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Sunset Boulevard is universally acclaimed. It is one of those films
which if you dare suggest it is not among the greatest films ever made
people think you're an idiot. Well, at the risk of being labeled an
idiot, Sunset Boulevard is not among the greatest films ever made. It
is a good film, certainly captivating in its own unique, macabre way.
But is a film for which reputation outstrips reality.
Most everyone is familiar with the story of Sunset Boulevard, that of faded silent film star Norma Desmond. The faded star lives in an equally faded mansion, plotting a comeback which is far-fetched to say the least. Failing screenwriter Joe Gillis stumbles into Norma's bizarre world and, at the price of his dignity, feeds her delusions. A man's gotta make a living and Joe will make his by brushing up the godawful script Norma has written as her comeback vehicle. Joe will soon realize Norma wants him as more than a script doctor. He is to be her lover, a kept man living in her grotesque mansion, surrounded by the relics of Norma's past, reminders of a life which for her is gone forever. Of course in her deluded mind Norma is just as big a star as she ever was. It's the pictures that got small.
Gloria Swanson turns in a performance for the ages. Her portrayal of Norma does match the hype, even if the film as a whole may not. The descent into madness is breathtaking to watch. Yes, Swanson is a little over-the-top at times but that is who Norma is. Especially as Norma begins to lose all touch with reality. William Holden, playing Joe, is not bad but certainly not up to the level of Swanson. Joe is a bit of a dry character, he could use some more personality. Holden doesn't make him into as much of a presence as he really needs to be for the film to truly grab you. Erich von Stroheim, playing Norma's ever-faithful butler Max, does have a presence, a quite ominous one. But as we learn more about the character Max becomes less ominous and more sad. It's a sad world Norma Desmond lives in and that sadness grabs everyone who falls under her sway. Joe knows he has to escape. He tries to find happiness with beautiful young Betty Schaefer, with whom he secretly works on a script. But nobody escapes Norma Desmond easily.
All in all Sunset Boulevard tells a very sad tale, centered around the quite pitiable Norma Desmond. Norma longs for a world which is forever gone. She won't accept it and nobody will try to make her do so. Max, her only companion before Joe shows up, allows Norma to live in her fantasy world. She retreats so far into her fantasy there is no way back to reality. Norma cannot be saved. She has lost her mind. And despite the fact she does some truly loathsome things you can't help but feel sorry for her. For you saw those moments where the old Norma Desmond shined through, where you could see her for the great star she once was. But those moments are fleeting and ultimately those moments are gone. Only a sad, pathetic shell of Norma Desmond remains. It's a sad journey the character takes, a journey Swanson captures ever so well. You just wish the rest of the film was up to Swanson's standard. Holden can't quite match her. Nancy Olson brings a desperately needed breath of fresh air to the film in playing Betty but the romance between Betty and Joe never fully sparks to life. von Stroheim is memorable in his own way but his character is ultimately almost as sad as Norma. So much sadness in this film. Sunset Boulevard has a captivating story to tell but in the end maybe there is a little too much sadness. And madness. By the end it veers dangerously close to parody. There is much to appreciate about the film but to label it as one of the greatest films ever is to give it more praise than it deserves. It is a good film to be sure. But perhaps upon close examination Sunset Boulevard is not quite ready for its closeup.
Couples Retreat is just not funny. There's really not much more that needs to be said. If a comedy film is not funny the film is a failure. And this is one miserable failure. Eight friends, four couples, end up at a tropical couples therapy resort. Hilarity does not ensue. There is a tiny hint of promise in the opening scenes as the story sets itself up, with one of the couples badgering the rest of their friends to go on the trip. But once we get to the resort the movie completely falls apart. Over the final 90 minutes nothing funny happens. Literally nothing. Some of the failed attempts at humor are so bad they are cringe-inducing. It is uncomfortable to watch. The film is desperate for laughs, it tries anything and everything and none of it works. Absolutely excruciating. Vince Vaughn seems incredibly bored. Jon Favreau plays a character who is a thoroughly detestable boor. Favreau was actually the lead writer of this mess of a movie, why did he write himself such a miserable character? The nicest thing you can say about anyone involved in the movie is that Jason Bateman and Faizon Love are reasonably decent. The women in the movie are completely wasted, there is nothing memorable or interesting about any of their characters. The supporting cast, headed by Jean Reno, gets no laughs. Not even a chuckle. This is an absolutely painful movie to sit through. Few comedies have ever missed the mark as completely as this one.
