by Dane Youssef
The Canadians approach to film-making is either bland, campy or downright blood-and-guts (usually in the "campy" gory vein, of course). Most Canadians are as good at the art of film as mimes are at capturing the art of sparkling conversation.
Ever hear the expression, "it was halfway decent? Comes up halfway? Meet me halfway?" I had that thought stuck at the top of my head after viewing this one.
That's about the perfect way to describe "Drawing Flies," a Canadian-based indie featuring a sprinkling of an American-based cast and crew.
The first half of the movie starts out as a variation of the whole "Dazed and Confused" or "Slackers" genre, where we see some contemporary socially-relevant slacker types in Canada living on steady welfare. Then we see them go on the big self-discovery trip that's the big turning point of their lives.
The Canuck Government cuts them off and they take the last bit of money they have in the world, pool it together and instead of paying the necessary monthly rent check, they blow the whole damn thing on a cover-charge at some party and dope.
Now totally and completely bankrupt, they move out of their place (they're living four to a single apartment) and hit the road. They then exile themselves to the deep, deep woods where they plan to make permanent residence. Thus, this is where the real journey-theme of the movie kicks in. This is where the part of their lives that has worthy interest to be a movie kicks in.
Or should anyway.
Jason Lee (as always) proves that any movie with him in it alone is worth seeing (OK, except for the unforgivably bad sedated-comedies "A Guy Thing" and "Stealing Harvard"--well, hey, if Tom Green's in it). His performance starts out earnest with life-affirming optimistic hope and child-like charm, but then U-turns into angry, road rage and his long-repressed dementia kicks in. It's the type of character he's played in damn near everything, but it's still thrills and shakes.
Mewes' performance here is kind of uneven. I mean, he's not really an actor--he's basically just a friend of filmmaker Kevin Smith who plays himself in movie after movie. Like Julia Roberts, he's not really an actor--he's more of a TV talk-show personality. Jason Mewes stretches (somewhat) as a welfare-starving slacker who curses and smokes the dope, but not nearly at the level that his legendary Jay character does. He (like most of the cast) seems to have trouble swallowing the overwritten and unrealistic dialogue.
He doesn't talk so much about getting laid and eating out pussy as much, either. Mewes' Az character is more of somewhat-more-down-to-earth regular Stoner than a near-cartoon comic relief.
Carmen Lee (they were married at the time of this one) does the worst job in this one. Every word, every facial reaction, every moment from her sounds horribly unconvincing. She is here, beyond a doubt, not only the absolute worst performance in the film, but the worst acting I've ever seen. Hopefully, Carmen will stray from acting and find almost any other day job. She would be more adept to make a living donating sperm.
The movie's plot echoes "The Blair Witch Project:" A group of friends go on a long, long trip in the deepest woods on earth and into the great unknown. Then, a hidden agenda is revealed. One that may bring wealth and legendary status. It sounds (of course) to everyone else like s collision of insanity and stupidity. But doesn't every ground-breaker at first? Everyone sneers and turns against each other. It's all sides divided. Bedlam, as always. The Loch Ness Monster. Sasquach. The Boogeyman. They're all just good old fashioned monster folklore stories, aren't they? There's always evidence (of course) that tilts to the contrary.
Like I said from the start of this review (where you came in), "Drawing Flies" is a "halfway decent" film. If you only see half the movie, you'll walk away having a better cinematic experience than you would if you saw the whole thing. Just see half. That FIRST half.
The movie starts off in one frame of mind, then shifts jarringly in another direction at the final quarter, practically derailing the entire picture. Because damn it all, the two just don't mesh. They clash wildly like yogurt and broccoli. Just imagine for a second that resulting, lingering taste.
Doesn't draw much attention... or even much interest.
(WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS A MILD SPOILER--It does not reveal the entire film nor does it give away the ending, but it does reveal a brief surpriseâ€¦ that disappoints) Indie-idol Kevin Smith (the fat hairy one himself) pops up in a bit part that feels like an extra.
