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Das Boot (1981)
Where's Da Boot! All I see is a submarine!
The movie begins in a dining hall. Young men are getting drunk and screaming. A man in a bushy beard, visibly drunker than the rest, steps into the room and makes a lot of hubbub. We finally realise that these men are going off to war. The next day, these men are loading a submarine with food, loads and loads of food. They head out to sea the next day. Their captain, the man with the bushy beard (Jurgen Prochnow), is controlling the ship well. They head out, their mission being to torpedo some Allied ships in the Atlantic. However, it does not turn out as they would expect.
This is the best I can do to explain the plot because, much like Schindler's List, Das Boot is filmed like a documentary. There is no set plot as there is a bunch of stuff happening. This is, as Roger Ebert also pointed out in his review, the story of a U-Boat from beginning to end. The movie is filmed almost entirely inside the U-Boat, which is extremely cramped. Filmed in steadycam, the picture moves straight across the claustrophobic hall of the submarine. There is barely enough place for one man to stand and this feeling is expertly conveyed to film thanks to Jost Vacano's excellent cinematography.
Like all documentaries, however, there isn't much place for character development. Most of the characters are one-note and basically have little to none personality, with exception of the Capitain, played by Jurgen Prochnow. All of the characters, by the end of the film, look the same and act the same. It's a problem all too common with war films. However, the movie is edited down from a 6-hour miniseries, which may have had the greatest character development ever, but since it was squeezed down into 140 minutes, the characters are pretty much lost.
Das Boot also carries a strong anti-war message. The Capitain is under the reign of Hitler, sure, but he doesn't respect Hitler. The strongest message comes, hwoever, in the film's most lasting scene. After having bombed a boat, the crew masses on the deck and sees that Allied troops are jumping into the sea, some of them on fire. The captain is alarmed at this. `Why isn't anyone rescuing them?' The crew ponders for a moment if they should rescue the drowning sailors. They can't, however, because this is war and they are their enemies. It's a strong message.
I had another gripe with Das Boot. Whenever they got up on the deck, it looks blatantly filemd in a studio. It looks like the opening sequence of Gilligan's Island. As much as I admire the realism, these cheesy effects do bring down the movie. (And don't give me `It's old, and they don't have any budget!'. My comments are with that in consideration.)
Das Boot also includes a bit of old-school excitement in with all the realism. The music makes it feel exciting and the whole experience is a lot of fun. It's not disturbing and unpleasant as you'd expect. Whilst it's not a walk in the park, you can bet that even people who have a hard time sitting through serious stuff will be able to sit through Das Boot.
Das Boot is a movie that doesn't have features that make you jump and down, but it's problems aren't really important enough to sink the movie. I can't think of a reason someone would dislike this movie. 8/10
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Popcorn, Robots and Boobs-A-Plenty!
Tomb Raider is the kind of movie that would've knocked me on my ass had I been 10. When I was ten, I admired movies like Police Academy and The Little Rascals. When I was 10, I probably enjoyed the Mario Bros. Movie too. So when I went to see Tomb Raider, I wasn't expecting to be knocked on my ass. I expected to be kept woken up for an hour and a half. And it worked. And I liked the movie.
The movie drops you in the heat of the action from the beginning. Lara Croft is supposedly raiding a huge tomb when a large robot attacks her. She does the usual stuff you'd expect from a pouty 36D heroine. She shoots it into a wreck, gets into the robot's computer and plays her party mix with it. We then realize that she is only training and she has just shot up her mansion's nerd programmer's (Noah Wyle) robot. She then cools off in a shower (ha-ma-ma-ma-ma!) and then the movie starts for real. On the night of the solar eclipse, Lara can hear a ticking in her mansion. She smashes up a wall and finds a clock. She then smashes up the clock (she does a lot of smashing in this movie) and finds a key inside. She then remembers her father, Lord Croft (Jon Voight) telling her that this key holds the power to use time as they please once it is put in the right place. So Lara gets really excited because now she go back in time and talk to her dead dad. But she's not alone on this. The Illuminati also want a piece of the pie. So begins Lara's adventures, which will take her into Asia and Antartica.
Yeah, the plot doesn't make much sense and in fact it makes for much less tomb raiding than you'd expect. In fact, I counted only five action scenes in the movie, and one of them included giant stone monkeys. It's true that these sequences are pretty well made and lots of fun to watch, but I was expecting more action. And somehow, in the midst of all this, there never is a dull moment. The movie is only an hour and a half long (quite long enough, I suppose).
