Tag Archives: julianne moore

Boogie Nights – Review

7 Jul

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most distinct voices in modern film, and I doubt that anyone would diminish the scope and power of his vision. There Will be Blood and The Master are so well photographed and told, while Magnolia tells a surreal, yet human tale. Before all this, however, there was Boogie Nights, Anderson’s break out hit from 1997. Not only was this the start of a career for Anderson, but also for Mark Wahlberg, who was known more for his rap music and work as a Calvin Klein model. To say the least, Boogie Nights is an epic film that hearkens back to the earlier films of Martin Scorsese, but it also stands alone as a singular visionary tale with P.T. Anderson’s style written all over it.

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In the late 1970s, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) is one of the leading names in the pornography industry, after directing numerous successful porno films. His real dream, however, is to hook the audience with the story instead of the sex. One night at a club, Horner stumbles upon Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a young guy with a seemingly non existent future and some really special talents. Adams is soon recruited by Horner and changes his name to Dirk Diggler, a name that will soon be known throughout the porn industry as the greatest male actor to grace the screen. Along with his best friend, Reed Rothchild (John C. Riley), Diggler takes the world by storm, but is soon introduced to a lifestyle of hard drugs and decisions without consequences. This takes a toll on his life, and the lives of everyone around him, and by the time the 1980s hits, it becomes time for Diggler to make some serious decisions about who he is and who he wants to be.

From the very first shot, I knew that I was about to watch a masterfully shot film. The first three minutes is a long take that starts on the marquee of a theater, travels through the street, and finally into the nightclub where we meet Jack Horner and Eric Adams, soon to be Dirk Diggler. I’m a real sucker for long takes like this, and it reminded me very much of the famous long take from GoodfellasBoogie Nights is made of quite a few of these long takes, with another in particular happening about halfway through the movie, which switches gears into overdrive. Other than that, this is just a really nice movie to look at. The outdoor scenes are very bright and really set the tone of the success that Dirk and his friends are feeling. Once the 1980s hits, a lot of the scenes are shot at night which also signifies a massive tonal shift. The way Anderson shoots this movie isn’t just artistic and technically proficient, but it also helps tell the story, and that’s awesome.

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While this is a story about Mark Wahlberg’s character, it’s important to note that it also tells the story of many other characters who come to be associated with Diggler. Other than Burt Reynolds and John C. Riley, Boogie Nights also stars Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I would much rather look at this movie as an ensemble pieces about a time period and the consequences of that time period, with the rise and fall of Wahlberg’s character as a catalyst. Anderson pays such close attention to period detail that it’s hard to argue this movie isn’t about the period in which it takes place. Each character has a different problem or situation that reflects a part of that time, and it gets even worse when the 1980s arrive and they have to come to terms with their past choices.

I keep mentioning the 1980s like it’s some ominous presence looking over the sun drenched horizon of the 1970s, and that’s sort of what it is in this movie. It also marks a point where Anderson makes some poor storytelling choices. The first half of the movie that takes place in the 1970s is note perfect, and I don’t have single complaint. Things take a turn for the worse right when the 80s arrive. This is when the fall of the characters begin, and it’s handled well for the most part, but some of it is just way too over the top and kind of pulled me out of the movie. There’s a really powerful sequence during this part that is followed up by a striking moment with Don Cheadle’s character. This scene alone is really cool and odd, but fitting it in after some really disturbing stuff was like sticking a Spider-Man comic into the Book of Revelations. This scene is really what I’m talking about, and it pulled me out of the movie so much that I just kept seeing all of the over the top moments as individual scenes that could have been turned down a few notches to make a better fit. These are really only a few scenes in a movie that’s two and a half hours long, so it doesn’t hurt the movie too bad, but I felt that I had to mention it.

Boogie Nights is simply a movie that can not be ignored. I consider Paul Thomas Anderson to be one of the best film makers working today, so seeing the movie that kick started his career was a real treat. This film is more than the pornography industry in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a film about the kinds of decisions that were made by a kind of people that led to a decade of serious trouble. It’s a rise and fall story with a time period that sort of act like characters themselves. This isn’t exactly a perfect movie, but I’d recommend Boogie Nights to anyone and everyone.

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Maps to the Stars – Review

24 Mar

Over the years, the glamor of Tinsel Town has kind of lost its luster. Starting with Sunset Blvd., critiques of Hollywood have kept on coming throughout the years, and each one has a unique approach to the nightmare that is celebrity. For this particular review, I’m going to be looking at David Cronenberg’s 2014 film, Maps to the Stars. Cronenberg has made a name for himself over the years as one of the most intense and challenging directors, be it in the horror genre or otherwise. Maps to the Stars fits in perfectly with his filmography as it is a horror movie, but also a darkly hilarious and penetrating satire.

