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An OK plot premise destroyed with terrible storytelling
I'm not usually very critical about films and I almost always find something good from any film that I can say was worth experiencing. I'm even a fan of action films and Nicolas Cage has been in many of my favourites. However, it is really painful and hard to try to find a single good thing from this movie.
Here are the positives. The premise of the plot is quite fun and the opening sequence in the casino is entertaining and well done. The scenery is nice and action sequences are stylish even if enjoying most of them is hard because of the plot that leads to them.
And that leads us to the plot which is terrible. I mean it, it is simply terrible. It's full of clichés, inconsistencies and in the end it's quite boring because of those. I tried my best to enjoy the movie and suspend my disbelief but I couldn't do it because the plot is constantly breaking its own rules and making idiotic twists that don't make any sense nor are they very interesting.
The characters are paper thin. It's painful to watch how Julianne Moore comes across as a one-dimensional hard-ass with clichéd lines because she's a good actress. Cage is OK but some of his facial expressions are a bit ridiculous. Biel is there for the eye-candy and she fills that role nicely enough. And the bad guys? I have no idea who they are other than that they look tough and speak with ridiculous accents. Another cliché.
The relationship between Cage and Biel is forced and unimpressive. I didn't see a single moment where Cage's character displayed enough charm or anything to seduce Biel's character. He gets beaten up, then comes across as a creepy stalker by constantly staring at her and talking weird things. Then he does a magic trick and says a few lame jokes and suddenly Biel is in love with him. I'm sorry but that's ridiculous. And Cage's bad hair doesn't help his charm one bit.
All in all, the movie really crashed down because of its plot. It's simply stupid, clichéd and full of holes and inconsistencies. Therefore the characters are paper thin and the action becomes more or less meaningless eye-candy.
I'm surprised how much I didn't enjoy the movie given that I usually do enjoy these kind of movies. It had potential to be so much better. If you want to see an example of a screenplay that completely destroyes the original material, watch this movie.
Freedom Writers (2007)
Somewhat clichéd but with a powerful undertone
The Freedom Writers isn't groundbreaking, unique or even very fresh in any way. That doesn't mean, however, that it can't be enjoyable.
The theme of the movie is of the sort that guarantees emotional scenes and powerful sub-plots. The potential problem is that the movie comes off as too heavy-handed, unrealistic or sappy. Freedom Writers doesn't completely avoid this trap and the biggest reason for that is the performance by Hilary Swank as the main protagonist whose journey at guiding these teenagers is at the heart of the story.
Don't get me wrong, Swank wasn't horrible and she's definitely a good actress. However, the viewer doesn't really get a sense that she's able to connect with the troubled kids as remarkably as the plot suggests. Swank gives a couple of powerful speeches but she doesn't convince me enough - to put it simply, the charisma isn't there. The type of teacher that she represents must be a very charismatic person but she comes across mostly as a dorky and boring kindergarten teacher. The edge just simply isn't there.
The theme of the movie is moving and the plot is simple yet powerful. There's no need for twists or dramatic climaxes - the movie is about the everyday struggle of the teenagers and it portrays it well enough. Some of the scenes where the students bond with each other are a bit cheesy but not so much as to be distracting.
The plot is moving and despite of its traditionality still intriguing. The main problem of the movie is that the core of the movie lacks edge, charisma and electricity. The "it" factor isn't there. Some of it is because of Swank and some of it is because of the clichéd plot.
Touching but clichéd, moving but in some ways a bit forced. This movie is not a masterpiece and it evokes contradictory responses but one thing is for sure - the movie is worth watching. It may have its flaws but the message and the powerful undertone is still something that doesn't leave you cold when you finish the movie.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
Fresh in its absurdity but nowhere near a masterpiece status
This volume is a lot different from the first one but it wouldn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. While the first one was all about style and little substance, this one tries to be a little more deeper in meaning. Unfortunately, the serious drama side isn't as convincing and successful as the light and stylish fighting side is in these movies.
The film is divided in five different chapters. Whereas the first volume was more or less linear in its storytelling, this time around the chapters are much more disjointed from each other. The flashbacks don't fit into the flow of the movie smoothly. The plot in itself is a very simple revenge story and I guess what most consider the main treats in the movie are the dialogue and the explosive albeit short action sequences. Well, the dialogue isn't the most typical one you hear in movies but it also often feels forced. The plot is full of absurd moments and sometimes those moments feel a little too self-pretentious.