The trailer says Angelina Jolie IS Lara Croft, and by golly, it's right. Jolie's role might not be very developed but she milks it for all its worth. She shows an actual talent (and two other talents, if you know what I mean) at playing an empty character. Taking a lame character and crafting an acceptable performance is a talent that not many people possess. The rest of the cast ham it up horribly, especially Iain Glen as another tomb raider. Jon Voight (Jolie's real-life father) shows up in a few scenes as Lord Croft.
The special effects of Tomb Raider are well-done, and serve their purpose well. There are also some great locations and some beautiful scenery. Tomb Raider delivers the popcorn goods. It might not be very smart, it might exploit the beautiful Jolie by adding big Barbie doll breasts to her already beautiful figure, but if you go in expecting popcorn, you'll come out having seen popcorn. And pretty great popcorn at that. 6/10
Good Will Hunting (1997)
I know it's not his fault, I heard you the first time!
A few years ago, Good Will Hunting was realeased to critical acclaim. However, I was too busy watching Batman & Robin and The Fifth Element and the movie sailed right over my head. Then, last year, I began my film library and I saw that Good Will Hunting was airing. Since I knew basically nothing about what was a `classic' movie and what was a `good' movie so I taped it anyway. Why am I telling you this? Because I need a good way to begin my review.
Will Hunting is your average Boston lowlife. He's in his early 20's and works at MIT as a janitor. He seems happy with his life and spends most of his time with his friends Chuckie, Morgan and Billy (Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck and Cole Hauser). One day, a teacher at MIT, Mr. Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), leaves a problem for his students on a blackboard outside his class. The next day, the whole problem is solved with the right answers. None of the students step up to take the praise for the problem, so Lambeau goes off looking for his genius mathematician.
Will, on the other hand, gets into a fight with an old enemy of his from high school and hurts him pretty bad. He gets put in jail. Lambeau discovers who his magic mathematician is, and tries to get Will out of jail. He strikes a deal: he pays the bail but Will has to take courses with him and have a session with a psychiatrist. Will accepts, but wears out 5 psychiatrists before finally settling for Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), a widowed Vietnam vet. With Sean, Will will learn to release his deepest, innermost feelings and secrets.
Good Will Hunting is a well-written and well-acted movie that holds up for its entire running time. It never becomes boring. The script, which was `written' by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, only falls into dreadful gooey tears once and the rest remains realistic and engaging. However, I'm cautious about the credits of the script. How can someone who can appreciate the incredibly cliched script to Pearl Harbor enough to appear in the film be behind such an amazing script? It doesn't make any sense. The script is exemplary, whoever wrote it, and it won an Oscar.
The acting is also very good. Matt Damon is very good in his first leading role, showing emotions in a restrained shell. Whilst not his best performance (The Talented Mr. Ripley was better, in my opinion), it was good enough to get him a million and a half big roles in big movies. Robin Williams shines in a role that at least strays a bit from his usual Patch Adams mediocrity. He won an Oscar too. Ben Affleck overacts outrageously as Chuckie. Whilst his part was promising, leave it to the minimally-talented Mr. Affleck to turn it into a parody. Minnie Driver does a good job as Will's girlfriend. Casey Affleck, who's just as `talented' as his brother, does a pretty good job.
Like all movies of an uplifting nature, you know eventually they'll try to make you cry. This is the part I dread. The story of Sean and his father is sad, but it takes more than that to make me cry. There's also an annoying sequence in which Sean keeps telling Will `It's not your fault, it's not your fault' over and over again.
Good Will Hunting is not the classic I thought it was, but it's still a good movie. If you haven't seen it, you should definitely check it out. 8/10
Never mix, never worry!
Some movies cause controversy. You can't stop it. Somewhere, a group of people who think alike will dislike your movie and call it filth. It's unavoidable. It's rare that a controversial movie starts a whole new movement, or even changes history forever. And yet, it has happened. The sixties were a tumultuous time for cinema, because people were speaking out. It treated us to more mature storylines, more `naughty' stuff we weren't allowed to see in the 50's, and more importantly, it gave us a bunch of great, ground-breaking movies, like Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
George (Richard Burton) is a college history professor, married to the dean's daughter, Martha (Elizabeth Taylor). From the minute we meet this couple, they are fighting. They fight hard. After coming home from one of those boring social parties, Martha tells George that she invited a young couple over for drinks and conversation, much to George's exasperation. The couple arrives later in the night. Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) are the new couple in the university. In a night full of booze and screams, the truths will go a-flying out.
