> Volume 2 > Number 52

Volume 2, Number 52

This Week's Reviews:  All the Pretty Horses, Quills, Finding Forrester, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, You Can Count on Me.

This Week's Omissions:  Pola X.

All the Pretty Horses

(Dir: Billy Bob Thornton, Starring Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Lucas Black, Penélope Cruz, Rubén Blades, Miriam Colon, Robert Patrick, Bruce Dern, and Sam Shepard)



Billy Bob Thornton’s attempt to follow up Sling Blade finally sees the light of day. The only problem is that it is being released sans two hours of footage and a lesser film for it. There is a distinct feeling while watching All the Pretty Horses that this might make a damn fine three hour plus film, but everything is so rushed that the audience can only be amazed at how little there is to give to them without that lost screen time.

Horses, like Thornton’s Daddy and Them, sat on the shelf over at Sony for over a year, while everyone yearned to see it in a new form. A four-hour western with only one semi-bankable star was a tough sell -- so tough that Sony finally gave the film away to Miramax, who decided to push it as a romantic drama instead of character study.

And that may be one of the film’s biggest downfalls. For a film that has been commercialized into a romance, it lacks anything near believable in its single relationship. The heart of the story is the friendship between Matt Damon’s John Grady Cole and Henry Thomas’ Lacey Rawlins, not the love affair between Penélope Cruz’s Alejandra Villarel and Cole. But that is not what the editors that Miramax placed in charge of recutting the film seem to yearn for. There is no doubt in my mind that Miramax head Harvey Weinstein figured that he had an unprofitable human drama and shuffled to come up with something that might pay off.

For the advertising department, it was a heavenly gesture (think of the ads they would have had to create showing Damon and Thomas talking while riding their horses -- for cheer), but it hurts the film in many degrees. The Damon-Cruz fling lasts all of a fourth of the film, a type of subplot in the long engrossing story that novelist Cormac McCarthy and screenwriter Ted Tally (Silence of the Lambs) created. In the four hour cut (which I’m sure has a feel like Butch and Sundance meets Unforgiven), the subplot probably constituted one-eighth of the entire story – and that change of pace shows in this version of the film.

If Thornton and original editor Sally Menke were in charge of the re-envisioning of McCarthy’s story it would be hard to believe. So often, directors lose control of their projects when studio’s call and they stand behind their work until they are made to leave it to the studios. I would be highly saddened to learn that Thornton did not keep his stance on the original cut and only let the changes occur after fighting -- but I fear it being the truth.

The main story to All the Pretty Horses is about one Texas cowboy, John Grady Cole, losing his family ranch after his grandfather’s death and his mother’s carelessness of the land. With nowhere to go, he talks his friend Lacey Rawlins into joining him in a type of horse rode road trip to Mexico, where they can get a job and be free of the lives they leave behind.

En route, they meet up with a young runaway named Jimmy Blevins, who turns their trip into a struggle for their lives. His quirky beliefs (he will not, under any circumstances, be near anything metal during a electrical storm, including the metal on his horse and clothes) are enough to make Rawlins hate him and plot to leave him behind. When a rain storm comes in and causes him to shed all his belongings, Jimmy loses everything and must steal it all back, leaving the other two behind as he attempts to get away from the posse chasing him.

John Grady and Lacey push on and get a job at a ranch owned by Don Hector Rocha y Villarael (Blades), who comes to like John Grady and gives him a position closer to him and his daughter, Alejandra. The two fall for each other and begin a relationship that cannot be shared with Don Hector. When unforeseeable circumstances put John Grady and Lacey at risk, they must fight for their lives as John Grady hopes to get back to his lover.

Matt Damon is a really good actor, and has done his best to prove it since gaining fans with Good Will Hunting. I was one of the biggest denouncers of him in that film, and still to this day consider his nomination to be one of the biggest mistakes the Academy made in the nineties. It was his performance in The Talented Mr. Ripley that really proved himself to me. Here he is not near as good as he was in Ripley (or this year’s The Legend of Bagger Vance, for that matter), but he does do commendable job -- certainly one of his better performances even if not his best.

The screenplay by Ted Tally has some sumptuous dialogue that is the biggest casualty of the re-editing of this film. There are moments in which his words come beautifully spoken from the actors, but are cut off mid-thought. As this film winds down, his screenplay becomes slightly more prominent, even though it is still a little weary from the hatchet job brought on it.

