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THE INSIDE DOPE ON HOLLYWOOD OFF OF THE RED CARPET

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 05:33 (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 shit, 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 : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 05:33 (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-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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"ONE ENTHRALLING PULSEATING TRIP!"

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 05:28 (A review of Very Bad Things [Region 2])

by Dane Youssef


Well, now here's one that feels like doesn't just feel like another machine-made piece from off the assembly line. Here is a movie that feels like it has it's own ideas, thoughts, edges and all.

The studio execuives didn't dig their claws into this one, sucking all the nerve and originality out of it just to make it inoffensive and more filt for mass consumption.

All the more making this a move that's really worth seeing for those who don't like movies that just connect-the-dots and paint-by-numbers. In other words, a movie that desperately needs to exist. And be seen.

A bizzare combo protein-shake of black comedy, thriller and horror show, this is one of those Slow Saturday Night cult films that the weirdo clerk behind the counter is always personally recommending for those customers who ae kind of like his pals.

"Very Bad Things" is a film that plays out like a worse-case scenerio. One of those movies that puts a group of relative people in a situation where everything that can possibly go wrong... does. Hopefully, with results that translate to a good movie.

I found the movie to work on multiple levels. As an angry, aggressive, and assertive male-bonding comedy. As a thriller. As a white-knuckle, nail-biting action film. As a nightmare.

Writer/Director Peter Berg remarks he came up with the idea for this movie when he was at a bachelor party and saw the rowdy and over-the-top behavior from a lot of the other guests. These guys were looking for trouble, he said. What would happen if they found it? More than they could handle.

The movie is all-over-the-map, but I like that about it. Berg sets up some cynical suburbanites and their rowdy behavior and puts them in several life-or-death situations, which despite what many say, is thrilling to watch.

Christian Slater gives the strongest performance as the devil-may-care Robert Boyd, a man who seems to have no moral threshold. We never doubt his actions for a second. Slater knows how to play this character as plays him to the hilt.

Daniel Stern plays his usual nebbish. From the "City Slickers" movies, the "Home Alone" movies and all his others, he's appropriately nervous and uneasy--especially after what's occurring right now. There's are massive murders bobbing up and the body count is still rising.

Cameron Diaz is also effective doing an evil turn on the wedding-obsessed loon she was in "My Best Friend's Wedding" as a woman who doesn't care about anything else but having her big day. As far as she's concerned, the guests and the groom are secondary. She nitpicks and she bullies and berates. Many guys see this as the epitome of the woman who's about to have her big day.

Jon Faverau isn't as "money" as he's been in other roles, but maybe that's because he's supposed to be the straight man. He's a little too straight. Too stiff. You kind of wish they had spiced him up some more. He appears to just be in shock and going along with the flow most of the time, like a tag-along.

The movie plays out as a dark comedic thriller and at times a morality tale. What I like the most is the anarchy of the film and the performance of Christian Slater and especially the different ways the men and women in the movie react to him.

Watch for his scene with Tripplehorn when they go one-on-one. The homages to "Good Fellas" and "Reservior Dogs" are cute and memorable too.

Like I said before, this is a must-see for anyone who hates generic, paint-by-numbers movies. If this sounds like your cup of tea (and it damn well should), you're someone after my own heart. Then THIS is a must-see.

Next time you're at the video store looking for a movie with huevos that hit hard (but don't worry, not down there exactly)...


--A Very Good Flick, Dane Youssef


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ONE ENTHRALLING PULSEATING TRIP!

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 05:25 (A review of Very Bad Things )

by Dane Youssef


Well, now here's one that feels like doesn't just feel like another machine-made piece from off the assembly line. Here is a movie that feels like it has it's own ideas, thoughts, edges and all.

The studio execuives didn't dig their claws into this one, sucking all the nerve and originality out of it just to make it inoffensive and more filt for mass consumption.

All the more making this a move that's really worth seeing for those who don't like movies that just connect-the-dots and paint-by-numbers. In other words, a movie that desperately needs to exist. And be seen.

