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"A FAR-OUT TRIP WITH THE LIZARD KING, BUT..."

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 2 September 2009 04:52 (A review of The Doors (1991))

by Dane Youssef


"Ray Manzarek turned down Stone's many requests to help in the movie. Manzarek has since said that the movie is a horrible account of the history of the band." --FROM Internet Movie Database trivia

Gee, I wish he had participated.

Oliver Stone's "The Doors" is a film that loves "the lizard king's" stage presence. And the poetic and haunting music he left behind.

Stone weaves magnificent unworldly music with mind-blowing visuals, joining the sound and look of two worlds together. We see what the inside of Morrison must've really been like.

But seems to have little to no interest in who the rest of "The Doors" really were.

There is a moment in this film where Morrison is mugging into the camera, making sexy, seductive smiles, cute little pouts and angry-tiger faces for a photographer. Morrison is a Greek sex god as well as a rock god.

The photographer tells him: "You don't need those guys. YOU'RE the talent. You're the one they want. YOU ARE the doors."

She's not the only one who thinks so. A manager who sees them performing at a club says the same thing, offering Morrison a gig if he drops those "others." HE'S THE TALENT, he tells Morrison.

Many agree with this, apparently and especially Oliver Stone himself, who focuses ENTIRELY about Morrison at his best (and worst) and makes every sequence is this movie a drugged-out trip into the lizard-king's idol status and pin-up persona.

The problem--that's ALL this movie seems to be about.

Stone may have misnamed this film "The Doors." Perhaps he should have named it "This Is The End: Life & Fast-Times of Jim Morrison." Morrison was dead by 27, thanks to all the hard work, talent and success to get him there.

Morrison truly is the entire focus of Stone's film, perhaps because he was the true mastermind behind it all. Perhaps Morrison truly was "The Doors."

The rest of the band's stories--from THEIR point of view. What were they about? The movie seems to be made by someone who loved the music and hated the man. Despised him. By the time Morrison moves on to harder drugs, he has gone from a sensitive soulful poet to a raving and destructive monster.

The drugs'll do that, you know.

Morrison was actually a sweet, deep, thoughtful and sensitive man. Not to mention very shy and humble. But his art wasn't really much until he started using drugs to fuel his creative fires. Like Hendrix, Cobin, Joplin, the narcotics gave him musical genius and inspiration.

Himself, especially. He hurts his girlfriend every way he can, he infuriates the other members of the band, he misses rehearsals and performances (well, actually, sometimes he shows up late).

If you've ever seen a backstage band biopic, you know how everything will play out. Passionate, talented kids meet, unique, fresh and with big ideas, the group comes together, they make it big, the seduction of the fame, the money, the power, the sex... and they undo themselves until they're sitting in a pool of their own filth and sick in a state of depression and anger.

Well actually, once again, in this case, that's just Morrison. Most of the band just backs him up and just gets angrier and angrier by his steady stream of destruction. He inhales every drug and woman he can and starts to harm everyone who crosses his path, including himself, so he can "break on through to the other side."

Effective, but I wish Stone could have taken the focus off this for just a little while.

I would have liked some digging into the rest of the band--the history, the bonding, the feelings there. Who they all were. He doesn't even scratch the surface there.

The best of this, I suppose, is when Morrison takes his girlfriend and the band on a peyote-fulled trip out to the desert. They bond over fantasies and nightmares, planning the future---and unraveling. What's going to happen to them?

Val Kilmer gives perhaps the best performance of his life. He looks like Morrison, as well as sings just like him (rumor had it the real-life band could not tell the difference between Morrison and Kilmer's vocals). He also prances around the stage with as much perverse, energy, fire and gusto as Morrison ever did. He's larger and bigger than life. He captures all the little things about Morrison, as well as the big ones. He has his soul. He does not impersonate Morrison, he possesses him. Perfectly.

But a little of Jim goes a long, long, long way. Stone doesn't seem perturbed and keeps laying it on. I got the wild image of Morrison early on and I would've liked to know more about this soul and poet.

"They want my d**k, not my words," he remarks sadly.

Other performances are strong, with Kyle MacLachlan as Morrison's truest believer and band-keyboardist ("Blue Velvet," "Twin Peaks" and "Showgirls"), Frank Whaley as guitarist Robby Krieger ("Swimming with Sharks," "Jimmy Show" and "Homage"), Meg Ryan, Billy Idol and Kevin Dillion. They don't really shine, but then they're all never really allowed to. It's all Kilmer's show as Morrison---like the real "Doors"?

Apparently, the movie seems to think so. By the end of the film, of course, Morrison has died--of course. It plays out not so much like a tragedy as really the best thing for everybody (especially Morrison himself--he's finally achieved his dream).

Kilmer's performance, the Door's music and Stone's crazy LSD-eyed view make this movie really worth seeing... it's all like a crazy three-month long trip while The Doors are blasting all the time---Morrison at the center of it all. Still blowing everyone away with this fire...

Still, I recommend the film. But be forewarned--this is the life of Jim Morrison... Sorta.

"Pretty pretentious, Stone."


--For The Lizard King, Dane Youssef


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A FAR-OUT TRIP WITH THE LIZARD KING, BUT...

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 2 September 2009 04:46 (A review of The Doors (Special Edition))

by Dane Youssef


"Ray Manzarek turned down Stone's many requests to help in the movie. Manzarek has since said that the movie is a horrible account of the history of the band." --FROM Internet Movie Database trivia

Gee, I wish he had participated.

Oliver Stone's "The Doors" is a film that loves "the lizard king's" stage presence. And the poetic and haunting music he left behind.

Stone weaves magnificent unworldly music with mind-blowing visuals, joining the sound and look of two worlds together. We see what the inside of Morrison must've really been like.

But seems to have little to no interest in who the rest of "The Doors" really were.

There is a moment in this film where Morrison is mugging into the camera, making sexy, seductive smiles, cute little pouts and angry-tiger faces for a photographer. Morrison is a Greek sex god as well as a rock god.

The photographer tells him: "You don't need those guys. YOU'RE the talent. You're the one they want. YOU ARE the doors."

She's not the only one who thinks so. A manager who sees them performing at a club says the same thing, offering Morrison a gig if he drops those "others." HE'S THE TALENT, he tells Morrison.

Many agree with this, apparently and especially Oliver Stone himself, who focuses ENTIRELY about Morrison at his best (and worst) and makes every sequence is this movie a drugged-out trip into the lizard-king's idol status and pin-up persona.

The problem--that's ALL this movie seems to be about.

Stone may have misnamed this film "The Doors." Perhaps he should have named it "This Is The End: Life & Fast-Times of Jim Morrison." Morrison was dead by 27, thanks to all the hard work, talent and success to get him there.

Morrison truly is the entire focus of Stone's film, perhaps because he was the true mastermind behind it all. Perhaps Morrison truly was "The Doors."

The rest of the band's stories--from THEIR point of view. What were they about? The movie seems to be made by someone who loved the music and hated the man. Despised him. By the time Morrison moves on to harder drugs, he has gone from a sensitive soulful poet to a raving and destructive monster.

The drugs'll do that, you know.

Morrison was actually a sweet, deep, thoughtful and sensitive man. Not to mention very shy and humble. But his art wasn't really much until he started using drugs to fuel his creative fires. Like Hendrix, Cobin, Joplin, the narcotics gave him musical genius and inspiration.

