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Tuesday, December 09, 2003



TOKYO GODFATHERS

Directed by Satoshi Kon
Screenplay by Keiko Nobumoto and Satoshi Kon
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Starring the voices of: Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, and Aya Okamoto.
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas


I don’t usually go out of my way to see Japanese Animated films. There’s a subset of people out there who hate Anime films because A) They’ve haven’t seen one, or B) The HAVE seen one. Years ago I went to see one called Fist of the Northstar—dreadful piece of garbage that was. Then I gave the Cowboy Bebop movie a try, and, well, I guess you have to have seen the TV show. But lately, guys like Hayao Miyazaki of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away fame and now Satoshi Kon have shown me that there is some fire under all that smoke.

Tokyo Godfathers is a sweet little movie about three homeless folks who happen upon a baby in a Tokyo trash dumpster. It’s not your normal subject for Japanese Animation, which sets it apart right away. The three homeless protagonists could not be more different: an older man who’s lost his family, a young gay transvestite, and a young girl, all have formed an unlikely bond. When they find a baby, it’s the transvestite, Hana, who determines to keep the child, but concedes to the other two, Gin and Miyuki, that if they can find the mother of this miracle baby and get her to realize the errors of her ways, they will give the baby back to her.

And so the three smelly surrogates go on a search for the baby’s mother. The story takes some kooky turns and, at times, delves into the supernatural. This baby truly is a miracle baby. Along the journey, we find that each of the well-written characters has secrets, and they haven’t been completely honest with each other about their pasts. Each must come to grips with mistakes they’ve made and people they’ve harmed. And it’s all thanks to the miracle baby they call “Kiyoko.” It’s a modern-day fable with a big heart, reminding us that every human can have value, even if you don’t have an address.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Ahoy, snobfans! You may have noticed that I, Mil Peliculas, have not posted many reviews lately. Truth is, I've seen plenty of films, but haven't bothered to sit down to write any thoughtful comments about them. Let me do a wrap-up of my viewings of late...

Master and Commander - damn good, will be surprised if it's not nominated for Best Picture. Looney Tunes Movie - sucked, but didn't suck quite as much as I thought it would, that said, I'd stay away if I were you. Love Actually - fantastic, all the jokes seem to work in this one, ensemble cast works marvelously. Elf - momentarily sweet, mostly a waste of time, extremely okay. Matrix Revolutions - not bad, makes me wonder why they bothered making the second one though, still full of good ideas but awful dialog and no character moments to speak of, one of the major characters has a poignant death scene that is laughably bad.

Looking forward to Last Samurai and of course, the reason to live through the next month: Return of the King. Mil out.

Thursday, November 20, 2003



21 GRAMS

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Written by Guillermo Arriaga
Running Time 125 Minutes
Rated R
Review by Mil Peliculas


Alejandro Inarritu is fast becoming the king of non-linear car accident movies. I don't mean that as a jab. Innaritu's new film, 21 Grams is sort of an English-speaking companion piece for his previous film Amores Perros, which was made in Mexico a few years back. Both films feature car accidents at the vortex of their volatile and complex stories.

21 Grams features Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts, and a great supporting cast, all giving it their best shot and hitting the mark. I don't want to reveal too much because part of the fun of watching this quite dismal film is piecing it together as you go. Told in a jarring, non linear fashion, more so than the usual non-linear meandering tapestries woven by your average art film, this one is quite in your face--gritty, bleak and grainy. Often cutting from one storyline to the other on the same character. One minute the guy's having a quiet smoke in the bathroom, the next minute his bloody body is being cradled by someone we know he hasn't even met yet. Yet it's not hard to follow. You know you're in good hands, and things will fall together in the end.

If you liked Amores Perros, you are in for a treat. As I said, the two have their similarities, but I think 21 Grams manages to make a bit more sense and does a better job at keeping it all reined in. So what's with the title? No, it is not a drug movie, although drugs do come into play. The 21 grams refers to a bizarre little tidbit of information spoken by Penn's character. Apparently when we die we all lose the exact same amount of weight: 21 grams. I have not researched this, but it's an interesting notion. Lets go with it for a second. 21 grams...that's basically what separates the living from the dead. How do we divide up that 21 grams? How much is pleasure, how much is pain? How much is happiness, or heartache? How much is revenge...guilt...and it's all gone at the moment of our death--the weight of a humming bird. I think the film tries to explore how we as humans divide up that little "carry-on bag" some might call the "soul." In the eyes of the writer and director, it seems that humans pack way too much of the bad stuff and not enough of the good. Certainly it's easy to focus on the bad things, especially when horrible things happen to us, and it's hard not to get swallowed by that "beast," as so many people do. This story is about those who get swallowed by the beast--hell, not just swallowed, they get torn to pieces.

I'm sure it was a real hoot to be on the set of this one. Nary a laugh to be heard the whole two hours. But hey, if I want to laugh, I'll bust out my DVD of Raising Arizona. When you sit down for this one, it's time to get serious. Trust me, if you have a thirst for a good, dark drama, this one is a big gulp.

Saturday, November 01, 2003



SCARY MOVIE 3

Directed by David Zucker
Written by Craig Mazin and Pat Proft
Based on characters stolen from other movies by Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Buddy Johnson, Phil Beauman, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
Review by Mil Peliculas


This last credit amazed me. These guys have good agents. Based on characters created by these guys (I added the stolen part). But it's true. How can you invent a character that is the same character as the creepy girl from The Ring for instance? It's the same friggin' girl, just doing wacky stuff. WHATEVER.

Let's talk about Scary Movie 3. Actually, not a lot to talk about. It's the Airplane!, Naked Gun, Top Secret guys taking a whack at the horror spoof genre this time, and they pull it off as good or better than the Wayans boys and whoever the other guys are. It's a pretty clever mixture of the latest horror hits, and an occasional hearken back to some older ones too.

Charlie Sheen plays the Mel Gibson character from Signs , dealing with an alien invasion that's connected to the mysterious videotape going around. The one that people watch and then get killed one week later.

What can you really say about this type of movie. If the jokes are funny, then it works. For my taste, there were too many slow spots, but there are enough laughs for me to recommend it.

Saturday, September 27, 2003



THE COMPANY

Written by Neve Campbell and Barbara Turner
Directed by Robert Altman
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas


I remember coming out of a movie theater about a decade ago thinking, man, Robert Altman is still able to get it done. The movie was The Player and Altman was already approaching 70. I didn’t think I’d say the same thing 10 years later, but I still say it now. The Company is Altman’s latest. A non-narrative look at the Joffrey Ballet Company in Chicago. Part documentary—part not. He’s taken a few actors and mingled them in with the real dancers to give the audience a glimpse into the life of a professional dancer.

The “story” focuses on Neve Campbell, who is the one who got this project off the ground, and who is also an accomplished dancer herself, but the movie is not about characters, the movie is about dance, specifically that modern/ballet hybrid that the Joffrey Ballet is known for. Never before has Altman let his stories take such a back seat like this, but he’s somehow been able to make the backdrop the focus and still keep me interested. There are quite a few well-photographed dance numbers featured in the film, some seem to comment on things going on in life of the focal character, Ry (Campbell), and some don’t, but all of them are worth watching for the sheer artistry of the performances.

