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Avatar (2009)
5 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
An insult to the thinking moviegoer, 28 May 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I have noticed a lot of critical comments on this movie come from conservatives who dislike its allegedly "liberal" message. Let me say, first off, I am very politically liberal and progressive, consider myself an environmentalist and certainly abhor racism, and I really disliked this movie.

The story is simply idiotic.

Are we supposed to believe that it is commercially viable to send a massive spaceship -- that must literally cost more than the entire world's 2010 GDP to develop, build, and operate -- on a 12-year round-trip mission to Pandora just to bring back "unobtanium"? How does "the corporation" know there will be a market for it when they bring it back? If humanity has developed the technology to efficiently power a huge manned spacecraft over light-years nearly at the speed of light, then something tells me humanity can solve its energy problems (or whatever else it may be) without "unobtanium."

The whole Avatar concept is underdeveloped and compares unfavorably with the similar concepts in the Matrix. Why is it that an "avatar" made of a mixture of human and Navi DNA is still an exact physical duplicate of the Navi? Shouldn't it look like a weird hybrid like the creature in "Splice"? How is it that the avatars cannot think or act for themselves? Aren't they living creatures? Don't they have their own brains? If not, how can they stay alive?

Are we supposed to believe that this alien species on Pandora just happens to be close enough physically to humans that we can find them sexually attractive (as Jake does Neytiri)? The Navi just happen to have two eyes, and a nose, and a mouth with teeth like ours, and ears, and hair, and breasts, and legs, feet with toes, etc. etc. They are physically capable of speaking English, amazingly enough. Despite being aliens from another planet, they are far more similar to humans than our closest ape relatives on earth. And of course they all have washboard tummies and the woman have breasts just covered by their necklaces.

Does the Navi society have to be a mishmash of every stereotype white Americans have about African/aboriginal/Native American culture? Do they have to be shown apologizing to animals they hunt and kill? (Does it really matter to a creature if you apologize to it after killing it?) Do the actors portraying the Navi tribes people have to all be of either African or American Indian descent? Do they have to speak English with either "African" or "Indian" accents and inflections? Does the tribe have to have a male "king" and a female "spiritual leader"? Does Jake's love interest have to be a "princess"? Does he have to be confronted by an angry "warrior" rival for her affections, who he ultimately wins over? Does the tribe really have to worship a big tree? Does the tree really have to be on top of the biggest cache of "unobtanium" on the planet?

Are we really expected to believe that if the military decided to declare all out war on the Navi that it would lose? That spears and animals could defeat humans who had the technology portrayed in this movie?

Avatar is an insult to the thinking moviegoer, even more than Titanic was. Most of these logical flaws could be overlooked if it didn't take itself so seriously. That was the saving grace of the original 1977 Star Wars -- it took itself just seriously enough, but was able to wink at itself too. And it had a lot of wit and humor, which are sorely lacking in Avatar. James Cameron clearly believes that Avatar is the greatest movie ever made. He might not admit it in interviews, but it is painfully obvious he thinks so.

He could hardly be more wrong.

656 out of 1008 people found the following review useful:
Possibly the most overrated movie ever made . . ., 6 December 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

. . . by the most overrated filmmakers ever.

"No Country for Old Men" shares with other wildly overrated movies, like "Pulp Fiction" or "Collateral," a ludicrous setting in which criminals engage in wild shootouts and murder sprees lasting for days and days without any noticeable effort on the part of law enforcement to put a stop to it. NCFOM takes place in an alternate universe where an insane madman can travel across Texas murdering several people a day without the slightest hint of the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals, Texas Rangers, or any other authorities lifting a finger to stop him. The only cop who seems to be on his trail is an aging small town sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones who doesn't actually try to catch him but just passing amiably through life making philosophical reflections on evil.

This movie has no interesting or sympathetic characters. Our supposed "hero" only gets in trouble because he commits an unbelievably stupid and selfish act -- stealing $2 million in cash from a drug deal gone wrong in which several people have already been murdered. Does he think no one will come after him? Then he compounds his idiocy by returning to the scene of the crime. Why should we care what happens to him after this beginning? He has what appears to be a very nice, likable girlfriend, whose life (along with his own) he endangers -- for what? Some blood/drug money that if the drug dealers don't kill him for taking, the cops will bust him for spending. Stupid. Besides which, the character has no backstory, no interesting qualities. He is a cipher.