A bizzare combo protein-shake of black comedy, thriller and horror show, this is one of those Slow Saturday Night cult films that the weirdo clerk behind the counter is always personally recommending for those customers who ae kind of like his pals.

"Very Bad Things" is a film that plays out like a worse-case scenerio. One of those movies that puts a group of relative people in a situation where everything that can possibly go wrong... does. Hopefully, with results that translate to a good movie.

I found the movie to work on multiple levels. As an angry, aggressive, and assertive male-bonding comedy. As a thriller. As a white-knuckle, nail-biting action film. As a nightmare.

Writer/Director Peter Berg remarks he came up with the idea for this movie when he was at a bachelor party and saw the rowdy and over-the-top behavior from a lot of the other guests. These guys were looking for trouble, he said. What would happen if they found it? More than they could handle.

The movie is all-over-the-map, but I like that about it. Berg sets up some cynical suburbanites and their rowdy behavior and puts them in several life-or-death situations, which despite what many say, is thrilling to watch.

Christian Slater gives the strongest performance as the devil-may-care Robert Boyd, a man who seems to have no moral threshold. We never doubt his actions for a second. Slater knows how to play this character as plays him to the hilt.

Daniel Stern plays his usual nebbish. From the "City Slickers" movies, the "Home Alone" movies and all his others, he's appropriately nervous and uneasy--especially after what's occurring right now. There's are massive murders bobbing up and the body count is still rising.

Cameron Diaz is also effective doing an evil turn on the wedding-obsessed loon she was in "My Best Friend's Wedding" as a woman who doesn't care about anything else but having her big day. As far as she's concerned, the guests and the groom are secondary. She nitpicks and she bullies and berates. Many guys see this as the epitome of the woman who's about to have her big day.

Jon Faverau isn't as "money" as he's been in other roles, but maybe that's because he's supposed to be the straight man. He's a little too straight. Too stiff. You kind of wish they had spiced him up some more. He appears to just be in shock and going along with the flow most of the time, like a tag-along.

The movie plays out as a dark comedic thriller and at times a morality tale. What I like the most is the anarchy of the film and the performance of Christian Slater and especially the different ways the men and women in the movie react to him.

Watch for his scene with Tripplehorn when they go one-on-one. The homages to "Good Fellas" and "Reservior Dogs" are cute and memorable too.

Like I said before, this is a must-see for anyone who hates generic, paint-by-numbers movies. If this sounds like your cup of tea (and it damn well should), you're someone after my own heart. Then THIS is a must-see.

Next time you're at the video store looking for a movie with huevos that hit hard (but don't worry, not down there exactly)...


by Dane Youssef


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"ONE ENTHRALLING PULSATING TRIP!"

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 05:25 (A review of Very Bad Things)

by Dane Youssef


Well, now here's one that feels like doesn't just feel like another machine-made piece from off the assembly line. Here is a movie that feels like it has it's own ideas, thoughts, edges and all.

The studio execuives didn't dig their claws into this one, sucking all the nerve and originality out of it just to make it inoffensive and more filt for mass consumption.

All the more making this a move that's really worth seeing for those who don't like movies that just connect-the-dots and paint-by-numbers. In other words, a movie that desperately needs to exist. And be seen.

A bizzare combo protein-shake of black comedy, thriller and horror show, this is one of those Slow Saturday Night cult films that the weirdo clerk behind the counter is always personally recommending for those customers who ae kind of like his pals.

"Very Bad Things" is a film that plays out like a worse-case scenerio. One of those movies that puts a group of relative people in a situation where everything that can possibly go wrong... does. Hopefully, with results that translate to a good movie.

I found the movie to work on multiple levels. As an angry, aggressive, and assertive male-bonding comedy. As a thriller. As a white-knuckle, nail-biting action film. As a nightmare.

Writer/Director Peter Berg remarks he came up with the idea for this movie when he was at a bachelor party and saw the rowdy and over-the-top behavior from a lot of the other guests. These guys were looking for trouble, he said. What would happen if they found it? More than they could handle.

