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It's time for Star Wars to dare to be more -- again
What made Star Wars Star Wars? For those of us old enough to remember, it was fresh; it was bold; it was DIFFERENT. Although it had its roots in ancient myth, matinée serials, and westerns, it dared to go against the grain of the cynical and hyper-realistic face of American cinema in the 1970s and usher in a new era of energy, optimism, and imagination, fueled by never-before-seen technology, visual and sound effects, and unprecedented use of a lush and brilliant symphonic score.
So I ask you: how many of these elements are present in TFA? Without giving too much away (I'm not putting a spoiler warning on this), very little if any.
Star Wars was the product of the creative mind of a young George Lucas who was not afraid to rock the boat. TFA is the work of a nervous and not-so-daring J. J. Abrams who was under enormous pressure to use tried and true formulas to give Disney maximum return on its investment. There is no comparison.
Lucas and Spielberg both began their careers as avant garde visionaries before becoming isolated from the mainstream mindset in their towering empires. Abrams is nothing more than a gifted fan boy who revels at mimicking and one-upping the masters, with absolutely no original idea or vision of his own. He was given this assignment simply because the Disney brass considered him a safe bet after the disappointment of the prequels caused by the aforementioned isolation of George Lucas from the mainstream. Unlike Lucas and Spielberg who had a story to tell in their youth, Abrams does not care about the story, so long as it is told very loudly. He is NOT the real deal, and neither is his work.
I am somewhat optimistic about Episode VIII knowing that it is in the hands of Rian Johnson. I'm not sure he will be any better than Abrams, but he will likely be different, and this case, different is good.
Meanwhile, enjoy this recent product which, like The Phantom Menace, will go on to set box office records before being harshly judged by history.
Major plot hole and cheesy politics tarnish an otherwise great effort
Watching this movie was an unusual experience. I began by expecting it to be a long Twilight Zone episode. Then I was turned off by what seemed to be a contrived and overly artsy narrative, then I got confused. By the time I started coming out confusion, about three quarters into the movie, I was at the edge of my seat. And through it all, I was mesmerized by Diane Krueger.
This is an ambitious movie that's trying to be an old-fashioned, hard-hitting, thought-provoking, espionage thriller. And it comes damn close to hitting its mark. Unfortunately, it falters on two key points.
First, it is impossible to forge an identity as a university faculty. And it's even more impossible (?) to fake a university. The story loses all of its credibility on this point alone.
Second, it all at the end gets reduced to a reactionary Hollywood left-wing piece of hysterical propaganda aimed at the evil Corporate America. Enough already!
This director has a real talent for bringing out the charisma in his actors. Diane Krueger and Bruno Ganz stood out for me, but I was impressed with everyone's performance. They were all natural, believable, and likable.
At the very least, I hope this kicks off a trend in Hollywood that will replace this silly infatuation with sequels, remakes, and reboots.
Thanks for the attempt.
The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Intelligent psychodrama -- perhaps unintentionally!
There is plenty of evidence supporting the claim that this movie is a misfire: a feeble attempt to be science fiction and a love story at the same time, and failing on both fronts. But I think that from a different perspective, it is actually a smart and thought-provoking little film -- although Nolfi might not have intended it that way!
In spite of its good acting and engaging chemistry between Damon and Blunt, I did not enjoy watching this film. It made me angry, because I kept thinking that the Adjustment Bureau, as an entity, was far more important and pressing than being obsessed with a girl that one has met in the bathroom and has spent a grand total of 7 minutes with -- no matter how beautiful or charismatic she may be. When faced with the awe and grandeur of a superhuman presence who has steered the course of human civilization, all other mundane concerns shrink into insignificance. The fact that David Norris didn't get this simple concept showed me just how contrived and dishonest this movie was. I was ready to walk out in the middle of it.
What kept me watching it though was the possibility that this was precisely Nolfi's point. Here is a young man destined to assume a position of great leadership, and yet his life is marked by an endless stream of poor judgments and bone-headed decisions. From the fraternity prank, to kissing a strange girl he just met in the bathroom after losing a big election, to his senseless obsession with her, to his lack of curiosity about the greater notion of an Adjustment Bureaus, to hitting an elderly gentleman in the hospital waiting room ... This guy simply was not playing with a full deck. He was unbalanced, irrational, compulsive, and generally not very bright, and apparently not at all curious. Who wants to have someone like that in the White House anyway?! At the end, he gets the girl, and we get to breathe a collective sigh of relief that his life has been shifted away from the Presidency, and the danger has been averted!
