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Unfortunately, not what it could have been
I just watched the DVD of 'Drumline' and was pretty disappointed. I
was on the drumline in high school, and so I thought this flick was
right up my alley. I didn't march show-style like the bands in the
movie, but we always went to see the competitions when they
came into town and as a result I have seen some pretty amazing
stuff go down on the field.
I think the biggest problem with 'Drumline' lies squarely with the
director. The routines that he filmed, I felt, weren't worthy of the
competitions they were supposedly a part of. The "best" routine at
the end of the movie isn't really up to snuff compared to the real
thing. All of the routines are shot with that high shutter-angle trick
(think 'Saving Private Ryan') to accent the sticks and the steps, but
even with that the performances just fall flat because of, if you can
believe this, a lack of camera movement. Usually movies like this
that are geared for younger audiences are chop-chop-chop full of
rock 'n roll cinematography and edits, but oddly 'Drumline' is very
static, to its own detriment.
The script and the acting aren't any better or worse than any other
movie like this. I did have a bit of a problem with the relationship
between the band director and the dean, which seemed rather
phony. If the dean wants funkier music, then he should just order
it be so. Suddenly we're faced with a band director who spends
the whole movie going on about order and sacrifice for the greater
good, and firmly establishing his belief in the chain of command,
but has a problem with his own superior? I didn't buy this for a
I really wanted this movie to be good, but it just wasn't. This is by
no means the worst movie you'll ever see, not even close. It's just
passable when it could have been great given the subject matter.
I guess we're going to have to wait a little longer for a movie that
gives marching bands their due justice. Horns up!
Human Nature (2001)
More Pretentious Kaufman Blather...
The credit "Written by Charlie Kaufman" is on its way to being the
new "Produced by Lawrence Bender" or "Directed by Peter
Bogdanovich." What once was an exciting prospect, has now
been run down by the credited person's own inability to reproduce
past glories. 'Human Nature' is so weak, so dull, and so...insipid
that I don't really know how to start. I know! I'll write a comment
about how hard it is to start writing the comment to this movie!
That ought to really get the Kaufman fans in a dither!
Anyway, this movie tries to say big things about humanity and
nature and instince vs. culture, blah blah blah. Hey film makers!
I'm out here! I'm looking for some entertainment, not a 96 minute
anthropology thesis with boobs. How about you all just back away
from the typewriters and coke long enough to make a movie for ME
the audience member and not just for your 8 friends who think
Geez, this movie really sucks. I guess if you have to sum it up, I
guess it's a modern take on the Greystoke legend (that's Tarzan
for you young'uns), but substituting the adventure and compassion
for quirkiness and ironic snobbery. Oh, and masturbation. Always
crucial to fine film making is adding compulsive masturbation to
the lead's character arc. I would recommend renting this movie if
you hate yourself or the people you're with.
This movie is bad. Sorry.
I saw 'Adaptation' last night and was very disappointed.
The problem wasn't in the performances, which I thought were
excellent, nor Spike Jonze's direction, but rather with Kaufman's
screenplay. Like a bad stand-up comic who has to alert the
audience whenever there's a punchline, Kaufman seems to feel
the need to ask "Get It!?" once his ideas start to take form. "Wait,
you see, the film winds up having a 'Hollywood' ending even
though it's the bane of the writer's existence, meanwhile
commenting on the state of the film industry and artistic integrity.
Get it!?" The idea of making a movie about making the movie that
catches up with itself mid-way through isn't even that original.
Geez, the did that in 'Spaceballs.' And regarding the film's
pseudo-ironic ending, Altman already worked that idea (to a much
better effect) in 'The Player.' I think Kaufman is talented and is
capable of really original things, but unfortunately, 'Adaptation' isn't
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Not really a documentary...
I saw this movie last night and I must say that I'm not really a fan of Michael Moore, largely because I think that he uses good subject matter to promote himself over the "cause" sometimes. 'Bowling for Columbine' is an amazing film though, and everyone should see it.
