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Beasts of No Nation (2015)
The problem with Beasts Of No Nation is a problem familiar with all depictions of Africa - the absence of any kind of context.
Things happen for no reason, allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks with previous propaganda, making the viewer believe that their previous misconceptions have now been confirmed.
Beasts Of No Nation was made by Cary Joji Fukunaga, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow. The Rockefellers own among the world's largest extractive industry corporations owners/founders - ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhilips, United Fruit/Chiquita, and many more. A similar family started Royal Dutch Shell, which exploits the people of Nigeria for their oil.
Which brings me to the decontextualization - this story is set 'in a fictional African country', however the writer of the book is a Nigerian national. If the Idris Alba character would have been working for someone, it would have been Shell, maybe Anglo-Ashanti Gold, or his direct superiors would have been working on their behalf.
This is lost in the war porn, as it always is. Because Beasts Of No Nation is just one in a long line of 'mood setting' rather than informative movies about Africa, all of which are funded by the same extractive industry corporations and the families that own them.
Blood Diamonds was made on behalf of the Kimberley Process, which tried to restrict diamond exports from Zimbabwe and the Congo DRC. It was driven by Nicky Oppenheimer of Anglo-American De Beers, the world's diamond monopolist in the 20th century, and even today the world's biggest diamond miner with 40% of global diamonds mined and traded.
The Interpreter, with Nicole Kidman, another movie 'set in a fictional African country', however clearly based on Zimbabwe, where De Beers covets the huge Chiadzwa and Marange diamond fields, which could supply 20% of the world's diamond supply and crash the world's diamond price. Mugabe And The White African is in a similar vein, trying to demonize the government of Zimbabwe, while extolling the virtues of Rhodesia.
Then of course there was the propaganda of Eve Ensler, trying to hyper-focus the destruction of Eastern DRC by the Rwandan government's M-23, into 'the Vagina Monologues'. Again, leaving the actual culprits out of the picture, and focusing on mercenaries/soldiers and war porn instead.
De Beers lost 117,000 hectares of land in the land redistribution of 2000, and they want it back. And if that means portraying Africans as psychotic 'Beasts Of No Nation', well that's what they've been doing for over 100 years.
Mugabe and the White African (2009)
President Mugabe And The Last Rhodesians
The Big Lie of this documentary, is that Whites are a minority in Zimbabwe; that they own a minority of the land (2%), and that they are therefore 'singled out by Mugabe' because of their race. That 'Mugabe' wants to create a country free of all Whites. This is the Big Lie at the center of this propaganda piece.
The Truth: Ben Freeth and Mike Campbell are die hard Rhodesians. That is what they mean with 'White African' - Rhodesians. And these two Rhodesians are trying to resist the redistribution of their 12,000 hectare estate called Mount Carmel.
This estate, with it's 500 'workers' is repeatedly referred to as a 'farm'. The average EU farm is 90 hectares. The average white commercial farm was 2,500 hectares. Before land reform, which saw the 1% of the population who were classified white under colonialism and UDI, own 47% of the country. That is what land redistribution addressed.
The Campbell and Freeth estate is much bigger than that - 12,000 hectares. Under the Fast Track land reform program, land is redistributed in 50 hectare (A1) and 250 hectare (A2) farms. Many whites have acted like Zimbabweans, not Rhodesians, and have taken a 250 or so (more in low rainfall areas) farm.
This documentary is about the preservation of privilege, not 'human rights'.
Edge of Darkness (2010)
As A Remake It Stands On It's Own
Compared to the usual repetitive dreck you see nowadays, this is actually pretty original, because it was based on a very deep, gritty, 1985 BBC TV miniseries, which starred Bob Peck, Joanne Whalley (now Whalley-Kilmer), and Joe Don Baker.
Having seen the original, which I would like to remember as one of the most televisional experiences in my life, everything about the movie remake is rushed and inauthentic. "Edge Of Darkness" was not just a revenge movie, but a TV series that wove together very different themes - detective procedural, ghost story, environmentalism, spiritualism, nuclear energy, Northern Ireland, Thatcherism). It was just a very rich experience, played by very accomplished actors.
The original boyfriend was played by Tim McInnerney (who was also in the Kate Bush music video for "This Woman's World", and Blackadder).
I had exactly the same feeling when watching Red Dragon after having seen Manhunter in the 1980s/1990s.
But if you want to see this and enjoy it, don't ever see the original first.
The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
A Long Tradition
This is actually a pretty good movie if you set your expectations low and haven't watched decades of horror movies - or the kiss of death to the horror movie genres - The X-Files and The Ghost Whisperer.
Having said - the villain is really evil, the special effects are very good. Maybe some people need it, but in a horror movie, the Hollywood happy ending seemed out of place and tagged on (literally).
