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I missed this film on general release and have just watched it on DVD. My expectations were low as I had read mixed reviews when it came out in 2001. However, I loved watching this film from the first frame till the last. I cannot remember smiling so much throughout a movie since 1980 when I saw "the Stunt Man". This film has a certain quality about it that is hard to quantify, but it is one of the most engrossing, captivating and enjoyable films I have ever seen. The storyline is intriguing and the casting is just right. There is something about the fluid camera-work, the seamless editing and the sensitive direction that gives this film a certain special quality that cannot be manufactured by some think-tank of executives. The film is helped by solid performances. Jeff Bridges, so often mannered and self aware hits the right beats in an uncomplicated and sympathetic performance. Kevin Spacey is believable as the ambiguous patient; a role that could easily have been over played; and the supporting cast are a pleasure to watch in a series of roles that could quite easily have encouraged some show boating or overtly cloying or mushy performances. This was an unexpected pleasure. I feel that this is one of those rare films that surpasses the original vision of its creators and somehow creates a world that the viewer wants to become fully involved in. It is very hard to critique this film in an objective way as what makes it connect so well with its audience is so intangible. If you want to see a movie that makes you feel good while you are watching it, then they do not come more highly recommended than this.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
This is a film that creeps up on you as you watch and pulls you into it's six different story lines and multitude of characters and after the first 90 minutes of it's 160 minute running time I was completely bewitched by it. This is mainly due to some great acting, stunning visuals and a haunting score. It would be easy for a cynic to pick holes in this movie, but as an absorbing and ultimately emotionally stirring movie going experience, it succeeds brilliantly. It is a movie that resonates with the viewer in a visceral and uplifting way. It stays with you after the credits have rolled and definitely requires a 2nd viewing to appreciate it's complexity. Highly recommended.
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
Uneven but visually stunning
This is a technically superb piece of film making which is unfortunately let down by a lack of character development and some dodgy acting. The weakest part of the movie is casting Kriten Stewart who is just not sympathetic or beautiful enough to convince and her bland acting makes it hard to empathize with her. Charlize Theron is a fine actress but she seems a bit uncomfortable as the Queen. Nicole Kidman played a similar type of role in "The Golden Compass" with silky assurance and I would have expected something similar from Theron. This leads me to assume that the director is not skilled at getting good performances out of his actors. And the fact that the evil Queen is far more beautiful than Snow White does unhinge any credibility the story may have with the audience. The film becomes more interesting when Chris Hemsworth finally comes on screen after 34 minutes. At times it seems that he is impersonating Sean Connery but he is a good fit as the Huntsman and has a commanding physical screen presence. His character unfortunately does not get enough screen time or development. The one thing the film does nail is what could have been the cheesiest part of the story and that is the portrayal of the 7 dwarfs. Using character actors and giving them the best lines helps to keep the film entertaining, apart from Bob Hoskins who has to deliver some truly awful dialogue. The amazing special effects used to film the dwarfs are a major plus. All in all, what I expected, but could have been 7 or 8 stars with a better actress in the lead role and developing the Huntsmans part more.
Open Range (2003)
Best western in years
This is the kind of film you thought did not get made any more. Credit due to Kostner for sticking to his principles and directing an old fashioned film that is about story and character and builds slowly to a powerful climax rather than feeling the need to insert an action sequence every 15 minutes.
This is also proof that, in the right hands, a film can be both slow moving and totally absorbing.
Great casting. Kostner unselfishly gives the limelight to Robert Duvall. Annette Benning shines in her role as the town doctors sister.
It is in the smaller moments that this film really excels, such as in a scene between the 3 leads where Kostner learns for the first time, having known Duvall's character for 10 years, that his friend had been married. It provides a great insight into how men communicate with each other and only a skilled and sensitive director like Kostner could have pulled this off.
Stunning cinematography. My only criticism is that I felt this film would have been enhanced even further by a more expansive and emotional musical score.
A small gripe for an otherwise very satisfying movie going experience.
Mercury Rising (1998)
I really enjoyed this film and have found it equally watchable on repeated viewings.
From the opening scene of a helicopter making its way towards a rural town accompanied by Barry's soulful music you just know that you are in for a rewarding movie experience.
What elevates a routine and slightly clichéd thriller into a tense and emotionally satisfying film is the sensitive direction of Harold Becker, spot on casting, a story with emotional depth and John Barrys great score.
Bruce Willis is ideally cast as the loner working against the system. The interaction between him and Miko Hughes as the autistic child Simon feels authentic. There is real chemistry in the exchanges between the 3 computer nerds who work for the NSA. And the scenes between Simon and his parents carry real emotional weight.
This is not an action film. It is a film about story and character, and in some ways that makes it an old fashioned movie and all the better for it. It does, however, maintain tension through most of it's running time, a characteristic which is becoming rarer in modern films.
Style without substance
This was a frustrating film to watch for me as I felt that the modern sub plot running alongside the historical one did not seem necessary and padded out a very thin story.
Very little actually happens during the film. The sub plot seems contrived and the main drama is a series of parties and the odd radio announcement or newsreel to provide exposition.
