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The Bible (2013)
A Biblical train wreck
Easter Sunday is coming up, and with it the final parts of History Television's epic miniseries The Bible, or as I like to call it, "The Biblical Train Wreck." What is truly amazing about this miniseries is just how bad it has managed to be. Watching it has been a fascinating experience.
This is even more surprising considering the source material. The Bible is a transformative book – one cannot read it cover-to-cover without coming out changed. Some have found religion upon reading it, some have reached a higher level of understanding, and others have lost faith. The Old Testament, or as my religion calls it, the Tanakh, tells the shared memories of the Hebrew people and their ongoing cycle of fall and redemption, through slavery and freedom, through the most horrifying of warfare and the most exalted of peace. The New Testament tells of a God who loves humanity so much that he sends his own child to be sacrificed for their sins.
One cannot read this book without having to come to grips with the highest of morality and the most questionable of ethics. A firm commandment not to murder is followed by a divinely-mandated war of genocide. The call to the highest levels of social justice is paired with palace coups and warfare. The demand to meet one's enemies with love rather than hatred comes hand-in-hand with an exclusivity wherein all those who do not follow Christ are condemned to eternal damnation. The reader is thrust into a time and place far different than our own and yet the same, vividly realized. In the Iron Age kings of Israel and Judea, whose greatness comes from military victory and worshipping God, we cannot help but see ourselves, or at least what will one day become ourselves. It is little wonder that this holds a claim to being the most influential book in history.
And yet, the miniseries manages to fail on almost every level when depicting it. While it makes claims to portraying the spirit of the book, it consistently hits the wrong note. The cycle of fall and redemption that underlies the entire Old Testament is completely missing – all we ever see is the fall, to the point that the viewer can be forgiven for wondering what God ever saw in these Hebrew people in the first place. The New Testament shows little improvement. At least the miniseries gives the content enough time – the Old Testament material gets skipped through so quickly that major stories are missing – but it actually finds a way to screw up the Sermon on the Mount, and the famous "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" story is transformed into a woman being saved from execution by a math problem.
The execution of the miniseries is so poor, in fact, that it boggles the mind as to how it could happen in the first place. The actors are good, and mostly well-cast (the one notable exception being Sampson, who is so well built that his God-given super-strength does not seem exceptional at all). The production values are of a high quality. And yet, the writing continually fails.
Perhaps the big problem is that the producers and writers don't seem to have any faith whatsoever in their source material, or their audience to follow it. They never allow the story to just tell itself. The audience is led by the nose through the selected material by a narrator, making the miniseries more of a guided tour through some of the Bible stories than an actual retelling. When it comes to the stories themselves, they are simplified to the point where they lose their original meaning. The story of Sampson and Delilah is a perfect example – rather than use the far more complicated story that actually appears in the Book of Judges, the writers turn the entire vignette into a Braveheart ripoff. Sampson is important because he is a leader of Israel, but we never see him lead anything – he is reduced from a complicated character who is often his own worst enemy to a big guy the Philistines single out for not-terribly-well-explained reasons.
So, even though we still have a crucifixion and resurrection to come, I've seen enough to cast judgement. This miniseries doesn't warrant more than a 3/10. The Bible is a transcendent book that took a tiny cult of personality in Judea and helped transform it into the most successful religion in human history – perhaps the producers and writers of this miniseries should have remembered that, trusted the content to be fine on its own, and had faith in the audience to follow it.
ZOS: Zone of Separation (2009)
Worth seeing, but not for the faint of heart
I've just watched the preview of the first episode on TMN On Demand. This is a very good show, with solid performances and developed characters.
On a personal note, I'm very happy to see Canadian military activities trumpeted at last. My country doesn't advertise what it's doing nearly enough, and it is doing important work. And, peacekeeping has to be one of the hardest jobs for a soldier to do - it's good to see somebody has finally dramatized it, and dramatized it well.
This is not a series for the faint of heart, however, and that needs to be stressed. The violence of a zone that requires peacekeepers - in this case a fictional town in the Balkans - is not shied away from. A key point of the pilot involves two children straying into a minefield. A mine goes off, and a small boy bleeds to death from a severed leg as a peacekeeper tries to rescue him without being blown up herself. The violence is graphic and realistic, and the viewer is forced to face head-on the horror of a situation that most of us try to forget exists, but is all too real.