I think Altman is able, with the help of the non-actor cast, to convey that sense of unequaled dedication and perseverance that dancers have for their art. Theirs is a communal life, sequestered backstage and always sharpening their craft, and their personal life often suffers for it. But still, this is their job, some people drive a cab, these people turn their bodies into works of art and do seemingly impossible and beautiful things. Then they go bowling, where they are as awkward as anyone else.

Malcolm McDowell plays the flamboyant director of the company, Alberto Antonelli, who rules with a velvet fist: smooth, smarmy, often changing his mind on a whim--but what he says goes. McDowell’s character is reminiscent of Anton Walbrook’s Boris Lermontov in the king of ballet movies, The Red Shoes, although not quite as classy. He’s the puppet master holding the strings, subordinating the wishes and dreams of any single dancer to the particular needs of each show. The dancers are tools, if one breaks (an ankle, say) she is simply and unceremoniously replaced by another—the show must go on. Altman even seems to be doing the same: subordinating the story to the shows themselves.

As I said, there is no story to speak of, but it does tend to drift to Neve Campbell once in a while, who begins dating a chef played by James Franco. This small side-story features very little dialog (a jarring change from Altman’s habit of overlapping dialog in large groups of people) and is told visually in little vignettes, and told well. I found the relationship to be very sweet. We’d like to see Ry and Josh work out, but Ry is married to her profession, which may spell doom in the end.

The ending came a bit too soon, I could have gone a little longer, but that’s better than the alternative. I’ve been tossing around the idea of seeing a ballet, and this film has moved me a little farther toward the idea.

Thursday, September 18, 2003



WONDERLAND

Written by James Cox & Captain Mauzner,
Todd Samovitz & D. Loriston Scott
Directed by James Cox
Starring Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Josh Lucas, Dylan McDermott, Ted Levine, Kate Bosworth
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas


Truth is stranger than fiction--well, normally it is, anyway. A movie about a bunch of drugged-out hippies who rob a rich and well-known Hollywood nightclub owner, only to have him retaliate by having them brutally murdered, is not all that unique of a plot. I mean, it’s not unfamiliar territory for Hollywood, even when it’s based on a true story. That’s what I was thinking as Wonderland began to roll.

Wonderland is based on the real events that took place at an apartment complex on Wonderland Avenue in the Hollywood Hills in 1981. Four people were found dead-- savagely beaten to death. Police described the scene as one of the most gruesome crime scenes they had ever seen. The hook? Well, one of the key players in the story of the Wonderland Murders was none other than John Holmes, a.k.a. porn film detective “Johnny Wad”, star of somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand XXX films during the ‘70’s. John (Val Kilmer) was an instant star, mainly because a certain part of his anatomy was longer than a standard ruler. But Wonderland the movie takes place after all that, when Holmes’ “stardom” is already fading while his drug use, mainly cocaine and crack, is approaching epic proportions.

As the film began, I was thinking: This isn’t really all that interesting of a story…but then the mechanics of the film began to take center stage. Wonderland is told in the style of Kurosawa’s Rashomon where the same bits of story are told from several different viewpoints; this is the key to enjoying the film. Each segment is filtered through a different character and each, of course, tends to whitewash their role in the whole affair. Each character has a similar account of the story but diverge when it comes to their involvement in the actual killings. Each character has a different take on Holmes as well, appearing as a cool hipster in his own recounting of the story, or as a child-like charmer in the eyes of his girlfriend, and a tragic lost love in the eyes of his wife. Val Kilmer does a good job getting these different facets of Holmes across. The rest of the cast holds up their end, but it’s really Kilmer’s show.

It’s interesting to note that ultimately no one ever really went down for the murders. Holmes was acquitted, Eddie Nash, the target of the robbery and supposed mastermind of the retaliatory killings, wriggled out of the net, but did end up doing a little time for conspiracy to commit the murders. He was released early, however, for health reasons and is a free man today. Holmes died in 1988 of AIDS making it less likely that the full story ever really be learned.

One of the more interesting relationships in the film is that of Holmes and his teenage girlfriend, Dawn Schiller (Kate Bosworth), and his estranged wife, Sharon (Lisa Kudrow). Sharon and Dawn are good friends even though Sharon is still married to Holmes, and the three seem to enjoy one another’s company in a strange way. Sharon and Dawn are still good friends to this day.

The film rates fairly high in style, the kinetic and dynamic editing coupled with a damn good soundtrack helps to smooth out some of the rough spots. It is quite violent in places, and, strangely enough, barely any sex. Strange, considering the focal character’s background. Ultimately I found the film to be fairly compelling, mainly because of Kilmer’s performance, but it does suffer a bit from the lack of focus that this style of storytelling often falls victim to. I generally find it harder to connect emotionally with non-linear plotlines because normal timelines are interrupted, affecting that flow you need to really empathize with a character as you watch their story unfold.

The multiple-viewpoint story construction helps crystallize this idea of perception and truth and the cloudy interaction of the two. As we try to piece each person’s picture of the events together for some coherence, as the jury must have had to do in the courtroom, the truth seems to elude us as it must have eluded them—and it continues to do so today.

Saturday, August 30, 2003



THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS

Directed by Alan Rudolph
Written by Craig Lucas and Jane Smiley
Starring Campbell Scott, Robin Tunney, Denis Leary
Review by Mil Peliculas


Well, finally a non-pretentious, interesting, mature story from Alan Rudolph. This guy has been boring me for years, he rightly should be a member of the Bland Pack, but with his latest Secret Lives of Dentists, Rudolph as threatened to make a liar out of me.

Campbell Scott plays dentist David Hurst, who married his dental-school sweetheart Laura. Now the two have a nice practice together and three adorable daughters. The problem is that David seems to have lost the passion for his wife, we’re not sure how long ago, maybe years, but the problem has now manifested itself in the form of an extra-marital affair. Laura, it seems, is stepping out on him.

The film focuses less on the actual affair—we never even really know the name of the man she’s sleeping with, nor do we really see her with this other man—than it does on the mental torture that the spouse undergoes when the first suspicions arise. David actually sees his wife seemingly kissing and cuddling with a man from her theater group backstage at an Opera performance where she is performing a small role. This sets his mind to working. That faraway stare, replaying things in his mind over and over, reliving the moments when he first fell in love, weighing whether or not to tell her he knows—these are things that people can really relate to. To an immature person, the obvious thing is to tell her. But as David says, “Then we’d be forced to DO something about it.” The right way isn’t always apparent, especially in the area of love. That’s one of the nice complexities of the story.

The thing that really elevates the film is its well thought-out use of subtext. For you film freaks out there who like to delve a little further, there’s fodder for you. Denis Leary plays an angry patient who had some bad work done by David, and sort of becomes a symbol of David’s failure, appearing next to David as a mental projection to help him along through his difficult time. Also, the littlest daughter has of late taken to slapping the mother every time she gets too close to her, and she only wants to be with her father-- At one point “becoming part of my body,” as David says. I found this interesting, taking it to be a commentary on her mother’s loss of love for her father—as if the daughter was the piece of the mother that broke off and now must cling to the object of its affection, the father, while the mother herself goes out tries to reconnect with another man. I knew that if the daughter and mother were joined, things would be okay.

In the opening narration of the film, David describes the hardiness teeth, being a dentist, he would know. He says that nothing can harm teeth, for instance, they're the only thing left after a fire burns away the rest of the body, and that centuries of lying in the dirt merely gives them a good cleaning, etc. In fact, the only thing that can harm them is life. Life indeed has a way taking things that are strong and tearing away at them, destroying them. One of things that made me keep watching this film was: Will this affair destroy this marriage? I got my answer.

