Tag Archives: Kevin Spacey

Moon: An Excellent Film, Period

Duncan Jones’ Moon, is already a sci-fi classic.

What I Remembered: I first saw Moon about a year after it was released. Being an occasional sci-fi viewer, I thought that the concept of it was intriguing. Furthermore, I find that when a science fiction film is good it can be very illuminating and reveal the true talent of the directors and actors in the film. After all, a well executed movie in that genre has to make a world that is not real or based on any historical or present context, feel real. So, with that in mind know nothing of the director, Duncan Jones, but having great respect for Sam Rockwell after seeing him in Matchstick Men, I was interested in seeing where the movie would go. I came away very impressed as it was not only expertly written, acted, and directed, but was filled with many insights and some tributes to classics like 2001. Having watched it again very recently, my esteem for it has only grown.

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The Story: Moon is set in the year 2035. A company known as Lunar Industries has been able to solve all of the Earth’s energy problems by sending astronauts to the Moon and mining a new energy source called Helium 3. In order to cut expenses, the company has developed a program of sending one astronaut at a time to the Moon, and having that astronaut stay there for a three year period. While on the Moon, the astronaut is responsible for mining the Helium 3 and then sending it to Earth in a space capsule. The astronauts live on a base that has been constructed on the far side of the moon.

As Moon opens, it is here that we meet Sam Bell (Rockwell). Sam is nearing the end of his three year rotation with Lunar Industries and is eager to get back to earth to his wife Tess, and their young daughter, Eve. He has presently lost the live feed that the company was sending him so his only contact with the outside world is through a series of prerecorded video messages. Most of these are from his family and keep him going. His only contact within the base is GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) an artificial intelligence who acts as a kind of caretaker to him. GERTY does everything from cutting Sam’s hair, to administering his medication, to preparing his meals, to even assessing his psychological well-being. As a result, GERTY is a great comfort to Sam.

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It is implied that the years of continual isolation have begun to take their toll, though. Sam has occasional hallucinations involving a teenage girl, treats the plants that he must tend to as if they’re people by giving them names like Katherine, and by his own admission, is concerned about how much he talks to himself. One morning when Sam has to leave the compound to go onto the lunar surface to fix a problem with the equipment that is used for mining he has an accident in his lunar rover and is rendered unconscious. He awakens some time later, back on the base with GERTY checking on him. Once Sam begins to recover from the accident he will come to learn some disturbing truths and come to realize that everything he thought he knew about his mission, his company, his family, and himself has been wrong.

Technical Details: On a technical level, Moon was almost flawless. Duncan Jones direction was pitch perfect. (It was hard to believe that this was his feature debut. But, after learning that he was the son of the now late and amazing, David Bowie, I was not surprised.) He created the atmosphere of isolation on the Moon with such realism and detail that it was almost awe inspiring. Moreover, he and Nathan Parker penned a top notch story and script. Additionally, Moon was well edited and paced as it moved along nicely with many unexpected twists and turns. Finally, the movie provided some wonderful insights about the dangers of isolation, and the questionable ethical practices that science can engage in in the name of bettering humanity.

Sam rockwell moonHowever without question, the lifeblood of Moon were Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey. Rockwell’s acting was phenomenal considering the fact that he was almost the only face seen throughout the entire piece and watching him never got boring. I was waiting with baited breath to see what he was going to do and what was going to happen next, which is no easy feat. This is a great credit to his enormous talent.

Similarly, although I only heard his voice, Kevin Spacey delivered a fine performance as GERTY. He was able to give this piece of artificial intelligence such a life and- for lack of a better word- a humanity that was endearing. Lastly, the fact that GERTY was the polar opposite of HAL in 2001, was a nice touch as well.

End Credits: Moon is an excellent film not just for its genre. It is an excellent film, period. If you like science fiction films, you’ll love it. If you appreciate great acting, you’ll probably love it, too. If you’re interested in world class film making the picture is a great lesson in how it is done. So, you should take a look at Moon if you have a chance. I highly doubt that you will be disappointed.

