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"It is a time of sacrifice...Good and Bad"
This is the first sequel in the Star Wars franchise in 32 years. A long time ago in an era far, far away.
The First Order, the new Empire, is set up awfully fast in The Force Awakens. The last time we saw the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi, it was defeated and destroyed. Here, somehow, it's at full strength again and even has Star Destroyers and a battle station that dwarfs the Death Star. I think the writers have missed an opportunity to show The First Order as underdog fanatics plotting to overthrow the New Republic in a patient build-up. But nope, we get one line that they have risen from the ashes of the Empire and, that's it, they're back, just like that.
The writing is shorn of George Lucas's devotion to Joseph Campbell's mythic structure. While that gave unprecedented depth to the original trilogy, it bogged the prequels down in clunky exposition dialogue. The new script loses the mythic structure but gains pace and humour again that is reminiscent of A New Hope. The pulling back from full-on CGI aids the realism too.
Lawrence Kasdan who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back returns as co- writer here, but The Force Awakens is nowhere near as good as that masterpiece. There were so many great lines in the original trilogy "The force will be with you always," "I am your Father" and "I've got a bad feeling about this." Some of them are repeated in The Force Awakens but there is nothing new to challenge the old lines. That is a pity. (In the age of the instantaneous internet, could the "I am your father" moment be kept secret now? I doubt it. I accidentally saw a major spoiler for The Force Awakens while typing in a hashtag on Twitter.)
Michael Arndt gives lectures on the original trilogy and wrote the first draft of The Force Awakens script. Perhaps he's great at analysing why Star Wars works but not so great at creating something new. The script is okay, nothing more (there is a nice riff on the father/son theme that runs through every Star Wars movie and Han Solo finally accepting The Force as being true is a nice payoff to his "hokey religion" dismissal in 1977).
Harrison Ford brings a much-needed weary wit and charisma to the film in reprising his old scoundrel Han Solo. He's clearly enjoying himself and the film lifts whenever he's on screen. Ford is given some better lines and more to do than in Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but, just as in that film, the older stars are shoved aside in favour of the newcomers who aren't that interesting.
Carrie Fisher looks like she's been at the Botox. The only parts of her face she can move are her lips and even that's a struggle. It doesn't look like her and it is a shock seeing her as a shrunken old woman.
We know Daisy Ridley is miscast in the lead role. We know because J.J. Abrams told her on set that her acting was "wooden." If you've cast someone that can't act in the lead role of the biggest franchise in film history, you've hired the wrong person. Ms Ridley compensates by over- acting horribly, shouting every line with her eyes as wide as possible. She runs (a lot) and cries (a lot). Apart from that, the jury is still out on her. Then again, Star Wars has a history of not-great acting, so she's probably keeping up a great tradition.
Muhammad Ali-lookalike, John Boyega, took some criticism in early reviews, but I actually thought he had good comic timing, the audience liked him and he even struck up a buddy rapport with old grumpy pants himself, Harrison Ford. Let's hope we see more of him in the sequels and spin-offs, he's the best of the new breed.
John Williams returns to score the picture and it's okay, nothing as unforgettable as Vader's Theme from Empire. Darth Vader himself is, for me, the greatest villain in movie history and he is sorely missed. Vader choked people to death by breaking their necks if they defied him. Whereas new baddie Kylo Ren takes his frustration out by incinerating inanimate objects with his lightsaber to keep the rating kiddie- friendly. There's also some predictable PC casting. Everything that was white and male before now has to be rebooted as female, ethnic and/or LGBT (we're getting an all-female Ghostbusters reboot and possibly a black James Bond in the future.)
The Force Awakens isn't as good as I thought it was going to be and I doubt it will stand up to repeat reviewing as the original trilogy did but it is perhaps the best that can be expected now George Lucas has bailed out on his film company. It will no doubt break box office records. No film could probably live up to the hype anyway. It is good to have Star Wars back in whatever form it's in (I think I know the big plot twist in the next movie too but I won't spoil it for you, dear reader.)