The movie is all-over-the-map, but I like that about it. Berg sets up some cynical suburbanites and their rowdy behavior and puts them in several life-or-death situations, which despite what many say, is thrilling to watch.

Christian Slater gives the strongest performance as the devil-may-care Robert Boyd, a man who seems to have no moral threshold. We never doubt his actions for a second. Slater knows how to play this character as plays him to the hilt.

Daniel Stern plays his usual nebbish. From the "City Slickers" movies, the "Home Alone" movies and all his others, he's appropriately nervous and uneasy--especially after what's occurring right now. There's are massive murders bobbing up and the body count is still rising.

Cameron Diaz is also effective doing an evil turn on the wedding-obsessed loon she was in "My Best Friend's Wedding" as a woman who doesn't care about anything else but having her big day. As far as she's concerned, the guests and the groom are secondary. She nitpicks and she bullies and berates. Many guys see this as the epitome of the woman who's about to have her big day.

Jon Faverau isn't as "money" as he's been in other roles, but maybe that's because he's supposed to be the straight man. He's a little too straight. Too stiff. You kind of wish they had spiced him up some more. He appears to just be in shock and going along with the flow most of the time, like a tag-along.

The movie plays out as a dark comedic thriller and at times a morality tale. What I like the most is the anarchy of the film and the performance of Christian Slater and especially the different ways the men and women in the movie react to him.

Watch for his scene with Tripplehorn when they go one-on-one. The homages to "Good Fellas" and "Reservior Dogs" are cute and memorable too.

Like I said before, this is a must-see for anyone who hates generic, paint-by-numbers movies. If this sounds like your cup of tea (and it damn well should), you're someone after my own heart. Then THIS is a must-see.

Next time you're at the video store looking for a movie with huevos that hit hard...


--A Very Good Flick, Dane Youssef


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RALPH BAKSHI'S (AND THE DECADE'S) ABSOLUTE BEST

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 05:22 (A review of Heavy Traffic (1973))

by Dane Youssef


"ONE OF THE YEAR'S BEST. ONE OF THE DECADE'S BEST. ONE OF ANIMATION'S BEST. AND BAKSHI'S BEST."


This is rumored to be animation-pioneer Ralph Bakshi's favorite among all his projects. And no wonder. This is his story!


A 22-year old Jewish-Italian spends his time playing pin-ball non-stop and drawing. He still lives with his parents, an Italian man who cheats on his wife and a Jewish woman who's so emotionally torqued up--such a drama queen, that when Angelo comes home after a night with his lady, she hits him over the head with a frying pan and sticks his head in the oven.


There's always domestic unrest in any family, particularly with interracial married couples who lived in the Bronx around this time. But they're so wound-up, so ready to snap--they come to blows and sharp instruments a little too quickly.


Way too quickly, in fact. Angelo and Ida's Punch-and-Judy relationship--coupled with the problems that reside outdoors in the Bronx--Michael seems doomed to have some of it rub off on him. "You hang around garbage long enough, you start to stink," as they say.


But Michael has an outlet for his angst and confusion. Rather than fall into the trap many around him seem to, he vents himself at the drawing board. He draws a lot of the people and places in the Bronx. Although he seems to dislike many of them, they're so broad and colorful and wired, they translate easily to caricatures.


Bakshi takes us to all the usual haunts we visit in his movies--trashy ghetto neighborhoods with buildings that look condemned, dirt-cheap apartments, behind the wheel of cars, rooftops, nightclubs, bars, brothels.


The lives of all of the Bronx inhabitants: Jews, Italians, blacks, drag queens, junkies, vagrants, hookers, cops, thugs and the like. And by using animation, Bakshi (and Michael) sort of illustrate their world and their eccentricity, which is so dangerous, it borderlines on insanity.


I wasn't particularly crazy about the disco remix of "Scarborough's Fair." What can I say? I fell in love with the original.


