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The Greatest Showman (2017)
A sweeping impression of an epic life
The story telling in The Greatest Showman is terse and efficient, yet flashy and impressionistic. Days, months, years of effort are glossed over in a single transition, yet the style is satisfying, because we don't really need to see all the in between stuff, we only need to see the beginning and end, and we can fill in the rest.
The editing dumps us straight into the musical style from the start, in a flash forward, whence we return closer to the beginning, to develop from the childhood characters of our protagonists. And right away there's more singing.
There's really quite a lot of music, singing, and dancing in The Greatest Showman. The music is adequate, it's the kind of pop musical stuff you could write in your sleep. It's not memorable, but some of the rhythms are topnotch, and it's entertaining enough. It doesn't get in the way of the excellent and thoughtful lyrics.
I love the dance choreography though, it's alternately playful and powerful, and it's enhanced with periodical special effects, such as dancers being suspended in mid air until the bass drop.
Hugh Jackman is amazing to watch and listen to, and he brings huge confidence and joy to his performance. At 37, Michelle Williams is still delicate and pretty enough to play a young woman in her twenties, and the two children are charming and personable.
Zendaya is super hot, and the slow motion meeting scene between her and Zac Efron reminds me of a meeting I once had with a young woman.
Gayle Rankin as Queen Victoria didn't seem quite right, the queen was a bit more delicate at that age (you can find a sexy portrait of Queen Victoria online), but maybe they picked Rankin for her laugh.
The rest of the supporting cast were without flaw, and returned performances that sometimes brought a tear to my eye.
Pretty good period drama, sampling a bit of history each episode
I don't usually like stories involving time travel, but for me Timeless is alright because it takes a different tack than most.
The plot line is that someone stole a 2nd generation time machine and they're going back in time to change history. So now the time travel researchers are using their rickety old 1st gen time machine to chase after them and minimize the damage to the time line. Only they're not able to fix everything, so some things change in the present. So far nothing major to overall world history has changed, but it has already affected one of the time travelers. Only the time travelers know what's changed, when they get back to the present, everyone there knows the changed time line as the true one.
The time travel crew is kind of a latter day Mod Squad - a woman historian, a black time machine pilot/smart nerdy guy, and a handsome special forces agent. When the task is foisted upon him, the black guy is like "I am black, there is literally no place American history that's gonna be awesome for me." So that presents an extra challenge for the writers, which they handle well. If you're not familiar with US history, you find out just how scary it could be to be black in America.
So far they've been to the Hindenburg Disaster, and Lincoln's Assassination. One thing I like about it is they show the importance of knowing your historical dates, which most people hate so much in history classes. The historian of the time always knows why they're going back just from seeing the date.
I only gave it 9/10 because even though there's a lot of attention to detail, there's always something that doesn't quite fit. Like getting a bullet removed without anesthesia, but also without alcohol or even something to bite down on.
Also, maybe more should be changed when they come back. It's always the same people in the same organization, wearing the same clothes, with the same hair. It might be too much to keep track of though, to really change everything every episode.
Other than that though, the acting is polished, the writing is fluid, and the situations are well thought out.
*** SPOILER ***
Turns out there wasn't anyone very important in the actual Hindenburg Disaster, but there were some very important historical figures on the passenger manifest for the trip back to Europe, like John D. Rockefeller Jr., Omar Bradley, Igor Sikorsky, so Flynn, the guy who's trying to change history, saves the incoming Hindenburg, and then sabotages it on the way out.
*** ANOTHER SPOILER ***
The assassination of Lincoln is kind of fun, because pretty much everybody knows he was shot right after the phrase "sockdologizing old man-trap". Then when it doesn't happen at that point, you wonder for a few seconds whether it will happen or not.
Beautiully told first person account of survival and courage
I cried three or four times, maybe five times while watching Tower.
Told with a combination of still photos, grainy 8mm film footage from the incident itself, and rotoscopic animation, it begins in the middle, with the radio announcement some tens of minutes into the incident, lingering only briefly to set the mood.
Then it switches to Claire talking about just before things started happening. The actress playing Claire is rotoscoped, which is an animation technique that looks both real and animated at the same time, because it's like tracing over the actual images. It's a good technique for this type of documentary, because at once it distances you from the actor, yet brings you closer to the person the actor is portraying, and of the age they were when the events took place.