I am giving George Nolfi a lot of credit here with this interpretation. I hope I'm right. If not, the guy is just an awful writer.
Black Swan (2010)
If you hated it, it's probably because you didn't understand it ...
... and that's by design.
The central theme of this film is so disturbing and distasteful that it had to be communicated in the most subtle and subdued way. It had to be this way to avoid the box office-killing NC-17 rating, and also to keep scores of people from being disgusted and turned off. Darren Aronofsky, known for his blunt style, had to resort to this extreme subtlety out of necessity, and the result is a film that is brilliant.
Now that you've had enough time to stop reading before hitting a spoiler, here is the bottom line. This film is about an obsessive-compulsive young woman slowly losing her mind. The reason: her sexually abusive mother. That's it. The incestuous relationship is only hinted at various points in the film. I noticed four, although there may be more: 1) When the mother gets Nina to lick the frosting off her finger, 2) When the mother tells Nina to take off her shirt and she yells "no", suggesting that getting undressed at her mother's command was not an unusual occurrence, 3) When Nina jumps into bed moments before the mother comes into the room asking "are you ready for me?" (this one's a dead give-away -- what else can it mean?), and 4) Spout's theory that "... coming home, still high from rolling, Nina's mom accosts her in her state and has sex with her. However because of her state, Nina is more responsive than usual because she is imagining that she is with Lily (it is later revealed that Lily never came home with Nina). That's why the shot of the mom on top of Nina is one of the mom smiling before she continues oral sex with Nina."
In ballet, Nina has found refuge from this horrific existence, which explains her obsession with her art. In the end, she cracks up from the inside, and this is what we get to witness from her point of view.
Along Came Polly (2004)
Light and fluffy comedy; Aniston and Messing should have switched roles
The reviews were so negative when this movie came out that I passed on seeing it. But I recently caught the first 10 minutes on TV and was surprised at how funny and engaging it was. Oh, and Debra Messing was a bit of a revelation (never watched Will & Grace). So I just watched the whole thing on PPV, and it was far from perfect, but still worth the $3.
The biggest weakness is in casting of Jennifer Aniston as the female lead. She has a knockout body, but she simply lacks the personal charisma that her part calls for. I was more emotionally moved by Messing's return scene than any of the scenes with Aniston. It would have been more effective to cast the much prettier Messing in the sympathetic role and Aniston as the "cold, heartless bitch". But whatever, Aniston is the bigger star, so she gets the bigger part.
Baldwin, Brown, and Hoffman are hysterical.
Catch this one on PPV or DVD when you're in the mood for a few lightweight laughs.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
The only scary thing about this movie is the stupidity of its characters ...
... and that of the audience that buys into it.
A little over a decade ago, as Hollywood blockbuster budgets were getting blown out of control, many of us predicted that someone was going to pick up a camcorder and create a blockbuster at a shoe string budget. Shortly afterward, we witnessed a misfire (The Last Broadcast), and a bull's-eye (The Blair Witch Project). The genius of the latter was not only in its simplicity but also its believability. The paranormal connection was left open to debate. It was a clever little film.
Not so with Paranormal Activity which insults its audience's intelligence and apparently manages to get away with it. Roger Ebert's 3.5-star rating of this movie is testament to the old man going senile. Real terror is the result of identifying with characters who make the same decisions that we would under similar circumstances. What can you say about an audience that actually identifies with the endless string of bone-headed and utterly idiotic mis-steps of the two main characters, as well as the contrived and highly questionable plot-moving claims of the "expert", such as "leaving the house will not help at all"? Oh yeah? Then how about calling 911? Or sleeping in another room? Or taking shifts sleeping? Or just staying the hell awake one friggin' night?! Or just going some place where there are a lot of people instead of insisting on being cooped up inside the house? ....
It's been almost four decades since The Exorcist, and this is the state of the sensibilities of the modern moviegoer?
