Hey folks, Harry here... Can't type that much, Moriarty has filled the limits of AICN's forma
TWENTY HOURS I WANT BACK
What can you say about a movie that features such howlers as, “It must be strange not having anyone cum on you” delivered in dead seriousness? Elizabeth Barkley proves herself to be one of the most uncharismatic leads in film history, unable to hold your attention even when stark naked. Kyle McLachlan spends most of the film looking embarrassed, and with good reason. I guess Gena Gershon does as good a job as anyone could in this piece of offal, but that’s not saying much. Overall, this is a foul, disgusting, stupid film that is a prime example of what happens when no one has the balls to say no to a major Hollywood player after a hit. In this case, the hit was BASIC INSTINCT, and it’s actually two egos that made this happen: Paul Verhoeven’s and Joe Ezterhas’s. These two men manage to redefine mainstream sleaze every time they work together. Hopefully, this film’s failure will put an end to that. If not, then anyone who actually sees another of their films deserves whatever pain they suffer. I can be sure it won’t happen to me again.
2. FOUR ROOMS *except “The Misbehavers/Room 309”*
The things that are wrong with this film are almost too numerous to mention. Like SHOWGIRLS, this is the result of egos gone mad, with Lawrence Bender making the mistake of allowing his four directors free reign. Only Robert Rodriguez acquits himself. His work, his segment… beyond reproach. Let us acknowledge that and move on. The other three filmmakers here, all of whom have done good work before, fall flat on their faces. The opening segment by Alison Anders is just plain dull, with a coven of witches meeting to try and raise their goddess who was turned into a rock. Really. They need some sperm, though, to pull it off, so Ione Skye takes her shirt off and seduces Tim Roth, the hapless bellboy who holds this whole film together. It’s a pointless, aimless story that wastes the talents of Skye, Alicia Witt, Lili Taylor, and even Madonna. The only highlight, and I am almost ashamed to admit I thought of it as one, was the rampant nudity by Skye, a gorgeous actress who has been missing from film for far too long. The second, and worst, of the stories is an absolute mess, written and directed by Alexandre Rockwell, whose idea this whole movie was in the first place. It’s about a husband/wife psychodrama that is never explained and that seems to be an excuse for masturbatory camera moves and one truly nasty vomit joke. The final story of the film is almost without merit, seeming to be a filmed wrap party featuring Quentin Tarantino and Bruce Willis. Yes, I know… it’s a remake of the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode that they spend so much time explaining in the segment. I got it. I saw the original segment, and I even remember the ‘80s remake of that segment for NBC’s revival of the show. The only redeeming point of the segment is a truly funny punchline that almost makes you forget how painful the overall trip through this should-be-condemned hotel has been.
I’d just like to say, for the record, fuck Brett Leonard and anything he touches that’s even remotely cyber-related. He’s a miserable, awful, talentless filmmaker who seems to specialize in crappy virtual reality films that have no brains whatsoever. THE LAWNMOWER MAN (both cuts, thanks very much), HIDEAWAY, and this… that’s a lot of sins for Leonard to answer for in the afterlife. Good luck to him.
If you ever needed proof that lightning doesn’t strike on request, this would be it. It’s like Frank Marshall looked at the success of JURASSIC PARK and decided that he wanted a JP of his own. He took a Michael Crichton book, signed ILM to do the effects, got Stan Winston involved, hired some lesser known actors as his leads, and went to it. Unlike Spielberg, though, Marshall ended up with a nonsensical muddle about killer apes, diamond mines, and volcanoes. Honestly... this film defies description. I sat through it stunned at what I was seeing. The acting is painful and amateurish, with the singular notable exception of Delroy Lindo as the colonel of a local army in Africa. The apes look like actors in very nice suits, and the much ballyhooed ILM work here is totally silly lava that is unconvincing in every shot. Paramount managed to wrangle a little bit of coin out of this stinker before the word got out on how bad it truly was, and they should be thrilled with every penny. They didn’t deserve one of them.
Did you see ALIEN? Did you like it? Then avoid this bloated crapbag like the plague. Yes, Natasha Henstridge gets very naked. Yes, she is a magnificent creature who belongs in the Smithsonian, filed under “woman.” Doesn’t matter. Put your eyes out, take your own life… anything but this.
