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First of all, let me say that I was extremely sceptical after seeing the several trailers posted on the internet. I felt that Lucas was repeating himself storywise and have stated so in several BBS's all over the internet. This scepticism was of course fueled by the in many ways severely flawed Ep1:TPM. I have been a Star Wars fan from the very first hour and dreaded this next installment.
But.. and here comes an enormous BUT...
I was wrong, I apologize to George and his entire crew and cast for losing faith in them. Episode 2 made may jaw drop almost all the way through. Right from the start this rollercoaster ride rolls at a breathtaking speed through several interwoven storylines, four planets, extremely well crafted special effects, a love-story that is more credible than I thought Lucas was able to write and a big load of intrigue, fun, humor, excitement, anger and the list goes on.
Hayden is excellent and extremely dark (I say two words: Tusken Camp), his eyes and words reflect Vader in a human form. Natalie is good as always as the ever beautiful Padmé, she looks more and more like her daughter every day (that was weird saying that). Ewan takes a turn for the better in this flick by making Obi-Wan the more responsible Jedi, in a way he takes the role of Liam, he is more and more becoming the quiet hermit we see in Ep4:ANH. And then there is the rest of the excellent supporting cast: Christopher Lee as Lord Tyranus, Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine (scheming as ever), Jimmy Smits as the future foster father of Leia and of course Samuel Jackson as the ass-kicking Jedi Mace Windu. Oh and let's not forget the awesome new version of Yoda, he is absolute too ass-kicking (the whole theatre went up in cheers when he grapped his lightsaber!!!)
Is there a downside to this installment? Yes, sure there is. The dialogues are not always as solid as they should be, as are the acting performances. Some of the blending of life-action and cgi wasn't all that good. But in the end I was extremely relieved when I left the theatre.
Thank you George for bringing us back into the universe that is so dear to so many people. Despite its flaws, this is what Star Wars is about, fun movie viewing. Me and my friends were left with so many questions after the first viewing (e.g. why did Qui-Gon not disappear at the end of Ep1:TPM, it seems he wasn't all that benevolent as we thought he was.) Aargh now we have to wait another three years!!!!!!
I'd give it a 9.9, so that becomes a 10 when you round up.
Cheers George, thanks and don't disappoint us with Ep3:???.
Dracula 2000 (2000)
Sneak preview; June 5, 2001.
I heard it was gonna be a Wes Craven movie called Dracula 2000, that made the hairs in my neck stand up in fear for another crap movie, but I gave Wes the benefit of the doubt, since he has made some good flicks in the past. When the credits came on screen I was very disappointed to see that it wasn't a Craven film at all. Some guy called Patrick Lussier wrote and directed it. He is the man behind such non-classics as Propechy 3 and uuuuuuuuummm nothing else. He was also Craven's in-house editor for amongst other the Scream movies.
But unfortunately non of the talent Wes Craven has has rubbed off on Lussier. Dracula 2000 (released in Holland on June 14 2001!) is an extremely inferior product. In almost all departments where this movie could be awful, it really is awful (which is an accomplishment in itself). The script is so stupid and ripped off of several other movies that is isn't even funny any more, it was like watching a Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker comedy trying to spot all the movies that had been used to fabricate this piece of shite. I can't begin to recollect which they were, but you'll see what I mean when you see this movie.
The acting is bad to start with. The only one doing a decent job is Cristopher Plummer, considering the stuff he is given to work with. The rest I will not get into, it hurts too much.
One last point before I sign off: why is it that when a corporate sponsor is involved in a movie like this it has to be displayed so blatantly. It would have been enough if the actors just shouted: "VIRGIN VIRGIN VIRGIN VIRGIN VIRGIN" all movie long, shameful to say the least.
Horrible, skip, go see a good movie, or go see "Dude, Where's My Car?" at least you will get some classy stuff in your head.
