454 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Elephant (2003)
The Illusion of Cheap Intelligence
17 December 2004
Ay caramba, if I had a dollar for every bad studio film I've seen I could retire in Florida. A nickel for every bad independent film and I could buy an island in Tahiti.

American cinema has aged and grown enough in the last forty years where we laud the underdog and secretly hate the "studio-meddling flicks." Sadly, if you've seen enough "indie" or student films, you know that they can be just as bad--if not worse--than their bigger comrades.

Make no mistake, I love Ridley Scott's expensive pains as much as David Lynch's. Money is no item when it's done right. But 'Elephant' is just a tremendous gaffe.

This movie got me further incensed at Cannes. I started wondering why this slow, non-linear film was so celebrated...when the smug 'MASH' won over the wonderfully similarly constructed 'Catch-22' some thirty years ago. I guess Cannes cares more for making grand statements than actual cinematic form, but sobeit. I'm just surprised they haven't given Oliver Stone an award yet.

Everything is all about the characters (and something about inevitability and fate), but it's been done better before. Do we need cheapskates like Van Sant to strut around like they are smarter than everyone else by pretending they are realistic? I'm giving up on films that try to be "realistic." This movie certainly isn't. Any "average" American high school has at least ten times more kids wandering the halls. There would be five times more profanity in the conversations. If a film is such a large, complicated endeavor (even "small" ones like this) with so many nuances, why waste it on characters? Why spend five minutes following someone around instead of exploring on your own?

Sorry, but Mike Nichols already did everything right in 'Catch-22:' same content, more intelligent form, and a big smiling budget.
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Alexander (2004)
Conquest of Paradise
26 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Another mammoth epic relying on Vangelis to hold it together.

Potential Spoilers ahead...

Yet another epic, tackled by the most daring director yet. An epic this scale requires a visionary, not a "people-person."

Obviously, Stone draws common traits from his id. There's his usual misogyny, some aspirations of power, serpents, and history obsession. Add some drug-induced panic. Let simmer. Pray for the best. Looks pretty silly now, didn't in 'Born on the Fourth'. I'll skip acting and story comments. If you want to know more about Alexander, read a book. Besides, I don't want a story getting in the way of the vision.

The battles--especially in India--are better than what we've seen this year; more confusion than 'Troy', but without the energy that Ridley brought to 'Gladiator.' Stone's problem, once again, is not finding a distinct vision in his chaos. Before this I watched 'Spy Game' and found a continuous vision inside all the gee-whiz editing so this isn't impossible on a larger scale.

Sure, we get the usual beheadings, some new (I guess trendy) cruelty to animals, parades, and grand sets. All to be quickly forgotten--only the India battle registers. The only place really left for the genre to go is the sexual dimension.

Here's where Stone throws his trademark controversy engine, but his sexuality (literal and implied, hetero and not) has always been the dull sort. Maybe Ridley will get it right next time.

Like 'Alexander', Stone probably outdid himself in the wrong areas.

(As a side note: Vangelis gets to wrap things up nicely.)
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Excalibur (1981)
Mental Joust
18 October 2004
This movie challenged me in how to appreciate it.

The Good: When Boorman gets his visions right, he gets them right. From the first five minutes I could understand why Ridley Scott chose Alex Thomson as the photographer for 'Legend'. Any other weaknesses aside, those are enough for me. I also thought the animalistic armor designs were apt given how much Rome/Greek inspired stuff we've seen in the last five years.

The Bad: Watching this right after 'Monty Python' will wreck your appreciation. In 'Python', the fights are intentionally cheesy. Here they are just awful. Thankfully, I wasn't paying attention to the acting--I don't believe it's important in film--so I couldn't tell you how good/bad it was. Production values here also get hurt in the realm of scope and environment. Natural settings are gorgeous, but the manmade ones reek of artificiality. Also, the hippie 70s-style titles contradict the tone of the film.

The Quirky: Because the violence is so fake, the sex seems more outlandish.

Also remember that sex is one of the most underdeveloped elements in the sword-sorcery/sandal almost any entry that tries to be frank with it will get some noticing. Refer to the recent 'King Arthur' to see what happens when all the focus is put on fighting instead--instantly forgettable. Since 'Gladiator' (and even 'Braveheart') it's been a constant attempt to one-up all the predecessors in bloodshed, but nowhere else.

