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10/10
One of the most unpredictable and masterful action films
15 December 2000
Warning: Spoilers
CAREFUL, SPOILERS AHEAD

I suppose I just had to post after reading another comment that called this film "bloated and pretentious", not to mention FAR inferior to Ronin(!). The only reason the two films can be compared is because they both have "wrong way down the freeway" car chases, so that tells you a little something about the depth of that reviewer's viewing.

Anyway, To Live and Die In L.A. is simply a great, great film. I personally think it's Friedkin's finest work, a completely unpredictable, brutal, and remarkably acted masterpiece. Friedkin is crafty here. He starts it off in a most mundane fashion: a cop hunting down the bad guy who offed his partner. And, well, that is basically the whole story. But what happens in this story is just beautiful. The twists in the plot come at you out of nowhere, and the way Friedkin toys with audience expectations is terrific. William L. Peterson's Secret Service agent is presented as a risk-taking hotshot at first, the kind we see in dozens of formula films. But we soon realize his hotshot behavior is a symptom of his psychosis. He's willing to risk the lives of his partner and innocent people in order to get his revenge.

The ending of this film is particularly great, and it ends with a nice punch as Friedkin kind of lets us know who he thinks the real villain is. The final image at the end of the credits provides the answer to that I think. Also, Friedkin's insistence on making L.A. look like the hell he believes it to be is a nice touch. And, as one character finds out, there's no escape from this hell. Major love to this flick.
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10/10
The ultimate nihilistic thriller
27 June 2000
When people talk about action films from the '80s, the inevitably seem to always mention two films: Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. Those are good films, undoubtedly. But let's face it: they're about as challenging and surprising as a game of checkers. This film, on the other hand, is so surprising, it goes against so many action film conventions, that it must be regarded as the best action film of the '80s. Just my humble opinion. The performances are terrific. The violence is exceptionally startling. There are no good guys, only guys who have different degrees of evil. And there are at least two moments in this film that will shock the hell out of you if you don't see them coming (which you probably won't). Check this out, you won't regret it.
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Run and Kill (1993)
8/10
Savage and unrelenting (spoilers)
31 March 2000
Warning: Spoilers
Believe it or not, this film was intended as a dark comedy. And comedies don't get much darker than this. Hong Kong's master of depravity, Billy Tang, has made an exploitation film so far over the top that it's funny. The plot is fairly complex, actually, and ingenious in how it arrives at where it does. Fatty (Kent Cheng), tired of his cheating wife, mistakenly hires a triad to kill her. Upon her demise, he is presented with the bill, which he cannot pay. He seeks refuge with a band of former Vietcong mercenaries. When the one who has taken him in is killed by the triads, the dead man's crazed cousin (Simon Yam) seeks revenge on not only the triads but Fatty as well, whom he blames for his cousin's death. This all culminates in one moment so startling that it's shocking and funny at the same time. Let's just say it involves Fatty's 12 year old daughter and a lot of gasoline. I'm not sure anyone but Billy Tang could have gotten away with this film (for an even more depraved exercise, seek out his serial-killer-run-amok flick Red to Kill). A must for fans of twisted cinema.
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7/10
Violent and bleak sequel to the Heroic Trio
2 March 2000
The Heroic Trio is a great Hong Kong action film. This is a fact. Executioners isn't quite as good but might be more interesting - set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, filled with crazed corporate owners, assassinations, bandits, and renegade military personel, this is a film that has a lot of ambition. It's also deeply flawed, if only because it's a bit messy and many of the characters' relationships and plot lines are confusing. But it does have some remarkable action scenes, great performances again by Yeoh, Mui, and Cheung, and a surprisingly dark ending that works very well. Anthony Wong also has some fun as the villain, a madman who owns the water company(!). He's completely unrecognisable behind the makeup and iron mask he wears, but he's having a good time. If you like The Heroic Trio, this is well worth checking out. It's not that film's equal, but it is an above-average action film in its own right.
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10/10
One man's descent in search of redemption...