The dialog is smart, the humor is clever, and I found the story to be quite engaging throughout. For adult audiences (which now means over 30) you can’t go wrong with this one. Go. See. But pay attention to the details…

Saturday, August 16, 2003



I CAPTURE THE CASTLE

Screenplay by Heidi Thomas
based on the book by Dodie Smith
Directed by Tim Fywell
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas


A good film should set the mind to working. There’s nothing worse than forgetting an entire movie by the time you reach the lobby. For those of you, men or women, who love, have loved, or will love—this film will have something to say to you.

The story follows a family who moves into a castle in the English countryside in the 1930’s. The father, a recently successful author, plans to write his subsequent masterpieces there. Twelve years later, he has not written a word, the rent is two years overdue, and the family finds themselves in dire straights. The anchor of the story is the 17-year-old daughter Cassandra, who, unlike her father, spends much of her time writing in her journal. When two wealthy American brothers of marriage age show up at the castle, that strange and elusive concept of love begins to muck up the works, while at the same time presenting salvation for the down and out family. Cassandra’s older sister Rose eventually lands the older brother Simon, played by Henry Thomas, but seems to be more concerned with the size of his bank account.

The film really sets out to explore love, as so many other films do, but mainly the unrequited kind of love--the kind that hurts. Every relationship in the film seems to be affected by this variety of love; serving as inspiration for the artists, and for the rest who aren’t so inclined, to simply give meaning to their lives. Unlike the serpentine and contrived domino-effect of the “I love him, and he loves her, and she loves someone else” plots that litter daytime dramas in every part of the world, this one really seems to come from the heart. Cassandra serves as the conscience of the story, the only one who seems to be able to stick to her guns, treading carefully through the minefield and not letting herself be derailed into any relationship that does not suit her. The character of Cassandra bears an obvious resemblance to the heroines of Jane Austen’s great works: the sister whose inner beauty ultimately outshines the prettier, older sister. She’s the one who’s seemingly not good enough for any, but in reality, too good for all of them.

I was reminded of a quote that I cannot find attributed to anyone in particular: Who I loved, loved me not, who loved me, I loved not. It’s a cruel joke that afflicts all too many of us poor humans, but this story treats it more realistically than Austen usually did. Only one couple seems to find what they are looking for.

The performances are good with the exception of the stiffly wooden brother Neil, but he’s hardly enough to ruin the ensemble. Younger male audiences might find the plot completely uninteresting and inscrutable, and if you are one of these youngsters, give this movie a few years and go back to it once you’ve had a real taste of the “L” word.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003



SEABICUIT

Written and Directed by Gary Ross
Based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand
Reviewed By Mil Peliculas


There’s no other way to say it: Seabiscuit is just a lovely movie. Flat out. It reminds me of what Hollywood does right once in a while. It’s the story of the famous racehorse Seabiscuit, who was a scrappy little guy with a bad attitude descended from famous racing lineage, but who was overlooked and tossed aside by his trainers, and ultimately sold for a pittance to a wealthy entrepreneur.

Jeff Bridges plays Charles Howard, a self-made millionaire who made his money in automobiles. To him, cars were the future, and he would rather have had one car than a hundred horses. After an ironic twist of fate takes the life of his son in a car accident, Howard ends up recanting his feelings about horses, and even ends up buying Seabiscuit on the recommendation of Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), a uniquely gifted horse trainer and lover of horses. Smith sees something in Seabiscuit that no one else can see. Namely “heart.” Apparently in horseracing, you can often tell a good horse without even seeing them run, it’s just a look or an attitude that can be the tip-off, which I found very interesting.

Smith and Howard choose Red Pollard, a Jockey who’s as full of piss and vinegar as Seabiscuit is, to try and tame his wild spirit—and the combination turns out to be golden. Seabiscuit went on to be a world famous horse, and captured the imagination of a down-in-the-dumps depression era America as “the underdog” rags to riches story.

Everyone contributes in meaningful ways to this film, from the writing, directing, acting, and consultants. It seems very authentic, the characters are fully fleshed out and engaging, and even though I knew the story of Seabiscuit, I was on the edge of my seat, well, I did have to pee pretty bad, so that could have been part of it, but you could not have pried me from that seat, plots like those are called “bladder busters” because no matter how bad you gotta pee, you ain’t leaving. You also get nice little history lesson in the process.

Kids may find the pacing a little slow, but it’s properly paced for the type of story it is. I encourage parents to take their kids to this one, truly inspiring, and you may want to bring a tissue, because it does get rather emotional at times.

I hate to say it, please, forgive me, but...

As far as Oscar contenders go, Seabiscuit has broken out early and has a commanding lead coming around the first turn.

Cue music: Wha wha wha wha…

Wednesday, July 02, 2003



TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES

Starring Arnie, Claire Danes, Nick Stahl
Written by John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris, Tedi Sarafian
Directed by Jonathan Mostow.
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas


Before I start trashing this movie, let me tell you that I ENJOYED IT. Okay? I did. I thought it was a lot of fun. But a funny thing happend on the way to the lobby, I saw the movie with Bolsa De Queso, and as we walked up the aisles of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, he proceeded to remind me that all the cool things in this movie were complete rip-offs of the other two Terminator movies. Alas, he was right. I had not seen either of the first two Sci-Fi classics in quite a few years, and my memory was a bit dulled.

It was like I brought some floozy home from a bar, and woke up next to her in the harsh morning light, and realized she was just my ex-girlfriend with different eyeshadow and a boob job. But hey, I had fun.

The plot? Well, like I said, it's a rehash of the first two. John Connor is now a bit older, being chased by a new Terminator, a female that is basically the same exact character as the T-1000 from T2. Claire Danes stands in as the tough chick in place of Linda Hamilton. Once again, Arnie is there to protect John Connor, although there is a slight twist there, when Arnie is reprogrammed by the "Terminatrix" to kill John, that doesn't really pay off like it could have though, James Cameron, the original brains behind the Terminator flicks, could have wrung something out of that, but these filmmakers aren't quite that skilled I'm afraid.

That aside, there are a lot of laughs, and a lot of "call backs" from the earlier films. Groaners like "I'll be back," are revisited with slight variations. There is a pretty good car-chase that super-sizes the truck chase from T2, and I thought the ending was a nice little surprise. I do have to say it's my least favorite of the three, but it did manage to entertain.

Once again, I am forced to say...You could do worse.

Saturday, June 28, 2003



THE GREAT RAID

Directed by John Dahl
Written by Hossein Amini and Carlo Bernard
Starring Joseph Fiennes, Benjamin Bratt, Connie Nielsen
Review by Mil Peliculas

Who is John Dahl?

If you did not get that reference please refer to Atlas Shrugged.

Buenas Tardes! Well, your pal Mil managed to get into a screening of the new John Dahl picture, the unfortunately titled The Great Raid. Frankly, the title is not the only unfortunate part of this one. John Dahl is really struggling these days. His latest effort is not going to help matters I’m afraid.

Benjamin Bratt and Joseph Fiennes star in this yawner based on a raid of a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines near the end of World War II, where 511 American prisoners were rescued from the clutches of the Japs. I’m sure the original raid was quite exciting, but you wouldn’t really know that from this film.

