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SPACEY HOSTS A SLOW DAY AT THE ACTOR'S WORKSHOP

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 2 September 2009 05:46 (A review of Albino Alligator (1996))

by Dane Youssef


A gang of crooks. The perfect plan. It all goes wrong. They're in trouble. The police are outside. They're cornered. What are they gonna do now?


Sound familiar?


"Albino Alligator" is one of those movies that seems like it's trying to be a combination of the acting workshop, the "indie" film and the theater.


It's the kind of things that actors love--it's kind of like a workshop or a play because it mostly consists of tight focusing on the actors acting... acting angry, tense, scared, conversing, scheming, planning--giving the performers a lot of free range to really ham it all up.


A trio of crooks, one leader, one goon, one brother, come up with a big heist scheme... and a monkey wrench is thrown into the works. To top things off, there's a bit of a "fender-bender" and one of the crooks in flung through the back of the windshield.


The cops are on their tail and they stumble into a bar named poetically (and leadenly) "Dino's Last Chance."


Spacey, as a director, tries to keep the focus on the actors' performances and delivery of dialouge. He pans over to a bright passion-red cigarette ad of a smoking and smoldering Bogart. And he keeps all the violence off-screen, really.


I think that was a mistake. Focusing on the intensity and gruesome violent scenes would have given the movie some edge.


The problem with the movie is that it moves too slow and suffers from miscasting in almost every role. Matt Dillon ("Drugstore Cowboy" and "Wild Things") seems too young and too idealistic to be the leader of this gang.


Gary Sinese seems to brooding and deep in thought to be a spineless tag-along with these guys and Joe Mantaga is effective as the traditional routine foul-swearing mad-dog police lieutenant who's all thumbs, but he isn't given anything to really do here.


William Fischter is the only actor who is believable in his role as a brainless grunt who just wants to spill blood.


And the crooks are in a tense situation where they either go to jail or they try to think of some way out of this.


Spacey lacks the ability to create a lot of tension and keep it going. The characters are mostly chatting away, trying to think of a plan... and they're to calm and too articulate. There's even a scene where the crooks are playing pool with a whole swarm of armed cops right outside, ready to strike. At one point, one of the crooks even call the police who are right outside the bar. Oh brother. Oh bother.


These cops are going to either blow them away or going to lock them up. Shouldn't the holed-up crooks be a little scared, a little uneasy? Meanwhile, all the real action is happening inside.


Someone whips out a gun, a baseball bat, which leads to an ugly confrontation off-screen and there's one more casualty that happens that's... well, kinda sad. But...


Faye Dunaway also should have spent more time with a dialect coach, improving on her New Orleans accent. And Skeet Ullrich is fine in a small part.


A cop listening in reaches for a pack of matches at the absolute worst time is a nice look. And so is a scene where someone goes right through the rear windshield.


The dialouge is obviously trying to go for a David Mamet approach and it's as profane, but never as realistic or as insightful.


The movie feels like too much of what it really is... a really low-budget movie with an actor behind the camera for the first time directing other actors from a script that's "not bad, but needs a few more re-writes." Spacey shows he's not a terrible director, but he lacks a sort of feel for "shaping a movie" and it feels like he's just filming actors act.


These actors are all talented and could work with the material, but they all feel out of place. As I said before, the movie really suffers from miscasting.


I don't mean that the wrong actors were cast. I think they found just the right cast, but placed them in all the wrong roles. I think switching some of the roles would've helped immensely.


Having veteran mob actor Joe Mantagna play the leader of the pack, Gary Sinese as the angry police lieutenant outside on his bullhorn giving orders and barking at his troops, keeping Fischter in his "bloodthirsty goon" part and Matt Dillion as the sacrificial lamb. That would have been a big improvement.


When some actors direct, it works. They can even win Oscars for it. But a lot of the time, when actors direct, they have a tendency to just focus on the performances. Just shoot the actors acting.


Sometimes it works... but they need a good showcase for it. An excuse for it.


Hostage situations are all pretty much the same in real life just like coming-of-age stories so it's only natural that movies about them will go from point A to point B as well.


There are a few really great entries into this genre.' Spacey himself appeared in a similar movie about hostage situations: "The Negotiator."


This certainly won't become a cult classic, let alone one of AFI's 100. Still, it does have a few nice moments and personal touches, but in the end, it's instantly forgettable and the kind of movie that would play best on regular TV. It's just not worth going out of your way to see.

Better luck next time, Space. I heard his "Beyond The Sea" was a better effort... I give this one a 3 out of 10.


Hmmm.... maybe it's true. You need to fail before you succeed.


--For Independent Filmmakers Everywhere, Dane Youssef


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"DOESN'T DRAW ATTENTION OR EVEN MUST INTEREST"

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 2 September 2009 05:44 (A review of Drawing Flies)

by Dane Youssef


The Canadians approach to filmmaking is either bland, campy or downright blood-and-guts (usually in the "campy" gory vein, of course).

Most Canadians are as good at the art of film as mimes are at capturing the art of sparkling conversation.

Ever hear the expression, "it was halfway decent? Comes up halfway? Meet me halfway?" I had that thought stuck at the top of my head after viewing this one.

That's about the perfect way to describe "Drawing Flies," a Canadian-based indie featuring a sprinkling of an American-based cast and crew.

The first half of the movie starts out as a variation of the whole "Dazed and Confused" or "Slackers" genre, where we see some contemporary socially-relevant slacker types in Canada living on steady welfare. Then we see them go on the big self-discovery trip that's the big turning point of their lives.

The Canuck Government cuts them off and they take the last bit of money they have in the world, pool it together and instead of paying the necessary monthly rent check, they blow the whole damn thing on a cover-charge at some party and dope.

Now totally and completely bankrupt, they move out of their place (they're living four to a single apartment) and hit the road. They then exile themselves to the deep, deep woods where they plan to make permanent residence. Thus, this is where the real journey-theme of the movie kicks in. This is where the part of their lives that has worthy interest to be a movie kicks in.

Or should anyway.

Jason Lee (as always) proves that any movie with him in it alone is worth seeing (OK, except for the unforgivably bad sedated-comedies "A Guy Thing" and "Stealing Harvard"--well, hey, if Tom Green's in it). His performance starts out earnest with life-affirming optimistic hope and child-like charm, but then U-turns into angry, road rage and his long-repressed dementia kicks in. It's the type of character he's played in damn near everything, but it's still thrills and shakes.

Mewes' performance here is kind of uneven. I mean, he's not really an actor--he's basically just a friend of filmmaker Kevin Smith who plays himself in movie after movie. Like Julia Roberts, he's not really an actor--he's more of a TV talk-show personality. Jason Mewes stretches (somewhat) as a welfare-starving slacker who curses and smokes the dope, but not nearly at the level that his legendary Jay character does. He (like most of the cast) seems to have trouble swallowing the overwritten and unrealistic dialogue.

He doesn't talk so much about getting laid and eating out pussy as much, either. Mewes' Az character is more of somewhat-more-down-to-earth regular Stoner than a near-cartoonist comic relief.

