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1930s Hell's Angels Love Me Tonight It Happened One Night Libeled Lady The Great Ziegfeld The Life of Emile Zola One Hundred Men and a Girl Mad About Music Wuthering Heights Gone with the Wind
1940s Waterloo Bridge Ball of Fire Now, Voyager The Clock Mildred Pierce No Regrets for My Youth The Razor's Edge The Best Years of Our Lives The Fountainhead The Heiress
1950s All About Eve Limelight Roman Holiday Rififi The Ten Commandments The Cranes are Flying The Nights of Cabiria Rio Bravo Ballad of a Soldier Some Like It Hot
1960s Home from the Hill The Apartment A Raisin in the Sun Splendor in the Grass Mutiny on the Bounty A Fistful of Dollars For a Few Dollars More The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Alfie Once Upon a Time in the West
1970s Play Misty for Me Butterflies Are Free The Man Who Would Be King One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Rocky Taxi Driver Annie Hall The Spy Who Loved Me A Bridge Too Far Rocky II
1980s Thief Scarface The Bounty The Terminator Out of Africa The Breakfast Club Withnail & I Planes, Trains & Automobiles Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Crimes and Misdemeanors
1990s Goodfellas Cape Fear The Silence of the Lambs Terminator 2: Judgment Day Forrest Gump The Shawshank Redemption Braveheart Casino Before Sunrise Titanic
2000s White Oleander All or Nothing The Pianist Kill Bill: Vol. 1 Kill Bill: Vol. 2 Before Sunset Sideways Little Miss Sunshine The Pursuit of Happyness Inglourious Basterds
2010s Django Unchained Mud Before Midnight Blue Is the Warmest Color The Wolf of Wall Street American Sniper The Imitation Game The Judge Nightcrawler The Revenant
It holds up to scrutiny pretty well
The Disappearance of Alice Creed was for me a very absorbing 93 minutes. I would like for people to experience it with little to no prior research, so I will be careful to keep this review spoiler free.
The film by virtue of its character development and narrative depth rates more respect than quibbling gawkers evidently give it. The 6.8/10 is too low for my liking and suggests to me that people are failing to sensibly answer their own questions about the film.
Stupidities are all apart of life's rich pageant, and good films cast light on the reality of life. I would agree that the depiction of intelligence in film is more interesting than that of unintelligence, but it is too cynical and ungenerous to outright dismiss a character's stupidity as a cheap and convenient plot device. How conceivable is it given what we know or can reasonably theorize about the character and their circumstances? More importantly, how would the alternatives change the narrative for better or worse?
Some stories that are well worth telling necessitate one or more frustrating plot devices. This film has much to offer in spite of them.
Rocky is practically my favorite film, so I felt obliged to buy a ticket soon after Creed's release. The nicest thing I can say about it is that Rocky is still Rocky, and it was nice seeing him again. The fight choreography is also worthy of the series. Additionally, Tessa Thompson adds a little depth as Bianca, and new to the role of Mrs. Creed, Phylicia Rashad of "The Cosby Show" fame is a welcomed presence. That pretty well does it for my positive remarks.
Although I personally consider it to be even more overrated than Rocky V is underrated (having always appreciated the latter for many reasons), it would be foolish to dissuade anyone in general from seeing Creed given its sweeping popularity. A popularity that I fail to comprehend. Reading several glowing reviews has done little to illuminate it. The general idea seems to be that Michael B. Jordan's Adonis Johnson is a great character who fascinates and inspires people. I see a conflicted pugilist with none of the pizazz and gift of gab crossed with gravitas that characterized Carl Weathers' Apollo Creed as a Goliath to Rocky Balboa's David. Neither Michael B. Jordan nor Adonis Johnson are the stuff of movie magic in plain English.
As I watched Creed, bewildered by its critical acclaim, I could not help but agree with Rocky that he is a dejected remnant of a bygone time. Perfectly understandable, as I derived much more from his stroll through the zoo with Talia Shire's Adrian in Rocky II than from over two hours of this comparatively soulless offering. The original film absorbed me completely with character after character superlatively realized and a palpably gritty atmosphere, whereas Creed did not draw me in much. The Philadelphia location work explains what little atmosphere there is to speak of. Bianca is a fairly interesting character, whose music is integral to her development, so I will leave it at that. Had Rocky been front and center more often, I would likely think more of the film.
