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No radioactive spider bites or guys turning green or supermodels
painted blue here. Campy television series aside, Batman has always
seemed the most serious, the most grounded, the most real of all the
comic book sagas. Our hero has no magical, mystical superpowers...he's
just a guy in a suit. But where does he get those wonderful toys? In
this film Tim Burton does a very good job of bringing the Dark Knight
to life while also seemingly giving the dark, foreboding city of Gotham
a life of its own. Gotham is dark, gloomy, and dreary...almost
oppressively so. The city is almost a character unto itself in the
film...dark, mysterious and somehow quite real. The brilliantly
conceived, stunning visuals are the perfect backdrop for the story
which will unfold.
The story follows our Caped Crusader in his quest to clean up Gotham which is in the midst of a frightening crime wave. There was much unnecessary angst when comic actor Michael Keaton landed the title role with fans feeling that was a sure sign the film would lean towards the campy style evident in the famous television series. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Batman would be a serious film (well, as serious as a comic book movie can be) and Keaton was perfect in the Bruce Wayne/Batman role. Keaton's Wayne comes across as an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things. Keaton brings all the required seriousness to the role but also can add a little comic touch when necessary. Inspired casting pays off big time.
Good as he is Keaton is actually overshadowed in the film. Who else but Jack Nicholson could cause the actor playing Batman to get second billing in a movie titled Batman? Nicholson's performance as the Joker is simply terrific. Maybe a little over the top at times but, hey, it's the Joker...he's supposed to be over the top. Nicholson livens up every scene he's in, he simply owns the screen. With two terrific actors doing outstanding work bringing our hero and villain to life the film can hardly go wrong. It's certainly entertaining enough but the film as a whole doesn't quite match the brilliance of the two lead performances. The supporting cast, led by Kim Basinger as the requisite love interest, doesn't add much. Instead of leaving well enough alone with a fantastic Danny Elfman score the whole movie comes to a screeching halt a couple of times while we're forced to listen to some inane Prince songs. And the story just seems to lack a certain zest. We want to see the conflict between Batman and the Joker, these two great characters played by two great actors. And for too much of the film that conflict simply isn't there. But all in all, Batman is certainly a worthy effort. Some top-notch acting, stunning visuals and a story that does just enough to draw you in and hold your attention throughout. To call this film great might be a stretch but one could say it is very, very good. Certainly good enough to be worth your while.
Give a collection of great actors a great story to work with and you
are likely to end up with something rather special. Such is the case
with L.A. Confidential. The boldface names jump off the page...Kevin
Spacey, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell and,
in his first big-time role, Guy Pearce. And none of these big names are
just mailing it in, here to collect a paycheck. They're all on top of
their games, undoubtedly helped to no small extent by the wonderfully
nuanced and utterly intriguing story.
This story takes place in 1950s Los Angeles but this is a side of L.A. most people don't get to see. Behind all the Hollywood glamour L.A. has a seamy side which will be the focus of this tale. At the heart of the movie are three cops who ostensibly are supposed to be working together but who go about the business of dispensing justice in very different ways. Crowe plays aggressive hothead Bud White. Spacey is Jack Vincennes, who takes more pride in his work as an adviser on a popular television cop drama than he does in his actual police work. And Pearce plays Edmund Exley, a young up-and-comer in the department who plays things by the book. As we will soon see Exley is rather unique in an LAPD which believes in doing whatever is necessary to bring the guilty to justice. Even if it means becoming a little guilty themselves.
The movie really begins to move forward with a massacre at a coffee shop. It seems a pretty cut and dried case but initial appearances can be deceiving. Soon White, Vincennes and Exley will find themselves caught up in a maze of lies, deception and mystery. It will be a great test for these very different men as it appears they may well need each other's unique talents to solve this puzzle. And quite the elaborate puzzle it is. One important piece is Lynn Bracken, a high class call girl played by Basinger. Tying together many of this complex story's strands is gossip writer Sid Hudgens who is played with appropriate sleaziness by DeVito. And in the background the whole time is the somewhat mysterious Captain Dudley Smith, played by Cromwell. Here is a man who believes in bringing the guilty to justice by any means necessary. That's all well and good if you know who the guilty are but in L.A. Confidential you're never quite sure who to believe. The viewer is guessing right along with the investigators on the screen. And in the end it all comes together and pays off brilliantly.
L.A. Confidential is first and foremost a great story, with many fascinating twists and turns along the way. The film also serves as a showcase for some of this generation's finest acting talents. Each of the main characters is wonderfully unique and each of the actors involved does a terrific job in bringing those characters to life. These are complex characters in a complex tale. It's so involved that the acting had to be stellar if this film was going to work and none of the stars disappoint. Terrific storytelling brought to life by a collection of inspired performances makes L.A. Confidential an absolute winner.
