JP's Reviews

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Some actors are just plain wrong for some roles. Bella Thorne as a quantum physics whiz kid is one of them (and it’s not an issue or gender or looks; attractive women can and do play science types convincingly — Jodie Foster and Laura Dern come to mind).

It would help if Vivien (Thorne) sounded like she knew what she’s talking about, but quantum physics serve no purpose in this movie other than as a clumsy metaphor for falling in love. Vivien herself seems ambivalent about her chosen field of study, describing it on separate occasions as "simple" and "complicated," as well as "fascinating" and "exhausting," but all the proof we get of this is her bedroom mirror scribbled all over with equations of whatever — so I guess she’s supposed to be a regular Will Hunting.

Moreover, Vivien refers to herself as a "numbers girl" (I assume it’s the sort of numbers that follow the phrase 'for a good time call...'), and when asked "What's math got to do with love?," she replies "Well, there's all these numbers that surround the word 'love', and it used to make so much sense to me ... Now I'm not so sure."

I’m not so sure either. What are these numbers, and how and why do they surround the word love? Then again, Vivien fails at least once some big test (often mentioned but never explained) for which she’s been studying for over a year, so maybe she’s just a victim of the Dunning–Kruger effect — but then so is any movie that does this:

What is that? Don’t do that. Ever. Keep characters’ text messages on their cellphone screens, and off of my TV screen. This is the laziest of lazy writing, it discourages suspension of disbelief, and it’s the wrong kind of 'meta' (assuming there’s a right kind), because it reminds us that we’re watching yet another generic, derivative teen coming-of-age romantic drama. I mean, that’s what Time is Up is anyway, but come on, take some pride in your work, because if you don’t care, why should we?

U2: Rattle and Hum

U2: Rattle and Hum is an artifact of historical interest, if for no other reason, because it captured the Irish band at the biggest turning point of their career. This documentary inadvertently dropped the curtain on U2's first act, and it does it without even hinting at the group’s then unthinkable reinvention at the beginning of the 90s, because it’s the object itself, even more so than its content, that constitutes, at least retrospectively, the harbinger of this transformation.

This is mostly a concert film (there are interview segments, but these are mercifully short; plus, Bono already talks enough — perhaps even too much — onstage); however, the best moments of the first part of the film are those that offset the grandeur of arena rock with a dose of intimacy: the band playing "Desire" in a building under renovation, recording "Angel of Harlem" at Sun Studio in Memphis, and especially rehearsing “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For” with the New Voices of Freedom gospel choir in Harlem. The latter is indisputably the high point of the film; an exhilarating performance that literally gives you goosebumps.

On the other hand, U2's live show at the time was decidedly austere compared to the deliberate sensory overload of Zoo TV, as well as the visual and technological excess of PopMart and U2 360°. For example, instead of a huge lemon-shaped mirror ball, we have Bono manually shining a spotlight on The Edge (illustrated on the Rattle and Hum album cover).

The black-and-white cinematography — which, for some indiscernible reason, switches to color on “With or Without You” and a handful of other songs — adds an extra layer of elegance to the proceedings (according to All Music, “Director Phil Joanou combines black-and-white with color photography”, but this is in fact a b/w film with a random colored segment).

If you are of the opinion that U2 take themselves way too seriously, this film is not going to change your mind; luckily, the music takes precedence, and the movie is rewardingly insightful in how it charts a song’s journey from rehearsal to live performance.

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money had the deck stacked against it, not only as a sequel, but because of the movie to which it is a sequel. What in the original was an unforeseeable surprise becomes the expectation here, so we’re left simply waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Having said that, this film is better than it has any right to be, precisely because it knows how dumb it is. An old band of bank robbers is getting back together for one more score, which they insist on carrying out even after most of them have been turned into vampires; this would only make sense if it were a blood bank.

To its credit, Texas Blood Money is not oblivious to the situation’s inherent silliness; when asked "What in the hell are vampires doing robbing a bank?," protagonist Buck Bowers (the always effective Robert Patrick) deadpans: "I suppose vampires need money just like anybody else."

Insofar as the movie works, it does so because of the cast, who bring to the script more than it brings them. The filmmakers try too hard to emulate Tarantino and Robert Rodríguez at the peak of their powers, and can’t even reach the low levels to which those two have sunk nowadays.

As far as horror/fantasy sequels are concerned, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money exists in the same limbo as The Crow: Wicked Prayer. This not the best vampire movie ever, but it’s by no means the worst either.


If you've seen the video for “Smooth Criminal,” you've seen the best of Moonwalker, but you haven't seen it all, and by “all” I don't mean the rest of the film, but the kind of sight that merits the expression 'now I've seen it all' (and this isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's weird, but mostly good-weird); coincidentally, these things all happen during the segment containing “Smooth Criminal” — for example, when Michael Jackson transforms into a sports car, a giant robot, and a spaceship (in that order), metamorphoses that result from a trio of children making wishes to various shooting stars.

An pseudo-Autobot hero requires a Decepticon-like villain, and Frankie 'Mr. Big' Lideo (Joe Pesci) is meaner than Megatron himself: an Aggressive Drug Dealer who not only orders his henchmen to hang around parks and schools, but also wants kids to stop praying at school. Aside from being a proponent of church-state separation, Mr. Big is a practitioner of corporal punishment.

Ignoring black and white morality (drugs: bad, religion: good), this really is the appropriate tone for the material; what we have here is basically a fairy tale with a very effective ogre — Pesci's performance was, and dare I say, still is, nightmare fuel for young children.

Speaking of children, one might wonder why these three kids, who in a flashback are seen playing happily in a meadow with Michael, are in the 'present' apparently homeless, but that would be besides the point — particularly because the entire thing is a pretty pointless exercise.

Michael clearly expected the public to take Moonwalker as seriously as he took himself; that is, not too much. Accordingly, the second best segment of the film is "Badder," a parody of the Bad video with children taking on the roles from the original clip.

