Kitten With a Whip Reviews
Movies A-B

American Beauty (1999), Another Day in Paradise (1998), Blair Witch Project, The (1999)

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American Beauty (1999)

Spacey Deserved That Oscar

I would go sar far as to say that Kevin Spacey gives the performance of his career (so far). And all us movie geeks know that is saying a LOT, given this man's past roles, and his talent. I used to think he was overrated as an actor. Then I figured OK, I see what all the fuss is about. Now, he's up there with my favorite actors of all time, with Joe Pesci, James Woods, Steve Buscemi, Robert Deniro...probably in the top 5.

This was one of those movies that blows you away so much that you have trouble even putting your feelings into words. The plotline sounds trite when you first describe it (it did to me when I first heard about it), Spacey plays a man who describes himself as a loser, with Annette Bening as his horrible, shrewish, self-absorbed, pathetic b*tch of a wife. His daughter is not all that likeable either, despite the fact that you can understand why she turned out this way, with her as a mother.

Just when you think you've met the most dysfunctional family in the world outside of "Happiness", you find out about the family who just moved in next door. At first, the strange son seems like the most messed-up member of their brood, but after you get to meet his ex-military, abusive, homophobic, terrifying father and his withdrawn, sad, headcase mother, you realize he is the most normal member of the household by far. Then, the filmwriters toss in Kevin Spacey's lustful obsession with his daughter's sexkitten cheerleader friend, which trust me, is a lot more fun, entertaining, and amusing than it sounds when you read about it (thought it pissed off some people that I know so much that they couldn't even begin to enjoy the movie...remember Suvari's character is 17 or so, not 12, and also that the huge age difference plays a part in the plotline). Soon, he is having the most entertaining, amusing midlife crisis ever seen in the history of cinema. He just doesn't give a ***k about what he does or says anymore, and you only wish you could get away with doing the things he does.

I found myself laughing out loud in this movie so many times, most of it horrified, amazed laughter at what is happening and the things that are coming out of the character's mouths, especially Spacey's. He had at least a dozen lines that had every member of the audience in hysterics and actual applause and cheers.
I can't say enough good things about this movie. You think, after the first five minutes, that you know how the movie will end. Well, Spacey's opening narrative does give it away, but trust me, the events unfold in a way that you will NEVER see coming. I swore that I could see what a character was going to do next, what violent or self-destructice act they will commit, but almost every time I turned out to be wrong.

Without getting too pretentious here, the movie lives up to it's theme/tagline of "...look closer". Characters are not what they seem, up until the end, and even then they surprise you. At least two characters that you are POSITIVE you have figured out, do or say something that turns all your preconceptions of them upside down, while making your jaw drop, and your heart ache. You will leave the movie with a smile, though, and that is maybe what I expected least of all.

Grade: A+ (sorry, Mom!)

Another Day in Paradise (1998)

No-one Plays a Sleaze Better Than James Woods

That's right, I said it. Name one actor you would trust less to go on a date with your daughter. He's at the height of his sleaziness when the movie takes place in the 70's (see "Casino" ) and he's all tricked out in those greasy retro seventies duds. I suspected this before, but having seen this movie I have decided no other actor in the business can come close to him when it comes to playing a sleazy, nasty hustler-type. Or just a sleaze.

Anyway, he and the rest of the cast in the movie are great. Melanie Griffith, not a favorite of mine, does her best performance I've yet to see as Sid, Mel's junkie girlfriend with the heart of gold, a woman who can shoot smack directly into her neck without flinching but who can also sing a sweet lullaby to soothe Natasha Wagner's character. I especially like the way the movie does not glamorize drug use--the characters all look like crap, and Wagner's character has spotty skin and thinning hair.

I was really expecting throughout the movie that all the 4 main characters will end up dead, probably from killing one another all at once, but this didn't happen--the people left alive at the end were not the ones that I thought would be. All the actors did the movie for scale and from what I understand Woods even ended up funding most of the movie when the production ran out of money at one point.

