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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Haunting albeit Unrealistic, 22 July 2008

Tony Kaye offers a dramatic film in the form of American History X, on the topic of racism, presented through the marginalized perspectives of Neo-Nazi nationalists. The story centers upon a bright, intelligent man Derek Vinyard, played by Edward Norton, who unyieldingly displays his hate and disgust for other races. He and his group of friends repeatedly make life difficult for other races living in the area. Their actions finally climax when Derek goes too far and has to serve time in prison, leaving his younger brother, Danny Vinyard, played by Edward Furlong, to the will of the Neo-Nazi group. The story is powerful and features ups and downs in the characters that add an air of humanity to these otherwise inhumane Neo-Nazi racists. The characters, for the most part, are grotesque and in certain cases, utmost embodiments of our own insecurities towards different cultures and lifestyles, initiating inner turmoil sometimes. The film sometimes plays off these fears a little too much and does not offer them in a more objective and subtle way.

The film takes place in a surreal setting where there is constant conflict between differing races. The focus here is on tensions between the Neo-Nazis and African-Americans living in the same neighborhood, and at times the film tends to become a little one-sided. It feels like some of the targets of Derek's horrific actions are simply victims, when in the grand scheme of things, they likely harbor similar feelings towards Derek's group and commit similar actions in retribution. Moreover, Derek's transformation in prison is brushed over rather quickly and uses one or two powerful scenes to imply a lifetime of change. It doesn't really work honestly and the film loses a lot of its credibility there.

The acting here is decent with Edward Norton standing head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Danny Vinyard, despite arguably being the main character, seems like he's missing in certain scenes when Norton simply takes over. Edward Furlong does look the part but he doesn't act the part extremely well. Having said that, he does a decent enough job to propel the film forward, even with his annoying monologues that lack any spirit. The rest of the cast does well with what its given with Ethan Suplee playing Derek's leach-like and terrifying friend. Even William Russ makes a strong guest appearance in a flashback sequence that explains many of the present scenarios.

The visual style is interesting here with color scenes meant to represent Derek's changed lifestyle in the present, and stark black-and-white shots used in flashback sequences to juxtapose the two races against one another. The idea, while pretty good on paper, ends up coming on a little too strong in the film, and does end up hurting the film, even though it tries to add depth. There are several haunting scenes here that the camera crew has taken from the script and captured well in film. The score is mostly two-sided, using dark and low notes for the past, and higher pitched notes to indicate a possible, brighter future. It works pretty well but like the difference in color and black-and-white, it sometimes goes for too much, especially towards the end of the film.

American History X is a film about racism that is meant to inspire disgust for those portrayed on screen but also perhaps in ourselves when we sometimes shelter similar feelings. The film is literally a little too black and white, offering little gray space between, on the topic of racism. Unfortunately, certain things aren't always as simple as the film makes them out to be and Derek's transformation is both too unrealistic and short. Edward Norton does an incredible job here but the rest of the cast members, with a few exceptions, suffer greatly, and consequently, so does the film. Overall, the film sends out a powerful message, using powerful camera shots and characters to deliver it to the audience. It is grisly and gritty at times, giving us an extreme and bitter taste of Neo-Nazi racism. However, the film has too many flaws in its execution for it to be considered a classic of 90's cinema.

A Solid Crime Drama, 21 July 2008

Ain't no love in the Harlem it goes with American Gangster, a film about the rise and fall of famed drug-lord, Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington and the turmoil of the cop, Detective Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe, assigned to his case. At heart, this is a film about gangsters and is Scott's attempt at making the African-American Goodfellas. While the premise and the performances dialed in are both strong, the film strolls along a little too casually, and slowly begins to wear down the viewer (and not in a good way).

American Gangster is naturally based upon true events, seeing as most films nowadays do require some external inspiration. Nonetheless, the premise and characters presented are not only good on paper but are fairly well executed in the film. The story moves up and down the locales of New York City and delves into criminal themes such as corruption, redemption, and revenge. Frank Lucas was written into the film with such a mystique, that is reminiscent of old gangster mob heads. With that said, the story feels like a rehash at times and the crew has simply changed the names of the characters. There is a certain lack of originality here. The chase against Lucas, led by Detective Richie Roberts, is the important counter story to Frank's. At times, the Roberts sequences can get boring and at times, it felt like the writers did not have enough material for Crowe to work with.

