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The Paperboy (2012)
The Most Underrated Film of 2012
With The Paperboy, we have the arrival of a major new cinematic talent - Lee Daniels. Though his first two films (the bizarre Shadowboxer and the extremely well-acted Precious) had their merits, only with The Paperboy do we finally see the maturation of his craft, the arrival of a distinct new voice. It is a hypnotically bold, daringly original, and utterly fearless film that seemingly effortlessly dances between drama and comedy, tenderness and tension, completely unafraid to go to shocking, dangerous places. It feels totally unpredictable, and nothing about it feels safe, which is something far too many movies are these days. The Paperboy hearkens back to the audacious spirit of American cinema in the 1970s, when filmmakers weren't afraid to make outrageous works like Deliverance and Prime Cut. In this film's world, nothing is sacred, and because Daniels is so assured with this approach, so completely in control of every moment, watching it is an enthralling, absorbing, exhilarating experience.
Rarely am I so entertained and captivated by a film, and even more rarely am I so blown away by a film's originality and daring. With The Paperboy, Lee Daniels created a world I didn't want to leave and a film I didn't want to end. I can't wait to see where he goes from here.
Dwaj ludzie z szafa (1958)
Early Brilliance From Polanski
"Dwaj ludzie z szafa", more commonly known as "Two Men and a Wardrobe", is an early short film from Roman Polanski's film school days.
The most well-known and arguably the best of Polanski's short films, "Wardrobe" is a fairly simple story two men emerge from the ocean carrying a wardrobe, and they travel through a city trying to find a good home for it.
The film is black and white, fourteen minutes long, and completely free of dialogue. It is truly remarkable what Polanski can accomplish with so little. It is deceptively simple on the surface, yet beneath beats the heart of a profound, touching fable. Who are these men? Where are they from? Are they human? They traverse humanity, representing innocence, and witness nothing but skepticism, intolerance, and violence. These are themes that Polanski would revisit later in another short film, "When Angels Fall", and, in a way, he would revisit them many years later with The Pianist and Oliver Twist. It's hard to call the two men protagonists, or even characters at all. They are more the lens of the audience a mere vehicle through which Polanski displays mankind. Mankind is what this film is about. We are the characters.
The film is heartwarming and playful, yet ultimately cynical and sad. Is there no place for innocence and peace left in the world? Are we just a vicious, hating, violent species? In the end, that is all the two men and the wardrobe find, and they retreat back into their ocean haven, disappointed, disillusioned, and slightly broken.
This short film can be found on the Criterion DVD release of Polanski's debut feature film Knife In The Water, and it is well worth seeking out. It is visually dazzling, alludes to many themes Polanski would explore further in the future, and it more than holds its own as a stand-alone film. A must-see for any Polanski fan.
Il grande silenzio (1968)
The Definition of Anti-Western
Westerns. What comes to mind? Sandy deserts, hot sun, tumbleweeds, and heroic duels, right? Now reverse all of that. Now you have The Great Silence.
After a brutal bounty hunter kills a woman's husband, she hires Silence, a mute man who kills bounty hunters for money.
One of the most interesting ideas behind The Great Silence is apparent through the main plot itself. Is Silence any better than the bounty hunter? Isn't he a bounty hunter? The film is full of questions and thoughts about the nature of the old west. It is a film about the emptiness of violence and revenge. Have there been many films that have dealt with these issues? Yes. But The Great Silence is not just a deep contemplation of violence it is also simply a very entertaining spaghetti western, thus it never feels dull and is always engaging.
The whole cast is excellent, but the highlight is the incredibly talented Klaus Kinski, who is electrifying in the role of the ice-cold bounty hunter Loco. As always, you just can't take your eyes off him. But Jean-Louis Trintignant is also very notable for his portrayal of Silence. He takes the Clint Eastwood archetype of "The Man With No Name" one step further in that he quite literally never says a word. Yet somehow he manages to be a very sympathetic character, and we, as an audience, genuinely care about him.
Sergio Corbucci's direction is fittingly sloppy shaky camera-work and many quick zooms make for an unnerving and slightly surreal framework for the film. Interestingly enough, it is actually quite the opposite of Sergio Leone's glacial direction, though he appears to have been an influence on this film. And it is also worth noting that Ennio Morricone scores the film, and he does it expertly.
But the big allure of The Great Silence is its complete reversal of the western genre. Instead of sand and sun, we get snow and clouds. But what's more is that the hero doesn't win. At the moment when one would expect him to pull his gun and defeat the band of villains, he is crippled, and killed. The heroine is killed. All of the innocent hostages are killed. Evil prevails, and the bad guys live. It is just about the most unexpected and downbeat ending I have ever seen. It is also one of the most honest and powerful. Thanks to Corbucci's skilled direction, it hits you like a punch to the gut and it lingers in your mind. It doesn't feel cheap or gimmicky, like it very easily could have.
It is, in fact, so devastating that Corbucci was actually forced to shoot an alternate "happy" ending for certain markets, in which, just in the nick of time, the (dead) sheriff miraculously reappears and kills Loco, allowing Silence to finish off the rest of the bounty hunters. You can see it on the Fantoma DVD. It is hilarious to watch, as it is so obvious that Corbucci shot it in a tongue-in-cheek manner mocking the very clichés it was perpetuating. The west was a harsh place in time where the good guys didn't always win, and Corbucci did an excellent job conveying that.
The Great Silence is a fascinating film that turns the western genre completely on its head. While it is not as beautifully atmospheric as McCabe & Mrs. Miller or as relentlessly entertaining as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, it is a moving and profound film that you certainly won't forget.
Oliver Twist (2005)
A Moving Masterpiece From a Master of Cinema
When I first heard Roman Polanski was going to make Oliver Twist his next project, I found it curious. Why would he go from The Pianist in 2002, a harrowing, realistic account of Holocaust horrors, to Oliver Twist, something of an uplifting, child-friendly story, three years later? Did he just want to lighten up and take a breather? He says he wanted to make a film his children could relate to. This makes Oliver Twist, the film, seem more and more curious to me. Because Polanski's Oliver Twist is a very dark and very deep film.
We all know the story an orphan boy tries to escape a life of dreadful torment and winds up in a gang of young pickpockets, lead by a flamboyant old man named Fagin.
Now, I have not read Charles Dickens' novel, so I cannot critique Oliver Twist as an adaptation. However, the film is so delicate and emotional that I feel it transcends any critiques on adaptation accuracy. This film is not a lighthearted fairy tale, but a beautiful drama crafted by an experienced master of cinema.
First of all, Polanski has a gift for getting great performances out of his actors. The most striking performance in Twist is delivered by Ben Kingsley, whom Polanski extracted such a terrific performance from eleven years prior in Death and The Maiden. He exhibits such a charming and exuberant nature, you can't help but feel a certain fondness for him, no matter how sinister he may seem at times. He's just a lovable old man. Jamie Foreman does a great job as Bill Sykes, creating one of the most menacing and easily hate-able villains I've ever seen. Barney Clark does a pretty good job for a child actor. He's never irritating and quite convincing. The rest of the cast is fairly strong all around, as well.
I could go on and on about how Oliver Twist is masterfully lit and how well the cinematography works, but it rises above technical critiques. I felt such a consistently overwhelming string of emotions while viewing it that I find it difficult to compose this review. The film made me feel uplifted and hopeful before devastating me with disappointment, and then did it all again and again and again, and that, to me, is a remarkable feat. (On a side note, I would also like to add that this is all underscored wonderfully by Rachel Portman's excellent score.) And this is just one way that Polanski is a true master of cinematic perspective. The viewer experiences every emotion that Oliver experiences, and Polanski does it not through gimmicks or manipulation, but through what is shown and not shown. When Oliver is torn away from what could prove to be a loving household, which he has never experienced, he is left with a terrible feeling of guilt and fear. Fear not of what is going to happen to him, but of what his wonderful almost-parents would think of him. The viewer never sees their reaction, but is left with an unbearable sense of not knowing. It's like a punch to the gut, and it hurts.
In a lot of ways, Oliver Twist is a surprisingly logical progression from The Pianist. Both are films that examine the best and worst elements of humanity, and ultimately portray a message of hope. While The Pianist used the real-life horror of The Holocaust to convey this, Oliver Twist uses a fictional 19th Century England. Polanski uses moments of horrible cruelty (including a particularly hard to watch scene of incredibly brutal violence) and moments of nearly inexplicable kindness and decency to create a poignant tapestry of humanity and all that it is capable of. He even does it, at times, with a simple juxtaposition of imagery.