But I suppose it does fit in with the nature of the film. Bakshi uses a lot of shots of Michael playing pinball. He's a big pinball fanatic. It's obviously a metaphor, perhaps for the hectic universe in which Michael bounces from one scenario to another, for which he's constantly out of place.


Carol is a black woman who works at a local bar where Michael draws on the roof. She's loud, she's opinionated, she's passionate. And she really seems to be about something. She's not just an ethnic joke.


Like all bars, there are lots of colorful locals there, plenty of dangerous ones to be sure.


Michael tries to score free drinks with his art. But that's all he tries to score Michael's no ladies' man and he knows it. He's a deep, sensitive, skilled artiste. And a sitting duck for some of the louder, tougher guys who make up the city.


It doesn't help matter that he's a virgin and everyone knows it. At one point, some greasers try to hook him up with a loose woman who's eager to have it with a guy who's so fresh and green. Although this leads to a disaster. Even his own father tries to hook him up. Now there's a true loving father for you.


Michael has an eye for Carol (many people at the bar she tends do), not because he's dying to get laid like nearly every other male. But he seems to genuinely feel something real for her. When she offers it up to him in gratitude for a favor, he faints. He wants her, but he's just not ready.


Ida is fussy and over-protective of her son, just like a mother hen. Or rather a Jewish mother. Angelo wants his son to be more of a "man's man."


Like all of Bakshi's films, this contains a lot of graphic violence and sexual images, as well as caricatures in the ethnic vein.


But surprisingly, in the strangest way, it contains real heart, as well as some sweetness. The relationship between Michael and Carol has to be seen. Bakshi could've made her just an archetype like everyone else and he didn't. She's just as developed and human and relative as dear Michael is. These two deseve one another.


"Heavy Traffic" is wildly imaginative and thrilling in all it's glory. Like "Being John Malkovich," we actually feel like we're inside the author's head rather than his film. This truly ranks as Bakshi's best. He deserves more credit for this than "Fritz The Cat."


How much of all this take place in Michael's mind and how much of it takes place in his reality? Maybe they're one and the same. Maybe not. Maybe we're supposed to figure it out. It up to us. Just like Michael's life is up to him.


The characters in the city are so damn cartooniSH and erratic already, they transfer them into cartoon characters without losing anything in the translation.


Bakshi doesn't paint a pretty picture of the city and it's locals. But then again, he never has, has he? That's one of the things he's known for.


But that's not the only thing. Let's hope that when he goes... he'll be remembered for a lot of things.


Especially this one. It is... not only his best, not only one of the year's best... but of the best.


by Dane Youssef


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RALPH BAKSHI'S (AND THE DECADE'S) ABSOLUTE BEST

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 05:20 (A review of Heavy Traffic)

by Dane Youssef


This is rumored to be animation-pioneer Ralph Bakshi's favorite among all his projects. And no wonder. This is his story!

A 22-year old Jewish-Italian spends his time playing pin-ball non-stop and drawing. He still lives with his parents, an Italian man who cheats on his wife and a Jewish woman who's so emotionally torqued up--such a drama queen, that when Angelo comes home after a night with his lady, she hits him over the head with a frying pan and sticks his head in the oven.

There's always domestic unrest in any family, particularly with interracial married couples who lived in the Bronx around this time. But they're so wound-up, so ready to snap--they come to blows and sharp instruments a little too quickly.

Way too quickly, in fact. Angelo and Ida's Punch-and-Judy relationship--coupled with the problems that reside outdoors in the Bronx--Michael seems doomed to have some of it rub off on him. "You hang around garbage long enough, you start to stink," as they say.

But Michael has an outlet for his angst and confusion. Rather than fall into the trap many around him seem to, he vents himself at the drawing board. He draws a lot of the people and places in the Bronx. Although he seems to dislike many of them, they're so broad and colorful and wired, they translate easily to caricatures.

