Archive | February, 2018

I Am Legend: Special Edition

21 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

SPOILER WARNING! If I’m going to review the “I Am Legend” special-edition version, which includes the “controversial” alternate ending (I use quotations for that term because the DVD cover describes it as such), I have to talk about said-“controversial” ending.

I reviewed the 2007 thriller/drama “I Am Legend,” starring Will Smith and based on the Richard Matheson novel, before. I praised most of it (giving it the same three-and-a-half star rating I give to this “Special Edition”), but I did admit the third act was nothing special, especially when in comparison to the preceding two acts. I wrote, “the movie runs on autopilot for its final act, unfortunately. The climax of the movie is just your standard monster-attacking-the-house climax where characters are forced to fight off the enemy, nearly get caught, find some way to fight back—you name it, you got it. The outcome is less than satisfactory. It’s forced.”

I saw the film for the first time in 2007, when it was released. (Also, I wrote the review in 2012, if you were wondering.) I was 15 when I first saw it, and even back then, as a dumb teenage boy who was hungry for destruction in cinema, I noticed the film didn’t end the same way it began. The first two acts of “I Am Legend” weren’t about typical action or horror-movie tropes—it was mostly quiet, with thought-provoking scenes of drama and some carefully-chosen lines of dialogue when discussing the implications of the antagonists’ nature (the antagonists, of course, being the infected sunlight-fearing zombies that take up New York City).

And then the film ends with Will Smith blowing up the “monsters” as well as himself, sacrificing his life to protect the antidote that can reverse the process that turned everyday, ordinary people into this different kind of species… Even as a teenage moviegoer, I wasn’t that enthralled by the film’s resolution.

I’m unsure if I need to remind readers of the plot synopsis of “I Am Legend,” but I’ll attempt to sum it up anyway. Dr. Robert Neville (Smith) is the lone survivor of a plague that wiped out New York City three years before. With no outside communication and the plague reaching out even further, Neville may be the last man on Earth, with only one companion: a loyal dog named Sam. Immune to the virus that killed and/or transformed the infected into predatory zombie-like creatures, Neville spends his days trying to develop an antidote. When times get to be too psychologically anguishing for him, as he seemingly gets nowhere with the experiments, he is suddenly visited by two human survivors, a woman (Alice Braga) and a young boy (Charlie Tahan) who are headed to where they believe a “survivor’s colony” resides outside the island.

Right around this point, “I Am Legend” should be getting more interesting, as issues such as faith and survivor’s guilt are mentioned and discussed in a couple effective moments that are much deserved after numerous quiet, suspenseful scenes with Will Smith alone. But before it can get too deep, the characters are attacked by the creatures that storm Neville’s house. This is where we get the disappointing final act in which it simply doesn’t feel like much is accomplished, despite Neville presumably destroying them all (and sacrificing himself in the process, so that the woman and child can go free with the antidote that ultimately results). It didn’t feel like the right conclusion for such a strong film like this to truly end with.

But I kept saying the film was good, despite a disappointing ending, mainly because everything leading up to it done so effectively. And then…I was told about the original ending. That was when I started to look at the film (and the studio that released it in 2007) in a different (read “negative”) way. The film was treating me, a teenage moviegoer in 2007, with respect and intelligence—no loud violent action sequences, a great deal of silence in both the dramatic moments and the suspenseful moments, and profound issues to be discussed. And then, it decided I needed something I had already seen before in an action-filled climax. That didn’t tick me off so much; what does tick me off today is that if it was released with the original ending, it would’ve given me something even deeper and more profound to ponder long after it was over. That was when I realized that the film I saw in the theater treated me like a thinking adult until the final act, and I want to say “screw you” to whoever made the decision to make such a drastic change.

So, what is the original ending? The ending that would’ve changed everything? The ending that was kept in the “Special Edition” DVD/Blu-Ray release to deliver a more satisfying “I Am Legend”? The ending that gives “I Am Legend” the three-and-a-half star rating on Smith’s Verdict that it truly deserves? Let’s talk about it…

In a clever use of non-verbal communication, the alpha-male creature (Dash Mihok) identifies the subdued female creature (whom Neville was experimenting on to create the antidote, which seems to have finally taken effect). Neville realizes there’s still humanity in these mutants, and taking into account the ingenuity they’ve shown before (such as knowing how to spring a trap for him earlier in the film), he also realizes that they’re not exactly the non-intelligent monsters he thought they were. He gives the creatures the newly-cured woman, whom the alpha male takes with distraught disappointment, and he lets them all go. Thinking back to all the creatures he either killed or experimented on in the long time he’s been the only normal human in the city, he realizes a very harsh truth: they’re not the monster in this world; he is. All this time, he’s been thinking these are horrific monsters that need to be exterminated from our society, but it’s not his society anymore—it’s a brand new world with a newly formed species and he’s the rare breed that won’t adapt to it. In the eyes of the people that now rule the world, he’s the monster that can either be fought or feared, just as he thought of them.