The Eyes Have It
I was very cautious about this sequel. When it was announced, I wondered how they could possibly top Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Then Rise director Rupert Wyatt bowed out and I had even more fears that it was going to be a Tim Burtonesque ape disaster. I needn't have worried. Matt Reeves has come in and done a superb job of directing. Fox also wisely kept Rise writers Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa on board. They started out writing movies like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle which was okay if derivative. There was no indication that they would have the capacity to write anything as layered as Rise or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes then. For me, they are the best screenwriters currently working in Hollywood and I'm not alone in thinking that. Steven Spielberg has hired them to write the new Jurassic Park movie Jurassic World while James Cameron has them working on two of the Avatar sequels. Praise from Caesar(s).
The expert writing is old-school brilliant. It is patient, this is not a dumbed-down action movie to placate non-English-speaking markets. The story and characters have the complexity of a novel. Perhaps this will make movie studios see that audiences want intelligent movies that stand up to repeat viewing as Dawn will and not forgettable junk that's little more than chewing gum for the eyes.
The crux of the story revolves around several power struggles. Ape leader Caesar, raised by kind humans, is struggling internally with his love for humans but also with their capacity for cruelty towards animals that he experienced first-hand in Rise. His second-in-command is Koba, a laboratory chimpanzee who was never shown the good side of humanity. As Koba puts it, he was caged and tortured and points to his scarred body as an example of "human work." He wants to wipe out all people. Koba is the embodiment of human guilt over our treatment of animals. He would be the villain of the piece but he was made so by humans and like all great villains, you see where he is coming from and you even slightly admire and like him until you remind yourself that he is a killer (Shakespeare did that with characters like Richard III). If animals did rise up against us, they would be totally justified in annihilating us as that is what we have done to them since the dawn of time.
The power struggle on the ape side is reflected on the human side. Gary Oldman is the Koba of the humans; he fears apes, doesn't trust them and wants to obliterate them all. Oldman is only in the movie for about ten minutes at the start and end and you kind of wonder why a great actor is given such little screen time and so little to do. It was probably a marketing thing. He is the only real big name actor in this movie and they needed someone to put on the poster to sell it. The writers understand that drama is conflict and with these constant power struggles and hunting and war scenes, there is non-stop drama from start to finish in Dawn. The writers come to the fatalistic conclusion that however much the Doves on both sides try to placate the Hawks, the Hawks will get their war in the end.
And get his war Koba does in spectacular fashion. The scene where Koba rides screaming on horseback through flames with two machines guns blazing is like something out of Scarface (the way the apes speak also has more than an echo of Tony Montana.) There is also a nod to The Godfather when Caesar just barely survives Koba's assassination attempt (with a name like Caesar, he was always going to be a target for that) and starts doling out sage counter-attack strategies to his underlings like Brando's Don Corleone did. When the apes set fire to the San Franciscan human enclave, it's hard not to push the Caesar analogy and see it as Rome burning.
The directing, ape acting (especially the indispensable Andy Serkis) and special effects are also superb but, more importantly, they mesh together perfectly with the writing to push the whole thing to another level. The Motion-Capture or Mo-Cap has evolved to the point where they can finally do realistic CGI eyes (just look at how bad the eyes of Jabba The Hutt are in the 1997 Special Edition of Star Wars to see what I mean but it was 17 years ago and technology has moved on a hell of a lot since then). No longer are the eyes glassy-looking, hollow and fake. These ape eyes show concentration, emotion and depth. For the first time, there is believable consciousness behind the eyes. They even end the movie on an extreme close-up of Caesar's eyes, there's confidence for you and the effect stands up to scrutiny.
