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Suicide Squad (2016)
This is what happens when the filmmakers have zero belief in the material
The Suicide Squad was a relatively short-lived comic book series about a bunch of B-list supervillains who reluctantly agree to work for the US government. While the movie kept that basic premise, everything else about the movie is derivative and loaded with filler. Not a single original idea or concept is brought in.
The first half of the movie actually showed some promise. The appeal of the concept has always been that the supervillains were more fun than the superheroes because a) they don't play by those pesky rules of morality, b) they don't actually like each other or the people they're working for. However, the movie quickly devolves in the second half as the filmmakers try to make the characters (at least the ones they bothered to give personalities) human and sympathetic, but in the most corny and ham-fisted way possible.
The biggest problem of the movie is Will Smith. They kept calling him Deadshot, but make no mistake about it, he was playing Will Smith. I don't know if the script was written with him in mind, or if they just re-wrote the part when he was cast, but it was essentially the reluctant superhero from Hancock meets the loving father from Pursuit of Happiness meets the smug hotshot from Men In Black. His performance was so out of place that it basically ruined the movie for me.
In addition to bringing in Will Smith, the filmmakers brought in Jared Leto as the Joker, even though again, the performance and character had zero to do with the premise or the plot of the movie. Again, it's clear that the filmmakers had no confidence in the source material or concept and jammed in the Joker (and some cameos from Ben Afflec/Batman) as a cheap marketing gimmick.
Viola Davis as Amanda Waller had some good moments but was underused, as was pretty much every character other than Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was about the only redeeming quality of the movie.
The basic plot is so simplistic, I think they ripped it off from a video game.
How the movie made as much money as it did is completely baffling to me.
Mean Girls (2004)
Farcical slapstick blunts and eventually overwhelms any serious intentions
I had high hopes for Mean Girls, as I really enjoyed Freaky Friday (also starring Lindsay Lohan and directed by Mark Waters). However, Mean Girls blend of broad comedy and (somewhat) serious look at girls relationships with one another never quite works.
There are far too many obvious, tired, gratuitous "jokes" in this movie. For example, Lindsay Lohan coolly walking down the hall only to accidentally trip and fall into a garbage can. Or throwing up into her boyfriend's lap. Or having teachers have absurd discussions in front of their entire class. Or the health teacher saying "you will die if you have sex" in sex education class. Without a believable set up, the punch line (no matter how good) doesn't work, and I didn't believe 90% of the set ups in this movie.
The final act of the movie tries to tie all the nonsense into a diatribe against girls being cruel to one another, but it all feel forced and far too "feel good" to be believable either.
For a biting commentary on catty high school girls, watch "Heathers" instead. For a honest examination (with honest laughs) of high school cliques, watch "The Breakfast Club". Skip this tired, immature retread.
The Color of Money (1986)
Not quite The Hustler Part II
I watched "The Hustler" a few weeks ago and fairly enjoyed it, so I decided to rent it's sequel, "The Color of Money" and compare the two. Maybe I should put sequel in quotations, because with the exception of Paul Newman's character of 'Fast' Eddie Felson and the sport of pool, I didn't feel a strong connection between the two movies. There's 25 years between the original and this sequel but we never get much of an idea what Eddie's been doing this entire time except that he's in retirement and now owns his own pool hall.
The movie takes place over a couple of months, yet nothing particularly interesting happens that warrants us paying attention or caring for any of the characters. Eddie is prodded out of retirement so that he can groom his new protege, the obnoxious, cocky, simple-minded Vincent (Tom Cruise, apparently reprising his meathead character from "The Outsiders") to become a hustler, just like he was so many years ago. However, Vincent's over-the-top brashness grows thin after about 5 minutes and I couldn't believe for a second that Felson hadn't come across better players with more charisma in 25 years than a simpleton lightweight like Vincent. None of the main characters (Felson, Vincent, and Vincent's girlfriend) were particularly sympathetic, and the "big point" of each scene had the subtlety of a jackhammer (SCENE 10: THE HUSTLER GETS HUSTLED....SCENE 15: THE STUDENT BECOMES THE MASTER....SCENE 19: THE HUSTLER REGAINS HIS LOVE OF THE PURE SPORT).
This movie is basically just a mediocre episode of 'Fast' Eddie Felson's life, no more, no less.
Donnie Darko (2001)
"Pump Up The Volume" meets "The Outer Limits"
Overall I liked this movie and would recommend it, but I have no idea how people can consider it original. It is highly derivative of other movies and tv shows, including the two I mention in the summary line. And unfortunately, like a lot of other movies with a plot twist/secret, the revelations that come in the final act are rather disappointing and don't really tie up the movie like it leads you to believe it will, and in a way makes a lot of the movie non-sensical (as opposed to simply non-sequitor). 6/10
This movie will drill a hole & drop a bomb in your brain
Words can't really do justice to how cliche ridden, scientifically implausible, and emotionally false this movie is.
