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David Mamet is not for inexperienced actors
David Mamet's writing demands things from you and of you, as an actor or a viewer. It is extremely specific, and if the wrong actor is given the material, or the wrong director for that matter, things can end very badly. Such is sadly often the case in "Edmond" one of my Mamet's best, darkest and funniest plays, but one of the worst adaptations to film. Perhaps it doesn't translate as well as some of his other things. Even still. Stuart Gordon, director of "Dagon" and "Space Truckers" may not have been the ideal choice. It appeared as though there had been no rehearsal process for the film, which is very likely, given the nature of the production, as is my assumption that there was little to know text analysis, character discussion, etc. And with material this dense and textured, that's like shooting yourself in the foot. Scenes that contained dozens of different arcs went nowhere. Macy's monologue about killing the pimp, one of the best speeches ever given to any actor, was almost totally lifeless. You could easily tell who'd done their homework, and who hadn't. Joe Mantegna's scene was pitch perfect (he's a Mamet regular, so it's no wonder), Bokeem Woodbine was mostly solid, and the scene with Bai Ling also worked pretty well. Mamet incorporates many natural vocalizations, there are often loads of one word lines-- "Yes." "Okay." "Uh-huh."-- but if many of the actors-- Julia Stiles, I'm looking right at you-- don't DO something with the line, it becomes stilted. That's why Mamet isn't done more often, it's difficult! For a crash course in how to do Mamet brilliantly, watch Glengarry Glen Ross. Then watch "Edmond," if for no other reason than that the story is interesting, and the themes are still clear. You'll see the difference.
Contains possibly the most excrutiating scenes ever...
Odishon is a rare, rare, film. I'm not sure if I love it or hate it, but I know I was always interested in it. The story has a wonderful flow. It takes its time with things. It sets up the lives of its characters. For those who thought it moved too slowly, I'd like to note that the main advancement in the plot happens just over twenty minutes into the movie or so. And it is talked about before this. This really isn't a horror movie at all. It is a suspenseful, psychological thriller. There is no high body count in the movie, instead there is an increasing tension, which is very effective. Shots are held and held, and each passing second, I was thinking of all the different things that could happen. Don't get me wrong though, this movie is very difficult to watch sometimes. I don't know of any other movie where I've gone, "Oh. My. God." while watching it. But I did in this one. Some shots are creepy, others are disgusting, and still others are both. Truly, Odishon has some absolutely great cinematography. Where the movie lost me was the ending. I understood what was happening, I think, and I understand why, but I thought, that's it? That's all it is? It isn't anything deeper? I wanted more meaning to it. A movie loses something when it can't reach out past the movie itself. So many thrillers have an explanation, but it doesn't mean anything. Others explain part of it, but not all, and those usually have a deeper point. But Odishon seems to be stuck in the middle. What partial explanation it does give us doesn't really mean that much. That was my disappointment with it. I don't mind watching those excrutiating shots, but I want there to be a reason I'm watching it. That's what makes it worth it to me. Some movies you don't expect meaning, but this one had me sold, but then it lost me. 7.5/10
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
One of the most haunting movies ever.
There is a sort of chill that consumes me whenever I think about this movie. It's shocking, it's thrilling, it's surreal, it's sad...just about everything. I didn't know that Frank Sinatra could act so well. He gave an outstanding performance here. His range was remarkable. He goes from loud to reserved to confused to depressed to in love, etc. All the acting here is just top notch.
Laurence Harvey's Raymond is cold, angry and very bitter. Consider one of the earlier scenes with his mother in the airplane, where he doesn't even try to mask his contempt for his mother and step-father. When asked what he and his employer have in common by he replies: "We found that we both loath and despise you and Johnny!" However, he isn't as cold as he seems. There is a dark secret inside him, one so dark he doesn't even know it himself. He has been brainwashed to be a killing machine. Whenever he plays solitare and sees the Red Queen, he goes into a trance where he'll kill anyone they want him to and have no memory of it, and therefor, no guilt. Now, hard as this may be to believe, there is also a very soft side we eventually discover. "I'm not lovable. But to her I was." He's referring of course to Josie, the love of his life, which his mother destroyed. He then becomes sad and depressed over his lost love. I could talk for days simply on his character because there are so many levels to him, so many chambers of his mind that I could explore.
As a political thriller it works brilliantly. The corruption of the Johnny, the fear of communists infiltrating the government, the lies, the under the table deals, the scams. All of it makes for an intense thriller. What makes it even greater is the threat and suspense created by Raymond, because we don't know who they'll have him kill next, and who's telling him to kill whom. But for me, what pushes this movie over the top is the Angela Lansbury character. This isn't some nice tea pot, or the crafty old woman from "Murder She Wrote." The thing that is so great about this character is that while the character of Noah Cross in "Chinatown" will forever remain as the most chilling father figure in a film (a good runner up would be the Donald Sutherland character of 2000's "Panic") Lansbury's character is the most despicable, horrid mother character I've ever seen. No question. Imagine if the two of them had married, what kind of a family they might have produced. But she alone is enough to make us cringe all throughout this film.