I have never seen a movie that mistreats its characters so badly. Mind you, it's a good thing. The characters have no pity for each other, and we find ourselves having no pity for them either. Elizabeth Taylor's brutish Martha has no real qualities. Her life revolves around breaking down her exasperated, mild husband. Her marriage is failed and she puts the blame squarely on him, on his inability to succeed. George, on the other hand, knows that she's the only reason their marriage fails but he cannot do anything. For better and for worse, he's attracted to this woman and she's his wife. Nick is naïve and believes that his `elders' are better than him. Throughout the movie, he changes and even has a little hanky-panky with Martha. Sandy Dennis as Honey is really the only character that we can feel any sympathy for, because she is stuck in this tornado, drunk off her rocker. She can't help what happens, and we do feel for her until the end of the film when we realize that she isn't better than any of the others. The characters have a distinct flavor to each other, and I can't help but notice the resemblance between this film and Elia Kazan's 1951 masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire.
The performances are surely the best part of this film. Elizabeth Taylor's firey performance won her an Oscar, deservedly because this is her best, most mature and most unconventional performance. She gained 20 pounds and at only 34 years old, she already looked like 45. Richard Burton, Taylor's real-life husband in 1966, gives a quiet, controlled performance that finishes in a mad flourish. George Segal in one of his early roles is also surprisingly effective. Sandy Dennis also gives a phenomenal performance as the mild-mannered Honey. She also won an Oscar, for best supporting actress.
The film is well-photographed in crisp black and white, and the camera works well in the context. There is no music in the film, apart from a short scene in which music plays in the background of the scene. Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? is beautiful to look at, but ultimately hard to watch. With the characters constantly screaming at each other and such grim subject matter, the movie is more depressing than anything else. The movie certainly isn't for everyone and I often found myself worn out from watching the film. Two very big thumbs up for the acting, but I found it incredibly depressing and grim. 8.5/10
Great, sprawling epic.
This summer's release of Pearl Harbor made me realize something: epic blockbusters were so much better in the 50's and 60's. Back then, epics were not only made with care and heart, but they starred people with acting talent. Of course, these stars had the whole teen idol thing going too, but they were also pretty good actors. And another thing, the movie actually had enough material to last its 3 hour runtime. Hear that, Michael Bay? (spoilers)
The movie begins with Jordan Bick' Benedict (Rock Hudson) visiting a farm owned by Horace Lynnton. He is here to buy a horse. He has supper with the family and seduces Lynnton's daughter, Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor). They fall in love and move to Texas, where Jordan lives with his sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) on a large ranch. Luz and Leslie do not get along well, but that is cut to a brutal end when Luz dies in a horseback riding accident. In her will, Luz leaves a plot of land to the ranch's cowboy/handyman, Jett Rink (James Dean). Rink names his plot Little Reata (after the ranch), moves into a small shack on the grounds, and sets up an oil derrick. It's only a matter of time before it springs.
The film spans three decades, in which the Benedicts obviously age. Instead of using makeup, the film uses blue hair dye on Hudson and Taylor. A little blue dye never hurts, but by the time the movie ends, they look like Smurfs. However, it is easy to forgive the movie given that it is 45 years old. The movie raises a lot of issues that seem almost prophetic to its time. This movie comes before feminism and not long after racism barriers were brought down. Taylor's character tries to help around the ranch, but Hudson opposes; she's a woman, she should do what women do. Hudson is also oblivious to the foreign workers who live on his ranch. (I'm not sure what nationality they are. Mexican, maybe?) When one of the babies, Angel, is sick, Bick does not care. He is only the kid of a worker and he can get another one when he wants. Leslie helps him out and Angel becomes a soldier in the Army. He dies in the war and Bick realizes what a fine young man he was.
