Freddy Got Fingered

Gord Brody (Tom Green) is a 28 year old slacker who finally leaves home to go to Hollywood and pursue is dream of working as a cartoon animator. Of course, making it as an artist is not that easy, and Gord finds himself rejected by a studio executive (Anthony Michael Hall) and stuck in a cheese sandwich factory, a dead-end job if there ever was one. So he returns to Portland and moves back in his parents’ basement, much to the disenchantment of his father (Rip Torn). Dad wants him to get a job, but Brody prefers to take it easy drawing his “doodles”, skateboarding with his best buddy (Harland Williams) and hanging with his wheelchair-bound rocket scientist girlfriend (Marisa Coughland). Henceforth begins a war between father and son where no blow is too low, be it destroying Gord’s skateboard ramp or denouncing Daddy as a child molester who’d fingered younger brother Freddy (Eddie Kaye Thomas).

It’s been advanced that insanity and genius are two sides of a same reality, two somehow intertwined extremes. Tom Green’s oeuvre is a good example of that. From his original Canadian show to its reinvented MTV version, Green has made a name for himself by pulling the most demented stunts, be it humping a dead moose, putting a horse’s head in his parents’ bed à la Godfather or make a whole show of his real-life removal of a cancer-ridden testicle. Some will dismiss it all as the work of a wacko, but others find it kind of brilliant in an admittedly very quirky way. I fall in the latter category, finding Green to be a fearless performer with an intriguing vision. He stole and ran away with “Road Trip” last year, and now with “Freddy Got Fingered” (which he co-wrote and directed), he’s come up with, in his own words, “the stupidest, most disgusting movie you’ve ever seen”.

He starts off with a familiar tone, that of many an 80s teen comedy, with an early scene showing him skateboarding through a shopping mall while a security guard chases him. Then his parents wave him goodbye as he leaves home, and then… He stops his car by a farm, runs up to a horse, grabs its erecting penis and starts jerking it vigorously! How many 80s comedies provided such a sight? Right there, you know if this movie is for you. Unsurprisingly, many people aren’t interested in a picture featuring inter-species hand-jobs. For instance, if you look at sites like Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that “Freddy Got Fingered” has received nearly nothing but brutally negative reviews. To many a film reviewer, it seems this is the bottom of the barrel and then some.

Well, once again, I beg to differ. Yes, Tom Green’s directorial debut is juvenile, vulgar, generally sloppily crafted, offensive and thoroughly retarded. Then again, it’s the most hilarious movie I’ve seen so far this year, and Green is rivetingly grotesque. Syndicated critic Roger Ebert loathed the film but accurately described the film as a “milestone of neo-surrealism”. Indeed, for every gross-out scene involving a bloody deer carcass or whatnot, we get delightfully absurd moments like Green playing keyboards with attached sausages or the “backwards man”. In any case, I’ll take wretched fun like “Freddy Got Fingered” over a (supposedly) sophisticated bore like last week’s Bridget Jones’ Diary any day.


Ohmigod. This movie just gets better! Yes, I know, the vast majority of critics hated it; James Berardinelli even wrote he has “gotten better entertainment value from a colonoscopy” (whatever gets you off, dude!). I don’t get it. Or maybe it’s “they” who don’t get it. I truly believe writer-director-star Tom Green has done something special here. Even if you don’t find his humor funny (I personally think it’s hilarious), his film is still rivetingly offbeat. There’s all this weird and weirder stuff that keeps happening. But then again, it actually holds itself, there IS a story. A nice story, about man-child who wants to be an artist but whose ambitions are squashed by his father who wants him to quit dreaming and get a stupid day job. There’s even a love story worked in, and it’s actually sweet how Betty inspires Gordy to not give up. Of course, all this generally degenerates into insanity, but this is a Tom Green movie after all!

I find Gordy to be an endearing character, I like the scenes with his crippled girlfriend, the dynamic between him and his dad is fun. The cast is good, from an unrecognizable Anthony Michael Hall to the shameless Rip Torn, the charming and funny Marisa Coughland and deadpan performances from Eddie Kaye Thomas and Harland Williams. Green himself is just, whoa. To me, he’s an artist. You can’t deny he has a wild imagination. The things he does with his voice, his body, his face. He also turns out to be a surprisingly good director; very few comedies are this visually inventive, and the punk soundtrack is awesome. Or, going back to his screenplay, it’s hard to fathom how he can come up with bits of dialogue like this particularly zesty one, from a scene where Gordy tells his mom she deserves better than his dad : “If I were you, I would show him that I deserve respect. If I were you I would go out, I’d have sex with strange men, I’d have sex with basketball players. I’d have sex with Greeks, men from Greece.” Here’s a rather classic scene, the son telling his mother she doesn’t have to put up with her abusive husband, yet look how Green goes out on a tangent way into too-much-information territory!

But here I am reviewing the movie again when I should really be telling you about the DVD extras, which are really enjoyable. Well, if you loathe the movie, I doubt they will change your mind, but if you like Green, you’ll love this disc. Extra features include trailers, TV spots, a featurette, a half hour behind-the-scenes MTV special, as well as an audience participation track from the premiere of the movie. I only listened to a bit of that, since I couldn’t see the point; there’s also a track like that on the “Rocky Horror” DVD, but that’s a movie where background noise is expected. More interesting are the deleted scenes, which include a cameo by Canadian unfunny late night host Mike Bullard, scenes with Gord’s Uncle Neal and his Native American gay lover and a rather nifty spoof of the opening of “Apocalypse Now” which had to be axed because The Doors were asking 400 grands for the rights to “The End”.

And then there’s the commentaries. There are a few scene-specific ones by the actors which are pretty straight-forward (though Harland Williams sounds stoned on his), but it’s the one by Green that you really need to hear. It’s a demented, silly track which is almost as funny as the movie itself. Hear about the slickness of horse penises, about how the movie is similar to a Three’s Company episode, hear Green choke on a coffee stirring stick and do a lot of inane play-by-play (“here I am. oh I’m acting.. music, music.”). And when he runs out of things to say, Green actually makes a bunch of “irrelevant sounds” or sings ! Actually, we do learn a little about the making of the movie, like how autobiographical it can be, since real-life Green used to love skateboarding and flipping creamers (!) and he had to move back into his parents’ basement when he was struggling to find a way to get paid to be stupid.

Green also gets back at the critics, namely EW’s Owen Gleiberman who not only panned the movie but went on to write that Green had “a hyperactive computer addict’s stringbean body, a wimp’s receding profile (his goatee seems to be shouting, “I know I’m here to fill out this guy’s loser face!”), and the rabid, staring eyes of a deranged lizard.” Talk about a personnal attack! I don’t blame Green for raging on in his commentary about how critics “are old. and bored, and cynical. I hate them all!” Sour grapes aside, Green does make some good points about how he was really trying to “send up the formula of mainstream movies”, or how they relatively “took the high road. No poo poo or pee pee. Like Annie Hall.” Not quite, but I stand by my belief that “Freddy Got Fingered” is by far the most underrated film of the year, when it’s actually been one of the most entertaining. See, Tom, some people *did* get it.

Joe Dirt

This movie is the latest release from Adam Sandler’s production company, Happy Gilmore, which previously brought us “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” and “Little Nicky”. For some people, this will inspire nameless dread, but not to me. Au contraire, from the first time I saw images from “Joe Dirt”, I was grinning hard and looking forward to it. Sure, movies like this aren’t high art, not by a long stretch, but they’re wildly entertaining. Critics tend to put all lowbrow comedies in the same basket, dismissing them as juvenile gross-out humor, failing to see that there’s a difference between the an audience insulting, mean spirited movie and a comparatively harmless goofy little movie. Sandler’s movies are most often “inner circle” affairs, put together between college buddies, old Saturday Night Live castmates and various recurring hang-arounds having a good time. Here, for instance, Sandler acts as executive producer while David Spade stars (he also co-wrote the script with Fred Wolf).

