Vulgar

The film fails on pretty much every level. The main character is a clown yet the actor who plays him has no sense of comedic timing. The film’s pacing and plot change gears so often and so poorly, watching it is like riding with a student driver first learning on a standard transmission car.

The subject matter of the film is far too dark to be treated comedicly. I’m not sure how long the film’s rape scene actually is, maybe 10 minutes, but it felt like 30. And that’s not even the most disturbing scene in the film. Yet 2 minutes later we are expected to laugh at silly trivial material. It doesn’t work.

Even the soundtrack is so loud and grating it’s physically painful and, at the screening I was at, the director overrode the complaints of audience members demanding it be turned down. That’s inexcusable. No film should ever attempt to physically hurt its audience.

In the end the film is forced to introduce ridiculous strings of coincidences in order to avoid a realistic response from its main character and allow a forced happy ending. It doesn’t work, on any level, ever. The only positive thing I can say about writer/director/actor Bryan Johnson is that he saves the best, most realistic dialogue for the character he plays himself. His character doesn’t seem like he belongs in this movie but, then again neither did anyone else, neither did I and neither do you.

“Vulgar” is what it claims to be. I give it a 1 out 10 and I think I’d rather gouge my own eyes out than see it again.

Rating: F
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The Sum of All Fears

The bottom line: if you go in expecting a “Jack Ryan movie” in the vein of the Harrison Ford films, you may come out disappointed. However, on its own terms, it’s an enjoyable and well-made thriller.

The biggest complaint about this film has been, from day one, the casting of Ben Affleck as Ryan. Now, this isn’t the same Ryan that Harrison Ford portrayed. Instead, Affleck’s Ryan is still trying to find his feet in the chaotic world of intelligence. Our first encounter with him in the office is watching a video and debating whether or not the Russian President has gained or lost weight. When this Russian President dies and is replaced by a person Ryan has done research on, he is rapidly elevated into the halls of power, and doesn’t know how to respond. Affleck may not be a great actor, but he does nicely here. He doesn’t try to fill Ford’s shoes, but instead makes the character his own.

Affleck is helped by two things. First is a script that neither looks down on the audience or looks away from the hard moments. Fortunately, there are no bad one-liners in the film, even though there could have been. The script doesn’t hesitate to be funny, but also doesn’t force humor out of inappropriate situations. The film isn’t riddled with sparkling dialogue (although, be honest, did you expect it to ber), but the characters seem realistic and intelligent. Second, the script doesn’t cut away. There’s a major terrorist attack during the course of the film, and we see it and its aftermath pretty explicitly. People die (including important characters), and people are killed. The script is probably the most faithful adaptation of Clancy’s text of the films, skipping from location to location and dropping us into situations we know little or nothing about and forcing us to find our way around. It’s intelligent enough that it doesn’t feel like a “dumbed down” version of a film, which was a big worry of mine.

The second major help for Affleck is a dynamite supporting cast. Morgan Freeman is, as always, solid as the Director of the CIA who “discovers” Ryan. James Cromwell puts in solid work as the President, and he manages to have enough charisma to make you believe he IS the President rather than an actor playing the President. The President’s advisors are given character by Alan Bates, best known as a stage actor, and Ron Rifkin, putting in a VERY different turn from his current work on Alias as the resident peacenik. Finally, Liev Schrieber manages to endow John Clark, perhaps Clancy’s only truly interesting character, with both the ability to kill and the knowledge that killing is bad.

Does the film fail at timesr Yes. Sometimes, it globe trots a little much, and the final 30 minutes are too hectic for their own good, with lots of yelling about “order the strike!” Finally, Bridget Moynahan feels tacked on in her part as Ryan’s girlfriend, especially in a couple of scenes in the middle of the third act, where she serves as a distraction from the tension in the main plot.

Despite the occasional failings, the film is a hell of a lot better than last year’s Memorial Day offering with Affleck, and actually manages to work, at least for much of its length. It’s mainstream and a bit cookie-cutter, but that’s not always a bad thing. Pick up some popcorn and a Coke, and enjoy the ride.

Rating: B-
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Chelsea Walls

Little wonder the unknown filmmaker with a half decent idea is unable to catch a break. Yet another better known personality has squandered their chances on their directorial debut, as in this case, where Ethan Hawke has brought such crass pabulum to the screens that future film financiers can point to this mess as another excuse why experimental digital cinema needs to be kept on an extremely tight leash.

