Die Hard!

“[Action filmmakers] are the most cinematic directors. They’re taking cinema and making you hard – and making you come, actually!” – Quentin Tarantino

I truly love action movies. There’s nothing that I like more than watching big, macho, muscular, sweaty men kicking each other’s ass, shooting guns and making stuff blow up, while the whole thing is shot like a pumped up MTV video edited to a faux-Wagnerian score. I am, of course, being a tad sarcastic, and that’s a must for an action fan. You gotta love thrills, but you also need a good sense of humor, an ability to swallow the dumbest twists and attitudes with a smile. You gotta believe that one guy can defeat an army, that a bad guy would rather fight his nemesis honorably in hand-to-hand combat than shoot his brains out and that motorized vehicles can defy any law of physics when used properly. You can’t go, “Hey! No way that can happen!” You gotta be, like, “Fuck it, that’s fun to watch!” The next few pages will try to cover most of the various forms of action movies that spun from Hollywood in the last 15 years or so.

First of all, we have to settle on a definition of an action movie. To me, it’s a film that relies on violent confrontations and death-defying ventures more than anything. This essay won’t consider early movies that kinda were action films, but not really. Think of westerns, blaxploitation, cop/gangster movies and war films. In these kinds of films, fights might break out, bullets might be shot, but that wasn’t what these types of movies were really about.

I won’t either extend to some of the brilliant action work that was done outside of Tinseltown, notably Asia’s long tradition in martial arts movies. Other genres, like science-fiction, that sometimes share elements with action will also be pushed aside, even though movies like “Star Wars” or “The Terminator” were action-packed. What I’m trying to do is to get down to the classic definition of a Hollywood action film: the opposition between Good and Evil, violence and fast-paced, flashy filmmaking. Next are what may be the 5 most influential action flicks ever made in Hollywood.

FIRST BLOOD : Political Action (1982)

“After Vietnam there was a need for escapism. Rambo led to the birth of the real uber action film. I was part of that group with Arnold (Schwarzenegger] and Bruce (Willis] and there was a definite theme. It was about one-man armies.” – Sylvester Stallone

The first real action film was definitively “First Blood”. Somehow like “Taxi Driver”, the film follows a Vietnam veteran as he returns to America and realizes that home ain’t all that sweet after all. But while Travis Bickle did take out a few guys, it’s nothing compared to John Rambo’s elaborate decimation of a whole town. The film takes itself seriously, but even its creators must have known that the overwhelming violence was the film’s driving force much more than the political message. What we want is to see Sylvester Stallone beating people every which way but loose, right? A one-man army, more pyrotechnics than dialogue… The modern action movie is born all right. Other movies of this kind of serious “political” action films are the two Rambo sequels and the Chuck Norris vehicles “Missing in Action” and “Delta Force”.

COMMANDO : Action Takes It Easy (1985)

If Stallone was the figure that started the genre, it’s Schwarzenegger who made it so popular. Instead of being frustrated and stiff like Rambo, Ah-nuld seemed to be having fun while he was killing people. More often than not, plots were just excuses for a series of exciting fights and stunts. No message here! Instead, you get one-liners and over-the-top action sequences. The first film to tap into that is also my favorite movie: Mark L. Lester‘s brilliant “Commando”. Arnie made countless other movies with almost as much humor as violence : “Predator”, “Raw Deal”, “Red Heat”, “Last Action Hero”, “True Lies”, “Eraser”… Then there’s the “Lethal Weapon” and “Beverly Hills Cop” series, which are almost comedies but still pack tons of action. Then there are those Schwarzenegger wannabes, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who can kick some ass but aren’t all that comfortable with one-liners. Still, they made some fun films.

DIE HARD : Action in a Nutshell (1988)

Whereas Rambo and Matrix wandered around vast places (whole cities, islands…) in order to kill people, John McClane is caught in a skyscraper. And so a new kind of action film is born. Instead of having your hero trying to get to the bad guys, you can now just stick all of them together in the same place and have them play cat-and-mouse. The place ain’t important: it can be an airport (“Die Hard 2”), a plane (“Passenger 57” / “Air Force One”), a ship (“Under Siege”), a train (“Under Siege 2”), a hockey arena (“Sudden Impact”)… These movies are usually about a bunch of foreign terrorists that take over a place in which, luckily, a hyper-trained hero happens to be. An interesting twist is “Road House”, where you got the thing with the hero beating up bad guys in the one location (a bar), except that they’re not terrorists, just a bunch of drunken assholes!

John McTiernan “Die Hard” remains the coolest flick of that kind that was ever made. It stars Bruce Willis, in his first action role, as John McClane, a New York cop who comes to L.A. to spend Christmas with his wife and kids. The couple meets at an office party in a huge business building, and that’s when a gang of European terrorists take over the place. McClane is the only one who can stop Hans and his boys. As you can see, that’s a simple plot, but it’s efficient. It leads to a series of outstanding fights and shoot-outs, as well as many funny scenes. Willis burns the screen with his overwhelming charisma. He’s witty, he’s macho, and he sure kicks ass! This is what I call a classic. I’ve seen this action-packed masterpiece countless times, and I never get tired of it. It’s filled with inventively violent set-ups, and the action never stops. Definitely a must-see. The sequels are also pretty good, especially the third film, an inventive cat-and-mouse game across New York.

SPEED : Action Without Balls (1994)

This is the action film at its weakest, at its most mainstream. In Jan De Bont‘s film, there are almost no fights or violence. He just kept the MTV-style direction, the stunts and the explosions. Yes, there’s still a bad guy, but Dennis Hopper isn’t even face-to-face with the hero more than 10 minutes, and there aren’t even other bad guys. There might be 2 or three deaths in the whole flick! All you get is some dude and a chick on a bus that crashes through stuff. I admit that the film is enjoyable in parts, but I’m still happy that the genre survived this “roller-coaster” phase, which didn’t last all that long. We still had to suffer through Stallone’s “Daylight” and some other wussy action flicks where heroes face natural disasters instead of bloodthirsty terrorists (Sly vs a tunnel!?!).

