Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
"Lucky Number Slevin" - Critics vs. Audience
Paul McGuigan's "Lucky Number Slevin," starring Josh Hartnett, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Bruce Willis, and Lucy Liu, was awarded Best Film at the 2006 Milan International Film Festival. Internet Movie Database user BigStuff2020 reports, "I was lucky enough to have seen this at a screening back in December, and the entire theater started to applaud at the conclusion of the film." You'd think that the critics would have liked it, too. But no.
"'Lucky Number Slevin' is a crime thriller-plus-con job that might be too slick and clever for its own good," according to Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honneycutt. "The movie risks alienating its audience initially with a welter of confusing story lines, dead bodies and random characters."
So the movie's beginning is problematic.
"The performances are juicy," says Rolling Stone's Peter Travers. "But the convoluted ain't-I-clever script by Jason Smilovic has a cheat ending that makes you want to do a little torturing yourself."
So the movie's ending is problematic. And the script is too clever.
Stephen Holden of the NY Times characterizes Slevin as a failed Pulp Fiction wannabe. "From its sly, amused performances to its surreal comic book gloss to its artfully nervous camera-work 'Lucky Number Slevin' sustains the blasé tone and look of a smart-aleck thriller that buries its heart under layers of attitude. When the movie makes a belated stab at sincerity in the closing scenes, it's too little, too late."
So the ending is not only a cheat, it's disappointing as well. And the movie is too darn artful.
Unkindest cut of all, Roger Ebert gave Slevin a thumping thumbs-down. "'Lucky Number Slevin' is too clever by half. It's the worst kind of con: It tells us it's a con early on, so we don't even have the consolation of being led down the garden path."
So the beginning is also problematic because it gives the audience a hint as to what the movie is really about.
Ebert goes on: "'Lucky Number Slevin' goes to some pains to make it clear it is only an exercise in style."
Why "only"? What's the matter with an exercise in style?
Ebert sure exercises his own style: "Here we are looking at a crime mystery involving warring hoodlums and beautiful neighbors and a confused guy from out of town and a gunman and a cop, and the movie knows we're deluded and they're all just conceits. It's smarter than we are. Well, it must be, because it got us to watch it."
"Just conceits." Ebert is smart enough to know that "conceit" is a literary-criticism term meaning, "an elaborate, usually intellectually ingenious poetic comparison or image." And of course he's accusing the movie-makers of conceit, too. Too clever by half. But, again, why "just"? And if literary ingenuity is okay for a film critic, why is it out of place in a film?
Ebert continues grinding the unlucky Slevin under his thumb: "When a movie makes it clear that its characters are going through a charade for the amusement of the director (and when the characters themselves make it clear they all but know they are actors in a movie), I get restless: They're having such a good time with each other, why do they need me? Then when there's a level of trickery even beyond the apparent foolery -- reader, I feel like they're yanking my chain."
Wow. Actors, director, smarty-pants script writer the whole merciless gang - yanking Roger's chain.
As for me, I'm reminded of a Shakespeare article, "'Hamlet,' Mirror for the Critics." Its point was that criticism of a work reveals at least as much about the critics as it does about the work. Critics are a literary lot, perhaps vain of their own cleverness. Along comes a movie that reminds them of that common failing We all think we're smart, right? And out come the knives, ready to carve that turkey in the mirror.
I enjoyed "Lucky Number Slevin." I'm with the IMDb User from Romania: "A very well conceived popcorn flick, which connects all the dots." And IMDb User Matt Cub from the UK: "Great stuff."
Popcorn flick. Maybe all those problem-hunting, hyper-critical critics should have been given a big tub of popcorn when they came in. And a big dose of common sense, too. When an experienced director, three mega-talented actors, and two gifted newcomers all read through a script and decide that it will make a first-rate movie then that is exactly what it might turn out to be.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
"Symbolism is," says Professor Robert Langford and pauses to survey an auditorium full of presumed idiots, "a language." Thus begins Tom Hanks tight-lipped portrayal of a Harvard intellectual growing increasingly aware with every turn and twist of plot that he is trapped in a very, very bad script.
Some reviewers found the film, like Hanks' hanks of unkempt hair, overly long. I didn't, but then I took a cigarette break when Ian McKellan as Sir Leigh Teabing began his GEE (Grand Explanation of Everything) lecture, and still got back in time for the last two paragraphs.
