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The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Why this film means what it means...to me
While every filmmaker wants to reach a large audience, the actual effect will usually boil down to an individual experience. So it is with "The Passion of the Christ". Notice how Jesus makes an impression on individuals throughout the movie. His mother Mary; Satan; His disciples John, Peter, and Judas; Mary Magdalen; Pontius Pilate, his wife, lieutenant Abenader; the High Priest Caiphas; Simon of Cyrene; and the unnamed soldiers who crucify Him. I make no judgment on the reaction of others, how I see it is what remains with me. I am a Born-Again Christian, and therefore a movie that concerns the act that forms the foundation of my beliefs will effect me differently than an atheist who challenges it, a skeptic who questions it, a movie critic who analyzes it, or even another Christian who has seen it. But why I value this film is because of how Mel Gibson portrays it, not simply because it is about Jesus Christ. I've seen other movies about or with Jesus in them, but none where nearly every scene has effected me deeply. I credit Gibson and his team for making this happen. This should stand as his masterpiece, and the career performances for much of the cast. The standouts are Caviezel's Christ of course, but also the commanding presence of Hristo Shopov as Pilate, Rosalindo Celenato's haunting Satan, and Pietro Sarubbi's manic Barabbas. This film is just too powerful and well done to be missed. See it and draw your own conclusions. For me, it will never make my Top Ten list because it exists outside of entertainment value. But there was no reason it could not have won Academy Awards in several categories had it been nominated.
The Golden Compass (2007)
This adaptation was a travesty from about ten minutes in. And considering the talent involved, the shame should burn even further and last longer. Direction is where the train first flies off the tracks here. Did Chris Weitz read the book or the Cliffs Notes? Everything in the story flies forward at warp speed, and since there is much in the story that needs to be dwelt on, trimming details was not the way to go. If you remember, the first Harry Potter movie and The Fellowship of the Ring both clocked in at around three hours, because there was so much to reveal to the audience and no one complained about the length of those movies at the box office. The Armoured Bear fight lasts less than three minutes which doesn't give us enough time to appreciate the importance of what's happening. And I think Ian McKellen was wrong for the voice of Iorek. His voice carries too much majesty to convey the deep wounds of humiliation that Iorek has. I would've used Guy Pearce or Jeremy Irons.
Also wrong was taking events that carried a lot of emotional weight, like deaths of certain characters, and sweetening them up to "spare" the kids in the audience. Look, it's PG-13, which means the parents have been warned. I saw kids taken to The Dark Knight, and there's no way the Golden Compass could ever approach that kind of shock or horror. I did not like how Nicole Kidman looked as Mrs. Coulter. I think the makeup people could have done a little better than just pretend her face was a plastic mask. Also, there's no back story given on why she's so important to the story. It just occurs and the audience has to play catchup. When "Dune" was released in 1984, many thought that it was a good companion piece for those who had read the book, but to the uninitiated, it was a quagmire of confusion. I wouldn't even call this waste of two hours a worthwhile watch for those who have read the book, let alone those who have not.
If I don't like it, then I won't watch it again
I identify with the passion of one of this film's characters who declares to be "hungry for more" after having seen this work by Brad Bird. I absolutely loved "The Incredibles", and yet figured that Brad Bird would stick to his schedule of only making a movie every few years or so. I certainly wasn't sure that he'd team up again with Pixar. And then I saw that he had chosen this project. I was a little trepidant approaching this movie's opening. Could lightning strike twice or was Bird doomed to wander into a wasteland of storytelling like M. Night Shyamalan? I am now confident that Brad Bird will not dwindle away his talent. This movie was as richly fulfilling as the feasts it displays and I'll try to stop with the food metaphors from here on. I had thought the story was going to be about urban rat adventures in the same way as "Flushed Away", "The Great Mouse Detective", or "The Secret of NIMH". But then I saw the teaser which informed that instead it would focus on the delight of making and eating fine cuisine. With rats? Yes, with rats. It encouraged me that are others out there who know that real reason haute cuisine is so snobbish is because it has the wealth of flavors that you won't get from The Olive Garden or McDonald's. I watched with shear joy as food was woven into the plot and displayed with such magnificence. My mother who was an art major in college said that this was the finest animation she had ever seen, and this from a woman who has watched "Toy Story", "Beauty and the Beast", "Snow White", "Pinocchio", and "Wallace and Gromit". All you have to see is the breathtaking vistas of Paris and you also will want to shout Bravo! Finally, what I've started noticing and liking about Pixar versus the sequel maniacs at Dreamworks is their ability to cast characters. "The Incredibles" could've had bigger names than Craig T. Nelson or Elizabeth Pena, but they would not have matched character as flawlessly. That continues here as you will not immediately recognize most of the cast (Lou Romano?), but you will agree that no else could've matched so perfectly. Another skill I attribute to Brad Bird. I now eagerly await "1906", confident that it will be one more feather in the cap of someone who is making a claim as the greatest animated filmmaker ever.
