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Captivity (2007)
Nothing captivating about it
3 March 2008
I had low expectations going into "Captivity" mainly due to the negative reviews and comments I'd read. However, I didn't expect it to be as bad as it is. It's kind of amazing to me that this film was made by the same director who did "The Killing Fields" and "The Mission", both fine movies. It's amazing because this is obviously someone with a lot of film-making experience and "Captivity" just ends up feeling and looking like a bad, amateurish attempt to cash in on the "Saw" torture craze which is so popular currently in Hollywood. There's nothing wrong with jumping on the torture-porn bandwagon, in and of itself, had it actually been a good movie. But it wasn't, and that's the problem.

Plot twists are seen a mile away and there are no genuine scares really, just a few squirm-in-your-seat torture scenes which ultimately aren't all that memorable. Elisha Cuthbert did a good job given what she had to work with. I think she's actually an underrated actress and of course she's very nice to look at. But I doubt this will be high on her resume as she continues to try and build a career.

It's pretty rare for me to find zero point in a film because I'm usually pretty easy to please with movies, but "Captivity" is about as pointless as it gets, and if it lingers in your mind at all afterwards it's only because you'll be thinking about how poor of an effort it was. If you want to find a much better torture-horror film from recent years that flew under the radar check out "Wolf Creek", it's much more artfully done and actually has some subtext underneath the screams and gore.
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Miami Vice (2006)
A rare misfire from Michael Mann
21 April 2007
I am a huge fan of Michael Mann movies in general. I thought "Collateral", "The Insider" and earlier films like "Last of the Mohicans" were fantastic. And his crime opus "Heat" is an absolute masterpiece. So when I heard Mann was revisiting Miami Vice, with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx no less, I figured it was sure to be a home run. No such luck.

While the movie has a bit of edge-of-your-seat drama, and a few good action scenes, overall I felt this was an unfocused misfire from Mann. There seems to be little or no chemistry between Farrell and Foxx, and even less between other characters. Gong Li was miscast in my humble opinion, and Justin Theroux (a great actor) goes virtually unused. John Ortiz is one of the few high points, giving a truly creepy and menacing performance.

I could get into a detailed analysis of the plot, style, acting and so forth but that's been done to death in these comments. The bottom line is the movie is basically all story, and no character. Which sometimes can be okay, but not when the story is a generic "let's go undercover and bust a drug cartel" plot. When you're dealing with a general idea that's been done a million times, you need characters to make it rise above. Unfortunately Michael Mann wasn't able to accomplish that with Miami Vice.
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About a Boy (2002)
About a surprising, outstanding movie
1 March 2005
About a boy kind of flew under the radar for me as I'm sure it did for many others. I finally got around to seeing it recently on DVD and I can say with much certainty that it's one of the best comedies I've seen in a long time. I guess I was expecting a typical sort of Hugh Grant romantic comedy, but it's nothing like that at all. I found it very similar in tone to movies like Rushmore and even American Beauty, but with a lot more laughs than either of those dramedies.

I've never felt too strongly one way or another about Hugh Grant, but he is spot-on perfect in this film as a rich bachelor who lives off his father's money and doesn't have a care in the world. He prides himself on living a life of luxury and comfort, and avoiding complicated relationships. Cleary one of his best performances, Grant's interpretation of Will is shallow and cynical but layered with potential. By chance, he enters the life of a depressed single mother (Toni Collette) and her 12 year old son (Nicholas Hoult) who is in desperate need of some type of a male role model. There's a lot going on and several different sub-plots but essentially events unfold that further entangle Will into these people's lives. And ultimately he must decide if he is going to withdraw to his posh apartment and stay disconnected from people, or face the music and accept that truly no man is an island.

Nicholas Hoult also gives a very strong performance for a first time actor. This is one of those films where every actor seems to be the ideal choice for the character they play, right down to the smallest roles. The moments of hilarious comedy are nicely balanced with a serious, at times melancholy, story. I'm sure there are some deep lessons here about how families can be created in all kinds of different circumstances, and are not always defined by bloodlines alone. Or about maturity, growing up, and finding meaning in life. All of that is probably true, but at the end of the day About a Boy is just a very enjoyable, funny movie that is well worth an hour and a half. An awesome soundtrack too makes this a must see film.
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A forgotten gem from the 80's
16 January 2005
There's a lot worth forgetting about the 80's but one of the few things that decade of big hair and keyboard-drowned-music had was some of the best horror and sci-fi comedies of any time. There have been funny scary movies before and scary funny movies since, but some of the best examples of those perfectly balanced action, horror, and science fiction comedies were made in the 80's. I'm thinking of other good ones like Fright Night, American Werewolf in London, Big Trouble in Little China and on maybe a level or two below films like Return of The Living Dead and Toxic Avenger. Some people use the term spoof when referring to a lot of these movies but that's the wrong word in my opinion. Naked Gun and Airplane were spoofs, movies like Night of the Comet and Fright Night were genuine horror films that had a nice mixture of scares, drama, and tongue-in-cheek laughs. All of these elements of different genres are what made these movies unique.

