Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Lucas Getting all...Philosophical?
"Well, that's the real trick, isn't it...The "how" and the "who" are just scenery, prevents 'em from asking the most important question: Why?" -- Mr. X, "JFK"
To clarify, the Galactic Republic did not fall in a massive conspiracy which would make Oliver Stone's "JFK" look like a game of CLUE. But the above paraphrased quote from Stone's 1991 assassination film speaks a truth about what lies at the heart of "Revenge of the Sith".
Why did Anakin Skywalker do it? Finally, at long last, this question is answered by George Lucas in a meaningful, not-nauseating (though certainly not flawless) way. 'Episode I' was a dose of bitter medicine, with way too much "scenery". It seemed like it took 'Episode II' forever to establish some semblance of a point. Finally, now, in Episode III, we get to "the point".
As a younger fan of Star Wars, my introduction was of course through home video. When Obi-Wan and Yoda would talk in "Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" about the self- destructive path down which Skywalker/Darth Vader went, I imagined in my mind that it was a relatively simple story: headstrong young man, impatient, insecure, and greedy for glory, surrendering himself to the easy yet evil methods of acquiring power. Basically, I figured Skywalker was Lucas' Machiavelli.
In a sense, as seen in this film, he is. In his mind, the end will justify the means, even as it corrupts his soul and destroys his body. But there are an intriguing number of layers and emotions which go in to the final decision. Lucas is displaying a different sort of film-making ambition, choosing to dissect the riddle, "What is the nature of 'evil'? How does man distinguish between good and evil?" And in the various dimensions and answers of this question - Palpatine's shriveled and calculated manipulations of young Skywalker, Anakin's heartfelt but immoral desire to save those he loves, Obi-Wan's conflict of duty and brotherhood - this prequel attains what was critical to the first trilogy and sorely lacking through much of the two most recent films: complexity and development of the characters.
I will concede that several scenes, though not all (which in and of itself is a major step forward from the first two prequels), contain dialogue that is, shall we say, definitely NOT the product of razor-sharp intelligence. But then, no Star Wars film was ever meant to be confused with a David Mamet play. Also, let's debunk a myth which seems to have grown with time and say the following: George Lucas was never a brilliant wordsmith. Legendary are the stories of how much Alec Guinness hated the script of the original "Star Wars" and supposedly concocted his character's death to escape further speaking of those "bloody awful lines" (that's a direct quote). Mark Hamill, in the DVD documentary on the original trilogy, recalled thinking at auditions, "Who TALKS LIKE THIS?"
The original Star Wars trilogy clicked so well because the story reflected genuine personality and depth in its characters. While "Revenge of the Sith" does not quite get to the level set by the 1977 original or "The Empire Strikes Back", it does a damn good job none-the-less. The film has a distinct, dark, raw intensity as it ties off most of the loose threads and known (though never previously explained) mysteries of the Skywalker saga. As David Ansen of Newsweek noted, the outcome of this jigsaw puzzle has always been known, and as result there is a sense of satisfaction at finally realizing how the pieces all fit together.
That return to philosophy in the stars, the "space opera" style which inspired him so long ago, results in a film that Lucas and the legions "Star Wars" fans can be proud of. You may have noticed in this review that I've yet to mention the spectacular special effects or exciting fight scenes. They are certainly present, but for the first time in the prequel trilogy Lucas has successfully made a film which is about more than stringing the audience along until the next mind-blowing action sequence.
The Village (2004)
And Now For Something Completely Different...
Don't get me wrong, M. Night Shyamalan has proved to be a master of psuedo-suspense films. I say 'psuedo' because his movies transcend pass the big noise and shock of being pure horror to touch deeper themes. His films, while intending to scare you, are not only about the big scream - they are also about the little touches, the voices in your head, the feelings in your heart.
"The Village" joins the ranks as another film of superb craftsmanship. Unfortanately for Shyamalan it winds up being his least effective, probably because he makes it more emotionally complex than it needs to be. Adrien Brody picked a hell of a follow-up to his Oscar-winning leading role, because his supporting job here doesn't register at all. He is the obligatory subplot who winds up being "pivotal" - Night, you did that already with Phoenix's character in "Signs". It worked a lot better then too.
There's also some odd moments of misdirection, Night choosing to use a wide shot when maybe a close-up would tie us better to the moment. This makes some of his more brilliant sequences all the more tough to swallow, cause you're caught saying, "Do it more like that!"
