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Shakespeare in Love (1998)
A Beautifully Crafted Story of Art...and Love.
Ughhh, bummer -- I wrote a lengthy review of this wonderful movie earlier today, and when I went to submit it I lost my Internet connection. So frustrating, so now I'm just going to wing it.
"Shakespeare in Love" is fantastic, and this is coming from one of those boyfriends who has been forced to watch "The Notebook," "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and the rest of those chick flicks that make us vomit and our girlfriends "awwwww."
But this movie is different. Sure I'm probably biased as an English major who studied Shakespeare extensively, but director John Madden's film is a joy to watch, independent of the specifics of Shakes' work. The cast -- led by Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow, and supported by Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Affleck, and Geoffrey Rush -- is outstanding. Fiennes and Paltrow are in the leading roles, but they do an excellent job allowing the supporting players to shine around them...and that they do.
I could go on for days about the specifics of "Shakespeare in Love," but I already did once today, and I didn't get to publish it. Thanks a bunch, Internet. Anyway, I'm not getting paid to write for this site, so I guess there's little need for me to babble on. In short, if you have a love for great art and cinema, see this movie. I won't even go as far as to say "you won't regret it."
Oops, I just did.
Boiler Room (2000)
One of the BEST cult films of the decade
If you're on IMDb and reading this review, I'm sure you know what a "cult" film is ("Donnie Darko" and "The Boondock Saints" are prime examples), and "Boiler Room" has become exactly that. It's a niche movie for 18-30 year old men who are frustrated with the grind, and would prefer an easier, quicker way to riches. "Boiler Room" also has some of the pent up male aggression that was astutely highlighted in "Fight Club."
As Seth Davis, Giovanni Ribisi plays the lead in this film. While his performance is solid and adequate in handling the most screen time, he is not the star of the show. Ben Affleck (as Jim Young), Nicky Katt (as Greg Weinstein), and Vin Diesel (as Chris Varick) provide the standout efforts of this ensemble cast.
Affleck, in an ode to Alec Baldwin's character in "Glengarry Glen Ross," is slick-talking, persuasive, and funny at the same time. Along with his work in "Good Will Hunting," this is one of the best performances of his interesting on-screen career. The same can be said of Diesel who, for once, doesn't appear to be out of sync or awkward in the delivery of his lines. His performance is smooth and a very, very pleasant surprise.
Katt is the sleeper of the trio (seen in smaller roles in "The Brave One" and "Insomnia"), and I like his attitude and confidence in the Weinstein role. He showcases the ability to handle a significant workload, and it's unfortunate that he hasn't garnered more screen time in subsequent movies. I doubt he was too happy going uncredited in "The Dark Knight."
Getting back to "Boiler Room," youthful director Ben Younger does an outstanding job with pacing. This film blurs by without ever feeling too light or heavy, and Younger coaxes superb performances from his cast. The ensemble seems very comfortable working off each other, and Younger deserves credit for finding the right dynamic.
Unfortunately for Younger, like Katt, he hasn't found subsequent success. That's disappointing to me, because the former flashes a great deal of promise with "Boiler Room." It's one of my favorite lower-budget films of the decade, and it's a shame that it didn't make a little more money. When crap like "Transformers II" smashes in the box office, it makes you feel for quality movies that flop.
It is what it is though, and "Boiler Room" gets a big thumbs up from me.
The Grand (2007)
A "Grand" Ol' Time (painful, I know)
The first three-quarters of Zak Penn's "The Grand" are hilarious, especially for avid fans of No Limit Texas Hold 'Em -- you know, the types of fans who understand whom the characters satirize:
Lainie Schwartzman is Annie Duke, Larry Schwartzman is Phil Hellmuth (though the brother/sister storyline mirrors that of Duke and Howard Lederer),and Mike "The Bike" Heslov and his "Crew" represent all of those annoying groups of friends that enter the World Series of Poker as partners, and then root each other on while spewing their own brand of Hold 'Em lingo. In this case, a "BBFC" -- Boom Boom Fold Cock. That's one of the films shortest, and yet most entertaining scenes.