While classic might be a little too strong of a word to describe Night of the Comet, I agree with most other folks here that it is a great low-budget 80's movie (maybe not low-budget, but definitely not big-budget). There was a vast amount of post-apocalyptic, low-budget horror films in the 80's but this is one that stands apart due to writer-director Thom Eberhardt's sharp, don't-take-it-all-too-seriously slant. Just the idea alone of two valley girls being among the small group of survivors of a world ending disaster is pretty cool. It took a familiar science fiction idea and made it somewhat original. But more importantly it was perfect for the times. Take Dawn of the Dead, mix in Valley Girl and Fast Times at Ridgemont High and you've got an excellent foundation for scares, action, drama and of course laughs.

The acting all around is very good for this type of flick and while it certainly isn't perfect, the entertaining and fun spirit of the movie make up for any flaws. It also can't be said enough that the presence of Catherine Mary Stewart definitely helps to elevate the movie. She was one of the most beautiful and under-appreciated actresses of the 80's and despite being in a few bigger movies and shows (The Last Starfighter, Nighthawks, Mischief, Weekend at Bernie's, Days of Our Lives, etc...), she just never really became the household name she seemed destined to be. Although no doubt she has plenty of fans like me. Unlike many lead actresses of the day in this genre, she was actually a very capable actress. Both she and Kelli Maroney give knock-out performances as two teenage girls just trying to cope with brain-eating zombies and the end of the world.

If curiosity about this movie has led you here, then I would pay little attention to the few negative reviews and trust the fact that the large majority of comments here are positive about this film. Maybe Night of the Comet isn't a forgotten "classic" by the normal standards, but it was certainly a cut above the typical low-budget horror/post-apocalyptic movies of the 80's and deserves to be seen by many. What it doesn't deserve is its current state of obscurity, its too-low rating on IMDb, and to not be available on DVD. That's the real shame of it all.
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Collateral (2004)
Michael Mann hits another home run
8 January 2005
By sheer force of style, Michael Mann is able to turn a basically formulaic story about a hit man riding around L.A. in a taxicab and turn it into something brilliant. I guess it should be no surprise that Collateral is yet another rock-solid motion picture from the director of Ali and The Insider. Ever since 1992's Last of The Mohicans, Mann has been on a run of consistently outstanding movies. He may have peaked with 1995's Heat (his masterpiece, in my opinion), but Collateral will certainly be remembered as another high point in his career.

Collateral tells the story of an assassin named Vincent, played with expert intensity by Tom Cruise, who commandeers a taxi driven by an Everyman good guy named Max (Jamie Foxx). What follows is a long night in Los Angeles while the reluctant Max transports his mysterious passenger around town to his various human targets. All the while, Max is trying to figure out how to get out of the situation or get the attention of the police, without getting himself or anyone else killed. The story is relatively straightforward and while there aren't really any major twists, there are definitely some surprises and unexpected moments that crop up.

Michael Mann is just one of those directors that has a very recognizable, signature look. You can tell within about five minutes that you're watching one of his movies. Collateral in just about any other Hollywood hack-director's hands would probably be forgettable. But Mann's use of music, his influence on production design (always a lot of sleek, art-deco set pieces), editing, cinematography, and just overall good choices as a director all add up to a very entertaining movie experience. In other words, he has that rare ability to make what many would call a "big-budget, Hollywood studio" film but employs methods that usually result in something even the film-school geeks and indie snobs can respect. Dare I say, art?

Anyway, setting aside all of my technical butt kissing, Collateral is just an excellent action-drama that is positively worth checking out if you haven't seen it. The tone and feel of the movie is similar to Heat, so if you liked that movie you'll like this one. The story gets going pretty quick and keeps moving forward without dragging or pausing. While there isn't an enormous amount of action, it's impressive when it happens. The scene in the dance club is one of the most immersive action sequences I've ever seen. You indeed feel like you're there. Pretty much all of the performances are terrific as well. Tom Cruise "bads up" nicely, which is no surprise, it's Tom Cruise after all. And I gained a new respect for Jamie Foxx. I've always thought he was funny and good at what he did, but clearly he has serious acting talent. Mark Ruffalo is also great in a supporting role. Bottom line: Collateral is another gripping, first-class thriller from director Michael Mann.
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Fright Night (1985)
An absolutely awesome 80's horror movie
24 June 2004
"Fright Night" has definitely earned a cult-like status over the years but I still think it's widely unseen and unsung. Man, this movie is just so under-rated. I saw it in a theater when I was 12 and at that time it scared me pretty good. But what a rush. A couple of years later it was one of those movies that you could see on HBO ten times a month, and it was at that point that I watched it several times and it became one of my all time favorite movies. Maybe it was just one of those things, where you have that certain window of time at a particular age, or a particular mood, and something registers. Whatever it was, "Fright Night" just hit me as one incredibly awesome horror flick.