The plot is so absolutely generic (Bruce Willis' rag tag group of roughnecks are always right, the government is always wrong), why even bother going into details. If you've lived in a cave since the invention of space flight, you may be in store for some surprises. Otherwise, check your brain at the door.
Even without picking apart the factual errors, it's hard to not be distracted when the entire premise is ridiculous (you've got a meteor the size of Texas and dropping a bomb 800 ft below --- not even a quarter mile --- is supposed to obliterate it? Only if the bomb is a box of 'Armageddon' VHS tapes).
In true Titanic wanna-be fashion, the story intermittently focuses on the young love between Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck. Tyler is cute and precious, which is about all this type of roles requires. Ben Affleck is perfectly bland as the young stud. He seems like a nice guy but let's face it, he is nothing but a creation of old-school Hollywood trying to promote some working class white guy as the next hot thing, when in reality he is absolutely average in every way. Their romance is so freeze dried that violins start blaring at 11 everytime they come within a 10 foot radius of each other (that is, when Aerosmith's latest hackwork song isn't being played in the background).
Let me say that I don't require high intelligence or class in my movies, but c'mon, don't try to BS like this. The "other" disaster blockbuster released that year, "Deep Impact", at least took some time to develop sympathetic characters and show the effect that such a shocking event would have on the world. This movie is nothing but brainless rah-rah action sequences trying to beat you into submission.
Bloodfist V: Human Target (1994)
Probably the best of the Bloodfists
I took a peculiar interested in Don "The Dragon" Wilson a few years ago and sat down and rented all of his movies (although I still haven't seen Bloodfist VIII), and this is IMHO the best. OK, let's admit what we already know about the Bloodfist series: Don is not the greatest actor, the fighting is more conventional (I suppose some might say real) than in Hong Kong pics, and the plot's are pretty thin -- especially since none of the Bloodfist movies are related except that Don Wilson stars in all of them. It's just that there's something so easygoing and likeable about "the Dragon" that you keep coming back for more!
This one at least has a decent plot with some nice twists as Don must recover his memory before getting snuffed by the cops, the mob...or both! The final twist is far-fetched but fun. Overall, a solid effort.
The Rockford Files (1974)
Classic 70s television
I only qualify this show's classic status in reference to the 70s because the fashion & overall style of the show is sooooooo 70s. I was a young kid in the mid-to-late 70s (when this show was on the air) and watching it is always good for a flashback or two. It's a reminder that although 70s fashion has made a big comeback, they still managed to filter out some of the really tacky stuff (as cool as Rockford was, I doubt his plaid jackets will ever come back in style).
The Rockford Files is about Jim Rockford, a single, 40-something Private Investigator who lives in a rundown trailer house in sunny Southern California (Malibu, to be precise), drives a gold Pontiac Firebird, and has a dad he simply calls "Rocky". Rockford served in Korea (same as the real-life Garner) and did time in prison for a crime he didn't commit, although he was later pardened. Despite being sharp as a tack and tough on his feet, Rockford is forever getting himself entangled with con men, mobsters, and non-paying clients that keep him from the getting any respect.
Other recurring characters on the show include police Sgt. Dennis Becker (Rockford's close friend and seemingly the only member of the LAPD who doesn't hate his guts), Angel Martin (Rockford's former cellmate in prison & constant source of aggravation), and Beth Davenport (his attorney who frequently has to show up and bail Rockford out of jail).
The typical episode finds Rockford taking on a seemingly simple case that turns into something much bigger, or stumbling onto an unrelated mess while in the course of his regular investigations. Sometimes trouble seeks Rockford in the form of ex-cons he associated with in prison or as a PI, and as you can guess, it's never boring. Rockford routinely gets in over his head and some of his escapes tended to be a bit too Houdini-like, but James Garner's laid-back, easy charm always made sure you kept rooting for him.
Enter the Dragon (1973)
It's all about Bruce
For years I made it a point to avoid all Bruce Lee movies. As an Asian-American male growing up in white suburban America in the 70s and 80s, it made me cringe every time I saw someone do a mocking impression (which unfortunately was quite often) of the stereotypical kung fu movie, (i.e. lips moving out of synch with dubbed dialogue, loud snap sounds made when punching or kicking, old men spouting platitudes in a heavy accent). I don't think it's a stretch to say that for many Americans these silly characteristics comprised their idea of "Asian culture", which was invariably associated with one Asian-American in particular: Bruce Lee. I thought I could only be cool if I disassociated myself from this corny "kung fu culture". Of course, my mistake was believing these stereotypes without looking at the actual evidence. Finally a few years ago after immensely enjoying "Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story", I decided to sit down and actually watch Bruce Lee's movies, starting with what's generally acknowledged as his best film, "Enter the Dragon".