Who keeps giving M. Night Shyamalan money to make these movies?
Seriously, what studio executive read this script and thought that
making this movie would be a good idea? After the disaster that was
Lady in the Water Shyamalan comes back with a movie which unbelievably,
almost impossibly, may actually be worse. Lousy acting, laughably bad
dialogue and a story which is just downright stupid combine to make one
Anyhow the story here is that starting in New York City and then quickly spreading through the Northeast everyone is suddenly killing themselves. Everyone drops what they're doing, seemingly goes catatonic for a moment and then offs themselves anyway they can. Fling themselves off the top of a building, shoot themselves in the head...whatever. What could possibly make people do this? Obviously it must be some kind of terrorist attack or so everyone thinks. There certainly is something bad in the air and people need to flee. And here we meet our main characters, a Philadelphia high school science teacher and his wife along with his friend and his friend's daughter. They get out of the city, inevitably get stuck in the middle of nowhere, the characters begin to do and say things which make no sense whatsoever and the whole movie falls apart as we watch people try to run away from the wind.
Mark Wahlberg has the central role here and his performance is truly awful. Certainly he isn't helped by the hideous script but it really seems as if Wahlberg can do nothing right. He seems rather emotionless for a guy trying to figure out why everyone's engaging in mass suicide. As his wife, Zooey Deschanel goes through the film with a blank stare on her face. Some of the corpses show more life. Most of the other characters we meet make a bad impression if they make any impression at all. Some truly bizarre people wander in and out of this movie. And all of them are forced to spout dialogue which is so bad it often becomes unintentionally funny. Somebody wrote that? Really? Ha-ha. But as bad as the acting and dialogue are it's the story which is the biggest problem. Once the movie reveals what actually is happening it becomes impossible to take the story seriously. Stupid. So very, very stupid. The premise makes no sense, doesn't work at all, and thus the movie is doomed to failure. I really can't fathom that after reading the script anyone actually encouraged Shyamalan to go ahead and make this movie. The Sixth Sense sure was a long time ago.
Watching Oliver Stone's The Doors can be at times a frustrating
experience. Considering the central figure in the film is pretty much
always drunk or stoned or both the entire plot seems to unfold in a bit
of a haze. Those watching the film may come away feeling a little
stoned themselves. Yet through the drug and alcohol-fueled haze this
film does have a lot to recommend it. Most notably it has one of the
most stunningly brilliant acting performances you could ever hope to
see. Val Kilmer, playing Jim Morrison, is simply perfect in the role.
It sounds clichéd but Kilmer really seems to become Morrison. The
physical resemblance is eerie and their voices are so similar it is
fairly impossible when listening to the film's soundtrack to figure out
when exactly you're hearing Morrison and when you're hearing Kilmer.
Tracing Morrison's journey from shy, reserved youth to manic,
drugged-out rock god the performance by Kilmer is mesmerizing
As good as Kilmer is you can't help but feel that his performance deserved to be surrounded by a better film. The film might as well have been titled "Morrison" because it is much more the story of one man than it is the story of his band. And therein lies much of the problem because while Kilmer is undeniably terrific, Morrison, at least as he is portrayed in this film, is not a very sympathetic character. That shy, quiet guy we see on the beach at the film's beginning becomes a bit of a monster, at times almost completely unlikable. And since the film revolves entirely around Morrison it makes the film often hard to embrace. Many would argue that Morrison was unfairly portrayed here, not nearly as mean-spirited and hot-tempered as we are led to believe. The truth probably lies somewhere in between but the fact remains that in this film it is very hard to embrace Jim Morrison and as such it is very hard to completely embrace the film.
With the focus almost completely on Kilmer's Morrison the rest of the cast comes off as little more than bit players. Kyle MacLachlan as keyboardist Ray Manzarek has the most to do amongst the remaining band members and his performance is fine but it really gets swallowed up by the ever-present and always center stage Morrison. Meg Ryan, playing Morrison's longtime companion Pamela Courson, is allowed only to react to Morrison's antics and never establishes a character and identity of her own. Even when stoned out of her mind, as everybody in this film always seems to be, Pamela comes across as the wholesome girl next door who is, well, rather dull. Kathleen Quinlan has a more memorable turn as another woman in Morrison's life, Patricia Kennealy, who is anything but dull. But again her character is there only to serve Jim. It's always about Jim. Nobody could deny that Jim Morrison was the most captivating figure in The Doors. But as the film unfolds and you watch Morrison stumble from one stupor to the next you'll probably wish we could have spent a little more time with some of the other characters. This film version of Jim Morrison is a hard guy to love.
