Category Archives: 90’s Movies

Flirting with Disaster (1996)

flirting with disaster

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Biological versus adoptive parents.

Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller) is a middle-aged man on a mission. He wants to find out who his biological parents are and is willing to travel the country to find them. His wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) isn’t too happy about being dragged along and his adoptive parents Ed and Pearl (George Segal, Mary Tyler Moore) find his journey to be an insult to them. He uses the aid of part-time adoption agent Tina (Tea Leoni) to try and locate them, but her help only proves to lead him to a lot dead ends.

With the exception of Leoni the three female leads are good. Lily Tomlin has a funny moment as she tries to talk down the Richard Jenkins character from a LSD trip. Moore is fantastic playing a takeoff of her rigid mother role from Ordinary People. Every scene that she is in is hilarious and had she been in a few more she could have easily stolen the film. She wears a short reddish haircut and at times looks amazingly like Carol Burnett. Although she is not all that amusing Arquette is also quite good simply because she is the most believable of all the characters. Jenkins and James Brolin also have their moments as a bickering gay couple and Brolin’s arm pit fetish is great. It is also nice to see Stiller actually doing some acting instead of just playing a dull, average guy that simply reacts to all the zaniness around him, which is what he seems to pretty much do in most of his other films.

However, the movie seems more focused on being offbeat than it does in actually being funny. There is a great deal more misses than hits and the ones that do hit aren’t exactly uproarious. Leoni’s character adds little to the proceedings and her propensity at constantly leading Mel to the wrong people gets old pretty fast. There is also a glaring goof where Segal and Moore end up driving off with Tomlin and Alan Alda’s car since both couples drive the same make and model vehicle. Yet somehow they are able to use their OWN keys to start up the other car and even get into the other car’s trunk, which would not be possible.

This film could best be summed up as being the ‘sophomore jinx’ for writer/director David O. Russell since his first feature Spanking the Monkey was quite original as was his third one I (Heart) Huckabees. This film though tends to be over-the-top absurd without having any message or point to it.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 22, 1996

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: David O. Russell

Studio: Miramax

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Denise Calls Up (1995)

denise calls up 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends over the phone.

This is a highly original offbeat comedy dealing with a group of young urbanites living in New York who become friends over the phone, but never meet in person. There is Martin (Dan Gunther) who donates some of his sperm to a sperm bank and then gets a call from Denise (Alanna Ubach) who was impregnated with it and now calls to tell him he is the new father. Gail (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) tries to play matchmaker with Jerry (Live Schreiber) and Barbara (Caroleen Feeney) with the help of her former boyfriend Frank (Tim Daly). Linda (Aida Turturro) and Sylvia Miles as Gail’s nutty Aunt round it out.

The best thing about the film is that all the characters are very real and it makes concise observations on the young upwardly mobile Generation X. All of them possess a myriad of contradictions, insecurities, and neuroses just like people you know in real-life. They are technology savvy, but seem to hide behind it like it is a security blanket. The more options that they are given to communicate with more people the more isolated they become not only from the world around them, but from themselves as well.

I especially got a kick out of the Barbara character because I dated women who were just like her. She is interested in meeting Jerry and seems to like him, but every time he tries to move the relationship forward she backs away and then when he pulls away she goes on the offensive again. She reminded me of what a marriage counselor friend once told me for how he had managed to stay married for so long, which was ‘let them always think they are in control and also let them think that they have won every argument.’

The film is filled with many uniquely humorous scenes as well as sharp dialogue that are quite funny. My favorite part is when all the characters get on a conference call in order to offer support and give advice to Denise during her delivery.

Director Hal Salwen does a great job of keeping things visually interesting. I loved the extremes close-ups of some of the characters mouths as they spoke as well as the back drop of Jerry’s cluttered cramped apartment and the variety of settings that Denise is in when she calls Martin. Salwen was considered an up-and-coming director at the time, but has only done two other features since, which were quite original as well, but he really needs to do more.

Although in my mind I still consider the 90’s to be relatively recent I was really amazed to see how much the technology has changed since this was made. The phones are big and bulky and still require the use of a little antenna for reception. There was no such thing as the internet and faxes were used to send grainy black and white pictures. In some ways this makes it kind of fun to see how things have evolved, but unfortunately it hurts the film a bit because it gives this otherwise hip story a sort of dated look and feel.