Throwback Review: The Negotiator

The Negotiator Review: Still a great film, 17 years later.

What I Remembered: I first saw The Negotiator approximately a year after it was released. Despite the fact, that it seemed to have a formidable cast based on its trailer which felt contrived, I was less than enthusiastic about seeing it. However, after a friend whose tastes were somewhat similar to mine recommended it, I decided to give it a shot. After starting it, I could not believe how wrong my initial impressions were. Furthermore, I thought that it was proof of how a poorly executed trailer can mislead an audience about the quality of a particular piece of cinema. What I found was an intriguing, skillfully put together movie, with very good acting and some exciting moments. Having watched it again recently my initial feeling has remained largely unchanged.
samuel L jackson the negotiator
The Story: The Negotiator stars Samuel L. Jackson as Danny Roman. Danny is a Chicago Police Department hostage negotiator and is quite adept at his job. This is made very clear during the opening scene of the film where he defuses a terribly dangerous situation involving a deranged man who will kill his young daughter unless his wife watches him commit suicide, by risking his own safety to end the situation without any loss of life. That evening while celebrating the successful operation as well as his chief’s birthday, Danny is told by his partner and best friend Nate (Paul Guilfoyle), that the latter been contacted by fellow police officer who is also an informant. The informant has told Nate that unnamed fellow officers in Danny’s precinct have been stealing money from the Chicago P.D. Disability Fund and that the chief of internal affairs may also be involved in the scheme. While at home after the party, Danny receives a page from Nate asking to meet him in a parking lot. When Danny arrives he finds Nate murdered with a gun shot wound to the head. Danny is then the prime suspect in Nate’s murder and the fraud and larceny that has taken place involving the Disability Fund. When it appears that he will be arrested, charged and most likely convicted with these crimes that he did not commit, Danny takes matters into his own hands in a drastic way.

Technical Details:  The Negotiator has many technical facets to it. F. Gary Gray provided some excellent direction and was able to capture the atmosphere of excitement, fear and mystery that pervaded the film in an excellent way. James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox wrote an excellent script with fully dimensional characters, some wonderful plot twists, and some very informative moments, like when Danny shows how you can tell when someone is lying. Furthermore, the movie’s pacing and editing were absolutely great as it moves along in a fast paced, dramatic way. Finally, the supporting cast were all top notch. This was especially the case with Paul Giamatti, David Morse, Ron Rifkin and the two late greats, John Spencer and J.T. Walsh.
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As good as the supporting cast was though, the two best performances in the piece were those of Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey as fellow hostage negotiator Chris Sabian. Both of these excellent actors were in their best form as they played each character with a tremendous amount of depth, sympathy and realism. Moreover, the chemistry and back and forth between the two of them was really fun to watch.

However, for all of its facets the picture did have some flaws. Namely, these were a few scenes between Danny and his wife that felt a little artificial and a couple of brief moments during the middle portion of the movie where Sam Jackson felt like he was slightly overacting. That being said, they didn’t diminish the quality of The Negotiator too much.

End Credits: Though it was released over seventeen years ago, The Negotiator is as good now as it was then. It has all of the mystery and suspense one would expect from a movie of its kind and is better than a lot of the movies like it that followed. Even though there are some moments in it that are not the best in the world, that doesn’t take away from all of the good aspects of it. So, if you want to kick back with a film for a couple of hours and want something exciting to see, try The Negotiator. I highly doubt that you will regret it.

Throwback Review: L.A. Confidential

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L.A. Confidential: Another Worthy Best Picture Nominee From Days Past

Opening Credits: Here we go again. It’s time to remember yet another great Best Picture Nominee, this one is from 1998. That film is L.A. Confidential, which was a noir/crime thriller movie directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce and is based upon the novel of the same name by James Elroy. It ended up nabbing two Academy Awards including one for Kim Basinger for Best Supporting Actress. It was beloved by critics and fans alike and after seeing it recently I can only agree with that declaration.

