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The Road (2009)
The pursuit of chronic depression
If life's hardships, current events, your job, poor health, relationships, etc. aren't getting you down enough, and you're one of those people who are perhaps more content and optimistic than important filmmakers know you deserve to be, there's hope in sight because this movie could be just your kind of escapist fare, with the potential to take you down that critically-acclaimed road to long-lasting depression.
Yes, was there ever such a downbeat masterpiece in cinematic history? Compared to this, "Shindler's List" is about as dark as "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."
I am impressed at the consistency and thoroughness of the direction, however. The unrelentingly tedious, dark, dreary, dragging storyline is in perfect sync with the unrelentingly tedious, dark, dreary, dragging performances, cinematography, music, etc.
Now, a lot of people who have not been happy with this movie and wonder what the purpose of it is need to use their imaginations a little. Reaching down deep for a sub-atomic particle of optimism, I think I may have found it. I can see this film being quite successfully employed by psychiatrists trying to help out those who are clinically suicidal. The way it would work is like this: the patient would be required to sit through this film without interruption, and then at the end, the psychiatrist turns to the patient and says "See, things could always be worse!"
However, one could argue that this film is about the perseverance to survive in spite of enormous odds against, the dedicated love between father and son amidst very difficult circumstances. The trouble is, that movie has already been made. It's called "The Pursuit of Happiness." And the big difference between that film and this one is that "Pursuit" actually has a practical, highly inspirational message that doesn't have you lunging for the razor blades or the jar of sleeping pills by the end.
Rio Bravo (1959)
Heavy handed, predictable western from the Hawks mold
A lot of people revere this western and that's fine. It's just another one of those that I throw into my "I don't get it" file, especially given the high rating here at IMDb. Director Hawks was a master of the obvious. His films rarely have any surprises and this is no exception. You know as soon as you see "Directed by Howard Hawks" during the credits that every good guy will survive the story. You know John Wayne's character is in about as much danger of not making it as, say, James Bond in a 007 flick.
Because of the lack of surprises, the story lacks any punch and is just another tepid bit of fluffy entertainment from the Howard Hawks mold...and he sure did like that mold. It's hard to keep this Western separate in my mind from "El Dorado" and "Rio Lobo," as they all follow the same formulaic character ensemble story. Heck, it's hard to separate this in my mind from "Hatari."
A couple of "Dont's" and "Dos": DON'T expect: anything subtle or nuanced, nice cinematography, in-depth character development or absorbing storyline. DO expect: hammy, over-the-top wooden acting, a complete lack of clever dialog, obvious plot lines, typical stage lighting and studio back lot sets.
It's occurs to me that "Rio Bravo" is to Westerns what "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World" is to comedies, and if that kind of broad and obvious treatment is your cup of sarsaparilla then you will no doubt savor this one.
My Darling Clementine (1946)
Extremely overrated, silly and historically bogus melodrama
Someone is going to have to explain to mean why this film is rated so highly, not just here but elsewhere. I just don't get it. I'm a fan of Henry Fonda, I love earlier black and white films, I've enjoyed some of John Ford's movies, and the Western genre is one of my favorites. But this is nothing more to me than a historically inaccurate and tedious soap opera.
Historical inaccuracies abound for the sake of that melodramatic brand of Hollywood script which is what truly dates movies like this one (as opposed to timeless classics such as, say, "The Third Man"). When the movie begins with the murder of James Earp (who actually died in 1926!) and introduces silly, fictional, female characters like "Chihuahua" and "Clementine Carter," who chew up large chunks of screen time with ridiculous dialog, you know you're going to get the worst that that dated Hollywood treatment can offer.
It doesn't help that the Earps, who never raised cattle, are seen driving a herd. Worse, they are suppose to be doing so in Arizona, yet looming strangely in the background is one of the most easily recognizable of U.S. geographical landmarks, Devil's Tower in Wyoming!
The historical inaccuracies are so outrageous, I found myself laughing at several points during the story that were intended to be moments of high drama. That includes the shooting of Virgil Earp - who actually died from pneumonia over twenty years later - by "Old Man" Clanton, who actually died BEFORE the time period depicted in this film! It also includes the death of Doc Holliday at the OK Corral - which also never happened of course - but given the wooden acting of the miscast Victor Mature, any inaccuracy that had his character prematurely exiting the story can be easily forgiven.
