“Casino Jack” – 2010. Dir. George Hickenlooper

With Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Graham Greene and Maury Chaykin

“Mr. President, how are you?”

The story of “Casino Jack” is an important story, it tells the tale of Jack Abramoff who was the most powerful lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and influenced many Republican politicians by bribing them with money, trips, women – anything he could to pass conservative legislation. The most prominent relationship Abramoff had was with House Majority Leader Tom Delay – R, TX (who’s not in jail) and President George W. Bush.

While this film deals with the peak and downfall of Abramoff’s career, it’s just a terrible film. Kevin Spacey plays Abramoff but instead of playing a character Spacey plays a variation of himself. Spacey performs many impressions (which is known for in real life, and is excellent at) including Bill Clinton, Al Pacino, Ronald Regan and Dolph Lundgren (no, I’m not making that up).

I had a real problem believing how true Spacey’s performance was to the real Jack Abramoff. I’m a political junkie and I remember watching the TV coverage of the Abramoff hearings, and the Jack Abramoff I saw was reserved and tight lipped. Spacey’s Abramoff is eccentric, loud and has a gigantic personality. So in other words, it’s just Kevin Spacey being Kevin Spacey.

The fact that Spacey got nominated for a Golden Globe for an Actor in a Musical/Comedy is a joke and just goes to show that the Golden Globes are a joke and hold zero water. First off, this film isn’t a comedy, even though Spacey’s performance can be, at time, “comedic” if that’s what you want to call it.

The supporting cast is lukewarm. Kelly Preston shows up as Abramoff’s wife and she really doesn’t do much except nod her head and smile. Jon Lovitz plays a business man that Abramoff entices to pull a swindle between a Greek Casino owner and the Native American reservations that Abramoff is milking for millions of dollars.

The only salvation of this pathetically terrible film is Barry Pepper who plays Abramoff’s protégé Michael Scanlon who is Abramoff’s go to man for everything. Pepper seemed to be the only one to actually touch upon his talent as an actor, instead of just walking through his role that Kevin Spacey has become a master of lately.

My biggest frustration with the film is that I really question the authenticity of the facts and events of the film. Most of the major events of the film appear to be correct, but the dialogue between characters and interactions between characters don’t jive with me man.

I knew the film wasn’t going to be great, but the late George Hickenlooper directed one of my favorite films ever, “The Big Brass Ring”. His direction is just plain bad. The films flow is interrupted by choppy editing, a horrible screenplay and poor acting.  Hickenlooper’s biggest mistake is letting the film rest upon Spacey’s performance – which isn’t very good – at all.   This film is like one bad SNL skit that lasts and hour and forty minutes.

Rating: 2.5/10

“Seven” – 1995. Dir. David Fincher

With Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, R. Lee Ermey, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. McGinley, Richard Roundtree and Kevin Spacey

“Where to?”

“Far away from here.”

This is a gritty noir film that centers around two detectives: William Somerset (Freeman) who is retiring in seven days, and his replacement David Mills (Pitt) who happen to investigate a string of murders where a killer is killing according to the seven deadly sins.

This is one fucking intense film.

There are many things that strike me about this film, and many things that bring me back to it. I’ve always felt that Freeman is the central character of the film – he’s the veteran detective that’s become so apathetic – so disgusted of the world around him that he’s become a better detective, he’s become extremely jaded. This final case completely solidifies he thoughts about the world.

Pitt plays the polar opposite of Freeman, he’s the young, eager and immature detective who is all balls and no brains – yet they work together with this steady truce and this odd symbiotic relationship.

Andrew Kevin Walker’s screenplay may be one of the finest screenplays ever transformed to screen. There are many elements to me that define the realism of the film. The fact that Brad Pitt doesn’t shower before work, that we know he doesn’t shower before work has always stuck with me. This is a direct reflection of his immaturity. When we see Freeman get ready for work, he’s cleanly shaven, his cloths are pressed, and his hat rests perfectly on his head. As much as Freeman resents his job, as much as it’s made him completely jaded – he has a respect for it, he has a respect for himself.

As Freeman and Pitt become closer, Pitt’s wife played by Gwyneth Paltrow confides to Freeman in a show stopping emotional scene. She’s pregnant and unsure to have the child; Pitt doesn’t know. The subject of abortion has become so taboo in our society its ridiculous – yet in the film “Seven”, nothing is off limits. This scene in the film is the one scene that I always remember, that I always think back too. The dialogue exchange between Paltrow and Freeman is some of the best written dialogue I’ve ever heard.