Ellen Ripley is back for another Alien adventure. Kindly ignore the
fact that when last we saw her Ripley was quite dead. How to continue a
franchise when you've killed off your star? Cloning of course. Duh. So
200 years after her demise Ripley is back, the military having cloned
her because they want the Alien queen that was inside her when she
died. You think the military would have learned better by now than to
try to harness these Alien killing machines. But of course had they
learned their lesson there would be no movie. And the studio wanted to
make some easy cash off another Alien movie so here we are. After the
disaster that was Alien³ the franchise should have been allowed to die.
This movie is slightly better than the last but that's not saying much.
Enough is enough.
As ever with this franchise Sigourney Weaver is the best thing about this film. Another strong performance as she portrays a strong heroine. And this time there's a little mystery to Ripley, with the cloning process she's got some Alien blood mixed up inside her. That raises some interesting issues. Indeed the first part of this film does show some promise as we get to know this new Ripley. But it devolves rather quickly. It turns into just another rehash. Aliens attack, blood and gore, repeat as necessary. We've seen all this before and quite frankly we've seen more than enough of it. The story does have a few new twists as it moves towards the finish. But by the time the "big" moments come you'll probably have lost interest. Weaver gets very little support. Winona Ryder is the big co-star here and she's all wrong for this movie. Sci-fi action is not her thing. The only other actor who stands out at all is Ron Perlman. Unfortunately he only stands out because of how annoying his character is. Reminiscent of Bill Paxton in Aliens. Perlman isn't quite as annoying as Paxton was but it's close. There aren't enough good things here to make the resurrection of this franchise remotely worthwhile. Let Ripley and the Aliens rest in peace.
Marilyn Monroe lights up the screen in The Asphalt Jungle.
Unfortunately she's only on the screen for around five minutes. And the
rest of the film disappoints. It's a simple heist film. We see the
plotting of the caper, we see the caper take place, we see the
aftermath. None of this is particularly interesting. The caper is
meticulously planned. All that planning doesn't make for much
entertainment, you really wish the film would hurry itself along to
some action. Then the action comes and just as quickly goes. The
execution of the caper has its moments, there is some tension and
drama. But afterwards the drama drains away as we just wait for each
conspirator to meet his fate. The caper was not executed perfectly,
there were some problems. And even more problems await our burglars.
Their little caper seems to have fallen apart. And the movie falls
For a heist film there is very little excitement to be had here. The whole thing is very dry. Sterling Hayden plays Dix, the member of the gang the film ends up focusing on most of all. And Hayden is dry as dry can be, there is no personality or life in the role. In playing Doc, who masterminds the heist, Sam Jaffe is a little more interesting. But he, like everyone else in the film, is encumbered with some rather lousy dialogue. Everything is clipped and clunky and highly unnatural. The third key player is Louis Calhern, playing a lawyer who agrees to finance the caper even though he is actually completely broke. This of course ends up causing all kinds of complications. At least this character brings Monroe into the picture, playing his young mistress. Monroe adds a little spark into the proceedings but it's not nearly enough to salvage the film. The whole last half of the film plods along with a sense of inevitability to it. It turns into a 1950s morality play, look at what happens to dastardly criminals. The one detective we meet in the film is totally corrupt. But that doesn't stop the police commissioner from late on in the film launching into a ridiculously preachy speech about how wonderful the police are. By this point in the film you might be stifling yawns. The film really drags as it heads for the finish. The Asphalt Jungle is a highly regarded film but honestly it is hard to see why. There is very little entertainment on offer in this incredibly overrated film.
Clint Eastwood is good, Lee Van Cleef is bad and Eli Wallach is ugly.