The film has all the elements of a thriller - car chases, narrow escapes, unraveling of a mystery clue by clue, plot reversals - yet somehow manages to stay flatter than a 70-mile drive across the King Ranch. Tom Hanks' final monologue, his personal struggle to resolve the mystery of a Jesus human enough to beget children yet divine enough to inspire prayers from a drowning child, might have soared - but it limps its lame way toward the million-dollar pay window.
With schlock ideas voiced by kitsch characters caught in a best-seller-dumb plot, the movie anesthetizes. And that's a good thing. In the closing scene, Jesus' last living descendant, Sophie (Audrey Tautou, who has spent the last two hours acting puzzled and cute) dips her foot in a pond to show that she is not going to walk on water any time soon - and the audience is too numb even to groan.
Not a John Wayne Movie
"Every war is different," says Anthony Swofford as the movie "Jarhead" comes to a close. "Every war is the same." Looking back on his experience, he sees that the first Gulf War and the Marine Corps have become ineradicable parts of who he is: "Every jar-head is me." The screen shimmers and shifts into a scene of a desert patrol dwarfed by distance and hazed by heat waves. "We are still in the desert," he says. The screen darkens. The credits begin to roll.
A critic once observed that audiences emerge from a comedy talking animatedly with one another, but after a tragedy they come forth subdued and solitary, each absorbed by his or her own thoughts.
"Jarhead" is not a tragedy but a tragic coming-of-age story. As in "The Last Picture Show," a young man discovers what a cruel, destructive business life can be. Swofford emerges from a war that has consisted of a long, maddening wait followed by a hard march through the surreal aftermath of battles already won by jets dropping smart bombs, toward a horizon blackened by Saddam's burning oil wells. He returns home to find that his girlfriend has left him for another man. His best friend, who suffered with him through the combat that never came, dies as a civilian, possibly a suicide, as he was thrown out of the Corps with a dishonorable discharge.
Subdued and solitary, I waited outside the theater for my wife.
"So, what did you think?" I asked her when she came out. "Definitely not a John Wayne movie," she said. "No," I responded, reminded of Clint Eastwood sharing a victory cigar with a young Marine beneath an American flag raised atop a hill in Grenada in "Heartbreak Ridge."
"It wasn't as dark as the book," I said. "In the book," she replied, "you couldn't see Swofford's smile."
Jake Gyllenhaal does display an engaging, youthful grin in the early part of the movie. He plays the twenty-year-old Swoff very well. And Jamie Foxx does Sgt. Sykes brilliantly. Against the backdrop of a night made at once hellish and spectacular by blazing oil wells, the Sergeant tells Swoff that he (Sykes) could have joined his brother and had a nice safe job stateside, but with no chance to see such sights as this. "I love this job," he says. "I thank God for every day he gives me in the Corps. Oorah... You know what I mean, Swoff?" Foxx's delivery is flat, point blank, neither sarcastic nor enthusiastic. He is an exhausted soldier giving himself a pep talk he scarcely believes in any longer. Get out your Oscar Nomination forms.
At dinner we tried to recall what was book and what was movie. I did not remember the scene in which the soldiers are interviewed by a TV journalist from the book, but from Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket." From "Full Metal Jacket" also, I believe, came the bizarre business of a soldier's sardonically making a corpse his buddy. The war-is-surreal-hell moral of the movie reminded me of Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" - a film the young jar-heads watch with sexual intensity in Mendez's movie. But the scene in which the soldiers sit down to enjoy a home movie one Marine's wife has made - of herself being humped by their next door neighbor - that, we all agreed, was in the book.
I remember when "Battle Cry" came out in 1955. Unlike the Boy-Scout-clean soldiers of most WW II movies of that era, these Marines said Hell and Damn. And one of them actually shot the finger at some troops riding past - What a shocker!
A Jacksonville, NC Daily News reporter interviewed several Marines from the local base who saw the movie. Excerpt:
Their reviews seemed to be positive, especially concerning the portrayal of the relationship between Marines and how deployments and war are mostly about sitting around and waiting.
"I thought it was good," said Lance Cpl. Richard Usher, 19, from Tampa, Fla. "From what I know, it's accurate. They did say 'Oorah' way too much."
Lance Cpl. Josh Rader, 29, of Georgia, said he thought the movie was one of the more accurate portrayals of the Marine Corps, with the only more accurate movie being Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket."
"A lot of the training, they dramatize it more," Rader said. "I'd say it's probably more accurate."
Lance Cpl. Adam Blades, 20, with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, agreed, but took exception to the actors' ages.
