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Hot Fuzz (2007)
Better the more I see it.
Hot Fuzz is one of those movies that really grows on you. The first time I saw it, I was a little disappointed, as I was expecting something very much like Shaun Of The Dead and instead felt that this was even more of an "homage" to the films it built off of rather than a comedy. And really, it is. But upon repeated viewings, you'll likely notice a lot of jokes you had never noticed before, and even more, you'll come to appreciate the brilliant pacing of the movie.
It's fair to say that Hot Fuzz starts out very slow. Despite it's obvious influences - including a couple of action movies mentioned during the film - it really stands out above all that it borrows from with some surprisingly smart writing. The movie's plot (and clever twist) won't blow your mind, but it's one of the best action movie story's ever to grace the screen if only because it never insults the viewer's intelligence. Hot Fuzz succeeds just as much as a mystery and suspense film as it does as an action movie, and thus ends up - like Shaun Of The Dead - combining several great genres of film into one, though in a much less obvious (and ultimately better) manner than its predecessor.
What really sets Hot Fuzz apart from the crowd is the pacing, though. It's funny to think of it, but in terms of pacing, it's can easily be compared to Kurosawa's classic The Seven Samurai. The film starts out slow, introducing the characters and including just a few brief, sporadic scenes of action. The first time you see it, it may even seem a bit boring (though, as I said, it becomes easier to watch upon repeated viewings as you begin to catch some of the better, more subtle jokes in the dialog). But it all culminates in a very long, nearly non-stop fight scene that seems simultaneously subdued and over-the-top. The entire movie strikes this sort of balance throughout, which is one of the main reasons it succeeds as being a genuinely great film. Since it also succeeds at being a genuinely entertaining movie - and since it only seems to get better the more times you watch it - I'd easily consider it one of the best movies I've ever seen.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
More of the same would have been better.
Here's an easy analogy: Spider-Man 3 is the Spider-Man 1 and 2 as Batman Forever is to Batman and Batman Returns. The third film in both series takes an entirely different approach towards entertainment than the first two did. Rather than sticking to the proved formula that made both Spider-Man 1 and 2 such well-critiqued superhero movies, Sam Raimi has turned Spider-Man 3 into a movie that has no idea what it wants to be.
It tries too hard to be melodramatic, with some of the most clichéd, expected, and cringingly bad dialogue I've ever heard in a movie. The first two Spidey films had a few moments like this, but the third in the series is almost full non-stop with these scenes that make you want to change the channel and find something better on.
When the movie isn't being too melodramatic, however, it's trying to be freakishly campy. The first two films managed to include quite a bit of camp without completely suspending reality, but Spidey 3 takes the small amount of camp from the first two films and extends it to what felt like at least 30 minutes of material that I'll refer to as "puke". If any of you remember the "raindrops keep fallin' on my head" semi-music-video scene from Spider-Man 2, be prepared to see no less than two scenes that are even worse.
There is, literally, a dance number during the movie, which is a great example of how the filmmakers seem to have completely forgotten what kind of movie they were trying to make. Because despite having a horribly unfitting and annoying dance, the scene suddenly ends with another of those disgusting melodramatic dialogue sequences.
What Raimi did with this film is he tried to do too many things with it. The storyline itself wasn't the problem, however, and despite having so many side story lines and such, the film actually does a surprisingly good job of connecting and resolving them all. However, Raimi seems to have felt the need to add numerous unnecessary scenes and bits of dialogue throughout the film that really drag it down.
To be honest, unlike the case for most action-type movies, I was constantly waiting for the action sequences. I just wanted the melodrama and the dance scenes to end so that the movie could get to the decisive moments and close. I've never left a theatre during a movie, but this was the first case in which I considered it.
The movie has one saving grace: Bruce Campbell's much-expected cameo. It was one of the few moments during the movie that was truly entertaining, and I can only hope that once this movie starts playing on network TV, I'll remember to make sure and see that brief scene again before finding something better to watch.
Ultimately, I feel that Raimi's biggest mistake with this movie is that he tried to make it into something different. As a sequel to two surprisingly good movies, one would hope to see a movie that is similar to those two in terms of action, comedy, and drama. But Raimi tried to do something very different with this one, and unfortunately, it's completely ruined the series for me.
Children of Men (2006)
Beautiful and intense, but not without flaws.
As Oscar season rolls around, one trend that I find seems to occur among films is this: entertainment gives way for art. Movies become less focused on giving the audience a good time, and more focused on getting awards. "Children Of Men" is lucky enough to have some entertaining moments, and yes, it's worthy of a few awards. But it's not perfect.