They handle the 'Get Out Now!' moment Eddy Murphy used to joke about in the 1980s pretty pretty well.
What is great is to see Elias Koteas and Virginia Madsen reunited - they collaborated before on the angels and demons horror movie called The Prophecy. If you want to see a classic horror movie - see that one too. And Elias Koteas certainly aged a lot in 16 years - more than Virginia Madsen has. (Maybe some testosterone pills, a hair implant and a few hours at the gym are in order. Really, he used to look great. IMDb has his age at only 49, he looks in his late sixties in this.)
Se7en Without The Algebra
This is a pretty horrible movie, bereft of any kind of creativity or story telling. We just move from gruesome murder to gruesome murder.
What is worse is the subtext. The idea that the world is full of sinister nerds, and that the surveillance society will come to the rescue is reactionary. Also, innocent, curious surfers are 'accomplices' to online crime?
Then there is the acting. The supposedly cute grandmother (I hate cute adults - how patronizing) looks so out of it and demented, I wouldn't let her watch a goldfish, let alone a child. Is that Mary Beth Hurt?
The leading men are less than inspiring. The makers wanted to create a 'modern' thriller by concocting a crime (snuff movies) and connecting them with online websites. The fact that there are still no known snuff movies, and the fact that government officials engaged in entrapment are portrayed as the good guys bothers me.
Badly written, reactionary, stay away.
The Eye (2008)
This is a very good movie, with plenty of chills and a good plot. The problem may be that we have been watching years of The Ghost Whisperer, Medium, the X-Files and The Mothman Prophecies (Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing).
The problem with television today is that there are such high standards of writing and production, that it almost makes movies irrelevant.
So if you are an impressionable mid-teen, this might be just new enough to you to be enjoyable. If not, mid-way you are saying "But what do the ghosts want from Jessica?". Anyway, the scares are pretty good, Jessica Alba is delectable. However, Allessandro Nivola must be the most unsympathetic and uncharismatic leading man in a long time.
Hannibal Rising (2007)
Very Interesting Prequel
Hannibal Rising is a pretty good movie. If I was 15 years old today, meaning I had never seen Manhunter, or even Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal or Red Dragon, I would say that this is a very decent horror movie come character study.
If I have a few issues with it, they would be the following.
Not enough of Hannibal's personality and his interaction with his sister, which was made the his motivating factor from Hannibal onward, were delved into as deeply as in the book. Hannibal's almost autistic focus on his senses, or his creation of memory palaces was not delved into at all, which is a shame. It needn't have lasted more than a minute, but it would have revealed a lot about the psychology that writer Thomas Harris created.
Then, shooting the movie in England, when every low budget action movie heads straight for Eastern Europe, makes no sense. They could have achieved a much greater sense of authenticity if they had shot in the Baltics, and used Eastern European actors. The English accents of the actors immediately transport you back to the Hammer House Of Horror productions.
Then, there was the mask, which he wasn't outfitted with until his transport in Silence Of The Lambs.
On the plus side, there is the wonderful Gong Li, who has no problem portraying very strong female characters. Lady Murasaki seems as tough and, in her own way, twisted as Hannibal. She has the best line in the movie. When presented with a butcher's head and the police approach, she replies - "Quickly Hannibal, they will call it murder".
Overall, if you are relatively unaware of the great movies that were Manhunter and Silence Of The Lambs, this is a pretty good movie when standing on it's own.
8MM 2 (2005)
This movie has nothing to do with the sanctimonious sleaze-pot, starring Nicholas Cage. At the time, I thought the movie was pretty bad, however, this is infinitely worse.
The actresses are cute, and as an 'erotic thriller', it is passable, but it has nothing to do with the 'Heart Of Darkness' theme that the original 8mm barely pulled off.
Add to that, that this movie is shot somewhere in Eastern Europe (cheap locations, low wages, etc.) and this is bottom of the barrel. Nothing bad about Eastern Europe, which is beautiful and I'm sure there are great people living there too, however, after the slew of Steven Seagal low budgeters, these particular locations are like a red flag for this video fan. Now if they actually involved the location into the storyline, instead of just using them as a backdrop...
The Punisher (2004)
Not The Punisher
As a one time reader of the Punisher: Warzone series and Punisher: Survival, I have to say I started the movie off slightly disappointed.
This punisher, although defined, isn't nearly massive enough for the 'real' Frank Castle. I think this role was made for bodybuilder Mike Matarazzo, who would be absolutely perfect in it. But I digress.
The second problem is that this Frank Castle is not nearly nuts enough. He was crazier than the original Rambo (First Blood), who was pretty unstable himself.