In the distant future portrayed in the film Idiocracy, a blockbuster is a movie called simply "Ass", which consists of 90 minutes of a man's butt making a variety of noises. We are not quite there yet, but seem to be well on the way!
One of the Best.
It's interesting that some of the most beloved Bond films are also some of the worst (Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, For Your Eyes Only), and some of the most reviled are among the best (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Moonraker, The Living Daylights).
This movie set a new high in entertainment value when it was released in 1979. It was the necessary upgrade of the franchise in the new era ushered in by Star Wars a couple of years earlier. It preserved the best of the genre (espionage intrigue, plot twists, Bond mystique, beautiful women, gadgets, humor, haunting cinematography, and mesmerizing music), but brought them out of the gloomy and cynical Cold War atmosphere and into a more futuristic and optimistic format. It kept the Bond franchise fun at a time when the standards for fun had taken a quantum leap.
Roger Moore does a nice job in his last credible portrayal of 007. Alas, his age became increasingly distracting starting with the next outing.
A lot of fun. Deserves much more credit than it is usually given.
The Number 23 (2007)
This shouldn't be a spoiler, but I'll be very careful anyway. Go ahead and read.
You don't get the basic premise of the story until the very end. And when you do, it's actually pretty cool. Hitchcock, or some other director who is above resorting to unnecessary schlock, could have made a fascinating mystery thriller out of this. But Mr. Schumacher goes for hokey sensationalism when he doesn't really need to.
Here is the disappointment: The number 23 has nothing to do with this story and is introduced for purely dramatic effect.
Too bad. This movie could have been so much better. Why do good directors bottom-feed? Is it just to cater to the "target audience"?
By the way, 2 divided by 3 equals .666666..., which rounds off to .667.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
An overrated and unnecessary entry into the Rocky saga
This movie was expected to suck. It doesn't. And that seems to have sent critics into a state of euphoria.
There is nothing in this film that is original enough to justify the artistic effort. In other words, this movie was made a) for commercial reasons, and b) perhaps to allow Stallone one last chance at a victory lap before hanging his spurs (gloves) for good. Knowing that Rambo is about to get the same treatment, I am inclined to think that both reasons are at play.
The original Rocky was a complete and self-contained movie. There were no real loose ends. The message was delivered in the most beautiful and satisfying way. But there was great money to be made by creating a franchise, based on the characters of the film, that would appeal to the basest and lowest common denominator of the audience. The center-piece of the attraction became the violence and the vengeance, and sequel after sequel kept dwelling on the visceral side of resolving personal issues, friend/family honor, and world peace, by settling the score in the ring. This had NOTHING to do with the original premise of Rocky, but it sure made a lot of people very rich.
Now Rocky Balboa is back with a bevy of recycled material from the first five films sewn together in a shiny quilt, and with Adrian's death thrown in to heighten the emotional effect which Stallone and Co. shrewdly recognized would be too low otherwise. It is a pretentious sermon that has nothing to offer that has not already been presented in a more dignified and artistically viable format.
If you loved the heart and inspirational message of the original Rocky, then this movie is nothing but an inferior remake. If you liked the kick-butt fight scenes of the sequels, this movie does not even come close to that level of intensity. If you are not familiar with the Rocky saga, or if your expectations have been lowered in the past 16 years, you'll have an OK time.
At any rate, this movie is not necessary. Just watch the original Rocky again and you might wonder why there was ever a Rocky II.
21 Grams (2003)
Strictly for the Artsy-Fartsy Crowd
So many raves and accolades preceded my seeing this movie that I was expecting an experience that would rock me out of my seat. In spite of solid directing and some excellent acting, it was a senseless exercise that carried no real message (unless the ones that a viewer may choose to project into it). Furthermore, it was not particularly entertaining. The non-chronological narrative is merely a gimmick for making a pointless storyline seem interesting. At the end, I did not see any deep undertones, and for a good reason: there weren't any!
Bottom line: This movie is for you if you
a) do not expect the story to carry any real meaning, b) equate unnecessary weirdness with art, c) enjoy good performances by established actors and talented newcomers, d) like me, want to see Naomi Watts in yet another steamy sex scene, and e) do not require that the title bear any relevance to the story.
In short, 21 Grams is a movie that will continue to be discussed in artsy coffee houses around the country (and Europe) for a few more months before being permanently forgotten.