Reviews written by registered user
|77 reviews in total|
Watching `Predator', which is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's best action
movies, it becomes obvious why Arnold's recent return to action (`End of
Days', `The Sixth Day) have all tanked at the box office. For some reason,
Arnold's chosen to play men with a dark past in his recent films, men with a
complex background . . . men with laughably bad backstories. His great
characters - such as Dutch Schaeffer in `Predator' - have no background.
It's not necessary. The second Arnold steps onscreen, you know it's time
for blood and bullets, plain and simple. Not every moviegoers' cup of tea,
to be sure, but it works. Unlike `End of Days' or `The Sixth Day', classic
Schwarzenegger action films like `Predator' never insult the audience by
attempting to explain the often threadbare plot. Predator is kind of a
Zen-philosophy action film - the violence and cheesy one-liners just happen.
`Predator' is a fairly simple story; it's essentially a sci-fi version of `The Most Dangerous Game.' A group of American soldiers, led by Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his rival Dillon (Carl Weathers), lead a full-blown assault on a group of South American revolutionaries. Carnage ensues. After wiping out said revolutionaries, an alien creature armed to the teeth with high-powered weaponry - the Predator - assaults the American soldiers. More carnage ensues.
Hey, it's not exactly Shakespeare, but thoughtful, well-written action movies aren't exactly common. `Predator' works as an action movie - and as a darn good one - because it's kept simple (thus minimizing the plot holes and the head-scratching moments), it maintains a high level of excitement, action, and tension, and it's cool. Schwarzenegger is larger than life as Dutch, pure swaggering testosterone at its best. Jesse `The Body' rules as Blaine, Carl Weathers is icily cool as Dillon. . . and so on and so on. Enough sarcastic, macho one-liners and brutal firepower fill the movie to make it a male adolescent snapshot of tough-guy heaven. The Predator looks wicked as well - Stan Winston outdid himself, as the Predator does look and move like a vicious being from another world, and not just some stunt guy in a rubber suit. The direction by John McTiernan adds the final piece to the puzzle; the cinematography of the jungle is appropriately hot, steamy, and claustrophobic, and the quick pacing of the film moves rapid fire between all-out action and the tension of hunting one's prey . . . or being hunted. Everything adds up to a simple, streamlined, first-rate action movie.
Again, not the most intelligent film ever made, but `Predator' is still quite good - it's probably Schwarzenegger's best pure action movie. (Not his best movie overall, though; that honor belongs to the excellent `Kindergarten Cop'.) `Predator' is a lean, mean, intense action flick from start to finish.
The problem with blockbuster films like `Armageddon' is that they want to do
everything. They want heartbreaking romance, pulse-pounding action,
gripping drama, slapstick comedy . . . all in the same film. Trouble is,
few films ever succeed in accomplishing this tricky blend of different
genres. `Armageddon' isn't one of them.
In a nutshell, `Armageddon' starts out as a disaster epic, with a Texas-sized meteor hurtling towards Earth. This meteor will obliterate all life on Earth unless a group of oil drillers can somehow fly to the meteor, drill a big hole into the side of the meteor, and blow up the meteor with a sizeable amount of nuclear explosives. Mixed into this disaster epic is a full-blown romance, comedy, serious, thought-provoking moments, and a smattering of other scenes designed to give `Armageddon' the feel of a true Hollywood epic. What comes out instead is a true, bloated Hollywood mess.
`Armageddon', which at least looks cool and has the superficial sheen of a Hollywood blockbuster, is weighted down by a barely there script and awkward shifts of tone. It's hard to take a character's impassioned speech about saving the Earth seriously when he's only been cracking jokes about the matter only moments before. Shifts in mood like this look effortless and natural when they're done right; the shifts between comedy/drama/romance/et cetera in `Armageddon' are labored and forced.
The story suffers from major plot holes as well. Forget the logistical impossibilities of `Armageddon'; even simple stuff gets made unbelievably preposterous. For example, the meteor is the size of Texas . . . but the drillers only have to drill down four hundred feet into the meteor's surface? Hey, why bother drilling at all, if that's the case? There's a tedious section of the film involving the Mir space station that does nothing but waste film, there's enough crashes and accidents to fill twelve action films, let alone one - `Armageddon' reeks of excess, and suffers because of it.
