and watches their every move on surveillance monitors. All the while Clayton is falling for a female recruit named Layla (Bridget Moynahan). After Clayton is kicked out of training he is given a visit by Burke, offering him a job to spy on Layla because there is reason to believe that she is a double agent, stealing computer files from the CIA. That's as far as I will go, anymore and I would be putting the surprise in jeopardy. The main flaw in The Recruit is its script. It never trusts its characters enough to allow them to discover on their own, but then turns that idea around on itself in the end. Instead the script relies on doubt, a technique of character awareness. It believes that its characters will not give into things without persuasion. Such should not be the case in a film that plays with trickery instead of doubt, but here, if characters acted on first impressions without doubting themselves or their actions first there would be very little story to behold. This film is too long, director Roger Donaldson places focus where it should not be concerned, I could recall at least fifteen minutes of footage that this film could have benefited without, mostly during the training exercises for the exact reason that was stating in the opening of this procession. It wants to be big on mystery but bears too many details to have an intriguing thought. But my opinions don't relay all negative messages. This film seems to know something about the CIA, or at least would seem to for those who don't. Where most would try to claim knowledge and then hide the lack of it under relentless action, this one talks things out. It gets inside the thoughts and state of CIA members. It understands how they approach their job, and the abrasion it has on the body. Ending in a climatic speech that tries to give explanation into these thoughts, while displaying notions of the importance of cunningness and skill. The connection between Clayton and Layla is also publicized with a unique scene of pleasure, in which the two try to outsmart the surveillance cameras in a parking lot in order to hide they passion, or spark it up from the thrill of trying to escape it. But this film does not work because of plot or story; it works, although barley, because of the convincing acting coming for the leading parties. Collin Farrell is a natural; he is swift and smooth in his delivery, taking ideas into thought and not action. He reminded me of a less risky Brad Pitt. Pacino delivers yet another masterful performance, although his dialogue constantly threatened to become parody. He plays with interchangeable emotions. He shows Burke as a man of intelligence, sarcasm and a stark hint of something sinister, he is without a doubt the most well balanced and thought out character on screen. The Recruit is a flawed movie, no doubt about that, but I do recommend it. Not because of the direction or story. Not because of its obligatory action climax, but because of its actors method in creating a natural tension between each other, raising themselves above the story and action created through the direction. Like most, this film has a plot twist, this one suffered from over exposure from the trailer, which gave the entire film away upon close examination. But all opinions aside I must end with a notion. Films like these have always tried to surprise the audience by hiding villains inside the trust from one character to another. That is why it is no surprise that most villains either appear as police officers or close friends to the hero, adding a hint of tedious perplexity to the outcome of the story. Although many enjoy this approach I am still waiting for a thriller that will surprise me by promoting its characters as whom they actually claim to be, because as that old saying goes `the truth will set you fee.'
The Patriot (1998)
**1/2 out of 5
As a general rule, viruses make good movie villains once, while all others comply with the same fundamental formula. The reasoning is simple. Most films about viruses are far to flustered with the cure and not the environmental challenge that is presented within the motions. But this one doesn't do that, it loses its focus far too soon for that to happen, quickly dropping presented ideas and changing into a cat and mouse chase film between hero and villain. Outbreak comes to mind when I think of a good virus movie. It worked because it made its virus just as much an equal as the cast and story alike It understood its situations instead of just presenting them. This film is imbalanced. It doesn't care about its virus as anything more than a plot device. It switches rapidly from a catastrophic virus idea to a blood omen between a doctor with a taste for martial arts and a fascist dictator, with little room for idea or conscience ideology. The Patriot is a ridiculous, low-rent, political thriller that is so short on logic it never seems to deliver, even through its desperate attempts to preach morality. It sees Steven Seagal as Wesley McClaren, a medical genius (?), fighting to find the cure for a deadly virus that the government has failed to keep under control. The film opens with a cattle-roping scene that felt like an old western film, light-hearted and fun. It then travels into a small town where a patriotic psychopath named Floyd is preparing to release a stolen virus onto the world to make it pay for the wrong doings of unjust governments, in the style of a hard-boiled thriller. But the villains didn't anticipate one thing. The antidote that they stole doesn't cure the virus; it only slows it down. Just as luck would have it McClaren and his band of heroes seem immune to the effects of the virus, never wearing masks during close patient encounters, yet never displaying symptoms, an explanation to which, that is so evidently beseeching that it is almost infuriating. Because of this the Floyd and his men want the blood of McClaren's daughter. In seeing that she has not contracted a reaction to the disease, they have reason to believe that an antidote can be formed from her blood before the virus gets the best of them. Half the fun of a film like this is imagining how the situation, as unpredictable as it is, can be brought to a close in logical terms. It has to seem an impossible task to dispose of an air born virus in order to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, always wondering how far from unworkable the solution can be. It also needs to do so in a realistic manner. Viruses are huge ideas. They spread without detections and men cannot confine them by standing in front of roadblocks with automatic