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2014 - Interstellar
2013 - In a World . . .
2012 - The Dark Knight Rises
2011 - Crazy Stupid Love
2010 - Inception
2008 - The Dark Knight
2007 - Zodiac
2006 - The Prestige
2005 - Batman Begins
2004 - Hotel Rwanda
2003 - 21 Grams
2002 - City of God
2001 - Donnie Darko
2000 - Memento
1999 - Fight Club
1998 - Saving Private Ryan
1997 - The Game
1996 - Waiting for Guffman
1995 - Seven
1994 - True Lies
1993 - Schindler's List
1992 - Basic Instinct
1991 - Terminator 2
1990 - none
1989 - Always
1988 - Die Hard
1987 - Full Metal Jacket
1986 - Aliens
1985 - Witness
1984 - This is Spinal Tap
1983 - WarGames
1982 - E.T.
1981 - Raiders of the Lost Ark
1980 - The Shining
1979 - 1941
1978 - Heaven Can Wait
1977 - Star Wars (hon. mention: Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
1976 - Rocky
1975 - Jaws
1974 - The Conversation
1973 - American Graffiti
1972 - The Godfather
1971 - The French Connection
1970 - none
1969 - Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
1968 - Bullitt
1967 - The Graduate
1966 - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
1965 - The Cincinnati Kid
1964 - Dr. Strangelove
1963 - Charade
1962 - The Manchurian Candidate
1961 - Breakfast at Tiffany's
1960 - Psycho
1959 - North by Northwest
1958 - Vertigo
1957 - 12 Angry Men
1956 - The Man Who Knew Too Much
1955 - To Catch a Thief
1954 - Sabrina
1953 - Roman Holiday
1952 - Singin' in the Rain
1951 - The Lavender Hill Mob
1950 - Sunset Blvd
1949 - The Third Man
1948 - Rope
1947 - Miracle on 34th Street
1946 - It's a Wonderful Life
1945 - Spellbound
1944 - Double Indemnity
1943 - Shadow of a Doubt
1942 - Casablanca
1941 - Citizen Kane
1940 - Shop Around the Corner
1939 - The Wizard of Oz (HM: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
1938 - The Lady Vanishes
My Top Movies by Decade:
2000s: The Dark Knight
1990s: Fight Club
1980s: This Is Spinal Tap
1970s: Star Wars (1977 release version)
1960s: Dr. Strangelove
1940s: It's a Wonderful Life
1930s: Wizard of Oz
My Top Eleven Movies of All Time:
1. Star Wars (1977 release version)
2. Fight Club
6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977 release version)
7. The Game
8. Dr. Strangelove
9. Schindler's List
10. Terminator 2
11. American Graffiti
12. The French Connection
13. It's a Wonderful Life
14. This Is Spinal Tap
My Top 10 Directors (in Reverse Chronological Order of Birth):
George Lucas (for his 70s work only)
My Top Screenwriters (in no particular order):
Andrew Kevin Walker
My Top 50 (or so) Movies of All Time(in rough chronological order):
The Lady Vanishes
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The Wizard of Oz
It's a Wonderful Life
The Lavender Hill Mob
To Catch a Thief
12 Angry Men
Paths of Glory
North by Northwest
Some Like It Hot
Breakfast at Tiffany's
The Manchurian Candidate
A Hard Day's Night
The Cincinnati Kid
The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly
2001 A Space Odyssey
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The French Connection
A Clockwork Orange
The Godfather Part II
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Empire Strikes Back
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Chariots of Fire
The Road Warrior
This Is Spinal Tap
Back to the Future
Full Metal Jacket
Can't Buy Me Love
Field of Dreams
Waiting for Guffman
Saving Private Ryan
The Thomas Crown Affair
Best in Show
Requiem for a Dream
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
My Favorite Works of Fiction:
1. Tender Is the Night -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Beautiful and Damned -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. The Great Gatsby -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. Basil and Josephine -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. Pat Hobby -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
6. The Price Was High -- F. Scott Fitzgerald stories
7. The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. Fight Club -- Chuck Palahniuk
9. Casino Royale -- Ian Fleming
10. A Kiss before Dying -- Ira Levin
Favorite Books about Movies:
Skywalking -- Dale Pollock
Steven Spielberg -- Joseph McBride
Stanley Kubrick -- John Baxter
Screenwriter's Bible -- David Trottier
Writing Screenplays That Sell -- Michael Hauge
Empire Building -- Garry Jenkins
An insult to the thinking moviegoer
I have noticed a lot of critical comments on this movie come from conservatives who dislike its allegedly "liberal" message. Let me say, first off, I am very politically liberal and progressive, consider myself an environmentalist and certainly abhor racism, and I really disliked this movie.
The story is simply idiotic.
Are we supposed to believe that it is commercially viable to send a massive spaceship -- that must literally cost more than the entire world's 2010 GDP to develop, build, and operate -- on a 12-year round-trip mission to Pandora just to bring back "unobtanium"? How does "the corporation" know there will be a market for it when they bring it back? If humanity has developed the technology to efficiently power a huge manned spacecraft over light-years nearly at the speed of light, then something tells me humanity can solve its energy problems (or whatever else it may be) without "unobtanium."
The whole Avatar concept is underdeveloped and compares unfavorably with the similar concepts in the Matrix. Why is it that an "avatar" made of a mixture of human and Navi DNA is still an exact physical duplicate of the Navi? Shouldn't it look like a weird hybrid like the creature in "Splice"? How is it that the avatars cannot think or act for themselves? Aren't they living creatures? Don't they have their own brains? If not, how can they stay alive?
Are we supposed to believe that this alien species on Pandora just happens to be close enough physically to humans that we can find them sexually attractive (as Jake does Neytiri)? The Navi just happen to have two eyes, and a nose, and a mouth with teeth like ours, and ears, and hair, and breasts, and legs, feet with toes, etc. etc. They are physically capable of speaking English, amazingly enough. Despite being aliens from another planet, they are far more similar to humans than our closest ape relatives on earth. And of course they all have washboard tummies and the woman have breasts just covered by their necklaces.
Does the Navi society have to be a mishmash of every stereotype white Americans have about African/aboriginal/Native American culture? Do they have to be shown apologizing to animals they hunt and kill? (Does it really matter to a creature if you apologize to it after killing it?) Do the actors portraying the Navi tribes people have to all be of either African or American Indian descent? Do they have to speak English with either "African" or "Indian" accents and inflections? Does the tribe have to have a male "king" and a female "spiritual leader"? Does Jake's love interest have to be a "princess"? Does he have to be confronted by an angry "warrior" rival for her affections, who he ultimately wins over? Does the tribe really have to worship a big tree? Does the tree really have to be on top of the biggest cache of "unobtanium" on the planet?
Are we really expected to believe that if the military decided to declare all out war on the Navi that it would lose? That spears and animals could defeat humans who had the technology portrayed in this movie?