As Harry Stamper, Bruce Willis saves this film from being unwatchable crap. Even if the story's ludicrous, he makes Harry Stamper a quiet, reluctant, slightly believable hero, and more importantly, he makes Stamper somebody an audience can root for. Willis is good enough to single-handedly pull `Armageddon' out of the trash and make it at least entertaining. Also good is Michael Duncan Clarke as `Bear' - he comes across as a person, rather than just as a cartoon character, and as such he's someone to root for as well. Ben Affleck is completely bland and forgettable as A.J. Frost, as is Liv Tyler as Harry Stamper's daughter Grace- considering they're the two romantically linked characters, it makes for a fairly uninteresting romance. If the Harry Stamper character didn't care so much about Grace and A.J., both of those characters would've been a complete waste of screen time.
Still, `Armageddon' deserves credit for trying to hit a home run, even if it only wound up with a cheap single. The movie's still kind of fun, in a mindless, dumb sort of way. If you're in the mood for a decent, cheesy popcorn flick, rent it, and watch it on a big screen TV with a killer sound system. But only watch it once, unless you want the plot holes to drive you utterly mad.
`Hannibal' should serve as proof of why some sequels should never be made --
it's fat, lazy, and content to merely rest on the laurels of the brilliant
`Silence of the Lambs', while never bothering to say something original or
to add something fresh to the ongoing series. (I'll ignore the fact that
`Hannibal' also made a boatload of money, which probably will insure that at
least one more crappy sequel will be made at some point.) `Hannibal' was a
movie with a lot of expectations to live up to -- and, quite frankly, it
failed to live up to any of them.
`Hannibal' continues the story of everybody's favorite refined, cultured, psychotic cannibal, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). A decade after his escape from authorities, he's living comfortably in Italy, teaching art, living a wonderful existence. Not fairing as well is Clarice Starling (played Julianne Moore in `Hannibal') -- she's bearing the responsibility for a failed FBI raid a la Waco, so she's reassigned to the touchy case of Hannibal as a way of making her disappear from the limelight. Also thrown into this mix is a millionaire named Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), one of Hannibal's few victims that actually lived to tell the tale of his attack. Unstable and obsessed with Dr. Lecter, Verger wants to exact a little vengeance on Hannibal `the Cannibal', so he's started a hunt for Lecter that ultimately will cross paths with Starling's investigations.
The main problem with `Hannibal' is the simple fact that it makes little sense in its own right, and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever when held up against `Silence of the Lambs'. Characters often seem to do things merely to propel along the plot to the next scene, not because they make any sense. There are dozens of examples of this. Clarice's `responsibility' in the botched FBI raid is an absolute joke. While it's explained HOW Mason Verger was transformed by Lecter in a grotesque, adult-looking version of David Lynch's `Eraserhead', it's never explained WHY it happened, and that's a wee bit more important. Also, at one point, one of Verger's employees decides to listen to Lecter about something important instead of Verger -- while Verger's not exactly the most sane employer on the planet, wouldn't you listen to the guy signing your paychecks instead of Hannibal `The Cannibal' Lecter? It's a constant mess of contradictions that serve to continuously drag the movie down.
Also surprising was the absolute lack of tension in the film. Director Ridley Scott had the opportunity to fill the film with some nail-biting suspense -- after all, what could be scarier than Hannibal Lecter on the loose? Instead, the movie moves along at a plodding pace, rarely scary, rarely tense -- gross and violent, yes, but the tension that filled `Silence of the Lambs' is but a memory in `Hannibal'. Some of the scenes in Italy were stylish and worked effectively well -- in fact, I found myself wishing that the Italy sequences had been expanded to an entire film, and everything in the U.S. had been dropped -- but for a film rooted in the horror genre, it's surprisingly flat and boring.
