Docterry

IMDb member since March 1999
    Lifetime Total
    25+
    IMDb Member
    21 years

Reviews

De-Lovely
(2004)

Fighting vainly the old ennui...
'Delovely' is alas a disappointment. I looked forward to this movie, I had high hopes for it and it was disheartening to get a film that was so incredibly unsophisticated- the antithesis of its subject. I've been singing and playing Cole Porter's music on the piano for fifteen years now as well as listening to his songs done by greats like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. I didn't have much knowledge of the man himself. To my great delight I found a CD recently called 'You're The Top: A Testimonial' which is a live recording of a dinner gathering at the University of Southern California in 1967 to commemorate the opening of the Cole Porter Library. Among the guests that evening were none other than Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Ethel Merman, Alan Jay Lerner, Gene Kelly and Jimmy Stewart. They talk candidly about their experiences with Porter and also sing a few of his songs. For Sinatra fans I highly recommend this CD for Frank sings several intimate tracks with just Roger Edens on piano to accompany. One can learn more about Cole Porter from this CD then the entirety of 'Delovely'.

I can't understand why with the talented people involved with this film the end result is so cinematic ally clichéd and dull. The screenplay's structure simply misses. First of all, there's somewhat of a contradiction in Cole Porter's lyrics and the life he lead. His songs are clever, intricate entertainment. His life was a whole 'nother story put together and thus to imply that every one of his songs were inherently autobiographic and profound windows into his psyche is a misuse of the music. That's why the songs as employed here are all a dissonant fusion of Porter's delicate, lyrical greatness and the rough, mediocrity of such contemporary voices as Alanis Morrissette and Sheryl Crow. The songs aren't allowed to beam in their true nature and are forced to carry all this mysterious exposition- most of which is historically inaccurate. One example is how the movie uses the song 'True Love' to depict the seeming duality Porter had in his feelings towards Linda and his 'other life', shall we say. In actuality the song wasn't written until around 1957 when Porter, in conference with Saul Chaplin, the Associate Musical Director for the film 'High Society', was asked to create a song that sounded 'old fashioned'.

I wish somebody would explain to me why Hollywood bothers to make these 'biopics' if they aren't really interested in the subjects. What's amazing about 'Delovely' is how Jay Cocks's screenplay manages to make Porter's life less interesting or dramatic. I imagine Porter's life was filled with so many swellagant, jet set parties and countless interesting anecdotes. I was just reading one in the New York Sun involving Cole, Truman Capote and an airline steward. Porter's homosexual liaisons had to be a trifle more exciting then presented here otherwise he needn't have bothered. I know this film's PG but come on- Hitchcock's 'Rope' was sexier than this. Regardless, what we get for the most part is a fastidious Kline at the piano in a small room full of guests sipping tea like they're all living in Arthur Sullivan's era.

I'm still bewildered at how a movie about the life of Cole Porter was actually made in today's culture. I'm reminded now of the great CD from the early nineties, 'Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute that featured a whole mess of contemporary rock stars performing Porter's songs. What is it about Cole Porter that the entertainment industry deems so commercial or universal? Especially nowadays when movies are becoming less and less about the art or the idea and are unctuously fixated on perspective profits only. Most new releases in the past few years are that of tired action formulas and boring special effects extravaganzas involving comic book characters and trolls and hobbits and whatnot. That's why 'Delovely' was such a welcoming notion and I'm moved towards commending the film as, at the very least, a sincere attempt at raising the bar a little. Yet in the end, is it the good turtle soup or merely the mock?

Pieces of April
(2003)

Surprisingly banal even for Peter Hedges
I'm familiar with Peter Hedges's theatrical work. I've seen a few of his plays in New York- `Baby Anger' and `Good As New'; the latter I think would have made a better, more focused film- there was talk about turning it into a movie a while ago. Anyway, I was surprised by the screenplay here because Hedges is a talented writer and he's usually a pro at recreating the nerve-racking minutia of dysfunctional family quips and exchanges. There's certainly a plethora of cutting remarks made by the characters in `Pieces Of April' but it seemed to me that most of the dialogue here was dumbed-down to the point of real cliché. As a writer, of drama especially, you start with something you want to say, a founding notion and you try to shape your words until you find the finest, most incisive way of presenting them. In this movie the characters all speak in such broad sentences as if Hedges simply sent the first draft of the screenplay to the presses without any finessing or essential rewriting what so ever. Everything they say and do is so completely cut and dry and without shadow that unfortunately as many of the previous reviews have stated, the film turns into sitcom material and Hedges is much brighter and more capable than that.

It's odd how this film was not only written but also directed by Hedges which would imply that he made all the decisions. This was his first film, his first baby, so to speak and it simply has too many points that fall into the undeniable category of `indie', `Sundance', quirky for it's own sake, and it's kind of a failure. Ebert said in his review it was made for $200,000. That sounds really inexpensive. I guess in those terms Hedges managed to create a work that was `good'. For the resources he had I guess it was good enough. However, you would think coming from a theatrical background where a director is confined to one space and much of any setting is left to the audience's imagination, Hedges would have been dieing to branch out and delve into film's vast visual possibilities with greater artistry. Even though the screenplay is set in claustrophobic areas like inside a car or the interior of April's crappy apartment, there was still film's opportunity to paint the character's inner workings more deeply. Even though Hedges throws in annoying, off-beat sequences like the quick funeral service for a piece of road kill, he really can't escape from representational theater's format and limitations. Information about the character's pasts unfortunately fall into pure exposition where for instance a nice flashback sequence could have been used. I know it must have been a goal to keep the tension high in this film while April franticly searches for an oven to use. However, the interlacing of the family's road trip with April's quest certainly is a privilege of film and I don't think Hedges made the most of all the cinematic possibilities. I know Hedges didn't want to throw in many distractions that would seem separate from the core of his story. This story is a moving one and Katie Holmes gave such a great, unexpected performance of depth beyond the confines of her generalized dialogue that I was wishing there was more development of her character. However, upon reflection I think it would have been more dramatic if April was older. She's supposedly twenty-one. Her need to be accepted by her mother would have been more powerful had April been say a thirty-five year old screw up.