The Charlton Heston ape movies had Orang-Utans (the politicians/clergy) using Gorilla muscle (the army) to suppress the liberal scientist Chimpanzees. Gorillas have been docile so far and will have to start morphing into their militaristic future selves in the already-planned next Apes movie. That goes for the Orang-Utans too (We see in Dawn that Maurice is clearly The Lawgiver of the Heston movies teaching young apes their commandment that "Ape Shall Not Kill Ape.")
I rarely want to see a movie a second time in the cinema but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of them. I was disappointed with X-Men: Days of Future Past, it was good but not great as I thought it would be. Edge of Tomorrow was okay but Dawn is the real deal. This will be looked on as a classic in future years and rightly so. It's thrilling to see a franchise so many of us grew up with being done better than the first time out. Long may it continue.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Redhead In The Heart Of Darkness
Not even two years after the event, the movie about the decade-long pursuit and killing of Al Qaeda terrorist leader and 9/11 plotter Osama Bin Laden comes to the big screen. It's been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, so I was expecting something incredible.
It reminded me a little of The French Connection with the hero obsessed with catching the bearded bad guy leading to a downbeat, make-up-your-own-mind conclusion. It also reminded me of The Silence of the Lambs with the female protagonist up against a sexist, bureaucratic male brick wall as she tries to put an end to an evil man's killing spree.
While Zero Dark Thirty is fascinating on a technical front and very good on the methods used to hunt Bin Laden, it falls down on the most important front: characterisation. The lead character is called simply Maya (we never find out her surname, not even a fictitious one). We only find out two personal things about her; she was recruited to the CIA from high school and she has no friends (remember how we were made to care about Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs with all the childhood memories about the death of her cop father?). So we know almost nothing about Maya and therefore we don't really care about her. It's hard to care about a character you've seen torturing suspects anyway, even if they are allegedly guilty. Maya is also charmless and humourless and there is no comic relief in a film of two and a half hours. I don't believe Maya would be allowed to harass her superior by writing on his window in red ink every day or that she would describe herself as a "motherf***er" to the head of the CIA without some sort of reprimand.
Reviewers have been raving about Jessica Chastain's performance and I have to wonder why. She was okay in it. I can't really see anything great about her performance mostly because her part is underwritten as such a one-note character. Only in the final scene does she do anything impressive with some very convincing tears but up until then, it was an average performance.
Also, Seal Team Six, the team that eventually killed Bin Laden, are portrayed as a bunch of bored jocks goofing off in the desert. They even get put down by Maya and just stand there like dummies. Again, I didn't believe that an elite unit of extremely tough men like them would take that from anyone. It really downplays Seal Team Six's significance in the whole thing and gives Maya credit for everything. This is a female director making a feminist point and I do believe she has taken a lot of creative licence to get that point across and the film suffers for it.
As virtually every reviewer has remarked, the last half hour with the assault on Bin Laden's compound is the best part of the film with director Kathryn Bigelow in her element. No more torture, no more talking, no more feminist point-scoring, it is pure action and suspense. You finally start to feel something. Even though we all know the outcome, the stakes are enormous. It's like a mini-film within a film like the stoned helicopter sequence in Goodfellas. With Tomahawk missiles, Apache helicopters and Bin Laden's codename Geronimo, it seems the Indian Wars are still ongoing at least in the American psyche. Geronimo is defeated once more and his body flown out where it is formally identified by the all-powerful Maya.
The film ends ambiguously with the line: "Where do you want to go?" as Maya sits alone in a huge plane crying. Is Kathryn Bigelow desperate to re-establish the character's femininity in the last scene after stomping through the film with a ruthless, robotic persona? Is Maya crying for herself or for what she's done in the movie? Is she crying because her 10-year obsession Bin Laden is dead and her life is essentially pointless now? Is it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PMT? Your guess is as good as mine.
As I was leaving the cinema, I overheard some middle-aged people debating the film. This woman said she believed that Bin Laden is still alive and that the movie was only saying he was dead for propaganda purposes. It seems the mysterious, invincible aura of Osama Bin Laden still exists for some people. For me, he is dead. I mourn not his passing but at what we have become in the fight against him.
"Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay to mould me man?" - Paradise Lost
When Alien first appeared in 1979, it really was a game-changer for the science fiction genre. For the first time, a creature from outer space looked believably extra-terrestrial on screen and had a five-stage life cycle (egg, face-hugger, chest-burster, young adult and adult or warrior as James Cameron calls it) straight out of Biology 101.
James Cameron's Aliens was that rarity, something that respected the first film but nevertheless improved upon it to make one of the best sequels ever made (Sigourney Weaver got an Oscar nomination for her performance, how many sci-fi films can boast about that? Not many).
Alien 3 literally crashed the franchise and, while Alien Resurrection was an improvement, that's not saying much. Alien Vs Predator wasn't bad, Alien Vs Predator: Requiem with annoying teenagers added to the mix was a forgettable misfire to say the least.
And now, 33 years on, original director Ridley Scott has returned to the franchise he kicked off in such dazzling style. Comparisons have been made to George Lucas returning to the Star Wars series to do prequels with mixed results but I believe Ridley Scott's effort here is better than that.
The film starts off with a huge albino giant with killer abs drinking what looks like an eel smoothie and having something awful happen to him (he's like a cross between the Silver Surfer, the monsters in Duran Duran's Wild Boys video and that bald dude from The Hills Have Eyes.) Fast forward 2,000 years to the year 2089. Noomi Rapace plays Doctor Elizabeth Shaw, an archaeologist who discovers primitive cave paintings that seem to point to alien visitation in prehistory. Another fast-forward of four years, finds Shaw on board the spaceship Prometheus in deep space about to stop off at the planet hinted at in the cave paintings. Weyland Industries (the evil company from the first Alien films hasn't merged with Yutani just yet) has funded this exploration to the tune of a trillion dollars.
Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender are perfect Aryan blondes in the mould of Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah from Blade Runner. Theron's character starts out as a cold control freak reminiscent of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. When she is prepared to let people die on the planet or even take up a flame-thrower and kill them herself, she becomes something much darker. Later on, it is revealed that she is old Peter Weyland's daughter and, when she refers to her father as a king, it takes on a Shakespearean, King Lear dimension of the old man giving control of his kingdom to his vicious daughter.
Ireland's Michael Fassbender gives another assured, notable performance and he is rapidly bagging all the plum acting gigs going. It is interesting to see him progress as an actor.
Noomi Rapace is impregnated with a precursor of the chest-burster and gives herself an astonishing DIY abortion that has to be seen to be believed. (If this is a prequel to Alien, how come they didn't have all that fancy medical equipment, 360-degree helmets and 3D cave-mapping drones in a time that is supposed to be more technologically advanced? Another question I had was, if it was so easy to infect the space crew by skin contact or airborne droplet infection, why bother evolving into the chest burster? Seems a much faster way of transmission.)
The film is nowhere near as bad as the first reviews suggested. I think it was just the weight of 33 years of expectation not being met (what could live up to the reputation of the classic Alien we all grew up watching again and again on VHS, DVD and now Blu-Ray?) The ending of Prometheus is left tantalizingly open for a sequel with many questions still unanswered and I believe there could be life in the old Star Beast yet.
"Now, Fight Like Apes!"
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is a triumph on every level. I am a long-time fan of this series (there's old home movie footage of me at age 7 wearing a Planet Of The Apes mask at Halloween). The Tim Burton remake of Planet Of The Apes was a mess and a disaster in 2001. When I heard they were doing Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I didn't hold out much hope for it. The director Rupert Wyatt had only made one other movie, The Escapist. And the writers had a patchy track record. From this inauspicious beginning, they have fashioned a movie or real heart and technical proficiency. (Wyatt is a name to watch out for in the future)
In the early days of computer-generated imagery (CGI), they had trouble rendering fur and eyes convincingly. Judging from this movie, they can now do both photo-realistically. They can capture not only an actor's facial movements but intelligence, fear and anger in the eyes too. That is some leap forward and that is what makes Caesar the ape a fully-fledged character that you care about and root for in his many trials and tribulations.
