Don Roos's 'The Opposite of Sex' (1998)

The Opposite of Sex is not a film for everyone. It is a curious blend of black comedy and character study, driven by the performances of two actors, Lisa Kudrow and Martin Donovan, who usually play supporting roles. Christina Ricci and Ivan Sergei, who look like leading role types, remain unseen for large chunks of the film. Luckily, Kudrow has the acting chops to carry the entire film herself. Shedding her Phoebe Buffay persona completely, she creates a complex, interesting character that grounds the film and provides a certain gravity to the proceedings, despite its flippant narrative voiceover. I cannot say enough good things about her performance.

Martin Donovan turns in a solid performance and he comes off as sympathetic, but he fails to connect with the audience the way that Kudrow does. Donovan could not overcome the script's failing to provide enough of a climax for his character arc. People keep telling Bill that he doesn't want to admit that his relationship with Matt is based only on physical attraction, but the audience doesn't see enough of them as a couple to conclude that itself. True, Bill walks around like a zombie for the duration of the film, not really seeming to feel much, but that observation does not lead to the above conclusion. One aspect of Donovan's performance and the script that I really respect is that Bill is not a gay character — he is a character who happens to be gay. Bill's personal struggles are not struggles that only a gay man encounters; they are struggles that anyone might face. Donovan also does not bury the character or hide himself in gay affectation as Johnny Galecki can. I would imagine that kind of nakedness could require a lot of courage for a straight male actor.

Despite her paucity of screen time, Christina Ricci makes an enormous impression on the audience and her delivery of the snide, sarcastic narration is pitch perfect. Ricci was the ideal choice for Dede for several reasons. At that point in her career, Ricci was transitioning from child roles in movies such as Casper and Now and Then to adult roles in indie flicks like Ang Lee's gorgeous film The Ice Storm and Vincent Gallo's Buffalo '66. She was also transitioning from babyfat into the voluptuous curves that this film showcases. Both of these factors lend a certain vulnerability to Dede, despite her seemingly callous exterior.

Tony Scott's 'True Romance' (1993)

I never thought that I would make this statement, but as I watched True Romance I longed for Quentin Tarantino. Can I say it? The script was good, with the exception of that warm, fuzzy ending, but Tony Scott filmed it with absolutely no style. It looked like any other Hollywood-processed action movie, even though the characters and dialogue were so much more interesting and unique. Despite my many complaints about Q's editing abilities, the man knows how to film his material.

OK. Maybe I shouldn't heap too many accolades on the script, because the plot did have its problems. The majority of the film depicts a crime-filled journey precipitated by the supposed crazy love between Clarence and Alabama. However, Scott spends very little time developing that relationship, which causes him to lose buy-in from the audience for the subsequent events. I guess Scott thinks that the fairly revealing first sex scene and follow-up quickie in a phone booth take care of establishing that romantic connection, but they just aren't giving the viewer much. Oh, except for a shot of Christian Slater's cute butt.

Scott had a dream cast, which included Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken, James Gandolfini, and Gary Oldman as secondary characters. As the leads, Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are effective at not turning these characters in caricatures, but they lack any real chemistry. Scott also allowed both of them to go over the top at a couple of points in the film, most notably Patricia Arquette's yell after she kills James Gandolfini's character. Maybe the moment would not have been so overwrought if Scott had not used slow-motion, but either way I blame Scott. I blame Scott for the whole she-bang, a bungled execution of an interesting premise.

Diane Keaton's 'Wildflower' (1991)

Wildflower is what I would call a modest movie. And by that I mean that Diane Keaton's made-for-TV movie based on a young-adult novel does not pretend to be something that it is not. Keaton is cognizant that she is not making a film masterpiece — she is making a wholesome, family telefilm and she does not try to stretch the material beyond its means. With one exception, Keaton does not allow the tone to become too saccharine and she keeps the melodrama to a minimum.