Like Stephen King's "Salem's Lot" did in book form, "Fright Night" was a classic American vampire story. All of the trademark folklore was there: the creepy house, mysterious neighbors, missing local girls, crosses, garlic, holy water, wooden stakes, and a general chill in the air. Chris Sarandon was terrific as Jerry Dandrige, the modern day Dracula who moves into the house next door to high-schooler Charley Brewster (excellently played by William Ragsdale). Roddy McDowell, in one of his ultimate performances, was also perfectly-cast as Peter Vincent, the reluctant vampire killer.

The thing that made "Fright Night" different from a lot of the typical 80's horror movies was that perfect balance between horror, comedy and drama. Scary scenes all over, comedy from Ragsdale's fumbling, awkward high-school student and his best friend Ed. Drama in the night club scene, and when Charley begs a frightened Peter Vincent for help. Much like "American Werewolf in London", the other great 80's horror-comedy, this one has it all. Make no mistake, if you're the type of person that gets scared or can let yourself get scared at vampire movies, you will be. But there are sweet, tongue-in-cheek moments laced throughout the film that let you know it never takes itself too seriously. The music is killer and the make-up effects are way better, and more terrifying, than you expect.

From top to bottom this is really a very well-made film. There are just too many great things to say about "Fright Night" and almost nothing bad. If you have never seen it, you are missing out on a classic. I practically had to force the DVD on my brother, but of course he loved it when he watched it. Writer-director Tom Holland deserves a lot of praise for creating an extraordinary movie.
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They just don't make 'em like they used to
23 June 2004
"Conan the Barbarian" is one of those rare sword & sorcery movies that actually worked. It's an epic film that wasn't afraid to be graphic. It's amazing these days how many movies are big, violent, and loud, but it's all just so light. With the exception of "Braveheart" and a few others, most movies that aim to portray realistic, pre-gun action fall way short and become comic books. Not that graphic violence is something to be glorified, but if you're going to make a movie about barbarians it should have the elements that director John Milius poured into Conan.

Essentially, Conan is set apart from the other sword movies of the 80's due to its relentless, almost sadistic bloodletting. The gore, the splattering blood, gratuitous nudity, male dominance, orgies, murderous religious cults, sex slaves, belly dancers and giant snakes all made up for a fine cinematic experience. It is basically the ultimate "hunter-gatherer" film. Not necessarily celebrating all of these things, but just saying it's possible the world was just this crazy at some point in the past.

James Earl Jones' absolutely creepy performance as Thulsa Doom is a classic role. John Milius took the bombast and brutality of the source material and transferred it onto screen nicely. The musical score is also one of the most amazing you'll ever hear. From the first moments at the beginning credits with monstrous drums beating over a Nietzsche quote, it's very powerful stuff.

Arnold has always done pretty much the same thing, but he does it very well in this one. I don't know why but I've always been a fan of movies like this, even the bad ones. But Conan is definitely a good one, even great, and it's the king of all the 80's sword fantasy movies.
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Salem's Lot (2004)
Respectable, but unfortunately less than the original
22 June 2004
"Salem's Lot" has always been my favorite Stephen King book. It's an awesome classic vampire tale and is widely considered to be among the elite novels King has ever written. Unfortunately, after two attempts, there still hasn't been a great or spectacular film version of the story. I came away with mixed feelings about this new TNT version of "Salem's Lot".

Overall, I thought it was enjoyable and at times pretty creepy. But I didn't think it was as good through and through, or scary, as the original 1979 miniseries. Which always brings me back to the question about remakes: If you're not going to upgrade, why do it? It's not that I'm an "adaptation hawk" either who automatically dislikes any changes made from book to screen. Liberties were taken with the book in both movies, but here some of the differences seemed unnecessary or didn't make sense.

