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ONE MORE LEMON OF A CLUNKER ON CINDER-BLOCKS OF A STAR-VEHICLE

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Reviewed by Picture Dane_Youssef

by Dane Youssef

"When an actor asks you to read his script, your heart sinks. The number of scripts I've been given by actors that are so unbelievably terrible! It's well known that actors are lousy writers." --Richard E. Grant.

Words to live by. Especially in Hollywood.

I was kind of looking forward to this one. I enjoy Eddie Murphy and I love it when a star hand-makes a vehicle for themselves or when someone who writes decides to mark their own directorial debut. But when the star's head gets too big for the rest of his body, there's always a danger of a big-budgeted Hollywood vanity production.

Will the filmmaker keep it real� or will he just waste amounts of money (the studio's and ours) and time (the studio's, our and his own) patting himself on the back for an hour in a half? Sadly, it's the latter here.

Another thing I really like is when someone breathes new and fresh life into an exhausted and dried-out genre. None of that here. The warring nightclub movies have become so worn-through that even the parodies of it are dreary and done to death.

Murphy does neither. He does the most clichéd: He plugs into a routine conventional formula gangster picture and plays it as seriously as if it were "The Godfather." It's like a script where the next draft, they put in the jokes and the new ideas. But it seems like someone with clout just looked at it and went: "No� this is fine."

Probably Murphy. He is credited all over this. In the opening shot of beautiful white satin sheets, his name headlines across the credits about five times.

THE PLOT: A young orphan saves Pryor's life and Pryor adopts the little ragamuffin.

20 years later, Pryor's dump has become a first-class hot spot. They're pulling down big money and a gangster wants their action. He's even got a dirty cop in his employ. But Pryor comes up with a scheme, a la "THE STING."

Murphy's screenplay plays like an unfinished first-draft that nobody had the pair to call him on. The actors aren't really allowed to stand-out much, if at all. Even the almighty Murphy seems to be on auto-pilot.

Pryor shows class and gentlemanly manners as Sugar Ray (perhaps it would have been better to name his character BROWN Sugar Ray�further evidence that this one needed a polish), but everyone here is basically just on vacation.

The Oscar-nomination the movie received is richly deserved (Joe I. Tompkins' Best Costume Design), but the production values are the only part that makes the '30's feel authentic.

Some sets look somewhat fake, but this is supposed to be a comedy of sorts. It's rare one movie gets nominated for both a Razzie and an Oscar (unless it's one of Lucas' new "Star Wars" chapters).

It's 1938 and everyone is talking like it's 1988, particularly the comedians. This is a prehistoric white man's formula. And with all these black comedians and satirists, you expect them to skewer the genre or at least bring new life to it. Nope. Murphy is pretty much just coasting here.

The great Roger Ebert summed it up perfectly when he remarked in his review: "Murphy approaches his story more as a costume party in which everybody gets to look great while fumbling through a plot that has not been fresh since at least 1938."

Jasmine Guy is perfectly cast and seems to be indulging herself in her role and Michael Lerner has all the looks, evil and mannerisms of the prototypical mob boss down pat. And there are moments where Pryor gives you an idea of what a more interesting leader and authority figure would sound like. He gives every scene he's in a feeling of dignity.

Would it have been too much to ask that Della Resse sing? Or at least quit embarrassing herself with all her "Kiss My Ass talk?"

And the late Redd Foxx doesn't get to leave much of a swan song here. He has some back-and-forth with Resse which could have been some great stuff. Nope. Murphy wastes another opportunity again here.

Murphy's Quick is charismatic and likable. But those moments are few and far between for sure. Murphy has never looked better and never been duller. His character made me laugh twice throughout the whole movie.

Stan Shaw's boxer with a horrible speech impediment isn't just painful and embarrassing, it's annoying. There's more to comedy than simply showing something taboo and offensive. You have to incorporate some kind of light touch and funny situation. Watching him strain even the some of the easiest words just makes us feel sorry for him and annoyed with Murphy.

Can Murphy write a good screenplay? Well� there was "Raw," but that was really stand-up material. He wrote the outline for "Boomerang" and "Coming to America" for sure. But he didn't have the last word there.

Does Murphy think he's a writer? I don't mean a great writer. I mean a writer--period. Maybe a team of ER-like script doctors could've revived this one.

