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Terminator Salvation (2009)
More like 'Terminator Salvage Job'
I came into the theaters on opening night with fairly low expectations after reading some critical reviews - one of which used the term I am borrowing a bit here - calling it 'Terminator Salvage.' I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised, and while the film will surely please some, for many others it may leave you feeling disappointed with this once mighty and critically acclaimed franchise.
The effects and art direction were well done, but that's not saying much for action movies these days, nor is it enough to carry a film if you are interested in more than things blowing up. A strength of the previous Terminator films was that it was a sci-fi series that had a sort of realism that allowed many viewers to buy into the story. Over-the top acting, difficult to fathom plot lines, and things that seem to go against what we learned in previous films make the picture drag. Some actors struggle with the material, and Bale also seems generally as disinterested as he reportedly was before singing on, yelling his way through the film, and doing his an imitation of his voicing of Batman.
Of course, there will be those that will come away enjoying it, but after growing up a huge Terminator fan and seeing it, i was not particularly impressed after the early part of the movie, and i will think for many who once loved this series you may not feel the kind of intense chill and suspense that the machines once portrayed to the audience. Inclusions of the cute, mute child character reminds me of how Jar Jar Binks seemed misplaced in 'The Phantom Menace' and another example of how 'Terminator Salvation' strays from the first two movies, perhaps in pursuit of an even wider audience (which could also explain the PG-13 rating, versus R ratings for the previous 3).
Sadly we get a fairly mediocre and forgettable film that perhaps was not in the right hands, direction wise with McG. 'Terminator Salvation' is not awful, but not worth garnering any kind of significant praise. You know when you are laughing and it's not intentional, unless a film maker wishes to seek cult status for all the wrong reasons (like a movie that people do drugs with in a group to make fun of) this is not a good thing.
Mediocre showing that won't deter its popularity
The Harry Potter book series is clearly a pop culture phenomenon, as Ms. Rawling's novels strike at the heart of every child's dream both young and old. But also a crowning example of popular cultural is Hollywood's effort to bring films to the silver screen, where quality becomes practically irrelevant, due to the powerful force of consumerism in today's society.
'The Chamber of Secrets" isn't a terrible film by an means, but director, Chris Columbus, in classic big budget Hollywood fashion, is catering to the lowest common denomenator far too often. Being a fan of the books, I was more excited about the second film because I thought 'Chamber of Secrets' was a far more thrilling and dark novel compared to the carefree 'Sorcerer's Stone.' But the producers and Mr. Columbus decided to overemphasize everything to the point of ruining the very thrill I recieved from the novel.
The most obvious flaw was several instances of over-acting on the parts of many characters, which seemed forced and unceessary. But, we are all so stupid, I suppose, that the film makers had to outline every single moment where something dramatic was happening so obvious that only completely mind dead individuals would not get what the intended mood was to be.
There were moments, I admit, where the film had some pizzaz and a few of the actors were either defying Mr. Columbus' apparent request to over act, or were the few characters who he wanted to come across as a bit more subtle. The effects were pretty good as well, but sometimes also too over the top. My real problem was that the book was very thrilling and this movie only had moments where you felt that way.
But, as I noted earlier, if you read the book or somehow think you "have to see it" for whatever reason, you will go, and no one can stop you. Go. Try and enjoy it...I wish you much luck. Maybe keeping your expecations lower will help....may be.
K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
As Powerful as Film Making Gets
When I heard about K-19: The Widowmaker, I wasn't even sure what to think about it. Part of me went, "Oh, another submarine movie...We've seen it all before." I did notice that Harrison Ford had turned down working in Christopher Nolan's version of "Insomnia" and wondered...there must have been something about K-19 to turn down another great acting opportunity.
Then I thought about Harrison Ford doing a Russian accent, and the questions rose again. "Do I really want to spend $10 on this?"
Even after my decision was made, while buying the ticket, I couldn't have been that excited because I wasn't even sure if I said the films' name correctly when at the ticket booth. Then came some of the opening moments where I had to accept Ford and other's not-so-wonderful Russian accents but that was the end to my questioning.
Frankly, I am beside myself over the criticisms I have read from critics who think this is an "average" film. The word misunderstood, is actually an overwhelming understatement, because I took K-19 to be one of the most powerful pieces of film making I have seen in quite some time.
One of the earlier comments I read here by Ignacio Martinez-Ybor (email@example.com) expressed nearly identical sentiments I felt about the movie.