Avatar is an insult to the thinking moviegoer, even more than Titanic was. Most of these logical flaws could be overlooked if it didn't take itself so seriously. That was the saving grace of the original 1977 Star Wars -- it took itself just seriously enough, but was able to wink at itself too. And it had a lot of wit and humor, which are sorely lacking in Avatar. James Cameron clearly believes that Avatar is the greatest movie ever made. He might not admit it in interviews, but it is painfully obvious he thinks so.
He could hardly be more wrong.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Possibly the most overrated movie ever made . . .
. . . by the most overrated filmmakers ever.
"No Country for Old Men" shares with other wildly overrated movies, like "Pulp Fiction" or "Collateral," a ludicrous setting in which criminals engage in wild shootouts and murder sprees lasting for days and days without any noticeable effort on the part of law enforcement to put a stop to it. NCFOM takes place in an alternate universe where an insane madman can travel across Texas murdering several people a day without the slightest hint of the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals, Texas Rangers, or any other authorities lifting a finger to stop him. The only cop who seems to be on his trail is an aging small town sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones who doesn't actually try to catch him but just passing amiably through life making philosophical reflections on evil.
This movie has no interesting or sympathetic characters. Our supposed "hero" only gets in trouble because he commits an unbelievably stupid and selfish act -- stealing $2 million in cash from a drug deal gone wrong in which several people have already been murdered. Does he think no one will come after him? Then he compounds his idiocy by returning to the scene of the crime. Why should we care what happens to him after this beginning? He has what appears to be a very nice, likable girlfriend, whose life (along with his own) he endangers -- for what? Some blood/drug money that if the drug dealers don't kill him for taking, the cops will bust him for spending. Stupid. Besides which, the character has no backstory, no interesting qualities. He is a cipher.
The character of "Chigurh," over which all the critics are having such orgasms, might as well be an extraterrestrial, he bears so little relationship to actual human life. He appears to be in his late thirties -- killing people at a rate of two or three a day, as he does in this film, he must have murdered close to 10,000 in his adult life, without ever being apprehended. This man is almost on a par with Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot, except instead of killing people en masse as they did (using subordinates, secret police, and soldiers to do the dirty work), he appears to do every killing himself, many of them with some kind of oxygen tank (how clever, and how convenient it must be to lug around an oxygen tank to kill people with instead of, say, a handgun). And there is no FBI team on his tail, no worldwide manhunt to catch the biggest serial killer of all time. It's funny how many "professional assassins" there are in movies like this (and "Pulp Fiction" and "Collateral") and how few there seem to be in real life.
The plot of this movie is so unbelievably trite, clichéd, and hackneyed that it is simply boring. Of course, a trite story can still make a great movie if it is well done. But the Coen brothers are far above actually putting in the effort to make their story work effectively on a nuts and bolts level. For instance, why bother to show the ultimate confrontation between the hero and villain? Why would the audience care about that? On some level, the Coen brothers must be laughing at all the sycophantic critics falling all over themselves to heap orgasmic praise on this joke of a movie. This film, and its ecstatic critical reception, represents the ultimate elevation of style over substance -- the appearance of meaning over actual meaning, quirkiness and moodiness for its own sake rather than in the service of a genuinely engaging story and characters.
This may be the single worst movie ever made. And I have seen some real clunkers. The fall of George Lucas is utterly stunning. This man co-wrote and directed two of the greatest movies of all time -- American Graffiti and the original 1977 Star Wars. But that was three decades ago and he has spent way too much time isolated from anyone who can say no to him.
To begin with the entire "prequel trilogy" is doomed from the start because the ending of the story is already known. Anyone who saw the original movies knows that Anakin Skywalker turns to the dark side, becomes Darth Vader, Palpatine/Emperor's right-hand man. We know that Vader's children were Luke and Leia, that their mother died in childbirth, that Obi-Wan Kenobi went into exile on Tatooine, etc., etc.
For any movie, whether comedy, drama, thriller, sci-fi, to generate interest, it must first and foremost make the audience wonder how the story is going to turn out. That is impossible here. We all know exactly how the story is going to turn out. We know nothing more at the end of the prequel trilogy than we did at the beginning. All Lucas did was raise lots of continuity problems due to inconsistencies with the original trilogy.
Visually, the movie is unwatchable. This is CGI pornography. The battles are incoherent chaos. When the jedi and Sith flop and leap around in fights they look like characters in a video game, which is what in effect they are.
On top of that, this movie has the absolute worst dialogue and acting I have ever seen in a studio production. The actors themselves are not bad actors -- we have all seen McGregor, Jackson, Portman, Smits, etc., give good performances elsewhere. They simply have nothing to work with. There is not a scrap of human interest anywhere in this movie. The level of acting and dialogue here is far below that of a daytime soap opera.
This movie is an utter embarrassment and a desecration of everything George Lucas once stood for and accomplished. It is a crime that Lucas had over $100 million to spend on this abomination when there are so many talented aspiring filmmakers in the world who could create gripping, memorable films for 1/100th of the price, but will never get the chance.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
an unusual take on war
I first saw "Full Metal Jacket" in the summer of 1987, when I was 17 and the name Stanley Kubrick meant little to me. The Parris Island sequence absolutely stunned me, but I felt the Vietnam portion of the movie was a real let-down. I compared it unfavorably with "Platoon," which I had seen perhaps 5-6 months earlier.
In the years since, I have returned to FMJ a number of times and had varying impressions of it. Certainly the boot camp sequence retains its tremendous power; Lee Ermey's portrayal of Drill Instructor Hartman has to be one of the most memorable supporting roles in movie history. Still, I feel the characters in this section are undeveloped. The implication is clear that Pvt. Pyle goes insane after (and presumably because of) the blanket party -- but would that event, traumatic as it was, be enough to turn a seemingly simple, lovable soul into a homicidal maniac? Pyle's transformation is way too neat, too clear -- one minute he's a simpleton who can't do anything right, the next he's the perfect Marine and a deranged killer. If this result could occur so easily, Hartman never would have survived the many years he had obviously spent as a D.I.
I think there is a fundamental structural flaw in building the movie up to a powerful dramatic climax 45 minutes in, then completely abandoning it and starting all over as if the climax had never occurred. Neither Private Pyle nor Sgt. Hartman is ever mentioned again after the movie leaves Parris Island, and Pvt. Joker -- our ostensible protagonist -- shows not the slightest hint of having been affected by the traumatic events he witnessed in boot camp. I was very surprised to learn recently, from Matthew Modine's newly published "Full Metal Jacket Diary," that Kubrick shot the Vietnam portion of the movie (or most of it, anyway) first, and the Parris Island portion second. I think it would have been much wiser to do it the other way around; then the experience of the Parris Island scenes might have informed the performances of Modine and Arliss Howard, the two actors who bridge both sequences. I'm sure Kubrick intended there to be a jarring contrast between the horror at the end of the Parris Island sequence and the careless insouciance of Joker in Vietnam, but still there should have been some hint that what came before had resonated.