The movie revolves around Joe Dirt (Spade), a mullet and trash ‘stache wearin’, rock concert T-shirt, acid wash jean sportin’, badass chain-steering-wheeled car drivin’ dude who works as a janitor at a trendy Los Angeles radio station. He somehow catches the eye of popular shock jock DJ (Dennis Miller) who, fascinated by this “white trash treasure”, puts him on the air and gives him the opportunity to tell the world (well, Southern California) his story. So we follow Joe as he reminisces by his bizarre life, starting from when his parents lost him during a visit to the Grand Canyon at age 8. He tells about how he went from foster home to foster home, passed through reform school and then settled for a while in the postcard perfect Silver Town, where he befriended the bodacious Brandy (Brittany Daniel) and her dog Charlie, only to leave again to cross the country looking for his parents…

Which, of course, is just an excuse to kick off a not that usual road movie which has our pathetic hero working at various loser jobs, getting into plenty of wacky situations and meeting colorful people like rapcore superstar Kid Rock (who’s actually a lot of fun) as Dirt’s muscle car driving nemesis, Kevin Nealon as a greasy mechanic, Jaime Pressly as a trailer park beauty, Roseanne Arquette as a gator farm owner (check out that shirt!), Brian Thompson as a redneck who’s watched “Silence Of The Lambs” one too many time, Adam Beach as the wise Kicking Wing, as well as Christopher Walken, who steals the movie as creepy school janitor Clem.

First time director Dennie Gordon, while not being the future of Hollywood or anything, crafts a good looking, nicely paced ride packed with macho arena rock anthems from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Def Leppard and others. It’s like “Forrest Gump”, but with flaming cow farts, a smelly meteor, frozen testicles, incestuous sex, canine copulation, a gator attack, a hot air balloon in the shape of a tooth and various other ventures into bad taste. All of which could make for a pretty horrible time, except that it’s all in good fun. Unlike a movie like “Meet the Parents” in which the filmmakers seem to hate their protagonist and be out to humiliate him in the cruellest ways, here Joe Dirt is actually made to be a sympathetic character. As portrayed by David Spade, who for once holds back the cynicism and attitude to disappear under Dirt’s blond mullet, Joe is often ridiculous and rather dumb, but there’s a sweetness to him. In that aspect, “Joe Dirt” reminds of feel good 80s comedies in which even the saddest individuals are entitled to a happy end.


Johnny Depp stars as George Jung, the only child of a working class man (Ray Liotta) struggling to make ends meet and a selfish woman (Rachel Griffith) who resents him for their modest lifestyle. Jung figures he’ll have none of that, so he moves to sunny California, where he gets into beaches, hot girls… and pot. It’s the late Sixties, and everyone seems to be getting high, hence Jung figures there’s a fortune to be made in dealing dope, which is fine since he doesn’t wanna work 9 to 5. Before long, he is indeed making big money and he start getting more ambitious. Why stick to the West Coast when he can make a bundle all over the country? Why settle for retail revenue when he could get your marijuana right from the Mexico fields?

“Blow” was directed by Ted Demme, which comes as a surprise, as Demme is otherwise known for little movies like the forgettable Eddie Murphy vehicle “Life”, the so-so hostage comedy “The Ref” (which did feature Kevin Spacey as a disgruntled, wisecracking suburbian family man 5 years before American Beauty) and the little seen “Monument Avenue”. His “Beautiful Girls” is quite insightful and uplifting (especially in the gutsy way it allows Timothy Hutton to have a crush on a 13 year old Nathalie Portman without making it cheap or creepy), but none of Demme’s previous work could prepare you for the rpic scope of “Blow”. It was written by David McKenna (“American History X”) and Nick Cassavetes, based on the Bruce Porter non-fiction book “Blow: How a small-town boy made $100 million with the Medellin cartel and lost it all”. The real George Jung actually acted as an advisor on the film, giving writers, director and Depp pointers from his penitentiary cell.

“Blow” is hardly perfect, but it does suck you in and involve you in the journey of this Everyman who Forrest Gumps his way up the drug trafficking food chain. The film feels somehow derivative, coming after so many other movies following the rise and fall of criminals (notable influences of Demme are De Palma’s Scarface and Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino), but it is crafted with enough style and energy to keep us hooked, right from the awesome opening sequence following the journey of “blow” from the leaves coca plants in Colombian fields to its final destination across the States borders, all with the Rolling Stones blasting on the soundtrack. Then come the childhood scenes establishing how Jung came to yearn for a life more gratifying than his father’s. Demme and cinematographer Ellen Kuras make interesting use of various film stocks and retro color coding, as the quality of images improves as years go by.

The California scenes are very enjoyable in the way it all seems so simple and fun. At that time, Jung’s life seems mighty tempting. He is surrounded by a colorful cast of friends and partners including Tuna (played by Ethan Suplee, the fat guy in “Remember the Titans), stewardess girlfriend Barbie (Franke Potente, the German actress from “Run Lola Run”, who sounds surprisingly American here), iffy plane pilot Dooley (Max Perlich) and gay hairdresser Derek Foreal (played with malicious enthusiasm by Paul “Pee Wee” Reubens, who steals every single scene he’s in). Jung himself is well portrayed by the versatile Johnny Depp. Even though most of his performance is hidden behind ugly long hair and giant sunglasses, makes Jung into an intriguing, likable figure. Okay, what he does is illegal, but pot isn’t evil or anything, it just makes people happy.

Things change when Jung is sent to jail, arriving with “a bachelor in pot and leaving with a doctorate in cocaine”, as well as a cellmate turned partner, Diego (Jordi Mollà), who takes him to his Colombian homeland to meet Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis), who controls nearly all of the drug cartels. And just like that, George the gringo finds himself becoming Escobar’s connection to the United States, the guy through which 85% of all cocaine goes through before reaching American discos. Suddenly the stakes are much higher and things aren’t as fun as they were, but dramatically, it works for the film. All through the movie’s middle section, there’s a sense of danger, of imminent and inevitable doom. Depp is now mostly apart from his old friends, stuck instead in between various hot-headed Latin Americans, starting with his Colombian trophy wife Mirtha, who loves money and coke a bit too much and ends up making him as miserable as his mom made his dad. Mirtha is played by Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, whom a lot of people can’t stand, but I actually found her not only gorgeous but also very convincing in the role.

The script sometimes meanders, it never approaches any kind of profundity and from what I’ve read, it takes a lot of liberties with historical facts. In any case, it’s not too politically correct for a film to portray sympathetically a drug dealer without showing the countless lives his mass introduction of cocaine to America must have destroyed, but you gotta admit that Jung’s tale is enthralling. Unfortunately, the film really falls apart in the last act. What goes up must come down, and Jung eventually loses it all and, sadly, the film loses most of its drive at the same time, settling into dull sentimentality. It dwells way too long on Jung’s oh so sad relationship with his daughter and we’re made to feel sorry for Jung, but it doesn’t work. Yes, things get depressing, but in a forced way, with sappy music, lousy make-up and cheap effects like the final “wishful thinking” sequence (and what about the bizarre way it ends on a shot of the real Jung, looking like one sad deadbeat with his eternally lame haircut). Try as he might, Demme is no Scorsese, and to use a declaration from Jung, his “ambition far exceeds its talent”. Still, “Blow” has enough fine moments to be worth seeing.

