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The House of the Devil (2009)
Superb suspense that deserves your attention until the very end.
I caught this movie on TV in a hotel and knew nothing about it but somehow got drawn in. I assumed from the TV trailer before it started that it was some 80s horror movie that didn't quite make it to big-time and I'd never heard of. I figured I'd watch the first five minutes for a laugh and then switch the channel once I got bored, but I ended up watching the whole thing, because, unlike what half the reviews here say, this move IS NOT BORING. It is very slow to develop, and it doesn't have much action, but that's the point. Samantha has taken a job "babysitting" in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere at night. Think about it. For her, even if nothing weird happens, it's going to be a long, quiet, uneasy evening with nothing to keep her company but her imagination. So the movie is not boring, it's just helping us to feel what she feels, a sense of how long and dreadful this night is going to be, locked in this house with a fear of the unknown. The great thing about this movie is that it can make you feel uneasy for 75 minutes while almost nothing happens. One event early in the movie shocks us into knowing things are going to get bad at some point (as if the title didn't clue us in), and from there it's all just about the painful wait for something terrible to happen. Scene after scene I just kept marveling to myself how great it was that I had a queasy feeling in my stomach just from watching a girl walk around an empty house peeking into different rooms.
I think all the negative reviewers either just don't have the imagination for this type of movie, or weren't in the right mood when they watched it. Slasher movies provide all the horror for you, while movies like this one demand that your imagination do some of the work, and people with decent imaginations will always think of something that scares them more than sudden noises and gallons of fake blood. Although this movie has it's share of graphic violence, that's not the point. The point is savoring the wait until the climax, letting the director's manipulation of lighting, camera moves, and sounds stimulate your imagination, just waiting for something to jump out of the darkness. In fact the wait is so good that I was actually disappointed when the climax came. The final moments of the film are not, to my eye at least, in keeping with the 80s feel of the rest of the movie. It just feels forced and out of character somehow. Also without spoiling the ending, I'll say the following: I thought the ending was stupid, unimaginative, and unrealistic, until I heard the last line of dialogue, which made the film interesting to me again...but the last line is spoken so softly it would be easy to miss it. So be sure to keep your ears wide open until the credits roll!
Excellent mix of science and human nature with only one major flaw.
This adaptation of Carl Sagan's novel is one of the better science fiction movies of recent years, in part because it doesn't necessarily need to be viewed as a science fiction movie. I think this had a polarizing effect on audiences. People who just went to see a movie said "wow, that was a great movie and made me think a little", while people who went to see spaceships and aliens said "I waited for two and a half ours to see an alien and it was her &@#% dad." Contact is not a movie about radio telescopes, data encryption, aliens, spacecraft, or time travel, though all of these things are critical to the plot. Nor is it a movie about religion, despite the main character being hounded for her lack of belief in God. At its core, Contact is a movie about belief without proof, about the ability of human beings to draw strength from what they know to be true within themselves.
Astronomer Dr. Eleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster) is led by her belief in scientific principles, as well as the untimely death of her parents, to doubt the existence of God. As a scientist, she simply cannot fathom the presence of an almighty being that can't be explained by scientific principles. Her counterpart, Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey) is a man of faith. He was made so by an experience during which he says he "felt god", and could not deny it, regardless of what anybody else believes. As such, Joss cannot envision a world without a God. This makes them seemingly polar opposites, which could be the setup for yet another boring "opposites attract" romantic subplot, but as the movie reveals, the two are actually very similar.
In short, Dr. Arroway's search for extraterrestrial life becomes a success when she discovers a message sent by aliens containing instructions on how to build an interstellar transport device. Unfortunately, the device can house only one human, and Dr. Arroway's lack of belief in God leads the international selection committee to pass on her, feeling she does not effectively represent humanity. 95% of the world believes without hard evidence that a God exists, leaving Dr. Arroway as an outsider.
During the process, however, we see that in some ways, Dr. Arroway indeed has more faith than the religious 95%. Where many suspect the alien plans of being malicious, Dr. Arroway remains resolute that the message was delivered in the language of science, and must therefore represent a desire to increase knowledge, not to conquer. She also exhibits faith in the design of the transport device itself. While others want to add safety devices not illustrated in the schematics, she has faith that the aliens' design is exact and should not be altered.
After the first device is destroyed by terrorists, Dr. Arroway is chosen to go aboard a second device. Once onboard, she appears to fly through space, meet an alien and discuss humanity's place in the universe, and return home. During her trip, Dr. Arroway experiences a celestial event that is so beautiful she cannot describe it. She is moved to tears as she whispers that she has no words to describe it, that they should have sent a poet. This subtle moment entirely alters Dr. Arroway and her perception of the universe, as neither English, or her favorite language, science, can adequately describe the beauty of the event. This is Dr. Arroway's equivalent of Palmer Joss meeting God.