Murphy's direction is so slow and quiet, you'd swear he was asleep at the wheel some of the time. He has too many static shots and doesn't seem to know how to build and release suspense. On some level, I think Quick is the real Eddie Murphy. Angry, young, hot-headed and ambitious. But occasionally charming. Now if he were only funny sometime.

There's a scene in which Murphy has a femme fatale in bed who plans to make love with him and kill him. You can probably guess how it turns out. Like everything else in the movie, this could have been better, but�

"Surprisingly," Murphy has not directed another movie since (he got a Razzie nomination). And he no longer writes the finished draft for his films either (he WON the Razzie for writing this!)

It's great to look at and the music is beautiful, and there are a few really nice scenes. But that just falls under the category of "gems among all the junk." Not enough of them.

Could've been. Shouldv'e been. Wasn't.

Oh, well...

--For Those Beautiful Dark Nights in Black Harlem, Dane Youssef

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ONE OF THE MOST BORING FILMS EVER THERE WAS... AVOID

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Reviewed by Picture Dane_Youssef

by Dane Youssef

Oh, I'm sorry. I fell asleep. Did something happen... ? What, no... ?

Was this supposed a comedy? Hell, I have no idea.

Hell, was this even supposed to be a damn movie?!

It must have been trying to be one.

Watching this one is like looking at a blank screen. It features talented high-caliber name actors, but they never seem to really be acting in a movie. They're just up there on the screen killing time with their monotony.

The plot is basically something for a fun Saturday-night buddy movie. But there's no energy, no spontinety, no drive... no life. "Stealing Harvard" doesn't even have a heartbeat.

The movie stars the riveting and charismatic Jason Lee ("My Name Is Earl," "Dogma," "Chasing Amy," "Kissing A Fool") as John Plummer, a home-care worker at home health-care corporation called "Homespital," not unlike the hospital founded by Patch Adams.

Lee's engaged to and just looking for a house to settle down and have a family with. His fiancee's father is also his boss.

He's a bland, ordinary "John Everyman" who engaged to a sweet, cheerful woman (somewhat deranged, of course) named Elaine (played by Leslie Mann).

His boss as "Homespital" is going to be his father in law and naturally hates John as any true father-in-law should.

"Have you slept with my daughter?" John practically swallows his whole throat.

He smiles and says with too-friendly a tone, "If you have, I'll give you immunity and that if he have slept with her, he should tell him there and now and they'll let it go."

And John himself goes blank.

Then, looking like some kind of animal caught in oncoming headlights, John wisely lies.

Mr. Warner smiles and responds: "Good! Godammit, that's good! Because if you had, John, I was gonna kick your balls up into your head and let them rattle around in your skull like dice in a Yahtzee cup!"

He and his fianc�e Elaine Warner (Leslie Mann from "George of the Jungle" and "The Cable Guy") have managed to scrape up $30,000 to buy a new house. But when his scholarly niece actually manages to get into a college, an old promise that John comes back to bite him in the ass.

This is the third movie directed by former "Kid In The Hall" Bruce McCulloch ("Dog Park" and "Superstar") and it's his third misfire. His films are always dull, flat, incapable of generating any energy.

Or maybe he just refuses to let them. He always has one really flamboyant character to generate some energy into an otherwise lifeless slog. Here, it's Tom Green.

TV shock-Meister (and expired flavor-of-the-month) turned day-actor Tom Green plays his best friend Walter Duffy, a landscaper who has his own business. with an angry, obnoxious personality and a single digit IQ. He's basically just Tom Green if he went into landscaping.

His style as a landscaper is to rip up fresh green, colorful and replace them with old, dead, ugly-looking tacky ones. Well, it's a look, I guess.

At one point, his boss takes him aside and asks him the same burning question that every consumes every father to the core and to the point of hysteria:

How to get a butt-load of money really, really fast? John's comes to his longtime buddy, Walter "Duff" Duffy who suggests... a robbery.

The kind of movie you round up your weekend buddies, go to a bar and have a few and go to see during the late-showing.

The film has all the energy of a 70-year old snail on an overdose of sedatives. Jason Lee, an actor I have the utmost respect for ("Chasing Amy," "Almost Famous" and "Vanilla Sky") who combines the best of Jimmy Stewart and Adam Sandler, is so cheerful and likable, he's boring here.