FACE / OFF : Action As Opera (1997)

If it hadn’t been for this movie, I would probably have decided not to stop myself at Hollywood movies for this retrospective, because I couldn’t have mentioned the absolute best action director in the whole world, Hong Kong’s John Woo. His films reach new levels in action, with shoot-outs orchestrated like apocalyptic ballets and violence poetically used to portray the most passionate feelings of one. Honor becomes the driving force of combat, as charitable gangsters face dirty cops. It’s the fight between good and evil, but the distinction ain’t all that evident. In movies like “The Killer”, even love and true friendship are present. Woo started out in Hollywood with “Hard Target”, which is cool, but his style is overwhelmed by Van Damme’s usual tricks. The director went on to make “Broken Arrow”, another explosive yet impersonal outing. It’s with “Face/Off” that Woo finally shows mainstream America what he is all about. This amazing picture presents the opposition between a determined FBI agent, Sean Archer, and a funky terrorist, Castor Troy, who get their faces switched, forcing them to use the other guy’s allies to fight each other. Besides featuring brilliant direction, spellbinding action scenes and a clever script, the film gets great performances from Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. For all these reasons, “Face/Off” was actually the 6th best reviewed movie of ’97 (after “The Sweet Hereafter”, “Titanic”, “Boogie Nights”, “L.A. Confidential” and “In the Company of Men”). Action never felt so good!

So that’s about it as far as action movies go. Of course, I only went to the essentials, and as I said at the beginning, many other types of action films could have been explored, but I think I went to the heart of it when it comes to action in Hollywood from 1982 to 1997. Would I dare make predictions for the future? As far as I’m concerned, I think that Hong Kong holds the fate of the action film. Action directors like Ringo Lam (“Maximum Risk”), Kirk Wong (“The Big Hit”) and Tsui Hark (“Double Team”) have all joined John Woo in America, as did action stars like Jackie Chan (“Rush Hour”), Jet Li (“Lethal Weapon 4”) and, most of all, Chow Yun-Fat (“The Replacement Killers”). Because, admit it, soon-to-be sixty Schwarzenegger and Stallone and forty-something Bruce Willis might not be on top for long, and Seagal and Van Damme never stood a chance to be more than second bit players. As for Nic Cage, he might be too busy playing beautiful freaks to rule the action world as he did last year with “Con Air” and, of course, “Face/Off”. Is Hollywood getting the message? Very likely, since “Mission: Impossible” star and producer Tom Cruise apparently wants John Woo to direct the next instalment! Whatever happens, I’m sure that we will still be able to see heroes who can shoot whole armies dead for a long, long time.



A recent thread at the (sadly defunct) Cinemarati Roundtable about whether “First Blood” created the modern action movie reminded me of this article, which I wrote in 1998. Reading it again for the first time in years was a gas. I still think I hit most of the bases, and I’m pretty proud of how accurate my prediction turned out to be.

John Woo did direct “M:I-2” and the Hong Kong invasion has yet to stop, with Asian-influenced flicks like “The Matrix” and “Kill Bill” reinventing the way we think of action movies. One thing I didn’t see coming was the return of super-heroes, which seemed over and done with after 1997’s “Batman and Robin”. Yet some of the best action scenes of this decade involved the X-Men and Spider-Man. Also worth mentioning is the wave of epics (“Gladiator”, “The Lord of the Rings”, etc.), Michael Bay’s misunderstood oeuvre (culminating in the ridiculously frenetic “Bad Boys II”) and the most action-packed TV series ever, “24”.

As for who replaced Schwarzenegger (who’s now Governor of California!), it’s still not clear, as the Hong Kong stars have made almost nothing but crap in Hollywood. Vin Diesel hasn’t fulfilled the promise he showed in his first few flicks, so I’ll push my chips toward The Rock, who can whoop butt like the best of them and has revealed unexpected comic timing. He’s made his “Conan”-style heroic fantasy (“The Scorpion King”), his “Raw Deal”-style revenge yarn (“Walking Tall”), his “Red Heat”-style buddy comedy (“The Rundown”)… He’s due for a “Terminator” or a (gulp) “Commando”, don’t you think?



Okay, you know why I’m doing an update now, right? The best old school action flick since the golden age of the 1980s has been released this weekend. I’m talking of course of “Rambo”, which brings us back to the movie that started it all, “First Blood”. We also got another “Die Hard” sequel recently, but “Live Free or Die Hard” wasn’t so hot. Alas, the third figure of action cinema, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is still busy being Governor so we didn’t get a sequel to the other key Hollywood action movie, “Commando”. But while not technically related to it, the John Cena vehicle “The Marine” was certainly influenced by it and satisfyingly filled the void left in its place.

In other news, since the last update 3 years ago, there were some brilliant action sequences in unexpected places, namely pictures which had other things on their minds, like David Cronenberg‘s “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”, but which packed riveting bursts of violence and mayhem nonetheless. “Pathfinder” and “Beowulf” owe more to heroic fantasy à la “Conan the Barbarian” than to straight action as defined above (way back in the intro), but they kick too much ass for me not to mention them. Likewise with “Sin City” and “Apocalypto”, respectively film noir and historical/adventure influenced, but action-packed nonetheless. And “Hot Fuzz” might be a comedy first, but damn it if it doesn’t get your blood pumping!

And then there was Bourne. Over the course of three movies, this franchise single-handedly changed the rules of the game, as decisively as “First Blood”, “Commando” and “Die Hard” did back in the day. Telling proof: the James Bond series totally went Bourne in “Casino Royale”, making things less over the top and having the hero be more tortured and vulnerable. I’m not sure Matt Damon wants to be typecast as an action star, but right now, he’s king of the hill.


Another two years or so have passed since I last took the pulse of the Modern Hollywood Action Film. Again, comic book adaptations have given us some of the most kick-ass movie scenes to enjoy: I’m thinking of “The Dark Knight”, “Watchmen”, “Hellboy 2”, “The Incredible Hulk”, “Iron Man” and most of all, Timur Bekmambetov’s utterly badass “Wanted”.

There were also some thrilling action sequences in various war films (“The Hurt Locker”, “Che”, “Defiance”, “Inglourious Basterds”), David Mamet offered an intriguing twist on the genre in “Redbelt” and Liam Neeson, of all people, rocked hard in “Taken”. But I think that as with “Hot Fuzz” a few years back, it’s often the comedies that were the most explosive! Take “Tropic Thunder” for instance, or “JCVD” (that opening showcases Jean-Claude Van Damme at his best!), or especially “Pineapple Express”, which intentionally riffs on 1980s action flicks.

Ultimately, though, nothing offered more excitement than a pair of recent sci-fi epics, Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” and of course, James Cameron’s “Avatar”. Now, we’re far from the archetypical greatness of the classic Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis vehicles… But hopefully, next year’s “The Expendables” will scratch that itch!