Pride and Prejudice (1940)
See Mary Boland in the performance of a lifetime.
None of the message boards I've viewed on this version have mentioned yet the sheer brilliance that is displayed by Mary Boland as Mrs. Bennett. In 1941 she would have had stiff competition at the Oscars from eventual winner Jane Darwell in "The Grapes of Wrath" or Dame Judith Anderson in "Rebecca", but Ms. Boland still deserved a nomination in what is for me the personification of Mrs. Bennett. She brings all of the selfishness and anxiety the role calls for, but also adds her own comic flavor to the role. Ms. Boland had talent of capturing a comic mania that was unique among actresses. Her lightning delivery with her quivering voice brought the line "Mr. Bennett!" to life in a way that I've never quite seen overcome by any other actress in the role. Alison Steadman in the 1995 version I thought was too angry, and Brenda Blethyn in 2005 was too sympathetic. Mrs. Bennett is to be nothing more than comic relief, and Ms. Boland is great at being the foil of Edmund Gwenn who is also perfect in his role as Mr. Bennett. Alas I cannot say the same for Elizabeth! Poor Greer Garson, while a great beauty, never seemed to capture the girlishness needed, and came off more like Jane Bennet's mother than her younger sister (she was 36 and seven years older than Maureen O'Sullivan at the time). But the rest of characters are all well cast, and beyond the Hollywood corruption of the ending, this is a well-produced version of a classic romance. But see it if no other reason than the splendid performance of Mary Boland.
You'll never see its' kind again
Tron is a one of a kind experience, and that's according to the creative staff who made it. Its' uniqueness resides in the filming process used for figures in the computer world scenes via a process called "back-lighting". See the "trivia" section for more information on how this was done, but let me say that back-lighting creates the image that has stayed with me over the years and keeps bringing me back to this milestone movie. The world of the Programs is unlike any other visual setting I have experienced in a movie, with buildings, landscapes, characters, and vehicles that have to be seen to be believed. Like most fans, the Lightcycles and the battle discs are among my favorite images from the story, which while simple, is profound in the context of the evolution of the computing world. Having viewed the documentary on how this movie was made, I also have the utmost respect for the Lisberger team that had to invent the wheel to get this world on film. Bravo for their efforts, and shame to the MPAA for refusing them an Oscar for Special Effects. Finally, while I like David Warner as Sark just fine, it would have been cool to see what Peter O'Toole could have done with this part had he stayed on.
A Shot in the Dark (1964)
One of the funniest movies I (or you) will ever see courtesy of the warped mind of Blake Edwards and the genius of Peter Sellers. Sellers plays Clouseau as a obvious-to-everyone-but-himself clod trying to remedy a bad situation by making it worse (See "The Party" for more of the same). Herbert Lom found the role of a lifetime in the Clouseau-obsessed Inspector Dreyfus, and Burt Kwouk, Graham Stark, and Martin Benson all shine in smaller roles. Sadly, somebody has to play straight man/woman, and Elke Sommer and George Sanders are just fine. The Great Blake mines laughter from nearly every single minute, from Dreyfus' opening phone conversation, to Clouseau's first appearance in the movie, to his destruction of a billiard room, to his night on the town with Maria, to a nudist camp...I laugh at everything in this movie except for one part.