Rise Of The Apes is the story of a chimp called Caesar and his rise to power as leader of an ape revolution. It is essentially a remake of Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes but, with a bigger budget than Conquest, Rise can expand on ideas only hinted at in the old movie.
For the first time in the apes series, we have a plausible explanation for why apes can talk. In the 1968 Planet Of The Apes, Charlton Heston sees from his spaceship's clock that he is some 2,000 years in the future, nowhere near enough time for apes to evolve the power of speech. That's where Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes comes in. Here, they have gene therapy and the cure for Alzheimer's disease providing the unexpected side-effect of raising an ape's IQ rapidly (similar to how the cure for cancer mutated in I Am Legend, a remake of another Charlton Heston sci-fi flick). Exposure to the more aggressive virus later pushes Caesar's intelligence further and gives him the power of speech.
There's a really good scene where Caesar demonstrates how it is easy to break one stick (an ape alone) but harder to break many sticks together. This bundle of sticks in his hand is like the fasces of ancient Rome, the word fascism originates from it and is an intelligent reminder of the cruel, genocidal society the apes will create in the future when it comes to their treatment of humans. It also reminds us that today's revolutionaries are tomorrow's dictators because absolute power corrupts absolutely.
There are some who questioned the relevance of Frieda Pinto's character, but I don't care. The girl is utterly gorgeous in a Halle Berry kind of way. If she has a flaw, I can't see it. I have no problem watching her all glammed up here.
The final ape assault is a tremendous outburst of primal ferocity brilliantly rendered by the WETA effects team. It leaves it open for a sequel (or sequels as the writers and director have said).
I smiled to myself at the end with the ape virus being spread around the world via airports and even to Africa. It's the HIV pandemic in reverse, a disease which started out in apes in Africa. Sly humour which ties in nicely with the satire of the 1968 original (I would argue that this is the best movie in the apes series since the first one in 1968 and I never thought I would ever see that or say it about a new movie.)
There's life in the old ape yet! And I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what they do with ape series next. Today San Francisco, tomorrow THE WORLD!
Brooklyn's Finest (2009)
Welcome To The Jungle
Brooklyn's Finest is a cynical, ironic title as, it would seem from this movie that there is no one fine, whether they're cop or criminal, in the borough of Brooklyn. Everyone is using, robbing and/or killing everyone else. It's like that old John Lennon song: "Everyone's hustling for a buck or a dime/I'll scratch your back and you knife mine."
Director Antoine Fuqua is back on Training Day territory here both in subject matter and with star Ethan Hawke and he has a real feel for the street milieu. Richard Gere is on familiar ground here too wearing the same uniform he had on in Internal Affairs (it's a credit to his genetics that he doesn't seem a day older 20 years on from that movie).
There are three stories; Richard Gere plays a burnt-out veteran cop one week from retirement (haven't we seen this movie before? The "cop-a-week-from-retirement" is as bad a stereotype as the criminal doing "one last job.") He is forced to train in rookies and his experienced callousness clashes with their youthful idealism and forces him to re-examine his life.
Ethan Hawke plays a Noo Yawk, Catholic, Italian-American dirty cop (count those clichés, people). His name is Sal and he has kids named Vinnie and Vito (yes, really, it has all the ethnic depth of the Goodfellas episode of The Simpsons). He is desperate to move his pregnant wife to a better, healthier home and so he decides to kill drug dealers and steal their drug money every time his team makes a bust (as you do).
Don Cheadle is an undercover cop wrestling with the guilt he feels about setting up a criminal (Wesley Snipes, good to see him in a major film again) he is close to. It's this story that works best.
