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A well-made vampire movie, though it lacks depth
11 November 2007
Whoever it was that said this was a zombie movie is insane. The characters even use the word "vampire" at one point. It's a freakin' vampire movie. That's why they're so fast and strong. Also, Eastern European, and with sharp teeth. Like, oh, I don't know... VAMPIRES!

Josh Hartnett does a really good job with his role, and the cinematography is really well done. There isn't a lot of depth of theme here - the closest the movie comes to any sort of self-reflection is a series of quips by the leader of the vampire clan that express some of their religious worldview - for example, "What can be broken, must be broken." The film suffers a bit from the fact that it is adapted from a serial comic book. Specifically, the story jumps ahead days at a time without any establishing of what has and hasn't happened in the interim.

The creative cinematography makes this a fun "monster-gore" movie, and the original premise makes it worth seeing. It's generally well-acted as well.
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Ghost Rider (2007)
Another mediocre Marvel movie...
17 February 2007
Everything about this movie was mediocre - by which I don't mean it was bad, but it certainly wasn't good.

Let's say, it didn't fulfill my hopes, but it didn't disappoint my expectations.

At times slipping into sophomoric melodrama, at other times tripping over metaphysical speeches that neither actors nor director seemed properly prepared for - surprising because the director is also the screenwriter.

The "creature effects" for Ghost Rider go over the top - a CG visage combined with a heavily processed voice mean that there is nothing accessibly human about the character. A more 'natural' voice would have upped the pathos and the audience involvement.

The thematic material is pretty light - the best theme I could come up with is that Blaze realizes that in order to live his life he must come to terms with the "monstrous" aspect of himself and embrace it. But more could have been done to connect this self-image of "monster" with the character's rhetoric about second-chances.

In other words, he saw himself as a monster even before he ever transformed into a flaming skeleton. Is this what we are supposed to gather from the film? It's only there piece-meal, if at all.

And I have some issues with casting. Eva Mendes is a true beauty, but she's ten years younger than Nicolas Cage - and their characters are meant to have been teenage sweethearts at 17. How does that work? And while in the late 90's I would have said Wes Bentley was an up-and-coming great, his performance in this movie leaves a lot to be desired.

In the pantheon of recent Marvel movies, Ghost Rider for me ranks somewhere above Daredevil and Punisher, and somewhere below Hulk and Elektra. In a word, mediocre.
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Nacho Libre (2006)
Good clean fun (well, mostly clean)
16 June 2006
What I really appreciate about Mike White's screenplays is that he obviously - like the young writer played by Colin Hanks in White's movie "Orange County" - loves his characters. White's talented mix of subtle, ironic humour and laugh-out-loud ridiculousness combines with Jared Hess' simple and smooth storytelling to create one of the most entertaining movies I've seen in a long time.

Add to this the comic timing and physical performance of Jack Black (who I realize is not everyone's cup of tea) and a movie that would simply have been entertaining becomes near-brilliant.

The dialogue in this movie is simple, the characters are simple, and the plot is simple. It is the careful, loving, comic storytelling of White, Black, and Hess that makes it outstanding. And if subtlety and irony are not your thing, there are a few fart jokes and fat-woman jokes thrown in to tide you over.

One refreshing aspect of this movie, in contrast to the recent big-hype "Frat Pack" films of people like Ben Stiller, the Wilsons, Will Ferrell, and Vince Vaughn, is that the protagonists are genuinely decent people who the viewer can actually care about.

On a bit of a supplemental note, I'm also a fan of professional wrestling (mostly American style, but there has been more and more lucha libre influence in recent years) and I can say the wrestling action in this movie is top-notch. The wrestling is used respectfully as a tool for the storytelling, but the respect shines through nonetheless. There are a couple of "camera trick" and wire-flying moments and a couple of editing and/or logistical mistakes (for example, a collar-and-elbow tie-up is converted directly into a vertical suplex without a shot of them changing the hold) but overall the wrestling action is clean, crisp, and a fair representation of what you would see in a luchador ring, keeping in mind that this is a movie that is telling a story, not primarily trying to accurately portray the in-ring world of lucha libre.
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A Beautiful And Melodious 'Romance' Movie
19 May 2006
I remember that when this movie came out, a lot of people were disappointed with it. The chief problem I heard was that it was long. Well, it is long, running exactly three hours to the end of the credits. But I find that the length allowed me to achieve some 'distance' from the events that began the story, so that when the ending arrived, it wasn't so fresh - in other words we as viewers have been taken on a journey.