weapons.. This leaves the writer with a huge task to accomplish; brining a solution to a huge problem with no set outcome that, 1) wraps up the story and, 2) leaves no reason for the audience to feel that the solution was a improbable remedy. Providing no doubt in anyone with the fact that everything is back to normal. This film achieves neither. I didn't wonder how this situation would be taken care of because I never had reason to feel any threat from it. The direction for Dean Semler gave the virus a feeling of confinement, making it a background fixture that only is given warning to when it is needed to advance a plot point. The ending was also oblivious; an obvious statement about the integrity of the environment as apposed to man made technology, which in the end possesses the power to destroy us all. It even talks about the rituals and impact of Aboriginal Spirituality and how it is taken for granted by the material world, but never really relating it to story at large. It would seem that the environment has finally overcome the action in Seagal films as this one sees itself driven more by the message than the actions of it. Although overly violent, Seagal spends the majority of this film in front of a computer as apposed to dispensing that style of lethal street justice that has made many of his past films so imprudently pleasurable. Besides the confinement of the direction, the acting form Steven Seagal is, well... why bother? Seagal has played the same stone faced, mystic that he has played in all of his staring roles. He brings nothing fresh to the table here. But in a ray of sunshine, young Camilla Belle sells every scene she is in with her mature conviction that gives her a feeling of concern that is detectable just by the look in her eyes. The problem with the Patriot does not necessarily lye in its ideas that the world will see its demise at the hands of a man made disease unless we stop taking nature for granted. The problem is in the idea that the world will end at the hands of a tired action formula that has little care for itself.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
***** out of 5
I often questioned the romantic potential of the darkness. I don't anymore because if nothing more Punch Drunk Love proves that the most romantic thing in a bright light is the darkness that lurks beneath it. It takes most directors a career to conceive a film like Magnolia, a blistering epic of artistic drive. Paul Thomas Anderson pulled it off on his third try. This led me to wonder how he could ever follow up such a film. The answer was simple. Go an entirely different direction. Punch Drunk Love is a short, quirky, and politically symbolic romantic comedy, making me wonder why no one has dared use this material in such a risqué fashion before. It is a swansong in ways for star Adam Sandler who has yet to venture down the path of his own psychosis. Written and directed by a natural born film maker and crafted to fit Sandler's per sauna it is a love story of dark and disturbing proportions, bordering on delusional, where the truth is never far from sanity. Sandler plays Barry Egan in one of the most provocative and motivated performances of his carer (I may never see Sandler in the same light again). Barry is a neurotic, he cries for no reason, everyone in his life looks down upon him because they fail to understand him, mostly from his seven sisters who have nicknamed him 'gay-boy,' and he retains so much rage pent up inside that he could burst at any minute. Sandler has played this character before, in fact he has played this character in almost ever film he has stared in, but here wealth seems different. Anderson has not only proved here that Sandler is a great actor, but that, given the right film, he can bring to life a simple man with a complex problem (if problem is the word to describe it) that can still bring forth care from the audience. The difference between this and standard Sandler fare is that Barry is not about what you see, but what you are invited to imagine. The scripting of this character is so complex words fall short of perfect, it talks to us, yet never discusses primary assumptions. Sandler plays his character so that we will not laugh at his rage, but feel for where it is coming from, a place that is never certainly explained. I felt for Barry, maybe because I knew I shouldn't have, but the jaded universe inside a haze of fog that is Barry's life absorbed me. I needed to understand but never wished something so complex as an explanation. Barry is a business man, he mumbles a lot and never seems to answer direct questions or appreciate direct answers, some of the best dialogue in this film is discovering the lack of participation that exert Barry's phone discussions. He is a lonely man, maybe a lonely child who has only been granted maturity in the appearance of a man. He needs someone to talk to, so he calls a phone sex line, one of the films most strangely conceived phone conversations, that represents a man wishing for discussion but no one who would understand his thoughts anyway. He is then harassed by a thug who sells mattresses after he refuses to grant the phone sex operator a sum of money in which she desires from him. If it sounds complex its not, that is not the word, vibrantly distorted may fit better. But Anderson is in possession of such a high degree of skill, that he allows it to unfold atop itself instead of telling a story, making the film seem like a look into something rather than an expression of it. He separates character from environment, making it impossible to be confused by the two; a true talent in the works. Barry is also involved in a quirky scheme in which I don't even know how to describe, to buy pudding so that he can receive air miles and go wherever he wants. But like any romantic comedy, there is a love story. Most are presented out of disdain. This one exists out of ironic paradoxes that never form out of direct romance, but rather thoughts of it, it doesnt survive out of the feelings between Barry and new found friend Lena (Emily Watson), but rather between the urges of the two beneficiaries. There is also a notion of comedy, there has too be. It is something that has always traveled with romance, because if you don't settle for the characters, you might as well be laughing at them. Yet Anderson makes comedy a fracture to be held in contempt. The only thing funny about these characters is the fact that we don't understand them. A scene in which Barry excuses himself to the washroom only to tear it apart and return in a perfect state of mind