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Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is an aging actress who is determined to play her deceased mother in a remake of a movie that she starred in many years ago. To do that she hires Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a famous new age psychologist, to help her face the demons her mother made her endure during childhood. While he’s not with Havana, Stafford works to keep his son Benjie’s (Evan Bird) acting career together. Benjie has suffered from drug addiction and has been to rehab at the age of 12. Now it’s a struggle to stay clean and keep his acting career from dying. As all of these people deal with their lives in their own strange ways, a mysterious girl named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in town, and her past threatens the stability of all these people have worked to build.

While this does definitely feel like a David Cronenberg movie, it also has elements of Bret Easton Ellis’ writings and a sort of David Lynch vibe that was felt in movies like Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. I really love movies like this because it implements something similar to nightmare logic, if that’s even a thing. What I mean by that is Maps to the Stars feels like a very bad dream. There were many times throughout the movie where I felt like I was watching reality, but it was something different and more sinister. Kind of like in a dream when you’re in your house, but it isn’t actually your house. That’s probably a weird way of putting it, but what I’m really trying to say is that this movie had a really creepy and off putting atmosphere that really hooked me.

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Screenwriter Bruce Wagner has written a very strange movie, but the way people interact with each other in Maps to the Stars might be the strangest thing of all. Some of the things they say and do is so outlandish that you really wish it was a joke just written for the movie. Unfortunately, the media has given us plenty examples of celebrities, like the ones in this movie, saying and doing some ridiculous things that would fit right into this film. Kudos to all the actors in this movie for delivering these lines with complete seriousness. If it wasn’t for their belief in their characters, much of what they say would not have been nearly as funny or hard hitting.

While I do really like this movie, there was one big problem with it that I can’t shake. For the entire movie I was sucked in and really could not wait to see how it ended. When the ending finally came, I didn’t really buy it. First of all, the ending just wasn’t particularly a good one, but that’s not really my main complaint. My main complaint is that they didn’t take enough time to really build up to the ending. It pretty much just sprang up out of nowhere without any real tension happening. There’s tension in the movie, but nothing with any real finality to show that this is the climax of the movie.

Maps to the Stars is a movie that I knew would be right up my alley and I was exactly right. It’s a darkly hilarious look at celebrity life and what it can do to you if you aren’t careful. There’s a lot of disturbing content in the movie that’s meant to make you feel uncomfortable, and the whole atmosphere of the movie is relatively unsettling. While it seems Cronenberg might have been kind of a weird choice for this kind of movie, he was actually a perfect choice. I definitely liked this one a lot.

The Fugitive – Review

6 Feb

Isn’t it a shame that I’ve met people who firmly believe that straight up action movies do not qualify as artistic film making and refuse to label any of them “classics?” I find it hard to believe that people can still think like that when movies like The Fugitive exist and has gotten overwhelmingly positive acclaim. Based off of a t.v. series that ran from 1963 to 1967, Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive not only serves up a heaping dish of intelligent storytelling and one of the most intense performances of the ’90s, but also just a very entertaining thrill ride packed with plenty of action and adventure.

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Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is one of Chicago’s go to vascular surgeons and is also graced with a large house and a beautiful wife (Sela Ward). Kimble’s life is completely turned upside down when his wife is killed and he is charged with her murder and sentenced to death. While being transferred, the group of prisoners he is with attempts a break out which crashes the bus allowing Kimble to make his getaway and start his search of the one-armed man that is actually the perpetrator of his wife’s murder. Unfortunately for Kimble, Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), who has a reputation for being relentless, is hot on his trail, but neither of them could have guessed how deep the conspiracy that they’ve been tossed into actually goes.

There’s so many things to talk about with The Fugitive, so trying to get my thoughts evenly together is a bit of a challenge. That’s kind of a compliment in and of itself, but I digress. The most important thing to me is how the movie is written. It’s such a tight story with each scene the perfectly compliments one another. Nothing in the movie feels excessive or unnecessary, which is definitely a good thing for a movie that runs over 2 hours long. The story pretty much hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the resolution. This kept me completely into it the entire time. Not to mention the amount of grand set pieces strewn throughout. One particularly memorable sequence happens during a St. Patrick’s Day parade, which was never in the script and improvised on the spot. That’s some clever film making.