The Mummy (1932)
Karloff was so cool
In light of the release of the 1999 Mummy movie I was drawn to see the original to see if it was really that much better that the new one. Since the new one sucked tremendously, not much could go wrong in that department. This movie is a much more heartfelt movie that the new one wanted to be. The story of the Mummy coming back to life when it is excavated in Egypt by some English treasure hunters/scientists is the beginning of a much more humane story than I expected.
Imhotep the Mummy (Karloff) has been buried alive 2700 years ago in punishment for trying to bring his dead love back from the dead. His plans are thwarted and he is sentenced to eternal punishment. When he is dug up early in the 20th century he is awakened from his curse and starts to look for a way to again try to bring back his love from the dead. Ten years later he resurfaces in the Cairo museum and manages to direct the English toward the tomb of his long lost love. They dig her up and put her on display in the museum. He finds a likeness for his love in the lovely figure of Zita Johann. Her life is now very much in danger...
As I said before the story of the long lost love and the will to sacrifice a lot for this love is the central theme for this movie. It is not the scares or the action that make this the classic it is, it is the story that makes it. That is what the new 1999 version was severely lacking.
The acting was good alround. Karloff is as cool as ever and sort of reprises his Frankenstein which would go on to make him a movie legend. But never the less seeing the mummy come to life is still a great sight to see. Johann is good as the "love" interest of Karloff and Frank Whemple, one of the English.
The production values are tremendous. The sets are very elaborate and big. The outdoor sets are very well dressed. The lighting on all the scenes is fantastic, in particular the haunting close-up of Karloff when he tries to hypnotize a victim, fantastic. Black and white still rules.
Compelling, One of Otomo's best stories
Note: when I write this I am already an avid fan for several years of Otomo's work. I just didn't get around to write a review on Akira.
In the past 13 years I have watched Akira numerous times, and I still think this is one of the best Animes out there. But, all these times I have watched it one the small screen, VCR was the only way to see this. Until last night. I was able to see this masterpiece on the big screen at one of my local arthouses, it was a one-time screening, so the theater was packed with fans. Great atmosphere. This movie blew me away as if I had never seen it before. The sheer power of the imagery and the sound effects and the music coming at you through the screen and the speakers was tremendous.
Although, regrettably, the print was the dubbed version, making it a little easier to follow, I still prefer the original subtitled version. Thankfully I have this one on tape. Enough ranting about the screening, on to the movie.
Still incredible. I am also an avid fan of Ghost In The Shell (by Shirow, the other great Japanese artist) and I thought Ghost had surpassed Akira in brilliance. I have to take that back, there are on the same level entirely. Both of them are very, very cool. Akira displays a deep understanding of the human psyche and the balance that we all have to achieve to keep ourselves in line. Tetsuo is not able to do this, he has been bullied all his life and being orphaned at an early age this was not easy on him. He always saw Kaneda as his big brother and looked up to him and worshiped him in a way because Kaneda was able to contain his inner balance. When through some strange encounter with an experiment gone wrong, Tetsuo isn't able to contain his powers anymore and loses himself in the labyrinth of his brain. He gets visions of someone called Akira and has to find this Akira to restore his own self.
This all seems very complex, and it is. This is just the tip of the iceberg that is Akira. There are numerous subplots and motives and themes as only Otomo can write them. Otomo has displayed this before in the terribly complex story Domu and Mother Sarah (great comic stuff, find and read it). The complexity of the story is often what puts people off at the end of this movie. They seem to like the animation, the motorcycle scenes in particular, but the story seems to elude them at the very end. To these people I would like to say: go see it again, and again, and again. Or even better, go see if you can get your hands on the comic book.
As you can see I am not very fond of saying something bad about Akira and Otomo, but still there are some things that bothered me when I viewed this on the big screen. It had never really occurred to me how awful this movie is sometimes cut together. At times the scene you are watching is just picking up the pace and then it is cut off to dissolve to another scene. This was something that could have gotten a little more attention from Otomo. This is all probably because he had to make sacrifices toward the length of the movie and just didn't seem to get the movie right without the remaining cut pieces. Or at least, that is what I hope is the reason.