The dialogue exchange does two things: it completely sums up Freeman’s view of the world and it shows us Paltrow’s doubt. The second thing it does is set up the earth shattering ending that will always be remembered to anyone who ever seen the film.

I love Morgan Freeman in this film, and I think it’s his career performance. He’s the elder, the wise man. He’s a man who probably came from the projects of the city, yet he pulled himself up and becomes an extremely cultured man by spending so much time reading, he absorbs everything.

Kevin Spacey is fucking great as the killer John Doe, and each time I see the film, I just get more and more upset due to the fact that Kevin Spacey hasn’t done anything worth a fuck since “Beyond the Sea”. The fact that Spacey was in both this film and “The Usual Suspects” in the same year is remarkable – giving two polar opposite (to a point) performances and making them both believable. Kevin Spacey can act.

Brad Pitt is very good in the film yet I don’t really care for him, but I don’t think we’re supposed too – unless I just identify with Freeman’s character more. The only emotion that I get from Pitt is at the end of the film, then I’m at his will and I am so sympathetic and filled with so much sadness.

The direction that Fincher gives is wonderful – he guides us through New York City that reminds me very much of the New York City we saw in “Taxi Driver” – a world of filth and horrible things, but at least this time we have Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt to fight out battles for us. “Seven” remains to be David Fincher’s masterpiece.

Review: 10/10

The Art of the Crossover: Actors turned Singers & Singers turned Actors.

While listening to a Kris Kristofferson album, it got me thinking lately about singers turned actors; than even further – actors turned singers. I am going to exclude rap if that’s okay with you. I’ve always thought it was an interesting paradox; I’ve noticed that a lot of actors are musically inclined and even have tried to venture out on their own and release their own music. I understand why singers turn to acting – because they are at the height of their popularity and they’ve been turned into a cash cow (Neil Diamond in “The Jazz Singer” for example). I feel that way about rap musicians; the only reason that they turned to acting was because they were extremely marketable at the time and they never really have taken a risk with the roles they chose. But when actors turn to music, to me it feels like that music is their true passion (or their biggest hobby). I know there have been many, many crossovers, but I think these are the three best in each category, meaning that the quality of both their music and their acting are excellent.

I am the Wanderer – my home is the road

David Carradine has always had a soft spot in my heart. I was very sad when he died. I’ve always enjoyed his earlier works with Scorsese: “Boxcar Bertha” and “Mean Streets” and of course the TV Show “Kung-Fu” but it wasn’t until I saw Carradine as Woody Guthrie in Hal Ashby’s “Bound for Glory”, I really took him seriously as an artist. Portraying Woody Guthrie is gigantic feat and Carradine did an amazing job. I own his album “As Is” and his music is great. It’s a wonderful folk album and lyrically Carradine is as rich with his writing as Kris Kristofferson or Bob Dylan – the lyrics are simple yet hold this complex power that makes it truly authentic.

It’s obvious that Carradine is very much influenced by Eastern philosophies which I think is a direct reflection on the folk music he sings. The Eastern themes are a direct representation of Carradine’s folk music – the path that men take, why they take them. These Eastern themes are in step with any great western film ever made. Sam Peckinpah strived to “make a western as good as Kurosawa”.

I bought his album from his official website and if you do like Carradine or like folk music, please check it out. It is well worth your time. If you click the link, and listen to any of the tracks available – please listen to “The Wanderer” – it’s excellent and I think completely sums up David Carradine as a man. Enjoy.

The genius of David Carradine.

When The Dude meets Woody Guthrie

Before Jeff Bridges broke our hearts as Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart”, and most people were taken aback by his musical capability; Bridges released an album in 2000 entitled “Be Here Soon” and it’s nothing like Bad Blake. Jeff Bridges remains to be one of my favorite people ever – I am so smitten with him. “Be Here Soon” is a hybrid of folk and beatnik music – it’s incredibly unique and incredibly excellent. Along with finally collecting his long overdue Oscar for “Crazy Heart”, he is not only a musician but a photographer (his collecting of stills from a majority of his the film sets he’s worked on titled “Pictures” is amazingly profound) but he’s also a painter.

The music of his album is incredibly insightful and filled with innuendo and intrigue. He muses and philosophies with an admirable amount of passion and artistic skill. The first track of the album called “Movin'” is a perfect representation of who Bridges is as a man. “Be Here Soon” is Bridges first and only album, but his “follow up” is the “Crazy Heart” soundtrack. I find that the best track of the film is the track that opens the film – “Hold on You”. We all can relate to this song – there has always been at least one person in our lives that we’ve been trying to get a hold on.

