“Cedar Rapids” – 2011. Dir. Miguel Arteta


 

With Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Stephen Root with Kurtwood Smith and Sigourney Weaver

Produced by Alexander Payne

“You look like R2-D2”

“Beep…boop…beep.”

I haven’t been on here for a while. But I’m back in black. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again – remember when John C. Reilly was a good actor? Well in the small Alexander Payne/John Hughes feeling comedy – Reilly is excellent.

Ed Helms plays a hybrid of Andy from “The Office” and Stu from “The Hangover” – he basically plays the same square character that he always has. He’s fallen into a typecast, but it’s a typecast that he thrives on. He is Tim Lippe, a small town insurance agent who has just been thrown into a conference in Cedar Rapids. His boss (Stephen Root) warns him to steer clear of Dean Zeigler (John C. Reilly). As you can imagine, it doesn’t.

Basically the film takes Tim from his suburban, square and boring life to “the time of his life” at Cedar Rapids. While the film is a vehicle for Helms, the film belongs to Reilly – and the film suffers remarkably when Reilly isn’t on camera (especially after we’re first introduced to him).

To me, “Cedar Rapids” is much like “Hangover” in the way that it feels like it could have been a comedy vehicle for Bill Murray and Steve Martin, or Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. By saying John C. Reilly does his best Bill Murray impression isn’t giving enough credit to Reilly. But let’s just say, the role of Dean “Deanzee” Ziegler is a role that was made for Bill Murray (Deanzee is much like Big Ern), and John C. Reilly does an amazing job with the role.

Anne Heche is a nice addition to the film, she does a fine job. For once I actually enjoy watching Sigourney Weaver again. She plays Tim’s grade school teacher who he is now having a relationship with. And Isiah Whitlock, Jr. plays the “white” black guy (ala Cleveland) who references HBO’s “The Wire” twice – which Whitlock was on for about twenty five episodes.

There isn’t a lot to say about this film. It’s funny, takes itself a little too serious at times, but lags when the camera isn’t on Reilly. But I think you’ll find this to be an enjoyable little comedy even though this film feels like it could have been Alexander Payne’s student film.

Rating: 7/10

“Sydney” (“Hard Eight”) – 1996. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson


With Phillip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Melora Waters, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson.

“I think if you need help paying for your mother’s funeral, we can work it out. I want you to see that my reasons for doing this are not selfish, only this: I’d hope you would do the same for me.” – Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film is an extremely small film that is a wonderful slow burn. It’s a film that isn’t like “Magnolia” or “Boogie Nights” at all; it’s more along the lines of “There Will Be Blood” (but not nearly as epic or perfect). Our man character is Sydney who is a very vague and ambiguous gambler who is out of Reno, Nevada. He meets a young drifter John (John C. Reilly) who is trying to find a way to pay for his mother’s funeral.

Sydney being a noble and generous man takes John to Reno with him, and teaches him how to gamble, how to work the system. John becomes Sydney’s protégé. From what we see of Sydney at the beginning of the film (and for that matter the rest of the film), Sydney is an honorable and noble man, but he does have his own personal reasons for taking John under his wing.

The film flash forwards two years and we find John has become a successful professional gambler who has become engaged to Clementine (Paltrow) who is the casino’s cocktail waitress and moonlights as a call girl. John begins to deviate from Sydney’s teachings and values and begins a relationship with Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) who is a shady and manipulative person. Sydney sees right through Jimmy’s bullshit – but Jimmy knows something about Sydney – something that will turn everything upside down.

This is a very, very good film. It’s vintage PTA where he starts his trademark character study that makes “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” so wonderful. A PTA film is nothing less than a trip through the psyche of characters that are so interesting. Anderson is a remarkable storyteller who shows us everything yet tells us very little.

Anderson uses “Sydney” to set up his trilogy of beautiful sadness that is preceded by “Boogie Nights” and ends with “Magnolia”. When Jimmy confronts Sydney about his “past” he tells Sydney that he heard it from Jimmy Gator and Floyd Gondoli. Phillip Baker Hall played Gondolli in “Boogie Nights” and Jimmy Gator in “Magnolia”.

