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The Spirit (2008)
Visually gorgeous, but....Nazis? SPOILER ALERT
The stylistic quality of The Spirit was over-the-top good, but most of the acting and all of the writing were the pits! Samuel L sold his part, but every phrase brought giggles to the audience. The voice-overs were cheap Raymond Chandle-esquire ripoffs - hasn't anyone figured out WIT is the backbone of campy take-offs? Chandler, Hammett and all the rest wrote WELL - they've only become clichés because they were so good - this script could've been written by a rather boring high school student. Eva Mendes did well enough, but the other actresses either 'emoted' or were so wooden they looked like the girlfriends of the screenwriters in the worst high school play ever put on.
and then they were Nazis?!
the entire audience asked, 'Why?" during this scene. in fact, audience participation - of the sort the movie makers would NOT enjoy - was the only thing about this movie that was at all fun.
honestly one of the worst movies I've EVER seen - Ed Wood would've done better.
Full Frontal (2002)
Like a lava lamp instead of a staid coffeetable ornament
I have been reading the comments to Full Frontal in the hopes that someone could explain the plot, since I didn't understand the action. At all. And yet, I really enjoyed the movie!
I think there really isn't a typical story - it's not a problem of having to unravel a circuitous, circular, fragmented, or some other off-beat storytelling style in order to understand the plot. I don't think there is one. So, I suppose, one could say it's a pointless movie.
Each scene was really wonderful - I was pulled into each conversation (or wacky interaction, in the case of Catherine Keener's character) so thoroughly that I felt I understood each character as if they were a colleague or neighbor. Even when it became apparent I had no idea what had just happened - with the movie-in a movie-in a movie thing - I felt like I'd just hung out with these folks and felt their anxiety, their worry, their sadness, their pompousness, their shame, their need....their humanity. Even David Hyde Pierce on the phone made me feel that way!
So, perhaps one should view this film as a series of vignettes (or snippets), rather than as a movie with a beginning, middle and end.
I would recommend this movie for people who don't know a thing about digital vs video vs film, hand held or dolly or whatever cameras, or anything technical about movie-making (like me), but who like really great acting and strangely attracting things. Full Frontal is kinda like a lava lamp, and all other movies are Pier One decorations...
A Time to Kill (1996)
I don't get it
Although the acting was superb, and the filming was beautiful, I don't understand why this was about a black man unable to get a fair trial in Mississippi in the 90s - I mean, the guy did it! An 'unfair trial' is one where the innocent are condemned or the guilty go free - the defendant was a vigilante, for crying out loud. A better case could be made if the 2 rapists were on trial - *then* that is about race, justice and the South. But this?
I just don't get it, and having viewed it during George W. Bush's tenure - where we have a president who is a 'decider' instead of a 'decision-maker', and where we are seemingly supposed to follow our hearts/basest instincts, 'bring it on', for example, rather than use our brains to think - I was appalled by the summation where the jurors were requested to decide based on emotion rather than rule of law.
Slow, enveloping and completely UNsappy
As other commenters here have noted, Spin is a quiet gem with wonderful performances, breathtaking cinematography and a simple, familiar storyline that never descends into triteness.
I think this flick falls into the 'life goes on' category - where Lasse Hallestrom leads the pack. It has true sensitivity without a single false note. I was ready to be disappointed by the scene in which Francesca reveals the nature of her tragedy, but the dialog was perfect - the only thing said was what was needed to be said, and the movie moved on to explore the same themes it had set up in the first 2 acts.
In fact, the dialog and direction seem to be what gives Spin its depth - the cast is able to express deep and sometimes-brutal emotions through their interactions rather than through words and gestures. There was simply no artifice to this movie - not in the acting, not in the dialog, not in the images.
I do have to disagree with the commenter who felt there were dry spells in the action - I fell into the movie almost from the first scene and felt carried slowly and comfortably along the entire time. They were (mostly) a nice bunch of people to spend a few hours with.
I suggest Spin for anyone who would like to be wrapped in the feeling that although the world can be harsh, it doesn't necessarily have to be devastating.