Settle in. Allow me to explain. Now, I’m a Bond fan from way back. I grew up in a Bond house. My father was a longtime fan of the novels, and both my parents were huge Sean Connery fans. I grew up watching all the Bond films. The first one I ever saw was FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. The first one I saw theatrically was THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. I know I’ve seen each one that’s been released since in the theater, including NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. For my money, the Connery films are the best, but not just because of Connery’s presence. It’s the scripts, it’s the energy of the things... those first four or five movies are so confident, so alive, so full of themselves that they’re impossible to dislike. Connery’s Bond was fearless, tough, witty, no-shit, and that was fun to watch. Wasn’t really the character that Ian Fleming wrote, but that was okay. George Lazenby was in the best written Bond film, but he never stood a chance in the public perception. If Connery had made ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, it would be considered the one truly transcendent Bond film. As it is, it’s still one of the better few. It’s got real soul, and does something permanent and human to the character. Then, back to Connery for one film, nothing special, and we’re on to Moore. I can’t stand Moore. Really. The man was a total stiff. Most of my contemporaries grew up on Moore, so that’s how they think of Bond. Hell, my dad, the guy who introduced me to Bond, likes Moore. I still say Fleming is the expert, though, and Moore’s Bond was farther from the original than Connery ever was on his worst day. He was a wuss, a wisecracking playboy who never got ruffled, never got scratched, and was never really in anything resembling danger. And did you ever see him run? I’m talking about a sustained long shot of Moore in advanced locomotion. They don’t exist. He moves like he’s got a broomstick lodged. Pay attention… you’ll see how right I am. Once Moore left, and Timothy Dalton got the gig, I had real hope for the Bond franchise. Dalton was exactly the man that Fleming had described. He was aware of the past, haunted by it, but able to do his job because he had to be. I respect the hell out of the work Dalton did. I think his run at the character was hindered by weak writing. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS was good, but much too long, while LICENCE TO KILL is one of the worst screenplays in the series. It’s no wonder LTK died at the boxoffice. It’s competition that summer, in case you don’t remember, was LETHAL WEAPON 2, the original BATMAN, GHOSTBUSTERS II, THE ABYSS, and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. It was a bloodbath, with James Bond finally getting his ass good and whipped by someone.
It took six years, endless legal battles, and a shitload of development, but they finally brought the character back, and this time, it was in the seemingly perfect hands of Pierce Brosnan, the man that America unanimously wanted as the character. It’s no wonder the producers cast him. It’s an easy choice, but so is every other single choice that was made by the writers and producers of this film, and therein lies the problem. As soon as they cast Brosnan, they relaxed. It’s as if they sat back, satisfied that they had the right guy, and told someone to just run off a bunch of the old scripts, then mix the pages up, and that’s what they’d shoot. Problem is, this wasn’t made in 1962. It’s not the mid-’70’s... it’s not even the ‘80’s anymore. It was 1995, and we’d already seen TRUE LIES, the DIE HARD series and its endless clones, and the advent of CGI as a major filmmaker’s tool. In order to make a new Bond film, and make it work, it was absolutely imperative that the filmmakers top what we as an audience had seen before in every way. We needed a story that compels us. We needed to see something new from Bond, some sense of the world that he now lives in. We needed to see the new Russia, which is still dangerous and exciting, but very different. We needed to be shown thrills that are on the cutting edge of film action. And, to be quite honest, I don’t think we saw any of this with GOLDENEYE.
I will give the film a few points. I think Pierce is fine as Bond. I think he is one of the perfect actors for the role, and I think the guy’s got the right moves. He’s far more physical than Moore ever was, and he’s got more natural charisma than Dalton. I think Martin Campbell delivers the goods for the most part visually. He’s definitely one of the more self-assured filmmakers to ever helm a Bond flick. Finally, there’s Pierce’s co-star, Famke Jannsen, one of the most appealing “Bond Girls” ever, even if she was totally wasted. Famke’s Xenia Onnatop is a wild, sexy supervillain with no place to go. Her scenes are all exciting, energetic, and pointless. All the bad guys are just that... bad guys. They are cartoons, totally forgettable. Sean Bean has been blessed with several major “bad guy” roles now, and he’s a black hole of charisma. I fall asleep whenever this guy comes on screen, and I pray Peter Jackson is adding a personality to him via CGI for LORD OF THE RINGS. He’s obvious, every choice a mimic of one I’ve seen a thousand times before. He was Dougray Scott before Dougray Scott was. The effects in this film are laughable for the most part, a real failing when you’ve spent $65 million to renovate a franchise. They should have spent the extra time, the extra money, and at least polished this damn thing so it was all shiny and nice. Then maybe its flaws wouldn’t be so glaringly obvious. In the end, though, nothing can disguise the fact that this is an empty venture. There’s no imagination here, no adventure. It’s all utterly familiar and thoroughly plastic, and the fact that this is the template they’re still using now with each now Bond film doesn’t bode well for the creative future of what was once a great and mighty franchise.
7. JUDGE DREDD
Sly, Sly, Sly... what made you think that this highly satiric dark comic would make a good action film? Without the nasty sense of humor, DREDD is pretty much a pro-fascist manifesto, and not a very good one at that.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. William Friedkin was at one point the best “smart” action director in town. Films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE EXORCIST, SORCERER, and TO LIVE OR DIE IN L.A. established him as a powerful visualist who could make the screen practically sweat from tension. These days, we get BLUE CHIP, THE GUARDIAN, or this dogshit. Once again, blame Joe Ezterhas for the initial sin. This script makes no sense whatsover, as proven by the fact that they shot three different endings, with three different killers revealed. A good mystery can only point to one conclusive ending. This, then, is not a good mystery. And to think... David Caruso left his cushy NYPD BLUE gig for this. Bet that decision never keeps him up nights.
