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Participants' names: Shrykespeare, silversurfer, thegreenarrow, transformers, englishozzy, Ron Burgundy, Buscemi, Chienfantome, numbersix, BanksIsDaFuture, BarcaRulz, Geezer, JohnL, leestu, W, NSpan, undeadmonkey and JohnErle.
Shrykespeare's List: http://www.imdb.com/list/m4s5qU37kmc/ Geezer's List (aka redsoxfan683): http://www.imdb.com/list/D9BSz1s94p4/ transformers' List (aka kfcman945): http://www.imdb.com/list/XIMtCx-Jwh8/
Body of Lies (2008)
Ridley does it again
You really have to admire Ridley Scott's moxie.
Even though the 70-year-old director has long established himself as one of Hollywood's best and most durable directors; having helmed some of the most entertaining films of all time, in virtually every genre (including sci-fi classics like Alien and Blade Runner); and having been nominated no less than three times for the Best Director Oscar (Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down), to decide to take on theme that has produced exactly zero blockbusters thus far the Middle East and terrorism takes an incredible amount of chutzpah.
But it does help if you have the help of two of the biggest actors in Hollywood at the moment, those being Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe (who has worked with Scott on two previous films, Gladiator and A Good Year). It's ironic to think that the last time these two actors shared the screen was back in 1995, with the clichéd-but-entertaining oater The Quick and the Dead. Of course, at the time, Crowe was a complete unknown and DiCaprio was a 21-year-old newcomer with only a couple of notable titles under his belt. But oh, how that's all changed now.
It's not easy to describe the plot of Body of Lies without giving too much away. DiCaprio plays CIA operative Roger Ferris, who is trying to flush out a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem in Jordan. He gets his orders from Ed Hoffman (Crowe), a man for whom results are the only satisfactory outcome, delivered with a fair amount of arrogance and a cocky Southern drawl. Ed plays the situation like a kid playing a video game, and has the resources to change the rules anytime he feels like it, dispensing his orders from his office, from his backyard, from his daughter's soccer game, for Pete's sake! This, of course, infuriates Ferris to no end, because he is the one who is in the trenches, chasing the bad guys, dodging bullets, ducking explosions, and procuring the badly-needed intelligence that Hoffman needs. Ferris is also trying to build a productive working relationship with the head of Jordanian Intelligence, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), a relationship that is made even more tenuous by Hoffman's double-dealings and hidden agendas.
There are so many ways that Scott could have screwed this up. A lesser director might have chosen to ramp up the action, sacrificing intelligence for entertainment. A lesser director could have taken this story of espionage and twisted it into a convoluted and indecipherable Gordian knot. A lesser director would have gotten less convincing performances from his lead actors.
But Ridley Scott is not a lesser director. Though the plot is indeed complex, with many layers and sub-layers, deceit and treachery, Scott never lets you lose sight of the overall picture. He tells a solid, wonderfully entertaining story, without the need to drive home its message with sledgehammer subtlety (after all, very few things are black and white). And most of all, he gets electric performances from Crowe and DiCaprio, whose symbiotic relationship with a thinly-veiled veneer of mutual contempt is a pleasure to watch.
I don't know if Body of Lies will end up breaking through the barrier that every movie in this genre couldn't; but for what it's worth, I hope it does. One thing's for sure if anybody can, Ridley Scott can.
For this and other reviews, please check out www.thelatestmoviereviews.com.
Deja Vu (2006)
I was glued to my seat!
You see the name Denzel Washington, you know you're going to get a well-acted lead character. You see the name Jerry Bruckheimer, you know you're going to get a boatload of action. You see the name Tony Scott, you know you're going to get one hell of a story.
With this recipe, Deja Vu delivered as promised. A taut, tense thriller that I couldn't take my eyes off for a second. Intelligent, visceral, practically vibrating with tension, this film starts with a bang (pun intended) and ends with, ironically the very same bang! In between, you get a well-written story, full of crisp dialogue and plenty of humor, balanced equally with a full measure of action. (NOTE: This movie contains one of the most UNIQUE chase scenes of all time.) We don't know how it will end, as the age-old question rears its head: can one change the past? One of the best movies of the year. 9 out of 10.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Not as bad as everybody thinks
As action movie franchises go, MI has had its ups and downs. If you were to compare it to the most successful "pure action" franchise ever, the Die Hard movies, it doesn't hold a candle. In those, the writing is better, the dialogue is better, the hero is easier to identify with, and the action is just as intense. Which is not to say that MI has done badly, but just like with Die Hard, you know going in what you are going to get: great action sequences, an interesting villain and a predictable ending.
