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The Ring (2002)
Two hours of baloney that overbuilds to....nothing
Spoiler free, no specific actions or character details given
The Ring will entertain you fully and you will have no unanswered questions if you accept anything that is thrown at you and never stop to ponder even the simplest details.
Okay, there's a videotape that kills people after they watch it. A little girl is involved. We know that, but there's unanswered questions. Well, the movie does give you answers, which are satisfying as long as you don't ask a single follow-up question. If I want to know why some angry kid went on a shooting spree at school, the local news will give me the answers why. Instead, "The Ring" IS that troubled kid. For any question I ask, be it "how did this happen?" or "why?", the answer is a basic, uninspired "uhh, because". He may even give me an answer that he thinks makes perfect sense such as "I want to kill people so I got a gun and did". And of course, if that's all you ever heard of the case, and no other explanation were given for the series of questions that would follow, you'd be completely satisfied, right?
Well, not for most people, but then here you have the Ring which pulls that crap with almost every important question you'd have. Yes, you learn how this video kills people, as demonstrated in one of the two "big reveals" of the film that is so powerful and scary that I think "Oh," and shrug. The other big reveal a is red herring near the end that's just a bit of dialog - basically "Uh oh, what we thought was the case really isn't, and now it's actually worse!" The film ruins this too, giving no explanation, reasoning or motive whatsoever for what was just explained. Savin' it for the sequel I guess.
The end made me realize that, more than anything, I could have summed up this film in one sentence and saved myself a lot of time and letdown. Yes there's a little girl, a well, and a mysterious video that kills people. But why, how, and what do they all have to do with each other? Well, the big "why" is revealed without much more than "well, uh, because". "How" isn't answered at all- not in any logical, explainable way unless you just accept the very silly and ostensibly MEGA CHILLING super payoff that I think I was supposed to have seen. Of course, after seeing what I saw, I'd still like to know "how" that event, upon which this movie's very premise hangs, is possible. No explanation attempted. You just buy it, 'cuz it makes the story super neato, you know?
As for "what do they all have to do with each other?" Well, the movie goes on for an eternity trying to make this the big mystery. In fact, if I gave you the answers to what happens, then went into detail of how this is visually represented, you'd probably think there'd have to be SOMETHING more going on, and probably say "oh, that's what happens? How? Why? (there's those troublesome words again).
Nope, there ain't much of a story here. It's a concept that, when stripped down, comes down to a special effect, one that has different motives than what we were led to believe. Huh, pretty powerful I guess, or so I'm supposed to think based on the Sixth Sense "slowly zoom in on the character as they reveal the 'big twist'" shot. I mean, sure I know that the movie's last ten minutes are supposed to be pretty profound and I'm not supposed to question it. I suppose it's just the natural learner in me that says "Gee, now I know the big secret. The video kills people by doing what I just saw. What again is the motive for this, how again does it work through a plastic videotape, and why does it take 100 minutes of buildup for the basic or nonexistent answers I received? Huh, what? Distract me with the end credits and release a couple answers on a special edition DVD released in time for the sequel? Sure, sounds great.
To make matters worse, no one in the movie is appealing. The protagonist is a pest and a (expletive). In addition to other annoyances, she's rude enough to walk up to someone's horse, let it out of its cage, and watch its resultant gory death as its little girl owner cries in horror, all without a word of apology or explanation. I can also ponder credibility leaps like how she can be holding a dessicated corpse while up to her waist in putrid water and not think too much of it.
Of course I'll get a personal message ridiculing my stupidity. How dare I try to find logic in a film that, as a horror film, shouldn't apply to logic? It's simple. I got the film, got the message. But you know, after two hours and all that praise, I expected a better ending than that, or at least some explanation beyond "it's just magical. Accept it." Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a horror film too, but Leatherface didn't kill people by popping out of a tree and making his chainsaw hover at his victims. If a movie isn't going to bother being realistic, it should at least give a better explanation than this film did.
But hey, this movie is the perfect conformist's exercise. Everyone else loves it, so surely I must be stupid if I don't. I guess I need to just watch it and accept it, not asking any questions or pointing out flaws in the story since that's clearly what everyone else has done. Then once I'm done with that I can go and love Blair Witch instead of actually wondering what it was on the screen that I was supposed to be terrified of.
Batoru rowaiaru (2000)
Way more serious, dramatic, and emotional than I ever expected. The most mature handling of the subject that I can imagine.
To begin with, yes, I rented this video because I'd heard that it was a very controversial film- a bloody tale in which a class of high school kids are forced to play cat and mouse and kill each other until only one remains.