Now you can say all you want that Tom Green is a bad actor. Let's face it, he is. His Golden Raspberry Award for "Worst Supporting Actor" of 2001 speaks for itself (he won many other "worsts" that year), but his performance gives the film the lion's share of what little energy it actually has. If it wasn't for Green's obnoxious Duff character, we'd all be going to sleep.

The worst part, I'm afraid, is that despite Mr. Green's inability to act, he does not give the worst performance in this movie. That comes from director McCulloch himself as an attorney near the end of the film.

Rest assured, he's not there for very long, but his acting is so bad, I was amazed at how much worse he made the film simply by entering it.

Megan Mulally appears in a supporting role as Lee's sister, who's trailer-trash through and through. She has different sex partners every night... er, hour of the week. She and John have never really been close. They have a moment together. It's more deep and interesting than any other part of the movie.

Chris Penn pops up in a brief bit as a thug who is recruited by John and Duff to pull off a robbery, which leads to a scene that could have been funny, but just plain isn't. Like the rest of movie, it's so dead and flat-lined, you wish there was some doctor to put electrical pads over the chest of the film and go "Clear!" to bring it to life.

Here's a movie that could have been just big-fun disposable Saturday Night weekend entertainment like "Meet the Parents" or "Stuck on You." But this film needed a team of script doctors straight from the ER.

The brief gags from the supporting performers aren't much either. Big names with nothing to work with. John C. McGinley (TV's "Scrubs") is particularly embarrassing as a hard-nosed detective who's hot on their trail and trying to find out who's responsible for that mini-mart stick-up and is not above breaking the law.

He plays an almost completely unfunny version of his hard-ass cop role from "Point Break." I won't even get into the scene involving Richard Jenkins as the man of one of the houses they break into looking for money, suffice to say it didn't make me laugh and it hurt to watch. So does a scene which made me feel bad that John has had sex with Elaine--she cries during cotis. Good Lord.

Boring, when not irritating. It could have been so much better. So much funnier. With a script doctor, a director with some sight and some energy... well, Que se ra....

"There is nothing sadder than wasted talent" ---Robert De Niro as Lorenzo Anello in "A Bronx Tale."

--Hoping To Steal Some of His Own Happiness Somehow and Someway, Dane Youssef

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STRIPPERS... WHAT GOES ON IN YOUR WORLD?

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Reviewed by Picture Dane_Youssef

by Dane Youssef

And in the film industry. But the movies about the stripping game don't seem to. They never seem to be well-made, or even much fun. Why not? What's going on here? The characters and plot are so non-existent, they fall under the category of pornos without sex.

And who wants to see that?

Such cinema on the art form as "Showgirls" and "Striptease" made one wish the makers had followed pornography by example and not tried to have a plot. Multi-Razzie-winning schlockola only to be enjoyed only on the late-night UHF channel 93 super-cheese corn Ed Wood, Jr. level.

Good readers, take a deeeeep breath of relief that "The Players Club" has a slightly higher-quality of strip than glitzy dives like "Showgirls" and "Striptease." Not quite the British Oscar contender level of "The Full Monty," but not quite a "Striptease."

Written and directed by old-school rap superstar Ice Cube, "The Players Club" is a posh, yet harsh feature dealing with women needing big money really fast and undergo a whole lifestyle change in order to get it. Stripping changes who they are all over.

But hey--everybody needs money. Everyone wants to make more. That's the point of money. Even if you're Donald Trump, every single dollar there is... just isn't enough. We've all heard of the girl who turns trick in order as a last resort.

There are women who get into stripping 'cause they want the worship, the adoration. To control every man in the room--and her career.

But there are those who just need to make a lot of money really, really fast. When we meet Diana (LisaRaye), she's just had a fight with her father over which college she should go to. He throws her out. She leans on a guy for support. He gives her more than that. He gives her a child. Then he leaves with nothing.

A single black woman raising a baby on her own with no means. Such a sad, familiar story. So familiar, it makes it all the sadder.

To make ends meet, she gets a job at a thrift shoe-shop. Some strippers come in and tell her there are ways of making more money--much, much more. And in high demand. You're in charge of your career, your clientele, yourself. Diana is suddenly in charge of her own life--and may have all the means she needs.

