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I was recently in an independent comedy-drama about post-high school indecision. It's called Generation Why.

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LAST DAYS - 2005, Gus Van Sant

Stars: Michael Pitt, Kim Gordon



As far as I'm concerned, going into Last Days expecting to see a portrait of Kurt Cobain is an immediate mistake. Allegedly, writer/director Gus Van Sant's initial intentions with the project were slightly more ambiguous than the ultimate result. It was primarily an intuitive decision made by lead actor Michael Pitt to play his character as a ragged blonde grunge rocker reminiscent of Cobain. This film is bigger than the examination of one individual. It's not about one person, living or dead. This is the third entry in Gus Van Sant's minimalist, borderline abstract Death trilogy. It is arguably the strongest installment.

The trilogy began in 2002 with Gerry, a visually striking film in which two young men got lost in a desert, ending in tragic results. The follow-up was Elephant (2003), a sensitive and poignant recreation of the Columbine shootings. Once again, we watched as two young men moved quietly towards a grim conclusion. With Last Days, Van Sant re-examines the death of a young man at his own hands.

The young man depicted is named Blake. We watch him wander slowly through a forest in filthy clothes that hang limply off his bones. We watch him attempting at human connection, only to submissively accept as the people around him take advantage of his weakness. He mutters indiscernably through most of the film, providing us with a cryptic indicator of a man deep in his own presumably morbid thoughts. Harris Savides, the cinematographer of all three Death films, does a magnificent job of capturing Van Sant's vision. For most of the first act in Last Days, Blake's face is only seen from a distance, or from behind a curtain of his own long hair.



The detachment of the visual approach serves as a disarming juxtaposition to the intimacy of the events we witness. Blake's bizarre, obviously depressed actions and reactions are explored from a voyeuristic but neutral standpoint. Many people have accused the film of being pointless and boring. I disagree. The combination of a foreboding, moody sound design and gorgeously simplistic photography is brilliant. The painstaking pace of the picture reaches its full potential in numerous chilling, unforgettable scenes. My favorite may be the moment when we watch Blake, alone, gasp out one final musical performance, singing a melancholy song written by Pitt himself called "Death to Birth".

The truth that results from this film's approach should be largely attributed to Michael Pitt. The underrated young performer takes the definition of nuanced acting to a new level. Evidently conscious of the film's distance, he never feels remotely self-aware. He opens this character's soul to us from afar with achingly honest results. When told by one journalist that he walks exactly like Cobain in the film, Pitt responded plainly with "I walked like a junkie." His character choice has echoes of Cobain, and sometimes they are loud echoes. He even has a striking physical resemblance to the dark beauty of the deceased musician. However, the triumph of his work here is in the fact that he accurately conveys a man whose identity is fading, someone whose soul is dwindling until his final disturbing moment on screen.



Last Days is not for everyone. This is clear to see from its lukewarm critical response and largely unenthusiastic feedback from audiences. It is a meticulously crafted piece with specific intent and ideas, but its aims will not be visible or effective for everyone. A lot of people say its intentions are meaningless. I strongly oppose those sentiments. For me, this film goes above and beyond achieving its goals. This is a resonant, unsettling account of a human being who crumbles underneath the burdens of his life and submits to fate. It's not about the frontman of Nirvana. It is about isolation, depression, and most importantly it is about the dark corners of the human psyche.

This is probably my favorite Gus Van Sant film to date. After watching Last Days, it settles into the subconscious and imprints its haunting beauty in the memory of its viewers. Like a bleak, subtextual poem, the least this film should do for anyone is leave them thinking.

MY RATING: 5/5



Thanks for the review, mm. I've had this film sitting on my shelf for about 8 months now, but I just haven't felt up to watching it. Nice to hear someone who thinks it's worth it.



