“Boogie Nights” is Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, and it’s not a close call when compared to the rest of his catalogue. Critics loved “There Will Be Blood,” but that film is too long, painfully boring and grossly overrated, saved partly by Daniel Day-Lewis’s typically memorable performance.
On the other hand, “Boogie Nights” is even more ambitious and provides a much more enjoyable experience as PTA explores the seedy world of the porn industry in the late 70s and early 80s. Like all his movies, the film is visually spectacular as PTA recreates the tacky world of the period, while introducing us to a series of memorable characters caught up in the wild world of porn. Unlike many of PTA’s other films, however, “Boogie Nights” also tells a coherent story that skillfully weaves together the lives of his characters and holds the audience’s attention through the end.
I recently re-watched the film for the umpteenth time and came away with several impressions:
Comeback Role for Burt Reynolds
The casting decisions here are flawless, and it all starts with Burt Reynolds as Jack Horner, the porn director who wants to be taken seriously as a filmmaker. Jack lives in a large, mid-century modern house with a large pool and bar in the back. It’s perfect for parties and porn shoots and just big enough for some of his regular actors and actresses to live there. Burt was 61 when he shot this film, sporting a salt & pepper hair piece and beard. He’s older and looks distinguished but still has sex appeal and loads of charisma. Jack serves as a sort of father-figure to the younger actors and actresses and Burt’s understated and nuanced portrayal of Jack is critical to this film. With that context, it was quite shocking to learn that Burt hated working with PTM and disliked the film.
The plot follows the rise and fall of a young, well-endowed kid who dreams of being a star. Mark Wahlberg does a fine job playing Eddie. He’s a sweet and friendly kid working as a dishwasher in a club in the Valley when Jack discovers him. He then takes on the stage name of Dirk Diggler, joining the band of misfits starring in Jack’s films.
Continue reading »
“Michael Clayton” is a slow burn, with an ending that delivers quite a punch. It’s the type of film that many love but doesn’t fit neatly into the modern economics of Hollywood. Studios rarely make dramas like this for broad theatrical release anymore.
George Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a middle-aged lawyer who works for a large law firm as its fixer. He cleans up messes for clients who get into trouble – stuff like accidents, domestic issues, etc. He’s also having his own problems as he tries to dig out of debt from a restaurant venture gone bad due to his alcoholic brother.
Clayton gets pulled into a crisis when the firm’s top litigator Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), threatens to blow up the firm’s largest case by exposing how the client chemical company (fictional U-North) knew its product was killing people. Arthur is a brilliant but troubled lawyer with mental health issues, He strips naked during a deposition while declaring his love for the lead plaintiff, a young, pretty woman from a farm in the Midwest.
The cast in this legal thriller is excellent. Clooney delivers one of his best performances as Michael, playing it straight and leaving aside the playful attitude we see in so many of his popular performances. He’s right out of central casting as the middle aged, big firm lawyer who is doing his best to remain calm as he deals with Arthur and his own issues.
Wilkinson, on the other hand, is brilliant as the manic Arthur who feels liberated by his decision to finally come clean about his client’s misconduct after grinding on the class-action lawsuit for years. He gives us some of the most memorable scenes of the film.
Continue reading »
The critics hated “The Bucket List,” but audiences liked it. Go to the Rotten Tomatoes page for this movie and you’ll see the results. Frankly, I’m not surprised, but I’ll confess that I side with the public. This film is a guilty pleasure. Of course, it’s not a great film, and I’m sure the critics expected more from a film directed by Rob Reiner and starring acting icons Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. But that shouldn’t spoil the fun.
Billionaire Edward Cole (Nicholson) and car mechanic Carter Chambers (Freeman) are complete strangers before finding themselves in the same hospital room, both fighting cancer. Edward owns the hospital, and is annoyed that he has to share a room to avoid being a hypocrite. He instituted the policy of two patients to a room, no exceptions.