Oliver Twist is a gorgeous, moving, and enlightened masterpiece from a seasoned director who knows exactly what he wants and how to achieve it. Roman Polanski is one of the true masters of the motion picture, and if Oliver Twist does prove to be his last film, it is an unexpectedly strong note to go out on.
Interesting, But Lacking At Its Core
The legendary Jeanne Moreau stars as Mademoiselle, a school teacher, filled with repressed sexual urges, in a small French village. She finds ways to vent her desires, mostly through arson and other destructive acts.
Mademoiselle seems like a film that desperately wants to be profound. It seems like a film that wants to say something about repressing desires, and the insignificance of mankind against nature. For the most part, it fails. It is unclear whether Mademoiselle's violent actions are the product of sexual desire or simple sadism. She sets fires and opens floodgates, but is it a sexual urge? Not really, she just seems to get a kick out of watching the townspeople scramble to save their lives and possessions.
And while the film is directed with an interesting visual flair that does often capture the beauty of nature quite well, it never really achieves a level of Lean-esquire glory or magnificence. Sure, it's pretty to look at, but what's the point? The acting is also sorely lacking. Ettore Manni, who plays Mademoiselle's (and everyone else's) sexual interest, is just not very good. He often unleashes these boisterous laughs, and every time I cringed. It's not even a little bit convincing. Even the usually wonderful Moreau fails to impress here. Her performance just feels hollow. As she has proved in the past that she can be very good, I blame director Tony Richardson, who, unlike someone like François Truffaut or Louis Malle, clearly doesn't grasp what Moreau is capable of.
That's not to say Mademoiselle is a failure. There are several deeply disturbing moments, one in particular involving a rabbit. The film seems to be trying to say that all human beings can be monsters at times, and we take out our suppressed aggression on whatever innocence may be around us. Still, the film seems to lack a core of genuine emotional depth, and therefore, lacks resonance. It doesn't help that it tends to move along at a remarkably slow pace, which causes it to try the viewer's patience at times.
However, I would probably give Mademoiselle a mild recommendation, if for nothing besides the attractive visuals and the fact that it contains Jeanne Moreau.
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
"I've had it with these motherf***ing snakes on this motherf***ing plane!"
Snakes. On a plane.
Get it? If not, you're not going to get this movie, either. If so, Snakes On a Plane delivers all you could want.
There is no point in summarizing the plot. Somehow, hundreds of exotic, venomous snakes get onto a jumbo jet and terrorize the passengers. Again, if you still don't get it, this film is just not for you.
I must admit, ever since I first read the title on IMDb oh-so many months ago, I have been eagerly awaiting its release. Snakes On a Plane. So simple, so blunt, so wonderfully absurd so brilliant. SOaP is pure marketing genius. I waited and waited for what seemed like an eternity Then the soundtrack was released. I was crushed. Panic! At The Disco? Fall Out Boy? What kind of moron allowed this filth to poison my beloved SOaP? I was outraged, and my anticipation had suffered a major blow. Still, I remained cautiously optimistic. The Cee-Lo Green track at least gave me a little hope.
Then, finally, at long last, August 18th arrived. And let me tell you, SOaP is pretty much perfect. From the opening baseball bat murder, to Samuel L. Jackson's incredibly fitting "Do exactly as I say if you want to live." introduction, to Samuel L. Jackson's incredibly fitting closing line, those lovable CGI snakes tore my worries to pieces, much like how they did everything else in sight.
SOaP is everything it should be. It's stupid, violent, ludicrous, hilarious, and above all, fun. And the fact that Samuel L. Jackson is in his most purely badass role since Pulp Fiction doesn't hurt, either. It's been a long time since we've had a truly whacked-out, senselessly violent, one-liner-spewing action comedy. True Lies was essentially the last of the breed, and even that was more of a conscious parody of such films. But Commando fans should rejoice, for Snakes On a Plane catapults the genre back into its glory days, and it is arguably the best film of its kind since that 1985 gem of repressed homosexuality.
Oh, and that music thing. Don't worry; it's only orchestral score until the end credits, as it should be.
There are only three things I can think of that would improve SOaP. 1. Get rid of that awful music video during the end credits. 2. Change Samuel L. Jackson's character name to Samuel L. Jackson. 3. The bloodshed could have been turned up just a bit more. Where were all the arterial snakebite sprays?
But those complaints are minor, and the second one is, admittedly, pretty stupid. But stupidity is what SOaP is all about!
All in all, Snakes On a Plane is the most unbridled fun I've had and am likely to have at the movies this year, and it's probably the best and most entertaining B-movie in years.
Johnny Belinda (1948)
A Poignant Masterpiece
There are very few films that have literally brought tears to my eyes. They must be films of uncompromising emotional power. Films like Magnolia, The Passion of the Christ, and now Johnny Belinda.
It is the story of a deaf and dumb young woman named Belinda. Treated as an unintelligent workhorse all her years, Belinda's life changes forever when a lonely new doctor moves into her small coastal Nova Scotian port town. He takes an immediate liking to her and, proving to her family that she is not the "dummy" they think, he teaches her to read lips. But after a drunken sexual assault leaves her pregnant, rumors begin to fly throughout the small town, and both Belinda and her loved ones must fight for what's right.
The performances are wonderful. Of course, Jane Wyman simply steals the show in her Oscar-winning performance. She brings an incredible heart, warmth, and emotional resonance to the character of Belinda, and she does it without ever saying a word. The rest of the cast is marvelous as well, especially Charles Bickford, who lovingly portrays Belinda's father, and Stephen McNally, who turns Belinda's attacker into one of the most easy to loathe characters ever put on celluloid yet the film still brilliantly keeps him at the level of a realistic personality no one is a caricature.
Director Jean Negulesco brings an understated visual beauty to the film reminiscent of the silent ages, when one had to use aesthetics to make up for the lack of aural stimulus. Every shot is a perfectly composed work of art, turning every moment of Belinda into a masterwork of lighting and raw, majestic nature. The seaside settings are utilized so well that they put Johnny Belinda in league with such legendary jaw-droppers as L'Avventura and Black Narcissus.
But this film is much more than just visual appeal. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, often simultaneously. There are so many thought-provoking themes to gnaw on in Johnny Belinda - the way people view the handicapped, the bonds of parenthood, the power of rumors, the justification of violence as self-defense, and overall morality and humanity. Even the film's setting could be considered an allegory on Belinda the brutal waves of the ocean constantly pounding against the serene shores.
The film is also, as I mentioned before, emotionally overwhelming. While it certainly has a focused narrative, Belinda is foremost a progression of feelings, and they are so well conveyed that I was simply overcome with joy, pain, heartbreak, and hope. While the film is often described as a melodrama, it is far from a soap opera. There are no miraculous moments of sudden verbal triumph for Belinda, no ridiculously overacted moments of teary-eyed abandon Johnny Belinda is a terribly real experience. There are aspects of the story that remain unresolved not loose ends, but difficult problems that would most likely also remain unresolved in reality.
However, I don't want to give the impression that Johnny Belinda is depressing. I felt uplifted and rapturous just as often as I felt overcome by grief and fear. I felt so much for these characters and I wanted so sorely for things to turn out a certain way but I won't reveal whether they do or not. I will say that the film ends on a note of nearly unbearable poignancy, and this is the moment that massaged my tear ducts.
My only complaint concerning the film is Max Steiner's score. He is perfectly suited for epic films like King Kong and Gone With The Wind, but here it feels somewhat over-dramatic and occasionally awkward. He tends to play up the melodramatic angle and spot score in a ubiquitous manner, which simply doesn't fit with a film like Johnny Belinda. Still, it tends to work more often than not, and it is not a major enough problem to work seriously to the film's detriment.
This picture is a true gem. It has been unavailable for years, but thanks to Warner Brothers, it finally has a DVD release, and the restoration is simply glorious it more than does justice to this cinematic treasure. Do yourself a favor and see Johnny Belinda.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Not Just Another Horror Remake
Fresh off his visceral masterpiece Haute tension, French director Alexandre Aja gets behind the camera once more for his second film, a revamping of Wes Craven's 1977 Texas Chainsaw wanna-be The Hills Have Eyes.