I think ultimately `Pieces of April' is too raw and unfinished even for a low-budget film. It bothers me because this really could have been a great picture. It's a bittersweet little story that anybody with a family could relate to. Some of the emotions going in the film are just too potentially touching to be rendered less effectual by poor filmmaking.

Monster
(2003)

Charlize is the bomb.
I'm not exactly sure what the motivation was behind the casting of Charlize Theron in this part. Was it a gimmick? Was it inspired by Nicole Kidman's defacing nose job in `The Hours'? Was it meant to garner a deeper consideration of the painfully beautiful Theron's other talents? I don't know, this just strikes me as weird, weird casting- perhaps unnecessary. The producers could have given one of the thousands of struggling, undiscovered actresses out there a shot. However, the fact remains that Charlize is simply wonderful in this movie. Her performance contains, as they teach us in acting class, multiple layers. She manages to exist in this role as both a somewhat non-realistic, grandiose drunken bad girl and also an insular woman filled with moments of self-realization and private emotion. This role is for the most part a firecracker whose audacity is hard to resist. Another film, `Boys Don't Cry', comes to mind in that Hilary Swank's performance was another big transformation for an actress however her sexually confused character was more subtle and elusive and thus more challenging to portray. Swank did a beautiful job.

Again like `Boys Don't Cry', much of the film could be described as a love story. Christina Ricci is quite adorable here and her character's quiet passive aggressiveness feels right on target. She gives an impressive performance keeping the viewer's attention all the time while competing with Theron's vivacious portrayal.

Charlize is awesome though. When I think about the black and white image of her walking down the runway in `Celebrity' and striking a pose that just stops your heart, I can't help but think Hollywood has gone crazy having her make this movie. Why take a gorgeous face like Charlize's and blotch it all up? Is it simply to prove that she can really act, that she's the real deal and her looks don't matter? Well, that's just a stupid idea. She's got nothing to prove. The whole movie system is messed up anyway since the advent of the independent film. You have the big studios dishing up tons of money for Lord of the Rings, special effects type movies where years ago they were making films like `Looking for Mr. Goodbar' and nobody really goes to the movies anymore for true cultural illumination. Does Hollywood really have to keep looking under rocks for story ideas?

Elephant
(2003)

Elephant is an interesting, memorable film.
I caught an interview with Gus Van Sant and Diane Keaton on The Today Show and they were frustratingly tongue-tied and elusive. I know many artists are like that but they had a responsibility to plug this film. Van Sant made a rather weak and ill-timed attempt at undermining the television news by commenting on the exploitive nature in which the media covered the Columbine Massacre. He and Keaton were both a `tough interview'.

`Elephant' is however a noteworthy film from both a sociological standpoint as well as artistically. Van Sant's viewpoint here seems to be that we can illuminate the truth, the roots of such horrific events, by taking the time to examine the very foundations of our societal structure wherein they arose. In order for us to understand the full impact as well as the fallout such a tragic event like Columbine creates we must have the patience to truly watch and listen to our children devoid of judgment.

It's for these reasons that the, at times, ludicrously slow pacing of this film is inevitably acceptable. It's more acceptable as an intellectual conceit than any bold, stylistic, filmmaking overture. If it takes the exploitation of a tragic event to galvanize the artistic integrity and social conscience of Hollywood producers then fine. There's a definite beauty in the slow, hypnotizing quietness of the film and I did appreciate it up until a point. Yet, I eventually started to feel abused as an entrapped audience member when the action became so minute and the pacing was no longer building suspense of any kind but merely distraction. The movie would have been strongest if the pacing and style made an abrupt change to conform to the impending violence, merging the contemplative with the all too horrifically clear.

`Elephant' is a catalyst for important discussion. It's sad to think that deep down, perhaps subconsciously, all adults are in some way scared by the kids in their life and there's a huge barrier in communication. These problems are like the big elephant sitting in the middle of the couch- people don't want to think about it and they really don't want to talk about it. People bring children into the world partly out of a great vanity and are momentarily high on the God-like creation process. When kids begin to come of age their parents' world becomes a constant heartache and it reaches a point where the only thing they can do is hope or imagine that their son or daughter is at school laughing and happy.

`Elephant' is a memorable film. I would encourage young people to see it. If for anything else it shows, in an uniquely wistful way, that young people shouldn't feel like they're such outsiders or alone in their sorrow because regardless of all the cliques and the peer pressure and other unfortunate, superficial judgments that have been forever imposed on the young, everyone is truly the same at that sad, crucial age with the same kinds of insecurities and problems- it's the human condition.

