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Let Me In (2010)
Rivals the original... certainly an adaptation worthy of the story.
To say I was extremely reluctant at the thought of an American version of the beautifully haunting 'Let The Right One' In would be an understatement. But after seeing it's TIFF premiere I'm happy to report that Matt Reeves has knocked it out of the park! 'Let Me In' is incredible... dare I say just as good as 'Let The Right One In'.
It is truly hard to believe that a flawless adaptation -- it's based on the book: thus not a remake -- of this great story could be done this well twice. But the level of skill on every point is beyond compare.
Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz are simply captivating. The cinematography is gorgeous. Michael Giacchino's score is gripping. And Matt Reeves simply gets it. He understands that this is a coming of age story of two lost and isolated children and he hits every note perfectly.
For those who love 'Let The Right One In' (like myself) fear not. This film will only make you appreciate more the story both films are based on. And for those reluctant to watch a Swedish horror film, know that you can watch 'Let Me In' and not miss a bit of the story. Certainly there are some different artistic choices. But the story is the same and it is the story that is the important part.
This is one of the best film stories to come around in years. And since Reeves faithfully sticks to the story it means a new audience who may not have watched the subtitled original will get a chance to take it in.
An incredibly endearing film
Waitress is a film that is almost impossible not to love. It is such an obvious labor of love for all involved and brings out some of the best work of many of those involved. And unlike many "labor of love" films, this one is actually both highly entertaining and easily accessible. From start to finish, it is a heart moving and amusing film with many quirks and magnificent originality. While it is a romantic comedy, it is not a "Hollywood" romantic comedy in that the film rarely -- if ever -- goes where you expect it to go.
The story follows a young waitress (played by Keri Russell) who is married to a full-time loser (Jeremy Sisto) with a mean spirit. She finds out she is pregnant which ultimately puts her on a collision course with the new doctor in town (Nathan Fillion) whom she falls into a passionate love affair with. The film follows this waitress as she tries to sort out her own problematic relationship with her husband, understand what her heart is telling her about her affair, all the while dealing with her everyday life with her fellow waitress friends (Adrienne Shelly and Cheryl Hines) and a grumpy old customer (Andy Griffith) who happens to own the restaurant where she works.
Every character in this film is memorable for one reason or another, including several minor character such as the short-order cook of the restaurant, and even a mother and her young, obnoxious son who frequent the restaurant and strike fear into the pregnant protagonist. Andy Griffith in particular grabs the audience's attention and makes his role a true standout.
The only major criticism that can be brought against the film is some of the camera work. At times the focus is unclear with the camera seemingly unsure which actors it should be staying on and at times simply not being in focus at all. However, it is such a minor issue and would go unnoticed to most audiences that it certainly doesn't bring the quality of the film down in any way.
Adrienne Shelly who acted in, wrote and directed the film (as well as co-set designed, co- costume designed and even provided one of the songs for the film) has left one perfect little film here. It is such a tragedy that she did not live to see this film's release as it certainly would have given her the success she so richly deserved. This film can easily be recommended to anybody who has a heart.
Deus Ex (2000)
Took video games to a whole new level
Video games had come a long way by the year 2000. Games such as Castle Wolfenstein and Doom popularized the first-person shooter genre, Metal Gear defined stealth based action and Half Life and Unreal elevated the idea of a continuous storyline for gaming. Even yet, it is likely that nobody was prepared for what game designers Warren Spector and Harvey Smith along with software company Ion Storm had up their sleeve.
In June of 2000, Deus Ex hit the video game world running with glowing reviews and amassing an enviable list of awards, including most of 2000's Game of the Year awards. Set in a future world where shadowy government agencies, multi-national corporations and secret societies battle to control the world, the game follows the character of JC Denton -- a government agent with a host of bio-modifications that give him special abilities -- as he investigates and takes on the various powers that be.
While the graphics and the game play itself was top notch, what set Deus Ex apart from all that had come before was its branching game play and extremely developed storyline. With settings all around the world, the player was given the option of choosing which "missions" they wanted to complete. And those choices would eventually help or hinder the player, depending on the situation. The scope of the game's story was so in-depth that it could allow an average gamer weeks of game play.
As well, unlike previous games where players could carry unlimited supplies and weapons, Deus Ex forced a certain realism where players could only carry a certain amount of equipment at any given time. Thus, to complete certain levels, a player may be forced to drop unnecessary equipment in favor of other weapons or tools. As well, weapons could be modified to take on special characteristics (i.e. scope, silencer, EMP rounds, etc.) thus increasing the level of choice to the player. The same was true for the bio-modifications, which gave the user a whole host of impressive capabilities (i.e. thermo vision, stealth movement, remote control drones, etc.).
