REVIEW: The Little Hours

25 06 2017

Sundance Film Festival

Raunchy comedies set in a distant past always run the risk of relying too heavily on anachronistic humor. (Cough, “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”) The humor that arises from performers in period garb rattling off profanities or talking in the present-day vernacular is the definition of low-hanging fruit.

Jeff Baena’s “The Little Hours” tends to lean on this dissonance to generate comedy. Aubrey Plaza dropping F-bombs in a nun’s habit is inherently pretty darn funny. Whether it leans too heavily on the ahistorical humor is up to the individual viewer – I found it a little overloaded – but thankfully it’s not the only trick Baena has up his sleeve.

The film’s story, adapted from the Medieval novella “The Decameron,” finds laughs from sending up the era’s sexual repression and religious rigor. Three naughty nuns (Plaza, Alison Brie and scene-stealer Kate Micucci) toil away in their convent under the watchful eye of John C. Reilly’s Father Tommasso, lamenting their inability to act on certain desires. Luckily, Dave Franco’s chesty handyman Massetto arrives to light their flames.

This feudal Rudolph Valentino escapes one manor, where as servant he beds the master’s wife, and gets smuggled into the nunnery pretending to be a deaf mute. Thinking him unable to hear them, the sisters let loose with some of their wildest sexual fantasies – some of which they consummate to his delight and horror. “The Little Hours” is certainly a one-of-a-kind sex comedy, worth seeing for its brazenness alone and worth staying for Fred Armisen’s Bishop Bartolomeo, who arrives at the end to scold them all with a poker-faced gall. B





REVIEW: Kong: Skull Island

7 03 2017

“Am I the story of the Negro in America?” asks a German major in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” as he tries to guess the name written on a card affixed to his forehead in a bar game. He gets a resounding “no” after running through a series of questions that could just as easily describe the importation of slaves. But he quickly pivots and rattles off, “Well, then, I must be King Kong.”

Traditionally in cinema – and fiction as a whole – our monsters mean something. They reflect the deep fears and anxieties of a society, ones that might not obviously rear their heads but can find vicarious expression through metaphor and transitive representation. In 1933’s version of “King Kong,” Tarantino saw a deeply symbolic tale about race in America. It’s too bad that “Kong: Skull Island,” the latest spin on the giant ape, arrives at a time of no racial tension and the complete absolution of prejudice based on ancestral origin. (Ha.)

But what kind of monster is Kong in Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film? At first, the behemoth primate seems to be something between a colonialist allegory given the backdrop of the Vietnam War and a cautionary tale for human overreach in a technology-heavy era. The longer the film goes on, the more these aspects reveal themselves as clear offshoots of Vogt-Roberts’ key touchstones, “Apocalypse Now” and “Jurassic Park.” Then the real question of “Kong: Skull Island” arises. Is it worse if the filmmaking team (which includes four credited writers) have an undercooked meaning of the monster … or if there’s just no meaning at all?

We get the answer – it’s the latter of the two options – in a post-credits zinger. No spoilers about the contents of the scene, but Warner Bros. deliberately robs King Kong of any allegorical meaning to strip him down to pure commercialism. He’s now just another branded property, another franchise toy who can be trotted out in any number of series without being weighed down by cultural baggage. The ape who loomed large in the American imagination is now just another large CGI creation in a veritable zoo created by the VFX wizards that be. The whole film amounts to a less neon-bathed “Avatar,” a creature feature full of empty spectacle (and even less politicization).

Kong’s presence in the film is practically nonexistent, too. That includes implied appearances, a method to which Spielberg acolyte Vogt-Roberts fondly makes homage. The majority of “Kong: Skull Island” consists of a ragtag band of people who have been in too many action movies (Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman) and those whose careers could use an action movie (Brie Larson, Thomas Mann, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell) trying to make it to the top of a mountain for rescue after a military mission goes south. Their journey has its enjoyable moments, but who really buys a ticket to a King Kong movie for pithy banter between photojournalists and cagey war veterans? B-





REVIEW: Sing

21 12 2016

When it comes to making movies for children, simplicity is your friend. In the case of Illumination Entertainment’s “Sing,” however, animators must have just decided to meet the times and deliver a scattered mess of characters in need of Adderall and concision. There’s genuine heart and sweetness in Garth Jenning’s film, but it gets choked out of the equation in favor of more songs, more gags, more scenes, more … everything.

