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Zulu 2013 is well worth your time to enjoy
This is a very good movie. There, I said it. Let me say it again: this is a very good movie.
If I can identify one weak point, then I will point to the script that at times introduces some plot elements that rapidly fill in the blanks to advance the story. However, the script more than makes up for that minor problem by revealing complexity to the Whitaker and Bloom characters in a subtle way that makes us truly care about the two cops they portray.
Whitaker is very good, establishing a character then staying true to what he presents initially. If you like watching the mature Forest Whitaker do his thing then you will enjoy this movie.
However, to me this is Orlando Bloom's movie to carry, and he scores big time. If you are one of those that enjoys Orlando then this is a movie for you. All of that time he has spent adding to his bank account with fluffy roles has also brought him to this point where he can truly pull off a major role with skill.
Zulu is set in modern day South Africa and the portrait of that nation isn't pretty at all. Further, it is pretty easy to see that the social problems the film deals with are not only current but real and accurate. Zulu isn't just a who-done-it, but a powerful indictment of the causes of the subject crime embedded deep in 20th century history.
Like all good cop movies there is some redemption at the end so fear not in the middle, if you find yourself a little depressed. Stick it out and you will feel a little redemption yourself, maybe a little hope.
I see that the budget was $20 million and I think the producers got a great deal of worth for their investment. Problematic I guess is distribution of a cop film set in South Africa with some pretty harsh elements, at least to American audiences. Fortunately, for a few bucks in the near future you can watch it online.
Go see it if it at all sounds like your cup of tea, I promise you that you will enjoy it.
Winter of Frozen Dreams (2009)
Good performances, cheap look
Thora Birch is a pretty good performer. I don't know how she got roped into this project, perhaps boredom? Clearly, not for the money.
Overall, the acting is a bit above average. The story is solid, with a few nice twists. If you are into it for only average plus acting and a neat little screenplay then maybe this is your thing.
But, where the movie truly suffers is in production. Bad lighting, lousy camera work, below average editing, all those little things that might have completed the project nicely are just not very good.
I wonder if the stated budget here is correct, $1,000,000? To be honest, these days that is a bit beneath chump change for a film. But, if that number is true then another mystery solved, Why is Winter of Frozen Dreams so not-very-good? You get what you pay for.
Watchable on a rainy, boring night
Sam Rockwell has done some really great work. Not here, but he has, trust me. Ditto Michelle Monaghan, Olivia Wilde and Ray Liotta. And, let me be clear when I tell you that they try very hard to make this a nice little comedy. Sadly, all their hard work is pretty much wasted, and combined with the unnecessary Jane Fonda Narration I found Better Living Through Chemistry to be one of those movies you might watch some rainy, boring night - one of those nights when this is the only possible choice.
Rotten weather tonight? Seen every episode of Two Broke Girls at least twice? Need to save your gray matter for tomorrow's presentation? Great! This is a movie for you.
I think that the below average production really detracts from the film. There is something 'funky' about the sound and the filming is just a little bit off, like it was filmed half digital/half Eastman Kodak. No need for me to be more specific, you will notice. Trust me, again.
Another negative is knowing how much you have enjoyed the leads in the past. Consider Rockwell in Moon, or Monaghan in True Detective, two very strong performances. Rockwell in this movie comes off more like the new Rick Moranis (Honey, I drugged the kids) and I don't recall ever seeing Michelle so tired around the edges. I mentioned that they work hard, right?
This is not some comedic breakthrough, by the way. I do believe it has all been done before, thematically.
Though this is a film about a pharmacist, there is nothing new in this comedy as far as concepts or gags. You have seen it all before. The script isn't at all fresh, a real problem for me. It even has the oddball kid, you know the one that is going his own way or words to that effect. The core concepts that are supposed to work and make us laugh just don't work often enough.
I don't know if this ever made it to the theaters, or went straight to video. If it was in general release it is impossible for me to imagine it generating the sort of buzz to attract many folks to the old movie house.
However, it is watchable. Sound odd? Not really, just don't expect much. And, don't worry about pausing when you need a quick trip to the john, you won't miss much and no new techniques will be introduced.
Bad Country (2014)
Could have been much better
Bad Country is watchable with some real heavyweight talent and a setting that promises great viewing. But, because of poor character development and overall production it falls far short of anything but average.
No blame to Matt Dillon or Willem Dafoe, both carrying the movie with excellent performances. In fact, Dillon's involvement in almost any project automatically guarantees reliable entertainment. And Dafoe is as gritty and pained as usual, just what you might expect.
But, the script is shallow, the sound editing amateurish, and the overall cinematography average. The final, expected scene can't be saved by the actors when all the technical facets pull together in a below average manner.
This could have been much better. So many elements are in place that Bad Country practically screams for the sort of polish and technique the cast deserves. I have no doubt that in the hands of Mann or Bay demands would have been made and ideas enforced to carry this movie to the box office with some real effect. As it is, by the end I could only wonder what could have been.
Watch it, but don't expect much.
The Returned (2013)
Nice little film
I have been wondering: where do all these zombie films come from? This one comes from Canada. Like everything else, genres come and go in cycles. Fortunately, this is one of the better in the cycle, if it is even a zombie film at all.