2002 May-October

(2 May) Savage Messiah (2002, Mario Azzopardi) 48
[ Another powerful, terrifying performance by Luc Picard as a sadistic and perverted guru. Too bad the overall film is rather pedestrian. ]

(3 May) Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi) [ review ] 85

(5 May) The Devil’s Advocate (1997, Taylor Hackford) 51
[ I’d call this a guilty pleasure. It’s crass, cheesy, and wrong in so many ways, but it’s fun to watch and Al Pacino is deliciously over the top. ]

(6 May) Le Peuple Migrateur (2002, Jacques Perrin) [ review ] 90

(7 May) Moving (2002, Jonathan Friedman) [ review ] 52

(10 May) Unfaithful (2002, Adrian Lyne) [ review ] 40

(10 May) L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson) [ review ] 92

(11 May) Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch) [ review ] 93

(12 May) City Lights (1930, Charlie Chaplin) 65
[ Most of this “timeless classic” didn’t make much of an impression on me, but I have to say, the ending is absolutely marvelous. ]

(14 May) Tribute (2001, Kris Curry and Rich Fox) 80
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(16 May) Attack of the Clones (2002, George Lucas) [ review ] 61

(19 May) Which Way is Up? (1977, Michael Schultz) 10
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(21 May) The Salton Sea (2002, D.J. Caruso) [ review ] 54

(23 May) Dead in the Water (2001, Gustavo Lipsztein) 35
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(23 May) FUBAR (2002, Michael Dowse) [ review ] 86

(24 May) Insomnia (2002, Christopher Nolan) [ review ] 82

(27 May) Requiem for a Dream (2002, Darren Aronofsky) [ review ] 92

(27 May) Sparkle (1999, Jeff Beesley) 30
[ >Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(30 May) Lenny (1974, Bob Fosse) 82
[ Greatish biopic short on laughs but overflowing with style, sexiness and thought-provoking material. ]

(30 May) Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, John Cameron Mitchell) [ review ] 91

(30 May) An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli) 61
[ The story is paper thin and the romance doesn’t work, but the song and dance numbers are pretty great. ]

(31 May) Undercover Brother (2002, Malcolm D. Lee) [ review ] 4

(31 May) The Sum of All Fears (2002, Phil Alden Robinson) [ review ] 90

(10 Jun) Irréversible (2002, Gaspar Noé) [ review ] 90

(10 Jun) Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléôpatre (2002, Alain Chabat) [ review ] 70

(14 Jun) In the Shadows (2001, Ric Roman Waugh) 65
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(14 Jun) Windtalkers (2002, John Woo) [ review ] 38

(17 Jun) Vanilla Sky (2001, Cameron Crowe) [ review ] 93

(18 Jun) The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin) 42
[ I’d never actually watched it, and I guess it’s been too ripped off, referenced, spoofed and talked about for me to experience it as it was meant to be. Sure, I found it gross but other than that? Blah. ]

(19 Jun) Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997, Jay Roach) [ review ] 93

(20 Jun) Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen) [ review ] 100

(21 Jun) Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 93

(25 Jun) Outta Time (2002, Lorena David) 40
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(25 Jun) The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002, Peter Care) [ review ] 76

(28 Jun) Mr. Deeds (2002, Steven Brill) [ review ] 41

(29 Jun) American Beauty (1999, Sam Mendes) [ review ] 93

(4 Jul) Change of Habit (1969, William A. Graham) [ review ] 65

(4 Jul) Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 93

(8 Jul) Being John Malkhovich (1999, Spike Jonze) [ review ] 93

(9 Jul) K-9: P.I. (2002, Richard J. Lewis) [ review ] 40

(9 Jul) Moulin Rouge! (2001, Baz Luhrmann) [ review ] 98

(12 Jul) Road to Perdition (2002, Sam Mendes) [ review ] 49

(12 Jul) Reign of Fire (2002, Rob Bowman) [ review ] 39

(13 Jul) Dragonfly (2002, Tom Shadyac) [ review ] 6

(17 Jul) Eight Legged Freaks (2002, Ellory Elkayem) [ review ] 23

(22 Jul) Goldmember (2002, Jay Roach) [ review ] 85

(26 Jul) Goldmember (2002, Jay Roach) [ review ] 85

(26 Jul) UHF (1989, Jay Levey) [ review ] 86

(27 Jul) The Desert Rats (1953, Robert Wise) 55
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(1 Aug) Unbreakable (2000, M. Night Shyamalan) [ review ] 92

(2 Aug) Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan) [ review ] 94

(3 Aug) Full Frontal (2002, Steven Soderbergh) [ review ] 28

(5 Aug) Cat People (1982, Paul Schrader) [ review ] 32

(6 Aug) The Fellowship of the Ring (2001, Peter Jackson) [ review ] 93

(9 Aug) xXx (2002, Rob Cohen) [ review ] 34

(10 Aug) Strictly Sinatra (2001, Peter Capaldi) [ review ] 53

(10 Aug) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Robert Mulligan) 96
[ One of the greats, it conveys an essential message with grace and intelligence. Gregory Peck is the father everyone wishes he had. ]

(11 Aug) Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi) [ review ] 85

(14 Aug) Blue Crush (2002, John Stockwell) [ review ] 23

(20 Aug) Fun and Fancy Free (1947, Jack Kinney) 22
[ Disney Masterpiece my ass, this is a botched, dated mess. “Mickey and the Beanstalk” is kinda fun, but the “Bongo” story is plain retarded. Great way to show kids how to express love through spousal abuse! ]

(20 Aug) The Lord of the Rings (1978, Ralph Bakshi) 38
[ At first, I found it not as bad as it’s been accused of being. It’s stylish enough, and the material is so strong that some of the missteps are forgivable. But about halfway through it loses all focus and starts skimming through events almost randomly and then it just stops two thirds into the story! I’ll stick to Peter Jackson’s films etc. ]

(23 Aug) Serving Sara (2002, Reginald Hudlin) [ review ] 35

(23 Aug) The Good Girl (2002, Miguel Arteta) [ review ] 40

(24 Aug) Heaven (2002, Tom Tykwer) [ review ] 90

(28 Aug) The Scorpion King (2002, Chuck Russell) [ review ] 57

(29 Aug) Big Fat Liar (2002, Shawn Levy) [ review ] 36

(29 Aug) The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, Anthony Minghella) [ review ] 92

(30 Aug) Igby Goes Down (2002, Burr Steers) [ review ] 72

(1 Sept) Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 93

(2 Sept) Jurassic Park III (2001, Joe Johnston) 15
[ Easily one of the worst Hollywood blockbusters I’ve ever seen, the production values (outside of the not even that awe-inspiring anymore dinos) are on a TV level, the acting is obnoxiously bad and the set pieces are more ridiculous than exciting. ]

(2 Sept) America’s Sweethearts (2001, Joe Roth) 26
[ 2 minutes’ worth of biting satire drowned into an ill-conceived, wildly uninvolving romantic comedy. John Cusack and Julia Roberts are on auto-pilot, and Catherine Zeta-Jones and especially Hank Azaria and his pseudo-Spanish accent are insufferable.]