The club that comes recommended by the strippers is "The Players Club," a ritzy posh gentleman's club it Atlanta, run by a pimp daddy named Dollar Bill. The place is always hopping like a hornytoad on hop with the kind of people you would like to get to know.

"Players" has a lot of the same gimmicks as "Striptease." One can only wonder... did The Ice Man see that movie... just before he wrote up this?

Big black contenders, buddies of the Iceman pop up. The reliable likes of Bernie Mac, Jamie Foxx, John Amos, Fazion Love, A.J. Johnson, Terrence Howard, Big Boy, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister and Michael Clark Duncan.

A lot of this is pretty warmed-over. But despite the blaxploitation roots and intentions, "Players Club" boasts and A-list cast and production values, thanks to the powerful status name of The Ice Cube and New Line Cinema.

LisaRaye gets a C-plus in her lead debut. Cube is quoted as saying he hired some fresh-face newbie actress so as his debut as filmmaker would be the important part, not a big name star-vehicle where the star names get all the notice.

Also green is Chrystale Wilson, making an ideal villainess as Ronnie. In scene after scene, she defines the "dominatrix." And as it goes without saying, the dominatrix dominates her every scene. Now THIS is blaxploitation.

Ronnie is another grand larceny scene-stealer that falls under the old movie saying of "the villains have the most fun--and ARE the most fun."

Bernie Mac takes this comic relief and makes it a plum. In the rich role of Dollar Bill, here is a man who is a club owner dressed like a pimp Don King (which is redundant), speaking like with a lot of philosophical wisdom that one picks up on the street, from the school of hard knocks. Business-wise, deep, yet ghetto.

Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx of "Ray" fame got his start in the biz as a stand-up comic and here as the solid supporting man love interest, the club's DJ Blue, it might've served him (and the freakin' movie) had he had dug up some of his archive bits from his "Def Jam" days.

You wouldn't think the DJ at a strip club would be especially important (Bill even tells Blue that to his face at one point), but he proves to be the very thing that Diana needs--even pulling it all together in the final act.

John Amos and Faizon Love are a buddy cop-pair have that Mutt-and-Jeff shtick going with Amos playing it straight and Love going for laughs. Amos as the ultimate hard cop, never coming close to smiling.

I really did enjoy this more than the last two "Friday" movies and Cube's "All About The Benjamins."

The Iceman himself has a running bit part as Reggie, a one of the regulars at "The Player's Club"--a hired thug and dabbles in some recreational crime for his own sake, like soliciting sex. He's friends with Clyde and Ronnie's brother, Junior.

Though there are times when Cube's stuff feels tired, his stuff underdeveloped. He's credited also as executive producer, which I think means he green-lit his own project. Sometimes, it pays to have an objective eye. Couldn't Cube's old director from "Boyz 'N' The Hood" John Singelton have come on down to give his former "Doughboy" some sage filmmaking advice?

The best thing "The Players Club" does is make a lot of its characters colorful and eccentric while keeping a lot of them fairly human. Cube tries to juggle, not making it a specific genre--but a "life film." His movie is comedy, drama, thriller, and action flick...

"Players" has Mr. Ice donning the solo hat here--as screenwriter, executive producer, director and supporting actor. The likes of Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch did all this. What made them so special? They could.

No classic, no picture belonging on the AFI's 100 Best, no one's absolute favorite of all time. But still worth seeing.

If no else, after seeing this one, you're sure of two things: stripping is a profession that pays big for a reason--there are rites of passage and perils.

You may never think the same again when you hit the strip joints, offer up that dollar you're waving into the air... and just who it goes to.

Despite it's blaxploitation roots, "Player's Club" mostly tries to sidestep a lot of opportunities to exploit or go for the really campy crap that helped earlier "white-stripper" movies get some viewers. But there's some camp here and there--all unintentional, I'm sure. The Cube ain't Spike Lee.

I wish Cube's partner-in-crime Chris Tucker from "Friday" would've popped-up at some point. Tucker is on par with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence as a comic presence.

He's such talent, he's can bring even the deadest scene to life. Ol' Smokey nearly made "Friday" a must-see, he could've made this all the better.

There are times when Cube doesn't capture the energy he needs to. As director, he sometimes seems to be just recording. The camera is on auto-pilot rather than capturing a mood.

And blaxploitation is still alive, still thriving...

