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Not an easy film to swallow, on any level
Frailty is the directorial debut of actor Bill Paxton, famous for his roles for James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, Titanic). Paxton has been good throughout his career at conveying both hysteria (His memorable turn in Aliens comes to mind) and menace (Most obviously his role in Near Dark, which Cameron produced), and so it is hardly surprising that he would choose a role for himself that combined those two elements. He plays the father of two young boys, revealed in flashback, who becomes convinced that he is on a mission from God to rid the world of demons who walk the Earth in human form. The fact that these people are real, and have to be killed with an axe, is not an issue; they're not human. One of the boys, played by Matthew MacConaughey, narrates their story as an adult to an FBI agent, played by Powers Boothe, (done up to look like Tommy Lee Jones) for he fears his brother may be carrying on the family tradition.
This film, despite what others may say, is fairly predictable, even up to the twist ending, which follows conventions of movies like this almost to the letter. However, the twist ending also has another twist ending, which is decidedly NOT predictable, but instead forces us to reevaluate the film's moral stance (It doesn't appear to have one) and to accept a rather stupendous coincidence (SPOILER: That one of those on the man's list just happened to be the cheif investigator of his brother's case). Well-acted all round, particularly by McConaughey.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Not good. Not bad. Not even mediocre or OK.
"Punch-Drunk Love" could best be described as "other." If "Annie Hall" is the "Finnigan's Wake" of cinematic romantic comedies, then "Punch-Drunk Love" is a glass of orange juice. Or a brick. It exists entirely outside the parameters by which we judge films of this nature, and as such it is difficult to review it. The whole film is an essay in conflict. As an experience, "Punch-Drunk Love" is alternately an assault on the senses and an transcendence of the mind. The groaning, hammering score is like the main character himself; grinding against its own melodic flow until it suddenly comes together in beautiful melodies. The wild, clashing colours that frequently invade the screen also, on occasion, suddenly resolve themselves into stunning, pastel creations so painterly they could be animated. Even the casting seems designed to engender awkwardness and uncertainty: pairing a foul-mouthed comedian known for juvenile humour and infantile rage (Adam Sandler) with one of the best and most versatile actresses alive (Emily Watson) was, if there truly is such a thing as chemistry, the recipe for a lab explosion. That the two work together is a testament to PT Anderson, who coaxes out of both his leads enough sympathy to each of the characters to allow their improbable attraction to proceed almost without question. The film works not as a romance (too distant) or as a comedy (too disturbing) but as an animate portrait of the soul of Sandler's character, Barry Egan. It is a graphic representation of the pain, humiliation and confusion with which he is flooded. In the film, Barry's soul takes the form of an abandoned harmonium; a burden he must lug from place to place, occasionally, tentitively plonking on it to see if he can make music, and only hearing the smallest, explosive whistle. Only when he takes it and drops it outside Watson's door does he begin to truly play it for all that it is worth.
Gin gwai (2002)
"The Eye" is a very well-crafted and elegant chiller, with a number of interesting ideas. The lead character, played by the wonderful Lee Sin-Je, is very sympathetic and carries this film with little or no help from other co-stars. It is a fine example of the new generation of horror films that combine economically used "jump-out-of-your-seat" shocks with atmosphere and mood, begun by "The Sixth Sense" and continued by such modern classics as "The Devil's Backbone" and "The Others." Like those films, it uses horror not as the driving force of the story, but as a backdrop to other, more earthly dramas; "The Sixth Sense" was as much about a troubled kid in a single-parent family as it was about ghosts, "The Devil's Backbone" was as much a domestic tragedy as a horror story. In this case, the story is of a blind girl suddenly given sight, and finding that she is unable to cope with her ability. The fact that she also sees ghosts is almost incidental; you feel just as devistated when she realises she can no longer play with her orchestra, because she is no longer blind. Also, like "The Devil's Backbone", this film shows that computer graphics are levelling the playing field internationally in visual effects, and that Hollywood-standard production values are now within the reach of any international fimmaker. That would mean nothing if the directors (The brilliantly named Danny and Oxide Pang) did not use them well, but they do. They unleash some incredible, and incredibly realistic, visuals in this film, and clearly know how to scare an audience with them.