There’s really no need to stuff in another animal, another backstory, another musical number. We already know what’s going on from the get-go because “Sing” is not a particularly complicated film. Koala bear Buster Moon (voice of Matthew McConaughey) is a man after many of our own hearts – inspired by art at a young age, he doggedly and even naively sets course to be a booster and patron in the community. When his theater falls on hard times, he holds auditions for a singing contest to spotlight the unsung stars of the town.

While he struggles to pay the rent and keep the lights on, his contestants engage in battles of their own. Yet among the handful of singers, each given about equal screen time, there are really only two issues – nerves and family expectations. Be it the dedicated domestic engineer Rosita (Reese Witherspoon’s plucky pig Rosita), the shy elephant Meena (Tori Kelly), or the bank robber-cum-closet crooner Johnny (Taron Egerton’s gorilla Johnny), the conflicts all bleed into each other. By their final numbers, there’s no surprise or jubilation because we know these animals as nothing more than familiar character dilemmas. With our attention spread so thin between them, there’s no connection built up, either.

If anything, “Sing” feels like an animated television series retrofitted into a feature-length film. Well, actually … maybe that’s the motivation after all. Even so, that doesn’t change the fact that this is an uninspiring pilot episode. C+2stars





F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 8, 2016)

8 09 2016

year-of-the-dogAs someone who lives with two canine companions, I can certainly sympathize with Molly Shannon’s Peggy in “Year of the Dog.” Relationships with humans are tough. How dare they do this, but they actually want something in return from us. They make demands of our time and thought. Dogs like Peggy’s beloved Pencil simply live to please us, offering love and affection no matter our mood or deeds that day.

But, as every child in a film about a dog knows, we almost always outlive our dogs. Peggy faces this lesson sooner than expected when Pencil gets into some toxic chemicals and cannot be saved by a veteran. What comes next for someone who puts all her eggs into the basket of her beloved animal makes for quite a melancholy comedy from writer/director Mike White.

Rather than using her period of mourning to deepen or enrich her relationship with neighbors, coworkers or family members, Peggy entrenches herself even further into animal advocacy and obsession. She becomes a vegan, brings home abused shelter dogs by the carful to save them from euthanasia and even “adopts” farm animals in lieu of holiday gifts. It’s decidedly odd turn of events, yet Molly Shannon resists playing her character as some kind of lunatic. The performance resembles a quieter, more mellow version of her notorious “Saturday Night Live” characters – all of their insecurities without all the theatricality to mask the wounds.

“Year of the Dog” is my choice for “F.I.L.M. of the Week” not only because of Shannon’s raw performance but also because of where Mike White takes it. While he shows compassion for everyone, White is not afraid to steer the film into dark and bittersweet territory. He is unafraid to suggest that Peggy might not need the human connections we expect her to develop over the course of the film. She might just need the certainty of her own convictions and the courage to follow the path she thinks will bring her the happiness she seeks.





REVIEW: We Need To Talk About Kevin

13 06 2016

We Need To Talk About KevinI have somewhat a shameful bad habit as a critic – sometimes, I cannot bring myself to write about the movies that transfix my senses and command my thoughts. Look through my pages of reviews and see the scores of films at the top of the list – “Shame,” “Spring Breakers, “12 Years a Slave,” “American Hustle,” “The Big Short” – all without a formal review. It feels mostly rooted in a desire not to demystify the experience combined with a feebleness before the work. What good can my words really do in the face of such a colossus of art?

Tonight, I sat before my editorial calendar with a big gaping hole in my schedule. Nothing new left to review, nothing old particularly pertinent to a new release. What to write about, especially given the horrendous events dominating the news? (If you read this further out from publication and June 12 is not a date branded in your memory, I wrote the sentence you are reading in the wake of the slaughter at Pulse in Orlando.) Then, I remembered one film that I have been long overdue to appraise. Roughly five years late, as a matter of fact.

If you didn’t read the title or look at the poster, that film is Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” a chilling look behind the headlines at the mother of a murderer. Of course,  a one-to-one correlation between the Orlando massacre and the killing at the center of this film is not the point. The murder weapons are different, and the family environments and the means of radicalization are likely dissimilar as well (though answers are not known now). As we enter the backstretch of this decade, I cannot shake the feeling that this film will be among its definitive works and most potent responses to the crises of our time.

The film primarily takes place in the aftermath of the carnage carried out by the titular character with frequent flashbacks to the past of Kevin (Ezra Miller) and his mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton). In such times, we cast a backward glance to determine the cause of the present. And “cause” is just a polite word for “blame.” Once we know where we can point the finger, we can shake off the act.

