Thursday Night Movie Club
Titles W through Z

- friday, 8/21/98
barry levinson's "wag the dog" (partially written by david mamet) (dustin hoffman, robert de niro, anne heche, denis leary, willie nelson, andrea martin, william h. macy, craig t. nelson, woody harrelson), rented at home.  a very droll and dry-humor satire of political spin doctoring.  not outright hilarious, but creepily, stingingly poignant.  sort of a semi-mamet feel to the dialogue.

- saturday, 3/18/06
rented james mangold's "walk the line" (joaquin phoenix, reese witherspoon, robert "T-2" patrick).  bio picture of johnny cash and his relationships with june carter, his family, and drugs.  well done, if vaguely feeling like a rip-off of "ray."  although I enjoyed this flick, I never once really believed that joaquin phoenix really WAS johnny cash.  he was an interesting and believable fictional character, but not the famous dude I'm familiar with. other than that, it was quite good and recommended.

- thursday, 9/21/00
joe charbanic's "the watcher" (james spader, keanu reeves, marisa tomei, ernie hudson).  this was a pretty good but basic serial killer vs. cop type thriller, with a few extra additons to make it more interesting.  first of all, it had james spader, who always brings an added dimension to any role through his sheer intesity.  second, it had a chicago location, which is always a plus for me.  on top of that, it had several nice plot quirks, like the fact that the serial killer would send a photo of his intended victim to the cop 24 hours in advance of abducting and killing her; and the extra psychological quirk of the killer and the cop being in a sort of symbiotic relationship with each other.  finally, it had some some very nice, but non-intrusive, directorial flourishes.  all in all, a worthy entry in the serial killer tradition with some nice innovative touches.
(see larry's review here.)

- thursday, 9/14/00
christopher mcquarrie's "the way of the gun" (ryan phillippe, benicio del toro, james caan, juliette lewis, geoffrey lewis, taye diggs).  this was an ultraviolent, intricately plotted crime thriller, that was just as interesting for its character development and motivation as it was for the blood and guts and how it made you squirm from the visceral gut-wrenching violence.  interestingly, the two ostensible "main characters" got the least character treatment, but served more as the central axes for the more interesting peripheral characters (caan, lewis, etc.) to revolve around.  larry's longer review is available here.

- friday, 3/17/06
gore verbinski's "the weatherman" (nic cage, michael caine).  yes, this was directed by the same gore verbinski that made "pirates of the caribbean" and "the ring".  he is in a totally different mode here.  although very well made, this is a difficult movie to recommend.  for the first hour, I was ready to declare that it sucked.  but the last half hour or so redeemed it.  it was about a local weatherman in chicago who was up for a national gig.  his professional life was kicking ass, but his personal life (failed marriage, poor rapport with his kids, etc.) sucked.  eventually, he learns an important lesson: that you are who you are, not who you wish to be, and you might as well learn to enjoy it.  if you thrill to the prospect of sir michael caine discussing "camel toe", you might enjoy this flick.

- thursday, 8/3/00
robert zemeckis' "what lies beneath" (harrison ford, michelle pfeiffer, joe morton).  a well crafted, but very slow and tedious, suspense type flick in the hitchcock mold.  to be fair, it picked up in the last half hour or so, and had some clever twists and turns, but it really dragged through most of its long duration.  ford and pfeiffer were both excellent (and is it just me, or does she get more beautiful all the time?) but i was still very bored.  just to stay awake, i started counting the hitchcock references (got up to five: his name, his relationship with his dead father, her watching the neighbor through the binocs, the way the bodies were disposed of, and the shower curtain rings popping off the rod..).  two other worthwhile points: the "supernatural" elements that confused some reviewers, to me, were obviously just allegories and not meant to be taken literally.  also, this is the first zemeckis film since "romancing the stone" that wasn't based largely on special effects.  (see larry's review here.)

- friday, 8/4/06
rented atom egoyan's "where the truth lies" (kevin bacon, colin firth, alison lohman, david hayman).  this was a hollywood-based mystery with a film noir feel and lurid sexuality. a martin-and-lewis type nightclub act had broken up years before in the wake of the mysterious death of a young waitress, and a young reporter, years later, tries to find out the truth.  I liked the voice over, the whodunit story line, and the gradually unfolding mystery. however, I don't think it will go down as a classic. there was nothing all that new or innovative. it just seemed like a typical made-for-TV mystery with NC-17 sex added in. not that there's anything wrong with that!  if you like mysteries and good acting, and you see it in the New Releases section of your video store, you might want to give it a try.