Himself, especially. He hurts his girlfriend every way he can, he infuriates the other members of the band, he misses rehearsals and performances (well, actually, sometimes he shows up late).

If you've ever seen a backstage band biopic, you know how everything will play out. Passionate, talented kids meet, unique, fresh and with big ideas, the group comes together, they make it big, the seduction of the fame, the money, the power, the sex... and they undo themselves until they're sitting in a pool of their own filth and sick in a state of depression and anger.

Well actually, once again, in this case, that's just Morrison. Most of the band just backs him up and just gets angrier and angrier by his steady stream of destruction. He inhales every drug and woman he can and starts to harm everyone who crosses his path, including himself, so he can "break on through to the other side."

Effective, but I wish Stone could have taken the focus off this for just a little while.

I would have liked some digging into the rest of the band--the history, the bonding, the feelings there. Who they all were. He doesn't even scratch the surface there.

The best of this, I suppose, is when Morrison takes his girlfriend and the band on a peyote-fulled trip out to the desert. They bond over fantasies and nightmares, planning the future---and unraveling. What's going to happen to them?

Val Kilmer gives perhaps the best performance of his life. He looks like Morrison, as well as sings just like him (rumor had it the real-life band could not tell the difference between Morrison and Kilmer's vocals). He also prances around the stage with as much perverse, energy, fire and gusto as Morrison ever did. He's larger and bigger than life. He captures all the little things about Morrison, as well as the big ones. He has his soul. He does not impersonate Morrison, he possesses him. Perfectly.

But a little of Jim goes a long, long, long way. Stone doesn't seem perturbed and keeps laying it on. I got the wild image of Morrison early on and I would've liked to know more about this soul and poet.

"They want my d**k, not my words," he remarks sadly.

Other performances are strong, with Kyle MacLachlan as Morrison's truest believer and band-keyboardist ("Blue Velvet," "Twin Peaks" and "Showgirls"), Frank Whaley as guitarist Robby Krieger ("Swimming with Sharks," "Jimmy Show" and "Homage"), Meg Ryan, Billy Idol and Kevin Dillion. They don't really shine, but then they're all never really allowed to. It's all Kilmer's show as Morrison---like the real "Doors"?

Apparently, the movie seems to think so. By the end of the film, of course, Morrison has died--of course. It plays out not so much like a tragedy as really the best thing for everybody (especially Morrison himself--he's finally achieved his dream).

Kilmer's performance, the Door's music and Stone's crazy LSD-eyed view make this movie really worth seeing... it's all like a crazy three-month long trip while The Doors are blasting all the time---Morrison at the center of it all. Still blowing everyone away with this fire...

Still, I recommend the film. But be forewarned--this is the life of Jim Morrison... Sorta.

"Pretty pretentious, Stone."


by Dane Youssef


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"THIS ONE COMES UP SHORT"

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 1 September 2009 05:43 (A review of Willow)

by Dane Youssef


This one wasn't much when it first came out. The budget was extravagant and the box-office returns just barely covered the big fat price tag. And as measly as a movie as this was for it's day on it's own merits, it's dwarfed even further by the immortal "Lord Of The Rings" saga.

"Willow" is the film the impish Warwick Davis is renown for his participation in the never-ending Horror-movie stories, the "Leprechaun" movies.

This was his first lead role and he brings a likeable and earnest charisma to the role instead of just trying to be little and cute like so many child performers and other midget actors. Thankfully, he proves himself as to be more than just a cheap gim [profanity removed] like so many other "bit-players." He allows himself to really give a true performance and the film itself doesn't go for the cheapest of shots with any of the height of it's little people.

As a filmmaker, George Lucas is and has always been a homage-payer. He's one of those filmmakers who always tries to re-make those old films he loved during his own adolescence. With space operas: "Star Wars," With Matinee Adventure flicks: "Indiana Jones," With futuristic sci-fi adventures, "THX 1138."

And now with "Willow," he attempts to do the same for the sword-and-sorcery genre.

Notice I use the word "attempts."

The whole universe is derived from the whole medieval sword-and-sorcery genre. And it's a full bar and buffet smorgasbord here: We've got "Lord Of The Rings," "The Story of Moses," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Gulliver's Travels" just to name a few.

Val Kilmer is pound-for-pound one of the great heavyweight champion actors from here to Timbaktu. Perhaps even Pluto. But he even he and the rest of this considerable cast can't make it's movie as special and magical as it's title character is supposed to be.

The 20th century and the 21st saw few better thespians. He truly delivered an Oscar for his re-birth as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's "The Doors."

Here, anyone could have done the same job he does. It's his most unremarkable performance to date. They didn't need the great Kilmer for this one.

Any stock actor with a Screen Actors Guild card or with one year of high school drama class experience could have done as good a job.

Jean Marsh does a good job as Queen Bavmorda, but just about any random British actress on the planet could have done the same and gotten the same results.

Sadly, this one just stands toe-to-toe with the He-Man "Master Of The Universe" movie from 1987.

Even though Ron Howard Opie Cunningham was at the helm for this one, just about any hack with access to a tripod (that tilts low) could have done the same and gotten the same results.

The real problem with "Willow" is that it's totally unremarkable. It's about a likeable little guy with a big heart for his family. He has a magical gift and uses it to make a name for himself. He meets a great warrior with a shady record who may find love along the way.

They do battle with a wicked queen who happens to be a powerful witch with a great army, a two-headed dragon, a menacing lieutenant General who wears a mask scarier than his own face, yada yada yada yada. Do you even care?

There are two little like the 3-inch tall people in "Gulliver's Travels" called Brownies named Rool and Franjean with helium voices and ethnic caricatured French accents that would have been considered embarrassing in the '30's. They irritate and confuse, but never amuse. Unlike R2D2 and C3PO or Marcus Brody, they never provoke as much as a smile.

Lucas planned for this to be something of a series saga of films. But since this one barely made any return whatsoever, Lucas wound up scrapping the film "trilogy" and continuing the story in books. Hey, anyone out there ever actually so much as read a copy of the continuing "Willow" story?

With "Star Wars," "THX 1138" and "American Graffiti," Lucas swung for the fence like a dominant male gorilla. He pulled out all stops and then some. This one is on-par with your average episode of a Saturday Morning TV series, even for the day.

With Lucas' legendary "Indiana Jones" saga, we all remember one key gruesome scene in each movie---like the "false grail" scene in "Last Crusade" or the "Ripped Heart" in "The Temple Of Doom." In "Willow," there's a similar sequence inspired by the "Bay Of Pigs" from the Greek tales of "The Iliad and The Odyssey."

Lucas story pretty much recycles the whole outline plot of the "Star Wars" saga (episodes IV, V, and VI). Unfortunately, Lucas and Howard don't really feel like they're trying
to have the last word of the genre as they did in many of their earlier efforts.

You can see anything just as good and inspired/thrilling/etc. every Saturday morning on just about any network.

Unlike "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones" or "Cocoon," this is not a product of theirs that defines the genre it's from.

And what is it with the baby Elora Danan? She's so much of the damn plot and yet, all she does really is smile and cry on cue. There are babies in diaper commercials who have characters with more depth.