Though the 2 leads are well cast as Wallis and Edward we feel at a distance from them and never really get to know what drives them. Abdrea Riseborough as Wallis comes across as quite an unsympathetic character and I do not think that was the intention of the director. We never really get to know why she was so attracted to Edward and the movie feels like a collection of functions and events without getting into the soul of the characters.
Abbie Cornish as Wally Winthrop in the modern sub plot comes off as a far more endearing character playing someone who could be viewed as slightly barmy and obsessive. She has a very appealing screen presence and I would tip her for major stardom in the future. She oozes femininity and has great poise. Madonna keeps inserting shots of her walking slowly and seductively away from camera which do not seem to serve the story but are there because they look good. I felt that Oscar Isaac as the Russian security guard was a serious piece of mis-casting. I am sure his character was intended to be an intellectual man with great humanity but he looks more like a gangster.
The film has great costumes and art direction as expected. What makes this very slow moving film quite watchable at times is the score by Abel Korzeniowski which envelopes and drives the action, in fact papering over the cracks.
A rather sterile movie going experience.
Get the Gringo (2012)
A well crafted and satisfying thriller
This film far exceeded my expectations and it deserved to do better at the box office. First time director Adrian Grunberg orchestrates the story with flair and confidence without being flashy. The film is tightly constructed, well paced and involves the viewer all the way through.
Grunberg manages gets that Mexican feeling of lethargy and violence coexisting that you might see in a Roberto Rodriguez film but here it is pulled off with more skill and complexity, and most important of all, the whole piece is very entertaining. I'm sure part of the reason for the high quality is due to Mel's part in writing and producing this film.
There is a feeling of constant danger conveyed throughout the movie, the action scenes are loud and visceral and have a similar feel to Peckinpahs film shoot outs. You could criticize some of the familiar characterizations of Mexican criminals and the implausibility of some plot elements but that would seem churlish when the film delivers on audience expectation.
Mel Gibson is perhaps a little old for the role but I do not know of another actor who can play being so dangerous and likable at the same time whilst also managing to be humorous. His character is morally dubious but it is easy to root for him as the bad guys are so much worse. Dolores Heredia as the nameless Kids mom has a very appealing screen presence and brings a shining magnetism to some of her scenes. In fact her role could have been expanded but I guess the film makers decided to keep the running time to a minimum.
Overall, a hugely enjoyable 95 minutes
Machine Gun Preacher (2011)
A deeply disappointing movie about an extraordinary man.
As he did with The Kite Runner, Marc Forster has managed to turn a truly heartfelt story into a flaccid movie experience.
This was crying out for a director like Ed Zwick or perhaps Kenneth Branagh to turn this incredible true drama into the emotional and harrowing movie this could have been.
Instead Forster delivers a dull and matter of fact account devoid of feeling. What motivated Butler to change from a scumbag to a man who finds God overnight? We never find out why. The characters are so thinly drawn that we never get to find out what drives them. The action is muddled and hard to follow. The direction is as flat as the landscape and the emotional high points of the film are unconvincing.
It is only because of the story that I watched this movie to the end. But for much of the running time I felt irritated by the shoddy cinematography, poor execution and lack of heart in this film.
A missed opportunity
The Great Escape (1963)
A classic. Please do not ever remake this movie.
A faultless film in every department that still stands up today almost 50 years later. It is a film full of standout moments, none better than the beautifully realized motorbike chase sequence. This was apparently added to the film at the request (or demand) of Steve McQueen who wanted more screen time and has become one of the most iconic sequences in movie history. Of the many characterizations on screen and the production team there are two that stand out for me and lift the film from an entertaining war picture into a classic. First is the presence of Steve McQueen who oozes charisma in every scene. I cannot think of any other actor of any generation who could have been so credible in the motorbike sequences. Along with the chariot race in Ben Hur it ranks as one of the best action scenes of all time. Second is Elmer Bernsteins incredible score. People mostly remember the Main theme but like the very best film music it has a rich and varied score which takes the viewer on an emotional ride and gives the film it's sense of pace and exhilaration. Way ahead of it's time. Listen to James Horners' score for Titanic and you can hear the influences. John Sturges was an underrated director and like a lot of the great new directors of the sixties, such as John Frankenheimer and Franklin J Schaffner, the quality of his output fell dramatically towards the end of his career.
What could have been an entertaining sci-fi thriller based on an intriguing if clichéd Total Recall lite premise is ruined by poor production values ,amateur direction and the worst soundtrack ever to spoil a movie. Still enjoyable at times despite it's awfulness because I actually cared about the good guys. Val Kilmer looks like he stepped out of an Austin Powers movie, however, and looks ridiculous rather than villainous in his scenes. The action scenes are pedestrian with zero tension. In one fight sequence the composer has written what sounds like hotel lobby music which completely takes the viewer out of the movie. In spite of the films failings it could have been an enjoyable B movie if the director and editor had been skillful enough to introduce some tension into the movie, and if it had not been sabotaged by the awful score.