First off, I couldn’t tell you who the main character is. There is no clear-cut protagonist, always a problem for a movie. Bratt plays Colonel Mucci, a character whose only distinguishing feature is that he smokes a pipe. Joseph Fiennes plays a sickly POW with one foot in the grave. All he does is sit and wring his hands and limp around the camp. Connie Nielsen of Gladiator plays his sweetheart who works as a nurse for a Manila hospital. She’s working with the resistance, trying to get medicine to the camp because she knows Fiennes is sick. The romance never comes close to paying off, we never see any scenes of them being romantic together, not even in flashback, so that falls pretty flat.

The big showdown with the bad guy, the Japanese head of the POW camp, is a letdown too. The guy is killed by one of the supporting characters; I don’t even remember the guy’s name. Hey, the audience applauded, guess they were appreciative of a free movie.

The only thing the production should be applauded for is their casting of real Asian actors to portray the Japanese and Philippinos. You might have expected them to stick Lou Diamond Phillips or Mako in as the villain; thankfully they use a real Asian actor with a thick accent.

I’m not even sure this one will make it to the big screen, you might want to watch for it in your TV guide, it may turn up as an HBO movie. But if you watch it, don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

Sunday, May 25, 2003



BRUCE ALMIGHTY

Written by Steve Koren, Mark O'keefe, Steve Oedekirk
Directed by Tom Shadyac
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas


Bruce Allrighty!

Can you believe I stooped to that goofy “play on words” review title that often plagues those other movie reviewers? What is happening to me? Ah, screw it. The important thing is, that funny S.O.B. seems to have done it again. My jaw was sore from laughing at Bruce Almighty.

Jim Carrey’s latest comedy is about a goofy TV news reporter who’s mad at the world after he’s passed over for the News Anchor job that he so desperately wanted at his TV station. So mad that he seems to forget about the great life he has with his girlfriend, so mad that he directs his attention to God, whom he accuses of doing a crappy job. This time, God (Morgan Freeman) decides to fight back, temporarily giving Bruce his job while he takes a vacation.

Jennifer Anniston is great as Bruce’s live-in girlfriend, the aptly named “Grace,” and the rest of the cast is dead-on too. All pistons seem to be firing in this one. Although I did not actually read the script, I can tell it was extremely well-worked. No stone was left unturned, as they say. And why shouldn’t it be? The writers are seasoned veterans who’ve banged around the comedy trenches for years. We’re talking Seinfeld, Newsradio, SNL, Politically Incorrect, The Late Show with David Letterman, trust me, your funny bone is in good hands.

If you give any thought to the set-up I just laid out, you can tell that Bruce is probably going to screw things up pretty badly, maybe lose the girl, maybe get the girl back, all that jazz, learn a few things about himself, but this film reminded me of why Hollywood still makes the best movies, yeah, I talk a lot of trash, but we got the world’s number as far as movies go. How’s that? By telling a story you’ve seen a hundred times, with an ending you’ve seen a hundred times, teaching characters lessons they’ve learned a hundred times, but making it completely fresh, moving, and most importantly: FUNNY.

I drove up to The Wood to see this one (not Inglewood, Hollywood that is), at the Grove, off of Fairfax, and I had a while to ruminate on the way home to my secret underground compound in Long Beach, and I thought that this movie might have parallels to Jim Carrey, the man. You see, Bruce is a wacky news guy who thinks he wants to be a respected, serious news anchor, but his real talent lies with making people laugh as the wacky news reporter, and he was great at it. If any of you saw the The Majestic (not a bad movie, mind you, but it was syrupy enough for a truck load of pancakes) which was his foray into a more straight, dramatic role, you might have found yourself wishing Jim would concentrate on doing what he does best, and it’s no small feat, putting smiles on millions of faces who need one. Maybe he’s gotten that serious anchor man out of his system, frankly, they’re a dime a dozen, but true gut-busters like Jim Carrey don’t grow on trees.

Thou hast Mil's blessing to see this one.

Don’t forget to check out The Masked Movie Snobs website…

Friday, May 23, 2003



THE MATRIX: RELOADED

Written and Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne
Carrie Anne Moss, and best of all MONICA BELLUCCI.
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas

I wanted to wait until I’d seen Matrix: Reloaded again before I reviewed it, but I don’t know when that will be; besides, there’s others I want to see once before I see that one twice. I saw Reloaded last Wednesday night with a big, unruly crowd of low-brows at the Big Newport. I usually write my reviews as I’m doing laundry, so as you might surmise, I’m down to my Nehru jacket and parachute pants as I sit down to write this review, the laundry is spinning right now.

Let’s get to it. Let’s talk about Matrix: Reloaded. Do I think it is a worthy successor to the first film? Well, why not? I’m not a huge fan of the Matrix movies, but they do score high on “style” and the story does have its interesting points. The thing that keeps me from diving in and putting on a black trench coat and frame-only sunglasses is that the characters really aren’t all that engaging. Matrix: Reloaded carries on that tradition. I’m sorry, Neo is just a boring guy. Maybe it’s Keanu’s overly sedate performance, or Carrie Anne Moss’s equally overly sedate performance that keeps me at arm’s length. I like a hero that I’d want to have a beer with, or even give a hug to in times of need, like Wolverine, I can hang with Wolverine. Neo? If Neo just came in from out of town and I hadn’t seen him in five years, I’d probably make up some excuse why I couldn’t see him. I don’t dislike him, it’s just—what’s to like?

There might be one or two of you who is not hip to the Matrix films. It takes place in the future, where machines have taken over the world and decided that they needed our body heat to power themselves—using us for batteries as it were, in a very clever way. They harvest us like plants in giant synthetic wombs growing in fields like corn, then they stick us in a pod and feed us intravenously while plugging our brains into a giant virtual cyber world (The Matrix) that is indistinguishable from the one we remember as earth. There is, however, an underground movement of humans who have seen the “truth” and “unplugged” themselves from this fake reality. The cool thing is they can go back in when they want to and because they know it’s a giant program, are capable of superhuman feats of strength and gymnastics.

Laurence Fishburn is great as the mysterious Morpheus, and leads a group of rebels in search of “The One,” meaning The One who will release the humans from bondage: a savior. Morpheus comes to think that Neo (Reeves) is “The One” and yada yada yada, turns out he is The One. Neo and a female character, Trinity, fall in love with each other in the process, and at the end of the first movie, Neo is able to “see” the Matrix for what it is, and achieves a kind of control that no one else seems to be able to have, including the bad guys, who are actually “programs” and far more powerful than any human who’s jacked-in to the Matrix unknowingly. The first movie had some interesting religious imagery as well, including a scene where Neo stops a bunch of bullets in the air, and they tinkle on the ground at his feet, reminding one of the story of the Buddha, who did the very same thing just after achieving enlightenment, only he did it with a volley of arrows and turned them into lotus petals.

