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The Da Vinci Code (2006)
An Unusual Review
If I ever have the pleasure of meeting Tom Hanks I probably owe him an apology. Often times a movie will be released and receives so much hype from critics and movie goers that if I don't see it within the first 48 hours of its release I won't see it for quite some time. I'm not sure there is any logical explanation for this. Perhaps I get tired of people quoting and/or talking about the movie. Perhaps I fear that the hype surrounding the movie will only spell disappointment for me as I sit in the theater. For this reason I didn't see Rain Man for at least 10 years after it was released in the theaters. For this reason I will probably never see any of the Austin Powers movies.
This has happened to me twice with Tom Hanks and I now own 9 of his movies. I didn't see Forrest Gump for the first time until a year or two ago. The second was The Da Vinci Code which I just finished watching for the first time. Now, this movie is still pretty recent and is actually still considered a new release on DVD. This is one movie I should have seen in the theater for the set pieces alone! I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that I have never read the book and probably never will (sorry Dan Brown). I don't read fiction, which is not to say I don't read. I know that much of the criticism this movie has received is based on how closely it follows the novel.
This is an argument that will never end and it's one I don't quite understand. We're talking about two completely different mediums that satisfy and stimulate two completely different parts of our brains. People that whine and complain about how much better a book was than the movie that followed are totally unrealistic. Books have an unlimited amount of time (pages) to discuss the smallest of details. The same people that bemoan movies for not being true to the book from which they were adapted would no more enjoy sitting in a movie theater for 4 hours watching the sincere version of the story that they were hoping to see.
All that being said, I think The Da Vinci Code is a superb movie. If you've read the book and seen the movie yet feel the movie was "lacking" ask yourself this. If you'd never read the book, how would you feel about the movie? How can you not enjoy this movie. I suppose that is the challenge a director like Ron Howard and an actor like Tom Hanks face when making a movie from a book that was so widely read as The Da Vinci Code.
There really isn't enough room here to discuss plot points and most of you reading this probably already know the gist anyway. Just know that this is a fantastic thriller. I'm not terribly religious so I had no personal objections to the content. The twists and turns keep you guessing until the very end as quality movies of this kind should.
As I said the set pieces are gorgeous. The directing is top notch (the ever reliable Ron Howard rarely disappoints) and the acting is everything you'd hope for and expect from one of our greatest actors, Tom Hanks. I firmly agree with those who compare Hanks to Jimmy Stewart as today's version of the "every day hero". Audrey Tautao stands toe to toe with Hanks in the role of Agent Sophie Neveu.
This movie is one that I am sure to view several times over the course of the next month trying to soak up all the clues and details that I missed during the first viewing. I'd also read several reviews that stated the movie was too confusing to follow. Not so at all. I had no problems following the movie or understanding what was going on. That being said, there is a lot to take in.
I think what confuses me the most about those who are fans of cinema yet did not like this movie is that The Da Vinci Code is a movie fan's movie. It's a thrill ride from start to finish that relies very little on special effects and when they are used they are used very tastefully to help further the advancement of the plot.
If you're expecting to be satisfied in the same way you were when you read The Da Vinci Code my advice is to wait for Dan Brown's next novel. If you are in the mood to enjoy a thrilling movie that excites on every level a movie should than The Da Vinci Code is sure to please.
American History X (1998)
Has Anything You've Done Made Your Life Better?
Asks Bob Sweeney, a former high school teacher of our main character, Derek Vinyard.
Derek is a white male who was brought up in a white middle class family and neighborhood. Derek is also the local poster boy for the skinhead white supremacists. Derek is evil personified.
At the start of our story we learn that Derek has been convicted of two brutal murders. He has just been released from prison after serving a little more than three years. All of Derek's disciples, including his younger brother, Danny, have been waiting for this day to come. They've been waiting for the return of their hero.
Derek has other plans, though. Three years and one prison rape gave Derek enough time and reason to rethink everything he once believed to be true. With the help of his former high school teacher turned mentor, Derek now fully understands the emptiness of his former beliefs. Derek simply wants a second chance at life, but it won't be that easy. Danny worships Derek and is stunned at his change in attitude. Not only will Derek have to remove himself from the life he once lead, he will now also have to remove his brother Danny. A task that proves to be much more difficult than it sounds.