Finally we have “Speed ​​Demon”, which I'm sure isn't anyone's favorite song, but it's accompanied here by a jubilant mix of live-action and claymation that culminates in another of the film's high points: a dance off between Michael and an anthropomorphic rabbit named Spike.

Moonwalker also includes “Leave Me Alone”, which unlike the segments mentioned above, is presented outside of any narrative context — which would otherwise be redundant, given that the song and video tell a complete and independent story. Moonwalker's intro (“Man in the Mirror,” “Retrospective”) and coda (“Come Together,” end credits) are essentially filler, but everything in between is memorable one way or another.


Dying seems to be the only thing for which there is no time in this unreasonably long movie. The inclusion in the end of a Jack London turns out to be is unwittingly ironic; “I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." Director Cary Joji Fukunaga uses and abuses his time, for no apparent purpose other than to prolong the film as much as humanly possible.

That’s a shame, because No Time to Die's biggest issue is that it's too much of a good thing. The movie looks great, the action sequences are spectacular, and the seamless CGI – but need I say more? After all, the words 'seamless' and 'CGI' are, more often than not, mutually exclusive; that they aren’t here is nothing short of a miracle.

The filmmakers could have learned a thing or two from the hero, who comes across as a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone kind of guy; I mean, when a dude takes his current girlfriend on a trip to the same quaint Italian town where his former girlfriend is buried, you know he ain’t ****ing around. This little village, by the way, is so picturesque that, while fleeing a horde of enemies, Bond must navigate not only a procession, but also a flock of sheep.

In this sequence, Bond drives his motorcycle up a conveniently ramp-shaped wall and onto an elevated square or something; this would be incredibly reckless if it were physically possible, but who cares? It’s cool and looks as real as one could possibly hope for, and you’re too busy marking out (to use a pro wrestling term) to wonder or even care how they did it.

In general, though, it's bad news when the cinematography (by Linus Sandgren) and editing (by Elliot Graham and Tom Cross) outshine the direction and the script and, for that matter, the acting. It will surprise absolutely no one that the best scenes, and these can be counted on the fingers of one hand, are the ones Craig shares with Ralph Fiennes — just the two of them and no one else.

Outside of this, Christoph Waltz is wasted in a glorified cameo in which he is forced to recycle the hackneyed Dr. Lecter/Heath Joker routine; Lashana Lynch as Nomi, a new agent, is disappointing, not because she's female and black, but because these are precisely the only two characteristics that set her apart (it's appropriate that she be given the old Bond number, because she's completely interchangeable); Ben Whishaw puts the 'Q' in queerbating; and, worst of all, whoever thought Rami Malek could pose a credible threat to Daniel Craig should just take a 12-step holiday.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child

Jumping the shark is rarely as much fun as A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Unlike, say, Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, or rather Robert Englund, has a personality and a sense of humor; moreover, the material written by Leslie Bohem and directed by Stephen Hopkins works, either by design or accident, as self-parody.

The Dream Childs takes us back to when Freddy was nothing but a gleam in the eye of a hundred homicidal maniacs — and I say, who needs Baby Yoda when you have Baby Freddy? Child's Play had just been released the year before, and the temptation of a Chucky-sized Freddy must have been overwhelming; fortunately, the filmmakers resist valiantly — good on them, because the film finds Krueger rare form; an early sequence where Freddy uses his own arm as a seat belt, and then transforms into a motorcycle (or does the motorcycle transform into him?) is nothing short of inspired.

Even the scene where the token nerd develops superpowers in his dreams — an idea recycled from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors — is worth watching considering that Baby Freddy grows up to become Super Freddy ("Faster than a bastard maniac! More powerful than a loco-madman! It's... Super Freddy!").

The Dream Child achieves a delicate balance. Freddy isn't as menacing as he had been in the first film, or as he would be again in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare; accordingly, he doesn't take himself too seriously, but neither so lightly as to make a fool of himself. The other high point, apart from Englund's performance, are the excellent visual effects — much more practical and effective than many of today’s films.

As for the plot, maybe I'm inferring too much, but it seems to be some kind of anti-abortion allegory. The protagonist discovers that Freddy is using her unborn child as a conduit to attack her friends; "Krueger is using Jacob's dreams," she explains (never mind that a fetus’s dreams would be limited to what it knows; i.e., the sensations it feels in the womb).

Going back to the beginning of the film, we see that Freddy manifests himself immediately after the heroine has had a sexual congress with her boyfriend; I guess the moral is that every sperm really is sacred — even the one that eventually turned into Baby Freddy.


It’s a fine line between 'genius' and 'stupid.' Consider the legendary POV tracking shot in Goodfellas, and compare it to a similar one in Opera (1987), except that the character (Mara Cecova, the star of an avant-garde production of Verdi's Macbeth at the Parma Opera) is not entering a building but exiting it, and yet what we see is the place she’s leaving as opposed to the one she’s arriving at it; the scene ends with Mara being hit by a car on the street — an outcome that Mara may not have seen coming, but which couldn’t have surprised her, considering that unless she literally has eyes on the back of her head, she walked backwards out of the building.

Betty (Cristina Marsillach), Mara's understudy, is cast as Lady Macbeth. Now, every understudy, whether they admit it or not, lives for the day the star gets run over — but not Betty; first she claims to be too young for the role, and then she says that "Macbeth brings bad luck," apparently oblivious to the fact that, even if one gives credence to that urban legend, the bad lucks only comes when one mentions the Scottish play by name.

Despite her initial apprehension, Betty's performance turns out to be a success. However, an anonymous figure arrives at the theater on opening night, watching Betty's performance from an empty box. When a stagehand finds him, the figure murders him by repeatedly ramming the back of his skull into a coat hanger — a death that for some reason the police rules "accidental" (I guess people fatally backing into inanimate objects is a much more common occurrence in Parma than one might imagine).