In this way the actors explain things using the words of the real person who was being interviewed, and they also appear as characters in the re-enactment of the events. Because it's rotoscopy, the emotions of the actors carry over and you're able to relate to their feelings. The rotoscopy also enables the director to place people in the Mall without them actually being there, so there was no need to clear the Mall or to ask for permission to film. And it allows for a special touch when Claire tells of her fiancé.
Claire Wilson is the anchor of the story, having been the first one known shot, and also having been 8 months pregnant at the time. She lay out on the concrete of the Mall in front of the tower for over an hour in the August heat, her dead fiancé beside her, helped only by Rita Starpattern, who ran out to help despite the continued sniping.
Other main stories are of the two policemen who killed the sniper, a citizen who helped them, another policeman who went to help at the top of the tower, a freshman with his own story of heroism, a paperboy who was shot, the radio announcer who narrated and warned of the events, and a young woman who only watched.
Rita Starpattern appears only through Claire's narrative, because she died of cancer before anyone interviewed her. Some of the others had been interviewed before they died, and a few more, including Claire, were interviewed for the documentary.
The last part of the film is inter cut with the interviews of the real people whose avatars have been narrating the action. By saying Claire is the anchor, I don't mean to discount the contributions of the others, most of whom performed heroically in a desperate situation.
The sound of the movie is evocative, with music from the time, announcements on the radio, the cicadas of Summer, and of course the incessant gunfire.
I saw the film at the Dallas International Film Festival, so the director was there to answer questions at the end. Answers I recall were that the sniper, who does not appear in the film, made a midnight call on his music teacher, saying that he was very upset and needed to talk. He sat down at the piano and played Claire de Lune, and then said that was what he needed, and left.
Another was that Rita Starpattern never spoke of her actions that day. He said many people in Austin, where she had lived, gasped when they saw her name.
One man in the audience said he knew the sniper's CO in the Marines, who said that the sniper was very much into his role as a killer, and looked forward to being able to kill people legally.
It's odd to think of something that happened in one's own lifetime as a period piece, but younger viewers will understand more of what life was like before ubiquitous global communication. After the shooting, everyone involved lost contact with each other, something unimaginable today. A local radio announcer was the sole contact for news, and also served to warn people about what was going on. At least there were home phones, radio, TV, and 8mm cameras, so I guess it wasn't that primitive.
The Babysitter (1995)
Most people seem to miss the point of this movie, it's about men vs hormones
The Babysitter reminds me of one time when my daughter was 15, we were walking out to the car in a parking lot, and a young man probably 20 y/o or so drove by, swiveling his head as he passed. I pointed out that he had been looking, and my daughter said "Ewww! He's old!" Teenage girls think their attractiveness is like a bullet, only affecting their intended target, when in fact it's more like a hand grenade, and goes off in all directions.
The movie is different from Robert Coover's short story (Google "Robert Coover the babysitter", there's a PDF titled 184 ° Robert Coover), which was mainly a vehicle for an idea about how a story could take different plot lines as characters choose different pathways. It's not really better or worse, because it's apples and oranges.
The Babysitter is about The Male Gaze. It's about how males of all ages react to a pretty, nubile young woman who's just trying to babysit some kids, and not completely aware of her affect on males, therefore mostly indifferent to it.
Fantasies for each male, from age 10 to age 60, play out during the film, making it difficult to keep track of what's going on in reality. The screen play seems voyeuristic, as if to try to pull you into fantasizing about Silverstone yourself (if you're a male), but time and again her character shuts it down, and reveals just a regular, no-nonsense, non-sexualized person going about her business.
In the end the fantasies of three of the characters become reality, and play out as they would in real life instead of a male fantasy land, so things get messy quickly as the three disrupt their own lives within moments. Two males, the youngest and the oldest, escape perplexed but unscathed.
The end of the movie is a disaster scene, apparently with a single cause, but in reality the confluence of bad decisions by three men. The last line is like a punch line that sums up the entire proceedings of the evening.
Code Black (2015)
Well done, accurate medical drama if you can keep up
This is the medical drama that finally puts to rest the myth of shocking a heart to make it start beating again. The medicine here is mostly very accurate, and the characters and situations are very realistic.
The Emergency Department at fictional Angels Memorial is dingy, yellow, crowded, and chaotic. Somehow all the personnel manage to deal with this and figure out what they're supposed to be doing, but I have to turn on closed captions to keep up with the dialog.
And the dialog in this show is what makes me like it so much. There's rarely a word in the script that doesn't belong there, and doesn't deserve and need to be listened to. Normally I can do other things while watching most shows and not feel like I've missed something, but with Code Black, I feel like I need to watch it again if I get distracted.
