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The Last House on the Left (1972)
****1/2 out of 5
Last House on the Left is among a rare breed of cult classic horror films along with Night of the Living Dead, which are so effective in part because they stood inside of themselves and looked out. They saw us as we were seeing them. That's where the horror lies, people were so fascinated and sickened by these films because they were essentially watching themselves, or at least the bleak social realism of the world they lived in.
Night of the Living Dead was so powerful because it was filmed the very same year that American troops entered the Vietnamese village of My Lai and destroyed everything in site, thus the horror was shifted. Suddenly that limp American flag hanging in the cemetery of the opening scene was much scarier than then walking dead that surrounded it. Similarly Last House on the Left defines true evil during a time when teenagers practiced peace and love. "I thought you're supped to be the love generation" the main character's mother says after hearing that her daughter is going to a Bloodlust concert. If she only knew how deceiving surfaces can be.
The story is simple. After the concert, two rebellious teenage girls go looking to score some grass. They stumble upon Junior who is the junkie son of Krug, an escaped murderer who is hiding out with another escapee and his girl. Junior, promising the girls a sweet deal, lures them back to the filthy apartment where the convicts are hiding. During this sequence Wes Craven (who wrote, directed and edited) cuts between this sad space and back to one of the girl's home in which her parents, in their conservative, bourgeois living space, set up for their daughter's birthday.
Upon arrival the girls are mocked, abused, harassed and tortured. They are then rounded up in the morning and driven into a remote country area where the criminals' car breaks down and the sexual and physical torture of these girls continues in the nearby woods until both are murdered.
Then something ironic happens which leads to a brilliant scene of terror. Not knowing their surroundings, the killers clean themselves, change their clothes and head to the nearest house where they can spend the night until getting their car fixed in the morning. Turns out the house belongs to the parents of one of the girls they killed, who, after discovering what these people did to their daughter, exact their revenge.
Last House on the Left explores depravity in a way that Craven would never return to over the course of his highly successful career. Maybe that's for the better. The film has a rawness that is unparalleled even to this day. We have come to a point in time where horror films are all gloss, where violence exists more as a special effect than a product of evil. Here is one that exists at ground level and unflinchingly shows us acts of violence and torture as if we are a very part of the process.
Last House on the Left is so penetrating in part because it takes responsibility for the evil that it shows us. It is sickened by the state of American depravity that existed underneath its surface image of peace and love. This is a contrast that Craven makes in the mentioned scene, between the normal American household and the criminal underbelly. The truth is that evil can penetrate any space, even the bourgeois household, which is why the parents take their revenge, not as part of a horror movie climax, but because evil is not defined by surfaces, it can lurk just below even the most conservative looking of spaces. Now that's a scary thought.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
**** out of 5
Deep down I know that the Matrix Revolutions is a good movie because it excites me to think about it. Ironic maybe because the more I think about it the more I like it. It hits us with ideas that the end is near because everything that begins must end, but in some ways it seems to breathe more life in its paradoxical conclusions than the first movie did with its cultural references. But it is not the best film in the trilogy because even though there is artistic poetry in the final showdown between Neo and Agent Smith, the Matrix Revolutions seems to forget its mass audience. At some point we see a transition from the self-professed philosophy of Reloaded, spawned from real philosophies and other cultural impacts, into a method in believing that we must fight for the end with our honour, our valour, and our pride. But the Wachowski Brothers get away with it because they have so much already invested in these characters that they were bound to succeed.
Yet the Matrix Revolutions is not simply a nice looking action picture. It focuses its story more on human connections in comparison to machines as Neo awakens in a place somewhere between the real world and the Matrix. After being saved by his comrades he talks to the Oracle who speaks prophecies that could be expected from a psychic at a Star Trek convention.
This lends Neo with the impression that he must venture to the machine world on his own because there he will find what the fate of human kind depends on. Far and wide between these ideas lies an immensely long action sequence with minimal cuts in relentlessness and no interwoven notions of Neo's state. But it still answered some of my questions. And even when it felt the need to sway from an explanation I didn't mind because the new questions left in the open were just as fascinating as the answers to the old ones. Then ending on a note of such curiosity that if a fourth film were made I would not watch it because coincidence does not merit an explanation.
