Monday, September 08, 2008

Enjoying the Last Temptation-20 Years Late



Recently, I found myself flipping through the television channels around 10:30 one night. I happened upon the Indie Channel, which was broadcasting the movie The Last Temptation of Christ. Since I had never seen it during the 20 years since it was been released, I figured I would watch it for a few minutes to see what the fuss was all about way back when it hit the theaters and caused such uproar.

Wow. The little I saw can only be described as powerful.

My memories of this release are vague, but I recollect letters to editors of papers and protestors, and I believe there even threats as well. I also remember Jewish viewers claiming it was excellent, while Christians were outraged, which, even at the time, I thought pretty odd. Now that I have seen at least part of it, I still shake my head in wonder. I honestly do not know how anyone can watch it and think there is anything inherently blasphemous about it. If anything, it makes the dry words taught at Sunday schools across the world convey a much deeper meaning than any teacher any could.

I was prepared for the blatant torture scenes, but the whole concept of the Angel of Mercy/Satan taking Jesus down from the cross and giving him the chance of a normal life was all new to me. I am not sure I understood the whole thing about his bedding Mary Magdalene and those 2 other women, but I get that he achieved what he wanted, and that was to lead a normal life, until his deathbed, when Judas pointed out that Jesus was a traitor for not fulfilling his fate. I thought it very interesting that the scene with Paul preaching about the death of Jesus and his resurrection was added; confusion and anger at hearing that brought the story more depth and reality, at least for me. The realization that Judas was right was oddly satisfying, as well, and the way the movie ended was appropriate. (However, I would not have used those colors and music in the fade-out. White or black, to me, would have been more appropriate.)

Regardless of your religious affiliation, you probably will have some reaction to this movie in terms of the sets, which are beautifully authentic. You can almost feel the heat of the desert and costumes. Some of the areas I did find jarring would be in the dialog and casting. Obviously, the movie would not have be made in Hebrew for a largely English-speaking version, but some of the phrases seemed just a bit too modern for that time. I am not entirely sure I would have cast Judas as this production did, and even the makeup and tattoo markings applied to Mary Magdalene did not appear right for the times. Plus, this is purely a personal view, but since it occurred in the area of the world where it did, I would think everyone would be much darker skinned and black haired than who constituted the main cast. Yet, that is all superficial, especially if one has taken the time to read the book. This story is more about human situations than if the proper costuming has been considered. Most will never notice that sort of thing anyway.

It often takes me awhile to catch up on movies that everyone is talking about, and this is no exception. The way I see it, we all get exposed to things when we are supposed to, when the time is right for us. Now, I do not know why my seeing it now is better than seeing it 20 years ago, but it does add a layer of sensitivity to my already layered knowledge of Judeo and Christian tenets. Yet, I keep in mind that it is still an entertainment value, and as such, is vulnerable to interpretation and focus. I may not like a lot of movies, and may question many director standards, but I think that Martin Scorsese did an excellent job of conveying humanity, ridicule and triumph. One purpose of aret is to be provocative and cause us to think and question, but all too often we forget that and just wish to have it tickle our problems away. The Last Temptation of Christ does that, and even better-it is mesmerizing.

Bridge to Where?



One day, my daughter decided that she wanted to see Bridge to Terabithia although, alhough, in her mind, it was for little kids. So we settled down to what I expected would be another predictable Disney fantasy. It turned out to be not so predictable.

First, I must confess that I had read nothing at all about this movie, and, as a rule, am not that excited by Disney productions overall. I will admit that I do believe they are usually wholesome, safe and mildly amusing, but with limited viewing time, I am apt to choose something a bit meatier. Bridge to Terabithia fit that description. It completely held my attention for the entire time, which the majority of movies and most television shows cannot claim. (Actually, if a show holds my interest until it is over, even if I have been working out the entire time, I consider it a better than average production.)

I am not saying that this movie totally wowed me, but it definitely moved me. From what I hear, it moved many people. Perhaps the main reason (and stop reading here if you have not seen it but are planning to do so) is that the main character dies with 45 minutes left to go. How Disney handled the death and the resulting situations was done very well, but that is not saying tears did not follow. It is impossible to not be saddened at the loss of life of a cute young girl whose innate intelligence and eccentricities separated her from all other kids except for her young male co-star-who, until that point, was also friendless. We can all relate to such feelings, but most of us did not have to deal of our best friend in fifth grade.

After viewing this movie, I read about an audience viewer who became highly upset that the movie disturbed her grandchildren. First, it is rated PG and not G, so that should have told them something. Second, if I was going to take a 5 year old, I would have checked it out first. This is a story about fantasy, and sense of magic, but both originate from the imaginations of the main character. What gives this movie an edge is that the surviving one matures enough to realize that he can use the gift of imagination to bring joy to someone else. It is very heartwarming and poignant, and thus very Disney.

Yet, the usual Disney stereotypes are present, such as the mean kids, the tough kid who finds a heart, the lovely teacher, and ridiculing siblings. Everything we have come to expect to clearly show children the distinct difference between black and white and good and bad. However, those predictable characters are not so superficial because the principle actors are mesmerizing and the supporting cast is larger than life. The main female character has a wardrobe that is quite different from the norm, but it suits her spunk. The little sister of the leading male tugs at every heartstring. You have to say this for Disney, they do recognize talented children actors when they find them. The setting is also exceptional, not quite your average woods but not totally photo-shopped, either. It is what you would expect of an average forest that has been enhanced by the imagination of an older child.

Bridge to Terabithia was filmed in 2006 in Auckland, New Zealand over a 10 week period, and included the rural forest areas of Riverhead and Puhoi. It was by based on the novel by Katherine Paterson, and was number two at the box office in the U.S. and Canada on its opening weekend. The son of the author, David L. Paterson, was also one of the producers and screenwriters. (He is noted on the dedication page, for his real life friend who was struck by lightning and killed when they were aged eight.) The film was a recipient of the F.I.L.M. award (Finding Inspiration in Literature and Movies) and the final film of Cinematographer Michael Chapman before his retirement.

I was surprised and glad to have seen it. I may even watch it again. If you want to take a walk into a world that you may not frequent, give Bridge to Terabithia a chance. But be warned that it is a tear-jerker for both happy and sad reasons.

Eastern Promises-Delivering what it promises



Some movies are considered chick flicks while others are more guy dramas. This movie definitely falls into the latter category. As a chick however, I must say that I liked it, which is more than I can say about many movies. But this is a very somber and violent movie, and if a gal is queasy, like me, there will be scenes that are quite difficult to watch. But what do you expect when a movie concerns criminal activities, revenge, and family honor?

This was filmed is some of the depressing places in London in 2007. From dreary, graffiti lined streets, to the constant rain, to scary and abandoned public areas, it is not a world in which most people would voluntarily enter. The lives of the main characters are not much better.

The head of a Russian organized crime family, Semyon (Academy Award nominee Armin Mueller-Stahl) is having problems with his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel). It seems that Kirill is not satisfied with getting drunk daily and being disgustingly obnoxious; he has recently ordered hit men on former friends without consulting dad. Russian Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen) is hired to be the driver of the son, does a lot of dirty work for Kirill, like chopping fingers off dead bodies and dropping them into the river.

Meanwhile, Anna Khitrova (Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts), is a midwife who witnesses a young teenager dying while giving birth and leaving an orphaned daughter. Anna finds a Russian diary on the girl, and gives it to her uncle for translation. It turns out that the girl was impregnated from a rape involving Semyon while his son entrapped her. The two then kept her hostage for months. However, as fate would have it (of course, if it were not for this there would be no movie plot) Anna had already given a copy of the diary to Semyon, since he was mentioned by name, unknowing his profession. Once Semyon discovers there is proof of his fathering a child through statutory rape, and the holding of that minor against her will, he moves to eradicate the diary and uncle. Meanwhile, Kirill kidnaps the baby to kill her so there can be no proof of the crime for which his father was resonsible.

If, like most movie goers, you have the irrepressible faith that all ends well, in this case you are right again. It turns out that Luzhin is not just your average chauffeur and mobster; he is an undercover agent with plans on infiltrating the family to extinguish them. To do so, he must prove his loyalty, whatever that entails. Yet, he has a heart underneath the amazingly tough exterior. Instead of killing the uncle, he sends him into hiding. Instead of retaining information about the family of the dead victim, he gives it to Anna. And, instead of allowing Kirill to drown the baby, he stops him with the news that Kirill can be in charge, if Dad goes to prison. (Kirill, it is safe to say, does not have a warm relationship with his father, so this option looks good to him.) In the end, father and son both get sent away, and Luzhin finds himself exactly where he planned to be. The future of the mob is left up in the air, although the baby is much happier. She has been adopted by Anna.

This is one more of those situations where people, through no fault of their own, find themselves trapped by bizarre circumstances. The teenager crossing paths that of mob members, Anna finding the diary, the father controlling his son, the uncle and his innocent attempt to discover answers all ends up causing danger, pain and loss. If this movie says anything, it is along the line about the tangled web others weave.

That said, even with some subtitles, this complications of this movie are fairly easy to follow. However, the sex scenes, gruesome murders, and fight in which naked Luzhin gets repeatedly stabbed are not for everyone, especially children. It could be coincidental, but from the start of the movie, every scene is dark and gloomy, even though it is the height of the Christmas season. Yet, by the end, when the uncle has returned and the baby is safe, it is a lovely summer day. What else can better reflect good conquering evil?