The Story: L..A. Confidential is set in 1950’s Los Angeles just after the infamous gangster Mickey Cohen has been imprisoned for federal income tax evasion, which has seemingly made L.A. safer. The film revolves around three officers in the L.A.P.D. who appear to have very little in common at first, but whose paths collide as the film progresses. They are Wendell “Bud” White (Russell Crowe) a plain clothes detective who is used as an enforcer that physically attacks criminals and has a particular affinity for beating up and jailing spousal and women abusers, but despite his aggressiveness tries to do what he believes to be morally right; Lieutenant Edmond Exley (Guy Pearce) the son of a well respected murdered L.A.P.D. detective who appears to have an incorruptible sense of duty and is highly ambitious; and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) a cynical, but cool customer who moonlights as a technical adviser on the fictional hit TV series, “Badge of Honor” and lovingly partakes in all of the perks that comes with the job. Another peripheral, but important character is Sid Hudgens (Danny Devito) a tabloid journalist for Hush-Hush magazine, a rag that documents all of the seedy goings on in L.A. and who serves as a sometime narrator throughout.
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From there it is kind of hard to give more of an overview of the plot. Not only because it is complex and intricately layered, but also because were I to recount most or even sum of the plot from here, it would give away key elements of the picture. (In fact, if you have not seen it or have not seen it in a while, I urge you not to look it up on Wikipedia because that excellent site gives a complete repetition of the entire story. Thus, destroying any need to see the actual film itself.) What I can tell you is that what gets spun is a yarn full of corrupt cops, vile mobsters, prostitutes made to look like the eras popular film stars (Kim Basinger is a Veronica Lake look alike) who service many of the most prominent men in the City of Angels, humorous moments that offset its dark undertones, some great, unforeseen developments that keep one guessing until the very end and a unique piece where some characters have good in them, but all have aspects that are bad.

What I remember: I did not see L.A. Confidential for years after it came out and received all of the accolades and praise it was so obviously due. This was partly because of the fact two of my friends whose opinions I hold in high regard did not like it after seeing it in the theater and so I wrote it off. (This was admittedly a huge mistake.) But, a few years later and desperate to see a new movie, I saw it with the same people at home and we all came away thinking that it was excellent. I think another reason for my lack of enthusiasm about seeing it was that at the 1998 Oscars it lost in almost every category to the melodramatic, way overrated and way over hyped Titanic. Seeing it now, I can’t believe that it was so over looked. This was another time where I asked, “What the hell was the Academy thinking?”
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Technical Details: L.A. Confidential is an excellent film. The script like the book is extremely well plotted with its mix of a fictional story blended together with real life events like the L.A.P.D.’s Bloody Christmas of 1951. It is well edited and moves along quickly. However, its most exemplary feature is the acting. Kevin Spacey as always is brilliant as he plays the corrupt non-sexual Hollywood groupie, Jack Vincennes. Guy Pearce is startlingly truthful as the gung ho Edmund Exley and Russell Crowe plays the damaged, but endearing Bud White so well its a little unsettling, and Kim Basinger is intriguing as a hooker with a heart of gold. It’s no wonder that the then unknown Pearce and Crowe would go on to have such prosperous careers after the movie.

Finally, the cinematography and atmospheric feel of it draw the viewer in from the get go. You can almost feel L.A. in the 1950’s in your bones when you see it depicted on screen.

End Credits:If you like good stories, good acting and just well put together movies in general you should give it another look. Seeing this movie is a pleasure that you would be loath to deny yourself.

Throwback Review: The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects- Twenty Years Later, It Still Stands Strong

With the 2014 Academy Award Nominations having been announced today and the awards themselves coming up on February 22, I thought that it would be fitting to take a look at some previous nominees from years past over the next couple of weeks. Most of the movies that will be reviewed were nominated for Best Picture in a particular year, but the focus this week is on one that strangely did not receive a Best Picture nom. The Usual Suspects.

Opening Credits:

The film is a 1995 neo noir crime thriller directed by Bryan Singer, written by Christopher McQuarrie and stars: Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak and Chazz Palminteri. Although it was snubbed for Best Picture honors it did win Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, both of which were richly deserved.