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Because the writing of The Fugitive is so tight, the whole movie just works. I can’t say that I was bored at any point throughout the narrative of this movie. That’s not to say that there isn’t any downtime, because there’s plenty that’s used to build the characters and thicken the plot in ways that it needs to be. This isn’t just stupid thrills that exist for cheap reasons. I mentioned before the memorable scene that takes place during the St. Patrick’s Day parade and how it’s a very well executed scene. There’s another scene that may actually be the most famous from the movie where Kimble successfully avoids a crashing train. The way the stunt was set up required so much planning and used an actual train that I really can’t help but admire it. That’s part of what sets this movie a step above the rest in terms of the action genre.

Finally, the performances in this movie are really something else. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones are the two big names in the movie, but there are also some great supporting cast members like Joe Pantaliano and Julianne Moore. Ford works great as Kimble and his personality makes the character feel very natural and makes him someone the audience can really root for. Ford just has a knack for making heroes seem like everyday guys. The real scene stealer, however, is Tommy Lee Jones who actually took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He really seems to be going above what he normally does and even went so far as to make up a lot of his most famous lines on the spot. That just shows how deep into the character of Samuel Gerard he really was.

The bottom line is that The Fugitive is one of the best action films ever made and shows that action films can be considered art in how they’re made and how well the narrative is constructed. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones give two memorable performances that serve as highlights of their career and was even garnered with 7 Academy Award nominations. I’m sure at this most people have already the pleasure of viewing this contemporary classic, but if not it really is necessary viewing.

Carrie (1976 & 2013) – Review

30 Jul

With 54 novels and almost 200 short stories, along with over 100 film adaptations of these works, Stephen King is one of the most prominent writers to walk the face of our Earth. Incidentally, the first novel he ever published was the first of his works to be adapted. This, as the title of the review may suggest, is Carrie. The first film to be released in 1976 became a horror classic as the years went on, which spawned a little known sequel in 1999 and a TV movie in 2002. Along with these was a remake from 2013, which despite what I originally expected, isn’t half bad.

Let’s start with Brian DePalma’s 1976 classic.

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High school can be tough for just about anyone, but it’s especially tough for Carrie White (Sissy Spacek). Having grown up under the roof of her Christian zealot mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), she hasn’t been exposed to close to anything that kids her age have been, making her a social outcast and victim of extreme bullying. One day, the humiliation gets so bad that Carrie discovers latent telekinetic powers, which her mom claims to be the work of the devil. When Carrie is asked to prom by track superstar Tommy Ross (William Katt), after his girlfriend Sue (Amy Irving) demands it to atone for her bullying Carrie, it seems like her world is about to open up to new possibilities. Unfortunately for Carrie, school bully Chris (Nancy Allen) and her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) stage a prank at the prom that unleashes not only more of Carrie’s telekinetic powers, but also years worth of rage and a violent desire for revenge.

Anyone who knows the story of Carrie should be able to understand why it’s actually so important, and also an iconic staple of the horror genre. It’s a devastating story of a young girl who is pushed too far by bullies, and she just so happens to have supernatural powers to get back at them. While this is a horror film, it can also be looked at as a drama, especially since the horror that it is known for happens during the last twenty minutes of the film. The other horror is also just watching her get tormented by the students and teachers at school, but also finding no solace at home with her mother who abuses her in a different kind of way. Carrie is a horror movie with a moral, and that’s to respect everyone, no matter how strange they may be… especially if they’re also gifted with murderous supernatural powers.

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Everything about the original Carrie just fits so perfectly. Brian DePalma’s highly stylized use of split diopter lenses and split screen editing makes for a unique experience, especially for a movie like this. The performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are also something to take note of, and they were both nominated for Academy Awards for their work in Carrie. Isn’t that odd? Two actors being nominated for a horror movie? What I’m getting at is that this is more than just a run of the mill horror movie. It’s a cautionary tale told by one of the world’s greatest storytellers, and it deserves its spot as one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

So, when another Hollywood remake was released 37 years later, I kept finding myself wondering why it had to happen. Do we really need another remake of a classic horror movie? Well, like it or not, we got one so I did my best to approach it with an open mind.

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There really isn’t a whole lot of difference between this film and the original, aside from the casting and the use of technology. This time, Carrie is played by Chloë Grace Moretz and her insane mother is played by Julianne Moore. Of course all of the other kids are recast, but they aren’t really worth mentioning. What this movie does, however, is add the use of social media to heighten the level and stretch the reach of the bullying done to Carrie. The most complaints I’ve heard about the original Carrie, even given by Stephen King, himself, who loved the movie, is that it’s outdated. Kimberly Pierce, most famous for her critically praised film Boys Don’t Cry, updates the movie for today’s audience who might not have seen the original. In that way, this film still succeeds just as much as the original with a message that is universal and timeless.

