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A Remarkable Production Feat
John Woo's intense camera, and editing is a remarkable feat in this film. The camera is always moving, always involved, and fast paced editing make for a powerful, action-packed movie.
John Travolta gratefully hams his performance, alongside the demented acting of Nicolas Cage. The two actors are rightfully having a blast in this movie, playing outsized and campy action villains and heroes.
However I find the movie lacking in its vapidity and many extraneous scenes. Many of the characters are poorly acted and written, and there is little sense in the story. Despite its style and masterful execution, I still find it lacking, even as a piece of pure fluff entertainment. The movie is outrageous and entertaining, but nevertheless, pretty horrendous.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Loud, brash, expensive trilogy ender.
Falling into the trap of so many recent second sequels, having to live up to the hype of its prequels, a bloated meandering story, a huge budget, and a giant cast of characters to create a loud, blustering finale.
The huge cast stops us from truly delving into characters, and we are left with actors turgidly spewing a stale script about wealth and redistribution and other poorly written themes.
Fighting for space amongst the action, the thundering soundtrack booms repetitively, growing in intensity throughout.
Nolan this time seems unable to edit his movie into concise chunks instead layering, action scene upon action scene, with little lay up except for a short gasp between action scenes. He is unable to build a steady rhythm and I find myself exhausted after the first hour of fireworks.
The production is fantastic, the effects truly amazing, as objects explode, crash, and hurtle explosively all over the screen. A disappointing finale, that struggles with its serious aims, as it sends its caped hero in a violent adventure to overcome other violence, with his particular brand of self-righteous vigilante violence. A grand disappointment.
Der Name der Rose (1986)
Sean Connery leads a great cast in this visually beautiful adaptation of Umberto Eco's best selling novel.
A myriad of themes are interwoven into this wonderful mystery movie, as Sean Connery's Sherlock-ian monk unravels the mysterious deaths occurring in the abbey.
Wonderfully shot, the film makes great use of its mountain landscapes and the beautiful architecture of the abbey. The production is admirable, their costumes and props are all very realistic, and the lighting is some of the best put to film. Jean-Jacques Annaud's camera is patient and restful, lending a very naturalistic air to his film and letting us comfortable bask in the medieval setting.
Moments of humour abound, amidst the gore, sex, and ignorance. This helps break up the mystery, and the evil forces at work, giving us moments of rest and igniting our modern view to highlight the themes of hypocrisy and the primitive ideas of these simple folk.
Of particular note is Ron Perlman who performs with great sympathy, humour, and disgust as an outcast hunchback. Of equal note is F. Murray Abraham, whose powerful voice, is put to effective use as a villainous inquisitor. Christian Slater is fine as the young monk, filled with naivety and exuberance. Sean Connery is good in the lead and puts in a fine performance.
Except for a few editing issues and an abrupt sexual liaison, the film is masterfully put together and an eighties treasure; one of Sean Connery's last great films, and a marvellous European production.
Schindler's List (1993)
My problem with Schindler's List is its portrayal of the Holocaust. As Stanley Kubrick said: "The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. Schindler's List is about 600 who don't." Schindler's List hankers for success, not only its story, but in its artistic and commercial success too. It is a wonderfully produced, beautifully shot, honestly acted drama about success in the greatest human tragedy in recent times. Despite its good intentions, it loses its honesty, its integrity, in its bid as an entertainment venture and commercial interest. A film warning us about the Holocaust ought to serve as a painful warning, to be educational and true in its facts, not have someone you artistic license to curb a story and make for a better film experience. If honesty is at stake, dramatised events can be ineffectual.
A visual feast
Metropolis features huge, wonderfully designed sets, a cast of thousands, and great visual design. The story details a collision between classes, the poor working class, consigned to the depths, and the industrious living in the bright city above. The city is beautifully realised given the effects of the day, lights, automobiles, aeroplanes, and vast crowds living and breathing in the city, machines are superimposed on top of another in a series of endless work, the workers move in a tired trance, synchronised as if in a slow dance to the death.
The move is a little too long and dawdles, instead of justifying its entire two and a half hour length. Despite this the images are captivating, the social commentary is justified, well reasoned and well presented. The references to the Tower of Babel are welcome, if a little obvious, and completely unnecessary to actually detail. Fritz Lang has particular skill at telling a story with just images, and directing his actors to give well considered performances. His visual metaphors, as workers struggle with giant clocks, or are sacrificed to the hunger of the machine, are particularly evocative.
The acting is expressive, as the actors struggle to say so much, without saying anything at all. The editing and effects are good, obviously dated, but in sync with the film as not to be awkward or distracting. The costumes are designed well, and Maria the robot is superbly designed.
