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Where the Trail Ends (2012)
Amazing scenery, but what a bunch of whiners.
This doc is beautifully shot and well put together. It's full of gorgeous scenery from all over the world. The culture they experience is interesting and real, and the stunts they do are indeed death-defying.
BUT, these guys are seriously the most self-entitled whiny babies I've ever seen in a documentary. It starts out with a really impressive run up a major river in British Columbia, but quickly degenerates when one of the riders starts complaining that Nepal "sucks" because the dirt is different. Another literally throws a temper tantrum and trashes his bike because he can't do a trick among the gorgeous red rock mesas of Utah. In China, one of them hurts himself and has to go see a doctor for what amounts to a few scratches and getting the wind knocked out of him, taking time away from locals who likely have real problems.
These guys are sponsored to ride all over the world, get to see some of the most beautiful and untouched sights any human has ever seen, go to places most people will never see in their lifetimes all expenses paid, and ride their bikes down incredible landscapes, yet none of them appreciate where they are. All they care about is looking good and doing tricks, and whenever the slightest thing goes wrong they annoyingly bring down the upbeat feel of the doc by whining about it like it's the end of the world. It ruins an otherwise impressive documentary.
Well made by the filmmakers, but full of people I'd want to punch if I ever met them.
The Last Dragon (1985)
Revels in its cheesiness
This is probably one of the campiest, corniest, cheesiest movies I have ever seen in my life... but the movie is extremely aware of that fact, and LOVES it. It is at the same time a spoof of kung-fu films, a direct homage to them, an 80s cheese-fest, and a self-referential comedy all in one.
You don't just give a guy giant shoulder pads, sunglasses with mini-blinds instead of dark lenses, and call him "The Shogun of Harlem" without being a little tongue-in-cheek about it.
This movie is hilarious when viewed as a parody film that pretends to take itself seriously. It's brilliant satire and cashes in on nearly every 1980s cliché I can think of. But if you're looking for a serious martial arts action flick, look elsewhere.
Fun, but the director makes some odd choices
Tweaked a little bit, 'Nothing' could be a children's film. It's a very clever concept, touches upon some interesting metaphysical themes, and goes against pretty much every Hollywood convention you can think of...what goes against everything more than, literally, "nothing"? Nothing is the story of two friends who wish the world away when everything goes wrong with their lives. All that's left is what they don't hate, and a big empty white space. It's hard to focus a story on just two actors for the majority of your film, especially without any cuts to anything going on outside the plot. It focuses on pretty much one subject, but that's prime Vincenzo Natali territory. If you've seen 'Cube', you know already that he tends to like that type of situation. The "nothing" in this movie is apparently infinite space, but Natali somehow manages to make it somewhat claustrophobic, if only because there's literally nothing else, and nowhere else to go. The actors sell it, although you can tell these guys are friends anyway. Two actors from 'Cube' return here (Worth and Kazan), but are entirely different characters. They change throughout the story, and while they're not the strongest actors in the world, they're at least believable.
The reason I say this could be a children's film under the right tweaks, is because aside from a few f-bombs and a somewhat unnecessary bloody dream sequence, the whimsical and often silly feel of this movie could very much be digested easily by kids. So I find it an odd choice that the writers decided to add some crass language and a small amount of gore, especially considering there isn't very much of it. This could've gotten a PG rating easily had they simply cut a few things out and changed a little dialogue. There is very little objectionable about this film, but just enough to keep parents from wanting their kids to see it. I only say that's a shame because not because I support censorship, but because that may have been the only thing preventing this movie from having wider exposure.
At any rate, this is a reasonably entertaining film, albeit with a few dragged-out scenes. But for literally being about nothing, and focused entirely on two characters and their interactions with absolutely nothing, they do a surprisingly good job for an independent film.
Great ingredients, but nobody mixed the batter.