This movie is worth watching if you believe in such an unshakable power.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Dark Knight



Review By Jason Schwartzman

The Dark Knight, the sequel to 2005's Batman Begins, has set a new precedent for what the comic book movie can be. It is dark, intense and fast, demanding the viewer's attention for the entirety of the film's two and a half hours. The movie is wholly superior to Tim Burton's heralded Batman (1989) and of course the Batman films that followed it, most notably Joel Schumacher's failed Batman and Robin (1997).

The Dark Knight builds on the success of Batman Begins, but goes in a different direction stylistically. Whereas Batman Begins was tight, focused and built around Christian Bale's Batman, The Dark Knight follows the path of it's iconic villain, The Joker. The movie is wide-open and wildly chaotic, just like the Clown Prince of Crime. Heath Ledger's Joker is a vast improvement over Jack Nicholson's. Ledger's Joker is genuinely scary. His twisted stories and freakish mannerisms overshadow Batman. Ledger's performance, his last completed work before his death, lives up to the hype, and even has inspired talk of a Best Supporting Actor nod. His unique characterization develops into perhaps the best villain since The Silence Of The Lamb's Hannibal Lector.

The plot picks up as The Joker is hired by various villains to assassinate Batman in order to protect their suddenly vulnerable money. Batman, however, finds a new ally in the DA, Harvey Dent, a man not accidentally labeled The White Knight of Gotham City. Dent is played by Aaron Eckhart, who offers the arrogance and the towering, intimidating presence required for the role that means to project a real alternative to Batman and vigilantism.

The common thread though is Ledger's Joker, who has no logical motivation and whose origin is a mystery lest you believe the sickening but contradictory tales he offers about how he receives his grotesque facial scars.

Other players include Batman and Dent's love interest, Rachel Dawes, played by an underwhelming Maggie Gyllenhal (replacing Katie Holmes) and two veterans of the first movie, the always solid Michael Caine and Gary Oldman as Alfred Pennyworth (the butler) and Officer Jim Gordon respectively. Morgan Freeman has a small, but strong role reprising Bruce Wayne's right hand man, Lucious Fox.

The film is just as much a crime drama as a superhero movie. It carries the heavy themes of chance, fate and entropy just as Batman Begins revolved around fear.

The action is nearly non-stop, the chase scenes breathtaking and the dialogue razor-sharp. This isn't George Clooney's forgettable caped crusader; this is Christian Bale's Dark Knight, developed not for young kids, but instead an older, more intelligent audience.

In the wake of almost unimaginable hype, The Dark Knight does not disappoint.

Submitted Via Our Submit A Review Page.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rest in Peace, Amadeus



Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Amadeus, and once again, thoroughly loved it. Now granted, the roles of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri are probably two of the meatiest parts available to male actors, but it takes sheer genius to be able to carry them off. When it succeeds, it is magical. About 20 years ago, this movie won 40 awards, including 8 Academy Awards and the coveted Best Picture award, which generated a public intrigue that had formerly bordered on disinterest. I am not surprised, because it seems that our society is not that concerned about the history of musical composers. This story is absolutely fascinating.

Signor Salieri always wished to compose music; as a young teen, be begged God to give him the opportunity to do so, and in payment, he would lead a life of virtue. Within 15 years, Salieri was Court Composer in Vienna. It was around this time that he heard about the child prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but disregarded him. Within a few years, however, he heard a Mozart serenade and was convinced of his genius, and to a greater degree than anyone else. As the creations of Mozart began to be performed publicly, Salieri feared competition, and attempted to sabotage his professional standing among royalty. There came a point where Salieri concluded that he was doing so not because of mere jealousy, but because of an intense despair that God had failed to give him merely mediocre talent, yet gave musical brilliance to a sniggering, immature, bawdy, lascivious young man Salieri referred to as the creature. To make matters worse, Salieri knew the added torture of being probably the one and only person able to recognize the compositions of Mozart for the angelic perfection which they were.

Salieri denounced his agreement with God and vowed that not only would his virtuous existence end, he would also ruin Mozart. In this, he accomplished his goals. Without work or students, Mozart became destitute. His wife and children left him, and the royal musical circle refused to acknowledge or help him. Other musical venues cheated him and attempts were made to plagiarize his work. Salieri, now viewed by Mozart as his only friend, regretted his decisions and decided to confess his traitorous deeds. He was hoping to receive forgiveness, but by this time, the mind of Mozart was muddled by alcohol and syphilis. He thus thought Salieri mad. After Mozart died before reaching age 40, Salieri finally achieved the fame he always wished. Yet, he knew that his talent was far less than that of the man he had a hand in destroying. Salieri spent the remainder of his life in agonizing, and even his suicide attempt failed.

This movie is full of the most beautiful settings, costumes and music imaginable, and the raucous behavior is fun enough to keep even younger folks entertained. His innate abilities have the power to mesmerize anyone, even those who would never classify themselves as music aficionados. What this movie does surprisingly well through the exquisite direction, casting and acting is to elicit sympathy from the audience for both Mozart and Salieri. It's an astonishing feat in an industry that likes to paint bad guys versus good guys. We can not help but feel the jealousy of Salieri, and the frustration that his young student is outshining him. We can also relate to the confusion and anguish of Mozart when his life takes a downhill turn. We can even understand his the attraction his wife felt to such a famous and talented rogue, along with exasperation when there is no longer money to run the household or support their offspring.

It is also remarkable that few of the main characters managed to remain in the public eye during the last two decades. Except for F. Murray Abraham, the Best Actor Oscar Winner in 1984 for his performance in this production, most were relatively unknown to the world, then as well as now. (Within a month of the Academy Awards, I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Abraham in a live off-Broadway performance, and he astounded me in that as well.)

Yes, this story can hit home to a lot of people, filled as it is with envy, pride and regret, and it is worth seeing if you get a chance. No one can watch it without doing some serious thinking about how they live their life. We need reminders about that from time to time.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Burnt Offerings Will Not Leave You Cold

1

Many years back, I read the novel Burnt Offerings and was entranced. In my opinion, this was definitely an interest to ladies, in the sense of the subject being a house and its contents. As someone who occasionally felt the need (then, as well as now) to fix up, display, and fawn over household items, I could relate to the main character. It is a woman who is obsessed with renting a particular old house for the summer to restore it back to beauty. As she brings it back to life, however, the house takes life, and does so from her aged aunt, the health of her husband, and the mental stability of her son. She, however, does not see any of this and eventually becomes the house, in a sense.

It is common for me to enjoy a book more than the movie it gets made into, and I think that is the case for most people. One tends to relate more, especially if the book is written in the first person, because there is no clear image in mind of the main character or supporting cast. Yet, when the reader views the action taking place, if the characters do not look like pictured, or if they can not relate to the main character image, the story loses personalization. Since most of us can not claim movie star looks, we tend to see most movies a stories we witness instead of our own escape to another life.

In my opinion, Karen Black, the lead of this 1976 movie, was perfect in her ability to follow direction to portray the character with a saccharine, fake persona, but it did get to me after the first 20 minutes or so. Her husband was well portrayed by Oliver Reed; everyone could relate to his incredulity and exasperation with the change in his wife and family dynamics. Bette Davis was as superb as usual in the role of the aunt who ages about 30 years after living in the house for a month. (Her death scene was one of the highpoints; this is true acting of the highest professional degrees. Other actresses, especially young ones concerned about how they look, would never have been able to pull it off.) The only other major character was the young son (Lee H. Montgomery), and although he was not a bad child actor, the screaming and crying required of him became quite annoying. That poor kid faced harsh roughhousing by his possessed dad, almost drowned in the once calm pool, nearly died from gas inhalation, was attacked by trees, and witnessed his dad falling to his death through a window. It was little wonder that his lines were limited.

If you genuinely enjoy being scared, you will like this movie, although you probably will figure out what is going on long before the final moments. Ms. Black wanted to rent the house cheaply, and her caveat for doing so was to do take three meals a day to an upstairs room and leave it for the elderly relative of the owner. This chore also keeps her from being able to leave once things turn spooky. The first few days, she worried about the food not being eaten; then it becomes a non-issue. She began to spend hours in the upstairs room, gazing at the hundreds of old photos of faces that fill every space, at least when she is not dusting, cleaning, waxing or scrubbing. Her husband and son really do very little, but the aunt takes her easel outside to paint every day, at least until the house stars sapping her energy. The logistics of grocery shopping, community involvement and friends for little Davy are conveniently overlooked, but, hey, this is, after all, a horror movie.

There are some spine tingling moments, like seeing the greenhouse plants come alive, and the pool repair itself, but nothing tops the repeated images of a chauffeur from the past, always with the motor running on his hearse. This is the stuff of nightmares.

There is not any noticeable profanity, or clear nudity, although one scene may be questioned by kids under age eight or so (when Ms. Black has, for lack of works, a headache). Some of the gory scenes in the last five minutes may be too intense for young children. Heck, they may even be too intense for a good many adults.

Although over 30 years old, this movie is indeed timeless, and still succeeds in packing a punch.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hitman


Do you like gore? Meaningless gore? Excessive gore? Do you like plotlines that you can’t follow and don’t even want to? Do you like lame sex scenes and pointless topless screenshots? Then Hitman might just be the movie for you!

Maybe the reason why I’m so irreversibly pissed off about this movie is that my hopes were so high. Don’t ask me why-I should have seen the galumphing, gas-leaking, rickety and falling apart train wreck of a movie for what it was from the get-go. But on the contrary-I felt cheated by the movie. The opening credits were so cool, and then, the aforementioned train wreck took place.