This is a film that hinted at ideas, more fully explored in graphic detail in Darren Aronofsky's cult masterpiece Pi. In Pi, conscious decisions were made with prime material that this film didn't have room for due to mentioned action sequence of epic proportion. The hint in Revolutions that coincides with Pi is in that every human action is based on a code and that we need machines to be the mathematicians that our minds can't allow us to be. That film was kind of an elaborate set up for a look into a man's limit to his own sanity. This one speaks in tongues that show the better part of a grade eleven math course finally doing itself some good. The belief stems to say that every equation has equal opposition between worlds. In a mathematical sense, the figures that exist on both sides of the equal sign (parallel worlds) are, in turn, the same information, only presented in different forms. For example the number three could be opposed as being six divided by two in another universe making it the same power in a different identity. That's where the Matrix comes in. It was a system designed to balance the equations. The Architect, we learned in Reloaded, was a mathematician, who, in creating this vast program could balance the equations and hold the power of humanity in his hands, because those who hold the answer hold the understanding. In this film we find his equal opposition. That one whose attempts to unbalance the equations effect a chain reaction of unbalance between bi-polar opposites Neo and Smith. In Reloaded we were thrown a bunch of psychobabble about how Neo and Smith were one in the same. This is true in Revolutions as we find the only way to balance an equation is to make both sides of equal proportion, leading up to that final battle sequence, which may make sense of, or complicate matters even worse. That's what I would have liked to see more of in Revolutions. Although, it is a smarter film than critics are giving it credit for. And it doesn't surprise me. When something is given such mass appeal it is easy to become immobile to hate for no better reason than to be the one saying something different. Unlike the first two films, with Revolutions it comes down to a war between parallels that are acted out instead of further exploring reasons. I was looking for more curiosity in the methods behind the action, but such is not the case. All ideas seemed second to the endless shooting inside the Bay of Zion. But to a certain advantage point I was still content that this was a good film because we are receiving no more than what was avoided but pushed toward during Reloaded; a special effects extravaganza.
And an extravaganza it was. The person next to me in the theatre could only utter two words as the Sentinels swarmed into Zion, the first being `holy...' With that, there is no doubt in my mind that it will be years before the effects in this film will even be comprehensible to all the other special effects driven films to follow. I know that I have neglected to examine much of the story and characters of Revolutions but in all honesty it would be impossible to have someone follow anything that happens in this film without prior knowledge to the first two. I think of this as more a theoretical analysis rather than an opinionated view, because there is much more to be explained and discovered in the questions I was left with than in the actual technique of the filmmaking.
I'm reluctant to say that Revolutions is the worst film in the trilogy, simply because it was more entertainment than thought. But I still have my impressions that this series is not the culture-shock phenomenon that many claimed it to be. During the bonus features of the DVD for Reloaded I heard someone say in an interview that this could be the most complex movie ever made. I highly doubt that, but it could very well be the smartest and nicest looking action movie of its time.
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
* out of 5
(Warning: contains spoilers) Rosemary's Baby is the kind of film that no one really needs to see because with all the notoriety that has come with it over the years we just assume it is good without ever really knowing. If I would have saw it during the year of 1968, when it was first released, I may have given it praise of the utmost standard. Focusing my thoughts on its firm analysis of paranoia and how it walls people into situations where the only ones who seem safe from its effects are the audience. I also would have talked about Mia Farrow's career making performance and director Roman Polanski's ability to present motions of fear without the use of blood. But it is not the kind of movie that ages well with admiration. These days we know its secrets, and since we expect them, it's more common to find yourself waiting than actually watching with anticipation, and as Hitchcock once said `there is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.' Rosemary's Baby opens its thoughts in grand old horror movie fashion, with an idea that has very little to do with the rest of the story. In the Exorcist it was an archaeological dig. Here it is the mysterious death of a recently befriended neighbour. I'll admit, for the most part, this scene did have intentions of leading the audience somewhere with ideas of fear, confusion and paranoia. But in a film where we already know something is up, the mystery lies in when the character will finally realize it too. In general, Rosemary's Baby focuses on a young couple in Rosemary and Guy, who should have realized that moving into their new apartment was an unwise decision when they find a cabinet that is blocking what appears to be a seemingly normal closet. The film then presents a scene, obligatory by today's standards, where the couple is warned about the apartment building's wicked past from a friend who believes in witchcraft and the such. This character is necessary to the film because were it not to believe in its own sense of evil than the idea that no one can be trusted would be lost inside itself. Yet, even in necessity, two problems arise. The first being that if it is a close friend who gives reason for the main character to have feelings of untruth, how can he be trusted even though we already know he is a decent character? The other problem comes from a statement that I made in my review for the Recruit. I said that I was not a fan of the `trust no one' approach to writing. With that film I made an exception because `in turn it didnt know itself very well.` Here, writer Polanski knows where he wants to go and I like it even less because it is already suspected why characters can't be trusted. With the intention of conceiving their first child, Rosemary and Guy have a truly strange sex scene/dream sequence where it appears that Rosemary is making love to the devil himself? That scene is one of two dream sequences. The first being unsolicited and unexplainable. I suspect it to be a set-up for the future, so that when the second comes along we are ready for it in hopes of an explanation. Alas, Rosemary becomes pregnant, but at the expense of her own tainted psyche. Now everything seems strange to her. Her husband is always away and her neighbours are a little too nice for comfort. She isn't gaining any weight and is having constant chest pains, but her new doctor assures her that everything is okay and to just keep receiving the care given by her lovely neighbours. Things become even more confusing for Rosemary when Hutch, the friend, falls into a coma and dies soon after. Now Rosemary takes no chances and begins buying books on witchcraft and studies satanic cults. From this she gathers reason to believe that her neighbour is the descendant of a witch and her husband has promised their baby to him in an act representing the second coming of Satan in human form. She's right... the end. The biggest flaw that Rosemary's Baby put upon itself is that it confined its paranoia to the central purpose of one character. In pushing everyone else to the sidelines, Polanski makes it no challenge to determine the good from the evil. For when only one character has a reason to fear for herself, the audience outweighs the possibility of innocence in any other characters.