He's at the party scene, he doesn't have so much as a word of dialogue, and he's dressed just like wellâ€¦ Silent Bob. And I mean SILENT BOB. He wears the same clothes he's worn in the first three movies.
And it's not like there much here to distinguish this bit part from his legendary Silent doppelganger. Smith dons the same outfit, same mime facial expressions. He even sports the exact same beard. What, the budget was so low, he couldn't afford a shave or at least a trim? Or time to get another set of clothes from out of his closet? Hey, it's a no-budget film, they couldn't afford a wardrobe department as his character is referred to as "John." You kind of wish there was just a little more of a punch line or pay-off, butâ€¦.
But this time, there is no moment where he breaks the silence. The only difference between "John" and "Silent Bob" isâ€¦ one is something, one is not. Like the movie...
--Still Looking For A Good Movie Like People Are Searching For Sasquatch and The Lochness Monster, Dane Youssef
by Dane Youssef
Writer/director Christopher Kublan's independent romantic comedy (a rarity in the indie field) "GIVING IT UP" is a movie which is scarce in the indie field. A romantic comedy, rumored to be the worst, sloppiest, unentertaining and most formulaic of the entire genre.
Originally titled "Casanova Falling" before it's DVD release, it was later re-christened "Giving It Up" when it was released in 2003, I'm not sure why. Because that's the name of the song that plays it one scene. I assume the distributors thought it made for a more alluring title.
But very surprisingly, "Giving It Up" is a smarter, more-thinking person's romantic comedy. A movie that seems to have filtered out the obnoxious slapstick, trite plot points, dumb characters, monotone dialouge and Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan's routines.
Oh, there are quite a few clichÃ©s' in this movie, all right. The playboy who's tired of the game and wants to settle down and develop as a person, the bookish love interest who has no patience for his antics, the sexist supporting characters, the geeky best friend, the unobtainable finally obtained... only to realize that...
And although it sounds like the storyline from "What Women Want" (which also featured Feuerstein), no two movies could possibly be more polar opposite.
But "Giving It Up" is more than that. It doesn't rely entirely on that as so many other rom-coms do.
"GIU" is a well-played, thoughtfully-written, smartly conceived look at men, women and their views on sex and relationships.
In "Giving It Up," a New York advertising executive who specializes in selling sex to sell products is living the "almost ideal existence." He has devoted his life to attracting the opposite sex.
And it seems to be working. He has a new stranger in his bed every night. He's making fat cheddar. His hard-nosed, sexist boss (Dabney Coleman "9 to 5," "Tootsie," "Recess: School's Out" and "You've Got Mail") loves him. His apartment is lavish and full of cosmetics to polish his vessel and keep it clean. And his superhuman libido fuels his creative fires.
Enter his new boss, Elizabeth, who has heard of him and his reputation. She's smart and genuinely attractive. And quite down to earth. Ralph (Mark Feuerstein "Woman on Top" and "What Women Want"), the playboy in question is instantly smitten with her. But she's heard the word on the street and smiles, giving him the brush off.
Ralph is obsessed. He wants her. He can have every woman except the one he truly wants. Ain't it always the way? Ralph's less-lucky-in-love buddy, Peter (Ben Weber--"Twister" and TV's "Sex in the City") asks Ralph why? Why does he want to give up the life? Apparently, Ralphie boy feels empty. He decides to "give it all up."
He's the falling Casanova. He tries to go celibate. He meets up with Elizabeth and informs her of his newfound desire to live a life with something besides sex and even tries to win her over with his outside sex-interests. Like his joy for Billy Wilder's Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn classic "Love in the Afternoon."
Kublan's script is smart in a "Sex in the City"-type of way. Full of realistic conversations between men and women about dating, relationships, sex and their own views and look at it all.