This film wasn’t initially on my list, since I went and saw it under the best of circumstances. In retrospect, though, this is the exact kind of film that belongs here. The producers of this film took a brilliant, special children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, who is one of the true geniuses of his field, and they pumped it up with some spectacular ILM special effects and the star power of Robin Williams. The trouble is, they forgot to put together a story, or to craft a single compelling character. The paucity of imagination on display here is shocking, and becomes more so when compared to the brilliant writing of, say, TOY STORY. Just because it’s for kids and it’s mainstream doesn’t mean it has to suck. It just seems to work out that way more often than not.
10. MORTAL KOMBAT
All I can say to the people who made this is watch some Jackie Chan films (or even a Jet Li movie, fer chrissakes) and get back to me. You can’t coast on cheesy CGI effects and a throbbing techno score, no matter how much you want to.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, BEFORE SUNRISE
This is one of those magical moments when the chemistry that exists between actors far exceeds the chemistry that either one of them exhibits on their own. Ethan Hawke is an actor that can be effective in the right roles, and who can also come across as deeply miscast at times as well. Delpy is an ethereal presence who has really only been used right on film by a few directors. Yet here, Richard Linklater is able to place the entire weight of this enterprise on the mere promise that they will connect in a real way on camera, and his gamble pays off. They constantly amuse, surprise, and engage each other throughout the film. I have no idea what they though of each other in real life, and I don’t want to know. I believe in this fairy tale, and that’s the whole point.
Mel Gibson, BRAVEHEART
The same passion that Mel Gibson brought to this film as a director is evident in his lead performance in the film. You may be scrolling back up to see where I placed the film on my list, and you may be wondering if you’re just missing it somehow. Nope. It’s not there. I don’t dislike the film, but I also wasn’t swept away by it like so many other people seem to have been. I think the things that work, like the battle scenes and the basic moments of drama involving Mel, are very good. I think that part of the movie collapses for me under the weight of all the Monty Python films I saw growing up. I just don’t buy some of it, and I think there are awkward and even distasteful story threads throughout the film. In the end, I consider it a flawed but spirited movie, and that’s all because of Gibson and his brilliant photographer John Toll. The best moments in the movie almost make you smell the mud and the blood and the sweat of these men giving everything they have for the concept of a free nation. When people see THE PATRIOT this summer, I think you’ll see that Gibson has taken this character as a template and actually added depth and pain to it. That’s not to take away from this film; just to acknowledge room for improvement.
Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
The film’s shameless. The ending is preposterously manipulative. But that doesn’t matter to Eastwood or Streep. They seem to have simply connected as performers, and the result is a more human and vibrant Clint than we’ve seen in almost anything he’s ever done. He lets that famous guard of his down here, and it fills in certain details about him as a man that we as an audience never knew before. I think Streep’s simple understated work here is ripe with longing, and she plays a very real woman, a woman who isn’t a superstar or a glamorous fantasy. She’s just someone who has a chance at something special and dangerous late in life, and rejects it for the safety of the life she’s built. The strength of her work keeps us from judging these two, or from judging their affair. It’s something that just happens, the electric spark of attraction, and the way they play it off one another is what makes this film worth a look.
Sharon Stone, CASINO
You have to give credit where credit is due. This is not the kind of performance an actress gives if she wants to be loved. This is like Michelle Pfeiffer’s Ice Queen character from SCARFACE with even less of a moral compass. Stone is a predator in this film, horrible and fascinating and always on the verge of meltdown. To watch her play the volcanic one and to see De Niro try to restrain himself with her is remarkable. It’s hard to be more convincingly psychotic than De Niro, yet he comes across as the stable one in this relationship. I think this is also the moment where Stone embraced the fact that she wasn’t going to be playing the “young” lead, no matter how hot she was after BASIC INSTINCT. This was her bid to become a working character actress, and I think it paid off.
Peter Greene, CLEAN, SHAVEN
This actor has a long history of personal trouble, and it derailed his career in a major way after the problems on the set of THE RICH MAN’S WIFE. It’s a shame, because this is one of those performances that should make someone a valuable commodity to Hollywood casting directors, just like Russell Crowe’s work in ROMPER STOMPER. It’s the kind of raw, brutal, dead honest performance work that is almost too much to look at, but which keeps you riveted from the film’s first frame to the last. Greene may have been wrestling with his own demons while making CLEAN, SHAVEN, and maybe that adds to the veracity of what we’re seeing onscreen. I hope that this broken soul has found some solace now. After seeing a glimpse of the personal abyss he teeters on in this film, I don’t think anyone should have to live like that.
Johny Depp and Gary Farmer, DEAD MAN
This was the year that Johnny Depp learned how to not only be a generous actor, but how to control a scene without overpowering it. He had already proven that he could turn in gentle supportive performances like the one he gives in GILBERT GRAPE, making way for the sensational central work by Leonardo Di Caprio. Here, he trades great comic deadpan dialogue with the wonderful Gary Farmer, and the interplay between the two is so rich, so nuanced, that one would swear some lifelong kinship between them. They click, and as a result, DEAD MAN becomes more than just a great piece of Western surrealism. It’s also an affecting portrait of an unlikely friendship.
Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, DEAD MAN WALKING
If there’s ever been a film featuring a true duet between actors, this is it. Penn and Sarandon were both already acknowledged as powerful character actors, but together they are incendiary. The last ten minutes of the film are are raw and emotional as any film’s ending I’ve seen, and it is because of our total acceptance of these people, our belief in these performances, that Tim Robbins was able to push DEAD MAN WALKING to such operatic heights. This is one to be studied.
Chris Tucker, DEAD PRESIDENTS
If you need proof that Chris Tucker is more than just a fast-talking con artist comic character, look no further than this, the woefully underrated second film by the Hughes Brothers. Tucker convincingly paints a portrait of a guy who starts off full of life, only to be scarred by his experience in Vietnam. He becomes a junkie, and his downward spiral is painted with convincing detail. It’s a sad performance, and it suggests real depth to Tucker that other directors just haven’t called on yet.
Don Cheadle, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS
Awesome. There’s no other word to describe the work Cheadle does in this film. Mouse, the best friend of Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington), is a complicated character in the original books, prone to quick violence for the most outrageous of reasons. He is deadly when provoked, and loyal to a fault. Cheadle brought him to full, convincing life in a role that really should have been Oscar nominated. This is one of those great injustices. Time will place this in perspective as we look back on what has already developed into a sensational character actor career, and eventually this will be recognized as the landmark portrayal that it is.
Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando, DON JUAN DEMARCO
And here’s Depp’s other remarkable acting tango of the year, a nimble little number opposite Brando, who may have given his last truly engaged performance here. He’s alive and funny and lighter than air as a psychiatrist whose life becomes entangled with that of a patient who believes himself to be the one and only Don Juan. Depp’s elaborate stories are shown to us in luscious flashback, and the only problem is that means we’re cutting away from the remarkable interplay between Depp and Brando. They seem to invigorate each other. Brando seems delighted by each of Depp’s moves, intoxicated by each flourish. It wakes him up, and we’re left with one last gift from an acting great.
Chris Tucker, FRIDAY
Just as DEAD PRESIDENTS sets the bar for what Tucker can do dramatically, FRIDAY sets the bar for what he can comedically. This is a damn funny movie, a simple, unassuming slice of life comedy with a wicked script by Ice Cube and DJ Pooh, directed with sly grace by F. Gary Gray. Part of the reason Tucker’s cartoonish persona plays so well here is because he’s bouncing off the rock-solid deadpan of Ice Cube. Tucker manages to be cool, ridiculous, threatening, and hysterical all in the same moment at times, and that’s what makes him so electric. You can’t look away when he’s onscreen in this film. Other filmmakers have tried to harness this comic energy, but no one’s succeeded this well yet.
Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis, and Lee Evans, FUNNY BONES
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that better captures the terror behind the eyes of a clown before. There is something horrifying about walking out in front of a crowd, looking for laughs. I’ve done this… worked as a comedian… and I can’t imagine doing it on a continuing basis. To me, it was a little slice of death each and every night, no matter how well it went once I was onstage. That time before, that anticipation, that acid burn of fear, wasn’t worth it. There’s a sequence at the beginning of this film where Oliver Platt flames out spectacularly while performing for a crowd that includes his father, a world famous comedian played to oily disapproving perfection by Jerry Lewis. It’s like no other sequence I’ve ever seen. You are inside Oliver Platt as the audience turns on him, as his act literally dies. You get a real taste of that stark primal fear, and director Peter Chesholm milks it for all its worth. It sets a high standard that the rest of the film works hard to meet. Thanks to the efforts of Lee Evans, there are many moments where the film matches that brilliant opening. Evans, who most Americans first saw in either MOUSE HUNT or THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, is a brilliant physical comic who reminds me of the some of the performers of the silent era. He also puts me in mind of Bill Irwin, a blissfully gifted performer who will be on screens later this year in THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS. Between Lewis, Platt, and Evans, there is this cross-pollination of comic timing and technique, and that’s sort of what the film is about. Watching these very different performers strike sparks off one another is what makes this film a gem worth seeking out.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mare Winningham, and Max Perlich, GEORGIA
Jennifer Jason Leigh is, simply put, the bravest actress of her generation, willing to go to the edge and beyond, time and time again. By this point, it would seem that we had seen every trick in her bag, but she continues to astound and amaze by adding new shades to the work she does. She doesn’t just play self-destructive... she manages to put us right inside that self-destructive, and make us understand where it comes from. This is no exception, and may be the finest role she’s had yet. She plays Sadie, younger sister to the successful, talented folk singer Georgia, played by Mare Winningham in a performance that has finally won me over to Winningham’s side. Sadie is the younger, less talented sister who has spent her whole life in Georgia’s shadow. She adores her sister, worships her, and desperately wants to be her, but that creates real friction between the two of them, since Georgia knows that Sadie will never achieve her goal, and Sadie knows that Georgia knows. Screenwriter Barbara Turner is also JJL’s real life mother, and has crafted a subtle, sweet, sometimes agonizing look at these two women who both love and hate one another, and she’s given every one of the actors here something to do. Max Perlich shows up as a grocery delivery boy who sees Sadie perform one night, then ends up as her biggest fan and husband. He struggles to help Sadie, and to protect her from the scariest thing in her life, herself. Her love of booze and drugs manages to get her bounced from the one band that will hire her in the first place, and in the end drives Perlich away when he realizes that he can’t win.
