guy_lazarus

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Reviews

Red Dragon
(2002)

A nearly scene-for-scene remake of Manhunter disappoints despite stellar cast
I can't believe that the reviewers who have also seen Michael Mann's 1986 version of Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon fail to point out that, except for the ending, this movie is a nearly scene-for-scene remake of the Mann flick. I watched Manhunter after Red Dragon, and I was shocked by how blatant the remake was; except for fleshing out the relationship between Graham and Lecktor/Lecter and adding a flashback to their joint past, this movie IS Manhunter, right down to the flaming body in the wheelchair and listening to the heartbeat of the tiger. I cannot believe that Michael Mann does not get a writing credit on this film since many of the lines in the two films are identical.

I feel that Manhunter is the superior film, but Red Dragon was a good view, though it ultimately proved disappointing despite its stellar cast. Anticipating something wonderful when thinking of this great cast with at least 10 Oscar nominations between the five lead players, I was dismayed that Red Dragon didn't deliver more.

I rate this two and a-half stars (5 out of 10) while Manhunter came in at three to three and a-half (8 out of 10). Face it: Michael Mann is a much better director than Brett Ratner, and the journeyman William Petersen is just more comfortable, just more right playing an FBI agent than is Edward Norton. Norton is a potentially great actor, but he just doesn't have the cajonnnes in this incarnation to make a convincing cop. He was too flighty, too lightweight; he would have been better in the role if he had pumped up, like his memorable turn in American History X.

That said, Anthony Hopkins was BORN to play Hannibal Lecter. He elevates the role to something Shakespearian, and the film would be worth seeing just for that.

My Life Without Me
(2003)

Sarah Polley gives another great performance in quirky indie
Sarah Polley gives another great performance in this quirky indie, which is a small gem of a film. The idea of "chick flicks," particularly "Disease of the Month" movies, left me cold, but I went to see it as I am a huge Polley fan. I was happily surprised by the quality of the film, thanks to the cast and director Isabel Coixet.

The movie was marvelous and utterly devoid of the cheap sentimentality that mars so many Hollywood pictures. Stripping the story of sentimentality created a nearly bare stage, emotionally, on which the luminous Polley could really shine.

The movie -- a dying mother trying to cope with her young life being cut short -- could have been dreadful; could have been dreadful, but was not. There are no miscalculations in the film and "My Life Without Me" turns out to be extraordinarily life-affirming. More significantly, it offers an incredible character in the doggedly determined, and ultimately heroic, Ann, played so poignantly by Polley.

Can this actress get any better? Polley gives a performance that surely would have been nominated for a best actress Academy Award if it had had a major marketing budget and studio-supported Oscar campaign behind it. She's that good.

Watch the scene where Polley, as Ann, tapes messages for her daughters to be played in the future, on their birthdays, when she is gone and...faded from her daughters' memories. Polley is amazing. It's virtually an acting class for thespians, young and old, apprentice, journeyman or master. Such a great talent in a story worthy of that talent should not be missed.

The Weight of Water
(2000)

Sarah Polley is Extraordinary; Her Performance Should Not Be Missed!
Sarah Polley is extraordinary in the fatally flawed film "The Weight of Water." Is there a better actress in films today than this remarkable Canadian? Her performance of the psychologically pressured Maren easily surpasses that of the much-ballyhooed Nicole Kidman's Virgina Woolf in "The Hours" (a performance I liked very much, but Kidman isn't half -- nay, a third -- the thespian Polley is).

Unfortunately, this brilliant actress' beautiful performance is in a film whose release was delayed more than a year (and then barely put into distribution) because of the fact that the "modern" story in this bifurcated drama is, to put it simply, simply AWFUL. A shame, since Polley's performance should not be missed.

Bandits
(2001)

Cate Blanchett is wonderful in this mildly amusing diversion
The first time I'd saw BANDITS, my date wanted to smoke a little garanja in the car before the picture and the stoned-groove we were in didn't lift until 2/3rds of the picture was over. We were quite puzzled by the film; we thought it terrible, but didn't really know why since we had been so blotto through most of it. I recently saw BANDITS on DVD, and I must say, it's much better than I remembered (a statement that might be considered questionable as I didn't remember much of it at all).

Cate Blanchett once again amazes in a role that could have been flat and one-dimensional or just plain "cute" in the hands of most actresses. Cate is the best actress in motion pictures right now; she is the primarily reason for seeing BANDITS.