Well, this is enough from me at this time. I am certainly looking forward to a theatrical re-release of this with a completely enhanced soundtrack and visual quality (please Katsuhiro, make it happen), and the same goes for Ghost, of course.
PS. my review of Ghost In The Shell is also somewhere here on IMDb.
The muddy, toxic canals of Amsterdamned
When this movie was first released in theaters, back in 1986, it got quite a buzz and it was certainly a winner at the box office. I went to see this picture back then and, I must say, was scared s***less at the end. I was 12 at the time and not used to seeing stuff like that on the big screen, I had nightmares the following several nights. The severed heads, the dangling body on the bridge, to name but a few instances, made an enormous impact on me.
Now, when you think I am going to praise this movie alround, you are wrong. See, I was twelve and was not in any way educated in film arts. Nowadays, my knowledge in the film department has quite significantly improved and when I now watch this movie it certainly lacks a lot.
As is normal in Dutch movies, it seems, in particular the sound editing is dreadful. I do not know where this constant deficiency comes from, but it is omnipresent in just about every movie that is released from Holland. The acting is not all that great, but given the material that the cast and crew were presented with, it is still a pretty nice job. Production values are absolutely high-standard for a small country like Holland. The fact that some scenes in the boat chase were filmed in Utrecht is something that is absolutely unforgivable, but sometimes a director has to make sacrifices towards this sort of thing to make the story work. The chase scenes were absolutely riveting to say the least. Regrettably, the make-up on the villain was a little crappy when I look at it now.
Story-wise this was pretty decent. The tension was kept on a good level in the high-octane speed of situations that followed each other. Some of the photography was better than average, the stalking POV was awesome. Some scenes really stood out above the rest, for instance the girl who is resting in her little rubber boat and subsequently being sliced and diced in the middle of the Amsterdam canal, this is timeless stuff. I love it.
Overall this was a decent movie not to be viewed by the smallest among the family. The pace in the story will keep you tied to your seat. Look past its flaws and just watch this movie unprejudiced. At least it's a hell of a lot better than Maas' clunker of 1999 "Do Not Disturb".
La vie rêvée des anges (1998)
Beautiful performances worthy of all the awards they got
Innocence. This is the word that struck me as most suitable for this telling. This story about two girls living together in somebody else's house is absolutely beautiful.
The story: a backpacking girl, Isa, arrives in Lille only to find out that her place to stay is no longer there. She gets a job in a sowing factory where meets Marie. She is fired from her job and moves in with Marie in an apartment that belongs to a woman and daughter who are in a coma due to a car accident. The subsequent events will change Isa's and Marie's life forever. Relationships with men, a girl in a coma, a diary all play a part. The bonds between the two girls becomes too stressed to survive.
The two girls perform their roles to perfection. If they would have played their roles without any lines it would still be evident what they were going through, the acting in their faces told the whole story. The several awards they got were certainly deserved. The rest of the cast wasn't all that brilliant, but they didn't hinder the girls in their play.
The story is a fairly straightforward romantic telling of two girls who have to deal with all these new emotions of living together under one roof. The development of the characters is exquisite. Isa just has faith in life and takes everything as it comes. During the course of the movie she matures a lot due to her "contact" with Sandrine, the girl in a coma. In a way she has a better understanding with Sandrine than with Marie. Marie is the more naieve one of the two and believes in the good of man. She has an affair with the local playboy and she believes that this relationship is meant to last, but Isa tries to tell her otherwise. She doesn't listen because of her being blinded by love and when the truth does rear its ugly head, she is incapable of handling it, resulting in...
The substories were not all worked out very well. For example, the substory of the girl in a coma could have been better. The fact that Isa was going to fill the diary with entries I thought was very intriguing, but the script had to support two main characters some probably something had to go.
I regret to say that before I saw the movie I knew the ending was going to be shocking, so it didn't come as that big a shock (sorry if I ruined it for others). But if the ending does not leave you breathless...