You'll learn a lot about medicine and ED operations watching this show, but one thing you won't learn is how large the staff of a hospital really is and how many interdependent relationships there are. There are only four interns at this ED, and we only ever see three attendings and no residents or other interns, plus the head nurse. Of course there are other people in the background, and supporting nurses, but none of their thoughts are shown, and none of the main characters interacts with them. It might not be feasible to represent all that in a show like this, so it's just a minor complaint, in my opinion.
Black Box (2014)
So bad, I could not watch the whole first episode
A doctor like no other - yes, because fortunately there really are no doctors like that. This show seems designed to appeal to the kind of person who thinks they are special and above average, but misunderstood. But it's just one horrible cliché about being special and above average, but misunderstood, after another, with precious little doctoring in between dramatic scenes. Kelly Reilly's Catherine Black is melodramatic and affected, flighty and overly emotive. Watching this show made me embarrassed for humanity, even now my stomach is tied in knots thinking about it, trying to push it out of my mind.
I'm really dying for a good new medical show or two, and my daughter will graduate med school in a month, specializing in neurology. This show is so disappointing on so many levels. Can't somebody make a halfway realistic medical show that's not super heavy on melodrama?
By the way, the reason I gave it a 2 instead of a 1 is because at least it has high production values, that should count for something. It's well produced, with good cinematography.
I hate vampire movies, but I loved this one
One way I measure a film's success is by the feeling I have when I leave the theater. If my head is still in the framework of the movie after I leave, then I deem it to have been successful, at least on some level. After Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter it was still in my head during the drive to my friend's house, where we all met afterward and discussed it at some length, another sign of success.
I usually hate vampires in movies because most of the time they're just a cheap plot prop appealing to narcissistic types. But in this movie they're a cheap plot prop to weave a tale purporting to explain everything about Abe Lincoln and the US Civil War. In some ways it reminded me of Dick, the movie about the Watergate Scandal where "Deep Throat" turns out to be two teenage girls, and many of the veiled happenings of that scandal happen to have been caused by Betsy and Arlene, one way or another.
To really appreciate Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in that respect, it helps to know something about US history leading up to and during the Civil War. At the very least, you should look up Harriet Tubman, Jefferson Davis, and Gettysburg in Wikipedia before seeing the movie.
Bekmembatov manages to pack a good deal of history, dialog, action, and story telling into this movie. The acting it mostly good, though Mary Elizabeth Winstead's performance as Mary Todd Lincoln seemed uneven. Sometimes she was adequate, other times she was spitting her lines out too quickly, as do many pretty young women when playing this kind of historical role.
The script veers between using fairly accurate language, to complete anachronism, like "How'd that work out for ya?!" But you know, the story is about how Abe Lincoln was killing vampires, so yeah.
On the other hand, the sets, costumes, and other artwork seemed historically accurate and some of the CGI provides a new look at that era. There's a scene of the Mississippi River at New Orleans full of paddle wheel riverboats that lingers with me.
So in the end I turned out liking the vampire prop, and the bad-ass Lincoln as portrayed by Benjamin Walker.
Body of Proof (2011)
Not as bad as I thought it was going to be after the first 5 minutes
It was often silly, with enough clichés to fill all the cheesecakes in Philadelphia, enough exposition to require a PowerPoint presentation, and enough irascible doctor/detective work to make you wonder if the main character was the love child of Monk, House, Patrick Jayne, Tim Roth, Alexx Woods, Jessica Fletcher, and maybe even Harriet Korn but by golly someone was found to have died of Lupus in the first episode, and you can't beat that with a stick!
The thing is, I love medical shows and I love detective shows, so it's hard to go wrong with a combination of the two, and how are you going to do that except by keying on the Medical Examiner? Like House, the medical part of it seems pretty accurate, and it's fun trying to beat Dr. Hunt to the diagnosis. Oh yeah, and I also enjoy shows where people notice a lot of seemingly unimportant things - it gives me an incentive to heighten my own sense of awareness.
So you've got the keep-it-simple cop, and the hunky blond guy, the hard nosed but incredibly good looking female boss, and the somewhat incompetent assistant all playing off of the irascible main character who's so good at her job you can't fire her. But at least it's a woman this time!
Solar Strike (2006)
Insanely bad science is the main entertainment here - possible spoilers
I'm actually bumping up my vote from a 3 to a 4 because I want to watch again so I can catalog all the bad science in this movie.