I come to bang out this piece with the words and sounds of countless politicians, thinkpieces and cable news segments about Orlando swirling around in my head. It’s about gun control, some say. It’s about ISIS, declare others. It’s a hate crime, a mental health issue and probably countless other causes that my mind does not have the space to store.

Yet while I respect these journalists and newspeople, I found myself turning to artists for solace and understanding. That final scene from “Milk.” Charlie Chaplin’s powerful monologue from the end of “The Great Dictator.” The big address from the end of “The King’s Speech.” (Yes, I still resent it beating “The Social Network,” but I don’t have an ice chest in place of a heart.) Heck, even the comedy news stylings of Samantha Bee and Seth Meyers. It is artists who can take one step back from the messy business of the day and attempt to bring some perspective, highlight the complexity and sometimes even restore some prudence.

Lynne Ramsay brings a variety of perspectives, techniques and approaches to adapt Lionel Shriver’s epistolary novel into cinematic terms. She finds a pulsing, urgent narrative throughline to carry the patiently doled out details of Eva’s suffering on the page. What Ramsay assembles in “We Need To Talk About Kevin” is truly the gold standard among films that dare to delve into the cycle of violence that rips apart communities. We can see its destructive ends, but the multiplicity of factors that culminated in such an act form too great a web to untangle. That does not stop her from pointing out each thread.

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REVIEW: The Lobster

29 05 2016

The LobsterAt the risk of sounding perilously similar to Rep. Louie Gohmert, who recently suggested gays should be left out of space colonies since they cannot reproduce, there are important biological and social reasons why human beings should pair off. The simplest argument, of course, concerns reproduction and the continuation of our species. But bountiful research also suggests the tremendous drawbacks of living life in isolation – depression, poor health, low communal ties, and so on.

Writers Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou never tip their hand about what led up to the society they create in The Lobster,” though one imagines it likely involves some of the factors listed above. In their milieu, anyone without a life partner gets politely sent off to a hotel where they must find a match within 45 days – or face becoming transformed into the animal of their choice. Love, in other words, has been stripped of all romance and reduced to little more than social utility.

As public demonstrations from the manager (Olivia Colman) remind guests of why couples represent the ideal human arrangement, highly regulated activities nudge them towards identifying a partner with some shared characteristic over which they can begin a life together. Pretensions of status, class or wealth cannot cloud the decision, either. This total institution strips away individuality by forcing all participants to adhere to a simple, drab uniform by their gender.

The protagonist served to us, Colin Farrell’s David, serves as a guide through the many possibilities of this ecosystem. Some choose to throw themselves at anyone in the hopes of identifying someone equally as desperate. Others face public punishment for finding pleasure with themselves. A few brave souls are willing to stake their future on a lie in order to leave the hotel.

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REVIEW: Entertainment

20 02 2016

EntertainmentRick Alverson’s “Entertainment” definitely has a lot to say, make no mistake. It’s nice to see a film titled after a concept that engages deeply with that idea.

Alverson sets up an interesting dialectic between two touring performers, a mime played by Tye Sheridan and a comedian played by Gregg Turkington. The former opens each show, deftly calibrating his moves to respond to the crowd and givng them their money’s worth. The latter, however, self-consciously stumbles his way through a stand-up routine that might have killed were it delivered in 1984. When it starts to bomb, the comedian often fires back at the crowd in seeming self-sabotage.

Perhaps this is the very tension between entertainment and art playing itself out in allegorical form. One comforts the audience while the other confronts them. One is harmless fun; the other, a provocative thorn. Alverson’s film definitely takes the form of the comedian, never easily indulging the whims of easy crowd-pleasing in its 100 minutes.

But as “Entertainment” wore on, the film started to feel thin on ideas. Yes, there is value in watching Turkington’s comedian slowly grow more and more agitated with audiences and wrestle with his own performance. Yet Alverson might have incited that same intellectual response from a short film, one that more tersely conveys the same ideas. Heck, it could have even wrestled with a new set of ideas about what people look for in a video of that length. B-2stars





REVIEW: Life After Beth

13 12 2014

Life After BethAs the executives at Lifetime have now discovered with their ingenious “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever,” Aubrey Plaza is today’s most lovable curmudgeon.  Her dourly misanthropic attitude paradoxically lights up any scene in which she appears.  “Life After Beth” is to Plaza what “Maleficent” was to Angelina Jolie – an ode to a certain defining essence.