Having said that, both star actors turn in wonderful performances, marred only by their lack of originality. At times, I felt like I was watching Alonso from Training Day. I also felt that at times, I was watching Eliot Ness trying to catch Al Capone. Both actors are great and do what they can with the roles, but the characters have been seen so many times before and have been done so well before, that their performances aren't quite as powerful. There are great supporting performances such as the one by Josh Brolin, portraying the corrupt Detective Trupo. In terms of the cast, Scott and his crew pretty much nailed it with the rapper T.I. even getting some screen time.

The film does however, tend to drag at times. The ending is prolonged and could have been finished a lot faster. It felt like it was being stretched out just for the sake of it. There were some scenes that were just pointless and unnecessary. However, some scenes were brilliant such as the raid on Lucas' drug "plant." The music is a nice blend between urban and hip-hop culture effectively purveying the shifting music culture of New York City in the 70's. In fact, the film does a fairly good job of capturing the whole 70's New York City culture and it is visually and audibly astounding at times. There's not a lot of instrumental work here, which is a shame, but there was a lot to like about the music, anyways.

In the end, Ridley Scott creates a solid film about crime and drugs and the rise of African American drug-lords. The film, however, is not very original and it takes a lot of concepts from previous gangster films. The performances, while great, are similarly branded with this lack of originality and it just felt a little too much like the same rigmarole. To make me truly love this film, Scott had to make it a little more special than he did. As it is, the film is a little too run-of-the-mill. The film is certainly not bad; like I said, the film does a good job dealing with the element of criminality and the police trying to stop it. But there have been too many other gangster and crime dramas that have done better and more importantly, have stood out more as something special.

300 (2006)
The 300 Blows!, 21 July 2008

I won't start out this review by borrowing one of the terrible one-liners from 300, a film based upon the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller. The film depicts the courageous efforts of King Leonidas and his 300 men at the Battle of Thermopylae as they attempt to halt the immense armies of the Persians. Sounds pretty good on paper and knowing it was based on Frank Miller's novel, I came in excited. I came out of the theater greatly disappointed and slightly angry. The film is of course, historically speaking, fairly inaccurate but it wasn't something I really minded. I did mind the multitude of corny and cheesy sequences and the horrible acting from Gerald Butler as King Leonidas. But the complaints just start there.

The film centers upon the events leading up to Battle of Thermopylae and the eventual stand-off itself. The battle sequences are actually well choreographed and highly stylized. The battles are rough and gritty, with some interesting slowdowns and speedups, and they add a little bit more to the otherwise bland, stale and predictable characters. The story is predictable and otherwise nonexistent when most of the time is spent with the Spartans yelling war cries. There are some plot holes that were particularly annoying and made it feel as if the writers had just gotten lazy or something. It didn't do justice to the novel. Moreover, I felt as if the film had been geared to a younger audience, with all of its blood and sophomoric speeches and grunts. Some of the scenes were honestly just painstaking to watch but the filmmakers obviously felt that a younger crowd might like that a little more.

The acting is just plain terrible. Prior to seeing the film, I was content that the cast was made up of relatively unknown actors. Well I wish that these guys would have learned to act as much as they learned to get buff. The characters created by the writers are already so dimwitted and indistinctive from one another; coupled with the acting, the film again suffers heavily. The score is forgettable and if anything, makes the battle sequences slightly better. The film, with its ghastly story and acting, offers little in substance and really ends up only having its artistic style to its name.

The film was undoubtedly geared toward a younger audience and consequently dumbed down. I wish they wouldn't have done that. The film could have still had its great aesthetic, graphic design without being cheesy and boring. The story, whatever there was of it, was boring and incoherent. The writers made the characters yelling and bumbling idiots, and the actors didn't do anything to improve them. This film could have been so much more, so much better. I am severely disappointed that such a great concept was handled so wrongfully and with no presumable intelligence. But as the French would say, Les Trent Cent Coups!

Se7en (1995)
Disturbing with a Loaded Cast, 21 July 2008

The seven deadly sins are the subject of David Fincher's enormously popular and cult hit Se7en. On a side note, I'm not sure how a 7 looks like the letter V but we digress, I suppose. Moving on, this film is both terrifying and tragic, and offers a wonderful detective story with two great performances. Morgan Freeman plays Detective William Somerset, a patient and by-the-book officer, who makes decisions with care but is not afraid to act instinctively. Brad Pitt plays Detective David Mills, the antithesis to Freeman's deductive Somerset. Mills is rash and often acts impulsively. The interaction between these two characters develops along with the twisting plot of the film, centering upon murders based upon the seven cardinal sins.