is a prime example of Andersons comedic approach. I love a film that can take its comedy as a science and its science as an art. But will hardcore Sandler fans appreciate seeing their favourite lovable loser in an art picture? The critics say yes, the box office doesn't. The clerk at the video store disclosed a feeling of indifferent proportions. We reconciled over the opinions of two other viewers, both hating it. One even went as far as to say it was unbearable to watch because this person felt themselves losing their mind because they cared for Barry, an indirect reference to the shallowness that has become of Sandler's career. There is something that worries me about Punch Drunk Love. It isn't in the astrophysical direction, which needs no description; anyone who remembers the raining frog scene in Magnolia will know what to anticipate. It doesn't fall from the script either, there is too much to be said within itself to allow for discern. But what worries me is not the fact that Barry cries to himself out of rage for no reason. What worries me is wondering if Barry really has anything to be crying about.
Old School (2003)
*** out of 5
I have to wonder whom a film like Old School was meant to appeal to. I have a vision of 1978. A group of teenage males are sitting in front of the television; riddled with hysterical laughter as John Belushi yells `Food fight!' Somehow, I felt that, deep down inside, this film had the intellectual capacity to please those same reckless youths now, over thirty years after the release of Animal House. I was wrong. The smartest thing about Old School is its title (a sort of tongue-in-cheek metaphor). I think this film missed its mark entirely. It is not rebellious or ruthless, it is disorganized and pressured, a key element that has been over looked by all but a select few of Animal House clones. But I will give credit; Old School developed two traits that I did not expect to find. Its composure was wickedly brave, never once shamed to push the lines of good taste, not necessarily a positivist trait, but a respectable attempt. The other element was the handling of the material. Animal House defined a generation in comedy; Old School realized this and decided to take a different approach. Instead of trying to recreate a phase, it tired to assemble a framework in hopes of remembering such a time in the history of comedy. And even though recommendation comes with baited nerves, something appealed. Maybe I am going soft, or maybe I was just having a ruckus day, either way this film prevailed out of pure harmonious abandonment. The story to Old School is simple, but that of which binds it together is not up for discussion, due to a high level of explicit nature and distraught enthusiasm. If you wish to know what happens in this film you will have to discover it through your own perseverance. I think what Old School was trying to get at was that over grown men will never outgrow themselves. It shows that you can take a man out of his natural environment and try to shape and mould him, but deep down that suppressed child that he always was will surface with time. This is shown through three men, probably in their mid-thirties, who are all stuck in communicative potholes. Mitch is a high-class banker who walked in on his girlfriend, about to indulgence in an act of unmentionable priority. He is best friends with Bernard, a businessman who runs an outlet store named Speaker City and is so big on plans that he could talk his way in and out of almost anything. And then there is Frank, also known as Frank the Tank (ho ho) who is a grown idiot with an extremely loud means of expression and a fetish for being publicly nude. In a brief moment of despair, the trio purchase a house on a local campus and start up their own fraternity. As you can predict, all sorts of zany and predictable mayhem ensues. There is much to like about this film, especially its character alignment, never short of a motivational reasoning behind immoral actions, and also never forcing us to question the circumstances behind such a friendship, just accepting it. I liked this bond and the doubtlessness that surrounded the friendship; simple circumstances make for simple viewing. In choosing such diverse comedic actors to play said friends we get a wide array of outrageousness that delivers according to each actors approach. Will Ferrell as Frank is what you would expect, dumb, loud and funny out of his own unrealized stupidity. A scene in which Frank accidentally shoots himself with a tranquillizer gun is a prime example of this. There is also a hilarious bit about a bread maker that I will not give away. Vince Vaughn also plays Bernard as you would suspect, a fast talking, persuasive, charmer who takes matters into his own hands only to make others do his dirty work. Yet Vaughn adds a impression of sensitivity into his character, even through all his wild antics he refuses to cheat on his wife and won't allow his children to hear profanities. But the surprise comes from Luke Wilson, a great comedic actor who uses his sense of wit to describe his character instead of his actions, the trait of a natural character actor. At the same time the direction from Todd Phillips, who also directed the forgotten comedy Road Trip, is hectic and unfocused. He seems to have placed his camera in a forward position and told everyone to `go wild' after action had been yelled. Surprisingly I liked this technique. It gave the material a certain natural tinge, making it hard to imagine how any of it could have been scripted, a regard that I felt gratitude for, making it seem as if Phillips had matured since past endeavours. But never assume goodness until goodness has been received. The script, a joint venture by Phillips and Court Crandall, barely sees lift off before the ending credits veer their tragic head. Old School is in possession of little in the plot department, and a lack of plot means a lack of point. It plays like one dead pan sketch after another, and not as a flowing constituent. The story is dead in the water, never taking off or making any point of approval, something I was hoping for because the material surely suggested of it. But the story is ridiculous. I didn't buy one second of it and would not pay for its esteem. But in all fairness, my lack of interest only reflects a lack of offerings. After viewing this film I had to think, is it tangible to believe the actions of grown men are as probable as presented herein? No. Will this effect the way teenagers who find obvious sex related material funny view this film? Probably not.