I like the two-headed dragon. It doesn't look like the traditional fire-breathing dragon. It hardly even looks like a serpent. This one is kind of inspired. As a change of pace, it has more of an ugly look to it with long and furry serpent necks, almost like an ostrich. It's really weird.

Although, it's one of the few inspired touches in this routine medieval epic.

It's a Lucasfilm Ltd. production, so the special effects are (as it goes without saying) in the Oscar nomination territory. Enthralling for the day, some even by today's standards still shine. Lucas has made a bigger name for himself as a innovator of special effects than as a filmmaker.

While it was a defining role for actor Warwick Davis and it employs more midgets and dwarves than any other production (and respectively), for anyone else, "Willow" is never anything special, nor does it attempt to be.

Even for it's day "Willow" was unremarkable. Seriously, how many tales of swords, sorcery, kings, queens, dwarves, dragons and trolls had we seen in movies, TV shows, books, fairy tales and what-have-you before this came along? Yet another case of, "Too little, too late."

Nearly 20 years later, that old axiom proves even more true.


by Dane Youssef


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"THIS ONE COMES UP SHORT"

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 1 September 2009 05:27 (A review of Willow [1988])

by Dane Youssef


This one wasn't much when it first came out. The budget was extravagant and the box-office returns just barely covered the big fat price tag. And as measly as a movie as this was for it's day on it's own merits, it's dwarfed even further by the immortal "Lord Of The Rings" saga.

"Willow" is the film the impish Warwick Davis is renown for his participation in the never-ending Horror-movie stories, the "Leprechaun" movies.

This was his first lead role and he brings a likeable and earnest charisma to the role instead of just trying to be little and cute like so many child performers and other midget actors. Thankfully, he proves himself as to be more than just a cheap gim [profanity removed] like so many other "bit-players." He allows himself to really give a true performance and the film itself doesn't go for the cheapest of shots with any of the height of it's little people.

As a filmmaker, George Lucas is and has always been a homage-payer. He's one of those filmmakers who always tries to re-make those old films he loved during his own adolescence. With space operas: "Star Wars," With Matinee Adventure flicks: "Indiana Jones," With futuristic sci-fi adventures, "THX 1138."

And now with "Willow," he attempts to do the same for the sword-and-sorcery genre.

Notice I use the word "attempts."

The whole universe is derived from the whole medieval sword-and-sorcery genre. And it's a full bar and buffet smorgasbord here: We've got "Lord Of The Rings," "The Story of Moses," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Gulliver's Travels" just to name a few.

Val Kilmer is pound-for-pound one of the great heavyweight champion actors from here to Timbaktu. Perhaps even Pluto. But he even he and the rest of this considerable cast can't make it's movie as special and magical as it's title character is supposed to be.

The 20th century and the 21st saw few better thespians. He truly delivered an Oscar for his re-birth as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's "The Doors."

Here, anyone could have done the same job he does. It's his most unremarkable performance to date. They didn't need the great Kilmer for this one.

Any stock actor with a Screen Actors Guild card or with one year of high school drama class experience could have done as good a job.

Jean Marsh does a good job as Queen Bavmorda, but just about any random British actress on the planet could have done the same and gotten the same results.

Sadly, this one just stands toe-to-toe with the He-Man "Master Of The Universe" movie from 1987.

Even though Ron Howard Opie Cunningham was at the helm for this one, just about any hack with access to a tripod (that tilts low) could have done the same and gotten the same results.

The real problem with "Willow" is that it's totally unremarkable. It's about a likeable little guy with a big heart for his family. He has a magical gift and uses it to make a name for himself. He meets a great warrior with a shady record who may find love along the way.

They do battle with a wicked queen who happens to be a powerful witch with a great army, a two-headed dragon, a menacing lieutenant General who wears a mask scarier than his own face, yada yada yada yada. Do you even care?

There are two little like the 3-inch tall people in "Gulliver's Travels" called Brownies named Rool and Franjean with helium voices and ethnic caricatured French accents that would have been considered embarrassing in the '30's. They irritate and confuse, but never amuse. Unlike R2D2 and C3PO or Marcus Brody, they never provoke as much as a smile.

Lucas planned for this to be something of a series saga of films. But since this one barely made any return whatsoever, Lucas wound up scrapping the film "trilogy" and continuing the story in books. Hey, anyone out there ever actually so much as read a copy of the continuing "Willow" story?

With "Star Wars," "THX 1138" and "American Graffiti," Lucas swung for the fence like a dominant male gorilla. He pulled out all stops and then some. This one is on-par with your average episode of a Saturday Morning TV series, even for the day.

With Lucas' legendary "Indiana Jones" saga, we all remember one key gruesome scene in each movie---like the "false grail" scene in "Last Crusade" or the "Ripped Heart" in "The Temple Of Doom." In "Willow," there's a similar sequence inspired by the "Bay Of Pigs" from the Greek tales of "The Iliad and The Odyssey."

Lucas story pretty much recycles the whole outline plot of the "Star Wars" saga (episodes IV, V, and VI). Unfortunately, Lucas and Howard don't really feel like they're trying
to have the last word of the genre as they did in many of their earlier efforts.

You can see anything just as good and inspired/thrilling/etc. every Saturday morning on just about any network.

Unlike "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones" or "Cocoon," this is not a product of theirs that defines the genre it's from.

And what is it with the baby Elora Danan? She's so much of the damn plot and yet, all she does really is smile and cry on cue. There are babies in diaper commercials who have characters with more depth.

I like the two-headed dragon. It doesn't look like the traditional fire-breathing dragon. It hardly even looks like a serpent. This one is kind of inspired. As a change of pace, it has more of an ugly look to it with long and furry serpent necks, almost like an ostrich. It's really weird.

Although, it's one of the few inspired touches in this routine medieval epic.

It's a Lucasfilm Ltd. production, so the special effects are (as it goes without saying) in the Oscar nomination territory. Enthralling for the day, some even by today's standards still shine. Lucas has made a bigger name for himself as a innovator of special effects than as a filmmaker.

While it was a defining role for actor Warwick Davis and it employs more midgets and dwarves than any other production (and respectively), for anyone else, "Willow" is never anything special, nor does it attempt to be.

Even for it's day "Willow" was unremarkable. Seriously, how many tales of swords, sorcery, kings, queens, dwarves, dragons and trolls had we seen in movies, TV shows, books, fairy tales and what-have-you before this came along? Yet another case of, "Too little, too late."

Nearly 20 years later, that old axiom proves even more true.


by Dane Youssef


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"THIS ONE COMES UP SHORT"

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 1 September 2009 05:26 (A review of Willow [Region 2])

by Dane Youssef


This one wasn't much when it first came out. The budget was extravagant and the box-office returns just barely covered the big fat price tag. And as measly as a movie as this was for it's day on it's own merits, it's dwarfed even further by the immortal "Lord Of The Rings" saga.

"Willow" is the film the impish Warwick Davis is renown for his participation in the never-ending Horror-movie stories, the "Leprechaun" movies.

This was his first lead role and he brings a likeable and earnest charisma to the role instead of just trying to be little and cute like so many child performers and other midget actors. Thankfully, he proves himself as to be more than just a cheap gimmick like so many other "bit-players." He allows himself to really give a true performance and the film itself doesn't go for the cheapest of shots with any of the height of it's little people.

