Drama

Spanglish

Year: 2004
Directed By: James L. Brooks
Written By: James L. Brooks

RYAN’S REVIEW

This movie made it into the collection because it was a favorite of Amber’s. It’s not a movie I would ever watch by myself but I think there is a lot to like about it. It’s not at the level of James L Brooks most famous family drama, Terms of Endearment, but it’s a quaint movie that is easy to enjoy.

One reason I find this movie interesting comes from a personal experience I had long ago. When I was 20 years old I spent a summer working with my brother as the only white guy among his crew of Spanish speaking workers. It was hard work and I didn’t let my connection to the boss slow me down. I was amazed by the energy and work ethic of my peers enough to work harder than I have ever worked before. A few of the other guys spoke English but several spoke little to none at all. What I found most interesting is that by the end of the summer the language barrier didn’t pose such a problem anymore. I found that just talking to them as I would anybody else seemed to work. The level of communication was low but we could at least understand each other enough to work together. I never learned to speak Spanish but that summer is one I will always remember fondly and try to learn from.

Adam Sandler was one of my favorite comedians when I was a kid but I can’t stand to watch any of his movies as an adult and avoid them altogether. No matter what you do you simply can’t be a teenager again and find his antics funny like you did when you were young. I for one think Sandler has much more to offer than the stupid comedies he persists at. This movie is evidence of that because he shows so much potential as a serious actor not trying to be funny. I think that is Sandler’s problem in a nutshell, he tries too hard to be funny. I think the funniest people are the ones that make comedy effortless. They don’t have to try so hard because they are naturally funny. Sandler has made a fortune being the funny guy but I think he over does it far too often and has little to offer the mature movie fan.

The reason I don’t like this movie very much starts and stops with Tea Leoni. I don’t like her character and I don’t like her. Her promiscuous and obtuse character is just awful to watch and sit through. The way she treats her daughter, mother, and husband are all just too unpleasant for me. I can’t stand infidelity and in this movie she’s just such a selfish bitch about it. I can’t stand her and it’s the main reason I don’t like this movie very much. Maybe if a different actress was cast it would be different but Leoni just seems too comfortable and natural in this type of role for me.

While Paz Vega is excellent in this movie I think the top actress has to be Cloris Leachman. She is such a prolific and talented comedian. I love her drunken grandmother role in this movie and find it especially funny when she quits drinking and nobody notices. Her response that she must have been a really awesome drunk is just priceless.

This is a good enough movie but I don’t think anything about necessarily stands out and puts it apart from any other family drama/comedy out there. Before watching it I had actually mixed up part of it with This is 40 and I think that pretty much sums it up for me. It’s just another movie too much like too many others out there. I can’t stand watching it because of Tea Leoni but maybe you will feel differently. I don’t think this movie is worth my time but you may like it more than I did so don’t take my word for it.

NEXT MOVIE: Spartacus (1960)

Sommersby

Year: 1993
Directed By: Jon Amiel
Written By: Nicholas Meyer, Anthony Shaffer, and Sarah Kernochan

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is an odd one to have a place on the shelf I know, and the reason for it is never what you would guess. Once upon a time this was a movie I actually watched at a Drive-In movie theater back when they were still around. I was nine years old and didn’t really understand the movie at the time but I never forgot it. Certain scenes have stayed with me for over twenty years, though with little context due to my adolescent age.

I hadn’t seen this movie since that night over twenty years ago in the Drive-In movie theater. I bought it not long ago for no other reason than it reminded me of that great viewing experience that has faded into history. I always liked the Drive-In and in the early 90s there was one still in operation close enough to where we were living. I saw several films there during a real dramatic time in life, and while my memory of life in those days is hazy I have never forgotten any of the movies I sat in the car and watched on that giant screen.

This film is about a Civil War veteran who returns home after being away for six years. The interesting part is that he is not who he says he is, but he looks enough like the man he is pretending to be that everyone goes with it. Even his wife goes along with it as he is welcomed home with open arms. He makes a life for himself under this assumed name and everything is going great till the law shows up and serves him with a charge of murder. The man did not commit the murder, but the man he is pretending to be did. He has to choose between being outed as a fraud or suffer the penalty of a crime he didn’t commit. The story is actually loosely adapted from real circumstances that took place long ago in France.