Kikujirô no natsu (1999)
Takeshi's soft side
Who would have expected such a quiet, sensitive movie from the master of stylized movie violence? I think nobody. Takeshi Kitano manages to display on the screen a remarkable tale of a grown-up being taught how to enjoy life by a small child.
The story starts with little Masao wondering where his mother is. He lives with his grandmother and one day he finds a photograph of his mother. He wants to go find her, but doesn't have the means to do this. Enter Kitano. A low-life crook (he seems to have knack for these characters) who used to live next to Masao's grandmother. His wife forces him to take Masao on the trip to see his mother. Kikujiro (Kitano) doesn't want to help the boy and instead takes him to the tracks and uses the boy to go gambling. After a while he decides to take the boy to see his mother after all. What follows is a sensitive character-changing tale of a man growing fond of this boy. Together they have several adventures and ultimately find the mother and what they find is not what Masao is looking for. To soften his sadness Kikujiro decides to brighten the little boy's world before returning home.
And this is where the movie goes wrong. Kitano loses touch and takes on a goofy vision. The likable bikers and the other nice man are just too gullible and are just not convincing enough. Kitano just takes these scenes too far and takes too long to portray these. This is a shame, because up until the point where Masao finds his mother this movie was beautiful, well acted, and just plain good.
The most memorable piece of dialogue must have been when at the beginning of the film Kikujiro's wife tells Kikujiro to "stop playing gangster". This is probably a joke that will go unnoticed by Kitano first-timers, but it is very much what Kitano has been trying to establish here, a different kind of Kitano movie. The most memorable scene, there are lots, but that must be the scene where Masao pays the stranger to play the mechanic doll. That scene was so moving, because it was just about the only scene where the boy smiles, lovely.
A fantastic movie, absolutely. But it is a shame that in the end it all goes down the drain. Therefor I settle for an...
Toy Story 2 (1999)
Toys with character, and so much more...
I am a huge fan of the first Toy Story, I thought that movie was just brilliant, although there was something lacking, I don't know what that was, but there was something not quite complete about it. That's where the next installment comes in.
This next Story is mostly about Woody. When Andy's mother decides to get rid of Woody because his arm is "broken", he is picked up by a toy collector who recognizes him as a collector's item from way back. Woody is "kidnapped" by the collector and the rest of the toys decide to undertake an expedition to rescue him. Fairly straightforward up until now.
But that's where the movie starts to pick up the pace and with rollercoaster speed the story unfolds and with it the characters blossom. It felt like watching The Empire Strikes Back all over again after having loved Star Wars so much. The characters all seems to become these living figures with problems and worries. Woody has to come to terms with his past, Buzz has to battle himself and find out that there are loads and loads more like him, Mr. Potato Head is married now, Rex has his quest with the Buzz Lightyear video game ("My claws are too short!!!") etc etc. Even the aliens are coming to reprise their role. Too much to tell here.
But the most wonderful thing in part two are the additions. Woody's forgotten rooting-tooting wild west gang is hilarious. Jessie, in particular, is fantastic. With the voice of Joan Cusack as her backbone she becomes the one to make Woody realize that without him the gang is doomed to spent another lifetime "in storage". Her song, written by Randy Newman and sung by Sarah McLaughlin, about her former owner losing interest in her was heart-breaking. Woody's horse is the new comic-relief, and plays this part to excellence. Stinky Pete (with the voice of Kelsey "Frasier" Grammer) is wonderful in his own devious kind of way. Another "addition" to the story is Zurg, already glimpsed in the original movie in text, now he becomes "flesh and blood" and has a terrible secret to reveal to one of the other Buzzes. Wayne Knight (Newman from Seinfeld) gives just the right frantic toy-collector nerdy feel to Al, owner of the toyshop and abductor of Woody to complete his collection of Woody's gang to sell them to someone in Japan. All in all a lot of new wonderful characters that you can feast your eyes on.
