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One Night at McCool's (2001)
One of my favorite films
This is one of the finest scripts I have ever seen, with fabulous character acting to bring it to life, so I'm truly confused as to why One Night at McCools has received such mediocre ratings here. This is one of the few films I return to over and over again whenever I want to laugh. There aren't many films that can continue to make you laugh after multiple viewings, so I can't help but give One Night at McCools high praise.
What makes the script so clever is that it is the same story told from three different perspectives (i.e., by three different characters), and each character's bias in telling the story is clearly evident without going over the top. The filmmaker did an excellent job overall with continuity, which is crucial for a film like this, since many scenes had to be filmed multiple times, from each character's perspective. For example, Matt Dillon's character, Randy, was a pretty decent guy from his own perspective, but behaved like a "human obscenity" from Detective Dehling's point of view. To make those scenes work there must be continuity in blocking, dialogue, etc., and the filmmaker nailed it for the most part.
Unfortunately, this style of film-making requires the viewer to think a little bit, and I believe that is the source of so many mediocre reviews.
Casting is perfect: Matt Dillon is the gullible nice guy who loses everything he has to a woman, without the formality of a marriage and divorce. Paul Reiser is a pretentious, self-absorbed attorney with a penchant for bondage. John Goodman plays a good cop who is instantly saved from grief over his wife's death by a delusion. And of course, Liv Tyler just oozes sensuality as the femme fatale of the story.
The supporting cast of Michael Douglas, Andrew Dice Clay, Richard Jenkins and Reba McEntire are excellent in their respective roles--especially Andrew Dice Clay's portrayal of two characters with similarly mean temperaments.
Some of the one-liners in this film easily rank with comedy genius that made Monty Python and the Holy Grail, A Fish Called Wanda, and Mystery Men into highly quotable films. Paul Reiser in particular, who I generally can't stand to watch for very long, finds a role that fits his style perfectly here.
I also felt that the cinematography and lighting were fabulous. Just look at the lighting inside the crowded bar, or inside the church. I notice how well this was done more and more with each subsequent viewing, but when you first watch the film it merely enhances the storytelling. So the filmmakers deserve a lot of credit there.
The bottom line is that most people will definitely find this film well worth watching, and many will probably add it to their favorites list. So I highly recommend watching One Night at McCools to see what it does for you.
Sci-Fi With a Real Message
The Day The Earth Stood Still continues to rank as one of the most popular sci-fi "cult" films more than 50 years after its release, and with good reason: it reduces an important, timeless message for humanity to its essence.
This film calls for much suspension of disbelief. For example, only two youthful, incompetent soldiers guard a giant UFO parked in Washington DC. The special effects aren't bad, but at times rank only slightly above the special effects that made Ed Wood infamous. However, it is easy to overlook the "cheese" in this film, thanks to a strong story and fine acting.
This film is definitely worth watching because of Michael Rennie's magnificent portrayal of an alien (Klatu) trying to understand human behavior. Almost the entire story is told by Klatu's reactions to what he sees and hears. Only one speech, at the very end, articulates the film's message in words, and this is probably a good thing, lest even this valid message begin to sound like preaching.
The music score, featuring one of the earliest uses of the spooky-sounding Theremin (made famous by the Star Trek theme), adds an essential character to the film. Without that music, the film's pacing would have been too slow. Combined with the music, however, the pacing is almost perfect.
The special edition DVD is rather sparse on features, but they are some of the finest features I've seen on DVD. The 70-minute documentary and audio commentary with the original filmmakers actually focuses on how the film was made, rather than telling what a great guy the assistant grip was. Anyone interested in how films are actually made will thoroughly enjoy these special features, and learn a lot about film-making.
Watching the film again in 2005, I'm made conscious of the fact that our political (and business) leaders still haven't gotten the message, while almost every other segment of society has evolved beyond medieval notions that violence is the answer to every problem. If Klatu landed in Washington DC today, I suspect a high-ranking member of our current government would shoot him first and probably never ask questions.
And that is precisely why The Day The Earth Stood Still's message is still important today.
The Graduate (1967)
Not As Good As They Say
I was born the year The Graduate was released, but only watched it for the first time yesterday. I had heard all the praise, the hype, and academic analysis of why The Graduate was one of the greatest films ever made. I already knew about the Robinson affair, and even about the importance of "plastics". So clearly this film was influential. Otherwise, how could I know so much about it without actually watching it? I also kept seeing The Graduate toward the top of the IMDb's 50 Most Popular Comedies, which kept reminding me that I must watch this film one day. Not with the same anticipation I look forward to each new Star Wars installment, but definitely with interest and high expectations.
So I finally watched it, 37 years after it was released, and instantly recognized that it's not a very good film.
On the positive side, the casting is excellent, and the acting superb. Dustin Hoffman's uncomfortable awkwardness at the beginning is genuinely funny, and holds your attention. And let's face it, who doesn't want to watch him be seduced by Anne Bancroft? But after a while this humor becomes nothing more than comic relief in an otherwise dreadful film that lacks a real story, and somehow manages to simultaneously trudge along like a dirge, while developing the story by introducing major changes almost instantly. For example, we watch the main character Benjamin stand, sit, lie down, stare and think about things that are never revealed to us for minutes on end, wondering when the story will ever get moving again. Then he suddenly meets a girl and decides he loves and wants to marry her after just one date. Realism clearly wasn't a goal here.
Furthermore, the lead character, Benjamin, has no goals, interests, ambitions, or purpose. He's not fun, or intentionally funny. He doesn't exhibit any talent, and not much knowledge for a "graduate". He's a man without a personality, and when the film was over I was still trying to figure out what an older woman and her daughter could possibly have liked or loved about this character. Benjamin is a boring person.
So what was the appeal of The Graduate? I suspect it was a sign of the times in 1967 that shocking audiences with a young man-older woman affair and dysfunctional families would result in strong sales and praise, much like "All in the Family" would do for television four years later. But "All in the Family" was really funny, and focused. Each week it made important points in a highly entertaining way, then the episode was over. The Graduate seems to make only one point: We are going to show you some social taboos you've never seen before, on the pretext of a deeper story about a young man who is disillusioned by America's growing fascination with the material world.
