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A fine and unexpected film
I didn't know quite what I'd be seeing when I watched "Shelter." A lot of gay movies rely on stereotypes for laughs or wallow in their own grief. Thankfully, none of that showed up in "Shelter." While the movie is a love story that follows the formula of many of its predecessors, it does so in a straightforward and refreshing manner. The story gets right to the point and doesn't wallow on too many extraneous details. Just about all the acting is spot-on, from Wright to Rowe to Holmes--this is no amateur job. Much of the acting is understated, in fact, and not in-your-face.
There is an especially interesting undercurrent to the film, that of class difference. Zach is from a poorer, city-dwelling family that contrasts greatly with the suburban lifestyle of Shaun. This establishes all that's at stake in the two's relationship, and is a welcome alternative to many gay films which depict the lifestyles of middle- or upper-class people. Kudos to the filmmakers for showing us another side of LA.
Wall Street (1987)
Relevant, but still somewhat bland
When the stock market was crashing last Fall, I remember coming across this film title and thinking, "Wow, this is probably relevant to today's situation!" My only awareness of the film being through endless replays of Gordon Grekko's "Greed is good" speech, I wanted to see how Oliver Stone crafted his polemic to the booming capitalism of the 1980s.
The film takes an important subject matter (corporate excess and insider trading) and tries to make it accessible to the audience, though at times I felt lost. I suppose they tried to dumb it down for a Hollywood audience, but that didn't work all the time for me--I found a lot of the secret deals fuzzy and the exact details of some situations confusing, even though I could understand that Gekko was trying to cheat the system. Perhaps this is because the whole concept of the stock market is difficult to wrap my head around! I did enjoy some performances, though not exactly the ones the film is known for. Martin Sheen is great as Bud Fox's dad, the blue collar worker who feels stiffed by the rich and who acts as the moral center of the film. Terence Stamp gives a fine performance as a wealthy businessman in a rivalry with Gekko, though is screen time is too little. And John C. McGinley hits the right note as Charlie Sheen's co-worker, foreshadowing a comedic career. Michael Douglas gave a decent performance, though his standout scene is really only the "Greed is good" speech, which probably won him the Oscar. Unfortunately, veteran actor Hal Holbrook is left to dispense aphorisms as the Wise Old Stock Trader, and the female roles are vastly underwritten.
"Wall Street" is a serious movie about a serious topic, and that is the question of who really controls America. As we saw with Enron and with the subprime fiasco, it is the super rich, many of whom seem content with putting profit before people. Oliver Stone picked a subject of extreme importance for America--both past and present--yet his delivery here can't match some of his better films.
On a lighter note, it is always great to see 1980s technology--cell phones the size of bricks, portable TVs, and ancient desktops!
The Sentinel (2006)
I wasn't expecting "The Sentinel" to be a great film; I had judged from the previews and reviews that it was going to be an average but entertaining movie. Unfortunately, it was neither. Though "The Sentinel" was watchable, that is about the only good thing I can say about it.
The movie follows a predictable formula. Among other clichés:the president's in danger, there are two agents who have beef with one another; there's a mole in the secret service. Uh-huh. It's been done better on "24" multiple times, and not once did I feel any sort of suspense. Michael Douglas is a good actor, but in this movie he only seems like he's cashing a paycheck; at the same time, Kiefer Sutherland looks as though he's filling time in between the taping of "24" seasons, and still in character, too. Eva Longoria is on for precious little time and contributes zero to the story.
Nothing stands out from this movie. Most movies, even bad ones, will have a scene or character that you really remember, so that when someone mentions the title someday in the future, you'll be able to say "Yeah, that was a bad movie, but I liked the scene where such and such happened," or "That was great when..." There's nothing memorable for me to take from this film, and because of that, it's a failure. I can't even tell you why the evil people wanted the president killed, though I don't think that's because of me not remembering, it's because of the film not bothering to explain it.
Fine, but difficult
I watched this film in college. "The Dupes," as it is known in English, is the story of three Palestinian men searching for a job opportunity in Kuwait. They must be smuggled in, and they must traverse the desert under the searing sun to get into Iraq and then to their destination. "The Dupes" reminded me of a Bergman film, in that characters are philosophical and the focus is on them rather than a plot. Perhaps it was because "The Dupes" is a black-and-white foreign film that it reminded me of the late director, but who knows? This was not an easy film. For one thing, the subtitles are white and in a black and white film, especially one set in the desert, these can be very hard to read. I missed some sentences. There are also a few too many flashbacks, which makes the story hard to follow. However, there are some good moments. The film has some of the best desert scenes I'm ever seen, including two where the smuggled Palestinians must hide in a blazing hot iron truck while they pass through checkpoints.
There is a political message supporting Palestinian statehood. However, the film works better as a study of the characters and there motivations for risking their lives for work.
Think outside the box
I remembering hearing about "Cube" when it was released, but for ten years I hadn't gone out of way to see it. Well, I recently did and I can't say I didn't get what I expected. However, I didn't get anymore than that, which is a disappointment. "Cube" has an interesting concept, but it's little more than a gimmick. A half dozen people are trapped in a cube, but why are they there? What is the cube's purpose? These questions aren't exactly answered.
Lest you think it's an existentialist analysis of humanity, a few body-shredding traps make their appearance throughout the movie. This does make for a nice, tense, atmosphere and some good scenes, especially when the characters must get through a room where a trap is sprung by the slightest of sounds.