And yes, I received that. But I was completely shocked that I also got a very serious, character-driven, emotional drama. If you're into this movie because of the violence, don't worry, you'll be happy. But for those quick to turn away because they think this will be another crazy, senseless, far-out Japanese trash film? I have to tell you- you're very wrong. I went into this film wanting to see just how flashy and violent it would be, and walked away from it with a much higher opinion. This movie didn't insult my intelligence with two hours of nonsense. Instead, it captivated me with emotional tales of life, loss, love, and friendship. These kids aren't just disposable fodder. The movie makes sure we understand that they all had lives and dreams.
The film's premise is explained quickly but paced expertly: In a future Asia, things are horrible and some adults have rebelled against the youth that spites them. One man in particular, a high school teacher, goes with his unruly class on a field trip. They're shocked to find themselves being hustled into a room under supervision of armed militants and told that their lives are at an end. Each of the 40 kids are given a bag of rations and a random weapon, and shoved out onto an isolated island where they must kill each other, or be killed themselves.
As strange as this may sound, I was surprised at how well these scenes played out. These kids are fine actors. Extreme disbelief, shock, rage, confusion, terror- it's all on their faces as they slowly take this message in. Some rebel and are quickly disposed of. Others fly into rage at what they see. Most others however shrink into the corners of the small room and try their best to accept the impossible fate before them. Soon though, the music goes low and the faces get stark as the kids are rushed, one by one, out into the wilderness. They look at their friends and hastily embrace for what they know will probably be the last time.
As I said, there is of course a lot of violence in the film. It's comparable to the first Kill Bill, or perhaps the original Robocop. But the controversy following this film is due simply to its theme of high schoolers killing high schoolers, and also due to the film's dark tone. I reiterate: This isn't a rocking, stylistic gun glamorization. Some of these kids fall backwards in fear, not wanting to fire upon their friends. Others recoil in shock when they do what's required. Others simply attempt suicide to free themselves of the burden. The subject of this movie is not taken lightly. The mood is dark, the situation desperate.
Driving things home are vignettes of the kids. Often, we're given glimpses of these people's lives. We see exuberance of youth- a shy boy trying to find a way to let a girl know he likes her. A girl who's happy to bring cookies to her friends for the field trip. Another boy who just lost his father and is trying to cope. The basketball game where these kids last shared their lives together. This film is about loss, primarily evidenced by the loss of innocence and youth that these kids experience when they know they have to kill their best friends. Heightening the film is a gorgeous, poetic soundtrack of classical music that is expertly juxtaposed against the agony and misery that these people have to go through.
The film makes sense, has a well-paced, intelligent narrative, and interesting circumstances. Some kids can't handle what's happening, others glory in it. Some are experts, some are terrified. Something important is constantly going on, and by the end, it's a sad, moving piece of human drama regardless of who wins- if anyone. Well acted, well scored, with raw and realistic dialog, and fantastic direction.
Yes, if you strip away all narrative, this is a movie about kids killing each other. But to my pleasant shock, it was also one of the most moving, emotional dramas about life and loss that I've ever seen. And not just life, but what it means to live.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Fairly satisfying conclusion, but there are disappointments, and it still doesn't make total sense.
(No plot spoilers.)
Like most others, I loved the Matrix. And like a lot of others, I was underwhelmed with Reloaded. But for Revolutions, I came out pretty happy. You do see an end, and there are some surprises. But I was still left with important unanswered questions, and that's kind of inexcusable for the finale in a 7 hour trilogy.
What Matrix Revolutions brings to the table is a giant war. The machines have reached Zion, it's the last stand for the humans, and Neo must make a choice that could bring him face-to face with the machine city and a possible end to the war.
After a slow but interesting start, we see the war begin. It's a special effects frenzy, similar to that of Lord of the Rings or the arena battle at the end of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. The war scene makes up the entire middle third of the film, and for what it's supposed to display, it does it well enough. Aside from legions of the "squiddies", or Sentinels, there are a couple new machines that are fascinating to watch: Giant, drilling creatures that instill an appropriate feeling of dread and power. On the human side, there's a small army of walking robots similar to the Power Loader machines in "Aliens", but with extensive firepower. This results in long sequences of shooting, attacking, and screaming, which is going to uninspire fans of the Matrix's deeper plot but which is appropriate for a war setting.
The only problem is that a lot of this is pretty standard stuff. Grizzled military commanders will be hard on young soldiers, who find their courage and prove their true worth. People will be injured and give important information in a speech just before dying. The heroes will be doubted but still do just enough to prove their doubters wrong.