There's the Holy Grail for the next brood of filmmakers.
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Patient Depth
19 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Kubrick was possibly our most mature filmmaker in both form and ideas. He proved that story was not necessary in '2001' and 'Barry Lyndon'. His artistic and technical perfectionism is still relevant today (compare the grandeur of spacecraft in '2001' to Lucas' cartoons in 'Episode II') and, despite what anyone will tell you, his stuff is_not_boring.

OK, so 'Spartacus' was a bunch of moralistic hoo-ha and 'Shining' was too safe. Big deal. Let's get to the good stuff.

Spoiler minefield ahead...

Kubrick works in a very contemplative mode. He doesn't have the penchant for editing that those in my "cinematic excess" category do. In this respect, Kubrick is one of the most personal directors I have experienced. He doesn't create characters by having them spout lines in a cut-and-paste fashion like most directors. He wants them to exist, hence the mountains of laborious takes.

Of course, characters themselves are irrelevant in Kubrick's work (again with the '2001' reference). They are about situations and tone. Is it fear? Passion? Insanity? Why do you think his work hits some emotion/psychological bells in our heads? It's not because it's Jack Nicholson.

Watch this and notice how Kubrick rewards our patience. You might enjoy it.
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Evita (1996)
Revolting System
19 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This is the most bizarre of the Disney princess movies. Perhaps a mix of 'Barry Lyndon' with 'Robin Hood'.

Spoiler minefield ahead...

I've lumped Peckinpah, Bakshi, Parker, Stone, and Tarantino in my "cinema excess" category. They are identifiable by their montages, stereotypes and social commentary--often through the use of violence. Each has had his grand moments ('Wild Bunch', 'JFK', 'Pulp Fiction', etc.) but have become either sanitized or repetitive.

'Evita' is one example that was doomed from the start. After all, when it's rooted in Webber & Rice--two chaps reliant on lyrics, not melody--and "starring" the Queen of Accessories herself, how can Parker win?

Simple, he grabs his king editor (Hambling), a daring photographer (Khondji), and an old friend to write the script (Stone). Since they sleepwalk through their efforts, Parker loses. He couldn't have made a more sanitized and boring movie if he had tried; just as daft as 'West Side Story' and 'The Sound of Music'.

I'll give him some credit. The idea of the montage springs from Eisenstein and Lenin's appreciation of the revolution and 'Evita' tries to latch onto those principles. But nothing connects, disappointing since Khondji had just finished 'Se7en'.

This is especially frustrating after 'Pink Floyd' where Parker's images could carry the tone. He also had more daring music (in both form and lyrics) with 'The Wall' than this sonic trash. Safe versus dangerously edgy.

This failure done, the torch passes to Luhrmann.

Final Analysis = = Cinematic Dud
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The Sudden Stop at the End
10 September 2004
I'll keep this short. I really do not like Zwick's style of film--reason being that he sees the story and characters as the most important elements. In his films we are supposed to watch characters work the plot out. Boring.

People alone does not make good cinema. If you want people, read a book because you can imagine the person in a better context.

That's why Zwick's images fail. Real artists like the Scott brothers or Kubrick think in images first, all else comes second. Zwick thinks that people drive films and so emphasizes the importance of the actors. He can only make his work "so beautiful" before it detracts from his requirements for the story. That's where he loses.

Compare the boredom of World War I here with what Gilliam did in '12 Monkeys'; a thousand times more interesting on less money.

Why we don't notice this (and why his stuff has had three Oscar noms for photography) is beyond me. Everything here is primetime TV drama-grade material from the music to the editing. So abysmal.
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Panic Room (2002)
31 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Fincher certainly makes my film experience more stimulating. I think part of it is because, like Kubrick, he has become so selective of his work that he won't do mainstream. That makes no difference to me, I'll back on whatever visions he comes up with next.

Spoiler minefield ahead...

The home-invasion genre has gone through hoops in the last half-century. From 'Living Dead' to 'Straw Dogs' to 'Home Alone' (just to name a few) we've gotten so many different perspectives on the subject. Since all "plot" ideas have been used, Fincher must innovate in some technical or artistic manner.

