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Run All Night (2015)
A Drama Taken
Jimmy (Liam Neeson) and Shawn (Ed Harris) are gangsters who go way back. While mob boss Shawn may not exactly seem to be happy in his life, at least he seems to be satisfied with who he is and what he's accomplished. He's the guy who is always in control and "doesn't make mistakes". His wild days are behind him. Now he prefers playing things safe and smart.
Shawn's henchman Jimmy on the other hand is haunted by the memories of the people he killed and the evil he's done. He's a disgraced alcoholic who lives off a decade long friendship with and his loyalty to Shawn.
Both men have sons who turned out pretty differently. While Shawn's son embraces his father's sins and then some, Jimmy's son is so appalled by what his father did that he doesn't want anything to do with him.
Now rather unfortunate circumstances force Jimmy to kill Shawn's son (who was after Jimmy's son) and the decade long friendship between Shawn and Jimmy spirals out of control. As does the movie.
Up to this point we have a perfectly fine crime drama that works thanks to credible characters we care about brought to life by fine actors. Unfortunately after the dead sons kicks off the main plot, "Run All Night" turns into a by-the-number post-Taken Liam Neeson outing. I still kind of cared about who is shooting who because the first act left such a strong emotional impression. But it still felt like the Taken-part was shoehorned in to meet the audiences' expectations.
That leads to tonal problems that are amplified by some directorial choices that leap too far to the "Taken"-spectrum of the movie. (Mind certain scene transitions, you will know what I mean).
Now, I really liked the first Taken movie. But the first 20 minutes of "Run All Night" sucked me into something more akin to last year's "The Drop" than to a standard Nesson outing and I wish they would have stuck with what this movie actually was.
So, "Run All Night" is simultaneously a fine crime drama and a standard Neeson actioner. It does the first part far better than the second. "Taken"-fans will get more depth here than they bargained for but no matter where you stand and whether you like drama or action, you're gonna leave the movie with the feeling that it wasn't half bad. Which half that is entirely depends on you.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Incoherent campy fun
This movie has its merits. It's good campy fun, and director Ronny Yu gives us some visuals that are extremely cool to watch at. Any flick that features Jason going up in flames, walking through a corn field, slashing ravers with his machete is fine with me.
But seriously, at times Yu manages to make this camp fest look awesome. There's a fight scene close to the end where Jason and Freddy beat the crap out of each other at a construction side by night which is hilarious and almost iconic.
The movie knows what it is, never takes itself too seriously, gives fans of the genre a better time than most of the predecessors of both franchises.
The plot (Freddy is almost forgotten by people so he sends Jason to Elm Street hoping that people will think that Jason's rampage is Freddy's work so he can nourish on their fear) is ludicrous but as good as the set up allows it to be.
Nevertheless, even from a movie like this it's not too much to ask for some coherence within itself and within the franchises. From that point of you, much can be held against it.
First of all, Freddy slays teenagers, he doesn't kill adults. (He does so in Part 7: Freddy's New Nightmare, but that movie was meant rather as a satire than a legit part of the mythology). But there's a crucial back story in FvJ that sees Freddy kill the mother of one protagonist clearly a violation of the Nightmare-myth.
When Freddy enters the teenager's dreams, they are asleep. They don't actually walk around doing stuff, they are lying somewhere, sleeping. Funnily enough, at the convenience of the plot, sometimes they're actually doing what they're doing in their dreams, and sometimes if it's not convenient for the plot - they don't. (Consider the scene where Freeburg is spilling the hypnocil, clearly a dream sequence, but he's actually doing it).
So two teenagers had dreams of a man in a hat. Another man with a hockey mask and a machete just went berserk at a rave party. Based on that information, would you be able to conclude that one undead serial killer magically resurrected another undead serial killer in order for the second one to pave the first one's way into the teenager's dreams where he's powerful enough to kill them (which of course is exactly what has happened)? No? Well, the dumbest kids on earth draw that conclusion within minutes.
They are also able to act upon facts they can't possibly know. Consider the scene where Lori and Will hurry to Mark's house. How do they know he's having a nightmare in that very moment? By the way, I can only imagine but if Freddy murdered my family, I was committed to a psychiatric institution and broke out one day, I guess I wouldn't have the keys to my family's house which is still there with all the old furniture even though no one has been living there for at least four years.