So in the end what are we left with? You get one awe-inspiring, magnificent performance but that performance overshadows everything else going on in the film. You get a fascinating life story but one that unfortunately proceeds mostly in a frustrating drug-induced haze. You certainly get a tremendous soundtrack with all of The Doors' most notable songs. Well, most of them anyway. There seems to be a real yin and yang with this movie. There is plenty that is very good about it, but all that is good seems to be balanced out by something which frustrates. Jim Morrison led an extraordinary life but this film which tells his tale ends up being rather ordinary.
After watching Memento one might well wonder how Christopher Nolan
pulled off something that audacious, that brilliant, in what was his
major directorial debut. Watch Following, the no-budget thriller which
was Nolan's actual directorial debut, and you begin to understand. With
no money, with an amateur cast and doing pretty much everything
(writing, shooting, directing) himself Nolan created a little
masterpiece. Whatever "it" is that enables someone to make great movies
Nolan clearly has it. And had it right from the beginning.
Fans of Memento will see a lot of similarities, hints of what was to come, in Following. The most obvious parallel is the nonlinear time structure as the story here unfolds completely out of order. Whereas the story in Memento proceeded more or less in a straight line which just happened to be moving backwards here there is no line at all. Scenes are placed in a seemingly random order. We're all over the place. At the end, in the beginning, somewhere in the middle, back to the end again...it really could have been a jumbled mess. But Nolan gives us a little assistance in orienting ourselves with the shifting appearance of his main character. He has three distinct looks to him and once you figure that out you can figure out where you are in the story. But there are still enough twists and turns to make your head spin, to keep you guessing right up to the end.
The less said about the plot the better. Best to let you try to piece the puzzle together for yourself. Much like Memento you really have to see it all the way through to fully appreciate the true genius of it, to understand how any missteps from Nolan along the way could have unraveled his whole story. When the movie concludes you can't help but be amazed that Nolan could pull this off essentially by himself. At least with Memento he had a little help. Here it's just Nolan and his small cast. There are really only three roles of any significance in the film, maybe four if you're being generous. But this little troupe and their first-time director combined to create something really special. The acting may at times seem a bit amateurish but that has to be expected from performers who are certainly not acting pros. And any little quibbles with the performances do not detract at all from the overall movie-watching experience. The actors do more than well enough to get by, well enough in fact that you're surprised there were not bigger acting roles for them somewhere down the line if they wanted them. That the performers have a great story to work with certainly helped their cause.
Things do get a little convoluted in the end as Nolan's story takes its final turns. You worry that things may be getting away from him a little bit. But he manages to ultimately pull it all together. You may have to really think about it after things are through but it all makes sense when you run it back in your mind. And it's nice every now and again to have a movie that actually requires you to think isn't it? Christopher Nolan seems to specialize in movies like that. He just makes great movies. Here he did it with no money, all on his own, never having made a movie before. It takes a special talent to pull that off. And among his many talents Nolan also apparently possesses the ability to see into his own future. When you watch Following note the Batman logo on the main character's apartment door.
About Adam received new life after Kate Hudson became almost famous.
But while Hudson plays a key role this film is, quite literally, about
Adam, as played wonderfully by Stuart Townsend. The film begins with
young Irish singing waitress Lucy, as played by Hudson with an Irish
accent that comes and goes, meeting the mysterious Adam. She
immediately falls for him and their new romance proceeds happily along.
Lucy brings Adam home to meet the family and here things get turned on
their head. After seeing the story play out from Lucy's perspective we
go back and revisit the same time period from different points of view,
those of Lucy's two sisters and brother. It soon becomes apparent that
Adam is not quite what he seems and that he has become much closer to
Lucy's family than she would ever believe.
Frances O'Connor as the quiet, bookish Laura and Charlotte Bradley as the unhappily married Alice will each strike up their own serious relationship with Adam. As we see each of the sisters' stories unfold it puts a new spin on all that we have seen before. Even Lucy's brother finds himself oddly attracted to Adam while Lucy floats along completely oblivious to all that is swirling around her. Each of the key roles is performed well and enough time is given to allow us to explore the motivations of each of these characters. If we didn't really get to know these people and what drives them, everyone involved could come off rather badly, especially Townsend's Adam. But the director makes each character sympathetic enough and it all ties together very well.
A clever script, mostly terrific acting, intriguing characters, wonderful Irish scenery and a very smart plot device that adds a unique twist to everything...About Adam has a lot going for it. It's a smart, funny, enjoyable ride.
