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The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Joint custody blows.
I'm not a collector of movies, but every once in a while a movie is just so good I have to own it. The Squid and the Whale made it into my very small DVD library very unexpectedly. It all started with a movie night at my last apartment. I didn't have anything in from Netflix, so Chris brings this movie out to screen. Of everyone I know, Chris's opinion of movies is probably the least heeded. He seems to find the worst films in the world and cherishes them while he doesn't like the best made, most entertaining, or otherwise brilliant movies. So I wasn't expecting much of anything but a sorry borefest like all his other films (for example, But I'm a Cheerleader, to be reviewed later on). When the film ended, Joe and Brian said, "Chris, never make me watch a movie like that again," but I was cheering.
To be sure, this is not your typical film. It doesn't start like other films, the dialog isn't like other films, the cinematic style isn't like other films, and the end is definitely unlike other films. This is the story of divorce from the perspective of two young brothers whose parents are both accomplished authors living in Brooklyn. Divorce isn't entertaining, but story telling isn't about entertainment nearly as much as it is in telling a story (obviously). Noah Baumbach did a fantastic job writing the quirky characters and their eccentric language. They aren't speaking English as you or I would speak it for they come from a literary family where they speak of Jean-Luc Godard, Orson Welles, and Franz Kafka in depth, but in a way that is non sequitur to the story but makes sense to the conversation they're having.
There is a lot of similarity between Baumbach's style and that of Wes Anderson, which can be credited to Anderson's producing this particular film (Baumbach also co-wrote Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). It is a very serious film, but it treats the subject in a way I can only describe as "real." Anderson makes films that are normal things, but they're funny things, and Baumbach has this in Squid perfectly. We aren't in a comedy, we're in life, but life is funny, life is sad, life is depressing. There are points in the film where we are laughing, and other parts where we're crying, and others where we're uncomfortable - real.
"Joan, let me ask you something. All that work I did at the end of our marriage, making dinners, cleaning up, being more attentive. It never was going to make a difference, was it? You were leaving no matter what..."
"You never made a dinner."
"I made burgers that time you had pneumonia."
Some movies you'll watch do put you int he depressing situation, but they usually all resolve in the Hollywood fashion. This one is much more like Little Miss Sunshine in that it has a melancholy ending. But the ending is still very strong and powerful.
One Night with the King (2006)
Well produced kitsch
I went to see One Night with the King with my brother-in-law and his wife. It was basically what you would expect from TBN when they throw a bunch of money at a movie. It was well made and the CGI wasn't entirely cheesy, but it was still piles of kitsch and over-acting.
One Night... is the story of Esther, except she's apparently oblivious to the fact that women of her day didn't speak in public, and certainly didn't prance about the marketplace cheerfully. Also, nobody told her that she wasn't supposed to hold western democratic philosophies and Anglo-Protestant individualism. Also, the writer of the story must not have read the original story because they threw in a sub-plot that involved a young male friend who has a crush on her that ends up a eunuch in her court. There is a level of tension between Esther and the King that hints at what the story could have been, but they dwelt much too long on side events that never happened for the story to blossom the way it should have.
Hard Candy (2005)
Low budget greatness
There are only six actors in this film and two of them are extras. But when you have loads of talent and a creative story, great things can happen.
Hard Candy is an interesting look at the child predator. Hayley Stark is a 14-year-old girl who meets a charming 32-year-old for coffee and goes back to his place to listen to music. The roles of predator and prey are smashed and the thrilling story is heart-pounding and sad.
"Ah, so you and your mother are both whacked?" The dialog is crafted with care, and the acting is delivered expertly.
"That's that whole nature versus nurture question, isn't it? Was I born a cute, vindictive, little bitch or... did society make me that way? I go back and forth on that..." This isn't a spoon-fed story, it unwraps in pieces throughout the film with a stunning conclusion that left my agape. Everything is well paced and designed with careful precision. The set is beautiful and the camera angles are interesting and beautiful. I especially loved the work with bright primary colors and muted tones as contrast.