Some fight scenes, as hilarious as they are, don't make sense in a physical way. Sometimes they couldn't decide whether one person was standing up or lying down. The distance between two spots can obviously vary. It takes them a minute to go from A to B, but only seconds to be back. Of course you can blame it all on bad editing, but somehow I don't think that it's that.
However, in spite of all these flaws, I've watched the film 20 times and it still entertains. I would love a sequel, but I don't think it's going to happen.
The Master (2012)
A lyric bromance
I don't see why The Master" needs decoding. It strikes me as a pretty forward film even though not everything is spoken out explicitly. You can argue that this is a take on scientology and I'm inclined to make that point. The movie's cult "The Cause" is a mixture of psychology, philosophy, religious glorification, Sci Fi and mentoring programs featuring methods of repetitive annoyance. The resemblance is apparent.
But first and foremost this is a bromance about one exorbitant and lost soul Feddie (J. Phoenix) and one happy dominator Lancaster Dodd (P.S. Hoffman). There seems to be confusion as to what's going on between these two men and why it is they break up in the end. The answer lies within their well-drawn characters.
Freddie just came back from WWII that left him estranged. I take it he wasn't all too sound to begin with. His sexual behavior and drinking problem are just two of the most obvious expressions of his excessiveness that often leaves him expelled from his co-people. Acting out drunk and masturbating in public seems to be the 101 of alienating people. But like all social outcasts what they really need is acceptance and some understanding. For example, he forms a naked woman out of sand on the beach and lays with her. The sand-lady we can be sure doesn't mind his shortcomings.
As far as my memory goes we learn close to nothing about Lancaster's origin. We get to know him as an intellectual, self-confident cult leader trying to lead people to inner freedom by biting and controlling their behavior. There are some hints as to what got him there. He loves to drink the poisonous stuff Freddie home brews for people (and mostly himself). Lancaster, too, has some unsettled sexual urges (a tautology, anyone?) which is referenced in the scene where Lancaster lets his female followers dance and sing naked through the house (which leads to his wife, portrayed by Amy Adams, telling him to refrain from this method and to giving him a, well, hand job). So Lancaster has some of Freddie's excessive qualities in himself too. The "Cause" could be his way to deal with his unsolved matters and it might actually work for him. Anyhow, Lancaster is really far more ambiguous than Freddie at least he is to me. But it's safe to say: he loves to be adored and obeyed.
By now it should be clear why the two men fall for each other. Their relationship Is really quite functional. Freddie wants to be accepted and appreciated. Lancaster wants someone he can control and form in his own way. By submitting to him, Freddie gives Lancaster what he wants even though he doesn't believe in the cult's teachings ("He's making that stuff up as he goes along"). By accepting Freddie with all his flaws, Lancaster gives Freddie what he wants. They fit as perfectly as sadists and masochists do. But it's not healthy and, in the end, doesn't work.
The crucial scene that ultimately leads to their break up is the motorcycle scene some found confusing. They're on an open plain. First Lancaster focuses on a distant point, rides there and comes back. Then it's Freddie's turn. He focuses on a distant point and starts riding the motor cycle never to come back again. The "Cause" couldn't put him on a leash. Freddie will not be controlled. And that's when it all falls apart.
Lancaster only accepts Freddie's flaws if he can make him "better", if Freddie improves in Lancaster's eyes. That, he obviously doesn't. Freddie adores Lancaster only if Lancaster accepts him as he is. When Lancaster's wife (who might just be the actual brains of the operation) tells Freddie to quit boozing, she hints that Freddie's not accepted. On the long run their bromance had to fail. In the final analysis (to sound presidential): "The Master" is a psychological take on cults like Scientology and the people that are driven to them leaving us with the conclusion: it just doesn't work.
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Resurrected by Whedon
While the first three installments were dark space creature tales stripped of all hope and mercy "Alien: Resurrection" changes the tone significantly. The fourth time around what we get is a sci fi actioner, a fun ride through space with aliens as a mere gimmick. Die hard alien heads might be unforgiving - and with good reason. If you don't care for the franchise but love yourself a gory laugh, you're in for a face hugging, chest bursting treat.
