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Inside Man (2006)
A great New York film, a thriller with NYC ironic humor!
Reading the mixed reviews posted here I wonder if you have to possess that special brand of irony with which New Yorkers are imbued, a sense of humor in the face of disaster or the threat of it anyway, if you're going to 'get' this movie. Spike Lee and his phenomenal cast (besides the incomparable Denzel, Clive, Jodie and Chris, there's a rich gathering of NY character actors and 'real people') deliver the tragi-comic nuances of an adventure where perception is continually being altered by circumstances that look one way while the full dimensions of the actual reality hide in plain sight until the very end. The dialogue is as savvy and witty as I've heard in a long time. I think a really big clue to appreciating this film is the understanding that everyone, no matter what their pay grade (Foster refers to Washington's as a means of putting him in his place--she changes her view completely by film's end), takes actions according to their perceptions and everyone therefore can fail to see what is directly in front of them. Everyone makes what in movie plot terms are stupid mistakes, but what in real life terms are manifestations of a tragic flaw in consciousness. And people can wise up sometimes, as some do in this film.
I recently watched the film again, and what fun it was to see the set-ups realizing exactly what they meant. Or at least I had a better idea! Great film, don't miss it.
Followup on this comment:
I should also have mentioned Chiwetel Ejiofor and Willem Dafoe, also outstanding.
The Sopranos: Made in America (2007)
Why did they go there?
What was Tony thinking? Phil's dead, so I can go anywhere? The family restaurant made for a good set-up for Chase, but to put the Sopranos there with Tony looking anxious every time the door opened--if he were that anxious, why didn't he suggest take-out at home--looks like hubris on someone's part. So the last scene, with or without the cable outage length cut to black, seems poorly motivated.
The scenes with Paulie and the cat were tremendous, LOL funny. Ditto AJ's political views--especially his assertion about Bush and Al Quaeda, followed closely by his giggling at Bush in a comedic moment on TV. The scene with Junior and Janice where he calls her Livia, then sees the picture of her child and calls her Janice. Many wonderful moments throughout.
But the ending seemed self-conscious.
So Many Miracles (1987)
Deeply moving true story of survivors, full of humor and above all, love
Here is a true story of the survival of two originals, Frania and Israel Rubinek, told by their son, actor and writer Saul Rubinek. The documentary focuses on a return to Poland for a reunion with the family in whose tiny basement room the Rubineks were hidden during the war. The film takes us on a journey through the Rubinek's darkest times, near discovery and their ultimate emergence, seen through the eyes of their son, whose gratitude for his parents' very lives is abundantly clear in every frame: their strength, courage, wit, humor, and above all, their abiding love of each other. As Frania relates towards the end of the film, Barry Levinson had seen an earlier version of it at the time he was casting "Avalon" (and looking for European actors). Both were cast in the film, fulfilling Israel's youthful dream of acting (he had acted in Poland), and Frania later appeared in Levinson's "Liberty Heights." I was fortunate indeed to catch this beautiful film on public television years ago--I do hope there are plans to make it available on DVD. These two were miracles in themselves, and their radiant light shines through in this moving tribute.
And could they tell funny stories! Unforgettable. Thank you, Saul, for sharing your wonderful parents and their story with the world.
Excellent! Best Elvis ever!
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is without doubt the most convincing Elvis since, well, the King himself. He looks like him, sounds like him (swell accent and Elvis's singing he lip-syncs flawlessly), and m-o-v-e-s like him! Simply fantastic work. Gorgeous raw talent at first blossoms before our eyes into the one and only Elvis. Rhys-Meyers is the first actor with the charisma to pull this off--it's a total, tour-de-force performance. Hope we see it on DVD! The brilliant script for this mini-series by Patrick Sheane Duncan and James Steven Sadwith (and directed by Sadwith) tells a spellbinding story, even the most extraordinary and outrageous aspects of the King's discovery are completely believable. John Lennon said it, "before Elvis there was nothing." This is the first time since Elvis himself we get to see what Lennon meant.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Straight from the heart
A love story of uncommon beauty, written with daring simplicity, acted with unflinching honesty by each and every player in it, directed by a master storyteller.
No question about its being a tough experience to watch, but this film has many pleasures, not the least of which is the depth of love and joy expressed by the main characters, despite the heartbreaking challenges they must face. Eastwood, Swank and Freeman are tuned to the same devastating emotional string--that Eastwood delivers such a performance while also directing the picture is nothing short of an artistic miracle.
The film is aptly named, its title reminds us of an old song which plays in our hearts and minds long after the movie is done.
Johnny Depp deserves an Academy Award
The walk, the talk, the eyelashes! Johnny Depp, as a haughty, sashaying, daredevil Cockney pirate, leads a first-rate cast (including a gorgeous parrot and a wild monkey) in a hugely entertaining film. Stay through the end of the credits!