There is no doubt that Polanski is a good director, but he has done better. A lot better. He offers no memorable scenes or dialogue. What is, just is. In that sense, I suppose that Rosemary's Baby may not be a bad movie, just an overrated one. Or maybe I missed my mark entirely while watching it. Still it is anything but Polanski's masterpiece. In his lack of thought and abundance for feeling we are made digest an awkward balance of predictability and unfocused half-truths. Mia Farrow stars as Rosemary, in a confident performance. She runs, she screams and she looks concerned a lot. It's standard horror fare but Farrow sells it by never once leading us to believe that the world isn't against her. The thing that diverts the focus from the good acting is the fact that Polanski is more concerned with how his characters react to his ideas and not how they exists within their own environment. With this I find it hard to decide whether I should be giving Farrow credit for her performance or taking it away for the directors selfish neglect for everything but his vision. Some will probably debate that I may have given away too much of the story to those who still wish to see Rosemary's Baby. But in contradiction to that, I have already stated that this is a film that no one really needs to see. So why bother?
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
**** out of 5
I try to avoid talking about classic movies. They have already been analyzed to an extent where it almost becomes an impossibility to come up with anything fresh or interesting to say. But A Clockwork Orange is a film that is still making itself today. Of course, not of the same effect today as it had on audiences in 1971. With it being placed next to such modern controversy as Natural Born Killers and American Psycho it is hard to appreciate just how original it was when it was made. Yet still it holds strong as the reigning king of controversy to this day, and with changes in society and science fiction on a whole, it is an exception to be made when coming time discuss its content.
At its best, A Clockwork Orange is an `out-there' type of cult masterpiece, staging over-the-top theatrical tactics to make its point, while at the same time breaking it down into mockery. At its worst it is still a pretty good, if not an overrated classic of flawed proportion, whose reputation has been built, more so, on the controversy that surrounds it than on the technique of its filmmaking.
The first half of the film lives and breathes its character, Alex de Large. Alex is ` a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.' An anti-hero whose mind is set more on anti than hero. A character study all to his own right. He and his `droogs' roam the streets of a futuristic society at night looking for old men to beat and women to rape for something to do. But when one of the victim's dies and Alex is betrayed by his friends, he is sent to jail. In jail he hears of an experimental government program that is designed to get criminals out of jail and keep them out. Alex is the first test subject. After being forced to watch videos of violent behaviour, Alex is released back to a society that doesn't want him, making him sick to all the ills that he used to be a part of, creating a doubtfulness towards the power of society and politics. Some have argued that director Stanley Kubrick `made' A Clockwork Orange. But in the shape of it all, this film is more a vibrant distraction from the lively sarcasm of the much superior book of the same name, by the late Anthony Burgess. What Kubrick is missing here is much of what made his adaptation of Steven King's The Shining so disappointing. Failing to implement key story traits, Kubrick directs his vision, but not the same vision of politically incorrect poetry that made the book such a pleasure. The book was a first- person character study, existing within the paradoxes of an individual mind without the use of third person analogies. This is not a problem to the genius first half of the film. But after Alex is released back upon the world there is nothing but third party character present, making it unbelievable to distinguish Alex from just another background fixture. Changing from character study to storytelling, forgetting that the story lies in the character. The most noteworthy of controversy attached to A Clockwork Orange was its label as `violent porn.' But in looking at such criticism with equal opportunity to criticize we can see that the term `violent porn' has spawned for the narrow influence of individuals who base philosophies on their first reactions. `Porn' is an adjective, describing an outlet for gratuitous sexual stimulation. There is nothing that I can find even remotely pleasurable in the horrifying acts committed in this film, and anyone who argues differently has fetishes that run deeper than the content at hand. As for `violent.' It is another adjective, but this time misinterpreted as a noun. Because the word, in this case, is not to be used as a noun we rarely witness the violence. It is a mere deterrent used to describe the atmosphere. On the other hand, the violence that is seen is viewed from a comedic standpoint. That's the gift of satire, you don't have to find it funny to be able to laugh. If anything this is a positive film, teaching the Christian belief that it is the right of all individuals to have free will and choice. As stated by Blake Morrison in the book's introductions, `Alex must be able to choose to be good; he must be an orange, capable of growing and sweetness, not a wound-up clockwork toy.' Meaning that an orange may be bitter at first but it has the ability to grow on its own and ripen into something sweet. Unlike clockwork which only works on the basis of what it is programmed to do.
