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Blind Horizon (2003)
I could go on about the plot holes and inexplicable missing elements (like main character motivations!), the thin characters with no real opportunity to develop, a musical score that is off base it is almost funny, and finally a director who clearly is out of his element when not doing music videos.
Note to the director: Scenes, camera movement, and music are supposed to serve the story not become the story.
From reading the comments it looks like the original script had promise (I would say the ideas are interesting and might explain how they were able to attract some name actors) but the leadership of the film obviously did not have any real vision on how to bring all the elements together.
An example of a real bad choice would be the constant use of Middle Eastern influenced vocalizations in a movie that is supposed to be set in Southern New Mexico. Now that is not to put down the actual music, as it is really pretty good own it's on. It just seems to me nobody was questioning the direction of the musical choices.
For me this is a failure by the director. In every major element of the film; from editing, the character choices made by the actors, the score, and the cinematography it is like they all were trying to do there own thing. No one seemed to be insuring that all the oars were rowing in the same direction.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Entertaining but lacks perspective on a subject that deserves better!
I am surprised that anyone would call Michael Moore's films `documentaries' because clearly they are more like multimedia arguments. Even he has admitted that his films are not presenting an objective view of his subject, which in this case is the presidency of George W. Bush. Fahrenheit 911 is what it is; an entertaining, well-constructed multimedia essay on why Michael Moore feels George W. Bush has used the presidency for his own personal agenda.
The facts maybe carefully edited to present one point of view and in some cases are way off the mark but that can be forgiven since Fahrenheit 911 never tries to present itself as anything else. Moore has learned his craft well, given the responses I saw in the audience at my sold out showing of this film. The real question is whether there is any real insight or new ideas and it is here where Mr. Moore has failed. In my humble opinion there is no real content here other than a well-crafted character assassination.
Like all critiques, it easily points the finger but only offers a glimmer of any real solutions. Take for example the scenes of Combat vets of Iraq questioning their purpose with even one Marine Sgt. suggesting he would go AWOL if he were called back to duty. Even during World War II (a war most people would say was justified) you would find Combat Vets who would not want to go back. Clips of disillusioned soldiers and mothers do not add up to an unjust war. To make that kind of judgement you need much greater insight and wider perspective but Michael Moore preys on the same fears he so eloquently charges the government is using on its own people. He uses selective and emotionally charged media images to support his position preying on people's heartstrings and fears to make his argument. This makes him really no better than the subject he chooses to demonize. And this has always been my problem with Moore. I share some of his sensibilities and his witty sense of humour (and this film has some great moments) but where are the ideas? What are the solutions to 9/11 and the Iraqi question?
Clearly, Moore is only really interested in smearing Bush and what about good ol'George W.? I would say that this film has not changed my impression of the man, as I have always thought he was a clown. He is too arrogant given his level of intelligence, ill equipped to be the President of the US, but would a different person in the White House really make a difference in this case? This is the real question worth investigating if Moore had a more objective view. The American Foreign Policy in the Middle East has not changed for decades. I laugh how the 7% investment in the U.S. GDP by the Saudi's is used here as link to the Bush response. That investment would be there even if Bush were not in the Whitehouse. It is that level of investment that has always been the problem. No matter who is the President, protecting those levels of interests is ALWAYS going to be the top of their agenda (as it should be given how much American benefits from that investment). U.S. Foreign Policy has continually looked the other way as these oppressive governments continue to invest their money not in their own people and countries but instead in free market economies where they get a better return. Who reaps the rewards of that? The Middle East Oil Sheiks, American companies who receive that capital and the American people who get jobs and incomes as a result of that investment. How many jobs does that 7% represent? Where would the U.S. Economy be without that 7%
to say that would have a dramatic impact is an understatement. The unanswered question of 9/11 is whether the corporations and people of America are ever going to face up to that truth and represents the real opportunity of Iraq. Only until that questioned is answered can we know if American soldiers sacrifices were in vain. Any argument to the contrary must really have an alternative motive and it is clear what Mr. Moore's is. The real danger here is not the portrayal of the central subject but is in the skill and craftsmanship of the director at creating a compelling but very subjective interpretation of a history which has not had a chance to play out yet.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
Courageous and Groundbreaking War Film
The Thin Red Line is not your traditional war film. By Malick's choice of a more non-linear or anti-plot narrative, he has made a film less accessible to many audiences who often prefer the more traditional antagonist/protagonist multi-act story. This is especially true of a war genre picture where old clichés and story arcs are expected.
