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JAM-31

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7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Why this film didn't work, 12 June 2010
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is one of my all time favorite films. The way that movie ended, so beautifully wrapping things up, I was against any more sequels being made. I am glad that that film still stands on its own, self contained, and that James Cameron had nothing to do with this film or the last one.

I was still excited about "Terminator Salvation," though. The mythical future war against the machines I thought would be a great setting for a movie. But it turned out to be an opportunity wasted.

The main problem with this film is John Connor. Casting Christian Bale in this role was a great start, but unfortunately a finish. After reading an article about how director "McG" (No, it's not too late for him to change that name) pleaded with a resisting Bale to take the role, "Give me a chance!" I was willing to give him one too. But then I read that John Connor wasn't even originally in the script. That he was added later. This makes the role almost unnecessary, and it shows. Why was the script written without him in the first place? If you are going to do a "Terminator" movie without Arnold, then you HAVE to have John Connor in it.

John Connor in this film is flatly written and boring. It diminishes his importance and damages the mythology of the franchise. His brief entrance and appearance in T2 presented him like a legend as did Kyle Reese's description of him in the first Terminator film. Instead, Connor is never interesting or charismatic, and his only "motivational" moments come with passionless speeches over the radio. He needs to be William Wallace, Spartacus, George Washington, and all great leaders rolled into one.

The other major problem with the film is its convoluted story and lack of originality. I found Sam Worthington's character and performance mediocre in this film. His terminator-like character is a ruthless, evil bad guy, then a bad guy with heart, who is a machine, but he doesn't know it character arc is not so clear, and at the same time a cliché. One of the worst moments of cliché in this film comes when the "Blair Williams" character learns that Worthington is a terminator machine, yet still decides to rescue him from Connor and the resistance. OK, so Worthington saved her in a previous scene, but now she knows he's a terminator! Hello? Don't you think she should listen to the resistance when they prove to her that he's a machine and a dangerous enemy? Even if you can argue that her actions were plausible, do we really need to see this tired, dumb-character cliché in another movie?

As for the rest of the film, action scenes are ranked somewhat exciting to routine. Special effects are decent, although the world these characters live in isn't that impressive, exciting, or believable.

Grade: D+

Iron Man 2 (2010)
3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Bad. Simply Bad., 15 May 2010
3/10

Okay, I am not a big comic book fan, nor do I know too much about "Iron Man." I am a big-time movie fan though, and there are certain things that a comic book movie (and basically ANY movie) needs to be successful.

And they are: THRILLS... EXCITEMENT... SUSPENSE... STORY... "Iron Man 2" has none of them. How does a movie like this get released without them? "Iron Man 2" has no exciting plot for the hero to overcome to stop drastic consequences. No exciting action sequences to keep us on the edge of our seats. I don't know or really care how much this film keeps to the comic it was based on--if it doesn't have an involving, exciting story, it fails.

All of the actors, Downey, Johannsen, Favreau, Rourke, Cheadle, give mediocre, forgettable performances. All of them are good actors who I have enjoyed watching in other films, but seem to just be trying to be cool, hip, and clever in front of the camera this time.

This film should have reminded me of the "Batman," "Superman," or "Spiderman," films, but it has more in common with the "Ocean's 11" movies: a bunch of big stars hamming it up, trying to be "cool," and having fun in front of the camera, instead of trying to make a good movie.

What does Mickey Rourke's villain want in this film? How will it affect the world if he achieves his aims? Why should we care if he succeeds? Why are there no moments when Iron Man seems on the verge of losing everything? This film is an example of letting success go to the producers' and actors' heads. Hopefully the fan-boys will realize and admit it stinks before more action and comic book films turn out as dull as this one.

Grade: D

6 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
As an Indy Fan, I am bound to be more critical..., 26 May 2008
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I am a die-hard Indiana Jones fan. The originals meant so much to me as I grew up. But I wasn't expecting too much from this film. Mostly because of the hype and anticipation a movie like this brings, after 19 years of absence. Also because of Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III, which proved that George Lucas was out of touch.

"Crystal Skull" could have delivered. It had all the potential to be another great film in the series, maybe not an equal to the almost perfect films, "Raiders," and "Temple of Doom," but could have been a great adventure masterpiece. It has good moments, and it is enjoyable just to see Indy and Marion and the Spielberg/Lucas crew at it again. But it never achieves greatness because of three main things.

