Scenes That I Love: The Awards Ceremony From Boogie Nights


I would like to think that when the Palme d’Or is awards in Cannes, it’ll be half as exciting as when Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) picked up his second Best Actor trophy in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

Now, the scene below is actually the extended version of the scene that actually appeared in the movie.  In the movie, you just see Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) watching his latest film and then cut to Dirk picking up his award.  In the extended version, we get to see everyone’s reaction to Dirk winning.  They’re all there — Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, Nina Hartley, John C. Reilly, Melora Waters, Luis Guzman, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, Robert Ridgely (as the memorably corrupt Colonel), and, of course, the dearly missed Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I can understand why Anderson chose to go with a shortened version of this scene.  Boogie Nights is a long film and obviously, it wasn’t totally necessary to see how everyone reacted to Diggler’s victory.  (By that point, in the film, we already knew how everyone felt about him.)  That said, I do prefer the extended version.  If nothing else, it’s a reminder that Boogie Nights was more than just the story of Dirk Diggler.  Instead, it was the story of a group of outcasts who became a family.

Anyway, let’s hope that whoever wins the Palme d’Or will be a bit more enthusiastic about it than Dirk.

A Movie A Day #181: Guilty As Sin (1993, directed by Sidney Lumet)


When wealthy playboy David Greenhill (Don Johnson, doing a one-note Michael Douglas impersonation) is accused of throwing his wife out of a window, there’s only one lawyer who he wants to defend him.  Jennifer Haines (Rebecca De Mornay) may have just won a huge case but it is obvious that the only reason that David wants her on his team is because she’s sexy as Hell and David has an obsessive streak.  Still, despite the misgivings of her boyfriend (Stephen Lang) and her mentor (Jack Warden), she takes the case, convinced that she is the only attorney smart enough to be able to get David acquitted.

It becomes very obvious that David is not only probably guilty but that he might be a serial killer as well.  Not only does he start to turn up everywhere that Jennifer goes but, protected by attorney/client privilege, he starts to tell her all of his dark secrets.  Jennifer finds herself trapped into defending an obviously guilty client, one who appears to be setting her up to be his next victim.  Even when he fails to pay her for her services, the trial judge refuses to allow Jennifer to quit the case.

Back in the 90s, Guilty As Sin used to frequently show up on late night HBO and Cinemax.  I always watched because I had a crush on Rebecca De Mornay and I bet I was not alone as far as that’s concerned.  Late night cable is where Guilty As Sin belongs, which makes it strange that this weak and implausible movie was directed by Sidney Lumet.  One of the legitimately great American directors, Lumet directed several classic courtroom thrillers over the course of his career.  Guilty As Sin is not one of them.  This is probably the most impersonal film that Lumet ever made.  Other than the presence of Lumet favorite Jack Warden, there is nothing about Guilty As Sin that would lead anyone to think that it had been directed by the same man responsible for 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, or Prince of the City.

Fortunately, though Guilty As Sin was one of his Lumet’s last films as a director, it was not his final film.  Released in 2007, Lumet’s final film was a crafty thriller called Before The Devil Knows Your Dead, which showed that, at the age of 83, Lumet was still one of the greats and that Guilty As Sin was just a minor bump in an otherwise brilliant career.

Film Review: Keanu (dir by Peter Atencio)


12829114_1216777971683294_3106090959957069555_o

“KEANU!”

Meow!

“ARE YOU OKAY, KEANU!?”

Meow!

Greetings, fellow lovers of movies and cats!  So, Jeff and I just saw the new comedy, Keanu.  It’s the first film to star the quickly-becoming legendary comedy team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele and it’s full of the type of humor that made their Comedy Central show, Key & Peele, such a success.  Perhaps even more importantly, the film stars an amazingly adorable little kitten!

You’ve seen the trailer, right?  You know how, when Peele first holds up his new kitten, Key immediately starts laughing and says, “Oh my God, that’s the cutest cat I’ve ever seen in my life!?”  Well, he’s not lying.  While I don’t think any cat is cuter than that one that I live with, Keanu the Kitten is definitely the cutest cat that I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Add to that, this kitten can act!  When this kitten stares, you truly believe that he’s listening to the dialogue being exchanged.  When he runs through a gunfight while bullets fly around him, you truly believe that this kitten is running for his life and you breathe a sigh of relief when he survives.  When he meows, your heart melts with each squeaky sound.  This is one amazingly talented kitten!

