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For anyone who's seen `House of Games' or `The Spanish Prisoner', `Heist' will offer nothing new. In the typical David Mamet tradition, we follow the misadventures of con artists and crooks. As usual, we have a tendency to know more about the plot than the characters do.
One reason this movie may be receiving so many negative reviews, is that it's basically a comedy caper. Don't expect to take this one seriously. `The Spanish Prisoner' is so serious it will undoubtedly give you a headache. `House of Games' is comprised completely of wooden acting. `Heist', for me, is a refreshing change of pace.
Just be forewarned: DO NOT TRY TO TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. Although it's not quite a comedy, it is what I would consider a "feel-good" movie. It's both interesting and entertaining, but not necessarily realistic. I have to admit, it does have an amateur feel, but it moves quickly and is fun to watch. Ultimately, I would expect any fan of Mamet to enjoy this installment of the `con-collection'.
The Wicker Man (1973)
THE WICKER MAN
THE WICKER MAN is held in high regard not only as a cult classic, but also a simply great film. It is thrown into the horror category, reveling in bizarre events and an overall anti-Christian theme. While "Rosemary's Baby" is considered the benchmark for believable horror, "The Wicker Man" surely goes one step beyond. In this one, there is not much argument for a disappointing ending. The entire film is not only plausible, but believable. While there are strong elements of comic relief, it is only typical British humor. For anyone on the outside, this film is unrelenting in its gripping seriousness. If you don't catch much humor in Hitchcock, you will definitely see no signs of it here.
In truth, "The Wicker Man" is not really a horror film. It is a murder mystery presented in an ominous, eerie fashion. The story launches its audience into an opposition between two basic religions, Christianity and historical paganism. There seems to be some debate as to which side is victorious in this cold war. Without spoiling anything, I will say that Edward Woodward's Christian sergeant is portrayed as both pious and pathetic. While Christopher Lee and his followers have the role of mindless despicable zombies, constantly hypnotized by their own singing. Apparently, it was the intent of the filmmakers to glamorize paganism while presenting Christianity as feeble. However, this is somewhat ambiguous depending on how you view the film, allowing the story to work well on many different levels, and the message to be accepted by a wide audience.
"The Wicker Man" is overwhelmingly erotic, musical, and ultimately impressive in how it represents paganism in its most basic form. What's horrifying is not the paganism itself, but the fact that this paganism could actually have some momentum in our modern world. The camera-work is remarkable throughout, and the shots are quite stunning. The film exists in two versions: the original long version, and the butchered short version. The original version may be more offensive to Christians, but I think it contains some wonderfully ominous scenes. The music is a bit much, but it's an important character in the film, much like `The Graduate'. Ultimately, every part of this film works together to form an incredibly unified piece. The significant actors and filmmakers went either generally or literally unpaid for their contributions, while, their dedication to a common cause is both obviously needed and strongly appreciated.
(I would agree with the IMDb user rating, the movie feels like an exact 7.5 out of 10.)
Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (2001)
Third time's the charm...
Gran Turismo is now an incredible series, not quite ranking up there with the Mario's or Sonic's, but still genuinely unique. Hearing comments about the game, it was disappointing to learn that the same race tracks are being used for a third time. Also, there are less cars in this installment. This leaves one believing that the only significant changes are in the graphical department. Upon purchasing the game, I was even more disappointed. In Simulation Mode, I needed to buy expensive cars and parts in order to win, but I had to earn all of this money through racing. Worse still, all the races rewarded me with small change and wimpy cars. I was sure I would need cheat codes of some kind to make any progress at all.
However, I stuck with it and used brain power to find races that I was good at, and that paid big rewards for first place wins. This took some testing of several different events, but ultimately it was a much better decision than racing the test tracks over and over just to earn a few grand. I still had to earn the money, but it was much easier and more fun to squeak-by in some of the really big races. After a small eternity, I had only completed 12% of the Sim Mode. As addicting as the game is, it didn't take long before I reached 35%. Just stick with it. As frustrating as the game may appear at first, you really do not have to race the same courses over and over.