This has got to have the slowest and most boring opening scene in movie history (And yes, I've seen Antonioni's "The Passenger"). I usually skip it when I'm showing it to someone for the first time so they won't get disgusted and leave. Fast-forward to the gunshot, laugh at the animated opening credits, and continue laughing for 99 minutes. Enjoy and suspect everyone!
The Guns of Navarone (1961)
"You may find me factitious at times, but if I didn't crack some very bad jokes now and then I'd go out of my mind."
Corporal Miller's exclamation sums up what kind of mood this WWII action thriller is trying to set. "Guns of Navarone" is not full of flag-waving or patriotism, but wearied veterans who just want to get this job done. Spielberg's soldiers in "Saving Private Ryan" also conveyed this outlook. When we first see Captain Mallory, he is grim faced and upset that his leave has been canceled (as we later find out, he had a good reason for seeking leave!). There is not a lot of emotion expressed at seeing Major "Lucky" Roy Franklin, but the two men are glad to greet each other as comrades. But the movie's first emotional tailspin is when Squadron Leader Barnsby gives a report on his group's failure to attack Navarone. You can see the fatigue on Richard Harris' face as he tells the "bloody truth" about what is being asked of him and his men. A fine cameo by this late, great actor. The characters don't smile or joke too much, and when they do the viewer can plainly see that there's more to tell underneath the surface. This was a great job of acting by all concerned, and they are given wonderful dialog to accompany the stress and tension of the time. The top scenes are when insubordination looms among the characters, not because the person in charge is being sadistic or unfair, but because of the fatigue of everyone. The action and stunts are great, and this is the first movie I've seen that has both cliff climbing AND cliff diving!
Jack and the Beanstalk (1952)
Stick to radio boys...
I'll start blasting the movie first. Remove Abbott and Costello from the cast and you've got a badly colored movie, stiff cardboard from the casting department, badly dubbed sound (especially during the singing!) and annoying dialog (ex. listen to the line "Mr. Dinklepuss" ad infinitum). Obviously some studio hack thought that they could cash in on Disney's CLASSIC presentation of "Mickey and the Beanstalk", but maybe audiences were either more gullible back then (improbable) or stuck in a double feature (more probable). Even children should feel insulted at having this movie shown to them. A total waste of celluloid. Now, about the acting of Abbott and Costello. Bud Abbott always played the straight man, and by all accounts was the nicer person off the set. On radio, his character was usually the smooth fast talker, and was especially funny when his speed caused him to flub his lines and smooth over the mistakes. In the movies, he still plays the straight man, but is more of a con artist. Not that he's bad at it, but that character has been played to perfection by Groucho Marx. The real travesty of the duo on film is Lou Costello. Again, on radio he was funny. He played a character that was a little slower than Abbott, but not too much slower! He was also glib with the lines, and got me laughing when he would ad-lib at Abbott's mistakes. On film, I don't know if it was his decision or not, but in the movies his character becomes a shoddy impersonation of Stan Laurel, which in turn was even more shoddily done by Jerry Lewis. Why the change? he was funny on radio when he was a smarta--, but here he becomes a child-like character that looks like he's mugging for the cameras in every shot. this characterization is shown in every movie they do, and only brings a stain to the reputation they had on radio. What is left to their film career is a poor (very, VERY poor) copy of Laurel and Hardy. The movies would have been much funnier if they had played their radio characters instead of retreads of stock casting.
The Three Musketeers (1973)
"The Musketeer's motto is..." FUN FOR ALL!
Look no further if you want a perfect filmed adaptation of Dumas' classic novel of adventure, romance, and intrigue. The story should be familiar, but the casting, writing, direction, music, and spontaneity is unlike any other musketeer movie I've seen. I believe this film's rise or fall depended on who the creative team was, and no better man could have been chosen than Richard Lester. Lester has not done any movies lately, but he was one of the most talented directors of the mid-sixties and early seventies. He was a master at comedy (see his tow movies with the Beatles for other examples) and one of his trademarks was that during any scene where the focus was supposed to be on the main actors, he would concurrently have extras muttering funny asides to the audience. One of his favorite actors to do this was the late, great Roy Kinnear, whose observations alone require multiple viewings of this movie, even with the subtitles on! On to the actors then. Screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser noted that no other writer in the history of the movies had better actors to bring his scripted characters to life. and it is hard to make any argument against the cast. Could there be a more world-weary Athos than Oliver reed? Or a more dynamic D'Artangen than Michael York? It's always easier to play a villain, but Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, and Faye Dunaway did fantastic jobs nontheless. The only actor that seems a bit misplaced is Richard Chamberlain. Not that he didn't do a wonderful job as Aramis, but the script seems to have left him with little to do, especially for an actor of his talents. Lee mentioned that all of the actors did nearly all of their own stunts, and that is quite amazing considering the stunts, and that Lee was past fifty when he did this! Check this film out, and you can then be surprised to find that there's a sequel!