As for the film's plot and "surprise" twist, I won't go into the details and instead focus on the big picture. Most films of this type, where they intend to lead the story in one way before pulling the rug out from under you, fall victim to the before and after effect. In essence, the suspense and the dread and the anticipation of what comes next is often better than what actually comes next. When the secret is revealed, you may indeed be shocked, and if you're like me the actual method of revelation will have your pulse moving, but afterwards your thoughts will be, "Is that all there is?"
Night's films have always been at some level about suspension of disbelief, and "The Village" probably requires the most. Like "Unbreakable" he has constructed an average sum out of some brilliant individual parts. In short, "The Village" is too much of a peak and valley film, emotionally, psychologically, etc., to rank it up there with "The Sixth Sense" or "Signs".
It may be time for Shyamalan to move in a different direction, utilizing his indisputable film skill for a radically new purpose. "Ocean's Eleven" showed us the jazzier side of Steven Soderbergh. I know at one point Night was asked for a screenplay to the next Indiana Jones movie, which once again seems to be stuck in development hell. How about another "Stuart Little"? Ha! Relax, Night, you don't need to be THAT different.
The Alamo (2004)
Missed its Window of Opportunity (Slight spoilers)
"The Alamo" is a film that will garner appreciation (though, unfortunately for the folks at Disney, no money) with the passing of time. At soon as Disney announced that the original Christmas 2003 release was pushed back to April 2004 - to "give director John Lee Hancock additional time" - the "bad-movie" buzz began. Critics were ready to bludgeon the film when it arrived over Easter Weekend, and while many did less than sing its praises, none could really bring themselves to hammer it the way the negative buzz indicated they should.
That's because Hancock's new vision of "The Alamo" was not the all-brawn, no-brain, John Wayne-styled hero worship they had been ready to dismiss without thinking twice. Its principal goal is to dig up the men behind the myth, explore their motives and the heartbreaking reality they must have felt when it finally sunk in that their small militia gang of 200 would be left alone against a force of 4000 Mexicans. Sam Houston, Jim Bowie, William Travis, and (of course) Davy Crockett occupy an exalted place in American folklore as result of the siege, but Hancock is not particularly interested in that - he wants you to feel what it must have been like to be trapped inside the abandoned mission with no possibility of escape and little chance of survival.
In debunking the myth, Hancock delivered both a couple rousing successes and a couple of botched failures. As Crockett and Houston, Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid provide the film's best performances, consistent in their flawed and ultimately human character. This makes it not only compelling, but also true - after all, Crockett was not a god among men as Uncle Walt and Fess Parker want us to think, he was human, and saw Texas as a chance for political redemption rather than a place to flex his bear-killing muscle.
On the downside, several sequences (in the particular case of Jim Bowie's storyline) make me believe Hancock didn't put that extra time in the editing room to good use. The storyline involving Bowie & his slave, his deceased Mexican wife, as well as the backstory of Travis' (Patric Wilson) flawed character, are provided only in glimpses and ultimately go nowhere. One instance during the final battle intercuts Bowie, literally on his deathbed, preparing for a true Texas-warrior final stand that ultimately is a letdown.
There are also some marks of brilliance - Thornton's final scene as Crockett stands out, a wonderful moment of romantic fiction taking place the morning after the battle (though there is constant debate over the nature of Crockett's death - did he go out in a blaze of glory or cowardly begging for his life? - many agree he WAS killed during the fighting and never met Santa Ana face-to-face).
Ultimately, "The Alamo" comes close, so achingly close, to unquestionable greatness that you can't help but wonder why it missed the window of opportunity. Certainly the delay had something to do with it. Hancock and his team should be proud of what they have done, but I must remark that they could have done better. In spite of the dismal box office performance, I hope Disney gives the film a full second-life on DVD, where Hancock can reincorporate what I can guarantee is a plethora of deleted scenes to present his full vision of "The Alamo".
FINAL SCORE: 7.5 / 10
Wanna See What Made this Show Great? Buy the 1st Season DVD
ER in its present, 2003 form is a schizophrenic mess. For every one intelligent, caring episode comes four or five exercises in downbeat, melodramatic soap opera which sap all the energy out of the show's still-present technical mastery. This four-disc set is a welcome flashback to the show's humble beginnings, when it wasn't supposed to be the most heart-pounding show on television, and succeeded on will, not on hype.