However, from outside the vehicle, it appears that she never left Earth, since the vehicle was only out of contact for a split second. She has no evidence of her "experience", no artifacts brought back from distant stars, no photographs of aliens, nothing. Now the shoe is on the other foot. Dr. Arroway believes without physical proof that she went somewhere, but the world, and in particular the congressional committee called to investigate the mission, is skeptical and rejects her story. After the mission she is still an outsider, but the sides have been reversed. Before the mission, it was painful to watch Dr. Arroway being pushed aside because she does not believe, but after the mission it is even more painful to watch as she is asked to deny her belief, her truth, something which defines her as a person. However, we recognize that her belief in her experience is just the same as Joss' belief that he felt God, and this belief without proof forms a bond between the two. We are made to think about the invaluable nature of one's beliefs, whatever they may be, and just how central our idea of "truth" is to our existence.
Now to the flaw I mentioned, which is the only reason I rate this film a 9 instead of a 10. It comes at the end, when Rachel Constantine and Micheal Kitz discuss the contents of Dr. Arroway's mission recorder. Dr. Arroway mentioned earlier that her "experience" lasted approximately 18 hours. Constantine states that the recorder contained approximately 18 hours of static. This ruins the ending of the movie, because it proves beyond any reasonable doubt that Dr. Arroway's experience was real. Up to this moment the audience is allowed to be split as to their beliefs. We may want to believe in Dr. Arroway's fantastic journey, but we have to weigh that against her loneliness, her need to validate her research, and her fervent belief in extraterrestrial life. Did she actually leave? Was it a hoax by Hadden as Kitz suggests? Is Hadden actually from Vega? Did she imagine the whole thing? Is she lying? How can we decide? It's a question of belief, but the data recorder removes the audience from the equation and makes the decision for us.
In a movie about belief without proof, why ham-handedly supply proof? Why is the audience not left to believe what they want?
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
One of the best movies of all time, sadly damaged by DVD
"The Last of the Mohicans" is one of my favorite movies. It is an excellent portrayal of the early United States of America, done in a historically accurate style, not a stylized version of history like many modern movies use. While drawing us into that time period, it does not feel at all like a documentary. This is a great action movie, a great adventure movie, a great romance, a great movie in general. And above all, every frame is fantastically beautiful, as is every second of the soundtrack. Even if for some hard-to-imagine reason you are uninterested in the story, you will find it impossible to look away from the screen because it is just that visually engaging.
So, all in all, one of my favorite movies ever, so without hesitating I bought the Enhanced Widescreen Director's Expanded Edition DVD. What a disappointment! All of my favorite Hawkeye one-liners were removed! No more "Someday I think you and I are going to have a serious disagreement." No more "Haven't you got anything better to do on the lake today, Major?". I guess looking back Michael Mann decided to strip off that likable part of Hawkeye's character. So then why did he leave in "Well we kind of face to the North and, real subtle-like, turn left"? One wonders. Maybe Mann wants Hawkeye to start out a little flippant but become more serious as he becomes more involved in the Munro's affairs. I liked it better when the smart-mouthed part of his character survived the war.
The DVD also lacks the great Clannad song "I Will Find You", which was included in the original version when the Mohicans are tracking Magua and the captive Cora and Alice. Another disappointing loss, perhaps due to licensing issues or something. The music that replaced it is boring, stripping that scene of the emotion it carried in the original version. Another musical beef: the music for the final cliff-side chase sequence is not included on the "official motion picture soundtrack", at least not in the same arrangement as in the movie.
The addition to Chingachgook's final speech is debatable. It's not as offensive as the other edits, but it seems tacked on. Chingachgook did fine before, he doesn't need to predict the 21st century status of the American Indian for us, we can figure that out for ourselves. It's also irritating that the movie no longer ends with the phrase "The last of the Mohicans". I can certainly see why this scene was left out of the original version, even if only for the fact that the lighting is inconsistent with the original ending. The sun sure did set fast! On another Chingachgook note, I hated the slow-motion effect at the end of his fight with Magua. This is The Last of the Mohicans, not Street Fighter. Another Director's Cut mistake.
Frankly I didn't think any of the "expanded" scenes added anything to the film. In fact most of them I hardly noticed. Mostly extra shots of cannons firing and whatnot, which is not what this movie is about, and therefore not needed in larger quantities. I was much more disappointed by what was lost.
Still, buying the DVD is worth it just for the last 20 minutes or so. Here Mann proves that dialogue is absolutely unnecessary for good storytelling. Nobody says anything of any consequence for this entire act, yet if you can watch that stretch of film and not feel some kind of emotional response, there's something wrong with you.
A Bronx Tale (1993)
De Niro and Palminteri combine for excellence,
This is an interesting movie because it tackles two topics in one shot: the lure of the glamorous life of crime and the state of racism in the 1960s.