This is a more focused, older, and better funded Michael Moore, and he has created an incredible piece of propaganda for the left. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but you're kidding yourself if you think this movie isn't as self-serving and one-sided as many of the NRA videos and 50's television commercials that are presented throughout the film as comic fare. I thought that Marilyn Manson spoke the most insightful and intelligent words that anyone has uttered on screen in ages, and the scenes of the Columbine killings with overlapping 911 calls were chilling and heartbreaking.
On the downside, Moore still insists on playing the Nazi card WAY too often, and occasionally in err of history. The montage of American military/Middle East and Central American terror/dismembered and dead children along with Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World' is the stuff of B-grade student film, played more for weak irony and black humor rather than for effective power and poignancy.
Regardless, this film is an amazing example of well thought out, well executed propaganda. If its message appeals to your politics, then good. If not, the film can still be enjoyed for it's persuasive powers. It does not present objective fact, but rather is a carefully carved out work that is designed to make you see one distinctive side of an issue. In that sense, 'Bowling for Columbine' has more in common with 'Judd Suss' than it does with, say, 'Woodstock-the Movie' or 'Hearts of Darkness.' Moore uses a superiorly deft hand at making the audience see things his way, largely through his gift for humor and wit. At one point Moore inserts a few minutes of Chris Rock's 'Bigger and Blacker' video, which are extremely funny. The audience will laugh at Chris, but after the movie is over, will only remember what a funny movie 'BFC' is. It is the same technique that has sold millions of records for Puff Daddy: give 'em a groove they already know, and they'll buy it because it's "new." That, my friends, is successful mind control, and Michael Moore is to be praised, for he possesses a gift for it. The important thing is to keep that in mind every time he gives us a new "documentary" to consider. 9/10
The Ring (2002)
An unfortunate let-down
Fill in the blanks:
Our film begins when _________ mysteriously dies as a result of having accidentally stumbled onto a _________ with strange supernatural powers. It turns out that when the characters see the ________, a female voice then tells them that they have ______ days to live, after which a creepy little girl shows up to usher in their untimely deaths. The only real way to solve the mystery is to have the main character subject him/herself to the ________, thus putting them in harm's way and the ____ day countdown begins. At the very last minute, our hero discovers that the cause of all the commotion is because the creepy girl was murdered by ________ and just wants her soul set free.
Is this the plot line for 'Feardotcom' or for 'The Ring?' Unfortunately, it's both. 'The Ring' is by far the better of the two films, with superior acting, pacing, effects, and script. It also tacks on a pretty interesting twist to the "little girl done wrong" story, which I presume is what will ultimately set this film apart from its cinematic doppelganger. However the backbone of 'The Ring' is so strikingly similar to 'Feardotcom', that I ultimately felt like I had already seen this flick before, and it sucked. Very, very disappointing.
I also felt that the film-makers chose their path too early on. Four teenagers die in the opening sequence (almost entirely off-screen) as a result of having seen "the tape" (as it comes to be known). After some sleuthing, our main character Naomi Watts discovers the tape, watches it, and begins the countdown to her demise lest she solve the mystery. At this point, we can assume that either she will succeed and live (very probable), or will fail and die, leaving the peripheral characters to pick up the slack (not very probable-this IS American cinema after all). And that's just it. We know that if anyone is going to die on screen, it has to be Naomi Watts first, and I just didn't believe that was going to happen. Now, there is the now-obligatory twist at the end, so the audience doesn't go home completely unsatisfied, but the explanation is sketchy and it's too little, way too late. 4/10.
The Rules of Attraction (2002)
Terrible, Terrible, Terrible
I absolutely hated this movie. From beginning to end, it was the epitome of all things that are loathesome about the movies in this day and age. Based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name, 'The Rules of Attraction' follows the lives of a handful of well-to-do college students over the course of one (presumably typical) semester. Along the way our characters do boatloads of drugs, have sex with the entire cast, and pontificate just "what it all means."
Wait a minute: Are you telling me that endless money, drugs and even hot teen-idol sex won't make you happy on the inside? Geez Mr. Cleaver, I never thought about it like that.