Sorry about that, Eli. Eastwood again plays the Man with No Name whom
we have already seen in A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars
More. Our hero, this time referred to as Blondie, may be "good"
compared to the other two leading characters but having seen the first
two films we know he is not the traditional all-American hero. He's not
all good, he's more complex than that. There's not much complexity to
Angel Eyes, the character played by Van Cleef. This guy is bad to the
bone. Meanwhile Wallach threatens to steal the show. He plays Tuco and
this is a guy who, in an otherwise very quiet movie, never shuts up.
Good, bad and ugly are searching for $200,000 in Confederate gold known
to be buried in a cemetery. It's a very simple plot for a very long
movie but the time flies by. Director Sergio Leone ratchets up the
tension and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The events of this film, unfolding during the Civil War, actually take place prior to the events of the first two films in the Dollars Trilogy. And the war certainly intrudes on the story, causing complications for our characters in their desperate search for that gold. A big war battle scene lends a bit of grandeur that the first two films didn't have. Leone is making a film of much larger scale this time around. But while the war looms over everything this is still a story about our hero and the two companions he would very much like to be rid of. There are great twists and turns as at different times in the movie different members of the trio have the upper hand. Sometimes you're at the top, sometimes you're at the bottom, sometimes you're forced into an unholy alliance with your great adversary. All along the way there is much drama. And along with the drama there is plenty of action too. This is a movie which grabs your attention right at the start and holds it throughout.
Blondie is the nominal hero, making Eastwood the nominal star. And, as already established in the prior two films, Eastwood suits the role perfectly. He's the perfect embodiment of the quiet, cunning, not totally heroic hero. Van Cleef played a good guy, more or less, in For a Few Dollars More. This time around he gets to play a total baddie and he sinks his teeth into the role with great relish. Wallach is a little over-the-top but delightfully so. Tuco is a crazed, maniacal character and Wallach pours his heart into his performance. He brings so much energy to the film. Three great actors, three great characters. Leone could hardly go wrong. And the film has so much more to offer. With breathtaking visuals and a truly memorable score the film both looks and sounds spectacular. Story, actors, cinematography, music. This film is the total package. It is certainly the best of the Dollars Trilogy, this is the Man with No Name's greatest adventure. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is often found on short lists of the greatest films ever made. That kind of acclaim may be overselling things just a touch. But there is no doubt this is a very good film, a thrilling last chapter in the story of one of the most iconic characters to ever grace the screen.
There is much to admire about Interstellar. It is a film with a
thoroughly compelling, thought-provoking story. The visuals are
spectacular, the effects are brilliantly done. The performances are all
quite good. There are moments of great drama, moments of almost
unbearable tension. And there are moments which are genuinely
awe-inspiring. This is a film which can fill you with wonder. So why,
after seeing the film, do I feel a little bit let down? I am left with
the nagging sense that for all the film has going for it Interstellar
just is not entertaining enough. And films are first and foremost meant
to entertain. This is a noble effort from director Christopher Nolan.
He crafted a film which is in many ways quite special. But while you
admire what Nolan accomplished is this a film you want to come back to?
Do you want to see it again and again? Probably not. It lacks that
little spark of entertainment that any film needs to be truly
spectacular, to make you want to come back for more.
Interstellar unfolds in a future where failing crops have led to starvation. There is not enough food to go around. Earth is failing. Widowed former astronaut Cooper, inquisitive young daughter Murph in tow, stumbles upon a top-secret NASA installation which is conveniently located near his home. There he meets Professor Brand, an old mentor of his who is working to save humanity. Not working to save Earth, working to get humankind off Earth. Lots of talk of wormholes and faraway galaxies where man can start again. Brand needs someone to pilot a spaceship to go check out some of these faraway worlds. No prizes for guessing who is soon strapped in for a rocket ride to outer space.
So Cooper takes off on this mission, which comes with the complication that these faraway worlds are really, really far away. Murph is less than pleased that her father is leaving. He promises he'll be back. Of course he does. But of course complications ensue. This mission is a race against time and it is a race Cooper and his crew are losing badly. The fate of humankind hangs in the balance. Heavy stuff. But Cooper just wants to get home to his young daughter. Unfortunately there's the problem of time dilation. There are instances where time on Earth is moving much faster than it does on Cooper's ship and Murph is all grown up and Earth has completely gone to hell and yes this is all a bit confusing. The science in the film is very well worked out but the focus needs to be more on the human drama than the science. There certainly will be plenty of human drama as the story twists and turns through its final act.