Spy Kids

What happens when the deadliest Latino secret agent and the swiftest American female spy are sent to off each other? Well, for Gregorio Cortez (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino), they ended up falling in love, getting married, and quitting the world of international intrigue only to embark on their most difficult task ever: raising children! So here we are 9 year later, with the Cortez living a nice, quiet life with little Carmen and littler Juni, who don’t know about their parents’ former life. So it’s a big surprise for them when mom and dad disappear, captured by children’s TV show host Floop (Alan Cumming), who moonlights as an evil genius perfecting an army of robots modelled on the kids of presidents, army officers and spies. So it’s up to Carmen and Juni to save their folks, and the world!

I personally am a big fan of Roberto Rodriguez. I liked the madcap shoot-outs of his 7000$ debut “El Mariachi” and its sequel/remake “Desperado”, and I loved the hell out of the Tarantino written “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Rodriguez also directed “The Misbehavers”, the best episode in “Four Rooms”. It was that short film, in which kids frolicked around in tuxedos, that inspired him to make a grade school James Bond. He went to Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein with it and said that if he got the greenlight, he would direct one of the studio’s projects, which is how he came to direct Kevin Williamson’s umpteenth teen horror script “The Faculty”. And now, after that so-so detour, we can finally see the film Rodriguez got to make in return, “Spy Kids”.

At 36$ million, this is his biggest budgeted movie so far, and it’s got enough of a commercial core to take it right into McDonald’s Happy Meals, but don’t call Rodriguez a sell-out yet. Throughout the film, you can feel that this is a project dear to Rodriguez’ heart, the kind of film he says he’s wanted to make since he was 10 year old! The Mexican filmmaker put his all in it, acting as producer, writer, director, editor and special effects supervisor, and he also worked on the music score with Danny Elfman and Los Lobos. He cast a bunch of people he worked with before, including Robert Patrick (“The Faculty”), “Desperado” veterans Banderas, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo, as well as a cameo from a certain “From Dusk Till Dawn” vampire slayer. But the stars here are really youngsters Daryl Sabala and Alexa Vega. They have nice interaction together, you totally buy them as constantly bickering siblings. They’re surprisingly not whiney, in fact they’re very likable, even cool! I found it engaging to watch as Sabala evolved from a nervous, scared kid with sweaty hands who gets bullied at school, into a resourceful, brave hero. Vega is good too, as the big sister who both can’t stand and deeply cares for her little bro.

What’s special about “Spy Kids” is that even though it is a family movie, with the occasional slapstick and wholesome lessons, and ten times more wacky FX than the mediocre “Inspector Gadget”, this is not a movie that will bore grown-ups to tears. Even if you have hair in funny places, you can’t help but be taken by how imaginative Rodriguez’ film is. Floop’s show and castle are a demented creation, sort of like Pee Wee Herman on (more) acid, with trippy CGI galore and colourful, deformed sideshow mutants, as well as surreal, cartoonish sets that seem straight out of Willy Wonka. And what about the Thumb-Thumbs, Floop’s “all thumbs” goons? I don’t quite know how to describe them, but they’re something else! All in all, “Spy Kids” is a inventive, dynamic, action packed and often genuinely funny ride. I still prefer my Rodriguez ruthless and bloody, but it’s sweet to see him make a movie that his and others’ kids will love.

Retrospective — 1998


I’ve always liked movies, for as long as I can remember. Of course, as a kid, I was mostly into Marty McFly, Indiana Jones and John McClane, but soon adolescence broadened my horizons and I got interested in darker silver screen figures such as Travis Bickle, Tony Montana and Mr. Blonde. I became an avid moviegoer as well as a video store staple, and I’ve been taking in movie after movie ever since.

The first seeds of my becoming a film critic were planted in the first days of 1996, when I alternated between watching a “Planet of the” Apes marathon on TV and going through a freshly bought copy of the 1996 Blockbuster Video Guide. That’s when it sort of dawned on me that I had seen so many movies that I was losing track. Hence, I went back to the ‘a’ page with a pen and paper and went through the whole book writing down the titles of movies I had seen. Days later, when I was done, I sat down in front of my computer and typed up the whole list. Next up, I decided to give ratings to the movies, using the 5 star system used in the Blockbuster guide, which looking back was a bad idea since most everyone actually uses 4 stars but what the hell. The next step seemed obvious: I started to write short comments on the films, not proper reviews yet, but in spirit I was becoming a critic.

Gradually, I started writing more, and more, and more, until it got to the point where what I was doing looked, sounded and felt like reviewing movies… except that I had no audience! But it didn’t matter, I loved movies, I loved writing, so writing about movies was a logical thing to do. A year or so passed, I was now in film school, and it had become a habit after watching a movie to sit down and spend a few hours putting my impressions on paper. I had scrapped the original collection of 20 words reviews but, still, it was quite a nice little archive I was gathering, with something like 150 reviews.

Somewhere around June 1998, my best friend Mathieu finished a course in HTML and website design and was aching to put together something on the internet, yet didn’t know what. That’s when we got the idea to combine my always increasing collection of reviews and his programming skills to co-create a website. Thus was born “Nemours @ the Movies”, with its clumsy original look, its clumsy original reviews and its clumsy original location with annoying Geocities pop-up ads.

July 2003 will mark the Fifth Anniversary of my online film critic career. To celebrate this little milestone of mine, I’m taking a look back at those five years of websites, movies and life in general.

The Website
Nemours @ the Movies (Nemours is a fake middle name I gave myself) (defunct)
Pretty lame design, few pictures, all reviews crammed into letter pages (the As, the Bs..), annoying pop-up ads… Hey, gotta start somewhere.

The Movies

We first went online on July 1st, 1998 with a front-page review of Armageddon (not a masterpiece but certainly better than Deep Impact). This was a pretty good year for blockbusters, as Blade, Ronin and Enemy of the State thrilled us while we laughed it up with Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy. There was also that “New Geek Cinema” sorta-trend, with such black humor-laced flicks as Very Bad Things and the T&A opus Wild Things, two GREAT Meg Ryan romantic comedies (City of Angels and You’ve Got Mail) and the overrated but occasionally brilliant Saving Private Ryan.

My Top Ten:

06. BUFFALO ’66 91
09. THE BIG LEBOWSKI 93 (yeah, this should have been higher)

Would have been in the Top 5 if I’d seen it earlier: American History X

NEXT: 1999, still the best movie year in recent memory.

Die Hard!

“[Action filmmakers] are the most cinematic directors. They’re taking cinema and making you hard – and making you come, actually!” – Quentin Tarantino

I truly love action movies. There’s nothing that I like more than watching big, macho, muscular, sweaty men kicking each other’s ass, shooting guns and making stuff blow up, while the whole thing is shot like a pumped up MTV video edited to a faux-Wagnerian score. I am, of course, being a tad sarcastic, and that’s a must for an action fan. You gotta love thrills, but you also need a good sense of humor, an ability to swallow the dumbest twists and attitudes with a smile. You gotta believe that one guy can defeat an army, that a bad guy would rather fight his nemesis honorably in hand-to-hand combat than shoot his brains out and that motorized vehicles can defy any law of physics when used properly. You can’t go, “Hey! No way that can happen!” You gotta be, like, “Fuck it, that’s fun to watch!” The next few pages will try to cover most of the various forms of action movies that spun from Hollywood in the last 15 years or so.

First of all, we have to settle on a definition of an action movie. To me, it’s a film that relies on violent confrontations and death-defying ventures more than anything. This essay won’t consider early movies that kinda were action films, but not really. Think of westerns, blaxploitation, cop/gangster movies and war films. In these kinds of films, fights might break out, bullets might be shot, but that wasn’t what these types of movies were really about.

