Reviews

23 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Bullitt (1968)
6/10
Which 1968 are we talking about here?
19 July 2005
The car chase scene is fine, but the whole movie is pretty pointless. The plot must have been the boilerplate for subsequent Quinn Martin TV productions in the 70s, and in fact the movie could have been 50 minutes long and been just as good.

The best thing about the movie is seeing San Francisco in 1968. The weirdest thing about the movie is that it takes place in San Francisco in 1968, and there is no sense that anything different was happening, in San Francisco or anywhere else in the world, in 1968. Dirty Harry in 1971 was clearly of its time and place, a response to what had happened in 1968 and the rest of the 60s. Bullitt, which takes place in that time and place, could have been filmed ten years earlier or ten years later. There is no larger sense of politics ... the district attorney is ambitious, but that pales against what was actually happening in San Francisco, and Paris, and Chicago, doesn't it? It was only a year after the Summer of Love, but there's not a hippie in sight. If it wasn't for the hills and the landmarks, you'd think the movie was made in Omaha in 1974.
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8/10
Moore's best film is his least entertaining
29 July 2004
I wouldn't complain so much about Michael Moore if 1) he wasn't so crummy to people who don't deserve it (I don't mind when he picks on the head of GM or Charlton Heston), and 2) if he didn't have the disturbing ability to insert himself into touching private moments that don't need Michael Moore's presence.

Happily, both of these tendencies are mostly absent from Fahrenheit 9/11. Republicans and Democrats take it on the chin, but the "average Americans" are offered up without condescension, a rarity in the past for Moore. (He does get a few cheap shots at small countries like Costa Rica and Iceland, though.)

As for my second point above, it might be useful to compare two scenes. In Bowling for Columbine, we get a scene where Moore comforts a woman on camera. The woman needs comforting; Moore is there; he comforts her. But there's something smarmy about the event ... it's not clear why we have to see Moore with his arm around the woman, except to point out that Michael Moore cares. In Fahrenheit 9/11, however, there are several emotional scenes, particularly those with the woman whose son was killed in Iraq. Moore remains mostly off-camera for those scenes ... he lets us see the woman's grief, it's powerful and important to what Moore is trying to say, but he leaves it be, he doesn't insert himself for no reason.

As usual, Spinsanity takes on Moore's cavalier attitude towards facts, and there's plenty to kvetch about, but even here, Moore is improving. As Spinsanity notes, the film "appears to be free of the silly and obvious errors that have plagued Moore's past work." They do go on to note that the movie "is filled with a series of deceptive half-truths and carefully phrased insinuations that Moore does not adequately back up," but to be honest, that doesn't bother me much ... I have no objection to Moore the rabblerouser, editing his footage for maximum impact, I just don't like it when he lies. And there would appear to be very few lies in Fahrenheit 9/11.

I'd have to say there's some irony in the fact that Fahrenheit 9/11 is Moore's most successful film at the box office, and also the least "entertaining." Perhaps Moore should have been trusting his audience all along to get his arguments, without the cheap stuff. Eight on a scale of ten.
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10/10
Perhaps perhaps perhaps
15 November 2002
Warning: Spoilers
POSSIBLE SPOILERS

What a perfect title! The two main characters are most definitely in the mood; they also don't ever get beyond being in the mood. Repressed emotions have rarely been so charged as they are in this movie ... probably the best comparison would be those British films where a couple of stiff-upper-lip types lust for each other in socially-acceptable silence. While on one level, "nothing really happens" in the film, Wong Kar-Wai does a great job of making us anticipate what is about to happen. Of course, our expectations are shattered repeatedly, or rather, they go unfulfilled ("shattered" is far too showy and emotional for what we see on the screen, which is quiet and, well, repressed). A Nat King Cole song that turns up late in the film (sung in Spanish!) says it all: "perhaps, perhaps, perhaps."

Maggie Cheung is as beautiful as any actress ever, and it's always nice to see her when she's not being wasted. Tony Leung isn't exactly chopped liver in the looks department either, and both of them give exquisitely moderated performances.

The DVD is terrific as well (Criterion strikes again).
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Windtalkers (2002)
5/10
John Woo's second-worst American movie
21 October 2002
The sad thing about Windtalkers is how utterly ordinary and conventional it is. It's not good, it's not bad, it's not interesting but neither is it boring, it's got an interesting idea for a plot, it doesn't make much use of that idea. It's the definition of a five on a scale of ten. It's better than Mission Impossible 2, still John Woo's worst American movie, but it's so much worse than Woo's greatest Hong Kong films that it's depressing.

