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The Fisher King (1991)
As good as it gets
While most of Gilliam's work is known for their over-the-top wild madness, which is a good thing, this is his most restrained, most subdued and possibly the single finest film of his career. Throughout there is a sense that life is going on while he just happened to be nearby with a camera, somehow even magically catching the tormented vision of a Red Knight chasing a hapless soul through Central Park.
The performances are stunning. Possibly the greatest moment in Williams' career, a chance to "be crazy" but in the sense of someone barely capable of functioning. Ruehl controls her reality, which is small and confined, but it is hers, every inch of it. Plummer, always fascinating, here is heart breaking. Jeter's role is small but perfect in every possible way. Najimy is on screen for about a heartbeat, but is totally memorable.
Then, of course, there is: Jeff Bridges as Jack Lucas. Bridges is obvious now, The Dude, Rooster Cogburn, his Crazy Heart beating loud. It is here, though, that the man that has done so much, and from a short line of great actors (father Lloyd and brother Beau as also great) that has given so much, he really deserved the attention that he is only now getting.
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (2012)
Sad, sad, sad
In the extras of the original, the director was shown giving the make up crew their mission. When given the choice between gruesome and disturbing, always go with disturbing.
This film fails more often that it bothered to attempt to succeed. Oh, yes, there are moments that are worthy of the attention of any horror fan. Those moments are few, and far between.
There are whole sections of set design that are hidden behind what appears to be dirty plastic wrap. The 3D effect, that can be used to erase the "fourth wall" is used at one point to actually CREATE a "fourth wall," blood splatter hitting what appears to be a glass wall about ten feet in front of the viewer.
The actors did what they could, which wasn't much, as the story here is garbled.
Final note: I want my money back, I want that time back. Feh!
Top of the line
If Stephen Sondheim were to be approached to turn this into a musical, he would be quite right to shrug it off as he already did Sunday In The Park With George.
Bits and pieces, coming together into one massive quilt depicting a brief moment of human existence in the United States. Very much a document of its time, the film is as we were, scattered, splintered, a herd of cats wandering across the land, and all hearing the siren call and responding.
But to which siren do we respond? Fame and fortune in the music industry, power in politics? The call to faith? Sex and pleasure? It is all here, all at once, all at the same time.
This film is possessed of the zeitgeist, and there is a sense that the fourth wall keeping us from it is slowly melting. The opening sequence, sounding like a K-Tel commercial, reminds us we are in a commercial venture, a performance of an artificial reality but, by the end, that artifice is shattered repeatedly, an assassin's bullet hitting bone and ricocheting around and around.
Having seen much of his work prior to this film, it is here, without any flinching or concern of response, that I stand firm. From here, Nashville, the term Altmanesque is fully realized. Not only does the rest of the body of his own work pale in comparison, but this is his true above-the-rest master work, his magnum opus. (Short Cuts is a brilliant reminder to himself, and us, that he had the capacity to do it more than once. Thank God the plane didn't go down after Nashville! The generation my generation bred needed their own, and they got it.) Much has been written about the use of overlapping dialog, and it is interesting to me that one hears it used to brilliant effect in Citizen Kane (possibly the single finest moment of radio drama: if you ever get the chance, ignore the visuals and just listen to Citizen Kane. A most enlightening experience). What is missed in this damnation by the faintest of praise is that the dialog overlaps the way the individual stories do, and often at the moment in which they must to propel this mad, mad, mad, mad world towards its most brilliant conclusion.
Altman had a dual career: both hit and miss. The sheer momentum of this film, its unswerving gaze, its slow steady build makes it a massive hit, making it possibly the true Important Film of his career. It is Altman's Casablanca, one watches again and gains more from every viewing, it is a living entity, growing and evolving with every frame. It is Altman's Lawrence Of Arabia and Malcolm X, sweeping in majesty and grandeur and telling the greater tale in the focus of the faces of the average man. It is Altman's It's A Wonderful Life, presenting itself without flinching (everyone seems to forget that the standard Christmas chestnut deals with a man contemplating suicide). It is Altman's Intolerance, only watchable and pleasurable. It is Altman's Metropolis, important, powerful and a crowning achievement of the medium of film.
Short Cuts (1993)
aka Nashville 1993
Altman, as many have written, had a career that is pretty much evenly divided between hit and miss. While I have always enjoyed his films, to be totally honest and fair, not all of his work qualifies to the magnificent high standard of being Altmanesque.