I won’t either extend to some of the brilliant action work that was done outside of Tinseltown, notably Asia’s long tradition in martial arts movies. Other genres, like science-fiction, that sometimes share elements with action will also be pushed aside, even though movies like “Star Wars” or “The Terminator” were action-packed. What I’m trying to do is to get down to the classic definition of a Hollywood action film: the opposition between Good and Evil, violence and fast-paced, flashy filmmaking. Next are what may be the 5 most influential action flicks ever made in Hollywood.

FIRST BLOOD : Political Action (1982)

“After Vietnam there was a need for escapism. Rambo led to the birth of the real uber action film. I was part of that group with Arnold (Schwarzenegger] and Bruce (Willis] and there was a definite theme. It was about one-man armies.” – Sylvester Stallone

The first real action film was definitively “First Blood”. Somehow like “Taxi Driver”, the film follows a Vietnam veteran as he returns to America and realizes that home ain’t all that sweet after all. But while Travis Bickle did take out a few guys, it’s nothing compared to John Rambo’s elaborate decimation of a whole town. The film takes itself seriously, but even its creators must have known that the overwhelming violence was the film’s driving force much more than the political message. What we want is to see Sylvester Stallone beating people every which way but loose, right? A one-man army, more pyrotechnics than dialogue… The modern action movie is born all right. Other movies of this kind of serious “political” action films are the two Rambo sequels and the Chuck Norris vehicles “Missing in Action” and “Delta Force”.

COMMANDO : Action Takes It Easy (1985)

If Stallone was the figure that started the genre, it’s Schwarzenegger who made it so popular. Instead of being frustrated and stiff like Rambo, Ah-nuld seemed to be having fun while he was killing people. More often than not, plots were just excuses for a series of exciting fights and stunts. No message here! Instead, you get one-liners and over-the-top action sequences. The first film to tap into that is also my favorite movie: Mark L. Lester‘s brilliant “Commando”. Arnie made countless other movies with almost as much humor as violence : “Predator”, “Raw Deal”, “Red Heat”, “Last Action Hero”, “True Lies”, “Eraser”… Then there’s the “Lethal Weapon” and “Beverly Hills Cop” series, which are almost comedies but still pack tons of action. Then there are those Schwarzenegger wannabes, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who can kick some ass but aren’t all that comfortable with one-liners. Still, they made some fun films.

DIE HARD : Action in a Nutshell (1988)

Whereas Rambo and Matrix wandered around vast places (whole cities, islands…) in order to kill people, John McClane is caught in a skyscraper. And so a new kind of action film is born. Instead of having your hero trying to get to the bad guys, you can now just stick all of them together in the same place and have them play cat-and-mouse. The place ain’t important: it can be an airport (“Die Hard 2”), a plane (“Passenger 57” / “Air Force One”), a ship (“Under Siege”), a train (“Under Siege 2”), a hockey arena (“Sudden Impact”)… These movies are usually about a bunch of foreign terrorists that take over a place in which, luckily, a hyper-trained hero happens to be. An interesting twist is “Road House”, where you got the thing with the hero beating up bad guys in the one location (a bar), except that they’re not terrorists, just a bunch of drunken assholes!

John McTiernan “Die Hard” remains the coolest flick of that kind that was ever made. It stars Bruce Willis, in his first action role, as John McClane, a New York cop who comes to L.A. to spend Christmas with his wife and kids. The couple meets at an office party in a huge business building, and that’s when a gang of European terrorists take over the place. McClane is the only one who can stop Hans and his boys. As you can see, that’s a simple plot, but it’s efficient. It leads to a series of outstanding fights and shoot-outs, as well as many funny scenes. Willis burns the screen with his overwhelming charisma. He’s witty, he’s macho, and he sure kicks ass! This is what I call a classic. I’ve seen this action-packed masterpiece countless times, and I never get tired of it. It’s filled with inventively violent set-ups, and the action never stops. Definitely a must-see. The sequels are also pretty good, especially the third film, an inventive cat-and-mouse game across New York.

SPEED : Action Without Balls (1994)

This is the action film at its weakest, at its most mainstream. In Jan De Bont‘s film, there are almost no fights or violence. He just kept the MTV-style direction, the stunts and the explosions. Yes, there’s still a bad guy, but Dennis Hopper isn’t even face-to-face with the hero more than 10 minutes, and there aren’t even other bad guys. There might be 2 or three deaths in the whole flick! All you get is some dude and a chick on a bus that crashes through stuff. I admit that the film is enjoyable in parts, but I’m still happy that the genre survived this “roller-coaster” phase, which didn’t last all that long. We still had to suffer through Stallone’s “Daylight” and some other wussy action flicks where heroes face natural disasters instead of bloodthirsty terrorists (Sly vs a tunnel!?!).

FACE / OFF : Action As Opera (1997)

If it hadn’t been for this movie, I would probably have decided not to stop myself at Hollywood movies for this retrospective, because I couldn’t have mentioned the absolute best action director in the whole world, Hong Kong’s John Woo. His films reach new levels in action, with shoot-outs orchestrated like apocalyptic ballets and violence poetically used to portray the most passionate feelings of one. Honor becomes the driving force of combat, as charitable gangsters face dirty cops. It’s the fight between good and evil, but the distinction ain’t all that evident. In movies like “The Killer”, even love and true friendship are present. Woo started out in Hollywood with “Hard Target”, which is cool, but his style is overwhelmed by Van Damme’s usual tricks. The director went on to make “Broken Arrow”, another explosive yet impersonal outing. It’s with “Face/Off” that Woo finally shows mainstream America what he is all about. This amazing picture presents the opposition between a determined FBI agent, Sean Archer, and a funky terrorist, Castor Troy, who get their faces switched, forcing them to use the other guy’s allies to fight each other. Besides featuring brilliant direction, spellbinding action scenes and a clever script, the film gets great performances from Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. For all these reasons, “Face/Off” was actually the 6th best reviewed movie of ’97 (after “The Sweet Hereafter”, “Titanic”, “Boogie Nights”, “L.A. Confidential” and “In the Company of Men”). Action never felt so good!

So that’s about it as far as action movies go. Of course, I only went to the essentials, and as I said at the beginning, many other types of action films could have been explored, but I think I went to the heart of it when it comes to action in Hollywood from 1982 to 1997. Would I dare make predictions for the future? As far as I’m concerned, I think that Hong Kong holds the fate of the action film. Action directors like Ringo Lam (“Maximum Risk”), Kirk Wong (“The Big Hit”) and Tsui Hark (“Double Team”) have all joined John Woo in America, as did action stars like Jackie Chan (“Rush Hour”), Jet Li (“Lethal Weapon 4”) and, most of all, Chow Yun-Fat (“The Replacement Killers”). Because, admit it, soon-to-be sixty Schwarzenegger and Stallone and forty-something Bruce Willis might not be on top for long, and Seagal and Van Damme never stood a chance to be more than second bit players. As for Nic Cage, he might be too busy playing beautiful freaks to rule the action world as he did last year with “Con Air” and, of course, “Face/Off”. Is Hollywood getting the message? Very likely, since “Mission: Impossible” star and producer Tom Cruise apparently wants John Woo to direct the next instalment! Whatever happens, I’m sure that we will still be able to see heroes who can shoot whole armies dead for a long, long time.



A recent thread at the (sadly defunct) Cinemarati Roundtable about whether “First Blood” created the modern action movie reminded me of this article, which I wrote in 1998. Reading it again for the first time in years was a gas. I still think I hit most of the bases, and I’m pretty proud of how accurate my prediction turned out to be.