Reading Modine's FMJ Diary was a shock because of the intelligence and insight with which it was written -- qualities that do not come through in his performance in this movie. Modine seems to find the wrong note in almost every scene. This is probably the fault of Kubrick, who seemed to seek the off-key and strange from his actors. Is it really plausible that Joker would mouth some John Wayne impression within the first few seconds of Hartman's Parris Island abuse? (The Wayne impressions get very tiresome.) I think Joker is supposed to seem intelligent and wry but he just comes across as a pain in the neck. Why is he so insubordinate to his commanding officer at Stars and Stripes? Why is he so eager to get "in the s***"? His character just doesn't ring true. This is disappointing because several other actors -- Ermey and D'Onofrio, and Adam Baldwin as "Animal Mother" -- give outstanding performances.
The final battle with the sniper is brilliantly staged. Kubrick's daughter (under a stage name) provided a haunting electronic score. Visually the film is impressive, with Kubrick using many long, evocative tracking shots (such as of Hartman pacing up and down in front of his recruits as he screams at them). One particularly remarkable tracking shot -- evidently done by Steadicam -- follows an attacking Marine platoon entering the city of Hue for nearly a full minute. On the other hand, Kubrick uses a dolly in or out only once or twice in the whole movie (even in 1987, when the zoom had become very outdated, he used zoom shots more than dollying in or out). He seems to have loved tracking along with the action, retaining always the same distance and perspective on it, but unlike Spielberg or Hitchcock, he did not have the taste for using the dolly in to focus or dramatize the audience's perspective. (One notable exception is a very slow dolly in on a circular entrance to some kind of ruined temple when Joker and Rafterman first meet the Lusthog squad.) Certainly this is a fascinating, thought-provoking movie. The lack of an engaging central character, however, as well as the return to square one after the high drama at Parris Island, blunts its emotional effect.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
as beautiful and boring as an actual space flight
2001 opens with perhaps the most impressive title sequence ever filmed. Notably, only one person is credited at the opening -- you guessed it, Stanley Kubrick. The use of Thus Spoke Zarathustra is brilliant and really impressive -- one of the iconic moments in film history. No one will ever forget that sequence.
Then comes the Dawn of Man. The apes were clearly mimes in costume. Still, Kubrick and his crew did an excellent job of somehow back- or front- projecting the African vistas into these scenes. The God-like intervention of the monolith in human evolution is the entire concept of the story, and I found it most effective in this opening sequence. The use of Ligeti's musique concrete is very effective here.
Then comes the space travel to the orbiting station and the moon. This is a little slow, but the effects here were very beautifully done. I love the shot where you see the shuttle "falling" through the void of space toward the station. I don't believe these effects have ever been improved upon -- or ever will be.
I must say, though, that I find it very irritating when filmmakers greatly overestimate the amount of technological advancement that will occur in the near future. It was obvious to anyone in 1968 that almost none of what is presented in this film was going to exist in 2001, much less in 2101. Massive orbiting space stations, huge moon bases, commercial space travel? Come on. Similarly, LA will not have 500-story skyscrapers and flying police vehicles in 2019 (Blade Runner), nor will we have cars driving on vertical highways in 2054 (Minority Report). These ridiculous predictions are even more irritating in the so-called "hard" science fiction movies like 2001, where Kubrick so obviously and pompously believed he was being scientifically accurate to the last detail.
The character of Dr. Floyd (and his fellow scientists on the moon) is almost unbelievably dull and uninteresting (while seeming smug at the same time). Still, there is some real mystery and suspense as they investigate the monolith on the moon.
Then we cut to the Discovery mission to Jupiter. The centrifuge is possibly the most remarkable set ever used in a film, and Kubrick filmed it remarkably. The background on the mission is conveyed in the most pedestrian way possible -- the astronauts listen to an interview they gave to the BBC. Then, suddenly a story that, while slow, has been focused on an interesting subject (discovering the purpose and meanings of the monoliths) gets hijacked by an incredibly tedious and drawn-out conflict between the astronauts and HAL the computer. Basically, HAL the supposedly perfect computer malfunctions and becomes homicidal for no conceivable reason and the two astronauts act incredibly slowly, moronically, and emotionlessly to try to stop him. The space walk/pod sequences are so ludicrously drawn out (and totally lacking in the visual beauty of many of the earlier effects sequences) that I had to fast forward through them. Hal locks Dave out of the ship, but he manages to get back in pretty easily (and why exactly did he not put his helmet on before going out in the pod in the first place?) This extreme detour into the HAL conflict (which I realize many people find the ONLY interesting part of the movie) kills most of the suspense and interest. Then comes the absurd Stargate sequence, the only effects in the movie that are really dated. The "slitscan" stuff looks like your average screensaver, and the rest is obviously landscapes from the Southwestern U.S. exposed with extreme purple and orange tints. The transformation of Dave into some mammoth, space-traveling fetus at the end is perhaps the most unintentionally funny thing I have ever seen in a movie.
This is the only movie that Kubrick ever made that was not based on a previously published novel. Arthur C. Clarke's brief, almost plot less short story "The Sentinel" was the basis for this movie, and clearly not enough effort was made to develop the script here into more than a mere concept.
George Lucas's first movie, THX 1138 (1971), was a similarly plot less, atmospheric sci-fi movie based on little more than a concept. After the failure of THX, Lucas set out to tell a warm, human story, and succeeded wildly with the low-budget classic American Graffiti. Then he had the best idea in movie history -- to take the brilliant special effects Kubrick had pioneered with 2001 and use them as part of a human adventure story with suspense, humor, and action. The result was of course Star Wars (1977), a movie you didn't have to be lying in the aisle stoned out of your mind to enjoy.
Panic Room (2002)
An outstanding, intelligent thriller
"Panic Room" is based on a spec screenplay written by powerhouse writer (and sometimes director) David Koepp. Finished in early 2000, the script was reportedly purchased for the astronomical sum of $4 million, which is a little less surprising when you consider some of Koepp's credits (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, the Lost World). The script is available to read on line. To me, the spec script comes across as a moderately interesting concept, reasonably well-executed --unlikely to set the world on fire.
For whatever reason, David Fincher decided to follow his mind-blowing masterpiece "Fight Club" by directing "Panic Room." Based on the script alone, I had low expectations for the movie. But I should have known to have more faith in Fincher. His greatest brilliance lies in cinematography (lighting and framing shots, camera movement and placement) and editing, and those aspects of course cannot be captured on paper. Fincher has taken the opportunity with this movie to go hog-wild with interesting camera angles and movements that greatly enliven the fairly mundane story and make this movie a feast for the eyes.