Insofar as the ring remains a metaphor for the world at large, the indomitable Sylvester Stallone is still punching as a force in the industry. Although I am quite honestly dumbfounded by the degree of praise Creed has received, I am solaced to know that people remain invested in the Rocky Balboa character and that this adds to the staying power of his creator.
Not good by James Bond standards
After a lively opening in Mexico City with adroit camera work, we are treated to a splendid main title sequence. Thinking back to Adele's titular "Skyfall" and how it psyched me up, I found Sam Smith's "Writing's on the Wall" a letdown that foreshadowed further disappointment. (To my surprisenow three weeks laterI enjoyed "Writing's on the Wall" as performed by Jeremy Kushnier and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; so, though not a favorite, I have come to appreciate it.)
Two problems are apparent early on: Firstly, we are used to seeing Daniel Craig's 007 bruised and bleeding after dynamic fight scenes, not looking like he had just wrapped up an Omega watch commercial (why undersell the danger?); secondly, 007's sexual dalliances are at first obligatorily forced and ultimately in the realm of self-parody. This worked for Sean Connery and Roger Moore, but is out of place in the Craig era.
It takes more than a gathering of talented people and an astronomical budget to make a great James Bond film. By comparison with the sophistication of Casino Royale and Skyfall, Spectre's screenplay is shallow, to put it charitably. The cast, supported by Christoph Waltz, Dave Bautista, Léa Seydoux, and Monica Bellucci, is indeed a plus, but Waltz is underused. This is a multilingual production, and it implies that Waltz's Oberhauser speaks German and Italian, but we get only English from him. If there was ever a time after Inglourious Basterds to capitalize on his linguistic abilities, this was it. Whether to avoid what may have been construed as a rehashing of Quentin Tarantino's work or an unwillingness to rewrite a character not originally intended for Waltz, it is a failure beyond description. As for Oberhauser, he is a Blofeldesque character complete with a white Persian cat. But to later proclaim that he is Blofeld is a meaningless wink and nod to the earlier films, because he appears to go by Oberhauser to all intents and purposes. Waltz himself did not get it.
Near the end, Bond finds himself in a compromising position at the hands of Oberhauser, who subjects him to a particular method of torture as described before he is to kill 007 outright. But lo and behold, we are asked to accept that 007's devotion to Seydoux's Madeleine Swann runs so deep that his evil genius arch-nemesis, the "author" of all his pain, does not really have his methods of torture nailed down after all. I think not. The filmmakers could have deviated from the formula without insulting anyone's intelligence. The watch Q provided should have gone off before Oberhauser's little experiment. Here againand more to the pointwhy undersell the danger faced by our dashing hero? Furthermore, 007 and Swann arrive at Oberhauser's place in the desert as guests, not covertly, as would be the norm. This plan of theirs not surprisingly had its drawbacks.
With a budget estimated as high as $350 million, I would have appreciated location photography in Tokyo since they based a scene there, even if just an aerial shot and some Japanese influence on the proceedings. I realize that the scene only involved peripheral characters and was meant to move the plot forward, but nevertheless, it was too generic. Having lived there, Tokyo is in many ways my favorite city, so I found myself wanting some sense of the place.
Though better than Quantum of Solace, in my opinion, this the 24th official James Bond film is on the whole a disappointment. This is so for specific reasons stated and more generally the ludicrously far-fetched plot, whereby 007 had vanquished many megalomaniacal villains without realizing his adoptive and presumed dead brother was lurking in the shadows. What is more, the final act hinges too much on the supposed depth of emotion between 007 and Swann, a relationship rather ham-handedly developed for all the mileage they try to get out of it.
In despite of this being a predominantly negative review, the action sequences are solid, especially the fight on the train with Bautista's Hinx (arguably the best in the series), there are many beautiful location shots, and I was not at all bored during the 148 minute runtime.
