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King of the Hill (1997)
Texas in a nutshell
I have lived in Texas all 23 years of my life and can say, without a doubt, that this show epitomizes Texas in a way no other has. Mike Judge, being from Texas, has nailed the personification of Texans in every way possible. I know several people who are similar to a character in the show. The language, locations, situations, mannerisms and idiosyncracies of Texas life are so dead on in the show that it does tend to alienate people who are not familiar with it.
However, while it does satirize Texas at times, it is also a very loving tribute to the great state. There is a true sense of Texas pride that runs deep in King Of The Hill, and it shows very clearly and prominently. I love the show with every bit of Texan in me and hope that the DVD's for Seasons 7 and beyond will be released soon so that I can continue to enjoy Mike Judge's perspective and reflection on my great state.
"This is the Zodiac speaking..."
I have been highly interested and engrossed in the Zodiac killer story for the last 5 years now and I can say, without doubt, that this is the best and most accurate telling of the story. The film presents numerous details that were unknown to me before seeing it. All of these facts and theories are thrown together in a way that strings the viewer along, you think it's someone, then you get new information and that person is no longer a suspect. Fincher really puts you into the life of a detective working on the case. You feel just as excited when new information comes about and are equally disappointed when it leads to another dead end.
The film is beautifully shot (on VIPER digital cameras) and once again, Fincher shows us his wonderfully adept skills with CGI shots. All of the actors shine and truly become their characters. Jake Gyllenhall and Robert Downey Jr. put in excellent performances, as does Mark Ruffalo. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Phillip Baker Hall join the ensemble.
The only complaint I have heard that holds any water is that the film is too long. At roughly 2 1/2 hours, I can see how many would think that is long, but you have to realize that this is an intricate story with deep characters who need to be examined and understood. A standard 90 minute film, or even a two hour cut, would not have been able to tell the story as well. Character motivation and important details would have been left on the cutting room floor.
If you have followed the Zodiac case, you will be happy to see how well done this movie is. If you don't know anything about the case, you will be given an excellent story that will make you want to learn more about it. Regardless, you should do yourself a favor and see this movie. If nothing else, it's better than "Wild Hogs".
The Number 23 (2007)
I wish this had been better
I went into this movie expecting so much more than I got. The trailers made good use of the best parts of the film, making it look like a well plotted, suspenseful thriller. Neither of these elements were present in The Number 23. While the actors (especially Jim Carrey) were good, the screenplay left them nothing to work with.
I was really hoping that this movie would finally redeem Joel Schumacher (whose only good film I consider to be 8mm), but it did not. There were many glaring inconsistencies, omissions and plot holes. It saddens me that Jim Carrey has done some films that were just terrible, though he was good (How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Liar Liar) and this is just another one to add to the list.
All in all, this movie had lots and lots of potential and it threw it all away on a poorly written screenplay. I think Schumacher should have had Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en, Fight Club rewrites, 8mm) come in and do a major script overhaul. Maybe that could have made for a better picture. In the mean time, if you want to see a good psychological thriller, do yourself a favor and rent The Game, Mulholland Drive, From Hell, or 8mm.
Inland Empire (2006)
"Strange what love does..."
I have seen INLAND EMPIRE twice now in three days. I drove over 100 miles each time to see it and was thrilled to do it both times. This is an incredible movie. I will warn those who do not like David Lynch's films: you will not like this movie. If you are looking for something straight-forward and simple, go see Little Miss Sunshine (which I also enjoyed). INLAND EMPIRE will twist and warp itself in your mind, grab a hold of your psyche and never let go. I took extensive notes the second time I watched it to help me unlock all of the mysteries held within.
Upon one viewing, you can discern a somewhat simple version of the narrative elements of the film. However, multiple viewings (of which there will be many more for me upon the DVD release) allows you to hear and see all of the hints that are given throughout the movie. Subtle dialogue, foreshadowing, allusions and flashbacks are all used to construct the mind-bending story that is INLAND EMPIRE.
As for the DV aspect of it, I will honestly say that I did not think I liked it the first time I watched it. The quality of moving shots is grainy and distorted and the film is filled with uncomfortable close-ups. However, after seeing it the second time I realized how much those help the overall feeling of the film. By the end of the first hour, you are completely hypnotized by what is occurring on the screen.
