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The morality of assassins killing assassins
This film is Steven Spielberg's take on the moral dilemma faced by assassins killing for the sake of their country's morale. If the protagonist was played by a better actor, it might have worked, but the film lacks spark and drags on much too long.
Avner, played by Eric Bana (The Hulk), is a Mossad agent who quits to head a secret unit of assassins being sent to Europe to hunt down the people responsible for the killings of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Avner's motives for joining the unit are vague. He appears to passively accept his assignment and doesn't express much enthusiasm for revenge, so when he later begins feeling guilty about the killings, it's hard to understand where this emotion comes from. Bana has to carry the movie to make it work and he's just overwhelmed by better actors playing supporting roles.
Michael Lonsdale and Mathieu Amalric are memorable as the father/son combination heading a group of free-lance agents operating out of Paris. Geoffrey Rush is excellent as Avner's Israeli handler. Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, appears as one of the Israeli assassins. Ciarán Hinds also turns in a fine performance as another one of the assassins.
"Munich" is not one of Spielberg's best efforts. Usually, he draws the viewer into his films by way of emotional attachment to the characters, but with the lead player being a bit of a cypher, it just doesn't work. Still, it's entertaining and worth watching.
The fire grows dim
This is the fourth film in the Harry Potter series, and the franchise seems to be running out of steam. Not as fresh as the others, this one seems repetitive in its story line and almost tedious. At a running time of over two and a half hours, it drags at times.
The threesome of Harry, Hermione, and Weasley are now in their mid-teens and beginning to show interest in the opposite sex. The story line about Harry facing up to the dark forces that killed his parents is advanced some, though a final resolution is obviously being left for a future film. Some well-done computer imaging almost makes up for the lack of a good plot.
The supporting cast is pretty amazing. The best actors in British film play a variety of roles. Ralph Fiennes shows up near the end as the evil one, Lord Voldemort. Miranda Richardson plays a ditzy gossip columnist, Rita Skeeter. Brendan Gleeson is introduced as a crazy one-eyed professor. Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, and Jason Isaacs all return in roles played in previous Potter films.
I think the director tried to cram too much into the film, but overall, it's good entertainment. Future films will certainly deal with the confrontation with Voldemort and the question of any love interest between Harry and Hermione, but I hope the next director eases off on the special effects and gets a good scriptwriter instead.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Same Old ... Stuff
Mission Impossible III (Roman numbers, no less) is a standard action film with lots of stunts and non-stop .... well, action. Action is the key word because if you're looking for character development or deep meaning, you've checked out the wrong film.
Tom Cruise plays an agent in the Impossible Missions Force, which puts him in the same league as Team America. His mission, should he agree to accept it (duh), is to take down an evil arms dealer and recover "The Rabbits Foot." No, I'm not making this up.
My biggest problem with this film is that it offers nothing new. We've seen this picture under different titles about a hundred times. It's standard fare all gussied up with clever stunts and computer animation.
Tom Cruise isn't my idea of an action hero. He's too short and not rugged enough. He was terrific as the creepy hit-man in "Collateral," but he doesn't project as the larger than life character necessary for this type of film. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the evil arms dealer, which is another stretch. Ving Rhames and Laurence Fishburne play minor parts in what amounts to casting overkill.
MI3 is decent entertainment and not the worst way to spend an evening, but if you're expecting to see acting that's above the cartoon character level, you'll be disappointed.
Big Oil and political intrigue in the Middle East
This is a very good film revolving around an oil company's plot to undermine an Arab kingdom's decision to award the drilling rights in their country to the Chinese instead of them. It's filmed in much the same manner as "Traffic" or "Crash." We're introduced to a host of characters whose stories weave together by the end of the film.
George Clooney plays a CIA operative in the Middle East. Christopher Plummer and Chris Cooper are the oil men behind the conspiracy. Matt Damon is an investment adviser to one of the Arab sheiks. There are subplots involving Pakistani laborers enticed into becoming suicide bombers, and a power struggle among two brothers to assume the throne of this oil kingdom. It's a complete mosaic of the social strata in the Middle East today.
The acting is very good, though it would be fair to point out that the director limits character development in favor of simply telling the story. We're spared the usual dramatic flare too often used in political action films. There's no romantic interest, no hero so to speak, and there isn't a happy ending. What we see is a reflection of modern day reality, and it's plenty scary.