Billy Crystal hits it out of the park with 61*. Brilliantly cast,
beautifully shot and at times brutally honest in its storytelling, 61*
is an absolute gem.
Any baseball fan well knows the story of the great home run chase of 1961. Here, Crystal peels back the curtain and brings us up close and personal with the men who made that season so memorable. In Barry Pepper, who plays Roger Maris, and Thomas Jane, as Mickey Mantle, Crystal found two actors absolutely perfect for their respective roles. The way Pepper and Jane perfectly captured the essence of these real-life heroes goes far beyond the eerie physical resemblances the actors have to the men they portray. Maris was a quiet, serious, introspective family man. And during this particular season it could be said he was a downright tortured man as well. Pepper captures all of this wonderfully. Mantle on he other hand was an outgoing, energetic, fun-loving superstar who took full advantage of all the perks his stardom brought him. And Jane does a fine job bringing this out and really lets you see the wear and tear Mantle's lifestyle had on him as his body began to break down. It would have been easy to gloss over some of the less appealing aspects of Mantle's personality. It also would have been dishonest and Crystal is to be applauded for showing it how it really was. Mantle was a larger than life hero but he certainly had his faults and this film brings them out. Some may find the pervasive profanity and crude sexual humor in the film to be a bit over the top but an honest retelling of the story requires acknowledging the way these ballplayers really were.
61* is not just a movie about baseball, it is at its heart a movie about Roger Maris and the key relationships in his life. Maris and Mantle, Maris and his wife, Maris and the oppressive press...these relationships are all explored as we learn much more about Roger Maris the man than Roger Maris the baseball player. Maris had to overcome a great deal to accomplish what he did and this film does a brilliant job of bringing us along on his magical ride.
If you're a geek this movie is for you. If you're a Star Wars geek this
movie totally is for you. Basically it's a movie about Star Wars geeks
made by Star Wars geeks for a target audience of Star Wars geeks. If
you are not into all things Star Wars this movie may well miss the mark
with you. And even the most rabid of Star Wars fans would have to
concede that the movie is certainly not anything spectacular. It's
fairly charming and reasonably amusing but never really riotously
funny. But it works. More or less.
The movie is set in the autumn of 1998, a time before Jar Jar Binks had been foisted upon the world. Four friends, major Star Wars geeks all, decide to drive across the country, break into Skywalker Ranch and steal a rough cut of The Phantom Menace. The major motivation for this journey is that one of the friends has cancer and will not live to see the movie released. But once that is established the cancer storyline is basically put on the back burner and this turns into a mostly predictable wacky road-trip comedy. Some of the wackiness works, some of it falls flat. There are a bunch of celebrity cameos thrown in, some of which are inspired and some of which are rather random and pointless. So it's a movie which has its ups and downs. But it's enjoyable more often than not and the movie breezes by in a nice, tight, well-paced 90 minutes.
None of the actors playing our gang of four really stand out in any memorable way. Dan Fogler's character is a little more outrageous than the others but that's about it. But the group works together well and they are ably supported by the varied cast of characters who pop up throughout. Seth Rogen's portrayal of a pimp is one of the standouts. Of course this ode to Star Wars fans wouldn't be complete without taking some shots at Trekkies. So there's room for another funny turn by an actor portraying Admiral Seasholtz, an uber-Trekkie. Who is the unrecognizable actor memorably bringing this character to life? You may have to wait until the closing credits roll to figure it out. And in this Star Wars geek universe there's room for one girl and Kristen Bell is both charming and funny in the role as her character gets swept along for the ride. Could the movie be a little more consistently funny? Most definitely. But the movie about Star Wars geeks will probably leave you with a smile on your face. Especially if you're a Star Wars geek yourself.
WarGames is a film which in some ways seems hopelessly dated and in
other ways seems to have been way ahead of its time. There's the Cold
War angle, the United States and the Soviet Union gearing up for the
seemingly inevitable World War III and the nuclear holocaust that would
go along with it. It's a 1980s storyline which doesn't play as well all
these years later with the Soviet Union long having been consigned to
the dustbin of history. Nowadays the threat comes not from one
communist superpower but from...well, pretty much anywhere it seems.
But then again this movie, made in 1983, is at its heart really about a
computer hacker. Who, in 1983, even knew there was such a thing as a
computer hacker? Ahead of its time this movie is.