The central characters in the first season are Chief Resident Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), ER Residents Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) and pediatrician Doug Ross (George Clooney), Head Nurse Carol Hathaway (Julianna Marguiles), Surgical Resident Dr. Peter Benton (Eriq la Salle) and his protégé, third-year med student John Carter (Noah Wyle, the only actor to remain on the show through the entire run). They brought a fresh edge to the oft-repeated world of medical drama, helped greatly by the first television show, in my estimation, to ever put actual intelligence into the presentation. On ER, the cameras move, the people move, the consistent hustle and bustle of an actual environment is palpable, and not simply a setpiece. It's interesting to note that although the show was never broadcast in widescreen until 2001, in the middle of it's seventh season, these first episodes are all presented in the wider format. At first it might seem like hubris, but most of them fit the frame very well, with shots composed and staged for the wider picture - it's not `cinematic' just for its own sake.
Standout episodes from the season include the exposition-heavy `Pilot' which still found time for drama; `Blizzard' which was a tour-de-force of film, editing, and cutting edge medical realism; `Hit & Run' & `Sleepless in Chicago' which dealt with the heavy burden of juggling personal & professional medical care, as well as Carter's development as a doctor; and `Love's Labor Lost', an absolute masterpiece from every angle: drama, directing, scripting, staging, scoring, every cosmic tumbler clicked into place for this episode centered around Greene's tragic triumph in the case of a pregnancy gone bad.
The show took a few (deserved) knocks for being shamelessly convenient in its storylines and ignoring the realities of daily hospital structure in favor of sensationalism. This is exaggerated a little, but still a valid point; rarely an episode goes by without something in the line of an unexpected pregnancy, a suicide attempt, a violent skirmish between doctor and patient, or (in one outrageous case) a 12-year old gang member brining his Glock into a trauma room to try and finish another 12-year old off. Still, the show displayed remarkable resilience in almost always rising to become greater than the sum of its parts. Naturally, that ability has waned and virtually disappeared, but these episodes are no less enjoyable as a result of that.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Steven Spielberg says that his initial impression of the massive con job pulled by Frank Abagnale, Jr. was that it was all one big "slight-of-hand" trick - no substance, no profound evil, just somebody wanting to see how fast and how loose they can play with the system.
So Spielberg does about the only appropriate thing in bringing Abagnale's story to the screen: his movie itself is an artsy, slick slight-of-hand trick. It is as full of rich color, extensive detail, and beautiful decorum as anything Spielberg has ever done. I don't know if the movie is supposed to be "about" anything, even accounting for the obvious scenes where Spielberg tries to hash out his strange ideas of fatherhood. He has skipped his really relevant issues in favor of a shooting-the-breeze approach - encapsulated by the fact that shooting wrapped in only 52 days, manic speed for a Spielberg picture (this is the man almost run out of Hollywood for his monumental delays of "Jaws").
The film, in and of itself, exists just fine as this elegant piece of pop art which Spielberg has constructed, not dissimilar to the boys with toys attitude Steven Soderbergh brought to his "Ocean's Eleven" remake. Slinky, low-tech, with John Williams lyrical jazz ballet, it has vibrance, texture, and intelligence, with Christopher Walken and Tom Hanks stand- outs in their respective roles. DiCaprio is still a hard pill to swallow, but he comes off as at least a believably suave con man, if not a convincing one.
I suppose my one real critique would be length - the film has such pride and joy about its own carefree attitude that it is a shame to see it ramble to the end of its 142 minutes, with an interesting but unnecessary epilogue about how Frank Abagnale emerged from his life of crime to help the FBI start catching forgers not as smart as he was. A more concise display of how Abagnale moved on once the chase was over might have been in order, but that is hardly a deal-breaker.
3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Ambitious - it looks like live-action
Sleeping Beauty, along with the modern series of Disney films beginning with "Beauty & the Beast" and stretching through to "Treasure Planet", breaks a lot of the old rules associated with animation.
Widescreen? Why do you need widescreen in animation?
Because it gives another layer of depth to the scene, not to mention the best, purest animation that the old school studio artists ever did. Earlier work like "Snow White", "Pinnochio", "Dumbo", "Peter Pan" -- all indisputably great, but they look like, well, cartoons. "Sleeping Beauty" looks like an actual film - rich in color, detail, staging, etc.
And this is all, of course, rooted in one thing, which the unbelievably convincing artistry of the Disney staff in creating this world. The scene when Maleficent sneaks into Aurora's dressing room via the fireplace - with the dim lights, the chilly music, the perfectly timed explosion - it looks like Hitchcock more than Disney! The way the film furiously moves through its exciting rescue/battle climax, it looks like a mix of "Ben-Hur", "The Adventures of Robin Hood", "Bridge on the River Kwai", and "Casablanca".