There are some freaky moments for sure in this "Salem's Lot" and it keeps the focus where it should be most of the time. But there was still just something off. That sense of dread and fear; of windy, foggy New England nights hiding something evil in the darkness. It just wasn't all there. And I don't know what it is but sometimes the CGI special effects these days only distract, instead of enhance the horror. The floating vampire boys outside of hazy windows in the original movie were much scarier in my humble opinion. The original also had two of the most frightening scenes ever in a horror movie: Mike Ryerson rocking in that chair in Matt Burke's house, and the morgue scene. Here, I don't think these two scenes were as high on the "scare the crap out of you" scale.

Some of the casting was off in 2004's version as well, most notably, Donald Sutherland. His performances are always hit or miss, and he struck out big time in this one. As someone said before, there's no subtle creepiness or aristocratic gloom in this version's Straker compared to James Mason's performance in 1979. Sutherland is basically just a wild-eyed, crazy old man and it minimizes a huge character in the story. Rob Lowe does a fine job as the complex Ben Mears. Andre Braugher is always good, even though the writers chose to randomly change the character of Matt Burke. And you can never go wrong with the always lovely Samantha Mathis.

If someone's never read the book or seen the 1979 movie, they'll probably like this version of "Salem's Lot" for a decent scare on a rainy night. The bottom line is, as far as this story goes neither film adaptation has been superb, although the original is definitely better than this one due to Tobe Hooper's direction. Maybe in another 20 years someone will give it another go. I've always fantasized that some talented filmmaker would one day make a 3-hour opus theatrical version (with an R rating of course) and give this classic vampire novel the treatment it deserves. I won't hold my breath, but it's a nice dream.
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Enjoyable, action-packed war epic
13 June 2004
A Bridge Too Far is an entertaining and ambitious re-telling of Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful attempt by Allied forces to capture key areas and bring about a quick end to WWII. The film is huge in its cast and scope, and the battle scenes are very well done. I can understand some of the criticisms about the lack of "drama" or character development. However, I looked at it as a dramatization of real events on a grand scale that didn't need to spend too much time on a small, focused story or set of characters. In that sense, it was very enjoyable.

All of the extras, vehicles, planes, weapons and equipment gave the movie an authentic feel. If you're a WWII buff, you'll probably love it. For everyone else, an all-star cast and gripping war-action will entertain as well.
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Farscape (1999–2003)
Science Fiction or not, truly a show to behold
8 March 2004
I was never a huge fan of the sci fi that was on TV. I caught the random episode of the original Star Trek from time to time, and there were certainly the days of Buck Rogers and Battlestar as a kid. But I never got into any of the numerous Star Trek spin-offs, or the dozens of similar series. The only Sci Fi I really watched on a regular basis as an adult was The X Files. And then came Farscape.

I only mention the "non sci-fi" nature of my viewing habits to make a point: Farscape became one of my all time favorite shows, and it speaks to how incredibly perfect, deep, complex, original, entertaining, addictive and dynamic the series was. And I didn't even give it a chance when it was actually on TV. It was only after borrowing the first 2 episodes from someone on DVD (I ended up buying the first 2 season box sets and renting the rest) that I realized what a phenomenal show it was. In what was probably a typical experience (unfortunately for the producers of the show), my casual channel surfing would lead me to bits and pieces of First Wave or Lexx. And not being impressed at all I never even got around to viewing one episode of Farscape while it was on TV, regrettably. I just figured it was mediocre like the other shows I was seeing on the Sci Fi Channel. Boy, was I ever wrong about that.

There is no need to pontificate on the excellent writing, awesome character development, top-notch acting, engaging themes, creative designs and effects, and more often than not superb music. That has already been done here better than I can do. Sure there were some familiar plot ideas, or themes, but in Sci Fi what story isn't somewhat derivative? Farscape's strength comes from its characters, and more importantly, its complicated development of them. You become attached to them in ways that don't often happen with TV series. Farscape was no run of the mill episodic television show, it was an evolutionary leap forward in many ways.

The point I want to make is to those either biased against or indifferent to Sci Fi shows on TV. If you passed this one up, as I did, you have no idea what you're missing. Going through all the seasons on DVD has been fantastic. In a way, its almost better than waiting each week for a new episode, as you're able to go through the story at your own pace. I can't say enough good things about Farscape and I look forward to the mini-series that will come out this year to wrap things up. I defy anyone with an open mind, and some appreciation for true creativity in television, to watch a few episodes on DVD and not come away with the feeling that what they've seen is one of the best shows, science fiction or otherwise, that was ever on TV.
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Armageddon (1998)
Heavy on the cheese, but still fun
8 March 2004
I'm a sucker for disaster movies. As for "Armageddon", I can see why a lot of people dislike Michael Bay films, he pretty much represents the current state of Hollywood big-budget mainstream movies. However, I like to think I'm not a "film snob" who automatically hates anything that Michael Bay does just because it is big-budget Hollywood fare. Yes, most of his movies are shallow exercises in corniness; unrealistic, garish, obvious and over the top. The style over substance argument is a valid one. But it is foolish to write off any movie strictly because of where it comes from. And sometimes they turn out to be a lot of fun, and very entertaining. Besides, disaster films just have an inherent corniness built into them, as the all time cheese-fest "Titanic" proved (James Cameron gets a free pass, he's still a genius). Truly, since the "Airport" and "Towering Inferno" movies from the 70's, isn't this really what we should expect from disaster flicks?