--A Believer in Big, Bad Black Cinema, Dane Youssef

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NINTENDO 1989: THE MOVIE FROM 'UNIVERSAL STUDIOS'

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Reviewed by Picture Dane_Youssef

by Dane Youssef

For those precious few of you who are reading this and don't know--I know I'm preaching to the built-in choir here, but there's always a few who may be a little unclear, vauge or just got the wrong address.

"THE WIZARD" isn't any moniker or fun new twist on the classic story of a little girl from Kansas who gets caught in a tornado and finds herself not only over the rainbow, but in a wonderland of technocolor and strange characters.

Well, at least not exactly.

This "Wizard" dealt with kids in peril, feeling trapped in where they were. Video games were their outlet. One boy so disturbed, he had become mute and later committed after witnessing the death of his sister. The older brothers living with the father after the divorce. When a child is lost, a family is too.

"The Wizard" open with a small, determined soul walking along a long stretch of road in the pursuit of something. Some goal, some destination. Some form of escape.

There's something... he's looking for. He's on his way... somewhere. Somewhere special, somewhere important. Somewhere he needs to be. It fades in like a sunrise... where is he going? We don't know. We don't even know who he is, but we want to go with him. This boy's name is Jimmy. And he has a goal. He tells us, "California..."

Jimmy is in an institution and has been ever since he lost his sister. Yet he seems to break loose again and again like the family cat. Is there some unlocked door sans security at this loony hatch?

One day during a visit, big brother Corey takes little Jimmy and the two break loose--together. At an arcade, Corey first-hand witnesses Jimmy is Bobby Fisher's unacknowleged love child at Nintendo. They use his skills to play for money. And because it's a road trip movie, they have to pick up a woman along the way.

It's a PG flick for little kids (once again, Nintendo fans), so it has to a preteen like them--and they have to be just friend. Her name is Haley, an adolescent drifter. She claims to know the score... and she can raise the money to get them where they need to go.

They're hard-up for money. But Halley is one sizzling hustler. Wait 'til she's old enough to develop sex appeal to add to the mix. Looking back on all this, I was expecting Halley to try raising money by "tit-for-tat." You give us a ride, and I'll give you..."

It was my mother who recalled that old song from the "He's A Pinball Wizard" by The Who and suggested, well.. maybe that's where the movie got its namesake. The catchy little pop ditty of some soul who had nothing else in his life but was a wonder at that one arcade game. It was his world. Whoever he was.

Well, if anyone could relate to that....

'Would've liked to hear that on the soundtrack at maybe some point.

A lot of the world said that the "Wizard" is stuffed to the gills with commercials. But no, they were wrong.

"The Wizard" WAS a commercial. For Nintendo and the Universal Studios Tour.

If we'd gotten some scenes where we see Jimmy's connection to these games, how he becomes Zen with them, there might have actually been some real significance. We're just watching video games being played. And... that's all we as kids wanted when this thing came out.

Not so see a really poweful piece of cinema, but to just see kids like us running loose without parental supervision and Nintendo being our outlet source of rebellion. Children as resourceful as can be doing incredible things with the toys we played with and loved.

Screenwriter/producer David Chisholm seems to have cobbled this thing together out of a lot of spare plot threads and gimmicks. Usually filmmakers do this when they're just doing the obligator rush hatchet job and don't have their heart in the project they're working on. And you can tell--Chisholm doesn't love this screenplay of his. This is not a personal project for him. This is just a Hollywood crowd-pleaser designed to feed the cult masses.

"The Wizard" was written out of scraps of other movies, like the Oscar-winning "Rain Man"--which still remains one of my all-time faves. And the pumped-up showdown finale is right out of "Rocky" and nearly every sports movie ever made.

The choir (us) loves video games, lives for them, thrives on them. But the makers of this movie don't. They don't care about any of this except--"Here, buy this. Spend your money on..."

For all of those who belonged to the mass cult of Nintendo, this was the third coming.

Seeing it again now with older, more experienced eyes like an old man going back into his childhood home, the bedroom we once lived in, the bed once ours, looking over our own toys and photos... and, and... what the hell was I thinking? Was that even me? Who was that guy?

What is "The Wizard"? A film of our adoration for this piece of cinema from or childhood, which weaved together our love of movies featuring us kids as the heroes and our undying love of the video games.

... Jesus, what were we thinking?

