By Marc S. Sanders

Boogie Nights was director Paul Thomas Anderson’s second feature following a very different and very quiet film debut with the gambling addiction piece Hard Eight.

Heck, it’s fair to say all of Paul’s films are very different; here is the seediness of porn while later in his career he will focus on the ruthlessness of a wealthy and angry oil man and then an obsessed dressmaker devoid of care for the models who parade his accomplishments. (See There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread.). Paul was definitely striving for recognition with his familial depiction of life in the California pornographic film industry.

What I’ve always liked about Boogie Nights was Anderson’s intent to show the naive innocence of this large cast of characters. Filming blatantly oblivious awful porn scenarios can still be regarded as very proud efforts by its talent.

The main character is Eddie Adams (aka the amazing Dirk Diggler) played with macho pathos by Mark Wahlberg. It’ll likely be the best role of Wahlberg’s entire career. Dirk is proud of his natural talent in front of the camera. He’s even more proud of what God has gifted him. Don Cheadle is another porn star named Buck. He’s also proud of his accomplishments and simply a kind fellow looking to make country cowboy a trendy look for a black man while selling the “Hi-est Fidelity” in stereo equipment on the side. Julianne Moore is Amber Waves, the maternal porn mom of the bunch; very affectionate, very comforting and very reassuring when Dirk shoots his first porn scene. The one individual who really holds all of these misfits together is Burt Reynolds as Jack Horner, the porn film director. He’s the paternal one who believes in his artistic merits of shooting porn but with a story, and only with the integrity of film, and never the cheapness of videotape. So, Jack is like any artist who insists on a certain type of canvas. It might be smut, but he has principles, and he has pride.

Anderson is wise in how he divides up the developments. The film begins in the late 1970s during evening night life and decadence and everything seems fine and innocent and right despite the endless debauchery of reckless sex and drug use on a Disco backdrop. Wahlberg’s character is welcomed lovingly into this world, and nothing appears wrong. It all seems to stay that way for Dirk until New Year’s Eve, 1979. The 80s begin with a gunshot and then Anderson’s cast must pay for the revelry of their sins. A great moment presented on this night is where Amber Waves introduces Dirk to cocaine. Dirk has been thriving, making money, developing a following and now it is jeopardized in one moment thanks to his naivety. Julianne Moore is superb in this particular scene against Wahlberg. She’s the mentor with the peer pressure to pass on her high and keep it running.

Drug addiction, violence, sexual abuse and even changes in pop culture lead to hard times for these likable people.

It’s a hard life. It’s a complicated life. Yet it’s not all necessarily illegal. Morally, it might appear wrong, but it’s a life nonetheless.

Anderson was wise to use (at the time, relatively new) filming techniques of Martin Scorsese with rocking period music and fast edits along with savored moments of great steady cam work. One long cut especially works when the film first begins on the streets of Reseda and on into a crowded night club. This industry doesn’t sleep. So, neither will the camera that follows it. The music must also be celebrated. I do not listen to Night Ranger’s Sister Christian without thinking of firecrackers and a dangerously drug addled Alfred Molina playing Russian roulette. Though I know which came first, I also wonder if Three Dog Night’s Momma Told Me Not To Come and Spill The Wine by Eric Burton & War was written to enhance the celebratory introduction for Dirk when he attends his first party at Jack’s house. It’s another great steady cam moment from a driveway, followed by steps in and out of Jack’s house to simply a bikinied girl’s dive in the swimming pool. As a viewer I was absorbed in the California haze. Superior camera work here.

The cast of unknowns at the time were a blessing to this film. Anderson writes each person with care and attention and dimension. They have lives outside of this world like Amber’s child that we never get to meet, thanks in part to her lifestyle. She might be maternal but that doesn’t make her a good mother. Julianne Moore should have won the Oscar she was nominated for. Burt Reynolds’ own legacy seems to carry his role. His distinguished silver hair and well trimmed beard earn him the respect of every cast member and he performs with a quiet grace of knowledge, and insight, even if he will inevitably be wrong with how things turn out. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays the dumb kid Scotty insecure and unsure of his homosexual attraction to Dirk. It’s not easy to play a dumb character when you are not doing it for laughs. Hoffman makes a huge impact with little dialogue but Anderson is wise enough to capitalize on him.