Now, I will admit that a lot of martial arts flicks are pretty corny by American standards, and "Enter the Dragon" is not exactly immune from this. Although the film was made in English, some characters' voices are obviously overdubbed to eliminate their accents. Most notable is during the opening dialogue Bruce Lee has with an old Shaolin priest (a scene not in the original theatrical cut, but which was restored for the 25th anniversary edition)--the priest sounds like a commercial voiceover. The dubbing for Han is much better, as the dubbing was done by a Chinese actor with a rich but very clear accent. And sure enough every punch and kick is accentuated by what sounds like someone snapping a very wet towel. But these are just the surface details and are no more absurd than many Hollywoodisms in American films. The reason this movie is a cut above the rest is Bruce Lee. Seeing a still picture of him doesn't properly express the quiet but fiery magnetism that is immediately evident the first time he's on screen. In addition to being every bit the kick-ass fighter his reputation suggests, he combines it with a philosophical and intellectual outlook on life which translates well in this film, both in words and actions. Lee attained a somewhat mythical status after dying before this film was released, but his performance leaves no doubt that he would have attained it anyway.
It wasn't until recently, when Jackie Chan flicks started making it over here on video and then in theaters, that watching martial arts flicks were considered anything more than a nerdy hobby, like playing Dungeons & Dragons or listening to Rush. It's arguable whether Bruce Lee could've done it 20 years earlier in the 70s had he continued his own brand of martial arts movies --- Chan's movies are more like self-effacing daredevil acts as opposed to Lee's philosophical fisticuffs. Instead we got a flood of inferior knock-off pictures starring Bruce Le, Li, Lei, etc. which only added fuel to the fire. Time has also brought enlightment, imho, for Americans to a more well-rounded perspective of Asian culture.
In any case, anyone interested in Bruce Lee or martial arts films in the slightest owe it to themselves to see the man himself in action, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
Smart and absolutely chilling
Like others have said, this is a great remake and a classic in its own right. I saw bits and pieces of it on TV but didn't see the entire unedited version until college. It was interesting watching it with a dozen other college-age people because we were all pretty skeptical what appeal a (seemingly) corny 70's flick would have for us, but after watching the creepy build up and final, unforgettable scene there wasn't a single person there who didn't get the chills! It's hard to classify this one as it's a suspense/sci-fi/horror movie (in that order) but by the end of the movie you'll definitely feel an uneasy knot in your stomache greater than most horror movies could ever give. For those like me who were disappointed in the grossly overhyped THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, watch this instead for a great example of how genuine creepiness and horror can be conveyed without a lot of gore, although IOTBS has its fair share of special effects, all used very effectively.
Fight Club (1999)
Another Fincher fairy tale
I've heard many people say (and seen many reviews written) that Fight Club is a classic. Mind blowing. Completely fresh. Sorry, but I just don't see it.
I'll start with the positives. Ed Norton and Brad Pitt were excellent. Pitt perfectly captures the super-cool, no attachments, nothing-to-lose attitude that so many young guys have before they get old and come back down to earth. Norton is also perfect as the uptight, frustrated yuppie bored with life's vapidity. Even Helena Bonham Carter, who I normally don't much care for, was okay in the generic girlfriend role.
Now on to the negatives. The story is just utterly preposterous. Maybe even more so than Fincher's last absurd movie, The Game. The movie really lost all believability when Fight Club turns into the cult, Project Mayhem. Although it has a nice twist ending with the Pitt/Norton dynamic, I couldn't buy that they could get legions of grown men to become such mindless, fanatical followers. Pitt's charismatic, but not nearly charismatic to cover up the fact his philosophy is tired and his idea of subversion is nothing except vandalism and petty theft. The movie has pretensions of making a statement about consumerism but I thought it made them pretty succintly with the intro where Norton describes his perfect condo, filled with things he really didn't need. Everything else is overkill. And the final big plan to blow up (I won't say what in case you haven't seen the movie yet) in order to level the world playing field is...well....pointless.
Just like The Game, Fincher takes some good parts and sews them into a tapestry of mediocrity. I give it 6 out of 10.
Hollow Man (2000)
Verhoeven lays another egg/bomb
Sooner or later Verhoeven is going to run out of Hollywood lives if he keeps churning out c**p like this, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls. Verhoeven definitely has a style and flair to his pictures but he tends to make them so stupid and emotionally distant that you're left thinking about the strings he tries to pull to get the audience to react rather than getting into (and arguably, enjoying) his movies.
