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Colombiana (2011)
Leave your brains behind
17 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
People will say, it's just escapist entertainment. Watch for the fun of it.

I say, lazy writer and director, contemptuous of their audience.

Minor spoiler alerts, though revealing less than the one-sentence synopsis. A young girl is being chased by a dozen bad guys, over the roofs, through the alleys. She hides for a few seconds, then comes out. Does she walk down the sidewalk, staying in the shadows? No, she strolls down the middle of the street. The first car that comes around the corner has three bad guys in it, two with hand guns and one with an automatic rifle. She gets away, of course.

She makes it to Chicago. Her uncle takes her to the local school to get her enrolled. We're in the principal's office. The principal says okay. Uncle and girl leave. The camera is looking at their backs as they go out the glass door and close it behind them. The word "PRINCIPAL" is on the inside, facing in (to tell the principal she's in her own office, I guess.)

Outside the school, the girl tells Uncle she wants to be an assassin, not go to school. "Kill people like this?" Uncles says. He pulls out a gun and shoots at a moving car, which crashes into a hydrant. "Gotta go to school first," he tells her. A dozen people are watching while he gives a little talk about growing up and responsibilities. Sirens sound in the background, but the two just stand there having their little uncle-to-niece chat.

It's fifteen years later, and the girl is now beautiful Zoe Santana. I give the movie one more chance. She's in jail, by design, a sexpot stuffed into a cell to sleep it off for the night. She gets out of her cell to the electrical room. She does a MacGyver, rigging the breaker for the fan in the air duct to short out. (She knows there's a fan in the air ducts and which breaker it is, of course, and the method wouldn't work anyhow, but so what?) In the duct, she looks at her watch. The cops would have taken it from her, of course, plus her necklace.) The fan goes off. It'll take her five seconds to slide past the blades, right? During that time, the sergeant tells someone to go fix it, the guy goes downstairs to the electrical room, finds the breaker, and turns on the fan. But only three seconds have passed for Zoe. She's only halfway past the fan and just makes it before the blades start. Whew!

In the next two minutes of movie time, she arranges to be in the men's washroom at the exact time a guard watching outside an IMPORTANT PRISONER's cell decides to go take a leak. After decking the guard, she now has the guy's gun and cap. She gets into the prisoner's cell and shoots him. Cops hear the shots and come a-runnin'. Does she take off? No. She has time to write some message on the dead guy's chest, go and get the unconscious cop from the washroom, drag him back to the cell, put the gun in his hand so he looks like the shooter, and then head for the stairway. We don't see this happen, of course. We see the cops rush in, grab the whoosy framed cop as he looks at the gun in his hand and mumbles, "I didn't do it."

"Get him outa here," Sergeant yells. So what do the dozen cops do now that they've caught the killer red-handed? They run to the rooftop, of course, where lovely Zoe is scurrying away. She escapes by diving over the edge where there's a convenient pipe to hang from while a guy looks over the ledge. One second after his face disappears, she slaps her hand back up to the ledge to climb back up. He'd only be a couple of feet away, but she's sure that he and the other cops will be facing the other way.

She gets back to her cell just in time for the sergeant cop to come in, gun in hand, to see if she's in her cell. Why would he?

I gave up. In this movie, characters behave in ridiculously illogical ways, use knowledge they would not possess (e.g. which of the 100 wires to short out), and rely on random events for a plan to work (e.g. the cop taking a leak at the right time). The screenwriter bends time to provide phony suspense. And, as mentioned, the director doesn't even know that the sign for the principal's office would be on the outside not the inside of the door.

Or perhaps doesn't care.

I resented the insult to the viewers' intelligence, and turned the movie off.
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Inaccurate war movie with atrocious internal inconsistencies
27 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The Battle of the Bulge was an important attempt by the Germans to break their cycle of retreat. It took place in the Ardennes, snow- covered forested hills, in bad weather (so Allies would not be able to supply air cover.) Yet the battle sequences show tanks rolling across arid, dusty flat lands under, in some scenes, clear blue sky. I realize that "fiction" is allowed to take liberties. But other scenes show cloudy skies, snow, and trees. Come can't have it both ways!

It can't be a spoiler to say that the Americans won the Battle of the Bulge. That's history. But, without revealing the stupid ending, all I can say is that the supposed top German tank commander's brigade gets stopped by a rag-tag bunch of guys using a MacGyver technique.

For heaven's sake!

Henry Fonda is a likable hero, but here he is the only one who's correct about the upcoming German offensive (taking the flack for his lone opinion--a standard cliché). Later, he's the only one who can actually find the German column, and (of course) he gets to play MacGyver. It's just too much. (How would you like a movie about the great WWII naval battle Midway in which the hero is the only one to think that the Japanese fleet is on the way, the hero barely survives the initial attack, the hero commissions a plane to fly off to find the Japanese battleships and spots them himself, then the hero pulls a MacGyver to stop the entire Japanese attack.)

