Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Film Review: COPYING BEETHOVEN (2006, Agnieszka Holland)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, Steven J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson (the writers of ALI and NIXON).
Tag-line: "He was the greatest composer of his time. One last performance would define his genius."
Best one-liner: "God whispers into the ears of some men, but he shouts into mine!"

Remember the YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES? Indy would be visiting Africa for just one day, and next thing you know he's hanging out with Teddy Roosevelt on safari and inspiring Albert Schweitzer to start practicing medicine. COPYING BEETHOVEN is a lot like that. The screenplay is laughable. Probably the only historically accurate thing in this movie is Ed Harris' wig. But you shouldn't care. I didn't come here for a fact-based history lesson. I came here to see Ed Harris act like a fuckin' lunatic.

And I was not disappointed. Given the multitude of negative reviews, I was expecting something really lackluster and boring, but damn, was I in for the shock of a lifetime.

Harris plants an intense kiss atop the head of director Agnieszka Holland as Diane Kruger looks on.

Harris is brilliant. No hyperbole can do justice to what it is exactly that he does. He is intense.

He is committed. I feel like he out-commits Harvey Keitel, and I thought those words would never pass through my lips. Harris' Beethoven rocks at arm-wrestling, walks around half-naked, moons people when they mention the "Moonlight Sonata," hates cats, horrifies old ladies, pours water on his neighbors, beats up sickly old men, makes fart noises with his mouth to mock people, smashes a young dandy's life's work, and happens to be the greatest musical genius of the 19th Century. Basically if the thought of a totally crazed Ed Harris holding a horn to his ear and saying "Eh? Whaaat? WHAAAT?!" for 104 minutes appeals to you, then you have found your Holy Grail. I have.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Film Review: THE SUBSTITUTE (1996, Robert Mandel)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 114 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Tom Berenger, Ernie Hudson, William Forsythe, Luis Guzman, Diane Venora, Marc Anthony, Cliff de Young, and the director, Robert Mandel, directed one of the best episodes of LOST ever, "Deus ex Machina."
Tag-line: " He has a lesson to teach. And nobody's going to have a problem with it."
Best one-liner: The educational setting lends itself perfectly for scads of one-liners. I really can't choose one. If I had to choose two, they'd be: "Shh. No talking in the library," and "You don't teach history anymore, Smith. You ARE history!"

You think Tom Berenger is scared of war? Think again. Dude made a meal out of WILLEM DAFOE in 'Nam during 'Platoon.' You think Berenger is afraid of a karate-choppin' Ernie Hudson? Hell, no. The last time Ernie kicked bum, he was playin' second fiddle bustin' ghosts to Dan 'Big Enchilada' Aykroyd. You think Berenger is scared by a bunch of drug-runnin' high school kids with guns? It's certainly within the realm of possibility, but no. He's not scared of 'em. In fact he's SO not scared-of 'em, that he decides to take over their class, smack 'em around a little bit. Take their weapons and knock 'em in the head with a crushed-up soda can.

All's going well until something happens that DOES scare Berenger. And that's when he starts gettin' through to them. They bond over similar scars from 'Nam and drive-bys, respectively. One of the kids slowly raises his hand and asks, "Yo, Mr. Smith, you lose any homeboys?" Berenger wistfully replies: 'Yeah, Jerome...I lost a few homeboys." And it is brilliant. Unfortunately, the movie then swerves into some more familiar action territory, but for a moment there, for the briefest of moments, I think I saw Berenger scared. As he says, "I noticed something strange was happening...I looked back, and they were listening to me..."

-Sean Gill

Monday, December 22, 2008

Film Review: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008, Danny Boyle)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 120 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor
Tag-line: "What does it take to find a lost love? A. Money. B. Luck. C. Smarts. D. Destiny."
Awards: Eight Oscars including Best Picture, Audience Award Austin Film Festival, Best British Independent Film at the British Independent Film Awards, Golden Frog at Camerimage, Audience Award at Chicago International, Nominated for 4 Golden Globes, Best Director from Los Angeles Film Critics, Best Film from the National Board of Review, Nominated for 2 SAG awards, Best Director Southeastern Film Critics Association, People's Choice Award at Toronto International, and it's a frontrunner for many forthcoming awards.