La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928)
Filled with visual power
Carl Dreyer's skill in weaving this intense, abstract work, telling a story with a flow of images is genius. The towering figures of the priests, elongated by sharp camera angles evoke the works of El Greco. Renée Jeanne Falconetti's performance is of sublime power, her great eyes expressing so many emotions throughout the movie, we are simply hypnotised by those deep pools.
The film's editing creates great rhythm within the movie as it builds our sympathy, our emotions, and keeps us hypnotised by the visuals. The composition of his images is remarkable and his evocation of the period outstanding. The movie is both a historical document, and an artistic statement on the power of film.
This film is a towering artistic achievement.
Remarkable suspense and story-telling
Overlong for sure and with a rather abrupt ending, this remarkably suspense filled film, is quite spellbinding at points, able to view several facets of society and interweave a number of stories with great clarity.
Peter Lorre gives an impassioned performance, playing a servile and repugnant child murderer, before finally giving a powerful speech rebuking his captors and supplying an emotional and sympathetic statement on his plight. His performance is so good, we understand his problems, and any murderous intent we once had is quickly drained.
As an essay on justice, and its motivations, the film weaves in its themes with great skill, the director able to juggle, drama, suspense, and a very real message with remarkable impact.
The cinematography is amazing, able to tell a story with its powerful image easily: a strong visual drama. And the directors ability to illuminate the room and create emotion with his images is also very good, creating a paranoid or claustrophobic atmosphere with ease. Music is used sparingly, and the taut silence of chases, is particularly good. The editing is amazing for a film of this age, and create good tense storytelling with both complexity and clarity.
The film lags a little in places, and could be tightened up all round, to create a taut, powerful thriller. But otherwise it is strong all round, with great images, performances, and production.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
This film's production is marvellous and detailed in such a degree to make your suspension of belief ease you into a convincing piece of speculative fiction. Lacking any human drama, and leisurely in pace, the film features many mundane scenes documenting life, but with many profound consequences.
Exposition is told by various news items, Kubrick's ability to tell a story with images is amazing. A rather simple story depicting human evolution, and conflict with technology, there is little dialogue, but the use of images tells the story compellingly and not without a loss understanding. The images are utterly effective in reaching out to the viewer. The images themselves are strong, generally quite beautifully, and discretely shot, to not disturb the reality the film sets forth.
The acting is very natural, the astronauts are cool and collected, professional at their jobs, and staying away from any unnecessary human emotions to mar the story. HAL 9000, is wonderfully played, his chipper voice a dead set against the human actors, his words filled with almost sarcasm and arrogance, before his genuinely emotional exit.
I like the way humanity's next great venture, that of space travel, is juxtaposed with a symbol of humanity's next great evolution. 2001: A Space Odyssey plays like a documentary filled with wonderful music flow perfectly with the images, and fits the enormity of space adventure. It a glorious undertaking, of great ambition, but shot with such naturalism as to convince us of humanity's achievements. Above all, it is an optimistic movie, of humanity's glowing future.
This movie is slick, intense, and well acted. It has an interesting concept, and the basis for a classic future-noir. Instead it has two disjointed story elements, messily pasted together to stretch the movie to the two-hour mark. The initial concept of time travel, and its implications of meeting your future self, are entirely thrown away to stage a series of well crafted, action set pieces, complete with a blaring electronic soundtrack, and lots of shooting. The pace never lets up, the movie is an adrenaline rush from start to finish.
But it is also a wasted opportunity. Aside from the distracting CGI involved in morphing our lead actors' faces together, the movie looks great, a combination of film noir and western designs spruce up the speculative future. The production design, including costumes recalls Blade Runner.
The story is a messy pasting of confusing plot elements all thrown in to make you forget how ultimately pointless this exercise was. And when it degenerates into an action chase filled with throbbing music flashing guns, all is lost.
Half an hour too long, unfocused, and in the end nothing more than an action movie that dreams of being Inception. A wasted disappointment.
Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
Derivative, self-regarding, indulgent.
A movie based on the earlier nineties' successes of Pulp Fiction and the Usual Suspects.
Endlessly self-regarding in its quirky, catch-all script. It tries to be smart, funny, and interesting. It has a bright production design, and great costume design for the characters. It's camera trickery and editing features the same ultra-cool, slick hip-hop edits derived from earlier smarter films.
The flashback narration too is directly copied from earlier, better movies. The acting is stale, even from the large cast of veteran talent including Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley.
With all of its flashy verve and gimmicks it is ultimately empty and hollow.
I really wanted to like this movie, the talent involved, the story, all looked like it had potential to be a great drama. I've recently warmed to Ben Affleck's talents, after the taut "The Town," Bryan Cranston is always a joy to watch, and Alan Arkin and John Goodman are always welcome.
The script was a little oafish at times, adding in slices of misplaced humour. Affleck's camera is practical mostly, but shows little truly interesting techniques.