The film is at its core a detective story with two very different men trying to work with each other to find a serial killer. Like a Silence of the Lambs, this film uses its characters to develop the plot since it is the inherent weaknesses of each victim that the murderer bases his kills upon. Like the detectives, we similarly uncover each murder and sin, each becoming more grisly than the former. The film does force us to think a little and make heads and tails of the whole situation. Do we feel sympathy for these victims who are extreme embodiments of each respective sin? It's questions like these that make Se7en such a thought provoker. It is disturbing and relentless, barely giving a breather to the viewer. Either the two are discovering a murder or they are fervently trying to connect the dots. The suspense is great and helps the film nicely overall.

The performances turned in by the cast are for the most part, well done. Freeman plays a little too close to the chest but even so, he does a good job portraying an intelligent and conservative detective. Pitt does an outstanding job and gets stronger and stronger as the film progresses. He really is an officer that I loved to hate so bravo on a job well done. On the other hand, Gwyneth Paltrow's performance as Mills' wife, Tracy, is boring and heavy-handed. Both a symptom of the writing and Paltrow's mediocre acting, Tracy ends up being a character hard to sympathize with or even feel good for. This does ultimately end up hurting the film towards the end and it's a shame too. There are some surprises and twists here so I won't spoil them but do be wary.

While the screen writing and characters are fairly strong, the cinematography is all over the place. The murder scenes are haunting and baleful, and add a great layer to the film without being gratuitously grotesque. However, in other parts, the camera work is not up to par and the film suffers. The whole ending sequence is mishandled by the camera crew and ends up ruining the whole mystique. The score is powerful when it needs to be and subtle when it needs to be. In any case, it is not tremendously memorable but it does give atmosphere to certain scenes. Some of the dialogue is memorable especially the closing lines of the film, which help the film finish well.

Overall, Se7en, (still don't get the 7 in the middle) is a good strong film that will disturb and is likely not for the faint of heart. There are strong performances, unsettling sequences and an overall moody score that does bolster the visuals. However, a sloppy ending, some unfulfilled promise from an all-star cast, and some suspect camera work at times, keep this film from truly being great. Definitely a film worth checking out though and one that tells a good story with good characters.

22 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
A Classic Action Film..., 21 July 2008

For those who have not seen any of the Max Max films, do yourself a favor and get to your local rental store. Max Max 2 or The Road Warrior as released in the United States, is undoubtedly one of the greatest action films I have ever seen. Starring a young Mel Gibson, who plays the title character, Max, this film is practically at the pinnacle of action films, surpassed only by a few select others. But moving on, this movie quite simply rocks! The setting is a post-apocalyptic world where fuel is hard to come by and so is human life, for that matter. Max, having moved on from tragedy in the first film, (you really shouldn't be reading this if you haven't seen the first one) has now become a Road Warrior, wandering the desert landscapes aimlessly. He eventually finds a small, surviving settlement with a surplus of fuel. However, the town is repeatedly terrorized by a gang of outlaw motorcyclists, led by Lord Humungus. Through a series of staggering events, Max becomes involved with the town's efforts to finally rid themselves of the biker gang. The performances are good enough to propel the film forward and Mel Gibson does a great job reprising the role he made famous in the first installment. The embittered Max and the hopefuls in the town play well off each other and bring dramatic character interaction, uncommon for many present action films.

But of course, the film's scenes of brilliance arrive in the form of its action sequences. The action is choreographed well and Max is unrelenting as are the members of the biker gang. The ending sequence is one of the most memorable action portions I have ever seen in any film, past or present. The music played throughout balances and abets the action sequences, adding a furious intensity. Even scenes with the motorcycle gang feature hard-metal rock that suits the tone of the film well. Needless to say, the film seriously delivers all the way to the finish line.

The shots of the post-apocalyptic world are frightening and barren, giving a glimpse into what could be. Panoramic shots of the wasteland are featured and even signs of hope are doled out by the camera crew. Of course, this film's true merit will always be its action but where other action films fail with sloppy camera work and boring characters and plot lines, Mad Max 2 succeeds, giving the great journey of a debilitated man and a secluded group. And through all these components, Max Max 2 rises above the rest of the films in the action genre.

