American History X (1998)

american-history-x-1998Directed By: Tony Kaye

Written By: David McKenna

Starring: Edward Furlong and Edward Norton

Nominated for 1 Academy Award (Best Actor)

I apologize for my lack of posting. Finals are coming to an end, so things should be back to normal.

And you thought that racism was a thing of the past…

After losing their father to murder by an African American man, Derek Vinyard (Norton) decides to get involved in a neo-nazi skinheads in Venice, California. The skinheads essentially hate everyone that it is not white. After Derek is given 3 years in prison for a triple homicide of three black men, his brother, Danny (Furlong), attempts to continue his legacy and joins the skinheads himself. After thinking that his brother will come back proud of him, there is an obvious change of heart that his brother experienced in prison. He is suddenly not so supportive of the skinheads and their message. Danny’s principal, Bob Sweeney (Brooks) gets involved and the story turns into a thrilling mess.

The story written by producer David McKenna is flawless. With how fantastic the script is, it shocks me that McKenna has written no other major titles. This film was by far the biggest snub at the Oscars in 1998. The headline was Saving Private Ryan not winning, but when nominations were announced the headline was American X not getting nominated. This was disappointing, but not particularly surprising. A more recent Oscar-snub comparison for American History X is Drive. Just like American History X, Drive only received one nomination, which was just the Academy’s way of saying, “great movie, but we’re too conservative to encourage you.” Being a huge fan of the Academy, I hate having to say things like that, but when movies like American History X and Drive are not nominated, they leave me no choice. McKenna’s snub was perhaps the biggest one of all. The idea and execution were fantastic and he did not only deserve to be nominated, but to take home the golden trophy as well.

Edward Norton in American History X

Edward Norton in American History X

Edward Norton is very hit or miss with me. I can’t deny that I am mainly a fan of educated actors (i.e. Matt Damon, Will Smith) and not a fan of uneducated ones (i.e. most Hollywood actors). Knowing that Norton studied history at Yale automatically increased my interest in him. What I’ve found is that there are times that there is no denying his brilliance (i.e. Fight Club, The Illusionist), but at other times he is simply obnoxious (i.e. The Italian Job, The Incredible Hulk). With that being said, American History X is by far the best work of his. He drives the movie through every scene and the film would truly be different with out him. Aside from Norton, everyone, especially Furlong, is at their best. To make a film that will stick with you for hours after viewing, filmmakers need the best out of every actor involved, and that is what they got with American History X.

Maybe it makes the film even better that the director, Tony Kaye, has not worked on any major projects since American History X. He brings a style of direction that viewers are not used to seeing, and it only adds to the brilliance of the film.

Whether it be the capturing story, the world-class performances, or the fantastically original directing, American History X succeeds in tapping into viewers emotions, and spitting them out feeling different than they were when they entered.

IMDb: 8.6/10 (#33 on the top 250)

Rotten Tomatoes: 82/100

Metacritic: 62/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 90/100

Jackie Brown (1997)

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Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, and Robert De Niro

Nominated for 1 Academy Award (Supporting Actor)

The unquestionably strange follow-up to one of the greatest films of all time, Pulp Fiction, is Jackie Brown. A heist thriller that features 6 people all competing for a $500,000 sum. The rightful owner of the cash is Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson), an illegal arms dealer that has his money kept in a deposit box in Mexico. Brining money back from Mexico is difficult for a criminal, which is where a flight attendant at a Mexican airline, Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), comes in. After she is stopped by a noble police officer (Michael Keaton), she agrees to help the police catch Ordell in return for keeping her job as a flight attendant. After her release from prison, she meets a bail bondsman on the verge of retirement (Robert Forster), who immediately falls into the arms of Jackie’s plan. A secretly intelligent beach bunny that lives with Ordell in Harmossa Beach (Bridget Fonda) makes her attempts at the cash. The most ambiguous character in the film, is Louis, a fresh-out-the-joint bank robber, who agrees to help Ordell get his cash back.

Maybe it was the reviews that called the film “slow paced” and “a disappointment”, or maybe I was afraid of this film changing my view on Quentin Tarantino as one of my favorite directors of all time. Whatever the reason was, Jackie Brown was one of the two Tarantino movies that I had not seen (the other being Death Proof). My expectations were still relatively high, but I was not expecting it to be up to the standards that I have grown to expect when I see a Quentin Tarantino film.

While Jackie Brown does have its issues, its slow-paced nature is not one of them. If its slow-paced nature showed viewers anything, it was that Quentin Tarantino has the potential to craft a sophisticated film. Instead of Tarantino pounding every scene with more action, he crafts every scene, which leads to a thrilling conclusion. There are signs of sophistication in all of Quentin’s films that took place before and after the release of Jackie Brown, but his ability to craft the story of Jackie Brown makes his film making intelligence shine.

The biggest flaw that I found with Jackie Brown was its lack of ambition. Tarantino runs on ambition.. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1/2, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained are some of the most ambitious films of the modern era. I don’t know what happend with Jackie Brown, but the film struggles to mean anything. It’s hard to get into a film when it doesn’t have the audacity to believe the story that was written for it. It’s difficult to put a finger on who to blame for this flaw. Naturally, viewers would like to blame the writer/director for a less ambitious film; however, this is not always the case. A lack of ambition falls upon the shoulders of every person involved.