And what a journey! We are treated to a warm and insightful examination of what it means to love. The love of a father for his daughters, and between the characters of Susan (the always-stunning Claire Forlani) and Joe (the equally gorgeous Brad Pitt), are the main focus of the story, but we are also treated to a very special moment as Jeffrey Tambor's character (a corporate "loser" with an ill-fitting suit and unfortunate facial hair) shares the joy of his relationship with his neurotic wife (the wonderful Marcia Gay Harden). There are also hints of fraternal, platonic love among Joe, his ersatz guide (Anthony Hopkins), and his son-in-law, Tambor.

This is not an immature or simple love, either. The film deals tenderly with questions of responsibility and power, self-giving and fidelity. I am a huge fan of stories in which a person simply and confidently "is who they are" and forces others to react, think, and make decisions. There are several moments in this movie when Joe follows Lewis Carroll's great advice, "When in doubt, don't just do something. Stand there." There is an entire conversation with Susan in which he says nothing, but it is not one-sided, because she is forced to think about what she's saying. (Another example of a film where someone forces others to react and grow, simply by being himself, is "Life As A House.")

One of the problems with the initial release of this film may have been the theatrical trailer, which portrays a fun, humorous, and 'jaunty' Rom-Com with a slight metaphysical twist. People who went expecting to see that kind of movie would certainly be disappointed. The metaphysical content is more than slight (Joe is the personification of Death), and the movie never becomes fun or jaunty. What it is, is touching, intelligent, and utterly romantic in the best sense of the word.

On the negative side, it is difficult to identify with the lifestyle of the characters (Hopkins is an unimaginably wealthy media mogul) and I found the sheer opulence and excessiveness of their surroundings to be distracting at times. However, it does make for great eye-candy on the screen, and the actors are more than able to bring their characters to life; none of them are dilettante, and Hopkins brings an elegance and self-awareness to the "rich man" stereotype.

And speaking of stereotypes, the only antagonist in the film (Jake Weber as Hopkins' corporate right-hand and Susan's would-be love-interest) ends up a two-dimensional and utterly unsympathetic character who is incapable of the kind of love displayed by the people around him. It's a disappointing caricature in a movie filled with deeply explored archetypal characters. The filmmakers had an opportunity to demonstrate that all people have subtle, nuanced personalities, but there is none of that with Weber's role. On the other hand, Weber does a fine job with what he was given, and it is an interesting example of how an immature or self-interested person will attempt to sabotage the well-being of others rather than allow them to change and grow.

This is an unusual movie that has not developed a cult following, which means it is probably destined to be overlooked by both the mainstream and the fringe movie fan, which is unfortunate. If it had been better marketed (the trailer is a criminal misrepresentation of the movie) it might have a higher profile today. At any rate, if you are a fan of careful, thoughtful, and emotionally mature storytelling, I fully recommend this movie to your perusal. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

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A Depressingly Ordinary Action Film
7 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
If you liked "The Bourne Supremacy," then... go watch it again instead of seeing this movie.

MI:3 tries to have intrigue, espionage, action, suspense, and a touching romantic subplot, but it falls short on all levels. There is no 'mystery' to the mystery - only vagueness and obscurity that fails to engage the imagination. The action is unoriginal and confusing, and the "Ethan's love interest" plot line is more of a hindrance than an enhancement. The 'twist' ending fell flat as no suspense had been built and I didn't really care about the characters or their mission. The eventual (and obligatory) scene in which the bad guy explains "why" is simplistic and lacks any sense of high drama.

Paramount has managed to take one of the most incredible high-concept television series of all time and in the course of three films turn it into a mediocre franchise that bears only a passing (and mostly musical) resemblance to the source material.

On the plus side, Hoffman is brilliant as always, and the people in this movie are certainly pretty (Maggie Q wearing an evening gown that qualifies as "half-a-dress" is definitely a highlight). It's not that it's a BAD movie, but there's nothing great or worthwhile about it. 5/10
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