Mad Max 2 (1981)
"Mad Mel" is "Juiced" for the Juice
I guess there are all sorts of undertones the viewer could envision in this movie, but I just like to sit back and enjoy the show. What sums it up for me is a photograph a crew member took of future Academy Award winning director and dedicated family man Mel Gibson off the set grinning while blood is pouring down his forehead. Whether it is his own or just an effect is unknown, but what it tells me is that this movie is supposed to be FUN! Sure we can appreciate the similarities to "High Noon" or boo at Kevin Costner's shameless plagiarism in "Waterworld", but it's more enjoyable to watch Mel blow away S&M freak bad guys with his sawed off shotgun, or cruise around in the "last of the V-8 Interceptors". Of course there are some sad losses for the good guys (is that a spoiler?), but for me, "The Road Warrior" is an over-the-top action thriller like "True Lies" that is just meant to be laughed at in some parts, and great for a Friday night gathering with friends over pizza. If you're watching on television, it's even safe enough for the kids to watch!
"Tell them they're making the real Dune"
The above quote was from Frank Herbert in 1983 after he visited the "Dune" set. I can only imagine what he saw that would move him to make such a proclamation. My own personal take on this filmed version of Herbert's sci-fi masterpiece is that it in many ways it was a valiant effort, but there is too much left unexplained to the novice part of the audience which would probably account for more than seventy percent. I say that because the movie's trailer markets Dune as a quasi-Star Wars escapist flick. While there are certain elements of that in the book, Dune is not supposed to be all action. The suspense thrills come more internally from the characters rather than externally, which makes it very difficult for any director to project into a visual medium. Lynch gives it his best shot, but I don't think he should have been the choice for this one. He is a stylist filmmaker, and seemed to pay too much attention on the Harkkonens and not enough on other areas like the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit. So why should anybody see this? I see the movie as having two redeeming features: the cast and the soundtrack. The music is unearthly enough to give the impression of an alien world (bravo Brian Eco and Toto!), and Jurgen Prochnow is exactly how I imagine the Red Duke. I do think that Patrick Stewart and Freddie Jones would have done better to have switched roles, and Everert McGil is a little too stiff for Stilgar. But Kyle Maclachlen does just fine as Paul, Sian Phillips is also good as the Reverend Mother Ramallo, and even Sting shows the right blend of aloofness and barbarity for Feyd-Rautha. "Failed masterpiece" is how I would sum up this effort, and even so it does a better job in 2 1/2 hours than John Harrison could do in six. Give it a try, but NOT until you've read the book!
The Odessa File (1974)
All good things come to those who wait
I rented this movie from my school library having little idea what it was about. I hadn't read the novel (still haven't) but I was intrigued at the idea of Jon Voight doing a thriller. I must warn you, the first thirty minutes or so move V-E-R-Y-S-L-O-W-L-Y, but be patient. After Voight meets up with his unforeseen allies (is that considered a spoiler?), the pacing begins to pick up. Great plot, great twist, and of course great acting by Voight add up to a top-notch thriller. I can say that because the two ending action scenes really do a great job of keeping you on the edge of your seat. Instead of just having characters blast away at each other with guns immediately, there is an admirable effort to build up the suspense. Check this one out! Also, is it my imagination or does Jon Voight look exactly like his character in "Enemy of the State" at one point in the movie?