There are some issues, however - the show is not perfect. Colm Meaney plays a chilling Muslim fanatic re-arming his side for the next round of violence, but his Irish brogue stands out like a sore thumb, and makes his character seem to be a star vehicle rather than an actual person. An attempt at a Balkan accent would have been better. And then there's the militia leader wearing nothing but a Speedo, overcoat, and belts of bullets, who is a bit on the strange side, and a naked Major who appears as a vision and curled up on a bed, who is downright bizarre. Hopefully these will see some explanation in future episodes.
So, this is a show that is definitely worth watching, but if you aren't prepared to deal with the heart- and gut-wrenching reality of a place that has been torn apart by war, you might want to give this one a pass.
Funniest movie I've seen in a while
Amazingly, Uwe Boll made a good movie here.
Postal is possibly the funniest, most politically incorrect movie since South Park. If you are at all easy to offend, it will offend you. But if you have a thick skin, you'll laugh your hindquarters off. While Boll seems to be inept at anything resembling a serious movie, he has a gift for over-the-top comedy.
How over the top is it? A visit to the welfare office results in a shoot out while a bored case worker sits behind bulletproof glass, and the hero (having not yet gone postal) crawls from body to body trying to get a better ticket. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban show up in a little, terrible town named Paradise, and at one point in celebration shoot off the roof of their car with AK-47s...while they're in it. And this is the first movie to actually make a suicide bomber FUNNY. I won't even mention the improvised silencer, save to say that it had us laughing uncontrollably for at least two minutes straight.
That being said, there are a couple of gross-out jokes that fall flat. A frontal nude scene with Dave Foley fails to shock, and just comes out as uncomfortable. And, the postal dude's morbidly obese wife really should have had less screen time. But, most of the jokes work, and work well.
Uwe Boll made a really good movie - who'd have thunk it?
Nice re-enactments, but very selective
I found "The Somme" almost by accident while browsing the Web, and as somebody doing World War I research of his own, I was left with very mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it is a fresh look at the bloody battle that cost over a million lives. On the other, however, in attempting to bring out a new, and often unseen aspect, it glosses over months of fighting and the actual experience.
The show begins with a description of the Somme, some of the men involved on both sides, and the first day of fighting, which is famous for being the most brutal day in British military history. At this point, the documentary tells the history well, and the recreations are brutal and intense, just as they should be. The fatal lack of flexibility of the British command staff that resulted in the loss of British gains in the first day is well highlighted and explored.
Unfortunately, it is after this that "The Somme" starts to run into trouble. The documentary is so dedicated to highlighting the advances made as the British army adapted to the conditions and learned how to fight the Germans that it glosses over the price of these lessons, or how long it took for them to sink in. "The Somme" fast forwards from July 1st to the end of September, ignoring in its account the massive attrition on both sides, the hundreds of thousands of casualties, and the fact that the true horror of the Somme lay not in the first day, but the months after, where the losses were so great that new trenches were being dug through corpses. The creeping barrage and the tank are not quite so impressive when it takes at least 200,000 casualties and months of assaults to get to using them. And, to make matters worse, the documentary doesn't actually cover the end of the battle at all, or give the viewer any sense of where the battle lines actually stood at the end.
If anything, "the Somme" should have been longer, and not so willing to gloss over the attrition phases of the battle. The Battle of the Somme lasted four and a half months, and to use only two assaults in the entire battle to tell its story, particularly when reducing the massive losses to a single mention at the end, hardly does justice to the Somme or the men who died there at all.
Tell Me You Love Me (2007)
Ultimately fails to hold one's interest
This is a review of the pilot only, and I think that it can be a worthy review because of that - the point of any pilot is to make you want to watch the rest of the series, and in that this pilot failed rather badly.
And that is a shame, considering that the show is filled with potential. It's about time that a frank, European-style depiction of sex appeared on North American television, and it is even a breath of fresh air. And, from the beginning, the show gives the sense that there are immense depths for it to explore. Unfortunately, while the concept is very good, it is in the execution that the show fails.
The greatest weakness is in character development. The characters simply aren't developed beyond their genitalia, or more specifically, their problems regarding said genitalia. By the end of the first hour, in the three main couples, I only knew what two people did for a living, and the show only gives you the occasional flash that these characters have any sort of life beyond their sex (or lack thereof). The only subplot of the pilot was about a 10 year old girl getting a period - so even the kids are defined by their genitalia.