"The Eye"'s principal flaw, I'm afraid, is that it is simply too similar to other films; the "blind girl given sight who sees visions" plot has been done before (in Michael Apted's "Blink"), the "seeing dead people" shtick was used up by "The Sixth Sense", and the end bares a striking (though probably unintentional) similarity to "The Mothman Prophecies". That said, this film is good enough to stand on its own without those narrative riffs, and is well-worth your time. 8/10
Red Dragon (2002)
The story of how this film was made is a personal experience shared by the millions of Lecter fans throughout the world. It involves pain, fury, anger and frustration, much like the movie itself. From the moment of its inception, battles raged over the internet, the first line of attack from movie geeks who demanded to know why Dino De Laurentiis, who is a hack by anyone's standards, DARED to "remake" Michael Mann's 1986 film "Manhunter," the second from "Silence" fans who wanted to know how could he POSSIBLY have chosen Brett Ratner, the director of "Family Man" and "Rush Hour" to helm the latest installment in the hallowed franchise.
I was always on the fringe of these debates. I reminded myself that, despite the silly claims of a few lifeless fools, "Manhunter" was NOT as good as "Silence of the Lambs," and indeed was so unfaithful to the original novel in both tone and plot that it left "Red Dragon" begging for another adaptation. I also reminded myself that Jonathan Demme's films prior to "Silence" had been "Married to the Mob" and "Something Wild," both comedies, neither classic, so perhaps it was too early to judge Ratner.
His cast list for the film raised both hopes and fears; Emily Watson, my favourite actress in the world right now, was born to play Reba McClane, Ralph Fiennes was an excellent choice to play Dolarhyde, and it was nice that they got the series' lucky charm, Frankie Faison, (the only person in all four Lecter films) to play Barney again, but Edward Norton was too naturally restrained to play someone as emotional as Graham. Still, with Hopkins on board, the cast's pedigree (Four Oscar nominees and a Tony winner) would be the best seen since Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet." So I waited.
Well I can now say, having seen the film at last, that I am surprised at how good it is. Ratner does a very good job emulating the pace and feel of "Silence," sometimes to a fault; the scene where Chilton (Again wonderfully played by Anthony Heald) leads Graham to Lecter's cell is so obviously a homage to the parallel scene in "Silence" that it only reminds you how much better that earlier scene was. I was particularly impressed with the way Ratner handled sound; people who never listened to music would have sympathised with Lecter at the bad playing of an unfortunate flautist, even though he was only slightly off-key and in the middle of an orchestra. Danny Elfman's score is evocative of, though different from, Howard Shore's score for "Lambs;" a rather difficult feat, and very well achieved. Dante Spinotti, who lensed "Manhunter," throws that film's "Miami Vice" look out of the window and instead tries to emulate the supernatural qualities of Tak Fujimoto ("The Sixth Sense," "Silence"), almost succeeding.
And the actors? Well, I'm sorry to say Norton was exactly as I expected him to be, flat and rather immature as the supposedly world-weary Graham. Fiennes, who demostrated in "Schindler's List" that he could wring sympathy from psychopaths like water from stone, ups his game a hundredfold with his terrifying and disturbing portrayal of Dolarhyde. What the previous Dolarhyde, Tom Noonan, relied on his eerie features and massive frame to convey, Fiennes manages through acting alone, creating a tortured soul of immense power and menace. Much has been said of Watson's performance in this film, and indeed she does nail her character, though I wish she was given more and better lines to deliver. That she managed to make such an impact with the little she had is a minor miracle. Hoffman, Keitel and Parker all aquit themselves well, though they don't bother shifting from their standard screen personas. Hopkins, well, he's back at the funfair and he's relishing every minute of it. You can tell he obviously loves playing this character (Who wouldn't?) and he goes all out giving us the Hannibal we remember, though not quite as powerful as his first incarnation (There is nothing in the film that equals his "spring lambs" interrogation with Starling, for instance). He still manages to both terrify and play the crowd with masterful aplomb.
No, if this film has a weakness, it is surprisingly, Ted Tally's script, which tones down much of the novel's more disturbing aspects, including its wonderful ending, which, sanitised, now lacks punch. There are too many overt references to "Silence," including one line near the end lifted wholesale. And Lecter is given very little of his ingenious dialogue to speak. However, the film's opening sequence, in which we see Lecter before he was caught, is brilliantly written and jibes with Lecter's now mythic status. The opening credits, in which we see the proceeding events played out through the pages of the killer's journal, are eerie and apt.
All in all, a good effort, but it cannot match "Silence," though it could have.
Ghost Busters (1984)
A severely underrated film
What's that you say? Ghostbusters, one of the most financially successful and over-hyped comedies of the eighties, underrated? Yes. Precicely because it was so over-hyped and made so much money, there has been a stigma attached to this film identifying it as a childish FX piece, when it is nothing of the sort. Most of the lines people remember("He slimed me," "OK. So? She's a dog," "When someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES!") are not its funniest or wittiest lines, which often are missed on first or even second viewing. I laugh every time I observe a gag or a quip that I somehow missed the other 20 times I viewed a scene; "Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole through your head, remember that?" "That would have worked if you hadn't stopped me", or, to the driver of a van from a loony bin, "Dropping off or picking up?" Brilliant.