Billy Bob Thornton is quite good in his role, though his hypochondriac shtick wears a little thin towards the end of the picture. Bruce Willis turns in a solid "Bruce Willis" characterization, charm and slightly absurd, always not-quite self-conscious machismo.

The only negative in the acting category is Troy Garity, who is as awful as I remembered him, in the role of fifth wheel. It was no surprise, watching the interesting extras contained on the DVD, to find out that he is Jane Fonda's son and was cast in the movie as his godmother is one of the producers! Garity is handsome, a sort-of unrefined John F. Kennedy, Jr., but his voice is terrible and he's not much of an actor. As we can see from the bottoming out of Bridget Fonda's career, unlike the Redgraves, the Fonda acting genes have become quite diluted unto the third generation. Garity's performance is an indictment against Hollywood nepotism.

All in all, an entertaining diversion that would be a good rent for those times when better MUST-SEE flicks aren't in stock at the video store. The film is well-crafted and beautifully shot, with great locations in Oregon and northern California. I give the film a 6 out of 10 (and you may rate in higher) and Cate Blanchett a 10 out of 10.

The Hours
(2002)

Gay Soap Opera The Most Over-rated Film of 2002
I found "The Hours" to be mediocre and at times laugh-aloud bad. Surely, this pretentious soap-opera ranks as the most over-rated film of 2002.





My first laugh out-loud incident (shared by most of the audience), was in the scene where Julianne Moore's character busses the character played by the wildly overacting Toni Collette. It literally brought down the house, it was so out-of-leftfield, so campy-corny. While the audience eventually simmered down, I could not contain myself during other inadvertently campy scenes. (Incidentally, I loved "Far From Heaven.") Jeff Daniels' fey characterization was both horrible and a hoot as Ed Harris' other ex-lover. Didn't this crap go out with "The Boys in the Band"? I can't help thinking: "The Hours" might have been hot stuff back in 1970, but in 2003? GIMME A BREAK!

I won't go into this cinematic disappointment very deeply -- it's not worth it -- but let me say, Julianne Moore and Ed Harris were both wonderful (big surprise, eh?). What was a big surprise was the flat performance by Meryl Streep (coming so soon after I had enjoyed her thoroughly in "Adaptation"), although that could be the character she played. Another pleasant surprise was the intense performance by Nicole Kidman, her best since "Eyes Wide Shut." Although Nicole is NOT one of my favorite actresses by far, I can't imagine anyone else doing the role as well (including Streep or my favorite, Cate Blanchett; well, at least Cate wouldn't have needed the putty nose!). Miranda Richardson, always ignored in the write-ups of this film, also is quite good, though her role is too short (as is the Virginia Woolf sequence; I think the film would have been far better if it focused more on Woolf).

Another irritation is that reviewers and critics almost unanimously fail to point out is about lesbians and gays; I honestly don't know what to think about that.... Is the fact that Virginia Woolf is in the picture serve as a "brand" that this is gay-themed? and please -- this isn't homophobia -- Fassbinder is my favorite post-war director -- I'm just not sure why this isn't highlighted; surely, Laura's "problem" isn't so much being married to an ugly slob like John C. Holmes, er, I mean Reilly, but the fact that she is gay and stuck in a loveless marriage.

All in all, a botch, but not without its interest.

Europa
(1991)

A masterpiece as exciting as the birth of film
EUROPA (ZENTROPA) is a masterpiece that gives the viewer the excitement that must have come with the birth of the narrative film nearly a century ago. This film is truly unique, and a work of genius. The camerawork and the editing are brilliant, and combined with the narrative tropes of alienation used in the film, creates an eerie and unforgettable cinematic experience.

The participation of Barbara Suwkowa and Eddie Constantine in the cast are two guilty pleasures that should be seen and enjoyed. Max Von Sydow provides his great voice as the narrator.

A one of a kind movie! Four stars (highest rating).

The Planet of Junior Brown
(1997)

An overlooked gem of a film
The Planet of Junior Brown is an overlooked gem of a film. I've seen it three times now, and each time it gets better, the sign of a rich cinematic experience.

