By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The War Within
This thoughtful drama, which follows an Islamic militant on a terrorist mission to New York City, garnered far less attention than the similarly themed Paradise Now (which concerned two Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel). Yet The War Within goes places Paradise Now didn't dare go, with none of that film's ambiguity in its conclusion. The screenplay loads up on believable tension and suspense while eschewing melodrama, and director/co-writer Joseph Castelo is more than willing to follow through on the grim setup.
The Year of the Yao
In this delightful, warmhearted documentary about Chinese basketball sensation Yao Ming, directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo follow their subject through his 2002-'03 season with the Houston Rockets, his first in the NBA. The film begins as Yao prepares to leave China and ends as he returns for the offseason. In between, we watch as the world-famous recruit is thrust into a maelstrom of culture shock, media attention, and intense professional pressure. In fact Yao is really the story of two rookies: Ming and his translator, Colin Pine, a charmingly green twentysomething equally stunned by the blinding headlights of obsessive media attention.
Its an unavoidable trend if two movies make a trend, that is so much so that if you Google the phrase the return of the R-rated movie, the first hit takes you to the tsk-tsking Family Media Guide's article about the very topic, along with its list of some 3000 titles touted as profanity-free, family-friendly alternatives. To which, of course, we offer a hearty Fuck that shit.
Those who would damn the R-rated comedy as more evidence of the coarsening of America miss the point of films such as Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which are essentially chick flicks only masquerading as dick flicks. Both movies the former about two horndogs reluctantly settling down, the latter about a virgin reluctantly getting down bury within their vulgar exteriors mushy, conventional love stories.
R-rated comedies are a necessary evil, because they offer a more truthful version of their audience’s everyday life; the 21-year-old is more likely to see himself (or herself, for that matter) reflected in the nasty, desperate shenanigans of Virgin than the beautiful, timeworn poetry of Pride & Prejudice. Someone you know is far more likely to go off on a rant about cocks and ass and tits and butthole pleasures ... and the Cincinnati bowties and the pussy juice cocktail and the shit-stained balls than proclaim his love on bended knee by insisting, I would have to tell you, you have bewitched me body and soul, and I love and love and love you and never wish to be parted from you from this day forward.
Fact is, the R loses money by cutting its target audience by half, but sometimes thats a risk worth taking. Richard Linklaters PG-13 Bad News Bears remake was gutless and irrelevant because it wanted so badly to say something, to tread the same debauched but illuminating territory as Terry Zwigoffs crude classic Bad Santa, but felt emasculated and self-censored by its rating. Theres a reason National Lampoons Animal House, Stripes, Caddyshack, and even the first American Pie endure: We speak in R-rated language, think R-rated thoughts, and express R-rated feelings. -- Robert Wilonsky
Some of us go to the movies to escape into fantasy, others to cry at tragic drama. Then there are those who simply enjoy a couple hours of shock treatment. Maybe its cathartic, or maybe its just sick, but it was unquestionably a good year for connoisseurs of the grotesque. Here are our favorite moments:
Finger paining: For all the elaborate deathtraps in Saw II, the most intense scene occurs when the cop played by Mark Wahlberg decides to break the Jigsaw Killers fingers. Tobin Bells acting sells the pain better than any contraption.
Method acting gone wrong: George Clooneys separation from his fingernails in Syriana was seriously wince-inducing. Falling to the ground later in the scene, he really injured his back.
Barrels of fun: Were used to seeing shotgun blasts in movies, but seldom with the visceral splatter that accompanied Ed Harriss demise in A History of Violence.
Hammer time: Oldboy not only showed how to take on a corridor full of thugs armed only with a hammer, but it also demonstrated how to extract teeth with same. Now thats versatility.
Family recipe: The opening credits havent finished rolling on the Japanese horror anthology Three ... Extremes before we see, in graphic detail, the secret ingredient of Bai Lings dumplings. You guessed it: aborted fetuses.
I take his weapons. Both of them: What to do when confronted with a mutated, yellow-skinned rapist? If youre Bruce Willis in Sin City, you take his knife and then rip his nuts off with your bare hands.
I want to eat something alive: In Oldboy a movie that centers around a plot to trick a man into committing incest, and also involves tongue slicing and amateur dentistry the most memorably disturbing scene was also one of the simplest. Our hero Oh Dae-su, freed from years of captivity, enters a sushi bar and scarfs down a live, wriggling octopus. Four cephalopods gave their lives for this scene, and live octopus tentacles briefly became a dining fad in Hollywood. Very briefly. -- Luke Y. Thompson