Any movie covering the topic of racism is typically difficult to digest, especially when its portrayal is as honest as American History X. As the viewer we get to see it all from the brutal hate crime that landed Derek in jail to the irrational beliefs that fueled his rage. It's not an easy movie to sit through, but well worth it.
I have often felt that American History X could be used in high school to educate students about racism. It would take an incredibly talented instructor to tackle the subject using this movie as a tool because many people that harbor racist beliefs depicted in X may view Derek as a hero for all the wrong reasons. I say this because I have personally talked to people who "like" this movie for all the wrong reasons.
X does an excellent job of portraying the pent up anger and frustration of white middle class males that typically leads to these sort of beliefs. Even better, X shows that racism usually starts in the home. Derek adopted his beliefs from his father and were, in his mind, only justified when his father (a fireman) was killed in an all black neighborhood while attempting to do his job.
X brings up many social arguments including border control laws and the demographics of prison populations. The movie doesn't attempt to address those issues from a solution standpoint, rather it suggests that if we continue to use examples of societies problems such as these to justify our hate and unhappiness than we are only that much further from becoming happy.
The movie is an honest look at an ugly part of our society. I think the movie does a superb job of portraying the story and issues without preaching to the viewer. That being said, it's impossible for an educated viewer not to see the flaws in the views that lead to Derek's hate crime.
I'd recommend this movie to anyone and everyone with the caveat that at times it can be uncomfortable to watch. I'd also add that if you are a fan of Edward Norton his performance was Oscar worthy.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
Growing Old Gracefully
I must say that it would appear that enough time has passed between Rocky Balboa and the last installment, Rocky V, that perhaps it afforded Stallone the opportunity to get in touch with what the original movie was really about.
He's written a fantastic movie.
In doing so he has also introduced us to a different side of the character he plays so well. Rocky was always a family man and always valued the truly important things in life. That theme was always obvious throughout the series. In Rocky Balboa Stallone plays the character exactly as I had hoped he would when I walked into the theater. Rocky is a man who was never terribly bright and often came off looking like a dufus. In Rocky Balboa we see a man who has been educated by life. He tries to keep things simple and understands that family and friends are the most important things in life. We also see that Rocky is a respected and truly adored man in his community.
Aside from the first Rocky, this was probably the most sentimental to watch. This being the sixth installment in the series, the character Rocky Balboa is truly a part of many people's lives who grew up when I did (I'm 32).
I know that this review hasn't said much about the movie itself. If you've seen the trailers you should have a good understanding of what to expect from the movie. It was a real treat for me to watch Stallone play the character that many of us have grown up with since we were kids. He did not disappoint or disrespect the legacy of the original movie. I've read several reviews that have stated that Rocky Balboa makes up for the mess of Rocky V. I would agree, and then some.
Congratulations and thank you, Sly.
Cop Land (1997)
Sly Gets Serious (About Acting)
For years Stallone's acting ability was criticized and most people felt he wasn't capable of much more than a, "Yo! Adrian," every 5 years or so. Critics weren't entirely wrong. Movies like Cobra, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Judge Dredd didn't offer much evidence of the actor trying to challenge himself.
Cop Land is an entirely different ball game. Perhaps you are or become the people that you surround yourself with. If so, then working with De Niro and Keitel in Cop Land certainly raised Stallone's acting standards. He is phenomenal in this movie as the complacent and simple Sheriff Freddy Heflin who has clearly been kicked in the ass by life. Stallone's body often does much of the acting in his movies, but for Cop Land he gained considerable weight for the role and let his acting take the spot light. Guess what? The boy can act! Stallone's A+ performance aside I am not sure why this movie didn't attract more attention than it did. It's loaded from top to bottom with talented actors in both lead and supporting roles. The story is a somewhat familiar one (police corruption), but because of the top notch performances it seems fresh.