And it’s not surprising the everyone in the film wants Keanu.  The 17th Street Blips (led by Method Man and created as the result of a merger between the Bloods and the Crips) not only want Keanu but they want to rename him New Jack as well.  Their rival (played by Luis Guzman) wants Keanu and plans to rename him Eglesias.  Two mysterious assassins — the much feared, very sadistic, and always silent Allentown Boys — want Keanu too.  Since they don’t speak, they never say what they want to name him but it would probably be something cool.

And what really makes the film work is that none of them have a reason for wanting Keanu beyond the fact that he is literally the cutest kitten in Los Angeles.  This film is full of dangerous and violent people but all of them love this cat.  Everyone wants Keanu.

Well, I should say that everyone wants Keanu except for Anna Faris, who plays herself.  All Anna Faris wants is a chance to do the latest designer drug, Holy Shit.  (“It’s like smoking crack with God!” Method Man explains.)  It’s probably a good thing that Anna Faris doesn’t want a cat because, as this movie reveals, she also has a potentially dangerous fascination with sharp swords and playing truth or dare.

Of course, Keanu technically belongs to Rell (Jordan Peele).  They say that cats chose their owners and Keanu definitely does that when he shows up outside of Rell’s house.  Rell has just been dumped by his girlfriend and existence has no meaning for him.  But once Keanu shows up, Rell again learns to embrace life.  He spends two weeks taking pictures of Keanu reenacting scenes from classic movies.  But when the 17th Street Blips break into his house, mistakenly thinking that Rell has a supply of Holy Shit, they take Keanu for themselves.

Rell and his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) team up to track down and retrieve Keanu from the Blips but there’s a problem.  Rell may brag about growing up in New York and Clarence may have stories about his childhood on the streets of Detroit but both of them are painfully out-of-place in the violent world of Blips and Anna Faris.  (Clarence is obsessed with George Michael while Rell “sounds like John Ritter all the time.”)  Fortunately, Rell and Clarence happen to look exactly like the Allentown Boys.  Method Man makes a deal with them.  If Rell and Clarence — who are now going by the names TekTonic and Sharktank — train the Blips then he will give them Keanu.

(Method Man’s character is actually named Cheddar.  Jeff just pointed out to me that Method Man previously played a character named Cheese on The Wire.)

While Rell struggles to fit in with the Blips, the nominally more straight-laced Clarence (who, unlike Rell, doesn’t even smoke weed) is soon having the time of his life.  It turns out that Clarence specializes in corporate team building and he’s excited to introduce these techniques to Blips.  (During one shootout, Clarence proudly announces, “They’re communicating!”)

Admittedly, Keanu is an uneven film.  It’s essentially a collection skits and some of them are funnier than others.  However, Key and Peele both bring so much commitment to bringing this insane story to life that they literally carry the audience over the occasional rough spot.  It may not be perfect but it’s a film that announces that, whether on TV or in the movies, Key & Peele are a comedic force to be reckoned with.

Plus, that kitten is so damn cute!

(And, in case you were wondering, Keanu Reeves does make an appearance of sorts.)

This film is 90 minutes of laughter and that’s certainly something that we all need right now!  See Keanu!

(Since you’ve probably already seen the trailer for Keanuhere it is, if you haven’t — let’s close this review with some exclusive audition footage.)

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #93: Boogie Nights (dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)


Boogie_nights_ver1The 1997 film Boogie Nights (which, amazingly enough, was not nominated for best picture) is a bit of an overwhelming film to review.  It’s a great film and, if you’re reading this review, you’ve probably seen Boogie Nights and you probably already know that it’s a great film.  And if you haven’t seen Boogie Nights, you really should because it’s a great film.  So, this review, in short, amounts to: Great film.

Boogie Nights takes place in the late 70s and the early 80s.  Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a high school dropout who works as a busboy, lives with his parents, and has a really big cock.  (Indeed, one of the film’s most famous lines is, “This is a giant cock.”)  When we first meet Eddie, he’s likable and cute in a dumb sort of way.  Then he meets adult film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and becomes a star.  At first, everything is great.  Eddie changes his name to Dirk Diggler and no longer has to deal with his abusive mother (a chilling Joanna Gleason).  Jack and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) become his new parents.  He gets a cool older brother in the form of actor Reed Rothschild (John C. Reilly, totally nailing the “People tell me that I look like Han Solo,” line).  He makes friends with other adult film actors, like the desperately unhip Buck (Don Cheadle), the free-spirited (and secretly very angry) Rollergirl (Heather Graham), and the poignantly insecure Jessie St. Vincent (Melora Walters).  He gets new admirers, like Scotty J. (Philip Seymour Hoffman).  He also gets addicted to cocaine.  And while Dirk falls from stardom, the adult film industry is taken over by gangsters like Floyd Gondolli (Philip Baker Hall) and self-styled artists like Jack Horner find themselves pushed to the side.