It is unfortunate that this film was released the same year as Saving Private Ryan as it led to many comparisons which are really unfair to both films...They are much different in their structure, intention and scope. For me Ryan could not hold the excitement and virtuosity of its first 30 minutes, making any climax unfulfilling. This is not to say the rest of the film is bad, it just could never live up to the high one feels at the start of the film.
To me, the Thin Red Line a much more fulfilling and groundbreaking film, not because it is without flaws because there are many, but because it tries to wrestle with a much broader scope of themes then simply the human perspective from the winning side of a war. Malick instead chooses to not only explore the human reality of war but also the very nature of war.
In this context his choices become much clearer. The characters are not archetypes but instead individual layers of the human exploration of the same question; they are almost one voice in a way. Their motivations are not as important as their natural responses and coping mechanisms to the absurd situations surrounding them. The events and stages of the battles do not build to a climax because there is no climax. Both the weak and the strong die, there are no moral winners and Nature continues.
All this can be unsettling if you come to the theatre expecting a traditional war film but I challenge you to look at this film from a different perspective. It is pretentious at times, for example, I believe the scenes of Travolta and Clooney are in the film to poke fun at the war genre itself. They are very cliché and I think the idea is to show how strange those clichés actually feel against a horrific and realistic war backdrop.
But if you give the film a chance there are very poignant moments where the sound, dialogue, music and images are perfectly combined to create some the most emotional and dramatic war sequences put to film. I for one will never forget the first time I saw the attack on the Japanese Bivouac. In a word, it is absolutely haunting. Also, the film has many layers to unravel for future viewings. I highly recommend you see it in a theatre like setting, as its impact is undeniable.
American Pie 2 (2001)
Variation on a Theme, but Funny none the less.
Sequels tend to only work when the first movie was the first act of a bigger conceptual story. Stories constructed in this fashion are then free to break new ground while improving on the original themes of the first movie.
American Pie II is an exception to that rule. They basically use the same formula to create a fun experience. And while I do not generally like films whose main reason for creation is simply to make more money out of a proven success story, AP2 still delivers enough laughs to merit a trip to the theatre, even if they are the same basic gags in different clothing. So if you liked the first film, put your money down and have a good time for about two hours.
A better movie would have gone further in to the future to really explore the themes the movie tries to deal with, but that would have been too risky for the studio. But who cares...it is still fun.
Wo hu cang long (2000)
Best Movie of 2000
After reading a number of negative comments I felt compelled to add my opinion on why I felt this is the best movie of 2000.
Let us dispel one myth right away; at its core, this is NOT a martial arts film. It is a mythical love story deeply influenced by eastern religion and philosophy. The martial arts sequences are not fight scenes but instead physical representations of the feelings and emotional tension of the characters. They are more synonymous with dance then combat.
So why martial arts? The moviemakers made an intelligent choice in using the framework of a standard martial arts story to tell their intended tale, as it makes the film more familiar and less foreign to Westerners by using the only feature most North Americans understand of Eastern culture. But the martial arts are really used as a red herring, making the film more approachable to audiences while setting them up to insightful commentaries (both negative and positive) on eastern society and culture notwithstanding themes about the overall human condition.
