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The Tree of Life (2011)
Self-Indulgent, and Really, Really Boring
There is basically no dialogue in this movie so you are going to spend about 2 hours watching a video with spacey music. I have no problem with that in principle, film is often at its best when it relies on visuals, but this movie lacks not only dialogue but also a story.
So what's the point of the movie? Well, I get the point of the movie and I also get that the movie demonstrates it badly and in a self-indulgent, boring way. To be generous and I suppose with the right frame of mind, you could possibly take the movie as a surreal comedy. I don't think that was the intention however.
I am surprised about the comments and ratings for this movie. The critics are wrong about this one. Avoid.
Getting Played (2006)
Awful, Awful, Awful
This DVD was kicking around the house because someone (not me) rented it. Like a dang fool, I put it on and watched the first 30 minutes or so. Then I skipped through the remainder at 2X and 4X.
This movie has no redeeming quality whatsoever. The plot is entirely predictable, the acting is atrocious, the script is senseless, the music insipid. The movie bears absolutely no resemblance to anything in the real world and it doesn't offer up any kind of legitimate fantasy either. It's not escapist entertainment because it's not entertaining.
You know those bad movies that are fun to watch? This ain't one of them. This is just a bad movie. Avoid.
Regarding Henry (1991)
Recommended Rental for Thoughtful Entertainment
Others here have provided a plot outline so I'll skip to three other points about this movie. First, this is one of Mike Nichols better efforts. For those who don't know, Nichols already has a substantial body of work. In my view, he's one of the best working directors in America today. If Oliver Stone can win the Oscar twice, then Nichols certainly deserves it again. True, Nichols usually works with good scripts, good actors, good craftspeople but then he puts the whole thing together well. Regarding Henry is an example.
Second, I give license to scriptwriters because they must condense so much into two hours or so. In real life, the changes shown in Regarding Henry would have taken several years. To make the movie work, there's an overuse of magical turning points. In real life, such changes don't occur this way. Similarly, others here have portrayed the movie as an American morality tale: Bad Lawyer Goes Good. While the movie can be viewed on that level, it's also about how someone recovers from a horrific incident. In this, the movie is reaffirming like 'The Horse Whisperer'.
Lastly, I'll reserve a comment for Bill Nunn who played Bradley, the therapist. (By the way, Bill Nunn also played in the Spidermans and even Canadian Bacon (!) but I don't remember him in any of those.) I did notice him in Regarding Henry because Nunn plays so well such a critical supporting role. Bradley the therapist was the first person to help Harrison Ford's character overcome his tragedy and bring him back into the "real" world. There's usually no money nor fame in being a therapist. But the script, to its credit, explains why Bradley is a therapist. The script also shows that life's worth ultimately is a personal value. Some people receive their income other than through money in their wallet.
Georgia Rule (2007)
Garry Marshall goes serious... but fails
Hollywood just can't get Red States, and it's almost pathetic to watch Hollywood's efforts to understand them. The idea of Jane Fonda playing an honest woman in Idaho is outrageous. Robert Redford, in "The Horse Whisperer", had the good sense to cast Dianne Wiest in the same role as Jane Fonda ostensibly played here. Jane Fonda's no Dianne Wiest. Or how about Dermot Mulroney, who plays the only acceptable male role? But he's lost and almost gay. Just like the guy who played a Mormon was no Mormon.
In this sense, Georgia Rule is all wrong. Garry Marshall is trying to do better than Robert Redford. Marshall fails. Marshall should have stuck to facile, urban, young girl comedy. He can do it, and do it well. There's an underlying, base plot about child abuse that is on, then off and then on again. Do we believe the accusations? Finally, I lost interest - I was too confused. (I can appreciate the nuance of Polanski directing Dunaway in Chinatown, but not Marshall directing Lohan in Georgia Rule.)
Nevertheless, I liked this movie, and I enjoyed watching it. I wasn't bored. Marshall knows how to direct, and make an entertaining movie.