And you may have noticed that I mentioned a lot of actors in the paragraph above.  That’s because Boogie Nights is a true ensemble piece.  It’s full of great performances and memorable characters.  Along with everyone that I mentioned above, the cast also includes William H. Macy as cinematographer “Little Bill” Daggett.  From the minutes we first meet Little Bill, we get the feeling that he might be a little bit too uptight for pornography.  Maybe that’s because his wife — played by the inspiring sex positive feminist and veteran adult film star Nina Hartley — is constantly and publicly cheating on him.  Macy and Hartley do not have as much screen time as the rest of the cast but, ultimately, their characters are two of the most important in the film.

And then there’s Robert Ridgely, who is marvelously sleazy as the paternal but ultimately icky Col. James.  When we first meet the Colonel, he’s almost a humorous character.  But then, suddenly, there’s one chilling scene where he opens up to Jack Horner and we are forced to reconsider everything that we had previously assumed about both the Colonel and his business.

And how can we forget Luis Guzman, as a club owner who desperately wants to appear in one of Jack’s films?  Or Ricky Jay as a plain-spoken cameraman?  Or how about Thomas Jane, playing one of those tightly wound characters who you know is going to be trouble as soon as you see him?  And finally, nobody who has seen Boogie Nights will ever forget Alfred Molina, singing along to Sister Christian and running down the street, clad only in black bikini briefs and firing a shotgun.

But it’s not just the actors who make Boogie Nights a great film.  This was Paul Thomas Anderson’s second film and, under his direction, we feel as if we’ve been thrown straight into Dirk’s exciting and ultimately dangerous world.  When the film begins, the camera almost seems to glide, capturing the excitement of having everything that you could possibly want.  But, as things go downhill for Dirk, the camerawork gets more jittery and nervous.   A sequence where Anderson cuts back and forth between Jack trying to shoot a movie on video (as opposed to his beloved film) and Dirk nearly being beaten to death in a parking lot remains one of the best sequences that Anderson has ever directed.

And then there’s the music!  Oh my God!  The music!

And the dancing!

And the singing!

I’ll be the first admit that I have no idea whether or not Boogie Nights is a realistic portrait of the adult film industry in the 70s and 80s.  But ultimately, Boogie Nights is not about porn.  It’s about a group of outsiders who form their own little family.  At the end of the film, you’re happy that they all found each other.  You know that Dirk will probably continue to have problems in the future but you’re happy for him because, no matter what happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future, you know that he’s found a family that will always love him.

As I mentioned at the start of this appreciation, Boogie Nights was not nominated for best picture.  Titanic was named the best picture of 1997.  As I’ve said before, I loved Titanic when I was 12.  But, nearly 18 years later, Boogie Nights is definitely the better picture.

It has stood the test of time.

 

Shattered Politics #69: Traffic (dir by Steven Soderbergh)


Traffic2000Poster

I have mixed feelings about Steven Soderbergh.  On the one hand, his talent cannot be denied and you have to respect the fact that he’s willing to take chances and make films like The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant.  On the other hand, he’s also the director who has been responsible for overrated messes like Contagion and utter pretentious disasters like Haywire.  And it doesn’t help that Soderbergh’s fanbase seems to be largely made up of the type of hipsters who end up leaving comments under the articles at The A.V. Club.  Some people mourned Soderbergh’s retirement.  Personally, I think he made the right decision.  He retired before his misfires ended up outnumbering all of his masterpieces.

The thing about Soderbergh is that his good films are so good that it makes it all the more frustrating to watch his failures.  If Soderbergh was just your typical bad director than a film like Contagion wouldn’t be as annoying.  But this is the man who also gave us Traffic!

And Traffic is a very good film.

First released in 2000, Traffic attempted to deal with the American war on drugs, a war that the film suggests might not even be worth fighting.  (Full disclosure: I support the legalization of drugs and, for that matter, just about everything else.  And yes, I am biased towards films that agree with me.  So is every other film critic out there.  The difference is that I’m willing to admit it.)  Traffic won four Oscars, including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Benicio Del Toro.  It was also nominated for best picture but lost to Gladiator.

Traffic tells three, barely connected stories.  Each story is given its own distinct look, feel, and color scheme.  And while it takes a few minutes to get used to film’s visual scheme, it ultimately works quite well.  Though all of the film’s characters share the same general existence, they live in different worlds.  The only thing linking them together is drugs.