But the problem with MI1 was that the plot was too convoluted (it took several viewings to really suss it out), and the problem with MI2 was that the action sequences were used as a crutch to make up for a really lame story (typical John Woo, in other words... and really, has Anthony Hopkins ever been completely wasted in a role like this?).
Now, keeping all this in mind, MI3 really does hold up as the best of the three. The action sequences are very good, the acting is better than usual and the storyline is the most entertaining of the three. We can easily follow what's going on without getting a headache, which is always nice in a "pure action" movie. It's what makes many of the Bond movies entertaining, as well.
It could be that many people have ragged on this movie simply because they don't like Tom Cruise. With all the hoopla surrounding his personal life of late, it's hard to watch his movies with a detached eye. But his performance in MI3 is no better or worse than the other two, with enough convincing requisite emotion given how the bad guy attacks him in the most personal way. I neither love nor hate the guy, just as I neither love nor hate Ethan Hunt, his character. We root for him, sure, but we know he's going to win in the end, so whatever.
If you are reading this review trying to decide whether or not to see the movie, I'll level with you. This is a very good movie. Tense, taut, and full of adrenaline. In other words, your typical summer blockbuster. It's certainly not the best action movie ever made, but if this ends up being the last MI movie, at least it went out on a positive note.
My score: 9/10.
V for Vendetta (2005)
The First Truly Great Film of 2006
I went to the theater expecting to either love this movie or hate it... such as it is with "comic book" movies. Having heard all the "terrorist-as-a-hero" arguments from both sides, and knowing going in that we would never see the protagonist of this film's face (but only the Guy Fawkes mask that he wears throughout), I was not convinced I would connect with the main characters sufficiently to recommend this movie to others.
I am convinced now.
The acting in this film is top-notch. Hugo Weaving, whose strident voice and incredible screen presence, which has been seen in such blockbusters as the "Matrix" trilogy as well as the "LOTR" trilogy, gives such a commanding performance that as V's emotions change, you can almost it registering on the blank facade of the mask he wears. Natalie Portman turns in another stellar performance as Evey, a vulnerable, terrified young woman who, with V's help, breaks through the shell of fear that the totalitarian government that England has become has created around her. The supporting cast is also outstanding: John Hurt as the vile, draconian Chancellor Sutler, Stephen Rea as the intuitive Inspector Finch, and Stephen Fry as Gordon, friend/father-figure to Evey and a local TV celebrity.
This movie is also well-plotted and moves along at a crisp pace. The action sequences are well-choreographed, the "explosions" are well-executed (and are more to lend an air of poignance to the mood of the film rather than to satisfy our need for such things), and the dialogue, while at times over the top, is well-scripted.
But the best moments in the film involve the interaction between V and Evey. The parental love that he feels for her is obvious, even though at one point he has to result to some rather cruel tactics in order to ensure her loyalty to him.
Does the movie end the way you think it's going to? Probably. Will that detract from your enjoyment of it? Not a whit. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone of teenage years and up (young children would probably find it too dark, and one fight scene is particularly gory).
MINI-SPOILER There is one uproariously laugh-out-loud moment, which anyone who was a fan of the old "Benny Hill Show" will recognize immediately.
My score 10/10.
The Ring Two (2005)
Where did it go wrong?
Who can forget the sense of shock and terror that we all felt when we first saw Samara crawling through the TV screen at the end of "The Ring?" Such images are what true scary movies are made of; they inspire genuine emotion and fear. What makes most sequels to horror movies unsuccessful (or at least, critically panned) is the fact that most of them are attempts to repeat the same story. Seeing Samara crawl through the TV a second time, while disturbing, is not that scary anymore, because we are EXPECTING it.
But it's not just the unoriginality that condemns "The Ring 2" to mediocrity, but it is it's lack of a coherent story. While the original had a solid beginning, middle and end, the sequel most assuredly did not.