John Woo did direct “M:I-2” and the Hong Kong invasion has yet to stop, with Asian-influenced flicks like “The Matrix” and “Kill Bill” reinventing the way we think of action movies. One thing I didn’t see coming was the return of super-heroes, which seemed over and done with after 1997’s “Batman and Robin”. Yet some of the best action scenes of this decade involved the X-Men and Spider-Man. Also worth mentioning is the wave of epics (“Gladiator”, “The Lord of the Rings”, etc.), Michael Bay’s misunderstood oeuvre (culminating in the ridiculously frenetic “Bad Boys II”) and the most action-packed TV series ever, “24”.

As for who replaced Schwarzenegger (who’s now Governor of California!), it’s still not clear, as the Hong Kong stars have made almost nothing but crap in Hollywood. Vin Diesel hasn’t fulfilled the promise he showed in his first few flicks, so I’ll push my chips toward The Rock, who can whoop butt like the best of them and has revealed unexpected comic timing. He’s made his “Conan”-style heroic fantasy (“The Scorpion King”), his “Raw Deal”-style revenge yarn (“Walking Tall”), his “Red Heat”-style buddy comedy (“The Rundown”)… He’s due for a “Terminator” or a (gulp) “Commando”, don’t you think?



Okay, you know why I’m doing an update now, right? The best old school action flick since the golden age of the 1980s has been released this weekend. I’m talking of course of “Rambo”, which brings us back to the movie that started it all, “First Blood”. We also got another “Die Hard” sequel recently, but “Live Free or Die Hard” wasn’t so hot. Alas, the third figure of action cinema, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is still busy being Governor so we didn’t get a sequel to the other key Hollywood action movie, “Commando”. But while not technically related to it, the John Cena vehicle “The Marine” was certainly influenced by it and satisfyingly filled the void left in its place.

In other news, since the last update 3 years ago, there were some brilliant action sequences in unexpected places, namely pictures which had other things on their minds, like David Cronenberg‘s “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”, but which packed riveting bursts of violence and mayhem nonetheless. “Pathfinder” and “Beowulf” owe more to heroic fantasy à la “Conan the Barbarian” than to straight action as defined above (way back in the intro), but they kick too much ass for me not to mention them. Likewise with “Sin City” and “Apocalypto”, respectively film noir and historical/adventure influenced, but action-packed nonetheless. And “Hot Fuzz” might be a comedy first, but damn it if it doesn’t get your blood pumping!

And then there was Bourne. Over the course of three movies, this franchise single-handedly changed the rules of the game, as decisively as “First Blood”, “Commando” and “Die Hard” did back in the day. Telling proof: the James Bond series totally went Bourne in “Casino Royale”, making things less over the top and having the hero be more tortured and vulnerable. I’m not sure Matt Damon wants to be typecast as an action star, but right now, he’s king of the hill.


Another two years or so have passed since I last took the pulse of the Modern Hollywood Action Film. Again, comic book adaptations have given us some of the most kick-ass movie scenes to enjoy: I’m thinking of “The Dark Knight”, “Watchmen”, “Hellboy 2”, “The Incredible Hulk”, “Iron Man” and most of all, Timur Bekmambetov’s utterly badass “Wanted”.

There were also some thrilling action sequences in various war films (“The Hurt Locker”, “Che”, “Defiance”, “Inglourious Basterds”), David Mamet offered an intriguing twist on the genre in “Redbelt” and Liam Neeson, of all people, rocked hard in “Taken”. But I think that as with “Hot Fuzz” a few years back, it’s often the comedies that were the most explosive! Take “Tropic Thunder” for instance, or “JCVD” (that opening showcases Jean-Claude Van Damme at his best!), or especially “Pineapple Express”, which intentionally riffs on 1980s action flicks.

Ultimately, though, nothing offered more excitement than a pair of recent sci-fi epics, Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” and of course, James Cameron’s “Avatar”. Now, we’re far from the archetypical greatness of the classic Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis vehicles… But hopefully, next year’s “The Expendables” will scratch that itch!

2002 May-October

(2 May) Savage Messiah (2002, Mario Azzopardi) 48
[ Another powerful, terrifying performance by Luc Picard as a sadistic and perverted guru. Too bad the overall film is rather pedestrian. ]

(3 May) Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi) [ review ] 85

(5 May) The Devil’s Advocate (1997, Taylor Hackford) 51
[ I’d call this a guilty pleasure. It’s crass, cheesy, and wrong in so many ways, but it’s fun to watch and Al Pacino is deliciously over the top. ]

(6 May) Le Peuple Migrateur (2002, Jacques Perrin) [ review ] 90

(7 May) Moving (2002, Jonathan Friedman) [ review ] 52

(10 May) Unfaithful (2002, Adrian Lyne) [ review ] 40

(10 May) L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson) [ review ] 92

(11 May) Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch) [ review ] 93

(12 May) City Lights (1930, Charlie Chaplin) 65
[ Most of this “timeless classic” didn’t make much of an impression on me, but I have to say, the ending is absolutely marvelous. ]

(14 May) Tribute (2001, Kris Curry and Rich Fox) 80
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(16 May) Attack of the Clones (2002, George Lucas) [ review ] 61

(19 May) Which Way is Up? (1977, Michael Schultz) 10
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(21 May) The Salton Sea (2002, D.J. Caruso) [ review ] 54

(23 May) Dead in the Water (2001, Gustavo Lipsztein) 35
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(23 May) FUBAR (2002, Michael Dowse) [ review ] 86

(24 May) Insomnia (2002, Christopher Nolan) [ review ] 82

(27 May) Requiem for a Dream (2002, Darren Aronofsky) [ review ] 92

(27 May) Sparkle (1999, Jeff Beesley) 30
[ >Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(30 May) Lenny (1974, Bob Fosse) 82
[ Greatish biopic short on laughs but overflowing with style, sexiness and thought-provoking material. ]

(30 May) Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, John Cameron Mitchell) [ review ] 91

(30 May) An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli) 61
[ The story is paper thin and the romance doesn’t work, but the song and dance numbers are pretty great. ]

(31 May) Undercover Brother (2002, Malcolm D. Lee) [ review ] 4

(31 May) The Sum of All Fears (2002, Phil Alden Robinson) [ review ] 90

(10 Jun) Irréversible (2002, Gaspar Noé) [ review ] 90

(10 Jun) Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléôpatre (2002, Alain Chabat) [ review ] 70

(14 Jun) In the Shadows (2001, Ric Roman Waugh) 65
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(14 Jun) Windtalkers (2002, John Woo) [ review ] 38

(17 Jun) Vanilla Sky (2001, Cameron Crowe) [ review ] 93

(18 Jun) The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin) 42
[ I’d never actually watched it, and I guess it’s been too ripped off, referenced, spoofed and talked about for me to experience it as it was meant to be. Sure, I found it gross but other than that? Blah. ]

(19 Jun) Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997, Jay Roach) [ review ] 93

(20 Jun) Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen) [ review ] 100

(21 Jun) Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 93

(25 Jun) Outta Time (2002, Lorena David) 40
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(25 Jun) The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002, Peter Care) [ review ] 76

