Cover for The Negotiator starring Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey.
Ever since I discovered House of Cards, I’ve been taking the opportunity to watch Kevin Spacey’s backlist of films. I always knew the guy was good, I just didn’t know how many good films he had made.
Take The Negotiator (1998), tight hostage drama thriller. Samuel L. Jackson plays Danny Roaman, a hot shot crisis negotiator with the Chicago Police Department, who winds up taking hostages himself when he is framed for the murder of his partner. Danny’s partner, Nate, had been investigating embezzlement and corruption within the department. Now, surrounded by a small army of cops, some of whom will stop at nothing to silence him, Danny calls on an outside negotiator, Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), to handle the talks–and find the truth–as the clock ticks down.
Although the focus is on the mystery, the screenplay has a lot of humorous moments as well and I often found myself laughing out loud. Much use of F-word although it doesn’t seem gratituous given the high stakes nature of the situation and a good deal of violence. Two thumbs way up.
Although Beyond the Sea has been tagged as a biopic, I would actually classify it as a deconstructed musical. Kevin Spacey produces and stars in this fictionalized biography about the life of singer, Bobby Darin. Born into a poor Italian family in Brooklyn, Bobby had rheumatic fever as a kid which damaged his heart. The knowledge that he was living on borrowed time drove him to succeed as a singer, songwriter, and actor, but at the expense of his family and his health. Spacey uses a fictional frame–Darin making a movie of his own life–to move both backwards and forwards in time through the events of Darin’s life with the soundtrack provided by Darin’s own songs. Spacey’s resemblance to Darin–his sound, his movement, his look–is uncanny and is a testament to the amount of work he put in to create the character. Kate Bosworth gets an equally big credit for her portrayal of Darin’s wife, the luminous and troubled Sandra Dee. Some critics panned this movie, but I really enjoyed it and would recommend it.
Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat) directs The Shipping News, a quiet, charming, often funny family drama about second chances starring Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, and Judi Dench among others. Spacey plays Quoyle, a nebbishy loser with no self-esteem, thanks to his abusive father. Quoyle sleepwalks through life until he meets the wild, good-timing Petal (played by an unrecognizable Cate Blanchett). After Petal’s death in a car accident ends their dysfunctional marriage, the widowed Quoyle moves to Newfoundland, the ancestral home of his family, with his young daughter, Bunny, and his Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench). With the encouragement of the people he meets, Quoyle gradually blossoms as a writer and learns to face his own demons and his dark family secrets. Julianne Moore plays his love interest, Wavey Prowse, a woman with secrets of her own. As a Northerner, I quite enjoyed the film’s setting in Newfoundland and found many of the characters of Killick-Claw to be very familiar. I also recommend the book the film was based on.
American Beauty is a difficult film to classify–is it film noir? Black satire? Mystery? Comedy? Some strange combination of all of the above? Spacey plays Lester Burnham and Annette Benning plays his wife, Carolyn–a charming suburban couple who seem to have the perfect life: teenage daughter, lovely home, good jobs. Beneath the surface, however, things are anything but perfect. As Lester and Carolyn’s marriage comes apart, he begins acting out and lusting after Angela, a Lolita-esque cheerleader friend of his daughter’s. Meanwhile, his daughter, Jane, forms a relationship with Ricky, the mysterious new kid next door, while his manic wife, Carolyn, deals with their disintegrating marriage by having an affair of her own. In this movie, nothing is what it seems. The characters change and evolve as we learn new things about their lives. Even the title is hard to pin down. Does “American Beauty” refer to Angela? To Carolyn’s roses? To the ideal of success that Americans are supposed to aspire to? Great performances from the whole cast, especially from Wes Bentley who plays Ricky. An excellent and unsettling film.
It’s the 1980s–an age of AIDS and excess. In Savannah, Georgia, the people are genteel (if eccentric), the drink flows freely, the parties go all night, and gay people stay hidden in the closet while their friends and family pretend not to know. Everyone can agree on one thing: Jim Williams, a rich antiques dealer, shot and killed his gay lover (played by a pouty Jude Law) in a fight after a Christmas party. What no one can agree on is whether it was self-defense as Jim claims or murder as the police claim. John Cusack plays the New York reporter who came down to cover Jim’s famous Christmas party and fell into the story of his career. Sadly, the movie suffers from slow pacing. Chopping a big chunk out of the middle would have improved this film considerably. Even so, I enjoyed it and was intrigued enough to read the book on which it was based. The book is also very good and gives a lot more background detail on the characters. The movie soundtrack features jazzy renditions of Johnny Mercer songs.
Why David Mamet is considered a good playwright is beyond me. Glengarry Glen Ross has a good setup–the loser salesmen at Premiere Realty are given an ultimatum by their boss: make the most sales or get fired. With exception of star salesman Ricky (Al Pacino) who is currently on a hot streak, all three men are equally desperate and the next morning the office has been broken into and the new “hot” leads are gone. Who done it? Sadly, what could be a tight, fast-paced plot line is spoiled by a lot endless, pointless, menandering dialogue punctuated by a lot of equally meaningless swearwords. Glengarry features excellent performances from an all-star cast with Jack Lemmon as Shelly “The Machine” Levine, the old-timer once a star now down on his luck, Alan Arkin as George, as his equally washed up colleague, Ed Harris, as Dave, the office complainer, and Kevin Spacey as John, the office manager, who has been cursed to ride herd on this lot of dime-a-dozen divas.
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