The acting certainly doesn't take center stage here, which is fine in some ways, as it keeps the viewer focused on the events surrounding the characters rather than the characters themselves. Some of the actors stand out, of course, and this both adds and detracts from the film. Clive Owen must be noted, as he is the main character and gets the greatest amount of screen time. Unfortunately, I feel he was miscast. I don't doubt that Owen is a good actor, but his character here seems very underplayed. The situations that Theo is in are suspenseful, amazing, frightening, and intense, and sadly, Owen seems to nearly always have the same expression on his face and in his voice. He could have used a greater range of emotion.
Another character that stands out - for the better, this time - is Jasper Palmer, as played by Michael Caine. It's a pleasure to watch Michael Caine as a playful, jolly new-age hippie, and you can tell that he had fun with the character. He's one of the few really entertaining things about the movie, and I think it was cast very well. The character of Syd, played by Peter Mullan, also stands out, and like Caine, Mullan manages to actually entertain the audience. It's a very small part, granted, but you'll remember it, and I consider those sorts of memorable characters to be far more worth the price of admission. All in all, the acting was what you'd expect from an Oscars-focused film, and the only thing that really hurts it there is Owen's low emotion levels.
Speaking of Oscars, two places where this film truly excels are the cinematography and sound editing. The movie has a very gritty feel, which shows especially well in the battle scenes towards the end. Really, that large battle scene is probably one of the most amazing parts of the movie. There are some extremely long hand-held camera shots that are executed extremely well and do a great job of keeping the audience on edge. The action is very intense, but still easy to follow and understand. It really helps to draw the audience into the movie, and this is achieved even more by some amazing foley work. The sounds of weapons firing, explosions, people yelling, bullets hitting concrete - they all sound amazing. Truly, the cinematography and sound are so good in this movie that they're reason enough to go see the movie. Renting it when it comes out on video really won't do it justice, as this level of immersion can only be achieved in a theatre.
Ultimately, the movie leaves a bit to be desired. You'll come away feeling like you should have been shown more, and you'll know that it was intended to make your mind linger on it afterward. You'll also know that you're glad you saw it in theatres, but that it's not going to be an absolutely necessary addition to your DVD collection.
The Emperor's New Groove (2000)
One of the few Disney films anyone can enjoy.
What makes this film so great is that I didn't even see it until I was 15 years old, and yet it instantly became one of my favourite Disney movies of all time. It's not a musical like most Disney cartoons before it, which makes it much easier to take in (since you don't have to worry about those "cringe" moments that happen so often in other Disney musicals). The writing was great, but what really made it better than great was the voice acting. I can full-heartedly say that this movie had the best voice cast I've ever seen come out of Disney. Eartha Kitt, John Goodman, David Spade, and (my personal favourite character in the film) Patrick Warburton all created terrific characters. The animation was very original - a style I hadn't seen yet in a Disney cartoon. The plot as a whole was probably the weakest part of the film, but its simplicity is part of what makes everything else that's so great about the movie stand out. Watching it over and over again, I keep finding new lines of dialogue that I'm happy to quote (especially from Kronk, who, as I said, was my favourite character). What makes the movie truly great, however, is that it never stops being entertaining. There are only a couple very brief "Disney" moments - by which I mean those moments that attempt to evoke some serious emotion - but they're short enough to avoid requiring the viewer to cringe, and still manage to entertain thanks to what usually ends up being a cleverly-written line at the end of it. This is one of only two Disney-made movies that have earned my 10/10, and it earned it because it never ceased to entertain me.
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
It's gonna be big at parties.
The fact of the matter is this: Snakes On A Plane is everything it was hyped to be. It's an entertaining, violent, fun film to watch from beginning to end. No amount of lackluster dialogue or half-decent CGI can change the fact that it's one of the funnest movies I've ever seen.
What makes the movie fun is difficult to describe. The best I can really say is that the film is full of moments where people in a theatre - crowded or not - will all laugh, yell, joke, and applaud in unison. Hearing people poke fun at the casting of the co-pilot ("whammy!") is both surprising and acceptable when you see this film. Everyone watching is more than welcome to make noise and laugh at times when the film seems to be attempting a "serious" moment. And it's because the film just gives off this constant vibe that says, "I'm not meant to be taken seriously".
Anyone going into the theatre hoping to see an Oscar-worthy film will be disappointed. Anyone going into the theatre hoping to see something he or she has never seen before, and allowing themselves to be entertained by the film and the people sitting near them, will love the experience. When the movie is released on DVD, I have no doubt that people in high school and college will be playing it at parties, laughing along and just enjoying themselves. It's easily one of the funnest films I've ever seen, and I can't wait to see it again with more friends.
Oh. And of course, Samuel L. Jackson dominates the screen. Hearing a crowded theatre applaud every time he simply *enters* the screen is a spectacle worth beholding alone.