REVOLUTIONARY ROAD - 2008, Sam Mendes
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet



Great film-making isn't always constituted by technical achievements or successfully controversial subject matter. Arguably, most true cinephiles should be able find as much merit in Casablanca as in A Clockwork Orange. Sometimes, the goal of a film is to amplify the literary potential of cinema and to communicate universal feelings with the audience. In other words, great movies are great storytelling. Based on this sentiment alone, Revolutionary Road is a great film.

Something I found especially interesting about this piece was director Sam Mendes' approach, particularly from a visual standpoint. His 1999 Best Picture winner, American Beauty, was infused with a colorful photographic quality that worked deliciously as a blatant juxtaposition to the dark subject matter. His follow-up feature, Road to Perdition, was equally striking on an aesthetic level. Even his mild failure Jarhead from 2005 succeeded most in terms of its sharp, vividly shot imagery. Although it is shot by acclaimed professional Roger Deakins, Revolutionary Road has a subtle, bare-bones visual quality that ultimately serves towards the effectiveness of the picture as a whole. Although cemented together thematically, this movie is about the characters and their feelings. By giving his brilliant cast the room to perform and guide the adaptation with their character portraits, Sam Mendes made an ingenious decision.



The landscape of this movie is in the agony of Frank and April Wheeler, in the claustrophobia and detachment that comes with a marriage gone hideously awry. Although Richard Yates' novel brings societal conditions and implications from that time period into play, I believe that this story is truly timeless, and arguably universal. Not all couples articulate themselves the way Frank and April do, and not all people have the same moral stances or emotional qualities. However, I think it's safe to say that all of us feel regret. We are all capable of feeling trapped. And I believe that, more often than not, the core motivation of humans in distress is self-interest. Justin Haythe's script manages to convey everything that made the source material so powerful and resonant. It makes a statement about a time and a place, but also about people and the destruction that mismatched relationships can cause.

All of these ideas are expressed to us through the key characters, both of whom are excessively neurotic and volatile. Within the context of the novel and the film, the non-mainstream nature of the people involved is irrelevant. The performances that bring these remarkable characters to life could not possibly be better. I can say with complete earnestness that screen acting does not get any better than this. First matched together in 1997 with the milestone Titanic, DiCaprio and Winslet engaged audiences with their fantastic chemistry and conviction. Eleven years later, they have reunited for a movie that could not be more different, and it is astonishing to see how much both of them have evolved, despite the fact they've always been great.

I think people overuse comparisons to young Marlon Brando. His accomplishments as a performer are countless. He brought new life to screen acting with A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951. I personally believe that he was the greatest film actor of all time. That being said, if I were to compare any working actor to the legendary Brando, it would be Leonardo DiCaprio. Acting with such intensity and painfully poignant sincerity is rare, but Mr. DiCaprio seems to know the craft better than almost anyone else. Kate Winslet helps balance both the empathy and the tragedy at the foundation of Revolutionary Road, bestowing us with one of the screen's great lead female performances. Her exploration of April Wheeler is uncompromising in the most literal sense of the word, and the result is one of the most stunningly human pieces of acting offered in the year 2008.



This movie could be analyzed again and again. It could be cross-examined, debated, interpreted in numerous ways, and I still don't know if anyone could summarize exactly why the story is so important and crushing. I could highlight all of the supporting performances, the successful directorial decisions, the best elements of the writing, but to me there's no need. It brought me to the point of tears, which is something that almost never happens to me at the movies. It is a visceral, enormously affecting piece of art that will always stay with me. To be honest, it's based on my favorite novel of all time. Being such a huge fan of the book, I felt it was a faithful and exceptionally strong adaptation.

This is the best movie of 2008, and it has a special place with me. It always will.

MY RATING: 5/5



THE FOURTH KIND - 2009, Olatunde Osunsanmi
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas



I intentionally went to The Fourth Kind not knowing what to expect. When invited to an advance screening, I decided to restrain myself from doing any prior research. I liked the notion of taking the movie in as a complete surprise. Well, I suppose it was a little bit different from what I may have expected, but that doesn’t make it anything worth watching.