Bakshi takes us to all the usual haunts we visit in his movies--trashy ghetto neighborhoods with buildings that look condemned, dirt-cheap apartments, behind the wheel of cars, rooftops, nightclubs, bars, brothels.

The lives of all of the Bronx inhabitants: Jews, Italians, blacks, drag queens, junkies, vagrants, hookers, cops, thugs and the like. And by using animation, Bakshi (and Michael) sort of illustrate their world and their eccentricity, which is so dangerous, it borderlines on insanity.

I wasn't particularly crazy about the disco remix of "Scarborough's Fair." What can I say? I fell in love with the original.

But I suppose it does fit in with the nature of the film. Bakshi uses a lot of shots of Michael playing pinball. He's a big pinball fanatic. It's obviously a metaphor, perhaps for the hectic universe in which Michael bounces from one scenario to another, for which he's constantly out of place.

Carol is a black woman who works at a local bar where Michael draws on the roof. She's loud, she's opinionated, she's passionate. And she really seems to be about something. She's not just an ethnic joke.

Like all bars, there are lots of colorful locals there, plenty of dangerous ones to be sure.

Michael tries to score free drinks with his art. But that's all he tries to score Michael's no ladies' man and he knows it. He's a deep, sensitive, skilled artiste. And a sitting duck for some of the louder, tougher guys who make up the city.

It doesn't help matter that he's a virgin and everyone knows it. At one point, some greasers try to hook him up with a loose woman who's eager to have it with a guy who's so fresh and green. Although this leads to a disaster. Even his own father tries to hook him up. Now there's a true loving father for you.

Michael has an eye for Carol (many people at the bar she tends do), not because he's dying to get laid like nearly every other male. But he seems to genuinely feel something real for her. When she offers it up to him in gratitude for a favor, he faints. He wants her, but he's just not ready.

Ida is fussy and over-protective of her son, just like a mother hen. Or rather a Jewish mother. Angelo wants his son to be more of a "man's man."

Like all of Bakshi's films, this contains a lot of graphic violence and sexual images, as well as caricatures in the ethnic vein.

But surprisingly, in the strangest way, it contains real heart, as well as some sweetness. The relationship between Michael and Carol has to be seen. Bakshi could've made her just an archetype like everyone else and he didn't. She's just as developed and human and relative as dear Michael is. These two deseve one another.

"Heavy Traffic" is wildly imaginative and thrilling in all it's glory. Like "Being John Malkovich," we actually feel like we're inside the author's head rather than his film. This truly ranks as Bakshi's best. He deserves more credit for this than "Fritz The Cat."

How much of all this take place in Michael's mind and how much of it takes place in his reality? Maybe they're one and the same. Maybe not. Maybe we're supposed to figure it out. It up to us. Just like Michael's life is up to him.

The characters in the city are so damn cartooniSH and erratic already, they transfer them into cartoon characters without losing anything in the translation.

Bakshi doesn't paint a pretty picture of the city and it's locals. But then again, he never has, has he? That's one of the things he's known for.

But that's not the only thing. Let's hope that when he goes... he'll be remembered for a lot of things.

Especially this one. It is... not only his best, not only one of the year's best... but of the best.


by Dane Youssef


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DON'T LET THE TITLE THROW YOU. THIS IS ONE TO SEE.

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 05:18 (A review of Coonskin (1975))

by Dane Youssef


"Coonskin" is film, by the one and only Ralph Bakshi, is reportedly a satirical indictment of blaxploitation films and negative black stereotypes, as well as a look at life black in modern America (modern for the day, I mean--1975). Paramount dropped it like a hot potato that just burst into flame.

But this is a Bakshi film, controversial, thrilling, and a must-see almost by definition alone. Not just another random "shock-jock" of a movie which tries to shock for the sake of shock. It's by Ralph Bakshi. Anyone who knows the name knows that if HE made a movie, he has something big to say...

Although it's roots are based in cheap blaxploitation, "Coonskin" isn't just another campy knock-off of mainstream white film or any kind of throwaway flick. "Coonskin" wants to be more. It aims it's sights higher and fries some much bigger fish.

