14 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Short Cuts (1993)
Robert Altman is Now Officially My Idol
3 December 2002
I've spent the last couple of months working on a paper that compares the work of Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson, but for some bizarre reason I waited until two weeks before the paper was due to watch this film. Sure I read about it, most specifically in comparison to Magnolia, but since I couldn't find a DVD and I was a lousy cheapskate and didn't want to spend rental fees, I delayed. Oh, how I wish I had seen this film earlier as it has instantly become a personal favorite on the same level as Anderson's "Magnolia" only brilliant in different ways.

I don't know where to begin talking about the great things about this film. Actors rarely seem more entertainingly real than in Altman's films. Films like Nashville and M*A*S*H managed to capture people at their best and at their worst, at their most ironically mockable moments and at their most painful, yet while those other films felt somewhat forced together through shared location, Short Cuts made the location the force that linked the story together, and the relative isolation of the stories from each other spoke volumes about the disconnectedness of humanity, just like Stewart and his friends looked at the dead body in the stream as a distraction from fishing more than as human remains.

More than anything else, this film is made up of great moments. There's the relish of Stormy Weathers' destruction of the home from which he had been ousted, Jerry Kaiser's shocking moment of rage that seemed both sudden and yet unsurprising, Jack Lemmon's slow exit down an empty hospital hallway, and Bitkower's desperate attempt at apologizing for a sin more aggregious than he meant to perpetrate. I will get this film when it is released on DVD. It is fabulous. I hope that Robert Altman continues to work for as long as possible, for he is one of the great pioneers of American Film.

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Ebert was Right!!!
6 May 2002
As a Cinema Studies major, I'm forced to constantly rely on video tapes and DVDs to study movies I have to write about in more detail. There are HUGE conveniences to these media: the ability to move forward and backwards within the film with ease, the low cost, the lack of a need to get myself a large screen and a projectionist, etc. I've always been a big lover of watching movies on the big screen for the enhanced size of the image, thus making it easier to catch small nuances in shot composition, and because of the ever increasing awe of modern sound systems. I don't think films like "Black Hawk Down" would work without massive, multidirectional audio. Well, Apocalypse Now Redux proved something further to me... film projection makes everything just look better.

When I caught the Redux at an Oberlin Film Series screening, I was absolutely FLOORED by the depth and variety of color and light at work in this film. I'll admit to not particularly liking some of the added scenes. The dialogue in the plantation sequence was VERY heavy-handed and not in the poetic manner of much of the dialogue in other parts of the film. But the images... I was drawn into the film on the pure power of seeing film as a medium in its most powerful form. From the opening explosions to the haunting sound of the Doors, to the scene of Martin Sheen rising from the mud, the film was as textured and palpable as a Van Gogh painting. I've never once had any kind of illegal substance, let alone hallucinogens in my life, but I felt out of body watching this movie. I was awestruck at the sheer power of a film's imagery. Watching this film, I fell in love with movies again. Thank you, Mr. Coppola.

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Spider-Man (2002)
3 May 2002
Being a semi-retired comic fan, I highly anticipated this movie. When it was first announced I was skeptical, but as I heard more I became excited. Sam "Evil Dead" Raimi was the perfect director for the material. Tobey Maguire seemed to be the perfect Parker and Willem Dafoe was near the top of my list for favorite candidates for the Green Goblin. I became quite excited for it, but not TOO excited.

Did the movie meet me expectations? Yes. It was very good, but not fantastic. The movie was very true to the comic with a few exceptions (no web shooters, skipping Gwen Stacey). The acting was quite strong from everyone involved, especially James Franco who manages to make Harry an incredibly likable guy without much screen time. The characters FELT like they did in the comic which was very important. The effects were completely "buyable" despite some complaints I've heard about them around the web. Danny Elfman's score, while not as good as his previous comic book efforts on "Batman" was strong support, if not memorable. The final fight sequence was also a little disappointingly a "I beat you until you look beaten, you beat me until I look beaten" affair. Given the level of style and the fact that these characters can soar through the air and all the agility at Spidey's disposal, this was a bit anticlimactic.