Like I said, I was nine years old when I watched this movie and I was not in the target audience. I still found it interesting despite plenty of the themes and concepts flying right over my head. I have always wondered whether or not he was who he said he was or if he wasn’t. My understanding at the time said he wasn’t but why suffer the consequences if that was really the case? It left quite an impression on me as a nine year old to watch this movie where a man was hanged for something he didn’t really do.

The questions that have lingered in the back of my mind for over twenty were finally answered yesterday when I sat down to watch this movie again. I was not expecting much from a Richard Gere movie that I vaguely remembered from my childhood but I was pleasantly surprised. This isn’t the greatest movie I have ever seen and it’s far too much of a sappy love story at times but I found it thoroughly interesting.

I didn’t feel quite the level of nostalgia I was expecting when I watched it but I had forgotten enough to find myself invested and interested in the story. For example, I had forgotten all about the jealous rival played by Bill Pullman. I had also forgotten the presence of the Ku Klux Klan, and the plot always thickens when those hooded heathens show up.

I have never paid much attention to Richard Gere, his movies are not for me. In movies like this he’s a puny version of Fabio on the covers of all those lady novels from the same time period. He’s the romantic the woman falls in love with and blah blah blabbity blah. I’m not a fan but I’m going to admit it. I liked this sappy romance movie. Don’t expect me to sit down to Pretty Woman or First Knight any time soon but I’m willing to admit this is an interesting movie.

If you cut out some of the courtroom shenanigans at the end of the movie and that oh so typical “because I love you more” line from Jodie Foster on the stand then this is a damn good movie. It’s not going to keep you on the edge of your seat but it’ll keep your attention.

The only other thing I think is worth mentioning is the awesome nugget at the end that was Judge James Earl Jones and his glorious moment. The movie really tries to paint a picture of race during the time period but I would be really interested to know if an actual African American judge was brought south for a trial so soon after the Civil War. Judge James Earl Jones certainly sells it and does a fantastic job with all his mega voice glory, but I would love to know when such a thing actually happened for the first time.

I like this movie more than I thought I would and that counts for a lot. I don’t foresee myself ever suggesting this movie to anyone despite that, it is a Richard Gere movie, but I think it is worth your time nevertheless. I don’t own this movie for any reason pertaining to its value as a film but for what it ultimately reminds me of. I miss the days when we had Drive-In movie theaters and wish they were still around. I think my kids would get a kick out of it and enjoy it as I did when I was their age.

NEXT MOVIE: Southland Tales (2006)

Slumdog Millionaire

Year: 2008
Directed By: Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan
Written By: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) Vikas Swarup (novel)

RYAN’S REVIEW

I’ve ruined movies by reading the book before but I don’t know that any have been quite as dramatic as this one. I loved this movie when it came out and was so happy when it won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Yet I came across the book, Q&A, sometime later and everything changed. I thought this was a beautiful movie until I realized it was just a chopped up and completely rewritten version of something better.

This movie is a love story, and the source material is not even close to that. The book is a story about revenge, and love is simply an afterthought that is only touched on. This movie that I thought was so great changed everything from the theme to the main character’s name. When I read the book I found this appalling and have since barely been able to sit down and watch the movie.

No movie adapts a book perfectly but the thing is I didn’t just like this book I loved it, actually reading it three or more times before all was said and done. When I went back to this film and really got to see it for what it was I was just so disappointed. I wish I could go back to loving it as I did the first time I saw it but I simply couldn’t.

When I first saw this movie I found it eye opening but my eyes were still closed. As rough and hard as this movie seems it doesn’t hold a candle to what was within the book. The book is so much more tragic and dark. If you think you can imagine horrible things happening in your life I challenge you to read Q&A and see how you measured up. The book is one devastating tragedy after another but it still manages to be entertaining and interesting.