The Hurricane (1999)
**** out of 5
The Hurricane is none but three films in one, not a surprise considering the screenplay by Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon is an adaptation of no less than two books, one of which being the title character's own. One of the self proclaimed, nirvanas is a biopic. Tough, blatant, straightforward. It dictates the life and struggle of Rubin Carter, whose childhood was not an easy one, `All I have to say about my childhood is that I survived it.' The second is an expression in struggle, interest and self-motivation. It is about a boy of little intellect who is motivated to be more than he is given credit for after he is taken out of his home and educated by three white Canadians. It exists outside of the first and works because it focuses around the main idea and not inside of it. The third is about a trial; it is a search for answers and a way to simplify things into film formation. I liked the first two concepts; they worked well together, accenting one with what the other couldn't say in its period. The third on the other hand is where flaw strikes. Not because it is any less important or significant than the others but because it presents no idea of establishment, only rousing scenarios that pit the film against its earlier offerings instead of furthering their conclusions. I went into this film with something that I did not walk away with: thoughts, opinions and questions. In turn I was drained of such feeling as I watched a pedestal of thoughts, opinions and questions culminate that addressed my expectations before even I had a chance too. Rubin `the Hurricane' Carter was a middleweight prize-fighter that spent almost half of his life in jail due to the racism that sprouted from a corrupt police force. An undertone in the film that presents nothing more, story wise at least, than what would be perceived at face value to the real life true story. He was falsely convicted of murdering two men and one woman in a bar during the year of 1966 that is never given a reason for by this film, a good call on behalf of Canadian director Norman Jewison. The first half of the film is based around the life of Carter through flashbacks, as a young black boy named Lesra reads Carter's book, the first and most empowering book the boy will read. Lesra becomes so inspired by the parallels between Carter and himself that he takes a personal interest in the case. Carter amazes Lesra; he sees something in him that only a boy of struggle could understand. And just as equally, Carter sees something in Lesra that only a man of confinement could behold. This leads Lesra to persuade his three Canadian mentors to help Carter fight his case for freedom, collecting facts that were overlooked as evidence the first time around. Carter struggled for freedom for twenty-two years and that final trial is shown in the films third act (a palpable weak link in my opinion). Still the Hurricane works on the basis of discovery. Jewison plays things smart by placing the burden on character and not their surroundings. You want to learn because you care about the characters and not what they did. I guess that is why the ending is weak, it tries to explain the actions taken during Carters life and tries to peg people as labels instead of characters. The screenplay also touches on race, maybe `touches on' is an understated adjective but nevertheless the ideas are there. Carter's resentment towards white people is a strong running theme throughout the film, sometimes even over taking the story, leaving things awkward and confused, seemingly forcing opinions on the audience in a film that wants you to form them for yourself. The direction from Jewison is superb; this is his best film since In Country. This material works well because Jewison knows how to present it in a manner that symbolises something that would not otherwise be stated. This is not a film about jail, or freedom. It is not about boxing or commitment. It is a film about struggle, defiance and personal motivation, as directed metaphorically to be something that you can both connect to and understand as a singular unit. Denzel Washington stars as the title character in a brilliant portrayal of real life struggle that almost seems born for Washington to play. He retains exactly the right amount of poise and suppressed idealism to manoeuvre around the entire emotional ark of Carter, making him just as much a symbolic presentation of determination though suffering as a real life hopeful. He never lets things slip into a pit of sentiment. Even when the story seems to be headed down the insincere path to happiness, Washington brings things back to reality. He reminds us that this is a man whose life has been built around little in positive respect. Washington has crafted a career around films that allow him to express what he has to offer as an actor and not just the dialogue he speaks, this one is no exception. He is one of those rare actors that can make even the drabbest dialogue seem meaningful. Even through insightful phrases like `Hate put me in prison, loves going to bust me out,' The Hurricane worked on so many more levels of exploration than just deliberate sentiment. This film goes deeper than that, its suggests that emotion is created out of feelings and not assumptions. The end result of this film is like a boxing match. It is unpredictable and could possess many outcomes. It will disappoint some and amaze others. It is tough and filled with spite, but the fight lasts not out of courage, but out of instinct.