The character of "Chigurh," over which all the critics are having such orgasms, might as well be an extraterrestrial, he bears so little relationship to actual human life. He appears to be in his late thirties -- killing people at a rate of two or three a day, as he does in this film, he must have murdered close to 10,000 in his adult life, without ever being apprehended. This man is almost on a par with Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot, except instead of killing people en masse as they did (using subordinates, secret police, and soldiers to do the dirty work), he appears to do every killing himself, many of them with some kind of oxygen tank (how clever, and how convenient it must be to lug around an oxygen tank to kill people with instead of, say, a handgun). And there is no FBI team on his tail, no worldwide manhunt to catch the biggest serial killer of all time. It's funny how many "professional assassins" there are in movies like this (and "Pulp Fiction" and "Collateral") and how few there seem to be in real life.

The plot of this movie is so unbelievably trite, clichéd, and hackneyed that it is simply boring. Of course, a trite story can still make a great movie if it is well done. But the Coen brothers are far above actually putting in the effort to make their story work effectively on a nuts and bolts level. For instance, why bother to show the ultimate confrontation between the hero and villain? Why would the audience care about that? On some level, the Coen brothers must be laughing at all the sycophantic critics falling all over themselves to heap orgasmic praise on this joke of a movie. This film, and its ecstatic critical reception, represents the ultimate elevation of style over substance -- the appearance of meaning over actual meaning, quirkiness and moodiness for its own sake rather than in the service of a genuinely engaging story and characters.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Unwatchable, 9 March 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This may be the single worst movie ever made. And I have seen some real clunkers. The fall of George Lucas is utterly stunning. This man co-wrote and directed two of the greatest movies of all time -- American Graffiti and the original 1977 Star Wars. But that was three decades ago and he has spent way too much time isolated from anyone who can say no to him.

To begin with the entire "prequel trilogy" is doomed from the start because the ending of the story is already known. Anyone who saw the original movies knows that Anakin Skywalker turns to the dark side, becomes Darth Vader, Palpatine/Emperor's right-hand man. We know that Vader's children were Luke and Leia, that their mother died in childbirth, that Obi-Wan Kenobi went into exile on Tatooine, etc., etc.

For any movie, whether comedy, drama, thriller, sci-fi, to generate interest, it must first and foremost make the audience wonder how the story is going to turn out. That is impossible here. We all know exactly how the story is going to turn out. We know nothing more at the end of the prequel trilogy than we did at the beginning. All Lucas did was raise lots of continuity problems due to inconsistencies with the original trilogy.

Visually, the movie is unwatchable. This is CGI pornography. The battles are incoherent chaos. When the jedi and Sith flop and leap around in fights they look like characters in a video game, which is what in effect they are.

On top of that, this movie has the absolute worst dialogue and acting I have ever seen in a studio production. The actors themselves are not bad actors -- we have all seen McGregor, Jackson, Portman, Smits, etc., give good performances elsewhere. They simply have nothing to work with. There is not a scrap of human interest anywhere in this movie. The level of acting and dialogue here is far below that of a daytime soap opera.

This movie is an utter embarrassment and a desecration of everything George Lucas once stood for and accomplished. It is a crime that Lucas had over $100 million to spend on this abomination when there are so many talented aspiring filmmakers in the world who could create gripping, memorable films for 1/100th of the price, but will never get the chance.

10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
an unusual take on war, 22 February 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I first saw "Full Metal Jacket" in the summer of 1987, when I was 17 and the name Stanley Kubrick meant little to me. The Parris Island sequence absolutely stunned me, but I felt the Vietnam portion of the movie was a real let-down. I compared it unfavorably with "Platoon," which I had seen perhaps 5-6 months earlier.

In the years since, I have returned to FMJ a number of times and had varying impressions of it. Certainly the boot camp sequence retains its tremendous power; Lee Ermey's portrayal of Drill Instructor Hartman has to be one of the most memorable supporting roles in movie history. Still, I feel the characters in this section are undeveloped. The implication is clear that Pvt. Pyle goes insane after (and presumably because of) the blanket party -- but would that event, traumatic as it was, be enough to turn a seemingly simple, lovable soul into a homicidal maniac? Pyle's transformation is way too neat, too clear -- one minute he's a simpleton who can't do anything right, the next he's the perfect Marine and a deranged killer. If this result could occur so easily, Hartman never would have survived the many years he had obviously spent as a D.I.