One problem I had with the movie was the some of the dialogue, was REALLY awful. Some of Mary Jane and Peter's lines to each other felt like pre-written gushy letters rather than lines that people are speaking at the spur of the moment. Spidey didn't make as many witty comments as he did in the book either. The highlight of the writing definitely has to be the way that Harry Osborn was written. In some ways he was the most likable character in the movie, and if the movie series goes the same way as the comics do with his character, well I won't reveal what might happen for those who didn't read the comic in the early 1990s.

All in all a fun effort and a great success by Raimi and all involved.

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Training Day (2001)
I was expecting much more
23 April 2002
I recently rented the DVD of this film after Denzel's Oscar win and hearing much positive buzz and when I finally sat down to watch it, I found myself at first enthralled, and later horribly dissappointed.

Training Day started off as a promising look at what sort of justice is necessary for a narcotics cop to be effective with Ethan Hawke serving as a young and idealistic cop and Denzel Washington as a jaded cop who seems willing to perform questionable acts in the pursuit of justice. And then we just get a straight up black vs. white (racially and idealogically) battle of good cop against hopelessly corrupt cop who has to be taken down. I was expecting to have my views of justice challenged only to have them confirmed in an annoyingly simple manner.

Sure, the film was skillfully crafted. The performances were great (though I still think Tom Wilkinson was robbed considering his great performance in "In the Bedroom" and the fact that Denzel seems to be having a ball hamming it up in this part having done MUCH better work in earlier films), the direction energetic and the overall production was very solid and effectively gritty. I just can't get over how the film degenerated into standard clichés.

7 out of 10
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Shrek (2001)
Smug and Self Indulgent
23 April 2002
Maybe it's because I knew too much about what went on behind the making of this movie, or maybe it was the stale retread jokes, annoying characters or cliché themes that we were supposed to believe to be fresh. I just didn't think much of this movie. The blasting of Disney by Katzenberg was too obvious for my taste, the character of Donkey really bothered me. I like Eddie Murphy a lot more when he's live and doing crazy things like pretending to be "Mr. White" on Saturday Night Live or making fun of some of the stranger aspects of Stardom in "Bowfinger." If the movie is about not judging by appearances, why all the short jokes related to Farquad? Frankly, the only parts I found funny were John Lithgow's deliciously malicious villain bits, especially the joke about the gingerbread man. Otherwise this movie feels about as smugly self mocking as Charlie's Angels and far less sexy.

6 out of 10
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An Important Movie For Me Personally
23 April 2002
My opinion of this movie will never be objective, and I suppose that's a fact I'll simply have to deal with when addressing its detractors. The fact is, for me, this movie came along at a time when I really needed a movie to help me center myself. I was struggling in school and fighting depression when this movie came out, and, after I saw this film, I felt like I would be able to cope with my life more. The fact is, the movie simply spoke to where I was in my life. I was letting people down, struggling and failing to meet the expectations of others and expecting constant failure, setting my personal goals in life lower than they should have been, letting my cynicism and self-hatred get in the way of pursuing my goals.

I just loved everything about this movie from the clever dialogue to the interesting compilation soundtrack between Elliot Smith and Danny Elfman. The acting was top notch feeling real and unstaged, thanks in no small part to the fact that Affleck and Damon didn't hold back with the dialogue choosing a real conversational manner over moviespeak. Though I am nowhere as smart as Will, I can appreciate his struggle with his own feelings of self-doubt and Matt Damon managed to get those feelings across without overplaying his hand. I suppose more than anything else, this movie convinced me to try again, and for that I will always be grateful. It helped me get where I got today through its hopeful, yet true message.