About the only sensible idea in the entire film involves how the killer forces Betty to watch him in action. This is a moment that lives up to Argento's reputation, appealing to a primal fear of losing one's sight, and commenting on the horror genre itself (reportedly, Argento was upset that people look away during the scary parts of his movies, and jokingly suggested putting pins under people's eyes so they couldn't avert their gazes). Sadly, when Betty finds herself in the same uncomfortable position a second time, all I can think of is “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

Going back to my initial thought, there is a scene in Opera that walks the aforementioned line between genius and stupid with the mastery of an expert tightrope acrobat; in it, a woman is shot in the eye through a peephole, and we’re actually shown from inside how the projectile goes cleanly through the narrow passage. This is a rather original and ingenious visual that of course makes no sense according to the physical laws the govern the world — unless, of course, the killer is John Cena.

The Last Supper

"You're alone with a young artist named Adolf Hitler. Do you kill him? Do you murder him there, even though he hasn't done anything yet?"

This question provides the backbone of The Last Supper, but the actual dilemma has more to do with the person answering the question than with Hitler — and in fact, five lustrums later, we could substitute his name with that of Donald Trump or Daniel Ortega or, for that matter, any SOB who disagrees with us.

The film centers on five Iowa graduate students who room together: Jude (Cameron Diaz), Pete (Ron Eldard), Paulie (Annabeth Gish), Marc (Jonathan Penner), and Luke (Courtney B. Vance). As their apostolic names suggest, the quintet is convinced that their opinions are tantamount to the Word of God. Unfortunately for them, no one is a prophet in their own land:

"We are liberals. We do the right thing."
"So how come the world is so screwed up?"
"Because we don't run the world."

The second best alternative to running the world is apparently to kill those who think they do; specifically, inviting conservatives to dinner, "and if they're such idiots that we can't convince them [to change their minds and retract their beliefs], well, you're sitting across from Hitler."

This reasoning is flawed for several reasons: 1) the original question presupposes retroactive knowledge of Hitler's crimes; 2) the guests cannot defend themselves because they don’t even know that they are being tried, not for crimes they have committed, but for crimes they could potentially commit in an indeterminate future; 3) “if they are so stupid that we cannot convince them” implies a failure on the part of the hosts, not the guests, who are the ones that suffer the consequences; 4) “We gave him every possible opportunity”, they say of one of his victims, by which they mean “between dinner and dessert”; and 5) none of the ordinary guests are in danger of being the next Hitler — fortunately, this requires a highly exceptional (though for the wrong reasons) individual.

Now, the filmmakers are fully aware that their protagonists are self-deluded, pseudo-intellectual, hypocritical brats, and as such don't expect us to identify with them; moreover, the casting of the guests is tailor-made so that we sympathize with them, and indeed, as much as we don’t agree – and we shouldn’t — with what they say, we cannot help enjoying how they say it, being played as they are by a supporting actor dream team (Bill Paxton, Charles Durning, Mark Harmon, Ron Perlman).

The filmmakers also subvert audience expectations by making the African-American Vance the de facto leader of these deranged liberals, while giving the uber-aryan Perlman the voice of reason (his answer to the Hitler question is extremely insightful in its categorical refusal to reduce the matter to a simplistic black-or-white); the takeaway is that ideologies are like the Emperor's new clothes, and underneath them we are much more alike than we would like to admit.

A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks

In this documentary, the difference between a gun and a camera is bigger than the 26 millimeters between 9 and 35. The film deals with the difference entitlement and hard work; or, as Parks himself says in archival footage, “When you are a [black] kid, you have to prepare to be able to do much more than a White boy, so that if the time comes where your talent is pitted against a White man, you will get the nod because they can't afford to lose you.” It's safe to say that Parks, had he been alive, would not have subscribed, as so many did, to the notion that Chadwick Boseman deserved Anthony Hopkins' Oscar merely by virtue of the color of his skin.

Now, this isn't to say that Parks didn't have a lot to say about racism and discrimination; quite the contrary, and it’s not just the quantity but the quality of his speech that raises him head and shoulders above the artificial inclusivity that art increasingly suffers from, to the detriment of logic and common sense. To paraphrase Fran Leibowitz, culture should not be a democracy but an intellectual aristocracy — and in that sense Gordon Parks was a prince among men.

As for the documentary itself, it's concise and to the point and wastes no time on formative years or family drama; the director understands that an artist's oeuvre contains their own autobiography, and he wisely devotes a large portion of the 90-minute running time to Parks' work and the influence it had on his contemporaries and continues to have on those who followed in his wake.

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy

In the realm of fictional supernatural serial killers, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is primus inter pares — a status that this insightful documentary leaves no doubt of, as is chronicles the rise, fall, revival, and relapse of the nightmarish franchise. It's a delight to hear Englund describe how he shaped the character (part Kinsky, part Cagney, part Old West gunslinger, among other ingredients) that writer/director Wes Craven created as an amalgam of stuff ripped from the headlines and his own childhood traumas.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the three movies where Craven and Englund coincided are the best of the bunch: A Nightmare on Elm Street, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (co-written by Craven and featuring Englund’s infamous ad-lib "Welcome to Primetime, Bitch"), and especially Wes Craven's New Nightmare — the latter not only the summit of the franchise, but one of the great films of the 20th century, horror or otherwise; a meta-textual, circular, self-referential masterpiece that finds both a highly original way to bring the villain back and a tight, satisfying conclusion.