The film also allows for a great chance to see young talented stars at the start of their careers. Ubach with her very expressive face is a standout and looks almost exactly like Donna Pescow. Miles is predictably hammy especially with the way she delights in describing the morbid graphic detail of the death of one of the characters that dies when she talks on the phone while driving.

Spoiler Alert!

The only real complaint I had with the movie is the ending when Frank decides to hold a New Year’s Eve party and invites everyone over to his place so they can meet, but everyone finds an excuse at the last minute not to show up. When one of the characters does arrive and rings his doorbell he decides not to let them in. To me this proves to be a bit false especially for a film that was so otherwise on-target. I get the idea that their laptops and phones are their cocoon and they can only function halfway normally when they hide behind them, but still everyone has to get out sometimes and deal with people in person. In my opinion a better way to have ended it would have been to have them get together, but have it be awkward and uncomfortable for all of them. Then have it cut to 5 years later and show how all of them have remained close friends, but still just over the phone.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1995

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Hal Salwen

Studio: Dark Matter Productions

Available: VHS

Cadillac Man (1990)

cadillac man2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Car salesman versus gunman.

A jilted husband (Tim Robbins) goes off the deep end and with rifle in hand takes over a car dealership where he threatens to kill everybody inside. It’s up to Joey (Robin Williams) a quick-on-his-feet car salesman to use his ‘people skills’ to get everyone out of the predicament.

Outside of a funny opening funeral procession bit, the first thirty minutes are pretty dull. Too much time is spent on Joey’s interactions with friends and family members that are not funny or interesting. In fact the majority of the film seems more like a drama dealing with the daily stresses of life than it does a comedy. When the gunman first breaks into the dealership it is quite intense and even a bit horrific. The film does eventually catch its stride, but it all seems kind of transparent by the end. There is nothing to really distinguish this film from all the rest, which probably explains why it has pretty much been ignored. In many ways it seems very similar to Dog Day Afternoon.

However, I did like that everything is kept on a realistic and plausible level with dialogue and characters that are quite believable. Robbins makes for an engaging gunman and once the film settles into the hostage crisis there are a few genuinely funny moments. Fran Drescher’s pet poodle is memorable and one of the best pet performers I’ve seen.

If you are looking for a passable time-filler then this film has enough comedy and good moments to make it worth it, but it’s nothing more than that. Williams is energetic as always and it’s interesting to see him juggle both a comedy and drama here. It is also worth catching just to see Robbins in his breakout role.

cadillac man1

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Donaldson

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Cry-Baby (1990)

cry baby 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Greasers are cool.

Director John Waters films, which are sometimes referred to as ‘an exercise in bad taste’, are indeed an acquired taste.  Some label his films from the late 60’s and early 70’s like; Mondo-Trasho, Pink Flamingoes, and Female Trouble to be tasteless, exploitative, and trashy. Yet those films also have a very fervent following. I for one found them to be perversely brilliant.  However, when Waters decided to ‘sell-out’ and go more mainstream Hollywood, his stuff became too toned-down. The humor lost all of its edge. The original Hairspray that came out in 1988 was a particular disappointment. It seemed like nothing more than a stretched out sitcom with musical numbers.  This film, which came out two years later, does only slightly better.

The setting is a 1950’s Baltimore High School that has an intense rivalry between the leather jacket wearing, motorcycle riding ‘greasers’ and the more refined All-American clique. The lightweight story  follows a young, clean-cut girl (Amy Locane) who secretly longs to go out with the head of the greasers (played by Johnny Depp), but can’t due to her social standing.

If the film does anything right it is the fact that, in typical John Waters style, everything gets played up to the extreme.  The ‘model’ students are really snobby and annoying and the animosity between the cliques is strong. However, I couldn’t help but feel that there was a certain grain of truth to all this especially in that era where ones ‘reputation’, whether it be good or bad, was taken more seriously than it may be today. I thought the casting of Locane in the lead was perfect.  She has an appealing, girl-next-door face and her hidden feelings of wanting to venture out of her repressive social role are certainly relatable.  I also loved Depp in the male lead role. He is a gifted actor, but sometimes he seems to take himself too seriously, so it was fun seeing him ham it up. Female viewers may also like the fact that there is an extended scene where he is shown wearing nothing but his underwear.