Very few games have come close to matching what game designers Spector and Smith achieved with Deus Ex. Deus Ex remains one of the most respected titles in gaming history with good reason.
Visually stunning and entertaining action film
300 is the latest in a line of films that is proving the value of CGI environments to enhance a visual aesthetic that is new and refreshing to the world of cinema. Like its Frank Miller adapted cousin Sin City (though with a palette more visually akin to Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow), 300 is a feast for the senses that dazzles the eye and entertains wonderfully.
Hearkening back to the days of grandiose cinematic efforts such as Ben Hur, the Ten Commandments and Cleopatra, but with a sense of brutal realism that is reminiscent to Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan, 300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae and how a small group of Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas stood alone against the Persian army of Xerxes I. Legend has it that the Persians numbered in the millions, though this is disputed by modern scholars who believe they were in the tens of thousands, still an overwhelming number against the 300 Spartans who held them off for three days of intense combat.
300 is exactly what one would expect of a well crafted film about an ancient war. With costume design and digitally crafted scenes and sets, and cinematography that is unique and awe-inspiring, director Zakk Snyder has fashioned a film that he can take great pride in. And with a cast led by Gerald Butler and Lena Headey that captivates the audience with their demanding screen presence, 300 certainly provides an engaging cinematic experience.
While the narrative and how the film paces itself is certainly well done, the dialog does tend to sound very modern and not very convincing as a recreation of the time period. The films largest flaw resides in the fact that -- at times -- the humorous interplays between characters are given very modern choices in phrases that sound out of place and thus tend to pull the audience out of the illusion that they are watching ancient Sparta and not modern day North America. While sarcasm certainly isn't anything new and likely had as much a life in ancient Sparta, the stylistic approach that is used does not come off as believable. As well, while there is a great deal of bloody combat, the fact that the Spartans in this film walked away from every second of graphically bloody combat without a drop of blood on their clothes or bodies does tend to draw one out of the action that is taking place.
Overall, 300 is a fantastic action yarn that is as enjoyable to watch for its artistic accomplishments as it is an entertaining take on classical war cinema. Where it lacks in believable dialog it more than makes up for in its stunning beauty and intense action sequences.
I would only warn that this film is certainly not for young audiences or those who are squeamish at the site of blood and dismemberment. 300 is true to its subject matter and does not hold its punches in the graphical representation of sword based combat (regardless of how clean the soldiers look afterward). 7.9/10
With a different script, director and cast, this film would have been good...
If you can't tell by my summary line, there really wasn't much saving this film. I got free passes to see Disturbia and was actually looking forward to it. I'm a huge fan of Rear Window (which this film borrows from liberally, substituting a rabbit for the dog that dug in the killer's garden in Rear Window) and find the whole dramatic content of voyeuristic thrillers to be full of possibilities. Unfortunately, Disturbia is flawed in every regards, from plot lines that are nothing more than a slapping together of ideas, to painful to listen to dialog, to direction that is laughable at best, to both poor performances and great actors poorly utilized. This film has it all.
Right from the word go I had a bad feeling about this movie. Matt Craven is a solid performer, but it appeared from the opening sequence that the director didn't know how to use him in the opening scene. This set the stage for Shia LaBeouf who simply could not carry this film. His performance was, simply put, inconsistent and all over the place. Maybe he gives an accurate depiction of how modern teenagers act (and with access to more techno gadgets than Neo in the Matrix) but it doesn't mean that it is interesting to watch or even good drama. In any good performance there has to be a sense that we are looking at the same character in every scene with subtle nuances that show how the character developed. With LaBeouf's performance, it was as if he was a completely different person every five minutes with no sense of connection to the rest of the film.
The dialog went from stale, to boring, to laughably bad to downright insulting of one's intelligence in no time flat. Mix this with a villain -- played by the always excellent David Morse -- who seems to know everybody and show up everywhere and you end up with more of a farce than a serious suspense film. One shot made him look like Michael Myers from Halloween, and by that point they might as well have made this a slasher film because all of the intelligent suspense aspects of the film had already been thrown out the window. And that is very disappointing considering how much respect I have for David Morse as an actor. It was painful for me to watch him have to suffer through the indignities that is this film.
