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The Devil's Advocate (1997)
Interesting, but ultimately fails
Okay, let's make one thing clear from the start: I didn't like this movie.
The Devil's Advocate is likely to pass the did-I-watch-this test. If you've seen hundreds and hundreds (maybe thousands) of movies, like I have, you'll probably know what the did-I-watch-this test is. There are movies out there you can run across a month or two later, and you don't even remember that you saw that one.
This one you'll probably remember. Why? Because it's different. Given the zillions of movies out there, different is an increasing rarity.
But ultimately, I just didn't find it entertaining.
The reason it fails as entertainment is: It's just too fatalistic, too depressing. After I watched this movie, I should've gone to bed, as it was late at night. Instead, I started another movie just to change the mood.
Yes, there are some well-done and interesting effects. Yes, the script shows a certain amount of skill. Yes, it has a couple of big names. But all of that drowns in the entire flavor, which is a film that, in the end, simply isn't fun.
There are films that can get away with being no fun, because they have some other artistry, some other redeeming value. They're films that make us think, that cause us to experience some sort of insight or thought that makes them worth watching.
That's not this movie. In the end, I give it 2 out of 10, and wish I had the time back that I wasted on it.
The International (2009)
A smart, underrated thriller
It took a second watching for me to appreciate this smart, underrated thriller.
In fact, going into it the second time, I knew I'd seen it a couple of years ago, but I couldn't remember any of the details. This is usually the mark of an mediocre movie. In this case, it was simply because I hadn't understood it well enough the first time around.
This is a movie you need to fully understand in order to appreciate. And unless you catch all of the dialogue (or at least as much of it as possible) you're not going to fully understand it. Rewind helps! The International must've been Clive Owen's attempt to get his career back on track after the God-awful (and I truly mean God-awful) Shoot 'Em Up in 2007. Miraculously, this movie has more or less restored my faith in Clive.
Clive Owen is an agent seeking justice against a criminal enterprise: The International Bank of Business & Credit, or IBBC. This, of course, is a veiled reference to the BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International), which went defunct in 1991 after being raided for money laundering and other financial crimes. It seems likely that the movie was partly inspired by this bank, which was referred to as "Bunch of Conmen and Crooks International." The BCCI was once the 7th largest private bank in the world; the IBBC is referred to in the movie as being the 5th largest private bank in the world.
As you might guess, Owen's investigation is not entirely straightforward. I make it a practice not to include spoilers in my reviews, so you'll have to watch the movie to find out more. Once again, the key is hearing all the dialogue and understanding the plot.
7 out of 10.
Wind Chill (2007)
Scary as shiiiiiiiiiiznit.
I'm sure some folks (particularly those who dine on a regular diet of horror films) won't find this movie to be terribly scary. Personally, it scared the shiznit out of me.
As others have noted, it's more of a psychological thriller than a gorefest. I prefer these kinds of movies.
Yes, it has some slow moments, but it builds up in terms of intensity.
For reference, I watched Silent Hill, and was just not as impressed with that movie as this one. That film was what I would call "over the top." The Ring is another horror movie that I consider scary as hell. (American version, I haven't seen the original Japanese.)
Overall verdict: This is a lower-budget, scary-as-hell, closer-to-life psychological horror movie that in my personal opinion is well underrated.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
You keep waiting for a stroke of brilliance that just never comes.
I have no idea why viewers at IMDb have given this movie an 8 out of 10.
Well, that's not quite true. I do have an idea why. But it's not a good reason.
There's a tendency in our society to rate things really highly that are different. Well, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is certainly that. Different.
That's about the best I can say for it.
When you combine "different" - which in this case means:
* stop-motion animation
* deliberately dull color schemes
* a mostly-incoherent plot
* and quirky attempts at humor
with many of the major characters speaking in extremely familiar voices (such as those of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe), you have a recipe for a runaway success. By "runaway success," I mean that this movie somehow managed to recoup its $40 million budget.
Yes, the only thing more astonishing than the fact that this plodding, (in my opinion) artless film cost $40 million to make is that it grossed more than it cost.
I normally try not to give away the plot in my reviews, but there's not much worry about that with this movie. It's a looong 87 minutes.
At one point I had to go and retrieve my 7-year-old son (who LOVES movies), because he had wandered away for lack of interest. It looked like something worth watching was actually about to happen. I regret that I did not allow him to go on his own way.