First: The plot. I found it hard to understand the motives of the characters or what they were looking for throughout most of the film. The dialog that begins when Mutt Williams enters is clunky, and confusing. It reminded me of the heavily plot-related dialog from "Phantom Menace": weird, uninteresting and boring. We should get chills when we hear the characters talk about the magical treasures and dangers that await them. Here it never really makes sense what they are talking about. The crystal skulls of the title aren't a great macguffin, its surprising how important they were to George Lucas. I'm not crazy about the idea of Indy fighting over an alien artifact. Indiana Jones searches for lost legendary treasures and remnants of ancient civilizations. Part of our love for the character is the thought of him uncovering the sites we have always heard about, the excitement that such magic and amazing places could actually be out there in our own world, waiting to be discovered by adventurers. It's not like there's nothing left for Indy to discover, or for his villains to be after (Atlantis, the Fountain of Youth, etc). The alien plot could have worked, but Lucas failed to make the concept interesting. It's just too weird.

Second: The film is missing the thrilling (and often brutal) exciting action that characterized the original films. There were no moments in this film that really shocked or scared us, no suspense scenes that kept us on edge of our seats or made us look away, or watch through our fingers. No shock or gore. Spielberg has gone a little too soft in his older years. Perhaps he is worried about the effect his (non-serious) films might have on children, but he really doesn't need to worry--most kids ten and up could handle it fine. In "Raiders" (which I saw and loved when I was only seven) Indy thrust a Nazi's face into the dashboard of a truck, forward and back again, eventually throwing the guy through the window and driving over him! In the originals Indy's enemies got decapitated by plane propellers and smashed into dust by rock crushers. Indy also received his share of getting beat up, and we actually did fear for him (even if we knew he would survive in the end.) Not so in this movie. I kept waiting, for instance, for Indy to throw a Russian baddie into the jaws or blades of one of the jungle vehicles, but it never happened. The villains seem to be in on the joke. They aren't evil enough. I appreciate it that Indy fought a Russian heavy in a similar fashion to the way he fought the German mechanic in "Raiders," but it really just felt like a weak retread of that fight. The Russian wasn't memorable or much bigger than Indy and the fight wasn't as rough as it could have been (although the ants add a nice touch where the movie DOES grant a moment of squeamishness). I'm not crazy about the main villain being a woman. Cate Blanchett is decent as "Irina Spalko," but obviously I never wanted to see Indy land a punch on her, something he did so well against his former lead villains.

Third: The movie rushes through all of its best potential moments. Every action scene seems to be over as quickly as it started, a complaint I had about "Last Crusade." The motorcycle chase in Connecticut started off decently, but then ended abruptly. Same with the jungle chase. The bar fight in the college town could have been a great scene, but we cut away from it right after it starts. Think of all the missed opportunities--a bar fight resembling the original one in "Raiders," and maybe some satire of bar-fight clichés in general. The waterfalls our heroes later go down are really just punchlines, not adventure scenes.

"Crystal Skull" is still a decent film, and in my opinion about equal to "Last Crusade" (I know I am in the minority in my preference for "Doom" over that one.) I wouldn't be so critical of it if I didn't enjoy the originals so greatly. It is worth seeing just to see Harrison Ford play Indy again. I also appreciated the inclusion of Karen Allen as Marion, and on Spielberg's effort to film the movie in a way that made it resemble the originals (and it does.) I am a 20th century history buff, and the 1950's have always been my least favorite decade--they are just so unexciting in comparison to the decades before and after. But this movie, in its setting, gave me new appreciation for the 1950's. The styles and feel of the film gave it a good atmosphere to work with. I also liked the direction Indy takes in his relationship with Marion, and the acknowledgments of his past. I could totally see him as an OSS agent in WWII. The film left me wanting to see another Indy film. Hopefully, the next one will be done with a little less Lucas, and a little more old-fashioned Spielberg. Grade: B-

Munich (2005)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Enjoyed the movie, disagreed with the message., 3 November 2007
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spielberg has described "Munich" as his "prayer for peace," and that theme has overshadowed most of the real events this film is based on. It tries to see the actions of both sides, Israeli commandos and Palestinian terrorists, as equal. This brings down the film in an idealistic and preachy way.