Many critics focus their attention on the universal plot and script that seems very simple and shallow. But like Beethoven's 5th, this plot is much more than four simple notes. It is clear that the script was carefully constructed and contained many subtle layers that required many viewings for me to grasp. Also, unlike many modern films that treat us like children, no firm conclusions were given, only subtle questions about human love, sacrifice, honour, discipline, sense of purpose, our individual place in society, and faith are all authentically explored within a Chinese context, which made it both interesting and entertaining. The audience is left to draw their own conclusions about the films central themes though there were some modest messages the filmmakers wanted to communicate.
The acting was subtle and understated, and the performances were excellent. If such performances were given by American actors they would have surly garnered much more praise.
Another common criticism is the need for the audience to have had too great a suspension- of-disbelief to make the story credible. Too those I say you only have to look at our own myths to understand that mythical characters are not human. They are human projections (meaning they are flawed like us in other ways) that are given mythical powers to increase their authority to provide moral messages. The fact the main characters can fly is not used as a device to provide more thrilling action sequences but instead is used by the filmmakers with the purpose of separating the main characters from the regular people in the film. Their super human abilities were a sign to us in the audience that we needed to pay attention to these central characters as they convey the main messages of the story.
The final aspect of this film I would like to touch on was its overall use of tone. I think it was exceptional in this movie. The stunning visuals and breathtaking sounds including the musical score and the temper of the dialog create the proper sensory impression. I now understand why Lee used Mandarin Chinese over other forms of Chinese language as its cadence and tone fit perfectly to the story. English especially would have felt out of place. Once you have a great auditory landscape you need to create vivid images and Lee's team were equal to the task. The magnificent cinematography work of Pau combined with the gorgeous and very well chosen Chinese locations gave the film the scale it required. When you add this to the authentic set and costume design you have a very rich atmosphere providing a spectacular canvas to set the epic story against.
Great films like great art communicate complex themes in a simple and non-compromising fashion, yet if looked at from a different perspective you might uncover hidden gems of inspiration. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one such film. I recommend to all those who have written such harsh criticism to take the chance to view the film again, and not concentrate on the obvious literal layer, but instead try to understand the underlying purpose of each shot, each piece of dialog...because in those carefully planned collection of moments I am sure you will find a story worthy of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Welle's Citizen Kane, Coppola's Godfather etc.
A film with a split personality that keeps it from greatness.
Every once and awhile a film comes along that is so promising that it can actually disappoint you more than a really bad film. Ronin is one such movie. John Frankenheimer cannot decide if he is making an action movie or a realistic espionage suspense thriller. A James Bond film or Mission Impossible at least knows what it is trying to be; the same cannot be said for Ronin.
What starts out as a promising character study and a rare glimpse at the real workings of the intelligence underworld turns in to a mindless and confused action movie.
The scripts premise about the lost, abandoned and directionless professionals of espionage who are now reduced to working for money is both intriguing and interesting. At a number of points in the film themes around this central story arc work well, but the Hollywood action sequences work against the script contrasting dramatically the realism presented so well in the more grittier scenes of the movie. The use of the analogous `47 Samurai' myth from Feudal Japan is especially hurt by the contradiction of action and realistic human drama.
The acting performances almost save the film with some great chemistry between DeNiro and Reno, combined with an excellent supporting cast including some great cameos (Look for appearance by Michael Lonsdale and Jan Triska). Even Sean Bean pulled off his role, properly displaying the necessary over the top tendencies of his character.
The action sequences of the film are technically excellent but are unbelievable in the context of the story and are the ultimate downfall of the overall film. Too many times car chases go on for too long, explosions are too big and public gunfights take place too often. They reek of Studio interference in pursuit of big box office. The unfortunate thing is I believe they would have had an even bigger hit if they stayed the course. Current movie audiences reward intelligence or escapism, but you can't have both. So in the interest of trying to create an intelligent Bond/Mission Impossible film they instead made a film that people are not sure what to think of. Some give them credit for at least trying to create a reasonably smart spy flick, some concentrate on the excellent action sequences but most are left confused seeing so much potential wasted.