The casting of the supporting actors is equally inspired if not incredibly quirky.  Polly Bergen gets what might by her finest role in her long, but modest career. Here she plays Locane’s very rigid, upstanding Mother that ends up loosening up a bit in amusing fashion.  Joe Dallesandro and Joey Hetherton are a hoot as an extremist religious couple.  David Nelson and Patty Hearst (yes, the same one that was kidnaped in the 70’s) are equally funny as the surbanites.  Waters veteran Mink Stole has a bit playing the most entertaining iron lung victim since Jose Ferrer played one in The Big Bus.  Kudos must also go out to Kim Holden who sports one of the most hilariously ugly faces since Cloris Leachman’s Nurse Diesel character from High Anxiety. The only mistake here is that they didn’t make the Holden character a villain, which they should’ve in order to really play it up.

Some of the comedy does have its moments.  I liked the part where parents go to an adoption agency and ‘shop’ for children who are set up like mannequins in a display window. The climactic car chase sequence in which the rival gang leaders play the infamous game of ‘chicken’ while riding on the roofs of their cars only to end up crashing into an actual chicken coop, is good. The rest of the film though is too silly and cartoonish without the outrageousness of Water’s earlier films.

The story is also too pedestrian without offering any new insight or perspective.  The characterizations are over-the-top broad and the whole thing ends up being vapid and forgettable despite a few chuckles here and there.  There are also some musical numbers in this, but the songs all sound alike.  The dance routines are dull and unimaginative, looking like they were done without a choreographer present.

Waters earlier work is still far better as it was independent film-making at its purest. Those films also starred Divine who is sorely missed here (she died a few years before). Of course any film that has Susan Tyrrell in it, arguably the most eccentric actress to ever grace the screen, gets a few more points, but not enough to save it.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 6, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: John Waters

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

I Can Make You Love Me (1993)

stalking laura 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stalking is his passion.

To any true film fan TV-Movies have always been considered vastly inferior to the theatrical kind and I would be the first to agree.  However, there is one area where they can shine and that is in their depictions of true-life crimes. Mainly this is because they give it more time as they are usually shown in two parts over consecutive nights.  Also, their lower budgets worked better in recreating the docu-drama style.

Over the years there have been some classics in this area that have helped bring substance to the headlines as well as a better understanding of the victims, the perpetrators and the investigation. Some of the best that I would suggest would be Helter Skelter (1976) starring the Emmy-award winning Steve Railsback as Charles Manson.  The Deliberate Stranger (1986) with Mark Harmon as serial killer Ted Bundy.  There is also Deadly Intentions (1985), A Death in California (1984) with Cheryl Ladd as a woman who falls in love with her rapist, and my personal favorite Fatal Vision (1984) about the infamous Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald.

This film deals with the case of Richard Farley (Richard Thomas) that helped develop California’s first anti-stalking laws. Farley was a pudgy, middle-aged man who worked as a computer programmer at a company named ESL in Sunnyvale, California in 1984.  He had been there for 9 years and had no criminal record, but became unhinged when he met an attractive 23- year- old new employee named Laura Black (Brooke Shields).  He began to follow her around constantly as well as sending her gifts and love letters on a daily basis.  When she refused his advances he became even more persistent.  This continued for 4 years until, through his obsession, he ended up losing his job, his house, and his entire life savings, but his stalking continued. Black finally filed a restraining order against him, which sent him into a rage.  He armed himself with an array of guns, stormed the company and shot seven employees including Black, who managed to survive.

Unlike some of the previous movies that I mentioned above, this film did not get the two-part treatment.  Everything that happened gets crammed into 95 minutes, which makes a lot of it seem rushed.  Although the events took place over a four year period, the movie gives you the impression that it was just a few quick months. For the sake of time the film seems to leave certain interesting facts out, which is a shame.  For instance, in real-life Farley actually stood in front of Black’s house for hours going through every conceivable combination on her garage door opener until he was finally able to crack it.  There are also certain things that Farley expressed to Black through his letters that he ends up telling verbally to her here, which causes some of the dialogue to seem awkward.

The film was also not given much of a budget.  It was filmed on a grainy, videotape type of film stock that looks like it was done on somebody’s camcorder.  The story took place in California and yet for whatever reason it ended up being filmed in Topeka, Kansas and the differences in the landscapes are obvious and even a bit disconcerting.

Where the film really seems to come together is during the final 30 minutes where it recreates the office shooting. This sequence is well choreographed and makes you feel like you are right there.  The conversations that Farley has with the negotiator during these scenes are revealing.  I was confused after reading the accounts of the incident as to why Farley would have only shot Black once (in the shoulder) and then allowed her to escape.  Apparently, through his conversations with the negotiator, this was his intention.  He only wanted to injure her and then force her to survive so she would have to live with the ‘guilt’ of having ‘caused’ this by refusing to go out with him.