Carmen Lee (they were married at the time of this one) does the worst job in this one. Every word, every facial reaction, every moment from her sounds horribly unconvincing. She is here, beyond a doubt, not only the absolute worst performance in the film, but the worst acting I've ever seen. Hopefully, Carmen will stray from acting and find almost any other day job. She would be more adept to make a living donating sperm.

The movie's plot echoes "The Blair Witch Project:" A group of friends go on a long, long trip in the deepest woods on earth and into the great unknown. Then, a hidden agenda is revealed. One that may bring wealth and legendary status. It sounds (of course) to everyone else like s collision of insanity and stupidity. But doesn't every ground-breaker at first?

Everyone sneers and turns against each other. It's all sides divided. Bedlam, as always. The Loch Ness Monster. Sasquach. The Boogeyman. They're all just good old fashioned monster folklore stories, aren't they? There's always evidence (of course) that tilts to the contrary.

Like I said from the start of this review (where you came in), "Drawing Flies" is a "halfway decent" film. If you only see half the movie, you'll walk away having a better cinematic experience than you would if you saw the whole thing. Just see half. It really doesn't matter which half. Just see half. The movie starts off in one frame of mind, then shifts jarringly in another direction.

And damn it all, the two just don't mesh. They clash wildly like yogurt and broccoli. Just imagine for a second that resulting, lingering taste.

Doesn't draw much attention... or even much interest.


(WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS A MILD SPOILER--It does not reveal the entire film nor does it give away the ending, but it does reveal a brief surprise... that disappoints):

Indie-idol Kevin Smith (the fat hairy one himself) pops up in a bit part that feels like an extra.

He's at the end, he doesn't have so much as a word of dialogue, and he's dressed just like well... Silent Bob. And I mean SILENT BOB. He wears the same clothes he's worn in the first three movies.

And it's not like there much here to distinguish this bit part from his legendary Silent doppelganger. Smith dons the same outfit, same mime facial expressions. He even sports the exact same beard. What, the budget was so low, he couldn't afford a shave or at least a trim? Or time to get another set of clothes from out of his closet?

Hey, it's a no-budget film, they couldn't afford a wardrobe department as his character is referred to as "John." You kind of wish there was just a little more of a punch line or pay-off, but....

But this time, there is no moment where he breaks the silence. The only difference between "John" and "Silent Bob" is... one is something, one is not...


by Dane Youssef


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"DOESN'T DRAW ATTENTION OR EVEN MUST INTEREST"

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 2 September 2009 05:43 (A review of Drawing Flies)

by Dane Youssef


The Canadians approach to filmmaking is either bland, campy or downright blood-and-guts (usually in the "campy" gory vein, of course).

Most Canadians are as good at the art of film as mimes are at capturing the art of sparkling conversation.

Ever hear the expression, "it was halfway decent? Comes up halfway? Meet me halfway?" I had that thought stuck at the top of my head after viewing this one.

That's about the perfect way to describe "Drawing Flies," a Canadian-based indie featuring a sprinkling of an American-based cast and crew.

The first half of the movie starts out as a variation of the whole "Dazed and Confused" or "Slackers" genre, where we see some contemporary socially-relevant slacker types in Canada living on steady welfare. Then we see them go on the big self-discovery trip that's the big turning point of their lives.

The Canuck Government cuts them off and they take the last bit of money they have in the world, pool it together and instead of paying the necessary monthly rent check, they blow the whole damn thing on a cover-charge at some party and dope.

Now totally and completely bankrupt, they move out of their place (they're living four to a single apartment) and hit the road. They then exile themselves to the deep, deep woods where they plan to make permanent residence. Thus, this is where the real journey-theme of the movie kicks in. This is where the part of their lives that has worthy interest to be a movie kicks in.

Or should anyway.

Jason Lee (as always) proves that any movie with him in it alone is worth seeing (OK, except for the unforgivably bad sedated-comedies "A Guy Thing" and "Stealing Harvard"--well, hey, if Tom Green's in it). His performance starts out earnest with life-affirming optimistic hope and child-like charm, but then U-turns into angry, road rage and his long-repressed dementia kicks in. It's the type of character he's played in damn near everything, but it's still thrills and shakes.

Mewes' performance here is kind of uneven. I mean, he's not really an actor--he's basically just a friend of filmmaker Kevin Smith who plays himself in movie after movie. Like Julia Roberts, he's not really an actor--he's more of a TV talk-show personality. Jason Mewes stretches (somewhat) as a welfare-starving slacker who curses and smokes the dope, but not nearly at the level that his legendary Jay character does. He (like most of the cast) seems to have trouble swallowing the overwritten and unrealistic dialogue.

He doesn't talk so much about getting laid and eating out ***** as much, either. Mewes' Az character is more of somewhat-more-down-to-earth regular Stoner than a near-cartoonist comic relief.

Carmen Lee (they were married at the time of this one) does the worst job in this one. Every word, every facial reaction, every moment from her sounds horribly unconvincing. She is here, beyond a doubt, not only the absolute worst performance in the film, but the worst acting I've ever seen. Hopefully, Carmen will stray from acting and find almost any other day job. She would be more adept to make a living donating sperm.

The movie's plot echoes "The Blair Witch Project:" A group of friends go on a long, long trip in the deepest woods on earth and into the great unknown. Then, a hidden agenda is revealed. One that may bring wealth and legendary status. It sounds (of course) to everyone else like s collision of insanity and stupidity. But doesn't every ground-breaker at first?

Everyone sneers and turns against each other. It's all sides divided. Bedlam, as always. The Loch Ness Monster. Sasquach. The Boogeyman. They're all just good old fashioned monster folklore stories, aren't they? There's always evidence (of course) that tilts to the contrary.

Like I said from the start of this review (where you came in), "Drawing Flies" is a "halfway decent" film. If you only see half the movie, you'll walk away having a better cinematic experience than you would if you saw the whole thing. Just see half. It really doesn't matter which half. Just see half. The movie starts off in one frame of mind, then shifts jarringly in another direction.

And damn it all, the two just don't mesh. They clash wildly like yogurt and broccoli. Just imagine for a second that resulting, lingering taste.

Doesn't draw much attention... or even much interest.

(WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS A MILD SPOILER--It does not reveal the entire film nor does it give away the ending, but it does reveal a brief surprise... that disappoints):

Indie-idol Kevin Smith (the fat hairy one himself) pops up in a bit part that feels like an extra.

He's at the end, he doesn't have so much as a word of dialogue, and he's dressed just like well... Silent Bob. And I mean SILENT BOB. He wears the same clothes he's worn in the first three movies.

And it's not like there much here to distinguish this bit part from his legendary Silent doppelganger. Smith dons the same outfit, same mime facial expressions. He even sports the exact same beard. What, the budget was so low, he couldn't afford a shave or at least a trim? Or time to get another set of clothes from out of his closet?

Hey, it's a no-budget film, they couldn't afford a wardrobe department as his character is referred to as "John." You kind of wish there was just a little more of a punch line or pay-off, but....