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
Oh, what a masterpiece
This movie is something else - as a movie (theme notwithstanding), it is wonderfully paced, controlled, with something unforeseen and interesting on the screen with every new scene. Mr. Clooney is a wonderful director.
Also, theme notwithstanding, the acting is superb - Strathairn gave me goosebumps, Langella was masterful, Clarkson phenomenal, and the rest of the cast was absolutely wonderful. An incredibly marvelous cast.
Now, about the theme - if ever there was temptation to show 'the good ol' days', this would be it. After all, we all know how it ends - McCarthy was horrible, McCarthyism was an all-out attack on civil liberties and everything American and Murrow is a mythic hero. Right?
Well, this movie shows that, although all involved were convinced McCarthy and McCarthyism were wrong, the time period wasn't so black-n-white for the characters. There was fear, there was self-doubt, there were not-so-wonderful compromises made. This movie is about REAL people and it shows them in a REAL way - with humor, with fear, with anxiety, and even with extreme mental illness.
And, this movie has a point of view - it does not hide that it is a strident plea for better news media. And, like Murrow did with McCarthy, it uses Murrow's own words to make its case. Now, if you hate movies with a point of view, you may think you don't want to see it - but, I think you would be doing yourself a disfavor by staying away. Good Night and Good Luck doesn't assume we are sheep (or dittoheads), willing to simply follow. No, this movie MAKES A CASE, one that allows you to think for yourself and one that spurs discussion.
One little 'downside' - if you don't know much about McCarthy or Murrow except the broad strokes of quick history, you won't learn much more from seeing this - Clooney and Heslov don't spend time with back-story. They just dive into the action, and it is a GREAT ride.
Lives up to its name
I enjoyed this movie tremendously, and although I agree with previous posters that the 'mother' is a monster, I thought that helped the film, particularly since she was portrayed sensitively-ish (she's definitely the least sympathetic of the 3 main characters). The self-absorption and the amazingly flamboyant failed attempts at good parenting are all part of the title: Limbo. Mastroantonio's character is in perpetual limbo, and as a result, so is her daughter. Straithairn is simply trying to live, in limbo due to an accident for which he feels responsible (but isn't). The community is in limbo, as well, as industries close and local officials try to find a way to keep the economy afloat (and their own pockets full). Although one could argue that the crisis - Straithairn's brother's 'situation' - is a little manipulative, I didn't mind it, and I loved the fact that the crisis led the trio to a 'time-out' - limbo within a limbo. It was filmed so beautifully, acted so amazingly well and was so nice and slow that I almost felt envious of the characters for their situation - who, in real life, gets to put their life into a perspective while bonding with other truly caring souls? Of course, being hunted by killers, starving to death and worrying about dying in the Alaskan winter are no picnic...but, there was a strong sense of togetherness and of honesty, even painful and inappropriate honesty. As for the ending --- well, I, too, shouted 'NO!' at the screen, but only because I ended up loving these characters so much I wanted to see them do well - to get out of limbo, as they all so ardently wish for (the final scene itself was so expressive, both in the staging and the acting, that it tore me up). Of course, I didn't want them to die, either! A perfectly formed movie. I will watch it again, for sure.
I'm not sure why 'Aviator' by Martin Scorsese was nominated for Oscars, but 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' was not - it is a truly interesting movie, extremely well-acted, extraordinarily written and directed. Is it a 'biopic'? What is 'true' and what is 'false' in it? WHO CARES? IT'S A MOVIE NOT A HISTORY BOOK!
Chuck Barris, simultaneously the lowest purveyor of puerile entertainment AND a CIA hit-man, is examined here, both legitimately (with documentary-style interviews with people who knew him) and fictionally (for example, sightings of his past CIA 'hits' in the audience of his TV 'hit' ). The camera angles are always interesting, without detracting from the story. The lighting and colors are wonderful - Clooney uses the over-the-top, 'aren't we having FUN?!' too-loud colors and design of 1960s and 70s game shows to great advantage. Not only do you feel that the garishness of TV could drive you utterly crazy, but the juxtaposition of the harshness of innocent TV with the seductive lighting of the CIA hits (even East Berlin looks sexy) is simply genius.
