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Red Dragon (2002)
I am the Red Dragon. Do you see? I am another pointless re-make. Do you see? I am a cash cow. Do you see? Yes I see!
Boo, hiss, another remake (sort of). There're a few I've enjoyed, such as `John Carpenter's 'The Thing' and `Cruel Intentions' but generally they're an inferior lot to their original (say hello `Vanilla Sky'! Say `Hi there!' Gus Van Sant's `Psycho'). Maybe this would be an exception though - it's got a good cast and it's just another adaptation of a book, not solely a remake. However `Manhunter' (the original movie of `Red Dragon') was pretty good. so was this a worthy new version? Nope.
Plot? It's based on a book so it can't gain much in the way of points: Lector (Hopkins) was captured by Agent Will Graham (Edward Norton), but only after nearly fatally injuring Graham and causing Graham to leave the FBI. Graham now must seek Lector's help in solving the murders caused by the mysterious Tooth Fairy killer (Ralph Fiennes). Lector weaves his mysterious web, and Tooth Fairy his mysterious ways. Can X stop Tooth Fairy and, can he stop himself being embroiled in the beguiling evil of Lector?
Let's take a look at the acting. Critics seem to be in two camps about Hopkins returning as Lector here - masterful or woeful. I'm leaning more towards the latter. While Hopkins has made the refined gentlemen insane killer his own. there's something lacking here. It's as if Hopkins isn't trying to reserve himself too much. There's almost a gleefully camp element to the manic psycho. Sure Lector is intense, but his intensity here is too much visibly in the fore and voice, rather than in the sharp glittering of the eyes that `Silence of the Lambs' gave us. Norton is as good as ever. He's never bad. He's able to perfectly give all the motions required and do them convincingly. Witness the talent he clearly has when he switches character roles, towards the end. It's not just a tone of voice - Norton has the ability to convert his whole body language subtlety (check him out in `The Score'). However, and I hate to be critical of Norton, I'm not sure this is the ideal role for him. It's a fault of his youthful look more than anything else - the part calls for a darker, older, more embittered character. Now Norton can play dark (`American History X') but he can't artificially add age to himself. It's a shame because otherwise he is as wonderful as ever.
Ralph Fiennes is unnerving as the Tooth Fairy. There's a wonderful insane quality in his performance, as if it's permanently itching under the skin even when he's being relatively normal and trying to pursue a romance (which is surprisingly touching). You cannot help but feel empathy for him. When he's in his Red Dragon persona (and utterly mad), he's also good - his voice rings with sincere conviction, supreme belief in himself that he cannot find elsewhere. Well done today Fiennes!
However Brett Ratner, directing here, doesn't let `Red Dragon' live. It's all a bit too clean, a bit too austere. In his original adaptation, Michael Mann realised the darkness inherent in the movie. `Red Dragon' is a bit too clean, a bit too refined. It needs more edge and grit. The pacing is somewhat weak and certain elements become frustrating - such as waiting for Graham to pick out the way the killer knows his victims, despite the audience having been told an hour previously. That's weak. The burning chair moment, and others, are never handed with enough `oomph'. Perhaps it's knowing how the original went that spoils any tension here, because I never felt that involved in the proceedings. Nothing innovative was used - it was all handled with competence that left me indifferent. Never a bad movie, `Red Dragon' never really became a good movie either. I had expected more but it never got delivered. 6.1/10.
My Little Eye (2002)
My little cynical eye - different, reasonably refreshing movie that falls apart by the end
It is reasonable to describe this movie as Big Brother done with the style of the Blair Witch Project, although it would be unfair to label this movie as a Blair Witch Project seeing as how it implies that every horror movie done in a `documentary/realism' style with unusual camera positions is an actual homage to that movie.
Set-up here is pretty simple: 5 people in a house. Must stay in house for six months. Cannot ever leave the house at night. If any one person leaves they all lose and do not get the one million dollars awaiting them at the end. Grand. However, surprise ahoy, things start going weird towards the end and they must begin to wonder: Who is paying to view them? Why are they bothered? And will any of them survive?
Problems with the movie abound. Firstly we've dull characters. Some are so dull they blend into one another and become hard to distinguish, which is rather unfortunate since we're meant to. Only one character - the paranoid cynic - had any `depth' to them and their role was way too obvious. Sorry you can't misdirect me like that, I've seen it before and done better. Secondly we've got the structure of the movie. The first two-thirds are a hit and miss affair with tension. The `jump' moments are too sparse, too unconnected. There's an atmosphere built up by them, which has dissipated too much before the next event. It doesn't create unease so much as a greater indifference towards the movie. The final third is too derivative of the `hack-and-slash' genre and adds nothing to it except for an ending, which I admittedly enjoyed.
It's not all bad though. There is the way the movie is done. It's viewed primarily through web cams. Thus we're treated to some interesting point-of-views and techniques as the cameras focus on the participants. There's a nice night-vision element where everyone is in green with eerily lit eyes. There're also some nice sounds via a white noise effect. Some found this grating, but I found it more effective in creating a sense of things being off kilter than the traditional orchestral effect. There's an ending which made me smile and, despite their scarcity, one or two relatively decent `jump' moments. The sense of it being just that bit different helps lift it out of forgettable mediocrity but it cannot elevate it to a description of being good. I think a 5.8/10 is about fair.
One Hour Photo (2002)
`Snap' up this film with Robin Williams in great acting shock!
Well this movie proves one thing - `Insomnia' was not a one-off for Robin Williams. He's capable of doing dark roles and doing them very well. In `One Hour Photo' he plays Seymour Parrish, a photo developer, who becomes obsessed with pictures, and the family, of one his clients. How far will this obsession go?
Well I won't spend an age talking about the plot. There's not too much there - more a gradual decline by Seymour as his obsession with the Yorkins grows. There's an element of Yorkin being crazy - having visions. The photos of course act as a tool - showing how Seymour can only relate to people from a distance, contemplating from afar. There's a great sadness in them. Much of this is helped by an excellent performance by Robin Williams. He carries Seymour with a great sadness in him - in his eyes, his posture, and the lines on his face. Even when angry, you can see Williams is showing that the anger is directed not so much at the person in front of him, but at the ghosts of his past. This movie is essentially about Williams and that's one of the problems. No one else really gets a look in. Sure we see the Yorkins but we mostly only see them through Seymour. We don't ever really get to know them and so we cannot empathise with them as Seymour's obsession grows. It's a flaw but it's not a killing blow.
Mark Romanek, who wrote and directed, shows some nice skill with the set-up of scenes. Seymour is decked out in light colours - typically cream. Dressed blandly and inoffensively, he blends into the dull workplace and home. He doesn't want to be seen. He also allows a bit of humour into the movie, with Seymour's wonderful discourse about his customers' photo habits. It not only alleviates the tension in a generally downbeat movie, but allows Seymour to become than the brooding-weirdo cliché. The movie is structured in a relatively conventional scene, recounted in flashback form with Seymour at the police station. It allows the audience to wonder how he got there - and is it for the reasons we think. The final few minutes are very satisfying as a result.