Hamlet
(1996)

I'm thankful for this production, regardless.
The intricate beauty in the works of William Shakespeare- most especially his play `Hamlet'- forever fascinates me. It may be because I am a student of the theater and I have been performing The Bard's work since the age of eight I bethinks. I must reveal that I am an American and I dismiss the idea that Shakespeare can only be palatable when delivered by the British tongue. I studied at The New School For Social Research whose teachings are based primarily in the Stanislavski tradition however after an exchange program in London I learned that the text is the star, not the actor.

In viewing Branagh's `Hamlet' again after a few years I realize that the ends justify the means. This film is a brilliant record of, in my opinion, the greatest play ever set to paper. This film is the full text version, no cuts and obviously there had to be some concessions in its making. This film is really a wonderful example of unusual producing. Incorporating such American celebrities as Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and the great Jack Lemmon, to whom the poetic flow of Shakespeare's thoughts did not shine brightly, is an inevitable byproduct in use of American loot- namely Castle Rock Entertainment.

Kenneth Branagh's performance is what's to be judged here. At times he is devastating especially in those peculiarly emotional moments with Ophelia. Yet, in general he follows his dialogue in apprehension how not like a God. Branagh delivers certain renowned moments, namely the `To be or not to be' speech, with a cool, studied and most relaxed rhythm that rings false to poor Hamlet's plight. It's an interesting acting choice but when Hamlet says `To be or not to be, that is the question' he is in question or discovery, to himself or God and Branagh delivers this speech with the precision and authority of a scholar and not a soul in desperation.

I love the movie because it's rare. You can't find the whole, uncut version of the play presented so gloriously in its scope anywhere else. It's a gift. Yet, to view the performances by our American celebrities, it makes one stop and wonder just how good these men are to begin with.

The Dead Zone
(1983)

An unforgettable film.
This is one of those videos I use to rent way back when videos and VCRs were a modern breakthrough. I was about ten years old and this movie connected with me. I really can't explain why. Perhaps the notion of preventing inevitable death through accident or malice was something that even a ten year old knew was far-fetched. To consider the dour ending of this film, you would think anyone of most age would leave it at that and move on never to view this film again. However, I was completely transfixed by Christopher Walken's best performance. Although his performance in `The Deer Hunter' is breathtaking in `The Dead Zone' he had the extra challenge of the supernatural. This is where the new show on USA goes awry. The new TV show deals purely with nearly intangible plot material whereas the original movie was based solely on Johnny's inner torment. He hated his newfound vision. He hated the fact that he was now different- that most others deemed him a freak.

I can see how this character's life could be stretched into a TV series. The brilliant original film is in its nature episodic. However, the modern interpretation of Johnny Smith is incorrect and too hopeful.

Twilight Zone: The Movie
(1983)

Disappointing to fans of the show.
I'm forever fascinated by The Twilight Zone. If there's ever a marathon- I'm there. I'm certainly not a sci-fi person. I am bored to distraction by Star Trek and other such entities. I am a student of theater and basically a renaissance man and that's what I love about the show. It somehow manages to encompass almost every art form- the gamut of man's peculiarities. The movie tries to recapture some of the original program's feeling but for the most part misses.

From reading other user comments it seems the last segment with John Lithgow has been deemed the best. I disagree. What made the original episode, "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet", so interesting was that the main character, played then by William Shatner, had just been released from a sanitarium after suffering a nervous breakdown on a plane. The viewer is then led to believe that this man is suffering from hallucinations- that he's having a relapse and not actually seeing this disappearing creature. In the remake, there never seems to be a question about there truly being a gremlin on the wing therefore the final discovery of the damage is hardly a payoff. I don't see why people are raving about this particular segment. It's directed stylishly and has a real committed performance from Lithgow but as far as capturing the claustrophobia of the Zone, it sorely misses.

To continue the dissension, I think Spielberg's "Kick the Can" segment was the film's best offering. It was joyous and then devastating like so many of the great original episodes. Whenever I think of nursing homes I recall Sunnyvale and that poor man standing out in front with his suitcases. It's this human image- the cruelty of hope that is most true to Rod Serling's vision and the most indelible image in the whole film.

Still, the whole movie isn't as interesting as ten minutes of the original series. For fans of the great TV show, disappointment will be forthcoming. The new series on the WB is really dreadful. The saddest thing is that Serling never believed the show would have such an appreciation and sold his rights to CBS for, in retrospect, a pitiable sum.

Bruce Almighty
(2003)

The public and Jim Carrey deserve better.
Jim Carrey is hilarious but this movie let me down. The whole last hour derails from the horribly stale screenwriting which focuses entirely on the cliched relationship troubles between Carrey and Aniston. I was grimacing at the screen. The picture starts off really promising. Morgan Freeman is totally cool, as always but at times he does seem like mere set decoration; it feels like they filmed his whole role in one day. Carrey is exceptionally good, he does have the "power", zooming along in breakneck comedic pace and he's really funny. Regretfully, instead of making us continue to laugh the writers decided to make some quasi-serious statement on theology equipped with the standard maudlin movie score which drags the whole mood and eventually the whole movie under never to recover. The screenwriters even get the serious stuff wrong because they hinge everything on Jennifer Aniston's completely underwritten, superficial character.

I would truly like to know what goes through the minds of those executives in Hollywood. Do they just greenlight any script if they have a name attached to it? If it's all about money then these guys are penny-wise and dollar foolish. They know they can make money off of Jim Carrey but wouldn't it suit everyone's interest to make the best picture they can? In Preproduction, the script supposedly goes through tons of drafts. I know there are great writers out in Hollywood but I'm beginning to think "Barton Fink" was a documentary.

