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Heavy Metal (1981)
More peaks and valleys than the women in the movie
The women in this collection of animated short stories are very fond of taking off their clothes and/or hopping into bed with men they just met. Not a criticism, just an observation. When you add graphic violence, elements of sci-fi and fantasy, and relatively crude animation to the busty nymphos, you have a slapdash, strangely affecting film that is both irritating and fascinating.
As has been mentioned in several comments, the quality of the stories vary from dull to captivating. The taxi driver tale and the story about the young geek who becomes a muscular hulk are weird and fun to watch; others, like the final story about an avenging beauty clad in a skimpy system of straps, are tedious and revel too much in their unique brand of kinkiness. However, the story about the fighter plane which becomes infested with the living dead is an underappreciated gem.
The writing is average and the animation is pedestrian when compared with some of today's animated classics ("The Iron Giant," "Tarzan"), but "Heavy Metal" is an amusing enough exercise in rock and roll cartooning. (The selection of music is hit-and-miss as well, and the exclusion of Ted Nugent is inexcusable.) If you rent this not expecting much, you might be pleasantly surprised.
So-so script and pointless plot twists
"Palmetto" is humid and sweaty, but it flounders around on the screen trying to convince the audience that it is a taut noir thriller. "Palmetto," about a fake kidnapping plot gone wrong, is actually aimless and pretty tame. The film isn't outright bad, exactly. Just unremarkable and forgettable.
Woody Harrelson, who is good in just about anything, nicely conveys Harry Barber's desperate attempts to keep the kidnapping plot from collapsing, but Elisabeth Shue looks like a deer caught in headlights and acts like an eleven-year-old girl trying on Mommy's clothes and acting naughty. The plot progresses with the mandatory double-crosses and revelations, but fails to make any impression except for Shue's vamping and Gina Gershon's nagging.
The final twenty minutes of the movie are downright laughable, but by then I was already bored into a state of complete disinterest. Honestly, "Palmetto" makes "Follow That Bird" look like an edgy thriller. And the only intriguing about "Palmetto" is Elisabeth Shue's wig at the end.
The Replacement Killers (1998)
Action films aren't SUPPOSED to be boring, are they?
Sheesh! Chow Yun-Fat has the silky charm and coiled rage of a tiger, and Mira Sorvino has great legs, but they are both wasted in this dull, Hong Kong action flick-wannabe. The film, about a hitman (Yun-Fat) who refuses to kill a young boy and becomes hunted by mercenaries, is the cinematic equivalent of a fast-food restaurant's neon sign. Flashy and colourful, noisy and shallow, "The Replacement Killers" is never as cool or as exciting as it could have been.
There's one great sequence - a shoot-out in a car wash - and any film with Michael Rooker in it isn't completely worthless. Most of the film, though, is a cluster of pedestrian action scenes centred around a group of characters with no depth. Sorvino is on autopilot as the brash, hard-as-nails chick; the villains are instantly forgettable; and Yun-Fat only gets to glower.
To tell you the truth, I have no desire to write any more about this movie. Having never seen an actual Hong Kong action movie, I can only guess they're better than "The Replacement Killers." In any case, you'd be better off renting one of those.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
"We're having fun now; Mommy never let you in the kitchen."
Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep star as a husband and wife who go through what has to be the most easy-going divorce in film history. What little friction there is arises from the battle over custody to their young son, played amazingly well by Justin Henry. Ted and Joanna (for 'tis their names) seem completely wrong for each other, making it hard to believe that they were actually married for seven years. Judging from the interaction we see in the film, I would have given them maybe a year at most.
But none of the details of their relationship really matter because the film is mainly about Ted's changing relationship with the boy, Billy. Dustin is excellent as always, smoothly fitting into the hustle-bustle life of an advertising executive, but his shift from self-absorbed to caring father is done in clearly visible steps. I never sensed that his progression was natural.
Still, the scenes between Hoffman and Henry work splendidly; they capture the casual yet touching balance between father and son. The script is smart and it gives the two actors plenty of good scenes (Ted's French toast and Billy's introduction to his father's girlfriend stand out in my mind). Streep (working without an accent!) broke my heart as the stifled woman who needed to find herself.
Ultimately, I liked the film because none of the characters are either black or white. As Ted himself admits in court, he isn't a perfect father. Joanna certainly isn't a perfect mother. And Billy can be a little brat. But underneath their various tensions, there is concern and a true desire to make this major change to their lives without hurting each other. Flawed yet touching, I'll give "Kramer vs. Kramer" a 7.
Roger & Me (1989)
Powerful attack on the corporate world; a classic
It is EXTREMELY refreshing to hear from someone in the media who doesn't bow and scrape to the lumbering corporations that control every aspect of global communication. Rather than push the corporate doctrine of "profit is everything," film maker Michael Moore pulls back the curtain to reveal the true, ugly face of capitalism.