I think there is a fundamental structural flaw in building the movie up to a powerful dramatic climax 45 minutes in, then completely abandoning it and starting all over as if the climax had never occurred. Neither Private Pyle nor Sgt. Hartman is ever mentioned again after the movie leaves Parris Island, and Pvt. Joker -- our ostensible protagonist -- shows not the slightest hint of having been affected by the traumatic events he witnessed in boot camp. I was very surprised to learn recently, from Matthew Modine's newly published "Full Metal Jacket Diary," that Kubrick shot the Vietnam portion of the movie (or most of it, anyway) first, and the Parris Island portion second. I think it would have been much wiser to do it the other way around; then the experience of the Parris Island scenes might have informed the performances of Modine and Arliss Howard, the two actors who bridge both sequences. I'm sure Kubrick intended there to be a jarring contrast between the horror at the end of the Parris Island sequence and the careless insouciance of Joker in Vietnam, but still there should have been some hint that what came before had resonated.

Reading Modine's FMJ Diary was a shock because of the intelligence and insight with which it was written -- qualities that do not come through in his performance in this movie. Modine seems to find the wrong note in almost every scene. This is probably the fault of Kubrick, who seemed to seek the off-key and strange from his actors. Is it really plausible that Joker would mouth some John Wayne impression within the first few seconds of Hartman's Parris Island abuse? (The Wayne impressions get very tiresome.) I think Joker is supposed to seem intelligent and wry but he just comes across as a pain in the neck. Why is he so insubordinate to his commanding officer at Stars and Stripes? Why is he so eager to get "in the s***"? His character just doesn't ring true. This is disappointing because several other actors -- Ermey and D'Onofrio, and Adam Baldwin as "Animal Mother" -- give outstanding performances.

The final battle with the sniper is brilliantly staged. Kubrick's daughter (under a stage name) provided a haunting electronic score. Visually the film is impressive, with Kubrick using many long, evocative tracking shots (such as of Hartman pacing up and down in front of his recruits as he screams at them). One particularly remarkable tracking shot -- evidently done by Steadicam -- follows an attacking Marine platoon entering the city of Hue for nearly a full minute. On the other hand, Kubrick uses a dolly in or out only once or twice in the whole movie (even in 1987, when the zoom had become very outdated, he used zoom shots more than dollying in or out). He seems to have loved tracking along with the action, retaining always the same distance and perspective on it, but unlike Spielberg or Hitchcock, he did not have the taste for using the dolly in to focus or dramatize the audience's perspective. (One notable exception is a very slow dolly in on a circular entrance to some kind of ruined temple when Joker and Rafterman first meet the Lusthog squad.) Certainly this is a fascinating, thought-provoking movie. The lack of an engaging central character, however, as well as the return to square one after the high drama at Parris Island, blunts its emotional effect.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
as beautiful and boring as an actual space flight, 6 July 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

2001 opens with perhaps the most impressive title sequence ever filmed. Notably, only one person is credited at the opening -- you guessed it, Stanley Kubrick. The use of Thus Spoke Zarathustra is brilliant and really impressive -- one of the iconic moments in film history. No one will ever forget that sequence.

Then comes the Dawn of Man. The apes were clearly mimes in costume. Still, Kubrick and his crew did an excellent job of somehow back- or front- projecting the African vistas into these scenes. The God-like intervention of the monolith in human evolution is the entire concept of the story, and I found it most effective in this opening sequence. The use of Ligeti's musique concrete is very effective here.

Then comes the space travel to the orbiting station and the moon. This is a little slow, but the effects here were very beautifully done. I love the shot where you see the shuttle "falling" through the void of space toward the station. I don't believe these effects have ever been improved upon -- or ever will be.

