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Tears of the Sun (2003)
Tears of the Sun-8/10 is a very solid, gritty and ultimately satisfying military rescue thriller...
Contains Spoiler Tears of the Sun is a very solid, gritty and ultimately satisfying military rescue thriller with a very realistic and intense setting and a solid cast lead by Bruce Willis and the surprising Monica Bellucci. Willis play Lieutenant Waters the leader of a small Special Ops team, who must go into the war-torn African nation of Nigeria and bring back an American doctor Lena Hendricks played by Bellucci, who is stationed at a mission deep in the African Jungle, soon to be overrun by ruthless and merciless rebel forces. Waters is a good leader, follows orders and gets the job done. His mission is to bring back the doctor, a priest ad two nuns from the mission. Complications arise when Doc. Hendricks refuses to go without some 70 refugees that she has been looking after...and knows that anyone who is left behind at the mission will be left to a slaughter. At first Waters and his team are reluctant to carry the extra burden of the 70 refugees, but a change of heart leads him facing impossible and improbable odds. It is up to him and his team to lead everyone through the treacherous jungle to safety across the boarder of neighboring country Cameroon. Bruce Willis is a favorite of mine I will admit, but he just seems to be getting better and better with age. His stern look and hardnosed smile is a strong and powerful dramatic presence on screen, yet still he can be smug, funny and can show warmth and compassion...all around a very versatile actor and he is very good in this film. Surprising me most was Monica Bellucci, now much has been made of this stunning beauty, but I haven't seen her in anything before. I got news for you...she can act and does a great job in this playing the stubborn and forceful doctor, who won't leave her people behind. Granted her accent may be a burden, but she has no problem conveying emotion or creating a convincing character like she does here. I wll also say this film is not pretty...the depiction of the brutal nature of ethnic cleansing and the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people, who are just caught in civil war and political upheval is not easy to take. There is an especially gruesome and horrifying scene involving a dying and raped woman who is found in a hut in a village the special forces are forced to attack. This is what goes on in a lot of these Third World nations where religious beliefs and devastating poverty lead to brutal and unbelievable cruel violence. It is a film that doesn't pull its punches in this regard. I also loved the setting of this film...the jungle these people have to fight and claw their way through is beautiful and ominous at the same time. Now some might dismiss this film as maybe too slow...and for some it might be, but films like this should take their time telling an important story. Some may also dismiss this film as just an action movie with a patriotic American hero ending, but it is much more than that and I found it totally engrossing the whole way through. Overall, Tears of the Sun is a solid, convincing military rescue thriller that looks at the horrors of ethnic cleansing and civil war. It features a great setting, some good action and features two very solid performances by the always dependable Bruce Willis and relative newcomer, the gorgeous Monica Bellucci. Highly recommended...one of the best of the year so far.
Chicago-9/10 is a wonderful, lively and truly entertaining musical...
Chicago is a wonderful, lively and truly entertaining musical featuring a great cast and technically is great. Chicago is set during the roaring 1920's where the city was full of corruption, scandals, murder, Al Capone, bootleggers and lots of razzle-dazzle. That is really what this film is...its all a show and its an eye-popping one at that. Renee Zellweger is great as Roxie Heart in an Oscar worthy performance as a young performer trying to get into vaudeville and have her own show. She winds up in jail after murdering her lover after she learns he has been just stringing her along with promises of getting into the music business. In jail she finds Velma Kelly played by Catherine Zeta-Jones equally impressive in a forceful performance as the established star that Roxie admires, who is also in jail for killing her adulterous husband and her sister. Roxie needs help in a clear open and shut case so she hires flamboyant and unbeatable lawyer Billy Flynn played by Richard Gere who is also terrific. A media storm is created as the trial of the century is under full scrutiny from the eager press and a town where you are only as popular as the newest news you can produce. Chicago is obviously a musical and there are plenty of amazing and wonderful musical numbers throughout the film from Velma's opening of "All that Jazz" to the final rousing duo beween Roxie and Velma...and in between there are plenty more even people like Richard Gere and John C. Reilly who plays Amos, Roxie's neglected and unnoticed husband get into the act of singing and dancing. Queen Latifah also has a strong presence as Mama Morton, the corrupt head of the jail and even Lucy Liu makes a fun appearance as a murdering heiress. A couple of my favorite moments was when Zellweger was a ventriliquist dummy moved and controlled by Gere...and Gere's tap-dance courtroom scene. This also brings me to another point that the film technically is a marvel...from the glorious setting of 1920's Chcago and the production design needs to be credited with the wonderful way the musical numbers are shot, edited and the lighting was amazing. Overall, Chicago is a wildly fun and entertaining movie musical that features great music and a wonderful cast especially Renee Zellweger in a great performance. One of the year's best fims...don't miss it.