This whole ending is masterfully done! And as a plus, it’s the ending that makes the most sense for this kind of story. It makes the film into a brilliant “eye of the beholder” story that challenges viewers and makes them truly think about what they’ve seen and where the characters can go from the ending. Neville lives in this version, and he and the other surviving humans leave to find other survivors, but…what happens after? It’s less optimistic, but it’s the ending that this thought-provoking end-of-the-world fable deserves.

And some numb-nuts at Warner Bros. must have thought, “Nope! Can’t have that! We gotta treat our younger audience for our PG-13 movie like they’re idiots! We treated them like adults long enough, so let’s just show Will Smith as a martyr or…something!” Whoever made that decision…I can’t stay mad at them for too long because after all, they did learn their mistake and release a DVD with that ending edited into a “director’s cut.” (Side-note: kudos to you, director Francis Lawrence—you knew what you were doing.) And it’s the director’s cut that truly deserves praise, because the ending delivers more in home-media than what it originally promised in the theater.

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The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

5 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The “Cloverfield” film series, created by J.J. Abrams’ company Bad Robot, continues to intrigue me in terms of creativity and surprise, both in substance in its entries and its ability to sneak up on the audience. Last time, with the secret entry “10 Cloverfield Lane,” nobody was aware of its existence until about a month before its theatrical release. This time, with #3, entitled “The Cloverfield Paradox,” everything was kept secret until the Super Bowl, during which a trailer was revealed to viewers…and immediately followed up with the film’s release on Netflix! (Now that’s a pleasant surprise, more pleasant than who actually won the Super Bowl, for some people.)

All three films are science-fiction horror films that take place within the same universe, but they don’t all revolve around the same characteristics. (Actually, there are a few that are noticeable, but they’re not among the focuses of the films. I wouldn’t worry about trying to connect all three films together just yet.) Instead, they all take familiar elements from similar scenarios (the monster-movie, the contained-thriller, the space-station/haunted-house) and present new things to them to put the audience in a world of intrigue, terror and thought. For the first “Cloverfield” in 2008, we had a found-footage approach to a Godzilla-like story; for “10 Cloverfield Lane,” we were kept underground for a large portion of the film until we were aware of what was really going on upstairs; and for “The Cloverfield Paradox,” most of the action is set in a space station, where something goes really, really wrong that may result in bad things on Earth that may or may not have to do with elements from the first two films.

(That’s all I’ll say without giving away spoilers, but really, are you expecting anything less than…”Cloverfield”-esque elements?)

Set in the near future (not quite specified in terms of time), Earth is undergoing an energy crisis. The Cloverfield station is launched by collective space agencies to complete a particle accelerator that will help save the planet (or, as someone on Earth argues, could bring it to its destruction). After two years, the accelerator finally seems to work. But then, after launching it toward Earth, something goes wrong, and the crew onboard the Cloverfield station find themselves experiencing all sorts of inconsistencies in the universe and even in themselves.

What’s happened? Why does everything seem off? Why do things appear/disappear? What’s happening on Earth? And who is the strange passenger that seemingly appears on the ship and knows more than the crew does about her? What’s the connection to the other “Cloverfield” films? Some of these questions are answered, while others are best left to interpretation (unless you see the film a second time and something clicks in your mind, leading to a probable conclusion). And also, much like with “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the filmmakers (which, in this case, include producer J.J. Abrams and director Julius Onah) don’t feel the need to spoon-feed their audience with numerous details. We’re just thrown into a drastic situation, and these things are what our characters have to go through.

There’s some good character moments as well, particularly involving an appealing, fully-developed lead heroine named Hamilton, played very well by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She has a tragic backstory and a husband (Roger Davies) she left on Earth, and so when certain things about this new phenomenon are revealed to her, she has choices to make that aren’t easy to figure out as one may think. There’s also a nice moment in which we see a crew member named Kiel (David Oyelowo) crying by himself after the trouble starts, and then he collects himself before returning to his crew to take command. Most of the side characters (the rest of the Cloverfield crew) are types, but they’re likable types, particularly Chris O’Dowd as the comic-relief who has a particularly bad experience involving one of his body parts and yet still has one-liners to crack.