Third, the details were off. In The Punisher, Frank's little nuclear family was killed in Central Park, not at some extended family get together in Puerto Rico.
I also thought that Thomas Jane didn't have the intensity or gravitas for the role. I like Rebecca Romijn Stamos.
The minor characters were put in to supply comic relief. I don't think comic relief was needed, if the directors had taken a darker, more Gothic approach to the story. I would have liked to see more of Frank's mental instability. More Se7en meets Batman.
I thought it was interesting to see Will Patton outside of his bookish, intellectual performance on "The Agency".
Red Eye (2005)
Class, no breeding
Wes Craven is at it again. This is a very by the books 'thriller', which has unfortunately been made obsolete by the TV series "24". Jack Bauer deals with this sort of thing three or four times per episode, while it takes Craven an entire movie to get to the finish. Fortunately, the running time is old-fashioned too, at 85 minutes, instead of the modern standard of two hours.
The leads are both gorgeous, in their own way. However, the writing makes them both insufferable. Cillian Murphy at least has the benefit of being the bad guy, which makes him less obnoxious than our 'heroine', who is such a stuck up sorority girl that I couldn't feel any more empathy with her than any of the female contestants of The Apprentice. If she'd been killed anywhere along the proceedings, I wouldn't have cared less. Oh wait a minute, she isn't an a-hole, she's 'spunky', just like her aunt Henrietta.
So how does Craven fill in the scenery in between? We are treated to some kind of version of American class warfare. Unfortunately, the 'aristocracy' are middle management, sole proprietors (a hit-man) and retirees, while the working class come proletariat is, well... people who still work for a living. Which is odd, because I thought that work was something admirable, not something to be looked down upon. I guess it is work without money that is to be looked down upon. Craven sort of weasels out of that one in the end with the little 'rebellion' by the Goldie Hawn like character. Also, apparently 'Cosmo' as a drink is 'too common', according to Murphy.
How stuck up can the middle class be? Who cares. Apparently class is expressed in fake smiles, shallowness, conceit and being demonstratively stuck up. Obviously, it is nothing like courtesy or consideration. 'My bad'.
However, the movie is tight, and it doesn't get distracted into any unrelated threads, which is why the running time under ninety minutes.
Dumb, Dumber and Schizo
Hostage is not a good movie by any measure.
The writing and plotting are so poor, that for the main character to keep his credibility, everyone around him has to be stupid. His fellow cops are stupid. His captain is stupid and can't do anything right without his instructions. The villains are stupid and don't really know what they want or how to get it. The hostages are stupid - they keep talking to Willis at the top of their irritating voices, even though they are trying to evade the dunce burglars. And daddy Kevin Pollak is literally out of it, having been bludgeoned into a near coma earlier on.
Things don't start off well, when instead of being listed in on the screen, the credits are actually scribbled on all kinds of objects... the 'clues' or credits are literally written on the wall, on cars, and anything else that comes handy.
The movie is like a collage of hostage and Bruce Willis action pics. Willis is a hostage negotiator of questionable skill, who loses a hostage and breaks down, only to slink away to a rural police department (in Edge Of Night, Bruce Willis played a psychiatrist who retreated to a fellow psychiatrist's practice after losing a patient to suicide - sound familiar?). His bumbling co-worker (Marjean Holden, a world away from her gonad kicking starring role in the 1995 movie Ballistic) stumbles upon the burglary in question and gets shot dead, allowing Willis to return to his role as hostage negotiator. He really has no further business there, except of course that he 'cares', because you see, this family could be his family (and of course Rumor Willis is his real life daughter). Then, in a dire turn of scriptwriting... Oh well, you get the picture. His only contact on the inside is the small boy who manages to break free of his duct tape and goes straight for the ventilation system (Bruce Willis in Die Hard). The main weirdo kid burglar dresses like Eric Draven (The Crow) and (gasp) smokes weed. With the main brothers being so dumb, he is the only one who keeps any tension going. The plotting is so dire, that the entire crew could have been out of there with 2 million dollars, except that after a few 'meaningful' minutes together, The Crow had grown attached to Rumor, who although being young and shapely, is still second fiddle to Lindsay Lohan. Robert Knepper actually looks like Michael Wincott, who played the genius burglar in Eddy Murphy's hostage negotiator movie Metro.
I really objected to the Stepin Fetchit mannerisms of the two co-workers of Willis, one cop with a high pitched, wheezy, mumbling voice that I barely trusted not to stumble over his own feet, and an ambulance worker who displays some amazing eyeball acrobatics, which I personally found out of place in an action movie, or this century. What part of the audience in particular is this aimed at?