When I first heard about this film, I was very excited that Spielberg would be directing it. I thought he could bring attention to the way Israelis have suffered under terrorism in the way he brought attention to the holocaust in "Schindler's List." Most of what I know about the Munich massacre and its aftermath comes from Aaron J. Klein 's "Striking Back," one of the most recent studies of the affair. What that work states is that the targets of "Munich" were high profile PLO members. The Israelis were anxious to fight offensively, not defensively, against Arab terrorists. Most of their targets did not have a direct hand in planning Munich. But in the film Eric Bana's "Avner" is not informed of this until the end, and it is presented to us as if the Israeli government is being shady, just eliminating people it had old rivalries with. The purpose of these assassinations was 1. to prevent terrorists from committing future attacks, 2.to deter terrorists by making them feel unsafe, wherever they were by knowing that while they sought the murder of Jews, they too could never sleep soundly at night, and 3. revenge.

"Munich" doesn't express well enough the motives for the reprisal killings, and the Israelis who take part in the operations are depicted as too somber and glum--Israel could not survive if its agents and leaders acted this way. Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, in the film, states the film's often quoted line, "Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values." In reality, Meir knew well that the perpetrators needed to be hunted down and punished, mercilessly. The impact of the targeted killings, especially the operation "Spring of Youth" in Lebanon, is not given proper significance in the film. "Munich" implies that each of these missions was a bloody, unnecessary mess that lead to more tit-for-tat violence. "Spring of Youth" made Israel's enemies look at the Mossad with tremendous fear and awe; that Israeli agents could hunt down and kill supreme heads of the PLO in an Arab country, while their targets lay in their own beds. The "deterrence" motive definitely seems to have been achieved by these operations. Although controversial, "targeted killings" have proved to be very effective. Israel brings the threat of death to those who plan terrorist attacks, and as a result, the terrorists spend 90% of their time hiding and only 10% of their time planning attacks. Avner says in the film, "Those we killed are being replaced by worse." This is a myth held by the world. True, everyone is replaceable, but often when a highly experienced, skilled, and charismatic Arab terrorist is killed, his replacement is a young person who can't understand the intructions of his weapons because they are in Farsi. Targeted kills are a blow to their organizations, and it is particularly demoralizing to terrorists when their "best" leaders are elminated.

My other complaint about "Munich" is that it feels rushed. Spielberg needed to slow down here, and he should have story-boarded the film. The Munich massacre is sped through too quickly, and there should have been more about how the Germans, with no anti-terror squad at the time, maddeningly bungled the rescue mission of the athletes. What Spielberg instead focused on was the violence (this is one of his bloodiest and most gruesome films to date). The final sequences, involving a concoction of scenes of Abner having rough, sweaty sex with his wife and the murder of the athletes, is bizarre and does not sit well. Many might find it offensive.

What do I like about the film? Well, at least Spielberg tried to make a personal film about the conflict. You can tell that his heart goes out to both sides in an idealistic way. The cinematography, lighting, set pieces, vehicles and costume design appear authentic and dead-on. It has a suspenseful opening and tense moments throughout. It is skillfully cast and all the actors do very well--especially Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Omar Metwally, and Daniel Craig, who needed more scenes. Craig is the toughest, most gung-ho character and has the more memorable lines in the film, like "Don't f**k with the Jews," and "The only blood I care about is Jewish blood." The movie gives us great exotic locales and interesting character faces, and a noir-ish feel with a look into a shadowy world of espionage. The film seems at times more about the toll taken on government agents who do hard and ugly things loyally for their governments than about Israel and the Palestinians.

What we have in the end is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve. It is Spielberg's "prayer for peace," with some loss in accuracy as a casualty. Grade: B.

Babel (2006)
4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Forced and Underwhelming, 2 February 2007
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I had heard mixed reviews on this film, but I figured I would enjoy it. I expected to find it at least emotionally exhausting, with maybe some interesting points of view for discussion. I also really liked the director's other films, "21 Grams," and "Amores Perros." But "Babel" never amounts to much. It gives us random stories, with supposedly interesting characters, that have forced histories and conclusions.