But then one of the bigger overall problems is that the main characters are sort of lost amongst the backdrop of war. Morpheus has maybe 30 lines, becoming a shadow of the informative, enigmatic hero he was in the original. This time, he's reduced mainly to someone who hopes Neo saves the world while himself taking orders as co-captain of Niobe's ship. Trinity has little else to do either besides tag along with Neo or do a couple arbitrary flips and kicks.
And then there's actually a few more specific problems. A very important scene with Neo and Trinity occurs within the movie's last half hour, and although it's dramatic it too is cliche. What's worse, after the scene is over the plot just moves right along as if it didn't matter, without it even being mentioned again. Given the importance of the scene, and the fact that it's occuring between two characters who we've known for years, it feels like it's over way too quickly. That's just a letdown. The same thing occurs with the appearance if the Architect, the builder of the Matrix. He has a brief scene in this film, and has almost nothing important or informative to say whatsoever. Again, it seems like a waste, especially due to the fact that he SHOULD have interesting things to say by the point at which he appears in the film.
Finally there's the film's conclusion, which I won't reveal. I will say that it was one of the less predictable of possible outcomes. But it too is a letdown in a couple ways: First, it leaves quite a few important questions unanswered, and could be construed as leaving the door open for a sequel, but also could be seen as the absolute finish. But that's the problem. If it's the end, I want my questions answered, I want to know the hows and whys. The final minutes left me wanting, left me thinking that there were several possible conclusions to the story that aren't there on film. And in my opinion, that shouldn't happen at the end of something this large and built up to.
But what really matters is whether I enjoyed the film. Although the review doesn't sound like I did, that's actually not the case. I went in planning to know what I wanted to know, and while I didn't learn everything I still did spend a couple fun hours watching an action movie. The acting, score, and effects were pretty much on par with the other films so there's nothing lost there, but it's the details that hurt. Where the original Matrix was a smart script that mostly made sense, this one was more or less action with an incomplete plot wrapup. But it still did have several good scenes, and many of the special effects were great (I loved machine city, with its vast fields and burned skies). I also truly loved the music for the final fight, and during the end credits.
Still, while Reloaded had a standout chase scene as well as some great kung fu like the 100 Smith brawl, this one had neither. There is a climactic and important Neo/Smith battle at the end of Revolutions, but it too is different: In demonstrating the epic and dramatic repercussions of this battle, it consists mostly of giant (albeit very cool) effects, lots of flying, and very little actual close combat. This makes Revolutions unfortunately boil down to a plot far less interesting and focused than the original Matrix, as well as far, far less kung fu. There's also much less complicated story development than in Reloaded, but that's probably a good thing. That doesn't leave Revolutions with much to digest however, aside from a long war scene and a plot wrapup that doesn't explain much more than the most immediate questions. Even the actual "ending" after the big fight is pretty brief, which then is followed by the closing scenes that make things confusing again.
In the end, Revolutions is still fun to watch, and I still like it 2nd of the trilogy. It's just not as tight and fun as the original, and it kind of deflated after the information overload of Reloaded. Not a bad movie at all, it just falls a little short of the great climax worthy of what the Matrix began years ago. Not in style or flash, but in making everything fit. I'd still recommend it to those who saw the first two, just don't expect that big, revelatory plot scene where everything make sense - that's still missing.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Just not my type of movie, I guess.
Ok. I readily admit that Wizard of Oz is a classic. It's full of style, wonder, and originality. But I just don't like it. I didn't care much for it when I saw it as a kid, I didn't like it as an adult, and I certainly don't like it now that I've seen it 100 times thanks to my 3 year old nephew.
I don't mind musicals most of the time. One of my favorite animated films, The Prince of Egypt, is as full of songs as any similar Disney cartoon. But the songs in that film were well done in my opinion. They had sweep when they needed to be, hit emotional waves when it seemed appropriate. In the Wizard of Oz, everyone sings pretty much all the time, and it's one of those films where absurd words and terms are inserted simply to keep the rhymes going, even if the line doesn't make any sense. Imagine a Doctor Suess book being sung in chorus. Sure it rhymes, half of the words are made up. There's a good deal of that in Wizard.
And you better like "We're off to see the Wizard", the song you've heard since the beginning of time and already are tired of. You'll hear it in this movie about half a dozen times, without any significant changes or necessity. I know that movies like this are supposed to this way, it just drives one nuts.
The acting is typical of hammy 50s productions, just a decade older. Everyone enunciates very properly and/or hammily, and look to be on the verge of bursting into song, which often is the case. That's pretty much how it stays once Dorothy gets to Oz, which is after the boring first fifteen minutes of the film.
