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Falling in Love (1984)
ignore the sappy music, and just watch deniro and streep
it's not often that a movie on the WE channel will grab my attention, but perhaps it was robert deniro and meryl streep. and they're the best thing about this movie. it's nice to see deniro without a gun in his hand or a hit list. this film just goes to show how versatile he really is. he can do capone, he can do vito corleone, and he can do frank. he's not too confident (notice how long before he approaches molly on the train or how long it takes him to talk to his wife), but he can't ignore his feelings. meryl streep is wonderful as well. she gives us another real, honest, natural character. the chemistry between them is amazing. i think there's more going on when frank and molly just look at each other than in any Hollywood sex scene. this movie is ruined by the soap-operatic music and sappy ending, but i was very impressed by the performances.
Vanity Fair (2004)
everything is beautiful and enjoyable, except the writing
this film looked fantastic. i can't say enough about how beautiful every costume, set, shot, actor, etc. looked. the music was beautiful as well, and i really thought the performances were wonderful (especially james purefoy, gabriel byrne, bob hoskins, meg wynn owen, eileen atkins, and a dozen other characters actors). the story however... where do i begin? the first half hour or so (with the exception of the first scene) was very enjoyable. it was witty and funny, and most important of all- it made sense. i understood what was going on and had high hopes for the rest of the movie. then, becky announced her marriage to crawley. (what? did i miss the part where they fell in love?) the scene is the most hilarious one in the entire film, but everything that follows is just messy. i think the biggest problem with vanity fair is the subplots. the story will begin to follow one character, then suddenly switch to another. the characters change motives without explanation. there are scenes that don't seem belong. there are parts of the film that seem really heartfelt (such as the scene where crawley says goodbye to his son), and scene that are supposed to be heartfelt, but aren't (such as, in the same scene, when becky says goodbye to her son). this film is a roller coaster ride, but there is no path. the story skips and jumps all over the place. i know this came from a novel (which i have not read), so i know it must have been difficult to decide what to cut out and what to use. and that's where the film fails. it fails to tell the story effectively.
i wanted to see becky sharp as short of a scarlet o'hara- she will do whatever it takes to survive and although she has a heart, it is not made of gold and she often resorts to her other virtues to get what she needs or wants. scarlet o'hara good be cold as ice at times, but in the end, she was a likable character. becky sharp (at least this becky sharp) was led along a similar path in life, but in the end i didn;t understand her clearly. reese witherspoon. was this her finest performance? no. she was good- meaning she was very good in some scenes, great in a few scenes (especially the one where crawley walks out on her), and not very good in others (like the bedroom scene where she seems more worried about how to hide her stomach than the dialogue). her accent was impeccable and few actresses would look as natural in these costumes as she does, but this is not her best work. i liked her in this film, but i didn't love her. i thought she carried this film, but she stumbled a few times on the way. i would much rather watch her in the importance of being earnest or even legally blond.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
rent Big and forget you've heard of this
this movie failed to capture my heart or praise or attention. it wasn't THAT cute or THAT romantic or THAT clever. big surprise. don't get me wrong. i like jennifer garner, in alias. here, she's just sort of, well, she smiles a lot and she pulls off the i'm a girl inside the woman thing, but by the end of the movie, there's no depth. not that i'd expect that in this kind of movie. Hollywood keeps recycling ideas tirelessly. the only amazing thing about this movie is mark ruffalo. when he's on screen, the movie becomes more interesting. it's amazing how he can take a character in a movie like this and make him really good, but without overdoing it. that just goes to show how good he is. PS-why is andy serkis in this?
Open Water (2003)
you might want to rethink that diving trip
This film can't compete with Jaws, but it does raise a few hairs. I love how a simple story like this can grab your attention. This could have easily become over-dramatic with music and deep, meaningful monolgues, but instead it's sort of eerie. there's the endless sound of waves and lots of "what's that on my leg?" and "was that a shark fin i just saw?" moments. these characters goes through annoyance, fear, panic, and acceptance of their situation, but they do it like normal people. this almost feels like an episode on a reality TV show instead of a movie. it's that realistic. for an independent film (a real independent film with no crew/fancy equipment, etc.) this looks very good.