Spitting Image (1984)
This isn't your parents' puppet show
So how did a Yank who has never visited England get addicted to this show? One evening in the 1986, my parents were howling at something with puppets called "The Ronnie and Nancy Show", which was being broadcast on an American network (I forget which) and was never shown again. Although I didn't get all of the jokes (I was eight at the time), I remember laughing at President Reagan putting Slick 50 motor oil in his hair, and falling out of his bedroom window at the show's conclusion. The routine has always stuck with me, but I could never figure out where it came from! Then a few months ago, desperate to see if anyone else had heard about it, I did a keyword search and found out about a British television show called "Spitting Image". Of course; the British have ALWAYS been superior to Americans when it comes to satire on TV, and this show is no different. I purchased some videos of it on Ebay, had them converted to NTSC format, and laughed my head off. Although I could only get about half of the jokes that dealt with British politicians (I guess I need to brush up on history!), this is still one of the best comedy sketch shows I have ever seen, and the puppet format makes it that much better! If you love seeing politicians and celebrities getting attacked with as sharp a sword as possible, then check this show out! A warning though: Some of the routines contain material that is not appropriate for children, as BBC standards are different than American Networks.
Don't worry folks, it's all part of the show
If you are viewing this show for the first time, you may start wondering if you are in an alternate reality. Colorful and imaginative characters? Entertaining dialogue? Plots that seem to have some depth to them, even creating atmospheres of suspense and drama at times? I mean, this is a syndicated children's show right? This is the same venue that has brought kids such drek as "Pokemon", "Pepper Ann", "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers", and "VR Troopers" (please note that three of the titles mentioned above are crass Japanese exports, courtesy of the Fox Network and Saban Entertainment). Don't worry, you are just sampling some of the quality fare that was available to kids during the late 1980's and early 1990's. Some examples of this period would be "Transformers", "Garfield and Friends", "Captain Power", and "C.O.P.S." (a cartoon NOT to be confused with the live action show on Fox). Besides these prime examples, Disney also returned to syndicated programs for kids, coming up with a lineup called "The Disney Afternoon". Aside from a dumbed-down show called "The Gummi Bears", early shows like "Darkwing Duck", "Duck Tales", and "Chip 'N Dale's Rescue Rangers" gave credence to the Disney animation teams that were also turning out theatrical classics like "The Little Mermaid", "Beauty and the Beast", "The Rescuers Down Under", and "The Great Mouse Detective". But above all these wonders shines "TaleSpin". The premiere of "Plunder and Lightning" was a two-hour thrill ride, and won an Emmy. Much to my delight, the rest of the episodes were up to par on the promise of the premiere.
While I enjoy the plots and dialogue, I guess for me the greatest attraction are the characters. There's Rebecca Cunningham, an independent female, but still fallible; Kit Cloudkicker, full of pre-teen angst and optimism; Louie, with his loyalty and support; Frank Wildcat, the most entertaining engineer since Scotty on the original "Star Trek"; Molly Cunningham, cute and witty, but with some depth that most child characters don't have, and of course in the middle of it all, there's Baloo, whom I would describe as a slobby version of James Bond. This is because whenever there's trouble, Baloo saves the day with the assistance of his sleeker-than-most, fastest-of-all Sea Duck (Read: James Bond's Aston Martin). Of course every great show has to have great villains, and TaleSpin doesn't disappoint here either. From the megalomania of businesstiger Shere Kahn, to the vain and always failing air pirate Don Karnage, to the hilarious and inept Soviet-satirized Thembrians. The animation is good, the music appropriate, and the episodes are (for me) the finest that children's programming has ever had to offer. Great fun for the WHOLE family!
The Ten Commandments (1956)
God said "Let There Be Light"; Cecil B. said "Let There Be A Movie!"
