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by Mark Leeper

We still don't know much about Mark Leeper, but he writes a damn good review!

Donnie Brasco -- Kolya
Sling Blade -- Private Parts
Devil's Own


Sling Blade

Okay, so the film is about a mentally retarded murderer who killed his own mother.
This is a film of comedy and pathos as well as horror. Billy Bob Thornton, co-writer of ONE FALSE MOVE,
writes, directs, and stars in one terrific film. The plot may be a bit straightforward but the film
is an audience- pleaser. It is a well-observed film about life in an Arkansas town. Expect to enjoy this one.
Rating: +3 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 15 positive, 2 negative, 1 mixed

Very little seen but central to the film TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is the figure of Boo Radley, played by Robert Duvall in his theatrical cinema debut. For years Radley has been his town's legendary monster stemming from an act of seemingly senseless violence against his own family. Radley is, in reality, a simple and likable man who redeems himself by another act of violence, a revolt against the hatred of others. Radley is not responsible for his own violence, but focuses the callousness and evil around him, redirecting it back at its origin. A nearly identical character--right down to having his shirt sleeves too long--is Karl Childers, the center of an enigmatic black comedy that is at times horrifying and at others amiable. SLING BLADE was written by, directed by, and stars Billy Bob Thornton. It is an expansion of the short film "Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade," directed by George Hickenlooper but also written by and directed by Thornton. In both films he plays Karl Childers a patient in an Arkansas state mental institution. Life there would not be bad if he did not have to be immersed in the sadistic sexual recountings of another patient, a predator played superbly by J. T. Walsh.

Karl is given a chance to tell his own story to a visiting reporter and though presented in a horrifying manner we begin to see Karl as a victim, yet somehow one without an ounce of self-pity. If we blame Karl's parents for his condition, it is our decision and not Karl's. Karl remains completely dispassionate about his past and his ability to do so makes his even more disturbing. Maintaining through the film a stone-like face with jutting lower lip he never shows any emotion. We are never sure what is happening behind that face and indeed when one of the characters probes later in the film we find it is either nothing or more likely it is well-hidden. Reportedly up to Karl telling his own story was all there was to Hickenlooper's original short film, but Thornton was apparently intrigued by the character he had written and played. SLING BLADE continues the story with Karl being released into what is for him a bewildering world.

Karl is out for just a few hours when he befriends a boy about twelve, Frank (Lucas Black) with roughly Karl's own mental capacity. Karl and the unquestioning Frank become fast friends and he is accepted almost as a family member in Frank's distressed family. That Frank's mother Linda (Natalie Canderday) accepts Karl seems almost more believable than her acceptance of her own abusive boy friend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam). Doyle is a bad ol' boy who verbally savages Karl, Frank, and Vaughan (John Ritter), Linda's gay boss.

The plot from this point follows a predictable path, but the story is not as important as the style and the textured look at life in a small Arkansas town. One can tell when a script is respected by the people who agree to be in small roles in the film. In SLING BLADE one spots several familiar faces in tiny roles including Jim Jarmusch as an ice cream stand boy and Robert Duvall in a tiny part as Karl's father, perhaps as an allusion to his own Boo Radley role. The photography is usually a bit straightforward and not as interesting as it could be, but as a first-time director Thornton has a sure hand. And he writes a script that is by turns sad, horrifying, and funny. If the ending is a little too neat, it also is clever and ironic.

The subject matter may not be to everybody's taste but the film is a winner on just about all counts. Rate this one a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.


More info about Sling Blade at the Internet Movie Database


Private Parts

WNBC's all-the-stops-out shock jock tells us the story of his life and stars in the film
adaptation of his own autobiography. Mostly it is his side of the battles he fought to get and keep his brand of crude
humor on the radio in spite of his management and at times the FCC. Stern's antics are often funny, but the
basic situation of the irreverent rebel against the dictatorial authority is well-trodden territory.
Rating: +1 (- 4 to +4)
New York Critics: 13 positive, 2 negative, 4 mixed

Howard Stern will do just about anything to be funny on the radio from having guests strip naked (could anything be more pointless in this medium!), having another stick a thirteen inch kielbasa down her throat, inducing a listener to have an orgasm from the vibration of her woofer, and making dead fetus jokes the day after his wife's miscarriage. His humor is not so much off-color as two counties away from being even near- color. PRIVATE PARTS is his autobiography in book form and the film based on the book. Except for his personal style of gags the plot is of how his straight-laced management at his various jobs tried to tone him down and how he always reacted by becoming even more of the Bad Boy of Radio. This basic conflict is the same sort of thing we saw in NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE, MEATBALLS, STRIPES, and GHOSTBUSTERS. Since each of those films was either produced or directed by Ivan Reitman, it should come as no surprise that he produced PRIVATE PARTS also.

As the film Howard Stern (played by Howard Stern) opens is performing a stage act as Fartman in a pair of pants tailored to leave his butt cheeks exposed. As Stern walks back stage he worries that his humor is not appreciated by others as he gets disapproving stares from other performers. To a woman sitting next to him on a plane, he begins to recount his life, told in a flashback. We start with Stern as a cute child with a father who seems constantly angry. Starting as a geeky teenager and then as a geeky adult (who looks a lot like Weird Al Yankovic), he goes from one radio job to the next fighting unsympathetic management and territorial fellow disk jockeys. At first he is usually the victim of these conflicts, and he drifts through jobs in one city after another. Stern finds himself in larger and larger conflicts culminating in his being hired at New York City's WNBC whom we are told hired him only on the basis of his high ratings at his previous job at a Washington DC radio station. When they found out the nature of his radio program they decide it is necessary to tame him. But in a series of battles Stern always wins eventually because he is so popular with the listeners.

Howard Stern could conceivably be a good actor with the right sort of material, but here he is cast hopelessly against type. He never seems get much of a handle on his character and without an understanding of what makes someone like Howard Stern tick, he seems to be just going through the motions. Along the way Stern picks up the rest of his comedy team including his female straight man, Robin Quivers playing herself. Quivers is charming as is Mary McCormack as Stern's long suffering and ever-perfect wife Alison. Holding his own for the comic drive of the film is Paul Giamatti as the NBC executive who has vowed to tame Stern and who, at least to hear Stern tell it, is hopelessly outclassed by the classless Stern.

Ironically with all the sexist and sexual humor, the film was directed by a woman, Betty Thomas (who some will remember played Lucy Bates in "Hill Street Blues"). This is a cotton candy film, light, pleasant, but without much substance and what little there is made to go a long way. If there is not a whole lot to think about here, at least the film moves well and is entertaining. Probably people not offended by the style of humor will enjoy the show.

This is the kind of film that generates from critics a lot of positive votes but not a lot of enthusiasm. I rate is a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.


More info about Private Parts at the Internet Movie Database


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