We have the Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett couple, traveling in Morocco. Blanchett explains that the couple had a newborn die recently, probably of SIDS. This doesn't appear heartbreaking or real--it's just another back-story, a "so this baggage explains our current mood and want to escape" revelation. I never felt like I knew much about the couple at all. They're just another plot device with a back-story. Why do people think this is Pitt's best performance ever? The couple's story involves Blanchett getting shot at random in Morocco, yet still the movie never feels urgent. We know too little about this couple to care whether or not she'll make it.

Then there is the couple's illegal alien maid back at home, watching over their children. The character is a saint, and so are the children. That's all she is, a saint, another by-the-numbers character.

The young Japanese girl has a more involving story, but it doesn't feel any less contrived. She's deaf, mute, has an attitude, her mother died, she has a strained and distant relationship with her father and she's sexually frustrated. I don't understand why the makers of this movie thought the character's sexual frustration made her more complex, interesting, or unique--she's not much different from any other (somewhat exhibitionist) girl her age. And I can't believe that young males would shun her because she's deaf, when she's cute and obviously willing. When we learn about the true reason behind her mother's death, the movie starts to feel like we're watching "Lost" episode flashbacks. The film is a group of stories that have back-stories we've seen in movies and on television more often than they happen in real life. The director seems to love the idea of having the audience wonder how these random stories could be related. When we do find out how, with a photograph, even the photo appears to have been doctored.

The film's political messages are underwhelming. They aren't completely clear and don't have much fire to them. We are supposed to feel for the couple's maid, as she is stopped at the border by immigration officials. I didn't see any reason why her nephew would step on the gas and try to flee--it felt very forced. This leads to the tragedy of her spending the night with the kids in the desert and walking around for an hour or so the next morning--big deal. We later learn that she is illegal and will be deported. This is really only an afterthought, which has nothing to do with the movie (oh, BTW--she's ILLEGAL. And she loves the children. And she will be deported--how tragic!) The rest of the other political messages are unconvincing. Terrorism is just American paranoia? Moroccans and the Moroccan government care deeply about punishing their own who hurt Americans?

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu seems to have been in a rush to make this film with gimmicky plots, back-stories, and irrelevant political messages. Grade: C+

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Major Disappointment, 23 February 2005
5/10

I was looking forward to this movie probably more than any other this year. After all, I love aviation, aviation history, the 1930's, the 1940's, and am a fan of biopics. Based on the early reviews for it, I was not going to be disappointed. But regardless of the acclaim that this film gets or the awards that it may receive, "The Aviator" is pretty much a mess.

To be fair, although I have always found him interesting, I am not very knowledgeable on Howard Hughes' life. I knew that he had contributed much to aviation, that he was very rich and successful, about the "Spruce Goose" fiasco, about his reclusive end, and I had loved "Hell's Angels." It's tough not to admire a pilot pioneer whose main passions appeared to have been flying, making films, and hot women. But all of these elements failed to live up to those things on screen.

"Hell's Angels" is one of the most interesting and unusual films that can be seen today. It wasn't a dramatic masterpiece; it was more of a guilty pleasure. Today we marvel at the incredible stunt work and visuals from that film, as well as a zeppelin attack that resembles campy science fiction, a silly love triangle with over-the-top acting, and images that have been colored by hand, long before movies were in color. The stories behind the making of that film are equally interesting; it is rumored that three pilots died while making it, and that Hughes himself performed a stunt that nobody else would. These things are only mentioned as an afterthought at the movie's premiere.

Then there is Hughes' "womanizing." Leonardo Dicaprio is too boyish, and just not believable when it comes to this. Since we know that Hughes had every major starlet at some point, we are just supposed to accept that Hughes had the charm and wit to get them. But what is his charm, other than that he's a hot-shot pilot with lots of money (ahem... did I just answer my own question?) A scene where HH seduces a cigarette girl (added at Leo DiCaprio's request) is poorly written and flat-out unconvincing--he's doing a poor man's imitation of Trent seducing the cocktail waitress in "Swingers," at best. Leo never has much chemistry with the women who come and go throughout his life. Why did they stay (if, only briefly) with him? A scene with Catherine Hepburn's family makes us believe that she was his most important connection, yet the scene really doesn't fit in with the rest of the story--it is a plant with no payoff.