Die große Stille (2005)
Germany's worst home video
Your friend goes to Bulgaria on a holiday and visits a monastery in the Rhodopi mountains. So enamoured with the monastery's quiet beauty, your friend films endless walks down corridors and close-ups of candles burning in the sacristie. Like most home videos, there is no commentary, no editing, shots wobble, frequently out of focus, and low light causes grainy images.
Your friend's video would be better than "Into Great Silence" because no friend would make you sit through three hours of a bad holiday video.
If people say that this movie provides a glimpse into a different lifestyle, do not believe them. If you want to understand monastic life, kneel for three hours on a stone floor instead - and keep your eyes closed. This movie pretends to be insightful but it's not. Some may find God in silence but if you haven't found God yet, you are unlikely to find the Supreme Being sitting comfortably in a cinema seat for three excruciatingly boring hours.
Man of the Year (2006)
This movie should be advertised as three for the price of one because you get three different movies: a Robin Williams comedy, a political thriller and a sort of love story. Unfortunately, all three movies are bad and the attempt to put them together in a single movie is even worse.
The Robin Williams comedy is the least bad movie of the lot but I think Williams is best when his humour appears in context. There is no context here because this is one of the worst political thrillers I have ever seen. The plot is a landfill of discarded tires.
I give the movie two stars simply because I had fun looking for Toronto landmarks. One scene was filmed in front of the new CBC building and I for one found it ironic to see the CBC logo in the middle of what amounts to a half-baked critique of the American political system.
"Get off my plane!"
Harrison Ford keeps playing the same guy over and over and over. It can't be for the money. Is it for the ego? Anyway it used to work but it just doesn't anymore. Maybe having done the role as First Husband, any other family man under attack just seems mundane.
The DVD has an interview with the screenwriter in which he explains that he wrote the script after the September 2001 attacks. So I found it intriguing that the bad guy in this movie has a British accent. Now, that's hardly a new idea. Christopher Lee made a career out of it. A highlight of this movie, perhaps the only one, is Paul Bettany as a wonderful villain. Bettany joins the ranks of Gary Oldman as a Ford nemesis. I hope Bettany doesn't get typecast.
The plot, such as it is, starts with a certain believability but then gets sillier and sillier as the film progresses. By the time you see the soccer mom and kids tied up in the back of the van - with the family dog barking beside them - the film has gone well beyond ridiculous. So, it might be fun to watch this movie with sarcastic friends suggesting new dialogue but otherwise I'd give it a pass.
Match Point (2005)
Gripping but disturbing
I went to the cineplex, bought a ticket for a movie and then realized that I was too early for its start. With about 30 minutes to kill, I went into see the start of "Matchpoint". I knew it was a Woody Allen movie and while I don't hate Woody Allen, I'm not a die-hard fan either. I prefer his early comedies, and I tend to rent his movies on DVD when nothing else seems good. So, by watching the start, I thought I'd get a sense of the movie to decide whether it would be a later rental. I looked at my watch as the 30 minute mark ticked by and decided to stay for the rest of "Matchpoint". The other movie will get the financial credit from my ticket purchase, but Woody Allen gets the artistic credit. "Matchpoint" is good, but disturbing. After watching it, and as I walked out of the cinema, I was almost angry with myself for having stayed. It's too disturbing.
The script was originally written for Long Island but then it got transferred to London. In my view, this makes for a better movie. The cold phlegmatism of class-obsessed England gives a critical twist to the story. True, this opens the movie to the expected quibbles about accents, origins, habits, expressions, country houses and so on. In a sense, the Brits who make such criticisms are just proving the truth of the film's context. The script has also been compared to "Crimes and Misdemeanours". In my opinion, the characters in "Crimes and Misdemeanours" openly reflected on their actions. In "Matchpoint", any reflection is much, much more subtle. This is Dostoievski territory.
Truth be told, Woody Allen on a bad day is better than most filmmakers on their best days. In "Matchpoint", you are in the hands of a master. Since "Matchpoint" puts an American character into a British setting, I suggest that you compare it with "Notting Hill" or "Four Weddings and a Funeral" or even "Wimbledon". Woody Allen puts them all to shame, but in a very disturbing way.