Ultimately, this film is one of the best action films of all time. It doesn't place all its eggs in that basket, mind you; it features memorable characters, a well-developed setting, and an incredible story. It belongs to a select list of films where a sequel outdoes the predecessor. Max Max 2 is better than the first in every way and stands out on its own as an exceptional action film.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
One of the Greatest Sci-Fi films of all time..., 21 July 2008

Welcome to the future and the future is not bright. Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, focuses on a stylized, retro-future Los Angeles where everything is not well. This film presents a dramatic landscape of the future with no certain explication on how we got to this point. All that is explained is that human replicants have been born from immense breakthroughs in technology, and that other than their increased strength and intelligence, are indistinguishable from their human counterparts. Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is a retired member of an elite squad known as Blade Runners, whose purpose is to hunt down rogue replicants and destroy them. And such is the scenario that Scott presents us with as he takes us on a journey to the very core of meaning and existence.

The film's breathtaking imagery and its incredible sound bolster this raw journey as Deckard reluctantly hunts down a group of replicants. We are placed in the context of this world, less knowledgeable than the fictional characters, and we are not pushed to believe that one side is more righteous or more deserving of life. Deckard's pursuit of the wanted replicants takes us through a character study or character studies of not just Deckard but the replicants too, mainly the leader, Roy Batty played by Rutger Hauer. The performances are outstanding by a great cast, additionally including the likes of Sean Young, Daryl Hannah and Edward Olmos. Through the blend of these great performances, we see these characters for what they are and how they truly exist, be they human or replicant. There are a few twists along the way that I do not want to spoil but the film slowly builds to a haunting and powerful climax.

And that is an important part of the experience of viewing Blade Runner: that it is slow. By no means is this an action-packed film like a, shall we say, Terminator: Judgment Day. But this film is so strong and smart in what it presents that the pace of the film is not only unnoticeable but incredibly artistic. And it separates itself from the rest of the sci-fi pack with its phenomenal aesthetic artistry. The retro-future noir style of Los Angeles is captured beautifully and lends greater credibility to the plot and the characters. Through the dark and noir setting, we are given a bleak glimpse into the future, that seems rather plausible and palpable even in our present day.

Let me be honest as I conclude here. When I first saw this film, I didn't really enjoy it. I didn't appreciate it that much and I was left rather disappointed. However, upon my repeated viewings, this film continued to grow on me and presented me with new challenges and questions each time. And that is part of the magic of the enigmatic Blade Runner. It can show us something different every time without us truly understanding it every time. With that said, it has now become one of my favorite films of all time. The film is unquestionably Ridley Scott's masterpiece.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Film that Transcends Its Genre!, 21 July 2008

Let me be frank when I say this: Apocalypse Now is not a war movie. There aren't long, drawn-out gun fight sequences and there isn't a lot of confrontation. However, this film is so much more satisfying for what it truly is. Apocalypse Now is actually a modern retelling of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now reintroduces and builds upon the themes presented in Conrad's masterpiece. For anyone who hasn't read Heart of Darkness, I suggest it. This film separates itself from the rest of the similar Vietnam period films made when it comes to its core concept: its plot.

Apocalypse Now tells the story of a young soldier, Benjamin Willard, played by Martin Sheen, who is sent on a mission to find and "relieve" the renegade Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, of his duties. Willard is unsure of what he will find as he makes his way down the river toward the location of Kurtz, and as he travels deeper down the river, he descends into the darkness. I never want to spoil anything so I'll leave the plot at that, but let's just say that there are a fair share of disturbing and memorable scenes.

Of course, the characters are what really bring this whole story to life. Martin Sheen does a great job, portraying the gradual realizations of Willard, and his constant confusion in the midst of two powerful forces. Marlon Brando brings the character of Kurtz to life and accurately portrays him just as I always envisioned him in Heart of Darkness. I don't really want to tell you much about the character though. It's best that like Willard, slowly flowing down the river, you learn more and more as you watch the film. There are some great supporting performances too like Robert Duvall's performance as Colonel Kilgore, a cunning yet maniacal officer, who is best remembered for his trademark line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." These performances really add so much more depth to this already powerful and pervasive film.

The camera work is great here and what else would you expect from Coppola. Coupled with large rounds of intense music and more subtle touches, Coppola's cinematography really brings the setting of Vietnam to life. The atmosphere is haunting at times yet enchanting at others. It truly feels like we are watching the events unfold from Willard's perspective.

By the end of the film, I was left satisfied and slightly perturbed, much like how I felt after reading Heart of Darkness. The film truly brings another dimension of Vietnam to the table, with classic themes told through the medium of war. Ultimately, this is not a war movie. This is a movie about a man's journey into the heart of darkness and what he finds there. It has its share of sequences with bullets being exchanged, but make no mistake; this film transcends the war genre and adds a novel magnitude to the film culture of Vietnam.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
My Favorite Film of all Time, 21 July 2008

When I first watched The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, I wasn't aware that it would turn out to be my favorite film of all time. I was never a huge fan of the Western genre until I watched this film and was perpetually astounded. This film sets the standard for so many other Westerns and other great films, in general. And some of the best scenes in film history are all in this wonderful film.