The Life of David Gale (2003)
The Life of David Gale-8/10 is a tremendous mystery, thriller of a film...
The Life of David Gale is a tremendous mystery, thriller of a film that is an indictment of capital punishment. This film on the outside looks like just a murder mystery about a man who may or may not be guilty or innocent, but it takes a wonderful and unexpected turn and ends up being a lot more than that. I have been looking forward to his film ever since I saw the previews for it late last year, and was disappointed when it got pushed back to February. I am a huge fan of Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet, two of my favorite actors and actresses respectively. Kate Winslet plays Bitsey Bloom, a hard nosed take no prisoners attitude reporter for "News" magazine...effectively Newsweek. She has been sent down along with a bright, young intern Zack Stemmons played by Gabriel Mann, to the bible-belt of Huntington, Texas to interview a death row inmate 4 days shy of his execution. That man is David Gale played by Kevin Spacey, a man who has been sentenced to death for the murder of his colleague and friend Constance Harraway played by Laura Linney, who was found raped and murdered in her house six years earlier. Bitsey is to conduct three 2 hour interviews leading up to Gale's execution by lethal injection on the fourth day. She does not really know why she is there or what story will come from this. It is a major story because of who David Gale was and what he stood for. That man was an intellectual and professor of philosophy at Austin Unversity and he was the state's leading death penalty abolishinist along with Constance Harroway they lead an anti-capital punishment organization. The story is intercut between Bitsey's interviews, where we see David Gale's life leading up to the murder and Bitsey and her intern trying to figure out what really happened and why it did...did David Gale kill her? Was he framed or set up? etc. Now with this type of film usually the suspected inmate comes off as a decent guy and you know he didn't do it and eventually the real killer's are found out and brought to justice at the last minute...involving some convoluted conpiracy involving money, revenge etc. I am so glad this film did not take that easy route...it takes a startling and ultimately ver convincing path leading up to a story that is truly about self-sacrfice the ultimate of human experience that Spacey's character Gale talks about in one of his earlier scenes as a professor of philosophy. I won't really say too much than that because it might ruin what is a delicious surprise of a film. I understand that some might feel manipulated by this film and dismiss it as taking a one-sided stand on the subject of the death penalty. Let me say right now that I am for the death penalty, but that doesn't distract from what I think is a very good film condemning the death penalty. Politics is not an issue here for me. The system obviously has flaws(one being you have to wait 9 years on death row, which I find absurd) and this film proves they can be exploited. Overall, The Life of David Gale is not exploitative or manipulative...it doesn't pull a fast one on the audience. Howeer, it is a film about three people who exploit and manipulate capital punishment to brilliant affect. A story about self-sacrifice for what you believe in and featuring an excellent cast which includes Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet and Laura Linney. Just a superb gem of a film.
Daredevil-8/10 is a very entertaining, fun, action-packed comic/super hero movie...