In particular, Fincher showed with this film and Fight Club that he has a far different concept of the use of CGI than most current Hollywood directors. He uses it not to create "special effects" as much as "camera effects" -- not to create things (explosions, spaceships, monsters or creatures) that don't really exist in life but rather to show us things that do really exist but an ordinary camera could not possibly capture (such as the inside of a keyhole, a flashlight, a four-inch ventilation pipe). In this movie the camera moves in ways I have never seen before, peering around impossibly narrow doorway openings, moving between the rails of a banister, dropping down a three story staircase in seconds, moving through the handle of a coffee maker. Remember the shot in Hitchcock's "Notorious," where the camera started atop a grand staircase and gradually craned down to a close-up on a key clutched in Ingrid Bergman's hand on the floor below? That shot is legendary in film history. Well, this movie has at least a dozen, probably far more, shots like that, all realized through the utterly seamless use of digital effects technology.
It's not only through technical means, however, that Fincher has enhanced Koepp's script. The movie is exceedingly well-cast and acted, with Forest Whitaker, Jodie Foster, and Dwight Yoakam all giving excellent performances. Kristen Stewart is solid and believable as the daughter. Jared Leto is at times annoying and over-the-top, but his character is meant to be so. Subtle shadings and nuances have enhanced the script at every turn, deepening the characters, sharpening the action, and improving the sometimes shaky logic of the situation.
It is in the third act (the last half-hour or so) that the film most widely deviates from Koepp's original blueprint, and it is this part of the movie that is most gripping and remarkable. Visually Fincher seems to be channeling Kubrick (as well as Hitchcock) for much of the final act, with some very strong echoes of "The Shining" (and a few frames that strongly recall "Dial M for Murder"). Of course Fincher's haunting, powerhouse visual style, while evocative of Kubrick and Hitchcock, is all his own, and it achieves maximum effect in these scenes.
The final five minutes of the movie display a stunning level of moral and emotional ambiguity, particularly involving Forest Whitaker's character. "Panic Room"s most obvious antecedent in movie history is probably "Rear Window." Unlike "Rear Window," the basic story of "Panic Room" has no deeper resonance beyond the thrills of the moment. On the other hand, however, the resolution of "Rear Window" (IMO, at least) has little resonance, other than to tie up the story. The ending of "Panic Room," on the other hand, is fascinatingly open-ended, and left me tantalizingly uncertain as to what to feel. It was just a great, great ending.
Howard Shore's score is outstanding, and the technical credits, as usual in a Fincher film, are excellent across the board. As always, Fincher has gotten the most out of everyone, from the supporting members and all of the crew.
The best thriller ever made
Se7en is a very complex and deep movie, while also being quite disturbing. Andrew Kevin Walker created one of the most original spec screenplays of all time, but it is the kind of story traditionally used more as a writing sample than actually made into a movie. But the creative team of director David Fincher believed in this extremely dark, uncompromising story, and made it just the way Walker wrote it.
The story revolves around two extremely well-drawn characters, David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman). In one sense their relationship is the ultimate cliché -- the old veteran cop paired up with the brash rookie (though Mills is not actually a rookie, just new to the unnamed city where the movie takes place). But the contrast between these two characters is played out not for laughs or cheap drama but as the real working out of a moral question. Somerset, the lonely, cynical older detective, cares about people but has seen too much of the dark side of life to have much hope for society. Mills is not as intelligent as Somerset (kudos to Pitt for being willing to play a character that frequently looks foolish), and he lives by a simplistic belief in the power of law enforcement to change the world.
Throughout the movie, the two characters struggle with this conflict -- is human society basically rotten, and can one person do anything to make a difference? Somerset, an intelligent, well-read man, is smart enough to recognize the truth, however painful that is. Mills is the kind of person who has never truly questioned the simple "values" he was raised with. Somerset tries to educate him, tries to warn him, but ultimately fails.
In the end, it is only John Doe, the serial killer, who can teach Mills (and by extension the audience) the truth -- that this world is very often shockingly vicious and senselessly cruel. Doe and Somerset actually have similar views of society and the world, up to a point. But while Somerset still cares about his fellow human beings, Doe hates them, and takes out his rage in a series of gruesome murders based on the seven deadly sins.
This movie is about the investigation Mills and Somerset undertake of Doe's murders, his "sermon" to the world through serial killing. Ultimately, Mills and Somerset can only do so much to try to stop Doe; the killer always seems at least one step ahead of them, and stays that way until the very end of the movie. In a normal Hollywood film, Mills and Somerset would "win" in the end by catching Doe and setting the world right again. But Andy Walker had a quite different ending in mind, and Fincher and his team take the shocking conclusion all the way to the limit of tension and drama.
This movie, like Fincher's "Fight Club," was controversial for being violent and gruesome. Certainly there are a number of gruesome and disturbing images of murder victims' bodies, and many aspects of the story are very troubling, to say the least. But only one person is shown being killed on screen, and by far the worst of what happens in this story happens in the viewer's imagination. Unlike most films that have high levels of violence -- including, for example, Reservoir Dogs or Silence of the Lambs -- this movie genuinely attempts to grapple with the moral implications of what is being shown on screen. In direct contrast with, say Quentin Tarantino, who uses extreme violence for shock effect and to gain notoriety, Fincher actually shows less violence on screen and raises far more probing moral questions in the viewer's mind. I cannot think of any movie that contains as much genuine debate and discussion among the characters about crime and human morality as this one does -- while never becoming dull or preachy for a moment.
I cannot finish this review without a word about Mr. Fincher's extraordinary visual talents. This is a man who ranks with the top handful of directors of all time in his knowledge and grasp of film-making technique. Everything from set design to lighting, selection of film stock and processing techniques, camera movement, frame composition, and editing work together to create an entirely new level of visual brilliance. Fincher's use of technique brings to mind nothing more than the work of Steven Spielberg in the 1970s, the last time a director this extraordinary burst onto the Hollywood scene. A whole generation has passed since then, and there is a new wave of techniques and tools available to the filmmaker of the nineties. Fincher uses every one of these tools to their utmost. The technical work and supporting actors are uniformly superb. This is a movie that works on every level. Andy Walker, having written a mind-blowing screenplay, must have been stunned when he saw the finished film. This movie will rock you to the core.
The Game (1997)
John, chapter nine, verse twenty-five
"The Game," much like "Se7en," "Fight Club," and "Panic Room," is both an extraordinarily well-crafted and extremely thought-provoking movie. Like "Se7en" and "Fight Club," "The Game" contains a shocking twist near the end that forces you to reevaluate the entire movie. Many viewers don't like the twist (as can be seen from some of the comments here), contending that it makes the whole film a waste of time. They may have a point, but I can't say I agree with them. In a way, "The Game" is a descendant of "The Wizard of Oz" and "A Christmas Carol" in that what happens is essentially a dream that is still important though none of it really "happened," because of how the dream affects the main character.
"The Game" began life as a spec script that reputedly floated around Hollywood for years, well-respected as a piece of work but considered unfilmable. Enter David Fincher, who has made a career of filming the difficult, the outrageous, and the provocative.
Michael Douglas gives a brilliant performance as Nicholas Van Orton. In a way, this seems to be the role he was born to play. Only Gordon Gekko rivals this character in Douglas's career. Part of the problem with Douglas is that you tend to get the same performance, the same persona every time out, and Nicholas is almost type-casting. But this movie asks Douglas to go a little farther than I've ever seen him go. He finds real levels of panic and desperation in his performance here that are fascinating coming from such a normally controlled actor.