You can mark off all the items on your John Woo Checklist (birds flying? check! two guys pointing guns at each other? check! male bonding? check! Catholic imagery? check!) but they mean nothing beyond the checklist. He takes the fascinating concept of Navajo Marines using their native language as an unbreakable-to-the-Japanese code during WWII, and then barely uses that code during the 2+ hours of the film. He takes a movie ostensibly about those Navajos, and turns it into a movie about Nicolas Cage. Perhaps most unfortunate, this great Asian filmmaker turns every Japanese character into a faceless, killing nonentity. Windtalkers isn't a disappointment ... how could it be after the disaster that was MI2? It's just a hollow dud.
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Insomnia (2002)
8/10
Al Can't Sleep
19 October 2002
Insomnia shows us what Touch of Evil might have been like if Orson Welles' character wasn't such a bad guy after all. Al Pacino is perfectly cast as a guy who can't sleep; Al has pretty much looked exhausted since sometime back in the early 90s, so you could argue he's tailor-made for the title role in this picture. Longtime viewers of Pacino movies know there's two ways he can go with a role, the subtle way or the over-the-top way. Thankfully, in Insomnia he's underplaying, and it works wonderfully. His ever-so-sleepy face does most of the acting for him; like Benito Santiago's, it's a face that tells a hundred tales before he even opens his mouth. Apparently following Pacino's lead, co-star Robin Williams also tones down the outrageous mugging. His face, too, does the work, his entire character seemingly explained by the way his long nose and chin struggle to meet each other somewhere in the vicinity of the mouth. Hilary Swank's role was clearly intended, at least initially, to be the "we better stick a gurl in this movie, too" character, but then, surprisingly, she does a lot with the part, no distracting "romance" takes place, and the movie is the better for her participation in it. I haven't seen the original film, so I can't compare this remake in that regard, but I can say I found this a more satisfying film than director Christopher Nolan's earlier Memento. I give it an 8 on a scale of 10.
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Gandhi (1982)
6/10
Murphy Brown and President Bartlet meet up with history
20 September 2002
Gandhi the movie won 8 Oscars. It might be interesting to know what Gandhi himself would have made of all those awards. There's no telling from the movie, of course, since Gandhi the man never actually makes an appearance in the film. Ben Kingsley, though, does a better job playing Jesus than Max Von Sydow did in The Greatest Story Ever Told, and it's nice to see Murphy Brown stopping by late in the picture.
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7/10
Nice try, almost but not quite great
19 September 2002
Kissing Jessica Stein isn't exactly a perfect movie, but it had me rooting for it. It's treatment of "let's try being gay" sexuality isn't as messy as, say, Chasing Amy ... this movie knows what it wants to say and it says it. Jessica and Helen are straight women who decide to try out a relationship with a woman because, well, just because. Everyone is simultaneously right and wrong; the film doesn't pass negative judgment on either of the main characters. The movie takes an unbelievable relationship based mostly on the kinds of things that only happen in movies, and actually makes you believe in it.
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Diva (1981)
9/10
Godard + Touch of Evil + Smiles = Diva
13 August 2002
Diva is a wonderful, lovely movie. As you watch it, you are reminded of many other movies, some of them classics, and yet you rarely wish you were watching those other films, because Diva is delightful enough on its own. If the Godard of the 60s had made Touch of Evil in a good mood, he might have come up with Diva. I give it a nine on a scale of ten.
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5/10
The Pool Is Empty
10 August 2002
This documentary ain't exactly Sorrow and the Pity. I don't know much about skateboarding, and so I found some of this movie informative, and some of the footage from the 1970s was fairly cool to watch. But ... the movie was twice as long as it needed to be (and it was only 90 minutes long), the self-congratulatory tone was off-putting, and there's just only so much I can take of middle-aged guys talking about how rad they were back in the day. Ultimately, this thing is as much a promo film for Vans as it is a serious consideration of skate culture. I'd give it a five on a scale of ten. For most of the film, the best thing about it is the soundtrack of hard rock classics, but even that falls apart at the end, when the music suddenly switches to what sounds suspiciously like porn-film music outtakes.
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Waking Life (2001)
8/10
Smart and potentially accessible
11 May 2002
Waking Life is too long and too short at the same time. At times while you're watching it, you wish a particular character would shut the hell up, but you're not really antsy, because you know someone else will come along in a minute or two, and maybe you'll find them interesting, and maybe they'll be gone before you've had enough. I usually mistrust films that beg to be seen again, movies that as soon as they're over you need to watch them from the beginning in order to actually understand them. But Waking Life makes you want to watch it again because it's such an intelligent, heady mix of ideas that you want to hear them again, to mull over the best ones and reconsider the worst ones. The movie is both elitist and populist; actually, it's neither, it just stands those terms on their heads and makes them irrelevant. You have a bunch of people talking about deep philosophical topics, and some of the people are among the elite of their field and some are just average Joes or Janes, and some of them are on target and some are full of bull, but there's no direct correlation between a character's standing in their field and their level of bull. Some of the sharpest characters are Joe/Jane Average; some of the most overblown are "professionals." And some pros are sharp, and some Joe-Janes are loony. Categories are worthless in this film.

As for the look of the film, it is one of the best visual approximations I've ever seen of tripping ... OK, of dream states. The world under the influence of LSD looks and feels a lot like the imagery in the movie. It gets that "weirder than real yet somehow more real than real" feeling down perfectly.

This is a very smart movie that has the potential for broad appeal. That's a good thing. I give it an 8 on a scale of 10.
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