Chelsea Walls must have been one of those “good ideas at the time” movies… get a famous actor to make his directorial debut, have him cast his wife and a bunch of actors he has either friends with and/or has worked with in the past and/or has always wanted to work with, and find him a screenplay by a neophyte playwright which is a love letter of sorts to the building he admires and has resided in. Punks and film fans know the Chelsea as the place where Sid Vicious killed Nancy Spungeon. Music fans know the hotel as the place where Jimi Hendrix once resided, and literary fans are aware of the many acclaimed plays Arthur Miller wrote while living amongst its hallowed walls, as well as the place where Dylan Thomas died. And now, thanks to Hawke, the Chelsea will live in infamy as the centerpiece in what will likely end up being the worst film of 2002.

How bad is Chelsea Wallsr How about a couple hundred walkouts at the screening I attended, a good portion coming during one particularly painful dialogue between costars Kris Kristofferson and Tuesday Weld which might have only been two or three minutes in length, but seemed to drag on for half an hour. It was during these scene, less than halfway through the movie, that the person who invited me to this screening left. I stayed, if only because it would be improper to trash a bad movie I did not stay to watch till the end. By the end of the film, I wanted something like a Crux Du Candlestick, a little pin the San Francisco Giants used to give people who not only braved an evening of watching the Giants at home but surviving the brutal elements that would chill an Eskimo.

The movie itself is about a number of the bohemians who populate the hotel during a specific 24 hour period. Over the nearly two hour running time we are introduced to over two dozen characters of which only one, the drunken writer played by Kristofferson, do we spent any amount of time with to call a real character. The remainder of the dwellers are poets and musicians who try to draw their inspiration from the ghosts who allegedly haunt the building, never once realizing what makes one a good poet or musician is not the muse of a non-existent spectre but talent and practice. Instead of character development, the audience is forced to sit through rambling speech after rambling conversation about how every thought they have has so much resonance to their surroundings, yet these speeches go on for so long, we have completely forgotten any point they may have been trying to make by the time each story ends.

I don’t know what Hawke was thinking while shooting this film, but there is no excuse for bad cinematography, especially when the DP is one of my personal heroes, Tom Richmond. Richmond is probably the best cameraman you have never heard of, even though you have likely seen his work with Roger Avary or CM Talkington or James Gray. Not that anyone would know from this mess, which is often out of focus or “artfully” pixelated. Richmond, you need to stick to working with real filmmakers and with real film stock.

The only decent part of the entire film happens down in the hotel’s basement club, when hotel resident Skinny Bones sings a beautiful jazzy rendition of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. However, director Hawke does not understand his own film, so he keeps cutting away to yet another of Kristofferson’s drunken speeches, this time to an unknown recipient on the telephone. Only in the last minute of the song does Hawke allow the magic to happen naturally.

The most prescient moment comes when Hawke makes his “cameo” as Uma’s love interest, calling her on the phone from Hollywood, where he tries to convince her to come out to California.

“My movie is shit!” he exclaims to her.

It is the one genuine laugh in the entire film… for all the wrong reasons.

I give the film an F for effort and an F for execution. A complete waste of time.

Rating: F
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Murder By Numbers

The film “Murder by Numbers” opened this past weekend just under the radar of not only the gay press but most everyone in America considering it’s lackluster 10 million opening. But don’t let those, uh, numbers fool you! There is alot to love in this piece about two strapping young men who believe they can beat a murder rap by careful planning and deliberate red herring placement.

Sandra Bullock plays a woman who has a penis which probably made Michael feel right at home considering his last movie “Hedwig” was about a transgendered person who barely had one too. Of course, Sandra’s character really doesn’t have a penis, but at least one film decided to admit what we’ve all known since “Speed” and that’s Sandra Bullock is a man’s woman. She drinks beer, she solicits quick sex, and she looks downright desireable when she’s distressed.

So it’s no wonder the gay press told us all to go see “Y Tu Mama Tambien” instead of “Murder by Numbers.” In that Mexican version of “3some” meets “Road Trip” there was two hot leads and a horse-woman we could ignore while we waited with baited breath for the dick shots and the confirmation of homosexuality. But they dropped the ball, so to speak, when they forgot to tell us that there is some good old fashioned homo-eroticism occuring right here in the States with this piece of standard Hollywood junk.

It’s junk because like our fabulous heros who are trying to get away with murder but eventually start breaking under pressure, the film makers were on their way to succeding in making a pretty excellent movie. But then they break under pressure. Over developing Miss Penis Bullock’s character while putting less emphisis on the two murderers was for once a big mistake. Including a seriously misplaced back history for her, and in true Hollywood style going back to it repeatedly through flashbacks and Dolbyr sound jabs, not to mention having the entire piece end with it instead of the final shocking element in the REAL movie, are also serious problems.

But what does succeed and does it very well is the brillant performances by Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling. They are bad guys, but they have what it takes to get you to like them. That’s hard work! They also like each other. Using each other’s weaknesses against one another, it’s a game of power and control where often times it seems as if at any moment the pair were going to break out into mad monkey sex. But alas the plot simply was too overburdened in other places to allow such a devilish twist, and we’re achingly pulled back into the tired boring cop storyline.