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Pam Grier as Jackie Brown

The performances in Jackie Brown are decent at best. Pam Grier is passionate and convincing in the lead role as Jackie Brown. Despite being one of the greatest actors of all time, Robert De Niro’s character is oddly acted, which makes the viewer question the purpose of his character until the very end. Yeah he’s an asshole and by far one of the most unlikable actors in the business, but Samuel L. Jackson’s acting abilities are nothing short of fantastic. With that being said, Ordell (Jackson’s character) is poorly written making it difficult to see Jackson’s strong performance. Mark Dargus (Michael Keaton’s character) is awfully written, and poorly acted. The scenes that feature Officer Dargus are by far the weakest in the film. “Bridget Fonda, your entire job is to get high and look hot,” said Quentin Tarantino, “Oh, and do you have a problem going doggy style in the kitchen with Robert De Niro?”

“As long as this will give me a career for the next 15 years,” replied Bridget. We all know that never happened. Melanie (Fonda’s character) lacks interest and development. Her character is meant to be unpredictable, but she only ends up being uninteresting. As a reviewer, I chose to save the best for last.. hats off to Robert Forster. He does wonders for this film that struggles in the acting performance. Unlike the awful scenes with Keaton, the scenes with Forrester are the highlights of the film.

Overall, Jackie Brown is one of the worst efforts that Quentin Tarantino has ever brought forth, but it’s still pretty damn good. It’s a fun crime thriller, but I think viewers expect more from Quentin Tarantino than just, “fun”.

IMDb: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 86/100

Metacritic: 64/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 79/100

Good Will Hunting (1997)

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Directed By: Gus Van Sant

Written By: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

Starring: Matt Damon (lead), Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgard, Ben Affleck, and Minnie Driver

Winner of 2 Academy Awards (Original Screenplay and Supporting Actor)

Nominated for 9 Academy Awards (Picture, Original Song, Original Dramatic Score, Editing, Director, Supporting Actress, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, and Original Screenplay)

Good Will Hunting

After Ben Affleck won at the this years Oscars for Argo, I figured I would go back 16 years and watch the film that he won his first Oscar for…

Good Will Hunting tells the story of a man who was orphaned at a young age, named Will Hunting (Matt Damon). He is intellectually gifted in the sense that he remembers just about everything that he reads. He lives his life in secret, and hangs out in southern Boston with his friends. The story begins when Will Hunting is sought out by a professor (Skarsgard) for his mathematical abilities. The professor forces him to see a therapist (Williams), and in return Will does not have to go to prison for a crime that he committed earlier.

Robin Williams after winning Best Supporting Actor at the 70th Academy Awards.

Robin Williams after winning Best Supporting Actor at the 70th Academy Awards.

A lot of the true beauty in Good Will Hunting is the performances. Matt Damon, in his breakout role, delivers a stunning performance as the title character. Not enough can be said about the fantastic supporting performances given by each individual actor; however, one man deserves to be singled out, Robin Williams. The vote for Williams must have been unanimous at the oscars because his performance could not have been matched. He delivers one of the best supporting performances that I have ever seen! The scene where his character and Will are sitting in the park was one of the moments where I completely lost myself in the film itself, and for those five minutes, I had forgotten that I was even watching a movie. I was now apart of that scene, and that is something that is rarely accomplished in cinema, but when it happens, it is really something special. Watch that scene here.

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Matt Damon and Ben Affleck after winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay at the 70th Academy Awards.

Gus Van Sant does a fair job of directing, but nothing about this film screams best director. Do not get the idea that I am taking credit away from Gus Van Sant, but there is no one who could have messed this script up. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote one of the best scripts in modern cinematic history. They filled every line of dialogue with meaning, and there is not one scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ that would have been worth cutting. This is a script that every screenwriter should definitely look up to. In fact, after watching the film, the first question that came in my head was, “Why did Matt Damon stop writing?” Ben Affleck wrote the screenplay for the first two films he directed ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and ‘The Town’; however Matt has not written anything major (yes I know he wrote Promised Land) since the release of ‘Good Will Hunting’. He has been a major actor ever since the release of this film, so it is possible that he has simply been too busy to sit behind a computer screen and write quality material.

Being a high school student, I think that Will Hunting is a very relatable character. At my age, I often like to think that I am an expert on every topic of conversation whether it be girls, movies, tv, math, history.. or whatever else. ‘Good Will Hunting is a reminder that although you may think you have the answer to everything, everybody has their flaws even if they are hidden deep inside. It is nice to see this very common life lesson turned into a work of art that can be related to by just about all viewers. This is one reason that this screenplay only could have been written by men in their youth (Damon and Affleck were 26 and 24 at the time of release).

Overall, ‘Good Will Hunting’ is one of the best written and acted films that I have ever seen. It is one of the best “life” movies out there, and it is a movie that will stick with you for months after watching it. I have watched ‘Good Will Hunting’ a few times, and I’m sure that I’ll watch it many more times because it is simply that brilliant. 16 years may seem like a long time ago, but this film is one of the few that you can really call timeless. Basically, if you have not seen this film, what have you been doing for the last 16 years?

IMDb: 8.2/10 (#153 on the top 250)

Metacritic: 70/100

Rotten Tomatoes: 97/100

Best Picture Movie Reviews: 91/100