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An Articulate Masterpiece
"Zodiac" may just be the most unlikely great film I have ever seen. It follows police and reporters investigate a killer, told exclusively from the outside. There is no conclusion, there is no insight, there is just police work. The film is told as the facts unfold, we learn things happen when the characters do, the people we are watching are not the ones driving the story. They follow leads, they hit dead ends, they give up. We experience the case from beginning to end.
The violence in the film is minimal and restricted to the very beginning. There is no shoot out, no contrivances, nothing about this movie is phony. That is what makes it so great to watch. It's such a well calculated machine of a rather un-sensational killer. One character even says that more people die in the commute every three months than Zodiac had ever killed. He wrote a few letters and faded into oblivion. That's just what's so interesting about this film. Even after months and years of nothing, the characters pursue the case.
The film is also just a masterwork of the craft. When a promising lead falls short, the film seemingly could end, but Fincher keeps the film running for another hour, always entertaining the whole time. Inventive camera work also works wonders in a few shots including one where Zodiac proves his gun was loaded to a helpless victim. You admire the effort, the research, the time people spent into collecting the case files to give this film a layer that is never seen, but felt through out. In short, this is just a wonderful and respectful handling of material when similar films have been lazy and unremarkable. This film is remarkable.
Usually, if a film series ever reaches a fifth installment, the franchise has long shown strain and popular interest is long gone. 'The Order of The Phoenix' is something of a miracle in several respects. It shows great imagination and no sign of fatigue or lack of ideas despite it being the fourth sequel. This is due almost exclusively to the novel's author. It also offers the audience a delicious peak into the minds of a radically talented writer and director.
A new man behind the camera, and a new man writing the words together tackle a labyrinthine story which is widely considered the most polar of the Potter novels. Some felt it was rich with amazing detail that peered into the young adolescent lives of its heroes. Others felt it was superfluous for the sake of being superfluous. One way or another, David Yates has created one fantastic film! Michael Goldenberg's script has somehow found a way to string together everything that makes the novel so terrific, while also weaving through the multiple bulky elements. He managed to explore certain characters and revelations while dealing with the constructs of film time limits. He condenses story elements wonderfully, but does so in a way that would please even the most die had of Potter fans. This is an Oscar caliber piece of writing.
Director David Yates also brings the best out of the actors, and gleefully dances through what should have been the most difficult film in the series so far. He makes it look easy. Consider the first shot in the film. The camera is perched high above an English suburb on the hottest of summer days. Young Harry Potter sits on an eerily staged swing set and a voice over the radio gives some small detail without too much information. Deep isolation rests in his eyes. We know he is a wizard. We know he can do great things. However, he is stuck in a scene from a David Gordon Green movie. This tells us early on that it won't all be about magic and wonderment, but also this character who is still essentially a kid.
Another scene featuring Arthur Weasley, demonstrates Yates' pure enjoyment with his material. Arthur is escorting Harry to The Ministry of Magic using the London underground. He gleefully steps off the escalator and with wide eyes; he enjoys everyone casually traveling to work. Nothing is said in the scene, but its message of character could not be more clear: he is in love with his surroundings. In Chris Columbus's hands there surly should have been a fake sounding monologue, but Yates assumes his audience is smarter than that.
New cast members also help bring about the very best from the story. Academy Award nominee Imelda Staunton is so perfect as Dolores Umbridge that it is nearly distracting, and Evanna Lynch gets many of the film's laughs as the ecstatically spacey Luna Lovegood. It's still Radcliff's show as Harry, and for the first time in the series he truly commands the screen, depending less on his wonderful supporting cast.
It's true the film is darker and less focused on the magical aspects in Harry's life, but at the same time it perfectly shows his desperation and the uncertainty of some very troubled times. You could say this is an allegory for our world, but that would be cheap. The fans of Harry are growing and so is he. The films in tern are also becoming more adult. There are no longer any of the "gee, I'm a wizard" moments, but now they are starting to realize that it will get a whole lot darker before it becomes bright.
The film never snags along the way, and when it concludes 2 hours and 20 minutes after it started, you get the feeling you have seen something great. Too much more, and the film would have been overlong. Removing any more, and it wouldn't have captured the essence of the work. The film finds its rut in a wonderful place of cinema heaven where talent is beaming ever so bright. No longer can the fans have word for word translations into film, but instead they will have to appreciate well planned and constructed movies, this may please adults more than children. 'The Order of the Phoenix' is truly a wonder of film-making, and represents what would be the best Potter film by far, had it not been for Alfonso Cuaron's 'The Prisoner of Azkaban.'
4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Too Casual...Too Bad
Only two years after the disastrous "Fantastic Four", Tim Story gives us the follow up story about the collection of friends who became a crime fighting force. The original was released in the wake of such great comic cinema such as "Batman Begins" and "Sin City", where the directors handled the material with a sincere tone and delicate, old-fashioned story telling techniques. "Fantastic Four" did not. Tim Story pieced together a rather pedestrian effort of a beloved comic. I considered it the worst film of 2005.