"The actors were a little old," he said. "The majority of guys going over there are like 18 and 19. But it was pretty cool. As accurate as I've seen." +++
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Beautiful Mind is Right-On about Psychosis
A Beautiful Delusion
There is no point in being nuts if you can't have fun. (Mathematician John Nash in A Beautiful Mind)
A Beautiful Mind is a biographical film starring Russell Crowe as mathematician John Nash, who suffered from schizophrenia long enough to become familiar enough with his demons to finally recognize them as such. That is a victory worth celebrating, and the movie does so, eloquently.
Some critics of A Beautiful Mind compared it to Sylvia Nasar's 450-page biography of the same title, and said it did not faithfully portray the complexity of either Nash's life or his disease. That's asking a lot of a two hour movie.
No, Nash did not have the visual hallucinations portrayed in the movie. And yes, the movie came nowhere near Nash's belief that he was receiving messages from outer-space aliens, calling him to found a world government. But the film did make Nash's delusions credible to the viewer.
"The prodigal roommate appears" says Charles, arriving in Nash's grad-student life with a hangover. Charles is played admirably by Paul Bettany (later the ship's surgeon in Master and Commander). And, unless you are symptom-hunting from the get-go, Charles will be as real to you as he is to Nash. Only later will you see him as the flip-side of Nash's asocial personality, created by his imagination out of a very human need for companionship and love.
And that is the way delusions really are. From long and bitter experience I know: Psychosis sneaks up on you hypnotically, like a blacksnake moving by imperceptible increments toward the creature it suddenly devours.
Like Charles, and like the cartoon G-man Parcher (played by Ed Harris) who replaces him, delusions offer excitement. As the recovering Nash says wryly, "There is no point in being nuts when you can't have fun." And they're charming. They know how much more important you are than others realize, how central in significance.
As a film, Beautiful Mind merited four Acadamy Awards. But for those of us who have suffered from mental illness its finest accomplishment is that it did not romanticize mental illness, as many movies do, nor attribute the disease to that movie cliché, the Horrible Repressed Trauma. Rather, it revealed what psychosis is like from the inside, and that also is a victory worth celebrating.
Tom McClellan +++
Direction, Cenematography, Acting - A+. Script - C-
What planet are you from, anyway?
As for Kevin Spacey, he's Prot (rhymes with bloat) from K-PAX in the movie of that title. He arrives in Grand Central Station on a beam of light - at least that's what the opening shots of windows with sunlight streaming through them suggest. "Brother came out of nowhere," says a panhandler. And the mysterious stranger learns that it's best not to tell an officious cop, "I'd forgotten - your planet is really bright." Next stop Manhattan Psychiatric Institute where he intrigues Dr. Mark Powell, played by Jeff Bridges.
Prot is "the most convincing delusional" Powell has ever met. Not only does he eat bananas peel & all, then observe that "Your produce alone is worth the trip"; he diagrams for a group of astronomers a planet system, K-PAX included, that would explain perturbations in the orbits of a star cluster near the constellation Lyra. And Prot's neurological exam reveals that his eyes, unlike those of ordinary humans, are sensitive to ultraviolet light. So maybe Prot is more than an arrogant schizophrenic who spouts stuff like, "Let me tell you something, Mark. You humans, most of you, subscribe to this policy of an eye for an eye, a life for a life, which is known throughout the universe for its... stupidity. Even your Buddha and your Christ had quite a different vision. But nobody's paid much attention to them, not even your Buddhists and your Christians."
As the alien mastermind in Roger Corman's "Plan Nine from Outer Space" says: "The problem with you humans is that you are stupid: Stupid! Stupid! Stupid."
Since he's a superior being from the superior civilization on planet K-Pax, Prot sets about healing his fellow mental patients - "the usual job-lot of colorful eccentrics," film critic Roger Ebert calls them, "who behave as if they have intensely studied 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.''' NY Times critic A. O. Scott is also reminded of Cuckoo's Nest: "In the movies, of course, the patients always cure each other. If Jack Nicholson and Winona Ryder can do it, why can't Mr. Spacey?" One scene, in which all the patients are shouting with joy over the appearance of a blue jay in the courtyard, may also remind the viewer of Robin Williams teaching a roomful of catatonics to sing, "I love New York in June, How about you?" in another movie about how wonderfully romantic mental illness is, "The Fisher King."