It's a shame that this movie wasn't praised more by the critics than it was because Stallone certainly deserved it. If you're a fan of Sly's (be honest, who isn't?) do yourself a favor and watch Cop Land. It's a treat to see Sly's acting talents when most of us assumed we'd seen all he could offer.
10 to Midnight (1983)
There's No Reason I Should Love This Movie.....
But I do. For all practical purposes this is a bad movie. The best way that I can describe the overall tone is a cross between an early episode of the the TV show Hunter and one of the original Friday The 13th movies. It's a slasher flick with a 70's style rogue cop thrown in the mix.
The acting is fairly poor. Bronson plays the same type of character he played in most of his popular movies. There are some familiar faces from the era (Robert F. Lyons and Geoffrey Lewis). Andrew Stevens does a pretty good job playing Bronson's partner. Gene Davis is somewhat difficult to watch as the killer, Warren Stacy. Half the time it sounds as though he is reading his lines from a cue card.
The plot is a simple enough story about a deranged killer who runs through the city naked killing women who have scorned his advances in the past. Bronson plays Leo Kessler, a cop ready to do anything, legal or not, to bring Stacy in.
There really isn't much more to say about this movie. I've said it in several other reviews on this site and I will say it again. A movies primary function is to entertain. That being said I am always entertained when watching this movie. I tend to rate movies differently than other people do. Not every movie is an Oscar contender. Hell, most movies aren't. As much as I enjoy viewing masters like De Niro and Scorsese at work I thoroughly enjoy watching "B" grade trash like this (albeit for totally different reasons). What can I say? Sometimes I enjoy a big fat juicy steak grilled to perfection while other times I enjoy a McDonald's hamburger. 10 To Midnight satisfies the later desire.
Pretty Typical, But Very Good
If I recall, this was one of the first movies that enjoyed more success when it was released on video than it did during its original theatrical release. It came out in 1987 so VCR's were still a relatively new fixture in most people's homes.
That being said, the movie offers nothing terribly original. At its core Stakeout is a buddy cop movie. And guess what? The two cops in question (Dreyfuss and Estevez) are polar opposites. Original, right? Where Stakeout succeeds and other formulaic movies fail is that it is fun to watch. Isn't that really what we all hope for when we watch a movie? We want to be entertained. Stakeout doesn't break any new ground, but Dreyfuss and Estevez work very well together. There are some great one liners and although the buddy cop thing has been done to death, the plot is fairly original.
The only true downfall of Stakeout is the score which DEFINITELY dates the movie. There are some good songs from the time, but the background music is horrendous. Not enough to ruin the movie, though.
Have you ever been wandering through the video store having a difficult time finding something that catches your eye? Maybe the movies that you came for were out or maybe you're just not impressed with any of the new releases. You come across a movie that you sort of remember, but you can't remember too much. Maybe it has an actor you recognize. You take a chance on the movie and it turns out to be the surprisingly best rental you've made in quite a while. That's Stakeout.
Primal Fear (1996)
Norton's Explosive Debut
I understand that we all have different tastes when it comes to movies and that we all see greatness in a variety of ways. I will be the first to admit that I was totally lost when watching the Matrix and possess absolutely no desire to sit through the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. I am not trying to take anything away from those movies because I also understand that a large percent of the movie viewing population see the Matrix and LOTR trilogies as masterpieces.
That being said, it is beyond me why Primal Fear never made it to more people's "best" or "greatest" lists. It has received positive ratings on this website, but overall the movie enjoyed very quiet success. This movie is spectacular from start to finish. The ending is a doozy and Edward Norton's performance is Oscar worthy. Not only did his performance blind side me (who the hell is this guy?), but it was also a sign of great things to come from Edward Norton. He is one of our greatest actors.
The plot, an altar boy is accused of murdering a priest who as it turns out was molesting him, seems even more relevant 10 years later than it did in 1996. That is the basic plot, but there are so many subplots and side stories about political corruption and cover ups that make for one incredibly satisfying story.
The performances are top notch all the way down the cast. Richard Gere, Laura Linney, John Mahoney, Steven Bauer and even Terry O' Quinn turn in stellar performances. The movie takes place in Chicago and I believe it perfectly captures what I consider to be the Chicago mood or attitude (I live in a western suburb of Chicago).