What I wanted was more out of the characters. I wanted them to be more than stereotypes. There's the bookish math whiz, the autistic savant, the resigned office worker, the outraged liberal, and the fascist cop. We are led to believe, due to the math geniuses have a key role, that all the characters were put in the cube with some purpose, but no other character uses his or her specialty to further the plot, so, I'm wondering, why give everyone polar opposite personalities and jobs if nothing is going to come of them? I thought the best characters were that of the cop, Quentin, and the prison escape, Rennes, though Quentin later becomes a typical movie villain and Rennes is on screen for only a brief time.
I appreciated it's concept and it's execution, as the production design was so simple I could believe it (only one set was used). But its writing left something to be desired, and I wanted more personality from the characters. I realize this wasn't supposed to be a classic of cinema, but I do expect some deviation from tired formulas.
Beyond the infinite
Looking over various reviews to "Sunshine," I saw many of them referenced "Alien" as a similar movie. I would make it more akin to "2001," where a crew ventures out into the solar system and gets more than they bargained for. "Sunshine" certainly does have a horror element, but that is only a small part of the film, and there is much more focus on human concerns like survival and leadership.
But in addition to those adventure elements, there is also a sense of wonder and mystery: everyone on Icarus II seems attracted to the ball of gas called the sun, and the light it produces is akin to a narcotic. And since the sun is the giver of life for our planet, there is a spiritual side to the ship's mission, a characteristic of Danny Boyle's movies. We do see one negative aspect of religion (the insane fundamentalist), but we are given some hint of something beyond life (the wall of fire scene toward the end).
"Sunshine" is an example of a space movie we should see more of. It's hard to make a good space flick that is not already part of a profitable franchise, but as this movie shows, with a good script and a good director it is very possible. This movie also features the most exotic space locale of our solar system, the Sun, which I cannot recall ever being the focus of a space adventure. This makes for some spectacular visuals, such as the rapid sunrise on Icarus II's shield and the final descent onto the surface of the sun. The visual effects are astounding, especially for a movie that was made for only $50 million.
There are fine performances all around: Cliff Curtis, Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, etc. One qualm is that there are predictable crew-tension-moments, but this is a small complaint in comparison to the quality of the movie.
A good sci-fi film
While "2010" cannot compare to the masterpiece that is "2001," it is still a good example of the type of sci-fi film that should be made. And by that, I mean a sci-fi film should be about adventure and mystery more than anything else. This film provides plenty of that: there is the search for the lost Discovery ship over Jupiter; there is the investigation of the monolith; and finally, there is the final race to blast away from Jupiter.
"2010" surprised me with its performances. Roy Scheider is well-cast as Dr. Floyd, who's trying to figure everything else; Helen Mirren is solid as the Russian commander; and the supporting performances from Lithgow, Balaban, and the "Russian guy who's in everything" Elya Baskin are fine. And the series couldn't be complete without Keir Dullea or Douglas Rain reprising their roles as Bowman and HAL respectively.
Even though they date from 1984, the visual effects hold off astonishingly well. I was especially impressed with the rippling Jupiter (early CGI) as well as the attempt-to-hook-onto-Discovery scene. My main problems with the movie come from the fact that it is very dated now (in terms of world politics and technology), but that could not have been help. It also is kind of a let down to be told the reasons for some of the events of "2001," but again that is only the novel's fault. This movie is a worthy sequel to Kubrick's film, and is the kind of sci-fi film Hollywood should focus on making.
The War Within (2005)
The ongoing war within
After seeing "Paradise Now", I was interested to see another depiction of the life and motivation of a suicide bomber. "The War Within" was certainly a great dramatization of such a person. Hassan is "renditioned" and tortured, providing him with a target for his hate. He is fueled by religious fanaticism that surprises his friends and fellow Muslims. Firdous Bamji plays, in my opinion, the best role in the film, that of Sayeed. He is surprised at how his best friend could become such a "pious" and fanatic character, and tries and fails to convince Hassan that America has done some good for him and that he has integrated well into the West.
The love story could have been expanded, but only for the purpose of showing how Hassan has repressed every emotion except hate. I also thought Sayeed's fate did not ring true, as it seems to me the screenwriters decided to have what happens to him happen only to further their point that the cycle of detention and terror will continue. I do not believe that, in reality, what happened to Sayeed would happen.
Overall, an interesting dramatization of what motivates a suicide bomber, and also of Muslim-American life.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
A dreamlike journey through war
"The Thin Red Line" is a unique addition to the crowded field of WW II films. Terrence Malick's work is filled with visions of nature and this film is no exception; it even seems to be part of the story. How does war fit into human nature as well as the natural world? War brings out courage and heroics, but also cruelty and inhumanity. This is similar to nature, as explained in an analogy using twisting vines to show that nature is also cruel.
This movie gives us a wide range of characters, from Caviezel's thoughtful soldier to Nolte's tough commander. The character's are the film's strong point, and while their narrated thoughts tend to wander, they add an unique element of poetry to the movie. The battle scenes rival those of Saving Private Ryan (in terms of suspense, not graphic depiction) and the depiction of the Pacific War strikes me as a better representation than "Flags of Our Fathers."
This is not your average war movie. It plays more like a dream than like an adventure story, and more like a philosophical critique of human nature than a sermon about war.
Dead Calm (1989)
Dead Calm is one of those movies that you look back at and say "They should have done this" or "they should have left that out." I found myself saying those things after viewing the movie. It was not a bad movie--the three main performances are very good, especially Billy Zane as the obviously deranged killer. The claustrophobic setting also adds a terrifying element to the film, the feeling that you cannot escape the situation you are in. But there were obviously several unnecessary components of Dead Calm. The plot would've worked just fine without the gratuitous car crash opening (though I thought the train station scene was good). And the ending was terrible. Looking at the trivia page for Dead Calm, I see the current ending was a studio-added one: a typical mistake on the part of executives. Perhaps if handled a little less over-the-top (re: the flare gun) even that ending may have worked.