It’s easy to make the comparison to “Alien,” seeing as how most of the action takes place on this space station and Hamilton could be seen as a Ripley-type. But “The Cloverfield Paradox” has enough dark colors in its production design of this space station to give it its own identity (much more than 1997’s “Event Horizon,” which must have stolen the set from “Alien” to make up for its lack of original style). The CGI visual effects are effectively done, which made me wish I could’ve seen this film on a big screen rather than a small screen. (And I saw this film on my smartphone, which is too small a screen for a film of this spectacle.) But to be fair, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is less about spectacle & action and more about thrills & story.

Look at it like an updated “Star Trek: The Next Generation” story with weird occurrences on the USS Enterprise (or better yet, the “Lost in Space” movie some of us were waiting for). There’s mystery, there’s intrigue, there’s fear, there’s paranoia, there’s questions, there’s answers, and then there’s a resolution that some audience members may approve of while others may be disappointed. Either way, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is an effective confined-space thriller (literally in space) and a very pleasant surprise to stream on Netflix just after its announcement during the Super Bowl.

Note: I heard a fourth “Cloverfield” film has completed production, and this one intrigues me more than the others—it’s set in WWII and is described as a “supernatural Nazi thriller.”

Before I Wake (2018)

3 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

This was not supposed to happen. A horror film released on the first weekend of January (and on Netflix, no less) is not supposed to be this thought-provoking. It’s not supposed to keep me wondering about this supernatural aspect or that origin of the central boogeyman in the story. But nevertheless, “Before I Wake,” directed by Mike Flanagan (the best horror director working today—see “Oculus,” “Hush,” “Gerald’s Game,” and even “Ouija: Origin of Evil”), is a horror film that could’ve been released on New Year’s Day, and it still would’ve been noticed as something good.

(Actually, this was originally supposed to be released theatrically in September 2016, on the same day as “The Disappointments Room” and “Blair Witch”…needless to say, I would have preferred seeing this horror film over either of those other two.)

Remember that “Twilight Zone” episode in which Bill Mumy was an odd child that could make his many wishes come true? Well, for young Cody (Jacob Tremblay, one of the best child actors working today), it’s the same principle—his dreams become reality. He goes to sleep, and the objects of his dreams manifest themselves physically. For instance, upon moving into the house of his new foster parents and learning about their long-lost son, the foster parents, Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane), see their son right there in the living room as soon as Cody is asleep. But that’s not all—Cody is suffering trauma due to his mother passing away, seemingly taken away from him from a dark entity known as The Canker Man. So, just as his pleasant dreams become reality, so does The Canker Man.

I have to be honest and say that supernatural horror stories involving some kind of demonic presence are starting to bore me, mainly because it just seems ghosts & demons can just…do things. It doesn’t matter if it’s consistent or how much time passes in between hauntings or even what is the extent of their abilities. They just do…whatever they want. So, as “Before I Wake” was continuing, I didn’t care about what exactly The Canker Man was…until the final act, when we figure out what Cody has gone through before meeting his foster parents, and there’s a psychological twist that makes everything we’ve seen before a lot more interesting. I grow tired of over-the-top horror-movie climaxes, but this one had me intrigued. (No, I won’t give it away here.)

Mike Flanagan is a director who truly knows and love movies. He’s shown special talent in the horror genre, and it’s clear he’s not making these films simply to frighten or give us visceral reactions—he wants to tell stories with genuine characters and give us an effective thrill ride while we’re getting to know these people and admiring the craftsmanship as well. And even though The Canker Man is frightening, it’s where he comes from that makes his presence (and the film, by default) something to think about. And I give props to Flanagan for not giving us yet another weirdly-defined ghost/demon that can’t be explained.

Much of the film has to do less with scares and more with dealing with childhood phobias and coping with parental mistakes, as Cody has many skeletons in his closet even at the age of 8 and Jessie and Mark are struggling with the death of their own child while they have to care for this new boy in their home (Mark feels responsible for his son’s drowning in the bathtub). And I appreciated Flanagan’s methods in making it more than a standard horror film in which a child is scared by a random boogeyman. The film also brings interesting developments with Jessie, such as: if she can see her son when Cody sleeps, is she using Cody to continue fulfilling the wish of seeing him again, and how far will that go? (Mark, of course, knows better—this isn’t their dead son at all; it’s only Cody’s interpretation of their son, from what Cody saw in photos/videos of him.) This causes Jessie to think more about what it means to be a mother, especially when she does something that makes authorities see her as unfit to care for Cody.

