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Almost Famous (2000)
we're not worthy!!!
My favorite bit of Wayne's World comes whenever Wayne and Garth
meet one of their rock-star idols: they literally bow down and say
"we're not worthy!" I've felt like that about rock stars. Heck, I still
feel that way about rock stars.
Cameron Crowe did, too. That's what this movie is all about. It's
the story of a kid (Crowe) who actually got to meet, hang out with,
and write about his gods. But it's also the story of the adult looking
back on that youth and pinching himself, unable to believe how
lucky he was.
The movie never comes out and shows us the adult looking back:
it never moves beyond the "present" of the fifteen-year-old kid. But
every so often the action kind of fades away and the camera
zeroes in on the kid's eyes, with their expression of wonder,
passion, joy, and sadness, and in those moments it's as if the
camera speaks for the grown man, saying, good grief, I actually
met these guys, I actually saw these things. Could I have been
any more fortunate?
It's that sense of joy, of exultation in the naive but still powerful
rock'n'roll ideal of limitless freedom and fun, that makes this film
so good. If you've never felt about rock music the way Wayne,
Garth, and Cameron Crowe feel, you might have a hard time with
this movie. It kind of softpedals the addiction, greed, and overall
nastiness of the rock business; it tells its story completely and
unapologetically within a milieu that's often ridiculed these days.
But if you have felt that way, then you'll find the movie full of
moments that ring true: the adolescent dropping the needle on
Tommy for the first time, a bus full of people getting misty-eyed
singing along to an Elton John song, a rebellious teenager
thinking the lyrics of a song she loves can explain her to her
mother, even Lester Bangs' insistence that the music is dying-- which really springs from a desperate belief in the life the music
Some people used to say we should send a poet to the moon,
somebody who could express the wonder we know we'd feel if we
got to go, but better than we could express it. Cameron Crowe has
been to the moon, and with this movie he proves himself poet
enough to tell us that it was every bit as cool as we hoped it was.
3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)
3000 miles to Graceland, six years too late
Call it the Tarantino effect. Ever since Reservoir Dogs, everybody and his brother in Hollywood has been trying to make hip action movies about lowlife-types. It's the cool genre of the day. Can anybody count all the small-time-crooks-in-cool-clothes movies in the last ten years? The problem is, the genre peaked sometime around '95 or '96. Whenever that dog Things To Do In Denver came out, after that it was no longer hip or cool, just another Hollywood formula.
So this movie is really out of time to begin with. And then add the Elvis-Vegas thing, which was a hip ironic idea ten years ago, but which also feels tired and overdone in 2001. All in all, this movie has the feel of a script that's been kicking around Hollywood boardrooms since about 1994.
And because it only got made now, over the Tarantino-esque dialogue and irony you've got the over-the-top John Woo action style--slo-mo and techno--that's so popular now. Problem is, slo- mo bullet orgies over a pounding techno soundtrack are kind of exactly the opposite of the laconic, ironic, lo-fi quality that Tarantino goes for, and that this story calls for. So what we've got is a movie whose concept wants to appeal to alt-rock hipsters of the early nineties, who are nearing thirty by now, but whose style guarantees it's only going to click with techno-metal twelve-year- olds. It's pumped-up where it should be hangdog, tight where it should be loose, ghastly where it should be funny.
In spite of that it's pretty entertaining, even for a thirtyish wannabe alt-rock hipster, and it's all because of the cast. Contrary to some people who've reviewed this, I think two of the three principals are fine. Courtney Cox is current, but with Costner, Russell, Slater, D. Arquette, and Haden Church, even the casting feels like it's a time- slip back to the early nineties. Most of them are underused, and Cox, although she's pretty damn hot in this movie, isn't exactly a great actress to begin with.