David Cross (as Larry Schwartzman), Chris Parnell (as Harold Melvin), and acclaimed director Werner Herzog (as The German) are the stars of this show. All three are funny and memorable for their own reasons, and the casting was spot on for that particular trio of characters. Dennis Farina (Deuce Fairbanks), Richard Kind (Andy Andrews), Ray Romano (Fred Marsh), and Gabe Kaplan (the Schwartzmans' dad) also put in fine work.
Woody Harrelson was annoying in the lead as Jack Faro, though he had his moments, especially when discussing his drug and alcohol addictions. Cheryl Hines gives the most uneven and disappointing performance of this mockumentary, finding no consistency and little-to-no laughs.
While the first 3/4 of "The Grand" are high in entertainment value and originality, the last quarter falls totally flat. The would-be high tension final table hands are horribly played, and no true fan of Hold 'Em could believe that these players are of the world-class variety. In the real world, they'd all be donkeys.
Nonetheless, "The Grand" was a pleasant surprise when I stumbled upon it on one of the Showtime channels. This is on par with Christopher Guest's mockumentaries -- better than some, and worse than others. Ultimately, it's worth seeing for poker fans with a specific sense of humor.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Woody Knows About Life...and Love.
You don't have to be a film student or a die-hard Woody Allen fan to be aware of his philosophy: life is messy, ruthless, and unforgiving...but that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun -- or at least try to. In "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," life seems like a helluva lot of fun at times, and at other times (not surprisingly) it's a complete and utter disaster.
The funny thing is, the fun AND the disaster seem to stem from love. Woody's OBSESSED with love; he's always trying to dissect, interpret, define and re-define it. No matter what the year, perspective or location, he seems to come to the same conclusion:
There are no answers in love. You can be head over heels about someone one day, and be totally indifferent to them the next. You can think you're in love with someone, when in actuality you merely lust for them. You can think you're lusting after someone, when you're actually in love with them. You can love someone, but not be IN love with them. You can be IN love with someone, and it can still go wrong. Something can still be missing.
These are the ideas and questions that Woody raises, and continues to raise. We're confronted by many of them in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." As Juan Antonio, Javier Bardem serves as a stabilizing force for this film. Having seen "No Country for Old Men" long before "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," I had my doubts about Bardem in this type of role. But if he doesn't nail the smooth, suave, mysterious Spaniard, he comes pretty damn close. Bardem had to be good in order for this film to work, and he came through.
Bardem is necessary as a stabilizing force because he's the male character at the center of it all. Sure there's Doug (played easily by Chris Messina), Vicky's husband, but he's more of a caricature than a character. What I mean by that is, Doug serves as a film-long symbol of the average, working, corporate-world American. He's a dime a dozen, and Woody's not trying to hide that. In fact, he tries pretty hard to make sure that we understand Doug's lack of originality.
Juan Antonio is quite the contrary: a charming, tall, European painter who always seems to say the right thing at exactly the right time. There's a mystique to Juan Antonio, and seemingly all women are drawn to him. But are they drawn to him, or does he coerce them? Does his success come naturally, or philosophically? Just more questions that Woody raises.
The women all performed admirably in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." In my opinion, Academy Award winner Penelope Cruz WAS deserving as Maria Elena, though many have since criticized the Academy for its selection. I'll respectfully disagree with the haters out there, because I measure a great performance in a very simple way:
Was it memorable? Sure there's more to it than that, but that's the easiest way to make a fair assessment. And yes, Maria Elena IS memorable. She's a superwoman of sorts -- talented in painting, photography, poetry, and sex -- and yet she's frail at the same time. She's a strutting contradiction, full of vivacity, passion, and personal demons. Cruz is mesmerizing, just as Woody wanted her to be.
Scarlett Johansson oozes sexuality as Cristina, and serves as the midway point between Maria Elena, and Vicky. She has some of Vicky's naturally embedded American conservatism in her, but she also has some of Maria Elena's creativity, and open-mindedness. In the end, she doesn't know what she wants out of life, or love. There's much Woody in her end result.