On the whole while the acting is not outstanding it is solid, and Patricia Arquette and Reese Witherspoon's performances keep the viewer engaged. Arquette's portrayal of deaf, epileptic Alice does not read as cloying nor attention-mongering. Many portrayals of characters with disabilities very obviously beg for critical acclaim, e.g. Sean Penn's Sam in I Am Sam. As usual, Arquette plays Alice very real and with a lot of heart. Reese Witherspoon's Ellie is spunky and likable; Witherspoon brings a lot of energy to the role and to the movie.

Do not expect too much of this movie and you will not be disappointed. Keaton delivers on what the story promises: an engaging enough story that a family can enjoy together.

Gore Verbinski's 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest' (2006)

Oh my god, Hollywood. Do I have to do everything around here? What's with the flabby storytelling? Especially on a film like PotC which is intended to be some thoughtless, fast-paced entertainment. Instead, the movie's aimless and, frankly, boring initial 30 minutes or so causes the piece to clock in at an overly long two hours and thirty minutes.

As pretty as Orlando Bloom is and as engaging as Keira Knightly can be, everyone watched this sequel for Johnny Depp and his truly unique interpretation of Capt. Jack Sparrow. Depp plays a pirate like no other actor has played a pirate. I do understand the impulse to intercut between Will/Elizabeth and Jack at the beginning of the film to appease the audience's appetite for Jack. But if I had assumed that the audience would be less engaged with the Will/Elizabeth storyline, I would have used the audience's anticipation to see Jack to hold their interest while I QUICKLY started the Will/Elizabeth storyline and got them on the sea and with Jack again.

I do like the jumpcuts at the start of the film, but the beginning is plumb confusing. We see the British soldiers rushing to arrest Will and then taking him to Elizabeth who is sitting in the rain seemingly jilted at her wedding. And I mean that wedding was cleared out with nary a guest or wedding party member in sight, which would have taken at least a couple of hours to accomplish. Why would the soldiers hold Will that long if they intend to arrest Elizabeth as well? It appears that Will intended to stand up Elizabeth even if he hadn't been arrested. I think it would have been more clear if Will had been arrested near the altar, waiting for Elizabeth to come down the aisle, and she had been arrested getting ready for the wedding. Lay in some dramatic score, use some slow motion, drop in a voiceover of two soldiers reading the arrest warrants to Will and Elizabeth with some intercutting, and throw the two of them in jail. Bada bing. I just whittled down ten minutes of film into two.

Next I would relocate that scene between Will and Lord Beckett to a jail cell. Will never seems that concerned with the fact that he and Elizabeth have been sentenced to death, even though that fact is supposed to be a motivating factor for his pursuing Jack. Um, maybe he doesn't seem that urgent because we never see him in a jail cell and Beckett "interrogates" him in his pretty, pretty office? So we do that scene in jail, Will says goodbye to Elizabeth, and then we move into that lovely montage of Will looking for Jack and being slapped around by hookers, until we catch up with Jack as chief. Yep. That's right. I say we cut out all of that stuff with Jack prior to that point and have his big reveal be as the painted chief of the native tribe. I don't think we need any of those scenes with Jack obtaining the drawing of the key, being visited by Bootstrap Bill, etc. The narrative is tighter and more compelling if we allow those revelations to occur in due time instead of revealing everything up front.

Will/The Crew and Jack's escape from the natives also could be edited a bit, particularly removing Jack's fruit fight with the two native women. It isn't that funny and it doesn't make much sense, considering that the fight ends when Jack yells, "Stop!" What obedient attackers they are, no?

Those complaints said, I think that the latter piece of the movie is fantastic, engaging, and well-paced. I just wish that the front end of the film could be as interesting. The special effects are amazing, and the fight sequences are well-choreographed. The backstretch of the film fully delivers on what the preceding movie did so well. I do look forward to the third film, though now with some measured skepticism. Hopefully, Verbinski will use a more critical eye when cutting the next movie.