And innovate he does! Whereas Peckinpah was stuck positioning the characters in relation to one another by editing around the house, Fincher goes the next step. So we get a camera not constricted by walls. Despite having a less-polished look to it, I admire CGI in instances like this where the idea exceeds simple amazement like, say, a thousand battle droids.

My bigger problem is the so-called battle between "style" and "substance". Often the argument is used to belittle a film like this: "it has loads of style but no substance to back it up." I believe that there is no real criterion for "substance". Is it story? character development? "Feel good" moments? All that is subjective.

Since we have a criteria for style, and boy does Fincher invest in it, it's easier to judge something like 'Panic Room' on that level. I'm convinced now that style_is_substance. Kubrick helped push the notion, just look what he did. This is, in part, why the documentary-style is dying.

All in all, a great recovery from 'Fight Club'. This is far more interesting than 'Unbreakable'--which was Shyamalan's equivalent.
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High Art (1998)
Dreams for the Means
28 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
The thing I love the most about film is how there are so few absolutes, perhaps even fewer than any other art form. Everything is open to interpretation, so let's not get bogged down in nitpicks regarding acting. That's not important.

Spoiler minefield ahead...

This film had some meaning to me because it is about photography and images. I've been doing photography as a hobby since fifth grade ("way back when") and I can say it's very hit-and-miss, mostly interesting failures. Half the art is in the meditation and examination. Too bad today's journalism philosophies don't allow that.

It's amusing here. Our narrator is Syd. All our perspectives come from Syd except those seen through the lens. Those come from Lucy. And what are those images of? Syd. When I first saw this, I thought the editing needed more individual cuts to emphasize the quickness of photographs. Then I reexamined it and found the examination to be almost complete. It's not very accomplished cinematically, but the photos themselves are interesting.

Let's expand on what this is about. Superficially, it's 'Ed Wood' meets 'Salvador', but that's not the case. I think it's about Cyd imagining Lucy ala 'Fight Club'. Hence the only thing Cyd would think about is herself, so all the images point back to her.

Meditative narcissism, this is almost Kubrick-level material. I wonder what he would've said about it. "Self-destructive" maybe.

I have only two complaints. Did we need the silly rant about "industry work"? Also, the music is awful. Forget bad acting, bad music is even more destructive to our minds.
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Ethereal Discovery
15 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
'Braveheart' meets 'Thin Red Line' meets Don Quixote

Beauty is an amazing cinematic element, possibly the most enduring. Performances get lost in forgiving nostalgia and changing styles. Violence outdoes itself each summer. Commentaries get heavy-handed and irrelevant. Even sex has become ersatz. By comparison, beauty knows no expiration date.

'Days of Heaven' will outlast 'Midnight Cowboy'. 'Catch-22' lives while 'MASH' dies an unforgiving death. So too will this eventually get its vindication.

Spoiler minefield ahead...

If you want to avoid the mile-long review, just read this paragraph. This movie is everything Mel wanted for medieval Scotland, heavily cinematic but lacking some poetry. Oh well, I put this in my Top 5 List for Ridley Scott's work, better than 'Gladiator' even. In fact, I can give this my highest honor.

It's been eight years since I first saw this. When I revisited it to prepare for 'Alexander', I had some questions on my mind.

1. What_was_significant about Columbus if he didn't discover "America"?

2. Is Scott a "has been" post-'Blade Runner', is he a "never was", or is he still powerful?

3. Why has this been used as a frequent flogging victim against Scott's work?

I think it's because the search here is for beauty, not gold. Religious institutions (Muslim, Catholic, and Native American) are brushed aside in favor of transcendental harmony. Also, a good 30 minutes could've been excised but it's more interesting than 'White Squall'.

So Scott places himself in Columbus' shoes to decide how to manage the film.

Like Columbus, he is stuck using cheap trinkets ('Black Rain', 'Thelma & Louise') to finance his enlightenment. He even tries to be trendy and gets some benevolent producers.