So on to this second movie. Reloaded really has the feel of a “middle” movie that’s setting up a third movie, and it has a bit of trouble standing on its own for me. Neo and Trinity develop their relationship a little further in this film, which means they stare blankly at each other for a good half an hour, and have sex in a scene that really made my “what the hell?” alarm go off. Get this: we get to see Zion, which was talked about in the first movie, and is populated by people who have either freed themselves from the Matrix or were born free. It’s an underground city that basically looks like a mish-mash of a lot of other movies where there are underground cities or civilizations. It was reminding me of Logan’s Run, The Time Machine, or maybe At The Earth’s Core perhaps. Cheesy 70’s fare, and who should appear as the “man in charge” of Zion but Anthony Zerbe, remembered best by me as the leader of the night people in Omega Man. The guy oozes cheese, okay, but that in and of itself does not necessarily portend disaster for a movie, I like cheese, I like kitsch, but the problem is this movie takes itself so damned seriously, you just have to laugh.

Back to the “what the hell?” love scene (one of many “what the hell?” scenes on this film). Morpheus addresses the people of Zion decked out in a leathery vest, shirtless, and tells them that the machines are tunneling down to kill them all. But hey, we’re gonna fight them, cuz dammit, this place is worth fighting for! And all that. And the next scene intercuts between a lame love scene between Neo and Trinty, and this incredibly bizarre “rave” style groping party among the people of Zion. Lengthy shots of people dancing and fondling each other sweating, writhing…everything but preparing for the horror that awaits them only hours away. It was a major speed-bump. PLus the love-scene only features a far-off shot of Keanu's arse, and pretty much nothing of Trinity.

There’s also an incredibly half-assed attempt to build a love triangle between Morpheus, Commander Locke (who’s in charge of the fighting forces of Zion) and new female character, Niobi, played by Jada Pinkett-Smith. We find out that Niobi used to be with Morpheus, but is now with Locke. But Locke is such a load that it’s completely unbelievable that any woman in her right mind would choose that guy over Fishburne.

Neo continues in his quest to fulfill the prophecy and free humanity from the Matrix, meeting more interesting characters including The Keymaker, and The Architect of the Matrix. There is a lot of spectacular action, which will no doubt please the hardcore fans, but for me it all has to be tied in with compelling characters, and that’s where Reloaded doesn’t quite deliver. X-men 2is a vastly superior film because they build a good character foundation. Matrix needs to rely on the flashy stylistic fight-scenes which really are straight out of 80’s John Woo and other Honk Kong action and Japanese Anime films. Style over substance. It’s become the mantra for Hollywood now more than ever it seems. I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s the same lament we’ve been hearing since the 70’s ushered in the Blockbuster. “Forget about story, let’s just cram in everything that people want to see so we can recoup the giant amount of money we sunk into this thing.” And that was said of movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which, by comparison, are dripping with great characters and compelling storylines.

As I watched Reloaded, I had to tune out and just enjoy the spectacle. So, unfortunately when Neo has a real heart-to heart with the “Architect” of the Matrix, I had trouble getting back into it, pages and pages of complicated expository dialog, I had already tapped out earlier, then I was asked to invest more thought into a story involving characters that I find uninteresting. But that’s just me. There are some exhilarating moments in the film, and I do plan on catching it again in order to fill in some of the blanks left by the somewhat confusing dialog. And stay through the credits because there’s a preview of the next Matrix film which is due out in a few months.

for more reviews, go to The Masked Movie Snobs website!

Monday, May 12, 2003



CONFIDENCE

Written by Doug Jung
Directed by James Foley
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas

Some movies are just cool. And some movies constantly have to tell you they are trying to be cool. And, while not completely blowing it, Confidence falls into the second category.

Confidence is one of those “Con” movies where all the street-smart guys know all the angles and are way smarter than everyone else. Ed Burns plays Jake Vig, a young con artist who fortuitously gets involved with a larger but still small-time hoodlum named “The King,” played by Dustin Hoffman. Jake has inadvertently stolen money from the King and aims to pay it back by helping him to pull a con on a bigger fish named Morgan Price, played by Robert Forster. Andy Garcia makes an appearance as a Federal Agent on Jake’s trail, and it also features Donal Logue and Luis Guzman (a.k.a “the ugliest man in the world”) as two corrupt LAPD Detectives. Don’t believe me about Luis Guzman? Check out The Count of Monty Cristo and tell me that guy ain’t scary as hell. I’d take Robert Davi over that guy any day. And let’s not forget, one of the most painfully sexy women in film today, Rachel Weisz, who doesn’t have much to do other than look cute and play the “femme fatale”, but she does have some moments to shine.

It’s no doubt due to James Foley’s seasoned guidance that this movie does not derail itself into something unwatchable. The fairly complicated plot is handled well for the most part, but it may be Ed Burns, who is a capable actor in my book, but he's trying SO DAMNED HARD to be super cool, that just makes it kind of NOT cool. Can we talk about cool movies for a moment? Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs are cool movies. Sunset Boulevard is a cool movie, Seven Samurai is a cool movie, Out of the Past is a cool movie. Cool movies, like cool people, cannot sit there and tell you how cool they are and still be cool. Part of being cool is just not caring if your cool or not. That’s what Confidence has a problem with, it keeps winking at you as if to say, “This movie’s cool, ain’t it."

Like I said, the plot is dense, and well-managed, but anyone who’s seen his share of “con” movies…The Sting, The Grifters, House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner—or any of the good heist movies—you know what to expect. Hmm, whatever is supposed to be in that box, probably ain’t in that box.. Or that guy who just got shot probably is not really dead, that kind of thing. There are lots of twists, but I was one step ahead of them generally, not two or three steps, just one. I’m not the sort of viewer who tries to figure things out ahead of time. But I think there was only one obvious twist that I didn’t see coming, and it wasn’t all that big. As for dialog, it doesn’t go over the top with the grifter shop-talk like Mamet’s Heist did, just enough to get the idea that these guys know their stuff. But the dialog is surprisingly uninspired I think. Not many memorable lines. Not that you need that every time out of the box, but when you think James Foley, you think, PUT THE COFFEE DOWN!…COFFEE IS FOR CLOSERS…YOU SEE THIS WATCH? THIS WATCH COSTS MORE THAN YOUR CAR…WHO AM I? I MADE 900 THOUSAND DOLLARS LAST YEAR, THAT’S WHO THE FUCK I AM!

Well, none of that going on in Confidence. But hey, I’ve seen worse.

Thursday, May 08, 2003



MIL AND HIS IDOL IN NEW YORK CITY

Wednesday, April 30, 2003



JAPON

Written and Directed by Carlos Reygadas
Starring Alejandro Ferretis, Magdalena Flores
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas

There's a small spoiler in here, so back off if you care.

What the hell. I mean WHAT THE HELL? This one came right out of left field, by way of under a rock. Writer/Director Carlos Reygadas may be in need of some serious couch time. Let me lay it out for you.

A depressed artist with a gimpy leg comes to a remote Mexican village in order to commit suicide. He never explains why. He finds lodging in the barn of an old woman, we're talking in the 80's at least, named Ascencia (named after the ascenion of Jesus to heaven). While there, he begins to find certain feelings return to him, instincts of survival, carnal feelings of lust, which is, for men at least, akin to survival. This is all well and good, until he decides he wants to have sex with the old lady. You know, here I am pulling an old school Mil move and driving up to the Nuart from my Long Beach Estate on a Sunday evening by myself for a little sexy movie, and I get gimpy-leg man sticking it to the 80-year-old broad. Imagine Keith Richards having intercourse with Kirk Douglas, that's what it looked like from where I was sitting. And I do mean stroked-out 80-year-old Kirk Douglas, not strapping, tan Spartacus Douglas. Okay, the artist is a little better looking than Keith Richards, he's a slightly more well-preserved Mexican Keith Richards.