Since this is a movie about music, there is quite a bit of singing in it, all of it done by the actors themselves. Winningham does a wonderful job showing us why Georgia is a star, with a strong, unique voice and gallons of stage charisma. JJL, on the other hand, manages to give Sadie all the mellifluousness of sheet metal being run through a hay baler. She does a passable cover of Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue” early in the film, and you think maybe she won’t be too bad. But as the film progresses and Sadie deteriorates, her voice becomes harder and harder to take. It’s at an AIDS benefit that Georgia gets Sadie onstage for that she produces the film’s hardest moment. Sadie does a nine minute cover of Van Morrison’s “Take Me Back,” complete with all of Morrison’s mumbling and scatting, and it is a horrific thing to witness, like a trainwreck that you can do nothing about. Georgia, like the audience at the benefit, and the audience in the theater, is practically crawling out of her skin by the end of the number, and the only thing she can do is go out onstage to try and lend a little “backup” to her sister, adding some real harmony to the song. This manages to push Sadie right over the edge, being so publicly saved by her sister yet again, and drives a seemingly insurmountable wedge between them.
There is a very powerful emotional weight to this piece of work, made all the more poignant knowing that JJL saw her real life sister, Turner’s other daughter, go through the hell of heroin addiction. This movie isn’t about that, but it definitely informs it. And as far as telling a story with pictures, there is no image this year that communicates more about two characters than the shot under the opening credits of two small girls singing together for their family. Little Georgia is giving it all she has, and she’s wonderful, basking in the attention, while Little Sadie does her best to keep up, all of her attention on her sister, hoping a little of whatever it is that Georgia has will rub off on her. It’s a great image, and a great film.
John Travolta, GET SHORTY
Many people have accused me of having it in for John Travolta, or of not liking him. Au contraire. When Travolta is at his best, I consider him a topnotch comic performer, someone who is able to deflate his own image with precision and style. This film, the most accomplished thing Barry Sonnenfeld has directed to date, is a wonderful comic confection, a cartoon version of one of Elmore Leonard’s best romps. Whereas JACKIE BROWN tried to capture the reality of Leonard’s locations, GET SHORTY turns all of Los Angeles into one great big movie set. Travolta breezes through this film fully aware of the fact that he owns it. He is Chili. He is the coolest person in any given moment or situation. He will prevail. These things are given. The fun of the film comes from seeing how these things unfold. The twists and the characters Chili bumps into… these are the things that make GET SHORTY work, and the way Travolta plays off the great supporting cast in this film is generous and smart and skilled.
Ashley Judd, HEAT
This was an early step into the mainstream for Judd, who had already turned in some nice performances in smaller films. Here, she stands out as the bruised beauty married to volatile Val Kilmer. It’s not a particularly well-written role, but Judd sells it with every gesture, every look. Despite her piercing beauty, there’s something solid and real and unaffected about Judd on film. She may be stunning, but she’s still someone you could imagine meeting. That reality may explain her enormous appeal. It’s the same thing that I think draws people to Julia Roberts, a sort of natural charm that is impossible to put on. Here, we become invested in Judd because she demands it from us, not because of any favors Michael Mann’s script does her. That’s the sign of a star in the making.
Pruitt Taylor Vince, HEAVY
In a perfect world, there’d be a hell of a lot more work out there for this gifted, unique actor. You’ve seen Vince, even if you’re not familiar with his name. He’s a big guy, soft, with his hair typically close-cropped. It’s the eyes you’d remember, though. There’s something crazy about his eyes. They twitch manically from side to side at odd moments. He’s been used to great creepy effect in shows like THE X-FILES, where he had a terrifying showdown with Gillian Anderson’s Scully on a school bus. But in James Mangold’s wise, heartfelt little film HEAVY, Vince is given a role that he may never play again, and it is shattering to behold. Here, he’s the lead, the romantic heart of the film, nursing a secret infatuation with a new waitress in the small restaurant run by Vince and his mother, Shelly Winters. The waitress, played with an open honesty by Liv Tyler, never plays games with Vince or his affections, and that’s what makes the film so special. It’s about the way lives become entangled and how strange and blurry definitions of what we mean to each other can become. It’s about figuring out what’s important in your life and actually living. HEAVY is haunting long after you’ve seen it, and that’s a credit to Mangold’s fine touch as a director and to the fact that I cannot, no matter how hard I try, forget the eyes of Pruitt Taylor Vince in this film, his twitches never looking more like the only outward sign of the tremendous spirit locked inside this awkward exterior.