When you bake a cake, you put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl, mix them all together, and then bake it. If you just have the ingredients and never actually mix them together before baking though, you're not getting a cake. 'Crash', to me, feels like just that; great ingredients, but nobody mixed the batter.
'Crash' has all the elements of a great movie. Great cast, great acting, great dialogue, believable characters and motivations, impressive cinematography, and a good director. But it just didn't quite 'gel' with me. It seemed like it was just a series of vignettes with barely developed characters and story lines, with a bunch of racist overtones to speak a message that's never quite clear.
Most of the characters were stereotypes themselves, nobody *really* redeemed themselves even though the stories made it seem like many of them did, there was never any closure in the majority of the stories, and everything was just a bit too coincidental to seem as realistic as the movie was supposed to be. All of the characters would show up again to affect another character in the story, which would then affect another character. For a movie that's supposed to portray gritty realism, I certainly found myself thinking "What an unlikely coincidence" very often whenever a character would show up again later on for a dramatic third-act plot twist.
I think a TV series with maybe one character's back story focused on per episode (for example, the same format as ABC's "Lost") would've worked better. But there really was never a full, coherent story in this movie, nor was there ever a clear message. It just seemed like they wanted to pack way too much into two hours, and for me, it fell a little flat.
Definitely worth seeing for the fantastic performances (I never knew 'Ludacris' could act, Don Cheadle is excellent, and even Ryan Phillipe surprised me). But to me, it's a movie with a near-perfect body, but no real soul.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Good 'film', terrible 'movie'.
Well made? Sure. Good score, good cinematography, good acting, I'll give it that much. All of the elements of filmmaking were done well, and it was well put together. Mel Gibson is a good director in that respect, because he made things look realistic and presented the subject matter in a believable situation.
That said, as a movie, it was just awful. It's half an hour of setup, then an hour and a half of Jesus getting his holy butt kicked by Romans. How is that a good movie? If this movie were about anybody else getting beaten, whipped, cut, tortured, and killed, I'm confident it would be universally panned by critics and viewers alike. If this movie never happened, and another acclaimed director used an entirely fictional character, had a little plot setup, and then extended torture scenes like this one, people wouldn't be giving it a high rating or saying it was inspirational or deep. That's why I say it's not good as a stand-alone movie.
For another example of historical films, look at 'Braveheart'. Even if it had nothing to do with history (and many will point out that much of it doesn't), it would've been a great movie anyway. But if 'The Passion' had nothing to do with history, people would've hated it.
The fact is, Gibson took advantage of his target audience's willingness to have faith in Jesus, in order to make a lot of money (which he did). I am not a religious person but I have studied world religions all my life, and it seems to me that the Christian faith is supposed to be about loving and respecting one another, not making each other feel guilty and laying blame on other people, especially in the interest of moneymaking. This isn't entertaining cinema, it's borderline snuff. I have a strong stomach and the violence didn't really affect me, but maybe that's the reason why I can see this for what it really is: Pure shock value and capitalizing on people's faith.
Ying xiong (2002)
Beautiful in so many ways
I bought the DVD for HERO as an import from Hong Kong, not knowing what to expect. I had heard several recommendations that the scenery and visuals were gorgeous, but that's about it. I was surprised to find that it actually had a very interesting and engrossing plot as well. The acting was well done, particularly in the portrayals of Flying Snow, Broken Sword, and his servant Moon. The artistic nature of the film is in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (though don't bother comparing the two beyond that, they're completely different entities other than fighting style, which was a different enough concept here to be original), and literally every camera shot and scene is breathtaking. The unsung heroes of this film are really the cinematography team. There is not a single scene where I didn't marvel at the visuals, or commend those behind the film for creating something original and stimulating. At first I thought the plot was simple, until I got further into it and realized that it was much more complex than I imagined. The storytelling is almost a nod to Kurosawa's "Rashomon", changing the nature of the story through different perspectives in flashbacks.