It’s been several years now since I read the book and I admittedly can’t remember a lot from it even after multiple readings. I love to read and I loved this book but it was several dozen books ago and I could use a refresher. The change that annoyed me the most at the time was the name of the main character being changed to simply Jamal. It annoyed me because in the book the name of the character was such a focal point for the story.

In the book the character’s name is Ram Mohammad Thomas because as a child he was left on the doorstep of a church and a priest was left to name him. The priest was unsure what to name him because he did not know the religion of the parents whether it was Hindi, Islam, or Christianity. To prevent conflict from the rivaling religions within the country the priest named him with a combination of all three. This was interesting to me because I didn’t realize how religiously diverse India was. It seemed like an awful thing to scrap from the movie because it was something the American audience could learn from.

This movie is rare in that it is a movie that takes place in India and received a wide release in the US. India has their own film industry and there are few American made films that take place there. That gave this movie an interesting opportunity to enlighten a new audience to life in India. The movie does that to an extent but I feel like the renaming of the main character left out an insight that could have been beneficial.

The collective stories from the life of Ram Mohammad Thomas make for a really interesting book and I would encourage anybody who likes to read to give it a whirl. However if you love this movie then I would suggest staying away from it because the movie will never be the same afterwards. I don’t find this movie worth my time anymore but I would still suggest it to anyone else. I enjoyed the movie enough to add it to the collection before reading the book so there is still plenty to enjoy for the ignorant.

NEXT MOVIE: Small Soldiers (1998)

Silver Linings Playbook

Year: 2012
Directed By: David O. Russell
Written By: Matthew Quick (novel) David O. Russell (screenplay)

RYAN’S REVIEW

I read recently that this movie was over rated and undeserving of all the awards it amassed. I could not disagree more, if for no other reason than I think the content is important for audiences to understand. The movie comes off a bit different but it reflects what the characters are going through and what they are going through is an increasingly prevalent problem in our society. This day and age more and more people are being diagnosed with mental problems and the answer seems to always be the same. Take this pill or that pill. To the point that we have heavily sedated the person and populous.

In this movie we see that Pat doesn’t want to take his pills because of the way they make him feel. He spends eight months in a mental health facility after a violent incident brings light to an undiagnosed case of bi-polar disorder. He needs those pills and it’s more obvious than ever in the scene when he can’t find his wedding video. Pat prefers different methods in his quest to find a Silver Linings and I think he is on the right track. Keeping to a schedule, staying physically active, and rediscovering who he

is are all great ways in which Pat works to overcome his issues. I think that while medication is necessary we can still all learn something from Pat and get our own lives in order by practicing some of his techniques.

The truth to it is that the way Pat does things are the harder way. Yeah he’s totally unhinged and a little bit crazy but he’s working as hard as a person can to better himself. His ultimate goal is a blinded effort at something unrealistic but it keeps him working to get better. It’s an easy out to simply take pills and forget about what’s really in front of us. So many have problems and it’s just too easy to swallow those problems away with medication. How often would exercise turn things around before it came to medication? Who knows but I like the way Pat does things and I take joy in how his story ends.

This movie was the one that won me over on Jennifer Lawrence. I had stubbornly avoided The Hunger Games, often joking that “I had seen The Running Man before.” I also really didn’t like her portrayal of Mystique in X-Men: First Class. So I hadn’t given her the time of day as an actress but in this movie my opinion changed dramatically. She is fantastic in this movie and I specifically love the scene when she confronts Pat about missing their dance practice and argues with his father. While I still prefer Rebecca Romijn as Mystique I have since watched The Hunger Games and agree that it is a good movie too. I will watch anything that Lawrence does now and I think we have a lot to look forward to from the young actress.

I’ve always loved Robert De Niro but his career has dropped off so much in the last decade or so. He is really quick to do just about anything these days despite his prestige. Yet I think this movie offers one of his finest performances ever. He is so emotionally captivating as Patrizio and proves to be capable of the magic he delivered in his youth. He had terrific chemistry with his costars and I specifically liked his relationship with Jacki Weaver. I think under the direction of David O. Russell that De Niro is as good as he was under the direction of Martin Scorsese.