This being a remake, there’s no way that I could look at this movie and not compare it to the original. One thing that I think actually did improve was Julianne Moore’s portrayal of Margaret. This may be completely sacrilegious to cinephiles everywhere, but I just think that out of every actress ever, she was the perfect choice for this part. She just does creepy and insane very well. The same can’t really be said for Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular character, however. She does a fine job, but doesn’t have the power that Sissy Spacek had. Just look at the iconic scene from the prom in the original. Spacek is genuinely terrifying in that scene, which is something that Moretz unfortunately couldn’t capture.

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Most people say that this remake, along with may others, didn’t need to happen. The original has become such a classic that that’s the one people should be watching. The reality of the situation is that a lot of younger people don’t have an interest in older movies. This version of Carrie is actually a good way for younger audiences to experience the story and hopefully learn a little something about how they treat people because of it. It definitely doesn’t reach the high standards set by the original film, but it’s a worthy remake that is actually worth checking out, if anything just for the fun of comparing.

The story of Carrie has become known to pretty much everyone, even to the people who have never seen the movie. It’s pretty cool to think that a story originally written in 1974 is still relevant today and probably will be years from now. It truly is a sad story that ultimately ends in tragedy, but it works great as a horror film as well. For purists, it may be best to stick with the 1976 classic, but (and I really can’t believe I’m saying this) the remake really isn’t bad at all.

Magnolia – Review

28 Mar

As an aspiring screenwriter, seeing films with many different characters with their own complex stories is a bit of a wonder, especially when it’s done well. Seeing these multiple characters’ story lines intersect and affect one another is almost an overwhelming experience out of the seer difficulty of it. This type of story line are seen in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and David Cronenberg’s Crash, but the grandest example of this comes from Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic drama Magnolia. This is a beautiful, devastating, and often funny in a down to earth way that forces you to connect on some level to at least one or two characters.

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On a rainy day in the San Fernando Valley, the lives of seemingly unrelated people intertwine and connect in ways that may seem simple, but has the potential to be life changing. Producer Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is dying of cancer, and his wife Linda (Julianne Moore) can only cope with the death and her own moral insecurities through the use of prescription drugs. Earl’s nurse Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman) goes on an investigation to find Earl’s lost son Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise), a self-centered sexual guru who wants to stay far away from his family. Jim Kurring (John C. Riley) is a lonely police officer who finds hope Claudia (Melora Walters), the cocaine addicted daughter of Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall), a game show host where Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) won thousands of dollars on as a child. These lives all collide over the course of a very long day with hopes of salvation.

Clocking in at over three hours long, it would be easy to lose interest in this movie if it wasn’t in the more than capable hands of Paul Thomas Anderson. There are a handful of directors working in film now that can handle the task of making a three hour film interesting for its entirety. I would love to see the screenplay to Magnolia and see how Anderson structured it, because this movie is huge and small at the same time. While you can call this movie epic, I don’t find that this is entirely appropriate because the stories are told on a microcosmic level. Magnolia is a very human film that deals with topics that can be deemed as “mystical” like love and death, but they are all dealt with on a very human level.

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I can’t rave about the writing without also raving about the performances by this stellar mega cast that may be one of the best in film history. Tom Cruise won the Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, and rightfully so. His character goes through the most visible change and the range that is needed for this character is huge, and he pulls it off very well. The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a very understated and realistic performance which made me realize once again the great talent that the acting world has lost. My personal favorite performances in the movie are given by John C. Riley and William H. Macy, both who give borderline tragic performances and probably the most personable to the average human being.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies are really beautiful to look at, but it isn’t always easy to say why they are so beautiful. There Will Be Blood has a very open and occasionally dirty visual style and The Master plays with depth of field and distorts the viewer’s point of view. Magnolia, much like its themes, is beautiful on a much smaller level. There are some excellent scenes where instead of cutting up dialogue or traveling, Anderson decides to just keep the camera running which almost made me forget I was watching a movie at times.

Paul Thomas Anderson has created a wonderful piece of cinematic beauty with Magnolia. Everything about this movie is wonderfully executed from the pitch perfect, complex screenplay, unflashy directing, and incredible acting. While the climax of this movie creates some dissension amongst audiences, you can’t deny that this is a movie that makes you think about your own beliefs and your own ways of dealing with the big problems in your life. Problems that are actually very small in the grand scheme of things. Problems that don’t just affect you.