Now, I liked the film, just so you know. I thought it was fairly well done given the extremely non-existent budget that they obviously had to work with. These movies are usually not meant to dazzle you, but rather they are puzzles to be fitted together, and I like those types of films just as much as the big Hollywood fare. However, I think I'm stumped as to what this one was really going for. Stay with me as I try and work it out.

There a many, many long takes of scenery, people walking around, animals dying and having sex. Kids, old people. The circle of life basically plays out in front of our eyes in a grotesque fashion. The artist comes to this village to die, and it is interesting to see the people that live in this town, and how crappy their existence is, yet they go on, and even continue to thrive, finding pleasure in simple things. It reminded me of Victor Frankl's truly inspiring book "Man's Search for Meaning," which I recommed to anyone reading this. Frankl was a Jewish Psychiatrist who survived a stint at a concentration camp. The years he spent living in enforced squalor, death and torture at the hands of the Nazi's solidified something in his mind, and that is that man will survive if he feels his life has a purpose, a meaning. This even led to his own from of therapy called "Logotherapy." Look him up if you get the chance. The reason I think Japon reminded me of Frankl is precisely the same reason, the artist has a survival instinct that kicks in. Don't expect a happy ending though, it's a trip to hell and back.

I never did figure out why it's called Japon either. It's the Spanish word for "Japan." See what I mean? It's a bit arcane, but worth checking out.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Bullet Proof Monk



BULLET PROOF MONK

Directed by Paul Hunter
Written by Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas

Just when you think Hollywood may have figured out how to adapt comic books once and for all, here comes Bulletproof Monk to remind you that the ball is still slippery, John Woo and Terence Chang have definitely dropped this one. Forget the “script doctor,” call the “script coroner.”

Seann William Scott plays a young thief named Kar, who crosses paths with Chow Yun-Fat as a Monk who has been guarding a sacred scroll that proposes to give whoever reads it in its entirety some sort of ultimate power. Every 60 years the scroll needs a new guardian to protect it. Fat comes to believe, through a series of prophesied events, that Kar is the next “guardian” that he will entrust with the scroll.

The baddie? A Nazi who fought with Fat over the scroll on a mountaintop monastery during WW2. He has since lost track of Fat, but he’s searching...always searching. Growing old, while the power of the scroll keeps Fat young and strong. The Nazi has become obsessed with finding the scroll, and, aided by his hottie Nazi daughter (Victoria Smurfit), is always right on the heels of Fat. These scenes make for much Matrix-inspired helicopter and high-power automatic weapon-fire chase scenes through the streets and rooftops in San Francisco, but apparently they aren’t loud enough to get much police attention.

The jokes (I think they were meant to be jokes) are anything but. And you’d think in 4 hours and 20 minutes (the perceived running time) they’d have stumbled across one or two funny lines, even by accident. Sorry. Instead we get great lines like this one after Kar tells Fat to leave his apartment, they fight for a minute, Fat knocks Kar into a chair and Kar says, “Okay, I guess I CAN’T make you leave.” Wow! That is dead-on screenwriting right there. Or how about the line, “The coast is clear, let’s go.” Again, writers working overtime. Oh, and the Nazi’s daughter keeps finding and losing Chow Yun-Fat. She tells her dad that he just needs to give her more time. And he utters this original phrase: “Time is the one thing...I’m running out of.” I can picture Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, the two Wordsmiths responsible for this piece of crap, tossing dialog back and forth, high-fiving when that line dropped out.

The big action sequence of the third act finds the evil Nazi capturing Fat and hooking him up to some completely silly machines. Words from Austin Powers were zipping through my tired brain: “Begin the unnecessarily slow dipping mechanism!” And the evil Nazi is tooling around in his subterranean lair in his wheelchair wearing his Nazi uniform, hilarious. At this point, the Nazi (I’m not bothering to commit his name to memory, as soon as this review is done I must set to the task of deleting this entire movie from my mental hard drive) gets to do lots of scenery chewing and mustache twirling as he tries to obtain the scroll from Fat. Eventually, the Nazi gets to read most of the scroll, but not all of it, and it gives him some new powers, which pissed me off. I mean, did he read the whole scroll? No. So why does he get to toss people through the air like Yoda? Crap, I tells you.

There’s lots more half-assed story telling and blender-edited fight scenes that make you wonder what the hell is going on, but I don’t want to reveal too much in a review. So if you like torture, this might be for you. Me? I don’t have time for this crap. Sad thing is, I really like John Woo, the producer. Met him a couple times, hell of a nice guy. Big fan of his Hong Kong films, liked Face/Off, liked Windtalker, but like I said, I got my limits.

This underground comic should stay underground. About six feet would do nicely. I just need a little X-Men 2 to wash the taste of this one out of my mouth.

Friday, April 18, 2003



ANGER MANAGEMENT

Directed by Peter Segal
Written by David Dorfman
Starring Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marissa Tomei
Review by Mil Peliculas

All right. I’m getting a little pissed here. What is up with all the mediocre movies coming out lately? Fine, Oscar time has passed; the studios shot their wad a couple months ago. But why make something like Anger Management? It’s just so OKAY. I mean, did Peter Segal get on the phone with his mother a year ago and say, “Mom, guess what! I’m directing this extremely okay movie starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson!” Does it happen like this? Comedy is difficult. We know this. I guess we just have to chalk it up to a miss. Not a big miss, mind you, but a miss just the same. Just so you have a measure with which to gauge my review, I did like Happy Gilmore, my favorite of the Sandler comedies.

What’s it all about? Sandler plays a somewhat repressed average Joe who is wrongly accused of assaulting a Stewardess—or Flight Attendant, rather, and is forced to undergo an anger management course given by Nicholson as Buddy Rydell, famous author and self-help guru type guy. Sounds like it has potential. But it just ain’t that funny. I guess I can’t fault the producers, writer and director, sometimes you don’t know if it’s going to play until an audience sees it. Sure there were the obligatory guffaws from the usual suspects in the theater, the slack-jawed knuckle dragger who just learned to walk erect last Tuesday who laughs his ass off whenever somebody falls over a chair, but should you really count on “early man” to make your movie a hit? I say NO. Please, NO.

Maybe we should fault the readers, who first read this script and kicked it upstairs. It probably came in flatlining and the wide-eyed scriptreader had seen too many episodes of E.R. and decided there was hope after all. They should have stamped DNR on it and put it into that huge stack where all of my screenplays are still sitting. DNR is an obscure pull, I know, it means Do Not Resuscitate, sorry, I’m getting too cute for my own good, I must think I am just soooooo bitchin.

How can I describe how okay this movie is…okay, there’s a scene where Buddy (Nicholson), who has decided to move in with David Buznik (Sandler) in order to give him more hands-on therapy, is riding to work with Dave and Dave is getting flustered because he is late. And check this out! I’m slapping my knee, here--Buddy hits the emergency brake and stops the car, right in the middle of a bridge full of morning New York rush hour traffic, and makes him sing a song to relax, something from West Side Story I think it was. I feel pretty…oh, so pretty…that song. Well, it got a chuckle out of me, but that seemed to be all I was getting out of the whole thing. It may take another viewing to figure out why it does not work that well, but I’m not going to be the one. If you can tell me, drop me an email. I can’t abide watching these kinds of movies more than once. Granted, it’s not as bad as, say, Tomb Raider, where you feel you’ve been rolled, and somebody ran off with 10 bucks and two hours of your life. It’s more like they "permanently borrowed" only 6 bucks and 1 hour, walked away, and said, “Sorry,” on their way to the getaway car. These kinds of films are just
passive-aggressive thievery.