Billy Bob Thornton is not a bad director in any way, he certainly has a knack for photographing landscapes, though he still needs some work on taking care of those inhabiting the landscapes (the same can be said for Sling Blade, where the acting and screenplay certainly ruled the show). I feel that he and cinematographer Barry Markowitz envisioned a beautiful mixture of Clint Eastwood and Terrence Malick, and this vision may in fact be found in the long version of All the Pretty Horses even if it is lost of the cutting room floor here.

The biggest problem that plagues this film is the fact that it is so easy to feel the fact that it was once a much bigger film. Notice that scenes that are one minute in length seem cut-off, almost as if they spanned a great deal of screen time in the first cut. When the film suddenly becomes a narrative in the final scene when there had not been any narration, it is almost the last straw. If this film did not have so many good things in it, the compact re-edit might have turned this into a downright miserable experience.

I do believe that All the Pretty Horses was at one time an entrancing piece of film, with a great story used to fine effect with able (if still lacking) direction. Unfortunately, Harvey Weinstein and his lackeys have taken this one-time masterpiece and turned it into a rushed, flawed, yet still respectable film. I almost wish Sony had kept it.


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(Dir: Philip Kaufman, Starring Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine, Amelia Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Malahide, Jane Menelaus, Stephen Moyer, Tony Pritchard, Michael Jenn, Danny Babington, George Yiasoumi, Stephen Marcus, Elizabeth Berrington, Edward Tudor-Pole, Harry Jones, Bridget McConnell, Pauline McLynn, Rebecca R. Palmer, Toby Sawyer, and Daniel Ainsleigh)



The Marquis de Sade made a lifetime in perversion. Today, he might be best suited with the likes of Peter Greenaway, who thinks that being perverse automatically means art is at hand. De Sade took his erotica and made a mockery of everyone else; unfortunately, Greenaway is better at only making a mockery of himself.

The new film Quills looks in on the Marquis and how the final years of his tragic life in Napoleonic France was as much a pain for him as for everyone around him. Brought to life on the stage first, Quills (which is adapted for the screen by the original playwright Doug Wright) throws no punches as it attempts to be a little perverse, a little charming, a little fiendish, and even a little repulsive. Of course, didn’t all those adjectives fit the real life of the Marquis de Sade?

In 1801, de Sade (played here by Rush) was 61 years old and had spent 27 of those years in various mental institutions. At that point, he had been brought to his final home, the most notable Charenton, where the papal head, Abbe Coulmier (Phoenix), gives him a great deal of freedom. Every week, the asylum stages productions written by de Sade and performed by the other inmates; de Sade has been given a large cell, completely furnished with pornographic paraphernalia; and de Sade even gets to have quills, ink, and paper for him to write his disturbed thoughts on.

Through a chambermaid named Madeleine (Winslet), de Sade is able to smuggle his works out to the public. When his famously risqué novel Justine is published and causes a great stir, Napoleon decides that something must be done with de Sade, whose madness should have never been able to find the light of day.

Enter physician Royer-Collard (Caine), who has been seen as a visionary of corporal punishment, using devices that would certainly be considered cruel and unusual. But his ideas seem to work, and he is quickly shipped out to Charenton so he can teach a lesson to de Sade and return the asylum to a normal prison.

Royer-Collard, however, is not necessarily a clean individual. When it is learned that he purchased a 15-year-old orphan from the nunnery to be his wife, he becomes the latest gossip for Charenton. And, of course, this is a perfect fact for de Sade to bite his teeth into.

Since Abbe is a bit of a push-over, it is not tough for Royer-Collard to take over the asylum, but not until de Sade can use every device in his arsonal to continue writing, whether it be wine on a bed sheet or blood on a suit. And he even has a girl down in the laundry room that can decipher his writings and still get them out to the public.

Madeleine is torn from nearly every side. She loves Abbe, who, despite his priestly vows, seems to return the favor. At the same time, she is the object of de Sade’s sexual yearnings. For a man so committed to sex but unable to get anyone to sleep with, de Sade is highly impressionable on her in his hopes to gain the attention of some young vixen. It is a type of triangle – Abbe loves Madeleine, Madeleine loves Abbe, and de Sade would love to have sex with both.