Endlessly watchable, loveable, enchanting...the list goes on. Four stars for "Sleeping Beauty", the best of the "Classic" Disney films
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Disney's Return to Glory
When Disney first started animated films, particularly with its opening trio of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Pinnochio", and "Fantasia", the point was literally to change the way film exists, particularly in a medium such as animation which is generally regared kiddy fluff with little real cinematic value. They succeeded. Watching the early films, with the moveable images, the wonderful swirl of imagination and music, creates a whole new way of experiencing the story.
The later Disney features were a little more formulaic, but still outstanding: they found a story, ran with it, and focused on loveable characters with witty voices. Films like "Peter Pan", "Alice in Wonderland", "Lady and the Tramp", were all more like elegant pieces of pop art than real challenging stuff.
"Beauty and the Beast" re-wrote the rules. The camera flows effortlessly in and out and around a scene, creating a visual way of telling the story that's almost Spielberg-esque. Then you need a compelling cast of vocal talent, worked together flawlessly with charming music. Check off all of the above for this film.
It really was a Return to Glory for Disney, a film that touched audiences that last really loved a Disney film when "Mary Poppins" was released. 10/10.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Not quite a Top 5 Spielberg Film, But Brilliant in its own way
Spielberg's five best films are: Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, and a coin flip between Close Encounters of the Third Kind & Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. E.T. is not his masterpiece.
his over-the-top skills as a filmmaker were cemented here with his painstaking attention to detail and his fantastic, almost child-like sense of discovery. For all the complaints about its bizarre subject matter (I still can?t explain the ?invasion? of the house by freaky-looking NASA agents) the film at its core has a remarkably simple message about communication, friendship, and love. Besides, you know the little brown guy is all right when he makes an important discovery in the fridge ? potato salad bad, beer good.
If you really want to see something, see this film on digital
It won't make the acting Oscar-worthy or the dialogue any less head scratching, but seeing this film on the digital projector in all its glory is clearly, far and away the most excting "film" experience of recent memory.
Lucas has never been accused of being the world's greatest story teller (though he likes to think he is), and what he always has been is the authority for how to tell a story through pure visual imagination. While the film does lag and the acting could've been better, that isn't bothersome for this movie fan, and why? BECAUSE IT'S SO DAMN COOL!
"Clones" is saved from its own pomp and circumstance by the second half of the film - a high-octane assault on the senses of every type with pinpoint detail and incredible energy. If you aren't shocked, psyched, and having a blast when you see (alert: minor spoiler) Yoda finally busting out the whooping-saber, then your inner-child is locked up for good with no possibility of parole.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Taut and Engaging Story of the Lost Men
If you can forgive it for not having the easy to follow rent-a-plot of other war movies, such as 'Saving Private Ryan', 'The Dirty Dozen', or 'The Great Escape', then you can quickly see just how exciting and different a movie 'Black Hawk Down' is.
Some chastise it for being too impersonal about its characters, and as a result we don't exactly know what to feel when they quickly become engulfed in a firefight in the blood-soaked streets of Somalia. What you should try to see is that this is the point: these were "the lost men", who most of us would not understand if they explained what they did and why, and most of us would not care anyway. While the movie does occasionally slip away and have its moments where the soldiers wax philosophical in the heat of battle, this moments are still poignant and part of the much larger picture.
The battle scenes (or scene, I should say, as the bulk of the film's 2 hrs. and 20 mins is spent in the constant exchange of bullets) are without question the most intense and well-designed in any war film since "Saving Private Ryan". The percieved "lack" of character depth and identity, I say again, is partly intentional because when faced with this kind of situation, like the character Hoot Gibson says, it isn't about politics or love or hate or having control over who lives and who dies. It's about the guy next to you, and getting out alive. THAT'S what mattered to these guys, and that's what the movie portrays.
The film is ripped to the bone, suspenseful yet tragic, with a gritty and uncompromising twist on the genre. It is a rare achievement for filmmaking of any type: we know who we're rooting for, yet it's tough to tell who's the good guy and who's not; the film is clear about it's objectivity yet has an eerie moral ambiguity. It is not a character study, it's a tone poem, about the nature of a war and the men who fight in it, and not about the politics or the deep subthemes or any of that crap which most people decide is most important because it holds the key to getting re-elected.
Mark Bowden, who wrote the book on which the film is based, gave a perfect opening quote to his manuscript, one which adequately sums up the message of all of it:
"It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting the ultimate practitioner."