Hard Candy proves you don't have to have a huge budget and high priced actors to create a masterpiece. The only caveat I have is how ridiculous the story gets at times, but this is forgettable.
Nacho Libre (2006)
Yawn inducing melodrama
Jared Hess is the creator/director the suckfest Napoleon Dynamite, and he's joined forces with Jack Black for this tour de force, and the results are predictable: 100 minutes of awkwardness with moments of wannabe rock-star. I don't imagine the preceding is very kind, but what can I say? Sensationalism sells.
Jack Black is an orphan who grows up to work in the orphanage, but his real passion is Los Luchadores (wrestling). When the orphanage comes across bad times, he finds an accomplice and competes for money. It is a story of tension between who he is and who he wishes he was. It's actually a great story, I don't don't like the pacing Hess uses, and his inability to invoke any emotion out of the actors other than awkwardness.
A few parts were pretty funny, but overall it was yawntastic.
One-liners aplenty, and definitely worth a watch.
At the recommendation of a friend, I watched Woody Allen's Bananas. Allen is often portrayed in the media and by critics as an albatross of Hollywood, and I really don't have a lot of experience with his films. Besides Bananas, I have only seen Match Point, which is one of the best films I've ever seen. Being made in 1971, Bananas touches on the activism culture of the time, and the USA's involvement in South American politics. Focused around the the fictitious country of San Marcos, presumably any number of nation-states the USA was involved in destroying. It opens with the president of San Marcos being assassinated and a general taking the reigns of power in the country.
Good afternoon. Wide World of Sports is in the republic of San Marcos where we are going to bring you a live on the spot assassination. They're going to kill the president of this lovely Latin American country and replace him with a military dictatorship.
A strong-handed dictator, a group of (apparently marxist) rebels ban together in opposition. Woody Allen's character is living in the States and falls in love with an activist who is looking for support of the people of San Marcos. They make plans together to fly down there in a show of solidarity, but his girlfriend breaks up with him (in one of the most humorous moments of dialog recorded on film). Because he already had plans to go, he visits San Marcos where he is unwittingly joined to the rebel cause.
This is a very funny movie, especially is you are a fan of Groucho Marx - Allen's influence is quite obvious through lines such as, "I object, your honor! This trial is a travesty. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham." But Woody also brings his own spin, which is pretty political - "You cannot bash in the head of an American citizen without written permission from the State Department." Most of it is one-liners or character comedy, but there are also cleverly composed dialog sequences and wacky settings. The film making is somewhat weak, and the musical score is odd, but this is about on par with early 70s movies. The story was flimsy, but apparently most of the movie was filmed improv. It is definitely worth a watch if only for the last scene alone.
The Matador (2005)
Moral conflict, sunny skies, that's all.
Themes of moral ambiguity have been around for centuries. Since Hollywood began making films, this theme has played out across the silver screen countless times. The best use of this element comes in the form of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers; the worst would be The Princess Diaries and She's The Man. It really shows up in any movie with some sort of moral conflict, sometimes it is overt, and other times it is in the subliminal story. In The Matador, I'm not sure where it is. It seems to be right in the front, but this is definitely not the focus.
Pierce Brosnan plays a hit-man who has no pleasure in life, so he drinks, smokes, and finds the occasional brothel. In Mexico City, he finds himself in the hotel bar making the acquaintance of Greg Kinnear, a blooming entrepreneur who may have just scored the deal of a lifetime. The two of them spend the following day together at a bull fight where Greg learns Brosnan's profession. He thinks it is a joke until Pierce includes him unwittingly in making a score. This is where I will end my telling of the story and start telling what I thought of it.
The actors' performances were superb, given the material they had to work with. The story lacked depth, and was a lengthened tale centered around one event. The story was sloppy, and felt like it was reaching out to where it would have been good, but never reached that point. The cinematography was pretty, but nothing new.