Probably so, and such is the case with "Armageddon", one of the ultimate hokey-but-fun disaster movies ever. I often have to remind myself to judge a movie for what it is, or more to the point what it is meant to be, not for what you want it to be. And using that logic I was able to really enjoy this movie. First of all, you have to admit it's just a fascinating subject. Yes it's been done before (no less than in the same year with "Deep Impact"), but I can never get enough asteroid/comet stories. They set up the impending doom nicely here and Billy Bob Thornton is excellent as our NASA guide to the end of time. There's very little scientific explanation of the asteroid/comet threat on screen, but they throw us enough bones to get into the story.

The problems with "Armageddon" lay mostly with the characters. Most of them are kind of annoying. But some of them are very likable (Billy Bob, Bruce, Owen and Will Patton mainly). The special effects may not have been realistic, but they're still great to look at. Lots of corny dialogue, but amazingly there are some genuinely tender moments that pull at the heartstrings as well. The kid with the toy space shuttle, that got me. They didn't really focus much on the social effects of such an event, instead opting to make it an adventure film about dudes landing on a comet. Which is fine, although some of the sequences did drag. And its hard to keep track of all the minor disasters that occur while these guys are trying to stop the big disaster. The biggest problem of all, of course, is the fact that oil-diggers would never replace astronauts on a mission like this. But again, turning part of your brain off is key to appreciating movies like this.

"Armageddon" works because it's fun escapism, that's what it's supposed to be. Not every indie film is a "gem", just as not every heavily marketed studio movie is complete crap. Big budget Hollywood still manages to pump out a decent movie now and again. And once in a while a few breakthrough and distinguish themselves from the parade of trash that the idiot studio execs green-light. If you've forgotten this or gotten too "film school cool" to remember, go back and watch "Die Hard". As for comet movies, if I had to choose, I liked "Deep Impact" a little bit more, although it had issues too. Overall, "Armageddon", despite its problems, is still worth seeing.
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The Core (2003)
For what it is, it works
6 March 2004
A lot of people seem to dislike this movie but I think they are the kind of people that go to movies just to knock 'em. These are the kind of people who read books, listen to music, and watch TV shows just to create a mental checklist of all the things that are done wrong in their own brilliant opinions. So if you follow me so far, here's my brief review of The Core.

My reactions to the various big budget disaster movies of recent years have been varied. My expectations were low going into "The Core" because the trailer, while interesting, still made the movie look like major cheese potential. But I must say I was pleasantly surprised with this movie. For what it is, which is pure popcorn escapism fun, it works. The special effects and sets are excellent, the actors are all good, and the story was not nearly as hokey as I thought it would be.

Aaron Eckhart, Hillary Swank and Stanley Tucci are all pretty respectable actors, and they give the movie the substance that it may have otherwise lacked. Yes, the cliché "hacker nerd" and military brass characters are a little old, but they don't ruin the experience. I have no idea how realistic or plausible the story is. But "The Core" is one of those entertaining movies that will take you away for a ride if you can suspend your disbelief. Thumbs up for a good effort.
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Deep Impact (1998)
A good disaster movie, but could've been better
22 February 2004
To compare "Deep Impact" with "Armageddon" is natural of course, due to their similar plots. I'm sure the makers of "Deep Impact" feel their version is the superior one due to its supposed "realism" and its wider focus of the planetary social ramifications of such an event. Indeed, it is pretty interesting to think about what governments and people would do down here on Earth in this situation. And "Deep Impact" is slightly superior in this respect, as there are a wide range of Earth-bound characters and plotlines that reflect the sense of doom this scenario presents. This was not really explored much in "Armageddon", as they chose to concentrate primarily on the mission to stop the comet.

Most of the actors do a fine job here, and its always great to see Morgan Freeman and James Cromwell work. Sure, some of the moments are a little cliche, and despite having the always reliable Robert Duvall, there's a good amount of cheesiness in the space sequences. (Not near as much as in "Armageddon" though, one of the corniest movies of all time). It seems Tea Leoni is a source of some criticism, and while I'm not her biggest fan, I thought she was more than adequate. Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski weren't given enough to do, given their talents, but both turned in good performances.