In fact, after seeing it recently, I can state without hesitation that nearly twenty years after its release it is still excellent and could stand proudly alongside any movie put out in 2015.

The Story:

Who Is Keyser Soze?
The film begins with the apparent murder of a criminal named Dean Keaton (Byrne) on a ship by an unknown assailant whose voice the viewer faintly hears. The ship is then destroyed in an explosion started by this same mysterious figure. The movie then jumps to a criminal named Verbal Kint (Spacey) being question by the Los Angeles Police Department about the previous evening’s crime (The explosion took place in Los Angeles.) as he and a severely burned, semi-conscious Hungarian gangster in critical condition at an L.A. hospital are the only survivors of the incident.

After his interrogation by the L.A.P.D. where it is revealed that he is extremely well connected and having only been charged with a misdemeanor, Kint is interviewed by customs agent Dave Kujan (Palminteri) throughout the film who is seeking to ascertain whether Keaton (A one time dirty New York Police Department officer who turned into a cold blooded killing criminal that Kujan has been investigating for years.) is actually dead as Kint claims he is.

Through flashbacks and voice over Kint describes to Kujan how the present situation came to be. He reveals that he and Keaton were part of a line up six weeks earlier with other hardcore felons Todd Hockney, (Pollak) McManus (Baldwin) and Fenster (Del Toro). They are questioned about the hijacking of a truck containing stolen gun parts, but there is not enough evidence to charge any of them with it.

When they are all together in the same cell after being interrogated, McManus hatches a plan to exact vengeance against the NYPD for their incarceration. Keaton, who seems to be trying to go straight due to his love for a high price attorney, wants nothing to do with the operation until he is convinced to do it by Kint when they are released.

The revenge scheme sees them rob a pair of corrupt NYPD cops of jewels and money as they are illegally transporting an unethical jeweler to Staten Island. The cops are part of a racket called “New York’s Finest Taxi Service,” which is run by many shady elements of the department. They escape with the money and diamonds while exacting humiliation on the NYPD by causing a terrible scandal.

The group travels to L.A. to a meet a fence named Redfoot (Peter Greene) who is going to sell the stolen diamonds and offers them a chance to rob a crooked jeweler named Saul Berg (Carl Bressler) for a substantial profit. The robbery goes awry when Saul and his bodyguards end up being killed and no diamonds are recovered or money found. After angrily questioning Redfoot, they are set up in a meeting with a British lawyer named Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaithe) who orchestrated the crime.

Kobayashi informs them that he works for the legendary and almost mythical criminal mastermind, Keyser Soze. Through exposition told by Kobayashi in the past and the Hungarian criminal who has barely woken in the present, it is revealed that Keaton, Kint, Hockney, Fenster and McManus all stole from Soze during previous offenses that they committed and that they have been ordered to stop a ninety-one million dollar cocaine deal on a ship a few nights later to erase their debt. In the present, it is disclosed by the Hungarian that the reclusive Soze was seen on the harbor that the ship was in the night that it exploded.

Kint, who was unaware of Soze prior to meeting Kobayashi, tells the tale that the others told him about the origins of Soze and the events that culminated in Kint being in his current predicament.

What follows is the movie’s conclusion and to arguably one of the most well thought out, brilliant plot twists in cinema history.

Technical Details:

The Usual Suspects is a magnificently executed piece of work. It is masterfully directed by Singer, (I still say this despite the recent horrendous misconduct that has been levied against him.) exquisitely written by McQuarrie, and superbly acted by everyone that appears in it. It also contains beautiful cinematography, great pacing, skilled editing and some of the funniest and best dialogue of all time. In short, I can’t find a single thing wrong with it.

End Credits:

To put it plainly, The Usual Suspects is a new classic masterpiece. It keeps you enthralled and excited to the very end. I was blown away when I first saw this in the mid nineties and nearly twenty years later, it still holds up quite strongly. So, check it out if you haven’t seen it. I doubt that you will be disappointed.