And it's getting late and I'm tired of writing, so I'll wrap it up here. Just rent "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" when you get the chance. It's locales are magnetic and envy-inducing, and the questions it raises will keep your mind busy for hours...or maybe days.
All the President's Men (1976)
A True, Breathtaking Political Thriller
Alan J. Pakula's "All the President's Men" (1976) is the greatest journalism film in cinematic history. It's up there with the classics of the political realm, as well. "All the President's Men" is both chilling and exhilarating because of its performances, setting, pacing, and of course the fact that it's all true.
Isn't it mind-boggling that something like this really occurred? I think we're all a bit skeptical of the American government and what it hides at times, but a scandal involving politicians and officials at all levels, one leading all the way up to the President of the United States?
"Jesus" -- as John Mitchell says to Carl Bernstein (played wonderfully by Dustin Hoffman) when Carl tells him about the groundbreaking story he plans to run the following day. That's all I can say.
I've seen "All the President's Men" six or seven times, and I've been mesmerized each and every time. The performances are perfect, the truths are shocking, and the reality is one of the most incredible stories in American history.
Look closely at the cast. As I've already said, Hoffman is excellent as Bernstein. Robert Redford, in one of the most balanced and seamless performances of his illustrious career, is equally as good as the now-famous Bob Woodward. Jason Robards is a scene stealer as editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, in a performance that I'm told IS Bradlee...to a tee. Robards' fantastic work earned him the Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category.
Every other supporting role is precisely executed. Jane Alexander deserves special consideration as "The Bookkeeper" with all the dirty little secrets, and Alexander in fact received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The funny thing is, she's on screen for two scenes. That's it. And one of them is very short. That's how subtle her performance is, and how effective.
Hal Holbrook is particularly memorable as "Deep Throat," Woodward's oft-talked about background source for the series of Watergate stories. Within the past five years we've learned that Deep Throat was actually William Mark Felt Sr., a formerly prominent FBI agent. Holbrook's portrayal leaves a lasting impression, and director Pakula shoots his scenes with atmosphere and tension.
Stephen Collins (as Hugh Sloan) and Robert Walden (as Donald Segretti) are also deserving of mention.
When it comes down to it, what's memorable about this film is the way it unfolds. The trials and tribulations of "Woodstein's" reporting process. The real-feeling board meetings at the Washington Post. The eerie sense that Woodward is going to get whacked. The way Woodward and Bernstein work off one another, and the chemistry that Redford and Hoffman reflect on screen.
All things considered, this is a masterpiece. Now let's not give Pakula and the cast all of the credit for that...
Hell, we should thank President Nixon for the storyline.
Vote for "Election" (I know, painful. Or should I say "Payne"ful.)
"Election" is a film that grows on you. The first time I saw it, I liked it because of its mix of teen and adult themes, both narrow and wide. But this time I looked at it from a few different angles, and it became all the more intriguing.
This time I focused on the three candidates for student body president: Tracy Flick (in a deviously effective performance from Reese Witherspoon), Paul Metzler (played by an equally effective Chris Klein), and Paul's sister, Tammy (a forgettable Jessica Campbell).
What I focused on, was what these characters represent. What I found -- which didn't take a rocket scientist, but required a look at the big picture -- were the party alignments for each candidate. In order to recognize this you need to step out of the high school universe that's built for us in "Election," and focus on the American government, in general.
Tracy is the republican representative. She's conservative, old-fashioned, and wholesome on the outside. On the inside she desperately craves victory, so much so that she's willing to sacrifice her integrity. The extent of republican corruption we'll never know, but it's there nonetheless. It's there in all political parties.
Paul is the democrat. "The People's Choice," so to speak. When Paul gets up to make his pre-election speech, the crowd goes wild because of his background as an athletic hero. The people like him because they can relate, they feel that he's in touch with the experiences and concerns of the masses. Tracy, on the other hand, is distant. She's in her own little bubble. And still, after Paul's nervous and ultimately empty speech, the crowd is stunned. Maybe the democrat isn't the best choice, after all.