If you liked "The Constant Gardener" you'll enjoy this film. I thought it was one of the best movies I've seen all year.
Another dull remake
The secret to an ensemble disaster film is that the audience has to have a rooting interest in the characters. It's a given some people will perish during the course of the movie, and the fun is in guessing who dies and who makes it.
In this weak remake of the 1972 Irwin Allen classic, the characters are hopelessly dull and forgettable. I couldn't make an emotional attachment to a single person in the film, not like with Shelley Winters or Red Buttons in the original. What you have are faceless people coping with tremendous adversity, and what happens to them in the end is meaningless.
Normally, Wolfgang Peterson is a top-notch director of thrillers, but in this film the pacing is all wrong. Almost from the start, the action comes in frenetic clips that drown out any chance of character development. There is entirely too much reliance on computer graphics to generate excitement, and way too many explosions and fires that detract from the story line.
Speaking of which, the plot is flimsy at best. Like in the original, a wave overturns a massive cruise liner, and a small group of people struggle to climb upward towards the bottom of the ship in order to escape. If you completely suspend reality for a few hours and accept some of the crazy premises in the film, it's mildly entertaining, but considering the huge sum of money it took to make this film, that's not nearly enough.
No wonder Hollywood has begun to cut back on movie budgets.
Even Christina Ricci can't save this stinker.
I rarely bother commenting on a movie I've rated as low as this one, but for the benefit of those who were as intrigued by the trailer as I was, here are my thoughts.
This film has nothing going for it beyond its star, Christina Ricci. The acting is terrible, the writing weak, and it says all it has to say in about half an hour. The last half of the movie is like watching somebody dying of cancer.
Christina Ricci plays a conceited sorority girl who reluctantly participates as a mentor for the developmentally disabled. Her charge is Pumpkin, a "retarded" young man who is partially confined to a wheelchair and dominated by an overbearing mother. Ricci is touched by Pumpkin's sensitivity, and he's in love with her.
There are a few funny scenes in the beginning of the film, and there are tender moments as the little rich girl breaks out of her social bonds, but the film never decides what it wants to be - comedy or social commentary. It tries to have it both ways, and fails miserably.
Don't waste your time.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Wickedly funny horror film
"Ginger Snaps" is a very clever film that combines humor with horror. There is a story line involving two sisters who encounter a werewolf near their suburban home one night, and how they deal with the changes one of them undergoes after being bit, but in the midst of some very tense scenes, someone says something that makes you burst out laughing.
Ginger and her younger sister, Bridgett, played by Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins, are disenchanted with suburban life and fantasize endlessly about running away or killing themselves. Their mother, played by Mimi Rogers, is a ditz who still imagines herself as just one of the girls. The father is silent and hardly there at all.
The film is about teen alienation, told through a conventional horror story line - girl gets bit by werewolf, begins turning into one, sister tries to help her out. The really good part is the humor. There is a sly social commentary running throughout the film, much in the way "The Lost Boys" was constructed. Teen angst, social alienation in the suburbs, high school madness - they are all themes that are dealt with in this film.
Emily Perkins is especially good as Bridgett - her portrayal of a goth teenager is classic. The rest of the cast is good also, but the real star of this film is the writer, Karen Walton. Her biography lists her previous experience as singing telegrams and handing out cold cuts in the supermarket, so I can see where the satire comes from.
An all-Canadian production, from director to writer to actors, "Ginger Snaps" is a terrific film and a must see.
Le salaire de la peur (1953)
Tense thriller about men living on the edge.
"Wages of Fear" is a tense thriller from the French director, Clouzot, about desperate men willing to risk everything for a chance to escape their lousy existence.
The story involves a group of men stranded in a South American oil company town. None of them have steady work and none can afford to take a plane out of town, so they sit around and drink and argue with one another.
Then one day, an oil well explodes up in the mountains, and the company needs volunteers to drive two trucks full of nitroglycerine up to the drill site so they can blow the fire out. The company's union drivers are too valuable to risk, so the foreman offers the job to the men stranded in town, knowing full well they're desperate enough to do anything.
The four men selected to drive are Mario (Yves Montand), Jo (Charles Vanel), Luigi, and Bimba. Each has different fears and motivations for making the journey, and the director develops each one's personality from the start of the film through the drive itself.