But this time, there is no moment where he breaks the silence. The only difference between "John" and "Silent Bob" is... one is something, one is not...


by Dane Youssef


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"ANOTHER CLUNKER OF A LEMON STAR-VEHICLE"

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 2 September 2009 05:42 (A review of Harlem Nights )

by Dane Youssef


"When an actor asks you to read his script, your heart sinks. The number of scripts I've been given by actors that are so unbelievably terrible! It's well known that actors are lousy writers." --Richard E. Grant.


I was kind of looking forward to this one. I enjoy Eddie Murphy and I love it when a star hand-makes a vehicle for themselves or when someone who writes decides to mark their own directorial debut. But when the star's head gets too big for the rest of his body, there's always a danger of a big-budgeted Hollywood vanity production.


Will the filmmaker keep it real… or will he just waste amounts of money (the studio's and ours) and time (the studio's, our and his own) patting himself on the back for an hour in a half? Sadly, it's the latter here.


Another thing I really like is when someone breathes new and fresh life into an exhausted and dried-out genre. None of that here. The warring nightclub movies have become so worn-through that even the parodies of it are dreary and done to death.


Murphy does neither. He does the most clichéd: He plugs into a routine conventional formula gangster picture and plays it as seriously as if it were "The Godfather." It's like a script where the next draft, they put in the jokes and the new ideas. But it seems like someone with clout just looked at it and went: "No… this is fine."


Probably Murphy. He is credited all over this. In the opening shot of beautiful white satin sheets, his name headlines across the credits about five times.


THE PLOT: A young orphan saves Pryor's life and Pryor adopts the little ragamuffin.


20 years later, Pryor's dump has become a first-class hot spot. They're pulling down big money and a gangster wants their action. He's even got a dirty cop in his employ. But Pryor comes up with a scheme, a la "THE STING."


Murphy's screenplay plays like an unfinished first-draft that nobody had the pair to call him on. The actors aren't really allowed to stand-out much, if at all. Even the almighty Murphy seems to be on auto-pilot.


Pryor shows class and gentlemanly manners as Sugar Ray (perhaps it would have been better to name his character BROWN Sugar Ray—further evidence that this one needed a polish), but everyone here is basically just on vacation.


The Oscar-nomination the movie received is richly deserved (Joe I. Tompkins' Best Costume Design), but the production values are the only part that makes the '30's feel authentic.


Some sets look somewhat fake, but this is supposed to be a comedy of sorts. It's rare one movie gets nominated for both a Razzie and an Oscar (unless it's one of Lucas' new "Star Wars" chapters).



It's 1938 and everyone is talking like it's 1988, particularly the comedians. This is a prehistoric white man's formula. And with all these black comedians and satirists, you expect them to skewer the genre or at least bring new life to it. Nope. Murphy is pretty much just coasting here.


The great Roger Ebert summed it up perfectly when he remarked in his review: "Murphy approaches his story more as a costume party in which everybody gets to look great while fumbling through a plot that has not been fresh since at least 1938."


Jasmine Guy is perfectly cast and seems to be indulging herself in her role and Michael Lerner has all the looks, evil and mannerisms of the prototypical mob boss down pat. And there are moments where Pryor gives you an idea of what a more interesting leader and authority figure would sound like. He gives every scene he's in a feeling of dignity.


Would it have been too much to ask that Della Resse sing? Or at least quit embarrassing herself with all her "Kiss My Ass talk?"


And the late Redd Foxx doesn't get to leave much of a swan song here. He has some back-and-forth with Resse which could have been some great stuff. Nope. Murphy wastes another opportunity again here.


Murphy's Quick is charismatic and likable. But those moments are few and far between for sure. Murphy has never looked better and never been duller. His character made me laugh twice throughout the whole movie.


Stan Shaw's boxer with a horrible speech impediment isn't just painful and embarrassing, it's annoying. There's more to comedy than simply showing something taboo and offensive. You have to incorporate some kind of light touch and funny situation. Watching him strain even the some of the easiest words just makes us feel sorry for him and annoyed with Murphy.


Can Murphy write a good screenplay? Well… there was "Raw," but that was really stand-up material. He wrote the outline for "Boomerang" and "Coming to America" for sure.


Does Murphy think he 's a writer? I don't mean a great writer. I mean a writer--period. But he didn't have the last word there. Maybe a team of ER-like script doctors could've revived this one.


Murphy's direction is so slow and quiet, you'd swear he was asleep at the wheel some of the time. He has too many static shots and doesn't seem to know how to build and release suspense. On some level, I think Quick is the real Eddie Murphy. Angry, young, hot-headed and ambitious. But occasionally charming. Now if he were only funny sometime.


There's a scene in which Murphy has a femme fatale in bed who plans to make love with him and kill him. You can probably guess how it turns out. Like everything else in the movie, this could have been better, but…


"Surprisingly," Murphy has not directed another movie since (he got a Razzie nomination). And he no longer writes the finished draft for his films either (he WON the Razzie for writing this!)


It's great to look at and the music is beautiful, and there are a few really nice scenes. But that just falls under the category of "gems among all the junk." Not enough of them.


Could've been. Shouldv'e been. Wasn't.


Oh, well...


--For Those Beautiful Dark Nights in Black Harlem, Dane Youssef


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"ANOTHER CLUNKER OF A LEMON STAR-VEHICLE"

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 2 September 2009 05:41 (A review of Harlem Nights)

by Dane Youssef


"When an actor asks you to read his script, your heart sinks. The number of scripts I've been given by actors that are so unbelievably terrible! It's well known that actors are lousy writers." --Richard E. Grant.


I was kind of looking forward to this one. I enjoy Eddie Murphy and I love it when a star hand-makes a vehicle for themselves or when someone who writes decides to mark their own directorial debut. But when the star's head gets too big for the rest of his body, there's always a danger of a big-budgeted Hollywood vanity production.


Will the filmmaker keep it real… or will he just waste amounts of money (the studio's and ours) and time (the studio's, our and his own) patting himself on the back for an hour in a half? Sadly, it's the latter here.


Another thing I really like is when someone breathes new and fresh life into an exhausted and dried-out genre. None of that here. The warring nightclub movies have become so worn-through that even the parodies of it are dreary and done to death.


Murphy does neither. He does the most clichéd: He plugs into a routine conventional formula gangster picture and plays it as seriously as if it were "The Godfather." It's like a script where the next draft, they put in the jokes and the new ideas. But it seems like someone with clout just looked at it and went: "No… this is fine."


Probably Murphy. He is credited all over this. In the opening shot of beautiful white satin sheets, his name headlines across the credits about five times.


THE PLOT: A young orphan saves Pryor's life and Pryor adopts the little ragamuffin.


20 years later, Pryor's dump has become a first-class hot spot. They're pulling down big money and a gangster wants their action. He's even got a dirty cop in his employ. But Pryor comes up with a scheme, a la "THE STING."


Murphy's screenplay plays like an unfinished first-draft that nobody had the pair to call him on. The actors aren't really allowed to stand-out much, if at all. Even the almighty Murphy seems to be on auto-pilot.


Pryor shows class and gentlemanly manners as Sugar Ray (perhaps it would have been better to name his character BROWN Sugar Ray—further evidence that this one needed a polish), but everyone here is basically just on vacation.


The Oscar-nomination the movie received is richly deserved (Joe I. Tompkins' Best Costume Design), but the production values are the only part that makes the '30's feel authentic.