Then there's Tammy. Despite the weakest acting performance of the three candidates, Campbell's character is arguably the most important. Tammy represents the wild card, the Third Party philosophy. She sees the pointlessness and silliness of it all, and uses that to appeal to the crowd. Her tactic works, as she quickly becomes the most popular candidate of the trio. We find out, in fact, that she wins the election despite being eliminated from the ballot.
That seems to be director Alexander Payne's message: the two-party system is limiting, and put not-so-eloquently...dumb. Payne wants more from our government; more options, more reality, and less bullshit. But he knows he won't get it. That's why he's put his name to "Election" -- to ease his frustration.
That frustration can be seen in Jim McAllister.
Definitely, Maybe (2008)
A Surprisingly Watchable Chick Flick
Ladies, you know we gentlemen love to complain when you ask us to watch a chick flick. There's the moaning, the groaning, and ultimately, we give in. That's because we love you.
But I wasn't groaning after watching "Definitely, Maybe" with my girlfriend. I think my list of truly watchable chick flicks is around ten or less, and I'm sure I've seen over 200 romantic comedies in my day. But "Definitely, Maybe" makes that exclusive list of ten, with others like "Pretty Woman" and "Clueless" -- sorry, I can't really think of any others offhand.
What "Definitely, Maybe" is, is realistic about love. Love's not as perfectly defined and obvious as other chick flicks tend to make it seem. Love takes trial and error, it takes practice, and mistakes.
That process is one we follow throughout this film. Ryan Reynolds is adequate in the leading role, though the standouts are Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz, as two of Reynolds' three love interests. Elizabeth Banks is forgettable in her role, though I did enjoy her in "Zack and Miri" and "Role Models." Abagail Breslin is there, playing her typical cutesy daughter role. She's fine, though she tries awfully hard to live up to the expectation of cuteness. Nonetheless, she gets it done.
But back to the plot...sure there are some clichés that pop up at different junctures in this two hour "love" story, but there aren't as many as you'd expect. Reynolds is forced to deal with true heartbreak, once in a traditional fashion, and the second time, not so traditional. Not at all, actually.
On the negative side, the conclusion of "Definitely, Maybe" is predictable. If viewers are watching and listening closely, then they'll know who Reynolds ends up with long before the end credits roll.
But fellas, we know we can't have it all when it comes to chick flicks. Most of the time we're just looking for hot actresses to keep us occupied in the movies of this genre, and we have them here with Fisher and Banks. Fisher is ridiculously hot.
All in all, there's something authentic about "Definitely, Maybe." And, I must say, the score is OUTSTANDING. Really, the background and foreground musical choices are perfect. It helps the film linger a bit longer than it may have in the first place.
Guys, if your women are asking you to choose between a bunch of chick flicks this weekend...lean in the direction of "Definitely, Maybe." You definitely will make it out of this one alive. And maybe this time around, with this particular chick flick, you won't want to smash a folding chair over your own head. Best of luck with that.
88 Minutes (2007)
The Weakest "Twist" in Film History
OK, no exaggeration, I just watched the first fifteen minutes of "88 Minutes," and I IMMEDIATELY knew who the killer was. Obviously folks, here come the spoilers...
Leelee Sobieski's character appeared to be Pacino's best student in class. She appeared to be the one who was doing her homework and listening to everything that her knowledgeable professor had to say. She appeared to be attacked by the supposed "killer," but no one actually saw him. Pacino simply heard the screams...
Umm. Hello! Once we didn't see the attacker, at all, in the scene where Sobieski claimed assault, it was obvious that SHE was the guilty party. The screenwriter and director both failed miserably in their attempts to conceal the identity of the "surprise" murderer. They went out of their way to display her character's keen understanding of a murderer's mindset -- as if that wasn't enough of a hint of her guilt.
Jeez, and it doesn't help that Sobieski was probably the second-most notable performer in the film. Following Pacino in the pecking order, it immediately made me wonder why she opted to do this film...unless of course she was a major player in the plot.
Which, it turns out, she is. Too bad for her, Pacino, and everyone else involved with "88 Minutes." Really, it's too bad for any of us who took the time to watch even ONE minute of this junk.