(3 Sept) 8 Femmes (2002, François Ozon) [ review ] 86

(3 Sept) Chasing Amy (1997, Kevin Smith) [ review ] 87

(6 Sept) Le Pacte des Loups (2001, Christophe Gans) [ review ] 90

(6 Sept) Monsoon Wedding (2002, Mira Nair) [ review ] 86

(7 Sept) Blade II (2002, Guillermo Del Toro) [ review ] 44

(8 Sept) Van Wilder (2002, Walt Becker) 8
[ The absolute bottom of the barrel of misogynist, juvenile and disgusting comedies. Ryan Reynolds is pretty cool, but even Miles farking Davis wouldn’t be cool enough to salvage this pile of dog semen. ]

(9 Sept) Magnolia (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson) [ review ] 100

(13 Sept) Stealing Harvard (2002, Bruce McCullough) [ review ] 37

(13 Sept) One Hour Photo (2002, Mark Romanek) [ review ] 80

(15 Sept) The Count of Monte Cristo (2002, Kevin Reynolds) 36
[ This adaptation of the classic Alexandre Dumas revenge drama is nicely set up, effectively showing Jim Caviezel’s Edmond going through extreme pain and despair. But then the film rushes through his retribution to his enemies and ties everything up into a happy little Hollywood resolution. Too bad. ]

(15 Sept) Game of Death (1978, Sammo Hung) 44
[ Cheapie, let’s-pretend-Bruce-Lee-didn’t-die-halfway-into-the-shoot kung fu revenge flick. Watch for countless shots of Lee’s unconvincing double seen from the back, in shadows or in disguise. Still, the climactic succession of fights of the genuine Bruce Lee in an iconic yellow with black stripes jumpsuit (which Uma Thurman will reprise in next year’s “Kill Bill”!) is pretty damn cool, especially when Lee faces 7 foot tall Kareem Abdul Jabbar! ]

(16 Sept) Everyone Says I Love You (1996, Woody Allen) 62
[ An homage to 1950s MGM musicals, but with actors who can’t sing and can’t dance! Instead, we’re rewarded with a sprinkle of Woody Allen’s trademark neurotic wit, and the film has a certain old fashioned charm. ]

(16 Sept) The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Steven Spielberg) 60
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(17 Sept) Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan) [ review ] 94

(19 Sept) King Kong (1933, Ernest B. Shoedsack & Merian C. Cooper) 65
[ Foolish white film crew invades primitive black tribe’s island to shoot legendary giant monkey, but serves as dinosaur lunch instead. Meanwhile, Kong gets hot for Fay Wray (who can blame him?) and chases her all the way to New York, and to the beast’s doom. Kick ass, brutal stop-motion action more or less makes up for deadly dull human drama, but I still wouldn’t call this a masterpiece. ]

(20 Sept) Network (1976, Sidney Lumet) 63
[ Peter Finch’s posthumously Oscar-winning turn as a news anchorman turned mad prophet is riveting and the satire of the television world is incisive, but the film is loose, all over the place and uneven. Could have used a good rewrite. ]

(22 Sept) Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino) [ review ] 94

(23 Sept) True Romance (1993, Tony Scott) [ review ] 92

(23 Sept) Manhunter (1986, Michael Mann) 26
[ What a stinker! Michael Mann directs this first adaptation of “Red Dragon” like a really bad TV movie devoid of any tension or depth, and Brian Cox’s take on Hannibal Lecter is limp and forgettable at best. ]

(27 Sept) The Tuxedo (2002, Kevin Donovan) [ review ] 17

(28 Sept) Original Sin (2001, Michael Cristofer) 47
[ Gorgeous Cuba, gorgeous Angelina Jolie, gorgeous music… This “cheap melodrama” is hardly subtle or much believable, but it does work as a guilty pleasure. ]

(28 Sept) Gorgeous (1999, Vincent Kok) 53
[ A message in a bottle? A young girl looking for true love? Business meetings? A gay sidekick? Dolphins? That’s a Jackie Chan film? Sort of. There are a few (4) pretty damn cool fight scenes, but most of the running time feels like a Chinese take on Meg Ryan flicks- which is enjoyable, even though I’d never expected Chan to play a straight romantic lead! ]

(28 Sept) Matroni et Moi (1999, Jean-Philippe Duval) 74
[ Scorsese meets Woody Allen in this hilarious, stylish and thought-provoking French Canadian comedy which pits a mobster (played by a delightfully cartoonish Pierre Lebeau) against a dweebish intellectual (Alexis Martin, who also wrote the film) in a frantic discussion of ethics and principles. ]

(29 Sept) Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly) 68
[ Teen angst, hallucinations and time travel cohabit in this bizarre high school drama set in the late 80s. I’m not sure what he’s trying to say, but writer-director Richard Kelly’s vision is intriguing (whatever it is). ]

(2 Oct) The Razor’s Edge
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(4 Oct) Red Dragon (2002, Brett Ratner) [ review ] 36

(4 Oct) Moonlight Mile (2002, Brad Silberling) [ review ] 90

(5 Oct) Tanguy (2001, Étienne Chatiliez) 33
[ This French comedy has an amusing premise (a 28 year old man who still lives at home to the despair of his parents), but after an inspired first half hour it grows tired and repetitive. ]

(7 Oct) Witchbabe
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(10 Oct) Carmen: A Hip Hopera
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(11 Oct) The Rules of Attraction (2002, Roger Avary) [ review ] 63

(11 Oct) Bollywood/Hollywood (2002, Deepa Mehta) 68
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(11 Oct) Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002, Peter Mettler) 48
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(12 Oct) Good Rockin’ Tonight (2002, Bruce Sinofsky) 44
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(12 Oct) The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002, Eugene Jarecki) 86
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(12 Oct) The Ring (2002, Gore Verbinski) [ review ] 38