`One Hour Photo' is very character based and succeeds because of (and not in spite of) Robin Williams' performance. You cannot help but feel sympathy for this man and watch with sadness as his tale unfolds. Shot well, scripted with enough care that you are left bored, it's a movie that - while not maybe worthy of many viewings - is certainly worth seeing. 7.5/10.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Engaging piece of romantic fluff
Bridget Jones works in publishing. Her mother is constantly trying to find her a man, none of which have ever worked out. She fancies her boss, despite knowing he embodies every quality in men that she despises. She starts to keep a diary of her life, and how she plans to re-organise it to achieve her goals. We get to follow her along on her journey.
`Bridget Jones's Diary' was far more engaging than I had expected. It's as deep as a wet piece of paper and you know how it winds up within the opening minutes. Nonetheless the characters - thinly sketched as they are - are enjoyable. Special note goes to the titular character, played wonderfully by Renee Zellweger. She effuses her character with warmth and an indescribable cuteness. You feel affection towards her and want her to succeed. She has a genial clumsiness and awkwardness that's very endearing because it grounds as being more human than a lot of other rom-com efforts - she could be one of us. Hugh Grant went against his foppish norm (as he did again successfully in `About A Boy') to play her shallow but charming boss. Gone are the stuttering mannerisms that launched Grant's career - he's playing someone far more astute and assured here and it works well (though not as well as in `About A Boy'). He's ultimately not up to too much but he's entertaining. More fun is the secondary love interest - Darcy, played by Colin Firth. There's a great air of cynical observation off of him, a nice balance to Bridget's own self. A quiet, fairly reserved man, he's got far more pride and standards than Cleaver (Grant). There's also good chemistry between all three, which helps greatly as the film becomes a love triangle. They're fleshed out by a fairly forgettable support cast, with only Bridget's heart-broken father (played by the excellent Jim Broadbent) making an impression.
The script is quite witty and funnier than I would have expected. Naturally it's often from character observation but there's a nice dash of physical humour there. Watching Bridget and Darcy make the most inappropriate choice of comments this side of the BBC's `The Office' is a lot of fun. Sharon Maguire, in the directing seat, adds a few nice touches, such as the onscreen appearance of extracts of Bridget's diary. They all help add to the warmth. The locations, set designs, naturally reflect their characters well, if a little simplistically (clean cut designs for shallow Cleaver, disorderly haphazard for Bridget, etc.). The pacing is spot on so you're never bored, even as you await the inevitable. I'm not sure if it would stand up to repeated viewings but it certainly would point me to seeing the sequel and recommend it as one of the finest examples of the (typically woeful) rom/com genres. It's no `Amelie' but it could be the next best thing in recent years. 7.0/10.
Great suspense marred by preachy overtones and awful finale
Shyamalan please don't preach at me! - That's one of the first things that I think of when I reflect on `Signs'. I hate preachy movies.
`Signs' is a good flick. In the year of 2002 when a good flick is virtually non existent, it was a nice and welcoming relief. It's the story of an ex-preacher, Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), who lives out in the cornfields with his son and daughter, grieving over his dead wife. Suddenly crop circles begin to appear in his corn and strange goings on happen. It's a `sign' of stuff happening. But what is happening? What are the crop circles appearing everywhere indicating? Is it some other worldly force? And can Hess pull himself out of his despair and fight them? Hmmm.. Well - can he?!
Acting here is all solid. Gibson isn't called to stretch himself - look angry here, look sad there, shoulder a burden of grief, question his faith, and so on. He's still well cast in his role though and never really lets the side down. The two kids are quite good. One is the Cute Girl #3 act going for, but we can expect that. It's Hollywood. Rory Culkin, as the young son Morgan, is actually one of the best surprises of the movie. He has a remarkable maturity to his acting, and is very believable as a quiet, introverted son. Hope he gets more work for himself, unlike his brother. Speaking of brothers, Joaquin Pheonix plays Gibson's brother, Merrill. He's there to provide the more light-hearted elements later on, but also as a foil to Gibson's taciturn nature. Pheonix is good, but not remarkable, failing to get into the role the way he could in, for example, `Gladiator'.
Script wise? Well there's not much of one. It's `Close Encounters of the Third Kind' meets `Night of the Living Dead'. There is some ham fisted dialogue, principally when Shyamalan (writer and director here) gets all preachy and tries to teach us A Big Lesson. It's mostly when Gibson starts moralising and pondering aloud in the tired old `why me? Why this?' routine. The moments aren't quite too far and few between to be erased from my memory and it does detract from the enjoyment at time. I can watch a movie without being talked down to. Oh and that little bit with Pheonix's character? Too heavily fore-shadowed and sign posted. Subtlety is lacking in this script.
That subtlety is lacking in the script is strange because it's certainly not lacking in the directing. It's what makes `Signs' move from an average movie to a sharp little thriller. Shyamalan uses a nice slow build up, that's ever increasing the paranoia and the tension. Wisely he eschews ever taking the camera much further than the farm land, creating a sense of isolation to the viewer. The jumps are not obviously sign posted, and dramatical music cues are minimalist to score maximum effect. The camera work is tight and focused, building up the eerie tension, and the lighting is spot on, with just the right level of creeping darkness. The sound work - sharp, crisp - is also very good. I don't think I've ever jumped so much at a cinema screening and it's a credit to the movie that it made me do that. It's only let down at the end with the weak ending and incredulous plot device. Still fair dues to Shyamalan for using his director's chair well.
`Signs' is one of the best movies of 2002. Now that's not saying a whole lot as there's been little good (I'm pinning all my hopes on `The Two Towers') but this is certainly a movie worth seeing with the lights turned down. It can't be a classic due to some hammy writing on Shayamalan's part, and its obvious roots, but it's a very effective little thriller (in the scare sense) and worth your time. 8.0/10.
Road to Perdition (2002)
Pray for Michael Sullivan. Pray he gets a better script next time!
`Road to Perdition' is a gangster movie. Tom Hanks is Michael Sullivan, a gangster working for John Rooney (Paul Newman). He has a nice little family where the kids are unaware of what daddy does for a living, despite some homely moments where they question him. Unfortunately one of his sons, Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), sees him on the job. Rooney is worried what this might do if Michael Jr. spills the beans. what happens next! Go see the movie!
Firstly credit to Hanks. About time he tried a character with more grit as opposed to the lily-livered roles he normally adopts. He works quite well as an efficient murderer whose only true love is his family (whom he has grown distant from - what do you think the chances are that he gets closer over the movie as he learns a valuable moral lesson?) He's not 100% convincing - he looks too charming - but he almost gets there. Hoechlin, as the young frightened son, is quite good and Newman fits into his role as sad, old, man with aplomb. No problems with the cast here..
However Mr. Script has a lot to answer for. How are you doing Mr. Script? You're a bit obvious and cliché ridden aren't you? Perhaps this is because of the movie's graphic novel roots, but I felt let down here. The ending, for example, is heavy-handed and extremely obvious to any casual viewers of cinema. The moralising and family values segments are too limp and uninspired - there's only one inevitable course of action and that's the root the film takes. There's also the anvil-subtlety of the dual meaning of the film's title. While the actors do good jobs with their parts, their characters are often feeling a bit flat, trying to add depth solely through a tenuous `family' thread that runs in the movie. It means there's a lack of suspense in the movie and that's not good.
What is good is Mendes direction. In fact it's very good. There's one particular scene, towards the end of the movie (so I can't reveal it), where there is a superb use of lighting and sound to highlight a particularly eventful moment. The movie - it's a periodical - looks the part throughout, with good costumes and scenery. There's some nice directorial touches in the movie (corridor viewpoints, etc.) and Mendes once more has a beautiful score that recalls his work on `American Beauty' (well it would - same composer). The pacing is generally spot on, and there's no real flaws here that I could detect that upset me from a production point of view.