Judge Andrew Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is a judge on the Ohio Supreme Court who has recently been named as the new drug czar.  However, while Judge Wakefield is going around the country and talking to politicians (Harry Reid shows up playing himself and is just as creepy as always), his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) is dating Seth (Topher Grace) and getting addicted to cocaine and heroin.  When Caroline run away, Judge Wakefield recruits Seth and, using him as a guide, searches the ghetto for his daughter.

The Wakefield scenes are bathed in cold and somber blues.  They’re beautiful to look at but, in some ways, they’re also some of the weakest in the film.  The whole plotline of Caroline going from being an innocent honor’s student to being a prostitute who sells her body for heroin feels a lot like the notorious anti-drug film Go Ask Alice.  At the same time, it’s interesting and a little fun to see Topher Grace playing such a little jerk.  Grace gets some of the best lines in the film, especially when he attacks Wakefield’s feelings of smug superiority.

In the film’s second storyline, two DEA Agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) arrest drug trafficker Eddie Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer).  Eddie works for the Ayala syndicate and, once he’s arrested, he turns informant.  Drug lord Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer) is arrested.  While Carlos sits on trial, his pregnant wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and his sleazy business associate (Dennis Quaid) struggle to hold together the business and find a way to kill Ruiz before he can testify.

This storyline is filmed in bright and vibrant colors and why not?  The Ayalas are rich and, unlike the Wakefields, they don’t feel the need to hide their material wealth.  This is actually probably my favorite storyline, largely because it’s the best acted and the most entertaining.  Miguel Ferrer, in particular, steals every scene that he’s in.  The scene where he explains the economics of being a drug trafficker is fascinating to watch.

The Ayala storyline may be my favorite but the film’s most thought-provoking storyline is the third one.  Taking place in Mexico, it stars Benicio Del Toro as Javier Rodriguez, a casually corrupt police officer who gets recruited to work for General Salazar (Tomas Milian), who is heading up Mexico’s war on the cartels.  Following the orders of Salazar, Javier captures assassin Frankie Flowers (Clifton Collins, Jr.) who is then savagely tortured by Salazar until he turns informer.  Javier comes to realize that Salazar is actually working for one of Mexico’s cartels.  When he decides to inform on Salazar, he puts his own life at risk.

The Mexico storyline is also the harshest and visually, it reflects that fact.  The heat literally seems to be rising up from the desert and the streets of Tijuana.  It takes a few minutes to adjust to the look of the Mexico scenes but, once you do, they become enthralling.

And Traffic, as a film, is undeniably enthralling as well.  Soderbergh deftly juggles the multiple storylines and brings them together to create a portrait of a society that’s being destroyed by the efforts to save it.  Hopefully, if Soderbergh ever does come out of retirement, he’ll give us more films like Traffic and less films like Contagion.

 

Film Review: In the Blood (dir by John Stockwell)


in-the-blood-1

Do you remember Haywire?

Haywire was an action film that came out in 2011.  It briefly got a lot of attention because it starred MMA fighter Gina Carano in her feature film debut and it was directed by Steven Soderbergh.  I have to admit that I didn’t care much for Haywire.  Some of that is because Gina Carano herself didn’t seem to be a very good actress but my main issue with the film was with Steven Soderbergh.  Don’t get me wrong — I know that Soderbergh can be a genius.  However, he’s also a remarkably pretentious filmmaker.  Sometimes that pretension works, like with The Girlfriend Experience.  But, in the case of Haywire, all the pretension served to do was to make a thin story even more annoying.

John Stockwell, on the other hand, is a director who is the very opposite of pretentious.  Whereas Soderbergh often makes genre films that try too hard to be art, Stockwell makes genre films that are so unapologetic about being genre that they often become art despite themselves.  Stockwell may never be as acclaimed as Soderbergh but, on the whole, he’s a much more consistent filmmaker.

Take In The Blood for instance.  In the Blood came out earlier this year, got thoroughly mediocre reviews, and disappeared from theaters pretty quickly.  When I watched it last night, I had very low expectations.

But you know what?

In the Blood isn’t bad.

In fact, it’s a perfectly entertaining and, ultimately, rather empowering film.

In In The Blood, Gina Carano plays Ava.  Ava, we quickly learn, has led a difficult life.  Raised in extreme poverty by a father who taught her early how to fight and how to defend herself, Ava is a former drug addict.  When she goes to rehab, she meets and falls in love with fellow addict Derek (Cam Gigandet).  Once they’re both clean, Ava and Derek marry despite the concerns of Derek’s wealthy father (Treat Williams).