Anderson rounds out his small crew of character actors with a small scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays a cocky gambler with a mullet, and Melora Waters. Robert Rigbey shows up as a casino manager. PTA has always struck me as the perfect combination of Sam Peckinpah and Martin Scorsese. The way he is so loyal to his actors, how he always reuses them in his features (aside from “Punch Drunk Love” which I still think is an abysmal film aside from Hoffman’s part and then he takes a 180 and makes his masterpiece “There Will Be Blood” where he starts from scratch with a new crew of actors).

This is a very small and quiet film that has flown under most people’s radars. It’s not as great has his other films, but this is the film that started it all, this is the film where we first meet Paul Thomas Anderson who is one of the best filmmakers living or dead. He’s truly unique and amazing and pays so much attention to detail. His films are very Kubrickian.

Rating: 8/10

“Magnolia” – 1997. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

With Melora Walters, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, John C. Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, with Jason Robards and Julianne Moore, and Phillip Baker Hall

“As the good book says: we may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”

Nothing is a matter of chance – there is no such thing as luck. Paul Thomas Anderson who is undoubtedly the most important filmmaker of our generation takes us through a journey of crisscrossing lives in LA. There are ten major characters that are all linked together through one man – Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) who is a big wig television producer who is dying. He produces a game show (name?) “What Do Kids Know?” hosted by Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall) who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Jimmy’s wife Rose (Melinda Dillon) is supportive of him, loves him but can’t help but wonder about why their daughter Claudia (Melora Waters) is addicted to drugs and refuses to see them. Claudia starts a strange and odd romance with a police officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly).

There is a young child prodigy on the game show, Stanley (Jeremy Blackman), who is a direct reflection of the child prodigy thirty years ago, “Quiz Kid” Donnie Smith (who is played as an adult by William H. Macy). Earl Partridge’s caretaker is Phil Parma (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who takes care of Earl while his wife Linda (Julianne Moore) drinks and swallows prescription drugs. Earl’s last wish is for Phil to get a hold of Earl’s estranged son, the egotistical motivational speaker who teaches men to “Seduce and Destroy” women – Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise).

If you followed this so far, it just gets even more unbelievably complicated from here with secondary characters that branch from the main ones. Alfred Molina comes back from his second PTA outing as Solomon Solomon – one of two brothers who run an electronics store that employs Donnie Smith because Solomon feels sorry for him. Tarantino alum Michael Bowen plays the struggling actor who’s Stanley’s father who is using his kid for the money he’ll earn. Frequent PTA and David Mamet player Ricky Jay acts as narrator and as Burt Ramsey, the director of “What Do Kids Know?” Luis Guzman is back in his comedic relief form as an Adult on the game show panel playing against the Kids. Henry Gibson is a philosophical drunk man who drinks at the same bar Donnie Smith does – the two muse together in a hostile relationship. And of course – Robert Downey, Sr. shows up as an operator in the control room of “What Do Kids Know?” and Thomas Jane has a two second cameo as a young Jimmy Gator.

This film is built upon it’s screenplay like every other Anderson film (since I don’t care at all for “Punch Drunk Love” I don’t acknowledge it as a PTA film) – but a great screenplay isn’t enough for an Anderson film. The original music by Aimee Mann is unbelievable which adds to the authenticity and remarkable showing of this film. Her music was the central foundation of this film – her music inspired Anderson to create the character of Claudia, and all the other characters were branched off from her. His usages of two Supertramp songs are just perfect – he’s ranked with Scorsese and Zach Snyder for his usage of popular music in film.

This film deals with the universal feelings of the absorbent emotional pain of loneliness and abandonment. After the prologue of Ricky Jay narrating three random events that at a quick glance all seem like a matter of chance – they are anything but. The film opens with Aimee Man covering Three Dog Night’s “One” and we are hurried and rushed through quick chaotic character introductions. What this film leaves us with is the signature plethora of beautiful long shots that Anderson is so well known for.

But, what truly makes this film absolutely wonderful is the exceptional cast of actors that bare their souls to us.

Jason Robards as Earl Partridge: Robards is a wonderful actor who seems to go overlooked even though he won two back to back Best Supporting Actor Oscars. He is unbelievably wonderful in this film. He’s an old lonely man who is bitter and left rambling about life, about “the goddamn regret”.