Speaking of conclusions, the original film's ending contained the germ of its own corruption: the ill-avised Sequel Hook in which Freddy turns out to be Not Quite Dead. This was not Craven's idea but the brain(less)child of producer Robert Shaye; in fact, David Chaskin, who wrote A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (an odd subtitle; wasn't the first movie already about Freddy's revenge?), calls the climax of that first sequel, which is for all intents and purposes the same as that of its predecessor, "the famous Bob Shaye coda." As for the installments that Craven had nothing to do with, he himself describes them better than anyone else:

"[Freddy’s Revenge] didn't have a unity to it, it just had a bunch of scenes, which I think the worst of the sequels or the worst moments of the sequels, were just kind of striking scenes, but overall the story didn't often cohere very well."
All things considered, it's a testament to Englund's considerable charisma that Freddy remained the best, and sometimes the only good part, of flops like A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master or Freddy vs. Jason; the actor makes even Krueger's more pedestrian moments work, and he does so because it's no secret that Englund himself always took on the character in a rascally mercenary spirit — in his own words, "just being a whore" — which he just lets loose when Freddy's riding a skateboard or impersonating the Wicked Witch of the West (with good reason, this 2010 documentary doesn't even acknowledge the remake released earlier that year, except for a sort of 'if the shoe fits' remark: “if you got the wrong guy under that makeup it wouldn't have worked at all").

Above Suspicion

Life imitates art and art imitates itself. Above Suspicion is a Double Indemnity variation in which Christopher Reeve plays a cop who ends up in a wheelchair after a bust goes wrong; “Ironically, it was filmed a year before the tragic accident that would make him a quadriplegic” (according to an All writer whose definition of irony comes from the Alanis Morissette Dictionary).

Dempsey Cain (Reeve) is an exemplary detective, unlike his younger brother Nick (Edward Kerr), the sound of whose beeper during a raid results in a near fatal shooting for Dempsey, who survives but is paralyzed from the waist down. Nonetheless, Dempsey lies and says it was his beeper that caused the commotion. Why? “You are my brother… You would do it for me.” I wouldn’t be so sure. What Nick does do, without Dempsey having to ask him, is satisfy his sister-in-law Gail’s (Kim Cattrall) sexual needs — or, to be exact, continue to satisfy them as he had been doing since before Dempsey’s accident.

Depressed at the prospect of being a half-husband and half-father to his son, Dempsey takes out a $1 million insurance policy that "pays double if I die an accidental death" (as in... Double Indemnity??? Coincidentally, Fred MacMurray also appearead in a film titled Above Suspicion, of which this one isn’t a remake), and orchestrates a plan wherein Nick and Gail will pose as burglars who break into the house and dispatch Dempsey to the afterlife, putting him out of his (meta)physical misery and them out of any possible economic misery.

The question is, why would Dempsey trust good-for-nothing Nick with something so important? And the short answer is that he doesn't; screenwriter William H. Macy (yep, good ol' Bill Macy) throws us a curveball, all the more diabolical thanks to Reeve's surprisingly counterintuitive casting.

Sadly, this is where it all starts to go downhill, even with the ever-effective Joe Mantegna in the Edward G. Robinson role. Loose ends are not only forgivable, but practically mandatory in (neo) noir — which is undoubtedly the genre that Macy was aiming for (it had to be; in any other context the name Dempsey Cain would just sound ridiculous) —, and Above Suspicion certainly doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.

That said, what I really have a problem with is the ending, or lack thereof; rather than end, the movie simply stops with an abrupt anticlimax which makes me think that either Macy didn't bother to write a conclusion, or director Steven Schachter didn't bother to shoot it. Instead we get a hackneyed courtroom scene, complete with a key witness (except for the 'key' part). Even the awesome image of Mantegna stabbing Reeve in the thigh to prove his point results in disappointment.

It's a shame, because Macy at the very least hints at the potential to be as interesting a writer as he is an actor. Even without his and Mantegna’s pal David Mamet's ear for dialogue, Macy has a gift for taking familiar themes and putting an unexpected spin on them; on the other hand, we expect a third act in a film, and just because the protagonist can’t feel his feet doesn’t mean it’s okay to leave us waiting for the other shoe to drop.

High Plains Drifter

The Stranger puts the 'anti' in anti-hero, and takes out the 'hero' while he’s at it. Director Clint Eastwood opens the film with an intriguing — nay, baffling, staggering, head-scratching choice. A nameless gunman arrives in the mining town of Lago (where precious little mining takes place) and kills three men and rapes a woman.

The three men arguably had it coming; as for the woman, the Stranger soon has her coming. So, it’s not rape if she has an orgasm? Is that what you’re trying to tell us? This is a development in hemingwayan morality that even Papa Hem didn’t see coming: it’s okay is she feels good after.

The following day, the woman shoots at the Stranger while he’s taking a bath. Re-emerging (somehow the bath water protected him from the bullets), he wonders "what took her so long to get mad." The sawed-off imp that’s to become the Stranger’s sidekick replies: "Because maybe you didn't go back for more." Really? You think she’s angry because she wanted to be raped some more?

The entire town turns a blind eye, dismissing the woman’s cries for justice as "hysterics." No wonder the Stranger attacks another woman later on; she puts on a perfunctory fight, but when the movie cuts to the morning after, she has fallen under the spell of his magical penis, telling him "Mister, whatever you say is fine with me." Uh-huh.

Even 50 years ago, Eastwood should have known better than this. By way of comparison, the Man with No Name is amoral, but he’s not immoral — when push comes to shove, he’s still the 'good' in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The Stranger, on the other hand, is just plain ugly. I’m not saying he should be a saint, but he should at least be better, or at least not as bad, as the actual villains — but since rape is arguably the least heroic act possible, and he’s the only one who commits it, the Stranger is by far the worst person in an entire film filled with questionable characters. Why does he, then, ge to ride off into the sunset?

It’s a damn shame, because the movie itself is rather intriguing, in the good sense of the word. The town hires the Stranger to protect them from three outlaws who just got out of jail bent on revenge for real or perceived wrongs done to them.

As payment, the Stranger is given "unlimited credit ... An open charge account with no reckoning" (he takes the opportunity to buy candy and blankets for some Indians, as if that made everything else all right). The Stranger takes the offer to heart, and paints the whole town red. Literally.