Naturally, they begin to get to know each other, and start to become friends just as they both learn that they each have 6 – 12 months to live. Which leads to the bucket list, and then their short adventure.
Continue reading »
I had never seen “The Game” so I was happy to see this film pop up on one of my streaming services. Starring Michael Douglas at the height of his powers along with the always entertaining Sean Penn, the film had star power along with a very intriguing story.
Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) is a successful and wealthy banker who seems to have everything. He looks like Gordon Gekko but Douglas plays him without the cockiness and bluster. He’s a straight-laced guy living a very comfortable life. His brother Conrad (Penn) is the opposite as we learn quickly when Nicholas meets Conrad for lunch. Their conversation sets up the contrast between the characters, and then Conrad offers up an odd birthday gift. He wants Nicholas to take part in a personalized, real-life game. Nicholas is skeptical but then reluctantly agrees to accept after looking into it. And then things spin out of control.
The story has so many twists and turns that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. The audience is often left guessing as to whether Nicholas is truly experiencing a game or if it’s all real as his life spins out of control. The end of the film is over-the-top, with a final plot twist that will surprise most viewers.
Yet the movie is flawed. It’s difficult to explain this in detail without giving away the ending, but too many of the details don’t add up. It’s too hard to believe the story. We’re used to suspending disbelief in fantasy films like superhero movies or ghost stories, but the setup here is grounded in the real world.
Still, the movie is brilliantly shot and paced. I didn’t realize this was a David Fincher film until the closing credits. It makes sense, as the entire feel of the film fits his style. But Fincher admits he probably should not have directed this film due to problems with the story, particularly in the third act. His wife told him not to take on the project but he didn’t listen. The frenetic ending of the film delivers plenty of entertaining twists and action, but you’re left asking yourself how this is all possible.
While the film is far from perfect, the performances from the cast make up for the problems with the story. Douglas is brilliant as you would expect. He’s able to handle such a wide range of emotions without ever overacting. Events if the events around him seem far-fetched, his reactions always come across as authentic. Penn dials it up and delivers a manic performance that fits the character. He’s perfect for this role, even if this is far from the best performance in the film. Deborah Kara Unger is fantastic as Nicholas’ love interest. It’s surprising that her career fizzled after this film. James Rebhorn delivers his usual great performance as he convinces Nicholas to give this crazy idea a try.
Do I recommend this movie? Yes. It’s a fun ride from a brilliant director featuring great performances from a stellar cast. But the film has issues that will leave some viewers less than satisfied. But you’ll probably enjoy it if you can get past some of the unbelievable sequences and treat this as a suspenseful popcorn movie.
I’m not sure what possessed me to watch this film. I must have been pretty bored when I scrolled through the film options on Amazon Prime to land on this one. I do enjoy older films, and the cast here is fantastic so it seemed like a reasonable choice.
Sadly, I wasn’t too impressed. I came away thinking that a film like this probably derailed Alan Alda’s film career after his incredible run on M.A.S.H. It was very hard back then to make the jump from TV to film, and Alda was certainly typecast at this point. Unfortunately, his character here is just a less funny version of Hawkeye.
The movie isn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very funny, and wasn’t that the point? The cast featured Alda along with Carole Burnett. One would expect plenty of laughs. Rita Moreno, Jack Weston, Len Cariou, Sandy Dennis and Bess Armstrong rounded out the cast. Again, there’s plenty of talent here, but something’s missing.
The underlying story had promise (see the original trailer here). Three couples traditionally go on vacation with their friends every new season. They’re all very close. Jack (Alda) and Kate (Burnett) are a couple. We learn early on with the first vacation that Nick (Cariou) isn’t very happy with his wife , Anne (Dennis). Then on the next vacation he shows up with a much younger woman, Ginny (Bess Armstrong), and the others struggle to come to terms with this. We see these relationships evolve as they go through more vacations together with each new season.
Continue reading »