And, ultimately, at the end of the episode I couldn't care less about what happened to any of these people. A realistic depiction of relationship problems is a good thing, but you have to have some emotional investment in the characters for said depiction to actually be meaningful, and the show just doesn't show you enough to allow for that. We are introduced to these characters through their problems, we see their problems throughout, but we never explore any of the good things in their lives, or the interaction between the positive and negatives in said lives. With character development that poor, it renders what could be a wonderfully deep series very shallow indeed.
Some great scenes, but not great overall
Forget the historical inaccuracies, forget the strange costuming, forget the fact that this feels like ancient Greek history on acid - is this a great movie? Unfortunately, despite its potential, it isn't. There are some truly great visual scenes, such as a sky so full of arrows that the sun is blocked out. There are some wonderful character moments, like the Spartan king debating whether to fight. But these are moments - and a movie needs more than just moments.
The film suffers in part due to the very computer technology that makes the stunning visuals possible. With no proper sets, there is a lack of continuity that sets would provide. For example, the bottomless pit from the trailer comes out of absolutely nowhere. It isn't there before the emissary is tossed in, and it isn't there afterwords. It is a computer effect, and comes out only when it is needed (there is a tree later on that does the same thing).
This is a film about images - and to a degree, it suffers because of that as well, as many of the images don't make sense in the larger picture, and often come across as overblown and comical. For example, while a single war rhino charging in slow motion towards the Spartan ranks, killing Persian soldiers as it moves, is an impressive and striking image, it doesn't make a lot of sense - surely the Persians would want to use more than one, and to have it die before killing so much as a single Spartan renders the scene anti-climactic. These beautiful and striking images bombard the viewer, but they are missing a cohesion that would elevate the entire film to fine art.
Ultimately, 300 is a beautiful example of both the strengths and limits of computer technology, and the art in motion it can create. It is a brilliant and beautiful technology demo. It's just a pity that it isn't a better movie.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Not bad, but suffering from "Coles Notes" syndrome
Perhaps the best word to describe this movie is "competent". It isn't bad. It isn't terribly good, either, but it isn't bad.
The first act is perhaps the weakest, and is filled with scenes that feel as though they are the Coles Notes of longer scenes. Once the main characters reach the pyramid, however, and the second act begins, the movie stops being choppy and flows very well.
The story is fairly well thought out, and areas where I expected a plot hole (such as where the aliens come from, anyway) didn't have one. The scenes in the pyramid are suspenseful to a degree, and each moment flows logically toward the next.
Perhaps the thing that keeps the movie from standing up proud with the other Alien movies is the distinct lack of depth compared to every other entry in the series. Far too many characters aren't fully developed, and only one of the two that are actually spends time dealing with anything. This makes the movie an interesting diversion, popcorn if you will, but nothing more.
At least it is entertaining popcorn.
Animated Epics: Beowulf (1998)
A good effort, but not enough...
Ever since my third year in University, I have been a fanatical lover of Beowulf. The seventh-century poem has a great hero, an enthralling story, and a group of monsters (Grendel, his mother, and the Dragon) that is still capable of terrifying. While I have seen more than one adaptation of the poem (The 13th Warrior is right now by far the best), this is easily the version that is truest to the subject matter.
This version concentrates on the monster fights, excluding the background stories that are sprinkled throughout the poem; not a surprising move by the scriptwriter, as the many asides would end up scattering the narrative. The story is told simply and quickly, with the characters well represented.
Unfortunately, where the poem had an earthly thrill to it, this film descends into an artfulness that completely destroys the mood. Much of the action is so artistic that it becomes incomprehensible (for example, rather than grappling with Grendel's arm, Beowulf somehow ends up travelling up it), and the animation, rather than being crisp and clean, is rather crude and sketchy. With the surreal feel to the film, anybody who has not nearly memorized the poem in advance is in danger of finding themselves either lost or bored out of their skull.
Final mark: 2.5/5. The story was right, but the spirit of the poem was completely lost in the translation. Sigh...perhaps the next film version of the poem will get it right...
Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
A fun couple of hours...
The Lord of the Rings it is not.