Upon a casual glance, it's easy to dismiss Hills as yet another useless Hollywood remake of a gritty '70s horror film the original is indeed gritty and from the '70s. However, unlike Dawn of the Dead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hills is a film that could actually benefit from an updating. Also, unlike the Dawn and Chainsaw remakes, Hills has a director at the helm that actually loves the genre and knows what the hell he's doing.
By now, the scenario is all too familiar: an all-American family gets lost in the middle of nowhere and falls prey to some twisted clan of deranged psychopaths. Clichéd? Sure, but don't forget that the original Hills was one of the first. So just what does Aja bring to the table that sets Hills apart from the other (usually laughable) films of this type? An abundance of style, realism, emotion, and gore.
Aja seems to have a very solid understanding of the most primal emotions possessed by mankind, and in Hills, he explores them in a way that most filmmakers wouldn't dare. As in Haute tension, the violence is presented in a delicate blend of realistic horror and exploitative titillation. When the family is first attacked, the violence is brutal and ugly. However, when the tables are turned a member of the family becomes the one inflicting the violence, the bloodletting is slightly heightened and exploited for entertainment. Could the protagonist be enjoying his vicious revenge? Aja portrays this masterfully and dares his audience to enjoy it with the protagonist. Just how far should one be willing to go? How far is too far? Is this just as wrong? Can it be justified? Something else atypical about Hills is that we actually care about the characters. Instead of the usual ditzy blonde teens we can't wait to see get killed off, these characters are believable and we feel for them. They are all wonderfully portrayed by the fine cast, especially Aaron Stanford (whom you may recognize from X-Men 2 and 3), who gives a surprisingly terrific performance.
Something else that makes Hills more than just an average slasher flick is the masterfully subtle social commentary. The ever-present motif of the American flag (quite literally being shoved down a throat at one point) the rousing score so peculiarly similar to Ennio Morricone's distinctly (and ironically) American The Good, The Bad and The Ugly the ubiquitous desiccated desert landscape that bears a suspicious resemblance to the Middle East this film has something to say.
The only real flaw I can find in Hills is that there are, occasionally, a few groan-inducing "jump scares". They're cheap, gimmicky, and wholly unnecessary. But considering that Haute tension is pretty much entirely without such trickery, I can only guess (and hope) that they were due to studio interference. They have to at least somewhat cater to that moronic demographic, I suppose.
So what's next for Aja? He says his next film, The Waiting, is going to be a gore-less ghost story. He says he wants to see if he can be scary without the gore. There you have it, folks a man that is unafraid to unflinchingly show copious bloodshed, knows how to present subtle social commentary, and is looking to challenge himself. If the horror genre has a savior, Alexandre Aja is it.
Miami Vice (2006)
Not What It Could Have Been...
What comes to mind when you think of "Miami Vice"? Most likely, wild pastels, synthesizers, and bikinis, right? Well, forget about all that. Director Michael Mann, who long ago directed said '80s series, has morphed himself into a well-known master of tough crime films, most notably Heat and, more recently, Collateral. Not surprisingly, this Miami Vice is an entirely different animal than what you may remember.
FBI agents Sonny Crockett and Rico Stubbs, now played by Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx (respectively), are penetrating undercover into an international ring of violent, high-tech drug dealers, and they're getting in deeper than anyone before them. It's only a matter of time before their personal lives become involved and their loved ones thrust into danger.
It seems fairly apparent, even from the previews alone, that Mann is trying to recapture the glory of Collateral. With Jamie Foxx in a co-starring role and that same gritty, lo-fi cinematography, he isn't exactly trying to hide it. Admittedly, it is a great look for this type of film you can virtually feel the warm Miami breeze breathing down the back of your neck. However, I'm not thrilled about the recasting of Foxx, whom I find to be one of the most overrated actors in recent memory. He always seems to play the same character in every role, and this is no exception. Farrell isn't exactly a superb actor, either, but I guess Mann was going for star power in the lead roles, and I suppose he got that.
But the film's faults certainly don't lie with the actors alone Miami Vice suffers from the same pacing problems as Heat. The film opens with an intriguingly cryptic sequence and closes with a crackling shootout, but it sags throughout the mid-section. And it doesn't help that this mid-section is about one hour and forty-five minutes long. While Mann does manage to maintain a pretty good atmosphere throughout, the majority of what happens is rather predictable and uninteresting. For some reason, Mann seems preoccupied with focusing on romantic subplots instead of the actual plot, and again, they're quite uninspired.
In the music department, Mann once again shows a predilection toward Moby and Audioslave. In fact, there is so much Audioslave that he should have just caved and hired Cornell and crew to score the whole damn thing. Well, not really, but you get the idea. The soundtrack is actually pretty weak the Audioslave really only serves to enhance the already somewhat cheesy nature of the romantic scenes.
But Mann does shine during the three action sequences the film has. He once again proves he has a knack for taut, intense, and unflinching shootouts. Sadly, they are just not enough to elevate Miami Vice to any kind of memorable status. With some better actors, a tighter script, and an ending less syrupy, Miami Vice could have been a very solid action flick, à la Collateral, but all we get is a bloated corpse of what could have been.
The Graduate (1967)
Not Quite The Classic It's Claimed To Be
I recently read an interview with Roger Ebert in which he was asked if there were any films he had changed his opinion on over the years. He named The Graduate as a film he didn't like nearly as much as he used to. I think that says a lot about The Graduate.
It is an intentionally comedic drama about a recent college graduate (Dustin Hoffman) who returns home and sinks himself into a comfortable rut involving nightly hotel rendezvous' with an attractive older woman (Anne Bancroft), but when her daughter, who is much closer to his age, returns home, he falls for her, and a chaotic mess of twisted emotions ensues.
The film plays out like a teenager's wet dream. Hoffman's character has rich parents, almost no responsibility, and nightly sex with no strings attached. But director Mike Nichols tries to present it in such a way that Hoffman's character is bored out of his mind typical youth. This section of the film is one of the best depictions of the emptiness and anxiety of casual sex that I have ever seen. It is wonderfully heightened by the excellent accompanying Simon & Garfunkel.
However, the film loses a lot of steam when the daughter enters the picture. We are supposed to believe that Hoffman's character falls in love with her, but I must admit that I felt no real connection between the characters and no real chemistry between the actors. It felt like the writer just needed to throw in something to cause some conflict in the story, so he simply threw in an underdeveloped relationship with the daughter. The whole thing seems to be a cheap attempt at depth, but it just comes off as shallow.
And then we come to the film's often-parodied ending in which Hoffman's character breaks up the daughter's wedding and runs away with her. I found the whole thing to be rather underwhelming. There is no real love between these characters they're just a couple of young people being compulsive.
I also must say that I didn't think the comedy element of the film worked very well at all. It just wasn't very funny, and I don't see why it was necessary.
However, the film does have strength in Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, who are both simply wonderful here. The juxtaposition of their characters alone is fascinating enough a young, naïve man who yearns for a meaningful relationship, but can't resist his hormonal urges, and a hardened, somewhat bitter older woman who simply wants to cut out the arbitrary, for lack of a better term, bullshit and get to the carnality. But Hoffman and Bancroft inject a genuine life into these characters that no one else could have. All the Simon & Garfunkel was a big plus for me, as well.
Overall, The Graduate has the potential to be an introspective drama about the emptiness of sex and the confliction of attraction, but it is squandered on a juvenile and rushed romantic twist.
The Weather Man (2005)
I imagine The Weather Man came to be through a thought process that went something like this: "Hey, nobody's ever made a movie about the weather guy before! Nobody ever thinks about the weather guy. He has feelings too! I should make a movie about a weather guy to show they're not just lite 'n' happy smilers all the time!" Well, this movie does just that, and that is the main reason why I dislike it.
Nicolas Cage, in the latest of his near identical roles of late, stars as the aforementioned weather guy. He's separated from his wife, has two troubled children, lives in the shadow of his Pulitzer Prize-winning father, and, basically, everybody hates him. Aww, poor weather guy.
Right off the bat, every detail of this film seems to try and mimic the critically acclaimed "quirky" films that have been so popular lately, such as Adaptation and Punch-Drunk Love. What director Gore Verbinski (yes, the same one who made Pirates of the Caribbean) fails to understand is that it takes more than just weird music and prolonged shots of people looking distressed to make a film on par with the two aforementioned titles. The Weather Man may have the score and the basic framework for such a film, but what it lacks is the heart, the emotion, and the passion. Adaptation and Punch-Drunk Love were beautiful films with characters I cared about and could connect with. Sure, at times they were downbeat, but the overall tones were ones of joy, hope, and the very essence of life. The Weather Man is just plain depressing. I didn't like nor care about any of the characters, and instead of having realistic, heartfelt dialogue, the film is just full of pointless vulgarity (and a lot of it, I might add).