The cast is particularly strong for an independent film. Feuerstein is a real charmer, Weber and James Lesure (From "For Your Love") are convincing and likable as his best friends. Ari Larter as the foul and lecherous super-supermodel Amber is also good for a few laughs. Amy Redford is really 100% believable as a smart, intelligent, confident (and beautiful) businesswoman who hates her self a bit for falling for this falling Casanova.
See it alone for the near Oscar-worthy performance of the magnificent Dabney Coleman, more hard-nosed, sexist and snarling than ever.
It's worth falling for....
--Keeping It All Up, Dane Youssef
by Dane Youssef
"AFTER HOURS" is a surrealistic experience. It's also one of Scorsese's lesser-known gems and as far as I'm concerned, everything the man has so much as ever sneezed on is a gem. I know that sounds very sad and slavishly faithful, (but keep in mind that the man has a great reputation for spinning cinematic gold with about everything he does). I know I sound like some kind of medication and therapy, but to that, I simply ask you all: Has the man ever made a bad movie?
Many have complained that pretty much all of his movies are kinda the same. "Mean Streets," "Raging Bull," "Casino" and "Taxi Driver." In an era where more than 9 out of 10 of everything getting cranked out of Holly-weird is “more of the same.” Stupidity being mass-cranked in an endless cycle.
That’s why films like “After Hours” feel like such a prescribed dose of relief.
In “After Hours,” Griffin Dunne is Paul Hacket, a computer programmer who is just going through the motions and has an empty social life. He strikes up a conversation with a nice lady named Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) at a local restaurant over a novel they've both read. Words are exchanged. So are looks. She seems interested. He's hooked.
And from the split-second he gets into that cab, the nightmare begins. The cab blows like mad through the busy streets of downtown SoHo. And after his transportation money literally goes out the window, so do Paul's chance of getting home. He has no idea how deep he's in. At first, it just seems like he's the victim of some bad luck.
He encounters a lot on those dark streets after hours. Unpleasant night owls, severe misunderstandings and eventually the next thing he knows, poor Paul is running for his very life.
He encounters a lot on those dark streets after hours. Unpleasant night owls, severe misunderstandings and eventually the next thing he knows, poor Paul is running for his very life.
Now many of you may be asking, "Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Is a thriller? Is it a horror show?"
It's... it's like a dream about something that really happened to you. It all plays out like a dream about "the strangest night of my life...." And everyone's had that one long, weird night where they were stranded somewhere.... just stuck. No money, no ride. And all the weirdos and sickos all come out from their hiding-places.
"They only come out at night," as they say.
I don't want to give too much away because this is a movie where surprise after surprise.
There's a whole domino effect here as everything leads to a big final act where we fear for Paul and his safety, and our own. Because it feels like we have become Paul.
The movie features a first-rate all-star cast. There are more stars here than there are in a pitch-black night sky: Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, Tommy Chong, Linda Fiorentino Teri Garr, John Heard, Cheech Marin, Catherine O'Hara, Dick Miller, Will Patton, Robert Plunket and Bronson Pinchot. Who was responsible for rounding up this talent, Robert Altman?
This is the most surprising thing to come from Martin Scorsese. Scorsese has been somewhat pigeon-holed as a director, making usually historical bio-pics about true-life Jewish/Itallian Immigrants growing up in the Bronx and embarking on a life of crime. Always operatic, always rich with detail. "After Hours" is the arrival of a new Scorsese. One who shows a frightening "what if?" story in the Big Apple involving anyone with a big-city nightlife.
If it wasn't for Scorsese's name in the credits, you'd never guess he was at the helm. You'd never imagine in a million years he ever had anything to do with the project. He uses a quiet, subtle feeling the movie has when it's... "too quiet" and the pumped-up feeling during the more intense dramatic scenes.
Scorsese is a master of suspense, mood and timing. The fact that the Academy continues to pass him for an Oscar time and time and time again is not only annoying. It's downright offensive. We all know too damn well that the Academy bases Oscars all on politics. Well, as far as I'm concerned, Scorsese has played by all the rules. His films are very well-made and intellectual. They have a graceful operatic feel to them. They are often all-too historically accurate bio-pics.