The three stories connect at the end and it leads to some highly unlikely coincidences. Just as Richard Gere is about to blow his own brains out in a car, a missing girl he remembers from a police notice board appears behind him. And the three main characters find themselves in the same slum project at the same time going after three different sets of criminals. You can see the tragic ending coming, but there are some surprises.
The main problem with the film is that there's no one to root for. There are no heroes until the final scene and by then it's too late. There are only bad guys and even badder guys. It's a world of perpetual darkness and it does stay with you after you've seen it, but the clichés and stereotypes blunt it's impact and make it too much like other movies like The New Centurions or Fort Apache: The Bronx. File under missed opportunity.
The Social Network (2010)
"Every Creation Myth Needs A Devil"
Firstly may I say that I am not, nor have I ever been a member of Facebook. And, after seeing the ruthless, cutthroat way the website was set up by Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), I have no inclination to join it at any time in the future (if only to stop job interviewers and the Taxman spying on me to see if I'm telling the truth.)
The above quote about every creation myth needing a Devil sums up the movie. You could argue that Zuckerberg is the Lucifer who wants to take over Eduardo Saverin's Heaven (played by Anthony Perkins lookalike Andrew Garfield), the difference being that it's God (Saverin) who gets cast out of the kingdom, not Zuckerberg. Enter Napster creator Shawn Fanning (Justin Timberlake) and the movie then becomes a retelling of the Faust legend with Zuckerberg being completely seduced by Fanning's promises of wealth and power but he must sacrifice friendship to achieve it. (If you ever wanted proof that Nice Guys Finish Last, just see Eduardo Saverin here.) Jesse Eisenberg has been typecast as nerds in his career so far (e.g. Zombieland), but he's never played one as well as he does here and such a complex one at that. I don't know the real Mark Zuckerberg, but he is portrayed here as an undoubtedly talented computer programmer/hacker (A genius? Who knows, maybe.) He certainly has a ferocious focus, confidence and drive for such a young man. He is also two-faced, arrogant and completely unreliable. Essentially, Zuckerberg's character boils down to him being a hyper-sensitive, vengeful nerd with a chip on his shoulder, endlessly trying to get one over on the people he views as superior to him, even if they want to help him.
I've never really understood the appeal of Justin Timberlake to women. I've always thought he was a rather plain-looking guy who tried too hard to act black and was really only famous for having once dated Britney Spears. But if he's half as devilishly charming in real life as he is in this movie, I can see why he's catnip to the ladies (his millions don't hurt either, right). Timberlake was a leftfield casting choice by director David Fincher that pays off brilliantly.
The women in the movie are treated like cattle, but then again so are the men who get stepped on by Zuckerberg and Fanning as they rise to power. (I had no idea that Asian women were such a commodity among the rich).
The script is by Aaron Sorkin, a writer who's been around for a long time. He wrote A Few Good Men as far back as 1992 and The West Wing, but this is far and away the best thing he's ever written and he's sure to get an Oscar nomination for his work, if not win the coveted statuette outright. The movie has parallels with Citizen Kane and Martin Scorsese's The Aviator (when the girl in the opening scenes accuses Zuckerberg of having OCD, the parallels with that other young American billionaire Howard Hughes are made clear).
It's hard to break new ground when you've been a movie director for 18 years, but David Fincher has managed to do that here. You can't compare it to anything he's done before. He could well be an Oscar contender too.
Dirty Harry (1971)
The Original Cop Vs Killer Thriller
I first saw "Dirty Harry" back in the 1980s and I never get tired of watching it. It's so well-made that it's always a pleasure to watch. The script is one of the best Hollywood scripts ever and is filled with unforgettable characters, dialogue and action scenes.
According to the Mayor of San Francisco (the great John Vernon), "there's a madman loose." The madman in question is a serial killer called Scorpio (he is also a paedophile, a rapist, a thief and an extortionist). Enter his opponent - unconventional cop Inspector Harry Callahan. From the start it's clear that Harry does things his way and resents authority, but he's a good cop and is let loose to hunt down Scorpio.