Not only is Ghostbusters funny, it manages to include some truly scary scenes. And not just lose-your-popcorn moments like the fridge from Hell, but also scenes of quiet, thoughtful chill, like Egon's retelling of how the possessed apartment building came into being, or Winston recalling the Book of Revelation. Which other film has managed to combine the Marx Brothers with HP Lovecraft?
The special effects hold up well, besides some obvious studio sets and models, but what really creates this film's world is the stunning cinematography. Manhattan, perhaps the pinnacle of Gothic architectural evolution, is brilliantly utilised here to create a sense of menacing grandeur. After watching "Ghostbusters" I couldn't imagine the realm of the Old Gods opening into our world from anywhere else. The soundtrack is great, not the overrated theme (Which was in fact lifted from Huey Lewis' "I Need a New Drug"), but the wonderfully blusey "Cleaning Up the Town," the creepy proto-techno chiller "Magic" and also the wonderful score by the late and much lamented Elmer Bernstein.
Strictly for Python neophytes
To most hardcore Python fans, this film will be irrellevant, as they probably have every single sketch on DVD already, and this is essentially a "greatest hits album."
So I am going to direct this review at those who have never heard of Python before.
The film opens with a sketch called "How not to be seen," during which the narrator shoots several people in cold blood, blows people up, and then finally breaks down into hysterical laughter when he bombs a children's hospital.
This sketch is hillariously, gut bustingly funny. Why? That is the great mystery of Python. Is it the impeccable timing, the wonderful acting, or the peerless gags? Could be. But I think it is more the brilliant sense of anarchy and loony logic that makes them so brilliant. It was, after all, those people's own bloody fault they were shot; they could be seen!
Beyond this, there are the sketches that are so well known they have become cliches: the Dead Parrot sketch ("Listen mate, this parrot is dead! It's a stiff! Bereft of life it rests in peace; if you hadn't nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies! This is an ex-parrot!") the Lumberjack Song ("I chop down trees, I wear high heels suspenders and a bra!/I wish I'd been a girlie, just like my dear Mama!"), the Dirty Fork sketch ("A dirty, ugly smelly piece of cultlery!!") and so on.
There is still no substitute for watching the show. Indeed many of their best sketches aren't on here; the Cheese sketch, the Adventure Holiday sketch, and my personal favourite, the Eric the Fish sketch ("Why should I be TARRED with the epithet "loony" simply because I have a pet 'alibut?"). Still this is a fairly safe introduction to their unique (That's putting it mildly) brand of humour.
All together now...
"We're Knights of the Round Table, Our shows are formi-dable, But many times We're given rhymes That are quite unsing-able! We're opera nuts in Camelot We sing from the dia-PHRAGHM A LOT!"
The real danger of thinking about this film is that, once you begin reciting a sketch, you won't want to stop until you've finished it. The lines flow after each other so perfectly and naturally that every one becomes the punchline of the one before it. Classic examples are the Politically Aware Peasants, ("Help Help I'm being repressed!") the Logic of Witch Burning, ("If she weighs the same as a duck, she's made of wood- and therefore... a witch!") the warning of Tim the Enchanter ("Death awaits you all; with nasty big pointy teeth!") and so on. The film does have a few dud gags, in particular the tale of Sir Lancelot, but these are far outnumbered by the good ("Allo daffy English Kniggits and Messeur Arthur King who has the brain of a duck you know!"). Despite its self-deprecating tagline, this film feels like an epic, especially since it was made for less than the cost to cater a modern Hollywood film, and is beautifully shot. Perhaps the most innocent and sweet-natured of the Python's films, it still features a liberal amount of sensless murder and bleakness, particularly near the beginning and end. It is still the most addictive of their films.
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Ooh, the sweetest thing
Quentin Tarantino once claimed (In a deleted scene from "Pulp Fiction") that there were only two kinds of people in the world; Elvis people and Beatles people. You could love both, but eventually you had to make a decision. Now there appears to be a new societal division forming- between "Shrek" people and "Monsters Inc." people. Now I love "Shrek;" it had moments of real wit and its target (the Disney empire) was long overdue for a thrashing. But ultimately I was left cold by it. The reason? It was afraid to be a fairy tale. It is true that young people nowadays would not respond well to fairy tales; Disney has transformed fairy tales into something toxic and false, so new ways of telling them have to be invented. "Shrek" told a basic fairy tale story, but peppered it with post-modern references and nudge-nudge jokes to make it clear to is jaded and cynical young audience that it didn't REALLY believe in any of it, it was just having fun. That is, I think, the easy way out.