This is part of his plan for an ambush, which also includes staging some sort of large, phantom picnic. It’s all quite surreal — spooky even, considering the film’s parting implication as to the Stranger’s true identity. I wish Eastwood had focused on that aspect of the plot; the outsider taking advantage of the wicked town, playing mind games with the cowards who run it, like some sort of Old West Pied Piper. Unfortunately, the lingering stench of that nasty rape business is too acrid to let us enjoy the movie in peace.


The teen pop version of 8 Mile would surely fall far short of 8 Mile's virtuosity, but it would still be much better than Crossroads — which could have been this hypothetical teen pop 8 Mile if only the lead had any resemblance to Britney Spears beyond looking and sounding like Britney Spears. Here’s an uber-sexy girl with an exceptional voice who couldn't, aside from playing herself, give a convincing performance if her life depended on it; why not build the movie around the first two aspects rather than the third?

Lucy Wagner, that is to say Britney, is the high school senior class valedictorian. This notion is so far-fetched that not even the filmmakers buy it. Before graduation, Lucy’s father, Pete (Dan Aykroyd), asks her if she’s practiced her speech. She hasn’t, at least that we now off. After graduation, someone (too old to be a student, yet dressed in a cap and gown) congratulates on her "wonderful" speech, which she gave offscreen. Either the director didn’t think the scriptwriter could write a wonderful speech, or didn’t think Britney could deliver it wonderfully. Or both.

This same mystery person who congratulates Lucy on her mystery speech expresses her hope that Lucy will continue to "study music at university" (perhaps they should have made the movie a musical and the speech this big song-and-dance number, which would in fact be better than anything else here); Pete chimes in, replying that "Lucy wants to be a doctor", with "a double major in biology and chemistry." Aykroyd delivers these lines with the deadpan poise that served him so well in Dragnet; alas, Crossroads isn't supposed to be a comedy.

Anyway. Eight years ago, as little girls growing up in a small Georgia town, Lucy and her two bestest friends foreverest Kit (Zoe Saldana) and Mimi (Taryn Manning) buried a "wish box" and promised to dig it up on the night of their high school graduation.

In the present day, the trio open the box to find that their dreams haven't changed a bit in almost a decade, which is a rather depressing thought. Lucy wants to find her mother who abandoned her when she was three years old, Mimi wants to travel to Los Angeles and audition for a record label, and Kit, well, what she wants is pretty much inconsequential.

Lucy does find her mother, but when her mother wants nothing to do with her, Lucy decides to steal Mimi's dream. The question is, why didn't they make Lucy the character with musical ambitions from the beginning, and forget about the unnecessary and implausible 'valedictorian/wannabe doctor' aspect altogether? It just makes as little sense as Bradley Cooper discovering Lady Gaga at a TED talk instead of a drag club in A Star is Born.


According to 247°F, the movie is "based on true events." They must mean that it’s based on people who accidentally lock themselves in a sauna in general, because the characters don’t really come across as real persons.Take for instance Jenna, who we’re told is "cute ... smart and interesting and fun." These are all Informed Attributes (since Jenna is played by Scout Taylor-Compton, I would dispute the "cute" part as well), as are Informed Abilities Ian’s (Travis Van Winkle) "physics major" and "English degree" and "communications minor."

Ian says he has "always had a fascination with literature," and has "always loved to write;" however, when speaking about the Sauna of Doom, which Wade (Tyler Mane) built, Ian calls it Wade’s "latest and most recent installment." He sure does have a way with words, doesn’t he?

To the devil his due, though; Ian hits the nail right on the head when he points out that Renee (Christina Ulloa) wears the pants in her relationship with Michael (Michael Copon) — in the prior scene we see the latter two allegedly having sex; he appears to be naked, at least from the waist up, but she has a shirt and pants on. That’s gotta chafe.

Anyway, it might be argued that trapped in a relatively small ablutionary space in your underwear/swimsuit is no place or time to show off how smart and interesting and fun you are (though, for the sake of the audience, it’s the perfect place to do so); to this hypothetical argument I would reply that Spanish drama Madrid, 1987 — whose characters are not only nominally writers but sound like it too, even when stuck in a bathroom naked — would beg to differ.

Now, in 247°F there’s also the matter of the suffocating heat, but while that may excuse you from being witty and charming and stuff, does it justify throwing logic and reason and common sense overboard? Case in point: when Wade’s dog Beau stars barking by the sauna’s outer wall, Ian, Jenna, and Renee attempt to communicate with the animal; here, poor Ulloa is made to say (and repeat) the thankless line "Please, God. Let us out, Beau."

Uh, you know it’s a dog, right? Why the hell are you pleading with it? I mean, it isn’t keeping you in there any more than it can let you out — or do you expect Beau to somehow spontaneously develop opposable thumbs and unblock the sauna door? Maybe ease up on the physics and literature and brush up on your zoology next time, yes?

Eastwood's character in High Plains Drifter isn't intended to be likable in any sense. The point is for him to come off as just as bad, if not worse, than the villains in the film. Heck, even the final shot makes it clear that we didn't get a happy ending since, instead of the 'hero riding off into a sunset' shot, we instead get eerie music as he vanishes into a mirage. I do agree that the Stockholm syndrome bits are problematic, but aside from that, it's one of the most interesting Westerns I've seen.

Fin de Siglo (End of the Century)

The first ten, dialogue-free minutes are devoted to observing Ocho (Juan Barberini), an Argentine poet on holiday in Barcelona, wandering aimlessly through the city. Ocho will later claim to have ended, or at least put on hold, a 20-year relationship because he missed "being alone," but these early scenes make it clear that his newfound solitude brings him no joy, perhaps having forgotten how to be by himself.

Javi (Ramon Pujol), who almost always wears a Kiss t-shirt, catches Ocho's eye. The two meet briefly on a beach, but they don't exchange a word until shortly after Ocho sees him from the balcony of his airbnb, invites him up and, following a short conversation, has sex with him.