Spectre is likely to be Daniel Craig's final turn as James Bond. They all have to move on eventually. He sure is a tough act to follow. I, however, remain more optimistic than apprehensive about the future of this franchise.
San Andreas (2015)
I was strongly advised against seeing this movie by someone who considers it sheer stupidity from A to Z. Fortunately, I went anyway. It is easily my favorite natural disaster movie, an enjoyable subgenre that hitherto has not wowed me.
I don't much mind that San Andreas stretches scientific realism until it yelps for mercy, because to my way of thinking it comes down to intelligent, likable characters, an engaging, well-paced storyline, a good helping of humor (not that it takes much for The Rock and Paul Giamatti to amuse me), a ton of perilous action with solid special effects, and nice sprinklings of pathos amid the mayhem. The Rock and Carla Gugino as separated parents achieve a tenderness that is not a joke, however much it may be lost on those who maintain a self-satisfied, preconceived idea of San Andreas as a mindless, popcorn movie.
Though there were no real surprises, it was not for me a by-the-numbers experience. San Andreas has a Spielbergian sense of wholesome integrity and more depth than it is given credit for. Many would write off Ioan Gruffudd's megarich character as a two-dimensional cad, but not only is his behavior entirely conceivable under the circumstances, Carla Gugino's character is all the more fleshed out and sympathetic by association. If all hell didn't break loose, he would have remained good boyfriend material by any reasonable analysis. That aspect interests me.
I found it very entertaining overall.
American Sniper (2014)
Clint Eastwood was in top form for American Sniper, his 34th feature film as director. An Oscar nomination for Best Director would have made very good sense to me. At 84 years old, the man should be an inspiration to geriatrics the world over and the rest of us who hope to live that long. And who better to take a page out of Quentin Tarantino's book by using a great old Ennio Morricone tune?
Neither the perilous hell of battle nor the depths of human wickedness have been more powerfully and realistically depicted in my cinematic experience. Furthermore, they dutifully honor Chris Kyle's perspective without it being a pro-Iraq War propaganda piece. It is a skillful balancing act for what is not a political film per se. To say that the film needed an anti-war agenda is tantamount to saying that it would have been better if only they had disrespected the man's memory. Though I myself do not approve of the Iraq War, it is not in black and white terms. I much prefer a challenging, thought-provoking film to an anti-war spoon-feeding.
Bradley Cooper seems to take nothing for granted by giving his all to one good role after another. The part of Chris Kyle is his most demanding and transformative. I have liked him in many roles and have long understood him to be a real go-getter and capable actor, but this one stands out as a remarkable achievement. It is one of the better performances that I have ever seen. He insisted on achieving believability and succeeded beyond doubt.
There is so much I like about the film that I almost feel like I am pawing in the dark to criticize it. However, another early scene developing the relationship between Kyle and his wife Taya would have been appreciated. Well, that and a preposterous fake baby that I hesitate to mention since I was fooled by it in the theater. But I figure almost everyone who reads this review will have already seen the film.
Snipers have a way of captivating the mind and are therefore good film subjects. It is the precise art of marksmanship, the idea of playing God, their strategic importance in warfare, and as the makers of this film understand in spades by having included a sharpshooting adversary named Mustafa, the idea of the hunter being hunted.
Chris Kyle risked his life over four tours and roughly 1,000 days in order to protect his fellow soldiers. This was courageous and he is an American hero, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. He is a hero to all people who support an aggressive stance against the enemies of civilization. He had a real and important job to do and did it exceptionally well. This much should be agreeable to anyone in their right mind, however ill-conceived they consider the war. Nevertheless, I have observed a moron explosion in response to the film and fueled by the marvelous success of it. I regret to see such one-note, mouth-breathing opposition to the war in lieu of measured arguments. Snipers also have a way of stirring up emotions.
Taken 3 (2014)
Not a bad end to a fun trilogy
Taken 3 is a step down from Taken 2, itself a lesser film than the original. But that is to be expected and forgiven. The title could be considered an unimaginative misnomer, but it makes marketing sense.