Of course the movie is about more than an altar boy who may or may not have committed murder and political corruption. The movie's central character, Martin Vail (Gere), is a defense attorney who because of his high profile cases enjoys a minor celebrity status. His name is always in the newspapers and his face is always on the TV news. He can't get enough of this attention either. Martin is a great defense attorney, but he's definitely too arrogant for his own good. When a reporter asks, "When do you realize you have them? When do you realize you've won?" Vail responds without giving it much thought, "The minute I accept the case."
I saw this movie for the first time when it was released in the theaters. A lot of movies promise a "truly shocking ending" and that "THIS movie will keep you guessing until the very end." The trailers for Primal Fear said none of that. Sitting in the theater there was no expectation on my part for a twist ending. Perhaps that is why during its initial viewing it was more shocking to me than even the twist in The Sixth Sense. With The Sixth Sense you KNEW there was something to figure so for two hours that is exactly what you did. You tried to figure it out. Primal Fear's ending totally sucker punched me. The twist isn't revealed until the final minute or two of the movie, so up until the minute it is revealed the viewer honestly trusts everything they have just seen. There are no hints that what you are being told may not be true. It's a masterpiece. Hitchcock would have loved it and it's Edward Norton's performance that really makes it work.
All the President's Men (1976)
A History Lesson
I was born in 1974, so the events depicted in All The President's Men had just concluded. By the time I was old enough and interested enough to start asking, "What's Watergate," more than a decade had passed.
I can distinctly remember two events that throughout my schooling my fellow classmates and I were dying to learn more about, yet teachers were far too reluctant, to say the least, to consider discussing. The Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.
When asked teachers would often cite a lack of time as the reason why we couldn't discuss these topics. In retrospect my guess is that even 10-15 years after these events had concluded teachers, at least those teaching junior high and high school, were still uncertain as to how to approach these two subjects. They undoubtedly had an opinion and perhaps opinions were still so strong on both issues that administrators and those in charge of curriculum decided a hands off approach was best. For that my fellow students and I made it through high school graduation learning very little about a fascinating very recent slice of American history.
It wasn't until 1998 that I learned about a movie about the Watergate scandal called All The President's Men. Surprising to say the least since I am such a huge fan of film. It was the summer of 1998 and my then girlfriend and I were in Washington D.C. visiting some of my relatives. As always, my uncle was the ultimate tour guide. While touring the Library Of Congress he showed us the location of the famous over head shot that is seen in the movie. Once home from vacation I immediately went to the video store and rented All The President's Men. So good it was I actually watched it twice in one sitting.
I truly believe that the 1970's is perhaps one of the most interesting decades in our country's history. I can't even really explain why, but I am quite certain that the overall darkness and disappointment that surrounds most of the decade has something to do with my interest in those years. Those ten years were sandwich'd between the artificial self important idealism of the 1960's and the bloated larger than life fat cat life style of the 1980's. For many growing up in the 1970's Watergate was just one example of why they were on a daily basis losing faith in our country.
All The President's Men, I believe, captures this event perfectly. The story is told almost totally without any judgment whatsoever. You watch the movie from the reporter's point of view. Their job is to simply gather facts and report them to the public. It's not their job to make judgments. It's their job to present information so that we can make judgments. Of course that is a very idealistic view of the media, but I do believe that is what makes All The Predient's Men so special. We all know how the story ends. The movie is simply a presentation of the events surrounding Watergate and those involved with the scandal.
Even today the story holds up and is suspenseful to watch. It's also a sincere glimpse into the day to day workings of a newspaper (at least at that time). There is no effort to glamorize the lives or jobs of Woodward and Bernstein, two working class investigative reporters.
What makes All The President's Men so affective to me is the incredibly slow pace at which the tension builds. Especially by today's standards it's a very slow moving movie, but by the end of the movie the tension is nearly unbearable. For over two hours the tension builds and not once does it let up. Again, keeping in mind that we all know how the story ends. That being said, you can genuinely feel the fear that Woodward and Bernstein are experiencing as they unfold one of this country's most devastating political scandals.
