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The Great Gatsby (2013)
The Greatest Gatsby -- Ever!
The movie is never as good as the book. "Remakes" are always retrograde. Those movies with anachronistic soundtracks are more distracting than interesting for "serious" films. Baz Lurhmann has proved all these truisms (to which I had more or less subscribed) wrong with this film. It may be my love of the source material, or the fact that I rather like Jay-Z and Frank Church, even when they're scoring a screenplay that references the Jazz Age with every page. But the music respects the Jazz Age even if it is not particularly constrained by it, the same way Gatsby is not constrained by the social pecking order in which he was expected to live & love, even if the film-maker was not constrained by FSG-era interpretations and projections of the author's vision.
As a native East Coaster I find this film nostalgic. As an ex- Californian I find it bursting with optimism and energy. As a transplant to the Midwest I sympathize with nearly *all* the characters. This is a superlative adaptation for the screen of the Great American Novel of the 20th Century. I love it, and look forward to sharing it with others so that I may enjoy it over and over again.
The Descendants (2011)
Easy on the eyes but numbing to the mind
This is one of those movies you almost feel guilty for not liking, especially the music. The scenery was beautiful, but then of course, we're talking about Hawaii. The soundtrack is presumably influenced by indigenous musical styles and in my fairly eclectic musical tastes I should have found a spot for it, but I would not volunteer to listen to it again, with or without the movie. The plot seemed to take a really long time to get any where (of course, they're not on mainland time, right?), then wrapped up all of a sudden as if they'd run out of film. The acting seemed flat, despite having liked most of the better known actors in other roles. I've seen other movies where I didn't really find a likable character (e.g. Rachel Getting Married) but ended up liking the film anyway -- not this one. I just couldn't warm up to this one at all.
I've never been to Hawaii (yet!) and don't hang out with many 8-figure income folks, so maybe that's why I couldn't relate. Maybe next life.
Vampires Suck (2010)
I really enjoyed this. The only thing I knew about the books was that they were causing tweener and young teen (girls, mostly; my 15 year old son would have no part of them...) to actually read books, you know, just for fun! "That can't be bad," I thought.
When my wife bought the first Twilight film home on a rented DVD, I actually was surprised to like it: most teens could relate to one of the main characters, I'd bet, or would at least admit to having "friends like that". (I mean, not quite undead / shape-shifters of course, but certainly "different", "alone", angst-ridden, confused...). I didn't care for the second installment, but then I rarely like sequels.
I usually am not that fond of parodies either, but this one had me laughing from beginning to end.
What amazed me about this one was that it works as parody even if you like the originals, which I think is very unusual. (Some of the reviews here claim you could only like it if you hated the originals, others said you'd like it MORE if you liked the originals...). I kind of think it might work even if you'd never seen a Twilight movie.
While I've not read the books this movie might in some ways be truer to the source than the movies it lampoons. ("I feel safe with you. Not like with Edward..."). I didn't get that from Twilight.
Finally, as has been duly noted, the leads were TERRIFIC at mimicking the characters in the original, particularly the ones playing Becca (why the name change though?), Edward, Becca's Dad, and Edward's sister.
The Book of Eli (2010)
Easily worth 2 hours of your time, at least twice
This is the best movie I've seen in a very long time, and offers a bit of something for everyone.
The chiaroscuro style ending scenes make it very clear to me that religion (anyone's religion) gives us both heaven and hell. I was no more offended by the "Christian" themes of the movie than I was by the Buddhist themes in "The Matrix", or the Marxist POV in "Days of Heaven". A great film is simply a great film ; I don't have to buy into its world view to appreciate it.
Such a thoughtful ending is unusual in a movie which as others have mentioned is part post-apocalyptic action-film, part road-movie, part-western.
The screen-writer was thankfully restrained in his use of humor for a modern Hollywood film (I love a laugh but it would have detracted from the gravitas of a film like this), and the brilliant acting and unobtrusive camera work brought the story to the screen superbly.
I must see this at least one more time, since I'm sure there's stuff I missed. Like the twist at the end; I'm still not convinced!
Beautiful period piece with contemporary questions for karateka
I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss kobushi's comments out of hand, even though I disagree -- I actually liked this movie a lot. His comments point to a central controversy in the martial arts world today, which is essential, I think to understanding this movie: Do the "traditional" arts such as karate, jujitsu, and their Chinese predecessors have any relevance at all in a world full of knives & guns? Does kata have any relevance in a world of folks who watch "mixed-martial artists" on pay-per-view and can learn how to kill with their bare hands in 10 easy Krav-Maga lessons? The movie seems to throw that question out there, and answer it with a resounding: YES!