This movie is basically about the humiliation and degradation of Nicholas Van Orton, breaking him down and stripping him to nothing in order that he can build again from a solid foundation. As a result, although the movie for the most part plays very seriously as a tense thriller, on repeat viewings one can perceive a wicked streak of black humor running through almost every scene. Many of Douglas's moments in the film are extremely, though subtly, humorous -- such as when he's talking to the two "new members" at his club about the game; he perfectly conveys both the fear of embarrassment and secret interest that Nicholas is feeling. Or the look on his face as the runaway taxi is about to crash into the bay (with him in it), or when machine gun fire suddenly rakes the window behind him at "Christine's" apartment.
The things CRS does to Nicholas are both hilarious and disturbing. He is very much a Scrooge character at the beginning of the movie -- cold and isolated, mean and unhappy. One set piece after another humiliates, unnerves, and ultimately terrifies him, until he has no control left over what used to be his life, and finally he can take action with no thought for consequences.
Perhaps what is most disappointing about the ending for many viewers is that Nicholas ultimately "loses" the game -- CRS drives him to commit suicide (or so he believes), and he only survives because they have arranged for him to survive. In a strong parallel to "Se7en," the protagonists in both movies remain at the mercy of their antagonists (John Doe and CRS) until the bitter end, after the point at which, in an ordinary Hollywood movie, they would have successfully fought back and regained control. Ultimately, what CRS does to Nicholas is destroy his life, take everything from him, make him think he killed his own brother, and then -- give it all back to him. In the process, he does learn to be more engaged, learns that money is not what really matters in life.
It's a hard movie to get a handle on, and that's what I love about it. One aspect I'm not crazy about is that only a very rich person could afford the "benefits" of the game. But maybe a less expensive "game" could be tailored for a less wealthy person. And besides, part of the point seems to be that Nicholas was such a jerk at the beginning, he deserved to be treated this way. And maybe all wealthy corporate titans like Nicholas deserve to find out what it's like to lose everything.
As usual, in this movie Fincher moves the camera (and the objects and people being filmed) with the grace and kinetic energy of the young Spielberg, composes the frame with the beauty and attention to detail of Kubrick, and stages action and generates gut-wrenching suspense like Jimmy Cameron. Fincher's movies are always pervaded with a deep, penetrating intelligence. Everything here is thought out to the finest detail, and all aspects of the production, from sets to costumes to music to (of course) cinematography and editing are flawless. The supporting performances (and everyone here other than Douglas is really in a supporting role) are all outstanding.
a revised impression
I have seen Star Wars probably 35-40 times and Empire about 20 but had never watched them back to back (on consecutive nights) until the new DVD versions came out. Put me in the camp of those who feel the added digital effects are a desecration; I want to see the movies the way they were released originally. I simply tried to ignore the alterations and was successful for the most part. It certainly is nice to see these films in widescreen, with outstanding picture and sound quality.
I felt the same way after seeing Star Wars again that I have since 1977: it is the greatest achievement in the history of movies. To my surprise, however, when I watched Empire the next night, I was disappointed. It is a very well-directed, well-polished movie, but to my mind, it lacks the visual, graphic brilliance that helped make the original so extraordinary. Star Wars and American Graffiti, the two masterpieces George Lucas directed in his youth, both have an incredible, unmatched look. Lucas didn't move the camera much, but he made up for it with the amazing, jukebox-like style of what he photographed with it. Empire lacks that quality.
***SPOIILERS AHEAD*** Star Wars was really a perfect story that ended with what is still the greatest action sequence ever (the Death Star battle) followed by the ultimate coda (the Throne Room scene). Watching Empire right afterward was a little jarring. Suddenly, without warning, we learn that despite destroying "the ultimate power" in the universe, the rebels have gained no advantage, and they're on the run, stuck hiding on a miserable little ice planet with a single, tiny base. Wouldn't more fighters, more systems have joined the Alliance after the destruction of the Death Star? How did the rebels go from ultimate victory to being nearly crushed so quickly?
Another major shock to me -- and probably the biggest weakness of Empire -- was the change in the relationships of the three main characters. In Star Wars, from the moment Luke first saw Leia, he was in love with her ("who is she? she's beautiful") -- so much so that he stood dumbstruck when he first entered her cell on the Death Star. There were strong hints that Leia reciprocated -- she kissed him (half on the cheek, half on the lips) twice, looked very nervous when he seemed dead in the final battle, and certainly Luke was in puppy-love with her the entire film. Now, all of a sudden, in Empire, Luke and Leia are on-screen together for about three minutes total, and there is no hint of Luke's love for her. Without explanation, now it's all about Han and Leia, who despite no hint of attraction in Star Wars are suddenly are madly in love. I suspect there are three main reasons for this:
1. Unlike Fisher and Hamill, Harrison Ford was not signed up for sequels. He only agreed to come back on condition that his character was developed from the wisecracking, cynical sidekick into the wisecracking, cynical, romantic hero lead. This gave his career a great boost, but in my opinion totally undercut the character of Luke Skywalker, who should have been the emotional focus of the movie (as he was in Star Wars).
2. Mark Hamill's disfiguring car accident in December 1976 (after completion of principal photography on Star Wars) made it easier to turn his character into a monk-like, asexual person (the process that started in Empire and finished in Jedi). In Star Wars Hamill was a handsome, though callow, screen presence. But after the accident (despite plastic surgery), he just didn't look good. It hampered his performance and basically destroyed his capacity to play a romantic lead.
3. To the extent that Lucas planned to have Leia be Luke's sister (a terrible decision that I suspect was not made until after the release of Empire), they obviously could not be romantically involved. However, their "incestuous" love for each other is all over Star Wars. I think the decision to make Leia and Luke siblings only came after the radical character revisions in Empire eliminated any romantic feelings between Luke and Leia and turned Luke into a boring monk.
Indeed, Empire's greatest weakness is that it's too heavy. The "dark side of the force" was only briefly discussed in Star Wars, but here it's played up to an extent that the concept just can't support. Yoda says that "fear, anger, hatred" lead to the dark side, but how exactly is a human being supposed to avoid these emotions? The Force was fleshed out just the right amount (i.e., not too much) in Star Wars, but here it is revealed not to make a whole lot of sense. There's way too much "good vs. evil" that's no longer presented in a fun style in Empire. It's taken too seriously, which reminds me of the Lord of the Rings movies -- not a good thing.
too much of a "good" thing
I have to say, up front, that I really liked Fellowship of the Ring a lot. But that movie was three hours long, as is Two Towers. Return of the King is three and a half hours. I understand Peter Jackson considers this to be "one" movie broken up into three parts -- that is, one nine and a half (or eleven, with the extended "special" editions) hour movie. That is simply excessive, IMHO. Anytime a movie goes much over two hours it better be for a very, very good reason. When you start talking about a three hour sequel to a three hour original movie, you've got problems -- I don't care how good the original was. Maybe Godfathers 1 and 2 are the exception. But FOTR and TTT are not that good.
