Category: Actors (Page 1 of 340)

Looking back at the wild and sexy “Boogie Nights” (1997)

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.

Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights

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.

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Staff Pick: “Michael Clayton” (2007)

George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton 2007

“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.

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Movie Flashback: “The Conversation” (1974)

The Conversation

I’ve wanted to see “The Conversation” for years, and with the pandemic raging I was able to catch up on a number of older movies I had wanted to see. I had high expectations for this one, and frankly I came away a little disappointed.

Some movies just don’t age well, and that’s sometimes true with movies from the 70s. The decade was loaded with brilliant films, and they often live up to their reputation, even after decades have passed. But some of the films that seemed ahead of their time in that decade don’t hold up as well.

I was bored with this one, even though the story throws in some interesting twists. The pacing is painfully slow, which is common from films of that era. And I can often appreciate the slower pacing of the films of that era, particularly compared to the sensory overload we sometimes experience with many modern films. But too many of the scenes in “The Conversation” seemed unnecessarily long. I kept waiting for the story to move along, and by the time we reached the twists at the end I was just waiting for the film to end.

The story behind the film is interesting, and one comes away impressed with the direction of Francis Ford Coppola and the acting by Gene Hackman and John Cazale. Roger Ebert loved it, but the slow pace was too much too overcome to get into the story.

Ebert writes:

Coppola, who wrote and directed, considers this film his most personal project. He was working two years after the Watergate break-in, amid the ruins of the Vietnam effort, telling the story of a man who places too much reliance on high technology and has nightmares about his personal responsibility. Harry Caul is a microcosm of America at that time: not a bad man, trying to do his job, haunted by a guilty conscience, feeling tarnished by his work.

Ebert provides some excellent perspective, and as a work of art the film is brilliant. Less so, however, as a work of entertainment.

“The Conversation” was nominated for “Best Picture” in 1975, the same year that “The Godfather, Part II” took home the Academy Award. Coppola had quite a year! Yet “The Godfather, Part II” was so much more entertaining than this film.

I realize I’m in the minority in my opinion of this film. Reading the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with a fresh score of 97% from the critics, it seems as if each of them are trying to outdo one another in heaping praise on this film. I only found two critics that agreed with me. Fred Topel called it an “outdated techno-thriller,” which summed up my thoughts nicely. The other, John Simon from Esquire Magazine, noted, “The icy fascination soon succumbs to two forms of excess. One is Coppola’s growing infatuation with the technical aspects of his subject… The other is a mystery story that thickens into ever greater contrivance, improbability, and opacity.”

The critics who praised the film often citing the building tension and suspense. Sadly, I experience growing boredom and impatience.

I can only recommend this film to cinephiles and wannabe film critics who need to see this as an important film of the 70s. I can’t recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable or gripping film experience.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander discuss old Seinfeld episodes

It’s always fun looking back on old “Seinfeld” episodes, and of course it’s even more fun when old cast members are involved in the discussion. So, watching Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine) and Jason Alexander (George) discuss the Chinese restaurant episode and The Contest episode is a real treat.

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