Daredevil is a very entertaining, fun, action-packed comic/super hero movie that is dark, intense and a very surprising film...and I left the theatre with a big grin on my face. After seeing the hugely popular and well done Spider-Man last year I said this is how comic book movies should be made and future ones should take note. The makers of Daredevil obviously did...because they have taken that successful and winning formula(literally) but added their own touch and style in the creation of Daredevil. Ben Affleck plays Matt Murdock...the reluctant hero Daredevil, son of a former boxing champ and bullied as a kid. A chemical spill and accident leaves the young kid blind, but his other four senses have now grown accutely more stronger and effective...leaving him with a special "radar sense" where sounds bring to life what Matt can't see. This effect in the film is absolutely brilliant and is used very well throughout the entire film...including a beautiful and sad scene involving Elektra in the rain. In his later life Matt fights for justice as a small time lawyer partnered by the very funny Jon Favreau. They represent the innocent and the unfortunate, always seeking truth and justice. At night Murdoch assumes the identity of Daredevil a masked avenger of sorts, fighting for those same down-trodden folk who have been wronged by the system. As reluctant as Murdoch is as Daredevil...the public is as reluctant to accept him as their savior...he is seen more as a villain, an outlaw, an outcast rather than a hero. Daredevil isn't exactly merciful and he is basically seen as a bad guy. The very stong and powerful presence of Michael Clarke Duncan plays Kingpin...mythic crime boss of the city whose exploits seem thwarted by Daredevil and a war of attrition ensues. Matters are even more complicated when Murdoch meets Elektra played by the sexy and strong willed Jennifer Garner, who happens to be the daughter of one of Kingpin's stooges. The man who steals the show is absolutely Colin Farrell as hot-tempered and deadly Irish assassin Bullseye. he chews up the scenery and has loads of fun being an over-the-top villain. This kid Farrell is great and as I said after seeing The Recruit he seems like he can do no wrong. He is a wonderful young talent and has the charisma and style to become a huge star...I just love this dude. Joe Pantaliano also lends some solid support as a tabloid journalist, a role which easily could have become a simple cliche but doesn't. As good as Daredevil is...it is not without its faults. The fight scenes seemed at best pretty average at times and some smoother editing is needed...but as I said this film is darker, more richer than Spider-Man and as it is stands on its own right there with Spidey. Overall Daredevil is a very entertaining comic/superhero movie that takes a winning formula and adds its own style and flair and it boasts an outstanding cast led by the solid Ben Affleck and the talented young Irish assassin Colin Farrell. It's the first can't miss movie of the year and you should have loads of fun watching it.
Dark Blue (2002)
Dark Blue-8/10 is a surprisingly good cop thriller...
Dark Blue is a surprisingly good cop thriller that is tense, taut and quite riveting from start to finish. This film takes police corruption to a whole different level. I really wasn't expecting much going ino this film but I was really surprised at how much it grabbed me and held me interested througout. Kurt Russell gives his best performance in years (it's probably his best performance since Tombstone(1993)) as Sgt. Eldon Perry an elite detective in the L.A.P.D. who breaks procedure and bends the rules to get the job done. He doesn't do it because he can or wants to, but because he has to. To get the job done he has to falsify evidence and even take down criminals, who while they deserve what they get, don't get a fair shake. Scott Speedman plays Bobby, Eldon's young and bright partner, who ultimately wants to do the right thing and be an honest cop, but begins to fall into the same trap as his elder partner, who is in too deep as it is. Their boss is Jack Van Meter played by Brendan Gleeson, who is abolutely superb in this film as a corrupt captain who pulls the strings and has Perry and Bobby on his leash. The backdrop for this film is early 1990's Los Angeles and centers around the Rodney King beating and the subsequent riots that took place after the four officers who beat King were found not guilty. The racial tension that was so present at that time adds to this film immensely as their is also real, palpable racial tesion within the L.A.P.D. One of my favorite scenes in the entire film is when Bobby and his black girlfriend/cop played by Michael Michele are in a car when the Rodney King verdict is annouced over the police radio. The look on her face is just amazing...because she knows what is coming as all the cops do...the city is going to burn and boy does it! The always good and interesting Ving Rhames plays Dep. Chief Arthur Holland...a man who knows he is