Very good news: this isn't a 'found footage' mess, so those of you, that like me prefer real movies, will be pleased.
In an interesting twist a 'new' take is offered on the 'zombies have problems too' theme. Early on we find that a serum that keeps the undead alive and normal is running out. What to do! From there we are treated to a very nice thriller.
In fact, thematically this could easily seen as a thriller and not a zombie movie. If you are one that must wince as you avoid the screen during some of the bloodier flesh-consuming relatives to The Returned don't worry. Very little of that untidy stuff.
For a small budget we get some pretty fair production. Nice camera work, nice score, all filmed in Canada where apparently one gets quite a bit for their money. And, the dreary Canadian background seems very fitting, nice and gray.
Though no one in the cast really stands out they all perform very well together. Unlike other small budget films there isn't that actor or two that is such a 'clinker' that the whole production suffers.
Overall, very watchable, on par with the better made for television stuff. I have read that some feel the ending is a bit shocking, but I can't agree with that at all. The plot is developed nicely by that point and all fits together very well for me.
The Counselor (2013)
Not awful, but was Brad Pitt reading from a teleprompter?
I am a devoted, long time fan of Ridley, so long and so devoted to his work that it isn't easy for me to offer the sort of criticism I immediately wanted to share after viewing 'the Counselor'. Even worse, I have viewed the Director's Cut only, or in other words the improved version he would like us to see.
The good news, this is a very pretty, stylish and well edited movie. Great photography of things like sunsets and big cats. but, as Brad Pitt might add at the end, don't lose your head yet.
The bad news, where do I begin? How about this: scene after boring scene where characters go on and on and on...yet say in every three sentences what they could have said in one. There must be a formula here, take the minutes of each scene, divide by three and...oh, my...not good news. In addition, much of the dialog is spoken in such a flat and odd cadence that at times it appears the actors are reading from TelePrompTers.
There is a great deal of philosophy offered in the wordy scenes, kind of like what you might expect in a good Kung Fu movie. Huge life lesson stuff, if you know what I mean, where the obvious is overstated and then there are 'gee whiz' moments of silence allowed so that we viewers can ponder the essence of who-knows-what. I am afraid I never got into it, much like those characters speaking line after line in mechanical earnest, like robots issuing instructions for life.
The Director's Cut opens with a scene that is tedious, unnerving and too long. I have read in other reviews that this version has 'extended' scenes that are intended to improve the final product. Don't be fooled as I was. Scene one is just an entrée to a movie with scene after scene where the key players talk too much without effectively advancing something worthy of Mr. Scott's reputation. I kept watching and hoping but it never got any better.
Oh, well, it is pretty
Casting is a real problem. There is no 'lead' actor present in the movie. Yes, the titular character is Mr. Fassbender, but his role never rises to a 'lead' position. Ridley never allows that to happen. Penelope is just window dressing and Javier is as bombastic and quirky as ever, but we all know he will never rise above a super-character actor slot. And, Brad? Well, he is there but don't lose your head expecting him to rise above his supporting role. Then, there is Ms. Diaz. Her role could have been filled by one of several actresses available. A better choice might have been Gong Li, Julia Roberts or one of your recently middle-aged cousins. Instead, Cam got the part and walks through it like someone in a narcolepsy study.
The cast is like a football team without a quarterback, so to speak. Before release I read about the 'powerhouse, dream cast'. Add a lead to the mix, take away the teleprompter and recast Fassbender and Diaz and I might agree.
One might think that the wordy scenes and overbearing dialog would at least paint a very clear picture of what is going on in the movie - OK think again. Transition periods from scene to scene are sometimes 'fill in the blank' for viewers, as the movie progresses. Better take notes if you can, that could really help.
Prince of the City (1981)
One of the greatest English language 'cop' dramas ever made
One of the greatest English language 'cop' dramas ever made.
Lumet and Williams take us along a path where almost everyone one might trust is dirty, the fantasy of the 'war on drugs' is forced to confront the reality of the streets and everyday life, and the closest bonds imaginable between men are fractured by a judicial system that is often itself corrupt and impossible to trust.
Over the years much has been said about this film and its lack of recognition, especially in light of only one academy award nomination and no wins. I can't speak to why that happened, but I can say that a greater set of awards earned is the almost universal recognition of this movie as a truly relevant and brilliant statement still fresh over time.
So many movies from 30 plus years ago are clearly 'showing their age'. Techniques used, scripts employed, acting, even costumes nail most films from c. 1981 to a particular time frame. Viewers must make allowances for the age, a real negative to enjoyment. Not so, Prince of the City. It is as crisp and compelling now as it was when first released. The only real difference between it and contemporary dramas is the ability of people to now enjoy it as a masterpiece and a reference to a great age of directors like Lumet, instead of a 'first run'.
Lumet used a huge supporting cast. How amazing is it that so many near perfect performances are offered by actors that either were never heard of again or slipped into a careers that aren't worth mentioning? To me, that is a little bit of proof of the crazy magic of Prince of the City. For some reason so many people came together and jelled into an ensemble that for 167 minutes can still help us suspend time as we live the story with them. Certainly, the reason has to be the masterful hand of Lumet.