"A Bronx Tale" shows Calogero Anello, a young Italian living in the Bronx, faced with both of these issues. His childhood idol is a violent crime boss (Palminteri), while his friends, along with nearly everybody in his neighborhood, are racist. Meanwhile, he takes a liking to a black girl, and his honest father (De Niro) tries to keep him away from the crime syndicate and instill working class values in him. What choices will Calogero make and how will they affect his future? De Niro and Palminteri both give outstanding performances. The plot is not riveting, but is still interesting enough to keep the viewer involved. Rather than plot devices or complicated story lines, the film keeps us engrossed with character interactions and emotions. Calogero strikes me as being a little stupid, although not as stupid as his friends. I suppose this is necessary, however. A really intelligent person (like De Niro's character) would find ways to avoid becoming embroiled in all the neighborhood goings-on.
It is frightening to think that racism was so rampant so few years ago, and saddening to think it still exists. "A Bronx Tale" does a fine job of illustrating that no good comes from hate.
The ocean will never be the same.
The best thing that happened for this movie was the fact that the artificial shark broke and couldn't be used much. The audience's imagination is MUCH more powerful than any animatronic gadget ever could be. If it were made today, there would be millions of dollars worth of CGI shark shots and it wouldn't be scary at all. Rubber and pixels don't scare us. Ideas scare us. Just give us a visual taste of shark here and there, that's all we need to scare ourselves silly.
It is the idea of the unknown and what could be lurking just out of sight that makes this movie so scary. It's all about the small boat, the big ocean, and the fact that the attack could come from anywhere. And that's what makes it continue to scare you when you go near water years later. If the shark worked and our fear was based on seeing the shark, then at the beach you'd say "well, I don't see a big rubber shark anywhere, so I'm okay". But when it's the fear of the unknown, you go to the beach and say "hmmm, this looks a lot like Jaws", and you think twice about going in the water.
Great performances all around, but Robert Shaw as the semi-insane shark hunter Quint is the best and most memorable in my opinion. Every line he spoke was priceless, whether it made you laugh out loud or shiver in fear. It's too bad some of his scenes were cut.
This is one of those weird movies that you can watch a hundred times and still not get tired of. It gets you creeped out right from the first scene and never really lets go. Every time it's on TV I say "well I'll just watch 5 or 10 minutes", and before I know it I've watched the whole thing again. A masterpiece, thanks to the broken shark!
V for Vendetta (2005)
Awesome movie that covers the spectrum of emotions and will make you think
V for Vendetta is easily one of the best new movies in several years. It is well-acted, well-directed, has wonderful visual appeal, and will make you think and feel things that other movies won't go near.
Set in the relatively near future in England, the story surrounds a terrorist/freedom fighter known as V who is trying to singlehandedly topple a corrupt government. To say anything more would take away from the movie's element of surprise.
While astute viewers can fairly easily predict some or all of the film's "twists", it doesn't matter, because we sympathize with those characters who are kept in the dark. This film does a superb job of making the viewer feel what the characters feel, be it fear, sadness, joy, pride, whatever. The story relies on character emotion and development, not plot gimmicks, and it does a superb job. The 'goal' of the movie is known within the first 20 minutes or so, but we are still kept on the edge of our seats waiting to make sure everything plays out properly.
The most important things this movie does is make the audience think. If you can watch this movie and not see correlations to real-life events, either historical, current, or potential, there's something wrong with you. Some claim that this movie is written as an attack on the current conservative U.S. government. This is unlikely, given that the original comic on which the movie is based was written long before anybody knew who George W. Bush was. Still, V for Vendetta is applicable today and should cause viewers to think what is possible if they allow their government to get out of hand.
V for Vendetta will make you laugh, and it will make you cry. It will make your adrenaline surge and it will crush your spirit. It will make you think. And it will make you want to watch it again.
Road to Perdition (2002)
A much-overlooked film, superbly done
I don't understand why this movie didn't get more attention than it did. For my money, it was pretty much perfect. The look of the movie was exactly right. It was very stylish, full of all the elements we want to see in a gangster movie, but it didn't rely on style alone. There was plenty of substance to make an interesting story we haven't seen before.
The key to the movie was having a kid that could act to play Michael Jr. This movie would have fallen on its face with a lot of child actors, but Tyler Hoechlin does a great job. He's young enough that we feel bad for him being exposed to his father's world, but he's mature enough to deal with it well.
Hanks and Newman give perfect performances. There is a lot more to their performances than just their speaking parts. Scenes like the piano duet at Rooney's house are priceless, even though not a word is spoken.
