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No End in Sight (2007)
Nice cinematography and presentation
First let me comment on the film's presentation. It was well-crafted from an editing/cinematography/graphics point of view. It looked far better than, for example, a Robert Greenwald documentary. It was woven together well and easy to watch.
The content was decent, but I felt that the reasons for invading Iraq were ignored while the film focused on individual people's mistakes as far as military strategy was concerned. If certain companies didn't have an economic interest in that region, the war never would have occurred in the first place, so motivations, to me, are a pretty important detail that many movies about the war seem to be leaving out.
While this film did provide an inside look at the lead-up to the war and Paul Bremer's atrocious handling of the occupation, I felt that it completely glossed over the massive profits that have been made in Iraq by U.S. companies (see the Iraq chapters in Naomi Klein's book "The Shock Doctrine").
Halliburton and a host of other U.S. companies have made a killing there while the Iraqi people continue to suffer. The true story of the war (and the hidden rationale for the war), which this movie hardly discussed, is the fact that it was a coordinated attempt to give U.S. companies access to a massive, untapped economic market. Oil reserves, reconstruction projects, and privatized warfare have the potential to be incredibly profitable.
In the past, U.S. companies had no access to these markets, due, in part, to the strict U.N. sanctions on Iraq. The companies that stood to benefit from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the destabilization of Iraq (a.k.a. the opening of an untouched new market) used their money and influence to produce think tank policy papers and talking heads that supported the invasion of Iraq. In fact, many members of the Bush administration, who are (or were) on the government's payroll, refused to divest themselves of their shares in the very companies that would go on to make outrageous profits in Iraq. They were well aware that this constituted a conflict of interest, but when asked to choose between their government posts and their money, they simply refused (or engaged in some "fuzzy math" shenanigans). So, the people who created the war directly benefited from it and it is in their interest to perpetuate it as long as there is money to be made.
From "The Shock Doctrine":
"The fact that Cheney still maintains such a quantity of Halliburton shares means that, throughout his term as vice president, he has collected millions every year in dividends from his stocks and has also been paid an annual deferred income by Halliburton of $211,000 roughly equivalent to his government salary. When he leaves office in 2009 and is able to cash in his Halliburton holdings, Cheney will have the opportunity to profit extravagantly from the stunning improvement in Halliburton's fortunes. The company's stock price rose from $10 before the war in Iraq to $41 three years latera 300 percent jump, thanks to a combination of soaring energy prices and Iraq contracts, both of which flow directly from Cheney's steering the country into war with Iraq. "
Or, put more simply by Boots Riley of The Coup: "War ain't about one land against the next; it's poor people dying so the rich cash checks."
A disjointed, mediocre horror flick (but still worth a rental)
Let me start off by saying that there are definitely better horror films out there than "Captivity." "The Descent," "Vacancy," and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" all come to mind. "Captivity" isn't a brilliant re-definition of the genre (i.e. it doesn't achieve what "Scream" did). However, it's still enjoyable if you are a fan of horrornamely 21st century horror.
The acting in the movie is reasonably good, especially for a horror film. Elisha Cuthbert is adequate in her role as a successful model who suddenly finds herself captive. The other actors are also decent.
The plot is somewhat formulaic, including all the requisite corny horror movie moments, but there are some interesting twists as well. On thing that I liked was the long stretch of the movie, after the initial setup, which had no dialogue.
The editing and timeline of the film are strange. It is unclear how long Cuthbert's character is in captivity. Also, there are periodic fades to black that seem out of place (although they might be there to convey the passage of time).
I was able to predict many things in the movie long before they happened, but it was still fun to see them unfold. Of course, there are tons of unrealistic and logically questionable scenes. The one that sticks out in my memory is when Cuthbert's character scratches something on a window and it isn't backwards on the other side.
As some other users have said, if you can suspend your disbelief, you will probably have a good time, even if you slap your forehead once in a while. If you are like me, you will be wondering why Roland Joffé chose to make this movie as the end credits are rolling.
Film Geek (2005)
Not even enjoyable for a true film geek
I wanted to like this movie, but I didn't. It was simply too low budget to be enjoyable. The acting was generally pretty bad and the story was relatively formulaic.
There was a smattering of funny one-liners (most of which involved the word "basically"), but not nearly enough to get me through the 70 minutes without checking my watch.
Of course, as a film geek, I appreciated the references to lesser known directors and films. In fact, I would have loved it if that aspect of the film was played up. Instead, we get to see a corny pseudo-romance unfold and watch countless "Napoleon Dynamite" wannabe jokes fall flat.
The film doesn't work because the acting and storyline are subpar and the protagonist is a caricature who is far too one-dimensional to be even remotely believable. However, the cinematography is decent for a movie that seems to have been made for about $1000. The music wasn't too bad either.
If someone edited this down to only the obscure film references (which would probably run about 10 minutes), it would be funnier and much more digestible.
I wouldn't even recommend this one to cinephiles.