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A Refreshingly Smart Summer Movie
23 April 2002
After seeing Mission: Impossible back in 1996, I couldn't stop singing the film's praises. Here, finally was a film with some great set pieces and an incredibly complex plot to carry them. Sure the film was lacking in character. I didn't care, I was too busy trying to piece together the labrynthine series of double crosses and backstabs. Apparently, a great many people thought the movie made no sense. I find that to be a rather disturbing trend resonating from audiences who no longer wish to have their minds entertained as well as just their eyes. This movie's plot is so well constructed that it likely takes more than one viewing to piece together completely. The general impatience shown towards this film's narrative is a bad sign for the future of intelligent thrillers. It's too bad too. Here was a summer film that actually trusted its audience's intelligence, only to learn that its trust was misplaced.

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Awe Inspiring
23 April 2002
He may have made Duel, Sugarland Express and Jaws before making this film, but Close Encounters of the The Third Kind is the film true Spielberg movie. For starters it is one of the few films he has written as well as directed and is drawn directly from his childhood experience of being woken up one night by his father to watch a meteor shower. Still, I think the resonance with his later work carries farther than that. Close Encounters sets up some of his most important themes and subjects.

1)The theme of Communication as the device through which one can mediate mutual understanding. Think about E.T. phoning home, The Ark of the Covenant as the means through which to speak to God, the language barrier in Saving Private Ryan which only Uphan can breach, making him ineffective as a soldier.

2)The lost child theme is very relavent here as Barry is lost and Roy abandons his family. It seems there are a great many children abandoned or lost in many later Spielberg films, most notably Empire of the Sun and A.I.

3)The horrors of the innocuous. Think of Poltergeist, the use of Pinnochio in A.I. or the glass of water shaking in Jurassic Park.

4)The power of sheer wonder. Spielberg, more than any other director today, likes to pull back and let the audience to simply experience something wonderful. Think about the brachiosaur in Jurassic Park, just about any sight in A.I. or the Alien Spaceships in E.T.

Of course, in addition to being a formative film in the Spielberg Oeuvre, this film is just visually breathtaking and surprisingly intelligent and character driven. I love the musical communication device and Spielberg's ability to just let the audience sit back with its mouth open rather than forcing some kind of bloody confrontation. This film is simply fantastic.
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The Godfather (1972)
Great American Tragedy (SPOILERS)
23 April 2002
Warning: Spoilers
I suppose it's difficult to qualify exactly what formulates a tragedy. Are tragedies about fate, disillusionment or death? Are they about language? Must the plot adhere to a strict set of rules? Must the climax come in the third act? Well, my concept of a tragedy is when the flaws of one or more of its characters destroy a high goal. In the case of the Godfather, this goal is the prevention of Michael's entry into the family business by making him a true American; the tragic flaw is Michael's inability to forego vengeance.

Certainly many efforts are made to prevent Michael's tragic fate. Michael himself seeks to evade becoming like his family. When telling Kay about how his father released Johnny Fontaine from a band contract by making the band leader `an offer he couldn't refuse,' Michael says, `That's my family Kay, not me.' While the rest of his family wears tuxedos at the wedding, Michael wears his dress uniform. While his family talks about the drug business with Solozzo, Michael and Kay go shopping and go to the movies.

By the time Michael saves his father in the hospital, it is already clear that Michael has no desire to be involved in the family business, but the attempt on his father's life is the first revelation of Michael's tragic flaw. In the scene where Michael agrees to kill Solozzo and McClusky, Hagen tells Sonny that he is taking business matters personally. When Michael agrees to kill them both, Sonny accuses him of the same. Of course, a central irony of the Godfather is the fact that the family is the business, ties of blood and ties of money become inseparable. Sonny's accusations are correct, Michael is taking the matter personally, the only major difference between Michael and Sonny is Michael's calculating patience. This difference is painfully obvious by the end of the film. Sonny dies because he carelessly charged after Carlo when he discovered that Connie was beaten after his initial death threat. Michael waits for the perfect opportunity to have Carlo murdered, never allowing Carlo to suspect his motives. After his betrayal, Tessio asks Tom Hagen to `tell Michael it was strictly business.' Hagen replies that Michael knows. Despite the fact that murdering Tessio and losing his knowledge of the Bronx is bad business, Michael has him killed. This is further evidence that Michael is not acting out of his business interests, but his inability to forego vengeance.