I must say, though, that I find it very irritating when filmmakers greatly overestimate the amount of technological advancement that will occur in the near future. It was obvious to anyone in 1968 that almost none of what is presented in this film was going to exist in 2001, much less in 2101. Massive orbiting space stations, huge moon bases, commercial space travel? Come on. Similarly, LA will not have 500-story skyscrapers and flying police vehicles in 2019 (Blade Runner), nor will we have cars driving on vertical highways in 2054 (Minority Report). These ridiculous predictions are even more irritating in the so-called "hard" science fiction movies like 2001, where Kubrick so obviously and pompously believed he was being scientifically accurate to the last detail.

The character of Dr. Floyd (and his fellow scientists on the moon) is almost unbelievably dull and uninteresting (while seeming smug at the same time). Still, there is some real mystery and suspense as they investigate the monolith on the moon.

Then we cut to the Discovery mission to Jupiter. The centrifuge is possibly the most remarkable set ever used in a film, and Kubrick filmed it remarkably. The background on the mission is conveyed in the most pedestrian way possible -- the astronauts listen to an interview they gave to the BBC. Then, suddenly a story that, while slow, has been focused on an interesting subject (discovering the purpose and meanings of the monoliths) gets hijacked by an incredibly tedious and drawn-out conflict between the astronauts and HAL the computer. Basically, HAL the supposedly perfect computer malfunctions and becomes homicidal for no conceivable reason and the two astronauts act incredibly slowly, moronically, and emotionlessly to try to stop him. The space walk/pod sequences are so ludicrously drawn out (and totally lacking in the visual beauty of many of the earlier effects sequences) that I had to fast forward through them. Hal locks Dave out of the ship, but he manages to get back in pretty easily (and why exactly did he not put his helmet on before going out in the pod in the first place?) This extreme detour into the HAL conflict (which I realize many people find the ONLY interesting part of the movie) kills most of the suspense and interest. Then comes the absurd Stargate sequence, the only effects in the movie that are really dated. The "slitscan" stuff looks like your average screensaver, and the rest is obviously landscapes from the Southwestern U.S. exposed with extreme purple and orange tints. The transformation of Dave into some mammoth, space-traveling fetus at the end is perhaps the most unintentionally funny thing I have ever seen in a movie.

This is the only movie that Kubrick ever made that was not based on a previously published novel. Arthur C. Clarke's brief, almost plot less short story "The Sentinel" was the basis for this movie, and clearly not enough effort was made to develop the script here into more than a mere concept.

George Lucas's first movie, THX 1138 (1971), was a similarly plot less, atmospheric sci-fi movie based on little more than a concept. After the failure of THX, Lucas set out to tell a warm, human story, and succeeded wildly with the low-budget classic American Graffiti. Then he had the best idea in movie history -- to take the brilliant special effects Kubrick had pioneered with 2001 and use them as part of a human adventure story with suspense, humor, and action. The result was of course Star Wars (1977), a movie you didn't have to be lying in the aisle stoned out of your mind to enjoy.

Panic Room (2002)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
An outstanding, intelligent thriller, 23 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Panic Room" is based on a spec screenplay written by powerhouse writer (and sometimes director) David Koepp. Finished in early 2000, the script was reportedly purchased for the astronomical sum of $4 million, which is a little less surprising when you consider some of Koepp's credits (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, the Lost World). The script is available to read on line. To me, the spec script comes across as a moderately interesting concept, reasonably well-executed --unlikely to set the world on fire.

For whatever reason, David Fincher decided to follow his mind-blowing masterpiece "Fight Club" by directing "Panic Room." Based on the script alone, I had low expectations for the movie. But I should have known to have more faith in Fincher. His greatest brilliance lies in cinematography (lighting and framing shots, camera movement and placement) and editing, and those aspects of course cannot be captured on paper. Fincher has taken the opportunity with this movie to go hog-wild with interesting camera angles and movements that greatly enliven the fairly mundane story and make this movie a feast for the eyes.

In particular, Fincher showed with this film and Fight Club that he has a far different concept of the use of CGI than most current Hollywood directors. He uses it not to create "special effects" as much as "camera effects" -- not to create things (explosions, spaceships, monsters or creatures) that don't really exist in life but rather to show us things that do really exist but an ordinary camera could not possibly capture (such as the inside of a keyhole, a flashlight, a four-inch ventilation pipe). In this movie the camera moves in ways I have never seen before, peering around impossibly narrow doorway openings, moving between the rails of a banister, dropping down a three story staircase in seconds, moving through the handle of a coffee maker. Remember the shot in Hitchcock's "Notorious," where the camera started atop a grand staircase and gradually craned down to a close-up on a key clutched in Ingrid Bergman's hand on the floor below? That shot is legendary in film history. Well, this movie has at least a dozen, probably far more, shots like that, all realized through the utterly seamless use of digital effects technology.

