Fritz's World

An exciting and awe-inspiring glimpse into my life: movie reviews (which are replete with spoilers), Penn State football, Washington Nationals, and life here in the nation's capital. Can you handle it?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Star Trek XI: So Very Tired . . .

According to IMDb, some casting ideas have been tossed about for the upcoming Star Trek prequel:
  • Captain James T. Kirk: Matt Damon
  • Mr. Spock: Adrien Brody
  • Dr. McCoy: Gary Sinise
  • Scotty: James McEvoy
Mind you, these are just ideas; nobody is firmly connected to the project at this point (at least that I'm aware of).

Truth be told, I really don't know what to think—and this is coming from a die-hard Trekker! I must grudgingly confess, I'm rather weary of an eleventh Star Trek feature film, because like so many other franchises, my fear is that it'll wear out its welcome among the fans, and suffer the same fate that Star Wars did: getting laughed off by even its most hardcore fans, decrying the director for failing to recreate the original magic (thankfully, though, Star Trek hasn't endured the humiliation of having the original movies recut to the Nth degree by the director).

In other words, the expectation would be too high for any future Star Trek movie. And call me defeatist if you will, but in my book, no one can replace William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy as Kirk and Spock. Don't get me wrong, I love Matt Damon and Gary Sinise as actors, but Shatner and Nimoy embedded Kirk and Spock firmly into the American subconscious, and to have anyone else try to fill their shoes would be an impossible task. In short, I just don't think Star Trek XI should happen, because I fear it won't be taken seriously.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

Like the Christmas season, Oscar season needs to take a few days weeks months to wind down—in which time everyone ponders "what might have been." In the case of the Oscars, we seem to have plenty of people speculating over what should have won Best Picture over the years (though I think I've already covered that). As to this year's awards, I'm sure the buzz and debates will continue for quite a while yet, but I think I can comfortably move on now that a satisfactory Oscar season has run its course.

Though I'll probably need a few days yet to fully recover from Oscar night. 'Twas intense.


Monday, February 26, 2007

The Razzies are in!

Now that the Oscar hangover has started to subside, let us turn our focus to another award show: the Razzies! As a perfect prelude to last night's Oscars, this year's Razzie awards were released on Saturday night. I made some predictions when the formal list came out, and out of the 7 that I predicted, I came away with a score of 4. The results are as follows:

  • Worst Picture: Basic Instinct 2 (I had predicted Little Man; score of 0 out of 7 for me)
  • Worst Actor(s): Marlon Wayans & Shawn Wayans (spot-on pick; 1 out of 7)
  • Worst Actress: Sharon Stone (2 out of 7)
  • Worst Supporting Actor: M. Night Shyamalan (3 out of 7)
  • Worst Supporting Actress: Carmen Electra (I had picked Kate Bosworth)
  • Worst Director: M. Night Shyamalan (I had picked Keenan Ivory Wayans; and let me also say, I'm glad Ron Howard didn't win, for I still don't understand why he was razzed for The Da Vinci Code)
  • Worst Remake Or Rip-off: Little Man (4 out of 7)
The rest of the results are below, even though I didn't make predictions for any of these categories.

  • Worst Screen Couple: Shawn Wayans and either Kerry Washington or Marlon Wayans
  • Worst Prequel or Sequel: Basic Instinct 2
  • Worst Screenplay: Basic Instinct 2
  • Worst Excuse for Family Entertainment: RV
And there we have it, ladies and germs—the Oscars and the Razzies. The best and the worst of this year's cinematic entries, respectively.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oscar night: LIVE BLOGGING!!!

In summation . . .

What can I say, except that it's been one hell of an awards ceremony! Marty got his first Best Director and Best Picture wins, perfectly highlighting his illustrious career (though I'm sure all the naysayers will say it was an apology award, but I don't agree with that assessment; I think he genuinely earned his awards for The Departed). And Forest won a righteously-deserving Best Actor. I'm still not happy that Rinko Kikuchi lost to Jennifer Hudson, but as they say, 2 out of 3 ain't bad. All in all, 'twas a good year at the Oscars.

12:16 am (wow, this was a long night)

Best Picture: Graham King for The Departed — Wow!!!!! This I didn't expect. I was expecting Little Miss Sunshine or Letters from Iwo Jima to win, with The Queen a major long shot, and a tie between Babel and The Departed. But this has been a banner year for Marty!!!

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, for The Departed — In my best Homer Simpson voice . . . woohoo!!!! With this kind of welcoming committee (Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola), you just knew that Marty was going to win. A wonderful award for a wonderful filmmaker.

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland — I'm not a praying man anymore, but . . . thank you, Lord!!!! Honest to God, I thought he would lose to Peter O'Toole. And that was a hell of a good acceptance speech, too!

11:56 pm

Best Actress: Helen Mirren for The Queen — Not unexpected, really. And that was a nice aceptance speech, too! But Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a man of few words, isn't he?


Best Film Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker for The Departed — Yay! Another one I was cheering for. Thelma won an Oscar for a previous Scorsese movie, Raging Bull, and she definitely deserved this award for The Departed.

11:35 pm

Okay, the suspense for the last major awards of the night is killing me! We have the major acting and directing awards yet, not to mention Best Picture! I'm seriously crossing all my fingers and toes for Marty and Forest right now.

11:31 pm

Best Original Song: "I Need To Wake Up", awarded to Melissa Etheridge for An Inconvenient Truth — Wow, now that's an upset!!! With 3 nominations in this category, I honestly thought that Dreamgirls would win. (And it looked like Jennifer Hudson was dangerously close to a "wardrobe malfunction" in the middle of it all, too.) Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Queen Latifah present this award last year, too?

11:16 pm

Best Original Screenplay: Michael Arndt for Little Miss Sunshine — Doh! I was hoping for Babel.

Best Original Score: Gustavo Santaolalla for Babel — Okay, this guy is just a great musician! His guitar soundtrack to Babel and other Alejandro González Iñárritu films is nothing short of spectacular, and I've heard it used before in The Insider. In fact, didn't he win an Oscar last year for scoring Brokeback Mountain?

10:51 pm

Best Documentary Feature: Davis Guggenheim for An Inconvenient Truth — Now honestly, did anyone expect this to lose? Not me, though I actually thought Jesus Camp had the potential to make it an upset. And I'm surprised Al Gore didn't try to make an announcement again, since the first one either got botched or was a joke.

Best Documentary Short Subject: Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon for The Blood of Yingzhou District — Again, where can I get these films?

10:40 pm

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls — Okay, I really really reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally wanted Rinko to win. She was so heartbreaking in Babel, and this award actually makes me angry. I think Esther Rolle sums up my feelings best here.

Best Foreign Language Film: The Lives of Others, from Germany — Wow, I was expecting Pan's Labyrinth! (And stop cutting off acceptance speeches!!! That's so rude to the winners.)

Best Visual Effects: John Knoll, Hal T. Hickel, Charles Gibson, and Allen Hall for Pirates of the Caribbean — Yay! This is another one I was rooting for. On another note, my father taught a set of twins in the early '70s named David and Richard Hoover, who then went on to become cartoonists in Hollywood. There was a Richard Hoover up for the Superman Returns award! Coincidence, or same person? :)

10:16 pm

Best Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro for Pan's Labyrinth — Okay, I think I need to see Pan's Labyrinth now! (And for the record, I'm still amazed that The Black Dahlia was in the running.)

Best Costume Design: Milena Canonero for Marie Antoinette — Didn't see this film. To be honest, I don't really want to, either. Kirsten Dunst just doesn't impress me anymore as an actress.

9:53 pm

Best Adapted Screenplay: William Monahan for The Departed — Yay!!! This is one I was cheering for. Great movie, The Departed. It was refreshing, too, to see Tom Hanks do a comedic moment again! It's been too long. (And I didn't even recognize Jack Nicholson with a shaved head!)

Best Animated Feature: George Miller for Happy Feet — Didn't see this one, either.

9:39 pm

Um . . . okay. So was that an official announcement for Al Gore or not? That's reeeeeeeeally open-ended there, people!

And can I read that screenplay, Ellen? The one you gave to Martin Scorsese that you said was a cross between Goodfellas and Big Momma's House? :)

9:26 pm

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine Now it get interesting, for we get into the acting awards!!! God, the suspense is always awful in the moments leading up to the moment the envelope opens—but that's what I love about it! I actually didn't have a preference in this category (okay, maybe I was rooting for Eddie or Mark), but congratulations, Alan!

Best Sound Mixing: Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer, and Willie D. Burton for Dreamgirls — I was hoping for Pirates myself. (And let them finish their speeches! Don't cut them off.)

Best Sound Editing: Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman for Letters from Iwo Jima — Interesting sound effects ensemble there! I never even conceived of an entire chorus so accurately producing the sound effects of a montage like this! Quite remarkable! And just what did Greg Kinnear say when his dialogue was silenced there? ;)

9:06 pm

Best Live-Action Short: Ari Sandel for West Bank Story — Good acceptance speech! And where can I find these live-action short films?

Best Animated Short: Torill Kove for The Danish Poet – You know, I just realized that the only animated shorts I've seen lately are those that precede Pixar films! Didn't the one before Monsters, Inc. win an Academy Award, too? (I think it was called The Birds?)

Best Makeup: David Martí and Montse Ribé for Pan's Labyrinth — Okay, I wasn't expecting that Will Ferrell/Jack Black/John C. Reilly intro, but it nevertheless worked.

8:48 pm

Best Art Direction: Eugenio Caballer and Pilar Revuelta for Pan's Labyrinth — First award of the night! I haven't seen this film yet, actually, but I am intrigued by it.