2 March 2000
In one of the bravest performances you'll ever see, Harvey Keitel plays the unnamed Lieutenant, a drug addict, bully, and gambler who begins to find redemption through his investigation of a nun's rape. I find this film compelling because it goes all the way and never compromises its integrity in the process. This isn't a gratuitous exploitation film but a serious examination of a man who's lost - he can't control his own vices and he obviously hates himself more than he hates other people (which is saying a lot). This is not a film for the squeamish - although it's not particularly violent and if you can't deal with Keitel's nudity you shouldn't be watching movies above a PG-13 level - but it has so many uncomfortably stark scenes and the Lieutenant is so despicable it might result in people hating this film. But I think it's a masterpiece, and Ferrara's best film by far.
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The Boxer (1997)
8/10
Bleak portrait of a community trapped in a violent circle.
28 February 2000
The Boxer is an excellent film in almost all its aspects. The acting is quite good across the board, especially Emily Watson and Brian Cox. The cinematography is often stunning, especially in the way it uses the cold and minimalist color palette. There's a palatable sense of tension that flows throughout the picture, made more taut by the various directing techniques used by Jim Sheridan. One technique is the shots from the helicopters that circle above Belfast, showing a community that is under siege and giving a greater perspective on what it's like to live in this part of the city. And there are three parts to the story, all of which work very well. There's the story of Danny's release from prison and his attempt to start a boxing club. There's the romance between him and Emily Watson, a romance that is forbidden by I.R.A. codes. And then there's the I.R.A. themselves, struggling to find peace but being broken apart from within by leaders of splinter factions. A very moving film (with a great score by Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer as well) and a film that really addresses the issues of neverending violence in a very direct and emotional way.
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Lost Highway (1997)
8/10
Incoherent but always fascinating
27 February 2000
As far as what this film means, I haven't the faintest clue. But it's so wonderfully crafted and often chilling that I have to rave about it. This is not a film that has scenes that flow together in any way that means anything, as far as I can tell, but visually and in terms of Lynch's use of sound and music it's remarkable. Basically it involves a jazz saxophonist (Bill Pullman) and his wife (Patricia Arquette) and the crazy stuff that begins to go down after the former finds a videotape of the outside of his house. He then finds a videotape that apparently shows a murder, and things get seriously confused for him and the rest of us. Some of the performances are great - especially Robert Loggia and Robert Blake. But this film is more about atmosphere than story. On the basis of that it's amazing. As narrative it's a mess, or at last a mess to those not named David Lynch, but that's not what counts here.
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9/10
A twisted and dark masterpiece
27 February 2000
There was probably no greater director in the U.S. from 1969-1974 than Sam Peckinpah. He made seven films, ranging from classics (The Wild Bunch) to superior genre pics (The Getaway). And before his career began sliding, he had one more masterpiece in him: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. This is the story of one man's alcohol-fueled journey into dissolution and redemption and a really strange film. Warren Oates plays Benny, a piano player cajoled by a pair of men into finding Alfredo's head. See, Alfredo impregnated the daughter of a vicious landowner, and now he wants him dead. But this isn't really what the film is about. It's more about Benny, and how his journey costs him everything. Warren Oates is wonderful as Benny, and there are some great darkly comic moments between him and the head. And this is one of Michael Medved's 50 worst movies of all time - what more of a recommendation do you require? Seriously, this is a great film.
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Full Contact (1992)
10/10
An adrenaline-fueled action classic
26 February 2000
This is simply a great flick. It's one of the Hong Kong action films that is more popular here than in Southeast Asia, quite possibly because it undercuts all expectations, especially with the screen image of Chow Yun Fat. Chow doesn't play his usual suave or debonair type of character. In this film, he plays Jeff, a bouncer at a nightclub recruited into a heist by a friend. During the heist there is a doublecross, and Jeff is left for dead. To a soundtrack of late 80s heavy metal, he recuperates and seeks vengeance. It sounds simple enough, but the style and acting carry it far above its story. Chow Yun Fat is relentlessly cool in this film, playing a guy who will not be stopped at any cost. Anthony Wong is great, as usual, playing Chow's cowardly friend. But the movie really belongs to Simon Yam, who plays Judge, a doublecrossing, psychopathic, homosexual mob boss. He's also quite handy with a knife, as several scenes show. This is one of the most entertaining films I have ever seen - a pure rush of energy, and an action film executed by a genius of the genre.