First off, the script is undeniably the weakest link. The story is a collection of cliches from a thousand different sci-fi/horror films before it. Kevin Bacon plays Sebastian Crane, aka "Brilliant scientist with pretentious name", a man who is spearheading a militarily funded project (what other kind is there?) to create a human invisibility formula. Crane is an arrogant jerk with a God-complex from the get go, setting up the psycho-breakdown that eventually comes (one big problem I have with this movie -- and many movies nowadays -- is that the trailer gives away essentially the entire plot, so the audience sits there bored as the movie plods along to the inevitable third act). I assume this is to remove any doubt that the invisibility formula itself created the evil persona, instead showing that he is overwhelmed by the psychological effects(essentially, the power) that being invisible has on him (that and the love affair his co-worker/ex-girlfriend Elisabeth Shue is having with his co-worker/rival Josh Brolin behind his back, giving him the good old "mad jealousy" motivation), which is only obvious because any true fan of sci-fi (especially Michael Crichton) know that "SCIENCE IS EVIL!" and mankind is never ready for technological advances made in movies, let alone ones funded by the military (another certain recipe for catostrophe). Duh!
Of course, the fact that Bacon is such an SOB in the first place lessens any point made about the insidious effects of invisibility. Basically, his character is unsympathetic from the start, and it's hard to care what happens to the rest because the cast ranges from bland (all the stock supporting characters) to vapid (Elisabeth Shue and Josh Brolin, as the two that will inevitably have to stop Bacon).
Verhoeven tries to cover up the script holes by throwing in a lot of interesting invisibility FX and at moments it does, but then you realize the movie is still about nothing and going nowhere. I actually thought Starship Troopers was half decent as a piece of cornbally trash entertainment that shows the rah-rah hysteria of young soldiers going to war, and who can forget the classic final moment (Doogie Howser probing the big monster and announcing "He's afraid!" to a roaring crowd). This movie has no such self-deprecation. It's just a thrill-less thriller and hokey horror picture. Maybe worth a rental in order to mock it endlessly with friends, otherwise avoid at all costs.
The Shadow (1994)
A misunderstood gem
This movie got poor-to-middling reviews when it was released in 1994 but I still hold out hope that it eventually gets its proper respect in TV and Cable reruns, because it's a terrificly entertaining film. Maybe it just takes a certain frame of mind or background to enjoy this movie, but I absolutely love it and frequently go back to it when I want to see how a dark, edgy, and FUN movie is done right.
Alec Baldwin is excellent as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow. Baldwin has never achieved the commercial sucess many predicted for him and this movie perhaps shows why; Baldwin doesn't play a straight protagonist. The movie begins with Cranston as a hedonistic warlord in China and then jumps to his reformed Shadow persona is 1930's New York, and it is Baldwin's performance, which teeters between serious and funny, nice and cruel, that bridges the gap.
Russell Mulcahy and crew did an excellent job creating a 1930's-noir feel to the picture. One of my friends complained that the movie sets were "too obviously fake", I think he missed the point. They re-created the feel of a 1930's movie set, not the 1930's itself!
The movie is a bit campy at times but thankfully maintains the dark edge of the Shadow character, who has no qualms about killing or maiming his opponents (hey, this guy was a bloodthirsty killer in his previous life, you think he's going to forget how to use that power when he changes sides?). John Lone does a nice job as the Shadow's opposite number, Shiwan Khan. The supporting cast is excellent as well (Jonathon Winters, Ian McKellan, Tim Curry) with perhaps the exception of Penelope Ann Miller, whose character and performance were rather annoying, but I can live with it.
Overall I give this movie a BIG thumbs up and recommend it to anyone that enjoys fun movies. I've gotten a mixed reaction from friends I've recommended it to but I think this is the kind of movie where if you like it all, you'll love it.
Scream 3 (2000)
We can only pray this is truly the last sequel
Disappointing sequel that'll leave you scratching your head wondering why they even bothered. Wes Craven stated that he always envisioned Scream as a trilogy, but the third installment is so pointless I can't believe this is what he originally had in mind. I thought the original Scream was pretty inspired and Scream 2 enjoyable for what it was (and exploitative sequel), but I found Scream 3 to be tired, humorless, tedious...and definitely NOT scary. Once again we have a psycho killer on the loose who's obsessed with Sydney (Neve Campbell). The killer(s) seems to pop in and out of thin air with reckless abandon and slash up his (increasingly stupid) victims with ease until the inevitable final showdown with Sydney and crew. This films ostensibly explains (if that's really possibly) the origins of the Scream trilogy, but it's really just a half-baked attempt to justify the existence of 2 sequels when none were necessary. It's impossible to spoil the surprise because there is none---by now everyone knows it could be anyone, and just give them any old excuse for motivation (revenge/fame/money/etc, etc). I'm not a Kevin Williamson worshipper (I thought "I know what you did..." was fairly lame) but the third installment definitely lacked the snappy wit of the first two. There's a few good throwaway lines skewering hollywood sensibilities but for the most part the movie is fairly devoid of humor. There's plenty of scenes with characters on the run but we've already seen that about a bazillion times in the first two movies and they add nothing new. I found myself fast-forwarding just to get it over with. Thumbs down, I'l give it a 2.5 out of 10.