Some other user asked if it seems like movies today are getting worse and worse and they definitely are. What's so insidious about the movies today is that they're not just plain awful like midnight movies or golden turkeys or razzies- that kind of charming badness. Today even the films that have our best talent in them wind up incredibly weak and it has to be the writers and producers' fault. They must have contempt for the public. They continue to pass off the same formulaic stuff over and over like it's Colonel Sander's secret recipe but it doesn't taste good any more. I guess demographics show that enough ticket buyers keep showing up so why should Hollywood care but wouldn't you think that movies should be even better in this day and age? Now that television, which has never made qualms about being a totally sponsor-driven enterprise, is plagued by all the unreal "reality" programming Hollywood is getting away with murder saving tons of dough on junk that previously would only be suitable for cable access. Aren't there any artists left? Why doesn't Hollywood make taking a trek to the cinema a worth while experience?

It's all very sad and my only hope is that God is a movie buff and will send a lightening bolt over to the powers that be in Hollywood because as far as I'm concerned we're in artistic Armageddon.

Once Upon a Time in America
(1984)

A classic that's maybe admired more than it deserves.
This film proves that you can sometimes have too much of a great thing. First and foremost is Morricone's stunning score. It's some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. However, that doesn't mean it's always appropriate for every single sequence. There's simply too much incongruous underscoring in this film. The few moments when the main theme isn't blasting in full orchestral glory it's whistled or played on the flute. If Leone wanted to make homage to the film scoring of old Hollywood then Morricone needed to add some variations on his theme and some stings that directly address the action.

Leone is famous for his close-ups. The direction is wonderful when it melds with the story. Leone wanted a fragmented, dreamlike essence and taking things slow and being atmospheric is fine but there has to be some discrimination. Every scene is filled with such operatic grandeur that each story thread becomes convoluted and drowned in bathos.

`Once Upon A Time In America' was edited, rather infamously, for its American release. It was presented in a linear fashion and was vastly criticized for not making sense. I'm not sure how much sense the full version makes but telling this story in chronological order would be a huge mistake. It would take so much of the underlying meaning and mystery away. I don't know how Leone could have allowed it at the time.

I miss the old epic style of filmmaking. I miss the time when Hollywood at least pretended they were interested in the product not just the profit. The phrase, the `art business', is an oxymoron anyway. Movie producers today make no qualms about their tunnel vision. Artistic quality is measured in how much was spent on the CGI effects. All movies today use the `Hit and Run' technique. They open big, say on a holiday weekend, with tons of advertising and before the bad word of mouth gets around they hope to recoup the investment.

Anyway, the new `Once Upon A Time In America' Special Edition DVD in Widescreen is a real present for fans of the movie. The digital transfer is amazing. The picture looks so crisp and new. The locations are sharply defined and extras whose faces were previously blurred are now like new characters.

I've always liked this movie. I can't help it. I admire its romanticism but now that I'm older I can see that it's flawed. It doesn't achieve a proper mix. You need some subtlety and emotional detachment. This film's no Godfather, by any means. It's also uncomfortably misogynistic at times. Yet, you can't ignore the passion that went into making it. `Once Upon A Time In America' is passionate perhaps to embarrassment.

Neighbors
(1981)

However unpopular, this is my Belushi favorite.
My memories of real youth, like from five to ten years old are completely blurred for the most part but for some reason I remember watching John Belushi movies. I remember going to see `Neighbors' and `Continental Divide' in the theater! I haven't really examined this but basically since I was born I have adored John Belushi. I remember renting `Neighbors' when the VCR was a new item and I'd watch it over and over again. I guess I was a pretty strange ten-year old. Memories of watching his movies, his death and whatever else are still with me in strange little flashes.

I find `Neighbors' to be his best work. This is a controversial opinion! I've recently reread Woodward's `Wired' and it seems John detested everything about this movie. He had sincere hatred for the director, Alvidsen- he continually asked to replace him. Yet, John's biggest concern for `Neighbors', again citing from Woodward's book, was the soundtrack. He wanted it to be punk rock and Holy Christ did it ever wind up the antithesis. Of course I would love to have seen `Neighbors' done the way John would have intended it but I still am very fond of this movie as is. I think Alvidsen did a great job of bottling all of John's manic energy and I think he summoned his best performance. It's such a strange contradiction that, again from reading `Wired', John wanted desperately to lose the `Bluto' stigma and prove he could be a versatile actor. This role reversal gave him that chance and yet he was against this film from the beginning.

I think `Neighbors' is fantastic. It's like `Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf' on acid or something. This film should be examined by future filmmakers as an example of how what seems like all the wrong ingredients can make a positive and an unforgettable piece of cinema in the end.

About Schmidt
(2002)

About Schmidt is about all of us.
`About Schmidt' should be required viewing for all budding directors, screenwriters and actors. I have never seen a film that manages to perfect the bittersweet nature of the human condition as well. I think `About Schmidt' is a masterpiece. It took me awhile to be comfortable enough to make this statement. Jack Nicholson said when accepting the Golden Globe for Best Actor In A Drama, `I don't know whether to be ashamed…I thought we were making a comedy'. Well, as the saying goes, `Life is but a jest.' I first saw `About Schmidt' in New York with a boisterous audience and I was right along with them in uncontrollable laughter. Nicholson's face is one in a million. He is the personification of a star. He can convey with one look, like Norma Desmond I guess, more than a paragraph of dialogue could ever do. He knows cameras and he is a master of film acting. Of course, Alexander Payne should be given tremendous praise as well.