Through creepy, mystical music, the names of the movie director, the producer, and the starring actors floated onto the black screen-and now I saw rows of blue-coated orphans executing martial arts moves in perfect synchrony. On the backs of their heads, bar-codes glowed in the eerie luminescence emanating from the TV screen. Man, I thought, this movie is going to rock. I already knew what it was going to be about. A futuristic, totalitarian government, using the martial mastery of children, estranged from their parents at a young age, to bring the merciless and raw power of the government down upon insubordinate heads. A hero amongst the orphan mercenaries, who rises above and sees the evil of his government; forms a revolution and overthrows the dictator-but in doing so, falls prey to greed and temptation and descends into darkness.

Boy, was I wrong.

As the opening credits drew to a close, the scene opened on a darkened living room. As a mysterious looking man entered, he found himself face to face with another mysterious looking gentleman (the mysteriousness didn’t last, in case you were wondering). Mysterious man 1 inquired if mysterious man 2 was going to kill him. The second man replied that if he was going to kill him, mysterious man 1 would already be dead (or some variation on that inevitable line). Okay, I thought, it’s a little cliché, so what? This movie is still going to rock the house down.

Man 2 (this is about when they stopped being mysterious) then inquired when it was right to kill. For a movie that posed such a deep and profound moral quandary, it didn’t show a whole lot of respect for the living-I didn’t notice any qualms or internal struggles when 47 (yes, that is the name of the main character) blew the brains out of a politician with a sniper rifle, to say nothing of the massive body count the movie accumulated.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. No, wait-I’m actually not. For reasons best known to himself, 47 felt the urge to assassinate a politician. Don’t ask me why, as far as I can see it never tied in with the rest of the movie. Cool, cool, I thought, when he aimed at the guy’s head. So it’s fast paced, there’s nothing wrong with that.

It didn’t get any better. I wasn’t particularly excited about the brains and blood splattering, and then, at the secret agent guys insistence, replaying the tape several times-rewinding it, even, to figure out some other hidden mystery, so I saw the whole gross ordeal over again.

It was at this point that the intricate ice sculpture that was my fantasy of this movie began to melt. There was no intelligent plot. 47 poured machine gun bullets into his enemies with an eagerness that was probably supposed to be cool. It wasn’t. I just found myself wanting the fight scenes to be over. Well, no, not quite true. When the fight scenes ended, a new element of the movie arose that was even worse: the love story. Actually, ‘sex story’ would be more fitting here-I don’t feel it was worthy of being called a love story, whatever it was.

After a few minutes of crying over all the unspeakable (but I’m sure manly and necessary) violence that 47 was committing against her associates, the lover declared that he was "actually quite charming when he wasn’t killing people." Whatever charm she detected was lost on me; however, that appeared to be all it took-five minutes later she was topless and straddling him.

It was at this moment (another sign that this movie must have been a serious bore) that I crumpled backward onto the floor. My ornate ice sculpture of darkness, glory and political intrigue had been sledge-hammered; what remained was a slush of gore, sex, and crappiness.

I don’t even remember what happened in the final third of the movie. Except the grand finale-that was pretty hard to miss. The movie wound down with a heroic shot of 47 hefting a gun, off to blow the brains out of more politicians, and ruin an hour and forty minutes of more innocent movie-goers lives.

Review submitted via our Submit A Review page.

Kung Fu Panda


Contributor: Jason Lutterloh
Contributor URL: http://www.compjason.com

I have seen Kung Fu Panda twice since its release and immediately fell in love with it within the first thirty minutes of the movie. How can you not enjoy watching a chubby panda wish he was a kung fu hero amongst all other animals?

Going into the movie, I figured it would be one of those cute kiddie movies that are only entertaining for, well, kids. I’m glad I was wrong. This movie would be great for kids but teens and adults as well. My abs got a good workout by the end. How can one not be amused at the power of the “Mushu (or wushu, not really sure) Finger Hold” or the scene at the end where Po (Jack Black) thinks Shi Fu (spelling?)(Dustin Hoffman) is dead? (You’ll have to see the movie to know what I’m referring to here.)

While the movie lasts a mere hour and thirty minutes it is full of gut-wrenching humor and a cute storyline about an unlikely hero. wait, what? You say you’ve seen enough movies about unlikely heroes and underdogs? Go see one more. This one can’t compare to some great sports movies like “Remember the Titans” but its a good relief from everyday stress or a good way to get out of the sun for a while.

I strongly encourage you to go see this movie with your family, friends, or whoever. It’s good, clean, fun entertainment. That is something we lack in America, and it was refreshing to see this movie. If you have any other questions or comments, please respond.

“Skidoosh!”

Review submitted via our Submit A Review page.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Super Size Me



Welcome to McDonald’s, how may I help you? The answer to this question is varied. Out of the millions of Americans who journey to the highly prophesized golden arches some may order a hamburger, others a McChicken, and still others the fabled Big Mac. And would they like fries with that? Of course they would. Would they like something to drink? Most likely they want some sort of soft drink or sugar loaded, caffeine filled refreshment. Would they like to super size their order? They will super size it in a heartbeat. In his documentary Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock goes where many people have gone before. He goes to McDonald’s. At first glance, making the not so strenuous journey to the closest McDonald’s seems quite simple. There are four McDonald’s per square mile in Manhattan. And even if it just is not in his schedule to walk to the restaurant, he can always get it delivered, for free. To many Americans this seems like a paradise. McDonald’s everyday for every meal, for one entire month seems too good to be true, or is it? Spurlock’s trips to McDonald’s are meant, not to bring more people to McDonald’s, but to keep them out. He questions the highly accessible fast food diet and puts it to the ultimate test; he will eat only McDonald’s and film himself while doing so.

Please, pay at the first window. At first glance Spurlock’s documentary might seem a bit over the top. He spends more money on his food than a family of three would. But to achieve the ultimate effect, he has to go a bit overboard. Spurlock risks his own health, and life, to show the public the deadly affects of fast food. His message is initially interpreted as a call to stop eating fast food, but it is much more than that. Spurlock effectively derides fast food, no exercise, and finally the people who purchase the food themselves. These are the ones who give the fast food companies the money to stay in business; they encourage the production of unhealthy food.

It is true that Spurlock’s very documentary can be at times a bit disgusting. He vomits in the parking lot after his first gorge on McDonald’s food. He shows a stomach stapling. He also slightly crosses a line by showing obese people at random intervals throughout the film and not disclosing why they are obese. The reasons can be inferred, but there may be other problems that the audience is not made aware of. It is also mildly nauseating to watch Spurlock eat his gigantic meals and then feel sick afterwards. This documentary is not for those who easily feel nauseous. Another criticism of Super Size Me is that Spurlock seems to have a blatant disregard for his own health. When the nutritionist recommends that he should be taking aspirin and vitamins Spurlock does not seem concerned. He replies that he can only take those if McDonald’s sells them, which of course they do not.

Here is your change; your food should be ready in a few seconds. Even with the somewhat disgusting scenes, Spurlock makes many valid points. He centers his attack on McDonald’s, but then he expands it to American’s lifestyles and the way the fast food industry functions. Spurlock makes it loud and clear from the beginning that McDonald’s, as well as other junk food industries, choose children as their targets. Children are the most easily influenced, and therefore the logical target for fast food companies looking to earn billions of dollars. Advertisements are their key weapon. Fast food companies advertise to children by strategically placing their commercials in time slots where children will see them. Spurlock presents the fact that fast food and junk food companies spend hundreds of times more money on advertising than health food companies. These unhealthy companies believe that if they can make children their consumers, that they will have these same people as consumers for their entire life. Spurlock reveals the sad fact that through the millions of advertisements that children see, they will be more likely to recognize Ronald McDonald than Jesus or President Bush. Marketing to children is a favorite of fast food companies, especially McDonald’s, whose Happy Meal is targeted at children. A new action figure, a little stuffed animal, or a colorful new plastic gadget can be obtained. A hamburger or chicken nuggets and fries accompany the highly coveted new toy. The children will eat the unhealthy, calorie packed meal if only to obtain the toy they so desire. The playlands at McDonald’s are meant to draw the children in, and keep them there to eat. Spurlock explains that especially in low-income areas, these playlands may be the children’s only chance at fun, fun they desire with a chocolate sundae on the side.

Please, drive to the next window to pick up your order. Spurlock makes it clear in his documentary that exercise and physical activity are important. He restates that every person should get at least thirty minutes of activity each day. He then visits a school and reveals the shocking revelation that many schools just do not have the money to provide this time for physical activity. Maybe people should spend less money on fast food and more on improving schools. In attempt to show the effects of a lack of exercise, Spurlock limits his physical activity. Everyday he can only walk a certain distance, much of which is used on his walks to McDonald’s.

In an effort to show that Americans do still have hope to improve, Spurlock offers some alternatives to the fast food diet. He contrasts the unhealthy, government provided, school lunch food with a lunch program in Appleton, Wisconsin that provides healthy all natural lunch food. Contrary to what most people would think, this healthy alternative costs the same, or even less, than the unhealthy food. Is there a reason the schools serve unhealthy foods when all natural foods are available at comparable prices? Spurlock makes it clear that there should be a switch to healthier foods. To provide his audience with another alternative to fast food, Spurlock introduces his girlfriend. She is a vegan. She appears to be happy with her healthy diet, but she can get annoying at times, which detracts from the appeal of alternative diets that Spurlock suggests.