Melora Waters as Claudia: In an odd way Claudia is the bedrock of this film. You can totally see how Anderson wrote her first and how the other characters branched from her. She gives a painfully heartbreaking performance in the film. She’s amazing and you can’t help but think that she’s the alter ego to Aimee Man.

Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey: In an already impressive career Tom Cruise is the one who steals this film with a career best performance. He will never, ever be able to top his performance in this film. His character is so filled with absolute bullshit he actually believes it. The scene he shares with Jason Robards is one of the finest moments in cinema history.

Phillip Baker Hall as Jimmy Gator: This is by far my favorite character from the film. He’s this well liked and very distinguished man, but on the inside he’s hollow and heinous. I remember being in High School and seeing this film, and seeing Phillip Baker Hall and was amazed at what a terrific actor he really is.

John C. Reilly as Officer Jim Kurring: I know I’ve said this before, and of course I’ll say it again: remember when John C. Reilly was a good actor?

Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Phil Parma: This was the first film when I realized what an awe inspiring actor Hoffman really is. He’s pathetic and weak in this film – but in a way he’s the bridge that closes a lot of gaps. While watching this film, I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be his character with events that unfold.

William H. Macy as “Quiz Kid” Donnie Smith: Wow. Remember when William H. Macy was a good actor?

Julianne Moore as Linda Partridge: It’s almost as if she’s plays the daughter of her “Boogie Nights” character. Moore is at her best when she’s selfish, an addict and fucking insane. People talk about how they can’t believe Leonardo DiCaprio hasn’t won an Oscar yet – fuck that – Julianne Moore should get a Lifetime Achievement Oscar now.

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Jeremy Blackman as Stanley: Undoubtedly the weakest link in the cast – but he’s still pretty amazing for a child actor.

Melinda Dillon as Rose Gator: I’ve never felt so bad for someone in my entire life. Jesus…

There is a scene in this film that I had never, ever seen before. Most people give “Almost Famous” credit for a scene of this style. They are idiots. I can talk about this film for days. But I won’t – I’ll leave you with this:

“Boogie Nights” – 1997. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

With Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, John C. Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, Heather Graham, Thomas Jane, Alfred Molina with Robert Ridgley with Robert Downey, Sr. and Phillip Baker Hall.

Everybody has one special thing.

“Boogie Nights is the story of Eddie Adams, a young boy trying to find it place in life. The one thing that Eddie has that sets him apart from the rest of the boys is his enormous cock. Enter the world of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights”. You’ve all seen it, and if you haven’t I feel bad for you.

The film opens with a tremendously amazing opening long shot of the wonderful cast of characters in this film. The one continuous shot that Anderson creates here is a marvel of filmmaking (yes I am have seen “I am Cuba” and I know that’s where Anderson got the opening of his film from). With this long introduction we start outside the club “Boogie Nights” and carefully watch as legendary porn king Jack Horner (Reynolds) and his girlfriend Amber (Moore) enter. Through the bowels of the club, we are introduced to every important central character of the film.

Once things settle inside the club, Jack sees Eddie – and it’s love at first sight. They quickly form a bond that blossoms into a wonderful partnership. This is a simple generic “coming of age story” (GOD I HATE THAT TERM!) but it is so deeply complex. It’s this interweaving cast of characters that become so invested with the film and other characters and especially us, the audience.

Paul Thomas Anderson is the next Martin Scorsese.

PTA delivers us such an amazing feat – he doesn’t only show us the ups and downs of the characters, their births and redemptions, but also makes a complex story that is the film the prefaces “Magnolia” and shows us that this is the film “Crash” wanted to be.

The screenplay is unreal; it’s one of the best I’ve seen/read. But without a cast of excellent actors to match your excellent screenplay – you’re left holding the bag. Let me slightly digress:

Burt Reynolds – This is undoubtedly Reynolds’ finest performance. He is truly on fire in this film. The way his character flows, and commands our attention – we can’t take our eyes off of him, and his wonderful creamy hair and beard. Way to fuck up the rebirth of your career by punching PTA and publicly degrading the film – oh…but you got an Oscar Nomination for it. You were amazing in “Magnolia”…oh…wait.