8:43 pm

Ooooh, all that applause for Al Gore! Do I smell political feelings surfacing here? ;)

8:42 pm

Let the festivities begin!!! :) So far, I'm pretty pleased with Ellen DeGeneres as the host. She's more animated and more enthusiastic than Jon Stewart from last year, as usual her jokes are on par with her unique blend of comedy, and she seems to really have her audience at ease. I think a good choice was made in having her host this year's ceremonies! (And good point about the boring speeches!)

8:33 pm

Okay, that Peter O'Toole/Lawrence of Arabia thing was kinda unnecessary. (And yes, Jennifer, I do like your dress!)

8:05 pm

Thank God Joan Rivers isn't here to do fashion commentary!!! I don't think I could stomach it.

8:00 pm

All right, let's get this party started!!! The Red Carpet has been rolled out; the nominees are rolling in; Barbara Walters has finished her schtick; Ellen DeGeneres is on the scene; I've got my whiskey sour in hand . . . let's bring on the awards, baby! :)

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Start spreading the news!

As a final plug before the show starts, tonight I'm going to live-blog the Oscars. So tune in tonight for the fun and excitement!

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Random Oscar thoughts

With Oscar night only days away, my head is now swimming with various Oscar-related thoughts from years past, and I'd better get them down now before my head explodes.

1963: I would have chosen To Kill a Mockingbird for Best Picture over Lawrence of Arabia. I've been told that Lawrence of Arabia is a movie that you can only see on the big screen, because the experience of seeing it on the big screen is vastly superior to watching the DVD. That may explain my general indifference to Lawrence of Arabia (I only saw it on DVD), but no matter how many times I see To Kill a Mockingbird, I can't help but feel like my world has been touched. (And yes, I do think Gregory Peck rightfully won Best Actor that year over Peter O'Toole.)

1972: I've already given my spiel about The Godfather at the Oscars.

1973: I must confess, I'm still a bit saddened that The Exorcist lost Best Picture, but at the same time, I won't argue with The Sting bringing home the gold, because that's one of my favorite movies. I can't quite understand why Robert Redford got a Best Actor nod for The Sting (if anyone should have gotten an acting nod from that movie, it should have been Paul Newman or Robert Shaw), but Jack Lemmon seriously deserved his Oscar that year for Save the Tiger. His tormented performance as the out-of-step, living-in-the-past hero Harry Stoner was just incredible.

1974: The Best Picture competition for this year still sends chills up my spine: The Conversation, Chinatown, and The Godfather, Part II. As in the case of 1973, I'm glad The Godfather, Part II won, but at the same time it still kinda saddens me that the other two films couldn't take home any glory. Chinatown is probably the classic noir film of our time, setting the standard by which all other noir films would follow. And The Conversation is a superb masterpiece by Coppola (and with both pictures of his up for Oscars, 1974 was a damn good year for Coppola!). Though I think I need to see Harry and Tonto to see if Art Carney's Best Actor award (over Al Pacino) was justified. And I'm still somewhat perplexed by Ingrid Bergman's win for Murder on the Orient Express. In an otherwise mega-ensemble cast (Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Wendy Hiller, Michael York, Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, just to name a few), her part in that film was so small, and she played heavily against type (no longer the femme fatale from such films as Casablanca, but a somewhat mentally-deficient, God-fearing social worker). So part of me wonders if she was awarded for going against type?

1976: This was one hell of a year for nominations, I have to admit! With such landmark films as Rocky, Network, All the President's Men, and Taxi Driver competing for Best Picture, I can only imagine how much viewers were salivating in suspense. I may not make any friends for saying this, but I do believe that Rocky was the right choice for Best Picture, inching ahead of Network by only a hair. Network I think rightfully took the lead acting awards (Faye Dunaway, and an amazing Peter Finch screaming his now-legendary, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"), but given the beauty of Rocky, I must admit to being a little saddened that Sly and Talia didn't take home the lead acting awards. And like the rest of the cinematic world, it still doesn't make sense to me why Beatrice Straight got an Oscar for only a single scene in Network.

1980: I'm amazed at all the anger that still remains over Raging Bull losing Best Picture to Ordinary People. I've seen both films, and while both were quite good, I honestly agree with the call made by the Academy that year. I thought Ordinary People was the better of the two, with Mary Tyler Moore giving one hell of a dramatic performance (I'm actually surprised that Donald Sutherland wasn't nominated that year, because he was quite a presence, too!), but I do think that Martin Scorsese should have won the Best Director award over Robert Redford. While Ordinary People might have been the more powerful of the two, I think Raging Bull was the better-made film. And Robert De Niro's Oscar was truly deserving for his performance of the self-destructive Jake LaMotta.

1981: I wish Raiders of the Lost Ark would have won Best Picture over Chariots of Fire.

1986: I must admit, I don't quite understand why Platoon won Best Picture, as it didn't strike me as anything spectacular. Though I did think Tom Berenger should have won Best Supporting Actor. And Paul Newman in The Color of Money, he definitely deserved that award!

1988: I would have given Best Picture and Best Actor to Mississippi Burning and Gene Hackman, respectively. Rain Man didn't really speak to me the way Mississippi Burning did. And I also would have added Michael Rooker to the Best Supporting Actor category, for he overpowered every scene he was in in Mississippi Burning.

1989: This was another good year for Best Picture nominees: Field of Dreams, Born on the Fourth of July, My Left Foot, Dead Poets Society. So how is it that Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture? (Though Jessica Tandy rightfully won Best Actress.) For Best Picture, I would have chosen Born on the Fourth of July, followed closely by Field of Dreams and then Dead Poets Society. And you may want to sit down for this bit of news, but I would have given Best Actor to Tom Cruise. For as ballyhooed as he is today for his whole Katie Holmes schtick, he has proven on more than one occasion that he can act—and this is no exception. He gave a powerhouse to end all powerhouses in Born on the Fourth of July, and it saddens me that he lost. This year also marked the first Oscar win for Denzel Washington, who took home a Supporting Actor award for his incredible performance in Glory.

1990: Like ten years before, the anger that Dances With Wolves won Best Picture and Director over Marty and Goodfellas still amazes me. I don't really feel one way or the other about Dances With Wolves winning Best Picture, and I didn't really care for Goodfellas (sorry, but I'm a Godfather loyalist). What I don't understand is why The Godfather, Part III was in the running for any Oscar at all. As much as I love the first two films, the third just shouldn't have been made, and part of me wonders if it got nominations just for being a Godfather film.

1991: Oliver Stone should have taken Best Director for his phenomenal recreation of Dealy Plaza in JFK. That was one hell of an achievement, and all the details that he nailed down amaze me still.

1992: Unforgiven still puzzles me. Maybe I'm just a John Wayne fan at heart, but I didn't find anything special to Unforgiven, so I can't quite figure out why it took Best Picture.

1994: Like 1976, this was another banner year for Best Picture—and Best Supporting Actor! As much as I love Pulp Fiction, I grudgingly admit that Forrest Gump was the rightful Best Picture winner (if only by a hair). On the flip side, though, I would have awarded Best Director to Quentin Tarantino instead of Robert Zemeckis. As to Best Supporting Actor, I've seen all the performances except Chazz Palminteri in Bullets Over Broadway, and I can honestly say that, in my opinion, it's a three-way tie between Martin Landau, Gary Sinise, and Samuel L. Jackson. Martin Landau gave an unbelievable rendition as Bela Legosi in Ed Wood, so I support his win. But I can't overlook Gary Sinise's Lieutenant Dan or Samuel L. Jackson's Jules; hell, Samuel's diner scene at the end of Pulp Fiction was one of the most incredible performances I've ever seen. Paul Scofield's nomination didn't quite make sense to me, though. From Quiz Show, I would have chosen John Turturro or Ralph Fiennes.

1995: I'm still angry that Heat didn't get a single Oscar nomination that year, and I can think of at least 7 awards for which it should have been nominated.

1997: Call me what you will, but I thought Kim Basinger's Oscar win was deserved. And I beg you, please don't get me started on Titanic. Good Will Hunting and L.A. Confidential were much more worthy. I can accept James Cameron's Best Director win (because the sinking of the ship was extraordinary), but Titanic was completely overrated, and the whole love story turned the greatest maritime disaster of all time into a chick flick. I'm sorry, but the sinking of the ship is not supposed to be secondary to a love story. And thank God that Leo has resurrected his acting career, because he was annoying as hell in Titanic.

1999: No matter how many times I see American Beauty, I just don't get it. I did enjoy Kevin Spacey's coming-of-age, as it were, but the rest of the film seemed very disjoined to me, and the fact that it damn near swept the Oscars leaves me puzzled. This year, I would have given Best Picture, Director, and Actor to The Insider, Michael Mann, and Russell Crowe, respectively. And for as much as I dislike Hilary Swank, she did give a surprisingly worthy performance in Boys Don't Cry, fully deserving her Oscar win.

2000: I would have given Traffic Best Picture that year over Gladiator (sorry, Dad), and I really didn't find Russell Crowe's turn in Gladiator that award-worthy, either. I honestly didn't have a problem with Julia Roberts winning Best Actress, though I was surprised to find a number of people angry that Ellen Burstyn didn't win for Requiem for a Dream.

2001: Let me get this out of my system now—Naomi Watts was completely robbed for not getting nominated for Mulholland Dr. But having said that, I wasn't bothered by Halle Berry's win for Monster's Ball, nor by Denzel's for Training Day. So why do those wins generate all the anger it does?