The atmosphere has changed and here is why: The Ripley of A4 is not the Ripley we once knew - for the simple fact that she's dead. Weaver is actually playing Ripley's clone number 8, a clone with a xenomorphic vengeance. Her blood is acid, her powers are strong. Aliens won't touch her as they consider Ripley as one of them. So... where's the suspense when we needn't worry about the heroine? Clone number 8 doesn't worry about itself very much either. Instead of a deadly serious, protective female what we get is a cynical, indifferent thing with super powers. That's fun to watch, but is it frighting? Is it breath taking? Is it menacing? Nah...
And then there's Dan Hedaya playing the boss of the space ship and the comic relief. But what it is he comically relieves us from is beyond me. His overacting is totally out of line and makes no sense, not even in Whedon's Alien universe. Good thing he's killed of quite soon.
Then we're manipulated in falling for Winona's character. Don't. Not worth it.
Ron Perlman and Leland Orser are mixing it up a little.
But there was no moment I wasn't somehow entertained. Nice action, disgusting creatures and tons of fun action sequences kept me awake after a hard day at the office.
If you know the feeling, you'll be able to enjoy this.
Game Change (2012)
Biased my party affiliation
Loved it. Every revealing second of it. It took me some minutes to accept that Ed Harris was McCain. As for Julianne Moore - was she really in that picture? I didn't see her. All I saw was the former VP nominee struggling through the most demanding process in politics. And as for the naysayers: I didn't consider Game Change to be biased. Of course you wouldn't, those who know me would say. You're a liberal hack with John Edwards on the far right of you. True, true. But the point is: my opinion of Sarah Palin was on the up through the entire movie. Now instead of pure evil I think of her as a nice, maybe even well meaning person, an unpolitical one though. She just had no clue of, well, anything (after all the interviews you can't really make the argument she's an expert on actual issues). I myself am a political activist and I see it all time; small time politicians who don't have any clue what they're talking about (they're to be found in every party). So this movie is absolutely convincing to me. McCain was portrayed as the honest, well meaning GOP-front runner I always considered him to be. I enjoyed his concession speech even more than I did Obamas victory speech. But one thing we all should take away from this - whether we like Palin or not: the multimedia age has changed not only the system but also the people. It is far more important to be a great communicator than anything else. You can have the debate of a lifetime (which Palin had when she blasted Biden) with so much as a few great lines, even if you don't know what they mean. This was true for Palin, and it is true for so many others, no matter on what side of the party lines there standing.
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
He who doubts the pope must be the devil
"Is God dead?" asks the cover of the Time Magazin Rosemary is holding in her hands while she's waiting for the doctor. And really, this question is the undertone of the whole film. Other reviewers mentioned the biblical references in the movie, so I don't need to get into that.
But what is if God's dead? Of course, Satan will rule the earth according to Mr. Polanski. The nice old couple next door is taking the holiness of the pope in question? Well of course they do, cause they are evil witches serving the Beelzebub. Because there's nothing in between, there's just black and white. If we stop believing in God and Christianity, "Rosemary's Baby" will show us what we get.
So one might call this a fundamentalist masterpiece. It's true horror not because there's gore or in my mind maddening suspense but because it deconstructs an idyll. A young couple moves in a new apartment wishing to multiply. As Polanski said himself, the film basically starts out like a Doris-Day-flick, but boy doesn't it end that way. The slow pacing, the creepy undertone behind the pretense of normality and the great acting, especially by Mrs. Gordon, make this a masterpiece that contradicts almost everything that passes as horror these days. If you notice a simple cheap effect in this, give me a call.
Of course there's an enormous gab between the subtle ton of the film and its loutish message. But I guess that's what effective propaganda is all about. Relucantly acknowledging 8 out of 10 stars for my money.
The benefit of the doubt
Guys, you don't treat a film like a party manifesto. It's a form of art. In the case of Recount it's the art of telling a recent historical event with many facts and complex situations turning it into a suspenseful drama. Directing, acting and writing are decent. Similar political movies like The Special Relationship work better in terms of dramatization and character development. Recount on the other hand is kind of busy keeping up with the facts (I don't wanna argue that all in the film is true, that's hardly the point). All in all, it's 7 out of 10 stars "for my money" (now, what kind of expression is that, anyway?).