Lots of good black humor, and Woods is always great in everything, but best when cast in really nasty roles like this, which was probably written for him. Completely disgusting, but still somehow likeable (unless he's dating your teenage daughter), and always hilarious. Some of the clothes are pretty damn cool (though they look more late 60's than 70's if you wanna get picky, but who cares?) One of those drug movies such as "Blow" where, if you had any temptation at all to do drugs, that urge will definitely be gone by the end of the movie.

grade: B+

Blair Witch Project, The (1999)

Try to keep an open mind.

First, I feel like I have to address the buzz surrounding the movie the summer it came out. I am at the same time disgusted and sort of impressed with the hype. It is pretty clever when you think about it. No trailers (well, they are showing one now, but still, it took them long enough) no cast members doing the rounds on talk shows, no big budget, etc. Just the website, the documentary on the SciFi channel, and bigtime word of mouth. It sure worked. I feel for those actors, since they got paid about what I make in 2 weeks for 3 weeks of hell. I hope to God the filmmakers were generous and gave them points in the film. I am also hearing that at most theaters, they pay the manager, etc to get up before the showing and get the crowd all hyped up, which is kind of lame. When we saw it Saturday, the owner (before she threatened people who had laser pointers) got up and yelled, "Hey, welcome to Crossroads theater, and ARE YA READY FOR THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT?? Whooooo-HOOOOO! Everyone READY TO BE SCARED?" I was like, oh please. I also heard these girls in front of me asking someone next to them if **this was a real documentary**. We got up and moved because I did not want to spend the movie sitting behind someone so incredibly stupid and naive. But I guess that's what a good job they did marketing it, because I heard there were plenty of idiotic people out there who thought the thing is real. Here's a scary thought: Maybe years later, there are still some people who think it's real.

I also grudgingly admire whoever decided to market it initially as a 'hard ticket', meaning they wanted to have it only at one theater or so per city for a few weeks. I'm sure that helped the buzz. Hyping it as the scariest movie of all time (though maybe this is more word of mouth than the filmmakers doing it) is kind of dumb, though, because people are just going to be disapointed, unless all they've seen are "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer". I heard kids talking after the movie who were let down because they was very little gore, no monster, and no real pay-off. I had a good time because I told myself not to expect anything. I guess if you go, just keep an open mind, and don't think, "This better be the scariest movie of all time after all the hype, or I'll be super pissed". I do think it's kind of funny how the big studios spend millions of dollars marketing their lame summer 'event' pics, but this is the one most people are talking about wanting to see. Ha-ha!

Anyway, that's my 2 cents as far as the hype goes. We went and saw it in the theater a couple weeks after it opened. Inside the theater manager had to come make an announcement about laser pointers, she said if anyone used them during the movie she'd take them away and kick them out. She was this huge, burly, tough woman who looked like a prison warden, so people calmed down after that and shut up.

Anyway, I liked it. Not the scariest movie I've ever seen, but if you asked me what the scariest movie I've ever seen was, I wouldn't be able to name it. I would saw BWP, the Exorcist, Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, Last House on the Left (and a couple more I can't think of right now) are like the top scariest. I was really impressed though. Very realistic, the way it was shot and put together, and the character's reactions to stuff. My spouse said it really scared him, which he hardly ever says, because he's been camping and that's like your worst nightmare.

The whole movie was very creepy and spooky but the last 5 minutes REALLY scared the crap out of me.
It's funny, the audience started out very rowdy, and I thought I'd have to "shhh" people the whole movie. But after the first 5 minutes, people were engrossed. As the film got more and more tense and scary, there were no screams. Instead, the whole audience just sat there cowering quietly in fear. Not a lot of talking back to the screen, etc like there is in most horror movies, and the audience was full of teenagers. That speaks for itself, I think.

I read a review in which they said that the movie was all about panic, and I agree. One of the most upsetting things is the way the charcters go from calm, controlled, and joking, to nervously joking and then arguing, to trying desperately to hold it together, to understandable total freaked out panic by the last reel. As the film draws to a close they just give up all pretenses of composure and control and just panic and run around like maniacs screaming incoherently at the top of their lungs. Usually when characters in a movie do that you feel like slapping them, but the film draws you in so much that you do not blame them, one bit. You know you would probably act the same way if you were in their shoes, and the way the movie is filmed, you ARE pretty much in their shoes.

If I'd been watching it by myself at home at night I probably would have slept with the lights on.

Grade: B