There have been bigger epics ("Heaven's Gate" and the Russian version of "War and Peace"); There have been higher awarded epics ("Titanic", Gone With the Wind", "Ben-Hur"); And there have been glossier epics ("Star Wars", "Jurassic Park", "The Fellowship of the Ring"). But NEVER have I seen a movie that more clearly defines what an epic is. Epics are big, bold, and brassy, and Cecil B. Demille's last film is probably his most magnificent attempt. You want big? Check out the cast! Start with three Oscar winning stars (Charlton Heston, Yul Brenner, and Anne Baxter). Add some of Hollywood's greatest supporting players (Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, John Carradine, and Yvonne DeCarlo). And also the only movie I can recall where the cast included both a knight (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) AND a Dame (Judith Anderson). Bold? Look no further than Cecil B. himself. The man lived to make three hour movies. His specialty was directing more masses that any ten directors put together, hence the remark "I must have killed more men than Cecil B Demille" in "Blazing Saddles". Also the blaring score of the young Elmer Bernstein, who seems to have trumpets blowing every five minutes. Brassy? The special effects blow away any competition of the 1950's, including "The War of the Worlds". The parting of the Red Sea is still Hollywood history, but the writing of the Commandments themselves is also worth viewing. Unfortunately, the beautiful visuals of "The Prince of Egypt" have tended to remove some of this movie's shine, but it is still worth the viewing. The dialogue certainly could have been better written in some parts, but Heston still sounds great pronouncing King James' english. Although the movie is mostly about showing off the big budget, the movie's two most moving scenes are when Moses tells Seti off about Egypt's slavery, and the love scene between Moses and Sephorah. When Moses talks of God not wanting slavery "to be so", you can feel the conviction of our own nation's transgressions in this matter. The love scene is quite tender and moving as Sephorah tells Moses that true beauty comes from the character within, not the looks without.
For us Bible Believers, this is probably as ambitious a visual attempt of scripture as we will get until we see the Bible's characters "then face to face".
"This movie has been Directed and Produced by CECIL B. DEMILLE"
Finger on the Trigger (1965)
A D*** Good Western
I have to mention that the above title for my comments is not my personal opinion of this movie. It was a remark made by my grandfather when he bought the the VHS copy at Walgreens for $3.99. He's my Grandpa and I love him, he fought for his country in WWII, but the man has NO TASTE when it comes to any movie dealing with the "Old West". I only watched this movie once at his house, when I was too young to do anything about it. Suffice it to say that this movie has to be seen to be believed. B-movie legend Rory Calhoun and his hardy (see not excessively bright) band of Yankee Civil War veterans find themselves in a border town at odds with a band of confederates(?) led by an officer/struggling actor with the worst southern accent I have ever heard. He spends most of his time surprising ladies in their bathtubs (don't ask), and trying to mug Timothy Dalton. I call Rory's greybeards (obviously everyone was fifty years old during the Civil War) "Yankees", because their characters leave no doubt that ANY of them could ever have lived in the southern United States. I can't remember all of them, but there was a black soldier who didn't speak any lines but just stared at whoever was talking. There were also two typically crusty sergeants, but in a change of pace only one had the phony Irish accent, while the other had a phony Scottish accent. Details are sketchy, but the two groups of "soldiers" are after some legendary Spanish gold. But is the Civil War over, or are they all just AWOL? And why are there Indians who just stand on hilltops whenever anybody rides through a canyon? And how come Rory can shoot Indians off of these hilltops hundreds of feet above him with a pistol that he aims behind his back while riding at full gallop? I guess I could watch the movie again to answer these questions, but now I'm too depressed. If MST3K hasn't done an episode on this one by now, they should. Look for Indians on the hilltop and keep your "finger on the trigger"!
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
O My Brothers...
I've only seen this film once, and once was enough. I would certainly agree that it's well-made, and of course has Kubrick's Midas Touch all over it, but like "Schindler's List", the movie is just too disturbing to give repeated viewings. I'm sure there were many who had grave reservations when it came out in the 1970's about whether or not some of the film's projections would come true, and in today's world it looks downright prophetic! I may sound like a weakling, but for this movie was just one long horror show. I'm not talking about the type of horror that causes you to scream, but rather the horror of seeing just how possible the terrible images before you eyes could come true. You know, like "The horror" mentioned by Marlon Brando in "Apocalypse Now" (Not about his waistline). From the beginning slow drawback of Alex's face to the closing line, I was in a cold sweat. Watch it...