However, anybody familiar with the game "Dungeons and Dragons" who walks into this movie will get exactly that. Perhaps for the very first time, Elves and Dwarves appear on the screen in live action, and manage to act very lively.
Dungeons and Dragons is a light piece of Tolkienian fantasy, featuring Justin Whalen as a charming rogue named Ripley, and Marlon Wayans as his friend, Snails (who struggles with Jeremy Irons, playing the evil archmage Profion, for stealing scenes). The two break into a magic school only to become involved in something far larger, something that could save or destroy the world.
It may not be the fantasy epic of the century, but it is FUN. While the characters may be a bit flat at times, they are always lively. The magic manages a sense of wonder, and the Dragon effects are simply amazing. The dialogue is hokey, but once you get into it, it's all part of the fun.
If you like fantasy and need a pleasant diversion for a couple of hours, this may be the movie for you. It is a shame there isn't more to it (the film lacks subtexts), but it makes no pretenses to be of the caliber of The Lord of the Rings.
Final mark: 3.5/5
Highlander: Endgame (2000)
Not bad, but not great
Highlander: Endgame manages very nicely to live up to some of the great Highlander traditions. Like its predecessors, it disowns absolutely everything that came before it, including the television show from which it draws most of its characters. And, like Highlander 3, it is directed so much like a rock video that if the viewer leaves the theatre for so much as a minute and a half, s/he will be lost when s/he returns.
That being said, it actually isn't that bad a film. It doesn't disown the basic concept of the series, and fans of the TV show will be pleased to see Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) pass the torch to his younger kinsman, Duncan (Adrian Paul). In fact, the movie relies so much on the TV show, that somebody who hasn't seen the six-year series might be left almost completely in the dark.
The acting is also quite strong, and the villain, Kell (Bruce Payne) is more fanatical than evil. In fact, as far as the series of movies goes, this installment has the most interesting characters.
However, while it is a decent movie, it is not a great one. Between the inconsistent "artsy" direction and the almost utter lack of continuity with the TV show, much less the first movie, the film is brought down considerably. It is a worthy matinee, but only diehard Highlander fans should consider paying full price. Mind you, probably only diehard Highlander fans will really understand the movie anyway...
Final mark: 3/5. Worth a matinee, but not full price. Be warned, some of the violence is pretty graphic, so it is not a movie for younger viewers.
Invasion America (1998)
Sometimes good, sometimes disappointing
Technically, Invasion America was fairly impressive. It appeared to be an attempt to translate Japanese animation techniques onto North American television. In that, it was relatively successful.
Unfortunately, the plot resembled something out of a B-movie. David is a young man with an alien heritage who discovers that his uncle is planning to invade America. During his quest, he finds a presidential fort WITHOUT a working fence, asteroids that hit the earth causing explosions only slightly larger than the rocks themselves, a character who can apparently read subtitles, and villains who conveniently speak in English to each other whenever an earthling is around.
If there hadn't been so much to laugh at, this would have truly been a groundbreaking series. Sadly, at best it is a curiosity.
The Patriot (2000)
Not the greatest, but not bad at all...
For the first time in around three years, Roland Emmerich has actually managed to direct a good film.
Make no mistake, this is a film (proper); not some silly movie like Independence Day or Godzilla. Over the course of three hours, The Patriot presents a panorama of interesting three-dimensional characters, spectacular battles, and a relatively tight plot. For a change, there are no weak performances, and the film manages to break away from the Braveheart mould (something I feared it wouldn't do).
However, there are one or two flaws. While the beginning dealt with the actual historical issues behind the conflict (such as taxation without representation), modern patriotic rhetoric appeared every now and then in the middle (lines such as "Soon this will be a free country"). Also, for the first time in ages, the score by John Williams was less than inspiring, making me wish that Emmerich had used the music from Gettysburg.
All in all, though, The Patriot is a very decent film, and well worth seeing. While it isn't quite as powerful as Saving Private Ryan or Gladiator, it does stand on its own two feet quite nicely.
Final mark: 4/5; less modern rhetoric would be nice, but worth seeing.
An impressive achievement
I saw a Saturday matinee of Dinosaur in a theatre filled with an equal number of adults and children. At the end of the film, something remarkable happened.
The audience began to applaud.
In years of moviegoing, I don't think I've ever seen that happen. And, coming out of it, I had to join in. It is perhaps one of the most remarkable films I have ever seen.