I know that people will seethe when they read this review. I'm sorry, I just really don't like this movie. As a musical, and a whimsical kids' movie, it succeeds at what it attempts to be. But I just can't understand why this is considered a film benchmark, when there are plenty of more interesting and less annoying musicals to be enjoyed. Granted, "Over the Rainbow" is a good song, and my favorite was one sung by the coroner of Oz (whose tune lasts about 4 verses). But the rest? Man...to me, it's just utter tedium. The movie may be good for kids, but I just can't understand why any adult would care to sit through it. I'm obviously in the minority, so what can I say. I just wanted to voice my opinion, which is that Wizard of Oz is vastly overrated. Read the book instead, or watch something better from the era such as Casablanca.
Under Siege (1992)
Seagal's best film
I gave this movie a solid ten, and I stick with it. I'm not in particular a fan of Steven Seagal, though I don't arbitrarily hate him like many critics do. In fact, this was the first of his movies I'd seen, and I liked it immediately.
For any people expecting this movie to deviate from the usual formula of (1): Seagal is wronged, (2): Seagal becomes killing machine, you'll be disappointed. Almost everything in this movie is to be expected, as Seagal plays his usual tough but lovable good guy who gets pushed just a bit too far and goes into full-on expert martial arts killer to enact revenge. A dozen or so people will die, as many or more limbs will be broken, and Seagal will do it all with as much emotion as a stick. To those expecting more of Seagal's usual stuff, that's what you'll get.
But in my opinion, what we also get are some inexplicably high level bad guys for this outing. Although about a decade or two behind today's times (keeping in mind the film itself is a decade and a half old), the two antagonists are the well known actors Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey. While getting on in their age nowadays, these two were some of the most crazed and entertaining actors of the 70s and 80s. Jones is probably best known from The Fugitive, for which he won an academy award, while Gary Busey has done a boatload of famous, not-so famous, and video game voiceover work. Together, these veterans almost steal the show as they chew the scenery and provide Seagal's most colorful and charismatic characters. Busey is a former ship's commander who's willing to drown his crew simply to taunt Seagal, whereas Jones' character used to send body parts to his ex-bosses at the CIA before turning up here.
The plot of this movie is that the two aforementioned crazies, with an entire crew of inside tech guys and hired muscle, have overtaken the aircraft carrier USS Missouri, with plans to extort various things from the big guys in Washington with the ship's small but capable arsenal of weapons at their disposal. The catch is that a high-ranking ex-navy seal is on the ship, serving a commuted sentence for misbehavior. Stuck here as the ship's cook, Seagal plays Casey Ryback who must do whatever he can to rally the ship back into responsible hands.
Strangely enough, the movie departs in several ways from the regular formula. The aforementioned bad guys are not only one head honcho but two equally ambitious ones, as well as a capable force of a dozen or so armed men. But where one would expect Seagal to be alone, this time the film adds at least a little credibility to the mix: Seagal still raises hell, but he also has to get the help of several others stowed on the ship if he's to have any chance in operating its guns and other functions. In a film rooted in implausability, it's at least nice to see old Steve actually running around with some admitted help.
The pace is interesting, as the early scenes in the movie set up some beautiful shots of the ship as well as some of its intricate interiors and set pieces. Some characters are the token one-line kills, but then there are some side characters who are given their own personality and a scene or two to take advantage of. Many characters from the aforementioned Fugitive (1993) make returns in this movie, as well as a decent character played by Colm Meaney, who was Miles 'O Brien to Star Trek fans.
Probably the only annoying bit of this movie is the female lead, played by Playboy model Erika Eleniak. She does a serviceable job, shows her breasts for a minute like she's expected to, and sometimes comes across as a believable person. But for the most part, she's there to lend support to Seagal, and add a little comic repartee between them. I didn't really mind her until she had a silly turn as hero(ine) for a minute or two.
But that's a minor quibble, in a film that I still love as being Seagal's most tight, interesting and energetic. It somehow seems more well written or polished than all his other efforts, and this is no doubt aided by the considerable time that is spent establishing the villains, who I've already noted as being the best Seagal's had to tackle. The sequel to this one was quite a letdown but still fun on its own, but in my opinion the original is Seagal's best and a great choice for those looking for some good old fashioned action heroics
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Nothing original, and pretty predictable
Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I can get pretty long-winded at times, but this will probably be my shortest commentary so far.