3 out of 10
Decent but nothing to write home about
I had extremely high expectations for this movie (as I'm sure many other fans did). They were not met, but that doesn't mean that the movie was a complete flop. I jumped in my seat many times and I appreciated the unique way the movie was filmed.
The movie succeeded at creating a realistic feel. The acting was better than the average movie and the CGI wasn't too bad either.
Without spoiling anything, the monster looks kind of weird. Some people will like it, others will not. I am on the fence. It was unlike anything I've seen before, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. One thing I am sure of is the fact that I wish I saw more of it (as well as the destruction that it left behind).
I think, in this case, a bigger budget would have yielded a more satisfying result. I am also not too sure that the hand-held camera approach added a whole lot. The way the wide angle shots were set up was pretty clever though.
One thing that really bothered me was the product placement. There is one shot in particular when the camera hovers over some candy for no reason whatsoever. There were embedded ads for Nokia, Dunkin' Donuts, Juicy Fruit, Mountain Dew, and others. Call me old-school, but, like David Lynch, I don't think that product placement has any place in true cinema. I expected better from Cloverfield.
Overall, I think this movie was on par with Godzilla. Godzilla had better CGI and way cooler shots of the monster but a weak plot and pretty bad acting. It just depends what you value. Since I am a sucker for cool action sequences and good special effects, I would probably prefer watching Godzilla. At least I wouldn't have a headache when it was over.
Speaking of the ending, I liked it. I have heard a lot of complaints, but I think it was appropriate and well done.
7 out of 10
The Kingdom (2007)
Pro-American but well done
As expected, this movie had a pro-American perspective. Having said that, on the whole, the movie is somewhat fair and doesn't deteriorate into anti-Arabic garbage like some other Hollywood movies.
The action is excellent, albeit very unrealistic. The acting is also above par. I especially liked Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman.
The cinematography and editing are good. The editing is frenetic, similar to "The Bourne Ultimatum." If you get dizzy easily, you might want to sit this one out. The camera is constantly moving; In fact, I don't recall a single smooth camera motion.
As far as a political message, there really isn't one. There is an attempt at a moral (which seems unnaturally tacked on at the end), but the movie is basically standard shoot-em-up eye candy with good acting and a relatively original storyline.
It's worth a rental, but don't expect anything too deep or analytical. Check this out if you liked "Smokin' Aces"; avoid it if you liked "Syriana."
7 out of 10
A decent critique of where we are headed
It isn't too surprising that Mike Judge's "Idiocracy" did terribly at test screenings. Many of the people watching the film may have been missing the jokes because they were the exact type of people being depicted.
This movie, starring the deadpan Luke Wilson and the sexy Maya Rudolph, imagines what would happen to our society if all of the worst current trends took hold and became the norm. The movie levels criticism at rampant commercialization and commodification, corporate dominance, lack of education and literacy, obsession with violence and sexual exploitation, and a host of other societal ills. Although its critique of society is reasonably well laid out, "Idiocracy" deals with race in an inappropriate manner.
Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph's characters are "frozen" (à la Austin Powers), and, after some unexpected events, wake up about 500 years later. The world is in a state of disrepair where TV rules and intelligent people are nonexistent.
The dystopian future created by Mike Judge is often funny and clever in its stupidity. The dialogue is well done and the problems that face the imagined world in 2505 are relevant to our current ones. The movie simultaneously elicits laughs are and sighs when we think about how ridiculous the situations are but then realize how similar they are to the real world.
This movie can appeal to someone who "gets" all the references and critiques as well as someone who doesn't, and that is its main deficiency. In appealing to a larger audience, it is forced to dumb itself down somewhat and rely on slapstick humor or weak plot devices. However, the most troubling aspect of the film is how it deals with race.
In the hopeless future presented in the film, the government is headed up by a clueless black president. Latino accents are also often used in a very negative way and are associated with stupidity. Luke Wilson's character, a white male, has a very positive role in the film while Maya Rudolph's character is a prostitute. It also seems that there are more people of color as extras in the wide angle shots than in an average Hollywood film.
In a film that could serve as a wake up call to society, or any film for that matter, it is inappropriate to use racial stereotypes and imply that people of color aren't as intelligent or as capable as white people. It is important to realize that the current destructive trends in society are often the result of the actions of white people. The pre-emptive war in Iraq is a perfect example. The bungling response to Katrina is another.
Obviously, a film like this shouldn't bear the burden of educating people about structural racism and systemic oppression, but it also shouldn't fall into the same traps that it should be criticizing.
The film is funny. The plot is weak, but the gags are entertaining. The general message is on the money, but the treatment of race is highly problematic.
6 out of 10
The Hitcher (2007)
Better than the original
This movie is very similar to the original, but better. The acting is superior and the special effects are much better. The plot remains pretty much intact, so there are no surprises there. First of all, Sean Bean is a better John Ryder than Rutger Hauer was. Hauer was comical at times and never truly scary. Sean Bean is a first-rate actor and really makes John Ryder believable and scary. The two college kids are decent actors too - nothing spectacular, but far better than, say, Sarah Michelle Gellar.