As for the courses remaining the same from GT1 and 2, all I know is that they feel completely different. I still have them memorized, but the races take on a whole new meaning now. Everyone is sure to have a few minor complaints here and there, whether in the overall presentation or the limited game options. Sure there are a few shortcomings, but not in the areas that count. The controls are perfect for every style and make of car. The physics are incredibly realistic. When competing in the rally competitions, for example, you can see and feel all four tires responding `independently' as you rumble over the terrain. The graphics too, are astounding. The different locations and times of day truly enhance the fun. The shadows and reflections are worked out with great detail, and the sun itself is angelic through the trees. The replays are a work of art, especially in the "music synchronized" mode, taking full advantage of the PS2 capabilities. Not to mention, every time you earn a car (any car) you will want to keep it in your garage, simply because the graphics are so good. If you don't like a certain car's appearance, just have some fun replacing the wheel design, and improve its overall look.
Finally, GT3 deserves a perfect 10. Although, still having some minor drawbacks, there is just nothing else like it. The game is challenging and addicting. And massive. All of the important areas of the game have only been improved upon. It's a dominant series that just gets better with age. The game is so close to perfect, that GT4 needs to contain some serious changes, or there simply won't be a reason to stop playing GT3........ (10/10)
Rear Window (1954)
Best film of all-time.
This movie is too good for words. I saw Rear Window for the first time as a kid, and it captivated me. It sparked my interest in Hitchcock, classic cinema, black-and-white movies, and something I thought I would always despise, silent films.
While this film is not fast-paced or shocking, it is fun to watch. It is warm and rich with color, humor, and romance. It is truly one of the only movies to really focus on the element of mystery and get the audience involved in the suspense. It is impossible for me to critique it: like most Hitchcock pictures, there is so much going on behind the scenes. Even the in-depth studies on the DVD barely touch the surface on all the wonderful elements which comprise this entertaining film.
A cinematic marvel, Rear Window is primarily a game with a camera. Hitchcock pans from one window to the next and leads us wherever he wants us to go. Although a technical achievement, to me, this movie is simply fun to watch. Critics and audiences will continue to discuss and debate all aspects of this film. Steven Spielberg recently remarked that this movie contains the most suspenseful scene in movie history, and one which will never be outdone. Who am I to disagree? Many directors have tried to copy Hitchcock and without success, but luckily they have all learned from him.
Tool: Salival (2000)
Cool videos, but even better music
This box set from TOOL comes with a music CD and DVD, or VHS tape; but the DVD contains an extra video and is in Dolby 5.1 surround sound. Although the DVD doesn't contain any live material, the CD does.
If you like Aenima or Lateralus, Salival is a welcome addition. The live performances have a supersonic sound quality which easily rivals any live recording. I don't know how they got this kind of quality and production value, but the energy of the performances is mesmerizing. The third track, "Pushit", was re-written specifically for the stage, and it's well worth the price of admission. The packaging concept of the set makes it a great collectors' item, as well.
It is very cool to get the four major videos on DVD, plus a bonus video from "Opiate". Although there are only 3 or 4 great songs on the CD, they provide a new insight into the band, displaying a style that is unique to any of their albums. If you like their long, epic tracks like `Eulogy' and `Lateralus', you won't want to miss this. At this time, no other band out there is this complex and creative.
The only complaints: 1) The DVD is too short, containing only the videos. 2) The CD only has a few songs on it, but at least it clocks-in at close to 70 minutes.
I can't wait for the "Schism" DVD to be released in late 2001; it's their best video so far.
Jui kuen II (1994)
Kicks butt in any language.