Like Robin Williams' Parry in "Fisher King," Kevin Spacey's Prot also turns out to have a HRT (Horrible Repressed Trauma). Via hypnosis and a frantic internet search, Dr. Powell reveals that Prot is the compensatory creation of a little boy whose father once died, and who became a man who killed the murderer of his wife and daughter in New Mexico on July 27 - the very day Prot plans to return to K-Pax and take one of his fellow mental patients with him. When Powell attempts to convince Prot that he is in fact Robert Porter - Here's your picture in a high-school annual - Prot responds that the doctor needs to take good care of this Porter fellow now that he's found him.
Dawn on July 27 finds Prot replaced by a catatonic Robert Porter. But another patient, a woman who's spoken only once, to Prot of course, is gone without a trace. In the closing scene the camera pauses for a moment on the wrap-around sunglasses Prot wore to protect his eyes and the note he's left that says he will be back soon; then moves on to Dr. Powell's reuniting with his college-age son, as Prot had recommended. We hear Prot's voice advising the psychiatrist that since he has only one lifetime he needs to "get it right" this time.
So: Did a real being from outer space occupy the body of an amnesiac for a while? It's really hard to care. I've read a few professional critiques of the movie. The consensus seems to be that Spacey & Bridges have invested their considerable talents in a dubious cause. Rolling Stone's Peter Travers is typically dismissive: "Oscar voters have been sucking up this holy-fool hooey for decades. Starman, The Fisher King, Phenomenon - name your poison. But you wait in vain here for a spark to animate the old conceit about how the nuts are saner than we are." +++
All That Jazz (1979)
All That Movie!
Bob Fosse's All that Jazz arrived on screen in the summer of 1980. Ronald Reagan was clearly going to beat Jimmy Carter, who had failed for what seemed like forever to solve the Iran Hostage Crisis. I saw the movie four times. It was a good date movie. You could talk about it afterward, since the themes were major - Love, Death, Art.
Comic (a la Lenny Bruce, speaking of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' On Death and Dying) : "This chick, man, without the sole benefit of dying herself, has broken down the process of dying into five stages: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Sounds like a Jewish law firm. 'Good morning, Angerdenialbargainingdepressionacceptance!'".
Joe Gideon (Bob Fosse as played by Roy Scheider) : "No, nothing I ever do is good enough. Not beautiful enough, it's not funny enough, it's not deep enough, it's not anything enough. Now, when I see a rose, that's perfect. I mean, that's perfect. I want to look up to God and say, 'How the hell did you do that? And why the hell can't I do that?'" Angelique (Jessica Lange as the Angel of Death): "Now that's probably one of your better con lines." Joe Gideon : "Yeah, it is. But that doesn't mean I don't mean it."
Gideon's perfectionism almost means more to him than love, to ironic effect. When Joe's girlfriend, Kate - played by Fosse's own girlfriend, Ann Reinking - blasts a perfect line at him, he wanders away, argument forgotten. "That's a good line," he says. "I can use that line."
Critics of the day tended to pan All That Jazz, condemning Fosse's roman a clef as a self-indulgent and self-serving ego trip. But then Fosse's movie had already dealt with scathing critics. From his hospital bed Joe Gideon watches a television critic, played by Cris Chase, pan The Sand-Up, the movie's stand-in for Fosse's Lenny.
Critic : "The Stand Up does not stand up. Leaning toward the frenetic, Gideon falls into his characteristic of trying too hard to please, to entertain. Slickness obscures reality, the old razzle-dazzle sometimes obliterates drama. In his effort to keep The Stand Up upright, Gideon has resorted to the use of crutches: frantic cutting, an earsplitting soundtrack, chopping off the ends of scenes before the drama is played out..."
Nobody knew Fosse's weaknesses, egotism included, any better than Fosse himself.
Certainly, now that Fosse has been dead since September 23, 1987, the critic's cavils against Fosse's apology for his mad life and dark art do not matter.
Like life, All That Jazz is a great movie. ...
Tom McClellan Dallas, Texas +++
The Arrival (1996)
I would rate The Arrival C-
"The Arrival," (1996), starring Charlie Sheen, may not be the dullest sci-fi film ever made, but it tries real hard. Developing the premise - aliens are conspiring with rogue federal agents to turn the earth into a 120-degree hothouse - takes the first half of this molasses-paced movie. It turns out the aliens are humanoid, ugly, and - in an unintended comic touch - they have legs like ostriches. Charlie Sheen finally begins to save our planet in a whimpering anti-climax. Nearly as somnorific as the X Files. What really shocks and awes is that a sequel exists. Burn before viewing.