Mark Wahlberg – People don’t give Marky Mark enough credit. When I was younger I thought he was the worst actor I’ve ever seen – but the joke of the matter is, that his character is a joke. He is just such a bimbo. I think Wahlberg getting nominated for “The Departed” might have been a slight make-up nomination.

Julianne Moore – Never in my life have I seen such a desperate character. All she wants is to love and be loved. She has a vacuum in her heart, and she tries to fill it with everything she possibly can. She is so amazing in the film – this is when I fell in love with her.

John C. Reilly – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Remember when he used to be a great actor?

William H. Macy – Another solid performance by one of the greatest character actors of the 1990’s.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman – The birth of an acting legend. It’s such a painful scene when Scottie professes his love to Dirk. It breaks what little is left of my heart.

Heather Graham – What happened to you? Your ass used to be beautiful.

Luis Guzman – This guy is almost as cool as Danny Trejo.

Don Cheadle – The scene that always sticks with me from the film is when he’s offered the chance to take that bag of bloody money during the botched robbery. Cheadle is covered in blood, his hands still in the air, everyone’s dead. Would you take that money?

Thomas Jane – In his small and vital role, he puts on a fucking clinic. What an amazing actor he is.

Alfred Molina – His part in the film is one of the most fucked up, stomach turning situations any character in film history has ever been in. That scene made me love “Sister Christian”.

Phillip Baker Hall – My AIM screen name all throughout high school was Floyd Gulondi (a misspelling of his last name in the film). That’s how much I loved his character.

Robert Ridgely – The Colonel…’nough said.

Robery Downey, Sr. – How fucking awesome for PTA to put RDS in his film. It’s so joyous to me when a younger filmmaker pays such a tribute to the filmmakers before him who inspired him. Rock on.

Ricky Jay – He’s awesome in everything he’s in. Way to get in with PTA and Mamet. I like his magic too.

Don’t you just love watching characters hitting rock bottom? I do. Watching the amazing cross cutting between Dirk Diggler jerking off for a guy in his truck for $10 – and watching Roller Girl (Heather Graham) getting nearly raped by a d-bag jock she went to high school with while Jack Horner sits and watches – Jesus Christ, it’s a lot to take in. Watching humans at their lowest form is such a humbling experience.

This film is very important to me.

This film is nothing less than poetic, marking the most poetic film that I have ever seen. All the characters are brought together in the beginning in a wonderful long shot – they’re all happy and living the disco dream – and in the end, they are all brought together once again in an incredibly amazing long shot – and once again, they’re happy, they are together. It just puts a smile on my face. God I love this film.

Rating: 10/10

PS: I bought this on Blu-Ray because I didn’t own the DVD and I thought that it would look really slick – you know the whole color schemes, the cinematography and what not. I did own the two disc special edition DVD when it came out WAY back in the day. It was the first film I ever watched with director’s commentary. While I was at college, I left it at my then girlfriend’s apartment. Needless to say we broke up after she flew to Ireland to have sex with this Italian pharmacist she met. No, I’m not making this up. It’s actually a pretty funny story now looking back, but when it was happening it was like a movie. But anyway she’s happily living in California working for the Producers Guild of America dating some rich guy and I’m still here in Chicago still paying off my credit card debt from that little deceptive twat. Anywho – I was disappointed with the Blu-Ray of “Boogie Nights”, I could tell that it was Blu-Ray but wasn’t that great. No need to make the jump for “Boogie Nights”.

“Gangs of New York” – 2003. Dir. Martin Scorsese

With Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Gary Lewis with Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson and Liam Neeson.

“You see this fucking knife? I’m going to teach you how to speak English with this fucking knife.”

  • Bill “the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis).

I need to get this off my chest now. Cameron Diaz is fucking awful in this film, Leonardo DiCaprio is miscast and I don’t know what Scorsese was thinking by casting Henry Thomas. Phew…I feel better now. That being said, “Gangs of New York” is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece.