The first time I saw the film, I was jarred a little by its tone; the meshing of realism and an alternative "reality" of dreams threw me off. On my second viewing of the film, I recognized this "reality" as mytho-poetic, and also recognized myself in the relationship of Junior and his mother, though we are from different cultures, countries, "races" and backgrounds. There is a universality in this movie that comes across nicely due to the mytho-poetic quality of director Clement Virgo's art. It's a quite beautiful and moving little gem of a film, though it is suffused with melancholy due to a certain ambiguity in the ending. (Is Junior imagining what transpires in the final scene; is it a dream? Is Junior delusional? Has he slipped the bonds of his harsh reality and retreated into some secret place inside his head?)

Films are all about dreams, and I didn't really understand or love THE PLANET OF JUNIOR BROWN until I realized that it was created from the stuff of dreams, putting it firmly in the realm of the mytho-poetic.

Watch this film, not once, but twice or more. You will be rewarded.

One-Eyed Jacks
(1961)

A superb Western and an excellent Oedpial drama
One-Eyed Jacks not only is a superb Western, one of my all-time favorites, it is also an excellent Oedipal drama that moves beyond the bounds of genre into the mytho-poetic. Brando and Karl Malden both turn in outstanding performances, and the supporting cast, featuring Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson and Katy Jurado, is wonderful.

Incidentally, the featured user comment "The Lost Eye, The Lost Ear" by tedg is erroneous: Stanley Kubrick was fired from the picture, tentatively titled "A Burst of Vermillion," BEFORE he was called on by Kirk Douglas, who had an option on his services as part of the contract for "Paths of Glory," to replace the fired Anthony Mann on "Spartacus." Kubrick, who had increasingly become fed up with the snail-pace progress on developing the script due to Marlon Brando's eccentric work methods, had wanted to cast Spencer Tracy in the role of Dad Longworth, but Brando was adamant about Karl Malden filling the role. According to one account, a frustrated Kubrick has asked Brando: "Marlon, I don't know what this picture is about."

"It's about the $400,000 I've paid Karl Malden."

Kubrick, according to the account, said he could not work under those conditions and quit the picture. (Another account holds that Brando overheard Kubrick tell one of the producers that they'd have to keep Brando away from the script if they were ever to make the shooting date. Brando then fired him.) Officially, the press release said that Kubrick had resigned in order to work on "Lolita," the then infamous Nabokov novel he and his producer partner James Harris (also under contract to Kirk Douglas) had recently acquired.

"One-Eyed Jacks" began shooting in late 1958 (whereas "Spartacus" began shooting in early 1959) and went months over schedule and millions over budget, being shot in the expensive VistaVision process that cost 50 cents a foot in late 1950s prices. Brando reportedly shot hundreds of thousands of feet of footage as he sought inspiration for both himself and his actors, particularly the emotionally fragile Pina Pellicer, the young Mexican actress who had just set out on her tragically abbreviated career. It is said that Karl Malden always calls his beautiful Los Angeles home "The House That 'One-Eyed Jacks' Built" due to the small fortune in over-time he made from the film.

Incidentally, Sam Peckinpah wrote the first draft of the screenplay, based on the novel "The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones," a fictionalized retelling of the life of Billy the Kid. Later, Peckinpah would incorporate similar material such as the jailhouse scenes into his retelling of the Billy the Kid legend, "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid." In a PLAYBOY interview, Peckinpah explained that he was fired by Brando as Peckinpah had written Rio, the protagonist, as a killer as Billy the Kid was a killer in real-life and Brando would not play such a character.

The film took over a year to edit after principal photography ended in 1959. Eventually, the studio took the film away from Brando and recut it to their own tastes. Brando reportedly did not object, becoming fed-up with editing after spending so much time trying to perfect his film. He did complain, after the fact, that the studio cut took away the moral ambiguity he sought for his character. Brando said that all the characters in the film but Dad Longworth, the ostensible heavy, are two faced -- "one-eyed jacks," with one face on top, the public face, and another face that is hidden. Although Rio accuses Dad of being a "one-eyed jack," to Brando, Dad was the only one who was honest in the film.

In Brando's cut, Dad's last shot meant for Rio hits his step-daughter Louisa instead, killing her and thus leaving Rio with nothing in the end. The studio used the alternative ending where Rio and Louisa have an emotional parting at the beach, and Rio promises to return to her.

In a development that seemingly foreshadows his future personal life, Brando had an affair on-set with Pina Pellicer, who later committed suicide. Their scenes together are quite affecting as they are emotionally true.