In fact, it's really just a vehicle for showing a young man having an affair with an older married woman, in 1967. That's all it really is. And in the 21st century, that ain't nothing' new.
To make matters worse, The Graduate has the most annoying soundtrack of any film I've seen. It is merely repetition of the same few Simon & Garfunkel songs. During one particularly tedious section of the film, the song "Are You Going To Scarborough Fair" is played not once, not twice, not even three times in a row. It is played four times in a row! And this is a traditional English song about a town in England, not the WASP suburbs of California. Indeed, the lyrics throughout the film have absolutely nothing to do with the story, aside from mentioning "Mrs. Robinson" in the title track. This is an example of great songs being thrown together to create an awful soundtrack.
Director Mike Nichols won an Oscar, presumably for using some clever camera angles and transitions here and there. Yet I would think the primary job of a director is not to use innovative visual tricks, but to ensure that the finished product tells a good story in a compelling manner, keeping the audience's attention, entertaining them throughout, and leaving them with thoughts and emotions to deal with after the film has ended. When The Graduate ended, my only emotion was relief that this film was finally over.
So with all due respect to a great cast, and to the warm legacy The Graduate has enjoyed, I cannot recommend watching this film unless you are mainly interested in the nostalgia. 5/10 (almost entirely for Hoffman's performance).
A Very Good Film
I found this little gem in the bargain bin and liked the theme, so I thought I'd give it a try. And it more than delivered.
Here is a truly thoughtful satire that considers what it really means to be a "hero". More important, it seeks to find the heroic in everyday peoples' actions in the midst of a media culture that is constantly on the lookout for genuine heroes and, finding none, manufactures grandiose imitations instead.
The theme of heroism is everywhere in this film, and it might even sound like it is preaching a bit at times, particularly in Andy Garcia's final monologue on the subject. But it all comes together quite well and ends with a lot of heart. The acting is superb, the screenplay is focused, and I was amazed how well Hero combines the entertainment of fiction with the thoughtfulness of a documentary. If you are interested in the theme of heroism I would highly recommend this film. 9/10.
Iron & Silk (1990)
One of my favorite films ever
I saw this film on VHS in the early 1990's, and it made a big impression on me in three ways: appreciation of cultural differences between East and West, appreciation of martial arts, and the lingering sadness that political stupidity could prevent two average people who loved each other from being together. Although I only saw the film once back then, I regarded it as one of the best films I'd ever seen because it made such a lasting impression. It even taught me to say "How are you?" and "Thank you" in Chinese, which remain the only Chinese language I know to this day! So I waited with patience of a martial arts master for it to become available on DVD. Finally, in 2005, I was rewarded with the DVD release, and it was every bit as good as I'd remembered.
As others have mentioned, it is not a flashy Hollywood-type film. Almost the entire movie seems to be filmed through a thin fog that emphasizes this was filmed on location in China (and that's a good thing). Only a full-screen version seemed to be available, yet I don't feel like anything was lost. Even the spectacular martial arts training scenes fit well withing the frame. Watching those Chinese children perform with the skill of seasoned veterans is awe-inspiring, and humbling.
This is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I couldn't be happier to own it on DVD. It's a shame there are no special features to tell more about how the film was made, what was real and what was fiction, etc. Even so, I can't recommend this film strongly enough. 10/10.
Last Action Hero (1993)
Much Better The Second Time Around
The only thing I could recall about seeing Last Action Hero in the theater was that it had a fantastic hard-rock soundtrack, and the movie itself was a disappointment. But after giving it another chance on DVD years later, I was surprised by how good of a film it really is. I think that is because I was young when it was originally released, so I didn't "get" the satire, and was only looking for action.
As it turns out, there is great action *and* satire in this film. In fact, after the second viewing I'd say the film's weakness is that it didn't include even more obscure references to Arnold's previous films, and make even more fun of the way Hollywood insults viewers' intelligence. But then again, Last Action Hero was released before Mystery Science Theater 3000 had trained me to expect riffs and puns flying faster than speeding bullets.
Still, I wasn't quite prepared to laugh as hard as I did during this film, especially when blindsided by our hero's "two questions" for the villain. I won't ruin it by quoting here, because that just might be the funniest line Arnold has ever read on screen.
The soundtrack still has the best and most appropriate songs of any film I've seen, although this is not as evident in the film as in the soundtrack CD. And it was great to finally see a teenage boy character in an action film who didn't annoy the hell out of me with constant screaming and whining. Austin O'Brien did a fabulous job as the hero's unlikely sidekick.
The only thing that really bothered me occurred late in the film, which was supposed to take place in the "real" world. After spending so much time emphasizing that there is no deus ex machina in the real world, the hero-villain conflict is resolved in just such a manner. I would rather have seen a battle of wits, or at least brute strength, to carry our hero to victory.
One last thing: I watched the full-screen version DVD, and a lot more than usual seemed to be trimmed from the periphery. If a widescreen version exists, I'd highly recommend that instead.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The Bourne Disappointment
The Bourne Supremacy suffers from too much preoccupation with being "stylish" to be entertaining. Too many attempts to be "cool" kept pulling me away from the story and back to reality, where I had to face the sorry fact that I was watching a bad movie.
You'd think by now Hollywood would figure out that the "shaky camera" bit is old, and that it was a dumb idea to begin with. Director Paul Greengrass explains in the features that the shaky camera was intended to evoke a "visceral" response from the viewer. But then again he'd have to say *something* to explain how such an expensive film could look so awful. I suppose the poor lighting had some artistic purpose also. Maybe I'm just not cool enough, but I would have preferred to be able to see what was going on instead. Most silent films had better lighting than this one.
The technology gimmicks in the film were embarrassing to watch: computers that instantly call up every piece of information that exists in the world (at high resolution), two or three CIA voyeurs who can identify Jason Bourne on security cameras out of 200 million Europeans passing by, the rapid-fire typing of a court stenographer in the soundtrack every time someone is sitting at a computer. Hey Greengrass: if you want "visceral" reality, why don't you show the CIA sitting around watching the Windows hourglass on their monitors, or rebooting their computers every five minutes? The portrayal of high technology in this film wasn't interesting or entertaining at all. It was just plain silly.