Malcolm McDowell doesn't only play Alex, he is Alex. McDowell goes so far for absolute broke in his take-no-prisoners performance, that it could have ruined the film and career of a lesser man. In a role that is so rowdy, McDowell never takes himself serious Always sporting a mean grin of pleasure and a jolly sort of stance, making him nothing short of unintentional evil. A scene in which Alex kicks a man who is down while reciting Singing in the Rain is of utmost classic and one of the best in this film.
A Clockwork Orange is not an easy film to watch or even all that inspiring of one either. It knows that just as many people hate it and don't understand it as those who love it. But those who do love it love it for the right reasons. Not because it is a well made film. It is nowhere near a definitive Kurbick masterpiece, but because `when a man does not have the ability to chose, he ceases to be a man.'
Hollywood Homicide (2003)
****1/2 out of 5
There are two things that make Hollywood Homicide better than the pack of endless summer action movies that came out this year. One is that it never once felt the need to take itself seriously, and it takes matters upon itself to have fun along the way. Directed and co-written by Ron Selton, the man behind White Men Can't Jump, Hollywood Homicide is an action movie so smart, witty and ripe with hilarious dialogue that it could very well be the best, if not chattiest, detective movie since Clint Eastwood retired Dirty Harry in The Dead Pool.
Harrison Ford stars in prime comedic fashion as Joe Gavilan, a detective with Hollywood Homicide and a real estate salesman on the side. He is stuck with all his money invested in a house on Mount Olympus, located at the corner of Hercules and Alkalise. Gavilan is a man who takes the term job related stress to all new levels of comedy as his cell phone acts as a near third-party character. It seems when Gavilan is doing police work he is on the phone chatting real estate and vice versa. That's his quirk.
His partner, K.C. Calden, played by Josh Hartnett, is a youngster who teaches a woman's yoga class, because it makes him feel needed as an individual. And because it gets him sex. Calden wants to get out of police work. `What do you want to do,' askes Gavilan. `I want to be an actor.' `Okay, so your gay, I can deal with that,' replies Gavilan.
The two are assigned to find the man behind the shooting of an up and coming rap group in a local nightclub run by Master P. Even the club owner has his own quirk. He wants to buy a house, and as luck would have it, Joe wants to sell one. The identity of the killer is kept as no secret. It is an upscale record company executive named Antoine Sartain, who kills off his top acts just before they are about to `break out.' A statement to teach fellow artists not to mess with the music industry. Hollywood Homicide is a cliche; there is no doubt about that. It's story lacks facts to make sense of the situation it finds itself in. But the movie is crafted with such naturally funny conversations, misunderstandings and quite, if not droll, sarcasm that it is, simply put, a goofy delight from start to finish. Sample dialogue: Calden: `Joe someone is stealing your car.' Gavilan: `That's okay, it's insured.' It also features a hilarious car case scene in which Gavilan tries to cut a deal on a house while in the middle of hot pursuit and another classic scene involving a suspect fleeing in a paddle boat. What sets Hollywood Homicide apart from the rest of the pact, is that its situations exist inside a model of everyday life. The film's focus does not rest on the investigation. Shelton makes it a point to show what happens between the high-speed chases and the deadly shoot-outs. Rather, following his characters to yoga meetings, hot tubs and the homes of rich Hollywood producers, which all carry on outside of the main purpose of detective work. Action films like these are usually far from believable. This one presents a car case down the wrong side of the road, over and through many obstacles, and even riding the side of a parked transport truck on two wheels. The thing about action is that, although we don't believe the act that surrounds it is possible, we must believe in the characters that execute it.
Both Ford and Hartnett create a likeable pair, with impeccable comedic reaction time. Watch Ford's expression as he takes a bike from an on looking pedestrian. They play that rare duo that spend more time making small talk about things that are naturally funny because we don't expect them in a no-brainer action flick, than bickering like the Odd Couple.
The art of the buddy flick is a worm out formula. The art of two cops with life's pressure having a strong bearing on their job; that's something fresh. These characters are not super heroes; they make mistakes, funny ones at that, including jumping off the top of a building onto a vender cart below. Showing someone doing something funny is dull. Now show someone doing something naturally stupid and then suffering the consequences; now we have something. Your probably wondering how I can sit here and give away all the films jokes and still expect people to want to see it, and trust me I am severely biting my tongue as it is. But in reality I have not even began to scratch the surface. Shelton injects every line of this film with those same observations of human nature and instinct that made White Men Can't Jump such a great film. This one works on the basis that, it may not be funny that a cop is a real estate broker, but human nature tells us that the thought of a person like this in existence is pretty funny.
The key factor driving the success of this film was that Shelton knew that he may not have the greatest story but he didn't need one in the first place. Because there is not set outcome that burdens everyday life, why should there be in an action movie about the life that it's main characters inhabit? After Shelton struck out with his mismatched boxing comedy Play it to the Bone, I thought to myself that if only he could make another film that cares about its characters enough to develop them through specific quirkiness he'd be on the right track, Then, write those characters into a film that does not barricade them into a set pattern of life from one-dimensional scripting, that he would have a true hit on his hands. And now he has.