After sex, they have a proper conversation, in an uninterrupted shot in which they eat cheese, drink wine and, with a magnificent view in the background, talk at length about love and life. The dialogue flows so naturally and organically that Ocho exclaims: “I feel as if I already knew you”, to which Javi replies, as if it were a matter of course: “Of course we already knew each other”.

We then see an extended flashback to when Ocho originally met Javi two decades prior. In a nutshell, they share a Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight-type experience; they walk around the city, go to museums, get drunk on box wine and tequila, dance and kiss. Eventually, the two went their separate ways then, and will go their separate ways now. Alone again, Ocho has a prolonged fantasy wherein he pictures what his life might have been like if he and Javi had stayed together.

(At first it’s not very clear how far back in time we have gone; it's only until they mention that Javi is working on a documentary about the millennium that we get a precise idea. The filmmakers make no visible effort to 'rejuvenate' their characters in the 'past,' or 'age' them in the 'present', neither digitally nor with makeup. This is the same approach that Spike Lee followed in Da 5 Bloods, and it’s the right choice; since the characters are reminiscing, it’s not at all far-fetched that they give their younger selves the same face they see everyday in the mirror)

Now, about two-thirds of this film consist of one flashbacks and one dreamlike sequence, but this is by no means filler material. The latter, for example, is not all that far removed from, say, the final stretch of The Last Temptation of Christ — the key difference being that Jesus still has time to choose another course of action, while for Ocho Eight the right time has and continues to elude him.

Before, it was too soon, when he and Javi were both in heterosexual relationships and didn't know for sure what they wanted. And now it's too late; like Ocho, Javi is temporarily on his own in Barcelona, and has to — and wants to — return to Berlin to his husband and daughter (a point is made of Javi’s open relationship with his partner, so that he doesn’t come across as a two-timing bastard).

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds

This documentary is a poetic, scientific, and philosophical meditation on how meteors and comets have influenced ancient religions, cultures, and topographies around the world. Journeying from the Australian desert to France, India, the Bering Strait, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Antarctica, it ponders the multiple meanings humanity has associated with otherworldly debris and the craters it leaves behind.

The film is co-directed by Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer. The latter conducts the interviews, and the former narrates with his trademarked, endlessly entertaining voice-over/stream of consciousness style — of one interviewee Herzog says, "[he] could have continued [talking], without getting boring, nonstop for the next eight hours," sounding as if he has actually timed it; conversely, of another expert's explanation, Herzog assures us that "it gets so complicated now that we are not going to torture you with details." Ha!

But perhaps the most oxymoronic moment, both deeply solemn and sarcastically funny, occurs when the film visits the town of Chicxulub in Yucatan, Mexico (famous for being near the geographic center of a crater discovered on the Yucatan Peninsula and stretching into the ocean, created by the asteroid impact that caused the extinction of all non-avian dinosaurs), which Herzog describes as "a beach resort so godforsaken you want to cry" (a tour of its derelict streets shows that the German isn’t too far off).

Other herzogian idiosyncrasies include apparent editing lapses; e.g., a close-up of an indigenous Australian artist with a fly hovering over her face, and Oppenheimer carelessly wiping his nose with a handkerchief in the middle of an interview.

Such incidents are neither accidental nor coincidental. Herzog is no less calculating than the average documentary filmmaker, but he is also more honest, and it’s no secret that what the filmmaker strives to achieve is what he calls an "ecstatic truth" ("deeper strata of truth in cinema ... mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization," as defined in Herzog’s "Minnesota Declaration").

Fireball includes a direct reference to Little Dieter Needs to Fly and, by extension, to Rescue Dawn; a line about bears "that don't just exist in nightmares, but are actually out there." Moreover, the image of the filmmakers descending a narrow mountain path is reminiscent of Aguirre, the Wrath of God.

PS. You may have noticed that I've said almost nothing about meteorites in a review of a movie about them; then again, you need not be an astronomy buff to enjoy Fireball, not least because Herzog’s enthusiasm is as contagious as ever.


Writer/director/producer/composer/star Viggo Mortensen might have called this movie The Fifth Commandment, because the gay protagonist honors his homophobic father (Lance Henriksen) above and beyond the call of duty.

The same can be said for John’s (Mortensen) sister Sarah (Laura Linney); the only one who has little or no tolerance for old Willis (Henriksen) is his grandson Will (Piers Bijvoet) — when Willis says "my father was a son of a bitch," Will retorts: "like father, like son."

Henriksen gives a great performance (for which Mortensen can take his share of credit, regardless of whether it’s the result of great casting or great directing); his Willis is arguably the worst movie father since James Coburn in Affliction. The problem with this, if you want to split hairs, is that Henriksen is so good at being a horrible person that one wonders at his family’s seemingly inexhaustible patience. I mean, blood is thicker than water, but this man has vitriol running through his veins.

Casting himself in the lead is another stroke of genius. Mortensen has long been an icon of masculinity thanks to his roles in The Lord of the Rings, Eastern Promises, and A History of Violence, among others. Thus, when Willis, who sees himself as a man’s man, tells John (and here Mortensen the scriptwriter also hits the perfect note), "You don't look like a queer; are you sure [you are one]?," one can almost understand the old man's disappointment. Almost.

Mortensen's counterintuitive interpretation has him meekly putting up with Willis's neverending stream of insults, not limited to John but aimed at his partner, and their general lifestyle. Mortensen makes it clear that this is not just Willis’s incipient dementia is talking; a series of flashbacks shows that the current state of affairs has been brewing over decades.

The only moments of peace between father and son occur very early in the film, when John is still almost a baby. And John coming out, though it happened before the start of the film, surely marked a point of no return; nothing John can do, short of changing his sexual orientation, is going to make Willis happy, and he receives every kind word, every kind gesture from his son with the utmost contempt.