Boogie Nights offers one of the best cast of characters and assembled talents in any film ever made. An individual movie could be made about each of these people, and it’d be interesting and entertaining.

Try to avoid a blush and mock at the industry depicted because then you’ll see how another walk of life truly lives day to day. It might be porn. It might be smut. Yet, it’s still a thriving industry.


By Marc S. Sanders

None of what is said in the film Uncharted matters.  The film opens in the middle of a death defying, albeit CGI, action scene with heartthrob Tom Holland dangling from a cargo net that’s hanging outside of a plane thirty thousand feet above the ground.  He apologizes as he kicks a couple of faceless thugs out into the great wide open, and he rolls his eyes at an oncoming sportscar driving off the plane’s ramp in his direction.   But it’s not like he’s worried that the car will mow him down and kill him before the fall would even do so.  That’s because even here he’s just charming Tom Holland who’s never afraid to die.  I guess that was my problem with this escapist film, based on a popular video game.  No one was ever afraid they’d die.  So, why should I be?  Excuse me while I refill my popcorn.  You don’t have to tell me what I miss.  I’m sure I’ll catch on.

Holland portrays treasure seeking adventurer Nathan Drake.  Early on, it is established that his brother is being held captive somewhere.  Nathan is receiving postcards from him, with statements written on them that seem more like riddles.  Hmmm!  Is his brother sending him clues, do you think?  One of their last conversations while they were living in an adoption house was something about gold hidden by Magellan.  The conversation went on longer than I cared, honestly.  I gave up on the details.  These scholars weren’t going to tell me anything intriguing.  That’s the best way to approach Uncharted.  Just watch for the CGI stunts, Holland’s agility on bannisters and bar counters, and see how all the secret doorways open. 

Soon after the exposition, Nathan is accompanied by a slightly older adventurer named Victor Sullivan, or Sully (Mark Wahlberg).  Holland and Wahlberg toss some smart alec zingers at one another.  See they’re only supposed to get along so much. 

The guys attend a black-tie auction where I knew Nathan was gonna be dangling from those hanging ceiling lamps somehow, and then they are on their way to Barcelona.  Oh yeah.  A diary helps them out as well with some clues that turn up only when they have to conveniently turn up.  A map will help them too, only when it’s conveniently there.  I’m not interested though in watching Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg trace their fingers across a map.  There’s also the beautiful adventurous girl, Chloe (Sophia Ali), who we are supposed to trust or maybe not trust.  The bad guys are Antonio Banderas, who’s really given nothing to do except have his name listed in the credits.  Look at that!  PlayStation Studios actually contracted Antonio Banderas to be in their movie!!!!!!  I did say bad guys, right?  Sorry.  The other one is an Asian woman named Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who’s only interesting trait is the blade she carries is in the shape of a scythe.  It’s only held and hardly gets used.

Are you starting to recognize that all I’m describing is surface material here?  There’s no depth to anyone.  Uncharted is so afraid to swim in the deep end, that it doesn’t even connect our hero Nathan with his long-lost brother.  Like ever!!!!  The film acts like a video game and thinks like a video game.  So why not just leave it as a video game?  If you want to make a movie, then the filmmakers should have gone a lot deeper.

It’s easy to compare this modern update on the adventure film to Romancing The Stone or any of the Indiana Jones pictures.  What continues to set those forty-year-old movies ahead of this fare, is that we actually feared for the characters.  Kathleen Turner’s apprehensive motive for going from New York City to the rain swept jungles of Cartagena was to rescue her kidnapped sister while trying to uncover a priceless treasure along the way. Her sister could be fed to the alligators at any given moment, or worse Turner could be brutalized by vicious Columbians on her tail.  When the famed archeologist, Indiana Jones, gets trapped in an underground room full of snakes or is left dangling over a bottomless pit, he looks terrified.  He has no rope to hang from and there really is no way out, and he knows it.  This could be the end. 