Please, STOP the mediocrity!

Sunday, April 13, 2003



PHONE BOOTH

Written by Larry Cohen
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Starring Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas


What do you get when you add the director of the worst Batman movies with the creator of the It’s Alive baby movies? Why, you get Phone Booth. Strange combination indeed, but in this case, it seems to work okay. I say, “okay.” These are the least interesting reviews to write, because I can’t really get passionate about films like this.

What’s it all about? Colin Farrell plays a sleazy New York publicist who talks out of both sides of his mouth as well as other orifices. A totally self-absorbed scumbag who’ll screw anybody over to make a deal. He spends the same hour each day making calls from a phone booth on 53rd between 8th and Broadway, if memory serves me (I’ll be visiting that corner in a few weeks).

Life stops for about an hour when he gets a phone call from a sniper who threatens to kill him if he hangs up the phone. From there, we begin to get into a morality tale. The sniper/caller, played by an over-enunciating Kiefer Sutherland, has been following Farrell for a while and decided that he needs to die, but first he needs to confess to his wife and everyone else in the world that he is a piece of crap.

The pacing is quick, the story fairly engaging, Farrell is good, but his New Yorker accent comes and goes like a thief in the night, fading into some bizarre Irish hybrid on occasion. Another stylistic thing I found a bit jarring is the fact that Kiefer’s voice does not come out of the phone, like you’d normally hear during a phone call scene, it comes out of the rest of the speakers, like he’s some omnipresent Godlike force. I grant that this is intentional, but I question Schumacher’s artistic sense. It just seems strange. And as I mentioned before, Kiefer speaks like a radio announcer, never a hesitation, a stutter, a misplaced word, and it seems, as though most of his dialog was recorded on some sound stage someplace else and laid in afterward (which it no doubt was), so that feeling of tense interaction between the two is not there, which normally would provide the fuel for a film like this (see Glengarry Glen Ross for a good example of tense interaction).

After the sniper shoots a bystander to prove that he means business, the police arrive, and witnesses tell the cops that Farrell was the shooter. Forest Whitaker plays the cop in charge of the scene. Farrell is not allowed to tell anyone what is happening or who he’s talking to. So it’s up to Whitaker to try to figure out what’s going on.

The film is short, so it won’t take up too much time, if you’re a fan of Farrell, you might enjoy it, but it never really busts out. There is one quotable line however, from a prostitute who wants to use the phone, Farrell shuts the door as she’s banging on it and she cackles, “You done messed up my dick hand!”

Thursday, April 10, 2003



THE CORE

Written by Cooper Layne and John Rogers
Directed by John Amiel
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas

Well, one of the first big action flicks to hit theaters is this extremely okay effort from John Amiel. I didn't quite hate it, but I found it difficult to really like. Amiel seems to be a good candidate for the Bland Pack. His last film was Entrapment, which I found to be a real snooze, and The Core made a similar ho-hum impact on me. Great cast, honestly. Hilary Swank, Bruce Greenwood, Aaron Eckhart, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, I mean could you do any better? Not really. And yet the script is almost hoplessly underwritten. I say "almost" because there are times where some good dialog and interesting character moments do peak through the surface.

The story is both interesting and laughably implausible. Aaron Eckhart plays a brilliant college professor who figures out that something strange is going on with the earth's core. Basically the earth's molten core has stopped spinning, due (naturally) to some covert experiments done by the U.S. Military, a program headed by a famous and pompous (and brilliant) Carl Sagan-esque scientist named Dr. Zimsky, played by Stanley Tucci. The reason that is bad is because that rotation generates the electromagnetic field that encircles the earth and protects us from all sorts of nasty things floating around in space, but chiefly it protects us from radiation. So the upshot is that if we don't "jumpstart" the earth's core by using some nuclear weapons, we're all baked. But the rub is, you need to get to the earth's core, and that is a big problem. Enter Delroy Lindo, another brilliant (good thing everyone is so brilliant in this film) scientist who has coincidently been developing a way to basically liquify rock, enabling a large craft to travel like an earthworm through solid granite. Completely silly, but what are you gonna do? It's a movie for Christ's sake. As I said, there are some moments of good dialog, but the storytellers never stop to dwell long enough on any good moments for fear of losing that 14-year-old target audience who needs to see constant action. One particular bit of dialog that could have been cool but was mishandled, is a scene where the goverment picks up a young computer hacker for some work they need him to do. The hacker gets into a verbal joust with the high and mighty Dr. Zimsky. Hacker says, "How many languages to you speak?" Zimsky says, "Five." Or however many it was. The hacker says, "Well I speak one...100110010, and with that language I can steal your identity, your money..." etcetera. A better writer could really have beaten the crap out of that moment, but it's rushed, shot with a lot of music and camera movement, totally distracting. Can't we just listen to the guy talk for a minute? It should have played like the Dennis Hopper /Christopher Walken scene from True Romance, but that's all out the window. Amiel just does not want to spend a lot of time with these characters, so it's no surprise that by the time we get near the end, and some of the crew starts dying, there's no emotional impact to speak of, and when other characters become emotional about it, it doesn't quite play. Hey, if the director doesn't want to spend time with these characters, why should I want to? I liked the first act better than the rest of it, but I didn't feel like walking out either.

Can't say I recommend this one. But I have seen worse.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003



IRREVERSIBLE

Written and Directed by Gaspar Noe
Starring Monica Bellucci
Review by Mil Peliculas

I'm not sure if we need to have a trilogy of backward storytelling films, so I encourage filmmakers to quit while they are ahead. Adding Irreversible to Memento, that's 2 for 2. Some might include Run Lola Run, but that one wasn't really backwards. Maybe we could call them all the "Playing with Time Trilogy." That works. Now let me get to it.

This French-language film written and directed by Gaspar Noe really punches you in the face, which normally one would not associate with an enjoyable cinematic experience. For instance, if the guy next to you punches you in the face, then that would tend to put a damper on the evening, but as long as it's the filmmakers, you are all right, provided you are prepared.

For starters (or "enders," heh heh--er uh...), the film is backwards, even the end credits roll backwards up the screen, and the letters are mostly backwards, but you can somehow read them. The camera work during the first fifteen or so minutes is very jerky and frantic, almost experimental, mirroring its intense content. In fact, I recommend sitting a bit further back to make sure you can pay attention. I sat too close the first time I saw it, and I ended up missing a key piece of information that lead to me misunderstanding what happened at the beginning of the film (end of the story). In the first few minutes, a man named Marcus is searching through a scary gay nightclub called "The Rectum." Marcus frantically searches for some guy named "The Tenia," but we don't know why. This scene features one of the most brutal murders I've ever seen. As the story moves backward in time, the camera settles down and we begin to piece together the events of the evening. About half way through, is one of the most explicit and in-your-face rape scenes I have ever seen, and there's barely any nudity. But the film is European, so you can count on a few penis shots. What is it with those Europeans and their penis shots? There's entirely too much male nudity going on in film today. Check out my blog page for more thoughts on this disturbing trend.