I don't think they elevated it much higher than a scripted "reality TV show". It showed a few people interact in joyful dialog, and in conflicting dialog - and none of it really helped the story along. Perhaps I just expected more out of it.
Seriously, watch it
This movie is pretty genius. It was written by the same screenwriter of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman), and if you've seen those you know how original and quirky it is, and what kind of humor is underneath the tragic story. Adaptation was, in my opinion, better than both of those other films.
Nicolas Cage plays Charlie Kaufman, and his fictitious twin brother Donald Kaufman. Charlie is adapting a book, The Orchid Thief (a real book by Susan Orlean), but is having trouble writing the screenplay. He ends up writing himself into the movie. The completed product is this genius movie, Adaptation.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Not worth its weight in controversy
It was better than the critics said, but not as good as the hype. I agree with the critics when they said it wasn't a good role for Tom Hanks (it seemed forced), but disagreed when they said it was plodding, boring or worse. It was two-and-a-half hours long, but the suspenseful pace was quick, even if the dialog was heavy (lots of talking - it was a book at one point after all). It was interesting to see how the story involves real events, places and things with fiction and conspiracy. That was really cool. A lot of it didn't make sense, but that's what you get when you try to make things exciting (why was this random guy interested in the cryptex?).
The Christians made a huge fuss over the movie, and I feel only one organization was justified in it - Opus Dei. They officially didn't make a huge deal out of it, they pretty much just opened up to explain what they're about,a nd re-released their founder's book, The Way. There really isn't a need for the Church to expend so much energy fighting Dan Brown when they should be focusing on teaching scriptures and sound doctrine. The secular world has been doing a stellar job discounting all of Dan Brown's claims - just watch The History Channel to see.
Overall, this movie is a solid rental, but that's about it.
Deserving of reward
This is a film about Truman Capote's research into a quadruple murder in a small Kansas town. Not the murder itself, but how it affected the people in the town, and who the murderers were. Capote is an eccentric character, and somewhat infectious. I don't want to give away too much of the story, so I'll go right to my thoughts.
This film deserves all of the awards and nominations it received. Every character was perfectly cast, and the acting was superb. Each shot was carefully framed, and the colors were balanced and saturated beautifully. Capote is the best film I've seen (from a technical standpoint) since Brokeback Mountain. But unlike the latter movie, Capote did manage to be compelling, and connected the characters to me, the viewer.
This is not one film I would rave about, but it is worth watching for those who enjoy a beautifully crafted movie.
It is a grand story starting with one man, at the turn of the 19th century, moving out west to pursue the American dream. He repairs bicycles. There wasn't much bicycle business, but a man comes to him to fix his Stanley Steamer. He ends up reworking the thing, boosting its performance. He turns his business into this and soon creates race cars. He is quite successful, and amasses quite a fortune. Around this time, the stock market crashes, throwing the country into turmoil. His son dies in an automobile accident, and he locks up the cars in his barn and quits his work on them. He gets a divorce from his wife (quite common when a child dies, actually), and lives a melancholy life until he ends up at a horse track in Tijuana. He meets a nice young lady there, and they marry. Together they hire a trainer, jockey, and buy a horse (Seabiscut). They train this thing to race, and it wins, and keeps on winning. They then pursue the triple-crown winner, War Admiral.
This film is really pretty good. It has a good story arc, great acting, and great cinematography with beautiful landscapes. It makes you feel good, it really does. But the whole time, I kept thinking I was cheering for a horse. Oh yeah, apparently horses are people too. I guess I should have watched Black Beauty one more time. At times, they try to be philosophical, and the whole time they're working on the ultimate underdog story. The horse is about half the size of War Admiral, the jockey is too tall, blind in one eye, and broke his leg (for a minute I expected him to wind up with leukemia or something), and the trainer was a loner. But they had spirit ... American spirit. They do make this quite an American film, full of American underdogism, American pride, and the American dream. But, really, this is a great movie. I honestly would watch it again.