And it uses it. Every actor is perfectly cast. Everyone is allowed to stand out in a big way without being too contrived or too cartoonish to be real.
And Scorsese, who's name stands for quality above all others, makes the most of it.
Joseph Minion's screenplay (which he collaborated with Scorsese on) is used for all it's worth. All the characters are quirky, colorful, yet realistic. The dialouge is written in a way that has that feeling of life. It's smart and honest without sounding unnatural. Too "written." A commn habit of the over-compensating screenwriter.
And 9 out of 10 New Yorkers who see this movie will smile and nod, "Yep. That's NYC at night to a T." Everyone else will be sure to avoid New York like a severe audit. Most people who live outside New York fear the city and plan never to go there.
I imagine this movie will do a lot to complete the trend.
My only real complaint is that Minion should have gotten more credit for his original, winning screenplay. He should have gotten maybe a few more nods from other academies, I'd never seen anything so intriguing and elaborate before. It's not just new. It's smart, fresh, well-crafted and all-too believable.
I know the American Academy would give an Oscar nomination to a film like this, but that's almost a sign of it's greatness. Scorsese gives it a realistic, yet outrageous feel and knows how to let the suspense draw out and build skillfully and Joseph Minion has written himself a little bitty treasure. I just wish he'd write so much more.
Still, this is a home run on every account. I say this and mean it: YOU ALL MUST SEE THIS MOVIE. Ask for it by name: "After Hours."
Find it if you can. Anyway you can.
--One Of The Freaks That Come Out At Night, Dane Youssef
by Dane Youssef
"ONE OF THE YEAR'S BEST. ONE OF THE DECADE'S BEST. ONE OF ANIMATION'S BEST. AND BAKSHI'S BEST."
This is rumored to be animation-pioneer Ralph Bakshi's favorite among all his projects. And no wonder. This is his story!
A 22-year old Jewish-Italian teen spends his time playing pin-ball non-stop and drawing cartoons about the degenerated environment he's living in. They seem to be his only sanctuary. He still lives with his parents, an Italian man who cheats on his wife and a Jewish woman who's so emotionally torqued up--such a drama queen, that when Angelo comes home after a night with his lady, she hits him over the head with a frying pan and sticks his head in the oven.
There's always domestic unrest in any family, particularly with interracial married couples who lived in the Bronx around this time. But they're so wound-up, so ready to snap--they come to blows and sharp instruments a little too quickly.
Way too quickly, in fact. Angelo and Ida's Punch-and-Judy relationship--coupled with the problems that reside outdoors in the Bronx--Michael seems doomed to have some of it rub off on him. "You hang around garbage long enough, you start to stink," as they say.
But Michael has an outlet for his angst and confusion. Rather than fall into the trap many around him seem to, he vents himself at the drawing board. He draws a lot of the people and places in the Bronx. Although he seems to dislike many of them, they're so broad and colorful and wired, they translate easily to caricatures.
Bakshi takes us to all the usual haunts we visit in his movies--trashy ghetto neighborhoods with buildings that look condemned, dirt-cheap apartments, behind the wheel of cars, rooftops, nightclubs, bars, brothels.
The lives of all of the Bronx inhabitants: Jews, Italians, blacks, drag queens, junkies, vagrants, hookers, cops, thugs and the like. And by using animation, Bakshi (and Michael) sort of illustrate their world and their eccentricity, which is so dangerous, it borderlines on insanity.
I wasn't particularly crazy about the disco remix of "Scarborough's Fair." What can I say? I fell in love with the original.
But I suppose it does fit in with the nature of the film. Bakshi uses a lot of shots of Michael playing pinball. He's a big pinball fanatic. It's obviously a metaphor, perhaps for the hectic universe in which Michael bounces from one scenario to another, for which he's constantly out of place.