"Wizard" claimed itself later once released on home video (B.D.D.--before DVD) as a "warm-hearted family" film. But no, no, no, no, no and no. God, no. Hell, no. F--k, no.

It was anything but. It was specifically for the children--the children who wanted to leave the home and burden of their families and go play Nintendo somewhere. And the kids were astoundingly resourceful, like they had their own little underground black market.

The adults were the utmost of bumbling fools, almost mentally retarded--as they tend to be in a lot of kiddie movies.

Fred Savage stands as one of the finest child actors there ever was. Shirley Temple and Macaulay Culkin had more fame, but the Savage was just that--even better. And Luke Edwards is all right for what this role calls her--acting terminally shy at all times. Jenny Lewis as the "mover and shaker"... Good Lord, I don't even think I believed when I first saw it. But maybe we're not supposed to. I think the whole dramatic plot point of Haley is she's not what she pretends to be.

For a movie all the kids and their toys, "The Wizard" holds some surprisingly good adult performances. Steven Grives as the electrified Video Armageddon Announcer who's like a British Christopher Lloyd as the charged-up Master of Ceremonies. And Will Seltzer as an especially scummy bounty hunter who tracks down runaway kids.

Beau Bridges, commendable--but he has that role that literally ANY ACTOR could sleepwalk through. Christian Slater himself, a fine actor, very fine. Like fine china. People make too much of his resemblence to Jack Nicholson--but he's no celeb impersonator. He's solid gold on his own. And he's given virtually nothing to do in his "eldest brother" role.

Hey, the kids don't care about Bridges or Christian Slater--they care about Nintendo. Well, there's not much Nintendo either.

For some strange reason, after seeing "The Wizard" again with older eyes, I just somehow didn't feel like video games for the time being. I wanted to get out and physically do something. Take some real action with my life. It was a few days before I picked up a Game Boy.

And as I was playing my usual round of "Tetris" and was trying to break my old record, I was singing quietly to myself, "He's A Nintendo Wizard..."

--Still A Game Boy, Dane Youssef

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NIL BY MOUTH... SOMETHING TO SAY

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Reviewed by Picture Dane_Youssef

by Dane Youssef

"NIL BY MOUTH" is the very first film written and directed by the great Gary Oldman, a seasoned veteran actor who has still yet to give a bad performance. Oldman grew up in the poorest ghetto of South London, where this film takes place.

And while this movie has been rumored and believed to be a semi-autobiography of Oldman's childhood and family (who wouldn't watch this movie and believe so?), Oldman himself has said that this is not him or his family.

Hey, I believe him. Although he grew up in this environment, he was not directly in the line of fire, if you follow me.

The film sets it’s sights on a South London family that defines the term “domestic unrest.” A woman, her husband, daughter, brother, their mother and grandmother. As well as the people outside their family who they are connected to.

"Nil By Mouth" represents many of the other families in South London, not Oldman's. The colorful cockney ways of the Great Britain. But more than anything, it’s problem of casual brutal urban violence.

We've seen many abusive types in movies--usually one-dimensional and sanitized. But "Nil By Mouth" refuses to white-wash. The fact that this is not a big-budget Hollywood star-vehicle allows this to be a real film-going experience.

This movie wishes to illuminate. Not entertain or delude. This is "slice-of-life," not escapist fantasy. I've told members of my family about it and they've given very mixed reactions. My father and sister disliked the dime-store production values and no-name actors. They asked me why I would rent such a bitter and hateful film. My mother says she has spent her life shunning this type of humanity and burying her head in the sand, living as if it does not really exist. "The Way Of The Ostrich."

This is one of those frightening on-screen performances in recent memory. Ray Winstone deserves high praise and immortalization for his acting here in the role of Ray. He seems to be one of those unsavory, brutal characters in movies that stay with us. Like Hannibal Lecter in "Silence Of The Lambs," Like Frank Booth in "Blue Velvet," Like Norman Bates in "Psycho," this performance haunts us like a ghost. The scorned ghost of a murderer...

There is a cringing moment in which Ray answers his wife's question as to why: "I do it because I love you." We cringe because his answer feels more familiar and common than it should.

Ray is not merely an abusive drunk; he is a horrible bastard, always prone to violent outbursts. When his wife hangs out with a casual male acquaintance, he suspects that she may be having an affair and damn near kills her.