"The Manchurian Candidate" is a magnificent political thriller, yet it is so emotional and the characters so interesting, so varried and so well acted by everyone in the movie, it is simply one of the best films of all time. Once you see this movie, you will not be able to get it out of your mind because of how rich the dialogue is, all that is lost in it, all that takes place, and all that is represented here.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Simply a masterpiece
What a remarkable film this is. I remember the first time I saw it. It was on video, since I was only 11 when it came out, and I sat down, and I had heard that it was a terrific movie, but I had no idea just how truly GREAT this movie is. After the first viewing I knew it was one of my favorites. I've only seen it three times, so as not to wear it out, and each time, I am blown away.
Morgan Freeman is already one of my favorite actors, (Along with Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, and Edward Norton) and his performance here is simply the best of his career. His "Red" is a weathered man who has lost hope. He's not a "bad" man, even though he did kill a man in his youth. Morgan Freeman is calm and collected, yet his on-screen presence is so powerful. We are drawn to him, almost more-so than to Andy because Andy keeps to himself, while Red narrates. This is partly the point, to turn the audience into an inmate. We only know as much as they do about him. He isn't revealed to us directly very much. And we eventually find out why.
I love the way the men of this prison use almost a hierarchy and establish their own little kingdom, with the jail, obviously as their castle. I like watching Andy as he strives to be normal, doing whatever he can to get his mind off of the fact that he's in prison. One of the film's best moments comes when Andy makes a deal that allows all of the roof workers to have a beer, and to just sit around, and be carefree for a few minutes. But for others the prison is normal, all they know, their only life. They call it "institutionalized" but what it really means is hopeless. And it's a constant battle to keep that from happening. And eventually it seems, that everyone caves in to the fact that they will die at that place.
This is unquestionably one of the most powerful and moving films of all time. (WARNING: SPOILERS!!!) There are four ending sequences that come one after another that move so fluidly and with such grace that I am in awe just thinking about it. 1. Andy's escape and all of the explanation that goes along with it. The long tunnel of crap, Andy's joy in the pond while the rain pours upon him. 2. The day after and everything that happens to the warden and the guard are done brilliantly. 3. Red's parole hearing. At this point he just doesn't give a crap about anything anymore. He talks about his regret, not because he thinks it will get him out, but so that they will know that his punishment is not so much prison as it is wishing he could've made a better decision. Wishing that the young Red would've had guidance. 4. The reunion at the end while Red narrates. The most wonderful lines come when he's on the bus, and we hear his voice over about how he has shrugged off his "Institutionalization" and is ready to not know what happens next. This is the absolute perfect tone to end the movie on. What sheer brilliance. It is sad that this film didn't win ANY Oscars. It certainly deserved to.
Terrific acting, story, and editing make Memento a terrific movie.
Memento is one of those rare treats of a film that only comes along once in a blue moon (Include Fargo, Pulp Fiction, and The Usual Suspects). It's not only a stunningly tragic thriller, it has an amazing emotional core that provides balance for the film. Consider the way Leonard talks about his wife at the restaurant, then when he is unable to sleep.
Director Christopher Nolan's brother Jonah actually wrote Memento as a short story, Christopher then adapted it, and he did a fantastic job. Memento has a great screenplay. Nolan gets us involved in what's going on as far as plot (or, actually, what has already gone on in the plot. Whatever.) and he inter-cuts the black and white sequences with perfect placements. They serve as a bridge for what's coming up next, or before. But then, he also knows that there needs to be some sort of bond between the audience and Leonard, so he gives us these short little snippets of Leonard's personal life, his sadness, his lonliness.
In terms of theme, I think the film has many. (WARNING: SPOILERS!!!) The movie deals, of course with revenge. To me that was the focus. How revenge will eventually leave you unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Then, there is the observation that sometimes we force ourselves into believing something just because we want to feel like we are important. We want to have purpose. And when faced with the truth, Leonard lies to himself to feel that importance. Then there are the smaller more subtle thoughts about loss, and sadness, which I found very moving.
Every single actor in this movie was perfect. Guy Pearce is just wonderful at film-noir. Look at his breakthrough in L.A. Confidential, and his very entertaining and highly fascinating movie, Ravenous, about cannibalism and carnage. He's just a very fine actor. And the characters of Carrie Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano (who is just hysterical) give the movie an even more mysterious feeling. The way we see their pictures and we see what's written on them and immediately wonder, "When was that written? I want to see Leonard write that. I can't wait to understand how all of this fits together."
This is not a movie you just watch once and then forget about. I've seen it three times, and I own the screenplay, and I'm still not sure I have it all figured out. I can assure you, you will be thinking about this movie long after it ends, trying to figure things out, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. I think that just makes the film even better.