Nicholas Cage and Elizabeth Shue, LEAVING LAS VEGAS
“I’m a prickly pear!” Yes, indeed you are, Nick. This is one of the Nicholas Cage performances that helped define him as one of Hollywood’s very strangest leading men. Who else could slide back and forth between bizarre character studies like VAMPIRE’S KISS and mainstream dreck like HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, and manage to find fans in both types of film? This is one of the “real” Nicholas Cage roles, allowing him to dig into his portrayal of a loser who finds himself without his beautiful wife and child (whose absences are never fully explained), as well as without his job at a Hollywood studio. He decides to finalize his slide into obscurity by drinking himself to death. He cashes in everything, burns the possessions he no longer needs, packs up his car, and heads for Vegas, where he figures his money will last a little longer. It’s once he gets to Vegas that he meets Sera, a prostitute played with piercing honesty and pathos by Elisabeth Shue, who has simply never been this good in a movie. The two of them come to one another with no lies, no expectations, and no room for bullshit, and a strange bond develops between them, leading her to eventually move Cage into her apartment. He agrees to stay and be with her as long as she promises to never ask him to stop drinking. It’s when she buys him a beautiful flask to carry on his hip that he realizes, “I’m with the right girl.” This is a film about the conditions we place on love, the restrictions we place on our own hearts. These two people are both what would be called “losers” by anyone who bothered to pay attention to them, but they’re also survivors. They come to this relationship scarred, scared, and reluctant, and the two of them end up with one brief moment of something that can only be called “happiness” amidst a dark, disturbing world of shit. My personal problems with the film have to do with a few of the plot twists at the end, particularly the ugly, unneeded rape of Sera by a roomful of college guys. These few small quibbles, though, can’t detract from the simple power of the film, nor should they prevent anyone from seeing it.
Mira Sorvino, MIGHTY APHRODITE
Woody Allen and Helena Bonham Carter, both of whom are hard working, career oriented New Yorkers, decide they want to have a child. Since they can’t physically do it, they adopt a child. Years later, as their marriage falters, Allen begins to fantasize about the mother of his wonderful, perfect little boy. He sets out to find the woman, and is stunned when he learns that she is a hooker and sometimes porn actress who works under the name, “Judy Cum.” Played with real passion and zest by the lovely Mira Sorvino, this is one of the great comic portrayals of the year, and it is delightful to watch Allen wrestle with his own attraction to her. In the end, he attempts to set her up with a dim bulb of a boxer played by Michael Rappaport, hoping that if his son ever wants to meet his real mother, he will find her to be a woman worth meeting. I was so afraid that the film was going to become a sleazy riff on PYGMALION, but Allen avoids that, and Sorvino comes across much better because of it. Even though she’s a cartoon on the outside, Allen gives her enough reality to become genuinely touching over the course of the picture, and Sorvino runs with it. It’s a shame no one’s written her one role this good since.
Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen, NIXON
Hopkins and Allen are beyond compare as film actors, both of them praised by peers and critics in performance after performance, and the delicate balance they strike opposite each other in Oliver Stone’s surreal exploration of our most Shakespearean leader is truly magic to behold. Both of them create three dimensional portraits of real people, no simple trick, especially when both people have been so well and publicly documented. I don’t know who impresses me more in the end. Hopkins pulls off this bizarre, almost Chaney-esque turn as Nixon, but Allen’s “Plastic Pat” is extraordinary, beyond reproach. She is the human center of the film, since her actions are never monstrous or destructive. Instead, she’s an implosion, accepting the weight of her husband’s ambition, letting her world crush her. This is just one more example of why Allen is such a treasure, such a great artist, such a vital member of the film community.
Tim Roth, ROB ROY
You want to see what a great bad guy looks like, Hollywood? Check this film out. Watch the ending, in particular. Take some fucking notes.
Julianne Moore, SAFE
What is it about truly beautiful performers corrupting their own image? Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp subvert and demolish their pretty-boy natures with each role they choose. Julianne Moore seems to have done much the same thing here, trusting Todd Haynes to guide her through the emotionally perilous landscape of SAFE. She plays this almost like a little girl who is acting at being the woman of the house. She’s essentially helpless at the film’s start, playing a role she seems hardly able to manage. Her illness simply strips her of the few basic tools for survival she once had. She finds herself being far too real for most people to be able to handle. Her helplessness is difficult to look at. Her husband tries to reach out to her, but at the same time, we see his revulsion at what she’s becoming. It’s so brave of someone like Moore to take this sort of role and to vanish so completely into it. She could have chased the mainstream success that would come from doing nothing but THE LOST WORLD and HANNIBAL, but time and time again, she returns to the type of films and the type of roles that put her on the map, adventurous portrayals of women on the edge of life. Thank god for that.
Kate Winslet, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
This is one of those supporting performances that are designed to introduce some young actress and showcase just how gifted they are and propel them on to bigger roles and greater fame, and normally those types of roles bug the piss out of me because of how obvious they are about exactly what kind of roles they are. In this case, though, Emma Thompson’s exceedingly clever screenplay adaptation and Ang Lee’s remarkable, sensitive touch both combine to give Kate Winslet exactly the room she needed to take this role and run with it. She is moony, silly, little girl, but at the same time, there’s no denying that she is on the verge of being a woman. The combination can be off-putting if played wrong. From Winslet, it’s not just appealing, it’s entirely original. She takes this role, this potential clichÃ©, and she breathes real fire into it. She’s the first girl to have these feelings, the first girl to feel this much. Winslet manages to make this girl’s particular mania different than anything in HEAVENLY CREATURES, and it’s in those differences that we see the real depth of her craft. If she was this intuitive this early in her career as an actress, then we should expect truly breathtaking things from her in the coming years.