The “Crazy Heart” soundtrack is available everywhere and his album “Be Here Soon” is available at Amazon.com and the iTunes music store. You won’t be disappointed.

The Egotistical Talent that can’t be ignored

We all know that Kevin Spacey holds an unbelievable amount of talent – anyone who disagrees with that is a fool. I also think since Spacey won his second Oscar for “American Beauty” his ego inflated so much that he hasn’t strived to give a challenging performance since then. The only exception that can be made is his labor of love “Beyond the Sea” which isn’t a great film, but it’s still very enjoyable. Spacey portrays the crooner Bobby Darin. Spacey not only stars, but wrote, directed, produced and sang in the film – he did it all. He did too much.

His singing is the best part of the film. Spacey’s voice is so smooth it just makes you groove with the music you are hearing, it absorbs into you. Spacey had been known for his musical capability prior to this film. He hosted a tribute concert for John Lennon in the early 2000’s and as the show was getting to a close Spacey himself performed “Mind Games” – it was excellent. Spacey truly is an incredible performer – his stage presence is untouchable.

While Spacey was out promoting “Beyond the Sea” he did a concert tour performing Bobby Darin songs and other standards from that era. Being from Chicago I was excited that Spacey was coming to The House of Blues until you had to be 21 and older to enter. I really wish I could have seen him.

Nightmares are somebody’s daydreams

Kris Kristofferson started out as another musician that had fallen prey to crossing over to cinema. He was popular, hip, and handsome and had a big following. It wasn’t until Kristofferson teamed up with Sam Peckinpah to star as Billy the Kid in “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” that he became an actor. Kristofferson himself is a gentle and kind man, but his turn as Billy the Kid turned him into a steely cold killer. The film is violent and relentless. Kristofferson made a name for himself as an actor AND a musician.

From there Kristofferson went on to make Martin Scorsese’s “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” where he plays the ideal man; the tough, gruff man who has a heart of gold. He’s nothing less than excellent in “Alice”. He’s this big bad man who walks tall, but deep down inside he’s a teddy bear that just wants to love and take care of Alice. It’s an excellent film with excellent performances from the entire cast.

That same year Kristofferson reteamed with Peckinpah for a small role as Biker in “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”. In this role he plays the scum of the earth and rapes the main characters girlfriend. It’s amazing how Kristofferson has the unbelievable range from going to one extreme to the other. He went from David in “Alice” to Biker in “Alfredo Garcia”. Kristofferson is not only one of my favorite musicians – but also one of my favorite actors.

Kristofferson had a bit of a lull in the 1980’s but he reemerged in the 90’s showing up in “Payback” (which reteamed him with James Coburn who played Pay Garrett), “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” and the “Blade” trilogy and narrating the unconventional Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” and of course his amazing performance in “Lone Star”.

Putting out a fire with gasoline

David Bowie is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. His music is odd and compelling. Everyone in the world loves at least one David Bowie song. What I love about David Bowie is his unconventional career. He is one of the best crossover actors that I’ve seen. “The Man Who Fell to Earth” remains one of my favorite films. It’s so unique and strange that with the casting of David Bowie – it helps us accept the film for what it is.

His turn in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” as Special Agent Phillip Jefferies is so bizarre you can’t even comprehend it (although how many David Lynch films are easy to comprehend?). My two favorite Bowie performances are his performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” as Pontius Pilate which I think is even more bizarre than his role in “Twin Peaks”.

My second favorite Bowie performance is as Nikola Telsa in Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige”. It was so genius of Nolan to cast Bowie. Telsa was a very strange and mysterious man and so is David Bowie. It was a perfect fit. It added authenticity and even more mystique to the character by adding Bowie. Christopher Nolan not only knows how to write a screenplay and direct a movie – but he hasn’t made one misstep in any of his films with casting. How many filmmakers can you say that about?

And how could anyone not appreciate his role as Jareth the Goblin King in “Labyrinth”? And no one could ever play Andy Warhol as good as Bowie in “Basquiat”.

“I hate Disneyland. It primes our kids for Las Vegas.”

Tom Waits’ film choices are just as offbeat and stirring as his music. Waits is an extremely talented musician that has taken select roles in his long and winding career. His music is almost an acquired taste – as are some of the roles he’s played. Waits is a close family friend of the Coppola family and he is often cast in Francis Ford Coppola’s films. Waits is also in many of Jim Jarmusch’s films and those films are defiantly an acquired taste.

