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Into the Abyss (2011)
A look into the lives surrounding a Texas execution
Herzog's work may lend itself to interpretation more than most. And while it may just be a quibble of emphasis, I would not, as the other two reviewers here have, say this is essentially a documentary about 'capital punishment'. Just as I would not say "grizzly man" was really a documentary about bear attacks. Herzog lets it be known he doesn't approve of the death penalty, but mostly, like most Herzog documentaries, this just struck me as a portrait of (as another reviewer put it well) the "ill-fated".
Certainly, if you go into this thinking you're going to get Michael Moore style anti-death penalty agitprop, you're going to be disappointed. This is a series of interviews with a Texas death row inmate scheduled for imminent execution (an inmate Herzog has characterized in interviews as a "truly frightening" human being) and the lives of some of those either the case, or the Texas Death Penalty system generally, have touched upon. It is probably the least sensationalistic account of its sort put on film. And for that alone, Herzog deserves praise.
Having lived in Houston for many years and knowing this area just north of it pretty well, I can say Herzog is able convey a lot about the area and its people, through the lens of this horrific act, very well.
Well, once more, what is it about, if not capital punishment.... I think Herzog in a related context (his "On Death Row" documentary series) may have put it best when an attorney he was interviewing noted 'we all have a need to humanize' and rationalize these people who have done terrible things, and Herzog stopped them to say "I don't humanize them. I don't want to humanize. They simply are human beings". And that's kind of how I saw 'into the abyss'. It's not an attempt to rationalize or humanize a triple-murderer, nor is it an attempt rationalize, demonize, or humanize state sanctioned execution. It's just portrait of a piece of life as it is now lived.
This movie was the most disappointing movie I have seen in recent memory. Not because it was horrible, it wasn't. Rather because the first movie was one my favorite movies of the last decade. I loved the occult/mystery angle, Mark Strong's absolutely delicious turn as the arch-villain, Rachel McAdams turn as the decidedly sexy and ambivalent heroine/villainess, Robert Downey's descent in drug induced madness to catch the villain, the Holmes/Watson dysfunctional co-dependency, it all worked wonderfully and was incredibly fresh in my opinion. This movie had none of that. It was, rather, a steampunk version of a James Bond movie. Holmes' analytical violence was rendered silly as he is now endowed with such superhuman strength and speed as there really was no point to thinking about his opponents moves. Rachel McAdams makes only a cameo, and is replaced Noomi Rapace's character who seems to be their only to check off a box regarding a female demographic. The latent Holmes/Watson homoeroticism is cranked up to ten. There is no mystery angle, as Jared Harris' Moriarty is reduced to a SPECTRE conspiracy mastermind. I literally found myself nodding off around the 1:45 mark. If you're up for a steampunk James Bond movie, I guess this is OK. But know it has none of the originality that made the 1st movie so special.
The Nines (2007)
Well acted but silly.
A lot of sci/fi and anime fans like this one, but I found myself laughing out loud during the absurd third act.
The first two acts are insider portraits of Hollywood--first a self-absorbed actor's tale and then a gay screenwriter's. The first is kind of fun, but the second drags in my opinion. Ryan Reynold's plays the lead in both acts convincingly. The one thing I do give this movie is that it is reasonably well acted.
Without giving anything substantive away--the third act tries to connect the first two in an essential way, apparently drawing on L.A's affinity for New Agism and Scientology as inspiration. The third act is hurried, and somewhat random.
The hurriedness of the third act leaves room for the viewer's imagination to fill in ample blanks--thus some will see it as deep, where others will simply scratch their heads.
Honestly, though, it simply struck me as a desperate attempt of a writer to connect two largely unrelated "shorts" and call it a movie.
Smokin' Aces (2006)
An incoherent waste of some talented actors.
I'm somewhat mystified by the positive reviews here. If you like a coherent plot and prefer your movies to make some kind of sense, this movie is not for you. I wanted to like it. I'm a big fan of Jeremy Piven, and there were aspects of the movie reminiscent of 'Lock, Stock, and two smoking Barrels', a movie I loved. But Piven's part isn't large. All of the characters are terribly underdeveloped and not particularly likable. Many plot strands simply fizzle, never bothering to resolve themselves. The action scenes are OK, I guess. But Tarantino, this isn't. And the movie ends on a bizarre, silly, plot curve (it ain't exactly a 'twist', as it is heavily foreshadowed, but just because you know it's coming doesn't mean that it makes anymore sense when it finally comes.) A big waste of talent.
The Wire (2002)
I don't subscribe to HBO. A couple of weeks ago I heard an interview with a young actor from this series on NPR. It was described as a "gritty crime drama" with many Baltimore locals portraying variations on themselves. The interview made it sound interesting enough that I decided to check out the first season on DVD.
After the first few episodes I became seriously hooked and devoted 36 hours of the next ten days to the show.
Having now watched the first 3 seasons, I believe it to be the best television series I have seen.
I do not understand why this show hasn't generated the buzz or the awards of HBO's other series, such as the Sopranos or Deadwood. It is more gripping, faster paced, and more intelligent. The other shows can be a bit plodding, with plot lines that go nowhere, and a few characters I don't much care about. That wasn't the case here.
The show is a cross between the Sopranos and the old NBC show Homicide: Life on the Street. The crime/sopranos side and the law/Homicide side run in parallel. Individually, the parallel plot lines are compelling. In tandem, they are complimentary and brilliant.
There is no way to avoid having "the best show ever" tag sound like anything but silly hype--regardless, what makes this show substantially better than any other realistic and compelling crime or police drama is the fact it is... searching. It doesn't just delve into the individual psychologies motivating these people (ala the Sopranos) or the complex interactions amongst the members of a community (ala Deadwood) it asks "what the hell can be done for all of these people" and points out the problems with any and all of the answers.
It's truly brilliant. If you like intelligent television, I envy the enjoyment you will have watching this for the first time.