But Costner and Russell are better in this than in anything I've seen them in for at least five years each. Russell is in perfect Snake Plisskin/Hell Tanner form here, proving (as another reviewer said) that he's at his best in bad movies. And Costner-- wow. It's like he's taken all the frustration of everything he's done since Waterworld and poured it into this character. Marvellously over-the-top. Real fun. In fact, one of the bigger disappointments in this movie is that we don't (spoiler ahead) get the big showdown between Russell and Costner that we're expecting. Other than that, though, they look fantastic, and provide good, trashy fun.
Overall, a pretty bad movie. But entertaining, and the Russell- Costner matchup just about makes up for it.
Summer of Sam (1999)
a surprise from Spike
I can't believe this film isn't more highly rated than it is. It's one of
Spike Lee's finest achievements, and one of the best films of
Granted, if you were expecting a "serial killer" movie, a sort of New
York Hannibal, you were going to be disappointed, but then you
probably deserved to be, ya ghoul. Instead we get a gripping,
character-driven drama which is set against the backdrop of the
summer of '77 in New York, in which the Son of Sam killings were
a major factor but hardly the only one. As usual, Lee does a
brilliant job of creating a sense of time and place, with details
about the weather, the Yankees, and the music all contributing to a
great realization of the setting.
But the real achievement in this film is the fascinating and even, in
the end, poignant story of Richie, an Italian-American kid who
desperately wants to get out of the neighborhood, his friend Vinnie,
who loves his wife but can't seem to get his life under control, and
his wife, who wants nothing more than to please him. Fantastic
performances all around, and contrary to what a lot of people say, I
found the direction to be pretty restrained. Look at Richie's
character: you sense that he wants to transcend his upbringing,
that what's behind his obsession with punk is that it offers
acceptance to someone like him who feels alienated from his
background (and who is unsure of his sexuality). In a lesser
director's hands, however, this would all have been told to us via
corny speeches about wanting to get out, wanting to make
something of himself. Here, Richie never articulates what it is that
drives him--we just pick it up from the performance, from the story.
In fact, there's a lot of inarticulation going on in this movie. In one
sense, it's a study of characters who are unable to converse
except in shouts and profanity, who don't really know what they feel
or why and couldn't explain it very well even if they did. Vinnie's like
that: his problems largely stem from some fairly confused
attitudes toward sex and gender roles, but he's never able to bring
himself to examine these attitudes he was raised with, much less
discuss them with his wife. Which is ironic, because we get the
feeling all along that she's much smarter and would probably have
understood him. But by the end, we realize that sex isn't his only
problem--by the end he's not only lost his wife but out-and-out
betrayed his best friend. Catch the last shot of his face as he
looks at Richie and realizes what he's done: it's the look of a man
who completely loathes himself but doesn't know how to change.
Watch Mira Sorvino's performance as Vinnie's wife, too: great
acting, and this should quiet all those critics who say Lee can't
write for women. The part is sensitive, nuanced, and deep, and in
the end she's the strongest character in the movie, the one with
the most sense of who she is and what she wants.
Great performances all around. A fantastic film.
One thing confused me, though, and I think it confused a lot of
people. This was a film by Spike Lee, but it had no real black
characters, and except for the Willie Mays-loving detective, all of the
scenes that featured African-Americans were extremely unflattering. Brilliantly done caricatures, to be sure, with Lee
himself as a black anchorman for a white network, confronted by
resentful residents of Bed-Stuy (one of whom has one of the truest
lines in the movie: that if the Son of Sam had been black, the city
would have been one huge race riot). But then later we get all that
footage of the looting during the blackout.
So what is Lee doing here? Did he just have a great idea for a
movie that didn't happen to involve black characters? After all, Lee
should no more be confined to making movies only about black
characters than Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility) should be
confined to only making movies about Chinese characters.
Or is he making a subtle comment about how white America likes
to see their movies? After all, the absence of black characters is
only conspicuous because it's a Spike Lee movie--if another,
white, director had made a movie with the same color ratio, most
white people probably wouldn't even notice.