Some sets look somewhat fake, but this is supposed to be a comedy of sorts. It's rare one movie gets nominated for both a Razzie and an Oscar (unless it's one of Lucas' new "Star Wars" chapters).


It's 1938 and everyone is talking like it's 1988, particularly the comedians. This is a prehistoric white man's formula. And with all these black comedians and satirists, you expect them to skewer the genre or at least bring new life to it. Nope. Murphy is pretty much just coasting here.


The great Roger Ebert summed it up perfectly when he remarked in his review: "Murphy approaches his story more as a costume party in which everybody gets to look great while fumbling through a plot that has not been fresh since at least 1938."


Jasmine Guy is perfectly cast and seems to be indulging herself in her role and Michael Lerner has all the looks, evil and mannerisms of the prototypical mob boss down pat. And there are moments where Pryor gives you an idea of what a more interesting leader and authority figure would sound like. He gives every scene he's in a feeling of dignity.


Would it have been too much to ask that Della Resse sing? Or at least quit embarrassing herself with all her "Kiss My Ass talk?"


And the late Redd Foxx doesn't get to leave much of a swan song here. He has some back-and-forth with Resse which could have been some great stuff. Nope. Murphy wastes another opportunity again here.


Murphy's Quick is charismatic and likable. But those moments are few and far between for sure. Murphy has never looked better and never been duller. His character made me laugh twice throughout the whole movie.


Stan Shaw's boxer with a horrible speech impediment isn't just painful and embarrassing, it's annoying. There's more to comedy than simply showing something taboo and offensive. You have to incorporate some kind of light touch and funny situation. Watching him strain even the some of the easiest words just makes us feel sorry for him and annoyed with Murphy.


Can Murphy write a good screenplay? Well… there was "Raw," but that was really stand-up material. He wrote the outline for "Boomerang" and "Coming to America" for sure. But her didn't have the last word there.


Does Murphy think he 's a writer? I don't mean a great writer. I mean a writer--period. Maybe a team of ER-like script doctors could've revived this one.


Murphy's direction is so slow and quiet, you'd swear he was asleep at the wheel some of the time. He has too many static shots and doesn't seem to know how to build and release suspense. On some level, I think Quick is the real Eddie Murphy. Angry, young, hot-headed and ambitious. But occasionally charming. Now if he were only funny sometime.


There's a scene in which Murphy has a femme fatale in bed who plans to make love with him and kill him. You can probably guess how it turns out. Like everything else in the movie, this could have been better, but…


"Surprisingly," Murphy has not directed another movie since (he got a Razzie nomination). And he no longer writes the finished draft for his films either (he WON the Razzie for writing this!)


It's great to look at and the music is beautiful, and there are a few really nice scenes. But that just falls under the category of "gems among all the junk." Not enough of them.


Could've been. Shouldv'e been. Wasn't.


Oh, well...


--For Those Beautiful Dark Nights in Black Harlem, Dane Youssef


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"ANOTHER CLUNKER OF A LEMON STAR VEHICLE"

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 2 September 2009 05:40 (A review of Harlem Nights)

by Dane Youssef


"When an actor asks you to read his script, your heart sinks. The number of scripts I've been given by actors that are so unbelievably terrible! It's well known that actors are lousy writers." --Richard E. Grant.


Words to live by. Especially in Hollywood.


I was kind of looking forward to this one. I enjoy Eddie Murphy and I love it when a star hand-makes a vehicle for themselves or when someone who writes decides to mark their own directorial debut. But when the star's head gets too big for the rest of his body, there's always a danger of a big-budgeted Hollywood vanity production.


Will the filmmaker keep it real… or will he just waste amounts of money (the studio's and ours) and time (the studio's, our and his own) patting himself on the back for an hour in a half? Sadly, it's the latter here.


Another thing I really like is when someone breathes new and fresh life into an exhausted and dried-out genre. None of that here. The warring nightclub movies have become so worn-through that even the parodies of it are dreary and done to death.


Murphy does neither. He does the most clichéd: He plugs into a routine conventional formula gangster picture and plays it as seriously as if it were "The Godfather." It's like a script where the next draft, they put in the jokes and the new ideas. But it seems like someone with clout just looked at it and went: "No… this is fine."


Probably Murphy. He is credited all over this. In the opening shot of beautiful white satin sheets, his name headlines across the credits about five times.


THE PLOT: A young orphan saves Pryor's life and Pryor adopts the little ragamuffin.


20 years later, Pryor's dump has become a first-class hot spot. They're pulling down big money and a gangster wants their action. He's even got a dirty cop in his employ. But Pryor comes up with a scheme, a la "THE STING."


Murphy's screenplay plays like an unfinished first-draft that nobody had the pair to call him on. The actors aren't really allowed to stand-out much, if at all. Even the almighty Murphy seems to be on auto-pilot.


Pryor shows class and gentlemanly manners as Sugar Ray (perhaps it would have been better to name his character BROWN Sugar Ray—further evidence that this one needed a polish), but everyone here is basically just on vacation.


The Oscar-nomination the movie received is richly deserved (Joe I. Tompkins' Best Costume Design), but the production values are the only part that makes the '30's feel authentic.


Some sets look somewhat fake, but this is supposed to be a comedy of sorts. It's rare one movie gets nominated for both a Razzie and an Oscar (unless it's one of Lucas' new "Star Wars" chapters).


It's 1938 and everyone is talking like it's 1988, particularly the comedians. This is a prehistoric white man's formula. And with all these black comedians and satirists, you expect them to skewer the genre or at least bring new life to it. Nope. Murphy is pretty much just coasting here.


The great Roger Ebert summed it up perfectly when he remarked in his review: "Murphy approaches his story more as a costume party in which everybody gets to look great while fumbling through a plot that has not been fresh since at least 1938."


Jasmine Guy is perfectly cast and seems to be indulging herself in her role and Michael Lerner has all the looks, evil and mannerisms of the prototypical mob boss down pat. And there are moments where Pryor gives you an idea of what a more interesting leader and authority figure would sound like. He gives every scene he's in a feeling of dignity.


Would it have been too much to ask that Della Resse sing? Or at least quit embarrassing herself with all her "Kiss My Ass talk?"


And the late Redd Foxx doesn't get to leave much of a swan song here. He has some back-and-forth with Resse which could have been some great stuff. Nope. Murphy wastes another opportunity again here.


Murphy's Quick is charismatic and likable. But those moments are few and far between for sure. Murphy has never looked better and never been duller. His character made me laugh twice throughout the whole movie.


Stan Shaw's boxer with a horrible speech impediment isn't just painful and embarrassing, it's annoying. There's more to comedy than simply showing something taboo and offensive. You have to incorporate some kind of light touch and funny situation. Watching him strain even the some of the easiest words just makes us feel sorry for him and annoyed with Murphy.


Can Murphy write a good screenplay? Well… there was "Raw," but that was really stand-up material. He wrote the outline for "Boomerang" and "Coming to America" for sure. But he didn't have the last word there.


Does Murphy think he's a writer? I don't mean a great writer. I mean a writer--period. Maybe a team of ER-like script doctors could've revived this one.