Altman loved jazz, and the best of his best work move like a brilliant jazz performance. To move along with his groove, to truly become part of the experience requires a certain presence of mind. Like the greatest jazz artists, there are those who enter into deep debates over which work is best: is Kind Of Blue better than Bitches Brew? More important? In the end, it does come down to taste and preference, and this would be my second favorite Altman film after the sheer perfection of Nashville. The films are like watching someone make a quilt, "bit by bit, putting it together" (as Sondheim said), with no one particular thread being more important than another, just a simple, glorious collection of threads pulling together to form one majestic piece.
The perception that his films are "scattered" or "confusing" or "dull" because of that missing story line is, sadly, understandable: we are being fed a constant stream of Single Story at every turn, being easier to market and exploit. Altman, at his best, had no need of a single narrative line and on those occasions in which there is no semblance whatsoever of a single story arc AND he is moving at his best, he creates films quite unlike any other by any one.
Both this and Nashville are invitations, seductive in their own way: there is no fourth wall in these works, while we watch them, it is as if they are watching us.
Sucker Punch (2011)
I had ridiculously high expectations for this...
...And Zack Snyder delivered the goods over and over and over the top. He is now (having not seen the Owls film) IMHO in a small collection of directors as Masters Of The OTT: Terry Gilliam, Baz Lehrman, Ken Russell... and now, Zack Snyder.
This film has been sniffed at and derided by the critics, a collective shrug of Meh... and it is wholly undeserved.
This is Zack Snyder's The Matrix Inception at Moulin Rouge, as stylish a musical as anything else out there, but filtered through the creative mind that has lived the era of MTv meaning music videos that were short musicals and sometimes (all of my favorites, anyway) short musical avant garde films.
Wild, rollicking, slipping into and out of eras and aeons, seriously cool soundtrack, it is eye candy for people with functioning brains.
Worthy of attention, wildly out of control: Rodriguez strikes again
Robert Rodriguez seems hellbent on creating films as if he was Robert Rodriguez... you know, the guy that made both From Dusk Til Dawn and The Faculty. Fortunately, he is more than up to the challenge with Machete.
The term OTT applies here, but that is quickly becoming his hallmark, and Thank God for that! While others are making retreads of stale bread, RR is returning to his preferred film genre (70's Grindhouse Cheese) and bringing to the screen something other directors fail to comprehend... this is entertainment, dammit, and laying down the limited supply of cash one has to sit in the dark for a couple of hours means you'd better bring the goods.
There are weaknesses, to be sure. Any of those are IMHO removed by the impressive display of macho in the lead: Danny Trejo IS the ultimate tough guy, and Machete Cortez is now firmly ensconced in my mind in the pantheon of Tough Men from Hollywood alongside Dirty Harry.
Some critics have written that Senor Trejo is the weakest link in this film. I would not merely disagree, but I sneer at the dogs who think this. Senor Trejo in this film is like Lee Marvin or Clint Eastwood or Humphrey Bogart... his face is a sculpture of human flesh, the weight of a man's life showing his soul. Amazing. Just ... amazing.
Without him, this film would probably be a 6 to me. Because of him, it is a 9.
Now: how can we get him a script that really lets him show off???
Hannibal Rising (2007)
A disaster in need of repair
I am a major fan of Thomas Harris, and have read all of his novels several times, with the exception of Hannibal Rising. Once was enough. I have all of the films based on his novels with the exception of this one. I saw it at the theater, and like the reading of the novel, once was enough.
There is much to say that would be of interest, preventing it (barely) from being listed as "awful." I have nothing against the visual impact of the cinematography, an art form that is long neglected. The film is mostly dark, and even the daylight sequences seem to have an absence of light.
The editing and pace of the film moves right along. The actors are all fine and well. What went wrong? ***** SPOILERS ***** *The storyline is an abortion. Harris was commissioned to write another Lecter story with the intent of it becoming a film, and no one told him that to drag the boyhood of a monster forward so we, as an audience, would come to understand the monster came from a sad, tormented boy.
Who cares? Having read the other novels where we encounter this true Monster, I was impressed how much his story was told in bits and pieces, not unlike the story of Nero Wolfe series. Why give us everything all at once, when it so much more fun to be able to glean the story from brief anecdotes? Lecter's sister was mentioned in earlier novels, as well as some of his past. Those brief glimpses made the character more interesting, giving him a sense of mystery. By releasing this mess, there was no mystery. Even the clever use of the mask... sigh... are you kidding?? What I feel SHOULD have been done was to continue forward from the previous novel, ignoring the mangled end of the film Hannibal. Leave our Monster to be a Monster, but show him more for what he truly is, and once we see that, we can see how this mess could have been made interesting...
He is a Moriarty without a Holmes. If we are to go back into his previous life, then tell the tale of how he was captured in the first place... wouldn't that have been an interesting story?