I'm a pretty jaded person and unfortunately these days it takes a lot to make me laugh. In subsequent viewings I still bust a gut during so many moments in the film. The line between laughter and tears, happiness and madness has never been so fine as in this brilliant movie. `About Schmidt' is a deeply profound statement and is now one of my most endeared favorites.

Stolen Summer
(2002)

Believe it or not, this is a good movie.
Having finally seen `Stolen Summer' I was more surprised than anyone to find the film extremely fetching. I thought it was well made and well acted. It was written and directed by a total novice, Pete Jones, who won a contest- as silly as that sounds. There are scenes that can be called schmaltzy but they seem to fit in with the mood of the picture and feel deserved; they're not simply tacked on as emotional buttons like in lesser screenplays. I hate watching kids in movies because they usually go hand and hand with loud noises and special effects. However, this screenplay gives these kids some heavy-duty subject matter to explore and their performances are intriguing. One might complain the film doesn't have any visual flair or creative camera angles and such. I think the film captures the austere sluggishness of the 1970's rather well.

After reading the external reviews for this movie I had to write a comment. One would think all the nation's critics united against this film. One reviewer said… `There are probably at least nine people who will sit all the way through the well-meaning but inert `Stolen Summer'. What's that mean? Did the guy watch twenty minutes of it and split? Are professional critics allowed to do that? I find that incredibly aggravating. I think all people involved in the film business are eventually driven to this kind of cynicism and contempt. I myself was rather turned off watching `Project Greenlight' on HBO. I realize making movies is an expensive enterprise but there's got to be a better way next time than what Jones went through. They had his you-know-what's in a vice the entire time and treated him like he was just touring Universal Studios for the day. I guess Hollywood is finally letting us in on their secret…that any schmuck off the street can make a movie because in the end it's the executives who really make all the decisions. The director might as well devote his time to the catering concerns.

Red Dragon
(2002)

The Doctor is out.
I enjoyed the black comedy of the previous Hannibal Lecter movies but mostly I revere Sir Anthony Hopkins. He is the finest actor, I think. That is why watching `Red Dragon' was quite frustrating. My main man, Doctor L, just wasn't the same. Not only does Hopkins' look a lot older then he did in even `Hannibal' but he is directed miserably over-the-top here. It's literally like watching a spoof, one of those Leslie Nielsen films, every time Hopkins appears in this movie. I have no doubt whatsoever that it was the director, Brett Ratner's, fault. I can only guess that Ratner wanted Hopkins to really come on strong with the `Lecter persona', `gild the lily' so to speak and it just doesn't feel right. Lecter is not ambiguous or charismatic in this film. Poor Tony seems to be merely pacing around in his cell pretending to be Richard II.

On the other hand, Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watson are the stars of this film and they totally save it from being a dreadful failure in this ongoing series. They are two wonderful actors and they're terrific here somehow managing in a few short sequences to convey a touching, star-crossed romance. I must admit while watching these two brilliant performers interact I wished them a nicer story to be entangled in. It's as if the film veers during these scenes into a subtle and character-oriented direction like the first film, `The Silence of the Lambs' and is all the better for it. Too bad these moments are fleeting. I hope Fiennes and Watson team up again in a romantic film or melodrama.

Overall, this really is the worst film in the series but not the worst film in the world, again thanks to Fiennes and Watson. As far as Dr. Lecter fans are concerned, `Red Dragon' brings the beloved character one step closer towards the world of shameless Hollywood prequels.

Auto Focus
(2002)

Auto Focus has the quality of an old Super8 video.
I watched the DVD of "Auto Focus" which included three separate commentaries. You know you're in trouble when all of the artists involved keep repeating, `Remember, this was a low budget film.very low budget!' When I heard the name Paul Schrader I just assumed this was going to be a good movie no matter how Indie it was. This man has created some of the greatest cultural classics in film history. Schrader always seems to make the underbelly of our society teeming with a sordid cast of characters seem perversely attractive or at the very least exciting. I know all I ever wanted to be like when I grew up was Julian Kay from `American Gigolo.' I think Schrader had a fixed idea for `Auto Focus' and how he wanted to tell the story and because of financial restraints vital elements to the feeling and energy of the film seem to have been compromised. Bob Crane was a swinger and I think it's ridiculous to make all of his escapades seem like some miserable addiction from the start. If they had more financial leeway perhaps this film could have had the energy of a `Boogie Nights' or something. The subject matter is innately fascinating but the film fails in two ways by making the peripheral world of Crane's completely dull and the inner world of Crane's utterly without depth or contradiction.

One thing I really hated in the movie was Kinnear's cacophonous voice over a la `Sunset Boulevard' which only pushed me further away from the story. Also, the film refuses to decide whether it's a drama or a satire. Willem Defoe must have been playing his role for laughs. I understand his character had a symbiotic relationship with Kinnear's, possibly a homosexual relationship but Defoe just acts and looks so pathetic you're thinking he's just playing dress up like your watching a skit from SNL. Out the clear blue the film's score by Angelo Badalamenti comes dripping in like a funeral dirge, like we're watching `Saving Private Ryan'.