Many other scenes are just there, yet provide no drive or momentum for the film; why do we need to see Jude Law play Errol Flynn (also unconvincingly) in one scene? What was the point of the (suppossedly hilarious) scene in which Ian Holm tries to convince the ratings board with calipers that the cleavage presented in "The Outlaw" is acceptable? What I was most disappointed with in "The Aviator" were HH's achievements in aviation. We all know that he was an important pioneer in aviation, but after seeing this film, I can't exactly say why. The dream of expanding the airlines is mostly dealt with by depicting the rivalries of Pan-Am and TWA--not very interesting. Most of his daring exploits are, again, poor imitations, this time of the daring exploits from "The Right Stuff"--a far superior film. Great emphasis is placed on the "Spruce Goose," which is probably not something that HH should be too proud of. The film really loses steam in its last third; by the time he made it to the hearings, I really didn't care whether HH won or lost.

Howard Hughes was a lot of things, but I can't tell what was most important about him after watching "The Aviator." Grade: C+

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Lame and Uninspiring, 14 August 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

(Spoilers, of course)

I haven't "given-up" on Shyamalan yet. I really liked "The Sixth Sense," and "Unbreakable" was a decent film too, if not as good as TSS. "Signs" had some great scenes and moments of suspense, even if it had gaping plot holes (aliens killed by WATER??? The essential building block of all life in the universe???)

But "The Village" has almost nothing to offer. Besides a few eerie scenes, it can't be considered a "horror film" for very long. And it has a "big twist" that, unlike "6th Sense" or "Unbreakable," this time I saw coming.

We are introduced to a bizzarely timeless village. It resembles a village in Colonial America in the 1600's, but then we see a tombstone that states it is the 1890's. So what is the purpose then, of this outpost? Why do they act more like colonial pilgrims than people from the turn of the century? Nobody we meet has much of a defined role, and we know little about how these people live. Nobody makes a very strong impression (although Adrien Brody really tries to, disappointingly bad after his outstanding performance in "The Pianist")

We learn early on about "those we do not speak of," monsters whom the village is at war with, and get a brief glimpse of the creatures shortly afterward. At about the half-way point we learn that we have been cheated out of the horror-film that we were expecting, and find that those monster-creatures are an illusion to keep the occupants of the village within its boundaries. I understand that Shyamalan wants to shock us, but couldn't he at least do it by sticking to the same genre? At that moment, I thought the "big twist" was abundantly clear; the adults speak of the "outside world" and talk about how important it is that their children not learn of it. I also caught that the adults seem to drop their way of speaking at this point, too. They have also mentioned the evils of money and wealth.

As young Ron Howard's daughter makes her way to the outside world, I kept waiting for her to come across a Pepsi-can, or some other hint that would give us the twist. When it does come, surprise-surprise, with a jeep and a park ranger, some of the theatre was surprised. I expected it to come this way, so obviously I wasn't shocked.

When a writer is in his earliest stages of brainstorming, he often comes up with a concept that he likes. After thinking more and more about it, he may come across plot-holes or other elements that convince him that the story is not worth writing, and that he should dump the idea and move on to other things. Shyamalan should have dumped this idea in this stage, because it doesn't work--it's stupid! When learning of these people's history, we are supposed to believe that this is their backstory for forming some timeless cult in the woods of Pennsylvania? This idea is dumb and unbelieveable. Why couldn't they just join up with the Amish? Each adult in the village has an explanation of why they are there, and none of them are genuine--they are all just weak excuses to pull a lame twist on the audience that we would never find believeable in the first place.

Grade: D-

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
"I'll just die if I don't get this recipe... I'll just die if I don't get this recipe...", 30 April 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoilers

A friend of mine who had just watched this film told me that once I saw it, the term "Stepford Wife" would enter our lexicon of references. He was right about that.

Joanna moves with her husband to Stepford, CT. While Walter is at work, Joanna and her new friend Bobbie are both appalled at the behavior of the wives of Stepford, a bunch of milfs who all seem to have come from dish-washing detergent commercials.

At first, I thought that this film too deeply resembled "Rosemary's Baby". The couple moves into a new place and slowly realizes that something bizarre is going on, although it doesn't appear life-threatening. The difference becomes more and more obvious, and the married couple grows further and further apart. The oddities in both films put their heroines in an ominous subtlety that they find frustrating or almost impossible to explain to other members of the cast, and the women wonder if it is they, themselves who are the oddities.