2004: The Best Picture win of Million Dollar Baby made me mad as hell. I honestly thought The Aviator, Sideways, and Ray to be far superior. And speaking of Ray, I think it goes without saying that Jamie Foxx was outstanding as Ray Charles. I just wish Paul Giamatti would have been nominated for Sideways, and I would have given Best Supporting Actress to Natalie Portman rather than Cate Blanchett. Cate did a respectable Kate Hepburn (though I think the best-ever Kate impression came from, of all people, Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy), but Natalie was just outstanding in Closer (not to mention hot!).

2005: Again, I may be in the vast minority on this, but it totally made my night to have George Clooney win Best Supporting Actor and Crash win Best Picture. I didn't care what Clooney's politics were; I thought he was brilliant in Syriana. I was also cheering for Matt Dillon to win for Crash, but felt happy with George's win. As to Crash vs. Brokeback Mountain, I genuinely felt Crash to be one of the most powerful movies I've ever seen, daring in its premise, and flat-out in-your-face honest about people and their often-incorrect preconceptions of others unlike them. I thought Brokeback Mountain featured lots of good acting (and I would have given Best Actor to Heath Ledger rather than Philip Seymour Hoffman), but the movie didn't strike me as the masterpiece it was hailed as. So I think the Academy made the right decision last year.

Phew, that took a lot out of me! But all that being said . . . bring on Sunday night's ceremony!!!


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Departed

Okay, so I finally got to see The Departed. Perfect timing, too—just in time for awards season! With all the buzz surrounding Martin Scorsese's latest entry into his legendary filmography, and with the potential for him to finally take home a Best Director statuette, I knew that it would be best for me to go into Oscar night with at least one viewing of The Departed under my belt. Thankfully I made that happen this weekend when I found (literally) the last DVD of it on the shelves at Blockbuster.

I must confess, I wasn't sure what to expect when I first heard that The Departed would take place in Boston, because Martin Scorsese's territory, nay his very heart and soul, has been firmly carved out in New York. So part of me wondered if The Departed would merely be a Boston version of Goodfellas. But in the final analysis, I can honestly say that this was a lot better than I thought it would be! Some Scorsese purists might deride The Departed for not being true to his more trademark films, like Goodfellas, Raging Bull, or Taxi Driver, but I found The Departed to be a very fun, high-intensity ride from beginning to end—with a twist ending that I'll dare to say rivaled that of The Sixth Sense!

The basic premise of The Departed is pretty simple. Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, who met Irish mobster Frank Costello (none other than the great Jack Nicholson) at a very young age, and over the years came to see him as a surrogate father—which means that when Sullivan graduates from the police academy, he's already a cop on the take, and the perfect set of eyes to know where and when the police will be breaking down Costello's doors. Leonardo DiCaprio plays young Billy Costigan, whose father was a mobster himself, but whose life was tragically cut short. Billy, however, wants to rid himself of his old family ways and become a cop. He naturally isn't taken seriously at first; the overzealously condescending yet hilarious interviews with Sergeant Dignam (played by Marky Mark Mark Wahlberg) illustrate just how little he's thought of as a potential cop. Nevertheless, Billy's background makes him the perfect mole to infiltrate Frank Costello's mob.

In short, the Boston PD has a mole in Costello's mob; Costello's mob has a mole in the Boston PD. So it's only a matter of time before the respective moles discover who the other is—and it doesn't help that both moles are pursuing the same woman.

With lightning-quick editing by Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who was launched to editing fame with Raging Bull), The Departed really hits the ground running, and doesn't stop until the film's final shot (pun intended!). I'd have to say this is one of the best undercover movies I've seen lately. Along with Miami Vice, Above the Law, not to mention Donnie Brasco, The Departed shows just how deadly undercover work can be—not just to life and limb, but also to your own mental state, because it pushes cops to the limits of their sanity and self.

It's hard to say, between the two moles, who has more to lose. Leo's Billy Costigan struggles to maintain control over his own sanity and sense of security while he's inside Frank Costello's mob. He's constantly plagued by an understandable paranoia that he's about to be discovered, because it goes without saying that his death warrant is sealed if his cover gets blown. But for him, his own feelings of self-worth are on the line. He wants to prove to himself that even though he's the son of a dead Irish mobster, he can still make a difference as a cop. Damon's Sullivan, on the other hand, has his entire livelihood on the line just by being in Costello's pocket. His super-lush condo is undoubtedly more expensive than your average police officer's salary, and his hot girlfriend is just icing on the cake. You could almost argue that Costello essentially enables Sullivan to "live the good life".

The acting all around was pretty good, with a superb supporting cast that included Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Anthony Anderson. I was uneasy at first with the idea that Matt Damon was being cast as a cop on the take, largely because I didn't think he could pull it off (i.e., it went against type). But I had to admit, the role of Colin Sullivan was surprisingly well executed by Damon! His gradual buildup of paranoia when he's assigned to flush out the Costello mole in the Boston PD was palpable, and his initial cell phone exchange will Billy Costigan was unbelievably nail-biting . . . despite the fact that no words were even spoken! (It actually reminded me of the quick-cut editing of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat, when Pacino and crew were camped out in the trailers while De Niro and crew walk away from the platinum job, and all you see are the close-ups of each person's face back to back, almost like they're looking at each other through mirrors.) Though on a funnier note, when seeing Matt Damon in yet another Boston-based movie, I half-expected him to shout out during Costello's death scene, "How do you like them apples???"

I was pleasantly surprised by Martin Sheen's turn as Billy Costigan's superior, Queenan. Sheen's outspoken politics do get rather tiresome, so it was refreshing to see him put that aside and tackle a serious dramatic role again. And Jack Nicholson? I ask you . . . has the man ever given a bad performance? No. As expected, he completely chewed the scenery in The Departed, but I think his character could have done with a little more development. Frank Costello seemed a little too much of a cardboard cutout to me, but in the hands of Jack Nicholson, Costello was surely a pistol (pun intended). Though another part of me wonders, and I leave this for Scorsese purists to ponder . . . how would Robert De Niro have fared in the role of Frank Costello?

I will admit, some of the Oscar nominations for The Departed surprised me. I honestly wasn't expecting a nomination for Mark Wahlberg, though he is pretty funny to see. Honestly, I would have expected Jack Nicholson or Matt Damon to receive a Best Supporting Actor nod. Though I'm even more surprised that Leo didn't get a nomination. His edgy, teetering-on-the-brink-of-the-abyss performance was absolutely stellar! I tell ya, this kid's come a long way from the annoying pretty boy in Titanic. As to Martin Scorsese himself, I can honestly say that his Best Director nomination was warranted, and if he wins, in my eyes he will have earned it, and it won't be an apology award (as I had previously feared). Whether or The Departed wins Best Picture this Sunday, that's really hard to tell. The Best Picture race seems like an even bet all around (and this is only the second Best Picture nomination I've seen for this year, the other being Babel), but if this wins, I won't complain. 9.5 out of 10, with my figners crossed for Marty.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Straight Story

I swear, I'm not on a David Lynch kick right now, but this weekend I did get to see Lynch's 1999 film The Straight Story. And I have to say before I go any further, there are two phrases that I never thought I'd hear associated with David Lynch: "Walt Disney presents", and "rated G". For the master of the surreal, a G-rated road movie isn't quite what I expected from David Lynch, but he nevertheless created just that—and a very heartwarming one at that, too.

Supposedly based on actual events, The Straight Story tells the story of 73-year-old Alvin Straight (played by Richard Farnsworth in his final film role), who lives in Iowa with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek). Rose is either slightly retarded or has a speech impediment, but she nevertheless has to be the bearer of bad news one stormy night: Alvin's brother Lyle, with whom he had a falling out 10 years prior, has suffered a stroke, and Alvin, after some quiet reflection, decides that he must travel 300 miles to Lyle's home in Wisconsin to see him. But therein lies the problem: Alvin has no driver's license, Rose has no car, no bus will travel to Lyle's small town, and Alvin's vision is minimal, at best. But in his determination, he improvises a mode of transport for himself: a 1966 John Deere riding mower, towing a make-shift trailer that he uses for sleep.

Laugh if you will (I did), but by his own admission, Alvin is a determined (read, stubborn) man, and he wants very badly to see his brother again before their time is up. His first foray out onto the road wasn't too successful, for his original riding mower died only 5 miles into the journey. But that's when he picked up the '66 model, which made it just a little further—and by further, I mean the entire trip, which I think took him close to 6 weeks, if my math skills are still intact.

I want to say that this film followed the standard template of road movies, wherein a lot of self-discovery takes place as our hero travels to his ultimate destination, but The Straight Story somehow felt a little different. I can't quite put my finger on it, but somehow it was just different—in a good way, though! It helped that director David Lynch loves to tell stories that take place in small towns (think of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks), and as such, this imparts a certain authenticity to The Straight Story.

As Alvin travels, he sets up camp each night along the road, cooking his dinner over a campfire and enjoying the company he gets from time to time. Sometimes people join him in his camp at night, while he encounters others during his daytime journey down the largely deserted roads of Iowa. Somehow, in some way, each person he comes across brings him a little more perspective on life—and in some cases, he brings perspective into theirs. The first was the pregnant teenager who was running away from her family. Her sees her hitchhiking along the road early in the day, and that night she comes to join him at his camp. What struck me as odd is that they don't even introduce themselves; the girl just sits down by Alvin's campfire and slowly starts opening up to him. And of course, Alvin's words of wisdom encourage her to go back to her home and family, to face what she was running away from (telling her family about her pregnancy).

