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99 reviews in total 
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Dead Snow (2009)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Lots of gore, little else, 23 October 2009

Your enjoyment of Dead Snow hinges on your desire to see creative ways of displaying gore. Judging by the reaction of a college audience, most people enjoyed it.

Following a brief intro sequence that gives a hint of what to expect later, Dead Snow starts off like any standard horror film. It briefly introduces the characters and has them set off to a secluded location. Of course it's not really a horror film; it's one of many recent comedy-horror hybrids. I never imagined that comedy-horror films would be so popular, but they seem to be working. The characters are mostly interesting and the plot is unpredictable. There seems to be an attempt at a story early on, but most of the second half involves action. Basically all of the realism and consistency goes away at that point. The characters seem to die in a random pattern.

There isn't much innovation in Dead Snow except for one thing: the way that zombies or humans are killed and gore is displayed. I found myself laughing at some of the bizarre connections that were made. There was one death that appeared to be a reference to Tyrell's death in Blade Runner. Another one that had me laughing was when a character used soccer skills to kick a zombie head into the trees. However, I think that the gore was overdone and got into the way of any potential that the story had. In fact, the beginning of Dead Snow showed some promise over other similar horror films, mostly because of the cinematography. Overall, the audience clapped several times and was very involved with the film.

The film gave nothing for me to take away from it, except for wonderment of how such a violent and gory film could be a comedy. There are unpleasant and disturbing visuals, but somehow everyone was able to not take it seriously. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing, but it does show that the film succeeds on some level.

3 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Fascinating epic by Tarantino, 23 August 2009

Inglourious Basterds is an alternate history World War II war epic. Unlike other war epics, it is completely fictional, using Nazi occupied France as a setting but hardly taking into account any other historical information. The film is stylistically similar to Quentin Tarantino's other films, such as Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bills. There is a lot of exaggerated violence, quirky characters, and dialog.

There are several scenes of extended dialog between characters. Sometimes I criticize this in Tarantino's other films, but it works very well here to introduce the characters and develop them. It even helps demonstrate Hans Landa's fluency in multiple language. Since most of the conservations are only loosely connected to the plot, this may draw some people off. However, these scenes usually conclude with some important plot development or action.

The cast is very strong, although not perfect. Tarantino does not give us as much information about the characters as we would want. He always leaves mysteries open and does not have a single figure take up much of the film's time. In particular, Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz gave commendable performances. The other actors all fit reasonably well.

The plot is secondary to the characters, but is generally good. Split into five chapters, not much happens in the first four parts except for character and plot development, mixed in a few surprising moments. By far the most significant part is the fifth chapter, which is an astounding finale. It is shocking and exaggerated in typical Tarantino fashion.

It is arguable about how much of a point the film has, but for most people it should be entertaining. If you enjoyed Tarantino's previous works, then you would find this one equally worthy.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
One-of-a-kind, 16 August 2009

Blue Velvet is marked by the traits of David Lynch's other successful films: abstract visuals, strange characters, unpredictability, and plots that require imagination. In order to like this, you will likely need to have patience with understanding what is happening in the film. Of course, this is a murder mystery, so the answers are expected to be hidden until the end. However, with Lynch the answers remain hidden even after that! With enough thought, you could come up with satisfying interpretations, but you just have to accept these things when you view the film.

One of the most striking parts of Blue Velvet is the characterization. Frank (played by Dennis Hopper) is one of the most remarkable villains I have ever known. The Yellow Man and Ben are mysterious characters that do not have much screen time, but are performed perfectly during those scenes. And don't forget Dorothy, who gives an effective performance as their victim. In contrast to these ludicrous gangsters, the other characters are caricatures of average people. Jeffrey is the ambitious young man returning home and searching for adventure, Sandy is the typical girl companion, and Detective Williams is her protective father.

I think that the reason that Blue Velvet works for me is because the premise is simple, but the way that it is presented introduces ambiguity. There are layers of loosely connected themes and motifs, which makes it perfect for repeated viewings and analysis. Different people will see different things in it. From my experience, Blue Velvet gets a strong recommendation. If you like artistic and intriguing films, especially ones with memorable characters, then don't miss this one.

A touching film about one man's extraordinary experiences, 16 August 2009

The Pianist is a dramatic Holocaust film about Wladyslaw Szpilman's experiences during World War II. A brilliant Jewish pianist played by Adrien Brody, he quickly gains the audience's sympathy after being a victim of the horrific, methodic actions of the Third Reich. It appears that the film never strays far from the truth, which in turn makes the it all the more emotional.

There are some very chilling moments, but I think the most powerful parts of the film are where kindness is shown by people who you don't expect it from. Szpilman's life is saved several times by strangers that provide shelter and food, and even by a couple individuals employed by the Nazis. I felt that those things give the film an optimistic tone.

Brody's acting is great and he deserved his Oscar. Since the entire film revolves around his performance, this was an important aspect for its success. Other performances are effective as well. The directing by Roman Polansky is solid and shows no considerable error.