Aside from the part of Stuart (husband to Famke Janssen's Lenore), the casting is consistent. The addition of Forest Whitaker as a smart cop is for me something of a saving grace since Taken 3 offers up absurdities without question. On reflection, however, the plot has enough coherence to do the trilogy justice. Moreover, it is a joy to see Liam Neeson in this role again.
The director Olivier Megaton has an irksome penchant for frenetic, up-close, disorienting action sequences whereby shots are rarely longer than two seconds. He was a little better in this regard for Taken 2, which had the benefit of superior choreography.
Another personal point of contention is the casting of Sam Spruell as the top Russian villain. He has not an imposing physical constitution and quite frankly brings to mind Jim Carrey, who sported the same haircut in the Dumb and Dumber movies. Not at all what I want in a villain.
I generally enjoy the films I see, and this onenotwithstanding the negativesis no exception. However, I would not recommend it for people who are more stern in matters of taste.
Brilliant, intense, and wonderfully unique
I am hard pressed to fault Blue Is the Warmest Color. My appreciation of it crescendoed in a way that had me question the essentiality of the entire 45 minutes or so before Adèle and Emma meet. I nonetheless have come to appreciate it as the deliberate development of the Adèle character and her circumstances. The walk-by and subsequent autoerotic scene are integral to the story.
I also questioned whether the protracted graphic sexual content was of an artistically neutral value, given how lust can otherwise be implied. Not that filmmakers should necessarily make a habit of it, but with so little left to the imagination, the right emotional responses were more readily evoked in other scenes. Ultimately, the film's unfailing naturalism demanded such sexual representations. It would not have made sense for the director to have been shy about the kind of film he was making.
Adèle is an understandably flawed character. Her sex life is dictated more by convenience than principle. This selfishness is at variance with her love for Emma and desire to benefit others as a teacher. Emma is more mature in age and mind. She is a truly likable character. Loving her so deeply is a credit to Adèle. One of the more thought provoking relationships ever put to the screen; I would need a horrendous case of dementia to forget it.
What a breakup scene! Not surprisingly the most difficult; it best exemplifies this tour de force of acting for the two leads. I could rack my brains to no end and not recall to mind a more effective scene. Adèle receives her comeuppance with heartrending disbelief and desperation. Emma's Sartrean resolution can be debated on its merits.
The taboo nature of their relationship is something of an eye-opener. France only legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, despite nationwide opposition. So, the depiction of homophobia is all too true, evidently. There is something wrong in the world we live in when a realistic treatment of the subject would have been essentially the same decades earlier.
This glowing review of mine had me call into question my own rating. It had been a 9/10, mainly because the film by necessity (as I now understand) has an unusually slow build up. I had intended for this to be a mixed review, but the more I meditate on Blue Is the Warmest Color, the more I appreciate it. The perceived negatives fell flat under the light of scrutiny. The supporting characters are well established, with Samir, the Arabic speaking actor as the standout. The music is good throughout. The anti-Hollywood, though somewhat open-ended ending is just right.
All in all, a brilliant, intense, and wonderfully unique film.
Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)
What a sequel should be
The trailer made me want to see this film, though I was not about to do so with no frame of reference. So, I was sure to watch Horrible Bosses beforehand, an enjoyable but underwhelming film. This sequel, however, is one of the funniest films I have ever seen and certainly to my mind the most outstanding example of a sequel improving on its predecessor.
The film is cleverly plotted with refreshing comedic ideas. It also references the first film in welcomed ways. This time around the trio can just go for it with a great script and the experience of the 2011 film. I found Charlie Day's Dale Arbus annoyingly over the top at times in the original, but in this sequel everyone is on point with real comedic chemistry.
Christoph Waltz continues to flourish with his supporting role. Chris Pine is great in his role. Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey successfully reprise their roles as expected. I do not normally think of myself as a Jennifer Aniston fan, but she is indispensably good in both films. I was also happy to see Jonathan Banks, whom I remember well for heavies he played in the '80s.