So `Road to Perdition' stands out because it's made nicely. If it had had a better script than it did, it would have been a very good movie. As it is, the forced characters and thin plotting lets it down. Still one of the best of the crop in a very weak year for movies. 7.0/10.
A weak entry in the over crowded mob/gangster genre
I expected a lot more from `Scarface' than I got. I expected something sublime and intelligent. What I got was gaudy, ostentatious, weakly directed, and pretty mundane material. Oh well.
Al Pacino is. being Al Pacino in this. Look at me - I am a hard edged Cuban! Look at my accent and my ability to be unfazed my murder! His accent here grated on my nerves throughout the movie, sounding too thick and enforced. Michelle Pfeiffer, as Love Interest, barely registered a flicker in my brain - look she's steely but also vunerable. Yawn. In fact the characters here all seemed wafer thin (depth wise). With the likes of `The Sopranos' fleshing out deeper gangster mob members, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the people here and - fatal flaw - didn't care what happened.
The trouble is that Brian De Palma seems to screw this movie up that bit more. It's mired in eighties culture, making it seem already outdated in the way that more skilful directors would never let their creations go. The suspense is laughable as the overwhelming score has the subtlety of a large number of anvils. The camera work similarly made me curl my lips in distaste. De Palma got nominated for a Golden Raspberry award here - I can see why. Cringe inducing Brian.
Is the movie then thoroughly awful? Well no, it's not. It's watchable. The script isn't up to much either of course, as the whole drug empire thing has been done before, with more brains and creativity behind it (sorry Mr. Stone!). It's all just so. forgettable. The only moment that made me smile was the ludicrously over the top finale with the quotable (and ham fisted delivery): `Say hello to my little friend'. Oh well, better luck next time. 4/10.
Rear Window (1954)
Excellent. Sharp, clever, funny, inventive, with great values all round.
Ah it's a movie that's in IMDB's Top 20, and it has good reason to be. For starter's let's look at the simple premise - James Stewart is L. B. Jeffries, a photographer who is currently recovering from an injury on assignment. With his broken leg he's stuck in his apartment, with nothing better to do than spy on his neighbours and be visited by his girlfriend, Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly), his officer friend Wendell, and his nurse, Stella. Jeffries observes the coming and goings of the various apartments he can observe (from his rear apartment window) and it is one of these - a Raymond Burr - who draws his attention because. could it be that the man has committed some heinous crime? Let's find out.
One of the beautiful things about the movie is its superb use of location. The whole movie, bar a couple of brief scenes, is set in the apartment. This would seem claustrophobic but Hitchcock never inhibits us like this - he lets us escape through Jeffries binoculars and camera lenses, and his roving camera swoops down to let us see what the characters see (but never, thankfully, anything more than that - this is how you do suspense!). The set design is wonderful - the apartment is just the right size and is nicely laid out. However the real praise is for all the other apartments visible to Jeffries - an actual habitable set with multiple stories where characters can be observed only as they pass by their own windows (yeah, they don't care much for curtains). There's a sense of individuality gone in to each home, despite the fact we can only see barely elements of each. This is helped by a nice, differing range of characters inhabiting each and going about their daily lives - there's a mini soap-opera contained in the movie, all observed at a distance. Excellent stuff.
Acting? It's great here. There's some nice depth to the characters here, with them feeling like actual real people rather than slick one-dimensional tags. Stewart is very proficient in this type of role - he was born to it - and Kelly proves she is more than just a pretty face, managing to effuse her character with both grace (*groan*) and steel. Even supporting characters like Stella are good (she has a wickedly black sense of thinking that's hilarious). What's so incredible is that the characters we observe from a distance in the other apartments (and with whom we never actually interact with) have as much depth as most main characters in movies nowadays. Excellent script and acting in this movie.
I've already praised Hitchcock's set location and camera work, so I won't prattle on about him much more. He does a stellar job here and, in my opinion, this is the best piece of work he's done (that I've seen). It's virtually flawless and you're never let down (or bored). Well done. It's a shame he lost out on an Oscar (although he did have tough competition that year with `On the Waterfront').
`Rear Window' is a great example of how you can successfully have sharp acting, script, and directing and not feel the need for a slew of swear words and gratuitous violence. Regarded as a classic, and deservedly so. 9.1/10
Not frail, but quite strong
This movie's trailer intrigued me, with its interesting premise. To whit - there's a man, played by Bill Paxton. He has two sons - Fenton and Adam. One night, Dad gets a visit from an angel. The angel tells him to kill demons - demons that are in the guise of people. Now Fenton thinks his Dad is insane, but he seems helpless to stop him. Is Dad insane? And how does this relate to Fenton today, who's just starting to confess his story to an FBI officer?
The acting here is pretty spot on. Paxton is very focused and determined in his role as Dad. He's absolutely unwavering in his beliefs, to a frightening degree. Paxton looks the part, with his deep set eyes and accent. It's the kids who put in the great performances. Young Adam, played by Jeremy Sumpter, is excellent. He's an unwavering, unquestioned belief that his father is right. It's spooky seeing this conviction in a little child, but Sumpter pulls it off brilliant, balanced by an extreme innocence. Matthew O'Leary, as the young Fenton, is equally excellent. He's able to do emotions of pain, hurt, fear, anger, as well as many of his adult peers and shows a promising career here.
The directing is grand, if per functionary. The camera work is fairly flat, but Paxton at least attempts to work with the lighting - heavy use of shadows, having both visual and - obviously - metaphorical relevance. There's a lovely score to it, very haunting and atmospheric. Paxton uses this, and his shadows, to create a movie that's nearly unrelentingly bleak. It's a dark and sombre piece, and won't raise many a smile.
`Frailty' is good because it had my mind working - is it all in Dad's head? Is it real? There's a number of twists, which come pummelling in at the end, which are - in retrospect somewhat well sign-posted. Still I enjoyed the story, the acting by the kids, and the atmosphere of the movie, unconventional for Hollywood mainstream. Not a classic but worthy of a looking, for a different version of the tired killer genre. 7.4/10.
Star Wars (1977)
A legend begins. A legend that's not all it cracks up to be. Good, but definitely over rated.
Hmm. This is the sort of movie that often comes in at number one on people's all time favourites list. I pointed this out to some friends and no one I know actually think it's remotely deserving of such an accolade. All I can think is that people place it at number one out of some bizarre automatic response (what was that number 1 movie last time? Yeah, that's my favourite movie), or that it's so famous that it crops up somewhere on a lot of people's lists. It's certainly a well done, enjoyable movie, but it's equally certainly not the greatest movie ever.
Plot? Should I even bother? You've all seen it. Teenager boy saves the day (without saying `Whoopee!'). Space ships and gun battles. There's obviously some back history written here, and the story moves briskly along with all the depth of a pulp 20c science fiction novel. Indeed it's science fiction in the lightest of terms, merely using the future elements of ships, and light sabres, as a setting rather than making any conjecture about the future or the applications of science (as more hardcore science fiction tends to do). It's been described as a Western in space, and that's a fair sentiment. What's here is a very good action/adventure story, a family-fun affair. Its pace isn't quite as fast as you might expect, but the story/character building elements in between the fighting are generally okay.