Where Scott goofs here is pacing. He can get fascinating work from his photographers (though 'Someone' was ugly), but sometimes his editors don't understand him. Scott thinks here in individual shots--not ensembles--and it's hard piecing them together. Here we get one of his better photographers (Biddle) and a horde of editors who can't form a rhythm. Frequently I was reminded of Malick's war opus, trying to tie meditative images together. By comparison, Michael Bay thinks in lifeless montages reliant on noise, not art.

Of course, Vangelis is the biggest feather in Columbus' cap, can he do wrong? Scott has a musical ear and I'd love to hear him work with Vangelis again or Morricone before he dies, especially now that Goldsmith has left us.

As a chaser for this delicacy, I recommend 'Apocalypse Now'. 'Apocalypse' is classical writing with revisionist images. This is revisionist writing (ala 'JFK' and 'Braveheart') with classical images. Both are still imensely beautiful while using aquatic journeys as self-discovery.

For further information, I also suggest looking into the Church's suppression of science in this time by emphasizing the pagan Greek culture. Sort of like today where we hammer Scott and Stone while celebrating the lifeless Friedkin and Howard Hawks.

Oh, and as some others have felt, photographers are often robbed of Oscars because of misunderstood stories. No more true than here and 'Catch-22'. I couldn't agree more. At least the Brits are more open-minded. With such cinematic power, is it any wonder Scott had four works in the IMDb Top 250?

Final Analysis = = Learn from this...
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Hidalgo (2004)
Pirates of the Arabian
14 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler minefield ahead...

Disney has an interesting hold on the cinematic world. I saw 'Alive' right after this and was struck by the difference in derring-do. Disney takes popular, trendy ideas (here it's 'Seabiscuit') and creates a flat, open-and-shut, linear story. As an afterthought, Dreamworks then pirates Disney's work into an anti-Disney message. This reminds me why I look elsewhere for something to get me going.

This film is constructed entirely out of theft. Ironically, the director substitutes for the protagonist. Johnston could have been great--he had the interesting 'Rocketeer' and 'Jumanji'--but he's been in a rut since. This is dull: it takes more than color filters, silhouettes and sunsets to make good cinematography--so few understand that. Here the camera has no character, only duplication.

As far as humdrum content goes, everything here from the massacres and fights to the scenery and culture clash is painted with silly political correctness. If you aren't brainwashed already, it should make you vomit.

On the side note, never trust blond women with British accents because they are plotting to kill you. In the meantime, Disney needs to make another cannibalism movie.

Final Analysis = = Cinematic Dud
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Tommy (1975)
Blind, Deaf and Dumb to the Music
11 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler minefield ahead...

Tommy and Pink Floyd. Tommy and Pink Floyd. Tommy and Pink Floyd. Apples and oranges. Personally, I'm more of a Pink Floyd person (the Who just sounds_too_70s to me) but I tried leaving all my reservations about this movie at the door.

That wasn't enough.

The themes, ideas, and especially the method are now obsolete. Actually, this bears little in common with "The Wall" though both are similar in narrative. This is straightforward, "The Wall" is stream of conscious. 'Tommy' has more in common with Norman Jewison than Pink Floyd's tragedy.

Ken Russell is obviously trying to outclass Norman Jewison and relies on cheap theatrical and visual gags--Ann-Margret in the suds and beans. Yeah the effects have dated, but so is the style. Russell's excess is less amazing and just annoying (or is it the overabundance of 70s fashions?).

Simply put, the method here is the plain musical we've been nursed on since sound became part of film. The characters sing at us, their lyrics advance the plot. "The Wall" is pure MTV--for once, a good thing--particularly Gerald Scarfe's animation.

Personally, I prefer Alan Parker's depressing self-indulgence over Russell's boring duplications. I never thought I'd say this, but I find "The Wall" to be Parker's best since he goofed less there compared to other work.

Oh, and the themes of 'Tommy' are too upbeat. Too similar to Jefferson Airplane (anti-establishment, religion and whatnot). Only Elton John has something interesting to do. Pinball instead of poetry.

Watch 'Moulin Rouge' instead.

Final Analysis = = Cinematic Dud
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Twisted Serling
7 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler minefield...

Between Hitchcock and Rod Serling, our culture has lost something. I admit it, when I was young I tried watching every 'Twilight Zone' episode and learned something that some modern Hollywood writers still haven't caught on to.