Willis goes around the first half of the movie with tears in his eyes, and I suspect much of that was because of the quality of the script. Amazing to think that this movie was made in the same year when he co-starred in the hugely superior Sin City, which at least had the benefit actually being based on a comic book. I think that happens a lot - when a movie is based on a book, the script only has to be updated for the screen. Most of the characters are already developed by the author, who also took a lot of time plotting and doing background research. Witness Silence Of The Lambs and Manhunter (Thomas Harris), Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick), etc.
So I think everyone is clear on what they are getting. A Bruce Willis action movie that will not win any Oscars, but might actually pass the time.
Bruce Willis is doing a lot of work, but I think he would be better off not picking a few roles here and there, and returning to much better written and funded movies like the ones he used to star in, in the 1980s.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Pretty Good Genre Movie
DAWN OF THE DEAD starts of as Shawn Of The Dead 2, way too comical and off the cuff. However, once characters are established, the movie quickly becomes far more involving. Camera work is used very effectively to create tension. Tension is also helped by the fact that the characters aren't asked to do too many stupid things, which always undermines the credibility and tension of the movie - you start to figure they deserve whatever they get.
The cast is excellent, from Sarah Polley (Go), to Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phiffer, the great Jake Weber ("Medium", The Cell), Micheal Kelly and a very hot Kim Poirier (and born in the eighties too, how time flies). Sarah Polley alternatingly looks like Anna Faris and, for those of us who remember the eighties, Joanne Whalley ("Edge Of Darkness").
Even though the entire Zombie theme has been done to death, there are some very real improvements made in this movie, and some incoherences too. For instance, none of the survivors have seen a zombie movie before (which is odd, as they're starring in one). Also, they are in a mall - plenty of food and water, but no gun shop? No fresh clothes? An improvement over earlier versions is the sheer number of zombies. Odds are stacked against the main characters too, because the zombies only have to wound them, while they have to shoot them in the head or decapitate them. The zombies have also gone from lumbering corpses, to being able to run at full speed. They're still telekinetic, as thousands of them seem to detect the presence of live humans and congregate on their hideouts.
Considering that the first zombie movie of the modern movie era, Night Of The Living Dead, was made in 1968 (when most of the actors were either in being born or unborn for years to come), the movie holds up pretty well, and is still a vehicle through which to examine modern society, as it was then. And of course it is impossible to watch this movie and not think of Hurricane Katrina, which struck a year after this movie was made.
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
A lot has already been said about Hotel Rwanda. Don Cheadle stands out as always, because he is one of the greatest actors of his generation - right up there with Jeffrey Wright and John Seymour Hoffman. Therefore, I only have a few points to add.
- The name of the movie is a play on Rwanda's other name, the "Land Of A Thousand Hills", or in French, "Pays des Milles Collines". The refugees are housed in the Milles Collines Hotel, or Thousand Hills Hotel. Therefore, Hotel Rwanda.
- The cast, although often excellent, is miscast because they are not Rwandans. In fact, half the cast have Zulu/Nguni clan surnames (Dube, Ndlovu, Sithole, Khumalo, etc.). I imagine it was filmed in South Africa? Durban, perhaps? :) This makes the comparison between Hutus and Tutsis a bit irrelevant though. Sophie Okonedo is not a Tutsi, but biracial and Nigerian/English. This is a minor point and not to disparage her acting achievement, but with the repeated statements that Tutsis have 'lighter skin' or 'longer noses' etc., it actually plays into the misconception of the 'difference' between Hutus and Tutsis.
- The Hamitic Race Theory, which is at the basis of the original discrimination by Belgian or German authorities is not clearly spelled out. It is not only applicable to Rwanda, but also to the present conflict in Western Sudan (Darfur). The pro-government militias are portrayed as 'white Arabs', horse or camel riding, where the population of Darfur is portrayed as 'Black African', and sometimes even Christian and Animist. This is the revisiting of the once extremely widespread Hamitic Race Theory, the theory that maintained that all culture in not only Africa, but Asia and the Americas should be explained by the diffusion of a mythical white race (which could be Black, Asian or Native American looking whenever it had to be). At one time, anthropologists tried to find the remnants of this race of 'blackened whites'. In some regions like South Africa, this theory is still taught in schools. Any nomadic, tall, cattle herding people (like the Masai, the Dinka or similar people) were classified non-Black and Hamitic and superior to the agricultural population of 'true Negroes'. The fact that 'superior' herders had the worst land, and 'inferior' farmers had the best land, which white settlers coveted, was of course an added bonus and an extra assurance of the popularity of the theory. Masai good, Kikuyu bad. Tutsi good, Hutu bad. Etcetera, because this kind of schism was repeated all over colonial Africa. People with bad land were pronounced to be 'superior', and people with good land were classified 'inferior', without any sense or irony or contradiction. This also has to do with the way colonialism functioned, which was no different than the way the Romans governed their newly gained territories - divide and conquer. A minority was picked out and proclaimed to be 'superior', and they were given privileges (education abroad, positions in local government, they were allowed to keep some land) and used to govern over the majority.