Maybe that's what's going on with the looting, too: remember, it's
shown to us through a news report--a white-controlled medium
showing white people how black people were "behaving." In other
words, Lee is showing us what white New Yorkers were being told
at the time about black New Yorkers.
Still, I think there's more going on even than that. Notice the
contrast Lee sets up in the blackout scenes between the way the
looters were behaving versus the way the local mob boss controls
his neighborhood and turns it into a block party. Outsiders get
beat up, but everybody in the neighborhood is safe, and
community is affirmed. Is Lee criticizing the black community for
not pulling together in the same way? I don't know.
What I do know is that, like every other Spike Lee joint, this one will
make you think.
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Was it everything you'd hoped for?
I disagree with those of my fellow reviewers who say that this film
was just a gratuitous cash-in with no logical basis in the earlier
films. It may indeed have been just a gratuitous cash-in, just like 2
& 3 were cash-ins on the first one, and the first one was a cash-in
on the post-Star Wars sci-fi boom. But I found the premise not
only believable, but inevitable in the same way as the first three.
That is, if the scientific developments of the last few years (secret
cloning projects, creating embryos for the express purpose of
harvesting stem cells, etc.) have taught us anything, it's that if
science can do something, it will. Given the Company's scientists'
determination to get a specimen of the alien in the first three
movies, you have to know that if there was any way to reconstitute
Ripley and get the queen from inside her, they would. You know
this would happen. You know that somewhere, some scientist
(some government) would do this, no matter the consequences.
That's what the whole series had been about, so in a sense it was
inevitable that at some point the series would have to show the
scientists actually trying to breed the alien. In a sense, the whole
series has been building to this.
You can see it in Ripley's eyes. Sigourney Weaver gives a
stunning performance in this film, showing us not only the effects
of the alien genes she now carries, but an utter disgust and
despair at what humanity has done. Early on, you can tell that
Ripley has just given up on humanity--the coldness she displays
toward the victims of the alien could stem from her alien half, or
simply from this disgust. Certainly the soldiers and scientists
deserved what they got.
It's this odd mixture of feelings, I think, that makes the scene with
Ripleys 1-7 so powerful. Ripley 8, and the viewer, is filled with
horror at the degradations human inquisitiveness is capable of
producing, and pity for the victims of that inquisitiveness. Ripley
herself is perhaps the greatest victim.
That doesn't make it a perfect movie. I agree with the reviewer who
said that it hews closest to the formula of the second movie, which
in this case means lots of action and virtually no character
development. Like Aliens, everybody in this movie except Ripley
basically exists either to kill or get killed; and whereas Aliens at
least had the little girl to inject some real pathos into the
proceedings, in this movie there's nobody to care about except for
Ripley herself. We're supposed to care about Winona Ryder's
character, the robot girl, but somehow the character doesn't quite
work. Ryder just doesn't have the screen presence, the intensity,
to make herself felt over the explosions. (I tend to think she's
overrated as an actress anyway.)
I also agree that in showing so much gore, the movie diminishes
the impact of the creatures. The key to the first one was that you
only saw the aliens for seconds at a time, and you never got a
really good view--they were always hiding behind something, or in
a dim corner. That's why they were so scary. In this movie, you
see absolutely everything, and the result isn't so much scary as
just gross. The newborn is a cool design--a misshapen human/ alien cross--but we just see too much of it. The first one was a
horror movie; this is a splatter movie.
So I give this one high marks for concept and for Weaver (and
maybe for the look), and low marks for just about everything else.
Who misses Hicks?
I am very interested in those reviewers who hint at what this movie
could have been with different editing. I think some of the
concepts are great--the prison planet with the strange religious
movement could really work, but I felt like not enough was done
with it. I got the feeling that the director, the writer, or somebody
wanted to make a really weird movie, but was told to cut to the
chase. As usual, weirder would have been better.