It's not only through technical means, however, that Fincher has enhanced Koepp's script. The movie is exceedingly well-cast and acted, with Forest Whitaker, Jodie Foster, and Dwight Yoakam all giving excellent performances. Kristen Stewart is solid and believable as the daughter. Jared Leto is at times annoying and over-the-top, but his character is meant to be so. Subtle shadings and nuances have enhanced the script at every turn, deepening the characters, sharpening the action, and improving the sometimes shaky logic of the situation.

It is in the third act (the last half-hour or so) that the film most widely deviates from Koepp's original blueprint, and it is this part of the movie that is most gripping and remarkable. Visually Fincher seems to be channeling Kubrick (as well as Hitchcock) for much of the final act, with some very strong echoes of "The Shining" (and a few frames that strongly recall "Dial M for Murder"). Of course Fincher's haunting, powerhouse visual style, while evocative of Kubrick and Hitchcock, is all his own, and it achieves maximum effect in these scenes.

The final five minutes of the movie display a stunning level of moral and emotional ambiguity, particularly involving Forest Whitaker's character. "Panic Room"s most obvious antecedent in movie history is probably "Rear Window." Unlike "Rear Window," the basic story of "Panic Room" has no deeper resonance beyond the thrills of the moment. On the other hand, however, the resolution of "Rear Window" (IMO, at least) has little resonance, other than to tie up the story. The ending of "Panic Room," on the other hand, is fascinatingly open-ended, and left me tantalizingly uncertain as to what to feel. It was just a great, great ending.

Howard Shore's score is outstanding, and the technical credits, as usual in a Fincher film, are excellent across the board. As always, Fincher has gotten the most out of everyone, from the supporting members and all of the crew.

Se7en (1995)
30 out of 34 people found the following review useful:
The best thriller ever made, 7 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Se7en is a very complex and deep movie, while also being quite disturbing. Andrew Kevin Walker created one of the most original spec screenplays of all time, but it is the kind of story traditionally used more as a writing sample than actually made into a movie. But the creative team of director David Fincher believed in this extremely dark, uncompromising story, and made it just the way Walker wrote it.

The story revolves around two extremely well-drawn characters, David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman). In one sense their relationship is the ultimate cliché -- the old veteran cop paired up with the brash rookie (though Mills is not actually a rookie, just new to the unnamed city where the movie takes place). But the contrast between these two characters is played out not for laughs or cheap drama but as the real working out of a moral question. Somerset, the lonely, cynical older detective, cares about people but has seen too much of the dark side of life to have much hope for society. Mills is not as intelligent as Somerset (kudos to Pitt for being willing to play a character that frequently looks foolish), and he lives by a simplistic belief in the power of law enforcement to change the world.

Throughout the movie, the two characters struggle with this conflict -- is human society basically rotten, and can one person do anything to make a difference? Somerset, an intelligent, well-read man, is smart enough to recognize the truth, however painful that is. Mills is the kind of person who has never truly questioned the simple "values" he was raised with. Somerset tries to educate him, tries to warn him, but ultimately fails.

In the end, it is only John Doe, the serial killer, who can teach Mills (and by extension the audience) the truth -- that this world is very often shockingly vicious and senselessly cruel. Doe and Somerset actually have similar views of society and the world, up to a point. But while Somerset still cares about his fellow human beings, Doe hates them, and takes out his rage in a series of gruesome murders based on the seven deadly sins.

This movie is about the investigation Mills and Somerset undertake of Doe's murders, his "sermon" to the world through serial killing. Ultimately, Mills and Somerset can only do so much to try to stop Doe; the killer always seems at least one step ahead of them, and stays that way until the very end of the movie. In a normal Hollywood film, Mills and Somerset would "win" in the end by catching Doe and setting the world right again. But Andy Walker had a quite different ending in mind, and Fincher and his team take the shocking conclusion all the way to the limit of tension and drama.