Don't believe everything you hear on TV, but do your own research. The literature is there for all to read.
Mnemonic Gardens of Vanity
Where to begin, where to end? Here is a racial analysis of Oliver's project. The problem started in Anthony Hopkins' little racist and historically inaccurate mnemonic garden, situated in Egypt of course, and decorated by Rider Haggard. As this little tableau is supposed to be what Europe was to become more than what it was, the historical anachronisms are a given, and every stereotype is included.
In this 19th Century American fantasy, Black people (literally) bow their heads to the wisdom of the broad-sculled Greeks. Didn't 'Old Ptolemy' know that, as Plato wrote in the Timaeus, the Egyptian priests called the Greeks "but children in the mysteries"? And who is taking notes (literally) from this wise, Nordic Greek, but an Italian scribe (the Romans).
Then, there are the scores of *blond* Greek children, enthusiastically playing at killing each other, like so many Hitler Youths.
Alexander's mother is a dark skinned Greek, and therefore brilliant but fiery and emotionally unstable. His father Philip, played by a heavy set Val Kilmer, looks like Little John in Robin Of Sherwood, always drunk or ready to fight, or both. Top of the morning to you too, Phil.
This is the Herrenvolk/master race reading of Greek history, where Greece was first populated by blonde, Viking like invaders from the Northeast.
The historical inaccuracy of including the Lighthouse of Pharos (not completed until the reign of Ptolemy II), likely for rhetorical purposes, has been mentioned elsewhere.
The thing with mnemonic gardens is that they are supposed to become part of your memory, indelibly inscribed for future use. I would pass on that, thank you.
What is left is a terrible script, historical inaccuracies and good actors trying to save the movie and failing *cough* heroically.
Maybe Las Vegas can turn it into a musical. See JFK instead. ;\
Silent Partner (2005)
Oh boy. This boring piece of drudgery was made Russia, coming on the heels of a slew of cheap, lower than low budget movies shot in Eastern Europe (at least three of Steven Seagal's movies come to mind).
And I like Tara Reid. She can act, but she is seriously let down by the script and direction.
The main problem I have is the "So What?" factor. An hour into the proceedings there was still no one I could care about. And by extension, I didn't care about the movie itself.
Tara Reid is fine, but casting her as a prostitute who makes a living jacking off fat businessmen is too much typecasting for me. The 'friend' who tells her that she could do a lot better than that is another middle aged fat guy. Gordon Patrick must be the most uncharismatic average Joe, since Andy Robinson in Hellraiser.
I can see how someone could get into it, but it just isn't for me.
Too Awful For Cinema
Why was this atrocity ever made? This is a terrible rip-off of Rosemary's Baby, which at least had John Casavettes as the husband.
Where to start? First, the absence of intelligent dialog. There is an absence of any plot - the movie just goes from vignette to vignette. The whole movie seems to be put together to get Heather Graham naked and into an IF clinic. This is a terrible little misstep for an actress who is not only beautiful, but actually quite intelligent. She has a beautiful body, and Bette Davis eyes, but here she is simply abused because the writer and director were too lazy and incompetent to come up with a story, dialog and a plot. Other than ripping off a 1968 movie, of course.
Then, almost all the actors have British accents, even though this is supposed to be set in upstate New York (one of the road signs at the beginning of the movie reads "Albany"). That is the kind of "detail" that someone looking for clues as to how the story is going to develop simply can't overlook.
What is worse, there are no discovery, no 'aha' moments, no payoff at all. Oh yeah, this is the before last role of David Hemmings, which is a crime in and of itself.
Skip this travesty of a horror movie at all costs.
The Aviator (2004)
Howard Hughes: Descent Into Madness
Martin Scorcese directed Howard Hughes as a cross between Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas in "Wall Street") and Mr. Monk. Does he get away with it?
The movie makers can't seem to decide whether Howard Hughes was a germophobe, suffering from autism or from obsessive compulsive disorder. What they leave out is the addiction to amphetamines and morphine. Scorcese left out a lot of other things too, like the pervasive anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism of the time and the place, including Hughes', just as Scorcese left out the fact that "Gangs Of New York" was essentially about a Civil War era anti-Black race riot. Scorcese also left out Howard Hughes' role in the communist witch hunts of the 1950s, instead portraying him as being the victim of a vindictive and corrupt senator (Alan Alda). Like the racism of the time, the movie forgets to mention Hughes' rabid anti-communism, his firing of a blacklisted writer and his suppression of the pro-labor movie "Salt Of The Earth". The fact that one of Hughes' passenger planes crashes (undoubtedly killing all on board) is mentioned and forgotten, and almost seems to be justified by the fact that Hughes himself frequently crashes his own planes. Unlike in the movie, the real Howard was not born poor to a hygiene obsessed mother (in real life, he actually contracted syphillis, decades before there was a cure for it), but to a father who left him a fortune and an engineering business.