Bend it Like Beckham is not a bad movie. It's acceptably acted, moderately entertaining, and there isn't any one thing that stands out about it as being terrible. But that's my problem with it; it's just average. I gave it a rating of 5, meaning that it isn't bad, but it isn't particularly good either. I found it, simply, average.
The film tells the story of a young Indian girl who idolizes soccer star Beckham of the title, and wants to pursue the sport which she's good at. Unfortunately she's bucking the wishes of her traditional, humble family who want no disappointment or ill to come to their daughter. Complicating things is an unnecessary possible love triangle that is flirted with between the main character, her soccer friend, and the coach, and that's pretty much the whole film.
I guess I was just disappointed. I kept hearing how great this was, and how unique. I didn't find it unique at all. The movie focused somewhat evenly on her soccer hopes and her family life, but it's the soccer that gets the most glamorized treatment. The family provides mostly cultural jokes and deep discussions of how the daughter isn't upholding their traditions, etc. When the coach offers the young hopeful his support, everyone thinks that they're dating and we have a whole new twenty minutes of complications. And near the end, when a talent scout is discussed, the main character is desperate to get his attention and prove her worth. I hope I'm not spoiling anything, but I'm going to continue and say that nothing happened that I didn't expect.
In closing, Bend It isn't a terrible film. However, I didn't really laugh at any of the cultural stuff because I knew that was the main point of it even being in the movie. And I wasn't moved by any sweetness, because anyone could guess that it was coming. The movie sort of dragged on to me like a kind of shallower Karate Kid, but with laughs at the cultural differences instead of the interesting blend of them that I believe Karate Kid achieved. I know that the main message here was to follow your dreams, but I left thinking the movie was just a glamorized soccer film, with the cultural stuff just put in there to keep it from being nothing but.
Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
Promising, but ultimately a letdown
Don't get me wrong- I wanted to like this movie. Robert Townsend is thoroughly believable and sympathetic in the role, and I liked him quite a bit. He plays a hopeful, charismatic, good-natured man who's trying to land a role in a film and earn some self-respect.
The problem is, he has a very active fantasy life. What this means is that often, mid-scene, Townsend's character will think about something like a movie being discussed, or something he sees on TV. The movie then goes into his fantasy and enacts it for us, usually with him playing one of the characters in it. This wouldn't be so bad except for three main issues: The fantasies occur pretty often, usually about every ten or 15 minutes. They are usually silly and cliched, taking away from the more interesting and serious main storyline. The third and worst aspect of the fantasy gimmick is that they are just plain long. When Townsend overhears a conversation about black movie critics, for example, he thinks about it and we see a visualization of his thoughts, two black critics in a theater. You'd expect this to have a joke or two, then get back to Townsend. Instead, we watch a pretty unfunny scene that lasts more than five minutes as the two guys review fictitious movies such as an Amadeus ripoff and a pimp zombie film. It's pretty unfunny, lasts way too long and milks the scenes for cheap laughs that fall flat.
This happens way too much, and makes the movie seem awkward, as if there wasn't enough confidence in the basic premise and instead tried to pad the film with waste. It could just be my personal opinion, but I really didn't like any of the fantasies (especially a private detective one, which drags on for something like ten or 15 minutes). There was one exception, the first fantasy of the movie, where a fake school for black film stereotypes is advertised. This was the only dream sequence that was any good, because it takes very harsh jabs at black stereotypes. "I got to play 5 muggers, and a rapist!" Says one black hopeful. Another one is being taught how to walk "black" by a white instructor. "Call 1-800-555-Coon!" the ad flashes. It's good satire, and being a white man, I wasn't offended but instead laughed at how accurate this parody was of some people's attitudes towards black characters. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie falls pretty flat, due to the fact that none of the other fantasies had the wit of the first, or told it in such a sharp way. As a result we're left with a storyline that isn't focused on when it should be at least 90% of the film.
I liked Robert Townsend, and I felt for his plight. He wants badly to be an actor, make it in the business, and fulfill his dream. The problem is that the role he's hoping for is unfortunately quite racist in its portrayal of blacks as sniveling, cowardly, primitively speaking brutes who are engaged in a weapon fight. He must decide whether his dreams are worth sacrificing his dignity, whether this chance at stardom is worth the hard first stepping stone.
And had the movie spent more time on this, and much less on the wandering fantasies, it would have been much better. Townsend's character was charming and I would have preferred to see him just be himself instead of the fantasy characters, but since that's the case only about half the time, I rate this movie a 5- promising but disappointing.
Interesting if you like the Caligula story or dig depraved porn
I gave this film a seven. How can I defend this, when any other comment will mention its tastelessness, depravity, etc.?