Eventually the pair do become too entangled with each other and lose sight in what they had set out to do. And just after it’s all spelled out for you for seemingly the third time, a few final plot twists yank you around just to make sure you’re all good and discomforted. That’s when they hit you with the crap about Miss Penis Bullock’s previous history and you end up leaving the theatre sexually frustrated, emotionally disturbed, and mentally offended that Hollywood had the ability to rip you off in the end once again.

“Murder by Numbers” grade: C+ for plot. A- for hot boys.

Rating: B
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Cat’s Meow, The

The only thing I had to sacrifice was three hours of my life, (112 minutes for the movie, almost a bloody hour standing outside waiting to get in).

The movie is based on the true story of the death of Thomas Ince. Or, according to this film, the murder of poor old Tom. Which also happens to take place on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. During a birthday celebration for Mr. Ince. Where his mistress is present, along with other notable names such as Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Louella Parsons, blah blah blah. Sounds like a lot is going on rightr Murder, sex, betrayals, affairs, oh my! You could not be further from the truth. Marion Davies, those of you geeks like FilmJerk who actually watched the other disc that came with “Citizen Kane” know, was the mistress of big Willy Hearst. but also was fooling around with Mr. Chaplin on the side. There are scenes that stretch on and on, with Willy watching Marion and Charlie dance together, giggle and stare at each other. This basically makes up half the damn movie. Establishing that Hearst knows, is pissy mad about it, yet does nothing about it except fume and huff and puff on his own. We get the picture already!!

This film also wins the “Steel Magnolias” award for Most Annoying Female Cast of the year. Instead of shooting poor and totally cute Wesley, I wish Hearst would throw all these chicks overboard. Especially Jennifer Tilly, who brings her patented ingratiating whine and psychotic hyperness to Louella Parsons. Kirsten Dunst is tolerable in some of the scenes, but it’s basically only because she has such great costumes. All the other bitches (who I won’t even bother to name because I’m trying to forget them) were seemingly told “See if you can out-annoy nails on a chalkboard.”

And the most yicky part of the movier Edward Herrmann canoodling with Kirsten Dunst. I just kept thinking, “Geez, Marion is like the same age as Rory Gilmore. Stay away from Rory! Stay away from your granddaughter! EWWW!”

My favorite part had to be after Willy has had a breakdown, and is sitting, shocked with Marion after, you know, THE INCIDENT. Willy starts to overdramatically sob like FilmJerk did after “Monsters, Inc.” and clings to poor little Marion. “You’re my entire world!” I could not stop myself from laughing hysterically, earning me several evil glances from some of the snobbish Chelsea pseudo-bohemian bitches in attendance.

Like “Gosford Park,” another boring murder mystery which took too damn long to get to the murder, I came away from this film with very bad feelings towards the makers of this overwrought shelf sitter which should have premiered on American Airlines flight 33 instead of preying on the weak minded who think “Oooo, indie film about Hollywood must be good.” I guess they figured they might be able to get some residual fans from “Bring It On” who might want to see Kirsten Dunst in some sexy flapper costumes, who wouldn’t care if the acting is uneven or just plain bad, and we have a story so lame and boring that it makes “What Women Want” seem it was from the pen of Dylan Thomas.

As the FilmJerk tried to follow me home, and I prepared to ditch him in the crowds, he said aloud what I had been thinking the entire time: “And they don’t let me make movies whyr” I thought about it for a good fifteen seconds, then realize both the film and Filmjerk’s chances to ever make a movie were worse than Chris Klein’s entire filmography, save “Election.” So I kicked him in the balls, laughed as he fell to the ground and hailed a taxi to take me back home.

Rating: D-
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Blow

Most films based on a true story pick an interesting one, or at least try to make it interesting.

Most films cast the main character’s mother with an actress older than the main character, not three years younger.

Most films about drugs try to make a statement about drugs.

Most films about the drug trade make more than a passing reference to the violence involved.

Most historical movies pay attention to time passing as opposed to making the 60s though the 90s look like the 70s.

Most historical films don’t have a character quote from a film roughly three years before that film comes out.

Most films either maintain suspense about the ending or reveal the ending as part of devise to add interest… somehow.

Most films ask their charismatic character to give a compelling performance while playing a compelling character.

Most films try to justify over-the-top performances with some character development to justify them.

Most films have a moral centre.

And most films about cocaine don’t make you leave the theatre thinking it might not be such a bad idea to try it.

Finally, most films involving generally competent performances and reasonable direction also have a story worth telling.

“Blow” is ultimately dull and not terribly compelling. It isn’t really a bad movie but it’s hard to recommend. That’s one movie convention I wish it had flown in the face of.

Rating: C
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