I would not find The Pianist to be an overly disturbing film at all, despite the fact that several characters close to Szpilman are killed. The full scale of the Holocaust is hidden from the scope of the film, which is due to Szpilman's luck at escaping. A wide range of emotions are displayed throughout the film, but what you are left with is an admiration of Szpilman's life.

District 9 (2009)
4 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Excellent premise but mixed execution, 15 August 2009

District 9 has a fresh science fiction premise: an alien mothership arrives to Earth and inertly levitates in the sky over Johannesburg, South Africa. Once humans find their way inside, they find a famished alien worker population. There is no value in them except for their advanced weaponry that is rendered inoperable to humans. Like any great science fiction story, there are plenty of things left as a mystery.

It is clear that Peter Jackson's role as a producer has benefited the film in many ways. There are excellent special effects and environments. The alien design is beautiful, although I'm sure that not everyone will agree with me. Their culture, language, and eating habits were reasonably believable. The attention to detail is fantastic, especially in implementing features such as the "For Humans Only" signs.

The beginning of the film takes advantage of a documentary style. The story is told through interviews and news footage to retell history as it happened. Soon afterwards, the film follows events through the perspective of Wikus van der Merwe, a field operative played by Sharlto Copley. Although he is one of the more sensitive humans around, he still suffers from arrogance and selfishness. In fact, one of the things that might have hurt the film is the lack of any admirable characters in the cast. I found the alien leader and his son to be the only respectable characters.

If the first half of District 9 is science fiction, the second half is action. Generally I enjoy action, but it was not very compelling here. I was disappointed to find that there was essentially no insight after the halfway mark. No plot surprises, no deep character interactions, and no creative uses of technology. The film simply deteriorated into unbelievable action and illogical consequences. The main characters dodge hundreds of bullets, blow up things (including lots of humans, which effectively burst in a spray of guts when hit by alien weapon projectiles), and manage to survive despite countless mistakes. The ending was strange, but does leave plenty of room open for a sequel (in 3 years?).

District 9 opened fine, but slowly lost its appeal for me as it progressed. It felt like the writers wanted to send a message, but then worried that the audience would lose their attention so they threw in lots of action to try to make an exciting finale. That might be fine for most people, but it diminished my appreciation for the interesting parts.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Judgment has been made, 18 December 2008

Judgment at Nuremberg is a standard court-case drama that focuses on the trial of four Nazi judges in Nuremberg following World War II. The importance of the trials from the Allied viewpoint remains contested throughout the film; most people are indicated to have little interest in it since the political and military figures have already been tried, while the actual people involved in this case strongly believe that justice must be achieved. On the other hand, the German people see this as the last chance to retain some dignity. As might be anticipated, Judgment at Nuremberg delves deep into the moral questions regarding the German citizens under the Third Reich.

The acting is one of the most powerful aspects of the film. Spencer Tracy makes a sympathetic aged Chief Judge Haywood, who pursues the morally correct verdict by closely considering both sides. Richard Widmark is an admirable but shortsighted American colonel who carries out the prosecution. Burt Lancaster is Dr. Ernst Janning, an enigmatic Nazi judge on trial, who appears to be the only one that realizes the extent of the crimes. Judy Garland also deserves some praise in her role as a witness to the central case. The role that impressed me the most was Maximilian Schell as Hans Rolfe, a formidable and proud German defense attorney. He has such a commanding voice and vivid personality that makes him perfect for the role. A small role that pleasantly surprised me (being a Star Trek fan) was a young William Shatner as Capain Harrison Byers, Haywood's aide. You must admit, he fits right in!

The plot is very interesting. There are several moments that will sway your opinion of what is right and wrong. The real message seems to be that we cannot know for certain what the proper verdict is, although the film hints that in the future we will be able to look back and decide. The ending was perfectly executed, and the last scene was somewhat of a surprise. The historical text at the end indicates the irony of the matter.

The only significant flaws of the film were that it was a little overlong (even if I hate using that as a criticism) and didn't seem to have much to offer in terms of a second viewing (although I might be wrong). Occasionally it repeated ideas, but never to the point where it got repetitive.

Overall, Judgment at Nuremberg appears to be one of the best American court-case dramas, right up there with 12 Angry Men. The themes it deals with are still relevant today. The point of the film is basic, even if it has some complicated consequences, but oftentimes people tend forget these things. If you are looking for some trial action or a loose historical film, then this should be near the top of your list.

Bloodsport (1988)
0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Cult film highlighted by excellent martial arts, 19 August 2008

Bloodsport is a martial arts film about Frank W. Dux, an American who travels to Hong Kong to participate in an underground martial arts tournament known as the Kumite. Although it's based on real events, it's clear that Bloodsport isn't very accurate in that measure. The fighting styles are authentic though.

Jean Claude Van Damme plays the role of Frank. He definitely gives the appearance of someone who could win the tournament, but otherwise his acting is poor. Bobo Yeung plays the bad guy and manages to equal Van Damme's quality in acting. The rest of the acting is terrible, with the lone exception of Donald Gibb as Ray Jackson, another Kumite participant who becomes close friends with Frank during the tournament.

