A note on my notes: I've avoided complicating things with a number or star scale. My "Good" and "Not So Good" ratings simply indicate whether I recommend a film or not, based on my individual tastes in acting, direction, cinematography, etc. My notes explain why. These evaluations are not set in stone. I may change my mind about some of them. But this is what I think as of now.
A TV show that aired in the mid-'80s, Wiseguy was about a deep-cover FBI operative named Vinnie Terranova, who, over the course of numerous story arcs, brought down various organized crime bosses. The first arc, featuring Ray Sharkey as a magnetic mafia don, was the best, but the second came close. Spacey's twisted, scary, yet pathetic drug lord was a marvel of characterization.
A thief takes a feuding couple hostage in their own home and finds himself getting involved in their relationship problems. Though the premise is absurd, the execution is very good. Spacey and Judy Davis, as the hostile husband and wife, tear at one another in a way that is blackly funny yet reveals their underlying torment. And when their relatives arrive for Christmas dinner the tension reaches its breaking point in a real catharsis. Denis Leary is funny, too.
The Usual Suspects
A labyrinthine plot involving five criminals, a Hungarian organized crime ring and an exploded ship is related in flashback to a New York City cop.
Three very different police officers investigate a mass shooting in Los Angeles during the early 1950s. The plot of this film (which is condensed from the novel by James Ellroy) is so complex that it is nearly impossible to understand on a first viewing, but with persistence it does make sense. The mob, the business and entertainment worlds, the city government and the LAPD are all implicated in an exploration of the corrupt underpinnings of Los Angeles society in the 1950s that somehow avoids being cynical and hopeless. The credit should be given to the truly amazing ensemble cast, including Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, David Strathairn and Danny DeVito, all of whom turn in some of their best work.
A man experiencing a mid-life crisis throws caution to the winds, quits his job, blackmails his employer, pursues a teenage girl and otherwise tries to reclaim his youth. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter have their own adventures.
Desperate and sleazy white men manipulate one another at a real estate office. A lot of shouting is involved. Spacey is great in the role of the scheming office manager, and Jack Lemmon's portrayal of an aging salesman who is slowly going under is affecting, but I think the movie says a lot more about the worldview of David Mamet (the writer) than it does about the real world. And I don't like his worldview one bit.
The personal assistant of a Hollywood studio exec is browbeaten until he snaps. A particularly nasty comedy that takes a right turn toward its end and tries to make a serious point about the passing along of emotional damage; the effect is bizarrely disjointed. Spacey's sadistic portrayal of a studio bigwig lacks his usual subtlety.
Two police officers investigate a series of murders on the theme of the seven deadly sins. Director David Fincher executed the film with a grisly imagination, but it collapsed into confusion at the end. Overall, I felt more exasperation than terror. Spacey is fairly chilling as the unnamed killer.
Midnight in the
Garden of Good and Evil
A sprawling adaptation of the book of the same name that completely fails to cohere. Spacey, as the enigmatic Jim Williams, ought to have been the alluring center of the film, but he was given so little to do that it was impossible for me to maintain interest.
A hostage negotiator is called in when a fellow police officer threatens the safety of an office full of people. Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson, as the two negotiators, are likeable, but not brilliant enough to make up for the silly plot.
Several messed-up individuals hang out in a lavish Hollywood home, do drugs, and talk about a whole lot of nothing for days straight. I got the feeling that this movie was supposed to be about the identity crisis of the main character, played by Sean Penn, but the dialogue was so full of abstractions and empty profanity that I could not take it seriously. Spacey, as the cold and cynical Mickey, seemed to be on autopilot, but Sean Penn delivered a strangely affecting performance. He almost made me care.
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