This movie, like Fincher's "Fight Club," was controversial for being violent and gruesome. Certainly there are a number of gruesome and disturbing images of murder victims' bodies, and many aspects of the story are very troubling, to say the least. But only one person is shown being killed on screen, and by far the worst of what happens in this story happens in the viewer's imagination. Unlike most films that have high levels of violence -- including, for example, Reservoir Dogs or Silence of the Lambs -- this movie genuinely attempts to grapple with the moral implications of what is being shown on screen. In direct contrast with, say Quentin Tarantino, who uses extreme violence for shock effect and to gain notoriety, Fincher actually shows less violence on screen and raises far more probing moral questions in the viewer's mind. I cannot think of any movie that contains as much genuine debate and discussion among the characters about crime and human morality as this one does -- while never becoming dull or preachy for a moment.

I cannot finish this review without a word about Mr. Fincher's extraordinary visual talents. This is a man who ranks with the top handful of directors of all time in his knowledge and grasp of film-making technique. Everything from set design to lighting, selection of film stock and processing techniques, camera movement, frame composition, and editing work together to create an entirely new level of visual brilliance. Fincher's use of technique brings to mind nothing more than the work of Steven Spielberg in the 1970s, the last time a director this extraordinary burst onto the Hollywood scene. A whole generation has passed since then, and there is a new wave of techniques and tools available to the filmmaker of the nineties. Fincher uses every one of these tools to their utmost. The technical work and supporting actors are uniformly superb. This is a movie that works on every level. Andy Walker, having written a mind-blowing screenplay, must have been stunned when he saw the finished film. This movie will rock you to the core.

The Game (1997)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
John, chapter nine, verse twenty-five, 16 May 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Game," much like "Se7en," "Fight Club," and "Panic Room," is both an extraordinarily well-crafted and extremely thought-provoking movie. Like "Se7en" and "Fight Club," "The Game" contains a shocking twist near the end that forces you to reevaluate the entire movie. Many viewers don't like the twist (as can be seen from some of the comments here), contending that it makes the whole film a waste of time. They may have a point, but I can't say I agree with them. In a way, "The Game" is a descendant of "The Wizard of Oz" and "A Christmas Carol" in that what happens is essentially a dream that is still important though none of it really "happened," because of how the dream affects the main character.

"The Game" began life as a spec script that reputedly floated around Hollywood for years, well-respected as a piece of work but considered unfilmable. Enter David Fincher, who has made a career of filming the difficult, the outrageous, and the provocative.

Michael Douglas gives a brilliant performance as Nicholas Van Orton. In a way, this seems to be the role he was born to play. Only Gordon Gekko rivals this character in Douglas's career. Part of the problem with Douglas is that you tend to get the same performance, the same persona every time out, and Nicholas is almost type-casting. But this movie asks Douglas to go a little farther than I've ever seen him go. He finds real levels of panic and desperation in his performance here that are fascinating coming from such a normally controlled actor.

This movie is basically about the humiliation and degradation of Nicholas Van Orton, breaking him down and stripping him to nothing in order that he can build again from a solid foundation. As a result, although the movie for the most part plays very seriously as a tense thriller, on repeat viewings one can perceive a wicked streak of black humor running through almost every scene. Many of Douglas's moments in the film are extremely, though subtly, humorous -- such as when he's talking to the two "new members" at his club about the game; he perfectly conveys both the fear of embarrassment and secret interest that Nicholas is feeling. Or the look on his face as the runaway taxi is about to crash into the bay (with him in it), or when machine gun fire suddenly rakes the window behind him at "Christine's" apartment.

The things CRS does to Nicholas are both hilarious and disturbing. He is very much a Scrooge character at the beginning of the movie -- cold and isolated, mean and unhappy. One set piece after another humiliates, unnerves, and ultimately terrifies him, until he has no control left over what used to be his life, and finally he can take action with no thought for consequences.