...if you dare.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Continuation of Imagination
This was the Coen Brothers first release after their award-winning "Fargo", and it continued their reputation as probably Hollywood's most imaginative pair of idea men. Critics of the Coens say their movies have no sensitivity, and that their "imaginativeness" is only a recycling of old themes. I say that I don't agree one hundred percent with their police work there. What they do is pay homage to classic memories of films while working them into the strange universe that has been titled "Coen County". "The Big Lebowski" continues with what has made them so entertaining. Bizarre characters, encounters, and dialogue occur during His Dudeness' journey in the City of Angels. Don't expect majestic truths to be revealed, heart-rending melodrama, or fireballs. Just loads of laughs for anyone who appreciates intelligent and abstract humor. My only question is: Who is The Stranger supposed to be? Is he The Dude's guardian angel, his long-lost father, or another member of the Seattle Seven?
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
You can't beat perfection
Perfect cast, perfect script, perfect direction, perfect score, perfect visuals...well yo get the point. This easily makes my top ten favorites list. Why Hollywood lies to themselves that certain movies can be remade is beyond my comprehension (see the sorry "Psycho" and "Stagecoach" remakes for example) Errol Flynn IS Robin Hood, a role he was born to play, which is why we must all give thanks to the heavens that Jack Warner decided not to pay James Cagney's salary demands (great actor, lousy hero). If you haven't yet watched "this sweet band of cutthroats" you're missing one of the great film adventures.
Left Behind (2000)
After the success of the novels, I had great hopes for the movie. Unfortunately, like many Christian movie productions, it seems that they are still "left behind" on the quality angle. I know this sort of critique borders on blasphemy, but even though the movie deals with Biblical truths, I think more consideration should be shown into developing these types of movies. It looks to me as if the producers say "Well, we put in enough Bible stuff to satisfy the Evangelicals, so they'll go and see it no matter cheaply it's done". I'm sorry. but movie goers aren't that stupid! So what's wrong with the movie? Most of the actors are well cast, but Kirk Cameron just doesn't look rugged enough to play Buck Williams. The dialogue is too hackneyed, and the direction is less than adequate. In the opening minutes, we are transported to various locales with the appropriate defining subtitles, but are given no reason why we're there while rush to another location. I also heard a lot of promises of how the movie was going to be true to the book, but it seems that the director and writers lost their nerve when it came to crucial dramatic moments.
Besides the Rapture itself, two key moments in the book are the personal salvation experiences of Buck and Rayford Steele. No matter your views on this subject, this transformation is necessary to "change" these characters' motivations for the rest of the series. In the movie, all we see is Buck mumbling some incomprehensible words in the bathroom, and Ray entering a church for the first time. We are then expected to believe that these two men have now become Christians, even though there is no clear indication of when this took place!
It says a lot about a movie's entertainment value when the villain is the only good product of the movie (Remember Gary Oldman's Dr. Smith in "Lost In Space"?) Nicolae Carpathia's final scene in the movie is the only part that is actually well done. Instead of being disappointed by this movie, I suggest "Years of the Beast", or the recent "Migiddo". You'll be given a much better vision of the Apocalypse.
Dark City (1998)
Matrix eat your heart out
I realize that there are a LOT of "Matrix" fans out there, but the truth must be told; "Dark City is everything that "The Matrix" should have been. Great acting, but more importantly, a gripping story and characters that you care about. Comparing this to the by-the-numbers cardboard of Neo and Morpheus just isn't fair to John Murdoch, Detective Bumstead and Mr. Hand. The Agents of the Matrix have no chance against the likes of the aliens in the Dark City. I'll skip over the fantastic cinematography and visuals effects because so many others have already done them justice. If you haven't seen this and have seen "The Matrix", I think you'll easily reach my own conclusion to which movie is superior. Add to the fact that "Dark City" came out a year ahead of time. For me, the comparison is as easy as "The Truman Show" vs. "EDTV". If you don't know the proper answer to THAT one, you're in worse trouble than I know.