Super Size Me achieves its goal of drawing attention to the growing issue in America, obesity. Spurlock then finds an easy target to place the blame; he chooses McDonald’s because it had recently been sued for serving its unhealthy food. Spurlock argues that the fast food companies are to blame, as well as their advertising techniques, and the American lifestyle in general. He wants people to think about what they eat, especially after they see the effects that fast food had on Spurlock’s body. When next asked if they should super size it, he wants Americans to think twice. Do they really need all those extra calories? Or just as important, do they even know what a calorie is? Many do not as Spurlock proves in his documentary. Spurlock seeks to educate the public on the horrific affects of a fast food diet, and he succeeds in doing so. He also succeeds in offering plausible ways to prevent obesity and improve lifestyles. Super Size Me offers a somewhat biased, but basically true version of the American fast food diet, and once people see the documentary they may think twice about going to McDonald’s or eating junk food. Thank you for choosing to eat at McDonald’s, have a nice day.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Henry Fool (1997)



Benjamin Wood
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Score: 3/5

Hal Hartley is a one man film-making machine. According to the Internet Movie Database, he has directed 23 movies/short films. Of those, he wrote 17. In addition, he has solely (or at least helped) to compose the music for thirteen of his films. If anything, Hartley has to be called ambitious.

But are his movies any good? Henry Fool is my introduction to Hartley's film world, and unfortunately, my first response is one of mixed emotions. On one hand, Henry Fool is an almost ambient look at a drifter with delusions of grandeur and a garbage-man who finds his inner poetic genius. This aspect of the story is generally handled well, with the dynamic between Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) and Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) for the most part was able to keep me interested in the story, and wanting to see more. The peripheral storylines, however, involving Simon's sister, Fay Grim (Parker Posey), his mother (Maria Porter), a cynical priest (Nicholas Hope), and a "holier-than-thou" senator and his cronies, leave much to be desired.

The main problem seems to be that the main story is so strong that the momentary diversions seem unnecessary, adding little to the characters that the conversations between Henry and Simon did not. The story's focus is on Henry's personal demons (why he was in prison years before, why he refused to share his "Confessions" with anyone) and Simon's reluctant rise from being labeled "retarded" by his family to being a poetic prodigy, and that's where it should've stayed. The other storylines, the mother's depression, the priest's cynicism, the right-wing senator's campaign, all come and go with little fanfare, and yet take up at least a half hour of the movie.

The movie lives (and dies) on Hartley's dialogue and the performances from Ryan and Urbaniak. When they are together onscreen, the chemistry is palpable, and the dialogue seems both crisp and ambiguous. Apart, however, the dialogue drifts, and for the most part the supporting characters spout off petty annoyances rather than engage in developed introspection.

Hartley also makes two stylistic choices that continue to baffle me slightly. First, there's a scene (which seems to last at least a minute) where a character is a on a toilet and there are very loud flatulent sounds. It seems that, in a movie that seems constantly concerned with promoting the profundity of the story without alienating the viewer completely, a scene such as this only made me wonder whether the story really was all that profound, or was a ruse, much like Henry Fool's own deluded view of his own self-importance.

The second choice that puzzled me was that, for the first two-thirds of the movie, it seems that Simon Grim, and not Henry Fool, is the main character, despite the title of the movie. The last forty minutes, however, feature almost exclusively on Henry, with Simon's presence glaringly absent. The shift in focus mid-film is somewhat abrupt, and the lack of the Henry/Simon dynamic make the end portion of the film seem even slower than the rest, which is not a good thing for an already slow movie.

Henry Fool is not a failure, however. The dynamic between the two leads is engaging, and the segment of the story focusing on whether Simon's "magnum opus" is "art" or "pornography" is developed fully and powerfully. Unfortunately, the movie continues to trod along far after this storyline has reached its apex, and the ending is surprisingly rushed and anti-climatic.

It seems a shame that a movie with such promise should flounder so horribly in the end. Hartley definitely has a world-changing poem within him, but for now, it's hard to tell whether he's more Henry Fool or Simon Grim.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)



Benjamin Wood
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Score: 2.5/5

A trilogy is, as defined by Webster's Dictionary, "A series of three dramas which, although each of them is in one sense complete, have a close mutual relation, and form one historical and poetical picture." Trilogies have been around since the days of Ancient Greece, where tragedies were often performed in sets of three. Quadrilogy, meanwhile, has no current dictionary definition, and has seemingly only entered the public vernacular recently, in regards to movies that could not stand pat at being merely trilogies. Unfortunately, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (henceforth known simply as Crystal Skull) turns the great Indiana Jones trilogy into a flawed and unnecessarily long Indiana Jones quadrilogy.

The Indiana Jones trilogy always had the bad fortune to be Harrison Ford and George Lucas' "second best trilogy," paling in comparison to the Star Wars trifecta. That being said, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were both excellent films, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was a good film, most likely being remembered poorly because it was sandwiched in between two far superior films. Temple of Doom, however, is now no longer the worst of the Indiana Jones series. Crystal Skull makes Temple of Doom look like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and threatens to put a slight damper on many fond memories

Crystal Skull suffers mainly from two things: (1) The story is horrible. Not just bad compared to the other three Indiana Jones movies, but bad in general. It tries to roll four or five separate storylines into a single one, and ends up coming off as schizophrenic and ridiculous. (2) The action in Crystal Skull is hokey and requires the viewer to suspend their disbelief far beyond the levels that were needed to enjoy the first three movies.

The main plotline in Crystal Skull involves Indy trying to escape from Soviet agents, surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator (how's that for having to suspend one's disbelief?), escape from more Soviets, recover an ancient relic in Peru (the crystal skull for which the movie is named), escape more Soviets, take the skull to an ancient temple located somewhere in Brazil, escape a variety of traps and (gasp!) more Soviets, and ultimately find out what the power is that the relic holds. Unfortunately, it all comes off as half-assed and disjointed, with Cold War sentiments combined with government conspiracies, ancient Mayan treasure, and an ample dose of psychic powers and paranormal events. There we go, no fewer than 4 urban myths trying to combine into some sort of uber-story. Unfortunately, the whole is much, much less than the sum of its parts.

In fact, the story seems more like a George Lucas parody than anything. The main plotline combines stale historical events like the first three Indiana Jones movies with paranormal events that seem like Star Wars rejects. Spielberg's directing doesn't fare much better, with the film coming off as A History of Spielberg instead of an actual movie. He borrows ideas from many of his classic movies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Last Crusade, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind), yet does nothing of real interest. Part of that could be the horribly obtuse story, but the laziness of his latest few works seems to have seeped into Crystal Skull as well, and the entire thing is plagued by a tinge of boredom.

All that said, there are a couple of positives which keep Crystal Skull from being a complete disaster. The actors all seem relatively comfortable in their roles, with Harrison Ford being the most exciting, showing flashes of the old Indiana Jones despite being in his mid-sixties. Karen Allen does a great job of reprising her role as Marion Ravenwood (now Mary Williams), and the chemistry between her and Ford doesn't seem nearly as forced as expected. Cate Blanchett does what she can with the material she's given, giving a fairly good (if stereotypical) Eastern European accent, and making her character bearable, something the script didn't do. John Hurt and Ray Winstone do serviceable jobs with their roles, although neither is spectacular. The weakest member of the cast, Shia LeBeouf, surprised me by not being annoying as hell as sidekick "Mutt" Williams, but he didn't win me over with his performance, either.

Secondly, the film does have some of the lighthearted humor that made the first films so enjoyable, and the banter between characters is, for the most part, enjoyable. It's nothing special (and at times you start to suspect that the "homages" to the earlier films might've just been screenwriting apathy), but it helps keep the viewers from being too bogged down by the unnecessarily stupid main plot.

It's a shame that Crystal Skull was nothing more than a mediocre retread, but it was not unexpected. More and more we seem to be buried in sequels to long dead movie franchises, and for every one that is good, there are five or more that make you yearn for the films of old. If anything, the most positive thing about Crystal Skull is that it expediated the release of the special edition DVDs of the older films. Those show what both Lucas and Spielberg are capable of.

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True Colors



Very well-played, but almost written at the level of an after-school special.

from dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com


The Brat Pack actors are certainly a talented bunch. Everyone has a favorite. For me, it's a toss-up between James Spader and Anthony Michael Hall.

John Cusack was mesmerizing back in his early-days. He was a teenager, but he looked, sounded and acted very adult for his age. "The Sure Thing" put him on the map and "Say Anything..." made him a household name.

But while Crowe's "Say Anything..." was obviously a great movie, it was both a blessing and a curse for Cusack, who has rarely played anything else in his career. I know, I know. He's been in countless other movies. But "a rose by any other name..." His character, no matter what the movie, is essentially always Lloyd Dobbler.

Spader sometimes played other types besides the oily Steff from "Pretty in Pink." His typecast-breaking turn came when he played the lead in this movie.

But I know Cusack can do more. I keep waiting for him to. Which was one of my guilty pleasures of this movie.

The story and plot are the right out of the old fable about the rich man and the poor man who come together and create something special... and then the rich man betrays the poor man and casts him aside. And the poor man plots to take revenge...

Another big twist that "True Colors" has is it's twist in typecasting. Cusack specializes in playing sharp, calculated, smarter-than-average teenager... who's heartbroken and devastated... and is desperately trying to win back the girl. Here, Cusack plays a character who's as smart as the heroes he usually plays, though here he uses his intellectual gifts for evil instead of good. His goal is usually to win the girl's heart. Here he betrays the girl (and his close friend) in order to get what he wants.

And Spader usually plays blue-blooded, silver-spoon fed, upper-class yuppie scummy villains. Here he's still a rich blue-blooded yuppie. But a hero, who uses his financial connections to right wrongs and do just.

The two meet the first day of law school where there's a fender-bender and brief scuffle. Cusack angrily attacks Spader violently and blames him for the whole thing and the two have to be pulled apart. Later on, things get worse as they discover... their assigned to be roommates. Cusack smooths things over by admitting the whole thing was his fault. You'll see why.