Quills is a very tough film, and it pays off in my opinion. Director Philip Kaufman is on top of his form, creating costume dramas that are too adult for Merchant-Ivory to touch. His finest piece, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, still seems remarkable even after all these years. Even though he has found a place as a much artier Peter Greenaway, he has never let his style get beyond creating a world that is completely open to the sex that all his characters seem to crave. Let’s not forget that the NC-17 rating was invented for Kaufman’s Henry & June.

Kaufman perfectly works this film through the multifaceted story and characters. It’s almost like he creates a mixture of the subtle beauty of John Madden’s work on Shakespeare in Love, the dark savagery of Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth, and the grand repulsion of Milos Forman’s Amadeus. He never goes over-the-top, even when the story does. His perfect pitch makes this one of the finest looking films of the year.

But this is really an actor’s film. Geoffrey Rush once again proves himself as one of the finest actors in cinema right now. Continually he has given performances that show his large range, whether it be evil of his Javert in Bille August’s Les Misérables or the goofiness of his Henslow in Madden’s Shakespeare in Love or the energy of his David Helfgott in Scott Hicks’ Shine. Though not half the performance he gave in the Hicks film, Rush is literally incredible as de Sade. At first, his choice seems weird to play de Sade, but he really does take this role into yet another success in his fine career.

In an unusual supporting role, Winslet gives another fine performance for the young ingénue (am I the only one that feels bad that she’ll always be noted for Titanic and not her many better performances in film like Sense and Sensibility, Heavenly Creatures, Holy Smoke!, Hamlet, Hideous Kinky, and Jude). Here she is incredible, creating a character that is both dedicated and vulnerable. Arguably her best work since coming onto the scene with Heavenly Creatures.

Joaquin Phoenix gives his third and final performance of 2000, the year that made him a star. Though not near as fun (and deliciously evil) as his turn as Commodus in Gladiator, Phoenix does do well here, taking a painful character and making seem incredibly lifelike. Though his other two performances this year teetered of being little high-strung (his turn in Gladiator much more than in The Yards, though), this one comes off as a real human being, with emotions that come though the mind of everyone of us, unlike those other two characters (unless you happen to daily want to kill a subway attendant and have sex with you sister).

Royer-Collard is an interesting choice for Caine, who does his best work in years, better than the Oscar winning doctor in The Cider House Rules. It is a darker role than most of the ones that he has taken over the past few years -- probably since 1997’s nearly forgotten gem Blood & Wine. If he were to make more films like this, The Cider House Rules, and even Little Voice, he might have all the respect that he deserves. That is as long as he quits taking paydays on films like Miss Congeniality and the Get Carter remake (I’m hoping that these two are flukes that were signed onto before The Cider House Rules brought him back from being a joke).

Doug Wright fashions some interesting dialogue for this film, much of which seems just as close to Peter Brooks’ Peter Weiss play adaptation Marat/Sade (The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat a Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade) (yes, that’s the entire title) as to the actual writings of de Sade. Wordplay abound and a nice dose of insidious comedy makes this one of the finer screenplays this year. I now cannot wait for his adaptation of Stephen Dobyn’s novel The Church of the Dead Girls for Joel Schumacher due out next year.

In many ways this is an attempt to condemn the censorship and hypocrisy that hits so many artists across the world. Today we can scoff at the censoring of de Sade’s work even though there is little doubt that he would have been just as refuted today as then. His works have the seal of being a classic now, but there’s still the fact that middle America would never allow the writings to make into their local library. But, like de Sade would do himself, the glory of film can exploit his story for all its worth.


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Finding Forrester

(Dir: Gus van Sant, Starring Rob Brown, Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Michael Nouri, Busta Rhymes, April Grace, Gerry Rosenthal, and Matt Malloy)



Sean Connery is William Forrester, a one-time novelist who now lives a life away from those that once sang his praises, leaving them to try and decipher his masterwork, Avalon Landing. He lives in a small apartment in the corner of the Bronx. Very few people know who he is, though his presence is certainly felt by those in the neighborhood, who often catch him staring at them from his window.

For the longest time, no one has questioned his whereabouts or his reasons for being in his perch. The only human contact he has is from a man that drops by every week with his groceries and his latest royalty check. He seems happy to be alone, where he can read every book that might tip his fancy and even type up some small writings on his own, though none are meant to ever be published.