Hopkins is okay in his reprisal of the Lecter role, not great -- the character's developed more of a sense of humor this time around, but gone is the reptilian sociopath made famous in `Silence'. In `Hannibal', he's not exactly a parody of what he used to be, but he's definitely a shadow of former greatness. There's nothing new or interesting added to the Lecter character. Julianne Moore does fine replacing Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, considering there's little to work with and no substance to the role. Gary Oldman chews the scenery to interesting, if not exactly great, effect as the loony Verger, and the one truly good character lost in the shuffle is the Italian detective Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) who first finds Lecter. Understated, gripping, and very good, Giannini's performance is the one small gem that can be found amidst the rest of this mess.
Two grades for `Hannibal': C- on its own merits for being a tepid, sluggish thriller with a handful of interesting moments, and a F for being the sorry excuse of a sequel to `Silence of the Lambs' and squandering the potential to be something truly great. Avoid this film, it's not worth watching.
`The Big Lebowski' is a strange, funny film that occasionally struggles for
coherence -- fortunately, this lack of coherence is usually part of its
charm. It's the story of The Dude (Jeff Bridges), also known as Jeff
Lebowski, an amiable stoner trying to cruise through life on the path of
least resistance. The Dude's world is ruined one day, though, by a bunch of
thugs who break into his apartment, beat him up, ruin his favorite rug . . .
and realize that they've assaulted the wrong Jeff Lebowski. The thugs were
actually looking to pummel Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston) the millionaire
industrialist, who's up to his neck in trouble with organized
Since he was beaten up unfairly, and since his prized rug has been ruined, The Dude decides to seek compensation from this `other' Jeff Lebowski. What follows from there is a wild tale involving kidnapping, modern art, pornography, bowling, and German nihilists. In other words, it's another wickedly funny movie from Joel and Ethan Coen.
Jeff Bridges is great as The Dude, an affable, easy-going guy who constantly struggles to do what he thinks is right throughout the film . . . even if his idea of what's right is sometimes slightly warped. The best character of the film, though, is The Dude's best friend Walter Sobchak, as played by John Goodman. How Goodman's portrayal of Walter failed to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, let alone even get nominated for one, is downright criminal. Walter is a walking, talking, ticking time bomb, all sorts of contradictory rage rolled up into an extremely unstable package. Walter likes to think of himself as this calm, all-knowing voice of reason, but deep down he knows he's not, and that makes him all the angrier. Watch how Walter belittles his other friend Donnie (Steve Buscemi) for Donnie's politically incorrect use of the term `Chinamen' -- and then watch shortly thereafter how Walter personally describes a group of German nihilists. It's nothing short of comic brilliance. (Also worth noting -- Tara Reid has a very small role as `Bunny' Lebowski, but she also has the best line in the entire film. Don't miss it.) `The Big Lebowski' is a character-driven film, heavily reliant on the quirks and reactions of its characters to make it work. Well, not only do the performances in the film make `The Big Lebowski' work, but they make it work magnificently.
Visually, `The Big Lebowski' is one of the Coen Brothers' best; there's a loving, sweeping series of glorious shots used for the bowling sequences that are offbeat, original, and highly effective. (There's also a point-of-view shot from inside a bowling bowl that works to great effect.) The weakest part of `Lebowski' is the actual story -- parts of the plot thread involving the German nihilists, while funny, are often pointless and don't add much to the rest of the film. Also, some plot threads either vanish altogether partway during the film or are never satisfactorily resolved. That, however, is a by-product of one of the `The Big Lebowski's' overall recurring themes --'The Dude Abides.' The Dud is easygoing enough to deal with any situation, no matter how weird or random it might be. Unfortunately, by giving the Dude weird and random situations to deal with, the overall story loses focus. It's not a major enough problem to drag the film down significantly, but it's enough to keep a good film from becoming great.
Rent it, if only to see the tour du force performance of Jon Goodman. A bizarre and downright funny movie. Grade: B+/A-
Just on principle, any movie about Amish bowlers should be funny.
"Kingpin", which is a Farrelly Brothers film about an Amish bowler, is not
only howlingly funny, it's also sick, twisted, and one of the most
underrated comedies of recent years. While not quite up to the lowbrow
genius of the Farrelly Brothers' other films ("Dumb and Dumber", "There's
Something About Mary"), there's enough crude humor blended with a genuinely
engaging story to create a film that's remarkably good.
Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) is a promising young bowling champion who has the audacity to defeat the king of the local lanes, Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray, in a delightfully sleazy, love-to-hate role). Ernie decides that Roy needs to learn a lesson in manners, one thing leads to another Three Stooges style, and Roy's bowling career is suddenly ended by a freakish injury, one which costs him his bowling hand. (The sheer fact that the manner in which this is done is hysterically funny is a tribute to the Farrelly Brothers' gift for comedy.) Fast forward ten years to a fat, bitter, and balding Roy, who suddenly spots Ishmael Boorg , a kid with a real gift for bowling . . . a sweet, innocent, Amish kid. Roy takes the kid under his wing, and in a crude, darkly funny series of events that oddly seems to parody "The Color of Money", Roy begins to teach the kid about bowling . . . and about life.
"Kingpin" isn't exactly the most intelligent comedy ever made -- one of the best jokes in the film involves X's efforts to milk a bull -- but it is darn funny. Like other Farrelly Brothers films. there's also a certain level of sweetness mixed in with all the bawdy humor, which gives the film some depth and makes it more than just a 90 minute R-rated Three Stooges routine. As stupid as some of these characters are -- and there's plenty of stupid to pass around in "Kingpin" -- you actually care about what happens to them. They aren't just walking punchlines.
Of special mention is Bill Murray, who brings new dimensions to the word slime. With his sequined shirts, plastered comb-over, and condescending sneer, Murray looks and acts like a cross between a used car salesman and Hitler. As Ernie McCracken , Murray relishes being loathed and hated, and man, he gives you plenty of hilarious reasons to hate him.
Highly recommended, if you appreciate fun, dumb, politically incorrect jokes. B+
I felt so soiled after watching the mindless train wreck called `Alien:
Resurrection' that I was compelled to watch `Aliens' immediately afterward,
in order to cleanse my palette and to remind myself why Hollywood keeps the
`Alien' franchise on life support. Man, if only some new director could
recapture the essence of `Aliens', or if only James Cameron could be
convinced to direct the next film in the franchise. `Aliens' is that
`Aliens', for the uninitiated, picks up sixty some-odd years after the end of the original `Alien'. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the lone survivor of the doomed spaceship Nostromo, is found by a passing galactic freighter and revived from suspended animation. Ripley learns that the lethal lessons learned by her ship's crew went unnoticed by the rest of the universe the planet where her crew found the original deadly Alien creature has been partially terraformed and colonized by human settlers. But, surprise surprise, the colony's been wiped out, and now a hard-bitten group of Space Marines are going to the planet to find out what happened. Ripley is conscripted as an advisor and goes back to the planet with the Marines, where they discover that the colony hasn't been wiped out by a single Alien. . . but by an Alien brood mother and her legions of hungry, vicious, offspring.
In making `Aliens', James Cameron created a great sequel to a great original film, one that manages to remain true to the original while offering a fresh take on old ideas. Cameron took the original look and feel of the Alien creatures, remained faithful with the character of Ripley . . . and then moved forward with a brand new story. `Aliens' isn't simply a rehash of Ridley Scott's `Alien'. While they possess certain common denominators, they're two distinctly different films. `Aliens' is wall-to-wall pulse-pounding action, while `Alien' is more straightforward horror. Cameron deliberately didn't try to copy Ridley Scott, which is why this film works so well . . . and why the later sequels don't. Those later films have nothing new to say.
The fights between the Marines and the Aliens are gripping as well, masterfully directed and choreographed by Cameron. The Marines, while mostly personality stereotypes, are fairly memorable as well it's quite a shock to see their bravado before they encounter the Aliens, and the shreds of what's left afterwards. A great ensemble cast Michael Biehn is very good as the vulnerable Sergeant Hicks, as is Lance Henrikson as the android Bishop (in a nice nod to the `Terminator' films, it's implied that androids were originally created by the Cyberdyne Corporation), and Paul Reiser is outstanding as Carter Burke, an oily government executive. Besides Sigourney Weaver, though, the best performance comes from Carrie Henn as Newt, the little girl who also happens to be the only survivor of the original colony massacre. Her character's vital to the film Ripley wants to protect Newt at all costs, much as the Alien Brood mother wants to protect her lethal progeny. If Newt was unlikable, or if she was just a two-dimensional cardboard cutout, a lot of Ripley's motivations and the plot would fall flat on its face. Fortunately, she's terrific. And so is `Aliens'.