Afterwords, the two form a fast friendship and Spader even uses his financial backgrounds and connections to help Cusack out. Later we find out that Cusack is lying about his background to fit in and the payoff feels lifted out of a soppy, moralizing and insipid sit-com where today's moral is... "If you have to be someone else to get a friend, then they're really not your friend."

Richard Widmark is great as well as the ailing senator who sees potential and ambition in Cusack after he sees what looks like Cusack doing him a favor, little realizing how dangerous Cusack is. Spader girlfriend considers breaking off the relationship for Cusack who can keep her bringing in big cash. She doesn't realize that Cusack is willing to betray her too, in order to get what he wants.

One of the major problems is that their true colors are obvious from the beginning. Cusack is clearly someone not to trust from the start and Spader all but actually walks on water. Another is that the movie is too thin. There isn't enough entry.

The movie... skims too much of the surface. And Spader's big plan and the finale is pretty tacked on.

The movie aspires to be a movie like "Patriot Games" or "Citizen Kane." But everything is routine and predictable and there are precious few new touches to this tired formula. If screenwriter Kevin Wade could've given the script a bit more depth and discovery into these characters and done a little more with the formula, this could have really been something special. The cast does what it can, but inevitably, a good cast can only take a movie so far. Still, it's worth seeing just for Cusack turn towards the dark side and Spader as a yuppie with heart.

Oh, well.

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Gone Baby Gone



Gone Baby Gone (15) - 114 min
"Ben should stick to directing and let Casey do the acting"
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan
Director: Ben Affleck
5/5
Reviewer: John Park (gpd1991@gmail.com)

A young girl is kidnapped from her house. Two young private detectives (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) decide to help the mother on the verge of breakdown (Amy Ryan). A police captain (Morgan Freeman), who has lost a child himself, and a cop looking for justice by any means necessary (Ed Harris) join in the hunt for the missing child in which nothing is what it seems.

It is not surprising that Amy Ryan received so many critics’ awards in the States. Although she did not have a lot of screen time, whenever the camera was on her she was fantastic. However, she was criminally side-lined by the major awards, such as Academy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild. It was a shame that she did not end up getting the attention that she deserved.

This film proved two very important things: a) Casey Affleck can act and b) Ben Affleck is a much better director than he is an actor. Casey Affleck was a promising young lead. If he manages to maintain his brilliant qualities I believe an Oscar is an absolute guarantee. He would have won this year if it had not been for Javier Bardem (ruthless in "No Country For Old Men"). As for the rest of the cast, they worked very well together. Ed Harris appeared absolutely merciless in his role and Morgan Freeman was definitely skilful in his. Over crowded by famous and talented names, Michelle Monaghan did not seem to have a lot of room to breathe but she held her own.

As more and more was revealed about different characters, the plot began to take deep and sudden turns. A storyline that just started with a simple kidnapping developed into something much bigger with more and more shocking twists constantly being added. At the end of the film an extremely questionable decision is made, from which the audience must draw its own conclusions - effectively maintaining suspense to the very last. The film did not provide a single boring moment and was a deeply effective cop drama.

The release date of this film was pushed back to June 2008 in the U.K due to the Madeleine McCann incident but that should not in any way affect its performance: this was quite simply one of the best cop dramas I have ever seen.

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Dirty Harry (1971)



Benjamin Wood
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Score: 2.5/5

It's always tough for me to rate "classic" movies. On the one hand, it's easy to give the movies great reviews, showering compliments about the "innovation" of the movie and how, for its time, it was like the best in the business. At the same time, many "classic" movies have not aged well, and today look extremely dated and are, to put it frankly, amazingly boring by today's standards.

I was not enamored with Dirty Harry. Clint Eastwood's performance as the title character was good but not spectacular, the supporting actors were for the most part non-factors (except for the crazy serial killer, who was distracting with just how much he hammed up his performance), the story was drawn out way beyond its logical limit, and the film itself was not all that exciting or tense. In fact, the only moment I found myself truly drawn in was a scene where Eastwood has to run a bag of money around town, jumping from pay phone to pay phone as a kidnapper gives him directions that are increasingly more difficult to follow.

There's no denying that Dirty Harry was wildly influential, as you can see many of its elements seeping into later action films: gratuitous nudity that serves no real purpose, main characters who are badass yet seem to lack in actual development, the crazy killer who is the antithesis to the "wholesome" values of the protagonist, and a line repeated in a movie by the protagonist in the hopes that it is vividly remembered long after the movie has ended (in Dirty Harry's case, it's "Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"). Unfortunately, all of these elements have been repeated so many times that they have become horrible action movie cliches, and it's difficult to watch Dirty Harry in retrospect without thinking, "Man, I've seen all of this before somewhere."

One aspect, however, that continues to bug me is the constant stereotyping of minorities and gay men in the film. Black men and women are depicted as stereotypes, as criminals and those who only speak in heavy "urban slang," while gay men seem to be displayed as limp wristed and hyper-effeminate. I understand that the early seventies was still a time of bigotry and that the entertainment business is still a cesspool of horrible stereotypes (although they are much more insidious and subtle nowadays), yet I can't help but be irked by these portrayals. Am I supposed to forgive a film for these caricatures because the film was from a different era and the makers might "not have known any better?" Am I supposed to think it's funny that Dirty Harry hates everyone, "especially Spics?" Am I supposed to forgive Harry for his sexism and racism because he's trying to stop a child murderer? It creates a paradox that leaves you feeling dirty no matter which side you take: You can either root for a sexist, bigoted asshole, or you can root for someone who murders children. The film's simplistic dichotomy leaves no middle ground, and paints Dirty Harry in such a positive light that it's clear that you must be "for" or "against" certain characters.

Unfortunately, that aspect of the film has also carried into today's cinema, with heroes who have unforgiveable flaws, and yet we're forced to root for them because the antagonist has flaws which are even more unsavory. In the end, judging Dirty Harry for its influence on the action genre is easy to do. Asking whether this influence was a positive thing or a negative thing, however, is a very different question, and one that is rarely asked, and less often answered. My personal feeling is that Dirty Harry does more harm than good, but there are plenty who would disagree with me, who would say I'm reading too much into things. I'm not telling anyone to agree with my assessment of the movie, but rather I'm urging those watching to at least give thought to the topic. I can easily see people that cannot forgive Harry for his views, yet will still view this as a quintessential action movie. And maybe if I had found the action sequences to be more exciting and suspenseful I would be one of those people. Unfortunately, the film itself falls short, making it much tougher to forgive Harry for his views.

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North



If they outlawed paddling, the cane and CHILD MOLESTATION... they should outlaw THIS.

by dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com

Here is a movie so wrong-headed, wrong-hearted, wrong-made... so worng, you'd think the old axiom of a broken clock that's right twice a day would prove. But nope. It doesn't. Not by a long shot.

One of my most depressing experiences as a child was seeing Rob Reiner's "North." In fact, as extensive internet research has shown me, it was a painful experience for many as children and stayed with him throughout adulthood.

One of the worst movies of the year. One of the worst movies of the decade. One of the worst movies ever made. One of the worst ever. And when I say "worst", I'm comparing it to thinks like the Black Plague, the Holocaust, World Hunger, AIDS and Leperocy.

Elijah Wood is a wonderboy who is constantly ignored by his parents despite his best intentions and efforts that make most parents beam like the sun with pride. He spends a lot of time feeling ignored and sits in a chair in a furniture store at the mall to think. He decides he deserves better parents than the ones he's got (who doesn't?) and divorces them.

His folks are comatose from shock, but who cares? He's already in search of better ones.

He travels all over the globe and finds surrogate folks which are not right for him. Not loving, caring, nuturing... or very funny or interesting.

His best friend from school is enthusiastic about the divorce and gets the word out to all parents that children deserve better and thing better change or else.

I was actually in physical pain watching how badly the film's plot is handled.

While it is a thrill to see Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus together as a married couple and action legend Bruce Willis in an easter bunny suit... believe me, it doesn't last. The bad outweighs the good. Oh, HOW the bad outweights the good.

The big-name celebrity bit-players are many: Dan Aykroyd, Reba McEntire, Jon Lovitz, Bruce Willis, Graham Greene, Abe Vigoda, Richard Belzer, Ben Stein, Alexander Godunov, Kelly McGillis, John Ritter, Scarlett Johansson, Lauren Tom and Alan Arkin. Films with a big-name cast doing walk-ons is kind of tricky. Often this leads to a bunch of actors embarassing themselves in bit throwaway roles for a quickie paycheck and "the sake of work." It all really depends on the film itself--the screenplay and the director.

When a film with such a high pedigree of actors and filmmaker, Mr. Rob Reiner, you have to wonder why this whole damn thing went so incredibly wrong. And then kept going. And going and going. I am reminded of the legendary quote, "Only those who dare to fail greatly, can achieve greatly." And just about all who flaunt this picture have achieved greatly at one time or another. So... there you go. The ying to the yang.

The result can be "Traffic" or "Gosford Park." And the result can be "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues" of "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas."

You know, it's funny. When I first saw the trailer for "North," I thought to myself, "Wow. This looks like a good movie. I'm gonna see this one." And yes, the trailer damn well made this look like a good one. It just goes to show you... advertisements can make anything look appealing. Hey, remember "Babe: Pig In The City?" The ads didn't make the movie look like much. But the movie was... wow.

Hey, come to think of it-- I would like to advise to eveyone who was unfortunate enough to see any more of this one that what they used for the trailers (so much as a frame more) to go out and rent "Babe II." It's an ideal antidote.