I used to be such a fan of Chris Tucker, and then he got into the Rush Hour movies and just fell off the map after that. I liked him before his collaborations with Jackie Chan when he was playing parts like we saw in Dead PresidentsMoney Talks, or The Fifth Element He has a wildly funny personality and showed so much promise in his youth. I caught his stand up routine on Netflix last year and thought it was awful. He didn’t sound funny at all but seemed depressed and desperate instead. In this movie I just think it is cool that he is involved and he has a really funny part the way he just shows up and gets taken away again later.

The article I read recently said that this movie was great but that didn’t make it a good movie to watch. Having just finished it I kinda agree but mostly disagree with the statement. It suggested that the way the movie was shot reflected the feelings of the characters and that it took away from the movie. I feel like it gives you such a better insight into these characters and actually enhances the film. I find this movie to be so uplifting because Pat and Tiffany are such sad characters who manage to overcome so much. When they dance at the end it’s so much fun as a prelude to their moment of understanding when they accept that they are in love with one another.

I think this a a great movie that was well deserving of all it’s awards. David O. Russell has collaborated with many of these actors multiple times now and they obviously work really well together. This is the type of movie that can turn your spirits around and influence you to do things differently. I think it is an excellent movie that is easily worth your time to see.

NEXT MOVIE: The Simpsons Movie (2007)

 

The Siege

Year: 1998
Directed By: Edward Zwick
Written By: Lawrence Wright, Menno Meyjes, and Edward Zwick

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is an interesting film because it centers on terrorism in the pre-War on Terror world. The New York skyline is even topped by the Twin Towers in many shots. It’s interesting not only because of how the War on Terror actually unfolded but because the movie still serves as a warning for what could happen. In today’s climate there is just as much danger of this movie becoming a reality as there was during the decade after 9/11.

I have never liked the stereotyping of Muslims into terrorist because you can’t let radicals from any religion cast a net over the entire populous. Yes there are radical Muslims that want to do harm, but by the same token there are radicals in all religions that are all equally as dangerous. When you let xenophobia and racism take the front stage you are going to have a lot of innocent people caught up in the middle. When the focus turns from the actual perpetrators to an entire demographic of people then it simply becomes a witch hunt and in this country we should know the dangers involved in such a thing.

Muslim does not mean terrorist, just as terrorist does not mean Muslim. When people lose sight of that difference we are in danger of seeing what happened in this movie become real life. During the War on Terror the U.S. did detain plenty of terror suspects but they never went as far as to set up camps in the middle of the city and start locking up every person that fit their demographic. With the way the current popular presidential candidate talks we may still have to fear this movie turning into reality.

I hate the current talk about both immigration and Islam because it is being fueled by a “political” leader. I live in the south where so many rednecks are being egged on and amped up in their natural racist mentality. Not all people around here are like that but even the quiet racists are starting to feel comfortable voicing their opinions when out of ear shot of  specific people. It bothers me as a human being because what used to be nothing more than a joke with these people has turned into hopeful longing. As if it is even appropriate, or even practical, to shut down immigration and try to block Muslims from entering the country. These ideas set us back as a country and civilization to such an unfortunate degree. The U.S. is a nation made up of immigrants from all over the world, and not just the white ones. People need to be reminded of that and not exasperated to thinking we should build walls or bar entry to anybody over religious alignment.

This movie shows us a perfect example of the innocent victim that can get caught up in the middle of this scenario. Tony Shalhoub plays the part of an FBI Agent of Arabic descent whose son is locked up after martial law is declared in New York. It doesn’t matter that he is a federal agent, it doesn’t matter that he and his family are US citizens, and it doesn’t matter if he or his family actually did anything wrong. His son fit the demographic so he was caged like an animal in the camps set up by the military. There are people just like Shalhoub’s character all over this country, but there will be no way to differentiate once profiling takes the center stage. When Brown equals bad it doesn’t matter who anybody is because they are nothing more than a suspect at that point.

While this movie has really interesting content matter I don’t think it translated into a really great or memorable film. Denzel Washington does his best but I have never been sold on the guy and this movie is no different. I think Bruce Willis in his smaller part actually brought more to the film, as did Shalhoub. I don’t really care for Annette Bening’s character cause she is just too all over the place and sleeping with the enemy to boot.