It's clear that everyone involved in the filming of All The President's Men (Redford, Hoffman, Pakula etc) were committed to giving it their all. It's a joy to watch a political thriller that doesn't seem hellbent on force feeding a point of view down the viewers (deep) throats. Knowing the outcome it's impossible to sympathize with Nixon and presenting the movie that way would have been an injustice, regardless of your political stance.
I highly recommend All The President's Men to anyone who is a fan of political thrillers or anyone who is interested in this period of American history. Actually, I recommend this movie to anyone who is a fan of film because it is one of the best.
I read the user comment that accompanies the movies statistics (actors, directors, awards etc.) and the user commented that this was the worst movie ever made and that it handled the subject of racism in a childish manner. The user went on to say that if you'd like to see a "real" movie about racism than you should see American History X.
First of all, American History X is a phenomenal movie. It tackles the subject of racism like no other movie, but I do believe it explores racism at its worst. I think Crash explores the subtle racism that exists on a much more prevalent level. The true hate crimes that are depicted in American History X are horrific, but I believe racism exists in a larger number of people the way it is portrayed in Crash. Racism is based upon fear and ignorance and that is what we see in Crash. People that are afraid and ignorant. Every day people if you ask me.
A woman (Bullock's character Jean Cabot) sees two black men walking down the street and she instinctively draws herself closer to her husband. A Lebanese store owner calls a lock smith because his door will not close. The Hispanic lock smith tells the store owner that the problem isn't his lock it's the door. The store owner tells him to "Just fix it," and the lock smith informs him that he needs to call someone who sells doors. The store owner insists that he fix it and accuses the lock smith of trying to rip him off because he probably has a friend that sells doors. Does this sound irrational? That's because most of the characters in this movie are, but to me they are real.
Most of the characters in Crash are flawed to some degree which makes them even more real. Not only does Crash explore racism amongst several different cultures it also explores how people deal with racism within their own culture. As the movie clearly demonstrates, racism exists in every culture and none of us deal with it intelligently. In Crash a man is accused of not being black enough by his wife. That same man tells another black man that, "You embarrass me," because he is living up to many of the stereo types placed upon black people.
More than racism I think Crash explores another problem in our society. Our culture has become much more diverse over the years and it would appear that communication between the many different cultures is a HUGE problem. This of course can ultimately lead to racism.
The Break-Up (2006)
The Not-So-Romantic Comedy
It's amazing to me that this movie received such poor reviews. I saw it today and loved it.
The standard romantic comedy is to women what action movies are to men. Totally unrealistic mind candy fantasy BS. I believe that the reason The Break Up was not received very well is because people were expecting a romantic comedy yet what they really got was a movie that is very realistic in it's portrayal of a relationship gone seriously wrong.
This movie is about the ugliness that comes out in all of us when we are confronted with a relationship that is destined to end. Good people behave very badly at the end of romantic relationships and that is what we see in The Break Up. Two relatively decent people acting totally irrational toward one another. Even in the midst of their behavior they know it's wrong. It's not until it's far too late do either of them realize what they've ultimately let pride destroy.
The question remains, "Yeah, but is it funny?" It's very much a dark comedy in the same vein as War Of The Roses. It's not touchy feely in any sense of the word. That being said, you still get your classic Vince Vaughn moments. There is no other actor who can play terribly flawed yet too charming to resist the way that Vaughn can. He didn't overwhelm the movie though. Aniston does a superb job of playing the emotionally exhausted and completely disappointed significant other.
My favorite role in the movie is Gary's/Vaughn's friend Johnny O, played by Jon Favreau. It's actually a speech that Johnny O delivers regarding how he feels about his bud Gary that is my favorite scene in the movie. Johnny O tells Gary that he loves him just like everyone else, but he's accepted that the friendship is strictly dictated by Gary's wants and desires. He asks Gary, "When was the last time you did something you didn't want to do? We never do anything I want to do." Again, this is why I loved the movie. This on-screen friendship is real to me. It rings true.
If you want a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan style romantic comedy....... than rent one. If you can stomach or Even worse if you feel you might be entertained by two people behaving very badly then perhaps you'd enjoy The Break Up.