- thursday, 1/13/05
geoffrey sax's "white noise" (michael keaton, chandra west, deborah kara unger, ian mcneice).  innovative type of ghost story.  keaton plays an architect who's wife is murdered and he has trouble coming to terms with it.  then he learns of a method, called EVP, whereby the dead can speak to the living through their TVs and radios.  soon he is getting messages from his wife, plus some very bad dead folks who are up to no good at all, and we have a thriller/ghost story. interesting ideas, but it only turns into a semi-interesting, and not particularly memorable, movie.  the best part was keaton's excellent acting, mostly with his facial expressions.

- thursday, 9/21/06
neil labute's remake of "the wicker man" (nic cage, ellen burstyn, and a bunch of television actors). bad, bad, bad. skip it.  basically, cage plays an LA motorcycle cop who witnesses a horrible car accident, where a mother and little daughter are horribly killed, and it messes him up, emotionally. he takes a leave of absence from his job to rest, but soon receives a letter from his ex-fiancé that gets him back in action. apparently, she has a daughter (who may or may not be nic's), who is now missing. so he hops over to the remote island where she lives with a bee-keeping matriarchal cult of bizarre, inbred chicks to try to find the missing daughter. but he is soon embroiled in a deeper mystery: what the fuck is going on with this island?  this could have been a good movie (and I understand that it was, in the seventies), but it was so badly done that none of it makes sense. cage's character is clueless to the point of unintentional comedy, the plot is way too convoluted to make logical sense (we kept saying "why didn't they just...."), and the acting is pretty much atrocious. the music was by angelo badalamenti, so I was looking forward to a good soundtrack, but even that was pretty lame.

- friday, 9/22/06
rented at home, robin hardy's "the wicker man" (edward woodward, christopher lee, and britt ekland) from 1973.  a scottish policeman shows up on an isolated scottish island, looking for a young girl who has been reported missing.  but nobody has heard of her! the more he searches for her, the stranger the island becomes. eventually, he uncovers the island's strange pagan culture, and its need for ritual sacrifice to maintain its apple crop. his own deeply devout christianity clashes with the pagan attitudes on the island, adding fuel to the fire of the conflict. eventually, a deadly showdown is inevitable, the results of which I will leave to the viewer to discover on their own. along the way, there is lots of nudity and suggestive sexuality, all of which clash with the cop's own rigidly straight-laced morality, add to the pagan nature of the island, and enhance the enjoyability of the film overall! very satisfying and enjoyable.  MUCH better than the 2006 version.

- thursday, 9/23/04
paul mcguigan's "wicker park" (josh hartnett, rose byrne, matthew "shaggy" lillard, and diane druger).  hey, I only saw this movie because I thought it would be a thriller with intrigue, crimes, chase scenes, and maybe even some gratuitous head-loppings.  boy was I wrong: it turned out to be more of a romantic melodrama mystery with lots of flashbacks.  [okay, I also went to see it for the chicago locations, which were cool (when they weren't faked by montreal or toronto or wherever the hell it was)].  as far as the real movie goes, it was pretty okay: a guy puts his up-and-coming life and career on hold because he thinks he has a chance to find his long-lost true love.  but an incredible series of coincidences turns it into a love triangle, and then a love quadrangle, and then it starts getting complicated!  it was enjoyable enough on its own terms, I guess, if you like this sort of thing.  personally, I thought the high quotient of improbable coincidences seemed more suited to a romantic comedy (a la tom hanks and meg ryan, maybe) or a slapstick farce (a la cary grant and katharine hepburn) than a straight drama.  oh yeah, one more coincidence: both lead chicks were in "troy" earlier this year!

- thursday, 5/14/98
john mcnaughton's "wild things" (neve campbell, denise richards, theresa russell, kevin bacon, matt dillon, bill murray, robert wagner, carrie snogdress).  great, steamy, trashy, "swamp-noir" mystery with many wild unpredictable twists, lots of steamy sex (including some great lez scenes) and some good humor.  Don't forget to stay through the credits.