Ray Winstone delivers a powerhouse performance in the role of Ray, a working-class man who loves his family, especially his daughter. But this man has demons. Demons that are so numerous and deep, they cannot be repressed. He can be a likeable, laid-back guy, like everyone else.

But we see that without serious provocation, he instantly becomes raving and homicidal. A side that most movies (and people) tend to shy away from. He will make your blood run cold and near the end, make you cry.

Kathy Burke, best known for her role on “Absolutely Fabulous” takes an enthralling dramatic turns as Valerie, Ray’s wife who’s sole purpose seems to be to keep the family strung together while putting up with her husband’s monstrous outbursts, almost sadomasochistic ally. This is an unforgettable performance.

Whenever there’s someone like Ray, there's almost always someone like Mark. Mark is sort of a sidekick or cheerleader for Ray and his violently domestic antics. He seems to be something of a drama queen, hitching his trailer up to the pain in Ray's life. It perhaps gives him an excuse to explode and go ape-s**t the way he does. It's mentioned at one point that Mark himself was worked over by Ray's father---maybe this explains the tie that bond these two.

Jamie Forman is effective as Ray's little right-hand man. Apparently, Forman himself is the son of a real-life legendary London gangster who caused mayhem in the '60's.

There are scenes where he shows the true symptoms of a violent criminal. I wonder... is the caustic streak of the father burning through the son? Jamie, unlike his old man has apparently chosen a more legal profession. If so, kudos for him.

Is he just a great actor? Jamie may actually have some demons himself that he's trying to release.

And while Ray may be the black sheep of this family, all that really means is he's the blackest of the black. No one here walks on water. Valerie smokes and drinks despite knowing full-well she's pregnant. No one around her really speaks up in protest about her indirect poisoning of her child.

Valerie's little brother, Billy is a severe heroin addict. Despite the fact that he's occasionally allowed to sleep over at Ray and Valerie's, Ray even feeds him and gives him a banknote here and there, Billy steals a score of dope from their flat.

You can only imagine how Ray takes to this. Billy is scorned, but although he is cast out, he still stays with his side of the family and even retaliates against Ray, stealing an irreplaceable family heirloom.

After this, Billy is not really in trouble. He is all but dead.

Billy is a severe junkie and spends a lot of time with his friends. And since Billy is a junkie, there's only one kind of clique of friends he can afford: more junkies.

One of his pals, Danny is one of the movie's strangest characters. Danny is literally covered from head-to-toe with tattoos and body-piercing. He defines the term "body art." His whole body is like a big collage explosion.

But he's not the one-dimensional freak/weirdo/thug we'd expect just by getting a quick glance at him. He shows compassion and even sweetness at time like all the other characters, even Ray.

Nearly everyone drinks and smokes. Nearly everyone says "f**k" and "c**t" on a far more-than-regular basis. And their endless stream of profanity and brutal violent mistreatment of one another is like a sad testimony to how tragically pathetic they are.

You can almost hear the violins playing on the soundtrack to each of their lives. They are the victims of their life, their family, their environment, each other and themselves.

Oldman films using the now-traditional and all-too-common (but at the time, novel) hand-held camera technique and 16mm film, thus giving "Nil By Mouth" not the look of a polished, slick and lavish film, but raw, unkempt footage of very real life.

The movie looks like a true documentary, the herky-jerky camerawork makes it look as if we're seeing everything from our own P.O.V. As if we're "there, in the heat of the moment."

And we can't help but think about the little five-year old daughter and the unborn second child of Ray and Val, how their parents impact will undoubtedly shape them. It is an endless, vicious cycle of evil that shows no signs of breaking. And it is running rampantly throughout the world.

This is just one of those movies that… after it’s over, you want to do something… something to make things better.

LITTLE TRIVIAL NOTES ON "NIL BY MOUTH":

Unless you're somewhere in the European climate or at least Australian, you'd best hit "closed captioning" or "subtitles" if you want to understand so much as a damn line of dialouge. The thick cockney accents are almost indecipherable. They're so thick, you could choke on them. For me, it was almost like hearing morse code. The characters might as well have been speaking Chinese.

The title comes stems from a medical instruction in the hospital not to give a patient food or drink as they're about to go into surgery. The connection in that this movie makes with that title is poetically heart-breaking, like the rest of the film.

----With Open Arms and An Open Mouth, Dane Youssef

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