It's in the conflict between Harry and Scorpio that the movie really comes into its own. They are equals in many ways, both are expert marksmen, both are control freaks and both enjoy sadistic games (Harry taunts suspects to go for their gun if they think he's out of bullets, a kind of variation on Russian Roulette. Scorpio kidnaps and buries a young girl and he runs Harry from one phone booth to another, if Harry misses one call, she dies. It turns out she was dead all along and Harry was wasting his time.) It could also be argued that Harry is as crazy as Scorpio, just look at his face when he steps on Scorpio's wounded leg in the football stadium to get him to confess the buried girl's whereabouts. Yet they are different in that they are on opposite sides of the law.
Like Buffalo Bill in "The Silence of the Lambs," Scorpio is a fictionalized version of a real killer. The Zodiac Killer terrorized Northern California in the late 60s and was still at large when this movie came out (he has never been caught to this day). In one of his infamous taunting letters to the press, he claimed he would shoot a bus full of children. Although Zodiac never carried out that threat, Scorpio makes good on it in this movie by hijacking a school bus with children on board (while Scorpio never kills any of them, he has already killed a young black boy and raped and killed a young girl earlier in the film, so it's quite possible he could have harmed the kids had Harry not intervened).
Andy Robinson has a field day playing Scorpio and he never really got a role that good again and it's a pity. Clint Eastwood suggested him to Don Siegel after seeing him in a stage play.
John Wayne and Frank Sinatra were once in the running to play Harry Callahan - Wayne passed, Sinatra injured his hand. Thank God for that, Clint Eastwood was never better than in this and the role of Harry fits him like a glove (if you want to see what Wayne and Sinatra would have been like, check out "McQ" and "The First Deadly Sin" respectively.)
The running gag throughout the movie is the reason why Callahan is called Dirty Harry. Another cop gives his theory that it's because Harry "hates everybody" and goes on to list all the racial slurs for those types of people. Harry himself, after stopping a suicidal jumper, explains that he's Dirty Harry because he gets "every sh*t job that comes along." Another possible explanation for Harry's nickname comes in two scenes where he voyeuristically spies on naked girls while tracking Scorpio (this voyeurism is another way he is like Scorpio, the movie begins with Scorpio watching a girl swimming in a rooftop pool through a telescopic sight and Harry even follows Scorpio to a strip joint later on).
There is a fascinating example of how primitive criminal profiling was back in 1971. The chief of police makes a throwaway comment about how "sick guys" rob the same place many times. Today, forensics and profilers would be all over this case from the first murder and Harry's old-fashioned leg work would take a back seat.
The subtext of Dirty Harry is really about the beginnings of Political Correctness and how old school cop Harry is unable and unwilling to conform to it. Harry would have begun his career as a cop when police brutality and racism were the norm and confessions were routinely beaten out of suspects. He gets a rude awakening when he tries that heavy-handed tactic on Scorpio and is berated by his superiors for it. It's clearly a shock for him; the other shock is that Scorpio goes free because Harry never got a warrant even though the dogs in the street know he's guilty as hell. It leads to the famous finale in which Harry, having cut through the bureaucracy and killed Scorpio, realizes he can no longer function as a cop in the system and throws his badge into the water. Box office success would dictate that Harry would get a replacement badge for four sequels. None of those movies could touch the original "Dirty Harry" (although the first half hour of "Sudden Impact" came close to matching it and gave us that other classic Harry line "Go ahead, make my day."). "Dirty Harry" remains an all-time classic nearly 40 years after its release and it remains my favorite Clint Eastwood movie and his best collaboration with director Don Siegel.