FOTR had a more captivating story line. It was about a small band of brothers on a difficult and daring quest -- to destroy the dangerous ring of power. TTT doesn't have as good of a story line. There is a fundamental problem from the start. It makes no sense that Frodo and Sam would be left to go to Mordor on their own. Why would all three of the fellowship's best warriors -- Aragon, Legolas, and Gimli -- go off to save Pippin and Merry, and not one of them stay with Frodo and Sam? This makes NO SENSE, and the fact that Tolkien wrote it that way is no excuse. Isn't the destruction of the ring more important, in the scheme of things, than saving Merry and Pippin? Why not send at least Aragorn with Frodo and Sam -- or send Aragorn alone after Merry and Pippin and send Legolas and Gimli with Frodo and Sam? What on earth were Frodo and Sam supposed to do when they got to Mordor on their own?
Where FOTR was a story about a quest, a mission, TTT quickly becomes a tiresome story about a "war" between "good" and "evil." There are so many endless, repetitious, humorless pronouncements in this movie about the stakes of this battle that the theme gets very old very quickly. If I had been the editor I would have excised every line by Theoden, Aragorn, Treebeard, Sam, et al. about all that nonsense, cut the movie down to two hours and made it almost pure action.
The forces of Saruman are presented as so relentlessly, unmitigatingly evil that they are hard to hate. The orcs (or uruk-hai, I assume that's the same thing) are slimy creatures like Jim Cameron's Aliens. They ride CG beasts that look like dinos from Jurassic Park. Sauron is some weird flaming eye on top of a black tower. The only human villain is Saruman himself, who has about two lines in the whole three-hour flick. I don't need a lot of motivation for the villains, but I'd like to get at least some idea of why they act as they do. Why do they fight? Why are they so evil? What's the point? Meanwhile, the good guys are all white, the men do all the fighting -- in fact boys of as young as ten or eleven are thrown into battle but not a single woman is. It's just a tiresome, cliched battle of "good" against a straw man "evil." Why are the good guys so humorlessly good while the bad guys are so insanely, relentlessly evil?
I was led to believe that Smeagol/Gollum was the best CG character ever, but in fact he seemed less realistic than Jar Jar Binks and no improvement over the dinos from Jurassic Park. The only bright spot in the movie was Miranda Otto. I felt no tension in wondering whether Aragorn will choose her or Liv Tyler -- I assume he will choose Tyler, and think he is crazy for doing so.
Oh, I forgot one other human bad guy -- this "Wormtongue" fellow. How hard is it to figure out a guy named "Wormtongue" is up to no good? That's as bad of a name as "Darth Sidious."
personal all-time favorite
For my taste, the first hour and a half of this movie is the greatest stretch of filmmaking ever. Up until Roy and Jillian reach the "dark side of the moon" on Devil's Tower, this movie is perfect. No, it's beyond perfect -- it's sublime. It takes me to a level of bliss that no other movie can do.
Many critics and viewers -- including a number on this site -- don't like this movie at all. Those who do like it almost uniformly like the final sequence, the "alien landing," the best. For me it is the rest of the movie that is the most remarkable. Some of my favorite sequences:
1. The blinding flash of light that ends the opening credits and leads us to a sandstorm in Sonora Desert, Mexico -- Present Day, with various team leaders, Bob Balaban, and Francois Truffaut speaking three languages as they find a whole bunch of old Navy planes lost in the Bermuda Triangle and an old geezer who saw something very strange. "El sol salio a noche. Y me canto," he keeps saying. Translation: "He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him." Then Balaban translates for Truffaut: "Il dit que le soleil etait venue ici hier soir, et qu'il chantait pour lui." Then Balaban disappears in a cloud of dust. The mystery created in that sequence is incredible -- the greatest opening of all time, if you ask me. Trivia note: that sequence was the last Spielberg filmed before the movie's release. The shooting script opens with Indianapolis Flight Control, but Spielberg decided he wanted a new opening and shot this after production had wrapped. Supposedly this sequence was inspired by the Iraqi prologue in the Exorcist.
2. Roy's first encounter with the aliens in his power company truck -- a brilliantly conceived and edited sequence. I love the dolly in to Roy's window as he pants in shock in the shadows, then the comedy of his reaction when the lights in the truck come back on.
3. The "sky speeders" disappearing into the clouds over Muncie, followed by lightning and then the lights of the city coming back on, bit by bit. Spielberg's use of miniatures here is breathtaking -- as it was in 1941 and as it is later in CE3K when the UFO believers gather again to await another encounter and the lights from the government helicopters move toward them across the plains below.
4. The entire sequence of Roy going crazy. This was controversial with critics -- Pauline Kael, who loved the movie generally, hated Roy throwing the bushes into the kitchen -- and Spielberg actually cut the entire digging up the garden sequence from the so-called "Special Edition." To me, though, this is the absolute heart of the movie. Ask people what they remember from CE3K and the first thing they'll say is "mashed potatoes." To my mind, the garden sequence is one of those magical moments that is so funny and so sad it's just perfect. I believe every second of it, every time. The reactions of the kids are perfect -- the oldest son is big enough to be angry, while the middle says, "Dad, when we're finished with this can we throw dirt in my window?" (In the dinner sequence, little Sylvia has arguably the best line in a movie full of them -- "I hate, I hate these potatoes. There's a dead fly in my potatoes." An ad lib, of course.)
In recent years, Spielberg has expressed concern with the fact that Roy leaves his family to pursue the aliens, and has said that if he were to make the movie over again, he would change that part. To my way of thinking, if you take that out, there is no movie. What this movie is really about is Roy's obsession, and that, I think, is why it has such a hold on me personally. This movie is about what it's like for a person whose life has lost its meaning suddenly finding there is a really important purpose, and pursuing that purpose at all costs. Is it right for him to turn his family's life upside down and ultimately leave them behind to do that? No. But his obsession is understandable, I think, and the purpose Roy finds is something a lot of people would like to feel. Also, it's clear that Roy is not acting entirely of his own free will -- he has been "commanded" subliminally to make his way to Devil's Tower.
I am not aware of any other movie -- or book, or any other source, for that matter -- that portrays 70s suburban life so accurately. The street, the house, the cars, the toys, the furniture -- it is like an archeological document. And the way the kids act, and the family conflicts -- to my way of thinking, they are all portrayed with unerring accuracy and realism. Some have contended that Ronnie is unflatteringly portrayed, but to me that's not fair. She can't be blamed for reacting the way she does to Roy -- many people in her shoes would. Garr's performance is brilliant; she and Dreyfuss are magical together. Melinda Dillon, too, is brilliant in her role. In the shooting script, the sexual attraction between Roy and Jillian was more overt, but Spielberg wisely downplays it in the finished film. It's only hinted at, although it is there.