Harder to forgive is the fact that the real history of the Earps is far more interesting than this pap, and especially given the fact that director Ford was supposed to have extensively interviewed the real Wyatt Earp years earlier. Truthfully, what is factually accurate in this film is a much shorter list than the reverse...or, if I may borrow and edit a line from "Shattered Glass": there does appear to be a state in the union named "Arizona."
Summing up, to say this is overrated is an UNDERstatement.
P.S. I've always hated that "Darling Clementine" song.
P.P.S. Henry Fonda should receive a special posthumous Oscar for "Worst Cowboy Hat in the Entire History of Western Film."
Heaven's Gate (1980)
No wonder it was a bust
I recorded the full-length "director's cut" version off of TCM the other day to see if there was validation for this being one of the biggest box-office busts in movie history. After viewing I can certainly understand why it was.
I have no problem with movies taking their time developing, so that we can get to know characters and really feel a part of what is going on in the film. But this film gave me the impression that director Michael Cimino felt moving things along at a snail's pace automatically makes those things happen. In spite of the epic length he had to work with, Cimino's character development is quite minimalistic, due to the sheer volume of dead space devoted to empty looks and a lack of dialogue or at least a lack of comprehensible dialogue, which is thanks to un-subtitled foreign languages or bad sound recording. The end result is another film in which we just don't care what happens to these characters, because we really know so little about them, nor are we given a reason to care for them, other than the fact that they exist.
The film begins with a long and tedious set-up at Harvard, leading the viewer to believe there is going to be an important significance for this later. As it turns out, there isn't. Strangely, the relationships established in these scenes end up going nowhere. By the end of the movie, several characters, especially John Hurt's and Jeff Bridges', were so pathetically wasted in their development, I wondered why they were even in the film at all.
Worst, silliest, most bizarre and utterly maddening scene: the targeted immigrants decide to fight back against the band of regulators. They end up on horseback, stupidly circling around the enemy encampment like a bunch of caricatured Indians circling the wagons in an old Western serial. The only thing missing from the scene as the immigrants get picked off like ducks in a shooting gallery are those stereotypical, hysterical Indian war whoops.
But that is just one example of people behaving extremely stupidly and unrealistically in this film.
As someone who enjoys subtlety in a film and doesn't even mind one that is slower paced, I nonetheless found myself fast-forwarding through several non-eventful minutes of this film. Thank goodness for that technology, but it made me wonder how anybody would have had patience for even a trimmed-down version of this film when it first showed in theaters.
Very disappointing. Much of the fault lies with the portrayal of the title character by Romola Garai, a portrayal whose success is obviously critical to the story. I am not sure how much of the blame lies directly with the actress (who I have enjoyed in other adaptations, such as Nicholas Nickleby and Daniel Deronda) or with her director. But Garai's goofy, over-the-top mannerisms and grotesquely contorted facial expressions - such as that boxlike grimace of a grin - transform Emma from a character that is supposed to be capricious yet likable into an obnoxious, appalling clown whose face begs to be punched out. The sophisticated charm and refinement combined with a mischievous nature which is essential for the role is missing much too often.
At four hours, this version is also far too long for the material, and too many scenes feel as if they are just there to fill up the time, causing the entire story to drag and lose the momentum it desperately needs. Too many awkward moments caused by a lack of chemistry between characters doesn't help either.
I am also amazed that for a movie made in 2009, the production values at times are like a made-for-TV production from 20 years ago. This is especially noticeable during some of the ballroom scenes where the dancing is taking place in impossibly bright interiors, with studio lights from above casting harsh shadows across faces, when one would expect the room to be softly illuminated with the warm glow of candelight. The harsh lighting may be a reason why Romola Garai does not appear as attractive here as in her other films.
At any rate, this version falls far short of Doug McGrath's 1996 version. McGrath's version is far more entertaining, charming and even touching while remaining faithful to the spirit of the Jane Austen novel in a much shorter amount of time.
Julie & Julia (2009)
Excellent recipe for a waste of time
OK, folks...if you like a couple of hours listening to sucking and gurgling sounds (and that's just the scenes of Julia Childs and Julie Powell sucking face with their husbands), then you'll love this movie. I mean, please...must we? Did the sound people put tiny microphones INSIDE the mouths of the actors? If that's not bad enough, director Ephron felt she had to include as many scenes as possible with people talking with their mouths full of food, licking fingers, etc. and with every sound effect that comes with such charming actions fully amplified, so we could appreciate every nuance of greasy, lip-smacking mastication. It sounds as if foley artists covered microphones with mashed potatoes and chicken fat and then had somebody chew on them while they recorded. Anyway, just make sure you're not eating something yourself while watching this or you may want to hurl. Funny how a movie that is intended to communicate the joy of cooking can cause such a total loss of appetite.