To give them credit, they certainly tried to be "original." Their approach was to go a bit further than most such films in incorporating themes more relevant to adults and older teens, such as marital conflict, teenage identity crisis, flipping real estate, the sexual reputation of Mr. Fox's wife, and so forth. The result is an awkward mix of soap opera and animated action that isn't quite suitable either for children or for adults. (Interestingly, two of the three reviews immediately before mine, both from people who LOVED the film, said almost the same thing!)
The good points of this film include some good voice acting by familiar voices, and some decent music.
My 12-year-old son, by the way, concurs with my assessment of this movie. His review: "The animation is pretty bad, and there wasn't really a plot. All they did was run around in sewer pipes and get shot at all the time. Definitely a one-time-view only."
Both of us (independently) also drew comparisons to the infamous Superbabies 2: Baby Geniuses. In fact, my son stated that he would rather watch the latter, as "it actually has a plot line."
If you appreciate a movie that's different really just for the sake of being different, then you'll probably love this film. Otherwise, I'd give it a miss. Honestly, I was kind of sorry I rented it. I had in mind to rent a good family movie, and since this one was PG-rated, animated, and given a vote of 8.0 out of 10 by IMDb viewers, I thought it would be a good choice. But it really isn't a good family film, for the reasons stated above.
Also, even though the film substitutes "cuss" for all profanity, I must admit squirming a bit when Mr. Fox sighed, "This is gonna be a total clustercuss for everybody." I could just see one of my kids asking me, "Dad, what's a clustercuss?"
In short: This movie was highly-rated for the exact same reason Barack Obama was elected President: It's different from what we're used to. Unfortunately, in both instances, we can see that different doesn't always mean worthwhile.
Oh, and I see the first person to rate my review rated it as "not useful," probably because he or she loves this film (or Barack Obama, or both). The review is what it is: an honest assessment of this movie by someone who has seen hundreds of films (if not thousands) and has reviewed 50 of them (!) here on IMDb. It tells you specifically why neither I nor any of my family liked "Fantastic Mr. Fox."
I recognize that mine is (obviously) a minority opinion, but I don't really see how that makes for an "unhelpful" review. What it should tell you instead (especially when you go through additional reviews and see other 4-and-5 star ones besides mine) is that while lots of people love "Fantastic Mr. Fox," it certainly is NOT for everyone. There are actually a fair number of us who simply don't agree.
Groundhog Day (1993)
an unbelievable classic that just gets better as you rewatch it
Back in the mid-1990s, we had a friend named Jeff, who started talking to us rather oddly. He would make a comment in normal conversation, and then he would add, "So am I right? Am I right or am I right or am I right?!"
And then he'd laugh as if he'd said something quite funny. And we'd just stare at him.
Eventually Jeff loaned us a copy of Groundhog Day, and we discovered where he'd gotten that line from. But the first time we watched it, we thought the movie was kind of... strange.
There aren't many movies that I watch more than once. I've seen hundreds of movies by now, and this one now holds the record for number of viewings. I do have to let some time go by before I see it again, but this is one of those rare movies that only seems to get better and better upon rewatching.
Over the past 5 or 6 years I've put a lot of effort into bettering my own life. Today I was at the gym and caught the last 25 minutes of Groundhog Day while exercising. I was astonished at how some of the ideas in this movie parallel some of the ideas and understandings I've come to embrace about life and success.
If you haven't seen Groundhog Day, see it. If you have, then see it again. I put it (along with Forrest Gump and Titanic) in my personal Top 10 Movies of All Time.
Le cinquième élément (1997)
The Fifth Element is considerable fun
Even with a bit of off-the-wall silliness, the plot and effects are creative, Bruce Willis is entertaining, Chris Tucker as Ru-by Rhod! is a sight not to be missed, and Milla Jovovich puts the sizzle into one of the most alluring roles I've seen in any movie. Ever.
Maïwenn Le Besco, Gary Oldman and Ian Holm also deliver solid supporting performances.
I won't say much about the plot. It's passable, but that's not really where the fun is. It's in the characters, the acting and the action, from Korben Dallas to Leeloo to Ruby Rhod.
Get yourself a "Mooltipass," because The Fifth Element is considerable fun.
The Planet (2006)
Just plain weird.
This movie is proof you can't just go to a Redbox and read descriptions of films and pick one and give it a try.