As near as I could tell there was a good car chase going on somewhere in the background while the camera was busy shaking and spinning around, not focusing on anything in particular. The only thing I recall about it was a motorcycle sliding rather gently beneath a car, but I'm not sure whether this had anything to do with Bourne, the story, or anything else. The editing was that bad (or was it "visceral"?).
The good news is Matt Damon and Julia Stiles' performances--especially when Stile's character fears for her life. Unfortunately, their efforts were wasted on this film due to the shaky-cam, bad lighting, and poor editing. Joan Allen's character was a Royal b*tch, so if you like that kind of thing, there you go. Otherwise, she'll probably just p*ss you off. And don't expect a whole lot of action in this film. There's a lot of *movement* due to the shaky camera, but very little action for an action film. And Damon himself has about as many action scenes as Walter Matthou did in Grumpy Old Men, unless you consider walking down the street quickly to be an action sequence.
Finally, each DVD special feature ends with a brief advertisement for... the DVD you are already watching. Are the filmmaker's really that sloppy, or was this too meant to evoke some kind of "visceral" reaction? If so, they succeeded, because I feel sick after watching this film. It is nowhere near as good as the Bourne Identity.
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
A Real Disaster
This film trudges forward solely on the power of a truly annoying set of characters, most of whom are filled with self-pity from start to finish, and none of whom seem particularly worthy of surviving the disaster. Everyone screams, everyone whines, everyone complains, and everyone moves slower than molasses to escape drowning at the top (bottom) of a capsized cruise ship. One main character (Nonnie) remains almost catatonic throughout the entire film, much like the plot. Heavily dated in the early 1970's. Only worth watching Leslie Nielsen as the caption until the boat capsizes. From then on this film is a disaster. Rating: 2/10 for Nielsen and sets/special effects that are impressive for the period.
Born Rich (2003)
If you lean toward the extreme beliefs that the super-rich are either inherently shallow and evil, or they earned their wealth fair and square precisely because they are the greatest among us, your opinion of this film is already pre-determined, and you should probably not waste your time watching it even though the subjects under consideration only inherited their wealth.
For thoughtful people, however, I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Jamie Johnson deserves so much credit for being a young man of privilege who dares to think about what his good fortune really means, much like the rest of humanity is forced to think daily about what their poverty and debt really means. Frankly, I never would have expected such an even-handed treatment of the subject from "one of them".
The biggest barrier to learning how the super-rich really think is access. To gain access you must either be one of them, which usually precludes talking about money publicly, or you must be a member of the mainstream media, which only offers favorably-edited, politically-correct glimpses of reality (otherwise the media too would lose their access). Johnson has produced an essential work here by bridging the gap and allowing the rest of the world to witness, largely unedited, the way in which these extremely wealthy young people view their own fortunes. I can only hope the day will come when older generations among the super-rich will agree to be similarly interviewed, although I suspect we will all be deeply saddened by what they have to say.
Just like on skid row, a few of the young people here (especially Johnson himself) seem above average in terms of humanity, most of them are just average, and the remaining few seem to be useless wastes of human flesh that would bring shame to any family, rich or poor. That's pretty much the same bell curve you'll find in any other social strata of society, proving once again that money is ultimately irrelevant except to those who are obsessed by it.
Much has been written here about Luke Weill's contribution to the film, which I found simply embarrassing to watch. If he is the ambassador of our species when the gray aliens finally land, I won't even argue with their decision to wipe humanity off the face of the earth without a trial. He makes a great case that there is nothing wrong with extraordinary wealth, but everything wrong with inherited wealth. Most important, Weill proves that whether you are rich or poor, the quality of the person become is your own choice. I've seen little whiners like that come from plenty of poor families, so his disturbing behavior has nothing to do with his family's wealth. The gene pool in the Hamptons seems as muddy as it is everywhere else in the world.
But it is Juliet Hartford who deserves the contempt award here for her answer to the question of what she'd do with a million dollars cash. Laughing at the homeless? I've worked with the homeless for years, and most of them are far superior in character and personality to Ms. Hartford (and from what I can tell, the homeless are more talented as well). Thank God she is locked in her own zoo, surrounded only by her own kind. I hate to think of how much damage a woman like this could cause in the real world, where real people live.
Surprisingly, Ivanka Trump comes across as fairly down-to-earth. Ordinarily I would argue with a billionaire's decision to use that money to simply build more ugly concrete and steel, when she has so much potential to build a better world instead. But at least she justifies her ambitions with a genuine interest in real estate development ("it's in our blood"). That's better than nothing.
The only "sympathy" I can feel for these kids is the fact that they have been deprived of reality all their lives, and I don't see any way they'll ever experience that. They are so terrified of dating outside their own circles despite the incredibly boring people they have to choose from, I can't see them ever making a truly meaningful connection with the masses that define their own species. Concepts such as honor, sacrifice, and simplicity seem to be completely foreign to them. Their parents really stole a lot from them, and it's a shame they don't recognize this and forsake their wealth for a better life. After all, they can always earn their own fortune later--it'd be as easy for them as it is for the rest of us, right?
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Irwin Allen reincarnated, again
CAUTION: Many Spoilers Within.
In all our human arrogance, let this film be a stern warning to us all: no matter how much money Independence Day might have made, you cannot create another blockbuster by simply using that screenplay as a template for another movie, and merely changing the bad guy from space aliens to mother nature. In The Day After Tomorrow, Roland Emmerich (Irwin Allen reincarnated, apparently) has attempted just that, and the result is more catastrophic than a 7-10 day return to the Ice Age. Or was it 7-10 hours? Or weeks? Who the hell can tell how long this tale of woe was supposed to have covered? (My woe lasted 123 minutes, your mileage may vary).
The Day After Tomorrow may win an academy award for special effects. But that has to make us wonder, what is the point of that award when the special effects ARE the movie, while characterization, plot, factual accuracy, etc. represent nothing more than... well, the icing on the cake that special effects serve as in all other movies. After watching this topsy-turvy world gone mad for two hours I felt like I had watched the final attack on the Death Star for two hours, with 23 minutes of cutaways to Darth Vader trudging around the bridge thrown in sporadically for dramatic effect.