There are a few plot holes that keep `Aliens' from being a classic, but the film moves along at such a rapid pace, you really don't have much time to notice them. Still, `Aliens' is one of James Cameron's best films. It's a pure adrenaline rush from start to finish. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend renting it sometime soon. You won't be disappointed. Grade: A-
According to a few biographies about Alfred Hitchcock, `Torn Curtain' was
supposed to be Hitchcock's version of a real-life' James Bond film. Oh, if
only it had lived up to that promise.
"Torn Curtain" is a Cold War spy thriller about Michael Armstrong (played by Paul Newman), an American scientist who travels to Norway with his assistant/fiancee Dr. Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) for a nuclear conference -- of course, Dr. Armstrong knows all sorts of nuclear weapons secrets, and the Soviets are trying to subtly pry info from him. Armstrong goes suddenly to East Germany, apparently as a defector, but the plot thickens -- did he really defect, or is he passing along false data to Moscow?
"Torn Curtain", which at first glance seems to have the makings of a terrific thriller, is in reality just an inexplicable mess. A few scenes are terrific and tense, but most are just plain dumb. There's no internal logic for this flick characters constantly contradict what they've said in past scenes, making the story hard to follow. (And no, it's not like these characters are lying, or trying to pass along disinformation to each other). Great concept, rotten script. (Although, as usual, the cinematography is amazing -- I think visually it's one of Hitchcock's best).
Julie Andrews is AWFUL. Underline that word seventy times. I watched this film trying to keep an open mind about her, mainly because many of original 1960s reviews panned her as "Mary Poppins in a spy film". Well, she wasn't Mary Poppins, she was Julie Andrews, bad actress. She comes across as clueless, dumb, and annoying . . . and she's supposed to be this smart, sophisticated scientist. I winced during every single scene with her. Put it this way -- if you wanted an accurate remake of this film in the year 2001, it would probably star George Clooney and Tori Spelling.
Newman's great -- when he's the main character in the scene. There's a scene with him explaining stuff on a chalkboard that's absolutely priceless. When he's not the main character in a scene, though, he looks bored, almost like he's waiting for the caterer to show up. Newman does a pretty good job, but it was the first time I ever noticed him just mailing in a performance, at least part of the time.
It's a bad film with a few great highlights. For Hitchcock fans only. C-
Oh, what a rancid waste of film. Alien: Resurrection is pure garbage, plain
and simple. The dialogue is awful, the acting is awful, the plot . . .
well, if there actually was a plot, it would've been awful, but since one
never existed, it's a moot point. Yet again, humanity is being threatened
by the Alien menace, and since humanity has apparently spent the 500 years
between Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection doing nothing but picking the
collective lint out of its navel, scientists decide to clone the charred
remnants of Ripley into an ultimate Alien killing machine. Of course, these
same geniuses somehow don't notice that they've alos included some Alien DNA
in their new Ripley clone, making her equally dangerous to both humanity and
Aliens alike. Gratuitous, badly directed combat scenes ensue.
Sigourney Weaver gets to chew some scenery by playing the Ripley clone, who's far more aggressive and violent that the Ripley of past Alien films. At least she was fun to watch, even if the character made absolutely no logical sense. And then there's the latest android/human fascimile of the series . . . Winona Ryder, as Annalee. Hee, hee; she's unwatchably bad. She pouts and whines her way through the film, trying to act tough but ultimately looking nothing short of pathetic. Bring back Lance Henrickson as Bishop. Hey, bring back Ian Holm as the homicidal Ash, at least he'd be better than Ryder. How Winona Ryder got into this film will probably go down as the greatest mystery of the Twentieth century; she's THAT bad.
