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Red Eye (2005)
Like Hitchcock for latchkeys with ADHD
There have been numerous postings comparing this film with the works of Alfred Hitchcock. Indeed, there is a roughly 30 minute span in the film when a latent of Hitchcock's style emerges. In the spirit of films like Rope, Rear Window, and Stangers on a Train, director Wes Craven uses the cramped confines of a finite space from which there is no immediate respite, combined with some sort of external stressor, to create some great suspense. Red Eye comes close to redeeming itself in this 30 minutes but the reality is that, unlike Hitchcock, Craven sells out to the lowest common denominator and debases what could have been a five star thriller. The litany of stock characters used to muster cheap laughs, the tedious and often embarrassingly bad dialogue through the first 20 minutes, and the superfluous action sequences which require the most arduous suspension of disbelief, all serve to eclipse an otherwise great story and character piece. The premise and actors are solid enough to have the whole film take place on the plane, but the reality is that today's average philistine movie goer has neither the attention span, nor the appreciation of narrative cinema, to make such an effort profitable. One can only wonder what this film would have been had it been directed by perhaps someone more multi-disciplinary and experienced at making true thrillers, and not banal teenage slasher flicks. Thus, let's declare a moratorium on comparing Craven to Hitchcock shall we. 5/10
The Jacket (2005)
Trippy Yet Still Intelligent
First off, this film is not for everyone. It does, however, seem to delineate an emerging and exciting trend in contemporary film making whereby directors are becoming increasingly enamored with these sorts of dark, brooding, almost dreamscape-like and melodramatic thrillers which defy archetypal and conventional narrative formats. Think of the "The Machinist" and work your way backwards to "Vanilla Sky", or even as far back as 1990's "Jacob's Ladder" as one other reviewer accurately suggested.
To this end, "The Jacket" represents the apotheosis of this rising genre, and is both an artistic psychological thriller, as well as what you might call a metaphysical tragedy, and easily envelopes the viewer into its morose and sterile world replete with dreary snow scapes, perpetual grey skies and faces, muted and washed out colours, institutional isolation, and the angst of working class loners. The film's imagery and the pace of the story and script immediately command one's attention from the outset and the film is unrelenting in both its tension and gumption. Because of this, despite the story's meandering timeline and lack of feasible explanations for the protagonist's "visions", the viewer is still to an extent able to believe what they're seeing. Because the film takes itself so seriously, and actually pulls it off, the viewer then buying into the fantasy of the story becomes far more palatable than it does in other misguided attempts at this same sort of risky and artsy storytelling ie: "The Butterfly Effect".
This is an ambitious film which taps into both the romanticism and pain of our dreams and our memories, and how they both act upon us, and cause us to act upon them. It examines what is real versus perceived, the fragility of life, how each persons's life effects others, even passing strangers, and the sovereignty of the self and the mind. The film features outstanding performances from just about everyone on screen, particularly Brody as the hapless and tortured Jack Starks, and Kristofferson as the morally ambiguous and equally tortured Dr. Becker.
Despite the big names on the marquee, however, this, as previously mentioned, is not a cut and dry "popcorn flick" and will leave many people bewildered. It is for these people that the "Butterfly Effect" was made first, and now with them out of the way, the timing for a film of this caliber which deals with these issues properly is appropriate. "The Jacket" is a trippy and entertaining yet still very intelligent film which asks only that you check your preconceptions and logical rectitude at the door. By doing so, you'll find the imagination of this film is fact more real than you might have expected.
Finding Neverland (2004)
A Moving Period Piece
I just saw this film for the first time last night and was quite pleasantly surprised. Overwhelmingly so in fact. Knowing a little bit about the true history of Sir J.M. Barrie and yet comparatively little about "Finding Neverland" other than its Oscar hoopla, I expected the film to focus largely on the often controversial life of a man deemed capricious, anomic, and asexual by many historians, with the inception of Peter Pan as a backdrop perhaps. Instead the film celebrates Barrie's brilliant vision of what would become a timeless tale and cultural staple for the ages, and the power of imagination that we all possess and, if willing, are able to unleash. It celebrates the whimsical, the eccentric, and the "silliness" which make life, even in the stilted atmosphere of Victorian London, worth living. The film is both an artistic period piece and a rich character study (though not a biography), and features some of the best and most convincing performances from child actors in recent memory. Depp is brilliant as usual and Dustin Hoffman as his tightly wound producer/financier also makes for one of the more enjoyable, though secondary, characters to watch. The film starts somewhat slowly but seamlessly evolves into an engrossing and emotionally engaging story which unlike many other critically acclaimed dramas wrought of style over substance, is unquestionably worthy of its high praise. It has both the substance, as well as a style all its own, and should make even the most jaded and cynical viewer well up a little bit. 9/10
Blade Runner (1982)
What can be said about this film that hasn't already been covered in preceding decennia? Blade Runner (either version) stands the test of time as an epic story which transcends a disparity of genres, as well as the seminal "dark" sci-fi film which has been mimicked so frequently (to varying degrees of success) since its original release. The interplay of film noir, sci-fi, and what is one of the most philosophically symbolic and academically analyzed narratives of the modern era holds its ground on both visual and cerebral levels even in the face of today's CGI laden blockbusters. The new director's cut, contrary to many cinematic re-hashings, actually serves to clarify many of the more nebulous aspects of the plot and makes a great film even better, arguably allowing it to be modernized and polished for a new generation of viewers who are more picky and yet simultaneously less idealistic. All while sustaining the feeling and flavor of the original. Call it restorative work if you will. The tinny and meandering score by Vangelis is pure 1980s at its most brooding and fits the texture and mood of the film beautifully. Indeed, for many reasons, finding this film in someone's DVD collection makes a true statement about their discriminating and refined taste in movies, and equally their appreciation of film as an artistic medium. I would suggest picking up a reader by someone like Nietzsche, Foucualt, Descartes, Kierkegaard, or any of the great existentialist philosophers after viewing this film in order to appreciate the story & its concepts at a whole new level, regardless if you're watching it for either the 1st, or the 100th time. An enduring classic and an intrepid piece of film-making with rich & often haunting visuals designed to entertain and promote introspection amongst its viewers. 9/10.