Granted, the special effects are good. Very good. But when they ARE the entire film, there is no longer anything special about them. They're routine. Is there an Academy Award for Routine Effects?
Yes, as a resident of Southern California who used to live in Kansas it was interesting to see Los Angeles get blown away by tornadoes. It was quite a lark to see the Exxon Valdez go off course yet again and cruise down Park Avenue. And it was amazing to see tourists taking photographs in New York City without the police or Swat teams descending upon them as potential terrorist threats. The special effects were that good, okay? OKAY???
But the story sucked. The Irwin Allen formula (brief character sketches, two hours of action, then a sigh of relief when most of the character sketches survive catastrophe) may have worked for Independence Day, but it fails miserably in this film, for several reasons:
* The only sympathetic characters out of a dozen or so characters were the homeless man and his dog. * There was really no story. * The brilliant nerdy girl was played by a Beverly Hills 90210 lookalike who would have been better cast as a cheerleader or a Hilton sister. * There's no time frame to the events portrayed in the film. * The science is beyond ludicrous. * The morality plays (bureacratic shortsightedness, environmental protection) were about as subtle as the morality plays in Traffic. * Product placement included Fox News, as if Fox News would ever admit that global warming exists even after an Ice Age suddenly descended upon us. * A Scottish research center manned by characters who have no Scottish accents. * An Asian woman who speaks better English than 9 out of 10 American teenagers. * As near as I could tell, the hero walked from Philadelphia to Manhattan during an Ice Age blizzard--in a day or two. * I couldn't distinguish the scientist hero from the putz President, and I still don't know if the main character was played by Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis or someone else. Worse, I don't really care. * A little kid with cancer was included in a cheap attempt to manufacture some tiny strand of concern for at least one character. * Everything in the entire Northern Hemisphere is frozen absolutely solid as a rock--except for door hinges. * The President addresses the nation on the Weather Channel. * An off-the-shelf screenplay recipe that includes 1 act of heroic self-sacrifice, ten thousand acts of human stupidity and ignorance, and a couple dozen shakes of deus ex machina.
In other words, you never doubt that the main characters will survive in the end, and you don't really care who lives or dies anyway (except the homeless guy and his dog), and that spells disaster for a little thing that Hollywood used to call a "STORY".
The only thing good about this film was the first 5-10 minutes of special effects (before they became routine and boring), and the not-so-subtle irony of watching Mexico deal with millions of illegal immigrants flooding INTO Mexico.
To summarize, The Day After Tomorrow left me cold. I give it 3/10--one for the homeless guy, one for the homeless guy's dog, one for the tornadoes in Los Angeles, and one for giving Mexico a taste of its own medicine. Minus one for not allowing us to fast-forward or otherwise escape the opening trailer for some other lousy movie when you insert the DVD.
A film with a face made for radio
From reading other viewer's comments here it appears that the answer to the question, "Robert McNamara: Good or Evil?" lies entirely in the mind of the beholder, and very few minds appear capable (or willing) to think outside one of those two extremes. Hopefully that is just a sign of our times, and one day it will end so that people can appreciate this film for what it is: McNamara's "memoirs" edited by another person. It's not necessarily the truth, but not necessarily a revisionist version of history either. It's just McNamara talking about his life experiences in his own way, for his own reasons. And it's fascinating.
This film is important in the sense that it records a unique perspective of 20th century history for subsequent generations that cannot comprehend the turmoil of the Cold War era from their own experience. It accomplishes this simply because McNamara was there, and was a major player in those events. We have plenty of liars in high places today who are regarded as honest, respectable leaders. We also have plenty of honest, respectable leaders who are constantly accused of being liars. Should we deny them all any opportunity to speak of their experience simply because someone, somewhere doesn't like them? McNamara was there, and for that reason alone anyone who complains about his "performance" here should just shut the hell up and let McNamara speak (unless of course these individuals also helped determine the course of world world events through the 20th century rather than sitting around drinking beer and watching NFL reruns on DVD).
If you lived through the Cold War, and particularly the Vietnam era, you owe it to yourself to watch this film to help place those tumultuous times into perspective. If you reached the age of consciousness after these events, you owe it to yourself to watch this film because the man was there, and he is telling you about it. This is not some arrogant academic interpreting or criticizing the very real and difficult work that was done by others decades earlier. This is not a psychopathic talk show host threatening to turn off McNamara's microphone because he doesn't like what the man has to say. Don't read so much into it, it's just McNamara explaining things from his unique point of view, and you can learn a lot by just listening, without trying to believe him or disbelieve him.
Despite this recommendation, I give the film a rating of 6/10 because the editing is simply atrocious. Yes, the editing won awards. Yes, some reviewers here have commented on how wonderful the editing is. Like McNamara himself, people will always disagree no matter the subject.
But the fact remains that throughout the entire film the editor performed jump cuts in the middle of McNamara's sentences for no apparent reason at all, except to appear stylish. The result was so distracting that I found myself rewinding almost everything McNamara said so I could look away from the screen and actually listen to what he said without the visual discontinuity. Then I'd watch the excellent stock footage of World War II, JFK, LBJ, Vietnam, etc. until the next time McNamara spoke, when I had to begin rewinding all over again. This is one of the most frustrating interviews I've ever watched.
This lousy editing created a work that is fascinating to listen to, but almost impossible to watch. Perfect for radio, or for a compact disk at half the price. But as a film it fails. I give it 6/10 because of the content, not the presentation.
It doesn't get much worse than this
Just when I think I've seen the worst movie ever made, along comes a new contender called Kids
Kids makes Reefer Madness look like a Ken Burns documentary, except that Reefer Madness was watchable. And funny. And entertaining. Hell, compared to Kids, Reefer Madness even seems educational and enlightening.
The Public Relations department portrays Kids as some kind of stylish, biting commentary on the reckless feeling of invincibility among contemporary urban youth. But that's the beauty of advertising. Once you give the DVD store your hard-earned money and open the package, you can't return it no matter how bad the film is. I can only imagine the magnitude of buyer's regret worldwide that has been caused by this one film alone.
