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Excellent, excellent piece of work.
This is the real deal. A group of musicians that don't have to skate by on voice-enhancement gimmicks and worthless attempts to be "trendy". Heaven and Hell (or Black Sabbath Mk. 2 if you prefer) have presented us with an epic collection of the purest heavy metal on earth, and I thank them for it. They don't use speed and volume to sound hardcore, they use impeccable songwriting, expert vocals, and a smooth and confident command of their instruments attained through years of honing. Forget all of that insipid nu-metal and rap-core drivel that dominates the airwaves today, pick up this film and remember just how powerful music can be.
Sky High (2003)
Kitamura finally gives us a story.
Ryuhei Kitamura's films seem to be built entirely on the strength of his visual style. Unfortunately, neither I, nor anyone I know, find that style all that interesting. His fight scenes always manage to look stiff and artificial (not fantastic, just artificial), yet he always shoves them in front of plot. I figured I'd had enough after checking out Versus, Alive, and Azumi, ready to write Kitamura off as a perpetual B-Movie factory.
Just by chance I happened upon a cheap copy of Sky High at the local FYE, and the synopsis piqued my interest. I'm glad I picked it up, because it corrects a lot of the problems that have continuously plagued the director's work. He restrains himself from the campy action scenes of the aforementioned films, instead presenting competently staged fights that didn't entirely leap beyond plausibility. Best of all, the movie actually has a complete plot, and not one that seems regurgitated from a 70s martial arts exploitation flick. For the first time, I found his story to be engrossing and actually cared about his characters.
This film has bought Ryuhei Kitamura a new respect in my eyes, because I know now that he can make a real film. I hope he continues on in the direction displayed here, and resists relapsing into cliché.
The Last Drop (2006)
Clever, fun movie.
I picked this flick up on a whim when I found it in the video store. I'd never heard of it, but the synopsis seemed interesting. When I started the movie I was expecting a sort-of serious-minded Kelly's Heroes meets Saving Private Ryan type of flick. I was rather surprised to find a reasonably well written film, with a cast of distinct, likable characters more akin to Hollywood westerns than the current crop of hyper-grim war movies. The script turned out to be more of a black comedy than anything else, with a clever, sandpaper-dry wit of the kind that brings out a few real laughs and plenty of chuckles. This underlying irreverent vibe, coupled with relatively gore-less combat (I can't believe the film got an "R" for violence) gives the proceedings a definite Retro feel, much like the military adventure films of the 50's and 60's. If you enjoy that type of movie, then give this little gem a try, you won't be disappointed.
A waste of an amazing actor.
The only reason I elected to give this flick a shot was due to the presence of Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine. All I can say is, it was the greatest waste of a good actor ever put to film. As far as I could tell, Borgnine was the ONLY actor in it. The other performances were so uniformly terrible, I am amazed a studio would actually pay the "performers" to appear. Couple this level of talent in the acting department with a story so plodding and insipid that I thought my eyes were going to start bleeding by the time the credits rolled, and you have a perfect cinematic disaster. Obviously the movie was made to appeal to an audience of children, and to its credit, it was better than most of the original programing on the Disney Channel and similar kid-focused networks. But honestly, that is not saying much.
An Homage to the American Rebel Hero
I loved this flick ever since I saw it 10+ years ago.
Now, I don't like "trashy" movies of any kind. You know the type, cheapo, uninspired, poorly written formula pics they air on TBS or USA network at 2AM, and that is the group that I always hear people lumping HDatMM into. They couldn't possibly be further off-base.
This movie is an homage to every great western and action flick ever made. Its like a love letter to a certain breed of American cinema. It does for the drifter-hero genre what Jackie Brown did for Blaxploitation movies. If you're not keen on those kinds of movies, then this one will not be to your taste. However, taken in the way the filmmakers intended, this is a darn good picture. It's reasonably well made, has a great cast of actors who all perform admirably, and features clever dialog that surpasses Tarantino's at times.
Compared to flicks like "The Wild Bunch" or "Gone With the Wind" Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man might come up a little short. But hold it up to something like the Lethal Weapon series, and I can't see how so many people could call it a lump of crap. Don't pass judgment without seeing it yourself.
7 out of 10
The Dead Zone (1983)
An incredible piece of film making, one that simply must be seen.
This is by far David Cronenberg's best film, and a truly great piece of film-making. As a thriller it is perfect, with an excellent sense of tension building from the car accident right up to the tragic conclusion. What makes this so is the very well defined characters and believable emotions that propel the tale forward. Christopher Walken is one of the finest actors alive, and he is at the top of his game in "The Dead Zone". His Johnny Smith is so real, and vulnerable, that the viewer almost wishes he could reach out and comfort him as his life's tragedies escalate.
This film can also be looked at as a strange sort of superhero story. Johnny is the victim of a terrible accident which bestows great power upon him, and even though he is suffering, he finally chooses to put himself in great danger to save the world.
All in all, this is a movie I would recommend to everyone. Although it seems to have, very unfortunately, been almost forgotten, it is truly one of the most effective films I've ever seen.
Miami Vice (2006)
Miami Vice a new Mann Classic
Well, my most anticipated film of the summer has finally arrived. As much faith as I have in Michael Mann, I can't say I wasn't worried about what tone this movie was going to take. Specifically whether or not this would be a case of ripping the name off a well-known property and then producing something unrecognizable with it. Not so in this case I was happy to see. This movie may look a couple decades newer, but the vibe was still there, and the characters, while less upbeat than in their earlier incarnations, really came across as the same people. As such a big fan of the TV show, I can say I was not disappointed.