dealing with corupt cops and shady officials and is also motivated by becoming chief of the department one day. The story centers on a brutal robbery/murder of a convenience store by two young thuglike killers (one white and one black). I wont go into the reasons for the robbery, but I will say this opening scene is a startling one. It is a shockingly brutal and intense scene that it immedately grabs you at the begining of this film. From then on I was hooked. Perry and Bobby naturally take on the brutal investigation and their dilemna is fleshed out by what happens to the case and the road it takes. Kurt Russell's position as a corrupt monster of a cop with no return also has a deep affect on his wife Sally, played by Lolita Davidovich. This was handled in a very real and sad sort of way. You sort of see the signs but it is still a surprise when it happens. This film surprised and thrilled me on many levels and it really deserves to be seen. The ending is thrilling and the depiction of the chaos of the L.A. riots is expertly done as is Russell's impassioned confession and speech at the end of this film. Overall, Dark Blue is a very well done and effective cop drama about corruption and racial tension set amid the Rodney King beating and L.A. Riots. A superb performance by Kurt Russell, and much more than just an over the top caricature (Denzel Washington in Trainng Day). A very good film and the best I've seen so far this year...don't miss it.
Gods and Generals (2003)
Gods and Generals-7/10 is certainly not a great film, but it is fairly decent...
Gods and Generals is certainly not a great film, nor a very good one. It is a fairly decent film, but if this isn't your type of film in the first place there is little chance you will survive the 4 hour running time, which includes an intermission. It's no secret I am a huge fan of war movies and historical epics. History is a subject I am forever fascinated with and stories of human history have always interested me. As far as the Civil War goes I am not that much of a fan as opposed to wars of the 20th century...though it looked like it had all the elements I expect in a historical war epic. The film however is extremely slow and it is not helped by very stagey acting and pompous dialogue...if you find most 21/2 hour movies slow or borng there is little chance you can sustain this. When I saw this saturday night the theatre was pretty much full. About half of them didn't return after the intermission. Apart from that I expect to see great battles and gory war violence and this film to my surprise sort of goes away from that. At times it seemed the battles lacked a tenseness and urgency about them. As far as the story goes it concerns the defense of Virginia by the South lead by General Robert E. Lee played by Robert Duvall and General "Stonewall" Jackson played by Stephen Lang, who is the main focus of the film. The North is represented by Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Chamberlain played by Jeff Daniels, who also appeared in the 1993 film Gettysburg, to which this film is a prequel to. A major problem with this film is the focus on Jackson especially in the preachy and pompous way he appraches the war. There are numerous speeches of professing his love for the state of Virginia and praying to God to see him through the war. Another problem is I fealt the film was very biased towards the South and how they are fighting for freedom from the Union, with little mention of slavery. Reading this you might think how the hell could I possibly like this film, but I do have my reasons. The film is beautifully shot and the overall look of the film is quite stunning. The costumes, sets, etc. are all very authentic despite a few squiry looking beards! As a historical piece it seems like a very straight forward telling of the events of the time...but that leaves the viewer feeling emotionally uninvolved most of the time. However, there were two particular scenes that were really quite touching, during the battle of Fredericksburg there is an exchange between the two Irish units of the opposing sides...both of whom have fought against oppression and tyranny for many years. Another scene I loved was a quiet exchange between a soldier from the South and one from the North, who exchange a cup of coffee and a smoking pipe, while standing in the middle of a queit river. Nothing is said between the two and I found it touching because even at a time of horrific bloodshed and turmoil there is time for tenderness and civility. Overall, Gods and Generals is not even a very good film about the civil war. It is too long, too stagey and leaves the audience emotionally detached. It certainly is not a film for everyone and few are likely to enjoy it, but I am one of them who did. Ultimately this film would be better served as some sort of primetime mini-series on PBS or something. As a piece of theatre entertainment on a saturdy night, I would strongly recommend against it, because the average movie-goer just won't be able to survive it.