The comparisons to "The Hunt for Red October," and co. seem to possess little validity, in my view. This is NOT an action based thriller in the same conventional way that these other movies were. It is REAL LIFE DRAMA, that digs deep into the soul of what it is like to be a human being facing choices that we wish we would neve have to make. I do not think I could not possibly commend Kathryn Bigelow's direction enough here. This is a REAL and REFRESHING FEMININE TAKE on war and being human. Her understanding of this transcends nearly all of the submarine and war films (with a few exceptions) that come to mind.
There are some Hollywood movies that have attempted to deal with this subject matter before, not simply one's about war either, but they all somehow seem to cop out and turn real grit into some mushy nonsense (whether it be patriotism, or overly romantic) that isn't believable. K-19 had a few moments here and there, particularly the end, that suffered from this syndrome, but the predominant message was too strong to be lost in (what was likely) some producers' addition to Bigelow's final piece.
I would also be remised to not mention the fact that the characters who we learn to care about are members of the Soviet Navy...THE MORTAL ENEMY, to many Americans barely a decade ago. This was part of "The Hunt For Red October" as well, but the intentions of the Sub in this movie, was MUCH different than that Sean Connery was running. There really is no clear cut over-the-top enemy character here (normally a staple of Hollywood dramas) so we have to think of other potential enemies on our own, although plenty of subtle hints, this I found to be QUITE pleasant.
The acting, outside of the accents, was overall of high quality. Ford and Neeson are magnificent in their emotional depiction and the supporting cast, of mostly unknowns, was also quite good. We really care about these characters and we HAVE TO in this movie. Credit must go to Ms. Bigelow as well here for this.
Overall, K-19 goes as one of my best films of the year and something I hope does not remain overlooked due to critics and film goers expecting something else. I have a feeling this could be a word-of-mouth winner over time. Be warned though, there is some painful material here to deal with but in the end it makes it all the more gratifying.
Bright Lights, Big City (1988)
Better than you might think
I remember the ads for this film on TV when it came out, and it seemed appealing to me then, even though I did not see it until recently on video. I must say this is not a bad film by any means, and has quite a bit to say about the struggles of young adults trying to "find their place" in the world. It seems to me to be sort of the father of "Trainspotting" in several ways (drugs, youth struggling with identity in society, narration, etc.), although not nearly as elaborately produced, there are some pretty decent elements of style incorporated some of which work well, some not so well.
Frankly I was surprised this was a Hollywood picture. The subject matter is not something that one would think people would flock to see, but maybe the producers thought it might be a new kind of "Breakfast Club" type film. Who knows, but it was an interesting risk that didn't pan out, as I do not recall this being a very successful film at the box office, but I admire the attempt at bringing it to a wide audience.
Some of the scenes seem a bit awkward, like the opening of the film at the former, great, NYC club, The Paladium, and the ferrit scene towards the end, and the confrontations with Pheobe Kates. However one has to wonder if this was intentional, because of the film makers' apparent desire to show that in "reality" things are not always so comfortable.
Overall a film worth one's time, if you keep your mind open a little bit. This is not Hollywood fluff, but it isn't a Lions Gate release either. I think Michael J Fox also deserves a lot of credit for doing "Bright Lights, Bit City" because this was the height of his career and to take on such a risk and a challenging as an actor should be commended. The movie is a pretty good attempt at handling a subject that is a reality for many youth. I think this audience is the one who would have most use out of such a film so if you fit in that category, it's worth your time.
Disturbing, possibly confused and a bit predictable
I enjoyed "Frailty." This is not a bad film by any means. Bill Paxton did a pretty decent job of directing for his first time, and his performance as an actor in the film is actually quite good.
However, although it was disturbing in some entertaining ways, I couldn't help but feel that there was some ambiguous messages with regards to the actions of the the "baddies."
Someone here was defending the film as being more morally ambiguous than some have been arguing. This poster felt that the camera was not a "distant observer" but coming from the McConaughey's characters view of past events, etc. I was thinking that very thing for much of the film, however, that can't also apply to the scenes shot in the present because they were not being narrated by anyone. So, just before the last person died, they admitted "how did you know?" to McConaughey's character about their own supposed wrongdoing.
Since this had to be coming from only the camera's point of view, and not McConaughey's , that his ability's must have been "given by God" to him then. And if that is the case, then the film is taking a much different position, morally. But, this still doesn't have to imply that God is right to send someone to "destroy demons," it also could be a questioning of God all together, or maybe God isn't good...I really don't know.
Anyway, to some this may be nitpicking, but this bothered me quite a bit.