I've never heard a martial arts instructor (any style) say to ONLY use defensive techniques (even aikido has its atemi-waza) but that would be the Okinawan tradition of "karate ni sente nashi" (no first-strike)taken to its logical extreme -- if I can block every kick or punch, then in the very purest sense, I could never hit or kick you back (without violating the precept) -- nor would I need to. I'm not recommending the philosophy or even saying it is possible (even Giryu gets beat up), just trying to make it understandable. One other sine qua non of some of these traditional styles was "ichi-geki-hissatsu", (one-hit, certain death) which is visually demonstrated throughout the movie: I've personally been hit with most of the techniques Taikan uses in the fight scenes, and none came close to killing me, but if you're fighting for real, for your life or loved ones or country or king, and you've trained for full-power, that's another story, and these guys obviously were and did.
That the army forced the school to teach the military is reminiscent of Gichin Funakoshi's coerced immigration to the Japanese mainland from Okinawa for exactly that purpose -- to bring "Chinese Hands (karate)" to Japan renamed as "Empty Hand".
In the end, even Taikan realizes that the game is not so much about being the baddest guy on the block, or taking home the most trophies or the master's belt, but about the character you build inside along the way.
Personally, I find these fight scenes a lot more interesting and in their own way more realistic than those chop-socky movies where guys (or gals) throw devastating full-contact kicks and punches at each other for 10-15 min., bow to each other, and walk away.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Most over-rated movie I've ever seen
I have only seen this movie once, during the original theatrical release, so maybe I'm due for a second viewing, but I just don't get it. Yes, it's misogynistic, racist, hyper-violent, and near as I can tell --devoid of any redeeming social value: but these seem to be the high points! Yes there were some funny bits, particularly Christopher Walken and the thing about the watch. Yes Mr. Tarantino coaxed some very good performances out of some fairly mediocre actors, and yes they were aided by one very capable actor (Samuel L. Jackson). What I don't get is the way everyone seems so enamored of the dialog. As I recall, it competed for an Oscar that year with Much Ado About Nothing, starring a guy named Denzel Washington, written by a guy named Bill Shakespeare, and the best line from this 154 min. glamorization of our baser instincts seems to be "What do they call a quarter-pounder with cheese?" !!!????? As for interleaving plots, I'm wondering if any of the folks so taken with this have ever seen anything made by Robert Altman? I wouldn't object to the violence so much if it made me think (The Matrix, Memento) or feel (Road to Perdition) something, but unfortunately, this film offered me neither.
The Karate Kid (1984)
If you want to know what Karate's about, see this
Having trained in various martial arts styles on and off (OK, mostly off) for the last 26 years (the longest stint in an Okinawan style of karate), I think this film reveals more honest truth about Karate then any of the others I've seen, though I am admitedly not a huge fan of martial arts films. Miyagi is indeed a famous surname of Okinawan martial artists; Karate used everyday work implements and movements as part of secretive training to avoid detection by Chinese and Japanese conquerors. (Even the American occupation is hinted at in one of the sequels). Okinawans are renowned for using their karate skills only for defensive purposes. The Chinese predecessors to Karate (particularly the style called Kung Fu [Chuan Fa] in the West) took many movements from nature (e.g.: Crane Style); mostly Western, non-traditional accoutrements include the belt system, exhibition sparring, etc. Breaking bottles is the most extreme and advanced form of a speed break (don't try this at home kids :-) ). "Focus all your power in this one punch"; "Karate not just way to fight, Karate way to live"; "Do Karate Yes, do Karate No, not 'Do Karate guess-so"; are all integral parts of what martial artists of any style are expected to learn. "Best block, not to be there" is something I think about every time I spar. Yes, elevating the Crane style "#4 jump front kick" (as it's referred to in my current style) to something mystical was unfortunate, as was the "always look eyes" (considered disrespectful and a sign of distrust in ALL Asian cultures AFAIK), but overall a much more informative and enjoyable movie than most of the films Hong Kong seems to churn out by the hour.
Maybe best/worst SF/Horror film I've ever seen....
.... sort of Blair Witch (minimalist sound track; kept you waiting for something really scary) meets the X-Files (where is this thing going???) meets the Exorcist (Fr. so & so has a crisis of faith, curable only by exposure to Earthly trauma). Yes there were some pretty silly elements to the plot, but I rather like the non-cinematic (and certainly non-theatrical) dialog which exposed the characters: I'd have to go back to Silkwood to find a film with characters and dialog this real. Should I be impressed, because the film had me on pins & needles over ... nothing? Or feel cheated because after all, what I was afraid of was the wicked witch of the West? Also, don't know that anyone else mentioned it, but I couldn't help wondering if (**** SPOILER HERE: ***) the alien's presumed "poison" wasn't perhaps, some sort of cure for Asthma, which puts the film more in the camp of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and others which warn us of xenophobic reactions to well-intentioned aliens. I just saw it last night, but I'm leaning toward liking it.