Of course, you may need a few days of bed rest and antibiotics right after seeing "North," but after that... please... don't let this one put you off movies. Or any of the truly gifted people who were associated with this abomination.

Wood is one of the most talented actors ever to grace the business and the man seems unable to do a bad job on screen. Just check out "Radio Flyer" or " for evidence. But hey, like I need to tell you, right?

But while his acting is on-par with Brando, Guiness, Hopkins and Kilmer, not every movie to come his way compliments his talents. Just after the disastrous misfire "The Good Son," this one floated it's way into theaters like a chunky, nutty, crooked turd after a whole year of improper diet. Adding further insult to injury.

It is perplexing--to the point of going cross-eyed and your whole head exploding "Scanners"-style--trying to figure out what in God's name the filmmakers were thinking.

Seriously, I actually picture Jesus H. Christ himself on the cross, thinking to himself, "I died for this... ? If I'd known, I wouldn't have bothered."

We all make mistakes, even collosal ones. Even the best of us.

Hell, especially the best of us!

Walt Disney was an anti-Semite. L. Ron Hubbard was a pedophile. R. Crumb is a racist and misogynistic sycophant. And I myself...

Well, I could go on, but you get the idea. Honestly, avoid this one about as much as you hepatitis A-through-Z. A sulfur plant leaves he aroma of an autumn meadow perfume compared to this one.

In summary, "North" is a childhood trauma that refuses to be repressed. For many, including myself. Don't let it be yours.

Still, we are all mortal. We are all human. We all make mistakes, we stumble, we falter.

No one of us are infallible. Rob Reiner has delivered us "When Harry Met Sally," "The Sure Thing," "This Is Spinal Tap," "The Princess Bride" and "The American President." Surely, we can forgive "North." Can't we?

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly."

And Reiner has clearly done both. Let us at this as one of humanity's greatest follies... and try to find laughter in it. Not at the movie itself, which is clearly impossible, but at the movie's expense.

Like many Jewish comedians have done with WWII, the Holocaust and the years of slavery they were subjected to in Egypt, this is just one more thing we have to learn to laugh at. Not with, AT.

OK, Mr. Reiner. You are officially forgiven. Good luck... and let's hope another abomination like this isn't in the works.

Peace...

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit



What can I say? What's left to say? It all been said... it speaks for itself...

by dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com


Gee... What can I say?

What can be said that hasn't been said a zillion times about this movie before? By film critics, film buffs, the other user posters on IMDb and every other person who saw this one?

But you know what? I'm not here to really promote this movie, or analyze it... I'm here to write my love letter for it. We're all here to share our movie-going experiences, aren't we? Well, f*ck it, here's mine.

I still remember being a little prepubescent boy sitting in the theater watching this movie, totally amazed and astounded by what I saw. Seeing this wacky cartoons going through a routine Tom-and-Jerry-type episode... and then... it was amazing how these movie actually tricked you, convinced you to believe that human and cartoons can exist in the same universe and dimension of reality.

There are many a great pleasures and moments in this movie, one of them is the duet at a "toon" night club called "The Ink & Paint Club" where Eddie goes to get information about Roger's wife, and the opening act is a dueling duet on the piano featuring two great legends, Daffy Duck and Donald Duck (I doubt there's any biological relation there) together at last. Why did it take so long for these two to get together? Well, they are rival entertainers for rival studios, so...

But of course, the dueling duet ends in an all-out war. Come on, we both know the hatchet wasn't going to stay buried very long.

The whole movie is worth renting just to see the two great legends, Daffy and Donald, put their differences aside for one memorable dueling piano duet ALONE.

"Roger Rabbit" pioneered not only animation and film-making style, but acting, writing, directing and a meshing together of different genres.

Imagination, luck, brilliance, skill... it's all been blended so perfectly here... just like the animation and live-action.

Funny, sharp, satirical, smart, thrilling, skillful, bright, bold, hard-boiled, colorful... at even at times, a little scary.

It one three Oscars, not to mention an Honorary Award for it's Technical Advancements.

Hell, it deserved every single Oscar it got! And a few it didn't. It should've won every single Oscar that year. Maybe some from others...

God, you know, I still remember finding my little Rescue Ranger toy in my pocket and running in back-and-forth through my fingers... I remember being very careful not to loose it as I watched this. And it was hard, damn it, all of what was going up there on the screen.

There's the best of the everything here. Everyone should see it, pure and simple. It's a movie... for pretty much everybody. A masterpiece in more ways than one.

So help me God, I cannot think of a better actor for the role of the classic, hard-boiled, rock-bottom, not-too-smooth P.I. than Bob Hoskins. I don't think he's ever played a better role in his whole life. He seems to be a strange collision of Sam Spade and W.C. Fields, in some strange way.

Christopher Lloyd proves yet again (as he does in all his roles) that he's one of the most underrated actors in the business. He's known for playing the bizarre, the crazy, the wired. But his ability to play villains, particularly more sedate and low-key ones, is overlooked so much, it's grounds for a discrimination lawsuit.

Kathleen Turner is damn perfect as Roger's Mrs; especially considering that all she does here is a voice.

Roger Rabbit" pioneered not only animation and film-making style, but acting, writing, directing and a meshing together of different genres. Literature purists and scholars (yes, I mean geeks) will note that this movie is adapted from a novel by Gary K. Wolf, who specializes in science-fiction.

For those of you who are enamored with this movie and just learning this, are actively considering dropping this review right this instant and running to your nearest library and bookstore to pick up a copy to read as an addition to the movie or just out of curiosity, I should warn you that the movie is completely unfaithful to the novel.

Oh, both are clever and well-written spoofs of the whole "hard-boiled private-detective mystery noir genre," but the two are so completely different, in writing-style, character dialouge, plot, theme, even ending, you wonder why they even bothered to get Wolf's permission and pay him a royalty. Gee, usually these Hollywood types are a little more snaky and know how to exploit all these loopholes.

You've no doubt heard the old saying, "You can't please everyone, so don't even bother." Because when you try, you wind up ultimately pleasing no one. Least of all, yourself. It's strange, this movie seems like an exception to that one little rule. I mean, I know there's an exception to every rule, but this is one you're sure is completely iron-clad. This is a movie for everyone. This is a movie that will please everyone. And you know what else? It never got the credit for that. Think about what a big train-wreck this movie could have been. How many things could have gone wrong.

How many years Disney and Warner have been at war, all this time, money for a experiment that could have gone worse than than the killer bees and the atomic bomb. And yet, glory be, it didn't. We all live for days like this, filmmakers, film critics... and film lovers.

The best part? After it was all over... Roger and Baby Herman went on to star in several of their own cartoon shorts before the movie for real ("Dick Tracy" and "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids").

Good for them.

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Giving It Up



The Bastard Lovechild Of 'Sex & The City' and 'What Women Want.' A quirky re-inventive romp that makes us believe in cliches'!

by dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com

Kublan's "Giving it Up" is a movie which is scarce in the indie field. A romantic comedy, rumored to be the worst, sloppiest, unentertaining and most formulaic of the entire genre.

But very surprisingly, "Giving it Up" is a smarter, more-thinking person's romantic comedy. A movie that seems to have filtered out the obnoxious slapstick, trite plot points, dumb characters, monotone dialouge and Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan's routines.

Oh, there are quite a few cliches' in this movie, all right. The playboy who's tired of the game and wants to settle down and develop as a person, the bookish love interest who has no patience for his antics, the sexist supporting characters, the geeky best friend, the unobtainable finally obtained... only to realize that...

And although it sounds like the storyline from "What Women Want" (which also featured Feuerstein), no two movies could possibly be more polar opposite.

But "Giving it Up" is more than that. It doesn't rely entirely on that as so many other rom-coms do.

"GIU" is a well-played, thoughtfully-written, smartly concieved look at men, women and their views on sex and drelationships.

In "Giving it Up," a New York advertsing executive who specializes in selling sex to sell products is living the "almost ideal existance." He has devoted his life to attracting the opposite sex.

And it seems to be working. He has a new stranger in his bed every night. He's making fat cheddar. His hard-nosed, sexist boss (Dabney Coleman "9 to 5," "Tootsie," "Recess: School's Out" and "You've Got Mail") loves him. His apartment is lavish and full of cosmetics to polish his vessel and keep it clean. And his superhuman libido fuels his creative fires.

Enter his new boss, Elizabeth, who has heard of him and his reputation. She's smart and genuinely attractive. And quite down to earth. Ralph (Mark Feuerstein "Woman on Top" and "What Women Want"), the playboy in question is instantly smitten with her. But she's heard the word on the street and smiles, giving him the brush off.

Ralph is obsessed. He wants her. He can have every woman except the one he truly wants. Ain't it always the way? Ralph's less-lucky-in-love buddy, Peter (Ben Weber-- "Twister" and TV's "Sex in the City") asks Ralph why? Why does he want to give up the life? Apparently, Ralphie boy feels empty. He decides to "give it all up."

He's the Falling Casanova. He tries to go celibate. He meets up with Elizabeth and informs her of his newfound desire to live a life with something besides sex and even tries to win her over with his outside sex-interests. Like his joy for Billy Wilder's Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn classic "Love in the Afternoon."

Kublan's script is smart in a "Sex in the City"-type of way. Full of realsitic conversations between men and women about dating, relationships, sex and their own views and look at it all.

The cast is paticularly strong for an indepenedent film. Feuerstein is a real charmer, Weber and James Lesure (From "For Your Love") are convincing and likeable as his best friends. Ari Larter as the foul and lecherous super-supermodel Amber is also good for a few laughs. Amy Redford is really 100% believable as a smart, intellegent, confident (and beautiful) businesswoman who hates her self a bit for falling for this falling Casanova.