About the only saving grace of the film are the sets, which faithfully recreate the moods and claustrophic creepiness of "Alien" and "Aliens" . . . unfortunately, by reminding you of those films, you're also constantly reminded of how bad "Alien: Resurrection" really is. This film stinks, avoid it like the plague. Grade: D-
`Payback' is a wonderfully nasty little tale about the value of money --
specifically, the value of $70,000. To a criminal named Porter (played by
Mel Gibson), it's worth everything. The $70,000 is his share of a sweet
little score, except his partners cheat him out of his share . . . and,
well, try to kill him. Unfortunately for them, they didn't succeed in
killing Porter, and he wants his $70,000. Now.
`Payback' is a lot of slick, brutal action blended seamlessly with a tight, well-written script and a sense of dark, wry humor. Porter, while not particularly a likeable character (he's about as apt to smile pleasantly at someone as he is to shoot someone in cold blood), is certainly an interesting character. What makes him so memorable is his single-mindedness -- he wants what he thinks he's owed (the $70,000) and he wants it from the partners who backstabbed him. Other criminals offer Porter more money to stop his violent little manhunt for his former partners, but he doesn't want more money, he just wants HIS money, all $70,000 of it, no more, no less. Porter's a pit bull set loose in a nursery school playground, and nobody in the world's going to stop Porter from getting what he wants.
Because Porter's the `hero' of the movie -- in reality, he's just one bad guy pitted against a whole lot of other bad guys -- a lot of the typical action movie conventions are turned on their ear, making `Payback' unusual and original almost by default. Characters that would normally be a supporting character or at least comic relief in a typical action movie are gunned down, shot, stabbed, or simply chased off at random moments during `Payback'. Suspense builds throughout the film simply because after a while, you literally have no idea what to expect anymore.
Mel Gibson is great as the ruthless Porter, but equally worthy of mention are William Devane's performance as Carter, a schmoozing two-bit crime boss, and Lucy Liu . . . yowza. As a dominatrix named Pearl, she's hell on high heels in `Payback', and nearly as vicious as Porter.
This movie definitely isn't for everyone. The simple fact that there isn't a standard good guy does drag the film down to a certain extent. Still, if you're in the mood for a clever, offbeat action film, then check out `Payback'. B+
"Eyes Wide Shut" might have been considered director Stanley Kubrick's most
controversial masterpiece . . . if he'd filmed it in the early 1980's, as he
originally intended. While artistically and visually brilliant, "Eyes Wide
Shut" suffers from relying on a script that would've been considered daring
and shocking in years gone by, but for 1999 and beyond it offers nothing
particularly outrageous. With little substance behind the intended shock,
the film is left with little else to entertain the audience. It's kind of
like watching "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" or even "Basic Instinct" today
-- at the time those films were released, they pushed a lot of emotional
buttons, but now the issues and topics they dealt with seems rather tame.
The film deals with the relationship between Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman), a wealthy, happily married couple with a small, lovely daughter (Madison Eginton). However, in an awkward moment Alice confesses to William that she considered cheating on him early on in their marriage. She never actually acting on her adulterous thoughts, but William becomes so enraged that he goes out alone into the night, contemplating the future of his marriage and looking for a random sexual encounter with which he can gain a certain amount of revenge.
And that's it. There's a lot of scenes (some imagined, some real) of kinky sexual encounters, but nothing incredibly over the top, nothing that hasn't been seen in mainstream films before. William's reaction to his wife's confession seems entirely too strong. No, I don't think that any man ever wants to hear from his wife that she thought about having an affair with somebody else, but to react as strongly as he did seemed slightly odd. If she'd actually had the affair, it might've made more sense. Scenes that could've been built into dark, brooding, tormented sequences of William agonizing over what to do often seem pointless because of this . . . and over two hours' worth of them is mind-numbingly boring overkill.
There's still a few highlights -- Cruise puts in a solid performance, considering the material he has to work with, and Kidman actually shines in what really is a supporting role as Alice. Also, the mood, the camera angles, the odd lighting -- in terms of technique, the film ranks as one of Kubrick's finest efforts. Considering all the hype that went along with this film, though, it's very disappointing, and even on its own merits, it's average at best. Decent fare for a Kubrick fan, but otherwise, don't bother. C-
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