Murphy's direction is so slow and quiet, you'd swear he was asleep at the wheel some of the time. He has too many static shots and doesn't seem to know how to build and release suspense. On some level, I think Quick is the real Eddie Murphy. Angry, young, hot-headed and ambitious. But occasionally charming. Now if he were only funny sometime.


There's a scene in which Murphy has a femme fatale in bed who plans to make love with him and kill him. You can probably guess how it turns out. Like everything else in the movie, this could have been better, but…


"Surprisingly," Murphy has not directed another movie since (he got a Razzie nomination). And he no longer writes the finished draft for his films either (he WON the Razzie for writing this!)


It's great to look at and the music is beautiful, and there are a few really nice scenes. But that just falls under the category of "gems among all the junk." Not enough of them.


Could've been. Shouldv'e been. Wasn't.


Oh, well...


--For Those Beautiful Dark Nights in Black Harlem, Dane Youssef


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THE INSIDE DOPE ON HOLLYWOOD OFF OF THE RED CARPET

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 2 September 2009 05:38 (A review of Swimming with Sharks [1996])

by Dane Youssef


Now here is a movie for those looking for an attack on white-collar corporate office life, the spinning gears of Hollywood. And not overblown with big-budget special effects, scatological humor and saccarine-coated deluded big-screen implausibilities. For those looking for something really strongly written by a veteran of it's field and performed by pure-blooded thespains in the low-budget indie vein.


"Swimming With Sharks" seems to owe more than a little something to "Dilbert." The movie is more about Corporate America than Hollywood. There are a lot of white-collar touches that apply to offices, cublicles and other such rather than the Hollywood spin machine. Like Robert Altman's "The Player," this is one of those thrillers about people in "the biz" who are driven to the breaking point by how cruel L.A. can really be.


The film's writer/director George Huang himself was a former personal assistant to some of the biggest names in Hollywood, has described the movie as "20% autobiographical." Much of this one is said to be based on his experience working for noted mega-mogul producer Joel Silver for Columbia Pictures. So it should come as no surprise what-so-fucking-ever that his first crack at film was his own life story.


Surprise, surprise, huh?


Well, more or less.



A critical darling, unseen by most of the world and known mostly for the blistering, superb performance of two-time Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey.


But despite Kevin Spacey being the big name in this movie and him getting first-billing because of it, Frank Whaley ("The Doors" and "Career Opportunities") is the star of this one. Most of anything with him headling is a sign of a bad movie ("Cold Dog Soup" and "The Jimmy Show") , but this is one of those where he shines because he's allowed to. He's not the most versative actor, the best-looking or the most charismatic. He's had a rep as being something of the life-long "bit player." But when he's given a movie, script and part which allows him any headway, he damn well manages to make the most of it.


Spacey, being one of Hollywood's finest and renown, is able to pull off the screaming antagonistic drill-instructor and the restrained, tortured hostage here pitch perfectly. Whaley effectively plays the green and naive wide-eyed rookie to the Hollywood spin machine with his usual perfection, but when the other shoe drops, he doesn't quite pull off the scorned, disgruntled employee seeking revenge. His Jeckyll isn't as convincing as his Hyde. He doesn't scare us. He never seems truly unhinged. Maybe that's why Whaley sticks to the youthful deer-in-the-headlights. He's just believable. When it comes to acting, you judge a book by it's cover. Whaley doesn't really seem as demented and unhinged as he should in his captor scenes. He's best as a whipping boy--whcih is why he plays so many.


1994 was the official year for Spacey. He got his breakout with the TV series "Wiseguys," and made the big screen transition with worthwhile fare like his Oscar-winning supporting role in "The Usual Suspects," "The Ref," "Se7en" and this. Spacey monopolized himself in the '94 as "absolute talent" (my term).


Geez, after seeing what a softball he was in "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "The Usual Suspects" who would've guessed the same actor could pull off such a corporate monster?


Well, I guess we all would have. Every time, you see him act, he has that way of letting you know he make you believe in every single role.


Benecio Del Toro, the "Brad Pitt of Mexico" (someone else's quote, believe me, I never dubbed him such) has a quickie cameo as Spacey's assistant who's given his three weeks notice and is on the way out, making way for Guy. But not before giving Whaley some final parting words of wisdom. "Protect his interests, serve his needs. What you think means nothing. What you feel means nothing. You have no brain. He yells all the time. It's a lose-lose situation." This job is a fast-track shortcut to the top and if Guy does right and keeps his mouth open wide enough to catch all of Buddy's sadomasochistic crapola, he may very well be someday on the same mantel as Buddy and his former assistants. Everything Guy'll ever need to know about his job, he learns on day one.


Enter Dawn Locklard (Michelle Forbes of "Guiding Light" and "24"), another powerful Hollywood producer who Guy doesn't have the best first meeting with. She doesn't show a lot of warmth, which explains why she's a producer.


She herself is angry and cycnical, and throughout the course of the film, we will see why. She eventually warms up to Guy and asks him out. Guy is stunned. But she needs Buddy on her side and is interested in him getting behind her new project. Guy sees this as an opporunity. Her new project for the studio, "Real Life "may just be Guy's window of opportunity. She seems to be interested in Guy because he's the most real thing she's seen in the Valley for the longest time. But does she really feel something for him or is she just using him? Is Buddy two-faced and back-stabbing or is Dawn? Guy no longer knows what's real and what's what?


At first, we don't realize Buddy just likes to yell and scream and humiliate no matter what. Well, unless you've seen the trailers. e just likes to rant. You will never again confuse a packet of Sweet 'N' Low with Equal again. You'll never look at sugar packets the same way. This is perhaps the funniest moment in the movie. Although when Guy starts to show some spine after a lot of Buddy's tantrums, the payoff is almost evenly matched with the artifical sugar scene. Buddy gets to emotionally, verbally (and at times, physically) abuses Guy (and apparently all his assistant's) on every possible ocassion. He also gets to skewer just about everyone who crosses his path.


Kevin Spacey's rans are hilarious. We dont know whether to laugh at Spacey or feel bad for Whaley. Often, we don't know if the horrific hostage-stiuation quite works as well as the corporate office scenes.


And Kevin Spacey brings his trademark dry cynicsm and sardonic behavior to what could have been a limited one-dimensional bullying manager. But Spacey plays the character for all it's worth and then some and turns him into a memorable antagonist who is one of the sole reasons this movie has a reputation and cult following.


"Swimming With Sharks" isn't just a featherweight comedy for a slow Saturday night about a bullying boss like the trailer may lead you to believe. It's a non-cronological film which deals with white-collar office comedy and torturous drama. Shifting from a lightweight comedy to a torturous thriller. It's sort of schizophrenic thing. We're laughing heartily one minute and horrified the next. A lot of time, this one keeps us guessing as it criss-crosses from Buddy torturing Guy to vice-versa.


The whole fiim is so reliant on it's writing and acting, it was adapted into a play premiering at London's Vaudeville Theatre in 2007, featuring Christian Slater, Matt Smith and Helen Baxendale. Ys, plays can be adapted into movies and vice-versa. The movie works like the theatre or an actor's workshop, relying mostly on performance and dialouge. Spacey seems to prefer doing this type of work, judging by his resume. It's fun for actor's and it forces them to rely on their own raw talent, letting you know exactly where they stand.