A Matter of Visions
Roger Ebert only gave this film three stars because he felt it did not meet his personal criteria for what the movie should be like. But that is what Peter Jackson has been embellishing ever since he started on this nearly eight-year odyssey. It is Jackson's view of how HE would want the movie to be made. On that note, this film has been worth the three years I have spent salivating over any and every web site designed to proclaim the greatest film series ever ("Star Wars" has lost its edge, and "The Matrix" has too narrow an appeal). The only reason I found out these movies were being made was because I was curious what Sean Bean had been up to. This was in 1998, and the wait was well worth it. New Zealand was the PERFECT place for filming Middle Earth, and Jackson does a fine job in making sense of the epic novel. The actors were all fine in their roles, although I still long for Sean Connery as Gandalf, even though Sir Ian McKellen did get an Academy Award nomination. Personally, I though the best performances were by Sean Astin and Sean Bean (Have I already shown my bias for the only man who could play Richard Sharpe?) And while the action scenes are quite engaging, the Rivendell scene stands out as my favorite. The first shots capture the mystery and splendor of Middle Earth's most enchanting and enigmatic characters, the Eldar (Elves to you non-readers of the novels). Howard Shore's Oscar-winning score is no better the here, with the ghostly chorus holding their notes as the Hobbits stroll mesmerized through this strange and beautiful land. The imagery is so engaging that the audience cannot help but be swept away as well. This is what movie-making is all about folks, and if you miss this, you've missed a lot.
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
This film came out the same year as "Star Wars", and as a result will never get the acclaim or appreciation it deserves. The acting is fine, except for Ryan O'Neal's "grimacing" performance, and the locales are marvelous to behold when they aren't getting blown to bits. The movie does a good job of showing courage under fire, especially with all the praise given to "Black Hawk Down". "Black Hawk Down" is a well-done film in its own right, but it's hard to watch it now without comparing it to this "question of bridges". The Arhnem sequence is probably the best done, with Anthony Hopkins' aristocratic officer trying to keep his men inspired while they are surrounded, outmanned, and outgunned. Also, unlike "Black Hawk", the actor's faces stay clear enough so that the viewer can tell who's who. The plight of the Dutch people, caught between two massive armies is heartrending as well. As one citizen puts it: "Winning and losing is not our profession. Living and dying is". Any fan of war movies should check this one out. It is an excellent portrait of how the ambitions of a few can cause destruction for many
The Vikings (1958)
WILL SOMEONE STOP THE BLANKETY-BLANK MUSIC!!!
Holy Odin, I didn't think a movie about the action-packed lifestyle of the Vikings could be this bad...but it is! Starting with the home voyage to Norway, we see beautiful photography of the Alps with a pleasant little tune that sounds like returning home...but it doesn't stop! It goes on and on until the boat reaches the view of the lookouts. Then THEY start playing it, on their Matterhorns no less! I didn't realize that those horns could play so many notes. Then we cut to an orgy of a feast with on of the most sexist displays on film. A supposedly unfaithful wife is tied to a wheel while her husband throws axes at her.
Then Kirk Douglas, who we have seen earlier carrying on with her joins in the "fun". He gets his due by getting his eye pecked out by slave Tony Curtis' hawk. He spends the rest of the movie not doing the tasteful thing and wearing a patch, but instead grimaces with his blind eye. Tony's punishment is to be chained to a rock during the coming in of the tide while sceaming "Odin!" (AGAIN AND AGAIN) to the sky. Does he die? Ha, not a chance with his pedigree.
That's when I gave up and left the room. OK, maybe I left too early, missing the climactic duel between the (disabled) Douglas and Curtis, but I think that my sanity could not have stood it. If someone wants to combat my judgement please feel free to, but I think that there are many people out there who probably had the same take that I did.
The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
"The First Time It Happened..."
This is one of my all-time favorites! I am 23 and I still need to view this movie at least once a year. Jim Henson was at the height of his creative powers when this was made, and it shows brilliantly. As opposed to "The Muppet Movie", the songs aren't as dated, and the celebrity cameos have been cut back which lessens the distraction from the Muppets themselves. The cameos of John Cleese, Sir Peter Ustinov, Sir Robert Morley, and Jack Warden all are funny and fit the plot's movement. The highest performance praise though, must go to Dame Diana Rigg and Charles Grodin, who may have deserved an Academy Award for being the only human ever to attempt to make love to Miss Piggy! ("Miss Piggy, don't put a wall between us...we could have had the world on a silver platter") I also love the music, especially the number in the Dubonett Club, which harkens back to the old-time musicals, with just a hint of satire. Even after seeing "The Score" and "Ocean's 11", the Muppet heist scene is still the most entertaining I've ever seen! My advice is swallow your pride, grab the kids, and "check right in, to the Happiness Hotel"! (SAY CHEESE!)