Basically, get ready to be disappointed. Crane use to say `A day without sex is a day wasted.' Evidently, the director disagrees.

Houseguest
(1995)

A funny, good movie!
This movie surprisingly works and is very funny and enjoyable and it's also, what I think to be the litmus test of a good movie, always good for repeated viewing without losing its charm. I pass by the film on cable and find myself watching it again and still laughing. I know this seems hard to believe especially since the story is ridiculous and the script is pretty banal. I've come to the conclusion that it's the genuine talent of Sinbad, an exceedingly funny man who unfortunately seems to have disappeared from show business as of late. Phil Hartman adds a great deal to the film with his always impeccable delivery but I can't help but think of his horrible tragedy and kind of fall out of the movie's whimsy at times.

I always liked this movie. It manages to rise above most Hollywood comedies that are inevitably annoying and dispensable. This movie is fun and has great acting which makes up for the fact that it is, by nature, just a screwball comedy. It's a total guilty pleasure but I say go for it.

Scent of a Woman
(1992)

A Film For The Lonely
There's something about this film that keeps you company. It's like you're also spending the weekend with Colonel Slade. The film entertains your darkest notions and tops your depth of grief and then somehow elevates you to find hope amidst our consciously blind existence.

At first I had a problem with Pacino's performance. I thought Al was definitely over-acting. He's playing a man who is consciously suicidal, a man suffering the loss of his dependence. He seems preoccupied in fulfilling a sexual desire but what he really yearns for is the acceptance of a woman now that he's been injured. However, even beyond his glorified apparition of woman what he presently needs is someone, anyone who will listen. He needs someone he can bark orders at like in the past. Some babe in the woods he can bemuse and corrupt amidst the decadence of `Freak Show Central', his personal nickname for New York City. In this contrived situation he finds life again and with these considerations Pacino's bravura performance is forgivable.

Pacino ironically switches energies with O'Donnell's character being the Colonel's high energy defuses Charlie's depressed low energy. The Colonel is psyched for his weekend's desperate romp, `A little tour of pleasures', he says. Given this distinction in performances, Charlie should have been the suicidal one, the defeated one because O'Donnell walks around this film like a deer caught in the headlights and there really isn't anything inspiring or motivating about him. It would have been an awesome acting exercise to have a young actor go against Pacino and realistically attempt to change his character's suicidal mission, granted his whole outlook on life yet what we have is a quick resolution that is very intense but not very intellectual.

In the end, this movie somehow manages to conduct all it's emotional payoffs thus rendering the viewer at the mercy of what may seem bathos. Many have criticized the film as negotiating Hollywood Plot A with Plot B or C. However, the Colonel realizes his biggest failure in life was in his interpersonal relationships. He learns that sometimes having friends can be a stronger and more important bond than family- a point well taken. Sometimes when a film comes together, after all the pre and post production, the result can be undeniably charming and this film manages to soar above its foundations, those manifested in the most basic of premises of melodrama. `Scent Of A Woman' does inevitably work and it's a very heart-warming film.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence
(2001)

An exceedingly thought-provoking masterpiece.
`History repeats itself. It's the rite of blood and electricity', speaks a decayed mecha locked inside a cell amidst the chaos of a `Flesh Fair'; a futuristic holocaust of man's continual need for inequality and exploitation of those deemed impure. Spielberg's `A.I. Artificial Intelligence' is masterful in masking its profound debates underneath the glare of a science fiction fantasy. `A.I.' is a masterpiece enriched by the shadows of history's canyon of philosophy presented here through the openness of an aged fairytale.

The notion of one's identity, something usually mirrored most deeply in those people and things we truly love or hate, even if synthetically imprinted, is nevertheless the foundation from which a soul is built. Is it too far-fetched to believe a machine capable of learning and adaptation can like `base metals transmuted into gold' eventually achieve all there is to be human with the exception of death? However, if `Death shall hold no dominion' then the film's conclusion is quite bleak yet with the current tides of terror in our world, it's no longer an impossible, unthinkable belief that our race can and will eventually become extinct. As we continue to lose our humanity perhaps a machine created in our ideal image will be our only enduring epitaph and as Mr. Spielberg has suggested, the responsibility in what we create or destroy and in drowned, hollowed choirs leave behind, is one we must not take lightly.

I found `A.I. Artificial Intelligence' to be an overwhelmingly powerful film that left me rather depressed. For viewers of lesser insight, the film can serve as an exciting adventure and fantasy and leave you smiling at the end, I guess, but you would have to be blissfully ignorant.

Soul Survivors
(2001)

It's BAD! BAD!
It's really hard to imagine a movie being worse than `Soul Survivors'. I could be motivated to write a complete dissertation on its worthlessness but refuse isn't deserving of such. The biggest mystery is how Hollywood executives didn't pull the plug after viewing a single frame.

I rented this DVD because I was impressed with Wes Bentley's unique qualities in `American Beauty' in his portrayal of a disturbed peeping tom. However, judging from his appearance in this film I'm left to wonder whether Mr. Bentley is at all right upstairs.

There isn't much else to say except DON'T WASTE ANY OF YOUR LIFE SEEING THIS MOVIE. It doesn't matter whether you're stoned or sober, sane or loony, it's a miserably BAD flick.