(13 Oct) Tan de Repente (2002, Diego Lerman) 89
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(14 Oct) Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew (2002, Matthew Buzzell) 40
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(14 Oct) Un Homme sans l’Occident (2002, Raymond Depardon) 43
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(15 Oct) Waiting for Happiness (2002, Abderrahmane Sissako) 68
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(15 Oct) Isabelle Huppert : une vie pour jouer (2002, Serge Toubiana) 62
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(15 Oct) This is not a love song (2002, Billie Eltringham) 37
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(16 Oct) Ken Park (2002, Larry Clark, Ed Lachman) 0
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(16 Oct) The Sea (2002, Baltasar Kormakur) 66
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(17 Oct) Punch-Drunk Love (2002, P.T. Anderson) [ review ] 94

(18 Oct) Punch-Drunk Love (2002, P.T. Anderson) [ review ] 94

(18 Oct) Bowling for Columbine (2002, Michael Moore) [ review ] 79

(18 Oct) Far From Heaven (2002, Todd Haynes) 79
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(19 Oct) Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002, Paul Justman) [ review ] 90

(19 Oct) Bowling for Columbine (2002, Michael Moore) [ review ] 79

(19 Oct) 11’09″01 (2002, various filmmakers) 60
[ reviewed in my FCMM coverage ]

(20 Oct) Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002, Paul Justman) [ review ] 90

(23 Oct) Chelsea Walls 35
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(23 Oct) The Truth About Charlie (2002, Jonathan Demme) [ review ] 5

(25 Oct) Jackass: the Movie (2002, Jeff Tremaine) [ review ] 51

(25 Oct) Secretary (2002, Steven Shainberg) [ review ] 42

(29 Oct) A Hard Day’s Night (2002, Richard Lester) [ review ] 75

(30 Oct) No Such Thing (2001, Hal Hartley) 55
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(31 Oct) Le Nèg’ (2002, Robert Morin) 74
[ Like most of his films, Robert Morin’s latest is both realistic and over the top, powerful and uneven, stylish and crude. It revolves around two SQ cops investigating a rocky night that left an old woman dead, a young black man in a coma and a plaster “lawn nigger” smashed. Each of the witnesses tells a different story, “Rashomon”-style, but what ultimately comes out is a tale of real-life horrors: racism, alcoholism, despair on welfare and wild bursts of violence. Not everything works in “Le Nèg’”, but the nifty use of fantasy sequences in which the characters are seen as little plastic figures and the riveting performances by the actors playing the drunken rednecks make it well worth seeing. ]


Remember that name: Christopher Nolan. Just as a young American filmmaker named Bryan Singer made his mark 6 years ago with a nifty little puzzle of a movie, namely “The Usual Suspects”, British writer-director Nolan’s second feature (after the little seen “Following”) is sure to make people pay attention to his work from now on. In fact, between the two somehow similarly twisted crime thrillers, I’d pick “Memento” as the better film.

Guy Pearce stars as Leonard Shelby, a former insurance investigator who suffered an injury which led to a rare condition, short-term memory loss. He remembers everything up to the night his wife was killed and he was badly hit to the head, but since then he’s unable to retain new information. Faces, places, events, they all disappear from his mind after mere minutes. It’s obviously a frustrating existence, but Leonard has something that keeps him going: his need to get revenge. But how do you investigate when you can’t remember what you find out? For Shelby, it’s by being methodical, using a system of notes and Polaroids about each and every thing. He’ll take a picture of someone he meets and scribble down basic information on it (“Don’t believe his lies”). As for the most crucial facts, he has them tattooed on his body. Hence, written backwards (so he can read it in a mirror) on his chest is “John G. raped and murdered my wife”…

In itself, the plot doesn’t sound too striking, it’s the classic revenge story. The amnesia is an interesting touch, but even that isn’t anything new (remember the Dana Carvey comedy “Clean Slate”?). What’s really out there is the way Nolan tells his story, starting with the last scene then going back to the one before, then the one before, and so on until we get to the first scene. Sounds confusing? Well, it can be, but it’s also a fascinating concept. It sort of puts you in the same state of mind as Leonard. At the beginning of each scene, you have no idea how you got there, what exactly is happening and why, or what’s your history with the people you’re with. That Teddy fella who you’re always running into, is he a friend or a threat? That Natalie chick, is she helping you… or are you helping her? Most of the film is spent with this kind of questions being raised, by Leonard and by the audience.

At first, upon watching the finale which opens the film (!), you might wonder what’s the point of keeping watching if you already know what happens next? Except that without knowing the context, you really don’t know much about what you see. Things aren’t always as they appear, and Nolan is determined to prove it. Every time you think you’ve got a handle on the plot, it slips away and heads for a different direction. Nolan describes his movie not as a whodunit but as a “whydunit”; you know what the characters will do, but you still have to figure out why. Nolan always keeps the viewer on its toes as he unfolds his brilliant puzzle.”Memento” is the rare film where there’s never any “down time”, it completely captures your attention and keeps you thinking and trying to figure things out. Yet it isn’t a mere brainy exercise in style. The movie’s filled with twists at times shocking or hilarious, and at its core it’s an emotionally affecting tragic tale. Leonard, ironically, can’t forget about the one thing which hurts the most: the woman he loved so much and how she was taken away from him. “How can you heal,” he asks, “when you have no sense of time?”

Part of what makes “Memento” so involving lies in the performances. Guy Pearce makes for a fantastic lead. His character is totally clueless most of the time, but he puts on a phony facade of recognition. Pearce plays him with an interesting balance of innocence and fatality; Leonard is a man who’s reborn every minute, having to get familiar with situations over and over, but he’s also a man with nothing to lose. He’s nicely supported by Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano (who also co-starred together in “The Matrix”) as a waitress and a cop he keeps meeting for the first time. Moss makes for a great femme fatale, as seductive as she is manipulative, and Pantoliano is amusingly sleazy. “Memento” might be challenging but it’s even more rewarding. A definite must-see.

The Mexican

I’m pretty sure this film will have many people go “Oh, what a missed opportunity.” After all, it does star two of Hollywood’s brightest stars, Brad “People’s Sexiest Man Alive” Pitt and Julia “America’s Sweetheart” Roberts. Yet instead of playing in a crowd-pleasing romantic comedy, they chose to unite for a quirky 35 million$ picture and to boot, they spend most of the film apart. Still, if you can brush away your expectations, you’ll find “The Mexican” to be a pretty darn fun ride.