Point two. My guess is that Ephron felt her favorite cutesy actress, Meg Ryan, was too old for the part of Julie, so Amy Adams was cast instead. I can imagine what went on during filming...
Ephron: "OK, Cut! Amy, let's do that scene again. Only remember, you're suppose to do it exactly like Meg Ryan would have if she were playing the part!"
Amy Adams: "I thought I was playing this Julie Powell chick."
Ephron: "No, you're playing Meg Ryan being in a Nora Ephron film. Look, do you want a paycheck or not?"
Oh, and sorry Meryl. The entire time I was sitting through this my mind kept telling me, "That's Meryl Streep trying very hard to come off as Julia Childs."
So, take away the gross-you-out sound effects, the "I don't really give a damn what happens to these characters" story lines, Meg Ryan impersonation, and what do you have left? Well, for those who like bashing anything that is not liberal enough for Hollywood's taste, there's a line where Julie Powell's boss says "If I was a Republican you'd be fired." Wow, I'll bet it took Ephron days before she could came up with that perfectly hilarious and witty line to satisfy her political bitterness!
This movie is completely lacking in any compelling, interesting or charming ingredients. Yes, an excellent recipe for a waste of time.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Unfortunately, a lot of people will watch this movie expecting to see a dramatic, action-spy flick. Instead, what they will get is a comedy about a director trying to make a name for himself who thinks his in-your-face film style is the most important aspect of any film he directs. So he puts his epileptic cameramen on bungee cords while the camera rolls, and what he ends up with is a herky-jerky mess whose style is so distracting and dominating that no one pays any attention to the plot, acting, script, etc. Then one day movie audiences wake up and find out his style is no more cutting edge than a 90s TV melodrama. And that's how the story ends for the wannabe director.
Hope that helps.
The Warriors (1979)
Bumble in the Bronx
On IMDb, it is commonplace to run across negative reviews that include a statement such as "one of the worst movies I've ever seen" or "worst movie ever made," etc. Those statements sometimes come off as knee jerk reactions to a sub par movie that doesn't deserve such lofty discrediting. In the case of "The Warriors" however, one can trust that such comments are well warranted.
Ironically, the premise for the movie - a gang trying to return to its home turf with every other gang in NY hot on its heels for revenge - is not bad, and I hope the remake of this is far more successful at realizing that premise.
It won't be hard to do so, since this movie is a disaster in every aspect. The script is grade-school level and performed amateurishly by a "never heard of 'em" cast. The styling of the gangs is remarkably silly. And this all takes place with a cheap-sounding electronic soundtrack that sounds like it could have been an experiment by John Carpenter, when as a kid he got his first Casio for Christmas.
One would think that a gang film like this would be high in impact and tension, but the presentation of the gangs and their individual members are more humorous than anything else. I don't know who should get the booby prize for silliness...my vote would go to either the "Baseball Furies" who look like members of Kiss that had just raided a Little League locker room, or the gang that looked like hillbillies on skates who took a wrong turn on their way to the Roller Derby. But they all look like rejects from Saturday Night Fever, reinforcing the notion that the seventies could very well have been the worst decade of style in human history.
The lack of graphic violence, which although gratuitous in "Kill Bill"-type films, but essential to films like "Saving Private Ryan", detracts from a film like this which is already lacking so much in gritty realism.
The script seems to have been written in an ad hoc style, and if you read some of the trivia about this movie, that seems to have been the case at times, as dialogue and situations had to be invented on the spot to account for behind the camera incidents.
However, the fact that there are no characters to root for, since every character in this film is an annoying jerk, may be the biggest detraction to a film that is without a single edge-of-your-seat moment. Once again, who cares if some Warrior gang member gets the snot beat out of him and doesn't make it back to Coney Island if he is just as obnoxious and unlikeable as any other rival gang member?
If there is any entertainment value in this film, it's that it can provide plenty of fodder for sarcastic and amusing comments from the living room peanut gallery. Other than that, the cult status and ridiculously high IMDb rating for this film is absolutely inexplicable.
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Sure proof of the coming idiocracy was this pointless, pathetic remake and the fact that it has a rating higher than 2 stars.
The title should be changed from "The Planet of the Apes" to "The Planet of Tim Burton Collecting a Paycheck."