Another big selling point is the performances of the two leads. Richard Thomas as Farley is astounding.  He does not resemble the actual Farley, but makes up for it with a convincing portrayal that leaves a lasting impression. Shields is excellent as well. Normally I never gave her much credit in the past, but found a new appreciation for her acting ability here.  She does an especially good job during the scenes where she is shot and trying to escape.  It seemed like she was genuinely stressed and in real pain.

Another thing I liked here is that the character of Laura Black is portrayed as being very determined, resourceful, and strong.  She had to struggle with the company about this matter as initially they sided with Farley and was convinced that she must have ‘lead him on’. I felt it was a testament to her strength that she continued to keep working at the company and was still working there five years later when this film was made.

If you find true-life crimes to be intriguing and enjoy seeing them recreated to help your understanding of them, then TV-movies are you best source for this type of genre.  I felt that this case, with its myriad of psychological implications, was no different.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1993

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Alternate Title: Stalking Laura

Not Rated

Director: Michael Switzer

Studio: Leonard Hill Films

Available: DVD

The Idiots (1998)

the idiots 2

By Richard Winters 

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: This is so retarded.

The Idiots is another shocking, controversial, and highly original work from filmmaking maverick Lars Von Trier.  This one involves a group of disenchanted people in their 20’s and 30’s, who decided to rebel from society by acting like they are mentally retarded.

Although certainly not in the best of taste, there are some funny bits here. The comedy works well because amidst all of the outrageousness it is also very revealing about human nature. One of the best segments involves an affluent couple who wish to purchase a large, upscale home.  As they are touring the place they are informed that a group of ‘retards’ live next door. The couple put on the politically correct facade by saying that wouldn’t be a problem even though their facial expressions say otherwise.  When the group pretending to be retarded pays them a visit the couple quickly runs off.  Another funny part, which may actually be the most outlandish of the whole film, involves a group of tough, tattooed bikers who help in very graphic fashion one of the group members pretending to be mentally handicapped go to the bathroom. The group’s visit to a factory is also hilarious.

The majority of the film though is actually quite serious and yes, even thought provoking. Von Trier does a good job of analyzing things from different angles while supplying no easy answers. It was interesting how the group mocks society for all of their rules and customs and yet when one of their own members starts to act erratic they tie him to a bed and refuse to free him until he ‘settles down’, thus proving that even they themselves need certain rules of behavior in order to function even if they don’t want to admit it.  Some other strong dramatic scenes involve the father of one of the members who tries taking his daughter from the group and back home with him.  There is also a revealing segment involving one of the members who decides to ‘drop back into society’ and return to his job as a college professor despite the protests from the other members.  The group also comes into direct contact with people who are actually mentally handicapped and how each of them responds to this is fascinating.

The characters are nicely fleshed out.  All of them show distinct personalities and evolve in interesting ways as the film progresses. Karen (Bodil Jorgenson) acts as they catalyst.  She comes upon the group by chance and acts as a sort of ‘conscience’ for the film.  Initially she is shocked and confused by the group’s behavior, but because she is stuck in an unhappy relationship and grieving the recent death of her son, she decides to tag along. Eventually she starts to see the benefits of ‘spassing out’ which is the group’s term for ‘finding your inner idiot’.

I liked how the film challenges the concept of true rebellion and shows how complex the fabric of society really is. Everyone would like to ‘drop-out’ at certain times and there is even a need for it, but finding the right place can be complicated. I have often felt that the true nonconformist is either living on the streets, is in prison, or a mental institution and the film pretty much comes to this same conclusion, but without advocating ‘fitting-in’ with the establishment as the answer either.

My complaints for the film centers mainly on the over use of the hand-held camera, which tends to get distracting after a while and gives the film a needless amateurish feel. I know with Von Trier’s ‘Dogma 95′ manifesto the hand-held camera is a major factor, but I think he could back off a little with it. There is also a ‘gross-out’ segment at the end where the group member’s start to drool out their chewed up food, which I found completely disgusting especially the way the camera captures it in close-up. The pacing is pretty good, but it does drag a little at times and I felt the film went on about twenty-five minutes too long.