This gripping story is performed very well. Matthew McConaughey fits the role of Cooper perfectly. A man determined to save mankind but pained by guilt over what he has left behind. McConaughey portrays the inner turmoil in excellent fashion. Michael Caine provides appropriate gravitas as Professor Brand. Anne Hathaway comes off a little cold in playing Brand's daughter, a biotechnologist who travels with Cooper on the epic journey. But that coldness is really part of the character, no fault of Hathaway. And maybe it's not coldness? Maybe it's a steely determination to see the mission through? Anyway, Hathaway and McConaughey play off one another well. Jessica Chastain doesn't show up until well into the film but when she arrives she makes a great impact. The rest of the cast does solid, and in some cases, quite surprising work. So if this fascinating story is performed so wonderfully why does the film not work quite as well as it should?
The film's story certainly draws you in but there is that sense that the story could have been told in more entertaining fashion. There are times where the story drags. There is an abundance of clunky dialogue. While the science of the film is well thought out there are times the film seems to get lost in the science. Especially near the end there are moments that are just a little too confusing. So wrapped up in the science of what was possible Nolan seems to have lost a bit of his grip on the human story at the heart of the film. Where the film should be rushing to a brilliant climax it gets bogged down in details. Momentum fades away. Interstellar leaves you with a great appreciation for what Nolan attempted. This is bold, brave filmmaking. Unfortunately as entertainment it falls just a touch short. There is so much to admire about the film. It is certainly well worth seeing once. But, even with all the questions it raises, it is not a film you may be eager to revisit.
Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh each
fit their respective roles perfectly. They perform those roles
wonderfully. The story in Sideways is compelling, the scenery is
terrific, there's a lot to recommend the film. But there is no doubt
that it is the performances of the four main players which really make
the film such a success. And there is no doubt that it is indeed a
raging success. It's a film which is funny when it needs to be funny,
serious when it needs to be serious and charming when it needs to be
charming. Director Alexander Payne strikes the right tone throughout.
While all four of the key performers are crucial to the film it is Giamatti who clearly is the focal point here. He plays Miles, whose life is a mess. He's depressed. He's an author who can't get his book published. He's recently divorced and not the least bit over it. He's a wine aficionado whose love for wine veers towards alcoholism. To be blunt, Miles is a loser. But a lovable loser. And that is so important for the film. You identify with Miles, you root for him. Full credit to Giamatti for making that so. Miles is taking his friend Jack, played by Church, on a road trip through California wine country in the week before Jack's wedding. For Miles this trip is about camaraderie and great wine. Jack has other ideas. He's looking for one last great sexual fling. Two women enter the picture. Of course they do. Jack will have his fling with Stephanie, played by Oh. Meanwhile Miles makes a connection with Maya, played by Madsen. Maya is a waitress whom Miles has secretly pined over for quite some time. And why not? She's smart, she's beautiful and she loves wine. Can Miles make his move? Well, let's just say that a smooth operator he is not.
Sideways is a film which definitely holds your attention. You want to see what is going to happen to these characters. Miles may be the focus but the other three leading characters are well developed as well. Each has their own story to tell. And the connections these characters make with one another lead the story down very interesting paths. It is a film which can tug at the heartstrings. There are some very serious moments. But before things can ever get too dark a slapstick comedy moment comes along to put a smile on your face. It is a very finely balanced film, Payne is certainly to be credited for that. The film has a wonderful script, there is so much great dialogue. And the actors do that dialogue justice. Just watching two people sit and talk can be intoxicating, this is never shown more clearly than in a fabulous scene shared by Giamatti and Madsen. They sit outside talking about wine. But what are they really talking about? Subtext is everything. That scene is the best example of the film's subtle genius. What this film presents to you on the surface is excellent. But dig a little deeper and there's so much more there. This is a great film. Lift your glass to salute all involved. But it better not be Merlot in that glass!
Violet Venable had a very close relationship with her son Sebastian.