Apparently that seems to be the crux of Ellis' thematic existence. 'Less Than Zero?' Oh yeah, that was the one about rich youth run wild with orgiastic sex and drugs. 'American Psycho?' Greed, faceless sex drugs and violence amongst - you guessed it - the young and rich (stock brokers this time. Ah Hah!). I can't decide whether or not Ellis envies or condemns his characters, but it can't be both at the same time. Someone either needs to give him the opportunity to do bumps of coke off of a cheerleader's breasts while he gets sodomized by some sensitive art student, or forgive him for having done it in the past. Maybe then we'll be free of this patronistic garbage.
As for the rest of the film, hack director Roger Avery does his best "bull in a China shop" impersonation, utilizing every camera gimmick...er...technique at his disposal; further proving that the worst part of Tarantino's rise to fame wasn't the endless 'Pulp Fiction' rip-offs, but rather the dismal resulting careers he started for his friends. The whole movie smacks of such counter-stereotype that it actually becomes quite typical. Look! It's respected actress Lauren Hutton popping pills with Swoozie Kurtz! Shocking! There's those goodie-two-shoes actors from nice TV shows like Dawson's Creek, 7th Heaven, and the Wonder Years taking drugs and having sex and saying "the F-word" a lot. Ooooooh. I know, I know, it boggles the mind that any actor would take this kind of risky role, right? Whatever. Why does EVERYONE decide to do this kind of thing and act as if they're the first ones to do it, like this is the way to build a well-rounded career? Remember that one time when Jimmy Stewart played a whore-slapping pimp? No. Remember when Audrey Hepburn did that threesome scene and then killed everyone with her stiletto heels? Not really.
To cap all of this off (the "rebellious" casting, the film-student-style obsessive camera tricks) director Avery then jams the soundtrack full of hip, retro 80's nostalgia (thanks again, Quentin!). However, Avery uses these songs to state the mood of the scenes rather than compliment them. Hey Mr. Avery: It's YOUR job - not the Cure, Erasure, and P.I.L.'s - to make me understand your character's feelings and motivations. Normally a competent director and screenwriter would do this through a symbiosis of character development and deft camera work. But, if you lack these abilities, just pick a song that everyone in your target demographic danced to at their prom and thus already can make an emotional attachment.
'The Rules of Attraction' is lowest-common-denominator film making at its gutteral worst. Save your money. Save your time. Right now, hopefully, you the reader haven't already seen this flick. It's two hours of your life that you can still hold on to.
You have to ask yourself
About halfway through M. Night Shyamalan's 'Signs,' Mel Gibson's character tries to console his younger brother (Joaquin Phoenix) by posing this question: Is he the type of person who sees the signs and believes them to be divine, or is he the type who simply writes them off as coincidence? Mel then raises the stakes a bit by qualifying that the former type will be comforted in knowing that they are not alone, that God is with them regardless of how things turn out. The latter, however, do not have that comfort, and will live their lives knowing that they are alone. While Mel's farmer-under-attack probably won't be getting any job offers from Hallmark any time soon, his statements form the core of the film, and ultimately will determine how you the viewer feel when the credits roll.
If you are the type of person who plans on going into 'Signs' waiting for this year's greatest suprise ending, then you'll definately get it. Suprise! There's not one. What Shyamalan has created is a superb rural science-fiction picture that works terrifically as a summer popcorn thriller, and as arthouse-type discussion fodder. He gives you a lot of thrills for your buck, and the atmosphere is genuinely creepy throughout. The camera direction is extremely tight, hiding the evils that may (or may not) be lurking just beyond the visibility of the actors and the audience. It's almost as if the viewers are wearing blinders, forcing them to look only where the director wants them to. Much like and escalating roller-coaster, we know we're about to take a huge plunge but we still can't see anything but the top of the hill.
Interestingly, Shyamalan turns the "big question" on his own audience. It is either truly brilliant or totally egotistical (probably both) to actually guilt-trip your audience into liking your film. If you are the type of person who believes what you are shown as intentional displays of the higher power (the film director as God), then you will be rewarded with an enjoyable film experience. If you choose to disregard the director's intent, and pass pieces of the film off as coincidence or, more "blasphemously," as poor sci-fi filmmaking, then you are like the film's hopeless characters, lost and alone. Most importantly, as you walk away from 'Signs,'ask yourself how many times in the last hour-and-a-half you had to squeeze your date's arm just a little harder for comfort. This should be the true sign that you have been in a master's hands.