The film centers around a dinosaur named Aladar, who must bring his adoptive family to safety after the extinction event 65 million years ago. He treks through the wasteland that was once a fertile continent and joins a herd looking for a mythical breeding ground that may still be untouched.
While this is a film for almost all ages, I would recommend against letting the younger children watch it. It has to be the bleakest Disney film ever produced. Not only is there on-screen death, but there is a lot of it. Aladar and his mammalian family wander through a dangerous and truly shattered world, where survival of the fittest is a reality and compassion is the ideal.
I should probably say at least one thing about the special FX; this is a dinosaur movie almost without visible FX. It is literally photo-realistic, making it the first live-action quality film to have completely computer-generated actors. Jurassic Park has not only been given a run for its money, but been beaten at its own game.
Perhaps the big criticism I would have to give is that it should have been longer by at least half an hour. The story was certainly tight and well-done, but there was enough material to go on much longer and say far more.
Still, I left the theatre feeling that I had seen something profound. Dinosaur is a truly special film, and I think it just might end up changing filmmaking in the manner as Star Wars did in 1977.
Final mark: 4/5; probably should have been longer, but definitely worth seeing.
Battlefield Earth (2000)
A grave disappointment (Spoilers)
I have to wonder if John Travolta has actually seen this movie. For all his comments, he thinks he has produced a good film version of L. Ron Hubbard's epic novel. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Somehow, it appears that all of the plot points that allowed the story to make sense have been surgically removed. The Scots who had managed to preserve their culture and higher learning are gone, replaced by primitives who are reduced to making ape noises. The three month training period for the Scots that Jonnie Goodboy Tyler is able to pull off under Terl's nose has been decreased to a week with loinclothed barbarians. The international scope of the work is also gone; all of the action takes place in the United States.
To make matters worse, the additions are nonsensical at best. The Psychlos are reduced from skilled miners to slavemasters (who are apparently highly educated). Millennia old Harriers not only work, but are learned within a week (just try this at home...). And the end features the most nonsensical leap of logic I have ever seen.
There are some redeeming features to this movie, though. It does manage to entertain for its length, even if it is impossible to suspend disbelief. The special FX are pretty decent, although nothing terribly new. The cast of Psychlos also manages to perform very well, so most of the acting is relatively good.
However, if you really want to experience Battlefield Earth, stay at home and read the book. You'll get more hours of entertainment, and the novel actually makes sense.
Final score: 2/5. It has some good acting and FX, and isn't as vile as Species 2. However, that is about the praise it merits.
A very good film to start the summer...
The first of the summer blockbusters finally arrives, and if it is any indication of what the summer will be like, this will be a great year for movies.
Gladiator tracks the career of a Roman general named Maximus (Russell Crowe), who falls from grace after Emperor Marcus Aurelius dies and is succeeded by his son, Commodus. Maximus finds himself in the arena fighting as a gladiator, trying to gain revenge for the murder of his family.
Ridley Scott's direction is simply inspired, and he is able to bring stellar performances out of his actors. Further, the art direction and computer imaging brings the ancient Roman world to life more vividly than any film before it.
Perhaps one truly great trick that Ridley Scott pulls out of his book is to turn the theatre audience into Romans. I personally found myself excited as the blood spilled onto the floor in the arena, much to my horror (I have always considered myself peaceful and civilized). One comes out of the theatre with a sense that perhaps one isn't quite as far from the brutality of the past as we all would hope.
If I have any complaint, it is that some of the combat scenes move too fast and have too much going on. The end result is that the viewer doesn't quite know what is happening. Perhaps the clarity of the battles in Braveheart would have been more helpful here.
So, the final score: 4.5/5. Definitely worth going to see.
A Dama do Lotação (1978)
Nothing special whatsoever (one or two spoilers)...
This movie has an intriguing premise, but fails utterly to make anything of it. Sonia Braga plays a woman who is frigid with her husband (no doubt because he raped her on the wedding night), and then decides to find out if she is only frigid with him by going off and having sex with strangers that she meets on a bus.
Well, there are a couple of good things in the movie. Most of the cast can act. And Sonia Braga looks good with her clothes off. Well...that's it.