Yes, Jet Li's "Nameless" character was a tad one-dimensional, but in the context of the film, he's *supposed* to be. You end up feeling less for him, and more for the characters that surround him, but I believe that's the entire point of the film; the concept that the character was only as deep as his mission at the start, and how the events that occur within the story lead to changing him at the end. The same could be said for the plot, which is deceptively more than it appears to be at first.
I would fully support a North American release of this film, as I think it's the kind of movie that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
UFO Kidnapped (1983)
Aha! So i DIDN'T imagine this!
I remember telling people for years that there was a show with the cast of You Can't Do That On Television, but they got abducted by aliens and put on a UFO. People were telling me I must have dreamed it or I was thinking of something else, and for some reason nobody else remembered this. I really don't remember much about it myself, but at least now I know I'm not crazy. :)
Road to Perdition (2002)
A modern-day film noir
The first thing that came to mind while viewing Road to Perdition was, some scenes in particular, the film's dark cinematography and theme are very similar to old film noir movies. The way it was shot, I wouldn't be surprised if someone like Tim Burton was the cinematographer. Even in the more light-hearted scenes, there's always a sense of heaviness, and many of the scenes have a dark mood and feel as well as a look. The musical score in the film is excellent, and accents the action and drama perfectly.
That about sums up the style, but as for the story, while somewhat predictable at times, it's still rather gripping and a compelling tale. It's not all dark and dreary, however. There are plenty of lighter, and even funny scenes throughout, mostly focusing on the bond growing between Hanks' character and his son. The acting is superb, and while at first I wasn't sure about Tom Hanks playing a cold-hearted hitman, his talent made me warm up to it very quickly, particularly in showing that Sullivan was compassionate as well. Paul Newman performs in one of the best supporting roles I've seen him in. Jude Law's character is unique and portrayed very well, and I see him strengthening his grasp on what makes a good actor with every film I see him in. Tyler Hoechlin, a new young actor on the scene, is sure to receive more roles after a solid performance as Sullivan's son.
This film, while containing some action, is not for the gunfights-and-explosions crowd that most modern action films appeal to. It is heavy in dialogue and character interaction, but that's what made it worth watching for me; the fact that through every event you see each main character grow. The loose ends are tied up in the denouement, and while the ending is not your typical "good guy wins, rescues the girl, kills the bad guys" ending, is satisfying and fits the theme of the movie wonderfully. Another comment about the way it was shot, the final scenes contain bright background and colors, which is a brilliant juxtaposition to the content of the scenes. I'd say the only downside were a few brief, slow moments throughout the movie, but it seems that those feelings are taken away just as quickly as they set in. An all-around good film, especially those with a longing to see what film noir might look like if the genre were to become popular in cinema again.
Igby Goes Down (2002)
Between this film and "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys", Kieran Culkin has come into his own, instead of just being known as "that Home Alone kid's little brother". Claire Danes also gives perhaps the best performance of her movie life here. The scene between Culkin and Danes that takes place on both sides of a door late in the film is poignant and powerful, and Jeff Goldblum seems as if he was made to play the part of DH. Susan Sarandon is wonderful, and I'm normally not a fan of Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillipe, or Bill Pullman, but each of them delivered in a surprising way. In this film, sometimes facial expressions do just as much as a line can, which is excellently shown in a scene with no dialogue between Goldblum and Peet in a restaurant.
The story of the film isn't what I took to be the main focus of the movie, so much as the characters and their interactions between each other. While I found myself getting involved in the plot, I found myself even more anticipating how the characters acted toward each other.
Some people appear not to have liked this movie because they thought it was a comedy going into it. Don't be fooled, it isn't. The subject matter is often heavy and dramatic. But the dialogue is so laden with great clever lines and witty retorts (mostly by Igby), that one can't help laughing at the frankness of the main character, as well as some of the situations he gets himself into. If you're looking for an epic tale into the human psyche, or a side-splitting comedy, you're not going to find it. But if you want a compelling and powerful story with some Oscar-quality acting performances, check this one out.