The Fourth Kind starts off on a feeble note. Supermodel/actress Milla Jovovich delivers a solemn disclaimer to the audience, warning us that what we are about to see is very real and very disturbing. She also mentions that she is playing one of the people in the re-enactment, in case we don’t notice in the movie we are about to see. Not only is the disclaimer a bad idea, but it is hideously stylized too. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi puts the colourful background in motion behind Jovovich, and employs the use of ominous-sounding music.

This ominous-sounding music seethes in the background of essentially every scene that follows, just to remind us of how unsettling and disturbing it all is. The film puts on the guise of a documentary meshed with dramatic recreations, charting the experiences of Dr. Abigail Tyler in relation to alien abductions. Osunsanmi periodically splices “real” footage into the film, complete with captions that say “Real Footage”.



It’s an interesting concept to utilize a mockumentary style within the horror genre, but here it feels gimmicky and the execution is too sloppy for it to be effective. I think the movie would have benefitted from discarding the dramatization element altogether, and just functioning as a fake documentary.

The fake documentary portion is sometimes quite strong, with well-drawn performances by actors who have to shed a lot of their performing instincts. There are moments in this side of the film that are genuinely spooky, but the same can’t be said for the rest of it.

The “recreation” part of The Fourth Kind occupies a significant amount of running time, and it is so cringe-worthily bad that it squashes any potential the picture had. The dialogue is so rigid and contrived that even the most talented actors wouldn’t be able to pull much out of it. Jovovich does a noble job struggling with her character, but she never rises above the material.

With such a substantial segment that leaves us unsatisfied, this film fails to achieve anything more than a few cheap thrills. If you’re interested in this subject matter, rent Close Encounters of the Third Kind and watch that instead. If you’ve already seen Close Encounters, watch it again. It’s a good movie.

MY RATING: 2/5



If you see a film with Milla in and expect it to be good, you've only yourself to blame. When I say "you", I'm speaking in general terms MM, though that does include you, of course.



Welcome to the human race...
Hehe, how true. About the only film I genuinely like with Milla in it is Dazed and Confused and even then she's only got about a minute of screen-time (but got put on the DVD cover for some stupid reason).
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Yes, that stupid reason was to sell the film. A fact that really pissed her off as, like you say, she's barely in the film and feels that she was only cast so they could use her image to advertise the film.



Actually, I got to see it for free at an advance screening. I was writing a review on it for a local paper. Otherwise I probably wouldn't bother.



THE BROWN BUNNY - 2005, Vincent Gallo
Stars: Vincent Gallo, Chloë Sevigny



Reviewing The Brown Bunny is a daunting task, because I feel obligated to justify my views on a deeper level than I normally might. Giving this movie a positive rating is difficult, in the sense that holding a strong opinion about any controversial film is threatening. I am sure that a lot of people were put down for praising Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris when they were first released, because people are touchy about sex in cinema. The issue of pornography versus art always enters the equation with films like this, and words like “gratuitous”, “exploitive” and “tasteless” are bound to be thrown around.

When reading about The Brown Bunny, I was intrigued to discover that Vincent Gallo is the first one to argue that it is not an art film. He also admits that he uses some of the attributes of porn as a tool in his piece. In finishing his movie on such a shocking, explicit note, he employs a powerful juxtaposition to the quiet subtext preceding it.



The version of the film that I saw was the 92 minute cut released in America. I have never seen the version released at Cannes, and I probably never will. According to popular opinion, that’s a good thing. However, I think a lot of people are approaching this film in the wrong mindset. Anyone who sees The Brown Bunny as “that notorious blowjob movie” is not going to appreciate it on any level beyond shock value. The movie exists as it is for a reason – all the painful, discomforting silence that builds up to that finale is there to amplify the overall resonance.