The formula for creating a movie like Kids is embarrassingly simple (and simple-minded): Don't bother to hire a screenwriter, gather a huge cast of the most foul, unattractive young people you can find, tell them to do and say the most shocking, degenerate things their warped imaginations can come up with, film their actions while drunk with no steadycam anywhere to be found, and insert some credits at the beginning and end. Oh, and throw in a bunch of children smoking pot and having sex to appeal to the niche market that really, really enjoys watching five year old girls prance around in beauty contests.
Then create a doosie of a PR campaign that would make any performance artist proud--one that convinces even the critics that the film is so profound, if you don't like it, that's only because you're just not clever enough to "get" it.
The sad thing is, I'm not trying to be funny. That is literally what this movie is. If that appeals to you, by all means, flip hamburgers for four hours to pay for the privilege of wasting 91 minutes of your life on this rubbish. After all, Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs up, and Siskel and Ebert are honorable men.
As for me, I'm going to keep looking for a real filmmaker, one who bothers to film real kids who are experiencing real troubled lives, so that we might really learn something, even if it means no one makes a great deal of money or manufactures a career out of stale, rancid, thin air.
Mi ni te gong dui (1983)
What the #@*! was THAT?
Wow. Reviewing this movie is like reviewing someone else's hallucination. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to it, no way to even know what I just saw, let alone how to describe it. It makes Yellow Submarine seem as coherent as Schindler's List.
You owe it to yourself to watch this movie. Because you will sit in utter amazement, gaping throughout, wondering to yourself how, how is it possible that human beings could, or would, produce something this unbelievably awful. And at the same time you'll simply marvel at just how entertaining whatever this is, is.
I give this movie 10/10, but only because there is nothing else like it on earth. It is so... unique, you just have to experience it before you die, or you will never have really lived. Like love, or a bad fever, no one can explain it to you, you just have to endure it yourself.
The only relevant description I can offer is this: even the venerable folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000 never had the stamina to take on a film like this, but you can sure bet they wanted to. Enough said.
Oh, and it has Jackie Chan. Sort of.
The Alamo Documentary (2004)
I watched, I learned
This documentary was quite enlightening for me. It humbled me in more ways than one. Being a "history buff" who cared nothing for Texas history in general or the Alamo in particular, I thought I already knew enough relevant details about the Alamo: it was an insignificant battle of the Mexican-American War that has been over-hyped over the years by loudmouth Texans with egos the size of their home state.
Well, my vision of the Alamo wasn't quite correct after all. The Alamo preceded the Mexican-American War by a decade. It was a battle between a couple hundred Texas settlers and at least 5,000 veteran members of the Mexican army, led by yet another foreign leader labeled by Americans as a "brutal dictator". The Texans knew they would die if reinforcements didn't arrive (which wasn't likely), yet they stood their ground anyway in a battle of defiance against tyranny reminiscent of the American colonists' revolt against another tyrant half a century earlier. The later hype came more from Walt Disney's love of money than from Texan's love of freedom, and today the Alamo is a popular tourist attraction at the center of the commercial district in America's 9th largest city, San Antonio. Unlike 1836, the Alamo today has a roof--with huge air-conditioners on it!
While the film makes it clear that a large number of faithful Texans (and other Americans) seem to understand the Texas rebel's real motives, and empathize with them, I was surprised that no one seemed to recognize the irony of an open frontier where those rebels died for freedom becoming the modern commercial prison/shopping mall that surrounds the Alamo today. I had the impression that if Davy Crockett could have looked ahead 180 years, he would have wished the Alamo residents good luck and ridden on to another opportunity for lasting glory instead.
The film's focus is the phenomenon of the Alamo myth in modern times, not the story of the Alamo battle itself. Details of the battle are revealed gradually, in no particular order, as if to assume that the viewer already knows the story. Well, I did not know the story, but the film did a fine job of presenting it within the context of its focus on the phenomenon anyway, so no complaints there.
The interviews with Alamo historians, buffs, and other interested parties are wonderful. Each has something significant to say (and often, artifacts to show). My favorite part was the modern annual re-enactment, and the accompanying profound remarks on the value of "living history" to help us empathize with the real sacrifices our ancestors made to make life a little better for their progeny (us). If more people empathized like that, perhaps there would be fewer shopping malls engulfing our historical treasures today.
The DVD also features a surprisingly good 40 minute black & white educational film called "Remember the Alamo". Although it may look like a typical American propaganda film from the early Cold War period, it is relatively reserved in its patriotic zeal, and simply tells the story without trying to manufacture too much history, considering that no one knows what really happened at the Alamo. The documentary film and educational short combination is an excellent introduction to the Alamo. If nothing else, it will prevent people from walking around with a completely inaccurate conception of the Alamo (as I had before).
My DVD has serious audio problems during one brief portion, and the "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier" song was noticeably absent while it was being discussed on screen. But then again, have YOU ever tried to afford the rights to a Disney song? The upside is that these minor technical problems put this beauty in my CD collection for $4.99, and no information was lost from the audio problems.
As a documentary that imparts a lot of information, and conveys it well, I give this film a high rating despite minor technical problems on the DVD I purchased. Thanks to the filmmaker(s) for finally introducing me to this fascinating piece of American history!
This film WILL change you
Unlike most modern documentaries, Crop Circles: Quest For Truth does not attempt to provide viewers with a balanced look at both sides of a controversial issue. Instead, it focuses almost exclusively on the side you will never see in the mass media, and that is perfectly appropriate in this case. For the evidence provided is so overwhelmingly compelling that any attempt to balance it with the mass media "hoax" theory would have been an utter waste of time.
Crop Circles is everything a great documentary ought to be: it annihilates your pre-conceived notions of the subject under consideration and leaves you faced with the indisputable truth whether you like it or not. Even if no scientists or researchers had been interviewed, and if no history of crop circle appearances were presented, the sheer volume and complexity of the crop circle images themselves make it obvious to any thinking person that these are not hoaxes. Unless you assume that these images and, indeed, the film itself were a hoax, the viewer simply cannot deny that something we don't understand it as work here. This is not a fuzzy 16mm film of Bigfoot walking through the woods. What William Gazecki gives us is a comprehensive visual catalog of every type of crop circle geometry that has been found over the past 30 years. Every time you think you've seen it all, the patterns become even more intricate and beautiful. An absolutely stunning display of natural--or perhaps supernatural--phenomena.