Again, using the same comparison, Punch-Drunk Love's basic theme was love conquers all a wonderful sentiment I wholeheartedly believe in. What does The Weather Man say? Money buys happiness? Yeah, that's a great message.
Don't be fooled by the fantastic trailers for this film as I was. They make it seem like an off-the-wall comedy about a weatherman who constantly has milkshakes thrown at him before finally protecting himself by carrying a bow and quiver of arrows as he walks down the street. That's a fairly minor subplot. What The Weather Man is is a relentlessly depressing film that plays like a twelve-year-old trying to mimic a grown-up: none of the soul or maturity, but a hell of a lot of swearing. But admittedly, there are roughly three chuckles sprinkled throughout the hopelessness.
Now I don't know about you, but I don't want to feel despondent and dirty after watching a film like this, and all The Weather Man is going to leave you with is a black hole of "Why would anyone want to watch that?"
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
A Two-Hour Episode of Alias
Brian De Palma's 1996 screen adaptation of the television series Mission: Impossible was pretty much perfect, in my opinion. It was a tense, intriguing action thriller that struck an impeccable balance of taut, gritty suspense and campy fun. Then, in 2000, John Woo came along and gave us a ridiculous action sequel riddled with pointless slow motion and excessive style. When I heard J.J. Abrams was going to be at the helm of the third installment, I felt a mix of curiosity, optimism, and skepticism. On the one hand, I figured he would at least get rid of that horrible slow motion action rubbish, but on the other hand, I was afraid he would forget the fun and give us a film that was too realistic and gritty. And I always doubt the ability of TV directors to make the jump to cinema. Then, as I expected, Abrams began talking about how he wanted to "humanize" the characters. Uh oh.
Then I heard Philip Seymour Hoffman was going to be portraying the villain. I didn't care about the rest anymore that got me VERY excited.
After seeing the film, I have to say that it was exactly what I expected.
The plot revolves around IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and Owen Davian (Hoffman), a mysterious guy with a lot of money they never really tell us just who exactly he is. Hunt is now engaged to be married (and might I add that I found it weird that the actress portraying his fiancé bears a strange resemblance to Katie Holmes) Abrams plot device to humanize him, of course but IMF wants him back to rescue an agent captured by Davian. Hunt gets sucked back into the fray as Davian kidnaps his fiancé and implants an explosive charge in his head (yep, you heard me).
First off, the cast is fantastic. Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Jonathon Rhys Meyers, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Simon Pegg wonderful! And they all give good performances, especially Hoffman, who is every bit as cold and menacing as you would expect. He never fails to impress me.
But, unfortunately, Abrams really doesn't deliver. As I feared, Mission: Impossible III doesn't feel like a Mission: Impossible movie, but a long episode of "Alias". Abrams doesn't seem to know how to use a tripod or keep the camera further than two inches away from the actors' mugs. Despite how bad it was, at least Mission: Impossible II felt like a movie. What destroys the cinematic atmosphere even further is the hiring of Michael Giacchino to compose the score. Lalo Schifrin's classic theme isn't utilized nearly enough, and all of the music inevitably sounds like it's straight out of "Alias". I just wasn't feeling it.
Expectedly, Abrams uses a load of pointless and clichéd plot twists (which I won't go into for the sake of spoilers), but where he really fails is in the film's action. At first I thought Abrams was going for a gritty, realistic, and brutal approach, but then he throws in some superhuman jumping moments and whatnot, so then I became confused. Is this supposed to be realistic action or suspend-my-disbelief-and-have-fun action? It becomes this awkward limbo between the two, and it never really clicks.
And then there is his attempt to "humanize" the characters. I have no problem with this concept, but Mission: Impossible III is simply the wrong vehicle to convey it. This is supposed to be an action thriller, not a soap opera. Again, Mission: Impossible III feels like "Alias" in this respect.
Overall, Mission: Impossible III is a reasonably enjoyable way to kill two hours, but you could just watch the first two episodes of "Alias" and get the same effect. I hope the next installment can get the series back to its roots. Bring back De Palma!
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
A Sultry Masterpiece For The Ages
A Streetcar Named Desire is a fascinating film for a lot of reasons. It's very difficult for me to compose my thoughts on this film, as there are just so many things happening on so many different levels.
I suppose I'll begin with the element that really makes the film what it is: the one and only Elia Kazan. For some reason these days, Kazan's films seem to get labeled as outdated and heavy-handed. I can understand why one might think that about Boomerang! or Gentleman's Agreement (though I think those are both very good films, especially the latter), but there is certainly nothing outdated or heavy-handed about A Streetcar Named Desire. It is one of the subtlest and most well crafted films I have ever seen.
The story concerns aging southern belle Blanche DuBois (Leigh), who moves to New Orleans to stay with her younger sister Stella (Hunter) and finds a culture clash at every corner, especially with Stella's "unrefined" husband Stanley, who is played by a very sexy Marlon Brando.
It is extraordinarily interesting to see the juxtaposition between Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. Leigh is an old-fashioned, classical actress of the highest order, charming the audience with her sunny disposition and perky smile, though she definitely has a dark side. Then we have Brando, a young, up-and-coming user of the rising art of method acting. It is one of the most interesting on-screen interactions one is likely to see.
What is also very interesting is watching Blanche's slow spiral into insanity. All of the elegance and wealth she grew up in is gone, and she has done unthinkable things to survive. Now she is stuck in a New Orleans slum with a sweaty simpleton yelling at her. Pair that with the tormenting suicide of a past lover, and you have a recipe for madness.
Being based on a Tennessee Williams play, the film takes place in essentially one location, that being Stella and Stanley's apartment, but Kazan utilizes the New Orleans locale to perfection, and the combination of his direction, the gorgeous, glowing black and white cinematography, and Alex North's sultry, jazzy score gives the film a consistently surreal, almost dreamlike atmosphere.
But more notably, the New Orleans atmosphere gives Kazan the perfect opportunity to play with the story's sensual aspects, and he occasionally even delves into pure primal sexuality, such as in the famous "Stella!" scene. The film is so subtly steamy and wrought with sexual tension that it pushed the boundaries of censorship back in its day. This also may be due to the fact that it alludes to some very controversial subjects. This is another point at which the film's subtlety becomes a marvel of cinematic engineering. Was Blanche's lover homosexual? Did Stanley rape Blanche? There are no solid answers to these questions it is left for the viewer to decide.
But as I first mentioned, the real virtuoso behind this film is Elia Kazan. Some people may still be upset over his actions during the Red Scare, but it is undeniable that he made some extremely good films. A Streetcar Named Desire is one of his absolute finest masterpieces. It was very much ahead of its time, and it remains one of the most intense, subtle, and well-made dramas in the history of film.
Boogie Nights (1997)
A Modern Gone With The Wind
There are certain taboos a director doesn't dare touch when he wants to become a "respected filmmaker". In my opinion, it takes a truly gifted director to incorporate such themes in their work while still keeping widely acknowledged critical credibility. For instance, Stanley Kubrick was a master at this. He touched on subjects as pedophilia, rape, and even the horror genre, and he never lost an ounce of brilliance nor credibility. Coming off his modest, low-key debut Hard Eight, Paul Thomas Anderson made an extremely bold decision on the subject matter of his follow-up: the adult film industry.
There is a certain indefinable mastery that seemed to flow through the veins of young directors in the 1970s. Films like The Godfather, Chinatown, and Apocalypse Now had it on rampant display. Anderson is one of the very few modern filmmakers with this mastery within him.
Boogie Nights opens with an explosion of color and sound as the camera glides through a bustling street of '70s nightlife with liquid ease. We are introduced to the cast one by one in a nightclub before finally arriving at a young busboy (Wahlberg). Adult film tycoon Jackie Treehorne (Reynolds) spots him and immediately knows he is something special. He is correct, as this busboy is endowed with an enormous "talent", if you will. Treehorne takes him under his wing and nurtures him into the biggest thing in the industry (no pun intended).
Never before has a modern film encapsulated the spirit, fashion, and sound of the 1970s as well as Boogie Nights. The soundtrack is incessantly infectious, the sets and wardrobe vibrant, and even the cinematography is lush and colorful.