Danny Boyle continues his examination of vast sums of money being bestowed upon unlikely individuals, but unlike some of his previous efforts, like SHALLOW GRAVE or MILLIONS, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE focuses on the process of obtaining it and the backstory that made it possible, rather using the money as a point of departure. Despite an "it is written" framework (with a seriously stacked deck), Dev Patel's Jamal is a Boyle hero that earns his destiny through experience, not chance. SLUMDOG is a very enjoyable and endlessly sincere film, I just find it odd exactly how much award season buzz it seems to be generating. I feel as if people are too afraid to mention that it has more in common with Tony Scott's DOMINO than Boyle's own masterpiece, SHALLOW GRAVE. And it's not that I don't 'get it.' I liked the movie. I understand that Jamal's life has been one long sprint from the start just to survive- to keep his head above water (or feces, in one memorable scene). But is all the shaky cam, whacky frame rate, filters upon filters, pulsating over and underexposure, hovering micro zooms, and vaguely tacky techno really necessary? Boyle's always been a filmmaker with style, but this is over the top.

In the spirit of the film in question, let's play a game. It's called: "which of the following frames come from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and which came from Tony Scott movies?" This should be simple for all you SLUMDOG apologists. Shit, I'll even start out with an easy one:







And you know what? Now you've pissed me off. I'm not even gonna tell you now. Alright, fine, SLUMDOG is A., D., and E. And I didn't even have access to the most egregious, over-the-top shots. Scott's MAN ON FIRE was crucified for less. And Enya-esque wailing to accompany slow-motion sequences of emotional import? Hmm. That was kind of okay in LORD OF THE RINGS, but that was seven years ago. In SLUMDOG, its use made my hair curl. It's also pretty fair to say that about everyone is familiar with the rules to WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE. So it's insulting, when, to rachet up tension and stack the deck even further, characters insist that our hero should "just give it up and take the money- he's crazy not to!" when he still has two life-lines left. But on to the good. It's exceptionally well-acted (I especially enjoyed Anil Kapoor as the sleazy host), and its heart is in the right place. That's certainly enough to make me like it, but before you stick it on the end of the year list, ask yourself what, if anything, makes this different than a feel-good Tony Scott flick?

-Sean Gill

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Film Review: THE THIRD MIRACLE (1999, Agnieszka Holland)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 118 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Ed Harris, Anne Heche, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Barbara Sukowa (Fassbinder and von Trier alum), Michael Rispoli.
Tag-line: "Everyone needs to believe in something."

MYTH: Ed Harris only plays intense characters. FACT: Ed Harris only plays REALLY INTENSE characters. THE THIRD MIRACLE is the second of three collaborations between Ed Harris and Polish director Agnieszka Holland, the first being TO KILL A PRIEST, and the most recent being COPYING BEETHOVEN. Agnieszka is at her best when she's writing her own screenplays, and unfortunately, that's not the case here. This is a cliche-ridden, highly predictable script of a period piece that never really seems like one. But the acting...ah, the acting. Ed Harris, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Michael Rispoli, Barbara Sukowa, and even Anne Heche (who really looks like she could be Sukowa's daughter) deliver nuanced performances with a serious degree of commitment to the roles. They're unleashed on the subpar script and manage to transform it into a pretty solid movie. Ed plays a REALLY INTENSE priest trying to judge the veracity of a possible saint's miracles.

In the course of his investigation, he talks smack to an archbishop and follows it up with a smarmy grin, tastes the blood flowing from a statue, makes out with Anne Heche, reaches up to the heavens in despair, physically restrains an unruly prostitute, and basically does everything a priestly Ed Harris should. Again, I never thought I'd say this, but Harris is giving Keitel a serious run for his money for the mantle of 'most intense working actor.' Four REALLY INTENSE stars. Try not to burst a blood vessel, Ed.

Side note: Check out Ed's eyes in the poster art- it almost looks like a prefiguration of Ed's scarred, intense eye in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Unfortunately, Ed does not have the crazy eye in this film, though I shudder to think how great the film would have been if he had.