As a filmmaker, George Lucas is and has always been a homage-payer. He's one of those filmmakers who always tries to re-make those old films he loved during his own adolescence. With space operas: "Star Wars," With Matinee Adventure flicks: "Indiana Jones," With futuristic sci-fi adventures, "THX 1138."

And now with "Willow," he attempts to do the same for the sword-and-sorcery genre.

Notice I use the word "attempts."

The whole universe is derived from the whole medieval sword-and-sorcery genre. And it's a full bar and buffet smorgasbord here: We've got "Lord Of The Rings," "The Story of Moses," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Gulliver's Travels" just to name a few.

Val Kilmer is pound-for-pound one of the great heavyweight champion actors from here to Timbaktu. Perhaps even Pluto. But he even he and the rest of this considerable cast can't make it's movie as special and magical as it's title character is supposed to be.

The 20th century and the 21st saw few better thespians. He truly delivered an Oscar for his re-birth as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's "The Doors."

Here, anyone could have done the same job he does. It's his most unremarkable performance to date. They didn't need the great Kilmer for this one.

Any stock actor with a Screen Actors Guild card or with one year of high school drama class experience could have done as good a job.

Jean Marsh does a good job as Queen Bavmorda, but just about any random British actress on the planet could have done the same and gotten the same results.

Sadly, this one just stands toe-to-toe with the He-Man "Master Of The Universe" movie from 1987.

Even though Ron Howard Opie Cunningham was at the helm for this one, just about any hack with access to a tripod (that tilts low) could have done the same and gotten the same results.

The real problem with "Willow" is that it's totally unremarkable. It's about a likeable little guy with a big heart for his family. He has a magical gift and uses it to make a name for himself. He meets a great warrior with a shady record who may find love along the way.

They do battle with a wicked queen who happens to be a powerful witch with a great army, a two-headed dragon, a menacing lieutenant General who wears a mask scarier than his own face, yada yada yada yada. Do you even care?

There are two little like the 3-inch tall people in "Gulliver's Travels" called Brownies named Rool and Franjean with helium voices and ethnic caricatured French accents that would have been considered embarrassing in the '30's. They irritate and confuse, but never amuse. Unlike R2D2 and C3PO or Marcus Brody, they never provoke as much as a smile.

Lucas planned for this to be something of a series saga of films. But since this one barely made any return whatsoever, Lucas wound up scrapping the film "trilogy" and continuing the story in books. Hey, anyone out there ever actually so much as read a copy of the continuing "Willow" story?

With "Star Wars," "THX 1138" and "American Graffiti," Lucas swung for the fence like a dominant male gorilla. He pulled out all stops and then some. This one is on-par with your average episode of a Saturday Morning TV series, even for the day.

With Lucas' legendary "Indiana Jones" saga, we all remember one key gruesome scene in each movie---like the "false grail" scene in "Last Crusade" or the "Ripped Heart" in "The Temple Of Doom." In "Willow," there's a similar sequence inspired by the "Bay Of Pigs" from the Greek tales of "The Iliad and The Odyssey."

Lucas story pretty much recycles the whole outline plot of the "Star Wars" saga (episodes IV, V, and VI). Unfortunately, Lucas and Howard don't really feel like they're trying
to have the last word of the genre as they did in many of their earlier efforts.

You can see anything just as good and inspired/thrilling/etc. every Saturday morning on just about any network.

Unlike "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones" or "Cocoon," this is not a product of theirs that defines the genre it's from.

And what is it with the baby Elora Danan? She's so much of the damn plot and yet, all she does really is smile and cry on cue. There are babies in diaper commercials who have characters with more depth.

I like the two-headed dragon. It doesn't look like the traditional fire-breathing dragon. It hardly even looks like a serpent. This one is kind of inspired. As a change of pace, it has more of an ugly look to it with long and furry serpent necks, almost like an ostrich. It's really weird.

Although, it's one of the few inspired touches in this routine medieval epic.

It's a Lucasfilm Ltd. production, so the special effects are (as it goes without saying) in the Oscar nomination territory. Enthralling for the day, some even by today's standards still shine. Lucas has made a bigger name for himself as a innovator of special effects than as a filmmaker.

While it was a defining role for actor Warwick Davis and it employs more midgets and dwarves than any other production (and respectively), for anyone else, "Willow" is never anything special, nor does it attempt to be.

Even for it's day "Willow" was unremarkable. Seriously, how many tales of swords, sorcery, kings, queens, dwarves, dragons and trolls had we seen in movies, TV shows, books, fairy tales and what-have-you before this came along? Yet another case of, "Too little, too late."

Nearly 20 years later, that old axiom proves even more true.


by Dane Youssef


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"THIS ONE COMES UP SHORT"

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 1 September 2009 05:26 (A review of Willow (Special Edition))

by Dane Youssef


This one wasn't much when it first came out. The budget was extravagant and the box-office returns just barely covered the big fat price tag. And as measly as a movie as this was for it's day on it's own merits, it's dwarfed even further by the immortal "Lord Of The Rings" saga.


"Willow" is the film the impish Warwick Davis is renown for his participation in the never-ending Horror-movie stories, the "Leprechaun" movies.


This was his first lead role and he brings a likeable and earnest charisma to the role instead of just trying to be little and cute like so many child performers and other midget actors. Thankfully, he proves himself as to be more than just a cheap gimmick like so many other "bit-players." He allows himself to really give a true performance and the film itself doesn't go for the cheapest of shots with any of the height of it's little people.


As a filmmaker, George Lucas is and has always been a homage-payer. He's one of those filmmakers who always tries to re-make those old films he loved during his own adolescence. With space operas: "Star Wars," With Matinee Adventure flicks: "Indiana Jones," With futuristic sci-fi adventures, "THX 1138."


And now with "Willow," he attempts to do the same for the sword-and-sorcery genre.


Notice I use the word "attempts."


The whole universe is derived from the whole medieval sword-and-sorcery genre. And it's a full bar and buffet smorgasbord here: We've got "Lord Of The Rings," "The Story of Moses," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Gulliver's Travels" just to name a few.


Val Kilmer is pound-for-pound one of the great heavyweight champion actors from here to Timbaktu. Perhaps even Pluto. But he even he and the rest of this considerable cast can't make it's movie as special and magical as it's title character is supposed to be.


The 20th century and the 21st saw few better thespians. He truly delivered an Oscar for his re-birth as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's "The Doors."


Here, anyone could have done the same job he does. It's his most unremarkable performance to date. They didn't need the great Kilmer for this one.


Any stock actor with a Screen Actors Guild card or with one year of high school drama class experience could have done as good a job.


Jean Marsh does a good job as Queen Bavmorda, but just about any random British actress on the planet could have done the same and gotten the same results.


Sadly, this one just stands toe-to-toe with the He-Man "Master Of The Universe" movie from 1987.


Even though Ron Howard Opie Cunningham was at the helm for this one, just about any hack with access to a tripod (that tilts low) could have done the same and gotten the same results.


The real problem with "Willow" is that it's totally unremarkable. It's about a likeable little guy with a big heart for his family. He has a magical gift and uses it to make a name for himself. He meets a great warrior with a shady record who may find love along the way.


They do battle with a wicked queen who happens to be a powerful witch with a great army, a two-headed dragon, a menacing lieutenant General who wears a mask scarier than his own face, yada yada yada yada. Do you even care?