Although some researchers offer their opinions as to the origin of crop circles, none seem particularly dogmatic, and all seem open to new ideas. I was actually quite surprised by the credibility and sensibility of these researchers. The mass media would have you believe these people are kooks, like the UFO landing site researcher in Waiting For Guffman. Yet another reason to avoid the mass media when you're interested in truth.
The DVD special features add even more to the intrigue with film footage of military helicopters harassing researchers. Why would the government want to stop people from researching a hoax?
As a film, Crop Circles: Quest For Truth has several flaws, from interviews filled with distractions to lengthy scene transitions that repeatedly make you wonder whether your DVD player has frozen. Most frustrating of all, the sound level is very low, and I had to connect a different amplifier to get a comfortable volume. But the content here is so extraordinary that none of this matters. Gazecki's film is a masterpiece because it completely unravels in less than two hours a "hoax" theory that has taken the mass media/government/skeptics years to foist upon the masses.
Watch it and be changed.
Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
Nothing we shouldn't already know
As a sociological case study, Capturing the Friedmans is a competent and disturbing film. Andrew Jarecki has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of here. But I do not think it deserves the high honors it has received because, in the end, the film doesn't tell us anything we shouldn't already know. More than anything else, it is 109 minutes of voyeurism that appeals to a Reality TV culture which is no less perverse than the Friedman family.
Unfortunately, the typical American, at least, does not already know the most important and relevant themes in this film, and that is why it is considered so "thought provoking" on matters we should already be thinking about daily: the slippery nature of "truth", the unreliability of witness testimony, the lunacy and injustice of our law enforcement and legal system, the phenomenon of mass hysteria, trial and conviction in the news media, the enormous tragedy of false imprisonment (if Jesse was indeed falsely accused), and the fact that there are a lot of weird--very weird--people living amongst us.
There is simply no way to determine the truth of what really happened in the Friedman basement from the evidence presented here, and we are given no compelling reason to believe that court trials would have provided any more certainty. This lack of certainty is the entire basis of so much debate over the film. If this isn't reasonable doubt, I don't know what is, and for that reason alone Jesse should never have gone to prison. Only the emotions stirred by the heinous nature of the alleged crimes drove law enforcement, the courts, the news media, and the community to rob a young man of the best years of his life. If Jessie had been charged with murder of a "nobody" on such flimsy evidence, I find it hard to believe it would ever even come to trial. If he were charged with murdering someone popular on the same evidence, however, he might well be on death row today. As it happens, he was charged with molesting children, the moral equivalent of murdering somebody who "matters". Emotions. Such is the absurdity of American Justice.
In fact, there is no definitive answer on ANYTHING in this film, except for the undeniable proof of human degeneracy provided by community cretins who left violent, stupid messages on the Friedmans' answering machine immediately after Arnold and Jesse were arrested. The only "evidence" these fools had to go on was brief television news reports, and this is the pool of peers from which juries would have been selected (for those who wonder why an innocent man would ever confess to child molestation even to get a reduced sentence). I fear those telephone terrorists, who probably still walk the streets, more than I fear any member of the Friedman household (with the possible exception of David--a very angry and irrational character).
The DVD special features are enlightening, in the sense that they present evidence not seen in the film. This new evidence doesn't clarify the truth, but at least it makes us feel we are not missing important facts. Or are we? Again, there's no way to know.
Particularly interesting on the DVD is an extended interview with the supposed victim who was responsible for the majority of charges against Arnold and Jesse. Laying casually across a sofa-chair while discussing his horrific experience, this young man doesn't seem half as traumatized by the Friedmans as he was by his own family. One gets the impression he enjoys the attention he receives as a "victim" of child molestation. In fact, he seems to enjoy it a little too much.
As I said, a very disturbing film.
Get Over It (2001)
"Get Over It" is surprisingly good film, and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. I had expected yet another immature, self-indulgent Generation X flick filled with gratuitous sex, drugs, rapping, cursing, and tattoos. What I got was a genuinely funny film featuring realistic characters we can care about, and a story with a lot of heart. The cast is perfect, the screenplay tight, the soundtrack appropriate (some of the songs are simply wonderful), and there are a plenty of clever surprises to remind you that you're watching this to have FUN. Even the subplots are subdued and well-balanced so they do not detract from the main story of a dejected young man coming to terms with being dumped by the girl of his dreams.
The young leads are all excellent, but special mention has to go to old timers Martin Short, Ed Begley, Jr., and Swoosie Kurtz, who prove beyond any doubt that they can still do it after all these years.
Best of all, it's refreshing to see a film with a mostly young cast that does not try to be a showcase for the popular culture of the day. For this reason, I expect Get Over It to remain entertaining for decades without suffering from the outdated cliches of the times that leave me embarrassed to watch even the greatest teen flicks of the 80's.
This is a truly FUN movie if you just go with it--and not only for teenage girls. Highly recommended!
The DVD has commercials!
Being a fan of Seabiscuit the horse, I was very anxious to see this movie for the first time. I was even more anxious to purchase the DVD because it contained so many interesting special features. But when I purchased the DVD I found that the insert was nothing more than a blank sheet of white paper with a security device, and one of the "Special Features" (not listed on the DVD jacket) was a 3-minute long commercial for Buick cars, pretending to be a 1930's "documentary". I was so offended that I immediately returned the disk for a refund, and had to make quite a scene to get it. I'm sure the filmmaker's put a lot of work into this film, but I'll never know the results because commercials have no place on a DVD--that's the reason I don't watch television or go to the theater, for Heaven's sake! Jeff Bridges is one my favorite actors, too. What a low-down dirty shame....
I rate the DVD a zero, and for that reason cannot rate the film at all.
The greatest kind of disappointment
As a youngster and lifelong fan of Gilligan's Island, I still recall my excitement when I first learned that Rescue From Gilligan's Island was going to be shown on television. I also remember my profound disappointment when I finally saw the show: it wasn't particularly funny.