Almost Famous (2000)
"Almost" is More Than Enough for Me
Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" is a truly delightful film. The performances are strong, the direction is outstanding, and it makes us feel. It makes us care. About the characters, about the story, and life in general.
The glistening gem of the movie is Kate Hudson, in what is easily the best role of her up-and-down, somewhat disappointing acting career. Hudson's Penny Lane is at times simply cute, at other times downright sexy -- but above all, she's ceaselessly intriguing. We fall in love with her as the film progresses, just as William Miller does, and Russell Hammond already has.
The band at the heart of the story, Stillwater, is a blast to keep up with. As time progresses, we follow, laugh at, and make note of their exploits...just as William does. There's the entertaining leading man controversy, the drama with the so-called "Band-Aids," and William's repeated attempts to get Russell to sit down for a one-on-one interview. Our hero fails to do so, until it really matters.
This is the best work of Crowe's career. I'm certainly a fan of "Jerry Maguire," another film of his with heart and a soul-stroking conclusion, but "Almost Famous" is a full step above. There are a number of memorable scenes and sequences in this lovable film, but two, in particular, stand out above the rest:
(1) When William tells Penny that Russell sold her to Humble Pie for $50 and a case of beer.
Here, Hudson shines, physically (in the light) and metaphorically. Crowe sets the scene on a beautiful day, a day in which Penny and William are strolling arm-and-arm through the park. When William hits her with the potentially earth-shattering news, Crowe shows why he's exceptional -- he builds the emotion of the moment with lighting, until we see a tear drip from Penny's eye at exactly the right moment...
It's at that point, we see an angel. We know what Crowe is going for, and he executes it perfectly. Penny manages to remain cute and graceful in a time of intense internal turmoil.
And (2) When William and Penny part ways at the airport.
It's a scene we've seen a million times before in a million other movies, but here, it's masterfully done. It's a perfect sequence.
Our stomach turns for William, who is forced to watch his first love fly away from him...maybe forever. Those of us who have been through similar circumstances feel that sinking feeling in our bellies.
The music is spot-on. Each chord strikes at exactly the right time. All we can think is...
"Damn. Why couldn't I direct a movie this good?" Oh well. Having had the pleasure to see "Almost Famous," I'm happy enough. What an uplifting experience.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Nothing "Revolutionary" about this road.
I couldn't help but feel disappointed when I walked out of the theater following "Revolutionary Road." My expectations were lofty because I loved what Sam Mendes did with "American Beauty" (10/10) and I was intrigued by "Jarhead" (7/10) as well. Of course the preliminary bar was set high for a film featuring both Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
And yet, I was underwhelmed by the final product that was "Revolutionary Road." No, this wasn't a clichéd case of setting the bar TOO high, because I always keep my pregame expectations in check. They're there, but I don't allow them to cloud my judgment.
Mendes was fine; his mise en scene was a bit mundane and predictable, yet still mostly effective. I would like to have searched for more subtlety when dealing with a director of Mendes' caliber, but it just wasn't there this time. Only shot that jumps out at me is the one of the sprinkler spout metaphorically separating April Wheeler from her family.
As for the performances, I felt that Winslet slightly outperformed Leo. Not that that's especially relevant, because neither performance was award-worthy. I'm shocked that Winslet could take home two Golden Globes in one year, when one of those Globes was awarded for her work in this film. She was good, but not outstanding.
I must tread carefully, though, because I shouldn't blame Winslet or DiCaprio for the shortcomings of the script. On the whole, the dialogue was absolutely painful -- nothing original came for seemingly endless sets of time. I'm aware that the screenplay was adapted from a novel, so perhaps the faults lie in the novel itself. Yet, that's not what I'm hearing from those who read and loved the book.
I was intrigued by the general concept of the film, because we all struggle with the internal conflict of our dreams vs. reality, and many of us struggle with the comfortable suburbia vs. monotonous suburbia conflict as well. But "Revolutionary Road" was overkill in both arenas. Just too much of the same throughout: calm before the storm, match, lit match, explosion. Calm before the storm, match, lit match, explosion.