Nathan Drake, however, knows it’s never the end for Nathan Drake, and that’s…well…that’s boring. 

What can I say?  I’ve always gotten bored quickly with video games.  I know.  I know.  You’re gonna debate with me that this is BASED ON A VIDEO GAME.  Fine.  I agree.  Yet, I paid for a movie.  At times Uncharted moves like a video game character that walks in place when confronted with a wall.  Your joystick can’t figure out how to turn the guy around so he can trot in another direction away from the edge of your flatscreen TV.  It just doesn’t go anywhere until, how do you like that, Sully and Nathan turn to the right page in the diary or read the right post card from the long-lost brother that we never get to see.  Wait!  Let’s look at the map!

I really like Tom Holland.  He’s charming and handsome and athletic.  Spider-Man has demonstrated that he’s a good actor too, beyond the comic book action.  He’s definitely cut out for a tongue and cheek action picture.  Mark Wahlberg is ready to be the mentor.  He’s fine as well.  He’s just done it better in a film like The Italian Job.  They look like a great pair of partners.  Unfortunately, they are given nothing to demonstrate how good a pair they really could be.  Put a little fear in these guys.  Make believe they’ll actually drown or fall to their death from a helicopter.  Put them at the wrong end of a gun or a sword.  Heck, when you give them a sword, allow me to believe they aren’t so proficient with it.  I mean Holland is only 25 or 26 here.  How much could he have learned already.  Let them get shot in the arm, and still carry on.  Give them a limp.  Cut their lip or bruise their temple.  Uncharted doesn’t do any of that.  It only jumps to the next level, and as soon as you dispose of a baddie, they fade away out of the scene…like in a video game.

It’s not terribly bad.  Uncharted is like going over to your friend’s house, though.  He shows off his PlayStation by popping in the game and he promises he’ll let you have a turn to play.  Only your turn never comes, and while you sit there gazing at the posters and trophies in his room, your friend thinks he’s entertaining you for hours as his game goes on and on and on.  So, uh…when’s it my turn to use the controller??????


By Marc S. Sanders

F Gary Gray’s 2003 remake of The Italian Job is crackling with cool and sleek film coverage. It is a blend of wit and fast paced action delivering a solid heist thriller. The cast is terrific as well.

Donald Sutherland plays John Bridger, a near retired master thief and safe cracker. He is ready for one last job with his protégé, Charlie, played by Mark Wahlberg. They assemble a team specializing in different skills like Left Ear, played by Mos Def, who overlooks explosives, Lyle or “Napster”, Seth Green, as a computer hacker, and “Handsome Rob,” Jason Statham, the getaway driver. With another member named Steve (yeah, he’s just called…ahem…Steve) played by Edward Norton, they successfully rip off a safe containing $35 million in gold bars from a home located off the straits of Venice, Italy. However, Steve betrays the team leaving them for dead.

Jump to a year later and the team ventures out to Los Angeles with Stella (Charlize Theron), another safe cracker and daughter to John. They have an opportunity to even the score with Steve while also collecting what’s left of the gold bars. Early on, an idea is conceived to use light weight, speedy MINI Coopers to get in and haul away the booty. However, soon they learn that it’s not so easy to just take it from Steve’s house. They will have to apprehend the gold while in transit.

There’s nothing overly special about The Italian Job. I don’t think Gray was looking to achieve an iconic classic. He just made a solid caper flick that’s pure fun. Sure, the thieves would likely get busted. No, the timing of everything from sabotaging the downtown traffic lights and exploding a precise hole in the street for an armored car to fall through would never occur so perfectly. Who cares? This film is a pitch perfect dance in car chase choreography where we get a kick out of watching sporty little red, white and blue MINIs careen through a subway system, down public staircases and through cylindrical tunnels. It’s all done to get your heart racing.

The players are fun but they aren’t putting in much dimension. I doubt they did much research on the specialized skills their respective characters possess. Maybe Theron researched how to crack a safe. She amps up some nail biting in those sequences as Gray edits between high speed motorcycles approaching while she’s quietly trying to concentrate on the lock’s combination.