Oldboy is a Korean film, so it has the Hong Kong feel, but there's something different to it as well. There is a feel of film noir, but it's also got quirky humor and the obligatory kung fu scenes (although not extended). The story begins with the protagonist being abducted and imprisoned for 15 years. When he gets out, he must follow the clues to find out why he was there. Things get really weird and really twisted.
What I thought about it: I really can't say anything about the over-dubbing that was sub-par because it's to be expected from foreign films. Of course when I turned on the subtitles, it didn't match the dialog - it seems as if the subtitles was a direct translation and the dubbing was a cultural equivalent with artistic freedom. It distracted me, so I turned it off. The acting might have been believable in Korean, but without actually hearing the actors' voices it was laughably bad - like some of the people you see on American Idol who put too much into their singing where it sounds ridiculous and not natural at all. The dialog and soliloquy were filled with pop-culture hackery. "Laugh and the world laughs with you..." and other stolen lines repeated ad nauseam trying to fill the story with philosophy, yet ultimately adding nothing to the story artistically or dramatically. Of course the twists, turns and revelations are all pretty original, yet it ends with the dreaded deus ex machina.
In conclusion, this isn't a movie I'd necessarily recommend to anyone unless you're interested in foreign films, Korean camp, or if you like movies that take you one way to throw you another when it all fits together.
The Forgotten (2004)
Forget this one
Julianne Moore portrays a woman undergoing outpatient psychiatric treatment over the loss of her son in a tragic airplane crash that took the lives of 6 children. The story got going right from the start without building up the characters. The photos of her son started disappearing, and the video tapes erased. She starts flipping out, and her husband and shrink tell her she never had a son. That the son was stillborn and that she has paramnesia, causing her to create memories (and nine years of them). She is absolutely convinced otherwise, and seeks out answers. She goes to the father of one of the other children on the airplane, and he thinks she's crazy too, and claims he never had a daughter. Before you know it, the NSA is after them both. As they dig deeper, they uncover unbelievable things that would "not fit in your head." I usually don't have much bad to say about the production value of a film, but this time it was distracting. The camera angles really didn't add to the scenes, and sometimes just created confusion. The musical score was ominous, melancholy or somber throughout, even the action scenes, including car and foot chases. Most people probably wouldn't care so much about it. But together, along with the screenplay and low-key performances, I lost interest quickly, and even started to perform tasks in my room giving only half an ear to the TV. I resigned myself to enjoy the thing, and it did get better as it went along, but remained in the same tone throughout. It seemed as if the directer was torn between focusing on the sci-fi or the inner nature of motherhood, and opted to go with boring. The characters really don't develop, and seem fractured. The story plods along in an attempt to reach "feature length" status. This could easily have been an hour long Outer Limits episode. It has the same feel even - probably intentionally. I appreciated the sci-fi nature of the story, but, again, it seemed as if they were trying to decide if they wanted to talk about that or motherhood, and failed at both. The whole story builds up to an exciting brain-twisting conclusion, that it doesn't provide. The "twist" thrown in wasn't much of anything. Not shocking, didn't throw the story into another dimension. In the end, it didn't explain anything, and didn't excite me at all. So I went to sleep directly.
Underworld: Evolution (2006)
I really liked the first Underworld, so I expected a lot from this one; I wasn't disappointed. The movie picked up right from where the first one ended, and moved at a quick pace through each scene with nary slow parts. They achieved this very well because the story was expounded and progressed easily along with the action sequences. This is a vampire movie, so everything is dark, and they've filtered the colors with a blue tint, and this created an eerily beautiful effect. The werewolves' movements are jerky, but that gives them an evil feel like in 28 Days Later The character development is very thin, of course most of that was taken care of in the first film. This one was did seem very linear and predictable, relying on spectacular effects and action to carry the weight of the film. But, like I said, this doesn't really mean a lot because the first movie covered everything important. Remember in the 80s where every movie had a bunch of small battles culminating in one scene where the protagonist faced off with the "big boss"? Evolution was like an extended big boss scene, only with more revelation and a bigger boss. The ending did leave room for a sequel, but also concludes everything so if they made a sequel they would have to write a new story unrelated except featuring Kate and Scott's characters.