Also in the neighborhood is Jamal Wallace (Brown), who also feels invigorated in a good book (a glance across his stack of novels finds works ranging from James Joyce to the Marquis de Sade) and likes to write to no one but himself. He is a very bright kid, a basketball star, but does his best to do nothing to stand out in class with his writing ability. He is a C student -- above failing, but below genius. There, he can blend in with his peers and feel fine doing it. But his standardized test scores prove otherwise, showing that he has the ability to be a very prominent student.

These scores cause him to come to the attention of a Manhattan private school, which will pay his tuition in full if he’ll come there, with the added perk that he might play for their waning basketball team. He takes their offer and soon finds himself shunned by his teammates and, most of all, by his English composition teacher, the formidable Prof. Crawford (Abraham). Crawford is not necessarily a bad guy; he even congratulates Jamal on a fine piece above the grades that had been sent to him. He just cannot come to terms with the idea of a black basketball player from the Bronx can write like a middle-aged, time-warn novelist.

So where does this inspiration come from? It happens that Jamal has found a type of friendship with William Forrester. Forrester begins to accept Jamal into his home after the youth breaks into his apartment on a dare and leaves his backpack with his private writings in it. The collaboration is not easy, but before long Jamal is finally getting William to leave his home and be a little more personable, while William coaches him in his writing.

This is one of the best performances in Connery’s long career. He has been searching for that perfect lead character for some time that he can really sink his teeth into. Sure he has done some interesting turns in popcorn movies like The Hunt for the Red October, Entrapment, and The Rock, but it has been 13 years since he really gave a standout dramatic performance (which was his Oscar winning turn in The Untouchables). It has been quite a wait and well worth it.

Nevertheless, Rob Brown still holds his own next to Connery, which quite an achievement considering that it is Brown’s first film. Brown gives a subtle performance that has the emotional charge that Matt Damon lacked in Good Will Hunting. I would love to see Brown make a great career over the next few years, he really does deserve to find a fine future without being destined to genre pictures like the talented Omar Epps.

Gus Van Sant has taken enough hits from critics about this film being too close to his 1998 film Good Will Hunting, which is a shame. I personally find the two films to be altogether different beyond the youth to elder relationship in the studious backdrop. This film is much more about the relationship between William Forrester and Jamal, while Good Will Hunting was more about the budding love affair of Matt Damon’s and Minnie Driver’s characters. The relationship of this film, between Jamal and Anna Paquin’s Claire Spence, is merely a subplot -- kind of an also-ran relationship to the Forrester/Jamal relationship.

Van Sant is not necessarily one of the greatest directors in the world, but he does have a good ear for tone in a film. He knows when a film would work best as a serene, laid back character study and when it would be better to off-the-map. I happen to be one of the biggest supporters of To Die For, his 1995 masterpiece about exploitation, sex, and murder. It was a mad film, almost to the point of frenzy -- which is exactly what it needed to be. Meanwhile, films like this and Good Will Hunting work better because they have a more tied down feel and, in fact, a more commercial appeal. Even his worst films (Psycho, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, My Own Private Idaho) are works of perfect tone, just bad films from the outset.

Finding Forrester, like Wonder Boys from earlier this year and the recent Quills, is also notable for being appealing from a writer’s point of view. I love the idea that films like these show how much goes through a writer as they continually imagine what’s next. For many of the finest authors, at least those we meet in the movies, choosing what’s next in life has become a type of writer’s block.


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O Brother, Where Art Thou?

(Dir: Joel Coen, Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Charles Durning, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Chris Thomas King, Wayne Duvall, Michael Badalucco, Daniel von Bargen, Del Pentecost, J.R. Horne, Brian Reddy, Ed Gale, Ray McKinnon, Stephen Root, Frank Collison, and Lee Weaver)



Earlier this year I had the chance to see a new director’s cut of Blood Simple, the first film of director/writers/producer team Joel and Ethan Coen. That film, with its snide mentality and black comedy, was an incredible use of celluloid -- one of the landmark achievements of cinema.