The acting is superb, with a one of the great unsung casts of the 50's. Hudson towers in his role, probably his best. The only thing really associated with Rock Hudson nowadays is that he was gay. That is not only tasteless and gossipy, but it also passes completely beside the point that Hudson was a great actor when the material would hold up. The beautiful Elizabeth Taylor also shines in a role that perhaps suffered a bit from typical 50'S sexism. Her character gives up when she is told to, and she never quite achieves the potential that her character had. Still, that is the script's fault and Taylor is great. My favorite scene is the one where she talks to Jett Rink in the shack. Rink is obviously attracted to her, but she knows that she can't and that she doesn't want. Taylor has given some better performances since then (Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?) but this one hold up well. James Dean, in his last role (he died only a few days after shooting was done), shows a mastery of emotions not present in his two other roles. Sure, he was great in the others too, but this one is his most mature and controlled performance. The cast also includes other Rebel Without A Cause alumni Dennis Hopper (as Jordan Benedict, Jr.) and Sal Mineo (as Angel Obregon).
The script to Giant is generally great, with well-written dialogue and well set scenes, but it suffers from typical 50's censorship/racism/sexism issues. The editing is one of the only problems I've had with Giant. The editing is a bit haphazard, especially when trying to pass time. The only clues you get in the area of passing time is in the dialogue. Scenes which should have been there (Jordan and Leslie's wedding, for one) are missing, and some less important scenes take up too much time (Angel's funeral). Another thing I disliked was the anticlimatic fistfight near the end. I've discussed it online, and I resolved that its point was there, to showcase Jordan's (and Hudson's) pent-up anger but I can't shake the feeling that it looks like WWF without any scantily-clad girls or gratuitous swearing. I think that if only a few punches were thrown, it would have been acceptable, but here it becomes a real battle royale. Too bad.
Giant is a prime example of what Hollywood could do back then. An epic with no misplaced feelings, no overly sappy scenes, an actual message to get through and excellent performances. Four things Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer haven't come to grasp with yet. Sure, it has its share of problems, but if you have a choice of movie to waste three hours, then get this. Make me proud. 9/10
Pay It Forward (2000)
Over-emotional, under written and incredibly contrived.
Some movies are designed to make people cry. Sometimes, they're a TV-movie with Craig T. Nelson as an aging biker who speaks to a cancerous kid. (This movie actually exists.) Sometimes, though, it's stuff like Pay It Forward. Stuff that oozes with crying people and speeches about being yourself in an overcrowded world. At the risk of sounding sexist, I must say that women are guilty of these movies being made. If women didn't cry at every dumb, tear-filled speech, Hollywood would be a better place. Now before you call me a sexist pig and shoot my truck into flames, listen to what I have to say. Just think about how many non-film buff women have come out of Autumn In New York crying. It's not even your fault, ladies, because men are affected too. Only, men don't show it. Then again, they don't HAVE to show it when a load of sentimental crap comes across their lap. Guess what? Pay It Forward is freshly squeezed.
Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) is just another kid who begins his 7th year of school. In his first class, he meets Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey), his scarred Social Studies teacher. Simonet gives them an assignment: think of a concept that can change the world. So Trevor thinks about it and he ends up bringing in a homeless junkie (James Cazavaz. Cazvazi. that guy from Frequency and Angel Eyes). Trevor hasn't told his alcoholic mother (Helen Hunt) , however, and hell pretty much breaks loose. The next day, Trevor explains to his class that he has put into practice the movement of paying it forward. You do something nice for a person, and that person has to do something nice for three others, much like the letter chains that were around years ago. Using his new invention, Trevor tries to get his mother and Mr. Simonet together, until his real father (Jon Bon Jovi) steps in. There is also an alternate plotline, working its way backwards then forwards, that follows a reporter (Jay Mohr) who attempts to find the inventor of pay it forward.
With a cast like that, director Mimi Leder could've crafted a great movie. A movie that would go down in the annals of great movie history. A timeless masterpiece of. I think you get the picture. However, the finished product is less than satisfactory. The script is gooey and calls for many of those annoying moments where a character blurts out a teary monologue that reveals their deepest innermost feelings. They come too often, and they do very little to move the viewer.
The cast do their best to make this watchable, and they actually do a fairly good job. Kevin Spacey is quite good, but misplaced. His character does one of those sappy monologues, and when it happens, you can't help but feel sorry not for the character but for Spacey, whose performances in American Beauty and The Usual Suspects were the exact opposite of what he's doing here. He still gives a good performance with what he has. Helen Hunt's performance is also hindered by the uninspired script. Her character isn't very developed and despite the fact that her life sucks, she remains a nice, sweet caring person (who works in a strip club). Haley Joel Osment shines in his role and proves that The Sixth Sense wasn't a one shot deal. Someday, I hope, he will be remembered for more than `I see dead people.' The supporting cast is also great, with names like Angie Dickinson (as Hunt's homeless mother), James C. (there!), Jay Mohr, and Jon Bon Jovi. One thing about Bon Jovi. His performance isn't bad, but he's Jon Bon Jovi. Somehow, you don't forget that. In his scenes, he's Jon Bon Jovi. Whenever he does something, you're not `Trevor's dad just broke a plate.' You're going `Jon Bon Jovi just broke a plate.'