The 1980s start off with the bang of a suicide on midnight of January 1st. Thus begins the fall of class and decency (if that's what you want to call it) in the porn industry. I would say that the early half of this decade is nothing but drugs, sex, and debauchery, but those were the '70s. Those were the good times. No, the '80s are filled with violence, serious drug addiction, despair, and the general fall of the mighty.
As I have said, Boogie Nights is a fantastic sensory experience. However, its real strengths lie in its characters. It may sound odd to hear Boogie Nights described as an epic, but it really is. In a lot of ways, it's a modern Gone With The Wind. It doesn't make itself big through massive sets and thousands of extras, but through the journey it takes us through with the characters over the span of two decades: the rise, the top, the fall, the bottom, and the triumphant return.
And Anderson orchestrates it all with a presence, ease, confidence, and mastery atypical of a director on his second film. The music is perfect. The visuals are perfect. The acting is perfect. The editing is perfect. The writing is perfect. The direction is perfect. Anderson makes his cinematic influences subtle yet apparent, and even his obvious influence Martin Scorsese could not have pulled this film off as impeccably as he.
It would have been easy for a filmmaker to turn Boogie Nights into a parody of the pornography industry. After all, it's not exactly held in high regard. But Anderson crafts a loving portrait of these characters, and the audience likes and cares about them just as much as he does. Boogie Nights is a funny, depressing, uplifting, exciting, heartbreaking, and strangely beautiful film. It truly is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
A Great Childhood Memory - Not a Quality Film
Ah, Star Wars - the cinema of my childhood. I was practically raised on the original trilogy - I must have been two years old when I first watched it. Despite the fact that I obviously could not fully comprehend what I was seeing, I loved every minute of it right away. I have never stopped adoring the original trilogy - they remain some of my most beloved films to this day.
I was ten years old when The Phantom Menace came out back in 1999. I was still drooling over the grand experience of the seeing the Special Edition trilogy two years prior, and I had all but worn out every copy of the trilogy I could get my hands on. I was more than ready for my next Star Wars theater experience. The timing couldn't have been more perfect.
I'll never forget sitting in the theater - my stomach a black hole of anticipation - waiting for the film to begin. The 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm logos appeared - I grinned one of the biggest grins of my life. "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." My fists were clenched. A sudden burst of John Williams' iconic score accompanied by the yellow Star Wars logo...at that point, it was safe to say it was the greatest moment of my life. For the next 2+ hours, I watched in awe, lapping up every second of Lucas' gigantic sci-fi spectacle. I was one happy kid. I left the theater in a state of bliss. My parents weren't crazy about the movie, but I managed to coax my grandpa into taking me again the next day. I sat in the back of the theater whispering every nerdy detail of the plot into his ear, still grinning with glee the whole time. Even then I was able to recognize that it was nowhere near as good as the original trilogy, but that didn't stop me from loving every second of it. The Phantom Menace was one of the defining moments of my childhood.
Unfortunately, age and repeat viewings have not been too kind to Episode I. My last viewing before writing this review was the first time I had seen the film in about two years. I finally saw the flaws everyone else had been seeing.
The film is far from a total failure, but it certainly is one hell of a mess. I think it would be easiest to review using pros and cons.
Pros: +Liam Neeson makes for a damn good Jedi. He feels genuinely fatherly and wise. +Ray Park and Ian McDiarmid are terrific villains. +John Williams' score is as magnificent as ever. This is one I can still listen to independently. It's big, epic, and beautiful. +Lucas still does a very good job creating huge, lush worlds that truly immerse the viewer. +The lightsaber choreography is better than ever. +The pod-race scene is oh-so-much fun. +The final inter-cut action sequence of the Naboo Palace battle, the Gungans vs. the droids ground battle, the space battle above Naboo, and the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan/Darth Maul lightsaber fight is simply drool-worthy. A fantastic scene comparable to the similarly inter-cut climactic battle sequence in Return of the Jedi.
Cons: -The special effects, while great for 1999, have, like any CG effects would, dated severely over the years and many of the CG characters now look like they are straight out of Shrek. -The direction is utterly terrible. I don't know what happened to Lucas between the '70s and 1999; he proved he could direct more than competently with THX 1138 (which is a brilliant and highly underrated film), American Graffiti, and Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. For some reason, he is even worse than amateur here. Every shot feels distractingly staged, and the acting is wooden all around (and it's certainly not the fault of the fine cast). -I do not think I need to comment on the character of Jar-Jar Binks or Jake Lloyd's even-horrible-for-a-child-actor performance. -There are many attempts at childish comic relief that just feel out of place and unnecessary. Lucas even resorts to a fart joke on one occasion. -The Yoda puppet looks terrible. I cannot fathom how they were able to make him look so real in 1980, yet so fake in 1999. -Lucas seems to make a real attempt at political intrigue in this film. It's a great idea and could have been fascinating, but it is ruined by a lot of juvenile dialogue and scenarios. -There seem to be a lot of subtle(ish) racial stereotypes. I'm not sure if they were intentional or not, but they're there nonetheless. -They kill off Darth Maul, who was easily the most interesting character in the film. He had so much potential.
This film is just a mangling. It was a great big screen experience, but unlike the original trilogy, it really doesn't translate well to home viewing (this isn't helped by the fact that the DVD has an awful, outdated transfer), and it certainly doesn't hold up to critical scrutiny. I'm sure I'll still watch and enjoy it from time to time, but overall this film is, for me, better looked at as a great cinematic memory and not as quality film-making.
Fando y Lis (1968)
When Alejandro Jodorowsky's debut Fando y Lis was originally released back in 1967, a full-scale riot broke out in the audience, the director barely escaped the theater with his life, and the film was banned. That has got be the best, most intriguing publicity I have ever heard of any picture receiving. Of course, when I heard about this, I simply had to see it. I mean, what could this film possibly contain that could provoke such an extreme reaction? After watching it, I honestly have to say that I really don't know.
Fando y Lis is by far the strangest, most bizarre film I have ever seen. There is no cohesive narrative, no coherent style, and in the end, no real point. The movie feels like some incredibly strange spawn of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Eraserhead, and 8 1/2, though it is very different (and far more bizarre) than any of those films. This is an art house flick, through and through. Fiercely experimental and filmed on a shoestring budget, its unbelievably loose (almost non-existent) plot follows Fando and his half-paralyzed girlfriend Lis as they search a wasteland inhabited by hoards of erm interesting characters for the mythical city of Tar, a paradise on Earth. Or are they even on Earth? In this film, nothing is for certain.
When one watches an obtuse art film such as Fando y Lis, one's first reaction is most likely to try and decipher it and unlock its "message" or "meaning", so to speak. However, there is no such thing in Fando. Jodorowsky himself said that he finds what he doesn't understand to interest him the most, so in reality, no one is going to understand this film, because I'm not really even sure there is anything to understand.
That said, there are still some rather intriguing visuals and scenes in Fando, such as an incredibly striking sequence involving black paint (at least I think it's black paint the black and white cinematography makes it hard to tell). Actually, this brings me to the point of the cinematography, which, in my opinion, is the most unsettling aspect of the film. Though it was filmed in the 1960s, the black and white is bleached and brightened to an uncomfortable degree, giving one the impression that the film was shot in 1920s. For some reason, it gives the whole picture something of a disturbing aura.
Unfortunately, the fact that this is Jodorowsky's first film really shows. The whole thing seems more like a big experiment than anything else, and some rather amateur editing and borderline laughable sequences ruin a lot of the interesting segments. That's not to say the film is without worth; it makes for a rather interesting watch. But overall, it just feels like a heavily experimental student film with no real purpose. It can be hard to sit through occasionally, but at 93 minutes, it doesn't drag for too long, and it is worth viewing if only for its historical value.
King Kong (2005)
An Overwhelmingly Gigantic Cinematic Feast
As critics, we sometimes will view a fantasy film such as King Kong with our highly critical minds and become lost in the endless sea of "It's too long
it's too bloated
it's too over-the-top
it's too this
it's too that
" and on and on and on. I'm not saying such criticisms are invalid, but sometimes we forget about the entire reason movies were invented in the first place: entertainment. Sometimes we just need to sit back and enjoy the ride, and King Kong is one hell of a roller coaster.
