American History X (1998, dir. by Tony Kaye). Tony Kaye’s excellent drama about an ex-skinhead trying to prevent his brother from following in his footsteps never ceases to be intriguing and provocative but still is hard to watch at moments. The film stars Edward Norton in the lead and he is dynamite; at no point is he not believable as the troubled Derek. Also good is Edward Furlong as his also troubled brother who has to decide whether he too wants to become a Neo Nazi skinhead. The movie does not feel like it’s trying to make a profound moral statement but is simply conducting a character study instead. Tony Kaye has reportedly disowned the movie because it was not edited the way he had intended but knowing what it is, I don’t think it would have made that huge of a difference. So Mr. Kaye, chill out, you still made a pretty darn good film.
JV comments: It's not a perfect film, but it does have that extra, hard-to-define "oomph" that sets it apart from your run of the mill fare. Edward Norton is amazing - for someone who at first glance looks so slight, his presence is so commanding that you really believe that he can be the dominating force that he is in the story. Also worth noting are the scenes in prison when he slowly becomes friends with an African-American inmate, particularly the scene where they debate the relative merits of the Magic Lakers and the Bird Celtics.
A Dangerous Method (2011, dir. by David Cronenberg). Having been directed by David Cronenberg and bragging the talent of Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, and Keira Knightley, you would think this film would be in the ranks of the director’s last efforts: A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Unfortunately, it is not. This is not by any means a bad movie; it’s well-acted (despite a hammy turn from Knightley), beautifully shot and scored. But unless you are interested in the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and an unstable woman who compromises that relationship then this movie probably isn’t for you.
JV comments: I had trouble staying awake, which is never a good sign. I thought A History of Violence was a masterpiece and that Eastern Promises was not far behind, so this came as a bitter disappointment - particularly given the stellar cast. For a Cronenberg film, it felt remarkably sterile.
Dave (1993, dir. by Ivan Reitman). The Kevin Kline charm is at full strength during this film, and it makes it all the more irresistible. Kline stars as Dave Kovic, the head of a temp agency who finds satisfaction by helping others and by impersonating unpopular president Bill Mitchell, also played by Kline. That is why he finds himself in the position of playing the president full time after Mitchell suffers a debilitating stroke. Originally hired to just play the part, Dave finds himself in the position to bring helpful change to his country while preventing his sinister chief of staff, a constantly angry Frank Langella. If you can suspend your disbelief, which should not be hard, you will be enthralled the rest of the way. The supporting cast is great with Kevin Dunn as Dave’s hopeful Communications Director, Sigourney Weaver as Mitchell’s estranged wife who begins to lighten up, Ving Rhames as a serious secret service agent, and Ben Kingsley as the Vice President who was not respected by his boss during Mitchell’s time in office. Also great are the many actual media personalities who share their opinion over the film’s course. When movies are this fun, why not suspend your disbelief?
JV comments: I've always liked Kevin Kline, and this has always been a favorite of mine. You don't hear Ivan Reitman's name bandied about much when it comes to discussion of great directors, but there is a reason that films like this one, "Ghostbusters," and "Kindergarten Cop" have held up so well. They may not be the most ambitious films ever made, but they hit their targets.
Mr. Brooks (2007, dir. by Bruce A. Evans). Intensely creepy, but never ceases to be fascinating. Kevin Costner is at his best as the man with the perfect life, Earl Brooks. We see Earl is a very successful and respected business man who really does have it all: a beautiful wife and daughter, a beautiful home, and a man named Marshall who only he sees, an imaginary "friend" who is constantly trying to persuade him to murder people. Marshall is played by a devilish and never better William Hurt. Apparently, Mr. Brooks is the on-and-off again thumbprint killer who has been at large for several years. Mr. Brooks finds his perfect life thrown out of control when Mr. Smith, played by a surprisingly good Dane Cook, arrives and demands that he take him on his next murder run or he will turn him into the police. Also on the scene are a tough cop played by Demi Moore who has been following the killings for quite a while and is dealing with her own life’s troubles, and the aforementioned daughter who seems to be keeping many different things a secret. While I found that those parts of the film were kind of interesting, the best parts were when Earl was interacting with Marshall and Mr. Smith; they bring creepy to a whole new level.
JV comments: This was a huge surprise - Kevin Costner playing against type, and doing it very effectively. And S#2 is right, the scenes between Costner and Hurt are marvelous. This is the kind of film that sometimes leads to bigger and better things for those involved in the writing and directing.