Pitt stars as Jerry, a Mob bagman whose better half Samantha (Roberts) doesn’t agree with his chosen profession. Well, chosen might not be the right word. The reason why Jerry has been running errands for Nayman (Bob Balaban, the NBC president in Seinfeld) for the last five years is that he’s sort of responsible for sending Mafioso boss Margolese (Gene Hackman, in an uncredited cameo) to jail, through his bad driving. Margolese is set to be released in a week, so Jerry figures he’s worked out his debt and won’t have to do anything with the outfit no more… But before that, they want him to do the obligatory “one last job”, which is to go retrieve an antic musket in Mexico. So there goes Jerry on a plane, despite Sam’s lamentations. Self-centered as she is, she doesn’t realize that her lover will end up dead if he doesn’t comply, so she makes a big scene and takes off herself, towards her long brewed dream of making it as a croupier in Las Vegas. But on her way, she’s abducted by Leroy (James Gandolfini), a hitman sent by Margolese to kidnap her to make sure Jerry doesn’t get any crazy ideas. Not that he could have, stuck as he is running around Mexico trying to forrestgump his way out with both the priceless gun and his life…

Ok, so our two gorgeous leads are separated, not only by Mob-inclined circumstances but by constant bickering and arguing in the handful of scenes they share. Hence we kinda get two movies for the price of one. On one side, there’s Brad screwing up and being screwed over through San Miguel, talking tough with tenants in a sleazy tequila bar, getting his funky rental car stolen, befriending an ugly dog, scheming around double and triple crosses involving other bag men, dirty cops and Mexican thieves… That part of the movie is, to me, the most enjoyable. Pitt has never been hotter, and he’s also wonderfully goofy and endearing, and the film takes this really interesting, offbeat feel, a bit like the Coen bros’ Raising Arizona. Meanwhile, Roberts’ doing her movie star thing, and it’s not as compelling. Sure, she’s pretty too, but she tens to overdo everything, speed talking, yelling, flashing her huge smile, or pouting and dropping a few crocodile tears. What salvages her half of the film is her pairing with James Gandolfini, whose Leroy is less Tony Soprano than a sensitive version of the goon he played opposite Pitt’s stoner in “True Romance”. Most of his dialogue doesn’t dig deeper than an Oprah magazine article, but Gandolfini sells it with a quiet, strong presence that always ring true.

The movie was directed by Gore Verbinski, whose work on those Budweiser frogs commercials and the family film “Mousehunt” wouldn’t make you think of him as the perfect choice for this, but he does a surprisingly good job. He crafts one cool, stylish film that doesn’t always work perfectly but has well enough bright spots to make you leave a theatre smiling. Verbinski balances different tones skilfully, giving us laughs, thrills and even some touching moments. The film ain’t particularly profound, but it’s witty and refreshing. It’s got some really interesting cinematography, not quite on a “Traffic” level, but similarly inventive with colors and lighting. I also really liked Alan Silvestri’s score, an effective pastiche of Latin music, complete with trumpets and flamenco guitars. All in all, “The Mexican” is well worth checking out. I don’t get why it’s getting bad reviews, when it’s the only really good Hollywood movie I’ve seen so far this year.

3000 Miles to Graceland

Here’s yet another dumb, overblown, unoriginal popcorn flick but you know what? It’s actually kind of fun. Stuff blows up for no reason, men bullshit, women are brainless sluts, countless cops and innocents are killed, Elvis is everywhere and I’m sitting there watching all this nonsense and I can’t help but grin. One of the things that’s the most hard to believe is that this retarded, mean-spirited ride stars Kevin pretentious-post-acopalyptic-idealist-baseball-romantico-bad-accent-politics Costner. And he’s actually not bad. Wait, he is bad, but in an enjoyable way. He’s really hamming it up as the film’s bad guy, but it’s fun to see Costner getting loose for once. This is really not typecasting to have him play Murphy, a murderous sociopath who believes he’s the King’s illegitimate son. The logical choice for the part would be Nicolas Cage. After all, the character of Murp seems like a composite of Cage’s Elvis fanatic jailbird Sailor from “Wild at Heart” and Castor Troy, the over the top villain from “Face/Off”. Add to that the film’s kinship with the Jerry Bruckheimer produced “Con Air”, in which a bunch of convicts also crash in Las Vegas, and I’ll be darned if they didn’t try to get Cage involved.

But anyways, Costner took the part, so it’s his game… Or maybe Kurt Russell’s, who stars opposite him as Michael, the obligatory “good” bad guy. He might team up with former cellmate Murphy to hold up a Vegas casino, but he doesn’t kill nobody and he believes in loyalty, straightforwardness and other inconvenient good values. He’s bound to get screwed over, which Murphy does shamelessly by shooting him after the robbery to keep the loot for himself. Yet Mike saw it coming and wore a bulletproof vest, so he’s okay (of course, if Murphy had aimed for the head, he’d be dead meat, but that wouldn’t be convenient for the story, would it?), and he’s mad. And, you guessed it, we’re in for another of those road movies, with Murphy driving to the Canadian border with Michael following behind and cops on both their tails…

Hardly anything we haven’t seen a million times here, but to the filmmakers’ credit, they did add a twist : early on, Michael meets the sexy, spunky Cybil (Courtney Cox, looking hotter than ever) and her young son in a Nevada desert motel, and they’ll play a rather unexpectedly big part in the film. The early scenes revolve around the casino heist pulled by Murphy, Michael and three other thugs (token black dude Bokeem Woodbine, the annoying David Arquette and Christian Slater), who wear shiny suits, capes, oversized sunglasses and sideburns to pass incognito (the film begins during International Elvis Impersonators Week in Las Vegas), and the film’s climax is an endless shoot-out between cops and robbers, but for the most part in between, the film is about this unlikely little family unit’s road trip. Oh, there’s also plenty of mayhem, double-crosses and whatnot but the movie, the heart of the movie is in the quieter scenes between Michael and Cybil’s son, who’s smarter and hipper than you’d think. In theses moments, the film is pretty nice and funny actually. David Kaye is a nice discovery as the kid, avoiding to act cute like so many child actors, and Russell is quite charismatic and he’s really the only one in the film who carries some of the Elvis vibe. Cox is kinda good too, even though it’s impossible to understand the motivations of her character, who sleeps with Russell five minutes after they meet, acts all lovey-dovey, then steals his money and takes off, leaving her boy behind with him. What kind of a mother would do such a thing?

