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"Ain't nothing $5 won't take care of in this town."
As far as I am concerned, people make the High Noon comparison too assertively. I too appreciate that film very much, but this film gives more nuance to the underlying message. The townspeople of Firecreek do not uniformly stand idly by while outlaw scum run roughshod over them. Aside from the simpleton stable boy, whose nobility transcends primordial self-interest, the townspeople naturally look to their sheriff for law and order while making their own feelings known. In High Noon, people suggest that Gary Cooper's Marshal Kane skip town, while others actually want a violent outlaw to return because the guy's a lot of laughs. Both scenarios are conceivable, but Firecreek has more to say about settling for less than desired and going along to get along.
Calvin Clements' first-rate western dialogue cannot go unmentioned. I go so far as to say that it is in a class of its own. Interestingly, Jack Elam is in both films, but is especially memorable in Firecreek. Though I consider James Stewart's performance to be one of his best, I remember reading somewhere that he was disappointed in Firecreek. I realize that some people can't help but wince or grin at the perceived heavy-handedness of Stewart's Sheriff Cobb going berserk in the end. This relates to another distinction between the two films: In High Noon the marshal is the target, so he can't very well just ride off into the sunset with Grace Kelly; whereas in Firecreek the outlaws would rather the sheriff remain a hat-in-hand bystander.
Firecreek is for me the more interesting film.
One of the best films I have seen
Robert Zemeckis has helmed a film that is in every respect worthy of his formidable talent and illustrious filmography. With him in the director's chair, Allied's great production values were more or less expected. The film offers beautiful costuming inspired by Casablanca and Now, Voyager, exhilarating action scenes helped by a protagonist who I see as a humanized James Bond, and a very well-told, poignant story of happiness despite a world gone mad.
Alfred Hitchcock's 39 Steps and I Confess featured Canadian lead characters. I am not a fan of either film, incidentally, but that entirely sensible aspect is refreshingly mirrored by Brad Pitt's Max Vatan. Such cinematic representations should not irk or for that matter amuse anyone. It is not as though we are boringly eking out some meager existence beyond the great frontier.
His talent notwithstanding, I do not recall ever being rah-rah for Brad Pitt, but I greatly appreciate his work here. I really liked Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, and now this very different role. Though Anthony Hopkins once said that he doesn't believe in chemistry between actors, but rather in knowing one's lines, that's too nuts and bolts for me. In the opinion of this cinephile, something very charming is going on here between Pitt and Cotillard.
Steven Knight, of Locke and Pawn Sacrifice, gets the only writing credit. Blessed we are to have this man at work. I wish him many more years of it.
There is a memorable bit of dialogue in Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars that goes like so:
Eastwood's Joe: "Everybody talks about Ramón."
Volontè's Ramón: "And many speak of you, too. My dear brother included."
Eastwood's Joe: "Well, I hope they say . . . nice things."
Whether intended as an homage or not, I was happy to hear Pitt's French-speaking Max respond likewise in a well-written establishing scene. One little aspect of a film that impressed and appealed to me in many ways.
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.
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.
La vie d'Adèle (2013)
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.