The best thing about this film was the editing of so many cameras, inter-cutting news items, historical footage, and fly-on-the-wall cameras in a steady rhythm to build an unsteady paranoia.
The actors turn in mostly dead performances. John Goodman and Alan Arkin play off each other for buffoonish comic relief, serving to undermine the tenseness of the drama. Ben Affleck is rather drab, and Bryan Cranston has little to work with, other than to be seen walking furiously from scene to scene and barking cursory dialogue.
The screenplay was rather obvious, and I grew tired of the coincidental plot points. The formulaic clashing of stories stuck out like a sore thumb. But Affleck has managed to juggle these pieces well to create an easy-flowing, if lifeless, work.
Serbuan maut (2011)
This is one of the most exciting movies I've seen in the new millennium. Gareth Evans camera moves with such stylish ingenuity, the editing is flawless, creating smooth jumps between expertly choreographed action, and never leaving a jarring cut to interrupt the flow.
The story and script are simple, serving only to show us violence and fantastically crafted action. It doesn't jump for higher pretensions and indeed it doesn't have to.
The acting is fine, filled with serious faces about to about to smash in more serious faces. But their martial arts is welcoming and everyone puts in good effort.
The production design is excellent. Not only the editing, but the blood, the stylish cinematography employing all manner of "cool" aerial shots, interesting lenses, and the way the camera effortlessly follows the action and body movement: a marvelous gun ballet. The colours however are boring and muted, but Gareth Evans makes good use of shadows throughout to make a truly professional, even Hollywood big-budget looking film.
The Indonesian martial arts are put on good display and mixed with the bluntness of the violence, introduces the viewer to something brutal, pragmatic, but visually entertaining violence, free from the wires and dance fighting of wuxia.
An exciting bullet ballet.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Excellent story collision
Cary Grant stars in this absurd black comedy, featuring some of his most entertaining acting put to film.
It also features some creative shots at points, but it's long takes respect the actors involved, and lets each scene grow at a pace taken by its actors.
The writing is phenomenal, the setup for each character and their purpose drives the story forwards, and its hilarious to watch the actors enter each scene and complicate things further. The self-contained irony, the black humour, the absurdity, is all suddenly compounded towards the end, when Cary Grant himself accepts the insanity of the entire situation. It is also amazing to see a movie with such honestly dark patches, also be so family safe, a tribute to the great writing, and Frank Capra's direction.
Not only is this movie hilarious, but it also has some genuinely horrifying moments. The monstrous Jonathan Brewster, played by Raymond Massey, coupled with his terrible facial scars is an honestly scary figure and has some oddly striking scenes mixed in with the all of the humour. Peter Lorre puts in a great mousy performance, and takes plenty of amusing abuse from all of the characters.
Recommended viewing. Especially for fans of Cary Grant.
A fantasy film produced to the highest possible standards. The music swells and toots with power, the cast offers charming and hilarious performances, and the set design, effects, costumes and props are all meticulously reproduced.
Leisurely paced, and filled with action set pieces, to keep the film flowing, it rarely drags, except for the several false starts at the beginning. It is wonderfully shot, landscapes and city shots are particularly beautiful. The special effects, a huge part of this film, are well done, computer generated characters are particularly impressive, their faces having full range of expression. The script is a little underwritten, as is the story, to really validate the running time, but there is enough going on on screen to make the time go by.
Martin Freeman's performance is more than serviceable, his facial expressions and exasperation are amusing, and his deadpan entirely fitting to the part. Ian McKellen inhabits his role as expected. The dwarfs, awash with regional accents, are distinct and carry enough charm, freely mixing humour and drama as needed.
My main problem with this movie is its formulaic precision. As action builds and our heroes' situation becomes untenable, they will be saved right in the nick of time by a Gandalf, elves, dwarfs etc, whoever. After each action sequence, queue dramatic music and several shots of the beautiful rugged landscape; the same with the introduction of each character: queue an introductory shot and the orchestra swells, in particular Galadriel and Elrond.
If I was younger and less cynical I would commend this work for its sheer size and ambition; a masterpiece of film-making.
Crank: High Voltage (2009)
A lightning fast movie, this movie barely stops to take a breath. It is also a rehash of the first Crank, only this time more skewed and extreme. Picking up directly after Crank and running somewhat in real time, Chev Chelios must track down his heart in a fittingly hilarious and violent manner. The movie opens up like a video game, namely Grand Theft Auto, as we watch our hero, awaken, steal clothes, upgrade his weapons, and continue on a violent rampage.