(28 Jun) Mr. Deeds (2002, Steven Brill) [ review ] 41

(29 Jun) American Beauty (1999, Sam Mendes) [ review ] 93

(4 Jul) Change of Habit (1969, William A. Graham) [ review ] 65

(4 Jul) Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 93

(8 Jul) Being John Malkhovich (1999, Spike Jonze) [ review ] 93

(9 Jul) K-9: P.I. (2002, Richard J. Lewis) [ review ] 40

(9 Jul) Moulin Rouge! (2001, Baz Luhrmann) [ review ] 98

(12 Jul) Road to Perdition (2002, Sam Mendes) [ review ] 49

(12 Jul) Reign of Fire (2002, Rob Bowman) [ review ] 39

(13 Jul) Dragonfly (2002, Tom Shadyac) [ review ] 6

(17 Jul) Eight Legged Freaks (2002, Ellory Elkayem) [ review ] 23

(22 Jul) Goldmember (2002, Jay Roach) [ review ] 85

(26 Jul) Goldmember (2002, Jay Roach) [ review ] 85

(26 Jul) UHF (1989, Jay Levey) [ review ] 86

(27 Jul) The Desert Rats (1953, Robert Wise) 55
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(1 Aug) Unbreakable (2000, M. Night Shyamalan) [ review ] 92

(2 Aug) Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan) [ review ] 94

(3 Aug) Full Frontal (2002, Steven Soderbergh) [ review ] 28

(5 Aug) Cat People (1982, Paul Schrader) [ review ] 32

(6 Aug) The Fellowship of the Ring (2001, Peter Jackson) [ review ] 93

(9 Aug) xXx (2002, Rob Cohen) [ review ] 34

(10 Aug) Strictly Sinatra (2001, Peter Capaldi) [ review ] 53

(10 Aug) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Robert Mulligan) 96
[ One of the greats, it conveys an essential message with grace and intelligence. Gregory Peck is the father everyone wishes he had. ]

(11 Aug) Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi) [ review ] 85

(14 Aug) Blue Crush (2002, John Stockwell) [ review ] 23

(20 Aug) Fun and Fancy Free (1947, Jack Kinney) 22
[ Disney Masterpiece my ass, this is a botched, dated mess. “Mickey and the Beanstalk” is kinda fun, but the “Bongo” story is plain retarded. Great way to show kids how to express love through spousal abuse! ]

(20 Aug) The Lord of the Rings (1978, Ralph Bakshi) 38
[ At first, I found it not as bad as it’s been accused of being. It’s stylish enough, and the material is so strong that some of the missteps are forgivable. But about halfway through it loses all focus and starts skimming through events almost randomly and then it just stops two thirds into the story! I’ll stick to Peter Jackson’s films etc. ]

(23 Aug) Serving Sara (2002, Reginald Hudlin) [ review ] 35

(23 Aug) The Good Girl (2002, Miguel Arteta) [ review ] 40

(24 Aug) Heaven (2002, Tom Tykwer) [ review ] 90

(28 Aug) The Scorpion King (2002, Chuck Russell) [ review ] 57

(29 Aug) Big Fat Liar (2002, Shawn Levy) [ review ] 36

(29 Aug) The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, Anthony Minghella) [ review ] 92

(30 Aug) Igby Goes Down (2002, Burr Steers) [ review ] 72

(1 Sept) Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 93

(2 Sept) Jurassic Park III (2001, Joe Johnston) 15
[ Easily one of the worst Hollywood blockbusters I’ve ever seen, the production values (outside of the not even that awe-inspiring anymore dinos) are on a TV level, the acting is obnoxiously bad and the set pieces are more ridiculous than exciting. ]

(2 Sept) America’s Sweethearts (2001, Joe Roth) 26
[ 2 minutes’ worth of biting satire drowned into an ill-conceived, wildly uninvolving romantic comedy. John Cusack and Julia Roberts are on auto-pilot, and Catherine Zeta-Jones and especially Hank Azaria and his pseudo-Spanish accent are insufferable.]

(3 Sept) 8 Femmes (2002, François Ozon) [ review ] 86

(3 Sept) Chasing Amy (1997, Kevin Smith) [ review ] 87

(6 Sept) Le Pacte des Loups (2001, Christophe Gans) [ review ] 90

(6 Sept) Monsoon Wedding (2002, Mira Nair) [ review ] 86

(7 Sept) Blade II (2002, Guillermo Del Toro) [ review ] 44

(8 Sept) Van Wilder (2002, Walt Becker) 8
[ The absolute bottom of the barrel of misogynist, juvenile and disgusting comedies. Ryan Reynolds is pretty cool, but even Miles farking Davis wouldn’t be cool enough to salvage this pile of dog semen. ]

(9 Sept) Magnolia (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson) [ review ] 100

(13 Sept) Stealing Harvard (2002, Bruce McCullough) [ review ] 37

(13 Sept) One Hour Photo (2002, Mark Romanek) [ review ] 80

(15 Sept) The Count of Monte Cristo (2002, Kevin Reynolds) 36
[ This adaptation of the classic Alexandre Dumas revenge drama is nicely set up, effectively showing Jim Caviezel’s Edmond going through extreme pain and despair. But then the film rushes through his retribution to his enemies and ties everything up into a happy little Hollywood resolution. Too bad. ]

(15 Sept) Game of Death (1978, Sammo Hung) 44
[ Cheapie, let’s-pretend-Bruce-Lee-didn’t-die-halfway-into-the-shoot kung fu revenge flick. Watch for countless shots of Lee’s unconvincing double seen from the back, in shadows or in disguise. Still, the climactic succession of fights of the genuine Bruce Lee in an iconic yellow with black stripes jumpsuit (which Uma Thurman will reprise in next year’s “Kill Bill”!) is pretty damn cool, especially when Lee faces 7 foot tall Kareem Abdul Jabbar! ]

(16 Sept) Everyone Says I Love You (1996, Woody Allen) 62
[ An homage to 1950s MGM musicals, but with actors who can’t sing and can’t dance! Instead, we’re rewarded with a sprinkle of Woody Allen’s trademark neurotic wit, and the film has a certain old fashioned charm. ]

(16 Sept) The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Steven Spielberg) 60
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(17 Sept) Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan) [ review ] 94

(19 Sept) King Kong (1933, Ernest B. Shoedsack & Merian C. Cooper) 65
[ Foolish white film crew invades primitive black tribe’s island to shoot legendary giant monkey, but serves as dinosaur lunch instead. Meanwhile, Kong gets hot for Fay Wray (who can blame him?) and chases her all the way to New York, and to the beast’s doom. Kick ass, brutal stop-motion action more or less makes up for deadly dull human drama, but I still wouldn’t call this a masterpiece. ]

(20 Sept) Network (1976, Sidney Lumet) 63
[ Peter Finch’s posthumously Oscar-winning turn as a news anchorman turned mad prophet is riveting and the satire of the television world is incisive, but the film is loose, all over the place and uneven. Could have used a good rewrite. ]

(22 Sept) Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino) [ review ] 94

(23 Sept) True Romance (1993, Tony Scott) [ review ] 92

(23 Sept) Manhunter (1986, Michael Mann) 26
[ What a stinker! Michael Mann directs this first adaptation of “Red Dragon” like a really bad TV movie devoid of any tension or depth, and Brian Cox’s take on Hannibal Lecter is limp and forgettable at best. ]

(27 Sept) The Tuxedo (2002, Kevin Donovan) [ review ] 17

(28 Sept) Original Sin (2001, Michael Cristofer) 47
[ Gorgeous Cuba, gorgeous Angelina Jolie, gorgeous music… This “cheap melodrama” is hardly subtle or much believable, but it does work as a guilty pleasure. ]

(28 Sept) Gorgeous (1999, Vincent Kok) 53
[ A message in a bottle? A young girl looking for true love? Business meetings? A gay sidekick? Dolphins? That’s a Jackie Chan film? Sort of. There are a few (4) pretty damn cool fight scenes, but most of the running time feels like a Chinese take on Meg Ryan flicks- which is enjoyable, even though I’d never expected Chan to play a straight romantic lead! ]