Democracy could be so easy: people vote by marking a circle next to the name of their candidate, a committee counts the votes manually, and the candidate with the most votes gets elected. End of story. The rest is BS.
Unfortunately it didn't work in Florida of 2000 that way. People where prevented from voting because they shared their names with a felon (and where black, by the way, and I can't see how this wasn't the work of Jeb Bush). People's votes weren't counted because the chad were dimpled and not penetrated (yeah, I know Beavis...). People just couldn't see who they were voting for cause the chad were so confusing ....
Listen, I'm not saying W. didn't win this at the end of the day (I'm not saying he did either). All I know is every voted is worth to be (re-)counted. The GOP tried everything to prevent that from happening. They did a lot of spinning, so that some of their victims would now say: but Gore only wanted to count the Gore votes... blah blah... They wanted to recount those districts where Buchanan got so many votes he couldn't believe it himself. There wasn't enough time to recount the whole state so of course smart Republicans said that that was what they wanted. One side fought for every vote to be counted, one didn't. Now, you can question the motives, but how about giving that the benefit of the doubt for once? Democracy is the right of the people to get their vote counted. Democracy means your vote won't just get thrown away. Let's be partisan about it. Cause I'm not sorry for it. End of story.
Shutter Island (2010)
Deja vu all over again
It isn't even a real spoiler anymore to state that a modern mystery thriller has got another "alter ego"- plot point in the end. Oh, how surprising. The main character finds out that the he himself is Tyler Durden/a dead guy with a hole in the stomach/a bunch of people in a motel/the author of the mysterious book/the house ghost/the invisible friend of his daughter/John Turturro wearing a stupid head... Yeah, it's deja vu all over again. Shutter Island is a decent, exciting horror thriller. Scorsese and all the fine actors from Leo to Ted Levine, from Mark Ruffalo to Max von Sydow, from Carol Lynch to Patricia Clarkson, they did a damn fine job. The only flaw is that it ends the same way thrillers end since 1998. So one more time, let's say it all together: BORING!
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Miscast without a cause
Between all the new stuff I like watching a real classic once in a while. Sometimes I really enjoy them. I liked Casablanca a lot and loved North by Northwest. Even though they're old and some lines seem out of time and some plot points seem too obvious cause they were copied hundreds of times, they have a certain flair that makes them watchable. In the case of Rebel without a cause, I fear, this wasn't the case. People in their Mid- Twenties play characters who go to High School. James Dean was a grown up man but acts like a 13 year old through out the movie. It was so ridiculous, I thought at first: Wait, was this supposed to be a parody? The only character that wasn't miscast was Plato. It just didn't fit. But that wasn't the only problem. Take for example the scene after the chicken run. Judy's boyfriend just died in a car accident, but then Jim gives her back her make-up mirror and she's happy again. Come on! I'm not willing to believe that people were so stupid back in the 50ies. And it wasn't just James Dean's rebel that had no cause. Hardly anything that anybody did in this movie had any kind of reason at all. It was anarchy, and you could argue that that was the point of the movie, but I consider that lack of motivation for the character's actions were indeed a failure in the attempted psychological approach. It was overdone, and the casting problems made this entire picture hard to cope with. To me it seemed like a B-movie, not a classic in any way.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Ironically enough, I fell asleep
I'm always very willing to go see Michael Bay's re-imaginations of cult-horror pictures of the 70ies. I was satisfied with Chainsaw, especially with the prequel, but Friday and Nightmare... I don't know. The originals were accidentally funny. Watching them, I always hoped somebody would finally make them right. You know, with a budget, with great gore, with a screenplay that actually manages to add some suspense to the plot, not just depending on the sound effects. But then Friday and Nightmare turned out to be nothing more then the originals: the same killings, the same lines, the same showdown all over again. There's nothing new to it, so it's not quite a re-imagination, it's a recreating. So what's the point (beside making money)? I would have loved a decent remake. But watching this has no surplus in entertainment compared to the seven movies before. Sad to say: Freddy vs. Jason was the climax. At least it was very funny. Now it's getting boring again. Maybe people were scared of Freddy back in the 80ies. Today he's a given. Why so serious? Make it more thrilling, gorier, funnier, whatever- ier. This is the 21st century. We need superlatives!