Tag Archives: 2003 Movie reviews

Latter Days-2003

Latter Days-2003

Director-C. Jay Cox

Starring-Steve Sandvoss, Wesley A. Ramsey

Reviewed September 7, 2017

Grade: B

In the now saturated genre of LGBT film, novel little more than a decade ago, Latter Days, released in 2003, tells a story with an interesting religious spin and the first LGBT film to my knowledge to depict a clash of religious values, which deserves kudos. The film was popular among film festival goers, yet critically, received only mixed opinions. There are both positives and negatives to this film.

When rigid Mormon innocent meets plastic Los Angeles playboy, anything is bound to happen as a surprisingly sweet romance develops between the two young men. While the overall feeling of the film is rather “cute”- not exactly a rallying cry of cinematic excellence- Latter Days suffers mostly from some sophomoric acting, and an odd combination of a soft-core porn film and a wholesome Hallmark channel television movie quality. This, in turn, allows the film to achieve only slightly above mediocre as a final score.

Young Mormon missionary, Aaron Davis, just out of Idaho, is sent to Los Angeles with three fellow missionaries, to spread the word of faith. Soon, he meets openly gay waiter, Christian, promiscuous, brazen, and proud of it. After a silly bet with friends predicting how long it will take Christian to “deflower” Aaron, the young men become enamored with each other as Aaron’s secret desires for men are exposed. This leads to a test of faith for Aaron, especially with his religious and rigid parents, waiting with fangs drawn as he is banished back to small town Mormon territory.

The romance and chemistry between the lead actors is the best part of Latter Days. Though Aaron and Christian could not be more opposite, there is a warm chemistry that actors Sandvoss and Ramsey successfully bring to the screen.  Sandvoss’s “aww shucks” handsome, innocent looks compliment Ramsey’s extroverted, pretty-boy confidence and the film succeeds during scenes containing only the two actors. As much is gained from a throwaway laundry scene as the young men chat and get to know one anothers backgrounds, as during the brilliant soft-porn scene as the nude men thrash around a hotel bed making love. Though, admittedly, neither actor is the best in the acting department.

The nudity in the film is handled well- explicit, yes, but never filmed for cheap or trashy effect. In fact, while the nudity is sometimes sexual in nature, the men also lounge around nude in bed while chatting about life and their various ideals.

Also a positive is the casting of Jacqueline Bisset in the motherly role of Lila. Suffering from her own personal drama (an unseen gravely ill romantic partner, and admittedly an unnecessary add-on to the story), she is the sensible, liberal minded owner of Lila’s restaurant, where Christian and his friends work and socialize. The film creates a “family unit” in this way that is rather nice. Bisset and her British sophistication add much to the film.

Contrasting Bisset’s character is the fine casting of Mary Kay Place as Gladys, the rigid mother of Aaron. Hoping to “pray the gay away”, she and her husband banish Aaron to a garish rehabilitation facility to turn him straight after a suicide attempt. The character does show unconditional love for her son, but simply refuses to accept his sexual preferences. There is no question that director C. Jay Cox slants the film in one clear direction as the Mormon characters are portrayed as stodgy and bland.

Latter Days slips when the focus is on the other supporting characters. I tend to champion large casts and neat, small roles, but Christians friends are largely self-centered, bantering about either their sexual escapades or their career aspirations as they wait tables hoping to get a big break. Worse yet is when a silly side story is introduced focusing on a misunderstanding between Christian and best friend Julie. I could have done well without many of these secondary characters.

In the final act, the film goes the safe route with a brief red-herring about a character’s death only to then quickly wrap the film in a nice happy ending moment featuring a nice Thanksgiving dinner at Lila’s restaurant. Latter Days contains a good romantic story between two males that does just fine without the added trimmings that occasionally bring the film down. All in all a decent effort.

A Decade Under The Influence-2003

A Decade Under the Influence-2003

Director-Ted Demme, Richard LaGravenese

Starring-Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin

60027599

Reviewed April 5, 2016

Grade: B+

Produced by the cable network Independent Film Channel (IFC), A Decade Under The Influence explores the decade of 1970’s film, a decade that was arguably the most creative and liberating to filmmakers and audiences alike. A period in film defined by the directors securing creative freedom instead of the studios, where artists instead of corporations finally ruled the roost. A Decade Under The Influence gives us an overview of the era. Despite some conspicuous omissions, I enjoyed this informative piece a great deal.

The documentary is divided into numerous segments including sections on women in film, the transition into a different period in Hollywood, and the subsequent close of the decade. The interviews are plentiful including a who’s who of stars: Martin Scorsese, Ellen Burstyn, Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman, Julie Christie, Francis Ford Coppola, and numerous other influential directors, actors, and filmmakers. Each individual describes his or her perspective on 1970’s cinema, and personal anecdotes of experiences or challenges are shared.

Ellen Burstyn, for example, describes how the success of The Exorcist afforded her a plethora of other film offers, but all of the roles were of prostitutes, dutiful wives, or women in peril. She needed roles more stimulating than those so she chose to star in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which was a much better written role. What I found a bit sad is how there are still limited, layered roles for women in Hollywood to this day unless one goes the independent film route, which this documentary touts as a savior.

Francis Ford Coppola relays how The Godfather was never expected to be a success, but rather, how he was chosen to direct the film merely because he worked for cheap and was Italian-American. How ironic that the film became such a monumental success and influential to film making as a whole for generations to come.

The documentary, at times, seems like an overview of the decade, with many clips of classic 1970’s cinema interspersed with the talking points. Despite being three hours in length, I still felt that there was so much more that the documentary could have explored. Not surprisingly, the stars granting interviews were granted heavy screen time for their films. The documentary was fine, but could have delved much deeper- I could see a multiple disc set totally ten or more hours dedicated to the decade.