SPOILERS AHEAD The one problem I had with the first movie was this: all who watch the tape die a week later, unless... they make a copy?? Oooookay. Seems a little strange to have something so otherworldly hinge on a technological contrivance, but I can forgive that because it was such a good movie.
At the beginning of "Ring 2", however, it seems the rules have changed. Now, the way to stave off death from watching the tape is simply to show it to someone else, who then has a week to show it show it to another person, etc., like a REALLY bad chain letter. One hapless teenager misses the deadline because the girl he gets to watch it for him closes her eyes through the video, so he is doomed. Puh-leez.
From there, Rachel has to leap from theory to theory in her attempts to thwart Samara again. Samara wants to become Aidan (her son), right? Maybe... no, wait, she just wants a mother, something she never had before, right? The scene where she "saves" her son was way too short and anticlimactic, and the following tacked-on scene, where Rachel journeys to Samaraland to have a final confrontation with the little girl, seems like the director clutching at straws. And the good guys win, when Rachel commits the heroic act of... closing the lid on the well where Samara is imprisoned. (Gee, why didn't I think of that?) She then wakes up on her floor, in her son's arms, and she tells him, "It's over." I couldn't agree more.
I'm not a Hollywood script writer, and I can't immediately think of a direction they might have taken that would have been ultimately more satisfying, but I know that the direction they took in this case let me down. The Ring 2 was not original, it was not scary, and it was not good. It was, basically, two hours of my life that I'll never get back.
My score: 1 out of 10.
Crossing Jordan (2001)
A rare gem in a sea of forgettable TV
The greatest thing about "Crossing Jordan" is that it never, for even one moment, ceases to make us care about its characters. It seamlessly gives us a mix of tragedy and comedy, as well as humanity and warmth, which is no mean feat, considering the profession all of the main characters have.
With the abundance of shows cropping up in the last few years with a theme of "investigation", the profession of Medical Examiner has been thrust into the limelight of the public's eye that it never has been before. One needs to look no further than the ratings of all of the "CSI" shows to find proof; the minutiae and drudgery of police and forensic work, once thought to be bland, boring and completely without entertainment value, now has viewers glued to their sets.
But "Crossing Jordan" is much more than that. While I applaud shows like "CSI", and to a small extent, "Law & Order" for their ingenious writing and convincing story lines, none of those shows has ever really developed its characters to an extent where we care more about them than about the details of whatever case they happen to be working on at the time. "Crossing Jordan" has developed it's characters very, very well. Consider:
The main character, Jordan Cavanaugh (Jill Hennessy): when the show first started, we knew her to be a mouthy, bitchy, seat-of-the-pants, lives-by-her-own-rules kind of girl, who would always be in trouble but somehow, always gets to the truth. And while the appeal of such a character is undeniable, such a routine would have gotten old really fast, as well as the "haunted-by-her-mother's-as-yet-unsolved-murder" story line. I understand that early on, we knew that this is what drove Jordan to be the person she was, but it felt like that particular story line was used as a crutch to hold the series up. I think her character is now sufficiently developed to get past it now. She's still mouthy, and still lives by her own rules, but not as often as before. She's truly grown up.
Dr. Garret Macy (Miguel Ferrer): Originally played up as the crotchety, curmudgeonly boss, who walked around with the "how-in-hell-did-I-end-up-in-this-line-of-work" look on his face. Despite his somewhat abrasive character, there's no doubt that he possesses a tremendous inner warmth to go with his incredible intelligence. It's those rare occasions when he shows his softer side that make for some of the series' best moments.
Lily Lebowski (Kathryn Hahn): In the beginning, she seemed like a fragile dandelion of a person, nursing a not-too-subtle crush on Dr. Macy. I was afraid that her character would never expand beyond two dimensions, but she has become the moral center of the show.
My two favorite sidekicks, Nigel and Bug (Steve Valentine and Ravi Kapoor): it was these two that kept me coming back, week after week, during this show's growing pains. The tall, lanky Brit and the diminutive entomologist from Bangladesh are without a doubt the best on-screen duo in prime-time. One smiling and ebullient, one moody and sullen, they play off of each other so well... I can't aptly describe it in words.