I hate obvious twists like this movie because it is totally unimaginative. The premise is simple: a 2 hour film about a boy who sees dead people. Make us sit through said film and experience Osment's unbearable acting and silly shock scenes.

Then in the end, poke us in the eye and say "Ha ha, it was all a farce. Bruce Willis was really dead all along." As if a thousand episodes of what Rod Serling wrote 50 years ago hasn't prepared us for that.

If the film provides its twists earlier enough to have fun with them ('Fight Club') or leaves itself open for new twists ('The Wall', 'Usual Suspects') I can have some fun with it. Instead, Shyamalan wants to be Spielberg and have everything open-and-shut but the material demands otherwise.

So, Willis is dead and that's the end of it. Case closed, he ceases to exist. That this is in the IMDb Top 100 is beyond belief.

Final Analysis = = Cinematic Dud
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Gattaca (1997)
Poor Man's SciFi
7 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler minefield ahead...

I was sorely unimpressed with the simple, bargain-bin ideas in this film. Usually I can ignore stupid plots if other elements are engaging enough ('Legend', 'Bill & Ted 2', '5th Element'), but even here the sets and styles are all boring. In an effort to avoid copying the lushness of 'Blade Runner', the filmmakers have given us a view of the future straight out of TV commercials and primetime junk. What's fun about humdrum?

The plot, of course, is '1984', 'Blade Runner' with a shot of 'Double Indemnity' and 'Chariots of Fire'. Hawke, Thurman, and Law are all lost in their cookie cutter roles, but that's no tragedy. What's really depressing is Alan Arkin stuck in the Ed Robinson act. It's sad watching him try to fit in a role that is clearly too small for him.

Spielberg would duplicate many of the elements here for 'Minority Report'. You know, even 'Back to the Future Part II' was more interesting than this.

Final Analysis = = Cinematic Dud
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'Untouchables' meets 'Midnight Express' and 'Mockingbird'
7 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Some spoilers...

Funny how perceptions of movies change over time. 'Alien 4' has grown on me, 'Thin Red Line' has, 'Wizards' has, even 'Pink Floyd', but this one sank upon revisiting it.

Parker's stuff is technically competent, I'll grant him that, and he has a decent grip on production values--which is more than I can say for most directors--but something wrong is afoot here. I think Parker frequents the musical genre so he can pass off his razzle-dazzle style without worrying about filmic stimulation. As compensation, he uses symbolism-loaded "art" images. Watch when the Klan attacks the church, instead of Ollie Stone-style brutality, we get a 'Face/Off' music video.

If you're into that sort of thing you'll love his work but I find it thuggish and sanitized (like 'Lord of the Rings'). Honestly, it's editor Gerry Hambling that's made Parker famous, nothing else.

The story here is too simple, but get rather interesting when you see the Hoover-Vietnam-King connection. Do some reading into that later. Storywise, Parker's 'Wall' is better as it mixes past/present, real/fantasy, time/space into one crazy mix.

Fortunately, the acting is interesting--Parker really got an unorthodox cast. Each actor takes two characters to make a new knockoff. Hackman takes his Doyle from 'Connection' and uses Connery from 'Untouchables'. Dafoe does his Christ with Atticus Finch. Dourif combines Piter deVries from 'Dune' with Barney Fife.

Want some cinematic irony? Compare this with 'Die Hard'. Both involve terrorism, xenophobia, and some competent attempts at being cinematic with many elements (flying, explosions, height, night, claustrophobia). Here the good white guys save the inactive Blacks from the bad white guys. Boring. At least McTiernan made things interesting: Black cop saves white cop from Nazis.

Your favorite Parker will depend on your tendencies, but if you want intelligent Klan bashing, watch 'O Brother'.
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12 Angry Men (1957)
And the verdict is...
7 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Sidney Lumet sits on my list of underrated directors alongside (among others) Joe Johnston and Brian DePalma. Their talents have either been abused or misunderstood, but this is not such a case.

Spoiler minefield ahead...

Courtroom dramas aren't interesting genres. Despite whatever plot twists are thrown there is always the 50/50 chance on verdict. In that case, this is probably the most advanced in its class.

So here we have Henry Fonda as the lowly juror disputing all the facts. Everyone is convinced. Court adjourned. This is your typical Grisham novel or TV drama.