I'm not completely convinced that this is this best kung fu movie of all time, but it's definitely in the Top 5. Being somewhat a purist, I was disappointed to see Jackie and others wearing wires in many of the sequences. However, the sheer energy and excitement of the fighting won me over. The use of wires adds to the humor and enhances the nature of the drunken style. It seems like the goal of this movie was to entertain, and it certainly achieves that!
I first saw this movie during the US theater release. I was impressed and bought it as soon as it came out on DVD. However, I was shocked by the lack of a Cantonese audio track. The English dubbing appeared to make the movie seem goofy, not funny, and I was getting sick of it. Eventually, I was able to get the original Hong Kong version on DVD. There are significant differences which make the original better. As expected, the humor level is much milder and not so queer. Also, the US version now seems to lack the ferocity of the original. The Hong Kong version uses the `traditional' low-quality sound effects for the fight sequences. This detracts from the realism, but it's an integral part of defining any true kung fu `classic'. The US version now appears to be more like sparring than fighting because the hits appear much softer. Also, the original musical score was better than the US release. Don't get me wrong: I am not Chinese, nor a student of foreign film -- I'm not even a major Chan fanatic. But, if you have a chance, please see this movie the way it was originally intended. I believe you will appreciate it even more.
Either way, I rate this movie a perfect 10 because I have not yet found a better fighting film.
Body Double (1984)
Stick with Hitchcock
If you've read any reviews of this movie, you know it contains limitless amounts of nudity and excessive gore. While this movie may be entertaining on a basic level, it is simply a bomb on the technical side.
Why? `Body Double' steals way too much from Hitchcock. Paying homage to a director means borrowing certain scenes or techniques. This movie borrows two entire stories. Luckily, De Palma didn't destroy "Vertigo" by copying it exactly.
Is this a B-movie, a spoof, a comedy, or a rip-off? I'm not sure, but it's probably 'all of the above'. I would like to applaud De Palma's efforts to keep the Hitchcockian style alive, but this movie is ultimately just plain bizarre. I would like to take it seriously, but it's not intended to be serious. De Palma is capable of making serious films like "Scarface" and "The Untouchables", but this is not one of them.
It's not easy to create suspense in a cheesy movie like this, and once again the self-heralded "Modern-day Master of Suspense" has failed to do so. Score: 3/10.
If you want to see an erotic thriller, rent `Sea of Love' with Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
A Mere Shadow of a Previous Film
Having seen about thirty (30) of Hitchcock's films, this is the first time I've had any complaints. This film was not bad, but certainly not one of Hitch's best. It was oddly choppy and hard to follow, far too slow, and not mysterious enough. Worst of all, there was NO "shadow" of a doubt. We are lead to believe with 'certainty' that the suspect is the killer! In short, the movie was frustrating for two reasons:
1) The characters seemed oblivious to the plot. There was no chance for any of them to catch a killer. This certainly added to the tension, but not to the realism. There are ways of making suspects talk, but the characters never employed any of them. For me, what should have been suspense, just ended up as frustration. Maybe I'm missing something, but characters have to be intelligent, not just suspicious.
2) Secondly, this movie was way too similar to THE LODGER (1926). Having seen THE LODGER first, it was hard to sit through this one. Both stories involve a suspected merciless killer living in an ordinary family home. The stories are so similar in fact, that they could probably share the same title. Unfortunately, this movie takes something away from THE LODGER, a remarkable first effort and one of Hitch's most intense films. Anyone who views SHADOW prior to LODGER is making a grave mistake. There are just too many similarities for both movies to grab your attention and pull you in.
Alas, I found SHADOW OF A DOUBT to be just average, based on its redundancy. The ending was entertaining, but overall it was hard to watch. Slow at first, with ignorant characters and poor editing, I have to give this one an average score: 6 out of 10. Had this movie been entitled "The Lodger", I would probably bump it up to an 8, taking an average of the two. If you are looking for Hitchcock recommendations, please see REAR WINDOW, VERTIGO, REBECCA, THE ROPE, and THE LODGER. These are my top five. Thanks.