"Roger & Me" examines how Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan is affected when General Motors closes down a series of factories in order to set up production in Mexico. The town is devastated, economically and spiritually, because GM was practically the only game in town - the city was built around GM.
Rather than interview labour experts and union representatives - people who would side with him - Moore talks mainly with GM executives and Flint citizens, building a damning picture of General Motors along the way. It becomes clear that GM cared only for making more and more money, for attaining the greedy goal of progress, while neglecting the human need in Flint.
The elimination of jobs in Flint would be understandable if the company was going under, but GM was seeing record profits! Moore repeatedly tries getting an interview with the titular Roger, Mr. Smith, chairman of General Motors, so he can invite the CEO to Flint to see the devastation GM has caused. As Moore is stymied at every attempt, we get classic footage of security guards and low-level flunkies trying to shake the dogged film maker off their backs.
Moore is a master of irony, effectively poking apart GM's lame excuses regarding the massive lay-offs. (A particularly effective montage is when Roger Smith's festive Christmas speech is intercut with footage of a former auto worker being evicted on Christmas Eve.) Moore lets the GM PR guy paint himself and the company as heartless by letting him state matter-of-factly that a major company owes nothing to the town in which it was born.
The film is more than just a stinging indictment of GM, though. There is a powerful vein of despair and sadness running through the film. As Moore illustrates the desperate lengths to which the town and townspeople have resorted, we see a portrait of a town that has lost it's soul. (Who can forget the woman and her pathetic rabbit farm or the attempts to turn Flint into a tourist centre? "Our new spark will surprise you!")
Serio-comic in tone, "Roger & Me" is a passionate piece of work that reveals the evil that corporations do to the people who depend on them for a living. With it's heart in the right place, this film speaks up for the working man and makes itself heard loud and clear.
All the President's Men (1976)
Second time's a charm
The first time I saw this film, I was suitably impressed but found I couldn't enjoy it completely. In order to keep up with the relentless pace of the plot, I didn't pay as much attention to the writing and the performances as I should have. When it was over, I felt the breakneck pace of the story overshadowed the screenplay and acting, rendering the film an accomplished reprisal of fact but not much else.
What a difference a second viewing made. My familiarity with the plot allowed me to appreciate all the finer details of the film. Watching Redford and Hoffman's disciplined performances as Woodward and Bernstein, for instance, is like watching two expert tennis players work in tandem with one another. When they act together, there is a delightful give-and-take, two masters working their way into a wonderful groove. While they appear steady and reserved on the surface, the two actors radiate a noticeable undercurrent of excitement and dread, as if underneath their stern countenances they're screaming, "Holy sh*t! I can't believe we're doing this!!" Redford, not the strongest dramatic actor, finds his normal-guy niche here and gives one of his best performances. Hoffman is equally strong, making even the simplest scene seem like a masterpiece (the "count to 10" phone scene comes to mind).
Throughout the film, Pakula communicates the idea of these two reporters being completely outnumbered by the people responsible for the Watergate break-in. I loved the numerous overhead shots of Woodward and Bernstein that pull up, up, up, until they're nothing more than specks in the dirty streets of DC. (This technique is also used in the classic scene where the two guys are searching through old records and the camera pulls up to the ceiling and shows them seated along the edge of a circular series of desks.)
The film rockets right along, leaving the viewers as excited over the reporters' discoveries as they are. William Goldman's script helps in this regard, I think, sticking straight to the meat and cutting out any unnecessary roughage. The dialogue gets right down to business while working in realistic vocal habits and the like. Redford really captures this well (listen to his stammering and self-corrections when he talks on the phone to sources - great stuff!).
I can't recommend "All the President's Men" enough. It's tightly-structured, fiercely-paced, and captivating as all get-out. If necessary, watch it twice: once to find out who's who, the second time to savour the handiwork. If you want to talk more about it, leave a red flag on the potted plant on your balcony.
Shallow and unimpressive
As a 20-year-old male, I realize that I am not the target audience for "Strike!" (is the exclamation point part of the title?). This is a film aimed at teenage girls and it is designed to make them giggle, cheer, and revel in the joys of being flighty and immature. Telling the story of a girl's prep school, the movie puts forth a strong message of female independance and pride.
But, wow, is it a bad film! Good intentions aside, this thing made me wish for the disciplined, mature filmmaking of "Now and Then." Forgettable characters, cliched situations, and a flat script make this bastion of girl power tired, obnoxious, and moronic.
It is hard to dismiss the offhand way the film deals with bulimia and sexual harassment. We learn early on that Tweety (the wonderful Heather Matarazzo) barfs up every meal she eats, fearing she is too fat. The film never, NEVER does anything to resolve the issue; it is as if Tweety's bulimia is a CHARACTER TRAIT, played for comic relief. God. Also, when a teacher tries to hop in the sack with Odette (Gaby Hoffmann) it is dealt with in a whimsical, "hilarious" manner.