This film has a distinct advantage of having The Silver Surfer, a very recognizable, but seldom known character, who could have brought a menacing feel much needed in the first one. The result is something not nearly as bad as the original, but still lacking in terms of effective entertainment.
The movie begins with the Four, and The wedding of Sue and Reed. The wedding has been constantly postponed, and Sue desperately wants to have a normal life away from the constant media attention they receive. (I do like the audacity of a character who calls E! entertainment TV "garbage". Biting the hand that fees indeed). Something that didn't work in the original and it still doesn't work here, the group is generally bored with their powers and feels they are much more a curse than a blessing. Unlike The Hulk who has no control over his powers, and is genuinely cursed by them, the Fantastic Four can turn invisible at will, and stretch any body part to their desired lengths. It's a mystery why they do not embrace their abilities, and feel limited by them.
Reed and Sue (Played by the very wooden Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba) are constantly sulking or complaining about the postponement of their wedding day (gee, you wonder if it will be postponed again) and are the straight characters of the bunch. Johnny (Chris Evans) is then the comedic character of the four, but never really offers any comedic moments that are too memorable. A groaning Michael Chiklis mails in another performance as The Thing, and proves that under four inches of foam rock, you may have a hard time creating a complete character.
The film's opening groans with sitcom-esquire moments of domestic problems involving superheroes that is done horrible wrong. It can be done right though, (See Brad Bird's "The Incredibles"). In another dastardly cliché moment, the straight laced husband to be, reluctantly attends his bachelor party thrown by his brother in law. He warns "No exotic dancers!". You can see where that is going a mile away. Do you think his fiancée will enter the party as he boogies down with a few hotties? I don't want to ruin anything.
All the while The Silver Surfer terrorizes the world, digging huge craters and freezing places that shouldn't be frozen. Actually his freezing ability never goes past the first five minutes, and you begin to wonder why it wasn't used more. He plans on destroying the world in only a manner of days, and he can not be stopped. The government asks for The Fantastic Four's help, and in my opinion, we have a pretty neat set up.
The problem with this material is that it is handled in the same way that the first film handled its material. It's far too casual in tone. The Surfer is also downplayed significantly. His true abilities are never fully explained, and if they had been, it would add tension and a complete menace to the character. Instead he hurriedly explains his motives, and at a rather odd time in the story. Johnny also seems far more concerned with a potential breakup in the group, or why a military babe doesn't express interest in him. He and The Thing hang out in a bar, shoot some darts, and slightly wonder what the end of the world will be like. I'd be a little more freaked.
With a little more dread, tightening of the tone, and giving the chance for the "Villain" to breathe, this could have been an explosive battle to save the planet, but instead comes off as if they aren't too concerned with the world's end. The appearance of Vick Von Doom adds nothing and is really not very interesting to watch. The finale is exciting in points, when you are not too distracted by their amazing ability to span the globe in seconds. There is also the potential death of a character late in the film. This has been done dozens of times, and excites no real emotions. Will the Four stay together? Will they learn to act like a team for the sake of the World? Will Sue and Reed ever get married? If you have seen any other lazily written film, you will know the answers.
It's not a terrible film, and has improved vastly over the first. This is mainly due to the basic plot outlined in the comics. The cast doesn't seem to be pushing it either. Alba (who looks nothing like Jessica Alba by the way) is one horribly untalented actress and Gruffudd is one of the least charismatic leading men in the movies. The production dates show that these were made quickly, maybe some more time and development could have helped. The filmmakers are mainly to blame though. They were given a good story on a silver plate (hehe) yet produced what we have here. It proves that better ingredients can not elevate the abilities of a crummy cook.
The Departed (2006)
The Masterpiece of this decade
Every decade since the 1970's, American cinema has been blessed with a distinct masterpiece from a master director. This director is of course Martin Scorsese and his films are "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", and "Goodfellas." Since the dawn of this new millennium, fans of the screen have awaited the Marty film that would define the decade and join these three masterpieces as the crown jewels of his career.
In 2002 "Gangs of New York" represented a director who tried to gain the wind back in his sails. The result was a satisfyingly uneven, but undeniably good film, headlined by great performances and a beautiful look. Two years later, he swung for the fence with "The Aviator" and it almost made it out of the park. This wonderfully entertaining film represented Marty's latest futile attempt to win the O. At the time, it seemed like a safe bet, but the Academy didn't agree. It wasn't in the league of "Raging Bull" or his other masterpieces, but it seemed that if he didn't get it for "The Aviator" he was going to have to wait for the lifetime achievement award.