Det. Woody Hoyt (Jerry O'Connell): Though his character hasn't really developed much, beyond the on-again, off-again relationship he seems to have with Jordan, it's nice to see him get more and more screen time now.
Several other characters have come and gone: Jordan's father (Ken Howard) and M.E.'s Trey Sanders (M. Ali), Peter Winslow (Ivan Sergei), Elaine Duchamps (Lorraine Toussaint), and Dr. Devan Mcguire (Jennifer Finnigan), have all contributed during their brief stints on the show.
Every single character has experienced tragedy and loss, in various degrees, all while helping total strangers deal with their loss, and that has made them all bond together into a very tightly-knit group... almost a family, if you will. It is a family that I wish I could be a part of... and that is the TRUE yardstick of a great show.
Always fresh, never dull. I hope that "Crossing Jordan" will continue to draw the audience it deserves.
Shark Tale (2004)
Great for kids, but...
Most animated movies are aimed specifically at kids or teenagers, as that is the age group that watches the most cartoons. Going to see "Shark Tale," I was hoping that even though my adolescent years are way behind me, I could still enjoy it on the same level that made me enjoy movies like "Shrek 2" and "Finding Nemo".
Mission not accomplished.
For one thing, I wasn't a big fan of the animation. With the exception of the sharks, most of the characters were drawn as if someone just stuck a human face on a fish's body, complete with eyelids and squared-off teeth. It didn't look good to me, and that made me care about the characters less.
The second thing was the story line, which ran about as deep as a puddle. The humor was too juvenile for me to find humor in, and the more adult side of the story, the "mob" story, has been played out too many times for me in too many stories to peak my interest.
If I were 20-25 years younger, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it a lot more. But, for me, "Shark Tale" will get put into the file in my memory labeled "Saw it once, won't see it again."
My score: 6 out of 10.
P.S. Note to the writers: It's about a decade too late for M.C. Hammer take-offs!
Runaway Jury (2003)
Another Grisham Triumph (may contain spoilers)
It is interesting to note that in the novel this book was made from, there were, in fact, NO scenes in which the characters Wendell Rohr and Rankin Fitch had any interaction (that I know of). These two characters were both played by well-respected, much-revered, seasoned film veterans who, believe it or not, had NEVER worked together in a film before. The powers that be, at one point, said "No, no, we simply cannot have these two in a movie together (after all these years!) and not have them do one scene together!" So the filmmakers, with John G.'s permission of course, sat down and wrote a scene in which Dustin and Gene could throw themselves into their characters and really have a ball doing it. The scene, which takes place in the courthouse men's room, was shot nearly a month after shooting had wrapped on the film, and it took nearly a week to get it just right. The end result: I defy anyone to tell me that watching these two legends play off each other didn't make their spine tingle! Imagine watching Elton John and Mick Jagger jam together on the same stage; who wouldn't pay to see that?!
This scene was the highlight of an extremely well-written movie. John Cusack, in my opinion one of the best actors in Hollywood, gave a terrific performance as a good man who must do a bad thing in order to right a terrible wrong. He and his girlfriend, played by Rachel Weisz, exude a palpable warmth. They are in deep, dealing with people who are way out of their league, but they have to do what must be done: score a victory against the gun company in general, and against Rankin Fitch in particular.
Most of the John Grisham movies are well-written and well-acted; he has become this generation's Erle Stanley Gardner. I hope he continues to write many more classic courtroom/political dramas.
My score: 9 out of 10.
Ying xiong (2002)
Been There, Done That
Having seen both "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and both "Kill Bill" movies over the last two years, it's regrettable that acrobatic high-wire swordplay scenes don't impress me as much as they used to.
I know going in to see "Hero" that I would be comparing it to "Crouching Tiger"; most of us who have seen both of these films have in common the fact that we are typical Westerners who don't see very many Asian films. The comparison is inevitable, there simply is no other frame of reference.
That being said, there's no denying the power of the drama that the plot of "Hero" presented. The pageantry, the scope and the depth of the characters justify the many foreign film awards it has won. Add to that the fact that this is the most expensive movie ever produced in China, and you have a textbook definition of the work "epic".