The special effects in both movies are nicely done, if not realistic. But I would've liked to have seen both films explore the science behind this phenomenon more in depth. I suppose they felt it would be too boring for the masses who want to see a bang-em-up disaster movie, but I think they underestimate the interest the public would have in learning more about how and why this can happen. In "Deep Impact", the presidential press conference was a perfect oppurtunity to do this, maybe bring in a scientist to get more technical and put things in perspective, but they basically just skimmed over it.

I really wanted to love this movie, as I was a little disappointed with "Armageddon" and find the subject of both films fascinating and scary. But unfortunately, "Deep Impact", while overall an entertaining and solid disaster movie, also falls short of the grand masterpiece this idea deserves. In other words, the ultimate "end of the world asteroid" movie still just hasn't been made yet in my humble opinion. Eventually, someone will come along and "think outside the box" and really delve into a realistic exploration of Earth Crossing Objects and the hazard they represent. And how amazing it is that in a matter of hours, the entire human race and every living thing on Earth could be wiped away without a trace.
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Taken (2002)
A few flaws, but overall an outstanding mini-series
16 December 2003
Taken is a truly ambitious and epic mini-series that basically chronicles the entire mythology of UFO's, alien abductions, and government conspiracies since the 1947 Roswell crash. It is similar in subject matter to `The X Files', but much different in that Taken focuses more on everyday people and how these incredible events affect them, as opposed to a couple of cool, calculating FBI agents.

Essentially the story focuses on three generations of three different families who are all involved with the aliens in some fashion. Separately, at first, and then events over the years lead all three of the families toward a shared fate. All of the familiar ideas are here: Abductions, crashed discs, crop circles, cover-ups, and mysterious visitors whose intentions we know very little about.

Some of the criticisms of Taken I've read are fair, in that it does seem to drag a bit in the middle episodes. The first 3 parts and the last 4 are very strong. Another criticism is aimed at some of the writing and dialogue. At times it does get a little cliché, a little forced and predictable. But at the same time, writing a 15 hour movie is no small task so it's really not surprising that you'll have some slip-ups along the way. Overall, the production values are high, music is better than adequate, and the acting in general is good. Despite its flaws, Taken is a worthwhile experience for fans of dramatic sci-fi.
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Entertaining & funny, a good sequel
15 December 2003
I'm scratching my head trying to figure out the negative comments regarding this movie. Some people take stuff way too seriously I guess. Shanghai Knights is a hilarious and entertaining movie that is pretty much perfect for anyone who is looking to sit back and take a fun ride. After all, isn't that what a movie should be? Or at least when you're in the mood for it?

I'm not looking for historical accuracies or poignant subplots when I rent a movie like this, I just want to escape my boring life for a couple of hours. And this film delivers. Owen Wilson is outrageous as he wisecracks his way in and out of side-splitting situations and tight spots. And he and Jackie Chan play perfectly off each other. As in the first movie, the comedy is nicely fitted between superb action scenes and a decent enough story. But let there be no doubt, these are comedies, and they are among the best in the last few years. I'd have to say Shanghai Knights is a bit better than the first one, through and through, but you really can't enjoy it without having seen Shanghai Noon.

As far as the action, I think many take it for granted, but all the fight scenes, Jackie Chan's work especially, are like poetry on film. There must be an enormous amount of time spent on planning this stuff, and its amazing to watch. Trust me, go and rent both of these excellent movies right now, you'll be glad you did.
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Memento (2000)
Come on people, it wasn't THAT good
12 July 2003
Before I rant on the absurdity of Memento being currently ranked #14 on the Top 250 list, I'll say what I liked about it. Yes, it was an extremely entertaining, original and well-done all around film. The acting was first rate, the story decent, and the film makers did a great job putting it all together.

However, I may be crazy, and I'm sure the "film snobs" will grit their teeth at this, but at the end of the day, isn't Memento just a gimmick? A water cooler novelty? I mean, basically they took a slightly above average plot and did something new, and granted inventive, by editing the film structure in reverse. For the most part, the movie is pretty much shown from end to beginning. Yes, they did enough to make things make sense in between, but essentially it was an exercise in "hey, let's make a movie, and then edit it so everyone will talk about that reverse movie".

I don't care what anyone says. That's the bottom line, period. I've talked with plenty of fellow movie buffs who I consider to be reasonably intelligent, and some are even the snob-types mentioned above. And none of us can figure out what all the fuss is about. Maybe we ain't that smart.