I had been pacified by that film’s re-release and was not on the edge of my seat for another Coen brothers production like I usually am, but they went all out this year and released a second film within the year. At least the earlier film deafens the blow struck by their latest effort.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is not a bad film, just a problematic one. I love how quickly Owen Gleiberman over at Entertainment Weekly disregarded the film for being a hideous mess, but I cannot agree with him. At the same time, I cannot understand how some of my colleagues, including Upcoming Movies’ Greg Dean Schmitz and Spliced Online’s Rob Blackwelder, have heralded this film as being a miraculous film experience. Did I see a different film from all the other critics?

In my mind, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is so flawed that it left a bad taste in my mouth when it ended. Of course, I have grown to dislike it less over the hours after seeing it, but when it finally ended, I felt like I had been through one of those saddening experiences in which you just don’t get the joke.

The film is definitely quirky, as most of the Coen brothers films are, but it seems to be the one that really gets out of hand. However many inspired moments there are, very little comes together in any form of a complete film. I felt like I had just watched a handful of nice, sometimes hilarious vignettes, but the film as a whole never comes to terms with all its fine sequences in a sufficient, round-about fashion.

There is a sense that this could have been a great film, but the outlandish approach to every moment makes things blend in an unbalanced amalgamation. There are scenes that are near genius, but they seem to be there only for that reason and not for the development of the entire film. Characters come and go like disposable Kleenex, and no one notices their disappearance. Then, suddenly in the last act of the film, every character re-appears in a type of "remember me" moment -- though there is really no other reason for them to suddenly come back to the story.

Take for example the scenes with George ‘Babyface’ Nelson (Badalucco). Nelson has no connection to these characters and their presence in his scenes makes no difference to anything he does. Nevertheless, there’s no questioning the genius that these scenes are built around. I love the thought of Joel and Ethan standing at the set and thinking how funny it would be for Nelson to turn the gun on the cows on the side of the road. That moment made me laugh harder than any other moment of the film. That was inspired, unfortunately there was no inspiration to make the film work as a whole.

The main story of the film is based on Homer’s Odyssey just set in 1930’s Mississippi. There’s still Ulysses (Clooney; actually Everett Ulysses McGill) and his odyssey through the lands that encounter some Sirens and a Cyclops (both of whom give two incredible sequences -- a seductive singing of "Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby" and a Busby Berkley inspired Ku Klux Klan rally).

The trick is that Everett Ulysses McGill is a chain gang prisoner, on the same chain as dumb Pete (Turturro and dumber Delmar (Nelson) and on the run from the police as they supposedly rush to get some loot from McGill’s last heist before his old cottage is flooded by the opening of the Tennessee River by the TVA. En route, he finally comes to his wife Penny (Hunter) who is about to marry the campaign manager of a Mississippi gubernatorial candidate. At the same time, the three have become a statewide sensation through their bluegrass recording "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" as a group called The Soggy Bottom Boys with guitar accompaniment by Tommy Johnson (King; a character inspired by bluegrass musician Robert Johnson who also spoke of an encounter with the Devil at a crossroads).

Quirkiness is a priority for any Coen brothers film, but they have never let it get this out of hand. I happen to consider them to be their best when they are in more serious films with dry, dark comedy. Their masterworks, at least in my mind, are Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, and Blood Simple, all of which are funny but still a little serious. There are two straight comedies in their filmography that come near genius, The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona, but even I have some problems with Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy, where perception is half the battle.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the least of their films, however. I have no doubt that this is the best that could be done with this film and that they are the best people for the task, it’s just that it could not pan out in the direction that I would have liked. It has so many great things in it (the period score by T-Bone Burnett and Carter Burwell and the beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins stand out) that it is tough to find this film to be a disappointment. But a disappointment it certainly was.


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You Can Count on Me

(Dir: Kenneth Lonergan, Starring Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Rory Culkin, Jon Tenney, Kenneth Lonergan, Adam LeFevre, J. Smith-Cameron, and Josh Lucas)



Sammy (Linney) is a young woman, living in a small upstate New York residence. She has a comfy job as a loan officer, where she has been happy working for seven years. Everyday she takes fifteen minutes from her lunch break to pick up her eight-year-old Rudy (Culkin). Everything seems happy in her life, despite the fact that she has had to fight all of her life -- whether it be to grow up without parents (they died in a car crash eighteen years earlier) or raising her boy without the help of her roughneck ex-husband.