I didn't come in from the beginning, but apparently the world of Solar Attack doesn't have a national space agency or a military that has dozens of satellites in orbit capable of monitoring Earth's atmosphere, so a concerned billionaire launches his own manned orbital vehicle to fulfill this mission, at a cost of $98 million.
So while his astronaut guy is up there, a huge CME of a size and mass never before seen comes in and destroys his spacecraft without warning, even though some scientists were aware that the CME was coming. Apparently in this world they have no means of warning people to stay out of space when huge fireballs from the Sun are about to hit Earth.
Oh, and for some reason this massive interplanetary fireball which appears to explode over an area the size of China remains unseen by the rest of the world, so only the poor dead astronaut knows what happened to his ship.
This may be because in this world, the ozone layer acts as a shield against these CMEs, so they never affect the the surface of the Earth, they only rain fire and destruction on above the ozone layer.
Now these CMEs keep heading toward the Earth, and one of them is headed straight for THE Russian military satellite. Yes, they only have one, and it's stationary somewhere in space! For those who don't know, Russia and the US have satellites up there by the hundreds. Most of them orbit the Earth every 90 to 120 minutes, but there are some that orbit in 24 hours. But there are a LOT of them in that 24 hour orbit, so if one satellite up there gets hit, a LOT of them will get hit.
Phew! And that's just from watching for for about 30 minutes! And I still haven't mentioned the ridiculous idea that methane has increased to 3% of the atmosphere and can be ignited by CMEs.
Not dreamy enough
Inception was okay, it was well produced and directed and kept my attention throughout, so that's why I give it a 7 instead of a 6.
Having seen the trailer, I went into it expecting a mind bending movie with a dreamlike script, but instead it's basically a puzzle movie with lots of run-of-the-mill shoot-em-up action. You do leave the movie with a heightened sense of awareness, but not with a different viewpoint on the world.
I never cared that much for any of the characters, which is unusual for me - I often end up crying or otherwise being involved, so in that respect Inception seemed rather shallow. I kept trying to generate care, waiting for the arc of the script to take me over into the next level, but that point in the script never came.
Technically, the special effects are pretty good, though they're kind of a one trick pony, or maybe a two trick pony. I was expecting much more in this regard. Sure, when I'm in a dream it seems real to my mind, but there are usually some really strange aspects too, like people whose faces are unclear, or like trying to speak but not being able, or like changing geography, or really weird, crazy stuff. None of this kind of thing happens in Inception, except for the occasional alteration in gravity.
The basic idea, of never being sure what's real or what's constructed in your mind, has been done before. There's nothing wrong with that, since it's impossible to come up with new ideas about the human condition. But Rod Serling wrote some more compelling 30 minute TV scripts on the subject many years ago.
My review makes it sound like a bad movie, which it is not, it's good enough. I guess I'm just reacting to incredible hype of people who think it's the greatest movie ever made. It certainly does not deserve a 9.4 rating, which is what IMDb is giving it as of this writing.
Children of Invention (2009)
Tense, Well Written, Unexpectedly Timely
Tense from the start, not in the _Saw_ sense, but in the sense of anyone with kids who's been thrown out of work and home in a rough economy. Tense with the unsettledness of a single mom with two kids moving into an unfinished apartment building, making arrangements with acquaintances to get her children to and from school. Tense like a hunted animal who's not sure where the next meal is coming from. Maybe my sense of the film is colored by my own life experiences.
There are light, sweet moments provided by the kids, and periods of relief provided by friends and family. Elaine is a good mom who makes some questionable choices and tries to hide her desperation from her children. She generally succeeds with her little one Tina, but her boy Raymond senses things are not going well. When you're down on your luck, everything, everything costs money, money that you don't have, and Elaine is driven by a belief that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Hard to say more without giving too much away, the story keeps you in the dark and unfolds scene by scene.
The writing, acting, directing, cinematography, and editing are all first rate and fitting for this type of film. The framing is often tight, adding a claustrophobic effect to the tenseness of the story. Editing is economical. Sound is mostly natural, and the camera is often hand-held giving a semi-documentary feel.
Cindy Cheung plays the good saleswoman who holds back her emotions and manages to keep up an optimistic front, but as an actress she brings it on when it's time to. Crystal Chiu so cute with her fat cheeks, but she's actually a few years older than her character Tina, so she's able to really get into part, into Tina's skin. Michael Chen's performance is mostly low key, but the emotions of the scene flash across his face even when it doesn't seem like he's doing anything.
