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The Salton Sea

Powerful Film, Amazingly Underrated
I have two memories of The Salton Sea from before I ever saw it. First, it was always in the cheap box at the movie store, and second, I liked the cover.

So one Christmas, I picked a copy up for a friend, having heard good things. I could not have imagined what a strong film it was going to be, and it has been a personal favorite of mine ever since.

It has all the pieces of a great film: an original story told through intense direction, a unique, perfectly acted main character(Kilmer's best by far); a fantastic villain (Vincent D'onofrio's masterpiece performance) and a brutally powerful ending.

If you are in the mood for a fast, entertaining, dark, powerful and stylish neo-noir vengeance story; The Salton Sea is for you.

Get a copy, you won't be let down, everything is absolutely first rate; and the film approaches greatness.

Where the Truth Lies

The Beautiful and The Bizarre-It doesn't quite come together, but the effect is potent.
Warning: vague, minor spoilers. Not really, but hey better safe than sorry.

Here is a movie so delightful, messy, strange, sexy, and all together not quite there; that it makes me glad that films like it are still being made.

Egoyan soaks the film with a shining visual flare, and the characters leap off screen demanding to be fantastic. With such flamboyant settings, people, and actions, casting is absolutely critical. This is where Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth are invaluable and perfect. They are so famous, so flamboyant on their own and so well known that we are drawn into this story right along with Karen. And let's face it, they are all sexuality, with evil and lies boiling just beneath the surface. This is that rare kind of film that does justice to a phrase like that which is usually written on the cover but not delivered in the movie.These men carry their own persona into the film, and deliver just the right amount of insanity and insecurity. Watch Bacon's Lanny yell at a waiter for bringing lobster to the Jewish Lanny. Watch Firth's Vince stumble away from Lanny and Maureen reeling with rejection and sexual confusion. Watch Lanny lean over and kiss Vince's cheek while they perform high. The movie could have been all style and intrigue and little substance; but since Egoyan is directing, the sexual scenes are handled deeply, the drugs are films in full glory, and poignancy creeps in through cracks of the story.

Alison Lohman, who was SO good in the vastly underrated "Matchstick Men" has a good part here as a young journalist still somewhat infatuated with Lanny and Vince's famous duo. For me, her performance is the only one that never really takes off and leaves the screen, but I still went along with her character Karen, and it is not a serious or terribly noticeable flaw, simply a slight mismatching of actress to character; all though perhaps I find Karen a bit weaker and smarter than the other characters and no actress could have changed that.

Some quotes are a bit "bookish" and take us out of the movie for a moment, but even them I found working excellently. Bacon's voice-over in particular drips with confident malevolence. He has a speech on what he sees in Maureen's eyes in a key moment, that at first seems ridiculous and distant, but had me coming back and appreciating it more and more.

Overall, if you like the looks of the film/story/trailer/or even cover, it certainly delivers, and you will love it. The combination of drugs, mystery, lies, murder, fame, bisexuality, more drugs, more sex, and above all, Egoyan's flashy but confident directing, is stunning.

Not perfect, but a wild ride about manipulation, consequences, fame, and sex.

King Kong

A Classically Beautiful Movie, Ambitious and Successful
First of all, what an ambitious film this is. Jackson wasted no time trying to one-up his LOTR success and went straight for the kill. And he has succeeded one-hundred percent.

Jackson is in his territory here, filming a story he loves and it works out with uncanny beauty, amazing sights, classic characters and breathtaking energy.

First we have Jack Black as Carl Durham the selfish director. Who would have thought it? Can Black handle this kind of straight (mostly) drama? Perfectly. An he has the look with his 1930's hair flopping around as he hightails it to a ship with stolen film.

Then there is Naomi Watts. If ever there was an actress for this role: no one will disagree, it is Naomi Watts. Flawlessly beautiful, endlessly empathetic and quietly emotional; we see her go from horror to love as she slowly understands King Kong.

Almost every inch of this movie is flawless. It has heedless energy and wonderful characters that, combined with the beautifully constructed; somewhat surreal (due to the thick CGI, which is well done) scenery occupy the movie so strongly that we never complain about the three-hour running time.

The three-act film takes place on a ship and in the city, on Skull Island, and then back in the heart of the city. During this time Jack Driscol (Adrien Brody, perfectly) and Ann Darrow (Ms. Watts) will grow towards love; the young Jimmy (the wonderful, underused Jamie Bell, convincingly) will be mentored and and grow into a hero. and Durham (Jack Blacl) will turn from an good-intentioned filmmaker to a rather ruthlessly greedy man.

And then there is Kong. At home in magnificent action sequences fighting three T-rex's at a time he is also unbelievably good at getting us to care for him; and his playful interaction with Ann Darrow is one of the film's many pleasures.

The film proceeds to its final, explosive ending; but still fits in time for a quiet sunset and a sequence on ice which reveal the heart of the film. It is moving and powerful in a way that is sad and delights at the same time; and will remind any willing moviegoer of the power movies have for us when we are young children.

This is a wonderful film. See it.