But things fall apart, as they must in motion pictures, in a short span of time. She gets a new boss Brian (Broderick), whose passivity is only hidden in a mask of aggressive stupidity, and learns that her brother Terry (Ruffalo) is coming to visit. At first, she thinks that Terry’s visit will be a great occurrence, at least a beautiful few days above the job she is slowly coming to hate. But Terry is not there to be cordial; all he needs is some money to take home to his recently impregnated suicidal girlfriend and couldn’t care less about making Sammy’s day.

Within moments of his arrival, Sammy, dressed like she is going to a social engagement, notices that Terry is not the person that she cleaned up the house for. He, sitting there in ragged, hole-worn clothing and unshaven, does not worry about being nice and not pushing for the money too quick. He even seems weary of the thought of remaining with her long enough to make her happy. But he is her brother and she cannot deny him the money.

Yet he does not leave the next day as he had planned. Perhaps he is a little saddened that he made his sister blow-up at him, perhaps he needs a little freedom from the girl back in Massachusetts. The only thing that is for certain is that he is not remaining in town to see the sights of Scottsville, the place where the two grew up (Sammy lives in the home that they were raised in) and he has yearned to be free of. In many ways, he feels incensed at Sammy for remaining -- in his mind, Scottsville is a little oblivion where nothing ever happens.

Scottsville is in many ways like the Vermont town that serves as the backdrop of David Mamet’s State and Main. They are both places where a bite to eat does not mean going to a local McDonald’s and where shopping is not restricted to a trip to the local mall. People know each other and feel like they everyone is their equal. I lived in one of these towns (though the Utopian parallels are certainly not true) and always have a fondness to films that look at them in such a sense. You Can Count on Me does not condemn the small town life, nor does it act like it is the only way to live (as The Family Man so ineptly strove for), it instead tries to show how people do live under these conditions. Sammy loves it, Terry hates it -- neither one is necessarily right.

This film is about five people, all of whom are some how related to one, Sammy. And this film delves into every intricate part of these relationships. There’s the way she must try to understand the poor personal choices of Terry but retain that sibling love, the way she dotes over her son Rudy like any loving single mother does, the way she hates her Brian but still sleeps with him despite his pregnant wife, and the way she cannot commit to her on-and-off boyfriend Bob. Every relationship is a strong bond -- between family it is one of love, between lovers it is one of convenience. She cannot understand a life without Rudy and Terry (part of her aggravation at Terry comes from his lack of communication in over six months). At the same time she has a coy side with Bob and Brian, both of whom are sexual objects -- she calls Bob for a date as if she’s calling for pizza delivery and she uses her affair with Brian to help her in office politics.

But this is not a film about a woman that manipulated her way into being a strong leader for liberationists everywhere. Sammy is the archetypical woman, loving and caring while still knowing what is best. I have no doubt that she thinks ahead on certain things even when they go against her faith (she questions many of her actors with her local Methodist preacher, played by writer/director Lonergan). She is strong, but also emotionally attached in every direction that is possible.

There are two leads to this film, but for me this is all Linney’s movie. She steals every moment with an incredible performance that might finally bring her the attention that she has so long deserved. Laura Linney first came to the fore in the 1993 miniseries Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City and has ridden into small, but important roles since. She was one of the finest things about Primal Fear, Absolute Power, and Congo. And she was simply marvelous in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show two years ago.

In You Can Count on Me, she blows away all those other performances. She is a compassionate woman who acts like an adult and is not the nut or tramp that Hollywood normally brings to the screen. If Linney does not get an Oscar nomination for this performance I will be outraged. Linney gives a bright and illustrious performance, the type that could make her a star if the film can get a wide enough release (which was the downfall of Janet McTeer in last year’s Tumbleweeds).

On the other side of the bill is Mark Ruffalo, who gives an incredible performance as a ne’er-do-well drifter that finally finds a bond to his sister through her son. Ruffalo is not what you’d consider to be a star to be found. He does not have the looks of a Tom Cruise, but his acting is enough to bring him to Brando-like status. I must admit that I had never really noted Ruffalo before in the couple movies I had seen of his, but now I shall certainly look forward to what he does in the future.

My only real problem in the cast is Broderick, who brings his character too close to cliché. Didn’t Dabney Coleman once play that part? Or was it Harrison Ford? In an all-out comedy, a clichéd character would not have hurt too much, but this film tries to come so close to reality that the mass-produced boss character sticks out like a sour thumb. The only nice thing is that Brian is played by Broderick, who is looking better these days since he shed the cocky Ferris Bueller persona that he had been riding for years.