Well, I defend it based purely on the fact that it's historically accurate. Some liberties are taken, but for the most part, this movie captures Caligula's story. However, this also means that Caligula's sadistic, bestial nature, and that of the Roman era as a whole, are also very disturbingly rendered.
For those who don't know, Caius Caligula was one of the Caesars of Rome, its highest official. Caligula was widely believed to have ascended to the position by murdering the previous Caesar, his own uncle. Once in control, he went on a sad, cruel and twisted rule that saw mass beheadings, permissible sexual depravity, and flat out cruelty to even those close to the man himself. Caligula had an incestuous relationship with his own sister, had murdered his own friends and co-conspirators, and I believe he willed all his possessions to be given to his horse.
So, Caligula the film stays true to the facts. That alone would make this a disturbing film. What compounds the issue is the fact that it was co-financed by Bob Guccione of Penthouse magazine, and as a result every effort to show lewd and tasteless behavior is taken. In the uncut version, you will see hundreds of completely nude men and women involved in sexual acts with each other, and with themselves. You'll see men on men, women on women. A slain man is urinated on by 2 women, onscreen. A man has his vital organ sliced off and fed to dogs (onscreen, but fake this time). There is suggested rape, item-oriented sexual assault, and things even more disturbing such as twitching, apparent mutants engaging in said behavior as well.
Therein lies the problem. The line of genuine reproduction and smut for smut's sake was crossed, and crossed fast. There are actually only a handful of sex scenes in the movie (all of them very graphic and equal to any of today's pornos). But the bulk of the tasteless stuff is arbitrarily shown in between regular scenes. So, you don't just get a bunch of story followed by bizarre sex, but instead you watch as main characters discuss regular topics and are then disturbed when the camera randomly cuts to an image of extreme sexual behavior. Much of it is irrelevant, and that's where the intent of the film is blurred by its porno roots.
Although I'm not a regular watcher, I've seen porn before. And if you are curious about this movie to see if it has any comparably sexy scenes, there is certainly stuff to catch your interest. But for th0e casual viewer, it's wise to stay away from this one because so much of it IS genuine porn, and much of the random cuts show stuff that are in the most specific of weird porn genres. That's a shame to me, because I was interested in the Caligula story and wanted to see a good rendition of it. I did get it, and I was also surprised to some very alluring imagery. But that was offput by all the random, disturbing stuff that I would have preferred not to see.
The acting is fine, McDowell does an admirable job just being a nutcase throughout most of the film. The set design is great, as are the costumes. It's clear that a lot of money went into this, but it's hard to speak too highly of the end result.
So why do I give the film a 7? Well, plainly put, it is what it says it is. It is Rome at its sleaziest, with its most depraved of operators at the helm. I didn't rent it expecting a porno, and was pleasantly surprised by some of what I saw. But then the rest of it, the overabundance of juxtaposed weird stuff, was off-putting and unwanted, and unfortunately does take up a significant chunk of screen time. My advice is to see it if you're curious to see just how much weird sexual stuff is in there, or to see an unashamedly graphic portrayal of the subject. Everyone else is urged to steer clear, because this is not a typical Hollywood docu-drama, and you'll be made uncomfortable if you're not prepared for what it contains.
Different from the original, and almost as good. See it for character closure.
For those who don't know the story of Once Were Warriors (and should watch it before this one), it's the story of a strong, culturally proud woman trying her best to keep her family together through the horrors of death and her husband's fierce alcoholism. It's also one of the most outstanding movies I've ever seen in my 28 years.
To review the sequel, the BASIC plot needs to be explained, so potential spoilers may come out- but no twists, developments, or ending will be revealed. The plot centers on the death of a character I'll call "X".
To begin with, I differ from the review that anyone who liked Warriors "will hate this film". Not so. I adored Warriors and still felt excitement and sadness watching this one. The story centers on Jake, tyrant husband of the first film. He's down and out, living alone in his old house while his ex-wife Beth has moved on. There is another death in the family, the funeral comes quickly, and emotions are high as Jake respectfully attends but keeps his distance.
Jake's violence has gotten him banished from his bar and caused a confrontation with his ex-wife's son, Sonny. He's in a new relationship but still can't stop drinking. He's hitting bottom, and seeing calls for change everywhere.
Meanwhile Sonny and X's companion seek revenge on the gang member responsible for X's death. In doing so they enlist in a gang themselves, and it becomes apparent that Sonny is falling into the same pattern of violence that Jake knows all too well.
Jake wants to change and may be able to help Sonny before he goes too far. But a lot must be done first, and Jake's involvement has already complicated things more than he or Sonny knows.