The supporting cast is also very good. My only criticism of the directing is that sometimes a gesture is played before its time. It's not a big deal, but it would be that much better without that.
On a personal note, there just aren't that many films portraying the lives of Chinese families in America, and there aren't that many Chinese-Americans in my area, so it's nice to see a humanizing film like this. With so much near superhuman stereotyping of Asians these days, it's good to see a story about someone whose life is kind of messed up.
Finally, the movie was completed in the early Summer of 2008, before the economy crashed, before people were losing their jobs and having their houses foreclosed upon, before the collapse of the Ponzi schemes.
Houston, We Have a Problem (2009)
Often challenging, often humorous, never boring
I just saw this film at the AFI Film Festival in Dallas, so I don't know where it will available for viewing to future readers of this comment.
After the showing, the director Nicole Torre said that as she began meeting some of the Texas oil men in the film, she changed her attitude and recognized some of her own hypocrisy towards the subject. I say the film is challenging because it doesn't simply rubber stamp your liberal bias, Torre takes us on her own voyage of discovery. Rather than trying to fit the interviews into preconceived notions, she uses the interviews to show our history with the brutal honesty of the oilmen she's interviewing.
And they are what make the film humorous, along with some judicious editing by Sean McAllen. Oilman Clayton Williams says "You've got to have a sense of humor about this business," and it's the Texas straight talking and sense of humor that helps make the film interesting to watch.
In fact after a while you begin to wonder whether you might be watching an infomercial instead of a documentary directed by a liberal, but sticking with it helps you confront your own ignorance and hypocrisy, and begin to see the oilmen as allies rather than enemies.
As a Texan I noted a curious turn take place about 2/3 of the way through - the accents changed from old-style Texas accents to modern, generic American accents. Watch the film to find out why.
Happy Gilmore (1996)
Is This Supposed To Be A Comedy?
It seems to follow some comedic formulas, but there's no humor in it. It plods along from one gimmick to another without any apparent connection. Oh look, Mr. Gilmore pulled that guy's shirt over his head and pushed him. Oh look, Mr. Gilmore is diving for his ball. Oh look, Mr. Gilmore is fighting with Bob Barker. Interesting, but hardly funny.
There are even some comedic actors in this film, but they aren't funny either. Oh look, there's Joe Flaherty yelling "Jackass!" and then going on about Red Lobster. And there's Ben Stiller's talent completely wasted - "Man, that guy is strong."
The only redeeming feature of this film is how Mr. Gilmore addresses the ball from the tee. Still, it's interesting, but not funny. I probably won't watch the rest of this awful, boring movie.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Too Hip For Its Own Good
"Quentin Tarantino's Fourth Film", what an egomaniac. And it shows in this movie, where he's more concerned with showing us how cleverly he understands all the genres he loves to parody than he is with creating anything new and substantial. I'm glad I didn't pay money to see this, having just seen it on TNT.
There are some good parts here and there, like the fight with Vivica Fox. And you can't really hate a movie which lionizes the triumph of the human will over adverse circumstances. And the fight choreography is good, even though overall fight execution is only so-so.
This is why I gave the movie a 4/10 instead of a 2/10. But for the most part this film sports a kind of self-conscious cheesiness I find unbearable and nearly unwatchable. And then there's that whole thing with O-Ren. I just don't find Lucy Liu believable either as a beautiful woman or as a bad-ass martial artist.
Overrated, Affected Schlock
Faux hand-held, gratuitous hand-held, gratuitous harsh film developing, gratuitous jump cuts, manipulative script, this movie is so heavy-handedly stylized I couldn't watch the whole thing. It made me want to puke, mainly for the idea that anyone would foist dreck like this upon the world thinking it was anything more than the puerile wet dream of a society given over to the hysteria of a war on drugs solely for dramatic effect.
Nevertheless, it had good performances by Michael Douglas, Miguel Ferrer and Dennis Quaid. Douglas's wife's character was a good example of the cardboard caricatures most of the actors in this film were saddled with. She had the job of being the "liberal" parent who let's her child experiment. Yeah, right. And why was Catherine Zeta-Jones even in this movie? Shouldn't she be making cell phone ads? And the ending with the daughter, how trite. It's like some kind of self-serving DEA propaganda film. But I like the final ending shot and music.