See it alone for the near Oscar-worthy performance of the magnificent Dabney Coleman, more hard-nosed, sexist and snarling than ever.

Whatever it's called, wherever you live: "Giving It Up," "No Sex 4U." A rose by literally any other name. Or by it's original title: "Casanova Falling."

It's worth falling for.

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Coonskin



Don't let the title throw you. This is one to see. From the one and only Ralph Bakshi.

by dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com

"Coonskin" is film, by the one and only Ralph Bakshi, is reportedly a satirical indictment of blaxploitation films and negative black stereotypes, as well as a look at life black in modern America (modern for the day, I mean--1975). Paramount dropped it like a hot potato that just burst into flame.

But this is a Bakshi film, controversial, thrilling, and a must-see almost by definition alone. Not just another random "shock-jock" of a movie which tries to shock for the sake of shock. It's by Ralph Bakshi. Anyone who knows the name knows that if HE made a movie, he has something big to say...

Although it's roots are based in cheap blaxploitation, "Coonskin" isn't just another campy knock-off of mainstream white film or any kind of throwaway flick. "Coonskin" wants to be more. It aims it's sights higher and fries some much bigger fish.

The movie doesn't just poke fun at the genre. Nor does it just indict black people, but actually seems to show love, beauty and heart in the strangest places.

"Coonskin" tells a story out of some convicts awaiting a jail-break. The fact that it's even possible to break out of a prison in the "Coonskin" world alone makes it old-fashioned.

One of the inmates tells a story about a trio of black brothers in Harlem named Brother Bear, Brother Rabbit, Preacher Fox who want respect and a piece of the action and are willing to get it by any means necessary. The Italian mob is running all the real action.

Big name black musicians star: Barry White and Scatman Crothers, as well as Charles Gordone, the first black playwright to take home the Pulitzer. Something big is happening here obviously.

The movie plays out like a descent into this world, this side of the racial divide. From an angry, hip, deep, soulful black man with a hate in his heart and a gun in his hand.

Bakshi's films never know the meaning of the word "subtlety." This one looks like it's never even heard of the word. But maybe a subject like this needs extremism. Real sledgehammer satire. Some subjects can't be tackled gently.

Bakshi is god dammed merciless. Here, no member or minority of the Harlem scene appears unscathed.

The characters here are "animated" to "real" all depending on what the mood and situation are. The animated characters and the human ones all share the same reality and are meant to be taken just as literally.

Bakshi never just shows ugly caricatures just for shock value. He always has something to say. Nor is blackface is gratuitously. Here, unlike in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled," he seems to be using it to try and really say something.

Like 99.9% of all of Bakshi's films, this one incorporates animation and live-action. Usually at the same time. Bakshki isn't just being gimmicky here. All of this technique is all intertwined, meshing together while saying something.

Somehow, this one feels inevitably dated. Many of these types of films (Bakshi's included) are very topical, very spur of the moment. They reflect the certain trend for the day, but looking back of them years later, there's just an unmistakable feeling of nostalgia (as well as timeless truth).

Even though the music, clothes, slang and the city clearly looks like photos that belong in a time capsule, the attitude, the spirit and the heart remain the same no matter what f--king ear it is. Anyone who's really seen the movies, the state of things and has been in company of the people know what I'm talking about.

Even some of the of the black characters are a bunny (junglebunny), a big ol' bear and a fox. One of the most sour and unsavory racist characters is a dirty Harlem cop who's hot on the trail of these "[...]" after the death of a cop. But for him, it's not just business. Nor is it for the rest of the brothers who wear the shield. It's just pure sadistic racist pleasure of hurting blacks.

The sequence involving the Godfather and his lady is one of the most moving pieces in the whole film, of which there are many. It plays out like an opera or a ballet.

The promo line: WARNING: "This film offends everybody!" This is not just hype. Proceed with extreme caution.

You have been warned...

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The Nutcracker



Of all the "Nutcrackers," this shines brightest...

by dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com

Perhaps the best interpretation of "The Nutcracker" ever made. Baryshnikov's finest hour. And as even the most ballet-ignorant know, that bar's set pretty high.

I have seen Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in the much-praised chick-flick "The Turning Point." And I have seen him dance his own interpretation of "Don Quixote." Good. Great, even. But not as much as fellow Russkie ballerino Nureyev's stab at "Quixote." And I have seen much more of him dancing. The man defies gravity, as well as many other laws. A ballet dancer, in the country of America, has been treated like a movie star. But this may very well be his best work, artistic-wise.

Mikhail Baryshnikov is man who hardly needs an introduction, as he is a man who is synonymous with ballet. The man is a household name, Baryshnikov is at his best here, which is more than difficult, even for him. Celebrated USA ballerina Gelsey Kirkland (who was a regular partner and even girlfriend of dear Misha at the time) actually proves to be a credible match. And even takes it to a higher level than he does in HER solo scenes.

This was the first "Nutcracker" I've ever seen. I have seen several interpretations of "The Nutcracker" since then, and this one still stands as the best of the lot. There are no real children in this cast. The children's roles are played by adults in adolescent-looking wigs.

The idea to make this a movie rather than a live stage piece kind of works. It allows for more visual effects than a straight live piece would have.

There is a moment where Ms. Kirkland dances a solo all by herself, that sequence actually left be breathless. When she shakes her pointed feet like bells, the music jingles in pitch-perfect sync. She doesn't seem to be following the music at all. The music seems to be following her.

It's so beautifully and perfectly done, that as someone who takes ballet and has danced on the stage, that it actually hurt to watch.

The day that I can move as gracefully and exquisitely (on her worst day, I mean) may never come. Kirkland actually, in that one scene, manages to steal the movie away from Baryshnikov. Baryshnikov's leaps, turns, jumps and pirouettes are as breathtaking as always, and somehow never seem to get old. Misha's striking presence and Peter Pan-like mobility just.. well, makes you want to get up and dance. Or just jump around. He doesn't so much leap as much as soars.

Baryshnikov puts some little touches of humor here and there. There's a lovable old man at the Christmas Party who attempts to dance and hurts himself, as well as a toy soldier who stubs his toe. Baryshnikov has always seemingly had the soul of a child and the heart of a clown.

The Arabian Coffee Dance has been deleted for running time, I'm sorry to say. As has Mother Gigogne. Not to mention The famed "Waltz Of The Snowflakes" is a powerhouse, the ballet corps sway to the music so beautifully, for the briefest moment, we actually forget about Baryshnikov and Kirkland.

Is Baryshnikov trying to give himself more screen time, Clara or the ballet itself? Alexander Minz proves to be invaluable as a supporting player in the role of Drosselmyer. I was reminded of Fred Astaire. He moves around with his long, willowy limbs in a way that seemed almost inhuman. I seriously doubt ever got half the credit he deserved throughout his life.

He had an effective, amusing cameo in "The Turning Point." Baryshnikov continues to prove time and time again what we already know--the greatest ballet dancer of any generation will always be a Russian.

The choreography is riveting, some of the best I've ever seen. Although, the honor for "World's Greatest" go to "Singin' In The Rain." Maybe the Russian could put dances together now. He's reportedly a great teacher of dance as well.

While many of the special-effects look a bit outdated, it remains a riveting experience. After all, most ballet movies are just filmed dancing and this one takes the effort to actually be something of a movie.

The acting is not much, nor is there as much plot as is traditional, a as this "Nutcracker" focuses more on the dancing and music. The pyrotechnics (the dancer's rapidly-moving muscular limbs and the way they and the music truly gel).

Despite Mr. Baryshnikov in the title role and given prominent first billing, the star of "The Nutcracker" is Gelsey Kirkland as Clara, as this is all Clara's story.

Mnay movies have attempted to translate this legendary dance story to the screen, usually with disastrous results. For example, the mistake the 20th Century Fox movie "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" made was if they were going to made the ballet into a movie, they should have done something for the movie that they couldn't do for a live production. Alas, they did not. It moved so slowly and the whole movie was so badly-lit, it looked like somebody boot-legged the whole thing with a camcorder.

The solo duets are just as enjoyable. The dancers, are in fact, so good that they almost threaten to outdo the leads.

It's a beautiful story, more with flair and style in it's depth. It's a revised fairy tale.

When Misha and Gels prance together, their body movements almost in perfect parallel... it's beautiful and breath-taking. They seem to be connected internally somehow. These are two people... brought together by dance. It's every little girl's dream... and that's exactly what the "Nutcracker" should be.

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P.S.



One Of The Best Of 2004. The Cast Sparkles and Beams.

by dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com

"P.S." is one of those rare movies that tells a story which feels too good to be true--the kind that's escapist-fantasy and only seems to happen in movies and in our most desperate dreams.

But then again, sometimes we see and here that it does happen in real life. Once in a blue moon. It's every great success story. Like movie-star Lana Turner getting discovered when working in a pharmacy or Muhammad Ali's almost inhumanly-impossible success with his career in the ring, who talked like a professional wrestler.

"P.S." is a movie like that. It tells a story as sweet as a fairy tale, that maybe could happen in life. Where a woman feels like when she loses someone, she loses her chance in life. But then something else comes along that is so incredible, it feels like the divine hand. Is God giving her a do-over? And not being so subtle about it?

Laura Linney continues her streak of must-see movies and Oscar-caliber performances here as Louise, a middle-aged admissions director who's been through a real losing streak throughout her life.

She's recently divorced from her husband, a compulsive sex-addict who's diddled anyone who's set toe in his class. Her best friend seduced away her boyfriend in high school and is now married in an upper-middle class suburb to a man she threatens to cheat on if he doesn't fulfill his "husbandly duties." She's living the kind of life every woman wants to in her most cynical, vengeful, self-absorbed fantasies.