One conspicuous omission was of Robert Altman’s Nashville, arguably, the best film of the decade. While it was ever briefly mentioned, and a still frame of a scene from it did appear, I personally felt that it warranted more dissection and discussion. This was more surprising given that Altman was interviewed for the documentary.

Another miss was Halloween, or any mention of John Carpenter films. Halloween clearly influenced many horror films to come and while The Exorcist received heaps of coverage, undoubtedly because star Burstyn and director William Friedkin appear at length throughout the production,. Additionally, in the horror genre, Black Christmas (a highly influential horror film) was not mentioned at all.

A celebration in my favorite decade of cinema, A Decade Under the Influence is a documentary that is a basic must see for fans of 1970’s cinema, or a film student perhaps immersing themselves into the world of great film for the first time.

Monster-2003

Monster-2003

Director-Patty Jenkins

Starring-Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci

Top 100 Films-#83

60032559

Reviewed January 25, 2017

Grade: A

Monster may feature one of the best acting performances of all time-Charlize Theron simply embodies the role of notorious female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, in a simply astounding triumph. The mannerisms, the anger, and the charisma that Theron portrays is nothing short of brilliance. This brazen acting is simply the best aspect of Monster and the main reason to witness the film. Besides this, the film itself is also great.

The film immediately focuses on Theron- we meet the down on her luck prostitute sitting in tatters underneath an overpass. Suicidal and with five dollars to her name, she goes to a dive bar for one last beer- having blown someone for the five dollars she surmises that the money will go to waste if she does not spend it.

Her older confidante is Thomas, a grizzled man assumed to be an occasional client of hers, is played by Bruce Dern. She goes to a gay bar and meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), a lesbian. Aileen insists she is not gay, but winds up spending the night with her in Selby’s family home. The two form a connection and bond immediately, spending more time together and becoming immersed in each other’s lives.

When Aileen is brutally raped and beaten by a client, she begins down a dark and murderous path, killing men she meets after she steals their money. Selby eventually catches on to this and is conflicted over whether to turn her friend in or serve as an accomplice to her crimes as the police close in on the pair.

Enough cannot be said of Theron’s performance. She simply becomes Wournos- from her walk, to her infamous manic mannerisms, and her hair flip. Theron, a gorgeous woman, gained weight, used false teeth, and became simply unrecognizable in the role as a brutal, angry, and trashy looking woman.

Ricci also deserves praise, but plays her role as a bit clueless or dimwitted, counterbalancing Theron’s manic, in your face role. It works well. Both characters are longing for love and companionship and both are clearly misfits. In a sweet scene the pair go roller skating together, hand in hand, to the famous rock song, “Don’t Stop Believin”. This is a great scene.

One can argue the fact that director, Patty Jenkins, softens the way that Wournos is written. Known as a hardened, mean woman, Jenkins writes her as much more sympathetic. This can also be attributed to the fact that Theron emits some vulnerability to the character- the woman really never knew love until she met and bonded with Selby.

Needless to say, Monster is a dynamic, energetic film, thanks in large part to the powerful performance of Charlize Theron- a role that obviously awarded her the Best Actress Academy Award.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2-2003/2004

Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2- 2003/2004

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Uma Thurman, David Carradine

Top 100 Films-#58

6003123660032563

Reviewed February 6, 2017

Grade: A

Despite being released as separate films (Fall of 2003 and Spring of 2004), Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Kill Bill: Volume 2 are really one grand, sprawling feature. In fact, the films were shot as one, but at a running time of over four hours, it was impossible to release them as one, so director Quentin Tarantino decided to release his masterpiece martial arts film as two sequential films. I have decided to simply review them as one since Volume 2 is a clear continuation of Volume 1.

From a story perspective, Kill Bill is a basic revenge thriller. The plot is not complex nor ingenious and is rather ordinary containing B-movie components- think the really bad Kung-Fu films of long ago. What makes Kill Bill an extraordinary masterpiece, however, is the style that exudes from the film, thanks to the direction and creation of Tarantino. The film is brimming with good flavor and crackling dialogue of an intelligent sort. Characters have long conversations with each other-not for redundancy sake- in between the endless martial arts and bloody sequences.

We meet our heroine, The Bride (Uma Thurman), in a chapel in El Paso, Texas. About to be married to her groom, the entire wedding party is suddenly assassinated in bloody fashion by the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Their leader, Bill (David Carradine), shoots The Bride after she reveals to him that she is carrying his baby. The film flashes forward four years later- The Bride has survived the massacre, but has been comatose ever since. When she is raped by a hospital worker, she escapes and vows revenge on each and every one of her attackers- the revenge culminating with Bill. Her path of destruction leads her to Japan. Similar to most of Tarantino’s films, Kill Bill is divided by chapters and often goes back and forth from the past to present times.

The brilliance of Kill Bill is its pizazz. We know The Bride will get her revenge on the assassins, we just do not know in what way or how bloody the slaughters will be. The film contains copious amounts of blood and swords and machetes are everywhere to be found. The slow drawl dialogue as The Bride has conversations with her prey before she kills them, oftentimes ends in a big fight scene. Her first revenge, against Vernita (Vivica A. Fox) is unique in that it takes place in Vernita’s kitchen as her young daughter is happily eating her breakfast cereal. The entire battle ensues in the kitchen and we are left watching blood and cereal.

It is Tarantino’s unique style of film making and story-telling, adding violence, and long character conversations, that gives Kill Bill, and all of his other classic films, his own unique brand and stamp of approval. I dearly hope he continues to make films that challenge the norm, for years to come.