But there's a lot to this movie (maybe too much) about this movie that rings true to life. A lot of moments filled with the harsh insights and disillusioned truths that one learns from living an uncharmed life. And so theres illuminating light and lessons, as well as laughs. Not to mention some great acting from the heavier moments where ugly secrets about Buddy and... well, surprisingly Dawn are revealed.


The plot is over-developed and the ending is more poetic than anything else.


But most of the movie really does does work and really does sticks with you... like all the great ones do.


--Boo-Boo For Corporate Hollywood, Dane Youssef


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THE INSIDE DOPE ON HOLLYWOOD OFF OF THE RED CARPET

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 2 September 2009 05:37 (A review of Swimming With Sharks )

by Dane Youssef


Now here is a movie for those looking for an attack on white-collar corporate office life, the spinning gears of Hollywood. And not overblown with big-budget special effects, scatological humor and saccarine-coated deluded big-screen implausibilities. For those looking for something really strongly written by a veteran of it's field and performed by pure-blooded thespains in the low-budget indie vein.

"Swimming With Sharks" seems to owe more than a little something to "Dilbert." The movie is more about Corporate America than Hollywood. There are a lot of white-collar touches that apply to offices, cublicles and other such rather than the Hollywood spin machine. Like Robert Altman's "The Player," this is one of those thrillers about people in "the biz" who are driven to the breaking point by how cruel L.A. can really be.

The film's writer/director George Huang himself was a former personal assistant to some of the biggest names in Hollywood, has described the movie as "20% autobiographical." Much of this one is said to be based on his experience working for noted mega-mogul producer Joel Silver for Columbia Pictures. So it should come as no surprise what-so-fucking-ever that his first crack at film was his own life story.

Surprise, surprise, huh?

Well, more or less.

A critical darling, unseen by most of the world and known mostly for the blistering, superb performance of two-time Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey.

But despite Kevin Spacey being the big name in this movie and him getting first-billing because of it, Frank Whaley ("The Doors" and "Career Opportunities") is the star of this one. Most of anything with him headling is a sign of a bad movie ("Cold Dog Soup" and "The Jimmy Show") , but this is one of those where he shines because he's allowed to. He's not the most versative actor, the best-looking or the most charismatic. He's had a rep as being something of the life-long "bit player." But when he's given a movie, script and part which allows him any headway, he damn well manages to make the most of it.

Spacey, being one of Hollywood's finest and renown, is able to pull off the screaming antagonistic drill-instructor and the restrained, tortured hostage here pitch perfectly. Whaley effectively plays the green and naive wide-eyed rookie to the Hollywood spin machine with his usual perfection, but when the other shoe drops, he doesn't quite pull off the scorned, disgruntled employee seeking revenge. His Jeckyll isn't as convincing as his Hyde. He doesn't scare us. He never seems truly unhinged. Maybe that's why Whaley sticks to the youthful deer-in-the-headlights. He's just believable. When it comes to acting, you judge a book by it's cover. Whaley doesn't really seem as demented and unhinged as he should in his captor scenes. He's best as a whipping boy--whcih is why he plays so many.

1994 was the official year for Spacey. He got his breakout with the TV series "Wiseguys," and made the big screen transition with worthwhile fare like his Oscar-winning supporting role in "The Usual Suspects," "The Ref," "Se7en" and this. Spacey monopolized himself in the '94 as "absolute talent" (my term).

Geez, after seeing what a softball he was in "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "The Usual Suspects" who would've guessed the same actor could pull off such a corporate monster?

Well, I guess we all would have. Every time, you see him act, he has that way of letting you know he make you believe in every single role.

Benecio Del Toro, the "Brad Pitt of Mexico" (someone else's quote, believe me, I never dubbed him such) has a quickie cameo as Spacey's assistant who's given his three weeks notice and is on the way out, making way for Guy. But not before giving Whaley some final parting words of wisdom. "Protect his interests, serve his needs. What you think means nothing. What you feel means nothing. You have no brain. He yells all the time. It's a lose-lose situation." This job is a fast-track shortcut to the top and if Guy does right and keeps his mouth open wide enough to catch all of Buddy's sadomasochistic crapola, he may very well be someday on the same mantel as Buddy and his former assistants. Everything Guy'll ever need to know about his job, he learns on day one.

Enter Dawn Locklard (Michelle Forbes of "Guiding Light" and "24"), another powerful Hollywood producer who Guy doesn't have the best first meeting with. She doesn't show a lot of warmth, which explains why she's a producer.

She herself is angry and cycnical, and throughout the course of the film, we will see why. She eventually warms up to Guy and asks him out. Guy is stunned. But she needs Buddy on her side and is interested in him getting behind her new project. Guy sees this as an opporunity. Her new project for the studio, "Real Life"may just be Guy's window of opportunity. She seems to be interested in Guy because he's the most real thing she's seen in the Valley for the longest time. But does she really feel something for him or is she just using him? Is Buddy two-faced and back-stabbing or is Dawn? Guy no longer knows what's real and what's what?

At first, we don't realize Buddy just likes to yell and scream and humiliate no matter what. Well, unless you've seen the trailers. e just likes to rant. You will never again confuse a packet of Sweet 'N' Low with Equal again. You'll never look at sugar packets the same way. This is perhaps the funniest moment in the movie. Although when Guy starts to show some spine after a lot of Buddy's tantrums, the payoff is almost evenly matched with the artifical sugar scene. Buddy gets to emotionally, verbally (and at times, physically) abuses Guy (and apparently all his assistant's) on every possible ocassion. He also gets to skewer just about everyone who crosses his path.

Kevin Spacey's rans are hilarious. We dont know whether to laugh at Spacey or feel bad for Whaley. Often, we don't know if the horrific hostage-stiuation quite works as well as the corporate office scenes.

And Kevin Spacey brings his trademark dry cynicsm and sardonic behavior to what could have been a limited one-dimensional bullying manager. But Spacey plays the character for all it's worth and then some and turns him into a memorable antagonist who is one of the sole reasons this movie has a reputation and cult following.

"Swimming With Sharks" isn't just a featherweight comedy for a slow Saturday night about a bullying boss like the trailer may lead you to believe. It's a non-cronological film which deals with white-collar office comedy and torturous drama. Shifting from a lightweight comedy to a torturous thriller. It's sort of schizophrenic thing. We're laughing heartily one minute and horrified the next. A lot of time, this one keeps us guessing as it criss-crosses from Buddy torturing Guy to vice-versa.

The whole fiim is so reliant on it's writing and acting, it was adapted into a play premiering at London's Vaudeville Theatre in 2007, featuring Christian Slater, Matt Smith and Helen Baxendale. Ys, plays can be adapted into movies and vice-versa. The movie works like the theatre or an actor's workshop, relying mostly on performance and dialouge. Spacey seems to prefer doing this type of work, judging by his resume. It's fun for actor's and it forces them to rely on their own raw talent, letting you know exactly where they stand.