Road House (1989)
This is truly a B-Movie classic, and I mean that in a good way. Patrick Swayze stars as "Dalton" (any true hero only needs one name), the World's Best Bouncer (although technically he is "The Cooler"--the lead bouncer in charge of orchestrating the mayhem-control). He apparently roams the country looking for bars to clean up and stumbles into the "Double Deuce",a bar which inexplicably pulls in hundreds of patrons a night even though it's supposed to be in a small town. He proceeds to get rid of all the crooked help and turn his team of bouncers into the toughest, smoothest group around. However, it's all almost undone by the town's evil rich man (played with wicked glee by Ben Gazzarra) who wants Dalton to join the dark side...or die!
The dialogue in the movie is deliriously corny but still fun. One of Dalton's 3 rules of bouncing is "Be nice until it's time not to be nice". When one of his bouncers asks him how they'll know it's time he responds, "You won't. You are the bouncers. I am the cooler. I will let you know when it's time." Great stuff.
Kelly Lynch is good as the leggy love interest. Sam Elliot gives another great performance as Dalton's ultra-easygoing mentor. Everything in the movie has a surreal "larger and stupider than real life" quality but they pull it off. Even Gazzarra's henchman drive around in a monster truck...how can you beat that?? But they don't camp it down to the point of making it a kiddie movie. If Gazzarra were a bumbling idiot or Swayze played practical jokes to upstage the henchman it wouldn't have worked. What works is that the bad guys are bad, the good guys are good, and the alcohol plentiful. If you're ready for this kind of enjoyment, I heartily recommend watching this movie as soon as possible!
A decent comedy, just ignore the philosophy
Kevin Smith is good at writing funny dialogue and setting up silly slapstick situations; he's proved that in Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy. As complete movies, they're uneven, and that trend continues with "Dogma". There are some very funny scenes and dialogue (Jay & Silent Bob are always good for a few gags), but this comedy is a thinly veiled diatribe against organized religion, which isn't particularly original or enlightening. The plot is basically just another chase movie, with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as outcast angels bent on returning to Heaven, even if it means the end of all creation, while Linda Fiorentino and crew must stop them. Smith often bogs down the action with random rants against organized religion, but he really seems to be saying is, "All you organized religions have it wrong, God just wants you to be a good person". Of course, that organized religion is usually an attempt to define what is "good" is ignored. Anyway, as philosophy this belongs in someone's file cabinet of Religion 101 essays. As a comedy, it's OK.
The Corruptor (1999)
Formulaic but interesting
Marky Mark Wahlberg got top billing but this is really Chown Yun Fat's movie and he does a nice job carrying it. Fat is an old-time Chinatown cop who long ago compromised himself for favors from the local crime boss, and Wahlberg is the new cop assigned to his area. Fat's eccentricities enhance a fairly standard character-type (the essentially good cop who sold out his integrity -- most notably last seen in "LA Confidential") and makes you want to see him pull out of this mess.
Wahlberg got a lot of raves for his performance in "Boogie Nights" but he falls pretty flat here. His character if fairly bland and even after more of his background is revealed to show that he's not necessarily the naive patsy he first comes off as, he's never very compelling.
There's a few ultra-violent shoot-outs that seem a concession to Chow Yun Fat's work with John Woo but they don't always fit very well in the story. These Hollywood movies always show America as some urban warzone where people are gunned down by the dozen off the street, I wonder what tourists must think! The movie has a fairly predictable end but it's an above-average cop drama, if only for Chow Yun Fat's performance--this is certainly better than his first American movie, "The Replacement Killers".
Office Space (1999)
Fed up with work? Then this movie is for you.
I think enjoyment of this movie is directly proportional to the amount of frustration you feel at your office job. For anyone who's ever worked in a cubicle, there's several funny moments in the movie. I'm not sure blue-collar workers will find it nearly as funny but then again they probably wouldn't watch this movie anyway.
As someone who's only mildly annoyed with work but always ready to mock today's cubicle-drone workplace, I found OFFICE SPACE light and amusing but probably not worth more than a rental on a slow night. The main character, Peter, is utterly blank and lifeless. After he reaches an epiphany through a hypnotherapist he comes off as a zombiefied vegetable. It would've been funnier to see a character relish their "IDGAF anymore" attitude. Maybe Mike Judge wanted to make him easier to relate to, but I become frustrated with the bland characterization.
I thought they could've also spent more time skewering workplace double-speak. The movie starts off with the boss (a perfectly deadpan Gary Cole) lecturing Peter at length on the importance of cover letters on "TPS Reports", starting every sentence with "Yeah...". A funny scene, but after 4 or 5 times I wanted them to move onto something new! Instead the workplace scenes come to an abrupt halt when the disgruntled workers hatch a plan to embezzle money from the company.
If someone were to ask what I'd rate this film, I'd ask them "how do you rate your workplace, 1-4? 1=great and 4=awful?". Take that number and add it to 5. That is how I'd rate this movie from 1 to 10, depending on who's asking.
