Animal Factory

Dir: Steve Buscemi, 2000. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke. Drama.

Animal Factory is the story of a young man (Furlong) who gets prosecuted for drug dealing. He is sent to a maximum-security prison, putting his life and soul at stake.

Edward Bunker and John Steppling’s screenplay is raw to the bone writing—not trying to spice up the dialogue, rather providing a very realistic cadence to the way these prisoners speak and interact. The screenplay is based on Bunker’s novel, which was inspired by his own stints in the penitentiary. Modern audiences mostly know the author as “Mr. Blue” in Quentin Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 21, 2009 1:31pm

Elizabeth

Dir: Shekhar Kapur, 1998. Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Christopher Eccleston. Drama.

Elizabeth is the story of England’s most notorious Queen as she transforms from a free-spirited young woman into an ice-cold leader, battling opposition from enemy states and the Catholic Church.

The tightly plotted screenplay by Michael Hirst (Uncovered) is one of the most dynamic period dramas I have come across. It covers historical truth, while still maintaining a high level of dramatic scenarios and relationships.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 13, 2009 1:35pm

Requiem for a Dream

Dir: Darren Aronofsky, 2000. Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans. Drama.

Requiem for a Dream is the story of lives on the downturn, spiraling into desperation and addiction.

Based on the novel by American writer Hubert Shelby Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn), Requiem is about the struggle of vice in the existence of four people. Aronofsky writes a tight and interesting screen adaptation with a strange timelessness, keeping much of the slang used decades before. Look for a great cameo by Shelby as a sadistic white-trash prison guard.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 3, 2009 2:55pm

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Dir: Jim Jarmusch, 1999. Starring: Forest Whitaker, John Torney. Cult.

A contract killer (Whitaker), who lives his life in accordance with the “Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai,” becomes targeted by his mob bosses after a job goes wrong, leaving a witness behind.

Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Night on Earth) creates a film unlike any other with Ghost Dog. He manages to blend the coda of Kurisowa’s films about Feudal Japan with the characters and locales of an American mobster movie. In concept it may sound like the potential for a trainwreck, but in the hands of one of the leaders in independent cinema, it makes for truly original filmmaking. Jarmusch does a great job of utilizing this mixture of genres, not relying on cookie-cutter stereotypes, but rather, finding a way to flip everything on its head. The result is colorful characters that exist in a reality that is fresh and not found anywhere else.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jul 3, 2009 2:27pm

The Wrestler

Dir: Darren Aronofsky, 2008. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood. Drama.

Director Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) returns to his roots by making a film with a bare-bones look reminiscent of his debut Pi. Aronofsky makes a far less polished film than its predecessors, as far as aesthetic design, focusing on performance above all else. The Wrestler is less plot driven than it is about the nature of desires, regret and one “broken down piece of meat”'s last shot at athletic glory.

Mickey Rourke (Barfly, Angel Heart) headlines the film as the wrestler in question, Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Although he did some supporting work in such films as Tony Scott’s Domino and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, it is as the title character of this film that Rourke put himself back on the Hollywood map. As a man fighting against time, desperate for one last shot at life in the spotlight before his body fails him, Rourke plays Robinson with unflinching honesty. It is one of those performances when actor and character become so integrally linked that it feels as if you're watching true life unfold. It is a brave and unabashed performance. One of the year’s finest.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jun 29, 2009 2:03pm

The Ice Storm

Dir: Ang Lee, 1997. Starring: K. Kline, J. Allen, S. Weaver, T. Maguire, C. Ricci, E. Wood, K. Holmes. Drama.

Set over 1973’s Thanksgiving weekend, The Ice Storm is the tale of a group of suburban families in Connecticut dealing with ever shifting social mores and sexual desires.

Based on the acclaimed novel by Rick Moody, James Shamus’ screenplay adaptation is a dark but truthful examination of the American family. It is well structured with highly dimensional characters, never bowing down to the oversimplification of human behavior. Rather, he gives them each their own voice and distinctive point of view.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jun 29, 2009 1:19pm

The Professional

Dir: Luc Besson, 1994. Starring: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello, Gary Oldman. Action.

The Professional (known as Leon in its European version) is the tale of a quiet, simple man who kills for a living. Once his drug dealing neighbors are executed by a gang of crooked cops, Leon takes their surviving daughter under his wing and begins teaching her the ropes of his business.

Writer-Director Luc Besson (The 5th Element) revisits the world of professional assassins that put him on the international map with his earlier tale, Le Femme Nikita. With The Professional, he gives a new and fresh take on the genre by exploring a strange and beautiful relationship between a hired gun and a little girl seeking revenge. The script is tight and well paced, while Besson’s direction is perhaps the best in his long career. The action direction is amazingly well done, most especially in the blaze of glory final act.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
May 18, 2009 6:27pm

The Royal Tenenbaums

Dir: Wes Anderson, 2001. Starring: G. Hackman, A. Huston, B. Stiller, G. Paltrow, L. Wilson, O. Wilson, B. Murray, D. Glover. Comedy.

Following his indie breakthrough Bottle Rocket and his critically acclaimed sophomore effort Rushmore, director Wes Anderson creates the most complete film of his career so far. Written by him and Owen Wilson, the script is top-notch, running the gamut of human emotion while finding the humor in its flaws. The characters are unique and complex, the cast is full of brilliant actors, and the film is directed beautifully.

Screen legend Gene Hackman (Unforgiven) plays the family’s patriarch, “Royal Tenebaum”-- a man of high intelligence but lacking in morals and scruples. A disgraced and disbarred lawyer, Royal dupes his family into believing he is dying of cancer in order to find his way back into their lives. Hackman is an actor who always delivers, but, in this, plays one of the most unique and hilarious characters in his very long and impressive career.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
May 18, 2009 6:15pm

JCVD

Dir: Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008. Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Francois Damiens, Zinedine Soualem. Mystery/Thriller.

In one of 2008’s most original visions, JCVD is the story of movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme returning to his home in Brussels and getting stuck in the middle of a bank robbery.

Writer Frederic Benudis and co-writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri create a truly unique and ambitious film working as part docudrama, part crime caper. The storytelling is crafted so that the film operates on multiple levels, making it something unlike what we have seen before.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
May 7, 2009 4:25pm

Heat

Dir: Michael Mann, 1995. Starring: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight. Action.

Heat is a self-proclaimed “Los Angeles crime saga” about a master crew of thieves and the dedicated police officers who try to keep them in check.

Based on a real criminal and inspired by his own TV movie, L.A. Takedown, Michael Mann directs one of the all-time great cop and robber films with Heat. He takes a highly established genre and digs in deeper—finding the truth and parallels between those who enforce the law and those who break it. Heat explores the sacrifices both sides have to make in order to do the job—mainly causing dysfunction at home. You can see years of preproduction that goes into Mann’s vision—building from earlier works as director of Thief (1981) and producer of TV’s Miami Vice.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
May 7, 2009 4:05pm
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