***1/2 out of 5
Low-rent horror fans rejoice, killing just got a whole lot more technical. Brainscan is a horror film where the things you expect to happen do, but not in the method you would come into to call with. Edward Furlong plays Michael, a smart-ass, mope who walks around his house in a chronic mist of his own fasciations. Those fascinations stem from the pleasure he gets from death, maybe because he watched his mother die as a child due to a brutal car accident, but the purpose is not up for questioning here. He loves horror films, violent video games and anything dark in aura. He perceives such horrors as amusing, a way to escape even, a rather funny thought if you take it out of context. It's like `lighting a marijuana cigarette and travelling to the real world, or getting an erection from watching a pornographic sex film and raping someone.' He is a best friend with another naive narcissist youth named Kyle, and together they discover Brainscan. Brainscan is a computer based program, designed to emulate fear in its greatest and most pure form though a mind controlling technique much in the same vein as hypnosis. Now we have all seen enough of these horror flicks to know that something just doesn't sit suitably here. But Michael, phased by nothing, inquires about Brainscan. During his telephone conversation with whomever is on the other end of the toll-free number something strange happens to Michael, something I myself can't explain because it doesn't explain itself, but you know it can only perpetuate immoral. Michael receives the game in the mail days following and realises that it indeed does present one with an accurate accounts of fear. The game places you inside the body of a killer, allowing the mind to make the decisions on how the actions will unfold upon themselves. Michael loves it, we know better. These things never terminate without consequence; this one bears no exception. The next day Michael awakens to a news report that discloses no less than himself as a real killer, turns out Brainscan was a little more realistic than poor Michael had thought. He is then sent into a downward spiral of mind-games, immortalized by a mashed formation of Freddy Krueger and the Joker, named the Trickster. I don't believe that there is any more need for plot description, as far as the continuation of story goes, it habitually writes itself. And still I enjoyed this film. I liked where it was going, but not how it executed itself. I see something here that Wes Craven would have directed but would have used more grotesque wit and style instead of such a personalized attack on plot. And still I do like the personal touches. The inner tension between Michael and himself allowed for greater play of actions and opinions, this is a character that acts out of himself and not the situation he finds himself in. Where most would pry on stupid actions this one analyzes them, providing emotions to go along with its characters; a bad film would have just used these secondary characters as assailants to death. I also liked the way T. Ryder Smith played with the Trickster instead of playing him. He finds the proper balance between scenery chewing announce and over-acted stereotype, the right consistency for a character like this, as the Trickster is not pegged as a formal villain, or even a villain at all, what he is, is up to the imagination of the user. And yet I have three problems with this film and one quarrel that I shouldn't have to debate but feel obliged to anyhow, as they present script holes that shouldn't have come to be. The first downfall is detective Hayden, played by Frank Langella, who I have seen play a character like this many times before, but under better circumstances. Hayden is the type of moderate foil character who does nothing more than stand around and complicate script processions. He is reduced to obnoxious, redundant and oblivious to his tasks. He places himself into environments as if only to be seen instead of enacting his function. I also dislike how this character uses threats to unearth his observations, not good judgement. The second misinterpretation is the `death of a mother' scenario, a loophole in the script that holds not significance to the story but used itself as a device to keep itself moving. This under-tone proves not as a means to elaborate something about the film itself, or the main character, but rather to fill gaps that would present no logical bond otherwise. The next predicament is Brainscan itself. Through the action of the first disk, director John Flynn uses a first person shot to show Michael seeing through the eyes of a killer, a shot I was quite fond of at that. But on the third play, Michael is viewed from the third person, voiding the mystery and the unwillingness from the audience created by the first person shot, inevitably simplifying the one complex aspect of the game. The final quarrel is that the film climaxes much to soon and takes far to much time for resolution, providing too much recovery and not enough explanation. Even through its downfalls, Brainscan surprised me. I was expecting gore. I got it, but I also got emotional movements almost as if to suggest that Brainscan was the one that didn't quite get away, but tried it's hardest. Although this film offers little to be reconciled over I do recommend it because it left me with one realized notion that should be taken into consideration, the greatest aspect of fear lies in the experience.