The worst thing that happened to me while watching this movie was that the performances were so convincing, by the gang in particular, that I started to feel guilty about myself having toys (Star Wars) still inside the packaging. A horrible feeling crept over me, and I almost wanted to go home and rip open all the packaging and set the toys free from storage. I managed to restrain myself just in time not to ruin my valuable collection (horrible me).
I absolutely love and adore this movie, I want everybody who has a shred of human decency and love in their body to go out and rent this gem (although it is mandatory that you watch the first to set up the characters). A must see for everybody.
PS. Please stay for the credits, these are hilarious. To think Pixar went out of their way to make bloopers is fantastic (or buy the DVD for full screen bloopers).
In the wonderful tradition of Alfred Hitchcock this movie is paced so well that it will keep you bolted to your chair until the last minute. Kurt Russell plays a husband who gets on the wrong side of a group of hillbilly rednecks with a very disturbing plan.
While on a drive to Los Angeles to begin their new lives, Russel and Quinlan drive along the sandy roads of America's deserts and they almost crash into a truck pulling into the road. This is the beginning of a series of events in which Quinlan is kidnapped, Russell hunted down and shot at and lots more. This sounds trivial and predictable, and in a way it is. But Mostow manages to pace the story so well, that you are constantly on the edge of your seat waiting for what happens next and how the heck Russell is going to get himself out of the next situation. This makes up for some of the flaws that the movie has.
Kurt Russell is not one to deliver top-notch acting performances, he is the reason I waited so long to see this movie. I wouldn't believe that he could carry this movie on his own. But he does, he is excellent as the city slicker who is blackmailed to get his wife back. He portrays him and his transformation into the man who takes control fine. Way above my expectations. Quinlan, although her role is fairly small, delivers the goods as the abducted wife. She makes us root for Russell to get her back. The baddies are all too believable. They are the bunch of rednecks you wouldn't want to meet in the first place, but you probably have when you have been driving across America. It's a scary thought that when you are driving in an expensive car you automatically become a target for folks like these, cold chills down my spine.
This certainly is up there in my chiller top ten. It is well acted, cleverly written, although not very original. The finale will leave you breathless, I am sure.
Altered States (1980)
Intriguing, but just too fuzzy
The fact that maybe subconsciously we still have remnants of earlier versions of ourselves is very intriguing, to say the least. What would happen if we would descent into a hallucinatory state that enables us to access these earlier versions and let them surface and take over our current status of human being?
This is what drives Professor Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) to undertake a series of experiments with an ancient drug he acquires from an Indian tribe. The results of his experiments are more than he could have hoped for. Before long he starts hallucinating during the hours out of the experiments and during brief periods of time after the experiments he is transformed to these earlier versions of humankind, even all the way back to the primordial ooze.
Unfortunately this side of the story enters the movie too late. The first 45 minutes we are watching Jessup rant and rave about religion and philosophy like there is no tomorrow, but unfortunately this is not as compelling as the second part of the story. When Jessup goes into one of his first hallucinatory states, the viewer is bombarded with a visual and sound explosion. The visuals are of such a level that they can be explained in any number of ways, which hinders the movie. Some scenes just take way too long (sandfigures withering away).
The acting is decent. Hurt delivers a potent performance of the man who undergoes all these experiments. His convincing portrayal is what upholds the movie. His wife Emily (Blair Brown) must love him very much, because she endures Hurt's atrocious personality to the end in the name of love. The sceptic Mason (Charles Haid) was just too much, he resisted the experiments with such fervor that it became laughable and certainly not believable, his performance would have benefited from a more subtle approach.
When I said that the story about halfway turns for the good, I didn't mean that it ended good as well. On the contrary, all the credit that was built with the change in story halfway was thrown away in the last fews minutes when the conclusion all becomes muddled and incomprehensible, and that was a shame.
The special effects were nice enough to see, but not remarkable. The Oscar nomination for Sound Editing was absolutely deserved. Technically there is not a lot wrong with this movie. It is just the story that could have gotten a little more work.