Carol is a black woman who works at a local bar where Michael draws on the roof. She's loud, she's opinionated, she's passionate. And she really seems to be about something. She's not just an ethnic joke.
Like all bars, there are lots of colorful locals there, plenty of dangerous ones to be sure.
Michael tries to score free drinks with his art. But that's all he tries to score Michael's no ladies' man and he knows it. He's a deep, sensitive, skilled artiste. And a sitting duck for some of the louder, tougher guys who make up the city.
It doesn't help matter that he's a virgin and everyone knows it. At one point, some greasers try to hook him up with a loose woman who's eager to have it with a guy who's so fresh and green. Although this leads to a disaster. Even his own father tries to hook him up. Now there's a true loving father for you.
Michael has an eye for Carol (many people at the bar she tends do), not because he's dying to get laid like nearly every other male. But he seems to genuinely feel something real for her. When she offers it up to him in gratitude for a favor, he faints. He wants her, but he's just not ready.
Ida is fussy and over-protective of her son, just like a mother hen. Or rather a Jewish mother. Angelo wants his son to be more of a "man's man."
Like all of Bakshi's films, this contains a lot of graphic violence and sexual images, as well as caricatures in the ethnic vein.
But surprisingly, in the strangest way, it contains real heart, as well as some sweetness. The relationship between Michael and Carol has to be seen. Bakshi could've made her just an archetype like everyone else and he didn't. She's just as developed and human and relative as dear Michael is. These two deseve one another.
"Heavy Traffic" is wildly imaginative and thrilling in all it's glory. Like "Being John Malkovich," we actually feel like we're inside the author's head rather than his film. This truly ranks as Bakshi's best. He deserves more credit for this than "Fritz The Cat."
How much of all this take place in Michael's mind and how much of it takes place in his reality? Maybe they're one and the same. Maybe not. Maybe we're supposed to figure it out. It up to us. Just like Michael's life is up to him.
The characters in the city are so damn cartooniSH and erratic already, they transfer them into cartoon characters without losing anything in the translation.
Bakshi doesn't paint a pretty picture of the city and it's locals. But then again, he never has, has he? That's one of the things he's known for.
But that's not the only thing. Let's hope that when he goes... he'll be remembered for a lot of things.
Especially this one. It is... not only his best, not only one of the year's best... but of the best.
-- Proud To Be Caught In The Jam of The Heavy Traffic Himself, Dane Youssef
by Dane Youssef
This one wasn't much when it first came out. The budget was extravagant and the box-office returns just barely covered the big fat price tag. And as measly as a movie as this was for itâ€™s day on it's own merits, it's dwarfed even further by the immortal "Lord Of The Rings" saga.
"Willow" is the film the impish Warwick Davis is renown for his participation in the never-ending Horror-movie stories, the "Leprechaun" movies.
This was his first lead role and he brings a likeable and earnest charisma to the role instead of just trying to be little and cute like so many child performers and other midget actors. Thankfully, he proves himself as to be more than just a cheap gimmick like so many other â€œbit-players.â€ He allows himself to really give a true performance and the film itself doesnâ€™t go for the cheapest of shots with any of the height of itâ€™s little people.
As a filmmaker, George Lucas is and has always been a homage-payer. He's one of those filmmakers who always tries to re-make those old films he loved during his own adolescence. With space operas: â€œStar Wars,â€ With Matinee Adventure flicks: â€œIndiana Jones,â€ With futuristic sci-fi adventures, â€œTHX 1138.â€
And now with â€œWillow,â€ he attempts to do the same for the sword-and-sorcery genre.
Notice I use the word â€œattempts.â€
The whole universe is derived from the whole medieval sword-and-sorcery genre. And it's a full bar and buffet smorgasbord here: We've got "Lord Of The Rings," "The Story of Moses," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Gulliver's Travels" just to name a few.
Val Kilmer is pound-for-pound one of the great heavyweight champion actors from here
The 20th century and the 21st saw few better thespians. He truly delivered an Oscar for his re-birth as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's "The Doors."