United 93 (2006)
Powerful - Works like a gripping documentary
If there were no political context to the story, this movie would still be a riveting suspense. From start to finish, it works like a well-made documentary, carefully focused on what happened and when. Throughout, the camera puts the viewer into the scene. The realism is complete.
"United 93" presents in fact two stories, unfolding simultaneously. The first concerns the events aboard the flight itself. The second concerns the reactions of flight controllers and military authorities on the ground. Many of these latter characters were played in the movie by the actual people. In both stories, the film carefully shows how all these people came to the realization of what was happening that morning. This is the film's leitmotif.
I highly recommend this movie to everyone, regardless of political viewpoint. Without editorials, the movie simply tells the story. If it has any angle, it is the confusion and slow reaction of government employees on the ground. I don't think it is "too early" to make such a movie and I didn't find this movie exploitative. ("From Here to Eternity" was made in less time, and no one claimed it was exploitative.) If art has a purpose, it surely is to engage a public conversation of events around us. This movie will certainly inspire discussion. As I walked out of the cinema in Montreal, people were already talking.
American Dreamz (2006)
This movie manages to combine Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, Britney Spears and Simon Cowell in some sort of comedy. You will definitely have to put your sense of humour on roaming to appreciate the situations. Fortunately, the humour is not scatological, and it doesn't concern adolescent angst.
I found Dennis Quaid as Bush the weakest link in the chain. He wasn't sufficiently over the top to make it camp and so his depiction of the president merely came off as immature satire. On the other hand, I found that Hugh Grant, playing against stereotype, held the movie together.
I am one of those people who finds Hollywood's standard portrayal of middle America and American politics tiresome and irritating. Nevertheless, I accepted this movie because it ultimately doesn't take itself seriously. If there's any message, it's that earnest people deserve ridicule. This movie has American politics and society as a backdrop but it's just a comedy - and the humour is a little twisted but clean. Several times, I found myself laughing out loud, only to realize that I was the only one in the cinema laughing.
Badly Done Paint-By-Number Movie
First of all, let me as a Canadian taxpayer express a minor rant. I am shocked and appalled that my tax dollars were used to make this trash. On open-minded days, I am willing to consider the idea that taxpayers should assist artistic endeavours. "Cake" is not, in any sense whatsoever, one of these endeavours.
I have no problem with formulaic romantic comedies. Garry Marshall, for example, is a modern master of the genre. What's to criticize? A Hallmark card is a Hallmark card. Well, "Cake" is a Hallmark card drawn by the worst student in a Grade 8 art class. I blame the director. The script is not bad, and the actors seem capable. Rather, the wrong take was included, or the good take never made. The direction and editing are lacking.
Lastly, I would have given this movie one star except for the few isolated points of humour. Two examples: I laughed when Heather Graham's cellphone played "Boogie Nights" and when someone suggested that the business would move to Scarborough.
Schindler's List (1993)
Masterpiece - Must See
Given the number of comments here, it is probably superfluous to add my opinion. Nevertheless, I will - to express my three points. First, this film is a masterpiece both in its content and in its style. Notwithstanding "Sophie's Choice" and other attempts to recount the Holocaust, the story of Schindler needed to be told. I am pleased that Spielberg told it and not, for example, Polanski or Scorcese. Spielberg (in some ways a Schindler himself, a guy with panache) relied on image, and feeling. (The most powerful scenes need no sound. Dialogue is often in Polish, German or Yiddish.) Spielberg tells Schindler's story without a Polanski edge, nor a Scorcese wantonness.
Second, the choice of the pre-war Hungarian song "Gloomy Sunday" lent authenticity as I watched, and has given me a reminder since. I can't hear other versions of this song now without thinking of this story.
Third, watch for the girl's red dress because that's when Schindler realizes a truth, and somehow changes. At the end, watch for the woman spontaneously touch Schindler's grave with her hand. In all this terribleness, something good survived.
Failure to Launch (2006)
Too Many Blue Eyes
You're a Guy, and you wonder if you can you see this movie with a Chick. The answer is: "Yes." You're a Chick, and you wonder whether you can invite a Guy to see this movie. The answer is: "No."