Beautiful Girls (1996)
The Proverbial "Guy" Flick
Beautiful Girls, notwithstanding its stellar cast, is a cerebral and multi-layered film which represents the emasculation of emotional and experiential films, which are often (and rightfully) vilified, or what might be called "chick flicks". To this end, Beautiful Girls is a veritable "guy flick" and addresses to a more emotional end, some of the same 20-something angst and existentialist related issues faced by men as seen in more obvious (and violent) examples such as Fight Club. This film is a richly textured character story, profiling one man's quest for self understanding and direction by returning to his banal hometown from the big city while at a crossroad in his personal life, and while entering a new epoch in his relationship with an equally banal woman. His amalgam of high school friends remain isolated, almost indentured, to the same working class routine which defined their adolescence, and have little hope of ever moving on, other than in their idle daydreams. His subsequent obsession with the barely pubescent girl next door, Marty,(Portman) is in fact somewhat reminiscent of the dialectic of beauty and decay explored in Thomas Mann's epic "Death in Venice" whereas her youth and perceived way of interpreting the world is enviable, almost infectious. She represents less of a sexual or romantic fixture in his mind than she does a crucible for all things he values and hopes for. And still hopes to be. This film is not for everybody, and some less patient, or intelligent, viewers will no doubt decry it as boring or slow. Indeed the storyline is far from cutting edge, but the real story in this film is the people, the place, and the raw emotion which we can all relate with. This film is an impressionist painting come to life and is perfect philosophical fodder for the introspective type.
The Village (2004)
Pure Genius!... Nobody Likes That I Guess
**POSSIBLE SPOILERS** The Village is not unlike many other post-millennial films which serve as reflexive cultural statements on top of being brilliant films. As a result it also consequently, and regrettably, alienates a large portion of viewers who simply don't get it. It's usually because they either lack the life experience, analytical skills, appreciation of art and the interplay between images and music, or simply possess an IQ comparable to lower order primates. They also likely haven't seen any of Night's other work, for if they had, they would know that what you see is never what you get with his films, and that we should never expect anything as banal as a simple horror film in the traditional sense from him. I believe that part of the problem in the way this film was, and still is, received, may have had to do with the fact that it was marketed as such, when in reality this film is both a period piece and a character piece. Yes, at times it is suspenseful, but it is primarily an allegory about our own society, and not just "the village" per se. People often decry the film as far fetched when the real time period is revealed, but is it really? Humans are born as blank slates and we know only what we learn. We lack the natural instincts of many animals and in turn engineer the architecture of the "natural" world and impose it on ourselves. We are a self domesticated and controlled species and if you don't think that the various institutions which control our lives have us believing in 100 or more varieties of "those we don't speak of" think again. There is indeed a forest beyond the perimeter of the little society in which we live, and which we are more or less forbidden from venturing into. Public schooling, organized religion, and a commodity driven economy all sustain themselves on it. The Village makes this observation in a more subtle way, however, and the villagers themselves all serve to represent anthropomorphized versions of the day dreams all of us have from time to time about a proverbial "escape" to a simpler life. The film taps into that natural human desire, however irrational it may be, and demonstrates that even in such a utopia, people still need to fear and believe in things untrue in order to maintain cohesion. Notwithstanding its cerebral underpinnings, the film contains beautiful images and music and terrific performances by mostly learned stage actors. It is a powerful film at both the aesthetic and psychological levels, and I applaud Night for not selling out to the lowest common denominator and for continuing to make films which defy trends and keep on challenging us. For those who didn't like it because it lacked cool 'splosions, I would suggest wading into the commentary thread for something like 2 Fast 2 Furious. In the meantime, keep your vapid and infantile comments about this film, one you apparently don't understand, to yourselves.