The strategy is rather obvious; after about four months, the men take their wives off to a "weekend getaway," and when the couple returns the wife is another brain-dead subservient slave to her husband. The wives sure don't catch this, even though it appears as though the suspicious Joanna and Bobby probably would have figured it out. Its technical and social references make the film appear dated; It is quite laughable that the Stepford Wives could get their entire vocabulary from recording their voices into a microphone. I also don't see what is so shocking about a guy groping his girl on the front lawn--hey, some of us do that all the time!

Where the film works is in its payoff, which surprisingly, I didn't predict. I thought that these women were being hypnotized or lobotomized, or something else. Where it becomes chilling and eerie, is when we learn that indeed, these women will never return to their original selves. I figured Joanna's friend Bobbie would "snap out of it," however, Joanna stabs her, and the model goes haywire--this isn't Bobbie--Bobbie is dead. Looking back, certain clues for us are eerie, like Walter's first dream-like encounter with a Stepford wife, or even hilarious, like one man's smiling expression along with his "thumbs up," gesture as he tears up his wife's tennis court to make room for his new swimming pool.

And then there is Joanna's final scene, which holds up disturbingly well, as does the thought that the wives were created by someone who used to work at Disneyland. I think that deep-down we all find animatronic humanoids quite creepy, as there seems to be an almost sinister magic behind the lovable robots on the rides we enjoyed as children and still do today. When we meet Janet's stacked (nice touch!) replica, she appears without eyes. It is an image and a haunting ending that probably couldn't be as frightening if it were done today (oh yeah, they are remaking it). I'm glad I didn't see this film as a child.

Grade: B+

A Flawed but Interesting Civil-War Epic, 1 March 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

(Moderate Spoilers)

I enjoyed this film, and am surprised at the amount of criticism and

anger lavished upon it. True, it is flawed, and for most of the

reasons that people have cited; Nicole Kidman looks out of

place--tall and beautiful, with great skin and teeth;. There is an

absence of black characters, when at this time, 1/3 of the

population of North Carolina was black; The film was made in

Romania, when it took place in the states.

I personally don't mind it that the characters are all too "pretty" to be

in this film. The way people look has much to do with the reason

they become stars. The absence of black characters may be a

more valid criticism, as there were many in the book. But this

does not take away from the story. And, although I feel for the

people who protested this movie because it meant losing

entertainment jobs for Americans, Romania served as a great

location to film this movie, as it had many spots untouched by

industry, could convincingly depict the four seasons of the year in

the short period that they had to film, and of course, it brought the

budget down.

"Cold Mountain" is a brutal and disturbing odyssey, much more so

than Anthony Minghella's other epic, "The English Patient." In it, we

witness graphic animal slaughter, cruelty toward Southern

deserters, (including a pair of sons murdered in front of their

mother while she is being tortured), and other violent encounters.

At times, it is as unpredictable as it is formulaic, as we are

surprised by characters who are suddenly killed off, or who

unexpectedly come back to us.

I can't understand why people find it unbelievable that Jude Law

and Nicole Kidman would have a connection from only a few

moments together. War rushes things, and relationships like this

have been common (I don't know as much about the Civil War, but

during WWII, many couples divorced after the man returned home,

as they hastily got married before they went overseas.) Even

without war, people have devoted themselves to others whom they

hardly knew, off of brief connections they felt with each-other. I

also do not agree with those who complain that Law and Kidman

spend the entire movie apart, when we are paying to see them

together. The two leads have quite a few scenes together.

As Law deserts and travels back to Nicole Kidman, he experiences many different encounters with interesting characters,

including a woman who slaughters her loyal goat in front of us,

people who routinely try to turn him over to the Confederacy, and a

very powerful sequence with a war-widow (I never knew Natalie

Portman could act!). These encounters are unfortunately uneven

when compared to each other, but they all work in their own right,

and always keep us interested. Nicole Kidman's life back at home

is equally important, as is her relationship with Oscar-winner,

Renee Zellweger (and I do pity that poor rooster!) A posse of men

stays in the town to hunt and kill deserters, providing many

suspenseful and frightening moments; these characters are

outrageously evil and murderous. My biggest complaint about the

film is how their story unsatisfyingly ends with a quick shootout.

Now while I found the film to be one of the more creative,

interesting, and entertaining movies of the year, I found it achieved

far less than the greatness that the filmmakers probably tried to

produce. The script needed more work. I haven't read the book,

and I suppose it was difficult to adapt. Something overall is

missing from "Cold Mountain." It has random glimpses of great

poignancy and emotional impact, but seems to give up tying them

together to better define the movie.