The movie starts with a shock: the deaths of Hicks and Newt.
Yes, it's totally left unexplained how the alien managed to lay eggs
on the ship before getting kicked off at the end of the second
movie, but then again, are we so sure that everything about this
creature's physiology has been completely revealed in the first two
films? In other words, it doesn't make much sense, but it
shouldn't really bother us.
As for the deaths, I didn't miss Hicks at all. He was just another
one of those annoying commandos in Aliens. Newt, on the other
hand...after all the effort Ripley put into saving her in the previous
movie, to have her killed was really depressing. But I think it really
works for Ripley's character--as the series goes on she gets more
and more existential, and more and more she realizes her fate is
intertwined with that of the alien. I don't think her decision to throw
herself into the furnace at the end would have been as easy, or as
convincing, had Newt still been around to need her.
Clement was a great character, and what a change to allow Ripley
a romantic interest. His death, so early in the movie, was a big
shock, but in retrospect I think it was timed just about right. If he
had died at the end, after he and Ripley had fallen completely in
love, it would have made her sacrifice look like a love suicide; as
is, they weren't yet in love--she was just beginning to trust him, and
bang, he's gone. The tragedy is perhaps even greater because
the potential in their relationship had not yet been fulfilled.
That said, I think the movie does go downhill from there. None of
the other characters are developed enough to make you care
about them. If the cult story had been developed more, Dillon's
character could have really been something (and the strange
religious elements of the first and fourth movies might have made
more sense), but as was he was basically just another commando type.
The ending is spectacular, though: not only Ripley's memorable
death, but her confrontation with the Company's men, who are
even more evil than the aliens. Like a lot of the action sequences
in the second half, this confrontation comes out pretty confused,
though (I always found myself wondering in this movie who'd shot
who and why, who was running where and why).
As usual the best thing about the movie is Weaver's performance.
Unlike some of the other reviewers, I have no trouble believing that
Ripley would refuse to be confined to the infirmary and take her
chances around the prisoners. By this time, she's faced the aliens
twice--what has she got to fear from some puny double-y's? Each
film in the series sees her get tougher and tougher, but it's a
believable transformation. In the first two movies she was scared
but smart; here she's lost so much that she has no energy to be
All in all, it's not a perfect film, but it's not bad, either.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
I'm right here.
First off, if you haven't seen the old movie Sullivan's Travels, try to
scare up a copy before watching this. There's a real connection,
and being aware of it just makes your appreciation of this movie
that much deeper.
This should have gotten the Oscar for Best Picture last year. And
after giving it to this film, they should have stopped giving it for
about ten years. It's that good.
I love everything the Coen brothers have done, but this film
transcends. It's the best film I've seen in years. It just may be the
Great American Novel. High school English teachers say Huck
Finn is, but it was too early: America hadn't happened yet. High
school English teachers say Huck Finn was based on the
Odyssey just like this film is.
It's very easy for me to wax mystical about this film. It's a mystical
film. By setting it in a mythical version of Mississippi--a land that
exists in its purest form in old country blues and protobluegrass
songs--the Coens have tapped into the motherlode, the jugular
vein of American myth. This is the real America--the absurdity, the
cruelty, the violence, the beauty, the deceit, the Dapper Dan. This
is the best America--the America that gave birth to Robert Johnson
and the Carter family.
Critics used to say that the Coen brothers were technically brilliant
and emotionally cold filmmakers. I never understood that and I get
it even less now: this movie has more heart, more passion and
love and spirit, than just about anything else I can think of.
Perfect performances (George Clooney gives us the ride of his
life), breathtakingly beautiful cinematography, and the best
soundtrack maybe ever.
Mark Twain would be proud.
Why do people resent Kenneth Branagh so much?
**WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS**
I've never been able to understand why people resent Kenneth Branagh so much. To my mind, he's a fine actor, a very good director, and his failures in each area are more than made up for by his ambition--when he screws up it's because he's tried for something magnificent that proves to be just out of his reach. As opposed to most people, who can screw up on things that aren't worth achieving in the first place. But there seem to be a lot of people that just hate Branagh--that go out of their way to be annoyed by him. I just don't get it. This film was produced by Francis Coppola and American Zoetrope, and his Dracula cohort James V. Hart, and it shares that movie's aim of trying to make a film true to the literary spirit and themes of the original novel. That said, in feel and approach it's very much Kenneth Branagh's movie. In place of the baroque immersion in setting and atmosphere that Coppola usually brings to a project (particularly Dracula), we get the fantastic energy that Branagh pours into his work. It really is the first Frankenstein movie to capture the Romantic spirit of Shelley's book. The frequent appearance of fire (especially the scene of the monster holding aloft the torch at the end) remind one of the book's subitle: The Modern Prometheus. And Branagh's portrayal of Victor embodies all the promise and hubris of Shelley's protagonist. And at the same time, the film manages to be a really good Gothic horror flick, too. The lab setup is wonderfully imagined--everything one could want from a mad scientist's lab circa 1794--and some of the scenes are among the weirdest and most horrifying ever filmed. Horrifying in the old-school sense, the feeling that you're watching Something That Should Not Be. I'm thinking of Victor's weird dance in the amniotic fluid with the newly reanimated monster, still unable to stand. It goes on forever, while the viewer becomes more and more aghast at what is being shown. Then there's the climax, where he reanimates his bride, and the viewer realizes he's truly gone mad. The movie manages that rare trick of being two things at once: an intellectually satisfying literary movie and a ripping good adventure Performances: Branagh's great. Helena Bonham-Carter is also superb--her post-reanimation scene alone is worth the price of admission. She must have had a lot of fun doing that. Tom Hulce is fantastic as usual in a bit part. And John Cleese is astoundingly good in his cameo. The only real problem with this movie is Robert DeNiro. Physically, he's perfect for the role--a more monstery-looking Frankenstein's monster you couldn't ask for. But once he learns to speak, it's Brooklyn, and it just about ruins the movie. For this film to work the monster has to be alternately horrifying and poetic--you have to believe that under all those scars and stitches is a sensitive, wounded soul. But every time DeNiro speaks it sounds like he's saying "You lookin' at me?!" even if he isn't. The accent ruins it. The monster's utterances are essential to the book, but I think it would have been preferable in the movie to have him remain mute, rather than let DeNiro speak. If you can get around that, though, it's a fine movie. 7/10
The Godfather: Part III (1990)
not a sequel
**Warning: contains spoilers.**
I don't consider Godfather 3 to be a sequel except in the strict, literal sense of the word: it came after the earlier movie. In the pejorative sense in which the word is usually used of movies--i.e., something that was thought up later to cash in on the success of the first one--this is definitely not a sequel.
Godfather 3 is, instead, just what it says it is: part three of a single, unified story.
I see the Godfather trilogy--stay with me now, stop rolling your eyes--as a tragedy along Greek or Elizabethan lines. Remember how they taught you in high school about the structure of the Elizabethan 5-act tragedy? The climax was in the third act, in the sense that in the middle the tragic hero did something that sealed his fate, and everything after that was just the relentless playing out of the consequences of that single deed.
Looked at in this way, Michael Corleone is the tragic hero of the Godfather movies. And as a tragic hero he's up there with the best of them--just as archetypal in his own way as Oedipus or Hamlet.
Michael is the man who can't live down his heritage, the man who can't escape his upbringing, or, ultimately, himself. Like all good tragic heroes, he has enough potential for good to make him a sympathetic figure--he wanted so badly to get out; even in part three, decades into a life of crime, Michael can make you believe he has always wanted out. But it's his own weaknesses, his own ambition--his own virtue, in a way--that ruins him.