A Perfect Getaway (2009)
What is needed in the genre
The only reason I purchased this film is Milla Jovovich. Period. I adore her, I think she is a fairly decent actress and could probably do more, but she seems to prefer making genre films. Action, horror, sci-fi: she has the serious attitude chops and I love watching her kick people in the face (so long as it helps advance the plot, of course).
When I first started watching this film, the most immediate thing that leaped from the screen was the singular beauty of the cinematography. The greens are varied significantly and the sky is a collection of blues and grays that sets off the greens. Beautiful.
The story line is, at first, rather standard, nothing too surprising. As the film progresses, there are some scenes that appear recycled from other, similar films.
***** MULTIPLE SPOILERS FOLLOW *****
*When the film reached a certain point, and the notion of who the villains of the piece truly are, it was becoming obvious to me... and I kept wishing that the writers had enough stones to simply make the couple we've been watching throughout the film the villains... because as a hopeful writer, that is what I would do. The film Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer spends the entire film inside the head of one of the worst examples of the human condition, and having just seen it, it did make an impact.
Imagine my stunned amazement when the film did just that very thing. There are those who say that they saw the twist coming. I won't debate that; I didn't until it happened. What struck me, though, was that the "reveal" (as it were) happened rather early in the film. There is a second twist, of sorts at the very end, but I thought that more predictable than who the villains were: Hollywood redemption is a curse on modern horror films.
The primary reason the reveal of who the villains were caught me so off guard is simple: the current Hollywood concept of what a horror/thriller film should do and how it is to be done is so formulaic as to be totally predictable. This is a major step forward in the Hollywood concept of the genre, IMHO: to not spoon feed the story.
The main drawback, and what prevented me from giving this film a perfect score, was the aforementioned redemption scene.
Granted, I do not want to see Milla as a villain, but still... would it have been so difficult to show her smiling after the last gunshot? Would it have been so wrong to have her beautiful, smiling face be the last thing we'd see? Something to indicate that while she did betray her lover, she had no remorse for it or her previous actions... which may even have lead to a sequel. A true sequel, a carrying forward of the story line with her going out on her own.
The Hollywood Redemption is a cancer on the intellect. True horror fans do not need to know that Michael Myers had a bad childhood (Mr. Zombie: Are you listening??), we don't need to know that Freddie Krueger was a tortured soul. If a character is a monster, let them be monstrous. The single most putrid example remains the abortion known as Hannibal Rising, both film and novel.
Regardless, this film is entertaining, worthy of attention and hopefully, someone will catch on that a Bad Person need not be redeemed.
A Road movie with teeth
The first 8 minutes or so of this film, no one speaks. Just images. Men, machines. Roadway, asphalt roaring past.
This is the film Vanishing Point, The Driver and Death Proof wanted to be.
The engines supply the bass riff. The song of the road is here.
Had this film been made in the 70's, it would still be in the theaters, a classic. It is an out of place artifact. It is still worthy of consideration and serious contemplation.
The classic 'Cuda and the Caddy. The road belongs to these monster road machines, and them as are willing and capable of driving same.
The fetish of Detroit lives here: the ferocious machines made by men like Clint in Gran Torino.
The cinematography is brilliant, huge sweeping vistas, claustrophobic tunnels, vehicular interiors that are lived in, not Hollywood perfect.
This is a great film. I was hoping to see it on the big screen, but it went from "Coming Soon" to "Now Available On DVD" before it ever made the screens in this area.
Joy Ride (2001)
Big Enough For A Truck To Drive Through
The Good: Interesting cast, characters well thought out. 1971 Chrysler Newport (sweet choice of wheels). All actors did a decent job with what they were given, which was a fair amount. Decent script in terms of people, places.
The Bad (or just unfortunate): Ted Levine's missing face. On the deleted scenes, there is a moment between two characters, the first whistles to the second and indicates they should speak on the phone, and the second whistles back, giving the "bird" and then indicating why the "bird" is flown. That less than 30 second bit of business is flawless.
The Ugly: In the summary I am referring to Plot Holes. There are so many logical inconsistencies throughout that I stopped feeling any real tension. One character consistently has access to information (names, travel plans, room numbers) that simply is not available... which would be fine in a film about supernatural events. This is not a supernatural film. The film has that slick, smooth Hollywood feel that the independent film community cannot afford, and when the Indies use the cheap, digital cameras there is a grittiness, a sense of real urgency. The cinematography was simply too pretty to work in a film of this type.
Overall: 5/10. Not really a complete loss. Worthy of a sit through with plenty of popcorn, or a higher score for folks that want to watch an action based horror film with friends/family/etc that really don't normally care for that kind of thing, but not powerful enough to warrant full attention from a fan of the genre.