What changes it is how we are presented this information. At this point in time, audiences were still trying to separate the "fourth wall" of stage from the fluidity of the cinema. 'Streetcar' was noble, this is professional.

Now just think. If DePalma had done this today we would've probably entered the heads of each man and had an examination of the evidence in their imagination ala 'Mission Impossible'. We would probably also have a detached camera from the proceedings (hence "impersonal").

Lumet obviously killed himself trying to make us latch onto the characters and think for ourselves. This is one of few examples where the method actually works: making faces cinematic without resorting to montage.

Reiner didn't learn this lesson, Parker went the other way. Spike Lee used the heat inciter for 'Right Thing'.

Final Analysis = = Learn from this.
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Mystery Men (1999)
Sundry Superheroes
1 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Why do we need heroes? Are we humans born so insecure that we feel we need them or is it our search for perfect role models?

Some spoilers...

Upon revisiting this, I am struck at how the IMDb rating seems criminally low (much like 'Catch-22') for the material. The cast is terrific, the design is dazzling, and this has guts where 'Spider-Man' chickens out and becomes sanitized. I think the low rating comes from people who take superhero junk seriously and don't like being humiliated by it. After all, who wants creative heroes in original environments when we have Spidey doing 'Matrix' ripoffs in New York?

Oh, yes, did I mention this was actually funny? 'Star Wars' fans will likely be ticked as Sphinx turns our "philosophical leader" concept into parody. Then again, Lucas deserves it.

So the movie prides itself on its own bizarre atmosphere. That's still a higher compliment than 90% of studio films can claim and I love it.

Final Analysis = = Learn from this...
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Spastic Games
1 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
As opposed to the in-your-face bluntness of 'Schindler's List', this works on a pretty interesting level.

Some spoilers...

The modern sitcom works by taking a generally quaint topic and making it as vile as possible. Here it goes the other way by taking something enormously evil (the Holocaust) and trying to inject humor in it.

Compared to Mel Brooks' self-effacing stupidity (OK, Mel, we know you're Jewish already!) this has an edge. The concentration camp is a game--everything is seen from a child's perspective. Notice how this continues until the end when we realize the child has been telling the story all along, not Guido. If we had been introduced to this fact earlier, we'd know something was afoot. Instead we get some effective, yet simple, surprises.

The creators saw the Spielberg parody in this and so they quote 'Empire of the Sun' with the tank and Americans.

So skip the empty first half and get to the good stuff. After this, 'Great Escape' meets 'Producers'.
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Habit of Vomit
20 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Wants 'Raging Bull', gets 'Natural Born Killers'

This is your only spoiler warning...

I'll be honest here. Stone knows a few things about dialog that his successors don't. He's also proved himself a master of first-level narratives ('Born on the Fourth', 'Platoon') and even the second-level ('JFK'--where the film was_about_a film), but I think he's exhausted his cinematic juices. What we have is this...pretty depressing, ain't it?

Stone wants the 'Rollerball' concept of athletes-as-warriors, yet he insists on depicting the characters as people. Gladiator battles are focused on the movement and fluidity of combat, not single faces. Stone falls victim, again, to the same "commercial method" that he's satirizing, and we're stuck with Jamie Foxx's mug plastered onscreen.

I think, since 'JFK', Stone has been caught in a kind of visual angst. He isn't certain what he wants to see, so he throws every camera angle into his soup and prays for a miracle. It worked in 'JFK' in capturing the essence of the Kennedy conspiracy, here it just makes us think he's ADD. Compare this with Ridley Scott or even Steven Spielberg--who KNOW what they want to see.

Oh, yes, and there's his trademark misogyny.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Stone has three kinds of actors: real actors (here presented by James Woods), prop actors (LL Cool J), and dynamite sticks (Al Pacino). It seems in each of his projects he gets one of each. Furthermore, these characters are actors in the barest sense. They live and perform on camera. Stone even injects himself into the story as one of the narrators (also, I might add, the most worthless job in the profession).

Also, Stone works to create a universe (in this case a whole football league) since the Sport Nazis at the NFL wouldn't let him use their franchises. Sadly, despite this opportunity, Stone becomes more derivative rather than more original.