The use of music, the absurd plot and some over the top characters...it's all intriguing to watch but it still is mainly just eye-candy. The substance in the story just isn't there. Even though this volume spends much more time evolving Uma Thurman's character it actually is a disservice to the film because I don't feel related to the character any more than in the beginning of the movie, as a matter of fact the exact opposite. The pain was much more touching in the first volume. In this volume many scenes are too long and and serve little purpose to actually explain the motives of main characters. The dialogue is supposed to be witty, I guess, but mostly it is either too simple and repetitive or tries to be funny a little too obviously.
I'm not saying the movie is completely bad, far from it. The style of the movie is still fascinating and the basic plot is OK in all its simplicity. Some of the acting is excellent (Carradine as Bill and Madsen as Budd especially) although Thurman's character loses a lot of its appeal. It might be due to some odd writing (the sequence where she's meeting Pai Mei is not very convincing) or due to Thurman's little one-sided facial expressions. Anyhow, this movie is something you should see just for the sake of it.
This movie comes down to personal preferences like all movies of course. If the often absurd plot and dialogue amuses you a lot and the small lack of substance or coherent storytelling doesn't bother you you might just love the movie for its cool style. The first volume was cool in its style and this has some of the same characteristics. However, the slow pace and the emphasis on the drama side isn't working as well as it should if you call this one of the best movies of all time. This is a nice experiment and in many ways you can see how Tarantino has had some fun adding funny little sequences and things here and there but in the end the movie as a whole isn't coherent or deep, it's just a fun montage of more or less cool and sometimes naive things and tricks.
Play Misty for Me (1971)
A solid movie with a few weaknesses
Eastwood's first direction is already a sign of his talent. The mood, the suspense and the effective story is already there. The plot isn't the most original one by today's standards but at the time of the movie's release in the early 70's it was refreshing and it can still be watched with enthusiasm even if the sharpest edge from the story is gone.
Jessica Walter's performance as mentally unstable Evelyn is very good and definitely one of the movie's gems. Donna Mills (as Clint's more regular girlfriend Tobie) and the rest of the supporting cast is fine as well and they succeed in what is given to them in terms of acting material. Clint's performance is solid and subtle and that shouldn't come as a surprise. The movie isn't necessarily very rich of dialogue or background score for that matter but the atmosphere is despite of or perhaps sometimes even because of that very enjoyable.
The only weaknesses are the already mentioned quite predictable yet coherent plot and some editing/directing decisions. Longs scenes of Dave (Clint) and Tobie in the forest and in a jazz festival seem a bit stretched and unnecessarily long and that breaks the suspense and hurts the drawing power of the movie.
A solid thriller and definitely worth a watch. Not a classic but if you're a Clint fan you won't be disappointed. Even to others this movie offers good acting, a coherent plot and some fine directing.
King of New York (1990)
Quite a mess
Abel Ferrara tries but unfortunately fails to create competition to a genre which is dominated by 'Scarface'. King of New York had the potential to be something great but in the end it only manages to frustrate you.
The whole plot in itself is amazingly simple. I mean, where's the originality? A guy called Frank White (Cristopher Walken) gets out of prison, kills everybody just like that (I guess it's that easy, huh) and then he rules New York. Then some cops get angry with Frank because he's a criminal (that's the most deepest part in this movie, cops are supposed to be "complex" individuals...) and they decide to kill him. Then there's some shooting and more shooting and finally everybody's dead.
A plot could actually be that simple if there was something extra in it - something interesting to spice things up - a great character, interesting details or ultimately anything to separate this film from the masses. Unfortunately King of New York doesn't have anything to offer in that area. They have obviously tried to deepen Walken's character but they fail miserably. In fact that's the case with all the other characters too. Walken's supposed to be this guy who cares about the poor but this is shown in what, two scenes? Same thing with the police, when they all get killed I don't feel anything because I haven't related to them. Furthermore the dialog is mediocre at best and you can't really call it original.
The biggest problem of this movie is that it's not coherent at all. The scenes are in many occasions completely unattached to each other and the whole movie ends up being like a mess. The atmosphere in the film is good - Ferrara is able to depict the brutality and the overall mood well but otherwise the directing is just average. For example the opening scene is way too long. I'd understand it if the movie was an epic or a masterpiece but now it just seems completely irrelevant and tiring to spend at least five minutes following a guy who gets out of prison without dialog. Same thing with the final scene - it drags too long. I guess if you enjoyed the movie the final scene could work but for me after a messy 1,5 hours it just works as an icing in the cake what comes to frustration.
I guess the main point I'm trying to say is that this movie had potential but it never delivered. The characters are paper thin thanks to awful cutting and the plot is just oversimplified. In the end this movie offers you nothing but frustration and gore.