The truth is that Howard Hughes was a rich boy and elitist oligarch, and that the fortune his father made selling a unique oil drill bit in Houston was against the background of Black disenfranchisement, including land theft, in Texas. Hughes made "Hells Angels" during the early 1920s, a time when the klan was reaching its highpoint of popularity, was even finding a willing ear in the White House, and saw the burning down and mass murder of highly successful Black communities in Oklahoma City, Kansas City and other towns by resentful Whites. The only hints of racism come from the all White minstrels doing some kind of exhalted "race music" dance. Why only hint? Because giving us a picture of the real Howard Hughes would have left the movie without a sympathetic lead. Beside being a racist and anti-Semite, Hughes was also a rapist and a bisexual, the former only hinted at by Leonardo DiCaprio's sweet come-on to a surprisingly willing waitress in a restaurant. I guess those were the perks of wealth in the 1920s.
Scorcese's treatment of the Hepburn family, who were social reformers and socialists, also warrants mention. They are portrayed as stuck up champaign socialists, when in fact they were actively campaigning for women's right to vote, and were friends and supporters of Emma Goldman.
Perhaps someone as rich as Howard Hughes could afford not to notice The Great Depression, but that is no excuse for Martin Scorcese to do the same. The start of WWII is not dealt with. Hughes support for the overthrow of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution, or his ties to the CIA are not mentioned either.
Now about the movie. Everyone seems to have wanted to be part of this production. Kate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Jude Law, Kate Beckinsale, Willem Dafoe, Gwen Stefani, with Martin Scorcese directing and Michael Mann producing. I'm sure they thought they were in for a rip-roaring tale of great wealth, Hollywood glamor and cutting edge airoplanes, and they were.
The flight scenes are exciting and spectacular (including the crashes).
I give this movie 8 stars out of 10, not for Howard Hughes, but for Leonardo DiCaprio and the movie, which although long, never fails to capture your attention and tells a rather sympathetic, though fictional, tale.
Man on Fire (2004)
The Revenge Of Creasy Bear
What to say. This is a revenge flick that pretty much touches all bases. Traumatized and alcoholic special forces type Creasy gets a job through an old war buddy, babysitting little Dakota Fanning.
Which is all cute enough, until she gets kidnapped violently, and Creasy is almost killed, but not before taking out four of the assailants. (Just a quip, but why isn't he wearing an armored vest?) Taking only a few days to recover from one shot in the arm and one shot to the torso, Creasy goes out to exact his own brand of vengeance.
So far, so good.
The problem comes when Denzel as an action hero does not seem to enjoy the usual perks that go with the role. One, why does he never get the girl (and no, I'm not suggesting any steamy love scenes between Denzel and Dakota - just any girl, really)? Two, why does he die in his own movie? There was no point to it. Bruce Willis gets to walk away at the end of all the Die Hard episodes - why not Denzel? There was no point to the exchange at the end of the movie. Sanchez just wanted his family back, he had the little girl, so swap them for each other. Why swap the little girl for Sanchez' family and Creasy as well?
Der Untergang (2004)
Questions About Artistic Freedom And Integrity
I feel quite ambivalent to the movie Der Untergang.
On the one hand, there is a chilling realism in the way Hitler is portrayed by Bruno Ganz. The war wounds are realistic, unlike the usual Hollywood/War Department movie garbage.
However, there are the apparent historical inaccuracies and cinematic devices. For instance...
1) How innocent was Traudl Junge? Her birth name was Gertrude Humps (no pun intended), and she received the name Junge when she married *SS officer* Hans-Hermann Junge. Considering her age, mustn't she also have been a Jungmaedl (the girl equivalent of the Hitler Youth)? She refers to herself as "not a fanatical nazi", but of course, she was a nazi nonetheless. People don't just end up employed in Adolf Hitler's bunker by accident. In the movie, she is taken aback by Hitler's anti-semitism, but she does have an apparent dislike of the Russians - whom the Nazis hated for the same insane and pseudoscientific racist reasons they hated Jews, Gypsies, and most Eastern Europeans. I don't know...