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
save your $8 and rent the original
i hated this film. i went into the theater hoping to see a thriller like the 1962 Manchurian Candidate. what a disappointment. i wasn't thrilled or chilled or even amused, i was annoyed by every twist and turn (new and old). i found my self picking on every tiny detail that had been changed and yearning for the original. in fact, i think i would have been happier if the studios had yanked out the old script, cast the characters, and remade the movie accordingly. this movie doesn't even deserve to have the same title. yes, it's that bad. this movie doesn't stand on it's own at all. instead it limps along, then crashes and burns, if you will. the performances are nothing to rave about and if you ask me, it's the screenwriter's fault. these are all talented actors stuck in a bad movie. i found denzel washington's bennett dull and unlikeable. liev schreiber (who even looks a bit like the other shaw) should never been made into the VP candidate. it's against everything the other shaw would have stood for. kimberly elise's rosie isn't interested in bennett romantically. bennett doesn't trust her and he doesn't love her. so why does he tag around with her? and meryl streep. is she brilliant? yes. does she grab your attention? yes. is she anywhere near the angela lansbury ice queen we see in the original? big fat no. not even close. in her scenes with shaw, she is nothing more than a nagging mother (effective, yes, but where is the cold-blooded politician from the other movie?). the special effects are too flashy and distract from what should be the point of the story.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
fantastic, a lesson to the jerry bruckheimers and john woos
this film is not only a satisfying sequel, it stands on its own as thriller. what i loved about the first movie went on and beyond here. i love the way jason bourne's character works. now that he knows who he is and he remembers some of what he's done, he doesn't just sail away into the sunset in the arms of a beautiful woman the way a james bond would. instead, he has problems, real problems and after the first film(sorry to use this cliché), the battle is won, but not the war. damon is at the top of his game, he gives his character enough darkness and mystery to keep us guessing and at times he is almost merciless (the scene with julia styles, anyone?), but at the end of the day, we still care about the guy and want him to win. this time damon doesn't have a sidekick, but a lack of dialogue doesn't hurt him. instead we get to guess what's going through bourne's head. and he doesn't have to rip off his shirt to get your attention. it's all in the downcast, dark expression of his eyes. the movie is much darker than the first, but that doesn't put a damper on it at all. the action sequences are awesome (especially the car chases), but unlike most action films today, this has class and reality and the film doesn't feel overloaded with mission: impossible 2-esque sequences where the enemy and hero keep going at it and never seem to get a scratch, take a breath, sweat, or feel pain. bourne does have a few close calls and yes he does whip out those amazing punches, but he's up against people like himself this time and he has to use more than his biceps, he has to use his brain, too. at the end of the movie, he looks exhausted, not sexy. as far as the other performances go, brain cox (we find out more about his character) is marvelous. julia styles is effective. i like that she isn't too macho or smart or too good looking (even with her style and funky hilights). her character reacts the way most twenty-something girls would react. there are other good supporting roles, but joan allen steals every scene as pamela landy. she's tough, but not that tough, smart, but not that smart, and thorough, but not without help. i love her in this role. it's a good thing chris cooper's character dies in the first one. he would've been upstaged. kudos to the cameramen. the camera-work (the talk of the town) is engaging and adds to the grit and realism of the film.
Dead End (1937)
one of the best films you never heard of
i'm a huge Bogey fan, so naturally i'll watch anything with his name in the credits. however, i was not prepared for "dead end." this is one of the most brilliant films i've ever seen and i can't understand why the eberts and roepers and maltins never talk about this one. it begins as a familiar story, rich vs. poor along the east river. a gang of kids hang around outside the ritzy, new apartments in the neighborhood. tommy, it's leader and his "friends" notice a boy who has been earning pocket money as a babysitter. when tommy steals his money, a fight breaks out. off in the distance, two men in silk suits watch the fight. tommy's sister drina breaks up the fight. drina is a working class woman on strike, trying to earn the money she deserves. Dave is her on-again, off-again love interest who has done everything in the book to try to rise out of poverty, but still can't get ahead. Dave has been seeing Kay, a young woman torn between a future with a man she thinks she may love (Dave) and the comforts of wealth. we find out the two men in silk suits are gangsters, one being the famous killer, baby face martin, who has returned to his home to see his mother and old girlfriend. he is rejected by his mother, who is disgusted by his profession and track record and his girlfriend, who has become a common prostitute. their are a million intertwining story lines that add up to one incredible climax, but essentially this film is about the cycle of poverty and class issues. the performances are terrific. Sylvia Sidney (not a big name today, but a damn good actress) and Joel mccrea are perfection as the films heroes. Bogart is unforgettable. this is one of the dozens of gangsters he played, but i would rate this performances as high as duke manatee in petrified forest. he's tough and street smart, but with each disappointment we see evidence of his emotions leaking out. the gang of kids remind me of the jets in west side story- they don't like anyone, not even each other half the time. look for Marjorie main (ma kettle before she was ma kettle!) in a touching, but heartbreaking scene as Bogey's frail, aging mother and Claire Trevor (another fine, forgotten actress) as Bogey's sweetheart turned greedy streetwalker. the best thing about this film is they way each character believes he or she can overcome the way of life he or she seems fated to live with. each character tries desperately and fails. this is the way real people are. there's no Hollywood, sugar-coatedness about any of it. no over-dramatic music or made-for-the-previews lines. it's grossly realistic. this film would be on my top 50 list, maybe even my top 25. it's that good.
The Village (2004)
flawed, but worth your time
The Village is not Shyamalan's best film as you will probably read in every review. The beginning was very rough (mainly the dialogue) and parts of it seem to be out of order. However, it is just as spellbinding and thought-provoking as Signs or The Sixth Sense. The twist (no spoilers here) caught me completely off guard and, at times, I thought I had guessed what was going to happen next, but couldn't have been more wrong. Granted, I did not leave the theater paranoid for my safety (as I did after Signs), but I left satisfied with the ending and sincerely impressed.
Joaquin Phoenix has the top-billing and will surely win your praise (I've come to believe he can do just about anything acting-wise), but Bryce Dallas Howard's portrayal of the fragile, but strong-willed and witty Ivy steals the show. Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt were mediocre, I thought. I would rather have seen character actors in their roles. Adrien Brody is fantastic (don't believe the critics).
Kudos to the cinematographer. This film was beautiful to watch.