The movie also raises some serious believability issues. Normally, I'm not the kind of person who nitpicks a movie like Evolution because the creatures are actually evolved forms of an animal and not an alien as they call it. (I saw that in a forum. No, really, I did.) But this is too much. Trevor's mom juggles two jobs that seem to pay quite low and yet she maintains a big, beautiful house and Trevor is always impeccably dressed. The ending also raises a few eyebrows with its incredible stupidity. I am not going to reveal it here, but I will just say that the ending breaks every barrier of intelligence and coherence the movie may have had. The ending is so tacked on, you'd think they wrote the script but didn't know how to finish it. I have no idea under which rock the reviewers who said this was moving come from, because this is just sheer stupidity at the top of the scale of mediocrity.
Pay It Forward sports an impressive cast and draws good performances from them, but at the end, you'll feel ripped off. No matter how good the performances are, the story and especially the ending are so flawed that you will be hard-pressed to like the performances. 5/10
Billy Elliot (2000)
He's not a poof. Really, he isn't. What? No, you're the poof! Do you want me to come down there and rip your face off?
It seems that every year, one movie comes out of Britain that the critics embrace. It needs to have the following: (a) a cast of unknowns or semi-knowns at best (b) a morally uplifting message (c) big Oscar buzz. Last year, that movie was Billy Elliot. In previous years, movies like The Full Monty, Waking Ned Devine and Secrets & Lies fit in this category. However, despite their dubious requirements, these movies are usually very good. Billy Elliot is exceptionally good.
11-year Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) lives in a small mining town with his grandmother, older brother and widowed father. Times are tough, as both his brother and father are out of work because of a workers' strike. Billy goes to boxing lessons every week, but he's not particularly good at it. One day, the boxing gym is shared between the boxers and little girls learning ballet. Billy stays after the course to practice his boxing. He finds himself dancing with the girls, and liking it. Soon, he ditches the boxing to turn to dancing.He becomes increasingly talented and increasingly interested, but the only people who know what he's up to are his teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters) and his best friend Michael.
Billy's problem is that his passion is considered to be a girly one, and that everyone thinks he's a poof (British slang for `fag'). Billy, in fact, isn't a poof. He is clearly attracted to Mrs. Wilkinson's daugther, but in a way that most kids are. She wants to have an adult relationship with him, but, I mean, he's an 11 year old kid. Sex to him is icky. His friend Michael, however, is gay. He cross-dresses and he seems attracted to Billy, and this doesn't seem to faze Billy one bit. His father is opposed to the whole thing, but this is mostly a case of parenting. He feels that without the help of his wife, he has turned Billy into a poof. There's an incredibly powerful scene where Billy's dad chops his wife's piano to make firewood. Billy's father is destroying `the evidence', thinking that if he doesn't remember her, Billy will go back to normal.
Jamie Bell gives an incredible performance as Billy. Only once have I seen such tremendous talent in a `kid' (he's actually 14), and that kid was Haley Joel Osment. He is natural, at ease and never seems to be overshadowed when acting with adults. I predict great things from him in the future, although this may be a one-shot deal like so many other child actors. Julie Walters was nominated for an Oscar, and while her work is solid, I don't see why she gets a nomination and Catherine Zeta-Jones was snubbed, despite her great performance in Traffic. Gary Lewis, who plays Billy's dad, gives a knockout performance. His character is just as complex as Billy, but he has a layer of guilt to him that makes the character much more watchable.
Billy Elliot is rated R for language. Sure, everyone swears, but that's not an excuse to make the movie unaccessable to all those under 17. The movie is trying to reach kids, and by rating it R, the filmmakers have encased themselves in their own trap. Yes, I know that THEY don't rate the movies, but anyway there's a re-edited version of it. Why I'm mentioning this is because rarely do movies enable the kids to swear unless they're being cute (comedies) or just being exploited (Leprechaun). The script is a breath of fresh air. Kids swear, face it. I was just 10 and I would swear like a drunken sailor at school, because it was forbidden at home. The dialogue is realistic and the script is actually pretty freakin' great.