I would like to think that I am capable of seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to movies like this - which is to say, lift my preferences out of the slam-bang action flicks or lowbrow comedies that are the usual fare for summer audiences. But the truth is, by the time "Hero" went into its last half hour, I was bored. Watching the same scenes play out from different perspectives got tiresome. (But I will say that having the characters' outfits change color depending on the mood of the moment was a nice cinematic touch.) The story line became a kind of Kurosawa-meets-Shakespeare plot of betrayal and assassination, and by the time the movie ended, I found myself not even caring which side won or who lived and died.
Take my review for what it's worth - that of a average Joe who tried for two hours to raise his intellectual bar to a level where he could see where all the critics' four- and five-star ratings were coming from, but was ultimately unable to do it. I have no doubt that many people will succeed where I failed, and they will no doubt enjoy this movie a lot more than I did.
My score: 6/10.
Suspect Zero (2004)
Better Than Most Serial Killer movies
Have you ever noticed that nobody is ever "on the fence" about serial killer movies? People either like it or hate it, with very little middle ground.
The trouble with serial killer movies is that it has become a very specific genre. In order to make a good one, the killer's motif has to be interesting and original. Among my favorites are Kevin Spacey's John Doe in "Seven", who killed his victims according to the seven deadly sins; Peter Foley in "Copycat", who copied real-life serial killers in an order pre-determined by one of Sigourney Weaver's speeches; and the killer in "Blink", whose goal it was to murder everyone who received any part of his dead girlfriend (who was an organ donor).
The interesting thing about "Suspect Zero" is that this particular killer had no pattern. He simply traveled from state to state, abducting and killing his victims (mostly children or adolescents) and burying them at his remote house in the Western United States.
Some might question my sanity, but I actually bought the "remote viewing" angle that Ben Kingsley's character was so adept at. Remote viewing is a subject that has been mentioned in other series, such as USA's "The Dead Zone", and on the now defunct (and highly underrated) series "John Doe". He COULD let the proper authorities know that there is a killer out there who has killed in every state in the country, with no conceivable pattern. But with his precarious mental state, who would believe him? The only way to prove that he is right is to draw attention to himself by killing three other serial killers in full view of the FBI; the fact that two of the three murdered killers weren't even known to be killers until well after their death gave weight to O'Ryan's (Kingsley's) abilities.
Aaron Eckhart gave a very good performance as disgraced FBI agent Thomas Mackelway, who has been shunted to the Albuquerque office after going way outside the law to apprehend serial killer Raymond Starkey (the third of O'Ryan's victims). I found the fact that O'Ryan latched onto him a little too convenient, as well as the fact that Mackelway is a fledgeling "remote viewer" himself, but I understand that it was necessary in order to keep the movie from bogging down.
Most of the other characters were pretty ordinary, including Carrie-Anne Moss as Mackelway's former-and-now-suddenly-current partner/love interest. Hers was the kind of role that could have been played by any of two dozen current Hollywood actresses, but it's good to see that she's trying to finally leave Trinity behind her.
Another convenience - O'Ryan leads Mackelway to the killer trucker's hideaway, within minutes of the killer showing up in his truck. A chase ensues, which ends with both vehicles crashing, and Mackelway chasing the killer down on foot and then, with the images of all the victims flashing through his head, beating him to death. I found the fact that we never even got a good look at Suspect Zero's face a little disappointing as well.
The final scene, where O'Ryan begs Mackelway to kill him and end his suffering, is very powerful. One can only imagine what it must be like to be "plugged in" to serial killers' minds for decades; the images of evil and perversion have to be enough to drive most men mad. The whole movie, which one thought was building up to the actual catching of Suspect Zero, was actually building up to this, the playing out of O'Ryan's final "vision". He had seen his death in his mind for years, and there was no escaping it.
This was the third serial killer-type movie I have seen this year - the other two, "Twisted" and "Taking Lives", rank dead last on my list of 2004 movies so far. But "Suspect Zero", despite its inconsistencies and sudden conviences, ranks very near the top for me, because when you combine an interesting story line, suspenseful and disturbing imagery, and a spectacular performance by Ben Kingsley (truthfully, the only kind of performance he EVER gives), i found myself entertained right up to the final credits.
My score: 9 1/2 out of 10.