The ending of the film gave the impression that the writers and director had finally given up all hope of making any sense and devolved into a monster on the run project. All reality is thrown out the window as injuries that would kill any normal person become minor inconveniences, law enforcement procedure is tossed aside for happy Hollywood sentiment, and the final two minutes are so laughably bad that one has to wonder both who approved this film and what mafia Don it was that director D.J. Caruso insulted to land this gig.
Perhaps my only lucky break of the night in seeing this was that the projectionist at the theater I was at screwed up the framing half-way through so that the boom mics were present in every shot in the last half of the film. At least that gave the night some enjoyment. However, I would not recommend this film to anybody when there are many more voyeuristic thrillers (did I mention Rear Window) out there that are far better in every regards.
Apart from some great performances, not incredibly special
Dreamgirls is the perfect example of a film where people just didn't make enough decisions going into and thus provided little to no cohesion throughout. While there are some fantastic performances and some great songs, as a film Dreamgirls is nothing noteworthy.
The film follows three girls from 1960's Detroit as they make a name for themselves in the music industry, first as backups to a well known soul singer, then as a group in their own right. Along the way they face the difficulties of white musicians taking their material to make a hit for themselves, a radio industry that only played music when bribed and the cynical nature of the modern music industry where image counts more than sheer talent.
In terms of making a good snapshot of what the music industry was like at the time, Dreamgirls succeeds on many levels. Unfortunately, while the storyline is interesting, it is simply not presented very well. The writing is lackluster at best, and the direction is often aimless and unfocused. In fact, the ending is incredibly weak and terribly directed. What was clear of Jamie Foxx's character's predicament at the end is pushed to ridiculous lengths as if director Bill Condon thought the audience would be too stupid to figure it out.
The most notable element of this is the fact that in the beginning of the film, the only music was that of the performers while on stage. Then about 1/3 of the way, characters started to sing their dialog. And once it seems like the director has settled on this, in the last third he cuts it down so that only certain lines are sung. It is as if he didn't really know what he wanted to do going into the film and then experimented with different concepts at different times of the movie. Thus, as a musical it fails, and as a talkie with musical sequences it is confusing.
However, the real strength of the film is the performances which make the film worth watching. While this was certainly billed as Beyonce Knowles' breakout film, the film clearly belongs to Jennifer Hudson whose incredible vocal range -- on full display in this film -- is matched only by her dramatic skills. She certainly deserved her Oscar as she completely owns this film from beginning to end. The real story is Eddie Murphy, whose performance in this film reminded me of the dramatic breakout of Bill Murray in Lost In Translation. Murphy has never been so powerful in a role and his presence is a blessing for this film.
All in all, Dreamgirls is a case of 'what could have been' more than anything. With jarring inconsistencies throughout and very weak direction, it does not stand up as a great film in any regards save the incendiary performances. Jennifer Hudson has guaranteed herself a long career with what is certainly the standout debut of recent years and Eddie Murphy has proved beyond any degree of doubt that he is more than the funny-man. However, the performances do not do enough to save what is ultimately a letdown of a film.
Was an 8/10 until the ending came around... what a letdown
"Premonition" is one of the few films I recall seeing where I left the theatre infuriated. Not because the movie was bad. Rather, the movie was very good until the utterly annoying ending.
This film had it all. The script for the most part was mature and well paced. The direction was superb. The score was excellent. And Sandra Bullock held herself quite nicely throughout the film, putting forward one of her better performances.
That being said, the entire film comes to a screeching halt with one of the sloppiest endings I have ever seen. It was bad enough that I could see the crux of the finale from a mile away. But what pounded it in further was that this crux comprised the entirety of the conclusion. Not only is it not enough to be the ending, but it resolves nothing. When the screen faded to black and credits began to roll, the entire audience where I was began to chuckle and I could hear a chorus of, "Is that it? That's the ending?"
This is one of those films that could be enjoyable so long as the viewer stopped before the final scene. Even that might leave the viewer feeling let down, but not nearly so as having to watch what is surely the sorriest excuse for a finale I've seen in a professional film in a long time. "Premonition" showed lots of promise and delivered throughout, but collapses just before the finish line. A wasted opportunity for all those involved, and sadly so.
An action-suspense masterpiece
Luc Besson had already defined himself as a true action film craftsman with his brilliant "La Femme Nikita" when he bested himself with what is certainly one of the greatest action films of all time "Leon" (a.k.a. "the Professional"). Combining equal parts dirty-cop/mob drama with the emotional tale of a man taking in an orphaned youngster, "Leon" is both thrilling and heart-wrenching to watch.