Visual and audio elements are handled extremely well. For instance, when Mike (Hanks) finally takes down Rooney (Newman) and his men, a lot of movies would have had a huge shootout with loud gunshots, blood splatter effects and closeups of the characters firing their weapons. Here, on the other hand, we just see the muzzle flare of Mike's gun in the darkness. Everybody in the scene knows what's going on, and so do we, and the film lets muted sounds and visuals tell the story. Then after Mike and Rooney have their final conversation, the gunfire is extremely loud as Rooney dies, reminding the audience this is serious violence, not just eye candy.
I can't find much to complain about in this movie. Thomas Newman's music is too much like his score from "The Shawshank Redemption". Don't get me wrong, it's great, it's just maybe a little too familiar. There are also some possible errors, but not big ones. For instance, the Sullivan's car is extremely shiny when they arrive in Chicago, even though they've been driving on dirt roads in the rain for days. Maybe they washed it in the suburbs somewhere.
All in all, a classic that can easily be watched again and again.
Resident Evil (2002)
Good not-too-clean fun. Not an intellectual event, NOT MEANT TO BE.
This is a good zombie movie, despite not mentioning the word zombie once. Alice is a great leading lady, despite never being called Alice once. Turn it on, turn your brain off, and enjoy the action!
Fans of the game complain that it's not faithful to the story lines of the game, but you have to recognize it for what it is. It is its own movie, not a live-action carbon copy of a video game. If you like the game's story, play the game. The movie doesn't have to follow it exactly to be a success.
The CG work is looking pretty dated, but not bad. The zombie practical make-up effects are great. Sets are good and contribute a lot to the atmosphere of the movie. Plenty of good fight scenes, suspense, and gross zombie behavior.
The best scene in the movie is the end. It goes out with a bang, leaving you wanting more and wondering if the sequel will satisfy you.
One note: don't base your opinion of this movie on what you see on cable. They cut out some of the best scenes, like the zombie dog fight. Maybe animal rights people didn't like seeing a woman run up a wall and boot a bloody dog in the face.
Fun ride, but not enough development to be very emotionally moving.
This movie should have been longer, or perhaps a series. I simply didn't think there was enough development to justify the battle at the end. I understand that if you've read the book, you have a deeper understanding of what's going on and what the character's motivations are, but a film has to stand on its own, and not rely on previous knowledge of the viewer to work. In the world of the book, the children have reasons to stay in Narnia and contribute to events there, but in the world of the movie I think they would have left once they got Edmund back from the White Witch. Narnia and its citizens just didn't seem real enough or important enough for the children to want to stay and help at their own risk. Perhaps the inevitable sequels will help fill in gaps.
Also, we're not given much time to meet some of the important characters. People are just tossed onto the screen with no introduction, development, or motivation, which makes it hard to invest in them emotionally and pull for them in the battle.
The production quality was great, Aslan was very believable, which is a necessity for the film to be a success. All of the other special effects and sets were seamlessly executed, so the viewer can be drawn into the story instead of being distracted by thinking "how'd they do that and why didn't it look better?"
All of the actors do a good job, despite being given a few cheesy lines. Each of the children has the right character traits that define their roles. If I were about 10 years old I probably would have thought this movie was spectacular, but as an adult I just need a little more substance before we dive into the epic battle. Maybe I'm just not a member of the target audience.
Underworld: Evolution (2006)
This movie will satisfy its target audience, guaranteed
Let's face it. If you're going to see this movie, you probably enjoyed the original and are looking for more. You want high doses of fight scenes, vampire and lycan lore, blood, violence, and Kate Beckinsale wearing leather or less. In short, this movie delivers all of the above in great excess, so if you liked Underworld, you're going to like Underworld: Evolution as much or more.
On the other hand, if you don't like blood, violence, action, mythology, or using a sword in a world full of guns, this movie is not for you, and it's NOT MEANT to be for you, so don't complain about it.
This movie surpasses the original as far as story development. We learn a good bit about each character's past, which helps justify all the extreme violence they engage themselves in. We're also introduced to some new characters and plot lines that add interest and new twists, rather than just rehashing all the familiar faces from Underworld.
This movie fails to get a 10 rating from me for the following reasons:
1) Not quite enough "stuff" to fill the time. Too many shots of Kate Beckinsale "looking intense". The movie could have been 10 minutes shorter if the number of these shots had been reduced from seemingly infinite down to 10 or so. Minor problem.
2) A few glaring continuity errors.
3) Too many flashback/explanation shots from the original Underworld. I suppose this is necessary so as not to alienate viewers who didn't see the original or who forgot it. However, this movie is obviously targeted to people who liked the original and want more, so give us a quick refresher and then hit us with new stuff. No need to keep providing Cliff's notes throughout the movie. Make us think a little!
4) There wasn't a standout power move comparable to the spinning/shooting through the floor in the original Underworld. Let's face it, half the people that went to that movie did so because that shot was in the trailer. This movie had lots of power moves, but none that stood out as the winner.