Open Range

A Strong, Deeply Felt Classic.
Open Range was a very pleasant surprise to me. I had't heard much about it when it came out; but am extremely glad that I bought it.

Western is a very special genre; it has that something, that je ne sais quois that we go to movies to get. It reminds us what film is for in the first place. I am all for edgy movies (Requiem for a Dream, etc.) but there is a special place in my mind for a film like "Open Range" This project, headed by the lately ill-fated Kevin Costner, goes right from the first scene to the last. It opens quietly, and beautifully, introducing us to four free-rangers who remind us that there are still movies about decent people worth caring about. They are Boss (Robert Duvall) Charlie (Kostner) Mose, and Button, a sixteen-year-old Mexican played by Diego Luna (The Terminal, Y Tu Mama Tambien) These open-rangers spend their days living simple lives until they are interrupted by run ins with a vicious rancher in town named Baxter. HE is played sneeringly well by the always convincing Michael Gambon (Layer Cake, Wives and Daughters) and soon, Boss and Charlie are breaking Mose out of jail.

Baxter has the town in the palm of his hand, including the weak, cowardly sheriff; and Boss and Charlie plan on never returning; except for the fact that Charlie can't help but notice the doctor's beautiful sister, Sue (Anette Benning).

Circumstances build up to a final confrontation where Boss and Charlie will have to face the corrupt, vicious Baxter and his men.

The movie lifts itsself out of mediocrity and transcends its genre by being convincing, never flashy; well written and stopping us in our tracks with the immediacy of its violence.

The gunfights are not graphic, but they hit hard and we realize that these are real flesh-and-blood men and not superheros.

The story contains plenty to involve us deeply with the characters and make us care about them; especially Boss's tough love treatment of Mose and Button. Also, Charlie's character is developed as we learn about his past, giving his actions all the more weight.

Romance is handled tactfully and sweetly, even though it gets a little much screen time; and the cinematography (filmed in Canada) is of course, calmly breathtaking.

The movie has an aura that lacks pretension, simply setting forth to tell a good story about a time in history when values were fought for and men and women were really just as human and deeply alive as us, even though hardly as advanced or cynical.

It is a pleasure to watch actors like Duval play roles like this and Diego Luna is always wonderfully young and vibrant. I liked the fact that Mose was goodhearted and not obnoxious; and also the nice friendship he shares with Button; mirrored by Boss and Charlie's comraderie.

The film builds slowly and inevitably to the final conflict, which is intense, given time to have impact; and best of all, done with complex but simply stated shots, and not a single quick-cut flashy sequence like so many action movies indulge in these days.

Very few films are for everyone, but I think that if given the chance, Open Range can remind any moviegoer, as it did me, how a good story, solid acting, and meaningful action can still make a wonderful, old-fashioned film.

Raging Bull

Scorcese's Personal Masterpiece- a Must See
Probably the most deeply affecting film I have ever seen, Raging Bull towers as a masterpiece of cinema. Scorcese's personally urgent portrait of a man in need of redemption, it is the most powerful film I have ever seen. Watchable multiple times, Raging Bull contains astonishing scenes of pure, unbridled emotional truth; as well as intense, raw fight scenes.

It is the tragic story of Jake LaMotta, a boxer who in the ring was never knocked down. He experienced little but downfall in his personal life, as his paranoid torment and sexual inadequacy drove him to alienate everyone that he had loved.

At home he was paralyzed by suspicions of his young wife, Vicky, cheating on him. In the ring he punishes her and himself by dealing out and receiving incredible amounts of pain as his payment for a deeply sinful nature.

Scorcese's work ranks with the greatest portraits of tortured artists (by that I mean both LaMotta, and Scorcese at the time) in this film which was made by Scorcese because of how strongly he related to the fundamental male need to torture himself over his lack of understanding towards women.

In Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, Scorcese's hero's guilt led them to hold their fists over flames, testing the fires of Hell. In Raging Bull, Scorcese sends Jake LaMotts into a pounding, animalistic, physical Hell on earth every time he steps into the brutal, unforgiving ring.

Scorcese's choice choice to film in crisp black and white gives the film an authentic but surreal tone that brings it closer to real life than most movies. It is beautifully shot, and the black and white elevates it to a timeless, mythic place in the viewers mind.

Robert Deniro's performance as Jake LaMotta can never be matched or compared. It leaves the realm of performance and instead is an embodiment. Famously gaining sixty pounds for the tragically extraordinary final moments, Deniro finds moments of unbelievable power and uncompromising truth in a man flawed not because he is evil; but so uncontrollably, paralyzingly human. It ranks alongside Charlize Theron's performance in Monster as the number one piece of acting in the history of cinema.

Failing miserably at the box office (Raging Bulls filming budget was 18 million, compared to its box office take of 0 million), and unloved by critics who felt that it was an ugly story about ugly people, Raging Bull was not a financial success story. Instead it was discovered over the years as the art that it was and is now considered one of the best films of all time.

Any honest person who watches this film will find a riveting, emotionally draining film about what it means to be human. One of very, very few films that I found lived up to all of its expectations and beyond. It occupies a powerful place in my mind, and in the history of film.

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