Kenneth Lonergan has a fine ear for dialogue, something that seems to be notable about most playwrights that make the move to films. The film is about adults talking like adults and dealing with adult issues. The film is never condescending to the audience and always strives to be as realistic as it can be. You Can Count on Me is a human drama that never lets itself become a manipulative tear jerker. It is mesmerizing from start to finish as it beautifully, and often joyfully, looks at people dealing with relationships and how these relationships structure everything in their lives.


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Year in Review Essay:

The Mouse That Roared
Cinema 2000: Small Films in the Limelight

As the year comes to a close, only one thing rings true: small films were big. Not since early 1997, as theatres in Middle America attempted to make up for lack of coverage of the independent films that were huge in late 1996, has the indie film movement had such a resurgence.

So why has it happened? Simple, the lineup that the studios had for the year was so lackluster that people could only turn to the small films. When Pay It Forward turned out to be a manipulative mess, people searching an uplifting story went to Universal Focus’ Billy Elliot. When Proof of Life was discovered to be practically DOA, the only place to go for a tough human drama was Screen Gems’ Girlfight.

Many people were left disappointed with films like DreamWorks’ The Legend of Bagger Vance (which I seem to be one of the few that truly respect that film) and The Contender, Paramount Pictures’ Rules of Engagement, and Disney’s Mission to Mars, all of which were built to be huge films for their respective studios. Meanwhile the little companies found successes in Lions Gate Films’ American Psycho, Paramount Classics’ The Virgin Suicides, Artisan Entertainment’s Requiem for a Dream, Fine Line Features’ Dancer in the Dark and Before Night Falls, and Shooting Gallery Films’ Croupier. In the end, it was respectable to be a little film this year.

But the studios were not completely devoid of their piece of the pie. DreamWorks had a huge slate that included Almost Famous, Chicken Run, and Gladiator, Paramount had Wonder Boys, Universal released Erin Brockovich, and Warner Bros. had a summer hit in The Perfect Storm. But their usual release schedule seemed lacking this year, leaving many pundits nodding their heads in despair. Leonard Maltin even called it the worst year for films since the silent era.

I beg to differ since I have a great deal of respect for many of the late year releases (Quills, Cast Away, Before Night Falls). Earlier in this year, when I had only two four star films to speak of (Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides and Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys), I was ready to call this a miserable year. It still cannot compare to last year’s great slate, but this year has turned up some fine moments.

Of course, there is one fact that could be partly to blame for my higher regard for the year. Unlike last year, I decided to only watch the films that I wanted to watch this year. Sure I did catch a few that I knew would be horrible from the get-go (Little Nicky, Whipped), but I certainly missed some truly miserable films based upon reports from other critics (mentioned most seems to be The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas and Battlefield Earth).

Did this decision pay off in the end? To tell the truth, I don’t think so. Last year I pushed myself to see every film that was released near me (not living in the larger city of Boston but in the smaller Nashville certainly helped) and, in turn, caught an impressive array of independent, foreign, and documentary films. To the best of my knowledge, I only skipped one documentary (The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack), but the other two genres were hurt big time from this change in viewing habits. I’d love to think that I have seen all the foreign films that I should have seen by now, but it kills me that I missed Aimee & Jaguar, The Girl on the Bridge, Shower, Butterfly, and An Affair of Love, all of which have been praised this year. My personal life and normal viewing schedule made those films inopportune, but now I feel the lesser without having seen them.

When I decided to make this change, I thought that it would be a gracious excuse to have more time and to be freed of many of the horrible films that I saw in 1999. But, with all things considered, I feel that I truly missed out on some magic by choosing to do this. Perhaps I’ll be more rigorous in seeing small films that would otherwise be missed next year.

As 2000 comes to a close, I look at a wealth of great Fall/Winter films to keep me content until this time next year. I know that there’s going to be a very painful next four months to go through (few things in this world are as bad the films that come out in the Spring movie season). Perhaps I’ll luck out and there might be a hidden treasure in the March. Or maybe, I could become a big patron over at the nearby Blockbuster Video. Hmm, when does Shower come out on video?

Reviews by:
David Perry