While I'll give 'em great credit for having produced a film with halfway-decent special effects on such a low budget, and at least a halfway decent script and story line... unfortunately, it was only just that: halfway decent.
If you like movies where things aren't all neatly wrapped up, and don't mind low-budget effects, you might like this film. Honestly, it wasn't really my cup of tea. I should've just gone to bed rather than spend my time watching.
For a better science-fiction movie produced on an even LOWER budget (!) have a look at "Primer."
A fairly astonishing achievement.
At some point watching this movie, I thought, "This looks like a low-budget, not a big-budget, production." I was thinking... I don't know... maybe $100,000? $200,000? Imagine my surprise when I learned that practically every major role including writing, directing, producing, music composition, and acting one of the lead characters was accomplished by a guy named Shane Carruth on a budget of around $7,000.
To produce a film that looks and comes across as professionally as this one on a budget of $7,000 is really pretty astonishing. I'm not sure it's ever been done before... or since. Of course, you also have to consider the value of Carruth's time. If he'd been paid any reasonable amount, the cost of the film would have gone way up. Still... pretty astonishing.
Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way, a few comments on the film itself. It's true that Carruth has woven what turns out to be a rather bewildering tale. Some folks (such as, admittedly, myself) won't decide to go back through for a second or third viewing to try and piece it all together. But even though I declined a second viewing, I was tempted; and I had no doubt that watching it a second and third time would have given me a lot more understanding of exactly what happened.
There's also more to this movie than just unraveling the whole timeline and sequences of cause and effect. There are things to think about. And the best movies give you things to think about.
I recommend this movie most to those who like time-travel tales and to those who like unraveling complicated stories. In any event, it's a fine first effort on meager resources, and I'm looking forward to Carruth's next film.
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Not a good movie to watch just before bedtime.
Or even 2 or 3 hours before bedtime, for that matter. The night after watching Snakes on a Plane, I dreamed of snakes slithering across the floor, chasing me. In that sense I suppose it accomplished its purpose.
Oh, and anyone who considers Snakes On A Plane "the most awful and ridiculous movie ever made" (one reviewer's words) obviously has NOT seen Shoot 'Em Up.
Still, there's enough here to make me regret picking this up from the video store.
SoaP is mostly a thinly-plotted excuse for obviously-cgi, implausible nonstop reptile horror violence with some sex thrown in just for good measure. You get the feeling that they would've put 3 or 4 more sex scenes in to further titillate the audience if they could have - they just couldn't work out any way to do it without it being even more blindingly obvious they were skating on some very thin plot.
This movie is a blunt instrument. If you like being awkwardly bludgeoned with blunt instruments, go for it. Personally, I prefer tales that have a bit more finesse.
A lot more finesse, actually.
To be fair, they obviously put a lot of thought into trying to come up with just about everything that could possibly go badly if you were to release a huge box of (implausibly aggressive) deadly snakes on an airplane. Unfortunately, that just wasn't that hugely winning a concept to start with. Some concepts just aren't. Maybe we should make an entire movie about zits on a nose. No? Snakes on a plane does beat zits on a nose, but not by *that* much.
The concept's bad, the execution's bad, and the script's not that great either. The main thing this movie has going for it is Samuel Jackson, whose career will hopefully recover. Jackson's presence lifts this tale from a "3" to the heights of "4 out of 10."
The List (2007)
kind of a pentecostal supernatural thriller
You want to know the real problem with "Christian" films? There are two: first, they usually come with sermons attached (of one kind or another), and sermons generally don't mix well with entertainment. Sermons and entertainment tend to be at odds with each other. And the second problem is that a cut-and-dried world view tends to permeate such movies to the extent of making them all too predictable.
This film is generally well made (Malcolm McDowell does a great job as the slightly-unnerving and ultimately sinister leader of a 150-year-old secret society), and it starts off promising, but in the end it suffers from both of the aforementioned issues.
Because of its nature, it's the kind of movie that usually gets very high ratings from people who passionately go for its whole world view, and very low ratings from people who simply don't.
On the positive side: it's a generally fairly well-produced movie with a PG rating, which is rare these days for a film for grownups, and it does seem to generate a decent enough amount of suspense... particularly if you haven't figured out it's basically a "Christian" film (oops, kinda spoiled that part a little bit). Down side: it ultimately becomes a bit formulaic and slightly "preachy." Still, not an awful movie. I've seen better, and I've seen worse. I give it a 5.