"Monsters Inc." (Which is officially a Disney film but is actually made by the far more innovative studio Pixar) chooses a harder route; to tell a fairy tale straight, but in a way modern audiences will appreciate. In this, they succeeded masterfully.
The plot of "Monsters Inc." is well known by now. In the city of Monstropolis, which is pretty much like any city you know except that it is populated by monsters of all shapes and sizes, children's screams are the only source of power. To obtain them, the power company Monsters Inc sends professional scarers through a network of trans-dimensional doors into children's closets around the world. The rules of the job are strict; no children or even children's clothing must come into contact with a monster, for there is nothing more dangerous than the touch of a human child. The company's top scarer is "Sulley" Sullivan (John Goodman), who with his partner Mike (Billy Crystal) is in a contest with the number 2 scarer, the evil chameleon Randall Boggs (Buschemi, playing it smooth instead of whiny for a change) to break the all time scream record. However, Randall is actually engaged in a shady plan that involves one of his assigned kids. When that plan backfires and the kid ends up in Monstropolis, Sulley is left alone to deal with her, and with the utter chaos that ensues.
There is so much to love in this film, but I must draw attention to the relationship between Sulley and the child, who he nicknames "Boo." Somehow, and truly I am at a loss to explain it, the scriptwriters, animators and actors pulled off the amazing feat of making the relationship touching without being nauseatingly sweet. Boo is the most adorable little kid in animaiton history, and I think the reason for this is that she was actually voiced by a real three-year old, and not by some affected adult (After all, what do adults really know about what it is like to be three?). The scriptwriters got her to say some incredibly funny things, but her innocence makes them funnier, since she is not trying to be self-aware. John Goodman is wonderful at conveying Sulley's gradually mounting affection for the little tyke, making it more humourous and moving by spicing it with some understandable aggrivation.
I loved the reference to Tex Avery's legendary animated short "Feed the Kitty," (Which must have heavily influenced the filmmakers; Boo also calls Sulley "kitty"), and this film has plenty more to entertain- particularly some wonderfully designed snow sequences and a virtiguous closet door chase that is one of the best ever. "Monsters Inc" is a film I will watch again, and from me, that is high praise.
Hable con ella (2002)
If this is love, I know love not
Pedro Almodovar's "Talk to Her" is as suprisingly sweet as it is profoundly disturbing. It is an examination of the nature of love that attempts to challenge our idea of what love is by taking it to its very limits. The lead character is a typical sad sack; slightly disturbed, isolated and sexually inexperienced. He spends his days staring out of his window at a rapturously beautiful dancer, and tries to form a relationship with her by becoming a patient at her father's psychiatric practice. This eventually leads to disaster when he sneaks into her room to steal an item of hers and finds her just coming out of the shower. But the guy perseveres. After spending years looking after his mother (Who wasn't an invalid, she just didn't like moving very much) he gains a degree in nursing and works with camatose patients. To his joy, one of the camatose patients turns out to be the dancer, and so now he can spend all day expressing and demonstrating his love for her. At least, you could see it that way. Or you could see it as an innocent and helpless girl delivered into the hands of a sexual deviant stalker who now can manhandle her and fantacise about her in any way he pleases. I think you can guess by now where the film is heading, and when the ultimate act is committed, Almodovar presents it in such a way as to show the audience how it could be interpreted as an act of love and selflessness. We never see the act itself, only the man's interpretation of it, and the sequence is, suprisingly, quite funny and, in strange way, touching. But that does not alter the fact that Almodovar is attempting to make rape emotionally acceptable. The film makes this particularly clear by its ending, which, if you have been following this review, I am sure you could also guess. Call me a prude, but I have always felt that love that is only felt by one person is not truly love. True love is something that built by two people by constant attention and care. If I tell someone, "I love you" and she cannot say "I love you too," then I am only really in love with an illusion, not a person.
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
The re-release is unlikely to proclaim 'From the director of "Amelie"'
Jeunet was wrong for this film, no question. He has the style, the darkness, the claustrophobia and the sci-fi experience ("Delicatessen" and "The City of Lost Children" prove that); what he lacks is a true gift for terror. His films, even at their most disturbing, are not frightening in the way the "Alien" films should be. He also has a strange, dark sense of humour, which sits uneasily with the Alien story. I have no idea if Joss Whedon, who can write decent scripts when he wants to, is responsible for the incomprehensible story that is this film's main handicap, or if Jeunet rejigged it to suit his more baroque style, but in either case an acknowledged talent screwed up somewhere.