Just Okay, Not Great
Like all the Star Wars movies, this one's okay, but definitely not great. Some critics said the movie was too serious, without the humor of the original. But I laughed out loud several times. Like when Padme says:"Oh Anakin! What will you do?!" Or when the twins are born. Padme looks to be 7 months pregnant, yet she gives birth to two, huge, 10 pound twins! Then there's the infamous Frankenstein's monster scene. Lucas meant for us to laugh at that, right? With the exception of the scenes in space, never a Star Wars strong point, the special effects are spectacular. I've always liked the mechanical devices and alien creatures of Star Wars, and this installment is the best yet for that. I hate to be so general, but there's really too much to talk about in this department, it's just a rich, rich film in this respect.
It's too bad Lucas isn't really a good director. Natalie Portman is a great actress, but her talents are little used in this movie. Hayden Christensen just isn't up to the task of his character, so you have to supply your own reasons why he would do what he did. He tries so hard, but it just isn't in him.
Ian McDiarmid's performance is superb. He must have had as little direction as anyone else, but he at least took his role to heart, and produced one of filmdom's great screen villains.
But Yoda is by far the star of this film. For all the stiffness of most of the other actors, including Samuell L. Jackson, Yoda's performance is subtle, nuanced, rich, captivating.
Jackson did do service in Windu's battle with Palpatine, however. His self-righteous anger and his willingness to kill Palpatine against the Jedi way contrasted well with Yoda's selfless determination to kill Palpatine later on.
Yoda has some of the best scenes in the movie, too. Though I found many places to laugh at bad dialog, bad writing, etc., I still cheered when Yoda avoided the fate of his Jedi siblings by sensing when his guards were about to attack. And I also cheered when he slammed the two other guards against the wall. And I enjoyed Yoda's overall bad-assedness, even though sometimes it was funny to see it in such a tiny, round package.
I was also happy with some of the politically "liberal" references in movie. It pleases me to think that these might spoil enjoyment of the movie for radical right-wingers.
Anyway, the movie is well worth seeing, even more than once, but it's still feels like movie that shows the potential of its story without actually fulfilling it, mainly because of poor direction, poor scripting, poor acting, and poor character development.
A Night at the Roxbury (1998)
Many Laughs, Good Plot, Good Story Arc, Passable Acting
I really don't understand the low rating of this movie. For me and the people I've watched it with, it was literally a laugh a minute.
For the record, there is no underlying theme that the brothers are gay, some people just don't understand intense, nonsexual love between two men.
Nor are Doug and Steve "losers" as some people have said. They're just "differently successful". ;-)
Nor is it the film's target audience 12 year old boys. It's fun for people who were of age during the 80s, and my nearly 16 year old daughter and her intellectual friends love it, though it's annoying to watch it with them because they've memorized all the lines.
Some people have complained that the movie has no plot, but it does have a plot, and it even has an arc to the story line, actually multiple arcs to multiple story lines, which is why the end of the movie is so satisfying, because each of several conflicts is resolved in the last ten minutes.
This is an excellent film, entertaining throughout. I gave it a 10.
American Outlaws (2001)
This is one of those made-for-TV films like A Knight's Tale that's full of a bunch of pretty-boy Hollywood children with no gravitas, no life experience beyond partying in LA, pretending to be tough guys for the ladies. The speech, the dialog, the manners, the hair, the cleanliness, the storyline, all are strictly modern, adding to the feeling of watching actors at play. And I use the term "actor" loosely.
There are some good actors but they are generally wasted. Kathy Bates was probably happy to be killed off early in the story. Terry O'Quinn, so enigmatic in Millenium is just goofy in this film. I guess that's okay if that's what you're shooting for.
The costumes and sets are alright. But the lighting is mostly way overdone, bordering on hacky. So many little things have to come together just so to make a run-of-the-mill film into a good one, but you usually only notice it when it doesn't come together, as in American Outlaws. The cinematography is largely static and pedestrian. It's a good film to watch to find out how not to make a good movie.
Still, I give it 3 out of 10 because some of the dialog is mildly humorous.
If you want to see a really excellent film about the same people, take a look at The Long Riders. Only five minutes longer, but a much richer experience. The cool thing about this film is that all the brothers are actually brothers, and even though the Carradines are Hollywood progeny, they lived such checkered lives they were able to pull it off.
The Red Badge of Courage (1951)
Hard Tack and Sow Belly!
This is a beautiful, small film. It's no epic, just a finely crafted work with beautifully framed and exposed, crisp black and white cinematography. It looks like the film had a fairly low budget. Lots of extras. No sets, it's all out of doors, probably California.