There are some cute inside jokes. The best being that Lyle insists he is the inventor of Napster (a little dated by now), and the idea was stolen from him by Sean Parker. The real Sean Parker makes a quick cameo as that scene is told in flashback. Seth Green is quite funny in a nerdy kind of way.

I like the cast. Norton plays a good jerk for villain; a real “Frank Burns.” I appreciate the story behind his character. Early on before he betrays the team, each member shares what they are going to spend their money on. Later, it’s revealed that Steve just used what he ripped off to buy everything the other guys had in mind. He’s a killer and he’s a jerk, but he’s also a guy with no imagination or creativity. I like that angle for a bad guy. He’s only just so much of a genius.

The Italian Job is a fun film that is never too intense, and offers great surprises in the step-by-step process of how to pull off a cinematic heist. If anything, it’ll make you wanna buy a MINI Cooper. I came…THIS CLOSE one time!


By Marc S. Sanders

Martin Scorsese finally won his Best Director Oscar with the 2006 Best Picture The Departed, from a script written by William Monahan. The film is a remake of a Hong Kong crime drama called Infernal Affairs.

Also known as the one film in Scorsese’s library with a linear plot, The Departed depicts the stories of two guys who grew up in the south end of Boston and joined the police academy to serve. Only difference is one is recruited to go undercover within the Irish mob, while the other is recruited by the same mob to become a highly respected police officer and supply an unlimited wealth of information to his criminal boss.

Leonardo DiCaprio is the undercover cop Billy Costigan. Matt Damon is the criminal cop Colin Sullivan. Jack Nicholson is the Irish mob boss in the middle, Frank Costello.

The Departed works because Scorsese and Monahan allow the audience in on every deceit playing against the characters. Pleasantly surprising is that there are even twists to this layered story, and cellular flip phones assist all the players with trying to remain in hiding or hoping to one up and trap the other. However, because everyone is getting tipped from their own respective sources, people are either not ending up dead, or arrested or caught red handed. As Costigan builds his case against Costello, Sullivan is worming his way to protecting his cover in the police force while also tipping off his true boss.

Performances from DiCaprio, Damon and Nicholson are what you’d expect. Nicholson is chewing the scenery again appearing like the devil incarnate while hamming up the facial expressions. Damon is great at playing it like the Boy Scout cop in well-tailored suits, clean shaven and flirtatious within his department and earning respect among his peers, that is until it all seems to unravel. DiCaprio is wired as the cop who needs to show he’s a dangerous hood to be trusted among the mob cohorts. However, he’s getting more paranoid and unwound at the risk of being made.

Thelma Schoonmaker (one of my favorites) does a balanced approach edit to showing a parallel among the cops. She will insert a happening of Costigan for a snippet and then segue to Sullivan appearing to do honest police work, or reaching out to Costello with a warning of what’s coming for him.

Great support also comes from Ray Winstone as Costello’s right hand man, and Alec Baldwin, Anthony Anderson and Martin Sheen, all within the police department.

Ironically, the one Oscar nominated performance was bestowed upon Mark Wahlberg and I grew tired of his presence quickly as the cop who berates Costigan endlessly with yelling and fast one liners that involve someone’s mother. Could we just move on from this please?

I also found Vera Farmiga as a police psychologist to be mostly unnecessary until a contrived ending point needed to arrive. Her character naturally has affairs with both Damon and DiCaprio, who also attend her office for sessions. Of course they do! Whenever the film sidetracks to one of them with Farmiga, The Departed stalls for a moment. Her character carries no stake in the plot line and offers no further dimension to DiCaprio and Damon’s characters.

The film works best as the complications compound on each other. A great moment occurs between the cops when one of them picks up a bloody cell phone to dial back the most recent call. Silence on both ends of the line, and the moment just plays out until someone speaks or hangs up.

Moments like that is suspense similar to when a man is intruding in a dark house. However, this is suspense delivered by Martin Scorsese, and Martin Scorsese will film suspense that is anything but typical. Martin Scorsese’s suspense leaves you breathless.