Still, I'll take this over any "feel good" Disney sport junk--the most recent being 'Miracle'.
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My karma squashed your dogma
20 July 2004
"Hey, what gives?"

This is so good it__has__to be fattening. Thank you, Coens! I find this one of their best (despite that it was their lowest on IMDb until lately) because it shows invention on both their part and on that of their participants.

First things first, this is cinematic in ways that 'Raising Arizona' was not. Instead of Nic Cage trying to be funny and falling flat, we get Robbins who lives in a world outside the movie. Cage wouldn't catch on to this until 'Matchstick Men'. We also get the gutsy Ms. Leigh, I doubt many others could've pulled off what she did. More importantly, we get Paul Newman.

Newman really didn't do that well before this period in time. 'Butch & Sundance', 'Sting', and 'Luke' all show him as mugger. We lived by his face alone. Redford still tries this so I prefer avoiding him now while Newman can still draw my attention. Compare 'Road to Perdition' to 'Last Castle', you'll see what I mean.

We also get very competent crews here. I'm doing more studying of Deakins' work since this and 'O Brother' were so elaborate. We also get an editor who's dealt with Truffault, Weir and Scott. Lastly, the designer does 'Brazil'--and it works in the glossy retro way.

The Coens, speaking of which, put their usual entwined heads together to make an equally entwined story. I usually don't care for this sort of thing, but they make it so interesting. We once again have the "god substitute" that serves as narrator. Bruce Campbell is illustrator--there's lots of images here (photos, paintings, aged film, doodlings and, of course, the movie itself). Very similar to 'The Game', only slightly more advanced. Ugh, too rich for me.

Final Analysis = = Learn from this...
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What I See
20 July 2004
As I walk through my local video rental franchise and see the overwhelming wave of "sanitized for your protection" junk that floods the market, I can be at ease knowing there's a special place in my heart for this diamond.

Malick's vision works like 'Catch-22' but with less irony. He accomplishes in one shot what Oliver Stone would do in twenty and, more importantly, he examines everything. The fact that what he examines is stunningly gorgeous is a wonderful bonus.

More important, though, than the photography is Weber's editing. As I said in my 'Beverly Hills' review, he's one of the top in the field. He's handled all three of Malick's films, what other qualification do you need? Granted there was the noisy Bruckheimer work, but every career has its sags. Fortunately, he knows he isn't the most important person here, so he eases back and allows us to absorb what we see.

Story? What use is that? You want story, watch Scorsese. As with his other work, Malick uses perspective, not planning on paper. I think Shepard caught on to that, making his role as Chuck Yeager even weightier.

Final Analysis = = Learn from this...
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Straw Dogs (1971)
Stray Puppy
20 July 2004
Add Peckinpah to the front of your list of people who pushed the "aesthetic extreme" in American cinema. Following him comes Bakshi and Ollie Stone...and I think you know the rest. Unlike his followers, Peckinpah could never get good production values for his work. Hence they all look cheap and used (and not in the good way).

This movie, as with 'Wild Bunch', is of historical interest. I personally find Peckinpah's method too simple. He is all about zooms and too often his camera is tethered to characters. Seriously, you can call this an early Scorsese movie. For my imagination, I just wonder how Malick or Jewison would've handled it.

Two things make this interesting: the first is Jerry Fielding's unnatural score. It isn't bad, but it creates the illusion of an alien world in ways that Peckinpah himself cannot.

The second is Peckinpah's contribution to the Eisenstein montage. Most of the "extremists" have adopted it ever since. I guess that involves less thinking for them.

Once again, Sam hits on religion. This time using science (and some concepts of evolution). If you do watch this, follow it up with 'Midnight Express'...same themes, different people.
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G.I. Jane (1997)
The Italian Job
19 July 2004
First point: this is a Disney movie so Disney ethics will prevail in the long run. Also, Disney movies excel at making environments artificial, as what happens here. Look at how plain Libya looks compared to Zucchabar in 'Gladiator'.

Second point: this is a post-'Legend' Ridley Scott movie. Hence this is more of an experiment than an accomplished film. Also, Scott thinks more about the eye (particularly in rhythm with the scene) rather than the script. This is unlike Scorcese, Spielberg, and Jackson.