Now, some 25 years later, I found myself purchasing this movie on DVD anyway, for two reasons: To enjoy sweet memories of youth when TV humor was simply good fun and didn't even pretend to be anything more, and because it only cost $5.99.
Well, what can I say? I was disappointed again because, again, it wasn't particularly funny. Yet I am still very glad I now own this movie on DVD. How can that be?
For all the abuse Gilligan's Island has taken over the years from "serious" humorists, the fact remains that the show appeals to everyone's desire for real friendship and camaraderie, without all the drama of real life. The original show was just plain fun to watch. And frankly, so is Rescue From Gilligan's Island, despite its many, many flaws.
I know it is anathema to say so, but this movie would have scored much higher if only it had included a laugh track, as did the original TV series. The laugh track itself creates the illusion of camaraderie with an audience, and that was always part of the appeal of Gilligan's Island. So I found myself pretending to hear the original laugh track every time the cast told a joke (i.e., constantly), and lo--the film was much more palatable!
On the bright side, losing the laugh track made me realize just how good these actors really were, and how great an ensemble they comprised. After all, the original cast never heard the roaring laughter the audience heard as the actors playing the castaways fired one asinine line after another between ludicrous slapstick action sequences. Without a laugh track, for example, the actors portraying Russian spies in this movie behaved beyond reproach; they were simply painful to watch. But then again, so was Wrongway Felman, Harold Hecuba, and other visitors to the island, without a laugh track. It is precisely because this ensemble was so good that they managed to score with such silly humor every time in the finished product. That takes talent (and guts, I suspect). For this reason more than anything else, I truly missed Tina Louise as Ginger: no one could adequately replace a member of such a tight ensemble. Kudos to Judith Baldwin for trying, however. Thurston and Lovely Howell are hilarious characters even without the laugh track.
Overall, as another reviewer observed, the value of this film is that it provides a trip down the most pleasant stretch of memory lane. It would be wrong, however, not to mention the unforgivable production of this DVD. The sound is bad, a few jump cuts are embarrassing to watch, and the video has frequent static bars like you would see on an old, worn videotape. Shame on the production company. Shame on you!
Bottom line: If you don't appreciate the Gilligan's Island TV series you will hate this movie with a capital "H", with good reason. But for those of you who get misty just thinking about Gilligan, the Skipper and company, Rescue From Gilligan's Island will help you feel like a kid again for 90 minutes, with good reason. A cast featuring Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Bill Murray and other notable comics simply couldn't even come close to pulling off the feat this underrated ensemble pulled off time and time and time again for years, for no better reason than to make all of us feel good for a half hour each week.
Drowning Mona (2000)
I feel cheated
Every once in a while comes a film that is so poorly made that you feel everyone involved in the process--from the screenwriter who had a flash of inspiration to the viewers who mercifully hit the stop button on their DVD players--must feel violated and cheated. This is one such movie.
In a way, it's difficult to put your finger on the reason this film doesn't work, since there seems to be so much potential here, somewhere. A cast that includes Danny Devito, Bette Midler, Jamie Lee Curtis and Neve Campbell could normally carry any script pretty far, for example (and as it turns out, Kathleen Wilhoite and William Fichtner really shine here). But between Casey Affleck's inconceivably amateurish performance and an irrelevant soundtrack that is mostly derived from Three Dog Night's greatest hits, neither these fine actors nor the script, nor the filmmakers, can be taken seriously.
I'm sure Casey Affleck is a fine young man with many talents. But acting is not one of them. Just because his brother Ben is a popular, if overrated actor does not mean that star material runs in the family. Any movie that makes me want to pat Danny Devito on the shoulder and tell him "it'll be all right" because he had just been contractually forced to practice his craft opposite Affleck is a theatrical experience that upsets me. It certainly does not entertain.
I give this movie 2 stars out of 10: one for Wilhoite, and one for Fichtner. Nothing else in this film deserves special recognition.
Can't Buy Me Love (1987)
Underrated and charming 80's teen flick
Most 80's teen flicks leave a rather sick feeling in my stomach, but this one has always been a favorite despite the stereotypical shallow, big-haired girls and the Animal House wanna-be jocks. The difference is that the stars, Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson, are not so stereotypical in their roles as lonely nerd and ultra-popular head cheerleader.
Patrick Dempsey has always been underrated as an actor with style, and it is unfortunate that his character, Ronald, is so unlikable after the film's premise kicks in. Ronald goes "from geek to chic" and back again. But Dempsey himself seems too inherently confident to really pull off the geek aspect believably, and he's too cruel to the girl whose heart he won for Ronald to be a truly sympathetic character. The hip version of Ronald, however, is a hoot to watch, even if it is somewhat overdone in the context of an already unlikely plot.
The standout in this film is Amanda Peterson, whose character Cindy has to be one of the most genuinely likeable "stuck up" high school girls on film. Watching her character grow and open her heart to Ronald is the main reason I've given this film repeated viewings. Although the genres are quite different, I'd compare Peterson's character to Renee Zellweger's character in Jerry MaGuire in terms of sheer likability. Making characters likeable is much more difficult than making them sympathetic, and I'm frankly shocked that Peterson's career did not skyrocket after this performance.
Whether you're looking for creative ways to invest $1000 or dancing lessons, Can't Buy Me Love is one 80's teen flick that has a lot to offer.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Good story, lousy film
A Clockwork Orange has achieved legendary status, but for the life of me I cannot figure out why. The original story by Anthony Burgess strives to make an important Orwellian statement about the perils of allowing society to override peoples' free will for the common good. But the production of this film is so irretrievably dated and incoherent that the moral is almost entirely lost in a bizarre mix of stylish ultraviolence and unrefined cheese. Take Stanley Kubrick's name off the credits and its almost a certainty that the gang at Mystery Science Theater would have had a field day with this overrated dud.
Granted, the nudity, sex and violence must have been shocking in 1971, and shock can make a point. These scenes are commonplace today, however, and there lies the main reason that this film seems forever trapped in 1971: it relies entirely on shock value to make its point, yet the scenes in this film are no longer shocking. In too many ways, they are disturbingly silly.