Lynch is certainly on the top of his game with this movie. While he has made some more straight-forward, easy to understand films (Wild At Heart, The Elephant Man, and The Straight Story) I have always had a place in my heart and mind for his abstract surrealism (Eraserhead, Mullholland Drive, Twin Peaks, and Lost Highway). If you are a true Lynch fan, I highly recommend you see this in theatres if you can. The sound, when heard loudly in a theatre, adds a whole new dimension to the story. If you must wait for the DVD release on June 8th, I suggest you watch it on a big screen with a good surround sound system turned as loud as you can take it. Then up it by another couple of decibels.
George Lucas couldn't direct his way out of traffic...
Let's face it, the reason Empire Strikes back was the best of the Star Wars was because Lucas wasn't in the director's chair. Star Wars was a trilogy, and no amount of persuasion could ever convince me that George Lucas had these last three films in mind the way they came out. They are horribly written and even more poorly directed. Hayden Christensen's acting is about as dry and bland as it can get. Granted, this was the best of the three new ones (and that's not saying much), I was seriously upset after I walked out of the theatre.
If you value the original Star Wars at all, you should avoid this movie like a hooker with the clap. Stick to the original ones, and even then, try and find the original versions of them, rather than the updated, CGI laden re-masters that Lucas did not too long ago. Leave it to him to make three good movies and ruin them 20 years later by making everything look horribly unrealistic. The models looked so much better than all the crappy computer graphics he put in.
If you want to see good sci-fi/action films, see these instead: Equilibrium, The Matrix, eXistenZ, Dune (David Lynch's Director's Cut), Solaris.
Disturbing, but amazing
I have seen 8 MM three times now, and each time I watch it, I make it a point to focus on a different character. The most recent time I watched the film, I made it a point to focus on "Machete", even though his screen time is brief. I don't know what changes were made to Andrew Kevin Walker's script, but if Machete's lines are the same, Walker is brilliant. (Spoilers here!!!) The fact that he does what he does because he likes it made the entire movie worthwhile. I hate when the killer in a film became the person he/she is because of some past trauma or psychological condition. It can work, but it has been so over done. Here we are presented with a man who kills for the sheer thrill of it. He knows he can get away with it, he knows he is protected, and most of all, he gets paid to do it. He looks nothing like we expect, he lives in a normal, suburban neighborhood (the only cliché was the fact that it was next to a graveyard), and he lives with his mother/grandmother.
That said, the film itself is also very well done. Schumacher almost redeems himself from destroying the Batman franchise in the 90's. The characters are well-rounded, though I would have liked to see a little more of Catherine Keener's character, but she did well with the small part she had. Nicholas cage does an excellent job as the private investigator who gets in too deep, and Joaquin Phoenix was perfect as Max California ("I'd hate to see you in a situation where you needed a battery operated vagina and didn't have one"). However, I think it can be safely said that the best role in 8 MM was Peter Stormare. His portrayal of Dino Velvet is downright scary. He's depraved, he's sick, he's a pervert of unimaginable proportions, and he's an "artist". He shows no concern for the lives of others and is obviously interested only in making twisted films for good money.
All in all, I gave this film an 8 out of 10. Some may consider that a bit high, but I think when you put all the elements of this film together, it adds up pretty well. Yes it is shocking, yes it is dark (in fact, it's one of the darkest films I've seen in a while), but it's a well written, well directed and well acted work. Definitely worth seeing at least once.
One of Bergman's finest
Although I have only seen it once, I can safely say that I was taken aback by this film. Ingmar Bergman is a master of self-exploration and takes a beautiful, sometimes haunting, look at the emptiness in an elderly man's life. Professor Isak Borg is on his way to Lund to receive and honorary award from the college at which he used to teach. Now seventy-eight years old, Borg is cantankerous, cold and arrogant to the people around him. The film begins with some narration, Borg is setting the story up for us, filling us in quickly before we begin to follow him. He has a dream at the beginning of the film that sets the tone for the rest of the film. He is on a street that is devoid of any signs of life. The clocks have no hands and he is all alone. He knows what this all means; death is near. A solitary man is seen standing on the sidewalk and Borg goes to speak to him. When he turns, we discover a shriveled and disgusting face staring back at him. A cart comes carrying a casket and catches itself on a lamp post, losing it's wheel and dropping the casket into the street. Borg goes to examine the body and finds that it his own. When he tries to move away, his dead self grabs him, refusing to let go.