An overrated novelty of a film
'Cronos' tends to get a lot of honorable mention whenever it is brought up in articles or reviews, largely due to director Guillermo Del Toro's ever-rising star. However, even as a fan of his work, I found this film to be stunningly dull and poorly acted.
The story is a twist on the vampire legend, centering on a mysterious golden mechanical scarab known as the Cronos which can provide eternal (or at least radically extended) life. Unfortunately, along with youth, the Cronos also causes a craving for human blood. An aging antiques dealer discovers the Cronos and unwittingly uses it, while Ron Perlman and his evil/rich uncle repeatedly try to make it their own.
Unfortunately, what follows is sub-par at best, and the execution is downright laughable. From the sexy blonde that graces the video sleeve (and is not in a single frame of the film), to the 'Magnum P.I.'-style opening titles, to the excruciating bilingual dialogue, this is simply B-grade moviemaking with no personality to speak of. 'Cronos' is not suspenseful, nor is it atmospheric or scary. The gore is not gross, and the bad guys and monsters aren't threatening. Not to mention the always-intriguing Ron Perlman's hack performance and bad accent. What is a French-Canadian doing in Mexico? What is he doing in this film? Why can't he at least try to speak Spanish all the time? How much potential production value did the producers waste on this guy's salary?
I have no problem with low budget (or even inexperienced) filmmaking, and the horror genre is one that can definately succeed within those limited confines (see 'Halloween'), but here Del Toro's budding touches are so subtle they might as well not even be there. I am glad to say that he has gotten increasingly better with each film, and those interested in pursuing his works will ultimately come across 'Cronos.' The novelty of that reason is the only excuse anyone should have for renting this loser.
Under Suspicion (2000)
Let's talk about the ending SPOILER??
For the most part, 'Under Suspicion' is a decent movie with a cast that seems better on paper (or the movie's sleeve) than they do on the screen. This is the type of movie that would appeal to people who like the concept of David Mamet's movies, but without his cardboard dialogue technique.
The films centers around Hackman, a rich and famous tax attorney(?!!) who is being questioned by police (Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane) regarding the discovery of two little girls who have been raped and strangled. For the next 100 minutes, the police use various techniques to coax the "truth" out of Hackman. It is this process that ultimately deflates the film. The evidence overwhelmingly points to Hackman. His statements are almost instantly discredited by other witnesses, and, most tellingly, the police are, "100% f**king positive" he's guilty. With all this stacked against him, the viewer, if he or she has ever been to the movies, HAS TO KNOW he's probably innocent. And guess what?...
The solution to the police's dilemma comes in the form of a 'deus ex machina' so ridiculous, that it not only leaves the viewer feeling unsatisfied, but it actually insults everything we've been shown previously. If we are to believe the ending we're given, then all the evidence we've been shown is 'strictly coincidence.' Given what the evidence is (the director is just shy of actually showing Hackman commit the crime and waving a huge flag at the scene reading "I did it! Nyah Nyah!"),the audience is forced to wonder whether the director incompetently lost his way, or if he just thinks we're that dumb. It is this quandry that provides the film's only real mystery.
worth a second look...
Guillermo Del Toro's 'Mimic' is definately worth a second look for those who may have seen it and passed judgement during its theatrical release. Yes, the box art is derivitive of every other creature-feature released at the time (see: Phantoms, etc.), but don't let that mislead you. The film does follow some pretty standard pacing (for the genre) and there isn't much mystery as to what will be the "science" of the monsters' demise. However, with director Del Toro's growing presence as a fresh new voice in the horror genre (Blade II, The Devil's Backbone), 'Mimic' has taken on some new characteristics. Present are several of Del Toro's trademark themes, i.e. Man vs. A Monster He Created, Monsters Through the Eyes of a Child, to name a couple. You even get the director's penchant for for religious imagery, which he uses quite interestingly, as he does not use it in the Damien/Omen way we're so tediously used to. 'Mimic' is not the best film in Del Toro's still young career, but it's worth looking into for its style and decent popcorn thrills and gore.