Too close. Then suddenly, last summer, Sebastian died while vacationing
in Europe with his cousin Catherine. How exactly did Sebastian die? A
heart attack says Violet. But Catherine said something different. Her
obscene babbling, as Violet puts it, about the events of last summer
landed Catherine in a mental institution. And Violet wants that obscene
babbling stopped. She wants Catherine lobotomized, wants those thoughts
cut out of her brain. And with the wealthy Violet willing to make a
large donation to the local mental hospital, financing a whole new
surgical wing, hospital administrator Dr. Hockstader is all too ready
and willing to have a chunk of Catherine's brain cut out. But young Dr.
Cukrowicz, the man who's actually going to be doing the cutting, has
serious reservations. Catherine doesn't seem particularly insane to
him. She now can't remember what happened last summer. But she wants
to. Why is her aunt so desperate to see this surgery performed? Is
Violet looking to have insane thoughts cut out of Catherine's brain? Or
is she looking to remove some horrible, unspeakable truth about
Sebastian before Catherine can remember it?
From the moment we, and Dr. Cukrowicz, meet Violet it is obvious there is something off about this woman. It really doesn't seem like she's all there. Her relationship with her son, as she herself describes it, was rather bizarre. It's all a mystery, everything is unclear. Well, one thing is clear actually. Violet wants Catherine lobotomized and she wants it done now. Why? Dr. Cukrowicz would sure love to find out. When he goes to meet Catherine he doesn't find her to be insane. She's a young woman who went through a traumatic event who now must deal with an aunt who would like to see her turned into a mindless zombie. If only she could remember what really happened last summer. But Violet is not going to let that happen. She's putting the pressure on Dr. Hockstader and the administrator wants his new surgical wing. He wants Dr. Cukrowicz to slice that girl's brain open right now. Time is running out.
Tension really builds as the knife hangs above Catherine's head. Dr. Cukrowicz is a good man who wants to help Catherine. He wants to find the truth. As things progress it becomes more and more obvious that Violet is quite the villain. She wants that truth hidden away forever. If Catherine's brain must be destroyed to accomplish that so be it. It will all come to a head in a gripping, dramatic conclusion. Who will be able to handle the truth? The film is very well performed. Katharine Hepburn creates that air of bizarre mystery around Violet and is suitably cold and villainous as needed. Elizabeth Taylor is excellent as Catherine. She may seem a little over-the-top at times, a bit hysterical. But with Catherine confronted with a lobotomy, and trying to face up to the horrors of what happened with Sebastian, a little hysteria seems appropriate. It's a very strong, powerful performance. And it had to be to match up with Hepburn who, as always, has such a presence about her. Montgomery Clift, in playing Dr. Cukrowicz, has a much less showy part than either of the leading ladies. He has to ground the film a bit and he does so quite well. A desperately needed cool head. The film is a bit talky, there is nothing very cinematic about it. The story's origins as a stage play show up in lengthy monologues which work less well on screen than on stage. But at least those monologues are in capable hands, performed by a pair of legendary actresses who can make the most of the material. Give Clift credit for his contribution but it is clearly Hepburn and Taylor who make the film. Violet or Catherine. Which, if either of them, is truly mad? To know this we must get to the truth of what happened suddenly, last summer. The truth shall set you free? We shall see. This film's journey towards the truth is a very compelling one.
Holly Hunter, without saying a word, turns in a remarkable performance
in The Piano. It's a shame that performance is stuck in such an
unremarkable movie. This is a slow, plodding, grim and quite dull
movie. Hunter creates a compelling character but the movie really has
very little else going for it. The whole thing is rather pretentious.
This is a tough movie to get through.
The story unfolds in the mid-19th century. Hunter plays Ada McGrath, a mute Scotswoman who has been sold into an arranged marriage to a New Zealander, Alisdair Stewart. So after a long journey Ada comes ashore in New Zealand. She brings two very important things with her. Her young daughter, Flora. And her piano. Playing the piano is the way this woman who cannot speak expresses herself. She pours her heart into her piano playing. So suffice to say her relationship with Alisdair gets off to quite a rocky start when he decides he can't be bothered transporting the piano to his home and leaves it to rot on the beach. This is not going to be a happy marriage.