“Before I Wake” has its flaws, such as narrative pacing issues, but its heart is in the right place, it had me guessing throughout and thinking afterward, and it is rather scary at times. “Before I Wake” is an effective horror film…I just wish I saw it back in September 2016. But it’s a good way to start the year 2018.

Cop Car (2015)

3 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Growing up, I didn’t always watch the greatest films. Most of them were straight-to-video family films you could rent at the local video store for a dollar. Most of them involved mischievous kids getting involved in something bigger than them and ultimately saving the day from ruthless (but mostly clumsy) baddies. As a child, I loved watching them because they showed me a world in which children can get away with anything and embark on risky adventures but still come out all right.

I also started to watch the R-rated “Stand By Me” when I was 9 years old (before I would watch it again and again and again), but not even that would’ve prepared me if I saw director Jon Watts’ “Cop Car” at a very young age.

“Cop Car” has a setup that sounds like one of the movies I used to watch way back in the day. Set in the deep South, two pre-teenage boys (played with natural ability by Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson) are running away from home (for reasons never explained, so who cares?) and are walking along empty fields out in the middle of nowhere when they come across…a cop car. It’s a patrol unit abandoned out in the open, and they decide to hit it with a rock…then they decide to play inside it…then they realize that the keys are in it… And this leads to a fun joyride, as the boys drive along fields before taking it to the mostly-empty highway to drive faster. But meanwhile, the Sheriff (Kevin Bacon) wants his car back…

Sounds a bit trite, doesn’t it? Well, what if I told you that the Sheriff is a definite bad guy who disposes of a dead body from the trunk of the cop car? What if I told you there’s something sinister awaiting the boys once they find what’s left in the trunk? What if I told you this plot went from fun adventure to Cormac McCarthy territory, in which the situation becomes more bleak, lives are in jeopardy, and it’s unclear whether these little boys will get out of this alive?

And what if I told you that I loved the directions “Cop Car” kept taking?

This kid’s joyride story takes a dark, disturbing turn as the boys start playing with the artillery left in the backseat (with one of them looking down the barrel of a rifle when he thinks it isn’t working—yikes!), they discover something in the trunk that brings everything to a horrific situation (and with one of the most horrifying monologues I’ve ever heard in a movie—hide your pet guinea pig, kids), and the corrupt Sheriff does what he feels he must do in order to save his reputation and himself in this deadly game of cat-and-mouse. It’s a pulsepounding, suspenseful thrill ride that had me riveted right to the ambiguous conclusion.

We don’t know all the details involving the characters, such as why the boys are running away, who the Sheriff murdered, is the frightened but deadly Shea Whigham character (who shows up late in the proceedings) to be trusted in any other situation, and so on. We’re just put into this journey as the boys are walking and exchanging curse words before coming across the cop car, and off we go. By the time the film got really good, I didn’t care about details that were left out; I was simply involved, and all I knew was how unlikely it seemed that anyone was going to get out of this alive.

The kids feel like real kids. They’re rowdy little boys who think they’re much smarter than they actually are; they do very stupid things (like play with guns; at one point, one tries to shoot the other wearing a bulletproof vest). Because they feel real, the danger for them feels even more real, and that’s when we start to fear for them when they don’t even realize how much trouble they’re in.

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Kevin Bacon is a ton of fun in this role of the corrupt Sheriff. He’s menacing but also funny, particularly in the scenes in which he realizes his car is missing, he has to steal the only car around for miles, and he has to come up with numerous ways to keep dispatchers from noticing anything out of the ordinary (and it also doesn’t help for him that he’s not very smart either). He handles it with his usual Kevin Bacon charisma. But the charisma turns to terror, especially when he bluntly tells the boys, “YOU DON’T STEAL A COP CAR!”

The cinematography, by Matthew J. Lloyd and Larkin Sieple, is gorgeous, delivering a vibe that’s very much Terrence Malick-esque. As the boys are walking along these empty fields and surrounded by nothing but seemingly-endless country, I can’t help but feel the location.

“Cop Car” is darkly terrific and a great thrill ride. And it taught me to never steal a cop car, especially if it’s Kevin Bacon’s.