The Hours (2002)
The Hours-7/10 is an interesting but depressing film...
The Hours is an interesting but depressing film about life, death and suicide connected by the lives of 3 different women from different eras. Unfortunately the film really fails at what it is trying to say about these issues and is only worth seeing because of the performances of the 3 actresses. Nicole Kidman stars as acclaimed and troubled author Virginia Woolf, living in England in the early 1940's with her distant husband. Suffering from mental illness she longs for the big city and feels stifled and suffocated in the small town. She is writing a book called Mrs. Dalloway about an ineffectual woman contemplating suicide who is throwing a party. Julianne Moore is a suburban housewife living in 1950's Los Angeles with her young son and content husband played by John C. Reilly. She is reading Woolf's book "Mrs. Dalloway" and also preparing things for her husband's birthday. Meryl Streep plays Clarissa Vaughn, nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway by a writer dying of AIDs played by Ed Harris(terrific in the two scenes he is in), who she is throwing a party for. she lives in modern day new York with her lover played by Allison Janney and has a daughter played by Claire Danes. The 3 women are all connected by "Mrs. Dalloway"-Kidman is writing it, Moore is reading it and Streep is living it. All have feelings of unhappiness and contemplate suicide for different reasons as does Ed Harris' character. My problem with the film is that some of them have legitimate reasons and some don't. I think the film really fails at what it is trying to say about suicide. Naturally it should be that life is worth living, but to me it didn't really drive home that point enough. Apart from what the film is trying to accomplish the performances are great especially Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf unrecognizable but great as the tortured and miserable writer. Meryl Streep was also good too and Ed Harris as I mentioned earlier. The film is quite choppy switching from era to era, however I liked how they did it with the women doing and saying the same things or using different props and settings to move from one time line to another. There is a surprise revelation at the end of the film that felt forced and manufactured and I just didn't buy it. Overall, The Hours is an interesting film that conects life and death through the lives of 3 women and the writings of Virginia Wolf. It ddn't fully connect with me but it is worth seeing for the performances especially Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Ed Harris.
Adaptation.-8/10 is a superbly inventive, funny and poignant film...
Adaptation. is a superbly inventive, funny and poignant film about life, love an screenwriting, from the creative team of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman who brought the amazingly, original 1999 film Being John Malkovich. This follow up really shows how genuinely original and great these two are. Instead of a story about a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich...this time we get a portal into the mind of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in a matter of speaking. Nicolas Cage plays Charlie...he's fat, balding, ugly and sweats a lot. He is obsessive, shy and kind, and coming off the success of Being John Malkovich ,which has some nice behind the scenes sort of stuff, he has been asked to adapt a book called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orleans played by the wonderful Meryl Streep. The trouble with this is that he can't find an original way to adapt the book. "You can't make a movie about flowers!" Unfortunately for Charlie he lives with his twin brother Donald Kaufman also played by Cage. Donald is the complete opposite of Charlie, cocky, self-confident and without originality. He also is writing a script...a by the book serial killer thriller that naturally follows all conventions and formulas and of course is a hit with Hollywood executives. I will say that Nicolas Cage's perfomance in this film is absolutely astonishing in creating two completely different characters who are both look a like and are equally likeable. It's an amazing feat that you can always tell them apart eventhough they look the same. Charlie's dilemna leads him to find out more about author Susan Orleans and the a man the book is written about. That man is John LaRoche played by Chris Cooper in a fine performance, who on the outsde seems nothing more than a redneck hick living in the swamps of Florida, but there is a lot more to him than meets the eye. Susan also sees this and they develop a strangely hipnotic attraction to each other, while she was writing about him three years earlier in search of a very rare and barely seen Orchid called the Ghost Orchid. As with Spike Jonze's Being John Makovich there are quite a few surreal and amazing things about this film and the way it draws comparisons to people, life, flowers, Hollywood, love, writing etc. are endless and just stunning. Overall Adaptation is one of the best acted films of the year with all 3 people giving great performances especially Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep and features a totally inventive and amazing story. The only reason I'm not rating this higher is the rather arbitrary and derivative action-oriented ending. It just didn't feel like the proper resolution to this film. Still a very good film.