**** out of 5
A lot of films want you to see them, pick them apart, and experience them even. They rely on the goodness that the audience interprets without being told. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is much to that same effect, but instead of seeing it, it just wants you to watch. Ghost Dog is a hard film to decipher; it is sort of a tongue in cheek type experience. It is profoundly moving yet obscurely goofy, hilarious at points (it features one of the funniest heart attack related deaths committed to film), not because it has set out to be, but maybe because we laugh out of sympathy. The statement in this film is abnormal in its own sense. It focuses on a main character partaking on a journey and a bunch of mobsters reflecting characters that they are supposed to be within a movie, they are not important. You don't care about them. There is humour in this because what they are meant to be is a lot funnier than what they actually are. Ghost Dog on the other hand is an honest character, filled with compassion. He is a hit man, probably one of the most interesting since Jean Reno in the Professional. He lives in a shack atop a building with the only people who understand him, the pigeons. He works for a local mob, `whacking' people as a favour to a man who saved his life in the past. After a hit goes down that wasn't supposed to be, Ghost Dog is wanted dead by the mob. But enacting this plan seems more trouble than worth their while so they sit in musty basements and cheap halls, thinking about it, talking about it, but never really getting the job done. The relationship between Ghost Dog and his boss Louie is very interesting, even funny in how Louie tries to explain it to his bosses. Ghost Dog does not want to be paid per job, he accepts money once a year, on the first day in autumn, and the only way to contact him is through a pigeon that visits Louie on a daily basis. It is this that sets up where Ghost Dog wants to go but never takes the viewer because certain circumstances, sometimes unacknowledged at first sight, make such procession impossible. The division here between comedy and image is impeccable. Somehow it finds a balance, sometimes awkward, but nevertheless consistent. Maybe it is because director Jim Harmusch never lets the atmosphere become more meaningful than the characters. This is the kind of thing you love to see once but can never anticipate in wanting to see again. The photgraphy reminded me of other independent features, ones that uses images to provoke subconscious emotions like Gummo for instance. Images of bright contrast but dark disorder, as if almost to be straight form a comic book. And yet this one still remains cynical, never wanting to take itself seriously, because to do so would bring forth plot holes large enough to destroy all motivations within the story, but never allowing itself to become parody. On the other hand, the character of Ghost Dog on his own is quite beguiling. He is a man who, although in a line of work that is dedicated to cold and violent terrenes, lives life by code. A code he has studied and based life upon, The Way of the Samurai. He is a dry and witless character; almost clashing with the universe he exists in. He is a soft-spoken soul, maybe because he has nothing to say or maybe because even when he speaks no one understands him. He narrates himself through the film. Talking inside of his head only to say that of which doesn't apply to his surroundings, there is something funny here, but in the harshness of its text, we take it for more than it is, not a device but a trick. I suppose this is why he finds redemption in his friendship with an ice cream man who doesn't understand English. The irony is that Ghost Dog does not understand the French that his beloved friend speaks, but in a moment of clash they both understand each other perfectly. At the other end of the tunnel lye the `bad guys' (I use the term for no other reason than lack of a better word). These men are a group of b-grade gangsters, ripped directly out of a film that Martin Scorsese would make out of humour after the real film had been made. We see three men sitting around a table. One, a Robert De Niro look-a-like. Another a stone-faced man of priority, and an old fellow with a cane who only speaks when he has something unintelligent and insignificant to say. This is a hard film to understand, it doesn't motivate itself through its story or actors. It is a film that will require a second viewing in order for you to place your focus on the right aspects, and delve further into character structure, how they interact with each other and how they are placed into a situation out or irony and not action. Forest Whitaker stars as the title character in a performance that many would be afraid to take. I was worried where Whitaker would take this character, I had hoped he wouldn't reduce him to hero status, he didn't. Instead Whitaker plays his character as a presence not a person, begging you to know him but never rightfully understanding him. I like films that try to take risks, I indeed liked this one, it took many a risk. It took me places that many films would be scared to go. It played with my senses, and used a structure so twisted and strange in formula that it left me with one question that I don't believe has a reasonable answer. I had to wonder; at what point does the cynicism outweigh what the audience is to interpret?