The story depicts three men, portrayed as good, bad and ugly, and their constant interactions with one another, in their attempts to find a stash of gold somewhere in the desert. I won't spoil any of the story here, but the film develops these characters magnificently and introduces all sorts of conflicts for these three characters to tackle. The actors themselves who portray these characters do an outstanding job. Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name or The Good does a brilliant job and shows that he was and continues to be at the very vanguard of the Western genre. Eli Wallach as the opportunistic and savage Tuco or The Ugly, does an excellent job inspiring disgust, sympathy and pity, sometimes all at once. And Lee Van Cleef plays his role marvelously giving us a true canon villain and a great ingredient to the already spicy mix of Eastwood and Wallach.

The shots in this film are breathtaking as Leone shoots wide, panoramic shots of the Southwestern desert and gives the viewer a feeling of the openness and freedom. Shot during the Civil War, Leone captures the struggle and violence of the conflict in a multitude of scenes. I won't spoil one scene in any way, but Leone creates a devastating image when Eastwood and Wallach find themselves in a Union camp. Leone has shown that Westerns can be visually beautiful as well.

The film really pushes the genre and gives all sorts of depth to the characters and the plot. Ultimately, Leone gives the viewer one of the most intense and satisfying climaxes in film history. I assure you that you won't be disappointed. The film contains so many archetypes of the old West but also new, fresh and shifting paradigms that we, now in the present day, consider standard. There is just so much to like about this film that I can't really present in words. One thing I'll say is that despite the large amount of stale and same Westerns, this one stands out as something unique and truly is something special. Like I said, this is my favorite film of all time on a hotly contested list and while I'm not sure if that'll change in the future, this film will continue to endure and is a beautiful Western and a beautiful film, in general.

5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
An Absolute Delight!, 14 January 2008

Aamir Khan's debut directorial performance is an astounding feat. Its product is one of the best films of 2007. And I'm not just talking about Bollywood. Taare Zameen Par is a different type of film that does not conform to the typical norms of the masala industry. It is a breath of fresh air that does just enough on the predictable side to reel in typical Hindi film audiences. However, at no point does Taare Zameen Par conform to the standards of melodrama or impossibility and fantasy.

The characters are of a different mold. The actors and actresses that portray the roles are even more different. There are no big-budget stars in this movie besides Aamir himself. The main character, Ishaan Awasthi, portrayed by Darsheel Safary is a young dyslexic boy who struggles to read and write. Hidden underneath his math and reading difficulties, lies a talent unnoticed by the "Jame Raho" lifestyle. Darsheel does a fantastic job as Ishaan who reminds us of our old childhood days and evokes tons of emotion from the audience. He is in fact the main character of the film with Aamir Khan appearing only after the intermission.

The scenes and settings are colorful and vibrant. The crowded streets of Mumbai are beautifully shot while the New Era boarding school also possesses its own sense of foreboding upon Ishaan's entrance. The songs are also quite a treat. I can't say that I really minded any of the songs of the movie although a few seemed unnecessary. The lyrics in some of the songs are fantastic and the music throughout the film is coherent of the theme: light and simple yet bewilderingly and colorfully complex.

The story itself is a great one. Aamir plays the unorthodox temporary art teacher who changes the life of Ishaan through his unconventional practices. We are reminded to appreciate our childhood and remember that every child is special. The film does at some points tend to get a little melodramatic and slightly predictable; however, these are the elements that adhere to the standards of the majority of Hindi films. Therefore, it isn't necessarily a bad thing but it isn't a good thing either. Moreover, Ishaan's volte-face from a confused, misunderstood child to an overachieving and talented painter is brushed over a little too quickly. In my opinion, the scenes when Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) works with Ishaan are some of the best of the film and I would have appreciated it if they would have made his learning experience even more believable. Nonetheless, those scenes still carry a powerful resonance like most of the film.

Overall, the film is a delight. It isn't the conventional Hindi film nor does it stray too far from accepted norms. It's always good to see a different type of film especially one that is so emotionally resounding. It reminds us that we all have purpose and most importantly, that children are the most precious thing we can lose and our only measure of wealth. The film has certainly given me a new outlook on life as well as entertained me. What more could I ask for?