Alvin also has an encounter with a lady who keeps hitting deer with her car, because the road she drives to work is just littered with them, and it seems that no matter what she does, she ends up hitting a deer every single day. Her long tirade is both disconcerting and hilarious, but you can't help but understand and relate to her frustration (I know I do, from having a close call too many with deer on the road; that's my PA upbringing right there). But Alvin has his most fulfilling—and longest—encounter with a family when he's going down a hill and the brakes on his mower almost give out. The family offers to help him get his mower fixed up, and Alvin graciously accepts (though he stays in his makeshift trailer rather than their house while the work is done). While he waits, Alvin and another older man go for a beer one afternoon and begin trading World War II stories. This is where things really got interesting for me, because with each man's story comes a tale of deep regret, of having seen too much, of having committed wrongs that they can never set right—even with themselves. In the words of Shakespeare's immortal Hamlet, "There's the respect that makes calamity for so long life." It's a terribly sad scene, for here are two World War II veterans who can't rid themselves of the emotional scars that they've carried for more than 60 years. The scene wasn't a commentary on war itself (at least I didn't interpret it that way), but it did show that while long life comes with much happiness, it also comes with much regret. And I think in this particular scene, Richard Farnsworth genuinely shined as an actor.

As I said earlier, I know the road movie is a tried-and-true genre that's been done to death, but somehow, in the hands of David Lynch . . . it just works! Like it's starting anew. I think it was the notion of family that made it work here, for Alvin thinks so much about his brother during his long journey, recounting how close the two were when they were much younger, how they knew each other better than they knew themseves, and how painful it was for them to fall out like they did. Even though I'm an only child, Alvin's explanation of why they fought still rings true with me: in his own words, it's a story as old as the Bible, as old as Cain and Abel—about how their vanity got in the way of their closeness, and how Alvin must swallow his pride (a bitter pill, he admits) in order to forgive Lyle (and himself!) for their past transgressions. In some ways, The Straight Story reminded me of Five Easy Pieces, insofar as coming to grips with familial anger, of having to let go of that anger, and discover some true facets about yourself along the way.

Alvin's final reunion with Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) is very brief, actually, but the years upon years of brotherly love and anger shine through without words needing to be said. And even though these two proud men may not say much to each other, their mannerisms, their facial ticks, and their tears—not to mention their final gazing up at the stars before the end credits roll—say all that's needed to be said. Here, the anger of old gives way to guilt, with each man wanting to love the other, wanting to forgive the other, wanting to forgive themselves.

In the final analysis, The Straight Story is a simple story—of family, of self-discovery, and of forgiveness. I must give kudos to director Lynch for pulling off a film as heartwarming as this. After growing accustomed to Lynch's trademark surrealism, it's refreshing to know that he can also make a film about the human condition that's so true, and so unforgettable. I must also praise the wonderful soundtrack before I forget, composed by Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti.

But most importantly, this was a remarkable role for Richard Farnsworth to undertake, and I didn't even realize that he was Oscar-nominated for it (losing to Kevin Spacey for American Beauty). He doesn't overplay Alvin or try to make him into some kind of moralistic hero. Quite the opposite, really: he plays Alvin as a simple man who's led a full life, almost too full a life, and who's ready to let go of his demons and make peace with the world before he leaves it. And in a sad twist of fate, Richard Farnsworth died only a year after this film was made. (From what I understand, he committed suicide after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.) So in a way, The Straight Story also served as Richard Farnsworth's own swan song, his own epitaph. And if I may say so, this role was a very proper and very fitting end to his film career. 8.5 out of 10.


Monday, February 19, 2007

February birthdays

In this grand month of February (during this very week, in fact!), my cousins Jen (left) and Ruthie (right) will break the age barrier to turn 21. In honor of this grand occasion, let us all raise our glasses to these two fine ladies—and the next time either of you are in DC, the first round of drinks is on me!


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Countdown to Oscar night

It's one week to Oscar night, y'all! And I'm starting to get tingly with anticipation. :)

Though at the same time, I must admit to being a little uneasy, because with all the buzz surrounding this year's nominees, I see the potential for this to be a big season for "apology awards." This bothers me because I don't believe in apology awards, and I think the Academy needs to keep history separate from current performances when giving out their awards.

But let me give you a quick rundown of the possible apology Oscars that could be awarded this year:
  • Jennifer Hudson being awarded an Oscar because she lost American Idol. I admit to not having watched Dreamgirls yet, and I absolutely refuse to ever watch a reality TV show, but her loss on American Idol is still well-known enough, courtesy of the media, and my fear is that the Academy will give her an Oscar to compensate for her Idol loss. (For the record, in the Best Supporting Actress category, I'm pulling hard for Rinko Kikuchi.)
  • Peter O'Toole being awarded an Oscar because of . . . well, just being Peter O'Toole! He's a legendary actor, he's had more statuette nominations than Alfred Hitchcock (and like Hitchcock, he never came away with a win), and I was surprised to discover that there's still lingering bitterness that he lost Best Actor for Lawrence of Arabia to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird in 1963. I don't dispute that O'Toole is a fine actor, but it's becoming more and more apparent that an Oscar win for him would "right an old wrong" in the eyes of many—and going back to what I said earlier, I believe that the Oscars should be awarded for current performances, and in my eyes, Forest Whitaker is the winner hands-down for The Last King of Scotland.
  • With this last entry, I must swallow a bitter pill by admitting this, but I'd be a hypocrite otherwise if I didn't include Martin Scorsese in the list of possible apology awards. I have yet to see The Departed (though I'm hoping to see it at the Drafthouse tonight), but for the man who created such landmark films as Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Aviator, and Gangs of New York . . . need I say more? I do think Scorsese is deserving of an Oscar, but at the same time, the fact that he's never won an award yet either could be construed as an apology award. My hope is that The Departed genuinely is award-worthy, but I'll reserve judgment until after I see it.
Well, now that I have that out of my system, I still look forward to next Sunday's awards show, despite whatever reservations I may have. And remember, I'll be doing live-blogging during the Oscars, so make sure to tune in for that!


Friday, February 16, 2007

LeVar Burton's half-century!

Today, LeVar Burton, known to so many of us as Georgi LaForge from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kunta Kinte from Roots, or the host of PBS's Reading Rainbow, turns 50!

Happy birthday, LeVar! May your next half-century be as glorious as your first.


Lost Highway

Having already done reviews of two other David Lynch movies, it would almost be improper of me not to review Lynch's other major brainbuster: Lost Highway. Rumored to have been inspired by the O.J. Simpson trial, Lost Highway examines the overpowering guilt and internal torment of one man, his inability to cope with the horrible acts he's committed. Dubbed by Lynch himself as a filmic realization of a nightmare, or as examining a mental state called the "psychogenic fugue", Lost Highway continues to leave me baffled every time I see it.

Lost Highway is often compared to Mulholland Dr., insofar as both films largely take place inside the mind of one character. What separates Lost Highway from Mulholland Dr., though, is that there's far less of a clear differentiation between tangible reality and realized stream of conscious, which constantly leaves the viewer wondering, is the entire movie all taking place inside someone's head?

The "someone" in question is Fred Madison, a jazz musician played by Bill Pullman. He lives a rather abstract, detached life in a minimalist house with his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette). Their marriage is equally as distant and detached, and little hints are dropped that Renee may in fact he cheating on Fred—hints such as her not answering the phone after one of Fred's gigs at a local jazz club, or of seeing her walk through the crowd with a certain male friend during another gig. It's enough to leave Fred uneasy while not totally pushing him off the deep end . . . yet.

Let me backtrack for a moment to the film's opening, which hooks you right away. The opening credits unfold over a David Bowie soundtrack, while we see a road's yellow median strip in the dark of night flying past at high speed. A very clever gimmick that sets the mood perfectly (even if only reflecting the film's title). We then move onto a close-up of Fred's face in the darkness, illuminated only by the burning end of a cigarette. His face seems almost lost in deep thought, but interrupted by the front-door buzzer that delivers the following cryptic message: "Dick Laurant is dead." I don't know about you, but that's enough to get me hooked!

Moving back to Fred and Renee, one morning Renee finds an envelope on their doorstep, containing a videotape. When she and Fred sit down to view it, it shows only a camcorder shot of the front of their house. Unsure what to make of this, they quietly dismiss the tape . . . until more start showing up on their doorstep, each one progressively longer—until one such tape shows them in bed together. In a panic, they call the police, who can't find any evidence of a break-in, but agree to keep a watchful eye on the house nevertheless. Fred admits that he doesn't own a camcorder, because he likes to remember things his own way—which is to say, how his mind recollects every event, as opposed to the way they happened in reality. When I first watched Lost Highway, I made sure to remember that bit of information, for somehow I just knew it would be of paramount importance to the movie.

Shortly thereafter, Fred and Renee attend a party hosted by Renee's friend Andy, who comes across as being a bit shady and a bit too friendly with Renee. Given Fred's unease about her faithfulness, his discomfort is pretty palpable whenever he's in Andy's presense. But when Andy has a moment alone at the bar, he encounters a very pale, almost pasty-faced man (subsequently known as the "Mystery Man", and played by Robert Blake) who engages Fred in a rather creepy, bizarre conversation. (This is actually my favorite scene in the whole movie.)