Robert Shaw his more interesting. As the German commander, he has some depth to him. Is he going to be the quintessential "honorable" German, or does he have some other motives?

Listening to Shaw and his aid discuss Shaw's desire to fight forever, I thought of Karl Malden's Bradly accusing George C. Scott's Patton of almost the same thing. But where Patton was the thinking person's war movie, this Battle of the Bulge is for people who leave their brains behind. At least, the writer and directors had little regard for their audience's intelligence.

Skip this movie.
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My Fair Lady (1964)
The most intelligent musical ever made
24 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
My Fair Lady is, as my summary states, the most intelligent musical ever made. Adapted by Lerner and Lowe from non-musical Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, it is filled with clever, witty dialogue. Lavish sets, a superb cast, and wonderful songs make this film a masterpiece. Even sceptics of musicals (those who say they can't stand them because nobody bursts into song) will enjoy it.

You can get the plot from the myriad of other reviews, so let me comment on what makes this musical such a treat for the mind, as well as the eye and ear.

The intelligence comes from the satire of the British class society, the hilarious comments on morality from Doolittle, and the comments about the roles of the sexes in the "songs" of Henry Higgins. People (men, especially) will roar at his comments about women. Sure, they're stereotypes, incorrect generalizations. But do men think that way? Well, what do you think of his claim that: "She will beg you for advice, your reply will be concise, she will listen very nicely and go out and do precisely what she wants!"

Rex Harrison's Higgins is such an interesting character. Certainly he's insulting and insensitive. But what makes him fascinating is that he knows he is like that. "The moment I make friends with a woman I become selfish and tyrannical," he says. Does he treat Eliza poorly? Certainly, but no more poorly than he treats anybody else, which is, therefore, giving her equality with everyone else despite her lower class origins.

A wonderful, poignant scene occurs as Eliza returns, as a lady, to the streets before dawn, where the working class is setting up for the days market. In her earlier life, she would have been there, buying the flowers to sell to the upper classes. Now, as the people hum and whistle a song we heard her sing at the movie's start, she finds she can no longer fit in. "This is no place for a lady, ma'am," a bloke says to her gently. So what has her "education" got her?

The stage version of My Fair Lady held the record for most performances for a decade. The LP became the highest selling LP ever, of all genres, not just cast recordings.

Please watch My Fair Lady, especially the restored DVD version. It's a true classic. You will see the character that Rex Harrison was born to play, and the character that Audrey Hepburn became. (Upon her death, Time Magazine remembered her with the photograph of her from My Fair Lady.)

(Note: No review is complete without pointing out that true musical fans know that Julie Andrews, who played the role on Broadway, SHOULD have had the film version. Jack Warner wanted a bigger name. So Andrews became Mary Poppins, and accepted an Oscar for best actress with a thank you to Jack Warner for making it possible!)
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Stranded (2002 Video)
So bad, it's hilarious.
12 September 2004
I kept with this turkey because my family wanted me to stay with them in the room. For a while I was angry, then began to laugh. The acting is awful, the script pathetic. (The only good line: "(pause) Ya."

Every cliché is used: - the million bullets that don't hit anyone, then each bad guy in turn stands up in full view and gets shot - the rookie who shouldn't be there but goes anyhow, first treated with little respect by the crew but gains their admiration - the rookie dies saving someone's life - the crew member who doesn't respect himself (drinks on the job) performs the ultimate sacrifice - the rousing "we're not going to let them die" speech near the end (remember Apollo 13's "not on my watch" and Independence Day's presidential inspiration speech) - the recruited, reluctant villain gets shot by the good guy but, just before dying redeems himself by passing on the "crucial" information - the successful just in time getaway - the greedy villain willing to kill to make the big business deal - the heroic female leader beginning to cry over a mistake but being pepped up by a crew member (shades of [slap] "Thanks. I needed that!) - cigars at the end!

One of the worst movies I've ever seen.
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Crimson Tide (1995)
intelligent, intense, well-acted
9 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Crimson Tide possesses one of the most intense moments in film: two great actors eye-to-eye, portraying characters absolutely certain of their actions, absolutely convinced that the other's course will lead to disaster. A submarine commander (Hackman) and his second-in-command (Washington) are both shouting at the same time, each ordering the next ranking officer (Dzundza) to arrest the other. Washington believes, with good reason that Hackman is unfit to command because he is disregarding naval procedures. Hackman believes, with good reason, that Washington is disobeying an order and instigating a mutiny. A possible nuclear exchange and the deaths of billions hang in the balance. Dzundza knows that he must make the correct decision, regardless of his like or dislike of each of his superiors.

There are traditional incidents that arise in submarine stories: fires, floods, sinking to the bottom, torpedoes, loss of communication. (After all, what more can you do in such a small set?) Crimson Tide has its share, but does them well: you won't be bored just because you have seen subs in the same situation before. The movie's major conflict arises over a very tense, crucially significant incident, a believable situation that could arise and, unresolved, lead to catastrophe for more than just the boat.