I really enjoyed this movie. If you liked the first one, this one is a no-brainer.
In Cold Blood (1967)
Great black and white. That's all.
The story was written as a biographical novel about real people and real events; Two men murdered a family of four in a rural Kansas town to the shock of the nation. Truman Capote undoubtedly added and exaggerated drama in the book, so it's not a biography, but it's not entirely a novel either. The movie was filmed on location in the actual home where the murders took place, the courthouse, and the gallows. They even used people from the town in certain roles, even featuring the daughter's horse. The photos in the home were actual pictures of the family.
The acting and directing were top notch, even by today's standards (this film was released in 1967). The black and white was utilized beautifully and shockingly. The only thing that was bad was the musical score, of course it was on par with the era. You had weird electronic noises mostly, but it was modal. When the family was shown before the murders, the music was pretty, but then the murders was shown, it was grating. It seemed to move to the background through the film, maybe they figured it worked better silent than with an eerie soundtrack.
I didn't get to watch the whole movie in one sitting, so I probably didn't get the full effect. For how well together the film was, I think it deserves praise. However, I didn't find the thing worth a repeat viewing unless I was going to study cinema of the era, or how to film in black and white. I'm sure most other people might actually enjoy this more than me
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Failure of a finale
This is supposedly the last in the X-Men series before they go on to more focused films like Magneto and Wolverine. The Last Stand is appreciably different than the two previous installments due primarily to it featuring a different director, and secondarily because they continue to introduce more characters from the series. This does make it markedly more difficult to maintain focus. The original X-Men comic books took years to move through the same story arc. This was evident while viewing this film. The story seemed fractured because there were so many sub-plots. It was almost like there was a bunch of different movies cut and put together. The forays into the characters we forgot we were supposed to care about are forgettable, and could easily have been cut. However, it was an entertaining film throughout with great acting and spectacular effects. The battle scenes were bigger than the last two films because the mutants moved from the underground to do battle out in the open. I really don't know what else to say. Now that I'm actually writing this down, the movie wasn't all that great. It was a lot of fun to watch, but it could have been much better. The effects tried to compensate for the weaknesses elsewhere, but even the giant finale battle was sort of aloof. We were sort of detached from what was actually going on, and I felt it was more of an atmosphere of battle than actual action. I think as a package of three films - the X-Men trilogy - everything would be really cool. I enjoyed it, I really liked it, but it is far from being the pinnacle of movie making - even at comic book standards.
Vanilla Sky (2001)
The first and most obvious thing about this film is how perfectly everyone was cast, their on screen characters reflected the actors' real personalities. Tom Cruise plays an eccentric guy who is so full of himself that even those closest to him don't really matter. He's a very wealthy publisher with everything: youth, looks, cars, women, et al. His best friend is played by Jason Lee, a sarcastic and forgiving guy always ready to party. He also works for Cruise as a writer. Cameron Diaz plays another friend of Cruise who also happens to be his booty call. She's a skanky, obsessive beauty with not much going on in her head except for dreams of being with Tom forever. The story begins with Tom Cruise in a jail talking to a psychologist, portrayed by Kurt Russell, about the murder that took place. Kurt is a warm, but firm man who could care, or could care less (if that makes any sense). Cruise begins his story at his birthday party where Jason brings a random girl he just met, who happens to be played by Penélope Cruz. She is a quiet, cute and exotic woman who captivates the attention of Tom, much to the chagrin of Cameron. Tom ends up spending a sleepless night with Cruz drawing caricatures of each other, and talking about random stuff, and invariably fall in love. When he leaves the next morning, he is in a massive automobile accident that crushes his arm and face. I've left out a little there because I don't want to spoil the plot. Cruise wakes from a coma weeks later with a disfigured face, and the surgeons really can't do much about his looks, and he has terrible headaches. He falls into a depression, and is struck with the feeling that he's unwanted by his friends, his company, and even Penélope. Tom finally learns they can repair his face, and things turn his way again. Cruz is finally his, and they live happily until things start happening that Tom's mind cannot reconcile.