This is a Romantic Comedy. Its major flaw? It has too many, far too many, blue eyes. In this, the producers made a mistake. Ticket buyers need to dream, but they also need to identify. Most people in America do not have Blue Eyes. The producers misjudged.
So. If you are not seeking a formulaic date-night seduction, I suggest waiting until this movie comes out on DVD. Then, most 50 year old women will love it. It's a good date movie, or a title to remember for Chick-Night rental.
Awful, Awful, Awful
I am trying to think of some redeeming qualities for this film but I can think of none. The acting is mediocre, the script senseless, the music unbearable and the scenery mundane for Florida. The plot has obvious holes, needless additions and incomplete tangents. The plot twists are comparable to pushing a grocery cart up and down a supermarket's aisles.
I thought I was renting a thriller and ostensibly, that was the project's ambition. You know the type: X kills Y but makes it look like an accident and then marries Z to get the money, or some such. 'Double Indemnity', 'Body Heat', 'Matchstick Men' are examples from different eras. In the case of 'Fascination', there is a wide gulf (no, an ocean) between ambition and final result. You can also forget the allusions to sexual passion. This is no 'The Postman Always Rings Twice'.
I give this movie a rating of two stars out of humane sympathy, and because you get to see Jacqueline Bisset light up a few cigarettes. We don't see Bisset much in movies any more and cigarettes about as often.
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Buy the DVD
I think I first saw this movie on an airplane and I was chuckling all the way through. The basic premise of the movie seemed hackneyed (two northern kids get falsely arrested in the deep south) but somehow all the stereotypes were funny rather than silly.
Well, I saw the DVD in the cheap bin and I decided to buy it to watch again. It was a good decision. Now, we watch it when there's nothing else on. This movie can be appreciated over and over. I laugh at the lines and laugh at the fact that I'm laughing at them again.
They say that the difference between irony and sarcasm is the presence of an audience and this movie demonstrates that. And for awhile, I thought the movie was funny because the script plays on so many stereotypes, reversing some. After repeated viewings, I think the movie works because of the play of the main actors: Joe Pesci, Fred Gwynne, Marisa Tomei (Oscar winner for this role, well-deserved) and the minor characters, Austin Pendleton and Lane Smith. In many movies, any one of these characters would have been remarkable, but here you get them all together.
The Deal (2005)
Script Needs A lot More Work
This movie's subject matter is timely and the movie even makes an attempt, in the end, to understand how various competing interests come together in a deal. To get there though, you'll have to wade through fake Russian accents, a fake Arab country and fake due diligence conversations. The deal of the movie concerns an oil bootlegger circumventing a US government embargo. There is drama in the oil-for-food scandal and maybe even a plot for a movie, but this movie is not it.
That is to say, the movie's primary flaw is that the script is only a draft and while the idea has potential, the script needed several more revisions. There are other problems too: actors didn't get sufficient direction and the editing is sporadic at times. I had no problem with the casting. Colm Feore and Robert Loggia turn in good performances.
Hollywood has a lot of difficulty making movies about business and the few that get made usually become morality plays about greed. This movie is not really an exception - but at least here, not all the corporate suits are bad guys. I watched The Deal to the end and can say I enjoyed it, if only because it tries to deal intelligently with issues most movies ignore.
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
A False Adventure
Shortly after its release, I saw this movie in a cinema in Malta while on vacation. I thought it would be an extravagant blockbuster and rather than see a DVD version, I wanted to see it on the big screen, big sound and with an audience. I was disappointed, but I had fun finding the Maltese spots. Very small, Malta has varied geography - visible in the movie.
The movie has good costumes, and sets too. Production values are top-notch. Nevertheless, I found it boring and the sword fights bogus.
If you have read Dumas, this movie bears no relation to the novel. Do not use this movie as the basis of a book report. Characters are added, changed, eliminated. A child has a new father. Worse, the screenwriter's attempts to make Dumas more dramatic fall flat. The whole effort is an attempt to render Dumas commercial for an audience of American 17 year olds, circa 2002. This movie is a travesty, and in a few years, it will be a pathetic joke - if it is not that now.