It was very well received in my crowded theater.
Before Midnight (2013)
A test of their love
There is a moment in Before Sunset where Ethan Hawke's Jesse tells Julie Delpy's Celine that he wrote a fictional version of their story where they rendezvous in Vienna and end up not liking each other. It appealed to her sense of realism. Indeed, she later touched on it again. Walking out of the theater I knew Before Midnight more or less answered that vital question.
Here we add nine freaking years to the previous 13 or so hours of their time together. So, understandably, Jesse and Celine are not as we left them. Bearing the increasingly heavy chains of life's complications, they still love to bat around ideas and make each other laugh. More importantly, they really want to understand each other and be understood.
For Jesse, seeing little of his son Hank (now 13 and played by Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) is the unacceptable cost of being with Celine, mishandling his separation, and having a vindictive, dejected ex-wife. Desperately wanting to be consistently present in Hank's life, their latest farewell is the final straw. He and Celine had been in regular contact with Hank for two years in New York City, but Celine's very complicated pregnancy with twins (Ella and Nina, now 7-years-old and played by Jennifer and Charlotte Prior respectively) made it imperative that she be close to her mother in Paris.
Jesse obviously did the right thing by staying with Celine and he knows it, yet he shoulders the guilt of an absentee father and externalizes it. Celine, though not exactly an innocent bystander, is subjected to unfair manipulation. Generally quite reasonable as to the father/son question, she is, by my reading, unconsciously passive-aggressive about it. The unarguable fact is that a move to Chicago (where Hank presently lives with his mother) would amount to babysitting every other weekend for want of joint custody. As for Hank, he gets on well with Jesse, but there is a definite sense of detachment. He doesn't even look over his shoulder as he turns the corner out of sight at the airport.
Jesse is otherwise very good: he is leading the life of a successful writer (three books out and a fourth in the works) with Celine--the unquestionable love of his life--as his wife and a good mother to their twin daughters who are healthy (and of course dressed differently). He just somehow figured on Hank living with them. By thinking through his crisis aloud, Celine (no longer a closed book) says in a half-kidding way that it is the beginning of the end for them.
It is nice to see them interacting socially for the first time in the marvelous, detail-rich dinner scene. Everyone contributes more or less evenly as the conversation ranges from artificial intelligence to gender differences to various interesting perspectives on love and romance. The trio of Linklater, Hawke and Delpy pour themselves into making the absolute most of these naturalistic films, and it shines through palpably. It is interesting to learn that Hawke and Delpy wrote a lot of each other's dialogue. This happens to be the funniest of the three films, in my opinion. Great music again, too!
Celine, feeling disconnected from Jesse as to her own stresses, wants out of their planned night together, but irrevocable arrangements had been made on their behalf. Walking together as we had come to know them, their natural chemistry is evident in short order. Celine acknowledges this while remarking in a downplayed way that she doesn't feel the connection at times. Jesse responds in jest, unaware of it as a crisis that will soon converge with his own. They enter their hotel room feeling good about the whole shebang. Then Hank calls again and things gradually spiral downward into a serious case of love on the rocks for these well-meaning veritable soulmates in the southern Peloponnese of Greece.
Celine is more complicated than Jesse--who is not about to leave her and the girls for Hank in Chicago--and even less inclined to contentment in life. The professionally-minded activist with little in the way of a maternal instinct has been saddled with the aforementioned twins and is essentially trying to balance domestic mundanities with her environmental work in the ineffectual non-profit sector. She no longer finds time for music, her creative outlet. By contrast, Jesse to her mind takes his easygoing novelist life to the highfaluting hilt. Though wonderfully good-natured to be sure, envy continues to be a problem of hers. She respects his intelligence, but slights his work, and being the inspiration for his first two intimate novels does not sit well with her at all. She also feels every day of her 41 years and even accuses him of infidelity, as if only to clear the air.