Despite such incoherencies, I don’t really get why the film is getting such bad reviews, especially after Snatch got such a good critical reception. Both are extremely stylish but derivative and shallow movies, except that one of them is British. If you ask me, former music video director Demian Lichtenstein doesn’t have much to envy to Guy Ritchie. He might be working from a lousy script, but he sure works hard to make us forget it! Shots are sped up or slowed down, the camera is all over the place, the editing is totally frenetic, and it’s all set to an extremely loud soundtrack mixing everything from electronica to, what else, Elvis tunes. So there you have it: “3000 Miles to Graceland” is far from a masterpiece, I wouldn’t even call it a good film, but as far as trash goes, you could do worse.


Oh, what a letdown! It’s hard to believe how disappointing this film is. Especially considering that, like millions of people, I loved its predecessor “The Silence Of The Lambs” (the novel and the 1991 film), and I also enjoyed the “Hannibal” novel. Now comes the film, and it’s a spectacular failure. It’s indulgent, it’s preposterous and, as if lacking the psychological finesse of the Thomas Harris book wasn’t offence enough, the movie is also often downright boring; it’s not even enjoyable as the silly, grotesque nonsense that it is.

First of all, there’s absolutely no focus. Never mind the title, this isn’t Hannibal’s movie, nor Clarice’s. It’s just this and that, and tata. Granted, the novel was also quite spread around, simultaneously following characters in Italy and Washington D.C., but it was done with skill and intelligence. Taking place 10 years after “Lambs”, it was established early that this wasn’t quite the same game. Last time, Clarice Starling was a student, an FBI rookie, sent to interview a dangerous convict, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, brilliant psychiatrist and gourmet cannibal. Most of the film’s key moments revolved around the pair’s tense conversations in a dark, creepy mental hospital. This time, Lecter is out of his cage, leading a luxurious life in Florence, where he’s applied for the position of curator in a historical library. The previous curator, well, he disappeared… Which brings in detective Pazzi, who’s investigating the case and will soon find out that not only might this Dr. Fell here be involved, he might be a fugitive whose face can be seen on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list…

Meanwhile in the US, Clarice Starling is still with the FBI, more experienced and headstrong, but still not quite over her encounter with Lecter. Adding to her worries is the pressure she’s getting from her bosses after a botched drug and weapons raid in which she shot dead five people… Plus there’s Ray Liotta as a jerk from the Justice Department out to get her, and she might have gotten demoted completely if it wasn’t for bizarre millionaire Mason Verger, who uses his influence to put her back on the Lecter case. You see, Verger was one of the good doctor’s victims, the only one who survived. He still has the scars to show for it, horrible, horrible scars, all over the deformed lumps of flesh that constitute his face. No need to say that he’s out to get revenge on Lecter. He’s put a 3 million $ reward out for anyone who’ll bring him in… Alive. Just killing him would be too kind. Verger wants to make him suffer, with the help of some gigantic man-eating pigs…

So as I said, the novel and the film meander for a long time around these different people, but the difference is that in the book, it’s detailed, textured and fascinating. We delve into the disgusting mind of Verger, a pedophile, an elitist and a hypocrite. We follow Lecter in Florence, as he affords himself the pleasures he was denied during his imprisonment. We get to know the older Clarice, who still can’t get a break. In the film, very little of this comes through. The characters aren’t developed, and the dynamics between them are poorly showcased. It never leaves the surface. Ok, so Lecter is attracted to Clarice. Mason wants to torture Lecter. That’s it, that’s the extent to which the movie motivates the characters and what they go through. It’s hard to believe the film was written by David Mamet and Stephen Zaillian. Whatever they ever knew about screenwriting they must have forgotten.

Director Ridley Scott, taking over from “Lambs” director Jonathan Demme, isn’t doing much better. The movie does look pretty good, with some gorgeous shots of Florence, and some sparks of invention here and there, but overall the film is muddled, bland and unexciting. Out of all the set pieces, the only one that really works is the tightly crafted fish market shoot-out early in the film. Otherwise, there’s plenty of gore, from dogs chewing on a man’s face to people being devoured alive by pigs, a man hanging with his bowels dripping out, the already infamous “brain eating” scene… But none of it is executed with much style, it’s just gross. It’s repulsing, but it isn’t scary. Nothing here approaches the majestic horror Demme brought to Lecter’s escape scene in “Lambs”.

Anthony Hopkins himself is not all that good. As terrifying as he was in the first film, this time around he’s just… blah. It’s roughly the same character, with the precise delivery, soft voice and almost feline demeanour, like a lion waiting to jump for the kill… Yet the essence isn’t there. We don’t feel as we’re witnessing evil or anything, just watching an old guy trying to be scary, hamming it up, uttering trite one-liners. Then there’s Julianne Moore who, as you must know, took over as Agent Starling after Jodie Foster turned down the part. I love Moore, she’s a great actress and she does her best here, but not only can she never make us forget Foster’s brilliant portrayal of the character, she’s also given nothing to work with. The film is badly scripted overall, and Moore’s character is particularly underwritten. She just waits around, types on a computer, does some stupid old Batman series-style investigating (like finding where Lecter hides from the scent of the letter he wrote him)… Ad then she yells a lot, and she gets toyed with by Lecter… It’s a thankless role. Gary Oldman is more memorable as Merger, but it’s not really because of his acting as much as for the brilliant make-up job : you can absolutely not recognize Oldman, he’s totally grotesque. Hey, that pretty much sums up this dull, pointless film. Totally grotesque.

Fight Club

“You are not your job. You are not how much you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your khakis. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. What happens first is you can’t sleep. What happens then is there’s a gun in your mouth. What happens next is you meet Tyler Durden. Let me tell you about Tyler. He had a plan. In Tyler we trusted. Tyler says the things you own, end up owning you. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Fight Club represents that kind of freedom…”

Generation-Xers often feel alienated in our society. Performance and consumerism are supposed to motivate us, but what kind of value system is that? “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working at jobs we hate so we can afford shit we don’t need.” TV makes us believe that money and beauty and big cars will make us happy. Our generation, born and raised through the 70s and 80s, hasn’t been given any religious, social or moral model. We are too young to have been in a great war, there was no major economical crisis. “Our Great War’s a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives.” It used to be that men were providers for their families, and hopefully entities prompt to do the right thing. And now the only thing that matters in America is how much money you can make, and how close you can get to a movie star lifestyle. Urgh.