Imperium: Augustus (2003)
For several reasons, this movie is simply awful. Other posters have listed some of this movie's historical errors. Well, I have a layman's knowledge of Roman history and even I found the inaccuracies flagrant. I usually forgive errors in historical movies because I understand that the purpose is to entertain not educate. And shrinking a long saga down to a two hour feature requires some, let's say, historical license. But this movie goes well beyond mere rounding.
There's worse. To tell a story from a distant period, the movie uses flashbacks which just make the story more confusing. Unless viewers have some prior knowledge of the period, they will quickly be lost. In addition, the movie was obviously filmed simultaneously in Italian and English with various actors being dubbed later. At times, the actors seem as if they were in completely different movies which were then edited together. In fact, this is not far wrong. The actors were obviously pasted onto a cheesy computer generated ancient Rome.
The only reason I give this boring mess any stars is because I always find Peter O'Toole entertaining. But that is no reason to rent it. If you are curious about Roman history, there are much better movies available.
Moonlight Mile (2002)
Challenging material poorly rendered
While this review is generally negative, I want to make a positive point first. Another poster here noted that 'Moonlight Mile' is so much better than, for example, the trite cartoons of Quentin Tarantino. I agree. This film attempts to deal honestly with the human condition.
But the film doesn't work. To see why, I suggest comparing it with 'In the Bedroom' or 'Summer of 42' or 'Passion Fish' which all deal more or less with similar subject matter. 'Moonlight Mile' attempts to be a Robert Mulligan movie but without Robert Mulligan. In a similar vein, the story is set in Massachusetts but in actual fact, the characters are from Hollywood.
I don't regret having rented it. The mostly B-side, late 1960s, early 1970s music is omnipresent, and I was always waiting for the next tune to come along. The movie is slow, usually serious but sometimes funny. It held my interest, but there were too many false notes.
Guess Who (2005)
Ashton Kutcher Eye-Candy
While the original scriptwriter of "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" got credit for this movie too (perhaps for legal reasons), the two films have little in common. The Spencer Tracy (or Robert de Niro in "Meet The Parents") curmudgeon character is given to Bernie Mac. I think Tracy is the best of the lot.
This movie seemed a collection of out-takes. But in my opinion, whole scenes should have been cut. I don't blame the editor, I blame the director. Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac can apparently act but they need to put themselves in the hands of a better director.
Conclusion? I admire any attempt at cross-cultural understanding but a better truth can be found in Spencer Tracy's "Father of the Bride". This movie is primarily Ashton Kutcher eye-candy. And that's about all.
Good 1940s Mystery
This movie was made about the same time, and in about the same way, as 'Casablanca'. (Very quick, in a studio, three or four main sets.) I suspect producers at the time thought 'Laura' was about as good as 'Casablanca'. Well, it's not. If you are interested in movies, you should see 'Laura' to find out why. (Some on this forum have described this movie as a 'film noir'. It is no film noir, but it does have trench coats, fedoras, scotch and cigarettes. Heck, there's even rain behind windows on the set.)
This movie deserves a remake. The story is very, very good. (It could easily be adapted to modern times.) But this specific script is horrible, and its production worse. First example? A prime suspect accompanies a detective in his investigation. (Nevertheless, Dana Andrews is one authentic personage.) Second example? Vincent Price is no gigolo. (But Gene Tierney is beautiful and she can act.) Third example? The movie becomes interesting after 50 minutes. Be patient.
Are you a film aficionado? The movie has good shots. Example? There is a remarkable shot of Dana Andrews dozing in a chair with a bottle of scotch by his head. The camera moves in on Andrews' head, then out. Without a cut, we know time has passed.
Ice Princess (2005)
Chick Flick for young girls, and young girls at heart
There is an old Richard Dreyfuss/Amy Irving movie called "The Competition" about a piano recital. More recently, there is the Baz Luhrmann movie "Strictly Ballroom" about, well, ballroom dancing. "Ice Princess" is a Disney movie about figure skating. I do not mean that as a criticism, but let's be honest. Disney rounds off the edges. Or then again and to be positive, this movie is worth a peek if you have any interest in figure skating.