Stunning achievement, Rob Marshall is the real star of "Chicago"
This is the most brilliantly adapted film of a musical ever made, the one against which all musical films will be measured for a long time to come. Rob Marshall's vision of two levels of theatrical reality, one nitty-gritty, the other stylized musical fantasy, is flawlessly executed by a splendid cast, in this highly entertaining movie. What a director! What a choreographer! Pure pleasure awaits you.
The Hours (2002)
Magnificent epic of life and art and the roles people play
Without equal this year, "The Hours" is a devastatingly beautiful film made by a creative team whose theatre experience clearly deepens the cinematic event. From the esteemed playwright David Hare's thrilling screenplay, to Stephen Daldry's exceptionally fine direction, to the remarkable cast, the dimensions of "The Hours" continue to resonate long after you leave the cineplex. This haunting examination of the roles people play, or believe they should or should not play to lead a meaningful life, stands alone this year for sheer emotional intensity and sophisticated thought, which nevertheless has the power to reach anyone willing to have this most profound theatrical experience.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Storytelling at its best, sharp, imaginative, authentic film
What a pleasure it is to witness Leonardo DiCaprio's tour-de-force performance in this perfect gem of a film. Spielberg and his top-flight team have created a delightful reconstruction of the era and Abagnale's bizarre cruise through it, making use of a stylized humor while maintaining a faithfulness to the period's look, feel, manner of speech and most especially, the music. Tremendous fun.
About Schmidt (2002)
Beautiful work! Witty and clear-eyed look at the meaning of life.
Jack Nicholson's masterful performance in this film is not to be missed, his work is exquisite in every detail, and the rest of the cast supports him beautifully, especially Kathy Bates who adds another glorious star to her acting crown. The script dares to parade a series of Midwestern cliches before us, but with the intent of giving us a study in contrasts as Schmidt (Nicholson) begins to see life with clearer eyes. The Midwest casting agents deserve an award for their work, as well the direction of this miraculous and moving film.
Gangs of New York (2002)
See it for the sublime acting of Daniel Day Lewis
Much about this often visually stunning picture is a muddle, but Lewis' performance is a knockout in every way, and provides a blueprint for what it means to have an acting experience on film. He deserves an award just for that unforgettable move with the knife and his glass eye. Every moment he is on screen is pure magic.
Artistic triumph, technical marvel, many faces of adaptation
Far more than an insider story about a man having "writer's block", this is really a quest film, by turns wildly funny, highly strange and immensely beautiful. It features three masterful performances (Cage, Cooper, Streep) and a script by Charlie Kaufman (and Donald Kaufman?) that reinvents the screenplay form as it satirizes the entertainment industry. Nicolas Cage's amazing dual appearance (a collaboration with astonishing special effects) is one which will dazzle his fans and make believers out of his detractors. Chris Cooper is so good you really forget he's an actor, and Meryl Streep is simply transcendant; gorgeous, earthy, witty, very gutsy. Five stars for direction to Spike Jonze for the many faces of adaptation.
The St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959)
Vintage heist film with striking emotional depth
This film, as much the story of the personal lives of the robbers as of the heist, features terrific performances, a highly original script for the genre, and exceptional visuals and direction. Each of the would-be bandits is emotionally damaged in some way and the film reveals their individual quirky weaknesses with raw style. In one such sequence, Gino (David Clarke) is shaving and becomes intensely disturbed and claustrophobic when his roommate and fellow member of the gang (Steve McQueen) unexpectedly closes the bathroom door, a scene which stylistically seems to anticipate "Psycho", released in the following year. The look of late 50's St. Louis, the bandits' clothes and hats, the cars they drive, all provide a fascinating edge to this true story of a bank robbery, and one of the last great Noir films.
Love on the Run (1936)
Daffy road comedy stars a gorgeous, glowing Crawford
This one is worth seeing for Crawford's delightful performance: she positively glows as the madcap heiress on the run. Despite the silly story and uneven performance from Gable (his legendary chemistry with Crawford is nonetheless in evidence), there is always the snappy dialogue (much of it written by John Lee Mahin of "Red Dust" and "Bombshell"), to keep the laughs coming. Crawford's then husband Franchot Tone plays Gable's fellow reporter. For anyone who wonders why she is called the ultimate movie star.
Sultry and spirited young Crawford cuts loose in a "wild" role
From her first scenes looking bronzed as a Tahitian as she sings and dances on the beach at night, to the porcelain aristocratic beauty she presents later in the film, Joan Crawford shines in a role that she seems born to play. The film combines melodrama and comedy to bizarre contrast, and features a number of choice supporting performances (and accents!) Young and handsome Robert Montgomery plays the object of Crawford's affection, and such is the level of her love that when she is told that "the woods are full of men like him", she replies, "take me to the woods." This film also might show her earliest use of a Crawford trademark prop, the revolver.