Alisdair ends up selling the piano, which mind you isn't even his, to his neighbor George Baines. Ada is of course enraged. Further enraged when Alisdair orders her to give George piano lessons. George is a very simple man. He can't read. He has adopted many of the local Maori customs, including tattooing his face. Why does this crude man want to learn how to play the piano? Well he doesn't. He wants Ada. He just wants to watch her play. They come to an arrangement where she can earn her piano back by letting him do things while she plays. And the things George wants to do are not at all innocent. Maybe he'll start by just looking up her skirt. But before long they're naked and in bed. Well, what's a girl to do when she wants her piano back, right? Anyhow, this whole arrangement goes badly because George actually has affection for Ada but she's just using him to get her precious piano. And of course there is the small matter of Ada's marriage to Alisdair. That loveless marriage, with its complete lack of affection, greatly frustrates Alisdair. That frustration will manifest itself in rather terrible ways.
This all seems like it could make for an interesting story but for whatever reason the movie just doesn't work. It is not entertaining at all. The whole thing is so bleak, perfectly matching its backwater setting. Hunter does so well to convey so much emotion without even speaking. You always know exactly what Ada is thinking, great credit to Hunter for being able to convey that. The role of Ada's young daughter turns out to be a critical one and Anna Paquin does well with it. Flora is an intelligent, mischievous little schemer and Paquin's performance is very good, very mature. An Academy Award was probably a bit much though. Whereas Hunter and Paquin shine the men in the picture don't come off nearly as well. Admittedly they're not helped by a script which gives them some rather clunky, awkward dialogue. Harvey Keitel plays George and never really seems comfortable in the role. Meanwhile Sam Neill's portrayal of Alisdair falls hopelessly flat. This is a movie largely about passion but it comes across as almost entirely passionless. It's a movie that is badly out of tune.
Kate Beckinsale is back for more vampire/werewolf shenanigans.
Underworld: Evolution picks up right where the first film left off. If
you haven't seen that first film do so. This sequel tries to give you a
Cliff Notes recap of what happened in the first film. But honestly if
you haven't seen the first one you may be a little lost here. And you'd
want to see that first film anyway because quite frankly that one was
better than this one.
So where were we? Beckinsale's Selene, still of course shoehorned into that body-hugging catsuit, is a vampire whose job is to kill werewolves. But now she's on the run with Michael, who's a vampire-werewolf hybrid. And Selene is kind of falling in love with Michael. Does this make any sense? Again, hope you watched that first movie. Meanwhile, vampire elder Marcus has gotten some wolf blood and is now a really ticked-off hybrid, flying around like a very angry bat. Marcus is coming after Selene and Michael. He's after something. That something turns out to be a pendant. This is apparently the most important pendant in the history of the world. Why? Well, we'll get to that later. First we've got a bunch of action sequences to get through. Bat-man Marcus and wolf-man Michael square off in all their CGI glory. There's more wolves, more vampires, more blood, more death and destruction. This movie had a much bigger budget than the first one and it's easy to see where the money went. It's a visual effects bonanza. Everything is bigger this time around. But bigger is not necessarily better.
Let's be honest, this whole story is rather silly. Vampires and werewolves slaughtering one another. But in that first movie the story, silly though it may have been, was engaging, compelling and even somewhat charming. The backstory was very well worked-out, it was a silly movie but it had some smarts to it. This time out charm and smarts are in much shorter supply. This is just a big action movie like so many other big action movies you have seen. This one just happens to involve vampires and werewolves. Beckinsale gives it a game effort again, building this franchise around her paid off very well. She kicks butt. This time she gets to show real emotion as well. And she certainly looks the part, who else would you rather see in that skin-tight catsuit? Scott Speedman is back as Michael. He has less actual acting to do than he did in the first movie. Now he just has to be big and strong and smash stuff. Which he does well enough I suppose. Tony Curran has his moments playing Marcus but all in all that character is bit of a problem. He's way over-the-top. Menacing to be sure but often cartoonishly so. This movie has a lot of action, and that action looks really good. The movie is shot beautifully, if a little darkly, and the visual effects are utterly convincing. But the action to story ratio is skewed way too far in the direction of action. It's a reasonably enjoyable watch for anyone who enjoyed the first movie. But there's little doubt you'll have enjoyed the first movie more.
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