The characters here are pretty shallow. There's Spunky Girl. There's Farm Boy. There's Old Wise Man. Mark Hamill can't really act his way out of a soaked paper bag, but the acting isn't all that important here. However many people excuse the weak characters as Lucas' homage to old serials - that does not wash, and is no excuse for some wooden faced performances, and hammed delivery. Fortunately the failings of some are alleviated by the likes of Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan and Harrison Ford's debut as Han Solo.
Lucas' directing varies a lot. At times it appears quite pedestrian - plonking the camera down and not doing much with a scene. However when it comes to orchestrating the action sequences, in particular the finale, his handling improves immensely. There's also a definite passion running through this piece, a sense of belief in the project. The actors, for all their skill, put their energy into the performances, giving it a needed sense of `fun'. It's all helped by some great technical elements - a fantastic score by John Williams, some great costumes, and SFX which hold up better than the jarring inserts Lucas' added in 1997. It's a polished product overall.
`Star Wars' is a good action/adventure flick. It's generally exciting, and
has a nice sense of scope and large events. It's not exactly cerebral material, and tends to be slightly flimsy while some elements leave a lot to be desired. It's fun though, and entertaining, even if it created a media behemoth. Why it's ranked as #1 by so many people is beyond me as there are better sci-fi movies, better action/adventure movies, and better epic movies. Still, I think it deserves a 8/10, and I'd recommend it.
Vanishing Point (1971)
Interesting counter-culture movie that isn't strong enough to be a classic
Plot? Ha! There's this guy driving real fast. He's Kowalski and he's a bit enigmatic. He's basically delivering a car to a customer and is trying to do it in a record time. He starts getting chased by cops and what ensues is a hectic counter-culture road race/chase movie across the US. Think `Easy Rider' with one man and a car.
Kowalski is naturally enigmatic. We don't know much about him and why he's taking these insane risks with his life and freedom. Gradually, over the course of the movie, we get to learn more about him through flashbacks and his interactions with the crazy kooky people he meets up. Yup, the country appears dotted with bizarre weirdoes, including naked bicycle chicks and snake capturing old men. Why? No idea, and it doesn't matter too much. This movie is a journey, with a stranger who we come to respect (although never really know), and we're along for the ride..
Acting's not up to much. Barry Newman, as Kowalski, looks the part - moody, and intense. He has very few lines, and that suits the character's obscure nature. The only real character of any other significance is Super Soul, a blind radio DJ mysteriously assisting Kowalski over the airwaves. He too is enigmatic - his motives unclear, etc. As such his acting seems to limit itself to dancing in his seat, flinging his arms about and yelling. Hmmm. In other movies that would earn my ridicule, but for some reason it works here.
The movie looks well. Yes, it's obviously rooted in early '70s counter-culture, but it has a very firm feel to it, a sense of identity (somewhat ironic, considering its meta-themes concerning the lone faceless individual). Director Richard S. Sarafian employs a variety of camera shots in the movie to keep the audience entertained throughout the choice. There's also an excellent soundtrack, which can only be labelled as `cool'. It perfectly matches the mood and temper of Kowalski. It's qualities like these that help disguise the flimsy nature of the movie.
`Vanishing Point' is `different'. It's enjoyable but alas it's also pretty substance less - pretty but with no real padding underneath. You can be driven along and admire the pretty pictures and sheer vibes it emanates, but you'll be left wanting if you seek any real depth. Still it's better than the over-rated `Easy Rider'. 7/10.
LOL - it a good Kubrick black comedy that doesn't quite make the grade
Ah Kubrick, courting controversy here with his adaptation of `Lolita'. It tells the tale of Humbert Humbert, a professor staying at the lodgings of one Charlotte Haze. There he becomes smitten with her 14 year-old daughter, the titular Lolita. The smitten becomes obsession becomes necessitation, and yet it's all balanced out with a humour blacker than my ire at `A Beautiful Mind' winning all those Oscars.
Humbert is played by James Mason. I'm not familiar with the original source material, so I'm not sure how accurate Mason's portrayal is. Here he starts off genial, even convincingly feigning romantic interest in Charlotte (in order to remain close to Lolita). There's a convincing sense of desperation injected later on by Mason - his movements become more agitated, eyes darting more, his voice becoming shaper. There's no real sense of credible darkness about him - more a sense of loneliness. The object of his affection, played by Sue Lyon, is cutely brattish. She knows the power she has and, even an ever so `butter would not melt in my mouth' demure fashion, she is able to abuse it to her will. Although (naturally) there's no real chemistry between the two, the two play the relationship well together and it's interesting to see how it develops later on, when it becomes less comic and more dark. The other participants, such as Charlotte and the man on Humbert's trail, Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers) are all decent characters and all acted well. Sure there's a congeniality there that was necessary due to censoring laws, but this is meant to be blackly comedic.
Kubrick again is on the ball. His talents aren't quite as strikingly shown as they are in his other works, given that he's less room to manoeuver into anything spectacularly fancy. The use of narration doesn't grate (it often would), and we're left to use our own imaginations often about what's going on, with just the subtle of clues before the camera pans away. There's a nice sense of mood used through lighting, especially later on in the movie as Humbert's obsession grows deeper (but it's Kubrick, so I expected as much). No complaints, as usual although I was not as overwhelmed as I was with the beauty he evidences in `2001' or `Barry Lyndon'.
`Lolita' is surprisingly amusing and, even if only by implication, quite risqué (check out the suggestive conversations Mrs. Schiller has with Humbert, for example). Certainly it's not immediately comparable to another movie (besides its remake) but. I wasn't left with the impressed feeling that I normally get from Kubrick. Perhaps the movie was too light, considering the possibilities, but I just didn't feel as satisfied as I expected. Still worth a catch, and above the usual mess. 7.5/10.
(Obvious comment -->) This movie kept me wide awake
After `Memento', I - and a lot of others - eagerly awaited to see what Nolan would do next. Could he repeat the success? No. Could he still do a decent movie, a cut above the rest? Yes.
It's all about a killer. A top detective, Dormer (Al Pacino), along with his partner Eckhart (Martin Donavan), is called in to assist in a murder in remote Alaska. They're assisted by the local police officer Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), who is a big fan of Dormer. Well and good. The two detectives have a secret shared between them, which allows for some creative, character building friction. You want a twist? Got it - there's a few. Firstly, there's the whole `insomnia' element - Alaska is in a 24-hour sun period, which Dormer cannot adjust to. Therefore he's constantly awake, and as the hunt continues, getting more and more tired - and more and more likely to mistake. Speaking of mistakes - he makes a big one (which I can't reveal) but which has dramatic consequences (not to mention character introspecting and building). This allows the movie to take a path, which is somewhat unexpected (for a bit), especially when we see how far Dormer is willing to go. It's all let down a bit by a final fifteen minutes which is, if nothing else, too dully Hollywood predictable. Oh well.