It is annoying to see a movie with such an intriguing plotline turn into an exercise of watching the main character just have lots of sex. There could have been an exploration of the lives of the men she meets. There could have been comments on the human condition and married life. All of this potential, however, is reduced to Sonia Braga faking orgasm after orgasm.
Final mark: 1.5/5. Surely they could have done better...
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Not bad, but something missing...
This latest Bond outing is certainly filled with its fair share of action, humour, and beautiful women. Brosnan is comfortably fitting into his role at last, and manages to demonstrate a suitable combination of charm and menace at all the correct times.
However, there is something missing. It is almost as though the film lacks some of the vital energy that made romps like Tomorrow Never Dies, The Living Daylights, For Your Eyes Only and Thunderball so fun. For that matter, this film is almost as weak as Goldeneye (which spent more time trying to work out what it was and how to be politically correct than it spent actually being a Bond film). Right from the beginning, parts of the movie seem as though they have been put in because they should be there, rather than because they belong there. For example, the entertaining boat chase at the very beginning is preceded by a very short scene in Spain that only serves to put the timing of the opening credits off.
Although many of the characters are extremely interesting (look for Sophie Marceau as the most complicated Bond girl ever), the film somehow seems overlong, a problem that most of the earlier films never suffered.
All in all, an entertaining movie, but still, something vital is missing in this one. 3.5/5.
Joan of Arc (1999)
At least an hour too short...
This is a film that could, and should, have been an Oscar contender. A modern big-screen adaptation of the story of Joan of Arc has the potential to blow even Braveheart out of the water. This one, however, won't manage it.
There are certainly some strong performances, including by Milla Jovovich, who does have the presence to play the part. Unfortunately, while she plays it with presence, she also plays it wrong. Her Joan of Arc is so twitchy that it is almost impossible to believe that anybody would even think she could merit an audience with the Dauphin, much less command an army.
The largest problem lies with the storytelling itself. The first hour and forty-five minutes has gaping holes in the narrative and it is difficult to see how the characters portrayed get from point A to point B. Once Joan is captured the narrative finally flows smoothly, but the end result feels as though the film was originally at least an hour longer and it was cut in the most artistic manner possible. They should have left it in; this film is at least an hour too short to tell the story.
Final mark: 3.5/5.
The Time Shifters (1999)
An average, fairly intelligent time travel movie...
This movie is, happily, not a waste of time. It is fairly intelligent, and for the most part manages not to get too lost in temporal theory. The premise lies with Tom Merrick (Casper Van Dien), a former award-winning reporter now working for a tabloid, discovering that the same person was present at the RMS Titanic sinking, the Hindenburg crash, and an electrical plant fire where Merrick nearly lost his life. As he investigates, he attracts the attention of some strange agents who might be time travellers.
While the movie is relatively fast paced and manages to steer clear of too many cliches, it is unfortunately marred by a couple of gaping plot holes. However, it is nice to know that Casper Van Dien can actually act, and he manages to do a decent job on this one.
So, the final verdict: not too bad SF, and fairly good entertainment for two hours. 3.5/5
Double Jeopardy (1999)
Tommy Lee Jones in...The Fugitive?
It isn't a bad diversion for a couple of hours, but it certainly isn't special. This movie is pretty much an overly lighter version of the Fugitive, featuring Tommy Lee Jones.
The good news is that it is at least relatively intelligent. The main character, Libby Parson (Ashley Judd) only has one moment of pure Hollywood stupidity. The ways she gets out of bad situations tend to be fairly creative, and indicate that she is capable of conscious thought.
The bad news is that there really isn't anything new. Not only that, but the plot revolves around Parson's husband (Bruce Greenwood) being remarkably stupid almost every step of the way. It manages to pretty much follow every convention and almost every cliche, right up to the ending, which should have been better handled.
It really is a shame...there were so many ways this film could have been special. It could have been unconventional, thought-provoking, and at least unpredictable. Unfortunately, it is none of these things. 3/5.
An Impressive Series...
Although there is a sudden proliferation of animated series, very few of them have been incredibly impressive. This is one of them.
The plot revolves around a young mouse named Matthais, who is a novice at Redwall Abbey. He begins to hear voices from the famous hero Martin the Warrior, and must save his abbey from the evil rogue Cluny the Scourge, a rat with a blade tied to his tail. As he listens to the voices, he is drawn farther and farther towards his destiny.