-Sean Gill

Friday, December 19, 2008

Film Review: FLESHBURN (1984, George Gage)

Stars: 1 of 5.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sonny Landham, Karen Carlson.
Tag-line: " A new kind of revenge!"
Best one-liner: [while holding rabbits] "Let's go back to camp and skin these babies, and pretty soon we'll have some shoes!"
Based on the Novel: "Fear in a Handful of Dust."

There are two types of bad 80's movies: those that had no choice but to be bad from the start, like STAR CRYSTAL; and those that should have been awesome, like FLESHBURN. And there is no more heinous an affront than a bad movie that should have been awesome. The pitch: crazy Native American 80's Action supporting player Sonny Landham (48 HRS., ACTION JACKSON, SOUTHERN COMFORT, etc.) gets to star as a Vietnam Vet accused of witchcraft and confined to a mental institution, he breaks out and seeks revenge. I wasn't deluded enough to expect a ROLLING THUNDER, but damn, I expected at least an EYE OF THE TIGER or a BILLY JACK. The cover depicts a shirtless Landham holding a gun in the desert as his Rambo bandana flutters in the wind. And Sonny is insane.

He's a former porn star, he's tried to run for governor of Kentucky, and he had a bodyguard on the set of PREDATOR- not for his own protection, but to protect others from him. Maybe some rednecks will say some racial slurs, Sonny will simmer, and then rightful asses will be kicked. Maybe some flesh will even be burned. This should be effin' amazing. Instead, it's an abominable failure with completely unlikable characters. It's not even an action movie. Sonny kidnaps some doctors who testified against him (and loses our sympathy in the process), and makes them fend for themselves in the desert.

This is the most intense action sequence in the film and also the reason why it sometimes is categorized under the subgenre 'male bondage' (seriously). Note that no flesh has been burned, merely some fake blood has been drizzled haphazardly (all traces of which wash off in the subsequent river sequence).

That's the movie. It's about those loser doctors fending in the desert. Occasionally we cut back to Sonny on the hillside, playing with falcons, Native American memorabilia, or maracas. This movie is highly self-important, also, and thus offensive. Science vs. faith has never been handled so hamfistedly. Native Americans are portrayed as psychotic dirt-worshippers who should be locked up. There's an exceptionally weak resolution, and the visuals are despicably ugly. Shrubs obscure the actors' faces most of the time, and it's exceedingly difficult to tell what the hell is going on. What an energy drainer.

-Sean Gill

Beverage Review: BALTIKA EXTRA 9 (2008, Russia)

Stars: 1 of 5.
Maker: Baltika (the second-largest brewery in Europe, after Heineken).
Home Country: Russia.
Where procured: Bodega, corner of Manhattan and Nassau in Brooklyn.

Well, right off the bat we got problems. I don't even know where to begin. It's meant to be a 40 (Alcohol Volume 8.0%), but it's actually 75 fluid ounces (2 Quarts, 11 oz. is what it says on the bottle). This thing is a behemoth. And it doesn't even come in glass. It comes in thin plastic with a strange, dimpled texture. It looks like the odd cousin of a two-liter soda. And I can see already the wheels in your head are turning- if it's not in the extra insulated glass, how are 75 ounces of this tripe gonna stay cold for more than six minutes? And the answer is, they're not. More on that later. There's other fundamental problems too, even beyond the fact that the "Best Before Date" box is empty. Now, it seems to be entitled "Extra 9 Lager." And everyone schooled in how these things work knows that there are two types of beers, lagers and ales. Well, okay, this one is a lager, then. But then, up in the right hand corner of the label, it says "Ale." Well, which is it? 'Alright,' you say, 'just crack it open and find out for yourself.' Alright, I shall. You crack it open, and you get kind of this sweet smell. It's a smell that seems to contradict the fact that you just paid 2.3 cents per ounce for this stuff. If you later examine the ingredients list, you'll find that the smell is probably just the "High Maltose Corn Syrup." I'm not sure what that is, and after I tried this, I'm not sure I care to find out. Anyway, by the time you've finished taking in the oddly sweet smell it produces, the liquid within has probably jumped a good ten degrees in temperature. So it's time for that first, fateful sip. Even cold, even ICE cold, this stuff tastes exactly like sweaty gym shorts. 'Have you even actually tasted sweaty gym shorts?,' you ask. Well, try a sip of Extra 9 and come tell me where you stand on that issue. It tastes EXACTLY like sweaty gym shorts. And that is not a good thing, even when you're trying to imbue your life with extra kitsch value. And remember by the time you're 6 minutes into this gargantuan endeavor, it's gonna be room temperature. You thought it tasted like gym shorts when it was ice cold? You are in for some hard, unfortunate truths at room temperature. And then, of course, there's the question- do I put it back in the freezer and get it cold again at the risk of losing carbonation, or do I stick it out here at a rapidly rising room temperature? Do I jeopardize throwing away my $1.75 investment with the additional risk of appearing to be less of a man? These are actually some pretty weighty questions for malt liquor to be asking. In any event, I continued on, if only for the sake of this fine beverage review. And let me tell you, by the time I got to the foam at the bottom, lukewarm gym shorts were sounding pretty good. Words truly have no dominion over the shapeless, slavering, gangrenous Lovecraftian monsters that lie in the foam abyss at the bottom of this dimpled bottle. I must say I don't think it's worth finding out for yourself. One star.