Kevin Spacey, SE7EN
Spacey appeared in two crime films this same year, and this one is really no more than a cameo. Even so, his performance is what stands out from this film for me above everything else. David Fincher uses Spacey to magnificent effect, holding him from the film for as long as he possibly can. When he finally gives us our first real scene with him, it’s that long ride out to the desert, and it’s just perfect. Spacey is the voice of an avenging angry god, the implacable conviction that only fire and blood will wash away the sins of the world. His calm, his quiet… that’s what makes John Doe so horrible. He doesn’t rant and rave and make terrible predictions. He simply knows that the world will end. His calm comes from knowing that he has already won any fight he might faces from Mills or Somerset. Spacey’s Doe haunts me far more than Hopkins’ Lector does. To me, this is the face of fear in the ‘90s… rational, plain, almost invisible.
Harvey Keitel and William Hurt, SMOKE
This is a mild pleasure, but one worth mentioning just because of how rarely Harvey Keitel gets to be this likeable onscreen. As Augie, the owner and operator of a small corner smoke shop, he’s at the heart of a series of interlocking stories, all adapted by Wayne Wang and Paul Auster from some of Auster’s short fiction. The film is ultimately about as solid as its title, but Keitel is a great center. He and William Hurt are both great actors who became marginalized more and more over the course of the decade for various reasons. It’s nice to see work this solid and substantial from both of them.
Nicole Kidman, TO DIE FOR
Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of cutthroat Suzanne Stone, an ambitious, amoral, and ultimately monstrous woman whose one goal in life is to become a newscaster for a major network is funny, savage, and fearless, and finally frees her from the unfair label of “Mrs. Tom Cruise.” She has never looked better in any other film, and that’s the point. This is a woman obsessed with image, determined to become the best manipulator of image that she can be. The film asks some hard questions about the desire to be famous, and it doesn’t really have the answers it seems to be reaching for. Overall, I’d call the picture modestly successful. There are certain key images and moments, though, that stick with me as if they were real. Kidman dancing in the headlights of the car… Joaquin Phoenix behind the wheel, watching, his heart and his head both full for this woman… it’s no wonder this kid thinks he’s found some small piece of heaven, no wonder he’s willing to kill to protect it. Even the illusion of that kind of happiness is too much for some people to handle, Van Sant seems to say, and he makes a persuasive case.
Chris Farley, TOMMY BOY
A moment of silence here. Farley was a gifted guy, and I think he would have carved out a niche for himself over time. Although I think of TOMMY BOY as a mild pleasure at best, there are people who love this film, and I think I understand why. It’s because Farley makes you want to take care of him. He’s practically E.T. in this movie, he’s so loveable. I think the word “lug” was created specifically to describe guys like Tommy. It’s nice that David Spade and Farley had one film where their special sparring chemistry was captured properly. More than anything, this film serves as a reminder of the potential that we lost when Farley died. For that reason alone, it’s worth seeing again, worth keeping Farley alive in some small way.
Tom Hanks, TOY STORY
I know, I know… it’s not news anymore. Tom Hanks can do everything. He’s remarkable. I’m soooo impressed. To be perfectly frank, I’m tired of being impressed by Tom Hanks. I don’t need him to gain 100 pounds then lose 200 just so I know he can act. In my heart of hearts, what I really want, more than anything, is for Tom Hanks to be funny more often. I’m one of those guys who watched BOSOM BUDDIES every week because I thought this guy was insane. I actually remember his TAXI appearance from the first time it was on, when it was one of my favorite moments on one of my favorite shows. I’ve been a fan of the funny Tom Hanks for a long time, and he seems to go further and further between appearances. One of the reasons I am thankful for the TOY STORY films is because they are, first and foremost, hysterically funny. Tom Hanks seems to be set free by becoming an animated voice. He is looser, edgier. There’s texture to his work as Woody in the first film that I was startled by. His complex relationship with Buzz Lightyear develops over a totally believable arc, and when they finally connect, they’ve earned it. Until then, there is plenty of time for Hanks to mine every single comic grace note out of variations in exasperation. Nothing makes me smile quite like him screaming, “You… ARE… A… TOY!!” at the nonplussed Buzz, or him interacting with the little green aliens in the presence of The Claw. This first movie still makes me belly laugh with each viewing. For now, it’ll have to hold me over till the next time Hanks goes for the funny bone.
Brad Pitt, 12 MONKEYS
It’s funny how certain motifs crop up in certain years. Here we have a performance that combines the kill-the-glamour edge of Julianne Moore’s work in SAFE with the freaky unpredictability of Nic Cage in LEAVING LAS VEGAS and the distinctive twitchy eyes of Pruitt Taylor Vince in HEAVY, somehow managing to blend into something wholly original in the form of Jeffrey Goines, the demented son of a biogenetical engineer who may hold the key to the destruction of mankind. Brad Pitt is funny and scary at the same time, a trick he pulled off in a totally different way in 1999’s FIGHT CLUB. Here, there’s an air of the pathetic to Goines, but when it counts, he’s able to put things together and make things happen. He is genuinely dangerous, genuinely crazy, and he never settles into the role that most Hollywood films would give him, becoming the safe and predictable bad guy. Instead, Goines is just a force of nature that rolls through the movie, leaving confusion and damage in his wake.