Solaris
(2002)

Incredibly banal
I did not walk into the movie theater with very high hopes for this film as Andrei Tarkovsky's version of Stanislaw Lem's 1961 novel "Solyaris" is one of my all-time favorite films. However, I was not prepared for how incredibly banal Soderbergh's version turned out to be. This film is, quite frankly, a BOMB.

There is little to say other than the fact that despite Soderbergh's first-rate craftsmanship, as a director, he lacks power; he is not of the first-rank of cinema artists, not matter how much he strives to be. He is not even in Spielberg's class of being an uber-technician/craftsman as at least Speilberg, even at his most banal, can deliver the goods. The new "Solaris" IS BORING.

The film is a terrible misfire. Focusing on the relationship of Kelvin and his "wife" to all else saps the film of the power of Tarkovsky's classic, which I always characterized as a more intellectual "2001." This film lacks the philosophical power of the Tarkovsky film. In sum, Soderberg's version of "Solaris" is relentlessly SHALLOW.

Clooney is not appropriately cast, and his lack of acting chops robs the audience of identification as there is no character development that a fine actor like Kevin Spacey could give this role. Clooney's performance never really develops, his character never really changes; Kelvin, as played by Clooney, is a depressed wimp at the beginning and throughout the film. It's strange to see an actor as macho as Clooney playing a character on the border of hysteria. It might have made sense if we watched the character deteriorate, but as it was played, the character is poorly realized.

As for the other actors, Natasha McElhone is better than she was in FearDot.Com, and this is NOT like saying Pauley Shore was better in SON-IN-LAW than he was in BIO-DOME; she's not only beautiful, but gives a decent performance; however, what she lacks is star power, the charisma that a star like Julia Roberts can bring to a picture, thus making Kelvin's yearning and his ultimate decision more real. McElhone just isn't up to the demands of the role as realized in this film (as opposed to Tarkovsky's "Solyaris," where the character is not quite as prominent). She lacks weight. While I don't think it's her fault as much as the director's, many times she struck me as having been teleported in from a shampoo commercial. She is just there to look pretty in some interminable sequences that scream "STUDENT FILM." I guess this is Soderbergh's way of reclaiming his "art house" roots, but frankly, it's ridiculous, as is some of the dialogue, which is just plain bad, not even bad enough to border on camp (and thus give the audience some pleasure).

Jeremy Davies, who was so excellent in PRIVATE RYAN, quickly is solidifying his reputation as the worst actor on celluloid. Here, he channels the spirit of Travis Bickle, but Mr. Davies, you are no Robert DeNiro. It's becoming excruciating watching Davies in any movie; each movie, he is actually getting worse.

On an upbeat note, Viola Davis was good.

I voted this film a "2" (as the production design is excellent, as is the soundtrack), but is really is a BOMB.

Beware a Michaelangelo-inspired visual motif towards the end when Soderbergh really begins channeling the spirit of Stanley Kubrick.

Stephen, I knew Kubrick and you're not Kubrick, nor will you ever be.

The Web site for "Solaris" presents the film as being from two Academy Award winners, James Cameron and Soderbergh. Just remember: Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and Martin Scorecese never won a Best Director Oscar; John G. Avildsen did. 'Nuff said.

Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw
(1976)

The Epitome of White Trash Cinema!!!
This film is a drive-in classic! It is exactly what a low-budget movie should be: never boring. It has it all: broads, guns, bloodshed, redneck preacher-gone-bad. Lynda Carter and Belinda Balaski are the standouts in the cast, primarily when they cast off their duds! I can't wait until this comes out on DVD! It will be a proud edition to my library.

Feardotcom
(2002)

If Se7en was a ten, this rates a one!
If "Se7en," the film "fear dot com" aspires to be, rates a ten as a modern classic, this turkey rates a one! (Actually, I voted it a three, though I meant to give it a two -- go figure! I must have been possessed by the spirits of the damned souls who had to market this garbage, let alone watch it.

Speaking of "Spirits of the Dead" (the omnibus film of Poe stories from the mid-'60s), did the visual trope of the child with the white ball lifted from "Toby Damnit" irritate anyone else? Is it supposed to be pleasing, lifting a cherished image created by the master filmmaker Federico Fellini and plopping it down in this garbage? What about the gloss on "Brazil" in the climax, where the doctor is caught in his torture chamber? Once again, the purveyors of "fear dot com" have glossed modern classics and far better filmmakers in the service of dreck, leading one to ponder a question for our age: Has film school destroyed creativity among directors? That's about as interesting an angle as I can make from this mess.