-Sean Gill

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Film Review: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981, Steven Spielberg)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 115 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Eliot, William Hootkins, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, Dennis Muren, John Williams, George Lucas, Pat Roach, Alfred Molina, Lawrence Kasdan
Tag-line: "The Return of the Great Adventure."
Best one-liner: "You want to talk to God? Let's go see him together, I've got nothing better to do."

Ah, Indiana Jones. A true hero for America. He's basically a grave robber, a cultural appropriator, sucker-punch thrower, a 'shoot first and ask questions later' kind of guy. He feels justified in everything he does, and when he gets called out on it, he defuses the situation with a smarmy grin. And the film acknowledges it, with Belloq's whole "shadowy reflection of you" speech, which is the screenwriter Kasdan beautifully channeling the days of Hawks and Huston. According to the original RAIDERS novelization, college-age Indy seduced 16-year-old Marion, promised her the world, and then left her. His friend and favorite professor's daughter! She was so broken down that she followed her dad to Nepal, he promptly died, and she had to work as a prostitute for some years in order to survive.

Now, with THAT subtext, watch their reunion scene, and soak in what a dick Indy is.

Cause that's exactly it. Indiana Jones is a dick. Case in point, in the Nazi sub base, Indy is dressed as a Nazi soldier. His mission- which risks not only his own neck and that of a woman he loves, but possibly the fate of the entire world- hangs in the balance. Yet, when he sees Belloq, he's willing to risk it all just to smack his shoulder into him. Of course, Belloq assumes it's a clumsy Nazi, and exits disdainfully, but Indy could have ruined the entire plan right there. Just so he could be a dick.

And look at that final, smug look of self-satisfaction. That really sums it all up.

Yet... when it all comes down to it, we love Indy. Because in the context of the films, he's usually fighting the most vile, venomous enemies the planet has ever excreted. So keep fighting the good fight, Indy, but cool it with the hypocrisy. There's a pretty blurry line between elitist private collection, 'public' museum, and Hovitos Temple. Aww, there you go with that lopsided grin again. Damn it. Fine. Five stars. But this is the last time!

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Music Review: SEINE GROSSE ERFOLGE (1969, Heino)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 42 minutes.

I'm not going to lie to you... this album is exceptionally painful. The songs are about all kinds of stuff like Mexico, the Latin sun, Rio de Janeiro, whiskey, and things of that nature. I kind of envisioned this as a series of Heino reviews, but let me tell you, one just may be enough. The initial premise is enough to carry it pretty far, however: totally creepy deep-voiced German- in tight woolen Mod clothes, and sunglasses that he never takes off- sings fanciful songs about South America. He was frequently accused of designing music expressly for Nazis on the run in Latin America, which kind of makes you feel dirty, since nobody really wants to be in the same target audience as Josef Mengele. Maybe some of his later albums were designed with others in mind, like his tribute to Mother (which would go really well with Mr. T's "Treat Your Mother Right" rap from BE SOMEBODY OR BE SOMEBODY'S FOOL).