The plot is crowded and not very interesting. Boys, co-ed education, strife among friends, yadda yadda yadda. These things are part of a teenage girl's life, I know, but you know why these make uninteresting topics for a movie? BECAUSE THE LIVES OF TEENAGE GIRLS ARE UNINTERESTING!!!! This film is a celluloid version of YM magazine; glossy, hollow, and superficial.
The one redeeming feature is the actors. Lynn Redgrave is fabulous in the tired role of the strict yet kindly headmistress. Hoffmann and Matarazzo are good, Kirsten Dunst is strong, and the rest of the cast is effective (with one notable exception, see below). The highlight, though, acting-wise is the charming Rachel Leigh Cook who gives her role a brightness and depth it doesn't deserve. Cook is not just another pretty face; she can really ACT. Someone please give her a movie deserving of her talents.
The notable exception would have to be the entire gang of Flat Critters, lead by the smarmy, irritating Vincent Kartheiser. If there was anyone as false and one-dimensional as this terrible character in real life, they'd be beaten half to dealth. The whole Flat Critters posse is another fake nail in this movie's coffin of artificiality.
The Hour of the Pig (1993)
Solid film that never overcomes quirk factor
I saw this film as "The Advocate," not that it matters, but just so you know. The place where I rented it didn't have the original box, so I had NO idea what the film was about. I was, um, surprised.
Colin Firth plays a 15th-century lawyer (called an advocate) who moves to the country from Paris. He wants to get in touch with the real essence of the law, defending the common folk and such. As it turns out, animals can be charged with crimes as well. Poor Colin finds himself defending rats and a pig in open court. (I could make a really obvious crack about the parallels to the practices of modern law, but that's a tad crass. Truthful, but crass.)
The film's claim that the secret of the movie is along the same lines of "The Crying Game" is surely meant as a joke. Still, the movie spends too much dwelling on the absurdity of defending animals and not enough time finding a story to tell. There is some twaddle about defending a beautiful gypsy woman's pig in a murder trial, but it is never gripping or, sadly, interesting.
The acting make up for the triteness of the story, though. Firth is solid and has some great scenes with the Seigneur who owns the land and the village Firth comes to reside in. There is also a small appearance by the wonderful, underrated, nuanced, subtle IAN HOLM~ as a shady priest. The cast raises the film from the status of sideshow curiosity.
While the "Crying Game" style secret is a reference to the murder case that is (ultimately) shuffled off to the side of the movie, I have no problem revealing another big secret of "The Advocate": the sow is really a hog!!!
Urban Legend (1998)
Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid
"Urban Legend" is a moronic film. I wish I could put it more elegantly than that, but the word "moronic" fits the film perfectly. This is a carefully constructed attempt to cash in on the teen-slasher market, nothing more. It has no flair, logic, imagination, or spirit. I only hope tripe like this has had its day at the box office.
Every cliche in the book is used in "Urban Legend." People jumping out at each other from the dark and then asking, "What are you so jumpy about?" The weirdo who has some knowledge about the murders that are occurring. The massive cast of characters, each person possibly the killer. The surprise ending. And so on and so on.
Jared Leto's main character is a bland, arrogant doofus. I was praying, hoping, wishing that the lame parka-clad killer would gut him like a freshwater trout. (By the way, how come no one says anything about a person walking around the campus in a parka. In the _summer_?? And how ridiculous is it that three different people have the SAME parka?? Arrgh!)
Alicia Witt is the one bright spot. Her charisma and ability shine through this muddle, believe it or not. I will also give credit to Joshua Jackson for abandoning his image and getting slaughtered.
The premise of a serial killer knocking off people using urban legends is good, but it falls to the tired old situations that populate movies like this. The identity of the killer is painfully obvious, just because it is the one character who is so UNobvious. The showdown is dumb, the surprise ending is laughable, and the final scene is ludicrous. This pathetic pretender is a big plate of lousy.
Afraid of the Dark (1991)
A pointless, meandering trudge
I would not be giving away too much of the film to tell you that there are many, many, many, MANY scenes of Lucas (the young protagonist) walking and looking at things! Yep. And you'll be happy to know that the first third of the movie is pointless, meaningless, and pretty much ignored for the rest of the film!
This movie is populated by dull people who do dull things, and the dullest person of them all is young Lucas, who is going blind and needs an operation. You see, he has delusions, terrible delusions! He thinks a killer is preying on blind women! He walks around a lot and acts like an insufferable jerk!
Patience does NOT pay off with this film. By the end, the plot and events are just as confusing and lethargic, and it is very hard to care one way or the other about what any of the nightmarish images meant. Nothing is made clear, the film moves at a snail's pace, and it left me with the same effects of a hangover.
Judging from "Afraid of the Dark," the British don't make stupid thrillers like the Americans do; they make boring ones.