(28 Sept) Matroni et Moi (1999, Jean-Philippe Duval) 74
[ Scorsese meets Woody Allen in this hilarious, stylish and thought-provoking French Canadian comedy which pits a mobster (played by a delightfully cartoonish Pierre Lebeau) against a dweebish intellectual (Alexis Martin, who also wrote the film) in a frantic discussion of ethics and principles. ]

(29 Sept) Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly) 68
[ Teen angst, hallucinations and time travel cohabit in this bizarre high school drama set in the late 80s. I’m not sure what he’s trying to say, but writer-director Richard Kelly’s vision is intriguing (whatever it is). ]

(2 Oct) The Razor’s Edge
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(4 Oct) Red Dragon (2002, Brett Ratner) [ review ] 36

(4 Oct) Moonlight Mile (2002, Brad Silberling) [ review ] 90

(5 Oct) Tanguy (2001, Étienne Chatiliez) 33
[ This French comedy has an amusing premise (a 28 year old man who still lives at home to the despair of his parents), but after an inspired first half hour it grows tired and repetitive. ]

(7 Oct) Witchbabe
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(10 Oct) Carmen: A Hip Hopera
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(11 Oct) The Rules of Attraction (2002, Roger Avary) [ review ] 63

(11 Oct) Bollywood/Hollywood (2002, Deepa Mehta) 68
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(11 Oct) Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002, Peter Mettler) 48
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(12 Oct) Good Rockin’ Tonight (2002, Bruce Sinofsky) 44
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(12 Oct) The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002, Eugene Jarecki) 86
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(12 Oct) The Ring (2002, Gore Verbinski) [ review ] 38

(13 Oct) Tan de Repente (2002, Diego Lerman) 89
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(14 Oct) Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew (2002, Matthew Buzzell) 40
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(14 Oct) Un Homme sans l’Occident (2002, Raymond Depardon) 43
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(15 Oct) Waiting for Happiness (2002, Abderrahmane Sissako) 68
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(15 Oct) Isabelle Huppert : une vie pour jouer (2002, Serge Toubiana) 62
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(15 Oct) This is not a love song (2002, Billie Eltringham) 37
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(16 Oct) Ken Park (2002, Larry Clark, Ed Lachman) 0
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(16 Oct) The Sea (2002, Baltasar Kormakur) 66
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(17 Oct) Punch-Drunk Love (2002, P.T. Anderson) [ review ] 94

(18 Oct) Punch-Drunk Love (2002, P.T. Anderson) [ review ] 94

(18 Oct) Bowling for Columbine (2002, Michael Moore) [ review ] 79

(18 Oct) Far From Heaven (2002, Todd Haynes) 79
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(19 Oct) Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002, Paul Justman) [ review ] 90

(19 Oct) Bowling for Columbine (2002, Michael Moore) [ review ] 79

(19 Oct) 11’09″01 (2002, various filmmakers) 60
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(20 Oct) Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002, Paul Justman) [ review ] 90

(23 Oct) Chelsea Walls 35
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(23 Oct) The Truth About Charlie (2002, Jonathan Demme) [ review ] 5

(25 Oct) Jackass: the Movie (2002, Jeff Tremaine) [ review ] 51

(25 Oct) Secretary (2002, Steven Shainberg) [ review ] 42

(29 Oct) A Hard Day’s Night (2002, Richard Lester) [ review ] 75

(30 Oct) No Such Thing (2001, Hal Hartley) 55
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(31 Oct) Le Nèg’ (2002, Robert Morin) 74
[ Like most of his films, Robert Morin’s latest is both realistic and over the top, powerful and uneven, stylish and crude. It revolves around two SQ cops investigating a rocky night that left an old woman dead, a young black man in a coma and a plaster “lawn nigger” smashed. Each of the witnesses tells a different story, “Rashomon”-style, but what ultimately comes out is a tale of real-life horrors: racism, alcoholism, despair on welfare and wild bursts of violence. Not everything works in “Le Nèg’”, but the nifty use of fantasy sequences in which the characters are seen as little plastic figures and the riveting performances by the actors playing the drunken rednecks make it well worth seeing. ]


Remember that name: Christopher Nolan. Just as a young American filmmaker named Bryan Singer made his mark 6 years ago with a nifty little puzzle of a movie, namely “The Usual Suspects”, British writer-director Nolan’s second feature (after the little seen “Following”) is sure to make people pay attention to his work from now on. In fact, between the two somehow similarly twisted crime thrillers, I’d pick “Memento” as the better film.

Guy Pearce stars as Leonard Shelby, a former insurance investigator who suffered an injury which led to a rare condition, short-term memory loss. He remembers everything up to the night his wife was killed and he was badly hit to the head, but since then he’s unable to retain new information. Faces, places, events, they all disappear from his mind after mere minutes. It’s obviously a frustrating existence, but Leonard has something that keeps him going: his need to get revenge. But how do you investigate when you can’t remember what you find out? For Shelby, it’s by being methodical, using a system of notes and Polaroids about each and every thing. He’ll take a picture of someone he meets and scribble down basic information on it (“Don’t believe his lies”). As for the most crucial facts, he has them tattooed on his body. Hence, written backwards (so he can read it in a mirror) on his chest is “John G. raped and murdered my wife”…

In itself, the plot doesn’t sound too striking, it’s the classic revenge story. The amnesia is an interesting touch, but even that isn’t anything new (remember the Dana Carvey comedy “Clean Slate”?). What’s really out there is the way Nolan tells his story, starting with the last scene then going back to the one before, then the one before, and so on until we get to the first scene. Sounds confusing? Well, it can be, but it’s also a fascinating concept. It sort of puts you in the same state of mind as Leonard. At the beginning of each scene, you have no idea how you got there, what exactly is happening and why, or what’s your history with the people you’re with. That Teddy fella who you’re always running into, is he a friend or a threat? That Natalie chick, is she helping you… or are you helping her? Most of the film is spent with this kind of questions being raised, by Leonard and by the audience.

At first, upon watching the finale which opens the film (!), you might wonder what’s the point of keeping watching if you already know what happens next? Except that without knowing the context, you really don’t know much about what you see. Things aren’t always as they appear, and Nolan is determined to prove it. Every time you think you’ve got a handle on the plot, it slips away and heads for a different direction. Nolan describes his movie not as a whodunit but as a “whydunit”; you know what the characters will do, but you still have to figure out why. Nolan always keeps the viewer on its toes as he unfolds his brilliant puzzle.”Memento” is the rare film where there’s never any “down time”, it completely captures your attention and keeps you thinking and trying to figure things out. Yet it isn’t a mere brainy exercise in style. The movie’s filled with twists at times shocking or hilarious, and at its core it’s an emotionally affecting tragic tale. Leonard, ironically, can’t forget about the one thing which hurts the most: the woman he loved so much and how she was taken away from him. “How can you heal,” he asks, “when you have no sense of time?”

Part of what makes “Memento” so involving lies in the performances. Guy Pearce makes for a fantastic lead. His character is totally clueless most of the time, but he puts on a phony facade of recognition. Pearce plays him with an interesting balance of innocence and fatality; Leonard is a man who’s reborn every minute, having to get familiar with situations over and over, but he’s also a man with nothing to lose. He’s nicely supported by Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano (who also co-starred together in “The Matrix”) as a waitress and a cop he keeps meeting for the first time. Moss makes for a great femme fatale, as seductive as she is manipulative, and Pantoliano is amusingly sleazy. “Memento” might be challenging but it’s even more rewarding. A definite must-see.