Grade: B+

Couldn't really empathize, 29 December 2003

On the one hand, this film will inspire many conversations, about the film itself, about the future of the characters, and about the meanings and relevance of the situations that the characters experience (assuming you take enough interest in the film not to just blow it off). But I can't LOVE this film the way so many people seem to. I just couldn't get into it, despite its strengths.

Why I couldn't is that I just feel little sympathy for Bob Harris, played by Bill Murray, no matter how good the performance was. He is presented as somewhat of a "has-been" actor. He is miserable in Japan, as he gets 2 million dollars for a couple of whiskey spots--I'll let the absurdity of that thought speak for itself. I understand that he feels he is selling out, and he would rather be doing a play. Well Bob, you just made 2 million dollars--go home and do a play now! A friend who loved the film said that doing those commercials in Japan is "demeaning." Why? Its a regular part of the acting profession. They make their money doing things like this, then they can afford to do the projects they want. This might sound cliche, but I just have trouble feeling bad for a man who has been successful in a field that has such a low success rate; millions of people have tried and failed to break in, and would kill to be in his position. Then there are the experiences in Japan, in particular, the ones on the set, that drive him bonkers. I don't know why. One segment has a director speak in long speeches in Japanese, then his translator gives instructions to Bob with only one word commands. Ok, so that's a little weird and annoying. Then there's the next director, who is nicer, but asks Bob to do things to advertise the drink that don't really make sense, mostly because we sense translation difficulties. So again, that's weird, and yes, this culture is different from our own--what's the big deal here? Bob is asked if he drinks the whiskey, and he replies that he will "as soon as I'm done." As with most of his commercial-set experiences, I just can't share in his cynicism.

Where Sophia Coppolla's cynicism is more successful is in her depiction of actors and directors. Apparently, everyone in this film is based off of someone she knew, with Scareltt Johansson playing "Charlotte," based on Sophia, herself. Sophia met actress Cameron Diaz on the set of her husband's (Spike Jones) film, "Being John Malkovich." This is where the film gets "ballsy." I know of many films in which real people, including actors are represented by fictional characters. The representation of Cameron Diaz in this film, by Anna Farris takes this concept one step further; it is a flat-out vicious ATTACK. Farris plays "Kelly," who is possibly the most clueless, annoying, and outrageously stupid character I've ever seen in a serious film. Since the word is out, Anna has said that she admires Diaz, and comparisons between Diaz and her character are not true. This is mostly damage control I suspect, but I guess it would be necessary here, if to prevent a feud. In recent times, I can't think of anything more specific and nasty!

Then there is the relationship between Bob and Charlotte (which actually takes too long to get going). I don't feel what others do for several reasons. I noticed Scarlett Johansson first in "Ghost World." I don't know why it took so long for her to become the new "it-girl." She is extremely interesting and charismatic (and as she matures is becoming quite sexy). People I have talked to have described the two characters in this film as soul-mates, and have talked about how special their time together was. I have traveled and have actually had similar experiences, and in this case, I empathize with Bob. But I can't see that in Charlotte. Bob will, of course, think of this experience forever. He will always look at it as a bright spot in his depressed existence, and yearn for the day he comes back into contact with Charlotte. Charlotte will probably move on in a few days. Not that this experience couldn't mean as much to a young woman as it does to a man (as it was well presented in, "Before Sunrise"), but I did not get that feeling from her. She will go back to her life, maybe change things, but she will probably meet plenty of others with whom she will share this connection, others who will probably mean much more to her. She was flattered by Bob, and enjoyed his company, but her interest appears misleading in my eyes (maybe this film is more proof that MEN are the real romantics!)

One final thing: I'm getting really tired of seeing marriage depicted in a cynical way by Hollywood. In this film, Bob's wife no longer pays attention to his "needs" as he talks to her on the phone. She is more concerned with material things, like the items and utilities of their house, and doesn't listen to him. He tries to connect with her and she rudely rejects him--she doesn't "get" him, we know! They are in a tired relationship--I've seen this a thousand times in modern movies.

The best thing I can say about "Lost in Translation" is the discussion that it might provoke after viewing it. Grade: B-


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