It's a film that probably couldn't be made today in the US, for a number of reasons. For one thing, there's not enough open land. Even at the time it was filmed there was far less open land than there was a hundred years prior, still it reminds one of a time when a man could travel for miles and come across nothing but forests and meadows, brooks and streams.
For another thing, you won't find any actors today that can be sincere and non-ironic, unaffected by the today's pervasive PR mentality, as actors from the 1950s could be. Nowadays, everybody's got an axe to grind, or an attitude, or they just look like they're pretending to be tough. Sincerity is seen as naivete, and few have the life experience to project the true grit these actors had.
Also, people are too fat nowadays. All the extras and actors in this movie were slim and fit, as people would have been in the 1860s, being mostly farmers as they were. Andy Devine excepted, of course. And their fitness wasn't from working out in the gym all the time either. Just look at Royal Dano, the soldier with the hurt arm who exclaims over Jim Conklin's body that "He was a real Jim Dandy, he was. A real Jim Dandy." The guy has a six pack, but he's no muscle man, it's just from clean living and hard work, not a popular way to pass the time nowadays.
Then there are the accents, and more than accents, the speech patterns people had back then. Well, of course in the 1950s they didn't speak as people did in the 1860s, but it was a darn sight closer than the ubiquitous California-speak we have these days.
The battle scenes are generic and rather small, but for me that seemed a good way to get the point of view of the volunteer soldier of the time. It isn't important what the battles were or where they took place, they're archetypal battles best left anonymous. The generals are generic and anonymous too, seen always from a distance, always on horseback, which also gives the sense of how they would have seemed to a volunteer soldier.
Starsky & Hutch (2004)
Charming, Amusing, Disappointing
Wilson and Stiller were a lot funnier at the Oscars than they are in this movie. I can't say that the movie is bad, it just isn't very funny. It almost gets going at times, but somehow Stiller and Wilson never achieve the chemistry of say, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. Maybe it's the editing.
As someone who was a teenager at the time, it's fun to see the old cars and hear the old music. Of course, there's Starsky's Gran Torino, of which they must have used up at least half a dozen in the the making of this movie. There was a Ford Pinto in one scene, and an AMC Pacer was used by a hit man.
There are some nice bits and pieces to this movie, but they never congeal into a unified whole, and they seem to always promise more than they deliver.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Brilliant Movie, Better Book
A Clockwork Orange is a story about the conflict between the individual and society. Alex represents the individual, our own individuality, completely self-centered, completely free, unfettered by socially constructed morality.
But society wants us to work together, respect each other, live for each other's benefit. How much better society would run without the chaos of individuality, if humans were obedient worker ants. How much better if overweight people would stop eating, if smokers would quit smoking, if everyone would adopt healthy lifestyles so we could all have cheaper health insurance, for example.
In the end of the story, human individuality and human free will triumph over the strictures of society, so Alex's triumph is our triumph. Yet we are also, each of us a part of a society, and so Alex's triumph is also our defeat. Therefore our own triumph is also our own defeat, and that is why the end of the story seems conflicted.
Of course, to make an effective story, Alex's behavior has to be extreme, to maximize the conflict we feel, to force us to think more deeply about the issues at hand, or maybe to force the idea of the importance of free will more deeply into our psyche.
Best Movie Ever?
I'm really not inclined to say "best movie ever" about any film, so maybe I should wait until I have more time to digest this movie. But throughout this film I was overcome by the sheer craftsmanship of it. From the production, to the acting, to the directing, to the cinematography, to the casting, to the location scouting - and in how many more categories is this film excellent?
Many, many times, it could have gone sappy, been overdone, been pretentious, been slipshod, but through even the most difficult scenes the quality was kept at the highest level.
And the tension is excellenlty held and drawn out. Not having read the third book, I was amazed at how many truly tense and fearful moments there were in the movie, my teeth even started chattering a few times. But then, I've done some acting myself, and when I go to a movie, I strive to keep myself as far as possible from a cynical state of mind, and I focus on letting the actors on the screen affect me how they will. Speaking of that, I cried many times during this film, and would have cried more had I been alone.
If not the best movie of all time, ROTK should at least win the Best Picture award, because that one goes the the producers, and the producers of LOTR deserve such an award for having the guts and the vision to do the whole thing in one shot, and to do it up right.