So the script's good but not excellent. Certainly not a patch on `Memento' as it has none of its mystery or suspense. It's essentially a cop/bad-guy story with the insomnia twist, and doesn't feature any spectacularly memorable moments. So why is it above average? The performances help for one. Al Pacino is the perfect person to play an insomniac - his drooping eyes are suited to Dormer. Yes he does his usual, appearing to sleep through his roles, but it suits the Dormer character and so he's well chosen. Swank is a bit disappointing - it's not a fault of her acting abilities, but more of a character that seems decidedly under-developed. All we know is that she's a fan of Dormer, but out to prove herself and make a mark. Not original. Robin Williams is of course the most talked about actor here, casting himself against type as a villain. He's remarkably restrained. I normally loathe his `comedy' roles, and kept expecting him to burst into goofy gestures and rambling nonsense, but he keeps himself in, gives himself a quiet dignity, undercut with a credible sense of menace. It'll make his role in `One Hour Photo' interesting to see. His character is also reasonably interesting, let down again by the weak finale.
So how does Nolan, master editor, work out here? He's good. There is a nice repeated image that, like elements of `Memento', only makes full sense later on. There're some great cuts and moments indicating Pacino's extreme fatigue - still camera work, sound being drowned out, and so forth. Certainly Nolan knows how to do his visuals and work with the beautiful Alaskan (and British Columbian) landscape to create stark images (which are, of course, also metaphorical). His use of lighting - a necessity in this movie - is good, and a nice contrast with light being used where dark would normally be the enemy. It's his work, along with the actors, that lifts up the movie into the `well worth watching' category.
I was, in the end, a little bit disappointed with `Insomnia'. It's not half as clever as `Memento', presumably having to pander more towards typical Hollywood sensibilities (it appears that it deviates from the original to make it more audience friendly). The lack of a stronger script is offset by some fine acting and assured direction. I look forward to seeing what Nolan does next, just not with quite the same eagerness as I did before this. 8/10.
A movie weeded (wedded) to interesting characterisation at perhaps the expense of a decent plot
Ah a more low-key, non-Hollywood movie. Sometimes this is a good thing and that's generally the case here.
Here we have Anthony LaPaglia as the cop, Leon Zat. He's not having the best social life - cheat on the wife, having a small midlife crisis. He's seeing a shrink for his problems . and around this operates certain other characters, such as the gay man troubled by the married man he is seeing. All these stories seem somewhat disparate and unconnected but, much like say `Magnolia', they all meet and overlap around a certain point in an amusing fashion. It's reasonably smart, although some of the twists are fairly well sign-posted and lose their surprise/humour value (although there is one thoroughly enjoyable one which had me fooled).
What `Lantana' is mostly about is characters. It's a character piece, with a few elements of drama strapped around to propel itself along. Characters depend on a dual combo of decent acting and script and fortunately `Lantana' provides both qualities. The protagonists are chiefly men, making this movie an exploration of male value systems. This can be quite funny, thanks to a sharp script. There's a wonderful dialog where one man says how he wants to cry now and then, and the other replies perfectly, `Yeah but you don't, do you?' Brilliant. None of the characters are one-dimensional, and they even manage to achieve an unusual three-dimensional aspect. They feel like people you can really meet - sometimes sad, sometimes happy, sometimes lost and confused. That allows the audience to relate to them, a key element in a character movie. As the characters develop (or as they do not), we feel we're getting to empathise with humans, rather than a three line summary of a human that Hollywood often delivers to us. There's some nuances that are both script based and actor delivered, and it all works well.
`Lantana' is not a wonderful movie, in the sense there's not enough plot always and the plot itself has some unfortunate forced coincidences. It is however a refreshing break from the turgid deliveries festered upon us by Hollywood's machine. With a good script, good acting, and an ability to portray people, I'll give it my recommendation. 8/10.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Kubrick - yay! One of the best war-based movies ever
I like Kubrick's stuff. Generally any movie he directed was several notches, in quality terms, above any other director (particularly those working nowdays). Does `Full Metal Jacket' continue to show the mastermind behind `2001', `The Shining' and `Dr. Strangelove'? Yup, it does.
As plots go. there isn't much here. I don't particularly care because the script makes up for it. `Full Metal Jacket' is very much a movie of two halves - the first half dealing with a group of conscripts in training at military camp and the hardships they endure under their `hard-as-nails' instructor. The second half is about their exploits in Vietnam itself. Fights? In 'Nam? Haven't we seen all that before? Yes, but rarely with such an experienced hand at work. And it's the camp scenes that are so wonderful.
Gustav Hasford et. Al. have produced an excellent script, particularly for the opening hour. There's barely a moment's pause before you're thrown into the screaming face of Sergeant Hartman. He's hurling abuse at his new recruits with lines so forceful and sharp they'll have you gasping in shock while simultaneously laughing in incredulity. It's the way the script runs in without a pause for breath that helps so wonderfully - and the fact that it's so powerful. It's never just about one-liners from a sergeant, it's also telling a story about how humans work under these conditions. The first half is about how they suffer under their own at home (and very well told it is too), the second half about the human condition under the duress of war. It's an interesting comparison, and a tale well told. The battle may lack some sort of overall context or resolution, but then I feel that's in keeping with the movie - it's about the individual, and not the war, and such elements cannot be easily quantified.
All the characters have a grounded `real world' feel to them, due to both the material and the versatility of the actors. R. Lee Emery is viciously delightful as the manic Sergeant Hartman, while managing to add occasional touches of humanity and a `this is for your own good' attitude through subtle gestures. Matthew Modine is the amiable lead, Private Joker, and as such balances the hard and soft edges admirably (if not spectacularly). The other stand out though is Vincent D'Onofrio as Private Gomer Pyle, the recruit picked upon by Hartman and the other cadets. There's a wonderful innocence about him in the beginning, which transforms into a frightening hardening of his soul later on. The evil/beyond-hope look he gives later on (anyone who has seen the movie will know the one I mean), remains as the most frightening look I've ever seen depicted onscreen. All in all the cast accredit themselves well here.
And so to the direction. It's Kubrick. It's good. Once more there's excellent cinematography - check out the haunting, almost claustrophobic landscapes of Vietnam. There's some lovely use of filters (that haunting blue). There's a brilliant subtle score, that's eerie when used, but never intrusive. There's a very good command of pace - the viewer is never left idle or bored, and the story (particularly in the tremendous first half) flows along smoothly. Great touches abound throughout - check out the many examples, such as the opening scene of Hartman marching right up to the recruits (and to the camera), spitting and screaming vindictive comments, almost as if at the viewer. Some may criticise the almost disconnected feeling you have in the battle scenes towards the end, but I found their stillness, their quietness, and raw power, far more effective than the flash-bang wizardry employed in tripe such as `We Were Heroes'. I can blather on about Kubrick for ages. so I'll stop now.
Is `Full Metal Jacket' perfect? Not quite because of the `two halves' syndrome. Although they do contrast and complement one another, the first half is very much the stronger half. The second feels weaker against it. In and of itself the second half would normally be regarded well, but it doesn't have the visceral power that the first does. I love both bits, but I do love one bit more. This makes the movie suffer just a little. There's so much to like here though that I can't criticise too much - and so much to cherish (especially in the lines delved out). Once more the main man succeeds. Definetely worth seeing. 9/10.
French Connection II (1975)
C'est vrai - sequels are weaker than the original
I saw this just days after `The French Connection', which allowed me to make a valid comparison about the quality of sequels, and how they're nearly invariably inferior to the original. This is, alas, no different.