Poolhall Junkies (2002)
****1/2 out of 5
The problem is that it is hard to make a Martin Scorsese film that's already been made, unless you are Martin Scorsese himself. The other problem is trying to impress a person who believes that Scorsese is one of the top five greatest directors in American film. With that I suppose I have tasted my own philosophies because Poolhall Junkies is an impressive little picture. There is a world all on its own in the game of pool that exists in two sectors. One is the game itself. The other is the hustle. The game on a whole is something like life. It relates its success to the skill and ambition used to play. Ultimately, determining who wins and who loses. In the world of pool the man with the best shot is not the winner. The winner is man who knows how the shot was made. So if the game is life than the hustle must be fate. The hustle is, in the sense of the game world, how you see yourself. `If you think your a loser the only person who you'll be able to beat are the ones who think they are bigger losers than you,' advises Nick (Rod Steiger in his last performance), the hall owner. Therefore in a universe where the game is life, one must be willing to live by the hustle. It's true, Poolhall Junkies could have focused itself on violence and the quarrel between an honest guy caught in a bad mans world. But it doesn't. It doesn't because it is a film that knows its game, and understands how its players approach it. Johnny is a man who lives pool. He never misses because `the cue was part of his arm and the balls had eyes.' But after his hustling mentor Joe throws away Johnny's chances at being the best player in the world, Johnny is forced into the seedy world of the hustlers. Its also true that there is not much story to a film like this. It has its basic set up and then lets its characters roam freely as they wish. Sometimes all they want to do is have fun, sometimes they chose good, and sometimes bad, but in life that's how the game works. Even in its lack of story it still believes that the players are the fuels for the game, so why not be the focal point? So I'm not going to waste time explaining plot twists involving lost money and lost tempers because Poolhall Junkies never embodies that standard or seriousness. This is a film so cleverly acted and crafted that even the ones who know nothing of pool can walk away feeling, not only educated, but intoxicated by its vivid nature. Writer/director Gregory `Mars' Martin is only on his second feature with Poolhall Junkies but he realizes that in order to hold the audience's attention they must view the game as a risk not an investment. In turn, the film has a risky nature about it. In not separating heroes from villains, no character, not even Johnny, has a feeling of safety. By doing that Martin has created an atmosphere where the stakes are always high and always up for grabs. The pool room scenes in question are beautifully choreographed by Robert Morris. Morris knows where the importance of his focus lies. On the movement of the balls. How they manoeuvre. Defy gravity. And even speak a hidden langue of their own, is filmed in such slick and fast cutting that the film becomes not about who is putting the ball in the hole. But the intrigue of seeing how it will make its way there. Martin plays Johnny with remarkable skill as well. He is an actor who crosses somewhere between the flashy confidence of James Woods and the slick tough guy of Michael Madsen. In that, Martin is able to deliver a performance of compassion and inner choice, but never lowering himself to fit a character label. He obviously had a good time making this film. In an act of pure genius casting we see the always-devilish Chazz Palmintero and the always-wonderful Christopher Walken appearing on none other than the same screen. Palmintero is riveting as Joe, delivering every line with such malicious confidence that it is almost impossible to not feel a pleasurably guilty sensation every time he walks on screen.
Speaking of screen pleasures, Walken alone would be worth the price of admission as Mike, Johnny's backer. Walken is again at the top of his game, delivering yet another crisp, cool performance, that at the moment when he asks Johnny if he ever watches the animal channels, you know to expect one of his ingenious monologues, that none other but Walken are capable of pulling off. There are other characters is the film. Tara is the love interest and Johnny's brother Danny and his friends serve mostly as comic relief, repeating jokes that have been done better somewhere else. But none of them quite reach the desire of the game. Seemingly whose only motives are to distract from it, taking away the sense of professionalism exhibited in the films best scenes, and replacing it for exaggerated views on outside issues.
Poolhall Junkies is indeed a rare film about pool and pool alone. Its best scenes focus on nothing but. There is no violence or anything typical of a movie where money is at risk. Strange because in a world where the game is life and the hustle is fate, that must make the table the voice of ambition. Any movie can overpower that sensation with distractions. It takes a good one to listen.
The Rundown (2003)
**** out of 5
After seeing The Rundown some odd sensation in me suggested that if director Peter Berg had been more interested in surveying his characters in his ultra-stinker debut, Very Bad Things that he could have had a masterpiece on his hands. With that assumption stated it is hard to believe that The Rundown is one of those rare films that physically pits its heroes above their action. Allowing a story to build around natural causes instead of setting up backdrops in order to initiate planned action sequences.