Perhaps what is most disappointing about the ending for many viewers is that Nicholas ultimately "loses" the game -- CRS drives him to commit suicide (or so he believes), and he only survives because they have arranged for him to survive. In a strong parallel to "Se7en," the protagonists in both movies remain at the mercy of their antagonists (John Doe and CRS) until the bitter end, after the point at which, in an ordinary Hollywood movie, they would have successfully fought back and regained control. Ultimately, what CRS does to Nicholas is destroy his life, take everything from him, make him think he killed his own brother, and then -- give it all back to him. In the process, he does learn to be more engaged, learns that money is not what really matters in life.

It's a hard movie to get a handle on, and that's what I love about it. One aspect I'm not crazy about is that only a very rich person could afford the "benefits" of the game. But maybe a less expensive "game" could be tailored for a less wealthy person. And besides, part of the point seems to be that Nicholas was such a jerk at the beginning, he deserved to be treated this way. And maybe all wealthy corporate titans like Nicholas deserve to find out what it's like to lose everything.

As usual, in this movie Fincher moves the camera (and the objects and people being filmed) with the grace and kinetic energy of the young Spielberg, composes the frame with the beauty and attention to detail of Kubrick, and stages action and generates gut-wrenching suspense like Jimmy Cameron. Fincher's movies are always pervaded with a deep, penetrating intelligence. Everything here is thought out to the finest detail, and all aspects of the production, from sets to costumes to music to (of course) cinematography and editing are flawless. The supporting performances (and everyone here other than Douglas is really in a supporting role) are all outstanding.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
a revised impression, 1 December 2004

I have seen Star Wars probably 35-40 times and Empire about 20 but had never watched them back to back (on consecutive nights) until the new DVD versions came out. Put me in the camp of those who feel the added digital effects are a desecration; I want to see the movies the way they were released originally. I simply tried to ignore the alterations and was successful for the most part. It certainly is nice to see these films in widescreen, with outstanding picture and sound quality.

I felt the same way after seeing Star Wars again that I have since 1977: it is the greatest achievement in the history of movies. To my surprise, however, when I watched Empire the next night, I was disappointed. It is a very well-directed, well-polished movie, but to my mind, it lacks the visual, graphic brilliance that helped make the original so extraordinary. Star Wars and American Graffiti, the two masterpieces George Lucas directed in his youth, both have an incredible, unmatched look. Lucas didn't move the camera much, but he made up for it with the amazing, jukebox-like style of what he photographed with it. Empire lacks that quality.

***SPOIILERS AHEAD*** Star Wars was really a perfect story that ended with what is still the greatest action sequence ever (the Death Star battle) followed by the ultimate coda (the Throne Room scene). Watching Empire right afterward was a little jarring. Suddenly, without warning, we learn that despite destroying "the ultimate power" in the universe, the rebels have gained no advantage, and they're on the run, stuck hiding on a miserable little ice planet with a single, tiny base. Wouldn't more fighters, more systems have joined the Alliance after the destruction of the Death Star? How did the rebels go from ultimate victory to being nearly crushed so quickly?

Another major shock to me -- and probably the biggest weakness of Empire -- was the change in the relationships of the three main characters. In Star Wars, from the moment Luke first saw Leia, he was in love with her ("who is she? she's beautiful") -- so much so that he stood dumbstruck when he first entered her cell on the Death Star. There were strong hints that Leia reciprocated -- she kissed him (half on the cheek, half on the lips) twice, looked very nervous when he seemed dead in the final battle, and certainly Luke was in puppy-love with her the entire film. Now, all of a sudden, in Empire, Luke and Leia are on-screen together for about three minutes total, and there is no hint of Luke's love for her. Without explanation, now it's all about Han and Leia, who despite no hint of attraction in Star Wars are suddenly are madly in love. I suspect there are three main reasons for this:

1. Unlike Fisher and Hamill, Harrison Ford was not signed up for sequels. He only agreed to come back on condition that his character was developed from the wisecracking, cynical sidekick into the wisecracking, cynical, romantic hero lead. This gave his career a great boost, but in my opinion totally undercut the character of Luke Skywalker, who should have been the emotional focus of the movie (as he was in Star Wars).

2. Mark Hamill's disfiguring car accident in December 1976 (after completion of principal photography on Star Wars) made it easier to turn his character into a monk-like, asexual person (the process that started in Empire and finished in Jedi). In Star Wars Hamill was a handsome, though callow, screen presence. But after the accident (despite plastic surgery), he just didn't look good. It hampered his performance and basically destroyed his capacity to play a romantic lead.