The Mexican

I’m pretty sure this film will have many people go “Oh, what a missed opportunity.” After all, it does star two of Hollywood’s brightest stars, Brad “People’s Sexiest Man Alive” Pitt and Julia “America’s Sweetheart” Roberts. Yet instead of playing in a crowd-pleasing romantic comedy, they chose to unite for a quirky 35 million$ picture and to boot, they spend most of the film apart. Still, if you can brush away your expectations, you’ll find “The Mexican” to be a pretty darn fun ride.

Pitt stars as Jerry, a Mob bagman whose better half Samantha (Roberts) doesn’t agree with his chosen profession. Well, chosen might not be the right word. The reason why Jerry has been running errands for Nayman (Bob Balaban, the NBC president in Seinfeld) for the last five years is that he’s sort of responsible for sending Mafioso boss Margolese (Gene Hackman, in an uncredited cameo) to jail, through his bad driving. Margolese is set to be released in a week, so Jerry figures he’s worked out his debt and won’t have to do anything with the outfit no more… But before that, they want him to do the obligatory “one last job”, which is to go retrieve an antic musket in Mexico. So there goes Jerry on a plane, despite Sam’s lamentations. Self-centered as she is, she doesn’t realize that her lover will end up dead if he doesn’t comply, so she makes a big scene and takes off herself, towards her long brewed dream of making it as a croupier in Las Vegas. But on her way, she’s abducted by Leroy (James Gandolfini), a hitman sent by Margolese to kidnap her to make sure Jerry doesn’t get any crazy ideas. Not that he could have, stuck as he is running around Mexico trying to forrestgump his way out with both the priceless gun and his life…

Ok, so our two gorgeous leads are separated, not only by Mob-inclined circumstances but by constant bickering and arguing in the handful of scenes they share. Hence we kinda get two movies for the price of one. On one side, there’s Brad screwing up and being screwed over through San Miguel, talking tough with tenants in a sleazy tequila bar, getting his funky rental car stolen, befriending an ugly dog, scheming around double and triple crosses involving other bag men, dirty cops and Mexican thieves… That part of the movie is, to me, the most enjoyable. Pitt has never been hotter, and he’s also wonderfully goofy and endearing, and the film takes this really interesting, offbeat feel, a bit like the Coen bros’ Raising Arizona. Meanwhile, Roberts’ doing her movie star thing, and it’s not as compelling. Sure, she’s pretty too, but she tens to overdo everything, speed talking, yelling, flashing her huge smile, or pouting and dropping a few crocodile tears. What salvages her half of the film is her pairing with James Gandolfini, whose Leroy is less Tony Soprano than a sensitive version of the goon he played opposite Pitt’s stoner in “True Romance”. Most of his dialogue doesn’t dig deeper than an Oprah magazine article, but Gandolfini sells it with a quiet, strong presence that always ring true.

The movie was directed by Gore Verbinski, whose work on those Budweiser frogs commercials and the family film “Mousehunt” wouldn’t make you think of him as the perfect choice for this, but he does a surprisingly good job. He crafts one cool, stylish film that doesn’t always work perfectly but has well enough bright spots to make you leave a theatre smiling. Verbinski balances different tones skilfully, giving us laughs, thrills and even some touching moments. The film ain’t particularly profound, but it’s witty and refreshing. It’s got some really interesting cinematography, not quite on a “Traffic” level, but similarly inventive with colors and lighting. I also really liked Alan Silvestri’s score, an effective pastiche of Latin music, complete with trumpets and flamenco guitars. All in all, “The Mexican” is well worth checking out. I don’t get why it’s getting bad reviews, when it’s the only really good Hollywood movie I’ve seen so far this year.

3000 Miles to Graceland

Here’s yet another dumb, overblown, unoriginal popcorn flick but you know what? It’s actually kind of fun. Stuff blows up for no reason, men bullshit, women are brainless sluts, countless cops and innocents are killed, Elvis is everywhere and I’m sitting there watching all this nonsense and I can’t help but grin. One of the things that’s the most hard to believe is that this retarded, mean-spirited ride stars Kevin pretentious-post-acopalyptic-idealist-baseball-romantico-bad-accent-politics Costner. And he’s actually not bad. Wait, he is bad, but in an enjoyable way. He’s really hamming it up as the film’s bad guy, but it’s fun to see Costner getting loose for once. This is really not typecasting to have him play Murphy, a murderous sociopath who believes he’s the King’s illegitimate son. The logical choice for the part would be Nicolas Cage. After all, the character of Murp seems like a composite of Cage’s Elvis fanatic jailbird Sailor from “Wild at Heart” and Castor Troy, the over the top villain from “Face/Off”. Add to that the film’s kinship with the Jerry Bruckheimer produced “Con Air”, in which a bunch of convicts also crash in Las Vegas, and I’ll be darned if they didn’t try to get Cage involved.

But anyways, Costner took the part, so it’s his game… Or maybe Kurt Russell’s, who stars opposite him as Michael, the obligatory “good” bad guy. He might team up with former cellmate Murphy to hold up a Vegas casino, but he doesn’t kill nobody and he believes in loyalty, straightforwardness and other inconvenient good values. He’s bound to get screwed over, which Murphy does shamelessly by shooting him after the robbery to keep the loot for himself. Yet Mike saw it coming and wore a bulletproof vest, so he’s okay (of course, if Murphy had aimed for the head, he’d be dead meat, but that wouldn’t be convenient for the story, would it?), and he’s mad. And, you guessed it, we’re in for another of those road movies, with Murphy driving to the Canadian border with Michael following behind and cops on both their tails…

Hardly anything we haven’t seen a million times here, but to the filmmakers’ credit, they did add a twist : early on, Michael meets the sexy, spunky Cybil (Courtney Cox, looking hotter than ever) and her young son in a Nevada desert motel, and they’ll play a rather unexpectedly big part in the film. The early scenes revolve around the casino heist pulled by Murphy, Michael and three other thugs (token black dude Bokeem Woodbine, the annoying David Arquette and Christian Slater), who wear shiny suits, capes, oversized sunglasses and sideburns to pass incognito (the film begins during International Elvis Impersonators Week in Las Vegas), and the film’s climax is an endless shoot-out between cops and robbers, but for the most part in between, the film is about this unlikely little family unit’s road trip. Oh, there’s also plenty of mayhem, double-crosses and whatnot but the movie, the heart of the movie is in the quieter scenes between Michael and Cybil’s son, who’s smarter and hipper than you’d think. In theses moments, the film is pretty nice and funny actually. David Kaye is a nice discovery as the kid, avoiding to act cute like so many child actors, and Russell is quite charismatic and he’s really the only one in the film who carries some of the Elvis vibe. Cox is kinda good too, even though it’s impossible to understand the motivations of her character, who sleeps with Russell five minutes after they meet, acts all lovey-dovey, then steals his money and takes off, leaving her boy behind with him. What kind of a mother would do such a thing?

Despite such incoherencies, I don’t really get why the film is getting such bad reviews, especially after Snatch got such a good critical reception. Both are extremely stylish but derivative and shallow movies, except that one of them is British. If you ask me, former music video director Demian Lichtenstein doesn’t have much to envy to Guy Ritchie. He might be working from a lousy script, but he sure works hard to make us forget it! Shots are sped up or slowed down, the camera is all over the place, the editing is totally frenetic, and it’s all set to an extremely loud soundtrack mixing everything from electronica to, what else, Elvis tunes. So there you have it: “3000 Miles to Graceland” is far from a masterpiece, I wouldn’t even call it a good film, but as far as trash goes, you could do worse.