The actual "alien landing" sequence, in my opinion, is a letdown. It's brilliantly photographed and realized, but once Roy and Jillian make it to the dark side of the moon, the primary tension in the story is gone. If I could edit this movie, I'd take a major pair of shears to the final sequence, cut it down to maybe half its current length. I do get choked up when I see Roy in his red suit at the end of the line of astronauts, though, and Jillian wiping tears away as she clicks away with her Kodak.
As with the original Star Wars, my other all-time favorite movie, I have a problem with the way this picture has been hacked and altered from its original release through various special editions. I understand it's possible to watch the original 1977 cut on the DVD, and I'm glad of that. That original version is the best. I first got to know this movie on ABC in the early 1980s, when it was shown with all the original and Special Edition footage edited together. Personally, I don't think the special edition footage adds much (even the Gobi desert sequence, which is an interesting concept that was in the shooting script, stands out because it was obviously shot by a different DP and doesn't have Truffaut in it).
Anyway, I will always cherish this movie. "You tell Crystal Lake we're going to candlepower in ten minutes!" "Zey belong here more zan we." "There's always some joker who thinks he's immune." "You can't fool us by agreeing with us." "What the hell is going on around here? Who the hell are you people?" "Ronnie, everything's fine. All this stuff is coming down."
Star Wars (1977)
simply the best
In my opinion, the original 1977 version of Star Wars is the single greatest feature film ever made. It combines the five elements any movie should have: spectacle, humor, suspense, drama, and memorable characters. It is almost perfect.
The opening is perfect - a quick pan across a sea of stars, then a small rebel ship, and then the huge Imperial star destroyer fills the screen, its engines roaring. That shot is incredible, and does exactly what a movie opening should - it sets the tone and atmosphere of the movie visually and aurally, without a word of dialogue.
My only criticism of the movie is that it gets a little bogged down in 3PO and R2's journey to meet up with Luke Skywalker. Luke is the protagonist of the movie, and he should be on screen a little sooner. Lucas should have trimmed a few bits with R2 and 3PO on Tatooine - especially involving the Jawas - not because the scenes aren't well done, but because a first-time viewer (if there is such a person) might be wondering where the story is going. Of course, it is worth remembering that in the 70s movies tended to start more gradually than they do now.
Once Luke is in the picture, the movie starts to move and just builds and builds to the incredible climax. We add Obi-Wan, Han and Chewie, and Leia to the team, and the battles grow faster and more intense (to borrow Lucas's notorious line of direction to the actors). Contrary to what some have said, this is the best screenplay ever written, with many great lines that appropriately bring humor and wit to the remarkable situations on screen. The special effects and production design bring this incredible story to life in a way that should have surpassed even Lucas's high expectations.
The final attack on the Death Star is without a doubt the most exciting action sequence ever filmed, and it ends perfectly. What an incredible achievement. Thank God the suits at Fox didn't cut it from the budget, as they threatened in pre-production! And the "throne room" coda (which apparently borrows from Leni Refinstahl's Triumph of the Will) is a remarkable capper (again, without dialogue). Did I mention John Williams's inspiring score?
I have a feeling that the single greatest movie-going experience of all time must have been the preview of this film a few weeks before it opened in May 1977 at the Northpoint theater in San Francisco. According to published accounts, the audience went crazy from the first appearance of the star destroyer and cheered wildly when the Falcon made the jump to hyperspace. And when Han Solo blasted Darth Vader's wingman at the end, the crowd leapt to its feet and cheered as if their team had just won the seventh game of the World Series. It was then, that Lucas and Fox began to realize they might have a hit on their hands.
By the way, I think this movie has to rate as the greatest personal accomplishment of any filmmaker in Hollywood history - rivaled only by Titanic for James Cameron. In both cases, the filmmaker spent years developing and writing a script that many thought was a fool's errand. Both directors were extremely hands-on, taking a very active role in cinematography and editing. In Cameron's case, however, he was at least working from the facts of a true story, whereas Lucas completely invented the vivid Star Wars universe himself - with compliments to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Joseph Campbell, and many others, of course.
My one request is that Lucas release this movie on DVD in its true original form - without "EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE" in the crawl (that godawful title was only added in 1980 when Empire came out) and without the ridiculous Han Solo-Jabba the Hutt scene and other CGI tweaks added to the film in the 1997 "Special Edition." I want to see the movie the way it was when released, not with anachronistic effects tacked on. Lucas has started a trend (although I suppose it really began with Spielberg's travesty of a "special edition" for Close Encounters in 1980) that now has continued with the Exorcist, Star Trek the Movie, and E.T.'s scheduled re-release next year. What will they do next - use CGI to smooth out King Kong's movements on the Empire State Building, or make the Wicked Witch of the West fly more realistically? Let us see the movies the way they were originally shown! Don't mug our memories, to borrow a phrase from Pauline Kael.
Bottom line: in its original form, this is the best movie ever made.
American Beauty (1999)
sexist and unrealistic
This movie grossed an incredible $336 million worldwide, won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1999, and occupies the remarkably lofty position of the ninth best movie ever made on the IMDB Top 250. And frankly, I can't understand why. It's a well-made and well-acted movie, but I find the story offensive and irritating in many respects.
(1) Setting. This is a minor point, but the setting is very inconsistently handled. Obviously the movie was actually filmed in the LA area, but there are references to "those days when it's a minute away from snowing" (which a Southern Californian would obviously not say) and to Jane and Ricky escaping to New York City. On the other hand, the potential homebuyers complain to Carolyn that the house she is selling was supposed to have a "lagoon" in back. Well, in the eastern U.S., realtors don't talk about lagoons - that is a very SoCal term.
More importantly, I found it incredibly irritating how the Burnhams live in a huge, lavishly decorated, modern home on the exclusive "Robin Hood Trail." This house is worth easily $1 million. How, exactly, did they afford it, given that Lester has been a technical writer for an advertising magazine (working in a small cubicle) for fourteen years and Carolyn is a struggling realtor who personally cleans the crappy houses she is trying to sell? And how do the Fittses manage to afford the equally fancy house next door on a Marine colonel's salary? Only the Jims (the tax attorney and anesthesiologist) belong in this neighborhood. This phoniness undercuts the story (and anything it might have to "say" about America) from the beginning, in my opinion.
(2) Sexism. There are four female characters - Carolyn, Jane, Angela, and Mrs. Fitts. Carolyn is portrayed as cold and mean - two qualities that just happen to go along with the fact that she is also ambitious and hard-working. She also, as we see, does the cooking (and undoubtedly the rest of the housework), but Lester is still dissatisfied with her. He calls her a "bloodless, money-grubbing freak." Well, sorry, but I just didn't agree with that. I thought Carolyn was the most sympathetic character in the movie. I never understood what Lester was so upset about at the beginning of the story. Why did he hate Carolyn? Because she wouldn't have sex with him? That seemed to be what it boiled down to. And because her gardening clogs matched the handle on her pruning shears. Why didn't he admire her for her success as a broker, appreciate her efforts around the house, be supportive of her, instead of falling for a seventeen-year-old girl? It really bothered me that when he gave examples of the person Carolyn used to be and (in his opinion) should become again, he talked about her faking seizures at frat parties and running to the roof of an apartment building to flash traffic helicopters. So instead of an attractive, hard-working, responsible woman in her early forties, he wants a sexualized nut case? That doesn't resonate with me.