The first words of the film are the last words spoken in the story: "Time destroys all things." Which, as we know, is a universal truth. The storyteller wants us to be accutely aware of time, hence the backward construction. The lead female, Monica Bellucci, whom we don't meet for quite a while, really becomes the focus of the film. It's difficult for a woman that beautiful and full of life not to be the focus the film, I've never seen her before, but as soon as she hit the screen, I could think of nothing else. As the tragic story regresses, with the horrible things taking place first, it makes the nicer things we learn about these characters all the more poignant. "Fate" seems to be a character in this film, interrupting these people's lives for its own inscrutable purposes.

There are some sweet and playfully voyeuristic moments spent with Marcus and Alex (Bellucci) toward the end of the film that helps to elevate it from the almost pornographic shock of the first half, sort of a reward for sticking with it.

Remember, the film is unrated, and I imagine it would be an NC-17 if it were, for good reason. If you are a woman whose been raped, you may want to skip it all together.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003



BIKER BOYZ

Directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood
Written by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Craig Fernandez
Review by Mil Peliculas


Burn rubber, not your soul…

It's deep, contemplative sayings like this that elevate this magnificent film from the trite piece of hip-hop piston-pumping fluff promised by the trailer. Just kidding, it is hip-hop piston-pumping fluff. At times, goofy, at times kinda fun I guess, if you like motorcycle tricks. And who doesn't, when you get right down to it.

Derek Luke stars as "Kid", a young talented motorcycle rider whose father is the mechanic that keeps "Smoke" (Laurence Fishburne) on top of the street racing scene; the "King of Cali" as Smoke is called. Things go south early as Kid's father, Slick Willie, played by Eric LaSalle, is killed when an out-of-control motorcycle smashes into him during a street race. The meat of the story thus begins, as Kid tries to step out of his father's shadow and take his place in the pantheon of great motorcycle street racers. Now, I am going to divulge a few secrets in this review, I figure you probably aren't going to see this one anyway, and if you do, the surprises really are nothing you haven't seen before. It is revealed late in the film, that Smoke is Kid's real father. I think the writers thought this might complicate the story, but they don't exploit it in any meaningful way. The best we get is a tense scene between Kid and his mother, where he asks her if she was ever going to tell him Smoke was his real father, if Slick Willie hadn't died. She says, "I don't know…would you have wanted to know?" Kid responds with, "I don't know." Now, just because you say, "I don't know" with a brooding, intense look on your face, doesn't mean you've done anything to clue us in on how your character is feeling. She doesn't know, you don't know; guess what, the audience doesn't know either. Thanks for that. There are some things to keep the average older white guy like me watching, Meagan Good plays Kid's girlfriend. I've never seen this girl before but I think she's been in an few things, and she's hotter than a bug under a magnifying glass on a Death Valley August afternoon. And there are some okay motorcycle sequences, nothing too amazing though. In fact, all of the races are basically just drag races, not very interesting visually. We are told that "it's the rider, not the bike," but it's difficult to understand this based on the movie, which offers no insights into what it takes to be a good racer.

I think this film may be trying to be like Saturday Night Fever, meaning that SNF is about disco, but it really is not about disco, in fact, it's an anti-disco movie. Well, this film may be trying to do the same thing with motorcycles. I think in this case the writers think it is about what it takes to be a man. Well, if that's the case. They biffed it. This movie, it seems, really is just about motorcycle racing.

Burn rubber, not your soul. That line is spoken more than once, and I'm not sure what it means, don't lose sight of who you are, or something like that. Anyway, the ending is completely baffling, and seems to go against the value system the movie sets up for itself. Ready? All through the movie we sort of get half-assed moral lessons on how dangerous it is to race in the streets and how Kid should stop. And how Smoke (Fishburne) has never grown up, still chasing young girls, this is sort of explored with Kid's mother, and one of Smoke's old girlfriends played, by Lisa Bonet in a real disposable role. The big climax is set up like this: Kid Challenges Smoke (who's undefeated in over 200 races) to one race. If Smoke wins, Kid must stop racing (which is ostensibly the right thing to do) but if Kid wins, then Smoke must stop racing. So what happens? The big race comes, it's a good one, real exciting, down a long straight dirt road, and…and...Smoke eases off the throttle a little bit and let's Kid win. Why? I have no idea. Kid and his friends celebrate. Now Kid has inherited the mantle as "King of Cali," which he didn't even really earn, and will have to defend his title, maybe crack his head open, who knows. Didn't the filmmakers see American Graffiti for Christ's sake? I give up. The only way that would have worked as an ending would be if it were Laurence Fishburne's story, which it ain't. So, filmmaking 101, don't switch protagonists right at the end, or you run the risk of completely deflating any sort of catharsis or resolution by the time the credits roll. Did I mention that Meagan Good was really hot?

To wrap it up: Kid is an uninteresting and drab hero, as is the plot. Fishburne is really the life preserver that keeps the whole thing from sinking, but maybe we should just let this one sink. It's not worth your time.

Saturday, March 22, 2003



NARC(2002)
Written and Directed by Joe Carnahan

Despite the harsh viewing conditions under which I was forced to watch NARC, I still came away thinking I had seen an exceptional, hardcore police drama. Back up a minute, I saw the film in Long Beach, I won't say the name of the "theater" but it's on PCH. Anyway, the sound was a bit muffled--I thought about asking the manager if any pillows had gone missing lately, and if they could have ended up packed in front of the speakers--and on top of that, the picture was framed improperly, the mattes on the sides stayed all the way out, you know, for a widescreen cinemascope movie, but NARC is flat, meaning it ain't real wide. So I've got fuzzy edges on the sides, and about two feet of picture spilling onto the black matting underneath the picture. But hey, they got my money, that's all they care about. Jackasses.

Now to the film. Ray Liotta in top form, dramatically, not physically, that is. He gained twenty pounds for the role, not sure why, maybe just for a different look. He plays a sad-sack cop named Roy Oak, whose wife died of cancer a while back. Seems his partner, an undercover drug agent, was killed, and the case went cold, and was shelved. Enter Jason Patric, whose brooding, sedate acting style fits this role like a glove. Patric's character, Tellis, was involved in a shooting, which got him suspended, or was it fired? (like I said, the sound was muffled) Tellis is down and out, in need of a job, he has a baby, and a wife with one foot out the door. Tellis gets an opportunity to work with Oak in reactiviating the cop-killing case. He finds that Oak, while a good cop, tends to operate outside of his authority. The film does trod through familiar territory, but deals with it more intelligently than your average Hollywood fare, and seems well-researched as far as the police work goes.

For the most part, it's a quiet film, which I tend to like, not a lot of music swells to tell us when something emotional is going on. The whole thing is emotional, frankly. The camera work is documentary-like, and voyeuristic at times, like we are intruding into personal moments that we shouldn't be seeing. There's a nice little moment when Tellis' wife comes home while he's asleep. She slips off her shoe, and wakes him up by rubbing her foot in his face. It's sweet and warm, and really helps bring us to the characters. There are some surprises, and it's hard to predict where it's going, that's always a good thing. The ending literally leaves the audience to confront a moral question. Sure to provoke dicussion amongst viewers, good to see with a group, maybe before dinner. So, after you've seen it, drop the Snobs an email and let us know what YOU would do...