Man on the Moon (1999)

3 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

It’s often said that humor is subjective—what one finds funny, another finds offensive and/or unforgivably stupid. The late entertainer Andy Kaufman knew this and kept alienating his audience in order to keep around the only people that understood his humor, as few as they may seem. He never liked to do things conventionally; he just liked to put on a show his own way. While some people would declare him a comic genius, others would refer to him as a crazed fool. “Man on the Moon,” the Andy Kaufman biopic created by director Milos Forman (“Amadeus”) and screenwriters Scott Alexander & Larry Kareszewski (“Ed Wood,” the Forman-directed “The People vs. Larry Flint”), is a wonderful film that illustrates the work of both the genius and the fool.

What aids the film throughout is not only the expert direction by Forman or the detailed script by Alexander & Kareszewski, but it’s the leading performance from Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman that keeps it alive. From beginning to end, Carrey disappears into the role of the late Kaufman and gives a great sense of what the man must have gone through in life. We may not always know what he was thinking, as we are kept out of the loop during much of Kaufman’s extreme antics. But that works in the film’s favor, as we’re supposed to be left wondering what Kaufman is thinking. What’s important is Carrey has some idea as to what he’s thinking for the duration of the film.

For those who don’t know, Andy Kaufman became popular for a comedic character he portrayed in the TV series “Taxi”: a foreign oddball named Latka Gravas. He was also known for doing unpredictable things, such as reading the entirety of “The Great Gatsby” at a college presentation, wrestling women in front of live audiences (which led to a feud with wrestler Jerry Lawler for making a mockery out of wrestling), and other antics that ticked many people off. His practical jokes got to the point where, when it seemed he was dying of lung cancer, hardly anyone believed it when he was sick or even after he had died. (You could say the film even argues at the end that Kaufman is still alive.) His untimely death in 1984 caused people to think back to his career and the insane performances he created. Back in his heyday, his popularity was minimal; nowadays, he’s hailed as a comedic master.

“Man on the Moon” is a slightly fictional biopic that chronicles the highlights of Andy Kaufman’s career. It begins with one of the most innovative prologues I’ve ever seen in any biopic, in which Carrey as Kaufman, using his Latka imitation, berates the movie before it even begins and even starts rolling the end credits after having cut out the entire film, which he describes as “full of baloney.” (But it turns out to be a prank to get rid of audience members who wouldn’t understand Kaufman.) Many biopics don’t have the courage to acknowledge that they made up a lot of material for dramatic purposes; this one just flat-out opens by declaring it isn’t to be taken too seriously.

As the movie continues, we see Kaufman performing on-stage at local bars, meeting agent George Shapiro (Danny DeVito…strangely not reprising his role as Danny DeVito who co-starred with the actual Andy Kaufman in “Taxi” in real life), landing guest appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” getting a contract for “Taxi,” crafting a TV special that ABC executives turn down for being too different, and more. Oh, and there’s also Kaufman’s arch-nemesis: a loud, crass lounge singer named Tony Clifton. The less I say about him, the better…

The more we see of Kaufman’s performance on-stage with the public and off-stage with Shaprio, his writing partner (Paul Giamatti), and his lover (Courtney Love), the less we know about who Kaufman truly is. The best we can gather is that he’s a man who just wants to entertain people in his own ways, and it’s in the quieter moments of the film that we can figure that out, making the more outrageous moments even more telling. (I’ve seen this film about five times now, and I learn more from this character each time.)

Jim Carrey is this movie. He has the look and feel of Andy Kaufman, eerily so that I hardly see the actor in the performance. Carrey does tremendous work here, probably the best performance he’s ever given in a film. (Side-note: watch the Netflix documentary “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond,” which features never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage about the making of “Man on the Moon.” It shows how deeply Carrey wanted to inhabit the character he was playing. It’s almost psychopathic, the way he attempted method acting here.)

“Man on the Moon” has some pacing issues, particularly toward the final act which feels somewhat rushed, which is unfortunate as we should be feeling more for Kaufman’s plight after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and people wondering if it’s yet another performance art. But it makes up for that with a clever ending and a reveal that I won’t dare give away here. Overall, “Man on the Moon” is a fun (but also deep) film about an entertainer that wanted to entertain, no matter who was part of his audience.

American History X (1998)

3 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There’s a scene in Spike Lee’s 1989 racial drama “Do the Right Thing,” in which the black pizza-delivery boy Mookie confronts the white pizza-chef Pino about his racist remarks. Pino claims to hate African-Americans, and yet his favorite actor and his favorite basketball player (and possibly his favorite musician) are all dark-skinned. Mookie calls him out on it. How does Pino respond? “It’s different […] I mean, they’re not really black. They’re more than black. It’s different.”