The performance that I think seals Waits’ craft as an actor is in the mediocre Coppola film “Dracula” where he portrays Count Dracula’s underling R.M. Reinfield. He is so creepy and almost stomach turning as the mentally unstable man that is confined in a straight jacket in a disgusting and disturbing mental hospital. He and Gary Oldman are the only two that save that film from being a train wreck.

His role as the Engineer in “The Book of Eli” was something of a treat that I really enjoyed. I loved how he snuck into the film, making a character that was insignificant to the story interesting just by having Tom Waits play the character. I felt that “Eli” was a train wreck of a film, but again – Gary Oldman saved the film (with a little help from Waits). I haven’t seen “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” yet but Tom Waits looks divine in it.

So that is my list thus far folks. Give me your feedback, what do you think of my choices? And what are yours? I know I left some prominent crossover artists out, but I’ll be working on part two really soon. Gimme your feedback! I want to have a debate!

The 10 Best Films of the 1990’s.

10. “In the Name of the Father” – 1993. Dir. Jim Sheridan. With Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite and Emma Thompson.

“I’m a free man, I’m going out the front door!”

This is one of the most dramatically powerful films I’ve ever seen. Seeing the true story of Gerry Conlon (Day-Lewis) and his father (Postlethwaite) being wrongfully accused and imprisoned in London over an IRA bombing is just so heartbreaking. Emma Thompson gives an amazingly great performance as the two men’s lawyer and the only one who believes their innocence.

9. “Natural Born Killers” – 1994. Dir. Oliver Stone. With Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Russell Means, Robert Downey, Jr. and Tommy Lee Jones.

Mickey and Mallory Knox are loose, Scagnetti’s dead, and they’re live on national TV!”


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Olive Stone is the filmmaker of the times, making films that deal with our current status in America. With NBK Stone brings forth a film with a killer soundtrack and excellent cast that explores our need for Reality TV and the media and our cultures obsession with killers. It shows us how we as American are obsessed with the killers themselves and how we turn them into pop culture icons. This is one wild ride of a fucking movie! The finest performance in the film has to be Tommy Lee Jones as Warden Dwight McClusky. He’s out of his fucking mind!

8. “Boogie Nights” – 1997. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson. With Mark Wahlbeg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Grahm and Don Cheadle.

Wait a minute. You come into my house, my party, to tell me about the future? That the future is tape, videotape, and not film? That it’s amateurs and not professionals? I’m a filmmaker, which is why I will *never* make a movie on tape.”

The opening one shot is a magnificent display of talent. It shows much homage to Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” and much more to Russia’s 1950’s propaganda film, “I am Cuba”. It sends us into a furry and introduces us to all the major characters that we need to know about. I want to call this film his masterpiece, but I can’t – “There Will Be Blood” is. This was back in the days when John C. Reilly used to be a good actor – and when Burt Reynolds blew all of his chances of having anything resembling a comeback. I love this film.

7. “Goodfellas” – 1990. Dir. Martin Scorsese. With Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent and Paul Sorvino.

“You may know who we are, but we know who you are.”

Gosh, Martin Scorsese. What a master. I truly believe that this is the film that de-glorified the “romantic” life of mobsters. Sure “The Godfather’s” were brutal and violent, but we always sympathized with Michael – we were always pulling for him. We do that to a certain extent in “Goodfellas” but once we hit the second act of the film, and we watch Ray Liotta spin out of control – we know that he’s paying for the life he’s led. It’s amazing and beautiful and no one could ever do it better. Martin Scorsese is a God among artists.

6. “American Beauty” – 1999. Dir. Sam Mendes. With Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, Mena Suvari, Thora Birch, Wes Bently and Chris Cooper.

“This is my first time.”

Man…all I can really saw about this is Chris Cooper winning for “Adaptation” was his make-up for not even being nominated for his role in this film. That’s it.

5. “Seven” – 1995. Dir. David Fincher. With Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gweyth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey.

“Where to?”

“Far away from here.”

People like to say that “Fight Club” is Fincher’s masterpiece. I think “Fight Club” is overrated and trendy – but “Seven”…oh my God “Seven” – this film is just downright amazing! Kevin Spacey steals the show as John Doe, Brad Pitt is great as the young and cocky cop and Morgan Freeman gives the performance of his career as a cop that the world has left behind. Remarkable filmmaking!

4. “Pulp Fiction” – 1994. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. With John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman and Harvey Keitel.

“You see – this is a moral test of one’s self. You’re going to go back, drink your drink, go home, jerk off and that’s all you’re gonna do.”