Heaven & Earth (1993)
A new perspective to the Vietnam War
As he did with his first two Vietnam films, "Platoon" and "Born on the 4th of July", Oliver Stone creates a powerful tale of the devastation of the Vietnam War. What makes this movie so unique, both from Stone's earlier work and virtually every other American movie about the Vietnam War, is that "Heaven and Earth" is told from the perspective of a Vietnamese woman. This movie is based on two books of memoirs written by Le Ly Hayslip, a Vietnamese woman who grew up in a simple farming village in central Vietnam but whose life --- and those of most Vietnamese people, we can infer --- is turned upside-down by the madness of the Vietnam War.
Strictly as a movie, this is a good but not great film. Even at almost 2 1/2 hours, the structure is a bit stilted in order to accommodate such an extensive story. The first 30 minutes are mostly voice-overs and the movie doesn't pick up steam until later, when scenes are allowed to flow for extended amounts of time and we become caught in the drama. Tommy Lee Jones gives another brutally realistic performance as a lifetime military man who can't leave the war behind. Hiep Thi Ly is okay as Le Ly Hayslip; not Tommy Lee Jones caliber acting, but she competently plays a very difficult role. I read she was an amateur actress only chosen after an extensive casting call, and I'm glad that they decided to go with an actual young Vietnamese woman instead of choosing a generic asian actress. It might not make a difference to most, but it certainly felt more "real" to me with an authentic Vietnamese-American in the main role. Oliver Stone shows his mastery of mood and camerawork as he jumps from the beauty of the Vietnam countryside, to the ravages of war, to the shocking (for Le Ly) wealth of suburban America. The movie occasionally drags but overall I'd still give it an 8 out of 10 because it's such a powerful and important addition to the cinematic depiction of the Vietnam War.
The movie also inspired me to read the 2 books ("When Heaven and Earth Changed Places" and "Child of War, Woman of Peace") it was based on. Stone had to compress many events in order to fit the run time; for example, the Tommy Lee Jones character is a fabrication based on 3 different men (and probably meshed into one man as much for the drama such an explosive character provides as for the time constraints), while her books spend extensive time on all 3 relationships. However, the dialogue for several key scenes were taken almost word for word from her books, and I thought it captured the spirit of the story remarkably well, especially for a major studio movie. I highly recommend anyone interested in the film or in the war to read these books, and I commend Oliver Stone for making a trilogy of important films not just for cinema, but for American history.
Wild Things (1998)
I think I...don't love you
I'm not averse to a good trashy thriller, but for some reason(s), WILD THINGS just didn't do it for me. The twist upon twist piled on during the last 30 minutes don't add up in any satisfying way, and the characters...well first off, I'm not a big fan of any of the 4 main actors (Bill Murray does a nice supporting job as an ambulance chasing lawyer, though). Secondly, the four characters they play are so unlikable that frankly by the end of the movie I was hoping they'd all get whacked.
I've read some compliments about the acting but personally I feel everyone except perhaps Denise Richards was miscast. Matt Dillon as a wholesome guidance counselor who may have a dark side? He normally plays the opposite and it bothered me. Sorry, but with the number of movies he's been in where's he's played a punk (especially his teen movies), I just have a hard time seeing him as a responsible adult--not necessarily his fault, but that's how I view him. Kevin Bacon plays a tough cop who makes no bones that he's also a mean sumbitch--another against-type casting, I suppose, and Bacon is OK but why get a substitute when there are many b-grade actors who can play this role more convincingly in their sleep? Richards is okay but that's because she's supposed to play a vapid dim bulb anyway, as opposed to unintentionally playing it in her other films. Neve Campbell is moderately convincing as "Swamp Trash" Susie but in a movie that prominently promoted and featured a menage a trois between Dillon, Richards, and Campbell, I would've preferred a more interesting & attractive actress.
Here's how I would've cast it: -replace Matt Dillon with...Bill Pullman or Tom Hanks (!! now that would've been worth seeing). -replace Kevin Bacon with...Ed Harris -replace Denise Richards with...well, she can stay -replace Neve Campbell with...Melissa Joan Hart (if only for the threeway...forget Sabrina, this is Hollywood, baby!)
The Negotiator (1998)
Overblown, hard to believe script
I rented this the other night based on good comments I'd read in the newsgroups. Unfortunately I discovered, along with many others that have commented here, that the movie's script is overblown, contrived, and asks for way too much suspension of disbelief.
After Jackson's partner is killed and he's framed for it, his friends and colleagues turn on him waaaay too easily. If they're going to play this angle, at least make him a loner or jerk to give some credibility to people believing the worst about him; as it is, it seems wholly contrived to simply give him an excuse to snap.
Jackson then goes off the deep end, takes several hostages. Various mayhem ensues. Accused of a crime you didn't commit? Take hostages, convince everyone you're a lunatic capable of killing in cold blood, and force people to believe you, that's the ticket! He only ends up breaking a few dozen laws by the end of the movie. The supposedly tension-packed scenes are quite predictable as the movie never for an instant makes you believe Jackson is on the edge--he's always quite clearly the protagonist of this story.