3. To the extent that Lucas planned to have Leia be Luke's sister (a terrible decision that I suspect was not made until after the release of Empire), they obviously could not be romantically involved. However, their "incestuous" love for each other is all over Star Wars. I think the decision to make Leia and Luke siblings only came after the radical character revisions in Empire eliminated any romantic feelings between Luke and Leia and turned Luke into a boring monk.

Indeed, Empire's greatest weakness is that it's too heavy. The "dark side of the force" was only briefly discussed in Star Wars, but here it's played up to an extent that the concept just can't support. Yoda says that "fear, anger, hatred" lead to the dark side, but how exactly is a human being supposed to avoid these emotions? The Force was fleshed out just the right amount (i.e., not too much) in Star Wars, but here it is revealed not to make a whole lot of sense. There's way too much "good vs. evil" that's no longer presented in a fun style in Empire. It's taken too seriously, which reminds me of the Lord of the Rings movies -- not a good thing.

4 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
too much of a "good" thing, 13 February 2004

I have to say, up front, that I really liked Fellowship of the Ring a lot. But that movie was three hours long, as is Two Towers. Return of the King is three and a half hours. I understand Peter Jackson considers this to be "one" movie broken up into three parts -- that is, one nine and a half (or eleven, with the extended "special" editions) hour movie. That is simply excessive, IMHO. Anytime a movie goes much over two hours it better be for a very, very good reason. When you start talking about a three hour sequel to a three hour original movie, you've got problems -- I don't care how good the original was. Maybe Godfathers 1 and 2 are the exception. But FOTR and TTT are not that good.

FOTR had a more captivating story line. It was about a small band of brothers on a difficult and daring quest -- to destroy the dangerous ring of power. TTT doesn't have as good of a story line. There is a fundamental problem from the start. It makes no sense that Frodo and Sam would be left to go to Mordor on their own. Why would all three of the fellowship's best warriors -- Aragon, Legolas, and Gimli -- go off to save Pippin and Merry, and not one of them stay with Frodo and Sam? This makes NO SENSE, and the fact that Tolkien wrote it that way is no excuse. Isn't the destruction of the ring more important, in the scheme of things, than saving Merry and Pippin? Why not send at least Aragorn with Frodo and Sam -- or send Aragorn alone after Merry and Pippin and send Legolas and Gimli with Frodo and Sam? What on earth were Frodo and Sam supposed to do when they got to Mordor on their own?

Where FOTR was a story about a quest, a mission, TTT quickly becomes a tiresome story about a "war" between "good" and "evil." There are so many endless, repetitious, humorless pronouncements in this movie about the stakes of this battle that the theme gets very old very quickly. If I had been the editor I would have excised every line by Theoden, Aragorn, Treebeard, Sam, et al. about all that nonsense, cut the movie down to two hours and made it almost pure action.

The forces of Saruman are presented as so relentlessly, unmitigatingly evil that they are hard to hate. The orcs (or uruk-hai, I assume that's the same thing) are slimy creatures like Jim Cameron's Aliens. They ride CG beasts that look like dinos from Jurassic Park. Sauron is some weird flaming eye on top of a black tower. The only human villain is Saruman himself, who has about two lines in the whole three-hour flick. I don't need a lot of motivation for the villains, but I'd like to get at least some idea of why they act as they do. Why do they fight? Why are they so evil? What's the point? Meanwhile, the good guys are all white, the men do all the fighting -- in fact boys of as young as ten or eleven are thrown into battle but not a single woman is. It's just a tiresome, cliched battle of "good" against a straw man "evil." Why are the good guys so humorlessly good while the bad guys are so insanely, relentlessly evil?

I was led to believe that Smeagol/Gollum was the best CG character ever, but in fact he seemed less realistic than Jar Jar Binks and no improvement over the dinos from Jurassic Park. The only bright spot in the movie was Miranda Otto. I felt no tension in wondering whether Aragorn will choose her or Liv Tyler -- I assume he will choose Tyler, and think he is crazy for doing so.

Oh, I forgot one other human bad guy -- this "Wormtongue" fellow. How hard is it to figure out a guy named "Wormtongue" is up to no good? That's as bad of a name as "Darth Sidious."

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