There are two little like the 3-inch tall people in "Gulliver's Travels" called Brownies named Rool and Franjean with helium voices and ethnic caricatured French accents that would have been considered embarrassing in the '30's. They irritate and confuse, but never amuse. Unlike R2D2 and C3PO or Marcus Brody, they never provoke as much as a smile.


Lucas planned for this to be something of a series saga of films. But since this one barely made any return whatsoever, Lucas wound up scrapping the film "trilogy" and continuing the story in books. Hey, anyone out there ever actually so much as read a copy of the continuing "Willow" story?

With "Star Wars," "THX 1138" and "American Graffiti," Lucas swung for the fence like a dominant male gorilla. He pulled out all stops and then some. This one is on-par with your average episode of a Saturday Morning TV series, even for the day.


With Lucas' legendary "Indiana Jones" saga, we all remember one key gruesome scene in each movie---like the "false grail" scene in "Last Crusade" or the "Ripped Heart" in "The Temple Of Doom." In "Willow," there's a similar sequence inspired by the "Bay Of Pigs" from the Greek tales of "The Iliad and The Odyssey."


Lucas story pretty much recycles the whole outline plot of the "Star Wars" saga (episodes IV, V, and VI). Unfortunately, Lucas and Howard don't really feel like they're trying to have the last word of the genre as they did in many of their earlier efforts.


You can see anything just as good and inspired/thrilling/etc. every Saturday morning on just about any network.


Unlike "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones" or "Cocoon," this is not a product of theirs that defines the genre it's from.


And what is it with the baby Elora Danan? She's so much of the damn plot and yet, all she does really is smile and cry on cue. There are babies in diaper commercials who have characters with more depth.


I like the two-headed dragon. It doesn't look like the traditional fire-breathing dragon. It hardly even looks like a serpent. This one is kind of inspired. As a change of pace, it has more of an ugly look to it with long and furry serpent necks, almost like an ostrich. It's really weird.


Although, it's one of the few inspired touches in this routine medieval epic.


It's a Lucasfilm Ltd. production, so the special effects are (as it goes without saying) in the Oscar nomination territory. Enthralling for the day, some even by today's standards still shine. Lucas has made a bigger name for himself as a innovator of special effects than as a filmmaker.


While it was a defining role for actor Warwick Davis and it employs more midgets and dwarves than any other production (and respectively), for anyone else, "Willow" is never anything special, nor does it attempt to be.


Even for it's day "Willow" was unremarkable. Seriously, how many tales of swords, sorcery, kings, queens, dwarves, dragons and trolls had we seen in movies, TV shows, books, fairy tales and what-have-you before this came along? Yet another case of, "Too little, too late."


Nearly 20 years later, that old axiom proves even more true.



--For All "The Little People," Dane Youssef



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"A GLORIOUS VINTAGE. MAY IT AGE WELL"

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 1 September 2009 05:23 (A review of Sideways [2005])

by Dane Youssef


“Sideways” is one of those movies that seems to be made entirely for the scholarly and intellectual. The artsy, deep, hip and high-brow. Films about those people going through a turning point in their lives. Mid-life crisis’s and the like. And ones like this in paticular always seem to reap critical praise, a crowd of feverent fans and prestigious award nominations.


"Sideways" has one of those cool quirky titles that sounds really hip and grabs your attention. You know, it'll be an edgy movie. Like "Entourage," "Purgatory," "Angel Eyes" and the like. Something about "Sideways" says it's going to be different. Smarter. Sharper. In a word, better.


But unlike the title for the Johnny Depp-Winona Ryder vehicle "Finding Neverland," this one doesn't pretty much reveal the whole movie in with it's title. "Sideways" is about something--more than just moving in a different direction.


"Sideways" uses wine and wine country as a backdrop, yes, but the movie is about more than just the symbolism of wine and it's drinkers. It's essentially about people who are connected and realize how hard, brief and fragile life itself is and pursue happiness by any means necessary. And they're so true and worthy of it, we want them to find it and thus, assure we will find it ourselves.


It has the mixed feeling of life.


It’s stars, Miles Richmond and Jack Lopate have been buddy-buddy since their college dorm years. And have always been (and will be) total polar opposites. Miles is just a sad-sack neurotic nebbish with a bundle of neuroses that seem unwilling to disappear no matter how much therapy or medication he can get his hands on. His book won't get sold, his ex-wife is remarried (not that Miles was happy with her), he seems to be closer to death than life and he hasn't made an iota of the impact he wanted to.


Jack’s a less-than-successful actor who's most respected credit was a short-lived role on a soap opera years ago. Now his more recent stuff is the voice-over who mumbles the warning for the side effects from non-prescription meds near the end of the commercial. Jack is living an ideal life otherwise and Miles has seen better days. In fact, he's borderline suicidal--taking plenty of meds and alcohol himself, usually all at once. Jack is about to get married. He wants to go out to local wine country and bring Miles with him, and hopefully out of his funk.


Miles thinks and feels too much. He's been borderline suicidal for a while now and it's only getting worse. He was unhappy during his marriage which led to him giving his wife the perfect reason to end.


Jack is a self-satisfied animal who enjoys giving in to his baser animal instincts. Jack doesn't give so much as a damn about wine that's "just right." He only wants a drink. And the movie illustrates how that's exactly who he is. A total tomcat who enjoys being "on the edge" and flirting with danger, he sort of enjoys toeing the line. The most outrageous thing about Jack is he often gets off lighter than he should. We all root for Miles and idolize Jack.


Maybe a trip out to wine country is just what Miles needs. We all know some big things are about to happen over the course of this one week.


One of Miles' true passions that does bring him happiness in wine. The right wine. And with great wine, you have to know what you're talking about. You treat it as an art, as yourself. It's not like any other drug. It becomes a way of like, not only as art and a way of life, but as a way of who you are.


Paul Giamatti is simply an actor who never ceases to amaze me. From his breakthrough role as the anal-retentive watchdog station manager in "Private Parts" (he was one of the bigger surprises in that movie. The fact that he was passed over for an Oscar nod for this one (as well as "American Splendor" and "Cinderella Man") borderlines on criminal. On felony.


Thomas Hayden Church, who was pretty much just vaguely remembered for his stock idiot character Lowell, the mechanic on the one of the world's most generic sit-com, "Wings" simply rivets here. He’s eons ahead of Lowell and “Wings.”


As Jack, he has the charm of a stud who's about to peak, but doesn't realize and doesn't care. A serial philanderer, he is literally willing to cheat on his fiancée without second thought or guilt right before the wedding. He has a womanizer charm that doesn't seem lecherous or arrogant. We don't mind him cheating. In fact, we encourage it. Let's see where his libido might lead him. To pleasure, now, yes. But we all know it'll lead him into a hornet's nest eventually. And we're anxious to see how.


When the arrive at their destination, two women come into the picture. A waitress, Maya (Virgina Madsen) and a hostess, (Sandra Oh) come into the picture. We know they’re the ones who are going to put everything into play.


Sandra Oh, writer-director Payne's then-wife, moves us in a big way as one of the wine hostess who falls for Jack and his animal way. They wind up having a fast relationship and one of the most surprising moments comes when Miles realizes how fast their relationship is going. We know Jack is sticking his pride and joy into a hornet's nest and we want him to, because we know he'll have a blast and we'll do the same just watching. She isn't just a hottie, she has a wild spirit we'd all want to get into.