This movie may not really be worth your time if you are looking for something entertaining but the lesson that it bears makes it worth it. It’s a lesson that only grows more important as time goes on. We can never go forward as a nation and civilization by taking steps backwards. Subjugating people is something we should have learned from in the past and movies like this can serve as a reminder that it’s a really bad idea. For that reason alone I think this movie is worth your time and that is why I own it.

NEXT MOVIE: Silence of the Lambs (1991)

 

 

 

 

School Ties

Year: 1992
Directed By: Robert Mandel
Written By: Dick Wolf and Darryl Ponicsan

 

RYAN’S REVIEW

It seems like the beginning of this “S” section is just flat out doomed when I’m following Schindler’s List with this film. How ironic that together these two films sit on the shelf. One being all out about the Holocaust and the other being about the racism behind it that never truly died.

This is not the greatest movie but it taught me an invaluable lesson when I was a kid. It taught me something about the nature of racism. How blind and unreasonable it can all be. In this movie all these guys are buddy buddy until they find out that all along Brendan Fraser is a Jew. The fact that they were friends before hand proves they couldn’t tell a true difference between him and themselves. When they learn his heritage he is suddenly ostracized for no other reason than the religion he serves. Nothing in particular changed about the person but all of his friends suddenly found reasons to dislike him simply because he was a Jew.

When I saw this movie as a kid it marked a lesson for me because I could see how foolish the racist feelings of these boys really were. Until they found out he was a Jew he was practically the most popular among them. How swiftly and quickly their perceptions changed based on a ridiculous notion that he was suddenly different just amazed me. I don’t doubt the truth to it and believe that these very type of situations happened countless times throughout history. The movie itself is actually based on personal experiences by the writer Dick Wolf.

I don’t understand racism in general, the type of hate that poisons a man’s heart to that point. For me it shouldn’t matter what a person’s ethnicity is when you know the person and like them. All these guys we see in this movie rally around Brenden Fraser up till that secret changes everything. They knew the person, but hardened their hearts when they learned something they could have never figured out any other way besides being told. When you know a person for who they are, it shouldn’t matter what the color of their skin is, the God they pray to, or their sexual preference for that matter.

When I watch a movie like this I relate to the main character as he struggles with this change of heart from his friends. When he is suddenly all alone for no reason and treated differently it is something I can see, and I understand his plight. I don’t know how any racist person can watch a movie like this and not take something away from it. Movies like Crash, Mississippi BurningSchindler’s List, Monster’s Balland many others have the power to teach us something but despite how popular these movies are the message just never gets through to some people. It’s a sad and unfortunate thing that I feel is getting worse as opposed to better as time carries on.

As to this movie it’s not really anything special. It’s an interesting opportunity to look back at younger versions of actors like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris O’Donnell, and Brendan Fraser. At the time Fraser looked to be on his way to being big time leading man material but his career hit a huge roadblock years back and he has seemingly never recovered from it. When he became that silly guy everything went wrong for him because he was capable of more. He wasn’t bad in this movie but I don’t think he was very exceptional either. It’s funny to look back in hindsight when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have reached the heights Fraser will simply never see.

I think it totally sucks to have to sit down to this movie after avoiding Schindler’s List. This movie in no way compares to that one but it still centers on racism and that’s an ugly topic I never care to sit down with. I think this movie is worth your time and everyone should see it simply for the hope that it teaches them something as it taught me. Racism is an ugly thing, and the only way we can ever rise above it is by looking within ourselves and deciding to be better.

NEXT MOVIE: Secondhand Lions (2003)

 

The Rules of Attraction

Year: 2002
Directed By: Roger Avary
Written By: Bret Easton Ellis (novel) Roger Avary (screenplay)

RYAN’S REVIEW

I own this movie because it was a critical piece of evidence for an important argument I carried on for years with a good friend of mine. I think the movie is interesting and well made but I can’t say I really like it. In fact, having sat down to watch it for this review I could not even make it past the opening act. The date raping took all the interest out of me and I no longer cared to see the movie at all. Something about a virgin girl waking up to being the unknowing participant in a sex tape made me sick to my stomach. Even if there was a time in yesteryear when such a thing didn’t bother me and I owned this movie despite that, times have changed and that is no longer the case. The father in me will not watch any more of this crap, but I will explain how and why this movie is an important part of our collection.