I hate to get into comparisons, because it's difficult to compare different types of movies. But be honest, if you can tell me with a straight face that Memento is an overall better film than "Apocalypse Now", "A Clockwork Orange", "Pulp Fiction", "Goodfellas", "Fight Club", "Jaws", "Chinatown", "Raiders of The Lost Ark", "American Beauty", "Silence of the Lambs" and a large chunk of the other 230 films ranked below it, than you just need to sit back, take a deep breath, reel in that massive "I'm a nonconformist art-house movie aficionado" thing and get a reality check. It was a good movie, but it wasn't that good.
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Old School (2003)
Not perfect, but a solid comedy
25 June 2003
Like many others, I heard a lot of buzz about "Old School" before it was released. Things like "it's the new animal house" or "an instant classic". Well, unfortunately that didn't turn out to be the case. However, that doesn't mean its a bad movie. In fact, I loved it and would highly recommend it.

As someone in the same age group as the main characters, perhaps I related too much, but the idea is great: Three 30-something guys who are solidly on the path of a normal, mature life (marriage, kids, real job, etc...) decide to start a fraternity and recapture their college glory days. No, there's no real reason to do this, and no, its not realistic at all.

But who cares? Anyone who has ever been to a raging college party, done a few beer bongs and whippits, screamed along with some loud music, and hooked up with a random coed can immediately relate to this film. Not to mention there really are some gut-busting funny scenes throughout. Luke Wilson is the perfect actor for the steady, reserved professional guy. Will Ferrell is hilarious of course, and Vince Vaughn does what he does so well, playing the instigator trying to help a best friend have fun again. Unfortunately one of his funniest scenes only made it to the deleted scenes section of the DVD.

Which brings me to my main gripe with this movie: what was left on the cutting room floor. The deleted scenes, which can be seen on the DVD of course, aren't just trivial sections that you can understand were cut, some of them are classic. The movie was only an hour and a half long, and for the life of me I can't figure out why the 10 minutes of deleted footage didn't remain. I think some of them really would've changed the entire feel of the movie. The last act kind of changes into this "Rushmore"-ish Wes Anderson knock off, and I think at least a few of the deleted scenes would've helped it make more sense.

Despite that, this movie ranks alongside Dumb & Dumber, Meet the Parents, Kingpin, and American Pie as one of the best comedies of the last decade or so in my humble opinion. No it's not a classic, but it will stand the test of time as a very good comedy that you'll laugh at with each replay.
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Somehow it works
13 November 2002
On the surface, a three hour dialogue-driven drama/love story might seem absurdly long. But "Meet Joe Black", in that undefinable way that some movies do, manages to deliver a satisfying experience.

The story is actually quite simple: Death himself comes calling for the latest mortal soul whose time on Earth is done, but instead decides to take a short vacation and familiarize himself with Earthly ways and human experiences.

Anthony Hopkins, the soul in question, is a wealthy media mogul who strikes a deal with Death (Brad Pitt) and plays host to his curiousities about life. While showing him around and introducing him to family and friends, Death falls in love with Hopkin's daughter (Claire Forlani).

The performances are solid all around. Despite the criticism I've seen, Brad Pitt's subtle performance was intended and I thought right on the money. I don't think Death would be quite normal walking around in something as unusual as life.

Yes, the movie is long, but surprisingly it never drags. It's just one of those three hour films that feels like an hour and a half. There are countless scenes of well-written dialogue and excellent acting that keep the modest plot moving.

I'm not surprised this movie generates mixed reviews, it seems like one of those "love it or hate it" things. But somewhere in the middle of it all, there are some truths about life that shine through. It's difficult to put your finger on all the impressions you will come away with after watching this movie, but it's certainly three hours well-spent.
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Manhunter (1986)
Excellent, A First Rate Thriller
10 June 2002
This movie seems to generate mixed reviews but I thought it was outstanding. William Peterson gives a great performance as an FBI agent lured out of retirement to help the cops find a truly creepy serial killer. Peterson just has that "All American Hero" mug, this is the classic 80's "slightly disturbed but intelligent good guy" role.

The acting throughout is solid while the tension and suspense build. Director Michael Mann ("Heat", "The Insider", "Last of The Mohicans") rarely misses the mark in my opinion, and this film is no exception. Watching the extras on the DVD, you really get a sense of how it was such a labor of love for the director, cast and crew.

I think knowing very little about this movie going into it (like the fact that it was based on Thomas Harris' book and had the original characters that would make up the monster hit "Silence of The Lambs") made me enjoy it even more. For future generations this will be a challenge since they are remaking it. For the life of me I can't figure out why they are doing it, but even if the remake falls short of expectations (as "Hannibal" did) it will no doubt be the first "Manhunter" that many see, and when they go back to view this little gem, it might lose its power.

Either way, "Manhunter" has found enough of an audience over the years to keep it out there, almost in a cult-like status. Many that I know still say its better than "Silence..." although I stop short of that. The truth is, its hard to compare the two, they are both riveting in their own ways.