Laughing Sinners (1931)
See this for Joan's "farmer" dance! Incredible!
This may not be the greatest of the Crawford/Gable pairings, but their affinity for each other is obvious, and as always what is unsaid between them speaks volumes about their off-screen relationship. The film's other highlights include Joan's singularly eccentric "farmer" dance, for which she sports a false nose and beard! This was surely the inspiration for the Soggy Bottom Boys' "disguises" and dancing in the climax of 'O Brother Where Art Thou?'. In any event, the phenomenal originality of her performance provides another dimension to Crawford's enduring film legacy.
Atlantic City, USA (1980)
A gem! Witty script by John Guare masterfully directed by Louis Malle
This film has a great script (John Guare), brilliant direction (Louis Malle), and two stars (Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon) at the top of their form. The dialogue is witty in the old Hollywood style, and delivered by the entire cast, particularly Lancaster, with singular panache. A classic. Surely there will be a DVD.
First rate storytelling: subtle, smart, strange, surprising
In my view the best told story on film in 2001. Every shot, every scene, every line of dialogue, is superb. A literate thriller, it keeps you guessing all the way but when you see the conclusion, its strange logic unfolds right before your eyes, and it will likely make you think twice about the guesses you made. A perceptive film about perception.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
High style musical odyssey, a feast for the eye and ear
Without question, this film is a garden of endless delights. I saw it twice in theatres in first run, then again on DVD, and many more times as it plays on cable. The dialogue sparkles with eccentric turns of phrase ("the acme of foolishness" for instance), and the sound and music are glorious. The DVD commentary provides insight about color processes and other enhancements to create this visually ravishing film. The classic story receives a fresh review, with more than a passing reference to Preston Sturges' great film "Sullivan's Travels". If you've never seen that one, it's a must, especially after viewing 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?'
Grand Canyon (1991)
Magical, non-linear, personal quest story
I saw this first-run and loved it. The storytelling actually resists building to sensational moments, which may have driven some viewers away, conditioned as we are now to expect obvious, heart-pounding excitement at regular intervals. Paradoxically, the film has many thrilling moments, but they grow out of the unexpected turns the characters' lives take and what they do in response. These people surprise themselves in the process, and show us sides of ourselves we hadn't seen. Miracles happen, people who wouldn't have dreamed they would become friends, become a family. And there's a writer-director-producer in the story, too, who makes very "sensational" pictures. This is a quest film, magical, non-linear, and finally, deeply satisfying. Wonderful acting from Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Mary McDonnell, Alfre Woodard, Steve Martin, and Mary-Louise Parker. And of course there is the glorious Grand Canyon itself, a kind of Holy Grail in the desert.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Masterful film, brilliant editing and sound and accents!
A very compelling story told in a dynamic way, with richly deserved Academy Awards for editing and sound. Strong ensemble acting, and convincing accents from the non-American actors. Eric Bana creates a particularly vivid character, and Josh Hartnett's final tribute to a fallen comrade is moving. The film could not have been made without Ridley Scott's genius for staging these events. All the production details are impressive, and the use of an old familiar air with a modern take for the endtitle music, is inspired. If you see the DVD, catch the On the Set featurette, quite revealing of process, and the actors' original accents.
Poetry! Rewrites the book on filmic storytelling
A certain kind of critical response kept me away from this film when it was in theatrical release, and I should have known better! Michael Mann is one of the most original storytellers working in film today, and his sensibility is absolutely in sync with his subject here. Muhammad Ali always did it his way, and from the brilliant opening sequence (which breaks all kinds of rules of time and space) to the last scene, that's what Mann does, and with great style, as ever. Of course if an audience demands a literal drama, they might not catch the poetry Mann and his team create with sound and picture. Will Smith is outstanding as Ali, vocally and visually, Jon Voight is a unbelievably convincing Howard Cosell, and Mario Van Peebles is subtle and moving as Malcom X.
The Yards (2000)
Exceptional film, well done in every way
This poetic film appears to create a particular style to tell its story, it isn't a "ride" as people often describe films lately, it's an experience. Production values are exceptional, it's beautifully written, directed, shot and edited, gorgeously acted, featuring a first-rate performance by Mark Wahlberg.
Smart, witty, compassionate look at contemporary life
After avoiding this film for years (thinking it was for kids) I caught it on cable recently and found it completely engaging. What struck me is that while it is about younger people, that audience might not embrace it. I found it smart, witty in a very dry sort of way, yet also a compassionate look at the contemporary American youngster. Absolutely worth viewing. And the dialogue is, well... snappy.
Mrs. Soffel (1984)
This is the first American accent Mel Gibson used on film.
Mel Gibson's performance in "Mrs. Soffel" is superb in any event, but viewed in the context that it is the first time he played an American character on film, that his brother was played by American actor Matthew Modine, and that the film was based on a true story of two men from Pittsburgh, it is an even greater achievement.