The movie's premise is reminiscent of "The Fugitive", however in that movie, the protagonist has already been convicted and is obviously desperate because everyone's given up on him; in this case, he hasn't even gone to court yet! I sensed that the film may have tried to setup an underlying theme of racism as perhaps another reason Jackson's character is betrayed by his friends and doesn't trust the courts, but perhaps it's just me. In any case, the confrontations with the police and hostages become sillier and sillier when you realize that this man is trying to prove his innocence.
Jackson and Spacey make a good duo. They should find a less absurd movie vehicle to work together in. Just for their performances, I'll give this movie a "C".
The Blue and the Gray (1982)
An epic TV mini worth remembering
I first saw this mini-series while in 5th grade history class as part of our studies on the Civil War, and I thought it was excellent. Many years later, I watched it again after finding a copy of the unabridged version (all 6+ hours of it!). I wasn't sure how it would stand the test of time (both as a 16 year old production and my own view of it, being 16 years older now) and braced myself for disappointment; however, I was very pleasantly surprised. The movie is as well done as I remembered it.
It's an engrossing movie that gives an honest, frank look at the inherent moral ambiguity of war, as well as the additional consequences of the Civil War, where "brother fought brother". Although the movie certainly takes dramatic license (the main character, a young Southerner who relocates to the north after becoming disillusioned with the cruel treatment of slaves, ends up stumbling across his staunchly pro-Confederate siblings as if they're all wandering around in the same town instead of an entire country!), you can see that the film makers took great pains to portray as many perspectives as possible, to show that each and every person involved in the war was human, with their own thoughts and feelings. I'm certainly no Civil War expert, but I thought it was a very balanced portrait. What's more amazing is that the mini rarely drags despite sometimes taking a leisurely pace during its 6 hour run-time. Although we all know how the movie with ultimately end, it keeps you interested in the lives of all the characters it introduces. I thought Stacy Keach did a particularly good job despite a few hammy lines. This mini-series should definitely be on any must-see list of war films.
interesting, yes. entertaining...maybe.
As so many have so eloquently stated, Dune is a bit of a weird mess. An intruiging mess, but a mess nonetheless. I first saw it in the theaters when I wasn't even quite a teenager and thought "cool looking but makes absolutely no sense". After 14 years and finally reading the novel, I think I can finally put the movie into perspective. I suggest anyone who's intrigued by the movie to give the book a shot, although the book is pretty long and detailed, sometimes slow read. It fills in the blanks that the movie cut out.
The movie drags at times, which is doubly bad because frankly it needed to be longer--much longer--to adequately cover the range and depth of the premise. The setup is quite nice and interesting as the strange Dune universe is slowly introduced. However, people come and go (and in many cases, die) before we really get to know them or what role they play in the story. Once Paul Atreides flees into the desert and becomes a Fremen, the movie starts to lose both its pacing and realism. The blue screen effects are quite obvious and fake looking when the worms are shown, and is it just me or is Kyle Maclachlan tied up with playground jump-rope when he drinks the Water of Life? Anyway, the climax seems a bit rushed and doesn't carry a whole lot of dramatic weight. One example: towards the end of the movie, Paul Atreides is reunited with his former mentor Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart). It is a brief but heartfelt reunion, at least I think it's supposed to be. However, we know Gurney Halleck for a grand total of about 5 minutes before he disappears and then reappears in the movie an hour later. If this movie were released now, I'd think it was because Lynch wanted Patrick Stewart to get as much screen time as possible because he's a "name" actor now, but at the time he was a nobody and all I can conclude is that much of the "backstory" was left on the cutting room floor (confirmed by many sources). The whole third act is rushed. I actually don't mind voice-overs that are used to setup or clarify scenes; however, the use of the voice-over to skim over several years of Muad'Dib's Fremen life/Jihad is rather annoying, culminating in the narrator's decleration that "as the years passed, Paul and Chani's love *grew*" (I suppose it could've been worse, this was the 80's after all. They could easily have played a Simple Minds or Tears for Fears song over the desert action montage... "Everbody Wants to Rule the Worm" :-)
Anyway, the strength of the movie is in (most of) the casting and sets/costumes. Kyle Machlachlan is perfect as the young, earnest Paul Atreides. In the book, the character is a mere teenager at the beginning of the story. I think Machlachlan was around 22 when the movie was filmed, but her certainly emoted the youthfulness needed. His parents, friends, etc. were all solidly cast as were most of the villains. I found Sting rather annoying, though. As Paul's opposite number, Feyd-Rautha is a youthful, cunning snake. Sting plays him as a juvenile delinquent, contributing to the letdown of the final showdown (it ends up coming off as a replay of the ending of "Lethal Weapon"). The entire Harkonnen family is rather disgustingly overblown and hammy, but I think that's Lynch's trademark. Even now I cringe when I come to the scene when the Baron pulls out the slave's heart plug.