I also thought it was far too predictable. I didn't think the twist was surprising at all. I mean WHO else could have been the murderer? The other characters were not introduced enough, especially in the present, to really be the killer. And McConaughey was too eerie and creepy to be innocent. It was just too perfect.
Anyway, despite these flaws I still enjoyed the film. It was definitely disturbing, and Bill Paxton's character, in particular, was very real. I have encountered similar people (not killers, fortunately) but people who are under grand dellusions and really believe it to be true (Beautiful Mind also did a pretty good job of that).
FYI to those who haven't seen it -
There was also more gore than some have stated here. You didn't see the actual killings, but there was definitely enough blood and plenty of violence off-camera. Don't be fooled, this is not a film for the faint of heart, or the kiddies.
Otherwise, not a bad effort, and overall pretty decent adult entertainment.
The Gift (2000)
Scary, stylish and predictable
Sam Raimi's prior picture, "A Simple Plan" was a major disappointment, in my view, for it's annoying characters (particularly, Bridget Fonda), anachronisms (Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thorton speaking with their southern accents, when their characters were to be natives of Minnesota) and being far too predictable, but was interestingly hailed by many critics.
These flaws were the reason I had stayed away from "The Gift" originally. But recently, I decided to give the DVD a shot, because of it's intriguing cast, and I am still a sucker for thrillers.
"The Gift" was definitely a big improvement over "A Simple Plan." Raimi did a very good job of creating a really scary film here. (Watch it at night, in the dark, by yourself) You are in constant fear for Cate Blanchett's life as you wonder what is going on.
Unfortunately, Raimi also runs into the same problem he had with "A Simple Plan" in that he has a habit of making things a bit too predictable. Of course, this is a Hollywood picture, but there aren't enough possibilities as to who the "bad guy" could be by the time you get towards the end.
In fact, it was also frustrating why Ms. Blanchett's character was so stupid so often, even though it was intended to create fear, it was done at times in the all too typical Hollywood fashion of doing something stupid to get a jot...which hurts the credibility of a films' characters, especially since hers seemed to be so intelligent.
Anyway, I still enjoyed it and was entertained throughout, but when you find out "whodunit" it ended up being anti-climactic. It was his toying with our fears and emotions, which Raimi was good at, and what I hope carries over into "Spider Man" when it is released. Hopefully he leaves out the predictability aspect.
Panic Room (2002)
Fincher misunderstood once again
When I heard about "Panic Room" I was quite intrigued as to how this movie was going to include one of the most important, and consistently overlooked, aspects of David Fincher films. What I am referring to is his devotion to sending a strong message, which is usually a societal critique, within almost every film he has created.
Maybe it's because I generally agree with his critiques, but I am surprised to see so few reviewers, both amateur and professional, overlooking the message of this film, and even some of his others. The NY Times seems to have completely missed it, as have several other critics who have argued "Panic Room" "lacks substance."
This is also funny because the complaints some had of "Fight Club" was that it was pretentious, over the top, and intent on sending a message to the audience. So what does Fincher do? Actually panders to the critics (whether it was intentional or not is almost irrelevant) by creating a subtle psychological thriller that also sends a clear message about American society and values. But then it seems that these same critics completely miss it, thinking that this is more of a classic "what you see is what you get" thiller.
Based upon Fincher's history, I found this VERY hard to believe, when I read some reviews. Then I saw it with my own eyes and once I thought about what he might be saying for one moment after leaving the theater it hit me.
I don't think it is anyone's place to tell anyone what that message is, but I suggest to all those who have seen it, or even haven't, to examine the primary themes of the film, the character relationships, and their values, which were all played out in some key scenes. One being, in particular, the last camera shot in the grand finale, which I read someone here argue meant nothing. Well, in my opinion, if you saw that and believed it to posses no meaning, then I think you missed David Fincher's message. Unfortunately, a lot of us will likely miss it because Fincher's style and entertainment value is what they are seeing the movie for. The problem is he has consistently gone beyond that, but it usually falls upon deaf ears with the audience he attracts.
Hopefully one day he will be remembered for his attempt in bringing social criticism and thought provocating scripts covered by conventional and pop appearing Hollywood film making. Until then most will likely think of him as a Hitchock disciple who incorperates a lot of style and tricky camerawork (all of which are evident here, like his patented camera movement through walls and other solid objects) to gain his audience. There is more there...just look a little harder.
A quality film that was a bit too "Hollywoodized"
To lay it out simply here are the pros and cons, IMHO:
1) Peter Jackson has done a very good job of creating an entertaining film. Even when dealing with high expectations of fans of the novel who have been DYING to see it he has come through. Also translating a novel so rich and large into a film can be a difficult task so obviously he is not going to satisfy all fans of Tolkein's book.