The backfiring of a wind turbine project has her set on working for the government again despite doubts. Not knowing she considers it a "dream job" of sorts, Jesse rouses Celine's feminist spirit by suggesting she perhaps forgo the position for something in Chicago. Celine quotes someone in earnest: "Women explore for eternity in the vast garden of sacrifice." It took Jesse's out and out mockery of her innermost feminism to later warrant her saying she doesn't think she loves him anymore.
In the final scene we find Celine understandably despondent and Jesse appropriately self-reproachful. Employing a time travel fantasy reminiscent of that which convinced her to see Vienna with him 18 years before, he realizes his failure despite desirous efforts to understand her. By reconciling herself to him, Celine sees in his sincerity the very magic she spoke of in Vienna. It could not come full circle more wonderfully.
Their protracted relationship continues to be the very height of my cinematic experience, so it pleases me greatly to know that the door is being left wide open for a fourth film and hopefully more. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke will know if it is right.
Before Sunset (2004)
Actual intoxicating perfection
Rarely do I watch Before Sunrise and not Before Sunset immediately afterward. The former insists on the latter. A divine three hours indeed. The original writing team of Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan get the story credit, while Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke join Linklater for the screenplay credit. Way cool to have actors writing their own sublime dialogue. Funding difficulties forced a minimalism congruous with the naturalism. Done in real time with long continuous shots, there is not a hint of contrivance. I really cannot imagine an improvement of any significance on this superlative film.
Before Sunrise ended with Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine looking forward to their reunion six months later in Vienna. Jesse borrowed $2,000 from his dad to be there, while Celine had to attend her dearly beloved grandmother's funeral that same day. Talk about bad timing, but this was the very grandmother whom Celine visited that summer of '94 and, therefore, without whom they would never have met. Then again, we could say the same for Jesse's ex-girlfriend in Madrid. The absurd interplay of fate and chance intrigues and frustrates. They could have been in different cars on that train from Budapest.
The film and trilogy being quintessentially character-driven, Linklater's directorial touch is just right. He begins Before Sunset with a reverse-order montage that beautifully calls to mind that of the first film's ending. Jesse, by this time unhappily married with a 4-year-old son, is in a Parisian bookstore wrapping up a tour for his novel This Time, based on their brief encounter nine years previous. Never connecting with someone so deeply theretofore nor in the intervening nine years, the struggle to remain alive to his experience of their time together compelled him to immortalize that night by sharing with the world the significance of really meeting someone. More than that, he knew it was his best shot at seeing Celine again. Celine, who is working for an environmental organization called Green Cross and in a relationship with an often-away war photojournalist, smiles at a wonder-struck Jesse as he is finishing his talk. So much to say and so little time (just over an hour) before Jesse is to leave for the airport.
The years have naturally rendered them more worldly-wise this time around, as is reflected throughout their humorous, incisive dialogue, but having to revert back to a shared sense of hope and meaning is something of a paradox. There is truth to be found in the perceived naiveté of youth. Jesse, emotionally ravaged by their years apart, is torn between an undying love for Celine and the inertia of a loveless marriage, wherefrom his son Hank is the only saving grace. Celine by comparison is more of a closed book: harboring the guilt of missing their rendezvous, she had contentedly resigned herself to a life less delightful, but reading his novel awakened her to how hopelessly starved for meaning and excitement she has since been. Jadedly guarded, she keeps an emotional distance despite the undeniable sparks they again get one on one. How is married Jesse to help her after all?
There is a very touching moment on the tourist boat where Celine is at her loquacious best--real salt of the earth stuff--and Jesse, having relived their night together over and over to write his book, is simply compelled to address their preposterous misconnection as the clock ticks away. This leads into ever more personal territory as they exchange sorrowful revelations in a cathartic purge of pent-up grief. Bantering again, Celine hugs him strongly--their first embrace since going their separate ways nine years before--and though playing it cool, she seems to know her waltz (Julie Delpy's wonderful "A Waltz for a Night") is about to do the trick. The clock be damned, Jesse selects Nina Simone's "Just in Time" to which Celine respectfully impersonates the iconic singer.
Before Sunrise ended on a particularly sad note, so the uplifting nature of this subtly executed ending is all the more satisfying.