Everything comes to a head in the scene where John finally can't take it anymore and gives Willis a very well-deserved The Reason You Suck Speech; here, Mortensen registers approximately 7.5 degrees on the Michael Shannon scale — it’s a sight both beautiful and terrifying.

The only truly negative criticism I would level at Falling is that I'm not entirely sure anyone has learned anything when all is said and done. Then again, maybe that's the lesson; the best art is that which reflects life, and in real life there are no last-minute epiphanies that make everything all right.

Sometimes, to paraphrase Atticus Finch, you just do the best you can with the sense you have — and I think that's what Mortensen has done with this film (which features a David Cronenberg cameo as a proctologist giving Henriksen a prostate exam, which alone makes the film worth your time).


There are films that speak so directly to the individual (or to an individual, by which I mean myself), that they transcend art and become manifestos of a personal ideology. Such a film is, for me, The Fountainhead. I never would have thought a movie about architects could be so fascinating, but then The Fountainhead is as much about architecture as The Weather Man (another personal favourite) is about the weather.

The story opens with Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) being kicked out of architecture school. Cooper was 48 years old at the time, and he looks it. At that rate, he was going to be able to have his graduation and his retirement party on the same evening. Perhaps this is why cinematographer Robert Burks photographs him from behind, so that when we meet him we can only see his shadowy silhouette.

The dean explains to Howard that “There is no place for originality in architecture. Nobody can improve the buildings of the past. You can only learn to copy them. We have tried to teach you the accepted historical styles. You refuse to learn. You do not consider anyone's judgment except your own. You insist on designing buildings that are unlike anything built before … you will never be an architect.”

Nonetheless, aged (more so than Howard, at least) architect Henry Cameron (Henry Hull) decides to take a chance on Howard in the weirdest job interview ever: “I should kick you out of here right now before it's too late … I don't want foolish visionaries starving around here. You're selfish. You are impertinent. You are too sure of yourself. Twenty years ago, I would have punched you with the greatest pleasure. You start working for me tomorrow morning at 9:00 … now get out of here. Wait. What's your name?"

Cameron will die penniless only a couple of scenes later, leaving Howard jobless and with $14 to his name. His 'friend' Peter Keating (Kent Smith), suggests Howard learn to get along with people (Howard: Is that what bothers you about me, Peter? That I want to be alone?)

Howard is described as an "unbridled individualist" who sets his "own standards", who believes that "A building has integrity, as does a man, and just as often. It must be true to its own idea, have its own shape, and serve its own purpose." Additionally, Roark doesn't build to get customers; he "[has] clients so [he] can build," and he would rather "work as a day laborer" than compromise his vision. The latter is not an empty threat.

It is precisely in this condition as a laborer that Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal), a glamorous socialite, first sets eyes on him. Before this, Dominique only wanted one thing; "Freedom ... to depend on nothing". The sight of a sweaty Gary Cooper operating a drill, however, quickly leads her to reassess her priorities.

Dominique was engaged to Peter, until publishing mogul Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey) offers him, who is also an architect, albeit one with few or no ideas of his own, a huge contract, with the caveat that he will must break engagement to her.

Peter was only going to marry her to advance his career (her father being wealthy architect). Wynand has his own intentions toward Dominique — intentions that turn out to be honorable, even if he woos her the same way he conducts business. Consider his declaration of love: "What I want to find in our marriage will remain my own concern. I exact no promises and impose no obligations. Incidentally, since it is of no importance to you, I love you."

Wynand owns a newspaper called The Banner (he'll later hire Howard to design his very own Xanadu; methinks any resemblance to Charles Foster Kane — Citizen Kane was released just two years before Rand's novel — isn't entirely coincidental). The Banner has two (2) architecture critics on its payroll (I have never read a newspaper that had even one, but sure, why not?); Dominique happens to be one of them, and the other is Ellsworth M. Toohey (Robert Douglas).

Oddly, Dominique and Toohey seem to be Wynand’s closest advisors. On the other hand, The Fountainhead exists in a world wherein architecture is a religion (those who do not practice it write about it, and the rest either worship it or despise it, with no middle ground), and architects are its godslaves.

Toohey is convinced that “artistic value is achieved collectively, with each man subordinating himself to the standards of the majority. The greatness in Peter Keating's personality lies in the fact that there is no personality stamped on his buildings. Therefore, he does not represent himself but the multitude of all men together” (he will later admit to Peter that if he called him “the greatest living architect”, it was because he “wanted to dishonor and discredit all greatness”).

To say that Howard is a thorn in Toohey's side would be an understatement, and Toohey is given to understating things, as you can see from this sample of his dialogue: "Man can be allowed to exist only to serve others. He must be nothing more than a tool for the satisfaction of the needs of others. Self-sacrifice is the law of our times ... Howard Roark, the ultimate egoist, is a man who must be destroyed!” Howard’s radar, though, barely registers Toohey.

Toohey: There's a building that should have been yours. There are buildings going up all over town, chances refused to you and given to fools. You're walking the streets while they do the work you love but can't obtain. This city is closed to you. It is I who have done it. Don't you want to know my reason?
Howard: No.
Toohey: I'm fighting you and I'll fight you any way I can.
Howard: You're free to do whatever you want.
Toohey: Mr. Roark, we're all alone here. Why don't you tell me what you think about me in any words you wish?
Howard (with supremely Olympian disdain): But I don't think of you.
Keating, hired to create a huge housing project, enlists Roark's help. Roark agrees, demanding that Keating build it exactly as designed in exchange for letting Keating take all the credit. This leads to the first of two great speeches from Cooper.