Perhaps the two things which impress me the most are the maturity the show demonstrates and the quality of the animation. Redwall is not a show for younger children; there is death around the abbey, even though there is no graphic violence. And once a character dies, s/he does not come back. As for the animation, the quality is incredible. Realistic shadows are cast on the characters, and the world around Redwall Abbey is lush and green.
This is definitely worth seeing, regardless of one's age.
Dead Man on Campus (1998)
Brings back memories...
This is not a movie for everybody. The humour is very coarse at times, some parts of it are contrived, and it is obviously focused towards a university audience.
How do I know this? Because, like my friends who watched this with me, I was in a residence during my first year at Queen's University. And boy, does this movie bring back memories. What I found truly remarkable is that so much of this film rings true, unlike most teen/twenty-something comedies.
The plot revolves around a "dead man" clause (something that actually exists at several universities, including Queen's). Two college buddies find themselves failing, and after discovering that there is no mathematical way to raise their marks to a pass, decide to use the dead man clause to pass. So, they try to transfer a depressed student into their dorm room and push him over the edge; if they succeed, they get straight As.
While the movie itself isn't terrifically special (it won't win any awards of any sort), not only is there truth in how it depicts the residence experience, but almost every single joke comes across beautifully. The comic timing is great, and the movie just works. I just wish it had been longer and contained more truth, but hey, it's just a light comedy... 3.5/5.
The 13th Warrior (1999)
A solid epic...
This is not a film that will appeal to everybody. That has to be said first. It is not because of acting; in fact, if you look, you'll see that there is some fairly good acting by the principles (who have all the screen time, so the bit parts don't really come out). It is not because of the effects; the effects are actually quite good. It is because this sort of story has never, to my knowledge, been told on the screen (and yes, I have seen Conan).
The 13th Warrior is a proper Norse/Germanic epic. It is filled with larger-than-life heroes, horrifying monsters, and lots of battle and glory. There is very little in the way of romantic interest, which is not surprising in the least. The film is based on Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead, which is in turn based on Beowulf.
And as a rendition of Beowulf, it is very well done. Some vast liberties have been taken with the plot, but the spirit of the poem remains. The story is told through the eyes of an Arab traveller (Antonio Banderas) who voyages to Hrothgar's hall of Heorot with twelve Vikings led by Buliwif, the son of Hygelac. There they encounter the Wendel, bear-like monsters who are said to eat the bodies of the dead, and they battle both inside and outside of the hall.
If I have any criticism of the film, it is that at times the battle scenes are so crowded that it is very difficult to keep track of what is going on. However, if you are a fan of Beowulf and Norse/Germanic epic, then this is a must see. If not, then this will be a new and hopefully enjoyable experience. One warning, however: it is quite gory. 4.5/5
War of the Worlds (1988)
A rare gem of a series
This is one of those series that I caught in second run, and had to see all of. Rather than being cliched and boring, War of the Worlds managed to be trendy and dark, attempting to deal with mature themes and violence in an intelligent fashion all too rare today.
Perhaps the best season was the second, when the war becomes a drawn-out war of attrition, culminating in one of the most thought-provoking finales I have seen this side of Babylon 5. It is currently airing on Space in Canada, and is definitely worth seeing if you can.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
A film everybody should see...
Although it has a fairly simplistic plot, this film manages to do what only one other war film I have ever seen has done: it has recreated the battlefield so that the viewer is not witnessing it, but is a part of it. This movie features well drawn-out characters trapped in an incredibly brutal and all-too-real situation: they must survive the greatest hell ever to exist on Earth.
Their mission is to rescue one man, who is the last of his line. Private Ryan's brothers have all died in combat, and he now has a free ticket home. However, he has to be found first, and a team of soldiers led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks)travels around the lines of the D-Day invasion looking for him.
But the real reason for seeing this has nothing to do with the plot. As far as plots go, it is a fairly simplistic one, despite the fact that these basic events really did happen. The film suffers slightly as the ancient morality of "the other guys are the bad guys" sets in, making it slightly less horrifying than it could have been. However, the real reason for seeing this is the experience. The viewer is AT D-Day and the following chaos, watching as soldiers get their brains blown out before they even have a chance to get out of the landing craft. Watching this film is an experience of walking through hell, and no viewer can come out of it without being changed.
This is a film everybody should see at least once. 4.5/5.