I am stunned that so many reviewers focus on the mindless ending to this movie, when the entire movie is mindless.
One gets the impression that the scriptwriters were writing under deadline duress, panicked, and decided to do drugs instead. Meanwhile, if you watch the behind the scenes making of this film, you also get the distinct impression that Tim Burton knew the script was crap and so he gave up on it and treated it like a joke that he was getting big bucks for delivering. Which it is.
But having said all that, I have a suggestion for a sequel. In the sequel, Wahlberg, Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Burton play themselves. They all get into a spaceship and try to go back in time to change the future where no remake of the Planet of the Apes will appear on their resume. After 2 1/2 hours of mindless hijinks and special effects, they emerge in modern day to find they didn't change a thing, because as Alec Baldwin's character states so glibly in Glengarry Glen Ross: "a loser is a loser!"
And anyone who read the script for this film and didn't walk away was -at least in this instance - a loser.
Faithless and ineffective adaptation
I am not someone who believes a movie has to follow a book exactly in order to be a good movie. But the screenwriter's instinct for what to change from Scott's classic is all wrong.
The result is a faithless adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's novel in spite of the paradox that most of the major plot elements are kept intact....this conundrum is effected by the terrible screenplay. It simply takes most of the character out of the characters that Scott created. The script doesn't come close to matching the clever and intriguing dialog written by Scott. Consequently, the qualities that make the various personalities appealing or interesting have been changed for the worse.
For example: Wamba the jester, with all his incisive, clever and witty comments removed just becomes a superfluous annoyance. King Richard, instead of being a charming, humorous rogue becomes a boring heavy. Ivanhoe, portrayed as a brash, emotional upstart loses any of that noble subtlety which gave him a heroic mystique in the book. The lady Rowena, portrayed in typical anachronistic fashion, is missing the quiet dignity that gave her her charm and comes off as a brat that you just want to shut up and send to her room. Rebecca is far too forward with her enamor of Ivanhoe, ironically making her hopeless romance far less sympathetic than it was in the novel. The villains, especially De Bois Gilbert and Lucas de Beaumanoir, are so over-the-top that the performances make you cringe. It's a shame, because with the proper script, Ciaran Hinds and Christopher Lee could have been perfectly cast.
And while we're speaking of the script, it's amazing how dull and tedious it is. Actually, there is a lot of dialog in Scott's Ivanhoe, but his genius for turning a phrase is what made the reading of long passages worthwhile. In this mini series, it has all been transformed into the typical dumbed-down approach for the masses. To make things even worse, the pace is all off. One almost gets the impression that the script and filming was done ad hoc, and the director discovered that they were near the end of the story but still had to fill a couple of hours of time. The ending just drags on and on with several added and unnecessary scenes that just come off as dull filler.
The unambitious production values likewise are a problem here, as Scott's epic calls for a cast of hundreds, not a cast of a couple dozen. This is nowhere more apparent than in three hugely important scenes: the tournament at Ashby, the storming of Torquilstone castle, and the climactic ending at the Templars' headquarters.
In the tournament at Ashby, for example, especially since it is presided by the interim ruler John of Anjou, one expects to see from Scott's description an event populated by lords, ladies, yeomen and country folk from all over the kingdom. In this version, everybody must have missed the advertisements in the color supplement, because instead of having a majestic tournament, Ashby looks like a poorly attended, mismanaged Renaissance Festival.
The staging of the jousts is equally unambitious, and hence, something that is a pivotal point in the story - because it establishes a victory for the Saxons and the heroism of Ivanhoe, as well as a reason for De Bois Gilbert's passionate hatred for Ivanhoe - is utterly lifeless and lacks any impact at all.
Curiously, with all the superfluous scenes added in this mini series, they did not include the entertaining confrontation between Locksley and Prince John at Ashby. It's fascinating that the screenwriter deemed this unnecessary, when Scott's depiction of Locksley has influenced portrayals of Robin Hood in literature and screen ever since he wrote Ivanhoe 200 years ago.
One also gets the impression that the makers of this version must have realized the second half was plodding along, so a few deaths were added...I guess just to spice things up.
It's also very unfortunate that Scott's climactic confrontation between De Bois Gilbert and Ivanhoe was also monkeyed with, because Scott's was far more dramatic.
Anyway, after viewing versions like this, the 1950's version starring Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor, with its heavy-handed Hollywood treatment, is looking better and better all the time. At least that version was somewhat entertaining.