What makes this interesting is Scott's crew. Marilyn Vance is one of the best costume designers in the business, a plus if you're into that sort of thing. The photographer and composer are mindless (the latter wants to be Hans Zimmer, just listen), but more importantly, this marks the start of collaboration between Scott and Pietro Scalia. Pietro didn't quite catch on to what Scott was trying to do here (especially compared to his work on 'JFK'), but by 'Gladiator' the two had achieved a rhythm.

You can see Bruckheimerisms here that haunted Tony Scott, Ridley & Pietro learned and evaded them the next time. This was their primer for 'Black Hawk'.

Final Analysis = = Midrange Material
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White Squall (1996)
Tense Past
19 July 2004
Yeah, this is 'Dead Poets' on water (as I think 1000 other reviewers have commented). What difference does it make? They're both Disney movies and Disney is known for re-using the same idiotic themes. So let's get to the interesting stuff.

Scott catches on trends quite often and then supersedes them with his own. Think of it, we go from the 'Jaws' ripoff to the 'Alien' clone. 'Legend' came in the 80s fantasy craze. '1492' was a historical cash-in. Now he's spawned the epic-craze of which he is still master (Petersen will never improve).

So it's interesting to see this as one of his less derivative works. Unlike 'Blade Runner', this hasn't acquired as successful of a following and it's kind of obvious. Most likely it's because Scott was experimenting here unlike 'Blade' and it didn't work too well.

Anyway, we do get some interesting pieces. The titles are absolutely superb. The views of the ship are enthralling. Heck, even the beauty of the dolphins is made almost angelic. Too bad the whole "stupid bully cliche" had to barge in.

Final Analysis = = Midrange Material
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Time Capsule
19 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
The Concept: '87 all the way, from 'Fatal Attraction' to 'Lethal Weapon' and 'Wall Street'

Spoiler minefield ahead...

This was Ridley's second "urbaneer" and his most unsophisticated. All three involve bad actors as leads and placing them in unfamiliar zones whether socially, culturally, and even physically. In 'Blade Runner' he operated with replicants (fake people) in an unfamiliar world. That was his excuse for the plot. In 'Black Rain' he used real people in alien worlds--a mixture of 'Blade' and this. All involve the environment to some degree, this has the weakest.

As before, Scott fights with the cliches. The characters are stereotypes, many scenes suffer from cinematic overkill (except there's no baguette in the grocery bags).

Then I found the purpose. Scott made this as a primer, as with most of his post-'Legend' work. He experiments with ideas and enhances them later. In this case the prep was for 'Hannibal' and 'Thelma & Louise'...notice how the housewives got their revenge.

Notice how Berenger exists in the left-to-right world and Rogers exists in low angle, right-to-left. Watch as Berenger becomes seduced into her world and the camera suddenly shifts on him. It's primitive here, but Ridley would refine it.

Oh well, Scott knew where he goofed and worked on it while maintaining his control on light. Meanwhile, Kamen does Vangelis and Simpson does her 'Platoon' edit job.

Final Analysis = = Midrange Material
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19 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
The Concept: 'Dune' meets 'Wizards'

Some spoilers...

As far as 80s fantasy, goes this is certainly advanced in its concepts compared to, say, the 'Star Wars' universe. No Christ allegory here. This was probably Gary Kurtz's way of thumbing his nose at the holier-than-thou Lucas. Here we get some congruent dualism that contributes to the darker nature of the film.

It's also ground-breaking not only for its technical achievements, but for its aesthetics. Jim Henson, like Disney, set a mold for our imagination as to how puppets could look and act. He also created the template mood that we use to judge all others in the category. Think of 'Meet the Feebles', completely opposite in tone from the 'Muppet Movie'.

Here Henson goes against the original template; no monochrome, plainclothes characters. The only faltering I see is in the constructed world; it seems directly ripped from TV (specifically 'Fraggle Rock'). It's not as lush as 'Legend', not as friendly as 'Willow', but it still has plenty of merits. I place this high on my list of films, certainly higher than the juvenile follow-up: 'Labyrinth'.

Sound design aficionados should listen for Ben Burtt's work from 'Empire'.

Final Analysis = = Learn from this...
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