Pity poor Stephen Rhea, "one of today's leading actors" according to the movie's web site. His performance as the doctor makes Bela Lugosi in "Bride of the Monster" seem like Olivier's Hamlet by comparison! Watching him, a far far long way from his Oscar nomination for the Crying Game, I actually began to visualize him cashing his pay cheque while trying to maintain some kind of dignity; I feel that likely he failed, and the face he presented to the bank clerk that day must have looked as forlorn and ravaged as the visage presented here in this film. The only reason I can imagine the producers hired Mr. Rea is that they didn't have to pay for a fright wig to costume him with, such is the quality of his own coiffure, which along with the Brobdingnagian bags under his eyes, are about all that passes for characterization on his part IN THIS PART.

Brad Dorf and Natascha McElhone are too WASPY, too California good looking-youthful vitality to be convincing as New Yorkers, let alone New Yorkers working for the NYPD and health department, respectively. Dorf is too young and doesn't "look Irish" to play Doghouse Reilly (when I heard his character's surname, I thought of fellow WASP Humphrey Bogart's joke, calling himself Doghouse Reilly to the little sister in Howard Hawks' "The Big Sleep"; Dorf as a mick detective is a joke, though less funny.) McElhone looks like a fashion model. When she says she doesn't go out much, it was another unintended joke; a gal that looks like Natascha wouldn't be begging for male attention -- she'd be able to make a living as a kept woman, to put it less vulgarly. Both the leads just don't look right for their roles. In addition, the "New York" of the film is so patently false that they could have filmed it in Uzbekistan for the lack of verisimilitude.

I went to see this turkey 'cause the L.A. Times critic said it was so bad it was funny. Well, it was as bad as the critic said, but aside from a couple of belly laughs triggered by some unintentionally awful lines, this wasn't enjoyable like "Plan 9 From Outerspace" or "Bride of the Monster." It just plain was AWFUL.

I ought to sue the Times for journalistic malpractice!

A Beautiful Mind
(2001)

Did John Nash make that speech at the Nobel Prize award ceremony?
To answer to the question John Nash did not give the speech at the Nobel Prize ceremony that is in the film A BEAUTIFUL MIND; the only Nobel Prize winner that gives a speech is the Peace Prize winner (or the Literature winner -- there's only one that is allowed to speak, and I can't remember which -- I'm not losing my mind, just my memory). Nash gave no speech at all; he held a press conference. The speech is a fabrication of the screenwriter.

Nash won the Nobel MEMORIAL Prize in Economics, which is not a true Nobel Prize, by the way. It is not funded by the Nobel will (which is the reason the guy vetting Nash for the prize explains that money has to be raised for it). I read the book when it first came out and barely remember it (though I remember it being a good read -- that darn memory again), but I believe it had covered the extensive politicking behind the prize which was fascinating in itself.

I thought the film was horrible. One leaves the theater not knowing anything about John Nash (the real John Nash), mental illness, or life itself. Love did not cure John Nash -- the best explanation for the spontaneous remission of his schizophrenia is hormonal changes that began when he reached his 50s. Love does not cure schizophrenia, folks, outside of a Hollywood suds fest.

What is so egregious about leaving out Nash's bisexuality is that the "Red Scare" and purges in the U.S. in the late 1940s/1950s targeted homosexuals as security risks. (This explains why Nash in real life was fired from the Rand Corp. -- the "think tank" so intertwined with the Vietnam War -- after allegedly making a pass at another man.) Homosexuals were considered "mentally ill" officially by the American Psychiatric Assn. until the early 1970s. They were, and continue to be considered, security risks by the military-industrial establishment.

The film is nearly a constant lie from beginning to end. One mourns for the great film that could have resulted from such material put in the hands of a great director with a taste for the duality/perversity of life as truly lived, say Atom Egoyan. Ron "Opie" Howard's direction is abysmal. This is a child actor morphed into big budget Hollywood director that has no point-of-view/take on life other than the box office. Schmaltz equals box office, so that's what we get. "That's entertainment!" I don't believe Opie knows anything about what it's like to attend a university such as Princeton, let alone what it is like to be afflicted by genius-cum-schizophrenia or to live life in the real world. It is a movie with a profound deficit in wisdom.