Couldn't be made today
I don't think this movie could be made today. In a modern Deliverance, when Toothless Guy pokes Ed with the shotgun, Ed would duck to the right, grab the barrel, point it Rapist Guy and yank on it while Toothless' finger was still on the trigger, thus dispensing of Rapist before he actually did the act.
In the '72 movie, Lewis shoots Rapist, then Ed grabs Toothless' shotgun, but fails to kill him. How lame is that? In a modern movie, Ed would have had no compunction against firing both rounds at Toothless while Lewis was firing off a couple of arrows at him.
Then when it comes to the Big Decision, no one in a modern movie would think about going to the police for an inbred mountain man who raped one of their buddies. Everybody knows it's the Law of the Jungle when it comes to dealing with mountain men. Haven't they seen Deliverance?
Besides all that, you couldn't make a movie like this today without showing arrows in "Arrow Time", and instead of just breaking in half, the canoe would have been blow out of the water in a fiery explosion.
The four businessmen from Atlanta would actually be from Michigan, Illinois, Kansas City, and India, having moved to the Atlanta suburbs within the past 4 years, but if you asked them, they would still say they were from Atlanta.
Since anyone with a killer instinct like Lewis would be a Republican, he wouldn't really care so much about shooting the rapids one last time on a pristine river (too much like a liberal tree-hugger), as he would be looking forward to the time when river was gone and the lake was full so he could zoom around on his jet ski spewing pollution and making lots of noise.
This is a beautiful movie, with a lot of quietness. It isn't silence, because there are always the ambient sounds of nature, of a small town, of a family dinner. But the quiet tension begins after the Dueling Banjos scene, and intensifies as the story progresses.
That scene itself is an excellent representation of the joy of communicating through music. But it symbolizes the dualistic relationship of civilization to nature, because music is at once civilized and abandoned. Drew can commune with nature, or communicate with the boy through music, but in the end the boy rejects Drew's desire for friendship. You can commune with nature, but to be a part of it, you have to go all the way. You can be awed by nature's beauty, but to be a part of it requires pain and hardship few are willing to endure.
People who are unable to put themselves in a character's place will find this film boring, and will think these men are a bunch of laughable pansies. I give it 10/10.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Masterpiece, or just interesting?
I don't really see the masterpiece bit, but this is quite a good movie. I like the way it shows cause and effect in a matter of fact way. Also, much of the dialogue between the minor players is so shallow, it's very realistic, and curiously entertaining. The actors play it straight, as if they really were that stupid, so it comes off as genuine and not derogatory, and you develop an attachment to them just as they are. By minor players, I mean, the porn actors, because their lives were controlled by external forces, whereas the major players like Jack Horner and his financier were the ones in control.
*** Spoiler Alert ***
When Eddie's mom tears into him with her "You're stupid!" tirade, it was so well done, I wanted him to hit her, she was so mean. And it made it easy to see how he would have gone into something like porn, but it wasn't preachy about it. More like, here's what happened and what this particular guy did as a result.
Same with the cocaine. It wasn't a preachy anti-drug thing, but bad things really did happen to people who overdid cocaine, and these characters were able to pull out of it and get their lives back on track.
I thought the way Buck Swope found redemption was little facile, and it's pretty hard to believe that there would have been enough money in that safe to finance his business. However, isn't it interesting that whenever someone in a movie goes to a convenience store at night, bad stuff is bound to happen?
Also, I didn't like the way the ending was so happy. Nobody had to pay for their sins, which were pretty egregious for some. Like Rollergirl smashing a guy's skull with her skates, and then not much later being admonished to clean her room by Daddy Horner. And what about Buck taking the money and not getting caught? Excuse me, but I seem to recall surveillance cameras even in the "distant" past of the 1980's.
The ending brought humanity to the whole story, with so many broken, damaged people finding a kind of salvation and love, however twisted, under Horner's wing, but I think it would have been better with a little more anguish. That would have made it a masterpiece, if the remaining characters had been able to find love and redemption and some kind of inner peace in the face of imponderable sadness.
But then, the final scene was Eddie Adams looking at his huge member in the mirror to give himself a pep talk, so I guess something like the depth of emotion of the end of The Deer Hunter would have been inappropriate.
Flash Gordon (1980)
This is one of those movies that makes you feel kind of sick to watch even a few minutes of it. It's like a bad porn without the porn. Music by the interminably annoying Queen doesn't help. The lead actor, Sam Whatever, reminds me of some jock who got a movie part because he won the olympic pentathlon. I give this 1/10.