After this, relations with Fred and Renee begin to grow even more distant. They barely talk to each other, their sex life borders on uncomfortable, and Fred's constant fears of her infidelity begin to chip away on his sanity—though he and Renee never actually speak about it. And as Fred retreats deeper and deeper into his fears and insecurities, the scenes themselves grow darker and darker, sometimes more symbolic than an actual recording of events. Take, for example, when Fred walks through the house one night before they both go to bed. Renee is in the bathroom getting cleaned up, and Fred finds himself walking down a dark hallway, almost as if called, invited into the darkness. Smoke starts to issue from an adjoining room. This could all be interpreted as Fred completely losing himself in the darkest recesses of his mind, his anger burning him up with each passing minute—for the next morning, he finds another videotape on his doorstep . . . and this one shows Fred covered in blood, standing over the mutilated body of Renee. At this point, Fred realizes that Renee isn't even in the house. He calls to her . . . only to be punched in the face by one of the detectives from earlier, who shouts to him, "Sit down, killer!"

Fred is then jailed and sentenced to death for Renee's murder, and in jail, he begins to waste away in guilt and torment, wondering just why he did what he did. The scenes of Fred in jail . . . I think these are genuinely real scenes, possibly the only ones in the entire movie. I believe that everything else before and after takes places inside Fred's mind, either as a recollection or as a justification for what he did. Having said that, I believe that the entire first half of the film, from the door-buzzer opening to Fred's getting punched by the detective, were Fred's fractured memories of what led up to this point—recollections of how he chooses to remember events, rather than how they actually happened. And maybe the Mystery Man is someone that Fred created in his subconsious, someone whom he can pin Renee's death on—if he retreats far enough into a state of denial. (Think of Mystery Man's dialogue, "You invited me in. It is not my custom to go where I am not wanted.")

And as Fred begins to physically deteriorate in jail, suffering from chronic insomnia, terrible headaches, various hallucinations (I loved the backwards footage of the burning cabin in the desert), and moments where Fred is thrashing about on his bunk as if being cooked alive (possibly symbolizing Fred's death sentence in the electric chair), a doctor gives him some sleeping pills . . . and I think the second half of the film, from here forward, is actually either a dream or a fantasy sequence, whichever you prefer—but nevertheless an alternate reality that Fred created in his mind, a reality in which he could be reborn . . . and sadly, also a reality that features all the key players of his actual life.

For the next morning, a guard comes to Fred's jail cell to find that the prisoner inside isn't Fred! It's a young man named Pete Dayton (played by Balthazar Getty), who's isn't quite with the program when he's first encountered by the guard. Pete is eventually released into the custody of his family. Gary Busey plays his ex-biker father who takes him home, and you almost have the sense that Pete is someone returning home from the hospital, or who's just been gone for a long time. For everywhere Pete looks, it's almost like he's trying to reacclimate himself to his surroundings. And everywhere he goes, all the people he sees, everyone is reacting to him with joy. The common reaction is, "Pete's back!" And so, now that Pete's "back", he (Fred?) can start anew (as someone else?). Pete hooks back up with his (smokin' hot) girlfriend Sheila, goes back to work for Arnie (Richard Pryor, in his final film role) at the auto repair shop—and renews his friendship with Mr. Eddy, the local mobster played by none other than Robert Loggia.

It should be noted, for the record, that detectives are keeping a tail on Pete, since they're eager to know just what happened to Fred Madison, and when they see Mr. Eddy pull into Arnie's garage, their reaction is unexpected. For when one detective asks the other if he recognizes Mr. Eddy—though not mentioning Mr. Eddy by name—he says, "Yeah . . . Laurant!" (Think back to the opening scene of the film.)

But something unexpected happens now that Pete is starting his life over: traces of Fred Madison's life permeate through, starting with a jazz solo that Pete hears on the radio—for it's the same jazz solo that Fred was playing at the beginning of the movie. And worse yet, Mr. Eddy brings his young girlfriend to the garage one day, a girl named Alice Wakefield . . . who looks almost identical to Renee, but with blond hair. Her advances on Pete could almost be interpreted as Fred's desire for himself and Renee to start over, but her connection to Mr. Eddy brings certain ugly realities back to the forefront—realities that will ultimately destroy Fred's fantasy of Pete Dayton's world:

  • Alice, like Renee, is betrothed to another man while falling for Pete
  • Alice, like Renee, doesn't have any relationship loyalties, because even though she loves Pete, she still offers herself sexually to Mr. Eddy and to Andy
  • Alice makes reference to a lifestyle in the porn industry, indicating that that's how she first became acquainted with Mr. Eddy
The Mystery Man also makes an appearance in this sequence. As Mr. Eddy slowly becomes aware of Pete's affair with Alice, he makes a very unsettling phone call to Pete, essentially threatening him without actually saying so . . . and then handing the phone to the Mystery Man, who damn near rehases his earlier conversation with Fred Madison verbatim with Pete. Only the Mystery Man adds another bit of dialogue to this conversation—an explanation about how a condemned man in the Far East finally meets his end. (A possible reference to Fred's upcoming execution?)

Pete's trip to Andy's house serves two purposes: 1) to clearly define Alice's role in Mr. Eddy's little porn world, and 2) to show us the earliest traces of the Lost Highway Hotel, which I'll get to later. After Pete accidentally kills Andy (which had to hurt), he and Alice run to the desert to escape from Mr. Eddy . . . where we witness the final destruction of the Pete Dayton dream/fantasy with Alice/Renee's post-love proclamation, "You'll never have me." That's reality striking the final blow that Renee is dead, that she cheated on Fred and didn't love him, that he (Fred) killed her, and that she's now out of his life forever. For after this, it isn't Pete who rises up from the ground—it's Fred Madison. And who else should make an appearance in the desert but the Mystery Man, who not so subtly reminds Fred that the girl isn't Alice; it's Renee. And with that, we see Fred making a hasty retreat into the desert, flying down a lonely highway late at night in purest darkness.

At this point in the movie, this I think is where the audience finally sees how things really happened, though in a way that still requires some suspension of belief, because while we see the face of Fred Madison in the ensuing scenes, I don't believe that it actually is Fred Madison. Instead, I think it's the real Pete Dayton we're seeing.

But getting back to the notion that the scenes that follow are in fact reality, I shall now give you my own interpretation of things, which is . . .

. . . in reality, I believe that Renee was cheating on Fred with Andy and Dick Laurant, because many years ago she had been involved in the porn industry with them, and I believe that the story Alice tells Pete about her origins in said industry were actually Renee's. So Fred has Pete Dayton and his partner—the Mystery Man—kill both of these men (as evidenced by the detective's claim of, "Pete Dayton's prints are all over this place" at Andy's house), while Fred himself kills Renee. When we cut back to the Lost Highway Hotel, we see Renee (not Alice) making love to Dick Laurant (not Mr. Eddy, but still played by Robert Loggia). The visions that Pete Dayton has at Andy's house of the hotel room numbers, which I spoke about earlier, may signify Pete Dayton's encountering Dick Laurant at the Lost Highway Hotel. And I believe that it was Pete who uttered the film's opening line into the door buzzer from outside, "Dick Laurant is dead."

In the final analysis, and despite my above interpretation, I believe that Lost Highway is a film that isn't meant to be deciphered or figured out. It's not supposed to make sense, because what we're seeing is the stream of conscious of one person—and as in real life, what makes perfect sense to you won't make the least bit of sense to others. Thus, why Lost Highway doesn't completely make sense to its audience, no matter how much you try to make it cohesive and sensible. Nevertheless, I give it a 10 out of 10 for being among the best of David Lynch's mind-trips, right next to Inland Empire and Mulholland Dr.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day

In honor of St. Valentine's Day, I was originally planning to publish a long exposé about dating, but I think I'll let Vince take center-stage instead. :)

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Godfather

It's been called the greatest movie ever made, a modern classic, a landmark film of our time. No, I'm not talking about Casablanca; I'm referring to Francis Ford Coppola's epic 1972 film The Godfather. It was this movie that introduced the world to the Corleone crime family, with the aging Don (played superbly by Marlon Brando), the hot-tempered Sonny (James Caan), and the young and innocent Michael (a very young Al Pacino) who is destined to lose his innocence. I'll confess, I almost don't know what to write here, for what can I say about The Godfather that hasn't already been said? What kind of praise can I lavish upon the film that ranks among the greatest? Well, I'll start by saying that The Godfather, no matter how many times you view it, feels timeless. I largely attribute this to it being a period piece, and in general I find period pieces very fascinating to watch.

But Coppola's understated, subtle filming style is what makes The Godfather so remarkable, so epic, so powerful. It doesn't blast the audience with dazzling special effects and super-cool slow-motion camerawork. Instead, Coppola slowly lets the story unfold, naturally, gently, allowing the audience plenty of time to let it all sink in and feel its raw power. Take, for example, the opening trumpet fanfare. Just that solo instrument issuing those low, single tones almost becomes an omen of what's to come, the dangers that will be encountered—and the Shakespearean tragedy that the audience will ultimately bear witness to as the Corleone family progresses through the ages (I think The Godfather was supposed to cover a span of roughly 10 years).

The film opens on the wedding day of Connie Corleone, played by a pre-Rocky Talia Shire (Francis Ford Coppola's sister, I might add; talk about having connections!). As Michael explains to his girlfriend Kay (a very young and surprisingly pretty Diane Keaton) at the outdoor reception, it's Sicilian custom for the bride's father to grant every wish made of him on his daughter's wedding day—and as such, Don Corleone is sequestered for much of the reception in his study, entertaining visitors and well-wishers who also seek his help.

In these early scenes, Marlon Brando gives us our first taste of this legendary character, from his dressing down of Bonasera, to his skillful negotiations with Tom Hagen (played by Robert Duvall), and lastly to his promises to aging singer Johnny Fontaine (a character supposedly based on Frank Sinatra). We're subtly told that the Don is a man of great and fearful power, that his friendship can mean the world to many people—but whose wrath can be equally terrifying, particularly if he "gives you an offer you can't refuse". And perhaps in the movie's most infamous scene, the Don made such an offer to a movie producer who didn't want to give Johnny Fontaine a movie role that would be perfect for him. The Don sent Tom Hagen to meet Woltz, the movie producer, to persuade him to grant Johnny Fontaine the role he wanted, but Woltz ultimately refused . . . only to find the decapitated head of his favorite horse laying in his bed the next morning. (Suffice it to say, Johnny got the part.)