Reality check: TV’s wrong. There’s very little chance any of us will end up a millionaire, a movie god or a rock star. You’re just gonna strive and do shit you have nothing but contempt for and just get some lousy, unfulfilling existence. Sure, you might be able to kinda convince yourself it’s all good, you got the car and the lawn you mown on Sundays, and you look oh-so-cool in your khakis, just like those dancing kids in the ads, right? But deep down inside, we know there’s gotta be something better to live for. “This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.”

“Fight Club” is an absolutely amazing movie, as subversive as it gets. It’s a wonder it ever got made, especially by a major studio. This masterpiece is a picture that screams for people to wake up and revolt against the absurdity of modern life. Of course it’s gathering controversy. It’s anti-capitalism, borderline nihilistic and downright anarchist, for sure. Some might even say that it’s anti-God, and not quite without evidence. But ain’t that what movies are about? Art is supposed to make you think, to push you to react. It shouldn’t leave you indifferent. These days everyone blames movies for violence in our society. Don’t stop selling guns to kids (that’s big money), but turn every movie into Disney sap to shut people up for a while. Maybe they’ll keep ignoring that Nike is exploiting kids to pay Michael Jordan, that automobile moguls will recall cars only if it’ll cost less than settling malfunction cases out of court, that you gotta kill half-extinct species of whales to make classy perfume… If we stop making movies with violence just in case some moron might screw up (which he would probably have done anyway), cinema will become a travesty of reality, and we’ll be deprived of many potential masterpieces. If violence had never been in movies, there would have been no “A Clockwork Orange” or “Taxi Driver”; we’re talking about some of the greatest movies ever made!

“Fight Club” revolves around an unnamed Narrator, a disillusioned office worker who’s so fed up with his routine life that he can’t even sleep anymore. He’s trying to find satisfaction in shopping, turning his crummy apartment into an Ikea catalog spread, but it’s just so… Urgh. The only way he gets to connect with other people is by going to self-help groups for people with testicular cancer, brain parasites or whatever. It seems people really care about you only if they think you’re gonna die. That’s in one of these meetings that he meets Marla, a chain-smoking Goth mermaid who hangs in these sessions because it’s cheaper than the movies and there’s free coffee. Suddenly, our Narrator can’t let go anymore by crying in the arms of other men, because the presence of another faker keeps reminding him he’s one too. This ain’t the last he’ll see of Marla. She’s about to influence drastically his life, but not nearly as much as Tyler Durden, an intriguing fellow who’s everything he’s not. Confident and charismatic, Tyler is an all-out anarchist who refuses to submit to the compromises of modern life. He splices frames of erected penises into family films when he works as a projectionist, pees in the soup when he’s a waiter. And he makes soap, too.

The Narrator finds himself intensely driven to Tyler and his radical thinking. They find that the best way to feel alive might be by beating the living shit out of each other. Soon, other people join in. Lotsa people. Fight clubs multiply, all over the nation. Seems today’s emasculated men are relieved to finally find a venue to unleash their frustration. They’re so numbed by their lives that they’re desperate to feel something, anything. Even if it means going at it in underground boxing clubs. Tyler takes it to the next phase by turning his fight clubs into units of Project Mayhem. And then it gets weird. Yeah, weirder than what you saw so far! I really can’t tell you anymore about the plot (even though the trailer gives away a lot more, as do some critics). The first rule of fight club is: You don’t talk about fight club. The second rule of fight club is: You don’t talk about fight club.

The film’s protagonist and narrator is played by Edward Norton, who goes beyond anything he’s done. There is so much nuance and intelligence in his unpredictable, always compelling performance. Brad Pitt is another very interesting actor, and he truly gives everything he’s got as Tyler Durden. Believe me, Tyler will crawl under your skin and stay there. I can hardly think of a more fascinating movie character. What’s the most disturbing about Tyler and the film in general is how it seduces you with its nihilistic philosophy, how it makes you relate to, understand and admire Tyler Durden… And then before you know it, you realize that you would have done anything, no matter how immoral and depraved, just because you had so much faith in him.

The movie is a frightening look at how any “normal” person could turn into a member of an extremist group. It shows how seductive anarchy and marginality can be at first, but it’s also responsible enough to also show how these things often get out of hand and go too far. This movie makes you understand why some turn into terrorists, why some take part in a death cult, why Germans followed blindly Hitler and committed some of the most atrocious acts in history. This is a movie that should be shown to everyone in schools to be discussed. This is a movie as powerful and thought provoking as “Do the Right Thing” or “Schindler’s List”. And it’s a comedy, too. One of the first things people too shaken by the issues of the film might talk about to lighten the mood might be the casting of rock star Meatloaf as Big Bob, a former bodybuilder who took so much steroids that he grew huge breasts and was deprived of his balls (literally). Or how shocking to see Helena Bonham Carter acting without wearing a corset, turning herself into the trashy Marla. Kudos to Carter for achieving to make Marla somehow endearing.

The film was adapted by newcomer Jim Uhls from the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The book is incredibly rich and inventive: it’s almost scientific in its details. Can the movie live up to it? Astonishingly, yes. Director David Fincher found the way to communicate through images and sound the vibe Palahniuk sent through words. This ain’t your middle of the road studio picture. The film might seem difficult to some, because it’s so packed with ideas and doesn’t dumb down or sugar coat them. It has the bleak look of decay and filth also found in Fincher’s previous films, but it also has a refreshing playfulness. I saw “Fight Club” twice in a row on opening day, and I got to notice tons of nifty details each time. Like how there’s subliminal images of Tyler in the first act, as well as a frame of a penis spliced into the ending, and a bunch of other subtle things.

I also really like the film’s non-linear structure, how it constantly jumps back and forth in time and space, like a novel actually. The editing is particularly audacious and inventive. Let’s not forget the Dust Brothers: finally, a film score that sounds truly modern instead of sticking to the same tired faux-Wagner strings and brass. Their electronic, loop and sample woven, genre blending music makes the film even more electrifying. “Fight Club” is pure, unrestrained, riveting filmmaking. And if you think that “The Sixth Sense” had a fall-off-your-seat climactic twist, wait till you see what Palahniuk concocted. More than just a surprise, it’s a revelation that puts everything else in perspective, and makes it even scarier. The sequence that follows is therefore even more thrilling, as… Well, you’ll see. Oh, and you gotta love the final shot, a wonderfully ironic anti-happy end perfectly edited to the PixiesWhere is My Mind.

“Fight Club” burns ideas in your brain, thrills you with its fights, makes you laugh and uses the art of filmmaking in a whole new way. This is one for the ages. In Fight Club we trust.