The film is comically over-the-top in most regards, and crams in an excess of sex, action, violence, and as many explicit and tasteless images as possible. Whereas the fist film embraced its ridiculous story to create a fun, brainless, popcorn action movie, the aesthetics in this movie are taken to such an extreme as to be satirical. It revels in its tasteless, low-grade action, overwhelming the viewer with intoxicating images, that ridicules our desire to be entertained by this pulp trash. Towards the end, the film enters surreal arena, that is both hilarious and a jolt to our system.
The viewer may enter expecting brainless action, but the film ridicules these notions, and we are left wondering why we ever wanted such distaste in the first place. Violence, sex, homophobia, racism and every taboo, are banded with glee, the film seems to straddle the line between a glorious celebration of this filth, to asking the viewer if this is what they really want. Is this what society and Hollywood really celebrate?
Django Unchained (2012)
This movie showcases Quentin Tarantino's love of spaghetti westerns, then skewed and presented in his own idiosyncratic, post-modern manner. Queue modern black music, awash with hip hop, gospel, soul, and funk, impeccable costumes, fine performances all round, and wonderfully lit cinematography. The film has Tarantino's gift for meticulous detail, funny dialogue, and colourful action.
Christoph Waltz plays his part with great charm, in a manner all to similar to his Inglourious Basterds routine, but with written with less flesh to round out his character. Jamie Foxx, the titular hero, is sidelined and outplayed by his sidekick, and everyone else in the movie, but he has little to work with, simply playing the quiet, surly ex-slave, driven only by the spirit of anger. Leonardo DiCaprio's pomp is fairly entertaining, but his character serves only to drive the story along, and serve as a vindictive and cruel villain, because that is what the story demands. Still DiCaprio throws himself in and plays with the usual intensity and enthusiasm that he has shown himself capable of the millennium. Samuel L. Jackson is fantastic, spewing his vitriol, with remarkable restraint and tenacity.
But despite the amazing production, the cool soundtrack, and terrific performances; the movie remains indulgent and overlong. The quick snap of Tarantino's script is gone, the funny cultural references replaced by trite verbosity, and junior school social history. Opening titles tell us the year the movie takes place, thankfully explaining its two years before the American Civil War, because: bless our ignorance. Much dialogue serves only to create a tenuous link between characters or propagate the story, with Tarantino uncharacteristically falling onto formula to weave his story. But what really makes this film terrible is the lack of moral direction. Violence is served to remind us of its shocking nature, or it is shot to titillate us, spouts of blood gushing through gunfights. And Tarantino seems completely unaware of this contradiction. He shows us that bad people use violence and it is bad, and good people use violence, but this is righteous, as if to say whatever the question; only violence is the answer. Where it is used to shock us, the audience was sent in to an uneasy silence, as we are reminded of a terrible period in our past, but just as it seems like he is starting to deliver a message about the state of society, he instead showers us with blood, and the full glory of cinematic violence, and how the characters profit from it.
The film is all guns and bluster, but only to disguise the emptiness of this exercise.
The Number 23 (2007)
A camp, idiotically written, mystery-thriller.
A man tries to piece together clues of a novel that strangely reflects his life. What follows in the film is a stupid, unimaginative mystery, that tries to slowly unwrap before leading up to a devastatingly awful conclusion, and the mildly horrific concept of the hidden number twenty-three, in wherever you should find it. A perversely idiotic take on the actual power of mathematics, with magic number patterns.
The film tries to have some stylish film noir undertones, in parts playing with colours and shadows. The music is unmemorable except for a terrifically hilarious saxophone number.
Jim Carrey is uncharacteristically stilted, given his success just prior with Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. All the other performances are not worth remembering.
You could watch this movie and dismiss it as rubbish, or not watch it at all and dismiss it as rubbish. It will save time.
Tropa de Elite (2007)
Realist drama, sensational subject.
Tropa de Elite plays out like a fascist recruitment video.
My main problem with this film comes from its exploitation of a real world problem, and creating a loud, violent action movie, and welding it to a pro-authority message.
The film is shot in a manner similar to other recent Brazilian crime fair, but instead of the bursting intensity of City of God, the directors shoot in drab colours, with a drab lead, expounding a far from subtle, and rather sinister, social message.
Although its quick, chopping editing should suggest urgency, we are left with a barely passable story of characters strewn together, in a bumbling action thriller.
Sons of Anarchy (2008)
I find this show to be hyper-edited; that is, how quickly each shot is cut, so that a conversation is characterized by rapid cuts, each actor saying but a single line before the camera switches to the next actor. Other scenes with fewer such edits have a mildly shaking camera, particularly during tense situations.
The show is highly produced, and the writing immaculate; it is indeed a finely crafted show. Action comes quick, and characters have powerful things to say. The viewer is assaulted by powerful words, aggressively delivered, and intense evolving drama each scene.
To this the editing suits the fast-paced delivery, the frenetic camera-work matching the dizzying story lines and blistering action. It is meticulously crafted, muscular drama.