Much of the repetition may have been intentional, but it simply wasn't effective. How Roger Ebert gave "Revolutionary Road" four stars out of four, absolutely boggles my mind.
This film is a 6/10, at best. If you love great cinema, you will be disappointed. "Revolutionary Road" is a level below.
I Am Legend (2007)
I Am Unsure, about "I Am Legend"
This film really battles itself. There are so many pros and cons to it that it essentially balances it out to somewhere around the middle, which is why I've landed on a 6 out of 10.
I was a little underwhelmed by the resolution, so directly after my first viewing I was left with a poor taste in my mouth. At that point I was thinking, "Will was OK, nothing more than that." But I was distracted by the conclusion that I felt was rushed and contrived, so I temporarily forgot about some of Will's key moments.
Sam's death was pretty gut-wrenching; one of the more saddening animal deaths in movie history. Will did a nice job in the specific scene, as well as the following scene in the rental store. I felt for him the most during that particular sequence.
"Big Willie" also builds suspense nicely during the scene in which Sam runs into the darkness. We can feel his nerves breaking.
Another general positive is the fact that the zombies maintain their humanity without anyone realizing. Neville says that they are losing their human logic when the zombie runs into the light after him, but in reality, the lead zombie wants his woman back. We find out that the zombie Neville traps is a female, and then it makes sense that the male leader tries to enter the light to recover her.
Our natural inclination is to believe that the zombies simply want to infect Neville and the other two survivors near the end, but the more logical explanation is that the zombies want to recover the female that had been captured. Once again we see the lead male zombie leading the way through the glass. That's his girl in there...
But the negatives: (1) Like I've already mentioned: the resolution. The entire event's been predetermined? It's an act of God, and this woman with the butterfly tattoo that's just recently been introduced to us is the key to it all? We don't care about her yet on the screen; too much is riding on her. Also, how is that one vile of vaccine going to cure and restart all of civilization? That's enough of it?
(2) The CGI. It's pretty awful. I scare very easily and yet I was unphased by the zombies because they looked soooooo computerized. I mean, nothing even close to touching a realistic projection.
The deer are awful, and the lioness, etc.
(3) The melodramatic stuff like the butterfly woman's speech, and Neville's "light up the darkness" crap. Too cliché, too mushy-gushy-messy.
I dunno, I don't feel like writing anymore, but this film's a complete washout. Some good, lot of bad, but hey, can't take anything away from Will Smith -- the guy's a true megastar.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
The Best of the Judd Apatow Bunch
"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is an entertaining film, with brains. Please don't read too much into my title here; I loved "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year Old Virgin," and liked "Superbad" as well. By a very small margin, I believe "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" surpasses the other three.
There are a few things that stand out to me: (1) the way the differences in philosophy between the main character and Aldous Snow are played out during their surfing interaction. Sure, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is ultimately a comedy, but it's nice to see how intelligent it is during that interaction.
Our main character is the heartbroken man that we've seen many times before -- shattered, and struggling to recover from a break-up. Though he's a cliché, we can still empathize with him. Snow, on the other hand, represents a different mindset and way of looking at the world: he simply can't stay committed to a single woman.
Guys, don't we all feel that way sometimes? I know I have. That scene is excellent because we can understand both perspectives. The loyal lover and the adventurous male driven by sex, not love. It's a very interesting dynamic.
I loved the Aldous character, and Paul Rudd's surfing instructor as well. "The weather outside is...weather..." Good stuff. Other funny lines too.
Also, I thought it was refreshing to get the other side of the hated female character. Sarah Marshall is supposed to be the character that the audience despises, because she breaks our lead's heart. But instead of making her one-dimensional and devious, we get to see another side of her near the final act of the film.
Sarah is a human, too. She explains why she's been cheating on her man, and we don't have to forgive her or condone her behavior, but we have to understand her perspective. The main character was a bum at times. Sarah's a hot commodity in general, and internally, she was just looking for a guy who would keep her on her toes. Understandable, I think.