Plaza’s Beth starts off the film dead, then all of a sudden is inexplicably walking around among the living.  This comes much to the confused delight of her devastated former boyfriend Zach, played by Dane DeHaan.  Tasked with playing the straight man in a “Ruby Sparks” style romance, where the girl is undead instead of imaginary, DeHaan opts for strung-out angst to contrast Plaza’s snarky charm.

Their strange reunion starts off under the guise of a comedy, which makes a great deal of sense given that Plaza’s pop cultural presence has been mostly relegated to “Parks and Recreation.” (That’s mainly because no one saw the undeservedly underseen “Safety Not Guaranteed” and no one knew who she was when she appeared in 2009’s “Funny People.”)  But all of a sudden, and without any real reason, “Life After Beth” shifts gears to become an action film.  Nothing ever hints at the fact that it will eventually morph into “World War Z.”

DeHaan, in an interview with Seth Meyers, referred to the film as a “zom-com-rom-dram.”  Kudos to writer/director Jeff Baena for attempting so much, but this novel mixture proves far too many genres than “Life After Beth” can handle in its slim 90-minute runtime.  Plaza definitely does a better impersonation of the possessed demon child from “The Exorcist” than Jonah Hill in “This is The End,” which is about the extent of the compliments that can be paid to the film’s bizarre back half.

Perhaps its action-packed conclusion would feel more earned if Beth had more time to develop as a character.  But it looks like “Life After Beth” is really just going to be good for a few entertaining GIFs on a BuzzFeed list about grouchy people.  C2stars





REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy

3 08 2014

When I sat down and thought about it, most of the praises I could lavish on James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” are really backhanded compliments that slap the Marvel universe in the process.

For example, I don’t really think Kevin Feige and the Marvel brain trust really deserve a great deal of lauding for creating a film that can stand on its own with a self-contained narrative.  The majority of movies already just do that anyways.  Those movies also just have well-developed characters with internal lives given as an assumption, not as a point of commendation.

But if you want to grade James Gunn’s take on a lesser-known Marvel property against their hopelessly generic and shamelessly commercial films of better known characters like Captain America, it’s going to look like a masterstroke.  “Guardians of the Galaxy” has two attributes that probably make executives at Marvel cower in fear: a unique creative vision and a good sense of humor.  It’s a playful film that often feels like fan fiction uncovered from a child of the ’80s raised on a steady diet of Lucas and Spielberg.

To achieve this adolescent fantasy of a film, Gunn assembles a very game group that becomes akin to Marvel’s version of the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players.”  The film stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (or Star-Lord, as he’d have you call him), a profit-motivated intergalactic thief who might be the most morally ambiguous blockbuster hero since Jack Sparrow.  On an average commission to retrieve an orb, Quill gets pulled into a gigantic power struggle that endangers both he and his precious Walkman.

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REVIEW: Wreck-It Ralph

15 12 2012

Wreck It RalphI think Disney got their brands switched up this year.  “Wreck-It Ralph” felt like the real Pixar movie, and “Brave” felt like the kind of fun but unmemorable Disney animated movie from the people who brought you “Tangled.”

Much to my surprise, “Wreck-It Ralph” left me walking away with a wide grin and a full heart, something that the Pixar movies of my youth like “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo” did so well.  It’s a movie with undeniable charm and a winning spirit, one that envelops you in a giant bear hug.  Not to mention, it also boasts a brilliant script with pop culture references and cleverly constructed worlds and humor not unlike what DreamWorks Animation did particularly well in the “Shrek” films.

It also rolls deep with an impressive voice cast, adding another dimension of enjoyment to the proceedings.  They could not have picked a better person than John C. Reilly to play Wreck-It Ralph.  As a video-game villain who just wants people to recognize him, Reilly is able to bring all the same sympathetic sad-sack pity that he used as Amos Hart (Mr. Cellophane) in “Chicago.”  The innocence in his voice and the yearning to be accepted come across in Ralph’s first monologue, and we are on his side from the get-go as he tries to find someone to appreciate him.

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REVIEW: The Dictator

24 06 2012

The first time Sacha Baron Cohen lost himself in a character for a full-length theatrical release was 2006’s “Borat,” and it hilariously exposed American xenophobia while also providing a rollickingly good comedy for those unwilling to see what the humor was meant to reveal.  He did it again in 2009 for “Brüno,” and its lack of success (and arguably humor) may have shown how much less ready America is to deal with pent-up homophobia.