The music itself is pretty lackluster, and should be familiar if you've listened to 60's German folk-type albums in the past. Whether it's yodeling, calypso, traditional German folk, or whatever, it always seems like a good idea at the start, like you're going to have a kitschy fun time of it, and then you only make it about two tracks in before it becomes boring. That is the case here as well, and the only one I really analyzed was the title track, "Carumbo, Karacha, ein Whisky." The song is simple. Heino has evidently made some big mistake with a woman named Dolores, things have been ruined, and it seems to be the fault of whisky and gin. It also may have happened in Rio de Janeiro, because it is mentioned as well. It's been a while since I took German, but this seems to be the gist of it. There's even an accompanying music video, but it's not nearly as good as you might imagine.

There's lots of shaky cam, drinking, and Germans, and the Germans just tip their glasses to one another for the duration. It's quite eerie actually, as if these stiff pencil necks, these marionette people, perpetually tipping their glasses to one another in a foreign land, have reduced happiness, fun, even life itself to one banal movement, the tipping of a glass.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Film Review: GRAN TORINO (2008, Clint Eastwood)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 116 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Clint Eastwood, Clint Eastwood, Clint Eastwood, Kyle Eastwood, John Carroll Lynch.
Tag-line: "Clint Eastwood."
Best one-liner: "Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have messed with? That's me."

"Let's go. We'll leave the Mick alone so he can... play with himself." This film is amazing. Just as amazing as the completely ludicrous trailer. Every bit of insanity and ridiculousness promised in the trailer is delivered, and in spades. Clint is so legendary, so committed to his work, so damn old, his pants pulled up so high, that no matter what he does, it's going to be entertaining and have some weight to it. His performance here is not being lauded cause people feel bad for him, like John Wayne's in TRUE GRIT. He has truly earned each and every accolade. Whether or not this is indeed Clint's farewell performance (both BLOOD WORK and MILLION DOLLAR BABY carried with them this possibility), he presents himself as a man transformed. In UNFORGIVEN, we saw Clint reinvented- wearier, worldlier, wiser- and we also saw a return to form with the nearly supernatural "Angel of Death" revenge finale. Back then, Clint was old, but here, he is truly ancient. He's a relic. His affected squint is now permanent. He no longer harshly intones, he growls. He doesn't even move his teeth as he snarls his terrifying reinvention of "Get off my lawn!"

This newest Clint is colorfully disdainful of modern society, its youth, its forced integration, its gang cultures, its multicultural tendencies. Everything which to him represents "the other" can be mocked, derided, and ridiculed (there are probably 4 or 5 racial slurs per minute), but not quite torn down. This is what he resents more than anything. The ease with which things can be torn down. His banter with John Carrol Lynch's barber is the perfect illustration. He says it's "how men talk." It's a carefully choreographed ballet of insults and racial epithets- there's no room, in his mind, for hamfistedness or outright denigration. This leads straight to bloodshed (and the barber indeed draws his gun when Thao, the young man Clint later takes under his wing, oafishly jumps straight to the crassest, least clever insults when training to "speak like a man").

Clint's personas over the years and his character Walt Kowalski here both are excellent at killing and dispatching violence. But Walt's attitude is far more Zen. He finds it more fulfilling to aim a gun comprised of his forefinger and thumb, to cut people down in his mind because there'd be no point to do it for real. He'd be taking himself down to their level. That is not to say that Clint can no longer brandish an actual gun to back up the one made by his fingers, but now he's above it all, so close to death, that he can't concern himself with the evil machinations of foolish men. This Clint is not a god of destruction, but a builder. And he spends this performance building up some relationships, that, while they could easily stray into after-school special territory, seem, for the most part, real. And when they're not, it's a mawkishness of CLINT's creation, so it's not actually corny. So pass the Pabst, close your eyes, and listen to Clint growl out the final song, "Gran Torino." It's earthy, weatherbeaten, and damned old. But it's also soft and comforting. And it just might be Clint's swansong.