Well this time we have Doyle - being hard-nosed as ever! - investing the French connection to his previous case. To this end he actually travels to France (where people are very accommodating in their speaking of English.). Again there's not much of a plot, perhaps even less so than the previous movie. In fact the movie suffers because there's a sort of forced break in the middle, an event that seems injected solely to try and get Hackman an Oscar. This drug-related storyline relating to Doyle, seems somewhat pointless - it's like the writers wanted to force character building into Doyle by having a traumatic event, rather than build it up in a more creative manner. It left a bad taste in my mouth. The rest of the movie seems to be a blend of rebelling against authority, racing around, and a few fairly weak gun battles.
Hackman is obviously acting his heart out here, particularly when his drug plotline surfaces. You can almost see him dancing about, performing his little heart out to the Academy for another Oscar. He's good, but the manner in which it was forced on his character left me uncaring. Yes, there's a raw edge to it, but it's not emotionally affecting enough. The rest of the cast, I've little to say. They did their job, without making any faux pas, and that's enough.
Problems with the script aside. was it interesting? Frankenheimer was a competent director but the script's fairly limp here. There's no spectacular chase for him to show off in, and the gun battles seem fairly tame. Perhaps it's the fact that more modern pictures and shows have spoilt me, but I never got wrapped up in the action. It seemed to just float by in a haze of Doyle being `hard' and `tortured' and a load of other adjectives applied to the clichéd tough cops of the cinematic world. Nothing struck me about his work here at all.
`The French Connection II' isn't necessarily a bad movie, but it certainly isn't a great one. It's trying too hard in places, and not hard enough in other areas. The plot's lazy, relying too much on Hackman, and the action uninvolving. It's suffering far too much from being a sequel, rather than trying to expand upon its predecessor's premise. You won't be bored watching it but don't expect to come away with anything much. 5.5/10.
The French Connection (1971)
Hard-boiled detective drama that's gotten softer with age
Hmmm. this movie was good, but I was expecting it to be a bit better. Originally it was as `hard as nails' as you were likely to get, featuring Gene Hackman as a tough cop, Jimmy `Popeye' Doyle. He'll do anything he needs to solve the case!!
The case here is about drugs. There's a French connection involved. but you may have guessed that. There's actually very little plot at all. Nowadays you would need to inject a few twists and turns - the plot here wouldn't extend much beyond a one hour showing of a TV program. It's not boring as such, or told lazily, it just gently drifts along without any real hurry (despite a couple of car chases). No particular points here - it may have been sharp and cutting edge in its day. but not now and its by those standards I am forced to judge.
Gene `I'm well 'ard' Hackman is good here. He ought to be - he won an Oscar for his role. He's very convincing as the tough-no-nonsense cop, and has a mean determined streak in him that's conveyed well. It's not the same as the surly laconic wit of Dirty Harry - this guy is genuinely hard. I can't fault his winning an Oscar for the role here. The others, such as Ray `Seaquest: DSV' Schneider all are good, but overshadowed by Hackman's energy.
Other qualities of the movie? There's a famous car chase - and it is good. It's well directed by William Friedkin (who won an Oscar here), and matches most of the car chases filmed since in terms of viewer involvement, tension, and speed (although one or two of the elements have since become clichés of the genre). Friedkin adapts a very murky, downbeat tone to the movie which works for the most, although it does make the dialog irritatingly difficult to hear at times. Certainly his work is in keeping with the script's tone, and I can see why he got his Oscar for it (though personally I thought Kubrick was far far more deserving that year). The film, being a reflection of its time, hasn't always aged that well but that can't be ruled against it too much (except in terms of its impact).
I expected more from `The French Connection' than I got. Yes the directing is pretty good, and Hackman is excellent. but there's not all that much substance to it. Being gritty doesn't qualify as actually having depth. The car chase, its most famous attribute, is well done but hardly outstanding given today's technology. It's a landmark in the sense of Hollywood rewarding a more adult movie (after `Midnight Cowboy') but not a classic. 7/10.
Reign of Fire (2002)
Not reign of dire but reign of vaguely mundane
Aptly described as `Mad Max with dragons', this movie is set in a post-Apocalyptic world, circa 2020, where the earth has been decimated by dragons, unleashed from a cave. Now small bands of people eke out a living in remote areas, hoping for the dragons to die out (as they are unable to find a sustainable food supply for their huge numbers). One of these bands is led by Quinn (Christian Bale). Food is running low and he's only barely managing to keep it together. when along comes a group of American fighters, led by Van Zan (a very beefed up Matthew McConaughey). He wants to take out the dragons. but is this a great plan or the ideas of a mad man?
You don't expect much from a movie like this so I was not really that disappointed. The script here. is passable. The reason for the dragon's existence is never revealed nor does it need to be - I was happy to accept the scenario. There've been some complaints about the pacing of the movie, with a leaden middle section. This is somewhat true - the movie contained less action than I might have expected and the characters are not quite strong enough, nor the dialogue, to push it along. It's all a bit contrived but, as I did not expect intelligence. I did not feel let down when I did not get it (although a pleasant surprise would have been good). The climatic ending. is a decent action piece. Most of the action pieces are fairly accomplished, with enough tension to get you involved (even if the outcome, and the `who loves, who dies' is quite predictable).
Acting. is nothing amazing. I did not find Bale's accent quite as jarring as other reviewers seem to have but I did not feel it was especially brilliant either. He's not got much of a character to work with here, like he did in `American Psycho' and instead it's the more cardboard cut-out action guy (trying to add dimension via a few moments of brooding). McConaughey seems to have more fun in his role as swaggering, beefy hardcore-military man - you just know he wants to have a cigar clasped between his lips. All the rest are too dimensionless to register with you (including the love interest, Alex, via Izabella Scorupco) but hey - I never expected any more.
The SFX generally hold up well and the fire breathing scenes do not appear to be the stream of computer bytes that they actually are. Director Rob Bowman directs these action sequences well, with enough edginess (from his work on `The X-Files') to make you sit up on your seat. He doesn't attempt anything outside of his skill, but perhaps should have attempted some more judicious editing in certain areas (such as pointless `character building' moments). Still I've no complaints with him otherwise, and he makes nice use of the Irish location and the tools he's presented with.
`Reign of Fire' should be taken with a pinch of salt and a laid-back attitude. It's a bit dumb but a bit fun. It's certainly the best dragon movie ever. but that's not saying much. Brainless entertainment that lacks repeat value. 5.8/10.
Bless the Child (2000)
Bless the producers of this mess - let them see the light and repent for their sins
Oh yay: Good vs. Evil. Light vs. Dark. God vs. Lucifer. Do we need another one of those? Not if it's of this weak calibre.
Look there's a child. Isn't she cute? She's `special'. She is a force for good but - oh no! - an evil man, Eric Stark, wants to take her to the dark side. By having this crucial girl on his side, he hopes to shift the power balance to the side of evil. Can the girl's aunt (who is change of her sister's daughter when the sister, a drug addict, left her at the doorstep) save the child? Will evil win? And will I care?
Script? Let's see those clichés - pack 'em in. Evil rats? Check! Old wicked nanny figure? Check! Soft-spoken-devil-figure-prone-to-angry-bouts? Check! Black garbed followers? Elite but mysterious group dedicated to God? It's a go! Flat dimensionless characters? We're going. It's all quite dull, and has been done better in many other such movies involving similar themes (`The Devil's Advocate' for one). There's a lack of tension - you know the outcome from the outset and I, quite correctly, picked out those marked for death and those for life. No surprises and lots of `oh whatever'.