2) A large part of the entertainment value was the beautifully shot New Zealand scenery (is it possible to make that look bad?) combined with extremely well designed sets and costumes. This film is about as close as one can get on film to making real life scenes look like a "fantasy land."
3) But some of this was clearly use of CGI, and I think that the use of this technology was maybe the best use I've seen of it to date in a movie. Many film makers seem to fall in love with this technology, not understanding when to use it and when not to. I thought Speilberg (who has commented on the overuse of CGI) in "A.I." made good use of it this summer, and Jackson and his crew also used it properly. One of the other problems of misusing is that some things just don't look REAL enough when they are CGI. I knew that some creatures and effects were clearly CGI, but it never appeared unrealistic enough to not enjoy it.
4) The acting was strong from many of the characters especially from the central ones, Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, and a surprisingly good Sean Austin.
5) The film really kicks in when the Fellowship is officially formed, and it leads to the best sequence, IMHO, the mines scene.
1) This film had a lot of potential to be even better. One of the keys to its weakening was the overuse of the dramatic score combined with long drawn out scenes, to get the audience to react emotionally. Personally I think it is an insult to the intelligence of the audience when EVERY SINGLE TIME we are supposed to feel some kind of emotion sad, dramatic music combined with slow motion has to be used. I think near the end, especially, when a particularly emotional scene happens, the use of music and slow motion was excessively to the point of ruining it. And it's not that music and slow motion can not be used effectively, but again it is overuse, and timing that are key.
2) One of the reviews mentioned a "roller coaster" feeling, where sometimes it was slow and then BOOM the pace suddenly changed. Of course, this is not necessarily bad, but sometimes the flow of the film was not so great. However, in defense, some of this "slowness" was developing the characters, so that is understandable.
3) Some of the actor choices I feel were not so solid. There is just something about Liv Tyler, where I cannot take her seriously. I think she is just a poor actress. Also the choice of Hugo Weaving (of The Matrix fame) for the roll of Lord Elrond. He seemed to overact a bit, and did not command the kind of status that his character should have. There were also times, in general, that the dialogue was a bit overdone (like Kate Blanchett's lines), but I have not read the book, so I don't know how true to the novel it was.
Overall this was a strong and entertaining film, that is worth your money time (and you need a bit of it, at nearly 3 hours). I did find it funny that some people I was in the theater with, based on their reactions, did not seem to realize that this was part 1 of a trilogy. I am definitely looking foward to the sequals.
Training Day (2001)
"The realness" indeed
We've all seen the corrupt cop flick done before, and done well. But it is not so often that we get much more than the standard good cop/bad cop affair. Training Day often goes beyond the limits of Hollywood with its careful dissection of the moral and ethical dilemma cops face when dealing with "the streets" while still remaining a Hollywood flick.
What works so well is the combination of faced paced drama that we and our Rookie cop, Ethan Hawke, are thrown into and the intellectual debate that rages today over "the streets" and "what to do about it." Hawke's ethics relate closely to that of MLK while Washington takes more of Malcom X's position (fittingly so).
Denzel's character may be corrupt now, but the film hints at a change from earlier views, almost as if "the streets" showed him that there was no other way of functioning as an effective Narc. Understanding the value of being "real," he believes to be most important in getting things done. A "naive, wanna save the world" rookie cop, in his mind, ain't gonna cut it out there. And he tries to get Hawke's character to understand his views. But while this is happening we are then shown how by being so closely related to "the streets," and even living there, what it has done to him.
Who is more right in dealing with "the streets," Hawke or Washington?
There we have the foundation for the story.
We are pretty much thrown into Ethan Hawke's position of constant wonderment of Washington's character. And for the most part it works. Is this how things get done? Can one be a "good" cop and be effective? Is there no hope for the victims of the situation?
And the dilemma plays on to a fast beat. Very good stuff.
The only surprise was where was all of the hip-hop music from the soundtrack? the moody score was effective, but they could have added more than one or two tracks from the soundtrack.
Le placard (2001)
A very good foreign comedy that should appeal to a wide audience. At times it appeared the humor was a bit forced, but on a number of occasions it was laugh-out-loud funny. The writer's and director's ability to balance humor with serious issues like, office politics, humanity and family issues was well executed. It would not be much of a surprise to see Le Placard (The Closet) converted into a Hollywood picture sometime soon. Definitely good fun. Recommended.