Kay is a very important figure in this tragedy, I say `figure' because to Michael, Kay as a person is irrelevant. Kay's value to Michael is her lack of connection to his family. She is from New Hampshire, so he most likely met her at Dartmouth (he went to college while his other brothers learned the family business). At the beginning of the film, Michael has Kay appear in his family photo. He tells her everything about his family and while his family is planning, he is spending time with her notably shopping at the store `Best & Co.' and watching a movie about a nun. These details are significant because Michael views Kay as a better sort of person than his family; he sees her as a figure of salvation. When he returns from Italy and has entered the family business, Michael tells Kay that he has to marry her. `The old way is finished. Even my father knows that now. In five years the Corleone family will be completely legitimate.' Michael sees Kay as a figure through which he will achieve that legitimacy. When Kay asks Michael if he had Carlo killed Michael's reaction is the exact opposite of what he would have told her at the beginning of the film. Instead of telling Kay everything and defying the old rule of never letting women know about the family business, Michael told her all of his family's stories willingly and with complete honesty. In this scene, Michael reveals not only that he won't let Kay know about his affairs, but lies he finally agrees. The final shot of the movie, the closing of the door as a wiping fade out is significant because it shows Kay's separation from Michael. She has literally and figuratively been removed from him, salvation rejected.

Easily the most telling scene on this film's tragedy is the scene in which Vito tells Michael that he `didn't want this' for him. He tells Michael that he wanted him to be a Senator or a Governor. This is interesting when compared to Michael's rationalization of his work to Kay in which he suggests that all men of power are the same. Vito dies in the very next scene of natural causes, but with the knowledge that the son for whom he had such great hope had been damned. The scene immediately following the death of Vito is the baptism of Michael's nephew, which is brilliantly cross-cut with the murders of the heads of the five families and Mo Green is a sequence in which holy water is crosscut with blood, renunciation of Satan is juxtaposed with acts of murder and the sacred is connected to the vile. Vito's way of doing things is finished. Vito openly told the heads of the families that `I forego the vengeance on my son' and `I will not be the man to break the peace of this day.' It is Michael who breaks the peace. Vito was a reluctant Godfather who spend his life running `harmless vices' and declaring that `we're not murderers' when refusing to hit the men who assaulted Bonassera's daughter, ultimately has a cold, calculating man who rationalizes murder as his successor, defying all his hopes for the future.
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Magnolia (1999)
But it did happen...
18 April 2002
Magnolia is just a wholly original and engrossing film that gets better with additional viewings. Paul Thomas Anderson has taken a page from Robert Altman and managed to somehow surpass the master of the large cast film with the memorability of the characters and the quality of their dialogue. It's difficult to describe exactly what it is about this film that makes me view it so frequently. I think a big part of the success of the film is its sensitivity to human frailty and seems to uncynically believe that what people truly need in life is just a little bit of compassion, understanding and someone to love. It sounds trite, but Anderson pulls it off incredibly well.

Of course, the movie wasn't just touching thematically, it was filled with fantastic sequences, from the opening narration sequence displaying the bizarre "coincidences" of history to Tom Cruise's over the top male power seminar. Speaking of Tom Cruise, this is easily my favorite performance by him in any film and the other actors aren't slouches either. Just look at the cast: Julianne Moore, Jason Robards, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Ricky Jay, Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall. All of these performances are well nuanced, funny and heartfelt.

Magnolia is a movie that is just indescribably great for me. I own the DVD and have seen it around ten times, introducing as many friends to it as I can at any given time. When I look back at the 1990s in ten years, I imagine this will be near the top of my list of favorite films from that decade.
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