Existing somewhere between a big, dumb summer popcorn flick and a sincere alternative, staring into the eye of adventure, this is a film that is entertaining on almost all levels. We are given assurance to this early on in the film from none other than Arnold Schwarzennger when he tells star, the Rock to `have fun' while walking down the hall of a nightclub. Having had such a mighty torch passed to him so early on it would be a dishonour to expect anything less than off the wall amusement from the Rock. He in turn gives a performance in Beck that is so crisp and fresh that we believe he has the potential of a hero. Beck works for the bad guys, taking jobs that no man without a purpose would ever question. But the Rundown is a good movie, and a good movie knows enough that its characters need dimension. Thus Beck is a man who does have a purpose. He is aspiring to open his own restaurant. But in order to get the money to achieve his goal he takes one last job. The job finds himself traveling to Brazil to a small town called El Dorado in order find his bosses son Travis (Sean William Scott of American Pie) and bring him home, not an easy task as the duo quickly develop a strong love/hate relationship.
Along the journey we find another layered characteristic about Beck in that doesn't like guns. `You're the only American I know who doesn't like guns,' says an onlooker. But he doesn't like them because `bad things happen when I use guns.' And from watching Beck in hand-to-hand combat it is not hard to image what life would be like with a gun at his disposal.
What follows in the jungle is an action flick that I've already seen, in Gunmen and Indiana Jones. But Gunmen was a joke that no one seemed to be in on or, maybe it didn't realize it had one, but the Rundown does. Making it a lot easier to have a sense of humour about something that sees caricature in itself. We then encounter a villainous mine owner named Hatcher in Christopher Walken who says all the things that we tend to wonder when unbelievable circumstances are questioned in a serious film. Walken, an actor so aware of himself and his purpose that he seems to make even the most senseless dialogue meaningful, is given the films single best line. When asked by one of his henchmen if he thinks Beck and Travis are dead after driving off a cliff, Hatcher replies, `what am I, psychic.' He later outdoes himself and his character again when, after a stampede erupts in the middle of a town he utters impressively, `that's a lot of cows,' while watching a video monitor.
But Walken isn't the only key player with something unique to show. Rosario Dawson gives the most curios and understanding action performance from a female since Linda Hamilton stared in the Terminator, and the Rock proves that, although his acting range may be limited, that is no excuse for one dimensional character association. Scott also shows that his smart-alecky nature is not just reserved to the American Pie movies.
Then, in a near change of pace, somewhere around the halfway mark the Rundown changes from a mission of retrieval to a hunt for lost gold, and manifests other sub plots involving loyalty and a running joke about sexually active monkeys. Under the conditioning of a movie with the soul intent of an action basis this could have been a problem, but because the core of Berg's focus lies in the chemically imbalanced structure of his characters, we tend not to make a point of it. The motivations in Berg's direction come in his desire to avoid playing with ideas of violent behaviour. Analyzing his characters and explaining what prompts their involvement in violent circumstances. Making the obligatory action climax seem like more of a reward for good behaviour rather than a set-up for no better reason than to follow standards.
The an example of this happens in one of the best scenes from an action film I have seen all year, in which Beck is tempted into using a gun. In a genre that lives by the motto of `shoot first, ask questions later.' The idea of what would convince a man of honour to go against himself for the benefit of his temperament is equally as fascinating as it is exciting in its conclusions. The films cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, also disserves great credit for his masterfully filmed action sequences, that at times may also seem like too much, but when this degree of care and technique is put into something, its a strong tendency not to be bothered with such small criticism. As a result, making for some of the most poetic and electrifying action sequences since Daredevil. Although the Rundown may not be a perfect film, overlooking problems in pacing and the neglect of some under developed ideas, it is still one of the most enjoyable times I've had at the movies this year. Making me believe that what the Rock is cooking smells like nothing less than a great career as an action star.
What a Girl Wants (2003)
***1/2 out of 5
I knew from the moment that I heard the line `No hugs dear I'm British, we only show affection for dogs and horses' that I was in over my head, as the jokes don't get much better with patience. So maybe I will hate myself in the mourning but at the same time What a Girl Wants is a film that is so nice, modest and organized towards what it needs to say that it would be my great dishonour to renounce it for having a happy ending.
Films like this are often taken for granted because of unbelievable stories, continuity problems and characters who if not falling under the sweet category, fall somewhere between wicked and annoying. But I think somewhere a film this focused on happiness needs to be regarded to some extent. Still it is not of my interest or that my readers to sit and pick apart what should have been done better, what should have not been done at all and any basic principal in story for that matter. In truth it is senseless to pick out formulas in these movies because they all follow the same basic pattern, if youve seen once...you've got the idea. In reality, the conclusion that I bestow upon you all is that in a world that needs a positive touch, a warm hand on the shoulder can't do us any harm. So although this film may be far from perfect, its over exertion to care with such precision and dignity is what makes it worthy of the time.