James Dean
(2001)

To imitate a life is inevitably unrewarding.
After James Franco won the Golden Globe I figured I should see this movie. I've always liked James Dean. I use to have this poster of him in my room walking down a rainy street in New York dressed in a black cashmere overcoat and smoking a cigarette. For some reason I've always been fascinated by tragic actors like Dean, Montgomery Clift and later on, River Phoenix. I was young and totally naïve. Having these guys as an inspiration unfortunately led to self-imposed loathing and destructiveness. I felt that their intense and effective performances came from the inner torment they seemed to be burdened with and I tried to emulate them and their methods in my own acting. In reflection, I still think their suffering did make them deeper actors but it's a price far too great to pay.

`James Dean' is an entirely superficial dress up party, a horrible excuse for a biography. The film chooses to imitate Deanesque mannerisms and play through episodic anecdotes rather than try to closely examine even a small part of Dean's life. However, I must admit I had fun watching it and James Franco really did look a lot like Dean most of the time. The film tries to explain, albeit poorly, Dean's tortured soul through the troubled relationship with his father. One thing really delighted me. The movie opens with the filming of that great scene in East of Eden, the birthday party for Adam, where Cal is totally devastated by his father's insolent rejection of him. In fact, I liked all the scenes in the movie involving Elia Kazan.

The great movie stars usually possess a beautiful exterior, incisiveness and an inner sadness. We rarely have actors of this magnitude. Why else would there be countless attempts to recreate the lives of such individuals like James Dean? Perhaps we're trying to recapture a more romantic time in history from which they came and through that examine why these men were such anachronisms. There have been plans to do a film about Clift since the seventies. At one time director Norman Jewison had the rights to the Patricia Bosworth bio and current rumors are Wes Bentley was to portray him but things have been put `on hold'. I'd say Tom Cruise is the only guy to play Monty.

O
(2001)

O is a poor take on Shakespearean drama.
The character of Iago has always filled me with a strange glee. There's something delicious about an intelligent, witty and utterly heartless villain. I've found myself more times than not applauding for the really cool villains, the handsome, quick and together ones who plot such evil acts more for the fun of manipulation than of any real cause. Characters such as these deserve as slick a dramatic presentation as their words and deeds resonate. What I love best about Iago, as well as many of Shakespeare's characters, is the hawk-like way he would perch above all others on the scene and proclaim his insidious masterminding as an aside to himself or his audience, imaginary or not…. `Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me for making him egregiously an ass and practising upon his peace and quiet even to madness'.

Unfortunately, O is a poorly directed film and really wastes the talents of its actors, especially Josh Harnett, whose performance as it is maybe worth seeing the movie for but ultimately leaves you disappointed for what could have been. So boldly deeming itself a modern retelling of Othello, the director Tim Blake Nelson's work simply lacks the appropriate mood and style. Othello and Iago are grand and mysterious characters and this movie needed darker elements like that of a thriller. I kept hoping for an intriguing soundtrack to underscore the evil intentions being set into motion. I kept hoping for at least one cool moment where Josh Harnett stares into the camera, donning a chilling smirk and declares his hatred. Yet, what we get is rap music and lighting so bright with the vibrant colors you might find in Kiss Me Kate. Not to mention, of course, the countless basketball sequences which all seem so staged and Martin Sheen wailing at the top of his lungs like his life is as stake. Plus, the old smashing of the backboard scene, which recalls the ferociousness of Jim Carrey's cable guy. I think maybe this film's biggest flaw is it's bowdlerizing of a famous Shakespearean work. The movie's true agenda is pointing out how few values are youth have today allowing themselves to be engulfed in one sinful temptation after another. All of its contemporary notions of high school competitiveness, drug use and racial tensions alone could have inspired a powerful film. However, using Shakespeare as its calling card, this film is without poetry and dramatic flair and is undeserving to even be called an adaptation.

Bully
(2001)

Bully is contemptible filmmaking.
One of the definitions of pornography is the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction <the pornography of violence. The director Larry Clark makes it too easy to lash out at the film's countless scenes of graphic sex and nudity, which from a plot standpoint are all truly superfluous. Everybody has a voyeuristic side to himself or herself and this movie is one big peepshow I'll tell you that. If getting the audience's rapt attention was Clark's main goal, he did succeed but he needn't have done so by such ignoble means. This true story has innate prurient interest already and its message is an important one. Clark had only to examine the true mindsets of these kids in order to bring home his pointed obsession with disillusioned youth. Unfortunately, just as in Kids, he chooses to show rather than tell and the end of this tragedy leaves us with a battlefield of inhumanity whose logical manifestations are irresponsibly absent as if to say our children are not human. There's nothing more amoral and disgusting as murdering someone and I imagine it must take a truly volatile, hopping mad, disturbed person or persons to go through with it and the activities that the youths in this film indulge in are totally inconsistent with their actions in the end. Borrowing from the old hippie saying, `Make love not war', it would seem that these kids' motivation after screwing and smoking and drinking and tripping their brains out would be merely to crash on a chaise-lounge and soak up some rays. If these characters were on that much acid and grass they probably couldn't manage a trip to the bathroom never mind beating and bludgeoning and bashing somebody to death.

A good film is usually the result of insightful and well-developed storytelling. In Bully the plot is merely an excuse, a backdrop to showcase Clark's heavy boner for decadence. In somebody else's hands, even in TV's movie of the week hands, you would have gotten a better story.

Black Dahlia
(1998)

The Greatest Game Ever
Hopefully some lucky person who hasn't experienced this game yet will read my comments and go out and purchase it. I actually saw it the other day inside a big bin of ugly and timeworn clearance software that nobody really wants. I tell you, it hurt me to see a game of this nature dumped into some crate of obsolete things. It is old but I probably play through the game at least once every month- it's that fascinating and good.