Now Sacha Baron Cohen is at it again in “The Dictator,” this time not as a personality from his outrageously funny “Da Ali G Show” from HBO.  Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the fictional Republic of Wadiya, is every bit as politically incorrect and outlandish as his previous three (if not more so).  He makes jokes about 9/11 and being friends with Osama bin Laden, executes just about anyone who disagrees with him, sleeps with actress/underground escort Megan Fox, and asks his pregnant wife (Anna Faris) if she will be having “a boy or an abortion.”  Yeah, he went there.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a few jokes that Cohen can squeeze out of his boundary-pushing routine.  “The Dictator” has plenty of brilliant comedic moments, although the ones that succeed seem only giggle-worthy and the ones that fail appear to have been ripped straight from the Adam Sandler playbook.  However, the laugh gap isn’t the movie’s biggest problem.

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REVIEW: Carnage

25 03 2012

Every medium has its distinct storytelling capabilities.  The written word can inundate us with rich details and vivid characterization.  The stage can engage our hearts and our eyes with proximity and unflinching reality.  Film can wow us through fast manipulation of image and story that words or actors alone cannot illuminate.  Some, but not many tales can bounce between the different media.  Those that make the jump require strenuous retooling to fit the expressive purposes of their newfound home.

The fatal flaw of Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” is that it is merely a carbon copy of its source play, Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play “The God of Carnage.”  The two masters of their respective crafts, collaborators on the script, ultimately fail to realize what is cinematic about the story.  As a result, it just feels like a performance of the play itself (which I have read and deeply admire!) merely caught on film.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly happy that more people will be exposed to Reza’s keen insights into our primal natures.  Not everyone can afford to see it on Broadway, nor are touring or repertory companies going to be performing this in every town.  But it does the work a disservice to merely slap it onto a screen when it belongs on a stage.

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REVIEW: Cedar Rapids

22 06 2011

I don’t know if you have any romanticized notions about how bloggers watch movies outside of theaters, but let me dispel just about all of them right now.  Be it through Netflix, iTunes, Redbox, Blockbuster, or basic cable, watching movies is usually just us sitting in front of some sort of screen (and in rare cases, we can manage to net a friend or family member if the movie has wide appeal).  We generally just plop, watch, and write, sharing our opinions not verbally with the person we endured the movie with but digitally with people who read our site or happen to accidentally wind up here after Googling “did the kings speech win any oscars?”

This method of movie watching inevitably favors one genre and shorts another.  It’s easy to love a drama you watch at home because it’s hardly different than watching in the theater – that is, the audience is mostly silent for the duration of the movie.  It’s hard to love a comedy because you have no one’s reaction but your own to measure as audience laughter has a significant impact on how we perceive the humor of a movie.  Plus, no one really likes to laugh by themselves.

So when I come across a movie that can make me laugh while I’m curled up alone underneath my bed sheets, I rejoice!  Ladies and gentleman, “Cedar Rapids” is one of those movies.  Sure, it may be hopelessly pathetic and wallow in endless jokes of naïveté, but it’s actually funny!  I laughed!  A lot!  In bed!  Seriously, that doesn’t happen very often at all!

Ed Helms, best known as Andy Bernard from “The Office” and Stu from “The Hangover,” stars as Tim Lippe, the insular Wisconsin insurance salesman who gets a chance to go to the titular metropolis representing his company.  There, he is exposed to the dangers and pleasures of true urban living and meets an exciting cast of characters including the crude Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), mild-mannered Ronald Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), good-natured Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche), and the prostitute with the heart of gold Bree (Alia Shawkat in the first role of its kind likely to be snubbed by the Oscars).  Tim is totally clueless the entire movie, never really leaving his tighty-whitie turtle shell of ignorance.  But even the cheap laughs work here, and my reactions ranged from chuckles to belly laughs.  So what are you waiting on, book a trip to “Cedar Rapids” and enjoy comedy that can illicit a verbal reaction from you in the comfort of your own home.  Humor me.  (It’s also alright to laugh at the pun.)  B+ / 





REVIEW: Cyrus

1 08 2010

Over the past few years, we’ve seen over-the-top comedy after over-the-top comedy, and it’s been a little exhausting. But you don’t need to go into outer space or back to prehistoric times to be funny; there’s humor in the average lives of ordinary people. The Duplass brothers understand that and bring us “Cyrus,” a modest comedy that finds laughter in the awkward and trite moments that make up the days of a new couple trying to coexist with an overbearing son. In a summer filled with giant explosions and comedies so corny you can all but hear the laugh-track, it’s a very welcome change of pace.