But there's a lot to this movie (maybe too much) about this movie that rings true to life. A lot of moments filled with the harsh insights and disillusioned truths that one learns from living an uncharmed life. And so theres illuminating light and lessons, as well as laughs. Not to mention some great acting from the heavier moments where ugly secrets about Buddy and... well, surprisingly Dawn are revealed.

The plot is over-developed and the ending is more poetic than anything else.

But most of the movie really does does work and really does sticks with you... like all the great ones do.




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THE INSIDE DOPE ON HOLLYWOOD OFF THE RED CARPET

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 2 September 2009 05:35 (A review of Swimming With Sharks [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC])

by Dane Youssef


Now here is a movie for those looking for an attack on white-collar corporate office life, the spinning gears of Hollywood. And not overblown with big-budget special effects, scatological humor and saccarine-coated deluded big-screen implausibilities. For those looking for something really strongly written by a veteran of it's field and performed by pure-blooded thespains in the low-budget indie vein.

"Swimming With Sharks" seems to owe more than a little something to "Dilbert." The movie is more about Corporate America than Hollywood. There are a lot of white-collar touches that apply to offices, cublicles and other such rather than the Hollywood spin machine. Like Robert Altman's "The Player," this is one of those thrillers about people in "the biz" who are driven to the breaking point by how cruel L.A. can really be.

The film's writer/director George Huang himself was a former personal assistant to some of the biggest names in Hollywood, has described the movie as "20% autobiographical." Much of this one is said to be based on his experience working for noted mega-mogul producer Joel Silver for Columbia Pictures. So it should come as no surprise what-so-fuckiing-ever that his first crack at film was his own life story.

Surprise, surprise, huh?

Well, more or less.

A critical darling, unseen by most of the world and known mostly for the blistering, superb performance of two-time Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey.

But despite Kevin Spacey being the big name in this movie and him getting first-billing because of it, Frank Whaley ("The Doors" and "Career Opportunities") is the star of this one. Most of anything with him headling is a sign of a bad movie ("Cold Dog Soup" and "The Jimmy Show") , but this is one of those where he shines because he's allowed to. He's not the most versative actor, the best-looking or the most charismatic. He's had a rep as being something of the life-long "bit player." But when he's given a movie, script and part which allows him any headway, he damn well manages to make the most of it.

Spacey, being one of Hollywood's finest and renown, is able to pull off the screaming antagonistic drill-instructor and the restrained, tortured hostage here pitch perfectly. Whaley effectively plays the green and naive wide-eyed rookie to the Hollywood spin machine with his usual perfection, but when the other shoe drops, he doesn't quite pull off the scorned, disgruntled employee seeking revenge. His Jeckyll isn't as convincing as his Hyde. He doesn't scare us. He never seems truly unhinged. Maybe that's why Whaley sticks to the youthful deer-in-the-headlights. He's just believable. When it comes to acting, you judge a book by it's cover. Whaley doesn't really seem as demented and unhinged as he should in his captor scenes. He's best as a whipping boy--whcih is why he plays so many.

1994 was the official year for Spacey. He got his breakout with the TV series "Wiseguys," and made the big screen transition with worthwhile fare like his Oscar-winning supporting role in "The Usual Suspects," "The Ref," "Se7en" and this. Spacey monopolized himself in the '94 as "absolute talent" (my term).

Geez, after seeing what a softball he was in "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "The Usual Suspects" who would've guessed the same actor could pull off such a corporate monster?

Well, I guess we all would have. Every time, you see him act, he has that way of letting you know he make you believe in every single role.

Benecio Del Toro, the "Brad Pitt of Mexico" (someone else's quote, believe me, I never dubbed him such) has a quickie cameo as Spacey's assistant who's given his three weeks notice and is on the way out, making way for Guy. But not before giving Whaley some final parting words of wisdom. "Protect his interests, serve his needs. What you think means nothing. What you feel means nothing. You have no brain. He yells all the time. It's a lose-lose situation." This job is a fast-track shortcut to the top and if Guy does right and keeps his mouth open wide enough to catch all of Buddy's sadomasochistic crapola, he may very well be someday on the same mantel as Buddy and his former assistants. Everything Guy'll ever need to know about his job, he learns on day one.

Enter Dawn Locklard (Michelle Forbes of "Guiding Light" and "24"), another powerful Hollywood producer who Guy doesn't have the best first meeting with. She doesn't show a lot of warmth, which explains why she's a producer.

She herself is angry and cycnical, and throughout the course of the film, we will see why. She eventually warms up to Guy and asks him out. Guy is stunned. But she needs Buddy on her side and is interested in him getting behind her new project. Guy sees this as an opporunity. Her new project for the studio, "Real Life"may just be Guy's window of opportunity. She seems to be interested in Guy because he's the most real thing she's seen in the Valley for the longest time. But does she really feel something for him or is she just using him? Is Buddy two-faced and back-stabbing or is Dawn? Guy no longer knows what's real and what's what?

At first, we don't realize Buddy just likes to yell and scream and humiliate no matter what. Well, unless you've seen the trailers. e just likes to rant. You will never again confuse a packet of Sweet 'N' Low with Equal again. You'll never look at sugar packets the same way. This is perhaps the funniest moment in the movie. Although when Guy starts to show some spine after a lot of Buddy's tantrums, the payoff is almost evenly matched with the artifical sugar scene. Buddy gets to emotionally, verbally (and at times, physically) abuses Guy (and apparently all his assistant's) on every possible ocassion. He also gets to skewer just about everyone who crosses his path.

Kevin Spacey's rans are hilarious. We dont know whether to laugh at Spacey or feel bad for Whaley. Often, we don't know if the horrific hostage-stiuation quite works as well as the corporate office scenes.

And Kevin Spacey brings his trademark dry cynicsm and sardonic behavior to what could have been a limited one-dimensional bullying manager. But Spacey plays the character for all it's worth and then some and turns him into a memorable antagonist who is one of the sole reasons this movie has a reputation and cult following.

"Swimming With Sharks" isn't just a featherweight comedy for a slow Saturday night about a bullying boss like the trailer may lead you to believe. It's a non-cronological film which deals with white-collar office comedy and torturous drama. Shifting from a lightweight comedy to a torturous thriller. It's sort of schizophrenic thing. We're laughing heartily one minute and horrified the next. A lot of time, this one keeps us guessing as it criss-crosses from Buddy torturing Guy to vice-versa.

The whole fiim is so reliant on it's writing and acting, it was adapted into a play premiering at London's Vaudeville Theatre in 2007, featuring Christian Slater, Matt Smith and Helen Baxendale. Ys, plays can be adapted into movies and vice-versa. The movie works like the theatre or an actor's workshop, relying mostly on performance and dialouge. Spacey seems to prefer doing this type of work, judging by his resume. It's fun for actor's and it forces them to rely on their own raw talent, letting you know exactly where they stand.

But there's a lot to this movie (maybe too much) about this movie that rings true to life. A lot of moments filled with the harsh insights and disillusioned truths that one learns from living an uncharmed life. And so theres illuminating light and lessons, as well as laughs. Not to mention some great acting from the heavier moments where ugly secrets about Buddy and... well, surprisingly Dawn are revealed.