Eve's Bayou (1997)
***** out of 5
There is not one word in the English langue that has enough imagination behind it to describe Eve's Bayou, but when films are of such high recognition as this talk is cheap. I guess that is why some of this movie's greatest scenes are played in silence. `I was ten years old the summer I killed my father.' Tells Eve in a narrative introduction, making it hard to tell if we are being told a story in flashback or viewing a period of exaggeration. This was a delicious introduction, making me wonder if I would be exploring a forgotten chronicle or subsiding in metaphor. Would this be an abbreviation of something or indirect deliberation of something else? On some levels I am still in awe over such a question. We witness the lifestyle of a young girl named Eve, the threads of who's name is derived from suffering in its cruellest form, slavery. Eve lives with a family built on one older sister, one younger brother, a mother, a grandmother, a father who is a doctor, a cheat, an all around low-life and a cursed aunt who can see the future. One night after witnessing her daddy with another women Eve is stricken with awe, her emotions are sent into spirals, the family doesn't know, but is thrown into a vortex of uninspired feelings and everything resides in Eve, yet all that comes out is hate. Hates fuels this film, maybe more accurate is resentment. The characters tell their stories, each of which protest a different view, without speaking, only to evade righteous use or words. There is a fable to behold here but no means by which to generate a decent forward movement so it strays, it ponders, it entices and it enthrals through sounds, imagery and feeling of mass awareness. But this never removes the fact that these people resent each other, or maybe themselves, I don't know. I don't need to. Director Kasi Lemmons creates something astonishing here. There is a universe within a timeframe that can be haunting without being affirmative. She places her camera in front of characters, only to have them look off to the side as they speak as if to mean something that we can't see. A lot of films are self conscience, they are sure of themselves, have belief in their structure and lead us where they want us to go. This film goes where we want it to lead. Lemmons takes us down one path, not to educate us, but to make ethical decision about another. This film struck me with style not dignity, most would have gloated and went for emotion bondage. I loved how it made me see what I shouldn't only to congratulate me with what I actually couldn't illustrate on my own. There was a sensation to this, a stigmatic receptor of insubordinate journeys into fear and loneliness with the passion of a war torn beast, this is material that will by no means evoke happiness in you, yet bring forward spear-headed emotions. This is not a film that runs in forward fashion, it may not even have a story to produce it's movements. This film is like a painting, it is meant to be emotional, an array of colours that grab the mind and persuade it be, not ask it to follow. Yet although artistic, this is not David Lynch, it is not strange, it has characters who not only understand reality but live in it. You don't expect Eve's Bayou to lead you beyond the realm is sanity because this is nothing you expect it to be and everything you believe it won't come to. Due to this, scenes collide in un-primitive fashion. There are no beginning or ends, cuts represent nothing but an editor doing his job, this is a train wreck of melodramatic soap opera in this form of distillation, one of the best films of 1997. And it works on the grounds of discovery. I love films that push from one thing to he next in hopes of finding something unrecognizable, this film does one better. It places these happenings in a realm of constituency, leaving the viewer never to know what to make of such offerings. All the actors play their parts for what they are worth, they all have the same basic role to play, but on different emotional arks. Samuel L. Jackson is particularly good as Eve's father, a man who struts around oblivious to himself. The script, also and original work by Lemmons, presents another fiendishly clever device in which to motivate the audience. She portrays all characters as constituting neither good nor evil. The only villain in this story is the story itself. Empathy is the only hero on display in these surroundings. This is a piece of work that is artistic, poetic and reprehensible, sometimes all at the same time, sometimes all of its on game. It is a film that twists around bends and hides between crevices only to watch itself unfold. I had no idea how such a complex story could end, but waited in silent amazement to find out, and so will you. Not because it is unforeseeable but because it doesn't come to conclusions, it simply can't.