The movie is directed by the incredulous Cameron Crowe with the beauty and grace you would expect from him. Vanilla Sky easily slides in and out of beautiful scenes you'd expect from Monet if he did film, and harsh scenes of emotional intensity. The story is well written as well, and very much like Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger. There are better movies of this type, but this one does have its own feel to it (thanks to Crowe) that sets it apart as something special. It really is a great film about love, loss, and friendship.
End of the Spear (2005)
Drowning in itself
This is a low-budget movie, you can tell right from the beginning. It deserves a handicap for this. The acting is about what would be expected with the exception of Chad Allen, who really held the movie together. some scenes were filmed beautifully, and others were confined. The real Achilles heel of this movie, in my opinion, was the screenplay. The story seemed unfocused. They never explained why these white people were looking for the tribe, and hardly told who anybody was. If you knew the story already, this wouldn't be a big deal, but most people don't. Also, the huge emotional turmoil between Steve and Mincayani lasted only a moment. The emotion was really not felt by me, the viewer, from anyone. It didn't make me feel for the place the Waodani people were in - stuck between their own wars and the wars of modern man. It didn't really make me feel for the families of the fallen men either. I feel the movie focused on Steve when it should have focused on the wives, and their inner battle between these people as enemies and neighbors. Steve's story should have been a subplot. The real shining point of End of the Spear was during the closing credits when the real Steve was telling stories about when Mincayani was brought to the States.
Even though this film isn't very good, I would still recommend watching it. It does tell a very important story. "If they attack you, will you use your guns?" "No, son. They're not ready to die, we are."
Match Point (2005)
There is no moral ambiguity
I heard some good things about Match Point, but I never expected what I got from this. I usually appreciate knowing little about a film before I see it, this is one of those times. Written and directed by Woody Allen, this beautiful masterpiece, set in England, has a subtext of the opera (perhaps if Dostoevsky wrote it). There is no soundtrack except some opera in the background of some scene transitions. The protagonist, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, begins as a tennis instructor and ex-tennis pro who finds a mutual interest in the opera with one of his students, and is introduced into his family and the beginning of this turmoil. Throughout the film, he attends the opera several times. This is all fitting well with the tragic tale Allen tells.
The man who said "I'd rather be lucky than good" saw deeply into life. People are often afraid to realize how much of an impact luck plays. There are moments in a tennis match where the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, remains in mid-air. With a little luck, the ball goes over, and you win. Or maybe it doesn't, and you lose.
The movie opens with this narration, and it moves through the film as a mode used in various plot turns. Luck. Meyers finds himself in the social elite through a friendship turned to family. His life moves from ex-tennis pro to social climber with new opportunities, family that loves him, and a generally comfortable life. He even (in his own mind) finds himself lucky to satiate a lustful desire to have Scarlett Johansson, even though he is soon to be married to her fiancé's (his best friend) sister. And we find the "match point" that I've succinctly called a "double entendre". A match point is the last point made in a tennis match to win the game, but it's also indicative of the head of a match that, if struck, would ignite into flame. Meyers lives his life in the time the tennis ball is hovering over the net. If he's lucky, it will land on the right side and he will win, or it will land on the wrong side, and his life is shattered. The end of the movie lands a "match point" that doesn't bring joy, but pensive guilt. The ball lands on the right side of the net, but nobody has won, and many have lost.
The production of the film is, as some have said, what a film should look like when everything is done right. The colors, the acting, the backdrop, everything is beautiful. I was thinking to myself that the cinematography looked how it would if I were to make a film. The screenplay is so personal the dialog and characters are believable, and you can really see into their lives. The protagonist is his own antagonist, and this tragic story leaves you trying to figure out if you should be sad for, or angry at, Meyers. Woody Allen created an opera for a new age.