The movie doesn't just poke fun at the genre. Nor does it just indict black people, but actually seems to show love, beauty and heart in the strangest places.

"Coonskin" tells a story out of some convicts awaiting a jail-break. The fact that it's even possible to break out of a prison in the "Coonskin" world alone makes it old-fashioned.

One of the inmates tells a story about a trio of black brothers in Harlem named Brother Bear, Brother Rabbit, Preacher Fox who want respect and a piece of the action and are willing to get it by any means necessary. The Italian mob is running all the real action.

Big name black musicians star: Barry White and Scatman Crothers, as well as Charles Gordone, the first black playwright to take home the Pulitzer. Something big is happening here obviously.

The movie plays out like a descent into this world, this side of the racial divide. From an angry, hip, deep, soulful black man with a hate in his heart and a gun in his hand.

Bakshi's films never know the meaning of the word "subtlety." This one looks like it's never even heard of the word. But maybe a subject like this needs extremism. Real sledgehammer satire. Some subjects can't be tackled gently.

Bakshi is god dammed merciless. Here, no member or minority of the Harlem scene appears unscathed.

The characters here are "animated" to "real" all depending on what the mood and situation are. The animated characters and the human ones all share the same reality and are meant to be taken just as literally.

Bakshi never just shows ugly caricatures just for shock value. He always has something to say. Nor is blackface is gratuitously. Here, unlike in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled," he seems to be using it to try and really say something.

Like 99.9% of all of Bakshi's films, this one incorporates animation and live-action. Usually at the same time. Bakshki isn't just being gimmicky here. All of this technique is all intertwined, meshing together while saying something.

Somehow, this one feels inevitably dated. Many of these types of films (Bakshi's included) are very topical, very spur of the moment. They reflect the certain trend for the day, but looking back of them years later, there's just an unmistakable feeling of nostalgia (as well as timeless truth).

Even though the music, clothes, slang and the city clearly looks like photos that belong in a time capsule, the attitude, the spirit and the heart remain the same no matter what [profanity removed] ear it is. Anyone who's really seen the movies, the state of things and has been in company of the people know what I'm talking about.

Even some of the of the black characters are a bunny (junglebunny), a big ol' bear and a fox. One of the most sour and unsavory racist characters is a dirty Harlem cop who's hot on the trail of these "dirty niggers" after the death of a cop. But for him, it's not just business. Nor is it for the rest of the brothers who wear the shield. It's just pure sadistic racist pleasure of hurting blacks.

The sequence involving the Godfather and his lady is one of the most moving pieces in the whole film, of which there are many. It plays out like an opera or a ballet.

The promo line: WARNING: "This film offends everybody!" This is not just hype. Proceed with extreme caution.

You have been warned...


by Dane Youssef


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A UNIQUE CHARACTER IN A CONFORMIST MOVIE

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 05:15 (A review of Powder)

by Dane Youssef


Victor Salva's "Powder" is the kind of movie that when you first read it's screenplay, you'd think to yourself... God, this is so full of potential.

Think of the endless possibilities. It just needs a rewrite, maybe even a script doctor and we can make this the talked-about film of the year.

But the movie gets rushed into filming and it's left with an unfinished feeling.

It feels like the studio or the director wanted to make a movie about persecuted outsiders and then thought, "Well, we want this movie to drive people here in hoards. We need a mainstream film... so lets not make it too smart for people to follow and too deep for people to want to get into. We don't wanna go over people's heads."

It takes a truly original character and plugs him into a movie as routine and unremarkable as the bullying, red-neck catalysts who flaunt 85% of the film's supporting roles. Who just gawk and insult 'cause they're so damn screwed-up themselves, on a personal level.

Who's fault is this? The director... or the executives?

"Powder" has some moments that are almost Spielberg-Ian and insights that cause you to think. But there are too many others that almost feel phoned in.

