The feature directing debut of Dan Harris, the scriptwriting wunderkind behind X2 and a batch of upcoming superhero flicks (from Superman to The Fantastic Four), Imaginary Heroes is a breathtakingly assured piece of work. Notable are the shimmering cinematography and unusually nuanced performances from both veteran actors we tend to take for granted and several fresh, younger faces. It starts off with Matt Travis (Kip Pardue), a high school swimming legend who always hated swimming and so shoots himself in the head one night. Although we only really see him in retrospect, talked about in narration by his younger brother, Matt (Emile Hirsch), it's quickly obvious that Matt was the shining star of the family and so everything quickly goes to pot in his absence. The dad (Jeff Daniels) collapses into an unshaven, sullen drunk, and the sister (Michelle Williams) dashes back to the safe haven of college. Matt - the film's closest thing to a protagonist - buries everything deep, hiding all emotions from his best friend Kyle (Ryan Donowho) and girlfriend, breaking up with her after she keeps asking how he's feeling and why his body is covered in bruises.
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Heat is the instantly gripping tale of a large-scale heist leader and die-hard loner named Neil McCauley (De Niro). As the film opens, he and his team of brutal, precision thieves (including Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore) knock over (literally) an armored car for a stash of bearer bonds. On the case is Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), a troubled, angst-ridden veteran of the LAPD. Over the course of the film, McCauley and Hanna develop a strange sort of kinship, even as McCauley's crimes increasingly raise the stakes and Hanna's efforts to stop him become more and more desperate.
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Why watch? Because despite its flaws, The Untouchables is a magnificent movie about political clout -- a worthy subject that Hollywood's rarely bothered to tackle and usually gets wrong. Clout isn't bribing a police chief with a briefcase full of hundred-dollar bills; it's making sure the police chief's son gets a cushy job at your concrete firm, thereby ensuring you're the low bidder on sidewalk contracts. Clout isn't hiring hit men to off your worst enemy and toss him in a ditch; it's buying drinks for a high school buddy who works at the county assessor's office who just happens to find so many structural problems with your enemy's grocery store that he's forced to close shop and leave town. Those aren't events in The Untouchables, but they echo the kind of emotional noise that David Mamet's script makes - it's a revenge fantasy for any person who wondered why they had to suck up to their alderman or local ward heeler just to get their trash picked up on time. Clout isn't muscle - it's clever muscle. And The Untouchables understands that cleverness.
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Pushing Tin is actually a droll, relatively lifeless look at the crazy-wacky lives of two rival air traffic controllers (Cusack and Thornton), neither of whom you'll actually like very much nor care about.
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What a surprise.
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But movies like The Spanish Prisoner, Things Change, and The Winslow Boy display a roundness to Mamet's innate abilities. And it's almost a crime to witness how all of that goes awry in his latest film, Heist.
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