It’s like a feature-length sitcom where the writers provide the situation and the actors are left to bring the comedy out of it. There are no ridiculous lines or scenarios to pump easy laughs into the movie; it all comes from the way someone glances at another person or a few too many seconds of silence. John C. Reilly headlines the cast as John, the seven-years divorced loner just beginning to come out of his shell as his ex-wife, played by the always fantastic Catherine Keener, is getting married again.

At a party, he makes a drunken connection with Molly, Marisa Tomei’s spontaneous fireball. But little does John know what lies ahead down the road with her – a 22-year-old son played by Jonah Hill who still lives at home and is uncomfortably close with his mother. It’s a very different role for the young comedic star, who has starred in plenty of the ridiculous comedies I alluded to above (although I generally consider him to have good taste in choosing roles). He exhibits the subtlety necessary to make the passive-aggressive antagonist wholly convincing. Hill masters the death glare, just one of many great idiosyncrasies he brings to the character.

The production values are so simple that I can imagine just one of the movie’s four marquee names cost more than making the movie. The two brothers were extremely lucky to land them all because it does lend a sort of mainstream sensibility to the film that could be a little too indie for some people without them. But the crowning achievement of “Cyrus” is not how digestible the mumblecore movement (a phrase that doesn’t register with most Americans) can be made; it’s how the combination of a well-written script and actors capable enough to understand its nuances can create comedy out of anything. A- /





F.I.L.M. of the Week (July 30, 2010)

30 07 2010

I had always been interested in seeing “Boogie Nights.”  And for those of you who happen to know the film’s subject matter, no, it’s not because I wanted to see certain things.  Released in 1997, the movie features plenty of today’s stars long before they had the luster and prestige their names bear now.  Five members of the ensemble have since been nominated for Oscars, and an actor who wasn’t even given top billing has even won an Oscar.

In an effort to see some of Julianne Moore’s finest roles, I decided it was time to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s Academy Award-nominated second feature.  The movie was her breakout, earning her notices from everyone, including the first of her four Oscar nominations.  But it’s not just to feature her that “Boogie Nights” is my “F.I.L.M. of the Week;” the entire ensemble shines in a true work of artistry by Anderson.

I can’t dance around the topic any longer – this is a movie about the adult entertainment industry, in Los Angeles during the ’70s and ’80s.  Director Jack Horner is looking for an actor to build an empire around, someone who can do more than just look good.  He finds just that in Eddie Adams, a young nightclub employee with talents that Horner seeks.  Changing his name to Dirk Diggler, Horner’s discovery becomes the star he always dreamed of.

But the bigger Diggler’s star becomes, the closer he moves towards becoming a supernova.  His fame has made him violently angry and cocky.  He has also spiraled into severe drug abuse and addiction.  Soon enough, he finds that his greatest asset for his job doesn’t function the way he wants.  Diggler slowly drops towards rock bottom, and thanks to a strong performance by Mark Wahlberg, it’s a gripping journey to watch.  See, the stories of fame in the adult film industry are no different than any other entertainment industry.

As I said earlier, there is quite the ensemble at work here, including John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, and William H. Macy as members of Diggler’s posse.  It’s quite fun to see them in their younger years, just getting started in Hollywood.  He was leagues away from stardom at the time, but a definite standout is Philip Seymour Hoffman as a crew member infatuated with Diggler.  He plays an unsettling character, and it’s nailed with the precision we now regularly associate with Hoffman.

The women are great, too.  Heather Graham, who most people don’t take seriously, is seriously brilliant as Rollergirl, an actress who does all her movies wearing rollerskates.  Anderson wrote the character with great depth, exploring her insecurities and weaknesses.  Graham goes there with him, truly shocking us not only by how good she is but how far she is willing to take her character.  And then there’s Julianne Moore, who entered mainstream consciousness for her portrayal of Amber Waves.  She acts as a mother figure to Diggler, yet at the same time, she finds herself very attracted to him.  Moore can play both objectives well, but she’s at her best when they clash.

In only his second movie, Paul Thomas Anderson handles “Boogie Nights” with the precision of a Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, sharing the former’s knack for great camerawork and the latter’s ability to select great music.  Now that I’ve seen this, I have to wonder why I like his later movies so much less.