Sean Patrick Flanery plays Jeremy Reed, nicknamed "Powder" is an amazing superhuman who is almost pure energy and conducts electricity better than water or metal. He has the ability to read minds, magnetize and he can also shatter glass telepathically. He is also a genius.

The movie begins with an establishing scene where an expectant mother is driven screaming in an ambulance to the nearest hospital. And not only has her water broke, she has just been struck by lightning.

The father demands to see him. The baby is screaming inside the oxygen tent as if it's a burn victim. It almost seems to know what's going on right now. The cries are deafening and heartbreaking.

And the father abandons him. The boy lives with his grandparents until they die and poor Powder is once again without family.

People who find Powder downstairs in the basement, hiding. From them. From outsiders. From the world.

They bundle him up, take him away to a reform school. Why?

Um... shouldn't he be sent to an orphanage or something? Why throw him in with criminals who can't be tried as adults?

Oh, the formula. Sorry, I forgot.

Jeremy is bullied all throughout the movie and takes way too long to retaliate. As if the director is getting too damn into this or has time to kill. Even when it's clear there's no other choice. "Not much fight in you, huh?" asks one of them at one point. Obviously not.

I can't tell if we takes so long to just use his abilities because he's afraid, he's too good... or the film's gotta too much time to kill and the director's enjoying lashing back.

We see Jeremy's pale as death skin and his defined male form. Salva incorporates this scene because of his preference for the male physique. He shows male nudity in a lot of his movies and homosexual elements. There is a moment that suggests that Jeremy might be gay or some of the other kids in the film might have those elements as well.

These scenes are well-drawn, no doubt related to Salva's experiences dealing with his own sexuality. Salva himself is gay, yes.

Which explains a lot of the endless elaborate homo put-downs throughout the movie and male nudity as well. Even the southern redneck kids don't mind too much getting a gander at Powder's privates.

Of course we need (yes, NEED) scenes where Jeremy is persecuted for the way he is. But there are too many of those. They take up way too much of the movie. A scene in a cafeteria, in the woods and in the gymnasium that moves outside onto the field.

There are many, many scenes where Jeremy shows his endless powers. Yet too many people are slow to catch on, even the smart ones.

There's a truly great scene where a redneck hick deputy sheriff (Brandon Smith) shoots a deer and Powder uses an empathy power so the deputy can feel the deer's pain and suffering.

And another where Jeremy is getting involved with the only sweet girl in town and they have a moment where they share kind of Vulcan mind-meld.

He has every superpower known to man. He's smart, sweet, kind and all-powerful.

But for some reason, he lacks the ability to do the simplest thing and the most obvious thing when the opportunity is right there. So does pretty much everyone else in this film most of the time.

I asked myself, why?

Oh, the formula. Sorry, I forgot.

Jeff Goldblum believes in Jeremy and thinks he could be an advanced step in human evolution. He delivers eloquence about where he explains what Powder is and again later with everything wrong with humanity and how we haven't moved very far in the great human race. And Jeremy could be humanity's answer.

The ending is inevitable, but sad. I guess there was just no other way for Powder or the movie. But you walk away wishing Powder AND the movie itself just did more than have big moments involving special effects, dealing with antagonists and only occasionally having a real moment.

Still, it's a nice renter. Goldblum's lines about humanity will make you think and Patrick Flanery's performance as the title character are all worthwhile.

And there are several scenes that really do stay stuck with you....


by Dane Youssef


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"A UNIQUE CHARACTER... IN A CONFORMIST WORLD"

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 05:14 (A review of Powder)

by Dane Youssef


Victor Salva's "Powder" is the kind of movie that when you first read it's screenplay, you'd think to yourself... God, this is so full of potential.

Think of the endless possibilities. It just needs a rewrite, maybe even a script doctor and we can make this the talked-about film of the year.

But the movie gets rushed into filming and it's left with an unfinished feeling.

It feels like the studio or the director wanted to make a movie about persecuted outsiders and then thought, "Well, we want this movie to drive people here in hoards. We need a mainstream film... so lets not make it too smart for people to follow and too deep for people to want to get into. We don't wanna go over people's heads."