-Sean Gill

COMING SOON: My vaunted end-of-the-year 'best films' list.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Film Review: ROCK 'N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979, Allan Arkush & Joe Dante)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time:
Notable Cast or Crew: The Ramones, P.J. Soles, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Roger Corman, Dick Miller, Clint Howard. Giant mouse FX by Rob Bottin (THE THING, ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL).
Tag-line: "Hey, ho, let's go!"
Best one-liner(s): "I'm FIRST in line! and if you don't like it, you can put it where the monkey puts the nuts!"
Best anecdote: Dee Dee Ramone was such a fine thespian that his lines were cut from five down to two, in the dressing room after the concert: "Hey, pizza!" and "Hey, pizza! It's great! Let's dig in!"

ROCK 'N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL is like that friend of yours who's eating salted nuts and licking their fingers while you're riding the subway together. And you're like 'Where did you get those nuts?' And you know what, your friend is eating those nuts out of their nasty lint-lined pocket. And they don't care. And that friend is like this movie- irreverent, random, and lettin' it stuff hang out all over the place. This film is a damned fun time. This is producer Roger Corman and directors Joe Dante and Allan Arkush at the height of their campy, infectiously fun powers. We've got the new evil principal played by Mary Woronov in a performance that would make most drag queens proud.

We got the legendary B-director and actor Paul Bartel as the formerly square Ramones-fan-in-training music teacher.

(And this is yet another of the over twenty collaborations between the legendary Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel (of EATING RAOUL fame) who you're bound to hear much more about on this blog.) We got Clint Howard as the high school equivalent of James Garner in THE GREAT ESCAPE. We, of course, got the Ramones, reveling in the fact they don't know how to act but excel at whipping high schoolers into a frenzy. And, finally, we got P.J. Soles as the incorrigible Riff Randell, who truly is the REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE for her generation,

leading revolts, skipping class, heckling the administration, and finally actually BLOWING UP THE SCHOOL in an act of youthful defiance (with a pyrotechnics shot which the penny pinching Corman continued to recycle, most notably in MUNCHIE STRIKES BACK).

Five stars of high school giddiness and a true last hurrah for 70's B-movies.

-Sean Gill

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Film Review: FACE/OFF (1997, John Woo)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 140 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Margaret Cho, Nick Cassavetes, CCH Pounder, Gina Gershon, John Carroll Lynch (of ZODIAC and DREW CAREY), Alessandro Nivola, Dominique Swain (of Adrian Lyne's LOLITA), Matt Ross (THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, BIG LOVE), Thomas Jane (that makes two Patricia Arquette husbands in this movie), Chris Bauer, Tommy Flanagan (the scarred heavy from SIN CITY and SMOKIN' ACES), Kirk Baltz (the cop who loses an ear in RESERVOIR DOGS).
Tag-line: "In order to catch him, he must become him."
Best one-liner(s): "It's like looking in a mirror. Only... not. "

"Hello, Doctor. I hope you don't mind: I took a few of your groovy painkillers. I'm just enjoying some of your greatest hits here. Oh God, this is excellent. Oh, bravo. Bra-fucking-vo." So it's TANGO AND CASH meets DEMOLITION MAN meets FREAKY FRIDAY. And it's been directed by Tony Scott on a meth binge- John Woo. Damn! This movie really takes it up a notch. It's a symphonic ballet of particles; Woo's genius lies in the simplicity by which the film itself can be reduced to just objects in motion- tumbling men, flying glass shards, rotating debris, flapping doves, hurtling papers, cascading bullet casings. There would be no MATRIX without this. It's Peckinpah to the Nth degree, choreographed and concocted by a true mad scientist of cinema. The performances beg for hyperbole that goes beyond "over the top"- Cage and Travolta seem entwined in a battle to gorge themselves, to voraciously devour as much scenery as possible.

And Woo ensures that they never run out of scenery to chew upon. Joan Allen and Nick Cassavetes even get in on the action with, respectively, some ridiculous gasping,

and the probably ad-libbed line "THEY'RE LIKE COCKROACHES!"

There's WILD AT HEART references, inappropriate use of "Over the Rainbow," and lots of talk about 'tongue sucking.' In closing, this film perhaps should have been titled, FACE/TOUCHING.

There is more face touching than in any other movie I have ever seen. So try the FACE/OFF drinking game; take one drink every time someone touches someone else's face, and by the close, I guarantee you will be almost as crazy as Nick Cage.

"If I were to send you flowers where would I... no, let me rephrase that. If I were to let you tongue, would you be grateful?"

-Sean Gill