This movie has an interesting subtext. The moms are jerks but the daughters are OK. And by the end, the moms finally come around to understanding what their daughters truly want. I have a vague suspicion that many girls will say - for a variety of reasons - that the movie is not cool. But they'll get and secretly appreciate this message. (As an aside to moms, Kim Cattrall and Joan Cusack play the moms to perfection. Picture perfect pros. If you're a dad, yes, you can take your daughter and her friends to see this.)
My honest criticism? This movie has an excess of estrogen. All the lead characters are women, in fact all the characters are women - save one boy who drives a Zamboni. Given all the movies with an excess of testosterone, a balance seems appropriate. But I would prefer a balance within films themselves, not between films. In a few months, this'll be a sleepover rental for the 12 year old crowd, or aspiring Olympic figure skaters. But it's worth a peek now.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Remarkable War Movie with a Message
A close Russian friend, a one-time tank commander, made me think seriously about this movie. He said, "The first 20 minutes of 'Saving Private Ryan' make all other war movies look foolish." He then continued, "For example, that Hollywood movie 'Memphis Belle' is so silly." Well, I happen to think 'Memphis Belle' is a good movie. And I must say that Spielberg copied the "Hollywood" war-movie style of Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove".
Technical issues or even realism aside, the underlying message of "Saving Private Ryan" is so strong, so well-put, and so human, that in my view it defies objection. I have wandered too many war cemeteries to think otherwise. "All Quiet on the Western Front" is also a good war movie but it makes the case for pacifism. The basic message of "Saving Private Ryan" is not pacifist at all. It's something else altogether. But I suggest you see it and draw your own conclusions.
Lastly, "Saving Private Ryan" is so well-made that it bears repeated viewings. But if you dislike war movies, then you should still watch this movie once, if only for the message.
Reality Bites (1994)
"Let's put on a show!" - Andy Hardy in the 1990s
Coming of age movies are one thing, but movies in which a bunch of kids hang out and do goofy things together are another. "Beach Blanket Bingo", "The Stawberry Statement" and "The Breakfast Club" are randomly chosen examples from the past. Since such movies must have young actors, they often launch careers. I don't know if Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland started it all but they're the example that comes to mind. "Reality Bites" also has the similarity of putting on a show; in this case, a video.
I had heard of, but never seen, "Reality Bites" before. Well, I saw it recently on VHS and true, I must admit that it has many cultural references to North Americans born in the late 1970s. But I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless.
In my view, the movie has fortunately no over-riding message. It is ultimately various life slices with various sub-plots. I enjoyed one subplot in particular because of the actor. It involves a hypocritical TV morning man played by John Mahoney. He's always good and his performance here is no exception. Such professionals make for good movie-making. And this movie, I must say, is well-made. Hats off to the scriptwriter.
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
One Train Wreck of a Movie
First of all, to declare my colours, I am not a great fan of Tom Wolfe's writing style but I thoroughly enjoyed "Bonfire of the Vanities" and consider it one of the better American novels of the end of the 20th century. It was well grounded in a time and place. I'll add too that I've never particularly liked Brian de Palma films (too stylized and in my view, there's no there, there).
Sooooooo, anyway. This movie is a mess. And the question is why? (This is a fun game to play with monumental flops such as Waterworld, Heaven's Gate, Ishtar.) In the case of "Bonfire of the Vanities", was it the casting? The script? Inappropriate music? I'd go with direction. If I can make a really dumb comparison, this movie is like receiving a Lamborghini but delivered as an IKEA kit. It winds up as beautiful parts lying on the garage floor.
For anyone tempted to see this movie, I strongly suggest reading Julie Salamon's well-written "Devil's Candy" beforehand. (Check it out on Amazon; the book follows chronologically the film's production from the beginning to the end.) Since the movie is so bad, you're not going to enjoy watching it anyway. But Salamon's book is so good that watching the movie almost turns it into a documentary. Various scenes and small roles take on new meaning. I guarantee you'll rewind to watch again the shot of the Concorde landing and then realize that somehow, it's a metaphor of what went wrong.