Acting? I'm not sure why Bassinger selected this script (for the reasons above). Certainly she's the best thing here but she still seems tired and worn throughout the movie (never mind the fact her character often displays the common sense of a congenital idiot). Rufus Sewell - the force of evil - is the usual smiling, collected, sort that was far better portrayed by Pacino in `The Devil's Advocate' (and even by Gabriel Byrne in the weak `End of Days'). Christina Ricci puts in a nice small role here, but alas she's not on screen long enough for us to enjoy. As to the girl at the centre of the fight, the would-be-pawn of God. she's actually not that great (or at least wasn't created well). She smiles, gives an odd look, is quiet and so forth in an attempt to appear mysterious. I was not buying it, and found the whole act mundane. And Jimmy Smits, the detective helping Bassinger find her kid, looks like he walked straight off the set of 'NYPD Blue' so judge him from his work there.
`Bless the Child' is contrived and weak, adding nothing new to its genre in any shape or from. It's not quite dull but you do not care less about the characters (try as the cast might). It was not worth my time and it won't be worth yours. Don't bother. 2.5/10.
End of Days (1999)
End of [Arnie's Acting] Days
Oh dear. An Apocalyptic movie. End of the World is nigh - run! RUN! The Devil is loose and only Arnie, as Jericho Cane, can stop the devil (in the form of Gabriel Byrne) from consummating with Christine York (Robin Tunney) and bringing about `the end of days'. Ho-hum.
Acting. It's Arnie. Here he's not quite trying to be the cardboard-cut out action hero. Instead Cane is the washed-out alcoholic-dead-family cop, lifted from the book of Character Clichés. He's not all that sympathetic, and I ended up not caring all that matter if the world was over-taken by Satan. Arnie uses all his power to invest something into a character with more dimension than his typical role and he succeeds. well actually he doesn't really. He's Arnie, and couldn't act his way out of a wet paper bag. Who cares though, we didn't expect the loveable lug to succeed. Better is Gabriel Byrne, playing the calm and collected devil whispering sweet temptations into Arnie's ears. It's a melodramatic, and reminiscent of Pacino in `The Devil's Advocate' but Byrne seems to be having a bit of fun with the Satanic persona, and it's a laugh to watch. Tunney deserves mention only for the fact she appeared in a movie and did very little with her flat, weak, portrayal of the devil's bride. She's very forgettable.
Plot wise the story is a bit of a joke. It rambles and mutters about the forthcoming end in a cryptic manner. It tries to pass of an act of obfuscation as hiding something more intelligent than is actually there. The truth is that there's a weak mess of contrived coincidences, pointless plot devices, and clammy characterisation being desperately sold off as eerie and creepy. Sorry, showing some religious iconography and blathering about mystical conjunctions doesn't create substance and only thinly disguises the lack of meat beneath. Later on in the movie things happen with even less-of-a-reason, with greater and more momentous events flung about in an attempt to give a sense of scale. It doesn't quite work because the whole thing does not gel well together, and you're left feeling that people are milling about the place, waiting for the final showdown (which is reasonably entertaining).
The directing isn't up to much. The lighting is too murky at times and, in one scene, dreadfully confusing. This is further hampered by some overly-zealous editor, who tries to spice up some fights by cutting every few seconds. Thus the film seems disjointed at times, confusing not in plot, but visually. Sure we need darkness and religious paraphernalia dotted all over the place. but do we need such an abundance of them? Is there a need for a million candles? It's not like they're used as effectively as a lighting source as they were in `Barry Lyndon' now.
`End of Days' is not a disaster. It's just not very good. Arnie's acting is laughable, and the movie is not nearly as cohesive as it should be. The action scenes, due to some poor directing, are never exciting and I didn't really care too much about the characters. There are some fun moments, but in a cheap-forgettable sense. A 3/10 seems more than fair. Don't push yourself to catch this one.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Fairly Funny Time at Ridgemont High
: I was encouraged to see this because it was hailed as one of the best `teen comedies', a genre revived more recently by `American Pie'. This is an amusing but also touching tale of a bunch of teenagers caught between childhood and adulthood (as teenagers tend to be..).
The characters are, naturally, disparate (they always are). You've got the geek, the tender one, the surfing one, the `cool cat' one, et cetera. All these stock types can be bland but, when done well, really flesh out a movie. As in `American Pie', this is an example of the combination working to good effect. The issues dealt with, mild enough by today, were quite controversial for its time. They touch on concepts of underage sex, drugs, employment and so on and their relevance still resonates - despite its founding in 80s culture, the movie still has something to actually say. Cameron Crowe's script - based on his own book - is sharp. The characters actually have a depth (rather than being a one line joke as it is too often) and the humour is gentle, rather than of the bodily-fluid nature. The film is never preachy, merely saying, `This is how it is' and moving on. The structure is fairly conventional - follow a set of characters over a long period, and see how they fare in a final big event, but again that's okay.
Acting is quite good here, especially considering the genre. This is of course helped by some of these actors, such as Sean Penn and Nicholas Cage, having gone on to do bigger and better things with their talents. They all have a warmth and even Mike (Robert Romanus), who could appear sleazy if portrayed poorly, comes across as an ultimately affable man who is a good guy. The non-teen cast, principally the teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) are all good as well and the only problem I may have is the occasional eighties styling (principally the haircuts and outfits) which tend to make me feel one step removed from the characters (but that's not a fault of the actors).
`Fast Times at Ridgemont High' surprised me with its depth. I had expected farce, but I got some genuine thought and characterisation, along with the requisite humour. It's not quite the laugh-fest I expected but it was good viewing. It still has meaning for today, although time has dulled its sharpness somewhat. Not a must, but certainly - given its short length - a good maybe. 6.9/10.
A close encounter of the decent kind
Before `Spielberg' decided to drown his movies in sweet sugary syrup, he was able to make films with a bit more edge. `Close Encounters of the Third Kind' is one of these successful efforts.
Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) works fixing electricity lines. One turbulent night, while on the job, he has a close encounter, along with some other people. After that he is haunted by a need to be somewhere else, and a strange vision he cannot comprehend. People all across the world see and hear mysterious things and the world stands ready to greet visitors from afar..That's all fairly conventional but thankfully `Spielberg's' script (check out the trivia for that) has a nice global feel. Most of Hollywood's concept of global is having America vs. Some Evil Foreign Country, or Americans running around in Some Silly Foreign Country. Here the script embraces the world - one of the leads is a Frenchman. who even speaks French! Shock! At the same time of feeling that events are shaking the world, Spielberg also allows us to concentrate on the human level. This is most present in Neary's storyline. His visions become a case of OCD, which causes very real family problems. They're refreshingly free of the sentimental twaddle that he sometimes coddles his movies in, and actually have a very believable air to how a family would act given Neary's increasingly odd behaviour after his encounter. The government plot strand, about their own efforts to contact the alien life forms, does not need to have the irritating current trend of paranoia. Thank God for that. And the aliens themselves? Sure, they pander to the generic `glowing-things'. but given the background story its acceptable and portrayed quite well.
Acting wise there's nothing out-standing here. Dreyfuss is the most noticeable, due to his screen-time, and capably gives us the image of an ordinary man caught in (cue Hollywood voice) extraordinary circumstances. As the characters that are being played are all relatively normal, free of the gravitas that films generally imbue in them, there's not as much room to push the limits of character acting. What we have though is typically fine, except for a somewhat mawkish performance by Melinda Dillon (Oscar-nominated or not, I still didn't care for it).