About Schmidt (2002)
About Schmidt-7/10 is a quiet, understated little film...
About Schmidt is a quiet, understated little film about making a difference in people's lives and whether or not those who know and love us will remember us when we are gone and features a good performance by one of America's great actors. Jack Nicholson stars as Warren Schmidt, a 66 year old man who has just retired from the insurance industry and lives in Nebraska with his demanding wife of 40 some odd years. Warren's life is boring and dull nothing is happening in his life and he wonders is this all that there is left for him. Out of curiosity or charity Warren decides to sponsor a young orphan boy from Tanzania, after watching one of those commercials on TV. This really provides the heart for the film as we hear what Warren writes in his letters to the young boy and it serves as narration for what is happening in Warren's life. After his wife dies rather suddenly, Warren decides to get away and takes a trip in the new RV they had bought. He hopes to go to Colorado and meet with his daughter Jeannie played by Hope Davis, who is recently engaged to Randall, a man who Warren disapproves of, who is very rough around the edges and is the epitomy of white trash. However, Randall has a good heart and good intentions and even offers Warren a business oportunity. Warren also meets other folks along the way and the rest of Radanll's family including his mother Roberta played by Kathy Bates the sort of fiesty no nonsense character she always seems to play. I'll also say right now I did not need to see Kathy Bates stepping into a hot-tub...an image that was frightening! Beyond that this film really isn't much more. Nicholson dominates the film and he is funny and amusing in a sad and pathetic kind of way. Overall About Schmidt really didn't leave a lasting impression on me, although it had a good cast and a nice performance by Jack Nicholson.
The Pianist (2002)
The Pianist-7/10 is the powerful true story of holocaust survivor and talented piano player Wladislaw Szpilman...
The Pianist is the powerful true story of holocaust survivor and talented piano player Wladislaw Szpilman, who escaped certain death in the extermination camps and outlasted the war hiding out from the Nazi's in Warsaw, Poland. A story that is obviously very personal to controversial filmmaker Roman Polanski and is handled with great thought and care. Adrien Brody is very good as the title character, a member of the upper-class living in Poland with his family which include his mother and father, his brother and two sisters. He makes a living and a name for himself playing the piano for a radio station until the beginning of World War II when Germany invaded Poland and stormed into its capital city. As a Jew, Wladislaw and his family are rounded up like dogs with some 500,000 other Polish Jews and ushered into a concentrated part of the city until they are sent off to "labor" camps. This film is about what people do to survive and what lengths people are willing to go to make sure of that survival. People are completely stripped of their dignity and pride and are forced to turn on each other. I thought the first hour of this film was great, with its often shocking brutality of the German's, the utter despair of the Jews and the togetherness of Szpilman's family. After he gets separated from his family(rather by a little luck I might add) and forced to survive on his own I felt the film lost a lot of where its heart lie. The rest of the film is Szpilman moving from hiding place to burnt out hiding place avoiding detection by the Nazi's and Non-Polish Jews always scrounging for food and water. It does become very redundant and tiresome and some could consider it boring. Even as his fellow Jews do try and fight back Szpilman still hides in the shadows. As somebody mentioned earlier it does come off as very cowardly and I have no problem in pointing that out. As I said this is a film about what people do to survive, but still Szpilman's unwillingness to take any real action makes us feel less sympathy for him...and this is a character that we should care about. Overall, The Pianist is a good film about Holocaust survivor Wladislaw Szpilman but not a great one. A good, thoughtful story by director Roman Polanski featuring a good performance by Adrien Brody but ultimately really doesn't deliver the power and lasting impression a story like this should.