The original 1933 classic was the grandest, purest, and most exciting action adventure film ever made at its time, and in my opinion, it remains so today. It was a beautiful, sprawling epic with a heart of gold. However, in 1976, a Hollywood remake came along and replaced the timeless themes of adventure and tragedy with an ill-placed social commentary on greed and politics. There's nothing wrong with a good social commentary, but the fragile tale of King Kong is a highly inappropriate vehicle. So what makes Peter Jackson's 2005 remake any different than your average Hollywood cash-in? The answer is simple: passion. Peter Jackson readily admits that King Kong is the project he has waited his entire life to undertake. As a child, the original was what inspired him to become a filmmaker. He has explained that he remade Kong because he felt indebted to it, and his way of repaying it is by bringing the magic of Kong back into cinemas for a new generation. Jackson's earnest enthusiasm is extremely apparent in every frame of the resulting film.
As the film begins, the first aspect that stood out to me was the gorgeously recreated 1930s Manhattan. There truly was a lot of care put into every detail. As the film progressed, the next element that struck me was the characters. I have heard people complain that they thought the acting was terrible and the characters were irritating. I simply do not understand this, and have to wonder if these people woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I found the entire cast to be terrific, especially the three leads: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, and Adrien Brody. Watts delivers one of the absolute best performances in recent memory, conveying some truly heartbreaking emotions through her eyes alone. Black continues the string of comedic actors transitioning to more serious roles that began with Jim Carrey in The Truman Show (and more recently Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and continued with Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. Though I wouldn't quite put Black at the level of those two knockout crossovers yet, I still think he did one hell of a great job.
Jackson crafts a wonderful atmosphere for the film right from the start, and even throws in loads of in-jokes and homages for film-lovers to catch, referencing everything from the original Kong to Jackson's deliciously infamous early work. I know I never expected to see a King Kong remake that references Dead-Alive! But once the characters arrive on Skull Island, the film really begins to impress. What Jackson delivers is the most gigantic, overwhelming feast of special effects ever committed to celluloid. I am not saying they are the most revolutionary or impressive effects in history by any means, but I sure was exhausted by the enormous scale of it all something no other film has made me feel. Once the action begins, it quickly becomes a relentless onslaught of cinematic grandeur. I have noticed many people complaining that this hour(ish)-long sequence is overkill. To me, that seems like the entire point. Of course it's overkill! It's meant to be this is, after all, an island full of vicious prehistoric beasts.
And Jackson simply nails every aspect of this sequence perfectly. He doesn't concern himself with practical reality, something I feel too many fantasy films attempt to do. This is fantasy it's not supposed to be real, so why try to make it? Jackson gives us impeccably over-the-top fantasy action, and I have never seen it done so well.
Unfortunately, by the time Kong is captured and everyone arrives back in Manhattan, I couldn't help but feel a little burned out. After a sequence as awe-inspiring as the preceding Skull Island, it's hard not to be let down a little bit by the final act. However, I can't help but wonder if Jackson intended this. The film's first hour carries an aura of enthusiastic anticipation, the second hour is fantastic, all-out action, and now the third hour seems to bear a sad, somber tone. Perhaps being underwhelmed was the intended effect? In short: I was captivated by this film. Is it without flaws? Of course not. Is it occasionally corny? Sure. Does it have some unnecessary subplots? Yes. Is it over-the-top? Of course. But these things are minor in my opinion, and I, for one, had no problem just sitting back and soaking in the majesty of it all.
Tonari no Totoro (1988)
A Beautifully Imaginative Masterpiece
In my mind, there are only two films that truly capture the essence of a child's imagination. One is Danny Boyle's vividly beautiful Millions, and the other is Hayao Miyazaki's sweet, tender, and utterly gorgeous My Neighbor Totoro.
The story is of two young girls who move to the Japanese countryside with their father while their mother is being treated in the hospital. After settling in, these two children discover that where they live is anything but ordinary. They find a hidden path into the forest, and soon meet Totoro, a giant, furry, and lovable creature.
The film is told strictly from the point of view of these two children. What adults may see as harmless and silly, the children see as amazing and very much real. When the children go on about how they can see "Soot Gremlins" and "Totoro", the adults simply say that they saw them when they were children as well.
This formula is certainly one we've seen before, but thanks to the genius of Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro takes on a feeling of unbridled imagination never before seen on celluloid. The world he creates is an intimate yet expansive one. The fact that this is one of Miyazaki's most beautifully animated features certainly doesn't hurt this. Everything is gloriously vivid, colorful, and bursting with life.
The manner in which Miyazaki presents the narrative is nothing short of brilliant. The whole time watching the film, we as an audience realize that the girls' mother is suffering from some kind of serious affliction, but this is never really addressed directly. The children don't think about it that way, so the film doesn't approach it that way. This subplot never really develops at all until a sequence near the very end of the film, and this is a very powerful sequence. In order to avoid spoilers, I won't reveal the details, but it certainly struck me with its bittersweet honesty. However, this is still a tender family film through and through, and the ending is one that is sure to bring a smile to your face. And unlike most family films, My Neighbor Totoro is sweet, but never reaches the point of being saccharine. It's an honest, beautiful masterpiece, and I give it my highest recommendation to anyone who can still manage to keep in touch with their inner child from time to time.
Heavy-Handed, Self-Righteous Garbage
Crash. The film that confronts racism in a gut-wrenching and mature manner. The film that makes us take a harsh look at ourselves as a race. The film that is superbly crafted in every way. The film of 2004.
What did I see when I watched Crash? I saw a slew of recycled racial stereotypes. I saw a sophomoric script. I saw direction on par with an episode of whatever television drama is "in" right now. I saw the same concept of interweaving L.A. subplots that has been done so many times (and so much better) by other filmmakers. I saw one of the worst films of 2004.
Crash is the story of a handful of Los Angeles residents and how their lives intertwine over a period of time. All coming from various ethnic backgrounds, these characters are confronted with intense racism both directed at and emitted from them.
Having missed the film in theaters, I was inspired to view it after all of the intense debate among critics, some claiming it as an A+ masterpiece, others claiming it as F-grade garbage. I had to decide for myself. While I do not think the film is a complete failure, it certainly is nowhere near even B-grade material, let alone A.
After the first ten minutes, it was already fairly apparent that this film wasn't exactly subtle. We have an altercation in a gun store as a man of middle-eastern descent attempts to purchase a firearm and is berated by the storeowner, who loudly calls him "Osama." We see a white cop pulling over a couple that were engaging in a sexual act while driving and feeling up the wife, and afterward, the wife screams at her husband saying that the only reason it happened was because he thought she was a white woman, and he didn't like the idea of her fellating a black man.
If these blatant attempts at affecting us aren't enough, writer/director Paul Haggis also presents us with a pair of young black males. One a sensitive youth, one a rather stereotypical "gangsta". As they travel the sidewalks of an upper-class portion of L.A., the former explains to the latter about how all white people hate black people and how this is proved by the fact that they didn't receive as many coffee refills as other people in the restaurant they had just dined at. He spews out some more talk of how horrible it is to be black, and then they pull out pistols and steal an SUV. Wow, that's some real subtle irony right there, Haggis.
Now, I realize Haggis tried to focus in on prejudiced people, but what he does in Crash is just ridiculously over-the-top. This is the twenty-first century, not 1930's Alabama, here. Is all these people ever think or talk about related to race issues? They're not exactly presented as dynamic characters. This also makes it hard to care about anyone in the film. If they're all just a bunch of degenerates, why should I care? And of course, by the end of the film, all of these characters have undergone a miraculous catharsis and have become wonderful human beings.
And again, as I stated earlier, this technique of interweaving mini-stories in Los Angeles has been far better in the past. Short Cuts, anyone? Magnolia? On top of being insultingly heavy-handed, Crash commits another celluloid sin: it's just plain easy. How hard is it to tug at the audience's heartstrings when you have a cute, innocent little girl being shot? Then all one has to do is cue up some Enya-esquire music, and voila! you've got something the critics are guaranteed to become rabid over.
Any sophomore in high school, if asked to write a story about racism, could have written a script as simple and obvious as Crash.
Also, as I stated earlier, on top of having severe script problems, Haggis' direction is straight out of a television drama. It's all above-the-shoulder close-ups and shaky hand-held.
However, I do not feel it is fair to give this film an F grade for two factors: the gorgeous cinematography, which results in some great visuals of Los Angeles, and the fabulous cast, which delivers some damn fine performances. Of course, they are utterly wasted on this trash.