Kevin Spacey, THE USUAL SUSPECTS
I don’t think there was any pleasure more singular in 1995 than that last three minutes of THE USUAL SUSPECTS, when everything comes together, when the full nature of the story of Keyser Soze becomes apparent, and at the center of that mule kick of an ending was none other than Kevin Spacey, adding one final physical grace note to a performance that is more hypnosis than acting over the course of the film’s two hours. This is one of those moments where I fully agree with him winning the Oscar. This is the very definition of a spectacular supporting turn. It literally holds the film together without ever seeming to be front and center, and it’s Spacey’s deft touch that makes it all pay off.
Heather Matarazzo and Brendan Sexton III, WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE
I find that in my own writing, I am often hesitant to write young characters for fear that the right actors won’t be found and we’ll be stuck with kids playing pretend, something fake and stiff that simply won’t deliver what was intended. Todd Solondz took a huge chance with this film, and his risk paid off when he found these young performers, both of whom have next to impossible roles to pull off. Matarazzo is great, surrendering to her full dork potential, not worried about appearances, simply living this role to the best of her ability. She’s so heartbreaking here. Sexton also manages to walk a peculiar tightrope. When he tells Dawn to meet him after school so he can “rape” her, it’s shocking, but he and Dawn are both so damaged, so confused, so mixed up about self-worth and desire that this leads to some sort of connection, and even friendship. He plays the tough exterior and the softer inside both with equal aplomb, something that escapes actors twice his age at times. Together, they offer up one of the most unflinching portraits of adolescence in American film.
When people ask me about my favorite comic book adaptations, this strange obscure MTV series that brought life to Sam Keith’s surreal strip is always something that leaps to mind. The actual technique of the storytelling brings the best of both comics and animation to play, and the combination is appealing, feels fresh. In the end, I don’t know that I really completely care about the characters here, although I am surprised by the emotional heft of Julie and the others… it’s the style of the thing that deserves to be looked at again and absorbed by others in the same game.
“MR. SHOW WITH BOB AND DAVID”
I’ve said it on this site before, and I’ll say it on this site again. MR. SHOW is the single best sketch comedy show to premiere since KIDS IN THE HALL. The entire rotating ensemble on the show, all of them culled from the alternative Los Angeles comedy scene that’s still spawning delights like Tenacious D, The Southern California Girl’s Guitar Club, and Naked Trucker, are all gifted performers in their own right. This venue, though, and the freedom that MR. SHOW has thanks to being aired on HBO, guarantees week after week that this is one comedy show that has genuine bite, that isn’t afraid to lacerate for effect, and that will not be tamed.
As people buzzed and rumbled over the first season of THE SOPRANOS, I noticed that the way they were all talking was the way I felt during the first year of Stephen Bochco’s big experiment. This was a LAW & ORDER style show designed to follow one case over the course of an entire season, moving from a crime to the investigation to the trial to the aftermath. For whatever reason, the format didn’t click with the public, but what they missed when they tuned out was a searing look inside the judicial system played out through the filter of the trial of a movie star accused of murder. One of the things that makes this season an all-time television milestone is the performance given by Stanley Tucci as Richard Cross, a shady billionaire on the periphery of the case. It was masterful work, and each new revelation about Cross gave Tucci a chance to hit new highs. Right now, there’s no way to view this remarkable run of shows, but I hope one day to have the chance to view it again, to lose myself in that case one more time, and to enjoy the final, brutal, shocking episodes with fresh eyes. Here’s hoping you get that chance, as well.
"I can't claim that I knew Ted well... but I do know that he had his passions. STAR WARS was one... and apparently he was also a devoted member... of the Ku Klux Klan... a fact I only learned moments ago. Sure wish someone had mentioned it... but there you have it. Oh, it says here that he also loved tennis."
Hearing David Foley stammer that half-hearted eulogy to a room full of sheet-clad Klansmen is just one of the plethora of delights that were offered to us over the course of the run of this always brilliant, always wicked comedy created by Paul Simms, co-creator of the equally wicked THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. You want to talk about a great comedy ensemble for a television show? Pound for pound, NEWSRADIO kills them all. Andy Dick, Foley, Maura Tierney, Vicki Lewis, the demented Stephen Root, Joe Rogan, Khandi Alexander, and the exceptional, much-missed Phil Hartman… these people made music each week. The laughs here were lunatic, willing to go to any lengths, and I can rewatch these shows again and again and always find some new nuance to enjoy. I think this may be the most underappreciated great program to have ever managed to sneak a handful of seasons on the air. It lost some steam after the death of Hartman, but even then, there was more to recommend than in the entire runs of SUDDENLY SUSAN, VERONICA’S CLOSET, and JESSE combined.
AND, FINALLY, A MOMENT OF SILENCE, PLEASE, FOR...
That's all for now. I'll be back next week with a look at the CONAN that never was, an interview with Nick Park and Peter Lord, a look at more new New Line DVDs, and much, much more, including 1996's wrap-up!! Until then... "Moriarty" out.