I guess the experience of playing Black Dahlia is like being totally immersed inside a mystery movie. I have great nostalgia for the 1940s era and the game is set entirely within this time and all the characters are dressed sharply and speak cleverly in the quick and slightly queer way of the period. The lead is played by a very charming man, Darren Eliker, and you take charge of him in a way and you really start to feel like your traveling all over the place with this guy, or as this guy I should say, and it's excellent fun. I implore you to try out this game. I only wish they would make more like it, FMV style. There are hardly any decent adventure games being made with animation let alone with actors. I was told that a game like Black Dahlia simply costs too much to make, basically the same as shooting a film. Yet, it would be obvious to anyone who plays the game the work and quality that's gone into it on every level. I think the story's really great too and that plays a big part in its appeal. In fact, I would love to see this game turned into a feature film- like it almost is already.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
(1999)

Why do great directors lose it so badly?
George Lucas, like his peer Francis Ford Coppolla, was a true visionary. These men created cinema that will live forever. Now, I thought one would get wiser and more insightful-more skilled and honed and with mortality ever so tapping on their shoulders-the work from these two men should be more fascinating than ever. That, for some reason, is just not the case. Like "The Godfather Part III," "The Phantom Menace" fails to capture the visceral quality of its predecessors. Hey, that's putting nicely. These directors have lost it, big time. What really stuns me is that they both forgot their roots as young filmmakers who knew that the magic of fresh and exciting narrative was more powerful than all the special effects and sounds one could muster. Watching "The Phantom Menace," I had the same feeling as watching "The Godfather Part III" for the first time-incredible disappointment. I think that these directors, who I use to look up to, are idiots now, because these sequels didn't have to be great, or as great as their originals, but how could they, for god's sake, simply suck?

Vertigo
(1958)

A Great Psychological Drama
Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo doesn't begin until the last 45 minutes of the film when James Stewart's character embarks on a desperate search for answers and exorcism. I could argue all that precedes this act is merely the "MacGuffin", similar to the beginning sections of Psycho, a film which doesn't really start cooking until the "Bates Motel" sign flashes through the rain. I can appreciate Vertigo's slow, moody timing like that of a foreign film; novel qualities for a mainstream picture in 1958. I can appreciate that Vertigo is arty in the way it presents its totally contrived plot line through an almost stream of consciousness, very psychological, dreamlike state especially during Stewart's nightmare which actually uses animation. The title sequence by Saul Bass combined with Bernard Herrmann's score create a movie within a movie. Critics and filmmakers alike hail the film as one the best of all time. Martin Scorsese, who took part in the film's restoration, seems to be very in awe of this film and celebrates it in his remake of Cape Fear. Yet, upon several viewings now, I still get bored getting through those long, long stretches with James Stewart's big head behind the steering wheel driving all over San Francisco. I can't help but feel some closer editing could have made the film more suspenseful and fascinating not just for film scholars but for the audience too.

I still love the movie though- the moment when Scotty sets his eyes on Judy walking along the busy street and the machinations in his mind begin; a twisted loveless passion fixated on a stranger to restore his lost love and lost dignity and conquer his deep-seated fears. This is the moment where the film could begin, maybe if Roman Polanski where directing but the Master of Suspense was working way ahead of his time and for this alone Vertigo deserves its praise.

Less Than Zero
(1987)

Less Than Zero Remains A Powerful Film
The hour is 4 am. and I'm caught watching Less Than Zero, unable to turn away to sleep, unable to dismiss this creature of the 80's, the Brat Pack actors, the groovy but over- enthusiastic sound of The Bangles...unable to resist watching this film. I had forgotten the profoundness to be found, at times, in the eyes of Andrew McCarthy- in fact, I had forgotten Andrew McCarthy. His character of Clay is the most complex in this story and therefore the most challenging to portray and his quiet and doubtful performance works perfectly to communicate a young man who has trouble expressing his feelings or even realizing his desires and yet is trapped in a time in life where new and strange feelings and situations come without warning or control. Clay has gone away to school in the East Coast and struggles to maintain a long distance relationship with his girlfriend, Blair. He returns to LA six months later to find everything and everyone predictably the same, with one exception. Cocaine has become a major addition to the spoiled lifestyle of his wealthy ilk. His best friend, Julian played with, at moments, gut wrenching pain, by Robert Downey Jr., has become totally addicted to smoking cocaine and has lost all his money and is in debt and cutoff from his parents and...etc. Since Downey has been in all the magazines and tabloid TV lately, concerning his arrests and continuous drug taking, watching his performance here was in some ways devilish fun yet too prophetic indeed.

I was touched by the basis of McCarthy's numb performance being that in Clay's separation from his best friends and in turn their separation from him- that change in niche, seemed the root of all decadence. Those childhood years of both safety and recklessness pass away very fast and time forces all to grow up for the mere necessity of living, yet Clay has the angst of a young man who feels like he doesn't belong anywhere and latches on to those people who represent something familiar even if his feelings toward those people have, in time and absence, turned apathetic.

Again, I was hooked by the film and surprised at how slick and ultimately powerful it was. I've read mostly bad reviews of the film, yet I tell you it is a well-acted, well-directed film focusing on characters and their unique predicaments and not simply a drug movie like countless others.

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