I found the performances to be incredibly over-hyped; Jennifer Connelly is fine, but she does not give a performance of award-winning caliber unless the award is such hype-driven "Let's honor the latest B-movie bimbo morphed serious actress" awards as as the Oscar. I was also not disappointed to see her breasts, or her in revealing outfits. (It's the 1950s -- why isn't she in a girdle or some other foundation garments? There is not attention to detail in this film; it's all softened to evoke the year 2001 through a nostalgic filter. "The Man Who Wasn't There," in contrast, masterfully evokes the feel of the '50s. I could remember the feel starched shirts, tiny sports jackets, clasp-on ties and faux-fedoras my brother and I wore to church in the early 1960s while watching "Man." "Beautiful Mind," in contrast, evokes the 1990s, what with portable nukes, the word "meds," the digital readout implant, etc. Soft focus filmmaking, geared towards not challenging the audience even minutely.) I mention Connelly's assets as after watching her over many years, including her wonderful turn in "Waking the Dead," one comes to expect seeing her breasts, or oogling her in something sexy. You're disappointed when it doesn't come off.

The one-note performance of Russell Crowe makes me doubt my earlier assessment of him as a very talented actor. There is no development at all in his characterization of John Nash, and while I would like to blame the director, I think back on his performances in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and THE INSIDER (the latter of which I liked enormously) and see his Nash is just a variation of his "wounded" shtick. It was monotonous, to watch Nash as a loon from beginning to end. None of Crowe's characterizations, on second thought, show any development at all.

While I will concede with Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind" that I was watching an actor of some talent (though not greatly gifted), but I was watching an actor "acting" rather than an actor as the character (as Tom Wilkinson, who gave the most outstanding performance in English-language film this year, does in "In The Bedroom" -- you forget you're watching an actor acting and are watching the character himself). There is no fluidity at all in Crowe's characterization, nothing of the seamlessness of when a great actor becomes the character her plays. we're watching a cobbled-together performance, something more akin to elocution, "gestures" that will convey to the ordinary mass "My -- aren't I watching 'great acting.'" Crowe could have used semaphores (as opposed to the lazy or bored actor "phoning in" his performance; I supposed the audience gives extra credit for extra effort in really getting out there and "acting"). Crowe gives us a herky-jerky nut-case who becomes almost laughable two-thirds into the film. While watching the film, I began to think that Tom Hanks would have done a much better job with the character.

I have had a long-standing argument with my girlfriend over the merits of Tom Hanks as an actor -- I'm not a fan of his, she is -- but watching Crowe's "good" bad acting made me appreciate that Hanks is indeed a truly good actor. A hallmark of an outstanding performance is when you cannot imagine another actor in the role -- I can not only imagine other actors in the role of John Nash, but other actors giving a far better, far more believable performance than the over-hyped Russell Crowe. Apart from Hanks, Gary Oldman would have been terrific in this role. There's such a scent of ham in Crowe's characterization, all's I can think is -- if you're going to go that route, why not with the greatest slice of ham in the world -- Mr. Oldman? Gary never made it to star status and then began weighing roles by the size of his pay-cheque, but he is at heart a terrific actor, albeit a really full-bore, over-the-top one, but if that's the way the director wanted it played -- as an out and out looney tune -- why not go with a great actor that can give you a fluid performance that is not a bunch of cobbled together tics (and whose "West Virginia" accent wanes more than Nash's schizophrenia as portrayed in the film).

This film is terrible -- it makes a caricature of a genius, a caricature of someone who is mentally ill. Fifty years from now, if there still is a good ol' planet Earth, people will look back and see Crowe's unenlightened performance (as orchestrated by Opie) to be the equivalent of Step-in-Fetchit.

They Call Me Bruce
(1982)

One of the most inept films I've ever seen; as compelling as a car crash
This is one of the most inept films in terms of craft I've ever seen. It is so poorly filmed that it makes an Ed Wood, Jr. movie or one of Oscar Micheaux's later films that are plagued by continuity problems seem masterpieces of craft in comparison. "They Call Me Bruce?" makes Wood's GLEN OR GLENDA? seem like Eisenstein's POTEMKIN.