And Virgina Madsen (“The Rainmaker”) plays the kind of angel from above here on Earth, walking as a mortal that Miles seems to have been praying for. And when she's on screen, we all feel that Miles may be finally saved. And is there a chance someone like her will rush down at save us when we really need it?


The film owes a lot to the works of Albert Brooks of Woody Allen, where the most effective comedy and drama comes the ordinary plight of the human condition. It's the kind of movie where you keep thinking, "Yeah, this is life. This is so exactly true to life... right down to every last detail."


Co-writer-director Alexander Payne ("Election" and "About Schmidt") along with co-writer Rex Pickett have fashioned their screenplay in a natural true-to-life way all about the fascination of human nature. The ways of ordinary life--laughter, anger, frustration and brain candy--all translate to a cathartic experience for it's little characters as well as it' audience. Composer Rolfe Kent gives "Sideways" a light, loose jazzy score. Sometimes rocking. Not unlike the works of Ryan Shore. And Payne not only directs beautifully and passionately, but manages to get the right feel in every frame. We even identify with his slapstick scenes.


Like most of the population who saw "Sideways," I was relieved to see that the screenplay managed to walk off with nearly every honor for writing there was: The Oscar, the British Academy Award, the Golden Globe, the Independent Spirit Award, the New York Film Critic Circle Award. And it's cast got it's props as well. Speaking as someone who saw this movie as well as others that came out for '04, yeah.


One of those rare and precious years where the Academy actually got it right.



NOTE: This review is dedicated in loving memory to my grandfather, Arthur Benzie. He had a lot of Miles in him. A schoolteacher with a passion for the written word--especially the well-written word. Life was harder than for him than most and he always seemed frustrated that society was doing it's best to become intellectually sterile and eager to turn back mankind's long evolutionary process as quickly as possible.


It all got to him in a big way. Like Miles, he had a deep passion, an insight. For the highbrow and the savory. The man always appreciated a good drink.


And needed it more than he really should have.


--To "Sideways," Dane Youssef


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"A GLORIOUS VINTAGE. MAY IT AGE WELL"

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 1 September 2009 05:22 (A review of Sideways [2005])

by Dane Youssef


“Sideways” is one of those movies that seems to be made entirely for the scholarly and intellectual. The artsy, deep, hip and high-brow. Films about those people going through a turning point in their lives. Mid-life crisis’s and the like. And ones like this in paticular always seem to reap critical praise, a crowd of feverent fans and prestigious award nominations.


"Sideways" has one of those cool quirky titles that sounds really hip and grabs your attention. You know, it'll be an edgy movie. Like "Entourage," "Purgatory," "Angel Eyes" and the like. Something about "Sideways" says it's going to be different. Smarter. Sharper. In a word, better.


But unlike the title for the Johnny Depp-Winona Ryder vehicle "Finding Neverland," this one doesn't pretty much reveal the whole movie in with it's title. "Sideways" is about something--more than just moving in a different direction.


"Sideways" uses wine and wine country as a backdrop, yes, but the movie is about more than just the symbolism of wine and it's drinkers. It's essentially about people who are connected and realize how hard, brief and fragile life itself is and pursue happiness by any means necessary. And they're so true and worthy of it, we want them to find it and thus, assure we will find it ourselves.


It has the mixed feeling of life.


It’s stars, Miles Richmond and Jack Lopate have been buddy-buddy since their college dorm years. And have always been (and will be) total polar opposites. Miles is just a sad-sack neurotic nebbish with a bundle of neuroses that seem unwilling to disappear no matter how much therapy or medication he can get his hands on. His book won't get sold, his ex-wife is remarried (not that Miles was happy with her), he seems to be closer to death than life and he hasn't made an iota of the impact he wanted to.


Jack’s a less-than-successful actor who's most respected credit was a short-lived role on a soap opera years ago. Now his more recent stuff is the voice-over who mumbles the warning for the side effects from non-prescription meds near the end of the commercial. Jack is living an ideal life otherwise and Miles has seen better days. In fact, he's borderline suicidal--taking plenty of meds and alcohol himself, usually all at once. Jack is about to get married. He wants to go out to local wine country and bring Miles with him, and hopefully out of his funk.


Miles thinks and feels too much. He's been borderline suicidal for a while now and it's only getting worse. He was unhappy during his marriage which led to him giving his wife the perfect reason to end.


Jack is a self-satisfied animal who enjoys giving in to his baser animal instincts. Jack doesn't give so much as a damn about wine that's "just right." He only wants a drink. And the movie illustrates how that's exactly who he is. A total tomcat who enjoys being "on the edge" and flirting with danger, he sort of enjoys toeing the line. The most outrageous thing about Jack is he often gets off lighter than he should. We all root for Miles and idolize Jack.


Maybe a trip out to wine country is just what Miles needs. We all know some big things are about to happen over the course of this one week.


One of Miles' true passions that does bring him happiness in wine. The right wine. And with great wine, you have to know what you're talking about. You treat it as an art, as yourself. It's not like any other drug. It becomes a way of like, not only as art and a way of life, but as a way of who you are.


Paul Giamatti is simply an actor who never ceases to amaze me. From his breakthrough role as the anal-retentive watchdog station manager in "Private Parts" (he was one of the bigger surprises in that movie. The fact that he was passed over for an Oscar nod for this one (as well as "American Splendor" and "Cinderella Man") borderlines on criminal. On felony.


Thomas Hayden Church, who was pretty much just vaguely remembered for his stock idiot character Lowell, the mechanic on the one of the world's most generic sit-com, "Wings" simply rivets here. He’s eons ahead of Lowell and “Wings.”


As Jack, he has the charm of a stud who's about to peak, but doesn't realize and doesn't care. A serial philanderer, he is literally willing to cheat on his fiancée without second thought or guilt right before the wedding. He has a womanizer charm that doesn't seem lecherous or arrogant. We don't mind him cheating. In fact, we encourage it. Let's see where his libido might lead him. To pleasure, now, yes. But we all know it'll lead him into a hornet's nest eventually. And we're anxious to see how.


When the arrive at their destination, two women come into the picture. A waitress, Maya (Virgina Madsen) and a hostess, (Sandra Oh) come into the picture. We know they’re the ones who are going to put everything into play.


Sandra Oh, writer-director Payne's then-wife, moves us in a big way as one of the wine hostess who falls for Jack and his animal way. They wind up having a fast relationship and one of the most surprising moments comes when Miles realizes how fast their relationship is going. We know Jack is sticking his pride and joy into a hornet's nest and we want him to, because we know he'll have a blast and we'll do the same just watching. She isn't just a hottie, she has a wild spirit we'd all want to get into.


And Virgina Madsen (“The Rainmaker”) plays the kind of angel from above here on Earth, walking as a mortal that Miles seems to have been praying for. And when she's on screen, we all feel that Miles may be finally saved. And is there a chance someone like her will rush down at save us when we really need it?


The film owes a lot to the works of Albert Brooks of Woody Allen, where the most effective comedy and drama comes the ordinary plight of the human condition. It's the kind of movie where you keep thinking, "Yeah, this is life. This is so exactly true to life... right down to every last detail."