- thursday, 7/1/99
barry sonenfeld's "wild wild west" (will smith, kevin kline, kenneth branagh, ted levine, salma hayek, and m. emmet walsh) basically pretty lame western/comedy/action with no chemistry between the supposedly "buddy" characters.  great job by branagh as the bad guy, though, and some real good politically incorrect black and cripple jokes.  battling it out with "star wars episode 1" for worst flick of the year.

- thursday, 11/6/97
robert kurtzman's (and wes craven's as producer) "wishmaster" (tammy lauren, wendy benson, andrew divoff, robert englund, chris lemmon, john byner, and tony todd).  a surprisingly clever special effects based horror flick with a cool mythological background.

- friday, 6/26/98
"the x files" movie (directed by rob bowman and written by chris carter; starring david duchovny, gillian anderson, martin landau, blythe danner, and the usual tv people like mitch pileggi, william b. davis and john neville).  pretty good thriller, with much of the true paranoid spirit of the tv show, but kind of degenerated into a standard movie toward the end.  as far as I know, this is the only example of a movie made from a tv series while the series is still on.

- thursday, 5/15/03
bryan singer's "X-Men Part 2" (or whatever the hell it's official title is) (patrick stewart, hugh jackman, ian mckellen, halle berry, famke janssen, brian cox, anna paquin).  the good mutants and the bad mutants have to team up to fight a new threat to their existence.  there were some interesting special effects, and I kind of liked the iconoclastic feel of wolverine's character (and his cigars!), but other than that, the movie didn't do much for me.  maybe you have to be a comic book fan or long-time follower of the characters to get the nuances.

- thursday, 6/1/06
brett ratner's "x-men: the last stand" (hugh jackman, halle berry, ian mckellan, famke janssen, kelsey grammer, patrick stewart, cameron bright, and others).  very good stuff!  i think it is the best of the trilogy.  lots of violence, humor, and special effects.  lots of nice little touches, too, like wolverine lighting his cigar on a pile of flaming wreckage in the middle of a battle, and xavier's wheelchair always stopping with the big X on the wheels in proper orientation.  there were too many mutants for me to keep them all straight, so eventually I just stopped trying and enjoyed the spectacle.  you can take this movie as an allegory about nazism, discrimination, or genocide.  or you can just enjoy it as an action flick.  TNMC favorite cameron bright appears in a small but pivotal role, and yes, he's as creepy as ever.  note: if you don't stay for the credits, you don't know how the story really ends!

- thursday, 8/15/02
rob cohen's "xxx" (vin diesel, samuel l. jackson, asia argento, marton csokas, joe bukaro 3).  joyful violence.  if you think that car crashes, explosions, avalanches, and machine gun fights are just good clean fun, then this is the movie for you.  a law-breaking extreme sports athlete is offered amnesty from the slammer to become a spy, and it fits his tastes to a tee.  in perfect james bond form, he chases the bad guys, blows shit up, kisses the girl, saves the world, and heads to the beach.  his motto is "I like anything fast enough to do something stupid in."  first of a series, no doubt.

- thursday, 5/5/05
lee tamahori's "XXX: state of the union" (ice cube, samuel l. jackson, willem dafoe, scott speedman, peter strauss, sunny mabrey, and nona m. gaye).  a definite case of sequel-itis, which results in an enjoyable, but not really necessary, sequel/remake.  not nearly as good as the original, but still fun in a mindless sort of way.  lots of blowing-things-to-hell, and lots of one-liners.  unfortunately, most of the special effects had a very distinct computer generated "video game" look to them.  I did like the way that they killed off the star from the first one to make way for a new star in this sequel, and seem to be eliminating the star from THIS one to make room for a new star in the NEXT one.  makes good business sense to me.  the plot?  not that it matters, but a rogue secretary of defense (can anyone EVER look at willem dafoe and NOT think he is going to turn out to be the bad guy?) is out to overthrow the government, and a secret government agency needs to recruit a rogue agent to stop him.  yeah, right.

- sunday, 7/2/00
rented "year of living dangerously" (peter weir; linda hunt, mel gibson, sigourney weaver), basic updating of "casablanca" with political intrigue, romance, and doing what's right battling it out for first place in your psyche.  linda hunt was awesome as both the unsung main character and the moral compass of the story.  beautiful scenery, nice tension, good ambiguity kept me interested all the way.

Surprising how many end-of-the-alphabet flicks there are....
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Movies W thru Z
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Stay for the Credits, Dammit!!!