After waking from the nightmare, he informs his maid that he is going to Lund to receive his award without her, and instead takes with him his daughter-in-law, Marianne. Along the way, Marianne tells Borg why she (and her husband) dislike him. This forces Borg to think about the things he has done in life and his dreams take him back to specific events in his life, events he did not get to see, in which the people he cared for were explaining their feelings about him to another person. Borg was, in his early years, in love with his Cousin Sarah, but eventually lost her to his brother, Sigfrid. Now, in the present, Sarah has come back into Isak's life (despite the fact that she had died years ago) in the way of Sara, a hitchhiker with two companions (obvious representations of young Isak and Sigfrid) all of whom ride to Lund with Isak and Marianne. After a long journey filled with bizarre dreams, discussions on the existence of God, discussions of love and it's importance and a near deadly car accident, Professor Borg finally arrives in Lund, receives his award and goes to stay at his son's house. While there, he realizes the errors and mistakes he made in life and vows to reform himself, though he knows death is right around the corner. Sara and her companions are leaving for Italy, but congratulate him before departing. Sara takes this time to tell Isak that she loved him all along, a fact which seems to make a huge mark on the old man. He later helps to reunite his son and Marianne, whose marriage is failing as his once was, so that they do not have to suffer as her has. We leave Borg after his final dream, a dream in which he is reunited with his mother and father who are sitting on a river bed, just outside their summer home. We see a sparkle of life in Borgs eyes that was previously thought to be non-existent. Death is near, but he is able to accept it know, knowing that he has come to terms with his life.
Saw II (2005)
Oh yes, there was blood...
First off, wow. It is not too often that I find myself sitting in a theater saying "Oh my god" to myself. If and when it does occur, it is always for one of two reasons; I am either extremely upset with the movie I am watching and am anxious to leave, or I am completely blown away. In the case of Saw II the latter is true. I was finding myself amazed at all the aspects of the film every couple of minutes. The camera-work, editing, acting, script... all were equally wonderful.
In some ways, Saw II picks up right where it's predecessor left off, and in some ways acts as a prequel to the original. The story not only tells us of the 7 people inside the house, all victims (if it fair to call them that) of serial killer (if it is fair to call him that) John aka "Jigsaw", but also explains the reasons for Jigsaw's sick, sadistic behavior.
As with the original, the only part of the movie I disliked was the car chase scenes. Both movies seemed to be showing driving scenes as a sort of homage to David Lynch's Lost Highway, but in neither movie is the tribute pulled off with much to praise. This aside, Saw II is actually almost better than last years Saw. The devices used are much more grisly, the acting (on everyone's part) is a little better and the story is far superior to it's predecessor. The last 30 minutes of the film reveal so many twists and revelations I found myself in a constant state of awe. Saw II is without a doubt, one of the best sequels I have ever seen and, in all honesty, one of the best horror movies I've seen in quite some time.
P.T. Anderson is a genius
Wow. I bought Magnolia having never before seen it, I had only heard some praise for it from some very reliable sources, so I took a chance on it. Luckily, I found it used for $10.99, so I saved a bit of money, but had I seen it before, I would have been willing to pay full price to get it.
From the beginning of the film I was hooked. The opening scenes of "coincidence" were interesting and thought-provoking (though I knew they were all urban legends). I had no idea of how much meaning this would end up having.
The movie had me immersed completely after an hour. I was totally engrossed in every single character and able to follow each of their stories (a difficult feat for directors to accomplish with so many important characters) with true passion and concern.
Magnolia wasn't even over and already I was touched, amazed and in awe. I knew that I was seeing a movie that was going to change my life. When the scene involving Aimee Mann's touching song "Wise Up" came, I broke down in tears. I had not been this moved by a movie in a long time.
Then came the end; the punchline, if you will. It takes some people a while to figure out the meaning, but it hit me right away. It was simply amazing. I was right. This was a movie like no other. I felt I had a duty to show this to as many people as I could. My sister and friend were there the first time I saw it and did not understand it. Even after explaining it to them, they did not like it. At least not as much as I had.
Seeing this movie made me realize what i want to do with my life. I want to write and direct. And that is what I am going to do. If you have never seen this before, do yourself a huge favor and see it. You will not regret it. Yes it is lengthy (3 hours and 15 minutes) but it does not feel that long at all.