The acting was atrocious, yet the film was strangely compelling -- as compelling as watching a car crash. I'm not joking. It takes some kind of negative panache to pull off a film that is so GODAWFUL. I just kept watching and watching, appalled yet fascinated. The scene in the Hair Styling salon, where Johnny Yune is wearing a blonde wig and a mumu and is posing as a mannikin (a mafia torpedo, looking for Yune's character in the shop, keeps stabbing the mannikin next to which Yune stands, never once noticing that Yune keeps moving to reposition himself down the line of mannikins to avoid getting stabbed himself; the torpedo's partner, holding a pistol to the shopkeeper's head, never notices the moving "mannikin" either, distracted as they are by the shouting of the clever shopkeeper) is just unbelievable. Talk about suspension of disbelief!

The scene that preceded this one, where a group of African Americans hold Yune and his partner at knife point and Yune speaks to them by using a HOW TO TALK JIVE dictionary, is also simply unbelievable. Yune's wooing of the African American "gang-members" with jive, who comport themselves with much eye-rolling, "jive-talking" and "soulful" body movements (imitated by Yune's character) that make the late Stepin Fetchit's shtick seem to ne as dignified as Paul Robeson in comparison, is one of the landmark moments of the cinema in the sense that it likely would wind up in some TV documentary about racism if this movie wasn't so damn obscure! If there ever is a TV doc about Asian-African American racism, this could be exhibit #1!

Hamlet
(2000)

A Comedy Tonight!
If you want a hoot, rent the Ethan Hawke "Hamlet." I laughed so hard my tush ached! I literally choked with laughter. Bill Murray's performance as Polonius is his funniest turn since SNL.

Unfortunately for Murray, Hawke & Co., the movie seemingly was being played straight, but it's the sheer amateurishness and incompetence that makes it a delight (although I had to turn it off after Ophelia's mad scene in the Guggenheim Museum; Julia Stiles is plain awful, though it's more the director's fault than hers I feel).

Hawke, Murray and Stiles seemingly not know a thing about what the play is about, or even the logic of what they are saying. The director's imagination and intelligence seems to have stopped with the idea of transposing "Hamlet" to the Manhattan patrician class circa 2000; why the language couldn't be updated to avoid the dissonance and illogic created by images/mise en scene that don't match the words of the play is beyond me. Would it have been too much, since Denmark is changed from a kingdom/country into a business enterprise, to change the word "state" to "corporation" (the latter word having as much import these days as "state" did a generation ago), or to drop the references to King, Queen, etc.? Laertes' warning to Ophelia to protect her "chaste treasure," played straight-faced, is ludicrous when the actress playing the part is the hard-edged Stiles.

It's a one-shot idea, "Hamlet" in contemporary New York City, and this movie gives one the impression of a particularly poor community theater in over its head, except that the community theater wouldn't be using product placements for a beer and a major video chain. (Would any serious film student go to the major chain and not a boutique video store? This is Manhattan, not Hodge Podge Lodge, Maine. And for a director to have Hamlet place two beer bottles before Ophelia with their labels clearly visible just screaming PRODUCT PLACEMENT -- this is a serious artist?)

I rated it a one (1) as there is no zero. Dreck, but not without its amusements.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence
(2001)

Unbelievably Bad
Classic Stanley Kubrick? I think not! "A.I." was unbelievably bad. At the end, when the purely Spielbergian vision took over, I was musing "I'd like to have a peek at the notes of his psychiatrist." I have never seen the Oedipus complex realized so crudely in any cultural artifact as it was in "A.I."

The last section could have been brilliant in the hands of a mature master like the great Kubrick (granting the boy his wish to become human and then putting him in a cock-eyed world of "humanity" as envisioned by the aliens in a faux-happy-ending would have been a marvelous satire and served to elucidate the human condition), but in the hands of the praeternaturally immature Spielberg, it becomes fodder for the above musing on the director's mental health.

A perfectly egregious film!

Pennies from Heaven
(1978)

The Greatest Thing That Has Been Made for Television
"Pennies from Heaven" is the greatest thing that has been made for television (if we think of Fassbinder's "Berlin Alexanderplatz" as a film rather than television). Superb. Bob Hoskins is brilliant.

It is a sin this isn't available on tape of DVD.

Brewster McCloud
(1970)

Inspired lunacy
One of the strangest, quirkiest, downright oddest films you'll ever see. It's quite wonderful in its own demented way. Probably not a film you'll watch more than once a decade, but definitel not to be missed. Altman is a master.