Boiler Room (2000)
Thinking with Testosterone
Boiler Room is basically about a young college drop-out, played by Giovanni Ribisi, who is seeking the quick way to the top. He starts an illegal gambling casino in his home, but is soon offered a job as a stock broker. This is a fast-paced occupation full of young guys who don't know what to do with their money. They gamble constantly, they party constantly; drugs, women and cars. On the surface, this is easily brushed off as a formulaic, pop-culture movie. If you pay attention though, this is a lot more than that. The subtext for this story is the relationship Ribisi has with his father. This relationship holds a lot of tension, and through the film goes through many changes both positive and negative, and culminates in a tear-jerking revelation. I'll admit it, I almost cried. But there is also a lot more going on here, most notably the story of one of Ribisi's clients who had domestic problems he had to face with his wife and children. His performance was impressive, and you really felt for him.
Not even rent-able
I really wanted to like Ultraviolet. From the writer and director of Equilibrium, Kurt Wimmer creates an alternative future where an ancient virus from Eastern Europe turns ordinary humans into vampires. An Orwellian government, bent of destroying the vampires, creates a weapon that will destroy them all. Milla Jovovich plays the comic-book inspired heroine who was infected with the virus and held for the humans to conduct experiments on her through various tests. The testing nearly kills her, which kills the child in her womb. She is sent by the vampire faction to capture the weapon and destroy it.
So this film pretty much failed at everything. The entire story was told in the opening narration, and the rest of it was a series of vivid battles with a variety of uniform enemies with no faces, and no cause for existence. There isn't any story development, and some elements come from nowhere and go nowhere. There are peripheral enemies that are not introduced or explained, and Milla just decimates them, and there is nary mention of them after; there is a love story that lasts all of two lines; there is not a lot more. The acting is terrible, of course they weren't given much dialog to work with either. It seems as if Wimmer took a bunch of different ideas (each of which are interesting) and threw them together into a vomitorium. Even the graphics were sub-par. Some scenes looked amazing, and would make a good Blu-ray Disc reference piece, but the rest of it looked two generations old. The city was a tiled texture, the vehicles were smooth and polygonal, and the fire, smoke and glass (especially in the last scene) didn't even look rendered.
I didn't watch this one with expecting much considering its short life in theaters and the really bad review from critics, but I was still disappointed. If you want to watch something on your new high-def TV, this might make for a good view for friends, but otherwise you probably want to avoid it.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Daring dark comedy
I had heard about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang prior to its release, and fully intended on seeing it in theaters. However, it was put into limited release, and I missed out on it. It is unfortunate that this is the fate of such a fine film. I'm sure it will be one of those "DVD hits" like Donnie Darko, Boondock Saints and Pitch Black.
The movie features under-rated actor Robert Downey Jr. as a petty burglar who happens, by chance, to land a gig as an actor. He's sent to Los Angeles for more screen tests and training with a detective - played by another under-rated actor, Val Kilmer - for his part in the film. Downey finds himself in the middle of the Hollywood party scene where he runs into Michelle Monaghan, whom he had grown up with in a small Iowan town. Together, the three of them are thrust into a plot featuring many dead bodies appearing in places they would rather not have them, and many dark comedic moments.
The beauty of this film is how well writer/director Shane Black (adapted from a novel by Brett Halliday) mixes the conspiratorial murder mystery with off-kilter humor and fanciful cinematography. I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, suspense, and humor all as independent movies, but brought together into one coherent piece moved it beyond any one part.
Recently I have been lamenting the lack of quality adventure films in the vein of Back to the Future and Indiana Jones; I feel the Pirates series satiates my cravings. Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer, is known for over-the-top movies that defy belief so much it's distracting to the story, but perhaps director Gore Verbinski has toned him down a bit. Pirates is still over-the-top excitement, but it really doesn't distract from the storytelling the team of writers maintain.