For all the talk about Kubrick's "brilliant" ironic juxtaposition of beautiful classical music against the ugliness of violence, most of the soundtrack sounds like it was created by an escapee from the primate sanctuary who entered the sound studios of Leonard Nimoy's "In Search Of..." and began pounding away at the Mini-Moog.
Unlike Kubrick's timeless masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange looks like it was already seriously dated by the end of the year it was released, even though the story apparently takes place well in the future. So much bad hair, pre-disco costuming and overtly sexual "modern" art makes one think of Andy Warhol far more than George Orwell, adding a buffoonish quality to what should have been a serious story.
And unless Kubrick expected that Americans would never see this film, one has to wonder why the speech almost entirely consists of slurred, sloppy British slang to the point where one requires English subtitles to get anywhere beyond the gist of what is being said in this English-speaking film.
My apologies to those who love A Clockwork Orange, but it really isn't a very good film. It's sad enough when art achieves immortality through style rather than substance. But when even the cheesy style upon which a work of art's immortality is based has long since become a historical embarrassment, we have to start looking for psychological reasons why this film remains so popular.
Great film, but the DVD is hurting.
Enough reasonable (and a few truly dismal) reviews of Mememto already exist on the IMDB, so I can only add my vote that Memento is a film worth seeing. Whether or not it deserves to be called one the "greatest films of all time" is irrelevant, since that is a subjective honor anyway. It's high ranking is almost certainly due to a rapid flood of votes following its recent release (I mean, come on--Lord of the Rings ranks even higher than Casablanca, Star Wars and Citizen Kane!). The point is that, objectively speaking, Memento is a truly original, unique, and well made film, and there is some truly fascinating and thoughtful dialogue and narrative here. For that reason alone any film lover should check it out.
I must add, however, that the DVD features an Independent Film Channel interview with Writer/Director Christopher Nolan that is one of the most visually irritating pieces I have ever seen. The interview randomly skips frames, causing subtle but silly jumps that remind me of the lousy black & white film the castaways on Gilligan's Island once made ("I'd walk out on that picture even on an airplane!"). Presumably, someone thought this was an artistic touch, but the end result is that it just looks dumb, and I had to *turn the video off on a DVD* in order to enjoy or get anything positive out of the interview! That's quite a blunder considering how worthy the film itself is.
White Sands (1992)
Entertaining and suspenseful
A wonderfully subdued and suspenseful film about a police deputy who takes on the identity of an apparent suicide victim, ostensibly to locate the victim's "killer." Of course, in the process he gets more than he bargained for--or did he? Perhaps he was seeking an exciting and intriguing diversion from boredom all along.
The story stretches the limits of believability throughout, yet this is easy to forgive and forget in light of magnificent performances by Willem Dafoe, Mickey Rourke and others, which draw you deep enough into the action that you'll soon forget none of this could ever happen. Rourke is the definition of "cool" as Gorman Lennox, a sleazy yet charismatic arms dealer. But it is Dafoe who turns in the best performance as an ordinary man who is compelled to put himself into an extraordinarily dangerous situation for reasons even he probably doesn't quite understand. I was thoroughly entertained just watching Dafoe's reaction every time circumstances threatened to blow his cover. All told, Deputy Ray Dolezal (Dafoe) is one of the most genuinely likeable characters I've seen on film.
With a clever script, plenty of plot twists, outstanding performances and marvelous desert cinematography, White Sands is definitely a film worth watching.
A wonderful story and a fantastic film
As far as entertaining storytelling goes, Cocktail is an almost perfect film. Here is an example of compelling dialogue, magnificent urban cinematography, superb acting, and thoughtful editing combining to present us with a very lucid portrayal of one man's coming to terms with the reality of dreams and ambitions in our world.
Cocktail is ultimately the story of Bryan Flanagan's (Tom Cruise) reaction as he doggedly pursues his ambition of getting rich, only to learn that his dream was never really worth pursuing. A new arrival in New York City, the "greatest concentration of wealth in the world," young Flanagan immediately seeks to establish himself in the business world. Without an education or practical experience, however, he suffers one humiliation after another while job-seeking. Eventually he realizes that the business world demands an education, so he enrolls in college and settles for a job as a bartender to pay the bills. But then something extraordinary happens: he discovers that he actually enjoys bartending more than he enjoys college, and that he is challenged more by the mentorship of bartender Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown) than he is by the tutelage of his bitter, sadistic college professors. Together, Coughlin and Flanagan develop the bartending equivalent of a synchronized swimming routine that delivers them both the recognition and money (in tips) they crave.
At this point, Cocktail could easily have degraded into one long, hedonistic party, since the bartending action is certainly entertaining. But instead, a falling out between Flanagan and Coughlin suddenly shifts both the tone and the location of the film as Flanagan moves to the Caribbean to save money for starting his own business.
In Jamaica he meets Jordan (Elizabeth Shue), a lovely, down-to-earth artist, and for the first time in the film Flanagan truly falls in love with a woman he takes to bed, and he seems genuinely surprised to realize that love has been a more worthy goal than sex all along. With the re-introduction of Coughlin's bad influence, however, Flanagan ignores what he has learned about love and pursues a wealthy benefactor, Bonnie (Lisa Banes), breaking Jordan's heart in the process.
Returning to New York City with Bonnie, which should have been the break he has been waiting for, Flanagan instead suffers yet more humiliation in the power game and finally comes to realize that he'd already achieved the success that makes life worth living when he was with Jordan. So he burns his bridges with Bonnie, and the remainder of the film focuses on his new ambition, to win back the trust of the woman he loves.
This is a great story, one that requires the viewer to really challenge Americans' preoccupation with money and power. Yet the beauty of Cocktail is the smooth, realistic way in which this story is presented. For example, few filmmakers today would risk losing the audience's attention by focusing at length on Jordan's silent reaction to Flanagan's betrayal, yet these few silent moments on a darkened beach say more than any amount of dialogue ever could--but only if you're listening!
Cocktail is a wonderful story of love, ambition, opportunity, humiliation, frustration, sacrifice, the absurdity of business and academia, and the definitions of "success" and "failure," sprinkled with real-world humor that is noticeably different--and funnier--than mere comedy. It is also an exciting and fun film to watch, a "feel-good" movie of the highest caliber. I take my hat off to everyone who worked on this fine film.