This is the main setup for Broken. There's 4 central characters- Jake, Sonny, X's companion and the gang leader. The relationships are volatile and interwoven, and all the actors do a great job, especially Temuera Morrison as Jake, who transitions into this movie as if he just walked off of the first film. Supporting characters are good too, most importantly Rena Owen as Beth Heke, Jake's wife. I was sad to see that she didn't have much screen time here, which is fair because the main point this time is Jake's relationship with Sonny and his quest for revenge. But I couldn't help feeling recognition and comfort when I saw Jake and Beth have their few scenes together. They were such equally powerful figures in the first film, but here, it's appropriate that they don't interact much- it reminds us why they're separate in the first place, and we can feel the chemistry still working as they say some important things to each other. These scenes alone are worth seeing for fans of the original.
I won't disclose more. Some questions are raised, but other things are subtly laid to rest, as we leave the movie with fuller understanding of the characters and their motives.
My only real complaint could be major depending on taste. I won't say what happens at the end, but I will say that it was more abrupt than I thought. Not in a way that hinders the story or leaves you wondering, but in a literal way- the credits pop up when I thought there'd be at least another minute of wrap-up. It doesn't ruin the film by any means, it just came kind of suddenly, and left me hoping for a bit more of an epilogue, an extra minute to let everything sink in. I was left thinking that I had just seen some good, strong stuff, but was awaiting what I thought would be the "final" scene and got the credits instead.
There's a bit more of an actiony feel towards the finale as well, which was done well enough and didn't betray the plot or motivations but didn't feel as satisfying or powerful as the final scenes of the original. Perhaps it was the choice of music more than anything. But again, the only thing that bothered me enough to lower the movie's final score was the lack of what I thought would be one final tie-up scene. The ending is definitely a resolution that answers questions; for me it just came down to waiting for that last scene of important dialog, and being surprised at the credits instead. I WAS still satisfied, the last lines felt appropriate and conveyed what I was hoping to hear, just in fewer words.
Besides, to balance these quibbles, the main bulk of the film is good, and at the very least, flat-out interesting. It's interesting to see the world begin to shun Jake this time, finally making him fess up to the thought of change. And several scenes are powerful with words, not action- such as when Jake encounters Sonny in his house later in the film or when he sheepishly asks for Sonny's address on Beth's doorstep. It didn't feel like I was watching a movie for much of this, especially those two scenes- Instead, it felt like I was seeing two people I'd known a long time, reacting to situations I always wondered they might get into.
In closing, I feel the movie isn't as good as Warriors, mainly because it was just a very hard act to follow. But I was still satisfied with WBOTBH, both as a follow up to Warriors and as a film by itself. It's very powerful and serious, but with more of an emphasis on vengeance and redemption than pride and hope. Still, Jake is the weight of this film- his motives and actions are under our microscope, and it's fascinating to watch and see how it all turns out. Good movies both, and I strongly recommend you see them. If you have already seen Warriors, don't hesitate to give this one a try.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
Oh, I'll tell you how bad this movie is, allright
You know, I really liked the original Mortal Kombat. Sure they ripped off the premise from another movie, but at least it was good (Enter the Dragon). I loved the games until the 4th one and was widely known as being one of its best and most devoted followers. So maybe all this is why my then-girlfriend's idiot stoner brother told me that he heard this movie was incredible, and I excitedly went to see it.
I'm a patient guy, and I have almost never felt the urge to walk out of a movie due to boredom (Tank Girl is the only other one I recall). But MKA here is a joke. If you really feel the need to see this movie and be surprised, then be forewarned because there are spoilers ahead.
Here's one right off the bat. MKA isn't a sequel proper to the original Mortal Kombat. The original MK was, reasonably, based on the first game. A couple future characters made cameos, but that's it. So it stands to also reason that MKA would be about the second game, the one most fans widely regard to be the best. But whereas the MK film was made at the time that part 2 was yielding to part 3, a lot changed in the extra couple years it took for this film sequel. As MK the movie was leaving theaters, MK3 the game was getting kind of a lukewarm reception, and people got sicker and sicker of it by the time MK4 came out. By now the games were in 3d and the storyline had gone from basic Enter the Dragon tournaments to all out apocalyptic robot wars and sorcerors controlling the fates of a bunch of new, generic characters. Until its decent reinventing in 2002, the MK games had hit a rough and oversaturated spot and would take 5 years to bounce back.