But these scenes are merely meant to exemplify the vast power held by the Don. The real story of The Godfather doesn't begin until later, when the Don is approached by Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo to join with another major crime family, the Tattaglia family, in a deal involving narcotics. The Don, not wanting to get his hands into the drug trade, respectfully turns down Sollozzo—only this results in a hit being ordered on the Don, who gets gunned down in the street while buying oranges. The Don survives the hit, but it prompts a frantic reorganization of the family's power—internally and within the larger context of 1940s New York (because the Don has sway over many New York politicians). The hot-tempered Sonny, being the oldest son, assumes command of the family, but he has to be kept in check by Tom Hagen because Sonny's emotions blur the lines between family business and personal vendettas. Michael, the one who never wanted to join the family business, doesn't even begin to involve himself until he pays his father a visit at the hospital late one night.

And I love this scene where Michael walks alone through the hospital at night . . . because the tension in that scene is unbearable. The tension comes from knowing the Don is a marked man, that he's all alone in the hospital, that there are no bodyguards or even policemen there to protect him, and in these circumstances, something could happen at any second—but it's outside the hospital, where Michael and Enzo act like bodyguards, that Michael shows us his earliest signs of how he can effectively fill the role of Don. The family meeting that follows, when Michael lays out his plan for killing Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey, builds onto this early Don-like persona. Just his posture alone, when he's sitting in the armchair explaining his plan, carried a larger-than-life presence and command. And in the restaurant later on, when Michael finally pulls the trigger on Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey (in another scene of terrible tension, where we know precisely what Michael has to do but not when and how he'll do it), Michael crosses a line he never hoped to come anywhere near . . . and even he knows there's no going back now.

With Michael's gradual ascension to the role of Don, The Godfather is largely a story about the corruption of the prodigal son. Michael, you see, was the one who broke away from his family by going off to fight in World War II, and by initially choosing to marry a non-Italian (Kay). In terms of "family matters", he chooses to keep his distance . . . but again, it was only with the hit on the Don that Michael begins to get involved in the family business. And when Michael fully embraces the role of Don, we see him not as the sweet, patriotic boy from Connie's wedding. He's now a man who's far more ruthless and powerful than his father ever could be, and everything he does is purely a business deal, no matter how terrible the act or what the cost may be. Tessio, Carlo—it was all business, even though both men were very close to him and his father.

Truly, the most heartbreaking moment of The Godfather comes in the very last scene, when Kay looks back into the study to see Clemenza kiss Michael's hand and address him, "Don Corleone". With just those two words, prodigal son Michael has fully transformed into his father . . . and is forever the Godfather.

I've recently read the book, and reading the book actually helped me understand some of the more subtler ideas presented in the movie, i.e., the reasonings behind some of the scenes. For example, the opening scene with Bonasera asking Don Corleone to kill the two young boys who beat his daughter. When you watch the movie for the first time, you see how Don Corleone initially refuses Bonasera's request, but only grants it when Bonasera starts to show some respect. When you read the book, just how Bonasera is being disrespectful becomes more clear, whereas it may not be as clear when you see the movie. Because Bonasera's request isn't asked for in a state of friendship, in a proper give-and-take manner. Instead he just asks for a certain job to be done and offers money. But for the Don, it isn't about the money—it's about respect and loyalty.

Another example is why a hit took place on the Don. You see, when he turned down Sollozzo's business deal, Sonny made the mistake of actually showing interest in said deal. As such, Sollozzo and the Tattaglia family ordered the hit to affect a line of succession in the Corleone family—i.e., if Sonny became head of the family, then the narcotics deal that Sollozzo initially proposed would become official between the Corleone and Tattaglia families. In other words, the hit on the Don was done in the interests of business.

And lastly, the final execution of all the heads of the Five Families. In the movie, you're left with the impression that Michael ordered it in order to cement his power—but in the book, it was actually initiated by Don Corleone himself, as retribution for Sonny's murder. But the Don was patient, bided his time, allowing his promise to not break the peace settle in on everyone's mind. When the Don dies, the responsibility then falls to Michael to carry out his father's wishes. Though Coppola put the final execution together brilliantly, intercutting it with the baptism of Connie's baby. Seeing it unfold on screen, you literally feel a chill at Michael's power and viciousness when his orders are carried out.

Which leads me to another point: for a movie made in 1972, the violence factor was surprisingly high. Sonny's toll-booth assassination comes immediately to mind, along with the accidental murder of Apollonia, and most of all, the wiping out of the heads of the Five Families. I mean, can you name another movie from the early '70s where you saw a close-up of someone getting a bullet in the eye? I only point this out because I'm more accustomed to seeing violence of this caliber in today's movies, and not necessarily in anything from the early '70s.

But on a more positive note, the camerawork in The Godfather was wonderful. The scenes of Michael's sojourn in Sicily were unbelievably beautiful. The pastoral motif of Italy was very lush and very classical—almost to the point where you felt you were there yourself. The passing of time with the newspaper roles I found very smooth, perfectly set against the captivating piano ditty in the background (Coppola reveals in the DVD commentary that it was an original composition of his musician father). The acting all around was spectacular, too. Marlon Brando's realization of the Don has since become his signature role, and personally, I think his boardroom scene where he meets all the other New York Dons was his moment to shine as an actor. James Caan's hot-headed Sonny steals the show, and Al Pacino, with his portrayal of the youthful Michael, started down the path toward his own illustrious acting career.

The Godfather was awarded Best Picture of 1972. It also won Oscars for Best Actor for Marlon Brando (whose acceptance of said award was somewhat controversial) and Best Adapted Screenplay. If The Godfather hadn't been in the running that year, Cabaret probably would have won Best Picture. Cabaret actually picked up 8 Oscar wins that year, but lost Best Picture to The Godfather—rightfully, in my opinion. With that in mind, I also would have taken two of the Oscars given to Cabaret and given them to The Godfather instead: Best Director (for Francis Ford Coppola instead of Cabaret's Bob Fosse) and Best Supporting Actor (to James Caan instead of Cabaret's Joel Grey, even though many think it should have gone to Al Pacino).

But in the final analysis, The Godfather was a monumental film that was based on an equally monumental story. Both book and film have since become a staple of our culture, and I give The Godfather a perfect 10.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Where's George C. Scott when you need him?

In a recent article from IMDb, it was revealed that composer Ennio Morricone, famous for scoring such films as The Untouchables, Once Upon a Time in America, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, is actually unhappy that he'll be receiving an Honorary Oscar at this year's Academy Awards ceremony. And upon closer inspection of his rationale (as stated in the IMDb article), he makes less and less sense.

I say, if you're going to be unhappy about a nomination, do it the George C. Scott way: flat out refuse to accept a nomination or a win. Did we learn nothing from Scott's Oscar win for Patton?


Friday, February 09, 2007

2008: will it be a very good year?

According to an IMDb article, the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series has scored itself a release date: May 22, 2008.

By coincidence, the new ballpark for the Nats (if all goes well) is going to open for business in April of 2008.

Hmm, can I handle all this back-to-back excitement?

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Like martinis and black olives, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is an acquired taste. I first saw it when it was broadcast on TV a few years ago, on something like TBS or USA or somewhere from that high-echelon alphabet soup, and I kept having to remind myself that it was probably edited all to hell for content and running time. Prior to seeing it, I'd actually heard little about it, knowing only who the main stars were. And after my first viewing, I was very confused—maybe even a bit unsettled and repulsed—by what I'd seen. If I had to sum up my feelings about the movie in one sentence, it would have been, "Wow, that's messed up." But like all good movies, something about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas stayed with me, continually piquing my curiosity, so eventually I had to get the DVD from Netflix (read, the unedited version!) for a second viewing. And upon second and subsequent viewings (not to mention reading the book!), I really came to understand what Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was all about.

Johnny Depp stars as Raoul Duke, who is essentially the alter ego of '70s writer Hunter S. Thompson. Benicio Del Toro fills the shoes of Dr. Gonzo, Duke's Samoan attorney and erstwhile companion on this trip to Vegas. According to Will, who has a degree in media studies, Hunter Thompson was a gonzo journalist, and the way he explained it to me was that gonzo journalism is basically live, participatory journalism. And the gonzo story that Duke was supposed to take part in in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was the Mint 400, a gigantic motorcycle race through the desert.

But as Thompson himself explained in an essay included in the DVD package, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a failed attempt at gonzo journalism—because what ended up happening was that, instead of covering the race from start to finish, he (as Duke) and Dr. Gonzo instead went on a days-long drug bender through Vegas in 1971, barely getting any details of the race at all. So Fear and Loathing is essentially a log of drug-addled craziness during their stay in Vegas, and their absolutely crazed antics from constantly being high had me rolling on the floor with laughter and cringing in disbelief, often simultaneously.

I was greatly captivated by the movie's opening—Johnny Depp in voiceover, uttering a line that just necessitates a double-take and a smile, then opening up to the Great Red Shark flying down the highway through the desert, frantically trying to make it to Las Vegas. The high-speed first scene was filmed beautifully, firmly establishing the personas of both Duke and Dr. Gonzo, wonderfully executed by both actors.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was directed by Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam, who's known for making very psychedelic movies, most notably the negative utopia film Brazil. I'd have to say he was a pretty good choice for directing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, because to adequately film the conceptually-detached, hallucinogenic, raving-mad scenes of Duke and Gonzo's drug highs, you'd need a director with an equally raving-mad vision . . . and that Gilliam has.