Leon (played by the ever stoic Jean Reno) is the hit-man of choice for the Italian mob of New York city. When a dirty DEA agent named Stansfield (Gary Oldman) kills the family of his young neighbor Mathilda (Natalie Portman), he takes her under his wing teaching her the ways of the assassin as she teaches him of the love for life that he has been missing. But Mathilda's desire for vengeance puts herself, Leon and Stansfield on a collision course for a violent confrontation.
Luc Besson certainly brings to vibrant life New York City with beautiful cinematography while crafting a tasteful crescendo of a script. Watching such an excellently composed script play out on the screen with such tasteful imagery is a real treat. As well, the score by longtime Besson collaborator Eric Serra is hypnotic and beautiful in its own right. I have often found myself coming back to the score on its own as it is at times both emotive and pulse driving.
Combined with the production aspects are a collection of precision performances. Portman's screen debut certainly demonstrates why her career took off, as she grabs the viewer's eye and heart from her first appearance and holds her own with her fellow actors. Reno turns in as strong a performance as he has ever given, demonstrating why he is one of the few French leads to have made an equal impact in North America. Add to this an electrifying and intoxicating performance by the master of scene chewing, Gary Oldman, and a subtle and captivating turn by Danny Aiello as an Italian mobster, and this film is certainly worth the price of admission for the performances alone.
"Leon" is a picture perfect example of a film that expanded far beyond the confines of its genre. While being a wonderfully entertaining action film, it draws a strong dramatic narrative that is compelling and unforgettable, and certainly demands repeated viewing. It is a film that few can walk away from without the desire to turn right around and watch again.
Recipe for a fantastic, intelligent action film
If you were to take the best parts of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series (Patriot Games, Clear And Present Danger, Sum of All Fears) and mixed in the best parts of the only good Rambo film (First Blood) you would end up with something akin to Shooter. Shooter is a smart, engaging and all out enjoyable action flick that never pulls its punches and always surprises you when you least expect it.
Mark Whalberg plays the role of Bob Lee Swagger, a former military sniper who quit the army following a disastrous mission where his best friend and spotter is killed when they are left behind. Three years later he is hired by a Colonel (played with gusto by Danny Glover) to figure out how a suspected assassin is going to attempt to kill the President from over a mile away, a shot that few could make. Swagger figures out how it is going to be done and is asked to supervise locating the sniper on site. But on the day of the supposed assassination, Swagger is set up with the assassination attempt that kills a visiting diplomat. Swagger is then left on the hunt while trying to prove his innocence.
Shooter twists and turns with an elaborate conspiracy that is very convincing, though of course the writers wimp out and take the cheap road of drawing international oil into the plot (can't writers think of an original plot device?). However, this is hardly a drawback since the rest of the film is solid as a rock. The film really puts you into the shoes of a sniper and gives an impressive overview of the mindset that it takes to be as accurate as someone of the character of Swagger.
The only real distractions in the film would be Elias Koteas, whose psycho performance is heavy-handed and does not fit the film, and Kate Mara who has little to do throughout the film but appear upset or in distress. The film could have done without either characters or their respective actors. As well, some of the character relations seem forced at time, particularly in the relationship between Michael Peña's character of Nick Memphis and his FBI confidante Lourdes, played by Rhona Mitra. Their almost effortless camaraderie comes off as less than convincing.
Overall, Shooter certainly delivers as an entertaining thrill-ride that is certainly not dumbed down in the least. If you want an intelligent action film with lots of impressive gun play and several elaborate, thrilling action sequences to boot, Shooter is right up your alley and will not disappoint. 7.6 out of 10
Saw III (2006)
Not as good as the first; more on par with the second
The Saw franchise is one of those guilty pleasures that you don't necessarily have to keep secret. The first film was a refreshing horror film with an innovative script and enough chills to keep you wanting more. The second was more a by-the-book suspense film with more gore than frights.
Saw III sits in the same arena as the second film in that it bases its shock value on gore, not suspense. There are very few moments that actually jump out and scare you (actually, I can't remember even one) which is unfortunate since that is what true horror films need. As well, the cinematography is so dark for most of the film that it is difficult to know exactly what is being shown.
However, the audience is treated to more of the innovative torture devices and twist endings that made the first film work. I ended up figuring the ultimate twist of the story well before it was presented, but it was still a worthy payoff. And the slight open-end to the film is a little but of a cruel way of leaving things hanging, though in a good way.
All in all, like the second film, Saw III is a fun little gore fest that's not incredibly unique. In that, it certainly won't stand out as one of the better horror films of all times, but it will certainly entertain for an evening. And sometimes that's all you need.