But this isn't just a treat for old-school Vice fans, there's actually a pretty darn good story holding the keen style of the flick together. I'm not referring to the whole drug dealers/intel leaks plot, but rather the emotional obstacle course the characters get dragged through as the threats change their targets from society, to the individuals trying to protect it. Crocketts love affair with Isabella, a drug lord's dame, starts off as a one night stand and quickly becomes a tremendous Achilles' heel in the Vice Squad's already hazardous operation. While some have said that the movie's narrative is confusing or muddled, I cannot see what their trouble is. Everyone I saw it with had no difficulty following along. There are some loose ends left at the conclusion, but that was Mann's intent. In the real world, the bad guys don't just line up for arrest and spout a long winded explanation of their devious plots when they sense the credits are approaching.
Now, any red-blooded male is probably asking, "What about the fireworks CD?" Well, this isn't the Matrix or Mission Impossible, so don't go into the theatre expecting it to be. The movie is more about tension than action, and it should be, but when the lead does start flying it is a sight to behold. Not since Mann's own Heat has a shootout been staged as realistically and exciting as Miami Vice's climax. If it doesn't get your blood pumping, you must be at the popcorn stand instead of the movie.
The only real complaint I have is that the numerous supporting characters from the series that put in an appearance here don't get nearly enough screen time, we really only get time to know Crockett and Tubbs. If you're familiar with Gina, Larry, Stan and Trudy from the series, then the whole film becomes more rewarding. Those that are jumping into the film first will wonder who the hell these people are when they show up, and no answer will be coming.
All in all, this is the best film I've seen this year, both Intelligent and exciting. If you've got the choice, I'd still recommend the series over this version of the story, but both are worthwhile viewing.
Superman Returns (2006)
Superman Reclaims his Throne
It shouldn't come as any surprise that the 200 million plus "Superman Returns" has some of the best special effects and action sequences I've ever seen. What is surprising is the way in which the large expanses of quiet, emotional scenes kept me as alert and engrossed as any of the blood and thunder managed to. Bryan Singer makes Superman seem vulnerable and human without making him any less awe inspiring. Where a less talented filmmaker would have churned out something cheesy and manipulative, he constructs a tale with real feeling. The most surprising of the plot developments departed quite a bit from comic lore and had me feeling a bit odd at first, but I ended up finding it kind of inspiring. Singer managed to wrangle up a real surprise in a story that's basically been told repeatedly for seventy years. Another aspect of the film I appreciated was Singer's use of religious symbolism, which actually gave certain scenes more gravitas, and was very subdued compared to the "smack you over the head with a bat" subtexts of X3.
Now, the best director in the world can't do much with a bad cast, and thankfully that's not a problem here. Brandon Routh channels Christopher Reeve in nearly all his scenes and does so very effectively, coupled with his physical resemblance this reinforces a sense of continuity with the previous films. Kate Bosworth manages to fill Lois Lane's shoes admirably (making me feel a bit foolish, as I was vocal in my displeasure at her casting), as does the rest of the cast in their respective roles. Kevin Spacy was impressive as Luthor, managing to remain menacing while spouting one-liners, a feat Gene Hackman didn't pull off quite as successfully.
In the end, Superman Returns stands side by side with Batman Begins as the best of the recent comic book movies. A terrific melding of talent and tech that should satisfy any movie goer. I've heard some other comic fans lambasting the one aforementioned "departure" from previous tales of Superman. To them I say: accept the movie on it's own terms, and you'll leave the theater happy.
I was someone that had mixed feelings on the original D&D movie. I thought the script was clunky, the acting was awful as far as good guys were concerned, it contained wildly inappropriate dialog for the setting, and the tone made light of what could have been dramatic events. On the other hand, the movie looked good, had a couple decent fight scenes and the huge Dragon war at the climax was dynamic and exciting. Still, with it's less than impressive reception, I figured this would be a series of one.
Imagine my surprise when a sequel was announced, and even greater shock when I watched the films premier and found it to be everything I felt it's predecessor lacked. The acting, while not Oscar worthy, was perfectly reasonable work from a handful of unknowns. The plot is treated seriously this time around, with a minimum of cliché and jest (Although there are two laugh out loud moments) and actually features an intelligent foe with a genuinely epic plan for the forces of justice to combat. Speaking of which, the heroes are a nice diverse bunch, and the film manages to showcase each one's unique talents well.
As for the action and eye candy, there's plenty. The fights are staged better than 90% of the action flicks on the shelves, with realistic flow and quick pace. The special effects are among the best I've ever seen in a non-theatrical film and are leaps and bounds above any other Sci-Fi premier yet broadcast (Though not quite as good as a theatrical release). The final battle is not as kinetic as the first films finale, but manages to be a fitting climax to the quest.
If this is what this crew can produce with a terribly low budget, I say give them 70 million bucks and get Dungeons & Dragons III in theaters ASAP!
I crudeli (1967)
Who is hero and who is villain, depends on who's the viewer.
This film (which I saw as "The Hellbenders") is not much like the average western. As you watch, it is not easy to decide if we are supposed to be rooting for or against the main characters. Even when it becomes apparent which side of the good/evil line most of them stand on, Jonas (the real focus of the story) remains in a grey area. In the end, wether he is a hero or villain depends on the ideals of the audience. That is what I found most refreshing about this film. It lets you make up your own mind, rather than forcing one opinion of what is virtuous on you.