Don't be fooled by the hype, for Crash is a film that does anything but live up to it. Unless of course, you want a film in which all the intricacies of the narrative are spoon-fed to you off a silver platter. Oh wait, in order for that to be the case, the narrative has to be intricate. Nevermind.
I'm beginning to wonder if people feel that they're going to look stupid if they say a foreign film is bad. That is the only possible explanation I can think of as to why Versus could have an IMDb average over three. I really can't fathom how any true film-lover could actually find anything of value in this dung-heap. Versus is proof that not all foreign movies are amazing. Furthermore, Versus is proof that foreign movies can occasionally the most wretched tripe ever committed to celluloid.
By the way, I am not going to refer to this atrocity as a "film" at any point in this review it doesn't deserve to be dignified with that. I'm relegating this one to "movie", a term I normally try to avoid.
Anyway, this Japanese mangling has a ridiculously convoluted plot involving zombies and Samurai reincarnated as criminals. There's also some subplot about some girl's blood resurrecting something-or-other it's all just a big mess that I don't really care to remember. Now you're probably wondering how a movie about Samurai, criminals, and zombies can be so terrible. I had a hard time believing it too, but there is no subject matter immune to incompetent filmmakers. Versus feels like the bastard spawn of a group of ADD-ridden fifteen-year-olds who do nothing but play videogames and down can after can of Mountain Dew, all while listening to techno music. We have a group of overly stylized (not to mention extremely clichéd) characters that wear sunglasses and a lot of leather. We have martial arts fight scene after drawn-out martial arts fight scene. We have a lot of pointless violence. We have a lot of slow-motion shots trying to mimic The Matrix. We have a lot of over-the-top gore. Yes, not even the high gore factor could save this pile of crap.
All the hyper-slo-mo-Matrix-kung-fu shots really just began to give me a bad headache after about, oh, ten minutes. And if it wasn't bad enough to get through already, the movie is actually 119 minutes long. That's about 119 minutes longer than it should be.
Hell, if you think Uwe Boll movies are bad, you ain't seen nothing' yet. It's been a while since I've seen a movie this bad. In fact, this is quite possibly the single most god-awful movie I've ever seen. The absolute only reason I sat through the entire train-wreck was because I don't believe in rating a film if one has not viewed it in its entirety and I just could not pass up giving this piece of garbage the grade it deserves. That, obviously, is a huge, resounding F.
Out of Character For Jarmusch
Ghost Dog certainly is an intriguing film. It breaks some new ground for writer/director Jim Jarmusch, who usually creates simple, funny, and heartfelt black and white films with many underlying themes. Ghost Dog is one of his few color films, and it is also the most out of character picture he has made to date. Instead of a slow-paced comedic drama, Ghost Dog is a slow-paced bloody crime film.
The plot deals with Ghost Dog (Whitaker), an expert mafia assassin living in present-day New York City who lives his life according to the ancient code of the Samurai.
Jarmusch somewhat reverses what Akira Kurosawa did in Throne of Blood by bringing Eastern culture to a Western setting. It's a rather fascinating idea, but I can't help but feel that Jarmusch kind of falls into a trap he teeters on almost constantly in his films: while he's so busy creating a slow, brooding atmosphere and interweaving subtle underlying themes, he occasionally forgets that this is still a movie. He still needs to keep the audience entertained. Ghost Dog sometimes moves so slowly that one becomes a little bit bored and anxious.
Another thing that doesn't work particularly well in Ghost Dog are Jarmusch's signature scenes of off-beat humor that often just come completely out of nowhere. They usually work quite well, such as Iggy Pop's and Billy Bob Thornton's blackly funny scene in Dead Man, but they just feel awkward here. E.g., Jarmusch develops a very peculiar group of gangsters in Ghost Dog, gangsters who think they're straight out of GoodFellas but are so incompetent that they can't even pay their rent nor figure out who they're trying to "whack". This is often quite amusing, but sometimes Jarmusch just goes over the top, such as when he makes one of the fifty-something Italian gangsters begin going on about how he loves rap and even start rapping his favorite verses right in the middle of a meeting of criminals. It's just uncomfortable.
Still, there's plenty to like here, and there are quite a few homages for avid film-lovers to spot, such as a cool little nod to the butterfly scene in Seijun Suzuki's Branded To Kill. Also, the acting is often spot-on. Forest Whitaker is absolutely perfect as Ghost Dog - detached, subtle, nuanced, and, most importantly, human.
Still, I hesitate to recommend this film. Jim Jarmusch is most definitely an acquired taste, but even his fans may find their patience tried during Ghost Dog.
Cape Fear (1962)
The Most Intense Thriller Ever Made
The plot is simple enough: a dangerous ex-convict (Mitchum) moves to a friendly small town in order to terrorize and exact revenge upon the lawyer who put him behind bars for eight years (Peck) and his wife and young daughter.
Cape Fear is a straightforward thriller, and let me tell you, is it ever thrilling. Quite simply, this is the single most intense, nail-biting, white-knuckle, edge-of-your-seat suspense film of all-time. But just what is it that makes Cape Fear so intense? Well, a couple of factors.
First of all, the superb performances from Gregory Peck and, more importantly, Robert Mitchum. Peck plays the every-man, and he gives a solid performance all around. However, Mitchum is simply outstanding as the relentless villain. His character is already rather frightening, as he is not just a drooling lunatic, but a clever and ruthless fiend who is careful and meticulous in every detail of his diabolical schemes. Mitchum comes off as utterly cold-blooded, yet at the same time, gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as, after all, he is a villain with reason. He lost a wife. He lost a child. He lost eight years of his life. For a few moments here and there, the audience just may actually sympathize with him. However, this doesn't detract from the inhuman nature of his character. He is also not simply a brute, but something of a charismatic charmer. But after all, could Mitchum ever not be charming? Secondly, the plot, the pacing, and the direction. This is a rather tense story to begin with, but the intensity is augmented by the gut-wrenching pace at which the story unfurls. It is both exciting and scary to watch. By the time, the climax arrives, I can almost guarantee that the audience will be jumping around in their seats.
The direction is not only extremely effective, but, for its time, very innovative and fresh, and it still holds up today. There is a tense raw and sexual energy to everything, and it's quite remarkable that the filmmakers got away some of the material this film contains back in 1962.
And thirdly, everything is greatly enhanced by Bernard Herrmann's classic score. It really is the ideal soundtrack for a thriller. From slow build-ups to discordant, pounding climaxes, everything just falls into place perfectly.
If you think you've been thrilled by movies before, think again. Watch Cape Fear, and get ready for a nail-biting experience in classic cinema.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The Bourne Disappointment
In 2002, up-and-coming director Doug Liman offered up a thrilling adaptation of Robert Ludlum's espionage novel The Bourne Identity, and in doing so, he presented the perfect espionage thriller - great acting, a strong script, perfect direction, fitting music, and just the right touch of realistic action. After Identity proved successful at the box office, the studios decided they wanted a sequel, of course, so the next logical step was Ludlum's second novel in the series, The Bourne Supremacy. Liman had moved on to other things (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), so who was put at the helm of Supremacy? Television director Paul Greengrass. This was not a good decision.
In Identity, Jason Bourne (Damon) was pulled from the ocean with two bullets in his back and was stricken with amnesia. He was chased by many killers, and eventually discovered that he was a finely-tuned CIA assassin. He managed to fall off the grid into obscurity. Supremacy picks up right where Identity left off, with Bourne in India. Now, he has been framed for a double-murder and robbery, and must come out of hiding to tie up loose ends once and for all.
The film had infinite potential. Finally, someone was making a sequel to a movie worth making a sequel to. However, this project just fell into the wrong hands. Greengrass can't direct his way out of a paper bag. Nearly every single shot throughout the entire film is hand-held. It's tolerable for a while, but it eventually just becomes grating. Hasn't this guy ever heard of a tripod? But the film's failure certainly does not lie in the hands of Greengrass alone. The script is, to put it bluntly, not very good. The dialogue is often laughable, and unlike the first film, the characters occasionally just come off as stupid as they throw themselves into pointless fight/chase sequences for no apparent reason. Not at all like Identity, where every fight scene had a purpose. Also, in Identity, when there was action, it was brutal and believable. Nothing felt fantastic - it all felt very real (especially the car chase, which was just about the best since Bullitt). In Supremacy, however, everything loses the edgy feeling of a realistic spy thriller and takes on the persona of a Hollywood action flick. Every fight scene and car chase (yes, there is more than one car chase) is loaded with Michael Bay-esqe hand-held hyper-cuts. It's hard to tell what's even going on sometimes - it all just turns into a headache-inducing blur.