This installment of the Pirates trilogy pits the Keith Richards inspired Captain Jack Sparrow, portrayed skillfully by Johnny Depp, against the under-worldly Captain Davy Jones. I'm not sure what went on in developing the final two chapters, but Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, end up in the adventure somewhat as an aside - Dead Man's Chest is really Jack Sparrow's movie. I could go into the story, but it seems pointless, the story is linear and the characters seem to develop almost forcefully. There are detours in the film that seem to only exist for spectacular adventure and could easily have been cut from the movie, especially when it ends at over 2 and a half hours in length. The cannibal island act didn't do anything for the story except to bring together four characters from the previous film. It seems like they couldn't figure out how to get these people in the story any other way. Honestly, the characters all come from different places and all end up on the same island together just to be chased about by cannibal tribes-people (some of which looked like Irishmen). Some of the characters were introduced in this film seemingly for no reason, but our main characters seem to be quiet fond of them.
Besides some weak elements, as mentioned, everything was amazing. The story drew you into it with compelling drama, suspense and adventure. The action was exciting and big (true to Bruckheimer's pedigree). The vistas were amazing; filmed on location in the Bahamas. The most impressive part of it all was the innovative, cutting-edge CGI effects. It is amazing to see how far computer generated images have come over the years.
Why We Fight (2005)
Important viewing for the 21st Century
Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his Farewell Address, said this:
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence economic, political, even spiritual is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
It is with this speech (from the television archives) that Why We Fight begins. This documentary, named after the Frank Capra propaganda films of the early 1940s, plays out over Eisenhower's Farewell Address, and rests in the context of his warning to remain vigilant. The film maker made this documentary surprisingly balanced, with interviews of everyone from Bill Kristol to John McCain, from a Vietnamese refugee to former security advisers. It even featured the son and granddaughter of Ike himself. The film maker left out any narration, and let everyone speak for themselves. Of course I disagreed with people on both sides, but there was an awful lot of history and information in it that I was simply befuddled.
The topic was focused and dealt with the military industrial complex and the militarization of America over the last 60 years, and its affects around the world. Usually when I watch a political documentary, it strays from the subject at times to try and prove a point, and Why We Fight did a very good job of keeping with the subject, while also moving through the emotions of a retired NYC police officer who lost his son in the WTC attacks and had his name written on a bomb destined for Iraq.
I'm a sucker for good documentaries regardless of which point of view it is, and this one was particularly well done. It travels from the dropping of the A-bomb on Japan through the jungles of Vietnam, from the present war in Iraq back to the Washington Farewell Address.
Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.
If you enjoy documentaries as much as me, this one is not to be missed. To end, I'll add a bit more of Ike's address:
Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.
Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.
16 Blocks (2006)
Middle of the Street
16 Blocks sort of went under the radar when it was originally released. I guess at the time it was released, there was great ambivalence towards movies in general, but this is changing. However, in the current marketplace, this film would probably not have fared very well either. Bruce Willis plays a tired, aging cop - which is appropriate for him, being a tired, again action star - who is transporting Mos Def sixteen blocks to the courthouse where he will testify against police corruption. Obviously this task is quite more involved than just driving the distance, as becomes obvious right from the outset. Overall, this is your basic action film, but at the end it becomes much more. The acting is brilliant, the story complex, and the editing is good. I don't think it's worth repeat viewings, but it is definitely worth the rental. Make sure to watch the alternate ending.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Big Lebowski is one of those classic films everyone talks about that I've never seen, until recently. I'm glad I did. This superbly cast comedy features Jeff Bridges as "The Dude", the unemployed "live and let live" antagonist who is unfortunately thrust into a series of events beyond his control along with his two best friends, and bowling colleges, Walter and Donny, played by John Goodman and Steve Buscemi respectively. The comedic timing and skillful screenplay are amazing. Watching these three interact in scenes is beautiful. Of course there is more to this film than the comedy, and the mysterious twists and turns are strong on their own right, and the overall lesson learned is heartfelt. This really is a classic film brought to us by the Coen brothers.