Then there's Jane. The first thing we learn about her is that she wants breast enlargement surgery and that she's secretly saved up money to pay for it. And that's about it. We learn she hates her parents, although at the start of the movie it's not clear why. I'm sorry, but in the real world, kids (even teenagers) don't just hate their parents without any reason, and here the reason isn't shown. We see a photograph from a few years earlier when they were a happy family - so the suggestion, I think, is that the problems started when Carolyn got her real estate license. I find that a pretty sinister message - "when Mom stops being just a housewife, the American family goes to hell."
For Jane as for Carolyn, their male counterparts get the best lines. It's Ricky and then later Lester who give the movie's thematic speech about there being "so much beauty in the world." Jane and Carolyn just play off the men. Jane never really does anything to justify Ricky's fascination with her - it's apparently based solely on her striking and unusual looks.
And that brings us to Angela, played by Mena Suvari. Any movie that portrays a 40-year-old man obsessed with an 18-year-old girl (the friend of his daughter) as a hero has got something wrong with it. There is no excuse for that. I don't think it's "normal" for a man that age to have that kind of obsession. He might notice the attractiveness of such a young woman, but to become obsessed with her is disgusting, in my opinion. At least when Carolyn had an affair, it was with a man her own age.
And what is the one thing we know about Angela as a person (aside from her looks)? That she wants to be a model. So of our two young female characters, one wants breast implants and the other wants to be a model. Nice image of women for the future.
I don't have space to get into Mrs. Fitts, the other female character, who is like a catatonic version of a Stepford Wife.
(3) Homophobia. Colonel Fitts was a pretty bad character too. We're supposed to believe that this guy, in his late 40s, has been through an entire career in the Marines without ever facing his homosexuality, even within himself, and that he deals with it by being murderously homophobic, physically and emotionally abusive to his son, and part of some Nazi secret society? Nice image of gay people too.
one of the best movies ever
Just a great movie. Done in the Spielberg style of "Jaws" and "Close Encounters" (minus the big action and effects). Lots of great detail, little funny throwaways - "ommanipadmiom," the way David's dad butters his corn, "tumulous," David's mom asking if he wants to have his "little friend" to barbecue. It's a great script. I love Mr. Blonde telling Leo McGarry, "Commander, turn your key!" And Dabney Coleman calling Barry Corbin a pig-eyed sack of s***. Or how about Maury Chaykin saying to Eddie Deezen, "Remember when you told me to tell you when you were acting rudely and insensitively? Well, you're doing it now." Or this - BIOLOGY TEACHER: Who first suggested the idea of reproduction without sex? DAVID: Your wife? Kudos to writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes (the latter of whom later became the head of Amblin Entertainment). The story builds so flawlessly, starting with that killer opening sequence and pulling us right on the edge of our seats. But there's also something very warm about this movie. There are no real villains here - the story is about humanity coming to grips with the horror of nuclear weapons. David Lightman is such a sympathetic hero - love the resourcefulness he shows. Every character has something sympathetic about him or her - even McKittrick, the closest thing there is to a bad guy. This movie is just pure entertainment, done with great understated style, warmth, and intelligence.
By the way, I noticed that an earlier poster criticized the music. I disagree. The end-credits theme is just beautiful, and perfect for this film.
If adventure has a name . . .
This "prequel" is often compared unfavorably to the original "Raiders." The ratings on this site bear that out - "Raiders" is in the top fifteen of all time, whereas this movie doesn't come close to the top 250. In box office receipts as well, Raiders outscored Temple of Doom, although the latter was still a monster hit. In my mind, the two films are very different and thus comparing them is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges.
"Raiders" set a new standard in action, with incredible set-pieces (the opening sequence, the truck chase, etc.). Indiana Jones was a remarkable hero, with a great look (of all directors, of course Spielberg would define the character primarily visually - the trademark fedora, leather jacket, and bullwhip). He was laconic and very masculine, and yet those great Harrison Ford double-takes made him also human, not an indestructible Rambo. The tone of "Raiders" was serious, although there are wonderful individual moments of humor (the torture device that becomes a coat hanger, the swinging mirror that smashes Indy in the chin).
"Temple of Doom" has a different tone from the very beginning. To my mind, the ambition here was lower. "Raiders" was meant to be the greatest action/adventure of all time (and it probably is). I don't think either Spielberg or Lucas wanted to top that for the second film, so they tried for something different. Maybe Spielberg was inspired by the staggering success he had achieved with "E.T.," which was the "smallest" movie he had made since his debut in "Sugarland Express." "Temple of Doom" thus ended up more of an old-fashioned action-comedy.
This time around, what's at stake is not the possibility that Hitler will obtain a super-weapon but something much smaller - the fate of a small village in rural India. We never really believe Mola Ram's claim that when the Thugees obtain the five Sankara stones, they will overthrow all the world's religions. The stakes here are important, but smaller and more human. This movie seems like just one of many Indiana Jones adventures, not THE adventure of his lifetime (which "Raiders" presumably was). This doesn't make it better or worse than Raiders, just different. It's more like a James Bond movie in that we know for sure this particular villain isn't going to have the wherewithal to do our hero in, as bleak as things might look at times.
Freed from some of the weight of the first film, Spielberg just seems to be having a blast here. Indy's character was kept mysterious in the first film. But here it's a lot of fun to see new sides to him. He's a father-figure to Short Round, and their parent-child relationship adds a lot of depth to this movie. Willie Scott, although annoying at times, also brings out a new side to Indy - the lover. He gets a chance to be romantic, flirtatious, and seductive, and although many would probably disagree, I love the "palace slave" scene. (I love even more the last scene of the movie, with Indy's bullwhip and Short Round covering his eyes - hopelessly romantic.) Willie may be a more wimpy heroine than Marion Ravenwood, but I would submit that the relationship between Indy and Willie is more interesting than Indy-Marion - it gets more time and attention in the movie. Perhaps credit for that should go to co-screenwriter Gloria Katz, who broke into the otherwise all-male Indy filmmaking ranks for this movie only.
No doubt the "temple of doom" sequence is too dark (and too long), perhaps even more so after the mostly light romantic comedy that precedes it. We see a man's heart pulled out of his chest, we see Indy and Shorty (and several child-slaves) brutally whipped, and we see Willie nearly made a living human sacrifice in a pit of molten lava. All this could have and should have been toned down, made less excessive with a few alterations and trims. But, in my view, it doesn't keep "Temple of Doom" from being an entertaining and enjoyable film. Not better than Raiders, just different. My opinion? The weakest of the series is the third.