American Beauty (1999)
This is the best film of all time!
American Beauty. Where do you start talking about a film that has so much depth, so many wonderful characters, such glorious acting, writing, directing, sometimes a surreal feeling, and such powerful themes about our everyday life? For many (my parents included), American Beauty is a trashy disgusting movie about a sick old man and his sick neighborhood. I hate to say it, but there are many who feel that way. And the thing is, they're kindof right. Is Lester demented? Maybe a little? His daughter and her friend talk numerous times about having sex with adults and have some really, Hmm, how to put it, not so Leave it to Beaver-ish conversations. But, from what I've heard from girls, and know, being that I'm a guy, it's very realistic. People do talk about these things because people are curious. Nothing wrong with that.
American Beauty is perhaps the most realistic movies ever made. Take anyone's neighborhood, ANYONE'S and you search deep into those people's minds, and I think you'll find things much more startling than what's in this movie. Because, EVERYONE problems. A friend of mine didn't like it because he couldn't find a "Likeable character." I told him that's because we know everything about them. In most movies, we don't know ALL about the characters, but here we do. It's hard to like someone when their entire life, all of their thoughts, are exposed. Society today hides their problems for the most part. People cover up their demons and throw them in the closet, and they throw away the key. That reality is questioned here. Lester even says, (SPOILER if you haven't seen or heard anything about this movie) "Our marriage is for show. It's a comercial for how normal we are when we're anything but."
All that being said, I found this to be one of the most redeeming movies ever. Lester is a man trapped in a little box called life. And it sucks. (Some may see this as a spoiler. WARNING!) Throughout this movie he is searching for happiness, that's my feeling anyway. He stops trying to control everything and he realizes that he needs to start living. And the at the end (SPOILERS AHEAD!!!) when he's looking at his family picture, his three simple words communicate everything: "Man, oh, man." Nothing else needs to be said.
The acting in this movie is just top notch. Kevin Spacey is just "THE MAN" He always chooses interesting movies, and this film is his best in my humble opinion. He is dramatic, funny, sarcastic, sad, everything. I thought Annette Benning did very well, too. She didn't win the Oscar, and I don't think she should've but she was great. And someone tell me, where was Chris Cooper's Oscar nomination? WHERE? He deserved one. Wes Bently was great as Ricky Fitts, the two teenage girls were both very good as well. Alan Ball's script was nothing short of breathtaking and awe inspiring. He's now writing the HBO series, "Six Feet Under" and I've heard nothing but great things about that. And director Sam Mendes, who's now working with the likes of Tom Hanks and Jude Law, did a fabulous job directing. He took us inside the mind of Lester, with eerie dreams and fantasies, and what a beautiful neighborhood that was.
Everything about this movie is brilliant. My 8th favorite movie of all time is "Ordinary People," which is very similar. But "American Beauty" seems more like a combination of that and Billy Wilder's "The Apartment," which deals with masking sexuality and lying, etc. Interestingly enough, all three of these films won the Best Picture Oscar. Hmm. And I saw a lot of "American Beauty" in another great film, recently, starring William H. Macy called "Panic."
This film works on so many levels. It is funny while being deeply moving, sad while offering redemption. What more could anyone possibly want in a movie?
Brilliant doesn't even begin to describe this film.
Brilliant doesn't even begin to describe this film. Each character has been drawn so carefully and with so much delicacy that we must be interested. Who can NOT identify with William H. Macy's amazing Jerry and his feeling of being in a hole so deep, you'll do whatever you can to dig yourself out, regardless of how extreme it may be. And then when your hole just gets deeper and deeper, it's just so very tragic. Macy is terrific at playing these types of characters, (and if you haven't seen his 2000 movie, "Panic" shame on you) where he's in trouble and he can't seem to find his way out, no matter how hard he tries. Next up is Marge, played with amazing subtlety by Frances McDormand, who is just a great actress. While she doesn't seem to say ALL that much in the movie, I wouldn't call her character simple by any means. She is thinking. Should we force this cop to talk about everything she's discovering and realizing just because she's in a movie? That's ridiculous. And, here's what I read about the Asian man, and it makes perfect sense. (Warning: This kindof reveals some stuff that I think is common knowledge, but all who haven't seen this great film may not know. Yeah, don't read this without seeing the movie) The scene with them at the restaurant takes place just after she talks to Jerry the first time, and nothing happens. She talks with the Asian man and finds out that all that stuff he had told her was a lie. So then she realizes that Hey! this could be the case with Jerry as well, so she goes back and interrogates him once more, and discovers she was right. There you go. It makes perfect sense. I love the way that the grisly aspects in Fargo are treated as not so much hilarious as they are peculiar and bizarre, such as the kidnapping. It's funny, but in a peculiar way. I think that is the best way to describe this movie. It is engaging, fascinating, to me just plain irresistable, and peculiar.