2) At the end of the movie, we see Traudl Junge, played by the gorgeous Alexandra Maria Lara, make her escape by walking through a large group of Russian soldiers. My problem is that it was known that "every woman in Berlin" was raped by Russian soldiers. So how did a gorgeous girl with huge eyes, wearing an army helmet with *SS* in huge markings on the side of it, make her way safely through a crowd of drunken, war weary and traumatized Russian troops? The little boy she takes off with didn't exist and is there as a cinematic device, signifying hope? Traudle Junge cycles off with him into the future, when in reality she was sent to a Russian prison camp.
3) How plausible is it that a top level nazi "just didn't know"? I don't buy it. To quote Traudl Junge, "We should listen to the voice of conscience. It does not take nearly as much courage as one might think to admit to our mistakes and learn from them. Human beings are in this world to learn and to change themselves in learning." But the German Socialists knew the Nazis were scum - so did the Communists, Humanists, etc. I'm sure they didn't understand fully how crazy Hitler was, how far he would go in carrying out his ideas, etc. But they knew he was bad news, even back in the thirties.
4) The Timeline. Traudl Junge became Hitler's personal secretary in 1942, two years _before_ her SS officer husband was killed. And yet, she is presented as a wide eyed innocent, who doesn't really believe in nazism, and is picked by Hitler in the middle of the night, for no apparent reason. The movie never obviously flashes forward three years to Hitler's last hours in the bunker in 1945.
I think the movie needed at least one sympathetic character, and either the director or Junge herself played up her innocence.
Helter Skelter (2004)
Squeaky Chloe, Manson Girl
This is not a bad movie, considering it was made for TV and much of the story is already known.
Charles Manson was a sociopath who spent most of his live in prison, and who hitched along on the hippie movement of the sixties. His long hair, guitar and "philosophy" were props he used to act out his messed up psyche.
Having said that, while not a bad movie, it is just not particularly gripping, because most of their victims are innocent bystanders. Who are you going to root for?
I think the acting was pretty good to reasonable. If you are interested in true crime, see it if is on TV, but don't pay money for it.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Below Average Disaster Movie
Some interesting scenes, but mostly this apocalyptic mess fails as an entertaining movie.
Seventies disaster movies meet global warming. As you can expect, this is a movie where contrived rescue missions and horrible acting meet relentless demographic scanning.
Almost all the Black characters in here are geeks, Emmy Rossum ("Mystic River") continually has this crazy eyed expression, Jake Gyllenhaal's "cute" acting is getting boring really quickly and is strictly aimed at teen-aged girls, and the Dennis Quaid/Harrison Ford role is a little too "heroic" and unthinking at the same time.
To top it all off, two regulars from the "24" TV series are in there, AND the lead character is called "Jack".
The plot devices come on heavy and strong. You cringe, every time someone suggests "let's take the plane" or "let's take the train". Of course Jack's son is in Manhattan. Of course Jack will try and walk there, even though we have just seen seasoned RAF pilots turn into popsicles in the blink of an eye. You cringe when Emmy Rossum risks her life to retrieve a passport, even though a 100 foot wall of water is raging toward her. She survives by walking up a flight of stairs, of course, otherwise the love interest would have disappeared from the story. And what would a movie about the next ice age be without a love interest.
Like so many movies, this one started off as a good idea, and the movie was sort of organized around that idea. As a result, no one managed to stop and think about a plot.
Recommended only if you are a hardcore disaster movie fan and want to be able to say "I have seen them all".
Van Helsing (2004)
The X-Men meet Aliens and Frankenstein
Can you say 'derivative'? Not that that is always bad, sometimes something new and original rolls out. However...
Van Helsing is a run of the mill fantasy/horror movie that tries and fails to be a horror/comedy as well.
Although this is a very staid genre, here, The X-Men meet Aliens and a host of other Gothic stories and concepts, mainly Frankenstein. The James Bond take on a 19th century vampire hunter was unique, but flowed out of the whole X-Men vibe the movie had. Van Helsing is stuck with his own version of Q, a friar who makes undead killing weaponry.
When a secret order of the church, Van Helsing's regular employers, get word that one of their Transsylvanian vampire hunting families is in trouble, Van Helsing is dispatched to that far and strange place of the mind. After making a deal with the devil or the church, centuries ago the family promised that until they killed Dracula, none of their deceased ancestors could enter heaven.