We don’t know why racism is still around, and that scene illustrates the probability that maybe the racists themselves don’t know either. “To me, it’s different.” I can’t be the only one who sees Pino’s “defense” as nothing more than pathetic.

But because of that, we know Pino wouldn’t actually act out on his prejudice against other races, particularly black people. He just comes off as a big mouth. I want to smack him, but I’m not scared of him. I am, however, scared of dumb White Rage group members (of groups like the KKK or the skinheads) because they do act out their rage and try to justify their brutal actions towards members of different races.

“American History X” is a disturbing drama that provokes questions/thoughts about racial hatred and doesn’t try to answer most of them itself. It features characters that follow the hatred with blindness and don’t give a moment’s thought to the world around them (and by the time most of them do, it’s nearly too late).

Edward Norton turns in a powerful performance as Derek Vinyard, one of the most active members of a white supremacist movement in Venice Beach, secretly led by Cameron (Stacy Keach) who stays in the shadows to keep his record clean. Derek is an inspiration to his fellow hate-filled disciples, as he seems angrier and is more charismatic than the rest—they listen to whatever he says, just as he listens to what Cameron says. But one night, everything changes when he kills two black men who tried to steal his car and is arrested by police and thrown in prison for three years. While inside, he faces some harsh truths, the harshest one being, with all the roughnecks and lifers and make up his inmates, he’s the minority. When he’s released three years later, he’s a changed man and wants to present that to his family and friends, but it’s easier said than done, especially since many of his close ones now hail him as a hero for the night he was arrested…

There’s one scene that attempts to give some idea as to where Derek got his hatred (in a flashback to a family dinner scene in which his father (William Russ) declares his cynicism against minorities in town), but overall, the film isn’t about why prejudice is around—instead, it shows how it can harshly affect the lives of a man and his family and friends. And when a change of heart comes, the film shows that it isn’t easy to demonstrate it with mere apologies or simple actions.

I really have to credit director/cinematographer Tony Kaye (who, for the record, has disowned the film for being against his earlier vision) for the genuine, disturbing feel in the scenes that show pure anger. Many of them are hard to watch, such as when Derek argues with his mother (Beverly d’Angelo) and sister (Jennifer Lien) for bringing in a teacher (Elliot Gould) who not only disagrees with his way of thinking but is also Jewish. Many of these scenes (unfortunately) ring true and you feel the angry words that are coming out of Norton’s mouth. (But the problem with these scenes is the unnecessary amount of extremely tight close-up shots that distract from the moment rather than make us feel like we’re in the moment.)

The film is told in non-linear fashion, with past events (Derek’s rise to power, the dinner scene, the murder, Derek’s whole prison experience) presented to us in black-and-white. I would have preferred if these events were told chronologically. In giving us early present scenes from the perspective of Danny (Derek’s younger brother, played by Edward Furlong), we lose track of focus fairly quickly. Danny learning about his brother, whom he idolizes and whose footsteps he tries to follow, isn’t as interesting as Derek’s development. With that said, Derek is a completely developed character. We see what set him off, what his influence was to people, why other people feared him, and more importantly, we understand why his attitude changes and feel bad when it seems he can’t be a more positive influence to the same people he led in the movement. We know a lot about Derek; not so much about Danny or their anxious mother or their liberal sister or the fat man (Ethan Suplee) that joins the movement to get strength he can’t get elsewhere or Derek’s girlfriend (Fairuza Bulk) who simply follows her man or even the black high-school principal (Avery Brooks) that wants to help both Derek and Danny. (I would’ve liked to see a movie about what the principal has to go through.) All of the actors do serviceable jobs, but the entire film rests on the shoulders of Edward Norton.

It is true that Tony Kaye is not particularly a fan of this film (and even tried to credit himself as “Alan Smithee” and even “Humpty Dumpty”), and long since this film’s release in 1998, I think it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t speaking out as a publicity stunt. I understand where he’s coming from; I empathize with filmmakers whose original vision is altered by producers (and even, in this case, the lead actor himself Edward Norton, who had the script changed midway through shooting). But Kaye shouldn’t be too resentful of the film; after all, it has grown a cult following from people whose eyes were opened by the film’s power (and is also a topic of discussion for most film schools). “American History X” may have its small amount of problems, but it also has its considerable amount of raw power.

Maybe Pino should take a look at this film…