Obviously this is a film that will not appeal to everyone and in fact I would say that the majority of people may find it off-putting.  That doesn’t mean it is a bad film because I think it is a pretty good one and I liked it overall.  However, what makes it a good film is the fact that it works off of its own vision and makes no compromises in doing so.  For most viewers especially American audiences who are used to a ‘mass-appeal’ approach to film-making, this type of concept may not connect. 

the idiots 3

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1998

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lars Von Trier

Studio: Zentropa Entertainments

Available: VHS, DVD

Antonia and Jane (1991)

antonia and jane 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends aren’t always friends.

Jane (Imelda Staunton) is a depressed single woman slipping into middle-age and jealous of her lifelong friend Antonia (Saskia Reeves) who she feels is prettier and gets all the breaks. Jane pours her thoughts out to her therapist (Brenda Bruce), but the twist is that Antonia sees the same therapist and is having the same problems only in reverse as she is jealous of Jane. The first half-hour looks at things from Jane’s point-of-view while the second half shows it from Antonia’s.

The element that really makes this movie so enjoyable is the cutaways. Everything talked about during their sessions is recreated visually. These recreations are all quite funny. Some of my favorites are when Jane talks about a trip to Canada and we see her pushing over a tall pine tree with one hand. There is also the segment where Antonia’s 10-year-old son gives a raunchy stand-up comedy routine to his friends during his birthday party. The part where the two find themselves trapped in an old French war movie complete with them speaking fluid French and subtitles is quite creative as is the many different and colorful outfits that the two wear each year when they get together for their annual visit with the other.

Somehow friendships between females are quite different than the ones of their male counterparts. Harbored jealousies and insecurities seem to always lurk beneath the surface no matter how ‘happy’ their facades and this film explores them with biting and accurate detail as well as showing how skewed people’s perspectives can sometimes be. I also found myself digging the name Antonia and wondered why we don’t hear more women named that so…

Memo to all young couples and parents to be: Let’s get a few more  Antonias out there and a few less Ashleys. Thank You.

The Howard character played by Bill Nighy is also quite amusing. Jane meets him at an art exhibit where he displays big blown-up black and white photographs of twenty-four different naked rear-ends. The two go down the line and analyze each and every one, which in a strange way I thought was kind of interesting. I also got a kick out of the way he asks Jane out on a date.

Howard: Are you involved in a long-term monogamous mutually self-absorbed sexual relationship?

Jane: No.

Howard: Me neither.

In an effort to keep the quirkiness going the two women characters sometime do strange things that at times makes them hard to relate to and is the film’s only real weakness. For instance Antonia tells Jane that she is having an affair with Jane’s husband and Jane becomes very supportive of it and attends their wedding even though most people would probably want to kill their friend if they told them that and the unfaithful husband to boot. There is another scene where Antonia meets a stranger at a theater and goes back to his place for sex and even allows herself to get tied up during some kinky bondage games, which most viewers will consider being too reckless and putting oneself into too vulnerable a position with someone they don’t even know.

Usually films that seemed obsessed with tying everything together get overdone and annoying, but here the ironies are hilarious and become funnier as it goes along. Strangely it is the very end where the film loses it flamboyance and instead gives us a nice, simple scene of genuine human affection that leaves the strongest impact in this very offbeat and entertaining gem.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 2, 1991

Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes

Rated R

Director: Beeban Kidron

Studio: Miramax

Available: VHS

Exotica (1994)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Obsessed with a stripper.

This is a fascinating and engrossing character study interweaving different characters and stories together until they become one. Bruce Greenwood plays Francis an accountant who frequents a strip bar and becomes fixated on a particular dancer named Christina (Mia Kirshner). Elias Koteas is the club D.J. who notices this obsession and becomes jealous since he at one time had a relationship with her. Thomas (Don Mckellar) is the nebbish pet shop owner who has a secret as well as a key between the three.

This is thoroughly compelling stuff that’s impossible to predict. The characters are believable, exposing traits you just don’t see in them at the start. Much like people you’d meet and get to know in real life each scene becomes like a piece to the puzzle.

Director Atom Egoyan may be a little too obsessed with tying everything together taking the final scene one step too far. Yet he still creates an interesting subtext. He seems to show how interconnected we all are to one another and how we can relate on different levels. The simple fact that we are human connects us no matter how ‘disconnected’ we may feel or be.

The sex club atmosphere is also taken from a different angle. He shows a much more complex and psychological motive behind it and how sex is only one element in it.