Billy Elliot is also actually funny. Not only does the dialogue ring true, but there are a few good gags, too. I won't spoil it here, but if you think this is just sentimental slop, you're wrong. Billy Elliot has something for everyone. It's never too sentimental, never apes itself, and in all it's a great movie. Probably one of the best movies of last year. 9/10
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Own Schreck on video! (Obviously I'm punning Disney and their new movie Shrek. Pay attention.)
Making movies about other movies and movie-making is notoriously hard work. Not many have suceeded in making the movie look authentic. Truffaut, Fellini, Wilder, Altman, Cukor and Burton have suceeded. Dennis Hopper and James Ivory failed miserably with The Last Movie and The Wild Party, respectively. E. Elias Merhige makes a bold movie with Shadow Of The Vampire, but the movie doesn't pay off as much as it should've.
In 1921, legendary director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) set out to adapt Dracula to the silver screen. However, the Stoker estate does not want to give Murnau he rights to the novel. Instead of giving up, Murnau decides to simply change a few things in the storyline. The count is now Count Orlock, and the vampire is now Nosferatu. The cast and crew wonder who the actor playing Orlock is, but Murnau does not want to reveal much. He says the man is Max Schreck, a German actor that he has worked with before. Schreck (Willem Dafoe) demands that all his scenes are to be shot at night. He arrives one night and freaks out the whole crew. Schreck is always in character. He is Nosferatu. The cast become increasingly distressed. They even come to suspect that he is a vampire. After the scene is shot, Schreck bites the cinematographer. He gets progressively weaker and weaker until he is shipped off to the city and dies. A new cinematographer is sent. The cast and crew later find Murnau in a drug-induced haze. He shines new light on the Schreck ordeal. (Of course, I won't tell you what it is.)
Director E. Elias Merhige brings a morbid air to this classy production. Not surprising since Merhige's first feature, Begotten, was a 78 minute black-and-white art film that consisted mostly of God cutting himself with a razorblade. (No, I haven't seen it, nor do I intend to) Many reviews pointed out that there was humor in this film. Sure, Defoe gets to deliver a few juicy lines that made me smile, but the movie is hardly funny.
John Malkovich played the character with great timing and precision. Although some parts of his role were over-written, with aimless banter to spare, he generally did a good job of covering up the faults in the script. His character is one that is obsessed with making the best picture, the perfect masterpiece. Because of this, we are treated to some dumb scenes. However, the rest of the cast makes up for it, especially Willem Dafoe. Dafoe lights up the screen in a superb performance. In true Method style, Dafoe never appeared out of costume or character during the entire filming. What becomes of this is a surprisingly natural performance, original while still staying true to the original film. In some scenes, actual clips from Nosferatu are inserted, and only by the picture quality can you tell that it changed. Dafoe is that good. The supporting cast is also studded with familiar names such as Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack, Cary Elwes and Eddie Izzard.
The biggest problem with Shadow Of The Vampire comes at the very end. Throughout the whole movie you feel as if you're really watching a part of history, thanks to the great performances and visual style. However, all of that is washed clean off once you get the incredibly hackeneyed ending. I can't really reveal it here, however. All I have to say is that this ending breaks any felling of belief you had during the film and also ends the film on a negative note, which to many people makes the movie seem worse than it actually is. I'm sure the screenwriter wanted to make a point, but he should have made it clearer. For fans of the original movie, Shadow Of The Vampire is a real treat. Not having seen the movie myself, I cannot say that it stayed true to the original. However, Shadow Of The Vampire is entertaining enough to watch without having to worry too much about seeing an 80 year horror movie beforehand. If you are one of the people who do not like a movie if the ending is bad, then stay away. For the rest of us, Shadow Of The Vampire is a slight but entertaining movie. 7/10
Wo hu cang long (2000)
Everybody was kung-fu fightin'! Ang Lee was out awards winnin'!
Ahh, hype. What would the movies be without them. Well, Blair Witch wouldn't have made and therefore the abysmal sequel wouldn't be out. But hype also makes a few things work backstage. Without hype, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would probably not have made it overseas and without hype it wouldn't have been nominated for Oscars. Hype is the backbone of the movie business, basically. And hype ruled this film.
Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) is a seasoned warrior and a bit of a legend. He returns to his village one day to meet his friend Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). He tells her that he will give his legendary sword to the mayor/master trainer of the town. All is well until a young girl named Jen (Zhang Ziyi) steals it and flees into the desert. She becomes friends with Lo, and then eventually they fall in love, the sword ALMOST forgotten.