Amanda Bynes has the eyes in which all the curiosity of the world is stored, giving her the exact note in which to draw from to bring her character Daphne to life. Daphne's story would be a sad one to any teen girl living it, but her gracious smile indicates that she will receive no less than what she bargained for in the first place. So what is her story anyway? Daphne is a girl who has a father but has never met him and in turn he is not aware of her existence. It comes as quite a shock when she runs away to Britain in search of not only her father, but that mysterious figure that inherits her dreams. The problem is that Daphne is a simple American girl and her father, Henry, is a posh British politician. As circumstance would have it, Henry to be engaged to the largest snob a movie studio could dream up. And if there is one cliché I can't stand more than the irritation of a snobbish fiancé, its that of a snobbish step child, whose nose appears to be so far in the air that I'm sure she can smell the clouds. Those young girls who have already saw the Princess Diaries and Cinderella know where I am going with this and to everyone else, rest assured your deaf ears have probably already taken the better part of your interest out of this film. With formulas already set in, it comes as no surprise there are many teenage difficulties that don't check out at the boarder, for without them a story could not survive, and a young audiences attention span would be stretched to the limits. Most noteworthy of the problems is the pressures of conformity, if I should be so bold as to dare think that this film's target audience would understand such a statement. In turn our beloved `ugly duckling' is plagued with the guilt of being the odd one out even though through either irony, or poor writing, she seems to bring nothing but goodness to all that she touches. Indeed this royal family believes that she must smoothen those American edges and become a proper young lady but in a scene of obligatory sentiment effective to those willing to invest in it, she is told `it's not the crown that makes the queen, it's in the heart.' So maybe this film has been made before under a different name with different actors and different purposes but what draws ones attention to its own sense of urgency is how much it cares about the success of its characters. Writers Jenny Bricks and Elizabeth Chandler realize that sending a teenage girl after her dreams adherers to no unhappy moments because when you are a teenager in search of something meaningful, dreams are the ones with the most magnificent imaginations. What a Girl Wants is the kind of film that mothers with gladly take their daughters to see because it was smart enough to realize that family values have more meaning than ideas of them. Many directors can show a happy families, but Dennie Gordon creates one. The problem is that the politics of them family seem more a concern than the benefits, a shame because in a world of fairy tale dreams coming true, the only leaders should be the mind's determination to succeed. So what exactly is What a Girls Wants many of you may be wondering? It's unlikely, and pretentiously flawed but at the same time, a delightful showcase of such light-hearted nurture and care that, well, it's probably exactly what any girl would want.
**** out of 5
There are two things a blind man can do. One is to cry. The other is to see his life flash before his eyes and in some ways I suppose he can see into your soul, because the soul is the city, and the city will always live through loss. Daredevil is the kind of comic book film to come along that audiences will gladly leave their children at home for. In fact I recommend it. It is bleak and violent, not far off from an R rating I suspect. Still it is curious out of a strange cock-eyed grace. It flips from scene to scene so smoothly and with so much grace it feels like, well, flipping the glossy pages of a comic book. But leave your belief of comic books behind because Daredevil has the poise and curiosity of an art picture, sewn only together with the basis of comic book theory, which states that every hero must have equal, if not, more fierce opposition. Yet at the same time the threads of comic nature weaken the hold of artistic substance within a film that needs no more oppression than that of which scars a mans mind. Matt Murdock was twelve when he lost his sight. In an unavoidable freak accident the boy is robbed of vision but finds that all of his remaining senses increase significantly. He now roams the city tops, making his home in Hell's Kitchen his new official playground. His father was a washed up boxer working for a criminal who would later rob the boy of value and replace him with a man of vengeance when his father is killed for not throwing a boxing match. As a man Murdock is a lawyer by day and a masked avenger named Daredevil by night, ridding the city of disease in hopes of one day avenging his father's death. He is soon dubbed as the man with no fear, but is told by a local priest and friend that `A man without fear is a man without hope.' The intriguing development into this character begins from the opening scene, a scene that shows weakness in a genre that relies on strength and stability. `It's true that you see your life flash before your eyes when you are about to die' says Daredevil. To get a glimpse of humanity into a character this early on is a welcomed change in events for any genre piece. The guidelines that this film follows are not a general topic of discussion, if you want guidelines watch Batman. Sure there is a hero, and with him there is a romantic interest in Elektra (a sexually charged performance from Jennifer Garner), but even that connection feels motivated by deeper surroundings. Both Daredevil and Elektra have something in common, they have both had loved ones die at their hands, and they both cover their reality with their cynical looks into revenge. Then there is the bad guys, maniacally played, yet still observably out of motion, by Michael Clark Duncan and Colin Farrell. Duncan plays Fisk (A.K.A. the Kingpin) a man with a theory that `no one is innocent' and who is believed to be behind every single criminal activity in New York City. But if memory serves me correctly, I always believed that Fisk was a white man? Nevertheless, Farrell, as expert marksman Bullseye, is the kind of chew-'em-up, spit-'em-out type performance that we all look forward to in comic book villains, but never see their due payoff in the story per say. The heart of this story lies not in who killed who or who wants to kill who, its in the personality and, the struggle and blind determination of the title character. That's where star Ben Affleck comes in, in a performance so cocky and self righteous as Murdock, you find it hard to believe when he finally slips into the bleak and unrelenting persona of Daredevil that we are viewing the same person. Director Mark Steven Johnson is an armature, directing only one film prior to this in Simon Birch, yet he relays the same kind of dismal hope that perplexed that movie and rose it above formula standards. In using rain and shadows as symbols Johnson was able to create more in character than even the most well filmed action sequence could have. Johnson also proves that in a world of computer generate special effects that those engines were created to heighten the impact of a film not lesson it from upstaging its actors. A scene of true passionate originality in which Murdock is able to see Elektra's face through the individual vibrations that each rain drop produces upon hitting an object, proves that, although a standard genre picture, comic book films are not limited to the single cell frames that their story inhabit. As for trivia buffs, there are several guest cameos; the best being that of comic book legend and Daredevil creator Stan Lee as a man who almost walks into oncoming traffic. Also comic book enthusiast and Jay and Silent Bob creator Kevin Smith can be seen in a quick spot as a lab worker. As the day closes and night veers its tragic change upon us it is hard to be a man stuck between revenge and justice. Daredevil may have had its flaws in formula and believability, but it still had the intelligence to realize that revenge doesn't take the pain away and justice cannot be served at the hand of vengeance.