Fuck “Forrest Gump”.

3. “Bad Lieutenant” – 1991. Dir. Abel Ferrara. With Harvey Keitel.

“Where the fuck were you when I needed you? Why the fuck weren’t you there for me, when I needed you?!”

Harvey Keitel does nothing but bare his soul in this haunting and repulsive film about a cop who’s fallen so far from grace, Jesus himself can’t even help him. This is pretty powerful stuff, and if you think you’re tough enough to watch this, make sure it’s the NC-17 version.

2. “Schindler’s List” – 1993. Dir. Steven Spielberg. With Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley.

“This is very cruel, Oskar. You’re giving them hope. You shouldn’t do that. *That’s* cruel!”

The reason I resent Steven Spielberg is because he has the talent to make this, “Jaws”, “Close Encounters” and “E.T.” – why waste it.

1. “L.A. Confidential” – 1997. Dir. Curtis Hanson. With Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito and David Strathairn.

“Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings.”

Honorable mentions:  “The Insider”, “Unforgiven”, “Rushmore”, “The Thin Red Line”, “The Big Lebowski”

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” – 2009. Dir. Grant Heslov

With George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor, Robert Patrick and Stephen Lang.

“Lieutenant Colonel Django used funds from the project’s black budget to procure prostitutes…”

“That’s a lie!”

“…and drugs for himself and his men.”

“That… well, the hooker thing is definitely a lie.”

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” has to be one of the most disappointing films I have ever seen in my entire life. The story is of a down on his luck journalist (Ewan McGregor) whose wife leaves him for his one armed editor, and he fleas to Iraq to cover the war. He runs into Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney) who was trained as a “Jedi warrior” by the US Government. The two embark on a road trip to who knows where, and during their road trip Clooney reflects back to his recruitment to the “Earth Army” where the squad was lead by Jeff Bridges (in a “Big Lebowski”-esq role). Kevin Spacey plays the hard-on who is trying to derail Bridges and take control of the unit.

This is one of the best acting ensembles in film, but it is utterly wasted on a very incoherent story that lacks narrative. The exception to the wasted cast is Stephen Lang who I thought was downright hilarious and made me laugh with each frame he was in. I’ve always been a pretty big fan of Lang’s, ever since I saw him in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” and “Crime Story”. George Clooney is the second best part, he’s goofy and insane, and he’s just having fun. To me Jeff Bridges was the real let down. I thought it was going to be fun watching him portray another beatnik. It’s not that he does a bad job; it’s just that the character is poorly written.

Ewan McGregor’s character isn’t needed in the story, and I find his poor American accent tiring. He just doesn’t bring anything to the film. The “Star Wars” references and jokes go over the top. Yeah I get it; McGregor was Obi-Wan Kenobi in the new “Star Wars” trilogy – enough already. Robert Patrick was good for the brief two minutes that he was in, and Kevin Spacey…well…Kevin Spacey. I don’t expect anything from him anymore. I think he’s become so unfathomably arrogant since “American Beauty”. I know he’s running the Old Vic in London and that’s cool, it’s really cool. But come on, has he even gotten close to the talent he holds with any of his films post “Beauty”? “Beyond the Sea” is the only exception.

Yeah the movie is funny at times. The back and forth between Bridges and Spacey is pretty good for the small scene of the military tribunal, and it is funny to see Clooney with a bad wig on but you can’t help but think couldn’t they have gotten a better script? I know its Grant Heslov’s first attempt at directing, but you can’t blame him. He’s been Clooney’s partner since they met on 2000’s live television remake of “Fail Safe” (which is EXCELLENT). He’s worked hand in hand with Clooney on all of his projects since then. It’s just not a very good movie.

I feel bad bagging on the movie because these are all actors I love and respect, especially Bridges. It’s just so incredibly frustrating watching this train wreck of a film. You should expect it to be good with just the cast alone. The one thing I do like about it is imagine how much fun these actors had all working together? They must have had some pretty good times. I found myself not wanting to see it again, aside from maybe a few Stephen Lang parts (the part where he’s reading the book in his backyard about the Russian’s putting cigarettes out on puppies and the look of disgust on his face. Or when Bridges is lecturing the men about peace and harmony and Lang is sitting with a huge smile on his face holding a flower). The fact that the film was loosely based on a true story does intrigue me, but I just can’t imagine how much of it is based on actual events. The last scene of the film was so fucking brutal I couldn’t believe it. I’m really sorry, but skip this one.

Review: 6/10