It takes a truly original character and plugs him into a movie as routine and unremarkable as the bullying, red-neck catalysts who flaunt 85% of the film's supporting roles. Who just gawk and insult 'cause they're so damn screwed-up themselves, on a personal level.

Who's fault is this? The director... or the executives?

"Powder" has some moments that are almost Spielberg-Ian and insights that cause you to think. But there are too many others that almost feel phoned in.

Sean Patrick Flanery plays Jeremy Reed, nicknamed "Powder" is an amazing superhuman who is almost pure energy and conducts electricity better than water or metal. He has the ability to read minds, magnetize and he can also shatter glass telepathically. He is also a genius.

The movie begins with an establishing scene where an expectant mother is driven screaming in an ambulance to the nearest hospital. And not only has her water broke, she has just been struck by lightning.

The father demands to see him. The baby is screaming inside the oxygen tent as if it's a burn victim. It almost seems to know what's going on right now. The cries are deafening and heartbreaking.

And the father abandons him. The boy lives with his grandparents until they die and poor Powder is once again without family.

People who find Powder downstairs in the basement, hiding. From them. From outsiders. From the world.

They bundle him up, take him away to a reform school. Why?

Um... shouldn't he be sent to an orphanage or something? Why throw him in with criminals who can't be tried as adults?

Oh, the formula. Sorry, I forgot.

Jeremy is bullied all throughout the movie and takes way too long to retaliate. As if the director is getting too damn into this or has time to kill. Even when it's clear there's no other choice. "Not much fight in you, huh?" asks one of them at one point. Obviously not.

I can't tell if we takes so long to just use his abilities because he's afraid, he's too good... or the film's gotta too much time to kill and the director's enjoying lashing back.

We see Jeremy's pale as death skin and his defined male form. Salva incorporates this scene because of his preference for the male physique. He shows male nudity in a lot of his movies and homosexual elements. There is a moment that suggests that Jeremy might be gay or some of the other kids in the film might have those elements as well.

These scenes are well-drawn, no doubt related to Salva's experiences dealing with his own sexuality. Salva himself is gay, yes.

Which explains a lot of the endless elaborate homo put-downs throughout the movie and male nudity as well. Even the southern redneck kids don't mind too much getting a gander at Powder's privates.

Of course we need (yes, NEED) scenes where Jeremy is persecuted for the way he is. But there are too many of those. They take up way too much of the movie. A scene in a cafeteria, in the woods and in the gymnasium that moves outside onto the field.

There are many, many scenes where Jeremy shows his endless powers. Yet too many people are slow to catch on, even the smart ones.

There's a truly great scene where a redneck hick deputy sheriff (Brandon Smith) shoots a deer and Powder uses an empathy power so the deputy can feel the deer's pain and suffering.

And another where Jeremy is getting involved with the only sweet girl in town and they have a moment where they share kind of Vulcan mind-meld.

He has every superpower known to man. He's smart, sweet, kind and all-powerful.

But for some reason, he lacks the ability to do the simplest thing and the most obvious thing when the opportunity is right there. So does pretty much everyone else in this film most of the time.

I asked myself, why?

Oh, the formula. Sorry, I forgot.

Jeff Goldblum believes in Jeremy and thinks he could be an advanced step in human evolution. He delivers eloquence about where he explains what Powder is and again later with everything wrong with humanity and how we haven't moved very far in the great human race. And Jeremy could be humanity's answer.

The ending is inevitable, but sad. I guess there was just no other way for Powder or the movie. But you walk away wishing Powder AND the movie itself just did more than have big moments involving special effects, dealing with antagonists and only occasionally having a real moment.

Still, it's a nice renter. Goldblum's lines about humanity will make you think and Patrick Flanery's performance as the title character are all worthwhile.

And there are several scenes that really do stay stuck with you....


--A Unique Soul, Dane Youssef


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