City by the Sea (2002)
Drowning In Clichés
In the mid-1990s, Quentin Tarantino argued that his idol Robert De Niro had let quality control in his career slip. "The care in the work isn't there anymore", he noted. Well, if you wanted proof of that argument, this movie is it.
Reuniting with his "This Boy's Life" director Michael Caton-Jones (this is easily the worst movie he's ever directed), Robert De Niro sleepwalks his way through this movie for the money. He's overweight and looks utterly bored throughout. Only at the end does De Niro wake up and start trying to come up with something, but by then it's too late to care.
Allegedly based on a true story (you could have fooled me, the script is an awful collection of cop clichés and junkie stereotypes), the film concerns the drug-addicted son of a cop who accidentally gets caught up in murders and goes on the run. De Niro plays the father cop who must choose between family loyalty and his job (have a guess which one he chooses. It's obvious from the start).
With De Niro on autopilot, it falls to the rest of the cast to try and cover up for him. William Forsythe, De Niro's co-star from "Once Upon A Time In America", is in this as a drug dealer called Spyder (original name, huh? He has a conversation with a junkie that goes "Hey, Snake." "Hey, Spyder." Yup, it's that bad.) George Dzundza crops up as the hero's obese cop partner who gets bloodily murdered (the exact same role he played in "Basic Instinct.") The younger actors playing the junkies do everything obvious and overdo it at that. The only person who comes out of this with any credibility is Frances McDormand who manages to work up something realistic in her scenes with De Niro, but you can't polish a turd and this script is just that.
The explanation for De Niro's son turning to drugs is an unbelievable "you-weren't-there-for-me-dad" self-pitying rant at the end. Yes, folks, drug addiction really is that simple. How this script got through to production is a mystery. It's amateur hour nonsense.
This movie is so unambitious and uninspired; you have to wonder why they bothered making it at all. Avoid.
The Thrill Of The Hunt Returns
Based on a script Robert Rodriguez wrote back in 1994, "Predators" finally makes it to the big screen 16 years later. It's also the first direct Predator sequel (without Aliens in it) since "Predator 2" in 1990, so it's good to see it back again like an old friend returning after a long absence.
"Predators" has an interesting premise. The Predator species are no longer content to travel all the way to earth to hunt random victims in hot zones of conflict (did Schwarzenegger's victory convince them that humans had an unfair home advantage on Earth?). Now, their hunts are premeditated; they stalk their human prey, kidnap them from Earth and parachute them onto their home planet so the games can begin on their terms and on their turf.
The prey here is the usual multi-ethnic mix familiar from the original "Predator" movies and "Alien." We have the Hispanic female (Alice Braga from "I Am Legend") and the black mercenary, etc. We also get new types like a Japanese Yakuza gangster, a death row prisoner and a fighter from Chechnya no less. They do the usual squabbling/bonding as they try to figure out what the hell is going on.
Laurence Fishburne shows up for an all-too-brief cameo (with "Apocalypse Now" references) as a nutty lone survivor of previous Predator hunts. He has an imaginary friend that he talks to all the time and Fishburne is clearly having a blast, but he is not in it long enough. Pity.
There is a surprising amount of dialogue and Alan Silvestri's score lifted from the original "Predator" movie. They even pinch lines from James Cameron's Aliens.
Adrien Brody was a surprise casting choice for the lead here; he's not the first guy you think of as an action hero being quite thin and lanky usually. At the end though, he does get to take his shirt off (revealing a surprisingly buff bod) to go mano-a-mano with the Predator. Credit the writers for not going with the usual Predator self-destruct finale. The end also has a twist and sets it up for a sequel nicely (Rodriguez apparently wrote enough material for three "Predators" movies back in the 90s).
"Predators" is a return to form for the Predator franchise after the sloppy "Alien Vs Predator: Requiem" and is a worthy addition to the genre. I hope there will be a sequel (how about Stallone's Expendables team going up against the Predators? That would be awesome
hope you're reading this Fox!) There's life in the old beast yet!