It almost seems like the Academy had incredible foresight, for Martin Scorsese has done the impossible. He has added a forth film to his masterpiece collection, and that film is "The Departed." It is not only Martin's finest film in sixteen years; it's also the BEST American FILM OF THE DECADE! Like a genius politician Scorsese surrounds himself with the best. The cast doesn't have a weak spot with DiCaprio giving his finest performance to date , the writing is the finest ever for a Scorsese picture, and Schoomaker's editing continues to demonstrate her pure ecstatic control over the medium. Though, it is still Martin's show and after decades of producing the finest films in the world, he has still not lost his touch. Excitement was felt last year when Peter Jackson's "King Kong" represented the finest remake in the history of Hollywood, but less than a year later, Scorsese owns that title again. If it weren't for his other three films (which are amongst the greatest of all time) this would be Scorsese's masterpiece. But with time, this film will surly join their company.
Miami Vice (2006)
In a disappointing summer....Mann gives us the years BEST film
After seeing countless summer films that were horribly miscalculated, poorly written, and completely free of any originality, the summer of '06 looked like a grisly and forgettable season that would be free of a definitive masterpiece. When sequels like 'Mission Impossible III' and 'X-men 3' failed to capture the spark of their predecessors, and when the abysmally under produced 'Dead Man's Chest' was bestowed on the public, I almost gave up. 'Superman Returns' had the most promise for a memorably great film, yet it lacked in coherent and flowing storytelling, leaving it good, not great.
Then Mann (one of the greatest living directors) took a concept that spelled disaster, and exercised his brilliance. A modern, violent, straightly played update of a campy TV show with a questionable cast and a hard R rating was released, and amazingly, it amazed. Not only was this the summer movie we were all waiting for, but it is the YEARS BEST FILM. I won't go into it, but pay attention to the dialogue, and enjoy the killer soundtrack, the incredible sound design, and the attention to good adult thriller storytelling. After many films that take a campy approach to old television, here we have a respectful update. This is what the show would have been had it been made today... and put on HBO.
The AristoCats (1970)
The Best Traditionally Animated Film Ever!
This is one of my favorite films, ever. The story is just so fantastic and the characters are so good. Unlike the other Disney films of the age, this film never bores the audience. 101 Dalmations, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, they were all good, but lack what we have here. This is funny, creative, and always on target. This movie just has an extra something that you can't learn in books. However, this is not the best animated film ever made. That title belongs to the BRILLIANT Toy Story. But this is a respectable second, immediately followed by The Lady and the Tramp.Just see it and enjoy what one of the cinema's greatest achievements. And by the by, I'm not a little kid, this is for the older audiences wanting to recapture their childhood. An absolute must!
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Simply put: This Is The Greatest Film Ever Made
Everyone knows the story. Or Should I say lack of it. No, sorry, it really only lacks plot. But I have a hard time describing it to people. Sure it's about killers, and drug users, and drug dealers, and rapists, and a boxer, but that doesn't summarize the film up. There is no way to properly sum the movie up for those unfamiliar with it. But I'll try.
Everyone knows there are Three stories. I've always said four. But it's basically about shady people doing shady things. Any other information would be too in depth, and the movie should be seen with no prior knowledge beyond what's above.
I saw this movie clean on my fourteenth birthday. Two days after the films release. As soon as I came out of the theater I knew it was the one. The movie that would hold a place in my heart as the greatest I've ever seen. It still holds that title to this day for me. Everything in it works. The Characters are legendary thanks in part to the brilliant script by Quentin Tarantino. That doesn't even begin to do justice to just how well written this script is. The dialogue is the best you'll ever hear. And I will stand by that statement until the end of time. The characters, like I said, are all pitch perfect. Their concerns, actions, and moments of thought all are ingenious and yes, very originally displayed.
But one thing that gets the short end of the stick in this film is the directing. While I feel it is Tarantino's second best directorial effort (Kill Bill Vol. 2 being the incredible first, in directing only, Pulp Fiction was the better film by far), this movie shows a directorial awareness not usual found in inexperience writer directors. The scene of Lance and the over dose was a Masterstroke. For example, the way the camera holds on the room, where Lance is digging for his "little black medical book". The camera holds on the room, but not on Lance. We (the audience) are outside and can't see him, but can see in parts of the room. The way Mr. Tarantino never cuts away, never looks away, and just holds that one shot of a cluttered room, builds the suspense. We hear Vincent and Trudy speaking in the background, but Quentin holds his one shot. Simply amazing.
Through the years to follow there have been countless imitations of this amazing picture, too many to start naming, but none have ever caught a glisten of what Mr. Tarantino did here. All those directors wanted to be the next big thing in Hollywood, the next crossover sensation r from Indie into Mainstream. None came close. This movie had something the world had never seen before. A pure breathe of fresh air, that most embrace, and many loved. This was at the front of the Miramax wave of sensation, and with out this crown jewel, who knows where they would be today. But this is the kind of movie that gets people excited, that gets them talking, and had the whole country buzzing. Something I wish would happen again to a great film. (I know movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and The Passion of the Christ had everyone talking, but I don't consider those great movies at all) I am truly proud to call this my favorite movie of all time. I hope Mr. Tarantino keeps his flawless resume flawless, and continues to turn out consistently brilliant work.