The film is certainly not a complete failure, though. The acting from Matt Damon and Brian Cox is excellent, as usual, though the rest of the cast is sorely lacking (Joan Allen gives a forced and insipid performance). The film is also quite entertaining. And I must admit, it's still nice to have any kind of continuation to the stellar Identity, even if it's quite lackluster.
I'm still holding out hope for the trilogy's closing, The Bourne Ultimatum. Let's just hope it falls into capable hands.
A Compelling Character Study
First there was American Beauty, a touching comedic drama about suburban family life. Then there was Road To Perdition, a masterful Prohibition-era gangster film. And now there's Jarhead, a unique Gulf War film. I think, with his first three films, director Sam Mendes has proved not only that he is obviously one of the most versatile filmmakers around, but also one of the most talented.
Jarhead is the true story of Swofford (Gyllenhaal), a US Marine who endures the hell of boot camp on the boredom of Operation Desert Storm.
Jarhead takes a very unique and original approach to the war genre. In a sense, it conveys the standard "war is hell" message, but not in the same blood-spattered manner that the likes of Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down did. Instead, the Marines of Jarhead are in hell in the sense that they're bored and lonely. Swofford is afraid, but not for his life, but for what his girlfriend may be doing in his absence. These young men are raging piles of testosterone with no release. Boot camp pumped up their blood-lust to an inhuman degree, and when there are no enemies to kill, all that's left for them to do is screw around and masturbate. Masturbate a lot.
Jarhead strikes me as one of the most realistic depictions of modern war ever printed on celluloid. I don't understand how so many people could be claiming that the film is so inaccurate - after all, the book it is based on was written by a Marine. There is no over-the-top action combat a la Behind Enemy Lines, nor is there constant realistic battle like in Saving Private Ryan - after all, modern warfare is not exactly going to be like World War II. There is actually hardly a single bullet fired throughout the entirety of Jarhead's running time, which is going to be the main factor in causing multitudes of people to be terribly bored with the film. Let's get one thing straight: this is NOT a film about combat. This is a compelling character study dealing with the effects of military training on the human soul.
Another misconception people seem to be having is that Jarhead has a strong leftist political agenda. While it is certainly not a pro-war film, I wouldn't necessarily say it is anti-war, either. It really just shows war as it is, like Full Metal Jacket. And keep in mind, this is only through the eyes of one Marine.
Though it features no actual combat, Jarhead still contains some extremely affecting scenes, and one that is actually very hard to watch, that being a scene in which a Marine sits down to watch a VHS copy of The Deer Hunter that his wife sent to him, only to find that she has spliced in footage of her having sex with another man. Watching the husband's reaction is a very difficult task. I found myself so deeply affected by this scene that I actually felt a little sick and had a hard time moving on as the film kept rolling.
However, Jarhead is certainly not an unrelenting downer. There is a great deal of scathing humor, almost to the point of making the film a very dark comedy.
Mendes really does show off some remarkable talent here, as he did in his two previous films. And the acting...wow, it's phenomenal. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers his most impressive performance to date, as does Peter Sarsgaard. Chris Cooper is great as always, though underused, and Jamie Foxx gives a wonderful, nuanced performance, and that's saying a lot, as up until this film I found him to be one of the most overrated actors in recent memory. The rest of the supporting cast is excellent, as well.
Though I did not find the score to be particularly good, the soundtrack here is magnificent. On top of PERFECTLY utilizing Nirvana's highly underrated gem "Something In The Way", Jarhead also features Tom Waits' "Soldier's Things", an instrumental version of Kanye West's "Jesus Walks", and many others.
If you're looking for an action-packed war film, don't go to Jarhead. However, if you're looking for a stunningly different portrait of human beings in the military, this one's for you.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
A Brutal Profile of Madness
Italian horror - a genre as equally celebrated as it is reviled. The undisputed master of the craft was the legendary Dario Argento, famous for his strong sense of surreal imagery and and poetic violence. Then there was Lucio "Godfather of Gore" Fulci, who was something of a poor man's Argento, but the bulk of his work is still highly enjoyable and he has generated a cult following possibly even more dedicated than Argento's. And then there was Ruggero Deodato, a director who possibly could have joined Argento and Fulci in the ranks of the Italian horror elite, if it weren't for a premature ending to his career due to a scandalous little piece of work called Cannibal Holocaust. Where Argento was known for visuals and Fulci for over-the-top gore, based on Holocaust, it looks as though Deodato could have made a name for himself based on sheer unapologetic brutality.
The film follows a researcher (Kerman) as he travels to the South American jungle in an attempt to find a missing film crew who were shooting a documentary on the cannibalistic natives of the area. The filmmakers are long dead, but their footage is discovered, and what it contains is among the most shocking brutality ever witnessed.
If you're at all familiar with classic horror, then you've undoubtedly heard about Cannibal Holocaust and the ravenous infamy that surrounds it. The question that seems to hang on the minds of those who haven't seen it is: does it really live up to its reputation? The answer: absolutely. Don't be mistaken; it isn't gore nor is it actual violence that makes Holocaust so infamous - hell, almost any of Fulci or Romero film is gorier than this. No, what makes Holocaust do disturbing is, among other things, the unflinching realism of the brutality. Deodato was actually arrested and the film was seized upon its completion, and he had to present the actors in court to prove that he had not actually butchered them to make the film. I wondered, before viewing the picture, if it was even possible to make film violence look THAT realistic, especially back in 1980, but upon watching the film, I have to say that I can easily see why the courts had their suspicions in '80. Hell, the film would probably be brought under question even if it were made today. Though Deodato was able to prove that he did not actually murder anyone, he was still thrust into further hot water due to the fact that the cruelty toward animals in the film was real. Even after Deodato was able to release the film, Holocaust's future was to be rough, to say the least. Throughout the world, the film was either heavily cut/censored or banned all together, even in its native Italy. It actually holds the record for bannings: sixty countries.
So yes, it is brutal. Yes, it is shocking. But is it really any good? Well, the film suffers from poor dubbing, a common affliction amongst Italian films of the era. This tends to be a big contributor in making Italian horror films so famously campy, and while Holocaust isn't repulsing with unspeakable horrors, it does tend to be a bit campy. The mediocre acting also plays a role in this. However, Deodato's direction is actually quite good, as is the cinematography and the acting of those portraying the documentary film crew. Riz Ortolani's strange score is also quite good; the film opens with a series of beautiful aerial shots of the jungle accompanied by a peaceful, sad, almost pop-like piece of score, and then CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST flashes on screen - one can't help but feel that this is an uneasy juxtaposition. In fact, the first forty-five or so minutes of the film don't really prepare the viewer for what is to be unleashed upon them in the latter portion.
But on top of being the most infamous exploitation film ever made, Holocaust is actually a very powerful piece of cinema.
*BEGIN SPOILERS* As the faux-documentary footage begins, the viewer is subjected to a group of "civilized" filmmakers who commit disturbing acts of brutality on both the less aggressive natives and the jungle animals. The desensitized manner in which these people behave is presented masterfully by Deodato and is truly frightening to watch. These men (and woman) slowly descend further and further into repugnant insanity, and this loss of all things humane and decent comes to a climax in a despicable scene in which the three male members of the crew take turns brutally raping a young female native. What makes Holocaust so powerful is the manner in which it presents the demise of these maniacs. Yes, the aforementioned rape scene is very troubling, but in a subsequent scene when all of the heinous acts committed by the crew come back around and are inflicted upon them by the more aggressive natives, I found myself asking: why is seeing the woman from the film crew violated so much more affecting than seeing the helpless native girl violated? Why is seeing these reprehensible people getting what's coming to them so disturbing? Why am I afraid for these horrible people? By the time the footage is over, a troubled executive who was viewing it calls the projectionist and says "I want this footage burned. All of it." What a powerful note to end on. (Yes, I'm ignoring the last "Who are the real cannibals?" line of voice-over dialogue, as it is blatant and unnecessary.) *END SPOILERS*
Cannibal Holocaust is one of the few films that delivers on the hype. A startlingly well-presented profile of madness that will probably rattle even the most seasoned horror fan, and an experience one's not likely to forget.