Meanwhile, Dracula is busy employing the services of dr. Frankenstein, to create an electric elixir of life that will allow his manifold scions to live. These baby vampires, you see, have a tendency to just blow up in a messy goo whenever they get ready to make their first kill. As this won't do, and I guess Dracula is tired of reproducing by just biting people, he gets dr. Frankenstein to make the Monster of Frankenstein, run huge amounts of electricity through it and, miraculously transfer the proper life force to his Aliens-like brood. The villagers meanwhile are wholly unaware of this new development, as they are more than happy to let Dracula and his three 'brides' suck the life out of one or two of their kin every month. The number of these potential new vampires is enormous, and you have to wonder whether Dracula didn't have the foresight to see that this would lead to a huge vampire overpopulation problem. Who are they going to suck blood out of? They would depopulate all of Rumania. Anyway, I, like the movie, digress...
This is not the very worst horror movie ever made. However, the jokes fall flat, and you have to like Hugh Jackman (I don't). Also, Kate Beckinsale seems a little underpowered in her vampire fighting pirate queen outfit. However the worst I guess are the British accents of the Transsylvanian villagers, which, alongside the CGI laden sets, never let you forget that this is a British studio production. An homage to the Hammer days is one thing, making a good movie out of this is another.
(I liked Sleepy Hollow with Johnnie Depp and Christina Ricci better. Although it has a lot of the same feel, the story is weirder and actually scary in places.)
The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
Excellent Low Budget Sci-fi
Chronicles Of Riddick is the followup movie to the lower budget Pitch Black. Both movies are almost standard Science Fiction b-movie turf. Gladiator meets The Evil Dead meets The Matrix meets Aliens.
Thandiwe Newton is AWESOME. Vin Diesel has a very intelligent, wicked sense of humor. It was odd to see Judie Dench away from her "M" role in James Bond.
Finally, this is a Black movie, in the way that Shaft was back in the seventies. For the first time, a Black hero gets to be the hero. No sidekicks like in Blade, no taking bs from anyone, no weakness at all, which is what makes Riddick such an attractive character. Even when he is captured, Riddick is in control.
It has taken Hollywood a century to come this far. I say: finally. Let the trend continue.
The 'World Ending" scenes are amazing. However, some of the action is badly considered (for instance, when a sunrise comes raging toward you, that raises the temperature to 300 degrees, sitting behind a rock isn't going to help). Not that the final chase scenes in the Alien series are anything to write home about, but at least the writer could have tried.
Anyway, still an amazing picture, if you like low budget scifi.
Taking Lives (2004)
Welcome To Quebec
If this wasn't sponsored by the Quebec tourist authority, I don't know what is. The cast of local actors speak English in very muffled tones, there is lots of machismo on behalf of the cops, and halfway into the movie Keefer Sutherland comes in for a cameo. I had to blink and make sure I wasn't watching "24". Also, it took me a while to get whether this movie was supposed to be set in Montreal, or Paris.
This is not as bad as it could have been, but it is still severely limited. There are some good scares, but they are all derivative, or would that be "an homage", to Silence Of The Lambs and Nightmare On Elmstreet.
Am I the only one who didn't like the abuse gorgeous, sensitive little Anjelina Jolie was taking? Maybe it's just not my cup of tea.
I guess Anjelina Jolie and Ashley Judd are now going for the same kinds of movies.
The Riverman (2004)
Excellent True Crime TV Movie
Riverman is a pretty good made for TV movie. Many movies based on books are of a better quality, because the screenplay has a lot more to work with.
Riverman was written by Robert Keppel, and published long before Gary Leon Ridgway was caught for the Green River serial murders.
The book is based around Keppel's interviews with another serial killer, Ted Bundy, who also committed many of his murders in Washington State. The idea of a profiler going out and interviewing a (famous) serial killer was also the basis for the movie Silence Of The Lambs, with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.
Where the movie is very good, is in showing the internal world of so many serial killers - the sociopath's inability to feel emotion except under extreme circumstances, the childhood abuse, etc. What it only slightly touches upon is the fact that for Ted Bundy, killing was only a means to an end. He was a necrophiliac who enjoyed the corpses more than the live persons, and God knows whatever other psychotic factors were in play as well. It remains a mystery why he kept the skulls - sex? Did they talk to him? These issues are brought up in a rather rushed manner, compared to the book. But that is only a minor quibble, and perhaps inevitable in a made for TV movie.
The irony is that Robert Keppel was only marginally involved in actually catching either Bundy or Ridgway. Bundy was caught because of a traffic violation, and Keppel wasn't even involved at all in Ridgway's apprehension in late November 2001.
I would like to add that the movie also accurately shows that these individuals are rather pathetic geeks once apprehended. They prey on the most vulnerable people in society, and often only then during their most vulnerable moments. They abuse the general trust people and societies need to operate. In short, anyone can sneak up on someone and hit them over the head. It is also why female serial killers almost exclusively target the very old and the very young, and very often use poison. They only very rarely kill adult men by violent means (Aileen Wuornos is the exception).
This is a very good true crime movie, however as a movie, it has some problems.