Here, anyone could have done the same job he does. It's his most unremarkable performance to date. They didn't need the great Kilmer for this one.
Any stock actor with a Screen Actors Guild card or with one year of high school drama class experience could have done as good a job.
Jean Marsh does a good job as Queen Bavmorda, but just about any random British actress on the planet could have done the same and gotten the same results.
Sadly, this one just stands toe-to-toe with the He-Man "Master Of The Universe" movie from 1987.
Even though Ron Howard Opie Cunningham was at the helm for this one, just about any hack with access to a tripod (that tilts low) could have done the same and gotten the same results.
The real problem with "Willow" is that it's totally unremarkable. It's about a likeable little guy with a big heart for his family. He has a magical gift and uses it to make a name for himself. He meets a great warrior with a shady record who may find love along the way.
They do battle with a wicked queen who happens to be a powerful witch with a great army, a two-headed dragon, a menacing lieutenant General who wears a mask scarier than his own face, yada yada yada yada. Do you even care?
There are two little like the 3-inch tall people in "Gulliver's Travels" called Brownies named Rool and Franjean with helium voices and ethnic caricatured French accents that would have been considered embarrassing in the '30's. They irritate and confuse, but never amuse. Unlike R2D2 and C3PO or Marcus Brody, they never provoke as much as a smile.
Lucas planned for this to be something of a series saga of films. But since this one barely made any return whatsoever, Lucas wound up scrapping the film "trilogy" and continuing the story in books. Hey, anyone out there ever actually so much as read a copy of the continuing "Willow" story?
With "Star Wars," "THX 1138" and "American Graffiti," Lucas swung for the fence like a dominant male gorilla. He pulled out all stops and then some. This one is on-par with your average episode of a Saturday Morning TV series, even for the day.
With Lucas' legendary "Indiana Jones" saga, we all remember one key gruesome scene in each movie---like the "false grail" scene in "Last Crusade" or the "Ripped Heart" in "The Temple Of Doom." In "Willow," there's a similar sequence inspired by the "Bay Of Pigs" from the Greek tales of "The Iliad and The Odyssey."
Lucas story pretty much recycles the whole outline plot of the "Star Wars" saga (episodes IV, V, and VI). Unfortunately, Lucas and Howard donâ€™t really feel like theyâ€™re trying
to have the last word of the genre as they did in many of their earlier efforts.
You can see anything just as good and inspired/thrilling/etc. every Saturday morning on just about any network.
Unlike â€œStar Wars,â€ â€œIndiana Jonesâ€ or â€œCocoon,â€ this is not a product of theirs that defines the genre itâ€™s from.
And what is it with the baby Elora Danan? She's so much of the damn plot and yet, all she does really is smile and cry on cue. There are babies in diaper commercials who have characters with more depth.
I like the two-headed dragon. It doesn't look like the traditional fire-breathing dragon. It hardly even looks like a serpent. This one is kind of inspired. As a change of pace, it has more of an ugly look to it with long and furry serpent necks, almost like an ostrich. It's really weird.
Although, it's one of the few inspired touches in this routine medieval epic.
It's a Lucasfilm Ltd. production, so the special effects are (as it goes without saying) in the Oscar nomination territory. Enthralling for the day, some even by today's standards still shine. Lucas has made a bigger name for himself as a innovator of special effects than as a filmmaker.
While it was a defining role for actor Warwick Davis and it employs more midgets and dwarves than any other production (and respectively), for anyone else, "Willow" is never anything special, nor does it attempt to be.
Even for it's day "Willow" was unremarkable. Seriously, how many tales of swords, sorcery, kings, queens, dwarves, dragons and trolls had we seen in movies, TV shows, books, fairy tales and what-have-you before this came along? Yet another case of, "Too little, too late."
Nearly 20 years later, that old axiom proves even more true.
--For All The Little Nelwyns (including Lucas) and Everything They Stand For, Dane Youssef