So here in this worst time comes MKA, which skips the best chapter of the games entirely and jumps in at sort of a story junction between the 3rd and 4th games, the worst. So we have characters from all 4 games running around and interacting, which is goofy as it is, and things get worse when sense is tried to be made of it. For example, (spoiler), in maybe the first 2 minutes Johnny Cage, a main character and semi-hero of the first movie, is summarily and unceremoniously killed off. My guess for this is because he wasn't in the 3rd game.
Soon after (more spoilers. In fact, there will be several so if you continue, do at the risk of ruining the wonderful cinematic experience that is MKA), robots from game 3 come in, negating the fact that their sole purpose in the games was to hunt Sub Zero, a character killed in the first movie. Leading the attacks by these fiends and others is Shao Kahn, who in the first movie appeared as a giant demonic face in the sky and here appears as....a masculine human being.
Making things moe complicated is that elder God Raiden, played by Christopher Lambert in the original, is here played by someone else and seems to not want to fight at all, as the character has gone from wizardly power god to short haired, weasely Power Rangers nerd, giving up his immortality in the process and teaching our heroes a thing or two about friendship and courage. Huh?
Sticking things out, unfortunately for them, are Robin Shou and Talisia Soto, who play central characters Liu Kang and Kitana and who've returned from the original film. This time, neither of them are allowed to do anything much more than look shocked at the stupid story developments, and Liu Kang engages in a few fights that capture none of the magic or uniqueness of the original film. And in fact this goes for any fight in this film that I care to remember. In the original, the fights were well choreographed and showcased a good selection of acrobatic and martial arts skill. Action was conveyed through close combat, good angles, and lengthy tradeoffs. And at the very least, there was a genuine moment or two where one might say "wow, that was a cool move!". This time, a lot of the action is illusional, with the camera making quick cuts and sudden moves to sort of convey that stuff is going on. There's nary an actual hand-to hand combat scene that lasts more than 30 seconds, and when you see what else was thrown in instead, you'll want to kill someone yourself.
For example, remember the character Baraka, with his beast face and bladed arms? He's here, and in fact is joined by several identical others, who assault Liu Kang with their reflective cardboard blades in a high-flying trapeze act straight out of the circus. And what about Sheeva, 4-armed character that should have been the answer to decently done Goro, 4-armed creature of the original film? Well, whereas he was conveyed through puppeteering and animatronics, here Sheeva is played by a tall woman in generic spandex who tries to look menacing and does a couple unthreatening hops with her cheesy extra special effect arms.
Things (don't) pick up later on, when Liu Kang randomly encounters Native American character Nightwolf, who explains that Liu must harness his "animality" to succeed. Anyone familiar with the MK universe knows that the "animality" was a ridiculous player rumor which supposed that the MK games contained a method of killing one's opponent by turning into an animal and committing not a fatality but an "animality". This dumb rumor was added to the 3rd game as fan service, and apparently delighted the producers of this film enough that it was actually explained as a real, feasible occurence. "Feel your animality", N.Wolf says to Liu, urging him to harness the beast within. Mr. Wolf then briefly shows Liu how to do it, and then asks,
"pretty cool, huh?"
We who haven't left the room yet are saying "no", but oh boy do we still get a fun surprise. At the end of the film, Liu Kang fights with big masculine guy (er, Shao Kahn), and instead of actual wanted fisticuffs, we get to see the two of them feel their animality and turn into giant, god awful stupid computer-generated beasts who do combat with each other. No, I mean it. They turn into giant computer animated beasts. And we're not talking about Gollum of the Lord of the Rings here- I mean big, shiny, plasticy-looking "we know we want to make big magical creatures but don't yet have the technology to do anything but make them eye-strainingly obvious" effects. Liu Kang could reasonably have turned into a cool chinese dragon or something, but instead winds up being this big-nosed, cross eyed, dopey dragon thing. Shao Kahn turns into something equally ridiculous and less memorable and the two have it out. Then at the last minute Shao Kahn's sorceror dad decides he's gone too far, disgraced the family name by becoming a crappy visual effect, and makes him disappear or something. Then everyone hugs, and more or less runs far, far away.
I hope that this has been an accurate rendering of what my feelings are for this film, because I actually haven't seen it in several years. I don't hate myself enough to watch it more than that. But if you want an actual review without the sarcasm, just look at it this way: It is an insult to the MK franchise and its fans, it fails as a follow-up to the fun original MK film, it fails TERRIBLY as a martial arts film, and in general it just is a dumb waste of time, an arbitrary, thrown-together cash-in sequel. Do yourself a favor and just watch the original, and if you still crave more, go play the games. And if you do insist on seeing this movie, then at the very least inject some fun into it like trying to figure out where those Baraka masks were purchased.