The directing is mediocre. It was especially bad during the beginning (the flashback sequence was completely unconvincing), but improved as the Kumite became the focus of the film. There are very few artistic moments, perhaps the alleyway scene going to the tournament being the most effective one.

The redeeming element is the fighting. Every tournament battle is unique and offers contrasting martial arts styles. Van Damme is especially impressive in his technique. I also liked the fact that each Kumite participant had a distinct personality.

As it stands, I could see Bloodsport being entertaining for most people, but I could only seriously recommend for people who love martial arts. It succeeds in bringing tournament action, but fails at building any drama.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Outstanding comedy, 14 June 2008

Blazing Saddles is a classic American comedy directed by Mel Brooks. It makes a good companion to Young Frankenstein, also made by Brooks later in the same year. It satirizes American western films and racism.

The plot is wild and has many (intentional) holes. The comedy takes priority over the plot, which isn't a bad thing. A frontier town is raided by bandits and the sheriff is slain in a hilarious sequence with custom vocal music. The government appoints a replacement, the black sheriff Bart. Bart believes that he was sent to protect the town, but in reality the government chose him (being black) to scare away the townspeople to clear the area for a railroad. The town hesitantly accepts him. Bart and his assistant Jim (the Waco Kid) then protect the town from the government's ploys. It culminates in an epic brawl.

The acting is good, although most of the characters are simply caricatures. Gene Wilder (as Jim) and Harvey Korman (as the government official Hedley Lamarr, mastermind behind the railroad plans) give the best performances. The small roles by Mel Brooks himself are much appreciated as well.

Blazing Saddles is one of the best comedies of its decade. I enjoyed Young Frankenstein a little more, but together they make a brilliant combo from Mel Brooks. If you like comedies, don't miss this classic.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Thrilling political adventure, 13 June 2008

The best way to learn about the history and government of the United States is to visit Washington, D.C.; Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington invites viewers to experience this through film.

The plot is interesting, if not a little absurd. When a senator from a state dies in office, a Boy Ranger head, Jefferson Smith, is appointed to replace him. Mr. Smith has no experience whatsoever with politics. Needless to say, there are greater minds at play. Mr. Smith's enthusiasm for his position is evident from his trip to Washington: immediately after leaving the train, he is captivated by the Capitol dome and takes a tour of the city. The scenes where he stands next to Lincoln's statue are immortal. The plot from there is quite unbelievable (especially the filibuster sequence), but nonetheless inspiring and educational. I don't think it was meant to be taken too seriously; it pokes fun at the nuances of the government.

The acting is excellent. James Stewart was ingenious as Mr. Smith. Claude Rains is effective as Senator Paine. Jean Arthur's portrayal of Smith's secretary Saunders is underrated. The direction from Frank Capra is great. He produces very clean cuts and cinematography. This is especially evident in the montage scene when Mr. Smith first tours Washington. The scenery, including historical monuments and the interior of the Capitol, is fascinating.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is an American classic. Its themes on democracy and government are timeless. Likewise, James Stewart's performance remains as fresh as ever. It is easy to forget that the film is so old. Perhaps the most important thing that it reveals is that the past is not so different than the present.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Poorly planned and poorly executed, 11 June 2008

Dracula 2000 is a modern installment of the immortal horror franchise spawned by Bram Stoker's 1897 Dracula novel. The world's most popular vampire has had numerous appearances in film. Only Sherlock Holmes has appeared more times as a major character in the history of film. In Dracula 2000, the familiar Victorian England and Transylvanian settings are replaced by modern day London and New Orleans. I suppose this is an attempt to keep things fresh. Unfortunately, the transition fails.

Some major characters from the novel make an appearance. Obviously, Dracula is the main villain. Gerard Butler plays the role. His appearance is more romantic than frightening. I can't say that he acted bad, but he failed to carry the weight that we expect from the character. Van Helsing, the hero, reflects most of the features that we expect, but fails to be memorable in any way. In fact, he doesn't even play too pivotal of a role. The other characters, including Helsing's assistant Simon and Helsing's daughter Mary, are uninspired. In general, acting was mediocre.

The plot is structured after the novel, with a few major changes made to fit the new time period. This transition is flawed. The new story spawns several plot holes and odd ideas. If you ignore dissecting the plot, then you might enjoy some of it just for the horror elements. But as soon as you start to think about it, it breaks down.

The one thing that I did find interesting was the conclusion. It has sloppy editing and questionable stylistic choices in an attempt to give the illusion of fast paced action. I found it entertaining, but this is probably because it is so bad that it becomes good.

The concept of Dracula 2000 has some serious setbacks. Although I admit that I would like to see a good modern adaptation of Dracula, this is not the way to go. The execution suffers even more. Most people will go into Dracula 2000 expecting nothing more than it is. At the bare level, it can be enjoyed. But I like having more meat in my movies.

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