The plot is over-developed and the ending is more poetic than anything else.

But most of the movie really does does work and really does sticks with you... like all the great ones do.


--Boo-Boo For Corporate Hollywood, Dane Youssef


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THE INSIDE DOPE ON HOLLYWOOD OFF THE RED CARPET

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 2 September 2009 05:34 (A review of Swimming With Sharks )

by Dane Youssef


Now here is a movie for those looking for an attack on white-collar corporate office life, the spinning gears of Hollywood. And not overblown with big-budget special effects, scatological humor and saccarine-coated deluded big-screen implausibilities. For those looking for something really strongly written by a veteran of it's field and performed by pure-blooded thespains in the low-budget indie vein.

"Swimming With Sharks" seems to owe more than a little something to "Dilbert." The movie is more about Corporate America than Hollywood. There are a lot of white-collar touches that apply to offices, cublicles and other such rather than the Hollywood spin machine. Like Robert Altman's "The Player," this is one of those thrillers about people in "the biz" who are driven to the breaking point by how cruel L.A. can really be.

The film's writer/director George Huang himself was a former personal assistant to some of the biggest names in Hollywood, has described the movie as "20% autobiographical." Much of this one is said to be based on his experience working for noted mega-mogul producer Joel Silver for Columbia Pictures. So it should come as no surprise what-so-fucking-ever that his first crack at film was his own life story.

Surprise, surprise, huh?

Well, more or less.

A critical darling, unseen by most of the world and known mostly for the blistering, superb performance of two-time Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey.

But despite Kevin Spacey being the big name in this movie and him getting first-billing because of it, Frank Whaley ("The Doors" and "Career Opportunities") is the star of this one. Most of anything with him headling is a sign of a bad movie ("Cold Dog Soup" and "The Jimmy Show") , but this is one of those where he shines because he's allowed to. He's not the most versative actor, the best-looking or the most charismatic. He's had a rep as being something of the life-long "bit player." But when he's given a movie, script and part which allows him any headway, he damn well manages to make the most of it.

Spacey, being one of Hollywood's finest and renown, is able to pull off the screaming antagonistic drill-instructor and the restrained, tortured hostage here pitch perfectly. Whaley effectively plays the green and naive wide-eyed rookie to the Hollywood spin machine with his usual perfection, but when the other shoe drops, he doesn't quite pull off the scorned, disgruntled employee seeking revenge. His Jeckyll isn't as convincing as his Hyde. He doesn't scare us. He never seems truly unhinged. Maybe that's why Whaley sticks to the youthful deer-in-the-headlights. He's just believable. When it comes to acting, you judge a book by it's cover. Whaley doesn't really seem as demented and unhinged as he should in his captor scenes. He's best as a whipping boy--whcih is why he plays so many.

1994 was the official year for Spacey. He got his breakout with the TV series "Wiseguys," and made the big screen transition with worthwhile fare like his Oscar-winning supporting role in "The Usual Suspects," "The Ref," "Se7en" and this. Spacey monopolized himself in the '94 as "absolute talent" (my term).

Geez, after seeing what a softball he was in "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "The Usual Suspects" who would've guessed the same actor could pull off such a corporate monster?

Well, I guess we all would have. Every time, you see him act, he has that way of letting you know he make you believe in every single role.

Benecio Del Toro, the "Brad Pitt of Mexico" (someone else's quote, believe me, I never dubbed him such) has a quickie cameo as Spacey's assistant who's given his three weeks notice and is on the way out, making way for Guy. But not before giving Whaley some final parting words of wisdom. "Protect his interests, serve his needs. What you think means nothing. What you feel means nothing. You have no brain. He yells all the time. It's a lose-lose situation." This job is a fast-track shortcut to the top and if Guy does right and keeps his mouth open wide enough to catch all of Buddy's [profanity removed] , he may very well be someday on the same mantel as Buddy and his former assistants. Everything Guy'll ever need to know about his job, he learns on day one.

Enter Dawn Locklard (Michelle Forbes of "Guiding Light" and "24"), another powerful Hollywood producer who Guy doesn't have the best first meeting with. She doesn't show a lot of warmth, which explains why she's a producer.

She herself is angry and cycnical, and throughout the course of the film, we will see why. She eventually warms up to Guy and asks him out. Guy is stunned. But she needs Buddy on her side and is interested in him getting behind her new project. Guy sees this as an opporunity. Her new project for the studio, "Real Life"may just be Guy's window of opportunity. She seems to be interested in Guy because he's the most real thing she's seen in the Valley for the longest time. But does she really feel something for him or is she just using him? Is Buddy two-faced and back-stabbing or is Dawn? Guy no longer knows what's real and what's what?

At first, we don't realize Buddy just likes to yell and scream and humiliate no matter what. Well, unless you've seen the trailers. e just likes to rant. You will never again confuse a packet of Sweet 'N' Low with Equal again. You'll never look at sugar packets the same way. This is perhaps the funniest moment in the movie. Although when Guy starts to show some spine after a lot of Buddy's tantrums, the payoff is almost evenly matched with the artifical sugar scene. Buddy gets to emotionally, verbally (and at times, physically) abuses Guy (and apparently all his assistant's) on every possible ocassion. He also gets to skewer just about everyone who crosses his path.

Kevin Spacey's rans are hilarious. We dont know whether to laugh at Spacey or feel bad for Whaley. Often, we don't know if the horrific hostage-stiuation quite works as well as the corporate office scenes.

And Kevin Spacey brings his trademark dry cynicsm and sardonic behavior to what could have been a limited one-dimensional bullying manager. But Spacey plays the character for all it's worth and then some and turns him into a memorable antagonist who is one of the sole reasons this movie has a reputation and cult following.

"Swimming With Sharks" isn't just a featherweight comedy for a slow Saturday night about a bullying boss like the trailer may lead you to believe. It's a non-cronological film which deals with white-collar office comedy and torturous drama. Shifting from a lightweight comedy to a torturous thriller. It's sort of schizophrenic thing. We're laughing heartily one minute and horrified the next. A lot of time, this one keeps us guessing as it criss-crosses from Buddy torturing Guy to vice-versa.

The whole fiim is so reliant on it's writing and acting, it was adapted into a play premiering at London's Vaudeville Theatre in 2007, featuring Christian Slater, Matt Smith and Helen Baxendale. Ys, plays can be adapted into movies and vice-versa. The movie works like the theatre or an actor's workshop, relying mostly on performance and dialouge. Spacey seems to prefer doing this type of work, judging by his resume. It's fun for actor's and it forces them to rely on their own raw talent, letting you know exactly where they stand.

But there's a lot to this movie (maybe too much) about this movie that rings true to life. A lot of moments filled with the harsh insights and disillusioned truths that one learns from living an uncharmed life. And so theres illuminating light and lessons, as well as laughs. Not to mention some great acting from the heavier moments where ugly secrets about Buddy and... well, surprisingly Dawn are revealed.

The plot is over-developed and the ending is more poetic than anything else.

But most of the movie really does does work and really does sticks with you... like all the great ones do.


--Boo-Boo For Corporate Hollywood, Dane Youssef


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