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10/10
Beautiful
26 February 2000
A wonderful film about love, spirituality, and loneliness, Wings of Desire is a great work of art. Bruno Ganz gives a typically great and sad-faced performance as an angel who considers leaving his "job" after he falls in love with a human. That description just doesn't do the film justice, however, as one has to sit back and be spellbound by the stunning photography, wonderful acting, and poetic voiceovers. It's a film that really captures Cold War Germany quite well, though it has a resonance that crosses all boundaries, geographical and spiritual.
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9/10
One of the most tense films ever made
26 February 2000
If there's one element that keeps this film going it's tension. After we are introduced to the characters in the setting of the small South American village, the film turns into one of the most gripping adventure stories ever. There's a scene where the characters have to get a rock out of the road in front of them that is so tense I was literally white-knuckled. This film will inevitably be compared to the remake by William Friedkin, Sorceror. That is an inferior film, if only because it has a very clunky sets of character introductions and relies too much on the physical mechanics of the journey and not the characters. The Wages of Fear is all about the characters and the situations that arise due to their greed and hubris. Perhaps the most chilling scene of all is a decision Yves Montand's character has to make while driving across an oily pond. It's scene like that one that make the film great. This is Clouzot's best film in my opinion, just edging out Diabolique. Find it and see it.
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7/10
One of the most innovative films ever
26 February 2000
This is a film that I think is regarded as a classic more for its influence than for its quality or watchability. I do think it is a good film, but I've seen it ranked at or near the top of many film polls, and I don't see why. Since personally I don't rank films on their status as innovative works or on their historical importance. That's for the scholars and film historians. My take on it is this - there are gripping scenes, rather incredible use of editing and structure, and a good use of music to pump up the story. But it's also very much a propaganda film, it's very cold (despite the baby carriage), and I don't find it all that affecting. It is undeniably a film of great importance, but I don't think it's as great as the polls make it out to be. But everyone should see it at least once.
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Medium Cool (1969)
8/10
A film that blurs reality and fiction like no other...
25 February 2000
This is really a pretty remarkable film. As a story, it's fairly interesting - a callous TV news cameraman softens in the face of the political turmoil of 1968, and falls in love with a widow. But cinematically, it's a tour de force. The most thrilling portion of this film is the scenes shot on location in Chicago's Grant Park, while the protesters outside the Democratic convention are beaten back by a brutal force of Chicago police officers and National Guardsmen. The part that sticks out in my mind is where the tear gas starts to explode, and we can hear someone say "Watch out, it's real!" At this point, the film turns into something else entirely. The story of the reporter is pushed to the background, and the examination of fact vs. fiction is pushed to the forefront. This is one of the most daring films ever released by a major studio - it almost completely dispenses with narrative convention 2/3 of the way in, and becomes a gripping experimental film. It's not perfect; it does take awhile to get going, for one. But once it gets rolling, this is riveting and chilling.
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Weekend (1967)
9/10
A satire of destruction
25 February 2000
This film put me off the first time I saw it, probably because of the way it falls apart structurally and turns into something else completely. After a few more viewings I think this film is a near-masterpiece. The story of a couple's weekend trip to the country.....actually that's all wrong. It starts out like that, but before long the couple is in an apocalyptic wasteland in the French countryside. Bloody car accidents, death, band of guerrillas, etc. A truly experimental and visionary political manifesto of sorts. This is the film where Godard really broke free from all narrative constraints and started to do his own thing. I still think the man himself can be a bit of a pompous jerk (like when he expressed his disgust at the route fellow New Wave filmmaker Francois Truffaut had chosen to go), but he is also a great filmmaker.