And of course, who could forget that fact that Mila Kunis is so smokin' hot in this movie? Always a plus.
"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" made me laugh, but it also made me respect its maker. This is a film that develops its essential characters, and we should thank Mr. Apatow for that.
An Unfairly Criticized Powerhouse
Paul Haggis' "Crash" has become a film that people love to hate. All over the message boards on this site, people are expressing their outrage regarding "Crash's" Best Picture victory. Look, I understand that the movie is a little over-the-top at times, and goes a little too far to make its point, but I still believe it was worthy of the Oscar.
I'll tell you why. In particular three scenes jump out at me as three of the best I've ever seen. The two standouts -- the scene in which Matt Dillon saves Thandie Newton, and the scene in which we are led to believe that Michael Pena's adorable daughter has been shot -- are masterful. So well-timed, well-shot, executed, and emotional. Just breathtaking.
The third, the sleeper of the trio, is our introduction to Pena's daughter and their relationship. When he comes home after a frustrating encounter with Sandra Bullock's shaken character, we see his origin, what's going on behind that first scene. Pena is no "gangbanger," as Bullock puts it. He's an excellent, caring, sensitive father with a daughter who is nothing short of an angel.
It's fitting that the Persian storekeeper refers to her as "his angel," toward the end of the film. Pena's interaction with her involving the "Invisible Cloak," is captivating. We are amazed at what a good father he is, and how sweet his only child is. Very touching.
I agree with those who were unimpressed by Brendan Fraser's performance, and some who weren't particularly impressed by Bullock. I'll give you that; but Dillon, Newton, Pena, and Terrence Howard were outstanding. Ryan Philippe held up his end, as well.
Hey, we know that Haggis is trying to hit us hard with "Crash." But what's the big deal? Some people really are THAT racist. There's no doubt about it.
I say, let him hit us. Melodramatic at times, but still ultimately successful. A moving film.
Major League II (1994)
The GREATEST Baseball Movie of All Time
I know some people are reading that title and thinking, "Wow, this guy's an idiot." But please, hear me out.
"Major League II" is the best of the trilogy, and is an absolutely hilarious baseball film for those who know the game well, and know how truly outlandish this movie is. Outlandish, however, in a good way.
First let me tell you that "Major League II" is a cult classic amongst young baseball players on Long Island. It's like an unspoken understanding, until someone speaks. For example, a pitcher might come in out of the bullpen to face a couple of batters, perform poorly, and then immediately get yanked out of the game...
Cue someone on the bench saying, "Nice game." Others on the bench will instantly begin laughing, and then talk about another scene they think of from "Major League II." The "nice game" line is a reference to manager Jake Taylor taking Roger Dorn out of the game following his only at bat of the season...a hit by pitch. Taylor sends Dorn in there to lean into one during a crucial situation in the ALCS, and Dorn reluctantly obliges. After a hilarious "oh God!" and tumble to the ground, Dorn temporarily refuses to be relieved by a pinch runner.
He eventually gives in and is greeted by Taylor, who pats him on the butt and says, "Nice game." Of course there are other classics like: "He'd need a rocket up his a$$ to get to that one!"; Jack Parkman mimicking Taylor's bad knees during the preseason; "I think I'll call it the 'Masterbator'; 'Kamikaze' Tanaka's many amusing contributions; 'Wild Thing' Vaughn's "that's enough for today" after five pitches in Spring Training...and more.
Look, with "Major League II," you can't take it seriously. The baseball action sequences play smoothly, but the managerial decisions and player antics are silly. Just take this film for what it is...
The funniest baseball movie of all time, and quite simply, the best.
The Dark Knight (2008)
I'm sorry everyone, this is no masterpiece.
** PLOT SPOILERS EVERYWHERE **
Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" is one of the better films in the history of its genre, however, it does not qualify as a masterpiece. In fact, it's quite far from such a distinction. It falls short of unquestionable excellence because of a ridiculously high number of plot holes, most of which regard The Joker and his criminal exploits.