For their honeymoon, Derek and Ava go to the type of Caribbean island where bad things always happen in movies like In The Blood.  They meet Manny (Ismael Cruz Cordova), who agrees to be their guide on the island.  One night, Manny takes them out to a club where Ava ends up getting into a huge fight with literally everyone on the dance floor, including a local gangster played by Danny Trejo.  The next morning, Manny takes them zip lining but Derek ends up plunging from the zip line and crashing down to the ground below.  He’s rushed to the hospital where he promptly vanishes.

Despite being ordered to return to America by police chief Luis Guzman, Ava is determined to figure out what has happened to her husband and she’s willing to beat up the entire island to do it…

Obviously inspired (much like almost every other low-budget action film released over the past few years) by Taken, In The Blood is a familiar but enjoyable burst of pulp fiction.  As opposed to Soderbergh’s approach to Haywire, Stockwell doesn’t worry about trying to disguise the genre roots of In The Blood.  Instead, he simply tells the story and he tells it well.  In The Blood is a film that’s full of beautiful island scenery, villainous character actors, and enjoyable melodramatic dialogue.  The pace never falters and the action is exciting.  In a few years, the club fight scene will be remembered as a classic of action cinema.

And best of all, Gina Carano kicks ass!  In The Blood gives her a chance to show what she can actually do when she has a director who is willing to get out of her way.  As opposed to Haywire, where she often seemed to get lost amongst all of Soderbergh’s showy techniques, Gina Carano gives a confident and determined performance in In The Blood.  After having to sit through countless action films where every female character is either a victim or a pawn, there is something so wonderful about seeing a movie where a woman gets to do something more than whimper and beg.  Regardless of how predictable the film’s plot may be, the fact that it’s a woman — as opposed to a man — who is getting to kick ass (and look good while doing it!) serves to make In The Blood something of a minor masterpiece of the pulp imagination.

If nothing else, In The Blood shows that sometimes it’s best to keep things simple.

Guilty Pleasure No. 10: The Substitute (dir. by Robert Mandel)


the-substitute-movie-poster-1996-1020204941

The most recent entry in the Guilty Pleasure series had Lisa Marie waxing poetically about the idealistic teacher in the “jungle” film The Principal. I counter and follow this up with a similar-themed film called The Substitute that came and went very quickly in the theaters (I’m not even sure if it did or just went straight to video) in 1996.

The Substitute stars veteran actor Tom Berenger (you may remember him in such films as Platoon, Major League and Sniper) as a Vietnam vet mercenary who ends up substituting as the substitute teacher for his girlfriend’s high school class as she recovers from an attack that has left her unable to teach. The girlfriend was played by one Diane Venora who in the very same year was in another little film called Heat by Michael Mann. These two polar opposite films in terms of their “quality” just shows you that when it comes to acting, unless one was a recognizable name then any role is a good role it seems.

Getting back to the film, Berenger’s character is the titular substitute in one of Miami’s worst inner-city high schools where, as the film’s tagline proudly proclaims, the most dangerous things about it was the students. That is until Berenger’s character shows up to find out who attacked his girlfriend and bring down the wrath of God himself (or at least Berenger’s character and members of his old mercenary team).

The film isn’t what one would call very subtle. We clearly see either two types of teachers in this school. There’s Berenger and his girlfriend who care for the young teens (the former woth tough love and the latter going about it in a more liberal sense) and then there are those who have given up on the school and just cashing in on a paycheck. This goes to the extreme with the school’s principal (played by Ernie Hudson) who begins to suspect that the new substitute might be more than he appears.

It’s the passive-aggressive interaction between the two roles played by Berenger and Hudson that made for some of the more hilarious sequences in the film.

Oh, another thing the film also involves a dangerous high school gang that uses the school as if it’s their own little fiefdom and the local drug kingpin using it as a way station to move heroin into the Miami inner-city school system. Oh, did I happen to mention that Marc Anthony plays the leader of the high school gang, because he sure does.

The Substitute almost plays out like how a teacher fed up with the inattentiveness of his students and the stress of doing a thankless job imagines the perfect scenario to “clean-up” the high school. It’s not through coddling and talking things out with the students. It’s about using military tactics to take out the dangers of gangs and drug dealers and tough love on those who are still worth saving.

Some have called the film as blatantly racist while others have pointed out how it is just an extreme version of the longstanding storyline of the educated and civilized white man saving the “natives” from themselves. What this film has over other school films of similar themes is how it doesn’t try to sugarcoat and hide behind ideals when it comes to it’s story. Plus, it’s such a guilty pleasure to see a typical 80’s action flick dressed up to be a late 90’s film. They really don’t make films like this anymore.