Don't cheat yourself out of a fine film, be sure and check this one out if you haven't.
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Road House (1989)
Cheesy 80's Action Fun!
3 November 2001
As many have noted, no this is not a "great film" that can change the world. It's pure popcorn fun, which is just as fulfilling when you're in the mood as some moving cinematic experience is when you're in another mood.

Patrick Swayze is great in the type of character he did so well in the mid and late 80's, the tough, smart guy you don't mess with. He is a legendary bouncer sent to a club that has been over-run night after night by thugs and bad boys. Eventually he cleans the place up and gets it running great, but not without plenty of nasty, bloody bar fights and run-ins with the town villian, Ben Gazzara.

And who can forget Kelly Lynch? This is the first movie I ever saw her in and was an instant fan, she's gorgeous and if you rent it as opposed to seeing it on TNT (every weekend)...You'll get to see a "lot" of her.
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Stakeout (1987)
This movie has it all, definitely worth watching.
3 November 2001
This is one of those 80's "Cop Buddy" movies that might slip under many people's radar, but is certainly worth renting, making some pop corn, and checking out on a rainy night.

Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez are both hilarious as two cops staking out a really bad guy's (Aidan Quinn) former girlfriend (Madeleine Stowe). Madeleine has never been hard to look at, and she's beautiful in this movie, as well as turning in an impressive performance.

This movie's got action, suspense, a LOT of laughs and is perfect for the movie fan just looking to "escape" for a couple of hours and be entertained. The sequel, "Another Stakeout", was not as good I'm afraid.
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Yet another under-rated 80's classic
3 November 2001
Next to "Barfly", this is Mickey Rourke's best performance. His turn as an uncompromising, tough New York cop is unforgettable.

The story is complex and involved, and much more engaging than your average 80's cop movie. The cinematography is stylish, and the acting performances all around are outstanding, especially John Lone and Raymond J. Barry.

There's some very graphic violence and some revealing sex scenes, so not for the kiddies! (I'm sure my parents regret taking me to see this one in the theater as a teen, but I made them!)

Overall I think this movie was misunderstood and overlooked by the "award people" and critics. Michael Cimino always has a gritty way about his films and this one is no different, maybe the brutality and violence in this film turned some people off. But if you haven't seen it I would highly recommend it. I really hope this one comes out on DVD at some point!
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Real Genius (1985)
One of the all time best 80's college movies
3 November 2001
Val Kilmer is hilarious as a college genius on par with Einstein, but is more interested in partying and chasing girls. A new arrival to the campus, Mitch, is a brilliant 15 year-old whom Val takes under his wing and tries to get to loosen up and have a good time.

There are probably some important themes and ideas to analyze within this movie, but for me it's just an old-school personal favorite that I've seen about 100 times. Great 80's music soundtrack and funny performances. William Atherton is perfect as the self-important, snobby professor, and another highlight is Robert Prescott, who plays his butt-kissing, nerdy assistant "Kent".

A movie that asks the question, isn't life experience just as important for education, as classrooms and books? A very funny, fine film that is up there with "Animal House" in my opinion.
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A haunting masterpiece that will move you
3 November 2001
I remember when this movie came out I had no interest in seeing it. I thought it was a Disney kid's movie and basically forgot about it for years. About a year ago I caught it one night on cable and began to watch it. I immediately knew that I was seeing a great film, it was obvious within 5 minutes. Since I caught it in the middle and had missed the beginning, I decided to not ruin it and I turned it off with the idea of renting it the very next day, which I did.

"Never Cry Wolf" is a beautiful and breathtaking film about a biologist who travels alone to an extremely remote part of The Yukon in order to live with white wolves, and study their behavior. Charles Martin Smith, who I've always felt is an under-rated actor (see "The Untouchables" and "Starman") gives an unforgettable performance. The cinematography is spectacular, the music is superb, and the message is subtle and haunting.

One of those rare films that can easily be rewarding for adults and kids. "Never Cry Wolf" is a true classic in every sense of the word, I would give it a 10 out of 10 and I do not throw the "classic" word around lightly. Do not miss this film.
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Fantastic, A Must-See horror movie
3 November 2001
This is a great film, and one of the few movies I've ever seen that combines horror and comedy so well. There are some hilarious scenes and some truly scary moments as well. A great story, good acting, amazing special effects and some nice scenes of Merry Old England.

This movie also had some great music...who can forget Van Morrison singing "Moondance" over one of the best love scenes ever filmed?

Don't miss this one. Also, if you like this movie, "Fright Night" is another one to catch, similar funny/scary tone to that one.
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