Spielberg does the old `imbue-a-sense-of-wonder' trick here that he does so well, in the likes of `E.T.' and `A.I.' There definitely is a feeling of something fantastical, and wonderful in this movie. One of the key elements is the simple intonations done to signal the aliens - perhaps the most famous musical moment from a movie that isn't actually a soundtrack moment. Simple, but effective, and Spielberg matches it by keeping such scenes pure and uninterrupted. The cinematography is great (it won a deserved Oscar) with a great sense of scale about the whole effort (particularly at the end), as well as some superb lighting moments (the command centre, for example, really does feel like it's in a hollow from the way the light falls). Kudos to Spielberg for doing a polished effort again.
`Close Encounters of the Third Kind' deserves respect for being a more polished and intelligent movie than the majority of its peers. It has wonder that is sorely lacking in the flash-bang quick-edit of today, and a finale that, as a result, ultimately works and makes you look up above. It may lack in a on-the-edge-of-seat tension, but it should be seen. 8/10.
Not so much a feast as a mildly satisfying snack
: Being a sequel to `Silence of the Lambs' and the (very much) under-appreciated `Manhunter' was a tough act to follow. Could Ridley Scott, with a Mamet adaptation of Harris novel do it? No, he could not.
Clarice Starling has moved on ten years. For one she's body-morphed into Actress Juliane Moore. For another she's heading up a drugs bust, which goes pear-shaped. Disgraced, Starling is set to work on the case that gave her her fame - that of Hannibal Lecter and his purported reappearance. Is he back? Can she stop him? Are you hungry? Well the movie has a `two halves' feel here. There's a plot element of a detective trying to claim the reward for Lecter's capture while Starling hunts him down. to a plot element where one of Lecter's previous victims is desperate to hunt down Lecter to exact brutal revenge. Neither is all that engaging. Part of the problem is that the previous two movies worked so well because Lecter assisted the detective in hunting down another psychopath through psychological mind games. Here Lecter is the `bad guy' and, while the script has some interesting moments between himself and Starling, there's none of that great sense of the desperate hunt that the previous movies gave us. This creates a lack of tension and excitement. Yes, Lecter is meant to the villain but by now we would have expected him to transcend such an obvious role. The final resolution of the movie seems both familiar and irritatingly unsatisfying.
Hopkins has Lecter done to a tee. It is, after all, the role that made him famous. He's the quintessential gentlemen - only this one is a psychopath. He doesn't have to strain himself here and there's a feeling he's doing it by the numbers. Moore is no replacement for Foster - it's like she's trying to be hard to emulate Foster and not letting herself adopt the role. The charisma between her and Hopkins isn't as strong either as it was with Foster and Hopkins, a pity when the movie hinges on it so.
Scott is an accomplished director with some great skill and great movies (and turkeys) behind him. As usual with his films, this one is quite dark - lots of shadows, observed shots, etc. The score accompanying it is grand, if not startling (fairly unmemorable). There's a very pretty opening credit sequence, and the finale is quite well shot and framed, etc. but other than that. nothing that stuck in my head.
`Hannibal' is a grand little thriller/horror/drama in its own right - it's just that it can't compete with its legacy and so, as a result, suffers by comparison. It will be interesting to see how `Red Dragon' fares against this. 6/10.
A sub (ouch)-good movie, that never sinks (hmmm) but fails to rise to be a vessel (groan) for a good picture
So there's this Nazi submarine right? And it's got a code machine on it, the Enigma machine, which is used to transmit codes that the Allies cannot break. Opps - the submarine lands itself into trouble. Now the Allies plan to disguise themselves as the enemy, capture the Nazi submarine, take the machine and safely decipher all future German communications. They have just the man for the job - Lieutenant Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) and his band of merry men (plus some others along for the ride). Does it all go swimmingly or do some end up as bodies swimming? What do you think?
It's based (loosely enough I imagine considering the furore it caused in certain circles upon release) on real events so I cannot really poke at the plot too much. It's safe to save though it's conventionally structured - introduce characters quickly in a social gathering, have mini-climax in middle leading to final resolution in end (complete with weak character building). It's a tad clichéd (look mommy - the man has learnt a valuable lesson) but not to the point of irritation and the action is never left out long enough to make you into Billy Bored.
Acting? Well Matthew hasn't quite found his wings here yet but does a passable job. Bill Paxton is good, but not in it long. Keitel is mostly great but he doesn't get enough `wise old seaman' lines to deliver. The rest you'll have seen off of TV and low movies (and rock bands). All fine, nothing outstanding. Next.
Jonathan Mostov does a grand enough job directing. There are some genuinely tense moments when the crew are silent in the submarine, waiting to be blown apart by depth charges. The actual gun battles are far less satisfying, feeling mundane with an over-bearing musical accompaniment. Still the pacing is fairly solid and it wouldn't leave me overly worried for his current work on Terminator 3.
U-571 is again an enjoyable enough thriller thing. It's not original but it is satisfying with nothing really much of a letdown (or a pick up). Just above average it deserves a 5.4/10.
The Dead Pool (1988)
The title makes the puns too easy - a film that's dead in a pool of it's own mediocrity. I thank you.
: Callahan must fight the forces of banal writing in this fifth, and final, Dirty Harry movie. Some rich people have started a dead pool game - making a list of celebrities who they think will die. The winner is the one to have all their celebrities die first. Unfortunately Director Peter Swan (Liam Neeson) ha a list where everybody is turning up dead real quickly. Can Callahan stop the killer before the last person on the list is killed - one Detective Callahan!!
Script and plot? Oh dear. Oh dearie me. Oh dear oh dear. The killer? Boring. None of the great neurotic ticks that Scorpio had. Instead he's straight out of a bad TV-movie-of-the-week. The final identity of the killer is just plain rubbish and uninteresting. Callahan is teamed up in ethnic minority land to solely have a partner who can spout some mysticism, and do karate. This partner is about as interesting, and has about as much charisma and acting ability, as a particularly dull brick that even other bricks find boring. That would all be bad enough, but then the script insults us, by spelling out certain things as, it seems, we are all imbeciles. Thank you Fink family for this - I never knew what R.I.P. stood for or what the phrase `15 minutes' referred to. What ever happened to your ability shown in `Dirty Harry'?
The film further denigrates itself with me, by feeling very aged. Ironically the originally `Dirty Harry' seems fresher than this. Maybe the script-writing Finks, and Director Buddy Van Horn, felt it was a good idea to firmly lock the film into a horrifically 80s New Romantic era. There's an awful pastiche of Guns'N'Roses that almost had me weeping - the film seems to attempt to mock the era but only succeeds in mocking itself. The camera work is quite sloppy, the set design weak, and the synthetic music is both tired and limp. Unsurprisingly his directing career went nowhere after this.
Eastwood alone saved me from lobbing a brick through the movie. He is working with substandard conditions, but he still fits into the Dirty Harry role with a great ease. Due to the material he has, his character lacks the wit and edge of former instalments and hr almost becomes a caricature of his previous self. Still Eastwood has great screen presence and helped soothe my irritation with his gravely delivery, weathered charm, and ease with himself.
I won't recommend `The Dead Pool' to anyone. It's an insult to films and to the Dirty Harry series. It's got nothing going for it, with a lot going against it. I watched this so now you don't have to. Very poor. 1.5/10.