The film is also interesting when you consider it as an allegory. Spice as a consciousness-raiser (can we say "LSD"? although I don't know if Herbert intended for that message, Lynch I'm not so sure...). Spice as petroleum/oil (this I'm sure was intended). I suppose that means the Baron is Saddam Hussein (jk). Some of the later books are intersting for extending the allegory (the second book, "Dune Messiah", portrays Paul as a tragic Christ-like figure...although I can't imagine that story ever getting made). Anyway, to summarize, if you watch this movie, consider it the beginning of a long, winding trip, worthy of further study and re-examination, not simply a two-hour time filler. Obviously a Lynch re-edit with (much) additional footage restored would be great (wonder if he'd consider a special edition DVD?), but as it is, it's still a trip worth taking.
A heavy-handed mess
Okay, I figure anyone reading this already knows the premise (or at least can surmise it from the oodles of comments already posted). Just to throw in my $.02, this movie is a mess. It's basically a bad episode of "Star Trek". That two 90's teenagers could enlighten a 50's sitcom town is frankly simple-minded and obvious. Unfortunately, this point is driven home again and again in the movie with the subtlety of a pile-driver. This movie has the same problem as several other movies that are intended to "satirize" tv and movie unrealities, and yet plays directly into them (e.g. Last Action Hero, The Hard Way). The characters have laughs at the absurdity of the freeze-dried 50's TV family, and yet the movie comes together EXACTLY like a freeze-dried 90's comedy-drama. The boy (Tobey Maguire) learns to express his anger (and turns to color, to show he is now an honest, self-aware, self-actualized person, I suppose) and the slutty girl (Reese Witherspoon) reads one book and suddenly...oooh! She's in color and wants to go to college! How nice and convenient! How so quaint and...Hollywood. Shouldn't throw a stone from a glass house. This movie's political agenda is blatant and silly. The biggest laugh in the whole movie isn't even intentional, when the ice-cream guy (Jeff Daniels) paints an "illegal" mural that shows nudity, kissing, and books such as "Moby Dick" with angels wings to epitomize all that is free-thinking in the world (like I said, subtle it ain't). The B&W vs. color effects are excellent, but that's the only thing in this movie that can be described as such. What could have been a reasonably funny premise is lost in the preachy, illogical screenplay and direction, which reduces the movie from being simply overlong and trite to being pretentious and calculating. Big, BIG thumbs down.
Illicit Behavior (1992)
This movie's marketed like a late-night sexploitation thriller, but it actually has a fairly serious script with a couple of gratuitous sex scenes thrown in for good measure.
Jack Scalia plays a hot-headed cop with a knack for using deadly force on the job. After shooting an apparent rapist-killer, Scalia draws the attention of internal affairs cop Robert Davi (who gets a rare opportunity to not play a heavy). Scalia becomes increasingly paranoid and unstable as Davi investigates him, and things get worse when Scalia's beautiful but troubled wife (played by Joan Severance) jumps in the mix.
Various twists and turns ensue as would be expected in a late-night thriller. However, if you're looking for a sex thriller (there seems to be a lot of them around so I don't think I'm talking to the wind...), it's pretty lame. There are a couple of scenes with Severance but it's an obvious body double. The script itself isn't too bad but overall the movie lacks the "sizzle" of a good sexploitation pic. Worthy of a look if you catch it on cable, though.
City Hall (1996)
A pretty mediocre movie, neither completely awful nor particularly gripping. John Cusack is the young, ambitious deputy mayor to Al Pacino. One of the movie's main problems is that Cusack has the lead role but his character isn't very interesting. He plays a transplanted Southerner determined to help pave the way to the White House (James Carville, anyone?) for his father-figure Mayor Pacino. A shoot-out at the beginning of the movie that leaves a cop, a felon, and a young boy dead unearths possible corruption in the courts, leading the idealistic and inquisitive Cusack on a trail that may lead back into his very own office (don't want to give anything away, but the video box says as much).
Much of the movie's two hour run-time is stuffed with chatter to show the atmosphere of the New York political scene, but ultimately it just fills like filler because there's not much of a payoff, as the scandal that is eventually unveiled is as simple as 1-2-3. Bridget Fonda has third billing but her role is a minor one (maybe 20 minutes of screen time) as the lawyer representing the dead cop's family. Mostly, she seems to be around to give Cusack a love interest and gives a pretty dull performance. Pacino alternates between being bombastic (in his supposedly charismatic moments) and just looking plain tired. Cusack is saddled with a ridiculous "Louisiana" accent that comes and goes. This is definitely not the best work of any three of these normally good actors. Overall, the movie's probably okay if it's on TV and there's nothing much else to do, otherwise it's not a real compelling watch.