In a peculiarly disjointed narrative, the film follows the wandering of a protagonist named Bud Clay, although we don’t know his name until close to the ending. He has brief, wistful interactions with several women, but spends most of his time alone. Gallo plays Bud with brilliantly articulated physical suggestions. We can see underlying issues in the way that he carries himself and the visible agony in his face. We follow this character through what often feel like banal, meaningless routines, but their implications become clarified once the closing credits have rolled.



Over-emphasizing the infamous motel scene feels counterproductive, because the sequence isn’t really about sexuality. It’s the most frank and potent depiction of an otherwise hazily sketched character. We learn in one scene what we could only speculate for the majority of the earlier segments in the film. We are presented with haunting regret in the context of a dark fantasy, the dynamics of a broken relationship and possible hints of insanity. Like in Bertolucci’s Last Tango, sex is used not to arouse the audience, but to make them feel uneasy and even ashamed. There’s something unnatural about viewing a scenario like this, and the background information is what makes it so unnerving.

I think Gallo’s film is beautiful in a surprising, exciting and totally original way. We use the word “beautiful” so often that it’s difficult to distinguish the meaning sometimes. On a purely aesthetic level, The Brown Bunny is beautiful even though it breaks rules of composition and, in doing so, stimulates us in ways we don’t expect. Tone is handled masterfully throughout, and we are left with a lingering sense of sadness after the movie is finished.


I think a film like this is potentially alienating. A lot of people will approach it with precise expectations, and most of them will be bored or even repelled by its disregard for convention. I’m not being deliberately iconoclastic when I say that it did a lot for me. It hit me harder than anything I’ve watched in quite a while.


MY RATING: 4.5/5



RIP www.moviejustice.com 2002-2010
If you see a film with Milla in and expect it to be good, you've only yourself to blame. When I say "you", I'm speaking in general terms MM, though that does include you, of course.
I liked her a lot in The Fifth Element and The Messenger, but that's all. Two decent Luc Besson films. I guess she took the action heroine road with the Resident Evil films. Probably a mistake, but I doubt she's short on laundry money anyhow.

As far as the DVD covered of Dazed and Confused, I'm sure the cover was designed after Milla enjoyed minor stardom.
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EVERYBODY'S FINE - 2009, Kirk Jones
Stars: Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore



Everybody’s Fine is a remake of an Italian film with the same title, which was released in 1990. Robert De Niro plays Frank, a lonely old man who attempts at a reunion with his busy adult children. When they all cancel on him last minute, Frank decides to take a trip and show up at their places unexpectedly. We learn vague details about the past as Frank tries to repair all of the family relationships. The premise is interesting enough, but the way the film plays out is too saccharine and manipulative to allow the audience to contribute anything.

This is a film in which the architecture of the screenplay is almost physically visible. It’s so painfully clichéd that we can calculate when the next laughs will come, or when we’ll be expected to cry next. It has plenty of potential in its study of adult family dynamics, but writer/director Kirk Jones is too forceful with the content and the result is off-putting.



Robert De Niro is an actor of devastating emotional ability. His talent knows no bounds, despite the hit-and-miss nature of his career lately. He has moments of power in this film, and he manages to rise above the screenplay for the most part. However, the material doesn’t give him enough to work with, and it represses his full capabilities. Nevertheless, he’s the strongest part of this feature and faithful fans of his work should give it a look.

The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast. Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale play De Niro’s children, and none of their characters are written with much texture. Drew Barrymore is surprisingly strong considering what she’s given, and I enjoyed some of the scenes she shared with De Niro. On the other hand, Beckinsale and Rockwell struggle visibly with their roles, and neither of them manage to turn in particularly memorable performances.

The lack of adequate character development amplifies the problems with the story. The conclusion of this movie is so generic and overly sentimental that it squashes any potential it had. It’s the kind of forgettable holiday film that comes out every year, which is unfortunate because I think it could have been better with these actors and themes.

MY RATING: 2.5/5



Needless to say, I'm dying to see this, but with Kate Beckensale in it (a good sign of a poor film) and De Niro in a comedy (again, rarely a plus) I'm not expecting a great film.