His tragic act, the one which sealed his fate, was (SPOILER) ordering Fredo's death at the end of part two. One might say that it came earlier, with the kiss of death he gave Fredo in Havana ("I know it was you, Fredo"), but still, up until the point that he actually ordered the execution, Michael could have turned back. But after that point, his own fate was sealed. He had destroyed, symbolically, the very thing that he had been fighting to protect all his life: his family.
So why make part three? Isn't this all understood at the end of part two?
Coppola had to make part three for the same reason the Elizabethans had to write the last two acts of their tragedies: the cathartic, morally instructive, and dramatically satisfying part was in watching what came after the turning point. You know, in act three, that the hero is doomed, but you have to watch his doom played out. That's emotionally satisfying, it's morally necessary, it's artistically beautiful.
And that's what Godfather Part III is all about. You know, if you paid attention to part two, that Michael is not going to live happily ever after. He can't: in the moral universe of the movie, but more importantly in the moral universe he has created for himself, he has committed an unforgivable sin, and he must pay. But he doesn't know it yet: being human, he can always convince himself that he'll be able to escape culpability for his actions--until, that is, his guilt is driven home to him.
Thus, when critics complain that Godfather 3 is anticlimactic, they're more right than they realize--it's not the climax of the trilogy. It's the long, tragically necessary playing-out of Michael's doom.
We know how it will end, thematically at least: but there's great beauty and pathos in watching Michael be utterly destroyed. We watch his grandiose plans to save the Church!), knowing all the time that his hopes are in vain. He cannot be forgiven. Just like the cardinal his confessor says (SPOILER): he could be forgiven, but he himself does not believe it. This is great tragedy, folks. It's entirely appropriate that the last third of the movie be acted out to the backdrop of an opera, because that's what this is.
And this is how the movie's climactic scene should be seen.
(SPOILER) When Michael's daughter is killed, he suddenly loses that which is most precious to him--and he realizes, you can see it in his eyes, that it's all his fault. This is a divine retribution upon him for killing Fredo. He wanted to protect his family, and only ended up ensuring their destruction. Michael's scream on the steps of the opera house is one of the great cathartic moments in movie history--moves me to tears every time I see it. You can just see the man's whole life melt there into one sustained cry of anguish. (A brilliant stroke of Coppola's directorial brush, the decision to make the first breath of his scream silent, only music-- it makes it that much more intense, and private.)
Performances: uniformly excellent. Pacino's style, in the intervening fifteen years, had become much more demonstrative, but it fits the character, as the steely control of the young Michael Corleone relaxes into the benign self-confidence of the older man.
Diane Keaton, as she did before, gives unbelievable depth to what is still a fairly minor role--somehow managing to conjure up the entire non-Sicilian world in the single character of Kaye. Andy Garcia is fantastic as Sonny's son. Everybody, in fact, gives perfectly nuanced performances, except, of course, poor Sophia, and hers is the most important role!
Perfect conclusion to the best movie ever made. 10/10
It's a Coppola film.
Perhaps Coppola's true genius lies in his ability to totally mold his style to his subject matter. With some directors, no matter what the film you always know you're watching a film by that director-- Woody Allen comes to mind, or even Martin Scorsese, most of the time. Quentin Tarantino or Oliver Stone, definitely. With Coppola, and it's going to sound strange to say this about a director with such an outsize personality--Coppola always submerges his personal style in the story he's telling. Maybe a better way to put it is that his personal style consists in reinventing his approach with every story.