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9/10
Mind-blowing and shocking
23 February 2000
There have been many documentaries that I have seen in which it appeared that the law was on the wrong side of the fence - The Thin Blue Line and Paradise Lost come to mind first and foremost. But this is the first film that had me seething with anger after I saw it. It seems blatantly clear to me from the evidence presented in this film that what happened at Waco was at the very least an unprofessional and sloppy mess on the part of the FBI and AFI, and at the very worst an act of murder. Like most people, when the siege at Waco was occurring I assumed that David Koresh was a completely evil madman who was leading a violent cult. After seeing this, I think that Koresh was more likely a slightly unbalanced and confused guy who inadvertently caught the attention of the U.S. government through his eccentric actions. Sure, there were lots of weapons at the Branch Davidian compound. But none of it was illegal. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the video footage of the people inside the compound, all of them seeming to be very nice and harmless. And it was angering to see the callous testimony of the men in charge of the government forces on the Waco site, the clueless testimony of Janet Reno, and the partisan defense of the attack on Waco, a defense led by a few of the committee Democrats. Standing out most in my mind was NY representative and current U.S. senator from NY Charles Schumer. I voted for the man when I lived in NY state - I'm a Democrat, pretty left-leaning too. After seeing his actions on this committee, I wish I could go back in time and vote for D'Amato instead! For anyone remotely interested in the government, this is a very crucial film, a must see. I even think this should be shown in classes - it's that important.
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Event Horizon (1997)
7/10
Terrifying and bloody film that loses its way
23 February 2000
Event Horizon is a film that I think has been unfairly bashed, though it does have some bad moments. Basically it takes elements of films like Solaris and novels like Rendezvous with Rama and uses them in a pulpy, B-movie horror film kinda way. This isn't necessarily good, since the film ultimately cops out on its initial instincts. After a very creey first half that promises so much, the film doesn't ever really deliver. The problem with this film, as with many horror films, is that the film loses its power once the unknown terrifying presence manifests itself. Upt to that point Event Horizon is suitably powerful as a horror film. And even after it flies off the rails and starts to resolve its situation in typical fashion, it's entertaining. This gets a 7/10 from me - for horror fans this is one to check out. It's not at the level of Solaris, but it stands well on its own.
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8/10
A gripping thriller
23 February 2000
A very intelligent and exciting thriller that doesn't rely on action but on situation, which is all to rare these days. I would compare this film to The Day of the Jackal, another film about the pursuit of a dangerous international criminal. The acting across the board is superlative - Aidan Quinn has a tricky double role as the vicious terrorist Carlos and as the Navy man who impersonates him. Donald Sutherland plays the amoral CIA agent who hires him. Ben Kingsley plays the Israeli officer who assists in the plan. This is a very tense and effective film, and it's remarkable considering just how little action there is in it. The first half of the film is all set-up, as the Navy man prepares to impersonate Carlos. The second half is a breathless actioner, the action coming out of the characters and their situations, thus making it all the more gripping. A really tight film that shouldn't be overlooked.
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Affliction (1997)
9/10
Tough and powerful drama
23 February 2000
Paul Schrader's uncompromising drama about one man's descent into madness, Affliction is a film on par with the more celebrated Russell Banks adaptation The Sweet Hereafter. In many ways it might be better - the performances by Nick Nolte and James Coburn are so phenomenal that they might push this film slightly above Atom Egoyan's film in my mind. The only problem with this film might be the flashbacks, which don't quite work as well as they should. But aside from that, I think this is a wonderful film. Nick Nolte should have won the Oscar for so fully embodying a man driven to the edge by alcohol, his family, and his own inability to control his anger and paranoia. James Coburn deserved the Oscar he won for his terrifying portrayal of a cruel and abusive man, and watching him we understand why Schrader said he needed an actor who could convincingly terrify a character played by Nick Nolte. Check this film out.
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8/10
Gripping and surprisingly intelligent
23 February 2000
A vast improvement over Harrison Ford's first outing as Jack Ryan, Clear and Present Danger is a tightly plotted and tension-filled thriller that exceeds all expectations. Unlike Patriot Games, this film relies on intrigue more than action. Much of the action involves bureaucratic decision-making, which sounds dull but is in this film quite riveting. The action, when it does come, is very powerful. The ambush of the FBI motorcade in Colombia is a remarkable action scene - there are few action scenes that come to mind that are this tense and affecting. Harrison Ford is good as Ryan, though Willem Dafoe and Henry Czerny steal the film. Czerny plays a cold-hearted bureaucrat better than anyone who comes to mind, and he's terrific in this film. Much credit much go to director Philip Noyce for his work here. Unfortunately the film falls apart in the end, and the villainous advisor to the Colombian drug dealer is a fairly weak adversary. But this film is still very worthwhile and better than almost any other action film you're likely to see come down the Hollywood conveyor belt. 8/10
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7/10
Above average Hong Kong action pic
23 February 2000
To compare this film to the classics like The Killer or Beast Cops is unfair. This is more of a gritty drama than an action film, despite my one line summary.