While certain aspects of the story may seem less relevant today there is no denying that WarGames is an effective, entertaining thriller. There may be some flaws in the movie's logic now and again, not everything we see seems entirely plausible. But the movie works. The story centers around Seattle high school student David Lightman, who is not doing particularly well in school. But it's not because he isn't bright, he certainly is. He just seems unmotivated and perhaps distracted by his obsession with computers. That obsession plays itself out as he attempts to hack into a video game manufacturer's computer...and instead unknowingly hacks into a Defense Department computer. In playing the "games" on that computer he almost starts World War III. Whoops.
Matthew Broderick plays David and his performance is excellent as he portrays a young teen who finds himself caught up in a situation behind his imagination. Ally Sheedy plays his friend Jennifer, a character who seems a tad bit underdeveloped. It often seems that Jennifer's just along for the ride rather than having any real purpose in the plot. But Sheedy does well with what she has to work with. Our young hero and heroine are very much the focus of the story, at times to detrimental effect. All the adults in the story seem rather one-dimensional. Some of them have very important roles to play in the story yet we never know much of anything about them. Besides David and Jennifer there's really only one other character for whom there is any kind of character development going on and that character doesn't even show up until rather late in the proceedings. But this is a movie which will definitely hold your attention. It's a tense, taut thriller which also has some heart to it. And it often looks spectacular, most notably in the scenes which take place inside the NORAD war room, a movie set which was stunningly impressive for its time and actually would still be stunningly impressive today. All in all WarGames is a well-made, suspenseful, enjoyable film. It has its flaws but it is still a film well worth seeing.
If you were not a fan of the Twin Peaks television series you would not
want to bother watching this film. Fire Walk with Me pretty much
requires the viewer to have already seen every episode of the
television show. If you haven't you will be well and truly lost as you
watch this film unfold in the bizarre Twin Peaks universe. Assuming you
have the requisite working knowledge of all things Twin Peaks heading
in you'll at least be able to understand the film. Whether you'll like
the film is an iffy proposition at best.
Fire Walk with Me is a prequel to the television series which means Laura Palmer is alive. But before we can get to Laura there's a thirty-minute or so prologue (a prequel within a prequel?) about the investigation into the murder of Teresa Banks, whom all the Twin Peaks die-hards know was the first victim of the killer who would eventually murder Laura. After what any fan of the television show will see as some typical weirdness, and not much in the way of resolution, the prologue ends and we move forward in time, jumping into the final week of Laura Palmer's life. It's nice to see Laura alive for the first time. The television show had already established Laura was not the sweet, innocent homecoming queen she seemed but her demons were, for the most part, only hinted at on TV. In Fire Walk with Me those demons are on full display. Where the television show was subtle, the movie is in your face. A little too much in your face some might say as David Lynch takes full advantage of all the opportunities provided by producing an R-rated movie. Certainly nothing is held back here as we watch Laura Palmer spiral downward towards her sad end.
In the rather brutal telling of the story of Laura Palmer's final days all the charm of the television series has been lost. For all the terrible things that occurred in the series the show always had that small-town, quirky charm. Not here. For the Twin Peaks fan it's nice to see those familiar characters again. And the film does add a lot to the Laura Palmer story and allows you to get to know her much better. But you may come away wishing you hadn't gotten to know her quite so well. Perhaps some things are better left unspoken and unseen. There were two sides of Laura Palmer and this film shows you much too much of the dark side. There was a lot of good in her, watching this film makes it hard to remember that even as you can't help but sympathize with the way she is being taken advantage of and the way she will meet her ultimate fate.
If you're a real Twin Peaks fan you really do have to see the movie. There is a lot to like about it. The story is captivating as ever, if decidedly less charming in this go-around. And the performances from the cast are mostly very good, most notably from Sheryl Lee who finally gets to play a living, breathing Laura Palmer after having been introduced to the world dead and wrapped in plastic. And Ray Wise as Laura's father Leland also does fine work in portraying a disturbing and complicated character. We never got to see Leland and Laura interact in the series and their relationship is fascinating to watch. Fascinating and also more than a little creepy as the movie's Leland is a constantly ominous, threatening presence. You'll miss Lara Flynn Boyle who for the film has been replaced in the role of Donna by Moira Kelly. Kelly fails to bring the same spark to the character that Boyle did. And while many of the characters from the show return you'll miss those who notably don't. Audrey and Benjamin Horne, Sheriff Truman, Deputies Andy and Hawk, Doc Hayward and Pete Martell and Big Ed...would have been nice to see them and some others one last time if even just briefly. It is nice to have the opportunity to go back to the Twin Peaks universe. Unfortunately it's not quite the universe you remember. This is a much darker, sinister and decidedly less enjoyable Twin Peaks. Sometimes you can't go home again.
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