Hackman is always excellent portraying a character with depth. As the captain he can command respect and obedience with a growl, a steely look, an angry shout, or a wicked joke. In contrast, Washington's calm, strong, logical intensity is the immovable rock to Hackman's irresistible force. When his eyes bore into you (as in remember Glory and Philadelphia?) you feel his sincerity and strength in your bones.

Crimson Tide has genuine, believable characters, edge-of-your-seat tension, and crackling, intense interchanges between two of my favorite actors. I recommend it as a thinking person's submarine movie.
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an epic film with something for everyone
20 August 2003
The Right Stuff is terrific: exciting, complex, funny, crammed with memorable scenes, unforgettable lines, and wonderful actors (many of whom went on to become big stars).

A classic shot shows a test pilot on horseback coming over a ridge stopping to look at a new rocket-plane, steadying his nervous horse as it edges past the flames coming out the back. The test pilot is the twentieth century's cowboy: tough, laconic, independent, fearless.

The Right Stuff tells two parallel stories: the (often fatal) exploits of the early test pilots and Mercury astronauts, with intersecting storylines. The movie never takes itself too seriously. Witness general crawling on the floor to plug in the projector, the sounds of the locusts when the press surrounds the astronauts (Yeager called them locusts initially), the Halleluiah Chorus during the press conference, the enema scene, Sheppard needing to take a leak in the suit, Johnson trying to deal with a housewife. Yet underneath all the fun that is poked at the astronauts we see respect for real men doing a scary, important job.

This film has all the excitement of Top Gun, but is longer, better, just as high-tech exciting, and much funnier. (A washroom scene rivals Meg Ryan's famous restaurant scene...the audience laughed so hard we all missed Cooper's next line!).

And some wonderful lines: Cooper's response to "Who's the best pilot you ever saw?", "O.K. You can be Gus", "The Military owes me", "Read'em and weep", "Hey Ridley, you got any Beemans?", "I go to church too.", "Everything is A-OK", "Our Germans are better than their Germans", "What are you two pudknockers going to have?", and, said with regret and frustration "test pilots!"

To those who have seen it, here's a challenge that will enable you to appreciate the excellent writing, the workmanship and planning that went into the script. View the movie again and see how many times the screenwriter and director took the trouble to set up a later event or comment with an earlier reference. Here are three examples: Cooper dropping a tiny toy space capsule into Grissum's drink (foreshadowing), Copper reading Life magazine before the publisher enters the movie (to make sure we viewers know that Life magazine exits), Yeager bumping his elbow on a limb of a cactus tree as he walks into Pancho's at the beginning of the movie (I never noticed this the first few times I watched the movie, but surely this tiny action was deliberate.) I count a dozen more examples. Send me ones you find.

If you haven't seen The Right Stuff, I strongly recommend you rent the DVD. -RS
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Patton (1970)
Patton's WWII role
24 June 2001
This film is one of my all-time favorite movies. George C. Scott's portrayal of General Patton is not to be missed.

Patton is much more than a war movie. We see the battles from a general's eye, the coordinated war effort from the planners' eyes, and the influence politicians and diplomats have over the direction of the war. The actual fight scenes occupy only a small part of the plot, but are themselves captivating. A night battle with no sound later in the movie is mesmerizing.

Scott is a treat to watch. In a memorable, eerie scene he directs his driver and Bradley, at the time his junior, to an alternate battlefield. Although they protest that he is heading the wrong direction, Patton says he "can smell a battlefield". He describes a battle that took place on that spot 2000 years before. Being a historian (and believing that he actually participated in many famous battles throughout history) he used historical precedents to guide his decisions. For better or worse, beating Montgomery to glory was also a constant incentive.

There are so many memorable moments in the film: Bradley's incredulous stare at Patton exasperation that the war may be over too soon (before he gets another command); Patton saluting two children who show more spit and polish than the troops over which he has just taken command; Patton directing traffic at a crossing; Scott's expression slowly hardening upon learning that he will not be in charge of the invasion of Europe; and, again, the utter devastation on his face after a dressing down from Ike.

Patton is a film for thinkers. Even those who don't like war films will find the both movie and Scott's performance, masterpieces.
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Epic: hi-tech, fun, spectacular, political satire
15 June 2001
The Right Stuff works on many levels. Although it is a feel-good flag-waver, the movie does not take itself too seriously. The satire of politicians, journalists, and the whole astronauts-are-heroes public adulation is hilarious. While poking fun at the astronauts, the movie manages to make us see that they were daring men, willing to go through strenuous training for a undeniably dangerous task.

In parallel with the space program, the movie follows the test pilots performing equally dangerous and heroic missions out of the public eye. The action sequences are dramatic and exciting, and Glenn's flight is poetry on the screen.

Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, and Sam Shepard give memorable performances, and you will recognize many others who went on to big movie roles.

The Right Stuff is one of my all-time favorite movies. I loved the music, the humor, the high-tech, the space...everything! See it.
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