"Wages of Fear" is a very tense film in the second half as the two trucks make their way over treacherous roads, encountering obstacles along the way that require the men's creativity in overcoming. Some rise to the occasion, others crumble under the pressure. A quick death awaits anyone who makes the slightest mistake. By the end of the film, the viewer is emotionally wrung dry.
From the European period of stark cinematic drama, this thriller is one of the best.
The Laughing Policeman (1973)
70's police drama with some interest
This is a somewhat interesting film about two policemen, Walter Mathau and Bruce Dern, trying to solve a mass murder where one of the victims was Mathau's partner.
The story starts out pretty good. A cop tails a man onto a bus in San Francisco one night. Along the route, another man boards the bus and moves all the way to the back. A few minutes later, he stands up and starts spraying the bus with a machine gun. He kills everyone and then walks away after the bus crashes into some bushes. Mathau arrives at the scene and discovers his partner was the cop who was tailing somebody.
The evidence takes the police on a scenic journey through San Francisco's underbelly - drugs, prostitution, drag queens, sex parlors, the whole works. It was probably risqué at the time, but it's a bit tame by contemporary standards.
There's a problem with the editing of this film. Some scenes are included for shock value, while scenes that could have moved the story along are omitted. At times it's hard to follow what's going on with the film jumping around a lot.
The dialog is pretty dated too - Lou Gossett's especially. But Walter Mathau's performance as a rumpled detective working the case while his home life falls apart makes this film worthwhile. Bruce Dern's character is so irritable that it's hard to like him, but I suppose that's what the director wanted. Anthony Zerbe is the best of a mediocre supporting cast.
The film is good entertainment and worth watching for Mathau and the San Francisco scenery alone. And you'll get a few laughs at all the long hair and period attire.
Heaven Can Wait (1943)
Sentimental comedy from one of the masters, Ernst Lubitsch
This is the last of a series of hit comedies Ernst Lubitsch made in the years just before and during World War II. Ninotchka (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), That Uncertain Feeling (1941), To Be or Not To Be (1942), and this one, Heaven Can Wait (1943), make up the core of a very successful body of work for one of Hollywood's finest directors.
If there is one phrase to characterize the "Lubitsch touch," then I would say "light romantic comedies," the kind made popular by Hollywood in the late years of the Depression. His films didn't have the subtle commentary on American life that Capra's did, but were more along the lines of old fashioned entertainment.
Heaven Can Wait is based on a play written by a Hungarian (all of Lubitsch's films during this period were written by European emigrés like himself, and as such have a more cosmopolitan flair than most American films). It follows the life of a Victorian playboy, Henry Van Cleve, of Fifth Avenue, New York, and is told in retrospective by the hero as he explains his life to His Excellency, the Devil.
Don Ameche is the main character and delivers a fine performance as the boyish rogue who falls in love with a beautiful girl from Kansas City, played by Gene Tierney. The film covers Van Cleve's life from childhood through a reckless adolescence up through his happy marriage and the years after his wife dies. It's a sentimental journey told with much levity.
The film has a number of terrific character actors in it, the most notable performance coming from Charles Coburn, who plays the grandfather everyone wishes they had - quick witted, caring, and always supportive of his grandson. Marjorie Main, Eugene Palette (the froggy-voice friar in Mark of Zorro), Spring Byington, and Louis Calhern make up the rest of the supporting cast.
While I enjoyed this film, it's not as well-crafted as some of his earlier work. Perhaps the "Lubitsch touch" had worn itself out, and perhaps the changing times had caught up to him. Considering that the war was going on at the time, the film does seem a bit out of place. Perhaps that accounts for the lack of depth in some of the performances.
I rarely bother to look up who the art director was in a film, but the visuals in this one were so striking, I had to know who was responsible. James Basevi was the art director (basically, the interior scenery) and was much used by Hollywood's leading directors of the time - Hitchcock and John Ford among them. The lobby of the waiting room for Hell was especially appealing in a 40's art deco way.
This was the final hit film Ernst Lubitsch ever produced. He made a few more films in the following years, inconsequential stuff compared to his earlier work, then passed away in 1947, during a period when Hollywood was turning to the stark reality of film noir.
By contemporary standards, this film is a bit light, but it's funny and touching in its sentimentality, and it's an enjoyable bit of entertainment from a bygone era.