Take, for example, their arrival at the Vegas hotel. When they check in, Duke is still very high on acid, and he keeps seeing the room change shape before his eyes—with the carpet underneath flowing like a black oil, or suddenly everyone in the room has turning into reptiles, or seeing the shadows of combat airplanes silhouetted on the floor of his suite. Even better, take the scene when Duke and Gonzo are at the Bazooka Joe's casino (featuring a cameo by Mini-Me!). It's probably better to watch this scene yourself, because I don't think I could adequately describe it in words. (Yes, it's that bizarre.)

Despite all the craziness that Duke and Gonzo cause, there are still moments of serious reflection in the film. Perhaps the best-known scene of the entire movie, known as the "wave" speech, is when Duke spends an evening at the typewriter remembering his life during the '60s. It's often been said (even by Hunter Thompson himself) that the wave speech is Thompson's personal, heartfelt epitaph to the '60s.

Like Full Metal Jacket before it, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is essentially a movie split in half. The first half takes place at one hotel while they're supposed to be covering the Mint 400, whereas the second half takes place at another hotel across town—during a convention of police chiefs rallying against drugs, no less. Can we say, "Walking around in the lion's den?" The second half is noticeably darker than the first, which was (in its own way, of course) more comedic and lighter in tone. But the second half shows Duke and Gonzo in their more desperate, escapist mode—for the reason they moved to a second Vegas hotel was (literally) to escape the first. Since Duke recorded little to no details about the Mint 400, despite briefly covering it with an ever-smiling photographer, he and Dr. Gonzo spent much of their time ordering enormous amounts of food from room service, destroying their hotel room while high, and ultimately skipping out without paying their bill. So at the conclusion of the first half of the film, Dr. Gonzo has caught a plane back to L.A. in the middle of the night, and Duke himself manages to cower out of the hotel.

The only reason he comes back is because a traffic cop pulled him over in the desert, and in sheer panic, Duke returned to Vegas, knowing that the cop would bust him if he continued on to L.A. So he ditches his car, rents a new one, and checks into a second hotel . . . only to find Dr. Gonzo has returned, this time with a younger companion named Lucy (played by Christina Ricci), whose armed with paintings of Barbra Streisand. After some outrageous attempts to get rid of Lucy (like putting her in a cab and then faking an arrest when she calls the hotel looking for them), Duke and Gonzo essentially continue the "savage burn", as they call it, on this new hotel suite. (How Hunter Thompson managed to not get arrested for all he and Dr. Gonzo did in Vegas—let alone for publishing their account for all to see—is quite amazing, I might add.)

There are many who call Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a drug movie, plain and simple. And I won't argue that it shows the many downsides of being on drugs, but I choose to think of the story from the gonzo perspective: a live chronicling of several days worth of super over-indulgence when they were supposed to be working; not as an examination of drugs in general. I think the constant drug use is partially what turned me off when I first saw this, but the comedy is really the central focus of the film, and that's not really apparent until further viewings; that's why I say Fear and Loathing is an acquired taste. The book itself is also a quick but tough read, and I really have to give kudos to director Terry Gilliam for capturing Thompson's imagery and successfully translating it to the big screen. And I enjoyed the near-constant soundtrack of '60s music in the background. It lent so much authenticity to the film, making it come alive all around you—so that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas almost became a gonzo experience just by watching it.

The cameos in Fear and Loathing are plentiful: Tobey Maguire as the hippie hitchhiker, Christina Ricci as the Jesus-loving artist Lucy, Cameron Diaz as the flirtatious producer who foolishly tempts Dr. Gonzo, Harry Dean Stanton as the "double castration" judge, and (my favorite cameo) Gary Busey as the lonely desert traffic cop. When he asks Duke for a kiss after he's pulled him over for speeding, it's impossible for me not to laugh. Hunter Thompson himself even had makes a brief appearance, as Duke's alter ego when he was reminiscing about being at the dance club in 1965.

But Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas firmly belongs to the two lead actors, for both Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro dish out some of their best work to date here. I'll even go so far as to say that this was Johnny Depp's best role ever (sorry to all you Pirates fans), because he absolutely nailed Hunter Thompson in every way possible—from mannerisms to dialogue to his taste in clothing. As to Benicio, he was downright terrifying when he played a doped-up Gonzo! Take the diner scene late in the movie, when he pulls the hunting knife on the waitress. His actions are so deliberate, so fully-controlled (and controlling) that you know just who is in charge here. Or when he's spazzing out in the bathtub and asks Duke to drop the tape player into the tub when "White Rabbit" hits its peak.

And I particularly enjoyed Raoul Duke's final scenes of the movie: typing away on his typewriter in the midst of an annihilated hotel suite, reflecting again on the '60s but this time pondering the downfall of heavy drug users and the counterculture. In a very strange way, it made his final trek back to Los Angeles unexpectedly uplifting. (And I should add, too, that there was a different end to the book. In the book, Thompson caught a plane back to L.A., essentially trying to put the whole Vegas trip behind him. Personally, I liked Gilliam's version better.) 9 out of 10.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Maybe my hearing ain't 20/20—WHAT did he just ask me?

There's a Starbucks just up the street from where I work, and it's a popular morning stop for many of my co-workers. This morning I made a rare trip there before work (I don't drink a lot of coffee anymore), and while I was waiting in line, I swear I heard the person in front of me order, "One iced coffee with extra bacon."

Suffice it to say, that caught my attention. But it isn't the first time I've heard strange utterances from the people who frequent Starbucks. At the franchise in Pentagon Row one day, as I was leaving with a cup of pure foam cappuccino, I passed by a lady talking on her cell phone, who nearly made me drop my drink when I overheard her cell phone conversation: "So we're having sex at 9:45 on Tuesday, right?" (I don't know what's more shocking—the fact that she actually said that in public, or the fact that she has to arrange her sex life. I guess spontaneity isn't in someone's vocabulary!)

With it being lunch time, I'm about to head out the door to Cosi. I wonder what kind of people I'm going to encounter there . . .

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Full Metal Jacket

The first time I was ever exposed to Full Metal Jacket was when I was 17. I had just arrived at Boy Scout Camp that summer, and one of the people in my troop had brought along a cassette of something he'd taped off of TV. After listening to it, I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever heard, and it became a sort of running joke in our troop. What was on the cassette was the entire first scene of Full Metal Jacket, with the drill sergeant introducing himself to the troops and essentially beginning the process of their dehumanization.

It wasn't until close to a year later that I finally got around to seeing the movie for the first time—and seeing for real the entire scene that I'd heard only on audio beforehand. Let me say this now: casting R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman was a stroke of brilliance, for in real life, he actually had been a drill sergeant, and I've read that nearly all of his dialogue was improvised. But it's almost common sense, though, to cast a former drill sergeant in the role. Either way, director Stanley Kubrick made a superb casting choice with Ermey, for he cemented his legacy in the first scene alone—which, I might add, was filmed brilliantly: in one long, almost continuous tracking shot that doesn't stop until Sergeant Hartman first addresses Private Snowball.

After this, we start to see life at boot camp through the eyes of Private Joker, so nicknamed because of his (failed) attempt at being a comedian with Sergeant Hartman in the opening scene. His voiceover subtly indicates that this is going to be an anti-war movie, too, for he refers to the recruits as "the phony tough, and the crazy brave". Private Joker (played by Matthew Modine) seems to take boot camp only somewhat seriously, and his jokes aside, he somehow manages not to draw serious attention to himself—unlike Private Leonard Lawrence (played by Vincent D'Onofrio), an overweight simpleton who can't really handle boot camp, or even do anything right. In the first scene, he earned the nickname Gomer Pyle, and he begins to bring down the morale of the whole corps with his inability to cope . . . which earns the wrath of Sergeant Hartman and the other recruits.

You know, I have to say this: it's damn near impossible not to laugh at Sergeant Hartman's constant browbeating of his recruits. His brutality is almost an invitation to laughter! Take, for example, Private Joker going toe-to-toe with the Sergeant Hartman when he admits to being an atheist; for Sergeant Hartman believes in the Virgin Mary. The dialogue alone is priceless.

However, despite humorous brutality, there's also drop-dead serious brutality that goes on. Take, for example, the nighttime pummeling of Private Pyle in his bunk. That scene still gives me the shivers, and the dull thud of each soap bar hitting his body makes me cringe. The final boot camp scene, with the showdown in the head between Private Joker, Private Pyle, and Sergeant Hartman, is another scene of drop-dead seriousness (no pun intended). And despite the number of times I've seen Full Metal Jacket in the last 11 years, I still get goosebumps leading up to that final scene in the head. The look of pure insanity on Private Pyle's face is downright terrifying, the fear exhibited by Private Joker palpable—but somehow Sergeant Hartman still steals the show with his "What is your major malfunction?" valediction.

At this point in the film, we move almost immediately from boot camp into the heart of Vietnam. And this is what strikes everyone that most about Full Metal Jacket: the two-part structure, with act one being boot camp, and act two being Vietnam. Everyone always wants to turn the movie off after boot camp, but I find the Vietnam scenes are very worthwhile, and by neglecting them, you're losing half the magic of the movie. Just take the character of Animal Mother, for instance. Are you really gonna tell me that you didn't love seeing him blast the hell out of everything that gets in his way during the second half of Full Metal Jacket?