This is a movie to sink into - to simply enjoy and be surprised by, to have your mind, ironically, challenged and engaged, and to revel in masterful acting, writing and directing.
Necessary for understanding reality
Estela Bravo's documentary, Fidel, isn't exactly a balanced telling of the Cuban leader's Cuban policies, but it is a wonderfully balanced look at Castro's impact on the world, as well as the factors leading up to the US blockade.
The US does not come out looking good, for sure, as it shouldn't, given our adventures in Latin America in the last century. Although this film is not about US foreign policy, it is a nice door-opening for those who may want to look further into United Fruit, Allende, Batista, etc. I hope, at this point in time, that US and/or Latin American history courses teach the actual history of the 20th century (as opposed to when I went to school in the 1970s), so this aspect of the film will not a surprise to a younger audience. However, even if our educational system is still lagging in this area, it isn't too hard to find rigorous history books on Amazon.com
Two important pieces of history that I came away with, having either never known or forgotten, were: 1) Castro didn't affiliate with the USSR until after the blockade 2) The blockade was the result of 'tit-for-tat' policies that escalated on both sides.
Most importantly, I think this movie shows how the rest of the world - including Western Europe and Canada - views Castro, Cuba and the revolution. Every last friend, associate or mere acquaintance from South of the Rio that I know - all of whom are middle or upper class in their homelands - thinks well of Castro and highly of Cuba, so I was not surprised to see the adoring crowds all over Latin America. I was unaware, however, of Cuba's influence on the fall of apartheid.
Because I learned a few things I didn't realize I didn't know, and because of the way several historical events (outside of Cuba) were depicted accurately (and well), and because, as Sydney Pollack said, 'the man has become so much more than a man that it is hard to know who he is, what he's actually done, or what his imprint on history is/will be', I highly recommend this movie. I intend to learn more about Cuba through trusted sources (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc), but I feel l have a very good start on my understanding, already, thanks to Ms. Bravo.
Oh --- and it was just great film-making, too!
The Peacemaker (1997)
I dislike action thrillers very much, and so I was very surprised to be entertained and not offended by this one.
Yes, the plot is ridiculous - but what action thriller has a reasonable plot?
What makes this movie a very good non-art-flick is the acting and the directing -
Nicole Kidman is never 'the girl' and she is believable as an intelligent, strong woman. Neither she nor the director ever let her get shrill or competitive, and her vulnerability is just plain REASONABLE, never 'girly.' The scene that grabbed and kept me watching was early on - when Kidman's character is given complete authority, the feeling of being alone and vulnerable was palpable - truly a great scene for a director and actor, regardless of the quality of the movie.
George Clooney was, as others have said, excellent - never a testosterone-driven one-dimensional soldier. He acted and sounded like all the soldiers I've known - never any subtlety or color in his conversation, but truly a human, nonetheless. Can George Clooney act badly? Haven't seen any evidence of it yet!
The director kept the plot moving along, not so fast that it became muddled or confusing, and not so slow that it was boring. She allowed actual character development - something missing in the genre - and kept the action scenes clean and exciting.
I have absolutely no complaints about this movie, which is in stark contrast from my response to every other action thriller (except 3 Days of the Condor). I highly recommend it.
The Candidate (1972)
Becomes a classic through the years
Having just watched this movie again, I realize with despair that it STILL has something valid to say, 33 years later! I think I would have really liked this movie in 1972, I certainly loved it a few years later when I saw it for the first time, but now it seems like an enduring classic. It is shot like a campaign is run - you feel the crushing emptiness of a political campaign, and Redford's frustration with being unable to raise actual issues is palpable. He is a contender mainly because of his looks (and family ties), not because of his beliefs. He has to boil them down to sound bites (not a term in 1972, I don't think) and then give some of them up altogether, all in order to win. The 'voters' don't come off too well, either - they seem like either groupies (young girls or older country club ladies) or disaffected losers. This should be shown in every 8th grade civics class!