Finding Forrester (2000)
***** out of 5
A writer's duty is to meld works in such an abstract pattern that they can turn a lifeless page into a meaningful journey through the unseen. So it comes, as no surprise that most films about writers stray from their thoughts in fear of their characters becoming something unwanted. Look at films like How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days or Runaway Bride. Both featured central characters bent on their writer's craft, but neither attempted to show the passion behind this trait. Maybe it is because we don't understand writers, so we stray from them with diligence. And just like films of this nature we lack originality. How many people have sat down to write in hopes of being the next Stephen King with a number one best seller? Now tell me how many of you have sat down and claimed that the next big thing will be yourself? I am willing to be that option number one held majority. It is like films these days are trying to measure up and be one step ahead of the game. Maybe that's why when a film like Finding Forrester comes along someone has to sit up and take notice. This film is not only a fictitious look into the history of creative art, but a fascinating exploration of a boy who represents this is and an old man who represents everything that lives on inside. The story is familiar in formula, contrived in purpose and unoriginal in terms of output, yet nothing short of genius in method, wiping out all negative forces in the name of pure graciousness. This is not a happy film it is rather bleak. It does not promise hope or affection, it merely offers it. Could it be that that is why it is such probable cause for fascination? It turns the light out on films like Dead Poet's Society that preach false-morals in a collage of unexpected sympathy and unwanted morality. Integrity is not at stake here, but morality is surely on sale for a price today. At this end of this film I didn't want to stand up and cheer, nor did I feel resentment for actions that these characters took prior to their offering of them. I just sat there, interested, intrigued, maybe a little confused, yet I craved more because stories like this don't have fixed endings and this film knew it. The story is far too simple and yet far too complex for full disclosure on these pages. The story is just a backdrop for things of further assembly within itself that will be surly talked about. What will be stated is that, after a dare from some friends, Jamal, a black youth from the Bronx, comes into contact with a grumpy old Scottish man, who just so happens to be William Forrester. The basis for this initial meeting relies on the fact that Jamal is given a scholarship to a posh, private school due to his remarkably high test scores, and his passion or both writing and basketball. What makes Forrester such an important character is that he was once a writer, maybe one of the true greats, who never wrote a second book? Not because he felt he couldn't but because he feared he could. The fact that his name was in public circulation was not a factor that scarred him, but rather the fact that people thought they knew what that name stood for. There are sub-plots herein involving basketball rivalry, blossoming teen romance, fraudulent misrepresentation, and a belligerent English teacher named professor Crawford, who feels no greater passion than for that of the sound of his own voice, even if what is coming out of it is void of educational promiscuity. Yet this film does not stray, it does not talk about violence or drugs, which would be a cover-up. This is a film that has a story to tell, and an honest means in which to tell it, there is enough material here for at least two films, but director Gus Van Sant knows where to keep his aim focused. The blunt of this film's greatness lies in the relationship between Jamal and Forrester. This relationship fuels the film because it never stoops low enough to be considered a friendship. This isn't like Scent of a Woman where the characters dislike each other later to become friends. These characters feel awkward, like they don't want each other around, but need it. Jamal need Forrester to teach him about himself and to develop his craft into something of perfection, and Forrester needs Jamal to remind him that there is a world outside of his apartment and he is still a living part of it. These are not picture perfect character that you could scrape off of a magazine add, they are normal people who boast flaws, but feed off of each other in order to help them survive. We care about these characters not because they enthral us but because we are curious as to why we would care about them. Because of this the film works as a rapid provision of appointments that never leave the viewer questioning long enough to require an answer. This is not a film that I will draw distinct scenes forward in hopes of description. This film is a chronicle not a collection of image. It flows together, one scene after the other, using the last to accent the next and provide with the means in which to fuel the engine forward. I beg anyone to give me one scene in this film that you believe, in having cut, would profit the story telling potential of this material. And still it is not just the two central characters that these attributes can be placed upon. The Crawford character also drew me. He is a character that films like this use as a means to dispense their frustration upon but F. Murray Abraham plays this character for so much more worth. He plays Crawford as a man who does not want us to hate him, just hopes we can try to understand him. Watch this film, and than watch it again, see if you can give one means in which this character gives you to stipulate this irrelevance as a caring individual who only wishes the best. Anna Paquin also stars in a small but slender role as Claire, a white girl who draws interest in Jamal. Paquin also finds the proper balance that her characters needs in order to fulfill her presence. She is a free spirit in a subdued body who takes pride in gaining her dignity, not earning it. Probably this films biggest surprise is first timer Rob Brown in the position of Jamal. Not only does young Brown find reverence in his scenes next to Sean Connery as Forrester but also he also never places himself in a position where he feels to the left of the star-studded cast. He never makes a joke of his surroundings, but never allows himself to discover more than those same surrounding need provide, finding a natural balance between cunning and insipid. He reminds me of the Mekhi Phifer from Clockers, a good man in a bad situation. Connery on the other hand is a great actor on his own, a seasoned veteran who knows the stakes and is willing to coincide himself to them. Yet it is not the performance that Connery gives that I give amends to. It is how he places that character inside his own little world. A bad film would have played this character for sympathy. Connery plays it for respect. He makes a character that you don't have to be partial to, but can't help to respect due to his extensive motivations. Van Sant also uses an interesting gadget in the scoring of this film. A lot of films play with music to brew emotions, Van Sant plays with silence. Silence is dark and haunting, silence is dull and silence does create memories it subsides with mysteries. This film doesn't want to provoke emotions, it wants you to realize them, or in this case re-realize them. This is not a perfect film; I will be the first to admit that. It uses a tired formula that we have seen many times before and in some cases raises certain points above others of equal opportunity. But it does relish a perfect score because even though it leads us down a path that has been journeyed many times before, never has getting down that path provided its viewer with so much to think about in themselves. It is bold and daring. When we think it will go one way, it goes another, only making us feel sorry for such naive assumptions in judgment. This truly is film making at its peak literary form.