Like with Egoyan’s other films this thing is filled with a lot of philosophical banter and is quite humorless with a tendency to be a bit ‘heavy’. However, unlike The Sweet Hereafter it keeps moving and doesn’t get completely bogged down in it.

On the technical end the lighting is too washed out. The music selection is good, but oppressive. Overall though the film achieves what it wants too. It keeps your attention and remains thought provoking throughout.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 16, 1994

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Atom Egoyan

Studio: Miramax

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Happiness (1998)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Happiness can be elusive.

Sharply tuned, interweaving group of vignettes all pertaining to that elusive paradox known as happiness. Jane Adams plays the single woman who is never able to find Mr. Right. Then when she thinks she does he turns into very much of a Mr. Wrong. Louise Lasser and Ben Gazzara, who are in what is probably the funniest segment, play an older couple whose marriage has lost its zing. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in another dynamic performance, plays the composite nerd who gets off on giving obscene phone calls. Then there’s Camryn Manheim a woman everyone overlooks, but shouldn’t because she holds a dangerous secret.

There are times when this otherwise good film tries to be a little too hip and trendy, which doesn’t help. Although the characters are quite interesting in their eccentricities, they never seem to interact with each other like real people even if they are a little strange. In the case of Lara Flynn Boyle her affected way of talking becomes quite annoying.

On the whole though this film is quite compelling and has moments that really pack a punch. Although billed as a dark comedy it is really more of a drama. In the case of the affluent psychiatrist (Dylan Baker), who has a sexual penchant for his young son’s friend, it becomes downright unsettling and disturbing.

Yet it is the inner angst of these characters and how they deal with modern daily life that truly is what hits home. These people are complex and at times very confused with themselves. They are socially and sexually dysfunctional. They may, despite your reluctance, remind you or your own friends, co-workers, and family or even yourself. It truly shows how fragmented our society is and even gives us a hint as to why. After all how can one connect with someone else when they are so disconnected with themselves?

This is, as a whole, a great movie. It has scenes and characters that will stay with you long after it is over. However, only a select few will really enjoy it. Namely those who enjoy seeing things torn down and then exposed for what they really are.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1998

Runtime: 2Hours 14Minutes

Rated R

Director: Todd Solondz

Studio: Good Machine

Available: DVD

American Movie (1999)

american movie

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs a life.

Supposedly this is a documentary about all the troubles a young would-be filmmaker has trying to film a low budget independent movie. In actuality it is the rather stark portrait of how elusive the American dream is to the low income citizen and yet how hard they still dream for it. It creates a truly absurd scenario of desperation that could only work if it was real and not the work of fiction.

The film is tightly woven without the extraneous footage one usually finds with most documentaries. We are given a well-rounded look at these people and feel like we know them. There is some question as to whether these subjects are shown so we can learn something from it or just to laugh at them, but either way it is thoroughly engrossing.

Mark Borchardt, the would-be director, is definitely the main attraction. He talks with a heavy Wisconsin accent and is the quintessential ‘pothead’. He is a man, who by his own admission spent his entire adolescence drinking and partying. Now that he must get serious about life, he resists by clinging onto his movie making dreams. His movie idea is uninspired slasher film stuff that is taken from other more successful films. He hopes to duplicate that success and thus ride it’s coattails out of his otherwise woeful existence. He is as empty headed as he looks and sounds. Yet he still puts on a mighty song and dance. He is like an aggressive used car salesman, dishonest politician and ranting street preacher who talks a lot, but says little.

He is surrounded by equally interesting people. You have his Swedish accented mother who passively supports her son in his endeavors, yet reluctantly admits he has no chance. Then there’s cantankerous frail, old Uncle Bill. He is a man who doesn’t talk much, but when he does make a peep it is a doozy. You also have a rather touching bond between Mark and his best friend Mike. A fellow ‘pothead’ who looks and sounds like he is barely functional, yet still assists his friend in all his filmmaking problems even though he himself really isn’t that interested in it.

This thing is literally amazing from start to finish. A few of the gems include: the many, many takes they have to do before old Uncle Bill can say one line of simple dialogue correctly. Then there’s the would-be director himself, who works part time as a custodian at a cemetery, describing his ‘profound’ experience at cleaning up a clogged, messy toilet. There’s even a near comatose friend Mike who breaks out and gives the shrillest special effects scream you will ever hear.

If you like to view people just being themselves then this slice of life comes highly recommended.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 11, 1999

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Chris Smith

Studio: Bluemark Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video