The special effects are phenomenal, much better than the original, but, since the movies have almost the exact same plot, this doesn't detract from the storyline. I'm sorry, I know a lot of people like cult classics from the 1970s and 1980s, but the cheesy effects often ruin those movies. I enjoy realism, which is what this movie delivered.
If you like Splat Pack films (The Hills Have Eyes (remake), The Descent, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake), etc.) you'll love this. If you refuse to admit that older horror movies just aren't that scary and could really use a face-lift, steer clear.
7 out of 10
28 Weeks Later (2007)
As good as the original, if not better
Although this film isn't too similar to "28 Days Later...," it is a quality piece of movie-making. The editing is insanely fast, the gore is in-your-face, and the action is phenomenal, albeit over-the-top. If you are a fan of zombie flicks or relentless action, check this out now. Be prepared for plenty of gross out moments and blood letting.
Also, if you pay close attention and get a little creative, you can find a political subtext to the film, much like the first installment.
Yes, the acting is mediocre. Yes, there are plenty of scenes that are illogical or just downright impossible, but that doesn't really matter when zombies are attacking from all directions and people are being devoured and torn limb from limb. This is a must-see for fans of the genre.
The lack of character development is a valid criticism, but, frankly, any more of that would have bored me. I appreciated the "cutting to the chase," over and over again...
One complaint I had was a couple shoddy CGI shots that were blatantly unrealistic. Other than that, I was thoroughly entertained. Hey, I even thought a little.
7 out of 10
A departure from Ritchie's other films
"Revolver" is not like Guy Ritchie's other work. Although it contains many of the elements present in his other films - Jason Statham, violence, organized crime, dark humor, fancy camera work and special effects - it takes a philosophical twist that most people, including me, probably did not expect. It is a bold film, but it falls flat in certain areas. In the end, whether or not you like it will boil down to whether or not you like movies that cannot be fully explained and understood.
It is reminiscent of philosophical and confusing films like Mullholand Drive, The Matrix III, Memento, Fight Club, and countless others. Like these films, in tackling this philosophical subject material, "Revolver" runs the risk of being pretentious or just so hard to understand that it isolates the viewer. I'd say the film was a little too full of itself but not to the point that it completely ruined the experience.
Some of the acting was good, some was mediocre, and some was downright terrible. Ray Liotta was all of these at different times during the film. (He was bizarrely funny in the scenes in which he sported fancy underwear.) Statham brought nothing new to the table; he was effective but a little boring. André Benjamin was somewhat weak, as were some of the other supporting actors.
The mild-mannered killer was great. Look out for him. He's a stereotypical character, but he's still worth checking out.
If you want more of the Guy Ritchie you are used to, you might very well be disappointed. If you are ready for more a of head-trip, check this one out. Just remember, you've been warned. I still cannot decide what I think of this movie.
5 out of 10
A feeble attempt at a sequel
"Battle Royale" was a classic. "Battle Royale II: Revenge" (the director's cut) was not. Instead of developing the ideas from the first film, it tried to do everything and failed miserably. In the process of trying to incorporate action, politics, love, and overall social commentary, the film got bogged down in its own grandiosity and fell flat.
The acting is terrible, especially the often-complained about, always-irate blond kid who runs everywhere after glowering at someone. The "teacher" character is actually pretty funny, but so over-the-top that it gets old and ridiculous. Most of the rest of the characters are one-dimensional and boring.
The action scenes are pretty well-done, albeit unbelievably unrealistic. The death toll is extremely high, but all the deaths are almost exactly the same, and the violence becomes monotonous and annoying. There are also countless scenes of people dying in the arms of others and uttering supposedly meaningful last words of wisdom or encouragement.
The film makes an attempt to convey some sort of political message, but it is never too clear what that message is. The filmmakers obviously wanted to include a critique of the actions of the United States, especially post 9/11. The opening scene is almost identical to the collapse of the World Trade Towers. Later, the imperial interventions of the United States over the years are mentioned in a particularly damning fashion. There are also references to global resistance movements and many vague references to some sort of revolutionary struggle, which seems to be represented by a "kids versus adults" metaphor, which doesn't really work. Overall, aside from an anti-American vibe, the film doesn't delve into any substantive political analysis. I believe that the United States should be criticized for its role in the deaths of millions of people over the past several decades, but this film didn't know what it wanted to say or how to say it, so the message was muddled and eventually lost entirely.
The film is outrageously corny, which is exemplified by the famous gravity-defying rugby dive at the end, which is hilariously unnecessary and irrelevant.
I really don't see how anyone could genuinely enjoy the film after watching the first hour. The end gets dragged on forever and there is no payoff. I was very tempted to turn it off, something I very rarely do.
I'd steer clear of this one, even if you liked "Battle Royale."
4 out of 10