That's why, for me, even his less popular movies are interesting: each film, from One From The Heart to Rumble Fish to Gardens of Stone, creates a completely unique mood, extending to every detail of set design and cinematography. The man has perhaps the greatest range of any modern director--and exhibit A would have to be this: that the same man that gave us the incredibly subdued, tight Rainmaker a few years ago had only five or six years before that made Dracula, as over-the-top a film as you can imagine. And it works. Brilliantly. The lavish sets and costumes (courtesy of Eiko Ishioka) are only the most visible of the effects Coppola creates in this movie. Just as important is the way he puts together the narrative--all those elaborate transitions, the image overlays, the diary and letter readings. They all contribute to creating a slightly stilted, starched-collar, almost operatic atmosphere that perfectly suits the material. In this respect, I find Keanu Reeves's limitations as an actor working in the interests of the material for once: his stiffness actually contributes to his character's believability. It's easy to see why Mina would prefer Vlad to him.
Coppola's respect for the material manifests itself in the technological subtext. To a modern reader, 1897 feels like the ancient past, but Stoker's London audience was on the cutting edge of modernity--they must have felt just as much in control of their environment, on track to conquer the last mysteries of existence, as we do. Coppola brilliantly succeeds in making new "wonders" of the period such as the cinematograph and the typewriter seem thrillingly up-to-date, which just emphasizes the horror of this unnatural, unexplainable thing that has swept in from beyond the pale of civilization. Note the heroes' pride when they believe that they can outrace the Count by taking the train, a recent innovation--and of course they fail. Perfidy can always trump technology.
Another master stroke is the way Coppola suggests a repressed erotic undercurrent to the straitlaced culture of the Victorian age.
The briefly-glimpsed kiss between Lucy and Mina is a wonderful touch--is it erotic or completely innocent? They probably don't know themselves. Sadie Frost is fantastic in her role, managing to maintain this balance between innocence and wantonness all the way through, even as her character descends into horrifying depths.
Performances: uniformly excellent. Anthony Hopkins is a hoot as Van Helsing--almost as creepy as Vlad himself, and a joy to watch.
Winona Ryder gives perhaps her best performance as a woman who embodies the repressions of her age--she really doesn't seem to know which she wants, Vlad or Jonathan. Rather, she seems to sincerely want both, alternately.
And Gary Oldman is transcendant. His performance is the romantic core that makes the movie work--we fully believe that he is evil and must be stopped, but at the same time we can truly sympathize with him. Oldman makes us believe that Vlad's condition is a result of his love--he takes that motif from a mere plot enabler to the central, supporting element of the film. A great performance (even if we can't understand what he's saying half the time!).
The only reservation I have about the film is kind of hard to put my finger on. It has something to do with the fact that _everything_ is there on screen--there aren't enough shadows, there isn't very much left unseen or unsaid. In a sense that feels true to the conception of the film, a sort of old-fashioned aesthetic in which light and dark are clearly delineated, just as there's no confusion in Van Helsing's mind between his admiration for Vlad the man and his hatred of Dracula the monster. A noir approach would have injected too much irony, too much cynicism in what is, finally, a very old-school sentimental, romantic story. But having the monster waltz across the center of the screen in all his red-caped, white-bouffanted glory is a bit of a departure from the conventional image of evil lurking in shadows. Maybe a little disconcerting.
Still, I give it 8 of 10.
Valley Girl (1983)
Listen to Zappa instead
If you grew up in the '80s, you knew people who talked like this.
You maybe even talked like this yourself. The problem is, the people in this movie talking like this don't sound authentic. The dialogue is right, but the people delivering it don't have the slightest feel for the rhythms and intonations of the Valley Girl.
Listen to the Frank and Moon Zappa song that took the subculture nationwide and you'll see what I mean. The song is dead-on; the movie is a pale, outsider imitation. But, what do you expect?
The only redeeming feature is Nic Cage's fantastically smoldering performance as Randy. The filmmakers couldn't seem to decide if his character was punk, rockabilly, or just working-class (something else that makes the film feel like an outsider's attempt to exploit a craze without really understanding it), but when Cage is onscreen, it all ceases to matter. One of his great quirky, weirdo, but very attractive performances, on a par with Raising Arizona and Peggy Sue Got Married.
Between Cage and a great soundtrack (Modern English! Josie Cotton!), it earns 5/10.