Co-writer-director Alexander Payne ("Election" and "About Schmidt") along with co-writer Rex Pickett have fashioned their screenplay in a natural true-to-life way all about the fascination of human nature. The ways of ordinary life--laughter, anger, frustration and brain candy--all translate to a cathartic experience for it's little characters as well as it' audience. Composer Rolfe Kent gives "Sideways" a light, loose jazzy score. Sometimes rocking. Not unlike the works of Ryan Shore. And Payne not only directs beautifully and passionately, but manages to get the right feel in every frame. We even identify with his slapstick scenes.


Like most of the population who saw "Sideways," I was relieved to see that the screenplay managed to walk off with nearly every honor for writing there was: The Oscar, the British Academy Award, the Golden Globe, the Independent Spirit Award, the New York Film Critic Circle Award. And it's cast got it's props as well. Speaking as someone who saw this movie as well as others that came out for '04, yeah.


One of those rare and precious years where the Academy actually got it right.



NOTE: This review is dedicated in loving memory to my grandfather, Arthur Benzie. He had a lot of Miles in him. A schoolteacher with a passion for the written word--especially the well-written word. Life was harder than for him than most and he always seemed frustrated that society was doing it's best to become intellectually sterile and eager to turn back mankind's long evolutionary process as quickly as possible.


It all got to him in a big way. Like Miles, he had a deep passion, an insight. For the highbrow and the savory. The man always appreciated a good drink.


And needed it more than he really should have.



--To "Sideways," Dane Youssef


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A GLORIOUS VINTAGE. MAY IT AGE WELL

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 1 September 2009 05:21 (A review of Sideways [2005])

by Dane Youssef


“Sideways” is one of those movies that seems to be made entirely for the scholarly and intellectual. The artsy, deep, hip and high-brow. Films about those people going through a turning point in their lives. Mid-life crisis’s and the like. And ones like this in paticular always seem to reap critical praise, a crowd of feverent fans and prestigious award nominations.

"Sideways" has one of those cool quirky titles that sounds really hip and grabs your attention. You know, it'll be an edgy movie. Like "Entourage," "Purgatory," "Angel Eyes" and the like. Something about "Sideways" says it's going to be different. Smarter. Sharper. In a word, better.

But unlike the title for the Johnny Depp-Winona Ryder vehicle "Finding Neverland," this one doesn't pretty much reveal the whole movie in with it's title. "Sideways" is about something--more than just moving in a different direction.

"Sideways" uses wine and wine country as a backdrop, yes, but the movie is about more than just the symbolism of wine and it's drinkers. It's essentially about people who are connected and realize how hard, brief and fragile life itself is and pursue happiness by any means necessary. And they're so true and worthy of it, we want them to find it and thus, assure we will find it ourselves.

It has the mixed feeling of life.

It’s stars, Miles Richmond and Jack Lopate have been buddy-buddy since their college dorm years. And have always been (and will be) total polar opposites. Miles is just a sad-sack neurotic nebbish with a bundle of neuroses that seem unwilling to disappear no matter how much therapy or medication he can get his hands on. His book won't get sold, his ex-wife is remarried (not that Miles was happy with her), he seems to be c [profanity removed] to death than life and he hasn't made an iota of the impact he wanted to.

Jack’s a less-than-successful actor who's most respected credit was a short-lived role on a soap opera years ago. Now his more recent stuff is the voice-over who mumbles the warning for the side effects from non-prescription meds near the end of the commercial. Jack is living an ideal life otherwise and Miles has seen better days. In fact, he's borderline suicidal--taking plenty of meds and alcohol himself, usually all at once. Jack is about to get married. He wants to go out to local wine country and bring Miles with him, and hopefully out of his funk.

Miles thinks and feels too much. He's been borderline suicidal for a while now and it's only getting worse. He was unhappy during his marriage which led to him giving his wife the perfect reason to end.

Jack is a self-satisfied animal who enjoys giving in to his baser animal instincts. Jack doesn't give so much as a damn about wine that's "just right." He only wants a drink. And the movie illustrates how that's exactly who he is. A total tomcat who enjoys being "on the edge" and flirting with danger, he sort of enjoys toeing the line. The most outrageous thing about Jack is he often gets off lighter than he should. We all root for Miles and idolize Jack.

Maybe a trip out to wine country is just what Miles needs. We all know some big things are about to happen over the course of this one week.

One of Miles' true passions that does bring him happiness in wine. The right wine. And with great wine, you have to know what you're talking about. You treat it as an art, as yourself. It's not like any other drug. It becomes a way of like, not only as art and a way of life, but as a way of who you are.

Paul Giamatti is simply an actor who never ceases to amaze me. From his breakthrough role as the anal-retentive watchdog station manager in "Private Parts" (he was one of the bigger surprises in that movie. The fact that he was passed over for an Oscar nod for this one (as well as "American Splendor" and "Cinderella Man") borderlines on criminal. On felony.

Thomas Hayden Church, who was pretty much just vaguely remembered for his stock idiot character Lowell, the mechanic on the one of the world's most generic sit-com, "Wings" simply rivets here. He’s eons ahead of Lowell and “Wings.”

As Jack, he has the charm of a stud who's about to peak, but doesn't realize and doesn't care. A serial philanderer, he is literally willing to cheat on his fiancée without second thought or guilt right before the wedding. He has a womanizer charm that doesn't seem lecherous or arrogant. We don't mind him cheating. In fact, we encourage it. Let's see where his libido might lead him. To pleasure, now, yes. But we all know it'll lead him into a hornet's nest eventually. And we're anxious to see how.

When the arrive at their destination, two women come into the picture. A waitress, Maya (Virgina Madsen) and a hostess, (Sandra Oh) come into the picture. We know they’re the ones who are going to put everything into play.

Sandra Oh, writer-director Payne's then-wife, moves us in a big way as one of the wine hostess who falls for Jack and his animal way. They wind up having a fast relationship and one of the most surprising moments comes when Miles realizes how fast their relationship is going. We know Jack is sticking his pride and joy into a hornet's nest and we want him to, because we know he'll have a blast and we'll do the same just watching. She isn't just a hottie, she has a wild spirit we'd all want to get into.

And Virgina Madsen (“The Rainmaker”) plays the kind of angel from above here on Earth, walking as a mortal that Miles seems to have been praying for. And when she's on screen, we all feel that Miles may be finally saved. And is there a chance someone like her will rush down at save us when we really need it?

The film owes a lot to the works of Albert Brooks of Woody Allen, where the most effective comedy and drama comes the ordinary plight of the human condition. It's the kind of movie where you keep thinking, "Yeah, this is life. This is so exactly true to life... right down to every last detail."

Co-writer-director Alexander Payne ("Election" and "About Schmidt") along with co-writer Rex Pickett have fashioned their screenplay in a natural true-to-life way all about the fascination of human nature. The ways of ordinary life--laughter, anger, frustration and brain candy--all translate to a cathartic experience for it's little characters as well as it' audience. Composer Rolfe Kent gives "Sideways" a light, loose jazzy score. Sometimes rocking. Not unlike the works of Ryan Shore. And Payne not only directs beautifully and passionately, but manages to get the right feel in every frame. We even identify with his slapstick scenes.

Like most of the population who saw "Sideways," I was relieved to see that the screenplay managed to walk off with nearly every honor for writing there was: The Oscar, the British Academy Award, the Golden Globe, the Independent Spirit Award, the New York Film Critic Circle Award. And it's cast got it's props as well. Speaking as someone who saw this movie as well as others that came out for '04, yeah.