If you haven't seen Prince of the City but enjoy this genre of film then please see it soon. It's long, so give yourself the required time to enjoy it. Extra points to you, if you watch it with one or more friends that not only enjoys 'cop' dramas but also enjoys great direction, smooth acting, and like to discuss film making in general. You will find great joy not only in the movie but in the conversations it will inspire. No doubt two threads of your conversation will emerge: where can I get more Lumet movies and why didn't Treat get more recognition for his work. Question one is easy to answer, check out IMDb. Number two is a question film buffs have been asking for over 30 years without satisfaction.
Stop me if you have heard this story before
The early portion of Doomsday is fairly interesting. A series of historical events sets up the rest of the movie, accompanied by a voice-over just in case you don't get the gravity of the situation.
Next, futuristic cops do their thing, Bob Hoskins shows up playing Bob Hoskins and one of the characters has an interesting ocular situation.
Too bad the movie doesn't continue as it began, a shoot-em-up/detective story set in dark, rainy London later this century. Certainly, that would have been an interesting route, maybe a decent Blade Runner rip off.
Sadly, the movie becomes a second rate Mad Max/28 days later rip off instead. I have read some recommendations that say if you liked Mad Max, then you should like this. I think more accurate is if you liked Mad Max, then go find your copy of that movie and watch it instead. This stinker won't do the job, if that genre is what you desire.
I did find a little amusement in the writer's version of the future, a place of campy acting, overplayed pop music and bad hair cuts. I'm not sure who but somebody clearly had a few laughs over that staging. However, the real joke is on whomever buys and watches this mess.
Good, worth your time, but could have been much better
This could have been such a great movie.
Nolan's direction is definitive. The cinematography is near perfect. The score is inviting without ever descending to a cloying nature. The script, the story, the twists and turns of the writing are constantly engaging and feed the viewer's attention with scene after scene near perfection.
Ms. Swank is wonderful.
However, some of the casting is not as good as it could have been. Imagine Insomnia with Pacino and Williams replaced by Smith and Jones, two less prominent actors just as good as all the other elements of the movie and then you are approaching an IMDb rating of around 8. But, with Al and Robin I give it a 6.
"Heresy!", you say. An understandable reaction, given the elevated reputations of the two leads. I mean, the two mean are like cinematic gods, right? No, not really.
Ever since 'Scent of a woman' Pacino has been offering the same, overacted character no matter what the project. And Robin? Go watch any interview he has given on a talk show over the last 20 years and you will see what to expect from him, because he can't get out of 'character' either, just like Al.
Smith and Jones, two good actors, would have brought interpretations to the roles that would have probably been unique. In fact, I bet their interpretations would have garnered some award buzz. But, in the hands of tired Al and burnt out Robin we get exactly what we should expect from them: two characters that could have been in any other movie.
Still pretty good, still watchable at least once. But, this ain't no classic Chris Nolan fans. I guess the good news is that he probably won't make the same mistake again.
Lone Survivor (2013)
Lone Survivor: well used formula
War movies are a staple of the cinematic art. The ones made during a war are usually quite different from the ones made after the same war.
When I was a kid I had a broad array of war movies to watch, mostly about World War 2, with the ones made during mostly patriotic efforts to rev up the folks at home and the ones made after mostly dramatic offerings of regrets along with a group of massive, star studded epics that were rah rah rah.
And, those were for movies about a war we clearly won, fought during a very simple time when communication was often delayed and filtered and content as we knew it was subject to the mores of society almost always.
So, here we are in the age of total communication, no filter necessary, during a war we are probably about to just walk away from without a discernible 'win'. In addition, if current polling is accurate, a war the public is not only fatigued with but anxious to end.
Yet, Lone Survivor is being called the best thing since Saving Private Ryan. Apparently, there still is a filter when it comes to warm films made during a war. And, there clearly is humor in some marketing for this film.
To present his story, in the above-mentioned atmosphere, Mr. Berg has chosen to go the formulaic route used by many other directors during World War 2. In the setup we get to know a bit about the characters before they go to battle, then during the battle have that point of reference as they suffer their fates, and at the end all the schmaltz one expects when the formula is in use.
But like I said, this is a movie about a war we are still fighting. You only need to look at the avalanche of horrible reviews for 'the Green Zone' a few years ago to see the hazards of not adhering to the formula. I believe that Mr. Greengrass made a much better war movie in his effort, but by straying from the cheerleader formula that Mr. Berg uses here he got trampled under the feet of the inertia that goes along with adherence to formula.
Yet, I consider the Green Zone a pretty great movie and Lone Survivor only a good movie. Be careful when you run up against some other person's idea of patriotism, religion or culinary arts.
It's too bad that Mr. Berg didn't use a truly great movie for a point of reference. Imagine if he had used the formula in Tay Garnett's 'Bataan'. Or, maybe Zoltan Korda's 'Sahara'.
I have no doubt that soon after this war is over we will see movies that do a better job of expressing the despair and pointlessness of Afghanistan, but not now and not from Mr. Berg.