This film has a few great elements going for it. The performances are quite good, especially Anthony Wong as the gangster pursued by Danny Lee (in another fine performance as a harried police inspector). Kirk Wong does a fine job on this film again - he seems to be in many ways like a Hong Kong version of Sidney Lumet. Both are obsessed with the police system, and this film is the one that illustrates that the most. This is not quite as good as the excellent Jackie Chan film Crime Story, which Wong also directed, but it's one to check out if you're a fan of Hong Kong films. Just don't expect the pyrotechnics of a John Woo film or the quirkiness of Gordon Chan and Dante Lam's Beast Cops. This is a very straightforward police procedural, boiled down to its purest essence.
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You Seng (1993)
7/10
Beautifully directed
23 February 2000
Though a little slow at times, Clara Law's Temptation of a Monk is a beautiful and well-acted epic, at times achieving a Kurosawa-esque level of stunning imagery and battle scenes. Joan Chen has two roles, one as a vibrant princess the other as a mysterious assassin. She is very good in both roles. This film is not perfect. The story ultimately doesn't go anywhere, for one. I must recommend it on the basis of its sheer beauty, however. And one battle scene in particular is terrifyingly beautiful. For fans of Kurosawa this is worth seeing. Others might grow restless, though.
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The Third Man (1949)
10/10
Resonant and beautiful
23 February 2000
Probably the best espionage thriller ever made, The Third Man has virtually everything going for it. Tremendous and appropriately stylish direction, astounding acting across the board, a great sense of humor, wonderful dialogue, and a great sense of sadness and loneliness that lends the story a great deal of weight. The opening scenes, quickly establishing the setting and danger, are masterful examples of tight and minimal exposition. And the ending is perfect - sad and cynical in just the right way. It's the best possible ending to one of the most flawless films ever committed to celluloid.
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Las Hurdes (1933)
10/10
Brilliant and decades ahead of its time.
23 February 2000
One of the most disturbingly hysterical films I've ever seen, Las Hurdes is Luis Bunuel's "documentary" about the people in a poor third world country. It's amazing how far ahead of its time this film was; before the concept of the mock documentary was even thought of in the U.S., this film had been around for years. I won't say too much about it, other than the scenes with the dying infant and the goat falling off the cliff are two of the funniest things I've ever seen. It's a very dark comedy, you see....if you can find it, check it out.
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Fireworks (1997)
10/10
Kitano's masterpiece
22 February 2000
Takeshi Kitano has made some great films before, but everything made before this film flows down to Fireworks, which takes the best elements of his earlier works and combines them into this stunning, touching, surprisingly hilarious tale about an ex-cop's attempt to finance a final vacation with his dying wife through a bank robbery. It's all pulled off in Kitano's usual minimalist style, alternating shocking violence with moments of quiet subtlety and humor. Kitano's direction and acting are the best work he's done yet, and the supporting cast is first-rate. I can't forget this film - a haunting and poetic work by one of the great directors working today.
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9/10
A film that captures the soul of jazz
22 February 2000
The one thing I remember about this film is Dexter Gordon's voice. Weary, sad, and wry. It's a voice that has played a lot of sad songs and smoked a lot of cigarettes, and it's a beautiful instrument in its own way. Gordon plays Dale Turner, an expatriate jazz musician in Paris and a recovering heroin addict. This film is the story of his time in Paris and his eventual return to New York City. This film slightly parallels Gordon's own life - he too was a former heroin addict who spent much of his career in Paris, eventually returning home to New York City. A very touching and lovely ode to the beauty of jazz music, and a film that gave Dexter Gordon a deserved career comeback late in his life. Not to be missed.
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