One of those rare and precious years where the Academy actually got it right.

NOTE: This review is dedicated in loving memory to my grandfather, Arthur Benzie. He had a lot of Miles in him. A schoolteacher with a passion for the written word--especially the well-written word. Life was harder than for him than most and he always seemed frustrated that society was doing it's best to become intellectually sterile and eager to turn back mankind's long evolutionary process as quickly as possible.

It all got to him in a big way. Like Miles, he had a deep passion, an insight. For the highbrow and the savory. The man always appreciated a good drink.

And needed it more than he really should have.


by Dane Youssef


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A GLORIOUS VINTAGE. MAY IT AGE WELL

Posted : 9 years, 3 months ago on 1 September 2009 05:17 (A review of Sideways [2004])

by Dane Youssef


“Sideways” is one of those movies that seems to be made entirely for the scholarly and intellectual. The artsy, deep, hip and high-brow. Films about those people going through a turning point in their lives. Mid-life crisis’s and the like. And ones like this in paticular always seem to reap critical praise, a crowd of feverent fans and prestigious award nominations.

"Sideways" has one of those cool quirky titles that sounds really hip and grabs your attention. You know, it'll be an edgy movie. Like "Entourage," "Purgatory," "Angel Eyes" and the like. Something about "Sideways" says it's going to be different. Smarter. Sharper. In a word, better.

But unlike the title for the Johnny Depp-Winona Ryder vehicle "Finding Neverland," this one doesn't pretty much reveal the whole movie in with it's title. "Sideways" is about something--more than just moving in a different direction.

"Sideways" uses wine and wine country as a backdrop, yes, but the movie is about more than just the symbolism of wine and it's drinkers. It's essentially about people who are connected and realize how hard, brief and fragile life itself is and pursue happiness by any means necessary. And they're so true and worthy of it, we want them to find it and thus, assure we will find it ourselves.

It has the mixed feeling of life.

It’s stars, Miles Richmond and Jack Lopate have been buddy-buddy since their college dorm years. And have always been (and will be) total polar opposites. Miles is just a sad-sack neurotic nebbish with a bundle of neuroses that seem unwilling to disappear no matter how much therapy or medication he can get his hands on. His book won't get sold, his ex-wife is remarried (not that Miles was happy with her), he seems to be c [profanity removed] to death than life and he hasn't made an iota of the impact he wanted to.

Jack’s a less-than-successful actor who's most respected credit was a short-lived role on a soap opera years ago. Now his more recent stuff is the voice-over who mumbles the warning for the side effects from non-prescription meds near the end of the commercial. Jack is living an ideal life otherwise and Miles has seen better days. In fact, he's borderline suicidal--taking plenty of meds and alcohol himself, usually all at once. Jack is about to get married. He wants to go out to local wine country and bring Miles with him, and hopefully out of his funk.

Miles thinks and feels too much. He's been borderline suicidal for a while now and it's only getting worse. He was unhappy during his marriage which led to him giving his wife the perfect reason to end.

Jack is a self-satisfied animal who enjoys giving in to his baser animal instincts. Jack doesn't give so much as a damn about wine that's "just right." He only wants a drink. And the movie illustrates how that's exactly who he is. A total tomcat who enjoys being "on the edge" and flirting with danger, he sort of enjoys toeing the line. The most outrageous thing about Jack is he often gets off lighter than he should. We all root for Miles and idolize Jack.

Maybe a trip out to wine country is just what Miles needs. We all know some big things are about to happen over the course of this one week.

One of Miles' true passions that does bring him happiness in wine. The right wine. And with great wine, you have to know what you're talking about. You treat it as an art, as yourself. It's not like any other drug. It becomes a way of like, not only as art and a way of life, but as a way of who you are.

Paul Giamatti is simply an actor who never ceases to amaze me. From his breakthrough role as the anal-retentive watchdog station manager in "Private Parts" (he was one of the bigger surprises in that movie. The fact that he was passed over for an Oscar nod for this one (as well as "American Splendor" and "Cinderella Man") borderlines on criminal. On felony.

Thomas Hayden Church, who was pretty much just vaguely remembered for his stock idiot character Lowell, the mechanic on the one of the world's most generic sit-com, "Wings" simply rivets here. He’s eons ahead of Lowell and “Wings.”

As Jack, he has the charm of a stud who's about to peak, but doesn't realize and doesn't care. A serial philanderer, he is literally willing to cheat on his fiancée without second thought or guilt right before the wedding. He has a womanizer charm that doesn't seem lecherous or arrogant. We don't mind him cheating. In fact, we encourage it. Let's see where his libido might lead him. To pleasure, now, yes. But we all know it'll lead him into a hornet's nest eventually. And we're anxious to see how.

When the arrive at their destination, two women come into the picture. A waitress, Maya (Virgina Madsen) and a hostess, (Sandra Oh) come into the picture. We know they’re the ones who are going to put everything into play.

Sandra Oh, writer-director Payne's then-wife, moves us in a big way as one of the wine hostess who falls for Jack and his animal way. They wind up having a fast relationship and one of the most surprising moments comes when Miles realizes how fast their relationship is going. We know Jack is sticking his pride and joy into a hornet's nest and we want him to, because we know he'll have a blast and we'll do the same just watching. She isn't just a hottie, she has a wild spirit we'd all want to get into.

And Virgina Madsen (“The Rainmaker”) plays the kind of angel from above here on Earth, walking as a mortal that Miles seems to have been praying for. And when she's on screen, we all feel that Miles may be finally saved. And is there a chance someone like her will rush down at save us when we really need it?

The film owes a lot to the works of Albert Brooks of Woody Allen, where the most effective comedy and drama comes the ordinary plight of the human condition. It's the kind of movie where you keep thinking, "Yeah, this is life. This is so exactly true to life... right down to every last detail."

Co-writer-director Alexander Payne ("Election" and "About Schmidt") along with co-writer Rex Pickett have fashioned their screenplay in a natural true-to-life way all about the fascination of human nature. The ways of ordinary life--laughter, anger, frustration and brain candy--all translate to a cathartic experience for it's little characters as well as it' audience. Composer Rolfe Kent gives "Sideways" a light, loose jazzy score. Sometimes rocking. Not unlike the works of Ryan Shore. And Payne not only directs beautifully and passionately, but manages to get the right feel in every frame. We even identify with his slapstick scenes.

Like most of the population who saw "Sideways," I was relieved to see that the screenplay managed to walk off with nearly every honor for writing there was: The Oscar, the British Academy Award, the Golden Globe, the Independent Spirit Award, the New York Film Critic Circle Award. And it's cast got it's props as well. Speaking as someone who saw this movie as well as others that came out for '04, yeah.

One of those rare and precious years where the Academy actually got it right.

NOTE: This review is dedicated in loving memory to my grandfather, Arthur Benzie. He had a lot of Miles in him. A schoolteacher with a passion for the written word--especially the well-written word. Life was harder than for him than most and he always seemed frustrated that society was doing it's best to become intellectually sterile and eager to turn back mankind's long evolutionary process as quickly as possible.

It all got to him in a big way. Like Miles, he had a deep passion, an insight. For the highbrow and the savory. The man always appreciated a good drink.

And needed it more than he really should have.


by Dane Youssef


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