Keating: It's a humanitarian project. Think of the people in the slums. If you can give them decent housing, you would be doing a noble deed. Would you do it just for them?
Howard: No. The man who works for others without pay is a slave. I don't think slavery is noble. In no way and for no purpose … Peter, before you can do things for people, you have to be the kind of man who can do things. But to do things you must love the doing, not the people. Your own work, not any possible object of your charity. I would be glad if men in need find a better way to live in a house I build, but that is not the motive for my work, nor my reason, nor my reward. My reward, my purpose, my life, is the work itself. My work done my way. Nothing else matters to me.
At the behest of the envious Toohey, the firm backing the project alters Roark's design submitted by Keating. Roark, with Dominique's help, sets up explosives to destroy the buildings and is arrested on the spot. Toohey pressures Keating to confess privately that Roark had engineered the project. Roark goes on trial and is characterized as a public enemy.

All of its considerable silliness aside, the issue at the center of The Fountainhead is the struggle between individualism and collectivism, formulated in the question, "Has a man a right to exist if he refuses to serve society?" The answer is Cooper's magnificent second speech. Oh my brother, testify!

Frankenstein Unbound

The best part of Frankenstein Unbound occurs early on. It's a beautiful afternoon in the neighborhood, when all of a sudden the sky opens and a horseman descends, spear in hand, like a harbinger of doom.

As far as symbolism goes, this is pretty ominous, as well as reminiscent of the apocalyptic riders Murnau’s Faust. Frankenstein Unbound visually delightful, possessed of an expressionistic aesthetic that prefigured that of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness four years later. Unfortunately, this Roger Corman flick is a triumph of style over substance.

In 2031, Dr. Joseph 'Joe' Buchanan (John Hurt) is developing the ultimate anti-matter ray. Somewhat counterintuitively, Joe hopes to create a weapon so powerful that it will end all wars. The prototype, however, has unpredictable glitches, such as creating erratic global weather patterns and fissures in space and time that have caused some people to disappear. While driving his own personal KITT home from work, Buchanan himself is caught in one of those fissures.

Joe travels, not only to a different time and place, but also to what must be a parallel universe in which Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Raúl Julia ) is a real person and everyone in Switzerland speaks English (though Victor is shown reading a French newspaper).

In a tavern, Joe trades his ring for twenty francs and a trout, and sits at the same table as Victor, who is very impressed with Joe's digital watch. Moments later Victor says goodbye and Joe follows him without even tasting the trout. I hate it when people order food in the movies but never have time to eat it.

Victor goes to meet his Creation (Nick Brimble), who has the strangest case of heterochromia I've ever seen, and who has murdered Frankenstein's younger brother and demands that the good doctor create a mate for him, lest Victor of his fiancée Elizabeth are next.

Victor shoots his pistol at the monster, misses, and he and the Creature proceed to have a relatively long conversation while Victor reloads his gun. He shoots again but the Creation escapes. Joe confronts Victor, urging him to reveal the Creature's existence and save Justine (Catherine Corman), who has been blamed for her little brother's death.

Victor is initially aloof, but Joe persuades him to write a letter explaining everything; curiously, Victor regards an envelope with the same astonishment as he did Joe's watch (“And you just lick this?”). Joe takes the letter to Elizabeth, but Victor has tricked him (presumably taking advantage of the fact that in this dimension people speak English but write in French); the epistle says nothing about Justine, who is hanged despite Joe's intervention.

Undeterred, Joe decides to enlist the help of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, played by Jason Patrick and Michael Hutchence, respectively; they’re boot cool cats, but I can’t help thinking that the actual rockstar would have made more sense as Byron.

Along the way, Joe asks KITT to print Mary Shelley's (Bridget Fonda) novel (he had previously asked it to calculate "the chance of reversing a time rift using a prototype laser projector”; KITT says it will need "approximately 96 hours" to have an answer). Predictably, the poets prove to be thoroughly useless, but Joe impresses Mary with his car and a copy of her future book, and soon after they’re having sexual congress (Mary: "Percy and Byron preach free love. I practice it").

Yada yada yada, the Creature kills Elizabeth and kidnaps Joe. Frankenstein asks Buchanan to use his knowledge of electricity to help resurrect his former fiancée (I’m assuming her being dead is an engagement breaker). KITT finally arrives at the conclusion that “it is not possible to reverse the effect of a time fissure.” Joe then asks what the probability is of surviving a laser generated implosion. KITT immediately replies that there is a high probability that Joe will be transported to yet another time and place. Why this calculation took KITT mere seconds but the previous query kept it busy for four days, I haven’t the foggiest.

Buchanan instructs the monster to attach cables to a weather vane on the roof. The monster thus distracted, Buchanan reroutes some of the electrical wires to start powering up the prototype laser in his car. As lightning strikes the tower over and over again, the laser battery begins to charge and the corpse on the table begins to move. Simultaneously, the woman comes to life and Buchanan's energy beam is fully charged; he pulls the trigger. The laser opens another space-time rift, sending Buchanan, Frankenstein, and the two monsters into the future.

They land on a snowy mountain without any sign of civilization. Frankenstein and the monster try to lure the woman to them, only for her to force Frankenstein to shoot and kill her. Enraged, the monster kills Frankenstein and heads off into the blizzard. Buchanan follows him, hoping to kill the monster before it reaches a city and wreaks havoc again.

Finally, the monster is cornered in a cave full of computers and machines. As Buchanan walks in, the machines come on-line and a voice says "Welcome back, Dr. Buchanan." The monster tells Buchanan that the cave is the central brain of the nearby town, the last one left after the world has been devastated by Buchanan's weapon.

Buchanan activates a security device and kills the Creature with what appears to be a light show (perhaps the monster was dazzled to death?). The film ends with another exquisite image, this time of Joe walking towards the cyclopean city in the background.

Frankenstein Unbound is better than it has any right to be, especially since Hurt and Julia can't help elevating the kitschy material they've been given, and because cinematographers Armando Nannuzzi and Michael Scott craft the perfect look for the story, so appropriate that the poor storytelling can’t quite ruin it, however much it tries.