Anyway, as I was initially saying, almost immediately after boot camp do we rejoin Joker in Vietnam (with a wonderful Nancy Sinatra opening), where he's now working not as a combat soldier but as a reporter for Stars and Stripes. In this capacity, he and his cameraman Rafterman essentially get to travel all over the country at will, and only going into combat when needed. But as we can see already, Joker is pretty bored there in Vietnam. The reporting work is good, but he almost feels like he needs something more . . . which he gets when his base gets attacked during the Tet Offensive. With the turning point of the war at hand, Joker and Rafterman must now upgrade into full-blown combatants, and to Joker's good fortune, he stumbles across Cowboy, one of the recruits he knew from boot camp. With that, Joker and Rafterman tag along with Cowboy's platoon, filled with such unforgettable characters as Doc Jay, Eight Ball, T.H.E. Rock, Crazy Earl—and last but not least, Animal Mother, the gun-crazed warrior who's only inches away from a Section 8, played to scene-stealing perfection by Adam Baldwin.

As their platoon gradually makes their way across Vietnam, they encounter plenty of odd scenarios, like a ditch filled with dozens of dead NVA soldiers, booby-trapped dolls, teenage snipers, soldiers shooting machine guns out of low-flying helicopters, cameramen filming "Vietnam: The Movie", and even interviews about their feelings on the war. During the Vietnam sequences, it became far more apparent that Full Metal Jacket was making an anti-war statement. The interviews alone paint a portrait of uncertainty about the war, asking very hard-hitting questions about why they're there and what their purpose is.

But political statements aside, Full Metal Jacket is still very much about the characters, Joker in particular. In the final analysis, Vietnam almost seems to symbolize his coming of age—or at least his realization that the war isn't a joke anymore. His turning point was twofold: when Cowboy dies in his arms, and when Joker himself kills the sniper. Cowboy's death served as the catalyst, when the "joke" of Vietnam suddenly ended. Up until then, Vietnam was a joke, but when he made his first confirmed kill with the sniper, Joker crossed a line that can never be crossed back over. In killing the sniper, he could not undo what he's just learned—that life giveth, and life taketh away, most times when we don't expect or even want it to. His closing lines in the film could symbolize his understanding of this, when his voiceover, over the strains of the Mickey Mouse Club song, declares, "We are in a world of shit, yes. But I am alive, and I am not afraid."

Sometimes I think Full Metal Jacket has gotten lost in the shuffle of Vietnam movies, often being eclipsed by bigger and more ambitious films like Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, or Platoon (of those three, I think Apocalypse Now is the only one I liked). But I have to say, Full Metal Jacket is undoubtedly my favorite Vietnam movie. The acting, the story, it all works perfectly for me. And I have to say this. At the Oscars that year, after its release, I think Full Metal Jacket was only up for a screenplay award (it didn't win), but to this day I am still shocked that the Academy completely overlooked the acting, because you had three—not one but three!—possibles for Best Supporting Actor: Adam Baldwin as Animal Mother, Lee Ermey as Sergeant Hartman, and Vincent D'Onofrio as Private Pyle. Not only that, the camerawork was pretty good, too, offering us such unforgettable scenes as the exercise yard silhouetted against the orange sky and the setting sun, or the lush landscape of the war-torn Vietnam.

Full Metal Jacket was based on a book called The Short-Timers, which I think has been out of print for many years now. It's a shame, because I'd love to read it! But until then, I can only rely on Stanley Kubrick's realization of the story. And I have to say this, too: the films of Stanley Kubrick may have been controversial (A Clockwork Orange) and misunderstood (2001), but Full Metal Jacket was a well-earned masterpiece, with a terrific story aided by equally terrific acting. 9 out of 10.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Happy birthday to the Mann!

My favorite filmmaker, Michael Mann, the director who brought us such magnificent film as Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice, The Insider, Last of the Mohicans, Ali, Thief, and Manhunter (the first adaptation of Red Dragon, the first story in the Hannibal Lecter series) turns 64 years young today!

I love his films because, unlike so many directors out there, his filmic visions seem to get better with age! Though I'm sure some naysayers would argue that he capped out with Heat and The Insider during the '90s, and that Miami Vice was a cash-in. Thankfully, I'm not one of those naysayers. Rather, I look at all his films and am utterly floored by the incredible depth of knowledge that this man has with the world—particularly the criminal world—and how he takes us right into that world without any Hollywood preconceptions of how it operates. Just this weekend, I got to listen to the commentary track on the Miami Vice DVD, and was completely stunned by how deeply he researched that film and how authentic he made undercover work for the audiences. Other than Martin Scorsese, I can't think of any other director who approaches his films with that kind of vision, authenticity, and dedication.

So today I raise my glass to the Mann, with hopes to keep up the good work, and to wish him a happy birthday!



When I think of Keira Knightly, I generally don't think of her as a bad-ass bounty hunter. Though that's exactly the role she took on in Tony Scott's Domino. Apparently the story is somewhat factually-based, for actor Laurence Harvey, who audiences may remember from the original Manchurian Candidate, had a daughter named Domino who did in fact become a real-life bounty hunter. I don't know how much of Domino is fact or fiction, but either way, it's still interesting seeing Natalie Portman's long-lost twin go on such a wild ride like this.

Told in flashback, in a style very reminiscent of Interview with a Vampire (only with Lucy Liu replacing Christian Slater), we see how British-born Domino Harvey found her calling as a U.S. bounty-hunter. She was apparently very close to her father when she was very young, but his death left a scar on her soul, and when her goldfish dies soon after her father does, she makes a decision to completely detach herself emotionally from all that's important to her in life. And as she gets older and gains more expertise in weaponry, she decides to take on a job as a bounty hunter for famous bail bondsman Claremont Williams (played by Delroy Lindo). She's paired with Eddie (Mickey Rourke, in a not-too-distant offshoot of his Sin City role) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez), who thinks that he can draw in the ladies by speaking Spanish. Her first raid, as she notes, almost ended in utter destruction after being set up by the person they sought. Only Domino saved the day by offering a lap-dance to the gang leader in exchange for the whereabouts of their target; it worked, too! (I wouldn't turn one down from Keira, either.)

As expected, the trio becomes very close over time (and Choco, of course, develops unspoken feelings for Domino). But once the background of the characters is finalized, we finally get to the meat of the story: former DC radio deejay Mo'Nique plays Lateesha Rodriguez, a shady DMV employee and world record-holder for being the youngest grandmother at 28 (and for the record, Lateesha's brief appearance on Jerry Springer with her "flowchart" was one of the funniest things I've ever seen). Her young granddaughter has a rare blood disease, though, and because Lateesha just got fired from the DMV, she has no insurance and thus needs $300,000 for her granddaughter's operation. So she and her friends, at the behest of Claremont Williams, set up a phony armored car heist, ripping off billionaire Drake Bishop (Dabney Coleman in a long overdue film role) and then offering to recover the money and the robbers for Bishop—for a finder's fee of $300,000.

So Domino and her crew, followed by a reality TV producer and crew (Christopher Walken and Mena Suvari, along with cameos by former 90210 alums Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green), go after the "robbers" of the armored car—aptly named the "First Ladies" because they wore masks of former First Ladies during the robbery (I can't remember the movie title, but wasn't this done before in the late '80s, where bank robbers donned masks of former presidents?)

Only problem is, Lateesha made a bad choice in who to set up for the robbery, because one of them was the son of a major mob boss. And when Domino and her crew pick him and his buddies up for the robbery, nobody realizes they're being set up—at least right away. Domino starts to realize it when one of her goldfish dies . . . harking back to when the goldfish died in her youth, the dead goldfish in the present day served as an omen for Domino and her crew. And with the FBI hot on the tail of the mob, Lateesha, and Domino's crew all at once, you can imagine the mayhem that ensues. (Though I got a good laugh out of the underwater cell phone calls. It reminded me of the Cone of Silence from Get Smart.)

I liked how Domino was filmed. Tony Scott employed a very flashy style (I'm sure to appeal to young audiences), with lots of quick-fire editing and alternating/smearing colors. I've already heard it referred to as "MTV" style. The camerawork was equally impressive, like the reverse footage of people getting shot—to symbolize that people actually weren't shot and killed. But despite good filmmaking techniques, a few things about Domino still bothered me. For example, I was a little disappointed that some of these roles were throwaway. Christopher Walken was too underutilized, I felt, as was Mena Suvari as his secretary (in fact, has she done any meaningful acting since American Pie or American Beauty?). Christopher Walken as the panicky reality TV producer did add plenty of humor to the story, freaking out over little things like the changing of fonts in movie posters, but he came and went too soon. I also would like to have seen a little more screen time for Dabney Coleman, for he's an actor I've missed seeing over the years. Though his contributions here were quite well done.

Going back to the flashy style for a moment, let me say again, I liked it, but I think its excessive use did make the story hard to follow in some spots. A better balance between plot and style would have benefited, I think. And the ending? I hate to say it, but I found it predictable—but that's mostly because it followed the same template from other Tony Scott movies. In other words, if you've seen Enemy of the State or True Romance, it's the same ending, essentially recycled. As to the performance of Keira herself, I don't know why, but I just couldn't get into her as a bounty hunter. Yes, it was fun to watch her in such a role—okay, it was fun to watch her, period!—but I couldn't quite lose myself in her role.

I give Domino a 6 out of 10. It was good as a shoot-'em-up thriller, with a smokin' hot leading lady, but lacked the right mixture of plot, style, cohesion, characterization, and casting. And for Tony Scott movies in general, I'd go with the two mentioned above (though I haven't seen Man on Fire yet).


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