The story is honorable, but not that great. Since all the characters have names that are hard to remember, you have to go by facial features. The story is basically a setup to the jaw-dropping fight scenes that will follow.
The movie is visually splendid. The sets are expertly crafted and beautiful. The costumes are also great. What sets this apart, however, are the special effects. They're ripped right out of The Matrix and they don't look that realistic. But the wonder that these effects provoke is startling. It's sort of whimiscal. You know that this doesn't look very good, but it works. The fights are superbly choreographed. They come at a regular pace and each of them are memorable. My favorite was the one that took place between Shu Lien and Jen. Jen has the sword and Shu Lien has this HUGE arsenal of weapons. The fight is, to put it bluntly, awesome.
The acting is a mixed bag. Chow Yun-Fat is wooden and expressionless in a boring, bland role. Michelle Yeoh fares better but her performance is overshadowed by Zhang Ziyi's superb portrayal of Jen. Ziyi shows real talent and crafts a character we love to hate. The rest of the cast are also effective, more so than Yun-Fat's overrated performance.
This film was overrated. Emotionally, the movie is a zero. There is nothing that drew an emotion from me. This is a beautiful movie, yeah, but I don't think that it should be held in much higher regard than your typical Bruce Lee pic. 7/10
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
A classic adaptation of a classic play.
Most actors prefer the theater to the movies. I understand them. In the theater, you have an adrenaline rush. A rush that tells you you can't mess up. Feeling that rush is exceptional. It becomes like a drug. In the movies, if you screw up, all they do is another take. Every day, when you film a movie, you film for six hours straight and might end up with 4, maybe 5 minutes of usable material. It's understandable. However, in the early days of cinema, basically everything was a filmed play. This didn't necessarily mean that the actual filmed plays weren't as powerful as they were on the stage. A Streetcar Named Desire is one of them. (Spoilers included.)
Blanche Dubois (Viven Leigh) is a Southern belle, one who had every man in the palm of her man. Blanche moves in with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and her husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando) in a small, grotty New Orleans apartment. Blanche's family owned an estate but lost it and now Blanche has gone to live with her sister, much to the animal-like Stanley's dismay. Stanley hates her, hates her with a passion. Once she arrives, hell breaks loose between Stanley and Stella, who is pregnant. Stanley gets his contacts and finds out some unsavory stuff about Stella. The ending is a real punch in the gut, even when you see it coming.
The story is stunning. In 1951, it was censored for being too `steamy' but the reissue is rated PG. The dialogue is startling, beginning with the ever-famous `STELLA! STELLA!' that is being used ad-nauseam to refer to the theater.
The interpretation is fabulous. Vivien Leigh won an Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of Blanche Dubois. You see her gradually break down during the movie, finally leading down to the climax. Marlon Brando shows off his immense talent as Stan. Stan is a brute, a violent, tempermental man but at the same time, he's still a good guy deep down. (Really deep.) Brando's typical mumbly style works very well here for this uneducated and impolite man. Kim Hunter also won an Oscar for her portrayal of Stella. Her character is like the donkey that carries the burdens: Stella, Stanley, her unborn baby. Her controlled performance is great and well-fitted to the character. The other main character in this is Mitch, Stan's friend and Blanche's one-time lover, flawlessly portrayed by Karl Malden. He also won an Oscar. His character isn't here for much of the movie, but his presence is instrumental. He is one of the fundamental reasons why Blanche goes crazy.
The main aspect that I look for in a filmed play is if this adrenaline rush is present. In Desire, the adrenaline rush is ever-present. The actors have superb chemistry and function like a well-oiled machine. If I had to name one play that functions as well on film as on stage, this would be it.
A Streetcar Named Desire also takes with itself the less-appreciated aspects of theater The characters go into mad fits of screaming and pushing stuff everywhere. You've seen it done, it's over-the-top but then again, it's a staple of the genre. Characters also don't like to face each other. Sometimes, during a conversation the character will turn, take a deep breath and start a long monologue, preferably in front of a window. Some people may not like it.
A Streetcar Named Desire is not for everyone. It's basically all talk, and people with low attention spans will not enjoy themselves. Then again, what's the chance that someone with a low attention span will pick up this movie? As it stands, Desire is a classic of the stage and screen, and well worth your time. 10/10