[b]L.A. Confidential[/b], directed by Curtis Hanson, is a highly crafted police detective drama set in Los Angeles during the 1950's. Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) heads the LAPD, which is awash in corruption and violence. He takes a blind eye to everything as long as his fellow police officers remain loyal to him, and each other. In other words don't rock the boat! Enter by-the-book detective Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) who witnesses a mob-like assault of three prisoners by a group of officers. When he decides to blow the whistle, things get rather heated, especially with detective Bud White (Russell Crowe) an often sadistic officer particualrly proned to violence. Also implicated is Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) a flashy cop involved with the TV Series [i]Badge of Honor[/i]. Jack is also involved with Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito), the publisher of a local crime rag. After White's partner is fired, things take another turn when he winds up one of the victims of a coffee shop slaying. At first three black men are implicated, buy Exley soon suspects the murders may be linked to the LAPD. Other players include Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn) who runs a local prostitution ring of actor look-alikes. Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) is one of his prostitutes, and she becomes romantcally involved with Bud White.
[i]L.A. Confidential[/i] ranks as one of the best police stories ever made. It's more than a police story, it also works as film noir. The finely crafted script is heads above the usual detective story. It's dark and uncompromising. The direction is outstanding as well. It's highly stylish, including authentic period detail, and sharp editing. The plot has many twiss and unexpected turns. The charactres are rich and mult-dimensional. The acting is top notch as well, with some of the actors (Crowe, Pearce and Basinger) giving career best performances. The only criticism I have is rather minor; I felt the ending was perhaps the most predictable part of the film. By no means was it a bad ending, but I'm not sure it was the best for this particular movie. Nonetheless a great film worthy of all it's praise.
[b]American History X[/b], directed by Tony Kaye, is an urban drama about racial hatred. The film stars Edward Norton as Neo-Nazi skinhead Derek Vinyard, who has become a leader in the LA skinhead movement. The film begins with him killing a group of young black men who attempt to steal his car. Derek is sent away to prison, but younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong), who idolizes his older brother, seems to be following the same destructive path. In prison, Derek slowly begins to change his way of thinking after he is sodomized by some white power inmates. Once he is released from prison, he hopes to help his younger brother change his attitudes as well. The film also features Fairuza Balk, Beverly D'Angelo, Avery Brooks and Stacey Keach.
[i]American History X[/i] is a powerful film that should have been better. The main problems with the film are twofold. First a couple of scenes are highly overblown, somewhat diluting the many powerful and well-done scenes this film has. The second problem may be the filmmakers intent on making Derek a character we can sympathize with. Although they don't gloss over his racist past, he isn't someone we can totally forgive either. That said Edward Norton gives an amzaing performance, and the film has a great look. The black and white flashback sequences are particularly well done. It's a flawed, but highly provacative film.
[b]Elizabeth[/b], directed by Shekhar Kapur, is a historical epic which chronicles the rise of young Elizabeth Tudor to Queen of England. Cate Blanchett portrays Elizabeth, who is set to take over the reign from her ill sister Queen Mary (Kathy Burke). Mary wants to make Catholicism England's sole faith, and she is worried what her Protestant half sister Elizabeth might do. However Mary dies and Elizabeth takes over the reign, causing turmoil within her ranks. Her adviser Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenenborough) suggest marriage, while the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston) plots to overthrow her. Meanwhile Elizabeth remains smitten by sweetheart Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes). The film also stars Geoffrey Rush and Vincent Cassel.
[i]Elizabeth [/i]is a visually exciting, highly enertaining film. The film wisely chronicles only a small portion of Elizabeth's life, showing her independence and her perserverance against all odds. Her transformation at the end of the film is amazing. Cate Blanchett is outstanding as Elizabeth, giving an Oscar worthy performance. The rest of the cast is superb as well. I very much enjoyed this film.
[b]Sweetie [/b]is the first film directed by Jane Campion. It's a black comedy/drama about a dysfunctional family. The film focuses on two sisters. Kay (Karen Colson) is a factory worker with a new boyfriend. She's superstitious, somewhat reserved, and disinterested in sex. One day her psychotic sister Dawn aka "Sweetie" (Genevieve Lemon) shows up, creating tension and turmoil in Kay's life. The emotionally disturbed Sweetie has illusions of grandeur, she thinks she will one day be a star, but she's really just seeking attention. Soon the two girls parents get involved, hoping to get Sweetie some help, but she continues to spiral out-of-control.
The film is rather uneven, but Lemon's performance is so good as the disturbed Sweetie that it mostly makes up for the film's other flaws.
[b]Bugsy[/b], directed by Barry Levinson, is the biography of reknown mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. The film mainly chronicles his time in Los Angeles. Warren Beatty stars as the flashy Bugsy Siegel and Annette Bening is his starlet Virginia Hill. Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley, Joe Mantegna and Elliot Gould round out the cast. It's a competent film, but pales in comparison to the better mobster movies. Why? It's far more glossy and lacks the grit of the better gangster films. Beatty's performance is perhaps to over-the-top as well. The highlight of the film is Annette Bening.