White Lies
(1998)

A Noble Effort With a Great Sarah Polley Performance
Sarah Polley is excellent in this admirable TV movie. Her Catherine is a memorable performance. Her acting skill is so amazing, sometimes it is disconcerting, as when she turns the tables on a government official holding the anti-racism portfolio and you find yourself rooting for a neo-Nazi! The film is generously endowed with many extreme closeups of that amazing face that is able to show so much with so little obvious "acting."

Go
(1999)

Four reasons to watch "Go"
There are four, not three, but four reasons to watch this movie:

1. Sarah Polley

2. Sarah Polley

3. Sarah Polley

4. Sarah Polley.

Any questions?

Don't Think Twice
(1999)

A wonderful short film
"Don't Think Twice" is quite wonderful. It's well shot, and the acting is fine, but what I like is that everything, from the lighting, to the composition of the frame, to the dialogue perfectly underscores the theme of duality and duplicity. I also found it humorous, though I don't beleve everyone will; it is a pretty dark vision, both literally and figuratively.

Freeway
(1996)

Reese Witherspoon is Wonderful
There's one reason to see this film -- to see Reese Witherspoon's delightful comic performance. The film is a good black comedy that I would recomend to anyone, particular anyone cynical, but Reese's performance makes the film. As she's shown in "Election," she is an extremely talented comedienne. She creates caricatures, yes, but what caricatures! Her line readings are just so awesome at times!

Once I got over the grotesqueness of a black comedy about a serial killer preying on women and got into the swing of things (because of Reese and her terric performance), I just laughed and laughed. I want to see more Reese films!

Being John Malkovich
(1999)

Wonderful! Cusak and Diaz were never better!
Spike Jonz is the new Terry Gilliam! He creates a wonderul, loopy world that, despite its absurdity, pulls you in immediately and has you believing in its logic. I think this flick is destined to be a minor classic. Jonz is a talent that likely will flourish as he has that ability, like my favorite directors, of creating a time and a place, an environment, that the viewer enters and inhabits along with the characters. John Cusak and Cameron Diaz, two actors I do not like much, were very very good. And Jonz should be canonized for giving a role to Orson Bean. Welcome back, Orson!

The Sweet Hereafter
(1997)

A very fine picture
This was a very fine picture, and must be one of the best films of the 1990s. The film is well-crafted, and the way it develops and resolves its conflicts is evocative of a very good novel. This is not to say that this isn't cinema as a cinema; it's just my way of saying it is a rich experience, as rich as a novel. Ian Holm is excellent as the lawyer, and Sarah Polley is a major talent. (Forget the Uma Thurman comparisons, this girl can act! Her face conveys such feeling and intelligence!) This is one film I would actually buy when I get my DVD player as it is a film one could watch multiple times, like a good book!

The Madness of King George
(1994)

A slight cut above Masterpiece Theater mediocrity
Watching this film, I couldn't help but think how better it could have been. I wished Stanley Kubrick had made a film of this material (rather than wasting his talent on EYES WIDE SHUT, but of course, Kubrick was such an auteur, had to control all aspects of a production and would not deign to stoop to actually using another man's material) as he would have created a real film, with a real feeling of time and place. This movie is not cinematic enough; it is too close to being a filmed play (and a mediocre one at that). It is actually mediocre, despite the good, but unspectacular acting. There is nothing in the dialogue that is interesting, or poetic, or transcendent, or makes you think. What Bertolt Brecht could have done with this material! Another thing that was irritating was the continual reference to the Prince of Wales as fat (historical, he was fat, and several courtiers paid the price of commenting on this fact), but the character was played by Rupert Everett (in a ho-hum performance that bordered on caricature at times), who clearly was not only NOT fat but not even remotely overweight. Such a lack of attention to detail is typical of mediocrity. (A very chubby Peter Ustinov played the Prince and played him well in BEAU BRUMMEL, which also addresses this period and the madness of King George, played by good old Robert Morley.) None of the acting was particularly outstanding; the performances have been vastly overrated. The interiors were nice, but the direction was so uninspired, the film just escaped becoming an egregious bore! And I never really believed that the history was right (I must look it up in my HISTORY OF ENGLAND). All in all, you can do much worse, but beware and be wary!

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