Laura's getting older, life's getting harder (and it hasn't been very charmed to begin with). She begins to see all her hopes and dreams fading fast. And things get even more interesting when see has a private one-on-one interview with a potential art student.

This guy is just her type. Not only, but... he bares an uncanny resemblance to her late college boyfriend, an art major with a passion that matched hers. This guy doesn't just look--he sounds, acts, behaves and his art is even similar. Louise is in shock.

What is this? Coincidence? Incidental? Has she been working herself too hard? Stress? Reincarnation? An escapist-fantasy movie-plot? Whatever it is, Louise is rubbing here eyes while warming up to this guy. Getting to know him... finds herself feeling something.... While trying to keep her feelings at bay. She's a skeptic. She's got one heck a heck of a track record.

One of the most refreshing things about the actress Laura Linney is that she's not just another manufactured beauty from off the assembly line. She's not just another actress. She's not "one of a million." She's just so real. She's not movie-star-ish.

She doesn't wear designer clothes wherever she goes, live in a six-story mansion of Muhulland Dr, smoke cigarettes from a long black holder and have a private trophy room for all her honors. When she acts, it doesn't feel like acting. You feel you know her. She's a real person.

The same hold true for Topher Grace, which explains his success as an actor. He seems so adult, so grown-up for his age. Grace is charismatic and seems smart, his gift and his power on-screen doesn't come from a natural Brando-like acting talent, but his face, his body, his voice, his personality. Somehow, everything he says sounds like he means it. He's so square, so on-the-level. All he has to do is speak to convince you that he's legit.

As an actor, Grace has a style all his own which may or may not be intentional. He has an Anti-Brando method. He never changes his appearance or voice at all in his roles, but he has an earnest, open-faced, true-to-life and genuinely human way in every movie he so much as touches. Which explains why Hollywood keeps throwing mountains of scripts his way and why every movie he's in, he's given a nomination for something.

This is some of the best acting either Linney or Grace has ever done so far, pure and simple.

Gabriel Bryne, one of the finest actors in the world brings his trade-mark debonair and charisma in the role of Peter Harrington, Louise's ex-husband who's nasty habit primarily caused their divorce. There scenes that poke fun and make light of his "f-----g" habit are almost worth the rental price.

Which is why he takes home award after award for nearly every movie he does, because something about his whole appearance and personality makes it come across like he's just himself being himself, not an actor.

While "P.S." may just come across as a woman's picture (and it may well be), this isn't just a moody, sensitive, overly-emotional "chick-flick" to be seen on a "woman's day." This is a movie about some people who are seriously dealing with the trials of life at a turning point of age.

Paul Rudd, who been the key performance in some damn good movies, has basically just a little cameo, but as the estranged brother, he gives us further magnified scope into Louise's little life. He's a reformed junkie with a condescending, sadistic streak towards his big sis.

The movie has a deep, human, true-to-life atmosphere all throughout. There's nary a moment that is written or executed in a way that feels contrived. Nothing in "P.S." needs willing suspension of disbelief. Everything feels so beautiful and natural as the falling of the rain.

I've read an endless number of reviews for this movie which charge Dylan Kidd with making a picture less impressive than his previous effort. Ah, the sophomore jinx. I didn't see his freshman effort, "Roger Dodger," so I'm not particularly biased. And anyway, shouldn't a film be judged solely on it's own merits? Even Steven Spielberg made "Always," "Hook" and "1941."

Listen folks, seriously, so many filmmakers are accused being cursed with the dreaded "sophomore jinx" because when it comes to art, there are people who rate novelty above all else.

Movies like "Birth and "Return To Me" have tackled this subject before, but here it feels so legitimate. Like "Rocky," this one makes us believe clichés can happen... and make us care.

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Joe The King



Whaley attempts therapy onscreen

by dane youssef
danessf@yahoo.com

Frank Whaley's "Joe The King" has been called by the filmmaker himself "semi-autobiographical." And such a story about so much pain and misery just makes to almost want to see it just to see how this guy got where he is today.

It so damn downbeat, you have to ask yourself, "How does all this turn out? This poor little guy... Is there a happy ending?"

Like a lot of actor-helmed vehicles, this one is loaded with big name walk-ons. They work, but at the same time, they disappoint. None of these characters are on the screen enough to make enough of an impact.

"Joe The King" is chock-full of trite and truths to life--the lead that seems to be born into the hard-luck life, the abusive, alcoholic loser father, the weak-willed, weak-spirited, whimpering mother who doesn't care if her husband pounds on her kids as long as he doesn't pound on her, the guidance counselor who's all thumbs--aren't they all? Not just a cliché' in movies, but what guidance counselor has ever been worth in damn in life? Was yours?

There is a moment where it is "Careers Day" in an elementary class where it is revealed that Joe's dad is the janitor. He is ridiculed an lashes out (very mildly) at an obnoxious little teacher's pet and the Dickensian teacher drags Joe and spanks him in front of the entire class. The knife is further pushed and twisted when she makes the whole thing personal by muttering angrily so he can hear, "Just like your father..."

Whaley is clearly dealing with old wounds and knows how to use them so they feel fresh and make you cringe (or worse, relate).

The movie is full of downbeat moments and times where life shows it's ugly face. It seems as if God is very skillfully finding ways to torture Joe... and then skewering it further in smaller ways. In a moment of desperation, Joe attempts to do what his parents can't seem to... save the day.

Joe is not only starving, he descends into petty theft. Then takes it even further. He attempts to dodge his father's outbursts and reach out to his brother, who is trying to eke his way into the "in-crowd" and doesn't want Joe's jinx streak to rub off on him, even to the point of at one point getting out of bed and going to go sleep the closet to get away from his brother's sad vibes.

But "Joe The King" is not just one long crying jag. There is humor, sweetness and tenderness. People may differ about the nature of the ending, but in the strangest, saddest way, it offers some hope.

The children swear in the tradition of "Stand By Me," the child-abuse or disregard in the tradition of "Radio Flyer" and the atmosphere is reminiscent of many other films about working-class life. Unlike "That '70's Show" or "Detroit Rock City" or "Dick," this movie doesn't feel like it belongs solely in the era. It takes place in the 1970's to be sure, but a story like this feels timeless.

Lead actor/title character Noah Fleiss gives one of the best performances he's probably ever given, although how many movies has he really made? And how many of them really have allowed him to shine? This is definitely the one.

Val Kilmer gives a just plain awesome turn as Bob, Joe's stinking, deadbeat drunk of a dad who's one of the biggest problems in Joe's life. He owes money to more than half the town. He dodges his creditors like bullets, drinks himself into a pathetic stupor and lashes out monstrously at his family.

Kilmer, known for playing dazzling roles and pretty-boy parts, puts on a great deal of weight and shows nastier edges that he has since "The Doors."

Since writer/director Whaley and Kilmer first worked together in that film, Whaley obviously saw how powerfully Kilmer could play a violent sadist, always under the influence of drugs. Kilmer has had trouble getting working because he's so damn difficult to work with, so the two were clearly doing each other favors. Another pal of Whaley's, Ethan Hawke plays a friendly, but utterly useless guidance counselor who hopes to get Joe out of his slump at school. And because it's Joe, he makes things a lot worse.

Karen Young is adequate in a brief supporting part as Joe's mother. And Hispanic wunderkind John Leguizamo, a natural comedic talent, takes a more dramatic turn here as a flamboyant busboy in an extended cameo at the local rat hole diner where Joe is working illegally. When the s**t hits the fan and Joe is at the center of it, it doesn't really come as a surprise that he's the only one who knew all along.

Whaley seems to capture the flavor for this kind of working class life and he seems to bring out the best in child actors, as well as his more distinguished adult friends and peers. He also sends us back to the era without hitting us hard with period music on the soundtrack from the day.

I myself was kind of surprised that this screenplay won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (along with Audrey Well's "Guinevere"). The Open Palm nomination for the film itself, that, I can see. The dialouge is altogether realistic, without being nessicarily sharp or too memorable. And the characters are believable without being too fresh.

Writer/director Whaley does an effective job of capturing the atmosphere of this Upstate New York working-class life and bring out the best in child actors and his big-name celebrity walk-troughs.

Whaley has said that much of the story is inspired by the childhood of himself and his older brother, Robert Whaley, who is featured on the soundtrack and has a bit part.

Good ol' Frank himself also has a directors cameo walk-on as one of many who the deadbeat Bob owes money to. He makes a personal house call, and he seems madder than the others Bob owes money to. He acts as a professional collector--the leg-breaking kind. He seems ready to kill Bob and after it's over, the sins of the father are, once again, visited on the son.

So this is the Whaley E! True Hollywood story. More or less.

There is a painful sadness that runs all throughout "Joe The King," and when you look at Frank Whaley, the roles he's taking on and heard him just talk as himself, you kind of see there's something here that Whaley has in him which he brings to his roles.

Whaley deserves extra kudos for getting as far as he did after being dealt such a bad hand. A backhand, even. What of Joe? What of his friends, family, enemies, acquaintances? If you drink in this one, you can't help but wonder...

"Joe The King" doesn't break any new ground whatsoever. But this is a slice-of-life film, and while technology, trends, art, ideas and ideals are constantly changing, some things remain trite and true no matter what era or part of the universe you're living in. Whaley chooses some appropriate music for his movie and some nice visuals.

"Joe The King" is kind of an acquired taste, like many coming-of-age stories. It's more of a confessional than anything else. If you've lived a life somewhat like this, or in this part of the world or in this enviorment remotely, you'll understand...

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