I discovered Quentin Tarantino during my formative years and really took his movies to heart. I was a rebellious teen and the bad boy in me loved nothing more than the crime laden films of Tarantino. It was near the turn of the century that I became such a fan, and at the time spoilers on the internet were just growing legs. Tarantino’s last movie had been in 1997 but on the net I spent years following the production of his next movie, Kill Bill, which was delayed and pushed back multiple times.  It was 2003 before the movie finally came out and after six years of eager anticipation I could not have been more let down with the overkill film based on a plot thread from his most famous movie ever.

Kill Bill was nothing more than shock value thrust upon the movie going audience. It was a weak story at best having emerged from Uma Thurman’s pilot “Fox Force Five” in Pulp FictionTo make things even worse and specifically annoying was that everyone called this Part One garbage great. Was everybody completely insane? That movie was complete and utter garbage. Uma Thurmond is not Bruce Lee, and seeing her in that yellow jumpsuit as a “tribute” to him specifically made me sick. I tried to hold out hope for the second film to make it all worth wild but found Part Two to be even worse than the first one.

Now, to how this relates to this movie. One of my dearest and most misguided friends loved Kill Bill. So much so that we spent the better part of six years arguing about it. He maintained that it was excellent and Tarantino was still as talented as he had always been while I pointed to Kill Bill, and later Death Proof, as an example that he was washed up. He was supposed to be such a great writer but all he had come up with in six years was embellishing one line from his most famous film into an entire movie?

When I came across this movie it all seemed to make sense. The director of this film is Roger Avary, who was Tarantino’s writing partner on his most famous films in the 90s. I pointed to his absence in Kill Bill as a significant reason for why it sucked so much. Whatever gift Tarantino had, it was lost without the partnership he shared with Avary. When I saw this movie I found the direction and writing so captivating that I felt it proved my point and made me the one that was right in the argument. Based on nothing else than this movie I could obviously see that Avary had skills as a filmmaker, when matched up against the crap that Tarantino had just produced it seemed like an obvious truth.

So I bought this movie at a discount store because I was so certain of myself. It did nothing to change the mind of my stubborn and misguided friend who would continue to argue with me till the bitter end. Our argument hinged on Tarantino’s next film which took even longer to come out than Kill Bill did. Inglourious Basterds took quite a while to make and it went through various production problems that made me certain it would prove me right as well.

Well I pride myself on being wise enough to know when I’m wrong. After seeing Inglourious Basterds for the first time I called my idiot friend the minute I stepped out of the theater and proclaimed I was wrong. Tarantino was not only not washed up, but in fact still as great as I had denied. Inglourious Basterds was an absolutely outstanding movie and I had specifically wanted to hate it. For me with my preconceived notions to have no other choice than to admit its greatness I don’t know how anyone could ever deny it.

I did find it frustrating during my teaching days that some students were under the impression that the U.S. killed Hitler because they had seen this movie but I’m not going to let some idiot kids ruin something that was great. Those kids shouldn’t have been allowed to watch the film in the first place but that is beside the point. From beginning to end Basterds was captivating and powerful. I had been wrong in the argument but I happily accepted that because the product was worth it.

I no longer know how Roger Avary fit in with the collaborations with Tarantino and how he influenced his success but I still think this movie proves he is a talented filmmaker worthy of note. While I turned my nose up at the movie this time around that had everything to do with content and nothing to do with the quality of the film.

I’m not recommending this movie to anybody because I couldn’t even stand to watch it myself this time around. I would like to encourage any reader who has seen it to share some thoughts about it. If you can convince me to give it a second chance I will try to keep my fatherly objections in check and give it another go.

NEXT MOVIE: The Running Man (1987)