It is a given that Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker leaves us with a character who is thoughtful, unpredictable, ruthless, unrelenting, and arguably insane. That is to say, some inconsistencies in the villain should be accepted, if not embraced. But others, to be frank, are unacceptable because of their stupidity. For example: In the film's opening sequence, a clever bank heist spearheaded by The Joker, the crazed clown kills off his partners as the caper progresses. At the time, it made sense. Pretty simple, the more colleagues he kills off, the more money that leaves for him. But later on in the film, The Joker burns his half of the criminal underworld's combined fortune. He makes it overtly clear that he is not motivated by money. Not in the least bit.
So why was the money a factor in the opening scene? It shouldn't have been. Uneven scripting there.
But that's nitpicking in comparison to the film's greater faults. The ultimate reason why "The Dark Knight" falls short of the masterpiece label is because there is absolutely no way, under any circumstances, at any time, on any planet or in any solar system, that The Joker could execute so many complex plans in such a short period of time.
OK, here is where people start saying: "But it's a movie! It doesn't have to be possible." I know, thanks. I agree, it doesn't have to be possible. But, and this is a huge BUT, a film as ambitious and lengthy as "The Dark Knight" wants to be taken seriously. Not only does it want to be taken seriously, I think director Christopher Nolan wants Oscar consideration for the work he has put in here, and cast members have been saying regularly that they don't want this to be considered as a mere "superhero movie," or "action movie." Well if you want to elevate to the level of serious drama, then you have to explain a few things to me.
(1) How does The Joker continue to find willing participants in his escapades when all of his previous crew members end up dead or in jail? The guys he's finding to work for him have to be true idiots. Totally brainless. And that doesn't work because The Joker's plans are meticulous and require precise timing and execution. If these goons are dumb enough to work for him, they aren't smart enough to be effective as help. It's a perpetual contradiction throughout the film, particularly the second act.
(2) Sure The Joker is swift and tricky, but c'mon, he doesn't exactly look like a normal citizen. If city-wide security has been heightened to a level never before seen, how the hell is this maniac with a painted face and wacky hair not being spotted? Does he have an invisible transportation machine or something? He doesn't have supernatural powers, so he shouldn't have a supernatural aura.
(3) When did he have the time to wire the hospital with bombs? Even if one of his goons did it, how did no one in the hospital notice suspicious activity? What about the assassination attempt on the Mayor? The other cops on the firing line didn't notice the most infamous villain in the city standing right next to them? Why? Because he crouched over a little and tried not to make eye contact with them? Please. I could go on for days, too many plot liberties were taken.
I'd actually like to discuss the performances a bit. I think the separation between the strongest part and the rest of the cast is the largest ever with an ensemble of this size and magnitude. Meaning, Heath Ledger's performance was far and away the best in this film, better to the point where it bothered me that no one else was in his realm. The scenes where Ledger was off screen lacked the magnetism and intrigue of the ones in which he appeared. Although appeared is probably not the best word, more like dominated.
Christian Bale was OK as Batman, but he's almost too stoic for a character with such strong morals and opinions. He's also a little bit stiff when he's in playboy mode as Bruce Wayne. I think his performance in "The Prestige" was more emotional, effective, and polished.
Aaron Eckhart was all right as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, but the problem was that the vast majority of the time I was seeing Eckhart on screen, not Dent. The same Eckhart we saw in "Thank You For Smoking." Also, a man with a finely tuned social philosophy, like Dent, would not totally flip his ideology after the loss of a close loved one. Hopefully the angle is that the toxin causing the disfigurement messed more with his brain than we were led on to believe.
Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman were believable as always, but of course they are underused as Alfred and Lucius Fox. Gary Oldman probably contributed the second strongest performance in the film as Commissioner Gordon, and Maggie Gyllenhaal (as Rachel Dawes) was a step up from Katie Holmes as far as execution and timing -- but that's not saying much.
I really could go on for days about the unacceptable plot liberties, but I'll spare you. All in all, I liked the film because it had some thought-provoking sequences involving moral dilemmas and intriguing societal questions, and in having such "The Dark Knight" succeeded in escaping the "superhero movie" label. But it's not a masterpiece.
Plain and simply, it has too many holes.