The film starts out bold. Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) is preparing his men for an epic battle with the Confederation of American Natives which is lead by Bill “the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) to see who controls the Five Points for good and all. Vallon and his men mount inside a rundown church, and meet outside in the Five Points (where all major roads meet to a town square). They stand outside in the dead of winter and stand idle – waiting for hell to unleash.

Men with top hats and blue sashes begin to slither out of buildings, and stand on the other side of the square. This is where we see Cutting, glass eye and all. What unleashes is a brutally violent battle. The battle sequence is one of the best filmed, being slowed down to 12 frames per second and queued up to Peter Gabriel’s ambient and eerie sounding “Signal to Noise”.


Men are screaming, ripping each others cheeks apart, and stabbing each other with dull and rusty blades. It’s a chaotic scene but our focus begins to turn to Cutting who is weaving through the crowd, blood lust is in his eye and his sights are set on Vallon. Cutting takes no prisoners; killing his own men who stand in his way just to get to Vallon.

He gets to Vallon and stabs him in the side, then in the stomach. The Priest falls and the battle is over. All the men halt. A young Amsterdam Vallon (played as an adult by DiCaprio) is taken to an orphanage and is to be sure to get “a good education” scowls Cutting.

Time passes and Amsterdam is then let out as an adult. He returns to the Five Points with a mission of revenge. He is slowly taken under the wing of Cutting and Amsterdam gets as close to him as possible so he can avenge the death of his father.

This is an extremely flawed film; I’ll be the first to admit that. There are a lot of things very wrong with it. I have always said that Colin Farrell would have be absolutely PERFECT as Amsterdam. My belief is that since Scorsese had been trying to make this film for decades, the studio would only green light the film if he had star appeal. As much of a great actor Day-Lewis is – he’s not a box office draw (for the masses anyway), so DiCaprio and Diaz were forced into the film for their box office appeal. But to be positive, this film did start a wonderful collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio (and to be negative – it’s starting to run its course). But don’t think for a second the collaboration is anywhere near as good as Scorsese/DeNiro or Scorsese/Keitel.

DiCaprio just doesn’t work. His shitty neck beard and pretty bad Irish accent are very distracting. Every scene he shares with Day-Lewis he’s completely overshadowed. The character that Diaz plays is a thief that has a special relationship with Cutting – so she’s given free reign and doesn’t owe him “tribute” – just sex.


The character of Jenny should have been turned into an older “street woman” and played by Jodie Foster. She could still have that relationship with Cutting, and also allow Amsterdam’s fixation with her as well – creating the jealously trap that happens. I think it would have added more maturity and weight to the film.

This is Day-Lewis’ film hands down. He carries the entire film on his back with the help of Neeson, Gleeson and Reilly (hey – remember when he used to be an actor?). The attention he commands from you is unreal. I’ve never seen an actor be able to do this with every single film he’s in. The guy is a fucking titan of cinema.

This is the film that combines all of Scorsese’s passions, everything he’s built his career on. It’s a period piece epic, it’s an antiwar film (the Civil War draft directly reflecting Vietnam), the setting is New York City (which Scorsese loves more than anything) and it’s about the birth of organized crime – or the mob if you will. The film is an ensemble film, which Scorsese is wonderful at crafting. This is an extremely personal film for Scorsese – as personal as “Mean Streets” or “The Last Temptation of Christ”. The guy had tried making this film since the 1970’s!

This film is vintage Scorsese. I haven’t felt this in a Scorsese film since “Gangs”. His use of steady cam, tracking shots, and slow motion just reminds us that he is the greatest living director. When Diaz is introduced into the film, it’s in a slow motion sequence that’s queued up to music – much like Sharron Stone in “Casino” – Scorsese is a master of his craft and I will battle each and every one of you to the death over “Gangs of New York” being his masterpiece.


Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is absolutely wonderful. My words can’t do his art justice. One of my dreams have always been to direct a film with Day-Lewis, but I can’t even imagine how intimidating such a thing would be. This is a guy who invests himself into his characters for the entire film. He’s not Daniel Day- Lewis, he’s Bill Cutting. He doesn’t speak with an English accent; he speaks with his thick New York accent on and off the screen. Anyone who can’t admire his passion, admire his skill is a fool.

Review 10/10