Disturbing Behavior (1998)
Disturbing Behaviour breaks down social barriers with such a high level of teenage angst and authenticity that those who find it interesting are the ones who think rebellion is a model of life, not a text book stage from it. It is an older film, from 1998 for the perfectionists of the world, but I visit it because it is of a dying breed that hit its climax and slowly sunk away. This is the type of movie that doesn't have the ethics to show its face anymore after being mocked, ridiculed, and ripped apart by the Scream movies. The genre is teen suspense, more a vehicle to revolt against everything moral than one to thrill. And ironic enough it seems an unsolicited task to rebel in a world where police take no authority after one of the `good' students break into a bloody fist fight at a local convince store. Welcome to Cradle Bay, a place where strange things are going on, and director David Nutter never makes it priority to conceal this fact. I guess in his blunt approach he never realized that a lack of explanation doesn't substitute for mystery. After witnessing a fellow student shoot a police officer, Gavin (Nick Stahl), a teen outcast, appoints himself as narrator and commentates new student Steve (James Marsden) through life at Cradle Bay. Steve has recently moved there with his family to escape past demons that threaten the family dinner table. In a horribly plotted sequence, we see a diner table conversation functioning as nothing more than an excuse not to explore the films plot. At school divisions are ever so present. There are the skaters; the boys in leather who dream about their cars and the Blue Ribbons. The Blue Ribbons are part of a program to help worried parents by turning their troubled teenagers into model students. By planting computer chips in their heads, a school doctor can create an army of lobotomized overachievers who will excel in their work ethics. At least that's what I was able to gather. Nutter spends so much time finding ways to avoid his material that trying to get insight into what is going on is harder than finishing the last night's homework. After being `sold out' by his parents Gavin is forced into the Blue Ribbon program and it is up to Steve and Rachel (teen poster queen Katie Holms who, at her best is one of today's most promising teen actors and at her worse is, well, better than this), to team up and uncover the secret behind the Blue Ribbons. But they never find a secret. They never rise above or break down boundaries. Nor do they even begin to understand the logic behind what is going on here. Neither does the audience because Nutter never makes it an issue to create surprises, making plot revelations no more than a build up of what we have already learned and already come to expect. The conclusion is every bit as sadistic as it is implausible, showing none more than the lack of commitment writer Scott Rosenberg had to his story, a compilation between A Clockwork Orange and the Stepford Wives in a post grunge generation. The idea behind Disturbing Behaviour is that the educational system is so hung up on image and punctuality that teachers are doing nothing more to their students than brainwashing them (ho ho the satire is killing me). Yet irony takes its toll when we realize, after an unwarranted visit to an insane asylum that the school vision has been demised by the dynamic heroics of central character Steve. And even in a world trying to be perfect, the `ideal' students have side effects. They exhibit violent dislike to all that are not of their kind, including parents and peers alike. The scariest thing about this film is in the idea that the ones that you need worry most about sending a fellow student home in a body bag are not the ones who dress in black or listen to rock music. Rather the ones in charge of holding school sponsored bake sales. The script in question is full of plot devices so oblivious to all but their own existence that it is a more fun to pick them out than to watch the film implode under their weight. In this case we have the kid who knows to much, the bounty hunter who poses in role, hoping that nothing will put his mission in jeopardy (although who I will not say, you'll know before they do), the scene in which the villain convinces the heroes parents that he is there to help. And, my person favourite, the loss of a loved one who serves no more than for superfluous flashback sequences. In this case it's a brother, although personal classification reflects nothing to a story that bears no need for a script implication such as this anyway. But it is this death that prompts the move to Cradle Bay with no deeper explanation than `everything will be better here.' To say that Disturbing Behaviour is a shallow film that was made without thought or insight would be missing the point. It's like telling the kid with the blue hair that he looks strange, the more you tempt the outwardly the stronger they become. So is it possible for a film like this to rebel against social status in the school system? Well, if your idea of rebellion lies in doing everything the exact opposite of what a good movie would do, consider this one a success.